Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: August 31, 2002
Cruise Line: Holland America Line
Sailing Date: August 31st, 2002
I have put off writing this trip report
for as long as I can. It is not that I don’t enjoy
writing. It is not that I didn’t enjoy my trip. I just
find it difficult to do justice to the amazing time I and my family had on
the “Beautiful and elegant” as the Cruise Director liked to say MS
I wrote this report as a thought flow. Much of what I wrote is out of chronological order. I tried to focus on the aspects of the cruise that stood out for me or that were discussed on message boards.
This was a vacation that was a long time coming. Last Thanksgiving my wife and I (31, 30) were told by my parents, Howard and Marcia (late 50’s), that they were taking us and my sister Lauren (26) and her fiancé Brian (27) on the August 31 sailing of the Amsterdam to Alaska. My wife, Kaddin, and I had been on one cruise previously on the Grand Princess and had an awful time. We swore we would never cruise again. So, when I heard we were being taken on a cruise, my emotions were mixed. On one hand it was a cruise which I had decided was my least favorite type of vacation. On the other hand, it was a free vacation with my family to a beautiful location I had never been to. I made up my mind. I would look forward to it, by-gum!
Here is a little relevant background on my parents and their connection with HAL. They live in the greater Boston area and my father has a dental practice in New Hampshire. My father belongs to a program called Seadent. This is a charity where volunteer dentists work on HAL ships primarily for the benefit of the Indonesian crew who may not have had access to good dental care in the past. This is a program that only HAL participates in though other cruise lines have been approached. The fact that HAL donates space for the clinic and a cabin for the dentist speaks volumes about how they care for their staff. The dentist also is there for passenger emergencies. The volunteer dentist is allowed to take a companion and is provided a cabin and only has to work on sea days. It is really not a bad deal. Originally, the Amsterdam was to sail in Europe (or the Med. I am not sure) this past summer. My father was originally assigned to this cruise. After 9/11 the Amsterdam was rescheduled for Alaska out of Seattle. My father was reassigned to two back-to-back Alaska cruises. My parents were alone on the first sailing and Lauren, Brian, Kaddin, and I (Michael) joined them for their second sailing.
Lauren and Brian flew in a couple days ahead of time to spend some time with Kaddin and me in Seattle before we boarded the Amsterdam on Saturday. We did the typical Seattle things, Duck tour, Underground tour, Mariners game at Safeco, etc. and had a great time.
On Saturday, August 31st I woke up early, can you blame me? I decided to run down to a bagel shop and pick up some breakfast for everyone. Well, it was only around 8 in the morning and I knew there was a ship in the harbor so-to-speak. As the pier is only 2 miles from my house, I decided to take a little detour and do a quick drive-by of the Amsterdam. I found a metered space to park in and walked up to the pedestrian bridge to get a close-up view of the ship. As I was walking I noticed many of the passengers getting off and heard one of them say that the staff was amazing. All of the disembarking passengers looked happy, if not a little disappointed to be leaving. I was really psyched at this point. I hopped back in the car and brought breakfast back for everyone.
We went down to the pier around 11 in two cabs due to the overwhelming amounts of luggage we had. The cab ride was only about 5 minutes and cost about $10. We struggled with the bags until in the terminal building at which point they were taken away from me and taken to the mysterious place where luggage goes before being brought onboard. We went upstairs to check in. There were no lines. Let me repeat that, there were no lines. Not because there were no people, but because HAL was prepared and had a large staff waiting to check the “guests” in. Check in took all of 10 minutes and we had about an hour and a half to kill. We called my parents who were on board and they came off the ship to meet us in the terminal. We spent some time with them walking the area and then came back to the terminal at 1 to get ready to board. The “ship’s dentist” is considered crew so my parents got back on the Amsterdam via the crew entrance.
The terminal was pretty packed with people by this time so the four of us found a nice spot on the floor and waited for our number to be called. Once called, we walked right on, smiled for the picture, and were shown to our rooms. Both my wife and I and Lauren and Brian’s room were inside on the aft of the main deck. I had ordered a mini fridge for the room and it was there waiting for us. The room was decent size. Big enough for a one-week cruise, but I would probably opt for an outside with a window if on a longer cruise. The bathroom had a shower and lots of cabinet and counter space. We had a TV mounted up in a corner and tons of closet space. We had a couch which could have pulled out to a bed, a table, and a chair. We actually had the chair taken out to give us a little more room.
The second we got to our room Viktor, our cabin steward was there to introduce himself. Viktor was a genuinely nice guy and we considered ourselves fortunate to have him. He was never without a smile and did an excellent job the entire cruise. I truly enjoyed talking with him and kidding around. Half way through the cruise he started calling me “boss.” So I started calling him “boss” as well which became sort of a running joke. He also was the room steward for Lauren and Brian so when ever I went back to the room for something he would tell me who was in and who was out. Viktor was an amazing guy and I hope our paths cross someday again.
Before we sailed all six of us went to the Lido buffet for a “light snack.” Compared to the weight of the Amsterdam, it was light. My parents then gave us a tour of the Amsterdam. I particularly enjoyed the pool area mid ships on the Lido. The pool was sufficient in size and was abutted by two large hot tubs. I later found out that one was hot, one was warm, so I guess it was a ‘warm tub.’ There was also the Lido grill. In addition to the burgers, hotdogs, tacos, and pizza served there, I was pleased to see they also served veggie burgers! We then walked up to the Crows Nest. It was a lot larger than I thought it would be. There were some very large comfy chairs with ottomans along the front windows. There was DJ table and a circular dance-floor. From there we walked down to the fitness center. This was impressive. There were plenty of weights and other equipment on one side, oodles of stationary bikes and treadmills, and a large area dedicated to aerobics. The spa is also next to the fitness center though I didn’t take a closer look at it. We walked down the length of the ship past the various bars, meeting rooms, shops, etc. My overall impression was that it was nice to be on a ship that felt like a ship. There was art everywhere you looked and you were never far from a window looking out on the scenery. The large “Astrolabe” clock in the center of the ship is definitely an interesting sight. The Amsterdam truly is beautiful.
The sail-away was a lot of fun. We went to the party on the Lido (?) and had a few drinks as we watched sunny Seattle disappear into the distance. I had a couple of the “fruity-drinks” but there must’ve been a whole lot more ‘fruit’ than ‘drink’ in the drink as I felt perfectly ‘normal’ after two of them, and that isn’t like me at all.
We were at Table 141, second seating. It was a table for 8 originally, but only the 6 of us were at it. We had requested a table for the six of us second sitting and this was not a problem. In fact, there was a 50-person waiting list for first sitting. The service in the dining room was good overall but not outstanding. The only exception was Alex who was the head waiter for the section we were in, the back on the first floor of the dining room. He was very accommodating and friendly without ever being intrusive. He is very talented and I would expect him to become a Maitre’d on a HAL ship very soon. He is that good. The decor in the La Fontaine dining room was very attractive. The seats were comfortable and the lighting was well thought out. The food was pretty good. Of course we have all had better, but we have all definitely had worse. Overall, I was impressed with the food. Though I stuck to the vegetarian menu, everything looked wonderful and according to my family, it was all quite good. Speaking of the vegetarian menu, here is how it works. You need to ask for it, tell your waiter you want to order from the vegetarian menu. They will bring it for you but you order for the next night. The veggie meals are not made en mass so the chefs need to know ahead of time in order to prepare. There is only one vegetarian menu but there are about 6 or 7 choices for each course so you will not need to get the same thing twice unless you want to. There was no extra charge for ordering from the vegetarian menu. I have no complaints about the veggie menu, everything I ordered was great. Even if you are not a vegetarian you may still want to ask to see it. The deserts were very good and displayed attractively. The only thing I did not really like was the baked Alaska, though it was pretty to look at when being paraded through the dining room. There was also the running of the chocolate moose. Yes, I mean ‘moose!’ This was similar to the baked Alaska parade except it was a chocolate mousse paraded in by a waiter in a moose costume. It was fun.
One of the most memorable staff persons of the entire trip was Ary. If you were on the Amsterdam this summer, you will definitely remember Ary. He was sort of the all-purpose dining room guy. He rang the bells at the beginning of the meals, and handed out candies at the end of the meals. He was very warm and funny and truly one of the greatest that HAL has to offer. He had a few token songs that were hysterical. The first is his “happy pills” song. He called the after-dinner mints ‘happy pills’ and sang “Happy pills to you…” (happy trails) when he handed them out. He also had a BMW song he sang at breakfast. The BMW was his “Bread and Muffin Wagon.” Ours was his last cruise on the Amsterdam before he took a vacation and he will be on the Veendam next. You will know him if you are lucky enough to sail with him.
The Lido Buffet was pretty good. We had most of our lunches and breakfasts there. It was usually easy to find a table and there was always a great selection. Everyday seemed to have a different theme so there was a lot of variety to choose from. There was an ice-cream bar at the end of the buffet on the starboard side. Coffee and tea was always available. The regular coffee here was not too bad but not the best. There was an espresso machine you could use and that made pretty good coffee. Good coffee was also available in the Java Café.
One night Brian and I decided to head to the casino. I do not really gamble but hey, I was on vacation. I had never played Craps before. I do not know how and I was always intimidated by the table, the rules, etc. There was only one woman at the Craps table so I decided to give it a whirl. I told the dealer I had no idea what I was doing. He gave me directions and in five minutes I had turned $40 into $75. Small stake, I know, but I decided that was probably a good time to walk away. I still have no clue how I did that, but I am not complaining!
We had a blast doing some of the shipboard activities. My wife and I played the newly wed / not-so-newlywed game. With my parents in the audience a few of the questions were fairly embarrassing but we really had fun. We tied for first place with a couple that had been married upwards of 50 years. I also participated in the passenger lip-sync show. I played a raison. Brian and I spent some time at the ping-pong table brushing up on our skills in case the Olympic team ever comes a-calling. We also spent about an hour on the mini-tennis court up on the top outside deck. I peaked in to the Wajang movie theater though I never actually sat down and watched anything there. The game room and library seemed to be really under utilized.
Brian, my mother, and I went to one art auction together. The art they had was interesting and included some original Dali’s and a Picasso, but was heavily stocked with what I hear are the cruise-ship usuals like Kincaid. The auctioneer was, in my opinion, just terrible. He is not employed by HAL but with the art gallery HAL contracts with. I do a lot of public speaking and am by no means an expert but there are certain things which you just don’t do with an audience, and this guy did. To be fair, I only saw him once. Perhaps you were on board and had a different, more positive experience.
The six of us spent lots of time in the
Ocean Bar before a few dinners. The staff in all of
the bars and clubs were friendly and always seemed to be
having just as good a time as the guests. The Rosario strings were aboard
as were The Lookouts. Both bands were very good. They complemented the
ship’s atmosphere well. I never found the bars to be crowded and never
noticed anyone looking for a seat. In fact there were very few times that
I found anything to be crowded. This was another one
of my worries before the cruise. I did not go to too
many of the shows aboard. I was not at all impressed
with the ‘Amsterdam players.’ Singing and dancing was about
average but the shows were actually boring for
me. Others felt different. There was a magician on
board for one show and it was ok, nothing you haven’t
seen before. There was also a singer-impressionist on board for a
show. He was actually my favorite because he sang songs you actually
recognized and could sort of hum along with.
The scenery in Alaska is simply breath taking. You need to see it to believe it. The afternoon we spent at Hubbard Glacier was incredible. First of all, it was a sunny day. In fact, the day was so nice, HAL had a helicopter do a few fly-bys to get some film for a commercial. So, if in the coming year you see the Amsterdam cruising Glacier Bay in a commercial, look for me and my family on the forward promenade deck. The glacier was amazing. We got within a half-mile of it and this seemed very close. The sound it made when calving was truly incredible. It was indeed a bit chilly on deck so of course there was pea soup and hot glauewine being served. We were in the bay for probably a couple hours before we turned around and sailed away. But the most amazing site of the day came later. That night word spread fast around the ship the Northern Lights were out in the night sky. All the lights were turned out on the Sky Deck where people gathered to watch. I was truly hoping we would have an opportunity to see the Auroras and HAL must have pulled some strings because they did deliver. The lights were simply amazing. I hope I get to see them again.
We stopped in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria. In Juneau we did the helicopter tour up to a glacier. This was really a lot of fun and the views alone are worth the price of admission. Both my wife Kaddin, and my father are prone to queasiness and not particularly fond of flying in small aircraft but both really enjoyed it. Once on the glacier there were some naturalists who gave us a brief tour. Bring some empty water bottles with you as glacier water is amazingly crisp and clean. Better than anything you could buy. In Ketchikan Kaddin and I got up early to go snorkeling. This was actually enjoyable, though putting on the wet suit was not. We saw lots of starfish, jellyfish, urchins, and other creepy ocean dwellers. It was actually one of the cheaper excursions and worth it. The town was very picturesque and you could practically walk across the streams with out getting wet with all the salmon in them. In Sitka, Brian and I took a walk out to the raptor rehab center where we got close up to a few bald eagles and owls.
Kaddin and I had been to Victoria once before and really enjoyed it. The stop in Victoria is only around 3 or 4 hours long and is at night. This really does not give you a chance to truly see this incredible city.
Disembarkation was very easy. You got your envelope that included luggage tags and your disembarking number on day 6. You put out your bags, the mysteriously disappear, and you wait for your number to be called. You can go anywhere on the ship to wait for your number. We found our bags in the terminal and we were home twenty minutes later.
Overall impressions. This Amsterdam cruise changed my mind on cruising. I think for me cruising is something I would want to again, particularly if I am with a group of people. This adds an extra dimension to it. There was a lot to do but there was also plenty of time to just hang out together which we have not been able to do as a family in quite some time. This was a capacity cruise, but you never would know it. The design of the ship is very smart and crowds really never seemed to build up anywhere. Like many previous cruisers have stated in their trip reports, I often found myself wondering where everybody was. I was not bothered at all by the age group. HAL attract older guests and this was fine with me. My wife and I are not the stay out all night partying type and HAL is not a cruise line that has a stay out all night crowd. We always found something to do, we were never bored. When Lauren, Brian, Kaddin, and I were in an elevator with an older man (70’s) he asked us what we were doing on this floating nursing home?! Having a great time – of course! The ship was perfect. It looks like a ship, it feels like a ship, it is a ship, not a floating resort. The Amsterdam is simply an incredible way to take a vacation. The crew made the trip. They learned your names, they treated you like guests, and they made you feel welcome.
Would I do it again? Yes. Like I said at the beginning of this trip report, this cruise changed my mind on cruising. I certainly understand why so many HAL guests are repeat cruisers