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Back from Zaandam/Alaska!

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Hi everyone - we are back from our cruise (05/14-05/21) and trying to learn how to fit in with "normal society" again! lol! I am hoping to scrape together a review, opinions, comments, pictures etc. by this weekend. Especially on the topics of:


- what to wear in Alaska (and dress code mix ups and associated hilarities)

- what you'll see, our excursions

- weather (the untold story)

- embarkation/disembarkation by way of hell (oops, I mean Port of Vancouver)

- tips for the weak of stomach

- our opinion on the SOE upgrades (including the Culinary Arts Centre)


Hopefully I will have time to review some of the recent posts (I have 6 pages to wade through!) and add in other relevant feedback to answer questions. Overall, the review is good -- I loved the trip!


If any of you are leaving this weekend and want some specific answers, please feel free to email me directly at cochranedc@sympatico.ca and I will try my best.


Yours truly and tired,

(and "With Tessa" now!)

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I'm so glad you had a good cruise! We are leaving on Monday for our Cruise/Tour, and even though we will be on the Ryndam, I'm looking forward to your cruise report, because I think much of what you will have to report will be just what I'm looking for ( in fact, every point that you listed below!!)


Just a few days to go---and so much to do!!! B.

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  • 2 weeks later...

First off, I apologize for my late review. I was able to respond to everyone’s individual emails I think but have just not had the time to put together a full review.


Embarkation/Disembarkation by way of hell (oops! I mean Port of Vancouver):


We flew into Vancouver the night before and stayed at the Marriott Pinnacle close to the pier. I would highly recommend this because:

- we got a good nights sleep to recover from the flight (I am not a good flier)

- the room was free because we had collected Marriott points and had enough by the time we cruised

- it was close to the pier and we actually walked to the ship


When we got to Canada Place, it was absolute mayhem!!! We went into the Pan Pacific Hotel and took the elevator down to the ship level. The biggest problem was that we did not see any signs for HAL and no HAL reps. The other line reps did not have any idea how to answer our questions. We ended up walking all the way to security and did not see a place to drop off our bags. We backtracked and after about 30 minutes of asking for directions and wading through people, a security guard pointed us in the right direction. Turns out, the spot to drop off your luggage is in the middle of the bus depot between all types of different vehicles – no signs anywhere and clearly implemented to accommodate those passengers coming in by bus or taxi.


Security was quick and at customs there was just a short wait. We were then told to sit in a large room with a huge crowd of passengers wanting to embark on various ships. It was very confusing –we finally were told that one of the ships were running behind and we would have to wait. They were very nice and no one I saw was very upset at all. After a ten minute wait, a gentleman came out from the back of the room (where we were sitting) and yelled “anyone going on the Zaandam, follow me!”. I was shocked – I was wondering what was going to happen when a couple of hundred people were going to attempt to leave this crowded area with no order?? Other reps were saying “no, stay where you are”. As people began to leave, there were no instructions… my husband and I decided to leave too and wondered if we stayed, what confusion may arise. We were on the ship about 20 minutes after that. We received a letter at our stateroom later that night apologizing for the confusion at the pier but wondered if that was due to what happened to us or if it got worse after we left that room…


When we arrived back in Vancouver after the cruise, it was extremely busy but we knew where we were going that time! One recommendation is NOT to take a taxi from the pier. Walk up to the front of the Pan Pacific (there is a pedestrian ramp right beside the vehicle entrance to the pier) and call a cab or limo from the pay phones in the lobby. When we embarked and disembarked, there was a HUGE line for taxis in the pier area (like a hundred people). It was insane!!!


What to wear in Alaska (and dress code mix ups and associated hilarities)


We packed for all kinds of weather and used it all! We sent out laundry twice during the cruise (we used the $12 per bag deal which was a good bargain) which was handy. I had t-shirts, long sleeve, turtlenecks, sweaters (in all weights) plus a weather proof jacket, gloves, scarf and hat. You will get all bundled up during glacier days, believe you me. But will need lighter layers for days you are in port.


We had been told ahead of time that this cruise would be the same as our others with 2 formal nights, one informal and 4 casual. I had taken very dressy outfits (two gowns – one black, one red, a fancy pantsuit, plus dress slacks and nice tops for casual night). My husband had a rented tux (best thing ever for him!!), his suit, dockers and shirts for casual nights. When we received our first daily program, I noticed that the informal night was the day we were in Ketchikan – this surprised me but I took the time to figure out what I would wear for each night. Not sure if other ladies do this but it helps be make sure I set aside the right outfits for the right night. I did notice that most people were not as dressed up as us in the dining room but that doesn’t bother us. On the informal night, my DH asked me a couple of times, are you sure it’s informal night?? I see lots of people dressed casually… I told him yes, I was sure. We attended a lovely meal but everyone around us was not as dressed up. When we got back to the cabin later, I read the daily program and sure enough, it said casual night!! I didn’t think to check! So now I was worried, what would the last day at sea be? I had worn my informal outfit that night and would not have time to have it cleaned. My DH was also scrounging through his closet to see if he had another shirt to wear with his suit. That night the daily program for the next day arrived and it said the dress code was “Formal” – what???!!! This is insane! I had worn all of my outfits but had luckily hung them all up afterward so I would be able to wear one of them a second time. We decided to not take the daily program as gospel and went down to the dining room the next morning to see a sign that said “The dress code tonight is Casual”. What a mix up! So in the end, we had 2 formal nights and 5 casual nights and no informal night. Next time, I will always check that sign before getting dressed for the evening!


We also made use of the shoe shine service after we went horseback riding and our boots and shoes were dusty and dirty – it is free and they do an excellent job!

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What you'll see, our excursions


We were amazed at the beauty of Alaska – we ran around like idiots trying to see it all. Clearly we will have to go back again as it was impossible to fit it all in.


We ended up going whale-watching in Juneau where we saw: Orcas, humpbacks, sea lions and eagles. We went with Captain Larry and it was an amazing tour – highly recommend it to anyone. We also went up Mt. Roberts on the Tramway (located right across the street from Orca Enterprises) – this might have been better if we weren’t so tired and in a rush to get back to the ship for dinner (it was open seating that was open until 9 or 9:30 I think). The view was amazing and it would have been nice to do some hiking up there.


In Skagway, we went horseback riding into the Yukon. The bus ride to the ranch was long but you got to see so much beautiful scenery – the tour guide was great too, telling us all about the local history as he drove. We used Southeast Tours. The horseback riding was great fun and the views were amazing.


In Ketchikan, we did a combo tour of Totem Bight and Saxman Village through Sourdough tours. I enjoyed Totem Bight but would not do the Saxman Village one again as by the time we got there, the carving shed and gift shop were closed. We had a good tour guide so I was not bothered too much about this – he was able to tell us lots of stuff about the area. Also, be careful about how you plan your day here as we noticed that by the time we got back from the tour, a lot of the native shops and attractions were closed (like Dolly’s). It was around 5 or 6 pm when we got back to town.


Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay were breath-taking! If you are going on this cruise, get up early and see this stuff!!! You will not regret it! Just dress warmly! We had a cabin near the front of the ship on Deck 6 which gave us quick and easy access to the Observation deck overlooking the bow and directly underneath the bridge. This was an excellent spot to take pictures and video of the icebergs and glaciers. We had a verandah and spent lots of time out there but being able to run out to the front of the ship was great.


We also loved the very warm deck blankets provided.


Weather (the untold story):


Be prepared – Ketchikan gets rain over 200 days out of the year. I didn’t know this ahead of time but I went prepared with my hooded weather proof jacket. It did rain but it didn’t dampen our spirits!


Tips for the weak of stomach:


This was the first cruise I went on that I wasn’t sick – YAY! This is what helped me:

- we flew in the day before and I was rested before getting on the ship

- I bought some meclizine and took it about 10 hours before our flight and then every day in the morning

- I picked up more meclizine from the front desk when I realized I was going to run out - oops! I can’t count!

- I didn’t read anything except the menus and a quick glance through the daily program

- I ate at regular intervals

- I took the seabands thinking I could wear them at night if it got rocky and the meclizine had worn off but I didn’t wear them


Our opinion on the SOE upgrades (including the Culinary Arts Centre):


Really liked the beds! The Explorations Café is very nice – we got lattes and mochas every day! I thought the Culinary Arts Centre was amazing. Unfortunately, I only saw two activities planned there the whole week. I missed the first one and I was one of 5 people in the mixology seminar held there the next time. They should provide more options in there. One thing I really liked about this cruise was the number of “educational” activities. I am not one to participate in Bingo or Scattergories but I really liked the slideshows and other presentations on the wildlife, scenery and history of the area we were cruising. I would love to see more of those types of things on other itineraries. Maybe Europe cruises have more of those, not sure about that.


My last comments:


We had an excellent trip and we can’t wait to go again. One of the highlights was our dining room supervisor who was super nice and accommodating. My DH is allergic to nuts and seafood and we did all the right things (wrote a letter to HAL, confirmed before sailing, spoke to the maitre d’, etc.). When he found out about our situation, he bent over backwards to make my husband’s dining experience safe and enjoyable. He brought my DH the menu the night before to select his meal, he arranged to have a nut free dessert (cheesecake! It is one of my DH’s favourites) and always checked in with us to make sure everything was ok. He was humourous and made my DH feel less self-conscious about his allergies. He was excellent.


Our dining stewards were great too – just had to mention once that I had a preference for white rolls to get a full basket of only white rolls for the whole week. Ordering a cappuccino the first evening was all I needed to do to get one swept in from one side of me while my dessert was being served from the other. Those little things do a lot for me.


I am sure there are other things that we experienced that I should mention but they have slipped my mind and heck, don’tcha think I have rambled on long enough??? !!! lol!


Feel free to post any questions!

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