I'm primarily a lurker but gained so much insight from this board before our trip, I had to return the favor and post a review. Some background: Ron and I are both 32 and childfree, this is our second cruise to Alaska (first was on the Ryndam in 96). It was my third cruise ever, hubby's second.
I was a little worried about the Maasdam as I had been reading about her upcoming dry dock and some mixed reviews, but she looked in great condition to us. All the public areas were spotless and several times I saw staff out cleaning carpets, dusting baseboards, etc. Our S suite verandah did have a bit of rust on the "roof" and the Lido overhang (we were the first cabin under the overhang - from the front - port side, S028). We figured that was to be expected on the outside of the ship.
We had booked nine months early and had chosen a B mini-suite, port side midships (168). We used our timeshare ownership to trade for the cruise, so did not have a traditional travel agent. This was okay for the most part, but when it came time to put in the upgrade request (not expecting it, just wanted our names in "in case"), it was a bit of a challenge.
We finally ended up in contact with a fantastic woman in HAL's special services department who did everything right. She gave us a few tricks, asked us to call her a week out and then fax a letter to the booking department. Thanks to her, we ended up in a full suite for just an additional $300 per person!! The lovely thing was, it was almost directly above the B mini we were leaving, so our location was almost exactly what we had chosen.
The suites are wonderful and we are undoubtedly too spoiled to ever go back to anything else. The Maasdam does not have a Neptune lounge, but did offer pre dinner hors doeurves and tea via room service. They also had the Kings Room open for suite passengers only during regular breakfast and lunch hours. We took advantage of it once for lunch, but primarily ate breakfast in our stateroom and were on shore or not hungry yet when lunch time rolled around.
We did get expedited embarkation and debarkation, which was nice. Unfortunately, we don't know if they were using the "new" embarkation procedures as the customs folks didn't show up until almost 1:30. We were let on just after the wheelchairs and were taken directly to our cabin.
We were invited to a lunch and reception with the captain and hotel manager just for suite passengers, which we were unable to attend. The only suite perks we took advantage of were the Kings Room, hors deourves (once) and the free pressing and laundry service - THAT was nice to have! I also loved the robe and used the jacuzzi tub a few times. It's definitely only large enough for one, and at five-feet-one, I just barely fit laying down.
The room itself was huge and beautiful. We spent a lot of time there on the at sea days and loved the large verandah. It housed a glass-topped patio style table with four chairs and two lounges.
We did not spend a lot of time in the Lido, aside from visiting the ice cream bar a few times. We visited the Crows Nest and Ocean bar a couple of times each. We had wonderful table for two on the rail in the upper level of the dining room, so we ate there every night except for one (shore excursion). The food was good, portions a good (smaller) size. My husband was given a second helping of lobster tails without even asking, and we never had issues with special requests.
We missed out on the desert extravaganza as our late seating simply had us too full to participate.
For the most part, the crowd on the cruise was a nice mix of ages. Not a lot of kids, which was fine by us. About a dozen tuxedoes in the dining room on formal nights and only a few people not following the suggested dress. Our two formal nights were on the second day (first at sea) and the fifth (Glacier Bay). The first (embarkation), third (Juneau) and last (at sea) were casual; and the fourth (Ketchikan) informal.
We're not the type that can completely disconnect, so we checked out the internet cafe right away. We brought our small laptop with built-in wireless and were able to buy a wireless package with no problems and no installation required.
Unfortunately, we could not access it from our room, but could almost anywhere on the Upper Promenade deck. The speed was not great, but it was enough to download e-mail and upload pre-written reports and photos to my personal blog site.
The wireless access cost $100 for 250 minutes. They did offer laptop and wireless card rentals. The cafe prices for using their equipment were different (three packages) but I did not write down what they were.
Our trip was Vancouver-Vancouver, so after a day and a half at sea, it was nice to port in Juneau almost an hour early at 1 p.m. As soon as the ship pulled in, the cloudy skies opened up to rain. It was expected, but as the day went on it got foggier and colder. We were prepared with layers and light waterproof jackets with hoods.
After a few hours of shopping (with the Radisson Seven Seas and Carnival Spirit passengers), we met up for our whale watch with Orca Enterprises - the famous Captain Larry. Our group of 22 were put on a bus and driven to the other side of the island, where we boarded the boat with Larry and his naturalist.
We saw eagles, a large group of humpbacks "bubble net" feeding and an island full of harbor seals. We spent about two hours on the water in Auke Bay, then headed back. It was comparable to the whale watch we took on our last cruise, but we weren't sure what the build-up was for Larry. He hardly spoke two words.
We had considered the Mt. Roberts tram, but the fog was so thick by the time we returned, it wasn't worth it. We climbed back on board just after 7 and made it to our (casual) late seating.
We left Juneau at 11 pm bound for Skagway.
Windy as usual, but no rain and nice temperatures in the low 60s in Skagway. We spent a few hours shopping in the small town, then met up for our kayak trip. Since our excursion was in Haines, we boarded a double-decker cruiser with a few other groups for the 30-minute boat ride there.
Our group of nine was then taken by bus to a beautiful salmon stream and lake, given instruction, then put into three-person kayaks. Having never done it before, I was a bit nervous, but it was not difficult by any means. The back person runs the rudder, the front sets the paddling pace and the middle simply follows.
We were warned to keep the guides between us and shore in case of bears, but did not encounter any. We did see eagles an loads of salmon spawning in the shallows. After an hour or so on the water, we headed in.
Just as we boarded the bus, Ron spotted a brown bear on the other side of the stream! We were able to watch for a few minutes, then he headed back into the woods. This was our first bear sighting in Alaska - our last trip was in September and we saw none.
We were served a good, albeit overcooked, salmon dinner on our return cruise, then boarded the Maasdam as the crew disconnected the gangway. We set sail right on time at 9 pm for Glacier Bay.
We stayed on our verandah much of the day. It was quite drizzly and foggy, so we couldn't see much until we were right next to it. We didn't have much calving or nearly as much activity as on our last cruise, but it was still beautiful.
We left Glacier Bay at 4 p.m. for the long trip to Ketchikan.
Fully expecting rain here, we were amazed and pleasantly surprised to find SUN in Ketchikan! It was a beautiful day in the mid 60s.
After a few hours of shopping (seeing a pattern here?) we met up for our Traitor's Cove Bear Adventure. We boarded a bus for the short drive to the marina, where we were split into two groups of four and put on float planes. We hadn't ridden in these and it was fun! We landed at an island about 20 minutes later, met by forest service guides.
We were given instruction and warnings on what to do if we encountered bears on the trail, then took a short van trip on a dirt road into the interior. We hiked about five minutes through deep woods to a viewing platform over a stream, where a small black bear was already fishing. He stayed for a good ten minutes, then another, larger, black bear appeared not long after. Our hour out there went quickly.
We made it back about 5, just in time to wait with the crowd (we were to set sail at 6).
Our evening and morning were a bit fun as we hit some good waves and the boat was rocking. My sea bands worked wonders, but I only really needed them while laying down.
Although our flight out of Vancouver was not until 5:30, as suite passengers we had priority debarkation. We were also offered the option of having our luggage collected at 6 that morning and were invited to wait, with refreshments, in the piano bar. We had not even left our cabin when we were called at 7:50 am.
We picked up our luggage, then checked it in at Canada Place for storage. We spent some time at Stanley Park and the aquarium, then went to the airport early. We missed the early ship crowds, so it was a smooth process through security and customs.
We loved Alaska as much as we did on our first trip, along with Holland America. The smaller ship really does make a difference as the only day we felt there were more than a few people on board was the day in Glacier Bay. We definitely plan to go back.
Most definitely get a room with a verandah in Alaska - a suite if you can. Our last trip was inside and it made a world of difference to just open a door and enjoy the scenery in private.
We would like to try another line next trip, just to experience something different. While we love HAL, the activities offered on the at sea days just weren't the kinds of things we were interested in and we found ourselves a little bored.
If anyone has questions I would be happy to answer!