Age: 36 to 45
Number of Cruises: 3 to 5
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 1, 1999
We would do it again. (We will do it again! How about tomorrow, honey?)
Here are the details as best as I can remember:
SEATTLE AIRPORT & GETTING TO THE SHIP We booked our own air to Seattle, arriving a few days early to enjoy the sights. Early Sunday morning, we dropped off our rental car and headed towards the international luggage carousel at the Seattle (SEATAC) airport. All the cruise lines have a set up here and we waited to board our Gray Line bus, which would take us to our ship in Vancouver. We were given a rather nice "box lunch" and left our luggage with the Holland America representative right there in baggage claim. We did NOT have to schlepp our luggage to the ship. The next time we saw our luggage was in our stateroom. We did not make these arrangements in advance. It's just the way Holland America (HAL) does things. The bus trip was about 3 hours, and customs at the US/CANADA border was a snap. The driver went inside the building and came out with an agent and we were whisked on our way! I've never been through customs that quickly!
GETTING ON THE SHIP "Embarkation" was a breeze. Our ship was anchored in Canada Place. What a beautiful facility. On our cruise last year, we left from the Ballantyne Pier, down the street, so this was realy a special treat. There are many booths set up by the ground staff to check you in by cabin number. We waited only a few minutes to check in. We were given a bar-coded plastic card with our name and cabin number on it, and proceeded to the gangway. We "scanned" ourselves on board, the entryway was decorated with festive balloons, and were escorted to our cabin by a smiling staff member. Our luggage was waiting for us in our stateroom when we arrived. We left port on time. There was a sailaway party on the Navigation deck, aka Nav deck, with music, appetizers and cocktails. Lots of folks at the dock waving good-bye...just like the movies. HAL is much more organized and did the drill before sailaway hence we could truly enjoy ourselves.
THE STATEROOM Our stateroom, #029, was a large inside stateroom located on the Navigation (NAV) deck, which is located on level 10, right in the middle of the ship. We opted for an inside cabin this year, because it doesn't get dark until well after midnight in Alaska, and sunrise is about 4am. The bed is two twins joined, which is bigger than a queen size. There was ample storage space for everything. The suitcases fit under the beds. The bathroom had a temperature-controlled shower and vacuum-style toilet and that crazy looking hair dryer that reminds me of those dust busters with the long hose. The room steward kept everything immaculate throughout our stay. Once again our expectations were exceeded. Our beds were always made, even after an afternoon nap. At bedtime, they were turned down in quite a unique pattern with the good-night note, extra pillows and Dutch chocolate. Our every wish was anticipated. We always had fresh fruit in our stateroom as well as plenty of ice.
THE SHIP The Statendam is beautifully designed with delights for the eyes throughout. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we found delightful touches built in to the interior design everywhere. We enjoyed that Statendam is a smaller ship, compared to those "cities afloat" and the ambiance was charming. The Rotterdam dining room was magnificent, offering views of the water at every turn! The china , crystal and silver sparkled! The food was excellent, offering something for everyone! We often ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido restaurant. These buffets are efficient, and the food is very good! It was an especially good choice for breakfast on those mornings when we were in a hurry to get going to shore. There are 8 elevators, two buffet food displays, two dinner seatings in the Rotterdam dining room, two stage shows, and ample room everywhere.
"TIPPING NOT REQUIRED POLICY" Holland America leaves the option of tipping to the traveler, however, when deciding whether to tip or not, I think we should all put ourselves in the position of our attendants. If YOU had their job, and sometimes worked over 12 hours a day, don't you think that at least $3.50 per person per day would be called for? I would hope that anyone who has ever gone to a nice restaurant would give at least 15%, and $3.50 per day is certainly not excessive. Okay, I'm off my soap box.
THE PEOPLE It wasn't the "Newly Wed and the Nearly Dead" like we thought. I'd say about 20% were 35-55, 50% were "retirement" age, and the remaining 30% was a mix of kids, teens, and Singles. No one delayed anyone else in line or anywhere else for that matter because the ship wasn't crowded with only 1200 people aboard.
THE MONEY ON BOARD We gave the front desk our credit card and signed for everything purchased on board. This made buying "extras" like drinks, gifts, and shore excursions very easy. We didn't even have to settle up upon departure because we got a preliminary statement to review before disembarkation.
SHORE EXCURSIONS Many shore excursions are offered and everybody wants to be on the "best" one at the best price. We didn't hear any complaints from other cruise passengers regarding the shore excursions. I would say to follow your interests, in selecting your shore activities. Everything was easy. Nothing was crowded or "stressed."
After one night and one day at sea, which were filled with onboard activities, we landed at Ketchikan. Since we had been here last year, we decided not to take any of the arranged tours and simply shopped. All of Ketchikan's shops and points of interest are walkable from the ship as I remember. This is truly a shopping mecca, geared for the cruise line clientel.
Since we had taken a shore excursion last year to Juneau, we decided not to plan one this year. Instead, we got on the express bus to Mendenhall glacier. This particular operation is very efficiently run by MGT Tours. The Express bus leaves the dock every hour on the hour and from Mendenhall every hour on the half hour. The glacier had receeded 30 feet since last year, and we could tell the difference. The new Visitor's Center is now open, and the models, films and demonstrations are excellent! I would strongly recommend visiting Mendenhall if you're ever in Juneau. The unique thing about this glacier is that you can get within a quarter of a mile from the glacier--the closest that we've ever been!
Our next stop was Sitka. This is the main reason why we booked this particular cruise, as we wanted to see the "Russian Capital of Alaska" and visit the Russian Orthodox Church. It was beautiful. Prior to Sitka, we had beautifully clear skies, but in Sitka, we were blessed with a little "liquid sunshine" as the Alaskans call it. The drizzle wasn't bad at all. We had on our jackets, and were neither soaking nor cold. It was really quite beautiful since it was in such contrast to what we had experienced in Ketchikan and Juneau. The average temperatures throughout our trip was in the mid 40-50 range.
We booked a tour here of "historical Sitka and the Raptor Center". This is a good tour, and well worth the price. Our only wish was to have had more time at the raptor center. If any of you are looking for a non-profit organization to donate a few dollars to, this is the center. We saw many raptors (carnivorous birds with strong talons and sharp beaks) but the grandest of all, of course, was the American Bald Eagle. We were introduced to Volta, the resident and traveling eagle. He was quite beautiful. He came to the raptor center after he ran into a power line (thus the name, Volta) and had to have a portion of his wing amputated. He has lived at the center for 7 years, and is used extensively as an ambassador of good will and wonderful example of the things that the center accomplishes. He has traveled all over Alaska, making presentations at schools, and even at some schools outside Alaska. I guess you can tell that we really enjoyed this place.
Another GREAT place was a little restaurant called The Mad Greek Bistro. We decided to have one of the local gyros. It was offered on either pita or "Greek bread", and we opted for the bread. What a treat! The sandwich was huge, and we really should have shared one! The meat mixture was seasoned perfectly and was a little crisp on the outside. For all you Pepsi-holics like Don and me, you will be interested to know that Pepsi and not Coke is the drink of choice in most of the restaurants and vending machines in Alaska!
All towns were very walkable from the ship, except Valdez, where there was a free shuttle into town. Short stay, great place to stretch your legs. Not touristy. We took a historic boat tour of historic Valdez, and saw many more glaciers as well as the Alyeska Pipe Line and Refinery, which brings the crude oil from Fairbanks to the ships in Valdez, where they head out for comsumption. Remember the Exxon Valdez fiasco in 1989? Well, contrary to what Exxon would have you believe, the area is still undergoing problems with their natural resources as a result of that tanker running aground. They are still cleaning oil spillage in the area. On the positive side, they have increased security for the tankers and now each one is escorted into the Valdez area by two tugboats, which act as security not only for the tankers, but also help to protect another incident like the Exxon one happening again.
ACTIVITIES ON BOARD Each night we got a newsletter on our bed outlining the special programs, daily activities, dinner dress code, showtime headliners, sunrise and sunset times, locations of other HAL vessels, and shop specials. It was easy to plan the next day. We mostly carried the daily sheet with us and did whatever crossed our fancy at any given moment.
WHAT DID WE FORGET? The sun shined on all the snow-covered mountains at every stop. The scenery was picture-postcard perfect. Alaska is truly a beautiful state, and all the fiords and glaciers are breath-taking. You can't believe the quiet on deck as people stared out in awe of this magnificent experience! Holland America Line is an excellent cruise line, and our ship, the Statendam, exceeded our every expectation! From the staterooms to the food to the friendly people--we can't say enough. I couldn't help but think this would have been so much fun if you and your family could have joined us!