Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Cruise West
Ship: Spirit of Oceanus
Sailing Date: June 9th, 2001
Itinerary: Anchorage to Seattle Cruise Number 23A Ten night adventure
This is a review of our Alaska cruise on Cruise West’s Spirit of Oceanus, Anchorage to Seattle June 9th to June 19th 2001.
We had attended a promotional evening put on by Cruise West at the Sheraton Hotel, Tysons Corner (near Washington DC) in October 2000, where we were attracted by the salesman’s statement that Cruise West has all-American crews on ships all registered in the US. Also we liked the idea of a small ship with an informal atmosphere which can approach the coastline in Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage, closer than the big ships. A previous cruise on a large ship had convinced us that we get no pleasure from crowds, dressing up for dinner, casinos, and glitz of all kinds. We wanted to meet like-minded people who were on the trip for the scenery, the wildlife spotting and the chance to see small fishing villages and native American culture. At the same time we are in our seventies and have developed a preference over the years for spacious comfortable sleeping quarters, excellent food and wine, and elevators when the back rebels at too much stair climbing. The Spirit of Oceanus seemed to the obvious choice, and we signed up for it’s first cruise that very evening. At that time we were under the impression that this was a brand new ship. Later, reading the fine print in the brochure revealed that the ship had an English speaking crew and was registered in the Bahamas, but the full impact of these facts did not dawn on us till we were on the ship, still described as “our new flagship”.
The shore arrangements in Anchorage were above reproach-an excellent room in a good hotel- the Sheraton Alaska. Check in, baggage handling and transfer to the bus to Whittier next morning were all smooth and efficient and Cruise West’s staff were courteous and well organized. The bus driver to Whittier was informative and witty.
Embarking on the ship we got our first surprise - the ship looked far from new, it was ten years old and only new to Cruise West. All the crew were non-American except the rather surly purser. We were escorted to our cabin by our stewardess, a very charming and efficient young lady from the Philippines. She was the best member of the crew we met throughout the cruise. Our cabin 415 on the Promenade deck was spacious and well-appointed, with a large walk-in closet and a good sized bathroom. The trouble was it remained much too hot for comfort throughout the trip with no way to cool it and no window to open. Numerous complaints by us and many other passengers brought no change. Other problems we could see included a badly warped and uneven promenade deck, nonfunctioning hot-tub, an inaccessible sundeck under repair throughout the trip, a faulty intercom system which made announcements and talks by two excellent lecturers inaudible in many parts of the ship, and no news either on the nonfunctioning TVs in the cabins or by the usual daily newsletter (copier out of order).
The itinerary was to interesting places-Cordova, a small fishing village seldom visited by cruise ships, Columbia Bay with it’s splendid rows of glaciers, Prince William Sound, Sitka where we had to spend an extra day due to engine trouble (sea water in the engine oil), Tracy Arm and Juneau compressed into one day instead of the scheduled two days, Petersburg leading into Wrangell Narrows (very exciting), Metlakatla - a small Tsimshian Indian reservation, Misty Fjords where we briefly disembarked into Zodiacs to look at the cliffs and waterfalls up close, Prince Rupert and Victoria in British Columbia, and finally from Victoria to Seattle on the Victoria Clipper.
The excursions were seldom exactly as planned because of the lost day in Juneau, inexplicably long procedures while docking at almost every port, and an inexperienced cruise director who changed her plans frequently and did not seem to have always alerted the people on land waiting for us.
In Victoria an excellent visit to Butchart Gardens went off as scheduled but the arrangements to transfer us from a portside hotel to the Victoria Clipper went completely awry with a last minute sprint for one and all including several disabled elderly passengers. A final delay in Seattle dumped many people in their hotel rooms at midnight, a couple of hours later than necessary.
Food on the ship was very variable - one or two excellent meals, some really poor ones and the rest in between. We always ate lunch at the on-deck bistro because the dining room was too hot. Service was willing but erratic due to, apparently, refrigeration and other problems in the kitchen and communication difficulty with several waiters of whom one was English but the rest all struggling with the language. Surprisingly to us we never had fresh salmon or any other fresh fish on a cruise through the biggest fishing center in the US.
To sum it all up, Alaska was wonderful. The cruise could have been a lot better and it was not at all what we had expected. Not good value for money, for it was much more expensive than most. This was a combination of many small annoyances which spoiled the overall experience for many of the passengers, not just us.