This is our third seven-day cruise to Alaska, in the past ten years, always out of Vancouver and always on Holland America, but a different ship each time (other ships were the ms Noordam and the ms Statendam).
THE BUS RIDE TO THE SHIP AND CHECK-IN - We flew into Vancouver several days early to spend a couple of days, on Vancouver Island, to visiting Victoria and especially Butchart Gardens, before the cruise. On the day of the cruise, we return to the mainland by ferry, drove to the Vancouver International Airport, returned the rental car, and with the help of the airport information personnel located the area where we met the friendly HAL representative. The bus ride to the ship was uncomfortable (hot and stuffy), as the air conditioner was not working; plus the driver failed to get any description of the numerous city sites that we passed. On the other two HAL Vancouver bus rides, the drivers were most informative. Once at the HAL check-in location, long lines of passengers greeted us; then I spotted a very short line for suite passengers. However, this line was bogged down as the single HAL representative was trying to help a non-suite passenger who had birth certificate problems. The other lines moved much quickly and it was a mistake to select this line.
OUR CABIN - Once aboard we went directly to our outside stateroom - a deluxe verandah suite (category S) as we were offered by HAL to upgraded from verandah suite (A) if we would pay only half of the price difference. It was a good choice. The most oblivious difference was the stateroom size was doubled including the verandah. We had learned the advantage of having a verandah several years ago; HAL had upgraded and introduced us to a verandah suite (A or B) from a regular large stateroom (category C or D). Since we are early risers, we love to watch the ship pull into a harbor and watch all of the docking activities. Several of new advantages of having the suite was we were offered the free services of the Neptune Lounge which is located on the same deck as our stateroom (the Navigation Deck) and the Lounge is not a bar but instead provides a close location for early morning breakfast including hot coffee and tea and fruit juices, various snacks all day including High Tea, the services of the Front Desk and Shore Tour offices, etc. In addition, there was a special dining room for breakfast and lunch called the Queen's Room on the Upper Promenade Deck and a special cocktail meeting with the ship's captain, etc. Many years ago, we had learned to avoid staterooms on and below the Promenade Decks as the joggers could be heard overhead and the other passengers standing at the rail unintentionally blocked the views out our stateroom window.
DINING - Overall the food was good and tasteful and the menu was varied. For breakfast, we ate several times in our room using the verandah, or in the Queen's Room if it was a day at sea. If we had an early morning shore tour, then we ate in the Lido restaurant. We never made it to the Rotterdam Room (the main dining room) for breakfast or lunch. The dinner service in the Rotterdam was good but the service in the Pinnacle Room was outstanding. This latter room is a new smaller dining room but the food and service again was outstanding; there is an extra small service charge.
TIPPING - HAL has always stated a no tipping policy but we always felt that we should tip dependent upon the service. As usual the service was good and we tipped the stateroom attendant, the Neptune Lounge hostess, the dining room waiters, and the cocktail servers. In fact, I had to argue with the stateroom attendance to take the tip. HAL has recently changed their no tipping policy to add a ten-dollar charge per person per day to the stateroom statement and the ship then distributes this charge to all of their ship employees.
SHORE TOURS - The shore tours were all interesting and good and different as this is our third cruise to the same Alaskan cities. This time we booked all of our shore tours months ahead of the sailing over the Internet and avoided the last minute rush to the shipboard Shore Tour office and its long lines, etc. The first day that we were aboard, we received all of our tour tickets. The ports that we visited were Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines (Skagway) with a sailing into Hubbart Glacier Bay to see the iceberg calving. In addition, we saw eagles, whales, sea otters, sea lions, etc., on this cruise. In addition, we had wonderful weather - no rain and comfortable daytime temperatures (50-to-60 degrees) and the time of the year was mid-May.
SECURITY - HAL issues you a ship identification card which you must use whenever leaving the ship and upon returning to the ship, you must present this card along with your driver's license, passport, or some other form of government-issued ID. This latter procedure slows down getting back aboard the ship at each port. At several ports, we saw US Coast Guard ships sailing around our ship whenever we were entering of leaving a port.
BUS RIDE TO THE AIRPORT AND THE AIRLINES - Our final port was Seward and the HAL-proved bus took us to the Anchorage airport. This driver was very informative. The airline was Alaska Airlines originally from Los Angeles to Vancouver (non-stop) and the return was two flights from Anchorage to Seattle and Seattle to Los Angeles.