Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 12th, 2003
Itinerary: Inside Passage - Alaska
My husband and I have just returned from an Alaskan cruise on board Holland America’s Maasdam. This was our first Holland America cruise together (my husband has sailed the line in a previous life!), however, we have also cruised Princess, Celebrity, Carnival, and now bankrupted Renaissance. Even at about 10 years old, the ship is beautiful, and elegant. Fresh flowers are everywhere, and the staff provides excellent service. In general, we very much enjoyed the experience; however, there were areas which could stand improvement, most notably, in the dining room. But to that later….
We arrived the night before our June 12 roundtrip Vancouver sailing, and stayed at the Listel Hotel, conveniently located on Robson, one of the main avenues in central Vancouver. After a cab ride from the airport ($30 Canadian) that night, we arrived to find a comfortable room. The entire hotel is non-smoking, which pleased us, but we had a “back alley view”, based probably on our low internet room rate. The following morning, we had a pleasant, but somewhat pricey breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, O’Douls. Walking a few blocks down Robson, we found a city sightseeing trolley stop, spoke to the folks selling the tickets ($26each Canadian), and decided to spend the next 2 hours getting acquainted with Vancouver. The trolley makes 15 stops, allowing passengers to get off and on to explore. The complete circuit is narrated by the bus driver, so while we didn’t get off, we did learn much about Vancouver, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours prior to boarding the ship.
Around 2:30pm we took a quick cab ride from our hotel to Canada Place, the main cruise terminal. We moved through the terminal’s security to the Holland America embarkation area and were handed a number, a SARS form, and a debarkation form to fill out. Once completed, we were directed to one of many check-in lines. The process was quick, and the representatives were helpful. We had completed our immigration forms on-line, but since the “web” line was very full, we were re-directed quickly to another line where we waited for only about 5 minutes before reaching the desk. Our cruise documents were checked, and we were handed an identification card with bar coding. This would be used both for electronic checks when leaving or returning to the ship, as well as for on-board purchases. A separate room key was provided in the cabin. We also went through immigration quite quickly and went on board. We were greeted graciously by an officer, as a string quartet played lovely music just a few feet from the gangway. We were personally escorted to our cabin, 173, on Verandah Deck.
We traveled with two other couples and all of us booked balcony cabins, noted as a “mini-suite” in the brochure. In fact, it’s a slightly larger than average cabin with a spacious sitting area and balcony. The balcony had a chaise lounge, and based on other balcony cabins we’ve had, it was the same width, but twice the depth. Another chair and small table was provided to complete the outdoor space. Even though it became quite chilly outside during the cruise, we used the balcony often, both during the day and during those long twilights in Alaska. The bathroom was very large for a cruise ship, due to the bathtub that is part of all outside cabins on the ship. No claustrophobia here…and the shower curtain actually stays where it should if you turn around in the shower! I would recommend taking your own hairdryer. The one provided might be good for the guys, but definitely not for the gals. We asked for the twin beds to be pushed together, and, believe it or not, it was hard to find where the divide was. The beds were firm, linens soft, and pillows as we like them. We were surprised to see a small vase of fresh flowers on the table in the sitting area, and quickly found the Holland America signature tote waiting as a gift. Everything was spotless, although on closer inspection, the carpet had probably seen better days. Our steward did yeoman’s duty keeping the cabin in great shape. My husband particularly liked the shoe shine service, while I appreciated the abundance of drawer and closet space. The cabin safe is operated with your own credit card, so no worries about that. We also used the laundry service ( $12.00 total for a full bag) and received our laundry back in a beautiful basket, folded in tissue, and delivered by a uniformed bellman. The most elegant laundry delivery we’ve had!!
There were several dining options; however, after trying several, our group enjoyed most of our meals in the beautiful 2-level Rotterdam dining room. Although there were six in our group, we were seated on the top level at a table for eight. A delightful couple from Tucson, Arizona joined us, and remained at the table, so I guess we did a good job making them feel comfortable joining our three couples. Overall the food was pretty good, but definitely inconsistent. By unanimous vote of our table, the fish was excellent, fresh and prepared perfectly, and the vegetables were done to our liking, crisp, not mushy. Beyond those two items, things got pretty average, pretty fast. No one at our table was served any type of meat which was done “as requested”. I tried Veal Oscar medallions one night early in the cruise. It was tough and tasteless. No matter who ordered meat, and whatever type of meat it was, the result was below par. We learned quickly to listen to the recommendations of our server, Jefferson, who never steered us wrong. After a couple of days, if he didn’t mention it, we didn’t order it!! Bread was average, except for delicious chocolate croissants, brought elegantly with other pastries in a wheeled, covered, silver cart each morning at breakfast. The “cart-guy” as we affectionately called him remembered on subsequent mornings not only what we liked, but our names as well. Great service touch. The pies and cakes were brought on board, prepared off-ship, and they tasted as such. Certainly not close to what we have experienced on other lines, and not the fun highlight of dinner. No one asked for seconds, or to “try” something else. If we ordered something else, it was because our original choice was not good. One of our group had the experience, in fact, of ordering “hot apple pie” and it was served still frozen! Unbelievable, but true!!
We ate in the Lido dining venue several times. Standard buffet fare for breakfast, interesting entrees for lunch, and dinner offered entrees appearing in the dining room. Most notable were a great salad bar, and the infamous ice cream/frozen yogurt bar. Long lines cued at lunch and dinner service for several different flavors, toppings and cookies.
There is also an outdoor grill for hot dogs and hamburgers, and the terrific Café Java where you can order a cappuccino, espresso, or coffee made fresh all day, free of charge.
Although we didn’t use it very much, the couple of times we used Room Service, it was quick and accurate. We were surprised at how extensive the room service menu was on Holland American compared to other lines we’ve sailed.
The main entertainment on our 7 night cruise consisted of 2 song-and-dance shows with the Maasdam cast. The cast was energetic and worked hard at the shows, however, the voices of the two lead singers left a lot to be desired and the choreography seemed to come straight out of a high school production. We’ve been spoiled on other lines with excellent voices and dancers and more sophisticated shows that what we viewed. The first night entertainer was a singing impersonator. With the exception of a fairly decent Louie Armstrong, this guy was just plain bad. He seemed to have a pretty good voice, don’t know why he just didn’t do himself?? Fortunately, we only had to endure him one night. Later in the week, however, there was a terrific ventriloquist, who was very funny in a slightly bawdy way, and an excellent magician/comic who had everyone quite well-entertained. First run movies were shown in-cabin and in the Wajang Theater, which was very comfortable. There were several good musical groups, performing in various bars and lounges. Also, there was music each night in the dining room, which made for very nice ambiance. The ship had a typical complement of activities, including lectures by the on-board naturalist, a representative of the local Native Americans (wonderful lecture), and a Forest Ranger who came on board in Glacier Bay National Park with a slide show.
Our ship sailed to Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, with a Forest Service narrated on-board day in Glacier Bay National Park. We understand we were very fortunate to have good, sunny weather most of the time, but did experience the Alaskan rain in Ketchikan, where they say it rains 80% of the days. It was pretty rough coming out of Vancouver where we hit gale force winds and had a pretty rocky ride for most of the first day at sea. The crew mentioned that it was the worst day they had experienced, but the green apples were everywhere ( they really work to get rid of the queasiness), and the sea-bands worked once more!! Our group pre-booked our tours over the internet from Holland American so we didn’t waste time in line on the ship. In Juneau, we had a sunny, beautiful day as my husband and I took the Whale and Wildlife Quest. This was a four hour catamaran tour where we saw a pod of Orcas, several humpback whale sightings, bald eagles, and sea lions. Very beautiful scenery and overall a good tour. Our friends booked the Mendenhall Glacier tour with a Salmon Bake. They enjoyed all very much. When we returned from the tour, we walked into Juneau from the pier, but were very disappointed. While the setting was beautiful, the town, close to the docks, is just another shopping opportunity. In Skagway, we all boarded the White Pass Scenic Railway for a narrow-gauge train ride following the route the gold-hunters followed a hundred years ago. The scenery, as in all Alaska, was just gorgeous, and again, we were fortunate to have a clear, bright day to view the gorges, mountains, and tundra. We took the train ride only one way ( sit on the left-hand side for the fantastic views) , and then had a bus ride back to the ship, with a stop at Liarsville, a recreated village on the exact site of a mining camp of the early 20th century. There was a show put on by the folks there, and we were able to try our hand at panning for gold. A little hokey, but interesting and fun, was the consensus. Skagway is a great town, similar to Silverton in Colorado, with the real look of pioneer days. Lots of good shopping here. We didn’t book any tour through the ship for Ketchikan, but rather bought tickets on the docks. for a city tour. We enjoyed the tour with it’s included visit to Saxman Village to see reproduced Totem poles. Even though these are replicas, they are fantastic. One caution, our “independent tour” ( read: non-cruise ship sponsored) did not include any entertainment ( tribal dance exhibition) at the Village longhouse, nor did it allow us to go inside the building at Saxman where they carved the totem poles. However, we were able to see the carving activity from a wall of windows at the back of the building, so we didn’t miss anything other than being able to ask questions of the carvers, etc. In Ketchikan, we ate lunch at the New York Café, near the docks, and enjoyed it very much. Like Skagway, it’s a picturesque town with pretty good shopping. One note: if you have time in Vancouver, travel across town, as we did after the cruise, to the campus of the University of British Columbia, where the Museum of Anthropology, holds a super collection of the original Totems. It’s an architecturally beautiful museum with many, many artifacts from cultures around the world on display.
We were genuinely surprised that we only heard a few words on tipping. During the debarkation talk, the cruise director (the terrific Sabrina Robison) read a brief statement that tipping was not required on the line. Envelopes were provided at the front desk, but there were no “guidelines”. We did tip our waiters and cabin stewards the amount we have normally tipped on other lines. We also tipped our terrific wine steward, who took very good care of us all week. On another note, no gratuity is added to the bar tab, either.
We enjoyed that fact that bags didn’t have to be in the hallway until 1 am. On our last night, we were able to enjoy dinner, and the last show without having to be rushed to have bags out of the cabin early. The debarkation was done quickly and efficiently.
After the cruise, we had a couple of days to enjoy Vancouver. One day we took an all-day Grayline tour to Victoria. We explored doing this on our own, but the logistics are not worth the hassle for the small difference in total cost. We enjoyed the day, had a very informative and funny bus driver, but about half of the time was traveling. It is about 40 minutes to the ferry terminal, 1 ½ hours each way on the ferry, (a great ride with beautiful views of small islands) and another 30 minutes from the ferry terminal into Victoria proper. We visited the beautiful Butchart Gardens ( 2-hour stop) , which was well worth the travel, but by the time we got to Victoria, we were ready for a rest!!! It is a lovely small city, with lots to do, so, if we had to do it again, we would book an overnight tour to Victoria, so we could enjoy more than the 2 ½ total hours we spent in the city. Long day, to say the least.
Overall, we enjoyed ourselves on land and sea, and would travel on Holland America again.