212 Holland America Amsterdam Cruise Reviews

We just returned from our 21st Holland America Cruise. It is our fourth time in Alaska and we picked the Amsterdam's 14 day itineray in order to visit the Aleutians and have a slightly different view of Alaska. We also had very ... Read More
We just returned from our 21st Holland America Cruise. It is our fourth time in Alaska and we picked the Amsterdam's 14 day itineray in order to visit the Aleutians and have a slightly different view of Alaska. We also had very minimal expectations because our main reason for cruising in August was to get away from Florida's heat and humidity. The weather was fabulous and we enjoyed each cool, dry day. Packing tip: layers. Don't bother with heavy coats, just a couple of layers and a down vest - which packs in little space - plus a hooded rain poncho will see you though most any summer day on this trip. If you need anything else the fleece items and parkas are bargains in many shops. The ports were predictable. The excursions offered by HAL are overpriced and overcrowded. Do some research and go off on your own. Whale watching can be as easy as watching out the window or off the deck with your own binoculars. I recommend the Anchorage zoo for close up encounters with moose, bears and dall sheep. It is a free shuttle ride from the Log Cabin Visitors Center and very inexpensive to visit. There is a wonderful micro brewery/restaurant in downtown Anchorage named Glacier Brewery. Try their flight of beers - fun. Don't expect much in Homer or Kodiak. Homer has a free shuttle to the Spit which is full of campers, tents, RVs and tourists. Kodiak is a long walk from the pier with little to see. In fact I question HAL even saying Kodiak was a port since they didn't offer transportation to town unless you could count a very small school bus for the mobility impaired. Taxis on Sunday morning are very limited and expensive. The locals told us that Holland America could have rented large school buses but opted not to. Ketchikan had free shuttles to WalMart for any of you who forget essentials. Great fun to ride with the crew and do your Sunday shopping. Meals on the Amsterdam were fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing really bad. Service was outstanding all over the ship but especially in the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle has raised their evening charge to $25 but the food and service are extra special so go for it at least once during your cruise. The lunch fee remains $10 and is the biggest bargain on board. Best small filet I have ever eaten. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido ususally but tried the Main Dining room a couple of times. We never eat the MDR on first night to avoid the Open Seating debacle. The Caneletto on Deck 8 is a good option. We were greeted on arrival with an overly warm cabin, an overflowing commode, no bathrobes, flowers or fruit. After being given the third degree by the front desk staff the commode(which we hadn't used) was repaired. We were told the A/C would be working after we left Seattle - of course - it was getting colder outside. We received two very worn and stained robes on Day Three. Never got flowers but bruised fruit arrived on Day Two. Our cabin was just as spacious as the Verandas on the higher decks with all the storage space needed for two weeks. We didn't use all the drawers. The TV is too small to be seen from the beds and if a larger wall mount was used they could add a mini bar setup. Our major complaint with this cruise was with the entertainment. We enjoy the evening shows, especially the production numbers. The lead male singer was so bad that it was hard to overlook and enjoy the rest of the show. The Piano Bar talent - yes, both of them - was terrible. The variety acts were fair to good. Take a good book or two with you. We wish the Crow's Nest could still be the place to have a quiet cocktail hour with dance music but it is now the center of Trivia and Name That Tune contests. The Happy Hour, misnamed because it is only an hour at random times in random places, has buy 1 get 1 more for a dollar IF you order what they tell you. Not too user friendly! We don't expect special treatment even though we are frequent HAL cruisers and that is a good thing. We have almost never been invited to dine with staff or officers. We found the ship's officers to be aloof and disengaged with the passengers on the Amsterdam. It would be so nice to have one of them say thanks for coming back and sailing with us. Will we sail with Holland America again? Of course, it is the best value in cruising today for a certain demographic. I am talking the older crowd with low expectations for excitement. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
I found flying to Seattle the morning of our cruise VERY stressful and I recommend, if at all possible, that you arrive at least a day before your cruise if travel is involved... I was so worried about delays and cancellations, I even had ... Read More
I found flying to Seattle the morning of our cruise VERY stressful and I recommend, if at all possible, that you arrive at least a day before your cruise if travel is involved... I was so worried about delays and cancellations, I even had my cc buddies offering to send a life raft if the boat left without us! Fortunately, things went off wonderfully, and no life raft was needed. We booked our tickets independently and I was pleased to find HAL reps at the airport, welcoming cruisers and offering to transport us and our luggage by bus to the ship for a reasonable fee. Suite 7018 was ready when we arrived and our luggage arrived soon after. Sail away from Seattle was lovely. We explored the ship some, made new friends at trivia, received main seating dinner assignments (a note here: the four of us were at a table for six, and never received tablemates) and enjoyed the opening day welcomes, etc. The Neptune lounge is a suite oasis of comforts, concierge assist, snacks, & chatter. Sienna was always cheerfully able to assist with excursions, dining reservations, RSVP's and nearly anything else that might come up. Television allowed occasional reality checks with outside world, as well is calm lounging area for getting to know other passengers. However, I wish it had windows, and perhaps even more extended hours (7AM-8PM). Nevertheless, it is a perk, combined with the veranda, added cabin space, & comforts making a suite worthy of its additional expense. Please note however, you cannot bring non-suite guests to lounge, including kids sharing non suite cabins &/or other family members. Day 1- At sea, we had our Cruise Critic gathering. HAL sent reps and prepared a "gathering area" in Crow's Nest for a "private party" organized by one of our members from "roll call." If you have booked a cruise and have not signed up for your cc role call... what are you waiting for? We shared ideas, excitement, and bonded, making the gathering all that much more fun! After months of chatter, you are finally able to put a face to your travel buddies. This was also our first formal night, "The Captain's Gala Dinner". I loved seeing everybody jazzed up and we even took our first family portrait in many years! Those who hate dressing up had room service (or possibly the Lido?) as an option. Day 2: Our first port was Ketchikan. After wandering about town... we were off with the crew as "guests" on the Aleutian Ballad from Season 2 of "The Deadliest Catch". We listened to their Bering Sea tales and observed demos of prepping and using the crab cages and pots. Later they pulled up different cages and pots to show off their pre filled catches to teach us about them and to let us touch, & sometimes hold them. I loved this excursion and it actually left me with one of my favorite memories of the trip. They passed around a big crab for folks to hold and take photos with. After handing the crab off to my daughter, the handler was distracted and wandered off leaving, my daughter holding the crab! After a few minutes she was still standing there holding it while the rest of us laughed our heads off! Day 3- We cruised Tracy Arm. Beautiful. Many were disappointed we were not as close to the glaciers as we hoped, but sea & weather conditions left us without that option, and I was satisfied the captain's crew brought us as deep as they could. We dined this evening at The Pinnacle Grill. There is a $25pp surcharge, but it is worth it! We ate there twice, both times fantastic! Day 4- Juneau... we did not waste a moment! We wandered about some & then hopped aboard the Mt. Roberts tram for a quick lunch and views. We had booked a helicopter/airboat tour of Taku Glacier with Coastal Helicopters. Unfortunately, the boat pilot was unavailable due to weather troubles, and we were greeted dockside by their apologetic rep offering alternatives. My husband had his heart set on photographing Taku Glacier, and after some discussion, an itinerary was created to allow flying over, about, & landing on TAKU for a walk about. (It is one of the few glaciers still advancing.) If you have ever wondered what it feels like to stand on top of the world... stand on a glacier! Afterwards, we whale watched with Captain Larry from Orca Tours. This was our fourth outing with Captain Larry and as always, he knows how to "follow the pod". Day 5- Icy Straight Point: an old salmon cannery in Homer recreated as a cross between museum & shopping. Unfortunately it was a dreary day, so it was not long before we took the tender back to the ship. Tendering can be difficult for some & although the crew is always ready to assist, some stayed on board on tender days. For dinner we dined at Canaletto Restaurant, a small Italian venue off to the side of the Lido. I found it to be pleasant, & at no additional charge makes for a nice dinner alternative. (Be sure to toss the cotton candy into your after dinner coffee!) Day 6: At sea. There is no shortage of activities shipboard. Mass was offered daily. There were "Explorations" of "the world", "food & entertaining", "technology", & " well being"... and while I had fun in many options... for our gang- The SEA-P-R's- it was all about the trivia. They had 4 variations most days! We made friends at trivia we had fun with all cruise! The guest entertainment on the Amsterdam is fantastic & we always looked forward to a late dinner & show! Alas, the cast, while very talented, needs newer shows & several were repeats from cruises I journeyed on years earlier. This was also another formal night. Day 7: Anchorage: We rented a van and explored on our own. We drove out to the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood for the aerial tram allowing magnificent views & lunch. We drove about some more & ended up at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. A place to get close up to rescued native animals, it is a photographer's dream & many of the animal images you see in the Alaska brochures were taken here. Day 8: Homer: This is a port you either loved or hated for its small size and slightly eccentric character. We loved it! After walking past a frenzy of seagulls, we bought tickets to a jump on/jump off bus allowing 4 stops... My daughter and I chose to get off at the fourth stop and spend our time the beach, watching the hula hoops spin while the dogs chased Frisbees, while sipping lemonade sold by kids, and enjoying a snack at the most excellent Two Sisters' Bakery. My husband took a flight-seeing trip he enjoyed very much. Alas, rough seas lay ahead and The Master Chef's dinner was for many of us not meant to be... but rest of my family enjoyed the chefs parade, music & fun. Day 9: Kodiak: Some hated this sleepy town with its indifference to tourism. I LOVED IT! We wandered about & simply breathed in Alaskan life. It is a long walk to town from the dock & many chose tours and/or taxis. We took a one hour tour with a driver we found dock side, in which we managed to explore nearly all of Homer, including it's coastal studies center with a touch tank, while listening to our driver's stories of life in such an unconventional town. We explored a bit more on foot and walked back to the ship. Day 10 was a sea day with a very "rocky" start, which we spent experiencing the beauty of Hubbard Glacier. Although it was a rainy, nasty day, the skies opened to welcome us and the seas were calm while we floated by in awe. There was much calving & we were surrounded by satisfied explorers on the top deck! Day 11: Sitka: we have visited Sitka many times and love it here. A rainy day left many deciding to stay on board. It is a pedestrian-friendly port with historic sights, tourist shopping, local crafts & strolling along the piers. Day 12: Our final day at Sea... and reality of our vacation nearing its end permeates through all of us. There was plenty to do on board, or one could simply enjoy the sights and chat with new friends. The fourth & final formal night is also a black & white ball. The Crow's nest is decorated prom-like for this fancy party encouraging passenger/ crew interaction. Although on this particular voyage the population was older making many social gatherings a bit harder for the baby boomers & younger... it eventually got going & I think fun was had by all who chose to have fun. Day 13: Victoria ended up our family favorite. Partially because of the day's glorious weather... but mostly because of timing. We disembarked as a man showed up in his classic Ford 1954 Sunliner & set out on an open air touring adventure. We visited Victoria 's beautiful views, such as the castle, neighborhoods, and parks. As we passed deer grazing in folks' gardens and peacocks wandering parkside, we waved to locals admiring our ride. Day 14, or is it 15... Disembarkation in Seatle was simple and well organized. I had stressed over return home flight times, and after advice never to book before noon, we stayed on in Seattle overnight. While some were still waiting for their group to be called, as suite passengers, we could disembark whenever we were ready, so we did, and we were assisted by eager luggage valets, grabbed a taxi dockside and headed off to our hotel. If you are in a suite I do not think even an 11AM flight would be a problem... but of course, things happen. Day 15: I CANNOT BELIEVE SEATTLE HAS A HEMP FESTIVAL! Our hotel was shoreside, with the Beatles suite next door, (that famous room where they fished out the hotel window) and the massive hempfest down a block or two. We explored the sights, including the space needle and the EMP & Sci-Fi Museum. We left early next morning for a surprisingly non-eventful or delayed airport & flight. DAY 16: .... Are there really signs of life beyond the mounds of laundry??? OK... if you have survived this lengthy review and have further questions, feel free to ask away... Until next time... Happy sails to you Robyn Hello, Cruise Critic Citizens, this is Deandra. I'm Robyn's twenty-year-old daughter, and I'm offering my ever-so-youthful perspective on the cruise. I had a great time. The average age of this cruise was pretty old, honestly, but this wasn't such a bad thing. The people I met on board were legitimately awesome. They were very kind, and had fascinating stories to tell. The downside of this was that I generally did feel like I didn't quite belong. The young kids all flock together in Club HAL, and the teenagers go to the Loft. I look younger than I am (everyone from the juggler/comedian to our room steward assumed I was about twelve), and when I met people I thought were my age, they were almost always Loft-aged. No offense to the high schoolers though, the people I met were neat. I spent the great majority of time either alone or with my family. Honestly, this was a family vacation, and I preferred actually being with my family to totally branching out and never seeing them, so I guess this was pretty ideal. The Neptune Lounge was pretty cool, and was the location of most of the in depth conversations I had with older strangers. I also spent a lot of the time in the Crow's Nest with my family and the friends we made, because we are hideously addicted to trivia games. Trivia games can actually fill a lot of time, just so you know, and we learned a lot of random fluff. Also, what wouldn't a sane person do for Holland America pins? :) The Amsterdam's cast and crew could probably benefit from some new shows? I went to most of their performances, and I don't regret it, but I spent a lot of the show feeling bad for the cast for having to wear so many sequins. The talent that HAL brought on was amazing. Ronn Lucas is this big time ventriloquist who I would actually go out of my way to see performing in the real world. We also got to see a performer called Jeff Trachta, who was amazingly talented. It's really neat to be on the ship, just wandering around, and run into people like juggler and talk to them. I liked that experience. As a practicing Catholic, I was grateful that HAL provides a priest onboard their ships. It made life a lot easier, and it made the trip much more meaningful. Alaska's beauty comes from God. It's somewhat nice to remember that while we're actually there. I loved seeing the Orthodox churches in Kodiak and Sitka. They were amazing, and I had some really enjoyable and informational conversations with the people who worked in the church in Sitka, and with the gift shop lady in Kodiak. The morning we spent in Kodiak was probably my favorite. I loved the little wildlife center/museum thing. Since we've been to Alaska many times, we skipped most of the nature-lectures, and this was about as informational about nature as anything got for me. The Baranhov Museum has some work going on around it, but if you follow the signs it is still accessible. It was a small, charming, and informative museum. It's this really old house that's been around for ages, and you can see the original wallpaper and woodwork in some parts. It deals with natural life in the area, as well as with the early Russian influence. Homer is covered in fireweed, and the beach was pretty charming. I didn't see much of the area, but it was probably really worth seeing. I liked our family outing in Anchorage the best (probably more detailed in my mom's post), because in renting a car and just driving out of town, it kind of felt like we were runaways, or at home and taking a daytrip. It didn't really fit in with the cruise, and it made you feel more like a normal person, or a legitimate explorer. There it is then, that's my briefish but honest review of the Amsterdam. Good times were had by mostly all, I met about 5 other people around my brother's and my age group (all within the last 3 days or so, of course), and whales are still awesome. Ciao, internet people. Deandra Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Like so many other couples in their late 60's, we had dreamed of an Alaska cruise for quite awhile before finally making a committment to really go there.After about 3 months of searching the internet, using many search sites, we ... Read More
Like so many other couples in their late 60's, we had dreamed of an Alaska cruise for quite awhile before finally making a committment to really go there.After about 3 months of searching the internet, using many search sites, we discovered cruise critic had both the reviews and the information we needed to make our choice of cruises. We chose HAL mainly for the itinerary and prices offered for their 14-day cruise round trip from Seattle (lower airfares and no passport required)that visited several ports not available through other cruise lines. We were particularly interested in seeing Kodiak and Sitka for their Russian heritage excursions, and Homer for halibut fishing for me. We could not hve selected a better cruise itinerary! Each port and every shore excursion(except fishing) turned out fantastic and much more than we had anticipated! We booked the Bering Sea Fisherman's Adventure in Ketchikan that was delightful and truly educational. The whale-watching trip in Juneau resulted in sighting 12 Orcas and 12 Humpbacks, including an awesome breach! Icey Straight Point offers a look at true Alaskan life in a fishing village and the visit to Tracey Arm was a beautiful encounter with an impressive glacier. All of the ports visited offered unique excursions and attractions that were exciting, interesting, and affordable. The onboard living experience far exceeded our expectations! All of the dining venues were exceptionally clean and offered outstanding menu choices, prepared and served with great care, and such a variety that we were sometimes overwhelmed by all of the delectable choices! The entire crew was always smiling, very accomodating, and eager to please. We could not have asked for better service, even when we had two minor incidents. Everything was resolved to our complete satisfaction. The entertainment was very good, and a nice variety of shows were offered. We especially enjoyed the two comedians, who gave wonderful performances. All-in-all, we would whole-heartedly recommend this particular cruise and certainly endorse Holland American as a top-notch cruise line. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Our 2011 Alaskan Adventure on the HAL Amsterdam August 5-19 with a pre-cruise stay at Mt. Rainier and Seattle In 2008 my husband Bob and I went on a 7 day Alaska cruise followed by a 9 day independent land trip. ... Read More
Our 2011 Alaskan Adventure on the HAL Amsterdam August 5-19 with a pre-cruise stay at Mt. Rainier and Seattle In 2008 my husband Bob and I went on a 7 day Alaska cruise followed by a 9 day independent land trip. Alaska has been calling me back ever since. I consider myself very blessed to have had another opportunity to visit this majestic place. I had several priorities on this trip: to observe bears eating salmon, to see Hubbard Glacier and to see Prince William Sound. All my wishes were fulfilled. How much luckier could I have gotten? My husband's priority for a return trip was to go when it wouldn't rain. Although we had a little drizzle, it was nothing to ruin our trip and he was very pleased with the weather as was I. The first part of the review is my comments on the Amsterdam. Following those comments you will find a day by day review of the ports. Feel free to ask questions if you need more detail. A bit about ourselves: Bob is 64 and I am 62. Neither of us is physically active. We love nature and scenery. Most of our lives we camped, including on our honeymoon. Cruising is not our vacation of choice, but we have used cruises to get us to places that otherwise would be difficult to see in a timely manner on a minimal budget. We see a cruise ship as a floating hotel. Ship Experience: This was our third cruise and second on HAL. We booked an HH obstructed view cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck. It turned out to be a good choice for the price. We had more of a view than I expected. We pre-ordered a refrigerator which was nice to have. The cabin was under the galley, so we did hear some noises above us, but it didn't bother us. The noise seemed to subside considerably after 10:30 p.m. We were never awakened by the noise. I had read about the Amsterdam being a noisy ship. The place we noticed a significant noise and vibration was as we walked down the hallway to our cabin from the forward part of the ship. You hear engine noise and feel significant vibration. One day as someone exited one of these cabins I asked if they heard this noise in their cabin and they said they sure did. I would not have been happy in one of those cabins. That is the only place we noticed noise. We found the ship to be very well maintained. Staff was cleaning, polishing, and painting throughout the two weeks. The ship never seemed crowded except the day we were disembarking in Victoria. There are many nice areas to just park yourself and enjoy the views out the windows. We like the size of the Amsterdam. You never have long hikes to get anywhere. We never had waits for the elevators, although we tried to take the steps as much as possible. The staff on the Amsterdam was outstanding. Our stewards, Heri and Yulien were top notch!!! All I had to do was leave a note and they handled whatever we asked for. They kept our room spotlessly clean and always had a smile and greeting for us whenever we saw them. They would wish us a great day when we left for the day and ask how we enjoyed your day when we returned. We found the dining staff to be very friendly. I noticed a significant difference in the Front Desk staff from my last HAL cruise. I found the Front Desk staff to be competent on this ship. They had a better command of the English Language than our previous HAL cruise. Last cruise I dreaded going to the Front Desk; this time not at all! One thing I missed on our Daily Explorer was information regarding where we would be cruising each day and what time we would be passing key areas like whale areas. On our 2008 Volendam cruise this information appeared daily and I have to say whenever we were told we would be in a whale area, we would see them. On our Volendam cruise a public announcement would be made from the bridge telling us that wildlife had been spotted and what side of the ship it was noticed. We never had an announcement about wildlife being spotted on this cruise. At least I never heard any such announcements. On the Amsterdam the captain would make an announcement telling us some information about where we would be cruising, but I would have preferred to have it written down. Sometimes you were in a place you couldn't hear the announcement, or you simply couldn't remember all that was being told to you. We did not have any trouble tendering in either Icy Strait or Sitka. Many complaints had previously been reported about the difficulties getting off the ship in Sitka. When I noticed on the TV that the ship was going to be in Sitka early, we headed to the Queen's Lounge. We were in Sitka at 9:30 a.m. and the Amsterdam was scheduled to dock at 10:00 a.m. Rather than listing the time the ship docks, I wish HAL would list the time they estimate to be cleared for disembarking. This causes a problem for those booking independent tours. I know on my previous cruises the time listed as docking time was the time we disembarked. However, on this cruise, that was not the case. We were always being told the ship had to be cleared for disembarking. We LOVED the unlimited laundry package. For $98 we had our clothes beautifully laundered and pressed. I was waiting for them to tell me I had sent too many bags and they would be charging me an additional fee. We sent out 14 bags !!!! The laundry usually came back the following day. If it did not come back the next day, then it was returned the following morning. We felt it was worth the splurge so we could pack lighter and not have to spend time trying to find an available washing machine. Often we ran into frustrated people trying to find a launderette with availability. I was told the second deck launderette was never open for use on our cruise. There were no major complaints about the food from us. We enjoyed the MDR for dinners, the LIDO for breakfasts and lunches, the Pinnacle for one complimentary dinner, and the Canaletto for several dinners. Like most banquet hall food, I do think they could reduce the sodium. I am a vegetarian and although the entrEes were excellent overall, some did not have a high protein level. However, I just learned to ask for a cheese plate along with it and that solved the problem for me. The area most lacking was the desserts. They served lots of variations of cakes and mousse/gelatin desserts. If that is your thing, you will be pleased. If I am going to eat something basically unhealthy, I want it to be worth the calories. They did offer a fruit crisp and a Baked Alaska every day. The fresh berry cups I could get back in 2008 on the Volendam were not available on the Amsterdam. The bread pudding in the Lido was excellent. I tried the ice cream once and although it was refreshing, it was not very rich. Others seemed to enjoy it though. We found service in all dining venues to be excellent. There was staff in the Lido to help you carry your food if necessary. I did not find it troublesome at all the first two days when the Lido staff did all the serving. I had read about long waits, but we did not find that to be the case at all. Neither were there long waits in the dining room those first two days. We had one meal where service was slower than on other days in the MDR, but it was still acceptable for a fine dining setting. We never had to wait to be seated in the MDR or the Canaletto, even if we did not have a reservation. To us, the advantage of making a reservation is you can request a table by the window. Since smoke is a trigger for my asthma it is always a concern when cruising. Our cabin had no hint of smoke. The only place I smelled it was the casino and we make a quick transition when we were passing through. Unlike our last HAL cruise they did not have non-smoking days in the casino on this cruise. I rarely saw anyone smoking on the Lower Promenade. Seemed like pretty much a non-smoking crowd from what I could tell. I was disappointed the Indonesian Tea was on the Hubbard Glacier Bay day. There is no way I was giving up being out on the bow for the tea. It should have been on a sea day. I had heard how lovely this event was and wished I could have participated. The Amsterdam was great for viewing the scenery. We were out on the bow for both Tracy Arm and Hubbard Glacier. Those who don't like to be outside can go to the Crow's Nest with its forward panoramic views. There are also many other places with window viewing like the Explorers Lounge. I prefer to be out on deck and that is exactly where we were on both of these scenic sailing days. We enjoyed the onboard entertainment. I don't have as much to compare to as others do. Our first cruise we never went to any of the shows. I did like the entertainment on the Amsterdam better than what we had on our NCL cruise last year. We thought the Amsterdam put together a nice variety with the singers/dancers, comedians, ventriloquist, magicians, juggler, etc. I wished they would have taped these shows and shown them on the TV In our rooms at a later time. We missed two shows because Bob was not feeling well and we would have liked to see them at our convenience. I had read many positive comments about the computer classes onboard. We did not have any at all the first week. I finally asked the librarian about it and was told that the previous tech person disembarked in Seattle and the new one was not boarding until Anchorage. We tried to attend one class, but the line was out the door so we left. I think they need a larger location for these classes. I appreciated the New York Times highlights that were made available at various locations throughout the ship. I was happy to get the baseball scores for my hometown team as well as to read what was going on in the world. In summary we had a wonderful, wonderful cruise to Alaska on the Amsterdam. I must say I was getting concerned as I read some of the reviews of those who were on this ship before we were. However, I didn't need to worry. It was a magnificent cruise on a great ship with an outstanding crew!!! Aug. 2 Flying to Seattle and driving to Mt. Rainier: Today we flew into Seattle. What a wonderful flight we had on a clear and sunny day. After picking up our luggage we boarded a shuttle to the Enterprise office. Simply stated this was the least competent car rental office we have ever rented from. It took about 45 minutes to get our paperwork processed at the price I had booked at. After way too long we were on our way to Mt. Rainier at 3:30 p.m. The anticipated 2 hour ride quickly turned into a 2 1/2 hour ride as traffic was heavy. On our drive we were able to see Mt. Rainier against the bright blue sky. It was quite a site. Once in the National Park we stopped at several scenic viewpoints, including Christine Falls which were flowing fiercely. As it was now nearing 7:00 p.m. we headed for the Paradise Inn. We immediately fell in love with the lodge and enjoyed a lovely and delicious dinner in the lodge dining room. National Parks are our favorite places to stay. The accommodations are very basic, but we like it that way. It didn't take us long to realize we wished we had booked two nights here instead of two nights in Seattle. For anyone wishing to stay here, be forewarned that there are no elevators. If you have problems carrying luggage, request a first floor room. Aug. 3 Visiting Mt. Rainier and driving to Seattle: How lovely it was to wake up in the morning looking out the large bedroom windows and seeing mountains. This was Paradise for sure!!!!! After a delicious breakfast we took a stroll around the property. This area had 900+ inches of snow this past winter instead of the usual 600+ inches which caused the hiking trails in the Paradise area to be snow covered. This was a disappointment, but it surely didn't ruin our day. After checking out of the lodge, we drove to Narada Falls. The trail was a bit steep, but we managed just fine taking it slowly. Our next stop was Reflections Lake. This is the spot where the post card photos are taken that show Mt. Rainier and her reflection in the water. Although it was a clear day there was no mountain being reflected into the water when we were there. We learned you needed to be there earlier in the morning to experience this phenomenon. Our next stop was Box Canyon which is about 100 ft. deep and only 15-30 feet wide. Next was the lovely stop at the Grove of the Patriarchs. The hike takes you through an old-growth forest. Some of the trees were over 1000 years old with circumferences up to 30 ft. As you take this hike you are walking along the Ohanapecosh River which makes for a very scenic stroll. To get to the Grove you must walk over a suspension bridge. Only one person is allowed on the bridge at a time. When you cross the bridge you are on an island. The Grove has a truly magical feeling to it. After visiting the Grove we headed to the Sunrise Visitor Center. The views of Mt. Rainier from the road to Sunrise were even more beautiful than the views from Paradise. The mountain appeared to be much closer to you from this vantage point. The visitor center was very well done with many interesting and informative displays. After a quick lunch at the Sunrise Day Lodge, we headed to the Silver Forest/Emmons Glacier Vista Overlook. This is a very scenic trail with magnificent views of the Cascade Mountains. Blue skies and pleasant temperatures made for a perfect hike. There were many beautiful wildflowers along the way. The scent of the trees was very striking and strong. We never experienced anything like it on any of the many hikes we have taken in National and State Parks. Crisp air, sunny skies and the scent of the trees was the perfect combination for a great hike. After this hike we started our drive to Seattle. Until we got into Seattle the drive was much more pleasant than what we had experienced yesterday. However, once in Seattle the trip became a bit nerve-wracking. The freeways are much more difficult to maneuver than what we are used to in Michigan. We arrived at the Quality Inn at 7:00 p.m. We were a bit apprehensive about booking this hotel because of mixed reviews. However, we were very satisfied. Our requirements were that it be clean and safe, and both of those were met. The staff was friendly and the room was very clean. Unlike the Paradise Inn they do have elevators here. Once we settled our things into the room, we headed out on the streets looking for someplace to eat. We came across the 5 Point Cafe and Bar which was a local hangout for the most part. It is a great place if comfort food is what you are looking for. We enjoyed our meal here. What a wonderful day!!! Aug. 4 Visiting Seattle: This morning we missed waking up to the view of the mountains. Instead we looked at the Travelodge. After a quick continental breakfast at the Quality Inn we drove to the Chittendon Locks in Ballard WA. This was a very interesting place to visit. We hoped to see lots of salmon on the ladders, but we only saw one salmon and it was in the observing tank. It was still well worth the stop to us. From the locks we drove to Kerry Park where you look down on Seattle, the water front and the Space Needle. Since it was another beautiful day we were able to get a great view!!! Definitely worth a stop on a clear day!!! I understand the sunsets are pretty special from this viewpoint. It is in a neighborhood with street parking only. Our next stop was the Freemont Troll. The head-and-shoulders sculpture is 18-ft. tall and provided us with some neat photos. Our next task was to drop off our car at the downtown Seattle Enterprise office. We were very happy to be rid of the car. As I mentioned above, we found the roads a bit challenging to navigate in Seattle, even with a GPS. The Downtown Seattle Enterprise Office was extremely professional and efficient. Although they offered to drive us to Pike's Market, we opted to walk. We found it to be a very pleasant stroll to the Market. Although we found the Market to be quite crowded, we were told the crowds were light compared to the weekends. We strolled through the shops and admired the flowers. Needing a break from the crowds we went to a Starbucks for a cool drink to reinvigorate ourselves. Feeling refreshed we headed back to the Market. We stopped to see the Gum Wall, which made for some more interesting photos. Next we stopped at the Fish Market to see the fish being tossed. We were unable to catch a photo here. After deciding we had enough of the Market, we had a late lunch at Pear Delicatessen. This was a great choice and both Bob and I enjoyed our meals. After lunch we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park. It was an easy walk and we enjoyed it. The park is on the beautiful waterfront with several interesting and fascinating sculptures. After strolling through the park we picked up the last Seattle Duck Tour of the day. We had an excellent guide who was both very knowledgeable and quite humorous. After this tour we stopped at Zeek Pizza for dinner where we had a yummy meal. That evening, when I was checking the weather on the hotel computer in the lobby, we met Laurie from our roll call. Soon we were introduced to the rest of her lovely family. How great it was to meet some friendly faces before we boarded our cruise ship. After having a nice chat with them, we called it a night. Aug. 5 Pikes Market and boarding the Amsterdam: Today I brought breakfast up to our room. After we ate we walked to the monorail and headed downtown to Pike's Market to look through a few shops and to pick up a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for our cabin. We took the monorail back to Seattle Center and walked back to our hotel. At 1:00 p.m. we took the hotel shuttle to Pier 91. The cost was $6 per person. When we got off the shuttle, there were workers who offered to take our luggage. This made it so easy. I did tip them and we felt it was well worth it. We did put luggage tags on some soda and they did take it. Forty minutes after leaving the Quality Inn we were in our cabin. We were very pleased with how easy and quick the check-in process was. As we were walking into the check-in area one of the workers commented on my bouquet. She said to make sure to use bottled water in the vase and not cruise ship water. She said the flowers would last much longer that way. We were pleased to be able to go straight to our cabin. We booked an HH cabin and from what I had read, I was not expecting much of a view. We were pleasantly surprised with how much we could see across the promenade deck, especially if we were on the right side of the cabin. Everything that was supposed to be in our cabin was: refrigerator, excursions tickets, HAL coupon books, and Pinnacle Vouchers. We met, Heri, one of our room stewards. First impression was very positive and he did not disappoint throughout the cruise. He and Yulien, the only female steward on the cruise ship, were outstanding the entire cruise. We could not have had a better team!!! Since our luggage had not yet arrived we went to the front desk. I checked to see if our Onboard Credit was on our account and it was. So far we are batting 100% here!!! Great start!!!We requested a power strip cord and were given one to use. There is a $25 deposit which is returned when you bring it back. We also signed up for the unlimited laundry package which was $98 for unlimited washing and ironing. I was quickly spoiled!!! They did a great job with the laundry and ironing!!! In your closet you will find a blue laundry bag and a form to fill out. If you turn in your bag by 9:00 a.m. it will be returned to you the next day. Once it was returned the same day. After our stop at the Front Desk we proceeded to the Lido on Deck 8 for lunch. We also made dinner reservations. There is a stand in the Lido as you get off the elevators with a dining staff member who will make your reservations for up to three days out. The Lido was not crowded and we were quickly eating a delicious meal. After lunch we went to our cabin. Our luggage and soda arrived and we worked on organizing our clothes into the closets and drawers until it was time to go to the Muster Drill. After the drill we continued to work on organizing our cabin. At 5:00 p.m. we went on deck for sail-away. This evening we had a lovely dinner in the MDR. We really enjoyed eating in the MDR. We had open dining. Some nights we made reservations, other nights we did not. If you would like a table by the window it is best to make a reservation. We enjoyed all the people we met as we dined each night. Some nights we did have a table for two, but most nights we enjoyed the company of others. After dinner we took in the show and then called it a night. Aug. 6 Inside Passage: After breakfast in the Lido we walked around the Promenade deck. It was oh so beautiful, but oh so windy!!! Cruising the inside passage provides a very peaceful and soothing experience. It is a shame it will not be included in the 2012 itinerary. To have scenery on both sides of the ship which is so close to the ship is an experience that is never forgotten. We were very fortunate on this itinerary to be cruising through the very scenic Seymour Narrows in daylight. Many times the ships are traveling through here at night. This morning at 11:00 a.m. was our scheduled time for the Meet and Greet of all who were on the HAL Roll Call for this cruise. Many of us had chatted on line for some time before the cruise and were looking forward to meeting each other. Terry contacted HAL and arranged for a lovely gathering in the Crow's Nest with some of the ship's officers. Refreshments and snacks were provided by HAL. It was a lovely gathering. Unfortunately our meet and greet time was exactly when we were traveling through the scenic Seymour Narrows. From what I could tell, most if not all on the roll call did drop by. However, many of us did not stay long since we wanted to be outside viewing the magnificent scenery. Bob and I spent a good amount of time out on deck 6, but eventually the wind got to be too much. We retreated back to the Crow's Nest which has a phenomenal panoramic view. About one o'clock we had lunch in the Lido and once again returned to the Crow's Nest to take in the breathtaking scenery. At 5:00 p.m. we attended Mass in the Queen's Lounge. Unfortunately the movement at the front of the ship made Bob feel ill. We had reservations for dinner at the Canaletto tonight. Bob couldn't make it through the meal. He headed back to the cabin where he put a patch on, had some ginger root and called it an early night. I finished my dinner and then joined him in the cabin. We ate dinner several nights at the Canaletto and enjoyed it every time. For those who don't want to dress up for formal nights, it is a great option. August 7 Ketchikan: Docking time for Ketchikan had been scheduled for 7:00 a.m. Unfortunately we did not dock until closer to 8:30 a.m. The first passengers were not getting off until about 8:45 p.m. I am sure some who booked early independent tours were disappointed. We were given an extra hour in Ketchikan to make up for the later arrival. I had initially hoped this would give us enough time to head out to Totem Bight after our Misty Fjords tour. However, the staff at the Visitor Center told us they would not chance it. Our ship's tour to Misty Fjord was a very well-run tour and we enjoyed it. We were told we were experiencing one of 35 days in the year when Ketchikan has a full day of sunshine. (Would have been a great day for the kayaking we had considered!!!) The Misty Fjords Tour was run by Allen Marine. The granite cliffs in the fjords were simply magnificent. I didn't run into anyone who did not enjoy this beautiful tour. I must say the sunshine helped make it a great day to be out on the water. On our way to the fjords Allen Marine provided everyone with a small pastry. On our way back you had your choice of clam chowder or veggie chili. Bob and I both had the chili and enjoyed it very much. After we finished lunch a very interesting and informative film about fishing in Ketchikan was shown. We also had our first introduction to the five main kinds of salmon and how to use your fingers to help remember their names. After the tour was over we walked into Ketchikan where we stopped in a few stores. Our next stop was the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. If you have a National Park Pass you do not have to pay the entrance fee. The displays are outstanding and I highly recommend a stop here. At the Discovery Center we were told the salmon were three weeks late and just beginning to arrive in Ketchikan. They did not know why the salmon had been delayed. We still chose to head to the salmon ladder to check it out. On the way we did see some salmon in the river. At the ladder we saw a few more salmon. The whole time we were on the observation platform, there was one salmon trying to make its way in. However for the roughly 45 minutes we were there, it did not succeed. It was one persistent salmon!!! From here we walked to the Fish Hatchery where we watched some salmon making their way over a grate. As we were heading back to the ship we realized we were very short on time. Fortunately for us a bus was coming by and we were able to board. It dropped us off very close to the ship at about 5:10 p.m. As we were dining tonight we observed some porpoises and whales. After dinner we went to the Crow's Nest where they were having Karaoke. We were impressed with the quality of singing we heard. At ten o'clock we headed to the Queen's Lounge to see Ronn Lucas, the ventriloquist. He was outstanding and put on a great show!!! Aug. 8 Tracy Arm Cruising: In June 2008 we saw Tracy Arm from a small boat excursion we booked from Juneau. It was our favorite excursion. This year we were cruising Tracy Arm on a cruise ship. Although the experience is definitely different, it is still an outstanding way to experience the fjord. Today there was some sun, some clouds, but no rain. We stayed out on the bow from 11:45 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. We just didn't want to go inside and leave this majestic setting. Although not all cruise ships get all the way to the glaciers in Tracy Arm Fjord, we were able to get in sight of South Sawyer Glacier. I was satisfied with how far in we got, but others were disappointed we didn't make our way closer to see some calving. To me Tracy Arm Fjord is more about the fjord and less about the glaciers. In 2008 we got up close and personal with North Sawyer Glacier. At that time we saw a lot more wildlife than we did this year. However the cliffs, mountains, glaciers and numerous waterfalls made for a spectacular day. We just couldn't get enough of this glorious beauty. Tonight we tried the Lido for dinner. The food was very good, but we prefer the dining room. The show tonight was the singers and dancers. They put on some good shows throughout the cruise. I marvel at their stamina and energy level. Tonight the cruise ship was supposed to anchor in the evening. However, we had a medical emergency on board and the ship was given permission to go straight to Juneau. Aug. 9 Juneau: Today we had our tour booked to Pack Creek with Butch Laughlin of Alaska Fly n Fish Charters in hopes of seeing bear eating salmon. Pack Creek is on Admiralty Island and is run by the US Forest Service. The Forest Service only allows 24 visitors per day in this area.Pack Creek is a wilderness area with no facilities of any kind. There is a ranger on site during peak season who provides a scope and who carries a rifle. The bears on Admirality Island are Brown Bears. We learned that both Grizzly and Brown Bears are the same species. If they live near water they are called Brown Bears, and if they live in the interior they are called Grizzly Bears. The Grizzly Bears are lighter brown and the Brown Bears are much darker, some looking almost black. Their coloring has adapted over the years to the environment they live in. I had prepared myself the best I could for the possibility of just having a lovely float plane ride. I knew there are no guarantees when it comes to seeing wildlife even if you are going in peak season. We took a taxi ($24) from the pier to the Juneau airport where we met Butch at Gate 1. There was one other couple on our tour. They were locals who knew Butch. Since they were also pilots, I was put a bit more at ease knowing I was now with three people who could fly this plane if needed. Butch drove us in his van to the pier/dock where he keeps his plane. We were fitted with waterproof boots, given binoculars and then assigned to our seats. Bob got the co-pilot seat and I was put in the back. The other couple, Jeannie and Wendell, was in the middle.. This was the first time Bob and I flew in a float plane. It was quite an exhilarating experience to be flying in scenic Alaska on a gorgeous summer day. The views were simply breathtaking. I could have flown all day. However, I did book this tour to see bears, and soon we were on our way to Pack Creek. It took a half hour to get to Pack Creek. Butch and Wendell took care of securing the plane. The tide would be far out when we returned, so Butch had to be careful where the plane was left. We were walking for just a short time when we saw our first bear. Butch and the rangers knew all the bears and had given most of them names. It was truly exciting for me when I saw that first bear. I describe this day to anyone who will listen, as "The Day in the Life of a Bear." When I originally imagined what this trip would be like, I expected to see lots of different bears coming and going. However, we had three bears that we saw virtually the entire time and another 3-4 that visited during the 4+ hours we were at Pack Creek. The three bears that we watched the whole time were a sow and her cub and another cub that had been abandoned by its mother a year before normal. Butch said it was unusual for a bear to allow her cub to hang out with another cub. However, this sow did permit it. It was so fascinating to watch the cubs. They would stand up and play with each other, roll around, fish for salmon, go to the field and eat berries off the bushes, etc. They had never-ending energy. At one point the sow and her cub went into the woods. We thought they were going to take their afternoon nap. However, within minutes they were back out again doing what they had been doing all day. The sow did a lot of fishing, yet she was very attentive of her cub. If she couldn't see him she would stand up. At one point she followed the cubs into the field. When the bears went to the field they came VERY CLOSE to us. In fact when the sow was looking for her cubs in the field she walked a bit too close for comfort. Butch told us to grab our packs and be ready to move. Fortunately that was not necessary. The sow just walked right past us looking for her cub. PHEW!!! This tour was definitely a highlight of our trip to Alaska. Observing bears in the wild who were just going about their day was a truly fascinating and exhilarating experience. The return float plane trip to Juneau was just as awe-inspiring on the way back. Flying over the mountains and waterways of Alaska in a floatplane is an experience I will never forget. This day will forever be etched in my memory. Upon arrival at the airport we called Konnie of Rent A Wreck. Within minutes she picked us up, drove us to the office and literally within minutes we were on our way, paying the price we had earlier agreed on. Our first stop was the Shrine of St. Therese. The small church is in a beautiful and very tranquil setting along the water. There were several trails you could take around the church grounds. I would not call this a must do, but if you are in the area and have the time, it is surely worth a stop. Next we drove to Mendenhall Glacier. I have to say I was more impressed than I thought I would be from what I had read about this place beforehand. I am definitely glad we went and highly recommend going. Mendenhall Glacier was quite impressive. There was something special about it being so visible from the road. You didn't have to take a trail if you didn't want to. In my research I had read that there was a fee to get into the Visitor Center. I thought that was odd as we have never paid to use a park visitor center. However, there was no fee to get into the park. The road system along the park is very limited. I assume they did want to clog things up with a pay station, so instead decided to charge for the visitor center. We were very impressed with the Visitor Center and highly recommend stopping here. There were many well done and educational displays and videos. If you have a National Park Pass you do not have to pay to get in. While at Mendenhall we walked the Photo Trail and the Nugget Falls Trail. Both were well worth it. Although I was up to doing another trail, Bob was beginning to tire. We returned our car to the Rent a Wreck location in Juneau on Mill Street. We used the drop box and walked back to the ship. It was a bit of a hike, but we have really been enjoying all the walking. After a long day, we had dinner in the MDR and called it a night as we had to wake up at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday morning. Aug. 10 Icy Strait: Our room service breakfast arrived 5 minutes before our scheduled time of 6:00 a.m. - 6:30 a.m. We thought HAL did a very nice job with the room service breakfast. Everything arrived hot/warm and was tasty. To make sure we got on an early tender, we arrived at the Queen's Lounge at 6:30 a.m. We received our tender ticket at 7:00 a.m. and made the 7:15 a.m. Tender. There was no need to get there that early. However, I did not want to take my chances. We arrived in Icy Strait at 7:30 a.m. and met Floyd of F.I.S.H.E.S at his van parked just off the dock area. We were quickly on our way to Hoonah where his boat was docked. Honestly, I was not thinking this tour was going to be a highlight. I had read about so many people going on whale watches and looking at backs, tails and fins. This did not appeal to me particularly. Our one whale watch on the East Coast turned out to be a bust. However, Icy Strait was a port that didn't have a lot to do that Bob and I were interested in, so upon the recommendations of many CCers we booked with Floyd. This trip ended up being a real highlight for us. Not only did we see whales and their fins, backs and tails, but we also saw some bubblenet feeding which was so intriguing. Bob and I were thrilled with this excursion. I love to see and do things I have never seen and done before and this fit the bill perfectly!!! Floyd had a hydrophone on his boat. This underwater microphone would pick up the chatter of the whales when they were preparing to catch their fish. Otherwise it was very quiet. As the sounds increased, Floyd would be scouring the water. When he would notice the ring of bubbles he would call out and point. Sure enough, within seconds the whales would come up in unison to grab their catch. This was, oh, so fascinating!!!!! No matter what boat you were on this morning you got quite a show!!! This cruise we have been blessed with everything going so right!! Although we had did have a misty rain today, the bubblenet feeding more than made up for that. I soon lost count of how many times the whales came up to bubblenet feed. What I thought was going to be a boring tour, ended up being an exciting and memorable experience. After Floyd dropped us off his wife offered to drive us back to Icy Strait. We chose to stroll around Hoonah. There was a light drizzle, but we were dressed for the weather. Hoonah is an authentic Alaskan town, not one overrun by tourist shops. We found it interesting to walk around the docks. Later we found a small city park that had some porta johns. For the most part the homes in Hoonah do not have landscaping. It is obviously not easy to get rid of your trash here. Many of the yards had large items stacked up in them. Some were more creative with their no longer needed items. Someone took an old kitchen range and placed it on their front lawn. They turned the area that once had the burners on it into a flower bed. It was a creative way to recycle a product that no longer worked. Touring Hoonah makes you realize how differently people live in our own country. After checking out some of the neighborhoods and the local cemetery, we walked back to Icy Strait. The area where your tender docks in Icy Strait has a few shops, a museum and at least one restaurant. We met several people who were disappointed in the Icy Strait port. They just couldn't find anything to do that interested them. I suggest you book an excursion in this port. There was another trail we had wanted to take along the shore, but we were getting tired. We tendered back to the ship, had lunch at the Lido and actually took a nap today. This is rare for me, but I think the pace of the trip and our early wake-up this morning caused us to be a little tired. This evening we went to the illusionist show by J. Neal and Liane. It was quite good. After the show we went to the Crow's Nest where they were having another round of the onboard Karaoke contest. The top four singers were chosen to move on to the Amsterdam Superstar Competition later in the cruise. Another great day on shore and on the ship!! Aug. 11 At Sea: Todaywe slept in until 8:00 a.m. and woke up refreshed!!! After breakfast we took care of the disembarking paperwork. I am not sure what day we received the two sheets. One paper was HAL asking what our disembarking plans were. The other paper was the request for luggage direct. Although we had wanted to sign up for Luggage Direct the paper indicated we would have to disembark at 7:30-7:45 a.m. I checked two different times at the front desk and was told both times that this was correct. They said it had to do with customs. Since we had a later flight, we did not want to disembark that early and decided to deal with our own luggage which was just one piece per person plus our backpacks. We signed up for the latest disembarkation listed which was 9:00-9:15 a.m. Although I was told on CC that I would not be allowed to carry off my own bags at that time, I asked at the front desk and was told that indeed I could take off my own bags. I would like to comment on Luggage Direct. If you want to take advantage of this service and have a stopover flight, be aware that if you have a tight connection, the airlines will likely refuse your request. There were some upset people on our cruise regarding this. Another woman had a flight 10 minutes before the time mentioned on the form for Luggage Direct. She just could not understand why the airlines might refuse her request. The front desk staff politely informed her that they would process the form, but it was up to the airlines. She also was upset that they would not book her for a HAL transfer since she had the earlier flight. They explained the transfer buses do not leave for the airport until they are full. They recommended she take a taxi. This really upset her. Most of the people in these situations had a handicapped spouse and were looking to make life easier. I felt so bad they did not understand beforehand how it all worked. Today we actually did a little relaxing. We found a quiet spot on deck 5 by a window. Bob did crosswords and I wrote post cards and worked on my journal. After lunch in the Lido we went to the Queen's Lounge for a presentation by Jeanette, our onboard Travel Guide. Her lecture was titled: Extreme Elements: Alaska's Fire and Ice. She is an interesting presenter. I wish she offered more programs than she did. She did tell us we were having an unusually smooth sailing for this sea day. After Jeanette's presentation they were having a Variety Showcase in the Queen's Lounge. J. Neal (the ventriloquist) and Ronn Lucas (ventriloquist) put on another show. It was very entertaining. After dinner in the MDR we went to the Crow's Nest and listened to the HAL Cats and then went to the Queen's Lounge for the singing and dancing show. It was another high energy production. Aug. 12 Anchorage: We booked the PWS tour through the cruise ship. The drive on the Seward Highway was very scenic. The driver commented he would have to think back about two months to come up with a day as nice as today. He promised to take us to a viewpoint to see Mt. McKinley if the weather held up. Unfortunately it was cloudy upon our return to Anchorage. I did hear of others on our cruise who were able to see Mt. McKinley from deck 9 of the cruise ship. To get to Whittier you have to go through a 2+ mile tunnel. It is a one way tunnel with access to Whittier on the half hour and access back to Anchorage on the hour. I have to say I felt a bit uncomfortable in this tunnel. The driver prepared us for the weather to be cloudy on the other side of the tunnel. We had a pleasant surprise when the sky was even bluer in Whittier. Once again we realize how blessed we have been on this trip!!! After a short drive in Whittier we were at the docks of Prince William Sound Cruises. Within minutes the ship left the docks and we were on our way to another day of beautiful scenic cruising. You will see many smaller glaciers on this tour. The "star" glacier of this tour is "Surprise Glacier." It was a good sized glacier and it cooperated with a little bit of calving. Along the route we saw some stellar sea lions, many sea otters and lots of birds. When you combine the blue skies with the wildlife and glaciers, you could not help but have a fantastic day!!! We returned to the ship about 7:00 p.m. We had another lovely dinner in the MDR with a couple and their daughter from the LA area. At 10:30 we attended the Marriage Game Show in the Queen's Lounge, which was followed by the Filipino Crew Show. The Filipino Crew were so proud to share their dances and songs of their beloved country. We enjoyed the evening very much. Aug. 13 Homer: I had a hard time deciding what to do in Homer. I would read the reviews and find those who said Homer was their favorite port and then I would read those who were very disappointed and couldn't find anything to do. After going over all the options, we decided to take a hiking tour with Alaska Coastal Studies. We tend to enjoy nature and scenery more than cities and shopping, so this ended up being a great choice for us. Once off the ship we took the free shuttle to the Spit. There we found the Yurt where ACS was set up. It was a bit drizzly this morning, but nothing to ruin our day. We were soon on a water taxi headed across Kachemak Bay to the PetersonBay Field Station. Ryan and Joanna were our excellent guides. Ryan grew up in the Homer area so he knew a lot about the region. Joanna was a biology major who was very knowledgeable about both the sea life and the vegetation in this area. I would like to comment on the trail system. The ACS website states that the trail system was "developed." I would not agree. They simply cleared out a path among the vegetation. It makes for a very enjoyable hike in the wilderness. However, this trail is not for anyone with any kind of mobility issues. You are going up and down and walking over tree roots. You need to be pretty steady on your feet as some of the walking is on rocks. We saw many berries that were ready to eat, and quite a few different wildflowers. The fireweed was in full bloom. We did some tide pooling, saw a compound where some natives had made camp, walked out to a bog, and just simply enjoyed walking in the wilderness of AK..This was a very fascinating hike in a remote area which I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys nature. The water taxi got us back to Homer at 4:10 p.m. We shopped on the Spit until just before 5:00 p.m. looking for a t-shirt with a jellyfish on it for my grandson. That was his request and I was having a hard time finding one. No luck in Homer either!!! We took the shuttle back to the ship and headed straight for Mass in the Wajang Theatre. Tonight was the first time we were assigned to a table for eight in the dining room. It was just too difficult to try to converse with so many at the table. We much preferred tables for 4-6. I have to say we enjoyed meeting so many different people at our dinners in the MDR. On our last two cruises we were with family so we always ate at our own table. We found the people on HAL to be so well travelled and we learned of a few new places we might like to cruise to someday. This was the only day on the whole cruise that our service in the MDR was a bit slow. It was still acceptable, but just slower than usual. I had read so many complaints about service in the MDR being slow on the earlier reviews. Fine dining room service is not meant to be rushed. We liked having a leisurely meal after our long and exhausting days. Tonight Adam Kario was the advertised entertainment. It said it would be comedy and variety. Well, Adam is a juggler and he juggled. It was not a comedy/variety show. He was excellent and we enjoyed his performance very much. However, it was advertised incorrectly. I wonder if they get smaller crowds if they list an entertainer as a juggler? Another fabulous day in Alaska!!! Aug. 14 Kodiak: Today we got up at 6:00 a.m., had breakfast in the Lido and then headed to the gangplank to meet Dake of Memory Makers Tours for our 7:30 a.m. tour. We took this tour with three people from our roll call. It was great getting to spend some time with them and getting to know them better. Dake has lived in Alaska for about ten years and was very knowledgeable about the area and its history. I especially liked that he was a great speaker who was both interesting and easy to understand. (no noticeable ums or likes) We started the tour heading off to a stream to try to find bears. We had no luck. Next stop was the view from the hill with the wind turbines on top. Dake told us most visitors do not get to see the beautiful view as clouds/fog are usually in the way. Next stop was Fort Abercrombie. This was my favorite stop and I wished we could have spent more time here. Fort Abercrombie is a lovely state park with more great views, as well as artifacts from World War II. We walked the wildflower trail and then headed out looking for bears again. Still no luck. Dake gave us some suggestions for shopping and then dropped us off in the main shopping district of town where we shopped a bit and then visited the Alutiiq Museum and the Russian Orthodox Church. The museum was exceptionally well done explaining the history of the Alutiiq people. There were excellent displays and some interesting videos you could watch. We decided to walk back to the ship rather than take the shuttle and I was so glad!!! On the way back to the ship was a little store with a sign saying "Going out of business." It was here that I finally found the t-shirt with a jellyfish on it. With only one more Alaska port on the itinerary, we were finally successful. Many people did not realize Alaska has jellyfish, but indeed they do. We say them on our Pack Creek Tour out of Juneau and on our Alaska Coastal Studies tour out of Homer. After arriving at the ship at 2:15 p.m. we headed to the Lido for lunch and then went up to the Crow's Nest. We enjoyed a happy hour drink and for the one and only time played Trivia. Very surprisingly we won and received those well sought after Amsterdam pins. Bob was tired and wanted to nap. He slept until 8:15. It was formal night and 8:15 was too late to eat in the Lido. We went to the Canaletto to eat and enjoyed another lovely meal there. A couple from the UK/South Africa sat next to us and we had another enjoyable dinner. On our way to the evening show we ran into a couple we had met earlier on our cruise who are from Georgia. They were always so much fun to be around, that we ended up spending the rest of the evening with them. At 10:30 p.m. the Dessert Extravaganza began. The culinary staff did an outstanding job of preparing a beautiful presentation of desserts, crepes, ice cream, breads, chocolate sculptures and ice sculptures. Unfortunately, many people did not enjoy the desserts. Many were left over and we were very sad to see that they just tossed all that was leftover into the trash. Overall, the desserts on HAL were not as good as I remembered back in 2008. That is okay as I ate less which prevented me from coming home with a massive weight gain. Another couple we had met earlier joined our table and we stayed in the Lido until 12:15 sharing fun and laughter. What a great day!!! Aug. 15 Hubbard Glacier: Today we slept in and skipped breakfast. We tried to go to the Digital Camera lecture but it was packed with people out the doors. We headed for the Queen's Lounge instead for the Virtual Bridge Tour. We were a bit late, but what we were able to catch was very well done. We went up to the Crow's Nest and stayed until it was time for lunch. Bob needed to rest after lunch as the movement on the ship was significant and in spite of him wearing the patch, he was not feeling well. Bob slept while I took care of journaling and then did some reading. Around 2:30 p.m. we headed out on deck 3. When they opened the bow just before 3:00 p.m., we claimed our spot to view the trip into Hubbard Glacier. It was a cloudy day with on and off light rain. About 3:15 p.m. Hubbard Glacier came into view. We were told the distance was eight miles. Slowly we made our way up to this magnificent glacier. It is about 7 miles long, 300+ feet high and goes back about 75 miles. Hubbard is definitely the most impressive and massive glacier I have ever seen. That said, Bob and I both enjoyed our Glacier Day experience far more than our time in Hubbard Glacier. They are both great cruising experiences, but we prefer Glacier Bay. We are not sure how much weather played into our impressions. We saw Glacier Bay on a blue sky and sunshiny day. Hubbard was a gray and dreary day. Nonetheless, we were so happy we did not get iced out like many of the cruises earlier in the season. We also felt blessed that the glacier was in clear view with no fog. The ranger said we got as close as cruise ships get. He said the only thing that would make for a better experience would be if we could have seen the mountain tops. They were all enshrouded in clouds. However, I was really happy we got so close and the glacier was very crisp and clear. As far as calving, we did see some, but not as much or massive as I had expected. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations. We stayed outside on the bow until the ship turned around. When it turned around we went to the aft of deck 3 to catch more views of Hubbard as we were leaving. We finally gave in and dressed for our dinner at the Pinnacle. It was part of our booking package from the online TA we had booked with. It turned out to be a lovely and delicious dinner. Bob said his filet was the best he had ever eaten. I had read so much on this board about the Chocolate Volcano dessert in the Pinnacle. I have to say this was a disappointment. I wonder if I was served one that was not quite what it was supposed to be. I was expecting it to have some kind of soft center representing lava. However, it was simply a very moist chocolate cake. I didn't think it was worth the calories. After dinner we took in the Jeff Nease Comedy show which we enjoyed. I think we are just easy to please. We loved it all!!! Aug. 16 Sitka: Sitka was the port that had been reported to be a nightmare to get off on the tenders. When I saw on the TV that the ship was arriving early, we headed to the Queen's Lounge. We got on a tender at 9:00 a.m., and arrived in Sitka at 9:30 a.m. Our 10:00 a.m. tour with Davey of Esther G Taxi had been rescheduled to 10:30 p.m. because of the difficulties the earlier cruisers had getting off the ship. No problem today. I used the extra time to visit the shops in the Visitor Center and a few other stores that were already open in town. Davey's tour had come so highly recommended to us, but I had thought of cancelling because I was beginning to realize we would get to see very little of Sitka itself. However, because of the raving reviews, I stuck with my plan and went out with Davey. As soon as we met up with him he said it was a rough day out there and we would not be able to go to the bird rookery on Lazaria Island. What disappointed me was that he still kept it a four hour tour rather than making it into the three hour tour which does not include Lazaria Island. Davey was a great tour guide and just a wonderful person. However the combination of a rainy day, seeing little wildlife and keeping the tour as a four hour tour without the ability to visit Lazaria Island just soured me a bit on my day. I still enjoyed some of my time out on the water. I spent as much time as I could out on the bow. Most of the time I was the only one who was outside. The others chose to stay in the cabin out of the elements. We did see one whale, some sea lions and sea otters, a few puffins and lots of birds. As we were finishing up our tour the sun began to shine and Sitka looked beautiful from the water. Even though I didn't get to visit much of the town, I have to say that it is the one town I would love to return to and explore. I could easily spend several days here. Once we got back to shore we did a quick tour of St. Michael's Orthodox Church which we found lovely. We learned the congregation does not sit for services which can go on for hours. We went into a few shops to look for a Matryoshka doll for my granddaughter and then caught a 4:15 p.m. tender back to the cruise ship. Dinner tonight was at the Lido. Unfortunately the ship was rocking again and Bob was not feeling well after dinner. He went to bed and I did some journaling and read. This day was just so-so from beginning to end. I guess they all can't be perfect. Aug. 17 At Sea: Today we skipped breakfast since we were going to the Mariner's Brunch at 11:00 a.m.. I suggest you not line up too early for this event. At least for today, those that were in line first, were seated in the middle section of the dining room that is not by the windows. Those of us who were further back in line, were able to get the tables by the windows. We ran into Laurie and family again and enjoyed the lovely brunch with them. We invited them to see our cabin after we were done eating and had a nice visit with them. At 2:00 p.m. we went to the Queen's Lounge to see Jeff Trachta. We had heard he had a great show the evening before. However, this afternoon was not another comedy show, but rather a look into his life. He described his struggle with depression and encouraged others to not give up if they suffer from this ailment. After Jeff's show was the Amsterdam Superstar Competition. The four finalists from the karaoke contests each performed two songs. Everyone did great. A passenger named Ray, who sang Frank Sinatra songs, was the overall winner. He really had an outstanding voice!! On another cruise I am sure any of the others would have had a chance at winning. We just had a very talented group. After dinner tonight we went to the Las Vega Nights show by the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. Once again it was a high energy program that we enjoyed very much. Aug. 18 Victoria: There has been sadness in the air lately. The passengers are expressing angst about the cruise coming to an end. It has been so easy to get used to having your meals prepared, your room cleaned, and your laundry done. All this on top of traveling in a very beautiful part of the world with those never ending majestic mountain ranges. Do we really have to get off the cruise ship tomorrow? Today was the only day we had trouble disembarking. We were supposed to meet our ship's tour at 12:20 on the dock. We got in line about 12:15 p.m. and didn't get off the ship until 1:00 p.m. There were quite a few grumbling passengers. Lesson to be learned: On days with later disembarking time, you will find that everyone is up and ready to go at the same time. Once we got off, we quickly found our tour bus. In a few minutes we were on our way to the Butterfly Gardens where we were given 45 minutes to tour. It was a lovely butterfly garden and I wished we had a little more time here. After the Butterfly Gardens we drove to Butchart Gardens which was just a few minutes away. We were given two hours here, but that was not enough either. Bob and I felt we needed a good three hours to do justice to the gardens. We had any excellent bus driver/tour guide. He provided a wealth of interesting information on both the trips out and back. Unfortunately he would not drop us off downtown, saying it was against policy. We found out later that other drivers did allow their passengers off downtown if they wanted. We took the CV shuttle back downtown and visited Miniature World. This was a fascinating museum which we enjoyed very much. We walked around downtown Victoria searching for gifts for the dog sitter and the flower sitter. With our gifts in tow, we headed back to the ship on the shuttle. Our evening tonight included our last dinner in the MDR, filling out the HAL cruise survey, packing, filling out those last post cards and journaling. It was sad to know this was our last day. What a great cruise it has been!!! Aug. 19 Seattle and heading home: First thing this morning I called Seattle Express as I had been instructed to do on my confirmation from them. Soon after I received a call from our airlines that our flight had been delayed an hour and a half. Now we had even more time before our flight...no stressing for us!!!! After giving our final good byes and hugs to our cabin stewards, we had a great last breakfast in the Lido. The Lido stayed open for a full breakfast later than they had posted. After breakfast we went back to the cabin and waited for our luggage tag color to be called. The gangway was on deck 3 which is the deck our cabin was located. This was nice so we didn't have to be concerned about using the elevators. We chose to roll our own luggage off the ship. We only had one suitcase each and our backpacks. Most people getting off were pulling a rollaway bag. We quickly found the Seattle Express Shuttle. They were in row R which is a bit far back, but not a big deal. We were soon on our way to the airport and we were the first passengers to be dropped off. I highly recommend Seattle Express. The online reservation was handled promptly. Payment is made the day of service and the staff and service were excellent. I learned about this service from some fellow cruisers who had used them last year and we were not disappointed. The Seattle airport is a large airport. For someone not used to traveling it could be overwhelming. We found the selection of shops and restaurants to be excellent, although we never found a comprehensive list of all restaurants. We would just find lists for each gate letter area. So, we did a lot of walking to find out what all the offerings were. We had lunch about 1:30 p.m. and then took the tram to our gate. Our flight left on time and we ended up being only an hour late instead of an hour and half. This vacation was everything I had hoped for and more!!! From the weather, to the scenery, to the outstanding cruise experience, we were just so pleased!!! As much as I would love to go back again soon, I think we will be looking to visit some of the places we have not yet been. Alaska is beautiful but there are many other beautiful places on this earth too and we would like to see some of those. If it works out, I would like to bring our children and grandchildren to Alaska someday, but that will not likely be for a few years when they are older and can truly appreciate the experience. Till next time.............. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
I found flying to Seattle the morning of our cruise VERY stressful and I recommend, if at all possible, that you arrive at least a day before your cruise if travel is involved... I was so worried about delays and cancellations, I even had ... Read More
I found flying to Seattle the morning of our cruise VERY stressful and I recommend, if at all possible, that you arrive at least a day before your cruise if travel is involved... I was so worried about delays and cancellations, I even had my cc buddies offering to send a life raft if the boat left without us! Fortunately, things went off wonderfully, and no life raft was needed. We booked our tickets independently and I was pleased to find HAL reps at the airport, welcoming cruisers and offering to transport us and our luggage by bus to the ship for a reasonable fee. Suite 7018 was ready when we arrived and our luggage arrived soon after. Sail away from Seattle was lovely. We explored the ship some, made new friends at trivia, received main seating dinner assignments (a note here: the four of us were at a table for six, and never received tablemates) and enjoyed the opening day welcomes, etc. The Neptune lounge is a suite oasis of comforts, concierge assist, snacks, & chatter. Sienna was always cheerfully able to assist with excursions, dining reservations, RSVP's and nearly anything else that might come up. Television allowed occasional reality checks with outside world, as well is calm lounging area for getting to know other passengers. However, I wish it had windows, and perhaps even more extended hours (7AM-8PM). Nevertheless, it is a perk, combined with the veranda, added cabin space, & comforts making a suite worthy of its additional expense. Please note however, you cannot bring non-suite guests to lounge, including kids sharing non suite cabins &/or other family members. Day 1- At sea, we had our Cruise Critic gathering. HAL sent reps and prepared a "gathering area" in Crow's Nest for a "private party" organized by one of our members from "roll call." If you have booked a cruise and have not signed up for your cc role call... what are you waiting for? We shared ideas, excitement, and bonded, making the gathering all that much more fun! After months of chatter, you are finally able to put a face to your travel buddies. This was also our first formal night, "The Captain's Gala Dinner". I loved seeing everybody jazzed up and we even took our first family portrait in many years! Those who hate dressing up had room service (or possibly the Lido?) as an option. Day 2: Our first port was Ketchikan. After wandering about town... we were off with the crew as "guests" on the Aleutian Ballad from Season 2 of "The Deadliest Catch". We listened to their Bering Sea tales and observed demos of prepping and using the crab cages and pots. Later they pulled up different cages and pots to show off their pre filled catches to teach us about them and to let us touch, & sometimes hold them. I loved this excursion and it actually left me with one of my favorite memories of the trip. They passed around a big crab for folks to hold and take photos with. After handing the crab off to my daughter, the handler was distracted and wandered off leaving, my daughter holding the crab! After a few minutes she was still standing there holding it while the rest of us laughed our heads off! Day 3- We cruised Tracy Arm. Beautiful. Many were disappointed we were not as close to the glaciers as we hoped, but sea & weather conditions left us without that option, and I was satisfied the captain's crew brought us as deep as they could. We dined this evening at The Pinnacle Grill. There is a $25pp surcharge, but it is worth it! We ate there twice, both times fantastic! Day 4- Juneau... we did not waste a moment! We wandered about some & then hopped aboard the Mt. Roberts tram for a quick lunch and views. We had booked a helicopter/airboat tour of Taku Glacier with Coastal Helicopters. Unfortunately, the boat pilot was unavailable due to weather troubles, and we were greeted dockside by their apologetic rep offering alternatives. My husband had his heart set on photographing Taku Glacier, and after some discussion, an itinerary was created to allow flying over, about, & landing on TAKU for a walk about. (It is one of the few glaciers still advancing.) If you have ever wondered what it feels like to stand on top of the world... stand on a glacier! Afterwards, we whale watched with Captain Larry from Orca Tours. This was our fourth outing with Captain Larry and as always, he knows how to "follow the pod". Day 5- Icy Straight Point: an old salmon cannery in Homer recreated as a cross between museum & shopping. Unfortunately it was a dreary day, so it was not long before we took the tender back to the ship. Tendering can be difficult for some & although the crew is always ready to assist, some stayed on board on tender days. For dinner we dined at Canaletto Restaurant, a small Italian venue off to the side of the Lido. I found it to be pleasant, & at no additional charge makes for a nice dinner alternative. (Be sure to toss the cotton candy into your after dinner coffee!) Day 6: At sea. There is no shortage of activities shipboard. Mass was offered daily. There were "Explorations" of "the world", "food & entertaining", "technology", & " well being"... and while I had fun in many options... for our gang- The SEA-P-R's- it was all about the trivia. They had 4 variations most days! We made friends at trivia we had fun with all cruise! The guest entertainment on the Amsterdam is fantastic & we always looked forward to a late dinner & show! Alas, the cast, while very talented, needs newer shows & several were repeats from cruises I journeyed on years earlier. This was also another formal night. Day 7: Anchorage: We rented a van and explored on our own. We drove out to the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood for the aerial tram allowing magnificent views & lunch. We drove about some more & ended up at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. A place to get close up to rescued native animals, it is a photographer's dream & many of the animal images you see in the Alaska brochures were taken here. Day 8: Homer: This is a port you either loved or hated for its small size and slightly eccentric character. We loved it! After walking past a frenzy of seagulls, we bought tickets to a jump on/jump off bus allowing 4 stops... My daughter and I chose to get off at the fourth stop and spend our time the beach, watching the hula hoops spin while the dogs chased Frisbees, while sipping lemonade sold by kids, and enjoying a snack at the most excellent Two Sisters' Bakery. My husband took a flight-seeing trip he enjoyed very much. Alas, rough seas lay ahead and The Master Chef's dinner was for many of us not meant to be... but rest of my family enjoyed the chefs parade, music & fun. Day 9: Kodiak: Some hated this sleepy town with its indifference to tourism. I LOVED IT! We wandered about & simply breathed in Alaskan life. It is a long walk to town from the dock & many chose tours and/or taxis. We took a one hour tour with a driver we found dock side, in which we managed to explore nearly all of Homer, including it's coastal studies center with a touch tank, while listening to our driver's stories of life in such an unconventional town. We explored a bit more on foot and walked back to the ship. Day 10 was a sea day with a very "rocky" start, which we spent experiencing the beauty of Hubbard Glacier. Although it was a rainy, nasty day, the skies opened to welcome us and the seas were calm while we floated by in awe. There was much calving & we were surrounded by satisfied explorers on the top deck! Day 11: Sitka: we have visited Sitka many times and love it here. A rainy day left many deciding to stay on board. It is a pedestrian-friendly port with historic sights, tourist shopping, local crafts & strolling along the piers. Day 12: Our final day at Sea... and reality of our vacation nearing its end permeates through all of us. There was plenty to do on board, or one could simply enjoy the sights and chat with new friends. The fourth & final formal night is also a black & white ball. The Crow's nest is decorated prom-like for this fancy party encouraging passenger/ crew interaction. Although on this particular voyage the population was older making many social gatherings a bit harder for the baby boomers & younger... it eventually got going & I think fun was had by all who chose to have fun. Day 13: Victoria ended up our family favorite. Partially because of the day's glorious weather... but mostly because of timing. We disembarked as a man showed up in his classic Ford 1954 Sunliner & set out on an open air touring adventure. We visited Victoria 's beautiful views, such as the castle, neighborhoods, and parks. As we passed deer grazing in folks' gardens and peacocks wandering parkside, we waved to locals admiring our ride. Day 14, or is it 15... Disembarkation in Seatle was simple and well organized. I had stressed over return home flight times, and after advice never to book before noon, we stayed on in Seattle overnight. While some were still waiting for their group to be called, as suite passengers, we could disembark whenever we were ready, so we did, and we were assisted by eager luggage valets, grabbed a taxi dockside and headed off to our hotel. If you are in a suite I do not think even an 11AM flight would be a problem... but of course, things happen. Day 15: I CANNOT BELIEVE SEATTLE HAS A HEMP FESTIVAL! Our hotel was shoreside, with the Beatles suite next door, (that famous room where they fished out the hotel window) and the massive hempfest down a block or two. We explored the sights, including the space needle and the EMP & Sci-Fi Museum. We left early next morning for a surprisingly non-eventful or delayed airport & flight. DAY 16: .... Are there really signs of life beyond the mounds of laundry??? OK... if you have survived this lengthy review and have further questions, feel free to ask away... Until next time... Happy sails to you Robyn Hello, Cruise Critic Citizens, this is Deandra. I'm Robyn's twenty-year-old daughter, and I'm offering my ever-so-youthful perspective on the cruise. I had a great time. The average age of this cruise was pretty old, honestly, but this wasn't such a bad thing. The people I met on board were legitimately awesome. They were very kind, and had fascinating stories to tell. The downside of this was that I generally did feel like I didn't quite belong. The young kids all flock together in Club HAL, and the teenagers go to the Loft. I look younger than I am (everyone from the juggler/comedian to our room steward assumed I was about twelve), and when I met people I thought were my age, they were almost always Loft-aged. No offense to the high schoolers though, the people I met were neat. I spent the great majority of time either alone or with my family. Honestly, this was a family vacation, and I preferred actually being with my family to totally branching out and never seeing them, so I guess this was pretty ideal. The Neptune Lounge was pretty cool, and was the location of most of the in depth conversations I had with older strangers. I also spent a lot of the time in the Crow's Nest with my family and the friends we made, because we are hideously addicted to trivia games. Trivia games can actually fill a lot of time, just so you know, and we learned a lot of random fluff. Also, what wouldn't a sane person do for Holland America pins? The Amsterdam's cast and crew could probably benefit from some new shows? I went to most of their performances, and I don't regret it, but I spent a lot of the show feeling bad for the cast for having to wear so many sequins. The talent that HAL brought on was amazing. Ronn Lucas is this big time ventriloquist who I would actually go out of my way to see performing in the real world. We also got to see a performer called Jeff Trachta, who was amazingly talented. It's really neat to be on the ship, just wandering around, and run into people like juggler and talk to them. I liked that experience. As a practicing Catholic, I was grateful that HAL provides a priest onboard their ships. It made life a lot easier, and it made the trip much more meaningful. Alaska's beauty comes from God. It's somewhat nice to remember that while we're actually there. I loved seeing the Orthodox churches in Kodiak and Sitka. They were amazing, and I had some really enjoyable and informational conversations with the people who worked in the church in Sitka, and with the gift shop lady in Kodiak. The morning we spent in Kodiak was probably my favorite. I loved the little wildlife center/museum thing. Since we've been to Alaska many times, we skipped most of the nature-lectures, and this was about as informational about nature as anything got for me. The Baranhov Museum has some work going on around it, but if you follow the signs it is still accessible. It was a small, charming, and informative museum. It's this really old house that's been around for ages, and you can see the original wallpaper and woodwork in some parts. It deals with natural life in the area, as well as with the early Russian influence. Homer is covered in fireweed, and the beach was pretty charming. I didn't see much of the area, but it was probably really worth seeing. I liked our family outing in Anchorage the best (probably more detailed in my mom's post), because in renting a car and just driving out of town, it kind of felt like we were runaways, or at home and taking a daytrip. It didn't really fit in with the cruise, and it made you feel more like a normal person, or a legitimate explorer. There it is then, that's my briefish but honest review of the Amsterdam. Good times were had by mostly all, I met about 5 other people around my brother's and my age group (all within the last 3 days or so, of course), and whales are still awesome. Ciao, internet people. Deandra Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
We are an Australian couple in our early 60's and fans of Southern Gospel music, so when we saw that this years Gaither Homecoming Cruise was once again to Alaska, we quickly signed up for the 7 day Seattle to Seattle cruise on the Ms ... Read More
We are an Australian couple in our early 60's and fans of Southern Gospel music, so when we saw that this years Gaither Homecoming Cruise was once again to Alaska, we quickly signed up for the 7 day Seattle to Seattle cruise on the Ms Amsterdam. Our home town of Tamworth NSW is a long, long way from Seattle so after a 6 hour train trip to Sydney, over-night at our daughter's and a 14 hour flight to Vancouver that was extended to 17 hours due to having to turn back to Sydney because of a faulty oven switch and then a 40 minute connecting flight to Seattle, we finally arrived the day prior to sailing. We had a very comfortable overnight stay at the Warwick in downtown Seattle and was able to ride the monorail and ascend the Space Needle before heading to Pier 91. Embarkation was busy, but orderly and after arriving dockside at 12:30, we were eating in the Lido(chaotic) by 1:30. Our cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck was ready on boarding and our luggage arrived between lunch and Emergency drill. Sail away was in beautiful fine weather, but this was to change to fog and overcast rainy conditions for the next day at sea. Due to the limited seating arrangements in the "Queen's Lounge", the ship's passenger compliment was divided into the "Blue Group" and the "Red Group". This is all pre-arranged around your dining preference. We had nominated the 8:00pm sitting, so we were in the "Blue Group". Others didn't get their preference as the numbers had to balance. The first "Blue Group" concert was almost straight after deck drill and what a concert it was. Additional artists to those advertised,like The Hoppers, were on board, so we were doubly blessed. The singing was magnificent, throughout the cruise, with heaps of comedy and laughter. On the mornings of the "at sea" days we enjoyed additional mini concerts featuring 5 or 6 of the artist and special events like Reggie & Lady Love Smith,s cabaret and the "Key note speaker" Andy Andrews, were also interspersed during the cruise. Each colour group was further subdivided into "priority" groups who enjoyed front row seats for two of the many concerts. There was a bookstore open at various times that enabled us to meet and mingle with the artist as we bought their CD's and DVD's. A special "Meet the Gaither Vocal Band" was held for both the Reds and the Blues where autographs and photos could be obtained. I took this opportunity to get some "Station ID's" for our local Christian radio station, Rhema FM. Occasionally we bumped into one of the "stars" in the run of the ship, but generally they kept to themselves. One highlight of the cruise for me was a "Gospel Sing-a-long" one evening when we sang some of the great old christian hymns and songs. Each morning at 7:45, one of the Homecoming group led a time of devotions, which where well attended, but on shore days they where a bit hard to fit in. However we could always catch them on the continuous loop TV screening, throughout the day. The food over all was excellent, with breakfast and lunch in the Lido plentiful, although we did try the Main Dinning Room on a couple of occasions for these meals and enjoyed the extra service. Our evening meals in the MDR were very good and although the serves were fairly small, we certainly had sufficient. We were at a table of 8 and really enjoyed the company and interaction, although we didn't all attend each night. Some were sea sick the second night out. My DW and I dined at "The Pinnacle" one night and this was superb. Our shore excursions were; Juneau: Town & Mendenhall Glacier tour. (Self organised on the pier). This was very good and allowed us to explore the town afterwards although it was drizzling rain which aborted our proposed ride on the Roberts Street Tramway. Sitka:HAL booked "Sea Otter and Wildlife Tour". Very relaxing on a lovely fine morning where we saw a small humpback whale, many sea otters and a black bear on a distant shore. We also experienced a full breech of another humpback.Ketchikan: As we only had a short stay here, we opted to just walk the town on another perfect summers day. However one couple somehow didn't make it back to the ship in time and were left stranded. Victoria: Again a pre-booked tour, this time to the beautiful Butchart Gardens. This we loved and would have liked to have spent more daylight time there, but the evening arrival of the Amsterdam prohibits this.Seattle: We booked a post "Seattle by land and sea" tour which enabled us to have our luggage with us and taken to the airport. This tour was fine, but only drove past "Pike's Market", without us going in. The Ms Amsterdam was excellent, the service great and our cabin well located and comfortable. The casino was closed down and very little bar trade, but drinks could be ordered with our meals. Disembarkation was swift once our allocation was called, although this was later than the time slot stated. All in all a very enjoyable cruise with the Homecoming concerts being the highlight for me. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
To introduce ourselves: we are an active couple from Virginia in our early sixties celebrating our anniversary. This was our first HAL cruise and our second trip to Alaska. We like to walk, are pretty low maintenance and chose this cruise ... Read More
To introduce ourselves: we are an active couple from Virginia in our early sixties celebrating our anniversary. This was our first HAL cruise and our second trip to Alaska. We like to walk, are pretty low maintenance and chose this cruise mostly for the itinerary. It did not disappoint us! CC did not steer us wrong either with the tips from fellow cruisers! Thank you. Pre-cruise we stayed at the Seattle Pioneer Square Courtyard Marriot—small room, but nicely decorated, clean and convenient location. We were able to walk to Pike's Market and to the harbor for dinner as well as through the shopping and University District. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. We used Seattle Shuttle for transportation. Embarkation was as quick and pleasant as could be imagined once we got our bags inside. There were no porters or carts available to assist. Thank heavens we could manage by ourselves. The Port of Seattle could take lessons from Baltimore where porters take your luggage right out of your trunk and get it packed as you drive through! Our room was ready when we arrived onboard about 12:15. Luggage was delivered when we returned from lunch on the Lido deck. How do they do that so quickly! We had lots of storage space and a small tub in our bath. I liked our location on the Lower Promenade deck. Our Meet and Greet was held in the Crow's Nest on the first sea day with about 40 people attending. Wendy, the organizer, had door prizes and a scavenger hunt. She also had purchased lanyards to hold key cards for everyone who wanted one. Nice touches, Wendy! I was surprised that no one from management attended since they had attended previous M & G on Royal Caribbean. The ship's layout is easy to navigate. Some things we loved besides the itinerary: the library! , the warm pool, seldom waiting for an elevator, orchids in the Lido and other flower arrangements, computer classes with lots of photography tips, glacier viewing from the bow, aft decks on the sixth and seventh floors, and the filet at the Pinnacle. The entertainment was okay—daily movies, activities seemed to be geared to the older crowd and we aren't that young! We weren't impressed with the Amsterdam singers and dancers or the piano bar, but the HAL Cats are terrific. Several very good shows: gymnast Lance Reingold, puppeteer Michael Ziegfeld, and impersonator/singer Jeff Tracta. Be sure to check out the Crows Nest for the view, the Black and White Ball and happy hour specials. The food and service were good to very good. We ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck or by the pool. You are served the first few days to avoid the spreading of disease. Portions in the dining room were on rather small, but beautifully presented. And we never left hungry! Salmon was always good and prepared a variety of ways. There was a salmon bake on the Lido deck one afternoon during a sea day. Pea soup and hot toddies were available during glacier viewing. Crab cakes were delicious. Baked Alaska was available every night. Desserts, generally, were okay, but not the highlight of the meal. The Pinnacle is quite special from the menu to the service. Interestingly, our table at the 8pm sitting with one other couple was hosted by a ship's officers three of the four formal nights. We have never had an officer join us before on any of our previous cruises. We found their company to be delightful, and we learned about life at sea from different perspectives. The first formal night the ship's doctor and her husband joined us. The second formal night the head of HR joined us and on the fourth formal night the First Officer (third in command) joined our table. Each officer had fascinating stories to tell. The ship provided bottles of wine for the table each of the three nights. Ironically, neither our tablemates nor we drink wine, but we did sip at it to be polite. I kept thinking of all the people who would have loved the complimentary wine—we liked the company better! Our weather was wonderful. We saw whales and dolphin along the entire trip. In Ketchikan we went fishing and caught several kinds of salmon, then explored town. Don't miss Creek Street. Tracy Arm cruising was spectacular! The bow of the ship is definitely the place to be—it cuts down on the breeze and maximizes the view. But layer and dress warmly-you are floating in ice water! In Juneau we had a 75 degree day and took the tram to Mt. Roberts ($27 pp), hiked, then took the "blue bus" ($8 each) to Mendenhall Glacier where we hiked. The local children were swimming in the lake by the icebergs on the beautiful summer day. The water was COLD—in the forties, but they didn't care. Great day! Icy Straight Point was about 55 degrees with clouds. This is the one port where we purchased an excursion through the ship. Local vendors' prices were the same as the ship. We went on the Wildlife and Bear Hunt (with an armed guard). The taller participants did see one massive male bear at a distance. Being of short stature, I saw an incredible picture of him. Loved the narrated tour by Donna, a member of the Raven Clan, saw the Bulldog from the Deadliest Catch, had delicious halibut and chips and viewed a humpback bubble feeding from the shore. People who went whale watching had an incredible day with their excursions. I liked the quaint, non-commercialized town. The weather gods were on our side again in Anchorage. We rented a car and headed for Seward, stopping along the way for the spectacular scenery. With an 11 pm departure, we had plenty of time for a leisurely day of sightseeing, exploring Seward, and the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. The melting water was rushing over the road near the entrance to the park, creating a spectacle of its own. Note: our GPS did not work in Alaska, after dragging it all the way from Virginia! No problem, the maps and the signs were enough. Not many cabs are available at the port and the one returning us had never been there before since it is a secure port. Complimentary shuttle service is available to and from the Egan Center downtown. We used the cab because we needed to get to the airport for the rental car. Cars rented from downtown had to be returned by 5 pm. Unbelievable—a sunny day in Homer! The temperatures were in the mid fifties and it was very windy. We enjoyed walking the spit, the beach and watching the fishermen. We caught the free bus back to the ship and soaked the tired muscles in the hot tub. I would love to return with more time to spend here—on another sunny day. Even in Kodiak the sun greeted us for a while. It was chilly and a long walk into town. There are cabs available and a bus for mobility impaired people. We choose to walk by the fish processing plants, to the Russian Orthodox Church, across to Near Island to the North End Park for a nice nature hike. Had to hit the hot tubs again! This evening was a formal night with the Dessert Extravaganza at 10:30—chocolate fountains, ice carvings, and the works. Couldn't resist the chocolate and the peach cobbler with vanilla sauce was delicious. Hubbard Glacier was spectacular. We were able to get quite close to the glacier unlike earlier in the season. Two park rangers and three locals joined the ship to narrate and answer questions. We viewed the glacier from the bow of the ship again. Seals were floating on the icebergs and the glacier put on a show with frequent calving. There is nothing quite like that sound! We tendered in Sitka in a cloudy, intermittent light mist. We were able to walk the town, visit St. Michael's Church where two bald eagles were perched on the steeple and walk to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center ($12 pp entry, and worth it!). We enjoyed the Totem Park and the National Historical Park. And more eagles than any other port. Would like to return! In Victoria the sun was shining and about 60 degrees. What a nice walking city with beautiful landscaping everywhere we looked. We walked to Fisherman's Wharf where lots of activities are available -whale watching, kayaking, restaurants and lovely houseboats. This is another port where I would like to spend more time. Disembarkation was well organized, and on schedule. Our statement was correct and delivered by the time we went for breakfast. We remained in our room and relaxed until they called our group. All in all, it was a great vacation. Heading back home to triple digit temperatures! Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
This holiday was taken as part of celebrations for my wife's 50th birthday. We flew to Seattle from Sydney and stayed at the Double-tree Arctic Club Hotel for 3 nights. The weather was just fantastic in a place known for rain. Seattle ... Read More
This holiday was taken as part of celebrations for my wife's 50th birthday. We flew to Seattle from Sydney and stayed at the Double-tree Arctic Club Hotel for 3 nights. The weather was just fantastic in a place known for rain. Seattle was a great place to explore for a few days and we can hardly wait to go back. The highlights were the Pike Public Markets, the waterfront, the CBD, and the list goes on. The pier used for boarding was modern and efficient. It's location just outside the city gave us a good view of the city and the space needle. Sail away was smooth although there was no hint of a sail away party that are seen on other cruise lines. Sailing through the inside passage was spectacular, and that was only barely the beginning of the trip. The scenery was stunning with the beautiful water way, the high mountains and snow-capped peaks. It was all the more enjoyable because there were a lot of smaller watercraft enjoying the water. Our ports of call included (in no particular order) Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, Kodiak, Icy Strait Point, Homer, Hubbard Glacier, Sawyer Glacier and Victoria BC. We can not say anything other than wow! Every place visited has its own character and charm. We loved the float plane flight over the misty fjords national park near Ketchikan (a must do), Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau was beautiful, Hubbard and Sawyer Glaciers were spectacular. the whales in Icy Strait Point were very active and continuously breaching.Homer was quiet and charming. The spit had a couple of great crab places. Kodiak had a small but interesting museum and a picturesque marina. Finally Sitka, was small but beautiful and the trip to see sea otters and other wildlife was fascinating. With the exception of one, the excursions were purchased from the cruise line. No complaints at all. We were well taken care off in every respect. The ship was well-sized with only about 1200-1300 people aboard. The food in the dining was very good quality. The staff were extremely courteous and helpful. We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and dream of the day when we can go back. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
Background. Family has taken five previous cruises (twice to Alaska on NCL and Carnival, Panama Canal on Disney, Mexican Riviera on Princess, and Caribbean on Disney), and this Holland America cruise was the best. Considering everything, ... Read More
Background. Family has taken five previous cruises (twice to Alaska on NCL and Carnival, Panama Canal on Disney, Mexican Riviera on Princess, and Caribbean on Disney), and this Holland America cruise was the best. Considering everything, would rate Carnival as o.k., NCL and Princess as good, Disney as better, and HAL as best. Pro's - excellent service, every staff person made it their goal to make you happy - great itinerary (Seattle, Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Hubbard Glacier, Sitka, Victoria) - nearly a full day (8hrs plus) at every port - food was very good to excellent throughout the cruise - real ice cream (Ben & Jerry quality) and fresh cookies available most hours - the ship never "felt" crowded, very different from other cruise lines - never hounded to purchase anything, but staff were always there if you wanted something (drinks, photos, etc.) - fitness center was very nice, up to date, and never crowded - the staff didn't "expect" tips, and were very gracious when received Con's - entertainment was adequate (very good 4 nights, o.k. the other nights) - tender service (two ports) was a little slower than experience on other cruise lines Ship. The Amsterdam was a very nice ship, a little older, but well cared for, and had no problems at all. Plenty of open areas, and numerous places with beautiful views (including the bow of the ship). Two pools, one in a large window enclosed area where the roof opened when appropriate; along with all the other normal cruise stuff (basket ball court, smash ball tennis court, deck chess, shuffle board, etc.). The crew is what made the ship though; in every location they went out of their way to do whatever they could to make you happy and satisfied. Activities. Plenty of activities, presented every day in the "Explorer" with a tear off schedule that you could easily take with you. My wife loved all the cooking related educational type activities and the kitchen tours. Many of the activities were educational in nature, but there were plenty of others just for fun (like the beer tasting that I thoroughly enjoyed). Service. It was GREAT, I can't say enough about the consistent excellent service provided. The room stewards were excellent, wait staff (early dining, assigned table, same waiters every night) were excellent, and like I said before everyone went out of their way to take good care of you. Port & Shore Excursions. Very good itinerary, we took the following excursions, most booked outside of Holland America directly with the tour operator. Ketchikan - Misty Fjords Floatplane (SeaWind Aviation), was good, very well organized, and did everything as expected. Juneau - Glacier Dog Sled Adventure (ERA Helicopters), excellent, helicopter to glacier, intro to musher and dogs, quick lesson, then out mushing. Everyone got a turn to control the sled, small groups (normally four to a group), our family had one sled and musher to ourselves with 11 dogs doing the work. Surprising how much power they have. Highly recommended. Icy Strait Point - whale watching and ZipRider (booked through Holland America). Both excursions were good. ZipRider was fast, but up the hill, a mile long zip ride down (~1 minute), very fast and exciting. Whale watching was very good, boat was about half capacity, extremely close to whales. Crew is smart; they can't power to within 100 yards of the whales, but they anticipate where the whales are going, move the boat their, and the whales come up right beside you (in our case less than 10 yards on multiple occasions). They are so close that the blow is very loud and startles you at times (even when you are expecting it). A very good location where the humpback whales feed, and just hang around this one location; we powered there, and stayed there the whole time, saw 30-40 whales up close and personal. Recommended. Anchorage - Redoubt Bay Bear Viewing (Rust's Flying Service). Excellent, highly recommended. Float plan to Redoubt Bay, lunch, then on to pontoon boats for bear viewing. Again, they know what you are there for, took us to a salmon staging area (getting ready to swim upstream), and we just watched the wild bears (black and brown) come down to the little bay, wade in the water for salmon, get the salmon in their mouth, get out of the water, eat the fish, and go back for more until they were full. It was amazing, watching the bears. At first I was nervous being so close (less than 10 yards from the wild bears) even though we were in the boat, but the bears just ignored us and went about getting their food. Victoria - Grand City Drive & Empress High Tea. My wife and daughter enjoyed and recommend this excursion; fun to do at least one time. Stateroom. Our staterooms, one for the boys and one for the girls (ocean view on deck 2) were fine and met our needs. Plenty of room and storage space, bathroom was nice, good water pressure and no problems with the toilet, showers, sinks, etc. Showers have three dispensers (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) and the products were all of good quality (per my wife), along with the bar soaps and lotion on the sink. The room stewards made the staterooms magical though. They (two) would visit our cabins three times a day, always noticing when we were and weren't there (only once in 14 days did they knock when anyone was in the room). They would make up the room when we went to breakfast, check it just after lunch, and then turn down the sheets at night. Each visit they would replenish everything, and straighten up (my son tends to be a slob, and they even kept his things looking nice and neat). They truly went above and beyond the call of duty. Dining. The food was very good to excellent, and the wait staff were truly excellent. We had a fixed dining time and table, the waiters quickly learned what we liked and anticipated our requests. We had early dining, and we never had to wait long for anything (well, almost never, one time we waited ~15 minutes for our dinner entree, never did know what happened, but the waiters were apologetic and the food was good when it finally came). We ate a sit down breakfast most every morning in the main dining room, buffet lunch by the pool, and assigned dinner. Overall very happy and satisfied with the quality of food and excellent service. Portions seemed to be smaller than on other cruises, but that is a good thing, as you could always get more (which we did a few times with dessert). Kids and I really enjoyed the ice cream and cookie bar (again, real ice cream), and my wife enjoyed the fresh squeezed orange juice every morning, and thought the soups throughout the cruise were the best she ever had. We all had pea soup on the glacier viewing days, it was really good (my kids typically dislike soup, but the even enjoyed it). Kid's Clubs. My daughter (age=10) really enjoyed herself at Club HAL, staff were excellent, comparable to the Disney cruise, and they always had something going on. My son on the other hand (age=12, a couple of weeks shy of age=13) did not like it. Problem was the age grouping, age 10-12, so he was in the same age group as my daughter; thought he was "too old" to be with the kids. I felt for him, but nothing to be done. However, we ended up doing more things together (ping pong, chess, board games, etc.), so that was a plus as far as that goes. Entertainment. Not quite up to other cruises, but not a big deal to me, still enjoyed the performances most evenings. Four nights were very good, the others were o.k., and one was not very good at all. They had a new movie showing every day throughout the day, and showed it on TV the next day. Also had performances in the various lounges (Crow's Nest had the best). Embarkation/Disembarkation. Holland America has embarkation/disembarkation down to a science, very fast getting on and off the ship. We were on the ship and our stateroom was ready around noon when boarding (luggage wasn't there until ~1pm); and when leaving, waited for last call to disembark (had a little time to kill before our flight home, and would rather spend it on the ship than at the airport). Walked straight off with our luggage, no waiting at all. Bottom Line. Excellent cruise, very happy with Holland America and out visit to Alaska. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
We are not new to cruising. This was our fourth cruise to Alaska. We chose HAL because we wanted to got to Kodiak Island. We knew before leaving that we would probably be some of the youngest cruisers on board at 64 and 66, and we were. We ... Read More
We are not new to cruising. This was our fourth cruise to Alaska. We chose HAL because we wanted to got to Kodiak Island. We knew before leaving that we would probably be some of the youngest cruisers on board at 64 and 66, and we were. We found the staff, except for 4 or 5 young men to be stiff. There appeared to be a definite caste system between the Phillipine and Indonesian personnel. The formal service was nice, but lacked warmth. The food left a lot to be desired. If you wanted beef, you got it well done, regardless of how you ordered it. Even the large rounds were well done and dry to the bone. There was not a lot of variety in desserts. Same dessert, different flavor each night in the dining room. Coffee was very strong to some. We enjoyed the company of the ship's Navigator at our table on one formal night. He was very nice,served very good wine, and was a gentleman in every way. That was the highlight of our dining experiences. The ship was very clean. Our stateroom was very comfortable. I guess I missed the more relaxed interaction with the staff. The ships route left a lot to be desired. We ended up sailing in the Gulf of Alaska instead of the Inside Passage for most of the trip and it was extremely rough seas even for the experienced cruisers. We have never experienced rough water like this on any of our previous Alaskan cruises. The ports were less than enjoyable. Homer is a fishing port, and the population makes it well known to visitors. The shuttles provided by HAL were school buses, which were okay, however, the shuttle stops were very far apart, not marked well,driver lacked basic knowledge about the area, and the map that we were given was less than ideal. I would have preferred skipping Homer to arrive in Kodiak on Saturday instead of Sunday. When we arrived in Kodiak we were told that it was a short walk to the town. Maybe in length, but it was straight up hill and was further than we were led to believe. When our excursion was over, and it was a wonderful surprise because not enough information was given in the description by HAL, we went shopping. The only transportation was a handicapped bus with only about 12 seats. When we arrived in town almost everything was closed because it was Sunday. We found a grocery store with a little of everything and finally two small shops well hidden on a side street. There was never enough information. We were used to having a Naturalist on board that kept us informed of marine life from beginning to end of cruise. She also informed us of other important facts about what we were seeing as we were cruising all during the daytime hours. This did not happen on this ship. On the other cruises the Cruise Director notified us of things going on all around the ship during the daytime. This Cruise Director made very few announcements. Using the tenders was terribly unorganized and took almost an hour after we arrived in the Queens Lounge to wait for transportation. Announcements about where the gang plank was located for disembarkation at all ports, including Seattle, were not made. People were wandering around on three decks looking for the exit. The weather was wonderfully cool, and some rain which is the Alaska that we love. My husband and I are very independent and we make our own fun. We wanted to go to Kodiak, and we did. The port would have been better on another day of the week, but we loved the island. What we have learned, we will not sail on the Holland American Line again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
On June 10 I was off to cruise Alaska. I cruise Alaska on the World explorer cruise line back in the 90's. I was on deck sailing out of Seattle with tears in my eyes. It had taken me years to get back to Alaska. I breezed through ... Read More
On June 10 I was off to cruise Alaska. I cruise Alaska on the World explorer cruise line back in the 90's. I was on deck sailing out of Seattle with tears in my eyes. It had taken me years to get back to Alaska. I breezed through check-in. I was on board and in my cabin in less than a hour and the only reason it took that long was because they took a large crowd before the regular passengers. My room a inside was large I was surprised how big. I had more room than I need. I was to travel with a friend but she got very ill two weeks before the cruise. I meat my two cabin stewards. the ship is beautiful. I could not believe this wonderful ship was moving at times. I spent most of my time outdoors. the scenery was unbelievable and breathtaking. I went to lunch wow I am going be eating here for 14 nights. I really do not have any complaints about this cruise one small complaint was in digital workshop. The teacher had no print outs. His excuse was he could not get to printer. I would have thought if he knew he would be teaching a class he would have had the print outs all ready before the cruise. I will be booking this cruise next year. I did not do much of programs they offered because I wanted to be out doors. Also after a few days I knew I would be back the following year so I did not do any tours. Yes I missed a lot of important and great stuff the ship was running inside but I was drawn out side. I could continue to write and write about this cruise but I be writing forever. Take this cruise you will not be sorry. The only thing bad about this cruise was after 14 days I had to leave and return home with no one to pamper me. Mary Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
BACKGROUND: I am an experienced cruiser (not counting that I am retired Navy). I have been on 15 cruises (on six different cruise lines). I have been to Alaska six times (a different itinerary every time). And I have sailed on HAL twice ... Read More
BACKGROUND: I am an experienced cruiser (not counting that I am retired Navy). I have been on 15 cruises (on six different cruise lines). I have been to Alaska six times (a different itinerary every time). And I have sailed on HAL twice before (Maasdam and Volendam). My basic philosophy is it's not the ship that makes the cruise but the itinerary and that's why we chose MS Amsterdam - it went to three ports we've never cruised to before (Anchorage, Homer & Kodiak), three "ports" we've only been to once (Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm, and Icy Strait Point) and two of our favorite ports (Sitka and Juneau). SUMMARY: The itinerary is a winner. The ship was a disappointment. Thus, the overall cruise experience was excellent. BOARDING: Friends met us at Sea-Tac airport and we went to the revolving restaurant at the Space Needle for lunch. I was surprised to find that the food was excellent. After rubber-necking at the view, we arrived rather late at the Pier 91 Terminal. Man, this is the way to board! There were no lines anywhere and my wife and I literally walked straight through to the ship. PORTS OF CALL: Ketchikan. I'm not a big fan of Ketchikan and nothing we saw or did there this time changed that opinion. The main positive about this town is the ability to easily walk back and forth to Creek Street. Tracy Arm. Glorious weather! We got to the mouth of the North Sawyer Glacier before turning back, so never saw the face of South Sawyer Glacier. That was a big disappointment since we got to within half a mile of it last August and it has some of the most beautiful blues of any glacier in Alaska. Given the weather, my opinion is that the Amsterdam's captain is a wuss. Juneau. Beautiful weather in the high 70s. We've done the helicopter dog sled on the glacier, we've done the sea/land photo safari, we've done the whale watching. Each of these was fabulous. This time we did the raft trip down the Mendenhall River. Overall, a good trip, BUT, there were too many people on the raft making it exceedingly cramped and uncomfortable and it was way too long gently floating on the river. The "rapids" are child's play. Consequently, I doubt we'll ever do it again, but seeing mama bear and her cub on the bank was cool. Icy Strait Point. After seeing the zip line our first time there we knew we HAD to do it this time around. It did not disappoint. A totally awesome ride and will do it again. 45 minute drive up the mountain to the launch point (1,300 ft high "hill") and a 90 second ride at 60 mph to sea level. Woo-hoo! And, yes, you really do need that zip shot at the bar when you land! Many mumblings among fellow passengers about going to a dinky town with nothing to do and I think they are all wet. This is one of the few chances to see a "real" native town - without the jewelry stores and souvenir shops. It's also a chance to see some wildlife, BUT, be forewarned that the wildlife does not emerge until mid-June. Any wildlife excursion before then is just stealing your money. Anchorage. We have been there before on the train, but I am not interested in going to Alaska to see a big city. So, we took the 10 hour train ride down the Kenai peninsula. Excellent ride, but a bit long. Breathtaking scenery, some glaciers (but no stopping) and the occasional bear. Homer. Wanted to see wildlife, so we took the boat excursion to Gull Island. Saw more gulls than I ever care to see again. Good tour, but not worth the price. Plus, the boat was VERY cramped. Our naturalist was Janet Klein who has written at least three books on Homer and Kachemak Bay (still don't know why she didn't bring some aboard to sell), so we had to scramble through the gift shops on the spit to finally find one). Look for her books, they are interesting. Also saw the Time Bandit of Deadliest catch fame. Homer is its home port. And the Time Bandit has its own t-shirt and souvenir shop on the spit. Kodiak. Biggest disappointment was that there are no bears in the area. They are all the way south in the preserve. So, settled for a sea life boat ride. Saw otters, sea lions, eagles, puffins and even caught a rock fish just to show off the local fishing grounds. It was a "nice" excfursion, but overpriced. There is no shuttle service in Kodiak and for a boat full of old people that was a problem. There were almost shootouts for the few cabs that came by. Another Deadliest Catch ship was here, but I forget the name. Hubbard Glacier. Another gloriously beautiful day and the captain would not come any closer than four miles to the glacier, confirming that he's a wuss. We managed to get some ok shots with our humongous rent-a-lens but the average passenger could neither hear the glacier nor see any activity. Sitka. Again beautiful sunny weather in the high 60s. Quite a contrast to last August when it rained all day. We did the Tongass rain forest hike. It was a much more difficult trail than the literature indicated and although we persevered (and survived) anyone with any health issues should not go on this tour. We actually went to the Mosquito Cove loop (nowhere near town) for the hike. The forest was gorgeous and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna (and the Russians). The hidden secret about Sitka is that you can take the local city bus for two dollars per person on a one hour loop around Sitka and see the whole city. You can even hop-on hop-off. Victoria. We belong to the Whale Museum on Friday Harbor, so, of course, we went whale watching. Unfortunately, J pod was not in, but we did see two transients, T-20 and T-21. We've been to Victoria numerous times and for the first time learned that there is a quaint "floating village" at Fisherman's Wharf. Lots of fish'n'chips joints there. DEBARKATION. Overall, it went smoothly once it finally started. For whatever reason, the ship seemed reluctant to announce what was going on and what the status of things was - not the first time that happened during the cruise. We did the "luggage direct" option and it went perfectly. I would do it again in a heartbeat. SHIP'S STAFF. The wait staff was totally perfunctory. No interaction with the guests and no "flair" in their duties. The room stewards were friendly but inefficient. They were tardy in making up our room, they did not replace used items in a timely fashion and I'm sorry, but I'm past the "towels animals are cutesy" stage. For "big events" (bingo, happy hour, etc.) the bar staff was undermanned, leading to long waits to first get their attention and then get served. Cruise Director Jimmy was a hoot. Travel Guide Jeanette was very informative. FOOD. A giant disappointment. Dining Room. We had second sitting in La Fontaine Dining room. I'm really tired of executive chefs trying to jazz up a perfectly good meal into some kind of nightly dining extravaganza. To me, it results in overdoing a perfectly good meal. What's wrong with meat loaf or chicken fried steak? We never got a steak served the way we ordered it (medium rare). They always came medium well. We sent them back at first and finally gave in and just ate what we could. Crab night was disappointing as the portions were those of an appetizer. Overall the portions were smaller than I recalled, but since we can all use a bit of dieting discretion, I used that as my excuse to pass on seconds. Our Table Captain did promise to make crème brulee for "our table" one night and he did. For the six of us, he brought three dishes. Huh? To make up for it, he grabbed two more pre-made dishes from the Pinnacle Grill. How does 5 = 6? Frankly, my wife makes better crème brulee. They should pay her to use her recipe. Lido Buffet. Our late dining sitting was not full, but the Lido buffet was heavily used - I think a testament to the fact that even the old folks are getting tired of the dining room cuisine. The Lido "system" (if I can call it that) was one of organized chaos. The few servers behind the counter (there were never enough) could not keep up with the demand. I love sandwiches for lunch. The one guy who makes them is swamped. On average it probably took 10-15 minutes to get a sandwich (which also led to people trying to butt in line from the other end). There does not seem to be any rationale for the way the buffet line is organized - it's just a bunch of random stations with the result that people line up all over the place without really knowing where the line actually is. And then, just try to find a seat to eat your meal! By the time you finish your third or fourth circle of the seating area, your food is cold. Finally, in the category of "weird/puzzling" is the buffet's operating hours. Due to our rafting trip being so long in Juneau, we got back to the ship about 8:45 and found that the buffet was closed. There was no where on the ship to eat at that hour. Since the ship wasn't leaving until 10:30 p.m. we were quite amazed at this. As it so happened, the Canaletto "restaurant" (a designated segregated-off portion of the buffet area) was open until 9:00, so we ate there. Canaletto. I read some earlier reviews complaining about the Canaletto. It seemed perfectly fine to us. I had the chicken marsala and it was as good as Olive Garden's. With all the Italian items at the buffet, I'm not sure why they have this type of restaurant where it is, but it worked for us that one night. Room Service. We used this several times when we had early shore excursions and did not want to do the table dance at the Lido. It was on time and what we ordered. Hamburger Grill. Ate there once and it was a good burger. Pinnacle Grill. We made the mistake of falling for HAL's ravings about the Le Circe "concept' dinner. What a waste of money and food. It was all overly fancified. We sent a couple of things back, didn't eat most of the rest of it. The pate was inedible. The lobster "salad" was a joke. The corn soup was another joke. The "prime rib" - actually a rib eye steak -- was very good. The potatoes were puffed and tasteless and the veggies we merely ok. HAL either needs a new concept or they need a new restauranteer. This one is a loser. ENTERTAINMENT. I was embarrassed for the cruise director that he was required to shill for the ship's entertainers. They were totally off key and could not hold a tune. Amateur night at its worst. We walked out. We also walked out on the comedian and after that chose to ignore the entertainment until the Phantom of the Opera lady. She was good. The Adagio Strings were nice and some of the Ocean bar stuff was ok, but I thought the piano guy and the guitar guy were below average. FACILITIES. The Crow's Nest is an awesome spot for an Alaska cruise because you can see so much from there. Most times it seemed under utilized, which was fine by me as is meant more elbow room. The "great room" of the library, coffee shop, Internet cafe, reading room and puzzle palace is a fabulous room. It's one of HAL's ship design highlights in my opinion. We never used the pool, the Jacuzzi, or the spa. BOTTOM LINE. Not even a disappointing ship can ruin an Alaska cruise. Overall we loved the cruise and I would recommend it to others. Just don't let the alligators (or the little things) get to you. You do get fed, you do get to go to bed, and you do get to the next port. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
Our cruise was a great experience. Seattle was a breeze embarking. Took 20 minutes from arrival at terminal until being in our room The ship is a good one. Up to Holland standards in every respect. Our suite was spacious and ... Read More
Our cruise was a great experience. Seattle was a breeze embarking. Took 20 minutes from arrival at terminal until being in our room The ship is a good one. Up to Holland standards in every respect. Our suite was spacious and comfortable, and our concierge was professional in every respect. The passengers were a mix of ages, but generally skewed older. 65 plus. There were a few families with children but were never an issue as far as noise or behaviour was concerned, as well as some younger couples. The venue is terrific. Cruising the inside passage is a sight to behold as was most of the trip. Amazing scenery and natural wonders. The only negative for me was the first couple of stops,Ketchikan and Juneau were also stops for several other cruise lines on 7 day passages,so the ports were clogged with 4 or five other ships docked at the same time,making walking through town a battle of will to get anywhere. As the ship went further north, there were fewer other ships at port. The Amsterdam is the ONLY cruise ship that docks in Anchorage. The Captain and officers were efficient and professional, but NOT a chatty gregarious bunch, but the did their job and they're not paid to be entertainers. Regarding shore excursions, be aware Alaska is NOT cheap when it comes to most anything and excursions reflect that fact. We booked excursions the day before or not at all depending on weather conditions and costs. The weather was changeable throughout the trip. We had several glorious sunny days,and some cloudy cool days,but little or no sustained rainy days. Dress in layers. You can always take things off, but if you under dress and the wind or rain comes up, your out of luck. Trying to describe the scenery and wildlife via words or pictures is beyond my abilities as a writer. Sufficient to say you will be constantly in awe of what you see every day. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
This was our first cruise on HAL, and first to Alaska. We went with a group of 11 friends,ages 20 to 82, most of us 55 -65. all of us new to HAL and Alaska but nearly all of us had cruised several other times. Some of us had suites & ... Read More
This was our first cruise on HAL, and first to Alaska. We went with a group of 11 friends,ages 20 to 82, most of us 55 -65. all of us new to HAL and Alaska but nearly all of us had cruised several other times. Some of us had suites & some of us had inside cabins, all of us were happy with our accommodations. The Amsterdam is a beautiful ship built in 2000. It is very clean, and the staff always looked very clean too. If you look for it, you will be able to find a scratch or dent here and there. We stayed at the Sheraton pre-cruise and used the Holland transfers. The Sheraton is lovely and in a great location, we walked almost everywhere. If I were to do this again, I would book the hotel myself and take cabs from the airport and to the pier and save about $150 - 200. The only free wi-fi at the Sheraton is in the lobby, which I consider archaic. Our rooms were ready for early check-in. The Holland transfer from the airport was slow and awkward to get to. They mismarked two of our party as having already taken the shuttle, so that 80+ year old couple had to schlep their own luggage and pay for a taxi. Others sat on the shuttle bus for 45 minutes waiting to fill the last TWO seats before the driver would leave the airport. That said, we fell in love with Seattle (see port review). The weather for this cruise was darn near perfect. Sunny and mid-40's to mid-60's all but 3 days. One day at sea it rained steadily, oh well. Kodiak and Victoria had intermittent showers, nothing an occasional umbrella use couldn't handle. The two sea days had some rolling, especially at night. The rest of the time very calm & smooth sailing. Embarkation was easy, took about 30 minutes from arrival at the pier to arrival in our cabin. Disembarkation was also easy, you can choose what time you get off the ship. We choose the last time, 9:00-9:15, waited with friends in their cabin and walked off with our luggage and were on the pier. Taxis are plentiful and quick to get,but using the shuttle took us nearly an hour to get off the pier. Taxi to the airport was $55. Shuttle was $9 pp. Service: Apparently about 20% of the staff were new this voyage, and there were minor slips and glitches especially the first few days. The experienced staff were outstanding. Our dining room stewards were stellar. Everyone was very friendly and eager to be of help. I heard laughing and singing behind the kitchen doors and I liked it that the staff were enjoying their work. The staff seem to know when you want them and when you don't, and always wear a smile. The only really bad service was from the photo staff. Their printer went out after the first formal night, only a couple of days into the voyage, and they continued to take pictures anyway. I had a gift certificate for a photo from my travel agent and used it for the only picture of us in the gallery, and the photo staff charged us for it anyway after accepting my certificate. We were not the only ones double-charged. They were actually rude to one of my friends who tried to buy a DVD of the trip. Dining: The MDR took forever for breakfast and lunch, we just went to the Lido, and usually sat by the pool to eat. The Lido was always crowded, and there were lines for omelettes and sandwiches. Food itself was fine, not gourmet but it is a buffet. Coffee varied from good to so-so, if you are a coffee freak then buy it from the Explorations Cafe. We had fixed seating early dinner,and ate in the MDR every night. Food was very good. Portions were smallish, and my husband ordered two entrees a couple of times. Salads were too small, soup bowls were half filled. If you order all three courses and a dessert though, you will leave satisfied. I had no complaints. Steaks at our table were not always done the way they were ordered, just ask for another one. There were always 3 or 4 fish choices, and that's what I usually ate. Lobster was offered twice, king crab once, ling cod, rockfish, halibut a couple of times and salmon every day. I had lamb a couple of times and it was excellent. Dining is meant to be a leisurely experience, plan on enjoying your dinner companions and the ambiance for an hour and a half. What's your rush? We had lunch in the Pinnacle Grill one sea day. Worth the extra money? If you like being fawned over, then yes. I thought our regular dining room servers were equal or better than the Pinnacle Grill servers. The food was about the same quality as the main dining room at their best. I ate well, often, and all I wanted & lost two pounds, probably because of all the stairs and all the walking on shore. The cabin: 7055, a DD partial ocean-view. The window looked directly astern over a small public deck. I thought it had an awkward layout, half the sofa was in a narrow alcove that made it unusable. It was only a few steps away from the door (marked emergency exit but we used it anyway) to a deck overlooking the wake, large enough for 6 or 8 deck chairs. The outside stairs to the pool/lido deck minimally blocked our window. The window was large and had one-way glass so we had perfect privacy. We didn't use the deck much, it was too cool on sea days for deck sitting, but it was lovely to stand there out of the wind and watch the wake. Not many people seemed to use it, but a couple of smokers found it and they were out there much of the time, so I tended to not go out there. The cabin is under the outdoor pool, and the noise from the pool pumps was constant and loud. It was very steady, and soon became a background white noise. Once or twice we had noise at night when the furniture around the pool was being moved. The cabin was very clean and comfortable, more storage than we needed and a roomier shower than I've had on other lines. Shower gel, hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, and lotion all supplied, also two hairdryers. There was only ONE electrical outlet in the cabin, at the desk. A 4 space power strip was supplied. No outlets in the bathroom. Ship highpoints: The library! A great space, very quiet and well appointed. Lots of books available for loan. The piano bar! We ended up here most nights, Roy from South Africa is very talented. The Crows Nest! Too noisy for me at night, but a great place for daytime relaxation. The art! Scattered around the ship, every once in a while I would come across something new. Very good pieces. The entertainment: The ship's company of singers and dancers were very talented, but their costumes and staging was dated. After the first couple of performances, we missed the others. There were some very good performers brought in for one night only, they were all excellent. Especially enjoyed the comedian Lee Baylis. The crew shows were the best, but they didn't start until 11 at night. Many people did not stay up for them, which is too bad. Well worth waiting for. The itinerary: This was our first trip to Alaska, so I have nothing to compare it to. But I thought the mix of Sea days/short port days/long port days was very good. Plenty of time to relax, not so much that you got bored, the time in most ports was just about right. I will do port reviews, but there were a couple that are not in the port list so will review them here. Homer: Weather was 50 F and partly cloudy, no wind to speak of. DH went fishing for halibut, caught his 2 halibut limit and a ling cod. Used the ship's excursion and was very pleased with the guide. The 65-70 lbs of hanging weight came to 22 lbs of fillets shipped home, cost $168 for processing & shipping frozen. Arrived in fine shape, we had some for dinner last night. Yum! I went with the rest of our group on a private excursion with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. They picked us up at the dock, sent us across the bay on a water taxi to their field station where we went tide pooling, walking on nature trails around the peninsula, and visited the station itself. They supplied waterproof boots and a light snack. Our naturalist guide, Howard, was wonderful, very knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastic. We saw and touched all kinds of sea stars, anemones, sea cucumbers, crabs, mussels,butter clams, so much more. This is a strenuous clamber-about, and a couple of the older people had a difficult time with some of the slippery rocks and steep gangways. We were their first cruise ship tour group - guinea pigs! Two thumbs up for this excursion, it's tied for my favorite excursion with whale watching in Juneau. Highly recommend. http://akcoastalstdies.org They got us back to the spit with time for a little shopping if you wanted. I thought the spit looked very tourist-trappy, we just went back to the ship. Kodiak: Weather @ 42 F high, drizzly and foggy. We went on a private expedition with Dake of Memory Makers. Dake is cheerful, knowledgeable, down to earth and friendly. Going on a tour with him felt like being shown around by an old friend you haven't seen in years. Very comfortable older GMC van, only room for 6 people at a time so his tours are all very personal. He's a photographer and will customize tours for photogs. Highly recommend. Kodiak Island is gorgeous, rugged, feels like the end of the earth. There are TONS of bald eagles, we do not see any bears. The fog limits us some. There is only one kind of tree on Kodiak Island, the Sitka Spruce. The forests are all spruce and moss, and have an eerie feel like a fairy tale. Not the kind with happy endings, the scary kind. This is a real fishing town, not very tourist friendly. You have to walk about 15-20 minutes to town from the dock, it's mostly level but I don't think a wheelchair could do it. Have a beer in Henry's Restaurant, shop at the craft sale at the Native Center. Scenic cruising: Inside passage beautiful, hard to find a place next to a window. People tended to camp out for the day in a favorite spot. Tracey Arm was breathtaking, we did not get to the Sawyer Glaciers because of ice, but were very satisfied with the time spent there. We viewed from a friend's suite balcony, starboard and very forward, and had perfect views of one side going in and the other going out. Hubbard Glacier was another highpoint of the trip, we viewed from the same friend's balcony. Saw calving 10 or 12 times, nothing huge but impressive to us. Heard the crash of ice into the water, and did you know glaciers have a smell to them? Like ice too long in the freezer. Sipped cocoa and marveled, took lots of photos and got giddy with the gorgeousness. Wonderful day. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
Our trip to Alaska can only be described as fantastic. We were initially aware that the Amsterdam was an older ship but after a couple of days we were oblivious to its age. The conscientiousness of all crewmembers was the greatest ... Read More
Our trip to Alaska can only be described as fantastic. We were initially aware that the Amsterdam was an older ship but after a couple of days we were oblivious to its age. The conscientiousness of all crewmembers was the greatest asset of our trip. Most meals were good to great. The only complaint we had was that the coffee was not hot and sometimes the food was warm.Let get off the ship and on to land! The beauty of Tracy Arm is hard to describe. The Captain's ability to maneuver the ship into small spaces was truly amazing. In Juneau we negotiated with a young man (for a reasonable price) to take us on a floatplane to get an overview of the area including the glaciers. Breathtaking! We then went on a relatively small boat that can hold 40 people to look for whales. There happened to be only 7 of us on board and Captain Tim and his naturalist were wonderful. We saw humpbacks and Orcas and the crew seemed as incited as us at these sightings. They offered us a special treat of Smoked Salmon and it was delicious. This was a perfect day and we said if the rest of the trip turned out to be uneventful after a day like today we would not feel cheated.But when we got to Sitka our best day got even better! Sitka is absolutely beautiful. Once again we decided to take a chance and see if we could book our own excursion. And once again we hit gold! We signed up with Paul David of Gallant Adventures (907-738-2855 www.gallantadventures.com) to take us out to hopefully see the wildlife. Paul has a small boat, which holds 5 to 7 people and was perfect for maneuvering into small places that bigger boats could not enter. We saw sea otters, otters with their babies, sea lions, tufted puffins, eagles, and humpback whales and much more....and all up close and personal. Previously Paul worked as a geologists and his knowledge about the geology of the area in addition to his knowledge of the wildlife made this trip and this port the perfect ending to our Alaskan trip. If you looking to go fishing or sight seeing we can't recommend him highly enough! Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
May 27, 2011 Holland America AmsterdamPre-cruise and Embarkation: We had purchased our own airfare to Seattle but had provided our flight info to Holland during the online check in process and had purchased the transfer to the pre-cruise ... Read More
May 27, 2011 Holland America AmsterdamPre-cruise and Embarkation: We had purchased our own airfare to Seattle but had provided our flight info to Holland during the online check in process and had purchased the transfer to the pre-cruise hotel, the Fairmont Olympic. Our flight arrived at 9:45 pm and in the itinerary it states that there will be Holland America representatives there to help you until 10pm. There is also a number they provide but not for after 10pm. We thought since they knew we were arriving the Holland representative would still be there. By the time we arrived at baggage claim, there was no one there. We had all our bags but did not have clue where to go. A Continental representative helped us to get to where the shuttle was for our transfer. Transfer and arrangements at Fairmont Olympic went smoothly. Please note that if you are a triple or quad make sure you know what the bed arrangements are at check in at the Fairmont. My party consisted of my husband, myself, and our 12 year old daughter. They originally had us in a room with 2 twin beds. I do not see how this would have worked at all, but they quickly moved us to a room with 2 twins and a sofa bed. Transportation on May 27 to the Amsterdam was very smooth as was embarkation. That was the shortest time it has ever taken me to check in and be on board a vessel in all the cruises we have been on (18+). They handed out the Alaska coupon books to each member of our party on our way to the ship. Make sure and get one as they had great values for Juneau and Ketchikan. On board we proceeded to our cat B stateroom (6211). We were amazed the cabin was ready this early, approximately 11:30 AM. A very nice stateroom with lots of storage space. Cabin stewards were excellent throughout whole trip. Safety drill was held. We were not required to put on life vests just report to our station.Ketchikan: I had booked the Deadliest Catch tour on my own for the 730am departure, and we barely made that. The Deadliest Catch boat was docked right next to Amsterdam and this was an excellent tour. After this we went on the Alaska Rainforest tour through Holland and enjoyed this. Afterwards did the Mount Roberts Tramway.Juneau: We did the gold panning tour through Holland. We greatly enjoyed thisIcy Strait Point: We took the tender and just walked around the area. I believe there were shuttles into town. A few shops and museum around tender area. Anchorage: We just took the shuttle into town and walked around. Someone from Holland was at the area they dropped you off in town, to point you in what direction to go in. We took bus to Ulu Factory and walked around town. I heard good things about IMAX films and museum from other passengers.Homer: There were free shuttles over to the shops on the spit area. There was a shuttle available at a small cost into downtown Homer.Kodiak: Walked into town (about a mile). There is a museum there and of course some shops open.Sitka: Walked through town on the way to meet our boat for half day of salmon fishing. I had booked this on our own with Sitka Secrets. They were right on time and we really enjoyed the time spent fishing. We caught one king salmon and two rockfish. The water was very rough. On the way back in I filled out the form for the processing of the fish. When we docked they took the fish and we received it the day after we returned home. Processing was only $2.25/lb of outgoing weight but the Fedex to ship was $95.Victoria: There were no free shuttles to town here so a taxi was required. The cost was only $2 a person (one way)but some people still walked into town. A beautiful city. Make sure your credit card company knows you will be in Canada as mine was denied because I had not informed them of this. Also have a variety of bills available. My husband bought something that came out to $17.01 American dollars. They would not take his penny, required him to give them $18 and then gave him change in Canadian money.Dining Onboard: We ate all our breakfasts in the Lido, where they had a great variety of food. We ate all our lunches there also. At lunch there was Italian, Asian, and other food. The Terrace Grill also has burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and a taco bar. We ate one lunch in the main dining room and the service was terrible. It took a long time to get the food and when it arrived the orders were not correct. We very much enjoyed tea every day. We had fixed early seating (5:45) for dinner. The food was excellent, and service was wonderful. We did eat one night at the Pinnacle at that was a step above the dining room and I would highly recommend it.Entertainment: All the shows onboard were excellent. We also participated in trivia, Name that Tune, and my daughter participated in the Olympics on board. Several shows involved the singers and dancers, there were two comedians, and a harmonica player.Disembarkation and Post Cruise: We had a post-cruise hotel package purchased through Holland with the Sheraton Seattle. Once we disembarked the ship, the bus to take people to the Sheraton did not show up to 1 ½ hours after disembarkation. After losing about half a day we proceeded on our hop on hop off shuttle around Seattle. Very good tour but would have liked not to have lost so much time in the morning. We ate lunch at Jimmy John's Sandwiches across from hotel and dinner at Rock Bottom Restaurant about two blocks from hotel. Hotel is in an excellent location within walking distance to a variety of shops and restaurants. The next day we had scheduled the Mt. Rainier Explorer through Holland. We informed in the lobby that morning that the bus that was there was not big enough, so a larger one was on the way. It seemed like they should have known how many people were going on the tour and have the appropriate bus ready. The bus arrived about 50 minutes later and we proceeded on our tour. This was an excellent tour. The second night we ate at the Elephant Irish pub also within two blocks of hotel. The next morning we came down to get our airport shuttle. We arrived outside at 6:10Am to take the 6:30 shuttle. Some people with single bags came out around 6:20 to also get the shuttle. The driver arrived and refused to take us and our luggage saying he did not have enough room. It did not matter that we were there first and he had the same type of vehicle that we had come to the hotel in. A bigger vehicle arrived 20 minutes later and we proceeded to the hotel and flew back to Florida without further incident.Overall, we loved this itinerary and the Amsterdam is a wonderful ship. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
Arrived at San Diego airport from Phoenix, no problems. We used the public transportation ( bus ) to go from the airport to the cruise terminal. It runs ever 20 minutes and costs $1.10 per senior, exact change is required. The bus was ... Read More
Arrived at San Diego airport from Phoenix, no problems. We used the public transportation ( bus ) to go from the airport to the cruise terminal. It runs ever 20 minutes and costs $1.10 per senior, exact change is required. The bus was clean, fast and let us off on Harbor near the terminal. The bus number is 992 in either direction. Embarkation was a breeze. Cabins were ready and luggage arrived in good time. We had excellent cabin stewards, Bambang and Atman. We had very slow and not very good service in the La Fontaine dining room the first night, Open Seating. We switched tables for the next night and were rewarded with excellent and friendly service at table 128. The waiter and asst. were Antong and Sugi. We found that the best wine steward was Digz. We continued to call every morning to reserve that table to insure great service. There were some complaints from other cruisers about poor and slow service this cruise, which is unusual from Holland America. The Lido dining was very good, clean and well run. The food was just as good as the main dining room. I found some waiters there were above the average. They were Alex, Sugi, Iful and a couple of others whom I can not remember their name. Overall experience in the Lido was great. The Culinary Arts center/Movie theatre was very good. Crows Nest was very good. Shops were small. The Pinnacle Dining room was excellent. The gym was small but very well equiped and run by Jenna and Oscar. Service from the Front Desk was excellent. The Shore Excursions desk wasn't as good. Our travelling companion can not walk as well and has some problems with long distances and uneven walking. Our friend asked at the man at the shore excursions desk about going on the "Rhythms of the Night" excursion in Puerto Vallarta, as to how easy the walking would be for him and explained his problems. The man told him that there would be no problems for him to do this excursion. WRONG!!!! Our friend cancelled due to doubts about if he could do it after talking to some of the other passengers. We went on the excursion and we could tell that there was no way that the shore excursions man should have recommended this excursion for our friend. The Queen's Room, main theatre, was small and on the bottom floor, the floor is flat so that one is blocked by others sitting in front of you. The shows were very good. Holland was very good with insuring that all was well at all the ports. Tenders were clean and the crew members were very helpful. Disembarkation went very well also. As on most cruises there are those passengers that block the stairways and hallways even after being asked repeatedly not to by the crew. Such a safety hazard, all due to people who can not or will not wait their turn. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
At sea for sixty-nine days found the majority of us sad to arrive back in San Diego. Every aspect of this journey was beyond belief. Despite unfavorable weather conditions, our Captain guided this ship around a hurricane in ... Read More
At sea for sixty-nine days found the majority of us sad to arrive back in San Diego. Every aspect of this journey was beyond belief. Despite unfavorable weather conditions, our Captain guided this ship around a hurricane in Hong Kong, a volcano in Indonesia, flooding in Vietnam and Cambodia, and we, as passengers, never gave a thought to our safety or to the bad weather we could have encountered. Dinner, dancing, shows were provided nightly. There were many formal nights - reminders of what 'crossings' were to the wealthy of foregone years. Champagne flowed, music drifted from different areas, stellar service in a professional manner was a constant. Yet, there was this feeling of family, of caring. Nothing was too much to ask for - and there was never a tone of any type used, no attitudes possessed this crew. They were there to help and please us in whatever why they possibly could and that is what they did. Oh, and did I mention the smiles -- so many wonderful broad sincere smiles to greet us every place on this ship. The crew were from Indonesia - what a honor they are to their country! Asia and Australia were educational for those of us not visiting these countries before. The Ports of Call worthwhile. So grateful to be able to see these great wonders, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Great Wall of China. Overland in China was fantastic with lovely top-drawer hotel and dining accommodations. At the end of the day, I always go back to thoughts and longings for the ship and its crew who truly provided us with the main ingredients for a beyond belief experience in travel. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Friday August 19 (Seattle) We are staying at the La Quinta Inn at 8th Avenue and Denny Way in Seattle, out near the Space Needle. It's just ok, no decent restaurants nearby, we dine at the Hurricane Cafe, a dive. We share fish ... Read More
Friday August 19 (Seattle) We are staying at the La Quinta Inn at 8th Avenue and Denny Way in Seattle, out near the Space Needle. It's just ok, no decent restaurants nearby, we dine at the Hurricane Cafe, a dive. We share fish and chips. In the morning it starts out cloudy and cold. Breakfast is free at the hotel. I make waffles. The breakfast room is full of kids and ESPN is blaring. Nancy needs cosmetics, so we hike west to a Walgreen's ON Denny Way. Now we can see the Monorail and the Space Needle, so we head thataway and get coffee and a rest stop at McDonald's. The weather turns better, and I see a sign for "Ride the Duck" with the phone number on the side of the vehicle. I call from the cell phone, it is only $28 (they don't mention the tax) they leave in twenty minutes, and pass by 130 sights (an exageration.) Nancy says: go for it, so we cross the street and soon we are aboard the duck. Our Captain is a wild man; we are entertained. There are only a dozen tourists aboard, so we can take pictures easily. I only have the cell phone for photos, but it will have to do. It is soon very breezy. We head south along Alaska Way and get a good tour of the waterfront. When he's not talking, the Captain plays rock and roll on the loudspeaker. Tourists gawk at us: we become the show. We turn north through downtown; this part is not so great. We end up going over the Ballard Bridge, then entering Lake Union at its north end for a half hour boat ride. It is now sunny and very pleasant. Lots of houseboats and kayaks, real fun. When it's over, we walk a few blocks to ride the Monorail (it only goes a mile) for a dollar, and have lunch at the downtown Westlake Center. After a mediocre Chinese lunch (although in an interesting urban setting), we duck through an adjacent hotel and get a taxi to the Amsterdam. Downtown Seattle traffic is very crowded, but we get to the ship easily. We manage to get a wheelchair for my wife. Boarding is slow, so we go up a ramp alongside the ship without the wheelchair. Holland American is known as a senior-friendly cruise line. Nevertheless, we are surprised at something new: rental motorized wheelchairs, similar to the Hoveround advertised on TV. They are numerous aboard the Amsterdam. Our bags come soon. We unpack, it is easy because the room layout is the same as on the Rijndam from our Panama cruise. We did not get an upgrade, so there is no window and no bathtub. Soon it is time for the lifeboat drill, a pain because they make us stand on the deck for twenty minutes. Dinner is excellent, prime rib, with a view of Puget Sound. After dinner my wife crashes, while I go to the free round of Bingo. Our table mate, George, wins the $200 prize! I buy a book: The Alaska Cruise Handbook, it has lots of maps and photos. Saturday August 20 (Inside Passage) We sleep in, and when we are up and ready we go to the Crow's Nest bar, it has a 270-degree view, enclosed, and a panorama of Canadian channels and islands is before us. The weather is clear but cloudy. Then we go to the formal dining room aft (La Fontaine) for breakfast. We are a half hour late and don't get a window table, and service is slow. Nancy likes to be served, nevertheless! Then we go to the presentation about the shore excursions- lots to do! Next we go back to the Crow's Nest, and relax as the scenery goes by. We are passing through a narrow channel: Johnstone Strait. In no time at all, it is lunch. We get a window table, and try not to order too much. Our table mates are from Florida and South Carolina. After, we sign up for the Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Straight Point (Hoonah) tours. No ports today, we are taking things easy and adjusting to Pacific Time. In the afternoon, there is a veterans' meeting, with free drinks, and the old codgers get to tell war stories. Some of the guys are in their nineties, and tell of their World War II adventures. Others are Vietnam veterans and talk of exposure to agent orange. Since it is Saturday night, dinner is grand. I have the beef Wellington. My wife has rack of lamb. After dinner we go to the Broadway show, where eight energetic youngsters sing and dance to tunes ranging from Oklahoma through Cats to Chicago. So much energy! A dozen changes of costume. Meanwhile, the ship itself is doing rock and roll, we are in the open water of Hecate Strait. We retire to a long night's sleep (there is a one hour time gain.) Sunday August 21 (Ketchikan) I am up at 4:00 after eight hours sleep. I go topside: it has rained heavily, everything is wet, no stars, pitch black except for the many lights of the ship, we are in the open water of Dixon Entrance, near the Canada-Alaska border. The sea is calm, one other cruise ship in the distance. No one is about except some of the cafeteria staff. There is coffee, always (but not decaf.) We don't go ashore until 10:00, when we are scheduled for a tour. It is cloudy and cold, but not raining. The tour bus takes us through the town. We head south to the Tlingit village of Saxman, which used to be the end of the road. I take pictures of the totem poles, but the only other building open to us is a tourist shop. We buy some postcards. Back in town we take a funicular that goes up Deer Mountain to a tourist lodge. We explore town a little, looking for lunch, but I have left my wallet in the safe on the ship. We decide to return to the ship for a quick lunch in the Lido Cafe, and catch our 2:00 P.M. tour on the Duck, which departs from the ship. The Duck tour duplicates the town part of the previous tour, but now it is raining. The Duck is covered, but the side curtains fog up and the view is diminished. The town is jammed with tourists from the four large cruise ships that are present. There is room for four cruise ships to dock. The Duck finally enters the channel from a boat ramp in the new harbor, and although it is raining, we poke the camera through the plexiglass window and get some good photos. The town has become a cruise ship port, almost devoid of the former support of the lumber and fishing trades. We are told that most of the shops are just boarded up for the winter. .After the tour ends, My wifey goes to our cabin, and I return to town to explore. It starts to pour, so I cut short my tour and take the shuttle bus back to the Amsterdam. I am thinking that, although it has become a profitable cruise ship port, it has lost whatever charm it had. Actually, Ketchikan is still a charmless place, with really gloomy weather. Monday August 22 (Tracy Arm) We wake up to a cloudy and misty day. The elaborate breakfast and lunch meals in the La Fontaine are becoming routine, and we start to think about eating less, rather than gain a lot of weight. The food is very good, though, I think better than last year's voyage on the Rijndam. We meet new people at every meal (and soon forget their names). A lot of them are from the middle west and south. We are having lunch when the Captain announces that we are deep into Tracy Arm: it is time to go out on deck and look about. I find my wife a good chair near a window in the room where they play bridge. I go forward, dressed warmly with a sweater and raincoat with a hood, wearing my watch cap from skiing days. We see lots of waterfalls and small icebergs. The icebergs are very blue. One iceberg had a group of birds on it. At around three, as promised, we arrive at the end of the arm, and view Sawyer Glacier in all its glory. The return trip out is an anticlimax. We go to the Crow's nest for Happy Hour: you get two cocktails for the price of one, plus a dollar. All bar tabs have 15% service charge added. This is in addition to the daily charge for cabin and dining room service. Out table mates for the 5:15 dinner in the La Fontaine are from Austria. We are at a table for four, and the wife doesn't understand or speak much English, so the conversation is strained. The evening's entertainment at 8:00 in The Queen's Lounge showroom is a second show by the resident song and dance troupe, the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. They do popular songs, and they are excellent: good voices, well-chosen hit songs, and excellent costumes and choreography. We are pleased. As we retire, My wife says she is cold, and resolves to dress warmly for Juneau. Tuesday August 23 (Juneau) I get up early to supervise the Captain's job, bringing this monstrous ship into the narrow Gastineau Channel, which is the entrance to Juneau Harbor. It is drizzling, as one might expect in southeast Alaska at any time of the year. The ship docks right downtown. I can see the building where the Coast Guard has an office, on the Government Wharf. Another cruise ship is already docked. A third will dock soon, and one more will anchor out. The town will be jammed with tourists, a far cry for the 1950's. We go ashore for our tour, which starts out with a bus ride north to the Mendenhall Glacier. In 1956, I visited the glacier, when it was just a short walk from the highway that leads to Juneau Airport. Now, a two-mile road leads to the glacier. The parking lot is jammed with tour buses. A thousand people are milling around the Visitor Center building. We go to the movie, which gives a good rundown of what to see. (We buy a copy of the movie.) We have a front row seat, and I am able to easily photograph scenes from the movie. Afterwards, I hike the nearby trails and take a lot of photos, while my wife visits the shop. It is raining all the time. Afterward, the bus takes us to the Glacier Garden. We don't know what to expect, it's just part of the combo tour we bought, but it turns out to be better than the glacier. We tour the rain forest in a covered tram, roof overhead, while the rain pours down. The forest is on the side of a steep mountain. The owner of the attraction invented an upside down fern planter, like an upturned hapu trunk, with the top buried in the ground, with the former root ball is made into a planter filled with annual flowers. The tram goes up the hill through the rain, giving a view through the trees of the water below. Very pleasant and interesting. We return to the Amsterdam in time for lunch in the Lido cafeteria. After lunch, we go ashore again and take the funicular to the top of Mount Roberts. The cable car and the amenities at the top are run by the Tlingit tribe. We get a god view of the city and the channel and take a lot of photos. Then we go shopping, wending our way through the masses of tourists, through the drizzle. We buy some gifts. We try to get into the Red Dog Saloon, but it is jammed. The decor is Alaska wild, with a lot of hokey Alaska stuff on the walls. I take my wife back to the Amsterdam (just yards away), and walk through the drizzle to the Baranof Hotel. It looks run down. I return to the ship for dinner in the La Fontaine. We are achy and tired, so we retire early. Wednesday August 24 Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) I am up early again, anxious to see the Amsterdam come into port. Actually, we are just going to pull of to the side of the channel, out of the way of other shipping, and send the passengers ashore by tender. We go ashore at an old cannery, which is now a set of tourist shops and restaurants. Our tour is a tram ride along a shingle foreshore, with a Tligit woman as our guide. We see some eagles, fishing boats and waterfalls, all under a cold, cloudy sky. Afterwards, we enjoy a native show, with a narrator who explains the Tlingit cosmology: it all started with the raven opening a box. I, and the other tourists, get to do a native dance to the Tlingit drumming and chanting. At two o'clock, we are hungry, and order fish chowder and beer. We return to the ship, cold and tired. We have good steaks for dinner. During the meal, we pass the lighthouse at Cape Spencer, And head out into the Gulf of Alaska. Thursday August 25 (At Sea) When will the sun shine? I am up at six as usual for coffee and a check of the weather. No land is in sight, cloudy skies, but at least no rain, and not too rough. We go to the theater at 1000 for a presentation about the shore excursions that are coming up at Anchorage, in the morning. We also hear about the excursions for Homer, Kodiak, Hubbard Glacier (Yakutat), Sitka and Victoria B. C. We are looking forward to tonight's special: King Crab Legs! After that we will go to the showroom for the third session by the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers. We have already attended two of their shows, and they are great. It is amazing that such talent is on a cruise ship. Friday August 26 (Anchorage) Again I am up on deck early, watching to ship come into the dock. Anchorage has a tremendous tide range, a large ship like the Amsterdam can enter only at high tide. The inner harbor has been dredged, so the ship does not go aground, but it cannot depart until the next high tide, thirteen hours later. The port is a secure zone, south of downtown, we have to use a tour bus or shuttle but to reach downtown. We have signed up for a bus tour of Anchorage, followed by a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, north of town. The city is small, about 280,000 population, with many modern hotels and office buildings. Although Juneau is the state capital, Anchorage is by far the economic center. The buildings are new, because most of the old buildings were destroye3d in the 1964 earthquake. We don't tour the downtown by foot; it doesn't look interesting. The cultural center has a presentation which describes the various tribes who were the original population of the state. We are treated to a native dance presentation by a group of Haida, one of the original people of southeast Alaska. Actually, they are all from the town of Metlakatla, which is on Annette Island, which used to be the airport for Ketchikan. Saturday August 27 (Homer) In the morning I go on deck early to watch the ship being docked at the "spit," a harbor area about six miles south of the town center. It has a small boat harbor, filled with boats owned by the residents of the Anchorage area, who come down to Homer to fish for halibut. It is about a five-hour drive from Anchorage to Homer. There are hundreds of trailer boats, and some people are camping on the shoreline in tents. There is a shopping area with restaurants, tour offices, and vacation condos. I wonder what these people will do in the event of an earthquake and tsunami, which devastated this area in 1964. The weather continues to be cold and cloudy. We have signed up for a "hop-on-off" bus tour, with four stops. We get off at stop three, which is primarily an art shop. It is very nice, and low priced, I wonder how the owners can make a living. There is an artist present showing his work. I buy some attractive earrings for the relatives. Across the street is the Pratt Museum; we visit it for a while, nothing special. We hop back on the bus, and make a quick stop at #4. There is one small art shop open; we have done downtown Homer, that's it. We get on the bus and go back to the pier. Then there is another bus that goes to the Salty Dawg, in the boat harbor at the end of the spit. There is a hardware and fishing supplies store, which has some tourist items. There are numerous restaurants and some condos at the end of the spit. We are done with Homer, and return to the ship. Sunday August 28 (Kodiak) We dock at a large pier, about a mile from downtown. Shuttle bus service is provided, using school buses, which have cramped seats, but it is better than walking. We do not take a tour, but head for the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church. At first we can't visit the church because of the Sunday service. We head for the downtown mall, which has a few shops open on this Sunday morning. We look for T-shirts for gifts, but can't find any we like. My wife hangs out in a sunny square, while I go to the church to take photos of the interior. It is crowded, but I get my photos, and also buy some slides and church music. The weather is beautiful, but cool, in the 50's. We return to the ship for lunch. . In the afternoon we read until dinner, after which we go to the theater for another show called Avalon, and this time it includes the string quartet and the house band in addition to the eight singers and dancers that have performed before. It is again a hit show; we enjoy it a lot. Monday July 29 Hubbard Glacier (Yakutat) We go to our usual 8:00 breakfast in the dining room, and then go to the sale: the store is having its usual end-of-cruise sale of logo clothing around the swimming pool. . We don't buy anything, but we notice some close-out winter hats and boots in the main store that will make good Christmas presents, and buy some. Then we go to the "bridge" presentation by one of the watch officers. For security reasons, they don't actually have tours of the bridge anymore, so instead they have a Powerpoint presentation of the equipment on the bridge. The officer explains the bridge controls, including the new power pods and bow thrusters, very interesting. The Amsterdam steers into Yakutat Bay, an isolated body of water about forty miles long, with the famous Hubbard Glacier at the end. A ranger from the Tongass National Forest tells us all about it in the showroom. The Captain brings the ship within half a mile of the glacier, considered very close. The glacier, we are told, is 350 feet high at the water's edge. All the passengers are on deck, taking photos. The sky is clear; it is a sunny afternoon, temperature in the fifties. I take a lot of pictures. We hoped to se "calving," where chunks of the glacier break off and crash into the ware, but we didn't see any. A magnificent day. Tuesday July30 (Sitka) Awake around six as usual. I go up to the Lido cafeteria for my morning coffee. I see Mount Edgecumbe, an extinct (some say dormant, the last eruption was 2,000 years ago) volcano, visible from downtown Sitka. The weather is cloudy, temperature in the fifties, but no sign of rain. We are scheduled for a noon tour, but we can go ashore (by ship's boat, the Amsterdam is anchored) early. We tour Lincoln Street, the main drag of the town. There are some strictly tourist shops, but also shops which carry clothes for the local population. We buy T-shirts for the relatives. We tour as far as the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, but don't go in, because it is included on our tour, we will see it later. We have lunch at the Larkspur Cafe, which offers clam chowder, and which appeals to us on this cold, cloudy day. It comes with very tasty homemade bread, but the chowder itself is more chopped celery and herbs, not much clam flavor, and lukewarm at that. We are thankful for a warm place (with a toilet) to hang out while waiting for our tour. The bus, driven by a Tlingit, heads for the Russian Church. We are given its history, and have a chance to take photos. Next we go to the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which has a lot of Tlingit artifacts. The best part of the tour is the Russian dance group, the New Archangel Dancers. This group, organized forty years ago, is all women, because, in the beginning, no men wanted to join the group. So, women play the men's part. They do a great job, and I take lots of pictures. The dancers are talented, and their costumes are very colorful. The tour concludes with a drive around the town, which has a lot of nice homes out on some private islands. The guide says that Sitka has the best halibut and salmon fishing in Alaska, but Ketchikan makes the same claim. It must be very depressing here in the long, cold, dark winter. Wednesday August 31 (At Sea in the Gulf of Alaska) We sleep in. The time changed from Alaska time to Pacific time. The weather is sunny and the sea is smooth, but the air temperature is a cool 55 degrees. We are joined at breakfast by a couple who are ninety-two years old (and still cruising- very encouraging!) At eleven, we eat again: the Mariners' Club champagne brunch, a freebie for those who have cruised on Holland American before. I enjoy the free champagne, but the menu is limited. In the evening, we attend our favorite show, the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers, who put on a splendid "Las Vegas"show, the last of five. Thursday September 1 (Victoria, B.C.) We don't dock until noon. In addition, the weather is cold and foggy, so there's not much to see as we come into port. We did a home exchange to Sydney, a suburb of Victoria, in 2007, so we are complacent about this port. We have lunch in the dining room, so we don't get ashore until after 1:00. The cruise ship port is about a mile from town. We take the shuttlebus to downtown; it's $7.50 each round trip. We had some sun during lunch, but now it is cloudy and cold. The guard says it's 52 degrees. The bus lets us off at the Empress Hotel. We were here four years ago on a home exchange, so we are not interested in roaming around in the cold. We head for the Royal B.C. Museum; there will be things to do there. We settle on the Imax, which is showing a movie, Whales. We see the 3:00 performance. It's very nice. The museum and the movie are very crowded, because it's a holiday weekend (for Americans.) After, it's still cloudy and cold, we return to the Amsterdam. We enjoy our last formal dinner in the La Fontaine. Friday September 2 (Seattle ) I am up at six, anxious to see the ship navigate in Puget Sound. We are loitering off Pier 91, about to dock. We go to the La Fontaine for a last served breakfast. We are relaxed, because we chose to spend the day in Seattle, rather than rushing off the ship to catch the 1150 Alaska Airlines direct flight to Kona. We sit around, waiting for the Green 3 group to be called. We find our bags in the terminal, and get a porter to take them outside. We don't have to have the bags with us as we go through U. S. Customs. There is a long line, but a new post opens up and we rush to it. Almost out! But then, the officer said: "Please follow me to secondary screening!" He holds our passports. There he produced a device which measures radiation. He asked me if I had a prostate problem, and I replied that I had radioactive seeds implanted in March. He repeated the radioactive measurement procedure three more times. He then went to another room and made phone calls. I could hear my name spelled out several times. After about half an hour, he let me proceed. Our porter was found, he thought he had lost us. He leads us to the head of the taxi queue, and we are on our way to the La Quinta Inn. It is 1000, it would have been too late to catch our flight if we had chosen to fly out on Friday. The La Quinta Inn is an ok hotel, within walking distance of the Space Needle at the park called Seattle Center. We walk to the park, but can't get a reservation at the restaurant. To just visit the top of the Needle, the senior rate is $16.00 each. Since we had been there before, we passed. We take the monorail (unimproved since 1962, still only a one mile ride) downtown and have lunch at the Westlake Mall. We hike about a mile back to the hotel. Dinner is takeout pizza from the nearby Whole Foods Market. Saturday September 3 The long airplane ride home. The flight is uneventful, but also uncomfortable. The plane is a stretched Boeing 737 (Alaska Airlines is, of course, all Boeing!) with a narrow aisle and cramped seats, the backrest reclines only about an inch. There is no meal service, only snacks, no movie (just DVD players for rent) and no coffee. However, it is a direct flight of five and three quarter hours, less time than going through Los Angeles or Honolulu. All things considered, an Alaska cruise on Holland American Lines is a wonderful trip! Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
Two years ago we took a one-week Alaskan cruise on the Amsterdam. When we saw this two week cruise advertised, we jumped at the opportunity. We are 65 and 61 respectively, and this is our third cruise. We flew into Seattle two days early ... Read More
Two years ago we took a one-week Alaskan cruise on the Amsterdam. When we saw this two week cruise advertised, we jumped at the opportunity. We are 65 and 61 respectively, and this is our third cruise. We flew into Seattle two days early so that we could visit with a wonderful couple who live in Seattle; we had met them on the cruise two years ago. We stayed at the Seattle Crowne Plaza Hotel, which was comfortable and convenient, but must have one of the slowest elevators in North America - especially during times when guests are leaving the hotel. We used the hotel concierge to book our transportation from the hotel to the ship on Monday, August 9th. It worked fine. We stayed in a Deluxe Veranda Suite on the port side of the Navigation Deck. It was conveniently near to the Neptune Lounge, though if I had to do it all over again, for this cruise I would have picked a starboard side stateroom. In most of the ports, the view from the starboard side balconies was more interesting. Our ports included Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Juneau, and Victoria and scenic cruising at Glacier Bay (on the first Saturday) and the Hubbard Glacier (on the second Thursday). Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier were the two highlights of the trip. When we approached Glacier Bay on the morning of August 14th, the fog was so thick you could see almost nothing, and the ship's fog horn was blowing pretty continuously. But sometime during breakfast the fog magically lifted and the rest of the day was spectacular. A U.S. Park Service guide came onboard the Amsterdam, and the commentary was excellent. We also received a map of Glacier Bay, and that proved to be quite helpful. We approached Hubbard Glacier on Thursday, August 19th. The weather was perfect! Most of the passengers spent the time on one of the many outside decks. (The Amsterdam crew opened a deck in the bow of the ship that provided outstanding views of the Glacier as we were cruising towards it. The temperature was in the 50's, and with some layered clothing you could be quite comfortable viewing the glaciers out on deck.) Again, the U.S. Park Service did a superb job. This time they also brought onboard two Tlingit natives who provided some of the narration as we cruised towards the Glacier and then did a PowerPoint presentation on Tlingit culture afterwards in the Queens Lounge that was quite good. Both Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier are jaw-droppingly beautiful. If you go on this cruise, prepare to be spellbound. We took a ton of photos. (When we sailed on the Amsterdam two years ago, we saw the Sawyer Glacier. That, too, was a spectacular experience.) As for the ship, here are the pluses: 1. The ship is beautiful. Our favorite spot on it was the Explorers Lounge on Deck 5, which has a magnificent painting of sailing ships in the harbor at Amsterdam during the 17th century. Every night the Adagio String Quarter performed there. They are four very talented young musicians who played a great selection of everything from early Beethoven quartets to string quartet transcriptions of opera arias. As you order a brandy or a liqueur you can enjoy some delicious chocolates. 2. The public areas (with the exception of the garish Queens Lounge) are very tastefully designed. 3. It has a good mix of places onboard that range from the lively and noisy (such as the Crow's Nest) to places that are peaceful and relaxing and quiet (such as the Explorations Cafe/Library) and the Explorers Lounge. 4. While we are not fans of the piano lounge, many on board were and loved going to it each night. The shows in the Queens Lounge were good, but not outstanding (at least that was our take on them). My wife loved the two late-night shows put on one night by the Filipino crew members and another night by the Indonesian crew members. 5. My wife also went to several of the Digital Tech classes and learned how to take and stitch together a panoramic shot from Billy, the knowledgeable tech expert on board. We both enjoyed massages, and my wife had several acupuncture treatments. 6. Announcements over the public address system were kept brief and infrequent. This is not the kind of ship for people who like lots of frenetic activity with an intrusive cruise director. 7. The cruise itself had a nice mix of days in port and days at sea. In other words, it was a great cruise for people who want to see some spectacular Alaskan scenery but who also want time to relax and unwind. 8. The food at the La Fontaine (the main dining room) was always at least "good," and sometimes it was very good. And on a few occasions they managed to pull off a course that was exceptional. This was especially true of their soups. There were always 8-9 entrees to select from, and they ranged from beef, to lamb, to pork, to fish, to pasta. There was always a vegetarian choice at each dinner. If you want, by the way, you can probably eat salmon every single night of the cruise and have it prepared differently each night. We did the "As You Like" dining, which gave us the flexibility to dine when we wanted. It helps to make a reservation early in the day, but lots of people were seated promptly even without a reservation. We found that there was very little waiting between courses. In fact, I would say that the service in La Fontaine was even better and more efficient than it was when we sailed two years ago. 9. We are not fans of buffets, so we cannot comment on the Lido except to say that it looked very attractive those times we walked through it, and the one time we had lunch at the Lido, there were no lines and a withering variety of foods to choose from. 10. We dined twice at the Pinnacle Grill, which is a specialty restaurant on the Amsterdam (and other HAL ships). It costs an additional $20 per person. It is a very, very good steak house, but does have a lot of interesting alternatives that are not steak. On the second Thursday of the cruise they had a special "Wine Cellar Dinner" with a fixed menu and wine pairing. It was about $60 more per person, but if you love great food - the mustard soup was surprisingly tasty - and interesting wine, then it is worth doing. We found it to be worth the extra cost. (And, yes, I know that "mustard soup" sounds weird, but, trust me, it was great.) 11. We didn't try the Canaletto restaurant this cruise. We did try it last year when we sailed on the Eurodam and found it OK, but nothing special. It is an Italian restaurant. 12. The service throughout our cruise was excellent and is one of the main reasons why we sail Holland America. That was true of our room stewards, Wayan and Oki, who outdid themselves in constructing those ingenious towel animals that we found waiting for us each night. (If you have sailed Holland, you know what we are talking about!) We appreciated the warm welcomes we received each night in La Fontaine, especially from Herry at the reservation desk and from Joel the wine steward, and from Ben both in the Pinnacle and at breakfast in La Fontaine. 13. Our Deluxe Veranda Suite was always spotlessly clean and very comfortable. Admittedly, these are expensive accommodations, but we found them to be worth the extra cost. The use of the Neptune Lounge is one major reason why. It is staffed by some of the most helpful people you will ever find on this planet. Sienna, Jhanuary, Melissa, and Nia are simply wonderful in every way. They were unfailingly cheerful and eager to help. They will book excursions, pin a carnation onto your tux for a formal night, make dinner reservations, answer virtually any question you might have, etc., etc. The lounge itself is kept nicely stocked with food appropriate to the time of day (cereals, juices, sweet rolls and fish and cheeses at breakfast time, mini sandwiches at lunch time and dinner, and fresh fruit and coffee and teas all day long. Tea time (3 - 5) is also appropriately laid out. There are very few minuses. The ship is beginning to show its age (it was built in 2000). It is disconcerting to see varnish chipping off of some of the chairs in the La Fontaine Dining Room. On the other hand, the crew does seems to be constantly polishing and cleaning whatever needed to be polished or cleaned. Another minus is that the ship is not smoke free. Many locations are smoke free (such as the dining areas and the lounge areas), but people can smoke in the Casino and in their staterooms and balconies and outside on the promenade deck. However, when in the glacial areas, Alaska protects the environment by forbidding all smoking - a rule which was hard to enforce. Finally, one of the "at sea" days was spent crossing the Gulf of Alaska on the way to Anchorage. It was a very bumpy ride, to say the least - not that Holland has any control over the waves. But it was like spending the entire day riding the New York subways. Getting food from a buffet proved to be a particular challenge. I wisely avoided anything with liquidy sauces. Luckily, we managed to avoid seasickness, but not everyone onboard was so lucky. Obviously, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. I got a sense that the folks who work onboard the Amsterdam take a genuine pride in working for Holland America. We were always greeted by name and with a smile, and we were always made to feel welcome. I don't think that you can fake these things: my sense is that there must be a fairly high level of morale onboard and that their staff training must be superb. This was a wonderful cruise, and I hope that HAL will continue to offer it so that many others can enjoy it as much as we did. P.S. In the port review section are reviews of Skagway, Juneau, and Victoria. The Cruise Critic drop down menu does not include Anchorage, Homer, or Kodiak, but here is our assessment: In Anchorage, we chose the l-o-n-g (10 hours!) train trip from Anchorage to Grandview. Interestingly, in the excursion materials that you receive in your stateroom, Holland does warn you that some people find it a very long day. Our trip did include someone on the train's public address system who provided narration, but apparently this is not true on all trains, and Holland's materials also warned about that. Despite some fog and a fair amount of rain, we did see some beautiful glaciers and mountains - the trip takes you along the Turnagain Arm, which is part of the Cook Inlet. I learned a lot and am generally glad that I took the tour. But I think that I could have been just as content if it had been, say, 3-4 hours shorter. In Homer we took the tour that included the Pratt Museum and the Norman Lowell Studio and Museum. Both are definitely worth seeing! Kodiak was very, very windy -- windy to the point of being unpleasant. We hadn't scheduled a tour. We walked into town, turned around, and walked back to the ship. We figured that it was good exercise. Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
My Dad, my daughter and myself sailed aboard the Amsterdam from Seattle. We boarded the vessel on Monday, July 12th with high expectations. We weren't disappointed. Our check-in at the pier was fast and flawless. We were on board by ... Read More
My Dad, my daughter and myself sailed aboard the Amsterdam from Seattle. We boarded the vessel on Monday, July 12th with high expectations. We weren't disappointed. Our check-in at the pier was fast and flawless. We were on board by 12:30, and our cabin was already prepared for our arrival. We had a large ocean view cabin on Main deck. There were five roomy closets and several drawers, so storage was not an issue, even for us chronic over-packers. The bathroom was small, with a combo tub/shower. The corner mirrored cabinet had three shelves so we could stash our essentials and save counter space. The two twin beds were placed under the window, with a sofa bed on the wall next to the bathroom. It was a flip-type sofa bed. Very narrow and very firm. My daughter wasn't very fond of it, especially after two weeks. The two twins beds were lovely. Lots of good pillows and really nice sheets. Bring along a few clothespins to secure the drape edges if you want it to be at all dark at night. Our first lunch aboard was up in the Lido restaurant, with a beautiful view of the Seattle skyline. We tried and became fans of the Asian bar. The afternoon was spent at the lifeboat drill and unpacking. We had early assigned seating for dinner at 5:45 p.m. Our stewards, Agoung and Didik were very friendly and professional. The Main dining room menus varied considerably from night to night. The food was very good, although the salads needed a bit of zip. The soups, cold and hot, were exceptional. Our first sea day was very lazy. We read in the lovely library for a time, went to the gym and sat idly by one of the great windows in the Explorer's lounge for most of the day. After dinner, we went up to the Crow's nest and played music trivia. It was really fun and the emcee, Matt, was very funny. Day three of our cruise found us in Ketchikan. We did the Duck tour in the morning and bought tickets for the Lumberjack Show in the afternoon. The Duck tour was wonderful. Very entertaining and informative. The Lumberjack show was a bit tedious and predictable. In our opinion, go for the Duck and skip the Lumberjacks. My Dad left my daughter and I to shop for the rest of the day. There is a lot of shopping in Ketchikan. Our favorite store was the Gold Rush store, a small and Alaskan owned jewelry store. The owner was delightful and the staff wasn't at all pushy. I was happy to give them my money rather than the infamous Diamonds International down the block. Day four was spent cruising Tracy Arm. We staked out choice seating in the Crow's nest and enjoyed the spectacular views. The floating pieces of glacier ice were the most splendid shades of blue imaginable. It was a serene, relaxing day. One of our favorites on the voyage. On Friday, we anchored in Skagway. My daughter and I were looking forward to the Paddle and Saddle tour, while my Dad was headed into town for the Goodtime Girls and Ghosts tour. He enjoyed his tour and we had a fantastic time on ours. After boarding a mini-bus, we went over the pass, through Carcross and eneded up at a pretty lodge. We spent the early morning paddling around in a glacial lake. The late morning had us on horseback, meandering through the mountains to a scenic overlook. The horses were well-fed and well-mannered. The guides had us laughing from the canoe launch to the dismount. What a super day. Saturday was Sitka, my favorite port. Just a lovely island community with lots of boats, dogs and friendly people. I lucked into a store called Brennan's. They carried a huge variety of unique clothing, jewelry and paper goods. I spent an hour and a small fortune there. Afterward, we went to the Pioneer house, a retirement home for some of the Island's elderly residents. The house features a gift shop where you can find goods handmade by the residents. Pottery, jewelry, and textiles were dominant. Prices were amazing and all the proceeds support the home's people and pets. Sunday we spent at sea, headed toward Anchorage. Monday we arrived in Anchorage and were shuttled to the Railway Station for the Grandview Train trip. It was an good trip. Lots of scenery, but maybe a tad bit too long. The engineer was a hoot and he and my Dad talked trains for a bit. We met some really fun people during the tour so it was all worthwhile. On the bus trip back to the ship, we talked the driver into stopping at Uncle Joe's pizza. We had great pizza and local brews. A fun end to a fun day. We reached Homer on Tuesday and my Dad and I went on the Taste of Homer tour. Our guide was fantastic and had lived in Homer for years. We even saw a bull moose on the way to the mead shop, so the bus decided to rename the tour "Homer wine and wildlife". Afterward, we met my daughter on the "Spit" and toured the Deadliest Catch store and the Salty Dog. We really liked Homer. The Pratt museum is not to be missed. Our Wednesday in Kodiak was a bit disappointing. We didn't plan well and there isn't much to do or see right off the ship. If you go to Kodiak, make sure you do some sort of excursion there. Thursday in Hubbard Glacier was beautiful. The glacier was calving almost constantly. The park ranger, Justin, was very informative. I spent most of the afternoon up on the bow. Great spot. Great day! Friday found us in Juneau. It was very rainy throughout the day. Coming from Arizona, rain is a welcome novelty, but a lot of people were unhappy with the weather. We were scheduled to go on the Taku Lodge float plane and salmon bake tour, which was canceled. The helicopter tours were also canceled due to the weather. We went up Mt. Roberts on the tram and even though it was overcast, the trip up was amazing. We had lunch at the restaurant on top and spent some time looking at the artifacts and such. We did a bit of shopping and sloshed back to the ship. Saturday was a sea day. Reading, wandering and napping. An ideal vacation day! Sunday was our last day and we docked in Victoria, B>C> early due to a medical emergency. (not ours!) We rented a pedi-cab and were taken on a great tour of the city by our guide, Kevin, He moonlighted as a pedi-cab driver but spent the majority of his time studying Volcano-Physics and pursuing his Phd. We learned a lot about the town and a lot about volcanoes! We ended up at Bard and Bankers, a very lively Scottish pub off of Government Street. My daughter turned 19 during the cruise, so she was able to climb up on a bar stool and order a beer. (The drinking age in Canada is nineteen) She was very excited and a bit tipsy afterward. Monday sadly had us back in Seattle. We absolutely loved the Ship, the crew and our fellow passengers. It was an amazing trip. After 16 cruises, we voted it our favorite. We already have plans to go again next summer.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
Alaska 14-Day cruise - Holland America's Amsterdam Departure Port: Seattle, Washington Cabin: 6209 (Verandah - starboard side) Weather: Sunny and blue skies most days. Some cloudy days, a little fog at sea, very little rain - just ... Read More
Alaska 14-Day cruise - Holland America's Amsterdam Departure Port: Seattle, Washington Cabin: 6209 (Verandah - starboard side) Weather: Sunny and blue skies most days. Some cloudy days, a little fog at sea, very little rain - just at Juneau- in other words - wonderful! Seas: Mostly calm, some gentle rolling but nothing that necessitated getting out the bags. DH used Sea Bands and he was fine the whole trip and we never used the patches or anything else. Background: Two adults - wife (57) and hubby (70). DH has mobility issues and needs oxygen. We rent a scooter for the ship and have his oxygen delivered. Monday morning we arrived by car at the dock at 10:15 and by 11:00 we were checked in and waiting to be wheel-chaired on. We were on-board and wheeled to the Lido (our request as we didn't want the Mariner lunch in the dining room) by 11:30. Rooms were ready by 1:40. Our cabin was great and our stewards were Anton and Poezi (Sp). We were waitlisted for early seating for dinner and got it so dinner was in the LaFontaine Dining Room on deck 5. We were at a table for 8 with 6 of us attending each evening. We all got along and had a good time together. Ship: The ship is older but it is constantly being cleaned and is in good shape. She creaks a bit but it adds to the charm. The staff are superb and the service beyond wonderful. There is no hounding for drinks, purchasing, etc. You are asked and if you say no they just go on. How refreshing! Everyone is helpful and very easy to get along with. Itinerary: This itinerary is wonderful! You get such a long time in port everywhere except Kodiak. First stop was Ketchikan and it was nice to have all day there. We took the scooter off and wandered Creek Street and downtown. Went back on board for lunch and then I got off and shopped. Sitka - you are tendered in to this lovely city. We had the scooter and they were very accommodating at getting us off-ship. Castle Hill is a great viewpoint! Skagway - we did our first HAL excursion here - The Yukon Discovery and White Pass Railroad Tour. We were on a bus to Caribou Crossing (with photo ops. along the way). At Caribou Crossing we were fed a BBQ chicken lunch and we were very impressed. The staff there was smiling and very courteous. Lunch consisted of a leg/thigh combo, _ baked potato, coleslaw, tea and coffee; water was on the table, rolls, and all the doughnuts you could handle. It wasn't a fancy meal but it tasted very good and the area was clean. There was also a gift shop and taxidermy museum that we visited and there were other things you could do. We went back to Carcross to look (not much there) then on to Fraser, BC, to meet the train. The train ride was spectacular. It was sunny and perfect weather for pictures and standing on the train platform. Glacier Bay - we were here most of the day and the views were marvelous. There were National Park Rangers on-board and they gave a nice commentary. We spent quite a bit of time on our verandah at Margerie Glacier and it was definitely worth getting a balcony cabin! Anchorage: We did the Glacier Discovery Train and loved the scenery but it was a very long day! We were off the ship at 9:00 AM and back at 6:45 PM. We did some backtracking on the train ride and the train isn't exclusively ours, but it was worth doing. Next time, though, I'd rent a car and explore on our own. Homer: What a cute and fun area to explore. The only downside was there was no transportation for scooters, wheelchairs, etc. so we stayed at the spit. There is a free shuttle bus for the spit but the shuttle to town is $15.00. However, just beyond the school buses (which are the shuttle buses) there is a white van that offers free trips to town. We "scootered" all around the marina and down the spit. It's touristy but fun. We saw the Salty Dawg Saloon, got a milkshake and a few postcards at some other stores and then wandered back. We did about 5 miles that day and the scooter was great. One of the couples we have dinner with did the Homer Highlights tour and were raving about how good it was. Kodiak: We were here the shortest amount of time so you had to be quick. We did the Kodiak highlights and Russian Tea tour and had a great time. The best part was the Balalaika players at the tea. Our driver was Dee and she drove a 25-passenger "bus". We saw the replica Russian Orthodox Church at the seminary and then went to another Russian Orthodox church. We had several photo ops, stopped at a local art gallery and saw an eagle's nest at the fairgrounds. The tea was held in the hall at a local church and that was the best! We were served borscht, a meat turnover, a special cookie and some sweet tea. The balalaika players entertained us for over an hour and it was wonderful! Hubbard Glacier: Even though it was foggy going into Disenchantment Bay the glacier was pretty incredible. We didn't have the clear viewing we might have liked but the glacier was calving and a lot was going on as we watched. Juneau - We arrived to rain - the misty kind - and it pretty much rained all day. About mid-morning it stopped but the town was still "socked in" and rather dreary. The rain started again mid-afternoon but, again, it was a misty type. HAL supplied umbrellas as we left the ship, if you wanted them, and it didn't seem to stop anyone from getting off the ship. We were docked at the tram and right at the start of town. I got off and did some shopping, then came back on. Later we both got off, with the scooter, and wandered around. Victoria - The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect evening for a walk to town, so that's what I did! Disembarkation: Holland has disembarking down to an art. You get a letter the day before telling you what 15-minute window you have for disembarking (after filling out a questionnaire early in the cruise). There is an announcement that disembarking is commencing and that's it. You can stay in your cabin until it's time to get off the ship. The Lido is open for breakfast, but did close at 8:30. DH was wheelchaired off at 9:30 and we were on the shuttle to the parking lot quickly. By 9:45 we were at our car. Summary - This cruise was a wonderful two-week vacation. The Amsterdam is showing a bit of wear but she's a beautiful, stately ship and the itinerary is wonderful! It has a nice mix of sea days and port days and Anchorage, Homer, and Kodiak were new places to explore. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
We live in a small town in Northwest Montana, and had always wanted to see Alaska. We chose Holland America Line's 14 day Alaska itinerary from Seattle and back because it provided an opportunity to visit a variety of ports. We ... Read More
We live in a small town in Northwest Montana, and had always wanted to see Alaska. We chose Holland America Line's 14 day Alaska itinerary from Seattle and back because it provided an opportunity to visit a variety of ports. We thought this would give us a chance to sample a number of towns, and enable us to decide which places we might like to visit again. Our experience on the Amsterdam was extremely pleasant. We chose the late dining time, and thoroughly enjoyed our dining mates. We were fortunate enough to have a table for six by a port side window, and were treated to a "whale" show more than once while dining. In general we found the food, service, entertainment, and accommodations to be exceptional, and completely enjoyable. We enjoyed our Italian meal at the Canaletto, and some very relaxed times doing jigsaw puzzles in the Explorations Cafe. The informational narrations provided by the naturalist while passing the glaciers in Glacier Bay were most interesting. Our experiences in Skagway, Anchorage, Juneau, and Victoria Island will long be remembered. We also enjoyed Homer, Kodiak, and Sitka. Note: some of the names of places that I mention may not be correct because I am writing this a year after our cruise, and I am relying on my failing memory. We enjoyed our cruise so much that we are looking forward to sailing on HAL to visit more interesting places. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
We were very pleased with our first cruise on HAL.We used the airport transfers and Hotel Sheraton for one night pre cruise.The Hotel was centrally located and made walking to Pike Market and surrounding areas a breeze.Very happy we ... Read More
We were very pleased with our first cruise on HAL.We used the airport transfers and Hotel Sheraton for one night pre cruise.The Hotel was centrally located and made walking to Pike Market and surrounding areas a breeze.Very happy we decided to come to Seattle a day early.We also used HAL hotel/ship transport.The representative arranged for 2 buses so we wouldn't be crowded. Embarkation went very smoothly.We were on board by 12:45 pm.We used the time before our rooms were ready to set up our on board spending as we were using cash.The representative let us secure our account with 1,000$.We also made our Canelleto and changed our Pinnacle reservations.My husband also reserved a cooking class. We went to our room(although the room announcement had not been made yet) Met our Stewards,dropped off luggage and then headed to the Lido.We found the selection and the taste of our food to be very satisfactory,throughout the cruise. We were very happy with our room choice.It was centrally located mid ship lower Promenade Deck.Easy access to the outside deck which we used on many occasions,for viewing scenery and relaxing.The Amsterdam is tastefully decorated with an intimate atmosphere,and size.The only times we felt crowded was on Glacier viewing days.We were allowed down on the Bow but it did become overly crowded for taking pictures.We selected Late Fixed Seating in the dinning room.It worked out great for us,but I think we would have enjoyed open seating as well.We had a table for 6 in the back of the Restaurant which offered excellent views.Our table-mates were all compatible and we enjoyed our dinners together as well as socializing at other times throughout the cruise.Our Waitstaff was attentive as well as personable.The food was served and prepared to our liking. The only suggestions I can give that would have made our cruise perfect:Vary the show times.Didn't like having the show at 7 pm.We felt that the music should have started at 6 pm for cocktail hour (not 6:30).A lot of events were offered when the late seating guests were at dinner and not offered any other times,for example Name That Tune.I would have liked audience participation at the Piano Bar.Love to sing along.More Rock and Roll. In summary we had a fantastic cruise.The staff was exceptional,courteous and friendly.The ship was kept spotless.The food was always flavorful and good quality.And best of all was Alaska with no rain! Now for the reason we took this cruise Anchorage,Homer and Kodiak.Tried several time to book Anchorage/Portage Glacier Tour both though HAL and Gray line.It was cancelled which was a shame I was able to book it through Alaska Denali Tours with the Help of Jacqui.The tour enabled us to Visit the Native Heritage Center.Alyeska which was amazing and a Cruise on the Ptarmigan to view Portage Glacier.I highly recommend this tour.We were able to get off the ship at 7:30 and grabbed the first cab (with 2 others) trip cost us 4$ + tip.We took the free shuttle back to the ship at 7 pm. Homer Great little place wish we could have been there longer.Took Hop on Hop off bus to the Pratt Museum not to be missed.Had booked through HAL Taste of Homer.We went to The Meadery,Bear Creek Winery and Beer Brewery.Such a fun tour and something different.The Beer and Mead were good,but the wine was superb!Wish I could have bought a bottle of everything they made.The grounds were beautiful as well.We spent the afternoon at the Spit.Took the free trolley. Kodiak we booked Bonnie from Fridays Taxi.Although she was very knowledgeable about Kodiak and very friendly,she spent most of our time setting up other fares(dispatching)I guess you get what you pay for.Cabs run 55$ per cab we had her for 2 hours so divided by 6 that is pretty reasonable.The free shuttle was supposed to be for those that used canes or W/C,but the walk was a little more challenging and further then we were told by the cruise staff.Glad I only did it one way!Several nice museums.Not a shopping Port Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
Since we prefer the smaller ships, HAL is for us the cruiseline of choice. Have sailed on a big guy (Yuck - not HAL), have sailed on a smaller Celebrity ship (a good line). I can't tell you why but, Holland America always feels like ... Read More
Since we prefer the smaller ships, HAL is for us the cruiseline of choice. Have sailed on a big guy (Yuck - not HAL), have sailed on a smaller Celebrity ship (a good line). I can't tell you why but, Holland America always feels like home. Perhaps it's the traditions unique to them like Dutch Pea Soup at the glacier. Or physical things like "OH, look - it's Monday in the elevator." Or the continued smiles and willing attitude of the crew. (THIS, folks, is a huge thing - the others may look like a cruise ship and dress like a cruise ship - but, it's the people that staff these ships that make Holland America THE cruise ship - at least for us.) The Ms Amsterdam (flagship of the fleet according to our captain) is not the newest boat on the water. This means that things can and do go wrong - and may not get totally fixed until the next port of call if parts are needed. That being said, she is still graceful in the water, well tended by her crew and glorious to behold. I never saw a needed repair more than once. It was fixed immediately. My favorite perk about HAL ships is that it's all about you. Therefore, windows are for YOU, not for the money making restaurants of other ships. (Remember that huge ship we went on?? They had no(or very limited) windows for wildlife viewing. The common areas there were right down the center of the ship - the "give me money" restaurants were by the windows.) By contrast,there are all kinds of places to watch for whales on HAL right by a window - and if it's a lounge or bar - no purchase of a drink needed only the possibility offered. Our cabin (3416 - Lower Promenade) was large enough for us. We spent our time upstairs where you can smell the hot chocolate or hear the piano man or be out prowling the rails of the Promenade watching for whales. I sleep in 3416 and am usually too tired to even tell you the color of the walls. Storage was more than adequate. Brought 2 large suitcases and 2 carry ons and had extra drawers and shelves. Had large window on the walking deck and felt privacy even with the drapes open. Husband checked first day - no visibility into room from deck. Our service was impecible. Taufiq and Mirja tended our room with quiet efficiency. Everything was in place and made up everytime we walked into the room. Go to breakfast - when you come back the room is perfect. Take a nap, go to lunch - when you come back the room is perfect. We had early seating upstairs with Ari and Pastika. Again, these gentlemen were masters at their trade. I like lemon in my water and only one brand of tea - no problem. Told them what I wanted the first day and from then on it appeared like magic. (this level of service was not present on that huge ship that I won't tell you the name of) To be fair, I think we got the 4 best crew on the ship. At breakfast and lunch downstairs the service was not as crisp (different crew). The Amsterdam lost a good chunk of her dining crew recently and evidently some parts of the lower dining room are a work in progress. Service elsewhere was -- well -- that ole signature of excellence I love so much on HAL. I'm preceeding this paragraph with the disclaimer that this is an anomally and has NEVER happened to us before on a HAL ship. Could have made a stink but, we were having too much fun to let this intrude on our fantastic voyage. (how much more time would that have wasted?? Hate to say it HAL - but you need an attitude adjustment in the Pinnacle Grill) As you will see this experience did not mar our anniversary and did not lessen our voyage. I begin ----- Tried to use the Pinnacle Grill on our 28th wedding anniversary. Made reservations very early in the cruise but decided after 2 days that we'd like our tablemates to join in our celebration. Went in person to change the reservation from 2 to 4 people and we were stonewalled, lied to and generally made to feel like 3rd rate cruisers over the next 2 weeks. I'd have understood a simple "no, we don't have the room anymore." case closed. But, they strung us along assuring us they would try to accommodate us. It got to the point (after repeated contacts by us - none from them) that they said they would definately call us tomorrow (the lie). No one ever called (and they promised that one multiple days in a row---always tomorrow) Finally, the day before our dinner, when we got the same stonewalling, same lies, same treatment - we cancelled the reservation. THEN their tone became surprise (or shock) that we would do that. By the way, our dinner with our mates was a smashing success. Lobster and champagne with our beloved Ari and Pastika in the MDR. We didn't suffer at all. However, I have no respect for the Pinnacle staff. Activities/Entertainment Did not participate in many of the continual on-goings that occur all over the ship. Scavenger hunt was fun. (did he really think we'd have ALL that in our rooms?) Went to a few shows - loved Pappas (piano player) and the ventriloquist was good. The few times we watched the singers/dancers they were entertaining and of good quality. Our favorite entertainer on the ship departed for Hawaii when we docked on June 28th. (found that out later) WT Greer is piano man and singer extraordinaire. HAL really exceeded every expectation I ever had about entertainment on a cruise ship with the voice of this man. Don't know how they managed to wrangle that Texas boy away from international and Hawaiian commitments but, Kuddos to the management for doing so. It was one of the many highlights of our cruise. Thank you for allowing his CD to be sold on board. HAL sets the industry standard for embarkation/disembarkation. It was seamless, pain free, quick and very well organized. We used their on-line pre-boarding service and only had to pick up our onboard passes and fill out one small health form. Quick, easy and eating on the Lido in no time at all. Disembarkation was just as easy. You can have your luggage sent right to the plane for a small fee if you don't want to lug it yourself after you leave the ship. Or, pick it up on the pier after you get off. Since we were not going to do anything in Seattle, we opted to pick up on the pier. Fill out their form, attach your luggage tags, set them outside your cabin by midnight and pick them up on the pier. HAL has silent disembarkation. One announcement to start the process and everyone is left to enjoy the remaining time on-board without constant squawking of the PA system. You can also choose to stay in your stateroom until you leave the ship if you want. We left a few minutes before our scheduled time, walked down the ramp, to our luggage area where we easily retrieved our bags and went out the door of the terminal all in about 5 minutes. Love this cruise line. This was the most memorable cruise we've ever had. Oh, those shore excursions and ports of call. Our evenings with WT Greer, hot white chocolate in the Explorer Cafe, new friends, new card games and so many critters and vistas I lost count. For normal activities, the crew performed seamlessly in the background. They were continued drum beat that complemented our experience with smiles, gracious hospitality and superb efficiency. Thank you HAL for our heavenly time in The Great Land. Ports included here were not available to review on Port Review page: ANCHORAGE: We did not go to town here - so check with others for their input. Our HAL excursion was the Grandview Train. We have taken the train from Denali so my expectations were low for this one (I'm a critter gal). I expected lots of scenery and then more scenery. Was I mistaken!!!! We rolled by Turnagain Arm seeing the vistas I was expecting and the 3 beluga whales I was not expecting. Then, we dropped off most of the passengers in Whittier heading for other adventures of their own. With the train mostly empty we were given the go ahead to sit anywhere on the train we chose until it was time for re-boarding those that got off. I opted for the observation car - second storey. Finding a perch on the table in the most forward seat I was set for the journey. My view looked over the top of the train in front of me and was for me (train buff) outstanding. We wound past moose in streams, on the tracks and in a pond, there was an eagle proudly protecting her eggs in a nest close to the tracks, bears romped over the tracks and through the woods and beavers dammed up the streams and swam in the ponds. Add to that the thrill of winding through a beautiful National Park, going through tunnels carved into mountains and feeling the untouched beauty of Alaska - it was amazing. HOMER: If I could rate this port higher I would. Of all the places we stopped, we really want to return to Homer. So much to do, so little time. We had the HAL Gull Island Ketchamak Bay cruise. Our guides were very knowledgeable and when they found out my desire to see puffins they did their best to accommodate. And, puffins I did see. While not in the numbers of the Kittywakes and other residents, we saw a respectful number and I got good pictures. (18X zoom and will enlarge it prior to developing) We also ran the bay to the fjord and looked for mountain goat (none) then to another rock island for the sea otters. (Got a mom and pup plus more). Really enjoyed this as puffins were a goal for me this year. (fyi - the tiny black spots on the water in Glacier Bay are puffins) Could not make it into town but we loved the spit. Time Bandit store is there and the people from the boat will be there if they are in port. Fishing, Soldovia transport and great looking shops and restaurants. KODIAK: Only port we were disappointed in. Have to keep remembering this is a commercial port. We pre-arranged a 2hr tour with Bonnie of Friday's taxi expecting more than we received. Unfortunately she was running her taxi business from the front seat of our tour. (phone glued to her ear much of the time) She dropped us at the Fort(small fee to get in that she did not tell us about)and then left us there while she took another fare. Many did not go in as they did not allow that extra $$ in their plans for the day. She charged us for the overage in time while we were stranded at the fort. Also not good communication as she left us in town instead of taking us back to the boat. It then cost us more money for her to take us back to the boat where she had another cruise critic group waiting. Bonnie is very personable and is an engaging tour guide - she just needs some time to adjust to what tourists expect. It's a learning curve at this point. The port itself is not set up for tourists. Limited resources on the island make transportation to and from town a challenge. And, in spite of what the shore excursion team says - it's a long walk for anyone not in shape. Heard from others that the city tour from HAL was outstanding and later in the year local bear tours should be successful. One wonderful surprise - listen to the birds. Their happy twittering is delightful. Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
Amsterdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.0 4.1
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 4.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 4.0 4.0
Family 3.0 4.0
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.1
Enrichment 4.0 3.9
Service 4.0 4.5
Value For Money 4.0 4.2
Rates 4.0 4.2

Find an Amsterdam Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click