At 86.7K gross tons, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam offers plenty of onboard amenities, entertainment, and dining options for a vessel that holds only 2100 passengers. This 12 year old Signature Class vessel was the first to resume cruising for the brand with 7-day cruises to Alaska. So, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sail on a Holland America Line Alaska cruise this summer. That’s right, our second trip to the region this year!
Nieuw Amsterdam boasts several complimentary dining venues. Among them are the poolside Dive-In Burger that rivaled similar venues on other cruise lines. There is also a pizza window, the Lido Market buffet, and the main dining room. Not to mention, Holland America Line offers 24-hour room service.
When it comes to onboard activities, the cruise line offers a traditional series of cruise activities and enrichment. The cruise and travel director, Valerie, was the featured speaker during several EXC talks. There was also trivia, sports tournaments, cooking demonstrations, and other daytime events offered in between the exciting ports of call.
The Crow’s Nest on Deck 11 was a popular daytime spot for coffee and relaxation. Not to mention, it was a prime indoor viewing spot for wildlife and the landscape.
At night, the ship featured unique entertainment in several venues. The Mainstage was home to various headliner acts, while Lincoln Center Stage hosted classical music sets. B.B. King’s Blues Club featured upbeat live performances from jazz to 70’s funky and dance music, and even comedy shows.
Billboard Onboard was home to a piano duo that played everything from classic rock, to pop, and even showtunes. With traditional sets as well as “All Request” shows, each night offered something new.
While we loved the diversity of the nighttime activities, the venues were smaller than we expected. Many of the events also occurred at the same time, likely to divert crowds, but it often forced us to choose between the main theater show or a comedy show.
As mega-ship enthusiasts, we were pleasantly surprised that Nieuw Amsterdam was able to pack in many of our favorite amenities and experiences on a ship 60% smaller than those on which we typically sail.
With personal service, well-executed dining, and diverse entertainment, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam was an ideal backdrop to the amazing vistas of the Alaskan wilderness.
Further, with the new health and safety protocols in place, we felt completely safe on this cruise. In addition to being fully vaccinated, cruisers must now wear masks in all indoor venues. Newly instituted, cruisers must also arrive at the terminal with a negative COVID test. These additional measures are in response to the rising cases from the delta variant.
Related Post: Our First Impressions From a Holland America Line Alaska Cruise
Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 1
Your Second Alaska Cruise?
Having just spent 7 nights on a Princess Cruises’ Alaska cruise three weeks prior, we were back out west again for another journey way up north. As guests of Holland America Line this time, we would be sailing a similar 7 night itinerary.
Although, we would be visiting two new ports, Sitka and Icy Strait Point.
Not restricted by family obligations this time, we were able to fly into Seattle the day before our cruise. Joining other members of our media group for a pre-cruise dinner at the nearby How to Cook a Wolf, the trip was already off to a delicious start.
With the time change, we were both more than ready for bed by the time dinner ended. Not needing to get to the pier too early, we slept in until about 8 am on embarkation day.
Grabbing coffee and organizing our luggage, we were ready and in an Uber before 10:30 am. For guests booking a hotel stay at the Sheraton, there is an included shuttle to the cruise port. Though, we preferred to go on our own.
It was a short 15 minute ride to the pier; although, dock officials made our driver drop us off at a different location, and we had to take a shuttle to the ship. This was not the case just 3 weeks prior.
While we were warned that we wouldn’t be let into the terminal yet, nothing was further from the truth. We breezed through the check-in process and security in less than 15 minutes.
We were directed to wait in the Boarding Group A seating area. Then, we were officially welcomed onboard shortly before 11:30 am. In fact, we were the second couple on the ship!
A Smooth Embarkation Day
With only 11 public decks, our typical cruise ship tour would be certainly shorter than most day 1 explorations. While not sunny or warm, at least it wasn’t raining.
The staterooms were ready when we arrived on the ship. Thus, we made a pitstop to drop off our carry-ons and check out our cabin first.
Our stateroom was a VB category balcony cabin, 4137. This aft cabin was right near the elevators. It was much larger than our cabin a few weeks ago. The bathroom was also bigger than typical cruise ship bathrooms, as it featured a full bathtub.
After taking some photos and videos of the stateroom, we headed out to explore the rest of the ship.
Making our way to the outdoor decks first, the layout felt similar to Viking Ocean cruise ships. With an aft pool near the buffet and a covered midship pool, we couldn’t help make that comparison.
As part of the new muster drill process, cruisers need to check-in to their muster station on Deck 3 at some point prior to sail away. So, we made sure to complete this mandatory stop along the way. We would also need to view the required safety video on the stateroom television later to complete the mandatory drill.
Eventually making our way down to deck 2, we had captured almost all of the public venues in just a few hours. With more fellow cruisers now onboard the ship, it was time to test out the food.
With a few casual options available, we decided to divide and conquer. The Princess went straight to New York Pizza located aft on Deck 9. I made a b-line to Dive-In Burger located midship on the same deck.
The sun was starting to break through the clouds, so we decided to grab some outdoor seats.
I gave the burger and fries two big thumbs up. It was certainly among the better cruise ship burgers. The pizza, on the other hand, was pretty standard cruise ship pizza. It did not match up at all to Alfredo’s on Princess Cruises.
Getting It All Done on Time
With lunch done and an early sail away, we headed back to our cabin to unpack. Thankfully, all of our bags were in our stateroom already. Although, with the Captain’s announcement broadcasting earlier than expected, we weren’t able to get everything unpacked before the 3:30 pm sail away party on the Lido deck.
While a bit more subdued that our previous departure from Pier 91, it was nonetheless exciting to be cruising again. Finishing our obligatory sail away drinks, it was back to the room to finish unpacking and get ready for our cocktail party and dinner this evening.
Our media group met for drinks at the Gallery Bar on Deck 2 near the casino. This rebranded venue was once the night club on the ship. We liked this subtly themed bar with an artful and sophisticated feel.
Following some cocktails and conversation, our group headed to the main dining room for our 7 pm dinner reservation. This 2+ hour meal had us leaving the MDR well past 9 pm.
When it comes to the main dining room, the food seemed pretty standard. The Princess enjoyed her chicken, but my Alaskan salmon was a little bit of a let down. It was rather bland with no seasoning. The cheesecake was a solid dessert offering, even if it was not truly New York style.
Getting to Billboard Onboard right before 9:30 pm meant there was not an empty seat in the house. I was quick to discover a group leaving in the back of the venue, so we were able to squeeze into a table of four with some newly made friends to listen to the end of the music icons set.
Of course, we had to try some of the signature drinks here, with the Raspberry Lemonade and Whiskey Smash both meeting our approval.
Swapping travel stories, we stayed until the duo’s set ended at 10:15 pm. With a bit of jet lag still, it was time to call it a night.
Tomorrow was a sea day, with moderately warm and sunny weather forecasted.
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Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 2
Are You Able to Get a Signal?
As luck would have it, we were greeted by a lovely sunrise this morning. With few clouds in the sky, it appeared the weather was going to be on our side again this trip, at least for today.
With the coffee shop located on Deck 11, my typical morning routine was a bit different. Grabbing our coffees, we were ready to test out the main dining room for breakfast.
The large menu was impressive. The service was prompt and friendly as well. While I am not a huge fan of breakfast, even I was impressed with my skillet, while the wife’s banana bread French toast was just as delicious as it sounds.
With breakfast done, we had the rest of the morning to ourselves. Neither of us are really up on our pickle ball or ping pong, so we found a table near the midship pool to do some work and blogging. This covered space was more airy than typical indoor solariums, offering the chance to watch the scenery while not worrying about the outside weather.
Preparing for Our First Port of Call
With the WiFi being a bit spotty, we did our best to work poolside until about lunch time. Having tested the quick service venues the day before, I opted for the Lido Market today, the cruise ship’s buffet. The wife went with a grilled chicken sandwich from the Dive-In. Both sandwiches were on par with other cruise ship selections.
Now officially afternoon, we grabbed two drinks from the Lido Bar for our traditional “drink around the ship” and headed outside for some fresh air. While it was sunny, it was also quite windy. So, we only spent an hour or so here.
Our plan for the afternoon was to check out the ship’s enrichment program. The scheduled EXC Talk at 2 pm was on the Iditarod Race. I thought it was a pretty good presentation, including pre-recorded interview segments from one contestant in the race.
The 35 minute presentation abutted the 3 pm talk being given by the naturalist, Russ. So, a quick hop up to deck 11 for more coffee, and we were back in similar seats to listen to his talk on the Alaskan Wilderness.
Being our second Alaska cruise in a month, and 4th overall, much of this talk was redundant. After these trips, I don’t think we will ever forget the 5 types of salmon!
Done with his talk before 4 pm, we had some time to browse the shops and snag a t-shirt as well as one of the last ship ornaments left on the shelves.
Given that it was the first Gala Night, the Princess needed ample time to get ready for dinner, so we made our way back to the room.
A Typical Formal Night (Minus the Pictures)
While I loathe cruise ship formal nights, Heidi loves them. Taking our time getting ready, we met our team right before 7 pm at the Pinnacle Bar. Tonight, we were being treated to the cruise line’s steakhouse, Pinnacle Grill.
Tonight was also the first show of the cruise, Humanity. Presented by the Step One Dance company, it was the cruise line’s version of a production show. Of course, we wanted to see this performance.
With 14 people eating at the signature specialty restaurant, we knew this was going to be a tight schedule. Unfortunately, we were only able to fit in 2 out of 3 courses during the two hour stretch.
With a classically presented Wedge salad and some crispy and sweet candied bacon, both of our appetizers were the perfect starting point for a formal night dinner.
My filet was cooked to the perfect medium-rare texture and melted in my mouth. Heidi’s chicken was pretty standard, but she did comment it was more flavorful than other cruise lines. Our sides, which included sautéed mushrooms and fries, were slightly better than average.
Overall, we would certainly dine here again on another Holland America Line trip.
Passing on dessert, we made a b-line to the theater right before showtime. With the theater about half full, we were able to find seats that ended up being a bit too close to the stage given the pitch of the venue.
Passing on our third course at the Pinnacle Grill was the right decision, as Humanity was a stellar performance. A visual mix of well choregraphed dance and interactive lighting elements made the show feel fresh and modern.
The 45-minute production show finished just in time for us to head straight to B.B. King’s for the 10 pm Funky 70’s Fever set. Somehow, the Princess was able to find a table for two right in the front.
Here, we settled in with two signature cocktails. The All-Star band did not disappoint. Featuring both a male and female singer, this 45-minute set brought down the (brick) house.
With a second show scheduled for 11 pm, we debated staying. Although, I had some early morning work obligations, so we headed back to the room instead.
Sadly, the cruise line is only offering one daily stateroom cleaning, so there was no towel animal to welcome us back to our cabin.
Related Post: Alaska Cruise Planning Guide
Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 3
It’s a Beautiful Day
We awoke early this morning to another beautiful day. I planned to work the first few days of this cruise to conserve vacation time. Though, the internet had other plans.
Struggling to get email and Teams loaded, I ended up having to adjust my work schedule. So, waking up at 5 am was sort of a waste.
Knowing I had to be up early, we ordered room service breakfast to be delivered for 7 am. Unfortunately, it was pretty uninspired, with watery scrambled eggs, fatty bacon, and a small pastry basket.
Today was our first port of call, Juneau. It was a later day stop from 1 to 10 pm.
Pre-cruise, we had decided on a rather leisurely day in downtown. We had booked a lunch at Tracy’s Crab Shack and the Mount Roberts Tramway through the cruise line.
The wife also decided she was going to put us on the waitlist for the Tracy Arm Fjord Glacier Explorer, which takes you to the Sawyer Glacier.
As luck would have it, we learned the day before that slots had opened up for the tour. So, my nice relaxing day ashore was now hijacked by a 7+ hour excursion. At least it was warm and sunny.
Now that we had to grab food before the tour, we stopped in around noon to the Lido Market. Surprisingly, the venue was not very crowded.
We found seats relatively easily, and we both opted for some Asian inspired cuisine today. I was in love with the pork stir fry and vegetable lo mein.
How Close Are We to the Glacier?
Finishing up lunch, we were packed and ready to go as soon as we got the green light from Valerie.
Exiting the ship, we found our tour provider and bus that drove us literally around the corner to board our vessel with Allen Marine Tours. Now, we were ready to set off on a sightseeing adventure.
This 7 hour tour would take us into Tracy Arm Fjord, which was about an hour and 45 minutes from Juneau. From there, it would be another 45 minutes down to the South Sawyer Glacier.
With the close to 70 degree, sunny day, the long boat ride wasn’t all that bad.
During our trip out the Fjord, our naturalist Robert offered intermittent narration, a few jokes, and bar service.
Finally passing the buoys that marked the entrance to the Fjord, and where glaciers used to reside until the 1800s, this is where the real fun began.
Once inside the fjord, the jagged granite mountainsides, carved by centuries of glacial activity, glowed in the basking sunlight. We also had some wildlife sightings, from sea lions soaking up rays to mountain goats darting the hillside.
Passing waterfalls and other scenic landscapes, it was a good three hours into the trip when we got our first glimpse of the South Sawyer Glacier face.
Now, the captain warned us that there was a lot of ice, so he was going to get as close as possible. If he couldn’t get us all the way in, we would head over to the north face. Luckily, our boat was able to get within a quarter mile of this majestic natural wonder.
At close to a mile wide, with peaks rising up to 800 feet above sea level, our boat weaved in and out of floating ice to get closer than even we expected.
I guess that is why there was a waiting list for this tour!
Spending an hour taking photos and videos, you could sense everyone’s excitement. The combination of favorable sea conditions and warm weather meant we could marvel at the glacier for some time.
A Race Against the Clock
The extended time here meant we skipped the north face. With a few minor engine issues on the way back for good measure, we arrived about 30 minutes behind schedule. We did receive a bag lunch on the tour, so we were fine skipping dinner.
What was really on the Princess’ agenda was the planned comedy show at 9 pm. She was adamant that we were going to get to the show tonight, as this would be the only time we could catch the comedians with the nighttime entertainment lineup.
Getting back to the ship around 8:45 pm, we made a b-line to the B.B. King’s Blues Club for the doubleheader comedy with jackets, cameras, and bags still in hand. Of course, the venue was already filled. Then, out of the corner of our eye, we saw two of our fellow travelers waving at us. They had scored a table, so we squeezed in next to them.
Before the set began, I ran our excess gear back up to the room. It was bad enough we were dressed like those people who had been out all day on an excursion!
The hour long comedy show featured two stand-ups, Warren B. Hall and Steven Scott. For the most part, the jokes were predictable and mildly amusing. Though, Steven did a lot of voices and sound effects which gave his show a unique twist.
Either way, with our signature drinks in hand, it was a excellent way to finish up a very long day on our Holland America Line Alaska cruise.
Saying goodbye to our colleagues, we headed back to the room. With the internet still inoperable, we called it a night. We had another long day tomorrow, so we needed some sleep anyway.
Related Post: Alaska Cruise Packing Guide
Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 4
Back to Glacier Bay
We knew from the get-go that it was going to be hard to beat our first visit to Glacier Bay. During our Alaska Cruise on Majestic Princess a few weeks earlier, we were graced with a sunny, 60 degree day while in this national park.
So, when we woke up at 6:30 am to cloudy skies and thick fog, we thought the morning was going to be a complete wash.
With the major viewing occurring between 9 and 11 am, I was able to get a little work done as the internet seemed to be functioning enough to check emails.
Grabbing coffees at the upstairs Explorations Café, this forward observation area was already packed with eager sightseers looking for a glimpse of glaciers and wildlife. Sadly, I didn’t have much hope for them given the current visibility.
Ready by 8:30 am, we headed up to Deck 9 for some breakfast. Again, the Lido Market delivered a fresh mix of breakfast favorites. While not fans of buffets in general, this one was winning us over. In fact, it was running neck and neck with our typical favorite buffet on Celebrity Cruises.
By the time we finished, the first major glacier of the day, the Lamplugh Glacier, was beginning to appear through the fog on the portside.
Heading to the rear outdoor decks, we grabbed a few shots of the glacier as we slowly sailed by it. Given the weather, we didn’t stay long.
Continuing on towards the Marjorie Glacier, we listened to the narration on the bridge cam while doing some work in the cabin.
Going Wild in Alaska
By 11 am, Marjorie Glacier was viewable from the portside. So, this time, we trekked out to the covered deck 3 for some videos and photos. Back in the cabin, we waited for the ship to turn around and repeated the same routine from our balcony.
Nieuw Amsterdam began exiting Glacier Bay National Park around noon. With two enrichment talks occurring at 1:30 pm and 2 pm, it was now or never for lunch.
We opted to test out the main dining room on deck 2. Again, the MDR delivered a well executed and prepared meal. The chicken tacos and fried chicken both got two thumbs up.
We opted to skip on dessert as we wanted to get to the ranger presentation in the main theater.
Ranger James offered a similar presentation as our previous trip. Although, this presentation was more engaging with a more linear narrative. Immediately following this talk, a local native Tlingit offered an interesting look at the people, culture, and traditions.
Unlike our previous day in Glacier Bay, we would be making a short stop at Icy Strait Point tonight from 6 to 10 pm.
Following the talk, we made our ritualistic stop at the coffee shop for our afternoon infusion of caffeine.
Back to the room, we did a little work and packed our bag for our excursion. We would be soaring on the largest zip rider in Alaska this evening.
Not wanting to chance missing the opportunity to explore this new port prior to our excursion, we opted for a quick dinner at the buffet around 5 pm. Again, I was more than satisfied with my selections. The prime rib was tender and rare, and the fried rice was flavorful.
With the ship cleared right at 6 pm, we ventured off to explore the wilderness.
Who is Ready for a Thrill?
Icy Strait Point is located near the town of Hoonah. I liken this privately developed port to the cruise lines’ private islands in the Bahamas. With a few restaurants, a gift shop, a pier-side bar with fire pits, and an aerial gondola set amidst the forest, it offers just enough to experience in a short stop.
Icy Strait Point is home to a cannery “museum”, walking trails, and the main attraction, the Zip Rider. At just over a mile long, riders zip down the track from a 1300 foot elevation at speeds up to 60 mph.
We walked off the ship as soon as we could giving us enough time to essentially make a loop around the area before our 7:15 pm excursion.
The new tram from the NCL dock was running, taking cruisers back and forth to that landing area. While we did plan to ride this after the zip line, it was closed by the time our excursion was over.
After checking in for our tour, it would take another 20 minutes or so before we departed on the 40 minute bus ride from the base camp up to the loading platform. Of note, a second tram is being built that will actually take travelers from the NCL pier directly up to this area in 7 minutes. Of course, additional restaurants and shopping are planned for this mountain spot as well.
Getting dropped off at the top of the mountain, there was an unexpected .25 mile walk down a rather steep and slippery hiking trail.
Our group of approximately 30 was divided into smaller groups as six riders can take flight at a time.
With some basic safety instructions, we were loaded into our harnesses and set off for the fastest 90 seconds of our lives. It was a thrilling ride, with the beautiful scenery and even the ship lit up in the distance.
Good thing my action camera caught the entire flight down.
Back at sea level, we browsed the gift shop then returned to the ship.
While it was only 8:30 pm, we decided to stay in as there was no show this evening and we had an early day in our next port of call tomorrow.
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Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 5
The Best of Sitka
Our next port stop of the cruise was Sitka. While we have sailed in the region a few times now, this was our first visit to this small Alaskan city.
Thus, we booked the aptly named Best of Sitka tour. This full day of sightseeing and wildlife exploration was scheduled to depart at 8:30 am.
The overcast skies and cloudy weather meant that our streak of passable weather would continue.
Getting our morning coffees and a few breakfast pastries, I was back and ready for the day by 8 am. As the ship began to approach the pier, we were in LTE, which meant we could catch up with some of our social media updates from the trip. This much needed connection to the real world had been one of the sticking points of this trip.
Once the ship was cleared, we joined the masses exiting the ship on Deck A. We easily found our tour provider, as it was the group with the largest line! Once everyone arrived, we were ushered to the next dock to begin the 5+ hours of exploring the Sitka waters and city highlights.
This Is Why You Cruise to Alaska
Our tour was divided into three portions. The first portion was an approximately 2.5 hour sea otter and whale watching boat tour.
The captain and onboard naturalist delivered with several wildlife sightings.
Among them was a raft of sea otters floating off our starboard side for quite a while. Given these “lazy” creatures’ natural camouflage, spotting and photographing them was not as easy as you would think!
There were also several humpback whales in the nearby sound with plenty of fluking and spouting off in the distance all around the ship.
Disembarking the boat at Centennial Hall, we met Justin, our quirky tour guide/bus driver. He would usher us around the city and our next two stops for the remaining 2.5 hours of the tour. His unique personality along with your typical historical narration made for an interesting city tour.
While learning about the Russian influence and history of Sitka, we passed several of the city’s major landmarks.
The 15 minute ride took us to the next stop, the Fortress of the Bear. This animal refuge is home to rescued black and brown bears.
With our tour running late, we only had about 30 minutes to spend here. Honestly, that was really all we needed.
This refuge is a great place to see these beautiful creatures up close and personal, albeit a glorified zoo. With a steady flow of tour groups, you needed to get your photos and videos of the bears and then move on.
Staff are present to provide impromptu presentations and some basic facts about the animals.
Following this portion of the tour, we took another 10 minute ride to our next stop. Interspersed with personal and state history from our guide along the way, we arrived at the Alaska Raptor Center.
Here, we had about an hour to learn more about the non-profit’s work and view some of the birds onsite.
The center is home to the largest raptor rehabilitation program in the country. With the ability to rehab up to 200 raptors, such as eagles, hawks, and owls, the center also offers educational programs.
Our visit included a narrated tour of one of the training areas, as well as a presentation with one of the permanent eagle residents, Spirit.
We also had some time to walk the grounds on our own to check out some of the other “residents”, including more bald eagles, owls, and ravens perched in outdoor exhibits. It was a great opportunity to see some of these amazing large birds up close.
Now, the Princess can’t complain that she didn’t get to see any wildlife on this trip.
Trying to Get Some Work Done
At the completion of the tour, we were given the option to get dropped off in downtown or head back to the ship. We opted to head back with the hope of getting some work done while we still had LTE.
With sail away at 5 pm, we only had a couple hours left.
Back on the ship, we grabbed a quick snack at the Lido Market. While it was not open for “lunch”, there were select stations open for snacks. This gave me the opportunity to try the Asian salad, which was actually quite good.
Settling into our balcony, it was a struggle getting things done as the internet would come and go, and we lost LTE almost immediately upon sail away.
Tonight, we would be having dinner with our group at the Pinnacle Grill for the Rudi’s Sel de Mer experience. This French brassiere seafood concept is offered one night of the cruise.
A New Nightly Routine
Ready for dinner early, we headed down to the restaurant for a pre-dinner drink. As the rest of the crew arrived, we were sat at the same tables as our previous visit to the venue.
We are not usually fans of seafood restaurants on cruise ships. As New Englanders, we have some of the best seafood back home. Plus, Heidi is a picky eater.
Though, our meals at the restaurant were certainly better than expected. The seafood tower offered some sweet crab meat and a light shrimp and lobster cocktail. The boiled lobster was flavorful; although, I could have sworn it was grilled.
Likewise, the Princess’ cheese soufflé was light and airy. Both of our desserts were quite tasty also. I thought my profiteroles were the clear winner. Although, Heidi felt her Apple Tarte Tatin was better.
Either way, we were able to squeeze in all three courses in just under two hours. So, we excused ourselves right around 9 pm to head to the Mainstage.
Tonight’s show featured a magician, Joseph Reohm. As a headliner act, this show was a little lacking. While some of his stunts were entertaining, he certainly did not rank among the top illusionists that we have seen at sea.
The 45-minute show had us out just in time to get to B.B. King’s for the Sweet Soul set.
We found a booth at the edge of the stage and listened to a few songs. Knowing we still had a few bars to cross-off our drink around the ship, we ended the evening with a drink at the Ocean Bar.
This deck 3 venue felt under-utilized. With a small stage and a piano, there certainly could have been some live music here. Perhaps, this was the case in pre-COVID times?
With an even earlier shore excursion meeting time of 7:20 am tomorrow, we retired to our room around 11 pm.
Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 6
Another Nice Day in Ketchikan
During our previous stop in Alaska’s “first city”, it was a bright, sunny day. When we woke up around 5 am to find that it was not raining, we couldn’t believe our luck.
Wanting to get as many wildlife opportunities as possible, we booked a bear watching nature walk for today. It was a short tour, but an early one. We needed to meet our tour on the pier shortly after the ship docked at 7 am.
So, we found just enough time to grab coffees and breakfast pastries before heading down to deck 2.
Leaving the ship, it began to drizzle a bit. Ah, now this is what we expected in Ketchikan. Easily finding our shore excursion guide, we were boarded on a bus for the 30 minute ride to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.
As luck would have it, it stopped raining by the time we arrived.
The 90-minute walking tour occurred on private property and was mostly on a manmade walking path and raised boardwalk not too far from civilization. Of course, we knew all of this ahead of time.
Worried we might not find any wildlife, we didn’t have to wait long at all! Unlike our previous Neets Bay bear watching cruise, there were multiple black bear sightings within minutes of entering the forest.
It was amazing to see these massive creatures in their natural setting.
From bears climbing trees to those hunting salmon in the stream, we were a mere few feet away from these bears. While we captured photos and videos, they didn’t seem to care about us.
In fact, at one point, the guide did not let us proceed along the platform as she was worried that the bear could climb up given its proximity to a fallen tree.
After our fill of bear sightings near the stream, we continued along the path towards the hatchery and Alaska Raptor Center.
Here, we were able to get up close to Sitka, the female bald eagle, and some other permanent residents.
Lastly, the tour concluded next to a local totem pole craftsman’s workshop. The facility is also home to an old saw mill, some totems on display, and a gift shop.
Thanking our tour guides, we browsed the property taking photos of some of the exhibits and totem poles and the gift shop until our bus was called.
Once back at the ship, we headed into town. After all, we were not going to pass up a dry day in the rainiest place in the U.S.!
Catching Up Onboard
We spent an additional 90 minutes or so wandering Creek Street and Front Street taking photos and browsing the shops.
We headed back to the ship just in time for lunch. With a few hours of LTE access left, we also wanted to make sure we could get a few social media posts done and our blog post scheduled.
Thus, we spent the rest of the afternoon on our balcony. In between work and socializing with our cabin neighbors, we admired the scenery and soaked up the sun as the ship slowly pulled out of Ketchikan.
It was a nice little send off as the ship began its journey back to Seattle.
As the second Gala Night, our media group had a 7 pm dinner reservation at Tamarind.
This gave us plenty of time to unwind before dinner. Ready ahead of schedule, we ventured up to the restaurant early to grab drinks from the adjacent lounge.
Tamarind, the Pan-Asian specialty restaurant, delivered another delicious dining experience. As a fan of this type of cuisine, we both enjoyed all of our selections.
I started with two appetizers, the pot stickers and the tempura shrimp. The shrimp was crispy and warm. The pot stickers were soft with a savory combination of shrimp and lobster. Heidi’s chicken satays were equally flavorful.
For dinner, she went with the chicken curry, which was mild and came with a light sauce. I did the Schezwan shrimp. This spicy dish had a bit too much sauce for my liking. Although, it was a hefty serving of shrimp and vegetables.
Even the dessert was better than we would have anticipated for an Asian restaurant. Everyone agreed that the “cheesecake” offered a tart, yet flavorful final course, much like key lime pie.
Finishing up at just about 9 pm, we headed downstairs to the Mainstage. Tonight was the second performance by the Step One Dance company.
Aptly named Musicology, we quickly realized that the dancers were performing numbers inspired by musical instruments. While a different concept, the troupe’s performance on Night 2 was much better.
After the 45 minute show, we tried to find seats at the overflowing Billboard Onboard. Not seeing any spaces, some of our fellow media snagged some chairs at the nearby Gallery Bar instead.
This hidden gem is tucked around the corner from the piano bar and adjacent to the casino. So, you can still hear some of the music in the background.
Past 11 pm, it was time for us to retire to the cabin. With a full sea day of our normal last minute items, and losing an hour of sleep by turning the clocks ahead, I was perfectly fine with this bedtime.
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Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Day 7
Some Morning Talks
The last day of our cruise was a sea day. According to the forecast, our string of good weather was expected to continue.
Like most of the final days of our trips, we had some last-minute items to check off the list. This included a few additional videos and photos. Not to mention, a few of the final bars for our drink around the ship.
Moving the clocks ahead one hour meant that I still felt tired when we woke up this morning. Even though we technically already sampled breakfast in the MDR, the Princess wanted to dine here again.
Remarkably, the venue was open until 9:30 am. So, we had plenty of time even after getting our morning coffees. Service was quick, and the food was pretty average at least for me. Breakfast is my least favorite meal, but the wife disagrees.
Finishing breakfast by 9:45 am, it was perfect timing to attend the Origin of HAL EXC talk occurring at 10 am. This hour presentation described the history of the company from an ocean liner transporting immigrants across the Atlantic to the modern day cruise line.
We both really enjoyed the presentation. If you are on a HAL ship, we highly recommend you attend this presentation. It is really well produced and insightful.
With the talk done at 11 am, we had an hour before our next “meeting”. The HAL PR team had put together a private Q&A with the Captain and the Cruise Director for our group at noon.
The private session lasted about an hour as we were able to ask all our questions. It was great to get this exclusive time with the Captain who has been sailing for 30 years.
A Wild Send Off
Following the session, we made the decision to grab lunch. Changing things up, I sampled one of the Nathan’s hot dogs at the Dive-In, and Heidi grabbed some snacks from the Lido Market. Given the beautiful weather, we also grabbed a drink at the outdoor Sea View Bar.
While soaking up some final rays, we were treated to perhaps the best send off of the cruise. There was a pod of orcas probably a half mile from the ship with some impressive breaching action.
Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me, so it was difficult to capture any shots with just our phones. Instead, we just sat and watched this send off.
Once the whales were out of sight, we headed indoors to the Lincoln Center Stage. This was one performance venue that we still needed to check off our list.
Arriving just a few minutes before showtime, this small venue was pretty full. Still, we found some center seats that gave us a decent view.
The 40 minute program featured American composers. Neither of us are classical music fans, but we recognized several of the pieces, including Copeland’s Hoedown.
Finishing up before 4 pm, it was time for our typical afternoon coffee. Officially, the Explorations Café is one of the bars on the ship. So, we upgraded our normal drink orders to espresso martinis.
We spent some time admiring the views from this forward observation lounge while sipping our drinks. Not really wanting to leave, we knew we had to get some packing done before our 6 pm farewell cocktail party.
So, we returned to the room before 5 pm to pack and get ready for dinner. Chatting with the media team, we recounted the highlights of what was a truly memorable Alaskan cruise experience.
Final Night Onboard
Tonight’s dinner was at the Italian specialty restaurant, Canaletto, at 7 pm. The venue offered a mix of traditional favorites and some unique options.
One of the better offerings was the grilled calamari. It was tender, with a light pesto sauce. Even the more predictable buffalo mozzarella starter was more flavorful than you would expect on a cruise.
For dinner, I did the braised short ribs with gnocchi. With rich chunks of beef and baked gnocchi, it was a hearty and satisfying pasta dish. Heidi also went with one of the homemade pastas, pasta genovese, which she enjoyed.
For dessert, we did classics, affogato and tiramisu. The tiramisu was the clear favorite with a light texture and a sweet chocolate finish.
Like previous nights, we finished dinner with just a few minutes to spare before the 9 pm showtime. This time around, we convinced essentially everyone to join us for the main theater show.
After the show, we learned that In Tandem was a brand new production debuting on the ship. It featured a variety of contemporary music and dancing from the Step One Dance company.
Unlike the two previous shows, this production did include some live vocals by the male lead in the All-Star band. This gave the show a more cruise-like feeling. It was a bit short, lasting less than 40 minutes though.
Following the show, some of our group ended up grabbing chairs from the nearby casino to watch the end of the British Invasion piano set in Billboard Onboard.
With the show wrapping up by 10:30 pm, we said our good byes.
Back to the room around 11 pm, we still had to finish packing.
Our flight tomorrow wasn’t until 3:30 pm again. Although, this time around, we were not going to sit in the airport all that time. The tourism board of Seattle had provided us with City Passes as part of the trip. So, we were going to take advantage of them.
We opted to use the Port Valet for our two large suitcases, so we set them in the hallway before the midnight deadline.
Our final day of the cruise was officially over. Now, we could just hope for smooth sailing back home.
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Holland America Line Alaska Cruise Review – Disembarkation
Our late day flight gave us plenty of options. The port valet service took care of our two large suitcases, and we were assigned the departure time of 8 am.
Wanting to get to the Space Needle when it opened at 9 am, this departure time was perfect. This would give us just enough time to head back to our pre-cruise hotel to store our carry-on items.
With some last minute packing, as well as grabbing coffees and a few bites for breakfast, we ended up leaving our room by 8:15 am. Like our recent departure, disembarkation was quick and efficient. The total time from leaving the cabin, scanning off the ship, and going through Customs was less than 15 minutes.
With a short taxi ride to the hotel, then an Uber to the Space Needle, we were there right when it opened at 9 am.
For the next three hours, we put the City Pass to good use. We were able to head to the top of the Space Needle. Then, we marveled at the colorful glassworks at the Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Finally, we toured several of the exhibits in the Museum of Pop Culture. As luck would have it, one of the special exhibits was The Art of Disney Costumes. How appropriate as a visit to Walt Disney World is our next official trip.
Grabbing a quick lunch, and then an Uber to the hotel and airport, we were right on schedule. Unfortunately, we couldn’t same the same for the airline. Due a few issues, our flight was delayed over an hour. So, we didn’t arrive in Boston until after 1 am and didn’t get home until close to 3 am!
With no more cruises booked for 2021, yet, I guess we have some time to catch up on life.
Do you have a Holland America Line Alaska cruise review to share? Have you sailed with HAL in the past? Drop us an anchor below to share what you love about this cruise line.
Disclaimer: We were guests of Holland America Line onboard this sailing. However, as always, all opinions in this post are our own.