We had a wonderful time on our cruise and believe much of our great attitude about everything was thanks to Cruise Critic. We discovered that a great way to really appreciate all aspects of the trip was to take the time before hand to set our expectations in-line with reality. Our expectations were met (and even exceeded sometimes) during our cruise thanks to the fact that we knew exactly what kind of service, food, excursions, ambiance and fellow passengers we were buying in to. Thank you to everyone who participates on this message board.
My husband and I are in our late 40's and were celebrating our tenth anniversary. This was sort of our first cruise, proper. My husband's only other ship board experience was a six-day crossing aboard the QE2 for our honeymoon. Our captain aboard that vessel made it quite clear that it was a "crossing" not a "cruise." I had been on a couple of short Carnival Cruises years ago, but that was for work (sales conferences) so it wasn't the same thing.
We recommend the 14-day cruise. It was worth the extra dough to really get immersed in the experience. Plus weather becomes less of a factor since a few days of rain isn't that big of a deal when you're travelling for two weeks.
We booked pretty early with a guarantee and got upgraded at the last minute. After talking to fellow passengers I understand there is pretty much no rhyme or reason to how upgrades happen. I think we just got lucky. (Not that there was any huge difference the class of cabin we were upgraded to - mostly location.)
We had stateroom 2586. It was more generous than we expected, especially when it came to storage. We brought EVERYTHING and weren't even close to filling all the storage space. Actually we didn't even find all the storage space until the second half of the trip. (There are drawers under the bed - who knew?) Loved the CC advice about bringing a digital clock, power strip and extension cord and the over-the-door clear plastic shoe holder was such a great organizer for all our junk that would have otherwise been all over the dresser top. (Loved that trick so much I'm going to use it at home.)
Our cabin location was pretty good - nearly mid-ship. The only noise we ever heard was some deck chairs scraping on the promenade, but it wasn't very loud nor a regular occurrence. 2586 offers a great view of the tenders being lowered. Number 10 goes right past the window. It was fun to watch that procedure.
We stored our binoculars and a few other things in the window. We discovered that that made it possible to identify our window from the outside of the ship which was kind of fun.
Our cabin was very close to the laundry room, but it was out-of-order. We hadn't picked our room, so we didn't really care, but someone who had chosen specifically to be near the washing machines might have been disappointed. Our solution was to just skip doing laundry...hope no one noticed. ?
Our room had a tub and shower. We saw the "shower only" configuration in other rooms and decided those were probably superior. I only used the tub once and it is too small to really luxuriate. Just go to the hot tub if you need a soak.
We had the fixed late seating at a table for two (Table 26). We had chosen it because of our experience on the QE2 where we really liked getting to know our servers. Our table was near the windows which we appreciated. A word about a table for two: it is great! If you want to be social there are plenty of other opportunities to do so. We loved getting to know people, but also loved the fact that each night at dinner it was just about the two of us. Also, if you do want to have dinner with new friends, you can always skip your table for two and eat downstairs, at the Canaletto, the Lido or Pinnacle together.
The dining room food was solid, consistent and beautifully presented. We appreciated the reasonable portions. I thought they did a particularly good job at the soups. There were several cold soups offered, which added nice variety. Real stand outs were the veal chop and the nut encrusted salmon. At the Pinnacle the steaks were outstanding and at Le Cirque the lamb chops were the best of my life. We had a great staff that worked our table.
The first day was stopped by the dining room at breakfast, but realized they don't seat you at your regular table with your regular server for breakfast (on the QE2 you get your regular spot, so we just assumed.) No big deal, we discovered it was fun to "do" the buffet and ended up never getting to the dining room breakfast. By in large the Lido food was really good, especially for a buffet. I could hardly pass up the poached eggs, fresh squeezed OJ and smoked salmon every morning. For serving on such a massive scale we were surprise at how good the coffee was. Nothing gourmet, but we thought it would be more like gas station coffee when they're making it for 1400.
We took advantage of the in-room coffee service in the mornings before breakfast. You request it to arrive in a 30 minute window. Almost always they came at the top of the window. Sitting on the bed in our cozy robes looking out the window, sipping coffee that was delivered to our room...perfect. Actually our first morning we spotted whales outside our window as well. Talk about being on vacation.
A few times we ordered the Triple Decker Sandwich off of the 24-hour menu and the green apple off of the "sea sick" menu to arrive with our coffee in the morning. We packed them all up in our zip locks (thanks again CC) and took them ashore for our picnic lunch. The sandwich traveled surprisingly well and it comes with chips. It was certainly enough to tide us over until we got back on the ship in the late afternoon. Since we'd already paid for the food on the ship, we tried hard not to spend much on food ashore unless it was something really spectacular.
Note to new cruisers: The ship sails so smoothly that we missed our sail-away out of Seattle. We were well on our way before we realized the ship was moving. Watch the clock if want to see it.
Everyone was so friendly on the Amsterdam. I guess everybody already has something in common - they chose to be on this cruise - so that is enough of an ice-breaker to strike up conversations with strangers. We got to know people in the elevators, on the tender trips, at afternoon tea, in the hot tub and even over a puzzle in the library. Another great meet-up was the Cruise Critic Meet n' Greet. That was a fun way to make some connections early on.
We LOVED going to the trivia games. Since it is team trivia we got to meet a lot of fellow passengers early on as no one had set teams yet. This is how we ended up really making friends, too. If we'd bumped into someone twice and gotten chatty we'd invite them to play trivia with us. With trivia everyone has something to offer. The questions were broad so everyone had a time to shine. Regular teams got a little more established as the cruise went on and that made it extra fun as rivalries developed. The prizes are pretty silly, but that's never the point for us (although we did appreciate the nights when the prize was a free round of drinks.) In trivia, as with all the activities we went to, the staff was very respectful of our time and generally nothing lasts much more than 30 minutes.
Happy hour generally coincided with trivia which was an added bonus. We found all of the cocktails to be solid and well made. Not overly expensive - especially at happy hour. In the evenings it's always happy hour somewhere. Just go to that bar, get the happy hour price and then take your drink to another part of the ship if you want.
We went to most of the musical revue shows. Like expected, they were pretty corny, but certainly well executed. The dancers were very talented and performed well. I don't blame them for the high cheese-factor. The special guests were ok, but continued with the "cheese" theme. HAL could consider upping the ante a little. Everyone I met onboard was smart, interesting and well-traveled. I think HAL should ask more of their audience and offer some slightly more cerebral entertainment. Maybe some improv, sketch comedy, a one-act play or murder mystery show could spice things up a bit. Those kids are talented and I'm sure they can do more than dance.
Or maybe HAL knows that in Alaska everyone is so pooped by show time, they don't need to put a lot of emphasis on engaging entertainment. Lord knows there were a few nights that I could barely keep my head up after dinner.
The only other entertainment we went to regularly was Diane Fast in the piano lounge. She was great fun and knows every song ever and will play it just for the asking. We really enjoyed her and she was a work horse. Played every night and never took a break that we know of. Bravo Diane.
We knew before we left that at a couple of stops we'd be tendered to the shore. What we didn't think about was that many people might want to be on the first tender to get to shore in time for their excursions. If you book a private excursion, you have no priority for getting on. It all worked out fine for us, but it was something we hadn't considered. Plan ahead and get to the tender-ticket area early.
We arrived a day early and rented a car so we could tour the Boeing factory near Everett. It was awesome. So glad we did it. If you're a tech, manufacturing or aviation geek, don't miss it.
Being our first stop we wanted to find some "real" Alaska, so we wondered up into the neighborhoods and took a back thoroughfare all the way behind the town and ended up at the Deer Mountain trail. The trail is spectacular and beautifully maintained. If you want to have the energy to get to the top, you may want to take a cab to the trail head, it's a bit of a walk to just the start. It poured rain and we were glad we had invested in some decent rain jackets. For rain pants we just sprayed a couple pair of wind pants with several coats of Kamp Dry before we left. They were quite antiquate and way more affordable than real rain pants.
We took the public bus out to Mendenhal Glacier. It's a bit of a hoof from the bus stop, but it's a nice trail. We really enjoyed the local color on the bus. Got to meet an interesting gent who work for a while in our hometown and also got to hear the Juneau teenagers complain to each other about the fact that there's nothing to do in town. (City life is city life, I guess.)
We saw a tour group of bicycles on the way up. It would have been a great ride (nice, paved trail, easy slopes) if it hadn't been pouring rain again. I'd go for bikes if it's nice weather when you're in Juneau. The trails around the glacier are interesting and well-marked. When we got back into town we saw a sign at the Alaskan Brewery store that they had brewery tours. We signed up. When we came back to get on the van we found out it was $12! We've taken many brewery tours in the past and they've all been free, so we just assumed. We opted out. Found out later that you can take a public bus or even walk to the brewery and get the tour for free.
We found a good viewing point on the upper bow. I don't know what the area is called officially, but it is a balcony just below the bridge and above the bow. You can access it from deck 6, forward. It has a nice wind break, so only your upper half is exposed. It was cold and wet, so the crowds were light. But outside was really the only place to truly experience the scenery because the rain was obscuring the view from most windows inside. Just bundle up and get out there.
We loved our "guy." Floyd with FISHES whale watching was awesome. Such a dear. We felt like we were visiting an uncle. He has a great little six-seater boat that he designed himself (the hot chocolate and cookies didn't hurt either.) And boy did he find us some whales. We eventually discovered three humpbacks bubble feeding and lingered there for a long time. It was so up-close and personal. We were the only boat there. It was like a private show. One of my favorite parts of the day was when we got back to the dock Floyd's wife, Margie, was standing there and she passed him is lunch bag through the window. Something so sweet about that. She offered us a ride back to the cruise dock, but we opted for a walk. So glad we did. On the way back we met the local bald eagle couple that lives in the village and stopped at the Office Bar for lunch. You HAVE to go to the Office Bar. One of the most memorable meals of the trip. They don't really have a kitchen (they are truly a bar) but on cruise ship days they fire up a few pots outside and boil the freshest crab you've ever had. There were even a couple of local fisherman still wet from the days catch pumping quarters in the juke box - a real joint.
Finally some real sunshine! We rented bikes at Convenience K store in the Captain Cook hotel (as recommended by a local.) They were very affordable. We rode 28 miles and nearly all of it was on paved off-street bike path. It was a great way to really get an over view of the city. We took the coastal trail south and hooked up with the creek trail that runs northeast out toward the university and hooked up with another creek trail that goes right back downtown. We finished the day with a beer at Glacier Brewery (nice variety, good craft beer.) The dock at Anchorage is secure and we noticed the guards were packing heat. We wondered how far we'd have to wonder away from the boat before they'd draw their weapons. We didn't test them.
We had no plans here, but ran into some shipboard friends at breakfast and decided to explore together. We found out the bus in to town was $15, but renting bikes was also $15. We opted for the bikes. The bus to the spit was free then we walked a bit to the very end. A hotel there called Lands' End rents nice touring bikes. They were well maintained and a breeze to ride. We took a leisurely ride into Homer. Stopped to watch a bald eagle for a while and then stumbled onto the Farmers Market, tooled around there for a while. Once we got in to old town we met fifth grader, Mackenzie, who I am sure is a future mayor of Homer. She ran a kick-butt lemonade stand and chatted it up with us for several minutes. After returning the bikes in the afternoon we watched some folks filet halibut for a while and then had a drink at the Salty Dog. Great day.
Once again we had no plan here. We wondered into town which was pretty sleepy on a Sunday morning. Chatted for a bit with a local family off for a Sunday boat ride. After some meandering we found ourselves at the visitor center. We bumped into another couple that was looking for a cab to Abercrombie State Park. We decided to go too and share the cab. It was about $20 split among several people. Abercrombie was beautiful. Great hiking, specular vistas and an interesting WWII museum housed in the old munitions bunker. Meeting the young guy who runs the museum is worth the $5 to get in. He's quite passionate about his hobby. He has recreated a WWII office and you can call from one rotary-dial phone to another in the building. We played with that for a while. My husband commented that it could easily be the last rotary-dial call he ever makes. It was fun.
We took up residency in our same spot on the upper bow. They weather was exceptional, so the throngs were out. The bow got pretty crowded, but our upper area never got more than a couple of people deep. I imagine viewing on the inside was better than at Tracy Arm for the lack of rain, but I never went inside to look - couldn't take my eyes off the glacier. It was majestic.
We booked a kayak trip with Sitka Sound Outdoor Adventures. What a boon. They really personalize the trip and made us at least feel like we were in charge of the day. Our guide Dana was a perfect match for us and was full of information about local lore as well as flora and fauna. The eagles and whale put on quite a show for us that day and we even saw a seal. We booked with SSOA because they offer a one-way trip (downwind) on the kayak and then they pick you up a little skiff to get you back to town. It was the perfect way to go. None of the boredom of an out-and-back trip. We stopped on a secluded beach and had a gourmet cold lunch. There were whales nearby so when the skiff picked us up he offered to run us by the whales. It was a serendipitous close encounter. The whale came right toward us. We absolutely loved our trip and our guide. We had a bit of time after so we popped in to the fairly new Kodiak Island Brewing Company located in an industrial park outside of town. They were super friendly and came to pick us up at the dock. It's just a tiny tasting room, but they have the enthusiasm of a big brewery. I recommend seeking them out.
After wondering around the inner harbor a bit, we rented a two-person motor scooter. The folks at Vintage Rent-a-Car (right behind the visitor's center and public restrooms) are super laid-back and their prices were so affordable. It only costs us $54 for two hours (which turned out to be the perfect amount of time.) We could rent the slightly beefier shooter since my husband has a motorcycle endorsement on his license. It was nice to have that extra power on the hills. We drove the coast for most of the two hours and then cut back through town on the return. It was a great way to see Victoria. I would actually consider it for a nice over-view of any city I'm visiting.
We planned a few days in Seattle after our cruise. They highlights were dinner at Alki Crab & Fish across the bay. (Take the Pier 50 water taxi and the "chippy" is right there on the dock.) We went in the evening and the light on the city was picture perfect. We sat at their outside bar and raised a glass as we watched the Amsterdam set off on its next 14-day adventure. A little bittersweet. But the food at Alki soon had us forgetting being abandoned by our ship. You must have the Steamer Bowl. Holy cow, I'm still thinking about it. We also went to a movie that the Cinerama. It's the only movie theatre still able to show three-reel Cinerama movies. It's been refurbished and is a glorious tribute to mid-modern architecture and movie-going life.