This was our first cruise of any type and, thanks to the many posts that we read here on these forums, we feel that we had as good a preparation as any first-timer could have wanted.
Instead of a day-by-day, blow-by-blow recap of our experience, we'd like to offer some insights and tips that developed from other cruisers:
• It was a wonderful experience, but it's a "bucket list" item for us. We're both mid-60 retirees, and there are other trips we're looking forward to making. DW has long wanted to take a cruise (her penny jar is labeled "Trip To Alaska"), and we now can say that we've done it.
• We bit the bullet and paid American Airlines to check two bags for us. Came to $100.00, which we calculate is less than 2% of the overall cost. Don't sweat the small stuff.
• We had beginners' luck in picking this cruise with Holland America. HAL is a first-class from day one operation, with crew and staff and surroundings all at the top of their game. The food was quite good, our verandah cabin (in the "SS Superior" category) was worth the price, the cabin stewards were very helpful but not hovering, and the ship was polished and shined to a high gloss.
• Our cabin had plenty of storage and not nearly enough electric outlets (for two iPads, three cameras - we were first-timers, after all - two cellphones, one razor and one hair-curler). The luggage (four typical airline roll-on bags) fit easily under the bed, and there were plenty of drawers in the room. Plenty of space in the two-sink bathroom.
• We had brought a surge-protector as advised by other posters here, and it proved its value on the first day: it gave its life to an electrical surge that burnt some of its connections to a dark brown, but the cameras weren't damaged.
• Others in our party had smaller rooms, with one-sink bathrooms, and their drawer-type storage was much more limited.
• On other trips, where the focus is off-ship activities, we agree that a verandah cabin is less important. For us, on a trip where the scenery was a priority, and the cold weather was a consideration, we felt that the expense of a verandah was justified. We were right.
• The boarding process was very quick and organized. We arrived by taxi about an hour ahead of our appointed time and proceeded through check-in right away. There were no porters waiting to handle our luggage for us (nor at the end of the cruise), and so we followed the signs and directions of the uniformed guides quite rapidly.
• After the check-in processing, we waited for our boarding group, which was called after a wait of about 20 minutes. Others in our party, who arrived at varying times, were in other boarding groups.
• Our cabin on board was ready, and so we were in it by 1:30. Our luggage arrived in about two hours, and was in our cabin when we returned after the safety briefing.
• We purchased the all-you-want laundry service from HAL for $49.00, and we used it five mornings for pick-up. The laundry came back every evening except one, folded or on hangers and well done. Loved it! Highly recommend it!
• DW purchased two soft drink cards because she loves Diet Dr. Pepper. HAL offers only Coke products. So, the drink card wasn't a complete success: couldn't be used for room service or mini-bar items in the fridge. Usage was restricted to dining areas and bars, and only for the Coke products. HAL credited the unused card back to her account at departure.
• We ate most breakfasts and all lunches in the Lido restaurant. Faster, more convenient, great views through the large windows, and an easy meeting point for us and DW's siblings who came on this family reunion.
• Had room service breakfast once to watch the fog go by outside our verandah.
• Ate most dinners in the main dining room, early-seating. Didn't eat lunches there because the times are very limited.
• Were fortunate to be assigned a table next to one of the big windows, and there we actually saw parts of whales on our last night's dinner. Flippers and humps, but we're callin' them "whales"!
• The HAL dining stewards in the main dining room were excellent: professional, helpful, solicitous, ever ready for any request, but again - like the cabin stewards - not hovering. Can't stress enough how serene and magnificent they looked in their understated uniforms.
• Because of family reasons, we didn't participate in the two formal nights, but we dressed up for one of our family dinners in the Canaletto restaurant. We easily could have avoided packing for a formal night and not felt out of place, but we did not want to miss the fun of it.
• We easily avoided purchasing any of the photo packages. After all, when you take three cameras, who needs 'em?
• Just to be safe, we downloaded pictures from all the cameras to our iPads each evening. It gets complicated, especially when you try to organize a photo record after the trip. We'll work on that.
• We didn't purchase any excursions, and didn't feel the lack. We took public transport in Juneau (to see Mendenhall) and Sitka (to the Raptor Center), and just walked around in Ketchikan, where we arrived at 7:00 AM and left at 1:00 PM.
• BTW: does anything say "Ketchikan, Alaska" any better than a store calling itself "Caribbean Gems" at dockside?
• DW bought two bottles of wine in Seattle and carried them aboard without comment. She ordered some cheese trays from room-service for a get-together in our cabin. HAL did her right.
• We had some small bouts with slight discomfort due to the motion of the ship, but meclizine seemed to help somewhat. Sea Bands were no help at all.
• And there was some quizzical behavior from the crew about seasickness. Early on, we asked twice for seasick bags: the cabin steward seemed honestly to not know what we meant, and a call to the front office produced only a promise to have some sent to us. No bags were sent. Three days later we saw supplies of them near one elevator bank. Brought one home as a souvenir.
• I have some pre-existing vertigo issues to start with, and the ship's motion seemed to make them worse. Even while we were on land during the trip, and for several days after the end of the trip, I had the sensation of rocking and movement. DW has no continuing sensations.
• Disembarking was a breeze. We were labeled as "Early/Independent", which gave us a departure window of 8:30-8:45 on Saturday. We walked off immediately at 8:30, and were in a taxi by 8:50. Again, HAL is very organized.
We did it, and we're very pleased. The planning, the trip itself, and the thinking about it afterwards are priceless.