We started our journey on the Amtrak Cascades train from Washington State into Vancouver B.C. on a rainy day. The train was full of people traveling to various cruise ships, some for that day and some for the next. One of the next day people said they had traveled that way often and the train was known for being notoriously late so it’s not a good idea to cut it short between arrival time and your boarding time. It got to the station on time, but sat about an hour in the station before letting anyone disembark. They unload luggage first so we hoped it went under cover out of the rain, but no such luck. By the time we finally got off the train the bags were soaked, at least on the outside. Luckily the clothes inside stayed dry and mine is not one of those hard-sided plastic ones. You can get to the cruise ship dock by taxi or if your ship leaves from Canada Place as ours did the sky train is an option as well. They let people off the train one car at a time and ours was nowhere near first. By the time we got to the taxi line it was long with only 2 taxis in sight so we crossed the street and walked a short way through a small park to the building at the end of the park where the sky train station is. It’s easy to find since you can see it from the Amtrack station. Just look to the left when you walk out the door and you can see the tracks leading into the building even if trees happen to obscure the view of the building from where you stand. That station is called Main Street/Science World Station. If you are taking the train back toward Seattle or Portland and have time to kill Science World is worth seeing. From there you go to Waterfront Station, which is 4 stops away at the end of that line. Waterfront station has several exits. Pick the one that says Howe Street and when you leave the station you can see Canada Place. After a walk of maybe 50-100 yards or so you see the ramp into the parking garage. Cross the car lanes and on the far side there’s a sidewalk ramp for people to walk down. That is the way into the terminal. You pretty much have to know that to find your way into where you board the ships.
Our first day at sea couldn’t have been more different than boarding day. We sailed through the scenic inside passage on calm water under sunny skies. Holland America Westerdam has a great thermal suite so we even though it’s a bit pricey we splurged to be able to relax in its jetted hydrotherapy pool and sit on the awesome heated ceramic benches throughout our cruise. The ceramic benches had a nice view of the scenery passing by in the inside passage. Our beautiful weather with sunny skies and smooth seas continued through day 3 which we spent in Glacier Bay. Cruising through Glacier Bay is kind of like taking an excursion without ever leaving the ship.
On the way up to Juneau passing by Admiralty Island we went up to the Crow’s Nest lounge which has big observation viewing windows. We weren’t there more than a few minutes before John spotted humpback whales in the distance, which soon became humpback whales nearby. There weren’t too many people there that early in the morning, but the ones who were flocked to the windows, a chance to see whales they never would have known were there without his announcement.
On short cruises we prefer the freestyle dining where you can eat at any time during the hours where the dining room is open and choose nightly whether you want to sit with other people or not. On longer cruises we usually like early dining where you have the same table and eat with the same people each night. It’s nice to have someone to share your day with and hear about theirs and the opportunity to make new friends. Longer cruises usually have more sea days so there’s more time to linger over the dinner table. On this cruise we were assigned free dining, but waitlisted for early and transferred to early on day 2. Our tablemates all disembarked in Yokohama, but we got new ones for the Asia cruise.
Tables for 6 are the ideal size for us because there are enough people to keep a conversation going without having so many you can’t hear the people across the table. We were seated with a couple from Germany where the wife was originally from Japan and a couple from Canada who were originally from somewhere in Europe. Unfortunately for me the Canadian couple and the Japanese woman were all so soft spoken I could hardly hear anything they said. I have some hearing issues and individual voices over background noise is the thing that I have the most difficulty hearing. So I mainly talked to John or Martin the German man and just smiled and waited for someone else to answer when any of the others said anything. Martin was an interesting guy. He’d lived in various places around the world and spoke 12 languages. At port stops he tended to look for a mountain to climb, which he managed to do in spite of his age and the fact that walking on level ground looked like it might be a bit difficult for him. Looks can be deceiving.
Day 4 we crossed the Gulf of Alaska heading from Juneau to Kodiak. The sky and water were both gray, and the waves were big enough to cause enough movement in the ship to make a few people stagger, but not big enough to disrupt anything other then they had a tendency to close the outside decks in rough waves or windy weather. We always enjoy relaxing on sea days, one of the reasons we bought the thermal suite package at the spa. The internet was a disappointment though. It started out extremely slow and got slower as we got farther from civilization. As time went on instead of lowering the upgrade price to reflect less days of coverage they actually raised it, although people who had paid the extra for what was supposed to be fast enough internet for streaming didn’t always have any better luck opening email than I did so the upgrade wouldn’t have been worth the extra cost regardless.
Day 5 our streak of good weather continued with sunshine for our port stop in Kodiak. So far it rained only on boarding day and a sea day. Day 6 started out with the disappointment of planning to go for an early morning run and finding the promenade deck closed – something they normally only did in high winds and stormy seas of which that morning had neither. It did open later in the day. The day started out pretty gray, but the sky and sea got bluer as the day went on and we saw humpback whales after a well-timed announcement from the bridge about whales off the starboard bow that came while I happened to be on the heated ceramic bench at the spa. The windows in that room are floor to ceiling and it’s located on the starboard side near the bow. The sea was too far down to get any photos of the whales without a big fancy camera with a good telephoto lens, which I do not have.
Day 7 our good weather continued through the morning as we sailed through the Bering Sea with blue sky and only small waves in the sea. The night before, just a minute or two after John mentioned we had not seen Captain Mark Rowden so far this cruise we ran into him in the hallway and he said the ship was heading through a pass between some of the Aleutian Islands into the Bearing Sea for two reasons – due to the great circle route such as airplanes fly it’s actually 90 miles shorter than sailing a straight line to Japan so they save on fuel, and he was also avoiding the worst of a storm brewing south of where we were heading. Later in the day the storm started to catch up to us. The sky got grayer and the waves swelled and white caps broke out. Around lunchtime the bridge warned of high winds to come and said to stay off balconies and outside decks when they did. By late afternoon the waves grew large enough to feel some ship movement. Enough to make some people stagger a bit walking down the hallways, but not enough to toss the ship around or rock it to the point where they set out barf bags by the elevators. Winds were 30 knots with gusts up to 50. It was interesting how much bigger the waves looked through the window of our deck 1 cabin than from up high in the ship, or how it always feels like the ship is going faster when you see the water up close. Movement wise though you feel the rocking less lower down, especially middle to the back and our cabin was near the stern. These waves came diagonally to the back with a tendency to lift the ship from behind even though it has pretty good stabilizers. We could see that a bit during dinner since our table had a view out the stern windows. Around dinner time the barf bags came out – but only on the elevators next to the dining room. Coincidence or statement about the food? (Just kidding, it was gala night and the food was good. Probably actually in that location as a matter of convenience since that is where everyone would be.)
Day 7 was on a Monday, but day 8 a Wednesday because of crossing the international date line. We set our clocks back an hour each night several times in a row before then. That night it officially went ahead 23 hours, which is basically the same as setting it back 1 again other than the skipped day. The sky grew grey again and the sea stormy with white caps and winds of about 40 knots. Some waves were high enough to splash higher than our window even though we were near the stern and it’s bow cabins that usually get that. The ship is pretty stable and the winds eventually died down enough that the outside promenade deck was open to anyone who doesn’t mind walking or jogging around in some wind. Through it all the ship did not rock too badly so the stabilizers did their job well. Ship movement is often most noticeable in the pools which all turn into wave pools that sometimes splash over the sides with ship movement even when you can’t really feel it. The girl at the spa desk said one of the passengers complained about the waves in the hydrotherapy pool and asked if she had some controls to shut them off. I guess that passenger doesn’t understand the motion of the ocean. Personally I see waves in the pool as bonus – extra water movement beyond what you get from the jets.
After a few disappointing port talks ages ago on previous cruises that were just about trying to get people to buy ship’s shore excursions I’ve mainly avoided them on any cruise line. After missing the first few on this cruise I found out that in addition to talks about their excursions, Holland America also has EXC (Explorations Central) port talks from their independent port exploration guides that are actually useful information about places to see in port and how to get there on your own. After that I made more effort to make it to the port talks for most of our stops in Asia. The test kitchen demonstrations are also fun to watch and there were a couple good guest speakers on this cruise who gave interesting lectures. There is a limit to how many presentations I want to sit through in a day so I didn’t go to everything that I might have enjoyed. Especially never any two lectures in a row in the main theater because the seats there were quite uncomfortable and one lecture or show was more than enough time spent sitting in them.
After a few more mostly non-eventful days at sea where the weather improved we reached Japan on day 12 of our cruise. One of the lecturers said on a previous crossing he took across the Bearing Sea the ship pitched and rolled through violent waves the whole time so we definitely got lucky with nothing too rough for our ship’s stabilizers to handle.
During the course of the 14 days of the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise they had 3 gala nights, which is when people have to dress up in fancier clothes than they normally wear to dinner. These were previously called formal nights, and on some ships still are. Holland America changed the name because rather than tuxedos and ball gowns like people used to wear, it’s mostly suits and nice dresses, skirts or pantsuits now. Ships have the fancier nights because people are more likely to have portraits taken and buy photos when they are all dressed up and of course they want to sell photos. While we’d prefer not to have to dress up at all (or the need to pack clothes for it) we do understand that the more money they can make from add-ons like selling photos the less they have to charge for the cruise fare so the formal nights do have their purpose, though more than 2 on any one cruise does seem a bit excessive. On this cruise they served lobster on the 3rd gala night on day 10. I tried a lot of different foods this cruise, primarily ordering out of my comfort zone which was often in the past pasta or vegetarian dishes. These tend to have wheat and often dairy which I had to mostly avoid due to starting to have stomach issues with them, which probably means I’m on the way to becoming gluten and dairy free like my sisters.
Since the time went back an hour nearly every day of the crossing people started getting up earlier and earlier. The first morning when I went out to the promenade deck for a run it was just me at the start and then one more runner and a couple walkers by the end. As time went on more and more people were up early trying to get out to the promenade, which once we left Alaska was usually closed overnight and through the early morning. Since nobody could get outside the ever-increasing number of early risers started prowling the halls. On the rough or windy days it made sense to have the outside promenade deck closed, but even on the calmer days crossing the Bering Sea they didn’t open it until later, leaving a lot of people wandering about inside in the wee hours of the morning.
Arrival in Japan meant going through customs, which we did through customs officials brought onboard the ship the morning we arrived. Several days ahead we were given forms to choose our preferred departure time with 3 different choices given. Customs lots were assigned giving those with ship’s tours priority, followed by outside tours, then people who were just going off on their own by the order of the time frame chosen. We weren’t in any rush since the ship stayed in port until late evening and picked the middle slot rather than the early one, which was probably a mistake since they ran about an hour behind. Our streak of good weather in ports continued in Hakodate.
The last sea day of the 14-day North Pacific Crossing part of our cruise brought about good weather and the promenade deck was actually open early in the morning. When I had just a few laps left to go to complete a 10k run the deck crew came out to swab the deck pouring soapy water all over starting at the bow. Passengers had to go back and forth on the ever-shrinking non-soapy area instead of making full laps.
We received an invitation to a special luncheon only for those passengers staying on the ship for the next 14-day voyage in Asia. They served Indonesian food just for the 700 passengers continuing on to the next cruise. Indonesian food is not normally served to passengers, though the galley staff probably have plenty of experience making it for the crew since a quite a lot of them come from Indonesia.
The last day of the North Pacific Crossing brought us to Yokohama where some passengers disembarked, new ones joined the ship, and the rest of us just went out for a port stop. The second half of our cruise was a Japan and China cruise with one stop in South Korea. Weather for Yokohama was fairly warm with a high of 66 degrees farenheight and mostly cloudy skies with just a very brief and very light bit of drizzle. While Yokohama is close enough to Tokyo for people to go there by train during a port stop, it does have quite a lot of things to do within walking distance of the ship so there’s no need to go far to find something to do.
Overall the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise was quite pleasant. We had mostly cooperative weather, lots of relaxing sea days, and interesting ports with Captain Mark Rowden and cruise director Andy Knox. Total mileage from Vancouver B.C. to Yokohama Japan was 4,940 miles at an average speed of 15.8 knots with port stops in Juneau, Kodiak, and Hakodate, and a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay. Officers and crew on the ship totaled 801 of 43 different nationalities. During this voyage the ship desalinated 2,574 gallons of water. Of course it also can fill up the fresh water at some ports as well. These stats were provided by a cruise log found in our cabin’s sea mail box at the end of the cruise.