This was our first cruise with the Holland America Line and most definitely won't be our last. The service and attention to detail were extraordinary. Fresh flowers were present everywhere we went. The crew takes the time and effort to ensure the ship is well maintained and clean.
Our embarkation was extremely quick. Once on the ship, we went directly to our room where we were greeted by (surprisingly) our luggage, a basket of fruit, champagne and mineral water. Our room provided more than enough space for my husband, myself and our two children. I was surprised at the abundance of closet space and the large bathroom with two showers and jacuzzi tub.
After unpacking, we toured the ship. Our first stop was the Neptune Lounge where we met Joel and Rual, the concierges. The Neptune Lounge proved to be one of our favorite areas during our cruise and I can't say enough good things about Joel and Rual and the service they provided.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Oosterdam and found that the public areas never felt overcrowded or cramped. While we were impressed by the whole ship, there were a few areas that stood out. The Crow's Nest and the Explorations Cafe were great areas to find a quite spot to read or play a game of chess. The Culinary Arts Center provided passengers the opportunity to join master chefs for demonstrations and cooking classes. The Digital Workshop was a great area to learn new computer skills. Our family was amazed at how many activities there were on the ship. We registered our children for Club HAL and the Loft, but they never had the time to utilize either area.
The Oosterdam has many differet dining options. Our favorite memories are the breakfasts we enjoyed in the Pinnacle Grill and the daily high teas in the Vista Dining Room.
The entertainment on the Oosterdam was diverse and abundant. Our son, who is ten, enjoyed listening to the Adagio Strings in the Explorer's Lounge. We all enjoyed the Illusionist/Comedian, Leo Ward very much. Actually, Leo Ward is a must see while on the ship!! The Cruise Director, J.T. Watters does an amazing job of keeping everyone informed. As a Master of Ceremonies, he is humorous and keeps the show moving. The Crew Farewell, held on Day 7 was a nice touch, not to mention quite touching.
The primary reason our family chose this particular cruise was the inclusion of the scenic tour of Glacier Bay. Let me say, we weren't disappointed! Several Glacier Bay National Park Rangers joined us on board. One narrated the journey (over the ships speakers and television channel) and the others set up a discovery area in the Crow's Nest. Our children thoroughly enjoyed talking to the Park Rangers about the wildlife and the glaciers. We saw quite a bit of calving on the journey and I can't say enough about the view of the bay from the ship. Access to the bow of the ship on deck 4 was opened so that those who wished to brave the cold could view the bay straight on. What an amazing experience!!
Our itinerary included four ports: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria. In Juneau, we took a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. This is a must see while in Juneau. The Visitor's Center is a good starting point. Hiking to the waterfall by the glacier is level with no elevation gain. After lunch on board the ship, we walked to the Alaska State Museum. We enjoyed the museum exhibits very much and the children liked the Children's Room and the Gold Mining Co..
Of all of the ports, Sitka was our favorite. We walked the Sitka National Historical Park on our way to the Alaska Raptor Center. The walk through the temperate rain forest was beautiful.
In Ketchikan, we picked up a walking map from the T.I. office. Our first stop was the Southeast Alaska Visitor Center. This is a great place to begin your day. The exhibits at this museum are interesting and interactive. The rangers at this facility will answer all your questions about the area. Our next stop was Creek Street, which we enjoyed. The last port of the cruise is Victoria, B.C. We arrived at approximately 6:15 pm and left at 11:59 pm. We chose to walk to Beacon Hill Park where the flowers and fountains were quite beautiful. We ended up at the Empress Hotel and the inner harbor. We were glad we took advantage of the lovely weather and managed the time to explore Beacon Hill Park. It was worth the effort.
In Summary, this was absolutely the best cruise we have ever experienced. The crew was amazing and the ports were unforgettable. The only downside of the journey was having to leave the ship in Seattle.
Our cabin left nothing to be desired. My husband, myself and our two children found that there was more than enough room for all of us. The cabin highlights were the bathroom, verandah, closet/storage space and a dressing area. The bathroom had two showers, a jacuzzi tub and two sinks. The verandah was large enough to allow for a table with four chairs and two lounge chairs with ottomans. There were a total of six closets three had mirrored doors and the overall storage space left us (for the first time ever on a ship) with empty cabinets. One of my favorite features of the room was the dressing area with a dressing table and lighted makeup mirror. My husband and I also enjoyed the location of the desk, which was located directly under the picture window. In the morning I enjoyed sitting at the desk, sipping a cup of coffee while watching the ship arrive in port.
Juneau has a lot to offer. The challenge is making your way past the gift shops and tourist traps near the dock. We got off of the ship and made our way to one of the many tour booths on the dock. We chose an inexpensive bus trip to the Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor's Center. The glacier is a must see while in Juneau. The Visitor's Center offers an 11 minute movie, "The Magnificent Mendenhall", interactive exhibits, telescopes, ranger's talks and the opportunity to touch 250 year old glacier ice. We enjoyed everything the visitor's center had to offer and really learned a lot from talking to the rangers. After leaving the Visitor's Center, we made our way along the Nugget Falls Trail ton Nugget Falls. This easy hike takes about 45 minutes round trip and is well worth the time. There are great views of the glacier from Nugget Falls.
We caught our bus back to the dock and ate lunch on the ship. After lunch we set out to explore Juneau. We walked around town stopping at the Alaska State Museum at 395 Whittier Street. On the first floor we walked through displays of the clothing, regalia and tools of Alaska's indigenous people. Walking up the ramp to the second floor, you find a full-size eagle's nesting tree as well as brown bears, bald eagles, wolves and deer that are displayed in realistic dioramas. The second floor has exhibits of Alaskan History and (to the delight of our children) a Children's Room. We highly recommend this museum, especially if you are traveling with children.
Sitka was our favorite port! If you are able, try to explore Sitka on foot. The Oosterdam dropped anchor in Sitka Sound and we used a tender to get us to the O'Connell Bridge Visitor's Dock. I suggest picking up a "Sitka Through 4 Seasons" Book at the dock. It is free, and it has a wonderful walking tour map inside. From the dock, we walked up Northeast up Harbor Drive to Lincoln Drive. This is a lovely walk past the Crescent Harbor Dock and St Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. We passed the Sheldon Jackson Museum and started our trek through the temperate rain forest at the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor's Center and Totem trail. The park's trail takes you by the site of a Tlingit Indian Fort and many Tlingit Totem poles. There is also a battle site where the Tlingits fought with the Russians in 1804. We took the trail to Sawmill Creek Boulevard where we followed the yellow bird's feet to the Alaska Raptor Center. Our family loved the Raptor Center where we got to see numerous birds of prey. We were lucky enough to be there at the right time as they brought out an immature bald eagle who was born with a beak deformity. It was almost as big as its trainer! After leaving the Raptor Center we walked back down Lincoln to Harbor drive and past St. Michael's Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church. We ended our exploration at Castle Hill. Baranof's Castle was the site of the transfer of Alaska to the United States.
We enjoyed Ketchikan very much, although it did seem a little more crowded than the other ports. We found an "Experience Ketchikan, Alaska" magazine when we left the ship. Using the map inside of the magazine, we took a self guided walking tour of the Stedman-Thomas National Historic District, downtown and Creek Street areas. In our opinion a must see in the downtown-dock area is the Southeast Alaska Visitors Center. We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of exhibits and our children enjoyed the fact that the exhibits were interactive. There are several rangers that work in the Center who seemed happy to answer all of our questions. Creek Street was an interesting area of historical homes, shops and galleries. We walked through on our self guided tour and ended up at the Totem Heritage Center (601 Deermount Street.) The Center houses a collection of 19th century totem poles and other carvings taken from deserted Tlingit villages. We walked from the Totem Heritage Center down Deermount to Stedman then down Spruce Mill Way to Front Street. There are a lot of shops on Front Street. We thought this was the one best places to buy souvenirs. The Tongass Trading Company and Christmas in Alaska were our two favorite shops.
Our ship docked in Victoria at 6:15 pm. We weren't permitted on shore until close to 7:15 pm. and the ship was scheduled to leave at 11:59 pm. I highly recommend obtaining a sightseeing map at the dock. With only 4 hours to spend at this port, we decided to keep our adventure simple and walked to the Beacon Hill Park. We weren't disappointed in our decision. The Park is lovely, adorned with beautiful flowers, bushes and fountains. From the Park, we walked to the Empress Hotel where we walked around the grounds then through the public areas inside. We walked along the Inner Harbor then past the Legislative Buildings on our way back to the ship. It was a beautiful evening and the path we followed allowed us to see the highlights of Victoria without a major time commitment.