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280 Holland America Seattle Cruise Reviews

I traveled with my 20-something daughter on her first trip to Alaska. Both of us have been on previous cruises. Check-in at the port was smooth. We had our boarding information and passports ready. We arrived just before noon, ate lunch on ... Read More
I traveled with my 20-something daughter on her first trip to Alaska. Both of us have been on previous cruises. Check-in at the port was smooth. We had our boarding information and passports ready. We arrived just before noon, ate lunch on the Lido deck and proceeded to find our bags already inside our cabin the first time we arrived there. The ship is pretty, very clean and well laid out. I was disappointed in the condition of our stateroom however. Behind that closed door, we found a different situation than I had seen in the public areas. The Rubbermaid bath mat had quite a bit of black mold on it, as did the lining of the drapes at the sliding glass doors to the veranda. The shower curtain liner kept falling from the hooks. The ice bucket had quite a bit of rust on the outside. The loveseat was worn, not unlike a college apartment piece of furniture. The towel bathmat was ragged. I simply felt the public areas were more important to HAL than the private areas. Neither my daughter or I were very impressed with the food. I ate lots of salads from the Lido salad bar at lunch. The Italian station had some good choices. My dessert consisted of ice cream because I couldn't find any of the baked goods that were tasty. Ports of call: We have loved the small Alaska towns in the past. Unfortunately, these are becoming another shopping mecca for cruise ship diamond stores. I'd prefer the local shops, and that is where I headed to spend my money. Overall, we enjoyed the trip. I just wished for better quality from HAL. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
Traveling in our group: Me- 42 yr old taking her 18th cruise, Hubby- 47 taking 20th cruise, Daughter- 12 taking her 11th cruise, Son- 6 on his 5th cruise and Grandpa- 81 taking his 6th? Cruise. After having a very bad flight experience ... Read More
Traveling in our group: Me- 42 yr old taking her 18th cruise, Hubby- 47 taking 20th cruise, Daughter- 12 taking her 11th cruise, Son- 6 on his 5th cruise and Grandpa- 81 taking his 6th? Cruise. After having a very bad flight experience a few years ago, DH, kids and I elect to drive to Seattle from the Sacramento area. We left at 12:00 am and arrived in Seattle at 2:00 pm. It was a nice drive except for a small amount of road work. We checked into the Seatac Doubletree. They have a cruise and park program that includes shuttle to the pier. The next morning, I rode the hotel shuttle over to the airport to pick up Grandpa and then back again to the hotel. Our shuttle for the pier was scheduled for 11:45. Loaded up and headed over to Pier 91. Upon arrival at the pier, there were no porters (this would hold true for the return trip as well). We schlepped our bags to huge line for bag drop off, then huge line for security, then huge line for registration. This was probably the longest we've ever taken for embarkation, probably due to the fact that we usually arrive much earlier. We finally made it aboard after 2:00, dropped off our bags and headed up to Lido for lunch. The food in the Lido was very good in our opinions. Of course HAL does not allow you to serve yourself the first 2 days, so that slows everything down. It is worth it though for a disease free vacation. We also thought that the food in the MDR was wonderful with a few exceptions. The prime rib is not so great and some of the desserts are not worth the calories. The fish though was so delicious. I ate soooo much salmon this week. Our cabins were pretty small. DH, the kids and I were in adjoining K category inside cabins on deck 6- 6134 and 6138 specifically. We usually do insides, and still were a little surprised at how small the cabins were. Grandpa had a balcony cabin on 8- 8143 aft cabin. It also seemed small compared to other balcony cabins we have had in the past but the balcony was pretty deep. Our room stewards Fendi and Anwar were fantastic- the best we have had in many cruises. The room would be cleaned any time we came back, there was always ice and fresh fruit. We purchased the Hydropool/Thermal suite package as we have really enjoyed it in the past. However, this time there were so many people that it was not enjoyable. You had to wait your turn most of the time. I ended up only using it 3 times. Totally not worth the money. Club Hal: my 6 yr old son loved it as usual. My DD would not even try going. Part of that is that she is a rather tall, developed 12 year old and would have been very out of place with the 8-12 year old group that she was in. All of the kids in her group looked to be 10 and under. She probably would have been fine in the 13-17 group, but was not old enough. Entertainment: The singers/dancers were ok. I felt slightly embarrassed for them a few times- only attended one show. The magician and comedian/juggler were very good. The culinary arts demonstrations were fun. Juneau: We arrived in port at 1 pm. We had a tour scheduled with Juneau Whale watch that we needed to check in with at 2:30. So we didn't feel we could do much without missing the tour. We shopped around a little bit and then checked in. Turns out the excursion didn't leave until 3:00. We loaded all up and headed over to Auke Bay. We were on a new catamaran with naturalist Tommy and captain Dave. We were able to see Dall's porpoises as well as humpack whales. I got some great tail shots as well as pectoral fins and the humped backs. The weather was wonderful- it was so beautiful and you could see Mendenhall glacier from the water. After 2 hrs on the water, we returned to load onto a bus to go to the glacier. Since the ship left early, we elected to just stay on the bus and return to the ship. I'm a little sorry I didn't get off to get some photos. Glacier Bay: Entered around 7:00 am for a full day of cruising. Started out rather overcast, but the sun came out late morning. We were treated to some wonderful scenery and glacial views. We even saw a bald eagle and what looked like a sea otter. Not a lot of ice in the water but saw a couple largish calving on Margerie glacier. Amazing how calm and reflective the water was. Beautiful. We spent most of the time in the bow of the ship- best viewing and least crowded. Also spent time on Grandpa's balcony as the ship turned for some great views. This afternoon DD and I attended the cupcake tea- so yummy. Sitka: Probably my favorite port. Gorgeous, gorgeous weather. We walked from the pier down to totem park, walked back and shopped a little. We then boarded our only cruiseline purchased excursion: Birds, Bears and Barnacles. Went to a fish hatchery/aquarium with touch tanks, then to the raptor center, then to Fortress of the Bears all on a refurbished prison bus! It was a really good excursion. Loved seeing the bald eagles and owls up close before they were released after healing. The bears were awesome too. They take care of orphaned cubs that would have died in the wild. They seemed so happy and playful. The last tender was leaving the pier at 2:30, so at 2:10 I started getting a little anxious. Bobbie our guide assured us we would be back in time. And we were at 2:27- LOL. Along with probably 300+ other cruisers waiting for tenders. Of course the captain waited for all of us to get aboard before sailing away. Remarkably it only took about 30 minutes to get all of those people loaded up and on the ship. Ketchikan: The only day that was mostly overcast. We went on a Duck tour. A fun ride around town and then into the bay- all accompanied by jokes and quacks. Our driver Bruce and guide Lee (yeah, Bruce Lee) were very entertaining. After the tour, we walked over to creek street, took some photos. Not very many salmon were running yet. We then strolled back to the ship, doing a little shopping along the way. Victoria: This is a very late port- not until 6 pm. We wanted to take the double decker bus into town, but it was already fully booked. We would love to see Butchart gardens, but decided not to- we (me) were very tired after all the walking the last few days. We decided to just hang out onboard and do our packing for the next day. Seattle: Disembarkation was very smooth. Off the ship in 5 minutes. No porters- had to lug our luggage all the way to the end of the shuttle stops. The shuttle line was very full. Had to wait quite some time for pick up- about an hour waiting our turn to get on a shuttle. I dropped off Grandpa at the airport and then hopped on the doubletree shuttle to meet the family at the hotel for the drive back. All in all it was a wonderful cruise and I can't wait for the next one! Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
I have a pictoral review posted on the forums page: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1885530 Holland America's process was quick and painless for getting on board. We went through security, registered and got our ... Read More
I have a pictoral review posted on the forums page: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1885530 Holland America's process was quick and painless for getting on board. We went through security, registered and got our boarding cards very quickly. They gave us a group number for boarding. We were group 5. I liked that process because we got to take a seat and wait for our group number to be called. The folks on Princess across the room were all standing in line waiting for boarding to begin. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our rooms were ready immediately upon boarding. I don't know if this is Holland America's norm, but it wasn't the case on Norwegian when I cruised before. We were in a class D large ocean view room. The room was adequately sized, but a little cramped for 3. Mom and I took up all of the closet space (excpet for my husband's suit). Granted there were 4 life jackets, the bedding for the sofabed, and a safe in the closets. DH used the drawers at the foot of the bed and at the nightstand. Be warned: there are only 2 outlets in the room, and they are both at the desk. Bring your power strips and maybe an extension cord if you want enough plugs for all of your electronics. Mom slept on the sofa bed. I had been warned they were uncomfortable, so I brought an air matress for her. I'm glad I did or she would have been miserable during the trip. One of the cabinets contained a minifridge stocked with minibar items. We asked our steward to have all of those things removed so we could chill the sodas and wine we brought on board. (Yes, Holland America allows you to do that.) The food was generally good but not great. My mom, who had sailed on some higher end cruise lines and Holland America, was disappointed with the food. I think that in general the quality of food on the cruise lines has declined. If you want the amazing food that people experienced years ago, you must expect to pay for the upgraded restaurants or sail on one of the higher end lines (like Crystal or Seabourn). The Westerdam is a very nice ship. It was built in 2004 and refurbished in 2010. The interior is well maintained. My only criticism on the cleanliness was the windows. I know it's difficult to keep windows clean at sea, but even when we were in Seattle, I did not see any window cleaning going on. Our cabin had a window, but it was filthy. Even the public rooms where we spent a great deal of time looking out at the beautiful vistas had dirty windows. This really detracted from the scenic views.We spent a lot of time on the Lido Deck-Deck 9. It has 2 pools. The aft pool is open to the air and has a great view of the ocean. In the middle is the Lido Deck Restaurant. There are 2 sides, and with a couple of exceptions, the same menu is served on both sides. At less busy times, one side will close. The restaurant is divided into several serving stations, and I rarely found that the line was terribly long. For the first 48 hrs there is no self-service on the Lido. This is to prevent the spread of germs, but that did make the lines move a little slower. Past the Lido Restaurant was the Lido Pool. This pool is enclosed with a retractable roof. That's a great concept for an Alaska voyage. Forward from the Lido pool was the spa. It contained the Hydrotheray pool and thermal suites. The salon and the fitness center are there too. One odd thing about the spa was that the forward elevators were in inside the entrance to the spa. As a result, when I walked out of the hydrotheray pool or the thermal suites to go to the locker room, I would pass people waiting for the elevator. It was a little weird. Mom and I signed up for the hydrotherapy and thermal suite pass for the whole cruise. It was being discounted for $299 for two. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure now it was totally worth it. There was so much to do during the cruise, we didn't use this perk every day. In the future, I think I would look into how much a day pass is and compare the cost of using it for 1 or 2 days vs. buying the pass for the whole week. One of my favorite places to hang out was The Crow's Nest on Deck 10. You can get there using the forward elevators or by climbing the circular stairs at the Lido Pool. One part of the area is bar, another coffee shop, another internet and another library. There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and some comfy recliner chairs. The happy hour specials were always offered here. The first and last days of the cruise they were buy one drink get the second for $1. All of the other days it was buy one, get the second 50% off. The guitarist played here also. Good times. We ate breakfast in the Lido every day. The omelet station was wonderful with every ingredient you could think of including shrimp. I think I only waited in line for more than 5 minutes once. There were many wonderful pastries available and fresh fruit. There was another line with eggs to order or prescrambled eggs, breakfast meats, cereals both hot and cold. I never went through that line. If I didn't have an omelet, I went to the eggs Benedict station. This was more than just eggs Benedict, though. There was crab, smoked salmon, spinach, and much more! Very yummy! There were tons of fruit juice choices. I know for sure that the OJ was fresh squeezed. I cannot be certain of the others, but they were good. We had a wonderful time at all of our ports of call. We did not book any excursions through Holland America. Instead I did my research on the internet ahead of time. We either used local transportation/shuttles and explored things on our own or booked through outside companies. Our 15th wedding anniversary was during the cruise. I thought it was a nice touch that the ship sent us a card on that day and delivered a cake to us at dinner. I still don't know how they knew. One of our favorite organized activities was Martini Madness at the Atrium Bar. Henry was the main bartender for this event. He was engaging, entertaining, and just plain fun. The plan was for 3 martini samples for $3 each. Henry was generous with his pours and frequently refilled folks' glasses with his "left-overs." He also mixed a "bonus" martini with all of the left-overs that was pretty good. $9 wasn't a bad price for quite a bit of drink and even more fun and laughter. I just wish we had discovered this event earlier in the cruise. It was offered each evening, and Henry developed quite a following. I enjoyed all of our ports of call. My only complaint is that our time in each was too short. We arrived late in the day in Juneau and Victoria, and many things of interest were closed. Disembarkation was easy and painless. We put our luggage out the night before. We had plenty of time to eat breakfast and then walk out at our assigned time. It was a much better experience than I remember on Norwegian where we did the early disembarkation carrying all of our luggage. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
Since school got out early this year, my husband and I had the opportunity to go on the 7 day Alaska cruise on June 8. We live in a cold climate, so once it got warm going to Alaska just wasn't my choice of things to do. We did ... Read More
Since school got out early this year, my husband and I had the opportunity to go on the 7 day Alaska cruise on June 8. We live in a cold climate, so once it got warm going to Alaska just wasn't my choice of things to do. We did have great weather with lots of sun though. We booked a guaranteed cabin late. Got there to check in - sure enough they'd moved us. I spent the first 6 hours worried about our luggage arriving to our correct room. We asked to have our refrigerator emptied - never happened. Enjoyed meeting lots of different people with the anytime dining. Food was pretty good in the dining room - one night I had lobster thermador - that was NOT good. Our best meal was in the Pinnacle. GREAT! We did not book an excursion in Juneau - took the tram to the top and planned to hike. Ha! You could NOT hike - sign said CLOSED. Saw an eagle in a cage for everyone to look at. That poor eagle did not have room to move. What a tourist trap. We went back to Juneau and found a pub with locals way down the road from the Red Dog Saloon. After Juneau was Glacier Bay where everyone stays on the ship all day. Smokers were not allowed to smoke at all anywhere on the ship - even on their balconies. I heard many say they'd NEVER return. They were apparently trying to impress the rangers that came on the ship to speak. They did offer hot chocolate on the balcony if you bought the cup. Sitka and Ketchikan were very nice towns. We did not have very many hours there though. We especially enjoyed Stika where we went to the historical place with a great hike through a rainforest. Birds of Rapture was within walking distance also. We saw many eagles who were taken care of and released when well again. We took a trolley around Ketchikan and saw a few eagles, no salmon, no bear. Enjoyed the town though. Enjoyed the tech classes and the singer Michael in the Crow's Nest. The shows were okay. Food in the LIDO was so crowded and frustrating at lunch time. I could not believe how long you had to stand in line. I have never seen that before on a cruise. I usually just ate salad because that is what I could get to without standing in line. The last night we arrived in Victoria around 7:00 p.m. They did not have dinner in the dining room. It seemed like they served all the left over salmon and chicken by the Lido Pool. What a zoo. That would have been the best night to book the Pinnacle. We went to Buchart Gardens through the cruise line. It was rushed but very pretty. I also booked a massage/ facial special in the spa. After she tried to tell me I needed to spend $177 plus $77 for cream for my face. She then called my room the next day to inquire about me purchasing this. When our final bill came they forgot to charge me for the spa. With tip my bill was $169 for a massage I have gotten in Mexico for $17. I went down the last day and told her they didn't charge me. So now I won't feel guilty, but it was way overpriced. Our cabin crew was the hardest working and did a great job. I think next time I'll just fly to where I want to go. I can at least get a massage for a fraction of the price, have a cigerette if I want to, and have my drinks paid for at an AI in Mexico. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This LONG review of my Westerdam, Alaskan Cruise on June 1, 2013 has a lot of helpful advice and I hope I have demonstrated discernment that includes the great experiences and the ones that need improvement. My hope is that this review ... Read More
This LONG review of my Westerdam, Alaskan Cruise on June 1, 2013 has a lot of helpful advice and I hope I have demonstrated discernment that includes the great experiences and the ones that need improvement. My hope is that this review will help you make great choices and stay on budget. I love to get my money's worth! We chose HAL Westerdam to Alaska because we wanted to try out HAL after noting that it has many fans and were expecting just a tad above NCL and RCCL. The Westerdam has many nice features, but HAL comes in as number three. BTW, a customer rep from HAL just called as I was writing this review, so I have to give their website, my booking experience and customer service a very high grade. I want to start out by saying that the widely accepted stereotype of an old population with walkers and wheelchairs on HAL was NOT true for this sailing. I only saw two scooters and just a few canes/walkers. The majority of the cruisers are younger than 50 with quite a few children. That said, much of the entertainment is stilled geared to the older folks. I walked around one evening by myself (DH wasn't feeling well) at 10:15 and there was nothing going on in the Crow's Nest and the only entertainment I observed was in one lounge with a sweet, elderly couple being the only dancers. Of course, this cruise was port intensive requiring the passengers to get up early on a few days, so that may be the reason.Children: The kids onboard were just fine and well mannered. I heard from a number of parents and their children that the kids loved the HAL clubs and between pirate day, alien day, the Junior Ranger day at Glacier Bay and the other fun activities, the kids and their parents seemed to give the children's programs rave reviews. The only negative observation was a snotty, foot stomping, huffing and puffing girl who seemed like she would be a drama queen on land too. Pity her family...Young adults, ages 18-25 were thought of by HAL and the had a get acquainted party for them. They tried to keep Northern Lights available to the younger crowd with a DJ but one young lady I spoke to was disappointed that so few in that age group showed up- maybe just two people. So, good for HAL trying to reach out to that age group.Seattle: we arrived at SeaTac in the evening and quickly found the free shuttle for the Sleep Inn SeaTac. The front desk was consistently helpful and friendly and our room was very good. I didn't realize until our post cruise stay that we were put in a handicapped room because we had the senior rate. The room was near the ice machine in the hall and I could hear it throughout the night. Our post cruise room was in a quiet hallway. The breakfast had the usual choices, both healthy and hearty and was well stocked. We had decided to take the hotel shuttle to the airport and pick up Shuttle Express from there. We didn't realize there was a better option: Seattle Express picks you right up at this hotel and goes straight to the piers for $12 pp. Shuttle express was fine and seems to have the larger share of the market but costs $22pp to and from SeaTac. We made arrangements with Seattle Express to take us back to the hotel post cruise and this was a wise decision. We had stayed at downtown hotels on previous cruises and wanted to try the airport hotels. We were very pleased and can recommend the Sleep Inn SeaTac with the Seattle Express transportation. Sleep Inn was $71-76 and is highly rated on tripadvisor.Pier 91- We were surprised to see no porters to take the luggage and this was also mentioned by another reviewer. We arrived around 10:45 and waited just a bit to put our own luggage through security and were quickly and efficiently processed by HAL. The earliest we were allowed to board was 11:30. We enjoyed walking around the ship a bit and were hoping to go to the MDR for lunch but here was a private, by invitation only luncheon there so we went to the Lido. The selections were fine. We were allowed to go to our room about 12:00 and the verandah room on the 7th deck was excellent. We had an upsell offer from an inside just a few weeks before and it ended up being a very good decision for $159 PP. The balcony has Plexiglas rather than metal barrier which made for excellent viewing. The beds lived up to their comfortable reputation. We had a starboard cabin near the aft elevators and never heard them and it was a great location as we could view much of the shoreline as we sailed north. The cabins that often come up as available for an upsell are ones located near the glass elevators and we were considering those. Glad we didn't take them as your privacy on the balcony is compromised. BTW- we were never bothered by smokers on the balconies. This seems to e a big problem for some on HAL. The one problem we had in the cabin was sooty dirt falling from the ventilation above the bed. At first I thought it was my DH making a mess (sorry, honey) but then we kept brushing it off and it would reappear every few hours. This happened the first two days and the didn't reappear again. We must have been the super clean influence. Our stewards, Andy and May were efficient and greeted us regularly. We don't require ice and none was ever there except on the final day. We are low maintenance people, though.Public Rooms: the décor ranges from tasteful and elegant to dark and sometimes not cohesive. Also some of the colors are dated (orange and gold-sort of like early 70's colors). I missed the lack of a centrum or promenade that helped to give a central focus and orientation to the ship. The ship was in immaculate condition and good repair with very little wear on the carpeting.Crew: The crew is predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines. While some were very outgoing and pleasant, I'd have to say the majority were disinterested and avoided saying hello. It seems they enjoyed private conversations between other staff at the expense of talking to the passengers. We always said hello when we passed anyone in the hall or sat next to them in a public room. HAL prides itself on the friendliness of their staff, but both my always kind DH and I thought differently. The crew seemed to light up with friendliness on Friday morning and then I noted that Friday was questionnaire day where you rate the ship and staff. Nice try, but I have a pretty good memory.Culinary Arts Center/Queen's Lounge: This is a very nice feature on the Westerdam. I did attend all the cooking demonstrations which are first come, first served. I am a pretty capable cook but learned some new tricks and recipes. A chef presented demos on crab cakes, salmon, cinnamon rolls, chocolate, and some other side dishes. I am not certain there were any "hands on classes" but they come with a fee. Well done! The culinary center transforms into the Queen's Lounge which provides another nice area for entertainment.Pools: There are two pools: the larger one has a retractable roof which was kept closed most of the trip and the aft pool is allegedly an adult pool. There were quite a few children onboard and they made good use of the larger, enclosed pool making it not pleasant for adults. No complaints here since the kids were following the rules and enjoying themselves. I just don't want to be sideswiped by a cannonball. The retractable roof is a VERY nice feature and allows the pool deck to be used in Alaska. I enjoyed the deck in the early morning hours before the echoing pool noise took over. I was told by staff that the aft sun poor was adults only, but there were children there too and even the signs indicated that children were allowed. It said "no diapers or swimmers who are not toilet trained" and that children under 6 had to be supervised by an adult. That doesn't sound like adults only to me! The aft pool likely is not used much on an Alaskan cruise since it is chilly in Alaska! The small hot tubs were nice, though. For $199 for the week, you could use the spa pool which was like a heavenly hot tub. I read some recent reviews about things not working, that time limits were not adhered to and that the loungers were "overly occupied". Other reviewers rave about it though.Spa and gym: While I did not use it, there were a few enticing special spa deals that might be a treat. The gym was rather small and heavily used during the hours you would expect. It had the important machines and seemed just fine.MDR: We had assigned seating and had mostly reliable table mates who were very pleasant and good company. They had the courtesy to let others know if they had different plans for the next night. That said, I think I would opt for the flexible dining option on future cruises. I'll start with the positive. The menu selection was better than RCL and NCL. There were always a few options I had a hard time deciding between. The food quality and presentation were the same standard and level as the other mainline cruise lines, though. The lobster on formal night was large and pretty tender but the filet mignon was tender but tasteless and really thin. Overall, the foods were enjoyed although the desserts were not the highest quality. The service in the traditional MDR was hands down the worst I have had on seven sailings. We were never certain who was doing what and there didn't appear to be a head waiter; just three guys running around putting plates down. We weren't greeted when we sat down- just given our menus. They didn't seem to know our names either. They didn't ask if we wanted coffee or tea at least three of the evenings, didn't set up the courses properly and on one evening, were so late with our food (they blamed the kitchen) and we were shooed away before we finished dessert. This team didn't seem to know what "fine dining" on a cruise ship should be. I am used to a waiter placing the silverware before each course and scraping bread crumbs with a small knife onto a plate and also saying goodbye to the group with giving a preview of the featured menu for the next night. This team made mistakes with who should get which meal and clearly was overwhelmed and didn't work well together. Eating at the MDR for breakfast and lunch was a different experience. The random waiters were much better than our dinner team, but not as good as RCCL.Lido Buffet: The setup is more like a cafeteria style and pretty inefficient. The selections were adequate and the food was generally good, but not spectacular. The staff was mostly bussing tables and beverages were all self serve. The glasses were very small. The Lido is served by the staff during the first 48 hours of each sailing, so it tends to get backed up. I think this is a good health precaution. I was surprised that there was NEVER a staff member at the entrances to the Lido or MDR asking passengers to use the sanitizer. This is standard practice on other cruise lines and considering the serving tools are touched by so many people, I think is a good precaution. The Lido is clearly too small for the number of people who would like to use it. The covered pool area is a nice option when overcrowding is a problem. My DH and I often like to go to the Lido and have an evening tea. The Lido offerings and seating are severely limited in the evening and is often closed off with only a small section (about 12 tables) available. At 10 PM when we left, NONE of the tables had been bussed.Entertainment: I am going to be generous and rate this area as very good because of the HAL dancers and singers. A posting recently burst my bubble indicating they are all prerecorded and just lip sync. Well, they still had very fine voices and the dancers were also talented. This group performed at least 5 out of the 7 days so that is pretty outstanding. The Vista lounge was never full. I'd give the set designer a C+ The comedian, Derrick Cameron was excellent. A clean and very funny show. I took no offense to his comments about people who take pictures of their food- was he watching me? The "comedian" juggler, Adam Kario who performed in a matinee in Victoria was a big let down. When you have seen other acts like Shark Bait, every other cruise juggling act suffers in comparison. This guy gets a C. We only went to a few shows where the Halcats performed and they were very good and worthwhile. I commend them for being troopers when the audience isn't enthusiastic. Not their fault!Digital Workshop: This is a very nice offering but requires that you get acquainted with Windows 8. There are some workshops that apply to Windows 7, XP, etc. but the intent is to get you hooked on Windows 8. Techspert Emily does a very nice job and presents cohesive information in a short time. There are about 3-4 sessions per day.Dancing with the Stars: The week started with classes where the dancers taught the basics of various dances with the intent on determining finalists for the competition. The finale was fun and six passengers were paired up with the professional dancers. They all did a great job but the best and audience favorite was a young male math teacher making his students back home proud when they see it on Youtube. The first contestant was a very pregnant woman who jived and ended in a split! Wow!!! The judges were three random silly staff people who gave all 10's to the 18 year old cheerleader who liked to show her underwear during her flips. Yikes! So, the ending was disappointing with the winner being the lowest common denominator who even overslept missing her final practice.Afternoon Tea: This is a very nice tradition that takes place most days at 3 PM in the MDR. HAL had different themes (Royal Dutch, Cupcake Tea, etc.) and the pastries and canapés were very good. Nicely done!Casino: This was the smallest casino I ever saw on a ship but it had all the tables, machine and smoke you would expect. I avoid smoky areas so didn't play, but DH said the machines were not cheap and that they were the tightest he has seen. So, we didn't spend much time there.Library: This was the nicest and largest library and media center I have seen on a ship. HAL gets an A for effort here. It appears to be well used and was around the corner from the Crow's Nest.Cruise Director: Armen was fine and I will leave it at that.Movies: There are relatively newer movies shown in the Queen's Lounge each day and they have a few viewings. HAL also has an extensive collection of DVD's of movies and shows and guests can surely find something they like. They supposedly deliver them to your cabin, but ours was never brought up so we had to retrieve it the next morning. Then, our DVD player did not work. Sigh.Ports: Juneau: We had previously done other Juneau tours so we decided to spend more time at Mendenhall. It was easy: Westerdam usually has a great dock location and the stalls for tours are right outside the ship. We went on the Blue Glacier Express for $16 PP RT. There are other companies that do the same. You are let out right at the ranger station and just get a map and go hiking. We went on the two mile hike to Nugget Falls which is popular and easy. You might want to bring some bug spray. It started to rain as our walk ended so we hopped on the bus and headed to the library to use their free Wi-Fi. They are very pleasant about visitors but they were having "trouble with the connection". Hmmm. I hear it is usually painfully slow anyway. We headed to the stores to do some t-shirt shopping.Glacier Bay: Glacier Bay tends to be foggy in the morning when you first enter around 6-7. The day got better and better and ended with a glorious clear sky. Not much calving but we did see some. I think your chances to see more are better as the summer goes on. The ship spends about equal time on each side of the ship starting with the port side. We decided that looking out a window was just silly except for warm up time. Personally, I think spending part of your time on the Promenade Deck is your best choice- just dress for the event. The windows in many public areas were foggy and a bit dirty and wouldn't give you the best views. As the ship was turning to starboard, we went up to the Lido, grabbed a quick lunch and carried it back to our balcony. It was warm and cozy by then! Marjorie Glacier is the queen here although the Lamphough Glacier is spectacular with the cave that emerges when the waterfall in back of it bursts through in late May or early June. The rangers come on board early, about 7 AM and are a great source to learn more. They make presentations in the Vista Lounge and I learned a lot, but also missed some great scenery by doing so...well...DH has the photos. You might want to consider buying the book "The Alaska Cruise Handbook" by Joe Upton. Read it at home and then just bring the map- that book is heavy! The map is great to follow and the daily handout always includes the map mile markers so you know exactly where the ship is and the history and important features. You will also see more whales as the map indicates likely places for sightings. They also sell the book in the gift shop. Also, grab a plaid blanket if you will be outside. They are scarce.Sitka: The tender to Sitka was pretty quick. We were advised that it gets crowded around 9:30. We got onboard at 8:00 with no wait and found our way to the bus stop that runs the Tribal Council Bus. The driver was helpful and the ride to the Raptor Center was $1. He let us off at the stop on the highway giving us clear directions to back track to the street "Raptor Center Rd" and proceeded a short distance. The Raptor Center is a rehabilitation center for all sorts of raptors and they gave a nice talk while one staff member discussed a bald eagle he held whose beak was congenitally deformed. Some animals are sent back to the wild where others live out their lives here. It was a really great place, lots of interesting raptors, a great gift shop and a really nice forest path with bears...watch out! Highly recommended. I would have liked to have also gone to the Fortress of the Bears but ran out of time and energy. That requires a five mile drive with a tour. We opted to take the 15-20 minute walk back to town and then did some shopping. You will find more unique items in this town as there are NO ship company jewelry stores! The town is happy to see the tourists making it a nice experience. The only negative was the orthodox church in the middle of town. They wanted a $5 pp donation which really wasn't a donation considering there was a lady at the entrance to collect the donation. I glanced inside and it was small with some pretty icons. No thanks...I am glad we visited this town! Back onboard, we were hoping to go to the MDR for lunch, but it was closed for lunch in Sitka. The Lido was very overcrowded as a result.Ketchikan: I have been there a few times before and this time we only planned to do some shopping as the day was rainy, very chilly and a bit windy. We had seen Ketchikan both times before on a glorious day. The time was short here anyway with a 12:30 all aboard. Several people opted for the Lumberjack Show which they enjoyed as it was covered and heated. We didn't even make it to Creek St. this time! We comparison shopped for our case of canned, smoked, Sockeye salmon and decided on Salmonetc. which we bought for $5.99 a can. We had them ship our case of 24 to us and it arrived the day we arrived back home. BTW- canned salmon tastes about the same as the stuff in the foil and is CHEAPER. We picked up a few boxes of the foil salmon for gifts, though. There are lots of stores for souvenirs. Tongass Trading Co. has three different stores (lots of Alaskan items made in China!) with store #1 having the basics in personal care items in case you needed something. The salmon bake onboard was cancelled because of the persistent rain.Victoria: The day was lovely and we were moving fast to get there. The weather was nice enough to have the Great Alaska BBQ, but it was very crowded on the Lido Deck with no options for tables, so we went to the MDR and had the international dinner. I had hoped they would have served salmon but it wasn't on this menu. I had hoped to go to Butchart Gardens but the wise people on CC advised against this as the ship arrives later than scheduled and you have little time to see the flowers. At 4:00 PM, the captain announced we would be at the dock at about 7:45! but we docked at around 7:15 and were quickly cleared. We were scheduled to be there at 6:00PM. We would have liked to go to Beacon Hill but the diminishing daylight made us think it would not be safe so we just walked around the city and the gardens near the Empress Hotel. You can either catch a taxi, take the shuttle ($10 adults and $5 for seniors and kids) or walk from the dock. The walk seems like a lovely idea as Victoria is a very nice city. High tea at the Empress or Orca watching would have been nice if we docked at an earlier time. The port times on this cruise were pretty short and I think this intimidates some people into taking only ship excursions in fear of missing the ship. I am reading lately that HAL is reducing time at the ports to travel slower using less fuel. The captain's lecture seemed to confirm this opinion as the Westerdam has recently improved their fuel consumption...Debarkation: HAL gives you several nice options for your final breakfast and this is commendable as some lines don't allow room service on that last morning. HAL sent us a form to complete early in the week asking for our preferred time to leave the ship. This made the whole process efficient and quick. We quickly found our luggage, made our way to customs and then went to Row R where Seattle Express was waiting. Highly recommended! After we rested a bit at the hotel (they let us check in at 10 AM), we took the hotel shuttle to the light rail down to the stadium and took in a Mariner's game. Please be aware that departing from SeaTac can be a nightmare with horribly long lines from Fri. to Sun. The ones for Southwest are legendary, I hear and they wrapped like a snake around a good portion of the ticketing area. Folks were horrified when they approached it. A lady waiting for wheelchair assistance had to stand in that line for about 5-60 minutes and SW had no sympathy for her. So, leave AT LEAST two hours for your time at the airport. We had about 2 hours and 15 mins. and still didn't have enough time to purchase food for the flight. In summary, I can say that I enjoyed myself and told everyone back home that "cruising is always wonderful when they asked how things went. I am only sharing details in this forum where people are asking for my opinion and that includes you since you are reading this. Would I travel HAL again? Maybe, if the itinerary, reviews and price were the best. HAL did not live up to their former reputation as being in the more luxury cruise range. The service was the issue that separates them from the other two lines we have cruised. I have learned that each line has its cheerleaders, some who get special treatment and privileges because of their loyalty. Rest assured, if you have traveled 30+ cruises with them or developed your own website about a cruise line, the ship knows who you are and you are special to them. Also, someone who writes a review from "the suite life" is going to have a different treatment that most of the passengers won't experience. We all need to have a little awareness of who our advice comes from before we accept it or dismiss it. I want to thank ALL cruise critic posters for their reviews, comments and advice. Your advice also helps me to be more discerning and you help me grow in my knowledge of cruising! Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Night before: Stayed at the airport Comfort Inn & Suites (it was OK). We had a very late flight and took the hotel shuttle to the hotel. Breakfast in the morning was pretty good. Walked a block to a 7-Eleven to buy a couple 12-pack ... Read More
Night before: Stayed at the airport Comfort Inn & Suites (it was OK). We had a very late flight and took the hotel shuttle to the hotel. Breakfast in the morning was pretty good. Walked a block to a 7-Eleven to buy a couple 12-pack sodas and some water to bring onboard. We had arranged for pick-up by the United Town Car Service at 10:30AM. This was the cheapest transportation we could find for 9 people. I would recommend them if you are looking to save a few dollars, but this company is NOT very organized and kept getting the details (time of pick-up, pier number) wrong and was not the most responsive by email. 30 minute ride to Pier 91. Embarkation: We arrived at Pier 91 at about 11AM. Check-in was very smooth, and we got our boarding group number at check-in (we were group 5). Then waited until 11:30AM to begin embarkation by group. Dropped off carry-on bags in our rooms (surprisingly, rooms were ready), and went to Lido buffet for lunch. Luggage arrived very quickly after. Then went to Club Hal to register the kids. Some hints (information I would not find elsewhere or was hard to find): Early dinner seating was 5:45 and late seating 7:45. The nightly shows are 8PM and 10PM with slight daily variation on the show time. No early show which was tough for the kids. We had late seating which worked out well for Juneau. Friday night (Victoria) there was only buffet (BBQ) and maybe flex seating in the dining room. So we said good-bye and thank you to our servers on Thursday night. We had 3 adjacent Veranda rooms. Each Veranda was quite roomy, and can probably stand 4-5 people comfortably. Asked the room steward to open the dividers between the Verandas, which made a big connecting veranda, and we could also access each other's rooms this way. That was very nice. Kids: Club Hal was fine. My kids went a couple of times for a couple hours each and liked it. - Junior rangers: On the Glacier Bay day, kids can participate in a program at Club Hal to get their National Park Junior Ranger badges. [Prior posts have written about this] - What has not been as well described is that kids can get additional Junior Ranger badges in Sitka [Sitka National Historic Park] and Ketchikan [Southeast Alaska Discovery Center]. At Ketchikan, they give an Alaska Explorer's badge for completing 3 Junior Ranger programs throughout Alaska. Formal nights are Sunday (sea day) and Thursday (Ketchikan). I could not find this information anywhere before the cruise and wanted to avoid reserving dinner at the Pinnacle Grill on formal nights. The first formal night had a French lobster dish (half lobster). The second formal night had surf and turf (with whole lobster tail) which was quite good. Touring ports on the cheap: (and had a great time) - Juneau: Rented a van from Juneau Car Rentals. About a mile walk from the ship. The people there were very nice, gave a large map and circled the highlights of Juneau. We drove to Mendenhall glacier and walked the Nugget fall trail (20 minute easy walk); took lots of great pictures and walked in the Mendenhall lake which was very cold. Then drove to the St. Therese Shrine - beautiful place, also where the locals say is the best chance for seeing whales. Then drove through downtown (saw a black bear cross the road on the way back) and saw all the buildings there. Returned the van and walked through some shops around the ship. Boarded the ship by 7:45 to have dinner. [With a long line for getting off the ship, we probably had about 6 hours total to spend in Juneau.] - Sitka: Pretty long line to tender off the ship. Picked up a walking map right after getting off the tender boat. We walked to the Russian Orthodox Church ($5 "donation" per adult, very pretty place inside). Then walked to Sitka National Historic Park (junior rangers program, totem trail with >10 totem poles total, saw a bald eagle on a tree on the Russian Memorial trail). Then to the Raptor Center across the street on the other side of the park ($12 adults, $6 kids -- quite interesting but relatively short visit to see everything). Then walked back toward the ship, stopping at the Bishop's house (opens at 9AM, first floor is free to visit). Then to see the Native Dance Performance ($10 adults, $5 children -- 30 minute show at either 10 or 12:30; we left thinking it was simply a family of adults/kids/young kids doing about 5 dances. Not a very polished show and probably would not go back. Wondered if the Russian dance show was better). Walked around Castle Hill -- up the stairs had a great view of Sitka. Then long line to tender back to the ship (saw a whale on the tender boat). Arrived pretty close to 2:30PM (last tender boat). - Ketchikan: Picked up a walking tour map from the Visitor Center right next to the ship. Caught the 8AM Lumberjack show ($35 adults, half price kids, open seating) which was not as packed so we got great seats. Great show and the kids loved it, but certainly not cheap. Then went across the street to Southeast Alaska Discovery Center ($5 per adult but a National Park Pass gets 4 adults in for free). Did the Junior Ranger Program here. Then followed the walking map to see all the other attractions in town. Got back in time to catch the Salmon bake on ship. - Victoria: Picked up a walking tour map from the Tourist stand right next to the ship. Walked to Beacon Hill Park first (wanted to see this park in daylight) and saw the wild peacocks everyone talked about (awesome). Walked through the park, which was very pretty. Next to Royal BC Museum (opens until 10PM on Friday so we could have toured it but did not). A few totems outside the museum. Then to the Empress Hotel (could only take pictures outside; the hotel has people standing outside the entrance to stop tourists from going inside). Right around the corner is Miniature World -- which is supposed to be pretty cool but closes at 9PM (we got there just before 9 and didn't go in). Then to the Parliament which is very pretty. Waited for sun to set and the lights to come on -- took pictures. Walked back to the ship to pack and have a relatively early night. [Note, there is a tendency for this ship to arrive late at Victoria, see prior posts. We were scheduled to arrive at 7:30PM, but did arrive a little earlier than that -- still after 6PM. I think this makes trying to go to Butchart Gardens or any other shore excursions very unattractive.] Seeing whales for free (on the ship): - We saw whales starting on Sunday (sea day) through Friday morning. Takes some luck, but we saw some on Crow's Nest and also from our Verandahs. Also saw dolphins. - The entrance into the Glacier Bay National Park is apparently a very likely place to see whales. There are two chances here -- in the morning upon entry, and afternoon (probably around 3-4PM) upon exit. There is a Park Ranger who stands at the very front of the bow of the ship (4th floor, forward) all day looking for whales. I stood by him for several hours in the day and saw about 9 whales. That was very high yield, and probably a little known secret. Also saw sea otters, mountain goats and some interesting birds. - Didn't see any whales close by, so binoculars and a good camera are key. Don't know if the whales are closer on actual (paid) whale watch excursions. Brought back beer from one of the ports to drink on the ship (I asked Holland America staff and this is allowed). Identical beer to what is being sold on ship for $4.75 per bottle. Bought a souvenir bottle opener in the ship gift shop for $5.99 (quite reasonable). If you want to drink Alaskan beer, this is probably the best way to go. In my opinion, Verandahs on the Starboard side of the ship are probably slightly better than Port side. Yes, I realize this is a round trip cruise. On Sunday (sea day, nothing to do), Starboard side saw land while Port side saw only open water. Just before arriving at Juneau, there was an announcement that the ship would pass by the Misty Fjord area (on the Starboard side -- pictures?). We probably passed by this area on the way back south also, but I had no idea when. On Glacier Bay day, both sides got to see the glaciers equally. Overall, I found the Westerdam to be light on activities during the day. We went to some cooking shows (they were OK), some Dancing with the Stars dancing lessons/competitions (they were OK). Went to some of the presentations about Alaska -- some were informative, others were basically Holland America trying to sell stuff. Did not attend any computer classes. Our group had an age range from 4 to 80, and we all felt somewhat bored during the days. Things pick up after 3PM. There is an afternoon tea at 3PM each day, with daily variation (high Dutch tea, Indonesian tea, cupcake tea, etc). Live music (at several venues) start around 4PM. Nightly shows were generally quite good (mostly singing and dancing). The one magic show at night was packed -- and hard to find a seat. There was Catholic mass every day, and also an interdenominational service. Disembarkation: I disembarked in the earliest group (~7:30, bring your own luggage) by myself. Quick walk through customs. Called Budget Car Rental (7th street location, they are open at 8AM) for pick-up (I had reserved a van online). Waited 45 minutes for the shuttle to come (!!). Got the van, drove 10 minutes back to the pier. [Note, they had reservations for several vans that day, but apparently didn't have enough available.] Picked up my family who disembarked around 9AM -- perfect timing. Toured Seattle for the day, and dropped off the van at the airport Budget location next morning. By far the cheapest one-way rental I could find. LOOOOOONNNG wait for check-in at airport in the early morning -- definitely show up early. We literally stepped in the airport 1 hour before our flight and should have missed it [except the flight waited because so many people were late due to being stuck in long lines.] Helpful to know that there is a "family lane" for check-in which is probably much faster. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We are not writers or bloggers, just like to travel as a family. Our group of 11 comprised 6 adults and 5 children ranging from 4 to 17. We did a lot of advanced planning, but nothing ever goes as planned! Read the Ports of Call section. ... Read More
We are not writers or bloggers, just like to travel as a family. Our group of 11 comprised 6 adults and 5 children ranging from 4 to 17. We did a lot of advanced planning, but nothing ever goes as planned! Read the Ports of Call section. Here is our experience: Getting on the ship was easy. Some in our party got there early (11:30) some later (2:30). All had good experiences checking in and getting on board. Luggage arrived in about an hour. Getting there early is better, as you can get lunch on deck and still make it on deck before departure. Ship left early at 3:45pm. TIP: Head to the Crow's Nest for departure - great views of Seattle! Overall Experience: Good, but there were a few issues to note. It seemed there was always something being sold to us. At departure, it was the beer and wine tastings taking place the next day. Then there were items for sale around the pool most days. Always being asked about the wine tasting, premium wine tasting, ultra premium wine tasting, and mixology class all for a price. Service was great if you were paying for something, but sometimes lacking if you needed anything else. I am still waiting for my iced tea I order for dinner each night. The Ship: LOVE the ship itself. Very easy to get around and the cabins were roomy for a ship. You do need to stay organized especially with 4 in the cabin or else things can pile up quickly. TIP: put your empty suitcases under the bed. Most of the public spaces were on decks 2/3 or 9/10 which is a big change from other ships. The pool area was great, especially with the overhead sliders closed. (They would be open on nicer days and on BBQ days when they would grill poolside. Lounges & bars were all nice as well as the dining rooms. Our favorite spot - the Crow's Nest where you get 360 views to watch everything, listen to the guitar player or participate in trivia. Dining: Mix feelings here. We selected 'open seating' dining, but with a group of 11 when we tried to make reservations, we were told 5:30 or 8pm. This is not very â(EURO)oeopenâ(EURO) in our opinion. On the first night, we saw very long lines so be prepared. Dinner always took 2 hours to get through the courses no matter when you arrived. A bit long, especially for the kids. Service was not great in either dinning room. If you wanted a non-alcoholic beverage, you might not get it until dessert time; asked for chocolate milk for the kids - "ummmm, let me check." We ordered a bottle of wine which arrived in 3 minutes - with the check. Food was good. Portions were small, which was perfect as it was always a 4 course meal. If you are just ordering an entree, you may leave hungry if you don't order two. We enjoyed every entree / appetizer we tried. Desserts were ok, but nothing special. Room Service was great in the morning. We put our hanging form on our door at night and woke up to breakfast every morning. Omelets arrived hot, pastries were good. Coffee was not the best. (I think this was a ploy to get you to buy coffee at the coffee bar upstairs, which we usually did. ) Pinnacle Grill - EXCELLENT! The meal and service were amazing! I had the rib eye which was huge and cooked to perfection. Some appetizers were prepared tableside and the side dishes were fantastic not to mention the desserts. Dont miss the chance to eat here, but make reservations in advance even before departure as they fill quickly. I heard that some eat here every night. (Note that Club Hal doesnt open in the evenings until 7pm if you want child care during dinner.) Canaletto  not worth the extra $10. Really. Buffet  Great selection of food that tasted good. OK choice for a meal, but very crowded and not so much fun with small kids. It felt like you waited at multiple stations before everyone had what they needed. Too crowded and too much of a hassle for us  we preferred the dining room. The grill by the pool was a nice alternative for lunch and then sit by the back pool. NOTE: There are a few BBQ style meals on deck. Get there early if you want to get a table. There were long lines and no place to sit. Not very well organized and we wound up sitting on the ground to eat. Club HAL: Daily Hours are 9-11:30am, 1-4pm, 7-10pm. I was a little bit nervous at first security seemed a bit lax and the activity space minimal. After the first day the staff knew us and our children. Our kids (ages 4 and 8) made friends easily and always wanted to go back. We used it for a couple of hours here and there without any issues. Great for Glacier Bay or during evening shows when the kids can get bored. The teenagers with us were not impressed and didnt attend. Ports of Call TIP: make sure your camera batteries are charged. Trust me on this one and I thought I was prepared. Juneau This was our big day with a float plane trip planned to the glaciers. It was raining when we arrived. The good news is the planes (and helicopters) will not fly in bad weather and you get a refund. The bad news is you are left stuck with nothing to do. The staff was not much help so you are left to do it yourself. TIP: at every port there will be private tours available and cabs. We ended up on the white bus to Mendenhall Glacier ($16 round trip). This was good, but we should have booked a whale watch as we heard it was heated, covered and a great experience. If you can see the top of the tram from the ship, dont miss this opportunity. Awesome pictures from the top and probably your first encounter with a bald eagle. TIP: The glacier is a national park, so if you are traveling with a senior, they can get a parks pass in advance that admits 4 people at no charge. Red Dog Saloon is a tourist trap and crowded. Nevertheless, we went in and had a cold beer and good time. Glacier Bay This is what you came for so enjoy the day. It was a bit rainy and overcast for us but still a great day. TIP: buy the mug that will be sold almost everywhere. They will keep filling it with coffee and hot chocolate or in my case, a little of both and makes a nice souvenir. It is a bit of a cruise to get to the glaciers however the scenery along the way is beautiful. The Park Rangers were great and informative. When nearing the end of the bay Marjorie Glacier the highlight of the trip, head to the open bow area no matter what the weather! You will get an up close view and hear the glacier and possible see some calving. You will stay there about an hour before heading out. Make sure you re outside when you leave Glacier Bay. We cruised past a pod of humpback whales and have picture of them breaching. Sitka A bit of a tender ride to get to town however there were no lines getting off the ship. It is a small town and easy to walk around. We took a $3 bus to see the bears (Fortress of the Bear) The bus then dropped us at the Rapture Center where we saw 20 bald eagles in various stages of recovery. From there a short walk across the street to the park and totem poles. 10 minute walk to town taking in the Russian Bishops House and St. Michaels church. Ketchikan This stop is too short. We chose the fjords float plane trip. EVERYONE LOVED THIS TRIP. Not quite jet service, but worth every penny for us. You land in a remote location and see things from a different perspective. We then went to the lumberjack show. 100% cheese, but still a good time. Victoria Beautiful city. Having limited time and kids, we passed on the gardens. We decided for the do-it-yourself approach to this stop. The city is a way from the docks so a $10 cab ride or tour is recommended. We found Alan with Royal Limo and Van Service. (250)389-0004. He took all of us in a red passenger van and gave a full narrated tour of the all the popular city spots and dropped us downtown. ($20pp) Plenty of pictures and sites in just 2 hours. He was also a good sport and took group pictures. You are at the furthest western point in Canada so take a picture at mile 0. The main street has the pubs and shopping before the cab ride back to the ship. Disembarking was very easy you can complete a form and request when you want to get off the ship. My husband got off first (7:30am) and went to get our rental car. I left with the kids at 8:45. Very easy process. EXTRAS: We ordered a bottle of liquor from the ship in advance. Prices are fair and the amount was 1 liter (which wasnt stated anywhere on the website that I could find.) We found this to be a great alternative to being in the lounge especially if you have a balcony cabin. We also brought 3 bottles of wine on board for cabin happy hour. Seattle: If you are like us, you may arrive early or stay a day in the city. Below are some options for the adults and kids too. Of course Pikes Market (see the first Starbucks) and the Space Needle. Big Wheel (Ferris wheel), Underground Tour, Boeing Museum of Flight, and the wineries of Woodinville and Red Hook brewery are a short drive. Also enjoyed taking the kids to see the Fish Ladder a short drive away at the Ballard Locks.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Just back from a cruise (May 12 to May 19) and this is my 1st time with Holland America. I have been on other cruise line and their ship is huge so cannot compare them. I cannot said this ship or this company is bad but not outstanding ... Read More
Just back from a cruise (May 12 to May 19) and this is my 1st time with Holland America. I have been on other cruise line and their ship is huge so cannot compare them. I cannot said this ship or this company is bad but not outstanding either. What they do good is Cleaningness. Oh my god, everytime we go somewhere, we see people cleaning. They keep everywhere as clean as possible. The decoration is not outstanding but nice too. they like to put many Antique decoration thing on the ship. Staff is friendly. the cabin that i had is very good as it is huge. We are 3 people in the room and don't find a problem...... What I do like is their food. It is not bad and on average. However the seafood for me is below average which make me feel very bad !! as you go to Alaska cruise, you expect good seafood.......the choice is not much. what i mean is type of food. Their menu has many options but all the same thing.....shrimps everyday, beef everyday, salmon everyday......so you just eat different cooking way of salmon only......no other fish.....shrimp is always cocktail style...... the enterainment show is on average. compare to other ship, the show that i had on this cruise is very boring......only sining....magic is not super good....just so so..... Activities kind of boring too, don't it is because the ship is full of senior or what.....no fun thing to do......i kind find it boring for me when I take this cruise compare to other cruise vacation...... I take this line is because big cabin; otherwise, i might go to pricess cruise line...... Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
Luckily for me, my family is big into traveling. Before this Alaskan cruise I've been on 7 cruises, but only to the Caribbean, and we sailed the younger major cruise lines like NCL, Princess, RC, and Carnival. We decided to switch it ... Read More
Luckily for me, my family is big into traveling. Before this Alaskan cruise I've been on 7 cruises, but only to the Caribbean, and we sailed the younger major cruise lines like NCL, Princess, RC, and Carnival. We decided to switch it up and go to Alaska, which meant sailing Holland America(only cruise line that let 18+ gamble). From the beginning I was bracing myself to be stuck with my mom the entire cruise because I knew everyone was going to be much older.EMBARKATION:Absolutely no problem here and got on the ship right away.FOOD:Some reviews claimed that the food was awful. My family and I thought it was delicious. The only downside is that they had a lot of seafood, especially salmon, and I hate seafood. They had great alternatives though, so I wasn't disappointed. We ate one night at the Pinnacle Grille and it was absolutely delicious.ENTERTAINMENT:I'm sorry but this cruise had the absolute WORST entertainment I have ever seen on a ship. The two comedians were pretty funny but the shows were painful to sit through. Ended up leaving one show after 15 minutes then just didn't bother to go to the ones after that They also have some lady who sings at the piano bar next to the casino where I would joke with other cruisers about asking to close the door so we wouldn't have to listen to her.SERVICE: The crew on this ship was hands down the nicest crew. The room attendants were very accommodating and someone was always there to help. The crew in the Lido were a little overwhelming at times, asking constantly if I needed something else even after I said no, but hey, they were just doing their job.There was a meet and greet type of thing for 18-25 year olds which I thought was awesome. I would say the average age was around 50-60 so it was nice that they made a point to try to get the young kids together. Trivia was always fun and the competitions by the pool were funny to watch.All in all, the cruise was well above my expectations. I wouldn't let the age group of a cruise steer me away from sailing them anymore, but it would be nice to see more young faces. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
This is my 5th cruise, the first with Holland America and most likely my last. My expectations: Clean, Kept up, Friendly, Great food. This was not the case on the Westerdam. I found this ship run down. Example: pealing paint on the ... Read More
This is my 5th cruise, the first with Holland America and most likely my last. My expectations: Clean, Kept up, Friendly, Great food. This was not the case on the Westerdam. I found this ship run down. Example: pealing paint on the overhead beams on the deck and the deck hasn't seen a good oiling in years. The edge of the deck stage, the wood was broken. It makes me wonder what's going on where we can't see. I was shocked when I opened my room (deluxe Veranda) to find it very small,worn cushions on the couch with stains on the throw pillows. Although the deck was small they did have the best chairs as they were not resin and comfortable. We had asked for adjoining room/deck as we travel with another couple. the door on the deck couldn't be opened completely as it occluded the cabin door and banged all night long. Whoever designed this never thought it thru. My cabin was kept clean, by who I don't know, I never saw a soul. I found the bathroom clean although I could smell septic. The dining room was open and nice, we had second seating. Our waiter, Sigh...I hope he was new, he couldn't remember anything and I can't blame it on to many people as the dining room was 1/2 capacity. The steak was always great always done right, between the 4 of us I think we tried everything. Mostly good, not over the top and presentation very sub standard. No carvings out of veggies with exception to a watermelon cut into a rose. no ice sculptures. If you like eating the same thing over and over then the buffet is for you. I found it bland as did my fellow cruisers. If you got creative you could make a pretty awesome salad going to all the stations. I found the staff the least friendly of any ship ever. Make sure you really listen to them when they are pushing the drink card. My husband doesn't drink and got a soda card, I got the all inclusive card. Upon check out I see 2 charges on the bill for all inclusive, It was explained that not just one person per cabin could get an all inclusive card...OH REALLY??? And yes I got the charge removed.. That's a scam...beware!! Do I have anything good to say, YES! they have the best by far embarking and disembarking of any ship I've been on. They don't care how much wine you bring onboard, we carried a 6 pack in hand, kept in our room and no problem. The beds and pillows are fabulous and room service is wonderful, the freshest food and the presentation is spot on. Try the Italian Restaurant, it's more than worth the extra $20, we couldn't get into the Pinnical, it was always booked. May say something about the ship food!! Ports: They are what you make of them. We had a great time. Knowing before we left that came in late and didn't give much time, so make the best of it. I was worried about Victoria, as we only had a few hours, but with a lot of hustle we had a good time. Saw all the wild life, the Captain went the extra mile so we could see a bear in Glacier Bay. All in all we had a good time, wouldn't go Westerdam doing it a second time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
We just got back from the Sept 2-9, 2012 Oosterdam Alaska sailing from Seattle. It was the first 7-day cruise we had done in 10 years and seemed to have a much younger average passenger age than the 14-21 day cruises we've been doing ... Read More
We just got back from the Sept 2-9, 2012 Oosterdam Alaska sailing from Seattle. It was the first 7-day cruise we had done in 10 years and seemed to have a much younger average passenger age than the 14-21 day cruises we've been doing and lots of West Coasters that booked last-minute like us. We last sailed the O-dam in late October 2011 on a 21-day Hawaii/Mexican Riviera Collector's cruise. Captain Van der Loo and Deejay Brett were on that cruise and this one as well. I have very high regard for this captain as he made some critical decisions last year with a triple medical evac on the Hawaii cruise. Brett is highly energetic and lots of fun. He remembered us from last year and we enjoyed sailing with him again. I was happy to see the condition of the ship was better than last year, even though it had just emerged from dry-dock at that time, which you couldn't tell. While we were sailing then, much of the public areas got new carpet and our cabin carpet was cleaned on the cruise this year. I didn't notice shabby/dirty upholstery on this cruise, but the cocktail tables throughout the ship (particularly in the Crow's Nest) need to be replaced. We were satisfied with our cabin. We were in a nice quiet spot in the aft on deck 6 and had been upgraded several categories. The beds and bedding are still awesome - I always sleep so well on a cruise. It also seemed that the heating/cooling system in our room worked better than normal. Cabin stewards did a great job and kept everything stocked. No issues there. Food was a little uneven. My favorite lunch was a Salad Nicoise with salmon that had the best balsamic/olive oil dressing in the MDR. I also enjoyed the sushi in the Lido and soups were wonderful as always. I didn't eat any bread, but DH said it was good. The cupcakes at the Cupcake Tea were dry and tasted like they had been frozen, which was also the case last year on O-dam. My cheeseburger the first lunch in the MDR was charred beyond recognition and the bun was as hard as a rock. I will say the coffee seemed better than last year. I didn't mind it and the cappuchinos at dinner were good as well. I didn't have salmon at the salmon bake by the pool this time, although I ate a lot of salmon and seafood at dinner. Several people mentioned that the salmon at the bake was bland, but very fresh. Entertainment was only fair. We have seen all the production shows several times before, so didn't bother to attend those. They had two comedians - a very funny guy with a dummy (mannequin-american as he called it) and Julie Barr (did 2 G-rated & an X-rated comedy show). She reminded me of Lisa Lampenelli and was entertaining. Only had the "Marriage Game" & "Liar's Club" shows in the Queen's Lounge. Saw one movie in the theatre - "This Means War", which was enjoyable. They also showed "The Lorax", "Hunger Games" and several others. We are big trivia players and there was one main trivia game per day in the Crow's Nest, along with a music/movie trivia game at 6:00 pm in the Queen's Lounge most days. The Alaska weather was beautiful. Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier was overcast but not raining and we got pretty darn close to the glacier. It was so late in the season there wasn't much ice and didn't see a single seal. Last summer on the Amsterdam, we saw countless seals there on the ice (some even having babies). We saw some bald eagles and quite a few whales and dolphin enroute. Juneau was partly sunny and very mild. Enjoyed walking around the harbor and doing some shopping. DH went to Mendenhall Glacier and really it enjoyed it and the waterfall there. He also got to touch a live bald eagle some guy had in town - he loved that. Ketchekan was perfectly clear (blue skies!) and fascinating to see the salmon running. I had never seen that before and it was great! Only downside was the rotten fish smell that permeated the whole town from all the dead ones. Sitka was its usual scenic self and clear as well. We walked around town and up into some neighborhoods and did more shopping. Victoria was a bust. We got in late and only had a couple of hours in late evening to explore. There were shuttles to take people downtown in the dark, but we chose to stay on the ship. It is a real shame not to get a whole day in Victoria - it is a beautiful city with a gorgeous harbor and lots to do. Overall, I would rate this cruise a B+. It wasn't my favorite cruise (out of 13 so far), but it wasn't the worst either. For what we paid for it last-minute, I felt we got our money's worth and enjoyed a pleasant week's vacation. Still like Holland America as much as ever! Read Less
Sail Date September 2012
We have enjoyed tours on board Princess line in Mexico and the Caribbean, so we decided to try Holland America for our Alaskan cruise. The Westerdam sailed out of Seattle towards Glacier Bay and back for a 7 day vacation. Though it is a ... Read More
We have enjoyed tours on board Princess line in Mexico and the Caribbean, so we decided to try Holland America for our Alaskan cruise. The Westerdam sailed out of Seattle towards Glacier Bay and back for a 7 day vacation. Though it is a smaller ship by 30% compared to Princess Line, it was just right for us. We didn't have to spend a long time walking from one part of the ship to the other. It actually is the right size for a voyage; you may have more venues on a bigger ship, but really, how many more bars or restaurants or swimming pools did you need? Traditionally, we use on board laundry facilities by paying with coins. But they only offered daily laundry for $49 total. We used it every day to our delight. (I've never had my underwear pressed !) We paid extra to dine in the Pinnacle Grill which offers good food and personal service. The Vista Dining room, either open or fixed dining, offers very good food too, but the service is more hurried and cookie cutter. My bride pondered why we spent extra money on the Pinnacle Grill and the Italian restaurant when the Vista offered equally good food. The difference is a smaller venue and more personal service. They offered some musical shows, funny comedians and a magician in the Vista Lounge. One show that is peculiar to Holland America but we enjoyed is a "crew Show". One week the Philippino crew performs songs and dances and the next week an Indonesian crew offers their version. The crew seemed to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to showcase their culture and their talents. An Alaskan cruise, even in August, found the weather to be overcast and chilly with rain each day. So bring a windbreaker, sweater and hat. Most of the guests were from parts of America in the 90 degrees so they enjoyed the weather. We also discovered that we could have breakfast room service at no added cost. On other vessels they might offer a limited breakfast, but this was most a big menu. All in all, I would take Holland America cruise over Princess any day. On the last afternoon good bye show, it was secreted that only 3 ships on the seas have escaped broad sickness and Westerdam is one. They keep it clean and to notch. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
Full disclosure: I love cruises, love service, sun, pool, beaches, food, excursions - the whole shebang. Alaska?! Brr! Not for me! I went on this cruise because my wonderful husband, who had endured Caribbean for me a number of times, ... Read More
Full disclosure: I love cruises, love service, sun, pool, beaches, food, excursions - the whole shebang. Alaska?! Brr! Not for me! I went on this cruise because my wonderful husband, who had endured Caribbean for me a number of times, really wanted to see Alaska. Turned out that even for someone like me, who, to quote Woody Allen, is "two with nature", there were still lots of things to enjoy on an Alaska cruise! While he went on floatplane trips to fish for salmon and to sit by a creek for 2 hours (quietly! - ugh - not my thing!) to watch bears in the wild, I fully enjoyed a bus trip to see the Mendenhall Glacier and the catamaran whale watching tour in Juneau. Nice px to prove that I had been to Alaska. We both enjoyed a "cultural" tour of the Russian America in Sitka, saw a fun and somewhat exotic Russian folk dance show by a local amateur troupe, which even to me, who was born and grew up in Moscow (!), looked pretty authentic and fun. I got my fill of wildlife viewing (which is what you are supposed to go to Alaska for, by going to the Bear Fortress in Sitka to see almost tame bears who were rescued when their mothers died. On a sunny pleasant afternoon, close by, fun. Glaciers - IMHO, the best way to see them was from the Crow's Nest on the ship through glass and while listening to quite interesting presentations by a naturalist. I still do not "get" it. I sort of expected Galcier Bay to look like the Superman's Fortress of Solitude, all shiny spikes, tall sparkly mountains. Instead there were flat rivers of ice, some white and blue, some grey and black, not even close to the glaciers I had expected, but still got px to prove. What I really enjoyed, is the digital workshop. The Microsoft geek who taught several free classes on this boat, Tony, was top notch. Entertaining, helpful, fun. Learning how to retouch a portrait of Don Juan to make him look sexy again for Facebook?! Learning easy tricks (simpler than Phtoshop) to impress one's grandkids! Fun, fun, fun. Plus we caught a ballroom dance class, a standard magic/comedy show and a few production shows, which were OK. I still felt that food while nice, had been better and more imaginative on Carnival. Same for shows. But then, they did not have glaciers! And bears! :)) Some advice: if you can avoid cabins which have metal barriers on the balcony (I think they are VF and VH types, check on the Westerdam deck plan). On these balconies you can see the whole picture only if you stand up. Splurge on the full view balcony or save and get an inside cabin and watch the views from public spaces. Also - pack warm comfortable clothes. Surprisingly, it was very cold inside the ship while it was warm and sunny on shore. Women wore parkas to the dining room - over their formal night finery! I spoke with several guests who were not happy at how cold the dining room and the theater were. All in all, it was pleasant and fun. I did not visit the spa or casino, order movies, borrow books from a pretty extensive library on board, had enough to entertain myself otherwise. Next time - HE owes me south seas! :)) Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
~~Cruising Smoothly Along the Coast of Vancouver Island~~ Still somewhat exhausted from yesterday's full day of travel and activities, I am rather lazy this morning, enjoying freshly brewed coffee from our little two-cup coffee ... Read More
~~Cruising Smoothly Along the Coast of Vancouver Island~~ Still somewhat exhausted from yesterday's full day of travel and activities, I am rather lazy this morning, enjoying freshly brewed coffee from our little two-cup coffee maker we brought aboard, and watching CNN on our stateroom flat panel TV with the highlights of yesterday's opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. Unfortunately, TV coverage of the opening ceremonies was unavailable on the onboard channels, but I understand that they were spectacular. Today is a sea day as we cruise from Seattle to our first port of call, Ketchikan, Alaska, on this 14-day Alaska Explorer Cruise on Holland America's ms Amsterdam. Other than the 11 AM meeting this morning of our Cruise Critics group in the Crow's Nest Bar on Deck 9, the only other major activity will be our first (of four) formal nights with a Captain's Toast at 7:45 PM in the Queen's Lounge, preceding our dinner in the La Fontaine Dining Room at 8 PM. So out will come my trusty tuxedo for yet another duty. Our ocean view stateroom 3373 on the Lower Promenade Deck is quite nice, although somewhat smaller than I expected; our last cruise on the Golden Princess to Hawaii last November was in a mini-suite that is easily twice the size -- with a balcony. Such staterooms on HAL's ships are called Veranda Suites which go for twice the price we are paying for this stateroom: well beyond my budget. $10,000 for two is a little steep in my opinion. The Lower Promenade Deck has a wrap-around genuine teak deck quite popular with morning walkers; fortunately our windows are coated, providing one-way outer views. Only at night does care need to be taken to prevent outside viewers. Our ocean view is only very partially obstructed by lifeboat canisters at the rail and some sort of harness hanging down for their dispersal from the deck above: no real impediment to our view. Of course, our request for twin beds had been disregarded, requiring a reconfiguration by our room steward, Eco, from Bali; most of the crew on this and other Holland America ships are from Indonesia, a hold over from Holland's imperial days. They are all outstanding workers, always friendly and pleasant. There is a small sofa along with a table and a chair that also serves a small desk. The LG (Korea) flat panel TV also has a DVD player; there is a DVD library at our disposal. No refrigerator, however. The ms Amsterdam was built in 2000 and has since been substantially refurbished; it is now in remarkable condition, and I challenge anyone to find as much as a speck of rust anywhere. The "Pristine Fleet." It carries only 1380 passengers -- a real plus in my opinion, although the spacious public areas could accommodate many more. The two-level La Fontaine Dining Room at the stern of decks 4 and 5 is exquisitely beautiful; our second-seating assignment is Table 24 on level 5. We chose not to dine there last evening in lieu of a barbeque served around the Lido Pool on deck 8; an early-to-bed seemed appropriate. Our 7 AM flight on Alaska Air yesterday morning was early departing as well as early arrival; flight time was only a little over 2 hours. Of course John Wayne Airport opens at 7 AM at which time there is a line-up of over a dozen 737s waiting take-off, one right after the other. The flight was smooth and I was surprised to notice the ample legroom, not common on other airlines for which such accommodation requires additional fees. We were even given the option of checking our carry on bags -- without charge -- which was a definite advantage on boarding and finding overhead space. The flight was NOT full as I had reason to believe earlier; the aisle seat next to me was vacant, so I moved over vacating the middle seat. On arrival at SeaTac Airport, and after a lengthy and circuitous route to the baggage claim area, requiring one of their underground trains for transit, we found ALL of our luggage -- Yeah! - and then followed another circuitous route to the shuttle bus area. We had booked Shuttle Express from SeaTac Airport to Pier 91 and our ship, and the trip took longer than expected due to heavy traffic, but we still arrived at our ship around 11 AM. Next to the ms Amsterdam at dock was RCCL's Rhapsody of the Seas, one of their "Chicken of the Seas" ships -- big and ugly. Check in with Holland America was speedy and efficient -- no lines at all, and I was aboard and in our stateroom by noon; luggage arrived later while I went to the Lido Restaurant for a light lunch. My favorite place on the ship is around the Lido Pool, just adjacent to the Lido Restaurant (buffet), with a retractable cover, a signature feature of all HAL ships. With the cover closed it provides a wonderful "solarium." Of course there is a convenient bar nearby. Required safety drill was held at 4 PM with EVERYONE required to appear on the Lower Promenade Deck beneath their assigned lifeboat, where we stood while a roll call was taken; failure to attend can be grounds for disembarkation. After a routine message from the ship's captain we were finally dismissed. Sail-away was at 5 PM and I chose the area around the aft Sea View Pool; the departing view of Seattle's beautiful skyline under clouded skies was very enjoyable. It was here that I started smelling the barbeque cooking at the Lido Pool area, prompting my decision to partake. So that's it for now; time to shower and get ready for our Cruise Critics "Meet and Greet" at 11 AM. More tomorrow, of course. ~~Sunday, July 29th - Ketchikan~~ It is still early here aboard the ms Amsterdam (we set our clocks ahead one hour last evening) and we are now approaching our first port of call, Ketchikan, where we will be at dock from 8 AM until 5 PM. Having no shore excursions scheduled for the day, our plans are to wait until mid-morning to leave the ship -- after the "herd" has departed -- and then take the funicular at the end of Creek Street up to the Cape Fox Lodge, a very nice hotel overlooking the town and harbor. Traditionally, I enjoy sitting in their beautiful dining room, enjoying an Alaskan Amber beer and feasting on their delicious halibut fish and chips for lunch. Since we have been here multiple times, we have already seen most everything so we will just walk around the town, seeing what is new. On our last visit aboard the Pacific Princess in 2009 I discovered that the restaurant just adjacent to the dock had a free Wi-Fi network accessible to me from our balcony stateroom and I took full advantage; we shall see if that is still the case today. The morning is quite overcast and foggy and cool, of course; good day to drag out the heavy coat purchased in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine last fall. The standard weather report for Ketchikan is always: it is raining, it has rained, or it is going to rain. Yesterday's cruise along the coast of the Vancouver Island could not have been smoother; the seas were like glass. Until we cross the Alaskan Gulf toward Kodiak and Anchorage we can expect the same smooth cruising, which is fine with me. Last evening was the first of four formal nights during the cruise and there was a Captain's Toast (15 minutes) preceding the production show in the Queen's Lounge at 8 and 10 PM. Since our second seating for dinner is at 8 PM, we waited until afterward to go to the 9:45 PM "Toast" receiving a glass of wine or champagne -- courtesy of the Captain -- upon entering the Lounge. The Captain was very personable and introduced his senior staff, as usual, and then we all toasted to an enjoyable visit to Alaska during these next two weeks. As further evidence of Carnival cost cutting, this "Toast" has now replaced the traditional Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party. Oh well... The production show featured the rather small group of dancers and singers: 4 couples; parts of the show were quite good but most were rather "flat" to me. Of course, the music and most singing are all pre-recorded and the sound system in the Queen's Lounge was mediocre to poor. Not a memorable experience. Our Cruise Critics "Meet and Greet" was held at 11 AM yesterday in the beautiful Crow's Nest Bar on deck 9 and was well-attended and very successful. The ship provided coffee, tea, cookies and Danish and we were honored with appearances by the Cruise Director, Hotel Manager and even the Captain. Good PR for them. Now we are pulling up to the dock in Ketchikan so I will call it quits for now with more to tell later. ~~Cruising Tracy Arm, Monday, July 30th~~ With a heavy cloud cover and thick fog, this morning has begun with little to see outside our window. The seas are mirror-smooth, however, and the sun is trying to break through so we hope that by noontime when we enter the Tracy Arm fjord visibility will have improved. The North and South Sawyer glaciers here are reported to be some of the most scenic although our ship will be unable to approach closely due to the substantial number of icebergs and pieces of floating ice that have broken free of the glaciers. This will be my first visit here. Yesterday in Ketchikan went according to plan -- for me; after leaving the ship around mid morning we walked the considerable distance from our Cruise Ship Dock #4 to the downtown area where the Carnival Spirit, Celebrity Infinity, and Celebrity Millennium -- all huge megaships -- were at Docks #1, #2, and #3. Those three ships together carry around 10,000 passengers, released on the small village of Ketchikan; then add another 1380 from our ms Amsterdam. Lots and lots of tourists; the many shops and souvenir stores -- mostly owned by the cruise ship companies themselves -- were thriving. The ground was wet with puddles everywhere and a light mist/drizzle was only slightly annoying. We found the entrance to the funicular up to the Cape Fox Lodge at the end of Creek Street, the historic site of bordellos of the gold rush era, now all tourist ships. A moderate line awaited the funicular which accommodates only a few at a time, but soon we reached the Lodge around 10:30 AM and found a nice window table in their dining room; the view out over the town, harbor and cruise ships is excellent. Breakfast was still being served so we waited until 11 AM to place our lunch orders, mine for a 3-piece halibut fish and chips plate. While waiting I ordered beer: a sampler of Alaskan White, Alaskan Amber, and Alaskan Summer beers, all very good. Then I settled on a pint of the Summer beer. As we enjoyed our lunch the dining room began to fill with many glances at our prime table location; our timing had been perfect. The halibut was wonderful, of course, and I relished every moment of my Ketchikan experience. Being satisfied with my one thing to do in Ketchikan, having been here many times before, I decided to return to the ship around 12:30 PM while Jim wanted to explore further and do some shopping. At the bottom of the funicular, a steady drizzle had taken over but with my Acadia National Park jacket from last year's visit to Bar Harbor - and its hood - provided good protection and I arrived back at the ship around 1 PM. Jim, on the other hand, got caught in a heavy downpour and his return to ship later around 4 PM found him drenched. A hastily purchased plastic rain parka was his only protection. After my substantial lunch with beer, my afternoon involved a long nap. Our departure at 5 PM was the last of the four cruise ships, leaving Ketchikan to return to its rainy, quiet normality. Today at sea will be highlighted -- we hope -- with clear views once we reach the Tracy Arm this afternoon. The decks will be filled with warmly clothed passengers in search of whales and other sea creatures as well as floating ice, small icebergs, and glaciers. Holland America's tradition of serving hot pea soup to those passengers lining the decks will be a welcome treat. I will report later. It is quite pleasant here now in Cabin 3373 having enjoyed a couple cups of freshly brewed coffee along with fresh fruit slices and juices: my usual breakfast. CNN is providing the morning news on TV although very little London Olympics coverage -- an NBC exclusive coverage -- is shown. Oh well... ~~Juneau on Tuesday, July 31st~~ We are now approaching Juneau, Alaska, where we will be alongside for the day: 8 AM until 10 PM, a long day in port -- Tuesday, July 31st. The only excursion I have planned is the tram to the top of Mount Roberts, something that I have never before done during previous visits. Of course, there will be the obligatory visit to the Red Dog Saloon for a pint of Alaskan Amber beer. No doubt there will be several other cruise ships in port so there will be throngs of tourist competing for space on the sidewalks. The tram ride can be anytime during the day so I will try to time it to avoid long lines during the morning and still be able to get a "view" from the top. Yesterday's visit to the Tracy Arm and the Sawyer Glaciers -- North and South -- was under overcast clouds, frequent and intermittent drizzle, and cool to COLD temperatures. It certainly brought out the warm clothing and rain gear. Holland America's traditional hot pea soup served on deck to us glacier-gawkers was a welcome treat. Tracy Arm is a long, serpentine and narrow fjord leading up to the Sawyer glaciers and many icebergs of varying size and shape are encountered in increasing numbers as our ship ventured farther up the fjord. Our entrance into the fjord was after noon and our nearest approach to the South Sawyer Glacier occurred around 3 PM and it was very impressive, due to our close proximity. Some "calving" was observed -- large chunks of the glacier falling off -- followed by loud sounds of the breaking ice. Very exciting and only enjoyed by "smaller" cruise ships; the larger megaships can't traverse this narrow fjord. One unusual occurrence was meeting The World, a "residence at sea" cruise ship, departing the upper part of Tracy Arm; it is a time-share/condominium ship of moderate to small size; I saw only two life boats on each side telling me that it does not carry that many passengers -- I saw none on the many balconies. Transit back down the fjord saw passengers returning inside the ship for warmth and to dry out. The Crows Nest Bar on deck 9 was very popular, of course, with its panoramic views, and seats were at a premium. I chose to wander about the outside decks, seeking a little overhead protection from the drizzle; the views from the aft Sea View Pool area on deck 7 were spectacular as we departed the glacier. North Sawyer Glacier is "stable" meaning neither advancing nor receding, and South Sawyer Glacier -- the larger and most visible -- is receding. Global warming has been having drastic effects on glaciers - to which any visitor to Alaska in the past 10 years can well attest. Last evening was a second performance of the Amsterdam Singers & Dancers, a rather small group of four couples; their efforts and talents are impressive but the overall productions are rather flat. Of course, the sound track for the entire show is on tape with the singers providing "sweetening," and the sets are less than inspiring, although the costumes show a little promise. Marginally enjoyable. I see we are now "alongside" - at dock -- here in Juneau so the day will now begin. I have already enjoyed my freshly brewed coffee -- from the little two-cup coffee maker we brought aboard, so I should now be awake. It appears to be drizzling outside so today may also be a wet one; we shall see. That is what umbrellas and rain gear is far. After all, this IS Alaska! ~~August 1st, Icy Strait Point~~ The ms Amsterdam is now at anchor off Icy Strait Point and I just saw a glimpse of sunshine on the nearby shoreline, covered with lush forests. With the constant drizzle yesterday in Juneau, sunshine is a welcome greeting. Our arrival was scheduled for 7 AM, which is still a few minutes away, and tender service will be required to this somewhat recent cruise ship port; around the bend is the old Indian village of Hoonah. The meeting time for our shore excursion, the ZipRider zip line -- longest in the world, is at 8:30 AM in the Wajang Theater here aboard ship from where we will depart for a tender to the dock and the bus which will take us up to the mountain top -- elevation 1300 feet -- for the start of the zipline all the way back down to water's edge, a distant of over 1 mile -- at speeds up to 65 mph. We did this 3 years ago and it is quite an experience. Yesterday in Juneau, with three other cruise ships in port: Celebrity's Millennium, Sapphire Princess and NCL's Pearl, we joined the crowds of tourists on the soggy streets under clouded skies and frequent drizzles, the first stop being at the base of the Mount Roberts Tramway to see how long was the wait line. It appeared of reasonable length and we were able to get aboard the second car on the way up to the top which is at an elevation of 1800 feet; the ride takes only 5 minutes: one car descending, one car ascending. Built in 1995 the tramway project is owned by a local Indian company which is also the developer of the complex at the mountaintop: shops, restaurant, bar, theater, facilities, and surrounding parks and walkways. It is a very nice place to visit. There was a short wait for the restaurant's 11 AM opening but being the first in line, I was seated at THE PRIME window table overlooking the city, harbor and ships: quite a spectacular view of the tram cars in motion. The clouds intermittently came and went as did the drizzle and the time spent sitting there was most pleasant. I enjoyed an Alaskan beer and then ordered halibut fish and chips -- again; can't ever get enough halibut! The crowds up on top were not sizable, most just riding up, looking around, and going back down. Our own return down the tram was in a car only partially filled; perhaps the rain had discouraged many of the thousands of cruise ship passengers from venturing out. Near the base of the tramway is the very interesting Taku Fish Company that, in addition to actually processing recent catches of salmon, also boasts of a restaurant and gift shop; through windows in the gift shop one can observe some of the fish-processing going on. At one window there was a close-up view of beheaded salmon being skillfully filleted by a worker with a very sharp knife, carefully slicing the salmon length-wise and removing the backbone and ribs and creating a beautiful, large fillet of red salmon. Very interesting, I thought. Much of the salmon is to be smoked and then packaged for sale. My next stop was a short visit to the Red Dog Saloon that was just adjacent to our ship's dock, and even that early in the afternoon, seats were already at a premium. This bar has been a Juneau -- and Alaskan -- tradition since its founding in the early 40s and I always enjoy its seedy, bawdy atmosphere. Then a short walk through the drizzle back to our ship for a warm and dry rest. I would later venture out again for a second visit to the Red Dog Saloon before dinner aboard. Our departure from Juneau was not until 10 PM. Dinner last evening in the La Fontaine was rather sparsely attended; many passengers had evidently chosen to remain ashore to dine in local Juneau restaurants. Then it was early to bed for me. More on today's activities in tomorrow's email. ~~At Sea on Thursday, August 2nd~~ Another lazy morning here in room 3373 on the ms Amsterdam, cruising across the Gulf of Alaska towards our next port of call tomorrow, Anchorage. This is really the first time on this trip that we have been in the open ocean and this crossing of the Gulf can be quite rough. However, the seas are only moderately active and the location of our stateroom, near the middle of the ship and on deck 3, reduces the sea motion considerably. Outside I see a few white caps but generally the ride is rather smooth. We were so lucky with weather yesterday in Icy Strait Point. Our journey at 9 AM on a converted school bus from the dock area, through the small Indian town of Hoonah, and up to the mountaintop for the ZipRider zipline, was mostly in clouds that came and went. At the mountain top the visibility was limited. There is a short walk from where we got off the bus down the hill to the zipline staging area and, by the time we arrived, there was hope that the clouds would clear to give our 90 second ride on the world's longest zipline (5330 feet) a spectacular view of the forests over which we were "flying." As it turned out, that was the case; we were in the last group and by that time it was rather clear. There are 6 separate lines on the zipline leading down to the shoreline from the 1300 ft summit and all were in simultaneous use yesterday, except the last 8 of us were dispatched in two groups of 4. We were fortunate to have been last; the visibility was great. The ride was thrilling, to say the least, at speeds around 60 mph, and I was able this time to maintain my forward orientation using outstretched arms -- right or left -- to navigate. Of course, photos were available for purchase at the Landing Area and, of course, we purchased ours -- rather good ones, I might add. Afterward there was ample time for me to enjoy a LARGE bowl of hot King Crab Bisque before our second excursion at 12:30 PM, a whale watching cruise, also a repeat of what we had done 3 years ago; it was so good then that I wanted to do it again. And it again was a great experience with many, many whales observed -- mostly in "pods" of a half dozen or so. It was about a 35-minute boat ride on this three-decked tour boat out to Point Adolphus, an ideal location for spotting the many whales. At one point the boat's captain turned off the engine and generator providing absolute silence so that we could all hear the sounds of the whales: wonderful! Aboard was a local Indian boy who provided an excellent commentary on the area and the whales, making the entire afternoon an extra special experience. Near the end of our tour the boat's crew served their homemade smoked salmon dip on Ritz crackers, and it was DELICIOUS! The skies cleared off and there was even nice, warm sunshine before our return to the dock at 3 PM and back onto tenders to the ship by 4 PM, our time of departure from Icy Strait Point. What a day! I had made reservations for dinner last night at the Pinnacle Grill at 7:30 PM thinking that tonight -- August 2nd -- would be our second formal night, but by surprise our second formal night was last night -- lobster night in the main dining room, La Fontaine. Regardless, we dressed in our tuxes and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner in this specialty restaurant on board; the service and ambiance were superlative. I was somewhat disappointed in my serving of lobster: delicious but on the small side, and I had to request that it be removed from the shell. I also requested a fillet mignon in addition but was told that there would be an additional $10 charge! Quite different than in the Crown Grill on Princess ships. Not exactly what I expected for the $25 surcharge. Dessert was probably the best Crème Brule I have ever tasted, so the evening was enjoyable although not "off the charts." We have reservations also next week at the Pinnacle Grill, a gift from our friend and travel agent, Patric, NOT on a formal night. Again last evening was a performance of the Singers and Dancers in the Queen's Lounge (theater) but we decided to pass; I have found their performances to be somewhat mediocre -- not exactly the spectacular shows we've seen on Princess' larger ships. Oh well... ~~Anchorage, Friday, August 3rd~~ Today we are alongside (docked) in Anchorage for a long day: 7 AM until 11 PM. This is day 7 of our 14-day cruise so, as such, our halfway point. The time seems to fly by so rapidly. Having visited Anchorage many times -- both on cruises and also two week-long stays, no special excursions are scheduled for today. The dock area, primarily an industrial port, is remote from the downtown area but free shuttles are provided back and forth throughout the day. It had always been my understanding that Anchorage had NO port due to its shallow waterfront, the reason that most cruise ships use Seward or Whittier as ports for Anchorage. In fact I questioned this itinerary when I first saw Anchorage listed as a port-of-call. However, I was wrong in this misunderstanding; Anchorage has a large industrial port, located well north of the rail station and downtown Anchorage. The horrific "Good Friday" earthquake in 1964 -- about 9.0 on the Richter scale -- did much damage to the city as well as alter significantly the waterfront to the south; there is even a park located there commemorating that tragic event. Tsunamis from that earthquake destroyed the town of Valdez, being at the upper end of Prince Edward Sound. Today Anchorage is a thriving metropolitan area, the largest in Alaska. Later today I would like to visit the downtown area near the Eagan Center, in particular the Downtown Deli & Cafe, a favorite for many years. I learned that perhaps the restaurant was no longer in business but it still appears on the tourist maps we have been given, so I shall see. Their halibut and salmon dinners were among the very best I have ever had. During my weeks' visit here, I dined there quite frequently. Also of interest is the excellent Alaska Museum located near the city's center; they also offer an excellent lunch in the main atrium/lobby. Anchorage is a beautiful city with many flowers, trees and greenery -- unusual for such a northerly locale. During their hard winters, however, there are plant "kennels" where locals take their potted plants for safekeeping until spring. My guess is that the population of Anchorage may now be over 500,000 -- a large percentage of the entire Alaskan population. During previous visits to Anchorage we have taken the Alaskan Railroad train north through Talketna, Denali (Mount McKinley) on up to Fairbanks, a stunningly beautiful trip. Then once we took the train to Anchorage from Seward after disembarking the ms Veendam on a 7-day cruise from Vancouver in June 2002; the usual bus ride takes around 4 hours. As mentioned previously, yesterday was a lazy day at sea with moderate sea motion while crossing the Gulf of Alaska, nothing as rough as has been experienced on earlier cruises. We have also been taking advantage of a spa package -- for a price -- for the "Thermal Suite" on deck 8: limited access to steam rooms, thermal "chairs" and Jacuzzi, with fantastic ocean views from the front of the ship. Very nice and relaxing. The ms Amsterdam, carrying only 1380 passengers (we learned that on this cruise there are 1427), is much smaller than the megaships of Princess, Celebrity, NCL, but boasts much larger public areas: lounges, bars, etc.; it is very spacious, a real treat compared the over-crowded conditions on larger ships. Our stateroom location on the Lower Promenade Deck 3, almost mid-ship, makes everything on the ship very convenient: Front Office, etc., in the Atrium, main dining room La Fontaine (two levels at the rear), Lido Buffet on deck 8, along with swimming pools and bars. The rear Sea View Pool -- with a bar -- is a quiet, relaxing place to watch the seas float by. Although built back in 2000, the ms Amsterdam, and sister ship the ms Rotterdam, are both maintained and regularly refurbished to the highest level of comfort and elegance. Not much to report this morning so I will cut it short. Tomorrow we are in Homer, another new Alaskan port for me. ~~Homer, Alaska: Saturday, August 4th~~ Under overcast skies and cool temperatures we are cruising this morning toward our next port-of-call, Homer, Alaska; it will be my first visit to this small town. The excursion I had selected, "A Taste of Homer," remains wait-listed, so that will not come to pass I think; it was a 1 PM tour of the local brewery, which sounded interesting to me. We are in port from 10 AM until 6 PM so perhaps we can see the brewery on our own later this afternoon. At 10:30 AM I am invited to a Mariner Society Award Reception to receive a Copper Medallion, commemorating my 100 days of cruising with Holland America. Then there it is a special luncheon in the La Fontaine Dining Room at 11 AM for Mariner Society members; I am a "3 Star" member. (Mariner Society is composed of past passengers of Holland America) Perhaps free wine with lunch? The beautiful, sunny day yesterday was truly a delight after so many days of overcast, rainy weather. We were at dock all day from 7 AM until 11 PM. Interestingly, the very substantial tide in the Cook Inlet - of up to 30 feet -- requires frequent reconfigurations of the gangway during the day. When I left the ship in early afternoon, the gangway was essentially level between Deck 2 and the dock; returning at around 8:30 PM, the ship had risen to a point that the gangway was at a rather steep angle and resting on another elevating structure. Sunset in Anchorage during the summer does not occur until late -- around 10 PM. The free shuttle buses operated throughout the day from the remote industrial dock into the downtown area to the Egan Center, a short trip of 10 minutes or so; the last bus departed Egan Center at 9 PM for the ship's 11 PM sailing. As previously mentioned this was my first visit to this port even though I had been in Anchorage on many occasions; after this summer and HAL's discontinuing this 14-day Alaskan itinerary, the ms Amsterdam will no longer be calling in Anchorage, nor any other cruise ship, is my guess. Too bad. The Alaska Museum in downtown Anchorage has been substantially remodeled, adding a huge new wing; it now occupies an entire block, surrounded by exquisite gardens resplendent with flowers in full bloom. Most remarkable -- but not unusual for Anchorage in its northerly location. The lobby restaurant where I had once enjoyed lunch is now gone, replaced with another nice restaurant in the new wing; being too late for their lunch and too early for their dinner, we chose another restaurant on 5th Avenue where we had also dined before. My favorite, the Downtown Deli and Cafe, was indeed gone, replaced by some other. Sad. 4th, 5th and 6th Avenues are the main streets in downtown, lined with shops, bars and restaurants. Anchorage has certainly increased in size, it seemed to me; I was told that their current population is over 360,000. Many new buildings adorn the skyline although 24 stories have been deemed the limit for high-rises due to earthquake considerations. To the north, past the dock area and rail station, is Elmendorf Air Force Base and many of their aircraft could be seen flying into and out of the base during the day. Anchorage International Airport is to the south of downtown Anchorage and is a major air cargo hub. Nearby there are facilities for the countless float-planes used in travel to the more remote areas of Alaska. Most Alaska cruise passengers -- either arriving or departing -- fly into and out of Anchorage International Airport, then are bused or trained to/from docks in Seward or Whittier. Our docking IN Anchorage is most unusual for cruise ships, and it will soon be ending. In Homer today, the dock is at the end of a long spit with the small town at the other end, so a shuttle or long walk will be required; the weather will dictate our choice of activity. Tomorrow's destination is Kodiak Island so I will later describe our day there. ~~Sunday on Kodiak Island, August 5th~~ Our time here today is short; we docked at 7 AM and are scheduled to depart at 3 PM. The tour I chose for today is to Fort Abercrombie and a nature hike; quite different than the terrible tour experience we had here before on a small fishing boat, bouncing around on rough seas, supposedly viewing wildlife and WWII artifacts; that was a real waste. Starting out as cold, wet and windy, yesterday in Homer turned out to be very pleasant and interesting. Our ship was docked at the end of the Homer Spit, a 5-mile long extension out into the Kachemak Bay at the lower end of the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage and just around from Seward. A hop-on hop-off shuttle -- on school buses for $15 -- was offered from the dock into the small town of Homer, population around 7,000. At the end of the Spit near the cruise ship pier is a large marina sheltering private small boats, along with several lodgings, restaurants and bars; the Salty Dawg Bar is an old historic institution that has become a required tourist stop. Inside a building originally used as a lighthouse, the walls and ceilings are covered with signed dollar bills -- totaling as much as $30,000; at season's end the money is removed and donated to a Fisherman's Fund. From the dock there was a free shuttle school bus around the marina to the commercial area. Besides our cruise ship the entire spit was lined with tourists in cars, trucks, RVs and motor homes, attracted by the excellent fishing; Homer is claimed to be the halibut capital of Alaska. It is the home port of the fishing boat, Time Bandit, famous from the "Deadliest Catch" TV series. Like Anchorage there is a tremendous tide, upwards to 30 feet; our bus ride down the spit into Homer was along beaches, dry way out to a great distance due to low tide; our return saw all of these same beaches then covered by the sea. By the time we reached the small town the drizzle had subsided and we chose to walk the "loop" around from Shuttle Stop #2 (of 4) to #4, the "Old Downtown." Along the way we passed art galleries, a very nice bookstore, restaurants, hotels and other local businesses -- including a theater. Although small, the town did boast concrete sidewalks along the streets. Around the middle of the afternoon we decided on AJ's Oldtown Restaurant & Tavern for a late lunch; my choice of course was halibut and it was excellent: a pan-poached 6-ounce fillet. Delicious. Our choice of restaurant was a good one; I observed most of the clientele were locals, not tourists. The place was one of the classic old roadhouses with a bar, dining room, live music for dancing, and an excellent kitchen. Even the restrooms were spotlessly clean. Their prices were high, I thought, but I concluded that is just the area. Our shuttle return back up the spit to the ship at dock was around 4 PM, allowing for a quick visit over to the Salty Dawg and then back aboard the ms Amsterdam. At that time -- 5:30 PM -- it was dry, with no wind and was really quite pleasant. We observed seagulls by the hundreds nesting on, and under, the pier with many very young chicks carefully protected by their mothers; the deposits of their white droppings were overwhelming. The ship's departure was right on schedule at 6 PM. It was nice to again be back aboard our warm, dry home at sea. ~~Gulf of Alaska, Monday, August 6th~~ Departing Kodiak Island yesterday afternoon at 3 PM after a rainy day, the ms Amsterdam turned back to the east, churning its way through moderate to rough seas back across the Gulf of Alaska toward the Hubbard Glacier which we will approach later this afternoon, a highlight of this cruise. Hubbard Glacier is the largest of the Alaskan advancing glaciers meeting the ocean along its 7 mile wide and 200 feet tall face. If any "calving" is to be seen it will be from this glacier. "Calving" is when large chunks of ice break from the face of the advancing glacier, plunging into the sea and creating small -- sometimes large -- floating icebergs. Our excursion yesterday afternoon was a walking tour through Ft. Abercrombie National Park just past the town of Kodiak out on the point. Basically a rain forest -- and it held up to its name -- this Park was the location of the military installation of Ft. Abercrombie during WWII and many remnants of bunkers, etc., still exist. In the largest of these bunkers -- the former command center -- is now an excellent military museum housing a wide array of military exhibits, all in superb condition: a jeep, ambulance, many uniforms, communication equipment, ammunition, guns, etc. It was a unique and pleasant surprise to find among the moss-covered Sitka fir trees along the spectacular, rugged coastline at this strategic lands' end. The rain was a steady drizzle - only a slight hindrance to our wonderful nature hike along the well-maintained trails through this forest, now a National Park. Our all-weather hooded jackets, purchased in Maine's Acadia National Park last fall, worked well; the frequent strong winds made umbrellas a challenge. Mostly level trails -- sometimes rather steep -- lead through the forest and down around Lake Gertrude, a fresh-water lake very near the coastline; a surprise was to see beautiful water lilies in bloom on one end of the lake. Diana, our guide (also a local kindergarten teacher), told us she used to enjoy ice skating on this lake during the winter when it freezes solid; now the indoor ice rinks are more popular. There were 18 in our group. It was a far cry from the pathetic tour experience during our last visit three years ago and I enjoyed it very much -- wet or not. By the way, we encountered NO brown Kodiak bears although we were instructed how to react had we done so. Last evening was the third of our formal nights and the somewhat rough seas must have deterred some from dinner and later activities; it was a rather quiet night. The rack of lamb was superb at dinner; the dessert souffle a disappointment compared to those on Princess ships. My estimate of the seas was that they were only "moderate." This morning it is almost smooth as we near the mainland on our approach to the Hubbard glacier. From our window here on the Lower Promenade Deck I can observe the many walkers making their way around the ship: 3 1/2 laps = 1 mile; it has been a little too cold and damp for me and I have only walked once; I do NOT want to get sick! The one-way reflective coating on windows make them impossible to see through from the outside -- especially in the daytime, but also at night to a certain extent. The little 2-cup coffee maker we brought along has been great for providing GOOD coffee; the "swill" that is served in the Lido buffet is terrible, being made from a syrup concentrate. The coffee served in the dining room, on the other hand, is freshly brewed and is quite good; cappuccino coffees are also offered there at no additional charge. My usual breakfast is fresh melon: cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew along with pineapple slices, several glasses of juice: orange, pineapple, cranberry, and apple. A couple of Danish pastries with my coffee complete the "feast." One thing I truly enjoy on Holland America ships is their exclusive use of glass and china serving pieces -- NO plastic, except for drinks around the swimming pools. Another is the use of genuine teak on all outside decks. ~~Sitka, Tuesday, August 7th~~ We are now approaching Sitka where we will be at anchor for the day; this is our last Alaskan port of call. The skies are again overcast and the forecast is for a cool day (55 degrees) and "light" rain. So we will again be prepared with all-weather jackets, earmuffs, gloves, scarves and umbrellas. Our excursion from 12:15 to 4:30 PM is "Fortress of the Bear & Sea Otter Quest" which I think should be very interesting, at least something that we have not done before on previous visits. We were lucky late yesterday afternoon when we finally approached the Yakutat Bay and the Hubbard Glacier; the cloud cover lifted giving us excellent views of this magnificent chunk of ice, the longest of the tidewater glaciers in North America, stretching 76 miles from its source on Mount Logan to Disenchantment Bay. The glacier's face is over 6 miles wide and 200 -- 300 feet in height; it routinely "calves" off icebergs the size of a 10-story building. Again, we were lucky to observe many huge calvings. The ship's captain maneuvered the ms Amsterdam quite near the glacier's face, although it was difficult to estimate the exact distance; perhaps a mile? Then he slowing turned the ship around, providing exquisite views of the bluish ice monolith to all ship's passengers lining the open decks. We were at the glacier for almost two hours. My first experience at this very spot was in 1996 aboard the old ss Rotterdam now retired and permanently docked in the port of Rotterdam as a hotel and museum. Sounds from the glacier are awe-inspiring; sounds of cracking ice, like gunshots, and then the thunder of crashing ice -- both along the face and from well behind the face. It is a constant performance. As the ship turned one last time, preparing for our departure, there was one last calving, the largest of the afternoon, much to the thrill of us all, and was greeted with shouts of amazement. Quite an experience! The "Thermal Suite" in the spa on Deck 8 was a welcome and warm relief from the afternoon's chill outside, watching the glacier. This limited access facility -- for a price -- provides luxurious steam rooms, Jacuzzis, saunas, and heated tiled lounges. At the very front of the ship with large windows overlooking the bow, the views are great. We have been taking almost daily advantage and it is well worth the price paid. Last evening after the regular shows in the Queen's Lounge was the Indonesian Crew Show, a popular event with all passengers who crammed the theater to capacity. Everyone seems to love their Indonesian crew and their talents were many and surprisingly excellent. Another Holland American exclusive. It is now time for me to prepare for today's outing; ship's tenders begin service at 10 AM although I am not leaving until around 11 AM or so for our excursion group meeting on the tender dock at noon. With our ship's departure at 5 PM and "all aboard" at 4:30 PM, there will be no extra time once we return from our tour at 4:30 PM. Tomorrow is our last day at sea so there will be plenty of time then for my description of this afternoon's activities. ~~Last Day at Sea, Wednesday, August 8th~~ The end of our Alaskan Explorer Cruise is coming to an end; yesterday afternoon at 5 PM we departed Sitka, our last Alaska port of call, and tomorrow we will be in Victoria, BC, Canada, for the afternoon and evening. Where HAVE these past two weeks gone? Among today's highlights will be the Mariners Society events: awards reception at 10:30 and lunch at 11:00. With the veteran cruisers aboard ship I expect the Mariners Lunch in the La Fontaine Dining Room will be attended by well over half of the passengers aboard. Despite the "light rain" yesterday afternoon our tour, "Fortress of the Bear & Sea Otter Quest," was a great experience. First came a cruise on a nice two-deck speedy tour boat, out across the Sitka Bay into Redoubt Sound, where we observed sea otters that frequent that location; they enjoy lying on their backs, floating, while munching on their "lunch," usually sea urchins. The baby sea otters are well-tended by their mothers, and it is a special treat to watch them -- especially in the large pods, or "rafts" - groups, in which they gather. Our expert boat captain was able to find several of these rafts for our viewing pleasure. All along the way many bald eagles were observed, many sitting at the very tip-top of a towering tree. We also got to view an eagle's nest high in split branches of a tree, with a "baby" eagle clearly visible; the baby will very soon be departing the nest as an adult. Our final treat was an encounter with a humpback whale, feeding near small rock islands, almost oblivious to our nearby presence. We saw it exhale, surface, and then sound -- with its tail clearly visible, several times. It was with reluctance that our cruise time came to an end and we had to return to the dock for the second half of our tour; all along the way back we could see salmon jumping up out of the water. During our return we were served sample of smoked salmon with Ritz crackers (I enjoyed several) and earlier we had been treated with small blueberry cupcakes. Complimentary coffee and hot chocolate were available during our nature cruise. A very nice tour. Just outside of Sitka Bay there are hundreds of small islands, each lushly wooded with trees. The afternoon low-lying clouds and mist made for a very enchanted panorama. Beautiful! Once back on dock we transferred to a small van for the short ride through the town of Sitka to a nearby bear rescue center, the Fortress of the Bear, built from a deserted wood pulp mill which now houses primarily orphaned brown bears which are not able to survive in the wild. They are well cared for in two huge circular enclosures with high concrete walls -- remnants of the old mill, and an observation deck provides viewing into each. The bears have become almost pets to the caretakers who care for them daily, and the bears have learned tricks and actions that thrill the observing tourists. A great facility. Many of their rescued brown bears have been relocated to zoos around the country. Return to the dock was just in time for the last tender at 4:30 back to the ship for our 5 PM departure; Sitka has become one of my favorite Alaskan ports; unfortunately it is not one of the more common ports of call for cruise ships; Holland America is one of the few. The seas are quite calm this morning as we cruise back south toward Seattle; soon it will be time to prepare for the Mariners Society activities. ~~Victoria, BC, Canada, Thursday,August 9th~~ Yes, today we alongside at Ogden Point Cruise Ship Terminal in Victoria for the day: 12 N -- 11 PM. Our plans are to meet Brian & Bev, good cruise friends from Port Moody, who have driven over for the day. So as soon as the toddling herd of 1400 passengers has filed their way off the ship, we hope to make contact with them and be off. This afternoon we plan to journey to the Butchart Gardens, just north of Victoria; although we have been there several times, Bev & Brian have never been, so I am sure they will enjoy it. Later this afternoon we will return to Victoria and Bev and Brian may choose to return to their hotel, the Inn at Laurel Point, for a short rest before our 7:30 PM dinner reservations at the Wharfside Seafood Grille, overlooking the Inner Harbour. It will be a return visit for us. After dinner we may return to Bev & Brian's hotel for some final visiting before our returning to the ms Amsterdam by 10:30 PM, "all aboard." Yesterday's Mariner events were done quite nicely; the 10:30 AM awards reception in the Explorer's Lounge on Deck 5 was for a small, select group of medallion recipients and awardees: copper = 100 cruise days, silver = 300 cruise days, gold = 500 cruise days and platinum = 700 cruise days. The older couple next to me both had platinum medallions. There were only copper medallions presented yesterday by the Captain to about 10 of us, complimentary drinks and hors d'oeuvres served, our individual photos taken with the Captain and the Cruise Director (complimentary copy provided), and then the entire group escorted by the Captain to the La Fontaine Dining Room on Deck 4 for our Mariners Champagne Lunch at 11:00 AM. Other such Mariner lunches accommodated the rest of the 900 Mariners aboard. The lunch was in no way as special as Princess' "Most Traveled Passengers" lunches, two of which I have attended; one during our Panama Canal cruise on the Island Princess in the Sabatini's specialty restaurant; the other one on our Greek Isles cruise was a very special cocktail party in the Skywalker Lounge on Grand Princess. These Mariner lunches were more in the style of Princess' Captain's Circle receptions. Last evening was the last of our 4 formal nights so the tuxedo came out for one last tour of duty; I have certainly gotten my money's worth from this tuxedo that still looks just fine; I even wore my new Copper Medallion which generated a lot of attention. Dinner at Table 24 on the upper level of La Fontaine Dining Room was a special one with "Surf & Turf" -- steak and lobster - offered, and NOT for a $25 surcharge! The lobster tail I was served was easily TWICE the size of the small one I had been served in the Pinnacle Grill -- and steak to boot! And our waiter skillfully removed it from the shell. The dessert of the evening was the famous Baked Alaska, first paraded around the dining rooms by the assistant waiters, but my choice was the crème brule which turned out to be the wrong choice: not nearly as good as in the Pinnacle Grill. Then of course there was the parade of the chefs that always gets a good reception from the "half-starved" passengers waving their napkins high in the air. Following dinner we went to the final Singers and Dancers Performance "Europa" in the Queen's Lounge and it was the best of the cruise; the costumes were spectacular if not on the gawdy side. There were more shows on this cruise than on any other that I can remember: almost every other night. A good evening. This morning we are trying to do most of our packing so that our luggage can be set outside our door tonight before we go to bed. Tomorrow will be very busy, disembarking, collecting luggage, and locating our Super Express shuttle to the SeaTac Airport. Since our Alaska Air flight #512 is not until 2:30 PM, we will have plenty of time for a nice lunch there, mine being some of Ivar's incredible clam chowder: yum-good! Our arrival back at John Wayne Orange Co Airport is scheduled for 5:15 PM. Our 14-day Alaskan Explorer Cruise on the ms Amsterdam in near its end. ~~Seattle, Friday, August 10th~~ Under pristine blue skies, Mount Rainer and the impressive skyline of Seattle greeted our early approach to Pier 91 in Seattle, and the end of our Alaskan Explorer Cruise on the ms Amsterdam. Being independent travelers our disembarkation time is not until 9:15 AM and we are allowed to remain in our stateroom until that time. Our luggage was placed in the hallway last evening about 11:30 PM, after our return aboard and final packing, and will next be seen in the terminal holding area upon disembarkation. Shuttle Express will then take us to SeaTac Airport where there will be several hours of wait before our Alaska Air Flight #512 to John Wayne Orange Co Airport at 2:30 PM, plenty of time for a leisurely lunch including, of course, Ivar's famous clam chowder. Yesterday afternoon and evening in Victoria with our friends Bev & Brian, first at Butchart Gardens and then later at the Wharfside Seafood Grille, were a complete joy, marred only slightly by the very cool temperature we encountered at our patio table during dinner. Even with my Alaska sweater and Brian & Bev's jackets, it became uncomfortably cool, requiring our change of table to an inside one for coffee. My pan-seared halibut was wonderful, as I remembered it being from 3 years ago, and the entire day passed much too quickly before having to return to the ship around 9:30 PM. Immediately after leaving the ship a few minutes past the noon docking in Victoria, we found Bev & Brian waiting for us just outside the cruise terminal and were soon on our way to the Butchart Gardens in Brian's new sporty Honda Civic. The day was gloriously clear with warm sunshine, much welcomed after our 14 days of overcast, drizzly weather in Alaska. With the help of the GPS in Brian's new car, we joined the crowds seeking parking at the Butchart Gardens; about a 30-minute drive north of Victoria. We were joined by several bus loads of cruise passengers from ours and the other 3 cruise ships in port; it was the most crowded that I have ever seen the Butchart Gardens. Despite the crowds, the Butchart Gardens were the most spectacular I have seen in my several past visits; the thousands of exquisitely beautiful flowers ablaze in color and fragrance. Everywhere you turn there is a great photo opportunity. Our first route was through the sunken gardens created in the former stone quarry, the highlight of which is the spectacular towering water fountain and its many wondrous programmed maneuvers. Then it was back along a path towards the rose garden when we encountered the ice cream shop -- demanding a brief stop and indulgence. Then a nearby enclosed carousel -- new to me -- beckoned, and Bev & Jim couldn't resist a ride on the "reindeer" and the "cat" while Brian & I observed, capturing the display on camera. The roses were beautiful, as to be expected, although already in their second blooming. As we continued on toward the visitors' center with restaurants and cafes, we passed along hundreds of huge dahlias and mums; I've never seen such large blooms! It is hard to conceive the many, many varieties of flowers and plants and substantial maintenance and care they must demand; their gardening staff must be a small army. For a rest and further refreshment we stopped at the Blue Poppy Cafeteria where I enjoyed a beer and half sandwich while Bev & Brian shared a pot of tea and a sandwich. Since we would be enjoying dinner in just a few hours, we did not want to over eat. The final attraction was the exquisite Japanese Garden with its many babbling brooks, ornate bridges, artistically sculpted bushes and trees. Distinctly different from other parts of Butchart Gardens and the plethora of flowers in bloom, the Japanese Garden emphasizes greenery of sculpted bushes and trees surrounding small ponds with stepping stones and charming bridges, painted with bright red lacquers. At the bottom of the Japanese Gardens there is a view of Butchart Cove, an inlet to the sea, framed by the majestic groves of towering redwood trees and other lush woods. Truly a memorable setting to enjoy. Our time together seemed to fly and it was then time to return to Victoria and our dinner at the Wharfside Seafood Grille; the cruise ship tour buses had earlier departed providing a much less crowded environment for our final enjoyment. Spending so much time at the Butchart Gardens it was decided to go directly to the restaurant although we would be an hour early for our 7:30 PM reservation; fortunately our early arrival was graciously accommodated. After leaving the restaurant we all took a short walk along the edge of the Inner Harbour and all of it exciting activities -- music, street performers, etc. - with view of the old Empress Hotel and the BC Parliament Building, ablaze with lights outlining the windows, dooms and other features; it was magic! float planes routinely take off and land right in the harbor, adding to the aura of Victoria. It is a wonderfully beautiful city -- day and night. Reluctantly we bade our goodbyes to Bev and Brian in the parking lot outside the cruise terminal and then reboarded our ship in very quiet surroundings, most passengers having returned earlier was my guess. It was then back to our stateroom and final completion of our packing. A full but great day in Victoria. ~~SeaTac Airport, Friday Afternoon, August 10th~~ I am now sitting in SeaTac Airport enjoying their free Wi-Fi, courtesy of Virgin America -- after viewing their commercial videos. Time now for Ivar's Famous Clam Chowder. ~~Corona del Mar, Friday Evening, August 10th~~ Alaska Air #512 from Seattle to Orange County was also a full flight and we were again allowed to check our carry on luggage without charge, a very convenient thing to do. Due to some mechanical malfunction our departure was delayed almost 25 minutes until about 3 PM, but after a very smooth flight and a couple of chardonnay wines for me, our arrival at John Wayne Airport was only about 5 minutes late. After retrieving our luggage -- there was a slight problem with one of the bags, we checked in with SuperShuttle and were soon on our way to my home in Corona del Mar, arriving at around 7 PM. All was found to be well on our arrival. Our Alaskan adventure was finally over. Now for the last of the Olympics! Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Having read some relatively unkind reviews of previous voyages of this cruise I thought I would add my own thoughts to the mix. Some have found the food to be poor. This was not the opinion of myself or our traveling family. We found ... Read More
Having read some relatively unkind reviews of previous voyages of this cruise I thought I would add my own thoughts to the mix. Some have found the food to be poor. This was not the opinion of myself or our traveling family. We found the food in the Lido buffet and the Vista Dining Room to be quite good with a nice variety. Our only complaint related to this cruise and different from our previous HAL Alaska cruise was that the dining room service crew did not seem to have sufficient time to establish much of a relationship with their guests (we had fixed seating and the same wait staff each night). Previously with HAL and on other cruise lines the ability of the waiters to spend a little more time added greatly to the dining experience and to our overall satisfaction with the cruise. Others have noted this may be related to Carnival taking over HAL. I can't comment on this, but although the servers were helpful and proficient in their jobs something was missing and it seems that there was just too much going on for them to establish a better bond with diners. This is not to say that we didn't enjoy the service and food, it was just a different level of satisfaction from what has been previously experienced. Boarding and leaving the ship was seamless. The staterooms were comfortable with good beds and sufficient storage. The stateroom was clean and the room stewards did their normal efficient and professional job. I thought the public areas looked a little 'tired'. The ship was clean but the decor seemed more old-fashioned and staid than what I remember previous HAL ships presented. Perhaps this just wasn't to my taste. But it did not strike me as a ship which was refurbished only 2 years ago. I thought the entertainment although OK was not very good. We stayed for the entire performance of only 1 out of 4 shows. The player in the piano bar was did a very nice job as did the piano / violin duo who played classical music in the Explorer's Lounge during the dinner hours. The views from the Crows Nest are breathtaking. However it is near impossible to get a seat with the great views as people set up camp there and there is little turnover. All in all we were quite satisfied with this cruise. The decor could have been 'fresher', the entertainment a bit better and the dining staff less busy. We feel only the last item to be much of an issue. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Arrived at dock at 2:00 in the afternoon because we had missed our original flight. Shuttle Express took us there first when driver heard we had been up since 4 am (2 am Seattle time) and really wanted to get there. Before we left, I had ... Read More
Arrived at dock at 2:00 in the afternoon because we had missed our original flight. Shuttle Express took us there first when driver heard we had been up since 4 am (2 am Seattle time) and really wanted to get there. Before we left, I had prebooked and paid for 2 seats to cruise terminal. Embarkation was smooth and the women from Seattle that the cruiseline hires to expedite the process are super friendly. Checked out our cabin first. Ample storage space in closets, under bed, and in bath. We never used it all. Our veranda room slept 3 but there was just 2 of us. There was a step up into the bathroom. After jamming my foot once, I kept the rubber bathmat there until I had become accustomed to the step. Lifeboat drill was very disorganized even though they told us to leave lifejackets in room. Did not instill confidence that things would go smoothly in event of evacuation. Wish I'd brought a warmer jacket because while the ship is cruising, the wind really increases and it gets COLD! We had rain on and off while in Alaska, therefore; going outside while the ship was moving required gloves and often substantial raingear. Layering worked very well while on land. Food was mostly very good. If you're an adventurous eater and love fish, you will be happy. Taco bar had wonderful guacamole. Breakfasts were very good, especially the perfect poached eggs and made-to-order omelets. Avoid the scrambled eggs; they are baked in a large pan and have a weird consistency and are tasteless. Bacon was very greasy. The desserts were truly the only thing that I found disappointing: not enough chocolate anything (cake, pie, brownies) and the filling and toppings too gummy on the fruity desserts. My husband thought they were satisfactory. Lido was often crowded. Finding an empty table usually required a hunt, then finding crew to clean it off or a hunt for silverware. MDR service was very good. We had open seating on Deck 2. No wait ever. Each night there was a wine selection which was decent & bargain-priced. Margaritas & other specialty drinks were very reasonably priced and tasty. The ship had Alaska Ale on tap every day in the Lido or pool area. Hubbie had to hunt for it because the location changed daily. Only bad experience we had with crew was wine steward who got almost hostile when we refused to purchase a bottle of wine - we wanted single glasses. Our dining companions said she told them it was a good deal because they save the leftover bottle for next meal and you could get 6 pours - which isn't true (it's 5)- and because she's constantly refilling your glasses; thus, bottle empties quickly. All entertainment we saw was very good. Magician with dog was lots of fun. If you like acoustic guitar check out David in the Crows Nest. Very important to get to all venues early if you want a good seat or sometimes a seat at all, especially Queen's Lounge. Concur with other reviewers that public areas are inadequate. When it's raining, very few people are on observation decks so at times there can be no seating ANYWHERE except in the bars. Get a veranda if you can - you will use & enjoy it. We sat on the veranda under the lap blankets they provide and read or just watched the gorgeous scenery. Perfect place for afternoon coffee. We didn't book any of the ship's shore excursions because we like to be able to set our own hours and stay as little or as long as we like. And, for some outings, there is a substantial price reduction when compared to what the ship charges. New cruisers should know that the ship doesn't run the shore excursions they offer. They just tell you what time to leave the ship and make sure someone is there to meet you. You can often find the same or better tours at substantially lower prices by going online and booking it yourself. Also, many ports have tours available for walk-ins right on the dock. Glacier Bay: Awesome!!! Debarkation was smooth. Luggage easy to find even though we forgot to tear off tags. Walked out terminal, down to Shuttle Express desk, paid fare, driver took our luggage, and we boarded bus. There was a cooler of water bottles which we appreciated because it took about ten minutes to fill the bus. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
Second cruise, second with HAL (Zuiderdam 2010), so I have little to compare to. I have a disabled spouse who walks but have only 50% use of left side, so I book tours etc. with this in mind. Amsterdam - 14 day cruise June 29th to July ... Read More
Second cruise, second with HAL (Zuiderdam 2010), so I have little to compare to. I have a disabled spouse who walks but have only 50% use of left side, so I book tours etc. with this in mind. Amsterdam - 14 day cruise June 29th to July 13th,2012. We did stay in Seattle for a few days before and stayed at the Inn at the Market, excellent little hotel. The ship is quite nice and I like the feel of a smaller ship. I do like the decor of the Amsterdam over the Zuiderdam. But at the end of the day I'm all about the destination, not the ship or company. It was the itinerary that I wanted and almost cancelled this cruise at Christmas time as we already did Alaska (our first cruise). Unlimited laundry, we used this service and it was excellent. We sent out laundry almost every day and it came back the same day. Even when I was late getting it out and didn't expect to get it until the next day, it arrived. I definitely could have packed a lot less than what I did. Soda card, I wouldn't buy one again. We do like the cans and we aren't big soda drinkers, but thought the 14 days we would make use of it. Internet - bought 100 minutes and I actually think the service has improved. It didn't feel like it took that long to load compared to when I used it on the Zuiderdam, but it is still slow. Dining - we had open seating, and only made it down to the dining room three times. We just found with our shore excursions we would had to the Terrace Grill when we got back and weren't too hungry for dinner. Food is fine in the Lido, just I wasn't eating as much for the last half of the cruise as I experienced seasickness and the food felt heavy in my stomach. Room 7056 and the secret deck is not so secret anymore. The aft deck is quite literally five steps out your door. It's used as a smoking deck, so we ended up using the promenade deck more than this deck. If you are a smoker, it would be idea for you. A lot of noise from the doors slamming is a problem for this room. The value for your dollar is not worth it on this room as it's very small and you are rated as a DD category and I'm pretty sure my deck in my yard has more space than this room. This room is very small and cramped and is okay for short cruises. I wouldn't want to be stuck in here any longer than this two week cruise. Even at the two weeks, I felt hubby and I were stepping over each other. As the days went on with this cruise, I really think this room is more suited to a single traveler. With that said they did maximize the use of the space. We intended to use the unlimited laundry, and had just enough storage space. If you were on a longer cruise and had lots of clothes, then you might have a problem. Shower only, which is okay for me and hubby. Bathroom is very compact but again worked for us. One step up into the bathroom and then about a three inch lip to step into the shower. Lights from the back deck do light up the room a bit, but I found that okay, as it gave enough light to see in the night if you had to get up. But if you don't like lights, it may not be the room for you, as the curtain does sway so the light might bother you. Also early in the morning the back deck is hosed down and cleaned off (usually around 5-5:30), which we noticed the noise. Again we are early risers so it didn't bother us for the most part. One more thing I would recommend. Bring your own bottle opener if you have beer sent up to your room. There is one here, but it's on the bathroom wall next to the toilet. I personally was not comfortable using it. Excursions we are were a combination of private and HAL tours. I would rate them as follows: Icy Straight Point - Misty Bay Lodge - rated number one. Well worth it and I would book this tour again. Also I think ISP is better for whale watching than Juneau. Anchorage - We booked the Phillips 26 Glacier tour with bus accommodations out of Whittier - excellent tour and the 10 hours flew by. Juneau - Orca, had a great whale watching adventure. Kodiak - Memory Makers - great couple Kale and Kady, though the weather did not cooperate when we were there, and this impacted our photo opportunities. When they make a stop near where the eagles nest is and tell you they make great cookies, believe them. They were the size of bear paws. Ketchican - Misty Fjords tour, expect rain in Ketchican. We did have window seats for husband and I was able to walk around. Sitka - Sea Otter Quest and Fortress of the Bears - Fortress of the bears saved this tour, and if I ever go back, I would get a private tour or a cab to take me there as we spent a lot of money through the ship for this tour which didn't cut it for us on the Sea Otter portion. Homer - we winged it and decided to head to the Time Bandit store. If this is the only place off the spit you want to go, book and cab instead of spending money for a bus ride. It's about a half a mile walk to the Time Bandit from their stop. We couldn't do the spit as the walk (which was suppose to be two blocks) was too much for husband, so we headed back to the ship. Victoria - we disembarked in Victoria and spent the extra day there. By this time we were done with being a tourists. We did end up on Friday taking one of the water taxi tours to kill some time. Hubby was able to navigate getting on/off this little taxi's. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
14 DAYS ABOARD THE AMSTERDAM: AN ALASKIAN EXPLORER CRUISE, 29 JUNE-13 JULY, 2012 SHIP STATS: 62,735GT, 23 Ft. Draft, 781 Ft. Length, 106 Ft. Beam (Width), 2000 Launch Date, Max. Speed: 21 Knots, 1388 Passengers, 647 Crew, Distance ... Read More
14 DAYS ABOARD THE AMSTERDAM: AN ALASKIAN EXPLORER CRUISE, 29 JUNE-13 JULY, 2012 SHIP STATS: 62,735GT, 23 Ft. Draft, 781 Ft. Length, 106 Ft. Beam (Width), 2000 Launch Date, Max. Speed: 21 Knots, 1388 Passengers, 647 Crew, Distance Covered: 3,675 NM, Fuel Consumption: Approx. 39,500 Gal / Day = 150.5 Gal. NM (Power & Propulsion), Potable Water Production: 160,000 Gal / Day. SHIP STAFF: Master: Fred Eversen, Hotel Manager: Frank Ulbricht, Dining Rm. Manager: Danny Dharmawan, Beverage Manager: Mark Wranik, Chief Housekeeper: Matilda Rebello: Executive Chef: Joachim Barelmann, Cruise Director: Michael Harvey. PERSONAL "STAFF": Ms. Judy, DW, aka 'she who must be obeyed' We both enjoy cruising as a vacation venue and, more importantly, still tolerate & enjoy each other's company after 39+ years of marriage. PERSONAL "DOSSIERS": both my wife and I will turn 62 this year and are full time professionals (engaged in medical & science pursuits), both have New Jersey origins (our current residence is in northern Arizona) and are military veterans ('69-'73). We consider ourselves fun loving, non-demanding and pragmatic. Cruising is one of our favorite diversions. PRE-EMBARKATION TRAVEL / PORT ACCOMODATIONS: We enjoyed spending one night in Seattle prior to embarkation @ the Homewood Suites on Pike Street. The accommodations were more than adequate and the hotel was centrally located. We used Already There Town Car service for airport pickup & for pier pickup following the cruise. We enjoyed a dinner atop the Space Needle as a sort of a once in a lifetime thingy. The food was okay, the service likewise. However, the beverages & consumables were quite pricey. I really couldn't recommend the Needle for dinner. EMBARKATION DAY: We enjoyed a breakfast buffet that was included in the hotel cost, packed up our luggage & had the hotel store our stuff while we did a walking Savor Seattle Food Tour at the Pikes Place Market between 1000-noon. It was a wonderful tour with plenty of samplings of various foods. We grabbed a cab, went back to the hotel to pick up the luggage & wine we bought for the trip the night before & headed out to pier 91 for embarkation. EMBARKATION: Quick, smooth & no crowds @ 1:00 P.M. Just the way I like it. We were escorted to the elevators and we're inside our cabin within five minutes. Bags were already on the bed (how that happen so fast?), the AC worked & the plumbing seemed to work. Life is good. We unpacked, attended the life boat drill & enjoyed the 'Sail-away" in the Crow's Nest with our traditional mango Daiquiris & nuts. CRUISE & SHP COMMENTS / OBSERVATIONS (Alphabetical) ACTIVITIES (DAILY): There was a diversity of activities available which included, but not limited to, aerobics & fitness classes, Komen Walk for the Cure, Sudoku puzzles, daily quizzes and various trivia games (team, liquor, etc.) , dance lessons, art auctions ("they're back....."), bingos, ports of call lectures, the "Explorations" speaker series lectures, and free cooking demos, MIX-ology classes & wine tastings, religious services, spa seminars, kitchen tour, and the most recently released movies available in the Wajang theatre. CABIN: (Deck #1, Dolphin Deck, outside, mid-ships, starboard, #1893): Clean & welcoming. Couch & carpeting somewhat worn & I suspect will be replaced during the upcoming dry-dock / refurbishing. As mentioned, AC & plumbing worked great. Our two cabin stewards were great (they were apparently taking care of 29 cabins total for this cruise) & provided us with excellent service. CANALATTO: We didn't go this dinning venue on this cruise. We've tried it on a couple other HAL cruises and weren't really wowed but that isn't to say that the Amsterdam staff might have produced a 'better product' than other ships in the fleet. CASINO: My DW made several donations to the one-armed bandits during the course of the cruise. I did not notice much in the way of drifting cigarette smoke for the infrequent times that I walked through the casino. I can't report if they had non-smoking nights or not since it was not a concern of mine. CRUISE DIRECTOR: Mr. Michael Harvey was the CD on this cruise. He did a fabulous job, along with his staff, with all the daily activities, introductions for the shows & lectures and other various "master of ceremonies" duties too numerous to enumerate. He was accommodating, bright and polite. He is a solid staffing "asset" for HAL. CRUISE CRITIC ASSEMBLAGE: The first sea day (Day 1) of the cruise, I attended the CC "M&G" in the Crow's Nest @1000. The ship provided coffee & cookies. We met some real nice folks many of which were seasoned cruisers. It was a great way to start a cruise DAILY SCHEDULE: I like the appearance of the "new" daily schedule, i.e., fresh & clean. Items that I miss or could be improved: No longer is there a 'blurb' of sorts (a couple of sentences) that would describe the current on board feature movie. I didn't really notice much in the way of "Notes from the Navigator" There appeared to be plenty of space to manipulate fonts and also, perhaps, tell folks about additional services available, e.g. laundry pricing, phone cards, etc. that might generate more income for the good HAL folks. DEMOGRAPHICS: A typical 'seasoned' HAL crowd. Most folks we encountered were cordial and, in some cases, quite pleasant. And naturally, some "sour pusses" and "whiners" were allowed to board. The cruise crowd included the typical cross section of grumps and noise bags, the contentious, the pretentious and a sprinkling of pseudo-snobs but the overall mix was predominately a pleasant and passionate gaggle of experienced cruisers. DRESS CODE: It appeared most folks abided by the dress code rules for evening wear. There was an exception or two of course but nothing really to get your skivvies in a wad about. There were #4 formal nights scheduled on this cruise and everyone looked great IMO. The sassy casual nights were certainly entertaining to view everyone's interpretation of cruise wear. ENTERTAINMENT (SHOW ROOM AT SEA): We only attended two production shows so I really can't comment as to the individual entertainer shows. The two production shows that we attended were typical HAL. Pleasant enough but nothing to 'write home about', as it were 'FIXED' ENTERTAINMENT CROW'S NEST: DJ JASON / KAT & THE HAL CATS/ MARE LENNON (GUITAR); EXPLORER'S LOUNGE: MOONLIGHT TRIO; PIANO BAR: ROU KASSEL (PIANO), MARE LENNON (GUITAR); OCEAN BAR: THE NEPTUNES . 'ROTATING' / VISITING ENTERTAINERS JEFF TRACTA (COMEDY, SINGING), PHIL HUGHES (VENTRILOQUIST), GEORGE KANTER (COMEDIAN), CHRIS MACHAELS (MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST), DAALE KRISTIEN (SINGER), BENJI HILL (COMEDIAN) & A PASSENGER TALENT SHOW SHOWROOM AT SEA OFFERINGS (CAST) LET US ENTERTAIN YOU, DANCING UNDER THE STARS, MOMENTS TO REMEMBER, SIMPLY BROADWAY, CALIENTE, EUROPA EXPLORER'S CAFE: The Cafe has plenty of shelving packed with a variety of novels and reference materials and has well lit reading areas and several island computer stations are available. I do not use internet services when on vacation so I cannot address the quality and costs of the service. Depending on the itinerary and the tours I've lined up I have used internet cafe in some ports in the past for tour confirmations and infrequent cancellations by the operator. However, on this cruise I did not need to use any internet services while ashore since our cell phones were up & running at the ports. EXPLORER'S SERIES LECTURES: This is usually one of the highlights of HAL cruises we always look forward to. With that said I was a tad disappointed with the fact that the Explorer series lectures are a thing of the past, at least on this sailing. The lectures are now Travel Guide presentations. On this sailing there was one Travel Guide, Jeanette Shanigan, that did multiple chores above and beyond the lectures. Too bad that the budgetary cutbacks for the lectures (& other items as well) has diminished the HAL quality experience. FLOWERS & FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS: Maybe it's just me but it seemed that the ship's flower and floral arrangements looked a tad better (fresher?) than our last two sailings with HAL the last two cruises. The public areas seemed to have less floral arrangements in my judgment. We'd bought a wonderful arrangement of cut flowers to bring aboard from the Pike Marketplace ($10) & the flowers pretty much made it through 12 days prior to disposal. FOOD, DINING ROOM: Food being a subjective item as it is wouldn't really be critiqued by me other than to say that some nights were better than other nights when it came to taste, presentation and food temperature at serving (obsession number one = cold soups and salads need to be served COLD!, hot items need to be served HOT!). The menus were somewhat unique and varied for each day of the day cruise. As mentioned food consistency seemed to be a 'hit or miss' for us. For example, fish ordered one night would be perfect & the same fish ordered three nights later would be over cooked and would need to be returned to the kitchen. We had fixed late seating at a six top. Service was much like the food. Some nights it was great, other nights it was lacking. And so it goes. FRONT DESK / GUEST RELATIONS: The good folks behind the counter were attentive and patient with each passenger concern that I observed. We had no issues with the final billing statement so, again, life is good. LAUNDRY: Pricing for the unlimited laundry & pressing was $7/day. Needless to say we utilized the unlimited services and I was quite happy with the service. I'd send soiled laundry out when the beds were turned down and the laundry would be returned by 0900 the next morning. There are some washers & dryers aboard but for $7/day who wants to mess with laundry? Hey, you're on vacation! This cruise put us over the HAL 200 day mark so laundry (unless HAL changes things) will no longer be a concern. LIDO BUFFET / DINING: Since we dined in the La Fontaine DR or Pinnacle Grill every night we used the Lido for breakfasts and lunches only. The buffets were adequate as usual & in some cases the dishes were very good. My only comment to the DR Manager the first day was that the English muffins really need to be toasted (versus warmed to room temperature) & the bacon needs to be cooked crispy & not barely cooked. The next day & throughout the cruise all the bacon was cooked correctly but I still needed to request that the muffins be toasted for the various Egg Benedict's . No biggie really. LIFE BOAT DRILL / MUSTER: Well organized and completed in approximately 30 minutes or less sans life vests these days. MAPS, IN PORT GUIDES: The In Port Guides were available at the gangway (no longer delivered to each stateroom these days, sans another tradition due to cutbacks) for Juneau, Icy Strait Point & Sitka. MARINER LUNCH: It seemed the old menu was basically a choice of salmon, chicken or a quiche. The salmon has been replaced with some seared tuna (not bad really) & me thinks the chicken was replaced with braised ribs or something. In any event there were three seating's on the last sea day (we did the 1300 seating) & all went accordingly. Again, for some reason, the luncheon lost, well, it's "luster" of prior cruises IMO. Service was spotty and you were lucky to get a champagne refill. PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES: I found the photography staff to be polite and unobtrusive. We did not pose nor purchase any photographs on formal nights. I did ask for a free shot of the ship (a Mariner benefit) that I always forget to do. Well, it was a postcard sized shot of the Amsterdam anchored in Half Moon Cay. Go figure. PINNACLE GRILL: We enjoyed one 'routine' dinner, a Le Cirque night and the Cellar Master's Dinner in the PG. The food on all three occasions was wonderful and the service was prompt. I can't say enough good things about the PG staff. Unfortunately we didn't have time to schedule a lunch that we've always enjoyed on prior cruises. ROOM SERVICE: We tend to "vegetate" by mid-afternoon on sea days in our cabin. I generally order two cheese platters and two salmon platters to munch on while sipping wine and viewing a DVD of some sort (I had brought along three dozen favorites in a small clamshell case). On port call days with early tours scheduled, we'd go for the 'door card' breakfast. The items were always hot and delivered on a timely basis. No problems were noted throughout the cruise, and, in fact, the coffee always seemed better than the coffee served at the Lido buffet in the mornings. Great job room service staff! SERVICE, BEVERAGE: & FOOD: Overall, outstanding as usual (including the housekeeping service). This is truly the backbone and reason for so many Mariner's and 'repeaters' on HAL. It was indeed like 'returning home'. I really can't express how important the comment cards are to the staff. As per our habit, we wrote cards (available at the front desk) practically on a daily basis letting them know how pleased we were with one individual or another. The individuals in question receive these comments daily from their supervisors and you can tell by their smiles and 'thank you' comments that they appreciate the praise probably more so than any sort of extra tip. SHIP: The Amsterdam definitely needs a retrofitting / upgrading of the public rooms & , at least, our cabin). Some observations included a needed refinishing of the Crow's Nest Dance floor, re-upholstering some of the bench pads, worn carpeting, etc. Now that isn't to say that cleaning was an issue. The housekeeping staff did a wonderful job keeping things clean. It just seemed to me that some spaces were dingier for some reason than other spaces. SPA / SALON: As usual, DW signed up on embarkation day for three massages & manicure/pedicure appointments. Apparently 'she who must be obeyed' was satisfied since I did not hear otherwise. TV / DVD SERVICE: Worked like a charm. I'd brought some videos for late afternoon viewing (beats bingo for us). TV reception was fairly strong throughout the cruise. WAJANG THEATRE / CULINARY ARTS CENTER: My wife attended several cooking demonstrations and enjoyed them all. WEATHER: Overcast & rainy for most of the cruise. The seas were described as moderate to slight during most of the voyage. I really didn't notice much motion throughout the cruise (of course, we were bunked down amidships on the Dolphin Deck). ITINERARY / CLASSES / DINNERS / FORMALS DAY 0 Seattle, depart 1700; DAY 1 Vancouver Island Cruising (Sea Day), Mixology #1, Formal Night #1; DAY 2 Ketchikan (0800-1700); DAY 3 Tracy Arm Cruising (Sea Day), Mixology #2, PG Dinner; DAY 4 Juneau (0800-2200), Dinner: Qwest; DAY 5 Icy Strait Point (0700-1600), Mixology #3; DAY 6 Sea Day, Mixology #4, Formal #2; DAY 7 Anchorage (0700-2300); DAY 8 Homer (1000-1800); DAY 9 Kodiak , Le Cirque Dinner PG, Formal #3; DAY 10 Sea Day/Hubbard Glacier Cruising, Mixology #5; DAY 11 Sitka (1000-1700), Cellar Master's Dinner PG; DAY 12 Sea Day, Mariner Lunch @1300, Mixology #6, Formal Night #4; DAY 13 Victoria, BC (1200-2300), DAY 14 Seattle Disembark @0730. PORTS OF CALL / TOURS KETCHIKAN (0800-1700): A.M. Touring about town. P.M. (1200-1530) Mountaintop Flightseeing via floatplane & Crab Feast @ George Inlet Fjord Lodge. This is a wonderful tour with plenty to eat & drink at the lodge. I would highly recommend. JUNEAU (0800-2200): A.M. (0800-1100) Touring about town; 1130-1430 Coastal Helicopter's tour to Herbert glacier & dog sledding. This was another once in a lifetime tour with Iditarod mushers. We really enjoyed this tour. 1800-2100 (HAL tour) Evening Whale Watch & Dinner aboard the Qwest. There was plenty of wildlife to see & more than enough food for dinner. Recommended. ICY STRAIT POINT (0700-1600): A.M. Salmon fishing with Captain Eric of Ear Mountain Charters. We caught three salmon (#2 Silver & #1 King). We had a great time and would recommend his services. P.M.: (HAL tour, 1300-1530) Kayaking Port Fredrick. There were just four of us on this tour and we enjoyed immensely. Two folks to the kayak so make sure one of the two of you is in some sort of shape to paddle against the wind, etc. Anchorage (0700-2300): Prince William Sound 26 Glacier Tour. We grabbed a cab at the port and made it down to the train station to catch the 0945 train to Whittier. We pretty much camped out in the club car in both directions. The boat tour ran 1230-1745. The return train left @ 1830 & we were back aboard the Amsterdam by 2115. Although overcast & gloomy in Whittier (apparently it was sunny in Anchorage according to our cab driver) we really enjoyed this tour. There was plenty of glaciers (naturally), otters, seals & whales to view. The boat crew was very friendly & accommodating. Recommended. Homer (1000-1800): Alaska Cooking School at the Tutka Bay Lodge (1030-1430). We were met by a driver on the dock, taken to the water taxi dock and traveled over the sound to the beautiful Tutka Bay Lodge for our 'cooking' adventure / hands on lesson with Chef Kisten Dixon. Our menu / prepping chores included the following items: Multi-ingredient (cook's choice) Beignets with a spring green/raspberry salad, Fisherman's stew & fresh pasta topped with Sockeye salmon, Tutka Bay lodge bread, & honey cake with Rhubarb sauce. Needless to say the class was wonderful. We had a small group (6 total) & had a great class & tour of the grounds following our dinning session (served with superior wines I might add). This tour is definitely recommended. Kodiak (0700-1500): 3.5 hour HAL tour, Marine Wildlife Cruise. The tour was okay I suppose (same wildlife, different pond). I'd probably take a tour of the town, the church and the Russian cultural tea tour next time. This was probably our least favorite tour since we had been doing wildlife tours at other ports & didn't really see anything we hadn't seen before. I certainly don't want to sound snobbish. However, I do like being out in a small boat& bouncing around & enjoying the scenery. Sitka (1000-1700): HAL tour, Volcano Exploration by Ocean Raft (Zodiac really) & 4 X 4 (1130-1330). This tour is not for the 'faint of heart' or one that has medical or disability issues. You bounce along pretty good at 50 mph on a metal bottomed Zodiac and if you didn't have back problems prior to the tour you might have one after the boat rides. Sitting in the back is less bumpy of course. DW sat back by the captain for a less assaulting ride. Naturally I sat in the front seat & made like a fifteen year old. What a blast! In any event, a hot bath that night aboard ship along with some Ibuprofen & several medicinal doses of Maker's Mark made everything well. The tour also included driving ATF's up the mountain, etc. This was a great tour. I would highly recommend if your ale to do so. Victoria (1200-2300): HAL Bus transfer to the Butterfly & Butchart Gardens with a itty bity city tour on the return trip. Very nice tour & not really all that expensive considering the admission cost that the regular folks pay. I would highly recommend this tour also. FINAL THOUGHTS We really enjoyed this cruise itinerary &, perhaps, someday, may repeat it if it becomes available again. The staffing folks aboard the ship were all pleasant & accommodating to our needs. As mentioned, such things as food quality & service, lectures, etc. has slipped IMO from prior HAL voyages. Maybe it was just the little things that added up to this impression. Perhaps again we've journeyed into the new "norm" (e.g. endless budgetary cutbacks, dress code addendums, odd smoking policies, etc.). I will certainly cruise with HAL again however I'll probably stick with the Prinsendam whenever we can. We really do enjoy the smaller ships and longer itineraries whenever we're able. Perhaps we'll cruise aboard the Amsterdam again if we're ever able to take one of the Grand Voyages or WC's. In any event, if you've made it through this 'brief' review then Bon Voyage & Good Health to you! Safe travels to one & all. Bob Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
This being our second HAL cruise and reading the reviews of the ship, we travelled with somewhat lower expectations than our previous HAL cruise. Overall the cruise exceeded our expectations; however we were deeply disappointed on ... Read More
This being our second HAL cruise and reading the reviews of the ship, we travelled with somewhat lower expectations than our previous HAL cruise. Overall the cruise exceeded our expectations; however we were deeply disappointed on several counts but mainly by an incident regarding the final port of Victoria. HAL seem to be making cut backs and its starting to show. Seattle Found this a great place, very clean and friendly. Well worth a couple of days pre or post cruise. The highlight for us was a tour of the Boeing factory. Highly recommend this tour even for no aviation fans like us. Embarkation Things seemed a little hectic and messy but this was expected as this was the first cruise out of Seattle this season There was poor signage (towards the suite check in) and the checking of Non US ID took a bit longer as staff had to refresh their memories and check which nationals required VISAS. Not all the security screening points were operational. The line for the remainder of the cabins seemed long. Security check took around 20 Mins and the suite check in took around 15 mins after security. Boarding Nice and easy as always on HAL Ships. Cabin ready on arrival and baggage fast and ready on return form an excellent buffet in a very busy Lido. ( The Lido seemed very over crowded compared to normal, this put down to Roof open in pool area and weather fairly cool) Cabin and Ship Condition Many of the reports on this site mention the poor condition of the ship, we found no evidence of this other than a small amount of rust on a small number of pillars on our aft corner balcony. The balcony furniture was fine and the cabin well maintained and clean as always. The cabin team do a great job. Food Overall the Food was excellent as always. Lido Buffet Although food was excellent, some choices ran out early both at lunch and dinner. Late buffets seemed more to the benefit of the ships officers and ended too early. The Pinnical As always the food and service were second to none. Well worth the $25 surcharge for dinner and $10 for lunch. Breakfast for Suite guests also proved the upgrade in cabin well worth the additional costs. The Canneletto The only real food disappointment. Service was far to slow and waiters did not seem to know what was going on. The highlight of the meal was watching the Whale just off the ship. Main Dining Room Only ate here once (On disembarkation day), Open dining did not seem to work without a reservation. Had to wait in line for over 30 mins, but after that given a buzzer and about 15 mins later seated. Room Service Breakfast always delivered to room earlier than booked, could not fault the service otherwise. Would like to have Fries available with the main meals rather than just chips ( Crisps). Just be prepared to wait about 45 -- 60 mins, which is reasonable. Entertainment & Facilities Overall ok, but not much need for entertainment with the Scenery outside. Main Shows Only went to 2, but the ones we went to were the usual standard for cruise liners. Disappointingly they seemed to be the same as over 14 months ago on the New Amsterdam. Piano Bar Well worth the visit (and in our case the hangover the next day!) HAL Cats Again proved much more entertaining than the Main show Future Cruise Representative not very helpful ( probably as like others in the crew had throat infection). Inventory for next year not yet available other than Holiday season. Neptune Longe Great service as always Tour Organiser Very well informed and gave great talks. Shame the tour desk was not of the same standard ( when open!) Public Restrooms Sad to say HAL are letting themselves down. Either not working or very Smelly! Ports, Scenery and Tours Tracey Arm Fjord - Fantastic Scenery, great to get to the front of the ship. Shame the ship was unable to go the full distance, but must have been a very cautious captain! Watch for the amazing blue ice floating by and glaciers. Juneau -- An amazing place, make sure to visit Mendenhall Glacier and the Whale watching trip. Did the combination tour through HAL. The Glacier was a slight let down, you don't get up and close, just seem from the distance. Would have liked more time to walk the trails. This was more than compensated for by the excellent crew who took us out to watch the whales and other marine life. Sitka -- Not much around port, more on offer for the sporting type. Very scenic though. Ketchikan -- Love the old style and History of this port. Did a tram bus tour arranged off ship and well worth it to get more of the history and background of the town. Victoria -- Did not get to see, please see my big whinge further down the report! Disembarkation We made a big mistake by not booking the Airport transfers earlier! They had sold all space available half way through the 7 days! This has never happened to us before, luckily 3rd party shuttle busses available at pier, but again as first cruise of the season this was a bit chaotic and had to wait around for about an hour. The general disembarkation for guest well organised an fast. Sorry to say they did not offer early morning of departure pick up of luggage for suite guests as in the past. Finally the Big Issue! -- Only if the Crew had been open and honest with the passengers this would not have escalated into a major issue for us and our fellow passangers! I have contacted HAL and are awaiting a response on the below, but this really has left us regretting paying deposits for 2 future cruises with HAL. Having left Ketchikan on the cruise for the final port of call in Victoria, we were followed out of dock by a NCL cruise ship. On arriving over 3 hours late in Victoria the NCL cruise ship had already docked next to us. On disembarking the ship we asked the passengers of the NCL cruise ship as to what time they arrived. NCL had docked on schedule at 6PM. During the journey on the Friday nothing had been communicated to the passengers by the ship's crew. There was noticeably no update from the captain during that day on the progress of the journey. On Saturday afternoon there was eventualy an update on the cruise from the captain, during which he mentioned that as the ship was running behind schedule and would arrive late in Victoria. He mentioned that all the tours in Victoria would be cancelled and credited to the room accounts. We note this was not mentioned until after the disembarkation brief and the customer surveys had been completed. No mention was made to the reason for the delay. To add to our suspicions we had found is strange that in the Morning that the tours desk had been closed and that the Neptune lounge were very vague when we tried to book an excursion in Victoria in the morning for that afternoon / evening. Eventually on disembarkation in Victoria, there was dangerous overcrowding in the stairwells leading to the gang way to shore, as most of the ships passengers attempted to leave the ship quickly to make the most of the 2 hours we had remaining in Victoria. Speculation was rife amongst the masses of passengers. The most common theory amongst others was that the ship had failed to take on enough fuel prior to departure. On questioning the crew about the delay at this time the only answer given was "Only the Master Knows". Many passengers were asking if the ship would still be leaving on time and were disappointed with a very blunt "Yes" response. Later on returning to the ship and asking other crew members for the reason for the delay we were told it was due to "Operational Reasons". It is also worth noting that the ship did finally dock early on its return to Seattle. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
First let me say that I did a lot of research on Alaska cruises prior to booking. My research included the individual cruise lines comparing pricing, accommodations, services and dining, as well as through sites like cruisecritic.com. We ... Read More
First let me say that I did a lot of research on Alaska cruises prior to booking. My research included the individual cruise lines comparing pricing, accommodations, services and dining, as well as through sites like cruisecritic.com. We ultimately booked through an independent agent through the Internet due to some booking incentives. After booking I started watching the blogs closely in anticipation to our cruise on the HAL Oosterdam leaving Seattle, WA on Sunday, May 13, 2012. We arrived a couple of days prior to the cruise and stayed in Seattle, arguably one of our favorite places in the US. We arrived at the port for embarkation early (about 10:30am) and met DW's sister and her DH. Porters were available everywhere and before we were able to put a foot on the ground one was there ready to take our bags. The awesome service had begun. We entered Terminal 91 and found it to be clean and very well marked. The brother-in-law had rented a powered scooter and it was ready and waiting for him when they arrived at the terminal (big plus). As we entered the terminal, it became clear that one hand didn't always know what the other hand was doing. We were ushered toward an elevator (because of the scooter) but my DW was in the bathroom. The nice man that had offered the elevator had stepped away and a not so pleasant woman, pointing toward the elevator said "GO OVER THERE". Mind you, I am just starting my long awaited vacation...RUDE was not what I was looking for. Just as I started to chime in, the nice man returned and got us on the elevator. Security screening was not horrible, but I did have too many carry-on's (not more than I could physically handle, but more than I wanted to handle) so I was getting a bit crabby standing in line that wasn't moving as quickly as I would have liked. As we reached the front of the line, we were ushered to a nice lady that had a total of 3 people standing behind her...helping her. Not only was she new, but they were learning a new booking system as well. She did the best she could with what she had to work with, and surprisingly enough, I let it roll off. We were inside the terminal with check-in completed and waiting to board by 11:10a Boarding began promptly at 11:30, and being in the front of the disabled line we were on board by 11:45. As we walked on, I asked if we could wait for our cabins in the Vista Dining Room - the response was "your cabins are ready". WOW! That has never happened on Carnival - we have always had to wait until at least 1pm. We were on and our vacation had begun. Now, all of the things that I had read in the blogs that I would like to comment on. CABINS: We booked a guaranteed SY category "Superior Suite". We were upgraded to an SS in cabin 8042. Upon entering the cabin we were definitely in love. Very large (for a cruise ship) bathroom with 2 sinks, tub with Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. There was lots of storage space, not only in the 4 closets but in drawers around. The sofa was a red leather color, but was very comfortable. I laid on it most every evening for movie night. There are 3 nice chairs and a footstool. The lighting could be better, especially in the entry hall. We had a slight problem with the in-room safe, but the staff came and took care of it. This cabin is shown as having a queen sized bed - we had a king. I had heard that the refrigerators were more like cooling boxes. I can tend to be very critical about things, but I must say, it worked much better than I expected. It was nice having it in the room. We brought on a 12-pack of soda and some bottled water and it was very drinkable. The veranda was spacious with 2 chairs and footstools, as well as a round table and 2 chairs. We were impressed by the cabin, and more so after looking at the other part of the family is 8027 veranda. It was quite a bit smaller and more cramped than ours. The upgrade was worth it for us. CREW: The reviews that I have read about the crew were pretty right on. The staff that we dealt with (excluding the front desk staff) were awesome and always willing to go the extra mile. Our room stewart ("Su") always had the room cleaned and turn down down while we were out. He tried once when we were on the balcony, and when we offered to vacate so he could work he apologized and said that he would come back. Awesome... The Vista Dining Room staff (Mafood and Gun) were great - could not have asked for better service. The front desk staff were not so great. I found it very difficult to communicate with them over the simplest of issues. Their English was not horrible, but the accent does tend to get in the way when you are frustrated and trying to deal with a problem. We had purchased a soda card ($25 for a $50 card) - it was a good deal, but it would not activate and I took it back. After about 10 minutes of explaining the problem about 4 times, she gave me a new card. I didn't look real close and we tried to use it at dinner and it didn't work because it had not been "activated", which is supposed to happen the 1st time you use it - it didn't. I took it back a 2nd time - frustration level climbing - only to find that they replaced the soda card with a $50 beverage card and charged me for both. After explaining the problem to someone else again...they were able to make it right, and charge all of our soda purchases that had not been covered on the card. FOOD: Let me start with our top pick. The Pinnacle Grill was amazing! It was definitely worth the additional money. We ate there once for dinner and once for lunch. Would highly recommend. The Vista Dining Room - as I said, the staff was excellent. I was really looking forward to the food after reading through the blogs and HAL's website. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the food was nothing special. The shrimp that they served had no taste, the steaks were less than prime and not very tasty. I could go on and on - but, it didn't ruin our cruise. If we had be left only to the Lido I would have jumped overboard - even in frigid waters. The only word to describe it is "gross". I had better food in boot camp. The oatmeal was paste, the scrambled eggs were powered, and everything I tried (outside of the hamburger, taco bar and the ice cream) didn't get finished. SHIP: I had heard differing comments about the condition of the ship. I found the ship to be very clean and in good condition. I did not notice the areas of disrepair that were mentioned - and I was looking for them. One thing that was not mentioned was the on-board photography. The sister-in-law found a package deal on HAL's website for $299 - all photo's taken on board included. We figured that we would look when we arrived and decide after that. Once on-board we found that the package had increased $50. If you like good photo's this is a good deal even at full price. We ended up with about 20 different seating's for photos, and came home with a ton of photo's. You can go to any of the places on ship where they are taking photos as much as you want, change cloths and go back if you like. If they are not busy, they will often do as much as you want, and as goofy as you like. DW took advantage of it and we go our monies worth. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
****LONG REVIEW***** We had a great time on HAL's MS Oosterdam. I was crazy enough..I mean cheap enough....to book me, my wife, my 17 year old daughter and my 70 year old uncle in a VC Verandah on the starboard bow. We wanted to ... Read More
****LONG REVIEW***** We had a great time on HAL's MS Oosterdam. I was crazy enough..I mean cheap enough....to book me, my wife, my 17 year old daughter and my 70 year old uncle in a VC Verandah on the starboard bow. We wanted to take advantage of the very discounted 3rd and 4th person discounts. I really thought we would be okay in our 174 square foot room, but we caught a huge break the Tuesday before the cruise. The world's greatest cruise consultant called me and emailed me and said that there was a cancellation in Suite 7065, a Deluxe Verandah (Balcony) Suite directly across from the Neptune Lounge that we could have for a total of $498.00 more. I did things right this time and told her immediately to book it. The reason I got the call is that I had received the same upsell offer 13 days before our cruise. The email came out at 12:01 p.m. and I was on the phone shortly after that. The consultant said there were three rooms available in the Deluxe Suite category.....all of the Superior Suites being offered at $198.00 extra were gone. I made the mistake of asking questions about the category and which room would be best. It took me about 2 minutes to get through my questions and I decided to book. Wouldn't you know it? During our conversation, the three rooms disappeared. I asked if any more upsells are typically offered and was told that one may come up if there is a cancellation, but the chances were somewhere between no way and no how. To anyone looking for an upsell, I was told I got the email because I had specifically called and asked to be notified of any upsell opportunities. This was the first time I had ever been offered such a deal, and we saved about $1,800.00 over booking the Suite directly. We were excited about the extra room, the bigger verandah and all the perks....especially the laundry. Our journey started in Texas. We flew into Seattle on Saturday night and stayed at the Hilton by the airport. This gave us a chance to try out the new light rail from the airport to downtown. A three minute walk from the hotel to the 176th Street Bridge and we were able to to get on the rail for $8.50 total and store our luggage with no problem. After a couple of hours in the Market, we took the $20.00 cab ride to Pier 91. We were taken to a special line and checked in immediately and given our stateroom cards. The ship opened for boarding at 11:45 a.m. and we were among the first on the ship. The embarkation looked like it was moving well for everyone and was very well organized. Our room was ready so we were able to go straight to level 7 and drop off the things we were carrying. We explored the ship and felt it was very fancy and very clean. It was the nicest ship we had ever been on. Like others, our expectations were low with the reviews talking about how worn the ship is, but we did not see any evidence of that whatsoever. I am not questioning the other reviewers, may be we just did not look hard enough. The public areas were well laid out and easy to get to. We went up to the Deck 9 Lido Buffet, which was really never quite like a buffet since we were served throughout the cruise. After 48 hours, the beverages became self serve and the desserts, pastries and fruits were self serve. Mostly, though, you need to stand in line at every station and wait for the crew member to plate your food and hand it to you. We also noticed the curious lack of trays. Some of the many, many elderly aboard the boat would use the sitting area of their walkers as trays.....which I thought was ingenious. The buffet was extremely crowded on sea days and part of the problem was that groups would anchor window tables for hours and play games and cards and look at the spectacular scenery why others were very anxiously looking for a place to sit and eat. HAL should have someone with authority gently move these folks along or consider opening the Vista Dining Room, the main dining room, for lunch. The Vista Dining Room hosted breakfast and dinner, but I never saw lunch. To avoid crowds, you may want to pay the $10.00 upcharge and go to the Pinnacle Grill for lunch on Deck 2. Overall, we thought the food was very good. However, it is our least favorite of the 3 lines we have sailed on. Norwegian's incredible variety makes NCL food our favorite and Carnival's food on our December 2011 cruise was excellent. Our theory....just a theory....is that the dishes on HAL are made less spicy and seasoned due to the average age of the consumer. Our guess was that 80% of our shipmates were over 60. It seems that HAL really caters to senior citizens, who are their bread and butter. The catering to seniors seems to show up in the entertainment, the activities, the music around the ship.....everywhere. Unlike Carnival and NCL, there was no 24 hour restaurant or pizza. Only room service was available after around 11:00 p.m. but there were no room service menus. It was a little disheartening to try and get the room service order taker to try and tell me the menu categories in a very thick accent that I just could not understand. Room service was about a one hour proposition, but the food did come warm. The nightly entertainment was much less ambitious than that of other cruise lines. Barnaby was really funny and edgy. Joel Mason as Elton John was a lot of fun. Joel Mason is really entertaining and funny, but his voice will never be confused with Elton John's. He is a fair singer at best, but he made the audience participate and everyone had fun. The ships best entertainment is in The Crow's Nest with the soothing crooning of Matt Murphy and in The Piano Bar with the incomparable Nathan Temby. Temby was in his second week on the ship and he can really belt out tunes from every genre. The drinks were very reasonably priced on the ship and the happy hour promotion of buy one get one for a dollar was extremely popular. The crew was outstanding. They work very, very hard and make you feel at home. Our room stewards were great and our wait staff was fun and full of energy. The auto tips per person are now $12.00 per day. We tipped the heck out of our concierges, waiters and room stewards.....the really deserved it. Be careful about booking your excursions too early.....the ship ran late to Juneau. Even though we were anchored just off shore, we were not ready to get off the ship until about 7:50 a.m., and we were supposed to meet our tour rep at 7:30 a.m. We did not get off the ship in Victoria until about 8:00 p.m......an hour later than the already delayed time. The Captain said it was the headwinds that delayed us, but the NCL Pearl left after we did and ended up in Victoria at 6:00 p.m. Three shore excursions were cancelled....all Butchart Gardens related. Hopefully, HAL will straighten this out. We sailed Endicott Arm instead of Tracey Arm due to ice. We got very close to the glacier and the wildlife was great. My wife and daughter went to the Pinnacle Grill Friday night for "An Evening at LeCirque". The charge was $39.00 per person. They reported an interesting dining experience, but not enough of an upgraded menu to make the $39.00 charge worth it. I scoured Cruise Critic for every detail about the Oosterdam and appreciated all the reviews and posts that helped prepare us for our cruise. I saved all of The Explorer daily guides and can tell you what you need to know about activities or scheduling. The vast majority of the passengers wear slacks to dinner, but you can get away with jeans. Monday and Thursday are the formal nights. Lobster is served on Thursday, along with with what they call a fillet of beef. The last thought I have is to pack carefully and watch your weights and measurements. We saw several folks at the airport having to check over sized carry ons and having to pay oversize checking fees. We would sail again on this ship anywhere and anytime. I hope you all enjoy your cruises on this great ship. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
My Husband and I are fairly new to cruising. We have been on three so far in the past 6 months and have many more booked for the next 6 months! We are having a blast! We chose HAL Oosterdam to visit Alaska on a 7 day cruise out of Seattle ... Read More
My Husband and I are fairly new to cruising. We have been on three so far in the past 6 months and have many more booked for the next 6 months! We are having a blast! We chose HAL Oosterdam to visit Alaska on a 7 day cruise out of Seattle May 27-June 3rd. We want to try all the lines, and had every intention of booking something new to try. In the end, I insisted on using HAL again for such an important cruise. I have waited my whole life to see Alaska. We live in Ga. so for us, the airfare makes this one expensive! Based on our first cruise with HAL on the Ryndam, (which was really HOT due to no A/C for most of a 7 day Caribbean cruise because of engine problems the entire time)which was pretty near PERFECT.We were hooked!!! The staff were amazing on both ships, the service impeccable on both, the accommodations wonderful on both (this time, we opted for a verandah instead of ocean view ) and we LOVED the peacefulness without the party types when we go without the kids.... The only complaint I have, (and to us, it was a BIGGIE) was the food in the main dining room. I had it in my head, it would be just as wonderful on every HAL ship. Boy, was I wrong! It was not even close..... The Oosterdam was a huge disappointment in the quality. We tried the first four days, hoping it would improve. It just didn't... We gave up and did not return after that.. The Ryndam really had it going on. The same food choices for the most part,but there really is a vast difference. To be honest, we are not sure what to think now about HAL , and are kinda leery of trying a third boat with them... Maybe, I will stick with what I know, and not venture out anymore when it comes to HAL's other ships. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Sunday -- Arrival After arriving at Seattle airport, we flagged down a HAL representative to ask where we would drop off our luggage since we had purchased airport to ship transfers. Of course it was way down on the end of baggage ... Read More
Sunday -- Arrival After arriving at Seattle airport, we flagged down a HAL representative to ask where we would drop off our luggage since we had purchased airport to ship transfers. Of course it was way down on the end of baggage claim concourse. The buses to take us the pier is on the opposite end, a nice hike for a healthy adult, not so good for some of the older folks. We got our ticket pass color to get on the next bus and off we went. Embarkation Since we are booked in the deluxe verandah suite, we had priority check-in when we arrived at the pier. So we had a special window to check us in when we arrived upstairs. We were assigned group 1 to first onboard. Timing is everything and it turns out the representative was just starting to put the lines together and we were the first couple to step onto the ship! We bypassed the photographers since we are only interested in the pictures from the upcoming formal nights. The ship is similar to the Carnival class ships since they are sister companies. We went to the cabin and loved the room with huge verandah. There is a Jacuzzi/shower and separate shower with double sinks. Lots of closet space and ample room to relax while we waited for our luggage to arrive. We decided to go to the Neptune Lounge which is an exclusive service for penthouse and deluxe verandah suite guests only. Introduced ourselves to the concierge and helped ourselves to some snacks. Also to redo our dinner reservation to an earlier time than what was assigned. Then time to explore the rest of the ship including the shops and of course the casino to get our pin code so we can use our cabin room card in the slot machines. Went up the Explorers Cafe towards the front of the boat to check out available square tables for our get together with a couple from Oregon later in the day hopefully. The mandatory muster drill was next so we reported to our stations while they call out each stateroom to check us off the list. The ship sets out of Seattle on time and we got ready for dinner after the late arrival of my bag while my hubby's got there fairly early. Since we receive free laundry service, hubby had shirts to get ironed for tomorrow's first formal night so we put them in the bag and had the concierge take care of it. We arranged a brief meeting with the couple from Oregon at 5:30. She wanted to learn about the live version of Mah Jong so I offered to a lesson. After some light conversation we excused ourselves to go to dinner. We got a table by the window and met a couple from Florida. It turns out we only see them twice as they were avid trivia fans so they would go that 6 pm session as often as they could. The food in the main dining room was good but nothing to brag about and the portions were a bit smaller than on Carnival. We decided to skip the old welcome aboard show and tried our luck at slots. The slot machines are open all the time while in international waters while the table games are open at 10 am. All the casinos games are closed while in port. We called it a night and went to bed. Monday -- We woke up early to receive our room service and then head over to Pinnacle Room for breakfast. Great service and the food ah so yummy. We met the gal from Oregon in the Explorer Cafe for Mah Jong lesson. The ship has hit some rough waters and it is rocking pretty good this morning. Her husband is a bit seasick so he is on the mends in their cabin. Glad I had taken Dramamine before starting the cruise. Visited the Neptune Lounge for more snacks and then to the casino for some slots while we waited to partake in the slot tournament. Alas both of us did not even make the first cut. Darn machines! Then visited the food carving demonstration in the Culinary Arts center. We went to dinner (formal night) and decided to see Barnaby in the showroom. He is a juggler, comedian and it was pretty good. The boy from the audience kind of stole the show. Clock change back an hour before going to bed. Tuesday -- The captain reported that there were too many icebergs still in Tracy Arms so we are going to Endicott Arms instead. It was very nice as we donned our coats and sat out on the verandah taking in the sights. Hubby spotted a golden brown bear with her cub out in the open meadow. Quite a sight. There were plenty of waterfalls as we headed towards the glacier. The glacier is pretty with its blue ice and then the ship did a 180 to sail back out. Stopped in at the Neptune Lounge to make reservations at the Italian restaurant for tomorrow night. We adjourned to the Ocean Bar to find the HALCats band playing with a pretty good female singer. We listened and was served appetizers with purchase of drinks. We went to dinner in the MDR and off to the casino to try our luck at the table games. The Broadway show is the same as prior cruises so we skipped it. Wednesday -- We arrived in Juneau and we have a full day of excursions booked. Off the docks and waited for the bus to take us to the whale watching boat. We went shopping for a unique whale pendent for my omega necklace. Stopped in several shops but then finally found what I was looking for. Bargained until I was comfortable with the price and headed back to the dock to board the "moose" bus as the identifier to take us to the boat. The catamaran took us out with a naturalist providing narration and answered questions about the sea life in the area. First stop was a buoy with seals and a bald eagle resting on top which at first looked fake but it did move. Then off to find humpback whales which took a while but we spotted a few. We were finally able film on and it is awesome. The boat took us to Orca Point Lodge for a salmon lunch and then back to the dock for the bus to take us to Mendenhall Glacier. We are allotted 1 hour to take pictures and see the movie at the visitor center. We were not impressed with this glacier in comparison with Endicott. It is just a tourist trap in our opinion. The bus dropped us off at the ship and we headed back to relax a bit before going to dinner at Canaletto Italian restaurant. The show with Joel Mason as Elton John was pretty good. Thursday -- Arrived in Sitka at 8 am. Another excursion to see the sea otters, bald eagles, and whales. We all gathered in the Vista lounge to get called for our tenders. As it turns out, we got directly on the excursion boat from the ship. We sailed out into fairly rough waters and a few passengers lost their breakfast but it was fun for us. First stop was the sea otters which we found a group off. They did not appear to be shy at all. Then we spotted a bald eagle in the trees and then came up on an actual nest. On the way back we spotted some more humpback whales. The boat dropped us off at Sitka pier area and we boarded the bus to visit the Raptor center where all the birds of prey that are found injured are rehabilitated at the facility and released back to the wild. They brought in a live bald eagle into the room while we asked questions. Afterwards we hopped back on the bus and went back to the pier to catch a tender to the ship. On our trip back to the ship, we hit a huge wave that gushed water into the first row of the boat, turning our tender into submarine for a few seconds! It was quite a sight on the driver of the tender. He slowed down a bit after that, as I am sure he was not looking forward to writing the incident report telling the captain how one of the cruise passengers ended up soaking wet from the knees down!! Hubby thought it was quite hilarious. (Too many hours on the water in his own boats.) The driver turned all shades from white to red after that. After dinner (2nd formal night) we went to see the comedian Julie Barr. She was ok, had a few funny lines but not overly consistent. Friday -- Arrived in Ketchikan around 7 am. We had an excursion to the Saxman village so we boarded the bus from the docks. The weather was a bit on the wet side as we were ushered into an auditorium at the village for slide presentation. Afterwards a bit of a hike to the village gathering hall for their native dancing demo. It was ok as it is another tourist made production. We visited the totem pool carving house for another demo. The smell of the cedar logs was nice and it kept us out of the rain. A short trek to the totem pole displays which we did not stay very long and then back to the bus. We were not overly impressed with this excursion. I had the notion that we were going to see actual village people doing crafts such as weaving, pottery making, etc. But it is what it is. We went down to the photo gallery upon returning to the ship to check out our pictures from the formal nights. We decided to buy their package which comes with the pictures on CD, 8 by 12, 5 by 7, and wallet size photos. Pricey but worth it. We went to dinner and skipped the production show. Saturday -- Sailed most of the day and arrived in Victoria B.C. late but some passengers still got off the ship for excursions. We decided to stay onboard as we had reservations at the Pinnacle room for our last dinner on board. We packed some of the clothes for tomorrow's disembarkation. Disembarkation -- We finished packing after our breakfast up in the Lido deck and waited for our time to depart. A very relaxing cruise and our hats off to the Concierge, Neptune Lounge, and laundry service. It is so nice to have clothes cleaned every day. We will certainly have this service on the next Holland America cruise. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Starting from the beginning... embarkation in Seattle was easy-breezy. There were plenty of chairs in the waiting area and we were on the ship in less than 30 minutes. This was a big improvement over the 1+ hour wait with no chairs in the ... Read More
Starting from the beginning... embarkation in Seattle was easy-breezy. There were plenty of chairs in the waiting area and we were on the ship in less than 30 minutes. This was a big improvement over the 1+ hour wait with no chairs in the LA Port on a Princess cruise last year. Our bags were in the cabin before us and the stewards were helpful and friendly throughout the trip. The towel creations and chocolates were a big hit. This was our 1st Holland America cruise. The ship was kept very clean, including our cabin. However, our cabin's furnishings were a bit run down. (EX: The fabric on the sofa was worn, the deck chair cushion was torn, the side table was chipped)The queen bed was very comfortable. Our 12 year old daughter said her sofa bed was on the lumpy side but she conked out pretty quickly each night. Speaking of our daughter -- she loved, loved, loved Club HAL. Had a great time with the staff and fellow kids. During our Alaska cruise they got to talk with Park Rangers about the Glaciers and were named honorary junior rangers. As for me and my husband -- we loved, loved, loved the Library Cafe on the Observation Deck. Great, comfy lounge chairs, a nice selection of books and amazing views! We also loved, loved, loved the chefs in the dining room. Some of the best cruise food we've enjoyed. The Lido Buffet was less impressive. The food was OK but not of the same quality as the food that was served in the dining room (although my daughter and I were big fans of the ice cream!) And Holland America's 48 hour policy regarding no-self service (in order to reduce the spread of viruses)is probably sound but it really slows down the buffet and creates long, frustrating lines. We enjoyed the ship's comedian/magician and the bon voyage show and my daughter was a big fan of the free movie rentals. My husband and daughter had fun on the Dog Musher Camp excursion in Juneau and they also enjoyed the zipline in Ketchikan. My husband had a great time on the mountain biking excursion in Sitka. I took some independent historic tours and strolled through various port towns. On and off the ship the views of the glaciers, mountains and forests were truly beautiful. All-in-all it was a fun, enjoyable trip that resulted in some nice photos and many good memories. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We booked our cruise direct with HAL; at that time we emphasized that we were first-time cruisers unfamiliar with the whole cruise experience and the ship's layout. We asked about cabin 3312 stating that we wanted a quiet cabin away ... Read More
We booked our cruise direct with HAL; at that time we emphasized that we were first-time cruisers unfamiliar with the whole cruise experience and the ship's layout. We asked about cabin 3312 stating that we wanted a quiet cabin away from elevators, kitchens, and any other noisy venues. The agent assured us #3312 would be quiet. We learned on the first night that we were below the Queen's Lounge and that the noise from the shows could be heard because of the excessive volume used for the sound system in the lounge. The HAL website shows that our cabin would have a bath-tub, shower, . . . etc. We never did find the tub HAL advertised; only a shower in cabin 3312! We have contacted HAL customer rep about this since our return, and they acted surprised when they read their own website's cabin description. Perhaps they need a better editor or more honesty in advertising???? Our itinerary was good and a major motivating factor in our choice of this cruise. Alaska is beautiful! The cleanliness, maintenance, and over-all appearance of the ship was superior! Our 2 cabin stewards did an excellent job of maintaining our stateroom. Staff aboard was always friendly and welcoming. Servers and waiters in the restaurants are polite and hard-working. The free technology sessions conducted onboard were informative and helpful. Techspert Tom was personable and knowledgeable, not to mention VERY patient. His presentations were organized and worthwhile for most people attending. Our dining experiences were variable: at LaFontaine we were in the open-seating group. Getting a table for 2 away from the servers' work area was a challenge. It was convenient for HAL personnel to seat people in large groups. The food was sometimes good, but vegetables nearly always were cold by the time they were served. Rolls had a hard crust and all bread was served cold. When we asked that the bread be warmed, it came back "crusty" and returned to the table after we had eaten most of our other food. After several tries at LaFontaine, we began to eat our meals at the Lido. The quality of the food was a step down in most cases due to the buffet serving style. It was more likely to be warm though. The Lido breakfast presented a wide variety of offerings. In LaFontaine, Lido, and the Pinnacle, all vegetables were prepared with excessive amounts of fatty seasonings (bacon for example). Of the 3 meals when rice was served, two of the rice dishes were dry and cold. We had lunch at the Pinnacle ($10/each extra charge) where we chose halibut sandwiches. A direct inquiry was made about preparation: fried or grilled? The server said the halibut would be grilled. If it was grilled, there was so much butter melted into the white-bread bun that a tasteless, greasy product was the prevalent result. The only trimming to the sandwich was a single piece of iceburg lettuce under the minimal fish offering (1" wide x 1/2" thick strip). Desserts were all show and no substance, especially the cake offerings during the cruise. The chiffon type cakes were all air and lacked flavor. We ate more ice-cream after several disappointing cake desserts. The apple and cherry pies were good but again served cold. HAL did have sugar-free desserts offered. A good selection of fresh fruits were available at most meals. As first time cruisers, we felt at times like a captive sales audience; we were always being "reminded" that items were available and all we had to do was show our room card. People who have issues with wise use of their purchase power would be very vulnerable. The photography sales---a camera at EVERY port, meal, etc. are another money-making agenda. We learned during the cruise that cruise lines own or support certain stores where they encourage passengers to shop in ports where the ship makes stops. Reviews for other ports:  Port 5:  HOMER, AKRating:  5Downtown visit the Pratt Museum.  Shop at the Fireweed shop and the shop next door for a good selection of locally made and regional artists' products.  Go to Norman Lowell's art gallery outside of town.On the spit walk around the harbor area.  Lots of shops.  Eat halibut at Captain Pattie's restaurant. Port 6:  Kodiak, AKRating = 4Go to the Baranov Museum where the docents are full of dialogue about the local history of Russian settlement, there are numerous historical photo albums, and interesting displays.  See the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church.  The Federal Wildlife Center has a short film and displays emphasizing the area's wildlife and fauna, along with a complete skeleton of a whale.  Observe the 2nd largest fishing fleet in the U.S. in the harbor. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
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