June 2015 - Zaandam to Alaska - Gulf of Alaska
We absolutely could not ask for more aboard ship. Embarkation & debarkation were quick & easy, and the service aboard ship was truly fantastic - especially in the dining room. Shore side linkages, however, were another story. I understand the corporate desire to sell package deals where the traveler just has to line up and follow the rest of the crowd, but I found it very difficult to do anything on my own. The situation was best described as "opaque," making planning from a distance a real challenge. For example, once you've done this once, you know HAL lands at Seward. What isn't clear from a distance is that Seward is a long way from Anchorage. Some sort of transfer is required to get from Seward to Anchorage. The train schedules appear to be set up for tours rather than point to point travel, so a motor coach is required. The IHG & HAL folks on the phone don't really understand how that works, so they advised us to go to the reception center first, then take a shuttle to the airport, where we planned to pick up a rental car for exploring the interior on our own. In fact, there are motor coaches that go directly from Seward to the airport, and the baggage truck from Seward goes to the airport FIRST, before it goes to the Anchorage reception center. We wasted a lot of time at the reception center. The other rough edge was ashore in Skagway. Our WP & YR locomotive broke down short of the White Pass summit. No big deal - stuff happens; that's just part of the adventure. However, that 1.5 hour delay meant we had no time in Carcross, BC ("go directly from the train to the bus"), because our group had travelers from the Ruby Princess that were pressed to make their sailing time (4:30 PM). Our sailing time was about 4 hours later, but we were stuck with the Ruby Princess crowd. The excursion folks reimbursed us $50 apiece for the inconvenience, but I would much rather have spent the time in Carcross than have the money. I don't expect to get back to Carcross again any time soon. The excursion folks could have treated us Zaandam travelers much better, by providing return transportation from Carcross to Skagway that didn't rush us with the Ruby Princess crowd.