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Oosterdam ReviewAlaska, May 21st - 29th, 2011BackgroundWhile this was my 14th cruise, this was my first time sailing aboard Holland America (HAL). Previous cruises have been on Royal Caribbean (6), Disney (3), NCL (2), Princess (1), and Carnival (1). My most recent cruises have been on Disney in January of this year aboard the Wonder, the Magic the previous year, and NCL Norwegian Dawn in 2009. To further allow you to gauge this review, I will tell you that I am a college professor just shy of 40, and was travelling with my wife, son (4), brother—who has cruised with HAL twice previously, and mother.I will admit that I was excited to try HAL based on what I've read on Cruise Critic and because of interviews I've listened to from HAL personnel (e.g., captains, cruise directors, etc.) stating that HAL was a "five star" line. While I enjoyed the cruise, I personally did not feel that HAL delivered anything above and beyond what the lines I've sailed have delivered. That said, I did enjoy my cruise and will second what many others have said; the Oosterdam cruise is extremely friendly, always saying hello and going out of their way to engage guests in conversation. However, I felt that the crew on Disney was equally friendly.I was hoping to fall in love with HAL and make them my "new" cruise line of choice looking for something that was the next step up without the extreme costs of the premium lines. While this unfortunately did not happen, I will not count HAL out in the future. They provided a good product for the amount paid, had nice cabin accommodations, and have competitive third person rates. And as of yesterday, our next scheduled cruise will be aboard the Maasdam in May 2012 from Montreal to Boston for the Canada/New England itinerary. My wife liked the itinerary in a mailing we received from HAL, even though she isn't particularly fond of cruising overall.The remainder of this review will read as a daily travelogue. However, due to its length, I do provide a general overview at the end after the day-by-day travelogue for those who are not interested in this level of detail. As always, remember that these are just my opinions of this particular cruise given my age, expectations, background, previous cruises, etc. So please just take it as that and don't attack the messenger should you disagree with my opinions as they are just that . . . opinions!Saturday, 05/21/11, Pre-CruiseToday began with my mother and brother meeting at my house at approximately 7:45 a.m. so that we could take our dogs to my in-laws for the week. We then returned to my house to load the SUV with the luggage hoping that it would all fit and eliminate the need to take two cars to the airport. With some creative packing, we were able to fit our entire luggage in the cargo area and the five of us were off to the airport.Fortunately, Saturday is not a busy travel day at the San Diego Airport, so parking the car offsite and shuttling to the airport was uneventful other than the schlepping of luggage. Once at the airport, we quickly checked our bags and quickly made it through airport security. With the family settled, I went back out through security, got us breakfast and allowed my son to play before the flight.While we had a direct flight on Southwest Airlines, it was not a nonstop flight. That's Southwest language for a landing and takeoff mid-route without having to get off the plane. Thus, our air route took us from San Diego to Oakland and then from Oakland to Seattle. My son opted to sit with my mother and brother, so we had a peaceful first flight and he fell asleep during the second flight which made it that much more quite.Upon arrive at SeaTac, we collected our bags and called for a limo from the public information phones. In less than 10 minutes, we were met by STILA limo (actually a Tahoe in this case), loaded our bags, and were off to downtown all for $45. I highly recommend simply calling for a limo/town car when arriving at SeaTac rather than taking a taxi as the fare is about the same and you don't have to worry about paying for stopped traffic should there be any as the prices are fixed.Our precruise stay had us at the Red Lion on 5th Avenue. The hotel was quite nice and we got an excellent rate through Hotels.com that included parking (not needed), internet (not used), and breakfast (enjoyable). It appeared that the hotel had been recently refurbished, but was a bit modern for my liking (e.g., frosted class bathroom doors that only offered pseudo privacy). The only down sides were that bell service was extremely slow—half hour wait—and avoided on Sunday morning and they needed more elevators at peak times. Also, there are no waiting cabs, so you will need to have the front desk call one for you.Sunday, 05/22/11 - EmbarkationI awoke early in anticipation of boarding the Oosterdam. I also discovered that I didn't have enough shaving cream, so I ended up heading down to the local downtown grocery store to buy some, and then to Starbucks for coffee. Then after a little walk for some early morning exercise, I returned to the hotel to have breakfast with my family in the hotel restaurant as it was provided in our room rate. Breakfast was good (breads, cereals, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, juice, etc.) and met our needs.While eating breakfast, my son asked if I had brought his goggles for the pool, which I hadn't, so we ended up going down to the CVS a couple of blocks away to buy some. After the short detour, we returned to our hotel, called for bell service, but were unwilling to wait a half hour. Thus, we hauled our own bags to the lobby, checked out, asked the front desk to call us two cabs, and went to the curb to wait.Because there were five of us, one cab wasn't large enough for our group given the amount of luggage that we had. Thus, we opted for two cabs, which was still cheaper than a town car. Fares ran $12 for my mother and brother and $13 for us as there is a surcharge when there are more than two passengers. I'd estimate that Pier 91 was approximately 10 minutes from downtown and given that it was Sunday traffic was light.Entering Pier 91 was easy and I was actually surprised that we didn't have to show ID or our cruise documents as we always have had to in the past. Once we were dropped off, we waited for porter service, but they were all going to the private vehicle drop-off areas rather than to the taxi drop-off areas; thus, we had to haul our own bags into the terminal as there is no bag drop outside for already tagged bags. Since the signage is inadequate, be advised that you have to enter the terminal, walk past the lines heading upstairs to check-in, drop off your checked bags, and then return to the check-in lines. Also, keep in mind that HAL checks everyone in on the right side of the terminal, while Princess uses the left side.Because we had a stroller and my mom has mild mobility issues, we were able to bypass the first floor lines and use the elevator. Once in line upstairs, everyone was asked to have their cruise documents and passports available for viewing before entering the x-ray and metal detector screening area. This was also the first time while passing through ship security that I had to remove my laptop from my carryon bag. While this is common at airports, I've never had to do this before while boarding a ship and didn't know I had to since there were no signs or people stating as much. Thus, if you have a laptop, remove it from your carryon luggage for x-ray screening.Check-in was fairly efficient although we later found out otherwise when we discovered that my brother did not receive his invitation for the Mariner's Lunch and that they banded my son with the wrong muster station number. Even though we arrived early, just before 11:00 a.m., we still received Boarding Number 5. We also received a letter discussing that some of the crew had been ill and that additional hygiene measures were being taken. I really think the letter was simply meant to forewarn of Code Orange during the first 48 hours of the cruise, which is a nuisance but makes a lot of sense in reality.By 11:30 a.m., they began boarding the ship. Unfortunately, the gangway had broken so everyone had to take stairs back down to port level and then board via a ramp leading to Deck 1. This also meant taking the elevator once again, but this time we had to be escorted by a port employee as we had already passed through the security screening.We immediately went to our cabins: a Category SY for my immediately family (6069) and a Category D (1033) for my mom and brother. The SY was a nice configuration with the best bathroom I have had in all of my cruises. However, for some reason the cabin didn't feel as big as it was in terms of square footage. I'm guessing this had something to do with the size of the bathroom and that it was more square than rectangular. Even so, it was plenty of room for the three of us, and didn't even feel crowded when all five of us were gathered there for Glacier Bay. In addition, it was nice having a wider hallway in the cabin than that which is in the standard cabins.Once all of our bags were in our rooms, we headed to the main dining room for lunch as my brother is a past passenger. Unfortunately, we were met by a very rude dining room manager who insisted that my brother needed an invitation. When I asked why, he couldn't answer other than stating that the luncheon was for past passengers. When I finally pressed and asked which level of Mariner one had to be to have lunch there, the dining room manager said it was for 4 Star Mariners only, which I found highly unlikely. My brother later complained to guest relations and they stated that he should have never been turned away, and that he should have received an invitation. Further, the in-room documentation for the Mariner Society states that an embarkation lunch is one of the benefits of all Mariners, not just 2, 3, or 4 star ones. The Assistant Guest Relations Manager, Mila, handled this superbly, sending both of us an apology note, chocolates, and providing us with lunch in the Pinnacle, which later turned into dinner due to a variety of other issues that occurred throughout the week.Denied lunch in the main dining room, we headed to the Lido, which was total chaos. While I understand why HAL implements Code Orange, it doesn't work well in the Lido. Further, it was inconsistent and in some places they kept the serving utensils accessible to guests, so they ended up serving themselves anyway. And if HAL was truly concerned about hygiene, one would think they'd at least enforce hand sanitizer usage. In my last four cruises (Disney and NCL), one couldn't even enter the buffet or the dining room without sanitizing his or her hands, yet on HAL there was no such enforcement.Once we had our food, finding a seat was another challenge. Staffing was poor, the few tables that became available were not bussed quickly, and when the dirty dishes were removed and the tables cleaned, utensils and napkins were rarely left on the tables. However, it was nice to finally have a place to sit and to eat, even if the food was mediocre at best and some of the dishes that might have been good and/or worth trying weren't worth the wait in line. While I don't recall what I had, the only thing that stood out was the peanut butter cookies. My wife raved about them and she's not actually a fan of peanut butter cookies; unfortunately, they were available all too infrequently which was a major disappointment.My son was eager to try out the pool, so we returned to our cabin as we had packed our swimsuits in our carryon luggage and I wanted to get the swim in before the muster drill. As was common throughout the week, we were the only ones in the pool, which was cool although not cold. This was also only one of two days that the roof was open, the other being the last day of the cruise. As we played, several passengers, many of whom were passing by on a ship's tour, stopped to ask me if the water was heated. We also were able to enjoy the music of the HAL Cats as they played poolside today.The muster drill was rather quick and this is the first time on a cruise that attendance had not been taken. While I like the fact that life vests are not needed anymore, my wife still believes that should be worn so that people know how to wear them. I did have some concern, however, because we were assigned Muster Station 7, although my son's bracelet had the number 5 on it. When we asked one of the crew, they said it was fine and I assumed that perhaps they "shared" bracelets. That is, children in assigned to stations 1 and 3, receive a 3, those in 5 and 7 receive a 5, and so on. Logically, this made sense to me as the stations were adjacent to one another and would be a time saving strategy in an emergency. We later discovered, however, that there were bracelets for each station and that my son had been given the wrong bracelet at check-in, which I think is a gross oversight and something that should have been known and verified by the muster personnel. I will say that the guest relations staff were not too pleased when they discovered this.During the muster drill, it was also announced that Lifeboat 14 was left in Seattle for repair, but the passengers were assured that there were enough lifeboats for everyone and that those assigned to Station 14 should not worry. While I do believe this, I'm not sure how confident I'd be if I showed up to a muster station only to discover that my lifeboat was not hanging overhead.Upon returning to our cabin, we discovered that our checked luggage had arrived and we were pleased that it was placed inside the room rather than in the hallway as has occurred on previous cruises. We did discover that we needed more hangers, and although I called and asked for them, they never arrived, so I had to then ask our cabin steward. We also requested a child's robe, which took a couple of days to receive, and a child's life vest that didn't arrive until day 5 of the cruise even though it was requested several times. It wasn't until I finally raised a concern with Guest Relations that we received the child life vest and even then it took an additional day before it arrived.While I realize that there are plenty of life vests onboard and at the muster stations, I still wanted a life vest in the cabin. I was also troubled that it took asking multiple times and that no action was taken on the issue even though multiple crew were asked. The matter was only resolved when my brother spoke to Guest Services, and then it still took a day for the life vest to arrive.Upon returning to the cabin after the muster drill, we called to order my son a movie, but were told that there was a 1 hour wait; instead, we opted to pick up the movie at Guest Services. As an aside, HAL advertised a movie snack pack that seems like a pretty good deal for $10. It includes four sodas or bottles of water, two bags of popcorn, mixed nuts, and a choice of candy bars.After picking up the movie from Guest Services, we headed to an advertised wine sampling. Unlike wine tastings, there was a $2 charge per glass and the choices were limited to a few house wines. Unfortunately, the event started late and the bar server was new, so it took way too long; otherwise, it was a good value. I also liked that they served the nuts small glass bottles that you needed to pour from so that you knew the nuts hadn't been touched by others.Dinner tonight was in Canaletto, which we had reserved through the telephone concierge upon reaching our cabin. We were seated promptly at a nice table for 8 that had bench seating on one side and chairs on the other. My wife, son, and I were seated on the bench and were fortunate enough to have a clear view to the windows, so we were able to enjoy the view through dinner as we sailed out of Puget Sound.Overall, Canaletto was our best overall dinner onboard in terms of consistency across all courses, level of service, taste, etc. While there were excellent items in the Pinnacle and the main dining room, the quality varied from course to course as did the service from night to night. If we had it to do over again, we would have eaten at Canaletto at least one more night.Dinner started with a selection from an antipasto tray that is brought to the table, which was excellent. We also found the soups to be good, including a seafood soup that I didn't think I'd be fond of. The cod dish that my wife had was excellent, and probably the best piece of fish we had during the entire cruise. I opted for the chicken marsala, which was very good. My brother had the pasta with vodka sauce, which he said was good to very good, and seemed to enjoy very much. Dessert at the table consisted of the tiramisu sampling and the gelato, both of which were excellent. I also found the coffee to be the better here than in the main dining room for some reason.While our dinner was excellent, we later discovered that we had missed out on Alaskan king crab legs in the main dining room and were told, when I asked, that that was the only night they were served. While we were disappointed by this, we had plans to eat at Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau, so we had that to look forward to.We spent the evening exploring the ship while my son played with grandma. The night included exploring the shops, liquor tasting, attending a raffle at the shops, and attending the production show. The show itself was very good and the seats were very comfortable. I was also impressed with the staging, and the small size of the cruise director's staff, which was excellent by the way. The only downside of the theater was that there were several seats that had poor sight lines.While I expected the cigarette smoke to be bad from the Cruise Critic postings on the HAL board, I wasn't particularly bothered by it even though I am sensitive to cigarette smoke. However, I could smell it in the corridors when passing a room where smoking was occurring as all stateroom doors had vents on them like you might find in laundry rooms.Reflecting on the first day and what I had read on Cruise Critic, I felt that the ship was dark overall. Many of the corridors did not have windows and the overall dark color scheme of the interior made it feel darker. I also wasn't a fan of the carpeting choices. In addition, there was some noticeable wear and tear, although I expected it given that the Oosterdam is scheduled for dry dock at the end of the Alaska season. Examples included the window frame of my mother and brother's cabin showing serious rust, and a shower curtain that was too short in our SY cabin that the door frame of the bath room's door was nearly rusted through as a result of continuous water exposure.Staff was friendly overall, with the exception of my brother being turned away at the Mariner's lunch. However, this was later rectified by Guest Services, who provided us with free meals at the Pinnacle.Monday, 05/23/11 - At SeaToday, it was obvious that we were in open waters as we could feel the motion of the ship once we had left the channel. Once we had rounded Vancouver Island in the early morning, the motion started.The first of perhaps two announcements today occurred at 9 a.m., which actually woke us. Upon waking, we ordered room service for a light breakfast, which took about 35-40 minutes to arrive. We then reviewed the daily program to see what activities we might be interested in attending today. We really liked the layout of the daily program as it was easy to follow and included a nice tear-off section, although I would have preferred an insert as to keep the program intact. My wife particularly liked the daily program after Disney as she thought their daily program was like the "TV guide from hell" with various grids outlining family activities, activities by age level, etc.Lunch today was in the main dining room with the entire family. Service was fairly efficient and we were seated quickly even though there was a line when we arrived. Overall, food and service was good, but not great. For example, the waiter forgot to bring the soup I ordered and the fries served with my burger were cold. Fortunately, the burger itself was very good and the cold pear soup was excellent. My wife had the teriyaki salmon, which was fair at best, while my son had the mac and cheese that was very good. I finished lunch with a blueberry sundae and a cappuccino which were good, while my wife opted for peanut butter cookies form the lido afterwards.We did note that the dining room on HAL was very similar to that of Disney. The only difference was that as you entered and exited the dining room, there were a bunch of parked electric scooters and walkers lining the wall rather than strollers.Like most afternoons, this one was spent in the pool, which was seriously underutilized on this cruise by others, making it a more enjoyable experience than on Disney as there was never a crowd. Fortunately, the dome was closed today, making it a bit warmer than yesterday. However, the movement of the ship was very noticeable in the pool with serious wave action as the pool sloshed back and forth.Prior to dinner, we had our photos taken in the main atrium. We then headed to dinner. Overall, I wasn't very impressed with the Captain's Gala menu and this might have been a better night for Canaletto. That said, there were some good items. At the table, we had Carpaccio (poor), seafood cake (good), beef wellington (good), mushroom risotto (good) and the always available steak (very good). The standout dish tonight, surprisingly, was the sweet and sour shrimp, which was excellent. The tempura shrimp alone make this the dish to order. Desserts were good to fair overall. The chocolate trio I ordered was not as described on the menu and was fair at best. My wife order a custom made sundae using the toppings from the baked Alaska, which she enjoyed. My brother had the always available fruit crisp with ice cream, which he stated was good to very good. The standout dessert, which my son ordered, was the watermelon sorbet pie with chocolate seeds. I wish I had taken a picture of it as it was very creative and actually looked like a wedge of watermelon. While I personally thought it was good as I had to try a sample, I wouldn't have order it again; however, my son wanted it nearly every night even though it wasn't available.After dinner, we attended the production show. I also liked the fact that the Captain's reception was held in the theater and drinks were handed out as you entered. This seemed more convenient and less chaotic than those on other cruises were it took place in the atrium. Overall, the show was fair, although the staging was excellent and included the use of hydraulic lifts, turntables, etc. The big turnoff for me, though, was a song/dance number that included a mock suicide, which caused us to leave the show early as I didn't want my son exposed to such imagery at his age.After the production show, we returned to the cabin where my son watched a ship-provided DVD while we watched some recorded TV programs brought from home. My son really enjoyed his movie as I stopped by the screening room and grabbed some popcorn on our way back to the cabin.We finished the night by enjoying our pillow chocolates—the best we've had on a ship—and turning our clocks back 1 hour. We also completed and hung the breakfast order form for the next morning.Tuesday, 05/24/11 - Glacier BayRoom service breakfast arrived today halfway through the selected time window. Unlike other cruise lines, however, there was no call prior to delivery, only a knock on the door. While I did tip, the server seemed quite surprised and I seriously believed that a tip was not expected. The order was nearly correct; however, I did not receive the hot chocolate I ordered although I did receive the carafe of hot water for it.We left the room for a little more than two hours this morning and were surprised to return to the cabin only to find that it had not been cleaned. This was problematic as we were expecting to host my brother and mother in the cabin while we cruised Glacier Bay. As a result, we had to call for service twice as we needed the extra bed turned back into a couch. While I would have attempted it myself, there was a sign stating otherwise and to call.We stopped briefly at the lido, but there were no seats available. As a result, we ended up taking the few items that we selected back to the cabin. My wife also visited the taco bar, but thought it was poorly laid out and not restocked timely. We supplemented the lido with room service and as expected, there was a 10 minute wait on hold and an hour wait for food. When the food arrived, it was good, not great, and not particularly hot.Having been on an Alaska cruise before, Glacier Bay was about what we expected and it was nice having a large balcony and a cabin to retreat to for warmth. In addition, this was my brother and mother's first time to Alaska, and they really enjoyed the scenery and long sail into and out of Glacier Bay. And although I was concerned about having a cabin on the starboard side based on what I had read on Cruise Critic, we actually ended up spending more time facing the glacier than the port side, which was good as my son fell asleep before we reached the glacier. Fortunately, though, he woke before we left and was able to see it and watch if calve. He just couldn't understand why we couldn't go ice skating on it—after all, it's made of ice—or why we couldn't stop along the shore to play in the snow.This afternoon, we received a plate of chocolates from Guest Services for being turned away at the Mariner's lunch and because of another minor issue. While we chose not to complain, the Guest Services person saw our reservation was linked with my brother's, so she sent a note and the chocolates as a result. Nice touch!Tonight's dinner menu wasn't very appealing, so we ended up in the lido for dinner. Food was okay and it would have been nice to have beverage service. In addition, my mother was told that they were out of some of the entrEes they had on display. Further, service was nearly nonexistent. I really expected more service in the lido based on experience on other cruise lines.The main show tonight was okay. The performer was an impressionist that was on one of the reality TV competition shows. What really surprised me, however, was his appeal at the end of the show to make comments on the guest survey. While I've come to expect this from the cabin steward, dining room team, etc., I've never seen a performer make such an appeal.After the production show, we attended the Love and Marriage game show, which was hilarious. We particularly liked the cruise director's personality and his ability to poke fun at the cruise line and its reputation for attracting seasoned adults.Wednesday, 05/25/11 - JuneauWe started the morning with room service breakfast as usual and as expected delivery occurred in the middle of the selected half hour time window. Today, however, the kitchen/server forgot to include spoons for our three bowls of cereal. Fortunately, we had the spoon from my coffee; otherwise, we would have been out of luck.Having been to Juneau before, we opted to take one of the blue shuttles to Mendenhall Glacier. Although we were planning on being on the first bus, our timing was a bit off so we headed out to the glacier on the second bus. Upon arrival, we headed to the view point and came across my mother, which was a nice surprise as we didn't expect to see her until lunch as she and my brother were on a HAL "Juneau Highlights" tour that they later reported liking.After visiting the view point and taking pictures of the lake and the glacier, we decided to head to the waterfall, approximately a ¾ mile walk each way according to the signage. Along the way, we were able to see pieces of the glacier that either came ashore or were pulled ashore by others. The only downside was that my son "ran out of energy" as he says on the way back, so I ended up carrying for about ½ a mile back to the bus.After spending about two hours at Mendenhall, we caught the bus back to the ship as we were meeting my brother and mother at the dock for lunch. Meeting up with them at Tracy's Crab Shack, I was excited to try the crab legs based on reviews and their menu online. Unfortunately, their prices were significantly higher than online, so we ate lightly and still spent just over $100 sharing three sample plates (1 crab leg, 2 mini crab cakes, and crab bisque).Overall, I felt that while Tracy's Crab Shack was good, it wasn't anything special and I would have been just as happy buying King Crab legs at Costco and cooking them myself. The legs were no more impressive nor better tasting. And the price, while very reasonable based on the menu that was posted online, was about one-third higher than I expected. That said, the crab bisque was amazing, so I would recommend trying it. It was fabulous, meeting, and the best bisque I have ever had; all four adults at the table were in agreement with this.Having split three meals across five people, we reboarded the ship to supplement our lunch and to regroup. We then headed to the tram up to Mt. Roberts. To expedite the trip up, we used the self-serve kiosk to buy our tickets; unfortunately, there was no definition of "child" on the kiosk or on the signage at the ticket desk, so I ended up buying a ticket for my son that I later discovered wasn't needed as children under six do not require their own ticket.The views from Mt. Roberts are fabulous and being able to see the rehabilitated eagle up there is a treat. However, our true purpose was for my son to experience snow and we weren't disappointed. Less than 50 yards from the main building at the top of the tram, we came across a trail that was completely covered in snow, giving my son ample opportunity to play.For those wishing to hike, there are hiking sticks as you exit the building, which we missed the first time. Although we didn't go far, we heard from others that the trails were very slippery, muddy, and snow covered. At one point, we saw someone nearly hip deep in the snow even at the end of May.As far as my son was concerned, the trip up to the mountain was a success and we were able to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, and the like over about a two hour period while my wife shopped for a large portion of the time. While she didn't buy anything, she thought the shop had a good selection and some nicer, higher end items that weren't available in town. And although my son wished for more snow to play in, this was the one and only opportunity he had to do so.Upon returning to the dock, we shopped a little bit before returning to the ship empty handed as we couldn't find anything that interested us. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the cabin and likely taking my son swimming, although I don't recall precisely. We were also excited as tonight was our night to try the Pinnacle Grill.After dropping my son off with my mother, we headed to the Pinnacle for dinner. Upon checking in, the host asked us where our little one was, which was a nice touch. When we told him it would just be the two of us, he showed us to a nice booth next to the window, which allowed us to watch the coastline as we sailed away during dinner. What I wasn't prepared for was to see that the dress code was not enforced and some dinners were wearing shorts while others were wearing t-shirts.Overall, we found the entrees to be excellent (bone-in rib eye steak and lobster tail), but were not impressed with the side dishes, except for the sautEed mushrooms. The scalloped potatoes had too much garlic in my opinion and the creamed spinach lacked flavor. As far as the appetizers went, they were good, but not great, with the exception of the seafood platter that included smoked fish. In addition, the waiter did deliver crab cakes that were not order, which were good and a nice touch for otherwise lackluster service.While I do believe the waiter tried to be efficient, he and his assistant just didn't deliver. Simple requests weren't responded too (e.g., a glass of ice requested by my wife) and water glasses went unfilled even when a request for more water was made. Finished plates were also left on the table for much too long and the waiter did not check on us during dinner to see how the meal was or to ask if anything was needed. Further, when we stated that we weren't fond of the soufflEs as they lacked flavor, he seemed insulted and then whispered something to his assistant at the bussing station who then looked back at us. We then waited too long for a replacement dessert and I was never asked if I wanted coffee, which I would have liked.Given the large portion sizes, I did ask to take the remainder of my steak back to the cabin, but I was told that I couldn't as it was against policy. Even so, he did wrap it in foil, but said "he didn't do it," if I was caught. This was extremely surprising since it was almost encouraged and Disney at the waiters there even insisted on making an entirely new plate to take back to the cabin. While I could understand this if it were a second entrEe, given that it was the only entrEe ordered, I just didn't understand why this was the case.Thursday, 05/26/11 - SitkaToday started like most days with room service breakfast delivered halfway through the desired delivery window. Unlike yesterday, though, the order was complete.As we had a ship's tour, we were scheduled to meet in the Vista Lounge at 8:45 for a 9:00 tour. As usual, though, we ended up waiting in the lounge until almost 9:30. And while CNN was playing on the big screen as a diversion, the news stories weren't always child friendly.When we were finally called, we boarded directly onto the Allen Marine vessel for the Sea Otter and Fortress of the Bear tour, which lasted about 3 hours and was excellent. During our time on the water, we saw hump back whales, bold eagles in their nests, sea otters, a harbor seal, a bear, and perhaps one or two other animals. I would, however, suggest bringing along a snack as what was served as the included snack was a cracker with some smoked salmon, although small scones, coffee, and hot chocolate were served earlier. There were other snacks that could be purchased onboard for those less prepared.The tour itself was excellent overall with a naturalist onboard providing audio commentary and cabin assistance to provide help to guests. In addition, a map was provided in addition to binoculars for those who didn't have them or didn't bring them. There were also bathroom facilities onboard for those who needed them. I'd also suggest the upper deck for the best viewing. While a bit colder, it is enclosed on three sides with a large open deck on the back half of the vessel for taking unobstructed photos.Upon arriving at the dock, we waited for a bit before boarding a bus to the Fortress of the Bear. While I really enjoyed our visit here and really appreciate what they are doing, I personally wouldn't go out of my way to go there. However, it was a good place to see bears up close and the commentary provided was excellent. Of course, my son was more interested in the petting zoo than the bears.On our way back to the dock, my son made friends with a girl who was on the bus and who also had the cabin next to ours. As they talked, they began comparing their past cruises and I think it was at this point that my son developed an interest in the kid's club because he knew his "new friend" would be there. We also discovered that my son had been given a wrist band with the wrong muster station based on the number the girl had on her wrist band, even though we had asked at the muster drill.Before returning to the ship via tender, we shopped a bit, picking up a couple of inexpensive t-shirts for my son. We also stopped at Del Sol as my son wanted another "free color changing ring," but none was offered at this location.After returning to the ship, we grabbed a bite to eat and were surprised to discover that my son's life vest had still not been delivered. After some time in the pool, we returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner.We arrived at the dining room at 7:00 p.m. only to be told that we'd have to wait until 7:45 p.m. as it was the Master Chef menu. Somehow, I didn't realize that anytime dining didn't apply tonight. Thus, we asked my son if he'd like to go to the Club Hal for a half hour, which he did, and then we headed to the lounge for a drink and visited with each other. Then shortly thereafter, I headed up to Club Hal and returned to the lounge with my son, who then decided that he'd rather go back to Club Hal than to dinner.After one more trip to Club Hal, we headed off to an adult only dinner. I must admit that I wasn't fond of the Master Chef menu or the "show." I'll admit that it was different, though. My wife also didn't like that they wanted to bring things to the table that weren't ordered, so she graciously informed the waiter that she only wanted what she ordered so that food wood not be wasted.The only item that I can say was very good to excellent was the Oxtail Soup en Croute; and although the shrimp were good, the sauce was terrible. Everything else was fair at best, including desserts. Service also suffered tremendously tonight.Feeling unsatisfied with dinner and not really having much dessert, we headed to Club Hal before hitting the Lido for dessert. However, to our surprise, our son was not there as they were on a Pirate Adventure. So, we headed to the Lido for ice cream, only to see my son and about six other kids come marching through looking for pirate clues. While I feared my son might want to leave upon seeing us, he was having a blast and simply said hello and goodbye before heading back to Club Hal as that is where the clue sent them. Once he returned there, he and the rest of the kids found the "pirate chest" and each were able to take two "treasures" from it.With Club Hal closing at 10 my son went to my mother's cabin so that we could see the main show with my brother. Tonight's show was magician Leo Ward. His show was fabulous and probably the best cruise show I have ever seen, including those on Disney.Upon picking up our son and returning to the cabin after the show, he asked if he could go back to Club Hal tomorrow. While it took awhile, it was nice that he had now taken to the club.Friday, 05/27/11 - KetchikanAs usually, we started today with breakfast from room service, but this time it was delivered at the beginning of the delivery window rather than halfway through as on the previous days. The server today was particularly efficient and verified that we didn't want coffee, stating that he could get us some if we wanted it; I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the offer even though it wasn't wanted. While I tipped a couple of dollars as usual, the server seemed surprised by the tip as did most of the servers. Thus, while I felt it wasn't expected it was generally appreciated. The only thing missing today was the jam for the bagel.Today we had a 9:00 a.m. Duck Tour scheduled with the whole family. My mom wasn't initially going to go, but we convinced her otherwise. The tour was longer than advertised and provided a good overview of Ketchikan and was better than the horse drawn trolley tour we did previously. My only disappointment is that we didn't get closer to town when on the water. Afterwards, my mom returned to the ship with my son as he wanted to go to Club Hal while we went off to shop.I noted a lot of seafood shacks along the pier and would have tried a couple if I had had more time. In addition, the crab was a lot cheaper than in Juneau and some of the shacks offered some of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen. We would have definitely tried one or more of them if we had time.Personally, I believe that Ketchikan deserves a longer port stop. There's a lot to see and some excellent shopping to be had here, and there simply isn't enough time to do much of either. I would have preferred a shorter stop in Sitka in favor of a longer stop here. And while it rained, it was more of a drizzle and I did fine without a jacket, although I would have worn if I hadn't given mine to my wife. I had another in my backpack, but it wasn't bad enough to take off to get another jacket.We enjoyed the emporium (Tongass Trading Company) right at the dock and purchased a number of items at an excellent price using the coupons we received in Seattle while checking in. They offered a number of freebies in addition to excellent prices on socks, t-shirts, etc. They also offered glow in the dark and color changing t-shirts, although the coupon ones were cheaply made and it was worth purchasing those that weren't on discount. They also offered six packs of soda and water at a very reasonable price with coupon for those interested. And while they have three stores, the largest is right there at the dock making it very convenient.Upon returning to the ship, which was more efficient than in Juneau thanks to two gangways, we met my mother, after she retrieved our son from Club Hal, and brother at the main dining room for lunch. We were given a table in the aft at a table next to the rear windows, which provided an excellent view during lunch and allowed us to see as we sailed away and the Celebrity Century move in to take our spot at the dock.Lunch today was enjoyable. My wife and I split the salmon and a white fish dish, which were both good although neither was excellent. The standout item of this meal was the whipped sweet potatoes. My mom had the honey glazed short ribs, which were good, and the buttermilk mashed potatoes, which were excellent. My brother had the chicken sandwich, which he said was good as well. The other standout item that my son loved was the cold grape and cranberry soup. Sadly, the desserts were only fair, lychee sundae and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Overall, service was sluggish, which made us late for our Black Label photo shoot that we had reserved a few days earlier.While getting changed for the photo shoot, we received a phone call for the Assistant Hotel Manager asking if my son's life vest had been delivered and I informed her that it had not. It did arrive later today well into the cruise. While I wasn't worried about the life vest as they are plentiful at the muster stations, it was disappointing to see how slowly HAL responded to this issue.We had high hopes for the Black Label Photography session, but we found the experience underwhelming at best. The photographer seemed to lack experience with children and spoke to our 4 year old at a level well beyond his understanding. She kept telling him to "just relax," and I'm not sure any 4 year old really knows how to do this. In addition, he has a lot of experience with photographers and has been used by some in photo competitions because he's very cooperative and photogenic, so we were really surprised when there were only three or four shots that we really liked. And the price alone, $595, was really revolting given the limited amount of time that the photographer spent with us and the fact that the photographer didn't listen to what we really wanted from the photo shoot.After the photo shoot, we allowed my son to nap and then spent some time walking around the ship as my brother took our son swimming. We stuck mainly to the 9th and 10th decks as we wanted to be able to check on our son periodically and were surprised at how underutilized the pool was yet again. At no time during the entire week were there more than 3 or 4 people in the main pool.During our walk, I finally made it up to the Crow's Nest which was very popular at this time because of happy hour. All of the tables were full and everyone seemed to be having a good time. And although we weren't partaking, the service was excellent and we were immediately asked if we wanted something upon entering. If I had it to do over again, I would have made a point to visit the Crow's Nest more and would have planned on partaking in happy hour. Perhaps on the next HAL cruise.Upon returning to the pool, I was surprised to find that my son, brother, and an older gentleman were all playing catch with a small soft ball and they all seemed to be having fun. With some coaxing, I was able to get my son out of the pool so that we could get ready for dinner.On our way to dinner, we had a few pictures taken in the lobby by a younger American photographer we took a liking to. Afterwards, we took my son to Club Hal and later reported that he enjoyed the "unbirthday party" that they had there.Upon arrival at the main dining room, we had to wait approximately 15 minutes to be seated. However, when finally shown to a table, I was left wondering why we had to wait as there were a large number of empty tables, many of which remained empty throughout our dinner. However, given the quality of service we had tonight, it was probably a good thing that all of the tables were note occupied. While service wasn't bad, it was inconsistent with a couple of courses coming timely, and then long pauses between the main course, simple requests, and dessert.As for the actual meal, the escargot, which is a dish I order on every cruise when it is available, was very good and the most tender I have had on any cruise. It would have rated excellent had it had more garlic; even so, it's worth ordering again. While I had high hopes for the cream of four mushrooms soup, it was terrible and probably the worst soup of the entire trip. Tonight was also "lobster night" in the form of a surf and turf option. I order the surf and turf, which I thought was very good, but would order the sauce they serve with the lobster tail on the side next time. In addition, the filet mignon was the smallest I had ever seen, so take note if you're a huge beef fan. My wife ordered the same thing, but asked for the turf to be held. She was pleased when her plate arrived with an additional lobster tail in place of the steak.Although the service was inconsistent tonight, the server was very attentive otherwise. For example, when he removed my lobster tail from its shell, he noted how small it was and insisted that he get me another one without being asked. We finished off the meal with the brownie hot fudge sundae for dessert, which was excellent even though my sundae was missing the brownie.After dinner, we went to the "Liars Club" game show in the Queens Lounge. The cruise director, someone from marketing, and Leo Ward, the magician, were the contestants. The show itself was hilarious and I laughed throughout the entire show. I highly recommend attending, although I am sure that the quality of the show depends on the contestants.Just before 10 p.m., we picked up our son from Club Hal; this time, he didn't want to leave and we had to explain that they were closing. We ended up going to the production show, which was good, but we left about halfway through as we had seen enough.Tonight was also the "Dessert Extravaganza," so we headed up to the pool deck to check everything out. Personally, I thought the event was overstated as it is on most cruise lines. While the displays were pretty, many of the items lacked flavor. In addition, half of the items that they advertised would be served were nowhere to be found, including chocolate covered strawberries which are my son's favorite. Fortunately, I had ordered a couple of plates throughout the cruise, so he was satisfied there. In addition, the "ice cream" parlor that was advertised was no different than what was traditionally offered in the lido.Saturday, 05/28/11 - VictoriaWaking up earlier than planned, I tried to attend the disembarkation talk, but when I arrived the show lounge was packed and there was no way to get in. Have cruised before, I wasn't too worried and simply headed to the coffee bar instead, which offered good coffee at an extremely reasonable price.Today was also the Mariner's Brunch, which we attended. The menu was quite limited (2 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 1 dessert). Complimentary wine was also served. Among the table, we had the quiche (good) and the braised short ribs (very good). A cold pear and apple soup was also served, but in my opinion it tasted more like applesauce than a soup; even so, my son enjoyed it.With only one dessert choice, we decided to hit the Lido for dessert and ended up with the standby (ice cream and cookies). And while HAL makes the absolute best peanut butter cookies, which were extremely popular, they were rarely available—a big disappointment in the end.With our dessert cravings satisfied, we went to the shops to buy our nieces a gold-by-the-inch bracelet we had liked for their birthdays. What they don't tell you in the advertised price is that there is an additional $5 charge per bracelet for the clasp. I also made the mistake of suggesting that it was plated gold to my wife and ended up receiving a lecture from the clerk regarding the "golding" process and how it is better and guaranteed for life. In reality, I didn't care as it was a gift I thought my nieces (6 and 9) would enjoy and something I didn't want to invest too much in as the likelihood of them getting lost was high.With Club Hal reopened after lunch, we dropped our son off there before returning to the room to pack and complete our customer comment forms. Although I had anticipated questions about smoking from the Cruise Critic boards, none were asked probably because a decision regarding the smoking policy had already been made as announced after we returned. What was odd, though, is that the questionnaire asked about the ports of call, including Victoria, which we hadn't yet visited. While I understand why they want feedback, HAL wanted the forms returned by 6 p.m., which was the time we were scheduled to dock.Afternoon was spent in the pool then to dinner as soon as the opened so that we would be ready for our tour of Butchart Gardens. Dinner tonight was the first night that we ordered for my son off of the children's menu, which was a huge mistake and delayed service tremendously. While our waiter kept us posted, he explained that they only have one chef for "specialty meals," which includes the kid's menu and that he was inundated with orders; as a result, we had to wait. Given that it was spaghetti and meatballs, I didn't think it would be such a hassle especially since they could have sent someone up to the Lido in less time. I had the always available steak with mashed potatoes (both good) and my wife had the chicken and beef sautE, which she rated as fair. Unfortunately, by the time my wife got the sour cream for her baked potato, it was cold, although the waiter did offer to get her another baked potato.Seated near the window, it was nice to be able to see us sailing close to Vancouver Island. However, it was also obvious that we were running late as we finished dinner before we had even entered the harbor. While this was a blessing in terms of not being rushed, we knew it would impact our time at the gardens. Fortunately, we had been there previously and this was mainly a trip for my son to enjoy the gardens.After a brief stop to the cabin to grab my backpack and my son's stroller, we headed to the Vista Lounge to wait with everyone else. The staff there did keep us updated and quickly cleared us out of the lounge as soon as we were docked. From there, we went through the terminal building to a number of waiting busses. Unfortunately, because of our late arrival, we didn't reach the gardens until 8:30 and thus only had 90 minutes to enjoy the gardens, which is about 1/3 the amount of time that you need. Therefore, we only got through the "sunken gardens" and not through the other three or four that are there. If it weren't for my son, we would have stayed in the harbor area given the short amount of time in port. In fact, on our last Alaska cruise, we didn't even bother to get off the ship as it wasn't worth the hassle for such a short amount of time ashore.We were fortunate to have a very good bus driver who provided us with a tour and overview of Victoria on the return trip. Unfortunately, due to our late return, the only thing we had time for was the small souvenir shop at the terminal building that Princess and NCL were docked at as the HAL terminal was undergoing renovations. Finding nothing of interest, we reboarded the ship; however, the elevator situation was pretty bad given that they had locked down some of the elevators for luggage collection purposes.Hungry, we headed to the Lido to grab a bite to eat and were grateful that HAL had an fairly substantial offering at this late hour as in days past. I was concerned that they might close things up early because it was the last night onboard. While there was a bit of a wait for food, it wasn't terribly bad. However, there was no seating to be found, so we headed off to our cabin to eat and to put our bags out. We also needed to get our son to sleep.With a request for all luggage to be in the hallway by 1 a.m., we ate and then quickly finished up the limited packing that remained. I then put the bags in the hallway, where they were quickly collected. Then packing as much of our carry-ons for the next day, my wife discovered that she had not placed a jar of pickled kelp from Sitka in our checked bags. Not wanting to deal with it in the morning, I found our luggage in the elevator lobby and was able cut off the zip tie, repack the bag, and rezip tie the bag without ever being noticed, which was a bit concerning for me and why I like to secure my bags with zip ties so that I know if they've been tampered with.Finally ready for bed, we hung our breakfast order on the door for the morning and got a few hours of sleep.Sunday, 05/29/11 - DisembarkationDisembarkation was excellent overall. We had the 8:30-9:00 a.m. departure window and it was nice being able to stay in our cabin until called. There other plus was the ability to order room service breakfast. Overall, I would say HAL provides the best disembarkation experience of any cruise we've been on.Waiting until almost 9:00 a.m., we were able to simply walk off without any wait. The cruise director was also at the gangway to bid farewell to passengers, which I thought was very high class and a nice touch. Unfortunately, once we were off the ship, the port building was a bit of a mess with two ships disembarking at the same time; however, we were able to locate our luggage and eventually made our way through U.S. Customs and then waited for my mother and brother to make it off the ship.The lines for taxis and busses were incredibly long and we ended up taking a "gypsy" van to the airport for $10 per person. While the driver was part of a registered limousine service, he wasn't authorized to pick up at the port. In the end, it worked out and we arrived at the airport quickly.If you are flying out on disembarkation day, I highly recommend a flight no earlier than noon, and 1 p.m. for comfort as three ships disembark on Sundays. The lines to check luggage were incredibly long, particularly at Southwest Airlines, with a line wrapping around the entire check-in counter building. Despite the length of the line, we still were able to get our bags checked within an hour of getting in line, probably closer to 45 minutes. That said, there were several who were shocked at the length of the line and concerned about making their flights. The line at curbside check-in wasn't much better.Once we had checked our bags, we were lucky enough to find that Sea-Tac offered a family security check line that was relatively short. For those interested, the airport uses backscatter x-ray machines for the full-body scans. What was nice about the airport, though, is that they have a number of eateries and a child's play area, so we were able to enjoy lunch and allow my son to burn off some energy before boarding our flight, which was uneventful overall.General ThoughtsThe sea view elevators were a big hit with my son. I particularly liked that the doors were also made of glass, so they served as windows when the elevator car wasn't there.The ship is in need of dry dock. While the wear and tear did not take away from our vacation, it was obvious that some things needed to be attended to, particularly rust in our bathroom and around the window frame in my mother's cabin. In addition, some of the soft good, including our verandah furniture and couch pillows, needed to be redone. However, I purposely looked based on what has been stated on Cruise Critic, so it's possible such things might not be noticed by others and that other cabins are in better condition.I wasn't a huge fan of the ship's overall design. The general layout seemed darker and more crowded than other ships I've been on, many of which were of similar size. I believe this resulted from the dark color scheme of the interior, lack of a grand atrium with skylights, and mostly interior corridors as small lounges took up most of the windowed areas. That said, if you are someone who enjoys lounging in the public areas, this is the ship for you. However, I did like the design of the daily program as it was extremely easy to follow and to see what was being offered throughout the day.The Crow's Nest was a fabulous place. Definitely go there at least once and keep in mind that happy hour is from 4-5 p.m. The coffee bar is also located nearby and had very reasonable prices compared to land-based coffee shops and other cruise lines.The seating in the main theater is very comfortable; however, be careful when selecting seats as there are many seats that have obstructed sight lines.The lido is too small—at least in terms of seating capacity—for the size of the ship. However, the selection was very good overall and they served the best peanut butter cookies I have ever had and I'm not a particularly big fan of peanut butter cookies compared to other flavors. The pool grill was mediocre at best and never served a decent order of french fries all week and were typically served cold. Disney's pool grill wins hand down in terms of selection, quality, and freshness of items served.Room service was good and offered a decent variety of items particularly for breakfast. We were able to write in a few things on the breakfast order form and always received them. It was particularly nice to be able to enjoy room service on disembarkation morning. The downside is that there was usually a 45 minute wait when ordering off of the in-room menu. As for other food, the dining room was hit and miss with more fair to good items than very good to excellent items, although I realize the food is subjective. What surprised me, however, is how much we liked Canaletto, both in terms of food quality and service. We'll definitely be dining at Canaletto on future HAL cruises.While HAL does not offer an "unlimited" soda card like other cruise lines do, I actually liked the $50 for $25 better as service was always good. One of the complaints on other lines is that the servers are not motivated to serve soda as there is no tip in it for them. HAL's system eliminates this entirely as the waiter is receiving the traditional auto tip that he/she would receive otherwise.The crew seemed very friendly overall and went out of their way to say hello, carry on conversations, etc. However, I wouldn't say they were any friendly than Disney nor would I say they were less friendly. I also really liked the crews' uniforms. Service was mostly efficient in the main dining room even though we had anytime dining.While we never had a chance to watch an entire movie in the Screening Room, we did stop by. The seats were extremely comfortable, but the screen was much too small. The seating layout also seemed like a waste of space and only offered seating for about 30 people. I would say it was on par with what I've experienced on NCL and I won't make a comparison with Disney as Disney has a real movie theater onboard. Personally, I would have preferred different movies playing throughout the day rather than the same movie playing all day long.I wasn't thrilled with the security of the kid's club. Check-in and check-out consisted of simply signing on a roster and indicating where you might be. There were no pages are phones issued in case there was an emergency. In addition, the door to the club was not secured in any way making it possible for a child to leave unnoticed as there are blind spots when the adjacent room is used. That said, there were only about 8 kids in the club at any given time, so I'm sure it was easy to keep track of everyone. And whn ile we were supposed to give a password when picking up, it was never asked for. Surprisingly, however, I think HAL did a decent job with the limited space and staff that they had and I actually think my son preferred HAL's club over Disney's.I enjoyed having a DVD player in the room. The DVD lending library was an additional bonus. We only had this available to us once before and that was when we were staying in a suite on NCL.

Oosterdam Alaska, May 2011

Oosterdam Cruise Review by jkrislc

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: May 2011
  • Destination: Alaska
  • Cabin Type: Signature Superior Verandah Suite
Oosterdam ReviewAlaska, May 21st - 29th, 2011BackgroundWhile this was my 14th cruise, this was my first time sailing aboard Holland America (HAL). Previous cruises have been on Royal Caribbean (6), Disney (3), NCL (2), Princess (1), and Carnival (1). My most recent cruises have been on Disney in January of this year aboard the Wonder, the Magic the previous year, and NCL Norwegian Dawn in 2009. To further allow you to gauge this review, I will tell you that I am a college professor just shy of 40, and was travelling with my wife, son (4), brother—who has cruised with HAL twice previously, and mother.I will admit that I was excited to try HAL based on what I've read on Cruise Critic and because of interviews I've listened to from HAL personnel (e.g., captains, cruise directors, etc.) stating that HAL was a "five star" line. While I enjoyed the cruise, I personally did not feel that HAL delivered anything above and beyond what the lines I've sailed have delivered. That said, I did enjoy my cruise and will second what many others have said; the Oosterdam cruise is extremely friendly, always saying hello and going out of their way to engage guests in conversation. However, I felt that the crew on Disney was equally friendly.I was hoping to fall in love with HAL and make them my "new" cruise line of choice looking for something that was the next step up without the extreme costs of the premium lines. While this unfortunately did not happen, I will not count HAL out in the future. They provided a good product for the amount paid, had nice cabin accommodations, and have competitive third person rates. And as of yesterday, our next scheduled cruise will be aboard the Maasdam in May 2012 from Montreal to Boston for the Canada/New England itinerary. My wife liked the itinerary in a mailing we received from HAL, even though she isn't particularly fond of cruising overall.The remainder of this review will read as a daily travelogue. However, due to its length, I do provide a general overview at the end after the day-by-day travelogue for those who are not interested in this level of detail. As always, remember that these are just my opinions of this particular cruise given my age, expectations, background, previous cruises, etc. So please just take it as that and don't attack the messenger should you disagree with my opinions as they are just that . . . opinions!Saturday, 05/21/11, Pre-CruiseToday began with my mother and brother meeting at my house at approximately 7:45 a.m. so that we could take our dogs to my in-laws for the week. We then returned to my house to load the SUV with the luggage hoping that it would all fit and eliminate the need to take two cars to the airport. With some creative packing, we were able to fit our entire luggage in the cargo area and the five of us were off to the airport.Fortunately, Saturday is not a busy travel day at the San Diego Airport, so parking the car offsite and shuttling to the airport was uneventful other than the schlepping of luggage. Once at the airport, we quickly checked our bags and quickly made it through airport security. With the family settled, I went back out through security, got us breakfast and allowed my son to play before the flight.While we had a direct flight on Southwest Airlines, it was not a nonstop flight. That's Southwest language for a landing and takeoff mid-route without having to get off the plane. Thus, our air route took us from San Diego to Oakland and then from Oakland to Seattle. My son opted to sit with my mother and brother, so we had a peaceful first flight and he fell asleep during the second flight which made it that much more quite.Upon arrive at SeaTac, we collected our bags and called for a limo from the public information phones. In less than 10 minutes, we were met by STILA limo (actually a Tahoe in this case), loaded our bags, and were off to downtown all for $45. I highly recommend simply calling for a limo/town car when arriving at SeaTac rather than taking a taxi as the fare is about the same and you don't have to worry about paying for stopped traffic should there be any as the prices are fixed.Our precruise stay had us at the Red Lion on 5th Avenue. The hotel was quite nice and we got an excellent rate through Hotels.com that included parking (not needed), internet (not used), and breakfast (enjoyable). It appeared that the hotel had been recently refurbished, but was a bit modern for my liking (e.g., frosted class bathroom doors that only offered pseudo privacy). The only down sides were that bell service was extremely slow—half hour wait—and avoided on Sunday morning and they needed more elevators at peak times. Also, there are no waiting cabs, so you will need to have the front desk call one for you.Sunday, 05/22/11 - EmbarkationI awoke early in anticipation of boarding the Oosterdam. I also discovered that I didn't have enough shaving cream, so I ended up heading down to the local downtown grocery store to buy some, and then to Starbucks for coffee. Then after a little walk for some early morning exercise, I returned to the hotel to have breakfast with my family in the hotel restaurant as it was provided in our room rate. Breakfast was good (breads, cereals, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, juice, etc.) and met our needs.While eating breakfast, my son asked if I had brought his goggles for the pool, which I hadn't, so we ended up going down to the CVS a couple of blocks away to buy some. After the short detour, we returned to our hotel, called for bell service, but were unwilling to wait a half hour. Thus, we hauled our own bags to the lobby, checked out, asked the front desk to call us two cabs, and went to the curb to wait.Because there were five of us, one cab wasn't large enough for our group given the amount of luggage that we had. Thus, we opted for two cabs, which was still cheaper than a town car. Fares ran $12 for my mother and brother and $13 for us as there is a surcharge when there are more than two passengers. I'd estimate that Pier 91 was approximately 10 minutes from downtown and given that it was Sunday traffic was light.Entering Pier 91 was easy and I was actually surprised that we didn't have to show ID or our cruise documents as we always have had to in the past. Once we were dropped off, we waited for porter service, but they were all going to the private vehicle drop-off areas rather than to the taxi drop-off areas; thus, we had to haul our own bags into the terminal as there is no bag drop outside for already tagged bags. Since the signage is inadequate, be advised that you have to enter the terminal, walk past the lines heading upstairs to check-in, drop off your checked bags, and then return to the check-in lines. Also, keep in mind that HAL checks everyone in on the right side of the terminal, while Princess uses the left side.Because we had a stroller and my mom has mild mobility issues, we were able to bypass the first floor lines and use the elevator. Once in line upstairs, everyone was asked to have their cruise documents and passports available for viewing before entering the x-ray and metal detector screening area. This was also the first time while passing through ship security that I had to remove my laptop from my carryon bag. While this is common at airports, I've never had to do this before while boarding a ship and didn't know I had to since there were no signs or people stating as much. Thus, if you have a laptop, remove it from your carryon luggage for x-ray screening.Check-in was fairly efficient although we later found out otherwise when we discovered that my brother did not receive his invitation for the Mariner's Lunch and that they banded my son with the wrong muster station number. Even though we arrived early, just before 11:00 a.m., we still received Boarding Number 5. We also received a letter discussing that some of the crew had been ill and that additional hygiene measures were being taken. I really think the letter was simply meant to forewarn of Code Orange during the first 48 hours of the cruise, which is a nuisance but makes a lot of sense in reality.By 11:30 a.m., they began boarding the ship. Unfortunately, the gangway had broken so everyone had to take stairs back down to port level and then board via a ramp leading to Deck 1. This also meant taking the elevator once again, but this time we had to be escorted by a port employee as we had already passed through the security screening.We immediately went to our cabins: a Category SY for my immediately family (6069) and a Category D (1033) for my mom and brother. The SY was a nice configuration with the best bathroom I have had in all of my cruises. However, for some reason the cabin didn't feel as big as it was in terms of square footage. I'm guessing this had something to do with the size of the bathroom and that it was more square than rectangular. Even so, it was plenty of room for the three of us, and didn't even feel crowded when all five of us were gathered there for Glacier Bay. In addition, it was nice having a wider hallway in the cabin than that which is in the standard cabins.Once all of our bags were in our rooms, we headed to the main dining room for lunch as my brother is a past passenger. Unfortunately, we were met by a very rude dining room manager who insisted that my brother needed an invitation. When I asked why, he couldn't answer other than stating that the luncheon was for past passengers. When I finally pressed and asked which level of Mariner one had to be to have lunch there, the dining room manager said it was for 4 Star Mariners only, which I found highly unlikely. My brother later complained to guest relations and they stated that he should have never been turned away, and that he should have received an invitation. Further, the in-room documentation for the Mariner Society states that an embarkation lunch is one of the benefits of all Mariners, not just 2, 3, or 4 star ones. The Assistant Guest Relations Manager, Mila, handled this superbly, sending both of us an apology note, chocolates, and providing us with lunch in the Pinnacle, which later turned into dinner due to a variety of other issues that occurred throughout the week.Denied lunch in the main dining room, we headed to the Lido, which was total chaos. While I understand why HAL implements Code Orange, it doesn't work well in the Lido. Further, it was inconsistent and in some places they kept the serving utensils accessible to guests, so they ended up serving themselves anyway. And if HAL was truly concerned about hygiene, one would think they'd at least enforce hand sanitizer usage. In my last four cruises (Disney and NCL), one couldn't even enter the buffet or the dining room without sanitizing his or her hands, yet on HAL there was no such enforcement.Once we had our food, finding a seat was another challenge. Staffing was poor, the few tables that became available were not bussed quickly, and when the dirty dishes were removed and the tables cleaned, utensils and napkins were rarely left on the tables. However, it was nice to finally have a place to sit and to eat, even if the food was mediocre at best and some of the dishes that might have been good and/or worth trying weren't worth the wait in line. While I don't recall what I had, the only thing that stood out was the peanut butter cookies. My wife raved about them and she's not actually a fan of peanut butter cookies; unfortunately, they were available all too infrequently which was a major disappointment.My son was eager to try out the pool, so we returned to our cabin as we had packed our swimsuits in our carryon luggage and I wanted to get the swim in before the muster drill. As was common throughout the week, we were the only ones in the pool, which was cool although not cold. This was also only one of two days that the roof was open, the other being the last day of the cruise. As we played, several passengers, many of whom were passing by on a ship's tour, stopped to ask me if the water was heated. We also were able to enjoy the music of the HAL Cats as they played poolside today.The muster drill was rather quick and this is the first time on a cruise that attendance had not been taken. While I like the fact that life vests are not needed anymore, my wife still believes that should be worn so that people know how to wear them. I did have some concern, however, because we were assigned Muster Station 7, although my son's bracelet had the number 5 on it. When we asked one of the crew, they said it was fine and I assumed that perhaps they "shared" bracelets. That is, children in assigned to stations 1 and 3, receive a 3, those in 5 and 7 receive a 5, and so on. Logically, this made sense to me as the stations were adjacent to one another and would be a time saving strategy in an emergency. We later discovered, however, that there were bracelets for each station and that my son had been given the wrong bracelet at check-in, which I think is a gross oversight and something that should have been known and verified by the muster personnel. I will say that the guest relations staff were not too pleased when they discovered this.During the muster drill, it was also announced that Lifeboat 14 was left in Seattle for repair, but the passengers were assured that there were enough lifeboats for everyone and that those assigned to Station 14 should not worry. While I do believe this, I'm not sure how confident I'd be if I showed up to a muster station only to discover that my lifeboat was not hanging overhead.Upon returning to our cabin, we discovered that our checked luggage had arrived and we were pleased that it was placed inside the room rather than in the hallway as has occurred on previous cruises. We did discover that we needed more hangers, and although I called and asked for them, they never arrived, so I had to then ask our cabin steward. We also requested a child's robe, which took a couple of days to receive, and a child's life vest that didn't arrive until day 5 of the cruise even though it was requested several times. It wasn't until I finally raised a concern with Guest Relations that we received the child life vest and even then it took an additional day before it arrived.While I realize that there are plenty of life vests onboard and at the muster stations, I still wanted a life vest in the cabin. I was also troubled that it took asking multiple times and that no action was taken on the issue even though multiple crew were asked. The matter was only resolved when my brother spoke to Guest Services, and then it still took a day for the life vest to arrive.Upon returning to the cabin after the muster drill, we called to order my son a movie, but were told that there was a 1 hour wait; instead, we opted to pick up the movie at Guest Services. As an aside, HAL advertised a movie snack pack that seems like a pretty good deal for $10. It includes four sodas or bottles of water, two bags of popcorn, mixed nuts, and a choice of candy bars.After picking up the movie from Guest Services, we headed to an advertised wine sampling. Unlike wine tastings, there was a $2 charge per glass and the choices were limited to a few house wines. Unfortunately, the event started late and the bar server was new, so it took way too long; otherwise, it was a good value. I also liked that they served the nuts small glass bottles that you needed to pour from so that you knew the nuts hadn't been touched by others.Dinner tonight was in Canaletto, which we had reserved through the telephone concierge upon reaching our cabin. We were seated promptly at a nice table for 8 that had bench seating on one side and chairs on the other. My wife, son, and I were seated on the bench and were fortunate enough to have a clear view to the windows, so we were able to enjoy the view through dinner as we sailed out of Puget Sound.Overall, Canaletto was our best overall dinner onboard in terms of consistency across all courses, level of service, taste, etc. While there were excellent items in the Pinnacle and the main dining room, the quality varied from course to course as did the service from night to night. If we had it to do over again, we would have eaten at Canaletto at least one more night.Dinner started with a selection from an antipasto tray that is brought to the table, which was excellent. We also found the soups to be good, including a seafood soup that I didn't think I'd be fond of. The cod dish that my wife had was excellent, and probably the best piece of fish we had during the entire cruise. I opted for the chicken marsala, which was very good. My brother had the pasta with vodka sauce, which he said was good to very good, and seemed to enjoy very much. Dessert at the table consisted of the tiramisu sampling and the gelato, both of which were excellent. I also found the coffee to be the better here than in the main dining room for some reason.While our dinner was excellent, we later discovered that we had missed out on Alaskan king crab legs in the main dining room and were told, when I asked, that that was the only night they were served. While we were disappointed by this, we had plans to eat at Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau, so we had that to look forward to.We spent the evening exploring the ship while my son played with grandma. The night included exploring the shops, liquor tasting, attending a raffle at the shops, and attending the production show. The show itself was very good and the seats were very comfortable. I was also impressed with the staging, and the small size of the cruise director's staff, which was excellent by the way. The only downside of the theater was that there were several seats that had poor sight lines.While I expected the cigarette smoke to be bad from the Cruise Critic postings on the HAL board, I wasn't particularly bothered by it even though I am sensitive to cigarette smoke. However, I could smell it in the corridors when passing a room where smoking was occurring as all stateroom doors had vents on them like you might find in laundry rooms.Reflecting on the first day and what I had read on Cruise Critic, I felt that the ship was dark overall. Many of the corridors did not have windows and the overall dark color scheme of the interior made it feel darker. I also wasn't a fan of the carpeting choices. In addition, there was some noticeable wear and tear, although I expected it given that the Oosterdam is scheduled for dry dock at the end of the Alaska season. Examples included the window frame of my mother and brother's cabin showing serious rust, and a shower curtain that was too short in our SY cabin that the door frame of the bath room's door was nearly rusted through as a result of continuous water exposure.Staff was friendly overall, with the exception of my brother being turned away at the Mariner's lunch. However, this was later rectified by Guest Services, who provided us with free meals at the Pinnacle.Monday, 05/23/11 - At SeaToday, it was obvious that we were in open waters as we could feel the motion of the ship once we had left the channel. Once we had rounded Vancouver Island in the early morning, the motion started.The first of perhaps two announcements today occurred at 9 a.m., which actually woke us. Upon waking, we ordered room service for a light breakfast, which took about 35-40 minutes to arrive. We then reviewed the daily program to see what activities we might be interested in attending today. We really liked the layout of the daily program as it was easy to follow and included a nice tear-off section, although I would have preferred an insert as to keep the program intact. My wife particularly liked the daily program after Disney as she thought their daily program was like the "TV guide from hell" with various grids outlining family activities, activities by age level, etc.Lunch today was in the main dining room with the entire family. Service was fairly efficient and we were seated quickly even though there was a line when we arrived. Overall, food and service was good, but not great. For example, the waiter forgot to bring the soup I ordered and the fries served with my burger were cold. Fortunately, the burger itself was very good and the cold pear soup was excellent. My wife had the teriyaki salmon, which was fair at best, while my son had the mac and cheese that was very good. I finished lunch with a blueberry sundae and a cappuccino which were good, while my wife opted for peanut butter cookies form the lido afterwards.We did note that the dining room on HAL was very similar to that of Disney. The only difference was that as you entered and exited the dining room, there were a bunch of parked electric scooters and walkers lining the wall rather than strollers.Like most afternoons, this one was spent in the pool, which was seriously underutilized on this cruise by others, making it a more enjoyable experience than on Disney as there was never a crowd. Fortunately, the dome was closed today, making it a bit warmer than yesterday. However, the movement of the ship was very noticeable in the pool with serious wave action as the pool sloshed back and forth.Prior to dinner, we had our photos taken in the main atrium. We then headed to dinner. Overall, I wasn't very impressed with the Captain's Gala menu and this might have been a better night for Canaletto. That said, there were some good items. At the table, we had Carpaccio (poor), seafood cake (good), beef wellington (good), mushroom risotto (good) and the always available steak (very good). The standout dish tonight, surprisingly, was the sweet and sour shrimp, which was excellent. The tempura shrimp alone make this the dish to order. Desserts were good to fair overall. The chocolate trio I ordered was not as described on the menu and was fair at best. My wife order a custom made sundae using the toppings from the baked Alaska, which she enjoyed. My brother had the always available fruit crisp with ice cream, which he stated was good to very good. The standout dessert, which my son ordered, was the watermelon sorbet pie with chocolate seeds. I wish I had taken a picture of it as it was very creative and actually looked like a wedge of watermelon. While I personally thought it was good as I had to try a sample, I wouldn't have order it again; however, my son wanted it nearly every night even though it wasn't available.After dinner, we attended the production show. I also liked the fact that the Captain's reception was held in the theater and drinks were handed out as you entered. This seemed more convenient and less chaotic than those on other cruises were it took place in the atrium. Overall, the show was fair, although the staging was excellent and included the use of hydraulic lifts, turntables, etc. The big turnoff for me, though, was a song/dance number that included a mock suicide, which caused us to leave the show early as I didn't want my son exposed to such imagery at his age.After the production show, we returned to the cabin where my son watched a ship-provided DVD while we watched some recorded TV programs brought from home. My son really enjoyed his movie as I stopped by the screening room and grabbed some popcorn on our way back to the cabin.We finished the night by enjoying our pillow chocolates—the best we've had on a ship—and turning our clocks back 1 hour. We also completed and hung the breakfast order form for the next morning.Tuesday, 05/24/11 - Glacier BayRoom service breakfast arrived today halfway through the selected time window. Unlike other cruise lines, however, there was no call prior to delivery, only a knock on the door. While I did tip, the server seemed quite surprised and I seriously believed that a tip was not expected. The order was nearly correct; however, I did not receive the hot chocolate I ordered although I did receive the carafe of hot water for it.We left the room for a little more than two hours this morning and were surprised to return to the cabin only to find that it had not been cleaned. This was problematic as we were expecting to host my brother and mother in the cabin while we cruised Glacier Bay. As a result, we had to call for service twice as we needed the extra bed turned back into a couch. While I would have attempted it myself, there was a sign stating otherwise and to call.We stopped briefly at the lido, but there were no seats available. As a result, we ended up taking the few items that we selected back to the cabin. My wife also visited the taco bar, but thought it was poorly laid out and not restocked timely. We supplemented the lido with room service and as expected, there was a 10 minute wait on hold and an hour wait for food. When the food arrived, it was good, not great, and not particularly hot.Having been on an Alaska cruise before, Glacier Bay was about what we expected and it was nice having a large balcony and a cabin to retreat to for warmth. In addition, this was my brother and mother's first time to Alaska, and they really enjoyed the scenery and long sail into and out of Glacier Bay. And although I was concerned about having a cabin on the starboard side based on what I had read on Cruise Critic, we actually ended up spending more time facing the glacier than the port side, which was good as my son fell asleep before we reached the glacier. Fortunately, though, he woke before we left and was able to see it and watch if calve. He just couldn't understand why we couldn't go ice skating on it—after all, it's made of ice—or why we couldn't stop along the shore to play in the snow.This afternoon, we received a plate of chocolates from Guest Services for being turned away at the Mariner's lunch and because of another minor issue. While we chose not to complain, the Guest Services person saw our reservation was linked with my brother's, so she sent a note and the chocolates as a result. Nice touch!Tonight's dinner menu wasn't very appealing, so we ended up in the lido for dinner. Food was okay and it would have been nice to have beverage service. In addition, my mother was told that they were out of some of the entrEes they had on display. Further, service was nearly nonexistent. I really expected more service in the lido based on experience on other cruise lines.The main show tonight was okay. The performer was an impressionist that was on one of the reality TV competition shows. What really surprised me, however, was his appeal at the end of the show to make comments on the guest survey. While I've come to expect this from the cabin steward, dining room team, etc., I've never seen a performer make such an appeal.After the production show, we attended the Love and Marriage game show, which was hilarious. We particularly liked the cruise director's personality and his ability to poke fun at the cruise line and its reputation for attracting seasoned adults.Wednesday, 05/25/11 - JuneauWe started the morning with room service breakfast as usual and as expected delivery occurred in the middle of the selected half hour time window. Today, however, the kitchen/server forgot to include spoons for our three bowls of cereal. Fortunately, we had the spoon from my coffee; otherwise, we would have been out of luck.Having been to Juneau before, we opted to take one of the blue shuttles to Mendenhall Glacier. Although we were planning on being on the first bus, our timing was a bit off so we headed out to the glacier on the second bus. Upon arrival, we headed to the view point and came across my mother, which was a nice surprise as we didn't expect to see her until lunch as she and my brother were on a HAL "Juneau Highlights" tour that they later reported liking.After visiting the view point and taking pictures of the lake and the glacier, we decided to head to the waterfall, approximately a ¾ mile walk each way according to the signage. Along the way, we were able to see pieces of the glacier that either came ashore or were pulled ashore by others. The only downside was that my son "ran out of energy" as he says on the way back, so I ended up carrying for about ½ a mile back to the bus.After spending about two hours at Mendenhall, we caught the bus back to the ship as we were meeting my brother and mother at the dock for lunch. Meeting up with them at Tracy's Crab Shack, I was excited to try the crab legs based on reviews and their menu online. Unfortunately, their prices were significantly higher than online, so we ate lightly and still spent just over $100 sharing three sample plates (1 crab leg, 2 mini crab cakes, and crab bisque).Overall, I felt that while Tracy's Crab Shack was good, it wasn't anything special and I would have been just as happy buying King Crab legs at Costco and cooking them myself. The legs were no more impressive nor better tasting. And the price, while very reasonable based on the menu that was posted online, was about one-third higher than I expected. That said, the crab bisque was amazing, so I would recommend trying it. It was fabulous, meeting, and the best bisque I have ever had; all four adults at the table were in agreement with this.Having split three meals across five people, we reboarded the ship to supplement our lunch and to regroup. We then headed to the tram up to Mt. Roberts. To expedite the trip up, we used the self-serve kiosk to buy our tickets; unfortunately, there was no definition of "child" on the kiosk or on the signage at the ticket desk, so I ended up buying a ticket for my son that I later discovered wasn't needed as children under six do not require their own ticket.The views from Mt. Roberts are fabulous and being able to see the rehabilitated eagle up there is a treat. However, our true purpose was for my son to experience snow and we weren't disappointed. Less than 50 yards from the main building at the top of the tram, we came across a trail that was completely covered in snow, giving my son ample opportunity to play.For those wishing to hike, there are hiking sticks as you exit the building, which we missed the first time. Although we didn't go far, we heard from others that the trails were very slippery, muddy, and snow covered. At one point, we saw someone nearly hip deep in the snow even at the end of May.As far as my son was concerned, the trip up to the mountain was a success and we were able to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, and the like over about a two hour period while my wife shopped for a large portion of the time. While she didn't buy anything, she thought the shop had a good selection and some nicer, higher end items that weren't available in town. And although my son wished for more snow to play in, this was the one and only opportunity he had to do so.Upon returning to the dock, we shopped a little bit before returning to the ship empty handed as we couldn't find anything that interested us. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the cabin and likely taking my son swimming, although I don't recall precisely. We were also excited as tonight was our night to try the Pinnacle Grill.After dropping my son off with my mother, we headed to the Pinnacle for dinner. Upon checking in, the host asked us where our little one was, which was a nice touch. When we told him it would just be the two of us, he showed us to a nice booth next to the window, which allowed us to watch the coastline as we sailed away during dinner. What I wasn't prepared for was to see that the dress code was not enforced and some dinners were wearing shorts while others were wearing t-shirts.Overall, we found the entrees to be excellent (bone-in rib eye steak and lobster tail), but were not impressed with the side dishes, except for the sautEed mushrooms. The scalloped potatoes had too much garlic in my opinion and the creamed spinach lacked flavor. As far as the appetizers went, they were good, but not great, with the exception of the seafood platter that included smoked fish. In addition, the waiter did deliver crab cakes that were not order, which were good and a nice touch for otherwise lackluster service.While I do believe the waiter tried to be efficient, he and his assistant just didn't deliver. Simple requests weren't responded too (e.g., a glass of ice requested by my wife) and water glasses went unfilled even when a request for more water was made. Finished plates were also left on the table for much too long and the waiter did not check on us during dinner to see how the meal was or to ask if anything was needed. Further, when we stated that we weren't fond of the soufflEs as they lacked flavor, he seemed insulted and then whispered something to his assistant at the bussing station who then looked back at us. We then waited too long for a replacement dessert and I was never asked if I wanted coffee, which I would have liked.Given the large portion sizes, I did ask to take the remainder of my steak back to the cabin, but I was told that I couldn't as it was against policy. Even so, he did wrap it in foil, but said "he didn't do it," if I was caught. This was extremely surprising since it was almost encouraged and Disney at the waiters there even insisted on making an entirely new plate to take back to the cabin. While I could understand this if it were a second entrEe, given that it was the only entrEe ordered, I just didn't understand why this was the case.Thursday, 05/26/11 - SitkaToday started like most days with room service breakfast delivered halfway through the desired delivery window. Unlike yesterday, though, the order was complete.As we had a ship's tour, we were scheduled to meet in the Vista Lounge at 8:45 for a 9:00 tour. As usual, though, we ended up waiting in the lounge until almost 9:30. And while CNN was playing on the big screen as a diversion, the news stories weren't always child friendly.When we were finally called, we boarded directly onto the Allen Marine vessel for the Sea Otter and Fortress of the Bear tour, which lasted about 3 hours and was excellent. During our time on the water, we saw hump back whales, bold eagles in their nests, sea otters, a harbor seal, a bear, and perhaps one or two other animals. I would, however, suggest bringing along a snack as what was served as the included snack was a cracker with some smoked salmon, although small scones, coffee, and hot chocolate were served earlier. There were other snacks that could be purchased onboard for those less prepared.The tour itself was excellent overall with a naturalist onboard providing audio commentary and cabin assistance to provide help to guests. In addition, a map was provided in addition to binoculars for those who didn't have them or didn't bring them. There were also bathroom facilities onboard for those who needed them. I'd also suggest the upper deck for the best viewing. While a bit colder, it is enclosed on three sides with a large open deck on the back half of the vessel for taking unobstructed photos.Upon arriving at the dock, we waited for a bit before boarding a bus to the Fortress of the Bear. While I really enjoyed our visit here and really appreciate what they are doing, I personally wouldn't go out of my way to go there. However, it was a good place to see bears up close and the commentary provided was excellent. Of course, my son was more interested in the petting zoo than the bears.On our way back to the dock, my son made friends with a girl who was on the bus and who also had the cabin next to ours. As they talked, they began comparing their past cruises and I think it was at this point that my son developed an interest in the kid's club because he knew his "new friend" would be there. We also discovered that my son had been given a wrist band with the wrong muster station based on the number the girl had on her wrist band, even though we had asked at the muster drill.Before returning to the ship via tender, we shopped a bit, picking up a couple of inexpensive t-shirts for my son. We also stopped at Del Sol as my son wanted another "free color changing ring," but none was offered at this location.After returning to the ship, we grabbed a bite to eat and were surprised to discover that my son's life vest had still not been delivered. After some time in the pool, we returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner.We arrived at the dining room at 7:00 p.m. only to be told that we'd have to wait until 7:45 p.m. as it was the Master Chef menu. Somehow, I didn't realize that anytime dining didn't apply tonight. Thus, we asked my son if he'd like to go to the Club Hal for a half hour, which he did, and then we headed to the lounge for a drink and visited with each other. Then shortly thereafter, I headed up to Club Hal and returned to the lounge with my son, who then decided that he'd rather go back to Club Hal than to dinner.After one more trip to Club Hal, we headed off to an adult only dinner. I must admit that I wasn't fond of the Master Chef menu or the "show." I'll admit that it was different, though. My wife also didn't like that they wanted to bring things to the table that weren't ordered, so she graciously informed the waiter that she only wanted what she ordered so that food wood not be wasted.The only item that I can say was very good to excellent was the Oxtail Soup en Croute; and although the shrimp were good, the sauce was terrible. Everything else was fair at best, including desserts. Service also suffered tremendously tonight.Feeling unsatisfied with dinner and not really having much dessert, we headed to Club Hal before hitting the Lido for dessert. However, to our surprise, our son was not there as they were on a Pirate Adventure. So, we headed to the Lido for ice cream, only to see my son and about six other kids come marching through looking for pirate clues. While I feared my son might want to leave upon seeing us, he was having a blast and simply said hello and goodbye before heading back to Club Hal as that is where the clue sent them. Once he returned there, he and the rest of the kids found the "pirate chest" and each were able to take two "treasures" from it.With Club Hal closing at 10 my son went to my mother's cabin so that we could see the main show with my brother. Tonight's show was magician Leo Ward. His show was fabulous and probably the best cruise show I have ever seen, including those on Disney.Upon picking up our son and returning to the cabin after the show, he asked if he could go back to Club Hal tomorrow. While it took awhile, it was nice that he had now taken to the club.Friday, 05/27/11 - KetchikanAs usually, we started today with breakfast from room service, but this time it was delivered at the beginning of the delivery window rather than halfway through as on the previous days. The server today was particularly efficient and verified that we didn't want coffee, stating that he could get us some if we wanted it; I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the offer even though it wasn't wanted. While I tipped a couple of dollars as usual, the server seemed surprised by the tip as did most of the servers. Thus, while I felt it wasn't expected it was generally appreciated. The only thing missing today was the jam for the bagel.Today we had a 9:00 a.m. Duck Tour scheduled with the whole family. My mom wasn't initially going to go, but we convinced her otherwise. The tour was longer than advertised and provided a good overview of Ketchikan and was better than the horse drawn trolley tour we did previously. My only disappointment is that we didn't get closer to town when on the water. Afterwards, my mom returned to the ship with my son as he wanted to go to Club Hal while we went off to shop.I noted a lot of seafood shacks along the pier and would have tried a couple if I had had more time. In addition, the crab was a lot cheaper than in Juneau and some of the shacks offered some of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen. We would have definitely tried one or more of them if we had time.Personally, I believe that Ketchikan deserves a longer port stop. There's a lot to see and some excellent shopping to be had here, and there simply isn't enough time to do much of either. I would have preferred a shorter stop in Sitka in favor of a longer stop here. And while it rained, it was more of a drizzle and I did fine without a jacket, although I would have worn if I hadn't given mine to my wife. I had another in my backpack, but it wasn't bad enough to take off to get another jacket.We enjoyed the emporium (Tongass Trading Company) right at the dock and purchased a number of items at an excellent price using the coupons we received in Seattle while checking in. They offered a number of freebies in addition to excellent prices on socks, t-shirts, etc. They also offered glow in the dark and color changing t-shirts, although the coupon ones were cheaply made and it was worth purchasing those that weren't on discount. They also offered six packs of soda and water at a very reasonable price with coupon for those interested. And while they have three stores, the largest is right there at the dock making it very convenient.Upon returning to the ship, which was more efficient than in Juneau thanks to two gangways, we met my mother, after she retrieved our son from Club Hal, and brother at the main dining room for lunch. We were given a table in the aft at a table next to the rear windows, which provided an excellent view during lunch and allowed us to see as we sailed away and the Celebrity Century move in to take our spot at the dock.Lunch today was enjoyable. My wife and I split the salmon and a white fish dish, which were both good although neither was excellent. The standout item of this meal was the whipped sweet potatoes. My mom had the honey glazed short ribs, which were good, and the buttermilk mashed potatoes, which were excellent. My brother had the chicken sandwich, which he said was good as well. The other standout item that my son loved was the cold grape and cranberry soup. Sadly, the desserts were only fair, lychee sundae and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Overall, service was sluggish, which made us late for our Black Label photo shoot that we had reserved a few days earlier.While getting changed for the photo shoot, we received a phone call for the Assistant Hotel Manager asking if my son's life vest had been delivered and I informed her that it had not. It did arrive later today well into the cruise. While I wasn't worried about the life vest as they are plentiful at the muster stations, it was disappointing to see how slowly HAL responded to this issue.We had high hopes for the Black Label Photography session, but we found the experience underwhelming at best. The photographer seemed to lack experience with children and spoke to our 4 year old at a level well beyond his understanding. She kept telling him to "just relax," and I'm not sure any 4 year old really knows how to do this. In addition, he has a lot of experience with photographers and has been used by some in photo competitions because he's very cooperative and photogenic, so we were really surprised when there were only three or four shots that we really liked. And the price alone, $595, was really revolting given the limited amount of time that the photographer spent with us and the fact that the photographer didn't listen to what we really wanted from the photo shoot.After the photo shoot, we allowed my son to nap and then spent some time walking around the ship as my brother took our son swimming. We stuck mainly to the 9th and 10th decks as we wanted to be able to check on our son periodically and were surprised at how underutilized the pool was yet again. At no time during the entire week were there more than 3 or 4 people in the main pool.During our walk, I finally made it up to the Crow's Nest which was very popular at this time because of happy hour. All of the tables were full and everyone seemed to be having a good time. And although we weren't partaking, the service was excellent and we were immediately asked if we wanted something upon entering. If I had it to do over again, I would have made a point to visit the Crow's Nest more and would have planned on partaking in happy hour. Perhaps on the next HAL cruise.Upon returning to the pool, I was surprised to find that my son, brother, and an older gentleman were all playing catch with a small soft ball and they all seemed to be having fun. With some coaxing, I was able to get my son out of the pool so that we could get ready for dinner.On our way to dinner, we had a few pictures taken in the lobby by a younger American photographer we took a liking to. Afterwards, we took my son to Club Hal and later reported that he enjoyed the "unbirthday party" that they had there.Upon arrival at the main dining room, we had to wait approximately 15 minutes to be seated. However, when finally shown to a table, I was left wondering why we had to wait as there were a large number of empty tables, many of which remained empty throughout our dinner. However, given the quality of service we had tonight, it was probably a good thing that all of the tables were note occupied. While service wasn't bad, it was inconsistent with a couple of courses coming timely, and then long pauses between the main course, simple requests, and dessert.As for the actual meal, the escargot, which is a dish I order on every cruise when it is available, was very good and the most tender I have had on any cruise. It would have rated excellent had it had more garlic; even so, it's worth ordering again. While I had high hopes for the cream of four mushrooms soup, it was terrible and probably the worst soup of the entire trip. Tonight was also "lobster night" in the form of a surf and turf option. I order the surf and turf, which I thought was very good, but would order the sauce they serve with the lobster tail on the side next time. In addition, the filet mignon was the smallest I had ever seen, so take note if you're a huge beef fan. My wife ordered the same thing, but asked for the turf to be held. She was pleased when her plate arrived with an additional lobster tail in place of the steak.Although the service was inconsistent tonight, the server was very attentive otherwise. For example, when he removed my lobster tail from its shell, he noted how small it was and insisted that he get me another one without being asked. We finished off the meal with the brownie hot fudge sundae for dessert, which was excellent even though my sundae was missing the brownie.After dinner, we went to the "Liars Club" game show in the Queens Lounge. The cruise director, someone from marketing, and Leo Ward, the magician, were the contestants. The show itself was hilarious and I laughed throughout the entire show. I highly recommend attending, although I am sure that the quality of the show depends on the contestants.Just before 10 p.m., we picked up our son from Club Hal; this time, he didn't want to leave and we had to explain that they were closing. We ended up going to the production show, which was good, but we left about halfway through as we had seen enough.Tonight was also the "Dessert Extravaganza," so we headed up to the pool deck to check everything out. Personally, I thought the event was overstated as it is on most cruise lines. While the displays were pretty, many of the items lacked flavor. In addition, half of the items that they advertised would be served were nowhere to be found, including chocolate covered strawberries which are my son's favorite. Fortunately, I had ordered a couple of plates throughout the cruise, so he was satisfied there. In addition, the "ice cream" parlor that was advertised was no different than what was traditionally offered in the lido.Saturday, 05/28/11 - VictoriaWaking up earlier than planned, I tried to attend the disembarkation talk, but when I arrived the show lounge was packed and there was no way to get in. Have cruised before, I wasn't too worried and simply headed to the coffee bar instead, which offered good coffee at an extremely reasonable price.Today was also the Mariner's Brunch, which we attended. The menu was quite limited (2 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 1 dessert). Complimentary wine was also served. Among the table, we had the quiche (good) and the braised short ribs (very good). A cold pear and apple soup was also served, but in my opinion it tasted more like applesauce than a soup; even so, my son enjoyed it.With only one dessert choice, we decided to hit the Lido for dessert and ended up with the standby (ice cream and cookies). And while HAL makes the absolute best peanut butter cookies, which were extremely popular, they were rarely available—a big disappointment in the end.With our dessert cravings satisfied, we went to the shops to buy our nieces a gold-by-the-inch bracelet we had liked for their birthdays. What they don't tell you in the advertised price is that there is an additional $5 charge per bracelet for the clasp. I also made the mistake of suggesting that it was plated gold to my wife and ended up receiving a lecture from the clerk regarding the "golding" process and how it is better and guaranteed for life. In reality, I didn't care as it was a gift I thought my nieces (6 and 9) would enjoy and something I didn't want to invest too much in as the likelihood of them getting lost was high.With Club Hal reopened after lunch, we dropped our son off there before returning to the room to pack and complete our customer comment forms. Although I had anticipated questions about smoking from the Cruise Critic boards, none were asked probably because a decision regarding the smoking policy had already been made as announced after we returned. What was odd, though, is that the questionnaire asked about the ports of call, including Victoria, which we hadn't yet visited. While I understand why they want feedback, HAL wanted the forms returned by 6 p.m., which was the time we were scheduled to dock.Afternoon was spent in the pool then to dinner as soon as the opened so that we would be ready for our tour of Butchart Gardens. Dinner tonight was the first night that we ordered for my son off of the children's menu, which was a huge mistake and delayed service tremendously. While our waiter kept us posted, he explained that they only have one chef for "specialty meals," which includes the kid's menu and that he was inundated with orders; as a result, we had to wait. Given that it was spaghetti and meatballs, I didn't think it would be such a hassle especially since they could have sent someone up to the Lido in less time. I had the always available steak with mashed potatoes (both good) and my wife had the chicken and beef sautE, which she rated as fair. Unfortunately, by the time my wife got the sour cream for her baked potato, it was cold, although the waiter did offer to get her another baked potato.Seated near the window, it was nice to be able to see us sailing close to Vancouver Island. However, it was also obvious that we were running late as we finished dinner before we had even entered the harbor. While this was a blessing in terms of not being rushed, we knew it would impact our time at the gardens. Fortunately, we had been there previously and this was mainly a trip for my son to enjoy the gardens.After a brief stop to the cabin to grab my backpack and my son's stroller, we headed to the Vista Lounge to wait with everyone else. The staff there did keep us updated and quickly cleared us out of the lounge as soon as we were docked. From there, we went through the terminal building to a number of waiting busses. Unfortunately, because of our late arrival, we didn't reach the gardens until 8:30 and thus only had 90 minutes to enjoy the gardens, which is about 1/3 the amount of time that you need. Therefore, we only got through the "sunken gardens" and not through the other three or four that are there. If it weren't for my son, we would have stayed in the harbor area given the short amount of time in port. In fact, on our last Alaska cruise, we didn't even bother to get off the ship as it wasn't worth the hassle for such a short amount of time ashore.We were fortunate to have a very good bus driver who provided us with a tour and overview of Victoria on the return trip. Unfortunately, due to our late return, the only thing we had time for was the small souvenir shop at the terminal building that Princess and NCL were docked at as the HAL terminal was undergoing renovations. Finding nothing of interest, we reboarded the ship; however, the elevator situation was pretty bad given that they had locked down some of the elevators for luggage collection purposes.Hungry, we headed to the Lido to grab a bite to eat and were grateful that HAL had an fairly substantial offering at this late hour as in days past. I was concerned that they might close things up early because it was the last night onboard. While there was a bit of a wait for food, it wasn't terribly bad. However, there was no seating to be found, so we headed off to our cabin to eat and to put our bags out. We also needed to get our son to sleep.With a request for all luggage to be in the hallway by 1 a.m., we ate and then quickly finished up the limited packing that remained. I then put the bags in the hallway, where they were quickly collected. Then packing as much of our carry-ons for the next day, my wife discovered that she had not placed a jar of pickled kelp from Sitka in our checked bags. Not wanting to deal with it in the morning, I found our luggage in the elevator lobby and was able cut off the zip tie, repack the bag, and rezip tie the bag without ever being noticed, which was a bit concerning for me and why I like to secure my bags with zip ties so that I know if they've been tampered with.Finally ready for bed, we hung our breakfast order on the door for the morning and got a few hours of sleep.Sunday, 05/29/11 - DisembarkationDisembarkation was excellent overall. We had the 8:30-9:00 a.m. departure window and it was nice being able to stay in our cabin until called. There other plus was the ability to order room service breakfast. Overall, I would say HAL provides the best disembarkation experience of any cruise we've been on.Waiting until almost 9:00 a.m., we were able to simply walk off without any wait. The cruise director was also at the gangway to bid farewell to passengers, which I thought was very high class and a nice touch. Unfortunately, once we were off the ship, the port building was a bit of a mess with two ships disembarking at the same time; however, we were able to locate our luggage and eventually made our way through U.S. Customs and then waited for my mother and brother to make it off the ship.The lines for taxis and busses were incredibly long and we ended up taking a "gypsy" van to the airport for $10 per person. While the driver was part of a registered limousine service, he wasn't authorized to pick up at the port. In the end, it worked out and we arrived at the airport quickly.If you are flying out on disembarkation day, I highly recommend a flight no earlier than noon, and 1 p.m. for comfort as three ships disembark on Sundays. The lines to check luggage were incredibly long, particularly at Southwest Airlines, with a line wrapping around the entire check-in counter building. Despite the length of the line, we still were able to get our bags checked within an hour of getting in line, probably closer to 45 minutes. That said, there were several who were shocked at the length of the line and concerned about making their flights. The line at curbside check-in wasn't much better.Once we had checked our bags, we were lucky enough to find that Sea-Tac offered a family security check line that was relatively short. For those interested, the airport uses backscatter x-ray machines for the full-body scans. What was nice about the airport, though, is that they have a number of eateries and a child's play area, so we were able to enjoy lunch and allow my son to burn off some energy before boarding our flight, which was uneventful overall.General ThoughtsThe sea view elevators were a big hit with my son. I particularly liked that the doors were also made of glass, so they served as windows when the elevator car wasn't there.The ship is in need of dry dock. While the wear and tear did not take away from our vacation, it was obvious that some things needed to be attended to, particularly rust in our bathroom and around the window frame in my mother's cabin. In addition, some of the soft good, including our verandah furniture and couch pillows, needed to be redone. However, I purposely looked based on what has been stated on Cruise Critic, so it's possible such things might not be noticed by others and that other cabins are in better condition.I wasn't a huge fan of the ship's overall design. The general layout seemed darker and more crowded than other ships I've been on, many of which were of similar size. I believe this resulted from the dark color scheme of the interior, lack of a grand atrium with skylights, and mostly interior corridors as small lounges took up most of the windowed areas. That said, if you are someone who enjoys lounging in the public areas, this is the ship for you. However, I did like the design of the daily program as it was extremely easy to follow and to see what was being offered throughout the day.The Crow's Nest was a fabulous place. Definitely go there at least once and keep in mind that happy hour is from 4-5 p.m. The coffee bar is also located nearby and had very reasonable prices compared to land-based coffee shops and other cruise lines.The seating in the main theater is very comfortable; however, be careful when selecting seats as there are many seats that have obstructed sight lines.The lido is too small—at least in terms of seating capacity—for the size of the ship. However, the selection was very good overall and they served the best peanut butter cookies I have ever had and I'm not a particularly big fan of peanut butter cookies compared to other flavors. The pool grill was mediocre at best and never served a decent order of french fries all week and were typically served cold. Disney's pool grill wins hand down in terms of selection, quality, and freshness of items served.Room service was good and offered a decent variety of items particularly for breakfast. We were able to write in a few things on the breakfast order form and always received them. It was particularly nice to be able to enjoy room service on disembarkation morning. The downside is that there was usually a 45 minute wait when ordering off of the in-room menu. As for other food, the dining room was hit and miss with more fair to good items than very good to excellent items, although I realize the food is subjective. What surprised me, however, is how much we liked Canaletto, both in terms of food quality and service. We'll definitely be dining at Canaletto on future HAL cruises.While HAL does not offer an "unlimited" soda card like other cruise lines do, I actually liked the $50 for $25 better as service was always good. One of the complaints on other lines is that the servers are not motivated to serve soda as there is no tip in it for them. HAL's system eliminates this entirely as the waiter is receiving the traditional auto tip that he/she would receive otherwise.The crew seemed very friendly overall and went out of their way to say hello, carry on conversations, etc. However, I wouldn't say they were any friendly than Disney nor would I say they were less friendly. I also really liked the crews' uniforms. Service was mostly efficient in the main dining room even though we had anytime dining.While we never had a chance to watch an entire movie in the Screening Room, we did stop by. The seats were extremely comfortable, but the screen was much too small. The seating layout also seemed like a waste of space and only offered seating for about 30 people. I would say it was on par with what I've experienced on NCL and I won't make a comparison with Disney as Disney has a real movie theater onboard. Personally, I would have preferred different movies playing throughout the day rather than the same movie playing all day long.I wasn't thrilled with the security of the kid's club. Check-in and check-out consisted of simply signing on a roster and indicating where you might be. There were no pages are phones issued in case there was an emergency. In addition, the door to the club was not secured in any way making it possible for a child to leave unnoticed as there are blind spots when the adjacent room is used. That said, there were only about 8 kids in the club at any given time, so I'm sure it was easy to keep track of everyone. And whn ile we were supposed to give a password when picking up, it was never asked for. Surprisingly, however, I think HAL did a decent job with the limited space and staff that they had and I actually think my son preferred HAL's club over Disney's.I enjoyed having a DVD player in the room. The DVD lending library was an additional bonus. We only had this available to us once before and that was when we were staying in a suite on NCL.
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Cabin Review

Signature Superior Verandah Suite
Cabin SS 6069
Nice save cabin overall although it did show some wear. The cabin had a good layout overall, although it didn't seem as large as the stated square footage. That said, five people easily fit in the room while entertaining. In addition, it was nice to have the glass door to the veranda and an additional window. Storage space was excellent and having a large bathroom with two sinks was very convenient when getting ready for dinner.
Upper Verandah Deck Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins