An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!
The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.
The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.
The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.
The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.
We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!
Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.
That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.
Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.