Embarkation: We embarked from Seattle after flying in the night before and staying at the Residence Inn on Lake Union. The Residence Inn is comfortable, clean and spacious and makes a great pre-cruise hotel. Seattle Shuttle drove us to the port. Heath, our driver, was very friendly and helpful. We have used Seattle Shuttle before and found them very reliable and thoughtful, especially where care of my older parents was concerned.
Boarding: Boarding was fine. We were worried because my father had forgotten his passport, but he was able to use his birth certificate, so that was no problem. Lines moved quickly and the counter clerks were friendly and efficient.
Stateroom: We were in stateroom 8042 (SS) which is our usual class of room on HAL. The room was spotless and in excellent repair. Although the Westerdam is not exactly a new ship, she is obviously well cared for. The room had plentiful closet and drawer space, a sofa bed, a double bed with night stands, a vanity, a desk with shelves, a coffee table, a flat screen TV and a bathroom with both jacuzzi tub and stall shower. The color palette is warm and bright as it is throughout the Westerdam. Our son is 17, but he still fit in the sofa bed. I think this is probably our last trip with that arrangement, though. The balcony was large and had four chairs and a table. HAL provides warm plaid blankets, so you can sit outside when it is chilly out. Fresh fruit was delivered to our room every day.
Buffet: The service at the Lido was excellent. For the first 48 hours, you cannot serve yourself. This is to minimize the risk of virus. The pasta and Asian stations are excellent. I find the salad bar fresh and clean looking, but a little erratic. It would be nice to have access to proteins to include in a salad, such as gorgonzola, walnuts or chickpeas. I wasn't able to find these things, though I did locate some grilled chicken strips one day. The panini and sandwich station is pretty good, though I find the ratio of bread to filling very much in favor of bread. The hot entrees usually include a meat dish, a fish dish, a chicken dish or a vegetarian dish. They were good, but sometimes they seemed a little heavy and traditional. I wish HAL would add a Greenhouse spa selection to the lunch menus.
Dining: We did not have a fixed dinner time, but we did dine at the same time every night during as you wish dining. The first night, the service was a little slow, but my husband said something and after that, it was great. Widodo, our server, was solicitous and polite. The dining room selections were mostly good. I would have liked to have seen more salads. Also, I am allergic to salmon which was a frequent culinary highlight on an Alaskan cruise. The first night's chicken with stuffing was delicious. The veal cordon bleu did not resemble what I believe to be veal cordon bleu. It had tomato sauce on it. The basa fillet was excellent. The Baked Alaska was pretty good, but I just don't get the fuss over it.
Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant: We ate at the Pinnacle Grill twice. Both times, the food was superior.My father is still raving about his steak. My son's lobster macaroni and cheese was rich and delicious. It also came with a lobster tail on top. I had a salad and a lobster tail for dinner and a chocolate souffle. The salad and lobster were perfectly prepared, but the souffle had a strange, chalky texture. I thought it was odd that no one asked if we wanted souffles when we ordered our appetizers since they take a long time to cook. This suggests that maybe the Pinnacle is prepping the souffles in advance and then only re-heating them. Another member of our party said the Pinnacle's baked Alaska tasted like burnt paper. My husband cannot digest any alcohol, so he found the dessert menu limiting because so many dishes were cooked with liqueurs. So, HAL, if you're reading this, improve the Pinnacle dessert menu. (One suggestion might be to switch the citrus panna cotta that is served with lunch to the dinner menu. It was delicous!) Everything else is fantastic. For lunch, I had a prawn bruschetta and a halibut sandwich with cilantro relish which were excellent. The prawns were enormous.
Activities/Entertainment: We didn't go to the shows or the night club. We played trivia every day which was fun. The only flaw was that the bonus was worth 5 points, meaning a team could get 5 out of 10 questions wrong and still win. I am not dying over the coasters and luggage tags HAL gives as prizes, but a fairer bonus would make the game better. We saw Randall Powell in the piano bar. He is a good pianist and fun if you like oldies. The wine tasting at the Pinnacle Bar on the second night was very informative and interesting. Even though we were tasting the wines from the package, there was no pressure to buy which was nice. The sommelier was very informative and engaging.
Spa/Gym: We used the gym several times during our cruise. Gary's spin class was an excellent workout. We bought a pass for the hydrospa and thermal suites. This was very relaxing and we used it nearly every day. The only thing we didn't like was that the thermal chairs were often full and the 20 minute limit was not enforced. In fact, there didn't seem to be a crew member monitoring that room at all. They could have used one because one day, I saw a woman using the thermal suite with her hiking boots on. Yuch! My son and I both had Swedish massages. Our therapists Terese and Annalise (or a name like that---my son couldn't remember) were courteous and professional. My back felt much improved. However, for some weird reason, Swedish massage does not appear on the spa services menu in favor of bamboo massage and Thai poultice massage and hot stone massage. These options may cost more, but I think lots of people like plain, old Swedish massage and I would encourage the Greenhouse Spa to add this service back to the every day menu. As of now, you can get a Swedish massage on a port day if you request it.
Ports and excursions:
Juneau: My sister and I took the Mendenhall Glacier Raft trip. This is a lot of fun and you get a good view of the glacier. However, it is not exactly an adrenaline filled experience. You do go over some category 3 rapids, but much of the trip is just a peaceful float. After the excursion was over, we took the tramway up to Mt. Roberts. This is not cheap, but the view is spectacular. For a good meal in Juneau, try Tracey's Crab Shack.
My husband and son took the photography tour of Juneau which they gave high marks. The guide is a professional photographer who provided them with tips on how to get the most out of their cameras. The excursion was five hours and included a boat trip with whale watching and a hike during which they saw a bear and eagles. This excursion is priced pretty reasonably, considering all that it includes.
Hubbard Glacier: Our day at Hubbard Glacier was spectacular. It was sunny and warm. The Captain got the Westerdam very close to the glacier and we were able to see it extremely well. It is breathtaking! The bow or front walks of the Westerdam were open on decks 4,5 and 6 for viewing and photographs. Otherwise, one could watch from the Crow's Nest. We spent most of the day on deck 6 and then finished viewing the glacier from our balcony. Rangers/naturalists board the ship at Hubbard Glacier and provide information to passengers. This is a really special and unique day and, to my mind, the highlight of the cruise.
Sitka: We didn't choose an excursion in Sitka. We walked around and visited the Russian Bishop's house and purchased soap at Wintersong soaps next door. It is a cute, but sleepy town.
Ketchikan: We booked a Zodiac tour with Ketchikan Outdoors on our own. This was an amazing adventure. Ketchikan Outdoors provided us with foul weather gear, a Zodiac and a guide who drove his own Zodiac. We zipped along on our Zodiacs, viewing wildlife and Ketchikan landmarks. Though the boats are capable of going up to 40 mph, they are also small enough for you to creep up quietly to view wildlife. We saw seals, otters, eagles, and salmon as well as Creek Street and a floating lumber village. This excursion is not offered through the cruise line and the maximum number of participants is 9. In our case, our family of 3 was the whole group. It was really personalized and fabulous.
Victoria: The ship arrived late and we had booked the Butchart Gardens and started to regret it as we drove though Victoria with our bus driver telling us what a great city Victoria is and that we wouldn't have much time with light at the gardens. Truer words were never spoken. By the time we arrived, the gardens were pretty dark and we only had about two hours if we were to obey our driver's order that we be back at the bus by 10:15 p.m. There wasn't much signage in the gardens, so we spent a lot of time wandering around in the dark and getting lost. Although the flowers look beautiful, you really can't see them very well and you definitely can't photograph them. The lighted fountains were lovely, however. It was a good thing we got back to the bus by 9:59 because the driver left at 10, stranding two of our friends when they came back at 10:15 to a completely empty parking lot. We noticed they were missing after the bus took off and my husband told the driver, who said it wasn't possible as he had done a head count. My husband said that there may have been the same number of people, but not the same actual people. The driver "They probably got on another bus. I'm not worried at all." Actually, our friends were stuck in the parking lot and very much at risk for missing the ship until they were able to convince a municipal bus driver to drop them at the port, using a sizable tip as persuasion. This excursion was very badly run and a waste of money. If you ever dock in Victoria, just walk around the city. It looks beautiful and interesting.
Other passengers: We've cruised HAL before and are familiar with their demographics. Most people were gracious and very friendly, but quite a few seemed to believe they were the only ones on the ship and we witnessed two episodes of downright rudeness. In one instance, we were in the exterior glass elevator with four other passengers, one of whom was a very, very overweight man on a scooter. His companion accidentally put something down on the scooter's ignition, causing it to back over the foot of the man behind him while the elevator was ascending. The man screamed, "YOUR SCOOTER IS ON MY FOOT!" but the guy neither backed up nor apologized. My husband and I had to help push the scooter off the guy's foot.
Worse was the evening we attended the Adagio Strings. The quartet was playing beautifully, when another oblivious and large guest tripped over the stage. She fell as though she had no control over her own body, landing on the cellist's music stand and then the cellist and her cello. The impact caused the cello's fret board to fall off and the cello itself, which was obviously quite old and valuable, to crack, beyond repair. The cellist broke into hysterical weeping and had to be escorted away. She did not return for the rest of the week. (Throughout the week, we did not hear anything about HAL or the woman who landed on her offering to reimburse her or expressing any apology or responsibility.) The woman who fell and destroyed the cello did not apologize or acknowledge the incident in any way while we were there. One of the gentlemen in our party went over to help the woman who fell up and said she was completely non-responsive and out of it.
I have cruised HAL many times before and formed the impression that they were a more sophisticated and upscale cruise line. I still believe that more or less, but I was very disappointed in the poor job they did on the Victoria excursion and on the lack of courtesy exhibited by my fellow passengers on more than one occasion. I am not blaming HAL or the Westerdam because nearly everything within their control was as it always has been. Unfortunately, having traveled with some passengers who clearly had little regard for the comfort and belongings of others makes me wonder whether I like cruising as much as I used to.