Alaska Cruise Journey on the MS Westerdam – Part One

Grizzly Bear in Glacier Bay. Alaska. Cruise
Part One – featuring a detailed description of cruising with Holland America aboard the MS Westerdam into Alaska. Read Part Two to learn more about the sightseeing included in the Alaska Cruise itinerary.


Author’s note: Did you know? The name “Alaska” is derived from an Aleut word “Alyeska,” which means “Great Land”!
Although I’ve visited “The Great Land” several times the grandeur of the landscape still manages to take my breath away! This time around I was bringing my Mom, and because I wanted her travel experience to be beyond comfortable I reserved a seven-night Alaska cruise with Holland America.


The Cruise Experience…

The itinerary for our round-trip Vancouver cruise included Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Glacier Bay National Park. I selected a round trip Vancouver route because it is true Inside Passage, offering the stillest ocean waters and the most picturesque journey. This itinerary was also ideal for us for the ease and convenience of being able to embark and disembark the ship in our hometown. No flights required!

Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park

The MS Westerdam

I chose Holland America because I knew my Mom would appreciate its warm and gracious hospitality, fine dining and the traditional experience of cruising on an ocean-going vessel. We would be cruising on one of its Vista class ships, The MS Westerdam.

The Westerdam carries just over 1900 passengers and includes most of the latest Holland America fleet enhancements. In particular the Lincoln Center Stage, BB King’s Blues Club and the Billboard Onboard as well as the new programs onboard including; Explorations Central, America’s Test Kitchen and BBC Earthy Experiences.

Passengers on-board Holland America in the early days of cruising.
Passengers on-board Holland America in the early days of cruising.

One of my clandestine pleasures when traveling by ship is discovering and experiencing art work found throughout the ship and the Westerdam did not disappoint. Unique to the Westerdam is the Rijksmuseum at Sea featuring framed reproductions from the renowned Amsterdam museum which are found displayed on the Main Deck beneath the Atrium near the Guest Services.

A Stateroom with all the comforts of home onboard the MS Westerdam
A Stateroom with all the comforts of home onboard the MS Westerdam

A Stateroom with all the Comforts of Home…

I reserved a Stateroom with a balcony because Alaska is one of the most scenic cruises in the world and having an outside area to call one’s own is truly a pleasure. My Mom and I reveled in the luxury of viewing the passing scenery while enjoying breakfast or lunch, and on occasion a glass of wine at sunset on our verandah. If you are even a little like me, afflicted by the photography bug, reserving a stateroom with a balcony is an absolute must. I never would have captured this snapshot of a Brown Bear if I had to head out to the promenade deck! Did I mention the sheer enjoyment of indulging in an invigorating breath of fresh sea air?

Grizzly Bear in Glacier Bay
Grizzly Bear in Glacier Bay

The Staterooms on Holland America’s ships are very comfortable! They are on average twenty-five percent larger than other premium cruise lines. Also noteworthy is that most of their ships Staterooms include a bathtub in the lavatory in the ocean view category and above. A definite perk for folks who are not of the shower only variety! A lovely touch experienced with Holland America is that they ensure your Stateroom is ready for your enjoyment upon embarkation. Indeed, our Stateroom was ready and a welcome reprieve after mingling with the masses at customs and immigration at Canada Place.

Stateroom Storage

I was surprised with the vast amount of storage available in our cabin which was approximately 18 square metres (200 square feet) excluding the verandah. Yes, 18 square metres is a small space but relatively spacious as compared to the size of a balcony staterooms offered by other premium cruise lines. Why so brilliant? First off under each twin bed there was enough room to store at least two large suitcases, my camera bag and a large tripod. The wardrobe had three partitions, and each included an area to hang one’s attire with a sufficient number of hangers supplied. Each partition included three shelves which my Mom and I used to accommodate the remainder of our wardrobe which included an overwhelming abundance of shoes. Amazingly there was still room in the closet for the ships life jackets!

Similarly, our bathroom also offered a generous amount of storage space including a mirrored cabinet and a large shelf below the sink. There were plenty of face towels and just enough fluffy towels as demonstrated by the fact that there was always a towel available to wrap around ones’ wet head. There were also copious amounts of hot water. Also provided was a comfy bathrobe for each of us.

Stateroom Amenities

Our cabin was equipped with plenty of plugs to recharge all our modern conveniences. Additionally, a compact but efficient hair blow dryer was supplied. If you have not been on a cruise take note that in general bringing one’s own electrical appliances is not permitted. This excludes hair blow dryers and curling irons but includes coffee makers and pressing irons. Dry-cleaning and pressing services are available on board the ship.

Holland America’s Mariner Dream Beds are fittingly named as the mattresses are a dream to sleep on. They are exceptionally comfortable, as were the pillows – remarkably so. The provision of one-hundred percent cotton sheets with a high thread count truly makes a difference which when combined with the gentle rocking of the ship never failed to lull me to sleep. This is not always an easy task! Of interest to those who are new to cruising and worried about motion sickness you should know that Alaska’s Inside Passage is one of the calmest cruises in the world, and your best choice for a first cruise.

Things that I Become Accustomed To…

The crew on board Holland America’s ships exemplified service excellence. It is a warm and personable service that is friendly, gracious and never over the top. We enjoyed the service of two room attendants who ensured we lacked for nothing.

How could one not become accustomed to the nightly turndown service with a chocolate for each of us? Who doesn’t love having juice and coffee delivered to their stateroom every morning at a designated time of their choice? I appreciated the fact that fresh coffee was available in the Lido buffet at 5:30 am and sometimes earlier for early birds.

If you have yet to cruise you should know that room service is included, and yes, you should indulge at least once. As much as I adore being off the beaten path and even roughing it a little, there is always a time and place to appreciate a touch of luxury. We were amused by the variety of towel critters that the stateroom attendants created each night. All were entertaining and adorable except for a monkey critter which I encountered hanging from the ceiling one evening after dinner. Frankly it scared the bejesus out of me.

Towel Critter – The Monkey
Towel Critter – The Monkey

Dining Highlights

Holland America is respected for their fine dining. The culinary experience with this cruise line is innovative, ever changing and tasty!

The Lido Market, a buffet style eatery offered a varied and ever-changing assortment of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring fare from all over the world. They also present cuisine of the destination and a night featuring an Alaska salmon bake accompanied by an Alaska brew was beyond doubt, a treat. Also available at the Lido Market was a sandwich bar, a scrumptious salad bar as well as a wide selection of health-conscious meals and snacks.

Hugely popular was a Mexican taco bar which I can personally vouch for. The Dive In, an upscale hot dog and burger joint seemed to be popular with passengers. And yes, as you might expect on a cruise there was always the choice to indulge in a licentious dessert. And the best thing about it? Yes, it’s all included on our cruise.

Dinner in the Main Dining Room was always excellent and especially special on both formal nights. In an age when we seem to rarely take the time to enjoy long leisurely dinners the experience of traditional dining on a ship is a reminder of just how enjoyable it is to share dinner with others, particularly when everyone is bursting with chit chat of the day’s highlights.

Dining options which are not included on the Westerdam are the specialty restaurants of the Canaletto, an authentic Italian restaurant, and the Pinnacle Grill a fine-dining establishment which showcases the gastronomy of the Pacific Northwest. The latter experience is reminiscent of the true pleasure of dining of days in eras past. My Mom and I enjoyed a long leisurely and elaborate dinner of seemingly never-ending courses over a period of about three hours of which every bite was exquisite. The Pinnacle Grill represents fine dining at its best.

Ship Facilities

The Fitness Centre on board the ship is well equipped with a variety of cardiovascular training options, weight training apparatuses and free weights. There was also a daily Yoga class (for an additional fee), offered by the pool each morning. The swimming pool located just outside the spa area is just the right size for one, perhaps two persons to squeeze in a few laps. Yes, it is warm enough for most folks to swim even during the month of May. The swimming pool and hot tubs on the upper deck (which also offered an outdoor bar) presented a resort atmosphere and proved a popular place for passengers to hang out.

Also available for passengers’ enjoyment are a ping pong table and netted outdoor sports court where one can participate in a game of basketball, tennis or volleyball. Children and youth will enjoy hanging about Club Hal and participating in its programs which are especially designed for ages 3-17 years.

Spa Facility

We purchased a pass for the Greenhouse Spa for the use of the hydrotherapy pool and steam baths at a cost of $249USD for two ($149 USD for one person) for unlimited use during our cruise. I was advised that they only sell fifty spa passes to ensure that the facility is never crowded. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute we spent in the Spa. What’s not to love? The hydrotherapy pool soothes muscle aches and use of the steam baths and heated spa lounges leave one feeling completely worry free. Robes and slippers are provided to spa goers. Also available on the Westerdams’ uppermost deck are private cabanas with loungers with an ocean-view for an additional fee.

Arts and Entertainment

The highlight of activities on board the ship was listening to chamber music at the Lincoln Centre and down-home blues in BB King’s Blues Club. We checked out America’s Test Kitchen on a day they were featuring chocolate and the creation of Pots de Crème. Participants were asked to sample five different chocolate brands and evaluate for taste and texture in order to choose the best ingredients in creating the recipe of the day.

Explorations Central Hub

Or simple EXC for short is a comprehensive program which encompasses a variety of resources and programs designed to immerse passengers in the destination and make their experiences more engaging and meaningful. The EXC Hub on board the Westerdam is located at the Crow’s Nest and is a great place to explore and plan your Alaska days in port with the aid of a variety of books, interactive screens and EXC team members who are more than willing to assist and advise on planning your days in port. In summary the Westerdam is a destination in its own right. The facilities and programs available on board the ship are varied and interesting enough to satisfy the most discerning clients of all ages.

Cruising on the Westerdam is to travel in a style that one quickly becomes accustomed to.

Enjoyed Part One? Read Part Two to learn more about the sightseeing included in the Alaska Cruise itinerary. Ready to take an Alaskan Cruise adventure? We’re ready to help every step of the way! Find your next brilliant cruise experience with our expert cruise team, to Alaska or elsewhere!
For more trips ideas, thoughts or insights before booking your next vacation, talk to a Merit Travel Consultant first.

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