I found flying to Seattle the morning of our cruise VERY stressful and I recommend, if at all possible, that you arrive at least a day before your cruise if travel is involved... I was so worried about delays and cancellations, I even had my cc buddies offering to send a life raft if the boat left without us! Fortunately, things went off wonderfully, and no life raft was needed.
We booked our tickets independently and I was pleased to find HAL reps at the airport, welcoming cruisers and offering to transport us and our luggage by bus to the ship for a reasonable fee. Suite 7018 was ready when we arrived and our luggage arrived soon after. Sail away from Seattle was lovely. We explored the ship some, made new friends at trivia, received main seating dinner assignments (a note here: the four of us were at a table for six, and never received tablemates) and enjoyed the opening day welcomes, etc.
The Neptune lounge is a suite oasis of comforts, concierge assist, snacks, & chatter. Sienna was always cheerfully able to assist with excursions, dining reservations, RSVP's and nearly anything else that might come up. Television allowed occasional reality checks with outside world, as well is calm lounging area for getting to know other passengers. However, I wish it had windows, and perhaps even more extended hours (7AM-8PM). Nevertheless, it is a perk, combined with the veranda, added cabin space, & comforts making a suite worthy of its additional expense. Please note however, you cannot bring non-suite guests to lounge, including kids sharing non suite cabins &/or other family members.
Day 1- At sea, we had our Cruise Critic gathering. HAL sent reps and prepared a "gathering area" in Crow's Nest for a "private party" organized by one of our members from "roll call." If you have booked a cruise and have not signed up for your cc role call... what are you waiting for? We shared ideas, excitement, and bonded, making the gathering all that much more fun! After months of chatter, you are finally able to put a face to your travel buddies.
This was also our first formal night, "The Captain's Gala Dinner". I loved seeing everybody jazzed up and we even took our first family portrait in many years! Those who hate dressing up had room service (or possibly the Lido?) as an option.
Day 2: Our first port was Ketchikan. After wandering about town... we were off with the crew as "guests" on the Aleutian Ballad from Season 2 of "The Deadliest Catch". We listened to their Bering Sea tales and observed demos of prepping and using the crab cages and pots.
Later they pulled up different cages and pots to show off their pre filled catches to teach us about them and to let us touch, & sometimes hold them. I loved this excursion and it actually left me with one of my favorite memories of the trip. They passed around a big crab for folks to hold and take photos with. After handing the crab off to my daughter, the handler was distracted and wandered off leaving, my daughter holding the crab! After a few minutes she was still standing there holding it while the rest of us laughed our heads off!
Day 3- We cruised Tracy Arm. Beautiful. Many were disappointed we were not as close to the glaciers as we hoped, but sea & weather conditions left us without that option, and I was satisfied the captain's crew brought us as deep as they could.
We dined this evening at The Pinnacle Grill. There is a $25pp surcharge, but it is worth it! We ate there twice, both times fantastic!
Day 4- Juneau... we did not waste a moment! We wandered about some & then hopped aboard the Mt. Roberts tram for a quick lunch and views. We had booked a helicopter/airboat tour of Taku Glacier with Coastal Helicopters. Unfortunately, the boat pilot was unavailable due to weather troubles, and we were greeted dockside by their apologetic rep offering alternatives. My husband had his heart set on photographing Taku Glacier, and after some discussion, an itinerary was created to allow flying over, about, & landing on TAKU for a walk about. (It is one of the few glaciers still advancing.) If you have ever wondered what it feels like to stand on top of the world... stand on a glacier! Afterwards, we whale watched with Captain Larry from Orca Tours. This was our fourth outing with Captain Larry and as always, he knows how to "follow the pod".
Day 5- Icy Straight Point: an old salmon cannery in Homer recreated as a cross between museum & shopping. Unfortunately it was a dreary day, so it was not long before we took the tender back to the ship. Tendering can be difficult for some & although the crew is always ready to assist, some stayed on board on tender days.
For dinner we dined at Canaletto Restaurant, a small Italian venue off to the side of the Lido. I found it to be pleasant, & at no additional charge makes for a nice dinner alternative. (Be sure to toss the cotton candy into your after dinner coffee!)
Day 6: At sea. There is no shortage of activities shipboard. Mass was offered daily. There were "Explorations" of "the world", "food & entertaining", "technology", & " well being"... and while I had fun in many options... for our gang- The SEA-P-R's- it was all about the trivia. They had 4 variations most days! We made friends at trivia we had fun with all cruise! The guest entertainment on the Amsterdam is fantastic & we always looked forward to a late dinner & show! Alas, the cast, while very talented, needs newer shows & several were repeats from cruises I journeyed on years earlier. This was also another formal night.
Day 7: Anchorage: We rented a van and explored on our own. We drove out to the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood for the aerial tram allowing magnificent views & lunch. We drove about some more & ended up at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. A place to get close up to rescued native animals, it is a photographer's dream & many of the animal images you see in the Alaska brochures were taken here.
Day 8: Homer: This is a port you either loved or hated for its small size and slightly eccentric character. We loved it! After walking past a frenzy of seagulls, we bought tickets to a jump on/jump off bus allowing 4 stops... My daughter and I chose to get off at the fourth stop and spend our time the beach, watching the hula hoops spin while the dogs chased Frisbees, while sipping lemonade sold by kids, and enjoying a snack at the most excellent Two Sisters' Bakery. My husband took a flight-seeing trip he enjoyed very much. Alas, rough seas lay ahead and The Master Chef's dinner was for many of us not meant to be... but rest of my family enjoyed the chefs parade, music & fun.
Day 9: Kodiak: Some hated this sleepy town with its indifference to tourism. I LOVED IT! We wandered about & simply breathed in Alaskan life. It is a long walk to town from the dock & many chose tours and/or taxis. We took a one hour tour with a driver we found dock side, in which we managed to explore nearly all of Homer, including it's coastal studies center with a touch tank, while listening to our driver's stories of life in such an unconventional town. We explored a bit more on foot and walked back to the ship.
Day 10 was a sea day with a very "rocky" start, which we spent experiencing the beauty of Hubbard Glacier. Although it was a rainy, nasty day, the skies opened to welcome us and the seas were calm while we floated by in awe. There was much calving & we were surrounded by satisfied explorers on the top deck!
Day 11: Sitka: we have visited Sitka many times and love it here. A rainy day left many deciding to stay on board. It is a pedestrian-friendly port with historic sights, tourist shopping, local crafts & strolling along the piers.
Day 12: Our final day at Sea... and reality of our vacation nearing its end permeates through all of us. There was plenty to do on board, or one could simply enjoy the sights and chat with new friends. The fourth & final formal night is also a black & white ball. The Crow's nest is decorated prom-like for this fancy party encouraging passenger/ crew interaction. Although on this particular voyage the population was older making many social gatherings a bit harder for the baby boomers & younger... it eventually got going & I think fun was had by all who chose to have fun.
Day 13: Victoria ended up our family favorite. Partially because of the day's glorious weather... but mostly because of timing. We disembarked as a man showed up in his classic Ford 1954 Sunliner & set out on an open air touring adventure. We visited Victoria 's beautiful views, such as the castle, neighborhoods, and parks. As we passed deer grazing in folks' gardens and peacocks wandering parkside, we waved to locals admiring our ride.
Day 14, or is it 15... Disembarkation in Seatle was simple and well organized. I had stressed over return home flight times, and after advice never to book before noon, we stayed on in Seattle overnight. While some were still waiting for their group to be called, as suite passengers, we could disembark whenever we were ready, so we did, and we were assisted by eager luggage valets, grabbed a taxi dockside and headed off to our hotel. If you are in a suite I do not think even an 11AM flight would be a problem... but of course, things happen.
Day 15: I CANNOT BELIEVE SEATTLE HAS A HEMP FESTIVAL! Our hotel was shoreside, with the Beatles suite next door, (that famous room where they fished out the hotel window) and the massive hempfest down a block or two. We explored the sights, including the space needle and the EMP & Sci-Fi Museum. We left early next morning for a surprisingly non-eventful or delayed airport & flight.
DAY 16: .... Are there really signs of life beyond the mounds of laundry???
OK... if you have survived this lengthy review and have further questions, feel free to ask away...
Until next time... Happy sails to you
Hello, Cruise Critic Citizens, this is Deandra. I'm Robyn's twenty-year-old daughter, and I'm offering my ever-so-youthful perspective on the cruise.
I had a great time. The average age of this cruise was pretty old, honestly, but this wasn't such a bad thing. The people I met on board were legitimately awesome. They were very kind, and had fascinating stories to tell. The downside of this was that I generally did feel like I didn't quite belong. The young kids all flock together in Club HAL, and the teenagers go to the Loft. I look younger than I am (everyone from the juggler/comedian to our room steward assumed I was about twelve), and when I met people I thought were my age, they were almost always Loft-aged. No offense to the high schoolers though, the people I met were neat. I spent the great majority of time either alone or with my family. Honestly, this was a family vacation, and I preferred actually being with my family to totally branching out and never seeing them, so I guess this was pretty ideal.
The Neptune Lounge was pretty cool, and was the location of most of the in depth conversations I had with older strangers. I also spent a lot of the time in the Crow's Nest with my family and the friends we made, because we are hideously addicted to trivia games. Trivia games can actually fill a lot of time, just so you know, and we learned a lot of random fluff. Also, what wouldn't a sane person do for Holland America pins? :)
The Amsterdam's cast and crew could probably benefit from some new shows? I went to most of their performances, and I don't regret it, but I spent a lot of the show feeling bad for the cast for having to wear so many sequins. The talent that HAL brought on was amazing. Ronn Lucas is this big time ventriloquist who I would actually go out of my way to see performing in the real world. We also got to see a performer called Jeff Trachta, who was amazingly talented. It's really neat to be on the ship, just wandering around, and run into people like juggler and talk to them. I liked that experience.
As a practicing Catholic, I was grateful that HAL provides a priest onboard their ships. It made life a lot easier, and it made the trip much more meaningful. Alaska's beauty comes from God. It's somewhat nice to remember that while we're actually there. I loved seeing the Orthodox churches in Kodiak and Sitka. They were amazing, and I had some really enjoyable and informational conversations with the people who worked in the church in Sitka, and with the gift shop lady in Kodiak.
The morning we spent in Kodiak was probably my favorite. I loved the little wildlife center/museum thing. Since we've been to Alaska many times, we skipped most of the nature-lectures, and this was about as informational about nature as anything got for me. The Baranhov Museum has some work going on around it, but if you follow the signs it is still accessible. It was a small, charming, and informative museum. It's this really old house that's been around for ages, and you can see the original wallpaper and woodwork in some parts. It deals with natural life in the area, as well as with the early Russian influence.
Homer is covered in fireweed, and the beach was pretty charming. I didn't see much of the area, but it was probably really worth seeing.
I liked our family outing in Anchorage the best (probably more detailed in my mom's post), because in renting a car and just driving out of town, it kind of felt like we were runaways, or at home and taking a daytrip. It didn't really fit in with the cruise, and it made you feel more like a normal person, or a legitimate explorer.
There it is then, that's my briefish but honest review of the Amsterdam. Good times were had by mostly all, I met about 5 other people around my brother's and my age group (all within the last 3 days or so, of course), and whales are still awesome.
Ciao, internet people.