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Holland America Southbound Cruise - early June

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Jun 29th, 2014, 02:10 PM
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Holland America Southbound Cruise - early June

There are few enough trip reports on Alaska Cruises, so I'll try to contribute here. We spent a little time before and after the cruise, so in total it was a 2 week trip including a 7-day cruise. We sailed on Holland America Oosterdam south out of Seward to Vancouver.

Overview:

5/28 - Evening flight Orlando to Seattle. Late arrival, stayed at airport Doubletree (older property but our go-to place).

5/29 - Ate at the vintage Pancake Chef near the SeaTac airport. This place has been around since 1964 and it is well worth a stop if you can. Very retro, excellent breakfast, big servings. It's like stepping back in time. Rest of the day spent visiting family in Everett.

5/30 - Morning flight to Anchorage on Alaska Air. This is about a 3-1/2 hour flight, which surprises many people who think it's "right next to Seattle." Anchorage was cool and overcast when we got in, cleared up in town late afternoon to beautiful, then big storms that night.

On any vacation, we look for something in the way of a historic hotel or B&B; this time it was the Historic Anchorage Hotel. It's one of the survivors of the 1964 earthquake that devastated the area, and supposedly haunted. Although we met no ghosts, all the staff we did meet were so friendly and enjoyable. It's right in the middle of the touristy area, close to the Alaskan Railroad, etc. For those wanting to get away from the same-everywhere hotels, this was a great choice.

After checking in, we headed down Turnagain Arm. That's where we ran into the oncoming storm. It was so windy, we had trouble standing upright. We finally turned into Alyeska Resort to have drinks and appetizers in the pub, to get out of the weather. (We had reservations to return the next night for dinner, so wanted to check it out.)

Back in Anchorage, the weather was gorgeous, light lingered into late in the evening, and we enjoyed walking around, buying a bunch of t-shirts and other souvenirs (of course). That night, the storm came in, leaving a lot of new snow on the mountains and taking down power in large parts of town. Thank goodness for our "vintage" hotel with big windows and stairs... those in the Captain Cook Hotel we trapped in the tower for hours until electricity was restored.

5/31 - Anchorage. The Anchorage Museum still had power, fortunately. What a great place! It's undergone an overhaul recently, and we think it might be even better than the museums in Victoria and Vancouver (don't hit me!!). Dinner at the Seven Glaciers at the Alyeska. This was well worth the drive back down Turnagain Arm for the spectacular views and the meal. The gondola ride to the top of the mountain to get to the restaurant is included when you make dinner reservations, and so the price was very reasonable.

Next - the train to Seward, cruising Resurrection Bay, and on board.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 04:44 PM
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6/1 - We Take The Train To Seward

For train lovers, this is such a fun ride. It's about 4 hours, you'll travel along the road for a time (Turnagain Arm area mostly, which we drove along twice) and then go into areas that give views of glaciers and raging streams.

This being our second time, we upgraded to Goldstar class and so had assigned seats in the dome car, with great view sideways and above, a private outside platform, an open bar and preferential breakfast seating. We loved it. However, we also enjoyed the previous general seating.

Upon arrival in Seward, we were met by the Kenai Fjords Tours people (our luggage was checked through to the ship). At first the weather was just overcast and misting, and stayed that way until after our lunch at Fox Island. (By the way, the food greatly exceeded our expectations and was the best buffet by far of the trip.) Unfortunately, it soon became pretty socked in and limited our viewing on the rest of this trip. Still, a great experience and we did get some great views of the various birds and some sea otters.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 04:54 PM
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6/1 We Board Oosterdam

A day or so before we left, we were offered an upgrade from our Veranda cabin to a Neptune Suite, for $199 apiece. That was a great buy and really made our trip. So, anytime you might get that offer - don't hesitate, take it.

To start with, the line to board in general was awful - the entire building was wall-to-wall people. We made our way to the non-existent line for "Deluxe Verandas" and were on our way in short order.

Our luggage was not so fortunate. From our veranda, we could watch the Port of Seward crew, who appeared to be engaged in some sort of work slowdown. Standing around, smoking, not handing any luggage for hours. Finally, the tug arrived to take us out to sea, and STILL our luggage was waiting. When they suddenly starting loading, our obvious conclusion was that somebody paid off some bribe...

The result was that we ended up showing up for dinner in grubby clothes, but that first night was forgiven. Our luggage finally showed up just before we turned in for bed. Oh, by the way, our stewards were wonderful, showing up early, introducing themselves and doing what they could to make us comfortable. Neptune suites also have a special lounge and concierge, also very helpful, and we thoroughly enjoyed that amenity.

Only con here - as a result of this upgrade, DH now wants to travel Neptune Suite on ALL cruises...
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Jun 29th, 2014, 05:07 PM
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6/2 At Sea

This was our day to settle in. The weather was rain-free and surprisingly pleasant. We walked around on the outside decks, and this was the day we got pictures playing basketball, etc. Just to note - that was also the last day we had that sort of weather, and were very glad we packed GorTex rainwear from then on.

Our cruise package included drink cards worth "up to 15 drinks a day, per person." This included well drinks, beer, house wine, specialty coffees, sodas, etc. - basically anything priced at $7 or less. It was pure overkill for us; even if we had shared one card, we would not have met that limit.

This is a large ship, to me (we are not mega-ship people). Compared to the smaller Zaandam, there was also a different crowd - more families, less dressing up, overall a less ... "sophisticated" crowd. Personally, I like dressing up on a cruise, and rarely do so in everyday life. My job is more of a "wear jeans and a polo or t-shirt while working on servers or writing code, and never socializing" sort of environment. To each their own.

DH really liked the Vista class ship, btw - although he is generally anti-cruise, he wanted to book another cruise before we left the ship.

Tomorrow - Glacier Bay
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Jun 29th, 2014, 05:24 PM
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6/3 - Glacier Bay National Park

Since we had a HUGE veranda this time, we spent most of this day right there. The ranger's lecture was piped in over the television. The ship rotates so that everybody gets a view all round.

Unfortunately, very little calving on this trip. On our last trip, it was non-stop. I suspect that the lack of snow back in the mountains this year resulted in less "push" for the glacier. At any rate, we only caught 2 little ones. We did get to see a grizzly along the shore, and we had a pod of orcas running alongside us for a time.

We did go up to the Crows Nest for a bit. That's where we got the requisite Dutch pea soup that HAL serves on the Glacier Bay day.

Weather - cloudy, misty, and at one point we got snow. The blue of the glacial ice was more pronounced though, due to the overcast. Also, since our last trip here in 2008, we noticed that the glaciers appeared to have receded quite a bit.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 05:42 PM
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6/4 - 4am We Experience An Earthquake

Woken from a sound sleep by what appeared to be the ship hitting something hard. Not only the sensation of impact, but it was pretty loud. Then came a couple of pitches, and shuddering.

Our best thought was that we were docking early in Haines and really had a botched attempt. I got up and went on the veranda - no, still at sea and the water was streaming around in an odd way. Hmmmm. Finally, the ship settled back down and, reassured, we did too.

Once we got into Haines, everybody was talking about the earthquake (5.8) that had them evacuating their homes at 4am. From all we heard, it appears the ship was near the epicenter at the time. Exciting times!
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Jun 29th, 2014, 06:04 PM
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Will continue with ports and excursions tomorrow -
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Jun 30th, 2014, 05:08 PM
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6/4 - Haines

Most cruises come into nearby Skagway. It's got more in the way of touristy shops and excursions, but we like little historic Haines. It was originally settled by the Tlingit tribe, and there is a very nice collection of Tlingit art in the local museum. Later came the traders, adventurers, missionaries, and so inevitably, the military. Fort Seward is still there, mostly as a historical tour.

We bought a pass to the 3 museums in town (which is small enough to walk to each): the Sheldon Museum, which is where the Tlingit display is and where you purchase your museum pass; the Hammer Museum across the street (the proprietor also works at the cruise ship dock supervising); and the Raptor Museum, where we got to see a beautiful owl up close. Don't laugh about the Hammer Museum - it is actually quite impressive. I had no idea there were that many thousands of hammer varieties...

At Alaska Rod's, I bought one of his custom made knives (kitchen variety), and we enjoyed getting to know Rod and his wife; not a lot of crowds. The people everywhere were so friendly - the coffee shop next door, the bank (where an employee took me back to look out some windows and told me all about the shortcuts across town).

Of course, the talk of the town was the earthquake earlier - people evacuated their homes for fear of a tsunami. DH found a vintage car he really wanted to buy.. needless to say, it gave him an opportunity to chat up a bunch more people until he learned the history of the car via town gossip. I was able to keep him from bringing the car home.

Later on, we took the one excursion we actually booked through HAL - the Kroschel Center for Orphaned Animals. Ever wonder where they find those wolverines and other wild critters for National Geographic documentaries? How they film them? They live here, a lot of them. Orphaned as babies for one reason or another and hand raised, they are obviously fond of their humans. The staff is careful to keep us at arms length for our safety and the critters, but it was really amazing. Oh, except for a moose, which got snot all over me, friendly thing.

Out there, we really wished we had heeded the warning about bug spray - the skeeters were huge, aggressive, and in the millions.

All in all, we had plenty of time to explore, meet people, learn new things, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Next, Juneau.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 05:34 PM
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6/5 - Juneau

Inspired by Eschew, we did this one completely on our own. City buses no longer go to Mendenhall (congestion), but there is a row of tour booths that offer a round trip, all priced the same. We bought our tickets, went to Mendenhall, and had the luxury of spending all the time we wanted there. We hiked to the waterfall, lingered in spots, viewed a movie inside, went through the exhibits, etc.

We missed the bear in the parking lot, though. At the time, we were taking pictures of the pretty blue iceberg chunks and some interesting flower. Oh well.

On the way to Mendenhall, outside town, there is a section with marshland on the right. Take a look, and you will see many eagle heads, individually and in clumps. Must have been hundreds of them.

We did make the obligatory stop for a beer at the Red Dog Saloon, but didn't linger. Bought a few more souvenirs, walked around, and generally soaked up the atmosphere. Last trip, we did the Mendenhall/whale watch/salmon bake. This was much better, and cost very little.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 05:47 PM
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6/6 - Ketchikan

Creek Street is where you can get something other schlock, if you are so inclined. We did find a few handcrafts we took a liking to - 2 pieces of driftwood turned into faces, and a couple of numbered prints. One was pretty amusing and captioned "The Pacific Northwest - the closet you can come to living underwater."

We also stopped in at a place (don't remember the name), and got fish and chips - crunchy salmon, not the battered cod style. I've wanted to try that for a while now. Well... next time I'll opt for the halibut, but it was certainly different.

This is a great place for shopping. It's also a great place for zip lines and other excursions, so I've heard from friends. But you can have a great day just walking around, shopping, and taking pictures.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 05:51 PM
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6/7 - Inside Passage

Well, the weather didn't favor us for this. It was socked in to the extent that we couldn't see much past the railing, for the most part.

At this point, DH was coming down with some bug - he had a cough, didn't feel like doing much. So, this was a good day to just enjoy our awesome Neptune Suite. We ventured out a few times - breakfast at the Pinnacle Grill (for Neptune guests), a couple of cocktail parties, dinner (again at Pinnacle Grill, part of our promotional package). Just a relaxing day.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 05:59 PM
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6/8 - We arrive in Vancouver

We were up early to take pictures as the ship approached the Lions Gate bridge. Having left our luggage outside our door last night, there was little we had to do. Breakfast at the Pinnacle Grill (a huge difference from last time, when we learned that everybody else on board also wanted breakfast at the buffet and you couldn't even get in).

Since we had expedited debarking, we just hung out on our balcony and watched the luggage handlers. They did hustle, as opposed to Seward. Unfortunately, they got too ambitious in stacking, and one load lost the top suitcases. One just exploded as it landed, scattering belongings everywhere and destroying the suitcase. Ugh. They gathered it up as best they could, and were much more careful after that. Condolences to the owner of that piece of luggage.

We were off and on our way hassle-free, got a car and
spent the next two days in our timeshare there. We are familiar with the city, doing nothing really momentous other than breakfast at the old De Dutch site in North Van and strolling around. Oh, a couple of visits to Rodneys Oyster House (Yaletown plus the newer one at Gastown).
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Jun 30th, 2014, 06:10 PM
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6/10 - Morning train to Seattle

This is a great way to travel. We caught a cab to the station early morning, got on the train, and had a most relaxing 4 hour trip. We saw so many eagles along the coast (just north of the U.S. border) that at some point we heard somebody observe "Now it's just getting boring." Not really, though.

The Seattle station has been renovated and it is simply beautiful. There I was, wandering around taking pictures of the train station of all things. At least until DH collared me to fetch our luggage.

We stayed at The Camlin (timeshare again). What a beautiful property. And, since by now we were both suffering from the same bug, they rushed us into a very nice room to relax.

I did venture down to the Pike Place Market to get some smoked salmon sent to a friend and some for myself to bring home. Otherwise... all I can say is it was a beautiful day and a beautiful room.

The next morning, we made it to the airport where we caught an uneventful flight home. Back to work.

Notes: We were glad we had GorTex rain jackets. We enjoyed the two train rides (for us, they counted as excursions). Wish we had brought mosquito repellent. Glad I brought Gorilla tap. Ecstatic about getting a suite, it is SO worth it. Only sorry our family couldn't join us; we would have so liked to share this with them.
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Jul 11th, 2014, 04:33 PM
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Thanks for the cruise report. We just got back from the 14 Alaska Cruise on Holland America's ms Amsterdam. I'm happy to report that on July 2 when we were at Glacier Bay there was a lot of calving going on. It wasn't quite non-stop but pretty close. Love hearing the thunder!

Utahtea
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Jul 11th, 2014, 05:26 PM
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Glad to hear that, utahtea! So how did you like a full 14 days? I would have liked that, but DH felt that he would go stir crazy (in retrospect, he would have enjoyed it).
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Jul 12th, 2014, 02:02 AM
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sludick, Our very first cruise 4 years ago was a 7 day round trip out of Vancouver. I couldn't talk DH into the 14 day cruise bacl then either! Last year we did a 20 day repositioning Panama Canal and now 7 days is to short of a cruise...LOL!

We both loved this 14 day. Just the right amount of sea days with port or glacier days. Since we didn't get any farther north than Skagway the first time, it was quite a treat to go all the way to Anchorage.

Day 1 we set sail from Seattle around 5 pm under warm and sunny skies.

Day 2 was a sea day and it was cloudy and the seas were a little rough. I went to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. We were once again adjusting to our sea legs and learning our ship.

Day 3 was Ketchikan where we did Totem Bright State Park and then walked around town. It rained on and off all day.

Day 4 was Juneau where we took the blue bus to Mendenhall Glacier and did the walk to Nugget Falls and watched the movie. Again we had on and off rain all day. We had wanted to do the tram but it just didn't seem like a good day for it.

Day 5 was Tracy Arm and we got up very close to South Sawyer Glacier and spent about an hour at the face of the glacier.

Day 6 was Icy Strait Point where we did a whale watching tour. We spent about 45 minutes watching 7 humpback whales.

Day 7 was a sea day and we had sunny weather and could walk around the promenade deck without being cold.

Day 8 was Anchorage where we took a 10 hour tour first on a bus to Whittier and then a 5 hour boat tour on 26 Glacier boat tour on Prince William Sound...LOVED IT! We were lucky enough to have a warm and sunny day for this tour. As we drove back to Anchorage the clouds came back.

Day 9 was Homer and we took the free shuttle to Homer spit and ended up walking back to the ship to get really close to a bald eagle. It was a cloudy day with a few drizzles. I think if it had been a nicer day we would have done the hop on hop off tour to Homer.

Day 10 was Kodiak and we took a walking tour of Fort Abercrombie State Park and walked around town.

Day 11 was Hubbard Glacier in the afternoon. The sun had come out as we approached the bay but clouded up again once we got in the bay. We spent a lot of our time on our balcony as we approached the bay and then on the bow as we approached the glacier. It was COLD outside but we really enjoyed the views. As I mentioned we saw a lot of calving. We had just enough time to get ready for formal night after the ship left the glacier.

Day 12 was Sitka. We did the Grizzly Meadow 4x4 Adventure. Seven miles by van to the water taxi. Seven miles on the water taxi to Kruzof Island and then 7 miles by a two person 4x4 Rhino OHV's to Grizzly Meadow. We didn't see any bears and I really didn't expect to since I knew the noise from the the 4x4's would scare them away. We did the water taxi and van back to Sitka. On our own we did the Sitka Historical Park where we walked around the totem poles and town. Sitka is a cute little town. It was a fun adventure but a little on the pricey side and I don't think I'd do that again.

Day 13 happened to be the 4th of July and they had a big 4th of July BBQ at lunch time and it was also the 4th formal night that evening.

Day 14 was Victoria, Canada from 1 pm to 11 pm. We just walked 6 miles around Victoria before dinner and then had to pack that evening. We disembarked the next morning around 9 am.

I would definitely do this cruise again in a heart beat.

Utahtea
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Jul 12th, 2014, 04:43 AM
  #17
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utahtea - your ship was very much in the Anchorage news when we were there. Lots of excitement and anticipation, having the ship come all the way to Anchorage itself - I think it had been a couple of years since that had happened, and HAL was reinstituting the cruise (2-3 times a year?).

Thanks for sharing!
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Jul 12th, 2014, 07:34 PM
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sludick, Holland America started their 14 day Alaska cruise in 2010 and was docking in Anchorage. Last year they didn't do the 14 day Alaska cruise. This year they are doing the 14 day cruise 4 times and in 2015 they will be doing it 9 times using the ms Statendam.

Utahtea
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Mar 1st, 2015, 11:06 AM
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sludick and utahtea, thanks for your trip reports which I have resurrected here since I'm going on a Holland America Alaska cruise in a few months. Very helpful info from you both!
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Mar 1st, 2015, 05:12 PM
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I'm glad you found it helpful. Enjoy your trip - which ship are you traveling on?
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