We were "cruise virgins" up until July 2016 when we embarked on our First Cruise Ever. Holland America's 14 day Alaskan cruise wins my vote for the best first cruise anyone could ever wish for. The embarkation process was a ... Read More
We were "cruise virgins" up until July 2016 when we embarked on our First Cruise Ever. Holland America's 14 day Alaskan cruise wins my vote for the best first cruise anyone could ever wish for. The embarkation process was a cinch and the MS Maasdam quickly became our home away from home for two glorious weeks. Our cabin was comfortable, with ample room to stow all our clothes and belongings with room to spare. Having never been on a ship before, I had a bit of trouble on the first night, trying to take a shower. I thought the faucet was broken and so I called the front desk. That's when this cruise virgin learned of a clever thing called a "marine shower" which regulates the flow and temperature of the water separately. After I got the knack of it, there was no further trouble. The next couple days, we sailed through the clear waters of the Inland Passage to Alaska, passing impossibly blue ice floes along the way. There were seals basking on the floes; we even watched a seal giving birth on one! But because of the floes, the ship's captain wisely chose not to go through Tracey Arm, but took another route to see Dawes Glacier. That thunderous sound of ice cracking was thrilling and I got a lump in my throat from seeing the majesty of it all.
The little towns of Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) and Juneau were our favorite stops, mostly because of their picturesque ambiance, but also because none of these stops required a shuttle to get into the town. The ship docked right there at the town, making it an easy walk to see all the sights, shops, museums and landmarks. This is not to say that a shuttle was a big problem; most of the towns offered free shuttles which would take you to the tourist district where there were interesting shops, galleries, historical churches, and beautiful visitor centers where the admission was always free. Being retired and on a budget, that was a very nice way to see the villages without having to shell out for an on-shore excursion.
What was so nice about Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point and Juneau, was that the ship docked right there at the town, making it an easy walk to see all the sights, shops, museums and landmarks. In Ketchikan, we enjoyed the historic Creek Street district, home of the infamous Dolly's House "where men and salmon came upstream to spawn." We walked to the Totem Heritage Center, a short distance up a hill and enjoyed the museum of old totems. The entrance price was inexpensive, under $5. We learned that Ketchikan has a free city shuttle which makes a circuit about every 15 minutes, so we hopped on that for a ride back down the hill to the main part of town where we went to the interesting little Tongass Historical Museum ($3 admission.)
In Juneau we had the time of our lives! We rented a car beforehand from Rent-a-Wreck (less than $50 a day) and shared the cost with some nice folks we met at the cruise terminal in Seattle while waiting to board the ship. We took a cab to the car rental, though it was only about a mile away, and began a fantastic adventure. We first went to the Mendenhall Glacier. It requires entrance fee, but we got in free because my husband is a disabled American veteran. After a walk to a scenic waterfall near the glacier, we drove to the Fish Hatchery/Ladder where we walked onto a fishing dock to watch some anglers landing some enormous salmon; there were also bald eagles swooping salmon right out of the water.
For a lunch break, we parked in a free parking lot directly across from the dock and returned to the Maasdam for a fabulous lunch (Lobster Alfredo!) After freshening up a bit in our cabins, we drove to Gold Creek and trekked up a long gravel path to the Last Chance Mining Museum. It was a steep walk to the Mining Museum, but well worth it when the museum curator told us that we did not need a permit to pan gold along Gold Creek. We'd brought our pans, in hopes of finding a place to pan for gold, and when we got a few flecks in our pans, we were jumping up and down like lunatics . . . nothing to make us rich, but enough to give us a thrill. Because we shared the car rental with another couple, the cost for an entire day of extraordinary fun was a mere fraction of what we would have paid to take the on-shore excursions.
While on our cruise, we took only one official HAL excursion, the tour of the Anchorage Museum which included a great lunch at the Musée café and a stop at the Wild Berries Candy Factory afterwards. It was definitely well-worth it. The tour guide was enthusiastic and helpful and was never in a hurry to move on. In fact, she stopped to the Bluffs to show us damage done by the 1964 earthquake and allowed us get out for a photo op. She even slowed the bus at one point so we could catch a glimpse of a mama moose and her calf.
We loved the Maasdam's nightly entertainment! The variety was good, and the guest performers were top-notch. "Classique" and "Heat" were our favorite dance shows, and we even got to know some of the amazingly talented show crew who would often go to the Crow's Nest for dancing after the 10:00 performance. All the crew members that we encountered--from the Show Host to the sweet lady at the Front Desk--were helpful and friendly, making it a pleasure to know them.
Now onto the topic of food: the quality and variety of food in the Rotterdam and the Lido dining rooms was wonderful. The portions were small, but we could order as much as we wished, even if we wanted to try out two appetizers and two entrees! The best dinners we had were on Gala Nights. The fillet mignon and lobster dinner was superb. My all-time-favorite dessert was the chocolate ganache. The Baked Alaska was not that impressive, but everything else was delicious. We did not go to the Pinnacle because of the extra cost, and because the menu didn't really seem that much different from the fabulous food in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We chose "Anytime Seating" which worked out well for us. Even though we did not have assigned seating, we rarely had much of a wait. The friendly wait staff and maître di were always there with a smile and friendly greeting, making every meal enjoyable.
My only complaints for this cruise are these: Near the end of the two weeks, there started to be a stagnant smell coming from the elevator shafts near the Rotterdam Dining room. It smelled like bilge water and was unappetizing as we made our way to the Rotterdam for our dinner. Another complaint was that the onboard activities were a bit repetitive. The Show Host did his best to have fun activities, like scavenger hunts, champagne bottle bowling and trivia games, but the rest of the schedule included far too much emphasis on the Art Auctions and the Windows 10 computer workshops. All in all, though, this cruise convinced us that Holland America is definitely the way to go for us. We've already booked another cruise and we are counting the days! Read Less