Mike and Renée Cruise to Alaska
On HAL Oosterdam May 30 - June 6, 2010

We love to cruise to Alaska and we love the beautiful Vista class ships of Holland American Line. We returned again to Alaska on the wonderful Oosterdam and had a marvelous cruise! Because we have cruised to Alaska seven times before, this was a low key trip for us with only a few excursions, mostly devoted to enjoying the ship and the leisurely days. (Check our previous cruises at Cruising With The Halls .)

We flew to Seattle, and figured it was a great idea to start out the cruise "playing rich," so we had a stretch limo from METROPOLITAN TOWN CARS meet us at the airport and take us to Pier 91. Here is our group: Renée, Connie, Pam, Susan, and Mike. Embarkation was easy and we were soon in our three adjoining balcony cabins on Deck 8. (Just days before the trip we had been stricken by the Upgrade Fairy and moved up from obstructed outsides on Deck 4!) As is our custom, the first thing we did was to visit the buffet, and then went to the spa to buy our passes for the Thermal Suite and the Hydropool. A relaxing afternoon enjoying the ship's facilities led to the first of many great dinners in the dining room, and then since it had been a long day we were off to bed.

Here are the daily programs for each day of the cruise.

Day 2 of this cruise is a wonderful day at sea. We started with breakfast in the dining room, and I had some of the best Eggs Benedict I have ever had. The it was up to the Thermal Suite to lie on the "lizard lounges," enjoy the steam room and tropical rain shower, and then the icy mist, after which it was on into the Hydropool for the bubbles! (For more about the Thermal Suite see my Thermal Suites page.)

Sea days are a good day for a relaxing served lunch in the dining room, and after that we had our informal Meet and Greet for posters to the cruiscritic.com message board. It was fun to meet people we had been chatting with for months! Then we went our different ways, Susan and Renée to the wine tasting and Pam and I to Trivia where we won magnificent HAL luggage tags.

Oosterdam is a beautiful ship with great facilities. There is a large and comfortable library/internet center, a culinary center, a spacious theater, and a huge buffet with many stations. The entire ship is full of outstanding works of art of many genres. We had a great time exploring her. I must say, however, that we made that long walk from one end of the ship to the other frequently!
This evening was formal night so we got dressed in our very best, and then tried a new experience. Canaletto's is a complimentary specialty Italian restaurant on the Lido deck, serving great food. Our friendly "Italian" waiter brought around a nice antipasto tray and then we indulged in some excellent pasta dishes.
An added bonus this evening was the constant wildlife spottings all through dinner. At various times we saw three whales, with two of them showing their flukes as they dove, as well as a pod of dolphins.
Day three gets right to the heart of Alaska with the visit to Glacier Bay. Our schedule this trip was to enter the Bay about 10 AM, pass the Ranger Station about 11, and cruise on down to the glaciers. Renée found it a good opportunity to sit on the balcony and read her Nook for a while as we cruised down the bay.
Having three adjoining balcony cabins was wonderful as we had the room steward open up the partitions between them and give us a long stretch of rail and space for Glacier Bay. The scenery was beautiful as we cruised along. Portside cabins meant that we were on the proper side of the ship to view Reid and Lamplugh glaciers as we sailed into the Bay. However it was frustrating every time the Park Ranger said something like, "There is an eagle sitting on a chunk of ice on the starboard side"!
We all bundled up warmly, but we had beautiful weather as we sailed down the Bay. Although the previous day was rainy and the night was foggy, by the time we entered the Bay it was partly cloudy with wisps of fog floating on the mountains and sunbeams touching their tops.
We picked up a Park Ranger at the entrance of the Bay and she gave us a running commentary. One of the interesting things is that the eagles have no trees to roost in as they search for fish, so they have taken to sitting on the ever present chunks of ice to hunt.
Around 2 PM turned into the Johns Hopkins Inlet, the left side of the bay for a view of the Johns Hopkins glacier. There were only one or two seal mothers on the ice, but later in the season this becomes a major seal breeding area.

Then at about 3:30 we arrived at the principal spectacle of Glacier Bay, Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers. Grand Pacific is the "dirty" glacier, and Margerie is the famous clean blue white glacier. We spent a substantial amount of time as the Captain turned the ship in a full circle to give everybody a good view. We dressed in layers for Glacier Bay and were glad we did. It was a nice day in the 50s but the wind off the glaciers is cold.

Then some of us ventured out onto the bow of the boat. The views were spectacular and it was not extremely crowded.
As we sailed out of the Bay it was time for cocktails and another delightful dinner in the dining room. We had great food and service the entire trip.
Day four of the cruise found us in Juneau, and it was a "day of independence, for all the Munchkins and their descendants" as we each went our own ways throughout the day. Renée, Pam and Susan choose to catch a shuttle bus at the dock and travel out to Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is beautiful and there is a very good interpretive center to visit.
There are several nice hiking trails around Mendenhall, and as the weather was so glorious Susan chose to make the walk to the waterfall while the others visited the museum. She enjoyed it very much, although she was not sure about those huffing sounds she heard in the bushes. A bear or ...?
The tram to the top of Mt. Roberts was RIGHT outside our balcony window! It was fun to sit and watch it go up and down.
From the top there are some wonderful views of the town, the scenery and the harbor.
At the top is also a visitor center with interesting displays including an eagle who was too badly wounded to be released. There is a chance to explore some nice hiking trails through the South East Alaska Rain Forest.
Connie had booked independently through Temsco for the two glacier landing flight. She reported an extremely beautiful flight and a fabulous pilot!
She found the flight thrilling and the two landings gave her plenty of chance to explore the glaciers. She loved it! While this is a very expensive excursion, it is a very popular one.

On returning to the ship we played Alphabet Trivia and then General Trivial with Matt, the Cruise Director presiding. We won both times, HAL keychains and HAL coasters!

Day five found us lying at anchor in the port of Sitka. We had an early tour so this seemed a good day for breakfast from room service. It was delivered promptly as ordered, hot and tasty.
We then set off on the "Sea Otter Quest." This was a ship's excursion, and the ship's contractor is Allen Marine, a long time Alaska company which operates beautiful and comfortable wildlife viewing boats. Our boat had large picture windows, comfortable seats, an upper deck viewing area, a snack bar, and flush toilets. Brianne, our naturalist, is a native of Sitka and very proud of the beauty of her hometown.
Although this was the sea otter quest, we had hardly left the harbor before Greg, our very experienced Captain, spotted whales spouting. He maneuvered close to them and we got to see a humpback mother and calf feeding.
These whales were not bubble net feeding, but lunge feeding. Without the warning of any bubbles, we would suddenly see the gaping mouths appear above the water. Unfortunately this made it almost impossible to get a picture of the actual lunge. However I was able to get a good video of the two of them swimming and diving. It was one of the best whale sightings we have ever had.

Whales in Sitka from Mike Hall on Vimeo.

Then we continued with our sea otter search, and soon came upon a group of females and babies nestled among the kelp. They are engaging creatures and it is a lot of fun to watch them.

Next Captain Greg found a small rock full of harbor seals basking at low tide. They come in a variety of different colors. Brianne the naturalist passed around a sample of their coarse hair and thick skin for us to feel.

Another sample she had was of the baleen with which the humpback whales feed. The naturalist was full of great information. She said that during the long winters she spends a lot of time learning from a local marine biologist who has studied the whales for over 30 years.
These large Allen Marine boats are perfect for close up viewing of the otters. It was truly delightful to see them floating in the water with the beautiful Alaskan scenery as the background.
The Captain found a large raft of males, playing at leisure with no child care duties to bother them. The juveniles tussled while some of the others were cracking clams on their chests. Our friend Connie caught this wonderful video.

Sea Otters in Sitka from Mike Hall on Vimeo.

Altogether this was one of the very best shore excursions we have ever taken in Alaska. Brianne the naturalist posted all our sightings on a map for us. With whales, seals, eagles,and all those otters, this was a really exciting excursion.
After the Sea Otter Search, Connie and Susan went on to the Raptor Center. This was a fascinating place with lots of close up viewing of bald eagles.

This was the second formal night on the ship, and after another great dinner we went to the show, Leo the Deceiver, a magician who skillfully combined comedy magic with large spectacular stage effects.

Day 6 was in Ketchikan, a short port call from 7 AM to 1 PM. Here Pam and I decided to do the Ketchikan Ducks. These amphibious vehicles gave us a 45 minute tour of the town, including Dolly's on Creek Street and the Married Man's Trail. We passed the salmon ladder but early June is too soon to see the salmon in the creek.
Then the duck plunged into the bay. We motored past the fishing fleet as our guide explained the different types of fishing. We saw several eagles, some sitting on the breakwater and others on top of buildings. On the opposite side of the bay we visited an active eagle nest, with the mother sitting in the nest and the father standing guard in a large dead tree. We got to see some eagle action as last year's juvenile attempted to return to the nest, but the adult male let him know that was NOT going to happen!
After having been taught his proper place, the juvenile moved to subordinate low position and fluffed up his feathers and pouted, giving us an opportunity for a good portrait of him.
Meanwhile Connie, Susan and Renée took the ship's excursion to Totem Bight State Park, a premier spot for totem poles. They examined the many poles around the little inlet, and their guide told them about Beaver, Raven, Cloud Woman and the other figures.
There is also a recreated long house at the site, and across the street is a carving shed with totems still in progress. They even brought home a cedar chip souvenir.
We returned to the ship in time for another good lunch in the dining room. The ship sailed out of Ketchikan through the Tongass Narrows under beautiful blue skies, and it was a good time to relax on the balcony and enjoy the scenery. This afternoon we gathered our by now regular gang for Trivia and scored a triumph, getting 16 out of a possible 17 to win great silver HAL coffee mugs!
Then it was time for the famous HAL Master Chef's Dinner. With all the waiters singing and dancing and juggling vegetables, this combination of food and entertainment is unique to HAL and makes for an interesting meal. However we had to give up our anytime dining and choose one of the fixed seatings this evening. After dinner was a big production show in the lounge which we enjoyed.
Day 7 of this itinerary is a long day at sea, followed by an evening port call in Victoria BC. We again had glorious weather under partly cloudy but bright blue skies, making the water a deep blue color and wonderful to look at. When the ship is moving at about 20 knots, a considerable wind is created and the balcony was not really very usable for any length of time. However it was nice to sit in the ship's public rooms and enjoy the day. The Mariner Brunch was served today and as always, there were those amazing people with hundreds of days aboard HAL ships who received medals! Who knows, someday we may even get them!

Then there was time for one more Trivia game, and we won again with 16/17, but perfection eluded us! Here is our great team -- Cruise Director Matt, the best Trivia host ever, with Connie, Mike, Pam, and in front Renée, Peter and Carol.

Bags packed, bill paid, and one last great dining room experience before a wonderful cruise came to an end.

Disembarkation was very organized. Here are the Disembarkation forms.

As we disembarked, our limo from Metropolitan was there waiting for us. The driver loaded our luggage and we went off to Pike Place Market. This is a delightful place. First we met Penelope the Pig, longtime emblem of the Market. Just behind Penelope is the famous place where they throw the salmon!

Then we spent about an hour and a half exploring the market, with stalls for fish, fruit, flowers, candy, jam, jerky, spices and dozens of other things. A bag of fresh hot mini donuts helped the exploration.

Our driver picked us up promptly and dropped us off at the airport about 11:30, in plenty of time for 1:00 PM flights.

We loved this cruise!

We like to talk about our cruises. Email us at mike@bully4.us

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