I have wanted to take an Alaska cruise vacation for at least 25 years! Finally, we did it, and somehow, it exceeded my extremely high expectations! I spent a lot of time on CC, with the veterans and experts assisting me in choosing the ... Read More
I have wanted to take an Alaska cruise vacation for at least 25 years! Finally, we did it, and somehow, it exceeded my extremely high expectations! I spent a lot of time on CC, with the veterans and experts assisting me in choosing the "right" one for our family. It paid off, thank you CC family! We absolutely loved the ship and itinerary, we chose wisely!! This was our first time in Alaska and our first cruise on HAL.
Vancouver is such a wonderful port for embarkation! We spent a day and half before the cruise enjoying this bonus port. We explored on our own and enjoyed Granville Island one afternoon and Stanley Park one full day. We would love to return to this beautiful city, with its friendly, diverse people, gorgeous scenery and delicious cuisine! Boarding the ship was easy and quick!
The first thing I have to say is that service on the NA was wonderful...friendly and thorough, throughout the ship. We had a few problems with our key cards the first day and they were quickly remedied. We were accidentally charged for one of the specialty restaurants though I had pre-booked and paid from home, I simply called guest services and it was immediately removed from the bill. Our cabin stewards (2 separate decks) were excellent and deserve a standing ovation for the condition of the cabins. Every server in every restaurant and bar we encountered was top-notch and friendly, we cannot say enough about the staff on this ship!
The Nieuw Amsterdam is tastefully decorated and immaculate. Public spaces are warm and inviting and look very luxurious without being gaudy. None of the areas ever seemed crowded, except for the Crow's Nest just after sail-away, where it was just a little difficult to find a window seat, and Lido Buffet, which was chaotic almost every time we visited. We enjoyed every bar, lounge, restaurant and entertainment venue on the ship. Our favorites were the Crow's Nest and the Tamarind Bar, which both offered stunning views and quiet atmosphere. We also really liked the Ocean Bar and Reading Room near the Casino (surprising, we expected the Casino to be loud and unpleasant to us, but it was not).
The food was delicious, except for a few "misses." Our daughter requires a gluten-free diet, and she was well-accommodated for the most part, except for embarkation lunch, (where she was limited to a salad and a bun-less meat patty) and breakfasts in the Lido. There was supposedly a GF station in Lido, but every time she went there, she was directed to an unappealing pile of packaged bread and rolls. She had been promised on day one that GF pancakes and waffles would be available upon request, but found this not to be the case...very disappointing. I am getting the impression that this is an industry-wide problem, but I'd like to see improvement in this area. Other than the GF issues and the chaos finding a table, the food in Lido was surprisingly delicious and fresh, for a buffet.
We tried all of the specialty restaurants; they were excellent and worth the up-charge. We especially enjoyed Tamarind. Canaletto was a pleasant surprise (we're picky about our Italian) and a great way to spend the first dinner, with lovely views! The MDR was better than expected, but we found that very often the descriptions on the menus didn't seem to match the food that was served. For example, "arugula and frisee salad" contained exactly one leaf of arugula. We had one pretty bad experience in the dining room (Tuesday night, after Skagway), but other than that time, all of the food was yummy. We had "anytime dining," and never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a table, and that was only once. Most of the time we were seated immediately. Because of the anytime dining, we never had the same table or server, which was fine, they were all excellent. Sorry to say, the fast food places (Dine-In and NY Pizza), were virtually inedible.
Entertainment was better than expected, though the HAL's choreographed Mainstage performances need updating. We went to the Mainstage show every night, and enjoyed every one. There was a Preview Show, a BBC Earth show (live music played to scenes of Alaska), a comedian, a magician and several shows with the HAL players, who were very talented. BB King's All Stars really steal the show, though. Those musicians are fabulously talented and rock the house, three shows almost every night. The Lincoln Center Stage offered several classical performances, which we never attended, but we heard them several times while passing through and they sounded lovely.
The ports were all fabulous, each one was an experience of a lifetime! We booked independent excursions, so I can't comment on the ones offered by HAL. In Juneau, we did a Paddle Trek Ice Adventure which which included a stunning canoe paddle on Mendenhall Lake and a breathtaking hike on the beautiful, ever-changing glacier. In Skagway, we selected a drive up to Emerald Lake in the Yukon, combined with a sled dog experience and a train ride back down to Skagway. In Ketchikan, we took a flight to Misty Fjords on a float plane that landed in the Fjord, where we watched a bear and her cub eating grass. I could not say enough wonderful things about these amazing excursions. My family was completely blown away by each one.
Glacier Bay was more stunning than we dreamed it would be, and the enrichment activities really made it more fabulous! We spent a lot of time talking to the park rangers Molly and Kelly, and the cultural ambassador, Kevin. They all had so much information to offer. It really gave us a special appreciation for Glacier Bay and glaciers in general and the way of life of the people of southeast Alaska! They made us want to return again and again to this breathtaking place.
Overall, our cruise was amazing!! We are talking about what we would do differently next time (dreaming) and perhaps we would do a one-way cruise/tour experience. We are glad we did it this way for our first time. Only things we would change immediately: HAL needs to do something about the chaos in the Lido buffet (maybe have a line and help people find the next available table?) and offer unlimited internet access, Read Less