We were celebrating my parent's 50th wedding anniversary on the Amsterdam. We have previously taken cruises on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and HAL. The overall cruise was quite enjoyable. The itinerary was fabulous and we had excellent weather. But the Amsterdam had its ups and downs.
We had an outside cabin on Deck 2 (Main Deck). The cabin had tons of closet space. The bathroom was good size and we had a couch and sitting table. I have a bad back, so by the end of the cruise I was getting rather sore from the bed. We were below the walking track on deck 3. Each morning, at 5:30 AM, someone was above us dragging the deck chairs. This was quite annoying. The TV was very limited. Fox News, CNN, ESPN, Cartoon Network and a few movie channels. The cabin steward (Putu) was very good.
The dining on the Amsterdam was very spotty. We thought the main dining room was pretty good. Some nights it was very good, others just OK. We would rate it on par with other cruises that we have sailed before. There was nothing really exceptional, but then again, it was pretty consistently good. The portion sizes were normally OK, but there were a few nights where they were a little small. The last formal night had an awesome Filet Mignon and Lobster. VERY good. The "Grand Master Chef Dinner" was very lacking. This typified the Amsterdam. Really good and then below par.
The special lunches by the pool were great. There was Dutch Day, Indonesian Day, and the Salmon Bake. All were excellent.
The Lido was a big disappointment for us. The food was very bland and there was not much variety. We had dinner one night in the Lido and it was not all that great. Lunch was also very busy and boring so we ended up eating at the grill by the pool most of the trip.
We discovered that there is no place to "casual dine" on the Amsterdam from 8PM to 11PM. We discovered this when returning on the ship after 8PM. There was no place to eat. The Lido closes at 8 PM and the terrace grill, with burgers and pizza, closes at 6PM. This is unacceptable. You shouldn't have to rush back to the ship with reservations to grab a quick bite to eat. This signaled to us that HAL is not geared toward the independent cruiser.
Our favorite place to hang out was the Crow's Nest bar every day for happy hour. Almost every day there was a buy one get the second drink for $1 at 4PM. This was a great place to have a drink before dinner. Many of the days they also had team trivia games at 4PM and that was also fun. The wait staffs in the Crow's nest were all excellent. Very friendly and efficient. They were even bringing us appetizers each night, which was a really classy touch. So a big kudos for the Crow's Nest!
Overall the entertainment was not as good as previous sailings. Our last HAL cruise had excellent entertainment. This time it was pretty poor. (Except for Jeff Trachta and Michael Ziefield. They were top notch performers.) The HAL singers were so amateurish that we just stopped going. It wasn't even worth our time.
Ketchikan - We spent the day in town. Nice little place. Lots of shopping available. We had great weather and the ship was docked to it was easy getting on and off the ship.
Tracy Arm - This was a day at Sea where the ship travels up an "arm" to see a glacier. We had great weather and little ice so we were able to get very close to the glacier. This was a nice addition that most cruise ships cannot do because of their size. (I guess size does matter)
Juneau - We were also docked here so getting on and off the ship was a breeze. We spent the day in town. Had some Halibut and Chips by the pier and watched the float planes. Lots of shopping here but very similar to Ketchikan.
Icy Straight - We took the Whale cruise which was pretty good. After that we walked to Hoonah which was a bust. Very small town with nothing to do. This is not one of our favorite ports. It is a manufactured cruise ship port. We should have gone to Skagway instead!
Anchorage - Anchorage was our favorite port because we rented a car and did our own thing. We drove down to Portage Glacier and then did the Wildlife Conservation Center. After that we went to the top of Mt. Alyeska on the tram. Was a super day. But getting off the ship was a real pain. Our schedule said that we were in Anchorage from 7 AM to 11 PM. But we didn't dock until 8 AM. Then we were told that we were in a "secure" port and that we had to be shuttled to town and that didn't start until 9 AM. It turned out that they started letting people off at 8:30. We were then told that the last shuttle back to the ship was at 9PM. And that you couldn't walk back through the port. So why do they advertise this as a 7AM to 11PM port when you have to take their shuttles and they run from 9AM to 9PM? This made for getting on and off the ship a pain and it was similar to tendering, only on land.
Homer - On Homer we decided to purchase the $15 "hop on and hop off" tour. This was to take you into Homer and allow you to see town at your leisure. This was a joke. The bus was a school bus. The stops were laughable. "Our first stop is the True Value Hardware Store, our second stop is Radio Shack"... And I am not kidding. Homer Spit was also a shuttle ride off of the ship. So again, it was a pain getting to and from the ship. The Homer Spit consisted of mainly fishing charters and a few restaurants. This was our second least favorite port. (Icy Straight wins that award)
Kodiak - Kodiak was a day where the ship was docked just outside of town. We decided to go on our own, so we rented a taxi and went out to Fort Abercrombie. It was very scenic but smaller than expected. The taxi fare was about $20 each way. After the fort we walked around town. Not much to Kodiak. On the way back to the ship we stopped at the Kodiak Brewing Company for some homemade beer. That was fun! Try the Sarah Pale Ale! Would have been nice if it wasn't a Sunday when everything was closed.
Hubbard Glacier - This was a day at sea with the afternoon at the glacier. The weather was cloudy but there was little or no ice in the bay so we were able to get real close. A crewmember said that this was only the second time this season that the ship was able to get real close. So we felt very lucky.
Sitka - We did the Sea Otter and Wildlife cruise and it was great. Probably the best "tour" we have ever taken on a cruise ship. We saw lots of animals and the captain and crew were great. This is a "don't miss" tour. After the tour we walked around town and used the free town Wi-Fi to pull down emails and post to Facebook.
Victoria - Our last day was spent at Victoria. We docked about 1.5 miles from town. We did the Butchart Gardens tour. It was good and we were let off downtown to do further exploring. Loved Victoria and we want to go back!
Overall Impressions of HAL
We like HAL but don't think it is that much "different" than the other cruise lines. The clientele is much older than other lines. I think the average age on this cruise was probably 65 or 70. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes.
The dining room and entertainment are on par with the other cruise lines. (Although the entertainment on this ship was not near as good as our first HAL cruise) We felt the Lido was below par in comparison to the other lines.
The "you can bring your own wine on board" policy is great and this does separate them from the pack. The service was very good, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Would we sail HAL again? Maybe.... It would depend on the price, itinerary, and ship. I'm not sure that it pays to be brand specific when cruising. I think the difference between the lines is getting smaller and smaller.
We purchased the transfer to the airport. We left the ship at 8:15 and we were at the airport by 9:15. (Which isn't too bad since we had to claim our luggage and go through customs.) We had our boarding passes, on Southwest, and were at the gate at around 10:00 AM. (Our flight was at 11:30) So getting off the ship was pretty painless.