My wife and I have traveled extensively, including several cruises, but we had never scheduled a visit to Alaska. We decided that we would remedy that situation in 2001. We talked to several of our friends who had taken cruises to Alaska regarding their experiences. We heard nothing but good comments about the Holland America Line. When our travel agent called us with news of a last minute fare sale on the m.s. Ryndam, we jumped at it. We booked the cruise only and made our own arrangements for air and ground transportation.
In order to meet the ship for the southbound cruise, we had to fly into Anchorage and travel by surface to Seward. We decided to depart for Seward, AK a day ahead of time just to avoid any last minute difficulties with air connections. A brief search and a few phone calls to some of the local car rental agencies resulted in locating a car that needed to be dropped off in Seward on the day of our cruise, thus avoiding the $150 one way drop off charge. There are other convenient ways to travel from Anchorage to Seward, including a scheduled minibus and the train. With the exception of a limo, they will all cost in the range of $35 to $55 per person. If you have the time, spend 2 or 3 days before the cruise sightseeing in the area. As we were at the beginning of the 'cruise season', there was no trouble getting a room at one of the downtown hotels in Seward after we arrived.
There is certainly enough to see and do in Seward to keep you occupied for the day while awaiting embarkation for the scheduled 8 PM sailing. The town is not so large that you can't walk the mile or so from the cruise dock to the shopping area. There is also a local tram for those who wish to travel in style. The Alaska Marine Wildlife Center at the end of the main street is well worth a visit. Now, for all of you pancake lovers, you should try to have breakfast or lunch in the Marina Cafe just a block up the main street from the Wildlife Center. Don't let the apple green front of the building stop you; order a stack of the buttermilks with some elk sausage. You won't be sorry.
We were among the first passengers to embark at 2 PM. Picking up our documents, cabin assignment and ship ID cards took but a few minutes. It was then only a matter of walking on board and finding our cabin. We had talked to several past passengers who said that HAL had a rather generous policy of extending complimentary upgrades to nicer cabins upon arrival at the ship. Our travel agent also reinforced this concept. We checked at the Purser's Office to see if this was possible as we knew that the ship was only booked to about 75% capacity. There was a sign on the desk indicating that upgrades to mini-suites and full suites were available. A rather sour clerk informed us that they were available for a rather stiff supplemental price. We decided to stay where we were assigned.
We did have a minor snag when we arrived at our assigned cabin. The door was locked and there was not a cabin steward in sight. Back to the Purser's Office to talk to a different dour clerk who promised that she would send someone right down to open the door. Another 20 minutes passed by with no open door. I finally found a passenger who told me where the house keeping office was located. Problem solved.
The standard (less than mini-suite) cabins on the m.s. Ryndam are all just under 200 sq.-ft and furnished much the same. We had an outside view cabin with the twin beds made up in the single queen bed configuration. There is a sitting area with couch, small table and chair which may be curtained off from the sleeping area. There is ample drawer and closet space. The shelves in the closets may be folded up or down depending on what is being hung in the closet. The bathroom is well designed, roomy and has adequate lighting. The outside cabins have a combination bath-shower. I understand that some, or all, of the inside cabins only have a shower. Other things in the cabin include hair drier, shampoos and body lotion, color TV, desk and a small safe. There is no refrigerator, but the cabin steward keeps both the ice bucket and fruit basket filled throughout the voyage. We were well satisfied with the comfort and cleanliness of our cabin throughout the voyage. As a final note, we were pleased with the lack of noise when underway or from adjacent cabins.
As we embarked long before the majority of the other passengers arrived, we took the opportunity to see what the other classes of cabins looked like. Well, Cabin 001 is pure luxury - a full suite with balcony and everything that you would expect in a 5 star hotel. The regular suites and mini-suites reflected a definite increase in status. However, even though the mini-suites have balconies, we did not feel that we sacrificed too much by not purchasing the supplemental upgrade. Our conclusion is that there doesn't seem to be any 'bad' cabins on the m.s. Ryndam (and her sister ships) - it all depends on your budget and expectations.
The design of the m.s. Ryndam reflects HAL's dedication to passenger comfort and convenience. The decor reflects the taste and elegance of a bygone era, including the display of many fine antiques. From the extensive interior and exterior viewing areas to the wide spacing of the tables in the restaurants, we never felt crowded. There are an adequate number of elevators at both the bow and stern of the ship. The 'Crow's Nest' lounge has a spectacular forward view over the bow of the ship for those that do not wish to stand in the weather - definitely the place to be when entering Glacier Bay. Rather than go on about the several lounges, library, game room, casino, showroom, etc., I suggest that you book a cruise and enjoy.
First things first, the coffee on the m.s. Ryndam is the best that I have ever had on any cruise ship and beats most coffee served by fine shore side restaurants. If you wish to take the coffee experience a bit higher, visit the 'Java Cafe' which serves more exotic coffee drinks and cookies, most of which are included in the price of the cruise.
Food, food and more food! You may take your meals in the formal 'Rotterdam Dining Room' or the 'Lido Restaurant' or at the Pizza/Hamburger/Hot-dog stand by the pool. If you didn't get enough at the meal, you can always top it off with a dish or cone of really tasty ice cream. After the stage show, no problem, just go to the midnight buffet to stoke up before going to the casino or disco 'til the early hours. The midnight Chocolate Buffet is not to be missed. In general, the quality and presentation of the meals is quite good, but not the best that we have had on cruises. They offer an extensive list of wines available for purchase with meals, many of which are quite good value. We did feel that the waiter should ask if you want the many sauces served on the side rather than drenching the main dish. Additionally, it is very difficult to get beef and lamb cooked and served extremely rare.
We requested the late seating in the 'Rotterdam Dining Room' as we did not wish to rush back from the ports of call to change for dinner. It's just as well as the early seating was fully booked. Don't worry if you don't like the location, or other guests sitting at your assigned dinner table. The dining room steward is quite accommodating when you request a change of table.
The staff on the m.s. Ryndam is among the most friendly and efficient of any cruise that we have taken (with the exception of the Purser's office staff), including some of the upscale lines, such as 'Radisson Seven Seas'. Our cabin steward was like a ghost. We never saw him, but the cabin was always clean and in the best order when we returned. We never had any annoying knocks on the door to see if we wanted towels. The dining room staff could not do enough for us to insure our enjoyment. They remembered our preferences, whether it was the removal of the foil from the baked potato, or most of the time, serving the sauce on the side or not at all. The young lady in the 'Java Cafe' learned our coffee preferences on the first day and remembered to offer them on our arrival for the remainder of the voyage. In the middle of our voyage, the ship received their mandatory semi-annual health inspection for all ships that dock in U.S. ports - they receive a score of 99! The gratifying thing was seeing how much pride the crew and staff took in receiving an almost perfect score. I know that tips are not expected by the staff, but we felt that they truly deserved a bit of extra consideration at the end of our voyage.
The entertainment is right up there with the best of 'em. The two level showroom has a professional compliment of audio and lighting systems. The stage shows were both professional and varied in theme. The lounge combos played all types of songs and dance numbers to meet the requests of the guests. The show put on by the staff and crew was quite entertaining with many surprises. We were well satisfied with the entertainment on board and the costumes were exquisite!
The guest lecturers were another matter. The port lectures were devoted to a presentation of optional shore excursions and shopping, shopping and more shopping. The naturalists on board were not very informative and provided very little of interest that could not be read in one of the many brochures. The lecture on whales and sea otters was mainly a promo for supplemental nature excursions from tour companies with whom the naturalists seemed to have some sort of business relationship. Our disappointment in the running commentary offered by the naturalists and park rangers when sailing through Glacier Bay, and other areas of interest could be a result of the poor audio system available on the ship.
We decided not to purchase any of the optional shore excursions. We came on the cruise to see Glaciers, snow capped mountains, spectacular scenery and animals. Most of these were viewed from the ship as we cruised along the coast. When we visited ports, we would normally take a long walk by ourselves, or if available, take the city bus around the area to get an overview. In Sitka, we took a walk on the road next to the fish canneries (left from the cruise ship dock past the old Russian church) to the end of the road where we found a small park which was the nesting place for 30 to 40 bald eagles. We sat there for a couple of hours getting a close up view of what was available at the Raptor Center. We then hiked back to the native Alaskan museum at the University to find that it is closed on Sundays and holidays. In Juneau, we visited the Mendenhall Glacier by taking the #3 (or #4) city bus out to where the driver dropped us off within an easy mile walk to the Glacier ($2.50 p.p. round trip). In general, our impression of Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan was that the areas adjacent to the cruise ship docks were actually adult theme parks. Yes, they had 'historic old buildings', but they were full of trinkets for the tourists to purchase. I guess that things have not changed much since the 'Gold Rush'. In general, each port was mainly an Alaskan themed shopping mall. No complaints from us, we got what we came to see in the way of scenery and animals.
We did not have any significant disappointments. However, they could improve their guest lecturers, audio system and the attitude of Purser's office staff. Additionally, the seating in the Crow's Nest lounge could stand to have higher backs for us taller people to sit comfortably during those long hours in Glacier Bay.
We really enjoyed our Holland America cruise down the coast of Alaska and Canada. We feel that we received a great value that exceeded our expectations. We would most certainly recommend it to others and look forward to taking our next cruise on Holland America.