Yokohama to Vancouver Cruise on Holland America’s Volendam
Of course, one of the inevitable things about a journey around the world without flying is that you must find a way to cross the oceans. Of course, unless you fly, travelling by boat is the only option so the search began for a transpacific cruise that fitted in with our timetable. As it turns out there wasn’t much choice so the decision was easy. At one point, there was a choice of two but one was cancelled so we settled on the Holland America Line transpacific cruise from Japan to Vancouver. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
One of the things you get used to when travelling is that things don’t always go according to plan and so you need to be prepared for change. When we booked the cruise it departed from Osaka so since we arrived there from China we planned a circular tour of Japan to fit in. However, before we set off on our trip, the cruise schedule was changed and we departed from Yokohama near Japan. Since Tokyo was our last stop before heading back to Osaka this worked out rather well for us.
Firstly, here’s an overview of the cruise so you can get an idea of what we did. As can be seen, there were a lot of sea days so plenty of time to relax. We started with a tour of the coast of Japan which gave us the opportunity to see a bit more of this amazing country. Then headed out across the Pacific Ocean before arriving in Alaska and finally, Canada.
|Day 3||At Sea|
|Day 5||Hakodate, Japan|
|Day 6||Kushiro, Japan|
|Day 7||At Sea|
|Day 8||At Sea|
|Day 9||At Sea|
|Day 10||At Sea|
|Day 11||At Sea|
|Day 12||At Sea|
|Day 13||Kodiak, Alaska|
|Day 14||At Sea|
|Day 15||Glacier Bay – Scenic cruising|
|Day 16||Ketchikan, Alaska|
|Day 17||Cruising Inside Passage|
As I have mentioned before, we arrived in Yokohama by train from Tokyo. You can read all about that journey here. The embarkation procedure was pleasantly efficient and straightforward. We were soon relieved of our bags which was a relief. I don’t think many people arrive on a luxury cruise with a large rucksack but the staff seemed unphased. Of course, we also had a suitcase by now too. We shipped our wheeled holdall directly from the UK to Tokyo. So, we had some nice clothes to wear for the cruise and were able to take part in the formal nights also, which I love.
After check-in, we received a number and sat down to wait for a short while before getting on board. We have cruised before but Holland America are unusual in allowing you to proceed directly to your cabin on boarding. I rather like this and we were able to settle in straight away.
I booked an inside cabin and we were allocated one on deck 1 which is right at the bottom of the ship. Sounds a bit grim but actually we rather liked it. It is a pretty quiet cabin location and the cabin itself was spacious. I’ve included a photo above so you can see. Unfortunately, it was from later in the cruise, by which time we’d got rather messy but at least it gives you an idea.
Of course, we looked forward to the luxury of a cruise after several weeks of travelling across Europe, China and Japan by train. But first, some practical things. I had all our laundry done as soon as we got on board. For $20 you stuff all your clothes in a bag and they come back all clean and folded. It’s surprising how much you can squeeze in. I managed to get jeans, sweatshirts, hoodies and also the small stuff, socks, t-shirts etc. So, all in all, a bit of a bargain. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever arrived on a cruise with dirty laundry before so that’s a first.
Settling in onboard
If you’ve cruised before then you’ll know that sitting down to your embarkation lunch is one of the signs that your cruise has begun. We started our cruise with lunch in the buffet restaurant. Afterwards, we went for a look around the ship. Actually, we went to check out the gym but ended up buying a cruise long pass to the thermal spa which gives you use of the hot mineral bath, steam room, fancy showers and heated ceramic loungers. We made good use of this throughout the cruise. It did get busy at times but we found times when we had it practically to ourselves.
The first-night dinner was an opportunity to meet our tablemates for the cruise. We shared a table of 8 although only 4 of us made it the first night. We were all there for the 2nd-night though and we became firm friends over the course of the cruise. Our tablemates were Richard and Chris, also from England, James and Melanie from Swansea and Jason and Matthew from Sydney. We were quite a chatty bunch so dinners were quite lively.
On the first formal night, we were also joined by one of the crew, Barbara who runs the culinary arts program. She very kindly bought the wine for the table. Although suit and tie seems to be the popular choice for formal night on the ship there were 3 dinner jackets on our table and everyone had taken the opportunity to dress up. Even us and we were glad we’d had that extra case sent out to Japan so that we could also join in.
Yokohama and Kamakura
Although we boarded the ship on Monday, we stayed overnight in Yokohama that night and didn’t sail until later on Tuesday. We got up reasonably early on Tuesday and took the train from Yokohama to Kamakura. Once there we got a local electric tram to Hase to see the Giant Buddha. You can even go inside the Buddha to see the construction.
Most of our previous cruises have been with P&O and their sailaways are usually quite lively. In comparison, HAL sailaways are a bit of a non-event. No singing, no dancing, not even a celebratory cocktail on deck. However, the view of Yokohama port as we sailed out was pretty good especially as we sailed under the bridge. We changed and went up to the Crow’s Nest bar for drinks before dinner and got a bird’s eye view of another ship trying to get knocked down by ours. The captain had to sound the horn repeatedly and everyone rushed to the windows for a good look.
Wednesday was a day at sea so we got up late and took some time looking around the ship. It was quite cool on the open deck when the ship was moving and so the inside spaces were quite busy. The promenade deck which is usually very busy on the warmer cruises was deserted apart from a few of us hardy people with coats and warm trousers. Fortunately, we had access to the thermal spa area and the Volendam has a retractable glass roof over the pool/Jacuzzi area which they closed so that the pool area was a popular spot for relaxing.
We swung over to the art auction so that we could get free glass of champagne although I can’t believe anybody would pay the prices they were asking for ‘limited edition prints’, one lady did appear to buy something but we’re convinced she was a plant and everyone else appeared to be doing the same as us as they started to drift away once they’d had their free drink.
At this point, we had been travelling for 4 weeks and constantly moving on every few days had begun to catch up with us. I think we noticed it more once the pace of life began to slow down on board. We took advantage of the sea day to sit around not doing much all day, reading and watching films.
On day 4, we got up later to find we’d already docked in Aomori. Standing on deck we looked out across a peaceful harbour to snow-capped mountains. I had planned to take a bus out of town to see the archaeological site but our late start meant we’d missed it. So instead, we took a stroll around the waterfront area which is quite pleasant and then headed back to the ship to spend some time in the thermal spa. You can read more about Aomori here.
For the next few days, we had stops in port every day. Hakodate, on the island of Hokkaido, was our first stop outside the main Japanese island of Honshu. Unfortunately, we docked some way out of town and so had to rely on shuttle buses to get to the sights. We didn’t have any problems getting into town but everyone wanted to come back around the same time and there weren’t enough buses to cope.
We were lucky as we were near the front of the queue at the bus stop but a lot of people were left behind. Even then our bus was packed with people sitting on the floor. Not quite what you expect on a luxury cruise. Then back at the ship, we watched as more overfull buses brought irate passengers back to the ship while 3 empty buses sat alongside the dock apparently paid to do nothing. HAL really didn’t handle this well at all, it is really quite bizarre. Fortunately, this is the first time we’ve needed a shuttle service as otherwise, we’ve docked closer to town.
Nevertheless, Hakodate was a great port and I really enjoyed it there. It’s got a lovely international feel to it with many interesting buildings and of course, some great views from the top of Mount Hakodate. You can read about our time there and find out all the things to do in Hakodate in this article.
A more lively sailaway
We were treated to a rather remarkable sailaway from Hakodate. Having said that HAL doesn’t seem to do sailaways, something which we’re used to from P&O, Princess and Disney, it was quite by chance that we were on the promenade deck to see someone on the dockside setting up two large speakers.
By now it was getting pretty cold and we were all wrapped up in coats and woollies but he was rushing about in a thin suit. Minutes before the ship was due to sail off he took to the microphone and told us that they were running a bit late and please could we wait a bit longer. I’m not sure if he was asking the few of us watching or the ship generally but nothing was going to stop the Volendam pushing away on time so it was lucky that a coachload of schoolgirls arrived at this point and their performance was able to start.
As the ship pushed away from the dockside we were treated to a Japanese version of Psi as the normally impeccably organised Japanese descended into random dancing, waving and singing to see us off. It was truly brilliant and those of us who witnessed it – and there was quite a good group on the promenade deck by now – thoroughly enjoyed it. HAL should take notice – they are definitely missing a trick here.
Our final stop in Japan was Kushiro. We were informed that we had to do face-to-passport immigration in order to leave Japan so this was scheduled for the afternoon. Just as well as we were woken at 8 am by the captain’s dulcet tones over the loudspeaker in our cabin telling us that we were not able to get into Kushiro as it was too windy and the channel was narrow. We would be waiting offshore until the winds died down but that he expected this to be around 12 pm. Having been woken up, we had breakfast and then settled down to watch a film – we docked around lunchtime but we didn’t notice until some time afterwards when the film finished. So we had lunch and then headed ashore.
Fortunately, there was enough time to see a bit of the town of Kushiro. We walked along the river which heads inland from the dock area, spent some time enjoying the warmth of the Evergreen Garden and then browsed in the market. You can read all about our time in Kushiro here.
Out in the Pacific Ocean
After Kushiro, we headed out into the ocean. We had 6 days at sea to look forward to. In fact, it was really a bit like when we were on the train across Siberia if you ignore the opportunities for bingo and afternoon tea!!! We are just chilling out every day. We went to the gym one morning to get back into running again. It was the first time I’ve run since we started out on this trip so it was hard work, especially as I had trouble keeping in a straight line. We rocked about quite a bit and I ran more of a zig-zag path on the treadmill!
Despite the chill, we wrapped up each day to take a walk on the promenade deck each afternoon. This was the coldest part of our trip so far so we already felt connected to Alaska. We needed coats, hats and gloves to go out on the deck and it was still bracing.
International Date Line
As we travelled east we lost an hour each day. On the ship, they put the clocks forward at 2 pm which is a strange time to do it but I suppose it means they can announce it over the loudspeaker without waking everyone up. The time change meant that afternoon tea started in the dining room as soon as lunch was finished but this did not, however, prevent a queue forming outside in anticipation. It is an extra meal that we avoided. The food on the Volendam is generally very good although there is far too much temptation without venturing into the dining room to look at more cakes.
After a while, every day at sea tends to be very much like the last. One small deviation was when we crossed the international dateline which meant that it was 22nd April twice. All in all, a rather strange feeling really.
As we approached our first stop on the eastern side of our transpacific cruise the weather was quite rough. For a few days, we had pretty rough seas and at times the ship was been rolling around quite a bit but the captain changed course to take us north of the Aleutian Islands in search of better weather. Afterwards, it was much calmer which was a relief.
We still went out on the deck every day though for the fresh air. It even snowed one day although only briefly. Meanwhile, life on board ticked along regardless. We got into a bit of a routine of getting up late, reading, eating, walks on deck during the day and trivia at 7.30 pm before dinner. For entertainment, we formed a quiz team with Ken and Myrna from Florida which we called the Polar Bears. Although, we had mixed success at the quiz each night we did actually win one evening. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and we really looked forward to it every evening.
Dinners on board were also good fun. Our table was a lively one and we seemed to get on well together. During the transpacific cruise, we had two formal nights and on both occasions, we were joined at our table by crew members to entertain us. Firstly, we welcomed Barbara, the onboard culinary expert, and later, Michael, who was in charge of shore excursions. They were both interesting people to talk to and of course, they buy the wine so they were always welcome. Michael had some great travel stories to tell us, having travelled all over Asia and we picked up some great tips for future trips.
After so many days at sea, I was looking forward to our scheduled stop at Kodiak Island. I don’t know much about it but of course, everyone has heard of Kodiak bears. I guess that’s where they get their name from. Unfortunately, with only 1 sea day left before our arrival, we were awoken by the voice of the captain informing us that high winds were forecast for our scheduled arrival in Kodiak and that it was deemed unsafe to take the ship in. We would, therefore be spending a further day at sea, making 7 consecutive sea days, before arriving in the alternative port of Juneau.
After so many days at sea perhaps we had all become rather used to it as there was little dissent amongst the passengers and most seemed happy enough with another day at sea. Shore excursions were hastily arranged by many although we decided to do what we always do and just wander about and see what we could find on our own.
The captain very kindly sent us all a glass of sparkling wine after dinner in compensation and our even kinder waiter found us all a second glass each! Certainly, the captain knew how to keep us all happy.
Finally, we entered the channel on approach to Juneau –. I stood out at the bow of the ship just gazing out at the scenery. The views were amazing as we sailed slowly up through the snow-capped mountains for over 2 hours before finally reaching Juneau. Absolutely one of the highlights of the transpacific cruise so far.
Glacier Bay National Park
Another day aboard the Volendam but this was no ordinary cruise day. Today, we sailed through Glacier Bay National Park. We have cruised through the Fjordland in New Zealand and these scenic cruise days are always a real treat. This was no exception. We saw some amazing sights and got a close-up view of the Margerie Glacier. An absolutely stunning view.
Our final cruise stop in Alaska was Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world. Unfortunately, we were greeted by rain and lots of it. So our walking tour of this fabulous city was rather damp. However, after so long at sea we were determined to get out and about to explore and a bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us. All in all, it was a great day out and Ketchikan has some great things to see. The Totem Pole museum was certainly a real highlight.
Finally, our cruise came to an end in Vancouver. All in all, this was a really big part of our trip around the world without flying as we had navigated the Pacific Ocean and were now, on the other side of the world. So we very excitedly headed up on deck to watch as we sailed through the channel into the port of Vancouver. As can be seen in the photo above, we sailed under the famous Lion Gate Bridge. In fact, as you approach it doesn’t look high enough and you feel like you are going to bump into it. Of course, the captain knew what he was doing and we sailed safely through.