1 Seward to Canada & New England Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

This will be a very lengthy review it is close to 4400 words but we wanted to capture the grandeur that is Alaska and hopefully you can see it through our eyes if that is at all possible...We hope you enjoy this review Our thoughts on ... Read More
This will be a very lengthy review it is close to 4400 words but we wanted to capture the grandeur that is Alaska and hopefully you can see it through our eyes if that is at all possible...We hope you enjoy this review Our thoughts on HAL's Cruise / Tour #14 Tuesday May 20, 2008 Let me start out by saying there was my Wife, (early 50's) Step Son (18) Myself (Early 50's) the wife's lifelong friend (early 50's) and her husband (Early 50's)....This is just so you know the makeup of our group..For us this was part of our son's Graduation from High School present We like to leave a day early so we can acclimate to time changes and make sure that we get there in case of a problem with our air travel Our alarm goes off at 4:00am with no problems there is anticipation in the air setting out on a new adventure So Airport Transportation (Local Taxi) picked us up at 4:30am and they are on time. We head off to Newark NJ airport, now we live a stone's throw from JFK in New York (20 minutes) but the only way we could stay with the same airline, Alaska Air, was to leave from Newark. As Alaska Air have no flights out of JFK... We were in the airport in less than 1 hour. The only problem was that our big bag was over 50lbs. (64lbs to be exact) and I told the Wife that there was no way it could be over 50lbs because I could not lift over 50lbs with my left hand..Guess we will be buying a luggage scale HA HA.. All of our flights were on time. We went from Newark to Seattle and then Seattle to Fairbanks. We arrived at the Westmark Hotel at 4:15 Alaska time which there is a 4 hour time difference between there and New York so we were traveling for over 15 ½ hours, a long day!!!! We had dinner in the hotel prices are high but I guess that is Alaska Wednesday May 21, 2008 We woke up Wednesday morning had breakfast, this was the best value for the money at $13.95 all you could eat buffet. The food at this was passable I know I know food is very subjective some might love it I just thought it was OK. We then decided to take a free shuttle to the Museum of the North, this is located at the University of Alaska..Now this trip cost us $10.00 per person, the cost of entry to the museum. HAL charges $25.00 per person, YOU DO THE MATH When we arrived back at the Westmark we went to our room and I found it wide open WITH NO ONE IN THE ROOM..I waited there for a few minutes until housekeeping came back and I disclosed my displeasure!!!! The woman told me she had only been gone a minute but I told her it was longer then that...I was very concerned because some of my camera equipment was still in the room what if that had been stolen yes HAL and the Westmark would make good but what about the pictures that I would have missed you can't put a price on that...I called the head of housekeeping to talk to her she kept saying that she was sorry and gave me 5 vouchers for breakfast, but as you will see later I am still going to write to both HAL and The Westmark Then at 3:00 we went to meet our Tour Director Annette French...Later that day we went to the Great Alaskan Salmon Bake and Show in the Palace Theater, booked through HAL, but once again you do not have to you can book it at the Hotel and save some money..The food was very good all you could eat and the show was a rip, very very funny Thursday May 22, 2008 Today we went on the Fairbanks City, Gold Dredge #8, and Riverboat tour...These were very interesting and we really enjoyed them...As a side note the best food that I had on the land portion of our Cruise / Tour was at Gold Dredge #8 the beef stew was the best I have had in a long time, at least since my grandmother passed away and then hers was the BEST...We also got to stop at the Alaskan Pipeline for about 25 minutes, this was interesting to see..We did find out some interesting facts about Alaska it has NO STATE INCOME TAX..Local cities may impose a tax but most don't...Also because of the pipeline every person (Man woman and child) who have been a resident of Alaska for more than 1 year get a dividend check every October, last year that check was $1700.00...Also they have a program where you can buy College Credits at the current rate..So you can take your child's check and buy credits for their collage education at the University of Alaska..These tours took up all day and this was our last day in Fairbanks.... When we arrived back we went to our room prior to dinner to clean up and found that our room was ONLY ½ MADE UP...One bed was left unmade with all the dirty linens from both beds and the bathroom on it...Once again a call to the Head of Housekeeping...They sent up a housekeeper but NOT THE HEAD..So we insisted on seeing the Head of Housekeeping and she finally came up...Once again she said that she was sorry...All she offered us this time was 5 espressos from the hotel shop as we had to board buses very early in the morning...So you now see why I will be writing to both HAL (Which I think owns the Westmark) and the Westmark... Our overall impressions of the Westmark, the dinning have very limited menus and they are expensive (A New York Steak was $26.00 which is a little steep)..There has to be improvements in housekeeping...Lastly the hotel is located in a bad part of town Friday May 23, 2008 We were up early as our bags had to be out by 7:00am...Once we are loaded in our bus it is a short trip to the train station of the Alaskan Rail Road where we board HAL's McKinley Explorer for our 4 hour ride to Denali..The scenery along this rail way is incredible..While aboard we had the option of buying breakfast..The food was very good and for me it should have been as this is owned (I mean the rail road cars) by HAL..There is no way to describe the site when you first see the Alaskan Mountain Range...I have seen pictures as we all have, I have taken pictures, and they just can't do the mountain range justice.... Just before noon we arrive at the Denali Rail Road Station and get off the train and get onto buses for a very short trip to the McKinley Resort and Chalet...The Chalet is located in the Nenana River Valley...Once again everywhere you turn the scenery is breath taking...We have this whole afternoon and evening to ourselves...We had a late lunch in the Courtyard Cafe, the food is starting to improve, we often do this (late lunch) and not have dinner... HAL does offer tours and we had prebooked the Husky Homestead Tour..We had problems with this tour...We were told to meet in the lobby and someone would make an announcement and we did hear other tours being announced..My wife saw the van for the Husky Homestead Tour and we waited and waited and then they just left without paging in the lobby that they were there!!! We went to the front desk to say something and to see if they could get the driver to come back but they said that they would get us alternate transportation...As a side note the day before in Fairbanks we spent a good part of our morning on the bus running back and forth picking up stragglers...SO WHY COULD THEY NOT DO THAT HERE????? Anyway they give us a very nice young man with VERY POOR directions and we spent the next 45 minutes going up and down every side road looking for our tour, little to say we never found it and we headed back to the hotel when we were going back we found out the HAL had an office on the hotel grounds just outside the lobby...We went in there to see what we could do..The driver gave us the slip of paper that he had the directions on so we showed to the HAL Rep she looked at it and said that the directions were wrong and then refunded our money and then said she said she would try to do more for us like ship board credit but we would have to see her the next day...Our problem was our 18 year old son had picked this tour and it was the only land thing that he wanted to do and it was the way we got him to come with us so he was very disappointed to say the least Saturday May 24, 2008 Today we did the Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali Park...Once again this was a very good tour which was part of our package (HAL's Cruise / Tour #14)...This is another tour that we really enjoyed and once again it is something that really can't be described and pictures cannot do it justice....Also as soon as I can I will post my pictures I took well over 2500 which will be culled down a lot...My final thought on Denali National Park we did not get to see Mount McKinley....They say that only about 30% of the people that go to the park every year get to see the summit from ground level because of the cloud cover Final thoughts on the land portion of our trip...Looking back on my notes I had given the food a 3 (Based on a 0 to 10 with 10 being the very best) but in reality the food has to be worth a 7....The only real problem was the Westmark's Restaurants with their high prices and their limited selections....The tours I'd also rate as a 7 because of the Husky tour and after we found out what HAL charges for the Museum of the North and what we paid it just does not add up...The Hotels here we go I really have problems here over all I'd say a 5+....If I split them up the Westmark gets a 3 and with that I think I am being kind and their Restaurant... McKinley Resort and Chalet gets a 7 because of the way they handled our tour....The land portion of the tour over all gets an 8+ the thing that pulled it out for me was the marvelous, wondrous, and beautiful sites I was truly humbled....Our tour guide Annette French she gets a 8 and the only reason that I did not give her a 9 is because I fell that when any one in her group is taking a HAL sponsored tour I.e.: our Husky tour she needs to be in the lobby of the hotel to resolve any problems like the one we had, but otherwise she was great.. Sunday May 25, 2008 Another early day we are boarding the bus at 7:15am for the long ride to Seward and the Volendam...We make a few stops on the way down our bus driver / guide is good...One of the places we get to stop is the Denali game preserve...They have some animals which we get out of the buss and are able to take pictures of...A very interesting place where they care for injured animals and are trying to repopulate some animals who are having a problem in the wild....We get our first look at the Volendam at 4:50pm...As Deluxe Suite passengers we get preferred check in, this perk is no big deal our friends who were in another cabin checked in and were just behind us on the line to board...We board and there is NO ONE to direct us to our cabin or the Lido or where we are to go so we found the elevator and found our room...The first person to impress us was our room steward his name is Lucky he called us by Mr. & Mrs. Our last name....For the rest of the week Lucky was good not impressive.....We went up to the Lido for dinner which was very crowded... There was nothing in the main dinning room so we were told Monday May 26, 2008 Today is a sea day and we get to see College Fjord we were here from 5:30am until 9:00am....My wife and I generally got up early, between 7:00 & 7:30am, no matter what time I leave the casino and most nights that is around 1:00am... We went to the Lido for breakfast and the first thing we noticed was the lack of ships officers, we did not know the entertainment personal aboard so we excluded them...On the Oosterdam 2 years ago the officers and entertainment staff would have breakfast with the passengers and we were told that that was an order from the captain, that the crew would eat in the Lido and no more than 2 to a table and mingle with the passengers...It was not to be here and I missed it...On the O-Dam we had breakfast with the Captain one morning although he only had coffee but other mornings there were others and I think that is a good thing....HAL should make it mandatory throughout the fleet...This way the officers and others know what the passengers are thinking and maybe can help resolve problems sooner before they snow ball into larger problems...The other thing we noticed in the Lido during breakfast, was the coffee man or should I say the lack of one...Our last 2 HAL cruises O-Dam and Zandam coffee men just kept going up and down the aisles on both sides of the Lido offering refills....For the 6 mornings that we were in the Lido we saw them 2x and the second time he had passed us and another waiter offered to get us coffee....The other thing we noticed was the speed or lack there of at which tables got cleaned there were mornings where we walked around for quite a long time looking for a place to eat and we saw where tables that could be cleared.. Well I am rambling about the Lido if I think of more I will catch it another day..... I do not know if this is because this is our first cruise where we did not have to worry about a high school or grammar school schedule, which would put a lot of kids onboard and younger families, so let me throw this out there...BINGO this is where in the past I have had a lot of FUN!!! This time the Assistant Cruise Director and his helper were way too serious there was no way I could heckle them as I had done on the O-Dam and the Zandam on both of those cruises by the end I had the crowd with me and helping me and when I missed a BINGO session on those 2 ships I would get stopped and asked where I had been and if everything was alright...We got the impression this Entertainment staff were not approachable....To me they seemed to be just walking around just barely doing their jobs as if they did not want to be there... The other thing that we missed was the things that were done just prior to the main shows....Like on the Zandam there was a lip sync show where I played Rob Lowe from Foot Loose...Or on the O-Dam where I got my wife to play the Newly Wed Game and we had a lot of fun both times...It is things like these things that we missed Tonight is our first formal night...I was not felling very well, maybe the land tour wore me down, but I still dressed for dinner....For dinner we had early seating upper at 5:45 at table #18 which was a table for 6 but being there was only 5 of us it gave us some room...First thing that I noticed was the number of people who dressed down this number was about 40%...By dressing down I mean no tie or jacket for men, ladies in sweatshirts, people in jeans and sneakers....As far as men in tuxes goes maybe 10% had tuxes but the rest of the 50% had suits and ties... As a side note one of the other nights my step-son arrived in the dining room and had forgotten to leave his hat in our cabin and was told he had to remove it, they were right and he did....So why can't they question others not properly dressed???? But they can stop an 18 year old kid....... Getting back to our first formal night dinner well it was like this everyone at our table ordered the "JUMBO SHRIMP" what we got was shrimp from "Cosco" or "Sams Club" and I mean the really small shrimp...You had to look way down into the cocktail dish to find them...In fact we joked that it was Krill...What we found out was that they can only take on stores in Vancouver and cannot get them in Seward so by the south bound voyage there can be and there were "SHORTAGES" ...As my review moves through the week I will talk about other things we did not have..... Menus they were good except where they forgot that they were out of something and still had it on the menu....The thing that was MISSING was the comfort food...There was no Meat Loaf or Turkey or any other comfort food...There are those of us who look forward to HAL's meat loaf and those other comfort foods they are nice for a change... I must admit one thing here because I have been one on those carrying the banner about formal nights and remaining dressed....As I said earlier I was not feeling well so after dinner I went back to my cabin and changed out of my Tux into a neat pair of slacks with a golf shirt and was still dressed better then a lot of others that night Tuesday May 27, 2008 9:00am we enter Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve ---- I was on the bow of the ship from about 8:40am right after breakfast and I can tell you it was cold then because we were making some speed...We moved up Tarr Inlet and the way you know that you are getting close to a glacier you will see the ice flow...Saw first Marjorie Glacier and Pacific Glacier...There was some Calving of Marjorie but it was tough to catch with my camera you have to be very lucky to be looking at the right spot at the right time.....Marjorie Glacier stretches back some 17 miles From there we approached Jaw Point (called so because as you round it your Jaw drops at the first site of Johns Hopkins Glacier...We were 5 miles away and it was huge Wednesday May 28, 2008 Docked at Haines---We were going to the White Pass Rail Road as we were disembarking there was an announcement that the White Pass Rail Road had broken down and that HAL would post a refund...We continued to the pier and found the HAL Rep on the pier and asked her what she thought about a replacement tour and she recommended the Wild Life Jet Boat Tour...She quoted us a price of $94.00 so we booked it for the 5 of us....The tour was OK but we only saw 2 eagles one nesting and one flying around...Well you can't make the animals come out on cue in the wild...The tour took place on the Chilcat river and the scenery was beautiful..... One side note the HAL Rep on the pier quoted us the wrong price, when we looked at our statement we found that they charged us $105.00 we went to our concierge in the Neptune Lounge and she handled it for us it for us..... Before I go on to Wednesday let me talk just a little about the weather... After all the reading I had done on the Cruise Critic Boards I was expecting the worst....We needed our heavy coats only once in Glacier Bay while we were entering it and I was hanging out on the bow.. But once we slowed down or just slowly turned in place my jacket was open....Every place we went it seemed as we approached it was cloudy and crappy looking but as we got there the sun burned off the clouds and we had glorious sunny warm days.... Thursday May 29, 2008 Docked in Juno---Here we booked the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier tour through HAL....We went to Mendenhall Glacier first today...When you see the Visitor Center it is hard to believe that 250 years ago this portion was covered with ice and glacier....That is the one constant about Alaska and her glaciers the view is different from year to year.... This was the second part of this great tour....I was the first to spot a whale and for the time we were out there we saw 6+ different whales ---- A group of Sea Lions ----- and a couple of eagles....You could get this cheaper but I like not having the hassle of getting back and forth to the ship..Over all this was worth the money we spent.... Friday May 2008 Today it was Ketchikan for us and our last port of call prior to our disembarkation....As we pulled into port it was the second time that we got to see the Westerdam, the first being Glacier Bay, but as we arrived the Westerdam was pulling out...Here we had the Lumber Jack & Totem Bight tour scheduled...When we docked I did have about an hour...Which gave me a chance to walk around and through Creek Street ....My wife and Step Son one was toured out (Step Son) and my wife was not feeling good so I took my tour with my friends who had nothing book for here...As for the Lumber Jack show it was a little corny but enjoyable...The second part of the tour which was the Totem Bight Park was very interesting , we had a retired professor from the University of Alaska and he really knew his stuff about the totem poles and the stories behind them....As a side note for this tour I can tell you, you DO NEED BUG SPRAY....We get all the way through the tour and back to the ship and I find out from my friends wife that he had bug spray in his knapsack I wanted to KILL HIM HA Ha!!! Saturday May 31, 2008 Our final sea day nothing to do but sit back enjoy the ship and pack...I really don't like this day because it means that our cruise is over and I have to leave the ship and I do so enjoy being aboard so much...But the day was uneventful...We did get to see what it is meant to truly cruise the inside passage....For our last day the scenery was as we started breath taking...On a cruise like this you run out of adjectives to describe what you are seeing.... Sunday June 1, 2008 Docked at our final destination Vancouver BC Canada....We have to meet in the Showtime Lounge at 7:15am...But first it was up to the Neptune Lounge, one last time, for a quick bite to eat of the continental breakfast they serve..We have Signature Express Disembarkation.. Which means we paid and extra $16.00 per person put our bags out the night before and did not see them until we got to JFK Airport in New York and to me it was well worth it....By 8:30am they are scanning our room keys for one last disembarkation, which for me is a very sad moment it means that my vacation is over....We leave the ship one last time and board buses to take us to the airport... Final Thoughts and Comments Over all we give HAL a B+ for this cruise...It was not their best as far as we are concerned...We only have 2 other HAL cruises to compare this to and for my money they were far better....But HAL's B+ is still far better than other cruise lines A+ service....I can only hope that someone from HAL will read this and try to correct the problems...We do have plans on sending a letter to HAL about the problems that we had and I will include a hard copy of this review...Would we sail HAL again well while on board we booked our next cruise 18 days through the Panama Cannel, so I would say yes we'd sail them again....Would we recommend HAL to our friends there is a big yes to that... Let me end this by talking about the entertainment, the HAL singers and dancers their 2 shows seemed to be tired and lack luster and not very enjoyable...Janine Gardner she tried to be a comedian, notice I said TRIED TO BE and I am sorry we saw her twice.....Professor Watson he played many different instruments and was very entertaining he should have been in the last show instead of Janine Gardner...Now I saved the best, of the Showtime Lounge acts, for last Mr. Craig Diamond he is a comic / magician and was very good if you get a chance to see him you are very lucky...As far as entertainment around the ship we never got to the Crows Nest so I can't say anything about up there but around the other parts of the ship, the only bad thing I can say is regarding The Manila Quartet in the Ocean Bar they were the worst band I have ever heard they melted my Brain it hurt to listen to them.... Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Volendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.8
Family 3.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 5.0 4.2
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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