Amsterdam Cruise Review by HAWAII TRAVELER: 14 Day Seattle to Anchorage and return on the Amsterdam
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14 Day Seattle to Anchorage and return on the Amsterdam
Friday August 19 (Seattle)
We are staying at the La Quinta Inn at 8th Avenue and Denny Way in Seattle, out near the Space Needle. It's just ok, no decent restaurants nearby, we dine at the Hurricane Cafe, a dive. We share fish and chips. In the morning it starts out cloudy and cold. Breakfast is free at the hotel. I make waffles. The breakfast room is full of kids and ESPN is blaring. Nancy needs cosmetics, so we hike west to a Walgreen's ON Denny Way. Now we can see the Monorail and the Space Needle, so we head thataway and get coffee and a rest stop at McDonald's. The weather turns better, and I see a sign for "Ride the Duck" with the phone number on the side of the vehicle. I call from the cell phone, it is only $28 (they don't mention the tax) they leave in twenty minutes, and pass by 130 sights (an exageration.) Nancy says: go for it, so we cross the street and soon we are aboard the duck. Our Captain is a wild man; we are entertained. There are only a dozen tourists More aboard, so we can take pictures easily. I only have the cell phone for photos, but it will have to do. It is soon very breezy. We head south along Alaska Way and get a good tour of the waterfront. When he's not talking, the Captain plays rock and roll on the loudspeaker. Tourists gawk at us: we become the show. We turn north through downtown; this part is not so great. We end up going over the Ballard Bridge, then entering Lake Union at its north end for a half hour boat ride. It is now sunny and very pleasant. Lots of houseboats and kayaks, real fun. When it's over, we walk a few blocks to ride the Monorail (it only goes a mile) for a dollar, and have lunch at the downtown Westlake Center. After a mediocre Chinese lunch (although in an interesting urban setting), we duck through an adjacent hotel and get a taxi to the Amsterdam. Downtown Seattle traffic is very crowded, but we get to the ship easily.
We manage to get a wheelchair for my wife. Boarding is slow, so we go up a ramp alongside the ship without the wheelchair. Holland American is known as a senior-friendly cruise line. Nevertheless, we are surprised at something new: rental motorized wheelchairs, similar to the Hoveround advertised on TV. They are numerous aboard the Amsterdam. Our bags come soon. We unpack, it is easy because the room layout is the same as on the Rijndam from our Panama cruise. We did not get an upgrade, so there is no window and no bathtub. Soon it is time for the lifeboat drill, a pain because they make us stand on the deck for twenty minutes. Dinner is excellent, prime rib, with a view of Puget Sound. After dinner my wife crashes, while I go to the free round of Bingo. Our table mate, George, wins the $200 prize! I buy a book: The Alaska Cruise Handbook, it has lots of maps and photos.
Saturday August 20 (Inside Passage)
We sleep in, and when we are up and ready we go to the Crow's Nest bar, it has a 270-degree view, enclosed, and a panorama of Canadian channels and islands is before us. The weather is clear but cloudy. Then we go to the formal dining room aft (La Fontaine) for breakfast. We are a half hour late and don't get a window table, and service is slow. Nancy likes to be served, nevertheless! Then we go to the presentation about the shore excursions- lots to do! Next we go back to the Crow's Nest, and relax as the scenery goes by. We are passing through a narrow channel: Johnstone Strait. In no time at all, it is lunch. We get a window table, and try not to order too much. Our table mates are from Florida and South Carolina. After, we sign up for the Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Straight Point (Hoonah) tours. No ports today, we are taking things easy and adjusting to Pacific Time. In the afternoon, there is a veterans' meeting, with free drinks, and the old codgers get to tell war stories. Some of the guys are in their nineties, and tell of their World War II adventures. Others are Vietnam veterans and talk of exposure to agent orange.
Since it is Saturday night, dinner is grand. I have the beef Wellington. My wife has rack of lamb. After dinner we go to the Broadway show, where eight energetic youngsters sing and dance to tunes ranging from Oklahoma through Cats to Chicago. So much energy! A dozen changes of costume. Meanwhile, the ship itself is doing rock and roll, we are in the open water of Hecate Strait. We retire to a long night's sleep (there is a one hour time gain.)
Sunday August 21 (Ketchikan)
I am up at 4:00 after eight hours sleep. I go topside: it has rained heavily, everything is wet, no stars, pitch black except for the many lights of the ship, we are in the open water of Dixon Entrance, near the Canada-Alaska border. The sea is calm, one other cruise ship in the distance. No one is about except some of the cafeteria staff. There is coffee, always (but not decaf.)
We don't go ashore until 10:00, when we are scheduled for a tour. It is cloudy and cold, but not raining. The tour bus takes us through the town. We head south to the Tlingit village of Saxman, which used to be the end of the road. I take pictures of the totem poles, but the only other building open to us is a tourist shop. We buy some postcards. Back in town we take a funicular that goes up Deer Mountain to a tourist lodge. We explore town a little, looking for lunch, but I have left my wallet in the safe on the ship. We decide to return to the ship for a quick lunch in the Lido Cafe, and catch our 2:00 P.M. tour on the Duck, which departs from the ship.
The Duck tour duplicates the town part of the previous tour, but now it is raining. The Duck is covered, but the side curtains fog up and the view is diminished. The town is jammed with tourists from the four large cruise ships that are present. There is room for four cruise ships to dock. The Duck finally enters the channel from a boat ramp in the new harbor, and although it is raining, we poke the camera through the plexiglass window and get some good photos. The town has become a cruise ship port, almost devoid of the former support of the lumber and fishing trades. We are told that most of the shops are just boarded up for the winter. .After the tour ends, My wifey goes to our cabin, and I return to town to explore. It starts to pour, so I cut short my tour and take the shuttle bus back to the Amsterdam. I am thinking that, although it has become a profitable cruise ship port, it has lost whatever charm it had. Actually, Ketchikan is still a charmless place, with really gloomy weather.
Monday August 22 (Tracy Arm)
We wake up to a cloudy and misty day. The elaborate breakfast and lunch meals in the La Fontaine are becoming routine, and we start to think about eating less, rather than gain a lot of weight. The food is very good, though, I think better than last year's voyage on the Rijndam. We meet new people at every meal (and soon forget their names). A lot of them are from the middle west and south. We are having lunch when the Captain announces that we are deep into Tracy Arm: it is time to go out on deck and look about. I find my wife a good chair near a window in the room where they play bridge. I go forward, dressed warmly with a sweater and raincoat with a hood, wearing my watch cap from skiing days. We see lots of waterfalls and small icebergs. The icebergs are very blue. One iceberg had a group of birds on it. At around three, as promised, we arrive at the end of the arm, and view Sawyer Glacier in all its glory. The return trip out is an anticlimax.
We go to the Crow's nest for Happy Hour: you get two cocktails for the price of one, plus a dollar. All bar tabs have 15% service charge added. This is in addition to the daily charge for cabin and dining room service. Out table mates for the 5:15 dinner in the La Fontaine are from Austria. We are at a table for four, and the wife doesn't understand or speak much English, so the conversation is strained. The evening's entertainment at 8:00 in The Queen's Lounge showroom is a second show by the resident song and dance troupe, the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. They do popular songs, and they are excellent: good voices, well-chosen hit songs, and excellent costumes and choreography. We are pleased. As we retire, My wife says she is cold, and resolves to dress warmly for Juneau.
Tuesday August 23 (Juneau)
I get up early to supervise the Captain's job, bringing this monstrous ship into the narrow Gastineau Channel, which is the entrance to Juneau Harbor. It is drizzling, as one might expect in southeast Alaska at any time of the year. The ship docks right downtown. I can see the building where the Coast Guard has an office, on the Government Wharf. Another cruise ship is already docked. A third will dock soon, and one more will anchor out. The town will be jammed with tourists, a far cry for the 1950's. We go ashore for our tour, which starts out with a bus ride north to the Mendenhall Glacier. In 1956, I visited the glacier, when it was just a short walk from the highway that leads to Juneau Airport. Now, a two-mile road leads to the glacier. The parking lot is jammed with tour buses. A thousand people are milling around the Visitor Center building. We go to the movie, which gives a good rundown of what to see. (We buy a copy of the movie.) We have a front row seat, and I am able to easily photograph scenes from the movie. Afterwards, I hike the nearby trails and take a lot of photos, while my wife visits the shop. It is raining all the time.
Afterward, the bus takes us to the Glacier Garden. We don't know what to expect, it's just part of the combo tour we bought, but it turns out to be better than the glacier. We tour the rain forest in a covered tram, roof overhead, while the rain pours down. The forest is on the side of a steep mountain. The owner of the attraction invented an upside down fern planter, like an upturned hapu trunk, with the top buried in the ground, with the former root ball is made into a planter filled with annual flowers. The tram goes up the hill through the rain, giving a view through the trees of the water below. Very pleasant and interesting. We return to the Amsterdam in time for lunch in the Lido cafeteria. After lunch, we go ashore again and take the funicular to the top of Mount Roberts. The cable car and the amenities at the top are run by the Tlingit tribe. We get a god view of the city and the channel and take a lot of photos. Then we go shopping, wending our way through the masses of tourists, through the drizzle. We buy some gifts. We try to get into the Red Dog Saloon, but it is jammed. The decor is Alaska wild, with a lot of hokey Alaska stuff on the walls. I take my wife back to the Amsterdam (just yards away), and walk through the drizzle to the Baranof Hotel. It looks run down. I return to the ship for dinner in the La Fontaine. We are achy and tired, so we retire early.
Wednesday August 24 Icy Strait Point (Hoonah)
I am up early again, anxious to see the Amsterdam come into port. Actually, we are just going to pull of to the side of the channel, out of the way of other shipping, and send the passengers ashore by tender. We go ashore at an old cannery, which is now a set of tourist shops and restaurants. Our tour is a tram ride along a shingle foreshore, with a Tligit woman as our guide. We see some eagles, fishing boats and waterfalls, all under a cold, cloudy sky. Afterwards, we enjoy a native show, with a narrator who explains the Tlingit cosmology: it all started with the raven opening a box. I, and the other tourists, get to do a native dance to the Tlingit drumming and chanting. At two o'clock, we are hungry, and order fish chowder and beer. We return to the ship, cold and tired. We have good steaks for dinner. During the meal, we pass the lighthouse at Cape Spencer, And head out into the Gulf of Alaska.
Thursday August 25 (At Sea)
When will the sun shine? I am up at six as usual for coffee and a check of the weather. No land is in sight, cloudy skies, but at least no rain, and not too rough. We go to the theater at 1000 for a presentation about the shore excursions that are coming up at Anchorage, in the morning. We also hear about the excursions for Homer, Kodiak, Hubbard Glacier (Yakutat), Sitka and Victoria B. C. We are looking forward to tonight's special: King Crab Legs! After that we will go to the showroom for the third session by the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. We have already attended two of their shows, and they are great. It is amazing that such talent is on a cruise ship.
Friday August 26 (Anchorage)
Again I am up on deck early, watching to ship come into the dock. Anchorage has a tremendous tide range, a large ship like the Amsterdam can enter only at high tide. The inner harbor has been dredged, so the ship does not go aground, but it cannot depart until the next high tide, thirteen hours later. The port is a secure zone, south of downtown, we have to use a tour bus or shuttle but to reach downtown. We have signed up for a bus tour of Anchorage, followed by a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, north of town. The city is small, about 280,000 population, with many modern hotels and office buildings. Although Juneau is the state capital, Anchorage is by far the economic center. The buildings are new, because most of the old buildings were destroye3d in the 1964 earthquake. We don't tour the downtown by foot; it doesn't look interesting.
The cultural center has a presentation which describes the various tribes who were the original population of the state. We are treated to a native dance presentation by a group of Haida, one of the original people of southeast Alaska. Actually, they are all from the town of Metlakatla, which is on Annette Island, which used to be the airport for Ketchikan.
Saturday August 27 (Homer)
In the morning I go on deck early to watch the ship being docked at the "spit," a harbor area about six miles south of the town center. It has a small boat harbor, filled with boats owned by the residents of the Anchorage area, who come down to Homer to fish for halibut. It is about a five-hour drive from Anchorage to Homer. There are hundreds of trailer boats, and some people are camping on the shoreline in tents. There is a shopping area with restaurants, tour offices, and vacation condos. I wonder what these people will do in the event of an earthquake and tsunami, which devastated this area in 1964. The weather continues to be cold and cloudy. We have signed up for a "hop-on-off" bus tour, with four stops. We get off at stop three, which is primarily an art shop. It is very nice, and low priced, I wonder how the owners can make a living. There is an artist present showing his work. I buy some attractive earrings for the relatives. Across the street is the Pratt Museum; we visit it for a while, nothing special. We hop back on the bus, and make a quick stop at #4. There is one small art shop open; we have done downtown Homer, that's it. We get on the bus and go back to the pier. Then there is another bus that goes to the Salty Dawg, in the boat harbor at the end of the spit. There is a hardware and fishing supplies store, which has some tourist items. There are numerous restaurants and some condos at the end of the spit. We are done with Homer, and return to the ship.
Sunday August 28 (Kodiak)
We dock at a large pier, about a mile from downtown. Shuttle bus service is provided, using school buses, which have cramped seats, but it is better than walking. We do not take a tour, but head for the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church. At first we can't visit the church because of the Sunday service. We head for the downtown mall, which has a few shops open on this Sunday morning. We look for T-shirts for gifts, but can't find any we like. My wife hangs out in a sunny square, while I go to the church to take photos of the interior. It is crowded, but I get my photos, and also buy some slides and church music. The weather is beautiful, but cool, in the 50's. We return to the ship for lunch. . In the afternoon we read until dinner, after which we go to the theater for another show called Avalon, and this time it includes the string quartet and the house band in addition to the eight singers and dancers that have performed before. It is again a hit show; we enjoy it a lot.
Monday July 29 Hubbard Glacier (Yakutat)
We go to our usual 8:00 breakfast in the dining room, and then go to the sale: the store is having its usual end-of-cruise sale of logo clothing around the swimming pool. . We don't buy anything, but we notice some close-out winter hats and boots in the main store that will make good Christmas presents, and buy some. Then we go to the "bridge" presentation by one of the watch officers. For security reasons, they don't actually have tours of the bridge anymore, so instead they have a Powerpoint presentation of the equipment on the bridge. The officer explains the bridge controls, including the new power pods and bow thrusters, very interesting.
The Amsterdam steers into Yakutat Bay, an isolated body of water about forty miles long, with the famous Hubbard Glacier at the end. A ranger from the Tongass National Forest tells us all about it in the showroom. The Captain brings the ship within half a mile of the glacier, considered very close. The glacier, we are told, is 350 feet high at the water's edge. All the passengers are on deck, taking photos. The sky is clear; it is a sunny afternoon, temperature in the fifties. I take a lot of pictures. We hoped to se "calving," where chunks of the glacier break off and crash into the ware, but we didn't see any. A magnificent day.
Tuesday July30 (Sitka)
Awake around six as usual. I go up to the Lido cafeteria for my morning coffee. I see Mount Edgecumbe, an extinct (some say dormant, the last eruption was 2,000 years ago) volcano, visible from downtown Sitka. The weather is cloudy, temperature in the fifties, but no sign of rain. We are scheduled for a noon tour, but we can go ashore (by ship's boat, the Amsterdam is anchored) early. We tour Lincoln Street, the main drag of the town. There are some strictly tourist shops, but also shops which carry clothes for the local population. We buy T-shirts for the relatives. We tour as far as the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, but don't go in, because it is included on our tour, we will see it later. We have lunch at the Larkspur Cafe, which offers clam chowder, and which appeals to us on this cold, cloudy day. It comes with very tasty homemade bread, but the chowder itself is more chopped celery and herbs, not much clam flavor, and lukewarm at that. We are thankful for a warm place (with a toilet) to hang out while waiting for our tour. The bus, driven by a Tlingit, heads for the Russian Church. We are given its history, and have a chance to take photos. Next we go to the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which has a lot of Tlingit artifacts. The best part of the tour is the Russian dance group, the New Archangel Dancers. This group, organized forty years ago, is all women, because, in the beginning, no men wanted to join the group. So, women play the men's part. They do a great job, and I take lots of pictures. The dancers are talented, and their costumes are very colorful. The tour concludes with a drive around the town, which has a lot of nice homes out on some private islands. The guide says that Sitka has the best halibut and salmon fishing in Alaska, but Ketchikan makes the same claim. It must be very depressing here in the long, cold, dark winter.
Wednesday August 31 (At Sea in the Gulf of Alaska)
We sleep in. The time changed from Alaska time to Pacific time. The weather is sunny and the sea is smooth, but the air temperature is a cool 55 degrees. We are joined at breakfast by a couple who are ninety-two years old (and still cruising- very encouraging!) At eleven, we eat again: the Mariners' Club champagne brunch, a freebie for those who have cruised on Holland American before. I enjoy the free champagne, but the menu is limited. In the evening, we attend our favorite show, the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers, who put on a splendid "Las Vegas"show, the last of five.
Thursday September 1 (Victoria, B.C.)
We don't dock until noon. In addition, the weather is cold and foggy, so there's not much to see as we come into port. We did a home exchange to Sydney, a suburb of Victoria, in 2007, so we are complacent about this port. We have lunch in the dining room, so we don't get ashore until after 1:00. The cruise ship port is about a mile from town. We take the shuttlebus to downtown; it's $7.50 each round trip. We had some sun during lunch, but now it is cloudy and cold. The guard says it's 52 degrees. The bus lets us off at the Empress Hotel. We were here four years ago on a home exchange, so we are not interested in roaming around in the cold. We head for the Royal B.C. Museum; there will be things to do there. We settle on the Imax, which is showing a movie, Whales. We see the 3:00 performance. It's very nice. The museum and the movie are very crowded, because it's a holiday weekend (for Americans.) After, it's still cloudy and cold, we return to the Amsterdam. We enjoy our last formal dinner in the La Fontaine.
Friday September 2 (Seattle )
I am up at six, anxious to see the ship navigate in Puget Sound. We are loitering off Pier 91, about to dock. We go to the La Fontaine for a last served breakfast. We are relaxed, because we chose to spend the day in Seattle, rather than rushing off the ship to catch the 1150 Alaska Airlines direct flight to Kona. We sit around, waiting for the Green 3 group to be called. We find our bags in the terminal, and get a porter to take them outside. We don't have to have the bags with us as we go through U. S. Customs. There is a long line, but a new post opens up and we rush to it. Almost out! But then, the officer said: "Please follow me to secondary screening!" He holds our passports. There he produced a device which measures radiation. He asked me if I had a prostate problem, and I replied that I had radioactive seeds implanted in March. He repeated the radioactive measurement procedure three more times. He then went to another room and made phone calls. I could hear my name spelled out several times. After about half an hour, he let me proceed. Our porter was found, he thought he had lost us. He leads us to the head of the taxi queue, and we are on our way to the La Quinta Inn. It is 1000, it would have been too late to catch our flight if we had chosen to fly out on Friday.
The La Quinta Inn is an ok hotel, within walking distance of the Space Needle at the park called Seattle Center. We walk to the park, but can't get a reservation at the restaurant. To just visit the top of the Needle, the senior rate is $16.00 each. Since we had been there before, we passed. We take the monorail (unimproved since 1962, still only a one mile ride) downtown and have lunch at the Westlake Mall. We hike about a mile back to the hotel. Dinner is takeout pizza from the nearby Whole Foods Market.
Saturday September 3
The long airplane ride home. The flight is uneventful, but also uncomfortable. The plane is a stretched Boeing 737 (Alaska Airlines is, of course, all Boeing!) with a narrow aisle and cramped seats, the backrest reclines only about an inch. There is no meal service, only snacks, no movie (just DVD players for rent) and no coffee. However, it is a direct flight of five and three quarter hours, less time than going through Los Angeles or Honolulu.
All things considered, an Alaska cruise on Holland American Lines is a wonderful trip! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Nearby Homer is a bust, unless you go fishing.