3 Sept. 2008 to 10 Sept. 2008
Roundtrip cruise Vancouver -- Alaska via inside passage.
We had been looking forward to an Alaska cruise, this year on the Ryndam. We had a good time on a Mexican Riviera cruise on the Vista Class Oosterdam last year, and we chose the older, smaller (but refurbished in 2004) Ryndam.
We have cruised Alaska seven times in the past six years on the Zaandam, Summit, Mercury, Sapphire Princess, Coral Princess and the Island Princess. We live in North Vancouver BC, across the water from the Canada Place cruise terminal, where we can watch the various cruise ships sailing in and out of the harbour, beginning in late April. This whets our appetite to cruise Alaska once more!
We prefer to take our Alaska cruise in May, which some of the time has put us as the first ship to arrive in various Alaskan Ports. May also brings a warmer Alaska.
In February of this year we cruised to Antarctica on the Azamara Journey for 18 days, which ate a large amount of our yearly cruise budget. We decided to wait until the end of the Alaska season in September when prices drop fifty to sixty per cent. The trade-off is that it will be a colder Alaska in September, and we will bring our parkas, which we never have to do in May.
After four months of watching Alaska-bound ships coming and going, we were very happy to board the Ryndam. The other huge plus for us was not having to fly in either direction on this round trip cruise.
The round trip Vancouver cruise doesn't go as far north as the seven-day one-way cruises that end in Seward or Whittier. You still see a lot of Alaska, including Glacier Bay, on the round trip inside passage cruises.
Vancouver The Alaska cruise gives cruisers an opportunity to check out one of the world's most beautiful cities. The Seabus and Sky Train stations share a waterfront building next to the Canada Place cruise terminal. The Seabus is a scenic 12-minute ride across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.
The Sky Train crosses the city of Vancouver and gives you a chance to see the city above the traffic. There is excellent bus service, and a one day transit pass will allow you to use all three and save some money.
Boarding Boarding was very easy. We arrived 2 hours after boarding time began, and there were no lines anywhere. We had pre-registered our credit card and immigration info using the internet and printed our boarding pass. It took about five minutes to clear immigration, complete the check-in process, and board the ship.
Cruise Value The good news was that the price was right for this window cabin. We have been cruising in balcony cabins almost exclusively and wanted to see if we could enjoy our cruise as much without the balcony. We did save a considerable amount versus the price of a balcony cabin and we had a good time, but the fact is we are going to cruise in the future only in balcony cabins. The reason for this is that we miss the fresh air, and the expansive feeling of large glass doors opening on to the world.
Wine, Coffee & Soda Cards HAL offers discounted cards for wine, coffee, soda and cocktails. We opted for the wine card, which is $36.00 for ten glasses of house wine; the soda/soft drink card, which costs $18.00 for twenty drinks of bar soda and is good in the dining room too; and the designer coffee card at $26.00, which gives you 10 designer coffee drinks in grande size with an extra shot included if you wish it, as well as shots of flavored syrup if you desire. There are no free specialty coffees in the Rotterdam dining room any more.
These cards are an excellent value based on the prices of single orders of house wine, coffee or soda. There is a 15% tip added to the basic cost of each of these cards.
Sailaway from Vancouver It was a balmy, sun-warmed afternoon as we backed out of our berth at Canada Place and turned toward Lion's Gate Bridge. We headed across Burrard Inlet toward the harbor entrance, giving us a stunning view of downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park and the tree-covered North Shore.
We slipped under the bridge and headed for the inside passage. We sailed at 5PM, and an hour later we were having our dinner in the dining room. As we dined we felt the ship begin to make a slow turn away from the direction of the inside passage. Captain Smit made an announcement that we were returning to Canada Place; two passengers needed to go to a hospital immediately.
Cruise ships usually do not sail under Lion's Gate Bridge into Vancouver in the afternoon; the beauty of the bridge and the city in the warm afternoon sun was remarkable in a bittersweet sort of a way. We're keeping our hopes up for the two would-be cruisers.
Cabin This Ryndam outside cabin was poorly laid out. The head of the bed was directly under the window, making it impossible to stand anywhere near the window or sit near it without getting up on the bed and sitting crosslegged. There was a monster couch eating up the rest of the cabin space, and we felt very cramped. It turns out that this cabin was a triple, and the big couch was a sofa bed.
We spoke to guest relations, and they arranged for the bed to be moved to where we wished it and for the sofa that ate up cabin space to disappear, to be replaced by an extra chair and another small table.
These changes made the cabin much more comfortable for us. Many thanks to Guest Relations Supervisor Caroline, the Assistant Housekeeper, the Cabin Inspector and Oman our cabin steward for making this happen on the first evening, while we were dining. Oman was one of the best stewards we have ever had. He quickly sensed our daily routine, and the cabin was always done when we returned to it. A gold star for Oman.
The lighting in this cabin wasn't upgraded either when they refurbished the Ryndam in 2004. It was hard to read even if you sat directly under the overhead lights. The bedside lighting was a neon tube light that was hard-mounted and not adjustable in any way. We spoke to management and requested a floor or desk lamp for reading, but they were unable to provide one. We will bring a booklight or a small folding reading lamp next time we travel on a fifteen year old ship.
We will be travelling on smaller ships (which are older ships) more often because we are turned off by the "cruise ship as a theme park" feeling that we get on the megaships of three or four thousand passengers. We are glad the cruise lines are attracting many new families to cruising with these megaships but for us smaller is better.
There was another opportunity for comfort and privacy ignored in the refurbishing: at the point where the bed ends and the sitting area begins, the opposing walls of the cabin are dressed with curtain "legs" that extend into the room just about 18". If these legs were full-fledged curtains that could be drawn all the way across the cabin, then one member of the party could sleep while others could sit up and read or watch TV.
The other negative for us was the location of the TV. The TV was a nice LG hi-def flat screen which was hard-mounted on the shelf that previously held a boxy older model TV. The overhang on the shelf should have been cut to match the size of the flatscreen when the Ryndam was refurbished, because when you are in bed the shelf extends out and blocks the TV's remote sensor. When in bed you are well below the shelf and have to sit up as high as you can and crane your neck to see the screen. You also have to raise the remote as high as possible into the air to clear the shelf overhang and connect to the remote sensor. The inputs on the flat screen were not accessible, because the TV's position could not be altered; we couldn't use our Nintendo Wii (a preferred exercise for us) and couldn't adjust the angle of the TV toward the bed or the chairs. On HAL's Oosterdam, which we cruised last year, the flat screen TV was on a simple and inexpensive swing arm which made it easy to watch TV from anywhere in the room. The modern cruiser wants access to the inputs on these flat screens for viewing video footage or playing a video game.
Announcements While resting in one's cabin it is nice not to be subjected without consent to the announcements of the captain and the cruise director (the anouncements are uniformly too loud; only the elevator's programmed announcements of the various decks were at a comfortable level -- and still clearly audible). But what would have been even nicer is to have the choice! The announcements were not played on any of the ship's channels that we were able to find.
The announcements made in the casino were easy on the ears. Casino staff who called cruisers to various games spoke in a more conversational manner, properly relying on the microphone to project their voices rather than summoning up excitement in order to reach their audience.
Elevators It may not be customary to mention the elevators in a review, but the elevators on the Ryndam had another attractive quality besides the moderate volume of the announcements inside the car: each day the carpet was changed, always naming the day of the week. It sure is nice to be taken care of so thoroughly that you do not even have to remember what day it is when you step in the elevator. The announcements in the elevators of megaships we've sailed on are ear splittingly loud.
Bathroom The bathroom was the best part of the cabin, nicely modernized with a newer, spacious, one piece sink/countertop and a one-handled faucet of good design. There was also a metal shelf over the sink with a high enough lip to keep your grooming items from falling off. The newer shower/tub was deeper than we've ever seen on a ship, with a grab bar to hold when climbing in or out. There was a high quality shower wand with an adjustable head and a hose, so you could remove it from its base and spray your whole body.
Life Boat Drill Very organized and well run. Crew members took attendance, called the names of the missing, and sent other crew members to get them. We were carefully placed, with women and children lined up in front of the men. Crew members checked everyone's life jacket to make sure they were worn properly. This was the most organized and careful drill we have seen. We appreciate the Ryndam's approach to safety at sea. The one negative was the volume of the announcement portion of the drill. The captain's voice boomed over the high-volume outdoor loudspeaker system -- very shrill.
Hand Sanitizer It's available everywhere on the Ryndam, not just near the dining areas. You have it available boarding and leaving the ship, near the theaters, outside the dining venues, the cocktail lounges, the gym and the spa. We've been carrying hand sanitizer for years, and it's good to see it everywhere on this ship. The hand sanitizer dispensers are automatic too. Just place your hand under the sensor and a predetermined amount drops into your hand.
Rotterdam Dining Room HAL has altered their usual dining room color scheme in this refurbished version -- greens, blues and gold with just a hint of HAL's old signature orange dining room theme. Very pleasant.
The dinners, under the direction of Chef Andreas Bruenett, are of high quality and very imaginative in this dining room. The meals are beautifully presented here, and the service is friendly and organized. We heartily thank our waiter Suharyanto and his assistant Adhi. We also extend our thanks to Asst. Dining Room Managers Arinto and Marijn. This room excels in the service area.
The Beef Wellington was delicious -- a quality cut of filet mignon with a delicious pastry crust that was still crisp surrounding the layer of pate wrapped around the filet.
Other food highlights were an eggplant parmesan in the form of a cannelloni. There were wafer-thin slices of the eggplant wrapped around the ricotta cheese filling, with a simple pomodoro sauce. The soups were innovative and uniformly good; the Cobb salad with slices of grilled chicken breast was good. We could go on and on. Suffice it to say that the food in the Rotterdam dining room on this ship is at a high level, comparable to the Azamara line, which has much higher cruise fares. The only negative was the breakfast in this dining room. The omelets and egg dishes were much better in the Lido buffet, where you can walk right up and have an omelet or eggs cooked to order by the omelet chef.
Coffee This was very weak and devoid of coffee taste and smell. The Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and room service had uniformly mediocre coffee. The only good coffee was the coffee we had to pay for at the Explorations cafe or Pinnacle Grill. The last time we sailed on Royal Caribbean, the coffee was "Seattle's Best" brand, available everywhere for free all over the ship.
High Tea This was served most days with live music and a groaning board of pastries and finger sandwiches.
Lido Restaurant (Buffet) This was well laid out. You may choose a station and not have to stand in a long slow line that snakes past all the food offerings. There is a carving station, various entrees, omelets, pastas, deli and salad bar. The ice cream is free on the Ryndam all afternoon, unlike ships which are now charging for ice cream.
There are trays to use, and tables are always cleared and cleaned quickly by the buffet staff. In the evening the buffet is open for table service for those who don't wish to dress a bit for dinner.
The Terrace Grill This is located in the pool area and serves burgers, hot dogs, nachos, brats, pizza and tacos from 1130AM until 6PM. Nicely grilled snack food.
Late Night Snacks There is a themed (French, Mexican, Asian, etc.) light meal available in the Lido from 11PM to midnight replacing the midnight buffets of yore.
Explorations Cafe This is combined with the library. Not a cafe at all, just designer coffee drinks for sale here along with complementary pastry and snacks. The baked goods on the Ryndam were to put it gently, substandard. Not very "cruisey."
Library The large spacious rooms of the library surround the Explorations Cafe. The library is organized like a proper library, and has a knowledgeable library staff. There was a varied, quality selection of fiction and non fiction -- the best we have seen on a cruise ship. The room had plenty of comfy chairs and chaises facing big windows. DVD's were available to rent for a $3.00 charge.
Deck 8 The library, casino, Explorer's Lounge, casino bar, Ocean Bar, piano bar, shops and Explorations Cafe were all located on deck 8. The upper level of the Rotterdam dining room was aft, and the upper level of the Vermeer Lounge showroom was all the way forward. The delicious Pinnacle Grill was also on this deck.
It was easy to access these venues, and the pedestrian traffic flow was excellent. This deck was our home away from our cabin.
Cruising the Inside Passage There is always something to see on sea days. We sail close to land and there are seals and all kinds of birds (including eagles) along the way. We also saw some Orcas popping out of the water. Nature is everywhere on these Alaska cruises.
Juneau Juneau is the state capitol of Alaska, the only state capitol in North America you can't drive to. It's an island. Everything comes in by plane or ship as in Hawaii.
We docked right downtown, and we relaxed in our cabin while those passengers on the ship's excursions debarked first. A half an hour later there were no lines, and we strolled off the ship onto a large wooden deck.
One side of the dock area had a long row of booths, selling every kind of excursion at prices well under those offered by the cruise lines. We walked across the platform to the crosswalk, where a uniformed crossing guard held traffic for the arriving passengers.
Shopping in Alaska was fun, because there were many items on sale -- this being the end of the tourist season.
We walked 3 blocks to 113 Seward Street, the home of Rainy Day Books. We always go there when we dock in Juneau. We were informed they were going to change their name to Rainy Retreat Books soon, because the owner of the name requested they no longer use it. They have a wonderful selection of books well beyond the limitations of a chain book store, and their selection of used titles is very good.
Skagway We sailed up the Lynn canal and docked. There is a shuttle bus making regular stops in town, which is about a mile from the dock. Three dollars round trip and you can get off at any stop in town and then get on again at any stop for the trip back to the dock. The town resembles the Western Street on a movie studio lot -- lots of old false front buildings. The White Pass and Yukon train pulls right up next to the dock and picks up passengers for the scenic trip. You can also rent a car and follow the route of the train, stopping to take pictures when you wish.
The White Pass and Yukon train station has magnificent vistas with the ships berthed in the background.
Alternative Restaurant -- Pinnacle Grill The Maitre d' Matej sat us at a window table, and we relaxed with beverages and drank in the scenic beauty. We opened with corn bruschetta, replacing the traditional tomato, topped with a couple of jumbo prawns. We enjoyed five cheese-onion soup and a green salad for mid courses and finished with a blue cheese encrusted "Silver Steak". The dessert was a crisp gaufrette on a bed of sliced strawberries, topped with rasberry sorbet. Designer cappucino (included) completed this dinner, which cost $20.00 per person. This was a far superior Pinnacle Grill to the one we tried on the Oosterdam. We enjoyed a couple of tasty lunches ($10.00 per person) at the Pinnacle Grill, also.
Glacier Bay The ship picked up the Park Rangers at Bartlett Cove, and at 10AM we were sailing Glacier Bay. The Rangers gave talks, and we marveled at the beauty of this place. It was a perfectly clear day, and we could see everything -- there was no hanging fog. The scenic highlight of this Alaska cruise.
Ketchikan The next morning we docked in Ketchikan. We headed over to the nearby Salmon Plaza to use the Internet cafe. We were docked literally downtown, and it was an easy walk everywhere to all kinds of shopping. There were plenty of last minute excursions for sale in town.
Inside Passage Back to Vancouver We headed south back to Vancouver, enjoying the scenery of the forests and islands of British Columbia along the way. We'll be docking in Vancouver tomorrow.
Tipping There is a $10.00 per person charge added to your hotel bill. This money does not cover the level of service available on the Ryndam. We bring a hundred US one dollar bills and as we go along we reward those who serve us well. We add a dollar to the built-in 15% tip when we have soft drinks, and we give a couple of dollars to the room service waiters when they bring us a snack. This is a hard-working crew who made our voyage a pleasure. We also happily augmented the suggested tips for our cabin steward and our dining room staff and assistant maitre d'. We had a nice cruise on the Ryndam and we will be sailing HAL again.
Piano Bar There is some kind of metal-themed decor on the walls which plays hell with listening to the amplified piano and vocalist. The intimacy of a piano bar setting is destroyed by the poor acoustics.
Casino One of the best layouts we've seen on a cruise ship. Wider aisles and the occasional free drink. The slots are tight, but there are table games with better odds. The dealers and the floor men are knowledgeable and courteous.
Entertainment A "Hits of Broadway" revue with the costumes of award winning designer Bob Mackie; the silly songs of comedian Elliott Max, the classical piano wizardry of Garin Bader and a Motown musical salute were offered in the Vermeer Lounge Showroom/Movie Theatre.
There were recent movies such as "Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" showing most days in the theatre.
The Ocean Bar and the Crow's Nest were places for live music and dancing at various times. The Crow's Nest, at the top of the ship, was a great place to relax and listen to the piano, but at 8PM, the piano player finishes and they crank up the volume to an earsplitting level with the DJ, Jason. We spoke to a knowledgeable staffer who confided to us that they were under orders to raise the volume based on the time of day.
Hotel Manager and Staff The customer relations staff is courteous and attentive. The Hotel Manager David Wood is out and about daily checking different areas of the ship. We like seeing the management process happening. This is a well run hotel with a propeller, kept very clean, not just picked up by Chief Housekeeper Soeparno and staff. Some ships at the end of the long Alaska cruise season are not kept clean enough but the Ryndam sparkled.
Cruise Director and Staff There were all kinds of staffed events from Bingo to the Not So Newlywed Game, etc., which were listed in the ship's paper, The Daily Program. Cruise Director Travis La Marche seems a bit too high energy and loud (especially on the Public Address System) to suit our taste on this Holland America cruise.
The Ryndam's newspaper The Daily Program was well laid out with the entertainment, food, music and shows listed and organized in an orderly manner, making it easy for the cruiser to plan for day and evening.
Tired Crew We feel badly for the non-sailing crew. We know they are making good money compared to the salaries available where they live in the world, but their fatigue is obvious, especially at the end of the long Alaska cruising season. The service and the attitude of this Ryndam crew is exemplary.
We would gladly make our bed one day on a seven-day cruise and even get our meals in the buffet, if the main dining room could be closed for the day, but we sense that's not going to happen. We hope someday they can figure out a way to give them at least one day off a MONTH. One would think that schedules could be arranged for that. The navigation/sailing crew doesn't have this problem, because they are protected by regulation.
Summing Up We had a wonderful time on the Ryndam, a lovely voyage through the inside passage to the Glaciers and towns of Alaska.
The food on the Ryndam is very good, comparable to Celebrity's Azamara line, which is a lot more expensive than Holland America. The service is excellent, and the ship is easy to get around because of its size. Holland America is maintaining a standard that's hard to beat at this price range.
We're heading back to Princess in keeping with our theme of "cruise value" in these harsh economic times. We found a very well-priced cruise in a balcony cabin on the Coral Princess for Dec. 9th, 2008. We'll depart from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and take a 14-day cruise through the Panama Canal, ending in Los Angeles on the 23rd of December.