Review: MS Hanseatic
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
116 people found this review helpful
“More mountains than buildings, more wildlife than people and more glaciers than stoplights” – so says TravelAlaska.com and I would heartily agree.
A long journey to get there we flew from Heathrow to Seattle (9 1/2 hours) and on to Anchorage (3 1/2 hours) in one day. An overnight in Anchorage and next day a short tour of Anchorage including a visit to a recently extended museum. An extremely well set out museum showing such a lot about Alaska, its history, people, art etc. We were there for over an hour and, although I am not keen on museums, would happily have stayed there even longer. Then on by bus for the three hour drive to Seward. Mountains, lakes, rivers and forests the whole way through the Kenai National Park with snow still on the mountain tops. It would have been a lovely drive if only it had not been raining! But our guide, Grace, was very interesting with a great sense of humour, especially when talking about Sarah Palin!
After lunch in a restaurant and a brief visit to downtown Seward we joined our ship, the Hanseatic. It seemed a lot bigger than the Island Sky or Clipper Odyssey, my previous cruise ships booked with Noble-Caledonia, but was still dwarfed by a Holland America line ship docked alongside. We were welcomed on board by a very impressive line up of crew – restaurant and bar staff very smart with white gloves serving champagne! The Hanseatic claims to be the only 5-star small expedition ship and it looked as if we were starting well.
Maximum number of passengers would be 184 but this cruise carried 148 of which 21 were British having booked through Noble-Caledonia. The majority of the remaining was German speaking as the ship was operated by Hapag-Lloyd, based in Hamburg. Most of the German-speaking passengers spoke good English and I had little opportunity to practice my very rusty German. The restaurant and bar staff all spoke perfect English and were really delightful, very friendly but extremely professional. Although we were in the minority I was most impressed that the announcements alternated between first German then first English so no one could complain and we never felt left out.
The facilities on the ship were excellent including a gym, a small sea water swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool and plenty of sun beds so no rushing to put towels out early in the morning. These passengers were much too well behaved for such behaviour! The musicians on board particularly impressed me. A pianist played in the Observation Lounge before and after dinner and a four-piece band plus a very talented singer (she had trained as an opera singer) from Slovakia played in the lounge and at other special occasions.
All the passengers had been loaned a bright red wonderfully warm parka (that’s an anorak to you and me) and a pair of waterproof wellies for what they call a “wet landing” Our first morning we had breakfast outside, wearing our parkas as the temperature was a chilly 10 deg., and enjoyed sunshine and blue sky. Apparently the previous cruise had had only two days without rain so were understandably somewhat grumpy by the end. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had sunshine most of the time.
Our first morning we sailed up Icy Bay to the Cheniga Glacier. It was a very impressive sight and sea otters were spotted here and there and the glacier “calved” several times i.e. bits broke off into the water. Hot bouillon was served mid morning as the ship sailed slowly on to another glacier, the Tiger Glacier. The Captain opened up the forecastle, the front part of the ship normally off limits to passengers on big cruise ships, so we were able to get wonderful views at sea level.
The next day we entered Yakutat Bay and sailed slowly up to the Hubbard Glacier – a huge one, even bigger than the two we had seen yesterday. This was brilliant, a lot of noisy calving and in the afternoon we took to the zodiacs (inflatable dinghies) to go even nearer and pottered around nearer the glacier for an hour and a half through bits of ice in the water known as bergy bits. A most enjoyable time. As we sailed out of the bay we passed a monster cruise ship, the Coral Princess, which couldn’t get anywhere near the glacier. Apparently she stops for half an hour with her starboard size facing the glacier then turns around and spends half an hour with her port side facing. And that’s all! Our ship, the Hanseatic, is an E4 ice class, which is the highest ice class for a passenger ship and is the next class down from an icebreaker.
We next visited Pelican, a tiny fishing village with 63 inhabitants, one row of houses, a little town hall and Rose’s Bar and Museum which we soon livened up despite the early hour. It was definitely more bar than museum. Back to the ship for lunch and I had intended to have a snooze in the afternoon but was woken by an announcement that whales had been sighted. I spotted about 10 but there were certainly a lot more. They were blowing and fluking and the Captain moved the ship round to follow them; you can’t do that with the monster cruise ships! They came really close to the ship. Very impressive. One of the waitresses came round with hot wine. These little touches were most appreciated.
Next day we docked at Juneau, the capital of Alaska but smaller in size and population than Anchorage. We had booked an optional excursion to go by helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier. We were given a safety talk then fitted out with overshoes over our own boots and a lifejacket (!). A 10 minute flight up to the glacier with several helicopters all buzzing around and all landed on the glacier within a few minutes of each other. They whizzed off to collect the next lot and we walked around the glacier for 25 minutes with a guide. It was very chilly and windy and there were some impressive crevasses and views. We were dropped off in the centre of town after the flight to have a wander round and to visit the famous Red Dog Saloon for a beer. A really great place: identical to a western saloon, sawdust on the floor, swing doors and a really good pianist playing honky tonk music. In the afternoon our next optional excursion took us for “Hiking in the rain forest and whale watching” It was more a wander through the woods than a hike in the rain forest but our young guide was extremely knowledgeable and very interesting. The whale watching was incredible. We went out on a fast motor launch and found no less than three pods of humpback whales and they were really performing – up to the surface, then fluking and down then “bubble netting”, herding the fish into a circle then the whales came up to the surface with mouths open to catch the fish. Very clever. Even our guide and the boat captain said they had never seen such a display. But I expect they always say that.
Skagway was our next port of call. There were two other cruise ships in harbour including an enormous Carneval ship whose mainly obese passengers were queuing to get off and queuing to get back on again. Awful. Our optional excursion today was on the “White Pass and Yukon Route Railway” a most enjoyable train ride following the route the gold prospectors took in the late 1800’s. We went uphill for two hours and back down in one hour and enjoyed some pretty spectacular scenery. We had crossed into Canada at White Pass Summit but didn’t get off the train. We got off the train back in Skagway, an attractive little town like a Western film set. Apparently any new building has to be constructed in the same style. Only 800 or so people actually live here but it has 900,000 visitors each summer, presumably from cruise ships. There are 23 jewellery shops and there were 36 in Juneau! There is money in them thar cruise ships.
The next glacier was at the end of Tracy Arm fjord, a long fjord named after Benjamin Franklin Tracy, a Civil War general and not named after Sharon’s friend. We sailed past the Seven Seas Navigator, another ship too big to go to the end of the glacier. Very satisfying for us. We stopped just short of the Sawyer Glacier and went out again on the zodiacs. We got close to some amazing little icebergs, startling blue colours, and some seals resting on ice floes. Back on board we had a barbecue lunch on the outside deck, all dressed in our parkas as the temperature was still around 10 deg. It was a very good meal. In the evening dinner was an Alaska themed meal with all the staff dressed in jeans and red braces – their idea of looking typically American. But good fun and another excellent meal.
Another expedition day followed in Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. Our zodiac excursion took us to a group of islands to see a colony of Stellers Sealions. We skipped lunch on board as we were to have “British High Tea” at 4 p.m.! Sandwiches and lots of creamy cakes and scones with cream and strawberry jam. Just too much food!
The next morning we anchored miles outside the harbour at Petersburg, it was low tide and our ship could not anchor any nearer the port so we went ashore in the ship’s tenders, a journey of half an hour. Some of us went on a full day excursion to Anan Creek which entailed 40 mins by school bus then an hour and a half on small fast speedboats then a walk along a boardwalk through the forest to an observation platform to look for bears. They come down to the river to catch salmon running upstream to their spawning grounds. We spent a fascinating two hours before returning the way we had come. We had a short time in Petersburg which has Norwegian origins and a group of children in traditional Norwegian costumes came on board the ship to give a music and dance show. Very cute.
Ketchikan was our next stop where we tied up at a pier with two monster cruise ships either side of us; the Star Princess, bigger than anything we had seen, and the Zaandam, which we had seen several times though never at some of the interesting places we visited but which she could not reach. Today we went on an optional flight on a seaplane, which they call a float plane. Our driver to the airport said that in Ketchikan one could only drive 22 miles one way, 12 miles the other and 3 blocks inland, which begs the question, why have a car? The only way into Ketchikan is by air or sea so the little float planes (which seat about 5 people) do all the mail and grocery deliveries to nearby settlements. We had the mandatory safety video and then were allocated our pilot, an older chap who said he had been flying for 40 years. That sounded OK to me. We flew all over the area of Misty Fjords which, luckily, was not very misty and we had wonderful views of the whole area. We landed (incredibly smooth landing on water…) on a lake and went out, with some difficulty in my case, on to the floats. Our pilot said no one had ever fallen in to the water. There’s always the first time. Soon we were in the air again and back to the airport after an hour and a quarter. Brilliant.
The Lemaire Bistro on the ship, where we normally had breakfast and lunch outside, transformed itself into the Ethno restaurant in the evenings with occasional speciality meals. This evening we tried “Curry Delicacies” Sadly not a nice meal; the German chef’s idea of curries being far removed from that of the Brits’. As the ship was to stay in port in Ketchikan until 5 a.m. we went out for a drink in the evening. The first bar was a bit tacky and we left without finishing our drinks (we had paid for them….) driven out by an appalling man who could neither sing nor play his guitar. The offer of a free drink was no temptation to stay. The second bar was better, both the drink and the music. A lot of our restaurant/bar staff from the ship came in after duty and it was good to see they had some time off to go out and enjoy themselves. They always worked very long hours.
Cruising in Misty Fjords National Park the next day was wonderful. It was a glorious day: blue sky and warm sunshine. We went out on the zodiacs to look for wildlife but there was none, except for a little creature that looked to me like a ground squirrel. I might have been wrong but no one came up with a better suggestion. At 11.30 we had a “Poelser Party” poelsers being a kind of Danish sausage which was really a hot dog. The outer deck had been decorated, the band was playing, the drinks were flowing: caiparinhas (a very alcoholic Brazilian cocktail), beer, sekt and champagne all free of charge and the sun was shining. Several of us danced, mainly the Brits, and I danced with a stuffed reindeer doll…….Huge fun. The Hotel Department on the ship certainly organises these events very well. In the afternoon the two Alaskan, i.e. American, pilots who had been with us most of the way left the ship, for tomorrow we enter Canadian waters and will take on a Canadian pilot. In the evening the Russian pianist who plays in the Observation Lounge gave a concert of classical music. Very flamboyant virtuoso stuff.
A full day at sea was taken up with lectures and a Bavarian and Austrian lunch was served. All the staff in dirndls and the band played oompah-pah music. Dumplings, sauerkraut and sausages were some of the things on the menu. Delicious! The free beer and schnapps was an added bonus. Another star turn by the Hotel Department. Our second full day at sea without a landing or zodiac outing was unfortunately a damp and misty one. The morning lecture was interrupted by possible sightings of Orcas as we sailed down the eastern side of Vancouver Island, but nothing there.
We docked at Victoria, Vancouver Island early the next morning. We hadn’t booked any excursions here so decided to walk into town then caught a hop-on-hop-off city tour bus. It was lovely – a sunny day and the city was festooned with amazing colourful hanging baskets. No building was over three storeys on account of earthquake risk. The whole place was buzzing, probably as it was a sunny Saturday; lots of buskers and harbour-side shows and kiosks with food and drink. We walked round the harbour and stopped for fish and chips!! As if we don’t get enough food on the ship….. We sailed in the afternoon for Vancouver and arrived in time for a ringside view of a firework display by Vietnam. Apparently there was to be a display on consecutive nights in a competition between three countries, Brazil and Italy being the other two. Poor Vietnam’s effort merited nul points and didn’t even deserve to come third out of three. However we watched from the top deck of the ship on sun beds wrapped up in blankets, even though it wasn’t cold and the staff came round with champagne!
We left the ship the next morning for a city tour. Vancouver looked more like Hong Kong and we decided that Victoria, on Vancouver Island was a much more attractive place to stay. We had lunch in a restaurant and then out to the airport for our flight home.
This had been an wonderful cruise and we had seen so much . Would I go on the Hanseatic again? Probably not; nothing to do with ship itself which was excellent and the restaurant and bar staff were top class; but the ship goes mainly to the Polar regions and although Noble-Caledonia feature one of its cruises to Madagascar I’ve done all those…. If you are thinking of going, go now and go on a small ship which can get into all the nooks and crannies and right up to the glaciers. Noble-Caledonia’s own small ship, the Caledonian Sky will be in the area next June. I note from a recent newspaper article under the heading “Alaska makes a comeback” that Holland America Line is doubling capacity on it’s seven-night Inside Passage cruise; Norwegian Cruise Line will have three ships, one more than in 2012 and Princess Cruises will have its 2,600 passenger Grand Princess in the area. Quel horreur !!
116 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Noble Caledonia - Small Ship Cruises