We don’t generally plan our vacations way in advance, and this was no exception. We started looking at our options around February. We were looking at Mediterranean &/or Greek Island Cruises, Canary Island cruises or a return trip to Hawaii. Not sure why we threw Alaska into the mix, but everything we’d ever heard from people who’d been there was how great a trip it was. We finally settled on this cruise, which we booked about six weeks before the sailing date. Our first cruise on HAL was last September aboard the Rotterdam from Boston to Montreal, which we enjoyed immensely, so we did not hesitate to book another cruise on this line. Maybe it’s because the Rotterdam is a smaller ship, or maybe it’s because it was a less busy cruise, but we weren’t as pleased with the Noordam as we were with the Rotterdam. That is not to say, we didn’t enjoy the trip. It was fabulous! It’s just that the ship didn’t quite meet our expectations. The ship itself is lovely, in good condition, and the crew and staff were very friendly. The Captain was great – we enjoyed listening to his instructions and commentary over the loud speakers. Our biggest complaint is with the dining experience. Food in the main dining room was just okay. Pretty much the only meat choice at dinner was beef, which we don’t eat, so we ate a lot of fish. Mostly it was tasty, but it tended to be dry – probably overcooked. Except for the freshly made omelets for breakfast, food in the Lido was no better than a cafeteria. We ordered room service for breakfast twice – this wasn’t bad – it was delivered timely and was hot and fresh. Since we were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary on this trip we splurged on dinner at the Pinnacle Grill one evening. It was much better than the dining room, but we wouldn’t give it a five star rating as we would some other specialty restaurants on, say, Celebrity. Our biggest issue with dining was the service in the main dining room and especially in the Lido. The waiters and staff were friendly enough, but service was poor, as both venues were definitely understaffed. We blame this on HAL management. Perhaps after 14 cruises we’ve just become a little fussier and more critical. The cruise itself was wonderful. Alaska is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and we enjoyed all the sights in the ports we visited, as well as the sights from the ship itself in Glacier Bay and through the inside passage. We visited the ports of Haines, Juneau and Ketichikan, and thoroughly enjoyed each one. The pictures you see of Alaska are beautiful and unbelievable, but to see it in person just takes your breath away. It’s an experience we’ll never forget. Now, the land tour: we chose a three day pre-cruise tour to Denali and Fairbanks. This is where better planning was needed. We knew Alaska is big, but coming from New Jersey where you can drive from north to south in about three hours, we just didn’t have a concept of how long it would take to get from one place to another, and the travel times were not included in the initial descriptions. Most of the three days, unfortunately, was spent on the road. We arrived in Anchorage late in the evening after a day long journey from New Jersey. After spending the night in the Captain Cook Hotel, which was lovely, we got up early, had breakfast and took a short walk to see a little bit of the town before getting on a coach to the train depot where we boarded the McKinley Express Dome Train for the eight hour journey to Danali. The train cars were very comfortable and the lunch in the dining car was very good – too bad it wasn’t as good on the ship. The scenery was beautiful, though we saw no wildlife – I’d run and hide, too, if I heard that train coming! Since we only had one night in Denali we were unable to go into the park itself. Instead we took two short excursions – an ATV adventure and barbecue in the evening, then a visit to Iditerod champion Jeff King’s Husky Homestead the next morning. By two that afternoon we were on another coach to Fairbanks, arriving early in the evening with only enough time to go to a salmon bake dinner and see a cute and rowdy show about the history of that gold rush town. Though we had been told by the tour booking agent before booking that we would have the next morning to explore Fairbanks before catching a flight to Anchorage followed by a coach to Seward, this was not the case. In fact, we had to get a 5:40 am shuttle to the airport for a 9:00 am flight. (The early shuttle really was not necessary. We were the only ones on the line to go through TSA and were told at the airline boarding desk we’d have had plenty of time if we didn’t get the airport until 8:00. We still would not have been able to do anything in Fairbanks, but we could have had a decent breakfast at the hotel instead of the absolutely awful one at the airport’s only eatery.) This is not to say we didn’t enjoy the excursions we took. We had a lot of fun on the ATV despite ending up soaked during a sudden and unexpected downpour – and we were wearing rain jackets! The husky kennel was amazing, especially getting to hold an adorable month old puppy and getting to hear Jeff talk about life on the trail. He is an amazing speaker! The salmon bake in Fairbanks was very good and the show was very well done and a lot of laughs. If you really want to see Denali or Fairbanks, though, you need at least two nights in each. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have skipped Fairbanks and done the double Denali instead. Live and learn. Overall, we enjoyed the trip and highly recommend Alaska to those who love the beauty of the natural world and experiencing a simpler way of life. Our recommendation would be to do your research before booking. A cruise is probably the best way to see southern Alaska, as there are no roads between the port towns – you need to fly or sail in to each of them, so why not do it on a floating hotel. If you want to see wildlife you need to go later in the summer when the salmon are running. And if you want to see Denali, you need at least two days there, if not three. Because of the huge distance between the park and Anchorage and the cruise port, you are going to spend a lot of time traveling, but it is well worth it. Given the opportunity I would visit Alaska again – after spending a little more time planning before making the final booking.

First Visit to Alaska

Noordam Cruise Review by 3K9night

15 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2017
  • Destination: Alaska
We don’t generally plan our vacations way in advance, and this was no exception. We started looking at our options around February. We were looking at Mediterranean &/or Greek Island Cruises, Canary Island cruises or a return trip to Hawaii. Not sure why we threw Alaska into the mix, but everything we’d ever heard from people who’d been there was how great a trip it was. We finally settled on this cruise, which we booked about six weeks before the sailing date. Our first cruise on HAL was last September aboard the Rotterdam from Boston to Montreal, which we enjoyed immensely, so we did not hesitate to book another cruise on this line.

Maybe it’s because the Rotterdam is a smaller ship, or maybe it’s because it was a less busy cruise, but we weren’t as pleased with the Noordam as we were with the Rotterdam. That is not to say, we didn’t enjoy the trip. It was fabulous! It’s just that the ship didn’t quite meet our expectations. The ship itself is lovely, in good condition, and the crew and staff were very friendly. The Captain was great – we enjoyed listening to his instructions and commentary over the loud speakers.

Our biggest complaint is with the dining experience. Food in the main dining room was just okay. Pretty much the only meat choice at dinner was beef, which we don’t eat, so we ate a lot of fish. Mostly it was tasty, but it tended to be dry – probably overcooked. Except for the freshly made omelets for breakfast, food in the Lido was no better than a cafeteria. We ordered room service for breakfast twice – this wasn’t bad – it was delivered timely and was hot and fresh. Since we were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary on this trip we splurged on dinner at the Pinnacle Grill one evening. It was much better than the dining room, but we wouldn’t give it a five star rating as we would some other specialty restaurants on, say, Celebrity. Our biggest issue with dining was the service in the main dining room and especially in the Lido. The waiters and staff were friendly enough, but service was poor, as both venues were definitely understaffed. We blame this on HAL management. Perhaps after 14 cruises we’ve just become a little fussier and more critical.

The cruise itself was wonderful. Alaska is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and we enjoyed all the sights in the ports we visited, as well as the sights from the ship itself in Glacier Bay and through the inside passage. We visited the ports of Haines, Juneau and Ketichikan, and thoroughly enjoyed each one. The pictures you see of Alaska are beautiful and unbelievable, but to see it in person just takes your breath away. It’s an experience we’ll never forget.

Now, the land tour: we chose a three day pre-cruise tour to Denali and Fairbanks. This is where better planning was needed. We knew Alaska is big, but coming from New Jersey where you can drive from north to south in about three hours, we just didn’t have a concept of how long it would take to get from one place to another, and the travel times were not included in the initial descriptions. Most of the three days, unfortunately, was spent on the road.

We arrived in Anchorage late in the evening after a day long journey from New Jersey. After spending the night in the Captain Cook Hotel, which was lovely, we got up early, had breakfast and took a short walk to see a little bit of the town before getting on a coach to the train depot where we boarded the McKinley Express Dome Train for the eight hour journey to Danali. The train cars were very comfortable and the lunch in the dining car was very good – too bad it wasn’t as good on the ship. The scenery was beautiful, though we saw no wildlife – I’d run and hide, too, if I heard that train coming! Since we only had one night in Denali we were unable to go into the park itself. Instead we took two short excursions – an ATV adventure and barbecue in the evening, then a visit to Iditerod champion Jeff King’s Husky Homestead the next morning. By two that afternoon we were on another coach to Fairbanks, arriving early in the evening with only enough time to go to a salmon bake dinner and see a cute and rowdy show about the history of that gold rush town. Though we had been told by the tour booking agent before booking that we would have the next morning to explore Fairbanks before catching a flight to Anchorage followed by a coach to Seward, this was not the case. In fact, we had to get a 5:40 am shuttle to the airport for a 9:00 am flight. (The early shuttle really was not necessary. We were the only ones on the line to go through TSA and were told at the airline boarding desk we’d have had plenty of time if we didn’t get the airport until 8:00. We still would not have been able to do anything in Fairbanks, but we could have had a decent breakfast at the hotel instead of the absolutely awful one at the airport’s only eatery.)

This is not to say we didn’t enjoy the excursions we took. We had a lot of fun on the ATV despite ending up soaked during a sudden and unexpected downpour – and we were wearing rain jackets! The husky kennel was amazing, especially getting to hold an adorable month old puppy and getting to hear Jeff talk about life on the trail. He is an amazing speaker! The salmon bake in Fairbanks was very good and the show was very well done and a lot of laughs. If you really want to see Denali or Fairbanks, though, you need at least two nights in each. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have skipped Fairbanks and done the double Denali instead. Live and learn.

Overall, we enjoyed the trip and highly recommend Alaska to those who love the beauty of the natural world and experiencing a simpler way of life. Our recommendation would be to do your research before booking. A cruise is probably the best way to see southern Alaska, as there are no roads between the port towns – you need to fly or sail in to each of them, so why not do it on a floating hotel. If you want to see wildlife you need to go later in the summer when the salmon are running. And if you want to see Denali, you need at least two days there, if not three. Because of the huge distance between the park and Anchorage and the cruise port, you are going to spend a lot of time traveling, but it is well worth it. Given the opportunity I would visit Alaska again – after spending a little more time planning before making the final booking.
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Cabin Review

Cabin
We chose the guaranteed cabin option when booking to keep our cost down. We generally choose an inside cabin for this reason and have never had an issue. This was no exception. The cabin was fine for us: the bed was comfortable; the bathroom was a typical cruise ship bathroom – small but adequate with decent plumbing and good lighting; storage was more than adequate. And after three nights in the land of midnight sun in hotels where the curtains didn’t adequately block the daylight, I was very happy to spend nights in the dark! The cabin steward did a good job of keeping the room clean and tidy, she responded promptly to any request we made and she remembered that we preferred the dark chocolates after we told her this on the first evening. The only complaint about the cabin was it had an odd layout – square footage was normal, but the three closets were in a corner next to the bathroom, making it impossible for two people to utilize the space at the same time without doing an intricate dance – and we are not good dancers! Overall, though, no complaints about the cabin.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Glacier Bay
    Cruising through Glacier Bay National Park was an amazing experience - one I will not soon forget. First we headed to the theater where a Park Ranger gave a presentation on the Wonders of Glacier Bay. She was a good speaker, and her presentation was interesting and informative. Next a Huna Cultural Interpreter gave a presentation on the Native Voices of Glacier Bay. She was dressed in native regalia, sang songs of her people in their native tongue and told us her story as well as the story of her people. It was a very moving presentation. After that we went to the outer decks to enjoy the scenery and look for wildlife. It was quite chilly, so we wrapped ourselves in multiple layers. It was a bit overcast, but we were able to see the mountains, the shore and the glaciers quite well, probably better than we would on a bright sunny day. As we cruised along, the Park Rangers and the Captain told us where we were and what to look out for. When wildlife was spotted we were directed to the location, and the Captain even turned the ship around when a couple of moose were spotted to give everyone a chance to see, though they were tiny even when looking through binoculars. Some mountain goats were spotted, though we did not see them. We did however see the sea lion mamas and their pups in a rookery as we were leaving the bay. It's certainly one of the most beautiful cruising experiences I've had, and I would recommend it to all who love the beauty and serenity of nature.
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  • Haines
    This tour took us to a recreated Native Long House, a museum of sorts with many genuine native artifacts. We were picked up by our driver guide, a young man who had been born and raised in Haines. First we drove through the town and he pointed out the sites, telling us about the town and what it's like to live there and in Alaska. He was a captivating speaker. When we arrived at the cultural center, we were met by a young lady, a native Tlingit, who took us through the center, and along with her Mom, explained the various artifacts and the Tlingit way of life, both in the past and the present. It was very interesting and informative, and a little sad, to learn how badly the natives were treated by the westerners when they first arrived in Alaska. But we've come a long way, and the young people are now learning the native tongue and traditions and keeping their culture alive. Everyone we met was happy to see us and to share their stories with us. I was happy we chose this excursion.
    View All 12,408 Haines Cruise Port Reviews
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  • Mendenhall Glacier
    After a brief coach ride with a driver who told us the history of Juneau and the sites we passed along the way, we arrived at Mendenhall Glacier National Recreation Area, which is operated by the National Park Service. We had two hours to explore the area on our own, so we hiked down to Mendenhall Lake where Nugget Falls, a spectacular water fall, spills into the lake just a short distance from the foot of the glacier. It was well worth the visit, a must see if you are visiting Juneau. I was able to dip my hand in the clear chilly glacial lake and spend time just enjoying the view. Miniature ice bergs floated in the lake, and beautiful stones covered the lake bottom and shore. I picked up a few tiny ones to bring home as souvenirs, including a couple pieces of quartz, as it is permitted - they are constantly coming down from the mountain, carried by the glacier, the falls and other small flowing streams. We were told we were there on a good day, as there were not too many ships in port, so it was not overcrowded. Also, it was a bit overcast, which allowed us to see the blue in the glacier - something not seen on a bright sunny day, as everything is white in the glare of the sun. You could spend an entire day there, as there are many hiking trails, but the nearest you can get to the foot of the glacier is at the end of the Nugget Falls trail, so if you only have one day in Juneau and want to see or do something else in the afternoon you can do so if you go to the glacier in the morning.
    View All 827 Mendenhall Glacier Reviews
  • Flightseeing
    My husband said we had to take a sightseeing tour on a float plane because it's a must-do genuine Alaskan experience, but I was very hesitant to fly in such a tiny plane. After reading great reviews of pilot Michelle Masden and checking the site I decided to do it - if she had availability, which fortunately for us, she did. The whole experience was absolutely wonderful! Not only is Michelle an excellent pilot, she is a wonderful guide. We all wore headphones with mikes so we could hear Michelle and ask questions. She explained what we were seeing as we flew through the Misty Fjords, and was careful to steer clear of the rain which was falling on and off. About half way through we landed in a protected cove where we tied up to a dock and got out to stretch our legs and take pictures. Michelle graciously took pictures of each couple and was happy to pose with us for pics in front of the plane. It was another trip I am so glad we were able to take.
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  • Seward
    We arrived in Seward around 3:00 by coach from Anchorage. Since the ship wasn't setting sail until 8:00 we took the free shuttle into town to look around, take some photos and buy a couple bottles of wine. It seemed like an interesting town, but we only walked around for a couple of hours before heading back to the ship. It looked like a nice place to spend some relaxing time camping or picnicking on the shore. It also looked like a fisherman's paradise.
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