Occupation:Cruise Travel Agent
Number of Cruises: 20
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 9th, 2006
We recently returned from our Alaska cruise on the Ryndam from Seward to Vancouver. My wife and I both thought it compared very well with our Crystal Serenity Mediterranean cruise last October. Though she’ll still give the nod to Serenity, we had a wonderful time and were very impressed by the Ryndam and her staff.
We are cruise travel agents in our 40’s and have been on many cruises but, for a variety of reasons, this was our first Holland America Line cruise. We enjoyed the smaller ship size and smaller crowds, but the ship still had plenty of room and large ship amenities. A spacious ocean view cabin, friendly helpful service, mostly excellent food, wonderful ship facilities, very good entertainment and an outstanding Club HAL experience for our 6 year old son all contributed to a great cruise experience. And, of course, the landscape and wildlife of Alaska also played major roles in our enjoyment.
I would like to touch on several of the details that HAL got right and added so positively to the mix. The Indonesian and Filipino staff, especially our wait team of Chandra and Herry, were always looking to please. Our dining room experience was really good. There were many outstanding dishes during the week. The breakfast and lunch buffets had a wide variety of fresh and tasty foods. I especially enjoyed the fresh squeezed orange juice in the Lido buffet. We even were able to order it from room service a couple of mornings as well as asking for hot items not listed on the room service menu. The excellent Lido pool was usually covered except for a couple of very nice days and contained fresh water heated to a very pleasant 80 degrees. My son and I used it quite often. We saw several shows in the Vermeer Lounge and two of them were excellent. “Club Nevada” was maybe the best revue we’ve seen on a ship. The cast was outstanding, with singers equal to the best we’ve seen in Broadway shows, Vegas, you name it. They were great! Jim Curry and his wife performed a John Denver tribute show and that was great fun too. People of all ages knew the words and could sing along! As reported by many, Explorations Café is a wonderful spot to relax, read, play a game, do a puzzle, search the Web or listen to music. It would be an even bigger asset on longer cruises. We were able to get really close to glaciers in College Fjord and Glacier Bay and saw some nice calving. Thanks captain. Both these spots are much better than Tracy Arm and trying to see Sawyer Glacier from miles away. Debarkation was our best ever as we chose the “Leave early with all your luggage” option. We literally walked off and through customs and on into a waiting taxi, arriving at YVR at 8:45am in plenty of time for our 11am flight.
We did some wonderful excursions booked on our own. The train from Anchorage to Seward was very scenic but long, and requires a 5:45am check-in. Kenai Fjords Tours National Park boat tour was great. We saw Aialik Glacier up close as well as wildlife sightings of a black bear on a nearby beach that we watched for several minutes. Then we saw humpback whales, Stellar sea lions, puffins and a fantastic encounter with several Dall’s porpoises. Black and white like orcas but the size of dolphins, they came right next to our boat to explore and ride the bow wave. It was very exciting. We also did a Coastal Helicopters glacier landing in Juneau and a Seawind Aviation floatplane to Misty Fjords in Ketchikan. Both were outstanding experiences. Yes, they’re pricey but if people don’t do some of these excursions they’re really missing out on amazing Alaska scenic adventures and wildlife. On our floatplane we spotted 5 black bears on several mountain tops as well as landing next to a spot where the salmon were literally jumping out of the water. In sleepy Haines we rented a car and drove around to see eagles and Chilkoot Lake. The bears and salmon were hiding. The bears come out in the late afternoon/evening and I thought sure the salmon would be running by the middle of July. They weren’t. But on our last evening at sea, inside Vancouver Island we spotted several groups of orca making their way north. We didn’t want this cruise to end.
Our only major criticism concerned the way the Lido buffet was organized. It had two main lines that you had to stand in endlessly no matter what you wanted. It was old fashioned, inefficient and frustrating. Who wants to stand in line for 20 minutes for lunch? Most cruise lines have gone to stations where you just grab what you want and move on or they have several larger stations with separate, shorter lines. This buffet was more crowded than ships with 3000 passengers.
A final compliment to HAL. On the last day we were mysteriously invited to a Q&A where the Hotel Director, Cruise Director, Excursion Director, etc. asked for our opinions about the cruise. There were 8-10 of us and some were TAs and some were regular passengers. We talked and they mostly listened and even took notes. I’ve always thought the cruise lines should listen to us TAs more because we cruise many lines and can readily compare lines and ships better than most industry execs. Finally somebody listened! Thanks HAL. We’ll be back.