Would you like to help me pick an Alaska cruise?

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#1
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Yes, it's another "which ship should I choose?" thread

I'm looking at a September sailing, roundtrip out of Vancouver. The two ships I'm considering are HAL Zaandam and NCL Sun. They both have the same itinerary (Inside Passage, Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Glacier NP - not necessarily in that order). HAL is a Sunday-Sunday sailing, NCL is Monday-Monday. The fares are about the same, although I can get some OBC on NCL.

Any thoughts and opinions are welcome. I guess the big differences would be the on-board atmosphere, dining options, spa/gym facilities, and any other insight you can offer.
#2
3,663 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Please, no SUN. Was on it in AK when celebrity was sold out. Older,very marginal ship with few ammenities, things to do Food marginal too.
#3
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Originally posted by zoncom
Please, no SUN. Was on it in AK when celebrity was sold out. Older,very marginal ship with few ammenities, things to do Food marginal too.
When were you on it? It was refurbished a year or two ago. I was on the Sun about 10 years ago and thought it was just "okay". I was hoping the Alaska scenery would make up for that.
#4
Western Washington
4,500 Posts
Joined Aug 2001
HAL has specialized in Alaska for years and their generally smaller ships (like Zaandam) can get into places the larger ships can't go. We were very happy with the similar sized Veendam. Especially the day of cruising where we turned off the main channel into some very narrow passages where we were very close to the scenery. Alaska is about the scenery and not the ship features.
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RCCL -Mariner of the Seas - May 2012 - TA Miami to Rome
RCCL - Serenade of the Seas February 12, 2011 - So. Caribbean
RCCL - Brilliance of the Seas- April 13, 2008 TA Miami to London
HAL - Veendam - June 16, 2002, Alaska

At the moment I have half a mind to go look for the rest
#5
Orange County, CA, USA
1,689 Posts
Joined Apr 2012
Zaandam in a heartbeat.

We did a Chile-to-Argentina cruise on the Zaandam (no Antarctica, mores the pity)... we took an upsell to a Verandah cabin, but another choice is an OceanView (or even an Inside) on the Lower Promenade (Deck 3), and be steps away from the biggest balcony on the ship!

Have one experience on NCL, Panama on the N.Star, and that will be the only time. It's the people! The staff and crew on any HAL ship I've been on, have made the experience very special.

Can't speak to spa or gym (they are there?). We really enjoyed Canaletto on our family Alaska cruise last June; reasonably priced for an upcharge venue. Pinnacle Grill gets rave reviews on CC -- we may try it on our upcoming TransAtlantic on the Rotterdam (same class ship as Zaandam).
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#6
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
I put a deposit down on the Zaandam this morning. But now here's an interesting wrinkle: I looked at how many ships would be in port on each day, and the Zaandam is going to have lots of company. The Sun is in port on quieter days, with just one or two other ships in port. I didn't examine the size of the ships, but it does seem that 5 ships would make for a crowded port.

Thanks for your input.
#7
Washington
5,312 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
Do these ships do Glacier bay? To me, that is one of the highlights of an Alaskan cruise. Honestly, there is one day at sea going up and one day at sea coming back (maybe) and hopefully a day in Glacier Bay and the rest of the cruise is port intensive where you get off in the morning and spend the day doing cool stuff and then get back on around 5 or so. So to me, the ship does not matter as much.

We sailed on the HAL Oosterdam in her maiden year to Alaska in September. What we found was that most of the passengers were a good 40 years older than us. There were many who were napping in the public lounges which made us feel uncomfortable and out of place so we spent most of our time onboard in our suite. We liked our suite - it was lovely with a bathroom with separate tub and shower and 2 sinks. We thought the food was quite bland overall and nothing stood out as memorable. We had extremely rough seas going up - so rough that the dining room was literally empty on the second night and all shows were cancelled as there was no way it would be safe to perform. We always bring books to read and we walked around the ship, it was a little difficult - we definitely needed the hallway railings to get back to our cabin and the crew had put out new seasick bags everywhere and there was a line in reception where the ship's doctor had opened a seasick table and they were giving out medication. Thank goodness we had Trans Derm Scops and were fine. Many of the elderly passengers stayed onboard in port so our shore excursions were not too crowded. I think that many of them are quite lonely as we often found ourselves trapped in conversations with them that we really wanted to exit, but they seemed so desperate to talk to someone, we didn't have the heart to go. The music onboard mostly catered to the taste of the elderly passengers who were the majority onboard. The staff onboard was nice.

NCL caters more to families and a younger demographic. That being said, the Sun is one of their older ships built in 2001 and refurbished in 2016. These were the enhancements made:
Updated décor in all 33 of the ship’s suites
Improvements to the Kids Crew area which offers complimentary children’s programs
The addition of Moderno Churrascaria, the line’s new and popular Brazilian steakhouse (in the space previously occupied by Pacific Heights)
Overall replacement of carpets and wall coverings in public areas

Honestly, we only cruise NCL in suites and what they do for suite guests is drastically better than on HAL where the suite seems to only be about having more space.

I think either ship will be a great cruise to Alaska because it's Alaska, but the vibe onboard the ships will be quite different. I do agree that 5 ships in port in Alaska is a lot as the towns are quite small - many of them just several blocks and very walkable. I would definitely make reservations for any shore excursions you want to do and also have an alternative plan in case something happens to cancel your shore excursion (weather). Have a lovely cruise!
#8
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
SuiteTraveler - Did you leave from Seattle? I was hoping that leaving from Vancouver and through the Inside Passage wouldn't be too rough. And yes, both ships go to Glacier Bay.
#9
Southern California by way of Kentucky
18,059 Posts
Joined Aug 2009
Originally posted by SnowshoeCat
I put a deposit down on the Zaandam this morning. But now here's an interesting wrinkle: I looked at how many ships would be in port on each day, and the Zaandam is going to have lots of company. The Sun is in port on quieter days, with just one or two other ships in port. I didn't examine the size of the ships, but it does seem that 5 ships would make for a crowded port.

Thanks for your input.
We've done a few cruises on RCI Radiance and found that it hasn't really mattered how many other ships are in port.
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#10
Washington
5,312 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
I've cruised to Alaska from both Vancouver AND Seattle - we've gone several times - always in September and each time, we had a wild ride in the open ocean going up there, but coming back was smooth. I always ask the waiters at dinner on the first night how the ride was coming back on the cruise before ours and if they say it was high seas, then I know to put on the Trans Derm Scop.

As I recall out of Vancouver the high seas started around 9pm on the first night and out of Seattle the high seas started the first night and went through the second day and evening.
#11
Orange County, CA, USA
1,689 Posts
Joined Apr 2012
Agree with Ashland, most pax disperse on excursions, and the towns are set up to "handle" the rest. You might have SRO at the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau... You MIGHT wind up tendering in one of the ports, but that's the worst thing that could happen.

Sent from my SM-N900T using Forums mobile app
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#12
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Well that was fun. I just called to switch from HAL to NCL. It turns out the deposit I paid this morning is non-refundable, part of their "reduced deposit" promotion. I did read the terms and conditions, I just didn't realize $175 was a reduced deposit. Even the third party agent I just spoke to said there are lots of sales right now and then she implied that the wording or implementation of the sales has been a little sneaky. She was very careful with her wording.

Oh well, I'll let it rest for a bit and decide later on what I want to do. I can't do anything about it now.
#13
Fort Mill, SC
642 Posts
Joined Apr 2002
I appreciated the answers you received. Our family cruised with Celebrity and NCL (the Sun) in Alaska. Celebrity was more formal and had few children when we cruised, but it was a wonderful trip. We felt the Sun wasn't equipped for Alaska (too many people inside the ship when the weather was bad, so it felt very crowded). The biggest negative for us about the Sun was that it wasn't in the ports as long as the Celebrity ship was, so in a few ports we only had time for one rushed excursion. We're going to try Holland in Alaska for the first time in May 2017. I'll be traveling with a kid in his late 20's, and I'm worried that Holland's passenger demographics will be too old for him...heck, I'm worried that Holland will be too staid for me, and I'm a widow in my 60's . Holland's ship reviews are definitely mixed. On the positive side, their itinerary was the best for the week that we could travel. We miss Skagway, but I wanted to see Sitka again. (My spouse & I had renewed our vows in the Russian Orthodox church in Sitka for our 20th anniversary during our Celebrity cruise). I recommend choosing the ship with the itinerary that appeals to you the most, especially if this is a once-in-a-lifetime cruise.
#14
cruising.cockroach {at} gmail hotmail and yahoo
1,390 Posts
Joined May 2012
From what I've read about NC especially food, I'd choose HAL. Sailed Hal 2x (Zaandam 2 1/2 years ago) in my early 50s on long cruises, the first with much-older demographic and it was fine. The typical demographics for HAL apparently don't always apply on Alaska cruises though late season one may be different.
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Using cruise lines as a cheap means of comfortable if not speedy intercontinental travel....


Upcoming Sep 2017 Celebrity Millennium Vancouver-Yokohama


Mar 2016 Star Princess San Pedro-Vancouver
Mar 2016 CMA CGM Libra HongKong - Long Beach
Jan 2016 RV Yandabo Bagan-Mandalay

Nov 2015 Tirrenia Bithia Janas Arbatax - Civitavecchia
Oct 2015 Saremar Ichnusa Bonifacio-Santa Teresa de Gallura
Oct 2015 Corsica Ferries Corsica Victoria Savona - Bastia
Oct 2014 HAL Zaandam Vancouver-Valparaiso
Mar 2014 Corsica Ferries Mega Express 3 Toulon-Ajaccio & Bastia-Nice
Oct. 2012 HAL Prinsendam Civitavecchia-Fort Lauderdale
April 2012 Island Princess San Pedro-Vancouver
Kasr Ibrim Abu Simbel-Aswan Feb. 2007

Way, way back....
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Koeln-Dusseldorfer Line Rotterdam - Bern
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#15
Washington
5,312 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
I checked on the Zaandam. It was built in 2000 and last refurbished in 2010.

Well...unless by switching to NCL you save more than the deposit you will lose on HAL, I'd probably just stick to the Zaandam if you want to stay in the same price range. You'll be on the ship for a day going up and then once you are in Alaska, it is all about the ports so the ship becomes a floating hotel where what you need from it is a competent breakfast and a nice dinner and a bed and bathroom, which you would have on either ship. So I wouldn't sweat it too much.


If you want to upgrade dramatically I'd switch to the Seabourne Sojourn which is offering an amazing deal on a suite on the Sept 21 twelve day Alaska roundtrip Vancouver. It's got a lot more ports and the ship is really amazing with the best food/service, etc. It's such a good itinerary, it would be worth blowing off the deposit for HAL.
#16
Central NY
622 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Well, I did get my deposit back by invoking the 24 hour rule that the airlines abide by (cruise lines aren't held to it, apparently, but I tried to be nice). I went back to do a mock booking and the "reduced deposit" clause was still hard to find - and I was looking for it.

Anyway, I now have a refundable deposit on the Sun. I think I'll eventually end up cancelling. Some other things might be happening in September, but I'll look into Seabourn. A friend offered (threatened?) to join me, so that would certainly help with costs. It's been an interesting hunt, and I appreciate the opinions.


I'm off to Spain in a few hours and must finish packing!

ETA: The Seabourn itinerary looks interesting - different! I like that. I little pricey, but still worth considering at a future time.
#17
cruising.cockroach {at} gmail hotmail and yahoo
1,390 Posts
Joined May 2012
If you have time, look at Ponant's Le Boréal sailing Nome to Vancouver.
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Using cruise lines as a cheap means of comfortable if not speedy intercontinental travel....


Upcoming Sep 2017 Celebrity Millennium Vancouver-Yokohama


Mar 2016 Star Princess San Pedro-Vancouver
Mar 2016 CMA CGM Libra HongKong - Long Beach
Jan 2016 RV Yandabo Bagan-Mandalay

Nov 2015 Tirrenia Bithia Janas Arbatax - Civitavecchia
Oct 2015 Saremar Ichnusa Bonifacio-Santa Teresa de Gallura
Oct 2015 Corsica Ferries Corsica Victoria Savona - Bastia
Oct 2014 HAL Zaandam Vancouver-Valparaiso
Mar 2014 Corsica Ferries Mega Express 3 Toulon-Ajaccio & Bastia-Nice
Oct. 2012 HAL Prinsendam Civitavecchia-Fort Lauderdale
April 2012 Island Princess San Pedro-Vancouver
Kasr Ibrim Abu Simbel-Aswan Feb. 2007

Way, way back....
P&O Cathay between Singapore and Hong Kong and back, March 1968 + August 1969
Koeln-Dusseldorfer Line Rotterdam - Bern
Thomson Ithaca Tanger to Brindisi April 1974
Chandris Bruge-Norway-Tilbury August 1974
Chandris Southampton - Canary Islands + Madeira - Southampton August 1976