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Age: 48

Occupation:Financial Services

Number of Cruises: 31

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Westerdam

Sailing Date: 2012-06-30

Itinerary: Alaska

Our family of three (me, my husband (age 50) and son (age 18)) had a wonderful time onboard Holland America Line's ms Westerdam to Alaska. The cruise, a 7-night roundtrip from Seattle, called on Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, and also featured a day in Glacier Bay. Despite a few bumps along the way (no cruise is perfect, after all), this was a great getaway for us. We saw fantastic scenery, explored new places in our ports of call, dined well, were kept entertained, and met some very nice people.

I'm hesitant to elaborate on the quality of the food, as that is a highly subjective area. Let's just say that we found most dishes to be very good and some to be superb. I will, instead, focus on the practical. As a pescetarian (one who eats fish but not red meat nor poultry), I was looking forward to trying HAL's new vegetarian menu, announced with great fanfare two months prior to our cruise.

While the food was generally very good, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. For background, there is now a separate vegetarian menu in the main dining room that does not change nightly, and a couple of vegetarian appetizers, soups, and entrees on the main menu that do change nightly. I was surprised and, frankly, somewhat dismayed that items from the separate vegetarian menu needed to be ordered one night in advance. I don't mind doing so in and of itself, yet I didn't want to make selections without seeing the regular menu for the following night -- remember, I also eat fish and there would be other vegetarian items on the regular menu. I solved this issue easily by asking to see the next night's menu and, if nothing suited my fancy, I would then order something from the separate vegetarian menu. It did take me a couple of days to figure this out, though, and there were several times that the waiters seemed to have no idea what I was asking. So -- fellow vegetarians/vegans -- learn from my experience. I will say that the variety of options was greater than I had imagined.

We did find dining room service to be extremely slow the first two days of the cruise -- enough so that we contacted the Restaurant Manager. He tracked us down that evening (we had open seating dining) to apologize personally, as well as to thank us for bringing this to his attention so that he could rectify the situation. Sure enough, there were no other issues for the remainder of the cruise. Lesson to all -- take care of any issues while onboard.

Our home for the week was a category VD balcony cabin located forward on Upper Promenade Deck. Although situated near the elevators, we heard very little noise once our cabin door was closed. Same was true of the adjoining door to the neighboring cabin. Our cabin was large enough for our family of three in terms of comfort and storage. In addition to three closets, there were two drawers under the bed (although one was used by the cabin steward for linen storage) and two large storage bins above the sofabed. We didn't use the balcony often, yet I can vouch for the comfort of the chairs as I fell asleep in one on one of our sea days! An extra bonus was that the cabin was in close proximity to the bow, which was opened to passengers on Glacier Bay day.

As the itinerary was the main draw on this cruise, I didn't participate in many daytime activities. I did attend two afternoon teas that I thought were nice. My main daytime activity while at sea was reading. I will often go to the ship's library to borrow a book for the duration of the cruise. I love to read, yet I don't get as much opportunity to do so as much as I'd like at home.

We also limited ourselves with respect to the evening activities onboard. Our mainstay was the piano bar, where the server, on the 2nd night, remembered not only our names but the drinks we had ordered the night before! I hesitate to share accolades about the piano bar as part of me would like to keep it my little secret. Yet, we find it a great way to unwind after a meal, so I do suggest it to those who are like-minded.

My only disappointment with the cruise -- one I knew going in -- was our relatively short port time. We handled this by researching and planning our excursions ahead of time.

JUNEAU: We'd been to Juneau previously, so decided to do something completely out of the ordinary this time. We visited the Alaska State Capitol (free), and the Alaska State Museum. We enjoyed both, and the museum provided a wonderful overview of Alaska's native peoples.

SITKA: This was our first visit, so we opted for an overview tour through the cruise line that also included a stop at the Raptor Center. The tour was called Historic Russian America and Raptor Center, and was a great choice for the first-time visitor. I learned a lot about the American Bald Eagle and other raptors, as well as the history of Alaska. (Shame on me for not knowing more until this trip.) Definitely check out Castle Hill, the site of the October 18, 1867 transfer of Alaska to the United States.

KETCHIKAN: Pressed for time (all-aboard time was 12:30 pm), we decided on a nature and cultural tour through HAL called Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary, Raptor Center, and Totems. This was great. We saw a variety of plant and wildlife, of which the highlight was seeing many eagles in flight not far from us. It was a slow and easy walk through the rain forest, and was beautiful as well as educational. The Raptor Center and master Totem carver are both within the Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary. This was our second time in Ketchikan -- we had gone on a boat tour of Misty Fjord last time -- and we do recommend this to a first-timer or veteran visitor.

VICTORIA: This is where we had very little time, so we planned very little. Armed with a map, we took a taxi into town (CD$9) and walked along the main street. What a beautiful downtown area! I suggest, if you are not taking an organized tour, to have researched the sites of Victoria, map out the ones of interest, and bring your map with you when you leave the ship. We were here from 6:00 pm until midnight, so we had a 5:45 dinner in the main dining room, left the ship (after the crowds) at 7:00, and were back onboard at 9:30 pm. This was the last night of the cruise, so we took care of all of our packing during the day.

The highlight of the trip was, undoubtedly, GLACIER BAY. We had also been here previously, when weather conditions -- despite being sunny then -- enabled us to see three of the four key glaciers (Reid, Lamplugh, Margerie).. This time around, we also made it to the fourth -- Johns Hopkins Glacier. It was once again a sunny day, yet earlier in the season than last time, and the waters were filled with huge pieces of ice at times. This was the kind of day in which the rest of the world definitely went away. I remained on deck for most of our time there, despite having a balcony, so that I would not miss a thing.

In summary, this was a nice cruise, and my concerns about being on a larger ship (I prefer HAL's S-class ships) quickly dissipated. I would certainly take another cruise on Westerdam, yet I would like to see more of Alaska, including the interior. If you're looking for a lively cruise, this is not it. But, if you are seeking to get away from it all and also meet people from all walks of life, give this cruise some consideration.

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