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ALASKA 14-DAY CRUISE-TOUR ON HOLLAND AMERICA'S VOLENDAM, JULY 2007 This was my husband's (age 64) and my (age 60) first cruise. We're both "young" 60's. We did the 14-day southbound cruise-tour (Tour 20, Double Denali, Alyeska, & Cruise), flying from Sacramento to Fairbanks (via Seattle), and returning from Vancouver to Sacramento (via Portland). Our tour began 07/07/07. Our impressions are as follows: HOLLAND AMERICA: We received our cruise-tour document package a couple of weeks ahead of time. All documents, including airline tickets, were in perfect order. HAL handled every aspect of the cruise-tour very professionally and without any difficulty from beginning to end. We bought the $15 per person baggage handling for the end of the cruise and the ship-to-airport transfer; both are very well worth it. Our embarkation was hastened by our deluxe veranda stateroom status. We stood in a separate line about a minute. Even our friends who had packed their passports in their checked luggage got checked in pretty quickly. But do keep your passports available. Even though they were not yet strictly required for entry into Canada, HAL expected you to have a passport or picture ID and a birth certificate. SHIP: Volendam, about 1450 passengers. The ship is very nice, with lots of lovely areas and bars to sit and watch the world go by. The Crow's Nest at the top deck forward is a great place to watch the scenery. I thought the decorating was beautiful in some areas and a little jarring in others. There was a bit of wear and tear visible here and there, but well maintained. The ship is well organized and has excellent diagram/maps to find everything easily. The one major disappointment about the ship was that both hot tubs are next to each other right by the kids' swimming pool and right in the midst of the forward outside eating area. So you have kids in the spas most of the time and you feel like you're on display for the outside diners. As a result, we did not use the hot tub even once. The swimming pool at the aft end is adults only. I'd give the ship 3 stars. PASSENGERS: Mostly middle-aged to older people, with a moderate sprinkling of 30's, 40's and families. People generally did not adhere to the "resort casual" look the ship tries to promote. Most people were extremely casual except for the two formal nights, during which all men wore tuxedos or jackets and most women were appropriately dressed. STATEROOM: We had a deluxe veranda suite, which was huuuuge and lovely. King size bed (extremely comfortable), curving couch, cocktail table and two chairs, dressing room separate from large bathroom. Flat screen TV and DVD player. (You can rent DVDs.) Veranda was big enough for two lounges, a good size table and four chairs, with room to spare. 5 stars. SHOPS: Shopping onboard is very limited both in terms of number of shops and the hours they are open. The jewelry shop has everything from very low cost items to super-expensive items, but isn't open much of the time. The clothing shop was small and about what you'd expect. CASINO: Nice casino with all the amenities you'd expect. DINING: The Rotterdam Main Dining Room is beautiful, service is great, and the food is very good. The Lido buffet dining is also excellent. The soups were killer good, but definitely not for a WeightWatcher -- lots of butter. Room service is 24-hours a day and very speedy. Hot items were served hot. The Pinnacle Grille ($20 per person, with reservations) is good but we didn't find it noticeably better than the main dining room. SERVICE: Service was outstanding in all areas. Our veranda suite status gave us access to the Neptune Lounge on the 7th deck (our deck). Our concierge Guilbert was always on top of everything and helped us with anything and everything. (For example, I lost my ship ID card within the very first day; he had it replaced within 15 minutes of my telling him.) The lounge offered good munchies, coffee, magazines, newspapers, big-screen TV all day and evening. Our housekeeper Didot was also delightful. Our wine steward at the main dining room was Willy, a really nice man who also showed us some nifty magic tricks. Our server I Putu was great, too. We gave them each a tip over and above the $20 per person per day that is the norm levied by HAL. they really have their act together regarding all types of service. BOOZE: We packed some wine and gin in our checked bags and my husband bought some in one of the towns we visited and brought it aboard the ship upon his return without anyone objecting. We left it out on the counter in our stateroom and every night the staff left us a full ice bucket. Maybe we're just lucky??!! SHORE EXCURSIONS: Our best shore excursion by far was the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest out of Juneau (the kind that refunds $100 if you don't see a whale). Well, let me tell you, we saw whales -- BIG TIME! About 10 minutes into the excursion, we saw a couple of whales a few hundred yards away. Everyone was excited and said "Let's get closer!" The captain said he thought he could give us a better show a few minutes away, so we continued on. A few minutes later, we came around a curve into a bay and, lo and behold, there was a whole pod of 11 or 12 whales maybe 100 yards away. The cruise "director" said we were going to shut the engines down and put a microphone in the water so we could hear the whales. She said they were "bubble net feeding", in which one whale goes down beneath a huge school of fish and blows bubbles to scare them into a more compact ball. Then a couple of other whales "trumpet" a certain sound to scare the fish even more, then flash the white under-part of their tails to finish the scare-job. When they have the fish all rounded up, the whales all burst up out of the water with their mouths open to gather up as many fish as they can gobble. Talk about spectacular!! We saw and heard them do this 4 or 5 times before we had to leave the area. That excursion alone was worth the trip. FAIRBANKS: We met some friends for dinner who had arrived in Alaska the week before. We went to the big place on the main road that offers all-you-can eat BBQ'd salmon, fried fish, cole slaw, baked beans, salads, etc. in an outdoor setting. I thought it would probably be mediocre but they said it was great, so we went. They were right -- it was probably the best dinner we had throughout the whole vacation, including on the ship. Worth every penny. Go hungry and load up. DENALI: The train trip on the domed railcar to Denali was very nice. We spent two nights near Denali National Park in a hotel on a commercial "strip" on the highway near the park (it reminded me of the south shore of Lake Tahoe, and not in a good way). All of the hotels, restaurants, and stores are on this strip. It was disappointing, as was the quality of the hotel. It was clean and comfortable but pretty rustic and somewhat lacking in exterior maintenance. Of course, none of the other cruise-related hotels looked high-end either. The Princess Line's hotel did look a cut above ours, however. The Denali Tundra Tour was part of the included excursions. Our tour began at 5:30 a.m. -- no that's not a typo. It was about a 7-hour tour on a funky looking but comfortable bus. Fortunately, our bus driver was obviously educated, professional and well-trained, because looking back on it he had our lives in his hands. Cars are allowed only a short way into the park. The buses are allowed to go quite a few miles into the park, but it's on a narrow, one-land road that literally runs on the edge of a cliff and has no guardrails. Our bus began smoking from the dash a few miles into the park, so the driver had to turn the bus around on the one-land road in order to get back to a spot where a mechanic could come check out the bus. I'm not usually goosey about riding alongside a cliff but turning that bus around on a dime at the edge of a cliff was a bit unnerving. Someone asked the driver if there were ever accidents on the road. He said "Oh, once in the '80's there was an accident." I found out when I got home a bus did plunge off the cliff in the early 80's, with 5 people killed and 26 seriously injured. And they still don't have any guardrails. The park is pretty, but I've seen more spectacular views in Canada and the lower U.S. If you hadn't seen big mountains with wide open vistas before, you would undoubtedly be more impressed than we were. From a distance, we did see two caribou, a moose, some bald eagles, and some dall sheep that were barely visible even with good binoculars. From about 3/4 mile away, we eventually saw a female grizzly and two cubs, and a male grizzly. Given the ungodly early start to the day, the length of the trip, the relative lack of wildlife, and the ridiculous road condition, neither my husband nor I would do it again. We saw more wildlife and saw it closer up just driving along the road with our friends. (We rented a vehicle for a 4-hour tour, which afforded us some freedom and up-close moose-viewing from the road.) PORTAGE GLACIER CRUISE: Great up-close view of a glacier. Nice little boat ride. ALYESKA RESORT: Now, this is more what I expected. Beautiful, classy resort set right in the forest. The tram ride up to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant was great, as was the restaurant itself. Fantastic views. HUBBARD GLACIER: Just experiencing Hubbard Glacier would have been worth the whole cruise. The glacier absolutely dwarfs the cruise ships. But it not only looks awesome (and I virtually never use that word), it sounds awesome. This humongous glacier wraps for miles and miles back into the mountains and makes a sound like rolling thunder! When we first heard this, my husband and I looked at each other wide-eyed and both said "This alone is worth the trip." In addition to the thundering, we saw "calving" and heard the cracking you associate with that. WHITE PASS RAIL TOUR: This was the only day we had rain most of the day, so it detracted somewhat from our ability to see the views. But it was still beautiful. However, if I hadn't already bought the tickets in advance, I probably would not have gone due to the rain. ICY STRAIGHT POINT: Saw the cultural dance and story-telling of the indigenous Tlinglit people. The ladies enjoyed it, but the men weren't too impressed. JUNEAU: Nice town, with a number of several story buildings in a gorgeous setting. KETCHIKAN: Like every stop, this is a cute town in a gorgeous setting and is filled with about 100 foreign-owned jewelry stores. You feel like you strayed into a used car lot when you enter these stores. Now I understand why a few stores have a sign in the window that says "Owned and operated by an Alaskan family." We did the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which was great fun and worth the price ACTIVITIES: I hate to admit we did not participate in any of the onboard activities. We spent our time either on our veranda, wandering the ship, or outside enjoying the beauty. Also, I got sick with some bizarre illness (fever and a shoulder muscle ache that moved up to my head and gave me the mother of all headaches) so I spent the last 2 days of the cruise in bed. The activities looked like they'd be pretty good, however. WEATHER: The weather was very mild (high 50's at night to mid-70's during the day). It rained parts of 2 days. I bought a sweater and a $1.50 poncho for the Portage Glacier tour because all I'd brought was a vest. SEAS: It was absolutely smooth sailing the entire cruise. Not even a hint of seasickness. HINT: Bring some good binoculars. Do not rely on the ones sometimes provided on the excursions. They are always like looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle. You will see a lot more wildlife and have unforgettable views if you bring your own good binocs.

Volendam - Alaska

Volendam Cruise Review by mugsiewugsie

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: July 2007
  • Destination: Alaska
ALASKA 14-DAY CRUISE-TOUR ON HOLLAND AMERICA'S VOLENDAM, JULY 2007 This was my husband's (age 64) and my (age 60) first cruise. We're both "young" 60's. We did the 14-day southbound cruise-tour (Tour 20, Double Denali, Alyeska, & Cruise), flying from Sacramento to Fairbanks (via Seattle), and returning from Vancouver to Sacramento (via Portland). Our tour began 07/07/07. Our impressions are as follows:
HOLLAND AMERICA: We received our cruise-tour document package a couple of weeks ahead of time. All documents, including airline tickets, were in perfect order. HAL handled every aspect of the cruise-tour very professionally and without any difficulty from beginning to end. We bought the $15 per person baggage handling for the end of the cruise and the ship-to-airport transfer; both are very well worth it. Our embarkation was hastened by our deluxe veranda stateroom status. We stood in a separate line about a minute. Even our friends who had packed their passports in their checked luggage got checked in pretty quickly. But do keep your passports available. Even though they were not yet strictly required for entry into Canada, HAL expected you to have a passport or picture ID and a birth certificate.
SHIP: Volendam, about 1450 passengers. The ship is very nice, with lots of lovely areas and bars to sit and watch the world go by. The Crow's Nest at the top deck forward is a great place to watch the scenery. I thought the decorating was beautiful in some areas and a little jarring in others. There was a bit of wear and tear visible here and there, but well maintained. The ship is well organized and has excellent diagram/maps to find everything easily. The one major disappointment about the ship was that both hot tubs are next to each other right by the kids' swimming pool and right in the midst of the forward outside eating area. So you have kids in the spas most of the time and you feel like you're on display for the outside diners. As a result, we did not use the hot tub even once. The swimming pool at the aft end is adults only. I'd give the ship 3 stars.
PASSENGERS: Mostly middle-aged to older people, with a moderate sprinkling of 30's, 40's and families. People generally did not adhere to the "resort casual" look the ship tries to promote. Most people were extremely casual except for the two formal nights, during which all men wore tuxedos or jackets and most women were appropriately dressed.
STATEROOM: We had a deluxe veranda suite, which was huuuuge and lovely. King size bed (extremely comfortable), curving couch, cocktail table and two chairs, dressing room separate from large bathroom. Flat screen TV and DVD player. (You can rent DVDs.) Veranda was big enough for two lounges, a good size table and four chairs, with room to spare. 5 stars. SHOPS: Shopping onboard is very limited both in terms of number of shops and the hours they are open. The jewelry shop has everything from very low cost items to super-expensive items, but isn't open much of the time. The clothing shop was small and about what you'd expect.
CASINO: Nice casino with all the amenities you'd expect.
DINING: The Rotterdam Main Dining Room is beautiful, service is great, and the food is very good. The Lido buffet dining is also excellent. The soups were killer good, but definitely not for a WeightWatcher -- lots of butter. Room service is 24-hours a day and very speedy. Hot items were served hot. The Pinnacle Grille ($20 per person, with reservations) is good but we didn't find it noticeably better than the main dining room.
SERVICE: Service was outstanding in all areas. Our veranda suite status gave us access to the Neptune Lounge on the 7th deck (our deck). Our concierge Guilbert was always on top of everything and helped us with anything and everything. (For example, I lost my ship ID card within the very first day; he had it replaced within 15 minutes of my telling him.) The lounge offered good munchies, coffee, magazines, newspapers, big-screen TV all day and evening. Our housekeeper Didot was also delightful. Our wine steward at the main dining room was Willy, a really nice man who also showed us some nifty magic tricks. Our server I Putu was great, too. We gave them each a tip over and above the $20 per person per day that is the norm levied by HAL. they really have their act together regarding all types of service.
BOOZE: We packed some wine and gin in our checked bags and my husband bought some in one of the towns we visited and brought it aboard the ship upon his return without anyone objecting. We left it out on the counter in our stateroom and every night the staff left us a full ice bucket. Maybe we're just lucky??!!
SHORE EXCURSIONS: Our best shore excursion by far was the Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest out of Juneau (the kind that refunds $100 if you don't see a whale). Well, let me tell you, we saw whales -- BIG TIME! About 10 minutes into the excursion, we saw a couple of whales a few hundred yards away. Everyone was excited and said "Let's get closer!" The captain said he thought he could give us a better show a few minutes away, so we continued on. A few minutes later, we came around a curve into a bay and, lo and behold, there was a whole pod of 11 or 12 whales maybe 100 yards away. The cruise "director" said we were going to shut the engines down and put a microphone in the water so we could hear the whales. She said they were "bubble net feeding", in which one whale goes down beneath a huge school of fish and blows bubbles to scare them into a more compact ball. Then a couple of other whales "trumpet" a certain sound to scare the fish even more, then flash the white under-part of their tails to finish the scare-job. When they have the fish all rounded up, the whales all burst up out of the water with their mouths open to gather up as many fish as they can gobble. Talk about spectacular!! We saw and heard them do this 4 or 5 times before we had to leave the area. That excursion alone was worth the trip.
FAIRBANKS: We met some friends for dinner who had arrived in Alaska the week before. We went to the big place on the main road that offers all-you-can eat BBQ'd salmon, fried fish, cole slaw, baked beans, salads, etc. in an outdoor setting. I thought it would probably be mediocre but they said it was great, so we went. They were right -- it was probably the best dinner we had throughout the whole vacation, including on the ship. Worth every penny. Go hungry and load up.
DENALI: The train trip on the domed railcar to Denali was very nice. We spent two nights near Denali National Park in a hotel on a commercial "strip" on the highway near the park (it reminded me of the south shore of Lake Tahoe, and not in a good way). All of the hotels, restaurants, and stores are on this strip. It was disappointing, as was the quality of the hotel. It was clean and comfortable but pretty rustic and somewhat lacking in exterior maintenance. Of course, none of the other cruise-related hotels looked high-end either. The Princess Line's hotel did look a cut above ours, however. The Denali Tundra Tour was part of the included excursions. Our tour began at 5:30 a.m. -- no that's not a typo. It was about a 7-hour tour on a funky looking but comfortable bus. Fortunately, our bus driver was obviously educated, professional and well-trained, because looking back on it he had our lives in his hands. Cars are allowed only a short way into the park. The buses are allowed to go quite a few miles into the park, but it's on a narrow, one-land road that literally runs on the edge of a cliff and has no guardrails. Our bus began smoking from the dash a few miles into the park, so the driver had to turn the bus around on the one-land road in order to get back to a spot where a mechanic could come check out the bus. I'm not usually goosey about riding alongside a cliff but turning that bus around on a dime at the edge of a cliff was a bit unnerving. Someone asked the driver if there were ever accidents on the road. He said "Oh, once in the '80's there was an accident." I found out when I got home a bus did plunge off the cliff in the early 80's, with 5 people killed and 26 seriously injured. And they still don't have any guardrails. The park is pretty, but I've seen more spectacular views in Canada and the lower U.S. If you hadn't seen big mountains with wide open vistas before, you would undoubtedly be more impressed than we were. From a distance, we did see two caribou, a moose, some bald eagles, and some dall sheep that were barely visible even with good binoculars. From about 3/4 mile away, we eventually saw a female grizzly and two cubs, and a male grizzly. Given the ungodly early start to the day, the length of the trip, the relative lack of wildlife, and the ridiculous road condition, neither my husband nor I would do it again. We saw more wildlife and saw it closer up just driving along the road with our friends. (We rented a vehicle for a 4-hour tour, which afforded us some freedom and up-close moose-viewing from the road.)
PORTAGE GLACIER CRUISE: Great up-close view of a glacier. Nice little boat ride.
ALYESKA RESORT: Now, this is more what I expected. Beautiful, classy resort set right in the forest. The tram ride up to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant was great, as was the restaurant itself. Fantastic views.
HUBBARD GLACIER: Just experiencing Hubbard Glacier would have been worth the whole cruise. The glacier absolutely dwarfs the cruise ships. But it not only looks awesome (and I virtually never use that word), it sounds awesome. This humongous glacier wraps for miles and miles back into the mountains and makes a sound like rolling thunder! When we first heard this, my husband and I looked at each other wide-eyed and both said "This alone is worth the trip." In addition to the thundering, we saw "calving" and heard the cracking you associate with that.
WHITE PASS RAIL TOUR: This was the only day we had rain most of the day, so it detracted somewhat from our ability to see the views. But it was still beautiful. However, if I hadn't already bought the tickets in advance, I probably would not have gone due to the rain.
ICY STRAIGHT POINT: Saw the cultural dance and story-telling of the indigenous Tlinglit people. The ladies enjoyed it, but the men weren't too impressed.
JUNEAU: Nice town, with a number of several story buildings in a gorgeous setting.
KETCHIKAN: Like every stop, this is a cute town in a gorgeous setting and is filled with about 100 foreign-owned jewelry stores. You feel like you strayed into a used car lot when you enter these stores. Now I understand why a few stores have a sign in the window that says "Owned and operated by an Alaskan family." We did the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which was great fun and worth the price
ACTIVITIES: I hate to admit we did not participate in any of the onboard activities. We spent our time either on our veranda, wandering the ship, or outside enjoying the beauty. Also, I got sick with some bizarre illness (fever and a shoulder muscle ache that moved up to my head and gave me the mother of all headaches) so I spent the last 2 days of the cruise in bed. The activities looked like they'd be pretty good, however.
WEATHER: The weather was very mild (high 50's at night to mid-70's during the day). It rained parts of 2 days. I bought a sweater and a $1.50 poncho for the Portage Glacier tour because all I'd brought was a vest.
SEAS: It was absolutely smooth sailing the entire cruise. Not even a hint of seasickness. HINT: Bring some good binoculars. Do not rely on the ones sometimes provided on the excursions. They are always like looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle. You will see a lot more wildlife and have unforgettable views if you bring your own good binocs.
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