I am a smoker and I have never felt so unwelcome on any of the other 28 ships I've sailed on. The ship went out of it's way to make me feel like a second class citizen. You could not enjoy a smoke and a cup of coffee anyplace indoors except your cabin. No ash trays in the casino unless you asked for one. I noticed that they sell cigarettes on the ship but they don't want you to smoke them I guess. The ship itself was OK..
it looked like your grandmother decorated it. I was waiting for the doilies to be put on the chairs. Service in the dining room was like the other HAL ships I've sailed on - lousy. The waiters can't remember who ordered what and you have to ask for coffee or tea and the food wasn't that good. Cabin steward was great though. I don't think I'll choose HAL again.
Bill and I began cruising five years ago and consider it the most relaxing and romantic way to spend vacation days, which are considered "gold" in our "work-a-day" lives. Prior to this cruise we have been aboard RCCL (3) and Carnival (1). Years ago, on a trip to Vancouver, we saw a Holland America ship docked at Canada Place and Bill said, "We have to do one of those ships." Well, we finally did!
We had originally planned on running away to the Mexican Riviera for Thanksgiving as I still suffer from Post Traumatic Turkey Syndrome brought on by too many years of doing "the bird". All was set with deposits until I came across a Five Day Flash and discovered Holland America was "portioning" a twenty-one day Panama Canal reposition cruise and one of the available segments was Vancouver to San Diego (five nights).
Though it did not fall into any Thanksgiving schedule, Vancouver and San Diego are two of our favorite places on earth and there were also two days at sea. WE LOVE DAYS AT SEA! So, I quickly called my travel agent and cancelled Mexico and Booked theZaandam for a guarantee B (outside mini verandah suite). About a month before the cruise our documents arrived. These were unlike any we had ever received as they were in substantial leather tri-fold wallets with all your cruise tickets and a special place for your passport. What a classy presentation and they proved to be an excellent way of PRE EMBARKATION
We live in Prescott, Arizona, which is about one hundred miles from the Phoenix airport. I had made separate air and pre cruise hotel reservations as I could find a far better rate than Holland America was offering. We have discovered a Days Inn close to the airport where you can park your car for free up to a week if you stay there one night. Their rates are very reasonable and we don't have to stress about potential traffic problems and missing our morning flights. This worked out well again and we were able to get to the airport with time to spare and enjoyed an uneventful flight from Phoenix to Vancouver. The customs situation in Vancouver can be long and tedious, but this time things weren't as bad as last September. The fact that we were the second to last ship leaving port at the closing of the Alaska cruise season helped keep numbers down.
We had booked a package at the Hotel Listel on Robson Street for the night before embarkation. This unique, boutique hotel is on the Rodeo Drive of Vancouver and is a top- notch operation. Our Deluxe Gallery Package (US $132 + tax) included an upgraded gallery room complete with original artwork by a prominent Canadian artist, a seventy- five dollar dinner credit at O'Doul's Restaurant, French Press coffee and news paper delivery in the morning and full menu breakfast at O'Doul's. We arrived in blustery Fall weather which was a welcomed relief from the seemingly endless drought we have experienced in the Southwest. The gray skies and mist were a perfect background for the vibrant Fall leaves and damp streets. Our room had a view of Robson Street and we could actually see a bit of the harbor. I can't say enough about the quality of this hotel; artwork, furnishings, concierge service, dining and overall atmosphere are primo.
We were very hungry since we flew through lunch and it was mid afternoon. The international dining opportunities in Vancouver rival New York and San Francisco. The Robson area is a Mecca for food enthusiasts. We had dinner planned at O'Doul's, so we didn't want to overly indulge. We found a casual Sushi restaurant a few doors down from the hotel. Two Miso soups, tea and about thirty five pieces of assorted sushi came out to about eleven dollars US. We were blown away!
The light rain had subsided so we decided to do a bit of roaming along Robson. This is a wonderfully eclectic place with lots of people and extraordinary shopping variety. We sort of wandered about, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the diversity. The rain began to pick up and we went back to the Listel to cuddle up and enjoy the warmth prior to our dinner at seven thirty. Bill napped as I cuddled on our window seat watching the locals bundled in wool coats and knee high boots scurry about their after-work business. Ahhh yes, we weren't in "Kansas" anymore.
Dinner was absolutely grand. O'Doul's is known for wonderful food and live jazz. Bill had salmon and I had this wonderful chicken stuffed with Gorgonzola, spinach and apricot in a wine reduction that was to die for. The live music was an added treat and the whole affair was a perfect precursor for the adventure that awaited us the next day.
We planned a wake up call about seven so we could go for a walk down to Canada Place and see our Zaandam. She had been in dry dock the previous week and we knew she'd be a sight to behold. Lord, it's dark in Vancouver at seven A.M! Our French Press Coffee was delivered and it rivaled the best we have ever had at coffee houses. Fueled with a caffeine "jump start" we ventured out about eight and headed for the harbor.
She was there in all her glory as starched and pressed as one could ever imagine a ship to be. I was breathless and wanted to hop ship then and there. We watched as they brought pallet after pallet of provisions for the coming week. What an operation! Cranes and forklifts choreographed in a ballet of stocking the Zaandam with anything and everything we could possibly need on our voyage.
Check in takes place on the lowest level of Canada Place, under the convention center. We headed down to get a sort of "lay of the land" and plan our strategy to board as early as possible. We had heard of folks boarding as early as eleven thirty or as late as one thirty on Cruise Critic boards. The crew was boarding at that point and we learned that they would begin with passengers about eleven thirty. We walked back to the hotel stopping along the way to grab a couple of Vancouver T-shirts and settled into O'Doul's to enjoy the best Eggs Benedict I've ever eaten.
Bill headed out to get some Echinacea/Zinc tabs (we both felt colds coming on) and I did last minute packing and tagging of our bags. A quick call to the bellman resulted in a luggage loaded taxi in less than five minutes. It took no time at all before we were handing our bags over to the Holland America porters and were standing in line waiting for our carry-on bags to be scanned. We struck up a conversation with Al and Patricia from Carlsbad, California and about eleven forty five the line began to move. We quickly got through security, were given a boarding number and exchanged our paper ticket for our cruise ID card/room key/onboard charge card. One card covers all these necessities, which is very convenient. We were directed to a seating area and were kept informed as to what to expect next. All that prevented us from boarding the ship was getting through U.S. immigration and until they arrived, we stayed put.
In the mean time, the onboard Spa staff set up a table and booked appointments. The wine stewards were selling prepaid wine packages and a vendor sold soft drinks and snack items. Folks read, chatted, paced and a few became impatient. This wasn't a reflection on HAL; they were also at the mercy of U.S. Immigration's arrival.
At about one fifteen a handful of men and women in official looking uniforms arrived to an ovation from the crowd. The holding area was now standing room only and we were all ready to show our passports and get on with embarkation. It seemed like forever as they booted up their computers. Since 911 they no longer just look at your ID or passport; they now have to cross-reference you with their computer records. The wheelchair and cane folks were first to board and then on to the "masses". We were in the first group and it went quite quickly. Soon we were being directed toward a gangway!!!!! Our "Day One" had finally come and we were about to board the ship of our dreams and experience the reality.
DAY ONE Port of Vancouver
Each step up that gangway was a delight. I felt like a little child walking through the gates of Disneyland for the first time. As advertised, a bevy of Holland America staff was there to greet us and, to my joy, there was no obnoxious photographer insisting we pose behind an oversized life preserver. There was an embarkation photo area that one could go to if they desired a picture. Very nicely done. We were formally welcomed aboard and a white gloved steward directed us to our cabin on the sixth deck, mid ship, starboard side.
Cabin #6177 I think cabins and food are the most discussed subjects on cruise boards and a review of either is a very personal issue. Some folks book minimum cabins because they don't expect to spend much time there and would rather allot their cruise dollar elsewhere. Others must have some natural light in the form of windows or portholes. Some must have space and balconies. Bill and I have done outside picture windows and on our last cruise experienced our first balcony (Alaska 2001). Alas, the first balcony has resulted in our last picture window. We love the outdoor space and keeping the door open at night in order to fall asleep with the sound of the ocean is now a BillnJill priority.
Our Category A mini suite was lovely. Upon entering there was a bathroom on the left that was plenty roomy and had a Jacuzzi tub and excellent water pressure. A standard size medicine cabinet was more than adequate for two people and there was additional space under the sink for curling irons, blow dryers, shaving kits, hair spray, etc. The embroidered Holland America towels were fluffy and absorbent. I have very long thick hair and though I brought my own hairdryer, I was interested in the one provided as I had read they were not very good at all. It's the darndest looking thing I've ever seen (kind of an albatross from the seventies). It took me three days to discover there was an outlet hidden behind a flap in the front of it. Drying my hair took awhile and the plastic handle did get very hot by the time the dryer could actually do its' job. This can be corrected by wrapping a washcloth around the part you hold. Not great, but with the insulation of the washcloth you will be able to dry your hai On the right wall of the entry hall you will find four closet spaces with shelves in some and hanging bars in others. Some are adjustable and for our short trip the available hanging space was adequate. There is a full length mirror on one closet door, a safe and the life preservers are stored on one shelf of another closet. I would say for an extremely long voyage with many formal nights, hanging space would be at a premium and probably used for gowns, cocktail dresses, suits, etc. I'd gear my casual clothes toward the foldable sort. We were also provided waffle weave bathrobes that were comfy, roomy and perfect for intercepting that early room service coffee or middle of the night weather checks on the balcony.
Upon entering the main part of the stateroom you will find either two twins or one large queen if you have requested the beds put together. The bed linens are of the finest quality I have ever encountered on a ship and the mattresses were firm and the thickness of a home mattress..not the thin stuff we've had on RCCL and Carnival. There are lights over the beds, light controls and a radio built into the wall above the bed. A large mirror adds light and spaciousness to the feeling of the room. There is a curtain that divides the sleeping area from the sitting area that has a full sized couch, an end table with mini refrigerator below and a telescoping table for cocktail or dining adjustment. A desk/wall unit with nine drawers, tv and vcr, and stocked mini bar is across from the couch and also sports another mirror unit. Floor to ceiling windows with a door to the balcony are at the end of the sitting room. Both heavy and sheer drapes allow for light control and decorative ambiance. The balcony has a lou The condition of the stateroom was meticulous.....no stains, no worn carpet or upholstery and the cabin steward kept everything in perfect order. If you are looking for towel animals, you won't find them on Holland America and thank God they don't get into your personal clothing and make sculptures out of them; RCCL did this and it was not appreciated. So, thumbs up to the stateroom including the fruit bowl and personalized stationary!
As we were checking out every nook and cranny of our mini suite, our luggage began to arrive. I think we'd been aboard less than twenty minutes. We didn't want to take time to unpack as I had my "first things first" checklist to address. We stashed our valuables in the safe and headed down to the Marco Polo alternative dining room to book our anniversary dinner for the following Wednesday evening. We expected a line, but there was none. Next we went to the dining room to check out our table. We were waitlisted for early, ended up getting it and were at a table for six on the upper balcony. Perfect! Our final stop was to check out the line at the Purser's Desk and see if it was a good time to register our credit card to our onboard account. Amazingly, there was no line there either. All that was left was to get up to the Lido for the Welcome Aboard Luncheon. Ah Ha! We discovered where everyone was!
Though crowded, the line moved along quite well. An attendant hands you your tray with napkin and utensils and down the road of decadence you go attempting to choose from salads, soups, shrimp cocktails, main courses, side dishes, breads and beverages. The dessert stations and salad bar are located on their own "islands" and offer a wide selection. I found the Lido on the Zaandam nicer than the other buffet venues we have experienced on ships. The attention to carpet, upholstery, seating, drapes, etc gave it a more formal feeling than the cafeteria atmosphere we've had in the past. I will address the actual food later on in this review.
We returned to the cabin and unpacked prior to the lifeboat drill. The gathering at our muster station went according to Hoyle and in a decent time frame we were depositing our vests back in the cabin and venturing up to the Lido Deck for the sail away party.
It was cloudy and cool in Vancouver, so the retractable roof was closed over the Lido swimming pool area. There were sail away drinks and chips, salza and guacamole to enjoy. Due to the closed roof the band was very loud and we decided to escape up to the forward Sky Deck that turned out to be a perfect spot to marvel at the beauty of Stanley Park, Fall Foliage and the Lion's Gate Bridge.
At dinner we were thrilled to find out that Al and Patricia (our check in linemates) were also our tablemates! Bob and Sheila arrived soon after and we all found we were on the five night itinerary. We had a marvelous time over the next days exchanging tidbits about our lives, kids, previous travels, plans for this current cruise, etc. What a stroke of luck to get such a compatible group since we were all part of a last minute, wait list shuffle.
After dinner we explored the ship and went to the Welcome Aboard show. I wasn't anticipating anything amazing as previous reviews stated HAL is not known for their entertainment. I would concur and though not terrible, we knew that the evening shows would be a careful "pick and choose" activity.
Tired from all the boarding excitement we retired to our stateroom after another bit of exploration. We were in the Straits of Georgia so the water was very calm and after cracking the door open we fell asleep to the gentle motion of the ship and the sounds of the Zaandam's foghorn. Only on a ship...
AND THE REST OF THE STORY...(Day two through six)
I will now break from the chronological organization of this review and divide the remainder into specific experience areas such as ports of call, onboard activities, entertainment, dining, service and the ship itself.
Most of you reading this will be taking an itinerary different than our rare Pacific Coastal sailing, so this will be a brief overview of our Ports of Call and Days at Sea.
The second morning we awoke to clouds, drizzle and the beautiful skyline of Seattle. Pier 66 is perfectly located just blocks from the famed Pike Street Market and close to various public forms of transportation that can take you throughout the downtown area. We were meeting Bill's sister who lives nearby and taking the Seattle Underground Tour at Pioneer Square. This was such a great way to learn about the city's early history, see some great architecture and have a unique experience in the bowels of old Seattle. For eight bucks (AAA rate) this is a deal! We ventured on to the Pike Street Market and enjoyed a wonderful lunch upstairs overlooking table upon table of gorgeous produce in the marketplace below. After watching the fish throwing extravaganza, listening to a very talented street musician and buying a lovely bouquet of flowers for the stateroom we said our goodbyes to Penny and returned to the ship. The previous evening's Sail Away rum punch glass became my vase for the flowers and our suite
Day three brought us to the picturesque town of Astoria which lies about fifteen miles up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. It is known for its' amazing bridge that connects Oregon to Washington and completed the Coast Highway 101 from Mexico to Canada when built. This town pulled out all the stops for our arrival since they only get the Zaandam in twice a year; once on the Fall Canal reposition and once again on the reverse reposition. There was a craft show set up by the dock, a open air tent with live folk bands playing throughout the day, school buses ferried folks from the dock to the quaint downtown shopping area and tour buses and boats provided excursions to Lewis and Clark themed locations. We were made to feel like a boat full of dignitaries and it was utterly delightful. They even bussed in the diminutive high school marching band to serenade us for a half hour before we sailed away. Astoria was a charming contrast to the huge, modern ports of Vancouver, Seattle and San Diego. We sailed toward the Pacific and soon would be "at sea" without the protection of the inside passages we had been sailing. We knew right when we hit the ocean. At eleven o'clock that night we began to roll a bit and for the next couple of days were in seas that swelled to about twelve feet. Some folks got queasy, but we found it just delightful to feel the boat and the ocean moving together.
Days Four and Five the Zaandam was at sea traveling from Northern Oregon to Southern California. Until we docked in San Diego the morning of day six we had the boat to explore and enjoy to the fullest.
SO, WHAT'S THERE TO DO ON THOSE ' DAM SHIPS?
We love our Days at Sea and still get up early because we don't want to waste time sleeping. Each morning we would have coffee and juice delivered to the room about six AM before Bill would take off to work out in the gym. The Ocean Spa workout area has huge windows overlooking the bow of the ship and is a lovely place to tread, step or bike away those wonderful calories being served all over the boat. The staff is excellent and is more than happy to assist any passenger desiring help or activities. There were organized aerobics classes and they were doing personal fitness evaluations that would be rather helpful to those who were taking the full three week trek through the canal. I, on the other hand, am a walker so I'd spend those early mornings exploring the ship, trying to find ways to get to places and try to remember how to do it again later. Our weather was still overcast and blustery so any jogging on the sports deck was a risky proposition, though the Promenade Deck was popular with the morning by nine o'clock we were ready for our breakfast we generally enjoyed in the Rotterdamn Dining Room. Days at sea are relaxed and the pace of breakfast in the main dining room suits that end perfectly. Enjoying a cappuccino while watching the ocean through floor to ceiling windows just doesn't get much better.
by ten AM the ship is settling into all sorts of activity. This being an older crowd (as is the norm on long cruises), we found the card room and library to be bustling. We generally headed to the Internet Center and had no problem finding an open computer, which is not the case on ships with younger passengers. Snow Ball Bingo is announced morning and afternoon. We never participated, so I have no idea how popular that activity was. We enjoyed the casino a few times and left our share of nickels there. The movie theater shows two different movies each day at 10, 2, 8 and 10. We enjoyed being in a real movie theater at sea. At least until I dragged Bill to the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. I lost him there and he'll never let me live that one down. (Hey, I loved it. He just doesn't get character flicks.)
by late morning the Java Café is calling. This dandy spot on the ship serves up complimentary espressos, lattés, cappuccinos, gourmet teas and an assortment of cookies and little dessert cakes every day. (Bill figured out how to get to any spot on the ship by traversing the Java.) Throughout the day there are Bridge Lessons, galley tours, cooking demonstrations, makeup clinics and gambling tutorials. We didn't do any of that since we just never seemed to find the time. Lunch, again, is a leisurely atmosphere on sea days and an afternoon nap for Bill and a good book for Jill filled out our days. Only on a ship...
There are numerous lounges on the Zaandam that provide a cross section of music that is appealing to baby boomers on up. No Hip Hop on the Zaan and Karaoke just isn't an option. During the after dinner hours there are ensembles that appeal to mature musical tastes and later in the Crow's Nest things loosen up with more of a disco flare. A piano bar offers nice background music and though we missed it, the "Murder Mystery Through Music" evening in that bar sounded like a great deal of fun.
As for the shows in the main lounge, we found them disappointing. This was a rather odd cruise during our five night segment. Folks were boarding and disembarking the first three days and then two hundred of us were leaving the morning of the sixth day. Maybe they were gearing up the production numbers for the meat of the cruise once they left San Diego with the official passenger roster for the Canal crossing. I'm not big into magicians or comedians. There was a woman soloist one night and a guy playing a guitar another. The first formal night they did have These Three Tenors who did a magnificent show, though the Zaandam "orchestra" was not up to par with their level of talent. I didn't come on the ship expecting Las Vegas extravaganzas, so there was no real disappointment. One night we went up to the Crow's Nest for a nightcap and the resident ensemble was very good. It wasn't time for the disco stuff yet, but the band did a terrific cross section of tunes Baby Boomers love to remember.
Our favorite entertainment was each other.....exploring, going out on deck and watching the white caps and the seas, holding hands and walking the promenade, debating whether or not the swells were really 8.0 to 12 feet. Escaping back to our private enclave and standing bundled on our verandah in the mist while listening to the drone of the Zaandam's foghorn. Now That's Entertainment! Only on a ship..
DINING We found the food in the Rotterdam Dining Room to be quite inconsistent. The king crab on night one was fantastic, the veal medallions on night two were so tough I might have well been eating an aged bull. Appetizers were fairly good with the escargot bringing in very high marks. Breads were plentiful, but boring and salads, unmemorable. The soups were consistently a delight, though the desserts were akin to those being served on the buffet line in the Lido. The Lido for alternative casual dining was excellent and they even dressed the tables with linens, sliver and glassware. It gave a formal touch to the informal venue. The Hands Down winner for dining excellence was the Marco Polo Restaurant. Food, service and ambiance were five star and should not be missed. Breakfast and lunch in either the Rotterdam or Lido is a personal choice. Neither is really stellar, though the Rotterdam provides a leisurely and elegant pace to enjoy.
FORMAL DRESS This is another area of debate so I spent a good deal of time on formal night "tux watching." On the Zaandam we had far more men in dark suits and blazer/dress pants than tuxes. It appeared to be age related with the older crowd sporting more formal wear and the middle agers opting for suits. The age group on this trip was fifty plus and the tuxes were worn predominantly by those over seventy. I thought all the men looked great and no one looked out of place, though some of the "tuxers" looked a bit uncomfortable.
SERVICE One of Holland America's hallmarks is their commitment to service and they don't disappoint at all. From the moment you begin the check in process the HAL folks are terrific. We didn't have any complaints, so I can't really tell you how that end of the program works, but we thoroughly enjoyed the attentive service and the extraordinary ability of the staff to remember all the guest's names.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were very funny and had genuine warmth that made it a sad occasion when we had to say goodbye. Enrico did not realize we were dining at the Marco Polo for our anniversary and had a cake waiting for us in the main dining room. He left his post and rushed it downstairs so we would have it for our dessert. Our room steward was so "on the ball" that we never had to ask for anything above and beyond what he was already doing. The staff throughout the Zaandam was personable, helpful and a delight to interact with.
The Holland America Experience is very unique when compared to other cruise lines we have traveled.
THE SHIP The Zaandam is downright beautiful. From the teak decks, the wood railings, the forever polished brass...the artwork, the flowers, the carpets, and upholstery. Everywhere you go on the ship you are taken away by her beauty and intimacy.
I, too, haven't quite figured out the organ in the atrium, but I love the rest of that 'dam ship. She's a ship that invites you to slow down and "smell the roses". One morning I was on the Sports Deck after an overnight rain...my goodness, the color of those teak decks when wet is a sight to behold. The highly varnished wood benches on the Promenade Deck transported us to the great ships of the past.
FINAL THOUGHTS And as the sea moved, so did the Zaandam and we, too, moved in unison. We lived on the Zaan for five days and began to feel her as our own, wanting to preserve that beauty, that experience, that feeling, that connection. Only on a ship...
What an excellent cruise this was. I t was my seconed with HAL after cruising on the Rotterdam in '99 to Europe. The food was great as ussual. All the stewards were very friendly. The cruise director, Eric Dowis, did a very good job. There were too many kids on the ship for me but I know that can't be helped.
Mary Ann, the bar tender was very nice and so was Iing, the dinning steward. Entertainment was great as usual. My only complaint was that one of the crew or stewards(very likely)stole my uncle's digital camera. Other that that, Hal did a wonderfull job as usual!!!
Ok, first a little background - there were three in our party, my mom, my sis and I (all over 40). We have sailed on Princess (3) RCI (1) and HAL (1) prior to this sailing. In fact, we sailed on the Zaandam last year in August.
Pre-Cruise - We flew in a day early (as always) and stayed at the Marriott Marina, not as nice as the Marriott Harbor Beach where we stayed last year, (but it didn't cost nearly as much either). We would definitely stay there again. We got a 12th floor room with a great view of the pier, we watched ships leave Saturday night and woke up early to watch the ships sail in Sunday morning- ahhh vacation really begins.
We took a taxi to the pier at about noon (our fare was $12 but we had the cab driver stop and wait while we loaded up on Pepsi and bottled water). The porters took our luggage and we then went to stand in a long line. Increased security made this process a lot longer than last year and I'm guessing that it took usover half an hour just to get to the x-ray machine. We were in a suite, so the check-in process went very fast once we got past security. Boarding began promptly at 1:15 and at 1:30 we were in our suite. Here's where my brain goes into vacation mode and the watch comes off so I can't tell you for sure how long we were delayed leaving port but we watched them load luggage onto the ship for approximately 45 minutes beyond our 5:00 departure time. One of my favorite things is sailing past the condos with all the horns blaring, lights blinking and people waving goodbye. What a great way to leave port. After sail-away we went back to the room to check for luggage (none yet) met our room steward (a really good one), packaged up some dry cleaning and pressing and went to explore the ship and get a snack. Our luggage finally arrived and we changed and went to our late seating dinner. We had the best tablemates we have ever had on a cruise. One couple was from Long Island and the other couple was from Vancouver and we all hit it off great, meaning that we were usually one of the last tables to leave the dining room.
Our first two days were sea days and we took full advantage of lounging around and doing nothing. Being suite passengers throughout the cruise there were numerous pre-dinner party invitations, a tour of the bridge and a dinner with the captain in the Marco Polo (more on that later). The ship's officers were very friendly and helpful this cruise, even more so than we remembered they were last year. We developed our evening pattern early in the cruise; after getting ready for dinner we'd go down to the Ocean Bar for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers, where, as in the HAL tradition they remembered our names and what we drank after the first night. If you stop by the Ocean Bar be sure to say hi to Jimmy, Jose and Willy. Three of the best (and most charming) crew members we've had the pleasure of meeting.
Ports & Stuff
Our first port was Bonaire and we opted to do HAL's resort/beach excursion which took us to the Plaza Resort. There were plenty of lounge chairs with shade and the resort is beautiful. But the best part was the snorkeling!!!! I never thought I'd get to see fish like we saw here. I'm not a very adventurous snorkeler and like to stay fairly close to land so my usual snorkeling adventures are those little tiny fish that hang out everywhere. But not here ... we saw parrot fish, flounder, and a bunch that I didn't recognize, all only a few yards off shore. After snorkeling till we were prunes, we walked around the grounds of the resort and did a little shopping in the gift shop and then caught the transportation back to the ship for a nap.
Isla de Margarita, Venezuela. After reading the cruise boards and listening to the port talk on tv we decided that we really didn't want to spend 45 minutes getting into town on a bus or in a cab. From our balcony we watched as two young men began setting up the beach area for the day. They had hauled beach chairs and chair shades on boats as far in as they could get them and then carried them through the water up to the beach. The amazing part about this is that the water is very shallow for 30 to 50 yards from the beach so they had quite a haul getting the beach area set up. After watching all this we decided that we'd walk over to the beach area and spend the day. The water was bathtub temperature and you could literally walk for tens of yards before getting waist deep in water. Our Head waiter told us that one could actually walk around the island on the sandbar. A we were getting ready to leave port a school show band from town came to the port and performed along side the ship. They were very energetic, even in the heat, and were great fun to watch.
St. Lucia. It really is a beautiful island and watching the Pitons as we sailed past in the very early morning hours was worth getting up for. The ship docked right next to a shopping area that St. Lucia built especially for cruise ships and it is a very nice shopping area. We chose HAL's Northern Highlights Tour as it was shorter and in an air-conditioned mini-van. Our guide took us to a great lookout point for photos of the ship in the harbor, the Batik factory, Pigeon Hill and then on to a resort for an hour or so at the beach. If you have slight mobility problems this is a great tour. I shattered both sides of my ankle the first part of July and my walking ability is still not great - there were a few stairs at the Batik factory, a couple of sturdy wooden steps with handrails at the overlook and at Pigeon Hill you could walk as much or as little as you liked. I just walked around right inside the park while some of the others climbed to the top of the hills and explored burned out forts. St. Lucia hasn't had much rain this year so things were looking quite dry. We did have a couple of quick but hard rain showers and our guide said this was the first rain in 5 months. After our tour we went back to the ship and had lunch and then went to the shopping area. I guess I should mention that with the new security, getting on and off ship in ports isn't quite as easy as it used to be. You now have to show your sign and sail card and a picture ID to get back on the ship. All packages, purses, etc. are searched and they use one of the hand-held wands to scan everyone before they re-board. This does make for a few long lines waiting to get back on the ship but no one seemed to mind. After getting back on board we went to the room and took a short nap before sail-away. Do you see a pattern forming here? We set sail and headed back to Soufriere to pick up tour passengers. The captain blew the ship's horn to announce our arrival and after putting our tenders in the water to go pick up the tour passengers, the ship turned completely around in the harbor so everyone could get a good look at the Pitons. The only problem was that it was getting pretty dark by this time and I'm afraid my photos won't turn out very well. It was a great "cruise moment" and one I won't soon forget.
St. Kitts. We opted to be lazy this morning and do our own thing. Our cabin was on the starboard side of the ship and on this itinerary our side of the ship was next to the dock in most ports. We watched in amazement as 15 or 20 vehicles came hustling into the port area, people jumped out of the vehicles, unloaded tables and wares, and set up vending areas in a matter of minutes. When we got off the ship we shopped a little and then took a cab into town for some more shopping. It was a very hot and humid day so shopping in the small unairconditioned stores was not really a pleasant way to spend the day. After shopping and walking around town for a while we went back to the ship and watched from our balcony as a group of the local islanders with incredible costumes and huge feather headdresses put on a show.
St. Thomas. Since St. Thomas is a US possession all passengers must clear immigration before going ashore. One of the benefits of being suite passengers is that we were given a card which allowed us to go to immigration whenever we wanted, instead of by roll call, and then get off the ship as soon as we cleared immigration. This proved to be a big help as our tour was supposed to leave at 9:00 and there were a couple of people who never showed up and another couple who were late arriving. We chose the Castaway Girl Catamaran sail, one of HAL's Medallion tours. I can understand why HAL has given it its Medallion rating. The crew told us that HAL has a charter contract on their boat for whenever HAL is in port. Other cruise lines use the Castaway Girl but they have them take passengers to Buck Island to snorkel, where there is no beach and not much sea life. HAL has the crew take its passengers to Honeymoon Beach which is a great beach area with lots of easy snorkeling areas, shade etc. They serve champagne, beer, juice, punch, etc and fruit and snacks. If you're swimming or snorkeling you can't have any alcohol on the way to the beach, but you can have anything you want on the way back. The catamaran is large enough to hold 82 and our tour set sail with 12. The crew mentioned that HAL was the only cruise line that they knew of that would go ahead and pay them to sail with only 12 passengers. What an experience - it was kind of like owning your own cat. and crew!!!
Once we left St. Thomas the seas started kicking up and we noticed "the bags" in the elevator bays that morning. by mid-afternoon the waves in the swimming pool were so large that they broke out one of the plexiglass pieces in front of the dolphins and the ship's officers closed the pool and had it drained. Mom won $500 in the casino slot tournament despite the ship's rockin' and rollin' (or maybe because of it . As we headed into Nassau the next day, the waves were crashing over the rocks and from our balcony we could see small boats that had become beached.
We opted to stay on the ship in Nassau and enjoy a day with the ship to ourselves. Only problem was it seemed like quite a few other people had the same idea. The seas this night were quite rough and we discovered that several of the crew members were having a tough time with the movement of the ship. We handed out tip envelopes, which in some instances felt odd as we had come to think of many of the crew as "friends." We had to ask a waiter to go find the Headwaiter (he really went above and beyond in taking care of us) so we could give him his tip envelope - find that on any other line.
Disembarkation was fairly painless. They allowed suite passengers to keep their luggage until 7:00 a.m. if they wished and once put out at 7:00 it was picked up immediately. We had room service breakfast and waited for our deck to be called for immigration. HAL had the system down pat and immigration call went very smoothly. Rather than waiting in our cabin, we said goodbye to our room steward and went to the lido deck, by the pool to wait for the ship to clear. About 20 minutes later they called for the first passengers to disembark, and we were off the ship. We handed our customs forms to a customs officer at the end of the gangway, found our luggage, had a porter get us a cab and were at the airport and through check-in by about 9:30.
Marco Polo - Suite passengers were invited to dine with the captain in the Marco Polo restaurant one night. We weren't very impressed nor were our regular dining room tablemates, when we compared notes. Our service was much better in the dinning room and the food was as good, if not better. Let me say here that perhaps eating off the regular menu in the Marco Polo might be better but for the captain's dinner the menu was pre-set (we had beef) and you had no choice regarding any part of the menu, including how you wanted your steak prepared. Our tablemates for dinner were an engineering officer and his wife who were great fun, and it made an otherwise unimpressive dinner delightful. We ended up meeting them for drinks after dinner on several occasions. Here's a bit of advice for vegetarians - let your headwaiter know that you've been invited for the captain's dinner a day or so ahead of time. When confirming our attendance the headwaiter for the Marco Polo informed us that there were no vegetarian selections for dinner. My sister asked our headwaiter if she should cancel and just eat in the main dining room the following night and he told her absolutely not that he'd "take care of it." Sure enough when we went to dinner there would not have been one item she could have eaten (there was even meat in the salad) but they had prepared basically the same items without meat for her, including a "pouf" entree that looked a lot like our steaks.
Food - We again enjoyed the food on HAL and their spicy linguini is better than we can get at any restaurant at home. I think there was only one evening when I opted for the "always available" selection rather than one of the menu choices and they really tried to vary selections on the vegetarian menu.
Not so good - We did notice a sewer smell on a couple of occasions which seemed to be the strongest mid-ship. The engineering officer explained that they had installed a new water treatment system since the last time we were on board and they were doing their best to locate and fix the problem.
Well, I'll end this novel by saying that this was our best cruise ever and 10 days was still too short. I'd have gladly stayed on, even knowing that we'd be sailing into a tropical storm.
My husband, mother-in-law and I returned yesterday from our cruise of the Inside Passage -- our sixth cruise overall (first to Alaska) and our first with Holland America. We had chosen this particular cruise based on the intinerary, the numerous good reports we had read about HAL and having the extra day (i.e., Labor Day) post cruise to recover before returning to work. Our previous cruises had all been with NCL, and, while we enjoyed them all, we agree with those who feel that HAL goes above and beyond. Here is our cruise "diary". Hope it is helpful to any of you who may be sailing the Zaandam in the coming weeks.
"Pre" Day 1: As we live in the east, we chose to fly into Vancouver a day early to get acclimated to the time change and to not have that first day exhaustion that we had experienced previously. We let our travel agent handle everything and she did a good job. Upon arrival in Vancouver (via Air Canada -- which was a wonderful experience in itself), we stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront in a harbor view room where wewere able to watch the Zaandam sail in the next morning. We spent the afternoon walking around town and had a nice dinner at a restaurant called Brothers, with an interior that resembles a monastery and a wait staff that dress like monks. In the evening, we attended the IMAX film at Canada Place entitled "Alaska:Spirit of the Wild" -- to put us in the mood for the cruise -- which it did.
Day 1: We awoke early enough to watch the Zaandam sail in, had breakfast and went to the hotel lobby at about 9:00 a.m. to check-in for the cruise. (This was so convenient compared to our previous embarkations that involved standing in line and waiting). At 10:45 we joined a group of other Zaandam passengers for a 3-hour tour of Vancouver. This tour took us to Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park (with its beautiful sunken gardens), Chinatown, Gastown, etc. Our tour driver allowed us time to stop and take pictures along the way. At about 2:00 p.m., he took us to the ship, where we simply got on -- walking past all those who were sitting waiting to be processed. It was great. Our cabin was a standard outside on the Dolphin Deck at the very back of the ship. Once aboard, we unpacked a little, toured the ship and prepared to sail. At this point, the weather was partly cloudy and in the high 60s. Later that evening we attending the introductory show, i.e., the Las Vegas style review type. We are not fans of this type of entertainment, so we avoided the shows for the most part -- with the exception of the magician (who was excellent) and the Indonesian crew show.
Day 2: Sailing the inside passage. After breakfast and the church service, we spent the day walking the promenade, taking photos and generally settling in to the cruise. It was rainy and overcast -- but still very beautiful. We were served hot chocolate and cider on the promenade at various points throughout the day, which was a nice touch. Also, we found the Terrace Grill to be our favorite lunch place. The hamburgers, fries and pizza are excellent. Tonight was the first formal evening. We avoided the captain's welcome reception and the photographers that came with it. Dining in the Rotterdam was a nice experience. This was the "Running of the Mousse" night, where the waiters all danced around with moose head hats as they served you your chocolate mousse cake. Take your cameras; it's quite a spectacle. Our waiter and busboy were very efficient, although not particularly charismatic. We never developed a real rapport with them. Our tablemates however were quite entertaining and it was a pleasure rehashing the day's adventures with them each evening.
Day 3: Juneau. Our cruise docs indicated that the ship was scheduled to dock at 2:00 p.m., but it really docked at around noon. We were able to go ashore at about 1:00 p.m. and at that time walked about town and did some shopping. The weather went back and forth from partly sunny to drizzly. A few months prior, we had scheduled a 4:00 p.m. glacier helicopter landing (via Coastal Helicopters) and, at about 3:15, they arrived to transport us to the airport. Our flight was wonderful and the pilot very helpful and personable. We landed on Herbert Glacier where he told us about the various types of rock, gave us all a drink from a glacial stream and then took us back to the airport. We would definitely recommend Coastal Helicopters. Once back on the ship, we didn't feel like dressing for dinner, so we ate in the Lido Restaurant, which we felt was equal in food quality to the dining room.
Day 4: Skagway. We docked at about 7:00 a.m. A few weeks prior we had scheduled an early morning dogsled ride (on wheels), but the tour director arrived at the dock only to inform us that they had to cancel the ride due to a broken sled. This left us with an open morning before our 12:15 p.m. White Pass Rail/Coach tour. Skagway is a quaint little town with about 800 residents. We enjoyed just walking around and taking pictures. That afternoon we boarded the train for our trip to Fraser, B.C. and back. (Note: Although we were told that we would need picture ID and birth certificates, the bus driver simply shouted out the window to the customs people how many Americans, Canadians, etc. she had on board, and we drove off). The views from the train were great, although we agreed that a round trip train trip might have been a little too much of a good thing. Liarsville, although more than a little corny, was a nice diversion and my mother-in-law enjoyed panning for gold. They also had a beautiful McKenzie River husky dog there, so we were able to get our "fur fix". That night we attended the Indonesian crew show, which was very memorable. It was touching to see how much pride the Indonesian crew takes in its culture and how important it is for them to share it with the passengers.
Day 5: Glacier Bay National Park. We spent just about the entire day on deck --- wearing gloves and hood jackets. It was overcast and rained off and on, but the onboard naturalist had told us that overcast skies show off the color of the glaciers a little better and he was right. We didn't see any major glacier calving but took some great pictures. Also, we didn't see much in the way of wildlife -- just a few whales in the distance and a few seals sunning themselves on pieces of ice. But it was incredible all the same --- God's handiwork at it's finest! After a day out in the cold, we went in to prepare for dinner -- this was the second formal night and the night when the waiters parade the Baked Alaska. Also, we went to the disco for the first time -- it was 70's night. We are not much for night life, but were surprised at how many people were there, considering HAL's demographics.
Day 6: Ketchikan. We docked at about 10:00 a.m. We were treated to the traditional Ketchikan weather, i.e., rain. A few weeks prior we had scheduled an amphibious duck tour for 1:00 p.m. (At the time, HAL wasn't offering it as an excursion, but now it appears as an addendum to your onboard shore excursion form). It turned out to be a good choice. It was low cost, enclosed and gave us a fairly comprehensive tour of Ketchikan. In about 90 minutes, it took us to the salmon ladders and out into the harbor where we were able to view some eagles. After a little shopping, we returned to the ship for our afternoon snack. Tonight was Dutch night in the dining room, and, in our opinion, the weakest food night of the week. (If your are planning to visit the Marco Polo, tonight would be the night to make your reservations). Everyone was given a Dutch hat, and our waiter claimed that he wouldn't serve us unless we wore it. We, as part of the late seating, had an excellent pre-dinner show that evening featuring magician, James Cielen.
Day 7: Heading to Vancouver. After some morning sun, it turned into another cold, wet overcast day -- but we loved every minute of it. Spent most of the day doing laps on the promenade deck or reading (under blankets) while sipping hot chocolate. Also took some last minute pictures and video and said some goodbyes.
Day 8: Disembarkation. The process went well. We were off the ship and on our way to the airport by about 9:30. Once at the airport it was chaos, due to the large influx of cruise passengers, but the lines went fast. (Note to any of you who may be purchasing Ulu knives as souvenirs: do not put them in your carry on. We, perhaps stupidly, did not know this and had to stop and put them in our checked baggage). If you are flying from Vancouver to a U.S. destination, you are cleared through U.S. customs at Vancouver.
The things we will remember the most (in no particular order): Walter, the deck steward on the Lido, who went out of his way to help us with our food trays, made us little origami flowers and generally always seemed to be around when we needed anything. The little man with the eternal smile who rang the dinner bell each evening Eating breakfast and lunch at a window table near the pool Those incredible desserts, hamburgers and fries Walking the promenade deck Our tablemates The color grey -- it was the predominant outdoor color -- contrasted with the blue of the glaciers Walking on a glacier Minor annoyances: The foul odor that permeated the ship from time-to-time
Being forgotten by room service on the one day we tried to order it for breakfast Not having a curtain to divide the bed from the rest of the room -- the brochure photos of the room imply that it exists, but it only extends about a foot from either side of the wall, rendering it useless. (We rigged our own.)
All in all, we had a wonderful time and will probably visit Alaska again. We would definitely sail with Holland America again, although not exclusively. Unlike some who have sailed with HAL, we were not so enamored as to become an "always and only" HAL cruiser. That being said, it would be hard to top this Alaskan adventure!
Based on the hull of the flagship Rotterdam and identical in layout to her sister Volendam the MS Zaandam nevertheless manages to exude an identity that is all her own. With an overall interior theme of music, elegant interior finishes and a wonderful collection of antiques, collectibles and art, the ship further enhances Holland America's reputation for providing their passengers with a first rate cruise product. Holland America knows it's clientele well and although the Zaandam is a brand new ship, it fits repeating passengers like a comfortable old shoe.
The Zaandam is the 3rd of a quartet of ships all based on the same hull. The Rotterdam and soon to be introduced Amsterdam are designed for longer cruises with more full suites and fewer mini-suites, more power and a higher cruising speed. With a hull that is designed for ocean voyages the Zaandam has excellent sea-keeping qualities with a smooth and vibration free ride. The Volendam and the Zaandam are both designed for shorter cruises and provide more mini-suites, fewer full suites and only one penthouse suite. Passenger capacity is 1440 with two in a room. On our sailing the ship sailedwith 1580 reflecting the large number of families on board. The ship did seem a bit crowded at this capacity. At times the lido pool was jammed and the crew working there was hard pressed to keep things tidy and neat.
The four ships are remarkably alike and comprise a significant improvement over the earlier "S" class ships, Statendam, Ryndam, Maasdam and the Veendam. These improvements include a center stair and elevator tower, increased public spaces and an improved interior layout. The Zaandam and Volendam are unique in that the stern outside pool, the Lido Terrace casual buffet and the Lido pool are all on the same deck, making navigation from forward to aft a very easy affair. Lifting the stern pool up one deck allowed additional mini-suites to be situated below while making the stern pool all the more accessible. The pools are both fresh water and can be heated or cooled as needed. The Lido pool is covered by a moveable, Magrodome roof allowing it to be used whatever the weather may be. Over all there is much to like in the Zaandam.
The best description for the interior is upbeat elegant. The Zaandam exudes a warm feeling that comes from the brighter colors used in her fabrics, carpeting and furnishings. From the Mondriaan Lounge with a bright red and silver stage curtains, gold seats with burnt orange and purple seating surfaces and red carpeting, to the Waiang Theater with bright yellow seating, purple carpet and aqua blue wall finishes the Zaandam is considerably more awash in color than HAL's other ships. And yet nothing seems to glare at you and everything speaks of quality and thoughtful design. Many areas of the ship bring a country club atmosphere to mind. Notable areas include the Seaview lounge, the Ocean Bar and the Crows Nest.
The Seaview lounge is located adjacent to the piano bar with a piano on a rotating platform separating the two areas. The Seaview provides comfortable nooks and crannies to sit back and enjoy the music. It is wonderful spot to enjoy an after dinner drink and have a dance. The music played is contemporary and classic hits of the 40's through the 80's.
The Crows Nest is also nicely designed room located high on deck 9 forward, overlooking the bow. A great place to enjoy the 270-degree view during the day and enjoy nighttime music and dancing. The lounge converts to a disco later in the evening. It is has three distinct areas. Forward it is set up as a typical lounge with a central bar, with seating and tables, along with a dance floor. On the port side warm woods, leather wrapped chairs, a blue ceiling with mirror panels reflecting a yellow carpet seem appropriate for an English gentleman's club. The starboard side is done with a parquet wooden floor, light mint green chairs and a coffered curved ceiling with Murano glass panels that has the feel of a winter garden, perfect for light conversation over a cup of tea.
The Ocean Bar is done in warm colors of fuschia, with seats of dark pink, mustard yellow and deep blue suede wall coverings. Uniquely designed lamps of Murano glass, brass, uniquely shaped burnt orange lampshades and a dance floor of marble and wood finish the decor. A light jazz ensemble provides dance music during the evening.
The atrium area is dominated by an oversized organ that plays music. The organ has animated figures that also play in time with the music and provide some additional interest. However, the organ, which extends through the three floors of the atrium is so oversized that views between decks or across the atrium are almost totally obstructed. The open feeling that an atrium should afford is totally lost. The organ does make for a striking backdrop for photographs. As with the other ships of the HAL fleet that have them, the atrium is really a crossroads and not the people-watching place found on other cruise lines. People do not linger here.
The Lido Terrace is the casual buffet dining area, with twin buffet lines. The buffets offer a wide variety of foods for lunch and casual dinner and set a high standard. The breakfast menu pretty much stays the same from day to day. Highlights include a special station for breakfast omelets and another where different ethnic foods are served each day. These can include overstuffed sandwiches to stir-fry. Highly anticipated each day is the make it yourself ice cream sundae station. Various flavors of ice cream and soft serve frozen yogurt are made available along with all of the toppings one needs to make a delightful concoction. Tables were cleared and cleaned quickly and the entire area is kept spotlessly clean. One minor oversight is that while fresh refills of coffee are offered by roving waiters, hot tea is not, making it necessary to visit the drink station for refills. Since our ship sailed absolutely full the Lido Terrace was crowded at times and sometimes finding an empty table was a problem.
The other casual dining venue is the Terrace Grill, which is located forward of the Lido pool. The Terrace Grill offers hamburgers, hot dogs and fixings for making tacos. Also served here are fresh pizza that was really very good and a definite improvement over that sampled on other HAL ships. Each day two different pizzas were offered. The Terrace Grill was the place for the kids to get their daily nourishment and was well used whenever open.
The Rotterdam Dining Room is the main dining room. There are windows on three sides of the dining room offering great sea views. It is a two-story room and is decorated in a baroque style. Open ironwork chandeliers hang over the open center section, suspended from a ceiling sparkling with tiny lights that twinkle. The primary color of the room is a light gray, complemented with splashes of color, gold accents, glass and brass. Tables are set with Rosenthal china and crystal. The room is very appealing and a delightful place to have dinner.
The Zaandam also has a specialty dining room called the Marco Polo. Reservations are required to eat here, but the effort to get them is well worth it. Make your reservation early in your cruise or you may be shut out! Passengers booked into the suites are given first preference for reservations. This alone is almost enough justification to get a suite! The restaurant has it's own galley, chefs and dining room staff. The decor is that of a sophisticated Italian restaurant with beautiful paintings, dark woods and tables for 2 to 10 people. The menu here is fixed for the week but daily additions are made. The food here is wonderfully presented and equally tasty.
Other features of the Zaandam include the Ocean Spa Gymnasium with a full array of exercise machines and an aerobics area. Typical spa offerings such as facials, beauty treatments and full body massages are offered. There is a jogging track, paddle tennis and volleyball courts on Sports deck. Near the stern of Sports deck is the Skyroom, which is used for kids activities. This room was a beehive of activity during our summer cruise. Walk around the promenade 3.5 times and you have covered a mile. The Waiang Theater offers nearly first-run movies at various times of the day and hot popcorn is offered. A full casino includes slots, craps, roulette and blackjack. There is a library with leather-covered writing desks and plenty of comfortable reading chairs. Two meeting rooms, Half Moon and Hudson Room are available for private parties, card playing and doing puzzles. An Internet cafe provides those needing connection to the outside world a way to do so. The cost is 75 cents per minute of connection time. The Java Cafe offers a variety of coffees and cappuccino.
Our cabin was a standard outside and at almost 200 square feet it was roomy and comfortable. It had plenty of storage space and closets. The bathroom included a tub/shower. Inside cabins are only slightly smaller at 188 square feet and the bathroom has a shower only. Mini suites are 288 square feet including a verandah and offer such niceties as a whirlpool tub, VCR and mini-fridge. Full suites are 576 square feet plus a verandah and include a king size bed, a marble bathroom with changing area and walk-in closet. Stationary with guests name imprinted on it; free laundry, pressing and dry cleaning and other services are also included with full suites and the single Penthouse suite.
Holland America adds certain signature touches that have become a tradition with the line and serve to differentiate it from everyone else. Being called to dinner by dinner chimes. Hot pre-dinner Hors d'oeuvres served in the lounges. Lemonade and iced tea served on the outside decks (including Promenade deck) in the morning and afternoon. Extensive use of fresh flowers (over $5,000 per week is spent on fresh flowers alone) and the extensive collection of antiques and reproductions all enhance the cruise experience.
The other thing that makes sailing with Holland America a wonderful experience is their equally wonderful Indonesian and Philippine service crew. These hard working people always greet you with a smile and a warm welcome. While communications can sometimes be a bit of a problem, a smile, some patience and a willingness to please soon overcome this issue. Soon you find yourself being greeted by name, your cabin number remembered and your drink preference being offered. Be sure not to miss the crew show that is offered once each cruise. This show is produced and presented by the crew, who practice on their limited spare time, and what is lacking in professionalism is more than made up by their charm and naivete.
Entertainment is typical and includes review type extravaganzas and individual performers such as comedians, jugglers and puppeteers. The shows seen were professionally presented and were well received by those attending. A wide variety of daily activities are also offered and announcements are thankfully limited to only a few brief messages each day. The ever-present bingo games and art auctions can also be found and there are three shops for those interested in shopping while on board.
My family and I sailed on the June 1 Alaska cruise of Holland America's Zaandam. My husband and I are African American professionals. I am a CPA and controller for a physician group practice and my husband is an insurance claims adjuster. We were travelling with our 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. This was the sixth cruise for my son and myself, the fifth for my daughter and the third for my husband. My number one reason for cruising with HAL was the line's long experience in Alaska. Additionally, I was impressed by the reviews that I read. So, below is a summary of the positives and the negatives of my Alaska cruise.
1. We got to Vancouver's Canada Place, the departure terminal, at 11:30 a.m., although the embarkation did not start until about 1:30 p.m. We were the first ones to board because the HAL representative wanted to make sure my kids would be the first to get to the buffet.
2. We had a very nice category S suite. The biggest benefit for us was the free laundry and dry cleaning service. We took full advantage of this perk.
3. Alaska wasabsolutely beautiful. The views from my balcony were wonderful, and the weather was also pretty nice. In Juneau, my son and I took the Coastal Helicopter flight-seeing tour. It was awesome. The service was great. When we got off the ship, a driver was waiting to take us to the heliport. The temperature on the glacier was about the same as it was on land. We left our heavy coats and scarves at the Coastal office and enjoyed a gorgeous flight over the ice fields. The trip was well worth the cost.
Upon returning, we met my husband and daughter and went to the salmon bake. I thought the salmon was wonderful. It started raining at the salmon bake, but the area was covered so we didn't get too wet. In Skagway, I took my children to the park service as recommended by "Budget Queen". The tour and movie were quite informative--but of course, I enjoyed it more than my kids. We learned a lot about the gold rush.
In the afternoon we all went on the White Pass train. Again this was beautiful but my 13-year-old struggled to stay awake. Thank goodness we took the train up and the bus back down from the pass or I too would have fallen asleep. There's something about a train ride that just rocks you like a baby.
We also stopped at the "Liarsville" camp. It was pretty corny, but my kids got a kick out of panning for gold. In Ketchikan, we went to the Saxman Village to see the totem poles. We watched an Indian dance and my son was picked to be the "Chief" in the final dance. This was a nice way to spend the morning.
We returned to the ship for lunch and then my son and I went off to our floatplane flight-seeing tour with Island Wings. Our flight was initially scheduled for 3 p.m. but our pilot, Michelle, didn't arrive until 3:30. At first I was upset, but Michelle gave us a wonderful tour of Misty Fjords. During our flight it rained a little but that did not spoil our experience. Michelle landed on a very small island and we soaked in the scenery for about 15 minutes. (I noticed that the cruise ship flight-seeing tours landed in water, so the passengers were not able to get out and walk around.)
After taking off from the island and heading back home, Michelle asked my 10- year-old son (who was sitting up front with her) if he would like to help fly the plane. My son looked back at me with this HUGE smile to see if I would approve. I nodded, and Michelle let him steer the floatplane all the way back to the docks. Needless to say, this was the highlight of the trip for my son. On our way back to the ship, my son said "Momma, I know what I want to be when I grow up--a pilot". Thanks Michelle. The next time we're in Ketchican, we'll come see you. My family, especially my son and I (although I'm not too sure about my daughter), thoroughly enjoyed our excursions.
4. Sumarno, one of the dining room waiters, and the Maitre D' of the Marco Polo (I forget his name) provided us with wonderful service. Sumarno came to our table every day. If the kids were not with us, he always inquired as to their whereabouts. He was a genuinely nice man.
5. Overall, the food was good. I did not find it any better or worse than the food on RCCL, but I did enjoy it more than the food on Princess and Carnival.
Now for the areas needing improvement.
1. This was the first cruise I have been on where my stateroom wasn't cleaned until 1 or 2 p.m. We would go out for breakfast and come back and our suite still wasn't serviced--although I noticed that other suites on our floor were cleaned. I mentioned this to the front desk but the service did not improve.
2. Our waiter did not speak or understand English very well. On the first night my daughter asked for cheddar cheese for her baked potato and she was given Parmesan cheese. We also ordered soft drinks that never came. We mentioned this to the dining room supervisor and he made sure that cheddar cheese was on our table every day thereafter. The service did improve as the week went by.
3. There were no other teens on this cruise, so my daughter was extremely bored. She spent a lot of time in the cabin watching movies. There were a few kids my son's age so he didn't have too bad a time. The kids' area, however, is very small. It made me wonder how Zaandam would handle 20 or more kids on board. This ship was definitely not made to accommodate too many children.
4. There was absolutely no racial diversity on this ship. Among 1,500 passengers, there was only one other African American family. In general, 99.9% of the other passengers were wonderful, but my husband, kids and I received questioning looks from some passengers as if to say "what are you doing here"? My kids also mentioned that one passenger made faces at them and my son said that another passenger pushed him out of the way. We explained to my children that some people are just nasty, ugly people who cannot help themselves. Anyway, we did not let this spoil our trip.
5. An FYI for those of you who consider purchasing the $19.99 soda card for your child: Be aware that on Zaandam it cannot be used in the dining room. Therefore, you pay $19.99 plus an additional amount for sodas in the dining room. This was unacceptable to me, and I returned my children's soda cards for full refunds.
6. The NBA finals were not available on this trip. This was a huge disappointment for my husband, my son, myself and lots of other passengers. I have cruised on other lines during playoff time where the games were close-captioned and televised on board.
7. I personally prefer a larger ship because there are a lot more activities. On this trip, HAL lived up to its reputation. There really was not much happening after the 10 p.m. show. I went up to the disco one night and there were about 10 people in it.
8. Debarkation was horrible. We did not get off of the ship until about 10:30 a.m. We were in the last group called. There were people everywhere in the cruise terminal. We then had to wait until 11:30 for the HAL bus. The HAL representative was very rude to us. HAL provided us with a free night's stay at the Fairmont Hotel, including a Vancouver city tour. I didn't notice beforehand, but HAL only provided us with two vouchers. The HAL lady had the nerve to insinuate that I did not pay for the excursion and that was why I only had two vouchers. I told her that I did not pay because this was part of a free promotion offered by HAL. I finally just got on the bus and sat down and told her that she could figure it out. The tour of Vancouver was wonderful however. And the service at the Fairmont was also excellent.
9. Vancouver airport was horrible. Because so many cruise passengers were going through customs and immigration, the lines stretched to eternity. After waiting in numerous lines for over two hours, everyone was assessed a $10 per person "airport improvement fee".
If the price were right, I would probably cruise on HAL again. But I probably wouldn't cruise on HAL with my kids because the ship wasn't geared to accommodating kids. Overall, HAL was a little below my expectation but I didn't let this ruin my trip. I had a wonderful time in Alaska. We enjoyed our suite (once it was cleaned) and in general the service was satisfactory. In some cases service was excellent while in other cases it was poor but it didn't detract from our overall enjoyment.
In closing, I must admit that I am a cruise addict. No cruise has ever been perfect. And I consider it all part of the cruising experience. I have already booked a cruise for 2003. Unfortunately, it will not be with HAL.
Here's my review of our cruise on the Zaandam, 11/30/01- Southern Caribbean Seafarer Due to the events of Sept 11, US Air changed our flight from an 8am non-stop to Ft Lauderdale to a 6am , change in Charlotte NC. Although this was a lot earlier than we preferred, everything went smoothly , and the flights were actually early. The only problem, which in my opinion was a minor one, was that our luggage which had been tagged with Zaandam tags, did not get pulled and was on the carousel. Although the HAL reps said it would eventually be pulled, we decided to take it to the pier ourselves rather than let it keep going around. We got a cab, which cost $10, and got to the terminal around 10:15. As passengers were still disembarking, we had to wait outside with other early arrivals until 11am. We chatted with several other people- one couple actually ended up at our dinner table and were lots of fun!
Check in and security were easy and we were given embarkation number 2. As were waited in the terminal , chatting with another couple our age,we were a bit nervous as most of the other early arrivals appeared to be quite senior,. However, this fear was quickly put to rest, as within the first 5 hours onboard the ship we met at least 6 other couples our age, and saw many others! We embarked around 1:45, were shown directly to our cabin by a steward, unpacked our carry-ons, and went to make a dinner reservation at the Marco Polo. This being accomplished, we then went to the Lido for lunch.. It was a full buffet lunch and wonderful!! Later we attended the sailway festivities!
Unfortunately, it rained in Bonaire, which spoiled our ships' tour of A Day at the Beach ( Plaza Hotel). The hotel was lovely, so we spent quite some time strolling through the gardens. We ended up getting a refund of ½ the cost per person from HAL, as other passengers must have complained. I thought that was rather generous, as no one can control the weather!!! I also strolled into Kralendijk, which is cute, but small- lots of little souvenir shops.and that's about it!
Isla Margarita was fun- we shopped at the bazaar set up on the pier, and went to the beach right there- there was a tiki bar with a steel band, and restrooms. $3.00 to rent a chair and an umbrella which we thought was reasonable. The water was wonderful- a sand bar keeps it shallow WAY out, and you can walk around the island in the water!!! The silver jewelry there was inexpensive and very nice. We spoke with others who had taken a bus ride to town and felt it was a waste of time.
St Lucia- after walking over to Port Seraphine to shop a bit, we took a cab to the Windjammer Landing Beach Resort- The most beautiful beach ever! It is your dream of a caribbean beach!!! We spent the day there.
In St Kitts, we again strolled through the town of Basseterre, bought a few trinkets and some rum at the duty free store ($10 for 1.75 litre of Mt Gay Eclipse) and then went to South Friar's Beach.. Again it was beautiful , but we were directed there by our cab driver, instead of going to Turtle Beach.
St Thomas, shopping in Charlotte Amalie in the am, then out to Magens Bay ( see some repetition here- we are beach people- not tourers!) Nassau- we went to see the Atlantis, then did the beach! We both enjoyed all the ports. and all the beaches.
The ship itself is absolutely gorgeous- there was NOTHING to complain about and much to praise- our cabin , 3387, outside on lower prom was very roomy and had plenty of closet, drawer and shelf space- we didn't even use it all.. There was room under the bed for all 5 of our suitcases..Our cabin steward was invisible, but we always had ice, fruit and our cabin was spotless! The food in all 3 of the restaurants was great, plentiful and fresh! The service we received from everyone cabin steward, dining stewards, assistants, maitre d', bar staff, wine stewards, etc was 5 star. Entertainment was good, with plenty of good music (we're baby boomers) and lots of different themed parties to keep us going at night! Wthe shops on board were well stocked, the casino was kind. What more could you ask for?!!
All in all, I'd have to say that this cruise was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be!!!! Any questions, feel free to email me!
Upon our return from our April 1st cruise aboard HAL's Ryndam, we wrote a very comprehensive review that was posted on many of the web review sites. Being the Zaandam is very similar to the Ryndam, and wanting to avoid being repetitious, we will restrict our review to telling you how the ships differ, and the highlights and the negatives of our cruise. URL for our Ryndam review: http://www.sealetter.com/Jun-00/rynd700.cfm
As you read our review, please remember that our perspective might be very different from yours. The very things we consider negative might seem trivial and non-consequential to you, and something that we feel very positive about you might consider to be unimportant and insignificant. When you read words like awful and disappointing, don't assume it means anything other than we didn't like it personally. You may not think it awful and you may not be disappointed, in fact you may even like it. It's a matter of every ones taste being different. In order for you to better judge if your tastes are similar to ours, we are giving you the URL to an article we wrote, "Why We Love Cruising," whichwe believe will give you some idea of our likes and dislikes. http://www.cruisereviews.com/LoveCruising.htm
We are aware that HAL has a very loyal following and some of our remarks may not sit well with those folks, but we feel that we wouldn't be fulfilling our obligation to the readers of this review if we didn't tell it as we experienced it and how we perceive the changes that have taken place. Please remember, it's our opinion, which doesn't mean it's right, its just our opinion. If you have any questions concerning any part of this review, please e-mail us for clarification and if we can, we will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
PASSIONATE CRUISERS: After taking our first cruise aboard Celebrity's Zenith, a little over four years ago, we became totally addicted to cruising and it has become a very important part of our lives. We are in our mid-seventies and in all of our 27 years of retirement and many land vacations all over the world, we have never enjoyed ourselves as much as we do as when we cruise. Mary & I can't think of more romantic, intimate way of spending quality time with the one you love than when on a cruise. We cruise as often as we can, and with God's grace we hope we have many more cruises in our future. If you haven't experienced a cruise vacation with the one you love, we suggest you try it.
We have made 17 cruises in four years and 9 in the last 19 months. (Mary & I affectionately refer to our cruises as "Honeymoons.") We have booked cruises aboard the 'Enchantment of the Seas' for October 1st, an 11 day cruise aboard the 'Splendour of the Seas' for Nov. 27th, 'The Explorer of the Seas' for Feb. 10th, 2001 and Celebrity's Millennium for March 25th, 2001. After having sailed with most of the major lines that make Ft. Lauderdale and Miami their home ports, we have concluded that the Celebrity and Royal Caribbean lines fulfill our expectations on a more consistent basis than any of the cruise lines we have sailed with. We had high hopes that HAL might be another until our August 5th cruise. Our Zaandam cruise was a very disappointing experience.
THIS WAS AN UNEXPECTED CRUISE: Our agent Gari called and said that HAL had issued a FLASH SALE to their top agencies for a August 5th Western Caribbean cruise aboard their new ship the 'Zaandam.' We had read a lot about this new ship and jumped at the chance to get what turned out to be a very good deal. We had Gari book us an outside cabin, ROS. When we were checked in the HAL terminal, we got our cabin assignment and were pleased to learn that we had received a four category upgrade. We were assigned Cabin # E1862.
WE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: We should have known better than to have booked a cruise during school vacations, but because of HAL's reputation of having a much older clientele, and our own observance of this on two previous cruises with them, we never gave it a thought that it was school vacation time. When we were waiting in the HAL terminal we thought it rather strange to see so many young children but we didn't feel the full impact of their presence until our first day at sea. When we went to the pool area, we looked for a Jacuzzi to soak in for awhile before going to the pool for a dip but we soon realized this was an impossible dream. When we entered the pool deck the Jacuzzi and the pool were inundated with unattended children, most being under the age of 10. It was mass bedlam. A lot of screaming and squealing as only little ones with their high pitched voices can do. Right next to the sign that said no diving, they were diving and splashing and having a glorious time. It wasn't very long before some of the older boys were catapulting the younger boys high into the air so they could swan dive into the pool. We made a rough head count and there were over 60 children in the pool at one time. We have nothing against children having a good time but it shouldn't be at the expense of everyone on board. We thought the conditions might be better at the aft pool but we found it to be the same. Most cruise lines have rules and regulations and have Jacuzzis that are for adults only. This was not the case with HAL. The childrens wading pool was empty but every Jacuzzi was filled with children. None of the crew made an attempt to stop the diving or restrict the children from using the Jacuzzis. That was the end of our spending time around the pool; we never were able to use a Jacuzzi or either pool area during our entire cruise. Very disappointing.
SOME DISCONTINUED SERVICES: DISCONTINUED THAI COOKING STATION: While we are talking about the pool area, let us tell you of a few changes that HAL has instituted on the Zaandam. On the Ryndam and other Hal ships they featured a Thai chef, in a separate cooking station on the pool deck. He prepared a number of Thai lunch dishes and explained the various dishes and made suggestions. It was a very popular spot. It was our favorite place for lunch. HAL has seen fit to discontinue the separate cooking station and instead have a few Thai items in the Bain Marie area where they have embellishments for the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs. The discontinuing of the Thai cooking station was a major disappointment for both of us.
DISCONTINUED SEPARATE PIZZA STATION: HAL has also discontinued the separate cooking station for Pizza. As on the Ryndam and other Hal ships they have a great venue where you can have a choice of a number of different kinds of excellent Pizzas. This was an extremely popular area. HAL has eliminated this area entirely and instead have a counter stand of some 3 ½ - 4 ft. near the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, that has a couple of overhead heat lamps over an area that has two Pizzas and a serving ladle that you help yourself. The Pizzas are replenished by the counterman that are serving the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, in between taking care of people at their busy counter. You no longer have a choice of what kind of Pizza you want. Whatever the counterman put there is what you get. On one occasion, when Mary & I decided to have Pizza, the two choices were either Pineapple Pizza or Artichoke Pizza. Yes, you heard right Pineapple Pizza. I like when people are creative, but Hawaiian Pizza? Not for this Italian. Needless to say we didn't have Pizza. Another disappointment.
DISCONTINUED ROSARIO STRING QUARTET: The Rosario String Quartets have been a HAL cruise line feature for many years. These very accomplished groups added a touch of elegance to wherever they performed. It was always a special treat when they played in the dining room and when they played during afternoon tea in the Explorer lounge. In the evening as they played their favorite classical renditions in the Explorer Lounge, they were joined by a loyal group of followers. They were as much a part of these rooms as the tables and chairs and fixtures. In the Rotterdam dining room HAL has replaced them with a piano player and in the Explorer lounge a female Harpist has taken their place. The Rosario Strings will be sorely missed, especially by the HAL faithful. Another disappointment and another example of HAL cutting back.
FOOD:- DINING ROOM AND MARCO POLO RESTAURANT: Whereas we were very pleased with the food aboard the Ryndam, we found the food served in the main dining room of the Zaandasm to be very mediocre at best. The very first night when our waiter Toko took our order, I ordered the Snapper. Toko said, "Mr. Milano that's a very light dish." I thought he meant light as compared to heavy, but what I soon found out was that he meant it wasn't very good. And he was right, it was terrible. Of course he offered to bring me whatever I wanted but by then my appetite had left me. If I can't get what I want cooked properly the first time around I no longer have very much interest in the meal. After the first night I could see food was going to be a problem so I told our waiter Toko that I would order what Mary & I would like but if he knew that it wasn't very good, he should tell us. We struck out most every night and had to settle for our second or third choice. The result was, we not only didn't get what we wanted but what we got wasn't very good. We don't think the kitchen should get two chances to get it right. We found the soups very thin, the meat not of top quality and the entree and dessert selections very limited. The food was a big disappointment, especially after having such a good dining experience aboard the Ryndam.
MARCO POLO: BOTH GOOD AND BAD Saturday night, Gotko the Maitre`di, came to our table and handed us an invitation to have dinner with the Captain. We were surprised because we weren't long time HAL customers. In fact, this cruise was only the third time we had sailed with HAL and unexplainably have twice been invited to have dinner with the Captain. I thanked Gotko and told him we were happy to accept.
The Captains dinner was held in the Marco Polo alternative dining room. The Marco Polo is truly an elegant dining room. The table settings and appointments are outstanding, everything you would expect of a fine restaurant. We were a party of five couples and the Captain, Nico Corbin and his wife. Both he and his wife were very personable and the conversation was very lively and enjoyable. We were surprised to learn that Captain Corbin was the youngest captain in the HAL fleet. Both the food and the presentation could not have been any better. The food was superb and the service was impeccable. In all, it was a very pleasant evening.
MARCO POLO--THE SECOND TIME Not knowing we were going to be invited to have dinner with the Captain at the Marco Polo, soon after boarding we made dinner reservations for Thursday evening. After having such a wonderful dinner with the Captain, we were eagerly looking forward to another great dining experience. Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. Everything went well until the main course was served. We had both ordered Lamb. It was completely undercooked, to the point of being raw and inedible. When we finally got the waiters attention, he offered to take it back to the kitchen and bring us something else but by that time our appetite had disappeared. As we have said before, we don't think the kitchen should have two chances to get it right. I'm sure this sort of thing will be corrected but it was a disappointment. So much for consistency.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ZAANDAM AND THE RYNDAM:
THE OCEAN BAR is a very warm, attractive room. A four piece combo, N'Joy, supplies the dance music. A cute little fellow Johnny, (Mary's term for him) is the Hor D'oeuvre man and Mylene is one of the waitresses. Johnny is set up and ready to serve hot Hor D'oeuvres at 5:15 for the first seating and 7:15 for the second seating. Hot Hor D`oeuvres are also served in the Crows Nest and The Sea View Lounge at these same times. A slight improvement over the Ryndam.
THE CROWS NEST: The bar position and dance area have been changed and it has opened the entire room. The dance area is much larger and more spacious. They have a row of leather recliners with foot rests along the full width of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bow of the ship. This area affords you a spectacular view, especially when there is a sunset.. We visited the Crows Nest every evening before dinner and enjoyed having a cocktail and some hot Hor D'oeuvres and of course a dance or two. The Wilson Palomo quartet lived up to their billing. Johnny plays piano/keyboard and his wife is the vocalist. They played the songs of yesterday and today, the kind of music Mary & I love to dance to. They played all our favorites. Billie is the personable Maitre`di of the room and Ernie, Jason and Emma are the very pleasant servers. Emmas husband is the bartender in the Ocean Bar.
THE SEA VIEW LOUNGE formerly THE PIANO BAR LOUNGE. Whereas the former Piano bar was an enclosed room, the Sea View Lounge is located along a deck walkway, similar to the Explorer Lounge. It is a very attractive area, and somewhat larger, but it doesn't have the feeling of intimacy of the former Piano Bar. When we sailed the Ryndam, every time we passed in the vicinity of the PIANO BAR we would hear the entire room singing along with the talented piano player, having a glorious time. Whereas on the Zaandam, of the many times each evening we passed by the Sea View, not once did we ever hear any of the guests join in the singing. Some will view the new Sea View lounge as an improvement because of its accessability to the deck walkway, but we think the HAL faithful will miss the fun times they had in the former Piano bar.
THE MONDRIAAN SHOWROOM In our opinion, we think the Mondriaan showroom was unspectacular in every respect. The only word I can think of to adequately describe the appearance of this showroom, is garish. The color combinations of the settee and chairs are purple, orange and bright red. The carpet is another tone of red and the curtain is made of what appears to be, a silver lame. It may not appear garish to anyone who thinks Carnival is a great cruise line but for anyone who has cruised the major lines, we think they would agree with us. It would be interesting to hear what the long time members of the Hal family think of it.
A suggestion; When you go to the showroom make sure you don't sit in the single chairs. If you do you will find that the upholstery on the seat is so thin that you will have a difficult time making it through the show. If you can, pick a love seat settee, and you will find that they are a little better than the board like single chairs.
On every cruise ship that we have sailed, an announcement is always made before a show that children must be accompanied by their parents and that children are not to sit in the first two rows. HAL doesn't do this. As it was in the pool area, the children came front and center in the showroom. Before the show small kids would be chasing each other all over the showroom. On a number of nights the two front rows were occupied by unattended children, many under 12 yrs of age. And as children are prone to do, there was a constant jostling for seats and of getting up and sitting down. Constant movement up front across the entire showroom. with nary a parent to be seen. As the cruise progressed they became bolder and more offensive. We finally gave up and didn't even bother to go to the showroom. This was another major disappointment, especially for Mary.
THE ROTTERDAM DINING ROOM: The Rotterdam dining room on the Zaandam is a duplicate of the Ryndam with one major difference. Mary & I, and I'm sure many of you, were enthralled with the Murano Glass ceiling of the Ryndam. We didn't expect that that type ceiling would be duplicated aboard the Zaandam, but we thought that HAL would treat that area in a special way, being this was the newest ship in their fleet. Instead, the ceiling in this area was nice but very ordinary. The kind of ceiling you see in the dining room or lounge of every ship. The very common twinkling lights against a blue background. This may sound picayune or trivial but after seeing the Murano Glass ceiling of the Ryndam dining room, this was also a disappointment.
THE CENTERPIECE OF THE ZAANDAM--THE ORGAN: We were excited when we heard that a gigantic pipe organ was the centerpiece of the Zaandam. We envisioned a magnificent instrument, it's cylindrical pipes extending three decks high, spewing forth the beautiful tones that only an organ can produce. Maybe, similar in appearance to that magnificent organ that graced the Roxy theater in New York. Instead what we saw was a huge three story monument that appeared to be made of plaster of paris. You wouldn't realize it was supposed to be an organ till you walked down the stairway three flights and noticed the keyboard jotting out from one side. The keyboard of this three story organ was the size of a keyboard on a spinet piano. No pull stops or multiple keyboards or foot pedals, as you see on all large organs. My little Yamaha spinet organ has a more intricate keyboard than this three story monster. We can't for the life of us imagine how a design committee could ever have selected this peculiarity to be the featured centerpiece for the companies newest ship. If it wasn't for the fact that Hal is a very respected cruise line, steeped in a tradition of elegance, it would be laughable. But instead it's really sad that such a bad decision was made in choosing this totally inappropriate creation to be the main feature of their newest ship, the pride of their fleet.
DIMINISHED DRESS CODE: On formal nights, less than 10% of the passengers dressed in tux or evening gown. The guests dressed more casually on this cruise than on any of our cruises. This even applied to the formal night we had dinner with the captain. Of the four other men, not one wore a tux. Now before anyone says so what, Mary & I unabashedly in the old parlance, tell you we enjoy getting dressed up. It is a very important part of our enjoyment in cruising and if ever it comes to the time when all the cruise lines go casual, that is when we will no longer cruise. In our opinion the world is becoming over casual and we have no intention of being part of that trend. Getting all dressed up for formal night and then being with a large group of people who are also dressed for the occasion, adds something very special to the evening. Something we don't experience very often in our every day life. It's something so special for Mary & I that we prepare for it in advance of a cruise by having what we call, "Fashion Week." We wrote about it in an article we wrote. You might like to read it. The URL is: http://www.cruisereviews.com/CruiseExperience.htm
OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HAL'S TIPPING POLICY: Taken from the HAL brochure: "A long-standing tradition is our "Tipping not required policy." You are free however, to extend monetary recognition if you wish." Ask yourself a hypothetical question. After reading the HAL declaration on tipping, how many new cruisers or cruisers who have a tendency to be a little tight, do you think will leave an adequate tip to crew members. We bet your answer is the same as ours, not to many. There are people who have a tough time getting their hands out of their pockets when it comes to tipping, Give them an out, like the HAL statement and forget it, no tip. No one can tell us that the crew does not get anxious wondering if they are going to be tipped or not and sometimes go overboard in trying to insure themselves a gratuity.
On our first cruise with HAL we had a lounge waiter who after having asked us our names, would call out to us wherever he saw us. When he saw us, no matter where it was, he would wave to us and call out in very loud voice, "Hello Tom & Mary." I want you to know I am a very friendly and gregarious fellow but after a few days these incidents got completely out of hand. When we were walking near the pool and he spotted us from the other side, he would stop whatever he was doing and wave to us and call out in a loud voice, "Hello Tom & Mary," as if he just recognized a long lost relative. In the showroom as he was serving the front row and he spotted us a dozen rows back, he would stop what he was doing wave to us and call out, "Hello Tom & Mary." He was over friendly to the point of being obnoxious, pandering for a tip. We did everything we could to avoid him. The last night after I tipped him, he disappeared like a vapor. During disembarkation, as the multitude of people walked by the Ocean Bar heading toward the gangway, he had the nerve to stand in the middle of the walkway hoping that people who missed tipping him the night before might be intimidated by his presence. When we walked by he didn't even say hello. We're sure this is not the norm but it is an example of what this kind of policy can foster. So much for the brochure statement, "Our tipping policy ensures that the professional and gracious service you receive is sincere." So much for sincerity.
It is our opinion, HAL's tipping policy causes a great deal of confusion, not only with their guests but also with their crew. The last night of the cruise we're sure many of the guests play the tipping game, "Should we or shouldn't we", while the crew members play the game "Are they or aren't they," wondering if they are going to receive any remuneration for their efforts. When we sail with Hal we tip what the cruise guidelines suggest or better, regardless of HAL's stated policy. It is our opinion and our belief, that HAL's Filipino, Indonesian servers should receive the same consideration as the crew members of any other line. We hope that HALs longtime faithful followers aren't faithful followers because of their tipping not required policy.
WE ALMOST DIDN'T WRITE THIS REVIEW: It was Friday morning, the last day of our cruise, and Mary & I were at the Java bar having a Coffee Lotte when I told her we had a dilemma. I told Mary that I wasn't sure that we should write a review because most all our thoughts about this cruise were negative. We were disappointed with so many things that I thought it might be that we were being over critical. We were wondering if anyone else felt the way we did or was it just us. I was feeling very uncomfortable.
As we were standing at the Java counter, playing that "should we or shouldn't we" game, we noticed a gentleman that we had seen at the Mariners Society awards party, talking to another gentleman. I remember him being introduced at the Mariners party and the Captain placing a medallion around his neck for having made 50 cruises with HAL. I overheard some of the things he was saying and before you know it I was in the conversation. I couldn't believe my ears. This very loyal follower of Hal, who made 50 cruises with them and 50 other cruises was saying the very same things Mary & I had talked about. It was like hearing a recording of our earlier conversation. He was talking about the same things that troubled us, the kids, the discontinued services, the food in the dining room, the lack of formal dress, the showroom, the atrium centerpiece and changes that have been made that only a long time HAL cruiser would be aware of. He said he began to notice the changes soon after Carnival took over and for all intents and purpose, this was his last cruise with HAL. After our conversation with this long time HAL cruiser, who felt the same way we did, our mind was clear, we knew we were going to write a review.
It is much easier and more pleasurable for us to write about a positive cruise experience than having to tell you about many negatives such as you have read in this review. In fact, it concerns us that this review might discourage someone from cruising, or perhaps dampen some ones spirit who has booked the Zaandam. The only thing we can tell them is, 'Don't let our review scare you.' As we stated at the very beginning of this review, the very things we consider negative might seem trivial and non-consequential to you, and something that we feel very positive about you might consider to be unimportant and insignificant. When you read words like awful and disappointing, don't assume it means anything other than we didn't like it. personally. You may not think it awful and you may not be disappointed, in fact you may even like it. 'Don't let our review scare you..'
THINGS YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL:
WE suggest, if you intend to dine at an alternative restaurant, make your reservation the afternoon you board. The earlier the better.
We suggest you always check your table assignment as soon as possible.
WE suggest you get $2 dollar bills from your bank. Great for tipping servers. They won't forget you.
WE suggest. You will know by the second day if the cabin attendant is efficient. If so, give him his full weeks tip and tell him you would appreciate if on disembarkation you could stay in your cabin till your number is called. He has 20 cabins to clean, yours can be the last. No problem.
WE suggest that on the first night, you give the waiter half of his probable tip and tell him the rest is to come. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It will ensure you the best he's capable of.
WE suggest you always book your cabin on the Port side, it gives you a scenic view of the Port.
WE suggest you always have a brochure in front of you when you book a cruise. Check if your stateroom has a symbol. If so, check symbol legend. Read your brochure like a travel agent, from the back to the front.
WE suggest when dancing in the Crows Nest, look over at the guitarist of the Paloma quartet and smile. We guarantee he will smile back at you with his whole body. A very personable group.
WE suggest if Cozumel is your favorite port, this Itinerary is not for you. On this Itinerary the last tender leaves Cozumel for the ship at 1:30 P.M. Hardly enough time to do anything.
As is our custom, we are sending a copy of this review to Holland American headquarters in Seattle, Washington. We believe the cruise line is entitled to know what we have written about them, both the good and the bad.
We welcome any comments or questions. If you e-mail us, would you please tell us on what web-site you saw our review.
This was our ninth cruise in 4 years. We have sailed on Princess, Carnival and Holland America. The latter is still our favorite because it delivers what we expect from a cruise. We stay pretty active and love ships that have a wrap around promenade deck. We avoid activities like art auctions, gambling at bingo and in the casino, and don't like smoky bars and lounges. We participate in the organized fitness activity called Passport to Fitness daily starting with the morning walk around the Promenade Deck and finishing up in the late afternoon on the treadmill and then the steam room. If there is a lull in the Passport to Fitness activities, instead of baking ourselves like cookie dough on a lounge chair, you would find us in a shaded area like the Library. Our preference is the more classic design DAM class ships which carry fewer passengers, are smaller than the current craze of Mall of America type ships and are intimately are tastefully decorated.
As usual, we booked our own air, a nonstop on Delta from DFW to Ft. Lauderdale. Our 7:30 a.m flight did not leave until 2hours later because of a mechanical problem. When they determined it could not be fixed, the plane was switched and since the replacement was identical, there was no need for new seating assignments. We always book an early nonstop flight knowing that even if there are some problems, there is still a nice cushion of time built in.
We were met by a Holland America representative in Ft. Lauderdale and even though he said our luggage would be pulled, we still went to the baggage claim area to make sure. Call us superstitious. After the carousel made its turns and our luggage was obviously pulled, we took a taxi to the pier. We were charged $10 but it seems that the rate can vary from $7 to $10 depending on whether the cabby turns on his meter or not.
We boarded about 1:45 p.m. and before going to our cabin, we went to the Marco Polo alternative Italian Restaurant and made a reservation for Tuesday night. We picked this night because the ship would be docked in San Juan until midnight. I figure that it would be a casual dress night and as a result, my favorite lobster dinner would not be served in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We got a tip from a cruise board to book the Marco Polo early and sure enough by late afternoon, the restaurant was fully booked for the week.
We booked a guaranteed inside and was upgraded to an outside cabin in the fore of the ship. This was on the Dolphin Deck and it meant we would be doing a lot of walking throughout the cruise. The first things we notice upon entering the cabin were two portholes and no sofa. I guess as the ship tapers to the front, the portholes replace the large windows and the cabin shinks some. The room was still spacious enough and we had more storage space that needed. There closet was divided into two sections to hang clothes and flanking shelves for everything else. At the vanity table, there were three drawers. We put our garments bags in our suitcases and under the bed they went. We got the steward to remove the ashtray, fruit and soda. The cabin was done in beige and brown and the bed was already made-up as a king. The bathroom was large and had the usual toiletries including shampoo, lotion, large soap and hairdryer. The shower came with a deep tub.
At 63,000 the Zaandam is slightly bigger than the Statendam Class ships we have sailed on. Holland America's ships are not as large and certainly not glitzy as the competition. At capacity, it carries 1440 passengers and cruises at a maximum of 23 knots. The Atrium is only two decks high and there are no bars and panoramic elevators. At the center of the Atrium is The Organ which was made in the Netherlands and Italy over a two year period with wooden pipes, drums and mixed media designed by F.C. J. Dingemans and V. Janssen.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Erasmus Library which is well stocked with a good variety of books including guidebooks and my favorite authors Clive Cussler and Stuart Woods. We took advantage of the free stationary and Zaandam postcards to send notes to friends and family. The library has large windows that provide a great view as the ship cruises along. The Zaandam rides well but when we were approaching San Juan in the early morning, I woke twice(around 2 a.m. and 5 a.m) due to the movement of the ship. Looking out the port holes, I saw lots of swells and white caps in the moon light. I looked over at my wife and she was sleeping like a log. Some people are just lucky.
We ate all dinners in the Rotterdam Dining Room except for the single night in the Marco Polo Restaurant. We pretty much split lunches and breakfasts between the dining room and the Lido Restaurant depending on our desire at those particular times. If you have read any of my previous reviews, you would know that I am a seafood lover. Except for trying a rack of lamb as an extra entree one night, I certainly enjoyed the well prepared and presented shrimp, mussels, fish, crab and my favorite lobster. We were not impress with the Marco Polo service and food. Personally, I can take or leave Italian food but my wife enjoys it. However, because the initial service was very slow and we complained to the Maitre D who gave us a cockamamie excuse, it had an effect on that night's alternative dining experience. The Antipasto Italiano was too salty but the salad Insalata Ceseare and entree Grigliata Di Mare were acceptable for me. My wife's opinion was tepid on all courses.
This was not the case in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We enjoyed good wine, good service and very good food. As usual, we had an intimate table for two against the glass partition on the upper level with a nice view looking down on the first level. HAL had a wine package that I had not seen before and the list is called the Wine Navigator. On the list is 12 wines equally divided between white and red. The option is any 4 wines for $69 or 6 for $99. We took advantage of the former. If we had purchase each bottle separately from the main wine list it would have cost us $84. I have to mention that one of the best desserts I always enjoy on HAL is the mango sorbert that is made on board. As for the dress code, there were 5 casual nights and 2 formal nights. For whatever reason, informal night was not included and if we had been notified, I could have left the extra outfit at home.
We attended all of the afternoon teas in the Crows Nest where the 180 degree view of the ocean was great and so were the treats and tea. Even more enjoyable was the elegant Royal Dutch Tea that took place on one afternoon in the Rotterdam Dining Room.
There was a good variety of food in the Lido Restaurant but don't forget to visit the omelet and fresh squeeze orange juice stations.
We prefer days at sea. It is great to be on the Sports Deck or walking around the Promenade Deck and be able to see nothing but the ocean. At sea days also mean enjoying the ship and doing many of the Passport to Fitness activities. Our days were filled with the following:
Walk a mile; Ping Pong; Quoits; Dance Class; Shuffleboard; Basketball; Paddle Tennis; Volleyball; Spa Seminars; Golf Putting; Aerobics; Steam Room and the Steiner Fashion Show. We always enjoy our few minutes of fame modeling in the poolside fashion show on all our HAL cruises. We won a mixed doubles shuffleboard tournament and were awarded with HAL key rings. We also won mixed doubles in paddle tennis. Besides burning calories in the organized fitness activities, it is a great way to make friends since throughout the cruise most of the participants become regulars. I was amazed by one lady who was about 89 years old and a regular participant. From what I saw, she was more active that a 55 year old person. She was very outgoing, talking and laughing a lot. I bet her activeness and personality have a lot to do with her longevity. This was the seventh consecutive cruise that we have not rode a ship's elevator. We use the stairs at all times and since we generally book a cabin near the lowest deck, you can just imagine how many times we go up and down the stairs. The Zaandam has the biggest gym of all the HAL ships we've cruised on. Among the various pieces of exercise equipment, there were 11 treadmill, 3 stairmasters, and 7 exercise bikes. One reason the gym is so big and spacious is because HAL eliminated the Juice Bar.
Our first port of call was Nassau and three other ships were in port including Carnival's Ecstasy. The other two ships were Premier's Imperial Majesty(formerly the Oceanic) and the Big Red Boat. Personally, they both look like rust buckets and not cruise ships. It was our first visit to Nassau but since the port call was very short and it was Sunday, we decided just to walk around a little and head back to the ship. We walked through the Straw Market but bought nothing as it was the same old thing of cheap souvenirs and T-shirts. Been there, done that.
In San Juan, we just walked around since we have been there before. We stop at a time piece shop and got my watch battery replaced for $5. We window shopped as there was nothing of interest to buy. Before going back on the ship, we sat and enjoyed the scenery in the square next to the Centro De Informacion Tourista in the shade of trees. We had a good view of the Zaandam at pier 1 and the Granduer of the Seas at pier 3.
We passed the NCL Norway anchored in the harbor of Charlotte Amalie. Because of the low draft, its passengers had to be tendered to shore. I was impressed with the exterior of the Norway but I have no intention of sailing on NCL because of their "freestyle cruising" and proposed "a la carte dining." We always enjoy St. Thomas but since Sharen's sinuses were acting up, we decided to skip the beach. We took a picturesque walk to the city and did some shopping. On our way back, it was too hot, so we got a taxi. Did a little more shopping at Havensight Mall and reboarded the ship.
We dock early at Half Moon Cay and took the tender to shore. We grab a couple of hammocks that were shaded by trees. After relaxing for awhile, we sat near the surf and built a large sand castle and scrawled "Sharen Loves Hondu" in the sand. Later, three middle age women were walking by and one said, "how nice, are you on your honeymoon?" We laughed and Sharen said no, that we were actually celebrating our 9th anniversary. We did some snorkeling and saw a lot of fish especially when a few people started feeding them cereal. We had lunch at the Pavilion while listening to the Pantastic Steel Band. Afterwards, we enjoyed some swimming until 2:30 p.m. and then tendered back to the ship before the rush that would come with the 3:30 p.m. final boarding. Being our favorite port stop on a Caribbean cruise, we wished to stay longer.
There was a varied amount of entertainment at night. Since we are pretty active during the day, by the end of late seating dinner, we are almost ready to call it a night. The Explorer's Lounge is always enjoyable with string music including a harpist with the tallest harp I have ever seen. After dinner drinks and chocolate covered strawberries are served. The Mondriaan Lounge had the usual cruise fare including Las Vegas style shows, comedy and magician acts and late night adult comedy. Crow's Nest is where the disco would be and throughout the day recent movies like Hurricane and American Beauty played in the Wajang Theater. Prior to each daily feature, free fresh popcorn was served. Some nights, after dinner, we took leisurely walks around the ship enjoying the multi-million dollar art collection. Another after dinner pleasure for us was our romantic walks around the Promenade Deck.
Notes and Observations: There was a good mix of passengers with a high percentage of middle age cruisers. There were 250 children on board and Club HAL has a program for ages 5-17. We saw babies of no more than 6 months old and 2 pregnant women. One of the latter was very active in the Passport to Fitness program.
On one afternoon in the gym, this young couple was jogging on treadmills and left their two old nearby to entertain himself with a pacifier and a scooter. Well like all curious kids, he climbed on a vacant bike and on vacant treadmills reaching up to the control board. The father removed him several times and went back to jogging. But the kid's curiosity was too strong. As I looked around the gym, I could tell that others felt like I did, that the kid was going to get himself hurt. The hotel manager just happened to come into the gym and he too saw the makings for a bad injury. He took the child off of a treadmill and held him in his arms as the parents laugh and continued to jog. I could not understand why both parents insisted on jogging at the same time when it would have been far safer for one to take care of the child and then switch.
We were on the Promenade Deck for the departure from St. Thomas and some passengers have never failed to amaze us with their contempt of the rules. The gangway was scheduled to be lifted at 4:30 p.m with the ship to sail at 5:00 p.m. As many as thirty stragglers including a family of 5 with a baby boarded between 4:40 p.m and 4:50 p.m. It was like the ship had to wait for them since they walked nonchalantly along the dock.
On the final morning, we went to the Mondiaan Lounge at about 7:30 to check-in with Delta Airlines. There was a line and after getting our boarding passes and baggage tags, we went to the Lido Restaurant for a leisurely breakfast. We vacated our room just before 9 o'clock and was off the ship at 9:20 a.m. There was certainly no need for a special membership card that cost $35 to rush off the ship. We were at the airport by 9:45 a.m.where we sat and read until our 12:25 p.m. flight. And so ended yet another enjoyable cruise on Holland America which was made even more special by the pins we were presented for having achieved the first level of 25 sailing days.