Ted K. Wade
Occupation:Oracle Database Administrator
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 8th, 2001
Itinerary: Southbound Seward - Vancouver
If any of you have read my review of the Ryndam , you may remember that I said I would probably not take the same Alaskan cruise again, even though we were very happy with it. However, cruising someplace without heat and humidity in July were our primary drivers, so we headed for Alaska again (Europe was just too expensive).
This year we flew to Anchorage a few days early and visited Hatcher Pass, a pretty area near Wasilla (60 miles N of Anchorage). Beautiful views and really good food is available from the Hatcher Pass Lodge restaurant. We were on our way to Denali, so we did not pan for gold. Maybe next time.
Wildlife viewing is always better in Denali in the early and late hours, so we got on the bus for the 5:30 am tour to the Eielson visitor center. The mountain hid behind clouds, almost cleared, then disappeared again while we were at Eielson. It's not an easy thing to see this beast, though I've done it on a few occasions.
During the trip we spotted 4 or 5 grizzlies, some caribou, and some wolves. One of them was a rare black wolf. Moose were taking the day off, but the scenery was beautiful as always. Denali is what keeps me coming back to Alaska year after year, but I really believe that fall is the best time. Moose are plentiful around the road then, and the colors are unbelievable. A couple of years ago I was fortunate to be picked in the annual road lottery, where for 1 day you are allowed to drive your car the length of the road. It was the best day I ever spent in the park. Last year I entered but wasn't picked, but the weather was so bad then even the winners weren't allowed in.
We left Denali, heading for Seward. This year instead of riding the Holland America bus, we rented a car and dropped it in Seward. It's not cheap, but it does add some flexibility. We spent the day before the cruise taking a tour of breathtaking Kenai Fjords National Park. Orca and humpback whales were romping, and plenty of puffins were flying (bowling balls with wings), swimming, and sitting in their nests. They never spend enough time with the puffins, but we did have time to stop on Fox Island for lunch, which was good. They did rush us though, allowing only 45 minutes to eat and sightsee. Holgate glacier was very impressive, though it is rapidly receding.
We enjoyed a couple of excellent meals at Ray's in Seward (blackened salmon, halibut & chips, etc), and decided to eat at the Crab Pot after our Kenai Fjords cruise. They were pushing whole Alaskan King Crabs, which we tried. Skip the chowder at the Crab Pot, but they do a great job with crab, even bringing the live crab to our table before cooking it. It was excellent, but expensive.
I've been visiting Alaska every year since 1992, and I've watched a lot of ships dock there. I used to see the Noordam and the Nieuw Amsterdam, and wonder why anyone would get on those boats. Several years ago I saw a Holland America ship that I wanted to sail, a beautiful ship called Statendam. This year we sailed her. The Statendam is the oldest ship of her class, the third oldest in the HAL fleet and it shows a bit. We had a hard time getting our cabin door to open. I reported it, and it worked a little better, but still was a pain. Elevators were slow or sometimes out of service. Once I got in an elevator with absolutely no lights, but they came on after stopping at 3 floors. While sailing out of Glacier Bay, the ship listed to the port side for several hours, so I asked someone at the front desk what was going on. They said "we must be making a turn". I laughed and walked away. About an hour later the ship righted itself.
The Statendam crew was quite a bit more standoffish than the Ryndam, though this was not true in the dining room, where the food was better than the Ryndam, and service was excellent. Leading the way was our old Dining Supervisor Ketut Sumatra, who was on the Ryndam last year. Ketut, a 20 year HAL veteran, makes you feel like a King, and fills in to make sure the service stays at a very high level when the waiters and assistant waiters get busy. We were delighted to see him and highly recommend him. He also makes wonderful flambé. Our waiter Alih, and wine steward Dante were also top professionals.
Food on the Statendam was even better than the Ryndam, and even their salads were quite good. Soups still could use some improvement. Our favorite entrees included pan-fried sole and halibut, potato crusted salmon, and steaks. The only complaints we had was the Dutch lunch in the Lido, which was dreadful, and some of the breakfast foods in the Rotterdam dining room. One other thing to avoid is their pizza - I don't want green peas and cauliflower on my pizza! We tried room service for breakfast one day, and it worked well. Just leave your breakfast selections on your front door the night before, and it's delivered on schedule the next morning.
The weather this year was almost exactly opposite of last year, but the only really rainy place was Ketchikan. College fjord and Glacier Bay were marvelous days. In Sitka, I took a semi-submarine tour that was pretty good. You are seated in the bottom of a boat where you are below the water level. You get a good view of some spectacular starfish, jellyfish, kelp and crabs. On the way back to the dock, we all went upstairs and got to see a little more of Sitka.
We signed up for the trolley in Juneau, which turned out to be a rip-off - $12.50 each to go a few miles, but it did take us to the local museum, which was well worth the $5 admission. Since it was raining, we didn't do too much else there but shop. Some of those Russian lacquer boxes are really nice, but I'm not paying $900 or more for a little box!
Heavy rain greeted us in Ketchikan, so I spent some time in Soapy's on the internet for 10 cents a minute (on board it's 75 cents). We then went to the local lumberjack show that was pretty good. They have bleachers that are heated and covered, which is necessary for Ketchikan. The show was padded with fluff, but there were still some good moments. During the show the rain stopped, but they were still unable to do the pole-climbing event, because the poles were too wet. I did enjoy the log rolling contests and some of the other stunts. I thought $29 was a bit high, but that's what it cost.
We felt short changed on our shore excursions. We had our excellent travel agent Christina (AAA Houston - Copperfield) request the late seating for dinner, and it showed up as confirmed on our tickets, but we received the early seating assignment on board. We saw Ketut on the first evening when seating is open, and found out we were booked in his section, so we didn't fight it. We were thrilled to have him, but we still wish we could have had the late seating. Since the stay in Ketchikan is only from 11-6, it sure is tough to do much, and still be ready for formal night at 5:45.
We participated a bit more in Passport to Fitness this year. This part of the cruise needs work. The leaders of some of the events, like miniature golf and ring toss were disorganized, and in some cases indifferent. It's true these are somewhat mindless activities, but the Ryndam crew made everything seem special. Not so here. The Captain kept his distance, though he was quite pleasant at the Mariner reception. We did prefer the cruise director on the Statendam to the Ryndam's, but the rest of the staff (except for dining room and cabin stewards) was disappointing.
Evening entertainment was also lacking, much below what it was on the Ryndam. A comedian who emulated television preachers was fair, and some of the Statendam cast numbers were ok, but HAL clearly needs to improve in this area. The selection of movies in the theatre was decent, and we attended one. 20 minutes before the end of the movie, the projector light burned out, and the movie was stopped since they did not have any replacements. In Sitka they bought a new 36” television and loaded it on the tender with me. Clearly maintenance on the Statendam could be improved.
I visited with a number of our fellow passengers about their previous cruising experiences. They were very strong advocates of Holland America. One had recently completed a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, then the largest ship, and said the food was awful, but it was a really cool ship. I like smaller ships and quality food, so I'm sticking with HAL for my next cruise!