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Cruising Alaska:
Amsterdam (7 night Seattle return)

by Murray Lundberg

Sailing away from Sitka, Alaska     This photo album and review is from a cruise that my wife Cathy and I took on Holland America's Amsterdam. We left Seattle on July 20th, 2007, and returned to Seattle on the 27th after visiting Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria. This was our 5th cruise, the 4th to Alaska - our previous Alaska cruises have all been on Royal Caribbean ships (the Radiance of the Seas twice and the Vision of the Seas once).

    At 780 feet and 62,735 tons, the Amsterdam is the smallest ship we've cruised on - the Radiance, for comparison, is 962 feet and 90,090 tons. The Amsterdam has a passenger capacity of 1,380 with 644 crew members, the Radiance 2,501 passengers and 900 crew. While the size difference isn't enough to change the route that the ship takes or how close you get to the shore or glaciers (as some people think), it does make navigating the ship easier. The high crew/passenger ratio on the Amsterdam was apparent in the level of service we received.

    We took two excursions during the cruise, a custom boat tour in Sitka that we set up almost a year ago, and the ship's orca viewing excursion that we booked onbard at the last minute. At Juneau and Ketchikan we just had basic plans that were open to change depending on the weather. With a brief exception at Juneau, we avoided the shopping areas of all the communities we visited. After editing, I have 1,039 photos in my trip file, shot with a Canon Digital Rebel XT with 18-55 and 70-300mm lenses.

    This cruise was a whole-ship charter, so some of our experiences were not typical for an Amsterdam cruise. Passengers were much younger than is usual, and much more active. There was also a higher percentage of Americans than usual, particularly from Florida and Texas which are two of the main focus areas for the company which chartered the ship. Balancing everything, neither of us has a strong preference for which ship(s) we'll sail on in the future (we already have a Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Legend booked for February 2009) - the Amsterdam experience, though, was superb in every way.

    Page 2: Juneau
    Page 3: Glacier Bay
    Page 4: Sitka
    Page 5: Ketchikan
    Page 6: Victoria - Seattle - Whitehorse

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.

    Thursday, July 19: We had an early start, as we had to be at the Whitehorse airport (YXY) for a 7:00 am flight to Vancouver. We live just 10 minutes from the airport, though, and crowds are never a problem. We flew Air Canada Jazz as we got a great price, but I really dislike the way they have their Bombardier CRJs configured. The seats don't necessarily line up with windows - when I book a window seat, I expect to actually be able to look out one.

    This photo shows one of Air North's Hawker Siddeley HS 748s in front of the Whitehorse terminal.

    We arrived at Vancouver (YVR) at 9:10 in a light rain, and at 11:30 boarded a Dash 8 to Seattle (SEA) with the rain coming down in buckets. At YVR, it's a very long walk from the domestic terminal to the international terminal when you have the amount of luggage needed for an Alaska cruise.

    Ten minutes after takeoff from Vancouver, we were in the sunshine, flying over the beautiful Gulf Islands and then the San Juan Islands.

    Twenty minutes after landing, we were in a taxi on I-5 headed for downtown Seattle. Seeing this many people is always quite a shock for us! The East Indian driver spent much of the time arguing with someone on his cell phone in his native language - for some reason we found that quite amusing. The cab fare was only $22, less than I'd expected.

    We checked into the Sheraton Seattle Hotel right downtown, having got an extremely good rate on Priceline a few months ago. We got a room in the new tower which had just opened, and it was gorgeous. The view was great, the bed the most comfortable I've ever slept on - this is certainly one of the finest hotels I've ever stayed at.

    The concierge recommended Elliott's Oyster House on Pier 56 as a great place for a late lunch. He was right - we ordered an assortment of seafood including Oysters Rockefeller and raw oysters and it was all wonderful (including the service and the view). The bill, with a couple of 25-ounce beers at $7. each and $6.39 in tax, was $74.39 (not including tip).

    The erratic weather we'd been experiencing continued, with rain and sun alternating every few minutes. This photo shows the view from the end of Pier 56 - Elliott's is at the foot of it. We ate so much that dinner that night wasn't necessary (or even possible!).

    Friday, July 20: There are dozens of excursions we thought about taking, but this morning we took advantage of Seattle's great shopping instead - Cathy got some clothes and I got a couple of sets of travel-size snorkeling gear that will be handy for both our New Zealand RV tour and our next Caribbean cruise.

    We had a tough time getting a cab at the hotel, but a short ride got us to Pier 60 just before 2:00 pm. There were very few people there, and embarkation was by far the quickest and simplest we've experienced. We had our lifejacket drill at 3:30, and lines were cast off at 4:10.

    Off on another adventure - I love the initial sailaway!

    We had a calm evening, getting settled into our cabin (3333, a seaview on the Lower Promenade), exploring the ship, having the first of the excellent dinners we'd share in the La Fontaine Dining Room, and going to the welcome show in the theatre ("The Queen's Show Lounge"). Looking back now on all the years that I had assumed that cruising just isn't my style, I have to chuckle - oh yes it is!

        Saturday, July 21: On Seattle departures, there isn't much to see on the first day, as ships travel west of Vancouver Island - in our case, far west of it. It's a good day to really explore the ship and see what she has to offer. This photo shows the top of the Planeto Astrolabium, a specially commissioned sculpture suspended in a 3-storey atrium. If you spend time watching it closely, you can see that the Astrolabe tracks constellations, the planets, world time and ship time.

    One of the real gems on the Amsterdam is the Explorations Café, which features a coffee bar, the largest library at sea, as well as very comfortable music listening stations in front of the large windows, and many computers with Internet access. Wireless access is available everywhere on the ship, at 55 cents per minute in 100-minute blocks. We spent a fair bit of time in this room, which Cathy describes as having "good vibes".

    The shows, as always on cruise ships, were excellent - perhaps even a notch higher on the Amsterdam than on the others we've sailed on. After the massive theatres on the RCI and Costa ships, though, the comparatively small and low-ceilinged Queen's Show Lounge was a surprise.

    Our day at sea had been cloudy with some rain, with temperatures in the mid 50s - if we were going to get rain, this was certainly the day to get it. This photo shows the Lower Promenade right outside our cabin at 10:55 pm (our cabin had a great location, right beside an outside door and the atrium).

To Page 2: Juneau