My husband, mother-in-law and I returned yesterday from our cruise of the Inside Passage -- our sixth cruise overall (first to Alaska) and our first with Holland America. We had chosen this particular cruise based on the intinerary, the numerous good reports we had read about HAL and having the extra day (i.e., Labor Day) post cruise to recover before returning to work. Our previous cruises had all been with NCL, and, while we enjoyed them all, we agree with those who feel that HAL goes above and beyond. Here is our cruise "diary". Hope it is helpful to any of you who may be sailing the Zaandam in the coming weeks.
"Pre" Day 1: As we live in the east, we chose to fly into Vancouver a day early to get acclimated to the time change and to not have that first day exhaustion that we had experienced previously. We let our travel agent handle everything and she did a good job. Upon arrival in Vancouver (via Air Canada -- which was a wonderful experience in itself), we stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront in a harbor view room where we were able to watch the Zaandam sail in the next morning. We spent the afternoon walking around town and had a nice dinner at a restaurant called Brothers, with an interior that resembles a monastery and a wait staff that dress like monks. In the evening, we attended the IMAX film at Canada Place entitled "Alaska:Spirit of the Wild" -- to put us in the mood for the cruise -- which it did.
Day 1: We awoke early enough to watch the Zaandam sail in, had breakfast and went to the hotel lobby at about 9:00 a.m. to check-in for the cruise. (This was so convenient compared to our previous embarkations that involved standing in line and waiting). At 10:45 we joined a group of other Zaandam passengers for a 3-hour tour of Vancouver. This tour took us to Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park (with its beautiful sunken gardens), Chinatown, Gastown, etc. Our tour driver allowed us time to stop and take pictures along the way. At about 2:00 p.m., he took us to the ship, where we simply got on -- walking past all those who were sitting waiting to be processed. It was great. Our cabin was a standard outside on the Dolphin Deck at the very back of the ship. Once aboard, we unpacked a little, toured the ship and prepared to sail. At this point, the weather was partly cloudy and in the high 60s. Later that evening we attending the introductory show, i.e., the Las Vegas style review type. We are not fans of this type of entertainment, so we avoided the shows for the most part -- with the exception of the magician (who was excellent) and the Indonesian crew show.
Day 2: Sailing the inside passage. After breakfast and the church service, we spent the day walking the promenade, taking photos and generally settling in to the cruise. It was rainy and overcast -- but still very beautiful. We were served hot chocolate and cider on the promenade at various points throughout the day, which was a nice touch. Also, we found the Terrace Grill to be our favorite lunch place. The hamburgers, fries and pizza are excellent. Tonight was the first formal evening. We avoided the captain's welcome reception and the photographers that came with it. Dining in the Rotterdam was a nice experience. This was the "Running of the Mousse" night, where the waiters all danced around with moose head hats as they served you your chocolate mousse cake. Take your cameras; it's quite a spectacle. Our waiter and busboy were very efficient, although not particularly charismatic. We never developed a real rapport with them. Our tablemates however were quite entertaining and it was a pleasure rehashing the day's adventures with them each evening.
Day 3: Juneau. Our cruise docs indicated that the ship was scheduled to dock at 2:00 p.m., but it really docked at around noon. We were able to go ashore at about 1:00 p.m. and at that time walked about town and did some shopping. The weather went back and forth from partly sunny to drizzly. A few months prior, we had scheduled a 4:00 p.m. glacier helicopter landing (via Coastal Helicopters) and, at about 3:15, they arrived to transport us to the airport. Our flight was wonderful and the pilot very helpful and personable. We landed on Herbert Glacier where he told us about the various types of rock, gave us all a drink from a glacial stream and then took us back to the airport. We would definitely recommend Coastal Helicopters. Once back on the ship, we didn't feel like dressing for dinner, so we ate in the Lido Restaurant, which we felt was equal in food quality to the dining room.
Day 4: Skagway. We docked at about 7:00 a.m. A few weeks prior we had scheduled an early morning dogsled ride (on wheels), but the tour director arrived at the dock only to inform us that they had to cancel the ride due to a broken sled. This left us with an open morning before our 12:15 p.m. White Pass Rail/Coach tour. Skagway is a quaint little town with about 800 residents. We enjoyed just walking around and taking pictures. That afternoon we boarded the train for our trip to Fraser, B.C. and back. (Note: Although we were told that we would need picture ID and birth certificates, the bus driver simply shouted out the window to the customs people how many Americans, Canadians, etc. she had on board, and we drove off). The views from the train were great, although we agreed that a round trip train trip might have been a little too much of a good thing. Liarsville, although more than a little corny, was a nice diversion and my mother-in-law enjoyed panning for gold. They also had a beautiful McKenzie River husky dog there, so we were able to get our "fur fix". That night we attended the Indonesian crew show, which was very memorable. It was touching to see how much pride the Indonesian crew takes in its culture and how important it is for them to share it with the passengers.
Day 5: Glacier Bay National Park. We spent just about the entire day on deck --- wearing gloves and hood jackets. It was overcast and rained off and on, but the onboard naturalist had told us that overcast skies show off the color of the glaciers a little better and he was right. We didn't see any major glacier calving but took some great pictures. Also, we didn't see much in the way of wildlife -- just a few whales in the distance and a few seals sunning themselves on pieces of ice. But it was incredible all the same --- God's handiwork at it's finest! After a day out in the cold, we went in to prepare for dinner -- this was the second formal night and the night when the waiters parade the Baked Alaska. Also, we went to the disco for the first time -- it was 70's night. We are not much for night life, but were surprised at how many people were there, considering HAL's demographics.
Day 6: Ketchikan. We docked at about 10:00 a.m. We were treated to the traditional Ketchikan weather, i.e., rain. A few weeks prior we had scheduled an amphibious duck tour for 1:00 p.m. (At the time, HAL wasn't offering it as an excursion, but now it appears as an addendum to your onboard shore excursion form). It turned out to be a good choice. It was low cost, enclosed and gave us a fairly comprehensive tour of Ketchikan. In about 90 minutes, it took us to the salmon ladders and out into the harbor where we were able to view some eagles. After a little shopping, we returned to the ship for our afternoon snack. Tonight was Dutch night in the dining room, and, in our opinion, the weakest food night of the week. (If your are planning to visit the Marco Polo, tonight would be the night to make your reservations). Everyone was given a Dutch hat, and our waiter claimed that he wouldn't serve us unless we wore it. We, as part of the late seating, had an excellent pre-dinner show that evening featuring magician, James Cielen.
Day 7: Heading to Vancouver. After some morning sun, it turned into another cold, wet overcast day -- but we loved every minute of it. Spent most of the day doing laps on the promenade deck or reading (under blankets) while sipping hot chocolate. Also took some last minute pictures and video and said some goodbyes.
Day 8: Disembarkation. The process went well. We were off the ship and on our way to the airport by about 9:30. Once at the airport it was chaos, due to the large influx of cruise passengers, but the lines went fast. (Note to any of you who may be purchasing Ulu knives as souvenirs: do not put them in your carry on. We, perhaps stupidly, did not know this and had to stop and put them in our checked baggage). If you are flying from Vancouver to a U.S. destination, you are cleared through U.S. customs at Vancouver.
The things we will remember the most (in no particular order):
Being forgotten by room service on the one day we tried to order it for breakfast Not having a curtain to divide the bed from the rest of the room -- the brochure photos of the room imply that it exists, but it only extends about a foot from either side of the wall, rendering it useless. (We rigged our own.)
All in all, we had a wonderful time and will probably visit Alaska again. We would definitely sail with Holland America again, although not exclusively. Unlike some who have sailed with HAL, we were not so enamored as to become an "always and only" HAL cruiser. That being said, it would be hard to top this Alaskan adventure!