Author Archive: Lisa-Ann

Ketchikan’s that away


Two Sisters at Sea … and in search of a bar

After a sound night’s sleep, we bounced out of bed, more or less.  In fact, we made it to the dining room by 8:30-ish for breakfast, but decided the long line wasn’t worth the wait, so we headed up to the Explorations Cafe and some coffee.  Some things you just can’t do without.

Half hour later, back to the dining room and we were seated almost immediately. More coffee and, in my case, two raisin buns (oh I do so love those!) and some breakfast later, feeling much invigorated, we purposefully walked the deck.  Well … that’s obviously an exaggeration (I can hear my husband snicker from here), but we did walk several laps, spotting whales in the distance.  We even tracked down the naturalist, Laura.  If she’s going to hide, she’ll have to do better than stand on the aft promenade deck with a bright orange backpack that says Naturalist. 🙂

Bit of a swell (the Captain – Ane Jan Smit – mentioned 6 foot seas), but other than occasionally lurching a step or two in the direction you weren’t intending to go, managed to spend most of the rest of the morning without incident.  The day was uniformly gray, but mostly dry.

For our first team trivia, we scored a whopping 10 out of 18, but that’s at least a passing grade.  Maybe?

Lunch at the Dive In, still the best burgers, dogs and fries on the ship. And no skimping on the Dive In Sauce, thank you very much! On our afternoon stroll (interspersed with a snooze on our veranda), we saw some Dall’s Porpoises, who have a knack for disappearing as soon as I get my camera in my hand.  So another successful day of wildlife spotting.

Tonight being Gala Night, after getting gussied up, we went in search of some pre-dinner cocktails.  Struck out at the Ocean Bar – great service, but the music, oh my, I’m not sure a piano can sound any more depressing that it did tonight. It managed to chase everyone away. So up to the Crows Nest, which was virtually empty.  A good sign … as long as you didn’t want a drink.  The wait staff seemed to be rather absent.  But determined not to be thwarted, we went back to the Ocean Bar where the Ocean Trio was now playing, people were dancing, and our quest and our thirst, was quaffed. I think we’ll make the Ocean Trio our pre-dinner routine from now on.

Dinner was good – especially the fillet of sole, paired with a nice Chablis Karin picked out. Then off to the Piano Bar, for another round of singing along with Mike.  Good thing we saw a couple of new friends who saved us a seat, because Mike’s getting awfully popular.  And it’s only night 2!

We get an extra hour of sleep tonight, as the clocks get turned back.  A good thing as we have to be off the ship and meet up with our excursion at 8:20 on the dock in Ketchikan.

A swell day


A pop of yellow in an otherwise gray vista


We really did make it to the promenade deck!


Another unusual and lovely flower arrangement, this one in the Crows Nest


Monday wrap up

After a strenuous afternoon consisting of unpacking (10 minutes), the mandatory muster drill (30 minutes), walking around the Zaandam getting oriented, and sitting at the Seaview Pool for sailaway (with a couple of delightful Australian sisters), we decided to head up to the Crows Nest and refresh ourselves with a delightful Admiral’s Choice (gin, St Germain Elderflower liqueur, cucumber, lime, lemon, basil and honey) and watch the Olympic Penninsula go by.  We did wave as we passed Karin’s house (more or less).  I got the first wildlife photo of the trip, some seals hanging out on a buoy. Whoo hoo!

Dinner was delicious.  We both had the Ketchikan Seafood Chowder, the citrus grilled rainbow trout, followed by apple pie for Karin and a cheese plate for me.  And coffee, of course. For me, a streaming hot cappuccino.

Then off to the piano bar, where we ran into one of the Australian sisters.  Hanging out in the back, safely hidden by the cluster of people surrounding the piano, we sang along, hooted and hollered, and generally misbehaved ourselves..  Mike is a fantastic piano player, and very entertaining.  We’ll definitely be back.

Having had too much fun at the piano, we headed back to the cabin.  Guess we’ll have to check out other night time entertainment tomorrow.

Our cabin


Ferries passing each other on their way to/from the ferry terminal in Seattle


The stunning center atrium pipe organ


And the organ from another angle


Turned the corner and bumped into these Indonesian masks.


Mid 18th century Delft plate. I keep running into artwork in the most unexpected places – this was by the elevator bay.


The Crows Nest




Ketchikan seafood chowder. I love this soup. And the mussel reminds me of a whale poking his head above the waves.


Seals on a buoy. First wildlife of the cruise. Not the best photo (taken through the window in the Crows Nest, but good enough for bragging rights)




A quick view of the Zaandam

Did a brief walk around the Zaandam, and she’s looking pretty spiffy after her recent dry dock. New carpet (though not throughout the ship, mostly the public areas) and new furniture.

The library (books, games and puzzles still exist aboard):

The piano bar, where I’ll be later:

The working, 3 story tall pipe organ in the atrium:

And always flowers.

More to come, as I snapped these with my phone for easy uploading.

My favorite hangout

After lunch on the dining room and our traditional celebratory glass of champagne, we’re at the Seaview Pool and I’m doing my favorite thing … taking pictures!

At Pier 91

Made it to Pier 91 at 10:30 and we’re all checked in before 11. Surprisingly, there was no health questionnaire. Per the pier agent, only Celebrity and Royal Caribbean still make you fill one out. The rest are on an honor system and expect you to self report. At least in Seattle.

And now this beautiful view is just outside.

We interrupt the ms Amsterdam countdown …

Well, as if being excited for a cruise in August wasn’t enough, my sister just surprised me with a cruise to celebrate my recovery from multiple surgeries over the last 22 months.

We leave, get ready for it …. in 12 days!!  We’ll be doing a 14 day Alaska cruise on the Zaandam, a sister ship to the Amsterdam, so I’ll get a sneak preview of the changes that have just been made to the Amsterdam (I believe she comes out of dry dock tomorrow).

12 days and counting!

And here’s the Zaandam in Ketchikan, where I’ll be in 2 weeks.  Rain or shine, makes no difference to me. I’ll be on a ‘dam ship!!!

105 days to go – About our ship, the ms Amsterdam

A great webcam shot of the Amsterdam with the Zaandam behind her at Pier 91.

First, the facts.  Because I’m just that kind of gal!

Built: 2000
Guest capacity: 1,380
Gross Tonnage: 62,735 grt.
Length: 780 feet
Beam: 105.8 feet
Maximum speed: 22.5 knots

(For comparison – Titanic carried 2,435 px; 46,300 gross tonnage, 882 ft long, 92 ft beam. Max speed was 24 knots. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the largest currently in use, carries 5,479 passengers, with a gross tonnage of 226,963; 1,188 ft length, 217 ft beam; max speed 25 knots.)

The Amsterdam is the third of HAL’s ship to carry that name. She’s a beautiful ship, inside and out.  But the most breathtaking ship feature (I think) is the Planeto Astrolabium which spans all three stories of the atrium.  It’s a working sculpture and tracks constellations, the planets, world time and ship time.

Looking down at the ms Amsterdam's Astrolabe

Looking down at the ms Amsterdam’s Astrolabe

The top of the astrolabe, with the constellations

There’s a lot of artwork on all of Holland America’s ships, each with a particular theme. What’s fun on the Amsterdam is that it’s a wonderful mix of European and Asian artworks tucked into some of the most unexpected places, with lots of artifacts from the original ms Amsterdam, built in 1938. Take the self-guided audio tour so you don’t overlook any hidden treasures!

The Amsterdam will be in dry dock from April 29 – May 9, so it’ll be fun to see what changes they’ve made to her since my last sailing.  And here’s a link to her deck plan, post dry dock. (It’s a PDF.)

I’ve always thought the food was wonderful aboard HAL’s ships, but taste and flavor is subjective.  I can promise you’ll never go hungry!  The dining venues:

Main Dining room (breakfast served 8-9; lunch noon to 1; dinner – fixed seating at 5:45 or 8; and open “As you wish” seating – from 5:15 – 9pm)
Lido buffet (6:30 am – 11:30 pm, though it can vary a little bit depending on whether we’re in port or not)
Terrace Grill – by the Lido pool, limited buffet with offerings that vary by day; Mexican on day, Pasta another, etc. Usually 11:30 – 5:30.
Dive In – great burgers, hot dogs and fries, open from 11:30 – 5:30
Canaletto – a $10 per person upcharge, small plate Italian dishes
Pinnacle Grill – a $29 per person upcharge, steak and seafood; one night will have a “pop up” Sel de Mer with French cuisine, primarily seafood with a $49 per person upcharge. My main complaint with the Pinnacle Grill on the Amsterdam is that it’s interior, no windows.
**Note** the upcharge is based on my last cruise a year ago, so it may be more.

And if that’s enough, room service is available around the clock.

If you’re wondering what to do during our time at sea, don’t worry, you won’t be bored.  Every evening you’ll get a “Where and When” guide to what’s going on around the ship.  For some idea of what’s offered, you can see the daily program guides from our cruise with a similar itinerary on the Eurodam a year ago.

Things I always try to catch – afternoon tea, especially if they’re offering the Dutch Tea or the Indonesian tea.  The crew show – depending on the week, either the Indonesian or the Filipino crew puts on a show with dances and songs from their country.  It’s well done and worth staying up for (the show starts around 11pm).  The performers are all part of the ship’s crew and put this on after their working day is done.  (I can’t image where they get the energy.)  Any cooking demonstrations that I can attend are a lot of fun, and they hand out free recipe cards.  Talks and hanging out with the naturalist is a must for me. Team trivia – though be warned, it can get very competitive.  Evening for me is having a cocktail and appetizer before dinner, and then listening to either the BB King’s All Stars or hanging at the Piano Bar. There are nightly entertainment shows – one night might be musicians, the next a magician, the next a comedian.  It’s not my thing, but the few I’ve attended have been well done and entertaining. The Greenhouse Spa, with its heated ceramic loungers, steam sauna, dry sauna and hydrotherapy pool is wonderfully decadent (you can buy either a week pass; day passes may also be offered, depending on how many week passes they sell; cost is $150 for the week or $40 for the day, though that may vary.) For the super energetic, there’s a fitness center with cycles, stair steppers, etc. that’s free to use, though there may be a $10-$12 charge for classes.

And of course, my very favorite is hanging outside on the Promenade Deck with my camera. Or on the bow if it’s open, something I always check for.  Three and a half laps around the Promenade Deck is a mile, and it’s a great way to stretch your legs while watching for whales.  Like this one.

Humpback whale


Only scratching the surface of the lovely ms Amsterdam and the things she offers. Can’t wait to get back on board – in 105 days!!!!


Destination – Hubbard Glacier

The countdown continues – 132 days until departure. In addition to the 4 port stops we’ll make, we’ll have one more destination, though we don’t get off the ship. I’m talking of course, of the Hubbard Glacier. As we enter Yakutat Bay, we’ll be able to see Hubbard Glacier from more than 30 miles away (weather permitting of course!). Hubbard is enormous – 175 miles long and 1,200 feet deep. The glacier’s face that we’ll sail along is more than 6 miles wide and over 400 feet tall!  As we sail through Yakutat Bay and then up Disenchantment Bay toward the glaciers (there are three – Turner Glacier and Haenke Glacier are completely overshadowed by Hubbard), we’re likely to see harbor seals on the ice floes, eagles, shore birds of all kinds, possibly some humpback whales, at least near the entrance to Yakutat Bay, and very very occasionally some orca.

Hubbard is one of the few tidal glaciers in the world that is advancing; in fact it’s advancing so quickly it’s been nicknamed the “galloping glacier.” It closed off Russell Fjord in the mid 1980s, turing the inlet into a lake, then receded to reopen the fjord, but it happened again in 2002, receded, and almost closed the fjord off a third time in 2008.

Because of Hubbard’s rapid movement, we’ve got a great chance of seeing and hearing the glacier calving – the breaking off of large chunks of ice. Keep your camera handy. Last time my sister and I went to Hubbard Glacier, I came back with about 400 photos of just the glacier. Hey, digital is cheap 🙂

Hubbard Glacier — it’s massive!

How close we get to the glacier will depend on the weather, the amount of ice in the water and the tidal flow.  Generally, the captain will rotate the ship so that each side will have 30-60 or more minutes facing the glacier. Again, it depends on the amount of ice in the water, but early August should be great. Do go outside if you can, rather than look through a window. The sound of glacial calving, a deep rumble followed by a sharp crack — and all the people going “ooh” “aah” and “over there” — is striking. As an added bonus, Holland America serves hot split pea soup when we’re at the glacier, a tradition I thoroughly approve of.  Every cruise I’ve been on, the captain has opened the bow, so you can go all the way forward. However, it could still be frigidly cold (after all, it’s like sitting in front of a giant ice cube!) and even rainy. Bring waterproof gear, and dress in layers. Hats and gloves would be wise. I was on one cruise where a passenger came dashing out in jeans, t-shirt and flip flops, though he didn’t stay outside for long!

Excursion Planning 2018 – Victoria, BC

Today’s countdown – 138 days!  Our last port stop for the cruise is Victoria (nicknamed the Garden City), the capital of British Columbia and one of the oldest cities in Pacific Northwest (the British settled here in 1843).

We’ll be in town from 6pm to midnight, a short 6 hours. We’re scheduled to be berthed at the North B berth at Ogden Point. In town with us will be the Norwegian Pearl (dogging our heels as usual with their 2,394 passengers) and the Emerald Princess (3,114 passengers).

Some of the things I enjoy doing and seeing in Victoria won’t be open or would take longer than the few hours we have available, but there’s still be plenty to do.

If you’re just interested in getting off the ship to stretch your legs for a bit, the Ogden Point Terminal Breakwater ( is on the outside of the South Berth.  It’s a narrow and lovely (though usually windy and chilly walk) along the top of the breakwater with a lighthouse at the end, and a metal gate you can go through and down to the water.  Be careful if you do this, because it’ll be slippery.  Up and back, it’s almost exactly a mile long.  You’ll get some great photos of the busy harbor.  Don’t worry, it now has railings, though my sister and I have walked it a few times before the railings were installed.  It was a bit … nerve-wracking … on really windy days!

If you’ve never been to Victoria, do go to the Butchart Gardens.  It’s about 14 miles north of Victoria, so you’ll need transportation. This 55-acre garden (once a barren rock quarry) has it all – flowers, shrubs, trees, fountains, footbridges, music and outdoor entertainment, and it’s enchantingly beautiful lit up at night. And if you’re missing whales, Victoria has some great whale watch excursions.

inner-harborIt’s about a mile and half walk to the city center along the Inner Harbor (a bit longer if you do the whole Inner Harbor), but there are plenty of taxis, horse-drawn carriages, pedi-cabs, a city bus and a shuttle bus (though I’d suggest skipping the shuttle bus as it’s a bit pricey).  The Inner Harbor has dozens of things to see, do, photograph and eat.  Watch the seaplanes land in the harbor; walk though Fisherman’s Wharf and look at the unusual houseboats (and feed the seals that hang out there); buskers, musicians and local artisans; walk around the Parliament Building (we’ll be in town too late to take a tour), the Fairmont Empress Hotel, or check out the Royal BC Museum – not sure of their summer hours this year, but in previous visits, they’ve been open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays; have grab a bite (though you’ll have to hurry to grab something from the casual Red Fish Blue Fish, a walk-up fun take on the old fish-n- chips).  At night the government building and a few surrounding buildings are dramatically lit and the reflections will make you whip out your camera.

At the far end of the Inner Harbor is Bastion Square which sits on the site of old Fort Victoria. The square looks out on the Inner Harbor, and has some great restaurants, pubs, and cafes. We’ll be in town too late to catch the summer seasonal artisan market, but it’s still worth a visit.  It’s also said to be haunted.  The jailhouse once located there (it’s no longer standing) was the site of many executions.

On a cheerier note, if you’re looking for some fine dining options, it’s hard to choose between Aura Waterfront Cafe, 10 Acres Kitchen and the Blue Crab Seafood House.

Of course, you can just relax aboard and get a jump start on your packing … nah, who’d want to do that when Victoria in all her finery is just a short walk away.


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