To introduce ourselves: we are an active couple from Virginia in our early sixties celebrating our anniversary. This was our first HAL cruise and our second trip to Alaska. We like to walk, are pretty low maintenance and chose this cruise mostly for the itinerary. It did not disappoint us! CC did not steer us wrong either with the tips from fellow cruisers! Thank you.
Pre-cruise we stayed at the Seattle Pioneer Square Courtyard Marriot—small room, but nicely decorated, clean and convenient location. We were able to walk to Pike's Market and to the harbor for dinner as well as through the shopping and University District. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. We used Seattle Shuttle for transportation.
Embarkation was as quick and pleasant as could be imagined once we got our bags inside. There were no porters or carts available to assist. Thank heavens we could manage by ourselves. The Port of Seattle could take lessons from Baltimore where porters take your luggage right out of your trunk and get it packed as you drive through!
Our room was ready when we arrived onboard about 12:15. Luggage was delivered when we returned from lunch on the Lido deck. How do they do that so quickly! We had lots of storage space and a small tub in our bath. I liked our location on the Lower Promenade deck.
Our Meet and Greet was held in the Crow's Nest on the first sea day with about 40 people attending. Wendy, the organizer, had door prizes and a scavenger hunt. She also had purchased lanyards to hold key cards for everyone who wanted one. Nice touches, Wendy! I was surprised that no one from management attended since they had attended previous M & G on Royal Caribbean.
The ship's layout is easy to navigate. Some things we loved besides the itinerary: the library! , the warm pool, seldom waiting for an elevator, orchids in the Lido and other flower arrangements, computer classes with lots of photography tips, glacier viewing from the bow, aft decks on the sixth and seventh floors, and the filet at the Pinnacle. The entertainment was okay—daily movies, activities seemed to be geared to the older crowd and we aren't that young! We weren't impressed with the Amsterdam singers and dancers or the piano bar, but the HAL Cats are terrific. Several very good shows: gymnast Lance Reingold, puppeteer Michael Ziegfeld, and impersonator/singer Jeff Tracta. Be sure to check out the Crows Nest for the view, the Black and White Ball and happy hour specials.
The food and service were good to very good. We ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck or by the pool. You are served the first few days to avoid the spreading of disease. Portions in the dining room were on rather small, but beautifully presented. And we never left hungry! Salmon was always good and prepared a variety of ways. There was a salmon bake on the Lido deck one afternoon during a sea day. Pea soup and hot toddies were available during glacier viewing. Crab cakes were delicious. Baked Alaska was available every night. Desserts, generally, were okay, but not the highlight of the meal. The Pinnacle is quite special from the menu to the service.
Interestingly, our table at the 8pm sitting with one other couple was hosted by a ship's officers three of the four formal nights. We have never had an officer join us before on any of our previous cruises. We found their company to be delightful, and we learned about life at sea from different perspectives. The first formal night the ship's doctor and her husband joined us. The second formal night the head of HR joined us and on the fourth formal night the First Officer (third in command) joined our table. Each officer had fascinating stories to tell. The ship provided bottles of wine for the table each of the three nights. Ironically, neither our tablemates nor we drink wine, but we did sip at it to be polite. I kept thinking of all the people who would have loved the complimentary wine—we liked the company better!
Our weather was wonderful. We saw whales and dolphin along the entire trip. In Ketchikan we went fishing and caught several kinds of salmon, then explored town. Don't miss Creek Street. Tracy Arm cruising was spectacular! The bow of the ship is definitely the place to be—it cuts down on the breeze and maximizes the view. But layer and dress warmly-you are floating in ice water! In Juneau we had a 75 degree day and took the tram to Mt. Roberts ($27 pp), hiked, then took the "blue bus" ($8 each) to Mendenhall Glacier where we hiked. The local children were swimming in the lake by the icebergs on the beautiful summer day. The water was COLD—in the forties, but they didn't care. Great day!
Icy Straight Point was about 55 degrees with clouds. This is the one port where we purchased an excursion through the ship. Local vendors' prices were the same as the ship. We went on the Wildlife and Bear Hunt (with an armed guard). The taller participants did see one massive male bear at a distance. Being of short stature, I saw an incredible picture of him. Loved the narrated tour by Donna, a member of the Raven Clan, saw the Bulldog from the Deadliest Catch, had delicious halibut and chips and viewed a humpback bubble feeding from the shore. People who went whale watching had an incredible day with their excursions. I liked the quaint, non-commercialized town.
The weather gods were on our side again in Anchorage. We rented a car and headed for Seward, stopping along the way for the spectacular scenery. With an 11 pm departure, we had plenty of time for a leisurely day of sightseeing, exploring Seward, and the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. The melting water was rushing over the road near the entrance to the park, creating a spectacle of its own. Note: our GPS did not work in Alaska, after dragging it all the way from Virginia! No problem, the maps and the signs were enough. Not many cabs are available at the port and the one returning us had never been there before since it is a secure port. Complimentary shuttle service is available to and from the Egan Center downtown. We used the cab because we needed to get to the airport for the rental car. Cars rented from downtown had to be returned by 5 pm.
Unbelievable—a sunny day in Homer! The temperatures were in the mid fifties and it was very windy. We enjoyed walking the spit, the beach and watching the fishermen. We caught the free bus back to the ship and soaked the tired muscles in the hot tub. I would love to return with more time to spend here—on another sunny day.
Even in Kodiak the sun greeted us for a while. It was chilly and a long walk into town. There are cabs available and a bus for mobility impaired people. We choose to walk by the fish processing plants, to the Russian Orthodox Church, across to Near Island to the North End Park for a nice nature hike. Had to hit the hot tubs again! This evening was a formal night with the Dessert Extravaganza at 10:30—chocolate fountains, ice carvings, and the works. Couldn't resist the chocolate and the peach cobbler with vanilla sauce was delicious.
Hubbard Glacier was spectacular. We were able to get quite close to the glacier unlike earlier in the season. Two park rangers and three locals joined the ship to narrate and answer questions. We viewed the glacier from the bow of the ship again. Seals were floating on the icebergs and the glacier put on a show with frequent calving. There is nothing quite like that sound!
We tendered in Sitka in a cloudy, intermittent light mist. We were able to walk the town, visit St. Michael's Church where two bald eagles were perched on the steeple and walk to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center ($12 pp entry, and worth it!). We enjoyed the Totem Park and the National Historical Park. And more eagles than any other port. Would like to return!
In Victoria the sun was shining and about 60 degrees. What a nice walking city with beautiful landscaping everywhere we looked. We walked to Fisherman's Wharf where lots of activities are available -whale watching, kayaking, restaurants and lovely houseboats. This is another port where I would like to spend more time.
Disembarkation was well organized, and on schedule. Our statement was correct and delivered by the time we went for breakfast. We remained in our room and relaxed until they called our group. All in all, it was a great vacation. Heading back home to triple digit temperatures!