First time cruising, though both my wife and I are in our 60s. I usually prefer the control that planning your own trip involves with maybe a short guided excursion here and there. This time I decided to forgo the stress of planning, driving and navigating . . . particularly since Alaska seemed like the ideal trip to try a cruise instead. We were not disappointed in that regard. Our travel agent said Alaska is often the destination for first-time cruisers and I can now see why. The trip was pleasant and quite memorable.
It did take some adjusting. Traveling by ourselves as we usually do, we were not prepared for the crowded eating venues, the long lines for just about anything, the annoying folks with the it's-all-about-me attitude who didn't care if they spoiled your vacation experiences with their loud comments or their view-hawking photography. But we also were not prepared to be treated like royalty by the Noordam crew, or to be awed by the sights and sounds of nature, or to learn that true love may really involve those folks helping family members with serious medical issues enjoy what could be their last "trip of a lifetime."
Our favorite shipboard entertainment was the Wild Alaska film with live accompaniment from some very talented musicians. Simply took your breath away. My least favorite experience was trying to find a table at mealtime. Seemed like the Noordam frowns on couples who just want to eat by themselves. If we wanted our own table at the LIDO buffet (and I don't know why they call it LIDO), we often had to snag one right off the main drag where getting up from your seat sometimes meant you could get bowled over by someone enthusiastically rushing the pasta bar. But if you wanted a table for two, you had to sit in traffic it seemed. I tried making reservations at a table for two in the formal dining area, but was told on two separate days that the only times available were 7:45 and 8. That meant probably missing the early evening entertainment.
The food was good enough though I thought we ate better fish entrees in ports.
We chose Holland-America over Princess simply for the itinerary. And that Princess would not promise a Denali Wilderness Tundra tour which we very much wanted to take (and was TRULY a trip highlight). Embarkation, debarkation went without a hitch. The Noordam may be an 'older' ship but they were always cleaning and refurbishing parts of it. We liked the boat. We had booked the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour in Ketchikan and the White Pass Summit round trip railroad tour in Skagway. Enjoyed both though I enjoyed the stories told aboard the crab boat much more. That was a lot of fun.
My biggest disappointment came during the encounter with the tidewater glacier in Glacier Bay. We were fortunate to have an iceberg calve during our hour cruising by this particular glacier. But despite the naturalist telling observers to listen closely to hear the sounds of the glacier, people treated the event as if it were a football game with hooting and hollering. I think it might be better to experience a tidewater glacier like this with a smaller crowd, aboard a smaller boat.
Will probably take another cruise some time but I'm not sold on this as the best way for my wife and I to travel and experience what our nation and world has to offer. It is an expensive, crowded and often impersonal way of vacationing. But as first-time cruisers, it was still better than I expected it to be.