Number of Cruises: 15
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: May 6th, 2001
Itinerary: Back to back Alaska
This was a back to back cruise May 6-20,2001 on the HAL Statendam Vancouver-Seward-Vancouver. Overall this was my 14th and 15th cruises, and 5th and6th to Alaska. This was also my first trip on Holland America. after others on Princess, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
As is my normal policy I flew up to Vancouver from my home in the San Francisco Bay area early, in this case to visit with some Internet friends over in Victoria. I arrived late Friday night and took a free shuttle over to the Travelodge Hotel in Richmond near the Vancouver airport. Standard room but all I was looking for was a place to sleep for the night. In the morning I flew over on the very short flight to Victoria and met up with my friends for a nice personal tour. After a short stop to drop off the luggage we were off to explore. First stop was the beautiful Butchart Gardens and a nice stroll through the flowers. After this we drove downtown for a nice lunch and a walk around the downtown. This area has lots to see with the Empress Hotel, numerous museums and Government buildings. After a nice dinner and evening I went to sleep with my my bed turned down and a chocolate on the pillow. Very nice way to get into the cruise life! In the morning we all took the ferry ride across to Vancouver and I was driven directly to Canada Place to meet the Statendam.
On all my documents this was listed as 3pm with a sailing time of 5pm. From experience I knew this had to start earlier and we arrived a little after noon. Bags were given to the porters at curbside and I walked directly in with no wait. Check-in line was very short with numerous booths open and after maybe a 5 minute wait it was my turn for processing. This paperwork check lasted another 5 minutes and I was done. Actual boarding started about 1/2 hour later promptly at 1pm and I was aboard. Overall a fairly quick and painless process.
I was in cabin A760, an outside on the lowest passenger deck, left side amidships. Pretty standard cabin layout with one queen size bed and a small couch. Two end tables, a desk and bureau with 6 drawers. 4 closets with one containing shelves and the safe. One thing I did not like was that you had to carry your HAL ID card, the cabin key card and another key card for the safe. Most of the newer ships combine all three into one unit. Bathroom was decent size with a bathtub instead of just a shower. Personally I would have preferred just the shower as the sides of the tub were very high and hard to climb over. I'm sure that some people found this very hard to get in and out of. Cabin was adequate but not anything huge, and not noticeably larger than other lines.
I was assigned to late seating and upon boarding went to the desk set up to handle changes. I made my request and was told they would check into it but that they were full. The next morning I did receive the change to early seating which I had requested. On one of the later nights of the first week I was asked my preference for the second week and was assigned early seating right from the start. Because of tours and my schedule I actually never ate in the main dining room the second week, instead eating at the casual Lido dinner nightly. I found the food overall to be OK but below that on both Celebrity and Princess. No real complaints but nothing exceptional. I did like the convenience of the causal dining but this was only open a relatively short time each night, generally 6:15pm-7:45pm. I also found the setup a little awkward. Food was set up in a buffet line where you picked you items and the tables were set with tablecloths and full silverware/glassware. This looked nice but when you went to your seat with a full tray you could not set it down on the table immediately but had to unload each item onto the table. I like the Princess setup better where you actually order and they serve the different courses just like the dining room, but will admit this way was much faster. Really just a buffer with fancy tablecloths.
There was a hamburger/ hot dog bar setup daily for lunch. along with a taco bar. I did like this but they must not eat many tacos in Holland as the individual items were never set up in the correct order to make your taco easily. Much confusion resulted as you moved back and forth along the items and really slowed down the line. Pizza was available daily but I was not very impressed and skipped it most days. On Princess this is one of my favorite items so I was a little disappointed.
Breakfast was pretty standard fare, I did enjoy the omelet bar and the French toast almost every day. One thing that was very popular was the free Ice Cream bar daily. Several flavors were offered along with different toppings and cookies. I will admit to visiting this more often that I should have. LOL
As this was my 5th time up to Alaska I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do in each port. I did not book any tours through HAL but the ones offered were pretty standard for the industry. Pricing was average but can generally be beat on your own. Although I did not do it this trip I highly recommend either a helicopter or floatplane trip somewhere along the line, preferably out of Juneau.
On both visits I just wandered around town, taking the walking tour available from the visitor center on then dock. Creek Street is a very nice area to wander around but other than shops there is really not much to do in the downtown area. personally this is not one of my favorite ports.
Now this is a port that offers numerous things to see and do and usually you have a lot of time to use. First stop we had a pretty rainy day and I'm sure that most flight-seeing tours were cancelled. I took a tour to the Mendenhall Glacier for $20 purchased on the dock from Mendehall Glacier Transport. Our driver Stewart was great and we stopped at the Chapel by the Lake along with the Glacier. His commentary along the way was hilarious, he gave opinions on almost every subject. Highly recommended and about 1/2 the price as the same tour aboard the ship. Rest of the day was spent wandering around town trying to stay dry. On the trip back southbound we had much better weather and now wish that I had tried to take a flight-seeing tour as it would have been a great day for it. Instead I took the local bus for $1.25 down to the local shopping area for a nice ride. This can be taken to the Mendenhall but drops you off approx. 1 1/4 miles from the visitor center. This would be a cheap option and the way to go on a nice day to see the Glacier at your own pace. In the afternoon I rode the Mt Roberts tram as I wanted to see the snow up top. People that had visited on my northbound stop said they had a full blown blizzard at the top that day. I had a beautiful sunny day and hiked for a short distance through the snow for some nice views. This is a nice short excursion but would not recommend purchasing this thru the ship. Price is the same dockside and you can wait to see if you actually have a sunny day and will be able to see anything before spending the money.
Both days here I had so-so weather, periods of sun and rain. Heard some good things about the wildlife tours but just walked around myself. Be sure and head down to the Totem Park to the right of the dock area, this is about a 1 1/2 mile walk one-way. There is a nice trail thru the woods with some good views of your ship anchored in the harbor. About another 1/2 mile away is the Raptor center, another nice place to visit. On the way back there is a small grocery store which is a good place to stock up on beverages.
On both visits I had perfect weather, gorgeous blue skies and no rain. On all my previous visits it had rained here and while still very nice was not nearly as impressive. On the first visit we saw lots of calving with one huge section coming down, VERY impressive, created a nice wave headed towards the ship which really got us rocking. Several Officers said they had never seen such a large piece fall before. This was a very nice day but I was always amazed at how everyone would disappear as soon as the ship turned around. Both visits I relaxed on a lounge chair on the stern deck out of the wind and watched us sail back down the bay ALONE on the rear deck. Very nice way to spend some time.
This is one of my favorite spots and it was very impressive. What was not so nice was that the bay was still clogged with ice and we could not approach the Glacier face closer than about 8 miles. On previous visits I had sailed right up to the face but could see why we could not get closer this time. Even one of the smaller expedition ships only went in a little past where we were. Trip northbound we stopped about 6-9pm and had the sun behind us. On the southbound trip we arrived around 6-9am and were looking directly into the sun which made a very bad photo opportunity. Again still a nice stop.
As I was sailing back to back this was a port day for me not disembarkation as for most of the other passengers. I had booked a tour over the Internet with www.kenaifjords.com and it turned out to be perfect day weather wise. I took the Kenai Fjords Fox Island tour and cost was $119 for an 8/12 tour with a Salmon Bake on Fox Island. This was a fantastic day with about 20 of us on a tour boat that would hold approx. 150. Visibility was almost unlimited as we could see the mountain range on the other side of the Gulf clearly 80+ miles away. We visited many different bays in search of wildlife and saw whales, seals, mountain goats and bears. While stopped at a glacier to watch calving we heard a rumble behind us and turned around to see an
avalanche coming down the mountain side into the bay. Awesome! This is also highly recommended but most people don't get a chance to see any of Seward at all.
Back to Back
This was my first time sailing two cruises back to back and was an interesting experience. It sure gives you a feeling of power at the end of the first week to ignore the disembarkation talk and packing and just enjoy the day. Even better was the turnaround day when I just ignored waiting for a group to get called to disembark and just walked off the ship! Also fun was during the second week to get invited to the repeaters party and get some free goodies. The second week was very relaxing and was spend on my schedule, catching up on the shows and movies that I had missed the first week. I was a little surprised at how few passengers there were with lots of time aboard HAL as it was my impression that there would be many more. There were 4 couples that had 300+ days and 8 with 100+ days aboard the second week. While this was my first cruise with HAL I've got almost 150 total, most with Princess. Other cruises I've been on the passengers with the most sea days have been in the thousands and there have been many more in the 100+ group. Not sure if it was the itinerary or the time of year that caused the, at least to me, low total of repeaters.
This turned out to also be a fairly well organized process. The night before I had requested to move into a lower group from my assigned #22 to get to the airport and try and switch to an earlier flight home. My new group was #12 and of course the next morning they called #22 about 15 minutes before #12! In any case I was off the ship by 9:30am and to the airport by 10:00am. No complaints here.
This turned out about what I had expected. The first couple of days were rainy, the middle week sunny and the last couple rain again. Temps were mostly on the mid 40's with the high about 50 in Seward. Dress in layers if you plan on being on deck as it can get pretty cold with the wind. I bring a ski type cap, gloves and a scarf.
I thought that the Statendam was a very well laid out ship, with lots of outside viewing areas both in the bow and stern. Numerous lounges to sit quietly and read or just enjoy the scenery. The dining room was very impressive with a great view through large windows from my second floor stern location. Was not real impressed with the entertainment, in this matter I prefer the quality and choice on Princess.
On the ship Internet access was .75 cents a minute with the first 5 minutes free, In Ketchikan I found a place called Soapy's Stations that offered a 50 minute card for $5. They are located to the far left of the ship dock in Ketchikan, past Tongass Trading and at the far side of the next small shop area. In Juneau they are downtown, just past the Alaska Fudge store in the small mall on the second floor. Very easy to use a and a pretty good deal.
Overall a nice cruise, 14 days away from work can be very relaxing. Alaska is one of my favorite places to cruise as 6 trips will attest. I find the scenery just awesome to look at and it looks different each trip depending on weather conditions. Personally I recommend sailing Northbound as the scenery gets more impressive as you go. I did like Holland America but think I still prefer Princess first followed by Celebrity. In any case make sure to put a trip up here on your list of things to do.