Chat with Deb—Dolphins and Orcas and Whales, Oh My!

Sometimes you see things… sometimes you talk about things…

Previously, on Deb & Jack’s Alaska Vacation:

As part of the double upgrades we’d been given for delaying our cruise twice, our wonderful cabin had Neptune Lounge privileges, which meant we could walk a few feet down the passageway to a door discretely labeled “Neptune Lounge.” Inside was a nice, well, lounge, with snacks, coffee, an espresso machine, eight flavors of fancy teas, an honor bar, and a concierge who answered questions and helped with Vexing Problems.¹ We had been clued in by friends (who normally travelled at a much fancier level than we are used to) that the Neptune Lounge was good for a quick breakfast or fast lunch. But why do that when the dining room had such great food?

We found out, our first morning at sea.

The dining room, set up for breakfast. (all photos by author unless stated otherwise)

Rather than the entire dining room on two decks being available, we and our fellow diners were clustered at the after end of the third deck. This was the first time we noticed service suffering as a (we assumed) result of the ongoing labor shortage. Unlike dinner the evening before, breakfast was badly understaffed; it took over a quarter hour to put out order in, and another half hour after that to get our food.

DEB: Okay, you heard that lady behind you who was all upset about too much sunlight coming through the window? She’s the same one who was just on the waiter’s case about her food order. And she has NOT been wearing a mask, at all.

ME: So they’re understaffed, so service is slow, so people get grouchy, so they demand more from the staff, so the few waiters available have to keep the whingers happy… Should we have, I dunno, done the Neptune Lounge after all?

DEB: Or the Lido deck, honey. Even if they don’t have the buffet anymore, it’s still easier to just point and get our food, then find a table. Next time!

We wandered around the ship a little more after breakfast.

DEB: Oh honey! Be sure to get a photo of the lounge!

The central lounge, three decks tall. Bar, plus Pinnacle Dining Room. Pretty!

DEB: And the area back there is the Pinnacle Dining Room. That’s where we’re eating tonight.

The Nieuw Amsterdam had the main dining room, the Lido dining area, and two upscale dining rooms—

DEB: Three, Jackster: Pinnacle, Tamarind, and Canaletto.

at least two more upscale dining rooms. The regular dining room and the Lido are part of the package, the upscale ones need reservations and cost extra. Unless Holland America Line (HAL) threw in additional meal upgrades because they felt really bad for making us wait two years, in which case we had three dinners reserved in the fancy places.

We went to two briefings on wildlife that we might see on our cruise. One was by the activities director, who was very polished and rather funny and (according to his bio) had been a standup comic before coming to work for HAL. The other was by a naturalist who had more of a university professor vibe, but she knew her stuff and liked to share obscure facts (I love me a good geeksplainer!).

Wildlife spotting schedule (with our naturalist on hand). One of the whale/dolphin slides. Note that our naturalist, in a large auditorium with several rows of space between her and her audience, is still wearing a mask. The HAL folks were VERY good at following mask protocols. Note the people seated in front of us, sans masks; the passengers were ~60% maskless. We kept ours on when except when topside or eating.

NATURALIST: When we are wildlife spotting, there are two rules: first, you can’t spot wildlife if you aren’t looking, so always be looking! Second, when you see something, tell everyone! Yell “WHALE!” or “DOLPHIN!” or “SEAL!” or whatever, and then “THREE O’CLOCK!” or whatever. All of us can spot a lot more than each of us!

I had never seen whales — dolphins I was used to, they like to ride the bow waves of submarines and hang around Navy harbors—so I was looking forward to seeing some. Alas, we learned, our timing was off. We were a tad early in whale migrations to begin with—the pods go south to warmer waters to have their calves, then come up north again in late spring—and the winter had hung on later than normal, so the krill and other whale food had not picked up yet.

NATURALIST: So most likely, if you see a whale, it will be an orca—a “killer whale.” Except orcas are actually a kind of dolphin.

Well… drat.

Since we finished breakfast late, we had a light lunch from the Neptune Lounge. Prepared sandwiches, hummus and pita, fruit, nuts—nice! We took it back to our cabin because we were maybe fifteen steps down the passageway, and because nobody (except the concierge, bless her heart) bothered to wear a mask.

Before we left, though, I asked the duty concierge about the “SBP” sticker on our room keys cards. What did that mean?

CONCIERGE: Oh, that’s the Signature Beverage Package! It means you have up to fifteen beverages each day. Just show your room key to your waiter or bartender. Or use the honor bar here! All we ask is that you fill in a form with your last name and room, and which beverages you take. That applies to soft drinks, beer, wine, spirits, things like that.

ME: Oh dear, we didn’t do that for our coffee and tea earlier! I’m sorry!

CONCIERGE: We don’t track coffee, tea, or plain water. Or juices.

Later, when we get back to the cabin:

ME: So we can drink ourselves into a stupor every day?

DEB: AAA threw that in, honey, when we booked through them. I bet they get a discount.

Later we took a turn or three around Deck 3, which has an outside area that runs all the way around the ship. Three times around the ship is a mile, so we worked on making our fitness trackers happy.

It’s also where we assemble for lifeboats.

DEB: There’s our assembly station!²

ME: And there’s Alaska? I think?

DEB: Oh, honey! Isn’t it beautiful!

We were still in the inland passage when this was taken, so we had land to each side. This was the view to starboard (easterly), with forested hills and snow-capped mountains.

Dinner was a “dress up” night, so I put on a jacket and tie and Deb wore a sparkly top. There was a photographer who just happened to be handy. (Later we found there was ALWAYS a photographer handy. Funny how that worked.)

Me and my beautiful lady! I was wearing a tie her late mother had given me, with different cameras, since I tended to be the family photographer at family events. The ship’s photographer got a kick out of it. (photo by one of the ship’s photographers)

Dinner was at one of the fancy restaurants, and the level of service showed it. Marko, our waiter, once he checked that we were happy to follow his advice, gave us recommendations after finding out our tastes. He scored on every choice.

Just some of Marko’s recommendations. Clothesline candied bacon; beef tenderloin with lobster dumplings; Baked Alaska HAL-style, with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.

When we got back to our cabin, our stewards had made it all up in preparation for bed, and left us a towel animal.

Our swan towel animal, with a foil basket that Marko made for us so I could carry back leftover rolls. Except Marko added extra bread because I liked it so much. “You want butter? You sure? I can add butter, too!” Marko had a certain sensibility about how things were supposed to be done.

Before bed, we put in an order for a room service breakfast.

DEB: This was we can start on a full breakfast without having to be dressed. And tomorrow we’re pulling into Ketchikan early!

¹We overheard a passenger asking for help with her bank. Something to do with her credit card being on hold, so she couldn’t pay for things on the ship. I suppose “paying for stuff” qualifies as something a concierge would assist with?

²Which we knew from having walked down there the day before, per the safety video, but our lifeboat stations were also printed on our room key cards. HAL took this stuff seriously.

Next: Our first Alaska port call, Ketchikan, and the rain finally catches up to us.



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Jack Herlocker

Jack Herlocker

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.