Background--We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on this cruise. We decided 7 yrs ago, on our first and only other cruise, that we wanted to sail to Alaska again with HAL for our 25th anniversary. This time we went out of Seattle ... Read More
Background--We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on this cruise. We decided 7 yrs ago, on our first and only other cruise, that we wanted to sail to Alaska again with HAL for our 25th anniversary. This time we went out of Seattle instead of VanCouver because we wanted to go to Sitka. (That, and the flights were cheaper to Seattle.)
Embarkation--Upon recommendations from this board, we flew into Seattle a day early, even though we live on the West Coast. Very glad we did. We had a quick 10 minute cab ride to the port, and arrived around 10:30 a.m. We had already done the online check-in, so check-in was a breeze. Also on recommendation from these boards, I asked about an upgrade/upsell at the time of check-in, but they told us that we would need to check with the front desk once after everyone boarded to see if there had been any no-shows. (We did check--no such luck.)
One thing that caught us off guard was the porter. He took our luggage from the cab and told us what line to get in. We didn't realize that we wouldn't be seeing him again, so he missed out on a tip. Also, we didn't keep any carry-ons, except the camera bag. That made the first couple of hours really nice, not having to drag around luggage. (I know there's a risk of no luggage arriving at the room in time for dinner, and then you're stuck with the clothes you're wearing, but it was worth the risk to not have baggage with us at the lido.)
We had our picture taken (which I was disappointed with because it was crooked, and we were going to splurge and buy a bunch of pictures since this was our anniversary cruise), and were eating lunch in the lido before 12:00 p.m. Being one of the first ones to board, the lido was not crowded at all. Also, due to food allergies, I had been instructed to meet with the dining room manager upon embarkation. We did that before going to the lido, his name was Gilroy, and he was very helpful in getting us situated for dinner. (We ended up with early dining, which worked out well.)
The Ship--We toured the ship on our own before most people had even boarded. FYI, this is a good time to take pictures around the ship as there are not very many people loitering around. The Oosterdam was beautiful--especially the glass globe.
Stateroom--The announcement came around 1:00 p.m. that the rooms were ready. We had a balcony room at the very back of the ship. I picked that out after reading so many positive comments about the balcony over the wake. Although we didn't get to use the balcony as much as we would have liked (it rained most of the time), we absolutely loved the stateroom, and balcony, and would ask for that room again next time. (We were coveting the SC suite next to us--not for the Neptune Lounge, but for the wrap-around balcony, and the extra room space. However, we didn't think it was worth twice the price.) For two of us the cabin space was quite sufficient. Also, people complain about having to walk too much with a cabin at the back--we loved that too. We always used the stairs, and figured the extra walking helped balance out the extra food. Plus, the dining room and lido are at the back of the ship.
After reading and seeing pictures on the boards, I decided to decorate the outside of our door, and our cabin, for our anniversary. I was under the impression that lots of people do that. Wrong. We were the only cabin door we saw decorated--but we didn't care. Lots of people wished us Happy Anniversary.
Service--We made sure to meet our cabin steward, Heri, right away. (He actually came to our cabin.) He was wonderful. He was always around with a smile, and if we needed anything we could just call out "Oh Heri, where are you?" and we'd see his little head pop out of someone's cabin. We loved saying good morning to him and asking about his day. I think the staff really appreciates when the guests genuinely care about them, too.
Greenhouse Spa--One of the first places we toured after settling in our room was the Greenhouse Spa. After reading these boards, I wanted my husband to see the Thermal Suites. They do quite a sales job, showing you the hydrotherapy pool first, and then taking you to the thermal suite with the ceramic chairs, mist showers, and aromatherapy steam rooms. As soon as my husband layed on the heated ceramic chair, he turned to me and said, "we're doing this." So we signed-up for the couples week-long pass, and used it every single day--sometimes more than once. We had early seating for dinner, so we used the hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite pretty much every evening after dinner. We also used the showers in the locker room more than we used the shower in our cabin. I highly recommend the thermal suite package for anyone who wants a relaxing cruise.
Activities--The only activities we really did on the ship, besides eating, were the Sports of Call activities. These are various "sporting" events, like ping-pong, football toss, darts, etc., where you can earn dam dollars just for participating, and then turn them in for dam prizes like water bottles, t-shirts, etc.
Dining Room--We wanted anytime dining, but when we were given our boarding passes, we were assigned to second seating. However, upon discussions with the assistant dining room manager, our assigned seating was changed to a table for two at early seating. That worked out best with my food allergies. Our waiter was very friendly, always smiling, but the service was pretty slow. We enjoyed eating in the formal setting, but we're kind of the eat-and-get-out type people, so the lengthy dinner seatings got a little frustrating at times. We did go to both formal dinners, and enjoyed seeing everyone dressed nicely. The Master Chef's dinner is corny, but cute. The food was okay--except the chilled fruit soups, which are wonderful.
Lido--We ate in the Lido for most breakfasts and lunches. At times it was pretty crowded and we had to really look for a table--but that was generally at the peak eating times, so we expected that. There were plenty of choices, and the food was very good. We often had a cookie or ice cream snack in the afternoon, and then another snack after we went to the thermal suite at night. My husband said for our next cruise he would just prefer to eat in the Lido and not have to take extra clothes for dining room attire. Also, the terrace grill was very good.
Dessert Extravaganza--Excellent. Beautiful. What more is there to say--it's dessert. (I will comment, however, that throughout the entire week, we were less-than-impressed with the cakes. They were always dry.)
Entertainment--The only show we went to was the magician, who was very good. We spent the other evenings in the thermal suite.
Ports-- Juneau--We've been to Juneau twice on cruises, and still haven't seen the town, other than to drive through. We went on the fly out fly fishing excursion with Bear Creek Outfitters. (It can only be booked through the cruise ship.) Excellent, excellent, excellent. There were 6 of us and 2 guides. The flew us in float planes to Admiralty Island. They taught us to fly fish--I had three on but only landed one. They provide all the waders, fishing equipment, and raingear. You don't have to know how to fish to do this. The most exciting part was encountering 8 grizzly bear. First was a mama and her 3 cubs. She actually charged us and came to within 20 yrds of us. A bit frightening, but a totally awesome experience. (The guide carries a shotgun, so I wasn't too scared.) Next a single male came down the river toward us. And then a mama and 2 cubs came up the river--but she didn't really care that we were there. We got to watch her fish for her cubs. But at that point the guides decided since we were surrounded by bear, we really needed to hike out of that area. It was the most wonderful Alaskan experience, and we will definitely do that one again.
Sitka--We did the 4X4 wilderness excursion--in the pouring rain. It was a lot of fun, and the rain made driving through the holes that much more fun, with water and mud splashing everywhere. Although I would definitely recommend the excursion, it isn't one I would necessarily do again. The van driver dropped us at the raptor center so we were able to see a little of that, and then walk back through the park and view some totem poles. We went to a couple shops in town, and bought some salmonberry jelly, kelp pickles, and Russian dolls & ornaments. We would have liked to have more time to spend looking around the town.
Ketchikan--Since we were in this town a short time, we didn't plan any excursions this time. Instead we hoped to hike to Eagle lookout--but we got lost in the pouring rain, had a miserable hike, and never did see any bald eagles here. We quickly went through Creek St. and bought some ornaments from local artists. Then we did the cheapy souvenir shopping with the coupons, which is kind of like going on a scavenger hunt. I know lots of people rail against buying from the cheapy stores, but for cheapy things like t-shirts, socks, and bibs, you can't beat it.
Hubbard Glacier--Absolutely astounding. We dressed plenty warmly, as we had learned our lesson after freezing 7 yrs ago in Glacier Bay. (People looked at us weird as we were walking to the bow of the ship totally bundled up, but they weren't laughing after they had been outside for a few minutes.) We stood at the bow on deck 5 the entire time we were heading toward the glacier. (It was much less crowded than deck 4--and you really need to experience the glacier outside.) Then when the captain turned the ship to head out, we hustled to our own balcony to enjoy the glacier in private--sort of. Between Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay, we were more impressed with Hubbard Glacier.
Miscellaneous--We had two very rough sea days--going into Sitka and leaving Sitka. We wore seabands, took bonine and ginger, and were fine. We loved being rocked to sleep in our cabin at the back.
Disembarkation--Very easy. We did not purchase the HAL transfer. Our flight was scheduled for 12:30. We requested the 9:00-9:15 disembarkation. We ordered room service for breakfast, and stayed in our cabin until 9:00. We were off the ship and in a cab by 9:20. We were through check-in and security, sitting at our departure gate by 10:30.
This cruise was everything, and more, that we dreamed it would be. Did everything go perfect? No. But does anything in life ever go perfectly? No. We love cruising, and we are very impressed with HAL. Read Less