14 day Round Trip from Seattle
Holland America Line
27 July to 10 August 2015
Introduction: In picking a cruise, itinerary is paramount. A good cruise line and ship are a close second. This cruise was in celebration of our 50th Wedding Anniversary, 31 Jul and my birthday, 73rd on 8 Aug. We had a choice: do something radically different or go back to Alaska, our favorite cruise destination for the sixth time. We chose this specific itinerary because it included Kodiak. This was our second go around for this itinerary which is exclusive to HAL. It rained in Kodiak the first time we visited and we wanted to see the town when the sun was shining. In was raining in Kodiak this time too. We probably will not do this itinerary again. It did include Homer and Sitka which are our favorite ports. We chose the dates to correspond with our anniversary and to see the salmon run and maybe more wildlife than our normal time of May-June.
The Ship: The Statendam is in its last season as a HAL ship. It has been sold to P&O Cruise Line so I will not say much about the specifics of the ship. Our cabin was located on deck 5 (main deck) just aft of mid ship. It was a good location for us. Long walks were held to a minimum.
HAL: Unlimited laundry service for a set fee is exclusive to HAL among the mass market cruise lines. My wife loves it because she does not have to wash clothes during the cruise and we do not have to pack as many clothes. We had one problem with the laundry, it pressed a second crease in my dress slacks.
The soda card on HAL is a straight discounted debit card. You pay $25 for a $50 debit card. With the card you get discounted sodas from the bar for yourself or anyone else for whom you wish to buy. There are no ethical conflicts in using this card. It usually works well, but I had my first problem with the card on this cruise. I ordered a coke in the dining room one evening. I gave the waiter my soda card. He came back and asked for my room card as well. He ran both cards so I paid twice for one coke. It took two trips to the front desk to get the coke deleted from my ship account. The only drawback to the soda card is that it does not run out even. Sodas are $1.73 each with the tip. The card ends with $1.43 left on the card. HAL should have a policy where you can get the last drink for the balance left on the card.
The Crew: The crew people we dealt with were a happy lot, but they seemed overworked. We had anytime dining for the cruise and one night at a table for eight, we only had one waiter. We were not his only table so service was slow.
Hotel staff: Our travel agent comped us for the surcharge at the Pinnacle Grill, but the ship staff never notified us of this gift so we missed out. The money paid to the ship was refunded to our credit card at the end of the cruise.
Entertainers: The entertainers were the best we have seen on any cruise ship. The show singers were all excellent with big good voices capable of singing anything asked of them. The music was well suited to older passengers. That said, the last show featured Las Vegas show standards and was of no interest to us. The hit of the cruise for us was Diane Fast at the piano bar. She was good. She was funny. She sang us a port song in honor of each port we visited. She sang stuff that came out of her own funny head and she sang requests. Judy and I are not piano bar people. We usually ignore the piano bar, but Diane hooked us the first night of the cruise. As we were walking by, she was singing a Tom Lear song-the one about the Irish maid who killed her family. We stopped to listen. We stayed and we came back every night but one. She inspired me to write my own lyrics for a Homer port song, and she pulled me into her open mike night to sing a medley I put together. I had sung it in my head dozens of times but never out loud until this cruise. It was a hit. By popular consensus, this nameless medley is now known as Ode to Dixie. Simply said, if given a choice of two similar cruises and Diane is the piano bar feature on one, we will go with Diane. She inspires loyalty. Off stage, she seems rather shy.
Embarkation: We got on the transfer bus at 9:40 at SeaTac airport. We got to the port at 11:11. We were on board by 11:30. Things went smoothly in the boarding process and cabins were ready when we boarded. We did not have to worry about carryon bags while we were eating. The Lido was ready for us. There was no problem in finding a table or getting our food. The dining room was closed.
Our lunch was good. We had a wide selection. The wait staff was attentive. After lunch we went back to our cabin #640 to retrieve our cameras and went topside to take some pictures. Packing our cameras and gear is down to a science, but the problems loom a little bit bigger for every cruise. For this cruise, Judy had her camera and two lenses. I had one camera, four lenses and a monopod. We also had a small laptop for viewing pictures and backup storage of image files.
The “real” cruise started with the lifeboat drill at 4:30. It was relatively painless. It was a little longer than it needed to be. Some passengers had to be located wherever they were hiding and escorted to their lifeboat station. The rule is simple: be at your boat station for the drill or you will be escorted off the ship at the first opportunity. Sail away followed close behind. We met a few Cruise Critic friends at the sail away. We got some good pictures of Vancouver Island and amazing cloudscapes. The wind chill at cruising speed was a factor, but we came well equipped for “dressing in layers” so it was no problem for us.
We each took our first showers before dressing for dinner in the dining room. We had a tub in our bathroom. Grab bars were well placed for getting into and out of the shower. It was a blessing to not have to worry about water all over the floor of the bathroom, but tall people would have a problem with this shower. From tub floor to ceiling was about 6’7”. We saw a lot of guys taller than that roaming the ship.
Dinner in the dining room was a pleasant affair with some good food. Judy had the “always available” roast prime rib. She said it was good. I had shrimp and grits. It was the first time I have ever had okra in shrimp and grits. It was thick, tough and slimy. I picked it out and put it aside. The rest was good. Overall, the dining room menu ran to the exotic with an emphasis on raw protein. I would have preferred a menu a little less exotic, but I found something each night that was acceptable. As to taste and texture, it was acceptable to good, but nothing struck me as something to rave about or even to order again.
After dinner, we took pictures of a beautiful sunset and went to the first production show. The singers showed off their big voices with no flat or pinched off notes. After the show we met Diane. By the third night we had our regular seats.
Rise and shine at 6:30AM. We had a snack in the Lido and breakfast in the dining room. I recommend the Denver omelet. We made it on time to the Cruise Critic meet and greet at 10:00. The conversation was lively, but overall we had less contact with the Cruise Critic people than we had on some previous cruises.
We had lunch in the dining room. The artichoke dip and the onion soup were very good. Service was quick. I played duplicate bridge all afternoon. The play was at a fairly high level but everyone was nice to each other. No one was out for blood. The players were about evenly divided between pick-up partners and husband and wife pairs. The pairs well known to each other had a significant advantage over the pick-up pairs on the first day. By the end of the cruise, this advantage was not so pronounced.
Judy played trivia with a pick up team. That first day, before she joined the team, the team got four points out of 17. Things got better as days went by.
We got our first laundry back before dinner and I got my shined shoes back. This is a nice feature on HAL. Leave your shoes in the basket before bed turn-down at night and get them back shined before dinner. My dress shoes looked good for formal night. These shoes are 20 years old. I wear them to church, weddings and funerals during the year. They get polished about once a year. So to get them done on a HAL ship is good.
Formal night got us a little extra quality in the dining room. Pineapple Boat, Arugula Salad, and chocolate soufflé were all good.
After dinner we went to the show and finished the evening with Diane.
Breakfast in the Lido was pretty good. We wanted to get a little earlier start than we would by waiting for breakfast in the dining room.
The town was much the same as ever except there were no eagles in town. This proved to be a trend for the trip. All of our other cruises to Alaska were in May and June. On these trips eagles were everywhere. Now in the summer, eagles were a rare sight. I think we saw four on the whole trip.
Our preliminary plan was to check Creek Street to see if the salmon were running, and they were. For once we could go by plan A. We took lots of pictures of the creek and the fish. We were surprised to find Harbor Seals in the creek feeding on the salmon. For the first time, we climbed the Married Man’s Trail taking pictures as we went. The creek got prettier the further upstream we went. We spent a lot of time on the creek. Once we had enough of pictures and dead salmon, we headed toward Annabelle’s in the old hotel on Front Street. On previous visits we found it to be a nice place to have a delicious and quiet lunch. Before lunch, we made one stop at the local book store. We had to search to make sure we had the right store. On our last trip, we found it in an out of the way location. Inside there were few customers. I bought a book just to help keep the store open. This time the place was in a prime location on the busiest block on Creek Street.
When we got to Annabelle’s the line was out on the sidewalk. We considered not waiting, but the couple in front of us invited us to share a table with them. This act of hospitality helped us to get a seat quickly. Except for the lively and pleasant conversation with our new best friends, the experience was a disappointment. I came, primarily for the crab cakes. These have been, on past visits, genuine Dungeness crab cakes. On this trip, they were described as Pacific blend crab cakes. They were not as good. The first cakes were burned. They brought another serving which was edible, but not the “meal of a lifetime” quality that I remembered from past visits. We finished the day with a little shopping and went back to the ship. We were back on board by 3:00PM. Resting and napping filled the time before dinner.
Dinner was the best meal of the trip. Judy had veal tenderloins. I had salmon. Mine was very good. Judy said her dinner was the best meal she had ever had. Conversation was lively and pleasant which proved to be the norm for the cruise.
We went to the theater after dinner to see Don Horn, the ventriloquist. He was good. We did not linger in the theater. We left immediately for the piano bar.
Breakfast in the Lido as usual on any day with activity planned. After breakfast we dressed for on deck viewing of Tracy Arm and the glacier. We have two things to consider. The ship’s movement creates a significant wind chill factor and close proximity to the glacier equals pure cold. I’m sensitive to cold. It has an adverse effect on my chronic pain so I dress carefully. Tee-shirt, thermal long sleeve wool undershirt, heavy flannel shirt, light jacket and Gore-Tex hooded shell for the top half and thermal long-johns and lightweight pants for the bottom half do the job. I was not cold at all on deck. The Gore-Tex shell does nothing for insulation, but it stops the wind penetration.
Tracy Arm is the most beautiful place I have seen on this earth. Glacier Bay is bigger and has more glaciers, but foot for foot Tracy has it beat. We have not been to Misty Fjords so I cannot speak for it. Maybe on our next Alaska Cruise we will take a Misty Excursion. Sawyer glacier is the smallest of the tidewater glaciers which we have viewed directly from the cruise ship. It is easily the most beautiful. We tried on two earlier cruises to get to the glacier, but the captains would not risk the ships in the early season ice. This experience justified the peak season cruise. The overcast brought out the blue color in the glacier. Judy and I spent the whole time on deck to see this beauty and when the ship left, we hurried aft to watch it fade away.
We had lunch in the dining room. We ordered from the express menu. Service was quick and we had plenty of time to get to duplicate bridge for me and trivia for Judy.
The rest of this wonderful day is a blur. Even my day-book notes say nothing about the evening. I do remember giving Diane a heads up that the next day was our 50th Wedding Anniversary. She asked if we had a song. I said Edelweiss.
Our original plan for Juneau was to rent a car and do things on our own. The itinerary change which eliminated our Icy Strait whale watching sparked a change of plans. Conventional wisdom is that peak season whale watching is more spectacular than springtime watching. So we wanted to see whales this trip. We repeated an excursion from an earlier cruise and booked the Juneau Photo excursion through the ship. This jaunt combines a close up view of Mendenhall glacier with whale watching.
The tour was fun. We went whale watching first with one preliminary stop to see fireweed with a small glacier in the background. It was a beautiful photo op. Next we set out to find some whales. The boat is a beauty. It was designed for photography. Everyone on the tour had a prime seat. The only problem was that the whales were not co-operating. We saw some humps and some flukes but not much else.
Be the time we got to Mendenhall a light rain had set in. We went on our photo walk anyway. We had a good time. The tour company provided large micro clothes to dry off our camera equipment as needed. I decided this year to bring my monopod along in lieu of a tripod. It was helpful on the walk. It was easy to carry hooked to my belt, helped to stabilize the camera when needed and when the trail got steep, I used it as a walking stick. We also got some homemade snacks.
We got back to the ship in time for lunch. It was still raining. After lunch, we walked about the waterfront looking into whatever seemed interesting.
Dinner in the dining room included good conversation at our table for six, good food but nothing to rave about and an anniversary cake. The waiters gathered to sing the Indonesian song they always sing. It was fun. Our table mates helped us eat the cake.
The highlight of the day came at the piano. Diane led everyone in singing Edelweiss which is our song. I saw Judy playing in the snow 54 years ago and knew she was the one. Diane asked us if we had any advice for marriage. I said, “If you find yourselves not liking each other as much as you once did, stop and regroup. Work on liking each other again. Without like love soon dies.”
This was supposed to be our bonus day, our upgrade itinerary day from Icy Strait to Glacier Bay. It did not happen. There was a suspicious sheen in the wake of the ship. We could not go into the bay. We spent the day at sea while the captain and HAL worked out the details of having divers examine the ship. HAL sent us to Seward. So now we lost a port day and had another itinerary change from Anchorage to Seward. No-one was happy about this, but we accepted it with minimal fuss, especially when the captain announced that every passenger would receive a $250.00 shipboard credit. He also announced that the excursion desk would be open to arrange excursions from Seward. We opted to book a six hour boat tour of the Kenai Peninsula.
Just before dinner, the captain announced that everyone could get a free drink from any bar on the ship, and we would get a free glass of wine at dinner.
Dinner was exceptional this night. It was a happy circumstance considering the ups and downs of the day. The peach soup and the cheese soup were both good. Getting the drink was interesting. At first, the free drink was limited to a short list of alcoholic drinks. After lots of phone calls between bartenders and others, it was changed to “if you serve it they can have it.” This made everyone a lot happier. Judy said, if she had known that, she would have ordered a virgin margarita instead of ginger ale. I stuck with coke.
Later in the day the Captain announced that the divers found nothing wrong with the ship. We will resume our scheduled itinerary tomorrow.
We started late. We slept late working off all of yesterday’s excitement. We ate breakfast if the dining room. I had the made to order omelet. It was very good, better than what I had been getting in the Lido.
I went to the bridge lesson in the morning and played duplicate in the afternoon. Judy did her thing which included computer lessons. These were surprisingly good. We finished the afternoon with trivia.
The show was good that night. The singers were in control of the music. Vibratos were noticeable but not offensive.
This day was beautiful. Blue skies and white clouds. We took the boat tour. We took the six hour tour, because we know what happens on three hour tours. The six hour tour also has more leeway to do some unexpected things. We saw the beauty of the water, the shore, the glaciers (one up close) and the wild life. We took pictures of sea otters, orcas, humpback whales, Steller Sea Lions, horned and crested puffins, murres, gulls etc. Lunch, included in the price, offered a chicken salad wrap, chips and cookies. The captain and the crew were knowledgeable and helpful. It was a fun day.
At the end of the tour, we went back to the ship to shed excess clothing and pounds of camera gear and then went to town. We rode the free shuttle. The driver/guide was funny and full of local facts including the best place to get pizza. Judy and I love pizza and we have good pizza here in Virginia. Cicero’s in Seward not only serves pizza as good as we get here at home, it serves a bigger pie (12” vs 10”) at a lower price. We were truly satisfied with the quantity and the quality of our dinner. We went back to the ship after dinner and were in bed by 9:30. It was a very good day.
Homer Port Song
Give my regards to Homer
Remember me to that old spit
Tell all the gang at city hall
That I have had a ball
Sailing the bay with all those whales
Really made my day
Give my regards to Homer Town
And tell her I’ll be back some day.
Diane entertained us each night with songs about each port. As we sailed in search of the Best of the Bay, these words came to me as my take on Homer. Homer is set in a beautiful location with a spit of land on the waterfront which provides space for all the tourists and shops for campers and cruise passengers to buy much of what they want and some of what they need without straining the town proper. The spit also has several restaurants specializing in fresh seafood. Judy and I like good fish and chips made with halibut. We found some here after our tour for only $48 for two servings. It was very good, but I am not sure it was $48. When the price board says market price be prepared to pay. Still I would do it again on our 75th anniversary if we find ourselves alive and in Alaska.
The tour started with a surprise. The gangway to the boat has a free floating end that rises and falls with the tide. At low tide, as it was for us, it is very steep. Access to the boat is challenging but not impossible for the mobility impaired. The boat is fairly small with roomy seating for all. The crew is knowledgeable and worked with us to try to fill our wants for the ride. The bird expert asked me what I wanted most from this ride. I told her I wanted good pictures of puffins. If I could get one I would be happy. If I could get pictures of both crested and horned puffins I would be extremely happy. I got both along with common murres, pelagic cormorants, eagles (we saw two), harlequin ducks, oyster catchers, Pidgeon guillimotsl and black legged kittiwakes.
This was our second trip to Kodiak. I rained both times hard enough to discourage tourists. We did not get off the ship and did not go out on deck except for a brief time to get a few “I was here” shots. We played bridge most of the morning.
Hubbard Glacier did not disappoint us. It is still big and still awesome. Being near that much ice, seven miles wide and towering over cruise ships at its face, it exudes cold. Dress in layers. The day was overcast. The ice had a blue tint. An artist known for her mastery of color was asked to describe the blueness of glaciers and icebergs. She thought about it for a few minutes and answered, “Windex Blue.” That’s what it is. There was some calving from the face of the glaciers, but we could hear constant booming from back of the face. Hubbard is truly a river of ice. From the deck, we could see the two glaciers which came together to form one big glacier just before meeting the sea. Further back we could see other glaciers which either join Hubbard or, as hanging glaciers, dump ice onto Hubbard. The booming we heard may have been calving from hanging glaciers.
More trivia was the highlight of the afternoon. Our team was dead last after the first session. There were at least a dozen teams competing during the week. Our team rose in the standings day by day.
What could be better than to be in beautiful Sitka on a beautiful day? This is my favorite port in Alaska. In the spring, there are eagles on every tall post and mast in the harbor. On this day there were none.
We had a free excursion courtesy of our travel agency. The tour packed every seat on two large buses to tour the best of Sitka. Unfortunately the tour was on a tight schedule. Drive to a place, hurry off the bus, see the featured sight, and rush back to the bus, repeat and repeat. We saw salmon in the creek at the national park, we saw eagles, hawks and owls etc. at the raptor center and bears at the Fortress of the Bear. The raptor and bear centers are rescue/rehab places with a secondary mission of education of human beings about the wonders of nature. Both places do good work, but the bear place pens the bears into a junkyard and the raptors look like caged birds. We did not have time to get much of an idea of what we were looking at, but I can recognize a caged neurotic bear when I see one and these bears exhibited classic captivity neurosis. Unfortunately, bears cannot be release back into the wild. The best hope for these bears is that they be sent to a zoo with a breeding program. They will still be captives, but at least, they could see beyond the fence. In this place they can only look up to see humans looking down.
The excursion was free, at least to us, and it was not worth what we paid for it. If we ever again have the choice between a “free tour” and a $10 per person all day hop on hop off bus ticket, I will spend the $10. For this I can see the National Park for free, walk the totem pole trail and see the salmon. Then I can get back on the bus and ride to the Bishop’s house. The tour hear is covered by my Golden Age pass to all national parks. Then I could ride to the center of town and tour the Russian Orthodox Church (which we did anyway). The church is unlike any other I have ever entered. The artwork is interesting. The church burned to the ground years ago, but the people of the town rescued the art and the historic furniture (like the bishop’s seat). The whole town participated in the rescue which makes the currant church even more precious. Since the church is on the national list of historic places, the measurements and specs complete with pictures are in the national archives. This made an accurate reconstruction a relatively simple task. Photo tip: the best location for taking a picture of the cathedral requires some advance planning. Make sure your wide angle lens is on your camera. From the side closest to the tender dock, cross the street at the marked crosswalk prepared to stop for a literal second when you reach the center line of the street. Take your picture. Wave a thank you to the nice locals who stopped for you and move quickly across the street.
Unfortunately Mt. Edgecombe was being shy and hiding behind a veil of cloud so we did not get a chance to get a clear picture of Sitka’s most famous natural land mark.
The rest of the day is a blur. My day book has no entry for the day.
Trivia and bridge were the main activities of the day. Our trivia team finished fourth overall. Not bad. On one round, we got 16 out of a possible 17 points.
I got birthday cake and the song at dinner. I never thought I would reach 73, but I have.
On our last stop here we took the Burchart’s Garden and Butterfly Center excursion. At the end of the tour we were too worn out to spend any time walking around the waterfront area looking at the things for sale watching the people entertaining the people. This time, we decided to stay on the waterfront. This was probably not the best way to spend our time in Victoria. Relatively speaking, it was hot as the hinges of hades (compared to Alaska), and we wilted quickly. It was a long enjoyable cruise, but at the end we were feeling every joint in our old bodies. The next time we are in Victoria, we will go directly to the Gardens and spend all of our available time there.
We started our trip with four goals:
Have a good time-We did
See Salmon run-we did
Get some good whale pics-we did sort of. We did not get the pictures of which we dreamed, but we got good pictures of what we saw.
See Sawyer Glacier-we did and it was good.
Southwest Airline has mort seat space for its cheapest seats than any other airline. That makes it a good choice for us. That being said we do have some problems with Southwest.
We have tried on two separate occasions to sign up for direct through luggage service. HAL say it is available for Southwest. We were rejected both times. This time we asked the ship’s people why this happened. They did not know. They just know that it happens occasionally. This time when we got to the airport (SEATAC), we asked the Southwest agents. The agents said it was a computer glitch. Those people who have any kind of a senior ticket will be rejected. This makes no sense. If there is any class of traveler who needs the opportunity to put their suitcases in the hall on the last night of the cruise and not have to worry about their luggage until they get off the plane at their final destination, it is senior citizens. The most onerous part of the trip was running around the airports towing three suitcases and two camera bags.
The second problem we had with southwest was in getting our boarding passes. On the return flight, we stood in a long line, towing our bags until we got to a ticket agent. This was before going through security. The people in front of us did not have a flight code. The agent took care of them and gave them a real boarding pass. The agent asked us if we had our flight code. She said yes. Then the agent ignored us until Judy spoke up again. The agent got us started on the machine. She asked us if the machine had printed our boarding passes. Judy said yes. The agent took our bags, stapled our baggage claim checks to the envelope, put our boarding passes into the envelopes and said, “You are all set.” When we got in line to board the plane and got to the gate keeper, he looked at the boarding passes and said, “These are not boarding passes.” You have to see the ticket agent at the gate to exchange these for boarding passes. To say that we were incensed would be an understatement, but we had no choice but to comply. Our $25 to get us into an early slot in the seat line was wasted. Lesson learned: Read everything at the earliest opportunity. The plane was on a weather delay so we had plenty of time to get this done.
Well laid out. Nice bathroom. Tub shower meant no water on the floor.