We were aboard the Saturday, September 9, 2006 sailing of the Oosterdam out of Seattle to Alaska. We flew into Seattle the day of the cruise and used a local town car service instead of booking transfers. There were 4 in our party and this was cheaper and more comfortable than the bus transfers.
We arrived at port and turned in our luggage. I had arranged and confirmed a wheelchair to transport one member of our party aboard ship. It was not available. However, they did escort us to a quick check in and provided seating until a wheelchair was available. The rooms were not available when we boarded so we headed to Lido for lunch. It was crowded as is normal for the day of embarkation. Food was good and the wait staff was excellent. They carried your trays to your table and even got your drinks for you. After lunch we checked our cabins and they were available. We had rented a wheelchair from Care Vacations and it was ready and waiting in the cabin.
The inside rooms in this category are extremely tiny. Don't know the square footage but, they are much smaller than the interior cabins on Carnival. However, the room was very nice and the cabin steward attended to our every need during the cruise. The bathroom was quite roomy compared to the cabin. HAL does provide a fruit basket in every room - Ha! - 2 apples, a pear and an orange in a tiny little bowl.
Sailing out of Seattle was much rougher seas than we had experienced on our first Alaska cruise which sailed out of Vancouver. Seas were so rough on Sunday that the ship was literally empty. Most people were ill and stayed in their cabins. This first full day was the captain's party and the first formal night. We made it to the captain's party. You entered the lounge on the 2nd floor. We were directed to a spot in the back of the room for our wheelchair bound companion. People were seated in theatre style seating and just waiting. We never did see or meet the captain. Finally we just left. We went into the dining room and found that our table was the only one in the room not set for dinner. Dining is very nice on the Oosterdam with silver and Rosenthal china. I asked why our table was not set and the assistant waiter said 'table shake'. We were seated there anyway. I set my camera on the table and they brought us water glasses. About that time a sound somewhat like a blasting cap went off under our table and everything started to move. We really had to scramble to catch the water and the camera. This was repeated about every 2-3 minutes. I can't believe they chose to set us there knowing this was going on. We requested a different table and were given one. We did return to our regular table the next night when things were not quite as rough. The food for the cruise was very good. The food presentation was the prettiest I have seen on any cruise. Our wait staff was first class.
This has been an extremely rainy year for Alaska. We were told on ship that they had seen a total of 10 sunny days between the first sailing in May and our Sept. 9th sailing. We expected the worst but, did not get it.
Our first port of call was Juneau. It was overcast. Our dock was the furthest from town so there were shuttles at a cost of $2 each. This ticket was good for all day and they did have wheelchair lifts. We did not book an excursion choosing instead to just look around town on our own. This is a good time to shop Juneau as it is at the end of their season and many stores were 50% off. We bought several souvenir items.
Our next stop was Hubbard Glacier. It was a bright and sunny day. Hubbard Glacier is incredible. We got so close it looked like you could just reach out and touch the glacier. The glacier does constant calving and the color is beautiful. Split Pea soup was served on deck. It was fine but, not my taste.
Our next stop was Sitka. Another bright and sunny day. This is the only port where we had booked an excursion. Our ticket envelopes were at our cabins when we boarded ship and there was a note asking us to stop by the shore excursion desk. I did so and was told that the wheelchair lift bus for our excursion was broken and would not be repaired before our arrival. We were given the choice to get a refund on the excursion and we chose to do so. This is a tender port and we were pleased to find the Oosterdam has wheelchair lifts on their tenders. We took a cab to the Raptor Center and found it very interesting. Town is quaint but, shops are pricey. No sales and no bargains.
Our next stop was Ketchikan. Another bright and sunny day. We docked at Tongass and had a short walk into town. No excursions booked. Just walked around and went over to creek street. There were a few live salmon still in the creek and many dead ones. The smell was terrible. There were 3 seals in the creek feeding on the salmon. They put on quite a show for our cameras. Several sales and good shopping.
Our last port was Victoria, BC. We did not stop here until 6 pm but it was a clear night so we got off ship and just checked out the dock area. There were shuttle buses into town at a cost of $5 each. We did not go into town.
Overall the cruise was nice. The ship is beautiful and the staff is very helpful. All of our previous cruises were on Carnival so we were anxious to see the differences. The Holland America ship seemed much smaller inside. The ceilings were lower, the hallways narrower, the atrium 3 stories instead of the 10-12 on Carnival. We did not feel the service (though excellent and we have no complaints) was any better than we were used to on Carnival.
The casino on board was quite small and usually almost empty. Most of the tables never opened and those that did were rarely full.
We went to the two large stage shows and they were very good. We also went to watch one singer - again very good - and a magician - also good. We did not check out any of the lounges or bars.
The Crow's nest is famous on this ship. It is a wonderful viewing room at the top forward of the ship. It is beautiful and there are some great views. However, we found it full every time we went there and no one would give up space for a wheelchair.
We did not try the SPA. I had wanted to book a massage but the only ones offered were very fancy and very costly (around $200 ea).
We did find a few problems on ship. I kept finding holes in the floor under the carpet. The floor in one of the hallways on the 4th floor had ridges and holes in it. I tripped several times and wondered how many people actually fell. They do have many elderly guests and it is a wonder no one broke a hip.
The hallway on the 2nd floor which leads to the dining room has quite low ceilings. One of the bars on that floor hung banners each day to advertise their drink of the day. I am 5'4" and my head brushed these banners. Taller people actually had to duck.
We also found that when we exited the ship in Victoria one member of our party had the wrong photo pop up on the screen when her card was scanned. It was a woman at least 30 years older and looking nothing like the lady in our group. The security guard looked at the photo, at our companion and off she went. Just how secure are guests on this ship? She could have gotten off ship, handed the card to anyone she wished and they could have boarded the ship in her place. When we told the front desk they said we would have to retake the photos. My husband asked what for? we were leaving the ship the next morning!
The photo shop was very limited. There were very few places to have photos taken on ship. Photos getting off at port were quite cute and quite good. 8x10 photos are $20.95. We purchased one of our formal pictures in an 8x10 and asked about having some 5x7 reprints made. We were told it would be the same cost - $20.95 per 5x7 print. Does that make sense?
We had been told that one of the perks of Holland America is that you can stay in your cabin until your color tag in called at Debarkation. Since we had a member of our party needing a wheelchair this was not the case. We were sent to a very small and crowded lounge to await our call. It did not take long and we were off the ship.
I have only Carnival with which to compare this Holland America cruise. I MUCH prefer Carnival. On Carnival rooms are much larger and brighter, the casino is much bigger and better, photos are much more selection and much better, food is as good or better, lido offers a much larger selection and service is every bit as good.
Every evening my husband and I were actually bored on this trip. There is just no night life. By 10:00 pm most people had gone to bed.