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Holland America Line: Zaandam

Fodorite Reviews

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Feb 12, 2017

ANTARCTICA SOUTH AMERICA

THIS IS AN OLD SHIP WITH LOTS OF MAINTENANCE PROBLEMS. dURING A RECENT TRIP TO ANTARCTICA/SOUTH AMERICA BATHROOMS DID NOT WORK, SAME BREAKFAST FOOD FOR 21 DAYS AT LIDO. MANY PLACE ONE CAN SEE RUST BUILD UP. CREW JUST COME AND PAINT OVER IT TO COVER IT UP. STAFF IS VERY FRIENDLY BUT THEY COMPLAINED BEING OVERWORKED AND EXHAUSTED. SHORE EXCURSIONS ARE OVER PRICED AND THEY TRY TO CONVINCE YOU THEIR EXCURSIONS ARE THE ONLY OPTIONS. WE BOOKED THREE

WITH THEM AT $200 EACH , SAME TRIP OTHER TOOK OUT SIDE FOR $50 EACH!! WOULD NOT TAKE THIS SHIP ON ANOTHER CRUISE. SAME BREAKFAST FOR 21 DAYS. HORRIBLE FOOD. MANY DAYS SKIPPED BREAKFAST MOSTLY CLEAN CABIN, THEY CHANGE SHEETS ONLY EVERY FOUR DAYS. BATHROOM AND TOILET HAD CONSTANT PROBLEMS ANTARCTICA SOUTH AMERICA TRIP FOR 21 DAYS. NICE PLACES TO SEE. USE A DIFFERENT CRUISE LINE, HOWEVER NOT TOO MANY CHOICES AND HOLLAND AMERICA KNOWS THAT, SO THE FOOD SELECTION AND QUALITY IS NOT GOOD.

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Aug 10, 2015

Cruisetour

Our cruise/land tour to Alaska was wonderful--we thoroughly enjoyed it. It proved not to be a super relaxing, cruise, though. While cruising, we booked excursions in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway and thus were constantly on the go. We could have relaxed more and not booked so many tours, but we'd never been to Alaska before and wanted to see as much as we could. The food was very good, overall. One evening our entree portions were extremely

small, but how can you starve on a cruise ship? We supplemented elsewhere. We probably should have just mentioned this to out waiters. Two of our dinner companions had food allergies, and we were impressed to see the extra care with menu planning--one day in advance throughout the voyage. Our dining room steward, Suyadi Gusti, was superb and treated us wonderfully at each meal. Our balcony room was clean, spacious, and we were well served with the people who made sure we did not lack for anything. We loved it! The activities seemed to be fine, though we didn't take part in that many extra curricular activities. We elected to get more sleep and be better prepared for our excursions. This trip was to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and we had a grand time. Never having been to Alaska before, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring as much as we could. We took opportunities to see as many animals as we could.

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By Mike_CR

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Jul 1, 2015

Alaska inside passage south

Planned a wonderful land sea adventure in Alaska for our 25th wedding anniversary. The land portion was very nice, but the sea was the worst cruise I have ever been on. If you want something to drink, you need to get it yourself as the help on the deck just walks by. Not a whole lot to do on board. Food was a real disappointment. We had really looked forward to some wonderful meals, but the main dining room was nowhere close to our expectations,

nor what we had received on other cruise lines. This was, by far, the worst vacation we had been on, and mostly because of Holland America. Average. Lido deck had nice verity. Pinacole grill was great. Main dining room was only so-so with very average food and small portions. Staff was not very attentive and could not keep track of who had what. The main cabin was fair, but the bathroom is in real need of updating. Very out of date! If you need to use outlets to charge things like phones or camera, you may want to bring your one power strip as there is ONE outlet in the room. We know it was a smaller ship, so did not expect too much, and that is exactly what we got. The nightly shows started good, but went downhill each night. The excursions were the best part of the trip. Lots to see and do, so take advantage of what you can. Chose Holland America for the size ship and ports it could hit, plus it had a land portion in Alaska which really appealed to us. First day in Anchorage was a waste due to late flight and missed connections. Holland America made all airline reservation, and they had us arriving at 11pm. We did not get in until 2:30 am. Started with two days in Denali which was fabulous. Train from Denali to Fairbanks was long, but a nice ride. Good food and drinks on the train. Embarkation at Seward was quick. Then the trip went downhill. A pipe broke in the bathroom the first morning flooding the bathroom and part of the main cabin. Repairs were made, but we were not moved to another cabin, but instead a powerful fan was put in the room to dry the cabin. That was there for two days. Three days into the trip, wife developed terrible sinus/lung infection and onboard doctor placed her in quarantine. That pretty much ended the cruise, as she was kept in quarantine for the remainder of the cruise. We were compensated for the inconvenience with $200 credit on future cruise. Treatment by onboard doctor with prescription medications and cough suppressant ended up making her much worse, and was hospitalized when we got home. Doctors at home say cause of serious lung infection was most likely due to mold in room from wet carpeting being blown around by the fan they put in room to dry the floor, and the cough suppressant which kept the bad crud in the lungs.

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Jun 1, 2015

Alaska

Chose because of itinerary - ship in poor shape. Service appalling - food selection poor and line ups horrible. Rooms shabby - needs a good overhaul - bathroom was in very poor shape. The cruise was for an older clientele but the activities were non-existent and afternoons on board were so quiet and lack of activity. Will never cruise with HAL again. Line-ups for express breakfast and bacon was very thin - that microwave stuff - not

good bacon. No pizza ever - princess cruises always has pizza on all day. Long wait for hamburger from the Dive In - 40 minutes. Dining room meals very small and we don't have big appetites. Overall disappointing. We had a balcony - but the room was in need of repair and facelift. Very old looking and worn. Very repetitive entertainment in the evening show - dancing and singing just a different theme. Gold Dredge 8 was our favourite. If you can afford the flying excursions take them - it is the only way to see Alaska and Mt. McKinley and glaciers. Lack-lustre - will stick to Princess or Celebrity or R.C.

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Dec 24, 2014

Cape Horn eastbound

Zaandam Cape Horn Eastbound Nov.-Dec. 2014 I LOVED this cruise. The Chilean coast is like Alaska on steroids, and the ports of call are easy to enjoy on one's own. This is one of my favorites of the several dozen cruises I have taken in recent years. It is an itinerary that I had been postponing because I do not enjoy rough seas, but I finally tried it and am glad I did. The weather was kind and the scenery was great.

HAL (Holland America) did a fine job on almost every aspect of the cruise. I have elite status on some other cruise lines and enjoy those perks (free drinks, free internet, free photos), but I did just fine with HAL's mature, relatively sedate ambiance. For 14 days we cruised from Santiago (Valparaiso port), Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the intervening days evenly split between ports of call and scenic cruising. My cruise did not include the Antarctic, which is available on the Zaandam's 19 day itinerary during the austral summer. The Zaandam was not full, and this enabled me to book a good price relatively late and to upgrade (for an additional reasonable price) to a mid-ship outside cabin on deck 2 for smooth sailing. I chose a port-side (toward the mainland) cabin to get the most from the views, but spent most of the scenic cruising outdoors rather than in my cabin. Bring warm clothes, including a winter hat, gloves, good quality rain gear, and dress in layers. Also bring your favorite motion-sickness medication. I needed no pills or patches at any time even though I am a weak sailor, but you may want them for yourself if the weather turns rough. We had only a mild pitch and roll on a few days. Much of the itinerary is in protected channels. The ship itself is about 15 years old with traditional decor, but it is very well maintained. Public lounges on decks 4 and 5 have been nicely modernized; and a culinary demonstration center, computer classroom, and internet lounge have been added since my last cruise on this ship a decade ago. Because of the great scenery, I especially enjoyed the wrap-around promenade on deck 3, the public balcony on deck 6, and access to the bow on deck 4 during scenic cruising. The HAL crew was absolutely top notch in every area and in every respect. The front desk was the best ever, the dining room staff was as good as (sometimes better than) on Silversea, the cruise director and her activity staff made sea days a pleasure, and the entertainment was thoroughly enjoyable. My cabin stewards were new to their job but were pros from day one. HAL trains their crew very well, both on the hotel side and the navigation side. I have been impressed by their emergency drills on previous cruises, including crew life raft inflation and entry exercises. HAL's attention to safety was especially important to me in this challenging part of the ocean with possible storms and several tender ports. HAL made a special effort to employ Latin entertainers, and they (and their American colleagues) did a fantastic job. I have become a bandoneon and tango addict, and now listen to that music daily. I especially liked the ship's lounge musicians, including the classical duo, because they were all pitch-perfect and not over-amplified. Dining exceeded my expectations. I have enjoyed the surcharged Pinnacle restaurant on previous cruises but enjoyed the main dining room so much that I did not use the Pinnacle on this cruise. I had breakfasts in the Lido buffet (a nice variety), lunch at the poolside grill, and dinner in the main dining room. The grill, with its great fries and garnished burgers, was a guilty pleasure; and the main dining menu always offered something that I really like. The prime rib, filet mignon, and lamb were especially good, and the appetizers and desserts always offered something attractive and enjoyable. There were three formal nights and most men wore suits or tuxedos. I brought a rain suit rather than a business suit, but the maitre 'd helped me out with a complimentary loaner jacket when needed. On sea days the Zaandam offered more than enough activities, some were silly fun but most were educational or enriching. I appreciated that the spa stretch and abs classes, the computer/digital photo classes, and the culinary classes were all complimentary. Many cruise lines now surcharge for these. HAL has a no-nonsense approach to alcohol, and the amount of alcohol one can bring aboard is limited to two bottles per cabin at embarkation only. Most cruise lines now seem to push alcohol sales in their promotions. Alcohol and casinos subsidize cruises for the rest of us, so I have no problem with either. HAL on the other hand seems to rely more on their land tours for their extra income. The passengers on this cruise were a mix of nationalities -- about 50% English-speaking, 25% Spanish-speaking, and 20% German-speaking. This made for a nice social mix, although it limited entertainment and enrichment options for non-English speakers. There is a shipboard port and scenic cruise commentator who provides useful information in English every day, but I wish our itinerary also had a naturalist. The 19 day Antarctic itinerary may include one. I used the Lonely Planet Chile and Argentina guides for my port days and for my pre- and post-cruise apartment (airbnb.com) stays in Valparaiso and Buenos Aires. Using public transportation, I was able to enjoy every port on my own for about 10 USD pp per day. Local buses and minibuses are modern and cheap, and they go to many of the same places as the organized tours. Again, the weather was very kind to us on this cruise, although brisk winds were sometimes a challenge for the tender crews. Because of the tender ports, this is definitely not an ideal cruise for the mobility impaired, although the crew were very kind and helpful to those who were. All in all, I highly recommend this cruise, especially for those who are adventuresome and have done the standard Alaskan and Caribbean cruises before. SCL Santiago airport transport ON YOUR OWN SCL airport in Santiago Chile has a large modern terminal with international at one end (near door 6) and domestic at the other (near door 1). Santander Bank has an office and ATM on the mezzanine level towards door 6 and several ATMS on the departure (upper) level near door 1 just outside domestic security screening. Fees are higher than most (about 7 USD regardless of amount). Local currency is necessary for public transport and is useful in later ports. Today's (Dec. 15, 2014) rate is 618 Chilean pesos per USD. Use oanda dot com or similar to check currency rates for Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina just before your departure. The Chilean peso has devalued about 2% in just the last month, and the Argentine peso is even more volatile. During the daytime there is a large Centropuerto bus leaving from outside door 5 at SCL to central Santiago (or to the Pajaritos metro station for a transfer to the Valparaiso buses). Based on recommendations, I chose to spend a few extra days in Valparaiso prior to the cruise and did not visit Santiago (both are nice). The Centropuerto buses leave every half hour and cost only 1500 CP (about 2.50 USD) for the 20 minute ride to Pajaritos, and probably a little more to central Santiago. The first bus leaves around 6am. I would take private transport if arriving at night (or wait till daylight inside the SCL terminal, where many others do near door 5). From the Pajaritos bus stop, walk around the bus station to the back side, where Tur and Pullman bus companies (both good) offer buses to Valparaiso every 15 minutes for 2700 CP (about 4.50 USD) for the two hour ride through absolutely beautiful countryside. I chose Tur, which offered the next bus departure (a double decker with awesome vineyard and mountain views). Long distance buses arrive at the Rodovario bus station in Valparaiso, on the east side of town about a 1 km south of the Muelle Baron cruise embarkation point. Local buses in Valparaiso are cheap and frequent, so one can stay almost anywhere or simply taxi to the cruise terminal. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar ON YOUR OWN For three days prior to the cruise I rented a beautiful 19th floor apartment in the Placeres area with fantastic coastal views from Valparaiso to Vina del Mar. It was a bit out of the way (in quiet and safe area residential) but had good local bus connections to both city centers (less than 1 USD per ride). I found it through airbnb. Valparaiso is an old port town, a bit ragged but fun. It is built on many hills above the flat port area, with historic funiculars still traveling up and down each hill. The colorful old town has been named a UNESCO world heritage site. The best way to enjoy the old town area of Valparaiso is via a Tours4tips walking tour which leaves each morning and afternoon from Plaza Sotomayor. See their website for details. Without them I would have had a hard time finding my way around the hills, although the flat El Plan area is easy to manage on one's own by bus or historic electric tram (about 400 CP = 65 US cents per ride). Many old buildings are abandoned, especially since recent earthquakes, but many decaying areas have been enlivened by large colorful murals. I found the city delightful. By chance there was a good classical concert and a folk dance convention while I was there. Just 20 minutes up the coast by local bus is the new and upscale Vina del Mar, where many rich Santiago residents have summer homes. I spent an enjoyable day in Vina. My recommended sights would be a long walk on the coastal boardwalk (the beaches are beautiful but the water is cold and dangerous), the central Vergara Park, and the north central Museum Fonck with Easter Island artifacts (Rapa Nui is a Chilean possession). These are about 1 km apart, so I simply walked. I also spent an entire day just enjoying my penthouse apartment (cheaper than a hotel) sipping some excellent Chilean wine from the balcony. In good weather the coastal views are breathtaking. Puerto Montt and the Lakes District ON YOUR OWN Puerto Montt is not attractive, but there is easy and cheap access to beautiful lakes and towns nearby. The ship tenders to the port district. The terminal has free wi-fi, best early or late when not crowded. To the left (west) as one exits is the Angelmo tourist street with many tourist souvenir stalls and a fish market at the far end. To the right (east) the large modern bus terminal is about 10 minutes walk along the shoreline. Frequent minibuses to the nice towns of Puerto Varas and Frutillar leave from the central bays every few minutes and cost about 800 CP (about 1.50 USD) for the 30 minute ride to Puerto Varas, on the shore of Lake Llanquihue. Some of the minibuses drive toward the port before turning off to the north, so you may be able to catch one as you walk to the bus terminal (destinations in the window). From a bus stop (ask the driver which one) in Puerto Varas one can continue on another minibus (leaves every 30 minutes, duration 60 minutes, 2500 CP , about 4 USD) along the south shore (views on the left) to Petrohue and the lake in the National Park. There is no park entry fee unless you stop along the way to view surcharged Petrohue Falls and then catch the next minibus onward to the lake, (fares are then split 2,000 plus 500 CP). At Petrohue I took an hour to walk along the lake shore. The views of snow-capped volcano Mt. Osorno were spectacular, especially with the pampas grass and blooming yellow bushes (Scotch Broom) in the foreground. There are boat tours to the islands in the lake, but these are overpriced and there is not enough time for the full round trip. One also has a view of Mt. Osorno from Puerto Varas town, but it is in the far distance. The town is geared to tourists and has nice roses in early summer, good tourist info, and nice shops. There are supermarkets across from the PM bus terminal and near the PV bus stop. After returning to Puerto Montt I walked through the Angelmo tourist area before tendering back to the ship. A fantastic day for about 10 USD. Puerto Chacabuco ON YOUR OWN PC was an intermittently drizzly day on our cruise. There is almost nothing in the town, but the local tourism board greets the ship with maps and info. Nearby is the larger town of Aisen (minibuses to there are about 500 Cp or 1 USD), and from Aisen there are large modern buses along the Rio Simpson valley to Coyhaique town (Ali or Suray bus lines; departures almost every 30 minutes, check schedule and reserve return trip once in Coyhaique with either bus line; 2,000 CP each way, about 3.50 USD; or 1,000 plus 1,000 CP if one stops midway at the waterfalls on the highway, Cataractas Virgen). Buses stop only at designated paradas along the highway. The bus trip is through a beautiful river valley (river and valley views on your right eastbound) and over some small mountain passes. Much of it is park land, but there are essentially no hiking trails (the trail near the waterfall is steep and slippery, and the nature walk at the nearby ranger station is of little interest). Coyhaique is on the main Chilean highway and serves as a supply station for adventure travelers in the area. It is relatively prosperous and has a good supermarket and megastore about 5 blocks from the bus station (Ali and Suray bus stations are around the corner from each other in both towns). The beautiful bus ride is the only cheap option in the area, but enjoyable. The local private nature reserve (Parque Aiken) was outrageously expensive a few years ago ($60 per person per day) and may be worse now. I found no wi-fi at the dock, but there was free wi-fi (slow) in the central Plaza in Coyhaique. Many restaurants in town also have (better) wi-fi. Punta Arenas ON YOUR OWN Tenders leave early to accommodate air tours to the interior, and one can report directly to the tender if one leaves early enough (they should announce this the evening before). Check the ship tour schedule for times. The town is absolutely dead in the early morning (most of South America starts late) and it is pleasant to walk in good weather. There are maps at the port to help you find the old cemetery (free and interesting)and the mirador overlooking the town. The central square has some fine old mansions, but these are museums now and do not open till later in the day. Most passengers take a tour to a penguin colony: Otway Sound is reached overland. At the dock private share taxis and shuttles charge about 35 USD pp for the round trip, plus the entry fee. Otway features only Magellanic penguins, which breed in burrows during summer (November to March). Tourist traffic has decreased the numbers here, but friends who visited liked it. Magdalena Island has a larger colony (and additional species, I believe) but requires a longer trip by boat, which can be rough. Neither Otway or Magdalena can compare with the penguin colonies in the Falklands, but sometimes (one in three) the ship has to skip the Falklands due to bad weather. I chose to avoid the crowds at these penguin colonies and after walking around the town booked a 1030 am bus and walking tour of Fuerte Bulnes, the historic settlement reconstructed at the southern-most tip of the SA mainland. This is enjoyable in good weather because the drive and the views from the point are beautiful. The best tour leaves from the park office just 2 blocks from the tender dock (from Av. Independencia turn right up Av. 21 Mayo and look for the yellow park headquarters building). The tour lasts 4-5 hours and costs 20,000 CP for the bus and the entry fee combined, about 33 USD (credit cards accepted -- I paid part with my last pesos and charged the rest). They have great free maps of the coast and Cape Horn as a bonus. The same office offers an earlier tour at 900 am that includes the town, but one can see those sights on your own and save 10,000 CP if you like to walk instead. Their website is phipa.cl (Parque Historia Patagonia)for photos and more info. They are a quality outfit, and I found them only by chance. Winds were so strong in the afternoon that the ship cancelled tenders for several hours. Always be aware that your plans may be changed by the weather. Ushuaia ON YOUR OWN On the eastbound itinerary one has only an afternoon and evening in Ushuaia, not enough time to do any hiking in nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park. There is a tourist info office at the end of the pier. Nearby is a taxi stand (prices are posted but ask for the meter if you prefer). About 100 yards beyond the taxi stand (left when facing the mountains) is the bus station, which has white Buses Regular going to the TdF NPark for 200 AP round trip (about 23 USD official rate, 16 USD blue market rate, dollars accepted if you are not from the cruise ship plus 140 AP for the park entry (pesos only). Unfortunately their return times are 5pm and 7pm, which does not allow enough time to see much or hike since all aboard is 730pm eastbound. Instead, I shared a taxi to the bottom of the ski lift above town (about 75 AP per full taxi by the meter) and then walked the wide and easy trail toward La Martial glacier. At the base of the snow fields is a spur trail to a panorama (mirador) with fantastic views over the town and the channel. I did not venture onto the larger snowfields with just jogging shoes and no way to arrest a snow slide. This was a somewhat steep but easy and very enjoyable trail shared by many young locals. One can usually find a taxi waiting at the bottom of the lift, or simply ask a local to drop you off on their way back into town, as I did. Ushuaia is where the Antarctic adventure cruise ships are stationed. A half dozen were docked near to us. With the exception of the Norwegian Fram, most were tiny in comparison with the Zaandam. I cannot imagine doing in a crossing in rough seas in ships as small as those, all of which are very very expensive. Maybe sometime in the future. Port Stanley, Falklands/Malvinas ON YOUR OWN About one in three cruises cannot anchor here due to bad weather. We had what our captain called the calmest weather he has ever had here. It was absolutely gorgeous -- sunny, warm, and clear. The tender ride is long -- 20 to 30 minutes depending how bad the weather is. Most passengers opt for a (rather expensive) tour by 4x4 to one of the outlying penguin colonies. Many book in advance, but there were tours available at the last minute ashore for those on the early tenders. On shore the tours cost about 160-180 USD for outlying large penguin colonies that feature a variety of species including the king penguin, the same colonies visited by the ship tours. Being a budget traveler, I opted to visit the smaller Magellanic penguins at Gypsy Bay, which is hiking distance from the pier. Alternately, starting at about 10am there are shuttle buses to Gypsy Bay leaving from the left side of the pier (facing town) for 20 USD round trip. The tourist info at the pier has maps of the area. I got ashore too early for the shuttles, so I walked (leftward facing town) along the coast sidewalk to the end of town, then along the road and coastline path to a small bridge over to the peninsula. The peninsula itself has the local airport (not visible from the walk) and some nice birdlife and grassy dunes. The total hike was about 2 hours to the Gypsy Bay penguin colony. Gypsy Bay Reserve has only Magellanic penguins. On previous cruise visits they hid in their burrows, but by the time we arrived in early December they were out and about, some walking within a few feet of our feet as they climbed between beach and burrow. The beach is off limits to visitors, but the views of the sea and coastline from the bluff are absolutely spectacular. I was so mesmerized that I spent 2 hours here walking back and forth along the bluff. Gypsy Bay is where the ship crew visits penguins -- they were as excited as we since this was the first time this season that the penguins were highly visible. I took the shuttle back to the pier, walked around town for a while, and tendered back to the ship. Apparently there is no free wi-fi in the town. One can buy a wi-fi pass for about 5 GBP. Montevideo, Uruguay ON YOUR OWN Fortunately Uruguay is included in the Lonely Planet Argentina guide, and it is an easy city to enjoy on one's own. US dollars are readily accepted, so it is not necessary to change money, but be aware of current exchange rates. Conveniently the ship docks next to the old town in the city center. On cruise days there is a heavy police presence, so one feels safe, but beware of pickpockets here and in Buenos Aires. Fortunately on the eastbound itinerary one docks here on Saturday when there are several flea/souvenir markets in the old plazas along the pedestrianized streets. Tourist information on the dock has maps of the old town. As one exits the pier to the right across the main boulevard is an old indoor market (Mercado del Puerto) which has been converted to steakhouse restaurants and cafes. There are quite a few small museums in town (Carnaval, Pre-Columbian art, Decorative art, etc.) but most do not open until the afternoon and some are closed on week-ends. Active visitors can rent a bike (ask at tourist information for addresses, some are near the pier, some near the waterfront, most do not open till mid-morning) and ride along the beautiful shoreline (La Rambla) to the greener (parks and money) eastern suburbs along the coast. Bike shops listed by the TI include Orange Bike, LV Bicicletas, Biking Uruguay, Movete, and Bike Tour Uruguay. There are fine beaches, but the Rio de la Plata is murky for swimming. Beware of sunburn! I also enjoyed a free 2-3 hour walking tour here (tips expected at the end, the student guides are thrilled by 5-10 USD pp) that meets in the large Plaza Independencia at 11am weekdays and 2pm Saturdays. Beautiful Punta del Este to the east and historic Colonia del Sacramento to the west are too far away for an independent day trip from the port. Buenos Aires ON YOUR OWN I have mixed feelings about Buenos Aires, but most Argentines do too. It can be a challenging but rewarding city to visit. The last time I was there I had such problems with the airport taxi mafia that I vowed never to return. This trip was my first time back in almost 40 years. The city and I have finally reached a detente. The ship docks in the container port in the NE corner of the city, about a kilometer from the main train (Retiro) and long distance bus stations. A free shuttle takes passengers between the ship and the passenger terminal. A helpful tourist info booth with city maps is inside the terminal, as is an ATM (but most prefer to get a much better exchange blue market rate, see below). Free wi-fi is available at the cafe inside the terminal if you get the password. The Manuel Tienda Leon airport shuttle bus office is conveniently located across the plaza from the Retiro train station. I spent a few extra days in BA in an apartment booked through airbnb. Since my apartment was close to the Basilica Santo Domingo (corner of Belgrano and Defensa), I took the minibusezeiza.com service to the airport at the end of my stay, for 33 AP (less than 3 USD at the blue market rate) per person and per bag. It is a messenger service that charges the same rate for people as parcels, every half hour from 8am to 6pm only. There is a BA hop on-hop off bus tour that covers most of the city and (I believe) deviates to the port area when a ship is in, but I preferred to use public transport, which is extensive and very cheap. Buses cover most of the city but require an RFID type card (Sube card) which is available in convenience stores for 35 AP (about 3 USD) and can be loaded with value at metro stations. The metro (Subte) accepts the Sube card or cash (5 AP, less than 50 US cents per ride). There are several city bus stops just outside the port passenger terminal. We arrived early Sunday morning (eastbound) and had no local currency. The driver of bus #33 would not accept our cash and instead took us several kilometers to the famous San Telmo Sunday flea market for free, even making a special stop for us. From there we walked up the markets along Av. Defensa to city center at Plaza de Mayo. As a city Buenos Aires can be brutal, but individual Portenos like our bus driver are often very kind and helpful, just beware of pickpockets and dark streets. There are several free (for tips) walking tour companies. I chose BA Free Tours because they operate on Sundays and in the rain (we had two torrential rains in BA, more than the rest of the cruise put together). The morning walking tour of the beautiful Recoleta district starts at Teatro Colon and ends at the famous Recoleta cemetery near the best art museums, Bellas Artes (free) and MALBA (20 to 40 AP). The afternoon walking tour of the central (business and government) district begins at the National Congress and ends at the Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo. As in other cities, a 5 to 10 USD pp tip is greatly appreciated by the young guides. Tours are in English or Spanish, depending on departure time. I filled my extra days in BA using the Lonely Planet guide. There are many museums, parks, and tourist sights, most of which are open later than those in the US. Be aware that the colorfully painted houses in La Boca are just a short block long (a Caminito) and very touristy, with a rough surrounding nationhood. Locals feel that the sight is greatly over-rated. With enough time (at least three days) one can fly to Iguassu for the famous waterfalls at a fraction of the ship tour price. Round trip air from the downtown airport is 196 USD on LAN, which is reportedly more reliable than Aerolineas Argentinas for these flights. Hotels and guesthouses at the falls are available for less than 100 USD per night. A public bus runs between the town and the falls. The Argentine side of the falls is recommended -- the Brazilian side involves visa hassles. Finally, the Argentine Peso is (as I write this) officially pegged at 8.6 per USD for ATMs and credit cards and bank exchanges, but one can obtain 13-14 AP per USD on the street (the blue market). During business hours money changers line the Av. Florida pedestrian shopping street south of the Recoleta train station, about 2 km from the cruise port (unfortunately they may not be there Sunday morning when the ship docks eastbound). Just be aware that fake bills are in circulation, even from some bank ATMs. Each bill should have a watermark and any metallic print should be integral to the bill. I changed money with my apartment landlord, getting 12 AP per USD. Most merchants should offer close to the blue market rate when one buys something with US cash, and even international businesses insist on getting at least 13 AP per USD when doing business in Argentina, and the government accepts this. Check the internet for the latest official and blue market exchange rates. On this trip I found BA interesting and exhausting. BA and I have come to terms after all these years although I still refuse to take a taxi there. If you do, a metered radio taxi from a large company with the phone number on the taxi door is recommended. Happy cruising!

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Nov 30, 2014

Chilean fjords

The ship is tired. The staff were sullen and many did not understand English, the drinking water was putrid, therefore there was vomiting and diahrea on the ship for the whole 36-37day Chilean Fjords cruise. The food mostly was uninterestingl because of illness I could not bring my self to eat anything, or touch serving spoons that others had touched.what a way to lose 2-3kilos. I will never cruise again. There is no escape from any illness doing

the rounds. At same time as gastro intestinal illness, there was also Bronchial infection and colds, everywhere on board you are greeted by hacking coughs. Disgusting.. Uninteresting Ok To sick to take part Stay away from cruising See review

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Feb 13, 2012

Australia and Asia

Zaandam has beautiful rooms which are comfortable. Cocktails are lovely and the gym is good (although they deliver the same "health" forum every day but just give it a different name, go once its all the same after that and they are tyring to sell an expensive detox). The main walking deck is great. Watch out fo the back of the boat - the funnel spews out oil and it goes all over your clothes - goodness knows what it does to your skin. Use

another pool and remember to get them to clean your clothes when this happens - at their cost. We were not allowed to bring family or friends on to the boat prior to the start of the cruise (and told it had to do with security) - however the crew were able to bring family on at different ports which made us feel very uncomfortable from a security perspective, especially in Bali. The food is extremely average and a tip for breakfast - they deep fry the bacon! - so much for health. If you want soy milk well probably should take your own. The wine waiters have no idea about wine and will serve the wrong wine and when questionned mention they have "sold out" however they will still give you the chit for the wine you ordered and give you some rubbish. When questionning the wine steward he was just plain rude. What out for "specials" at the spa - they offer a deal for say $109 - then charge $119, then mention there isn't a tip included and then put the over chage and the tip on the bill. If challenged they will change it back to what it should be so do challenge. Overall - try another cruise line. We took this one due to the date it sailed working for us. Average, the so called "buffet" was sad The time it took to get a piece of toast was absurd Soy milk was like asking for gold. Ok, size was good, wardrobe was huge. Room was clean. Use of public laundry was great. Soaps etc. provided in the room - well the staff just put the same shampoo and body wash into the dispensers - they didn't know they were different and they should have. Library was great. Pools were nice - see note above about back pool - don't go there (remove small children I'd say). Gym was great. Walking deck lovely. Movie theatre good - needed some new movies though. Pinacles restaurant was the best. Le Circe was just woeful - don't waste your time or money, seriously the menu was so ordinary that if it is supposed to represent a top New York restaurant, well alll I can say is New York must be crying out for good food. Captain had a good sense of humour and kept us informed Make time in port longer - on our trip we arrived late and left early at one port. We had been to the place many times so it didn't bother us - it probably did for others though this was the barrier reef! Think I've said enough.

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Feb 13, 2012

Australia and Asia

Zaandam has beautiful rooms which are comfortable. Cocktails are lovely and the gym is good (although they deliver the same "health" forum every day but just give it a different name, go once its all the same after that and they are tyring to sell an expensive detox). The main walking deck is great. Watch out fo the back of the boat - the funnel spews out oil and it goes all over your clothes - goodness knows what it does to your skin. Use

another pool and remember to get them to clean your clothes when this happens - at their cost. We were not allowed to bring family or friends on to the boat prior to the start of the cruise (and told it had to do with security) - however the crew were able to bring family on at different ports which made us feel very uncomfortable from a security perspective, especially in Bali. The food is extremely average and a tip for breakfast - they deep fry the bacon! - so much for health. If you want soy milk well probably should take your own. The wine waiters have no idea about wine and will serve the wrong wine and when questionned mention they have "sold out" however they will still give you the chit for the wine you ordered and give you some rubbish. When questionning the wine steward he was just plain rude. What out for "specials" at the spa - they offer a deal for say $109 - then charge $119, then mention there isn't a tip included and then put the over chage and the tip on the bill. If challenged they will change it back to what it should be so do challenge. Overall - try another cruise line. We took this one due to the date it sailed working for us. Average, the so called "buffet" was sad. The time it took to get a piece of toast was absurd. Soy milk was like asking for gold. Ok, size was good, wardrobe was huge. Room was clean. Use of pubic laundry was great. Soaps etc. provided in the room - well the staff just put the same shampoo and body wash into the dispensers - they didn't know they were different and they should have. Library was great. Pools were nice - see note above about back pool - don't go there (remove small children I'd say). Gym was great. Walking deck lovely. Movie theatre good - needed some new movies though. Pinacles restaurant was the best. Le Circe was just woeful - don't waste your time or money, seriously the menu was so ordinary that if it is supposed to represent a top New York restaurant, well alll I can say is New York must be crying out for good food. Captain had a good sense of humour and kept us informed Make time in port longer - on our trip we arrived late and left early at one port. We had been to the place many times so it didn't bother us - it probably did for others though this was the barrier reef! Think I've said enough.

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Feb 13, 2012

Australia and Asia

Zaandam has beautiful rooms which are comfortable. Cocktails are lovely and the gym is good (although they deliver the same "health" forum every day but just give it a different name, go once its all the same after that and they are tyring to sell an expensive detox). The main walking deck is great. Watch out fo the back of the boat - the funnel spews out oil and it goes all over your clothes - goodness knows what it does to your skin. Use

another pool and remember to get them to clean your clothes when this happens - at their cost. We were not allowed to bring family or friends on to the boat prior to the start of the cruise (and told it had to do with security) - however the crew were able to bring family on at different ports which made us feel very uncomfortable from a security perspective, especially in Bali. The food is extremely average and a tip for breakfast - they deep fry the bacon! - so much for health. If you want soy milk well probably should take your own. The wine waiters have no idea about wine and will serve the wrong wine and when questionned mention they have "sold out" however they will still give you the chit for the wine you ordered and give you some rubbish. When questionning the wine steward he was just plain rude. What out for "specials" at the spa - they offer a deal for say $109 - then charge $119, then mention there isn't a tip included and then put the over chage and the tip on the bill. If challenged they will change it back to what it should be so do challenge. Overall - try another cruise line. We took this one due to the date it sailed working for us. Average, the so called "buffet" was sad. The time it took to get a piece of toast was absurd. Soy milk was like asking for gold. Ok, size was good, wardrobe was huge. Room was clean. Use of pubic laundry was great. Soaps etc. provided in the room - well the staff just put the same shampoo and body wash into the dispensers - they didn't know they were different and they should have. Library was great. Pools were nice - see note above about back pool - don't go there (remove small children I'd say). Gym was great. Walking deck lovely. Movie theatre good - needed some new movies though. Pinacles restaurant was the best. Le Circe was just woeful - don't waste your time or money, seriously the menu was so ordinary that if it is supposed to represent a top New York restaurant, well alll I can say is New York must be crying out for good food. Captain had a good sense of humour and kept us informed Make time in port longer - on our trip we arrived late and left early at one port. We had been to the place many times so it didn't bother us - it probably did for others though this was the barrier reef! Think I've said enough.

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Feb 13, 2012

Australia and Asia

Zaandam has beautiful rooms which are comfortable. Cocktails are lovely and the gym is good (although they deliver the same "health" forum every day but just give it a different name, go once its all the same after that and they are trying to sell an expensive detox). The main walking deck is great. Watch out fo the back of the boat - the funnel spews out oil and it goes all over your clothes - goodness knows what it does to your skin. Use

another pool and remember to get them to clean your clothes when this happens - at their cost. We were not allowed to bring family or friends on to the boat prior to the start of the cruise (and told it had to do with security) - however the crew were able to bring family on at different ports which made us feel very uncomfortable from a security perspective, especially in Bali. The food is extremely average and a tip for breakfast - they deep fry the bacon! - so much for health. If you want soy milk well probably should take your own. The wine waiters have no idea about wine and will serve the wrong wine and when questionned mention they have "sold out" however they will still give you the chit for the wine you ordered and give you some rubbish. When questionning the wine steward he was just plain rude. Watch out for "specials" at the spa - they offer a deal for say $109 - then charge $119, then mention there isn't a tip included and then put the over chage and the tip on the bill. If challenged they will change it back to what it should be so do challenge. Overall - try another cruise line. We took this one due to the date it sailed working for us. Average, the so called "buffet" was sad The time it took to get a piece of toast was absurd Soy milk was like asking for gold. Ok, size was good, wardrobe was huge. Room was clan Use of pubic laundry was great Soaps etc. provided in the room - well the staff just put the same shampoo and body wash into the dispensers - they didn't know they were different and they should have. Library was great Pools were nice - see note above about back pool - don't go there (remove small children I'd say) Gym was great Walking deck lovely Movie theatre good - needed some new movies though - Pinacles restaurant was the best Le Circe was just woeful - don't waste your time or money, seriously the menu was so ordinary that if it is supposed to represent a top New York restaurant, well alll I can say is New York must be crying out for good food. Captain had a good sense of humour and kept us informed Make time in port longer - on our trip we arrived late and left early at one port. We had been to the place many times so it didn't bother us - it probably did for others though this was the barrier reef! Think I've said enough

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Feb 10, 2012

Alaska- southbound

Loved our Alaskan cruise....but there were some drawbacks. This is not the cruiseline to take kids on. We still had fun, as it was a very pleasant way to travel. But for the kids, there was a lot of tv watching, and my girls spent 4-5 hours in the pools every day. The pools were nice (and uncrowded) but since there was not much else to do they would just swim all day. And it was a little boring for me too. I read 4 books on

this cruise. I have never gotten through one on the other cruises we have taken. But the scenery was amazing! Truly spectacular. The food was good, but definitely directed to adult tastes. I thought they worked very hard on a creative menu that mirrored the area you are touring. They had excellent fresh fruit, and salads which really helps once you get saturated with eating heavy meals. My kids were not quite as satisfied as I was. There was no self serve ice cream, or easy kids food. I did think Holland America was very classy when they voluntarily upgraded us to a better stateroom, because it was available. It was done at check-in. So we ended up with a room with a huge window that was really wonderful because we were in Alaskan waters, and so there were lots of whales, seals, and ice chunks to look at. I don't think they could improve on how comfortable the staterooms were; and the beds were heavenly. And the room seemed bigger then the other cruises we have been on. I travelled with 3 of my kids, ages 13, 12 and 9. There were maybe 30 kids on board, and nothing for them to do. Club Hal just plants the kids in front of a tv with a wii. And their hours were very limited, open for two hours then closed for lunch, etc. As for the shows: The magician was good, and very funny. But the other shows reminded my of "The Lawrence Welk show" that my grandparents used to watch. Really LAME! And I hated the seating in the main entertainment theater. It was set up as lounge seating, and it was not very easy to see past the people in front of you. I much prefer regular stadium seating then sharing a couch with a bunch of strangers. If you are traveling with kids: Haines (Alaska) had the cutest playground where we took some really great pictures. Ask when you get there, as it is a bit hidden in the trees. We also found a terrific toy store in Juneau, the kind you can browse for hours. And we really enjoyed the tramway which is a stones throw from where you dock. The trails at the top were a lot of fun, as was the ride itself. And we enjoyed the tour of the capitol building. Ketchikan had a free bus that picks you up in the cruise parking lot and takes you downtown. The drivers there have a lot of local info and gave an interesting narrative. Nothing too spectacular, but it was pleasant. and convenient. The Zaandam did have a great feature over the pool. The glass ceiling could open and close. They were great at keeping it closed when it was chilly, and then opening it when the temperature warmed up. And their pools were the perfect temperature. I will not cruise with Holland America again while my kids are young. But I would definitely consider it for my husband and myself if they had a great itinerary that I really wanted to see. The ship is really nice and you will be comfortable. You just have to be able to entertain yourself.

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Dec 9, 2011

new zealand

The cruise was okay the shore excusions were good apart from the taste of wellington it was absolutely disgusting and a complete waste of money and time. The cost was $159 each and for that we were picked up in some sort of taxi you could not see out of the windows our guide did not know much about wellington or else did not say much we were taken to a coffee factory where we were given a cup of coffee this turned out to be the best part of the tour

we then went to a chocolate shop where we could have walked into for nothing given 5 chocolates told nothing about the making or why we where there we then walked to a supposedly art gallery where we were given a taste of 3 honeys told nothing about the honey then left to wander this very expensive gift shop/art gallery then we went to a supermarket and in the middle of the supermarket sat at a table full of a lot of rubbish given a small cheese platter between 8 of us and 2 small bottles of drink between us told nothing about the cheeses had not enough room for all of us to reach the cheeses remember we walked after the coffee shop then the taxi? picked us up the guide didn't come with us and dropped us back to the ship. So for $159 each we had a cup of coffee 5 chocolates, a taste of honey and cheese in a supermarket and a 5 minute drive in a taxi we were told nothing about wellington or honey or cheese I think holland america should take this tour off the agenda. You expect to pay extra for tours but this was ridiculous. All of our other tours were great. The food was good our waiter in the main dining room was excellent nothing was a trouble for him. The food in the Lido left a little bit to be desired but this is the case for buffet food and there were other options. The room was a little bit tired but comfortable. There were enough to keep everyone happy. Stay away from taste of wellington tours. The trip was good apart from the tour mentioned above it left a bad feeling as no one could get over it

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Sep 23, 2010

Inside Passage Alaska

Loved the ship Zaandam Great service Ate only in Lido all was very good Had suite on Navigation Deck very nice great service Loved library, Crow's Nest, walking around Deck 3 Do not pay $400 each of Fly Out Fly Fishing Juneau supposed to be one of their best excursions but was not all hike no fishing very disappointed 1/2 day Salmon fishing Ketchikan was excellent My first cruise, loved every minute. Weather was unbelievable not one

rain drop in Alaska 72 degrees in Juneau 60's in other ports Will cruise again with Holland America Line

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Sep 23, 2010

Inside Passage Alaska

Loved the ship Zaandam Great service Ate only in Lido all was very good Had suite on Navigation Deck very nice great service Loved library, Crow's Nest, walking around Deck 3 Do not pay $400 each of Fly Out Fly Fishing Juneau supposed to be one of their best excursions but was not all hike no fishing very disappointed 1/2 day Salmon fishing Ketchikan was excellent My first cruise, loved every minute. Weather was unbelievable not one

rain drop in Alaska 72 degrees in Juneau 60's in other ports Will cruise again with Holland America Line

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Sep 3, 2010

Alaska

Excellent cruise, great shore excursions. Nice size ship, not overwhelming. Suite was very comfortable. Food in Pinnacle Grill was excellent, food in other venues was just ok. Suite was excellent, very roomy and comfortable. Cabin crew was great, attentive but not intrusive. Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest in Juneau and Fortress of the Bear and Sea Otter Quest in Sitka were wonderful. Lots of wildlife, comfortable transportation. Avoid

Horse Drawn Trolly in Ketchikan, dull and horses not treated well. All in all a very good trip. Holland America was very good.

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Aug 24, 2010

Interior Alaska

This review is for the 40 year and younger crowd. Please listen when I say this cruise is not for you and your family . You will feel like you boarded the wrong ship and cruised on a senior citizen cruise. From the food to the clubs and casino, everything is slow pace. The rooms smell like a retirement home. The food was not seasoned and usually baked. The ship literally shuts down all clubs and activities at midnight. For my expierienced cruisers,

they shut down the kitchen. What cruise ship does this? HAL!! For a young group or couple, you will find yourself walking around the ship asking yourself what is there to do. The port of calls are very brief and the excursions are over priced. I am not cheap, but fair is fair. I do not like the mandatory tip policy per day. $11 per day per passenger. Oh yes, you heard it right. This is a seniors cruise. Do not waste your time. No flavor. No variety. They are just going thru the motions. This is all dining rooms. The stewards were great. The room was old and had that old smell. Like walking into an old school or church. Don't drink the beverages in your room, extra charge. None. What activities? Too expensive and too long. When you finish excursion its time to get back on ship. No time to walk around town and pick up gifts. This by far the worst cruise of the five I have been on.

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Jun 20, 2009

alaska inside passage

I booked this cruise 1 month before leaving. It was a beautiful ship with excellent service. The main dining room food was excellent, but the breakfasts were mediorce to poor. The frozen triangles of hashbrowns served with eggs. The casual dining(buffet)was average. The entertainment was great if you are 75+. It was all songs and musical reviews such as "Singing in the rain". The room could not have been better. There was a large verandah deck

that provided lots of room. The only excursion I went on was whale watching tour which was worth every penny. I had a great time! The service is well above excellant abord ship but the food is disappointing. The fine dining and buffet were excellent. Overall, I would not go on Holland America again because I feel it charges for everything down to bottled water left with ice in-room.

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Jun 14, 2009

Alaska inside passage

We enjoyed a two week Mexican 'Riviera' cruise on Celebrity's Mercury three years ago. It sailed from and to San Diego and we met many passengers from there. As we reviewed vacation ideas for this year, we looked into cruises out of our local area, Seattle and decided to cruise to SE Alaska on HAL. We were very pleased by the entire experience. It was a fantastic value and the HAL crew and staff were very sincere, friendly and helpful. We had such

a great time that we are already looking at cruises for next year - maybe a Mediterranian sailing. HAL will be at the top of our list. We liked the size of the Zaandam, not too big or too small - just right! There were lots of food choices and we sometimes hit the casual buffet for breakfast or lunch and other times enjoyed a sit down breakfast with full service. The on deck barbecues were fun, too. We always went to dinner at the Rotterdam, except two nights at the Pinnacle, which was well worth the token $20 fee for gourmet dining. The food was all good, but the service was outstanding, wherever we dined. The formal dinners were special, as you might expect. I had no complaints. We benefited from an upgrade from a low porthole to a high verandah and we loved it. Again, the service was great. We tipped our steward from Bali extra for his friendly attention and hard work. Most deluxe hotels and restaurants could learn from HAL's staff & crew. They had 'heart' and really cared about the passengers' comfort. We saw a couple movies in the theater, played Bingo for the first time, won a trivia contest, enjoyed the shows, especially magician-comedian Jeff Peterson and the Zandaam's onboard song & dance troupe. There was always too much to do and the scenery deserved time too. In Juneau, we avoided the tourist trap waterfront and walked to the state museum where they display priceless native carvings, parkas, boats, tools and historical artifacts (and keep another 35,000 items hidden away for researchers). We like to go our own way, so in Sitka, we rented bikes from Yellow Jacket (at $25/day) and got a good work out while we enjoyed the town and scenery. Ketchikan was interesting, but sunny (I thought it was guaranteed to rain there) and we took the Duck amphibious tour. It was OK, but Seattle's Duck tours are more fun. The best shopping was in Ketchikan. The stop in Victoria was only a short evening in port, so we stayed on board and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. We sailed up to blue glaciers and saw seals on the ice bergs, whales almost every day, and beautiful snow capped mountains. We walked the deck at three in the morning and used the excersize room, but still ate too much. Most of the people we met on the cruise were friendly and the service of thr staff and crew was outstanding. It's funny how some old folks from FL & AZ think 65 degrees is 'freezing'. The weather was beautiful. The ship was always so clean. I appreciate HAL and plan to sail with them again!

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Mar 20, 2008

Western Caribbean

We recently returned from a Western Caribbean cruise on HAL’s new ship the Zaandam and are happy to report that the Zaandam is a fine ship. Our group included my wife, Rita, our 10-year-old son, Adam, and yours truly. My wife and I have previously sailed with various lines including Celebrity, Disney, NCL, Cunard, K-D German Rhine Line, Chandris, and the old Matson. Our son is also something of a cruise veteran having sailed on the

Disney Magic and Celebrity’s Mercury. I learn a good deal by reading other reviews but understand that individual tastes and experiences can vary greatly, and the same will be true here. Don’t take any of this as gospel and grab a salt shaker. I doubt if the Zaandam will win any awards for aesthetics, but it is a pleasant thing to observe. It looks like a cruise ship, not a spaceship or a floating amusement park. I found it well designed and an easy ship in which to find one’s way, although we always depended on Adam to negotiate our path through the ship. He quickly memorized the ship’s map and delighted in explaining the way to lost adults. Although the ship holds 1400 passengers, I don’t ever recall having to stand in line for more than a few minutes or having the feeling of being herded from point to point. It is, of course, new, but it is also very well maintained and spotless. The carefully polished wood brings back images from the proud history of the Holland America Line as do the prints of the famous steamships of the past. I enjoyed finding a print of the old Statendam that my Dad had worked on the 30’s as part of a dance band. The new Zaandam will help to eliminate HAL’s image as a floating retirement home. There was a wide range of ages on board from the very young to the very old, and Rita, who must have been a cruise director in a previous life, enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and all age groups. Cheers to Captain Jack van Coevorden, Hotel Manager Nick Burger, Chief Housekeeper Masdari and the entire crew and staff for having such a tightly run ship. Embarkation and disembarkation were smooth and efficient, qualities that HAL is known for, and we were impressed with the trouble free operation. We boarded the ship at Port Everglades and followed the wise advice of past passengers who said to come early to the port. We arrived around 12:00 PM, and in about an hour we were on the ship and enjoying lunch on the Lido Deck. One word of advice: if you want to stock up on cokes or beer to take on board, do so before you get to the pier. However, HAL seems completely unconcerned with what you carry on board in terms of beverages, so just place whatever liquid refreshments you enjoy in a carry-on or beach bag before you arrive at the pier. There is a duty-free shop at the pier where you can purchase hard liquor for shipboard consumption. Cheers to HAL for being consumer friendly in this regard. We were escorted to the Verandah Deck and to our cabin that was humorously labeled a "mini-suite," but it was fine for the three of us. We had two twin beds that could be squeezed together for a double and a sofa that converted into a comfortable bed for our son. Fortunately, the sofa was long enough so that the bed could be made parallel with the wall without pulling out the bed into the middle of the sitting room and eating up valuable space (as in the Mercury). Aside from the sofa, the sitting room contained a desk-vanity with good drawer space, a TV with VCR, and a mini-bar, all of which worked. In addition, we had a nice balcony that had plenty of room for the three of us. The bathroom was of ample size and well designed. The shower-tub combination gave plenty of standing room for even a big guy like me, and my wife could enjoy soaking in the tub (though not at the same time). All of our clothes fit nicely in the closets or drawers, and we were able to stow the suitcases out of the way. Our steward, Suripto, kept the cabin nice and tidy and provided excellent service. The cabin was pleasantly quiet, and we rarely heard a peep from our neighbors except when we were out on the balcony. I never noticed a problem with ship vibration. Occasionally the ship would rock a little, but if you don’t want movement why get on a ship? Two decks above us was the Lido Deck, and no doubt all passengers spent a good deal of time here as the buffet is located here as well as two swimming pools. We always enjoyed breakfast and lunch at the buffet instead of the formal dining room as the Lido was always quicker and more relaxed. Cafeterias tend to look the same everywhere, but this buffet was superior to every other ship’s buffet we’ve sampled. Our son could always be found at the grill that offered a good variety of hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and tacos. The Lido was also available for evening meals as an alternative restaurant, but we never tried that. Nor did we try the "Marco Polo," the ship’s alternative restaurant. The standard advice is to reserve a time early as they quickly fill. We ate all our evening meals in the main dining room, the two level "Rotterdam, and on formal nights the candles and extra linen made it look very nice indeed. On those formal nights the gentlemen were equally divided between tuxes and suits, so take your pick. I packed a conservative dark suit which always seems to be appropriate. A gentleman in the table next to ours had a rather worn tweed sports coat, and the waiter proceeded to spill soup on the coat, by accident I assume. Perhaps the waiter was an undercover operator for the fashion police. While the surroundings were elegant, I wouldn’t call the meals "gourmet" by any means. However, I don’t think it’s possible to provide true gourmet meals for 1400 souls, and I think it’s a mistake to expect too much from any ship’s cuisine. We were, however, in general pleased with the variety of meals and the service provided. Rita especially enjoyed the Broiled New York Sirloin Steak "Sauce Diane" with oven roasted red potatoes with rosemary, and I was fond of the Prime Rib of Beef Au Jus "herb wrapped and slow roasted with horseradish and double baked potato." I usually skip deserts, but Rita told me the deserts were excellent especially the cheesecake. She and I agree, however, that Celebrity has the edge in terms of dining. Those with children will be glad to learn that a child’s menu can easily be provided for more finicky eaters, and Adam could also find a grilled cheese to suit him. We enjoyed talking with our table companions and were glad to see that we had been joined by a family with a child our son’s age. Service was good and seemed to improve as the cruise progressed as the assorted wait staff quickly learned our preferences. Cheers to Executive Chef Franz Schaunig and Maitre d’Hotel Tri Wiyono and the entire dining room staff. I can’t say much about the children’s programs as our son turned up his nose at most of the announced activities, and perhaps they do need to try more innovative activities for his age group. The counselors we met seemed very nice, but they also seemed understaffed. Perhaps they just weren’t prepared for the number of children on board. I know that one counselor failed to make the ship so that left them short-handed. More facilities especially designed for children would help. The tiny video arcade, for example, was much too small. A special room with a bank of computers for children would also help, especially for those days at sea. Adam and I did spend time on the sports deck and played shuffleboard, but we could never find an open court for basketball. Perhaps it was just as well, as we met one man my age who twisted his ankle on the basketball court and could hardly move most of the week. His wife was not amused and kept telling him (in that cutting voice that only long married wives can use) to "remember your age." Entertainment was about what you would expect, which is to say not much. I’ve learned to avoid ship’s entertainment whenever possible as it brings back painful memories of amateur night at camp. We did see some acts, however, and our son really enjoyed the comic juggler and the ventriloquist. Of the "Las Vegas" type big production number entitled "Dancing Fool," I will only say that it was aptly named. HAL is obviously trying to change its image to attract a younger audience (why else have guitars on display signed by the Rolling Stones?), but I wondered why the variety shows would feature numbers leftover from the Lawrence Welk show. To attract a younger crowd, I think HAL needs a greater variety of music. I say that as a 50+ baby boomer who can’t stand most of what he hears on the radio. A ship with a music theme, however, should provide music for all ages. More to my liking were the small combos in the lounges that could provide a mixture of jazz and contemporary music. Our favorite lounge was the "Crow’s Nest" set high atop the sports deck that provides sweeping vistas through its forward facing panoramic windows. In the daytime it’s a great place to stare out to sea and read a book, and at night it’s a great spot to have a drink and listen to music. The waiters learned our names and our drink preferences quickly. Our son enjoyed being addressed as "Master Adam," and I enjoyed being called "Mister Charles" (my first not last name) as it recalled the old "Thin Man" series. I did miss not having a special room for cigar smokers as on the Celebrity, especially as we were within puffing distance of Havana. HAL’s nonsensical "tipping not required" policy confuses many, so let me just reiterate the old advice to tip on HAL as you would on other cruise ships. We were dismayed to find out some passengers thought that "tipping not required" meant that there was "no tipping" while others would use the policy as an excuse to stiff the staff. Cruise Director Susan Wood told the audience gathered for the disembarkation talk that she had been besieged with questions regarding tips, but she and all HAL employees were not allowed to suggest dollar amounts. I think HAL could clear up a good deal of confusion on this issue. The hard working staff provided excellent service, and they depend on tips for their livelihood; to stiff them is unconscionable. The Western Caribbean itinerary was hardly innovative as it crossed some pretty well worn ports: Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and HAL’s private island. As many reviewers have noted, it’s pretty easy to skip the ship’s tours and book just about anything you want at the dock if you want to save a few dollars. I would only suggest not doing that in the afternoon to make sure you get back to the pier on time. Some tours seem to run on "Caribbean Time" which exists in a different (but more pleasant) world than our 9 to 5 universe. My son has just taken up snorkeling, so we did a good deal of underwater exploration at every stop. Chankanaab Park in Cozumel was our first stop, and we snorkeled there and saw an interesting variety of rainbow colored fish. The park also contains a botanical garden that is said to have over 300 species of tropical plants, though we didn’t take time to count. Getting there was very easy as taxis were readily available at the pier and at the park for the return trip. In Grand Cayman we took a small boat to "Stingray City" to snorkel with the stingrays and had a great time. We mostly avoided the crush of people and fish around the boat and instead snorkeled around the area watching the stingrays gracefully swim beneath us. We nosed around George Town and shopped in the area near the pier. Everyone seemed friendly, and it made us think of returning someday. In Jamaica we took a ship’s tour that put us on a Catamaran to snorkel over a coral reef. The trip included a stop at the overhyped Dunn’s River Falls, and I would add my vote to those who suggest skipping it as it simply is not worth the hassle. We also did a little shopping in Ocho Rios at the Sony shopping center and the adjacent straw market which almost defines the term "tourist trap." I had been to Jamaica twelve years ago and remembered being constantly bombarded with offers to sell everything from marijuana to "a good time," so I was a little apprehensive about taking wife and son through the streets. However, things seem to have improved a little. No one was overly aggressive, and a polite "No thank you" was all that was needed to ward off hawkers. It was bizarre talking to Rastafarians about the Indiana Pacers. Our son had on a Pacer shirt, and we were heard many comments of "Go Pacers!" I thought the vendors were just trying to butter us up for a sell (which of course they were), but they also knew all the players on the team. This was during the NBA finals, and they followed the games closely. All prices are negotiable, of course, and, if you like to haggle over prices, you’ll have fun. Baskets made in Taiwan don’t interest me, but I thought I had scored a coup in complex negotiations over a 6 pack of Red-Stripe Beer only to find out when I returned home that the same beer was cheaper at my local liquor store. The private island "Half Moon Cay" was everyone’s favorite. The crescent shaped beach is almost too good to be true with fine white sand and crystal clear water. Adam and I didn’t see much through the masks while snorkeling, but we had a very enjoyable day in the idyllic setting. Rita enjoyed floating on the mat, and we all found ourselves hugging the shade of the beach umbrella as the sun was intense. Take lots of sunscreen and reapply. A good barbecue lunch is provided on the island, and all the facilities were spotless. I think most passengers would be content to spend the entire week there. It was a great way to end a great cruise. I would certainly sail on the Zaandam again. Tot Ziens. Chuck Reinhart

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Aug 22, 2007

Alaska

I've just returned from a seven day cruise to Alaska on Holland America's Zaandam. It wasn't my first choice to go HAL but I had family visiting from Australia and their travel agent fixed their travel dates which forced us to select HAL. I had traveled on the Veendam a few years ago and I did not want to travel HAL again. My first instincts were right on the money. Even though I attempted to improve the odds of a better trip by booking

a more expensive cabin (7050), it did not pay off. Service was very inconsistent. The best service is usually from the lowest paid employees on the ship with an inverse relationship the further up the food chain you go. The dining room steward, wine steward and cabin steward were all excellent however the cruise director, cruise event planner, casino manager, and front desk staff were all in dire need of some customer service training. Front desk staff were uninformed on the promotions that were included in our package. We were supposed to receive a free bottle of wine with our two cabins which did not show up until the 5th day of the cruise. We surmised that it was intentional. The cruise line probably wanted us to drink their alcohol before drinking our own. The front desk clerk was trying to locate our promotion from day 2 and then called us on day 5 to let us know he was still working on it when I had to inform him that I received the wine. Clearly a lack of communication at play! The same front desk clerk told us that our cooking demonstration class would include the guest chef. When he mentioned this, I inquired again to make sure that I had heard him correctly because none of the advertising had mentioned this. He assured me that yes indeed the guest chef would be a part of the cooking demonstration class but he was not. We were late arriving to the class and we were treated like the plague. Now it definitely was our fault that we were late but the event planner did absolutely nothing to ensure that we were included in the class. She didn't even have enough aprons for us! It was as if she wasn't expecting us and she was annoyed when we showed up. The kitchen was also not well-equipped. We ran out of paper towels and we asked the event planner for some. She promptly disappeared and then re-appeared empty handed and completely ignored us. Even the chef was annoyed. He mentioned to me that he did not like a kitchen that was not organized because it made him look bad. The whole experience was terrible and I would not recommend this activity to any passengers. Although the Zaandam is a musically-themed ship, it was surprising how many times music was missing. At dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room, they did not play music unless you count the clanging of dishes and cutlery as notes. There was music throughout the ship in the lounges but they had a limited repertoire and only played our requests a couple of times. Our party joked that we would create our own play lists and bring music sheets the next time we traveled. The food at the Pinnacle Grill was excellent and so too was the service. HAL should study how things are done in the PG and then replicate it throughout the rest of the ship. The servers were polite, gracious, attentive and friendly and the food was very good. It is too bad that you have to pay $30 extra for this level of service but if you compare it to what you get in the Lido Dining Room, it is probably worth it. On several occasions we served by a surly server in the Lido Dining Room whose body language said "I wish you would get your food somewhere else". Now servers work very hard with long hours so it is understandable they would have a bad day. It just isn’t pleasant when you are at the receiving end of this kind of behavior. The variety of food was very good but again quality was inconsistent. By the end of the trip passengers will learn what to try and what to avoid. The tea was always cold which could be easily remedied by putting boiling water in flasks. The best cup of tea can be found in the Pinnacle Grill or in the Explorer Lounge. The coffee was marginal and although you can buy fancy coffees in the Explorer Lounge, I was loathe to pay extra. We only went to the casino once. We tried a machine that required quarters or quarter tokens to move other tokens and prizes towards the opening. The machine was not working properly and when we mentioned this to the casino manager, he checked the machine and said there was nothing wrong despite the fact the machine ate our money without any action. We did not lose too much this way but it is the principle of the matter. The casino manager ignored our concerns and when the next player stepped up and the same thing happened to him, the manager took him seriously. Either there was a gender or race issue at play here. The manager took apart the machine and moved coins and tokens in the opening and that player benefited from this. This was just one of a number of occasions where we felt that we were treated more like the Indonesian crew than passengers. It is probably due to the passenger profile being more European than Asian. If you fit the former profile, you will probably fare better on this cruise line. We were treated very well by a lady in the Explorer Lounge who was named Peg. We wanted to play a game of mahjong and she found us a nice quiet room where we could play as loud as we wanted…it was the Kings Room! When they needed the room for another event, she moved us to the Queens Room. We had a ball playing in a private room on the ship. Kudos to Peg! Other cruise staff like Robert, Timothy and Kelsey could learn a thing or two from her. Shopping on the ship was entertaining albeit a bit boring after a few days. There isn’t much choice and prices don’t move much in the 7 days. If you are shopping on the ship, be sure to ask what promotions are on or try to negotiate. If you don’t ask, you will lose out as I did. The gold by the inch promotion was if you bought a 21 inch or longer necklace chain, you would receive a free bracelet. What they did not tell us was that if you bought several bracelets and their length equaled or surpassed 21 inches, you would still receive the free bracelet. I only found this out several days after I bought bracelets for my friends and family and I did not bother to go back to ask for my freebie. Now for the ports of call…I did not intend to take a shore excursion in each port but I landed doing exactly that. I booked one shore excursion prior to leaving but two others while on the ship. The process was relatively painless but it is best to go around meal times to book as lines can get long. In Juneau, I went on the Photo Safari-Land and Sea. The weather wasn’t great but the guide and captain tried to give us as many opportunities to see and photograph wildlife. The highlight was seeing a young black bear trying to catch spawning salmon. That alone was probably worth the price as we did not see any bears after that. I did not visit the town of Juneau as the weather was not great and I headed back to the ship when the tour was over. In Skagway, we took the Musher's Camp and Dog Sled tour. Be forewarned that the sled is not really a sled and the ride up to where the dogs are is rough. Visiting the kennels was the most entertaining. We got the chance to hold the puppies and to pet some of the dogs plus learn directly from a musher how she breeds and trains her dogs. While we were busy sipping hot chocolate inside the camp, we missed seeing a brown bear with her cubs as they fished in a stream only a few hundred yards away! We returned to the town of Skagway and walked around. There are a lot of jewelry shops and kitchy tourist shops but the buildings made for some nice photo ops. Our next stop was actually not really a stop but cruising in Glacier Bay. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of the cruise. It was only then that the price of a balcony suite felt worthwhile. The glaciers were breath-taking. Some people were even able to catch a glimpse of the glacier calving but I missed it due to the culinary class we were taking. Definitely a bad choice on my part! Our last stop was in Ketchikan where we took in the Saxman Village Tour and Lumberjack Show. The tour was informative and made much better by some of the best weather the town has had all season. The sky was blue, blue and there was not a drop of rain in sight which is highly unusual for a place that measures the annual rainfall in feet rather than in inches. If you know nothing about totem poles, this is a good tour for you. If you already familiar with the why and how of totem poles, you will probably find this part of the tour boring. The Lumberjack Show was good. I never knew that timber sports were such a big thing and I may even stop surfing the TV channels when I next see them on ESPN. Following the show, we shopped in town for some last minute gifts and then headed back to the ship which was docked in town. Disembarking was not as smooth as embarking probably because it is done over a shorter period of time and people are in a hurry to get to the airport or take another tour. Since we live in Vancouver, we were some of the last people to get off the ship and stepped out to a rather disorganized system of finding taxis. We are glad to be home and are finding our land legs overall I would say that if you thinking about an Alaskan cruise, you should definitely go but choose something other than Holland America.  

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Jan 4, 2006

outhern Caribbean/Panama Canal

I wanted to post this review while the room still seems to be gently rocking back and forth. This will wear off in a few more days, I hope. With all the cruises I have taken, this was the first on HAL. This came about because Celebrity, my generally favored cruise line, annoyed me by smashing my luggage on my last cruise to Bermuda and ignored me for many months before finally making settlement with me for the damages. By then, I had

booked HAL. The cruise experience began quite well with an on time flight from JFK to Fort Lauderdale on Jet Blue. When flying out of JFK on a mid-winter flight, one must be happy that it's on time and not delayed by bad weather. The airport at Fort Lauderdale is a fine point to begin a cruise. Got the baggage quickly and after a short taxi ride arrived at the cruise ship terminal where only two ships were there to take on passengers for departure. They accept your baggage at curbside and you don't see it again until it arrives at your cabin mid afternoon. So it's a good idea to keep absolute necessities with you in a shoulder bag. (prescriptions, for example) Check in was quick and easy. The secret of success and easy check in is to submit the required pre-check questioner over your computer, in advance and have your passport and documents in good order and organized. Unlike Celebrity, HAL does NOT greet you on board with champagne and a steward to show you your cabin. That's because the cabins are not ready until 1:00 P.M. So the thing to do is go up to the LIDO deck and get yourself a nice lunch from the buffet. The cabin was ready on time and the luggage delivered, inside the cabin rather than left in the hallway, and all was in order. We ( me and my insignificant other, oh, that's significant other) unpacked and went for a stroll around the ship (not BOAT, boat is my 12 foot aluminum row boat with 4 H.P. motor kept up at the lake.) The ship sailed out of the beautiful Fort Lauderdale harbor exactly on time and glided past the high rise condo's at the harbor entrance, this time with NO residents mooning the departing ship as they are sometimes are want to do. The life jacket drill (required by law) was conducted before sailing to get it out of the way and get the life jackets back into the closets where they happily stayed. Now I'll talk about elements of the cruise, by catagory. THE ITINERY: HAL's private island was a good stop. Lots of sun, swimming and relaxation. Tender service with the ship's life boats was no problem. Aruba. No, we didn't find the missing American girl. No interesting shore excursions so we walked around town and shopped. The park was pretty. Nice stop. Curaco. Beautiful Synagoge there, A short, easy stroll. Don't miss it. Met "David" who was running a dry goods store featuring a bar of Lifeboy soap in his window. He came from Williamsburg, Brooklyn many years ago. His wife was sitting on a stool at the cash register just like the "good old days". PANAMA CANAL. Loved it. Going through the locks and into Gatun Lake quite a "don't miss this". The stop at Colon, Panama was just to retrieve excursion people. Some said that the excursions were so-so and they would have been happier to see the ship's exit back through the locks. We stayed aboard because we read that it was a better thing to do in a Cruise Reveiws.Com review posted by a knowledgeable reviewer. COSTA RICO. Tortoga Canal Boat Trip (and banana plantation visit) a must do. Lots of monkeys, alligators and birds, and that was just ON the boat. Well done. THE SHIP: Built in 2000, and recent renovated, the Zaandam is tastefully appointed, attractive, clean and well designed. I also like the size. 1400 (a full complement) passengers were reasonably well served and it didn't feel crowded. The ship was smooth and although there were time when motion could be felt, no one should have been in discomfort from the light movement. The Caribbean was not rough and the ship's stabilizers did their job. The cabin was an outside cabin well laid out with plenty of cabin space and the bathroom even had a tub. The cabin was slightly larger that other outside cabins on other cruise lines. Design and decoration was low key and suited to the taste of the type on cruiser HAL attracts. Nice flat screen T.V. with attached DVD player. Air conditioning was controllable on a thermostat but, if other cabins were like mine, everyone kept the setting on "coolest" with was only adequate to keep the cabin comfortable. Some complained that their cabin was warm and a few actually described it as uncomfortably hot. Plenty of drawers, for two people, and bathrobes provided for use aboard ship. The bed was great. Pillows might have been larger and firmer. The dining room was spacious and well appointed and quite attractive. We got the table for two we requested at the 6:15 seating. I, for one, can eat at the late seating and have any hope of sleeping on that big meal. The two pools were never very busy. The main pool has a sliding glass roof the was employed a few time when we encountered a brief shower. After a few minutes, it was reopened. Plenty of lounges and seating at the pool but during lunch time many people liked to sit by the pool and eat causing a little delay in getting a table and chair. No big problem. Smoking was permitted on the port (left) side of the ships pool deck so many people wanted to sit on the starboard (right) side of the deck. Interior public rooms were all very good. The library/coffee bar was large and well equipped with many books, DVD's (playable in your cabin) and computers. The Piano bar might have been a little cozier. It was an open space causing a level of foot traffic passing through. Other gathering places, like the Crow's Nest, were comfortable and nicely appointed with chairs a real human being could sit in. The dining room was a two tier design with a balcony for the 5:45 dinner seating. I, personally, would not like to eat at 5:45, but it was busy enought to suggest that there are those that requested it. We liked the Promenade Deck. Many walkers and strollers there. After breakfast, it was so busy that I referred to it as the "Bataan Death March" watching trekkers going round and around seeking the exercise needed to walk off a bigger than usual breakfast. The Sports deck had a hardly used basketball court and volleyball court with plenty of lounges for the sun worshippers. There was a special section for "teens" but there were no "teens" on board. Oh yes, there were many passengers born in the "teens". 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918. It's nice to see men wearing hats proclaiming them to be World War 1 veterans. THE FOOD. Plentiful and good. The Lido Deck cafe had a good selection of most anything you could want. And Hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken, as well as Mexican food, available at poolside. The hamburgers were no match for "Big Nick's" on the West Side of Manhattan. Can't cruise ships learn to charcoal broil a burger better instead of using that metal grill? I never did use room service and always prefer to get out of the cabin to eat. Balcony passengers could not possible be happy eating breakfast on a windy verandah in muggy Caribbean air. Ice cream is always available and made on board. The ships offers some creative flavors as well. Anchovy, horse radish and ketchup were just a few of the creations. CREW. Phillippino and Asian crew well trained and pleasant to be around. Very hard working and with a ready smile. Our waiter tried, but didn't share my sense of humor. When I asked him if the duck was, "all it was quacked up to be" he offered to bring me both the duck and the steak. Entertainment. I like cruise ship entertainment. Singers and dancers are well rehearsed and show clear talent. So what if I am funnier that the comedian? The banjo player was fun and the magician was entertaining. So "wadya" want, Frank Sinatra? The piano bar guy knew his music. Lots of old time favorites. O.K. So he was sometimes flat (I never sing flat) but never "unmusical". The usual poolside entertainment of hitting wiffle golf balls into to pool. If you must have a rock climbing wall, miniature golf course, golf driving simulator and ice skating rink, you will have to cruise with Royal Caribbean. PASSENGERS. At 64, they called me "sonny". The average age of this passenger list was, well, let me say that one guy I met at the pool said the he remembered when dirt was invented. This is definitely a mature crowd. Lots of Floridians, worried about the tires on the houses going flat. Canadians, always interested to tell you what's wrong with America. Some Germans, struggling not to raise their arms in the traditional salute. But only a few kids, who risked being thrown overboard if discovered alone. HAL is for the older crowed. Family types, young singles, disco lovers and heavy drinking party doers might chose another carrier. This cruise had a number of high school reunion participants on board. I wouldn't hesitate to do a reunion cruise, if offered. I went to a really tough high school in Brooklyn, New York. How tough, you ask? It was Benedict Arnold High School, and it so soooo tough that we had our own morgue. PRICE. I got a good deal from BUYCRUISE.COM, one of many on-line brokers that will sell a cabin for less that the cruise line itself. Planning a cruise? Shop around with the computer on-line brokers and you'll get a better deal. Sometimes the throw in free insurance and shipboard credits. Shop around but dont buy directly from HAL. They don't even have a desk aboard the Zaandam in an effort to sell you a future cruise as do many other cruise lines. GENERAL: HAL is quite the equal to the well regarded Celebrity and superior to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. I told some Swedish people, I met on the cruise, that I always wanted to cruise Scandanavia, but I couldn't AFFORD it. They wet their pants with laughter. Zaandam cruise staff is first rate and they try hard to please with corny jokes and a well thought out program of activities like cooking classes and they make themselves accessable to the passengers. I would definitely use HAL again. So what if the toilet failed to work on 4 or 5 different occasions because of either poor design or misuse by passengers? And the man they found doing the dead man's float in the main pool who actually had a heart attack and expired? They put him in the meat locker with the filet mignons and all was well. DISEMBARKATION. Smooth and easy. We even caught an earlier Jet Blue flight to New York. Book your own transport and don't let the cruise line do it for you. They will suit themselves rather that you and get you home later.  

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Dec 1, 2005

Panama Canal

10 day cruise itinerary was excellent and met most of our expectations. This was our seventh cruise on HAL. On a grade of 1-10 we would grade the total experience about eight. Accomodations: Our(S) cabin on the Navigation Deck was outstanding! The cabin, services, cost, private lounge, personnel, and special perks makes the selection my only choice in the future. This cabin selection is the best value when compared with the other choices

and their cost. Personnel: As usual on an HAL cruise it's the Phillipino and Indonesian staff that makes a HAL cruise different and better than other cruise lines. Food: Was the food gourmet...No. Was the presentations, variety, taste,etc good? Yes, in all areas. It's very easy to nit-pick anything particularly food service on cruises, but HAL does a good job and a good value for your money. The Ship: Very nice with about 1400 passengers. All cruise ships are nice with some bigger or smaller...make your own choice. Passengers: The negative on HAL passengers is that the majority are over 70 years. Thats's not bad for some of us...if you want 'young' try another cruise line. Entertainment: In most cases the entertainment acts are poor with good performances seen occasionally but rarely. We have found that there is not a lot of differences when shows are compared with our other cruise line experiences. Excursions: These tours never live up to your expectations. It's a shame that the Cruise Lines do not check out and evaluate these excursions before they list, promote and recommend them. Unfortunely..it's all about money to them. Do your own checking before you select since they are all over priced. Summary: Cruises are still the best buy for a vacation. Where can you get room, board, entertainment, etc. for $200.00 a day or less?     

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Nov 21, 2005

Southern Caribbean

Pre-Cruise An uneventful flight on United the Sunday prior to the cruise. I checked into the Fort Lauderdale Wyndham Airport. Arrived to a very, very dirty bathroom. To their credit someone was sent to clean up but it did make me wonder how clean the rest of the place was. The hotel has a run-down appearance in general. There is literally nothing located within walking distance of this hotel, so plan on renting a car if you want to get

out. I had the breakfast buffet, which was very good ($12.95). They no longer provide a complimentary shuttle to the port, even though the website says one is offered. Embarkation I was aware of tropical storm Gamma so I called HAL at 9:30 AM to check on the status of Zaandam, which was due in at 7:00 AM. I was told she was on schedule so I arranged for a car from Rose Limo Service (avoid these guys as they try to jack up the rate given on the phone.) to pick me up at 12:30 PM. I arrived to a traffic jam at the pier. We were directed to wait at another pier as the Zaandam was two hours late getting in and was just finishing up disembarkation. I'm very sympathetic to weather problems, but why was I not told this on the phone? I would've been happy to wait by my hotel pool. It took 3 hours of waiting in a semi-air-conditioned terminal before I was allowed to embark. A poor start. The Ship I had cabin 2705, an outside on Main Deck all the way aft. There was plenty of storage, a full size couch and adequate space. There was mild to moderate noise and vibration from the engines, as I expected there would be (I had to book at the last minute so I had no choice). The beds were very nice as was the flat-screen TV and DVD player. My cabin steward, Azwar, did a very good job. He kept everything clean, was unobtrusive and left funny towel animals every night. My favorite was the monkey. The Zaandam is a bit larger than the Maasdam but laid-out nearly identically. I had no problems getting around. The aft pool area is much larger than Maasdam's with a nice bar area. Great views aft, over the wake of the ship. Bartender Edguardo is excellent. He does card tricks and honored me with an ornately decorated Dutch hat on the final night. A very pleasant guy who remembers your name, cabin # and drink. Zaandam has had its SOE upgrades, so the new Explorer's Cafe is very nice. I'm not a coffee aficionado so I can't speak about the quality of the extra-charge coffees. Basically, the new cafe replaces the old coffee bar, library and Internet cafe. The color scheme and decoration is almost the same as the Maasdam, with a couple of notable exceptions. The art onboard is mainly reproductions, including the doo-dads in the cases. Maasdam has a lot of original pieces. Zaandam's dining room ceiling is very cheap looking. It is a blue painted affair with twinkle lights embedded into it. It is a far cry from the Chihuly-like glass ceiling on Maasdam. Overall, Zaandam looks good. One gets the feeling of being at the country club. A very well maintained ship. The organ in the atrium is just plain ugly. I really did try to like it but could not warm up to it. The piano bar is oddly situated in a hall-like area. No smoking allowed there so I can't comment much about the music, as I was just passing through. Ocean's bar had a very good quartet, Vista4, from Romania. Always a pleasant time. Bartender Ed and server Terri were quite nice. Crow's Nest - Much nicer than Maasdam's. There’s a great circular bar in the center. The furniture is upscale. Music was not to my tastes. Joanne (I met her on the Maasdam) Mydel and Wylan were excellent. The Food The food was OK to disappointing. I was expecting a similar quality as what I had last April aboard the Maasdam. This goes for the dining room and buffet areas. The offerings were rather basic and cheaper (sirloin on Zaandam vs. NY Strip on Maasdam). The most exotic dinner offering was pheasant. No quail, wild boar, elk or venison. Lots of pork loin dishes. Vegetables were prepared very well but were very repetitive. The duck and lamb were overcooked, even after being sent back. Soups and appetizers were generally good. The menu was so dull one night; I skipped the dining room in favor of a room-service hamburger. Taragan, our dining steward, did an admirable job. I didn't get the name of his assistant, as he was very busy. Dondi, our wine steward, was friendly and attentive. I never saw our headwaiter. Maybe we didn't have one. Misc. The captain's reception was a bit of a fiasco. The ship's photographers set up a secondary photo station that took a long time get through. I was near the end of the line, with about 75 behind me. By the time I got near the front, I could see the captain had left his receiving line. Assistant Cruise Directory, Ashley, explained that the line moved so slowly the captain had to start the program so the 8:00 dinner people could make their seating. Many, myself included, felt the officers in general seemed very aloof. The captain, when he dined at his table, did so with his back to the room. They were rarely seen. Lessons could be learned from Captain Van der Loo and his staff aboard the Maasdam. Ports Half-Moon Cay - We missed this stopped due to weather. No big deal for me, as I had been there in April. We were credited $13.22 in port charges and given a glass of champagne at dinner. Oranjestad, Aruba - I stayed on the ship because I had been there before. Nice island though. Aruba is the most unique looking island in the Caribbean, in my opinion. Willemstad, Curacao - Very beautiful city with Dutch architecture, all done-up in pastels. The famed swinging bridge was closed for repairs but a free ferry was provided to cross the channel. I did a self-guided walk around the perimeter of the central business district. We did not dock in the normal area where we would've passed under the very high bridge. I found the people friendly, especially the drivers that would stop to let you cross the streets. Panama Canal - As a life-long engineering fan, I found the Gatun locks fascinating. There are 3 locks in the series, which raise the ship 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake. It takes about 40 minutes for the entire process. If you want a good spot on the bow, plan on getting there well in advance. For some reason (I suspect so the casino and shops could remain open) we anchored for 6 hours in Gatun Lake. We were supposed to have 'scenic cruising' for an hour after people were done tendering to their shore excursion, then we were to exit the locks and make way to Colon, Panama. Colon, Panama - Due to the extended anchoring in Gatun Lake, we arrived at 5:00 PM (as opposed to 1:00 PM, per the itinerary). This left us with just over an hour in Colon. We got to see a mall. I wrote Annabel Soulag, guest relations manager, and was told nothing would be done about this. No explanation was offered. The tour operators were very disappointed (as was I) when I told them about our very short stay. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - I took the ship's Tortuguerro Canal Tour. It was excellent! We had a great guide, Jose. He was very knowledgeable and spoke perfect English. Whenever wildlife was spotted, they would stop the boat for photos. They would even turn the boat around so both sides had an equal opportunity for photos. We saw monkeys, alligators, sloathes, and many types of birds. After the tour I visited the market. The people really seem to appreciate our visit. Also in port with us was the Saga Rose (originally Norske Amerikalinje's Sagafjord, built in 1965). What a classic looking old ship. Disembarkation We docked on schedule. I was in Green 5, one of the last groups, yet I was off the ship and through customs by 10:00.   

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Jul 9, 2005

Alaska

This was my first time in Alaska, second time cruising. My first cruise was with Princess so that is my only comparison. I was traveling with my friend’s family as part of a group of approximately 30. We were supplied with a nice wallet-type folder with all of our much needed air/travel documents as well as luggage tags, immigration forms, things to know before you go, etc. It was very handy to keep everything together that way.

When we landed in Vancouver we were ushered very quickly through a customs stop and onto the buses within probably fifteen minutes as part of some program called U.S. Direct. I’m not even sure what that is, it was apparently part of our group package. But it was nice because we had nothing to do except take a nice leisurely bus ride to Canada Place. EMBARKATION: Very easy. Much quicker than Princess, especially if you’ve done your immigration form online already. The lines for those who hadn’t were very long. So definitely do the immigration form online if you can. They take a quick photo, get your credit card info down and you’re walking to your ship. Before you board you pass through a hand sanitizing station and then of course take the obligatory embarkation photo (which unfortunately for me never turns out!). CABIN: We were on the Main Deck (2) and had an inside cabin #2679. It had three large closets and more drawers than the two of us could ever use. It was roomy and comfortable with a couch, small table, a chair for the desk, and two nightstands between the single beds. Even with all of that we had room to move around and be comfortable. There was a curtain on the wall that you could light from behind so it had a feel of being outside, even though you weren’t which was nice. The bathroom is very roomy – much roomier than the Princess with a large vanity, pretty nice sized shower (with amazing showerhead!) and great cabinet room. Also with the new improvements on the ship, each room has a great high-powered hair dryer so no need to pack one. The cabin and bathroom were both spotless – absolutely spotless. We were towards the aft part of the ship and about twenty steps from the door that goes out to the very back deck. It is right under the lower promenade and I don’t think I saw five people down there the whole time. It was a great place to stand and watch whales, etc. with an amazing view. GREAT location! The closets have a safe in them which is operated by your credit card not your room key. This is only a pain because you’re forced to keep your credit card outside of the safe and with you or put elsewhere in the room. That didn’t make much sense to me as Princess has safes that are simply programmable. It ended up not being a bother at all, just kind of an odd thing. Our Cabin Steward’s name was Daniel. He introduced himself as we were coming down the hall. He was quiet and very sweet. We rarely saw him in the room but that didn’t matter – our ice was always filled, the room was always clean and turndown service always included an adorable towel animal and chocolates. What fun to return to each night!! The improvements they have made on the ship include new beds and pillows and let me tell you, they are heaven!!! Absolutely heaven. I slept so wonderfully. There are nice flat screen TV’s in the room and the selection of movies was okay. On this ship there was Million Dollar Baby, Meet the Fockers, Spanglish, Hide and Seek, Miss Congeniality 2 and a few others as well as CNN, Discovery, Animal Planet, a zaandam goings-on channel, TNT and maybe another. Also a view from the front of the ship so you could see what was going on from your room which was nice. It was fun to watch if you’re still in bed and want to see if you’re docked yet. The room was pretty quiet except the doors are heavy and late at night when people are returning to their rooms you hear a lot of slamming going on, or we did anyway. It wasn’t too obnoxious just something to be aware of. FOOD: The first night we went to the Rotterdam Dining room and found that our table was next to a window which was wonderful. One of my favorite things about my first cruise was how wonderful the waiters had been but ours had no personality the first night. It was a little off-putting. His assistant kept smiling and trying to sort of make up for the lack of personality going on with the head waiter. The menu was okay, much smaller and less to choose from than Princess. The food was good though and the desserts were tiny. The Lido deck’s buffet was very good for breakfast. The first few days I had waffles and French toast with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Heaven! I love the fresh squeezed orange juice and the never ending self-serve coffee bar. They have a good variety I think. Pastries, pancakes, meats, omelettes, cereal, yogurt, etc. It was the same each day, but it was so good I didn’t care! We also had all of our lunches on the Lido deck. They do a nice made-to-order pasta dish each day, an Asian bar of about five items, a panini/sandwich bar, hand-carved meats, salads, etc. It was very good for the most part. The desserts were hit or miss. Some days they had out really good cheesecake and cake, other times they had our jell-o’s and pseudo crème brulee type things that didn’t appeal to me. There’s always ice cream and cookies though!! As far as food on this ship, that’s the only real complaint I have is that the desserts didn’t seem really creative or fresh. Even the chocolate cake seemed like it had been in a freezer overnight (didn’t stop me from eating it though!) The best part of the Lido deck is the staff. Their staff on the Zaandam is about 90 percent Indonesian and they absolutely, positively could not have been more wonderful. The guys working in the Lido were so sweet and always have a smile on their face. They would carry your tray, bring you more coffee, pull the chair out for you if you wanted/needed, etc. Also, the guys behind the buffet serving the food were wonderful as well. There was a late night snack and dessert special served at 11:00 each night but we never once made it back up for it since we were stuffed! We ended up eating all of our dinners except for the last night in the Lido. There were about 8 entrée selections to choose from on the dinner menu and they were all fabulous – from vegetable strudel, to prime rib to various salmon dishes – all wonderful! We had room service one night and the nice thing is that you can order anything from the Rotterdam menu. So if you feel like staying in your pajamas and watching a movie yet eating really great food – you can! We ordered this amazing mushroom ravioli and tiramisu for dessert along with a pot of tea and it was there in less than ten minutes with a smile. The last night we returned to the Rotterdam and the waiter was a lot nicer and attentive and the food was wonderful. Right down to the cheesecake sampler for dessert. We attended a fantastic high tea on the second day with wonderful little desserts like swan shaped cream puffs and cheesecakes. The second-to-last day we attended a Dessert Extravaganza in the Rotterdam which was amazing with ice sculptures and wonderful delights and of course super nice chefs! We did have one birthday lunch at the Pinnacle Grill. It was the day we docked in Ketchikan so it was pretty empty and unfortunately the service was very slow. So slow that the four guys we were eating with had to go to get off of the ship in time for a shore excursion. So my friend and I stayed and they brought us out our desserts (a warm chocolate explosion!) and the desserts the guys had ordered (fresh strawberries with a raspberry sherbet and a little shortcake on it). A beautiful, delicious coffee service and then even a birthday cake!! The cake we had to take back to the room and our waiter wrapped it in a foil basket. So cute. It was super slow but it was REALLY really good. For lunch that day it was only a $10 charge and so beyond worth it. I recommend making a reservation there immediately. THE SHIP: To me one of the best parts of a cruise is getting up early and walking the promenade deck. This was supremely easy to do on this beautiful ship. Guys were up cleaning it when I was up by five or so. It was always clean and never busy. The deck chairs were comfortable and there were many. There were always people cleaning and shining things – and not in the way either. Though the Zaandam holds 1400 or so passengers, it only ever felt crowded right at lunch time. The set up of the Lido buffet bar is like one long cafeteria line which is VERY annoying. Princess has a bunch of stations so you can move around and not have to wait on people. Other than the 12:00 rush, I never felt like I had to wait and I never felt crowded. There are many lounges for which to choose to relax. Also, there are elevators everywhere it seemed and it never seemed like a long walk to have to get from one floor to another. The pools were never busy. I only saw people in them a few times. The outside pool is understandable as it was only 58 degrees outside (even if the pool is steaming hot!) but the inside pool was hardly busy either. As mentioned before about the hand-sanitizer stations, they are outside every place you can eat. If there is food involved, you’re invited to sanitize your hands which I think is a great thing. Even at the Captain’s reception they tell you not to shake hands as to keep everyone healthy. I think that’s smart. The first full day at sea was pretty rocky, but I like that. My friend took one Dramamine and was fine. The rest of the time, except for part of the last night towards Vancouver was very smooth. SPA: I only had one service done, an exotic hand ritual which was wonderful. It’s a Steiner operation so things are pricey but I kind of expect it when Elemis products are sold. The girls in there were very nice and helpful, not pushy at all with product. I didn’t use the fitness center but the people I traveled with did and said it was clean, not too crowded and the equipment was good. CASINO: I only walked through it once. It was super smoky and busy. CULINARY ARTS: This ship is now famous for giving cooking demonstrations in the theater. I think that’s great, but I don’t think you should have to pay extra for it. It was around 30 bucks a sitting to go and see these chefs prepare food then sample it. You could also watch it on the TV in your room as well for nothing. It just seems like something they could throw in as a ship feature if you ask me. DRINKS: Do not be suckered into the drink of the day. They were watered down and overpriced. We had a blue whale one day which was like drinking sweetened coconut – horrible! One nice thing is, we weren’t hassled to get a drink card or soda package. The first day on Princess we were asked twenty times. It was nice not to be bothered by it. I don’t even know how much those packages were as we weren’t even asked which was fine by me. TIPPING: The no-tipping policy is nice, though it adds $70 onto the end of your bill. We still tipped our cabin steward as he did such a great job. Also in the salon they add a line for Gratuity which seemed kind of forward. I like tipping salon people anyway so it wasn’t a big deal, I just think it shouldn’t be written on the ticket as to make you feel you have to do it. As far as the cashless society on the ship and just using your card, it was great. I went down and paid on the account twice with travelers checks during the week and it was no problem whatsoever. INTERNET: The Explorations Café was wonderful. The wonderful guy Ruben who works in there knew my name and my coffee type by the second morning. The internet connection was only messed up one day, otherwise it was pretty fast. You can purchase different plans. I chose a $27.50 plan for 50 minutes. You can also pay .75 cents per minute which adds up way too fast for me. This Explorations area is great because they have big puzzles, a million books, DVD’s and great tear-off crossword puzzles. There are huge windows for which to gaze out of while sipping cappuccino and reading your book. This was one of my favorite spots on the ship. SHOPS: Overpriced, just like any other ship I guess. Definitely not as much selection as the Princess. PHOTO GALLERY: They take your photo a lot and give you chances to get some good pictures of yourself/family. They’re expensive but the formal ones are worth it I think. A normal package of a 5x7 and four wallets is about $16.00 then you can purchase other packages from there. And if you don’t want them you just take them down and they toss them. They were very unorganized the day I was in there and people were a little frustrated. I guess don’t hit the gallery while you’re at sea as it’s very busy. ENTERTAINMENT: We only attended two shows. A “southern nights” one which was just horrible and a Beatles review one which was actually pretty good and a lot more fun. What’s NOT to miss are the shows the crew put on. The one done by the crew from the Philippines was wonderful. They ended up showing repeats of it on the TV in the room. PORTS: In Juneau we went on the Mendenhall Glacier trip which was beautiful. We had a really fun bus drive that gave us a good tour to and from. They gave us a stop at a salmon hatchery which was kind of odd/unexpected…but informative. Once at the glacier we went off the beaten path and took a long walk up to a waterfall which was gorgeous. Worth the rock-scaling that we did to get to it. In Skagway we took the train ride up to White Pass Summit which was gorgeous but a little long at 3.5 hours. Our companions took the longer tour which was a bus ride up into Canada and the train ride back and they had a fantastic time. Also saw some sun! One guy went on one or two excursions per port and didn’t get any time in any of the towns. I wouldn’t recommend that as some of the fishing trips are 5 hours long. Or do it once and enjoy some downtime too. Ketchikan was a rainy mess. We hopped off and hopped back on within an hour. Each of these ports was interesting in their own right, but horribly overpriced on souvenirs and jewelry. Who needs that much jewelry?! Weird. The best prices and selection was in Juneau, in my opinion. If you’re dying for a Starbucks, there’s one in Skagway. The best part of the Inside Passage trip is Glacier Bay where the Captain stopped the ship and we just listened to the “calving” of the glacier and enjoyed the unbelievable view. Also, just the magical, beautiful terrain of the passage is heavenly. We saw many whales and porpoises, it was fantastic. It’s like no other place I have ever seen in my life. It only rained that one day in Ketchikan, otherwise it was 55 – 58 degrees. Pack for it – I had no idea what to expect really seeing as how I was coming from muggy 90 degree New York. I brought only one sweater. Bring a scarf, bring gloves, layers, etc. You’ll be glad you did instead of buying things in port (like me). DISEMBARKATION: Fast, easy, organized…too fast really. I wanted to stay on as long as I could. Buses were waiting to take us to the airport and once there the luggage was waiting and we checked in no problem. OVERALL: I loved this cruise. I really, really loved it. For the most part it is due to the amazing crew that we had. Every single person was helpful and had a smile on their face and felt really welcoming. I would definitely recommend this ship to anyone considering a relaxing, pampered cruise. I hope this was somewhat useful to a future cruiser! Please email me if you have any questions whatsoever!  

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Apr 24, 2005

Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise with Holland America Line being heavily persuaded to see what the difference was between the average cruise lines and the so-called “premium” category. I have cruised extensively on P&O, Princess, Cunard and the now defunct Thoresen Line (Singapore based). For this cruise I had traveled some 16000kms to connect with the ship and was obviously looking forward to maximizing the time in each port. Embarkation

I embarked at Fort Lauderdale. HAL handled this part of the exercise is a very professional and efficient manner and I was on the ship within fifteen minutes being escorted to my cabin. Ports of Call The ship sailed Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale (where I joined it), La Romana-Dominican Republic, Cartagena – Colombia, Puntarenas-Costa Rica, San Juan Del Sur-Nicaragua, Puerto Quetzal-Guatemala, Huatulco-Mexico, Puerto Vallarta-Mexico, Cabo San Lucas-Mexico, Los Angeles-USA, Astoria-USA and finally Vancouver-Canada. The cruise lasted some 20 days. The ports of call were all great except for La Romana which was too far removed from the places of interest in the Dominican Republic to appreciate its great history. For some inexplicable reason (cost cutting ???) the Captain regularly arrived late and left early in close to every port we visited which obviously curtailed the time available. We also spent a good part of a day cruising the Golfo Dulce which turned out to be a waste of time which could have been better utilized extending the short time in other ports. The ship was some considerable distance from the shoreline due to navigation issues coupled with the Captain’s explanation that it could experience volcanic activity at any time so the ship could not go any closer – the mind boggles !!! We were fed regular forecasts of impending weather which failed to materialize at any point in the cruise but which seemed to be the regular excuse for arriving late or leaving early with regular monotony. One might be led to believe that the real reason was that considerable fuel savings could be achieved by cutting short the time in port and allowing the ship to travel at a much slower speed ?????? Shore Excursions The shore excursions arranged by the ship were well organized, reasonably priced and enjoyable and gave a good picture of each locality within the Captain’s imposed time restraints. The trips to the old cities of Cartagena, Antigua and Granada were a great way of viewing the history of these places. I opted to disembark at Huatulco and undertake an independently arranged trip to Mexico City to see the Pyramids at Teotihuacan ( an incredible experience) and rejoin the ship in Puerto Vallarta. Despite having this approved by HAL some two months before boarding it was necessary to make some four separate requests to the Front Office to ensure that they had arranged disembarkation/embarkation. Apart from what has now become the usual difficulty in having them understand plain English I got the distinct impression they had no idea what they were doing ! Cabin/Room Service I opted for a D grade stateroom on Verandah Deck which was at the front of the ship. It was roomy and had two large windows facing the front of the ship which was great when you were entering the various ports. Immediately outside the cabin was a large deck which overlooked the bow of the ship. The cabin itself was very comfortable with good storage space, comfortable beds, LCD TV and a full bathroom. A minor problem arose with the toilet when it blocked up but once reported was promptly cleared, however for the duration of the cruise it never smelt fresh and one wondered how effectively the daily cleaning was undertaken. I also had occasion to request that a new sheet be replaced due to a large stain on it – again the room steward was most apologetic and attended to it promptly. I was rather surprised it was even put on the bed in the first place as it was clearly obvious. I tend to like to establish some sort of relationship with the room steward and engage in some conversation rather than just an “hello” or “good evening”. This proved a little difficult this time around as I didn’t even know who the room steward was until Day 3. I then found it almost impossible to conduct any conversation in English although I found him to be a most pleasant person to deal with. A nice touch was the replenishment of fruit in the cabin and the steward’s talent with towel sculptures. The Ship Itself Zaandam is a very attractive ship with some very nice interior finishes (except for the hideous carpets), plenty of cosy lounge areas, internet facilities and a reasonably stocked but well furnished library which also contains a coffee bar where you can obtain a coffee and cake (an additional charge). One of the highlights of the ship is the Rotterdam Dining Room which has a balcony as well as main level. It is quite impressive as far as design is concerned which in some part makes up for the shortcomings in the culinary arena. One of the more eye catching areas of the ship was the aft swimming pool which has two fiberglass cows on its edge – a whimsical touch !! The indoor pool was very impressive in size as well as the fact that it could be closed over in inclement weather – it also had a very attractive bar area. There was never any problem securing a lounge by the pools. Catering/ Food Clearly not one of HAL’s strong points !!! Whilst the dinner menu in the Rotterdam read like one from Maxim’s in Paris that was where any comparison ceased. For some inexplicable reason for the first few days it was great and then it fell into a hole. With regular monotony meat dishes were tough which on a so-called premium cruise line is unacceptable. This applied to chicken, veal, pork and beef each of which I optimistically tried in turn in the hope that at least one of them might end up being edible – alas I was to be sadly disappointed ! Vegetables were indeed a rarity with one or two pieces of asparagus looking like they had been dehydrated for a year prior to serving and the serving of broccoli barely being visible under a microscope – that was of course on the odd occasion when any vegetable was served. Chocolate lovers would probably be in heaven as the dessert menu was abundantly blessed with a vast range of chocolate endowed offerings. For others the choice was very limited and somewhat monotonous. To counter the failings in the culinary area the table stewards were excellent but again it was on occasion difficult to converse. On the other hand the Lido Buffet catered well for both breakfast and lunch with a good range of food available both hot and cold. The Buffet is also open for dinner as an alternate to the main dining room but with a similar menu. Casual dress is acceptable in the Buffet. The peak of their culinary expertise is the bread and butter pudding which is to die for !!! They also have another alternate dining area known as the Pinnacle Grill which incurs a $20 surcharge. The interior décor is most attractive and it specializes in NorthWestern cuisine. Whilst I did not dine there my companions on my table in the Rotterdam did and whilst they enjoyed it as a change from the main dining room they were not overly impressed. Entertainment Consisted of a number of magicians, comedians, singers, a violinist and a pianist. The violinist in particular was outstanding and the remainder entertaining. The dance group that attempted a number of musicals was embarrassing – Simon Cowley would have ousted them in the first round of American Idol . Their choreography (a generous description) as well as their vocals could only be described as totally amateur and not up to the standard one might expect. The interesting part was that they repeated an earlier performance and it was worse than the initial one !!! One wonders how much monitoring is undertaken by the Cruise Director – perhaps he/she should visit Princess Cruises and pick up a few tips. Summary The ports of call and the ship itself made up for a number of shortcomings in other areas. Those shortcomings do not warrant a “premium” ranking for HAL at least in respect of the Zaandam. It is not up to the standard of Princess in a number of areas particularly catering and entertainment. Would cruise with Princess or Celebrity or RCI next time.  

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Mar 27, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

I just wanted to relay my experience on the Zaandam this past week. The cruise overall was fairly good, but Holland America fell short on their guest service in Grand Cayman. It was a very hot and humid day in Grand Cayman. There was big swells coming in to shore and the tenders were not running smoothly. There was thousands of passengers from cruise ships waiting in the heat and humidity. There were many older passengers who looked

on the verge of fainting. Looking down the way, I noticed the Disney employees collecting towels, handing out bottles of water and later on, food. I was quite dismayed to notice Holland America was doing nothing. NO water, no food, no towel collection and NO organization. People were cutting in line for the tenders and there was only 1 or 2 uniformed employees. There was no contact with the ship as the cadets batteries had apparently ran out. Later on, the Disney employees began handing out their left over water and food and saying next time to sail Disney. After this experience, I will. I am not sure who the Hotel Manager was, but they failed at their job drastically. How they did not even send water over or additional staff is beyond me?! I had enjoyed my cruise for the most part up till that point, but this experience just made me realize how far Holland America has to come. Joseph Swift Ontario, Canada  

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Mar 26, 2005

Western Caribbean

Our family of four (two parents, two daughters ages 20 and 7) traveled on this cruise ship for spring break. We have traveled on Holland America before (Westerdam) and were extremely pleased with the upgrades to the ship and amenities offered. Mind you, this ship was christened in 2000, but it has recently undergone significant improvements. The beds, linens, robes all were wonderful and added a level of elegance to our trip. I will try

to break this up by categories: ship; service; food; ports for your consideration. The ship is small to medium by today's standards and that makes it easier to get around and maneuver between venues. We had two Larger Outside Cabins (Category DD I think) that adjoined. They were located at the front or the ship and offered an obstructed view from our windows. The reason for this was because we were on the lower promenade deck and this is no different than if you were on the first floor of a motel/hotel and people could walk by your room. This floor is used by the 'walkers' as four times around equals one mile. I did this every morning. The cabins are furnished with two twin beds or one queen depending on your needs; two night stands; ship radio; remote controls for lights/tv; small table and couch; desk with chair; make up mirror; hair dryer; tv and dvd player; plenty of closet and drawer space for clothing, luggage, etc. The bathroom included a tub/shower and medicine cabinet and storage space for toiletries, etc. The Lido deck was five floors up from us that had the ship's two pools (one inside and one outside) and Lido Restaurant. The indoor pool has a retractable roof which could be closed or opened depending on weather, wind, etc. The two hot tubs were also located at this pool. The indoor pool tended to be where the children hung out. The one major problem with this is that they tended to be in hot tub all the time. It is my opinion that children should be restricted to using the hot tubs or not be allowed to use them at all. Actually, it is a health hazardd for small children. We didn't really complain about this as it was Easter Break and the ship had a record number of children on board. The fifth floor (it's name escapes me at the moment) is where the dining rooms is; nightclub; exploration's lounge and numerous other places to grab a drink and listen to various music. The ship did not disappoint on this level! Numerous musical venues took place on this floor and were wonderful. The Explorations Lounge is a great enhancement to the ship...this is where you can connect to the internet; listen to music; read or just relax! We all enjoyed this room during our week. A word to the wise, if you read that their are internet hot spots on board and you can bring along your wireless laptop for convenience. You can, but you need to purchase internet access while on ship. This is sold in bulk minutes with a minimal access charge. If you must be connected, it is reasonable and saves on phone call charges. My husband and older daughter would use the individual sound chairs and stereo systems to enjoy their own individual music selections while my younger daughter and I played one of many board games. I can't say enough about the ship and its amenities except they are all wonderful and too many to mention here, i.e. wine bar, art gallery/auction, shops on board, etc. You will not be disappointed. The service was wonderful from the cabin steward to the waiters, bartenders, etc. All treated us politely and efficiently which is such a welcome thing these days. They really exhibited a true pleasure in making us happy. I had the pleasure of using the spa and the not so pleasant pleasure of using the health center while on the ship and both were staffed with professionals and handled my needs perfectly. The health center is welcome addition and very well equipped. Staff and crew were great! The food quality was very good and something we think has improved greatly since our last cruise six years ago. We ate quite a bit from the room service menu on that one due to the poor selections available in the dining room. However, this time that was not the case. Each night's dinner included numerous choices of unique gourmet selections in addition to alternative choices for those watching carbs, fat intake and sugar intake. This was great for our dinner companion who had diabetes. We ate dinner four nights in the formal dining room (1st early seating at 5:45) which I recommend as the later seating tend to get backed up way into the night due to the staff really doesn't rush those of us enjoying our dinner to move out. The other nights we ate light from the pool bar which served hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, grilled chicken and full taco bar or from the Lido Restaurant which served a healthy buffet every night. You could still get room service meals and snacks 24 hours a day, if you wanted. Coffee, tea (hot & cold) and purified water is available on the Lido Deck 24 hours a day. There are numerous bars and lounges around the ship that make getting anything to drink very easy. Our itinerary included Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay and Half Moon Cay (Bahamas) two of which were accessible by docking at pier; two had to anchor offshore and use tenders. Unfortunately, we experienced water conditions that were not favorable for a number of tours which were cancelled and made the tendering into port more difficult. During these trying times, the crew and staff of the excursion desk worked hard to satisfy everyone as best they could. The private island spot on Half Moon Cay is heavenly and welcomed after the week of cruising. It is a gorgeous resort and no words can describe the tranquility and serene surroundings on the island. We had a private cabana for the short time we were there (only disappointment) which was great! It came equipped with lounge chairs with little misters, stocked refrigerators and snacks for the day...well worth it. But a note to travelers, book early as they sell out quick. One a final note, Grand Cayman is still recovering from the hurricanes last fall, which left them devasted in some parts of the island. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about the island and its recovery efforts. For those of you cruisers with children, be sure to sign them up for the Club Hal activities (up to age 17) as soon as you get on board. They will be grateful you did. Our daughter loved every minute and thoroughly enjoyed her time there. They have plenty of crafts, activities, etc. to keep them busy. The older crowd has a fully equipped video center with plenty of game boys and play stations for all! In addition to their own sun deck and Jacuzzi. I can't wait until our next cruise and would strongly recommend the Holland America line!    

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Dec 18, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

We are a family of 11- 4 adults- late 30's-early 40's, 2 adults mid 60's, 1 great grandmother- 90+ and 4 children- girls 15, 12, 10 & 8. Family cruise history: HAL, Renaissance, Cunard, Princess, NCL, Carnival, RCCL, Celebrity, Costa, Chandris/Fantasy, Majesty, Delta Queen Steamboat, American Hawaii Cruises. My grandmother is in her 90's and has cruised for over 60 years for obvious reasons, won't list all the lines she has been on...

Overview There were a fair share of families were aboard for this Christmas holiday sailing. Overall it was easily evident that HAL’s median age is older than most other cruises. This presented a fairly wide variety of age groups, and reported 200+ well-mannered children. It was pretty exciting shortly after embarkation, to encounter strolling carolers. Unfortunately this was the one and only occasion where we saw this. Pre-Cruise We stayed at the Radisson at Port Canaveral. Nice resort and clean. They presented an excellent breakfast buffet with friendly service. What a great way in which to begin our family holiday. The drawback was being packed like sardines on buses for the shuttle to the port. Again, the resort's problem not HAL'S. There were 3 ships, leaving Port Canaveral on this day. The wait, loading of luggage etc. on a 50-passenger bus was EXTREMELY chaotic and time consuming. Pick up by the Radisson shuttle at the end of the cruise was via their "regular" shuttle and went very smoothly. For those debating pre-cruise parking, Signage is excellent leading to the port via stationary and electronic signing. Parking at the Port is also extremely easy with convenient drop off areas for both handicapped persons and baggage. The parking area is fenced in and charges $10 per day. Porters were readily available to transport our luggage the 3 feet from the storage under the bus to the forklift palette. We were very disappointed by our first impression of HAL when the same guy asked for a gratuity after having already being "taken care of". If no tip had already been given, it would have been one thing, however we tipped him more than a $1 per bag for our entire family. When I last checked this was the recommended. Embarkation Longest part of the line was of course waiting to go through the metal detectors along with the x-ray of all carry-on items. Inspections were thorough and as we all know necessary. Cruise line reps were all pleasant and polite, check-in agents were also plentiful and efficient. We did have all our forms pre-printed and filled out, as most people did. Our daughter was issued an ID bracelet with her lifeboat muster station in the event there was an emergency and she was separated from us. Ship staff could then easily take her to where she was supposed to be. As a parent this was very reassuring. We arrived about 11:30 am and the whole process from arrival to boarding was about a half hour. Our grandmother, taken aboard via wheelchair, had separate check-in, which was of course much faster than that of the "masses". The family met up at the Lido for lunch. At 1:40 pm the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. Luggage arrived very shortly afterwards and everyone in our group was able to unpack prior to the 4:30 pm lifeboat muster drill. The steward (forgive me for not knowing his name- my Dad had the most personal dealings with him) who wheeled her aboard was ready to ditch her off as soon as they were aboard. My father mentioned to him that a tip would be offered if he would to take her to lido deck and he became her best buddy though out the entire cruise! Lucky for us he worked at the Piano Bar where we gathered nightly for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Again, he took excellent care of our entire family making sure we always had plenty of hors d'oeuvres and peanuts to go along with our drinks. Side story: The last day at sea he asked for the names of our family members. Little did we know and how delightfully surprised we were when he searched us out in the Lido the next morning to present to each family group a "personalized" Dutch hat signifying the date, family members and signed, presumably by him! He received an additional gratuity on the last evening to show our appreciation for his great service. Crew See the Dining Room heading for our favorite crewmember. Overall everyone on the ship was extremely pleasant and helpful. There were plenty of smiles all around. I cannot begin to tell you how many times in the Lido I had to politely and with a smile, ask one of the "boys" to carry the tray of someone else "who REALLY needed the help". The Ship The Zaandam had the best layout out of all of the newer ships that I have personally been fortunate enough to cruise on. The Zaandam’s layout made it very easy for my elderly grandmother to walk around with out having to walk a "mile" to get anywhere as she does on a "MEGA" ship. If you book on deck 6 or 7 you will never have to go any lower than deck 4 on the ship except for shore excursions. With the Lido and pools on deck 8 there is not too far too travel up and if you can obtain dining in the Rotterdam Upper Dining Room, you will only have to go down to deck 5. With the before mentioned problems with our cabins, overall cleanliness aboard the Zaandam was excellent. The ship’s décor is a little worn around the edges, but no real complaints. The ship is going into dry dock January 2005 and will be getting some new carpeting along with the other scheduled SOE enhancements. On our cruise aboard the Golden Princess in late 2003, DH and I, still childless, reveled in the sanctity of the their “Adult Only” Aft swimming pool. In September of 2004 our soon to be adopted 8 year old daughter arrived in our lives. Both swimming pools aboard the Zaandam had signs posted “saying no children swimming without supervision under the age of 13” at both the Lido and Aft swimming pools. The daily bulletin, for only the first few days of the cruise, "requested" that the children use the Lido Swimming Pool. Well we tried that. I’m sorry, but with a crowded holiday sailing it was just plain unrealistic. The Lido Pool area is perfect for relaxing when it is cool outdoors. On hot Caribbean days the air was downright hot, even with the roof fully open. The water was opposite, positively cold. Even had it not been a sold out sailing, there were not enough seats never mind chaises around the Lido pool to reasonably expect families to solely use that pool. Our daughter, with chattering teeth asked if we couldn’t swim in the aft pool. Ever mindful of the peace for the adults, after some discussion we decided to try the aft pool. Much to our surprise we discovered other well behaved children and adults thawing out in the sunshine. Our daughter never had the luxury of swimming lessons in her previous foster homes. At all times she was accompanied by one of us at least sitting at the pool’s edge, if not in the water with her, to insure she would not splash or otherwise interfere with any of the adults present. All of the children always behaved themselves, which led us to the conclusion that HAL does attract a more conservative clientele. Pinnacle Grill Did not dine there, but did see the beautiful table settings and dining room. Christmas Day they offered their "$49.95 pp Wine Dinner" Gym/Spa I had a terrific manicure at a very fair price. My SIL, and her family had multiple spa services and were very pleased with the staff and wonderful massages, manicures and pedicures, which they received. We both booked immediately after lunch right after we boarded the ship. And glad we were. Do not call, go there in person, otherwise, they will tell you they will call you back and that may not be for a long long time. The new Spa will be going in during dry dock. The spa staff will have off for two weeks and the last week in dry dock will be spent on training for their new "digs". Shows/Entertainment Did not attend any shows. Family members who did, said they were just "so, so". We regular listened to Sonia Marie while in the Piano Bar, she had her “following”, though I don’t think any of us would have gone out of our way to listen to her play. Sea Breeze was better and they played in the Crow’s Nest. For the most part, after the last show, the ship grows quiet. You can find people in the Casino, Casino Bar or Crow's Nest. Each evening the Crow's Nest featured a different theme such as Disco, 50's, Black & White, from about 11 pm to Midnight. Then music reverted to a DJ who played for the most part hip-hop. The Crow's Nest was a late night "hangout". On the last evening of the sold out holiday cruise at 1:30 a.m. there were all of 12 people still there. Cabin Accommodations Our family of eleven had 4 (3/3/3/2) - Cat. A. Verandah cabins on deck 7- 7048, 7050, 7052 & 7054. For two persons the cabins were terrific. With 3 people the cabin quickly became difficult to maneuver given the narrowness of space between the end of the queen size bed and the wall. For privacy there was a curtain, which extended 3/4 of the way to divide the cabin between the "living area" or in our case, sleep sofa for our daughter and the queen size bed. There was an additional curtain that provided privacy between the bathroom and closet area from the rest of the cabin. For families, if only for the space, if budget allows, I would highly recommend a Cat. S suite. This allows not only more room to get around, an additional sink with private dressing area separate from the tub and water closet. Even better would be an adjoining or inside cabin for the kids. Even for couples, if you enjoy breakfast on your balcony, the only way in which to have a table AND chairs for a "sit down" breakfast would be in a Cat. S suite. Just as an added note, we had a comparable mini-suite on the Golden Princess last year. The cabin was much more spacious and though the balcony was slightly smaller, the cabin itself offered more seating and was much less cramped. Cat. Balconies on the Zaandam are equipped with a high quality comfortable chaise lounge as well as matching chair with end table. Nice touch over the cheap hard plastic stuff found elsewhere. I don’t know if it was because of our location higher up on the ship than where we were last year, but our balcony remained virtually salt free. Last year while sailing Princess, after just a few days the furniture was so encrusted in salt you needed to sit on a towel. Princess did offer an advantage with two TV's as opposed to just one. When there is a disaster the size of the recent Tsunami, if only while getting dressed in the morning and at night, DH and I are interesting in keeping up with what is going on. Our daughter is too young for gory tragedies of this nature and much preferred watching cartoons on Boomerang! In each cabin there was a directory including movie listings and the channel offerings: ESPN, CNN, TNT, CNN Headline News, Boomerang!, Discovery Channel, "On Board"- promos for ship services, "In Port"- shore excursion and port information, Nautical Info with view from the bridge, and "Port Shopping". Our cabin also had a VCR and a very long listing in cabins of videos available for pick-up at the front desk. The Wajang Theater offered movies such as Collateral, Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, Santa Clause 2, Bourne Supremacy, and The Manchurian Candidate. There were 2 Movie Channels showing a daily rotation of movies (beware parents…we awoke one morning to our 8 year old watching an "R" rated movie). It was nice during a Christmas cruise, if you are inclined to stay in your cabin, to have the option of viewing Christmas movies, some classics such as, "It's a Wonderful Life", Noel, White Christmas, ELF, and Santa Clause 2. For adults there were also movies such as Collateral, The Terminal, The Stepford Wives, King Arthur, Troy and Manchurian Candidate. For kids, there was Around the World in 80 Days, Spy Kids, The Prince and Me, Cinderella Story and Shark Tale. The same steward served our 4 cabins. He spoke next to no English. Formerly serving as a bartender on the ship, he was now cleaning cabins and poorly at that. At the end of our voyage, everyone pretty much agreed that his lack of English speaking skills were more than likely the root of most of our “cabin problems” not being solved in a timely manner. We were surprised that our cabins, which had sofa beds, were never converted back to sofas during the day. Upon arrival we walked into cabins with a queen size bed and one sofa. After the first night's dinner we returned to cabins with the queen size bed and a small narrow bed, which remained such for the entire cruise. In other words, with one chair IN the cabin and one chaise lounge and additional chair on the balcony for three people, don’t plan on sitting around. Room service breakfast balancing plates on our knees would not have been a pretty sight. In that our family had 4 cabins adjacent to one another we were hoping to have the doors between the 4 cabins opened for easy access to one another. Our cabin steward said it was not possible. As we were waiting to disembark along comes a crew member climbing over the railing opening door upon door so that he would be able to walk through balcony to balcony while he was hosing off the salt. My cabin as well as my parent's cabin did have mildew present amongst the grout in the bathroom tiles. Big turn off considering it is easily curable with a little of the right cleaner and some elbow grease. First night prior to leaving for dinner we left a note for the cabin steward: from the previous cruise which had disembarked that morning, we were left with: a bathroom wastebasket which had not been emptied, a desk full of crumbs and a shelf full of receipts from the previous cabin occupants. 3 of 4 cabins had 3, not 4 occupants. Each of the four cabins only had two bath towels! They were not offered outright, each cabin had to request the 3rd bath towel for the 3rd occupant individually. Sorry but is that not just common sense? Cabin 1- safe would not lock, a screw had fallen out. Called each morning for repair, 3 days in a row, with no response. A phone call was placed day 4 and we asked simply for a screwdriver to repair it ourselves. Afternoon of day 4 we remembered we had an eyeglass screwdriver. DH used this and fixed the safe himself. Over the period of 6 nights, the cabin became progressively warmer at night. Called day 7 for someone to check it. Front desk phoned morning of day 8 to see if it had been repaired. No it had not. By the end of the day it was fixed and in perfect working condition. Unfortunately in the same cabin one of the children accidentally broke the flexible hose off of the shower nozzle to brace herself and avoid falling during a swell (too young and never having traveled before, she did not know enough to grab one of the hand holds). Called for repair as soon as it happened prior to dinner and it was repaired by the time dinner was over. Cabin 1 again- besides the problems with the safe, one morning there was an 8:15 am knock on the door from maintenance. They knew, without it being reported, that the cabin had low water pressure. Without asking anyone to vacate the cabin they went into the bathroom and did what they had to do. Again, the privacy curtain between the cabin entrance where the bathroom is located and the rest of the cabin was appreciated since everyone was in pajamas and one person was still in bed. Cabin 2- ring on tub faucet was broken, thus shower did not function. Called for repair, no response. After my SIL had a total of 4 others shower that evening in her cabin she called the front desk for a second time requesting repair. "She" explained it would be appreciated if our grandmother who had paid over $20,000 for this cruise had a shower that actually functioned. The shower was repaired by the time we returned from dinner that evening. Cabin 3- one day, the cabin was just never cleaned, morning nor night. We did see a supervisor making notes on a clipboard outside of the cabin as we were departing for dinner that evening. No way of knowing if one thing had anything to do with the other. No phone calls were made to have the cabin cleaned. At this point we just couldn't be bothered considering HAL'S staff unresponsiveness to other maintenance problems in the cabins. The following day the cabin steward apologized stating that he had "forgotten about it". This cabin also had an intermittent odor of sewage from the toilet, which was not present in the other cabins. Lido Quality of the food was good and the selection was for the most part pretty good. Breakfast buffet open 7 or 7:30 am - 10 or 10:30 am, offered just about everything imaginable except for waffles or soft boiled, or poached eggs (yes, heard someone ask for poached, but they did offer hard boiled eggs). If you arrived at breakfast early enough before it got too busy, the waiters would be kind enough to get your coffee or tea for you. Arrive later when it was busy and it was "hit or miss" whether you would be lucky enough to be offered a refill by one of the waiters roaming with a pot for such purpose. At lunch, the buffet was open 11:00 am - 2 pm, the soup and salad bar was a big hit, open 11:30 am - 5:00 pm as well as the deli. Stir Fry and a Pasta Bar rotated day to day. The ice cream bar is extremely popular as well with flavors of ice cream and some toppings rotating daily. Wish there was an easier way to get a soda on the lido though. They had a bartender set up at this little table. Half the time they did not have what you wanted and the rest of the time he was off getting, presumably, more soda. I had a good chuckle when one of the waiters asked ME, who herself was wondering where he was, where the bartender was. Alas, a mind reader I am not...Towards the end of the cruise, we just found it easier to order a soda at the pool bar on our way in for lunch. Besides never missing ice cream, our children all especially enjoyed making their own tacos and daily selections of pizzas, which were offered. This food was available from 11:30 am - 5 pm. If you were still full from breakfast, it was also very convenient to stop by late afternoon for a burger or a "make your own" plate of nachos to snack on. Still enjoying our time poolside, this was a better option than having to go to our cabin and order room service. Though we did not have dinner in the Lido, tables at night were set with linen tablecloths. A condensed version of the evening's menu is offered buffet style. The exception being your entree that you order while in line and then is served to you by a waiter at the appropriate time. Room Service HAL does excel and shows some nice touches in their room service. My favorite late lunch was the French Onion Soup and a Caesar Salad. One of our cabins had room service breakfast almost daily. One cabin had early morning coffee delivery along with juice. At no extra charge, there were a good variety of items available for appropriate times of the day, which were delivered in a timely manner, whether ordered the night before (breakfast) or via telephone. Christmas eve morning an order was placed for a couple of cheese plates for delivery to one of our cabins that night. This was no problem and they arrived promptly at 6 pm as requested. A bottle of wine and six cans of beer ordered at 5 pm for 6 pm simply never showed up. The server who delivered the cheese stated he would check on the liquor deliver, but we never heard back from him either. A sampling of items offered 12 Noon - 10 pm are: Bay Shrimp Cocktail, Smoked Salmon Appetizer, Onion Soup, Caesar Salad, Chef Salad, Club Sandwich, Chicken Breast Sandwich, Tuna Melt, Vegetarian Wrap, Steak Sandwich and Hamburger. Dining Room & Food Our family booked this cruise in July and the only seating available was the Main seating 8:30 pm. Since booking, we had been waitlisted for the 8 pm seating. Upon embarking, my Mom and SIL, visited the Maitre ‘d in order to take one last stab at changing to the 8 pm seating. Fat chance! None of us had hopes that the time would be changed, so contented ourselves with the fact that HAL had accommodated our request for a table for 11 people. Evenings the family gathered pre-dinner for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, usually at the Piano Bar and then proceeded to our table J in the Lower Rotterdam Dining Room. We had the opportunity to enjoy some breakfasts and one dinner in the upper dining room and noticed a drastic difference in room temperature. It was unbelievably cooler on the upper level than the lower level. It did not matter that on the Informal night’s gentlemen were requested to wear a sports jacket. Half way through dinner, in our area of the lower dining room, many men room were removing their jackets. Overall, as some others have stated, HAL does have some problems in the dining room. HAL is spreading their dining room waiters and busboys so thin that they have all they can do just in order to keep up. I don’t’ require polite chitchat and you do not have to know me by name. I can appreciate feeding the children early in the meal. But my Mom did teach me to be polite, and “wait for everyone to be served” before beginning to eat. Only problem was that we were never served courses together. Food was served as soon as it came out of the kitchen as long as you were finished with your previous course. It did not matter where your tablemates were in their meal. A regular production line for sure, but again, we in no way fault the dining room staff, they are just trying to do the best they can with what they have. It was no wonder that pepper grinders are on the tables in the dining room. While HAL is at it, another time saving measure to make it easy on everyone would be to place a pitcher of ice water, salad dressings and sour cream on the table as well. Everyone can agree there is nothing worse than a cold baked (steamed) potato with sour cream or having to ask for a second cup of coffee. Our head steward, Oka, really saved our HAL dining experience. He in his supervisory position tried his utmost to provide the touch of service that one used to find on all cruise ships. Oka picked up the slack as best as he could, refilling water glasses, clearing dirty plates etc. He not only took care of all of us, but in particular, this father of 3 young children, who are home in Bali, took great joy at dessert time, in pleasing the 4 children in our family. There were napkin animals, magic tricks, jokes, puns, and riddles. In return the children taught him a few of their own for him to add to his repertoire for future passengers. Oka, also accepted special orders in advance for the following evening. The kids in particular became hooked on the Fettuccine Alfredo with extra sauce and extra cheese on the side. He found out that our daughter was head over heels for shellfish. A couple of nights she dined on 2 double portions of huge shrimp, one for an appetizer and one for dinner. Following her first taste and love at first sight with King Crab Legs, he surprised her on another night with the biggest portion of King Crab that you have ever seen! One night dinner was open seating due to the Lido Deck BBQ. The dining room was serving only in the Upper Rotterdam Dining Room on a "first come, first served basis". Oka made sure that he saved a highly coveted table for 10 (which he squeezed into 11) for us. We did not have our regular waiter, but Oka made sure he surprised our daughter once again with a huge portion of King Crab. On our last morning, Oka helped us out with breakfast once again. The steward was insisting our family, together again for one last time until most likely next Christmas, had to split up into two tables of 6 & 5. Oka raced across the room and whisked us off to a table for ten, quickly adding an additional place setting and chair. Obviously this is why he "gets paid the big bucks". There has to be a better way with the March and festivities taking place at dessert time for the Main seating in the Upper dining room. Being the “late” seating we were just being served our entrees in the darkness of the festivities. The Baked Alaska on the upper level was most likely to die for; however downstairs, after our meal, we were served a melted mushy mess. I was embarrassed for the dining room staff actually having to “slop” the drippings onto the plates. Even the wine stewards are ragged. Some nights sodas were not received until the entree was being served. Those drinking soda gave up on ordering seconds and simply began ordering two sodas at one time. The wine steward quickly picked up on this and kindly obliged and kept this as a standing order. One night, and one night only, towards the middle of the cruise, the “standing” soda order was already present on the table when we arrived! If you love wine, and are adventurous, you have to love the Zaandam’s “Wine Navigator”. These packages offered a mix of wines from all over the world. The Wine Navigator Package was priced 4 bottles for $82 or 6 bottles for $125. You are able to pay for the package and then as you go, choose from the list of wines offered. Choose every bottle the same, or try a different one each night! My Mom and sister-in-lawn really lucked out since two of their favorite wines were offered through the “Admiral’s Choice” Package. This package offers higher price pointed wines, which were 6 bottles for $175. Both packages offered savings on a good balance of whites and reds from around the world. The price of the packages does not include the automatic 15% gratuity. Guess it would not happen too often, but the night we had open seating for dinner, those ordering individual bottles of wine as I did, vs. those ordering from “their package”, were served first. My bottle of wine arrived at the table in a timely manner. The wine from the package, which my Mom had selected, did not arrive at the table until the salad was being served. Perhaps the wine steward felt I deserved better service since the 15% auto tip was going directly into his pocket vs. that from the Wine Package that was already pre-paid and presumably pooled among all the wine stewards? Breakfast here was awesome and cappuccino or espressos were at no extra charge. Service in the morning was excellent in every way. Most of the time, the toast was actually even still warm. Diabetic selections in the Lido and the Dining Room are excellent. You will have no trouble dining on this cruise, even more so in the goodie department...sugar free ice creams, cookies, desserts... Items are hardly if at all salted (including popcorn at the theater) so those on low sodium diets will have no problems. If you like salt, be prepared to "shake, shake, shake". Soups and breads were especially excellent, as well as the King Crab Legs and most of the Appetizers. “Daily Alternatives” were offered: Caesar Salad, Grilled Salmon, Broiled Chicken Breast and Grilled Sirloin Steak. The Sirloin was disappointing in that it was “hit or miss”. Just about everyone at our table ordered it on one night or another, and whether ordered rare or medium well, the taste was never consistent. Portions for all of the courses served were a perfect size. Each of us always had enough room to sample dessert. Again though, if HAL would like to show true quality of their line they would not bother serving certain items such as Carpaccio. Offered on several evenings, it was so paltry, it was laughable. There IS a difference between thinly sliced and translucent. If you do order it, ask for a double! Christmas The rest of the family had cruised two years again over Christmas with RCCL and were moved to tears by the beauty and amount of decorations around the Grandeur of the Seas. The Zaandam in their opinion was very lacking in comparison. Just no oomph! Yes, each cabin door had a small wreath, there were Gingerbread houses at the entrance to the dining room, and Christmas trees were not overly abundant. Yes there were fresh flowers in Christmas displays, including the cabins and dining room. Chocolate Santa’s were put out on display at the Lido Buffet on the 27th of December, the day after the Chocolate Extravaganza on the 26th. Two days before the end of the cruise the ship's flowers were for the most part wilted and dead. I personally would prefer they just remove the dead/dying flower arrangements, as opposed to the sad remnants of dried carnations and wilted orchids left in the holiday aftermath. Egg Nog was served Christmas morning to those waiting in the Mondrian Lounge for those waiting for Santa. Following an old fashioned "sing-a-long”, we watched via two large screens, Santa's trek from arrival at the top of the ship's stack, down the ladder onto the sports deck and then various stops such as the spa, weight room and Lido prior to his "live" entrance to the Lounge. IMHO, call it sour grapes if you like, but I do need to mention the selfishness of the childless persons who crowded the front of the lounge. I am not saying that this is a "family only" event, but it would have been nice if families with children received some type of priority seating in the lounge. With an 8:30 pm dinner seating which was all which could be offered 5 months prior to booking, how early could we drag our eight year old out of bed the next morning to get a seat in the front of the lounge? After we opened Santa's gifts in our cabin, attended breakfast with the rest of the family in the dining room, which HAL so thoughtfully served until 10 am, our family made the lounge 15 minutes prior to Santa's arrival. This was not nearly enough time to get those highly coveted seats near Santa which had already been taken by those who did not have “family obligations” prior to Santa's arrival. Kid's received a wrapped gift, a "Club HAL" baseball cap, and had their picture taken with Santa by the ship's photographer. This made another nice cruise keepsake for only the price of a ship's photo gallery. I can fully understand how older or single folks would like to see the delight in the children upon seeing Santa, but how about giving a break to the parents? Our kids only believe in Santa for so many years, why not let us appreciate it while it lasts. When the day comes and our children no longer “believe”, we will gladly join you in the back of the lounge to make room for the younger families. Itinerary & Weather 4 full days at sea, one of the reasons our family chose this itinerary/ship, the ship was our destination and resort. We had near perfect weather with a mostly cloudy and cool sail away. First day at sea was more clouds than sun and last day was chillier and mostly cloudy. The other days in between were stunning Caribbean perfect with warm temperatures and refreshing trade winds. Most mornings, as typical of the Caribbean, there were also rainbows a plenty. That late afternoon and throughout the evening of our last night the waves were reaching upwards to 13 feet+ along with a gale force wind which made the ship very "creaky". If you were a novice cruiser you did notice the "barf bags" placed at all elevators, but did not know that this would mean a rough night. After departing Half Moon Cay, it was too windy to be out on deck. All in all this made for an excellent opportunity for packing and last minute on board shopping. The Mohito Happy Hour was moved from the Aft pool to the mid-ship Lido Swimming Pool where the roof was closed well before 3 pm. Tortola Here is a tale of two families who choose two outings. Half of the family, a party of five, awoke early and were off the ship just after 8 am. Their aim was to catch one of the ferries to the Bath's. Walking off of the pier, both Speedy's and Smith’s Ferry companies had representatives selling packages. The party of five, basically ended up going with Speedy’s after the reps from each company fought back and forth over who was going to charge what. Speedy’s finally won the competition. By this time, it was going to be cutting time short for them to walk from the pier over to Speedy’s ferry departure point. The Speedy’s rep was kind enough to throw in a free taxi ride for the five of them so they could make the ferry in time. The family had a terrific time exploring the Baths and then a late lunch at the “Top of the Baths” before taking the ferry back to Road Town. The rest of us got off the ship after lunch and “tried” to hire a taxi. All the drivers were absolutely insisting that we had to go to Cane Garden Bay. We politely declined asking for a ride to either Brewer’s Bay or Sapphire Beach. They continued to refuse to take us to Brewer's Bay and to them Sapphire was just way too far and out of the question. After seeing some threads regarding the water conditions, we told them that we thought the water may be unsafe due to discharge from the boats anchoring here. Of course they stated this was not correct. Our vacation, and health, so we did not want to take a chance, especially knowing there were other places we could visit. As a side note, HAL no longer offers their Cane Garden Bay excursion. Interestingly enough, it was only when the six of us turned away to re-board the ship, where we would not have to pay a taxi to get to the ship’s swimming pool, and thus taking our money with us, that one of the drivers came forward. He was more than happy to take us to our destination of Brewer's Bay. He was even fortunate enough to fill up his taxi with six additional people. Evidently after agreeing to a return time in two and a half hours it was worth his time since he parked and hung out at the snack bar. We paid $10 pp roundtrip from the ship to Brewer's Bay. It was a great place to hangout even if you have only a few hours, much cheaper than any three-hour beach excursion the ship could offer. You can rent chaise lounges for $5 each. There is a bar with liquor and snacks. The ride over and back was a good way to see the beautiful vistas and the driver was kind enough to stop for photo opportunities without even being asked. Snorkeling is off to the west side of the beach along the rock cliff. The water is fairly shallow and clear. There are a few rocks on this west end of the beach, but water shoes are not required. Walk/swim a short ways out and the bottom becomes ALL sand. The further you walk east down the beach, the sandier it gets. When in Tortola, if you do not want to venture to the Bath's this is a great alternative! In our case the Baths were not doable for my 90+ yo grandmother. She went to Brewer's with us and loved watching her granddaughter swimming and playing in the sand. St. Martin Mom and Dad did what they do best here, spending 4 hours making a sizable donation to their friends at Ballerina Jewelers. The ship’s “Discover Scuba” excursion was sold out way in advance of sailing. I found out through this board about Shore Trips® so for an additional $12 per person over the ship’s excursion price, my brother, niece and sister-in-law booked a trip through them to try out scuba. As had happened with my husband and I after our first dive, once you do it, you are hooked! They had a fine experience with Shore Trips® and would not hesitate to use them again. The rest of the family enjoyed the Aft swimming pool which, as you can imagine was very peaceful. Barbados Wow is all I can say! This day was by far one of the highlights of our Christmas cruise aboard the Zaandam. We sailed aboard the Silver Moon II on Christmas Eve for their 5 hour Lunch Cruise. The new 45' catamaran is sister to the original 44' Silver Moon. SM II sails this lunch cruise with a maximum of 18 people aboard. Cost was $80 per adult and $50 per child and well worth the expense. The cat does hold up to 40 persons for private charters, so it is obvious that there is plenty of room for 18 people to comfortable sail, drink, eat and swim or snorkel. Our family made up 11, out of a total of 18 people aboard. There was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. Never did we feel crowded. There was shade for my Grandmother and anyone else who wanted it and plenty of spots for sunning and relaxing. Captain Nick, the owner, and his crew, the kind of young men which every parent would like their daughter to marry, treated spoiled us from the first moment we stepped on board and we could not have been more pleased with this excursion. Our excursion this day was 10 am to 3 pm. We were met outside of the cruise terminal and transported via mini-bus the few minute ride to the marina. The boat is new, and kept clean as a whistle. You must remove your shoes to even step aboard. We were a little concerned about my grandmother being able to walk on board, but the crew very very carefully and skillfully cajoled and assisted her. Once we were all aboard drink orders were taken and we began our 5 hours of bliss. First off we were told that there was a very strong swell out of the north and the waves were just too big to get in with the turtles. A snorkel above a couple of wrecks would be substituted instead. After a 45-minute sail, the first snorkel stop was to a reef. The crew passed out high quality and well kept, snorkel gear. At each stop one of the crewmembers snorkeled with the group and acted as guide. Following this snorkel, everyone re-boarded, rinsed off with the fresh water hose and ate a delicious bountiful lunch of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, fish, garlic bread and Caesar salad. All the while, we were offered unlimited soda, beer, wine, pina coladas, rum punch or strawberry daiquiris. Lunch was even followed by Rum Cake and coffee or tea. Seeing some of the other passing catamaran excursions packed to the gills, we knew no matter how much others had paid for their excursions, we had the best value for our money and it was the absolute best decision to go with Silver Moon. Don’t’ believe me, check out this thread… Silver Moon Catamaran - Great !!!!! Martinique Been there had already done that. Brother and SIL paid $25 each for a taxi tour with another couple and now they too can say, “been there done that”. DH and I spent a quiet relaxing day lounging by the aft swimming pool. Daughter spent the morning in Club HAL and then returned for the afternoon session after a dip in the pool and her luncheon feast. Please see “Club Hal” in this report for information on what this day. Half Moon Cay This is a beautiful island for sure. It is very similar to Princess Cay, but with much more in the way of facilities. Our half day, 8 am to 1:30 pm, on the island was shared with the passengers from the Zaandam’s sister ship, the Volendam. The island’s weather this day was mostly cloudy, cool and extremely windy, but nonetheless, the beach was crowded. If you are unable to walk a distance down the beach, the advice is to make sure you get to the island early. The new children's water play area was nice, however was not officially open? A water slide is just not a water slide without running water. On a Christmas cruise with a lot of kids (well for HAL right?), there was enough disappointment to go around. But they made the best of it, using the floating platforms. Most, if not all, of the excursions this day were cancelled due to high winds. To avoid the children’s water park area, head north, the further the better. Food was typical out island BBQ: Baby back Ribs- to die for, the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, salads, fruit, brownies, cookies. There was also steak albeit under cooked. Zaandam Christmas Cruise 12/18- Club HAL, Disembarkation, Favs & Overall Club HAL The oldest and the youngest children in the group participated. In that this was a Christmas cruise, there were a fair number of children aboard, but not an overwhelming amount as I thought there might be. There was no charge for the club, not even supplies. The teen made tons of new friends and generally just ended up “hanging out”. Most night’s teen events (ages 13 – 17) ran 10 pm to 1 am. There was an organized “get together” for the teens, for some reason it seems they were held mostly at the Aft Pool or Sky Room. With the upcoming addition of the Oasis Lounge, of course this will be the new place for the teens to gather. Our daughter picked and chose which Club HAL activities she wished to participate in. She enjoys arts & crafts and now has some nice souvenirs from her first cruise. I was not too thrilled the day she played “Toilet Tag” until I was let in on the details. This was a regular game of tag with a little bit of a different title. Only disappointment in the Club was the day we were in Martinique. We had signed up our DD the day before as required. When my husband went to sign her into the club that morning, none of the Club HAL staff was there. “They” decided they felt like taking the day off, and we were “lucky” that one of the male entertainers “volunteered” to man the Club that day. My husband chatted with the gentleman long enough to determine he felt safe leaving DD at the Club. Our daughter happily played on the computer for a couple of hours, but obviously that was beside the point. Disembarkation Debarkation on Dec. 28 was miserable. I don't believe this was any fault of the cruise line. Departure questionnaires were left in our cabin earlier in the week. Since we had driven to the Port, we knew we would be some of the last people off of the ship. Each cabin was later assigned a letter, which would be called for disembarkation. It is terrific that HAL allows you to remain in your cabin, so were astonished they had repeat the age old announcement for people not to gather around the gangway, staircases, etc. Although the ship had arrived in Port on time, there were the usual case of inconsiderate passengers needing being paged over and over to report to immigration. The first numbers were not called until about 9:30 am. We did not get off until almost 10:30 am. The good news was that if you did NOT require a porter it was very easy to claim your luggage and get out of the terminal. If you need to get to Orlando definitely make arrangements to have someone meet you rather than relying on the whim of one of the taxi drivers. Our Radisson shuttle picked us up and took us back to the resort to retrieve our cars. Overall Experience Another holiday cruiser stated they "would return to HAL. However, we all felt that Princess was slightly better than HAL." Our group was of mixed opinions. The three kids who had cruised previously with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean would choose Royal Caribbean. HAL would have won us over completely if their dining room service were improved and the quality of the food elevated just ever so much. Problems with the cabins were annoying but as time has faded become less important. Let’s just say it was good enough that three in our group just booked a suite on the Westerdam for a 15 day transatlantic cruise in April. Favorites: 1. Our kid's loved the Pizza & Taco Bar in the Lido. 2. Salad bar and Ice Cream bar in the Lido. 3. Cappuccino and Espresso at the Java Bar. 4. Soda card at a little over $50 (including the non-optional 15% gratuity) sounds like a lot of money but is actually a bargain. If you drink two sodas per day, it pays for itself. In the hot Caribbean sun if you drink more than that, you will be ahead of the game. Thumbs up to HAL for including ginger ale and Diet Sprite in the package. 5. Chocolate Chip Cookies Classy Touches: 1. Terry cloth hand towels in the public restrooms 2. Pleather document holder 3. Keepsake Portfolio of Captain's Farewell Dinner & Christmas Dinner menus 4. A wheelchair was given to my grandmother for her use throughout the entire cruise. She is able to walk short distances with the aid of a cane to get her place to place on the ship. Our last night at sea was too rough for her to walk at which time she was able to revert to using the wheelchair rather miss dinner in the dining room. 5. Happy to see a cruise line who still conducts a kitchen tour. 6. The Cruise Log presented at the end of the voyage makes another nice keepsake of our trip. Could Have Done Without It was heavenly, there were only sporadic “reports from the bridge” given by the Chief Navigator, not the Captain. Sadly, we had bingo announcements a plenty. "You gotta be in it to win it"... Daily bingo announcements are just plain rotten. If the passengers cannot remember what time bingo is scheduled, let them carry the daily schedule with them. Additional Notes: My husband does not buy the latest fashions in clothes, doesn’t have a ear splitting stereo or an expensive sports car. He is however what I refer to as a “coffee snob”. No Starbucks double Latte for him, just good, high quality, read expensive, coffee and the right machines for grinding his own beans and brewing the perfect cup. The one complaint I hear from him, everywhere but inside our own home, is how rotten the coffee is. Finally I can send him to the Zaandam! Whether in the Lido, Dining Room or Java Bar the coffee was near perfection and lived up to his expectations. Upon arrival, each cabin already had a nice complimentary holiday arrangement. For this Christmas cruise there was an additional offering of Holiday gifts available for delivery once aboard. DH and I purchased various gifts for our family and ourselves directly through Hal’s Ship Services. Besides the 28 inch Christmas Tree for my grandmother’s cabin and the 16 inch trees for our other three cabins. We ordered "Frosty The Snowman" for our daughter. The description was labeled a "festive drum filled with traditional seasonal trimmings". Traditional seasonal trimmings it indeed did have. So fresh and so green was it that my allergies forced Frosty into relocating to my parents cabin. There were also bottles of wines and orders of Chocolate strawberries with Champagne. We had faxed the order to ship’s services well in advance of departure and brought the copies with us should there have been any problems with delivery. Each and every item arrived on the appointed day and nothing was forgotten. Especially wonderful was not only the chocolate covered strawberries, but the California Chase-Limogere, Brut which came with it.    

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Dec 11, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

This was my fourth cruise (third on HAL), and by far my best overall cruise experience. I chose this itinerary and ship based mainly on the low single supplement for an inside guarantee cabin. My trip began the day before when I flew into Orlando, the closest large airport to Port Canaveral. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport, and then took the hotel shuttle back to the airport the next day to catch the Holland America

ship transfer. The cruise line reps were friendly, as well as knowledgeable. The trip over to the Port is a boring 45 minute drive through swampland, so either bring a good book or use it as an opportunity to chat with your fellow passengers, if they’re so inclined. With multiple buses arriving at the terminal simultaneously, the check-in and embarkation process could be categorized as organized chaos. Lines were long, but kept moving, albeit slowly. My cabin was ready by the time I finally boarded the ship, and I was personally escorted to it by a uniformed steward wearing white gloves. After checking out my room and freshening up a bit, I proceeded to the Lido deck for lunch and then did a self-guided tour of the ship before the muster drill and sail away party. My luggage arrived an hour or two later and I was able to unpack before dinner. The Zaandam is a beautiful cruise ship, and a cut above the Statendam and Maasdam that I cruised on previously. My inside aft cabin on the Dolphin Deck was clean and quiet, and my room steward Agus was attentive and friendly. The new mattresses and sheets that are part of HAL’s Signature of Excellence upgrade program are absolutely heavenly. A couple of observations...of the 3 HAL cruises I've done, this one had the widest range of ages and "types" of people. I'd say the average age was 60, but the 20s, 30s, and 40s were well represented. Out of a total of 1,440 passengers, only 40 were children. Another plus to cruising during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was a large group of secular humanists onboard that held seminars and meetings every day. My encounters with them were always pleasant and enjoyable. They in no way monopolized or took over areas of the ship. Their organized activities were pretty much limited to the Half Moon room. The Zaandam’s captain, Master Olav van der Waard, is young, handsome, and personable. If I could meet an attractive, well-spoken, sophisticated man like him, I would definitely consider changing my marital status. Food and service were superior, with only a few minor misses. My favorite meal of the entire cruise was dinner in the dining room on the last night. I chose hot crab and artichoke dip, conch chowder, Greek salad, osso bucco (braised veal shanks Italian style) over mushroom risotto, and key lime pie for dessert. Two lobster tails were featured as an entrée on the second formal night. Our waiters offered on more than one occasion to bring us additional appetizers and entrees. Dutch Night, a HAL tradition, is gone but Nasi Goreng (Indonesian rice dish with a variety of grilled, spiced meats) was on the menu one night. My dining companions were totally enjoyable, and made dinner really something to look forward to. I was at a table for 6, but only 5 of us showed up. We had the 8:00 seating which was perfect for me - not too early and not too late. Besides the dishes I just mentioned, I also enjoyed the Caribbean paella, Oysters Rockefeller and steamed mussels (appetizers), and the filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce and a crab cake and asparagus bundle. I ate lunch in the dining room when I could, and especially enjoyed the wiener schnitzel and the beef short ribs. While I’m on the subject of the dining room, the breakfast and lunch hours were very limited. Most days it was 8-9:30 am for breakfast and noon until 1 pm for lunch. I wish the Rotterdam was open at least 2 hours for both breakfast and lunch. One day I tried lunch in the Pinnacle Grill for $10. It was OK, but the food and service was as good, or better, in the regular dining room. I had gingered carrot soup as an appetizer in the Pinnacle, and it tasted like cold Gerber’s strained carrots to me! The worst thing I ate was the scrambled eggs. They were terrible. I tried them in the Lido, in the dining room, and through room service. The venue didn’t seem to matter. I ended up having to re-order eggs over medium. I did ship sponsored shore excursions at our 3 ports of call - Tortola, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. As a single woman, I feel more secure on a group tour rather than going off on my own in an unfamiliar place. Plus shore excursions are a great way to meet other people. The ship’s shore excursions were poorly organized for Tortola. Everyone met in the Mondrian Lounge and only one staff member was present to hand out stickers and give directions. For St. Thomas, they simply let us off the ship, and then we located the appropriate sign for our tour on the pier. Much simpler and less aggravating. Tortola was rather interesting, with cows, goats, pigs, and chickens roaming freely. I hope it’s able to maintain its native island charm, and not become another crowded, overly commercialized island like St. Thomas. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ship from downtown Charlotte Amalie. It was hot, humid, and crowded, with the much touted duty free shops offering little more than overpriced trinkets and junk. Sitting in a massive traffic jam inhaling exhaust fumes is not my idea of a vacation. With 7 ships in port that day, it was just too much for the city to handle. In contrast, my first visit to Half Moon Cay was like being in paradise. I’m not a sun and sand person, so for me to be impressed with a beach, it has to be something special. As far as onboard activities, I played bingo, watched some movies in my cabin, took a bartending class, attended the Rock ‘n’ Roldies show, went to most of the late night cast shows and the Indonesian crew show, sampled the offerings at the dessert extravaganza and Dutch High Tea, had wine and hors d’oeuvres at the Mariner’s reception, and just plain relaxed. It was nice being able to stay in my stateroom until my disembarkation number was called. I’ve never enjoyed being herded into one of the public areas and then waiting hours to get off the ship. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate this cruise a 9. With the exception of a few very minor glitches, this ship and its crew are winners. If you’re interested in a relaxed, sedate, and more refined cruise experience, Holland America’s Zaandam may be what you’re looking for.     

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Nov 6, 2004

Western Caribbean

This was our fifth cruise and second with Holland America. Our previous experience with HAL was in March on the Zuiderdam. We booked this cruise about 3 weeks after returning. Some of you may have read our Zuiderdam review and are aware of Diane’s phobia on flying. Well, there was no wine on the plane to go with her “feel good pills” so she drank champagne. Let me assure you she will NEVER try to replace wine with champagne again.

The flight was an utter disaster. We flew into Orlando a day early, rented a car and stayed at the Clarion near the airport. The room was nice. They had a complimentary cocktail hour and breakfast. The breakfast was supposed to start at 7 a.m. but was not set-up until 8 a.m. It took me 30 minutes to check-in and 45 minutes to check-out. We had reservations for the end of the cruise but we canceled them. Saturday morning we drove the 45 miles on 528 E to Port Canaveral. Again, Diane’s fear of traveling in anything moving faster than “It’s a Small World After all” ride at Disney World resulted in an 1.25 hour drive. Anybody else can make this trip in 45-50 minutes. Embarkation: Holland America makes this process so easy. There were porters there taking our luggage from the shuttle van onto their cart and we walked into the terminal. No hauling luggage at all. We arrived at the pier at 11:45, security check line took 20 minutes and check-in took 5 minutes. There is a separate line for suite guests. Itinerary: Anybody ready to be confused: At booking the itinerary was: Cozumel; Grand Cayman; Ochos Rio, Jamaica and Half Moon Cay (HAL’s private island) Before cruise: Due to Hurricanes Grand Cayman was dropped and sea day added. Day of cruise: Grand Cayman back on itinerary and drop extra sea day. Day 3 of cruise: Pick-up shipwrecked Cubans (3) and drop Ochos Rio from itinerary and add a sea day. Yeah you read that right. The captain got a distress call and spent 8 hours sailing around looking for the people. He found them at 3 A.M. That took care of the 8 hours we were to have on Jamaica. The Bahamian government refused to take the Cubans so Thursday day night a Coast Guard cutter took them off our hands The Ship: You who have cruised know how you feel when you first board a cruise ship and so you know what we were feeling. We have been so blessed being able to cruise three times this year. Boarding just brought us into a totally different world. The Zaandam is not what I would call a beautiful ship. It has all the amenities you can expect but on a smaller scale than the bigger ships. It is clean and well maintained. There is the centerpiece pipe organ in the atrium which plays 4 times a day, a harpsichord which I told Diane was “half a piano” which she beleived, guitars signed by numerous musicians, etc. Rotterdam Dining Room: This is the main dining room. It is a two level affair with two dinner seatings for each level. We had a table for two early seating on the lower level at 6:15 (upper level early seating is 5:45). This was the first time we have not been seated with at least 4 other quests. We missed the companionship and conversation with other quests and will probably not do this again. Service was poor. The first night I got tired of looking at my empty coffee cup after 10 minutes so we went to the Lido Restaurant and got our own coffee. The next night the steward, waiter and assistant waiter were very apologetic and bent over backwards to take care of us. But on the second formal night the same thing happened. This time we waited and the steward and waiter again apologized for the delays. Worst service I have ever had on a ship. The food is well presented and very good. However, I was not impressed with the selection. We had dinner menus in our room each day. With this knowledge we only ate in the dining room 3 nights. We ate once at the poolside on BBQ Night and at the Lido Restaurant the other 3 nights. The same meals served in both places (big disappointment) but at least we did not have to wait. Lido Restaurant: The food in the buffet style restaurant is very good for breakfast and lunch. While there are not the multiple stations like other ships the lines ran smoothly and quickly. I was disappointed with the dinner menu however. The food is good and well presented but it’s the same thing being served in the dinning room. It seems to me there should be a different menu in each dinner venue. The other disappointment was the juice availability. On other ships the juice is available along with ice tea, tea and coffee. With the exception of breakfast the only way you could get juice was to ask one of the stewards who would get the juice from the back. Grill/Pizza: Hamburg, hotdogs, tacos and pizza available by the pool. Very tasty. Pinnacle: Sometimes I think cruises are over to quickly. We had planned to make reservations but never got around to it. Our loss. Others said the food and service were terrific. Stateroom: The main requirement we had was a verandah. We prefer to relax and enjoy each others company and this is most easily accomplished in our stateroom and on our balcony. We booked an S suite 7012 on the Navigator Deck. The balcony had two lounge chairs and a table with 4 chairs. Great for breakfast while in our HAL robes. The room itself is very spacious with a separate dressing room with lighted make-up mirror and a small sink. Diane loved this and had me take 4 pictures of her sitting there during the cruise. The bathroom has a water jet tub. There is one sink verses two on the Zuiderdam. Lounges: Bunches of these each with its own atmosphere. We are smokers so we were limited to which lounges to visit and where to sit. For you non-smokers this should make you very happy. The entertainment varied and was enjoyable. Casino: We aren’t gamblers so the fact that this was the smallest casino we have ever seen was not a problem. This was the first time I have won at slots on a cruise ship. To you big time gamblers my $45 winnings are probably laughable. Diane won $183 at Bingo. Mandarin Lounge: The entertainment was varied, pleasant and enjoyable. The usual cruise ship fare. Activities: The Cruise Director and her staff put on a number of activities throughout the cruise and there were around 7 different movies offered throughout the week. Photography: This continues to be my pet peeve as on every cruise we have taken. We enjoy pictures of our experiences. On each cruise I take between 200 and 300 pictures and purchase many of the pictures of the ships photographer. We purchase an album and additional pages on the ship to display the photos. The embarkation picture starts off each of our albums. All I want is a simple 5x7 picture but no-o-o-o I have to also take the folder and a 5x7 picture of the ship and pay $19.90. Then the photographers on Formal nights don’t know how to take a picture of a tall person (I’m 6’2”) without cutting off the top of my head but leave 2 inches of the bottom of the photo for the ships carpeting. I have mentioned this twice before taking the picture and they still get it wrong. Excursions: Cozumel: We were to snorkel but due to strong winds, all water excursions were cancelled. We just shopped at the market place. Grand Cayman: We just did a little shopping here. Let me say one thing about a restaurant named Breezes by the sea. It is near the tender drop off. The pricing is in GCD NOT USD. The conversion is $.80 GCD to $1.00 US. The only way you know this is if you read the small writing at the bottom of the menu. Also at the bottom of the menu it mentions a 15% gratuity is added to the bill. Two Pina Coladas, a serving of peel and eat shrimp and a cheese burger w/ cole slaw (no fries) came to $48.56 U.S. All the stores were priced USD but not this rip-off joint. They were doing a fantastic business the day we were there. Ochos Rio: Swimming with the Dolphins cancelled as stop here was canceled. Half Moon Cay: There have been a number of excursions added since our visit in March. Because we had missed out on snorkeling in Cozumel and swimming with dolphins in Jamaica we decided to snorkel with the sting rays. This offering had just begun the week before. It was great fun and we enjoy laughing at pictures of ourselves in the gear. Staff: With the exception of the wait staff in the dining room the staff was great. Our room steward, Shaq was excellent. If we had an issue we simply left a post-it note and it was addressed. When we entertained in our room it was cleaned as soon as we left. I am sure he was watching for us to leave so he could do his thing. Conclusion: While there were a number of disappointments with this cruise it has not lessened our love of cruising. On a scale of 1-10 we give this an 8. We were never for want of food but the Lido dinner menu and juice availability have a lot of room for improvement. After the Zuiderdam cruise I was hooked on Holland America but now I think it’s time to try Princess and RCCL. Keep on Cruising Keith & Diane Ballweg  

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Oct 13, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. This would be our lucky thirteenth cruise and second on a HAL ship. We have sailed the Caribbean on Galaxy; on the defunct Commodore Lines’ Enchanted Isle; and on Norwegian Sun and HAL’s ms Veendam. We cruised on Regal Princess to the Baltic and Sun Princess to Alaska. We took Carnival’s

Elation to the Mexican Riviera and Celebrity’s Infinity both through the Panama Canal and to Hawaii. In 2003 we did the Mediterranean on Infinity’s sister ship Millennium. Our most adventuresome trip was around Cape Horn from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity’s Mercury. This past May we did a Transatlantic repositioning cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome. All of these cruises except the first two, Carnival’s Elation cruise and the Enchanted Isle trip; can be found on reviews on this site. Why This Cruise? We enjoyed our trip on Veendam, the timing and price were right; and we had experienced only one of the stops, St. Thomas. And that stop was spent shopping for essential clothing for Edith since Celebrity had left her suitcase in San Juan. Also, at the time we booked this cruise, our only anticipated cruise was on Oceania’s Insignia down the Amazon to Barbados in March, so it appeared to be a good interim cruise. The Itinerary We sailed from Port Canaveral on Saturday and had two sea days. Our first stop was Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and the next day we arrived about 40 miles away in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands. After a sea day we made an abbreviated stop at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, an island owned by Holland American. The next day we returned to Port Canaveral. Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino, which seemed fairly nice, and had some frequent play from our dinner companions. We do not use the spa facilities, although Edith did sign up for yoga classes. We can’t rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship. Pre-planning Any Cruise If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004” Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the “Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition”; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and “Stern‘s Guide to Cruise Vacations 2004“; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. I know the Berlitz 2005 edition is listed for release. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines’ websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships’ layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of “specials” and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options. Tour Preparation We did not do nearly as much preparation on this cruise as on some others. Basically I read some of the standard guide books on the islands, and bought a good Insight Flexi-Map of the Virgin Islands. The books spoke highly of Virgin Gorda, a neighboring island to Tortola, and especially a place called The Baths at Virgin Gorda. Both the beach and snorkeling were said to be interesting and good. Again the guide books referred to two ferry services from Road Town, the landing point and major town on Tortola. The internet provided schedules and fares for both services, and Speedy’s Ferries seemed to offer the best time going and returning. In browsing various reviews about St. Thomas I came across a trip on a 43 foot yacht for six hours. The yacht is the Winifred and the Captain is Sharon Allen. This seemed interesting as it traveled to the neighboring island of St. Johns. We arranged this over the net also. Her site is: www.sailwinifred.com and the E-mail is: [email protected] Her phone, and this is a US area code; is 340-775-7898. For Half Moon Cay we made no plans at all, nor did we sign up for any tours. Shipboard Accommodation Planning Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to “standard” cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature “veranda” cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled “suites”; some of which, like Celebrity’s “sky suites” are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a veranda, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better “at sea” experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don’t spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships’ architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. We had read many reviews which noted that the cabins on Zaandam were a good size, and for a week we certainly did not need a suite. Clothes Planning This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts. Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships’ layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. We have managed to cut down on our clothing a lot since our initial cruises, and still find that we have brought one or two items which were never worn. Getting to the Ship and Back Home The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use “open jaw” flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety’s sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay. Trip Insurance Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don’t have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to you travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind. Off To the Caribbean Again We wanted to visit some property we owned near Sarasota, so we flew in to Orlando the day before and rented a car. This way we could do a round trip to and from Orlando. The car rental was quite reasonable, and we ate in a nice restaurant on Siesta Key south of Sarasota. The nest day we visited the property and still had plenty of time to get to Port Canaveral, arriving about noon. We decided to get a quick bite to eat before returning the rental car which proved to be a good idea, although Port Canaveral is not exactly a gourmet paradise. When the rental car shuttle got us to the pier about 1:30 we faced a very long line to check in. We were told that the ship had been late arriving. It had just completed its summer Alaska cruising and come down the west coast and through the Panama Canal. We finally got to our cabin at 3:00, but most people in line were cheerful enough, and the line was constantly moving. On Veendam we had both a shipboard card, which served as a charge card and debarkation/embarkation card, plus a room key. Zaandam had the usual system of one card which does everything but open the safe. We were escorted to our room, which is a nice touch. The Stateroom We had what HAL calls a “Verandah Suite”, ( Class B) on the Verandah Deck, Deck 6, Cabin No. 6187. It measures 284 square feet, including the verandah, which makes it almost the size of a Celebrity Sky suite, and larger than most standard verandah cabins. The verandah has a composition material for the deck, a comfortable lounge chair and side chair and small table, and is about six feet from door to railing. The railing is clear glass up to the wooden top rail. The dividers between the verandahs are not solid, there being a six inch gap at the floor level and afoot gap at the top. This allows one to hear conversations from the adjoining cabins, and for the light from one verandah to shine onto its neighbor. Why cruise lines do not make these dividers solid is beyond me. There is a good sized desk with a lighted makeup-up mirror, the first we have seen on a cruise ship. One of the desk drawers also had a portable hair dryer. We had personalized stationary. The desk had nine drawers. There is a standard 72 inch couch and small table. An end table does double duty as a small refrigerator, stocked with all sorts of drinks for sale. At the end of the desk there is a television set with VCR and a shelf with glassware and more mini bottles of various alcoholic treats for sale. Between this area and the bed area there is a drape which goes about 3/4s of the way across the cabin. The bed has two light sources, which was nice. Between the bed area and the closet and bathroom area was another drape which could close off the entire main portion of the cabin so that a someone entering the room would not necessarily see into the living area. Edith liked these curtains very much. The closets were large and with a great supply of nice wooden hangers. As usual, we never came close to using all the clothing storage space provided. The safe uses any credit card with a magnetic strip to open and close; but I prefer the code system used by Celebrity and many other lines, since you don’t have to worry about either carrying a credit card or leaving it somewhere in the cabin. The bathroom had a small jacuzzi tub/shower arrangement. There was one medicine chest and one under sink shelf provided which was enough for all our toiletries. The thermostat controls actually worked and effected a change in room temperature. Bathrobes are provided. The cabin was decorated with three nice pictures, a mirror in back of the bed and a full length mirror on the back of one of the closet drawers. The room had good quality wallpaper and painted surfaces, was spotless and overall one of the best staterooms we have ever experienced. The Ship Layout The ship was very well laid out from our point of view. The lower three decks are all cabins; with Deck 3 having a teak promenade making a total circle. Deck 4 aft has the Lower Rotterdam Main Restaurant. It is isolated from the rest of that deck and can only be reached by going down from Deck 5 or up from Deck 3 via the aft stairs and elevators. Unlike Veendam and Maasdam, Zaandam had a mid-ship set of stairs and elevators. Forward of these on Deck 4 you can reach the Wajang movie theater and the Pinnacle specialty restaurant. Past this is the Java Bar, a free coffee and cappuccino feature of all HAL ships. You then enter the middle level of the three story atrium, which is largely filled with a white rococo organ. This area also has the Front Desk, Shore excursion office and photo gallery. Continuing to the forward part of Deck 4 you enter the Mondriaan show theater. On Deck 5 forward there is the balcony of the Mondriaan Theater. Proceeding aft you enter the upper level of the atrium, with the Ocean Bar on one side and a boutique on the other. The Ocean Bar has a small dance floor and bandstand. Aft of this is a small shopping arcade and the casino. Beyond this on the starboard side is the extremely attractive Explorer’s Lounge which is used for afternoon tea and entertainment by the classical music group, the Atlantis Trio, at night. Opposite this on the port side are the Erasmus Library, internet room, the Half Moon Room set up with card tables and the Hudson Room for small meetings. Aft on this deck is the upper Rotterdam Restaurant. Decks 6 and 7 are both cabin decks. Deck 8 is the Lido Deck with an outside pool and deck chairs overlooking the aft end of the ship. Forward of this is the Lido Buffet Restaurant. Midships has the Lido Pool, which can be opened or covered with its roof panel, and the Terrace Grill and pizza kiosk. Forward of that is the spa and gymnasium. The Sports Deck above this has the traditional Crow’s Nest Lounge with its forward view. One can walk back past the sliding roof for the Lido pool, past two sports courts to an aft seating area. and the Skyroom for children’s activities. There is an open Sky Deck above the Sports Deck forward which also has a forward view and a few chairs. This arrangement meant that we had an easy time getting around from our Deck 6 cabin since we were halfway between the midship and the aft stair and elevator banks. The stateroom corridors do not have art displayed as do Celebrity ships, although there are flocked panels with musical notes inset along the corridors at intervals. The coloring for these corridors and panels is cream and gold. The carpeting throughout the ship is patterned in deep red and orange. The elevator and stair bank areas are spacious and pleasant, with the elevators at 90 degrees to the stair wells. Attractive art, including some wonderful paintings of past and present HAL ships are found in the stairwells. The walls of the public area are dark slate grey, but this is not as depressing as it sounds, they set a quiet tone. There are a number of display cases around the ship, many with musical instruments; and some with antique objects d’art etc. The chairs and sofas in the lounges are quite comfortable, with the exception of those in the Mondriaan Theater unfortunately. Everything is spotlessly maintained, although there were some worn places on the beautiful dark wood hand railings in the stairwells. The general impression is low key, tasteful and relaxing. Zaandam is 63,000 gross tons, and with a passenger complement of just under 1400, has a space ratio of 45, which is excellent. We seldom felt crowded and that was only at the end of shows and for the kitchen tour which we chose to skip because of the numbers waiting. Dining Venues and Food. The main dining room is the Rotterdam Room, which, as noted, is a two story room at the aft of Decks 4 and 5. Under HAL’s arrangement, there are two seatings, each with separate seating times. The “early” early seating is on Deck 5 and starts at 5:45; the “late” early seating is on deck 4 at 6:15. The late seating start at 8:00 and 8:30 respectively. We had not known of the range of options on our Veendam cruise so had been placed on the 5:45 list, which we felt was too early, so we were pleased to sign up for and be placed on the 6:15 seating. HAL prides itself on Rosenthal china, which is nice, but hotel grade china of course, not true porcelain. The table settings are quite good, the table arrangement reasonably placed, and our table was near the aft windows and not bothered by much serving noise. The only inconvenience was that we could not enter on Deck 5 and walk down the grand staircase to our Deck 4 table; we had to use the aft stairs (or elevators). The Lido Buffet Restaurant has two main serving lines, a dessert area, an omelet station that has grill specialties for lunch, an ice cream station open from 11:30 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 8:30, and a salad line for lunch and probably dinner. Unlike Celebrity, HAL serves a regular dinner in the Lido Buffet, with menu list that is smaller than, but in its offered items, the same as the main restaurant. Their buffet food is cooked directly behind the serving lines, with rotisseries capable of holding large roasts, grills and normal cook tops. At the beginning of each buffet line there is a stanchion with a round object looking like a gumball machine. This contains a cleaning agent released when you pass your hands under its spout, where you are spritzed with a small amount of liquid and advised to scrub your hands together. The agent dries rapidly with no noticeable odor and you proceed to the line. You are provided with a tray and china dishes. The cutlery is found in rolled cloth napkins on the tables or available form stockpiles located here and there. There is an occasional effort to assist passengers with trays, but more upon request than part of the normal service as on Celebrity. Edith had difficulty moving the comfortable, but very heavy and somewhat ungainly chairs. The buffet was often busy, but we were always able to find seats, even for some of the active shore day breakfasts. Nor did we feel that there was at any time any line long enough to constitute an annoyance. The Pinnacle Room is the specialty restaurant on Deck 4. I had made reservations by calling a number listed on the HAL website. When I did so, my credit card was charged at that time, and the charge showed up on my monthly statement of course, but not on the ship’s bill presented at the end of the cruise. This advance registration was probably not necessary, but the restaurant seemed to do a steady if not overflowing business. It is divided into three parts, which makes for a quiet ambiance. The china is good Bulgari, and the rest of the settings match. The charge for this is $20.00 per person. Now That We Are Sitting Down, How Is the Food and Service? In the Rotterdam Room I felt that, as on Veendam, HAL does an excellent job with soups, both hot and cold, a very nice job with the entrees, and a fairly good job with desserts. I don’t eat salads, but Edith reported that they were good. She likes a vegetarian diet on cruises, and felt that HAL’s selection was somewhat limited and uninspired. I had one lamb chop entree which was poor, but I very much enjoyed the Indonesian special dinner and the venison, which drew compliments from several others at our table also. What was offered as chocolate mousse’ came across as chocolate pudding. HAL serves cappuccino without charge, along with the normal after dinner coffee and tea, which I think Celebrity should do also. The breakfasts at the buffet were fairly standard, without much variety. The toast, English muffins and bagels were handed to us hot from the toasters, which was a welcome change, but the potatoes were not hot, nor well seasoned, and there were never any blintzes. There always was smoked salmon and cheese however. Lunches at the buffet were marked by a very good, hot and well seasoned fish selection, as well as hot vegetables. Again, desserts at the buffet were okay, but not inspired. There were some good soups also. The one meal we had at the Pinnacle Restaurant was a great success. I was pleased that, although it was “informal” night, with a jacket requested, I was accepted in my long sleeve Jhane Barnes shirt. The service was provided by an all European wait staff in contrast to the all Indonesian staff in the Rotterdam. The food selection was not wide, but my filet mignon was excellent, as was everything else. There was no music as we expected, but the meal went very smoothly and we would have been out in time for the show had we chosen to go that night. There were a number of late night theme buffets which we did not attend, but we did make the sacrifice and attended the afternoon dessert extravaganza. The service in the Rotterdam was good, but a little rushed since our waiter, Yogi, and his assistant, Puspada, were required to cover three tables in addition to our table of eight. The headwaiter, Nali was around often checking, and the sommelier was very attentive. The Crew On the first sea day, after lunch at the buffet, we strolled outside to the poolside Lido area and got a piece of pizza. While we were seated at the plastic poolside table, two crew members, a young lady and young man in white came over and sat down next to us to eat. We recognized the man from the lifeboat drill as a Third Officer. A few minutes later two more officers came over, led by a fairly young man carrying a plate of food. He politely asked to join the others and was invited to sit. I noticed that he had four gold stripes on his shoulder. They were all pleasantly chatting, in English, although the first two had spoken Dutch when they sat down. As we got up to leave I went over to the four striper and said; “you look like someone important - what’s is your job?” He laughed and pointed to his badge, which read - “Master”. I told him he had a beautiful ship and he thanked me and cheerfully wished us a happy voyage. I had been a little misled by his stripes since on Celebrity and Princess, I think also, the Captain has a broad gold stripe beneath his four other stripes, but HAL is like the U.S. Navy in denoting the rank of Captain with four stripes. The broad stripes in our Navy are reserved for Admiral rank officers. When we read the Captain’s resume in an edition of the ship’s newsletter it appeared that he was probably just in his early to mid 40’s, which is fairly young to reach his position. The rest of the crew was as uniformly pleasant as their Captain, but this was not much of a surprise since HAL has a well deserved reputation for good customer relations from its staff. We had almost no contact with our cabin steward, and had the same report from others, but had got the work done quickly and well. The Java Cafe staff was efficient, but not overly friendly. The front desk people were always smiling and helpful. We had no occasion to use the excursion staff since we booked no ship’s tours. Edith’s experience with the Yoga instructor was very good. Our Fellow Passengers While Holland American has a reputation for catering to the elderly, we thought that the age range was pretty broad. On our Veendam trip, over spring break, we had over 120 children, who were very well managed. There were very few children on Zaandam. It does seem that HAL’s “quiet” reputation was reflected in our fellow passengers, since there did not seem to be any party animals or a rowdy group of any kind. We sat at a table of eight. The first night we had three ladies traveling together and two couples from Houston, also traveling together, so there were actually nine. The next day the three ladies decided to move elsewhere, and two other ladies traveling together joined us. We very much enjoyed the company, and in fact seemed to be always one of the last group to leave the restaurant. On Board Activities and Entertainment It was here that we felt HAL did not deliver a first class cruise. As we noted, we started out with two sea days. The Daily Program, which listed events briefly but adequately, contained a mixture of somewhat inane games, a lot of Bingo, which was also promoted loudly and often over the public address system, and activities geared to selling excursions, merchandise or spa services. There were no informative or educational talks, whereas Celebrity would have at least four such activities on every sea day. We spent a lot of time reading. Edith did sign up for yoga classes, which at $33.00 for the cruise was a reasonable price, especially since they held one class on shore on Half Moon Cay. The kitchen tour on Sunday was postponed until Monday, and then was so crowded we felt we would not have been able to hear anything. We had done this on Veendam in any event, and a ship’s kitchen is a ship’s kitchen. The Wajang Theater showed a total of 7 movies, but few were appealing and one we had seen. The Mondriaan Theater shows were the usual mixture. There was the comedian, typically not very funny; the juggler; a fairly good impressionist/singer; a husband and wife magic act and the standard shipboard song and dance revues. We enjoyed these revues as we normally do. The staging was not nearly as high tech or professional as on Celebrity ships, but the singers and dancers were fun and enthusiastic. On the last sea day I did get to meet them all, except for the one assigned to Library duty, and toured the backstage area. There were two small dance bands, and we danced to the trio, which included a girl singer, at the Ocean Spa. They were fine, and quite danceable. The group we enjoyed the most was the Atlantis Strings, a trio composed of flute, violin and cello. These were serious music students who played light classics at tea and every evening from 9:15 to midnight in the Explorer’s Lounge. They also played at the formal dinners, but their location on the upper level of the Rotterdam Room prevented us from hearing them at our table aft on the lower level. We truly enjoyed this group and they added the right touch of elegance and good taste to the cruise. HAL also always has a show put on by crew members, but we had seen the Veendam version, so we skipped this one. There also was a pianist at the Piano Bar, and she seemed to have a small but faithful group for sing alongs. Shore Days As noted above, we had decided not to book any excursions through the ship. Our first port of call was Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We had decided to visit the neighboring island of Virgin Gorda to see the Baths, a major attraction. Guide books had told us of two ferry services, and the web gave us the schedules. One called Speedy’s Ferry seemed to have the best schedule. They did not reply to my e-mails, but we decided to try them anyway. The ferry pier is about a ten minute walk from the ship’s gangplank. The ferry to Virgin Gorda costs $25.00 per person, round trip, and they throw in a bus ride to and from the Baths. The official currency of the BVI is the US dollar. We waited about fifteen minutes to board a small boat holding perhaps 40-50 people, some obviously locals. We also carried a mail sack. The trip takes about 30 minutes and was uneventful. There is not much in Spanish Town, the landing place on Virgin Gorda. The transportation was provided by “buses” consisting of pickup trucks with 3 or 4 rows of seats welded to the back and a surrey type roof. I would not recommend trying to walk to the Baths because it seemed like about 2-3 miles. The road is marked with a lot of speed humps. The road actually climbs about 100 feet up from the pier to the top of the Baths. There you pay a $3.00 per person entry fee to the BVI National Parks Trust, and get an all day ticket to the Baths, Devil’s Bay Park, Sage Mountain Park and a Botanic Garden. The regular tour people have their fee paid of course. We arrived after a group from either our ship or a Carnival ship that was in port that day also, so there was a group of about 100 going to the Baths. The path down is fairly rough, and people trying to bring their children’s strollers were having a difficult time. The beach area is not large, but the large boulders that are the main attraction are interesting. The water was warm and crystal clear. I did a little snorkeling, and saw a few fish, but I would not call this a great snorkel site. We tried to find a place in the shade, but the rising tide forced us out into the sun. We went back up to our arrival point after about an hour at the Baths. There is a restaurant on top, with a small bar and limited food service. But it is basically a large covered porch, with a fresh water pool and a delightful view of the Caribbean while providing a wonderful Trade Wind breeze. We understand why people build their homes high in the islands, because this is where you have an almost constant cooling breeze, while the seaside is quite hot. We caught our return “bus” back to the pier and while our ferry was late in arriving, we got back to Road Town and the ship in time for a late lunch. We then walked back to Road Town and explored most of it on foot. It is not truly tourist oriented and is not particularly attractive, but everyone seems friendly enough. Our Virgin Gorda Baths expedition cost $30.00 per person, including a $2.00 bottle of water at the restaurant and the $3.00 entry fee. The same trip, without the water, cost $57.00 per person as a ship’s excursion. The next day we arrived at Charlotte Amalie, USVI. We took a taxi to Red Hook for the standard fare of $8.00 and shortly afterwards met Sharon, our Captain. We boarded the Winifred, a beautiful 43 foot ketch with a racing configuration. It was built in 1956 and is constructed of mahogany with teak fittings. It had won several Caribbean races in its class under its original owners. There were two other couples with us, friends who were staying for a vacation on St. Thomas. Sharon has a crew/first mate in the form of Steve, a large, cheerful young man. Sharon is very determined that her passengers should not get sunburned, but Edith and I, like good Arizonans, were well prepared with Solumbra shirts and heavy duty sunscreen. After about two hours sailing in a delightful breeze we arrived off shore at St. Johns, and there proceeded to snorkel for about an hour and a half. The water was very clear, and I was able to spot some good fish. Unfortunately my underwater camera, a $10.00 Kodak, broke after two shots. We then had lunch and sailed back, arriving at about 3:00 P.M. The cost was a little high, $110.00 (cash - $120.00 if by credit card), but it was a very nice experience. We returned to Charlotte Amalie and walked around the pier side shopping area. St. Thomas has excellent duty free shopping, with a higher allowance than at other ports in an effort to promote business; but we did not buy anything, although a lot of passengers did. After a sea day, we arrived at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. The Cay is a flat island, about two miles long and one deep, with a long curving beach on the west side, and a lagoon on the east side. The only structures are those designed for cruisers, and they are very limited. There were a number of water related activities, although, as I noted, Edith’s Yoga class was moved on shore to the beach, which she appreciated. I went for a walk past the portion of beach area with service buildings and beach furniture, and found a road down to the lagoon where there were kayaks and jet skis waiting for customers who started arriving shortly. The HAL vessel Zuiderdam, about 1/3 larger than Zaandam, was also in port. I then found a small beach farther up the lagoon, and since it was pretty isolated, went skinny dipping briefly. I returned to the main beach area where I went in for a normal swim. The beach is at least a mile long, and except for the first few hundred yards near the landing area, was not used by swimmers at all. The sand is beautiful and the water crystal clear, although there was no surf. We were due to depart at 2:00, so we returned at noon for lunch. This was the only tender stop, but the transfers were managed quite well, although we waited until almost 3:00 when the last tender arrived. The captain actually had the ship under weigh and the tender had to chase us down and debarked its passengers while the ship was moving. Debarkation The captain announced as part of his regular bridge report that we would be arriving in Port Canaveral at 6:00 the next morning, but when I got up at 7:00 we were still moving and did not actually dock until almost 8:00. Everyone had to go through a pre-immigration clearance in the Mondriaan Room first. This did not even start until after 9:30, and we had told our taxi service we would be on the dock by 10:00. We were called down by deck, but because we were running late, we simply just walked down without waiting for our deck and were cleared. We thought that we would have to wait until everyone cleared before leaving, but discovered that we could walk off the ship. After a slight delay in finding our luggage we went through customs fairly quickly and met Art’s Limousine service without any further problem. The ride to Orlando International cost $56.00, which was more than the ship’s $48.00 transfer charges for two, but we liked the convenience of the van, which had only one other couple on board. Overall Cruise Rating Zaandam is a beautiful ship. Our stateroom was as fine as you could expect in its class of a “standard” verandah cabin; with plenty or room, nice decorations and an overall aspect that was most pleasant. The public rooms were easy to reach, mostly well furnished and comfortable. The on board shopping was very limited compared to the Millennium Class Celebrity ship. The library is a very pleasant room, with a few good maps, but somewhat limited in its stock. The daily ship’s news sheet is adequate. There is no general news sheet compared to the eight page Celebrity world news report put out in several languages every day. I did see one copy of the New York Times four page news sheet lying on a table in the library, which we had seen at irregular intervals on the Regal Princess for our Baltic cruise, but I never found out where it came from. The crew is very nice, although the language barrier is higher than on most ships. The food is still second only to Celebrity, a cut above Princess and definitely superior to Carnival and Norwegian. We will be sailing on Royal Caribbean in May and Crystal next November, so we are looking forward to these new experiences. The on board activities were not exciting, nor was the entertainment more than adequate, with the exception of the Atlantis Strings which were a true cruising delight. If you are in to water sports, I would guess that Half Moon Cay is fine, but for us it was just a very nice beach. The other port stops were our own, so they cannot figure into an evaluation of HAL. So our overall impression is that this was a relaxing, if somewhat unexciting trip on a very beautiful and stylish ship, with a professional and helpful crew, a pleasant group of fellow passengers and a very nice week on beautiful Caribbean waters with marvelous weather. Would we do it again? Probably not, simply because there is a lot left for us to see in the world, and no need to repeat this trip, good though it was. Bon Voyage!     

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Aug 7, 2004

Alaska Inside Passage

We were in the first group to arrive on board ship traveling with our 9 year old daughter. We had booked Cabin 7043, an A category mini suite with a veranda. As we were boarding the ship, we were approached on many occasions to purchase soda packages for all members in our party at $27.65 each. And we did... later to find that it would have been best to purchase the soda package only for our daughter, we didn’t drink that much soda and

free iced tea and coffee came with meals.... and a $12.38 service charge was tacked on to the price of the package that we were not aware of. Upon boarding the ship around noon, we were directed to the Lido Dining Room on the 8th deck. We weren't that impressed with the food. We weren’t impressed with the food at any of the meals in the Lido Dining Room. The more formal Dining Room had much better food. The cabins were ready around 2:30. Upon entering the cabin we were in total shock. It did not appear to have been cleaned at all. The bathroom smelled so badly of mildew that I became ill. There were crumbs of food on the floor. The veranda had not been swept. The stopper in the bathroom sink was broken and had to be removed for water to drain. The sofa and chair were badly stained. The batteries in the TV remote did not work. Worst of all, there were open cartons of milk, soda, and an old glass of orange juice in the refrigerator left from the last cruise. We reported these problems immediately. Again, and again... the old items were removed from the refrigerator around 11:30 pm. We finally decided to see the head of Guest Relations on the Ship. She had a bottle of wine and a nice letter sent to us the following day. The cabin steward did make an extra effort for the remainder of the cruise to keep us satisfied. I didn't feel that it was enough. Cruise vacations are such a big investment and you expect the best. We were disappointed in the children's activities on the ship. It was difficult to keep our daughter busy. There was a pool outside and a pool on the Lido deck... it was warm there when they closed the overhead cover, this is where we spent most of our time. Maybe it was just our cruise but we found that there were a lot of smoking areas on the ship. We aren't smokers... have nothing against smokers, but just weren't used to that. Especially when you are in such closed in areas. Alaska was beautiful. We did opt for an excursion in each port. In Juneau we visited the Mildenhall Glacier and went to a Salmon Bake. We did not like the Salmon Bake. The Glacier visit was nice but we didn't expect it to be so dirty from pollution. And the crowds were bad. Next time I'd opt to see the Glacier from the air. In Skagway, we took the White Pass & Yukon Railroad Ride. This was very impressive although the ride was over 3 hours. In Ketchikan we rode a horse drawn trolley around town and went shopping. One thing that we didn't expect was the crowds. In all three ports, there were three cruise ships and lots of crowds. I commented to my husband that Skagway reminded me of Main Street USA in Walt Disney World with the crowds. You could barely walk through the streets and shops. Glacier Bay was definitely the best part of the cruise. Absolutely beautiful. If traveling with children, I'd recommend a cruise line that has plenty of activities to keep them busy so that you can take in the sights. Our 9 year old was still too young to appreciate it. And take warm clothing. It was extremely cold in Glacier Bay... even in August. We are definitely going to return to Alaska on a cruise... probably not with Holland America.  

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Aug 6, 2004

Alaska

I was traveling with the Ships Dentist so I was boarded early at 8AM and didn't know my cabin assignment until I got on. After being cleared by Canadian Port Authority and HAL authority it was time to get onboard. The first stop was to the infirmary to meet the off-going dentist. Then securing all of the luggage in the dental clinic and then time to relax as our stateroom was prepared. After strolling around the decks for 1/2 and hour

we went back down to the clinic and moved our luggage to our cleaned stateroom. (Approx. 10-11AM) It was room 1802 on the Dolphin Deck. All of the ports on the cruise were different from one another and neat to venture around in. The food in the main dining room was GREAT as always. The entertainment each night in the Vista Lounge was excellent, from the Broadway style shows to the comedian. There was nothing wrong with the ship or the cruise that I could find. As with the first cruise with HAL (Last Aug. in the Carribean for 14D) they truly live up to their Signature of Excellence. (Can be viewed from HAL's site.) I'd recommend HAL to anyone who is going to be going on a cruise. -Happy Cruising     

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Mar 13, 2004

Western Caribbean

This was the first cruise I have ever been on and the second my wife has been on we were looking forward to this cruise a great deal and were for the most part satisfied. I just wanted take a few minutes to tell you what I did and did not like about the cruise. First of all we were very pleased with the ports of call. I would recommend taking a ferry to Jost Van Dyke while on Tortola. Half Moon Cay was the most beautiful beach I

have ever been on. The disembarkation went very smoothly for the most part although we did get off later than expected at Tortola, which cost us beach time. One thing we were not pleased with was our room on the Dolphin Deck (the lowest level of cabins). Several times during the cruise, especially the first 2 days we were at sea, our room shook like we were in an earthquake from the ship hitting the waves. We did not get much sleep the first night. Our bathroom had a faint smell of sewage and there was a creaking during the night that lasted the entire cruise. I had to request earplugs so that I could sleep through the night. Also the comforter and blankets on the bed desperately need to be updated. They were gross. For the most part we greatly enjoyed the food in the main dining room, though on occasion it was somewhat bland. The desserts were fabulous. Be sure and dine in the dining room on the next to last night to get the lobster tail and filet mignon. There were 2 formal nights (which we enjoyed getting dressed up for), one informal night, and the rest were casual. There was also a buffet on the Lido deck everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner which had a pretty good selection and better than average food. One of the food highlights was the grill beside the indoor pool. It was open from 11:00 to 5:00 everyday and had excellent hamburgers, pizza, fajitas and more. We loved getting a mid-afternoon snack here. The ship seemed to have a good # of activities throughout the day, though we were mostly just interested in laying out. This was not easy to do on the aft deck due to the uncomforable strong wind. The weather was great but the wind on this deck (which had a pool) was next to unbearable. In fact twice we started to lay out there then left because the wind made it intolerable. For the most part the lido pool, which was indoor, was a lot better in terms of wind but on a few occasions it did get bad in there as well. We loved "Caribbean Steel" the steel drum band that played by the pool every day. They were great and made the trip a lot of fun. The rest of the entertainment and shows in the evening hours were hit and miss. They had a great juggling act that performed amazing tricks and had the crowd laughing. They also did a Newlywed/Not-so-Newlywed gameshow one night and I don't think I've ever laughed as hard. Most of this however was due to an older man that gave the funniest answers I have ever heard. They had a very funny comedian perform one night as well. However, a couple of nights were downright awful. The crew performed an Indonesion show one night, which my wife and I left after the first act. It was terrible. Then there was a magic act which most of the audience seemed to enjoy, but I was bored to tears. Overall we would recommend this cruise to others, but for our next cruise we will probably try another line. The ship was extremely nice and the food was excellent. Holland America does cater to an older crowd but with the onboard theater and other activities we found plenty to do.

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Mar 6, 2004

Western Caribbean

This was our second sailing on the Zaandam in 4 months, and we had a truly wonderful time both times. We found many pleasant changes made that enhanced our cruise, including the fact that they raised the temperature of the ship. I was able to wear sleeveless dresses for formal nights and not be frozen to death, in fact, I was quite comfortable. They also recently started staggering the dinner seating times, and that helped quite a bit

toward receiving hot food for dinner. One excursion not to be missed is the canopy tour in Jamaica. Thrilling, different and exciting! We really enjoyed the premium restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, though hopefully they will not raise the $20 per person charge. At that price it was well worth it, but any more than that is asking too much. The food was very much better than the main dining room, and the atmosphere was elegant and relaxed at the same time. The late night buffets are still not much to speak of, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. On other cruise lines it is tempting to load up on food and desserts right before bed. Holland America does a great job of making you feel like a VIP, and we enjoyed that they attract an older and more mature crowd. One of the plusses of this particular ship is the sliding dome over the swimming pool, to keep out any rain below, though the sun bathing areas tend to be a bit more crowded at times. Half Moon Cay is excellent and gorgeous, however, this ship doesn't spend nearly enough time there, so we are looking forward to taking a different one next time.

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Jul 26, 2003

Alaska

journalist/Editor by Doug Eads North: I have discovered no other destination in our great land of America that affects my sense of beauty, peace, and vastness quite like Alaska. I think of it as the land of no neon a place where moose, elk and wolves roam, and the Alaskan brown bear is the dominate wild predator. Alaska is a land where

the scale is so immense that flying over endless mountain ranges defies your preconceived imagination of what huge formerly meant. Those prior notions of immensity are vacant now they are replaced by a new concept Alaska. The intricacy of how Alaska draws upon one’s soul and beckons relic primal yearnings was reflected best by a favorite poet of the young state: “... can't you hear the Wild? it's calling you. Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know. There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.” Robert W. Service, Alaska’s favorite poet Ship: We decided not to try and fix something that works well, so once again we chose Holland America Cruise Lines. We have formerly sailed the Veendam, Volendam, and now we selected the Zaandam. Our itinerary would take us from Vancouver, B.C. round trip. On this Glacial Discovery itinerary we would explore the state capital of Juneau, lovely Skagway, Ketchikan, and Glacier Bay National Park. The Zaandam is a newer Holland America ship built in 2000 at 63, 000 tons. She carries 1440 passengers on 10 decks. The design and space allocation makes it quite easy to find private nooks to relax, and Holland America offers graciously spacious standard cabins. We have tried inside, and outside cabins finding them pleasant and spacious. We have not yet moved into the balcony suites with Holland America but I imagine they please clients. More on this people-pleasing ship in my overview. Route: Sailing from the city designed by and for water, Vancouver, is a delight. The gleaming translucent blue glass buildings and frayed fingers of land jutting into the inlets alert visitors that this is a scenic metropolis, not one in a metro-bustle of confusion. Majestic looming mountains surround the scene extra days are more than warranted for Vancouver! Ports of call: Our first port yielded a Juneau in July junket of joy! As you cruise into this small state capital, you are enveloped in lush green velvety mountains glistening with waterfalls small tour seaplanes buzz above, and then Juneau delightfully unfolds. If there were by chance palm trees, the temperate rain forest southeast Alaskan area could pass for Kauai, Hawaii ... well, you might have to add 15 degrees even in summer. We tried a new outing in Juneau this trip we did a five hour tour which involved the Mendenhall Glacier, the rain forest bouquets of the Glacier Gardens, and the Salmon hatchery. On two previous Juneau visits we had avoided the salmon hatchery ... by the name it sounded mundane. In reality the salmon were running and this was exhilarating! Salmon are propagated at the hatchery, and released season after season. After thousands of miles of journeys to unknown seas they return mystically to the hatchery. We were there for the almost spiritual return splashing, slashing, and bolting upward over the steel gates of the inclined hatchery, they make their way home. Just as in nature, the salmon come home to breed, deliver eggs, and die. At the hatchery, nature is helped by increased fertilization and breeding standards and salmon populations are supported by this ecological aid. The hatchery helps both salmon populations, and local fishing. The Mendenhall glacier stop allowed over an hour to tour the visitor’s center, and take modest trails to lookout points. Inspiring, this goliath creeping wonder of ice displays its splendor quite easily with a thunderous waterfall just off to the side. The glacier proudly shows its magnificence in a mirroring tidal basin it is a photographically splendid park. Glacier Gardens sets up in a rain forest area near the city of Juneau ... and a drizzle can be expected. This mammoth tour through the forest is on golf carts with a guide, and offers a lush groomed setting and a scenic vista. We were pleased with our tour selection, and we were glad to once again be in one of two state capitals you cannot drive to Juneau is one Honolulu the other. Juneau has so much to offer visitors, it may one day be a separate land vacation destination we would strongly consider. Skagway: This charming small turn-of-the-century looking boardwalk town is just what you expect of a robust pioneer mining town spirit. There is nothing pretensive or theme-park-like about Skagway ... it is the way it was, and is. The year-round population of Skagway is a mere 3500 souls, but in summer with additional employees plus visitors, numbers soar. Skagway is an indigenous term for windy valley ... and both times we have visited her, she lives up to that reputation. The don't dare miss option for Skagway and all Alaskan towns is of course shopping in the local boutiques, but for an adventure ... the White Pass Railway. The route up the gold-rush heartache trail is one of the world’s most scenic and spectacular. The narrow gauge tracks climb above the tree line winding over steep gorges, and passing waterfalls and tall trestle bridges ... it is worth two or more rolls of film. With steady nerves you are allowed to stand between train cars for your dramatic photos as the train rounds bends over deep canyons. Your trek takes you into the Yukon and British Columbia area of Canada.  You have two tour options ... return by train or take the scenic bus which stops at Liar’s town. Liar’s town is situated near Skagway and is where the miners camped before heading upward to look for gold. Over 40,000 climbed, many died, over 3000 horses died trying to carry the loads, and in total 30 million dollars were spent by crazed gold-frenzied miners to find nuggets. Gold was found, and 300 or so became rich, but only 10 million dollars of gold was produced ... thus more was spent than found and this defines the gold-craze. It was called Liar’s town because the reporters were too afraid to make the arduous trek, thus they remained in camp creating stories ... and thus fueled the frenzy further. Skagway? ... you will fall in love with her! Ketchikan: Each visit to this picturesque Alaskan town we have visited the ESPN sponsored Great American Lumberjack Show. Showing off the skills of days gone by, this entertaining competition is a crowd pleaser. With cruise ships in port the show can fill quickly, so on-board booking may be wise. From pole climbing, to the loud hot-saws, then log-rolling ... the crowd is cheering for their team to win the show. It is quite an Alaskan reality adventure set very near the docks of Ketchikan. After the show you can walk easily to the bridge to see fishermen haul in salmon, then cross over to the lovely and historic Creek Street. This lovely historic row of buildings sits on stilts above the Ketchikan creek, which is brimming with salmon in late June and July. Creek Street is stunningly photographic. We have, in the past, visited the Totem Park which helps visitors get involved with the life and customs of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. Ketchikan is nick-named Alaska’s rain capital, but we have always had good luck in that regards. It is a lovely town situated in a memorable mountain and water surrounded location. We have found no location in Alaska other than inviting! Glacier Bay: John Muir, American naturalist gave these words after his first visit to Glacier Bay in the 1800’s “This is my first view of such solitude, and magnificence, such ice and snow newborn ... mysterious, yet wonderful.” he wrote. We have remarked many times after a visit to Glacier Bay National Park ... “It is like stepping into outer space it is away from humanity completely”. There is the deep blue ice, which often fractures and thunders into the currents, and your ship will be surrounded by icebergs aplenty. There are seals, and whales en-route ... both its simplicity and complexity are spiritual. Our day was especially lucky this year, for it was perhaps a warm 50 degrees and a glorious abundant blue sky. The ranger which boarded for the day said there are perhaps only 25 days per year this wonderful at Glacier Bay ... thus it was special and serene. Overview: Our ship, the Zaandam, offered excellent five star dining, and the specialty restaurant The Pinnacle Grill offered world-class fare and presentation deluxe. This extra fee dining facility is really worth that special treat above and beyond what you might expect. Zaandam’s entertainment had excellent and engaging acts from a polished crew cast, to magicians, musicians and a popular comedian. Our only suggestion for Zaandam and perhaps other ships in this group would be to add some prints or other art to the cabin bedroom area. The spacious standard cabins have bathtubs and showers, sitting area, bedroom area and are quite above norms for cruise ship space ... just a touch more color and art would be welcomed in the cabins, which Holland American could easily arrange. See your favorite travel agent for advice, and always ask for cabin upgrades and discounts it’s your money! For Alaska, plan months ahead and remember, Alaska is more than a state, it is a state of mind a region best left unexploited and retained for its wildness and splendor. It is still your frontier, your past, and a respite for our future generations. Alaska need not be more expensive than a Florida vacation with theme parks, and the weather is compellingly inviting during hot summer months. You may not yet have traveled to Alaska, but one day you will go ... Or, you may have been, thus you hear her calling for your return Alaska is a rite of passage in life that beckons you it is your call of the wild.

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Apr 12, 2003

Bahamas

This is the letter that I wrote to the company but never received any response. I felt we were very fair. We are a couple that very rarely complains and to be honest is not comfortable but after thinking about it for two weeks my fiancé and I decided to write the company. To be frank, there is no comparison when in comes to personal attention like Princess. There are some clear differences in attitude, visibility of officers and most

of all attention to detail. The Zandaam was a nice ship and to be honest maybe we just caught them off guard but nevertheless, we were looking forward to this vacation and it seemed throughout the cruise that we were the ones bothering the crew. To: Customer Relation department of Holland America From: Joe Revelette and Vickie Hall Subject: April 12-16 cruise from Port Canaveral To whom it may concern: My name is Joe Revelette and my fiancé’s name is Vickie Hall and we are writing you in regards to the cruise that we took from Port Canaveral on April 12. I want you to know that we truly are appreciative of the opportunity to have taken the cruise and even though we would not be cruise experts, we have taken a total of ten during our relationship and we had a few items that we wanted to discuss with your company as well as your policies. First, we loved the Zaandam. It was a nice ship with a good crew. Also, there is truly no other island like Half Moon Cay. It was clearly the highlight of the cruise as it was everything as advertised. However, Vickie and I are teachers here in Ohio and although we love to cruise we don’t want to just throw away our money. We have cruised with Princess and Royal Caribbean in the past and also have had positive experiences. We kept hearing from our friends what a great cruise line Holland America was. Last year when we were in Skagway, Alaska we walked by a Holland America ship and we decided to take a cruise during spring break of this year. I could go on about the positives of your company but I would like to share some concerns with you about the cruise we took and maybe you can tell us what some of your policies are and what happened on our cruise. First of all price. When the cruise was originally advertised we bought it through a company called Cruise.Com. The price was listed as $525. We went ahead and booked and put the flyer in our monthly pamphlet distributed to the teachers throughout the district. Two months before the cruise we saw a trip on your new ship called the Zuiderdam that was a seven-day Caribbean. We asked if we could change to that ship. We were told by the company that under your policy that since it was another port other than Canaveral it would not be possible and that if we wanted to take that cruise we would forfeit all of our money (which we paid ALL upfront) and that Holland America would charge us an extra 15% for the cancellation plus the new fare. Naturally, we decided to keep the cruise that was originally booked. The question I would have is the policy that was stated to us correct? Why were we not allowed to change to the Zuiderdam? Last, the week before the cruise we saw that the cruise was listed on Travelocity at $299 and some of those people ended up with a window. We were told that since we booked in advance we were assigned an inside cabin early and that could not be changed. In a nutshell, we had the feeling of being seriously overcharged for the value of the cruise. Nevertheless, we were happy to go and have a great time. Second, above all else was the professionalism of the crew. The other two couples who came with us stressed this to us the entire cruise. I was told by one of the crewmembers that they were preparing for a Panama Canal trip and that there were major preparations that had to be made prior to the trip. What we saw was a lot of skeleton crews. For instance, a continuous sore spot was the buffet lines on the top floor. Every time we went to eat at the buffet there was one line for the passengers and one for the officers. I have never seen this on any other ship and to be frank we found it odd because of the very long lines on the passenger side. This is not a major problem unless there are huge lines in one and not the other. This was clearly the case. There was a line for breakfast on that Sunday morning that went out the door all the way back to the elevator. When I walked over to the officer’s line we were told that it was not for passengers. There were about ten uniformed men that seemed to be very relaxed and there was no one in line. This seemed to happen the entire time. On the other cruise lines, both buffet lines were always open to passengers 24 hours a day. It just seemed throughout the cruise that this was a cruise where the crew was not interested in the passengers. On Sunday evening, my fiancée and I went to the crow’s nest for a drink because the pool closed at 7:00. There were only six to ten people in the lounge, 4 of which were uniformed officers. It took us forty minutes to get a drink. The officers were served first and often before us. What bothered us the most was a remark that a waitress said to another about one of the crew parties the night before. Her remark was very unprofessional and to be honest was something we really didn’t need to hear. Also, the pools were closed every evening at 7:00. I didn’t know if this is policy. This is unheard of on other ships. On Tuesday, there was a sign that stated the pool was closed at 7:00. At 7:15 many of the crew showed up and swam until 9:00. On Monday night we went to the back of the boat to watch the sun go down and the officers were out lounging in the chairs and so the best seats were taken. Again, there were some rumblings about who was on vacation and who was working. Visibility of officers on duty was a huge issue. There seemed as if there was little accountability anywhere. We never saw the captain once. Now to be fair we did not sit during the evening seating but on Princess we saw officers on duty everywhere and the captain at least once a day. We could not even tell you what the captain looked like. On the tender to Half Moon Cay, we were literally run over by the crew that had the day off. We were set to go on the first tender and were waiting in the lounge. When we went down to get on the tender we were asked to step aside so that about ten members could get on board before us. We didn’t think much about it at first because we thought they were working on the island but when we got there we saw a mad scramble for some of the best shaded beach chairs and it became obvious they were there for the same reason we were. What made my fiancée very upset was how she was bumped from the first excursion to go snorkeling by a crewmember. This is unheard of and in my opinion unacceptable! When she asked the excursion director why, she was told that the crewmember was scheduled to work clean up and she needed to get her snorkeling in beforehand. Naturally, I decided to go with my wife the second excursion but by the time we got back to our beach chair it was taken by another crewmember. In writing this I have to tell you I hate complaining. We do not expect red carpet treatment and we are not those who expect to be pampered but I have to tell you we were really looking forward to this trip. When we spoke to a few passengers who had cruised Holland America they assured us that it was a great cruise line but that this was just one that did not go off well. We believe them and we do intend to cruise with your company once again. The ship, entertainment, workout facility, excursions (especially Half Moon Cay which my fiancée is writing about in next month’s column) were too nice. We really don’t like to threaten or complain but I have to admit we have some concerns about what your on board customer priority policies are. I feel a little embarrassed because our group paid a lot more than others did. We were not able to switch to the seven day Zuiderdam cruise and one of the couples that we talked into going with us because they were recovering from the death of their daughter at Christmas put us and especially my fiancée in a credibility tight spot. We work in the best school district in the state of Ohio and many people depend on us to tell them the truth about the vacation packages that we research and take. In the last two years, our social committee has generated $110,000 of revenue for cruise lines from a pool of 1,375 teachers. This may not be very much in your eyes but for teachers, it is. We have to be smart with our money. Contrary to popular belief, we too look forward to spring and Christmas break. We hope to hear back from you about our concerns and we look forward to cruising Holland America once again. Our home e-mail is [email protected] Thank you for your time. Joe Revelette Vickie Hall

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Jul 27, 2002

Alaska

Alaska At Last! Waiting three weeks post-cruise before writing this review seemed a wise idea. I wondered if the ‘high’ I experienced would diminished. It hasn’t. “Beyond all expectations” could best summarize our week’s round trip Vancouver cruise on the Holland America’s Zaandam recently. I had read and found helpful the review written here of the same ship’s maiden voyage in May, 2001. I feel an update

and another impression is in order. My prior cruise experience has been limited: Charleston to Bermuda about twenty years ago, then in 1997 a Panama Canal cruise on the Cunard Line. Oh yes, I must not forget the eleven day round trip Bergen Line cruise in Norway two years ago. My travel companion and I found a bargain early morning flight from the southeast to Seattle the day before the cruise. That provided an extra day to adjust to the three hour time change (which wasn’t enough for me) and lessened the potential stress of missing the cruise if same-day connections were missed. The Pacific Cascades Amtrak trip to Vancouver the next morning was scenic and relaxing. We elected Business Class, had no wait in line, roomy seats...a real treat! There are pros and cons to taking the cruise lines flight/hotel/cruise package but this worked just fine for us. First positive amazement: less than thirty minutes from the time our cab dropped us off at the Vancouver Port Terminal to the time we entered our cabin! Very well organized! Very welcoming! Very well directed! There was a bit of confusion at first because two other cruise ships were boarding at the same time. Reassurance from the baggage handler and well-marked luggage allayed our fears of having to wear our blue jeans for Captain’s Night! Our travel agent had misinformed us that a prior cruise on the Cunard Line, part of Holland America’s cruise family, would warrant the latter’s Mariner Society, which I had trusted would enhance the probability of an upgrade on our election of a ‘run of the ship’ cabin. Not so. Only former cruise members on the same line earn membership in the Mariner Society. Thus, no upgrade. We could have, and next time will, elect a specific cabin. Signs at check-in stated the ship was full and ‘no upgrades are available.’ This is probably standard operating procedure and we later learned that many had obtained upgrades. Only those who believe in signs didn’t have the option. Our cabin was on the bottom deck, way in the aft of the ship. We made jokes that ‘if we hit an iceberg, we’d be the first to know it’ and ‘we’ll arrive even before the Captain.’ Nevertheless, the cabin was roomy and comfortable, more than enough storage space. We appreciated the lighting behind the draperies that gave the illusion of daylight! The only negative was that it was near the housekeeping station and thus not the best location for one who wanted an afternoon siesta. But we were going to Alaska, not Mexico, right? We took advantage to getting checked in early to locate the Vancouver liquor resources and brought aboard a couple bottles of wine and liqueurs, with the cruise line’s blessing. As prearranged, we brought along a supply of dollar bills to tip service along the way, for favors such as supplying us wine glasses, etc. No mandatory tipping being one of Holland America’s policies pleased us yet we didn’t forget to do so when we appreciated the extra service. And that could have been most all the time! Service was absolutely fantastic aboard ship. As expected, coffee and tea were available 24/7, but one midmorning I wanted milk, and another day orange juice. No problem. One of the servers contacted a worker behind the ‘food curtain’ and I had 2-3 of either! Food was gourmet all the way, with lots of options. I’m pleased to say that the meal portions were reasonable, not huge. More room for sampling and much less waste! Speaking of waste, and conservation, I would like to have seen the opportunity for room linens to be reused, as is the case in many hotels nowadays. Perhaps because I had chatted at length with the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager, but I don’t think so. I have a passion for green tea in the morning and remarked that no more was available and few alternatives. He assured me that it would be there day after next...and it was!! The ship’s cleanliness was A-1, with the exception being the public restrooms near the common areas at times. These could have been serviced more frequently. Signs on the sinks stated when a service person had been there....quite awhile ago for these areas, if indeed the times were accurate. The July 27th cruise was blessed with absolutely marvelous weather. Visibility was so much greater than usual the locals in port reported how fortunate we were weather-wise. Enjoying the heated pools and jacuzzis in the open air of Alaska was hard to believe. The top jogging deck was a fine place to get some morning air and to walk up an appetite before breakfast. Their gym facilities were more than adequate with treadmills, weight machines, etc. The fee-based spa facilities with head-to-toe treatments seemed well-utilized though I did not avail myself. I had elected to take independent tours rather than ship excursions. Through a phone call to Rainbird Tours in Ketchikan I obtained references for tours in both Juneau and Skagway. In Juneau, a $5 bus ride took us out to Mendenhall Glacier where I made a four-mile hike around the East Glacier Trail. A vacationing couple met there joined me for a visit to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure, happily toured in a golf cart! In Skagway Klondike Tours gave us a thorough sight-seeing in a small van, and in Ketchikan, Ann of Rainbird Deluxe Tours, my original contact for all the others, chauffeured just the two of us around, sharing poignant features of life in the area. Our only regret was not taking the Misty Fjords flight-seeing tour. The peak experience for us was Glacier Bay. The visit was prefaced with a talk by a US Forest Ranger, who not only gave a very informative and interesting talk, but passed among the guests outside, answering questions, etc. I never imagined that watching and listening to glaciers ‘calving’ would be so awesome. I’m determined to match that glacier blue color to a paint sample and cover something in my house with it!! Back to life aboard the ship. Details of most of the fantastic food are already covered in the previous review. I did want to add that the Java Bar was a treat; a cappuccino in mid-afternoon helped tie one over until the late seating...or at least until Happy Hour with hors d’oeuvres! The Marco Polo Restaurant was absolutely fantastic! Due to limited seating, people were discouraged from more than one dining experience there. My travel partner and I like challenges, however, so we talked our way back in (thanks, Joko!) and had another memorable meal our last night aboard. A wide age-range peopled the ship. For breakfast in the main dining room, waiters understandably wanted to gear people toward tables where others had just been seated. Beginning the day with a family of children was not my ‘cup of tea’ so to speak so I would simply say that I was looking for my roommate...and move elsewhere! On the subject of seating, we sat with two wonderful couples at a rectangular table. After the third night in the same chair position I made a point to take someone else’s place to break up the conversation pattern. It worked! For that reason, round tables would be my preference. Several lounge areas enabled one to get away from crowds and to enjoy music of one’s taste in the late afternoon, pre-dinner hours. Our favorite, for indoor sightseeing and after dinner music, was the Crow’s Nest Lounge, with its 180° view. Now, the one big bummer....social life for singles. An attempt was made to have a get-together one afternoon. It bombed. The ‘facilitator’ might have done his but made a poor choice for the location-a lounge area where traffic continued by. It was not orchestrated well. Reciting our names, place of residence and cruise history was insufficient, (and absolutely fatiguing in every other encounter as well.) My next book will be “What to Say After You Say Hello.. on a Cruise Ship.” The event was not publicized well. (Although we did appreciate that we were not continually bombarded with announcements, many more came through about the Art Auctions). The putting golf practice activity left me wondering. We had five stations into which we were to putt the ball, marking our score and room number on a card. No feedback. Nothing more. Is the activity used for promotional lists for golf resorts? Gimmicks, like a free glass of champagne were used to lure passengers to certain activities, like the already-maligned art auctions. In my opinion, that’s fine for the very few who participated in the auctions; however, I do not believe the space and time reserved for them were justified. Photograph-shootings were another nuisance that we had to become quite assertive to avoid. The Computer/Internet Access was extremely expensive, and hopefully its scant usage will encourage the decision makers to rethink policy. You could check and see if you won free usage for the remainder of the cruise, but first had to pay access fees, log-in fees, etc. The reading room/library provided a pleasant place to write cards, relax quietly. There again, it’s being closed 5-7pm didn’t fit my schedule personally. A free yoga class was offered early in the cruise, then a charge for subsequent classes. The resident craftsperson/artist aboard did nothing more than sit at a table displaying, working on his/her wares, to my knowledge. The casino did have a couple of free gaming classes. Many opportunities could have been available for people to have mini-sessions of 3-4 classes to learn something new. Even though an extra fee was charged, the afternoon wine-tasting was an informative and enjoyable session, my favorite ‘activity.’ My travel partner was disappointed in not having dance partners. We inquired and learned that dance hosts are furnished on some, but not all of Holland American cruises. Why this particular cruise did not merit dance hosts, we did not learn. All in all, criticisms are few and minor compared to the overall experience.. Oh yes, mail your postcards in the port towns; those mailed on board ship took over three weeks to reach their destination. I did not check the postmarks, however. Debarkation was went smoothly. We had reserved the Quick shuttle back to Seattle airport with the hope of getting a 2pm flight home rather than the 10pm redeye for which we (luckily) scheduled. Several hours waiting at US Customs prevented this, however. No official was attending the buses and when one finally did arrive, no luggage was inspected, nor were the customs forms even collected! One would think they would be better prepared for the thousands that left the cruise ships that morning...the port retail shops certainly were! I’d write more here, but I have some planning to do for the next cruise....it will take the competition some work to measure up to what was provided by Holland America on the Zaandam.

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Jul 27, 2002

Alaska

We did the fly/cruise plan that Holland America had to offer with a guaranteed outside room with no obstruction to the view. I don’t think it cost that much more to have them take care of your flight and the assistance we received when we arrived in Vancouver was well worth it! We did not lay eyes on our bags until we boarded the ship. They completely guided us through everything. The weather was cloudy when we arrived but after leaving Vancouver

the skies cleared and the temps were between 58 and 68 degrees. Our first stop was Juneau where we took two excursions. Gold panning and the evening whale watch. The gold panning was just okay and only lasted 1 ½ hour. The Evening Whale Watch well that was a sight that we will always remember. A pod of 9 whales were bubbling? I think that is what they called it and as they all came out of the water in a circle at one time we were so close we could see the inside of there mouths. This is an excursion to spend your bucks. They also served a wonderful meal. It lasted for 3 ½ hours. Skagway was the second stop. We took the rail to White Pass Summit. We did the trip up and back on the rail. If you do this excursion, my advise is to sit toward the middle cars as we were in the second car back and got a lot of fumes from the train engines. It was also a little too long of a trip and we were ready to be done when we reached the top and we came down the same way so there was nothing new to see. Ketchikan was raining when we arrived but the sun was shinning while it was raining. The next excursion we did was Neets Bear Watch. We took a float plane to watch the bears feeding on salmon. I never thought I would be brave enough to fly in a small float plane but am very glad I did. It was great and we took two different routes to and back with great views including beautiful lakes and goats on the very tops of the mountains. When we got to the bear viewing we were not disappointed. There were at least 8 bears feeding at once and only 20 to 30 yards from us (sometimes closer). This is another one with a thumbs up. One note on the excursions, lock them in ahead of time on the Holland American home page as if you wait till you get the ship to book, you can probably forget it as the whale watch and bear watch takes only limited number of people. Also our excursion tickets were waiting in our stateroom when we arrived. The ship was beautiful, clean and we could find absolutely nothing to complain about. The crew was wonderful, food was wonderful, staterooms were setup very well and the bathrooms were a pleasant surprise with lots of room. Our room was the Lower Promenade #3394 with access out to the deck right around the corner Alaska truly is a wonder. We never dreamed of such beauty. Holland America is the way to go. First Class Ship for sure. Middle age to older. This is not a party/hardy ship. You can still have a wonderful time. It’s just not for kids, teens or 20 something ages. L. Bleeker

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Jun 29, 2002

Inside Passage Alaska

We flew into Vancouver two days before the cruise and toured the city --all fourteen of us. It was a great time. It rained the whole time we were there, but that didn’t slow us down. We took the trolley around Vancouver, which was a nice way to get Grandma out and about. It was a little expensive at about $25 a head, but a super way to see a lot in a limited amount of time. We arrived early on Saturday afternoon (about 1PM) at the dock. The

crowds were already gathering, and they began boarding passengers around 2PM. Boarding was very smooth, as we were among the first to board. We had four quad rooms for our group. The quads were quite small, especially with six large, teen-age boys. However, the cost of taking fourteen people on a cruise would be prohibitive, otherwise. We spent so little time in our rooms, that it didn’t bother us. The space was most problematic when we were dressing for the formal dinners. On those evenings my daughter and I got dressed early. We knew that the men would arrive at the last minute, ornery and expecting space to spread out. The storage space was fairly ample, considering that we brought a lot of clothing --anticipating the Alaska weather conditions, formal and semi-formal wear for all family members--quite a load. The food on the Zaandam was a bit of a disappointment. We are not terribly fussy eaters, but found it to be average institutional quality, with above average presentation. We weren’t tempted to over-eat, and didn’t gain weight. The service was very good. The atmosphere in the dining room was excellent. My kids thought the food was fine, and loved the buffet. A word of caution---My daughter and two other young teenage girls were approached by a worker in the Lido Restaurant. He offered to show the girls around the ship. Being very young, and inexperienced, they believed he was going to give them a ship tour and accompanied him. He took them into a Staff Only area and asked them their names, ages and cabin numbers. My daughter felt that something was amiss, didn’t give him her cabin number, came back and talked to me. The other girls innocently gave him the information. At a ship-sponsored teen event called Club Hal, the girls were jabbering about this guy. Evidently he called a couple of them on the phones in their cabins and asked them out. To make a long story short, authorities were contacted and he was put off the ship in Skagway. Holland America has very strict rules about this type of behavior. However, young girls need to be alert, because there are no guarantees! I was very impressed with the officer in charge of ship security. I found this incident very frightening. We felt that the entertainment was very good--especially the ventriloquist. We went to almost all the movies and ate the popcorn. Our kids went to all the Club Hal sponsored activities, and met the other teens on the ship. There were only about one hundred kids on the ship that week, so the teenagers got pretty well acquainted. Things closed down by midnight, which was fine with us. It forced the kids to get a good night’s rest. The whole family made good use of the exercise facilities. The gym staff continuously kicked my fifteen-year-old daughter out of the gym. She is a three-sport letter winner and knows more about the exercise and weight equipment than most of the passengers. This was a source of frustration to her, because she was trying to stay in shape for her ski training group at home. Finally, my husband and the gym director came to an understanding regarding our daughter, allowing her to use of some of the equipment. We felt positive about his flexibility with the situation and thought he was very nice. The crowd on the ship was older and quite dignified. There was not a lot of drinking or loud partying. We appreciated the crowd, and the fact that our kids were not exposed to wild partying behavior. The ship made stops at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. At Juneau we caught a school bus tour to the Mendenhall Glacier for $5.00 a person. We hiked the 3 1/2-mile trail around the glacier in the rain. The trail was very steep and rocky. Grandma stayed in the visitor’s center. This trail is only appropriate for fairly fit hikers. Most of us wore sneakers, which was somewhat unsafe in the rain. At Skagway we took the White Pass/ Yukon Route train ride, our only cruise-sponsored shore excursion. It was wonderful, although over-cast and rainy. The ship spent a day cruising Glacier Bay National Park. The ship’s photographer took a wonderful photo of the boys dripping in their swim trunks on the deck in front of the glacier. Ketchikan was our least favorite stop (on the Fourth of July). The crowds were terrible. We should have gotten out of town, because the town itself was full of crowded souvenir shops. A highlight for Grandma was all the family photos. We made appointments to have large group formal and informal portraits, which turned out quite nice. The families got great individual family portraits, too. The Christmas card pictures are ready to go, which made the trip worthwhile! Over-all, we felt the crowd was more casual on the Alaska cruise than the Caribbean cruises. People dressed in layers and wore rain jackets all week. We saw lots of jeans, tennis shoes and sweatshirts. Perhaps, because passengers had to pack a larger quantity of casual clothing, they left some of the fussy formal-wear at home. For whatever reason, we all agreed that it seemed more casual. One more note--our room steward was excellent. The whole family agreed that he was the best employee on the ship. Everyone enjoyed the trip. The kids want to do it again. Although they hate being seen with their parents, they’ll put up with us if we take the whole gang on another cruise. The tipping is very confusing on Holland American. I worried a lot about the tips at the end of the cruise. A tipping guideline would be helpful. I think that we would do Holland America again, because the size of the ship suits Grandma--no mega-ships for Grandma. We would also be open to trying another cruise line of a similar size and quality--perhaps Celebrity.

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Mar 24, 2002

Southern Wayfarer Cruise

My husband I just returned from a 10 day cruise on the Zaandam. We booked a mini-suite with verandah. The room was very comfortable and clean as was the ship. The staff (not the officers) went out of their way to accommodate any and all of our wishes. The Officers however were extremely standoffish and unfriendly, which surprised us, as we have cruised on other Holland cruises and found all personnel to be friendly and interested in meeting

their passengers. We were most disappointed with the Rotterdam dining room food. The seafood was not fresh and re-used in other appetizers or entrees. I had two frozen desserts that I returned because they were freezer burned and tasted awful. The salads were not cold but served on warm plates. On the lido deck - buffet, I opened a box of cereal one morning and found that spider mites had gotten there ahead of me. The box was full of cereal and cobwebs. When I brought it to the stewards attention, he simply shrugged and removed my tray. The best meal that we had on the ship was at the Marco Polo Restaurant, however the wait staff and wine steward were not friendly, and reservations were not easy to get. The policy is you can dine here one time on the cruise and request to be put on a waiting list if you would like to return a second time. We were very disappointed in two of the six islands that we visited. Bonaire is not yet ready for cruise ships. The town is limited in terms of shopping opportunities, is dirty and is clearly an industrial town that caters to scuba divers, not ship tourists. We looked into renting vespa's and found them expensive to rent and not in good mechanical upkeep (bald tires etc) The pier is undeveloped and accounts mostly of bars and restaurants that were not open. We noticed numerous passengers disembarking to explore Bonaire and within the hour returning back to the boat with no shore purchases or enthusiasm for this port of call. Isle de Margarita, Venezuela was also a disappointment. The town of Polmar was filthy and a 45 minute taxi ride from the pier, it offers even less shopping or exploring opportunities than Bonaire. A $500 per person air tour of Angel Falls on the main- land of Venezuela is available, we met no one who participated on this tour. At the Crew's suggestion we decided to explore the beach that was a 5 minute walk from the boat. The beach appeared clean and was enjoyed by locals who did not bother us. My husband and I were both dismayed when we found out from the ship's infirmary nurse that the beach and water we waded in were polluted with raw sewage. There was no posting or information from the ship regarding this. The rest of the islands we visited, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay were just as we expected; Lush, beautiful tropical islands with shopping and lots of exploring available if one so desired. The ship did not offer long stays in any of the islands, our longest port of call was 8 hours in St. Thomas. Half Moon Cay - Holland's private island offers a beautiful beach and ample activities. We met many folks who had cruised with Holland before and felt as we did that the line has not maintained the "excellence and quality" that they advertise and have experienced in the past. Perhaps this reflects the recent merger with Carnival [Holland America Line has been a part of Carnival Corporation since 1989 – Editor’s Note]. We did not appreciate the insistence of the cruise director - Eric - to be sure and rate them a "9" of excellence on the departing survey. The ship's services and wayfarer cruise simply did not met that level. It will be a long time before my husband and I book another Holland America Cruise, and we will not recommend them to fellow cruisers. We will try other cruise lines before HAL is given our hard earned vacation dollars in future trips.

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Dec 20, 2001

Wayfarer (southern caribbean)

My wife and I, along with another couple have sailed on a 10-day cruise on the Zaandam between Dec. 10 and 20, 2001. Our ages range from 43 to 51. Both couples are childless and married 23 and 19 years respectively. This was our 6th cruise. We have cruised on Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruise Lines previously. Our wives work at for the same employer and all of us get along well enough to travel together,

live to repeat the process and look forward to our next cruise together. From what I hear, that is quite an accomplishment in itself. We had made our travel arrangements through our travel agent. We had arranged for a 3-day pre-cruise stay and a 2-day post-cruise stay in Fort Lauderdale. Documentation we had received from Holland America Lines (HAL) indicated boarding would begin around 2:30 PM and that was fine with us. Boarding and debarkation were quite straightforward and went on without any difficulties. This is not the first time I post a review on the Internet after a cruise. A copy of this is also being sent to HAL for their information. I believe in balancing these reviews; no ship is all good, nor is any ship all bad. I will endeavor to cover both extremes of that spectrum. The ship came out of Fincantieri shipyards in April 2000. Her public rooms are luxurious and appointed in an a quiet, understated kind of way. Nowhere is the ship garishly decorated. One finds museum-quality antiques and reproductions at every corner and their art collection is truly nice. Live plants, bonsai and huge cut-flower bouquets are found everywhere in the ship’s public rooms, hallways and staircases. The Zaandam’s elevators are quick and plentiful. The ship is ultra-clean from top to bottom, bow to stern. We were disappointed in the ship’s handling at sea. Waves out there were usually less than 4 feet high. One day, they registered at 4 to 6 feet; by no means heavy seas. The ship pitches and rolls slightly as is expected (and normal) of any sailing vessel. However, the ship would regularly experience a sharp vertical jolt. She would also shake as if we were experiencing an earthquake. We have used our video camera to document that fact in the dining room, using our filled water glasses. This earthquake would last for sometimes up to a minute, go away for a bit and start all over again. We asked around and no one could explain this phenomenon. The Zaandam’s theme is music and one hears live music everywhere in the lounges in the evenings. One major disappointment was the pipe organ that stands in the foyer (decks 3, 4 and 5 forward). We had ordered the Zaandam’s preview video from HAL and we had marveled at that pipe organ. We had envisioned sitting somewhere nearby while someone played it. As it turns out, the whole thing is a monumental fake. It is constructed of cardboard tubes and plaster. Its rudimentary single keyboard could be purchased at Radio Shack for under $100. It is a sculpture, as opposed to a musical instrument of grand proportions. We enquired at the purser’s desk and were told no one plays it, even though there plenty of musicians on board. In lieu of live performances, synthetic, nosey, cheap electronic organ music is piped in through the ship’s music system in that area. That monstrosity has got to go. This is one area where HAL goofed big-time, make no mistake about it. The Zaandam offers her passengers an internet room where you can stay in touch with the rest of the world, should one feel so inclined. We were tempted, but the high prices commanded by these services made us rethink our needs. We ended up going for a beer at an Internet café in Curaçao, where we used the computers for 30 minutes to check our E-mail and send a few greetings to our friends. It only cost us $4.00 that way (excluding beer) and it was fine. Air conditioning throughout the public rooms was consistently set too cold. The wives often complained of cold drafts on their shoulders and neck, whereas we kept warm by wearing long sleeve shirts and dinner jackets every evening. Oddly enough, air conditioning in our room was just right. Our outside cabin, located on aft Lower Promenade deck, was quite roomy. Furnished with a king-sized bed, 2 night tables, a 3-drawer desk, a chair, a small oval table and a 2-seater sofa, plenty of closet space, an electronic safe and a modular shelving system. The closets could use a few more hangers, but I persist in saying we took more clothes than necessary for a 10-day cruise. All furnishings were clean and in fine working order. The bed was comfortable and high enough off the floor for me to slide our biggest suitcases under it without any difficulty. Our cabin steward was very helpful and excelled at working during our absence. Lighting controls were conveniently scattered in 4 locations, all over the room. Our bathroom featured a bath and shower and featured sturdy handlebars my wife found quite helpful to enter and exit the bath tub. In all, we were very satisfied with the size and amenities in our room. The Rotterdam Dining Room service was superlative. Our waiter (Made) and bus-boy (Rianto) were so unbelievably personable, attentive to detail, unobtrusive, and polite you would have thought they had no one to care for but us, when in fact they managed to keep 4 tables (approximately 16 guests) extremely happy for the whole duration of the cruise. The dining room food’s quality, variety, presentation and taste were always first-rate. We enjoyed a table for 4 located in the dining room’s lower level (Promenade deck) on the ship’s port side, located directly by the floor-to-ceiling windows. We prefer eating late and always choose second sitting dining arrangements. We didn’t go the Marco Polo Italian restaurant, as reservations for the whole trip were taken at the beginning of the trip and booked solid by day 3 of the cruise. The fault was ours, as we didn’t reserve early enough. Food at the Lido was always good, but not as good as the dining room’s fare. We went there on occasion for breakfast, lunch or the midnight buffet which, by the way, is served at 11:30 PM. This is a cafeteria-style hot and cold buffet, with a salad bar at the very end and a made-to-order counter on each side of the ship. An interesting quirk is that on any given day, these two made-to-order counters didn’t feature the same fare. One side could be serving stir-fry, while the other side could be making wraps (for example). This was perfect when were in port and only wanted to grab a bite before setting off on your own. Being a diabetic, I truly enjoyed the sugar-free desserts that were featured in both the Lido and the Rotterdam dining room. Another place one could grab a bite is the midship pool’s restaurant. Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries were featured there from noon to 5PM every single day. Food there was definitely boring, overdone, reheated and unappealing. After sampling their hamburgers once, we avoided eating there as much as we could. We only called room service twice, to order the day’s first coffee and were always served with speed and discretion. We are not heavy-duty drinkers, but some of us do enjoy a cocktail or two before dinner, an occasional bottle of wine at dinner and sometimes liqueur after dinner. This is one area of the Zandaam’s performance that was definitely lackluster. Our wives both enjoy a Bloody Caesar before dinner. After ordering them on two separate occasions in two different locations, they abandoned the idea and started drinking 7-up with a little orange juice added to it. I enjoy a good gin and tonic. I got gin and club soda at least twice. Unless specified, they would fill the glass with crushed ice before they made the drink. After a few minutes, you end up drinking gin-flavored ice water. We ordered Kir Royal one night at the Crow’s Nest and it was delicious. We placed the same order another night in the Explorer’s Lounge and we got something that was more akin to a Shirley Temple than a Kir Royal. Quality of the drinks differed greatly from one room to the next. We feel HAL needs to quickly implement a set of stringent standards and procedures for all its bartenders on board the Zaandam. Wine service in the dining room was not the province of a sommelier, as we had experienced with other cruise lines. Although he was very pleasant, a standard bar waiter took our order. Obviously lacking basic wine training, he wasn’t able to knowledgeably recommend something to compliment your entrée selection, much less discuss the merits of one wine compared to another. He took the wine order, uncorked it, gave you the cork to smell (one never smell the cork!), poured a sample for me to taste and served it. That’s it, that’s all. You will have guessed that this is another area that HAL needs to improve on the Zaandam. The Zaandam offers her passengers 2 freshwater pools. This was a first for us, as our previous ships had always featured saltwater pools. However, the water in there was positively cold. When a ship fills its pools with saltwater daily in the Caribbean, it is usually warm water. Both pools are surrounded by a low wall that contains the water that splashes with the ship’s movements. I estimate that wall must have been around 20 inches high. It is topped by a redwood bench. There are no steps to get over the wall and down again into the pool’s tiled margin. There are 2 steps to get into the hot tubs but no steps to get down from there to the pool area. My handicapped wife had to sit on the bench and swing her legs over to the pool. Once safely inside the enclosed pool area, each pool is accessed through an angled ladder featuring redwood steps about 8 inches high, which made things easier for her. Entertainment on board was consistently very good, with the possible exception of the entertainer featured on the last night, who juggled plungers and tried to impress us by floating a ping-pong ball in a hair dryer’s air stream. Many people left during that performance, more intent on finishing packing their suitcases than wasting time watching that act. We stayed to the end, but in retrospective, we should have finished our packing. We particularly enjoyed the Indonesian Crew’s Show, where Indonesian culture was showcased. The Angklung Concert Orchestra was simply amazing. It made us discover a bamboo musical instrument from Java that dates back to the Neolithic period. We visited Willemstad (Curaçao), La Guaira (Venezuela), Port of Spain (Trinidad), Fort de France (Martinique), Charlotte Amalie (St-Thomas) and Half Moon Cay (HAL’s private island in the Bahamas). When in port, our days are not typically spent shopping for luxury items. We enjoy going to the beach and snorkeling. The ship only stopped a few hours in Trinidad, arriving at 12:30 PM and leaving around 5PM. The same thing happened in Martinique, where we arrived around 8 :30 AM and left around 1 :30 PM. A normal day in port typically goes on from 8 :00 AM to 5 :00 PM and that is short enough as it is without cutting the day in half. We sincerely believe HAL should correct the itinerary so that a full day in port can be made available. Half Moon Cay is HAL’s private island. What a place! Everything there was first rate. We had a grand time at that island. The water is clear, calm and warm. The accommodations are well laid out and snorkeling was very pleasant. There were jellyfish around, but HAL can’t be blamed for that and you could easily avoid them while snorkeling. My friend got stung once by a small specimen and the sting was no worse than a mosquito bite. The beach is ultra clean, supervised and large enough that even if everyone got off the ship at the same time, it wouldn’t be crowded. Tours are available from the excursion desk, but we rented snorkeling equipment directly on the island for $16 for the whole day, which we felt should have been free, given the amount of money we had already given them in the last 9 days. We then snorkeled on our own, right there at the beach’s snorkeling area and had a great time, jellyfish notwithstanding. Gratuities is one area where HAL really beats around the bush. At the debarkation talk, our cruise director read HAL’s statement pertaining to its no tipping required policy. That’s just fine; tipping is not required. Should you decide to leave a tip to your waiter, your bus-boy, your room steward or anybody else, you are entirely on your own. It is a good thing we had previous experience in that field and we knew what to leave our faithful service friends. We are among adults here, let’s get it out in the open. You will love the service and you will wish to leave them a tip. What other means do you have to show your appreciation? Should you have any questions about our cruise, please feel free to drop me a line. My E-mail address is [email protected] .  I’ll do my best to answer it to the best of my ability, as quickly as I can. SYLVAIN FOREST

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Nov 30, 2001

Southern Caribbean Seafarer

Increased Security: You are required to carry your passport and room key with you at all times when you are off the ship. Your purchases and personal belongings are checked when you return to the ship, and you are subjected to a hand-held wand search. Immigration was required three times on this cruise. This consists of a note in your room with your name on it telling you what section of rooms is going to be called when. The process

itself is very smooth and fast, but takes at least an hour for the whole ship, and no one can leave the ship until everyone has passed through immigration. Suite passengers get to go to immigration whenever they want to. We also were required to fill out Bahamian immigration forms and customs forms as usual at disembarkation. We were told that effective in January, all cruisers must have valid passports. They will no longer accept birth certificates. Although the increased security is necessary and welcome, it does get a bit tedious towards the end to be told when you have to get out of your room for roll-call, after all, it is a vacation. It is something we all will have to get used to. Embarkation: Due to the number of mobility-challenged persons and suite occupants on this cruise who receive priority boarding, it was almost an hour before boarding of the rest of the passengers took place. Boarding went smoothly after the priority boarding, and we were on the ship by 2:00 p.m. The ship was completely sold out, due in large part to the tremendous discounts being offered very close to the sailing date. Our luggage was arriving at the same time that we were being escorted to our room, so we were able to immediately unpack and head up to the buffet for lunch. The life jacket drill was held at 4:30 p.m. and we set sail around 5:15 p.m. Cabin: Our room, located mid-ship on the lower promenade deck, was very comfortable. It contained two twin beds, two night stands, a desk with three drawers, a chair, an ottoman, a sofa, a table, four closets. Our large suitcases fit nicely under the bed, and we still had some empty shelves in the closets. The room was close to the stairs and it was only a short one or two flights up to almost everything on the ship. We rarely used the elevators. The Ship The Good: The Zaandam is the sister ship to the Volendam. The ships are identical with the exception of the artwork on board. We had heard many comments about the organ located in the atrium and extending three decks up as being gaudy and out of place. We found the organ to be enchanting. It plays everyday at 11, 12, 2, and 4, sometimes for 6 minutes, sometimes for only one minute, the time is randomly selected as are the songs. All the instruments that the cherubs and various musicians surrounding the organ at various levels move to the sound of the music. You really have to sit and watch the organ play to appreciate it. The rest of the ship contains several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of antiques. We highly recommend the art and antiques tour that is conducted on the first full day of sea. A few interesting items to mention are King Tut’s tomb and the huge set of yellow lips located by the library known as Yellow Jasper. The remainder of the ship is your usual HAL style, with the movie theater, explorer’s lounge, ocean view lounge, crow’s nest, library, etc. all located in the same places as on other ships. The internet café had some kind of “special”, unlimited use for $169.95 for the whole cruise. Didn’t see many takers for that and frequently saw that whole room with nobody in it. One nice thing about the newer HAL ships is that the shore excursion office is located right next to the front desk. The ship was kept immaculate at all times. The wood trim and brass railings were polished at least once per day. There are numerous enormous displays of fresh flowers throughout. All crew members were just wonderful to us and attended to our every need, remembering the drinks we preferred and our names throughout the cruise. How do they do that, with 1,300 plus new passengers every week!? The Bad: The Zaandam, in mid-ship area ,contained a sewer smell. I noticed in reviews by previous travelers that the ship’s crew had stated that the problem was being taken care of. That was a few months ago the smell is still there. We did not have the smell in our rooms, but people about further down toward the atrium did smell it in their rooms. Several items on board were broken for the entire cruise, three elevators, the yogurt machine, the air conditioning in the dining room worked off and on, etc. It was also noticeable that cuts had been made in staff and amenities. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a first-rate cruise, but when you have been on several HAL cruises, you notice that some of the little extras are missing. There were less workers to collect plates, offer towels, things like that. Gone is the basket of fruit in each room and the big bowls of fruit on the Lido deck contained only apples and a few pears. The Mariner’s Party was simply a gathering of previous HAL cruisers with some free champagne and some nuts on the tables. The appetizers were few and far between and nowhere near as elaborate as on previous cruises. Another problem that continues to plague HAL in general is the constant saving of seats in the show lounge. They clearly state that reserving of seats is not permitted, yet it is routinely done. On formal nights when there are doings in the lounge before the shows, you have to wait in line outside the lounge a half-hour to get a seat to see the show. HAL should make their show lounges big enough to hold an entire dinner seating as well as extras for the people that eat in the Marco Polo Restaurant or the Lido Buffet and choose to go to the show that is not the one for their dinner seating. It is a vacation, people should be able to go to whatever show they want and be able to get a seat without waiting. The crowding is much worse at the earlier show due to the fact that people who book late and can’t get anything but the late seating at dinner frequently eat in the alternative restaurants instead of the dining room and then go to the first seating’s show. HAL should be prepared for that. Due to the long lines and seat saving, I attended only the three Las Vegas type shows on formal night. They were excellent and many people gave the young dancers and singers a standing ovation after each show. My mother attended all of the evening shows and loved all of them. The entertainment on HAL is definitely geared to the mature traveler, and I was simply not that interested in the remaining entertainment and waiting in line to see it and choose to go to the evening movie instead. In fact, most of the younger people on the ship could be found at the evening movie instead of in the show lounge. I did enjoy the eight movies I had a chance to see, all movies that had been in the theaters sometime during this year. The popcorn in the theater is a nice touch. Food: There was plenty of food everywhere. I do not like fancy food, so I am not the one to judge the quality. My mother enjoyed all courses at all meals and loved everything, except the Marco Polo (more on that later). The desserts are simply sinful, and I managed to have something chocolate for dessert every night. The only food I really didn’t care for was the pizza. In the past, the pizza was quite tasty. This year it seems that the pizza has become a repository for unused vegetables. Everyday there would be one vegetarian pizza and one other kind, which also consisted of all the same vegetables and maybe some meat or some seafood. I thought the veggie burgers at the grill were very tasty. Alternative Dining: The Marco Polo is a five-star restaurant. It is very elegant and the service is impeccable. It really is for a special occasion, and I would highly recommend it for a birthday or anniversary. I had reserved this as soon as I boarded for my mother’s birthday. While the food was good, it was not great. And my mother preferred our tablemates’ conversation to dining alone in the Marco Polo. Because it is a small restaurant, it gets booked for the entire cruise by the second day, so if you are interested in reserving a table, make reservations as soon you can. Ports of Call: One general note: The prices on shore excursions have gone up and most of them are not worth the money. I find that at ports that I have stopped at on previous cruises, I do not book shore excursions but go it alone. If you are only traveling with a few people, the extra money doesn’t make that much difference. But you certainly would not want to pay $50 times ten people for a ride around the town when cabs that are readily available can transport you for far less. I prefer the safety of the ship-sponsored tours, but you do pay for that in the higher pricing. And again, the crowds waiting to board buses and vans have to be dealt with. Bonaire – We took the Island Journey ($49 for air-conditioned van, $39 for non-air-conditioned bus). It was raining the entire morning in Bonaire, but we were able to see the salt mines, the slave huts, and a few flamingoes that had not gone under cover from the rain. We were still able to see everything scheduled on this tour, just not the wildlife in as much abundance that it would have been had it not been raining. Many of the divers on board said that some of the fish in Bonaire are the most colorful they have ever seen. Isla de Margarita, Venezuela –  ($49, reasonable price for the length of the tour, 5 hours) Again, it was raining. We chose the Rumba on the Chiva bus tour. The rain stopped once we got to the beach. There is nothing really close to the dock area. There are city buses that will pick you up and take you around town, but we did not feel comfortable with this. The area by the dock is run-down. There are some beaches right by the dock, very shallow water, but we did not feel that it was safe in that area to go it alone. We thoroughly enjoyed this bus tour. We were taught all about Venezuela and how to rumba on the ride to the beach. At the beach, we were treated to island delicacies and drinks. We then stopped for shopping (not much to shop for), and returned to the ship. The cruisers who took the $500 Angel Falls tour said it was fantastic and worth every penny. St. Kitts – The rain for the most part was over for the rest of the cruise, just a few island sprinkles on the remaining days. This was my third time in St. Kitts, but my mother’s first, so we chose the Fortress and Gardens Tour ($44 ) that I had previously been on. It was a nice stop at the Brimstone Hill and then on to the Batik Factory and the beautiful Romney Gardens. St. Lucia – We chose the Queen’s Route ($54), by far the best shore excursion that I have been on to date. We left the ship in Castries and traveled by bus with stops at the batik studio, the volcano, the sulphur springs, the botanical gardens and waterfall, viewed the Piton mountains, and ended at the other end of the island in Soufriere where the ship sent tenders to pick us up. It is nice not to have to take the 1 ½ bus ride roundtrip. There were about 300 people on this tour and we all ended up in a lovely little place called the Plantation House while we waited for the ship and were treated to island music, dancing, drinks and snacks. I mentioned to the shore excursion manager that I just loved this tour and he agreed that it was his favorite, too. The only way to see the most of this simply beautiful island is on this tour. I highly recommend it. St. Thomas – Having been to St. Thomas three times and yet to shop in the downtown area, we once again chose a shore excursion instead of shopping. Big mistake. We chose the Tropical Paradise Island Tour ($44). We were sent up by cable car to Paradise Point and left there for an hour with nothing to do but spend money at a few shops. We then traveled to Mountain Top for an hour of shopping and sightseeing. Mountain Top is beautiful, but I have seen that several times and did not need to see that again. We did not stop at the gardens as described in the booklet and many people were upset. The cable car ride was also not stated in the shore booklet, and some folks had a hard time climbing the stairs to the cars. They complained to management. Having been on four cruises now with the same shore excursion manager, I told him this shore excursion was a waste of time and money and he told me that he has had so many complaints about this tour the last few cruises that it would have to be improved or would be discontinued . The Coral World Island Drive tour I took last year was much, much better and I would recommend that one any day over this one. Nassau, Bahamas – Due to the increased security at every port, what HAL has done is shorten the hours spent in each port to be able to complete the trip on time. We did not arrive in Nassau until 12:30 and had to be back on at 5:30, so we opted to go it alone and walk around the town. Big mistake. The actual area where the ships dock is very run down. We docked by a huge garbage dumpster that smelled of rotting food. The shopping area located very close to the dock is decrepit. The famous Straw Market burned to the ground in October and in the process of being rebuilt was hit by a hurricane. They have some type of make-shift straw market which consists of a tented space over a parking lot. You can’t even stop for a second to look at items without a vendor coming up to you and pressuring you to buy something. We left immediately without buying anything. Many of the buildings are damaged, the streets and sidewalks are in disrepair. All the good things about Nassau, Cable Beach, Atlantis, Paradise Island, are over the bridge, which you can get to by either a shore excursion or one of the several tours offered right off the dock. Swimming with the dolphins was a sold-out tour and highly recommended ($99) by all who took it. Disembarkation – Except for the fact that immigration began calling rooms at 6:45 a.m., and this created a lot of crowding for breakfast, the whole process went smoothly and we are off the ship by 9:00 and at the airport checked in by 10:00 for a 12:00 flight. Summary – For various reasons, this was not my favorite HAL cruise, but it was still a great time and an opportunity to meet new friends. I would not hesitate to go on another HAL cruise.

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Nov 10, 2001

Southern Caribbean

The Ms Zaandam is a lovely cruise ship with antiques and interesting artifacts strategically placed around the ship. The public rooms are nicely placed with many of them having beautiful ocean views. The main atrium is tastefully done. Nothing glitzy about the Holland America Lines. The Rotterdam dining room was beautiful with the brass rail stair case, the piano playing music as we entered and live music on the formal nights and the lovely table

settings, complete with interesting napkins folded into a different design each meal. The food was good, very attractively served, but the menu wasn't all that exciting to us. I ended up eating a lot of steak and prime rib because I didn't care for any of the other entrees. The appetizers and soups were terrific. The salads were fair, not very imaginative. The desserts were disappointing. The only time we had 'great' desserts was when we ate lunch in the Lido restaurant. On previous cruises, our wait staff always knew our names and always knew our favorite drink and would have it waiting for us when we arrived. I found it took several nights before they knew I wanted a soft drink with dinner. They did however always remember my significant other's martini. On several nights, I got an ice tea. I think I was mixed up with someone else. However, the staff is very courteous and you can't help but love them for serving you all this food! This is the 3rd cruise we have been in a suite, and this is the 2nd cruise with Holland America. We remembered a few things about the suite and they were similar to this cruise. However, we both commented that we thought this suite may have been a bit smaller than our last one. It is still a nice size room, but we both remembered the Ryndam's suite to be a bit larger. We mentioned it to another passenger who also sailed on the Ryndam in a suite. They thought both suites were the same size, so maybe it was just us. Our suite was perfect. We had all the drawer space we needed plus extras. The 3 closets were ample and I found the extra drawers in the vanity not needed. But the vanity is always a nice touch. We enjoy the 'extras' being in a suite. In particular, the cocktail parties, the special dinners, the corsage for the 1st formal night, champagne, the fluffy bathrobes, even the stationery. One thing we didn't get on this cruise was the pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres. Perhaps they have done away with this. We ate breakfast several mornings on our balcony while watching the sea go by. Very enjoyable! We enjoyed the tour of the bridge as well. This cruise was our first 10-day cruise. We chose this particular cruise itinerary for the variety in ports. We have taken other Caribbean cruises but have missed some of the ports that this cruise offered. In particular: Bonaire, Margarita Island, and St Kitts. Bonaire is a divers paradise . . that's all. No beaches to speak of, and what they have is full of coral fragments so it is difficult to not only walk on the sand but also swim in the water. Margarita Island was a destination I had wanted to visit for a land trip. I'm glad I didn't waste my money on that trip! The island is off Venezuela and is used for the rich and famous for vacations. But the island is really dirty. Trash littered everywhere. We were on a tour and didn't get to a beach, but from I saw of the island I would say I wouldn't visit Margarita again! Now we have St Kitts, St Lucia, St Thomas! All 3 islands are terrific. Well worth the short daily cruise visit and certainly worth a week's vacation any time! We shopped, went to the beaches and toured. All winners in my book! Our last stop was Nassau, Bahamas. It turned out to be an OK day. We've been to the Bahamas before and didn't find it to be great. However, this trip over exceeded my expectations. Our tour was good, a bit long as the driver took us through some residential areas on the way back to the ship, but we went to a nature reserve and I played with the flamingos. Also got my photo taken with some parrots. We also toured a fortress which I hadn't seen before. The tours offered by the ship were basically for high energy type people or for snorkelers. If you are looking for a day at the beach or a small tour of an island it is probably better to do it on your own. We ventured to a beach on our own on 2 islands (St Lucia and St Thomas). The taxi driver on St Lucia told us he would pick us up at the time we decided on. He was very prompt, in fact he was there early. However, on St Thomas, not only did the taxi not pick us up at the designated time, the taxi we did take back to the ship broke down. We only had 1 hour to get back to the ship so I wasn't happy about that. The taxi was eventually fixed by one of the passengers, not the driver, and we got to the ship in time. So a word of caution if you venture off yourselves, leave a little extra time for any unusual happenings! The shows aboard the ship were good. The 2 nights of their 'spectacular' shows were terrific. Excellent costumes and dancing. I have to say the other nights were just fair. The male singer was flat. The performer who played the oboe, saxophone and violin was very talented. The other nights they had a magician and a comedienne which we did not see. We did spend some time and money in the casino. Nothing serious as I haven't a clue how to gamble! But we did play the slots and found one that paid me back! So I was happy! I found that the on-board shops were ok. I bought several gifts as well as some t-shirts. If memory serves me the Ryndam may have had 1 more shop. But we were pleased with the ones onboard the Ms Zaandam. The photographers are great. The formal night photos came out fine and we bought several. I was disappointed however that they didn't seem to take a lot of candids as some other ships do. The pool was good. The newer ships all have the movable cover so if the weather is windy or rainy you are well protected. We didn't seem to need to 'save' a lounge chair as there were plenty most of the time. The passengers on this cruise were much older than us and not many of them were at the pool. One thing we miss aboard the Holland America Ships are the fancy drinks served at the pool. Most ships push you to buy one, which also is a fun thing. Holland America is more of a relaxed ship and doesn't want you to think they are trying to sell you anything. But I could have been sold on a few fancy drinks if they were offered! A word about the 'no-tipping' policy: This is nonsense. Not only should you tip, the crew is expecting a tip, like on all ships. When was the last time you went to dinner and didn't tip? The company should remove this 'no-tipping' from all their brochures as it is not only confusing to passengers but also an insult to the crew. The boarding of the ship took too long for me. The area was over air conditioned and we froze. The disembarking was ok, a tad early, but necessary for the crew and staff to get ready for the next cruise. We were obviously given the incorrect disembarking number, and we were questioned by the person at the gangplank. A letter was given to all suite passengers saying that once the ship had cleared immigration, we could disembark at our leisure, which we did. However, our number did not match the suite number we were in. She questioned this, but I gave her our suite number and we left. We opted for the travel voucher from the ship to the airport. This went smoothly. The lines at the airport were long due to the high security. That was ok with us. We don't have anything to hide so they can search us all they want. Most passengers also feel this same way. All in all, this was a very pleasant cruise. Some surprises and some predictables. I highly recommend a longer than a week's cruise vacation. It really makes a difference, and if your budget allows, choose a suite next time. Happy cruising!

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May 3, 2001

Vancouver, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan

This is a cruise review of my Holland America Alaskan cruise on May 5-12, 2001. My objective is to share some of my experiences. Some of the topics covered include: embarkation, your cabin and whether to pay more for windows or not, motion sickness before and after the cruise, tennis court? - Get real!, dress requirements, tipping, casino details, first or second dinner seating?, debarkation or have you ever had your name announced over

the ship's public address system?, etc. This was my first cruise and I had many questions before the cruise that weren't completely answered by reading on-line cruise reviews, emailing Holland America or asking my tour escort. I hope my review will answer some of your questions and better prepare you for your first cruise. For me the word "cruise" was a misnomer in describing my Alaskan cruise as it was anything but "travel at a speed suitable for being maintained for a long distance", i.e., a relaxing trip. I had a wonderful time. But it was go, go, go! There were so many things to do on board as well as off the ship, that anyone claiming there wasn't enough to do, . . . well . . . they really missed the boat! Don't get me wrong, if you wanted to lounge at the pool all day, you could. But there so much to do, see and experience. As a first time cruiser, this cruise exceeded all my expectations. (This was Zaandam's maiden voyage into the Alaska Inland Passage. This voyage actually began in Florida about three weeks earlier.) 1. Cruise Insurance. This is a $90+ expense that you should consider seriously because your reservations are made so far in advance and you'll be traveling in international waters. We had one friend who, one week before the cruise, was told by his doctor he couldn't take the cruise because of a possible serious medical condition. Another friend was forced to purchase clothing items during the cruise because his luggage was misplaced by the airlines and never made on board the cruise. Both persons purchased the insurance and are either filing the required documents to receive reimbursements or weighing their options, i.e., insurance or airline. But then again, we had people in our group whom did not purchase the insurance. 2. Embarkation - have lots of patience. The Zaandam docks in Vancouver along side the Pan-Pacific Hotel. If you approach by private transportation as we did, you'll discover the lack of signs directing you to the luggage drop off area. The traffic guards outside the hotel knew nothing about dropping off luggage. We spent a frustrating half an hour in and out of the hotel's parking lots till we finally forced our way into a lane reserved for taxi drop offs only, where Canadian dock porters just began accepting Zaandam luggage, it was about 1100. We then found the Thrifty Rent-a-car area on a lower level and parked our car in a Thrifty stall. But there was no sign directing you to the Thrifty counter. We eventually found Thrifty on the "CS" or CruiseShip floor near the front entrance of the hotel that was two levels above where we parked the car and one above where we had dropped off our luggage. Because we had a few hours before embarkation, we went back downstairs to the level where we had just dropped off our luggage to store our carry-on luggage, cost per bag was $3-$4. I should point out that the Holland America entrance was also on the level where our carry-on was stored and where our luggage was dropped off. (If you have the time, you might want to visit the 150 store underground shopping mall a few blocks from the dock whose flagship store is Eaton's.) The embarkation area opened about 1330 and once you entered, you were given a number and as your number was called, you proceeded to a check-in station where you presented your papers and were given your cabin key that looks like a credit card. Once past the metal detector and up the gangway, you're escorted to your room. 3. Once on the ship, the first order of business is the only life boat/life jacket drill at 1600. Before the actual drill, you're told of the time for the drill over the public address (PA) system outside your cabin. We kept opening our cabin door so we could hear the announcements. We later discovered you could tune-in to channel 5 on your intercom/ship's radio to hear PA announcements within your room. 4. We had an inner room, number 1880 on the Dolphin deck (1st level if you will), that included no window, a free security safe to store your valuables that was activated, opened and closed with a credit card (so remember not to store your credit card in the safe), 2 standard beds, 2 small night stands, 5 closets, a sofa, a chair, an ice bucket filled 2 times a day, a "micro" table that was big enough for a bowl of fruit with napkin and knife, intercom/radio so you could hear the public address system in your cabin, light switches everywhere, and a 20" TV that included CNN Live, TNT, two Movie channels, a channel that was a 24/7 video cam overlooking the front of the ship so you could see the outside weather, a Port channel that played cruise memories videos, a Ship channel that played back that day's lectures or shows, and a Scan display channel that showed the current sea conditions, time, and described the different rank insignias of the crew. ESPN was on 24 hours in the casino bar only, satellite permitting. 5. You'll be spoiled with the morning making-up and evening turning of your bed. If you find yourself locked-out of your room, just see Housekeeping down the hall as I did, even though it was close to midnight. One of our friends had her key changed 8 times! that is amazing since we were on a 7-day cruise. She said the Front Desk folks told her credit cards magnetic strips were altering her room key's code. She separated her room key from her credit cards and placed her cabin key in a neck pouch but that didn't work. The strangest part was that her husband's key worked fine. Go figure! 6. The hardest thing to remember about your room will be on which side of the ship your room is located. Even numbered cabins are on one side and odd numbered cabins are on the other side. Some of us felt a sign would be helpful that would be seen as you exited the elevator or as you came down the stairs that pointed to the side of the ship that had the even numbered cabins or vice versa. A mini refrigerator is available for $2/day but should be ordered in advance. We didn't use this convenience because our ice bucket was filled twice a day and we could always go down the hall, sneak into the mini-galley and help ourselves. 7. Showers were small with plastic curtains but big enough to bend over and pick up dropped soap, contrary to other cruise stories I've read. The shower has two control knobs. The lower one presets the temperature and guarantees a comfortable shower every time. The toilet has a vacuum jet action whose noise is quite startling at first but efficient. There is no clock but wake-up call is available or you can turn to the TV Scan channel to check the time. There will be two time changes that occur at 0200. When you enter Alaskan time zone, you'll have to set your watches back and when you return to Canadian time zone, you'll have to set your watch forward. You'll receive a timely notice under your door the night before each time change. 8. Lack of a window didn't make that much difference. But rooms on the promenade deck had to keep their curtains closed for privacy from the public (not worth the extra charge for a window we think). But for rooms with windows below the active deck where the public could not peak in, our friends enjoyed waking up with the sun (what little there was) and one morning looked out their window to see dolphins swimming along side the ship. 9. Sodas and bottled water are provided in your room for sale. You might want to consider bringing your own soda or beer on board. Holland America will allow you to bring alcoholic beverages on board. In Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), there is a government regulated liquor store about two blocks from the dock. (Regulated meaning no matter what liquor store you enter in BC, the prices are the same at each liquor store.) Sodas are $1.75 on board, but free drinks included: water, hot chocolate, coffee, ice tea, and juice during breakfast and lunch hours only. There is a corkage fee in the dining room for private liquor. 10. A hair dryer in the bathroom is provided though the blower is very weak but everything seemed to dry quickly in this climate. I hung my wrinkled coat, pants and dress shirt in the bathroom after a hot shower and the wrinkles were gone by the next day. My friends told me this only works if your clothes had been laundered before being wrinkled. 11. Motion sickness. Whether you're prone to motion sickness or not, you should take some kind of motion sickness medication at the beginning of the cruise. The front desk and infirmary dispense for free, a medication, I believe, called Sea Calm. We brought our own prescribed scopolamine patches. On the second day of the cruise during our first formal dining, the motion sickness illness literally crept-up on many unsuspecting diners. We were unaware that the waves were breaking 7-12 feet (and would reach 18 feet that night due to a storm). One by one, diners began exiting to their rooms before the main entrée. I overheard one diner say, " . . . let me out and get some air!" I don't know if she actually did. People said they felt better once they retreated from the fourth or fifth floor dining areas to the their cabins on the Dolphin deck which was on the first floor in the middle of the ship where the swaying seemed less pronounced. 12. Rotterdam Dining Room on 4th and 5th decks. There were 2 formal nights, one jacket/no tie night, one casual, and the others informal. We had a few rebels in our group who refused to wear a coat or tie but were permitted into the dinning area. So although required, the policy was not enforced. Before the cruise, you'll request how many people you want at your table. Tables in our area were set up from 2 to 8 persons per table and this is the table you'll have all your dinner meals. Menus included appetizers, soups, salads, main entrée, desserts (sugar-free ones too). As you cruise, you'll find that you can double order anything on the menu or order as many entrees as you wish. When it came to lobster night, we doubled our orders but our waiter tripled our orders so when we did ask for another lobster meal, he had them waiting for us. On the last night, my friend and I ordered and shared all four desserts listed on the menu. At the end of the cruise, the dinner menus except the last night's were presented to each couple. For some reason, no one received the dessert menus. As you entered the dining area, you were treated to live music (though we thought the playing of Theme from Titanic was a bit eerie) and extraordinary ice sculptures that were built from 300 pounds of specially frozen ice that cost $60. (There was an ice sculpture demonstration at the Lido pool where three sculptures were carved in 15 minutes!) On our last night, the waiters paraded baked Alaska desserts with lit sparklers to your table. Each night as you left the dining area there was a mint server who scooped mints or figs for you. He was one of the many friendly staff and each night he greeted us by our first names. His name was Yoman and he gets my vote for employee of the month. 13. Lido Restaurant buffet area on the 8th deck served buffets for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and themed "midnight" buffets of desserts, German, and French specialties. Even though we were on the Dolphin level (1st level) we worked off some calories by walking up all 8 flights of stairs each day. We usually stopped at the shops on the 5th floor before continuing to the Lido level. Walking down was no problem. The Lido provided a great view on either side of the ship. And being enclosed, we were able to observe eagles, seals, and even a brown bear from the comfort of our table. For the most part, breakfast was regular fare of omelets, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, cereals, fresh fruit, juices, smoked salmon slices, etc. (For our fellow kamaainas from Hawaii, we heard shoyu is available if you ask for it and the white rice requested was foreign.), lunch had awesome dishes such as Osso bucco, grilled fish, pasta dishes, and rotisserie chicken. Since we ate all our dinners in the Dining Room I can't comment on the Lido's dinners. The Lido also provided self-serve late night hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and water. Not even Las Vegas provides this kind of service. We always found seats at the Lido whether dining or having a hot chocolate. For planning purposes, the busiest breakfast was on the last day since everyone needed to be out of their rooms by 0800. We heard the wait at the Lido and the Dining Room was almost half an hour. The Lido does provide a smoking area. 14. Lido pool area provided hamburgers w/all the fixings, large hot dogs, and pizza slices in between the main meal hours. This is also the area for the salmon bake. Unfortunately, on our cruise the marinated salmon was blackened beyond recognition. Not a problem since Indonesian cuisine was also being served in the Lido restaurant. The Lido pool is also a good gauge of how much the ship is swaying side to side. One night around midnight we saw the pool's water sloshing back and forth. We knew the ship was swaying and remained tilted for a while as evidenced by the water in the pool was lower on one side than the other. The pool area also sponsors the nightly "cigars under the stars". 15. There are two dinner seating in the dining room. If you eat a lot during lunch and/or plan to attend the afternoon teas, you might want to select the second seating to space out your meals. Or if you plan to attend the late 2300 buffets, you might want to select the first seating. The Holland America staff was most accommodating. A couple in our group was able to squeeze into the second seating when they were late for the first seating due to an extended shore excursion. 16. Marco Polo Restaurant for Italian cuisine. I did not eat there but others in our group said the food and service were excellent! Reservations are required but keep trying as openings became available due to cancellations. 17. Fitness area is located on the 8th deck same as the Lido restaurant and Spa. One of the advantages of exercising on this level is that you can exercise while viewing the spectacular scenery over the front of the ship (I never did figure out aft, bow, port, or starboard!) When entering into the Juneau area in the morning, look for the house on an isolated island surrounded by tall pine trees, on the left. Exercise machines include: stair steppers (pedal type), free weights, cybex weight machines, a long line of treadmills over looking the front of the ship, towels, aerobics classes, etc. We exercised in the Fitness area in the mornings after our chilly but invigorating 1 mile walk or 3 and a half times around the deck. Considering how much food was being devoured, it's a wonder the Fitness area was never crowded. 18. Outside sports deck toward the rear of the ship includes a small combination volleyball/basketball court, a reduced sized tennis court that Holland America refers to as "practice" courts (leave your racket at home and use the ones provided and you might want to bring a can of dry tennis balls for practice hitting) and a shuffleboard area. To tell you the truth, it was so cold, I only visited this opened area twice, once to see what a practice tennis court looked like and the other time for a tour group picture of us shivering in hooded jackets, but this is another story. 19. Passport to Fitness sports incentive book is provided to record your participation in exercise functions such as the morning and/or afternoon 1-mile deck walks; aerobic classes; sport tournaments such as ping-pong, tennis; etc. Being from Hawaii, we made the mistake of showing up for our first deck walk at 0730 in shorts and t-shirt. We should have known something was wrong when everyone else was wearing parkas and warm-up suits. We should have received extra points that morning! But points were easy to come by. We received points for showing up at a ping-pong tournament even though it was cancelled because lounge chairs blocked access to the tables. By the way, there were only 5 paddles meaning you could have 2 singles games on two tables or only 1 doubles match on one table. I hope another paddle is found so both tables can be fully utilized. Anyway, for 10 points you receive a water bottle, for 25 points you'd receive a shirt, etc. 20. Debarkation. The Debarkation presentation is given the day before the actual debarkation and you'll be assigned a debarkation number. But don't worry if you miss the presentation, as it will be shown over and over and over on your TV until you disembark. Basically on the day of debarkation, your luggage must be tagged with colored tags provided by Holland America and placed in the hallway by 0200 and you should be out of your cabin by 0800. When your number is called, you'll disembark the ship and retrieve your luggage on the dock before you board your bus. Also, I believe the Holland America staff is not allowed to help you carry your carry-on luggage off the ship. So if you have heavy carry-on luggage that requires assistance, you might want to leave it out the night before. And at the debarkation presentation, everyone was reminded that everyone's charge account must be settled before any debarkation begins. So imagine my surprise when my name was unceremoniously blared over the entire ship's PA system that my account hadn't been settled and no one could leave the ship! I went to the Front Desk and found one lady arguing about erroneously being charged for two drinks and another lady claiming she was being overcharged on her account. To make a long story short, both ladies' pleaded (loudly, I might add) their cases and both bills were dropped. I assumed Holland America couldn't produce the signed charge slips passengers sign when they charge purchases on the ship. In my case, even though Holland America had charged my credit card for the first 5 days, they claimed my credit card wouldn't take my purchase of bingo cards purchased the day before. Hmmm. Go figure! This negative 20-minute episode at the Font Desk that should have taken a couple of minutes did not detract from what was an outstanding cruise! Needless to say, when I met my group I told them they had my permission to leave the ship. *smile* 21. The casino area includes a crap table; one roulette table; 4-5 blackjack tables with $5 minimum and double down on any two cards, 6 decks w/shoe; one fun blackjack table where the queens are thrown out; many slot machines; and tournaments for blackjack and slots. There was also one fun blackjack night where the dealer's hand was also dealt face-up, minimum bet $3. I didn't play this game but other people in our group who did said it wasn't easy to play and basic strategy doesn't work. 22. Bingo is very popular. $10 buys you 4 games or $20 will get you three cards for each of the same 4 games. Most jackpots were over $300 and the final jackpot was over $2,200. Three members in our group won jackpots. 23. Tipping. You will be read Holland America's official policy on tipping which is "tipping is not required". But tips are gladly accepted. Tipping was my way of recognizing certain members of the staff on their outstanding service. 24. Weather. Be ready for cold and rain when outdoors in the port towns or on the ship's open decks. Otherwise, if you stay inside the ship, it's like living in a hotel. 25. If you have time, don't miss the Sea Quest scavenger hunt. It's not advertised very well, but we caught the tail end of the event and found it very entertaining. 26. The Movie Theater showed current movies and provided a small bag of free popcorn. My only minor complaint is that the picture was so low to the floor that it was difficult to read the subtitles without standing up. 27. Washing and drying machines took only quarters and cost $2 and $1 per load, and detergent is provided. No dryer sheets however. 28. Clothes. Think layer and waterproof top and bottom. I brought an umbrella but found it inconvenient to carry around so I didn't use it. I instead used a waterproof jacket hood. 29. Cameras. Bring lots of film and back-up camera batteries. We rarely take photographs but ended up taking 7 rolls on a borrowed camera. (Word to wise: Remember to use your flash when taking pictures with a white background. Otherwise, you'll end up with two black silhouettes posing in front of a bright white glacier.) 30. Juneau excursion - we joined a private bus tour of the town with a stop at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center. It was very informative but our stop was not long enough to attend the informational movie and walk down the gravel path to the glacial lake for closer viewing of the glacier. Bring binoculars! You'll be surprised that although the glacier's surface looks like it's covered in dark dust, the dust is really comprised of large boulders and other large debris that the glacier movement has picked up. We were there when there was a thunderous sound, and the glacier calved off a piece of ice, resulting in a big splash and a clean, striking deep blue colored ice. Just marvelous. Are helicopter rides ever cancelled? That day, Juneau was cloudy, cold in the mid forties, light rain with the clouds coming in lower forcing the cancellation of all helicopter flights that morning. 31. Train ride to White Pass and return to Skagway. This is a relaxing 3-hour ride up and down, no off loading. If you do take this excursion, our recommendation is don't sit in the first or last train car otherwise you'll be inhaling diesel fumes on one leg of the trip. At the top of White Pass, the train's engines change sides so what was the caboose going up the Pass now becomes the first car behind the diesel engines. Complimentary sodas/juices are provided and chips/candy/videos are for sale. Standing between the train cars was the best spot for viewing the countryside and taking pictures. 32. Helicopter excursion from Skagway to Noarse Glacier took 18 minutes one-way and we stayed about 20 minute on the glacier. The helicopter ride was exciting but too short and somewhat expensive. Each helicopter carries 5 passengers and glacier-walking boots are provided for your safety. 33. Canoe excursion at Ketchikan. We were warned it rains 300 days out of a year in Ketchikan and sure enough it rained the day we scheduled our canoe ride. Can't remember the name of the lake but it took a 45 minute drive to get there. Although the weather was miserable at best, this was my best shore excursion experience. We were provided clean port-a-potties and clean rain jackets and pants. In a medium rain, we paddled out onto the lake, visited the lake's island, received an informative talk about the plants and wildlife, and stopped to have clam chowder, hot chocolate, smoked salmon, and mints served in skunk cabbage flowers. That day's hot clam chowder never tasted better! But for me, the highlight was out racing the other canoe after they had a head start. Also, when returning to Ketchikan, we spotted no fewer than a dozen eagles perched in the pine trees probably waiting for the fishing boats to dock and throw fish remains into the sea. Look for white golf balls in the trees. 34. Ship lectures by a naturalist named Jay were exciting, and informative; and for the majority of his lectures, he used his own stunning photographs. One memorable photo was one of the 2-mile wide (10,480 foot) Pan-American glacier that dwarfed and towered over a 795 foot cruise ship that floated in its shadow. That photo truly communicated the overpowering width and height of the glacier. To put it into perspective, the glacier is 13 times wider than the length of the ship! Just taking a picture of the glacier doesn't do it justice. 35. Library & Internet rooms. Logging-on cost is .75 per minute and on some days you could receive 5 free minutes after the first 10 minutes. 36. Shops on-board and off ship. There were ship's photographers throughout the ship taking posed pictures of its passengers "at no obligation." If you did have a picture taken of you, you need to see your photo at the Photo Shop and if you want, you could purchase the photos. Prices varied. There is also a Duty Free Shop. Their inventory was limited but where else can you buy a carton of Marlboro for less than $19? Shopping off the ship. We noticed because we were one the first cruises of the season, many shops were just receiving their season's inventory and putting the finishing touches before "fully" opening their stores for the Summer rush. Some of the shoppers in our group felt cruising later in the season might have been better when all the stores were opened and well stocked. 37. Salmon fishing. The salmon were not running and don't until June/July. Being this is the first cruise of the season, salmon fishing was not an option. 38. Vancouver: internet access was free at the public library; all you need is library card if you were from Canada or the lower 48 states. Being from Hawaii and not eligible for a card, the accommodating librarian logged me on and I was able to spend a few minutes on-line and check my emails. He was one of the many friendly, no hassle Canadians we met and we plan to return and see if the rest of Canada's people possess a similar kind of attitude. 39. Motion sickness illness after the cruise? We heard that taking medication after the cruise might be helpful and from our experience, this may not be such a bad idea. Several people in our group reported feeling ill and dizzy once they returned to land, very similar to how they felt on the cruise during the 12-foot waves. However, others did not. From general observation of our group, if you were sick on the cruise, odds were good you would be ill for a couple of days on land too. I apologized for having rambled on so long. I hope my notes of Zaandam's maiden voyage into the Alaska Inland Passage were helpful. As I said earlier, for me this first time cruise exceeded all my expectations!

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Mar 7, 2001

Caribbean Seafarer

The next stop was my all-time favorite, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Isles.  Despite what another posting claimed, you cannot legally buy booze any cheaper!!  In addition, this is a paradise for home electronics buyers.  I was able to purchase a Panasonic Digital Camcorder for $370 dollars less than the best price back home.  There was of course, no tax.  There are several worthwhile tours available at decent prices.  I recommend

that you take the Kon Tiki Party Boat cruise.  It is a blast --with unlimited rum drinks. Our final stop was Nassau in the Bahamas.  I can best describe it as a flat pancake with a water tower in the middle.  We took a tour of the city and the Ardastra Gardens, where we were treated to a show of colorful trained flamingos.  Shopping is touted as being duty-free, but I wasn't impressed. Accommodations-- Our cabin measured approximately 1,126 sq. ft.  It had a huge bathroom with a king-size jacuzzi, double sinks and a separate shower.  The bedroom had a king size bed, dressing table, mirror, and a 21 inch TV.  The living room had a full size wrap-around sofa, table and two additional chairs.  It also had a complete stereo system with a large collection of CD's.  There was a desk and a large TV. The dining room had a table and eight chairs, a side bar, and came equipped with enough glassware for a banquet.  In addition, there was a separate pantry room with a sink, a full-size refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven and a commercial sized juicer. The verandah had a round table with four chairs, and two chaise lounges.  We really enjoyed having breakfast or lunch out there, and especially so at night, for cocktails under the stars. Suite amenities included complimentary laundry service, personalized stationery, hors d'oeuvres before dinner, a high tea served in your suite, a private cocktail party with the captain, plus a private luncheon and a dinner, also with the captain. Dining-- In general, the food ranged from very good to excellent.  The variety and presentation was astonishing.  For some reason, our fellow travelers didn't seem to care for cheese, and we took full advantage of the large variety. The Marco Polo restaurant was our favorite, and we ate there three times.  They served a Carpaccio that would rival any gourmet restaurant ashore.  I advise you to make early reservations, or you will be out of luck. Unlike Princess, the ice cream on board is free, as are the cappuccino and cookies served every day in the Java Cafe. On every sailing, there is a Chocolate extravaganza evening.  You can't believe both the endless variety and the quality of those chocolate desserts. As any frequent cruiser knows, the captain usually greets you at his welcome reception with a somewhat limp shaking of hands.  Not so with Captain Jack van Coevorden of the Zaandam.  This man really enjoyed his work and relished meeting people.  It was a pleasure meeting and dining with him and his wife, who sailed with him on this voyage. In summary, in spite of a somewhat disappointing itinerary, we gave HAL, this cruise and this ship, five stars for service, ambience and value received.  We have already booked another cruise with HAL to the Mexican Riviera this December.

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Mar 7, 2001

Southern Caribbean

Our 6th cruise on HAL and the best yet. What made it especially enjoyable were the fine food created by head chef Wolfgang Nasshausen and pastry chef Mario. The entrees offered in the main dining room combined with an excellent waiter created the best dining experience we have enjoyed on any cruise. The other factor that greatly added to our enjoyment of this cruise were the musicians- the Champagne Strings in the dining room and Explorer

Lounge and the great dance music nightly in the Crows Nest provided by the Wilson Palomo Quartet. We enjoyed all the ports of call except Bonaire (poor beaches over run with coral) and St. Thomas (7 mega ships in town on the same day). Our only complaint was they did not offer lunch in the alternate Marco Polo restaurant on the three sea days as we enjoyed last year on sister ship Volendam. Overall, an excellent cruise with the usual great HAL service staff.

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Sep 2, 2000

Western Caribbean

My husband and myself were looking forward to sailing on a beautiful new ship for his 60th birthday. Our travel agent booked this trip and was not aware that the Zaandam has a main galley in the center of the ship on deck 4. Our room was on deck 3(the lower promenade deck) which was directly under the main galley. We were unable to sleep as we constantley heard dishes being wheeled into the kitchen, pots and pans banging, and people

yelling all night long. After complaining to the HOlland America  Guest Relations Manager Marion Keijer-Koopman and the Hotel Manager, Nick Burger we were told that there was another available room, but we would have to pay an additional 200.00 a person more. They did not care that we could not sleep and were indiferent to our well being. They would rather have an empty room than satisfy a passengers need. We had to wait 2 days more before Mr. Burger got permission to move us to another room on the first deck (Dolphin Deck) After this terrible experience I cannot really write a glowing review of this ship or their representatives. I did find the ship to be cold, quiet and not the fun filled lively vacation I thought I would have. There was no music or fun poolside. The center pool (main pool)was so hot that it was unbearable. You could not cool off in the water as it must have been over 90 degrees.The back pool was fine, but it was so quiet there that it was actually boring.  We could not wait to get off the ship at one of the many ports. Unfortunately, we did not stay long enough at any of these ports. The ship sailed after only being there a few hours. At Grand Cayman Island we had to be back at the ship at 1:30. Needless to say, we did not see very much on this trip. We fould ourselves running back to the ship. The ship was, for a new ship, decorated terribly. The night club looked like they were color blind. There are so many colors and different seats that it is an ugly mess. The dining room and Marco Polo Rooms are beautiful. The food is good also but on one occas ion we were told that they ran out of Lobster Tails and we could not have anymore. Even in the casino, the dealers did not smile or appear to be having a good time, especially when people were winning. They kept changing dealers when people started to win. The casino on this ship is a joke. It's so small and smoky that even being in there was not enjoyable. I am sorry that I can say that this experience on the Holland America Line has left me quite disturbed. I have written to them and have not heard a word from them. I would not recommend that anyone go on this ship. There are a lot better ships to go on than this one. Don't throw away our money.

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Aug 5, 2000

Western Caribbean

Holland America's new Zaandam is a beautiful, clean ship and was a great compromise for our ages which range from 8 to retired. My parents, wife, daughter, and I went on the Western Caribbean cruise. The ship leaves at 5pm with boarding at 3pm. I recommend you arrive by 1pm at the latest so that you can book your shore excursions, spa appointments, and dinner reservation at the Marco Polo before they are all sold out. We were on

the ship with all this taken care of in time for a late lunch on the Lido deck. My parents stayed in a regular ocean view room and we opted for the mini-suite. The mini-suite was not too much bigger than a standard room, but it had lots of little extras, most importantly the private veranda which measured approximately 6' x 9'. The main atrium was only three stories and the view was obstructed by the giant organ in the middle (which didn't work). The overall effect was not near as impressive as most modern ships that have glass elevators and grand staircases. There may have been hydraulic problems in general since there was a delay one afternoon in leaving because a tender couldn't be raised back up onto the ship and here were also occasional problems with the elevators. The main dining room was first class in its design, service, and food. However, the wine steward was over-worked most nights. We had a great experience in the smaller Marco Polo restaurant as well-- don't forget reservations ASAP. The Lido deck offered a great variety of food for both breakfast and lunch. It was serve yourself, but someone would always help my daughter carry her tray to the table. Finally, we enjoyed three of the four ports. "Downtown" Ocho Rios, Jamaica was almost third world in its look and Dunn's River Falls was just O.K.  Holland America's Half Moon Key, Bahamas was a highlight and looked as good as the brochure Overall, I recommend the cruise for almost anyone. The Zaandam is a luxury ship that appeals to all tastes and ages.

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Aug 5, 2000

Western Caribbean

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.cruisereviews.com/mature/Ryndam3.htm 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," which we 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. S OME 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 frighten 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. Remember, it's only our opinion. 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. We particularly enjoy helping first time cruisers. If you e-mail us, would you please tell us on what web-site you saw our review. May your next cruise be your best, Happy Cruising, Tom & Mary Milano [email protected]     

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Jul 1, 2000

Eastern Caribbean

We just returned from a wonderful cruise aboard Holland Americas's new ship, the Zaandam. This was our sixth cruise. Previously, we've been on the: Majesty of the Seas (RCCL) Viking Serenade (RCCL) Sun Princess (Princess) Legend of the Seas (RCCL) Century (Celebrity) The ship is gorgeous. We like new ships for that exact reason. Everything was new and in perfect condition. We had a minisuite with a balcony on the Navigator Deck (7).

Our daughter had an inside cabin just a few doors down from us. Her cabin number was 7086. I mention this because 7086 is a great buy; it's considered an inside cabin, but it has a window that looks out over the back of the ship! I might have read that the inside cabins are a bit smaller than the outside. Since this cabin is at the end of a hallway with all inside cabins on one side and minisuites or suites on the other side, maybe it is smaller than a regular outside cabin so they sell it as an inside. I really don't know, but it was a great cabin. If you look at a layout of the ship, the layout does show the window. We noticed this and were anxious to see if she indeed had a window. Sure enough, and with a nice view. The main activity of the ship takes place around the Lido pool. This is domed pool area. We are not fond of domed pools usually. From reviews we've read and our experience on the Legend of the Seas, the dome is generally closed even in nice weather. This makes for a stuffy atmosphere. But, on the Zaandam, except for one brief period of rain, they kept the dome completely open the entire week. It was a lovely area with the steel band, loungers, tables and chairs, and the hamburger and pizza food area.  We spent a good deal of time on the Sports deck which is sort of the balcony of the outdoor pool area. The ship was completely maxed out. When we booked our cruise, HAL wasn't even allowing a 3rd or 4th person to book into a cabin which is why we booked a separate cabin for our daughter. Thanks to our wonderful TA, Lori Cunningham, we got a great! deal on the extra cabin. Thanks, Lori. Suffice to say, the ship was more than full. Even so, there was always a lounger available and the ship never, absolutely never, seemed crowded. It was impressive. They always had tea at 4:00 up in the Crow's Nest, which is the disco area at night. That was nice, but on Thursday, they had High Dutch Tea in the regular dining room (which is beautiful, by the way). It was quite the lavish affair with a billion delightful sandwiches and petit fours. Very, very nice. I won't say alot about the food, but it was very good. There was a nice variety and it was all delicious. We only ate in the dining room at dinner. For lunch, we generally ate from the Lido buffet. I have to say that this buffet was probably a cut above the buffets on other ships we've been on. For breakfast, we always had room service so we could enjoy it on our balcony. Although our daughter had her own cabin, she spent most of her time in ours. She's 23 by the way; we didn't dump some little kid off into her own cabin. There was plenty of room for all of us to lounge around on the balcony. The balcony has teak railing with clear Plexiglas so we could see out easily. Very nice. My favorite food place on the ship was the Java Bar. I'm definitely a coffee snob and enjoyed many cappuccinos. You could also get espresso, cappuccino, and lattes at dinner and from room service. The Zaandam has an alternative Italian restaurant. The first full day of the cruise, they take reservations during specific hours. Within just a couple of hours, all the reservations were taken for the entire cruise. We did not get in on this; I didn't realize how popular it would be. So, if you're interested, be very aware of the reservation time and get in line early. I heard there was quite a crowd. There were just a couple of negatives for us. One thing we enjoy on cruises is taking aerobic classes and using the workout area. The Zaandam has a very nice workout area with plenty of equipment. But they only had one aerobic class per day, which was always early in the morning, and no step classes. We talked to the one aerobic instructor they had who said she'd teach step every day if they had them. Steps are not all that expensive and other ships do have them. It'd be nice if HAL got "in step" so to speak. The other negative was the availability of spots on the more active-oriented shore excursions. We turned in our shore excursion request form by 4 p.m. of the day we embarked, but two of the excursions we wanted were sold out. We then turned in another one that evening (we haven't been on the ship more than 8 hours yet), but no luck. The excursions we did take were nice, but... Twice I heard the shore excursion people mention that they only had four spots total on a couple of the tours. That's not too many for a ship that holds almost 2000 people. We are planning to go to the Mediterranean next summer. We've heard that a new HAL ship, the Amsterdam, will be in the Med. We'd love to consider cruising on her, but won't due to our experience with the shore excursions on this cruise. We are aware that you always need to get your shore excursion form in early, but have never before had a problem when we turn it in the day of embarkation or early the first full cruise day. I'd hate to go to the Mediterranean and not be able to see what we want due to a similar situation. Our cruise was Eastern Caribbean. We visited Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay (HAL's private island).  Nassau is a dump. Normally, we'd have taken a tour, but the stop was only from 7 a.m. to noon and we didn't want to get up early. You never get a good impression of a place by shopping around the dock area, so maybe I shouldn't judge by that. We could see Paradise Island from the dock. I think I'd go over there, if I went to Nassau again. Somebody we talked to went diving in Nassau and enjoyed it alot. San Juan was very interesting. We took a walking tour in Old San Juan. It was fascinating. We visited El Morro and got alot of Puerto Rico history. The cobblestones in Old San Juan are blue, made of volcanic rock. They were laid in the 1600s. We took a cab to see the El San Juan hotel. The hotel is nice, but the area it's in is not. Our tour guide in Old San Juan gave us a couple of restaurant and Puerto Rican food recommendations. So, for dinner we had Mofongo. Mofongo is mashed plantains with meat in the center. We had Mofongo with shrimp in Creole sauce and Mofongo with chicken in garlic sauce. Both were good, but the chicken and garlic was fantastic. I'm going to look for a Puerto Rican cookbook. The food was wonderful. St. Thomas is lovely, but we spent most of the day on the beach on St. John. We went to St. John on a replica of a Chesapeake Bay oyster boat, the Leylon Sneed. We could've gotten off the ship on St. John, but that would've meant getting up at 6:30 a.m. I don't think so. The sand is like powder with the most gorgeous water we'd ever seen until we got to Half Moon Cay. Half Moon Cay, well, I could live there. A very nice private island with that same powdery sand and crystal clear water. Absolutely fantastic. My husband and daughter went Flats Fishing in the morning, then we went kayaking in the afternoon. A fabulous day. I have to say that, given Holland America's reputation as a cruise line catering to older people, we were pleasantly surprised at the great night life on the ship. Lots of people were up in the disco every night, which sometimes had a live band. They had theme nights, 70's, country western, and a 50's prom night. The name "prom night" cracked me up, since I always refer to formal nights as a prom for adults. One thing that was different is that all, but the two formal nights, were casual dress for dinner. Our cruise tickets said that there were two casual nights, three informal, and two formal. So, we were a bit overdressed a few nights. I meant to ask our table mates if their tickets said the same, but forgot. Our table mates were terrific, George and Jackie from Memphis along with their son Harrison and his friend Ben. Harrison and Ben are high school seniors and were absolutely delightful company, as were George and Jackie of course. We had lots of fun meeting up with them each evening. The entertainment was standard cruise fare, but most enjoyable just the same.  This is the first ship we've been on with an Internet center, the Website. We were able to send and receive email from the home folks. I think it was 75 cents per minute, about $4 to send an email message and free to receive one. The Website was great.  If you have any questions or comments, just drop us an email at: [email protected] Happy Cruising.- Linda and Larry Adams

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal

Embarkation in San Diego: HAL has been called "God's waiting room". When we arrived at the embarkation facility, were given a boarding number and sat in a cavernous white room, I thought it was really true. I think this facility is under construction. I hope so at least because it was noisy and hard to hear any of the announcements. Other than that it went smoothly. Clientele on Board: Don't believe all you hear about how old the clientele

are. They do not have wheelchair races for the amusement of the ship’s staff - the staff were not amused. This being a 16-day cruise while school was in session, we had exactly 3 kids on board - and they wondered how we all knew their names! Needless to say, no noise, no running, no crowded swimming pools – geriatric heaven. Truth be told, the older folks were more friendlier than the few embryos (by comparison) we had on board. The non-mature of us tend to be shyer, have less to say, are more defensive of our space. The more mature of us are always wanting to pass-on a good story. What with HAL’s reputation and the length of this cruise, the passengers were definitely a higher class. They actually looked like the models in the brochure books. You know, the silver hair - blue blazer couple. Actually every day I could see my hair get grayer and grayer. The Ship: A lot has been said about the atrium, all true. That white plaster organ looks like a cork in a hole. Okay, it’s fun to hear the music on the hour, but not enough to schedule your day around. Otherwise, it was like a white elephant. The ship is laid out in typical segregated HAL fashion. The higher class rooms on top, conveniently located between the lounge/dining floors and the Ledo deck, and the lower class rooms below all this. The Captain seemed to pop up more often than on our other cruises. He seemed genuinely friendly. Our Room: HAL is known for larger than average rooms. However, our mini suite was smaller than the Princess Line’s Grand-class mini suites. I’ve got to tell ya’, those Princess mini suites are sweet. All in all, the HAL mini suites are okay, but the closet “hanging area” is tight. There are plenty of shelves and drawers though. Even in the mini suite, the bathrooms were still only big enough for one person. There was plenty of storage in the medicine cabinet and under the sink. The bathrooms came equipped with shampoo, lotion, bath and hand soap, shower caps, and drinking glasses large enough to hold dentures. The tubs were nice as was the adjustable shower head. However, it was a real problem trying to keep the water in the tub while taking a shower. This was really a problem when in port and tendering because the ship would list (uneven weight distribution?) to port and in our starboard-side room you had to walk uphill to get into the cabin. Anyway the shower water would run downhill onto the bathroom floor and we had a swimming pool one day because the floor drain didn’t. They should put in shower doors instead of curtains or at least use some kind of channeling device to keep the water spray from running down and out the side of the tub. And boy, did this ship creak. When the ship was under power, the floor would shutter every 5 seconds and various wall and ceiling joints would creak. We had the maintenance man in our room twice jamming wedges into the seems to stop the creaking. The floor still shuttered but you got used to it. Other people I heard had this same problem in their room. I do know that the main office creaked like a haunted house when the ship was moving so I think it was poor design on somebody’s part. The safe uses a credit card to close. That’s their philosophy. Personally, I prefer a number code lock. Maybe older folks forget numbers easily so a credit card is more reliable. The Zaandam, unlike some other HAL ships, did not have a scanner device that matches your room key card with a picture of yourself that can be used to identify passengers as they return to the ship. Therefore, when going ashore, you needed to carry an ID to get back on (but not to get off? – wonder how many problems that caused). This means you needed to carry your room key card, your credit card, your ID card, and cash with you when you left the ship, or your room key card and credit card just to walk around the ship. On the other hand, this requirement keeps your mind sharp so you don’t fall into that mind numbing trance of “eating-sleeping, eating-sleeping”. We thought the balcony was great for canal viewing. It was convenient and the canal talk was channeled through the TV and the room radio. We used the balcony a lot to talk to our neighbors also. We are spoiled in this respect, we enjoy the view and the natural light that the expansive glass of balcony rooms offer. Television: Could use more channels. Enjoyed the movies they showed which were the same ones they showed in the movie theater. We enjoyed the movie theater and the fresh popped popcorn. Lines for food and tendering: This was not a problem. HAL ships have a lower density of passengers plus older people don’t take as many excursions and certainly don’t go to the beach as much. Therefore on their private island, absolutely no lines for food and plenty of beach chairs and cabanas for all. And if there was a hint of a line, older people can’t walk fast so it was easy to get in front of them (just kidding). And the elevators were always empty (or broken). Quite a change from our previous cruises where the elevators were always full. Food: The food was great. Definitely better than Princess (which was okay), the only other cruise line I have been on. The specialty restaurant, Marco Polo, was even better. Try the veal. The ice cream bar was popular. However they never had any chocolate until I complained, then they had it every day. So it does pay to fill out those surveys they hand out in mid-cruise. Another popular item was the cinnamon danish at breakfast. They had a winner there. It was so popular, the pastry cart was always out of it first. But the server could go to the kitchen and get you more if you requested. It became sort of a running joke between me and the other passengers who knew how good it was. The service staff: There were problems with understanding English. Whereas on Princess where the staff learned English in school in their native Eastern European country, the Filipino and Indonesian public schools evidently do not teach English. On embarkation, they insisted on showing you to your room, even though most of the passengers, I’m sure, knew exactly where their room was. But if they insisted, then why didn’t they do the whole job. I mean, they showed you to the room and that was it. Then they waited as if expecting some reward. They didn’t show you how the shower knobs worked – there was a separate knob for temperature with a scald-prevent stop button that could be overridden. They didn’t show you how the safe worked. They didn’t tell you about the built-in radio above the headboard – a passenger had to tell us about it. When using room service, we frequently ended up with wrong or incorrectly prepared food items. It seemed the more you explained, the more confused they got. So double check everything that is delivered before the attendant leaves. The dining room staff were not overly friendly or trying to be your best friend. Actually, I enjoy when they try to be. It makes dining fun. Only the wine steward was “bubbly”, so everyone at our table had a good time with him. He knew how to work the crowd and I’m sure was rewarded as much. Cruise staff – Entertainment: Disorganized was the word used most often. This is probably because this was a repositioning itinerary. The staff were all new. And the cruise director (Jessica) while seemingly nice, was aloof. An exception was Calvin. He made friends with everyone and everyone loved him. Hopefully this situation will be rectified when the ship gets into a routine plying the Caribbean. The entertainment in the show lounge was, well, lounge-grade. We only saw one large production show. There was another one on the first night we boarded but we were too tired to go see it. It was hardly the Vegas or Broadway style entertainment we had become accustomed to on the Princess cruises. The were a couple of really good acts, the rest were okay, nothing to write home about. On sea days, there were not more activities than on port days. So bring a good book. Cruise Photos: Very laid back as was the whole cruise. You weren’t inundated with strange creatures (e.g. “pirates”) every night at dinner to have your picture taken with. You did not feel compelled to take or buy any pictures. Internet Café: There were about 8 stations. This isn’t large but it was enough for the passengers on this ship. The data throughput speed seemed to be similar to dial-up. It was probably regulated for each workstation since it didn’t increase when only one computer was in use. The cost varied from 40 cents per minute to 75 cents per minute depending on the plan you chose. Panama Canal: It may have been a spectacular wonder in 1914 when it opened, but by today’s standards, yawn. It not like it’s a joy ride, the ship moves but there is no sensation of movement. You can’t see the water rush in or out since it flows through the bottom of the channel. The real excitement is seeing the other ships, mainly cargo, close up. What really gets your blood flowing is hearing about all the graft, corruption, and kickbacks that were part of the canal building process. Tours: The tour charges seemed high for what was offered. I know for a fact that HAL charges an average $5 more than Royal Caribbean for the exact same tour. But what are you gonna do! Also, if you try to arrange your own tour, the tour company “seats” are all already reserved for the cruise ship. The exception was in Grand Cayman, where we used Captain Marvin for a Stingray City excursion. Stingray City is a must - phenomenal. Be warned when taking those “overview” tours, that’s a euphemism for “shopping”. We enjoyed the beach and snorkeling excursions the most. The jeep tour of Aruba was also fun. Other than that, the ports (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta after the hurricane, Huatulco, Puntarenas, Aruba, Grand Cayman) were tourist ports (i.e., “traps”) – all had the same merchandise, prices, and mundane buildings. This is not Europe folks. Shopping: The prices on board were very reasonable. They have a low price guarantee too. The shopping on land was not enticing. Like I said, typical tourist jewelry and perfume stores. Everything was expensive. It may have been a good value (you must do research) but still expensive. I doubt if the residents of those towns shop in those stores. We actually enjoyed dealing the most with the street vendors. Low prices, good quality, and it was fun to feel that you got a “steal”. Debarkation: This was the first time the Zaandam had docked in Port Canaveral, and it showed. It took forever to do anything – dock, security, customs. The first passengers were let off at 10:30 a.m., usually when the last passengers get off. We finally were let off at 11:30 a.m. but then had to wait an hour and a half for the buses to the airport because they did not have enough buses even though we had all prepaid for this transportation. A real disaster. Lucky for us our plane was scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. departure from Orlando. HAL so far has not acknowledged any correspondence from us or others we have talked to about this problem. This left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth after such a fun cruise. At least we all had a lot to talk about on the hour-long bus trip to the airport. Overall: We enjoyed seeing our (new) friends every day, on the ship or on excursion. On a trip of this length you do make a lot of friends. It was like living in a retirement village. The ship was conveniently sized, offered great food, evening entertainment that you did not feel compelled to see (a plus for some), and non-frenzied daily activities. A good time was had by all. Despite all I have said above, there’s no doubt we would take a HAL ship again. It was the fellow passengers who made it all worthwhile.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

One year ago I told my husband that we should plan a New Years cruise. While we have cruised previously (3 times on Celebrity, 3 times on Carnival and 1 time on Royal Caribbean) we have never cruised with our parents, and never on a Holiday Sailing. We were a group of 7, my husband and myself, both early 40’s, our kids 10 and 14, my in-laws, both in their 70’s and my father who is 88. Since we had such a broad range of ages we decided

on Holland America. We felt it was the best cruise line for such a diverse group. We also like to cruise from Port Canaveral and the Zaandam seemed to fit our needs nicely. Everyone except my father are all experienced cruisers. To date our favorite cruise line is Celebrity, with the Infinity being our favorite ship. We knew that Holland America would compare in many ways with Celebrity. In many ways HAL exceeded our expectations, but in a few areas they didn’t. Please bear in mind that this review is based on our personal opinions and our own observations. Embarkation We had Basik Shuttle Service pick us up at our home at 11:15am. We always find it easier when traveling with a large group to arrange transportation, rather than having to take two cars. They came out with a 15 passenger van, and about an hour later we were pulling into Port Canaveral. The lines weren’t that long and after a short wait we were on board the Zaandam at about 1:30pm. We heard music being played and were warmly greeted and escorted to our cabins. Being escorted to our cabins was a nice touch that we missed on our past two cruises. After going to our cabins we were all happily surprised to see our luggage was already in our cabins. Shortly afterwards we all met and went to the Lido Deck for lunch. The selection was wonderful, and there was not one complaint about anyone’s choices. Afterwards we unpacked and explored the ship. What a beautiful ship the Zaandam is. On Holiday cruises ships are decorated magnificently and the Zaandam was no exception. Glorious decorations were everywhere, even on each cabin door and they really added a festive touch to the cruise. Cabins Our group was divided into three cabins. We had connecting cabins 2635 and 2633 on the Main Deck, and cabin 6223 Mini Suite on the Verandah deck. Both the cabins on the main deck were more than adequate for 2 or 3 cruisers. There was ample closet space, and everyone loved the shelves that you can adjust to your needs in the closets. The bathroom was very impressive, with a tub and not a stall shower. Everything was up to par in both of the standard cabins that our group had. The cabin steward Danielle was adequate and did a good job, but did not try to go out of his way for anything. My husband and I had a mini-suite on the Verandah deck. Our cabin was quite large and very well appointed. We can honestly compare the two types of cabins and felt that our cabin was worth the extra money. There was a better TV, including a VCR, a refrigerator, an expanded desk area with more drawer space than the standard cabin, and adequate closet space. The mini-suites have the same amount of closet space as the standard cabins. Our bathrooms were identical with the exception of our tub being a Jacuzzi (for one) and better quality towels, soaps and such. Our bed was set up as a queen and we were surprised to find that even though it was two beds put together you can’t feel the seem whatsoever. Our steward Dwi was excellent and kept our cabin emmaculate. There was not one request that wasn’t met with a smile and a gracious demeanor. He is such a professional, who made us feel like we were his personal guests. After the first night we moved our daughter in our cabin (who was originally staying with my in laws on the main deck) and he wasn’t phased whatsoever. Kudo’s to HAL for helping us expedite the transition of our daughter from one cabin to another. Dwi always made sure that we had enough of everything, including extras. One of the highlights of any cruise to us is spending time on our verandah. Our lives are quite hectic and we always seem to relax and unwind while sipping a cocktail on our verandah. We find it to be one of the most relaxing parts of our whole cruise experience. Herein lies our biggest complaint about our cruise, and to us it is a major one. We always choose aft cabins, as I am a smoker who does not want to offend others while having a cigarette on the verandah. Since the far aft cabin is a handicapped cabin, we were able to get the cabin next to it. Unfortunately our cabin, and the two to our left and the far aft cabin to our right were constantly under water. A couple of inches of water would slosh between all of our cabins. There were very few times we were able to go out on the verandah barefoot without stepping into water. Even on sunny days there was always a pool of water that covered our verandah. This was no fault of our steward, but rather a design flaw of the ship. There was nothing our steward could do to stop the onslaught of water onto our verandah. Even on sunny days there was always a pool of water that covered at least half of our verandah. We were able to use it, but not without having shoes on. This left the carpet quite wet at times which became an annoyance. This was disappointing to say the least. We made the best of it and sort of chuckled at times, but other than our flooded verandah, the cabin was really a very nice cabin that would have been perfect. Food WOW – what can we say about the food on Holland America. We had all of our breakfasts on the Lido Deck. There was always a huge selection with plenty to choose from. One of our favorite things for breakfast was the made to order omelettes and the fresh squeezed orange juice. The regular selections always included French Toast, Pancakes, Smoked Salmon, Scrambled and Fried Eggs along with a huge selection of bread, toast and cereals. Lunches were also taken on the Lido Deck with plenty to choose from. There was always a couple of hot dishes, plenty of salads and lots of desserts to choose from. I personnally liked the deli station and my husband loved the alternative station (one day curries, one day pasta made to order, another day oriental, etc.) Our son absolutely loved the grill and the taco bar. I don’t think there was one day where he didn’t get a taco of some sort. For dinners we all ate in the Rotterdam dining room. We sat at first sitting and our table was # 142, on the lower floor across from a window. We had a table of 7. Our waiter was Tomee and there was never any problem with getting what we want. There was always a great selection for soup, salad and an entrée. Some of the highlights were Crab legs, Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Dover Sole and so much more. There were times that our daughter (who is 10) couldn’t find anything to eat from the adults menu. Tomee always made sure that she received a Kid’s menu and was able to pick and choose from both menus. Our wine steward was also wonderful, and always made sure we had our cocktail of choice ready when we arrived. Everyone, including the Head Waiter was absolutely great and true professionals. The service we received during dinner was always top notch. We didn’t eat in the Marco Polo, but spoke to those who did and who gave the experience 5 stars. Our son ordered room service a couple of times and he said the service and the food was really good. All in all, the food on Holland America was really great. The only complaint we have (and it is slight) is that the food is definitely cooked a bit on the bland side. We occasionally like some spice to our food. Other than being a bit bland at times, there was not one complaint about any of the food on the Zaandam. Entertainment There was plenty of entertainment on the Zaandam. Our parents took in every show and thought they were all done professionally and really enjoyed them. Also, there were many different bands playing throughout the ship at all times. Strings in one bar, a trio in another the choices were there. There are many different lounges throughout the ship such as the Crows Nest, The Ocean Bar, The Piano Bar and the Seaview Lounge. All had different types of music that covered all different tastes. There was also the obligatory Bingo Sessions. To our amazement they actually ran out of Bingo Cards during one session which really upset some folks. We have never seen that happen before. The casino was very small, and in my opinion the slot machines were extremely tight, although I did win a small amount of money on one machine. This was the first cruise that I did not play any roulette, as in my opinion most of the dealers were not that friendly. I normally enjoy playing roulette while at sea but with happy friendly dealers. In fact on our last cruise on the Pride I spent many a night at the casino with wonderful dealers. Everytime I got near the roulette table on the Zaandam I was put off by the attitude of the dealer. Not one was ever smiling, or even acknowledged my presence even though there was no one playing at the time. I look at it as HAL’s loss as I had money to spend playing roulette, and the money wound up coming home with me (my husband was greatful). There was also a Casino Bar which normally had ESPN playing on the Monitor. However, on the night that the College Championship was playing there was Tennis on the TV at the Casino bar and not the game. Unfortunately Holland America did not pay for the rights to broadcast the game which upset many a person on the ship. I give high marks to the staff on the Zaandam as they did come down and explain to the crowd why they could not broadcast the game, and told everyone who to contact at HAL to state their dissatisfaction. They did bring in a radio feed so those who wanted to listen to the game were able to do so in the Library. Other than that glitch there were many other things to do while on the ship, the galley tour, the art auctions, etc. All in all our opinion of the entertainment and activities for adults were fine. There is always something for anyone’s tastes. Club Hal Not too much has been written about Club HAL on reviews, so here are our perspectives. Our daughter is 10 and was put into the Tween Group (9 – 12). Normal hours for Club Hal were 7:30pm to the latest 9:30pm on port days and 10:00am – 12:00pm 2:00pm – 4:00pm and 8:00pm – 9:30pm on sea days. While she had a great time in the activities, and came off the ship with many items from Club HAL (A tee shirt, a purse, a fanny pack and a hat) she was disappointed at the lack of nighttime activities, especially during formal nights. While our daughter does occasionally like to dress up, she would prefer changing later on in the evening and having fun with her new found friends. We don’t understand why there are such limited hours for activities in Club HAL, especially on Formal Nights. On other lines hours are much more expanded and many more activities are planned for the kids. While we are not the type of cruisers who dump our kids off in the kids program day and night, we do like to enjoy Formal Nights sans our kids. I understand that HAL does not cater to those with children, but expanded hours at least on Formal Nights would be a great thing. Most activities ended at 9:30pm which left an entire night with nothing to do for our daughter. We did have her join us on some nights in some of the lounges to listen to some music, but for a 10 year old that isn’t really too exciting. Our son is 14 and Club HAL grouped him with teens that were much older than he was (teens are grouped from 13 – 17). He felt uncomfortable with the older teens and was too old for the younger group. Unfortunately that left him out of many activities. He enjoyed spending time watching sports in the Casino Bar, but other than the very small arcade there was nothing for him to do on the Zaandam. Both of our kids enjoyed eating in the dining room (they both love great food and great service) and they enjoyed the ice cream bar immensely, but as far as organized programs for kids we found HAL to be way below Celebrity. Both of our kids really enjoy Celebrity’s kids program, and both stated they prefer Celebrity to Holland America. Oddly enough Celebrity doesn’t market too strongly to families (the same way that HAL does) but the kids programs and facilities are really truly great on Celebrity. This is a major flaw with HAL from our perspective, as we enjoy good food, great service and everything HAL had to offer us, but not as a family vacation. Ports of Call Since this was a Holiday cruise the ports of call were not the regular ones. We had the Amsterdam in every port as we were (The Amsterdam left from Ft. Lauderdale). The first port of call was Half Moon Cay. What a beautiful Island!! Unfortunately the weather was a bit chilly when we got there so we didn’t go to the beach (my in-laws did and stated that it was quite chilly to go swimming). We walked around the island and had a nice barbeque lunch while we were there. The island is immaculate and service was fine. There are a few shops to buy things and plenty of bars to purchase any cocktail of choice. After Half Moon Cay we had a day at sea and boy were the seas rough that day. There were high winds and was the ship rocking. It didn’t bother us at all, but did bother both my father and my mother in law. There were many people missing that day at dinner. This was the first time that we saw sea sick bags placed by the elevators, the seas were that rough. The second port of call was St. Thomas, where temperatures were in the middle 80’s and beautiful sunny skies! We tendered in that day as there were 8 ships on St. Thomas while we were there. We tendered in from the inner harbor so it really was a breeze. Kudo’s to the HAL tender staff, as they were always helping my father (who is 88) on and off the tenders. We have previously been to St Thomas and found the crowds to be a bit too much. We went onshore for a little, and did a bit of shopping. We then returned to the ship to enjoy the pools and such while the masses were on shore. The next port of call was St. John and it was a pleasure it was to be tendered directly into Cruz Bay. Normally you have to get to St. John via St. Thomas, but not on this cruise. We hoped in a taxi (which were plentiful) and headed over to Trunk Bay for some snorkeling. Trunk Bay is spectacular (we have been there before) and although the beach was a bit crowded there was plenty of room to find a spot to place your towel on. The snorkeling was a bit hard as the seas were rough, but the weather held out until we were heading to the tender. Then the skies opened up. After the ship left St. John we had another sea day before we docked at Freeport. We are never impressed with the Bahamas, so we just walked off the ship for a bit, took a look around the shops that they have on the pier, and came back to the ship. Unfortunately the weather was overcast and raining, so I am not sure what other folks did while on Freeport. The next day we were back at Port Canaveral. New Years Eve This was our first New Years cruise and let me be the first to say HAL definitely does it up right. There were great decorations in all of the public rooms which made for a wonderfully festive atmosphere. When we went into the dining room there were hats and crowns on each of our plates for us to put on. When we left the dining room they were handing out noise makers and horns for everyone to take. Each and every lounge had something going on for New Years Eve. At 11:00pm they opened up the Mondriian Lounge for the big Gala New Years Eve Party. There the decorations were spectacular and the whole mood was one of a big gala Party. The band played continuously and streamers were being passed out to those that wanted them. There was the traditional count down to Midnight and come Midnight they had a wonderful balloon drop and confetti cannons went off. It really was a sight to see! Everyone was pretty much dressed to the nines which we love to do for New Years. The only drawback was my being misinformed that New Years Eve was a formal night from Holland America. When I called them and inquired I was told that New Years was one of the two formal nights. This was not the case, but it was added as a formal night. This meant that there were 3 formal nights on a 7 day cruise. It caused a bit of a “dressing” dilemma, but one that was easily fixed. Ladies, pack accordingly for your Holiday Cruises as you will need 3 formal outfits, not just two. Odds and Ends We absolutely loved the Java Café. What a nice addition to any ship. If any of you get the chance, please try a Mocha Cappucino. They are truly yummy! The library was also very nice, and it looked like the internet café was also a nice place to be. The lower promenade is wonderful and we enjoyed walking around the entire ship. There are many nooks and crannies to explore on the Zaandam, from going to the very front of the ship, to the back verandahs, there were plenty of places to explore. The shops were your standard cruise ship shops, with the standard merchandise that one would find on any ship. We noticed a custom tailor on board but never once saw anyone talking to them about custom clothing. Photographers aren’t as pushy as other cruise lines and a polite “No thank you” was acceptable. Those Bingo announcements are a horror and should really be discontinued. You keep thinking it is something important and then you hear that it is a Bingo announcement. Sheesh! Soda cards are a must for any kid onboard. Our son never had a problem getting a soda when he wanted one, and every night he had a sprite waiting for him at dinner. It definitely saved us a ton of money during the cruise. As far as the Officers and the Crew goes, Captain Werner Timmons is the Captain of the Zaandam. I give him high marks for his attitude and the way he spoke to the staff. We saw him and many other officers throughout the ship and all were quite friendly and never in a rush to answer any question you may have. In fact this is the first time we saw officers and staff eating along with the passengers. To us that was great – many other cruise lines have their Captains kept away from the passengers. This was a pleasant change. The décor and artwork on the Zaandam is definitely unique to say the least. We did get a kick out of seeing various instruments with autographs on it. We never got to hear the organ in the Atrium, but those that did said it was alright. Everyone seemed to agree that the Organ in the Atrium is an oddity though. Other than that the Zaandam really is a nice ship. The bad points Other than our flooded verandah (which is a major disappointment to us) and an occasional leak from our Air Conditioner Vent while at port our only other complaints were with Holland America themselves. In the beginning of December I sent a fax to Holland America requesting a bottle of champagne to be delivered to my father-in-law at dinner on New Years Eve. Along with the champagne, I ordered a formal portrait as a gift for my mother-in-law. Holland America called me at my office to verify my credit card number and confirmed the two gifts to be sent. Lo and behold, the voucher for the portrait never arrived in her cabin, and questions to both the Photo Department and the front desk were left unanswered. As far as the champagne goes, when we arrived in the dining room on New Years Eve I noticed that the champagne was not at the table. When I asked our wine steward he stated that he did not have an order for it. He asked his supervisor who also stated that there was never anything ordered. Oddly enough two days later we come to dinner and voila there was a bottle of champagne with a card that said “Happy New Years Dad”. The wine steward was most embarrassed and stated that he just received the order that night. We had a chuckle and said we must be the only ones to get to relive New Years Eve all over again. Although we made the best of the situation we really wanted the champagne on New Years Eve and not three days later. When we returned from our cruise and we spoke to our Travel the porter brought us out to the shuttle area where Todd from Basik was waiting for us. All in all a smooth embarkation and disembarkation. Final Thoughts Would our family ever choose another HAL cruise? Yes, but not with our children. While HAL is trying to market to families, until they have more activities and more places for kids to be we will stick with Celebrity for cruises with our children. As far as enjoying our cruise on the Zaandam, other than the problems we mentioned, and cruising with my in-laws , we really did enjoy our cruise. Being on the high seas for a holiday cruise is really something everyone should experience. It definitely is magical.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

This was our third time on HAL, the first two were great, this one left something to be desired. The Debarkation at Port Canaveral is a joke.. no parking spaces, they haven't a clue as to how to get people on board and most of all the people don't listen to instructions and just push where they want to go. The ships is nice but laid out like the old RCCL ships with split decks...the Atrium is a waste, this multi thousand dollar Oran that

spans three decks just sits there.. automatic playing several times a day...leaves a lot to question. Room was great, we had an outside with a tub, but all rooms are the same size, some have a shower only, but elevators and stairs very close by. Casino was very small, did have nickel machines and we did win some money...gave it right back in the Dollar machines. Entertainment was average, kids did a great job with what they had to work with, stage was about the size of the Big Red Boat's.. not much. They did have lots of sitting and lounge area. Food was not that great, really, service was not that good, took over two hours for our table of 7 to get through and we didn't waste time when we did get the food. I must say that the Captain and the Chef were seen among the crowd more on this cruise than any we have been on.. very very friendly. Shore trips were good but St. Thomas docking SUCKED.. because we were the smallest ship and Ray Charles designed the schedule, we were put at the north end of the island in outer Hoboken ..no kidding only thing there was a couple of gulls and one taxi...it really sucks to have to pay $16 dollars for a taxi ride to the mall where you usually just get off the ship and walk too...(thats taxi for two). Weather was too bad for Half Moon Cay, this is the second time we have not been able to go ashore.. this is the main reason we booked...love Half Moon Cay. Ship rocked a little but was ok if you took a seasick pill.  We were not impressed this time by the crew, they seemed to be overworked. The Cruise Director (Jennifer) left something to be desired.. cutesy, but come on, one of the main activities one morning was SCARF TIEING...hell why didn't you have walker racing or snoring contests on deck.. There were 1400 people on board, we are in our late 50's, there were 1200 at least older than us. After 11PM..it was a Ghost Ship.. no midnight stuff. We love to cruise, but this was a little stuffy. The Marco Polo Restaurant was great and I don't like Italian food. Debarkation was usual, Carnival and NCL have the right idea, go to breakfast, come back and wait in your room till you get off. In conclusion, running out of Desert (sucked), few activities, but a great assortment of movies, poor pool size, but great hot tubs were great, and my wife slipped on water on deck and really bruised her leg, not able to move, yet HAL would not let us out of a shore excursion, that's right, that took the cake, expected her with a 14 inch bruise on her leg to sit 4 hours on a bus.. yeah way to go HAL. Room service was good, all in all on a scale of 1-10 we would give the Zaandam and HAL a 5. Listen folks, Carnival's new ships (Destiny and Spirit Class) have the best service, entertainment and choices of food of any.. including  Celebrity, Princess, RCCL and HAL.. no kidding.. check into the new Carnival ships, nothing like the old Neon and McDonalds.. we have been on 8 Carnival cruises in the past 4 years and the last three on the big ships AWESOME and you don't know your on board with 2000 other guests. We spoke to several people that ruled out Carnival when you mentioned the name.. don't be misled by other peoples stuffy attitudes.. do you know Carnival owns everything except RCCL.. so do your homework. Before this Cruise we felt HAL was the top, then Princess overall.. now we have to honestly feel that Carnival has a better overall package.. check out the Victory and Pride. If we can help any further email. The P's in South Georgia. Sadie T and JP

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Nov 30, -0001

Coastal

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! BOOKING 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 the Zaandam 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 keeping everything very organized and easily retrievable. We were assigned cabin 000 since we were on a guarantee, but with the advise of a Cruise Critic post I began to access my booking information via the Shore Excursion section of HAL’s website. About fifteen days before the cruise we suddenly became a Category A #6177 mini suite. Things were going about as smoothly as we could have imagined and the anticipation was pretty much pervading my consciousness. Then again, we believe that looking forward to the cruise is at LEAST as wonderful as the cruise itself. 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, o 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. EMBARKATION 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 hair in time. At the very least, it’s a terrific mirror defogger. The amenities included larger sized bar soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. There was absolutely NO sewage or foul odor at any time on our trip. So, the bathroom gets “a thumbs up” overall and a special plus for that great water pressure. 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 lounge chair, small table and deck chair and plenty of room to move about. It’s a delightful place for morning coffee, afternoon cocktails, port arrivals/departures and weather/sea checks. 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 was now truly resplendent. We mixed a couple of cocktails and went out on our balcony for the departure from Seattle. Our next door neighbors were also out and we learned they had come all the way from Nova Scotia and were doing the complete Panama Canal trip. As we left port heading for the Pacific Ocean and Astoria we were accompanied by a pod of dolphin and a bit of sun peeking through the clouds. Only on a ship……. 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 walkers. The salon was busy with massages, facials, pedicures, manicures and the like. They even had this odd capsule they would put folks in, turn a few knobs and it would vibrate/massage with heat and aromatherapy thrown in on the side. At a dollar a minute, they were selling time in it as a cheaper alternative to a standard massage. 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….. ENTERTAINMENT 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 Zaandam 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……. J. French

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska

We just returned from a 7 day Alaska cruise, roundtrip from Vancouver. We experienced the good, the bad and the ugly or funky as the case was on the Zaandam. Our previous 2 cruises were with Royal Caribbean, the last one in Spring 1999 transiting the Panama Canal. Nice relaxing 11 day trip in a veranda mini suite on the then nearly new, “Vision of the Seas”. The food was not very well prepared & we felt that the food handling by

waiters & assistants was not as sanitary and safe as it could & should be. The get up and boogie atmosphere coupled with constant loudspeaker announcements and drink sales pushes everywhere turned us off of RCI. We have been visiting the cruise boards daily for the past few months reading the newest reviews, looking for a bit more elegant cruise line with better food (in regard to taste, presentation and proper sanitary handling) than RCI without paying nosebleed Seabourn prices. We chose Holland American. I had been a passenger on the Rotterdam NY to Europe when I was in the Air Force and I had memories of 2 nice Atlantic crossings with HAL. PRE-CRUISE DAYS IN VANCOUVER: We live in Santa Monica, CA but we have a seasonal apartment in North Vancouver with a view of the cruise ships going in and out of the harbor under Lion’s gate bridge and docking at Canada Place, whetted our appetite for cruising again. We spent some pre cruise days in beautiful, friendly, reasonably priced Vancouver. It’s a great way to start a vacation. Translink, the public transit entity, sells a shirt pocket sized Greater Vancouver Transportation Map (2002 edition) for $2.50 CDN which also serves as a convenient city map. If you like to walk or bicycle, circling Stanley Park is a great workout with a fantastic view. We buy daily transit passes and ride easily around town on any bus, skytrain or seabus we wished for one daily fee. Take a skytrain to get a nice view ride through the city. Take a mini-cruise, 12 minutes long on the seabus from the Seabus and Skytrain terminal building next to Canada Place and wander through the Lonsdale Quay Marketplace, the North Vancouver terminus of the seabus. Across the street and 100 yards east of the Quay is a superb Italian Restaurant, Quattro di Gusto. Fantastic gourmet lunch with reasonable prices. Great food inside the Quay Market too. We also went to Hon’s Wun-tun House, a huge, delicious Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant on Robson St. (the ‘Via Veneto’ of Vancouver) within walking distance to Stanley Park. If you are coming in from Vancouver International Airport they have great New York style deli sandwiches (fantastic potato salad too) at Kaplans Star Deli on Oak St near the corner of 41 St. on the way into the downtown area. A few doors east of Hon’s on Robson(corner of Jervis) is Cows, an old fashioned ice cream parlor where you can practice acquiring pre cruise calories. There are many bargains in Vancouver. Leave room in your luggage. EMBARKATION: We arrived at Canada Place by around 1 PM, received our boarding numbers and finally got on the ship @ 3:30 PM. We ate a late breakfast so we wouldn’t get too hungry but by 3:30 we were definitely hungry. We dumped our carry on luggage in our Deck 7 veranda mini-suite and raced for the Lido Buffet on deck 8. We arrived about 3:45 and were informed that the buffet was closing. There would be bar snacks in the Crow’s nest and other bars at 6PM. 24 hour room service was not up and running at this moment. We were second seating dining so we had to eat something soon. Next time I will bring protein bars or snack food in my carry on luggage. We sailed out of majestic Vancouver harbor under Lion’s Gate Bridge with the party music playing and our stomachs growling; we were not in the mood for any “frozen thingies”. We recognize how difficult embarkation/debarkation days are for the crew (and the newly boarded passengers) but at these prices maybe they could pre-make simple sandwiches and have them available or keep a small part of the buffet or grill open. We discovered that on most days the Grill in the pool area is open when the Lido isn’t. That was not the case on embarkation day. PUBLIC AREAS: The Zaandam is an elegant looking, well laid out vessel. More like a ship than a floating resort supership. The elevators are plentiful and there is not much waiting like on the bigger ships. Most decks have 3 banks of 4 elevators. The Erasmus Library on Deck 5 is beautiful but they don’t enforce the library silence rule. People just wander in and start loud conversations. It is the only quiet room on a ship full of great places to relax and talk. A lot of our fellow passengers were not concious of what is or isn’t going on around them. The Zaandam singers and dancers alternate as librarians. Shame on HAL for closing the library so early every night. There is an internet center next door. They charge 75 cents a minute but they have a 250 minutes for $100. deal available. You can’t word process on these computers only surf the net. Various attractive public rooms and lounges surround the Atrium on 5 and the Hotel Desk is on 4. CABIN: Our long but narrow mini suite was the farthest aft cabin on deck 7 (the Navigation Deck). The veranda was nice and had more room because it was the last one aft. We could see over the side of the ship as well as the ship’s wake. We loved our veranda. We don’t ever want to cruise again without a veranda. The bathroom was good sized with a large mirrored storage cabinet that easily held all of our stuff and the cabin storage was excellent. There was even room to put our luggage in the closets. Holland American gets a gold star for the bath and the closets. The lighting was good and the sitting area has a small couch and a curtain dividing it from the sleeping area so one can read while another sleeps. CLEANLINESS: I decided to use the bathroom and when I lifted the lid for the first time there was a large load of poop. A portent of things to come? Not an auspicious beginning! My wife enjoys giving herself beauty treatments in the privacy of her stateroom during cruises. However on this cruise she was unable to because the state of cleanliness of the room grossed her out. For example; the full length mirror inside the closet door seemed to be smeared here and there with something like vaseline. She could not bring herself to do floor exercises in our mini-suite because as she said looking at the stained carpeting “Did they housebreak a puppy on this carpet?” I can’t say I disagreed with her. The carpet was worn well beyond the time when it should have been replaced. The narrowness of the room dictates a narrow walking path to the sitting room and the veranda and it was well worn. I mentioned this to the front desk and they offered to clean the carpet; since this would curtail our use of the cabin for a day, we declined. We put towels down in the worst spots. The carpet was also worn through around the edge of the bed. Our friendly room steward tried to help but the carpet was beyond spot cleaning. Holland American should consider using vinyl on the high traffic paths in the room. The couch also required towels, and the nice little pillow collection was pretty funky. I suspect the cause was previous romance on the high seas. We’re not going to talk about the bedspread; suffice to say we put the bedspread under the bed and asked our steward to leave it there. The HAL bathrobes that hung in our cabin helped us to remain relatively microbe free. The equivilant of putting a towel down before you sit at a nudist camp. Those of you familiar with the comedy routines of Howie Mandel know he carries a blacklight to look for germs. Our hard working steward was completely worn out. He had 14 rooms to clean and some people were paging him constantly trying to use him as their personal butler. He was paged twice during a short conversation I was trying to have with him. I noticed officious housekeeping staffers spiffy in their uniforms checking rooms but they were missing a lot considering the condition of our cabin. Or was it just part of keeping up appearances and making check marks on a list? Is anyone supervising the supervisors? Now we get to the sleeping part. The brochures say the beds are queen sized but they are not standard queens. They are 2 twin beds put together to make one. Their queen, 75 inches long, is 2 inches shorter than standard queen sized beds. I’m six feet two and a half inches tall and my heels hang over the end of the bed. I tried to scrunch up but my sleep was fitful. I mentally blamed it on being in the far aft cabin where it is noisier and bouncier than midships but we wanted the view. I slept the second night in the 2 inches shorter bed and realized that I needed to remedy the problem. I dropped by the front desk and talked about my bed and they said they could help me. They were very nice. I went on about my business heading to the gym. The gym was spacious with all the goodies but it was a bit grungy. Rubber handles had broken off various machines, the deck needed vaccuming, chrome and brightwork was dirty and the huge picture windows were filthy. Loud CNN was on TV, and an instructor was shouting through an aerobics class with driving workout music playing. I asked a staff member to at least mute the TV sound but they kept it on along with the music. Not a very cruisey atmosphere. Went back to the cabin and the message light was on. They were checking to see if the bed had been fixed. It hadn’t. I asked to speak to Judy Shepheard, the guest relations manager. Her hours were listed a 8A to early afternoon; maybe she could help. The Captain, Tore Lura, mentioned in his speech that the ship was a hotel with a propeller -- a line that they cut out of the cruise video they were offering. I liked that line. It fit. We both work in motion picture production and spend a lot of time on location and have stayed in all manner of hotels both first cabin and almost dives. I figured a bed change would be easy. It says queen sized in the brochure and that’s what I wanted. Judy Shepheard never called. When I visited the desk again she was in a meeting. I went back to my cabin in the late afternoon and there was a wooden bench about 30 inches wide, with a pillow on it. I called the desk and they said to just put it on the end of the bed. That might have worked had the bench been long enough to stretch across the whole width of the bed. The bench and pillow were dirty also. I got madder. I called the desk and asked why the guest relations person was ducking me. She’s in a meeting was the stock answer through 3 calls to the front desk, even though her hours are listed in the daily handout. I considered calling the hotel manager, Rene Tuinman, who had a card in the room telling me to have a perfect cruise and to contact him with any problems. I took the bench & its filthy pillow down to the hotel desk and asked again to see Judy Shepheard. It was dinner time but I didn’t care. I wanted a hearing. I get testy from lack of sleep. After waiting awhile a desk person said Judy would call me and I might as well leave. I said that I wasn’t leaving until I saw Judy. This is a high priced hotel, I expect reasonable hotel service, especially from a particularized guest relations department. Note to Rene Tuinman: Don’t leave a nicely printed card in the cabin with your signature on it wishing me a good trip and inferring he and his staff are here to help with any situation that might arise (I’m paraphrasing-I forgot to bring the card)and leave it in the hands of a related guest relations department head who was practicing avoidance in dealing with short beds. Judy finally appeared listened to my story and left for a minute. She came back with information on bed length and admitted to me that the 2 beds together had 2 inches less length than the standard queen. There were no standard queens on the ship. Why this info took all of the second cruise day to obtain is beyond me. They could have told me a hell of a lot earlier in the day. The little bench they sent looked used, so I’m not the first one with this problem. Judy was actually Judy Shepheard-Tuinman according to her business card. She is married to the Hotel Manager, Rene Tuinman. She is a most invisible Guest Relations person. She seems to prefer to let the harried front desk assistants handle the complaints. If Holland-American would just get some “long-twin beds” they could accommodate taller people. They could set aside a few rooms for these purposes and they would always sell out. I recognize the problem that then the cabins would be 2 inches narrower and look smaller but cruises are about comfort, not just non stop food and entertainment. We finally solved the bed problem by pulling the mattress out from the wall 6 inches, placing pillows in the gap between the wall and the beginning of the top mattress. The theme of the Zaandam is music and it plays everywhere...There are some interesting musical artifacts on display...I never thought I could get tired of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald etc. but the playlist was narrow. I mean I’m a baby boomer, no longer middle aged according to my daughter. She explained I stopped being middle-aged when I passed 60, and my wife and I were probably in that 25% of younger passengers. It’s an older crowd. I love this kind of music but enough is enough...more variety please. No Vera Lynn songs. It can’t all be nostalgia. Can it? The Wilson Palomo Trio played in the Explorers lounge...a great group playing Jazz and contemporary pop...then dinner ends and the 1st seating crowd is ready to dance and the music switches to a never ending waterfall of foxtrot and waltz music interspersed with ricky-tick Samba’s and Cha Cha’s. Same problem in the Crow’s nest...The Sunshine band is great...they play excellent country, rock and pop but when 1st seating is over in come the dancers and that 4 beat foxtrot. I heard the cloying, sacharine “Anniversary Waltz” & “Tennessee Waltz” every night of the cruise. I don’t wish to sound mean spirited but the formula drove us out. Please keep it eclectic. I’m HAL’s new target demographic. I’ll be getting my medicare card in a couple of years. We retreated from the musical venues and relaxed more in our (funky) cabin or by strolling the decks. It never got as cold as we thought Alaska would be. We brought a big bag of parka & foul weather gear that we did not use. Note to Holland American. We had the lowest bar tab we have ever had on a cruise. Baby boomers may be pushing 60 but we need to rock a bit. (My wife is still under 60.) It’s hard pleasing all of the people all of the time to paraphrase an old maxim. The Rotterdam Dining Room was excellent service wise and spotty food wise. The filet mignon was not very filet or mignon. The vegetables were cooked to death. The meals got better as the cruise wore on getting, much better near the end of the voyage. We preferred eating there to the Lido cafeteria. It’s ambience gave us the feeling of cruising we wanted. We broke up the dining routine with room service served well and promptly. We didn’t go to the Lido until the 4th day of the cruise in order not to be burned out by its sameness. This method works. When you finally go to the Lido cafeteria it’s new to you. We enjoyed eating breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room and lunch too. We ate during the open seating at breakfast and lunch at our regularly assigned table with our favorite servers. I can’t say enough for Enrico our waiter and Dadang his assistant along with dining room captain Muarif and 2nd maitre’d Helmi. They were professional and funny without being obsequious. They represented the best HAL had to offer us. We thank them! The person I saw checking his department the most was Jerry the Maitre’d. Early in the morning, later at night there he was; watching, talking to the troops, making sure. I would pass his office and the door was always open. The sign of a good manager. The Chef, Wolfgang Wasshausen, also was always on the scene. Food service was the best run part of the hotel side. Food taste versus food description is another matter. It’s mostly rubber chicken level banquet food. The better Las Vegas hotels (Bally’s,Mirage,Rio etc.)have buffets and cafes that meet my expectations on a regular basis. It can be done. The wait staff is tired. They always seem to be on duty. They should close the Rotterdam for breakfast and lunch a couple of days a week and the Lido at least one day for breakfast & lunch. ALTERNATE RESTAURANT: The Monte Carlo is a great little Italian change of pace. The food is very good. Maitre d’ Hilman and Chef Lazlo have a created a welcome respite from the main room. The desserts were great too. We had a lunch and a dinner there. Very pleasant. HAL doesn’t charge any extra for this place but I’m rethinking my previous resistance to paying for alternative cruising ala Celebrity or NCL. It allows you more variety in taste and cruising. One of the reasons we chose HAL was because of the alternative dining for free. If I can have more alternative dining I’m now ready to pay for it. CASINO: Las Vegas wins again. Don’t they always? The slots were tight. It was very smoky. There was no table game excitement being generated. No buzz. They would promote a special game of dealer’s cards up blackjack all over the ship and then only run one table. They could loosen the slots to get the energy in the room up and maybe put some of these looser machines in the public room next door and make this area non smoking. The gaming staff was friendly and helpful. It was strange to walk through a casino in the morning and see all of the slots asleep...no noise or flashing lights. Very bizarre. PUBLIC AREAS: The public areas were constantly being cleaned and vacuumed but it seemed more for show than cleanliness. They pick up and clean but not very well. There is less obvious mess but the surfaces haven’t been cleaned well, just picked up. That part of the crew is tired. I’ve spent time in Holiday Inns or Days Inns with higher standards than the Zaandam. The only day that they seemed to be really cleaning was embarkation/debarkation day. The standard of cleanliness was higher outside on the decks and in the pool & grill areas than inside. I never saw the Hotel Manager (Rene Tuinman) walking the operation except when he was introduced by the Captain at the welcome party and at the never ending debarkation marathon talk by the cruise director. At the latter the Mr. Tuinman ducked the limelight. I checked the video footage and Mr. Tuinman is indeed a shadowy figure ducking into the wings of the showroom after his introduction. He certainly doesn’t manage the public areas visibly or invisibly in my opinion. I suspect the management of thinking the balance sheet is most important and the hotel was full. Why change a thing? This hotel manager should take managing lessons from a Club Med Chef de Village. The captain’s crew is invisible also. It’s almost like ‘we’re running this ship...we’ll be at our posts out of sight and out of mind. Don’t talk to or bother us.’ Only the Captain is visible. Some of the time. I must say his team runs the ship part well. They maneuvered as closely and slowly as they could in Glacier Bay. Unfortunately, since Sept. 11 there are no more bridge tours; we had been looking forward to one. It is indeed a hotel with a propeller and a poorly managed one at that from my point of view as a customer. ALASKA: Juneau, the state capitol, was overcast on our day there. Not worth taking the aerial tram to the top in clouds. The aerial tours were cancelled too. You can’t control the weather. We enjoyed wandering there. We spent Monday night in Juneau until an 11PM sailing. They have a local ABC affiliate there broadcasting over the air, not just cable. It would have been nice to see the Monday night football game in our cabin. Skagway is metaphorically just a wide place in the road. We ignored the 3 1/2 plus hour White Pass train trip. We stayed in town and wandered around and were hustled in our own language by our own countrymen imploring us to take this and that tour...We finally asked one of these hucksters where to get a good cup of coffee in town. He whispered a greasy, patronizing aside in my ear “Just ask a local” and sent us to Mabel’s. The coffee was thin and awful. Made Micky D’s breakfast coffee taste like Starbucks. Anecdotally, we heard there had been a Starbucks there but it closed. When is the last time a Starbucks closed? The Skagway locals’ behavior reminded me of the arrogance of the locals in rural Hawaii. Ketchican was the third city we visited. It was nice to look around. Great totem poles. A pleasant place. We prefer city meandering to being bused to sites of interest. My wife and I have scouted too many locations and we hate riding in maxivans without being paid for it. I’d rather pay a knowledgeable taxi driver for a couple of hours of looking around and waiting while we shop. Glacier Bay was fogged in. The cold of the glacier causes the fog to rise enough to see the bottom of the glacier but not much else. The sailors did a great job for us that day getting us as close as they could. It was the best day of the cruise even with the foggy conditions. In the cruise video they cut in shots of the glacier on a clearer day. That’s entertainment! HAL’S TIPPING NOT REQUIRED POLICY is a bigger load than what we found when we first entered our cabin bathroom. The service people work hard and keep smiling. We left the tips recommended on most cruises and sometimes over tipped. We heard some folks talking about how nice it was not to tip. Shame on them. The cocktail servers seem to suffer the most, fiscally and physically doing the most running & smiling and getting stiffed on a regular basis. C’mon folks....we’re talking less than $200. for the whole cruise. Give it up to those who have served you well. They deserve to be tipped when they take care of you. The unctuous cruise director (who sounded a lot like Merv Griffin) Jack Chambers, got into HAL’s tipping not required policy briefly, skirting around the edge of it in his debarkation lecture. The subtext of his speech was tip ‘em if they deserve it, but a lot of folks chose to ignore the subtlety of his message. Kudos to his assistant, Johnny I the bingo guy & Gavin his cohort for keeping it as real as they could during the more inane moments. They did a good job with the bingo games. SUMMING UP: I want to thank the cruise critics and reviewers who have worked hard at informing us what’s up on the ships. Tom Milano & Vincent Fanelli come to mind as well as the cruise Diva and many others. We’re hooked on the cruising part of cruising. We want better food (Vegas level) and more variety and choice of music. More interesting and exciting gaming and more relaxing days at sea. We have promised ourselves another cruise (with a veranda) in the not too distant future, of at least 10 days. It really does take a couple of days on board to really get relaxed. Then the real cruising begins. We also want some days before and after the cruise spent exploring the embarkation/debarkation cities. Europe or the South Pacific are looking good to us. Yo ho ho and a bottle of light beer.

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Nov 30, -0001

Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Caymen, Cozumel

2000 Ocho Rios, Grand Caymen, Cozumel This cruise on board the Zaandam was my first, and Holland America exceeded almost all my expectations.  As a tail-end "Gen-X'er", I was slightly concerned that I might find the cruise and other passengers to be a bit, well, stuffy.  I was also not sure how I would feel about being on a ship of this size for a whole week--what if there weren't enough activities to keep me busy?  In the end I needn't

have worried as you shall see... I flew to Fort Lauderdale with my partner and two friends and took advantage of HAL's pre- arranged transportation.  We were met at the gate by a representative and escorted down to the ground transportation area, where another representative showed us the way to the bus.  The embarkation facility is only a 10 minute ride away and check-in only took a matter of minutes as well. The transportation fee was $12 one-way per person.  We realized that four of us could have piled into a cab and gotten to the dock much more cheaply, but we had a tight connection on the way back and weren't sure if cabs would be available at the port the following weekend, so we decided to go ahead and shell out the cash.  This was meant to be a worry-free vacation after all!  We had about an hour to wait before embarkation began (which was approximately 1pm) so we entered the waiting lounge.  The cavernous room reminded me of a crowded airline departure lounge and as the room begin to fill I did notice that I was definitely one of the younger people there.  Now I must admit that I am not a huge partier and I was actually hoping for a rather refined, sophisticated clientele.  On the other hand I did worry that perhaps this would be a cruise where the carpets were rolled up at 10pm for the night.  I'm happy to report that while the majority of the patrons appeared to be baby-boomers and up, there were other young people, and even a few families with children.  Our friends had a suite so they were allowed on first, and we followed about 25 minutes later.  Embarkation is done in groups (much like boarding an airplane) which is quite sensible, given that the boat was slated to be full.  We boarded the gangway and were met by a wave of stewards in bright red and blue uniforms, one of whom escorted us to our state room (a ‘C' category outside cabin) and showed us how everything in the room worked.  The room was comfortable and had two twin beds, a small loveseat with ottoman and table, and a desk area with chair and TV.  We had the two twin beds put together and that did make the room seem a bit smaller, but certainly not claustrophobically so.  There was a ton of closet space--enough for all our clothes, shoes and suitcases.  In several of the closets the shelves folded up against the wall so you could either hang clothing or fold it.  The bathroom was also very adequate and had a shower/tub combination.  One interesting item of note: If you book an outside cabin on the lower promenade deck, your window is literally on the walkway.  The windows are mirrored slightly, so during the day people can't see into your room.  If you have your lights on inside your cabin at night however, you need to close your curtains before disrobing!  Our cabin steward Asip cleaned our room twice each day, provided a gracious turn-down service each evening. And then the fun began.  After a quick peek at our friends' suite (in a word HUGE) we hit the Lido restaurant.  The line was quite long, however that is understandable given that it was only venue open for eating while still at port.  We ended up eating breakfast and lunch there on several occasions and found the food to be very good for a buffet-style eatery. We walked around the ship and then sat on the by the outdoor pool sipping cocktails as we sailed out of Fort Lauderdale.  Drink prices on board were quite reasonable, and in many cases actually less than you might pay for at a restaurant or bar on land.  They do have duty free liquor for sale in the shops on board.  There is a catch though: The advertised price on the shelves is good only if the liquor is delivered to your stateroom on the last night of the cruise.  If you want to take it with you out of the shop (i.e. to drink on board) there is a 20% surcharge. Our ship reversed its itinerary due to a hurricane SW of Florida, so we headed to HAL's private island first.  The ship anchors about a mile off-shore and is reached by tenders.  We only had to wait about 10 minutes to get on a tender and the ride to shore is also about 10 minutes.  The water was breathtakingly blue and the beach sand squished wonderfully between one's toes.  We did rent mats and snorkel gear.  The mats were well worth the cost, but the snorkeling was only so-so (the island has no coral reef).  I recommend saving your pennies for one of the snorkeling shore excursions at Grand Cayman or Cozumel. The next several days were spent lounging about and partaking in all the activities on board.  There was truly something for everyone.  I spent a day-and-a-half in the Steiner spa getting the royal pampering.  The staff was an energetic bunch from all over the world and did a wonderful job.  Adjacent to the spa was a gymnasium area with nautilus equipment, some free weights and cardiovascular equipment.  While not as fancy as your gym back home, you can get in a decent workout here.  HAL has a program called "Passport to Fitness" whereby you earn stamps for planned  physical activities (like basket ball free throw tournaments) and gym workouts.  At the end of the cruise you can turn your stamps in for items such as t-shirts, water bottles or (if you went all out physically) big bathrobes or tracksuits.  The gym also had an area for aerobics and stretching classes.  I went to a few classes and noticed that many of the seniors were puffing and grunting, seemingly in pain.  I felt the staff should have been a bit more cognizant of participants' ability levels before some really injured themselves. There was literally some planned activity going on every minute during the day, including, bingo, board games, art auctions, movies (in a real movie theatre), sports activities, afternoon tea, ice sculpting, ship tours and casino gambling.  And of course there was always a chair on the deck with my name on it.  Not only were my fears of boredom unfounded, but I wish I could have been cloned!  Now having said this many of the structured activities (e.g. board games or ping-pong tournaments) are not things I do at home, so I did have to go forward with an open mind.  But I found most things enjoyable, and there was no pressure to stay if one didn't like the activity. The boat never seemed crowded even though it was fully booked.  When we docked at Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico, I stayed on board and felt like I had the ship to myself.  I did get off the boat in Grand Cayman, and had a nice time walking around Georgetown.  We also took the snorkeling shore excursion which was really worth the money.  You visit both an old shipwreck in the harbor and a section of the reef.  Each night but one we ate in the Rotterdam dining room, where both the food and the service were superb.  The entire week there was only one dish I didn't care for, and that was a matter of personal taste.  And indeed, if you don't care for something, you can simply ask for a different dish.  Two evenings were formal, but a tuxedo wasn't necessary and you certainly would feel comfortable in a dark suit and tie.  One evening was semi-formal (with sportcoat and tie) and the other evenings were dressy casual, meaning nice slacks and shirt for the men.  On the formal evenings, photographers came by all the tables to take pictures.  You also had your picture taken pretty much every time you got off the ship in port.  All the picture-taking got to be annoying after a while; I would have preferred to have the photographers off to the side so that those who where not interested in pictures would not have to wait in line on the gangway. The photography issue aside, everything about the cruise was wonderful indeed.  I must also make note of the extraordinary service provided on board.  Every time I turned around, a waiter or waitress was there to assist you.  The service was relaxed and friendly, and I got the sense that the crew isn't out (solely) to make tips.  That's not to say that tips are not appreciated.  HAL has a "tipping not required" policy, which is not the same as a "no tipping policy".  What you decide to give is totally up to you, but you need to remember that most of the crew has family back in Indonesia or the Philippines to support, and so tips are important.  I felt that Holland America provided me a great cruise value for the money I spent and would recommend them to anyone looking for a relaxing cruise that also provided a sense of style.  If you're looking for a nonstop party or a cruise with tons of physical activity, this might not be the best match for you.  Everyone else looking to slow their pace of life down a leisurely notch or two would enjoy the Zaandam wholeheartedly.

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska Inside Passage

We are a couple in our fifties from New Zealand – my husband is a professor and I’m a university manager. This was our first cruise, taken while visiting relatives in Vancouver. We’d always wanted to visit Alaska and had heard that a cruise was the best way to see it. We also thought that the Inside Passage would be a good cruise to start with so we could see if we enjoyed cruising and didn’t get seasick – we didn’t and we

loved the cruise. We’d seen the Zaandam in port the Saturday before and were thrilled to think we would be boarding her the following week. On the day, a relative took us to the cruise terminal at 12.30pm and we found the signs easy to follow. We were dropped off right at the curbside in front of the Holland America check in where baggage handlers were waiting to take all of our baggage, including our carry on bags. It was all so very quick and simple. We were directed to the (very short) line for immigration. I’d completed and printed our immigration forms on the web. We hadn’t been sure what to put down about our visas as we wouldn’t get them until we entered the USA so we left that blank which was fine. They took our forms and passports with the visas and everything was done instantly. Another very short queue, a hygienic hand wash and we were welcomed on board. We were directed to the Lido deck and very shortly were enjoying lunch sitting overlooking Stanley Park and the floatplanes landing and taking off in the afternoon sunshine. At 1.30pm there was an announcement that cabins were available so off we went. Only one of our bags was there so we went off to explore. We found most things that day although must admit that it took two more days before we located the Crows Nest. Back to our cabin to unpack once the bags had arrived. That done, we went up on deck, got a rum punch and went up to the Sun Deck to relax while we sailed out under the Lion Gate Bridge. Now to the various aspects of the cruise: Stateroom We found our stateroom to be quite roomy with a small two-seater sofa, a footstool, desk and chair plus TV. The bed was what we New Zealanders call a king size – made up with good quality sheets. Rubber mats were laid out on the bed for our suitcases to sit on while unpacking and we later stored them under the bed with the cases. There was plenty of room for everything we’d bought - several cupboards with hanging space plus shelves and drawers in the desk. I loved being able to unpack completely and put everything where I could find it all easily. The bathroom was compact but very useable with a short bath but we prefer to shower anyway, a clothes line to draw over the bath, and a mirrored cabinet with shelves to store everything away. Our steward, Yuli, was marvelous; always so cheerful and friendly and yet so unobtrusive. We don’t how he always knew when we were out to make up the stateroom as we never saw him but it was always done when we came back. Food We’d read so much about eating on cruises that we were prepared for the wide choice but reviews varied as to the quality. I love food and cooking so was keen to see if it would be good which it mostly was in the dining room although we weren’t very impressed with the Lido buffet. We chose the last dinner sitting at a large table and enjoyed chatting to the others. Unfortunately our dining steward was nowhere as good as Yuli. He often muddled the orders and communication wasn’t easy. However we shrugged and enjoyed ourselves anyway. The quality of the food was excellent and well presented. We thought the size of the servings was often very small though occasionally quite large. The first night we weren’t sure we could manage all the courses so left one out but we quickly discovered it was best to have them all. In fact, we liked to order the cheese plate as well as well dessert some nights which confused our steward. I also sometimes ordered icecream as well as my dessert if it was a small one – you could see some of the desserts on display as you went into the upper floor of the dining room and the size did vary. On the second formal night our whole table asked for an extra lobster tail each which confused the steward considerably. He finally did arrange for another entrée plate for most of the table but only one extra for us which my husband and I shared. We were also disappointed with the baked alaska that night – the parade of them round the two floors of the dining room was spectacular but by the time we were served, we only got a tiny portion and he forgot to give us any of the cherry sauce. He finally served a spoonful which was excellent and we were sorry not to have been able to enjoy it properly. We did enjoy the free dining night in Juneau when we sat in a different spot at the stern downstairs in the dining room and watch the ship leave. It was fun to talk to some different passengers, something we also enjoyed when we had breakfast or lunch in the dining room when you would be taken to any table. This we did quite often particularly for lunch as we found the dining room food to be much superior to that at the Lido buffet. We usually had breakfast at the Lido as my husband preferred the freedom of choice there. He tried the made to order omelets while I stuck to my pancakes and found that the server very quickly recognized me and was ready for my usual order. We found the lunch food to be all right but not very exciting. The fish was usually nice and I liked the soups. But the food was much better in the dining room. We never tried the pizza or taco stall as there just wasn’t enough time to try everything. I did love the ice cream bar though and my only disappointment was that it closed from 5pm to 6.30pm. Not sure why as people on the late dining sittings were still swimming etc in the late afternoon and an ice cream would have been welcome. In fact they started closing it down before 5pm by taking away the sauces etc which I found annoying. We just couldn’t manage all the meals offered (I gained four pounds in the week anyway) so we missed out lunch on the days when the Dutch High Tea and the Dessert Extravaganza were served. And we never managed the late night buffets – just not possible after the late dinner sitting. We did like the selection of chocolates in the Explorers lounge after dinner and the appetizers that seemed to be randomly served in the Ocean Bar before dinner – maybe we should have just asked for them instead of waiting for them to be offered. Swimming pool and whirlpools We enjoyed swimming in the pool and especially the whirlpools which were lovely. Our only complaint was the whirlpools were closed far too early. We like to have one at night before going to bed which wasn’t possible. Shows and entertainment We hadn’t intended to go to many of the shows as they’re not really our thing but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the comedian and magician shows. The singing and dancing shows weren’t so much to our taste although we sat through one which was quite pleasant but not outstanding. The other one didn’t appeal so we left early. We found the long lines for the Captain’s reception to be frustrating especially as we weren’t interested in having our photo taken. However we discovered we could bypass the line and go straight in by the other door. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had a glass of champagne at all before it was time for dinner. We did enjoy dancing in the Crows Nest after dinner and the entertainment in the Piano and Ocean bars before and after dinner. We also very much enjoyed the classical music played live in the dining room and the Explorers lounge. I went to one movie on our last day when the weather outside was poor and found the cinema to be great – with the free popcorn. We liked reading in one of the lounges (particularly the Explorers lounge) in our free time or in the library which had very comfortable desks looking out onto the ocean. Very spectacular on our last day when there was a storm. But although the wind was blowing a gale outside, the ship was so stable that you just couldn’t feel it inside. My husband was particularly impressed with the fine art works throughout the ship and we made a point of exploring all the decks to see it all. Port Stops Our first stop was Juneau where there was misty rain. We’d booked the trip to the Mendenhall Glacier and the Whales and Wildlife cruise on Lake Auke. Both were wonderful and despite the rain we saw everything we were hoping for. There’s a refund on the boat trip if you don’t see a whale. Well, that was gone after 20 minutes when they took us to see a male orca. Later it was four humpback whales together along with seals, a porpoise and at the end, two bald eagles on a tree by the shore. We were so close we could see them with the naked eye and saw every detail through our binoculars. Skagway The next day the weather was fine and sunny. We liked Skagway very much and wandered around the shops in the morning. We later discovered the prices in Skagway were much better than in Ketchikan. I bought a little handpainted Russian box for less than a third of the price on the same box in Ketchikan. We found an internet café with much more reasonable rates than the exorbitant on board charges so sent off an email to family back home. After lunch we took the White Pass railway to the Yukon. This was truly spectacular and well worth going on. Though, as it was so late in the season, I don’t think it was necessary to have pre-booked it and I’m sure we would have saved some money had we waited and bought a ticket at the train. That might have been safer too as had it been raining and misty the same as the day before, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. As it was the views were absolutely fantastic and we loved every minute. We also appreciated the bottled water and the informative guide book given out. Afterwards I went back to the ship while my husband went for a hike. From the photos he brought back, there were obviously some beautiful areas to explore. Glacier Bay This was a day we will always remember. We were so lucky as it was a glorious fine day and there literally wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day. We spent nearly all day out on deck as we cruised up and down inlets to see the glaciers. It was a bit cold at first but the coffee, hot chocolate and green pea soup served on deck were a great touch. We spent two hours up on the bow as we sailed closer and closer to the Johns Hopkins glacier which was the most spectacular one. In fact we were lucky to see as it had been closed it to cruise ships from 1 May to 1 Sept to protect the harbour seals whose numbers were declining so we were one of the first cruises allowed back in. As it’s very active and still advancing whereas most are receding, we got to see it calving several times – mostly when we up very close to it. It was really incredible as you hear the ice crack and a great chunk of the glacier drops with a roar into the sea. They call it “white thunder” and it was fantastic, especially with the snow capped mountains behind it against a bright blue sky. We also saw lots of harbour seals on the icebergs in the inlet. And later we saw several humpback whales from the Lido deck including two breaching. As I was sitting reading, I kept glancing up to see whales rising up out of the water literally below me. We lost count of the number of whales we saw on the trip. There were park rangers on the ship who gave lots of information over the PA system. This plus the informative map and brochure left in our cabin the night before gave us so much useful information. We went to the Rangers’ wildlife presentation in the afternoon, which was excellent and quite inspiring. We bought one of the books they were selling with beautiful photographs making it a great souvenir of the day. Later we watched them being disembarked down a short rope ladder into their pick up launch as the ship doesn’t stop to pick them up or unload them. Our day in Glacier Bay was a highlight we’ll never forget. Ketchikan We weren’t as impressed with Ketchikan as we’d been with Skagway. We found it touristy and the shops were very dear. We did buy a pretty amber pin for me at a reasonable price but the Russian goods were very expensive. We walked through Creek St and took the free funicular up to the hotel where there were good view. Again we used an internet café in the town rather than on board– there was one just by the dock. Disembarking This was a breeze. As we weren’t leaving Vancover until the following day, we didn’t need to be up early to make a connection. So we were able to have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido buffet and then sit comfortably in the Explorers Lounge until we were called at 9.30am. On our way out, we looked for the lines but there just weren’t any. We found our baggage easily and were amazed at how well run it all was. Final Impressions Firstly we loved cruising and will happily go again. We though HAL offered just what we wanted with style and comfort. Our only gripes were small ones as detailed above with some services being closed at times. The cabin was great and overall the ship was impressive and comfortable. The food in the dining room was good on the hole although the desserts were sometimes disappointing. Poor service from our waiter didn’t help. Food in the Lido was fine for breakfast but not great at other times. The sights we saw were spectacular and we would recommend cruising to Alaska to anyone.     

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

Our cabin steward, Oka, was very efficient and a pleasure. Our only complaint was with the efficiency of the wine steward in the dining room. We had late dining. Yvette had 17 tables to serve.  It was an impossible task for her to serve all efficiently.  She tried her best but it was an impossible task. Perhaps by now HAL has gotten Yvette some help! I highly recommend the Zaandam and, if one can stretch the budget, get a

mini-suite!

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

We paid for HAL to arrange air & transportation.  Flights were on time, uneventful.  Bags were pulled at FLL airport and delivered direct to cabin.  Zaandam a beautiful ship.  Embarkation process very smooth, we arrived early, did not have to wait in any lines to check in.  We were greeted by smiling, friendly faces who expeditiously processed us & gave us our cabin #.  We booked an outside guarantee (ROH) and were assigned a D cabin

on Main Deck, which was nicely situated on Portside of ship.  After the customary boarding photo we were promptly escorted by white gloved steward to our cabin.  Cabin had nice window, queen bed and bathtub.  Plenty of closets,draw space, nice fresh fruit in bowl that was replenished frequently. Cabin was spacious and nicely decorated with a love seat and adjustable height table, a chair and padded stool.  In room free safe for storage, required a credit card to lock/unlock, but at no charge.  After unpacking our carry ons we immediately explored the ship, made our reservation for the marco polo restaurant, spa treatments, and went up to the Lido for a hot lunch.  Everything was great!  We returned to the room and our bags were delivered shortly thereafter.  We were almost all unpacked and it was time for the lifeboat drill.  We went up one deck to the lower promenade for the pre-sailing drill.  And then on to the sailaway party.  We stayed on the Lido deck until just before dinner (6PM) we were well out to sea by then, since we departed as scheduled at 5 PM, with the Zaandam's sister ship, the Volendam sailing right behind us.  First night dinner was casual, so off we went to meet our table mates.  We always choose 1st sitting since we enjoy an early dinner for a change! Entertainment was very good with the exception of one female entertainer who had a nice voice, but not for the songs/arrangements she did.  Cruise activities were good, we participated in many different activities and had tons of fun!  All our meals were excellent, especially the Marco Polo.  Shops on board were well-run and prices for liquor purchased on board beat those of the Caribbean ports, ie St Thomas, etc.  Ports of call were Bonaire, Margarita Island Venezuela, St Lucia, St Kitts, St Thomas/St John, Nassau.  Excursions we booked were Advanced Snorkel-Bonaire, El Agua-Margarita Island, Horse-back riding in St Kitts.  All were well run, safe & lots of fun.  Other islands we went off on our own & had great time.  Our wait-staff in dining room and our cabin steward were perfect.  Service was excellent.  Room service was prompt, food was appropriately hot/cold.  Great ship, great staff & a wonderful itinerary!

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

Hi all My wife and I just returned from the inaugural Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Zaandam (May 6-13).  Here is our report for those who are curious. Check in and boarding was the usual HAL efficient process.  We actually boarded a bit early (despite one of our party forgetting their passport) and were able to tour the ship and eat a relaxed lunch before the lifeboat drill.

The ship was absolutely beautiful.  The descriptions posted at HAL's web site are an understatement from my personal impressions.  You had to really look close to find any flaws. The few that stick in my mind are the centerpiece pipe organ that is supposed to automatically play each 15 minutes.  The front desk said that the organ would play from the keyboard, but not from the music roll.  After a couple of days, one of the passengers volunteered and would play the organ each day at noon.  The volume was very low key (I guess I should have expected that they wouldn't want to disrupt business at the desk and shops). The other minor annoyance was the ladies room near the Mondriaan Lounge (main show theatre).  It appeared to spend most of the cruise out of order.  The ladies would have to go up stairs to use facilities. The ship continues the HAL expectation of shiney and spotless.  The hotel and food service staff were absolute fanatics about keeping the public areas pristine. This ship has the lowest level of vibration and noise during the cruise that I have experienced so far.  I opted for an inside cabin this cruise and was embarrassed to oversleep on the first morning in Nassau.  The cabin was roomy with more storage space that we required.  The cabin (2574 K class) was configured with two twin beds which the steward (Sapri Ali) quickly configured into a large queen bed.  He also removed the hassock and soft drinks at our request (thanks for that hint r.t.c!).  The temperature The food and dining service were superb.  This was the first full capacity, two seating cruise so the first dinner ran late (glad I had first seating). The meals were typical for HAL, with no one at our table disappointed.  All food was served at the correct temperature.  Our wait staff was a little slow at remembering our drink preferences, but by the third day, no one had to ask for anything.  The pastry quality and variety was better on the Zaandam than on my previous two HAL cruises.  Breakfast and Lunch at the Lido were excellent as usual.  A big plus were the separate counters for omelets and Lunch sandwiches, which served to reduce the lines. The BBQ served on Tuesday evening (San Juan) was delicious.  Along with the usual ribs, steaks, chicken, they served grilled prawns (big shrimp) and salmon.  I had extra salmon and skipped the desert. Entertainment variety was the usual cruise ship blend.  Better that expected were the orchestra (great sound guys!), the comedian and juggler.  The dance team is newly assembled for this ship and are very energetic and talented. The steel drum band came to this ship from the Westerdam, and continue to surpass other bands I've heard.  They are the only band I've heard that plays at just the right volume.  This ship has their music piped throughout the lido pool area so they don't have to play deafening levels to allow the other side of the pool to hear.  They also gave a classical concert that is not to be missed. The in-room and theatre movies were relatively recent - they are on par with satellite and cable PPV fare. The ports of call were Nassau, San Juan, St John and St Thomas USVI, and Half Moon Cay (Little San Salvador).  All of these are what you chose to make of them.  I took bread from the restaurant (hint - bring your own ziplock bags) to Trunk Bay in St John and Half Moon Cay, and was surrounded One lady asked what type of fish they were.  I couldn't resist and told here I thought they were piranhas and that I was just about out of bread so maybe we should head for the beach.  She called BS on me when she saw my grin. HAL continues to improve Half Moon Cay.  The facilities are first rate and are not to be missed. Each passenger was given an inaugural plate and certificate.  The plates are Deft china made in Holland, and quite lovely. The cruise staff was very active and pleasant.  We took advantage of many of the passenger participation events and were thoroughly entertained and pleased.  The staff and ships entertainers mingled with the passengers and were very receptive to suggestions and comments. Disembarkation was just as efficient as arrival.  Our party had driven to Ft Lauderdale so we waited in the Lido restaurant with coffee and tea.  We were loaded and driving home by 9:40 AM. Kudos and a tip of the hat to HAL and the crew and staff of the Zaandam!  A perfect voyage from start to finish. Thanks to r.t.c newsgroup for the tips and hints - they made a great time better! Ron and Connie Tyrie

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

Have you ever been on a vacation and came home feeling like it all went by so fast that you have practically forgotten the entire experience? Well, we just returned from one of the most memorable experiences of a lifetime and one that will not soon be forgotten. This was our first cruise so we decided to go to the Western Caribbean.  When we originally looked at the prices, we had decided on a mini-suite in lieu of a regular

stateroom.  After REALLY looking at the overall value and amenities you get with the suite we ended up booking one of the suites with the HUGE veranda (more on the details of the suite as we go along). We flew a non-stop flight from Washington, D.C. to Ft. Lauderdale where a Holland America representative who immediately took us to the baggage area promptly met us.  Eventhough we had paid for the baggage/shuttle service we ended up scanning the baggage claim area just to be sure something wasn't missed.  When we felt the baggage was under control we proceeded to the bus awaiting us right outside.  The bus took us directly to the Holland America terminal where the Zaandam proudly waited for her new group of eager passengers.  We were in awe over how big the Zaandam was and how emaculate the outside looked.  In fact, we saw several men giving her a "touch up" paint job prior to our departure.  SUGGESTION:  We highly recommend that you purchase the $24.00/each option for transportation and baggage handling to and from the cruise…it's really nice and worth it.  We didn't have to handle our bags from the time we left home until we got back home. When we arrived the terminal, we were immediately checked in (there was a special queue for those passengers with suites).  The HAL rep checked us in by looking at our passports, asking us for our cruise tickets, giving us our cruise ID cards and by giving us a priority embarkment card.  All other passengers are giving boarding numbers and are boarded according to those numbers.  Those with suites are boarded immediately after the handicap, which is practically within the first 10 minutes.  After we received our boarding cards we went up to the huge waiting room.  We had arrived somewhat early so we had an opportunity to purchase some liquor at the Duty Free Shop in the waiting area.  SUGGESTION:   Don't purchase liquor at the Duty Free Store…we ended up not drinking an ounce of anything we bought.  Why?  Well, the drinks on the ship our moderately priced so we didn't mind paying.  I'm a fan of Manhattan's and they only ran $4.75.  In Washington those same drinks can be $6.00+ !!  We became fans of Planter's Punch while we were cruising…they were tasty and most of the alcohol was top shelf. Once we boarded the Zaandam we were escorted directly to our suite.  We couldn't believe our eyes!  The suite was fabulous!  Very modern décor with a European design.  Comfortable furniture and even more importantly, the suite was EXTREMELY tidy and clean.  We went out on the huge veranda, which had a nice round table (that seated four), and two lounge chairs and an extra side table.  This still left tons of space.  We knew we would be spending a lot of time out there and we did. Because of storms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Captain decided to reverse our cruise…instead of heading to Mexico, we headed for the Bahamas.  We left the dock right on time and within minutes we were making appointments at the Steiner Spa on the Lido Deck (Deck 8).  We also made our dinner reservations for the following Wednesday at the Marco Polo (we chose Wednesday because we heard that the main dining room has either a Dutch night or Indonesian night for dinner which we were not interested in).    SUGGESTION:  Make any massage, facial, pedicure/manicure appointments immediately or you will not get one.  They book up very quickly.  Also, if you are interested in eating in the Marco Polo, make those reservations as well.  We hear that you can only eat one night in the Marco Polo. Our cabin steward was FABULOUS and we never had to call on him to take care of our room.  He knew when we were out and always had the suite made up in the morning, and the beds turned down in the evening.  Because we had a suite, we also had unlimited laundry/dry cleaning privileges which we used extensively.  Every morning we gave our steward laundry and it was back promptly either that afternoon or the following morning.  Needless to say, we came home with little laundry to do.   This benefit alone was worth the cost of a suite!  Hahaha! We threw two cocktail parties during the week for a few other couples we met.  Suite benefits include having appetizers and setups sent to your suite at any specified time.  We did our parties right before our dinner seating and they both were very nice.  Both were at no additional cost.    SUGGESTION:  If you arrange a cocktail party in your suite, ensure you call before Noon that day to arrange it. Regarding the food during the cruise…overall I would have to give it an 8 out of 10.  We didn't care for the Lido Deck food but it was "ok" for cafeteria style serving.  We did eat there a couple of times before we realized that you could actually eat in the formal dining room.  Food was MUCH better there.  We ate several breakfast there (when we weren't being served in our suite) and several lunches in addition to the nightly meals. Entertainment in the Mondrian Lounge was excellent and worth seeing.  Although we missed the night of the Magician, we heard he wasn't very good and needed a little work.  The signing/dancing cast who was contracted to the ship was excellent and very creative.  We enjoyed the shows.  The late night hours of what they call a "disco" does leave MUCH to be desired.  While dancing to "She's a Brick House" does bring back some fond memories of the 70's, it would have been nice to have some updated music to dance too.  We didn't dance once the whole week, which I found to be a bit disappointing, but no big deal. We played bingo almost everyday.  It was really fun and we actually walked away with some cash.  Although I couldn't get past the little descriptions the bingo caller made as she called our numbers…"The next number is B11, B11…that's two pair of legs!!"  Immediately someone from the audience would whistle as though someone with a nice pair of legs was walking past.  It was amusing though and fun enough to return. The casino was a blast…I actually learned how to play the Roulette wheel and wasn't to bad at it.  If you're into gambling, there were the usual tables and slots to keep you busy. My day at Steiner Spa was OUTSTANDING and a MUST for anyone into massage.  I opted for the 105-minute "Top to Toe" package which included massage and a VERY nice facial which lasted an hour itself.  SUGGESTION:  The prices start dropping at the end of the week on the different services as people cancel appointments or they realize they have extra openings.  I paid $169.00 for the "Top to Toe" package and a few days later it was $100.00!!  It was worth the $169.00 but DEFINITELY worth $100.00 if you want to take your chances on getting an appointment later in the week. Without going into every detail about the excursions, here are the highlights we thought were worth mentioning: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas:  This is Holland America's private island and a MUST SEE!  The Zaandam positions itself right offshore and the tenders take you in for a day on the beach.  It was grand and highly recommended.  The water is beautiful and the temperatures were perfect for sunning.  There is food served (sort of a picnic style lunch) so you won't go hungry. Jamaica:     Initially we did not care for this port of call at all.  Why?  We were confronted with horribly rude and confrontational cabbies right outside the dock area.  In addition, there were tons of beggars and people offering you drugs.  It was the only time I felt a little unsafe during the whole trip.  Almost immediately I turned around and got back on the ship until our scheduled excursion to the horseback riding stables came along.  The horseback riding on the beach was FAB-U-LOUS!  The staff was awesome and redeemed my view of that area.  However, if Holland America were to delete that port of call from their itinerary, you aren't missing anything special. Grand Cayman's :  I LOVED it here…it was beautiful and very upscale.  The people were really nice.  I opted for the Sting Ray City excursion.  I had read where it wasn't a big deal but I'm here to tell you it's a chance of a lifetime.  The stingrays were the most incredible creatures I've ever been around and very friendly.  It's a little scary at first but fun after you get used to them.  DO IT, you'll LOVE it! Those were the only excursions I did so I can't speak about the other one's.  However, I didn't hear a bad review from anyone during the cruise so most of them are well thought out and fun. The one thing that impressed me more than anything about Holland America was their timeliness.  When they say they're leaving a port at 5PM, they mean it!  We also arrived on time to every port-of-call and docked quickly so you could get off the ship.  Excursions were also on time so don't worry about missing the boat (oops, sorry, it's a SHIP, not a BOAT)!! When we arrived back to Ft. Lauderdale, the suites had been given first priority to disembark.  We had no trouble catching our 11AM flight back to Washington…we were off the ship by 8:45 and ended up waiting for our plane.  It all worked out great! I can't speak highly enough about our experience, it was AWESOME!  We are already looking into our next cruise somewhere around Europe this time.  Although, I'm so partial to the Zaandam I wouldn't mind getting our old suite back again!  If you have the extra money (and it's not THAT much more) go for the suite.  The mini-suites are nice but the large suites are exquisite.  However, it doesn't matter whether you have a suite or a regular stateroom, your time on the Zaandam will be unforgettable!  Please email me if you have any other questions.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean (Nassua, San Juan, St.Thomas and

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. Hondu [email protected]

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

ABOUT US My wife and I are travel agents.  That means we may review a ship from a slightly different prospective.  We look at value for our clients as well as fun for ourselves.  This was our ninth cruise, 3 others on brand new ships.  We have sailed the Carnival Paradise, the Norwegian Sky and Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, which were all brand new at the time of our sailings.   The Zaandam has been in service

since May, 2000.  As I boarded the ship, I began to formulate this review, comparing this new ship with other new ships that we have sailed.  This was our second cruise on a Holland America ship and I wanted to look for the small value items that add to Holland America’s appeal and to their price. Just one other personal note.  We really seem to favor the “floating resorts”.  The new mega ships, with all their bells and whistles, really do appeal to us.  I enjoy the nostalgic ships from the  “golden days of cruising”, but all in all, the new ships with their luxury and amenities really leave us awe struck.  I guess “awesome” really nails my opinion of these beauties. EMBARKATION We arranged our own air and transfers, since the plans for this cruise were made at the last minute.  We are unable to evaluate shoreside personel and the transfer process other than to say that we were somehow singled out by the HAL representatives in the baggage claim area and given suggestions about embarkation even though we did not use their services.  I believe them to be very accommodating and efficient at finding their passengers and assuring them a smooth transfer from airport to ship. We arrived by taxi at the cruise terminal at 3:00P for a 5:00P departure, thus the lines had already disapated.  Embarkation was very smooth.  We had completed all the necessary forms before arrival and simply walked through the process with minimal hassle.  HAL does not require credit card info at the embarkation desk, but simply asks that you check at the main desk the next day to provide that needed info.  That cuts down on time in line and makes the process painless.  We moved immediately to the ship. OUR CABIN When cruising with “appreciation fares”, the cabins are assigned.  We have been in cabins ranging from “inside”, about the size of a closet, to spacious “veranda” cabins with private balconies.  When we received our confirmation, we were assigned to an inside cabin at the bow of the ship.  Subsequently however, we were assigned cabin C3323, an ocean view cabin, starboard side, on the lower promenade deck.  Here I must say a word about value.  We loved this cabin!  Cabins on the lower promenade are a little smaller, to make room for the promenade, circling the ship.  Smaller size meant that the sofa and chair were smaller and against the bathroom wall rather than the standard outside wall placement.  The small “coffee table” was underfoot so much that we moved it to the end of the bed and that gave us a little extra room to move around the cabin.  We never complained about the size of the cabin. Our large picture window opened onto the promenade deck.  We immediately checked the window tinting and found that the mirrored surface stopped any view into our cabin during the day.  Lights inside the cabin did allow a view into the cabin at night, so we were careful to close the drapes.  Having the promenade immediately outside our cabin offered a feel similar to a balcony cabin.  Our room was the middle cabin of a row of three, with doors to the promenade on either side of us.  Just a short walk and we were outside. For the most part, the promenade was deserted at night so we could walk to the rail and enjoy the movement and sound of the water from our own “semi-private” veranda.  To us, this was a good value. We are somewhat seasoned cruisers and therefore pack efficiently.  The storage space in the cabin was enough for 3 people, more than ample for the two of us.  We had three large closets, drawers below the vanity and two nightstands with drawers.  After unpacking, we complemented the large amount of storage space available.  A safe inside one closets provided a secure place for valuables and the upper drawers on the nightstands locked with a key.  One hint about the safe.  Instructions indicate that you slide your card through the slot to lock and unlock your safe.  Assuming the card to be your room key, I tried it several times and gave up believing that that the mechanism was broken.  Finally, I tried a real MasterCard and it worked.  That is a minor inconvenience because you need to carry a credit card as well as your room key when you leave your cabin to be certain that your valuables are secure. LAYOUT OF THE SHIP Once onboard, we toured the ship.  We were immediately impressed with the ease of movement about the ship.  Never did we have to go up or down to move from forward to aft.  All decks were through and through and there were three elevator areas to take you from floor to floor easily. The ship has a musical motif.  The atrium area is three stories tall and has a central pipe organ as its focus.  The organ’s computer plays and the statues move at about 4:00P each day.  Examining the keyboard and visible controls, I wonder if anyone could actually play the instrument?  It is an interesting piece, but not the most exciting central atrium that we have seen.  The Promenade and the Upper Promenade decks contain most of the public areas.  A nice HAL touch is the relative sameness of the floor plans on most of their new ships.  That facilitates movement from ship to ship.  If you are comfortable on one ship, you should easily adapt to the others.  Two of the lounges are lined up just aft of the shopping arcade on the Upper Promenade.  The Sea View Lounge and the Explorer’s Lounge are well decorated and are the gathering spots after dinner.  The Oceanview Lounge is forward of the shops and is the gathering place before dinner for complementary hot hors d’oeuvres and dancing.  The Rotterdam dining room is located at the stern of the ship and Marco Polo dining room is about amidships, on the Promenade deck.  The Crows Nest Lounge, at the bow of the ship, has a panoramic view of the sea from its high vantage point, located forward of the pool dome on the Sports Deck. The Lido Deck is where the two pools are located. The Lido restaurant separates them. The Lido pool has a retractable cover for inclement weather and the smaller outside pool is exposed.  Both have bars adjacent to them.  The Salon and Spa are forward on the Lido Deck. PASSENGER TYPES AND CROWDING We immediately noticed an older crowd on this ship.  I believe all the cruise lines have distinctive characteristics which appeal to differing personality types and age groups.  Holland America has typically had a more senior following.  We are in our 50’s and 60’s and enjoyed the sedate atmosphere.  Generally announcements were minimized and quiet types of music were available.  There were few children but the ones onboard were well behaved and gave youthfulness to the ship.  I believe that all the cruise lines strive to be “all things to all people” but it is refreshing to be able to pick a cruise line for its distinctiveness.  I hope there is always a preference of age types for each line.  We did notice the passenger to space ratio seemed excellent.  Only one time did we feel crowded in a line and that was the last morning at breakfast when everyone slept in till the last minute and descended on the dining room at the same time.  The lounges were never full.   The dining rooms were full but not crowded.   The lines for the shore excursions were short except for ports requiring tenders, and then we waited in the show lounge for ticket assignments.  Even the pool always had enough lounge chairs and never did we notice anyone needing to save a chair with a towel or book.  FOOD Breakfast is one of our favorite meals.  The menu was only slightly varied day to day.  Basic breakfast fare was always available with a separate Continental Breakfast line.  Small changes in potato types as well as the variablilty of pancakes, waffles or French toast was noted on different days. We were impressed with the lunch choices.  The typical buffet line was available in the Lido Restaurant but there was also a sandwich buffet with hot and cold choices made to order, as well as an ice cream bar with good ice cream and yogurt.  We also liked the poolside buffet with a choice of Pizza as well as tacos and fajitas with all the trimmings.  Hamburgers and hot dogs were available at the grill as well.  I do wonder why HAL insists on serving food in the buffet lines rather than allowing passengers to serve themselves.  Do they feel this is added service or perhaps a way to provide smaller servings and control food cost?  Overall, it made the lines slow to move and caused confusion if anyone asked for a larger serving or cut in line for a single piece of toast or a glass of juice. Dinner at the Rotterdam was good but typical cruise ship fare.  We chose to eat at the Marco Polo one night and that meal rated as one of our best ever.  We ordered room service once when we became tired of all the rich food in the dining room and enjoyed the poolside barbeque on another night.  All in all, we would rate the food on the Zaandam as great to excellent.   We have never had a truly bad meal on a cruise, but the food on this one, considering all the choices and varied locations for dining, was among the best we have ever had. SERVICE Service at sea is always good.  Our room steward was prompt and efficient.  The room was made up twice daily with fresh towels and turndown service as usual.  Kayron is a late sleeper and he adjusted his schedule to service our room after all others were done.  Our privacy was never interrupted and yet he was very efficient. Dining service was good but I cannot say better than other ships.  The wine steward was overworked but never failed us.  We were unsure of our assistant waiter’s presence untill the last night when we asked his name.  He did a good job but was not prominent at the table. Bar service was good and quickly the staff learned our names and preferences.  About the same as other cruise lines. TIPPING Having read other opinions about HAL’s tipping policy, I will put in my two cents worth.  They feel that tipping is not required and should be a reward for excellence.  As a travel agent, I realize that Holland America charges a higher price for their cruises.  I know that the antiques, the art and the décor of the ships, all add to the cost.   I would like to ask HAL if some of the extra cost goes to the service staff in the form of higher wages.  If so, are the passengers, in effect, tipping twice? Once with the extra cost of the cruise and again in direct tips?  I know that other cruise lines pay minimal salaries and that the staff lives off tips.  Of course they deserve and appreciate their tips.  We tipped on the Zaandam because the staff did a great job and we believe that tipping is the right thing to do.  The “tipping not required” policy created some confusion and questions from the passengers. I think everyone would appreciate having a better understanding of the policy so that they know if the staff is already well compensated.  Just my thoughts. SHORE EXCURSIONS Because we had done the Western Caribbean Itinerary many time before, we did not choose any of the shore excursions, instead simply leaving the ship to explore and shop on our own.  We did truly enjoy Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.  HAL has done an excellent job of designing and maintaining this small slice of paradise.  There were enough chairs and hammocks for everyone not to feel crowded.  For me, a small walk up the beach quickly discovered a single hammock in relative seclusion with a beautiful view of the ship framed by the trees, for my obligatory after lunch nap.  This was a real treat  ENTERTAINMENT We enjoyed Thien Fu, the comedy juggler.  That is a performance not to be missed.  He is truly funny and talented.  We heard comments about other performances and they were generally positive.  We enjoyed the music in the Oceanview Bar and the Piano Bar music was also good.  The steel drum band was seemingly ever present and we considered them excellent. DISEMBARKATION Leaving a ship is always a chore.  The mood is gloomy and waiting in a public area till your number is called is a drag.  We were assigned number 12 and anticipated a long wait but were surprised when the sequence of numbers varied depending upon availability of ground transportation.  Debarkation began at 8:40A and we were off the ship by 9:30, efficient enough to secure an earlier flight home.  Certainly, this was not the best debarkation (Voyager of the Seas was the most efficient and a much larger ship) but it was not awful either.  I believe some of the problems lay with the mixed nationality onboard and therefore the language barrier.  Several times we heard announcements requesting non-US citizens to meet the immigration officials and seemingly that slowed the process until translators asked again in native languages.  Somehow, inevitably, we all left the ship in an orderly fashion. OVERALL Rating this ship and itinerary is not difficult.  Overall, we would say this was one of our best cruises ever.  Holland America does a good job with small details that ensure a great cruise experience.  The complementary hors d’oeuvres, the flowers and fruit in the cabin, the excellent embarkation procedures, the overall good service, the flowers and antiques throughout the ship, the better than average food and the lack of intrusive announcements all combine to provide an above average cruise experience. When we boarded this ship, our intent was to compare the total experience of this vessel with other new ships that we have sailed and to discover the little things that make the extra cost of a HAL cruise worth the money.  Now, I can truly say that I believe this is one of the top ships of the 4 newbuilds that we have cruised and I will say that there is extra value in the Holland America product.   This is a quality ship and a quality cruise line.  Nothing fake or “glitzy” here.   We are looking forward to another cruise on a Holland America ship in the near future and will continue to recommend Holland America as a “value” cruise experience.

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