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.
Holland America Line Zaandam by Lee Patton Panama Canal April 23, 2005
21 day Port Canaveral to Vancouver repositioning cruise. Ports were wonderful and the food and entertainment was very good. Costa Rica and Guatamala were especially intereesting and friendly. In Cartagena, Colombia street vendors very agressive and caused need for arm security.
AC unit in our cabin would nont cool it below 78 degrees for 10 nights and made it difficult for us to sleep. They gave us a fan which helpled a little. Problem was 3rd floor main outside doors which would not stay closed and allowed the cool air to escape.
Our March '05 Zaandam cruise was fabulous. We'd had plans to go skiing, which fell through suddenly, so we went online, typed in "last minute travel", and booked 2 Verandah Suites (6212 & 6218) for our family of 5 - less than a week before sailing. My in-laws decided it sounded pleasant, and came along too. We're in our mid 30s, with 3 kids ages 8-12. My wife and I played with the kids, relaxed, and had twosome dates. The kids played, rested, watched movies, swam, and enjoyed ClubHAL. My college-professor father in-law graded papers and swam with the kids, while my mother in-law, read, took cooking classes with my wife, and enjoyed the beaches. Our week on Zaandam provided a perfect mix of different activities for all of us to do together and in various pairings.
The Ship & crowd. Zaandam is big enough to provide plenty of space and things to do and to handle the ocean well. It's clean and classy, but not stuffy. A previous cruise on RCCL was more like a week at a giant indoor outlet mall during the Thanksgiving sales (crowds, lines, noise, commotion -this is fun?), while Zaandam offered a comfortable, refined atmosphere - without the chaos. Our fellow passengers were pleasant to be around, with the average age "energetic 50s". Furthermore, they were gracious to our children, often lending a hand if one of the kids needed it.
Cabins. Our 2 suites were simply lovely. Quiet, comfortable, perfect temp control, lots of storage. Fresh flowers were a welcome touch. Flat screen TV and DVD/CD player were a real plus, especially with the kids (satellite TV with cartoon network; plus 945 DVDs in the library). I appreciated the comfort of the bed - think Westin or Ritz Carlton. Every evening the sofa in the kids' room was converted to a bed, which my daughter thought was cozy. The verandahs were really pleasant; clean, quiet, not windy - definitely worth the extra money. Our room steward, Laode, was incredible - always greeting us with a warm smile, keeping our rooms neat, replenishing our fruit, and making a special point to fuss over the kids. Requests were never an inconvenience, and his follow through was 100%. I'm convinced he was genuinely glad to have us as his guests.
Dining. Steak, escargot, venison, duck, perch, lobster, crab, chicken, salmon, pasta, shrimp, lamb - and that's what my kids ate! We were flat out spoiled all week. We took our breakfasts from the Lido restaurant out to the aft deck and up one flight to a quiet table (actually, a server helped carry the kids' trays). Perfect. You name it, you can have it for breakfast. Personally, I went for omelets, lots of mango, mueslix, and glasses full of fresh squeezed OJ. It doesn't get any better. Lunches were casual in the Lido or by the pool. The 2 times we ordered room service we were impressed. One was a late night snack of fruit plates and glasses of milk: 6 minutes. The other was when we ordered Dutch High Tea for on our verandah one afternoon (15 minutes). Simply lovely. Dinner was at 5:45 at a window table overlooking the stern. Our waiter, Mr. Yodiarta, was attentive and on the ball! He addressed the children by name, treated them as if they were the #1 VIPs on board, and when he sensed one of us couldn't decide which dessert to choose, he brought both. One evening our oldest son wasn't keen on the appetizer selection and said that what he'd really like was some mango. Presto. In 5 minutes a plate of golden slices was sitting before him. For our last night, we requested a special Filippina family meal, and the Philippine galley staff went all out with the most delicious platters you can imagine.
Kids. If your kids are polite, and know how to behave in a 5 star resort environment, by all means, bring them. There's plenty to do, it's safe, and the crew could not have been kinder. Summer greeted my 3 (8, 10, 12) as we stepped aboard and she invited them to a Club HAL orientation after the life boat drill. At the orientation, they were given wrist bands identifying our lifeboat #, and lanyards with water-proof pouches to carry their key cards. My kids chose to remove the pouches and ask the front desk to punch holes in their cards so they could wear them on the lanyards. Club HAL is organized in 3 age groups (Kids, Tweens, and Teens). Kids under 8 need an adult to sign them in/out, with 8 & up free to come & go as they please - if their parents approve. We're fairly conservative, and very deliberate about our kids' whereabouts; at no time did we ever feel concerned. They did tie-dye shirts, candy bar bingo, free-play on arcade games, scavenger hunts, mini Olympics, Cranium and more. The Club HAL facilities are great, with 10 Play Station 2s, and even a special deck with hammocks for Teens. One morning my 12 year old took his book to the Crow's Nest to read quietly, ordering a bitter lemon soda to drink. When he and I went back to play a game later in the afternoon, the server addressed my son by name and asked if he'd like another bitter lemon! By the way, not 10 minutes later we watched a pod of porpoises race the ship, jumping in the air.
Ports. We visited Tortola, St Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. At Tortola we left the ship early, and walked 12 minutes to the local ferry terminal where we boarded a high speed ferry for Virgin Gorda, and took a taxi to the Baths. We hiked past all the tourists and found our own private beach - loved it. Great snorkeling, but watch out for the strong current. St. Thomas is an over-touristed, jewelry selling, t-shirt hawking, booze distribution island to which we do not need to return - at least not when there are 6 other ships in port. But if you find yourself there charter a boat over to St John (our original plan until the kids were too tired from Tortola), or take a cab 5 minutes to Brewer's Bay. We learned of Brewer's Bay from the immigration officer who recommended it as a local's beach with calm clear water, great shells, and NO facilities. It lived up to all of his description, and was perfect for our needs. Half Moon Cay is the tropical isle you've dreamed of. More than a mile of powdery white sand, clear, shallow water for snorkeling, hammocks, and a really cool water park for playing. Skip the excursions - we lost 2 hours waiting around at various points for the sting ray swim & feed. Just go way down the beach, snag that last hammock you see, and forget what day of the week it is. We took our own snorkel masks & gear for the family to use and were glad we did. It filled a canvas LLBean bag, but gave us tremendous flexibility to go wherever and do whatever we wanted. We also took along cold water bottles which you can buy as you leave the ship.
Embark/Debark/Luggage. In a word: EASY. Boarding was a simple. Porters took all our luggage and had it in our rooms within 2 hours. Check-in had no lines and took 15 minutes. At the end of the cruise, we had breakfast in the Lido, then waited in our suite until we were called to disembark. Our bags were waiting for us and easily sorted by colored tags. A porter took all 10 of them to the curb for us.
Holland America and the Zaandam staff outdid themselves to provide a wonderful week for our family. If I had to pick one thing that made the week, I'd say it was the service. It was always personal and sincere. Never aloof, never indifferent, always sincere. We've taken the kids all over the world, staying in many fine hotels and resorts, and I travel heavily for work. We have a lot to compare Zaandam to. Zaandam nailed it, and we can't wait to go back.
We are a family of 11- 4 adults- late 30's-early 40's, 2 adults mid 60's, 1 great grandmother- 90+ and 4 children- girls 15, 12, 10 & 8. Family cruise history: HAL, Renaissance, Cunard, Princess, NCL, Carnival, RCCL, Celebrity, Costa, Chandris/Fantasy, Majesty, Delta Queen Steamboat, American Hawaii Cruises. My grandmother is in her 90's and has cruised for over 60 years for obvious reasons, won't list all the lines she has been on...
Overview There were a fair share of families were aboard for this Christmas holiday sailing. Overall it was easily evident that HAL's median age is older than most other cruises. This presented a fairly wide variety of age groups, and reported 200+ well-mannered children. It was pretty exciting shortly after embarkation, to encounter strolling carolers. Unfortunately this was the one and only occasion where we saw this.
Pre-Cruise We stayed at the Radisson at Port Canaveral. Nice resort and clean. They presented an excellent breakfast buffet with friendly service. What a great way in which to begin our family holiday. The drawback was being packed like sardines on buses for the shuttle to the port. Again, the resort's problem notHAL'S. There were 3 ships, leaving Port Canaveral on this day. The wait, loading of luggage etc. on a 50-passenger bus was EXTREMELY chaotic and time consuming. Pick up by the Radisson shuttle at the end of the cruise was via their "regular" shuttle and went very smoothly.
For those debating pre-cruise parking, Signage is excellent leading to the port via stationary and electronic signing. Parking at the Port is also extremely easy with convenient drop off areas for both handicapped persons and baggage. The parking area is fenced in and charges $10 per day.
Porters were readily available to transport our luggage the 3 feet from the storage under the bus to the forklift palette. We were very disappointed by our first impression of HAL when the same guy asked for a gratuity after having already being "taken care of". If no tip had already been given, it would have been one thing, however we tipped him more than a $1 per bag for our entire family. When I last checked this was the recommended. Embarkation Longest part of the line was of course waiting to go through the metal detectors along with the x-ray of all carry-on items. Inspections were thorough and as we all know necessary. Cruise line reps were all pleasant and polite, check-in agents were also plentiful and efficient. We did have all our forms pre-printed and filled out, as most people did.
Our daughter was issued an ID bracelet with her lifeboat muster station in the event there was an emergency and she was separated from us. Ship staff could then easily take her to where she was supposed to be. As a parent this was very reassuring.
We arrived about 11:30 am and the whole process from arrival to boarding was about a half hour. Our grandmother, taken aboard via wheelchair, had separate check-in, which was of course much faster than that of the "masses". The family met up at the Lido for lunch. At 1:40 pm the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. Luggage arrived very shortly afterwards and everyone in our group was able to unpack prior to the 4:30 pm lifeboat muster drill.
The steward (forgive me for not knowing his name- my Dad had the most personal dealings with him) who wheeled her aboard was ready to ditch her off as soon as they were aboard. My father mentioned to him that a tip would be offered if he would to take her to lido deck and he became her best buddy though out the entire cruise! Lucky for us he worked at the Piano Bar where we gathered nightly for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Again, he took excellent care of our entire family making sure we always had plenty of hors d'oeuvres and peanuts to go along with our drinks.
Side story: The last day at sea he asked for the names of our family members. Little did we know and how delightfully surprised we were when he searched us out in the Lido the next morning to present to each family group a "personalized" Dutch hat signifying the date, family members and signed, presumably by him! He received an additional gratuity on the last evening to show our appreciation for his great service.
Crew See the Dining Room heading for our favorite crewmember. Overall everyone on the ship was extremely pleasant and helpful. There were plenty of smiles all around. I cannot begin to tell you how many times in the Lido I had to politely and with a smile, ask one of the "boys" to carry the tray of someone else "who REALLY needed the help".
The Ship The Zaandam had the best layout out of all of the newer ships that I have personally been fortunate enough to cruise on. The Zaandam's layout made it very easy for my elderly grandmother to walk around with out having to walk a "mile" to get anywhere as she does on a "MEGA" ship. If you book on deck 6 or 7 you will never have to go any lower than deck 4 on the ship except for shore excursions. With the Lido and pools on deck 8 there is not too far too travel up and if you can obtain dining in the Rotterdam Upper Dining Room, you will only have to go down to deck 5.
With the before mentioned problems with our cabins, overall cleanliness aboard the Zaandam was excellent. The ship's décor is a little worn around the edges, but no real complaints. The ship is going into dry dock January 2005 and will be getting some new carpeting along with the other scheduled SOE enhancements.
On our cruise aboard the Golden Princess in late 2003, DH and I, still childless, reveled in the sanctity of the their "Adult Only" Aft swimming pool. In September of 2004 our soon to be adopted 8 year old daughter arrived in our lives. Both swimming pools aboard the Zaandam had signs posted "saying no children swimming without supervision under the age of 13" at both the Lido and Aft swimming pools. The daily bulletin, for only the first few days of the cruise, "requested" that the children use the Lido Swimming Pool.
Well we tried that. I'm sorry, but with a crowded holiday sailing it was just plain unrealistic. The Lido Pool area is perfect for relaxing when it is cool outdoors. On hot Caribbean days the air was downright hot, even with the roof fully open. The water was opposite, positively cold. Even had it not been a sold out sailing, there were not enough seats never mind chaises around the Lido pool to reasonably expect families to solely use that pool. Our daughter, with chattering teeth asked if we couldn't swim in the aft pool. Ever mindful of the peace for the adults, after some discussion we decided to try the aft pool. Much to our surprise we discovered other well behaved children and adults thawing out in the sunshine.
Our daughter never had the luxury of swimming lessons in her previous foster homes. At all times she was accompanied by one of us at least sitting at the pool's edge, if not in the water with her, to insure she would not splash or otherwise interfere with any of the adults present. All of the children always behaved themselves, which led us to the conclusion that HAL does attract a more conservative clientele.
Pinnacle Grill Did not dine there, but did see the beautiful table settings and dining room. Christmas Day they offered their "$49.95 pp Wine Dinner"
Gym/Spa I had a terrific manicure at a very fair price. My SIL, and her family had multiple spa services and were very pleased with the staff and wonderful massages, manicures and pedicures, which they received. We both booked immediately after lunch right after we boarded the ship. And glad we were. Do not call, go there in person, otherwise, they will tell you they will call you back and that may not be for a long long time. The new Spa will be going in during dry dock. The spa staff will have off for two weeks and the last week in dry dock will be spent on training for their new "digs".
Shows/Entertainment Did not attend any shows. Family members who did, said they were just "so, so". We regular listened to Sonia Marie while in the Piano Bar, she had her "following", though I don't think any of us would have gone out of our way to listen to her play. Sea Breeze was better and they played in the Crow's Nest.
For the most part, after the last show, the ship grows quiet. You can find people in the Casino, Casino Bar or Crow's Nest. Each evening the Crow's Nest featured a different theme such as Disco, 50's, Black & White, from about 11 pm to Midnight. Then music reverted to a DJ who played for the most part hip-hop. The Crow's Nest was a late night "hangout". On the last evening of the sold out holiday cruise at 1:30 a.m. there were all of 12 people still there.
Cabin Accommodations Our family of eleven had 4 (3/3/3/2) - Cat. A. Verandah cabins on deck 7- 7048, 7050, 7052 & 7054. For two persons the cabins were terrific. With 3 people the cabin quickly became difficult to maneuver given the narrowness of space between the end of the queen size bed and the wall. For privacy there was a curtain, which extended 3/4 of the way to divide the cabin between the "living area" or in our case, sleep sofa for our daughter and the queen size bed. There was an additional curtain that provided privacy between the bathroom and closet area from the rest of the cabin.
For families, if only for the space, if budget allows, I would highly recommend a Cat. S suite. This allows not only more room to get around, an additional sink with private dressing area separate from the tub and water closet. Even better would be an adjoining or inside cabin for the kids. Even for couples, if you enjoy breakfast on your balcony, the only way in which to have a table AND chairs for a "sit down" breakfast would be in a Cat. S suite.
Just as an added note, we had a comparable mini-suite on the Golden Princess last year. The cabin was much more spacious and though the balcony was slightly smaller, the cabin itself offered more seating and was much less cramped. Cat. Balconies on the Zaandam are equipped with a high quality comfortable chaise lounge as well as matching chair with end table. Nice touch over the cheap hard plastic stuff found elsewhere. I don't know if it was because of our location higher up on the ship than where we were last year, but our balcony remained virtually salt free. Last year while sailing Princess, after just a few days the furniture was so encrusted in salt you needed to sit on a towel.
Princess did offer an advantage with two TV's as opposed to just one. When there is a disaster the size of the recent Tsunami, if only while getting dressed in the morning and at night, DH and I are interesting in keeping up with what is going on. Our daughter is too young for gory tragedies of this nature and much preferred watching cartoons on Boomerang! In each cabin there was a directory including movie listings and the channel offerings: ESPN, CNN, TNT, CNN Headline News, Boomerang!, Discovery Channel, "On Board"- promos for ship services, "In Port"- shore excursion and port information, Nautical Info with view from the bridge, and "Port Shopping". Our cabin also had a VCR and a very long listing in cabins of videos available for pick-up at the front desk. The Wajang Theater offered movies such as Collateral, Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, Santa Clause 2, Bourne Supremacy, and The Manchurian Candidate.
There were 2 Movie Channels showing a daily rotation of movies (beware parents.we awoke one morning to our 8 year old watching an "R" rated movie). It was nice during a Christmas cruise, if you are inclined to stay in your cabin, to have the option of viewing Christmas movies, some classics such as, "It's a Wonderful Life", Noel, White Christmas, ELF, and Santa Clause 2. For adults there were also movies such as Collateral, The Terminal, The Stepford Wives, King Arthur, Troy and Manchurian Candidate. For kids, there was Around the World in 80 Days, Spy Kids, The Prince and Me, Cinderella Story and Shark Tale.
The same steward served our 4 cabins. He spoke next to no English. Formerly serving as a bartender on the ship, he was now cleaning cabins and poorly at that. At the end of our voyage, everyone pretty much agreed that his lack of English speaking skills were more than likely the root of most of our "cabin problems" not being solved in a timely manner.
We were surprised that our cabins, which had sofa beds, were never converted back to sofas during the day. Upon arrival we walked into cabins with a queen size bed and one sofa. After the first night's dinner we returned to cabins with the queen size bed and a small narrow bed, which remained such for the entire cruise. In other words, with one chair IN the cabin and one chaise lounge and additional chair on the balcony for three people, don't plan on sitting around. Room service breakfast balancing plates on our knees would not have been a pretty sight.
In that our family had 4 cabins adjacent to one another we were hoping to have the doors between the 4 cabins opened for easy access to one another. Our cabin steward said it was not possible. As we were waiting to disembark along comes a crew member climbing over the railing opening door upon door so that he would be able to walk through balcony to balcony while he was hosing off the salt.
My cabin as well as my parent's cabin did have mildew present amongst the grout in the bathroom tiles. Big turn off considering it is easily curable with a little of the right cleaner and some elbow grease.
First night prior to leaving for dinner we left a note for the cabin steward: from the previous cruise which had disembarked that morning, we were left with: a bathroom wastebasket which had not been emptied, a desk full of crumbs and a shelf full of receipts from the previous cabin occupants. 3 of 4 cabins had 3, not 4 occupants. Each of the four cabins only had two bath towels! They were not offered outright, each cabin had to request the 3rd bath towel for the 3rd occupant individually. Sorry but is that not just common sense?
Cabin 1- safe would not lock, a screw had fallen out. Called each morning for repair, 3 days in a row, with no response. A phone call was placed day 4 and we asked simply for a screwdriver to repair it ourselves. Afternoon of day 4 we remembered we had an eyeglass screwdriver. DH used this and fixed the safe himself.
Over the period of 6 nights, the cabin became progressively warmer at night. Called day 7 for someone to check it. Front desk phoned morning of day 8 to see if it had been repaired. No it had not. By the end of the day it was fixed and in perfect working condition.
Unfortunately in the same cabin one of the children accidentally broke the flexible hose off of the shower nozzle to brace herself and avoid falling during a swell (too young and never having traveled before, she did not know enough to grab one of the hand holds). Called for repair as soon as it happened prior to dinner and it was repaired by the time dinner was over.
Cabin 1 again- besides the problems with the safe, one morning there was an 8:15 am knock on the door from maintenance. They knew, without it being reported, that the cabin had low water pressure. Without asking anyone to vacate the cabin they went into the bathroom and did what they had to do. Again, the privacy curtain between the cabin entrance where the bathroom is located and the rest of the cabin was appreciated since everyone was in pajamas and one person was still in bed.
Cabin 2- ring on tub faucet was broken, thus shower did not function. Called for repair, no response. After my SIL had a total of 4 others shower that evening in her cabin she called the front desk for a second time requesting repair. "She" explained it would be appreciated if our grandmother who had paid over $20,000 for this cruise had a shower that actually functioned. The shower was repaired by the time we returned from dinner that evening.
Cabin 3- one day, the cabin was just never cleaned, morning nor night. We did see a supervisor making notes on a clipboard outside of the cabin as we were departing for dinner that evening. No way of knowing if one thing had anything to do with the other. No phone calls were made to have the cabin cleaned. At this point we just couldn't be bothered considering HAL'S staff unresponsiveness to other maintenance problems in the cabins. The following day the cabin steward apologized stating that he had "forgotten about it". This cabin also had an intermittent odor of sewage from the toilet, which was not present in the other cabins.
Lido Quality of the food was good and the selection was for the most part pretty good. Breakfast buffet open 7 or 7:30 am - 10 or 10:30 am, offered just about everything imaginable except for waffles or soft boiled, or poached eggs (yes, heard someone ask for poached, but they did offer hard boiled eggs). If you arrived at breakfast early enough before it got too busy, the waiters would be kind enough to get your coffee or tea for you. Arrive later when it was busy and it was "hit or miss" whether you would be lucky enough to be offered a refill by one of the waiters roaming with a pot for such purpose.
At lunch, the buffet was open 11:00 am - 2 pm, the soup and salad bar was a big hit, open 11:30 am - 5:00 pm as well as the deli. Stir Fry and a Pasta Bar rotated day to day. The ice cream bar is extremely popular as well with flavors of ice cream and some toppings rotating daily. Wish there was an easier way to get a soda on the lido though. They had a bartender set up at this little table. Half the time they did not have what you wanted and the rest of the time he was off getting, presumably, more soda. I had a good chuckle when one of the waiters asked ME, who herself was wondering where he was, where the bartender was. Alas, a mind reader I am not...Towards the end of the cruise, we just found it easier to order a soda at the pool bar on our way in for lunch.
Besides never missing ice cream, our children all especially enjoyed making their own tacos and daily selections of pizzas, which were offered. This food was available from 11:30 am - 5 pm. If you were still full from breakfast, it was also very convenient to stop by late afternoon for a burger or a "make your own" plate of nachos to snack on. Still enjoying our time poolside, this was a better option than having to go to our cabin and order room service.
Though we did not have dinner in the Lido, tables at night were set with linen tablecloths. A condensed version of the evening's menu is offered buffet style. The exception being your entree that you order while in line and then is served to you by a waiter at the appropriate time.
Room Service HAL does excel and shows some nice touches in their room service. My favorite late lunch was the French Onion Soup and a Caesar Salad. One of our cabins had room service breakfast almost daily. One cabin had early morning coffee delivery along with juice. At no extra charge, there were a good variety of items available for appropriate times of the day, which were delivered in a timely manner, whether ordered the night before (breakfast) or via telephone.
Christmas eve morning an order was placed for a couple of cheese plates for delivery to one of our cabins that night. This was no problem and they arrived promptly at 6 pm as requested. A bottle of wine and six cans of beer ordered at 5 pm for 6 pm simply never showed up. The server who delivered the cheese stated he would check on the liquor deliver, but we never heard back from him either.
A sampling of items offered 12 Noon - 10 pm are: Bay Shrimp Cocktail, Smoked Salmon Appetizer, Onion Soup, Caesar Salad, Chef Salad, Club Sandwich, Chicken Breast Sandwich, Tuna Melt, Vegetarian Wrap, Steak Sandwich and Hamburger.
Dining Room & Food Our family booked this cruise in July and the only seating available was the Main seating 8:30 pm. Since booking, we had been waitlisted for the 8 pm seating. Upon embarking, my Mom and SIL, visited the Maitre 'd in order to take one last stab at changing to the 8 pm seating. Fat chance!
None of us had hopes that the time would be changed, so contented ourselves with the fact that HAL had accommodated our request for a table for 11 people. Evenings the family gathered pre-dinner for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, usually at the Piano Bar and then proceeded to our table J in the Lower Rotterdam Dining Room.
We had the opportunity to enjoy some breakfasts and one dinner in the upper dining room and noticed a drastic difference in room temperature. It was unbelievably cooler on the upper level than the lower level. It did not matter that on the Informal night's gentlemen were requested to wear a sports jacket. Half way through dinner, in our area of the lower dining room, many men room were removing their jackets.
Overall, as some others have stated, HAL does have some problems in the dining room. HAL is spreading their dining room waiters and busboys so thin that they have all they can do just in order to keep up. I don't' require polite chitchat and you do not have to know me by name. I can appreciate feeding the children early in the meal. But my Mom did teach me to be polite, and "wait for everyone to be served" before beginning to eat. Only problem was that we were never served courses together. Food was served as soon as it came out of the kitchen as long as you were finished with your previous course. It did not matter where your tablemates were in their meal. A regular production line for sure, but again, we in no way fault the dining room staff, they are just trying to do the best they can with what they have.
It was no wonder that pepper grinders are on the tables in the dining room. While HAL is at it, another time saving measure to make it easy on everyone would be to place a pitcher of ice water, salad dressings and sour cream on the table as well. Everyone can agree there is nothing worse than a cold baked (steamed) potato with sour cream or having to ask for a second cup of coffee.
Our head steward, Oka, really saved our HAL dining experience. He in his supervisory position tried his utmost to provide the touch of service that one used to find on all cruise ships. Oka picked up the slack as best as he could, refilling water glasses, clearing dirty plates etc. He not only took care of all of us, but in particular, this father of 3 young children, who are home in Bali, took great joy at dessert time, in pleasing the 4 children in our family. There were napkin animals, magic tricks, jokes, puns, and riddles. In return the children taught him a few of their own for him to add to his repertoire for future passengers.
Oka, also accepted special orders in advance for the following evening. The kids in particular became hooked on the Fettuccine Alfredo with extra sauce and extra cheese on the side. He found out that our daughter was head over heels for shellfish. A couple of nights she dined on 2 double portions of huge shrimp, one for an appetizer and one for dinner. Following her first taste and love at first sight with King Crab Legs, he surprised her on another night with the biggest portion of King Crab that you have ever seen!
One night dinner was open seating due to the Lido Deck BBQ. The dining room was serving only in the Upper Rotterdam Dining Room on a "first come, first served basis". Oka made sure that he saved a highly coveted table for 10 (which he squeezed into 11) for us. We did not have our regular waiter, but Oka made sure he surprised our daughter once again with a huge portion of King Crab. On our last morning, Oka helped us out with breakfast once again. The steward was insisting our family, together again for one last time until most likely next Christmas, had to split up into two tables of 6 & 5. Oka raced across the room and whisked us off to a table for ten, quickly adding an additional place setting and chair. Obviously this is why he "gets paid the big bucks".
There has to be a better way with the March and festivities taking place at dessert time for the Main seating in the Upper dining room. Being the "late" seating we were just being served our entrees in the darkness of the festivities. The Baked Alaska on the upper level was most likely to die for; however downstairs, after our meal, we were served a melted mushy mess. I was embarrassed for the dining room staff actually having to "slop" the drippings onto the plates.
Even the wine stewards are ragged. Some nights sodas were not received until the entree was being served. Those drinking soda gave up on ordering seconds and simply began ordering two sodas at one time. The wine steward quickly picked up on this and kindly obliged and kept this as a standing order. One night, and one night only, towards the middle of the cruise, the "standing" soda order was already present on the table when we arrived!
If you love wine, and are adventurous, you have to love the Zaandam's "Wine Navigator". These packages offered a mix of wines from all over the world. The Wine Navigator Package was priced 4 bottles for $82 or 6 bottles for $125. You are able to pay for the package and then as you go, choose from the list of wines offered. Choose every bottle the same, or try a different one each night! My Mom and sister-in-lawn really lucked out since two of their favorite wines were offered through the "Admiral's Choice" Package. This package offers higher price pointed wines, which were 6 bottles for $175. Both packages offered savings on a good balance of whites and reds from around the world. The price of the packages does not include the automatic 15% gratuity.
Guess it would not happen too often, but the night we had open seating for dinner, those ordering individual bottles of wine as I did, vs. those ordering from "their package", were served first. My bottle of wine arrived at the table in a timely manner. The wine from the package, which my Mom had selected, did not arrive at the table until the salad was being served. Perhaps the wine steward felt I deserved better service since the 15% auto tip was going directly into his pocket vs. that from the Wine Package that was already pre-paid and presumably pooled among all the wine stewards?
Breakfast here was awesome and cappuccino or espressos were at no extra charge. Service in the morning was excellent in every way. Most of the time, the toast was actually even still warm.
Diabetic selections in the Lido and the Dining Room are excellent. You will have no trouble dining on this cruise, even more so in the goodie department...sugar free ice creams, cookies, desserts...
Items are hardly if at all salted (including popcorn at the theater) so those on low sodium diets will have no problems. If you like salt, be prepared to "shake, shake, shake".
Soups and breads were especially excellent, as well as the King Crab Legs and most of the Appetizers. "Daily Alternatives" were offered: Caesar Salad, Grilled Salmon, Broiled Chicken Breast and Grilled Sirloin Steak. The Sirloin was disappointing in that it was "hit or miss". Just about everyone at our table ordered it on one night or another, and whether ordered rare or medium well, the taste was never consistent. Portions for all of the courses served were a perfect size. Each of us always had enough room to sample dessert. Again though, if HAL would like to show true quality of their line they would not bother serving certain items such as Carpaccio. Offered on several evenings, it was so paltry, it was laughable. There IS a difference between thinly sliced and translucent. If you do order it, ask for a double!
Christmas The rest of the family had cruised two years again over Christmas with RCCL and were moved to tears by the beauty and amount of decorations around the Grandeur of the Seas. The Zaandam in their opinion was very lacking in comparison. Just no oomph! Yes, each cabin door had a small wreath, there were Gingerbread houses at the entrance to the dining room, and Christmas trees were not overly abundant. Yes there were fresh flowers in Christmas displays, including the cabins and dining room. Chocolate Santa's were put out on display at the Lido Buffet on the 27th of December, the day after the Chocolate Extravaganza on the 26th. Two days before the end of the cruise the ship's flowers were for the most part wilted and dead. I personally would prefer they just remove the dead/dying flower arrangements, as opposed to the sad remnants of dried carnations and wilted orchids left in the holiday aftermath.
Egg Nog was served Christmas morning to those waiting in the Mondrian Lounge for those waiting for Santa. Following an old fashioned "sing-a-long", we watched via two large screens, Santa's trek from arrival at the top of the ship's stack, down the ladder onto the sports deck and then various stops such as the spa, weight room and Lido prior to his "live" entrance to the Lounge.
IMHO, call it sour grapes if you like, but I do need to mention the selfishness of the childless persons who crowded the front of the lounge. I am not saying that this is a "family only" event, but it would have been nice if families with children received some type of priority seating in the lounge.
With an 8:30 pm dinner seating which was all which could be offered 5 months prior to booking, how early could we drag our eight year old out of bed the next morning to get a seat in the front of the lounge? After we opened Santa's gifts in our cabin, attended breakfast with the rest of the family in the dining room, which HAL so thoughtfully served until 10 am, our family made the lounge 15 minutes prior to Santa's arrival. This was not nearly enough time to get those highly coveted seats near Santa which had already been taken by those who did not have "family obligations" prior to Santa's arrival. Kid's received a wrapped gift, a "Club HAL" baseball cap, and had their picture taken with Santa by the ship's photographer. This made another nice cruise keepsake for only the price of a ship's photo gallery.
I can fully understand how older or single folks would like to see the delight in the children upon seeing Santa, but how about giving a break to the parents? Our kids only believe in Santa for so many years, why not let us appreciate it while it lasts. When the day comes and our children no longer "believe", we will gladly join you in the back of the lounge to make room for the younger families.
Itinerary & Weather 4 full days at sea, one of the reasons our family chose this itinerary/ship, the ship was our destination and resort.
We had near perfect weather with a mostly cloudy and cool sail away. First day at sea was more clouds than sun and last day was chillier and mostly cloudy. The other days in between were stunning Caribbean perfect with warm temperatures and refreshing trade winds. Most mornings, as typical of the Caribbean, there were also rainbows a plenty.
That late afternoon and throughout the evening of our last night the waves were reaching upwards to 13 feet+ along with a gale force wind which made the ship very "creaky". If you were a novice cruiser you did notice the "barf bags" placed at all elevators, but did not know that this would mean a rough night. After departing Half Moon Cay, it was too windy to be out on deck. All in all this made for an excellent opportunity for packing and last minute on board shopping. The Mohito Happy Hour was moved from the Aft pool to the mid-ship Lido Swimming Pool where the roof was closed well before 3 pm.
Tortola Here is a tale of two families who choose two outings. Half of the family, a party of five, awoke early and were off the ship just after 8 am. Their aim was to catch one of the ferries to the Bath's. Walking off of the pier, both Speedy's and Smith's Ferry companies had representatives selling packages. The party of five, basically ended up going with Speedy's after the reps from each company fought back and forth over who was going to charge what. Speedy's finally won the competition. By this time, it was going to be cutting time short for them to walk from the pier over to Speedy's ferry departure point. The Speedy's rep was kind enough to throw in a free taxi ride for the five of them so they could make the ferry in time. The family had a terrific time exploring the Baths and then a late lunch at the "Top of the Baths" before taking the ferry back to Road Town.
The rest of us got off the ship after lunch and "tried" to hire a taxi. All the drivers were absolutely insisting that we had to go to Cane Garden Bay. We politely declined asking for a ride to either Brewer's Bay or Sapphire Beach. They continued to refuse to take us to Brewer's Bay and to them Sapphire was just way too far and out of the question. After seeing some threads regarding the water conditions, we told them that we thought the water may be unsafe due to discharge from the boats anchoring here. Of course they stated this was not correct. Our vacation, and health, so we did not want to take a chance, especially knowing there were other places we could visit. As a side note, HAL no longer offers their Cane Garden Bay excursion.
Interestingly enough, it was only when the six of us turned away to re-board the ship, where we would not have to pay a taxi to get to the ship's swimming pool, and thus taking our money with us, that one of the drivers came forward. He was more than happy to take us to our destination of Brewer's Bay. He was even fortunate enough to fill up his taxi with six additional people. Evidently after agreeing to a return time in two and a half hours it was worth his time since he parked and hung out at the snack bar.
We paid $10 pp roundtrip from the ship to Brewer's Bay. It was a great place to hangout even if you have only a few hours, much cheaper than any three-hour beach excursion the ship could offer. You can rent chaise lounges for $5 each. There is a bar with liquor and snacks. The ride over and back was a good way to see the beautiful vistas and the driver was kind enough to stop for photo opportunities without even being asked.
Snorkeling is off to the west side of the beach along the rock cliff. The water is fairly shallow and clear. There are a few rocks on this west end of the beach, but water shoes are not required. Walk/swim a short ways out and the bottom becomes ALL sand. The further you walk east down the beach, the sandier it gets.
When in Tortola, if you do not want to venture to the Bath's this is a great alternative! In our case the Baths were not doable for my 90+ yo grandmother. She went to Brewer's with us and loved watching her granddaughter swimming and playing in the sand.
St. Martin Mom and Dad did what they do best here, spending 4 hours making a sizable donation to their friends at Ballerina Jewelers.
The ship's "Discover Scuba" excursion was sold out way in advance of sailing. I found out through this board about Shore Trips® so for an additional $12 per person over the ship's excursion price, my brother, niece and sister-in-law booked a trip through them to try out scuba. As had happened with my husband and I after our first dive, once you do it, you are hooked! They had a fine experience with Shore Trips® and would not hesitate to use them again.
The rest of the family enjoyed the Aft swimming pool which, as you can imagine was very peaceful.
Barbados Wow is all I can say! This day was by far one of the highlights of our Christmas cruise aboard the Zaandam. We sailed aboard the Silver Moon II on Christmas Eve for their 5 hour Lunch Cruise. The new 45' catamaran is sister to the original 44' Silver Moon. SM II sails this lunch cruise with a maximum of 18 people aboard. Cost was $80 per adult and $50 per child and well worth the expense. The cat does hold up to 40 persons for private charters, so it is obvious that there is plenty of room for 18 people to comfortable sail, drink, eat and swim or snorkel.
Our family made up 11, out of a total of 18 people aboard. There was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. Never did we feel crowded. There was shade for my Grandmother and anyone else who wanted it and plenty of spots for sunning and relaxing. Captain Nick, the owner, and his crew, the kind of young men which every parent would like their daughter to marry, treated spoiled us from the first moment we stepped on board and we could not have been more pleased with this excursion.
Our excursion this day was 10 am to 3 pm. We were met outside of the cruise terminal and transported via mini-bus the few minute ride to the marina. The boat is new, and kept clean as a whistle. You must remove your shoes to even step aboard. We were a little concerned about my grandmother being able to walk on board, but the crew very very carefully and skillfully cajoled and assisted her. Once we were all aboard drink orders were taken and we began our 5 hours of bliss. First off we were told that there was a very strong swell out of the north and the waves were just too big to get in with the turtles. A snorkel above a couple of wrecks would be substituted instead. After a 45-minute sail, the first snorkel stop was to a reef. The crew passed out high quality and well kept, snorkel gear. At each stop one of the crewmembers snorkeled with the group and acted as guide.
Following this snorkel, everyone re-boarded, rinsed off with the fresh water hose and ate a delicious bountiful lunch of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, fish, garlic bread and Caesar salad. All the while, we were offered unlimited soda, beer, wine, pina coladas, rum punch or strawberry daiquiris. Lunch was even followed by Rum Cake and coffee or tea.
Seeing some of the other passing catamaran excursions packed to the gills, we knew no matter how much others had paid for their excursions, we had the best value for our money and it was the absolute best decision to go with Silver Moon. Don't' believe me, check out this thread. Silver Moon Catamaran - Great !!!!!
Martinique Been there had already done that. Brother and SIL paid $25 each for a taxi tour with another couple and now they too can say, "been there done that". DH and I spent a quiet relaxing day lounging by the aft swimming pool.
Daughter spent the morning in Club HAL and then returned for the afternoon session after a dip in the pool and her luncheon feast. Please see "Club Hal" in this report for information on what this day.
Half Moon Cay This is a beautiful island for sure. It is very similar to Princess Cay, but with much more in the way of facilities. Our half day, 8 am to 1:30 pm, on the island was shared with the passengers from the Zaandam's sister ship, the Volendam. The island's weather this day was mostly cloudy, cool and extremely windy, but nonetheless, the beach was crowded. If you are unable to walk a distance down the beach, the advice is to make sure you get to the island early.
The new children's water play area was nice, however was not officially open? A water slide is just not a water slide without running water. On a Christmas cruise with a lot of kids (well for HAL right?), there was enough disappointment to go around. But they made the best of it, using the floating platforms. Most, if not all, of the excursions this day were cancelled due to high winds. To avoid the children's water park area, head north, the further the better.
Food was typical out island BBQ: Baby back Ribs- to die for, the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, salads, fruit, brownies, cookies. There was also steak albeit under cooked.
Zaandam Christmas Cruise 12/18- Club HAL, Disembarkation, Favs & Overall Club HAL The oldest and the youngest children in the group participated. In that this was a Christmas cruise, there were a fair number of children aboard, but not an overwhelming amount as I thought there might be. There was no charge for the club, not even supplies.
The teen made tons of new friends and generally just ended up "hanging out". Most night's teen events (ages 13 - 17) ran 10 pm to 1 am. There was an organized "get together" for the teens, for some reason it seems they were held mostly at the Aft Pool or Sky Room. With the upcoming addition of the Oasis Lounge, of course this will be the new place for the teens to gather.
Our daughter picked and chose which Club HAL activities she wished to participate in. She enjoys arts & crafts and now has some nice souvenirs from her first cruise. I was not too thrilled the day she played "Toilet Tag" until I was let in on the details. This was a regular game of tag with a little bit of a different title.
Only disappointment in the Club was the day we were in Martinique. We had signed up our DD the day before as required. When my husband went to sign her into the club that morning, none of the Club HAL staff was there. "They" decided they felt like taking the day off, and we were "lucky" that one of the male entertainers "volunteered" to man the Club that day. My husband chatted with the gentleman long enough to determine he felt safe leaving DD at the Club. Our daughter happily played on the computer for a couple of hours, but obviously that was beside the point.
Disembarkation Debarkation on Dec. 28 was miserable. I don't believe this was any fault of the cruise line. Departure questionnaires were left in our cabin earlier in the week. Since we had driven to the Port, we knew we would be some of the last people off of the ship. Each cabin was later assigned a letter, which would be called for disembarkation.
It is terrific that HAL allows you to remain in your cabin, so were astonished they had repeat the age old announcement for people not to gather around the gangway, staircases, etc. Although the ship had arrived in Port on time, there were the usual case of inconsiderate passengers needing being paged over and over to report to immigration. The first numbers were not called until about 9:30 am. We did not get off until almost 10:30 am.
The good news was that if you did NOT require a porter it was very easy to claim your luggage and get out of the terminal. If you need to get to Orlando definitely make arrangements to have someone meet you rather than relying on the whim of one of the taxi drivers. Our Radisson shuttle picked us up and took us back to the resort to retrieve our cars.
Overall Experience Another holiday cruiser stated they "would return to HAL. However, we all felt that Princess was slightly better than HAL." Our group was of mixed opinions. The three kids who had cruised previously with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean would choose Royal Caribbean.
HAL would have won us over completely if their dining room service were improved and the quality of the food elevated just ever so much. Problems with the cabins were annoying but as time has faded become less important. Let's just say it was good enough that three in our group just booked a suite on the Westerdam for a 15 day transatlantic cruise in April.
Favorites: 1. Our kid's loved the Pizza & Taco Bar in the Lido. 2. Salad bar and Ice Cream bar in the Lido. 3. Cappuccino and Espresso at the Java Bar. 4. Soda card at a little over $50 (including the non-optional 15% gratuity) sounds like a lot of money but is actually a bargain. If you drink two sodas per day, it pays for itself. In the hot Caribbean sun if you drink more than that, you will be ahead of the game. Thumbs up to HAL for including ginger ale and Diet Sprite in the package. 5. Chocolate Chip Cookies
Classy Touches: 1. Terry cloth hand towels in the public restrooms 2. Pleather document holder 3. Keepsake Portfolio of Captain's Farewell Dinner & Christmas Dinner menus 4. A wheelchair was given to my grandmother for her use throughout the entire cruise. She is able to walk short distances with the aid of a cane to get her place to place on the ship. Our last night at sea was too rough for her to walk at which time she was able to revert to using the wheelchair rather miss dinner in the dining room. 5. Happy to see a cruise line who still conducts a kitchen tour. 6. The Cruise Log presented at the end of the voyage makes another nice keepsake of our trip.
Could Have Done Without It was heavenly, there were only sporadic "reports from the bridge" given by the Chief Navigator, not the Captain. Sadly, we had bingo announcements a plenty. "You gotta be in it to win it"... Daily bingo announcements are just plain rotten. If the passengers cannot remember what time bingo is scheduled, let them carry the daily schedule with them.
Additional Notes: My husband does not buy the latest fashions in clothes, doesn't have a ear splitting stereo or an expensive sports car. He is however what I refer to as a "coffee snob". No Starbucks double Latte for him, just good, high quality, read expensive, coffee and the right machines for grinding his own beans and brewing the perfect cup. The one complaint I hear from him, everywhere but inside our own home, is how rotten the coffee is. Finally I can send him to the Zaandam! Whether in the Lido, Dining Room or Java Bar the coffee was near perfection and lived up to his expectations.
Upon arrival, each cabin already had a nice complimentary holiday arrangement. For this Christmas cruise there was an additional offering of Holiday gifts available for delivery once aboard. DH and I purchased various gifts for our family and ourselves directly through Hal's Ship Services. Besides the 28 inch Christmas Tree for my grandmother's cabin and the 16 inch trees for our other three cabins. We ordered "Frosty The Snowman" for our daughter. The description was labeled a "festive drum filled with traditional seasonal trimmings". Traditional seasonal trimmings it indeed did have. So fresh and so green was it that my allergies forced Frosty into relocating to my parents cabin. There were also bottles of wines and orders of Chocolate strawberries with Champagne. We had faxed the order to ship's services well in advance of departure and brought the copies with us should there have been any problems with delivery. Each and every item arrived on the appointed day and nothing was forgotten. Especially wonderful was not only the chocolate covered strawberries, but the California Chase-Limogere, Brut which came with it.
My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. This would be our lucky thirteenth cruise and second on a HAL ship. We have sailed the Caribbean on Galaxy; on the defunct Commodore Lines' Enchanted Isle; and on Norwegian Sun and HAL's ms Veendam. We cruised on Regal Princess to the Baltic and Sun Princess to Alaska. We took Carnival's Elation to the Mexican Riviera and Celebrity's Infinity both through the Panama Canal and to Hawaii. In 2003 we did the Mediterranean on Infinity's sister ship Millennium. Our most adventuresome trip was around Cape Horn from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity's Mercury. This past May we did a Transatlantic repositioning cruise on Celebrity's Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome. All of these cruises except the first two, Carnival's Elation cruise and the Enchanted Isle trip; can be found on reviews on this site.
Why This Cruise?
We enjoyed our trip on Veendam, the timing and price were right; and we had experienced only one of the stops, St. Thomas. And that stop was spent shoppingfor essential clothing for Edith since Celebrity had left her suitcase in San Juan. Also, at the time we booked this cruise, our only anticipated cruise was on Oceania's Insignia down the Amazon to Barbados in March, so it appeared to be a good interim cruise.
We sailed from Port Canaveral on Saturday and had two sea days. Our first stop was Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and the next day we arrived about 40 miles away in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands. After a sea day we made an abbreviated stop at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, an island owned by Holland American. The next day we returned to Port Canaveral.
Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not
I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino, which seemed fairly nice, and had some frequent play from our dinner companions. We do not use the spa facilities, although Edith did sign up for yoga classes. We can't rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship.
Pre-planning Any Cruise
If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the "Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004" Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the "Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition"; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and "Stern's Guide to Cruise Vacations 2004"; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. I know the Berlitz 2005 edition is listed for release. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines' websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships' layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of "specials" and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options.
We did not do nearly as much preparation on this cruise as on some others. Basically I read some of the standard guide books on the islands, and bought a good Insight Flexi-Map of the Virgin Islands. The books spoke highly of Virgin Gorda, a neighboring island to Tortola, and especially a place called The Baths at Virgin Gorda. Both the beach and snorkeling were said to be interesting and good. Again the guide books referred to two ferry services from Road Town, the landing point and major town on Tortola. The internet provided schedules and fares for both services, and Speedy's Ferries seemed to offer the best time going and returning. In browsing various reviews about St. Thomas I came across a trip on a 43 foot yacht for six hours. The yacht is the Winifred and the Captain is Sharon Allen. This seemed interesting as it traveled to the neighboring island of St. Johns. We arranged this over the net also. Her site is: www.sailwinifred.com and the E-mail is: email@example.com. Her phone, and this is a US area code; is 340-775-7898. For Half Moon Cay we made no plans at all, nor did we sign up for any tours.
Shipboard Accommodation Planning
Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to "standard" cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature "veranda" cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled "suites"; some of which, like Celebrity's "sky suites" are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a veranda, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better "at sea" experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don't spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships' architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. We had read many reviews which noted that the cabins on Zaandam were a good size, and for a week we certainly did not need a suite.
This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts. Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships' layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. We have managed to cut down on our clothing a lot since our initial cruises, and still find that we have brought one or two items which were never worn.
Getting to the Ship and Back Home
The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use "open jaw" flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety's sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay.
Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don't have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to you travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind.
Off To the Caribbean Again
We wanted to visit some property we owned near Sarasota, so we flew in to Orlando the day before and rented a car. This way we could do a round trip to and from Orlando. The car rental was quite reasonable, and we ate in a nice restaurant on Siesta Key south of Sarasota. The nest day we visited the property and still had plenty of time to get to Port Canaveral, arriving about noon. We decided to get a quick bite to eat before returning the rental car which proved to be a good idea, although Port Canaveral is not exactly a gourmet paradise. When the rental car shuttle got us to the pier about 1:30 we faced a very long line to check in. We were told that the ship had been late arriving. It had just completed its summer Alaska cruising and come down the west coast and through the Panama Canal. We finally got to our cabin at 3:00, but most people in line were cheerful enough, and the line was constantly moving. On Veendam we had both a shipboard card, which served as a charge card and debarkation/embarkation card, plus a room key. Zaandam had the usual system of one card which does everything but open the safe. We were escorted to our room, which is a nice touch.
We had what HAL calls a "Verandah Suite", ( Class B) on the Verandah Deck, Deck 6, Cabin No. 6187. It measures 284 square feet, including the verandah, which makes it almost the size of a Celebrity Sky suite, and larger than most standard verandah cabins. The verandah has a composition material for the deck, a comfortable lounge chair and side chair and small table, and is about six feet from door to railing. The railing is clear glass up to the wooden top rail. The dividers between the verandahs are not solid, there being a six inch gap at the floor level and afoot gap at the top. This allows one to hear conversations from the adjoining cabins, and for the light from one verandah to shine onto its neighbor. Why cruise lines do not make these dividers solid is beyond me. There is a good sized desk with a lighted makeup-up mirror, the first we have seen on a cruise ship. One of the desk drawers also had a portable hair dryer. We had personalized stationary. The desk had nine drawers. There is a standard 72 inch couch and small table. An end table does double duty as a small refrigerator, stocked with all sorts of drinks for sale. At the end of the desk there is a television set with VCR and a shelf with glassware and more mini bottles of various alcoholic treats for sale. Between this area and the bed area there is a drape which goes about 3/4s of the way across the cabin. The bed has two light sources, which was nice. Between the bed area and the closet and bathroom area was another drape which could close off the entire main portion of the cabin so that a someone entering the room would not necessarily see into the living area. Edith liked these curtains very much. The closets were large and with a great supply of nice wooden hangers. As usual, we never came close to using all the clothing storage space provided. The safe uses any credit card with a magnetic strip to open and close; but I prefer the code system used by Celebrity and many other lines, since you don't have to worry about either carrying a credit card or leaving it somewhere in the cabin. The bathroom had a small jacuzzi tub/shower arrangement. There was one medicine chest and one under sink shelf provided which was enough for all our toiletries. The thermostat controls actually worked and effected a change in room temperature. Bathrobes are provided. The cabin was decorated with three nice pictures, a mirror in back of the bed and a full length mirror on the back of one of the closet drawers. The room had good quality wallpaper and painted surfaces, was spotless and overall one of the best staterooms we have ever experienced.
The Ship Layout
The ship was very well laid out from our point of view. The lower three decks are all cabins; with Deck 3 having a teak promenade making a total circle. Deck 4 aft has the Lower Rotterdam Main Restaurant. It is isolated from the rest of that deck and can only be reached by going down from Deck 5 or up from Deck 3 via the aft stairs and elevators. Unlike Veendam and Maasdam, Zaandam had a mid-ship set of stairs and elevators. Forward of these on Deck 4 you can reach the Wajang movie theater and the Pinnacle specialty restaurant. Past this is the Java Bar, a free coffee and cappuccino feature of all HAL ships. You then enter the middle level of the three story atrium, which is largely filled with a white rococo organ. This area also has the Front Desk, Shore excursion office and photo gallery. Continuing to the forward part of Deck 4 you enter the Mondriaan show theater. On Deck 5 forward there is the balcony of the Mondriaan Theater. Proceeding aft you enter the upper level of the atrium, with the Ocean Bar on one side and a boutique on the other. The Ocean Bar has a small dance floor and bandstand. Aft of this is a small shopping arcade and the casino. Beyond this on the starboard side is the extremely attractive Explorer's Lounge which is used for afternoon tea and entertainment by the classical music group, the Atlantis Trio, at night. Opposite this on the port side are the Erasmus Library, internet room, the Half Moon Room set up with card tables and the Hudson Room for small meetings. Aft on this deck is the upper Rotterdam Restaurant. Decks 6 and 7 are both cabin decks. Deck 8 is the Lido Deck with an outside pool and deck chairs overlooking the aft end of the ship. Forward of this is the Lido Buffet Restaurant. Midships has the Lido Pool, which can be opened or covered with its roof panel, and the Terrace Grill and pizza kiosk. Forward of that is the spa and gymnasium. The Sports Deck above this has the traditional Crow's Nest Lounge with its forward view. One can walk back past the sliding roof for the Lido pool, past two sports courts to an aft seating area. and the Skyroom for children's activities. There is an open Sky Deck above the Sports Deck forward which also has a forward view and a few chairs. This arrangement meant that we had an easy time getting around from our Deck 6 cabin since we were halfway between the midship and the aft stair and elevator banks.
The stateroom corridors do not have art displayed as do Celebrity ships, although there are flocked panels with musical notes inset along the corridors at intervals. The coloring for these corridors and panels is cream and gold. The carpeting throughout the ship is patterned in deep red and orange. The elevator and stair bank areas are spacious and pleasant, with the elevators at 90 degrees to the stair wells. Attractive art, including some wonderful paintings of past and present HAL ships are found in the stairwells. The walls of the public area are dark slate grey, but this is not as depressing as it sounds, they set a quiet tone. There are a number of display cases around the ship, many with musical instruments; and some with antique objects d'art etc. The chairs and sofas in the lounges are quite comfortable, with the exception of those in the Mondriaan Theater unfortunately. Everything is spotlessly maintained, although there were some worn places on the beautiful dark wood hand railings in the stairwells. The general impression is low key, tasteful and relaxing. Zaandam is 63,000 gross tons, and with a passenger complement of just under 1400, has a space ratio of 45, which is excellent. We seldom felt crowded and that was only at the end of shows and for the kitchen tour which we chose to skip because of the numbers waiting.
Dining Venues and Food.
The main dining room is the Rotterdam Room, which, as noted, is a two story room at the aft of Decks 4 and 5. Under HAL's arrangement, there are two seatings, each with separate seating times. The "early" early seating is on Deck 5 and starts at 5:45; the "late" early seating is on deck 4 at 6:15. The late seating start at 8:00 and 8:30 respectively. We had not known of the range of options on our Veendam cruise so had been placed on the 5:45 list, which we felt was too early, so we were pleased to sign up for and be placed on the 6:15 seating. HAL prides itself on Rosenthal china, which is nice, but hotel grade china of course, not true porcelain. The table settings are quite good, the table arrangement reasonably placed, and our table was near the aft windows and not bothered by much serving noise. The only inconvenience was that we could not enter on Deck 5 and walk down the grand staircase to our Deck 4 table; we had to use the aft stairs (or elevators).
The Lido Buffet Restaurant has two main serving lines, a dessert area, an omelet station that has grill specialties for lunch, an ice cream station open from 11:30 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 8:30, and a salad line for lunch and probably dinner. Unlike Celebrity, HAL serves a regular dinner in the Lido Buffet, with menu list that is smaller than, but in its offered items, the same as the main restaurant. Their buffet food is cooked directly behind the serving lines, with rotisseries capable of holding large roasts, grills and normal cook tops. At the beginning of each buffet line there is a stanchion with a round object looking like a gumball machine. This contains a cleaning agent released when you pass your hands under its spout, where you are spritzed with a small amount of liquid and advised to scrub your hands together. The agent dries rapidly with no noticeable odor and you proceed to the line. You are provided with a tray and china dishes. The cutlery is found in rolled cloth napkins on the tables or available form stockpiles located here and there. There is an occasional effort to assist passengers with trays, but more upon request than part of the normal service as on Celebrity. Edith had difficulty moving the comfortable, but very heavy and somewhat ungainly chairs. The buffet was often busy, but we were always able to find seats, even for some of the active shore day breakfasts. Nor did we feel that there was at any time any line long enough to constitute an annoyance.
The Pinnacle Room is the specialty restaurant on Deck 4. I had made reservations by calling a number listed on the HAL website. When I did so, my credit card was charged at that time, and the charge showed up on my monthly statement of course, but not on the ship's bill presented at the end of the cruise. This advance registration was probably not necessary, but the restaurant seemed to do a steady if not overflowing business. It is divided into three parts, which makes for a quiet ambiance. The china is good Bulgari, and the rest of the settings match. The charge for this is $20.00 per person.
Now That We Are Sitting Down, How Is the Food and Service?
In the Rotterdam Room I felt that, as on Veendam, HAL does an excellent job with soups, both hot and cold, a very nice job with the entrees, and a fairly good job with desserts. I don't eat salads, but Edith reported that they were good. She likes a vegetarian diet on cruises, and felt that HAL's selection was somewhat limited and uninspired. I had one lamb chop entree which was poor, but I very much enjoyed the Indonesian special dinner and the venison, which drew compliments from several others at our table also. What was offered as chocolate mousse' came across as chocolate pudding. HAL serves cappuccino without charge, along with the normal after dinner coffee and tea, which I think Celebrity should do also.
The breakfasts at the buffet were fairly standard, without much variety. The toast, English muffins and bagels were handed to us hot from the toasters, which was a welcome change, but the potatoes were not hot, nor well seasoned, and there were never any blintzes. There always was smoked salmon and cheese however. Lunches at the buffet were marked by a very good, hot and well seasoned fish selection, as well as hot vegetables. Again, desserts at the buffet were okay, but not inspired. There were some good soups also.
The one meal we had at the Pinnacle Restaurant was a great success. I was pleased that, although it was "informal" night, with a jacket requested, I was accepted in my long sleeve Jhane Barnes shirt. The service was provided by an all European wait staff in contrast to the all Indonesian staff in the Rotterdam. The food selection was not wide, but my filet mignon was excellent, as was everything else. There was no music as we expected, but the meal went very smoothly and we would have been out in time for the show had we chosen to go that night.
There were a number of late night theme buffets which we did not attend, but we did make the sacrifice and attended the afternoon dessert extravaganza.
The service in the Rotterdam was good, but a little rushed since our waiter, Yogi, and his assistant, Puspada, were required to cover three tables in addition to our table of eight. The headwaiter, Nali was around often checking, and the sommelier was very attentive.
On the first sea day, after lunch at the buffet, we strolled outside to the poolside Lido area and got a piece of pizza. While we were seated at the plastic poolside table, two crew members, a young lady and young man in white came over and sat down next to us to eat. We recognized the man from the lifeboat drill as a Third Officer. A few minutes later two more officers came over, led by a fairly young man carrying a plate of food. He politely asked to join the others and was invited to sit. I noticed that he had four gold stripes on his shoulder. They were all pleasantly chatting, in English, although the first two had spoken Dutch when they sat down. As we got up to leave I went over to the four striper and said; "you look like someone important - what's is your job?" He laughed and pointed to his badge, which read - "Master". I told him he had a beautiful ship and he thanked me and cheerfully wished us a happy voyage. I had been a little misled by his stripes since on Celebrity and Princess, I think also, the Captain has a broad gold stripe beneath his four other stripes, but HAL is like the U.S. Navy in denoting the rank of Captain with four stripes. The broad stripes in our Navy are reserved for Admiral rank officers. When we read the Captain's resume in an edition of the ship's newsletter it appeared that he was probably just in his early to mid 40's, which is fairly young to reach his position.
The rest of the crew was as uniformly pleasant as their Captain, but this was not much of a surprise since HAL has a well deserved reputation for good customer relations from its staff. We had almost no contact with our cabin steward, and had the same report from others, but had got the work done quickly and well. The Java Cafe staff was efficient, but not overly friendly. The front desk people were always smiling and helpful. We had no occasion to use the excursion staff since we booked no ship's tours. Edith's experience with the Yoga instructor was very good.
Our Fellow Passengers
While Holland American has a reputation for catering to the elderly, we thought that the age range was pretty broad. On our Veendam trip, over spring break, we had over 120 children, who were very well managed. There were very few children on Zaandam. It does seem that HAL's "quiet" reputation was reflected in our fellow passengers, since there did not seem to be any party animals or a rowdy group of any kind. We sat at a table of eight. The first night we had three ladies traveling together and two couples from Houston, also traveling together, so there were actually nine. The next day the three ladies decided to move elsewhere, and two other ladies traveling together joined us. We very much enjoyed the company, and in fact seemed to be always one of the last group to leave the restaurant.
On Board Activities and Entertainment
It was here that we felt HAL did not deliver a first class cruise. As we noted, we started out with two sea days. The Daily Program, which listed events briefly but adequately, contained a mixture of somewhat inane games, a lot of Bingo, which was also promoted loudly and often over the public address system, and activities geared to selling excursions, merchandise or spa services. There were no informative or educational talks, whereas Celebrity would have at least four such activities on every sea day. We spent a lot of time reading. Edith did sign up for yoga classes, which at $33.00 for the cruise was a reasonable price, especially since they held one class on shore on Half Moon Cay. The kitchen tour on Sunday was postponed until Monday, and then was so crowded we felt we would not have been able to hear anything. We had done this on Veendam in any event, and a ship's kitchen is a ship's kitchen.
The Wajang Theater showed a total of 7 movies, but few were appealing and one we had seen.
The Mondriaan Theater shows were the usual mixture. There was the comedian, typically not very funny; the juggler; a fairly good impressionist/singer; a husband and wife magic act and the standard shipboard song and dance revues. We enjoyed these revues as we normally do. The staging was not nearly as high tech or professional as on Celebrity ships, but the singers and dancers were fun and enthusiastic. On the last sea day I did get to meet them all, except for the one assigned to Library duty, and toured the backstage area. There were two small dance bands, and we danced to the trio, which included a girl singer, at the Ocean Spa. They were fine, and quite danceable. The group we enjoyed the most was the Atlantis Strings, a trio composed of flute, violin and cello. These were serious music students who played light classics at tea and every evening from 9:15 to midnight in the Explorer's Lounge. They also played at the formal dinners, but their location on the upper level of the Rotterdam Room prevented us from hearing them at our table aft on the lower level. We truly enjoyed this group and they added the right touch of elegance and good taste to the cruise. HAL also always has a show put on by crew members, but we had seen the Veendam version, so we skipped this one. There also was a pianist at the Piano Bar, and she seemed to have a small but faithful group for sing alongs.
As noted above, we had decided not to book any excursions through the ship. Our first port of call was Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We had decided to visit the neighboring island of Virgin Gorda to see the Baths, a major attraction. Guide books had told us of two ferry services, and the web gave us the schedules. One called Speedy's Ferry seemed to have the best schedule. They did not reply to my e-mails, but we decided to try them anyway. The ferry pier is about a ten minute walk from the ship's gangplank. The ferry to Virgin Gorda costs $25.00 per person, round trip, and they throw in a bus ride to and from the Baths. The official currency of the BVI is the US dollar. We waited about fifteen minutes to board a small boat holding perhaps 40-50 people, some obviously locals. We also carried a mail sack. The trip takes about 30 minutes and was uneventful. There is not much in Spanish Town, the landing place on Virgin Gorda. The transportation was provided by "buses" consisting of pickup trucks with 3 or 4 rows of seats welded to the back and a surrey type roof. I would not recommend trying to walk to the Baths because it seemed like about 2-3 miles. The road is marked with a lot of speed humps. The road actually climbs about 100 feet up from the pier to the top of the Baths. There you pay a $3.00 per person entry fee to the BVI National Parks Trust, and get an all day ticket to the Baths, Devil's Bay Park, Sage Mountain Park and a Botanic Garden. The regular tour people have their fee paid of course. We arrived after a group from either our ship or a Carnival ship that was in port that day also, so there was a group of about 100 going to the Baths. The path down is fairly rough, and people trying to bring their children's strollers were having a difficult time. The beach area is not large, but the large boulders that are the main attraction are interesting. The water was warm and crystal clear. I did a little snorkeling, and saw a few fish, but I would not call this a great snorkel site. We tried to find a place in the shade, but the rising tide forced us out into the sun. We went back up to our arrival point after about an hour at the Baths. There is a restaurant on top, with a small bar and limited food service. But it is basically a large covered porch, with a fresh water pool and a delightful view of the Caribbean while providing a wonderful Trade Wind breeze. We understand why people build their homes high in the islands, because this is where you have an almost constant cooling breeze, while the seaside is quite hot. We caught our return "bus" back to the pier and while our ferry was late in arriving, we got back to Road Town and the ship in time for a late lunch. We then walked back to Road Town and explored most of it on foot. It is not truly tourist oriented and is not particularly attractive, but everyone seems friendly enough. Our Virgin Gorda Baths expedition cost $30.00 per person, including a $2.00 bottle of water at the restaurant and the $3.00 entry fee. The same trip, without the water, cost $57.00 per person as a ship's excursion.
The next day we arrived at Charlotte Amalie, USVI. We took a taxi to Red Hook for the standard fare of $8.00 and shortly afterwards met Sharon, our Captain. We boarded the Winifred, a beautiful 43 foot ketch with a racing configuration. It was built in 1956 and is constructed of mahogany with teak fittings. It had won several Caribbean races in its class under its original owners. There were two other couples with us, friends who were staying for a vacation on St. Thomas. Sharon has a crew/first mate in the form of Steve, a large, cheerful young man. Sharon is very determined that her passengers should not get sunburned, but Edith and I, like good Arizonans, were well prepared with Solumbra shirts and heavy duty sunscreen. After about two hours sailing in a delightful breeze we arrived off shore at St. Johns, and there proceeded to snorkel for about an hour and a half. The water was very clear, and I was able to spot some good fish. Unfortunately my underwater camera, a $10.00 Kodak, broke after two shots. We then had lunch and sailed back, arriving at about 3:00 P.M. The cost was a little high, $110.00 (cash - $120.00 if by credit card), but it was a very nice experience. We returned to Charlotte Amalie and walked around the pier side shopping area. St. Thomas has excellent duty free shopping, with a higher allowance than at other ports in an effort to promote business; but we did not buy anything, although a lot of passengers did.
After a sea day, we arrived at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. The Cay is a flat island, about two miles long and one deep, with a long curving beach on the west side, and a lagoon on the east side. The only structures are those designed for cruisers, and they are very limited. There were a number of water related activities, although, as I noted, Edith's Yoga class was moved on shore to the beach, which she appreciated. I went for a walk past the portion of beach area with service buildings and beach furniture, and found a road down to the lagoon where there were kayaks and jet skis waiting for customers who started arriving shortly. The HAL vessel Zuiderdam, about 1/3 larger than Zaandam, was also in port. I then found a small beach farther up the lagoon, and since it was pretty isolated, went skinny dipping briefly. I returned to the main beach area where I went in for a normal swim. The beach is at least a mile long, and except for the first few hundred yards near the landing area, was not used by swimmers at all. The sand is beautiful and the water crystal clear, although there was no surf. We were due to depart at 2:00, so we returned at noon for lunch. This was the only tender stop, but the transfers were managed quite well, although we waited until almost 3:00 when the last tender arrived. The captain actually had the ship under weigh and the tender had to chase us down and debarked its passengers while the ship was moving.
The captain announced as part of his regular bridge report that we would be arriving in Port Canaveral at 6:00 the next morning, but when I got up at 7:00 we were still moving and did not actually dock until almost 8:00. Everyone had to go through a pre-immigration clearance in the Mondriaan Room first. This did not even start until after 9:30, and we had told our taxi service we would be on the dock by 10:00. We were called down by deck, but because we were running late, we simply just walked down without waiting for our deck and were cleared. We thought that we would have to wait until everyone cleared before leaving, but discovered that we could walk off the ship. After a slight delay in finding our luggage we went through customs fairly quickly and met Art's Limousine service without any further problem. The ride to Orlando International cost $56.00, which was more than the ship's $48.00 transfer charges for two, but we liked the convenience of the van, which had only one other couple on board.
Overall Cruise Rating
Zaandam is a beautiful ship. Our stateroom was as fine as you could expect in its class of a "standard" verandah cabin; with plenty or room, nice decorations and an overall aspect that was most pleasant. The public rooms were easy to reach, mostly well furnished and comfortable. The on board shopping was very limited compared to the Millennium Class Celebrity ship. The library is a very pleasant room, with a few good maps, but somewhat limited in its stock. The daily ship's news sheet is adequate. There is no general news sheet compared to the eight page Celebrity world news report put out in several languages every day. I did see one copy of the New York Times four page news sheet lying on a table in the library, which we had seen at irregular intervals on the Regal Princess for our Baltic cruise, but I never found out where it came from.
The crew is very nice, although the language barrier is higher than on most ships. The food is still second only to Celebrity, a cut above Princess and definitely superior to Carnival and Norwegian. We will be sailing on Royal Caribbean in May and Crystal next November, so we are looking forward to these new experiences.
The on board activities were not exciting, nor was the entertainment more than adequate, with the exception of the Atlantis Strings which were a true cruising delight. If you are in to water sports, I would guess that Half Moon Cay is fine, but for us it was just a very nice beach. The other port stops were our own, so they cannot figure into an evaluation of HAL.
So our overall impression is that this was a relaxing, if somewhat unexciting trip on a very beautiful and stylish ship, with a professional and helpful crew, a pleasant group of fellow passengers and a very nice week on beautiful Caribbean waters with marvelous weather. Would we do it again? Probably not, simply because there is a lot left for us to see in the world, and no need to repeat this trip, good though it was.
Holland America Line Zaandam by Kathleen Crain Panama Canal April 23, 2005
The ship itself had many problems. We were in cabin 6161 over the Piano Bar and it sounded as if Barry Blythe were with us in the cabin singing late at night. When we complained to the front desk we were told "Michelle is looking into it" and nothing was done. The people in the next cabin also complained. We finally spoke to Sherry, the guest relations person, and that very night there was no more noise in our cabins nor was there the rest of the cruise.
The toilets on our section of the ship were constantly plugged up .
There was an electrical fire one night.
The ship seems to be badly designed and built.
I'd travel Holland America again but not on this ship.
Some back ground on us; we are in our very early 50's and cruise just about twice a year. We have cruise on HAL 11 times prior, Princess 9 times and Celebrity 2 times. This cruise was just suppose to be relaxing after the very hard winter we have had and we did accomplish this. The weather was fabulous except for the last day at Half Moon Cay it was cloudy and overcast, we watched the tenders going back and forth to the Island and they were really bouncing around. We have been to St. Thomas and Tortola several times so we did not do any excursions, just got off and walked around. We did buy a new Nikon D70 in St. Thomas for an excellent price and I bought a beautiful necklace with blue diamonds for a really great price. It was nice getting off and finding a little outside bar and being able to enjoy a real drink for a reasonable price.
We have always been very happy with the service and food on HAL but not this time. The food in the dining room was always cold, presentationwas poor, always getting our orders mixed up (we were at a table for 8) and very slow in delivery. We always have a bottle of wine with dinner and every night we had to ask the Head waiter to send over the wine Stewart, our wine usually ended up on the table when they would just be serving our entrée. The deserts were okay except for the "plastic jello" (which is what our server called it) it seems to be flavorless. Drink prices were very high and they measured every drink a little less then a full shot and if you asked for a little more they would charge you double for the drink. Lido was not bad the food was well presented but there again the boys that worked behind the line seemed burnt out by the passengers. I ask for the fresh tomatoes, basil, spinach and a little garlic on the spaghetti noodles (which were sitting next to the spaghetti) and the server gave me a hard time. The server said "the tomatoes, basil and spinach are for the tortellini and I should have either the Mariner sauce or the Alfredo sauce". When I ask him please he did put it all together for me along with 2 full tablespoons of garlic on top, he was very put out by request. By the way they closed the Lido 5 minutes later (2:00 PM).
Now on to the poolside dining, the hamburgers and hot dogs were good but then again the server working the grill really wish he was some where else. The condiment bar for the hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and taco's were always empty, it took them a while to get them filled and then they would leave a mess were they had dump the food into the containers. I found hair in my taco one day, now that was interesting. What I found strange was that a few CEO's from Seattle were on board trying to correct the problems. At one point we did see them telling a Head waiter to get more staff out at the pool area, he was not happy.
The food at the Pinnacle was fabulous. Maybe HAL should charge more and serve the same type of food that they served in the Pinnacle. The only problem we had in the Pinnacle was when they tried to charge us $15.00 corkage fee for a bottle of wine that the ship had given us. When I told the Wine Stewart that the ship had given it too us and we had dropped it off the day before to be chilled he told me that "we will investigate this and let you know what we come up with", we also had a free meal in the Pinnacle compliments of the ship. I don't know maybe a lot of people make up stories regarding wine that they bring on but it really made me feel like I was trying to put something over them.
We also had arranged a Bridge tour from someone high up in Princess, when I went down to the desk to find out when the tour would be they did not believe me. I had a copy of the email so they took that and told me "we will investigate this a get back to you" I said that will be fine just return the email back to my cabin. The next day the email was delivered back to our cabin and we did not hear until the next day the tour was arranged. Again they made me feel like I was trying to pull something over them.
Our cabin Stewart was okay, not fantastic but okay. We always had to get our own ice, luckily we were right across were the ice machine was so hubby was able to go over and get our own, even with our room Stewart watching him. Our sheets on our bed were never changed the entire week, even in a hotel room they will change them at least twice in a week stay. The balcony floor was dirty, it was sticking like something had spilled on it and it had not been cleaned in a few weeks. I did ask for it to be washed but it never was. The showers were another story, one minute it was nice and hot and then the next it was very cold. The toilet seem to work some of the times, always took a long time to get someone to look at it. On our last day we could not get it to work at all. Other people we had talk to on this trip were very unhappy with the same items I have addressed here.
The shows were nothing great, the juggler needs to find a new job. Here again one of the CEO's from Seattle was on board to look over the entertainment. The casinos were very tight, I did spend a lot of money but never seem to really hit anything. The staff in the casino were really nice, there was only one dealer that was not a happy camper we called her "Iron Woman" she never smiled and was strictly business. It actually became funny whenever she would come to a table and start dealing everyone would leave.
As I said in the beginning we went on this trip to relax and defrost, we did accomplish this. The down side is, what is happening to the cruise industry and Holland America? We are set to do a another trip this November on the Westerdam and I have been reading some other reviews on this ship and they too seem to be along the same lines as this one is. So we are trying to decided whether to cancel our back to back on this ship and this line. It is sad that on our next trip we would be up to 100 days on HAL and now I do not think that will be happening. I have also forwarded this letter onto HAL headquarters, hopefully they may get back on track and we will be able to sail them again.
This was our second cruise with HAL; we went to Alaska two years ago with the same company. We have more than 15 cruises to our credit, and we really enjoyed this itinerary -- three days at sea, Tortola, St. Thomas, and their private island in the Bahamas.
This ship is very comfortable. It's moderate in size (1,400 passengers), and it has all the traditional features. We had an outside cabin, 6222, and it was most generous in size, especially the storage space. We got spoiled with a veranda in Alaska, so we booked one for this cruise as well.
We chose late seating (8 p.m.), which was OK. We were at a table of 10, which was great. Our tablemates were fun to eat with, and while the service the first few nights was slow, it got better as the week progressed. The food was very good, and you had other dining options, of course, if you didn't want to stay on this schedule.
We started from Port Canaveral with two days at sea, which my wife loved. The 'time off' from the real world was very relaxing, and we gotquite a bit of use from the flat-screen TV in our room. There are many on-board activities to chose from (we're trivia buffs, and had several games during the week with a group of six). Evening entertainment was pretty traditional, and because of late dining, we only got to one show, which was fun. Finishing dinner at 9:30-10:00 was typical.
Our first stop at Tortola was fun. We took Speedy's ferry over to Virgin Gorda, to see The Baths (cost is $50 per couple, including a bus ride to the beach where these huge rocks are located). You can walk from the ship to the terminal in about 12 minutes, and book the trip on your own (vs. doing a package tour with HAL, which is a bit more expensive). We were impressed that the ferries left on time; the trip over takes 30 minutes. The walk from the bus to the beach is a bit tricky, so they recommend sneakers and not traditional sandals, as parts of the walk can be slippery. The beach is smallish, and the water, while very nice, has a bit of an undertow. Be sure to take your camera (underwater is my recommendation, since it can take the abuse of sand and water).
We stayed about an hour at the beach and caught a bus back to the ferry; it was very easy to get back. Road Town is quiet and laid-back, and if you're a beach person, I'd recommend you find one and go there for a few hours.
We visited St. Thomas several times on other cruises, and we have stayed on the island. We docked at the Sub Base (the traditional name by the locals). During the lecture about shopping in St. Thomas, nothing was said about where we would dock; I wrongly assumed it would be at Havensight Mall, where one can shop, eat, drink, etc. without having go into town. At the Sub Base they are working on putting together a very nice facility, but at this time (March 2005) nothing is even remotely finished to accommodate the passengers who get off there.
We shared the dock with a Disney ship, and trying to process several hundred people at once was frustrating. While it's only $3.50 a person to get to town, the road was jammed with traffic; and because there were six ships in port that day, you can imagine how crowded the roads were. I realize that six ships in St. Thomas is nothing new, but if you've ever been there on a busy day, you know how crowded and hectic downtown Charlotte Amalie can be. Everyone and his cousin wanted me to take a taxi/go to the beach/take the 'best' tour of the island. Now, I'm a reasonable person, and I know how to ask for a cab, but it got ridiculous when it came to solicitations! The roads are inadequate to handle a few thousand extra guests in town, and I hope the powers-that-be are aware of how dangerous it is to cross the street (even at the marked crosswalks).
I think that jewelry and liquor are still the best bargains on the island. A Nikon D70 digital camera was the same price as quoted by my local dealer in Kansas City (sales tax notwithstanding). Even the bargains on board were a little more expensive than at the stores in St. Thomas. My recommendation is to price a similar product at home at your favorite store, and if you find it in St. Thomas at a better price, get it!
Our final stay in Half Moon Cay provided a great ending to our cruise. It's a private island owned by HAL, and has a long beach that's lovely for swimming. We brought our snorkel gear and used it there; the fish were all over the place, especially by the rocks on the left side of the beach. The lunch was delicious (no charge at all). I wish we had a few more hours there!
I love cruising for the simple reason that we have a chance to 'recharge our batteries.' Each one of you has a different reason for cruising, and while there's no totally perfect cruise, I think that if you travel with an open mind and a smile, then life is pretty darn good. For those who can't live without a computer, there's an Internet cafe on board, but I refused to use it. We had daily news reports from the NY Times, and had CNN all the time in our room.
Enjoy yourself--you've earned a great vacation, so take advantage of your time away from home. When I asked my wife for breakfast in bed this morning (when we got home), she said "You know how to turn on the coffee pot!" At least I tried!
We just returned from a 7-day cruise on the HAL Zaandam and wanted to post our review of the trip and itinerary. For general information, this was our tenth cruise so we are by no means experts, but we have cruised enough to be able to make general comparisons based on our personal experiences. Prior cruises have been on the Carnival Inspiration - Southern Caribbean, HAL Veendam - Western Caribbean, HAL Veendam - Alaska Inside Passage, Sea Princess - Western Caribbean, RCI Radiance of the Seas - Pacific Coast, Celebrity Millennium - Eastern Caribbean, Sun Princess - Mexican Riviera, RCI Enchantment of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean and HAL Rotterdam - Southern Caribbean and Panama Canal. This was our fourth cruise on HAL and our second this year, having been on the Rotterdam in January. We had previously cruised the same itinerary four years ago on the HAL Veendam, but this was a family cruise with parents and brothers. My parents selected the cruise. I prefer the Caribbean, but Alaska is also enjoyable.
We always fly in a day early, but we love Vancouver, so we flew in two days early togive us more time there. We were able to get a great rate of $69 per night on Priceline for the Downtown Hyatt Regency. I had called the hotel directly to request a room with a view of the port and they put us on the 17th floor with a great view. We booked the cruise through our travel agent but booked our own air. We flew on American and had no problem with our connection at DFW and arrived in Vancouver by 1:00 p.m. I should note that there was a long, long line to get through Canadian Customs. In fact, it took us almost 45 minutes to get through this. It seemed like a lot of planes were landing at the same time and this could be formidable for anyone who is uncomfortable standing in line. My mother had requested a wheel chair and was able to go out through another area and avoid the wait. If you have any concerns, you should definitely go that route. It was a $25 (w/tip) cab ride from the airport to our hotel and we spent the afternoon in Gastown and Robson Street. Weather was warm and sunny so we were really able to get out and enjoy the city. On Friday we spent the entire day exploring Stanley Park. We went to the aquarium, which was a bit disappointing. They have a great beluga whale show, but other than that it consists of one dolphin, one sea lion and a bunch of aquariums. I would not do it again. We then hiked around the park on the sea wall. This is a very enjoyable walk, but will take a couple of hours. The park is beautiful and they have a nice totem pole exhibit. Views of the city and port are incredible. That night we enjoyed dinner in Gastown at the Spaghetti Warehouse with my parents and brothers.
Saturday morning I got up early and walked down to Canada Place to get pictures of the Zaandam. It was a beautiful day and we were looking forward to the cruise. At 11:30 a.m. we took a short cab-ride from the hotel over to the port terminal. Bags were dropped off to the porters and then on to check-in. The entire check-in process took 20-30 minutes and we were on the ship with very little waiting and no standing in line. It had previously helped that we had pre-registered on the HAL website, but there were no lines anyway, so it really didn't matter. The staterooms weren't ready but they let you check your carry-on in the Half Moon Room so you wouldn't have to lug it around with you. This was a nice touch. Cabins were available at about 2:00 pm. I always enjoy getting as many pictures of the ship as possible before the crowds arrive so we started at the top and work our way down getting familiar with the ship layout and where things are. Of course, once we hit the Lido, we stopped to eat and enjoyed lunch with my parents and brothers.
As most of you know, all the HAL ships have a similar layout, with the Zaandam being slightly larger, like the Rotterdam, than the Veendam. The ship is obviously well maintained and is in good shape with only some signs of wear and tear, especially on the outside. The interior of the ship was very clean and there was an ongoing effort by ship's staff to keep things polished and clean. We noticed a lot of crew members constantly wiping down hand rails and door knobs to help prevent the spread of bacteria. They also give you antiseptic hand wipes each time you come back on the ship from shore excursions and new this time, they also gave you antiseptic hand wipes in the Lido dining room before giving you the tray. There were several announcements regarding the need to avoid transmitting viruses, so HAL is really on top of this.
The public areas, including lounges, Atrium, Mondriaan Lounge, Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge are in great shape. There are several shops but we did not find the staff as friendly or as helpful as on previous cruises. There were no real bargains so I would do your shopping off the ship. They have an internet room, but we didn't use it because it was grossly overpriced - $.75 per minute. (Your best option here is to hit the internet cafes in port.) The casino is small and fortunately there were not many smokers on this cruise so it didn't get as smoky as other cruises. Slots seemed really tight and we saw few winners on this cruise. We're not big gamers but people seemed to be having a good time. My favorite place on the HAL ships is their outside Promenade Deck, but this was Alaska, so it didn't get as much use as normal. The deck goes all the way around the ship and the lounge chairs are padded. We also enjoyed the Aft Lido Pool in the back of the ship with its comfortable deck chairs. Nice thing about Alaska is you never have any problem finding a deck chair outside, even on warm days, of which we had plenty. And HAL still provides unlimited pool towels on deck and on the Promenade. It is so nice not to have to worry about keeping track of your towel.
We booked an Inside Cabin Guarantee and were given 2855 on the Main Deck. As everyone knows, HAL has the best cabins on the seas. The cabins are much larger than we've had on Celebrity, Carnival, Princess or RCI. We've had a mini-suite (1), balcony cabin (1), and outside cabins (3), but we prefer an inside cabin for cost and convenience. We actually sleep better in an inside cabin and since we spend so little time in there, we probably will keep booking them. The safes on the Zaandam require a credit card or other card with a magnetic strip. We prefer the numeric keypad safes on Princess. There is one electrical outlet in the room and also one in the bathroom. There is a hairdryer in the bathroom and a lighted makeup mirror in the cabin. Soap, shampoo and hand lotion are all provided. Excellent storage space everywhere. Our cabin steward was friendly and did a good job, but we hardly ever saw him. The important thing is that he did a great job. Again, with HAL you probably won't see any towel animals, but you will get great service. Since we had an inside cabin, we did not have a bath, but only a shower. I actually prefer this because the small HAL tubs are just a nuisance to get in and out of. We only shower anyway. Easily the best feature of these cabins is the new beds and linens that are part of the overall HAL upgrade. The mattresses are terrific and the beds stand higher than normal cruise ship beds, so there is more room for storing underneath. The pillows and high thread-count sheets are also similar to what you would find in a 5* hotel. HAL has really raised the standard with these improvements. It will be interesting to see if other cruise lines follow. You will sleep better than you've ever slept at sea in these beds. They're good enough to bring home.
The on-board entertainment was reasonably good. In my opinion, we've seen better singers on other ships, but the shows are very energetic and the cast makes a real effort to provide an excellent show. Again, it is obvious that the featured singers sing live but there appears to be a "sweetener" track so that the dancers are just lip-synching. We noticed this first on the Rotterdam, so I'm assuming it is the same on all HAL ships. Our Cruise Director was Michelle Rickert and she did a good job. Her support staff was also good.
Day 1 - we had a short presentation by the cruise cast and then comedian, Danny Storts. The comedian was only okay, but the cast introduction was good. Day 2 the cruise cast presented a tribute to Broadway - Ultimate Broadway. Day 3 - was a comedian/juggler, Max Winfrey. He was very good and worth the attendance. Day 4 - was a singer/entertainer, Steve Hites. He is a local and is probably more interesting for his tales of Alaska. Later that night was the Indonesian Crew Show. Also very good. Day 5 - was Bruce Block, a magician and comedian. He did a great job, but his rabbit stole the show. When you see it, you'll know what I mean. Day 6 - the ship's cast presented "Party Gras" a salute to world cultures and traditions. Day 7 - was a real disappointment as the ship had no entertainment show other than the movie, Seabuscuit. This was the first time this has happened to us on a cruise. Usually, the last night is a very enjoyable show and farewell. We were disappointed.
There were also two different movies shown on a daily basis in the Wajang Theatre throughout the cruise.
We ate all of our breakfast and lunch meals in the Lido or at the grill by the Lido pool, so I can't tell you about breakfast and lunch in the dining room. At breakfast you can expect the normal cereals, fruit, eggs cooked to order, pancakes, waffles and French toast. They also have an omelet bar, which was hardly ever busy. At lunch they will have heavy buffet meals but also offer alternating pasta bar, deli bar, and stir-fry bar. Around the back-side of the Lido restaurant is a salad bar which was excellent. And don't forget the ice cream station, which is open much of the afternoon and early evening. We have enjoyed the Lido in the past, but I found their food a bit lacking on this cruise. I was most disappointed in their dessert offerings in the Lido. The great Bread Pudding is still there, but the other dessert selections were not up to par with what we've experienced on other ships, including HAL. Decent burgers, hotdogs and Mexican fare are available out by the pool grill. For dinner, we were scheduled for the Main Seating and asked for a large table so our family could be together. I would classify the food in the dining room as simply good. Again, we didn't feel it measured up to the food we've had on Princess or Celebrity, or for that matter even our previous HAL cruises. Selections were not always that good, there were no cold fruit soup offerings, and the desserts were unimaginative and mediocre. Our table service however was excellent. In fact, service continues to shine as a strong HAL characteristic. We did not eat in the alternative restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, but we heard many good things about it. We never saw this restaurant busy, so getting reservations shouldn't be a problem.
After using the spa facilities on the RCI Radiance of the Seas and the Celebrity Millennium, these facilities looked a little small but they certainly accommodated the number on board. I never saw this area crowded and there were always available treadmills and weight machines. One of the nice things we've noticed on HAL is that this area doesn't seem to get very busy. Treatment rooms were nice but very small and I had a great massage from Dee on board. There is a sauna and steam room in the men's changing room and the area was never crowded. The steam rooms are great on HAL and I enjoyed this area almost every day. They have lockers, towels and showers in the changing area. Staff was very nice.
We enjoyed incredible weather and record warm temperatures on our cruise. We didn't even see a cloud until our last day coming home when it got foggy. Every port was warm, really too warm. We're probably not the best to offer opinions on ports because we tend to avoid the ship excursions and do mostly things on our own, but here's my take. :
Juneau - we booked a whale watching excursion on our own with Captain Larry at Orca Enterprises. We did this on our last trip to Alaska and we loved it. We couldn't wait to do it again, and we were not disappointed. It was almost 90 in Juneau, so we didn't get around in town as much as we normally do. There is plenty of shopping and in my opinion this is the best place to get your souvenirs. Easily the best prices and best selection.
Skagway - here we booked the White Pass Railway trip through the ship. This is a popular excursion and there were four other ships in port, so if you want to do this book early. We had also done this on our earlier cruise, but the whole family wanted to do this and we certainly enjoyed it. Beautiful scenery and worth the trip. Because of the warm weather though, it was a very warm ride. The train did provide bottled water for the trip which was very nice, and much needed. Since we didn't leave on the train until noon, we hiked through town to the cemetery. This is worth the effort, because there is a beautiful water falls just above the cemetery. It is Turner Falls, and it is a wonderful place to take pictures. Don't miss this hike.
Glacier Bay - obviously, there are no excursions here, but I did want to offer some advice to those who want to view the glacier from the comfort of their stateroom balcony. Book a room on the port side of the ship. Yes the cruise ship turns around so that both sides get a view of the glacier, but the port side definitely had the longer look. We were out on deck so it didn't matter, but this might be important to some. Again, we had a beautiful, warm and sunny day in Glacier Bay. Shorts and a sweatshirt was needed only in the shade. The sun was very warm.
Ketchikan - an unbelievably perfect sunny day. Temperatures in the low 70's and not a cloud in the sky. We did our own walking (and unfortunately shopping) tour here after making a quick stop at the internet café. $5 for one hour. Hard to beat that. You can get a great map at the tourist information office and we walked all through town and up to the Totem Park and Fish Hatchery. Don't miss Creek Street. This is one of the great areas of Ketchikan and it's just outside of the immediate port area. We regretted not signing up for the kayaking tour of this area. You can walk up some stairs at the end of Creek Street to an area just above downtown for some nice views. Ketchikan was our favorite stop; it was unfortunate that we were here for such a short time.
Disembarkation was a breeze and easily the best we've seen. HAL let's you wait in your cabin until your number or letter is called. Our letter was called at 8:30 a.m. and we walked right out of our cabin and off the ship with no lines and no delays. We easily found our bags and walked right through customs and right into a cab that was waiting. Not a single line anywhere. Unbelievable! And after a quick taxi ride to the Vancouver airport, we walked right up to the American counter and checked in. Again, no line. Now how unbelievable is that. By the way, they didn't weigh our bags in Vancouver, so you might not have to worry about the weight restrictions. Even better, they have US Customs right there, so you get cleared before leaving Vancouver. When you arrive at your US destination, you don't have to re-claim your bags and go through customs. From the time the taxi dropped us off, if was less than fifteen minutes and we had received our boarding passes, cleared customs, checked our bags and arrived at our gate. AA even put us on an earlier flight. We were scheduled to leave at 1:25 p.m., but they put us on a 10:45 a.m. flight. Needless to say, we connected through DFW and there were many delays and overbooked flights there, so we didn't get home until 11:00 p.m. We really can't complain though, because it could have been worse.
This was a great trip and even though it was our second trip to Alaska, we had a wonderful time. If you've not done Alaska, do it.
1. Any cruise is a great cruise and HAL provides a good product. Great cabins and excellent service. 2. Many have commented on the noticeable age of passengers on HAL and I would guess that at least 90% of our passengers were in their late 60's and up. We are in our 40's and love to cruise with this older generation. We find them gracious, engaging and excellent conversationalists. 3. We love the size of these smaller ships with plenty of room, but fewer passengers. We felt that we got to know a lot more people and the lines moved quickly. We could always find a seat in the Mondriaan Lounge and a deck chair at the Lido Pools, (not to mention the unlimited supply of pool towels). 4. I said it before, and I'll say it again: The Promenade Decks on HAL ships are simply the best place in the world to read a good book and catch a quick nap. I could spend every day out there. (My wife won't let me, but I could do it.) Padded deck chairs are a real luxury. 5. The HAL steam room (just wish it opened earlier). What a life! 6. The new beds and bedding. Best sleep on the seas!
1. HAL ships are usually a bit more formal than many other cruise lines; although we thought this was a very casual crowd for HAL. On formal night, we saw very few tuxedos, but most men were wearing dark suits. Several however wore sport coats or no coat at all. Semi-formal night is also a "jacket required" night but there were several who appeared to ignore this dress code. I'm more of a casual wear kind of guy and while I observe a cruise lines dress code, I am more comfortable with the Princess or RCI standard. This was the most casual HAL cruise we've ever been on, so I guess for us this was actually a positive. 2. Food was disappointing on this cruise compared to what we've experienced on other ships, including HAL. Lido food and desserts were the biggest disappointments. They are definitely cutting back in this area. 3. Spa prices are still way too high, but the staff in this area was exceptionally friendly and I couldn't believe how quickly they learned my name and remembered it throughout the cruise. This ship has an exceptional spa director, so that should be listed as a positive. And though the steam room opened at 8:00 a.m., that is also the time they turn it on, so it doesn't really warm up until about an hour later. 4. There really are limited eating options on this ship. By that I mean that there are times during the day when there is no place to get something to eat. For example, the Lido closes from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm. We boarded late in Ketchikan at 8:30 p.m. and there was simply no place to eat except room service. We were hot, tired and hungry and I didn't want to have to sit in my room and eat dinner. I love the fact that on Princess and RCI, I can find pizza or a late night dessert at almost any time of the day and show up as I am. 5. No outdoor whirlpool tubs other than those in the covered Lido Pool area. Worse, the pools don't open until 10:00 a.m. This is just plain stupid. We love the outdoor whirlpools up on deck in the cool air for sunrise, and how about an early morning swim. 6. All in all, the schedule for venues and activities on this ship is very regimented and is a bit restrictive. On Thursday, they announced an exciting and fun filled day for our Friday Sea Day; all beginning at 10:00 a.m. In my opinion, this is a late start and there really wasn't much going on. I prefer a more active and flexible approach to vacationing.
And finally, for what its worth, some updated comparisons (based on our own impressions): HAL can be a great cruising experience, but RCI and Princess may be more in line with my casual and flexible vacation lifestyle. Princess and Celebrity provide a better dining experience, but the service on HAL and RCI is much better. RCI, Celebrity and Princess have the most beautiful ships. Entertainment on HAL is equal to or better than anything we've seen on RCI, Princess or Celebrity. In my opinion the friendliest people cruise HAL, Princess and RCI. Based on our experiences, I would rate these lines: 1) Princess, 2) RCI, 3) HAL, 4) Celebrity and 5) Carnival. Now we're looking forward to our next Caribbean cruise in January, 2005. We will be looking at Princess or RCI.
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.