In 2015, we did our first Alaska trip, which was an HAL Land/Sea Tour, where we did a land based tour of the Yukon first, and then did a short (4 night) cruise on the Volendam to finish off our tour. This week long cruise on the Westerdam, from Vancouver to Anchorage, paled in comparison to that experience, for a number of reasons. On this trip, my husband and I also brought along my mother in law, who had never been on a cruise or to Alaska, and who stayed in an inside cabin across from our balcony cabin. See detailed cabin comments, below.
FYI, if you have never cruised out of Vancouver, there is a pretty extensive "check in" process. Not only are you checking in for your cruise, but if your cruise is heading to Alaska, your first port is the US = customs. So, you actually go through the US Customs process in Vancouver, before you even leave the cruise terminal!! This saves time when you do get to your first US port (which probably doesn't have the capacity to handle customs for so many arriving passengers at once). So, plan for extra time before boarding the ship in Vancouver - you can get to the port around 10:30 or 11:00 am and not be early!
The public interior areas of the ship appeared to us to have been recently refurbished. The carpet appeared newer; the seating in the theater was actually comfortable (we have been on several cruises where we had backaches getting up after a show in the theater!).
This was a balcony cabin on deck 6, towards the front(bow). The cabin was spacious enough for 2 people, and was clean and had a generous amount of closet/storage space. There was also a loveseat, small coffee table, desk/vanity in the room. And, the balcony had 2 chairs and a small table, and was large enough that we could squeeze the desk chair out there, too, if we wanted to.
NOTE: Being toward the front of the ship worked out great for us on Glacier Bay day - they opened the access door to the bow on deck 6, so we could walk back and forth between our room and the deck 6 bow to get multiple views of the Bay all day long. This was a hidden benefit of having a cabin in this area!
However, the cabin decor was drab - basically gold/beige on the walls, in the bathroom, the bedspread, the drapes, etc. No splashes of color anywhere, except for the small accent pillows on the bed, which were rust/orange color.
The bathroom seemed even older, with a beige tub and brown walls. We had a unique issue in our bathroom because some prior passenger apparently had used the sink to dye hair, clothing, or something, and the dye stains were left behind, which could not be cleaned by the stewards. I don't think this was a passenger immediately prior to our sailing, because our steward (who was wonderful) told us on day 1 that they had tried many products to clean the sink, and they couldn't get it any better. Absolutely not his fault. However, the cruise line needs to REPLACE this entire vanity area, if that's the case - even though it is dye, and nothing that would come off on our hands or anything, it still looked dirty as we used it each day. I would say the bathroom looked dated and probably needs a complete gut/redo.
Even without the sink issue, I would still say that the cabins in general are DATED and lacked style and color - very utilitarian & not elegant.
However, our stewards were excellent, serviced our cabin twice a day, and it was kept very clean by them - and they were so quiet as they came and went!
The bed linens (sheets) were very nice and the bed was comfortable.
We rarely used the TV; I would say the channel selection was limited. And, it seemed to be slow to "load" whatever selection you were making on the onboard system. We were not able to track our onboard charges on the TV; we used the app instead, which worked fast and well.
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn on Hornby St. - we got a good rate on the room - it was great - big room with kitchenette and gorgeous bathroom and a nice view of the city. Short cab ride from hotel to cruise terminal (about $10 CAD). This area of the city seemed to be "business" and seemed very safe, to us.
We ate dinner about 5 blocks from the hotel at Earl's Kitchen - great food, reasonable prices, really good drinks - Note: young vibe here and it's pretty noisy, due to high ceilings - didn't bother us middle agers, though.
Took a 13+ hour tour through Landsea Tours & Adventures to Victoria & Butchart Gardens - if your cruise is not stopping in Victoria, I highly recommend this tour company and this tour!
Ketchikan is a bit touristy, but easy to walk around and still fun. This trip, we made arrangements to see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show on our own - we had reservations for 1 pm show, but due to weather, walked off the ship first thing in the morning, and asked them if we could change to an earlier show - and they accommodated us easily! Show was entertaining, and the lumberjacks really are athletes! Recommend this show - very short walk from the ship.
Before I review any of the sights in Juneau, if you have any desire for crab legs while in Alaska, DO NOT MISS Tracy's King Crab Shack, right at the port. Yes, there may be a wait - it is so worth it! Most delicious crab leg ever!!! And, prices are not unreasonable - even for beer!
Also, right at the port is the Mt. Roberts Tramway. If the weather is good, it is worth the trip. TIP: the ticket price is good to ride ALL DAY! So, if your ship is in port until the evening, you could go up once in the morning or afternoon, and again in the evening! I wish I had known this when we were planning our Juneau day! ALSO - they do give a discount for AAA members - I think it's $5 off, so $31 instead of $36. But you have to ask; they don't volunteer that info.
There is also a soap shop here that we missed out on - I assumed the shops stayed open until the ships leave, but the soap shop that I had heard about closed at 6 pm; so we missed out on that...
Also, Juneau is a little tricky to get around on your own. We tried to go to the Mendenhall Glacier "on the cheap" and while it was a bit cheaper, it took a lot longer, and wasn't as cheap as we expected. Just FYI, to go from the Visitor Center to the Glacier is about a 1 mile walk each way, I believe. (Fine for us, but not sure some seniors would be able to make it). It was worth the walk, definitely.
But, how you get to the visitor center is really the issue. They do have buses (and taxis) that go all the way up to the Visitor Center parking lot. We opted to take a city bus from downtown Juneau (about 1/3 mile walk from the cruiseport) out to the Mendenhall Glacier area - not to the visitor center!!! Two points - the bus ride itself is only $2 per person (exact change), but because it is a city bus, it takes over 45 minutes to get out to the Glacier. And, the buses don't run continuously. So, although we got to the bus depot from the ship quickly, we waited about 10 minutes for the bus to pull up. Then, when he did, he was going on break. So, it was about 20 minutes more, or so, before he was ready to load up and leave. So, it was about 30 minutes from the time we arrived at the depot until the bus even pulled out. Then, the route took 45-50 minutes or more. Then, where the city bus drops you off, as many others have pointed out, is a 1.5 mile walk to the parking lot for the visitor center. Yes, there is a sidewalk. But, it is a LONG 1.5 miles....and if it was raining, it would be miserable (fortunately, we had a non-rainy day). The morning we did it, there was only one other (younger) couple and us that got off the bus and made the walk up there. Once we were done at the glacier - which is really interesting - make sure you see the 15 minute movie in the visitor center first - we were not in any shape to walk 1.5 miles back to the bus stop (with the possibility of a sprinkle) and then wait there up to 30 minutes for a returning bus to come by. So, we hung out in the visitor parking lot and were looking for another couple/family that we could possibly share a cab ride with back to the port. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anyone, and several of the families had pre-arranged with the cab drivers to come back and pick them up at a certain time - so many of the cabs had fares already set. We just got lucky with a guy who drove up and was available. So, the fare back to Juneau was about $35 or more plus tip for the two of us (again, it would have worked out better had we found another couple to split the fare with).
So, in the end, perhaps we should have just taken the Glacier Express bus, the blue bus, whatever it's called.
But, we did get in a lot of "steps" that day!
As mentioned, there is access to the bow on Deck 6 (and possibly some other decks) on the Westerdam, which is very convenient if your cabin happens to be located on the forward part of the ship. This is great for taking photographs, in addition to being able to move back and forth from the cabin to the bow easily, whether it's to get warmed up, have some hot chocolate, take pics from a different view, or whatever.
Glacier Bay is a gorgeous place to see - don't miss it! And, the narration by the National Park Ranger onboard, as well as the talk by the Tlingit native, were both informational and inspirational.
The highlight in Seward for us was taking a Major Marine boat tour to Kenai Fjords National park - we were able to take a 7.5 hour tour and it was well worth it - we saw an otter, humpback whales, orcas, glaciers, and just had a great trip. The captain really seemed to communicate with other boats in the area, and knew where the wildlife was active on the day we were there. Also, the onboard meal is also well worth the additional cost - as a matter of fact, you won't really need dinner that night. Very good food, and most passengers did seem to buy it, so you will feel like you are missing out if you skip it!
We stayed at the Breeze Inn in Seward - which is like taking a step back in time, as far as motels are concerned. I wrote a Trip Advisor review if you want more info on it.
If you are staying in Seward overnight, know there are 2 hubs of this small town; the harbor and the downtown - which is about a mile away. And, the hotels in the harbor area are actually further away than they appear on a map - it's about 3/4 mile walk from the CRUISE SHIP port to the harbor town area. That isn't bad if you are just walking, but if you have luggage, the sidewalk is gravel, which is hard on those wheels. I recommend calling for either a courtesy shuttle from your motel, or trying to find a cab. It's about the same distance to the train depot for the Alaska RR train from Seward to Anchorage.
Seward also has a free city shuttle bus/minivan system, too, during their operating hours (may be only 10 am-5 pm - not sure). Anyway, if you are in Seward for the day, just know that is an option for getting around, too.
The dining options are less plentiful, in my opinion. We didn't have too much success with dinner or breakfast here. We had lunch at the Sea Bean in the downtown Seward area, and that was delicious.
I think staying in Seward long enough before or after your cruise to take the Kenai Fjords boat trip is well worth the additional time and money - this is the only place on our Alaska trip where we saw otters and whales.
We also took the Alaska RR evening trip from Seward to Anchorage; which, if you haven't taken a RR trip like that before is really a fun way to go - we got lots of good pics from that 4 hour trip, as well!