Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 29th, 2002
Itinerary: Inside Passage Alaska
We flew into Vancouver two days before the cruise and toured the city --all fourteen of us. It was a great time. It rained the whole time we were there, but that didn’t slow us down. We took the trolley around Vancouver, which was a nice way to get Grandma out and about. It was a little expensive at about $25 a head, but a super way to see a lot in a limited amount of time. We arrived early on Saturday afternoon (about 1PM) at the dock. The crowds were already gathering, and they began boarding passengers around 2PM. Boarding was very smooth, as we were among the first to board.
We had four quad rooms for our group. The quads were quite small, especially with six large, teen-age boys. However, the cost of taking fourteen people on a cruise would be prohibitive, otherwise. We spent so little time in our rooms, that it didn’t bother us. The space was most problematic when we were dressing for the formal dinners. On those evenings my daughter and I got dressed early. We knew that the men would arrive at the last minute, ornery and expecting space to spread out. The storage space was fairly ample, considering that we brought a lot of clothing --anticipating the Alaska weather conditions, formal and semi-formal wear for all family members--quite a load.
The food on the Zaandam was a bit of a disappointment. We are not terribly fussy eaters, but found it to be average institutional quality, with above average presentation. We weren’t tempted to over-eat, and didn’t gain weight. The service was very good. The atmosphere in the dining room was excellent. My kids thought the food was fine, and loved the buffet.
A word of caution---My daughter and two other young teenage girls were approached by a worker in the Lido Restaurant. He offered to show the girls around the ship. Being very young, and inexperienced, they believed he was going to give them a ship tour and accompanied him. He took them into a Staff Only area and asked them their names, ages and cabin numbers. My daughter felt that something was amiss, didn’t give him her cabin number, came back and talked to me. The other girls innocently gave him the information. At a ship-sponsored teen event called Club Hal, the girls were jabbering about this guy. Evidently he called a couple of them on the phones in their cabins and asked them out. To make a long story short, authorities were contacted and he was put off the ship in Skagway. Holland America has very strict rules about this type of behavior. However, young girls need to be alert, because there are no guarantees! I was very impressed with the officer in charge of ship security. I found this incident very frightening.
We felt that the entertainment was very good--especially the ventriloquist. We went to almost all the movies and ate the popcorn. Our kids went to all the Club Hal sponsored activities, and met the other teens on the ship. There were only about one hundred kids on the ship that week, so the teenagers got pretty well acquainted. Things closed down by midnight, which was fine with us. It forced the kids to get a good night’s rest. The whole family made good use of the exercise facilities. The gym staff continuously kicked my fifteen-year-old daughter out of the gym. She is a three-sport letter winner and knows more about the exercise and weight equipment than most of the passengers. This was a source of frustration to her, because she was trying to stay in shape for her ski training group at home. Finally, my husband and the gym director came to an understanding regarding our daughter, allowing her to use of some of the equipment. We felt positive about his flexibility with the situation and thought he was very nice.
The crowd on the ship was older and quite dignified. There was not a lot of drinking or loud partying. We appreciated the crowd, and the fact that our kids were not exposed to wild partying behavior.
The ship made stops at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. At Juneau we caught a school bus tour to the Mendenhall Glacier for $5.00 a person. We hiked the 3 1/2-mile trail around the glacier in the rain. The trail was very steep and rocky. Grandma stayed in the visitor’s center. This trail is only appropriate for fairly fit hikers. Most of us wore sneakers, which was somewhat unsafe in the rain. At Skagway we took the White Pass/ Yukon Route train ride, our only cruise-sponsored shore excursion. It was wonderful, although over-cast and rainy. The ship spent a day cruising Glacier Bay National Park. The ship’s photographer took a wonderful photo of the boys dripping in their swim trunks on the deck in front of the glacier. Ketchikan was our least favorite stop (on the Fourth of July). The crowds were terrible. We should have gotten out of town, because the town itself was full of crowded souvenir shops.
A highlight for Grandma was all the family photos. We made appointments to have large group formal and informal portraits, which turned out quite nice. The families got great individual family portraits, too. The Christmas card pictures are ready to go, which made the trip worthwhile!
Over-all, we felt the crowd was more casual on the Alaska cruise than the Caribbean cruises. People dressed in layers and wore rain jackets all week. We saw lots of jeans, tennis shoes and sweatshirts. Perhaps, because passengers had to pack a larger quantity of casual clothing, they left some of the fussy formal-wear at home. For whatever reason, we all agreed that it seemed more casual.
One more note--our room steward was excellent. The whole family agreed that he was the best employee on the ship. Everyone enjoyed the trip. The kids want to do it again. Although they hate being seen with their parents, they’ll put up with us if we take the whole gang on another cruise.
The tipping is very confusing on Holland American. I worried a lot about the tips at the end of the cruise. A tipping guideline would be helpful.
I think that we would do Holland America again, because the size of the ship suits Grandma--no mega-ships for Grandma. We would also be open to trying another cruise line of a similar size and quality--perhaps Celebrity.