My wife and I had sailed on the Holland America Lines (HAL) Noordam on the seven-day inside Alaska Passage several years ago and the treatment provided on this ship really sold us on HAL. In fact, two years later, we sailed on the HAL Nuew Amsterdam for a 21-day Panama Canal cruise with the same superior service. Next, we took the Norwegian Lines Dreamward on a seven-day Fall Foliage, New England, and Eastern Canadian cruise to compare their service against HAL and on Norwegian we had poorer service. Thus, we decided to go the HAL Statendam for seven days with their seven day Tour 18 to Denali National Park.
My wife and I flew non-stop from Los Angeles to Vancouver, arriving just before lunch. Next, a short HAL bus ride across town to the ship boarding area without narration of the city as opposed to the earlier Alaska trip. Inside the ship terminal, the HAL personnel was unorganized - there were no directions, confusing signs, the lines of passengers waiting to board were poorly formed, etc. Finally, at about 3:30 PM, a HAL representative began directly the alumni into a shorter line and our travel documents were immediately processed. However, we were prevented from boarding the ship, as their metal detector equipment wasn't setup. After about a 30-minute wait, we boarded the ship without the presence of the usual little Dutch girl to greet us at the gangplank - the only greeter was the ever-present shipboard photographer.
Upon entering the ship, we were told which deck our cabin was on and sent on our way by ourselves. This was in contrast to our two earlier HAL cruises where our cabin stewards escorted us to our cabins. And our non-smoking cabin was upgraded into a smoking one with a verandah; we thought who would want a verandah in Alaska, but more on this later. Also, the cabin was near the stairways and elevators and the voices of the passengers gathering to use and return from the stairs and elevators could be heard especially late at night as well as music from the Crow's Nest (bar) several decks above us. We received flowers from a person we did not know while we were expecting to receive flowers from our travel agent. We guess it was an onboard HAL error. The cabin seemed a little narrow as compared to the other ships. The cabin had two double beds make into a queen sized bed, nine-drawer set of drawers, two closets, a couch, table, one chair, two night stands, TV and VCR, refrigerator, and bathroom with a spa-like bath tub.
We enjoyed good pre-dinner cocktail service at the Crow's Nest except for the night of the Captain's Reception when HAL pulls most of their waiters and waitresses downstairs to host the reception. We, also, found that several of the bars including the Crow's Nest would be closed without any previous notice for private parties. There were several other used areas that could have served just as well for these parties including the King's Dining Room, the Queen Dining Room, etc. The dinner table were either two or six persons with two dinner seatings. On the previous HAL cruises, we enjoyed the larger eight person tables. We didn't have time to see any onboard movies either in the theater or in our cabin. The entertainment was very poor - just an Elvis-like singer and magician with very load music for several nights, etc. Many of our fellow passengers stop going to these shows because of the loud music. Except the last night, there was a good musical review show.
I wonder if the smaller ships provide better or more personalize service? The Noordam and Nuew Amsterdam carry 52 passengers than the Statendam.
In Ketchikan, we took the 3½-hour Orca Beach Nature Walk with a very knowledgeable guide. Very enjoyable and saw their rain forest, the different trees, mushrooms, etc. A good choice. Last time, we took the river canoeing - it was enjoyable also. We saw eagles and crows in the city.
In Juneau, we took the 4½-hour five-mile Guide's Choice Adventure Hike along side Mendenhall glacier with lots of stair climbing, and one stretch was 200 stairs, but for the views and camera shots it was worth it. Last time, we took the Mendenhall River rafting trip and seaplane ride over the glaciers - two good choices.
In Sitka, we took the Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest, 3-hour boat ride and saw lots of whales and sea otters very close by. The boat came right up to the ship and we were able to board directly into the smaller boat. Instead of going to shore by launch and then boarding the boat. Last time, we took the sea kayaking - an another good choice.
In Hubbard Glacier Bay, we saw lots and lots of glaciers including several major glacier calving. The best place to see the glaciers is the Crow's Nest but it become to crowded and too full of cigarette smoke. It was here that our verandah became most appreciated as we had our private glacier viewing area. During major glacier viewing periods, all inside viewing areas should become non-smoking for the benefit to all passengers. There was an onboard naturalist to describe the glaciers, wildlife, indians, etc.
In Valdez, we took the 2-hour Keystone Canyon Raft Trip. Very interesting with lots of waterfalls.
We were off the ship in Seward at 6:30 AM as the shipboard personnel needed to prepare the ship for new passengers boarding at 3:30 PM. On the HAL bus trip to Anchorage, we stopped at Portage Lake for a 3-hour boat cruise to the Portage Glacier.
Anchorage was uneventful except for the 4-hour city tour. Our two-night stay was in a HAL Sheraton Anchorage hotel and the city was repairing the road in front of the hotel. The main floor restaurant was way over priced and the top floor restaurant wasn't open the two nights when we were there. The main activity was to walk downtown about six long blocks away. The nearest grocery store was about 13 blocks away. The room was on the tenth floor with a double bed, TV, etc., the standard hotel room. The hotel was not located in the best part of town.
The special 8-hour McKinley Explorer train ride to Denali National Park was fun with lots of sights to be seen. Try and specify that you want a front looking seat as opposed to a back or sideways looking seat. We were lucky and got a front looking seat while the couple across from us had only the view of where we had been. We had breakfast aboard and the service and food was good. We skipped lunch as we were still full from breakfast. We arrived at Denali about 4:00 PM.
We took the 6½-hour wildlife tour and saw only caribou and partridge-like birds. Our room in the HAL McKinley Chalets complex was actually two rooms with a bedroom with one single and one double bed and TV and the other room with a couch, table, and chair. The drawers and closets were very small. In fact, you can only take one carry-on bag for your clothing and toilettes. We found the restaurant and cafeteria to have a poor choice of meals and to be over priced. Due to the distance (about ½ mile) between our room and the restaurant, cafeteria, gift shop, and lobby, the complex provides a bus shuttle service. We took the hotel shuttle over to the park as the hotel is outside the park and spent some time at the visitor's center. The center is quite small and very unlike Yosemite or Yellowstone. There are no hiking trails in the park. We saw very few wildlife - no bears, no moose, no elk, no mountain goats, etc. About ½ mile on the main road to the park is the Princess complex and we had an enjoyable and reasonably priced breakfast the last morning.
We took the same train from Denali into Fairbanks and had dinner aboard. It too was very good. We saw several moose from the train. We stayed at the HAL Westmark Fairbanks hotel. Fairbanks was much more interesting with its tours of the Gold Dredge No. 8 (owned by HAL) and panning for gold (we collectively panned over eight dollars whole), and the sternwheeler Discovery cruise on the Chena and Tanana Rivers. The sternwheeler trip was the best thing of the whole trip.
A long flight home on Alaska Airlines - Fairbanks to Anchorage to Seattle to LAX.