After reading many different cruise site articles, speaking to friends and relatives, we decided on a total Inside Passage offered by HAL round trip from Vancouver. We wanted to avoid the choppy waters completely, as such Seattle round ... Read More
After reading many different cruise site articles, speaking to friends and relatives, we decided on a total Inside Passage offered by HAL round trip from Vancouver. We wanted to avoid the choppy waters completely, as such Seattle round trip itinerary was out. We also read a few ‘Must Do’ reviews of Amtrak ride from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. which helped us decide on flying to Seattle, WA. Spending 2 nights sightseeing the wonderful city and the Boeing Museum and Factory. The Amtrak was so worth taking in being able to see lovely scenery and a whole bunch of (about 25+ perched as pointed out by the Conductor on speakers) bald headed eagles. We spent 2 nights at the Pan Pacific hotel on the Canal Place port that is built to look like a ship. Our suite had a panoramic view of the water, with floating planes landing, helicopter and ferry rides, sail boats and freighters plus cruise ships; besides awesome scenery of snowcapped mountains far on our left, water being bordered by the lush green land and hills. All this took a lot of discussion, planning, by my husband and I with all the bookings coordinated all by us, without a travel agent. All our bookings were direct with each of the service provider.
HAL, in spite of agreeing to provide a wheel chair for embarkation due to my inability to stand for a long time, did not come forth with it, with the excuse that they only agreed to do so after checking in! Our hotel was in the port and fortunately, an extra conscientious employee that escorts all the cruise passengers that booked the same hotel thru HAL, went out of her way to help us. Watch out for the reservation department employees make promises that are not honored. Embarkation went fast, was well organized with HAL guides all over the port, Customs, Security and all the way into the ship! I liked how organized everyone was unlike on our prior cruises on other lines that we boarded in NYC. The de-embarkation was also excellent, without any crowding, the same went for port excursions.
The ship is old, we were in Vista suite #6049 mid ship – port side for all the best scenery. The bathroom is a step up with shower in the tub. As always, the room stewards were excellent, very trust worthy and honest. In spite of my husband leaving them a couple of dollars tip on the bed on the first night, we found it was still there when we returned for the night.
Got some really good pictures and videos. We were able to see dolphins, whale from the main dining room, eagles, bear and mountain goat. The scenic cruising in the Glacier Bay, was the highlight of our cruise. The Captain, gives ample time as he turns the ship, maneuvering slowly, to view, take pictures of the calving that occurs almost every 3 minutes or so. We may have watched 9 to 10 times at least. The sea gulls try to share your balcony railing too during this stationery time. The Q & A program with the Captain was very educational on one of the sea days. He even came to the Main dining room to thank us with champagne, though he had to toast with ginger ale!
Food was excellent and it really surprised me at the Chefs’ caring efforts and ingenuity to meet my no ginger, no garlic, no nuts and no salt with vegetarian and white fish diet, yet be served a flavorful meal at every sitting, no matter which dining room, restaurant we chose. My food arrived at the same time as those at our table, thanks to the brilliant idea of letting those of us with restricted diets, selecting our options at prior meal. Hats off to HAL chefs!
Service is excellent in the dining rooms, as good as or better than a 5 star restaurant! We were not assigned a seating time by the reservation dept. in spite of our request. However, the host supervisor that receives you, placed us with perfect dinner mates. Ours must have been the most enjoyed table, with 2 other couples with good sense of humor – one from UK and the other from Canada. You are led to your table, chair pushed in once seated, napkin spread on your lap! They even cut the meat, lobster and some of the other foods for those that ordered it. We ordered room service daily and it arrived so hot off the stove, that it made us realize how hard these foreigners work for little money with gratitude for the job! We were surprised to find how the rank system affects how long the work on board a ship – 9 months is the usual work period, with 3 months off. They get to de embark on a port only if they had the most accumulated guest compliments in writing or verbally submitted to the ship’s office as per our room steward! Job well done by the Dining room supervisors, waiters, other staff and Maître D, all of who speak perfect English, though some of the guests had trouble understanding them and remembering them!
We never used the fitness room though I was in there for a complimentary foot analysis which led to efforts of selling foot inserts. Spa was not up to standards, the massage room needed pillows and good chair in which one can relax for a shoulder, arms and foot massage. The masseuse that gave leg therapy, was more focused on selling the products than a good 45 minute massage as paid for. Hair stylist was excellent both at making you comfortable, not getting you wet with even a drop of water, leaving looking like a model – fully satisfied with your style. She also gave the scalp, shoulders and foot massage and was excellent at it.
Entertainment was really great and enjoyable. The ship’s entertaining staff has talented singers, dancers, with acrobatic skills and the costumes were beautiful, the lighting incredible for awesome Broadway style musical productions. We enjoyed two such productions. One night, the Indonesian staff was on stage at the last moment for a second entertainment event late in the night at 11.00 p.m. We were surprised to see the house full! They got the standing ovation. The comedian was very good, with American jokes went over the head, we heard, from other guests on a ship full of Canadians and Aussies plus Brits (being too tired from the shore excursions to attend). The next one by the same artist, left the whole audience in stitches. The magician was entertaining with inter active tricks that kept our blood pressure steady and happy.
The various bars had entertainment - Piano music and the coffee in the exploration cafe was really good. Karaoke was entertaining and seemed to be enjoyed by all. We did not get to experience the HALcats dancing. The stores were many with inexpensive pricing that got even better on final days. however, the business that came on board to sell jackets and other outerwear did so at double the price of those very same sold in the port stores! Glad we did not need any due to a heat wave during our cruise with 70 degree weather in Juneau and Skagway in May. Ketchican had a bit of a cloudy weather with a little drizzle.
Shore excursions were sold at a similar rate both on board and at the port. We had checked on line, at Viator and other sites and found HAL’s combination to be the most reasonably priced. My husband did the helicopter ride with dog sledding on Ice field, when I opted for rain forest, salmon hatchery and city tour of Juneau, being unable to fly. My husband raved about his experience, while mine was mediocre. In Skagway, we took the guided bus tour of the city along with Liarsville history camp where we had a really well prepared camp lunch, an act of storytelling in song and act by actors dressed in period clothes of the AK’n gold history, ending in gold panning experience. It combined with Red Onion Salon and White Pass & Yukon rail road trip combo that was worth paying every penny! In Ketchikan, we did the bus tour that combined Saxman village – actually lived in by the natives, the totem pole park. A ritual of festive dance was performed by the native Americans in traditional faux garbs, which were transferred to the volunteers from the audience and taught to perform by a little boy. Yes, my husband was happy to comply our tour bus driver’s prodding and participate, that I video-taped! All the tour bus drivers and other operators are young people, mostly college students from all over the USA.
Internet was way too slow and quite expensive, The computers antique to say the best!
What we were disappointed with: Most of the passengers on board the ship were tourists taking tours of Canada and Alaska from mostly Australia, UK and various parts of Canada, with very few independent travelers like us. unfortunately they were not too social and not quite friendly, hanging out with their own travel buddies and the tour guide who shepherded them together for convenience. We were fortunate to have been matched with independent travelers for dining.
The highlight of Alaskan Cruise on board the ship: Daily lectures combined with short documentaries on Alaskan history. On final day prior to the Ketchikan stop, a Native American of the Ravens tribe boarded the ship at the Glacier Bay in her genuine traditional garbs, showed documentary and shared her personal story.
Yes, we would cruise HAL again, but not so soon since we do like and enjoy colorfully decorated ship’s interiors, fancy stair cases and glass elevators. Ms.Volendam was an art oriented and flower themed ship, with the usual art sale. The flower bouquets were nice and some of the sculptures and wall arts were worth taking a second and third look. The colors were drab inside the very small Verandah cabin that we paid the price of a mini suite! There was a pair of binoculars for our use to view from the verandah. Read Less