Going on a cruise was not on my bucket list.I’ll meet you anywhere in the world via plane,train or automobile but on a boat?Uh,not really and no thanks.My cousin was the architect of this family vacation and it all sounded good on paper.We embarked on Holland America’s Statendam in Vancouver,BC and sailed on to Ketchikan,Juneau,Skagway,Glacier Bay and finally disembarked in Seward,AK.
If you ask me about my favorite 5-star vacation experience,I’d probably tell you about the time I stayed at the One & Only resort in Cabo where the staff unpacks your luggage while you sip tequila.And y’know those nifty little sewing kits you get in your hotel room?At the One & Only,the kit will be color coordinated to your wardrobe. Or maybe I’d tell you about the most epic afternoon tea at The Ritz Hotel in London and how they made me the most awesome veggie tea sandwiches ever.For me,the luxury part of the travel experience is all in those little details.Service excellence and the details is where HAL falls short in providing a true 5-star experience.
C’mon now,even crappy 3-star hotel chains give you hand lotion along with basic toiletries like hand soap.I had to request hand soap three times before it was delivered (5 hours later) to my cabin. The crew on the ship will hand sanitizer you to death but you won’t be able to actually wash your hands or moisturize.
To be kind,I will say the food was mediocre at best.I’ve never felt so restricted while trying to follow a plant-based diet than I did with the Lido and Rotterdam menus.Everything that might have a morsel of flavor is prepared with dairy of some sort.So I ate salad,salad and more insipid salad along with some pallid “fresh fruit”.All the food starts to look the same by day two and then you realize they are serving the exact same thing,slapping it on a plate and calling it something clever like “Rainbow Fruit Salad” then “Fruit Compote” and then it’s just “Fruit and Sorbet”.
Juneau:The hike to Nugget Falls is an easy 1.5mi round trip and was much needed since I compensated for my real food calorie deficit by consuming bread like it was going out of style.Mendenhall Glacier was a little anti-climatic on its own but my cousins got to see a bear and a porcupine up close,so they were stoked.
I had the chance to check out Rainbow Foods in Juneau and stock up on some plant-based snacks.You can watch my video here.
And then it was time to eat again.The worst meal was the “Veggie Loaf” (pictured left) with baked potato and carrot puree.I had to send it back to the kitchen after taking two bites of the cardboard-like pucks.I imagine that this is what they probably feed people in prison.The vegetables were obviously frozen,then over-cooked to the point of being unpalatable mush.I’m not sure how you mess up hummus(top right) but it tasted funky when I tried it along with the babaganoush and dolmade.The “Tofu Korma” (bottom right) may have been okay if it didn’t smell like feet but it did,so I couldn’t eat anymore.
Glacier Bay: Woke up at the crack of insanity to be on deck at 6:45am to see whales and wildlife as we entered Glacier Bay.This breathtakingly beautiful scenery was the highpoint of the cruise for me.It was also the only day I needed my ski jacket because it was wayyyy brrrrr nippy-cold for a weather wimp like me.You can see in the pics that other people were wearing t-shirts and shorts,no problem.
Oh yeah,and then it was lunchtime.The ship had a salmon bake and I hit the salad bar on the Lido deck again.Nothing new to choose from except this sad excuse for sushi.Can you tell how glue-y the rice was?Almost all of the pasta salads,slaws or grain salads are not vegan-friendly.My aunt raved that the fruit soups were delicious,so I tried this strawberry soup at dinner.It tasted like a Strawberry Julius drink (you know,the kind you get at the mall?) and I’d bet my bottom dollar it had dairy in it,even though I was told it was vegan.Didn’t finish eating that one either.Skagway:Cute town for about 10 minutes.I had an epiphany that I really want to see architecture and culture when I travel.Alaska is all about nature,not architecture.The tourist towns we visited all hocked the same Ulu knives,totem kitch,t-shirts,stuffed animals and had prominent Diamonds International type outlets,ready to sell you the world’s finest tanzanite.It really started to feel tacky and repetitive by the time we hit Skagway.
And then it was time for …wait for it…another salad!Months before the cruise,I did call HAL guest services and asked if they could accommodate vegan meals.I was told “yes”.They sent me a form to fill out(it really just addressed allergies) and supposedly someone from the dining room would meet with me and discuss my options on the first day of the cruise.I called again about 30 days prior to the cruise to make sure that my dietary requests would not be problem.Again, I was reassured that I would enjoy great meals.When I asked about vegan meals on the first day of the cruise,I got a look like I had just spoke Martian to my waiter.Ugh,I knew where it was all headed and decided to just try to order around the limited menu.If you are lacto-ovo vegetarian,there are several “gourmet vegetarian” offerings in the Rotterdam.If you’re vegan,you’ll be working on your relationship with salad.I may be the only person in the history of cruising to lose weight after eating the food.
The “Chocolate Extravaganza”(pictured above) would have been better represented if they called it the “Gluten Glutton Fest”.This was such a sad display of unappetizing desserts,I don’t have any words for it.
This was the “Poached Pear” dessert on the second formal night.Sounded like it had promise on the menu but the execution was terrible.
If you get on this cruise with no expectations,it might be okay.But I had heard people rave about how wonderful Alaskan cruises are and that Holland America was one of the better cruise lines.In my opinion,this vacation fell flat on many levels.The crew’s service standards were definitely more focused on being friendly over efficient.The food is all about quantity,not quality.I wonder if the big name chefs that are part of HAL’s “Culinary Council” have ever eaten from the buffet of gastronomic disappointments?
Things you will be so happy to have while onboard the ship:
- One Drop Deodorizer for the bathroom- Put one drop in the toilet before you do your business to eliminate odor
- Dr.Bronner’s Lavender Hand Sanitizer– This was much gentler on my sensitive skin than the Purell sanitizer in the onboard dispensers
- HealthForce Nutritionals Vitamin C powder-Mixed this powder with water to give my system an instant immunity boost when I felt like I was being bombarded by germs
- Hydro Flask water bottle- We paid the one-time $8 upcharge to have “spring water” vs. tap water in the dining room. I filled up my water bottle during the meal so I could stay hydrated later.
- Ginger People’s GinGin Hard Candy– Pop a couple of these when you start to feel sea sick for natural relief.
- Oil of Oregano– I never travel without this herb.It calms down tummy trouble better than any OTC medication.You can learn more about how to use it in Kevin Gianni’s video here.
- Vega Vanilla Chai shake (not pictured) This cruise was one of the few times I’ve worried about not getting enough protein on a plant-based diet.Luckily,the ship did have soy milk to mix with the protein powder or just use water.
- Drinks:Alcoholic beverages,soda,premium coffee/tea,spring water(sparkling or flat)- extra charge
- Spa:All services- extra charge
- Fitness Center:Exercise classes-extra charge
- Casino:Extra charge
- Wine Tastings/Mixologist classes-extra charge
- Shore excursions-extra charge
- Room service meals
- Lido/Rotterdam dining options
- Movie Theater
- Nightly shows
- Cooking Classes
- Friendly staff
- Clean rooms
- Beautiful nature/wildlife sightings
- The food
- Onboard entertainment (like the magic show)were ridiculously awful
- Ship started to smell of sewage in many areas after the third day at sea
My final thoughts:
The saving grace was spending family time together with our party of eight,ranging in age from 5 to 81 yrs old.The older folks thought the cruise was fine.My cousin said she preferred Royal Caribbean to HAL. I would not have chosen a cruise for myself and after this experience,I would not recommend it as a good value for the cost. #notimpressed
Disclaimer:This post was not sponsored.This post does contain Amazon affiliate links (usually w/free shipping) if would like to purchase any of the items I mentioned in the “Cruise Ship Essentials” portion of the post.
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