This was our very first cruise, but I can't imagine making a better decision! The 14 night Great Alaskan Land Explorer itinerary caught my attention right away. At 45 days out, we got a great price so I booked an inside room for ... Read More
This was our very first cruise, but I can't imagine making a better decision! The 14 night Great Alaskan Land Explorer itinerary caught my attention right away. At 45 days out, we got a great price so I booked an inside room for myself and my 2 sons, ages 10 and 12.
I know my review will be fairly long, but hopefully it has some good tips for first timers. We were due to arrive into Seattle at 11 am on the day of embarkation, instead we were delayed until 2 pm due to weather. Booking the HAL transfer seemed like it may have been a little pricey when paying for more than 2 people, but it provided great peace of mind as a new cruiser. We were able to easily find representatives at the baggage carousel and everyone was helpful and professional all the way through the embarkation process. Showing up a little bit later meant that we barely had any line to wait in and we breezed through check in. In the future, I'd prefer to arrive a day or 2 ahead of time so flight delays aren't as big of a worry.
The ship itself was very well maintained. We saw them cleaning windows, etc at every port. The decor could use some overhaul. There were some finishes that seemed worn. But, really, that was cosmetic and the crew really worked tirelessly. The Maasdam has all the necessities and then some to be comfortable. Our major concern was the reputation of HAL being for a much older crowd and we were afraid of formal nights. We worried for no reason. Everyone we encountered was friendly. You saw kids around, but you barely noticed them since they were all well behaved. The older guests were fun and lively. I was a little worried when we heard that our sailing would include a number of square dancers. It turned out that they was a lot of fun to watch and were happy to teach anyone and include them. There was no hesitation to strike up a conversation from the time we trudged to the mandatory drill on the 6th deck during the first hours to the pick up line outside the terminal after disembarkation.
As for worries about gala nights? The boys were fine in a button up shirt and tie. They probably would have been fine in khakis and a polo shirt (their uniform most days) if we didn't have suits. The suit jackets weren't necessary, though most men did wear them. There were even some who got dressed up in tuxes. Otherwise, just going to the lido was a fine, casual alternative.
Our inside cabin was moved at the last minute. I wasn't thrilled that we went from a quad to a triple and to the lowest floor. But, it really worked out fine after my first day freak out. Once we had the beds separated into two, got the suitcases under the beds, and had the chair/table removed our room, it felt so much larger and comfort was no longer an issue. We were in the very middle of the ship and felt little movement nor had issues with noise. I had packed sea bands, ginger candy, ear patches, and an econo bottle of dramamine. None were needed. You can ask for meds at the front desk for free, if necessary. The water was pretty calm the entire 14 days.
The good news? Since we couldn't get a paid upgrade to oceanview (we were offered upgrades but for a 3-4 person room, it was far more difficult than for 2), the free inside cabin upgrade turned out to be a great thing. We had only a small shower. No issues with a too tall tub to hurdle over. Plus, I believe this also gave us more space in the main room, which counts when it's 3 people in there for 2 weeks. The other benefit was that without windows, there was no issues with 20 hours of sunlight. We were just as happy watching the midnight sunset from the crow's nest, the back of the lido, or a number of other spaces around the ship. It rarely felt like any space was over crowded other than peak times at the lido, the 8:00 show (the 10pm was up to 90% less crowded), or if you wanted a lounge chair in the crow's nest occasionally. We had to wait in line for open dining in the main dining room twice, but that was fixed by either dining by 5:30 or after 7:30.
I had very little expectation about the caliber of entertainment we'd see on board, but was very pleasantly surprised. The 4 main singers were incredibly talented, as were the 6 dancers. The guest entertainment was even more impressive. I'm only in my late 30s, but knew almost every song from the 60s to present day and had a lot of fun singing along or laughing at the comedy. Most of the comedy was family friendly. The few jokes that weren't still were relatively tame without feeling forced.
I wasn't impressed by some of the activities like bridge lessons, casino lessons, etc but we were never bored. I really enjoyed Jeanette, the location expert's talks about Alaskan life, wildlife, and the ports.
I attended some of the culinary events (with free champagne), a free whisky tasting, and even checked out some of the shopping events. I only ended up purchasing some duty free liquor, makeup, and a bottle of Marc Jacobs perfume. I didn't find the jewelry to my taste and while the tees/sweatshirts were a decent price, I bought a few for about $5 in ports instead. But, it was easy to forget your jackets, etc and pick them up for under $20 on board or at any stop if needed (mid-July temps ranged from 50 to 80 for highs). I was surprised how affordable souvenir shopping was most places, with the exception of Victoria being a little less impressive IMO.
Service is really where the crew of the Maasdam shined. The Indonesian/Filipino crew was extraordinarily hard working and friendly. Sometimes I wished they would take more breaks. Our room was attended to twice a day by Iwan and Eris.They were responsible for about 30 rooms. I was sure to tip them often.
I found it was really smart to come prepared to do laundry ourselves. You can get quarters at the front desk. Wash is $2, dryer is $1. There is powdered soap for free, but we brought our own soap pods and did laundry every other day. Most people just did wash once or twice on sea days. We avoided the crowds by going late around 9 pm.
I thought I was missing out by only booking two excursions ahead of time. But, I found most people came with their own plan or just intended to walk around in most cities. The high speed ocean raft in Sitka turned out to be the best. We went at noon, as one of the last ones out. The weather wasn't great, but that made it more fun and we were able to see many more things than the earlier groups and got to stay out later with a ride back to the ship afterward. I was scared it would be too rough. We got knocked around a lot but never felt out of control or endangered. We also booked a hovercraft ride to the Taku glacier in Juneau. It was pretty awesome (not for mobility challenged), but only worth the expense if it really calls to you. Otherwise, there are cheaper excursions and we missed out on the Mendenhall glacier and other excursions.
We didn't book ahead of time in Anchorage and found Salmon Berry Tours across from the visitor's center. Our guide was amazing and our group of 10 got such personal attention. The wildlife center had 3 buses of HAL excursion guests, but our guide knew every animal by name and really let us experience more. We saw Dall sheep and moose by the side of the road and were able to stop as needed for restrooms, pics, etc. She also took us up the tram at the Alyeska resort where my kids got to play in some ice and threw snowballs at each other for a few minutes while wearing short sleeves in July.
Now the important part, the food! We never had a chance to get hungry. We tried the main dining room for all meals, but found it was easiest to follow the crowd to the lido for breakfast. It was great to have so much variety. Both sides of the lido had most of the same items, but one also had a dedicated Asian section. I tried the rice 'pudding' one morning with tofu, garlic, etc. It tasted like miso, but wasn't for me. That was the cool thing though, you could try anything without much risk or obligation. There was always a full English breakfast available, quick continental items, or made to order fried eggs/omelets.
Even when the meal hours were over, there was always something available. The Dive In opened at 11:30 most days and served really good burgers (or portabello sandwich or even chicken) with fries. My son loved the Dive In sauce. You could bring anything you wanted back to your room, so burgers were always a good choice if we wanted to sit around and watch a movie. In room dining was pretty good too, but usually had a 30 to 40 minute wait.
The meals in the dining room were mostly good. The vegetarian selection wasn't always great (curries were good but I don't like coconut milk, I didn't like bread-y things like veggie pancakes). Stuffed eggplant, mushroom ravioli, and a lunch roasted veggie wrap were my faves. You could also order as many appetizers/entrees as you wanted, eliminate the chicken/fish from a salad or ask for sides of veggies. Sometimes the food wasn't hot or had been cooked in advance. But, overall, it was elegantly presented and well worth the wait. There was a cold fruit soup every night. Some were like smoothies, but not bad. We just preferred the hot soups or the kids enjoyed seafood plates.
We usually drank water with dinner. Many people ordered wine packages, but most people declined the expense. I prefer beer or mixed drinks but I usually just had drinks during the 4-5 pm or 9-10 pm Happy Hour in the Crow's Nest where all drinks were buy 1 get one for $1 (included non alcoholic mocktails). I often carried them down to the dining room or to the show room. I ordered my boys the $50 soda cards before our trip, which cost $25. Each soda came to $2.01 with tip, so they were about to have 24 or 25. We had a lot of balance left over the last day. Unused gift cards can be refunded, but I wasn't sure how it would work with the soda card since it was discounted.
We really enjoyed our trip. The Maasdam was a great introduction to cruising and we look forward to similar trips. The smaller 1,200 passenger capacity seemed just right. We were able to make some wonderful friends we saw often, yet met new people every day. My boys wouldn't go to club HAL since they were at the upper end of the 7-12 Tween age range, but they had no problems with boredom. They caused no problems and navigated the ship with ease. It was truly the trip of a lifetime. With our new knowledge and experience we will know in the future how to par down our luggage and optimize our fun. Cruise Critic was really the best source of info as a first timer.
A couple other issues--we survived with almost no internet! Yes, 14 days. Amazing. We only turned our phones on in ports. There was pretty much no T-Mobile coverage outside of Seattle, but we found some roaming was included with any of their plans so we were happy. I ran close to my limit on data and was able to add more for $15 (which lasts for up to a week). The roaming on GCI and AT&T worked well when we weren't going to waste time sitting at a library or McDonalds for free wifi. Internet access on the ship was 75 cents/minute or could be bought in packages that weren't worth the price IMO. If you do purchase any be sure to log out or the time will not stop counting against your account. They said if you set up an account you could surf the Holland America website (and maybe a couple others) for free, but I couldn't get it to work. The Explorations cafe area had plenty of books, games, magazines, etc to keep you busy and you could always order movies for free from the front desk if the featured movies on the TV didn't work for you (they played on repeat the day after they were played in the ship's theater--stuff like Jungle Book, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, etc). Read Less