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Volendam to Alaska Cruise Review
Inside Passage 2013
Can something as innocuous as a simple offering of after dinner
candied ginger gone missing (and instead, store-bought cellophane-
wrapped candy peppermints in its place) affect a long-standing opinion if a
cruise line? Would a reputation as once being "the spotless fleet"
come back to haunt a ship with apparently not a clean pillow onboard
to be found?
Looking ahead, I know in my heart it’s time for a change again. I
don't think we will automatically look to Holland America Line in
the future as our default cruise line, Dutch husband or not. The
same thing happened with Cunard several years ago. I think we're
long past due to continue cruising with other non-Carnival Corp.
lines, and the most exciting for me to try again are Celebrity and
RCI, after initial positive experiences onboard their ships years
ago. I think we'll definitely look at lines like Azamara, too. HAL
has always been a go-to cruise line for us, just as Cunard had once
been. It's time to move on again.
I brought my own pillow with me this trip because I could not, for
the life of me, get a clean-smelling pillow or pillowcase on my last
two HAL cruises. Because our verandah suite cabins always had a
lingering odor of dirty hair upon entry, I'd asked our cabin
stewards to please replace the pillows on our bed because they
smelled so foul. That never happened, and I'm not even sure they
really understood (or maybe they didn't really care?)
Everything on our last HAL cruise was just okay. If someone sailing
for the first time were asked, I'm sure they would say things were
fine. The food was okay. The entertainment was okay. The shore
excursions were okay. Nothing stood out as being unacceptable ...
except if you knew the line, it's history and what it was once
capable of. I know those days are long gone and I acknowledge that
HAL probably wouldn’t even exist if it had not been for the infusion
of dough from Carnival Corporation.
It started as soon as we boarded in Vancouver. Instead of a smiling
line of nattily outfitted staff, the boarding passengers were
greeted by a few unfocused, inattentive young men who were no help
to those who needed a bit of guidance as to where to find their
cabins. It seemed as though they were more involved with their own
private jokes and highjinx. Just steps from them past the entry
gangway onboard were tables set up with wares to be hawked. Usually
this is saved for when the ship is underway, and the venders have an
attentive audience. It looked, quite frankly, like a street fair.
Speaking of Carnival (Corp.), the second day's onboard activities
newsletter announced an unlimited Heineken "bucket o' beer" package,
the final twist toward what many of us saw coming years ago. That a
line almost affectionately known for its calm traditions and gray-haired cruisers would put out such a promotion is puzzling.
More hawking of goods happened on deck as we sailed into beautiful
Glacier Bay. Announcements were made for passengers to please not
make a lot of noise while we were in this environmentally sensitive
area to increase the possibility of spotting wildlife. While we were
all quietly watching the shoreline and sea waters, a bar staff
member loudly screamed to buy souvenir mugs with unlimited hot
cocoa. Passengers commented about this during the course of our stay
at Glacier Bay. Somebody even told him to keep quiet! Kudos to that
person and no, it wasn't me.
Lots of paper ... an inordinate amount of paper ... was used for ads
and announcements and more general hawking of wares onboard. No
daily TIMES news digest was delivered to our cabin, as was the case
in the past, and I would have much rather have had that instead. The
news digests were available in several of the public rooms, but the
answer given as to why they were no longer delivered to passengers was that they "did not want to
waste paper" (instead, all we got were ads and ads). Huh?
For our last few trips on HAL, we've booked verandah suites, with
their large balconies, extensive perks such as unlimited
complimentary laundry and dry cleaning, (a big plus on longer
cruises) plus an attentive site-specific concierge, the company of
other suite passengers, special meets-and- greets with the captain,
and snacks and beverages that were steps away in the suite
passengers' Neptune Lounge. Breakfast was usually offered every
morning for our booked level in the Pinnacle Grill, the specialty
restaurant onboard, which was always a lovely treat. This time, we
were in the Kings Room just off the Rotterdam Dining Room. It was
just not the same, breakfasting in what amounts to a meeting room
instead of a specialty dining room.
Speaking of the Pinnacle Grill, onboard Volendam it is smaller than
on, say, last year's Oosterdam, but the supper food and service was
good. In the Rotterdam Dining Room one evening, I had the worst
dessert I have ever had onboard a cruise ship. That said, please
note I am a hearty eater and have been cruising for decades now. The
culprit was called a “Gold Rush Baked Alaska". It was literally a
little dab of ice cream topped with lots of burnt meringue under a
four day old chocolate chip cookie. Literally, that's what it was
and with such a promising name, too.
For all of you who still like to look on eBay for ocean liner and
cruise memorabilia, I'm here to tell you that there is nothing
"collectible" on cruise ships anymore. It's all from China. No
surprise, I suppose. Even the area-specific items in the shops,
supposedly from or of Alaska, were made in places like Mexico or the
Philippines. This seems to be true in shore ports of call, too, so
buyer please beware. It may not matter to you, but if it does, be
cautious of your purchases. In all the Alaskan ports we were able to
find shops with locally-made items at very decent prices. Sadly,
places usually found in the Caribbean ports are up here, too, and
their owners go back and forth between warmer climes and here,
depending on the season. So, if you plan a winter Caribbean cruise
after missing a "deal" in Alaska, you can still find that "bargain."
At the end of the day, I try to balanced comments with positive and
negative aspects. I can honestly say there were not a lot of
positive things, except the scenery, on this trip. Even the weather
played havoc with us , but we know this is not the line's fault;
indeed, we chose this week because we had been on an Alaskan cruise
with HAL twenty-three years ago. We knew what we could expect,
weather-wise, and it was okay. The only time I was disappointed was
when our excursion to the glacier fields via helicopter was
cancelled in Juneau because of bad weather. We have a photo of us
doing this so many years ago, the memories were fond and it would
have been nice to do again, "moon boots" slickers and all. I don't
know if this happens a lot, but HAL missed the boat with regard to
keeping passengers apprised of the status of their excursions and
cancelations due to weather. We experienced that ourselves and
heard from others that they were not pleased about the lack of
communication. Still, our sea plane/catamaran trip to Misty Fjord
outside Ketchikan was magnificent, as was our unexpected ride up
Mount Roberts in Juneau after our original helicopter trip was
cancelled. Another trip highlight was the White Pass Railway at
Skagway. What history! What views! I wish we had more time in this
port. I really loved this little town and felt very at home here.
I’d like to go back up to Alaska on another line at a different time
of year and probably a different itinerary, one with more northerly
ports of call, maybe even an interior land tour included. In the
meantime, I’m looking forward to RCI’s Quantum of the Seas next
year, home ported in North Jersey with varied itineraries. These
last few years, I’ve had the complete transformation from classic
ocean liner lover to interested party to novel and exciting new
ships. Carnival Corporation can continue with their Carnivalization
of Holland America Line. I don’t think I’ll continue to stick around
to witness it.
Guide & Cruise
Cruise Diva's Blog
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