We booked this cruise with trepidation, as the reviews of the ship (and of Holland America in general) were, at best, mixed. But boy, were we pleasantly surprised!
Having sailed 30+ times, we are not novices when it comes to judging ships. We've been on so many types, to so many places, that we do tend to overlook certain things. But still, we hadn't heard great things about this ship, and that had us a little concerned about what we were getting ourselves into. However, the Zaandam far exceeded our expectations. The staff---especially the servers in all the restaurants---were wonderful. The food was better than most and reminded us of the kind of choices we used to get on all cruiselines.
Food: yes, food matters. And in recent years, it seems this is the one area you can most feel the cutbacks. We fondly recall the bygone cruising era, when surf and turf meant filet mignon and lobster. Nowadays, cruises offer their version, which includes a sirloin and a piece of fish (or, if you're lucky, a crableg or two). So imagine our surprise when, upon ordering surf and turf onboard the Zaandam, we actually got a genuine filet and a lobster tail? Want additional lobsters? Just ask. They brought us six. No kidding...six.
The Lido Restaurant is the ship's buffet. We'd definitely rate this higher than on other ships. In fact, many people onboard opted to eat all their dinners in there because it was just so good. Everything is very well-organized and well-labeled, and, instead of a bunch of strangers ladling heaping helpings onto their overladen plates, they actually serve you from behind the counter. Nice touch that we greatly appreciated. One night, crablegs were offered as one of the many dinner choices. There was virtually no line, and you could just walk up and get a huge plateful. The tables are quickly bussed and cleaned, and there are lots of helpers to get you coffee, water, tea, etc.
I did read one poster's complaint about the lack of an ice cream machine. Having sailed on Royal Caribbean a couple of months ago, we can honestly say thank goodness the Zaandam DOES NOT have this! The ships we've sailed on, including the recent one on RCCL, had streams of gooey ice cream all over the deck area where the ice cream machines were located. Half the time they didn't work, or were out of ice cream or cones, and always had long lines. We much prefer the civilzed way of HAL, where a smiling female server doles it into a bowl or cone for you, adding your choice of topping.
Service: by far the best we've had in ages! Everyone (well, except for the snooty maitre d' in the Rotterdam Restaurant. What a tool.) is smiling, exceptionally polite, remembers you by name, and is just wonderful. Imagine coming into a cruise's buffet and having a server there remember you by name and save you a table by the window---on the second day of the cruise, no less! What impressed us most was that everyone behaved this way not for an expected tip, but because it was just the way they do things on the Zaandam.
The ship is older but charming. The staff is constantly cleaning and polishing, and they seem to take pride in their ship. The cabin size was larger than on similar ships. Lines onboard were quite manageable and moved quickly. The ship's overall size (on the small size) is actually preferred over the mega ships that require one to wait in line for elevators, wait in line flor food, fight crowds for deck space, etc.
Holland America includes so many nice touches that have all but disappeared on many other lines: free 24 hour room service, bowls of fruit in your cabin, personalized notes from staff, clean towels AND blankets by the pool area (no need to show a room key. Just help yourself), etc.
Take it from two people that have cruised for years and years: this one is much better than they say.