This was my first cruise ever and I've wanted to go to Alaska for 17 years. I chose this cruise because it went to destinations other cruise lines did not cover. I had friends that told me I would love cruising. I saved for over a year to take this trip and the entire thing ended up being over 15K (excursions, expenditures, etc.).
I was guaranteed a BB stateroom (navigation deck) and received a suite on the deck 6 instead that was supposedly an upgrade. Not. Directly over entertainment and noisy.
The ship had norovirus and that made things rather unpleasant for both crew and passengers, since you had to disinfect yourself 4 times to walk across the deck and several group activities were cancelled. The cruise continued; I did not contract the virus. But it didn't make things much fun.
I found the crew, who were primarily from the Phillipines, polite, but not friendly. A polite smile and genuine warmth are two different things. Some had language difficulties. Overall, I didn't feel like anyone on the ship particularly cared if I lived or died; I was just a room number. After 3 days, I had to ask to have my sheets changed. Considering the charges for the room and service, I should not have had to ask and there was nothing there to indicate they would not be changed daily. Ick. The "flowers" supposedly in your room are "flower" - a single carnation that did not make an appearance at all the last 3 or 4 days.
As this was my first cruise experience, I had high expectations in regards to food and had to ratchet them way down. There is a lot of food, and it is presented in a lovely way, but it is not especially fresh or tasty. The bread was stale every single day. My own cooking is better and I was very disappointed. Particularly hideous were the sandwiches, the pasta, the fried chicken, and the crab legs served at the Pinnacle Grill. "Hash browns" actually made me laugh; they looked like kid's hash browns - little triangles out of a plastic bag. Particularly good were salads (as long as you don't expect them ice cold and crisp), soups, made-to-order eggs, and selected desserts. The way another traveller put it was that it was just "restaurant food" and that sums it up. Not a high-end restaurant. Eating at the restaurant venue (not the buffet) involved standing in line and generally they seat you with strangers. It takes a long time to get through the meals. I didn't find the Gala Nights worth dressing up for. Also, someone needs to tell the crew that no flowers are infinitely better than dead flowers. We had the "special" restaurant package and there were dead flowers on every table.
The shipboard activites were described as "geriatric" by one passenger, but I thought that was disrespectful to geriatric persons everywhere. There simply weren't many shipboard activities, they tended to be repetitive, and they weren't especially interesting. I find that "over 18" and "under 115" normally respond pretty much the same way to activities that are interesting. And I think Holland needs to get on the stick; baby boomers and younger aren't really your typical "geriatric" set. The productions were, well, I can't really describe them. I will just have to say that I was laughing out loud at the shipboard versions of Madonna, the Rolling Stones, and Sir Elton. The entertainers could sing, and they could dance, but they couldn't rock 'n roll. Rock 'n roll has a soul and is a bit more...gritty.
I'm almost tired of typing, but I want anyone considering this cruise to also be aware of the port excursions. I did not know you had to beware of the on-board shopping coordinator; the ship is in cahoots with certain port stores that give a kickback. The jewelry stores are manned by Indian personnel who are just there for the season, and once you walk in the door, you can't get out. If you are in the market for high-end jewelry, be prepared to spend a LOT of time being pressured. Be prepared to bargain. You might have zapped in there just to get the free charm your shipboard coordinator told you about, but expect that only after at least an hour and if you are really determined to have it. And expect your shipboard coordinator to join in to help the jewelers. Hideous experience; like being in Vegas where they'll give you free show tickets to listen to their condo spiel. Awful. Look for local stores not subsidized by the ships and that are open all year. In terms of paid excursions, it's very hit-or-miss. We took a "russian tea" excursion that was the worst thing ever - like a few church ladies got together and planned a little function. Not russian tea, terrible snacks, in an episcopalian church lobby, entertainment by balalaika players whilst you sat at folding tables being served from a crockpot, wondering when it would be over. I liked Icy Strait Point which has native americans running and supporting everything, and I loved Homer. Homer had an excursion on a catamaran to see a rookery; we saw everything. whales, sea otters, crested puffins, bald eagles, everything. And the Homer spit is, in my opinion, the best place to poke around and shop. I wish we had more time there. The port of Victoria BC was cancelled as the ship couldn't get in to dock. It was windy that day and evidently it was enough to make it difficult. Elsewhere, I learned to pan for gold; it was like something set up for kids, as the pans were the size of a snack dish. But the salmon bake was very nice; beautiful setting, entertainment, good food. The musher's camp was good. In hindsight, I'd opt for physical activities or being out on the water for every excursion. I signed up for different activities in every port, thinking about variety. I think there were too many activities and talks that appeared to be something planned for an 8-year-old; what I disliked most about both shipboard and non-shipboard activities was that they were almost dumbed down to the point of being insulting or condescending.
Also, be aware that the sommeliers on board aren't. Sommeliers, that is. I paid 60 bucks for a bottle of Very Bad Wine. I knew it might not be what I totally loved when there was no year specified in the wine list, but at that price, whatever is ordered should minimally be well-balanced and drinkable. Holland has a hub in Washington, for God's sake. They have access to outstanding wines from Washington, Oregon, and California. They should hire some people with a decent palate and stock good wines. If it's their margin they're worried about, you can buy good wine with a decent balance at 12-15 bucks. Just sayin'...
So that was my sole, first, and likely last cruising experience. The most expensive vacation I've ever had and one of my least favorite experiences. Next time, I fly in to (wherever), rent a car, take a ferry or seaplane, and sign up for any tours I'd like to take on-line or when I'm actually at that location.
This is an undesirable cabin located forward directly over the theater; noisy.