Sunday, September 18, 2016

Alaskan Cruise 2016 - Tips, Tricks, and FYIs

My first cruise ever was this past August on Holland America (MS Westerdam). We left from Seattle and spent seven days traveling up and back from Alaska. It was great and I highly recommend it.

I thought I would draw attention to a few things that I learned that might be helpful to others or a reminder to myself for the next cruise I take. This is supplemental to the endless paperwork and info the cruise line gives you.

Before you go:
  • Read this:
    • It was extremely helpful to prepare me for my first cruise
  • I had no cell reception with AT&T on the ship even when in port.
    • They charge international rates for Canada so be very aware of when you are in Alaska and when you are in Canada.
  • Random things I would recommend bringing:
    • Highlighter – for picking which activities you are interested in.
    • Notebook (fits in a pocket) – for writing those activities you are interested in so you don’t have to take the oversized itinerary with you. Also, good for making notes about your trip.
    • Travel mug/water bottle – you can fill up with drinks at the buffet and take with you out on the deck or to the other areas of the ship.
    • A watch – if you don’t want to lug around your phone that has no reception anyway, you do want to make sure you have a way to keep track of time.
    • Power strip/extension cord - there are limited electrical plugs and they can be in awkward places. There was one outlet in the room and one in the bathroom.
  • If you are travelling with another person and splitting up the charges, you should know general room charges will be automatically applied to whomever the primary person who made the reservation is. Otherwise, they will swipe your card to keep things separate.
    • When setting up the reservation, you might want to keep this in mind.
    • For example, if TC made the reservation and you got into the mini-bar, it will automatically go on TC’s account.
    • You can go to the main desk at any point and check the charges applied to your account. It takes about 24 hours to make any changes. Everyone tends to do it on the last day and there can be a line if you wait.

On Ship:
  • The ship is open for touring of all the areas until 10p on the first day. The usually offer tours a couple of times before departure.
    • The tours start on time. We ended up getting there 2 mins late and had to play catch up trying to find them.
  • Drinks that are free: water, coffee, tea, and juice. Pop/soda and alcohol cost money.
    • Even though water is free, the bottle of water in the room are considered part of the mini-bar and can cost up to $5
  • The casino area will let you use cash or charge to your room so if you want to limit your gambling, you can use cash.
    • The poker tables do not use real cards. It was one big video table. They had a demo and let you try it. The rest of the tables did have regular cards.
    • The casino hours are based on the gaming rules for the part of the world the ship is in at that given moment so in the off hours, you can ask for lessons if you want to learn any of the games.
  • If you like hot showers, there is a red little safety button you can press in to make the water hotter. Otherwise, cranked all the way to the red button is just a level above lukewarm.
  • Look at the schedule for that day for hours on the restaurants. Sometimes they change them for certain ports.
  • The portions of food are more European than American when eating at the restaurant or ordering room service. So, the meals seem a lot smaller than you would expect when they talk about all the food you can eat on a cruise ship.
    • For example: “A plate of cookies” showed up and it was 3 small cookies. A pot of coffee or tea is about a cup and a half.
  • When eating in the general dining area (not the restaurants that charge), you have several options for each of the three courses. You can order more than one from each category.
    • If you can’t decide between the crème brule or the cheesecake, you can get both.
  • If you have food allergies, you need to let them know in advance. Depending on the allergy, they may have you pick your meal for the following day so that they can make sure it is prepared away from whatever foods you might be allergic.
    • They take this very seriously so don’t tell them you are allergic to something if you just don’t like it.
  • Room service is totally worth it. The menu isn’t extensive, but it has a decent set of choices including recommendations if your stomach is not liking the waves.
    • It takes about 45 mins.
    • It is included and no extra charge.
    • You need to call them to pick up the tray. You shouldn’t leave it outside the door like at a hotel because it is a hazard.
  • They have a fruit basket and ask you what fruit you want in it.
    • This gets refilled when they do the morning room cleaning. They also give you ice in the morning.

Before you go:
  • They do not provide irons because of fire hazards. It is $3 a piece and takes a day in advance.
    • They do not allow you to check garment bags because it is awkward when they are going through all the security checks with that much luggage.
    • The hangers are wood and they give you about 10. You can request more, but they are wire hangers and could take up to 24 hours for them to get them to you.
  • The last port which is usually Victoria, BC always gets screwed the most when there are schedule issues. It is also the port you are in the shortest amount of time.
    • I do not recommend booking anything in advance for this because of this.
    • Instead, I HIGHLY recommend doing the Pedicab tour that can be customized.
      • Ask for Kevin Keirle who was fantastic and totally reasonably priced for all that we got. You can find him here:
On Ship:
  • The elevators on the ship have floor mats that tell you what day it is. This was surprisingly helpful on a weeklong cruise.
  • Alaska is an hour behind Pacific time so you gain an hour head up and lose that hour coming back. They do a good job at making sure you are aware of this.
  • They don’t stamp your passport when headed into Victoria. They check it quickly, but since the cruise line has verified all of them, it is just a quick look. The same coming back into the US.

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