Well, we've been home just over a week and I finally get my trip review written and submitted so I am posting here as well. Thank you to everyone who contributes to this board as I spent hours reading through threads in preparation for our trip. Hopefully this review helps someone else.
We decided about 18 months ago to take a trip for our 15th anniversary and we went with close friends who were married the same year. We are 2 couples ranging in age from mid-40's to early 50's, We selected Holland America because of their history cruising in Alaska.We also liked the idea of a smaller, quieter ship. While we are not seniors we tend to go to bed early and don't need the night life that some other ships provide.We booked 18 months in advance and selected an aft balcony and our friends chose a port-side signature suite. Just before final payment the prices dropped considerably so we contacted the travel agent. Because of the promo we booked under they wouldn't credit us with the difference but they offered to upgrade us to Neptune Suites which we happily accepted. We ended up on Deck 6 port side and our friends were on Deck 7 starboard.Embarkation - I had heard that embarkation can sometimes be long waits at Port of Vancouver. We arrived around 10:45 and we were on the ship by 11:20 with no wait at any point of the process. Very smooth.Cabin - we were in 6064 and our friends had 7051 and we were all happy with the accommodations. The room stewards were so friendly and attentive. Our friends were directly across from the Neptune Lounge and we were one floor below which I honestly didn't mind.Neptune Lounge - the concierges Carina and Kristine were both lovely, welcoming and helpful. We didn't really use their services much except to cancel a pre-paid dinner and make one dining reservation but they were always happy to answer questions. Having access to tea/coffee and snacks was a nice bonus. I would often wander up there early in the morning to grab a tea and a croissant to bring back to the room.Lido - We went to the Lido for only 3 meals the entire cruise, mainly because it was like feeding time at the zoo! I found it chaotic, crowded and only mediocre food. Don't get me wrong, no one was going to starve and the food wasn't bad, just not good enough to make up for the atmosphere.Main Dining Room - Despite booking super early we had open dining. While we liked the flexibility of the Open dining I think it also affected the service in the dining room. We only ate dinner there 3 times and while the experience got better each time it was still not up to the level of past cruise dining experiences. I found the main dining room crowded, noisy and rushed. I felt like our waiters made no effort to connect with us, nor did their service elevate the meal in any way.Tamarind - FANTASTIC!!! We loved the food and service here so we ended up going twice. The servers were so welcoming and they memorized your names. When you saw them later in the cruise in a different location they remembered your names. So personal and lovely. Food was delicious. They even brought me a special cake for my birthday.Pinnacle - As Neptune suite guests we had access to the Pinnacle for breakfast and I have to say that was the best suite perk that we had. Breakfast choices provided a lot of variety and it was delicious. Staff in the Pinnacle were so welcoming and always remembered your requests from the day before. We also had one lunch and one dinner in the Pinnacle and they were both delicious.Excursions - We booked two different excursions through Holland America and we were happy with both. In Skagway we did the White Pass Rail to the Yukon which was a full day tour, including lunch. In Ketchikan we did the Wilderness Explorer Cruise and all-you-can-eat crab feast. Both excursions were well done. In Juneau we opted to rent a car and explore on our own.Entertainment - We visited Billboard one night. The female piano player had a beautiful voice but the man was not great. Mid-week we discovered BB Kings and we wish we had made the effort to check it out sooner because it was great. They do 3 sets every night and the place was packed! We didn't do any of the EXC talks in the main theatre as that's not our thing. We did watch the comedian Jim Short and the illusionist Leon Etienne. Both were great. They also did a variety show on the last night with both of them. We had planned to see the dancers one night but they were cancelled for their safety due to high waves and rocking ship.Disembarkation - We were in the first disembarkation group which was announced at about 7:45 am but since we didn't have a flight to catch until later in the day we had a leisurely breakfast before getting off the ship at about 8:30. From the time we scanned off the ship to when we were outside the terminal was less than 12 minutes. Super fast and efficient.Overall Impression - We found that the things people paid to upgrade (Neptune Suite, specialty dining, etc) were fantastic and provided the experience and level of service we expected of the cruise as a whole. Those things which were included (Lido, Main Dining Room, etc) were not up to par with what we were expecting. We didn't have a bad experience but our experience in the upgraded areas certainly made the cruise that much better. It's just unfortunate that we had to pay for the level of service that has been included on past cruises with other companies.