We just returned from our 21st Holland America Cruise. It is our fourth time in Alaska and we picked the Amsterdam's 14 day itineray in order to visit the Aleutians and have a slightly different view of Alaska. We also had very minimal expectations because our main reason for cruising in August was to get away from Florida's heat and humidity. The weather was fabulous and we enjoyed each cool, dry day. Packing tip: layers. Don't bother with heavy coats, just a couple of layers and a down vest - which packs in little space - plus a hooded rain poncho will see you though most any summer day on this trip.
If you need anything else the fleece items and parkas are bargains in many shops.
The ports were predictable. The excursions offered by HAL are overpriced and overcrowded. Do some research and go off on your own. Whale watching can be as easy as watching out the window or off the deck with your own binoculars. I recommend the Anchorage zoo for close up encounters with moose, bears and dall sheep. It is a free shuttle ride from the Log Cabin Visitors Center and very inexpensive to visit. There is a wonderful micro brewery/restaurant in downtown Anchorage named Glacier Brewery. Try their flight of beers - fun.
Don't expect much in Homer or Kodiak. Homer has a free shuttle to the Spit which is full of campers, tents, RVs and tourists. Kodiak is a long walk from the pier with little to see. In fact I question HAL even saying Kodiak was a port since they didn't offer transportation to town unless you could count a very small school bus for the mobility impaired. Taxis on Sunday morning are very limited and expensive. The locals told us that Holland America could have rented large school buses but opted not to. Ketchikan had free shuttles to WalMart for any of you who forget essentials. Great fun to ride with the crew and do your Sunday shopping.
Meals on the Amsterdam were fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing really bad. Service was outstanding all over the ship but especially in the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle has raised their evening charge to $25 but the food and service are extra special so go for it at least once during your cruise. The lunch fee remains $10 and is the biggest bargain on board. Best small filet I have ever eaten. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido ususally but tried the Main Dining room a couple of times. We never eat the MDR on first night to avoid the Open Seating debacle. The Caneletto on Deck 8 is a good option.
We were greeted on arrival with an overly warm cabin, an overflowing commode, no bathrobes, flowers or fruit. After being given the third degree by the front desk staff the commode(which we hadn't used) was repaired. We were told the A/C would be working after we left Seattle - of course - it was getting colder outside. We received two very worn and stained robes on Day Three. Never got flowers but bruised fruit arrived on Day Two. Our cabin was just as spacious as the Verandas on the higher decks with all the storage space needed for two weeks. We didn't use all the drawers. The TV is too small to be seen from the beds and if a larger wall mount was used they could add a mini bar setup.
Our major complaint with this cruise was with the entertainment. We enjoy the evening shows, especially the production numbers. The lead male singer was so bad that it was hard to overlook and enjoy the rest of the show. The Piano Bar talent - yes, both of them - was terrible. The variety acts were fair to good. Take a good book or two with you. We wish the Crow's Nest could still be the place to have a quiet cocktail hour with dance music but it is now the center of Trivia and Name That Tune contests. The Happy Hour, misnamed because it is only an hour at random times in random places, has buy 1 get 1 more for a dollar IF you order what they tell you. Not too user friendly!
We don't expect special treatment even though we are frequent HAL cruisers and that is a good thing. We have almost never been invited to dine with staff or officers. We found the ship's officers to be aloof and disengaged with the passengers on the Amsterdam. It would be so nice to have one of them say thanks for coming back and sailing with us.
Will we sail with Holland America again? Of course, it is the best value in cruising today for a certain demographic. I am talking the older crowd with low expectations for excitement.