Easter 2004 Cruise
Introduction: This review will be long and detailed. Prior to our last cruise I enjoyed reading such reviews and researching cruise options. I kept a journal throughout our cruise in order to document our experiences, adventures, observations, helpful suggestions, likes and dislikes.
Who Are We?: My wife Leslie and I have been married for eighteen years. I'm forty-three years old and she's forty. Our son John is fifteen. I'm in sales, and Leslie is a CPA. We both have our Bachelor Degree's. We are very active in our community, son's school, church, and we enjoy our involvement in Republican politics. We are from the Charlotte, NC area.
Prior Cruise Experience: My wife of 18 years, our 15 year old son John and I set sail from Port Canaveral on April 10, 2004. This is my fifth cruise. All were with my wife Leslie. Three cruises were during the 1990's onboard the now defunct Premier Cruise Lines. That was a very family oriented cruise line which we liked. Our son then five joined us for one of those.
In 2000 my wife and two couples sailed together. That was a seven nightcruise on board Royal Caribbean's, Grandeur of the Seas from Miami to San Juan, PR. Our Royal Caribbean cruise in 2000 was all we could ask for. We flew to and from Miami. However, there was one overwhelming source of irritation. There were prevalent and frequent references of a sexual nature, and inappropriate humor. For example, the cruise director suggested several times that the rocking ship was due to people having sex in their cabins. On the two formal nights we dressed for dinner, and then were exposed to sophomoric crude humor from the theater stage. The belly flop contest disturbed by wife's rest beside the pool one day. We knew that we'd want a more mature and sophisticated experience on our next cruise.
Why Cruise? Cruising makes our perfect vacation. We enjoy researching and choosing our cruises very much. We not only love the large ships and the beautiful tropical destinations, but the fact the trip is one all-inclusive price. Of course alcohol, gambling, shopping, professional photographs and tips are extra. My family and I enjoy the fact that we don't have to spend any time or energy evaluating the cost of various options.
Professional Photography Deal: HAL made all passengers an offer that we felt was excellent. For $99 you could select any fifteen photographs. There is a gallery with all pictures displayed. Throughout the week we
Organized On Board Activities: HAL offers whatever you'd like with regard to organized activities. My son and I like the contests like golf putting, ping pong (we were both champions on different days), shuffle board, team trivia and team name that tune. Team trivia competitions were held each day we were at sea in the lounge. There is no need to bring your own team. Players are very friendly and some teams will need another player, or sometimes teams will split to accommodate additional players. The more the merrier. The prized range from HAL logo'd coffee mugs, to travel alarm clocks, to a visor. For me the best part of the activities is getting to know more people. I always try to remember names and to use them throughout the cruise. It fun for me and people like having their names remembered.
Selecting HAL and Zaandam: First we identified our possible cruise dates. Our target date was to depart on the Saturday when our son's spring date started. As long as the port was within driving distance, we knew we preferred to drive to the port instead of flying. This was to both save money, and to give us more travel flexibility. Plus with the hassles of travel to and from the Orlando airport and the port, and possible flight delays, driving made sense for us. Therefore we wanted the port to be as close as possible to our Charlotte, NC area home. There are limited cruises from North and South Carolina ports, and we found no match. Port Canaveral became our first choice of ports. Once we selected the port, we used various web sites to see what cruises were available. We eliminated Carnival Cruise Lines because as I mention earlier we wanted something even more sophisticated that Royal Caribbean. We eliminated Disney Cruise Lines because we knew we did not want that many small children. We also knew we liked the large cruise ships, and we like the eastern Caribbean. My wife did not care to visit Mexico. We knew we wanted a six or seven night cruise. We found HAL Zaandam eastern Caribbean Cruise departing on April 10.
Of course each cruise line had its own web site. I particularly like reading cruise reviews on several of the numerous such sites. Simply do a google search of "cruise reviews," or "cruise reviews zaandam" to find these sites. Several that I used were www.epinion.com, www.cruiseletter.com and www.cruisereviews.com.
We were at first concerned that this would be a senior citizens cruise. We also wanted to make sure that there were youth onboard that our 16 year old son would enjoy. Since the Easter break is a popular time for Spring Break we were confident there would be plenty of people his age. We were pleased with the wide variety of age groups. Yes, there were plenty of teenagers. Yes, the average age of passengers is older than Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines. We enjoyed the other parents of youth that were onboard. Many onboard were families traveling like we were. There were many groups with three or even four generations traveling together. If you are a young single person looking to find a mate, this cruise is not for you. I'd imagine that if this were a regular fall or winter cruise there would have been a disproportional number of senior citizens. He found the ages were a healthy mix.
Before the Cruise: We shopped prices and I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Roger Powe, Vacation Assistant, ONLINE VACATION CENTER, www.onlinevacationcenter.com, 1801 NW 66 Avenue Suite 102, Plantation, FL 33313, 1-800-780-9002 Ext 6449, 954-377-6449, Fax: 954-377-6401. We reserved level MM, which was an inside cabin. Our full price with port charges and taxes was $1,856. We reserved about ten months in advance. We purchased the cruise insurance as well. This was because my mother has not been in the best health, and we did not want to risk loosing our money should we need to stay home with home. However, all was well and the insurance was not needed.
We knew we wanted the early dinner seating. On HAL this seating is in very high demand due to the older passengers and the many families.
A month before the cruise we wrote to HAL's headquarters and requested a complementary cabin upgrade. Roger advised us when he received notification that we had been upgraded to a large outside cabin. We also researched our destinations: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and Tortula, British Virgin Islands, plus the two private island days. We knew we would not purchase the cruise line shore excursions.
Rotterdam Dining Room Service- Poor: On most cruises the dining room service is excellent and passengers have a change tom really bond with their servers. That was not the case for our table. Our primary server was Rachmat. He displayed little or no personality. He never attempted to know our names and frequently made mistakes. He also offered few good suggestions. Rachmat was assisted by Nur Aziz who also did not impress us. Those at other tables served by this team agreed. I'm sure their tips and reviews reflected the lack luster service they provided.
Friday, April 9, 2004: The three of us drove from Charlotte, NC to Jacksonville, FL for the night. This allowed us to travel at a leisurely pace and get a good night's sleep. We reserved the hotel well in advance due to this being Easter week end. We each had prepared a small overnight bag that would allow us not to unpack our entire car trunk for our one quick night.
Day 1, Saturday, April 10, 2004, Embark From Port Canaveral We made the final ninety mile drive at a relaxed pace. Our bags were already labeled with the tags HAL had sent us. We arrived at the port at 12:30PM. We were thrilled to see huge ships in port. Large signs directed us to Holland America. We were pointed to an unloading parking space. Our luggage was taken away to soon arrive in our cabin. I drove to the nearby parking area, which was uncovered. I paid the $10 per day in advance. The check-in went smoothly. Documents were checked. They collected credit cards information so that you're on ship purchases can be easily charged at the end of the cruise. Room keys that also serve as on board charge card are issued. The first on many posed pictures were taken. Only one hour after arriving at the port we were enjoying lunch at 1:30PM.
We were very pleased with our cabin. The two twin beds were moved together. Our son would sleep on a sofa that converts to a cot. There was a desk with chair. The bath had plenty of room for us. There was a large window. Prior to our arrival we'd been upgraded from an inside cabin on the Dolphin deck to a large outside cabin on the main deck.
We then explored the ship including the library, spa, and pool decks. I visited the concierge to make sure we were being seated at a large table for dinner. We prefer to sit with a large group instead of our just sitting as a party of three. We were assigned to a table for eight, perfect. My son and I visit the basketball area. There we meet a father and son that live within fifty miles of us. George and his son "G" were very friendly. I somehow knew our paths would cross many times during the next week, and I was right. We really hit it off with them.
Late in the afternoon we had the fire drill, which went smoothly. Then we went with to leave our son at the Bon Voyage Party. He was eager to say good-bye to us, which was fine with us. Leslie and I went to the top deck to waive good-bye to Florida. Then we went to prepare for dinner.
The dining room is two stories. There was a pianist near the entrance. Very elegant. We were the last to arrive at our table, which was next to a large window. We were with a good group. There was a family of three, which included a seven year old daughter. We immediately enjoyed her parents Rick and Angela, both about age thirty-five. They were from Tennessee. The other pair was a seventy year old grandmother named Del traveling with her thirteen year old son, Zack. They were from Florida. We all spoke openly and all participated in the conversation. We knew we'd enjoy meals with these people. If we had not felt this was I would have immediately ask to have my table assignment changed.
After dinner our son went to Club HAL (youth program). Leslie and I went to the auditorium for the show. The entertainment was a comedian named Dwayne Cunningham. His show included juggling and wholesome humor. We enjoyed it.
As we wandered the upper deck hall ways observing the art work I visited the restroom. When I tried to exit the slipping door wouldn't. I knocked on the door, and shouted. No one came. This was a fairly remote area. After about fifteen minutes my wife heard me. She told me through the door that she was getting help. Ten minutes later she returned, and then ten minutes an engineer arrived to remove the door. Forty minutes after entering I was freed. To add insult to injury my wife advised me while I was locked in that I was in the women's room, not the men's. Fortunately this mishap was not a sign of things to come.
Day 2, Sunday, April 11, 2004, Easter Sunday, At Sea At days end my wife would tell me that this is her favorite day ever on a cruise. We rose at 6:00 AM and went to Interdenominational Easter Worship in the Waging Theater. It was a full house. A retired Navy Chaplain led the service.
After breakfast John and I played ping pong. Leslie and I got chairs and lounged by the pool. We read, chatted, and napped. We went to find John for lunch but he was eating with some new friends. Leslie and I went to our cabin and changed from swim suits and went to Rotterdam dining room for a more formal lunch than the Lido Deck Dining Room offered. We were seated with a charming older couple. We talked until we were nearly the last guests in the room. If it's service and atmosphere you want then the Rotterdam dining room is the best choice for meals.
After lunch Leslie has hair styling appointment. I take the occasion to enjoy and afternoon nap in the cabin with the ocean moving swiftly by our window. Leslie awakens me and I go on deck. John is in an organized basketball free throw contest with other passengers. I joined in too. It was very windy on deck. You had to shoot a free throw three feet to the right to have a chance of the wind blowing it in. It was fun watching and cheering. We then played in ping pong tournament. There were 24 males that participated. There was a wide range of ages. John and I met in the Championship. I won.
I go to the room to prepare for formal night. Leslie is beautiful with her new hair style and dress. We go to the Captain's reception early to avoid the long lines for traditional picture with the captain. We were right; the lines were very long later. We enjoyed champaign with other passengers then went on deck for more pictures of our own. We went to the dining room and for the second night waited shoulder to shoulder for the doors to open. (Note: There is no need to arrive early for dinner. They do not open the doors until the prescribed time.)
Rick and Angela were late for dinner because she had a spa treatment that went late. They are a lot of fun to be with, and are very funny. For dinner I had lobster bisque, Caesar salad, crab legs (already split) with hot butter, and crusted salmon. The head steward made flaming crepe suzette beside the table. We invited our table mate Del to sit with is for the show and that we'd save her a seat near the front. She liked the idea and we enjoy her company. Her grandson Zack in going to Club Hal.
The show was "Up on the Roof," the songs for the 50's and 60's. Lights, costumes, dancing. The cast had about ten performers. After the show we went to the cabin to find our son John under the covers watching a baseball game. He's bushed. We then rushed to play Name That Tune in the piano bar. We were not alone. There was a big crowd. We strolled the ship enjoying the art displays and various musical offerings. We visit the casino but did not wager since I am a loser at the tables.
We retire at 11:00PM. We place our morning coffee and fruit order outside the door. We agree that we don't have enough room to comfortably enjoy breakfast in the room. Leslie states that this has been her favorite day ever on a cruise.
Day 3, Monday, April 12, 2004, At Sea We rise early and get chairs by pool at 7:00 AM. We have breakfast at 7:30am. I worked out in the gym, which has all cardio machines facing forward toward the open sea. It's a nice view. HAL is known for well equipped fitness centers, and the Zaandam is no exception. John and I participate in ping pong and shuffle board tournaments.
I shower, steam, and dress in the spa to give Leslie and John more room to prepare for dinner. I really enjoy this practice. I'm surprised that more passengers don't shower and dress for dinner in the spa. Dinner is informal. One third of men are not wearing jackets. The show features Paul Tanner who sings and is an impressionist. His finale is Elvis which many men really appreciated since the women were really swooning. Leslie, John and I go to the Crow's Nest Lounge for TV Tune Trivia, which was fun. Then we retire for the night.
Day 4, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Road Town, Tortula, British Virgin Islands We awoke at 6:00AM and could see that we'd arrived at Tortula as scheduled. We are the only ship in port. Our coffee arrived as requested. John and I had breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room. Breakfast is his favorite meal of the day. This breakfast was outstanding.
We were eager visit Road Town. We could see the beautiful island and its beaches. We went ashore and took a cab to a beach we'd read about called Brewers Cove. The driver gave us much local information. The taxi trip to Brewers Cove is $6 per person. He dropped us off at the beach which had a small snorkel equipment rental shack, which served drinks as well. Chickens and roosters ran wild around the shack and beach. We'd brought our own snorkeling equipment; therefore John and I were ready to go. We had the beach all to ourselves. No other passengers arrived until we'd been there for over two hours. (Note: We'd have felt safer and had a better time if we'd waited until 10:00AM instead of 8:00AM to go the beach with more fellow passengers.) The three of us were all alone for over two hours after the cab driver left us. This is not the best feeling in a foreign land. The water was clear and snorkeling is pretty good. We found beautiful coral reef.
We'd enjoyed the beach and wanted to return to Road Town for shopping and sight seeing so we caught a taxi that was dropping off passengers. John wanted to freshen up on board since he was tired and felt sandy, but Leslie and I wanted to stay in town. He returned to the ship alone. Leslie and I walked the town and joined went on board an hour later. We purchased forty postcards and BVI postage stamps. We found John napping. Leslie and I had lunch on board. I retired to the Crows Nest to write cards to friends and family back home. John found me and convinced me to come and play in the shuffleboard tournament. Afterward I returned to Road Town to mail the cards and for more shopping. I ran into Leslie while re-boarding at about 4:30PM.
Tonight's the big Caribbean Deck Party and BBQ. During the day I'd ran into our table mates and we all agreed that we'd be on deck and would not dine in the Rotterdam Dining Room. A big draw is $10 unlimited rum punch served in a pineapple. Prior to dinner I again showered, steamed, and dressed in the spa. There was a huge buffet on the Lido deck and the Caribbean band played. It was a great time.
The evening closed with Comedian Dwayne Cunningham in The Mondriaan Lounge. We enjoyed this show as much as the one on our first night on board.
Day 5, Wednesday, April 14, 2004, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands We again rose at 6:00AM. It was a short trip to St. Thomas, and we are docked. We can wee other mega-ships like the Princess's Golden Princess, and Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. We have to see customs to get a card to go ashore. We wait for our level to be called, which was a mistake. (Note: If you wish to go ashore as soon as possible then get in line with customs as soon as possible.)
Our son John is an excellent golfer and we need to keep his game sharp during the week long cruise. We'd researched our destinations and learned that there is one golf course in the Virgin Islands. Mahogany Run Golf Course is in St. Thomas and ahs a driving range. John brought three clubs on the cruise and when we went ashore he took them with him for our visit to the course. We caught a cab with our friends George and "G" who were going fishing at Megan's Bay. The cab dropped the three of us off at Mahogany Run and the driver gave us his mobile number to call when we were ready to return to Charlotte Amalie.
The staff at the golf course treated us very well. I'd learned that this course is famous for three holes created on cliffs that overlook the ocean. They are known as "The Devil's Triangle." We wanted to see them. I asked a staff member is I could tale our cart to see the holes. He said no, but after accepting a generous tip he offered to take us personally on a cart that easily carried three of us, plus the driver. What a thrill! The beauty was indescribable. The holes were very challenging. Our driver let John playa par-3 hole. He made a par. We made some excellent pictures.
We called our taxi driver and he came promptly to return us to the port. I wanted to walk historic St. Thomas instead of returning to the ship. The driver dropped me and took Leslie and John to the ship. Later Leslie would shop at the ship side shops called Haversight Shops. She bought a bracelet which she wears daily. I walked back to the ship. I tried to find John at ping pong tournament, and then check at the trivia tournament, he wasn't there either. The game was about to start with six teams. I joined in and we won. Lot's of laughs and fun questions.
Dinner was very unusual. It was an informal night. Rick and Angela were having dinner in the Pinnacle Grill ($20 per person, reservations required). Their seven year old daughter Mattie wanted to dine with us instead, so Rick and Angela invited Del to join then. Her grandson, Zack would dine with us too. Our son was dining in the Lido Restaurant with new friends. So there we were: me, my wife, a seven year old girl, and a thirteen year old boy. Neither child was related to one another. None of us knew each other only four days earlier. The head steward seated a couple with us because there were four open seats. Needless to say they were intrigued. The couple was from Tampa and we came to learn that they were in the cabin next door to us. About the time we finished dinner the three adults returned to claim their children.
Leslie has a headache and retires for the evening. I go see The Hill Brothers Show. This is an excellent comedy and juggling show. After the show I go check on Leslie, who's sleeping. I go to the piano bar and join a Name That Tune team. My teammates are a family we've gotten to know. They have three generations on the cruise. We do well scoring 25 points, while 26 wins. Leslie still sleeps and it's 1020PM. I walk the deck and go to the theater for The Hill Brothers Show. I really like this juggling and comedy act. The brothers are both in their twenties.
Tonight is the dessert extravaganza. They've converted the Lido Dining Room for the midnight event. Many people enjoy taking pictures of the ice sculptures and beautiful desserts. Then they eat again. There is a special flaming crepe suzette station.
Day 6, Thursday, April 15, 2004 (At Sea) Leslie feels much better. We have breakfast in Lido Dining Room. We claim poolside chairs. We enjoy the sun and Caribbean band music. John and I participate in another ping pong tournament.
Since I enjoy the Rotterdam Dining Room and today will be our final lunch onboard, I decide to go to there for lunch. It's a party of two, just me and my book. I've broken protocol by wearing my dry swim shorts, shoes and a collared shirt. For some reason they seat me at an empty table for six. When I'm about half way through a French couple I'd met earlier was seated at the opposite end from me. They wanted to chat. There topic was that they were disappointed at the extremely casual attire many of the passengers insisted on wearing. The wife shuddered when the stated that she had even seen someone at lunch earlier in the week wearing their swim suit. I shook my head in disgust to show my agreement with her. I then remembered that I was wearing my yellow trunks with big blue flowers. The napkin in my lap and table cloth had thus far hidden my faux pas. I knew I did not want them to know, but I was over half way through when they arrived and I did not want to wait for them to finish, at which time I could stay at my seat and avoid them seeing my trunks. Besides they could see I was well into lunch when they arrived and it would have been very awkward to wait for them to finish and then stay there seated until they left. So when I finished I simply rose and said good bye. The trunks were clear to see. I made no comment and did nothing to call attention, though they seemed louder than normal, and I departed the dining room. I hope they thought that my trunks were simply the latest in American high fashion and sophistication. The moral of the story is to avoid under dressing for any occasion.
I went to the team trivia contest in the Crow's Nest Lounge. Thunder storm and rain arrived for the late afternoon. George and our new pal Mike invite me for a few drinks in the Crow's Nest. We enjoy the view of ocean view and conversation.
Tonight is a formal dinner night. I stream, shower, and dress in the locker room. We have more photos taken. This is the best dinner of the week. I have shrimp cocktail, clam chowder, salad with raspberry dressing, lobster tail with hot melted butter, filet mignon, and baked Alaska for dessert.
After dinner Leslie and I strolled the deck, plus enjoyed the art work inside the ship. We then go to the Zaandam cast show. We sat on the third row. Great singing, dancing, costumes, props, lights, etc. After the show we play a few slots, and then retire to the Explorers Lounge for some classical music. The live trio plays piano, bass, and violin. After this we go to the piano bar.
The youth ages 13-17 are having their own casino night. Leslie and I walk by their large room and make eye contact with our fifteen year old. His eyes say hello but do not enter. We move and retire to our cabin and change into more comfortable clothes. John comes back and he and I go play some night time ping pong. Then to bed.
Day 7, Friday, April 16, 2004. (Half Moon Cay) We rise early because the private island experience is our favorite and we want to be among the first ashore. We realize that the last tender returning to the ship leaves at 1245PM. The "tendering" is scheduled to start at 800AM. At 700AM we found that no land is in sight yet. We learn that there is a weather delay. High waves are causing concern about the safety of the tenders beside the ship. At 910AM we see the island. Leslie is sunning. John and I play ping pong with friends. We catch a tender at 930AM, and arrive at 945PM. We'll have three hours on the island. We find a secluded part of the beach near an empty hammock. We relax and enjoy the sun. Photographers from the ship come by with a variety of clever photo opportunities.
We love the private island experience. Clear ocean water, white sandy beaches, clean, shopping, water sports, Caribbean music, and a simply buffet. I snorkel out the some ship wreckage they've placed. It has barnacles and many fish. Also saw coral reef. Son John and I nap together in a hammock. John goes back to the ship ahead of us. Leslie and I strolled the beach.
We run into and visit with a newly-wed couple we've spoken to several times. They are both about 55 years old. The groom told me earlier in the week that they would be married on St. Thomas. They were eager to tell us all about it, and we were glad to listen. We sit on the beach and chat.
At 1215PM Leslie wants to return to the ship. I want to stay and see Angela and Bill (our table mates) ride the banana boat. She goes back to the ship and I hang with them. When I'm walking to the tender I chat with a very tall, attractive and sophisticated fifty year old divorced woman. She had not enjoyed the cruise. She was eager to return home to kill (or at least assault) her travel agent. It seems that she anticipated good activities for single women to meet single men. Boy was she on the wrong cruise. She was surprised at how much I'd loved it. She like many were passengers was upset about the short visit to Half Moon Cay. When I looked at the people around us I could see why she was disappointed. It was nearly all families, many with small children. Certainly the single men she'd come to meet. The cruise director had told us that they are 250 kids under eighteen on board, and that last week there were 450. He joked that with 450 youth on board it brought the average passenger age down to eighty-one years old.
I ran into my pa George and we return to the ship together. His family left him too. We join Angela and Bill on the tender. I find John napping in the cabin and find Leslie sunning. It's too windy so we go inside. We go check out our photos. We need to get our 15 for $99. I see on the daily schedule that there is an event called "Meet the Zaandam Cast." They are charming. Their ages are about 18-25 years old. Many passengers and particularly young girls have questions. They then take us on a backstage tour to see dressing rooms, costumes, wigs and props.
This is our last evening onboard. We have a full table since Bill and Angela's daugher Mattie has brought along a seven year old pal. I have artichoke dip, conch and corn chowder, chilled pineapple and banana soup, Greek salad, roast duck, prime rib, and finally bananas flambé for dessert. At our table we all exchanged addresses. Before dinner Leslie and I had prepared envelopes with tips for various staff, which we personally delivered. Our table servers got very little. After dinner we went to a magic show featuring a husband and wife team. It was called DV8, like deviate. I really like the show. After the show we stay for Jackpot Bingo. The grand prize of $5,800 will be awarded. A twelve year old girl wins. They also have the cruise lottery winner drawn, again we do not win. Big fun for all. We return to the cabin to pack for Saturday arrival at port. Our bags must be outside cabin door by 100AM.
Day 8, Saturday, April 17, 2004 Son John's favorite meal of the day is breakfast, but he's not yet had breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. He and I go together. It's wonderful of course. They have about any breakfast item imaginable available including fresh fruits and fresh squeezed juices.
We relax on deck until our group is called to leave the ship. We quickly retrieve our bags and go to our car. Back to North Carolina.
In Closing: You were warned this was long and detailed. I hope it is as helpful and as entertaining for you and those I've read in the past.
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!)
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.
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.
Holland America vs Disney
We were on the Eastern Caribbean cruise over Christmas 2003 - we paid the same price for the 7 day cruise and got joining balcony staterooms as if we had done Disney without balcony. We had been on Disney for the Millennium Cruise to Eastern Caribbean in 1999 and this is a review based on both experiences.
We had heard that Holland America is a 4* or 4*+ cruise line and we weren't disappointed. We sailed from Port Canaveral - and the check-in process was extremely efficient. The cabins were on the 3rd deck - My wife and I had one cabin with a Queen bed and our 2 kids had the adjoining cabin with twin beds set up. The porter arranged the balcony so that the kids could go back and forth between the rooms.
Food is the primary reason for any cruise. The food was excellent on the Zandaam - there are two main restaurants on board, a casual dining restaurant for breakfast adisney has more restaurants, which becomes more varied for dining - and the stewards are assigned to a family. On both cruise shipsthere is an up-market restaurant for adults. I strongly recommend both, although there is a nominal charge.
We opted for the "World Wine Tour" - which was a little pricey, and provided us with 5 bottles from a list of about 7 or 8 wines. I wish the list were a little longer and more varied. Both ships varied the menus and the dress code nightly.
Both ships have poolside dining during the day. Holland America had a barbeque, which was a great alternative.
All alcohol is charged for, understandably - and both lines are expensive. Holland America charges for alcohol in the Casino. On the Zaandam, our eldest (under 16) successfully purchased alcohol with a group of his friends. We reprimanded both the line (and our son) - Disney ID's everyone.
Both Disney and Holland America charge for soft drinks, which is annoying. They both charge for a "card" at around $30 or which provides free soda. It is easy to forget the card and end up paying anyway. Disney provides younger guests a soft-drink sticker for the room card - much better. I'd prefer if Cruise lines just added $20-$30 per passenger for free soft drinks.
Entertainment on the Zaandam is chintzy and is catered toward mature passengers. Both lines have a cinema on board that show relatively recent releases. Disney only shows Disney movies. There are activities throughout the day on both ships, although auctions are expensive and should be avoided.
The Zaandam has a casino, which is open all day, and into the early hours. This is a fundamental difference from Disney. The casino had too many slot machines, causing too much noise. It is possible to guide the kids around the casino - but the opening entices younger children with the flashing lights of the slots.
The casino could also benefit with better ventilation. I smoke myself, but I could tell that the smoke bothered some of the people playing there. I'd encourage smoking and non-smoking tables, reduce the slots, and quieten the area down.
On the Zaandam, there are two pools on board - one small indoor, the other outdoor. There were always a lot of teens playing around the smaller pool, which made parents uncomfortable. Disney has 3 pools including one for only "over 21's" and one for smaller kids.
There were a number of bars around the ship - and although the cruise was full, the bars were quiet and mostly you had the area to yourself. Both cruise lines excel in this - however, Disney has a sports bar called the "ESPN Zone" - compared to the Zaandam which only had a single television in a bar near the casino.
I have a younger child - 5 years old - who was signed up to "Club Hal". I was impressed by the activities that they provided to the kids - but realistically the "counselors" were nothing like the Disney staff - which is completely expected. Disney really KNOW how to handle kids - we had some issues with our youngest getting into the spirit of the games and he was left out of one activity on the Zaandam because that activity was full. Disney would never leave kids out of activities.
If you're going to sail somewhere, you really need time to see that place. This was a major complaint on my behalf with Holland America. We sailed into St Martin, which provided an all day excursion and was excellent. The following day was spent at Tortola BVI, and we arrived at about 8am and had to leave at 4pm. Two days later, we arrived at the private Half Moon Cay at 10am and left at 2pm. Disney seems to always ensure that you get to a place early, and leave after sundown - ensuring you have plenty of time at the destination. We felt rushed at Tortola and Half Moon Cay.
Half Moon Cay was annoying. It was certainly beautiful - but Holland America decided to have the Zaandam AND the Zuiderdam berth on the same day on the Island - resulting in a completely over-crowded beach. I took off towards the North of the Island to escape the horrible overpacked crowds (something you'd expect to NOT see on a cruise) - but the limitation of time resulted in a long walk and no relaxation.
Disney built a dock for their boats on their island - and had many, many activities available that made you want to stay longer than a single day. They guarantee that only one of their two ships will be at Castaway Cay (Disney's island). Holland America used their tenders to get to shore (resulting in long lines going and returning) and have failed miserably in comparison. Since this was the penultimate day, it was disappointing to an otherwise fine cruise.
In summary, Disney excels, but at a higher cost than Holland America. Its whether the 30-40% extra is worth it for your vacation. We are booked on the next Christmas Cruise with Disney for 2004.
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.
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.
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.