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Review (LONG): Oosterdam, Alaska, May 27, 2006 Well, I hope this is better late than never. So, who wouldnt want to see the beauty of Alaska? Recently I felt a little more sense of urgency since many Glaciers are receding globally. This itinerary: SeattleSea dayJuneau Hubbard Glacier SitkaKetchikanVictoria Seattle gave a good snapshot of Alaska. Since it was roundtrip Seattle, it was more economical. Our group was all family. A well traveled bunch with ages ranging from myself at 49 yrs., up to 83 yrs.. I left Austin Tx. with the preconception that the little ports of Alaska would likely be overrun with passengers. However, this was minimized by the fact that the Oosterdam was usually first in port. Our captain was known for this, and this opportunity gave us a definite advantage. I was also pleased to find that you didnt have to go very far outside the port city, just a few blocks actually, to get away from us tourists. Lastly, I discovered that the port cities had some pretty cool things to see and do. Pre-cruise: We purchased air, transfers and tours on our own. The cruise was booked through an agent in Houston. She just plain spoiled us and really put the finishing touches on our cruise; which was much appreciated. We all rendezvoused in Seattle at the Comfort Suites SeaTac a day before embarkation. This was a satisfactory hotel which offered an airport shuttle plus limited restaurant shuttle service. There was an expanded continental breakfast buffet. Nothing fancy but nice, seemed clean and the front desk provided me with toothbrush and paste which I managed to forget. There are 2 buildings at this hotel. One of our rooms was in the farther building and it seemed to take forever navigating to different levels to and from the lobby. The closer building would be a wise choice here. Rooms were approx. $90. through AAA. Embarkation: Before flying out to Seattle we had reserved shuttle service pick up to the port with the Seattle Express at 10:30 am for $10.00pp. They were prompt and made one additional stop for some Princess cruisers then dropped us off right in front of the Holland check-in building. Princess check-in was on the opposite side of the same building. We grabbed a porter and by the time we were processed HAL had opened up the entrance way to the ship, around 11:15. There was a separate check-in area adjacent to the main line with seating available for persons needing physical assistance. There was a table set up for purchasing wine packages. The staff said it would not be offered again during the cruise, so it would be a good idea to think about it before you arrive. There were a couple of people in the HAL check-in with gorgeous bouquets of flowers they had purchased at Pikes market, we were jealous. We were having lunch around 11:45 while waiting for our cabins -- which were ready around 1:30 or 2:00.. Ship Impressions: Beautifully elegant would sum up my description. Ships I have been on to compare are Norwegian Sun, Carnival Destiny and the Jubilee; RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas; American Queen and Celebrity Galaxy. The artwork and dEcor is somewhat eclectic and interesting but still refined. Gorgeous use of colors and highly textured fabrics in some of the lounges like the Explorers lounge. Even the elevator doors were beautifully sculpted. The ship looked clean and well kept. There were several hand sanitizing units throughout, of coarse one positioned at the spot where you are fumbling to retrieve your card key when boarding. Staff encountered was friendly and courteous. This included the front desk when we had a minor issue; there was not only resolution but follow-up. The first night on-board we met up with a fun group from Cruise Critic. The hotel manager, James Deering hosted us up in the crows nest. We really enjoyed our conversation immensely with Mr. Deering. He is a very engaging individual and both he and the captain were quite visible throughout the cruise. I regret that I came down with a cold and did not attend a reception he and the captain hosted. ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: This is not a party vessel. The mood was very relaxed. One night my sisters and I headed up to check out the disco but there were only a handful of people scattered here and there. We ended up in a small alcove off the lobby called the Ocean bar where a Filipino band was playing, good music and people watching. I did not bring my teens along this trip and only saw a handful of children so I cannot report on the childrens facilities/activities. We somehow missed many of the activities despite looking over the Daily program. We were frustrated more than once because we would miss something in the program. A big surprise to me was the shows. Although the singing was a little weak, the choreography was phenomenal. There were many dance routines that were complicated with frequent costume and stage changes. This ship by far had the best shows I have seen ship board. There was a comedic ventriloquist that was hilarious; an Elton John impersonator that we enjoyed; good crew show; and the usual magic show called DV8 Magic which was a little weak. The Queens lounge doubled as a movie theatre, one movie was King Kong. We attended a class on Digital photography there also that gave some good photo tips. The gym was nice with plenty of treadmills. Exercise classes such as aerobics, pilates, cycling and yoga usually had a fee except there was occasionally an 8:00 am class with no fee. There was a walk a mile (non-hosted) group Promenade Deck usually at 0730. I once saw a game show going on in the Queens lounge with electronic podium scoring systems and all that looked fun. There was the usual Karaoke & Superstar contests, ship & kitchen tours, ice carving; bingo; sail away festivities, dancing. ... Overall reminded me of about the level of activity youd find on Celebrity and RCCL. It was plenty for us but we were there to relax. There were also the revenue producing venues going on such as the shore excursion talks; Art shows; the Greenhouse Spa services with thermal pool; wine/martini tasting promotions; bingo and casino gaming. Staterooms: At check-in we got news that one of our cabin locations had been changed. Oh no, I said -- We had strategically picked our three cabins all together so this was a little shock at first. I was insisting to be given the reason behind this. I was very insistent and no one could explain why. I finally shut up when I asked whether it was an upgrade. I have rarely heard of such an extreme upgrade as this was. My sister looked on a deck plan and low and behold -- one of our little Inside staterooms had been changed to an 8th floor balcony! Originally we were booked for 2 inside cabins #5177 and #5173 and 1 aft balcony #5183. The upgraded Cabin #8121 was lovely, although the weather on the balcony was a little too cool about half of the time on this itinerary. This was not the case however with the Aft balcony for #5183. This aft balcony had very little cover, which allowed the sun to warm us and the wind was blocked due to the aft location. It was a much larger balcony than I expected; almost what Id expect for a suite. All six of us could sit comfortably, it was a dream. Yes, people could enviously look down on us from an aft upper deck but this was not a problem for us. The inside #5177 had a different layout than the typical cabin.. The use of square footage did not appeal to me because of this. As you enter in the center, a small table and chair are immediately at the doorway. The beds to the right, then B.R./closet hall to the left. If someone is using the chair, they have to make room for you to enter the cabin. The Inside cabin had shower, others had shower with bath tub. Plenty of storage in all; nice drawer under foot of bed. Phones had voice mail. There was mini a bar fridge. and blow dryer. No clocks.FOOD: We chose the early seating and glad we did because there was a two hour time difference from Texas then another hour back after we set sail. We had an aft lower level table in the Vista dining room. There was a pretty significant vibration/hum but we got used to it. I think there was music but we could not hear it. Our table servers were efficient. The decor was nice and didnt seem over crowded. Some of our dinners were excellent and some just ok. Overall we enjoyed the food and I am pretty picky. Desserts though as a whole were a real disappointment. The desert extravaganza was beautiful and fun but had no taste. The ice cream was good at least, and one night we ordered a great chocolate coated ice cream ball called the Cappuccino Bomb!. We quickly spoke with our waiter about saving some for us and we enjoyed them again another night. A few dishes that stood out for me were: the escargot, prime rib, Alaskan Halibut and rack of lamb. The lobster was another stand out which was actually not overcooked! I ordered 2 tails on my Surf and Turf which was a good thing since the beef filet was not good. The fish in general was prepared well but our beef other than the prime rib was not very flavorful and dry. Shrimp were very small unless stated on the menu otherwise. King crab legs were not good. I am sure all the above vary from cruise to cruise. We did not bring wine on-board. We had several gift bottles of champagne and wine but we would always forget to chill them. As a courtesy, the wine steward would simply exchange it for a cold one if on the Oosterdam wine list without the corkage fee. We heard others had simply asked their cabin steward to supply a wine bucket with ice, then took the chilled bottle with them to dinner. The wine and cocktail prices were typical for a cruise. Prices ranged around $4.50-$6.00 for cocktails, and seemed a little on the weak side, then wine starting at about $25.00 on up per bottle. You can bring your own wine for a corkage fee at dinner. I brought some liquor for the room in my checked baggage without a problem. We enjoyed the Pinnacle restaurant one night. We had a complimentary card; normally it is a $20pp fee. I would recommend going at least one night. The food was overall excellent. Particularly the beef, the marbling was perfect. I had read a lot about the crab cakes. They were good but not the best since the meat is blended rather than lump crab and tasted more like snow crab. The deserts were much better here, the crème Brulee had not separated like in the Vista dining room. The Pinnacles china was beautiful and the lighting in the restaurant was whimsically pretty. The ceiling decor had pods of floral shaped jelly fish like lights that would flare and then dim. As far as the service, they treated us very very well. The room service menu was also pretty good and it was always delivered a little earlier than expected; appropriate temperature. The buffet was hit and miss with quality, overall good for a cruise ship. I appreciated all the different food type stations which helped with the passenger flow. You had to work a little to get a table sometimes but we just began the routine of &ok, you scout for tables while we get in line sort of thing. Occasionally spotted crew assisting with trays. Buffet closed around 2:00pm after lunch, then around 10:00pm. The buffet extended the hours for the Victoria port stop since we did not dock until after 6:00pm. There was an outdoor grill with burgers, dogs, pizza and fries which were average to good. Small bits and pieces: A few memories of small details I appreciated on the Oosterdam were: cloth hand towels in the public restrooms; the dining rooms after dinner mint/ginger station; nice dinner china esp. in the Pinnacle restaurant; hot chocolate at the Oosterdam dock in Sitka; the Explorers lounge luscious trays of Gourmet chocolates in the evening; unique towel animals; nice complimentary toiletries; exotic tapestry covering placed at foot of bed. Ports: You will most likely have some rain at some point in Alaska so just be prepared. When the weather breaks it is spectacular, and can change your view of a town in an instant. Juneau: We were docked at a pier and took a cheap city shuttle ride to town. We did a whale watching tour through Orca Enterprises that we reserved about 1 week before the cruise. They were very courteous and knowledgeable. Captain Larry was a very colorful individual and really worked hard for us to see whales in one of his speedy and comfortable boats. We saw many humpbacks, even showing us some tail several times. This was supposedly not the best time of year for Orca though and did not see any. Our Naturalist also pointed out two Glaciers; it was a beautiful tour. They provided some refreshments about mid-way. We would highly recommend this outfit. We still had time to do a little tourist shopping in town. I found a drug store near a McDonalds and bought some cold meds and a clock for our cabin. Since I am a fan of Alaskan Amber ale and enjoy local bars, Captain Larry suggested The Alaskan Hotel and Bar, but I ran out of steam. Other cruisers enjoyed the view from the Roberts Tram. Others raved about a salmon bake. Although I am sure the salmon would be great on this tour, take note that the Vista dining menu included salmon dishes every evening. Hubbard Glacier: Our captain nosed us right up to the face of the Hubbard Glacier, very impressive. Thunderous cracks were loud and clear, followed by lots of caving. We seemed to be the only ship this close. We lucked out with beautiful weather but we were still freezing cold standing outside. Be prepared for this as you dont want to miss gazing at this magnificent glaciers beauty. Its a show stopper! Sitka: This was a tender port. The tender took us to a pier a little farther from the one stated in our Daily Program. This was my favorite port but I may have been influenced by the nice weather. Have good walking shoes even though the distances are not very far. The only transportation I saw was a van that dropped you off at their jewelry store and we werent sure how far off the beaten path it would be. We saw no other transportation and my mother aggravated her heal spur here for the rest of the trip because of her shoes. We saw St. Michaels Cathedral which was kind of over hyped but nice since the clergy was making himself available and seemed pleased to have visitors. We walked about 20+ min from the center to the Sitka National park. We watched a historical film in the Visitors center mostly about the Tlingit Indians, very interesting; observed one of the locals carving a totem in a studio; viewed various exhibits; then wandered through the totem park on their Totem Loop which was enjoyably easy. Ranger led talks and walks are available. There were nice restrooms and a book store. Very enjoyable and good photo ops..When we headed back towards town on Lincoln Street we stopped at a small hands on aquarium/store on the water side, across the street from a college. Worth a visit if you have time, fee was donation only. My sisters stopped for tea at the Lime Curd Tea shop and enjoyed. Back at the shuttle pier the Oosterdam was providing hot chocolate. The shuttle crew gave me some 3rd degree questioning there since I only brought my sail card and forgot identification. They eventually found me on a roster and quizzed me a little to make sure who I said I was. Ketchikan: I admit part of the reason this town was not as enjoyable to me was because of the constant rain. The town is nice and quaint actually with Creek street and there was some pretty good tourist shopping to be had right where the ship docks. We picked a flop of a tour though by choosing to go on the DUCK Tour for around $35.pp. The tour guide on this Duck tour was a real quack and actually gave inaccurate information at times which really got on my nerves after a while. The weather did not help since the windows were fogged up with the rain. We were treated however to seeing many bald eagles during our tour. The eagles were hanging around the rocky shore line right in town! The Duck tour in Seattle is however a do not miss! Hilarious and informative. Victoria: We only arrived in port at around 6:00pm because of some docking issue. There was a cheap double decker shuttle bus ride provided right at the dock which drops you off in front of the Empress hotel. We ruled out going to Buchart Gardens thinking we would not have enough light to see, since it is maybe a 45 min. drive to get there. Later we heard other cruisers actually did have enough time and light and highly recommend it. We took a horse drawn carriage tour which was a little pricey but fun and informative. The waterfront is very scenic with the Empress Hotel front and center and then at night when the government building nearby lights up with strings of white lights. There was some pretty good shopping heading away from the Empress and government building. We topped off the evening with an Alaskan Amber ale at the Empress hotel. We found a nice bar in the lower level below the lobby level, very enjoyable. There were a few shops and a public restroom on this level of the hotel. Disembarkation: What a pleasant way HAL handles things. We enjoyed a leisurely morning with room service. You can stay in your room until your color is called. We found our luggage in the terminal, customs asked the usual did you enjoy your cruise? while giving you the visual once over. Then we were headed to Seattle in one of the many taxis available. Post cruise: Our hotel in Seattle this time was the Comfort Suites Downtown Seattle Center for around $145.00 through AAA. We could walk about 3 blocks and we were at the Space Needle. We also had a view of the Needle from our room. It was a good value considering the location. Parking is a premium in the area so to being able to park free in a gated covered garage and walk, was a cost saver. They had a nice courtyard and expanded continental breakfast. There is a Duck tour next to the Needle that is great for around $23.pp. Across the street a McDonalds for an ice cream and restroom stop. Go up the needle and watch the Oosterdam sail out again. I was shocked they would leave without us! Sure enough an NCL ship was trying to catch up with her to no avail.. We also went to the Science fiction exhibit at the wild shaped Music Experience building at the base of the needle. Viewing it from the needle, the roof resembles a smashed guitar. I enjoy sci-fi but this was a big disappointment for the money, maybe if youre a Trekkie or similar you might enjoy. We heard the music exhibit there is good though. In Seattle we enjoyed dinner at a water front restaurant called Elliots. We sat at an outside table and watched a ferry go back and forth to an island nearby. We missed seeing the valet parking; we found a parking garage across the street and the restaurant kindly validated our ticket but there were some restrictions on this, call ahead to ask. Overall this was a fantastic cruise which I would love repeating with the family. It was refreshing to see so much rugged beauty still left in our world. Happy Travels.

Oosterdam - Alaska

Oosterdam Cruise Review by Vicki Monte'

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: May 2006
  • Destination: Alaska
Review (LONG): Oosterdam, Alaska, May 27, 2006
Well, I hope this is better late than never. So, who wouldnt want to see the beauty of Alaska? Recently I felt a little more sense of urgency since many Glaciers are receding globally. This itinerary: SeattleSea dayJuneau Hubbard Glacier SitkaKetchikanVictoria Seattle gave a good snapshot of Alaska. Since it was roundtrip Seattle, it was more economical. Our group was all family. A well traveled bunch with ages ranging from myself at 49 yrs., up to 83 yrs.. I left Austin Tx. with the preconception that the little ports of Alaska would likely be overrun with passengers. However, this was minimized by the fact that the Oosterdam was usually first in port. Our captain was known for this, and this opportunity gave us a definite advantage. I was also pleased to find that you didnt have to go very far outside the port city, just a few blocks actually, to get away from us tourists. Lastly, I discovered that the port cities had some pretty cool things to see and do.
Pre-cruise: We purchased air, transfers and tours on our own. The cruise was booked through an agent in Houston. She just plain spoiled us and really put the finishing touches on our cruise; which was much appreciated. We all rendezvoused in Seattle at the Comfort Suites SeaTac a day before embarkation. This was a satisfactory hotel which offered an airport shuttle plus limited restaurant shuttle service. There was an expanded continental breakfast buffet. Nothing fancy but nice, seemed clean and the front desk provided me with toothbrush and paste which I managed to forget. There are 2 buildings at this hotel. One of our rooms was in the farther building and it seemed to take forever navigating to different levels to and from the lobby. The closer building would be a wise choice here. Rooms were approx. $90. through AAA.
Embarkation: Before flying out to Seattle we had reserved shuttle service pick up to the port with the Seattle Express at 10:30 am for $10.00pp. They were prompt and made one additional stop for some Princess cruisers then dropped us off right in front of the Holland check-in building. Princess check-in was on the opposite side of the same building. We grabbed a porter and by the time we were processed HAL had opened up the entrance way to the ship, around 11:15. There was a separate check-in area adjacent to the main line with seating available for persons needing physical assistance. There was a table set up for purchasing wine packages. The staff said it would not be offered again during the cruise, so it would be a good idea to think about it before you arrive. There were a couple of people in the HAL check-in with gorgeous bouquets of flowers they had purchased at Pikes market, we were jealous. We were having lunch around 11:45 while waiting for our cabins -- which were ready around 1:30 or 2:00..
Ship Impressions: Beautifully elegant would sum up my description. Ships I have been on to compare are Norwegian Sun, Carnival Destiny and the Jubilee; RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas; American Queen and Celebrity Galaxy. The artwork and dEcor is somewhat eclectic and interesting but still refined. Gorgeous use of colors and highly textured fabrics in some of the lounges like the Explorers lounge. Even the elevator doors were beautifully sculpted. The ship looked clean and well kept. There were several hand sanitizing units throughout, of coarse one positioned at the spot where you are fumbling to retrieve your card key when boarding. Staff encountered was friendly and courteous. This included the front desk when we had a minor issue; there was not only resolution but follow-up. The first night on-board we met up with a fun group from Cruise Critic. The hotel manager, James Deering hosted us up in the crows nest. We really enjoyed our conversation immensely with Mr. Deering. He is a very engaging individual and both he and the captain were quite visible throughout the cruise. I regret that I came down with a cold and did not attend a reception he and the captain hosted.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: This is not a party vessel. The mood was very relaxed. One night my sisters and I headed up to check out the disco but there were only a handful of people scattered here and there. We ended up in a small alcove off the lobby called the Ocean bar where a Filipino band was playing, good music and people watching. I did not bring my teens along this trip and only saw a handful of children so I cannot report on the childrens facilities/activities. We somehow missed many of the activities despite looking over the Daily program. We were frustrated more than once because we would miss something in the program. A big surprise to me was the shows. Although the singing was a little weak, the choreography was phenomenal. There were many dance routines that were complicated with frequent costume and stage changes. This ship by far had the best shows I have seen ship board. There was a comedic ventriloquist that was hilarious; an Elton John impersonator that we enjoyed; good crew show; and the usual magic show called DV8 Magic which was a little weak.
The Queens lounge doubled as a movie theatre, one movie was King Kong. We attended a class on Digital photography there also that gave some good photo tips. The gym was nice with plenty of treadmills. Exercise classes such as aerobics, pilates, cycling and yoga usually had a fee except there was occasionally an 8:00 am class with no fee. There was a walk a mile (non-hosted) group Promenade Deck usually at 0730. I once saw a game show going on in the Queens lounge with electronic podium scoring systems and all that looked fun. There was the usual Karaoke & Superstar contests, ship & kitchen tours, ice carving; bingo; sail away festivities, dancing. ... Overall reminded me of about the level of activity youd find on Celebrity and RCCL. It was plenty for us but we were there to relax.
There were also the revenue producing venues going on such as the shore excursion talks; Art shows; the Greenhouse Spa services with thermal pool; wine/martini tasting promotions; bingo and casino gaming.
Staterooms: At check-in we got news that one of our cabin locations had been changed. Oh no, I said -- We had strategically picked our three cabins all together so this was a little shock at first. I was insisting to be given the reason behind this. I was very insistent and no one could explain why. I finally shut up when I asked whether it was an upgrade. I have rarely heard of such an extreme upgrade as this was. My sister looked on a deck plan and low and behold -- one of our little Inside staterooms had been changed to an 8th floor balcony! Originally we were booked for 2 inside cabins #5177 and #5173 and 1 aft balcony #5183. The upgraded Cabin #8121 was lovely, although the weather on the balcony was a little too cool about half of the time on this itinerary. This was not the case however with the Aft balcony for #5183. This aft balcony had very little cover, which allowed the sun to warm us and the wind was blocked due to the aft location. It was a much larger balcony than I expected; almost what Id expect for a suite. All six of us could sit comfortably, it was a dream. Yes, people could enviously look down on us from an aft upper deck but this was not a problem for us.
The inside #5177 had a different layout than the typical cabin.. The use of square footage did not appeal to me because of this. As you enter in the center, a small table and chair are immediately at the doorway. The beds to the right, then B.R./closet hall to the left. If someone is using the chair, they have to make room for you to enter the cabin. The Inside cabin had shower, others had shower with bath tub. Plenty of storage in all; nice drawer under foot of bed. Phones had voice mail. There was mini a bar fridge. and blow dryer. No clocks.FOOD: We chose the early seating and glad we did because there was a two hour time difference from Texas then another hour back after we set sail. We had an aft lower level table in the Vista dining room. There was a pretty significant vibration/hum but we got used to it. I think there was music but we could not hear it. Our table servers were efficient. The decor was nice and didnt seem over crowded. Some of our dinners were excellent and some just ok. Overall we enjoyed the food and I am pretty picky. Desserts though as a whole were a real disappointment. The desert extravaganza was beautiful and fun but had no taste. The ice cream was good at least, and one night we ordered a great chocolate coated ice cream ball called the Cappuccino Bomb!. We quickly spoke with our waiter about saving some for us and we enjoyed them again another night.
A few dishes that stood out for me were: the escargot, prime rib, Alaskan Halibut and rack of lamb. The lobster was another stand out which was actually not overcooked! I ordered 2 tails on my Surf and Turf which was a good thing since the beef filet was not good. The fish in general was prepared well but our beef other than the prime rib was not very flavorful and dry. Shrimp were very small unless stated on the menu otherwise. King crab legs were not good. I am sure all the above vary from cruise to cruise.
We did not bring wine on-board. We had several gift bottles of champagne and wine but we would always forget to chill them. As a courtesy, the wine steward would simply exchange it for a cold one if on the Oosterdam wine list without the corkage fee. We heard others had simply asked their cabin steward to supply a wine bucket with ice, then took the chilled bottle with them to dinner. The wine and cocktail prices were typical for a cruise. Prices ranged around $4.50-$6.00 for cocktails, and seemed a little on the weak side, then wine starting at about $25.00 on up per bottle. You can bring your own wine for a corkage fee at dinner. I brought some liquor for the room in my checked baggage without a problem.
We enjoyed the Pinnacle restaurant one night. We had a complimentary card; normally it is a $20pp fee. I would recommend going at least one night. The food was overall excellent. Particularly the beef, the marbling was perfect. I had read a lot about the crab cakes. They were good but not the best since the meat is blended rather than lump crab and tasted more like snow crab. The deserts were much better here, the crème Brulee had not separated like in the Vista dining room. The Pinnacles china was beautiful and the lighting in the restaurant was whimsically pretty. The ceiling decor had pods of floral shaped jelly fish like lights that would flare and then dim. As far as the service, they treated us very very well.
The room service menu was also pretty good and it was always delivered a little earlier than expected; appropriate temperature. The buffet was hit and miss with quality, overall good for a cruise ship. I appreciated all the different food type stations which helped with the passenger flow. You had to work a little to get a table sometimes but we just began the routine of &ok, you scout for tables while we get in line sort of thing. Occasionally spotted crew assisting with trays. Buffet closed around 2:00pm after lunch, then around 10:00pm. The buffet extended the hours for the Victoria port stop since we did not dock until after 6:00pm. There was an outdoor grill with burgers, dogs, pizza and fries which were average to good.
Small bits and pieces: A few memories of small details I appreciated on the Oosterdam were: cloth hand towels in the public restrooms; the dining rooms after dinner mint/ginger station; nice dinner china esp. in the Pinnacle restaurant; hot chocolate at the Oosterdam dock in Sitka; the Explorers lounge luscious trays of Gourmet chocolates in the evening; unique towel animals; nice complimentary toiletries; exotic tapestry covering placed at foot of bed. Ports: You will most likely have some rain at some point in Alaska so just be prepared. When the weather breaks it is spectacular, and can change your view of a town in an instant.
Juneau: We were docked at a pier and took a cheap city shuttle ride to town. We did a whale watching tour through Orca Enterprises that we reserved about 1 week before the cruise. They were very courteous and knowledgeable. Captain Larry was a very colorful individual and really worked hard for us to see whales in one of his speedy and comfortable boats. We saw many humpbacks, even showing us some tail several times. This was supposedly not the best time of year for Orca though and did not see any. Our Naturalist also pointed out two Glaciers; it was a beautiful tour. They provided some refreshments about mid-way. We would highly recommend this outfit. We still had time to do a little tourist shopping in town. I found a drug store near a McDonalds and bought some cold meds and a clock for our cabin. Since I am a fan of Alaskan Amber ale and enjoy local bars, Captain Larry suggested The Alaskan Hotel and Bar, but I ran out of steam. Other cruisers enjoyed the view from the Roberts Tram. Others raved about a salmon bake. Although I am sure the salmon would be great on this tour, take note that the Vista dining menu included salmon dishes every evening. Hubbard Glacier: Our captain nosed us right up to the face of the Hubbard Glacier, very impressive. Thunderous cracks were loud and clear, followed by lots of caving. We seemed to be the only ship this close. We lucked out with beautiful weather but we were still freezing cold standing outside. Be prepared for this as you dont want to miss gazing at this magnificent glaciers beauty. Its a show stopper!
Sitka: This was a tender port. The tender took us to a pier a little farther from the one stated in our Daily Program. This was my favorite port but I may have been influenced by the nice weather. Have good walking shoes even though the distances are not very far. The only transportation I saw was a van that dropped you off at their jewelry store and we werent sure how far off the beaten path it would be. We saw no other transportation and my mother aggravated her heal spur here for the rest of the trip because of her shoes. We saw St. Michaels Cathedral which was kind of over hyped but nice since the clergy was making himself available and seemed pleased to have visitors. We walked about 20+ min from the center to the Sitka National park. We watched a historical film in the Visitors center mostly about the Tlingit Indians, very interesting; observed one of the locals carving a totem in a studio; viewed various exhibits; then wandered through the totem park on their Totem Loop which was enjoyably easy. Ranger led talks and walks are available. There were nice restrooms and a book store. Very enjoyable and good photo ops..When we headed back towards town on Lincoln Street we stopped at a small hands on aquarium/store on the water side, across the street from a college. Worth a visit if you have time, fee was donation only. My sisters stopped for tea at the Lime Curd Tea shop and enjoyed. Back at the shuttle pier the Oosterdam was providing hot chocolate. The shuttle crew gave me some 3rd degree questioning there since I only brought my sail card and forgot identification. They eventually found me on a roster and quizzed me a little to make sure who I said I was. Ketchikan:
I admit part of the reason this town was not as enjoyable to me was because of the constant rain. The town is nice and quaint actually with Creek street and there was some pretty good tourist shopping to be had right where the ship docks. We picked a flop of a tour though by choosing to go on the DUCK Tour for around $35.pp. The tour guide on this Duck tour was a real quack and actually gave inaccurate information at times which really got on my nerves after a while. The weather did not help since the windows were fogged up with the rain. We were treated however to seeing many bald eagles during our tour. The eagles were hanging around the rocky shore line right in town! The Duck tour in Seattle is however a do not miss! Hilarious and informative.
Victoria: We only arrived in port at around 6:00pm because of some docking issue. There was a cheap double decker shuttle bus ride provided right at the dock which drops you off in front of the Empress hotel. We ruled out going to Buchart Gardens thinking we would not have enough light to see, since it is maybe a 45 min. drive to get there. Later we heard other cruisers actually did have enough time and light and highly recommend it. We took a horse drawn carriage tour which was a little pricey but fun and informative. The waterfront is very scenic with the Empress Hotel front and center and then at night when the government building nearby lights up with strings of white lights. There was some pretty good shopping heading away from the Empress and government building. We topped off the evening with an Alaskan Amber ale at the Empress hotel. We found a nice bar in the lower level below the lobby level, very enjoyable. There were a few shops and a public restroom on this level of the hotel.
Disembarkation: What a pleasant way HAL handles things. We enjoyed a leisurely morning with room service. You can stay in your room until your color is called. We found our luggage in the terminal, customs asked the usual did you enjoy your cruise? while giving you the visual once over. Then we were headed to Seattle in one of the many taxis available.
Post cruise: Our hotel in Seattle this time was the Comfort Suites Downtown Seattle Center for around $145.00 through AAA. We could walk about 3 blocks and we were at the Space Needle. We also had a view of the Needle from our room. It was a good value considering the location. Parking is a premium in the area so to being able to park free in a gated covered garage and walk, was a cost saver. They had a nice courtyard and expanded continental breakfast. There is a Duck tour next to the Needle that is great for around $23.pp. Across the street a McDonalds for an ice cream and restroom stop. Go up the needle and watch the Oosterdam sail out again. I was shocked they would leave without us! Sure enough an NCL ship was trying to catch up with her to no avail.. We also went to the Science fiction exhibit at the wild shaped Music Experience building at the base of the needle. Viewing it from the needle, the roof resembles a smashed guitar. I enjoy sci-fi but this was a big disappointment for the money, maybe if youre a Trekkie or similar you might enjoy. We heard the music exhibit there is good though. In Seattle we enjoyed dinner at a water front restaurant called Elliots. We sat at an outside table and watched a ferry go back and forth to an island nearby. We missed seeing the valet parking; we found a parking garage across the street and the restaurant kindly validated our ticket but there were some restrictions on this, call ahead to ask. Overall this was a fantastic cruise which I would love repeating with the family. It was refreshing to see so much rugged beauty still left in our world. Happy Travels.
Vicki Monte'’s Full Rating Summary
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