The Basics: My wife and I cruised on the Holland America Cruise Line's ship, the Zaandam, round trip from Port Canaveral, Florida, stopping in St. Maarten's, Tortola, and Half Moon Cay. This was a Christmas cruise, Dec. 20-27, 2003. The ship is 63,000 tons (780 feet long, 10 passenger decks) and was launched in May 2000. She carries 1440 passengers and a crew of 561. The service crew is primarily Indonesian, the officers primarily Dutch. We booked at standard outside cabin, category "C", on the Lower Promenade Deck (Deck "3" on some lines).
Embarcation We wanted to check out HAL's new embarcation times but, unfortunately, did not arrive until 2 pm. Unfortunately, due to heightened security, we could not pull up to the cruise terminal, but HAL had excellent baggage handling at the satellite facility. We pulled up, unloaded, and a porter immediately took the bags right off the asphalt. The walk to the terminal was covered and perhaps 100 yards away. Parking was very close and easy, although it was outside and cost $70 in advance ($10 per day). I have to say, this was as close as you can getto hassle-free parking and baggage drop-off, and I got a parking space only 50 yards from the drop-off facility.
Once in the terminal, boarding was better than average. It took us perhaps 15 minutes to clear the boarding area and get on board. Cabins were open when we got onboard, and our baggage was delivered before departure at 5 pm.
THE CABIN Our cabin seemed a bit spartan after our last cruise on the Celebrity Constellation. At 195 square feet it was just about the minimum for full comfort, but it was entirely satisfactory in terms of space. The decor was beige and a bit drab, really, although (as was true throughout the ship) the artwork was excellent. The bathroom was typical HAL: just large enough to function fully without an ounce of wasted space. On the left wall were four closet spaces with adjustable shelves in some and hanging bars in others. A credit-card safe (which is a pain in the neck -- I much prefer programmable safes, so you don't have to carry your credit card around and two people don't have to share one credit card to get in) is in the closet. There was additional drawer space near the desk unit and in the beside tables. Three large suitcases fit perfectly under the bed. We found the space to be ample. There was also enough leg room to actually sit on the love seat. The television in this cabin class is quite small -- the mini-suites (which are really just large verandah cabins) have a larger t.v. with a VHS player. The bed is hard and reasonably comfortable. The bedcovers and sitting areas were getting old and somewhat shabby, and are ready for replacement/recovering as of December 2003. The bolster pillows, bedspread and blankets were really close to unsatisfactory, actually.
THE SHIP The Zaandam (like all HAL ships, named after a town in Holland) is a slightly larger version of the beloved Statendam class of HAL ships, and has all the advantages and disadvantages of that class. I really cannot tell the difference except that the Zaandam seems to have a bit more space, but also more vibration problems. Let me just say, in my personal opinion, that this is my personal favorite ship among all the mass-market ships I have sailed, seen, or heard about. The deck space is the best of any mass market ship afloat. There is a full promenade deck (actually it is the Lower Promenade) that completely circles the ship, and it is 100% teak. There is a full bow deck, and a number of smaller and easily accessible side and aft decks -- most of them are teak, except the huge bow deck. The really special thing about HAL ships in general, and the Zaandam in particular, is the artwork. The theme of the Zaandam is musical instruments. There is a three story pipe organ in the atrium, and throughout the ship are scattered displays of ancient musical instruments. For example, there is a 17th century harpsicord, with some ornate formal clothing from the era displayed beside it. There are also some interesting modern instruments, such as a saxaphone signed by Bill Clinton (!) and a guitar signed by many guitar greats (Eric Clapton, BB King, etc.). Outside the library is a blown up photograph of the excavation of King Tut's tomb, and surrounding it are a number of precious original artifacts from his period of Egyptian history, including a full royal sarcophagus. To top it off, there is a huge modern sculpture of the lower half of a face (mostly chin and lips) which, you come to realize, is the lower half of the face of Tutankamen himself. No HAL ship would be complete without extensive nautical memorabilia, and the Zaandam has a number of excellent ship models, lithographs, and paintings. My favorite was a 30-inch model of J. Pierpont Morgan's magnificent steam/sail yacht, the Corsair, located in the Crow's Nest. People who enjoy museums could easily spend hours enjoying the artwork, or simply use it as a constant diversion when ambling from place to place. The atrium is less spectacular than many ships but is very pretty and to my taste. The ship is standard HAL fare, attractive without getting too intrusive. There is a nice sports bar with a large-screen t.v. The smallish library is beautiful, with a number of writing desks facing windows. The main dining room, theater, and specialty restaurant are all conservative but colorful enough to maintain one's interest. Pools on these ships consist of a main pool which is freshwater and has a retractable roof, and is located midships on the Lido Deck (top full deck), and a small open pool with teak decking behind the Lido on the same deck. Hamburgers, pizzas, and ice cream are served until 5 pm just behind the main pool. The Wajang Theater shows second-run features (i.e. movies out several months, but not yet released on video/DVD) which were quite good. As always, HAL is very good about not nickle-and-diming the patrons, and the movies have free popcorn, popped a little before the movies begin. The coffee bar serves decent cappucino, with delicious cakes and cookies, all morning and afternoon, all without charge. The downside to the "stretch" from the Statendam class is a noisy ship. In moderate seas, the Zaandam creaks and groans like a haunted house. She has good stabilizers and the roll is very well controlled (we had 18 foot swells and gale force winds in the Atlantic, which she handled very adeptly), but the noise bothered a lot of people. Personally I found it comforting, as it felt like I was on a ship rather than in a hotel, but some people did not agree. Also, Zaandam has a lot of vibration in turns and manuevers, which also does not bother me much but does bother some.
FOOD Holland America food is quite good. The food on the buffet line (called the Lido, as it is on many ships) was not as good as the dining room food (also true of most ship's food). Food quality varies quite a bit. The breakfast meats were the worst thing -- really rather awful, the only bad food I had on the entire cruise. The coffee is not very good, either. Eggs were quite good, and most of the lunch selections were tasty. Soups were outstanding as were some of the daily dishes. Bagels (which I eat toasted with cream cheese, smoked salmon and maybe a garnish) were excellent. Fruit was excellent, and you can get a full glass of any juice you want. The custom-cooked omelets were good but nothing great. And so on. The dining room food -- well, you have to learn how to order in any ship's dining room. The daily specials were excellent, and the beef orders (steak/prime rib) were very good. I am still smacking my lips over the "Peking style duck". The breads are very good. Soups are outstanding. Salads are good but rather basic. Desserts are excellent. I don't know whether to say this here or somewhere else, and maybe I'll say it twice. Every cruise line should send spies and simply copy what HAL does in the dining room. The service and, for want of a better word, the "system" of service, is head and shoulders above any other mass market cruise line, resort, or anything else. HAL's head stewards (a.k.a. captains or ass't maitre d') actually work. The waiter and assitant waiter were nearly invisible -- all one sees is a well-planned flow of food, with a quiet attempt to remember every guest's preferences. I never felt hurried, and there were never long periods of time when I felt like I was sitting waiting for food. If you need to eat in an hour and a half, you can, and if you want to linger, you can do that, too. I remember with great disappointment the long periods of sitting on other cruises, waiters who must waste everyone's time giving lengthy oral recitations of the menu which nobody can hear (Celebrity is very bad about this), etc. And the personnel really seem to love their job. The food in the specialty restaurant, the Marco Polo, was simply excellent, as was the service and decor. It is really worth the extra $20 if you want a gourmet experience.
SERVICE Service on the Zaandam is the best. A++. The staff, from the guy sweeping the carpet to the front desk (front desk personnel are often the poorest on a ship in my experience -- I have wanted to strangle some of them on other cruises), to the stewards and waiters -- are genuinely friendly, seem to like their jobs (remarkable considering how extremely hard they work), and have "people skills" -- they will chat with you if you want it, but won't force themselves on you. The staff is almost entirely Indonesian on the Zaandam. I learned how to say "good morning", "thank you" and a few other phrases in Indonesian on my first HAL cruise, and the staff really appreciate the effort and interest. They do give Indonesian shows and offer some Indonesian cuisine. HAL has announced that it is changing its tipping policy, I think in response to customer input, and it's high time. The old "no tipping required" policy was well-intended (to add to the "no nickel and dime" atmosphere) but it didn't work. It merely confused the passengers and probably hurt the staff's pocketbooks. At some point in the near future, HAL is apparently going to adopt a more mainline policy, with tipping guidelines and the ability to put tips on the onboard accounts. HAL has started putting fresh fruit in the cabins again, which is something I missed and am glad to see reinstated. Now THAT is a great example of a little free touch I enjoy. Higher categories of cabins also get fresh flowers.
ENTERTAINMENT -- I don't want to spend a lot of time on entertainment, which is not HAL's strongest suit. The shows I saw were good and entertaining, but nothing too special. I skipped the inevitable "Songs of the 60's", or whatever, staff productions.
ACTIVITIES -- excellent. Good library and they give prizes for the daily quiz. I like to play trivia, which was extremely well-run on the Zaandam, with two good "name that tune" contests. The athletic activities can't compare to say RCCL's, but were well-run and fun, especially the putting contest in heavy seas (which made volleyball, basketball etc. impossible). Fitness classes were good, and the spa is good. Walking is excellent, due to the full teak promenade deck. There were not many enrichment seminars, but then, there were no "shopping" talks and the art auction was minimally invasive. One thing HAL has -- you can always find a quiet corner to curl up with your free cappucino and read a book. I frequently dislike cruise directors, but the CD on this cruise (sorry I can't remember his name, but he was Australian) was genuine, funny, and very nice. The people running the small children's program seemed to do an outstanding job, also.
GAMBLING -- Unfortunately, HAL has put in automatic continuous shuffling machines on the blackjack tables. I am a veteran blackjack player and I simply don't like this. The house rules are good on the standard table games, comparable to Las Vegas. For those who want to lose their money faster, there are lots of "fun" games (gag) and slot machines with no payout information. The croupiers were polite and friendly, which is generally the biggest benefit of cruise gambling. My wife, by the way, won the Snowball Bingo jackpot :) We do well on cruises, as I have won the blackjack tournament on my last two cruises, but my $500 contributions pale beside her $3910 bingo win. People would stop her all over the ship and ask her "aren't you the woman who won the bingo?"
DESTINATIONS: 1) St. Maarten's - our first stop is a favorite of mine. Smart visitors know to rent a car immediately upon landing and get the dickens out of Phillipsburg (the town where you dock), a shabby and somewhat smaller version of such hellholes as Charlotte Amalie. St. Maarten's, for those who don't know, is half Dutch and half French. The Dutch side is drab and touristy; while the French side (called St. Martin's) is quaint, thriving, and fun. The main French town of Marigot has pleasant shopping, excellent dining, and is fairly scenic, with a nice marina in the middle of town. There are over a dozen excellent beaches all over the island, from the crowded and developed Orient Beach (famous as a nude beach) to utterly secluded hamlets like Guana Point (which is worth a drive just to see).
2) Tortola - this was my first visit to Tortola except a brief stop in my college years. Tortola is a beautiful island. It is only moderately developed and the little town does not have much to see, although there are several nice shops. It is a huge sailing center and has nice beaches. The best favorite, for a quick visitor, is to catch the ferry from downtown to Virgin Gorda (home of the famous Rockefeller resort) and make your way to The Baths, a spectacular beach.
3) Half Moon Cay - this is HAL's private island and is politically part of the Bahamas. It is just lovely. I would wonder why someone who didn't like Half Moon Cay would want to take a Caribbean cruise in the first place, as I would rather go somewhere else unless I wanted to go to the beach or go snorkeling or something. The water is sparkling blue and calm; the beach is pure powdery sand, as soft on your feet as flour. There is a post office, food, and a wide range of water sports (which are expensive, but for your money you get HAL's assurance of safety and hygiene, which is not perfect but a lot better than some unknown Caribbean operator). There is some music if you want, free use of beach towels and beach chairs. The only downside to Half Moon is that, with two ships in port, the beach gets quite crowded. You have to walk around to the far side to get single-deep towels and chairs, which are three-deep near the tender dock.
AMBIENCE Ships have personalities; even two nearly identical sister ships, run by the same cruise line, can be quite different. On this score, I give the Zaandam high marks. The ambience of the ship is wonderful. Kudos to the Zaandam staff.
My wife, our son (11) and myself weren't sure what to expect after pouring over all the reviews we could find of past Zaandam cruises. There seemed to be a lot of differing opinions about service, food, entertainment and just about every other aspect of the experience.
After arriving at the Port Canaveral,Florida terminal , we found the embarkation process to be very easy and were on board hours before sailing. As the cabins were still being prepared, we spent some time looking over this beautiful ship's public areas. We were pleased to find them to be delightful to the eye and very clean even during the busy time of embarkation! When allowed to access our immaculate cabin (6180), we were pleasantly surprised by the roominess and amount of storage. From there on, things only got better.
We found the personal service on the ship was second to none we had experienced anywhere. Baggage handlers, bartenders, waiters, room and laundry service personnel, along with cocktail waitresses were prompt and always wearing a smile. The one word that comes to mind is "pampered"!
( Our thanks again to "Pie", Ari, George ,Prayogo , Edwin and ,ofcourse, Nas.)
The room service food was good. The food served on the Lido Deck was very good. The food served in the Rotterdam Dining Room was exceptional. The food served at the Pinnacle Grill was fabulous! ( Well worth the extra fee.) The deserts were sinful.and abundant. All in all, excellent!
There was music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There was music during hor'dourves . There was music for High Tea (recommended). There was music in the lounges. The nightly entertainment was standard Las Vegas quality, though the productions were necessarily downsized. That is not to say the shows were inferior or not worth the time. The shows we witnessed were assuredly energetic, professional and entertaining. The lounge entertainment was varied and well done. (Although things started ' jumping' ,especially at the Crow's Nest, a bit late for those of us with early wake-up calls. There was almost always something 'going on' onboard. ( Martin, the gentleman that called the BINGO games was a joy!) The casino was just about the right size for this ship and the staff friendly and ready to open games upon request. We have fond memories of all the ports of call (Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay and ,yes, beautiful Jamaica too!).
Though we came up missing one bag at disembarkation ( HAL had located the bag before we had left Port Canaveral) that process, once initiated, was also very smooth and painless. The ship never seemed crowded though all cabins were occupied.( 1359 passengers and 600 crew.) Neither the pools nor hot tubs were overcrowded. The only long line I saw all week was for the fabulous "Desert Extravaganza". (Believe me; that was worth the wait!) I can't recall waiting more than a few seconds for one of the abundant elevators. The crowd was generally older (No denying that although all ages excepting very young children were well represented.) but that seemed to lead to an overall feeling of relaxed enjoyment rather than a frenzied search for action. We were struck by the fact almost all fellow passengers with whom we spoke were extremely loyal repeat HAL voyagers. ( The first couple we spoke with at embarkation was on their 56th HAL cruise!). Although the wind blew a full gale the last night, the ship was never prone to excessive movement and rode the seas with a stability I found surprising. We found Zaandam to be remarkably clean, comfortable and, for the most part, beautiful. ( I feel the organ that occupies the atrium could use a bit of color.) In conclusion, our cruise aboard the Zaandam exceeded all our most sanguine expectations! We had an entertaining voyage with terrific service, great food, a clean, comfortable almost spacious cabin aboard a beautiful ship, with friendly shipmates. ( Not to mention the fun we had during our shore excursions!)
Most of our cruising has been on Holland America and Princess. We like the Holland America ships, but prefer Princess service. I suspect we hold cruise lines to a very high standard, but a few things on Holland America left me disappointed.
The dining room has lowered its standards. For example, why are peas NEVER served with a meal and brocolli is served with EVERY meal? This has to be some accountant's decision, rather than the chef's preference. Further, we had lamb several times--and I asked for mint sauce (as opposed to mint jelly). I was told it was not available. However it is available in the $25 speciality restaurant, so what they really mean is that they prefer to disappoint a customer than to borrow a bottle from the other restaurant. Also, and this is a first for us, the waiters (and the supervisor) would sometimes pour coffee to two diners without changing position; resulting in one person have the waiter lean over their plate. This happened several times. (on a circular table of 8.)
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of our cruise was the cruise director, Steve. Every show, every night,for 21 nights we had to shout "Hi, Steve" when he arrived on the stage. His introduction to EVERY act was identical; using words like "fantastic", etc. And ALWAYS closing the evening with "Well, did you enjoy that?" Holland America, PLEASE, get someone to write him a few new scripts!
My final gripe is the liquor store. On day one they had no brandy. They were loaded with tequilla and rum; and were still loaded when we docked 3 weeks later. I asked when they would restock brandy, and they said they wouldn't restock until the end of the cruise! Also, a small radio they featured in their catalog was not available; and the attitude in both cases was "Too bad!"
However, the total experience was, as usual, most enjoyable. The staff, almost without exception, were warm, friendly and helpful. The Captain is the best I have seen..he gave interesting information from the bridge daily and could be seen around the ship during his "off hours".
I note that in the reviews Holland America ships always rank in the 2nd and 3rd quartile; perhaps it's because they no longer pay attention to the detail; the small things; the things that niggle--and that we, passengers, remember.
Our 5th cruise with HAL. The dining room food was not up to the par of the previous voyages. They seem to be too fancy and too much combination of items. The crew as usual were outstanding. We were upgraded from outside to a mini suite and it was great. Guess it was because of our 5th cruise. We still will go HAL.
This time more children and they took over the pool and hot tub but guess this was because of the 7 day cruise to Alaska. Definitely the next cruise will be a 14 day at least.
We went on the Holland America MS Zaandam Inside Passage cruise from August 23-30, round trip from Vancouver. With the exception of one day, the weather was beautiful, sunny and about 50-60 degrees. We had a great time and will definitely cruise again! To see pictures, go to: http://photos.yahoo.com/celestem2121. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail us at Celestem@comcast.net.
We arrived in Vancouver on Thursday (with the cruise leaving on Saturday). We stayed at the Pan Pacific hotel, right above Canada Place. The hotel was very nice and quite expensive, but the convenience of being downtown and seeing the ships coming in was worth it. They will transfer your luggage to the cruise ship terminal so you don't have to worry about it.
Stanley Park is a beautiful place to visit. There is a free shuttle that does the entire loop of the park with many places to get on/off as desired. This is a very convenient way to see the entire park as it is over 5 miles to do the complete loop. We also visited the Aquarium on Saturday which we highly recommend, even if you don't havechildren. They have beautiful displays, as well as beluga whales, sea otters, and sea lions.
On Friday, we took the Vancouver Trolley ride for a tour around town. While the tour was very interesting, the trolley was extremely bumpy. You may want to check out the double-decker bus as the ride may be smoother.
We also found the Vancouver Tourism office is a block away from Canada Place. They have lots of flyers and maps, and also a very friendly staff to help you. One key thing they have is a currency exchange machine, which looks like an ATM. You insert money and it gives you back Canadian money at the day's exchange rate. We had converted some money ahead of time at AAA and found their exchange rate to be horrible.
We headed down at 12:45 as embarkation begins at 1:30, and went through a security scan (very quick moving lines). We brought some bottles of liquor in our carry-on without a problem (and also did the same in Skagway). Once we entered the waiting room, it was a bit confusing. Since we were suite guests, we were brought to a separate in-processing table and were through in about 5 minutes (make sure you have your immigration paperwork printed out as well as your passport ready). We were given a number and told to wait until our number (40) is called. After we left the table, we were confused because as suite passengers we though we had priority boarding yet we were directed to a long line of people. Larry asked someone where we should go and he let us into the immigration area along with the wheelchair passengers. It never hurts to ask someone where to go!
The ship was very clean, with no obvious signs of wear and tear. The carpet and walls were all in excellent shape. The Zaandam is much smaller than the Princess and Celebrity ships and we liked not being overwhelmed with people.
Our room was beautiful, a deluxe verandah suite with a large balcony (2 recliners, 4 chairs, and a table). Our bed was made into a king size bed, and we also had two chairs and a large couch. The bathroom included a whirlpool tub, and a separate changing area with another sink and large mirror. Plenty of closet and drawer space.
The only complaint about our room was the heavy vibration the first night, which we believe was an engine problem although no one would confirm it, and the loud sounds above our room. Our room was on the starboard side, below the pool. When they were cleaning the floor each night at 11:00, they would drag the chairs and tables around. We complained, and were given $400 shipboard credit for our inconvenience. We also would hear people walking above us at all hours of the day and night although we never heard any noise from the hallway or from the rooms next to us.
We found the staff to be extremely helpful, professional, and most of all friendly. Our room steward, Supri, was wonderful. Our room was always promptly made up, and he always took time to ask us how our day was. Equally pleasant were the waiters and assistant waiters. The only problem we had was the wine steward, who asked over and over again if someone at our table wanted wine or a drink, even though they said they didn't want anything. We complained about it to the head waiter.
Deluxe Verandah Suite Privileges
We were invited to several cocktail parties and one luncheon, as we as had priority disembarkation at the ports. We were a little apprehensive about the lunch, since it was Indonesian food, but it ended up being one of the best meals of the cruise. They served soup, salad, and then a plate with 6 or 7 different items, all a little spicy and very good. One officer sat at each table, with ours being the Holland America Headquarters nurse in charge of dealing with communicable diseases (we had Norwalk on our ship, more below).
We also took advantage of the complimentary laundry and dry cleaning services (complimentary for suite passengers). Clothes left out in the morning would be back the same day if you select express service, or the next day for regular service. Clothes were returned on hangers with undies and socks folded in a wicker basket wrapped in tissue paper. Nice touch!
Suite passengers are also assigned a small dining room adjacent to the main dining room for lunch and dinner. We liked the intimacy and the personalized service (the food is the same as the main dining room).
Food and Entertainment
We were extremely satisfied with the food in the main dining room, the Lido, and the Pinnacle Grill. We had one dinner and lunch that were mediocre (tenderloin steak and a hamburger that were just okay). The choices were numerous and varied, with a choice of appetizer, salad, soup, main course, and dessert at both lunch and dinner. Breakfast also had many choices, including cereals, fruit, waffles, and eggs. We found the food to have good flavor, and cooked to our liking. The fish was always cooked perfectly, as was the beef.
The Pinnacle Grill cost an additional $20/person. It wasn't a five star restaurant, but it was very good. The menu does not change and is only open for dinner (reservations required). The menu is primarily beef, and includes an appetizer, salad, and dessert. The service is exceptional, with Michel as the charming maitre d.
We found the entertainment on the ship to be okay, but nothing spectacular. We only saw 2 shows, the magician and the comedian, and listened to some of the band (Party of Four) in the Crow's Nest (which reminded me of a cheap wedding band!). The Champagne Strings played each night in one of the lounges and they were very good, including a very talented violinist. My biggest complaint was the lack of music for the younger crowd. Disco night didn't start until 11:00 pm, and it would have been nice to hear top-40 dance music a couple of nights, rather than the waltz.
The first port of call was Juneau. The weather was incredibly nice in Juneau, big puffy clouds and about 60 degrees. We spent a little bit of time in town but it was packed as 3 other ships were in town before we got there. It was much better shopping after the shore excursion as the town had cleared out.
We arranged our whale watching tour through the ship instead of an independent vendor and we were very satisfied. Allen Marine was the tour operator, and their boat had two levels, the lower level enclosed and the upper level half enclosed and half open. There was plenty of room for everyone to see the whales without any crowding (everyone was very helpful in making sure the children or shorter people were in front so everyone had a good view). They offered complimentary juice, water, and coffee, as well as cookies and salmon spread on crackers. We found whales pretty quickly, including an incredible display of "bubble-net feeding", where the whales come out of the water as they feed. We also saw eagles and sea lions. This was the best shore excursion of the trip (and my favorite memory).
We outsmarted ourselves in Skagway. We decided to rent a car and drive to Carcross. The scenery was beautiful, especially at the summit where the smell of pine was refreshing, but the trip became somewhat monotonous. Once we got to Carcross at 1:30, we were all ready for some lunch but only 1 restaurant was open (a seedy joint next to the gas station). The only other thing in town was a dingy general story. Very disappointing. We should have taken the train! Skagway had the same type of stores as Juneau, with many markdowns as the cruise season is coming to an end.
In Ketchikan, we booked a Misty Fjords float plane through Carlin Air. I was a little afraid of being on such a small plane and landing on water but it was uneventful. We had a total of 7 people, the pilot, 4 in our group, and 2 other people, so the plane was too crowded (the pilot plus 1 of our group in the front seats, 3 squeezed in the middle, and 2 in the back). It was a nice tour, including landing on a remote lake for ½ hour and getting out to walk around. Very peaceful with some glimpses of wildlife. I recommend using Carlin Air as the ship based tours do not allow you to get out of the plane but be warned about the crowding in the middle seat.
Cruising Glacier Bay was the only bad weather day we had, cold, windy, rainy, so everyone crowded into the Crow's Nest. We were so happy to have a balcony to escape from the crowd, and with our friends having a balcony on the other side, we could go back and forth to look at the different views. The glaciers were beautiful, even with the bad weather. There was a salmon bake scheduled today which we missed because of the crowd (it is normally held outside).
We had an outbreak of Norwalk on our ship. On the second day, we noticed that the salt/pepper shakers had been removed, and rolls and butter were passed out by the waiter. Very late the next night a letter was delivered to each cabin explaining that Norwalk was on the ship.
We talked to the HAL HQ nurse (who was flown in by float plane to get the problem under control) and she explained that when they discover a problem with a communicable disease (Norwalk, strep, etc.), they follow strict rules to avoid it spreading. Sick passengers are quarantined, and they and their companions are removed from the ship at the next port. She said people get pretty mad about it, but they discovered it is necessary because the Norwalk affected passengers are contagious up to 3 days after being sick. She also said they have found that hard surfaces, especially pens and cups, spread the disease quickly (for example, we noticed they only used pens once when selling bingo cards).
The nurse told us that 3 buses from Salt Lake City arrived in Vancouver before the cruise, and some of the passengers were already sick (they didn't tell anyone they were sick before they got on the cruise). The sick passengers not only got on the Zaandam but also other ships that were leaving Vancouver (I believe Coral Princess was one of them).
We washed our hands frequently, and used the disinfectant towels that were available everywhere. Crew worked all over the ship cleaning it (if they don't follow the HQ regulations for cleaning the ship, the next cruise maybe cancelled). None of our group got sick.
The ship docked in Vancouver at 7:00am, with disembarkation starting at 8:00. We disembarked (we wanted to stay!) at 8:50, went directly to the bus which left at 9:00, and arrived at the airport about 9:50 (we booked the airport transfer through the ship). Since our flight left after 12:00, we picked up our luggage at the airport. Instead of using a cart, we asked a porter for help, which was worth the tip as the airport was very crowded. At Vancouver, you have to pay an Airport Improvement Fee of $10/person before going through security. The porter told us to use the automated machine (looks like an ATM) instead of paying cash at the crowded desk which saved us some time. It took us another hour to check in and get through INS, and another 35 minutes to get through Security. Do not plan too early of a flight or you'll never make it. The airport is very crowded with 3 or 4 other cruise ships disembarking at the same time.
North: I have discovered no other destination in our great land of America that affects my sense of beauty, peace, and vastness quite like Alaska. I think of it as the land of no neon - a place where moose, elk and wolves roam, and the Alaskan brown bear is the dominate wild predator.
Alaska is a land where the scale is so immense that flying over endless mountain ranges defies your preconceived imagination of what enormous formerly meant. Those prior notions of immensity are vacant now - they are replaced by a new concept - Alaska.
The intricacy of how Alaska draws upon one's soul and beckons relic primal yearnings was reflected best by a favorite poet of the young state:
"... can't you hear the Wild? - it's calling you. Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know. There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go." Robert W. Service, Alaska's favorite poet
Ship: We decided not to try andfix something that works well, so once again we chose Holland America Cruise Lines. We have formerly sailed the Veendam, Volendam, and now we selected the Zaandam. Our itinerary would take us from Vancouver, B.C. round trip. On this Glacial Discovery itinerary we would explore the state capital of Juneau, lovely Skagway, Ketchikan, and Glacier Bay National Park.
The Zaandam is a newer Holland America ship built in 2000 at 63, 000 tons. She carries 1440 passengers on 10 decks. The design and space allocation makes it quite easy to find private nooks to relax, and Holland America offers graciously spacious standard cabins. We have tried inside, and outside cabins finding them pleasant and spacious. We have not yet moved into the balcony suites with Holland America - but I imagine they please clients. More on this people-pleasing ship in my overview.
Route: Sailing from the city designed by and for water, Vancouver, is a delight. The gleaming translucent blue glass buildings and frayed fingers of land jutting into the inlets alert visitors that this is a scenic metropolis, not one in a metro-bustle of confusion. Majestic looming mountains surround this ambience - extra days are more than warranted for Vancouver!
Ports of call: Our first port yielded a Juneau in July junket of joy! As you cruise into this small state capital, you are enveloped in lush green velvety mountains glistening with waterfalls - small tour seaplanes buzz above, and then Juneau delightfully unfolds. If there were by chance palm trees, the temperate rain forest southeast Alaskan area could pass for Kauai, Hawaii ... well, you might have to add 15 degrees even in summer.
We tried a new outing in Juneau this trip - we did a five hour tour which involved the Mendenhall Glacier, the rain forest bouquets of the Glacier Gardens, and the Salmon hatchery. On two previous Juneau visits we had avoided the salmon hatchery ... By the name it sounded mundane. In reality the salmon were running and this was exhilarating!
Salmon are propagated at the hatchery, and released season after season. After thousands of miles of journeys to unknown seas they return - mystically - to the hatchery. We were there for the almost spiritual return - splashing, slashing, and bolting upward over the steel gates of the inclined hatchery, they make their way home. Just as in nature, the salmon come home to breed - and die. At the hatchery, nature is helped by increased fertilization and breeding standards. Salmon populations, and fishing are supported by this ecological aid.
The Mendenhall glacier stop allowed over an hour to tour the visitor's center, and take modest trails to lookout points. Inspiring, this goliath creeping wonder of ice displays its splendor quite easily with a thunderous waterfall just off to the side. The glacier proudly shows its magnificence in a mirroring tidal basin - it is a photographically splendid park.
Glacier Gardens sets up in a rain forest area near the city of Juneau ... and a drizzle can be expected. This mammoth tour through the forest is on golf carts with a guide, and offers a lush groomed setting and a scenic vista. We were pleased with our tour selection, and we were glad to once again be in one of two state capitals you cannot drive to - Juneau is one - Honolulu the other. Juneau has so much to offer visitors, it may one day be a separate land vacation destination we would strongly consider..
Skagway: This charming small turn-of-the-century looking boardwalk town is just what you expect of a robust pioneer mining town spirit. There is nothing pretensive or theme-park-like about Skagway ... it is the way it was, and is. The year-round population of Skagway is a mere 3500 souls, but in summer with additional employees plus visitors, numbers soar.
Skagway is an indigenous term for windy valley ... and both times we have visited her, she lives up to that reputation. The don't dare miss option for Skagway and all Alaskan towns is of course shopping local boutiques, but for an adventure ... the White Pass Railway. The route up the gold-rush heartache trail is one of the world's most scenic and spectacular.
The narrow gauge tracks climb above the tree-line winding over steep gorges, and passing waterfalls and tall trestle bridges ... it is worth two or more rolls of film. With steady nerves you are allowed to stand between train cars for your dramatic photos as the train rounds bends over deep canyons. Your trek takes you into the Yukon and British Columbia provinces of Canada.
You have two tour options ... return by train or take the scenic bus which stops at Liar's town. Liar's town is situated near Skagway and is where the miners camped before heading upward to look for gold. Over 40,000 climbed, many died, over 3500 horses died trying to carry the loads, and in total 30 million dollars were spent by crazed gold-frenzied miners to find nuggets. Gold was found, and 300 or so became rich, but only 10 million dollars of gold was produced ... thus more was spent than found and this defines the gold-craze. It was called Liar's town because the reporters were too afraid to make the arduous trek, thus they remained in camp creating stories ... and thus further fueled the frenzy. Skagway? ... you will fall in love with her!
Ketchikan: Each visit to this picturesque Alaskan town we have visited the ESPN sponsored Great American Lumberjack Show. Displaying the skills of bygone days, this entertaining competition is a crowd pleaser. With cruise ships in port the show can fill quickly, so on-board booking may be wise.
From pole climbing, to the loud hot-saws, then log-rolling ... the crowd cheered for their team to win the show. It is quite an Alaskan reality adventure set very near the docks of Ketchikan. After the show you can walk easily to the bridge to see fishermen haul in salmon, then cross over to the lovely and historic Creek Street. This lovely historic row of buildings sits on stilts above the Ketchikan creek, which is brimming with salmon in late June and July. Creek Street is stunningly photographic.
We have, in the past, visited the Totem Park which helps visitors get involved with the life and customs of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. Ketchikan is nick-named Alaska's rain capital, but we have always had good luck. It is a lovely town situated in a memorable mountain and water surrounded location. Each Alaskan location we have visited has been inviting!
Glacier Bay: John Muir, American naturalist, wrote these words after his first visit to Glacier Bay in the 1800's - "This is my first view of such solitude, and magnificence, such ice and snow newborn ... mysterious, yet wonderful." We have remarked many times after a visit to Glacier Bay National Park ... "It is like stepping into outer space - it is away from humanity completely." There is the deep blue ice, which often fractures and thunders into the currents, and your ship will be surrounded by icebergs aplenty.
There are seals, and whales en-route ... both its simplicity and complexity are spiritual. Our day was especially lucky this year, for it was perhaps a warm 50 degrees and a glorious abundant blue sky. The ranger which boarded for the day said there are perhaps only 25 days per year this wonderful at Glacier Bay ... thus it was special and serene.
Overview: Our ship, the Zaandam, offered excellent five star dining, and the specialty restaurant The Pinnacle Grill offered world-class fare and presentation deluxe. This extra fee dining facility is really worth that special treat above and beyond what you might expect. Zaandam's entertainment had excellent and engaging acts from a polished crew cast, a magician, musicians and a popular comedian.
Our only suggestion for Zaandam and perhaps other ships in this group would be to add some prints or other art to the cabin bedroom area. The spacious standard cabins have bathtubs and showers, sitting area, bedroom area and are quite above norms for cruise ship space ... just a touch more color and art would be welcomed in the cabins, which Holland American could easily arrange.
See your favorite travel agent for advice, and always ask for cabin upgrades and discounts - it's your money! Alaska need not be more expensive than a Florida vacation with theme parks, and the weather is compellingly inviting during hot summer months.
For Alaska, plan months ahead and remember, Alaska is more than a state, it is a state of mind - a region best left unexploited and retained for its wildness and splendor. It is still your frontier, your past, and a respite for our future generations.
You may have not yet traveled to Alaska, but one day you will go ... Or, you may have been, thus you hear her calling for your return - Alaska is a rite of passage in life that beckons - it is your call from the wild.
We tried the rest, time for the best. At least that was the plan. Seven cruises in the past six years, no two with the same company. Had been told that Holland America was our kind on cruise line. Low key, upscale, far from the madding crowd. My wife wanted a trip to St Thomas. A seven day cruise with balcony was less than a hotel/air package, so I booked.
Zaandam shares a terminal in Port Canaveral with RCI. No problem except parking can be a bit tight. If room runs out, not sure where they would put you. We entered to find ourselves in a serpentine line waiting for a spot at one of many check-in counters. We were given a card bearing the number of our boarding block. Arriving around eleven, we were to be number one.
The check in clerks were efficient but gave the impression they had been hired that morning. HAL is in Port Canaveral during the winter, summering in Alaska. Knowledgeable and I assume permanent staff roamed just behind so exasperation over the agent's blank stare would bring a quick response.
The terminal filled quickly andI took a look at the 1438 with whom I would be sharing this odyssey. No doubt they were doing the same. It seems that after I paid the full non refundable, nor adjustable fare, it was cut by nearly 50% to fill the ship. These were not the seasoned cruisers with whom the message boards of Cruisemates assured me I would be sailing. This was the "Glory be, look at us, we're goin' on that big ship" crowd. Conversation was just below a shriek. There were several doors from which it appeared we could board. Groups piled up in front of each, eyeing others suspiciously. The ominousness continued. My wife did her needlepoint and took it all in stride. This was going to be fun.
Boarding went smoothly. They asked everyone to remain seated until their number was called. Yeah, right. Like this bunch was going to wait for anyone. Holding the hallowed "1", we went first so I don't know what went on after we left. Our room was ready, dropped bags, off to the buffet, and we settled in.
Most life boat drills are either fun or a goat rope. This was neither, just another thing to do. The staff took it seriously and we stayed while names of the delinquent were paged. That left running around signing up for Marco Polo and mandatory spa treatments. Sailed later than normal, Zaandam being last in the elephant walk out the channel.
We chose the late seating, a little after eight. Thinking being the kids would eat early. There were no kids, or not many, so other like minded folks were scrambling to change to the six o'clock seating. Our Indonesian hotel and restaurant staff tried to accommodate so there was a lot of table hopping. An elegant setting, the dining room is aft with huge windows on three sides. Food and service were excellent. Diverse choices, served hot even though we were on the mezzanine. Our request to split a filet with our lobster tails was honored. We got our requested table for two, preferring to join a group for breakfast and lunch, but spending dinner alone. Good choice since we enjoyed the people with whom we found ourselves but would not have enjoyed an evening with the tables around us. Some people should get out more.
Speaking of kids, there were a group of early teen spring breakers who banded together, behaved themselves, acted appropriately in the dining room, but if you watched closely, were having a far better time together than I'm sure their parents intended. And there was the young(ish) couple at late seating with youngster and infant who screamed constantly. Parents couldn't be bothered because after all, they were on cruise, which left the waiters and table captains to tend them.
Formal night is more formal than other lines. Lot of people were comfortable in their finery but some looked like sophomores in rented tux. Majority of the men wore dark suits with the smattering of mavericks who wore what they damn well pleased. Most ships, no problem. This one, they stood out, not that they gave a rats.
The other dining option is the standard buffet aft the mid ships swimming pool with outside seating available by the aft pool. The handiest place to eat, it got crowded quickly and stayed that way. Both sides served the same fare, but each had additional serving stations such as a deli, pasta station, ice cream, salad bar and others I've forgotten. Point being you should check them all. Don't have to go through that particular line as everyone goes back and forth. Problem is that you might wander around with your tray looking for a place to sit. People tend to stay and stare (great visibility from huge windows) or read when finished, oblivious to the crowd. Watching the older passengers trying to manage their tray of food during the open ocean days was distressing. One of us would secure a table while the other went through the line. If you are going to cruise, might as well enjoy the service and ambiance of the dining room rather than the feeding trough environment of the buffet.
Dinner in the optional dining room was a very pleasant experience, well appointed and quiet. A Mediterranean/Italian theme, the food was excellent but no better than the dining room. Learned that it will be closed shortly and tuned into a pay extra steak house.
Our room was bed/sitting/balcony arrangement that seems standard. More than enough room and storage. Fridge and TV with tape player. A well stocked mini bar gathered dust after seeing the prices. Bath had a tub and again, plenty of room. Room steward kept out of sight but did his job well. Our room boasted bathrobes and "fluffy" towels as a perk. Not sure what the lessor rooms had. Probably just as fluffy. Looked in the inside rooms, just as large as ours. Doesn't look like you can go wrong no matter what you book.
The ship's layout is excellent and very convenient. The theme of the ship's decor is music, an exercise in understated elegance. See if you can find Bill Clinton's saxophone. The ship is not overwhelmed by a central atrium but a pipe organ does extend three decks. You can be very comfortable with the most modest stateroom, spending your time either on deck or in one of lounges or watering holes found everywhere. Lots of slots and electronic poker machines in the casino, tables didn't seem to get much action.
Unfortunately - - - - - a straight line from Port Canaveral to the Eastern Caribbean involves two days of open ocean. There was a storm somewhere north of us. Days were glorious except for a high, long term swell. The stabs did their job but the ship moved, a lot. We had the "Glory be, won't this damn thing ever settle down" crowd. You would have thought they were on a ride at Disney World. Didn't see anyone actually spit up but lots of high pitched whining. If you appeared to be in particular distress, the waiter would bring, with appropriate dignity, a green apple on a saucer. My wife said it actually worked. The aforementioned dining room is at the stern, I suppose for the view. Being a fairly short coupled ship, it has what is known in nautical parlance as a four corner wobble. Thirty some years at sea has left me with an iron stomach which my wife thought was insensitive to her distress. Dramamine was consumed like candy. My wife wasn't happy, the cruise suddenly became my idea, never mind St Thomas. The Captain reminded us the swells were waiting for us when we left the islands to return home.
St Maarten was a pleasant surprise. Heartily recommend the water taxi from the cruise pier to Philipsburg, a dusty little tourist trap. Three dollars one way or an all day pass for five. Much better than riding 10 in an eight passenger van. The island bears scars from the last hurricane, but is bouncing back. You have to go inland to get a feel for the island. We found the prices to be most reasonable. Five other ships joined us but the town didn't seem that crowded.
Zaandam drew the short straw in St Thomas and was berthed at the old Sub Base, now a commercial port and far removed from town. Long cab ride through a bad part of town, unpopular with the taxis. Not as many ships as St Maarten but the town was packed. But them, Charlotte Amalie is always packed. Fortunately, we did our shopping in St Maartin. Stay would have been much better had we berthed at Havenside. St Thomas had plenty of excursions for those who wanted to look around and get their face wet.
The ship used her lifeboat/tenders to get us to HAL's private island. Rotterdam anchored alongside but surprisingly, the island didn't seem particularly crowded. I went over for a look, everyone seemed to having a good time, lots to do, then returned to eat lunch without sand. Joined two couples who were taking the eastern/western cruises back to back. Intended to ask which they enjoyed most but never saw them again. They agreed that this was not the complement that usually found on a HAL ship
HAL has a no tipping required policy which seemed to throw most of the good folks who made up our boatload. I left a bit more than industry standard because the service was excellent, and obviously unappreciated. Sentiment of most of the others as voiced everywhere was "if they don't tell me what to tip, they ain't gettin' anything".
Since we left port last, we returned last. Disney and Carnival were securely tied up and off loading by the time we finally got alongside. We had been given forms listing options for leaving the area to determine debarking order. Ship's tours were first, followed by company arranged air, then firm flight times, etc. I said we had to retrieve our cat before noon or she would have to stay the weekend. Apparently they bought it because we left 23rd out of more than forty debarking blocks. Bags were where they said they would be and we were on our way shortly after ten, more than an hour later than the other ship's.
An elegant ship who knows how to take care of her guests. It's a shame the economy and fear of flying is dragging her down to the level of the cattle boats.
This was my 34th Cruise and first on a Holland America ship. Aso, my 2nd cruise review on Cruise Mates.com I had heard and read all the negative things people had to say about a cruise with Holland America. Yes, I was concerned, not so much about the food and service as I was about tye age group, entertainment and other nighttime activities. Let me put all these bad thoughts to bed for all of you reading this review.
This was an Alaska Inside Passage 7 day Cruise on the Zaandam. We arrived at the pier around 1:00pm after an overnight stay in Vancouver. We were greeted by the baggge personnel who promptly took our bags and showed us the way to the embarkatation.Due to the fact we were so early we had a one hour wait until they called for us to be processed. All this took 15 minuets and we were on our way to board the ship. We were greeted by more H/A staff and directed to our cabin ( 6179 ) with a balcony, Veranda deck.This by far was the largest of any cabin we havehad even on ships of greater size and tonnage.
The bathroom was large with lots of storage and even had a spa tub.Our cabin had a king size bed and lots of hanger and drawer space for two people.
Most of all I enjoyed the large balcony with the longe chairs and pleanty of room to move around.One of the most disturbing factors we had experienced on other cruise ships was the noise factor. Either the room was creaking and squeaking or you could hear all your neighbors around you. None of this was an issue on this ship, we never heard a sound.
Now the ship. Yes Holland America is not known for all the glitz of the newer ships and that is true on the Zaandam. The ship lacks any brightness to it and this was true in almost all areas of the ship.The main show lounge just had a coldness to it and you never really felt at home in there.The main atrium had some huge carving as the centerpiece that was actually an organ that played several times a day. But no one was impressed.Other ships we have been on had those grand atriums with glass elevators and were majestic in size and statue.But as I said, Holland America is not known for the glitz.
Now about the food and service. We were overly impressed with the food quality in all the areas especailly in the main Rotterdam dining room and the Lido buffet where we had almost all of our meals.In seven days we never had a bad meal at any time, tghe hot food was hot and the cold food was cold.The assortment was great and very well prepared. The breakfast and lunch in the Lido was different and pleasing each day. Yes, you had your standard eggs and bacon but so much more.
One nice touch was a bellman walking the halls ringing a dinner bell each evening announcing the dinner hour.Also, fresh flowers were placed in your room each day. Nice touch Holland America. The highlight of the food was our reservation at the Pinnacle Restaurant. This was a mealmade in heaven. The service was outstanding, and we had three serves taking care of us and from soup to nuts the food was mouthwatering especially the 11oz steak filet that you could cut with a fork.The deserts were fabulous and all this for $20.00 each person extra.Yes that seems expensive and people complained about the cost, but I would pay that without question to experience that dinner again.Please, if you go try it, you will nt be disappointed.
The entertainment was what I expected, not great, the staff tried to perform like Las Vegas show performers but never pulled it off.However, they had a ventriloquist that was a first class act, he brought the house down with his act truly a great show. The rest of the entertainment was just ok. So don't expect much and you will have a great time.
The Casino was small and took our money but there was some big winners. Nice friendly place with a bar next to it where my wife spent most of the time while I was gambling.
The inside passage was wonderful. We had beautiful weather which is really rare so it made the journey that much more enjoyable. We got to see whales, bald eagles and lots of seals and goats and once we spoted a bear on a distance shore line.
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking everywhere you looked. The stops at Juneau, Ketchikan,Skagway and Glacier Bay are absolutely worth seeing. we found the ship tour packages to be pricey,so we took only one, the whale watch and medenhall glacier. Not sure it was worth $250.00 but that was cheap compared to some of the other tours being offered like the helicopter over and on the glacier at $440.00 ea and the dog sled ride at $325.00ea. We went on our own and had a great time.
The weather was beautiful with seven days of sun and mild temperatures, unheard of in Alaska so we lucked out.No way to predict the weather so you hope for the best.The captain took the ship down a small channel on the return trip to Vancouver and that was exciting, you could almost reach out and touch the trees. We arrived back in Vancouver around 7:00am Saturday and everyone was off the ship in a very controlled fashion. We picked up our luggage and jumped in a cab to head for the airport and the trip home. A word of caution, there were 4 ships on the same 7 day agenda so we were at the same same stops at the same time and we all arrived back in Vancouver at around the same time and 6,000 people headed for the airport by bus, cab, car rental limo etc.
The lines at the airport for checkin , customs and security were very long. I suggest taking a later flight in the afternoon some time since the airport was empty by 1:00pm. Of course you will have a long wait for your flight since you will be at the airpot by 10:00am.Maybe take a Vancouver city tour to kill some time this is not expensive.
In conclusion, hats off to Holland America, they know how to pamper and spoil you. I believe this is what Cruise vacations are supposed to be about.
The other cruise lines should take notice in Holland America they seem to have their act together so you will enjoy your vacation and go home feeling you got your monies worth ten time over. I was glad to see that H/A made us feel we were the only ones on board the Zaandam.
I am a smoker and I have never felt so unwelcome on any of the other 28 ships I've sailed on. The ship went out of it's way to make me feel like a second class citizen. You could not enjoy a smoke and a cup of coffee anyplace indoors except your cabin. No ash trays in the casino unless you asked for one. I noticed that they sell cigarettes on the ship but they don't want you to smoke them I guess. The ship itself was OK..
it looked like your grandmother decorated it. I was waiting for the doilies to be put on the chairs. Service in the dining room was like the other HAL ships I've sailed on - lousy. The waiters can't remember who ordered what and you have to ask for coffee or tea and the food wasn't that good. Cabin steward was great though. I don't think I'll choose HAL again.
Bill and I began cruising five years ago and consider it the most relaxing and romantic way to spend vacation days, which are considered "gold" in our "work-a-day" lives. Prior to this cruise we have been aboard RCCL (3) and Carnival (1). Years ago, on a trip to Vancouver, we saw a Holland America ship docked at Canada Place and Bill said, "We have to do one of those ships." Well, we finally did!
We had originally planned on running away to the Mexican Riviera for Thanksgiving as I still suffer from Post Traumatic Turkey Syndrome brought on by too many years of doing "the bird". All was set with deposits until I came across a Five Day Flash and discovered Holland America was "portioning" a twenty-one day Panama Canal reposition cruise and one of the available segments was Vancouver to San Diego (five nights).
Though it did not fall into any Thanksgiving schedule, Vancouver and San Diego are two of our favorite places on earth and there were also two days at sea. WE LOVE DAYS AT SEA! So, I quickly called my travel agent and cancelled Mexico and Booked theZaandam for a guarantee B (outside mini verandah suite). About a month before the cruise our documents arrived. These were unlike any we had ever received as they were in substantial leather tri-fold wallets with all your cruise tickets and a special place for your passport. What a classy presentation and they proved to be an excellent way of PRE EMBARKATION
We live in Prescott, Arizona, which is about one hundred miles from the Phoenix airport. I had made separate air and pre cruise hotel reservations as I could find a far better rate than Holland America was offering. We have discovered a Days Inn close to the airport where you can park your car for free up to a week if you stay there one night. Their rates are very reasonable and we don't have to stress about potential traffic problems and missing our morning flights. This worked out well again and we were able to get to the airport with time to spare and enjoyed an uneventful flight from Phoenix to Vancouver. The customs situation in Vancouver can be long and tedious, but this time things weren't as bad as last September. The fact that we were the second to last ship leaving port at the closing of the Alaska cruise season helped keep numbers down.
We had booked a package at the Hotel Listel on Robson Street for the night before embarkation. This unique, boutique hotel is on the Rodeo Drive of Vancouver and is a top- notch operation. Our Deluxe Gallery Package (US $132 + tax) included an upgraded gallery room complete with original artwork by a prominent Canadian artist, a seventy- five dollar dinner credit at O'Doul's Restaurant, French Press coffee and news paper delivery in the morning and full menu breakfast at O'Doul's. We arrived in blustery Fall weather which was a welcomed relief from the seemingly endless drought we have experienced in the Southwest. The gray skies and mist were a perfect background for the vibrant Fall leaves and damp streets. Our room had a view of Robson Street and we could actually see a bit of the harbor. I can't say enough about the quality of this hotel; artwork, furnishings, concierge service, dining and overall atmosphere are primo.
We were very hungry since we flew through lunch and it was mid afternoon. The international dining opportunities in Vancouver rival New York and San Francisco. The Robson area is a Mecca for food enthusiasts. We had dinner planned at O'Doul's, so we didn't want to overly indulge. We found a casual Sushi restaurant a few doors down from the hotel. Two Miso soups, tea and about thirty five pieces of assorted sushi came out to about eleven dollars US. We were blown away!
The light rain had subsided so we decided to do a bit of roaming along Robson. This is a wonderfully eclectic place with lots of people and extraordinary shopping variety. We sort of wandered about, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the diversity. The rain began to pick up and we went back to the Listel to cuddle up and enjoy the warmth prior to our dinner at seven thirty. Bill napped as I cuddled on our window seat watching the locals bundled in wool coats and knee high boots scurry about their after-work business. Ahhh yes, we weren't in "Kansas" anymore.
Dinner was absolutely grand. O'Doul's is known for wonderful food and live jazz. Bill had salmon and I had this wonderful chicken stuffed with Gorgonzola, spinach and apricot in a wine reduction that was to die for. The live music was an added treat and the whole affair was a perfect precursor for the adventure that awaited us the next day.
We planned a wake up call about seven so we could go for a walk down to Canada Place and see our Zaandam. She had been in dry dock the previous week and we knew she'd be a sight to behold. Lord, it's dark in Vancouver at seven A.M! Our French Press Coffee was delivered and it rivaled the best we have ever had at coffee houses. Fueled with a caffeine "jump start" we ventured out about eight and headed for the harbor.
She was there in all her glory as starched and pressed as one could ever imagine a ship to be. I was breathless and wanted to hop ship then and there. We watched as they brought pallet after pallet of provisions for the coming week. What an operation! Cranes and forklifts choreographed in a ballet of stocking the Zaandam with anything and everything we could possibly need on our voyage.
Check in takes place on the lowest level of Canada Place, under the convention center. We headed down to get a sort of "lay of the land" and plan our strategy to board as early as possible. We had heard of folks boarding as early as eleven thirty or as late as one thirty on Cruise Critic boards. The crew was boarding at that point and we learned that they would begin with passengers about eleven thirty. We walked back to the hotel stopping along the way to grab a couple of Vancouver T-shirts and settled into O'Doul's to enjoy the best Eggs Benedict I've ever eaten.
Bill headed out to get some Echinacea/Zinc tabs (we both felt colds coming on) and I did last minute packing and tagging of our bags. A quick call to the bellman resulted in a luggage loaded taxi in less than five minutes. It took no time at all before we were handing our bags over to the Holland America porters and were standing in line waiting for our carry-on bags to be scanned. We struck up a conversation with Al and Patricia from Carlsbad, California and about eleven forty five the line began to move. We quickly got through security, were given a boarding number and exchanged our paper ticket for our cruise ID card/room key/onboard charge card. One card covers all these necessities, which is very convenient. We were directed to a seating area and were kept informed as to what to expect next. All that prevented us from boarding the ship was getting through U.S. immigration and until they arrived, we stayed put.
In the mean time, the onboard Spa staff set up a table and booked appointments. The wine stewards were selling prepaid wine packages and a vendor sold soft drinks and snack items. Folks read, chatted, paced and a few became impatient. This wasn't a reflection on HAL; they were also at the mercy of U.S. Immigration's arrival.
At about one fifteen a handful of men and women in official looking uniforms arrived to an ovation from the crowd. The holding area was now standing room only and we were all ready to show our passports and get on with embarkation. It seemed like forever as they booted up their computers. Since 911 they no longer just look at your ID or passport; they now have to cross-reference you with their computer records. The wheelchair and cane folks were first to board and then on to the "masses". We were in the first group and it went quite quickly. Soon we were being directed toward a gangway!!!!! Our "Day One" had finally come and we were about to board the ship of our dreams and experience the reality.
DAY ONE Port of Vancouver
Each step up that gangway was a delight. I felt like a little child walking through the gates of Disneyland for the first time. As advertised, a bevy of Holland America staff was there to greet us and, to my joy, there was no obnoxious photographer insisting we pose behind an oversized life preserver. There was an embarkation photo area that one could go to if they desired a picture. Very nicely done. We were formally welcomed aboard and a white gloved steward directed us to our cabin on the sixth deck, mid ship, starboard side.
Cabin #6177 I think cabins and food are the most discussed subjects on cruise boards and a review of either is a very personal issue. Some folks book minimum cabins because they don't expect to spend much time there and would rather allot their cruise dollar elsewhere. Others must have some natural light in the form of windows or portholes. Some must have space and balconies. Bill and I have done outside picture windows and on our last cruise experienced our first balcony (Alaska 2001). Alas, the first balcony has resulted in our last picture window. We love the outdoor space and keeping the door open at night in order to fall asleep with the sound of the ocean is now a BillnJill priority.
Our Category A mini suite was lovely. Upon entering there was a bathroom on the left that was plenty roomy and had a Jacuzzi tub and excellent water pressure. A standard size medicine cabinet was more than adequate for two people and there was additional space under the sink for curling irons, blow dryers, shaving kits, hair spray, etc. The embroidered Holland America towels were fluffy and absorbent. I have very long thick hair and though I brought my own hairdryer, I was interested in the one provided as I had read they were not very good at all. It's the darndest looking thing I've ever seen (kind of an albatross from the seventies). It took me three days to discover there was an outlet hidden behind a flap in the front of it. Drying my hair took awhile and the plastic handle did get very hot by the time the dryer could actually do its' job. This can be corrected by wrapping a washcloth around the part you hold. Not great, but with the insulation of the washcloth you will be able to dry your hai On the right wall of the entry hall you will find four closet spaces with shelves in some and hanging bars in others. Some are adjustable and for our short trip the available hanging space was adequate. There is a full length mirror on one closet door, a safe and the life preservers are stored on one shelf of another closet. I would say for an extremely long voyage with many formal nights, hanging space would be at a premium and probably used for gowns, cocktail dresses, suits, etc. I'd gear my casual clothes toward the foldable sort. We were also provided waffle weave bathrobes that were comfy, roomy and perfect for intercepting that early room service coffee or middle of the night weather checks on the balcony.
Upon entering the main part of the stateroom you will find either two twins or one large queen if you have requested the beds put together. The bed linens are of the finest quality I have ever encountered on a ship and the mattresses were firm and the thickness of a home mattress..not the thin stuff we've had on RCCL and Carnival. There are lights over the beds, light controls and a radio built into the wall above the bed. A large mirror adds light and spaciousness to the feeling of the room. There is a curtain that divides the sleeping area from the sitting area that has a full sized couch, an end table with mini refrigerator below and a telescoping table for cocktail or dining adjustment. A desk/wall unit with nine drawers, tv and vcr, and stocked mini bar is across from the couch and also sports another mirror unit. Floor to ceiling windows with a door to the balcony are at the end of the sitting room. Both heavy and sheer drapes allow for light control and decorative ambiance. The balcony has a lou The condition of the stateroom was meticulous.....no stains, no worn carpet or upholstery and the cabin steward kept everything in perfect order. If you are looking for towel animals, you won't find them on Holland America and thank God they don't get into your personal clothing and make sculptures out of them; RCCL did this and it was not appreciated. So, thumbs up to the stateroom including the fruit bowl and personalized stationary!
As we were checking out every nook and cranny of our mini suite, our luggage began to arrive. I think we'd been aboard less than twenty minutes. We didn't want to take time to unpack as I had my "first things first" checklist to address. We stashed our valuables in the safe and headed down to the Marco Polo alternative dining room to book our anniversary dinner for the following Wednesday evening. We expected a line, but there was none. Next we went to the dining room to check out our table. We were waitlisted for early, ended up getting it and were at a table for six on the upper balcony. Perfect! Our final stop was to check out the line at the Purser's Desk and see if it was a good time to register our credit card to our onboard account. Amazingly, there was no line there either. All that was left was to get up to the Lido for the Welcome Aboard Luncheon. Ah Ha! We discovered where everyone was!
Though crowded, the line moved along quite well. An attendant hands you your tray with napkin and utensils and down the road of decadence you go attempting to choose from salads, soups, shrimp cocktails, main courses, side dishes, breads and beverages. The dessert stations and salad bar are located on their own "islands" and offer a wide selection. I found the Lido on the Zaandam nicer than the other buffet venues we have experienced on ships. The attention to carpet, upholstery, seating, drapes, etc gave it a more formal feeling than the cafeteria atmosphere we've had in the past. I will address the actual food later on in this review.
We returned to the cabin and unpacked prior to the lifeboat drill. The gathering at our muster station went according to Hoyle and in a decent time frame we were depositing our vests back in the cabin and venturing up to the Lido Deck for the sail away party.
It was cloudy and cool in Vancouver, so the retractable roof was closed over the Lido swimming pool area. There were sail away drinks and chips, salza and guacamole to enjoy. Due to the closed roof the band was very loud and we decided to escape up to the forward Sky Deck that turned out to be a perfect spot to marvel at the beauty of Stanley Park, Fall Foliage and the Lion's Gate Bridge.
At dinner we were thrilled to find out that Al and Patricia (our check in linemates) were also our tablemates! Bob and Sheila arrived soon after and we all found we were on the five night itinerary. We had a marvelous time over the next days exchanging tidbits about our lives, kids, previous travels, plans for this current cruise, etc. What a stroke of luck to get such a compatible group since we were all part of a last minute, wait list shuffle.
After dinner we explored the ship and went to the Welcome Aboard show. I wasn't anticipating anything amazing as previous reviews stated HAL is not known for their entertainment. I would concur and though not terrible, we knew that the evening shows would be a careful "pick and choose" activity.
Tired from all the boarding excitement we retired to our stateroom after another bit of exploration. We were in the Straits of Georgia so the water was very calm and after cracking the door open we fell asleep to the gentle motion of the ship and the sounds of the Zaandam's foghorn. Only on a ship...
AND THE REST OF THE STORY...(Day two through six)
I will now break from the chronological organization of this review and divide the remainder into specific experience areas such as ports of call, onboard activities, entertainment, dining, service and the ship itself.
Most of you reading this will be taking an itinerary different than our rare Pacific Coastal sailing, so this will be a brief overview of our Ports of Call and Days at Sea.
The second morning we awoke to clouds, drizzle and the beautiful skyline of Seattle. Pier 66 is perfectly located just blocks from the famed Pike Street Market and close to various public forms of transportation that can take you throughout the downtown area. We were meeting Bill's sister who lives nearby and taking the Seattle Underground Tour at Pioneer Square. This was such a great way to learn about the city's early history, see some great architecture and have a unique experience in the bowels of old Seattle. For eight bucks (AAA rate) this is a deal! We ventured on to the Pike Street Market and enjoyed a wonderful lunch upstairs overlooking table upon table of gorgeous produce in the marketplace below. After watching the fish throwing extravaganza, listening to a very talented street musician and buying a lovely bouquet of flowers for the stateroom we said our goodbyes to Penny and returned to the ship. The previous evening's Sail Away rum punch glass became my vase for the flowers and our suite
Day three brought us to the picturesque town of Astoria which lies about fifteen miles up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. It is known for its' amazing bridge that connects Oregon to Washington and completed the Coast Highway 101 from Mexico to Canada when built. This town pulled out all the stops for our arrival since they only get the Zaandam in twice a year; once on the Fall Canal reposition and once again on the reverse reposition. There was a craft show set up by the dock, a open air tent with live folk bands playing throughout the day, school buses ferried folks from the dock to the quaint downtown shopping area and tour buses and boats provided excursions to Lewis and Clark themed locations. We were made to feel like a boat full of dignitaries and it was utterly delightful. They even bussed in the diminutive high school marching band to serenade us for a half hour before we sailed away. Astoria was a charming contrast to the huge, modern ports of Vancouver, Seattle and San Diego. We sailed toward the Pacific and soon would be "at sea" without the protection of the inside passages we had been sailing. We knew right when we hit the ocean. At eleven o'clock that night we began to roll a bit and for the next couple of days were in seas that swelled to about twelve feet. Some folks got queasy, but we found it just delightful to feel the boat and the ocean moving together.
Days Four and Five the Zaandam was at sea traveling from Northern Oregon to Southern California. Until we docked in San Diego the morning of day six we had the boat to explore and enjoy to the fullest.
SO, WHAT'S THERE TO DO ON THOSE ' DAM SHIPS?
We love our Days at Sea and still get up early because we don't want to waste time sleeping. Each morning we would have coffee and juice delivered to the room about six AM before Bill would take off to work out in the gym. The Ocean Spa workout area has huge windows overlooking the bow of the ship and is a lovely place to tread, step or bike away those wonderful calories being served all over the boat. The staff is excellent and is more than happy to assist any passenger desiring help or activities. There were organized aerobics classes and they were doing personal fitness evaluations that would be rather helpful to those who were taking the full three week trek through the canal. I, on the other hand, am a walker so I'd spend those early mornings exploring the ship, trying to find ways to get to places and try to remember how to do it again later. Our weather was still overcast and blustery so any jogging on the sports deck was a risky proposition, though the Promenade Deck was popular with the morning by nine o'clock we were ready for our breakfast we generally enjoyed in the Rotterdamn Dining Room. Days at sea are relaxed and the pace of breakfast in the main dining room suits that end perfectly. Enjoying a cappuccino while watching the ocean through floor to ceiling windows just doesn't get much better.
by ten AM the ship is settling into all sorts of activity. This being an older crowd (as is the norm on long cruises), we found the card room and library to be bustling. We generally headed to the Internet Center and had no problem finding an open computer, which is not the case on ships with younger passengers. Snow Ball Bingo is announced morning and afternoon. We never participated, so I have no idea how popular that activity was. We enjoyed the casino a few times and left our share of nickels there. The movie theater shows two different movies each day at 10, 2, 8 and 10. We enjoyed being in a real movie theater at sea. At least until I dragged Bill to the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. I lost him there and he'll never let me live that one down. (Hey, I loved it. He just doesn't get character flicks.)
by late morning the Java Café is calling. This dandy spot on the ship serves up complimentary espressos, lattés, cappuccinos, gourmet teas and an assortment of cookies and little dessert cakes every day. (Bill figured out how to get to any spot on the ship by traversing the Java.) Throughout the day there are Bridge Lessons, galley tours, cooking demonstrations, makeup clinics and gambling tutorials. We didn't do any of that since we just never seemed to find the time. Lunch, again, is a leisurely atmosphere on sea days and an afternoon nap for Bill and a good book for Jill filled out our days. Only on a ship...
There are numerous lounges on the Zaandam that provide a cross section of music that is appealing to baby boomers on up. No Hip Hop on the Zaan and Karaoke just isn't an option. During the after dinner hours there are ensembles that appeal to mature musical tastes and later in the Crow's Nest things loosen up with more of a disco flare. A piano bar offers nice background music and though we missed it, the "Murder Mystery Through Music" evening in that bar sounded like a great deal of fun.
As for the shows in the main lounge, we found them disappointing. This was a rather odd cruise during our five night segment. Folks were boarding and disembarking the first three days and then two hundred of us were leaving the morning of the sixth day. Maybe they were gearing up the production numbers for the meat of the cruise once they left San Diego with the official passenger roster for the Canal crossing. I'm not big into magicians or comedians. There was a woman soloist one night and a guy playing a guitar another. The first formal night they did have These Three Tenors who did a magnificent show, though the Zaandam "orchestra" was not up to par with their level of talent. I didn't come on the ship expecting Las Vegas extravaganzas, so there was no real disappointment. One night we went up to the Crow's Nest for a nightcap and the resident ensemble was very good. It wasn't time for the disco stuff yet, but the band did a terrific cross section of tunes Baby Boomers love to remember.
Our favorite entertainment was each other.....exploring, going out on deck and watching the white caps and the seas, holding hands and walking the promenade, debating whether or not the swells were really 8.0 to 12 feet. Escaping back to our private enclave and standing bundled on our verandah in the mist while listening to the drone of the Zaandam's foghorn. Now That's Entertainment! Only on a ship..
DINING We found the food in the Rotterdam Dining Room to be quite inconsistent. The king crab on night one was fantastic, the veal medallions on night two were so tough I might have well been eating an aged bull. Appetizers were fairly good with the escargot bringing in very high marks. Breads were plentiful, but boring and salads, unmemorable. The soups were consistently a delight, though the desserts were akin to those being served on the buffet line in the Lido. The Lido for alternative casual dining was excellent and they even dressed the tables with linens, sliver and glassware. It gave a formal touch to the informal venue. The Hands Down winner for dining excellence was the Marco Polo Restaurant. Food, service and ambiance were five star and should not be missed. Breakfast and lunch in either the Rotterdam or Lido is a personal choice. Neither is really stellar, though the Rotterdam provides a leisurely and elegant pace to enjoy.
FORMAL DRESS This is another area of debate so I spent a good deal of time on formal night "tux watching." On the Zaandam we had far more men in dark suits and blazer/dress pants than tuxes. It appeared to be age related with the older crowd sporting more formal wear and the middle agers opting for suits. The age group on this trip was fifty plus and the tuxes were worn predominantly by those over seventy. I thought all the men looked great and no one looked out of place, though some of the "tuxers" looked a bit uncomfortable.
SERVICE One of Holland America's hallmarks is their commitment to service and they don't disappoint at all. From the moment you begin the check in process the HAL folks are terrific. We didn't have any complaints, so I can't really tell you how that end of the program works, but we thoroughly enjoyed the attentive service and the extraordinary ability of the staff to remember all the guest's names.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were very funny and had genuine warmth that made it a sad occasion when we had to say goodbye. Enrico did not realize we were dining at the Marco Polo for our anniversary and had a cake waiting for us in the main dining room. He left his post and rushed it downstairs so we would have it for our dessert. Our room steward was so "on the ball" that we never had to ask for anything above and beyond what he was already doing. The staff throughout the Zaandam was personable, helpful and a delight to interact with.
The Holland America Experience is very unique when compared to other cruise lines we have traveled.
THE SHIP The Zaandam is downright beautiful. From the teak decks, the wood railings, the forever polished brass...the artwork, the flowers, the carpets, and upholstery. Everywhere you go on the ship you are taken away by her beauty and intimacy.
I, too, haven't quite figured out the organ in the atrium, but I love the rest of that 'dam ship. She's a ship that invites you to slow down and "smell the roses". One morning I was on the Sports Deck after an overnight rain...my goodness, the color of those teak decks when wet is a sight to behold. The highly varnished wood benches on the Promenade Deck transported us to the great ships of the past.
FINAL THOUGHTS And as the sea moved, so did the Zaandam and we, too, moved in unison. We lived on the Zaan for five days and began to feel her as our own, wanting to preserve that beauty, that experience, that feeling, that connection. Only on a ship...