Friday, August 19, 2011

Best Alaskan Cruise

I have to start this post by disclosing two things up front – I have nothing to compare it to as this was my first cruise and two, I hate buffets! 

Kent, Dad, Mom, Me
So everything I write will be filtered through these lenses.  Probably best to start with a brief background on who went and how the trip came about.  

Kent, Midge (my sister),  Brant and Bettylou (Jim's Parents) - Leaving Seattle

There were 11 of us total on the cruise.  In addition to Kent and I there was his Mom Silvia, his sister Kay and her husband Tony and their daughter Kara, my Mom Bettylou and Dad Brant and my sister Midge and then two family friends Kathy and her significant other Gene (never ended up with any pictures of them). 
Tony, Kay, Sylvia (Kent's Mom) and Kara

The idea of a cruise has actually been brewing for awhile.  Since Seattle is a starting point for several cruise lines headed to Alaska we thought it would be convenient and it would be a thing we could do with a large group.  The idea started taking shape when my Mom retired and about the time Kent’s Mom and my Dad celebrated their birthdays.  

Tony (Brother -in-law), Kay (Kent's sister) and Kara (our niece)

Mom and Dad

We chose Holland American Cruise Line for a variety of reasons.  They are Seattle based, good reviews, older crowd.  Over all we were satisfied with them.  For the most part the crew was extremely helpful and nice.  We were on the Oosterdam on the Upper Veranda Deck in Cabin 6070 which is on the port side of the ship.  Our room was spacious with a full size bed, sofa, couple of desks and lots of closet space, large bathroom with a shower and separate jetted tub and double sinks.  We also had a nice size deck with additional seating.  The rooms were nice but they are definitely showing their age and wear.    
Kent while docked in Ketchikan - Oosterdam in the background

 My parent and Midge had an identical suite on the starboard side same floor while Kent’s family was on the deck below and Kathy and Gene one deck above.   It was actually nice that we were somewhat spread out and had our own space.  The ship itself seemed a bit worn around the edges but not bad.  Again I have nothing to compare it to.   There were 2205 passengers and 786 crew on board the ship.

View off the deck where we ran while on board
We ended up having good weather for the most part for the entire cruise except for one day in Sitka.  It was a huge relief since all the weather reports before we left kept indicating rain all week in every port.  That was my biggest worry that we would be leaving fairly nice weather in Seattle only to spend a week in the rain but alas – that did not occur.  We had talked to friends who had done the Alaska cruise and had an entire week of bad weather and it sounded miserable!
The first couple of days we long as we made our way up to Glacier Bay but once we had daily port calls and could actually get off the boat it was great.  Our itinerary and shore excursions worked out well.  We left Seattle on Sunday afternoon at 4pm and arrived in Glacier Bay on Tuesday afternoon.  This was our longest stint on the boat.  By this time we were beginning to second guess the whole cruise idea but once we stated with shore excursions we were sold.

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay
Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay
 Glacier Bay was amazing – the ship was able to pull right up to glaciers and you could hear the “white thunder” the sound that the ice makes as it breaks before sections fall to the ground. 
From there we made our way to Juneau where we had a full day to explore.  Kent and I got up early and toured the state capital and then headed out on a 6 hour 180 mile excursion Tracy Arm to see the Sawyer Glaciers. 

Alaska State Capitol Building - Juneau

Kent on the boat to Tracy Arm

Tracy Arm at the Sawyer Glacier (ice from glacier)

Blue ice broken off Sawyer Glacier

Pieces of Sawyer Glacier

Tide line in the rocks

More pieces of glacier

Waterfall on the way to Sawyer Glacier

Yet another piece of Sawyer Glacier

Whale picture taken by either Kay or Kara in Juneau

It was amazing and I am glad we did this but I will admit that after spending two full days on the ship only to get on another boat, I’m not sure I would do that again.  I think I would choose a flight trip in Juneau to get a great view of the glaciers from the air in the region. 

From Juneau on Wednesday we made our way to Sitka on Thursday.  This was our one and only day of rain on the entire trip.  It worked out nice since we had not booked any shore excursions and Kent and I were off on our own to explore.  We walked to the Raptor Center where we ran into my Mom, toured the Sitka National Park and walked around town before heading to the boat.

Eagle picture taken at Raptor Center

Wood carving taken at Sitka National Park
Totem Pole in Sitka National Park

Harbor as we approached Sitka

St. Michael's Cathedral - Old Russian Orthodox Church

Kent at the Sitka National Historical Park

View of the Oosterdam - only port we anchored as opposed to docking

Friday we were in Ketchikan where we took a scenic flight on a float plane with my parents to Misty Fjords National Monument.  It was incredible!  I’d highly recommend this shore excursion.  We spent time walking around Ketchikan which was one of my favorite of the Alaskan towns. 

Downtown Ketchikan

Mom and Dad as we got ready to take off

View from the plane
Dad on board - nice smile!

Mom with the pilot after landing on an alpine lake

Downtown Ketchikan

From there we arrived in Victoria on Saturday where we had a brief tour of the butterfly gardens and Butchard Gardens.  Both places are worthy of a visit however I’d not recommend them as a shore excursion as you get in late to Victoria and by the time you arrive by bus the butterflies are asleep and the gardens are dark.  Kent and I decided we are going to make our own day trip to Victoria soon.

Butchard Gardens

Butchard Gardens

We found a great book that you should definitely pick up BEFORE you take an Alaskan cruise.   It’s called – Alaska by Cruise Ship – Sixth Edition.    Unfortunately we found it in a bookstore in Ketchikan so our trip was nearing the end.  We ordered it from Amazon however since it had so much information about the towns we visited.  It would have been nice to have before we left, especially since we had never cruised before. 
Our cabin 6070
In terms of cruising, there are a few things that we learned or wish we had known that I thought I’d pass along.  This only pertains to Holland American and may vary by cruise line.   The cost of all your meals including 24 hour room service is included in the cost of your cruise as is most on board entertainment.   On our cruise there was one high end restaurant that was an additional $15 a day for lunch and $20 for dinner which we never tried.  Perhaps we should have because overall the food was disappointing.   The gym on board was available 24/7 at no cost but use of the spa and spa services were an additional fee.  We paid for access to the spa area and thought it was well worth the extra $200.  It was a very relaxing place to start and end the day.  Before we left we found out that you could carry on soft drinks and wine which we did.  You could not pack it in your luggage but could take as much as you could carry.  There was an $18 corking fee for wine if you brought it to dinner.  We emptied out the refrigerator stocked with beverages for a fee and replaced it with our own beverages and then simply put everything back at the end of the cruise.  It worked out nice to have our own supply of soft drinks.  We could not bring on beer or hard liquor.  You could pre-order beverages but we found they were less expensive if you purchased them on board. 

Interior of the Oosterdam

One of our daily towel animals from our cabin steward

In terms of booking shore excursions – do them early if you really want a specific one!  If you are not set on a specific one you can either book them once you are on board or on shore.  There were a couple of excursions that we really wanted to do but by the time we went to book them they were full.
The party planner on board was really fun and gave us good advice.   Basically those that put themselves out there and have fun attract other fun people and have a good time.  So although we did not participate in all activities we took advantage of just enough to meet a few of our fellow passengers.   We went to a cooking demonstration, a couple of mixology classes, demonstration on how the towel animals are created , played shuffle board and played cards in common areas.  They offered a GLBT cocktail hour which we also attended unfortunately there was only one other couple.  
Debarking from the ship was well organized.  Basically you pack your bags the night before and then are assigned a time to leave the ship timed with the delivery of your luggage.  Debarkation began at 7 am and went until 9:45.  We were originally assigned to the latest time as we did not respond to a questionnaire about our preference.  We were easily reassigned upon request to an earlier time.

That pretty much summarizes our trip.  Overall we had a great time and would do it again. 

Later - Jim    

1 comment:

  1. That made me feel like I was there all over again. Thanks love M