Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Alaska Inside Passage
We are a couple in our fifties from New Zealand – my husband is a professor and I’m a university manager. This was our first cruise, taken while visiting relatives in Vancouver. We’d always wanted to visit Alaska and had heard that a cruise was the best way to see it. We also thought that the Inside Passage would be a good cruise to start with so we could see if we enjoyed cruising and didn’t get seasick – we didn’t and we loved the cruise.
We’d seen the Zaandam in port the Saturday before and were thrilled to think we would be boarding her the following week. On the day, a relative took us to the cruise terminal at 12.30pm and we found the signs easy to follow. We were dropped off right at the curbside in front of the Holland America check in where baggage handlers were waiting to take all of our baggage, including our carry on bags. It was all so very quick and simple. We were directed to the (very short) line for immigration. I’d completed and printed our immigration forms on the web. We hadn’t been sure what to put down about our visas as we wouldn’t get them until we entered the USA so we left that blank which was fine. They took our forms and passports with the visas and everything was done instantly. Another very short queue, a hygienic hand wash and we were welcomed on board. We were directed to the Lido deck and very shortly were enjoying lunch sitting overlooking Stanley Park and the floatplanes landing and taking off in the afternoon sunshine. At 1.30pm there was an announcement that cabins were available so off we went. Only one of our bags was there so we went off to explore. We found most things that day although must admit that it took two more days before we located the Crows Nest. Back to our cabin to unpack once the bags had arrived. That done, we went up on deck, got a rum punch and went up to the Sun Deck to relax while we sailed out under the Lion Gate Bridge. Now to the various aspects of the cruise:
We found our stateroom to be quite roomy with a small two-seater sofa, a footstool, desk and chair plus TV. The bed was what we New Zealanders call a king size – made up with good quality sheets. Rubber mats were laid out on the bed for our suitcases to sit on while unpacking and we later stored them under the bed with the cases. There was plenty of room for everything we’d bought - several cupboards with hanging space plus shelves and drawers in the desk. I loved being able to unpack completely and put everything where I could find it all easily. The bathroom was compact but very useable with a short bath but we prefer to shower anyway, a clothes line to draw over the bath, and a mirrored cabinet with shelves to store everything away. Our steward, Yuli, was marvelous; always so cheerful and friendly and yet so unobtrusive. We don’t how he always knew when we were out to make up the stateroom as we never saw him but it was always done when we came back.
We’d read so much about eating on cruises that we were prepared for the wide choice but reviews varied as to the quality. I love food and cooking so was keen to see if it would be good which it mostly was in the dining room although we weren’t very impressed with the Lido buffet. We chose the last dinner sitting at a large table and enjoyed chatting to the others. Unfortunately our dining steward was nowhere as good as Yuli. He often muddled the orders and communication wasn’t easy. However we shrugged and enjoyed ourselves anyway. The quality of the food was excellent and well presented. We thought the size of the servings was often very small though occasionally quite large. The first night we weren’t sure we could manage all the courses so left one out but we quickly discovered it was best to have them all. In fact, we liked to order the cheese plate as well as well dessert some nights which confused our steward. I also sometimes ordered icecream as well as my dessert if it was a small one – you could see some of the desserts on display as you went into the upper floor of the dining room and the size did vary. On the second formal night our whole table asked for an extra lobster tail each which confused the steward considerably. He finally did arrange for another entrée plate for most of the table but only one extra for us which my husband and I shared. We were also disappointed with the baked alaska that night – the parade of them round the two floors of the dining room was spectacular but by the time we were served, we only got a tiny portion and he forgot to give us any of the cherry sauce. He finally served a spoonful which was excellent and we were sorry not to have been able to enjoy it properly.
We did enjoy the free dining night in Juneau when we sat in a different spot at the stern downstairs in the dining room and watch the ship leave. It was fun to talk to some different passengers, something we also enjoyed when we had breakfast or lunch in the dining room when you would be taken to any table. This we did quite often particularly for lunch as we found the dining room food to be much superior to that at the Lido buffet. We usually had breakfast at the Lido as my husband preferred the freedom of choice there. He tried the made to order omelets while I stuck to my pancakes and found that the server very quickly recognized me and was ready for my usual order. We found the lunch food to be all right but not very exciting. The fish was usually nice and I liked the soups. But the food was much better in the dining room. We never tried the pizza or taco stall as there just wasn’t enough time to try everything. I did love the ice cream bar though and my only disappointment was that it closed from 5pm to 6.30pm. Not sure why as people on the late dining sittings were still swimming etc in the late afternoon and an ice cream would have been welcome. In fact they started closing it down before 5pm by taking away the sauces etc which I found annoying.
We just couldn’t manage all the meals offered (I gained four pounds in the week anyway) so we missed out lunch on the days when the Dutch High Tea and the Dessert Extravaganza were served. And we never managed the late night buffets – just not possible after the late dinner sitting. We did like the selection of chocolates in the Explorers lounge after dinner and the appetizers that seemed to be randomly served in the Ocean Bar before dinner – maybe we should have just asked for them instead of waiting for them to be offered.
Swimming pool and whirlpools
We enjoyed swimming in the pool and especially the whirlpools which were lovely. Our only complaint was the whirlpools were closed far too early. We like to have one at night before going to bed which wasn’t possible.
Shows and entertainment
We hadn’t intended to go to many of the shows as they’re not really our thing but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the comedian and magician shows. The singing and dancing shows weren’t so much to our taste although we sat through one which was quite pleasant but not outstanding. The other one didn’t appeal so we left early. We found the long lines for the Captain’s reception to be frustrating especially as we weren’t interested in having our photo taken. However we discovered we could bypass the line and go straight in by the other door. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had a glass of champagne at all before it was time for dinner.
We did enjoy dancing in the Crows Nest after dinner and the entertainment in the Piano and Ocean bars before and after dinner. We also very much enjoyed the classical music played live in the dining room and the Explorers lounge. I went to one movie on our last day when the weather outside was poor and found the cinema to be great – with the free popcorn. We liked reading in one of the lounges (particularly the Explorers lounge) in our free time or in the library which had very comfortable desks looking out onto the ocean. Very spectacular on our last day when there was a storm. But although the wind was blowing a gale outside, the ship was so stable that you just couldn’t feel it inside. My husband was particularly impressed with the fine art works throughout the ship and we made a point of exploring all the decks to see it all.
Our first stop was Juneau where there was misty rain. We’d booked the trip to the Mendenhall Glacier and the Whales and Wildlife cruise on Lake Auke. Both were wonderful and despite the rain we saw everything we were hoping for. There’s a refund on the boat trip if you don’t see a whale. Well, that was gone after 20 minutes when they took us to see a male orca. Later it was four humpback whales together along with seals, a porpoise and at the end, two bald eagles on a tree by the shore. We were so close we could see them with the naked eye and saw every detail through our binoculars.
The next day the weather was fine and sunny. We liked Skagway very much and wandered around the shops in the morning. We later discovered the prices in Skagway were much better than in Ketchikan. I bought a little handpainted Russian box for less than a third of the price on the same box in Ketchikan. We found an internet café with much more reasonable rates than the exorbitant on board charges so sent off an email to family back home. After lunch we took the White Pass railway to the Yukon. This was truly spectacular and well worth going on. Though, as it was so late in the season, I don’t think it was necessary to have pre-booked it and I’m sure we would have saved some money had we waited and bought a ticket at the train. That might have been safer too as had it been raining and misty the same as the day before, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. As it was the views were absolutely fantastic and we loved every minute. We also appreciated the bottled water and the informative guide book given out. Afterwards I went back to the ship while my husband went for a hike. From the photos he brought back, there were obviously some beautiful areas to explore.
This was a day we will always remember. We were so lucky as it was a glorious fine day and there literally wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day. We spent nearly all day out on deck as we cruised up and down inlets to see the glaciers. It was a bit cold at first but the coffee, hot chocolate and green pea soup served on deck were a great touch. We spent two hours up on the bow as we sailed closer and closer to the Johns Hopkins glacier which was the most spectacular one. In fact we were lucky to see as it had been closed it to cruise ships from 1 May to 1 Sept to protect the harbour seals whose numbers were declining so we were one of the first cruises allowed back in.
As it’s very active and still advancing whereas most are receding, we got to see it calving several times – mostly when we up very close to it. It was really incredible as you hear the ice crack and a great chunk of the glacier drops with a roar into the sea. They call it “white thunder” and it was fantastic, especially with the snow capped mountains behind it against a bright blue sky. We also saw lots of harbour seals on the icebergs in the inlet. And later we saw several humpback whales from the Lido deck including two breaching. As I was sitting reading, I kept glancing up to see whales rising up out of the water literally below me. We lost count of the number of whales we saw on the trip. There were park rangers on the ship who gave lots of information over the PA system. This plus the informative map and brochure left in our cabin the night before gave us so much useful information. We went to the Rangers’ wildlife presentation in the afternoon, which was excellent and quite inspiring. We bought one of the books they were selling with beautiful photographs making it a great souvenir of the day. Later we watched them being disembarked down a short rope ladder into their pick up launch as the ship doesn’t stop to pick them up or unload them. Our day in Glacier Bay was a highlight we’ll never forget.
We weren’t as impressed with Ketchikan as we’d been with Skagway. We found it touristy and the shops were very dear. We did buy a pretty amber pin for me at a reasonable price but the Russian goods were very expensive. We walked through Creek St and took the free funicular up to the hotel where there were good view. Again we used an internet café in the town rather than on board– there was one just by the dock.
This was a breeze. As we weren’t leaving Vancover until the following day, we didn’t need to be up early to make a connection. So we were able to have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido buffet and then sit comfortably in the Explorers Lounge until we were called at 9.30am. On our way out, we looked for the lines but there just weren’t any. We found our baggage easily and were amazed at how well run it all was.
Firstly we loved cruising and will happily go again. We though HAL offered just what we wanted with style and comfort. Our only gripes were small ones as detailed above with some services being closed at times. The cabin was great and overall the ship was impressive and comfortable. The food in the dining room was good on the hole although the desserts were sometimes disappointing. Poor service from our waiter didn’t help. Food in the Lido was fine for breakfast but not great at other times. The sights we saw were spectacular and we would recommend cruising to Alaska to anyone.