I have a hotel awards certificate that can be used for a 7-day Alaskan cruise on Holland America. My cruise experience is limited to two seven day Caribbean cruises on Carnival, both of which were about five years ago. My certificate is valid for a Category "E" but I am planning on paying for a balcony upgrade.
There are many options available and I am quickly becoming overwhelmed and would benefit from other opinions.
This would be a cruise for two, no kids and little interest in exciting nightlife. We're both young and energetic and want to take in as much of Alaska as possible during the cruise - shore excursions and the view from our room/ship is important.
I am open to all suggestions, but am currently looking at the Westerdam out of Seattle and the Zuiderdam out of Vancouver. I have been told the Inside Passage is very nice, but I'm from the east coast and flights to/from Vancouver appear to be expensive, compared to Seattle.
This would be my partner's first cruise so I would like it to be as nice as possible. Any assistance with the ship, itinerary and time of summer would be appreciated. Thanks.
I've sailed both from Vancouver and Seattle. The Vancouver trip is quite a bit more scenic and on our trips at least we were able to spend longer time in ports and arrived at Juneau much earlier in the day. My biggest gripe about Vancouver is on both of our trips it was a nightmare to leave. Long long lines at the airport to get to the plane. Both times 4 ships had arrived that morning and we were all dumped at the airport at the same time.
That said, the route from Seattle is very scenic as well. You do sail on the outside of Vancouver Island so there's more open sea. We were in sight of land the whole time, at least during the day, but I've heard that this isn't always the case. It was much easier on returning to leave from Seattle.
I would in the future use either port again.
Try to choose the best itinerary possible for your needs and likes. My number one pick is Glacier Bay. HAL does have ships that visit the bay. It's spectacular.
Depending on budget of course:
Skagway: I found the White Pass Rail trip to be wonderful. And just walking the town is very nice too.
Juneau: Whalewatch trips are great. Up close and personal. Visit the Mendenhall glacier if you can. 10 bucks each round trip from the docks. If the weather's clear take the Mt. Roberts tram. Spectacular views.
Ketchikan: Walk the town. Creek street is an easy walk from the dock. Go up the tram and you can visit some nice totems and walk down the married man's trail back down. The salmon ladder is right at the bottom of the trail too. We did the Duck tour which was so silly it was fun.
There is tons of shopping in all the ports, including Sitka if you choose a ship that goes there.
We were not able to do flightseeing however this is spectacular (I use that word a lot). Very pricey however.
If you do Hubbard Glacier instead of Glacier bay you won't be disappointed. It does take you out of the inside passage however. Hubbard glacier is quite awsome. But all in all we prefered Glacier Bay by quite a bit.
You'll find some people that think the balcony is a waste of money. I'm not one of them. To be able to quietly sit out there and watch the scenery go by is terriffic. You sound as if you're looking for some peace and quiet as well. By all means you'll still want to wander the decks. Better for panaramic views. IMHO a balcony is a must for Alaska.
Our 3 trips were all in early August. For the most part we had sunny weather. Each trip had light rain on one day. The weather is very iffy. A ship with a covered pool (just in case) is nice. August had a lot of wildlife to see. Bald Eagles were everywhere. Plenty of whales on the whale watch trip. You will probably see whales from the ship as well but they most likely won't be all that close. Salmon were running and spawning in Juneau and Ketchikan. I don't recall seeing salmon in Skagway.
In summary, Alaska is...well...spectacular! HAL is a terrific cruise line. They have a rep for older passengers but in Alaska this isn't as much the case. There will be kids on board since you'll most likely be there in the summer.
PeterC gave an excellent narrative to help you along.
My opinions: both ships you're considering are identical ( nearly: same class and basic blueprint, with Westerdam being a few months younger...)
so it boils down to itinerary; I suggest Zuiderdam out of Vancouver; by all means, upgrade yourselves to a balcony ( or Verhanda, as HAL calles them).;; try your very best to NOT to fly in day of sailing and fly back same day you debark; that kills your holidays. Vancouver is such a nice area it deserves a couple of days at both ends, which also allows you to savor the cruise to its fullest,without wasting the 1st day with flights there/transfers/checkin/unpacking/etc etc....Likewise, no stress on debark day. Immensely valuable on the stress level. You can also checkin earliest possible that way, being already in the port city;; you pay the money,might as well max out your stay.
June is a good month overall; your days are also longest; you'll be amazed as you stroll along the outside decks at 11.30pm still in daylight; the slow descent of the sun around 12.30am--1.00am is fabulous...
Hubbard , imo, is more spectacular than Glacier Park.....both are very nice either way.The good thing is even if its raining, you still can see the faces of Glaciers....3-400' visibility is all you need !!!
You've selected two very good ships.
You're lucky; enjoy your cruise
Past waves and happy memories: SUMMIT, MERCURY,DAWN PRINCESS, ISLAND PRINCESS X 2, REGAL PRINCESS.
Nest up: CENTURY June'08....B2B Norwegian Fjords/Artic/NorthCape & Scandinavia/Russia
It is only about $75 to rent a car one-way from Seatac Airport to Vancouver, including drop off charges. You may even do better if you shop around a bit. The drive is about 2.5 hours including the border customs inspection. Use the more Eastern (truck route) border crossing to save time. The crossing there is much faster plus the roads/freeways etc. to Vancouver are faster too using the truck route. A car rental is a far better option than the buses and or the Amtrak train that often turns out to be a bus anyway. Go figure!
Both cruises are nice. We've done both. The Vancouver point of embarkation is a bit more scenic, especially if you are visiting Glacier Bay, which in my opinion is the highlight.
Have sailed from Seattle and Vancouver many times. For me, coming from the East coast.....Seattle is just more simple and cheaper to fly into.
Either way, you should have a great time.
You might consider the Zaandam out of Seattle....we're sailing her in July.
I just took my first cruise on HAL last month, the inside passage on the Rhyndam. I loved it because the ship only holds 1266 passengers. It was completely sold out, but did not seem crowded. Getting off and on the ship was a breeze, no waiting in line.
The weather in september was excellent. Although it rained the entire day in Ketchican, we took a private tour that we bought near one of the shops, it was great, a van load of 10 people beats a bus load of 60 people any day. Juneau was great, the whale watching was awesome (one of the ship's excursions), even the boat crew was excited to see some sunshine for a change!
Skagway was not so great for me. I took the tour to the Yukon. Not a bad tour, but too many people. When we stopped for lunch at this small place in the Yukon for lunch there were already 2 busloads of people there, when we left there were 8, and all 8 of these buses were headed back to the train, so finding a seat was somehat exasperating. On the , whole I would not do this shore excursion again. However, the fall colors were in full force, which made the ride much more beautiful.
I was not sure what to expect from HAL. I am 37, and I know that the majority of HAL cruisers are seniors, but I had a great time and would definitely do it again. Since it was september, there were only 2 children, who were actually the children of one of the crew members.
The trip was from vancouver to anchorage. The last two days were glacier bay and college fiord. I could spend the whole 7 days just watching glaciers calve. The airfare is more expensive, but I got to spend time in 2 beautiful cities, vancouver and anchorage (which was so warm we wore short sleeves all day)
The best thing about the inside passage was that the water was smooth as glass, so no seasickness.
I can't wait to go back, I am taking my parents next year for their 40th anniversary.
Tim - so glad you told us about the bus trip in Skagway to the Yukon. Last time I did the train both ways so I decided I would do the bus up & train back next time. Now I won't bother - if there were that many busses where you stopped for lunch, I'll forget it. I thoroughly enjoyed the train trip - scenery was maginficent, wasn't it?
I've done the Alaska trip twice - June and end of August. I believe it rains in Ketchikan (rain Capital of Alaska) and Juneau all the time.
The first time we were there we did a whale watching excursion - what a site to see those magnicent beasts come to the surface. We also did Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon bake. Both excellent.
We went this past June out of Vancouver thru the Inside Passsage. My advice is to take lots more film or a digital camera card that will hold more pictures than you think you could ever take. We came home with arund 550 pictures and almost all of them were great. If you do leave from the port of Vancouver, allow an extra day before the trip to visit the the wonderful attractions there and make sure one of your stops is Van Dusen Gardens. They are magnificent during any season. We did the glacier/dog sledding tour out of Juneau with Coastal. We received so much more personal attention than those who took ship's dogsledding tour. I highly recommend this, although very expensive ($400 pp), it was the highlight of our tours. The only lines at the airport were as we arrived and going thru customs. It moved fairly quickly though (around 30 mins). If possible, be sure to add some days of land tour onto your cruise schedule. HAL takes wonderful care of their cruise/land tour travelers. Hope your trip is as fantastic as ours was.