This was the “South America Passage.”
First, the up-side.
Holland America Line (HAL) delivered on its itinerary. We embarked in Valparaiso, Chile. We disembarked two weeks later in Buenos Aires having sailed around the Horn. There were two ports along the way where we were supposed to stop, but didn’t. The Captain probably made the right decisions in the interest of safety. One was weather-related. The other due to a forest fire and a lot of smoke.
The food was great, plentiful, and available just about every minute of the day.
The cabin was clean and everything worked well. The boat is getting a little old, but it is well maintained. Our cabin steward was excellent. He was incredibly cooperative, conscientious, and attentive.
Now, for the downside.
HAL maximizes its revenue by selling use of limited boat space to vendors who make good use of a captive audience. There’s a wrist watch shop, a jewelry store, people bugging you all day long to buy photos of yourself, a place that sells clothing, and a smoky casino. Pardon me, but if I want to buy a watch, some earrings, or a sweatshirt, then I’ll do it onland before I leave for the trip. And I won’t pay an inflated price. We would like for HAL to use all that vendor space for something more productive - like a place to sit and look out the window at the fantastic scenery. The most amazing hustle of all is the Park West Gallery art “auction,” complete with the “auctioneer’s” confederates circling behind you, telling you when to raise your card. It was offensive.
HAL seems to be a generation behind in the areas of on-board entertainment, restaurant décor, and mid-ship sculpture. The comedy and dance presentations could compete for the Lawrence Welk audience. The fancy restaurants looked like 19th century brothels, complete with servers sporting costumes and a level of fake formality calculated to encourage heavy drinking. A hideous, organ-shaped sculpture consumes the middle of the ship, unavoidable on decks three through five. HAL would make more friends if it traded the artificial opulence for brighter, more contemporary furnishings and service.
In short HAL, as an independent company, was a first-class cruise line for the first nine decades of the last century. Carnival bought it in 1989, and has now fully effected the culture shift. Today HAL is a reflection of the lowest common denominator.
Zaandam Cape Horn Eastbound Nov.-Dec. 2014
I LOVED this cruise. The Chilean coast is like Alaska on steroids, and the ports of call are easy to enjoy on one’s own.
This is one of my favorites of the several dozen cruises I have taken in recent years. It is an itinerary that I had been postponing because I do not enjoy rough seas, but I finally tried it and am glad I did. The weather was kind and the scenery was great.
HAL (Holland America) did a fine job on almost every aspect of the cruise. I have elite status on some other cruise lines and enjoy those perks (free drinks, free internet, free photos), but I did just fine with HAL’s mature, relatively sedate ambience.
For 14 days we cruised from Santiago (Valparaiso port), Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the intervening days evenly split between ports of call and scenic cruising. My cruise did not include the Antarctic, which is available on the Zaandam’s 19 day itinerary during the austral summer.
The Zaandam was not full, and this enabled me to book a good price relatively late and to upgrade (for an additionalreasonable price) to a mid-ship outside cabin on deck 2 for smooth sailing. I chose a port-side (toward the mainland) cabin to get the most from the views, but spent most of the scenic cruising outdoors rather than in my cabin.
Bring warm clothes, including a winter hat, gloves, good quality rain gear, and dress in layers. Also bring your favorite motion-sickness medication. I needed no pills or patches at any time even though I am a weak sailor, but you may want them for yourself if the weather turns rough. We had only a mild pitch and roll on a few days. Much of the itinerary is in protected channels.
The ship itself is about 15 years old with traditional décor, but it is very well maintained. Public lounges on decks 4 and 5 have been nicely modernized; and a culinary demonstration center, computer classroom, and internet lounge have been added since my last cruise on this ship a decade ago. Because of the great scenery, I especially enjoyed the wrap-around promenade on deck 3, the public balcony on deck 6, and access to the bow on deck 4 during scenic cruising.
The HAL crew was absolutely top notch in every area and in every respect. The front desk was the best ever, the dining room staff was as good as (sometimes better than) on Silversea, the cruise director and her activity staff made sea days a pleasure, and the entertainment was thoroughly enjoyable. My cabin stewards were new to their job but were pros from day one.
HAL trains their crew very well, both on the hotel side and the navigation side. I have been impressed by their emergency drills on previous cruises, including crew life raft inflation and entry exercises. HAL’s attention to safety was especially important to me in this challenging part of the ocean with possible storms and several tender ports.
HAL made a special effort to employ Latin entertainers, and they (and their American colleagues) did a fantastic job. I have become a bandoneon and tango addict, and now listen to that music daily. I especially liked the ship’s lounge musicians, including the classical duo, because they were all pitch-perfect and not over-amplified.
Dining exceeded my expectations. I have enjoyed the surcharged Pinnacle restaurant on previous cruises but enjoyed the main dining room so much that I did not use the Pinnacle on this cruise. I had breakfasts in the Lido buffet (a nice variety), lunch at the poolside grill, and dinner in the main dining room. The grill, with its great fries and garnished burgers, was a guilty pleasure; and the main dining menu always offered something that I really like. The prime rib, filet mignon, and lamb were especially good, and the appetizers and desserts always offered something attractive and enjoyable.
There were three formal nights and most men wore suits or tuxedos. I brought a rain suit rather than a business suit, but the maitre d’ helped me out with a complimentary loaner jacket when needed.
On sea days the Zaandam offered more than enough activities, some were silly fun but most were educational or enriching. I appreciated that the spa stretch and abs classes, the computer/digital photo classes, and the culinary classes were all complimentary. Many cruise lines now surcharge for these.
HAL has a no-nonsense approach to alcohol, and the amount of alcohol one can bring aboard is limited to two bottles per cabin at embarkation only. Most cruise lines now seem to push alcohol sales in their promotions. Alcohol and casinos subsidize cruises for the rest of us, so I have no problem with either. HAL on the other hand seems to rely more on their land tours for their extra income.
The passengers on this cruise were a mix of nationalities -- about 50% English-speaking, 25% Spanish-speaking, and 20% German-speaking. This made for a nice social mix, although it limited entertainment and enrichment options for non-English speakers.
There is a shipboard port and scenic cruise commentator who provides useful information in English every day, but I wish our itinerary also had a naturalist. The 19 day Antarctic itinerary may include one.
I used the Lonely Planet Chile and Argentina guides for my port days and for my pre- and post-cruise apartment (airbnb.com) stays in Valparaiso and Buenos Aires. Using public transportation, I was able to enjoy every port on my own for about 10 USD pp per day. Local buses and minibuses are modern and cheap, and they go to many of the same places as the organized tours.
Again, the weather was very kind to us on this cruise, although brisk winds were sometimes a challenge for the tender crews. Because of the tender ports, this is definitely not an ideal cruise for the mobility impaired, although the crew were very kind and helpful to those who were.
All in all, I highly recommend this cruise, especially for those who are adventuresome and have done the standard Alaskan and Caribbean cruises before.
SCL Santiago airport transport ON YOUR OWN
SCL airport in Santiago Chile has a large modern terminal with international at one end (near door 6) and domestic at the other (near door 1).
Santander Bank has an office and ATM on the mezzanine level towards door 6 and several ATMS on the departure (upper) level near door 1 just outside domestic security screening. Fees are higher than most (about 7 USD regardless of amount). Local currency is necessary for public transport and is useful in later ports.
Today’s (Dec. 15, 2014) rate is 618 Chilean pesos per USD. Use oanda dot com or similar to check currency rates for Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina just before your departure. The Chilean peso has devalued about 2% in just the last month, and the Argentine peso is even more volatile.
During the daytime there is a large “Centropuerto” bus leaving from outside door 5 at SCL to central Santiago (or to the Pajaritos metro station for a transfer to the Valparaiso buses). Based on recommendations, I chose to spend a few extra days in Valparaiso prior to the cruise and did not visit Santiago (both are nice).
The Centropuerto buses leave every half hour and cost only 1500 CP (about 2.50 USD) for the 20 minute ride to Pajaritos, and probably a little more to central Santiago. The first bus leaves around 6am. I would take private transport if arriving at night (or wait till daylight inside the SCL terminal, where many others do near door 5).
From the Pajaritos bus stop, walk around the bus station to the back side, where Tur and Pullman bus companies (both good) offer buses to Valparaiso every 15 minutes for 2700 CP (about 4.50 USD) for the two hour ride through absolutely beautiful countryside. I chose Tur, which offered the next bus departure (a double decker with awesome vineyard and mountain views).
Long distance buses arrive at the Rodovario bus station in Valparaiso, on the east side of town about a 1 km south of the Muelle Baron cruise embarkation point. Local buses in Valparaiso are cheap and frequent, so one can stay almost anywhere or simply taxi to the cruise terminal.
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar ON YOUR OWN
For three days prior to the cruise I rented a beautiful 19th floor apartment in the Placeres area with fantastic coastal views from Valparaiso to Vina del Mar. It was a bit out of the way (in quiet and safe area residential) but had good local bus connections to both city centers (less than 1 USD per ride). I found it through airbnb.
Valparaiso is an old port town, a bit ragged but fun. It is built on many hills above the flat port area, with historic funiculars still traveling up and down each hill. The colorful old town has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.
The best way to enjoy the old town area of Valparaiso is via a “Tours4tips” walking tour which leaves each morning and afternoon from Plaza Sotomayor. See their website for details. Without them I would have had a hard time finding my way around the hills, although the flat El Plan area is easy to manage on one’s own by bus or historic electric tram (about 400 CP = 65 US cents per ride). Many old buildings are abandoned, especially since recent earthquakes, but many decaying areas have been enlivened by large colorful murals. I found the city delightful. By chance there was a good classical concert and a folk dance convention while I was there.
Just 20 minutes up the coast by local bus is the new and upscale Vina del Mar, where many rich Santiago residents have summer homes. I spent an enjoyable day in Vina. My recommended sights would be a long walk on the coastal boardwalk (the beaches are beautiful but the water is cold and dangerous), the central Vergara Park, and the north central Museum Fonck with Easter Island artifacts (Rapa Nui is a Chilean possession). These are about 1 km apart, so I simply walked.
I also spent an entire day just enjoying my “penthouse” apartment (cheaper than a hotel) sipping some excellent Chilean wine from the balcony. In good weather the coastal views are breathtaking.
Puerto Montt and the Lakes District ON YOUR OWN
Puerto Montt is not attractive, but there is easy and cheap access to beautiful lakes and towns nearby.
The ship tenders to the port district. The terminal has free wi-fi, best early or late when not crowded.
To the left (west) as one exits is the Angelmo tourist street with many tourist souvenir stalls and a fish market at the far end.
To the right (east) the large modern bus terminal is about 10 minutes walk along the shoreline. Frequent minibuses to the nice towns of Puerto Varas and Frutillar leave from the central bays every few minutes and cost about 800 CP (about 1.50 USD) for the 30 minute ride to Puerto Varas, on the shore of Lake Llanquihue. Some of the minibuses drive toward the port before turning off to the north, so you may be able to catch one as you walk to the bus terminal (destinations in the window).
From a bus stop (ask the driver which one) in Puerto Varas one can continue on another minibus (leaves every 30 minutes, duration 60 minutes, 2500 CP , about 4 USD) along the south shore (views on the left) to Petrohue and the lake in the National Park. There is no park entry fee unless you stop along the way to view surcharged Petrohue Falls and then catch the next minibus onward to the lake, (fares are then split 2,000 plus 500 CP).
At Petrohue I took an hour to walk along the lake shore. The views of snow-capped volcano Mt. Osorno were spectacular, especially with the pampas grass and blooming yellow bushes (Scotch Broom) in the foreground. There are boat tours to the islands in the lake, but these are overpriced and there is not enough time for the full round trip.
One also has a view of Mt. Osorno from Puerto Varas town, but it is in the far distance. The town is geared to tourists and has nice roses in early summer, good tourist info, and nice shops.
There are supermarkets across from the PM bus terminal and near the PV bus stop.
After returning to Puerto Montt I walked through the Angelmo tourist area before tendering back to the ship. A fantastic day for about 10 USD.
Puerto Chacabuco ON YOUR OWN
PC was an intermittently drizzly day on our cruise. There is almost nothing in the town, but the local tourism board greets the ship with maps and info.
Nearby is the larger town of Aisen (minibuses to there are about 500 Cp or 1 USD), and from Aisen there are large modern buses along the Rio Simpson valley to Coyhaique town (Ali or Suray bus lines; departures almost every 30 minutes, check schedule and reserve return trip once in Coyhaique with either bus line; 2,000 CP each way, about 3.50 USD; or 1,000 plus 1,000 CP if one stops midway at the waterfalls on the highway, Cataractas Virgen). Buses stop only at designated paradas along the highway.
The bus trip is through a beautiful river valley (river and valley views on your right eastbound) and over some small mountain passes. Much of it is park land, but there are essentially no hiking trails (the trail near the waterfall is steep and slippery, and the nature walk at the nearby ranger station is of little interest).
Coyhaique is on the main Chilean highway and serves as a supply station for adventure travelers in the area. It is relatively prosperous and has a good supermarket and megastore about 5 blocks from the bus station (Ali and Suray bus stations are around the corner from each other in both towns).
The beautiful bus ride is the only cheap option in the area, but enjoyable. The local private nature reserve (Parque Aiken) was outrageously expensive a few years ago ($60 per person per day) and may be worse now.
I found no wi-fi at the dock, but there was free wi-fi (slow) in the central Plaza in Coyhaique. Many restaurants in town also have (better) wi-fi.
Punta Arenas ON YOUR OWN
Tenders leave early to accommodate air tours to the interior, and one can report directly to the tender if one leaves early enough (they should announce this the evening before). Check the ship tour schedule for times.
The town is absolutely dead in the early morning (most of South America starts late) and it is pleasant to walk in good weather. There are maps at the port to help you find the old cemetery (free and interesting)and the mirador overlooking the town. The central square has some fine old mansions, but these are museums now and do not open till later in the day.
Most passengers take a tour to a penguin colony:
Otway Sound is reached overland. At the dock private share taxis and shuttles charge about 35 USD pp for the round trip, plus the entry fee. Otway features only Magellanic penguins, which breed in burrows during summer (November to March). Tourist traffic has decreased the numbers here, but friends who visited liked it.
Magdalena Island has a larger colony (and additional species, I believe) but requires a longer trip by boat, which can be rough. Neither Otway or Magdalena can compare with the penguin colonies in the Falklands, but sometimes (one in three) the ship has to skip the Falklands due to bad weather.
I chose to avoid the crowds at these penguin colonies and after walking around the town booked a 1030 am bus and walking tour of Fuerte Bulnes, the historic settlement reconstructed at the southern-most tip of the SA mainland. This is enjoyable in good weather because the drive and the views from the point are beautiful. The best tour leaves from the park office just 2 blocks from the tender dock (from Av. Independencia turn right up Av. 21 Mayo and look for the yellow park headquarters building). The tour lasts 4-5 hours and costs 20,000 CP for the bus and the entry fee combined, about 33 USD (credit cards accepted -- I paid part with my last pesos and charged the rest). They have great free maps of the coast and Cape Horn as a bonus.
The same office offers an earlier tour at 900 am that includes the town, but one can see those sights on your own and save 10,000 CP if you like to walk instead. Their website is phipa.cl (Parque Historia Patagonia)for photos and more info. They are a quality outfit, and I found them only by chance.
Winds were so strong in the afternoon that the ship cancelled tenders for several hours. Always be aware that your plans may be changed by the weather.
Ushuaia ON YOUR OWN
On the eastbound itinerary one has only an afternoon and evening in Ushuaia, not enough time to do any hiking in nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park.
There is a tourist info office at the end of the pier. Nearby is a taxi stand (prices are posted but ask for the meter if you prefer). About 100 yards beyond the taxi stand (left when facing the mountains) is the bus station, which has white “Buses Regular” going to the TdF NPark for 200 AP round trip (about 23 USD official rate, 16 USD blue market rate, dollars accepted if you are not “from the cruise ship“) plus 140 AP for the park entry (pesos only). Unfortunately their return times are 5pm and 7pm, which does not allow enough time to see much or hike since all aboard is 730pm eastbound.
Instead, I shared a taxi to the bottom of the ski lift above town (about 75 AP per full taxi by the meter) and then walked the wide and easy trail toward La Martial glacier. At the base of the snow fields is a spur trail to a panorama (mirador) with fantastic views over the town and the channel. I did not venture onto the larger snowfields with just jogging shoes and no way to arrest a snow slide.
This was a somewhat steep but easy and very enjoyable trail shared by many young locals. One can usually find a taxi waiting at the bottom of the lift, or simply ask a local to drop you off on their way back into town, as I did.
Ushuaia is where the Antarctic adventure cruise ships are stationed. A half dozen were docked near to us. With the exception of the Norwegian Fram, most were tiny in comparison with the Zaandam. I cannot imagine doing in a crossing in rough seas in ships as small as those, all of which are very very expensive. Maybe sometime in the future.
Port Stanley, Falklands/Malvinas ON YOUR OWN
About one in three cruises cannot anchor here due to bad weather. We had what our captain called the calmest weather he has ever had here. It was absolutely gorgeous -- sunny, warm, and clear. The tender ride is long -- 20 to 30 minutes depending how bad the weather is.
Most passengers opt for a (rather expensive) tour by 4x4 to one of the outlying penguin colonies. Many book in advance, but there were tours available at the last minute ashore for those on the early tenders. On shore the tours cost about 160-180 USD for outlying large penguin colonies that feature a variety of species including the king penguin, the same colonies visited by the ship tours.
Being a budget traveler, I opted to visit the smaller Magellanic penguins at Gypsy Bay, which is hiking distance from the pier. Alternately, starting at about 10am there are shuttle buses to Gypsy Bay leaving from the left side of the pier (facing town) for 20 USD round trip.
The tourist info at the pier has maps of the area. I got ashore too early for the shuttles, so I walked (leftward facing town) along the coast sidewalk to the end of town, then along the road and coastline path to a small bridge over to the peninsula. The peninsula itself has the local airport (not visible from the walk) and some nice birdlife and grassy dunes. The total hike was about 2 hours to the Gypsy Bay penguin colony.
Gypsy Bay Reserve has only Magellanic penguins. On previous cruise visits they hid in their burrows, but by the time we arrived in early December they were out and about, some walking within a few feet of our feet as they climbed between beach and burrow. The beach is off limits to visitors, but the views of the sea and coastline from the bluff are absolutely spectacular. I was so mesmerized that I spent 2 hours here walking back and forth along the bluff.
Gypsy Bay is where the ship crew visits penguins -- they were as excited as we since this was the first time this season that the penguins were highly visible. I took the shuttle back to the pier, walked around town for a while, and tendered back to the ship. Apparently there is no free wi-fi in the town. One can buy a wi-fi pass for about 5 GBP.
Montevideo, Uruguay ON YOUR OWN
Fortunately Uruguay is included in the Lonely Planet Argentina guide, and it is an easy city to enjoy on one’s own. US dollars are readily accepted, so it is not necessary to change money, but be aware of current exchange rates.
Conveniently the ship docks next to the old town in the city center. On cruise days there is a heavy police presence, so one feels safe, but beware f pickpockets here and in Buenos Aires.
Fortunately on the eastbound itinerary one docks here on Saturday when there are several flea/souvenir markets in the old plazas along the pedestrianized streets. Tourist information on the dock has maps of the old town.
As one exits the pier to the right across the main boulevard is an old indoor market (Mercado del Puerto) which has been converted to steakhouse restaurants and cafes.
There are quite a few small museums in town (Carnaval, Pre-Columbian art, Decorative art, etc.) but most do not open until the afternoon and some are closed on week-ends.
Active visitors can rent a bike (ask at tourist information for addresses, some are near the pier, some near the waterfront, most do not open till mid-morning) and ride along the beautiful shoreline (La Rambla) to the greener (parks and money) eastern suburbs along the coast. Bike shops listed by the TI include Orange Bike, LV Bicicletas, Biking Uruguay, Movete, and Bike Tour Uruguay. There are fine beaches, but the Rio de la Plata is murky for swimming. Beware of sunburn!
I also enjoyed a “free” 2-3 hour walking tour here (tips expected at the end, the student guides are thrilled by 5-10 USD pp) that meets in the large Plaza Independencia at 11am weekdays and 2pm Saturdays.
Beautiful Punta del Este to the east and historic Colonia del Sacramento to the west are too far away for an independent day trip from the port.
Buenos Aires ON YOUR OWN
I have mixed feelings about Buenos Aires, but most Argentines do too. It can be a challenging but rewarding city to visit.
The last time I was there I had such problems with the airport taxi mafia that I vowed never to return. This trip was my first time back in almost 40 years. The city and I have finally reached a détente.
The ship docks in the container port in the NE corner of the city, about a kilometer from the main train (Retiro) and long distance bus stations. A free shuttle takes passengers between the ship and the passenger terminal. A helpful tourist info booth with city maps is inside the terminal, as is an ATM (but most prefer to get a much better exchange blue market rate, see below). Free wi-fi is available at the café inside the terminal if you get the password.
The Manuel Tienda Leon airport shuttle bus office is conveniently located across the plaza from the Retiro train station. I spent a few extra days in BA in an apartment booked through airbnb. Since my apartment was close to the Basilica Santo Domingo (corner of Belgrano and Defensa), I took the minibusezeiza.com service to the airport at the end of my stay, for 33 AP (less than 3 USD at the blue market rate) per person and per bag. It is a messenger service that charges the same rate for people as parcels, every half hour from 8am to 6pm only.
There is a BA hop on-hop off bus tour that covers most of the city and (I believe) deviates to the port area when a ship is in, but I preferred to use public transport, which is extensive and very cheap. Buses cover most of the city but require an RFID type card (Sube card) which is available in convenience stores for 35 AP (about 3 USD) and can be loaded with value at metro stations. The metro (Subte) accepts the Sube card or cash (5 AP, less than 50 US cents per ride).
There are several city bus stops just outside the port passenger terminal. We arrived early Sunday morning (eastbound) and had no local currency. The driver of bus #33 would not accept our cash and instead took us several kilometers to the famous San Telmo Sunday flea market for free, even making a special stop for us. From there we walked up the markets along Av. Defensa to city center at Plaza de Mayo.
As a city Buenos Aires can be brutal, but individual Portenos like our bus driver are often very kind and helpful, just beware of pickpockets and dark streets.
There are several free (for tips) walking tour companies. I chose BA Free Tours because they operate on Sundays and in the rain (we had two torrential rains in BA, more than the rest of the cruise put together).
The morning walking tour of the beautiful Recoleta district starts at Teatro Colon and ends at the famous Recoleta cemetery near the best art museums, Bellas Artes (free) and MALBA (20 to 40 AP).
The afternoon walking tour of the central (business and government) district begins at the National Congress and ends at the Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo. As in other cities, a 5 to 10 USD pp tip is greatly appreciated by the young guides. Tours are in English or Spanish, depending on departure time.
I filled my extra days in BA using the Lonely Planet guide. There are many museums, parks, and tourist sights, most of which are open later than those in the US. Be aware that the colorfully painted houses in La Boca are just a short block long (a Caminito) and very touristy, with a rough surrounding nationhood. Locals feel that the sight is greatly over-rated.
With enough time (at least three days) one can fly to Iguassu for the famous waterfalls at a fraction of the ship tour price. Round trip air from the downtown airport is 196 USD on LAN, which is reportedly more reliable than Aerolineas Argentinas for these flights. Hotels and guesthouses at the falls are available for less than 100 USD per night. A public bus runs between the town and the falls. The Argentine side of the falls is recommended -- the Brazilian side involves visa hassles.
Finally, the Argentine Peso is (as I write this) officially pegged at 8.6 per USD for ATMs and credit cards and bank exchanges, but one can obtain 13-14 AP per USD on the street (the “blue market“).
During business hours money changers line the Av. Florida pedestrian shopping street south of the Recoleta train station, about 2 km from the cruise port (unfortunately they may not be there Sunday morning when the ship docks eastbound).
Just be aware that fake bills are in circulation, even from some bank ATMs. Each bill should have a watermark and any metallic print should be integral to the bill. I changed money with my apartment landlord, getting 12 AP per USD.
Most merchants should offer close to the blue market rate when one buys something with US cash, and even international businesses insist on getting at least 13 AP per USD when doing business in Argentina, and the government accepts this. Check the internet for the latest official and blue market exchange rates.
On this trip I found BA interesting and exhausting. BA and I have come to terms after all these years although I still refuse to take a taxi there. If you do, a metered radio taxi from a large company with the phone number on the taxi door is recommended.
On may 20 we went from seward ak to Vancouver, Had a window room (beware some window rooms have view of walkway then sea, ous fortunatly did not. The boat was exellent all in all , no compalints, In fact almost up to celebrity standards with food- exellent. This is a great ship, has nice movie theater and library. Higly recommend
Holland America Line Zaandam by edieg Alaska September 16, 2012
We booked the Alaska cruise through Olivia. That information is important, as it increases the cost of the cabin, and some of the other amenities. That is not a HAL controlled matter.
We found the food to be quite poor on this cruise. The hot food was rarely even warm and the cold food was usually unpleasantly tepid. The Pinnacle Grill was a disappointment with soggy mushrooms, bland creamed spinach, and burnt (one side) filet mignon. We ate in port restaurants as often as possible, and found some lovely places. Looking for that silver lining.
The real disappointment of this cruise was being assigned cabin 1964 and as we were told, with no option for change. It is such a miserable cabin, if someone were to be assigned this cabin, we'd recommend they cancel the cruise. Yes, it was that bad. The thrusters cause the cabin to vibrate so much that all items rattle. The engines are loud and will keep you awake unless you are used to sleeping in the middle of a high level of noise. The open aft caused thecabin to be very cold, the bathroom in particular. We kept the bathroom door propped open, but that didn't make it comfortable. We did ask for additional duvets and that helped us somewhat. It did lend an "air of authenticity" to the Alaska aspect.
This was our fifth cruise, our second with HAL. What's that old saying? First time shame on you, second time shame on me? I think the "third time you're out" will not be tried.
As for booking through Olivia, that was a disappointment as well. The staff were no help with the concerns about the cabin, and they conducted this cruise (unlike the other Olivia cruise we have been on) like a private party for Solos. All well and good, if you were solo. If you were not, you felt like an interloper.
We work very hard for our vacation dollars. We'll be much more particular in how we spend them in the immediate future.
Holland America Line Zaandam by Vicki Alaska September 10, 2010
Loved the ship, the food, and the service. Highly recommend the ship. Do not recommend shore excursion Fly out Fly fishing Juneau very expensive all hike no fishing
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008
We are a married couple, 30 years old. My mother also cruised with us and she is 67. We have cruised on Holland America, Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
This cruise was the 15 day Circle Hawaii cruise that sailed roundtrip to the islands from San Diego, CA. We visited Hilo, Lahaina, 2 days in Honolulu and Kona.
Embarkation We arrived at the pier around noon. There were lots of people there already but check in was easy and we only had to wait in line a few minutes. When we boarded the ship the staterooms were not ready so we headed to Lido for a bite to eat.
Stateroom Our Stateroom was an outside cabin on Deck 1 -- Dolphin Deck, Midship Category E. The cabin was very nice with plenty of storage for all three of us. The third bed is a sofa which makes into a bed. My mother said it was not very comfortable. Our bed was two twins pushed together and was comfortable. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo. The service form the cabin stewards wasexcellent.
Sea Days and Things to do on the Ship There were 10 sea days on this 15 day cruise. Most of the passengers on this cruise were 65 years or older. We only saw a few young people and 2 small children. The ship was very peaceful and quiet. No drunk people and no kids running around. We like cruising with the older people so we fit in great.
However, due to the average age of the passengers there were not many activities geared toward the younger crowd. Every day there would be cooking demonstrations, trivia, live music, bingo and sports events. We took part in the sports events to collect the Dam Dollars to redeem at the end of the cruise for souvenirs.
There were also dance lessons, coffee chats, travel talks, and various other events during the sea days. The library had many books, magazines, games and puzzles for people to use. Most sea days the library was packed with people reading or playing games. DVDs were also available to check out for $3 each. Every cabin has a TV and DVD player.
Big screen movies would play in the culinary theatre at night. The selection of movies was very good. But the theatre is not set up very well with the position of the chairs and the screen. It helped very much that there were 2 large screen TVs on each side of the big screen to see the movie as well. These were much clearer and provided for an unobstructed view of the movie. They also provided popcorn and sold drinks. I wish they would have played the movies during the sea days as well. But usually that lounge was used for cooking demonstrations during the sea days. They also played these movies on the cabin TVs the next day.
There was also a travel guide aboard the ship to tell us all about Hawaii. He was very knowledgeable and fun to listen to. He would give talks during the day and they would be shown on the cabin TVs as well.
The Casino is very small but all of the staff was very friendly. They had the usual table games and the limit was low at $5. Every sea day they would hold 2 sessions of Texas Hold'em Poker. The slot machines were very tight and did not pay anything.
The shops were your average souvenir and jewelry stores you find on cruise ships.
Entertainment The cruise director on the ship was Lizabeth and she was a very nice lady. She fit the older crowd but was not very entertaining. The production shows with the singers and dancers were great shows. However, the singing was awful and the shows were missing the live music that Carnival always has.
The other entertainers included singers, comedians, ventriloquists, and jugglers. All of these shows were fantastic.
The live music around the ship was very nice as well.
There were also 2 crew shows -- one Indonesian and one Filipino. Both were excellent shows!
Food The food on the ship was very good. I would not say it was outstanding but it was very good. Every night in the dining room there would be one dish of either chicken, beef, fish, pasta and vegetable. These were accompanied by appetizers, soup, salad and of course dessert. The service in the dining room was excellent.
The lido buffet was good as well serving almost the same thing for dinner each night as was served in the dining room.
Lunch offered a variety of items as well as a deli, salad bar, Mexican bar and hamburger/hot dog/pizza station by the pool. Dessert and ice cream was offered as well.
Late night snacks were also provided on lido deck starting around 11pm.
Drinks On this cruise you could purchase a drink card for soda, wine or cocktails. Each card has its own price and offers a certain amount of drinks. Your card is punched every time you have a drink. The price you pay initially includes the tips and taxes. My husband purchased the wine card for $67 + tax and tip. This provided 20 glasses of house wines which he could use anywhere on the ship.
The best deal was the happy hours in the Ocean Bar. Almost every day from 4pm-5pm they would offer half price drinks in the Ocean Bar. This was a great deal and better than purchasing any of the drink cards.
Gym/Spa We did not purchase any spa services but took a tour of the area. It was very nice and the gym was quite busy on sea days. They offered specials throughout the cruise.
Photographs The photographs were very expensive. We only purchased our embarkation photo along with a photo of the ship in a Folio album. This cost $53. There were only a few photographers on the ship and they did not hound you to take photos like on other cruise lines. They didn't follow you around or make you take photos. They would usually ask first if you wanted a photo. This was a great feature.
Hawaiian Ports We did not take any of the HAL shore excursions as they were very expensive. With 3 people we found it cheaper and better to rent a car in each port. We explored the islands and saw the sights we chose and did it all on our own time schedule. I think this is a great way to see the islands. We calculated that the cost of the car plus gas averaged $24 per person per day. This is a great way to see many places at your own pace and for a low cost.
We were supposed to sail past the Volcano on the big island once we departed Hawaii on the last port day. The captain switched the schedule so that we would sail past the Volcano after the first port day in Hilo. He did this because we would be sailing past at an earlier time so more people would be awake to view this. Unfortunately, it was raining and we could not see the volcano very well. We did see the glowing red lava but it was very far away and hard to see through the fog/rain.
I believe each person can make the best or worst of their port days so I won't go into detail about each stop. I will say that we really enjoyed Hawaii and there is a lot to see and do. Make the best of your time there!
Disembarkation Originally we were going to have a silent debarkation. This means you are given your designated time to leave the ship and you go at this time. However, it was changed and they did make announcements for when we could leave the ship. We got off the ship early and with no problems. However, there were a lot of people trying to get off the ship and it seems like they needed more time between each color being called. The elevators were slow as were there were people walking off the ship with their luggage. More time for each group of people to leave the ship would have been better.
Conclusion This was a wonderful cruise with excellent service. The food was very good and the entertainment was great. We really enjoyed the long cruise experience. It provided for relaxing sea days and plenty of time to enjoy all areas of the ship.
Expect an older crowd with the average age of the guests being 65 years and older. Most of the passengers have been to Hawaii before and cruise mainly for the experience.
We did not encounter any long lines, party atmospheres or kids running loose. It was a very quiet and peaceful cruise. We had a great time and would take this cruise again!
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008 by DougMacP Alaska August 7, 2009
This is my 23rd cruise, (crossings not included) and my 4th on HAL. I've done a variety of cruise lines from Carnival to Crystal, the most recent being a Panama Canal trip on the Celebrity Mercury in January.
Embarkation: The commute to the ship was a grueling 7-minute drive from my home. I could have made it in 6 minutes, but there was a red light. I arrived at Pier 91 at 1:15pm, and I kid you not was onboard by 1:30pm. The longest and slowest line I encounter was for the welcome aboard picture, which I by-passed.
The Crowd: It is summer, school is out and it was a diverse crowd. Seniors, toddlers, teenagers, large family groups, everything and everyone were represented. Any thought that the Lido (covered) pool was adult only was abandoned immediately. The place reverberated with the screams and laughter of children. It was so chilly in the aft pool area that they had to go somewhere, and I'm not that much of a curmudgeon that I would deny them their fun.If you want a less kid (verses kid-less) cruise book before the end of May or in September when school is in session.
Stateroom, Public Rooms, Condition in General: The Zaandam is not a new ship. Are there loose carpet seams here and there and a bit of wear and tear? Yes. Is it tired and dirty? No way. The ship has great flow, attractive public areas, fantastic art and is extremely comfortable with cushy and inviting furniture throughout. Of special note, the mattress in my cabin wasn't a thin piece of foam over a plastic platform (like the Mercury for example) it was a real, honest to goodness thick mattress. My stateroom was functional and clean and kept that way by my stealthy room attendants.
Food: My expectations were in check due to a lot of comments about the decline in the quality of HAL's food from the Boards. I'm a foodie and to be honest can be critical of sub-par food and service. With all that said, I thought the food was good to excellent throughout the cruise. I tend to lean more towards beef and chicken so take that into account. The portions aren't huge in the dining room, but with 5 courses they shouldn't be. If that is a concern just order an additional entrée and the waiters will gladly comply. The service in the dining room was professional and appropriate. The food in the Lido was equally a pleasant surprise.
Entertainment: More "ugh" than "awe". Quality entertainment at night on the Zaandam was not so easy to find.
The Showroom: I've learned never to expect much from the Production Shows on a cruise. The ships don't pay enough to get top tier talent, the stage isn't big enough, and the production values (props, costumes and special effects) are about squeezing one more season out of what is already paid for then investing in anything new or fresh. HAL exceed my expectations, but probably not the way they intended. The Production Shows were so tired, cheesy, poorly danced and sung I had to wonder if I was missing something. Was this a parody of a production show? The Headliners, a musician billed as a young Kenny G (is that a compliment?) and magician/comic did provide some good moments and was worth checking out. A most welcomed surprise.
Lounge Acts: The Zaandam has beautiful Lounges but less than half the Lounge bands were competent and entertaining. Additionally, kudos to the D.J. in the Crows-Nest who always seemed to find the right songs to get people out of their seats and on to the dance floor. From there it falls off the face of the earth. A venue I love, the Piano Bar was a wasteland every night when it should be packed because of a guy that doesn't play very well, sings worse and appears to not to like people very much. At the bottom of the entertainment heap was a very good band, with lead singer so vocally challenged she dragged them to the bottom faster than one of the Zaandam's huge anchors. I really had to wonder if anyone in the corporate offices of HAL even bothers listening to the audition tapes. The other alternative is that they are trying to drive people into the Casino by having such limited quality entertainment at night.
Stuff to Do: While the daily program aren't as packed as the most of the recent cruises I've been on, the activities were well paced and interesting. The culinary demonstrations, lectures and computer classes blend well with the regular cruise ship fare of trivia, pool games and bingo. There is no reason to be bored if you want to get involved. A major plus was the Cruise Director Michael who was seemingly everywhere at once, with boundless energy delivered in an engaging and believable manner. The Captain joked at a function that Michael was the best Cruise Director in a 250 mile radius. Personally, I thought he was one of the best I've seen in 23 cruises.
Things I should have believed: No matter how hot it is in your part of the country or even in Seattle, be prepared and dress appropriately for chilly weather and rain, fog or drizzle. Remember even if it is 65 degrees (F) with the speed of the ship underway the wind chill on deck is substantial. Don't think I ever was not wearing fleece of some sort.
Ports: Personally the trip for me was about seeing Glacier Bay, and it did not disappoint. Imagine if the Teton's or Rockies had an Ocean at 10,000 feet and you were right next to them? It was magnificent. A Ranger from the US National Parks Service who appears not only to have a degree in geology but also drama narrated the trip. Despite his over to top moments of poetry, native flute interludes and asking us to spiritually become one with the Glacier, he kept us well informed of the history and conditions in the area.
I was reluctant to pre book excursions due to fluctuating weather conditions in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. A floatplane trip in the fog would not be my idea of fun. As for wild life watching, we saw so many Whales and Eagles from the ship that after a few days it became commonplace. I just got off the ship and wandered around without paying attention to the ships shopping guides, as they only include stores that pay huge kickbacks to the cruise line. If I had to do it over I would do the salmon bake in Juneau, which drew rave reviews.
What HAL does best in one word: Service. From the Officers to the people who clear the tables HAL gets it right. Here are a few adjectives I jotted down during the cruise: Friendly, familiar yet respectful, impeccable, smiling, seamless and gracious.
And in the end: A solid performance, more hits than misses and a comfortable platform to enjoy the sights of Alaska.
Holland America Line Zaandam by GARY TYLER Alaska June 8, 2008
The destination was great. The ports were great.
The ship had no pulse at all. The average age of the people had to have been 75 to 80. I'm 56 and I felt like a kid compared to these people!
The ship reflected the average age of the people sailing. It was so low key onboard that it was boring.
The crew had no pulse. The cabin steward was DOA and the dining staff couldn't care less.
I will never take another Holland America cruise again. I'm sticking with Princess!
Holland America Line Zaandam by sassyredhat Hawaii April 3, 2008
We are 61 and 59 years old. This was our 7th cruise, 5 with HAL, and our 2nd cruise to Hawaii.
Embarkation port was San Diego. We arrived at 12:30, which is when we usually get to the terminal. We knew, from reading cruise boards, that the ship had sailed Code Red on the previous cruise. HAL offered a full refund if we wanted to cancel. Some did, but we chose to stay.
Zaandam is a beautiful ship, well maintained (I only saw some minor wear and tear), and very easy to navigate. We were on deck 6, Verandah, near the aft elevators. We loved the location! Very quiet.
Verandah suites are very spacious, have a lot of storage, whirlpool tubs, Elemis bathroom products in small bottles, hairdryer in the drawer, stocked mini bar, flat screen TV w/DVD player. Balcony has a lounger, a chair, and a small table. Petitions are metal and go to the floor on one side, almost to the floor on the other side, clear plexiglass on front side.
As usual, service was absolutely outstanding. Dining room food was very, verygood, as well as was food in Lido. We had early, traditional seating. We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches in Lido, and dinners in the dining room. We thought breakfast and lunch was just ok in the dining room, however, dinners were great.
There was live music throughout the ship, and numerous huge floral arrangements.
HAL ships have a movie theater (Wajang), which we love for all those sea days. Movies were fairly current.
Our favorite place is Explorations Cafe. The library is fairly extensive, comfortable computer areas, ample seating, and good game area.
Entertainment was actually pretty good. The Indonesian and Filipino crew shows were held late, but they were good also.
A "must see" is the chocolate extravaganza ! See the carved fruits, chocolates, cakes, breads, ice carvings -- everything was really something.
There were no announcements in the cabins at all, and no photograpers except on formal nights. There were 4 formal nights -- days 3, 5, 11, 14.
We had been to Hawaii before and seen all the main attractions, so we opted for smaller tours. In Hilo, we did the Waves and Waterfalls tour, which included the Tsunami Museum. It was an interesting tour, the falls were beautiful.
Honolulu was the Little Circle Island tour. The tide was out when we arrived at Halona Blow Hole, so we didn't get to see the geyser, but it was a nice tour.
Kauai we took the Wailua River cruise, mostly because of my walking limitations. It also was a nice tour. The Fern Grotto is just now getting back to normal after Hurricane Iniki decimated most of the foilage.
Maui was Ulelena Theater. This is the reason we went back to Hawaii. I didn't see it last time, and DH wanted me to see it. It's hard to describe this experience. It is so much more than a Cirque de Soliel adaptation, and was worth the effort to see it.
Kona we saw the Seahorse Farm, and what a fun treat. This is a "bare bones" facility, but so educational and fun. We got to hold a seahorse! This is a good tour for anyone.
The weather in Kona was cloudy, due to the volcano eruptions. The locals call it "VOG" -- volcano fog.
This was our favorite cruise, although we sometimes didn't have enough to do. We aren't pool people, and what activities were scheduled sometimes overlapped. We played Trivia everyday, and met some nice people.
Holland America Line Zaandam by homeatlast Alaska May 16, 2007
We just returned from an 8 day Inland Passage cruise to Alaska on board the HAL Zaandam. We had cruised with HAL almost 14 years ago and were very pleased so stayed with that particular cruise line. We were not disappointed. There has been a lot said about HAL being an older crowd with fewer choices of entertainment onboard. My husband and I were in our early 40's the first time and now 50's and we like the way HAL still clings to the "traditional way" of cruising.
Our particular cruise had only about 4 or 5 children on it, our cabin was much quieter then ever being in a hotel, and we enjoy getting dressed up for dinner. The Zaandam is mid sized and is perfect for us. There was plenty of opportunity to be among other cruisers or find a quiet place on deck for the two of us.
My husband enjoyed the spa experience for a massage the first sea day and was very pleased with the staff. Our cabin was plenty roomy for two and I wanted totake my cabin steward home with me when the cruise ended. He was very helpful in locating our luggage the first day (which seemed to not show up with the others on our deck) and was always ready with a "Good Morning" or a friendly "Hello" when we would see him in the hallways. Our cabin was always kept spotless and I couldn't wait every evening to get back to the cabin to see what "cabin animal" awaited me.
We had early dining which we had requested and everything about the dining room was excellent from the service to the food. We really had no complaints even when we tried things we had not had before. The supervisor of the dining staff always made it a point to go to each table and ask how everything was without being obtrusive. We went to the evening shows about 5 nights out of 7. The singers/dancers were excellent (and how they dance when the ship is rolling is beyond me). We eat at the Lido restaurant for breakfast 3 mornings. The only downside is that at particular times it is difficult to get a seat which results in cooler food than you want. My husband particularly liked the ice cream and desert station which was pretty much available throughout the day. (If I was missing him I usually checked there first). The other mornings we either had room service or eat at the dinning room which was great.
Our ports of call were Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Luckily we had perfect weather for all three, very unusual according to the ship's crew.
Embarkation and getting off the ship, in my opinion, was handled about as organized and smoothly as can be. Staying in your cabin until it is time for you to disembark is great. We had room service in our cabin the last morning while we were waiting and it worked out perfectly. You can listen to the announcements inside your cabin on the radio.
The ship itself was in excellent condition and everything was kept in perfect order. The entire staff, from the Captain, the officers, dining staff, cabin stewards, everyone was very friendly. If you enjoy a romantic, traditional style of cruising, without a lot of children or loud activities than HAL is for you. I am not saying there is nothing to do, just no rock climbing walls, or water slides, you get the picture.