Holland America Zuiderdam Alaska Inside Passage 7 night Cruise
We took the cruise as part of a holiday which included stays in Banff and Vancouver and a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer. Our travel agent suggested Holland America and the Zuiderdam departure fitted our schedule. We last cruised 15 years ago, in the Mediterranean on The Oriana.
Firstly, Alaska is not often hot and sunny in Alaska and you may want to ask if you really will spend much time sitting out on your balcony. We did a bit, but not much. Ours was a superior verandah suite on the Navigation (8th) deck. We chose a midships location away from noise and this worked well. The stateroom was good- sized and comfortable though the decor and furnishings are becoming a bit worn, eg some upholstery was stained. The air-con/heating worked well with simple controls and was reasonably quiet. The bed was big and very comfortable. The patio door and window gave a good view and the balcony was quite generous (looked bigger than those on some other cruise ships we berthed beside). There were two armchairs with footstools and a table and two chairs.
The ship's decor was not to our taste with an emphasis on pink, blue and pattern which we thought created a rather gaudy overall effect. There are some interesting bronze castings stationed in alcoves but these did not alleviate the overall effect. This impression carried over into the dining rooms. Food is available somewhere, including your cabin, for as much time as one could imaginable want. For those making an effort, and some did, it can be had in vast quantity. We had chosen to have dinner in the main restaurant at the 8pm sitting with a reserved table. For our last night we booked into the speciality restaurant 'The Pinnacle Grill' at an additional cost of $40. This provides a more pleasant dining atmosphere and a more up-market menu. After some prompting the restaurant manager negotiated a special vegetarian curry for my wife which, prepared by the Indian chef, was very good as was my steak but the customer focus here should have been smoother. We enjoyed the dinner but felt as though this should be the norm not an extra cost. Although we missed dining there the Italian restaurant 'Canaletto' offers an in-between upgrade at a more modest surcharge.
Alaska can be beautiful, especially when there is some sun. We were very fortunate in having I some lovely sunlight during the morning when we were in Glacier Bay and the views were stunning. Otherwise the weather was cloudy and sometimes wet. Of our three ports of call we probably liked Skagway best, we found a neat little hotel/bistro with decent food for lunch and enjoyed the gold-rush feel and look. We were helped in this by taking the Skagway Streetcar Tour which was relatively cheap ($Xx) whose sassy driver/guide set the tone. Of our other tours, the Whale Watching and Wildlife was a good experience as we like boats and we saw a group of humpback whales feeding with good views, some breaching and lots of good tail shots. In Ketchikan we took the Rainforest, Totems and Raptor tour. As we arrived at Ketchikan we experienced the Rainforest effect before starting the tour proper. The tour was interesting if you like trees, but our guide missed the bears, we had little time at the totems and saw only two captive raptors (owl and eagle). The zip line above the rainforest sanctuary is distracting and totally out of keeping. There are plenty of tours available at all ports after you dock and, while we can't comment on quality or reliability they are cheaper than those offered through HA.
Do not worry about dress codes. We like to dress for formal evenings and try to make some effort for 'smart casual' evenings too; this is by no means the norm. Probably less than 10 % of the men on board wore dinner suits (tuxedos) on formal nights and T-shirts were not unusual on 'smart casual' evenings in the main waiter service restaurant. Generally, women seemed to make more effort to dress well for dinner.
Tipping remains an issue. The line charges $12 per person per day's hotel charge' which we were told is distributed between cabin stewards, dining room staff and those more behind the scenes. This seems fine and equitable though of course it begs the question of why HA (and other cruise lines) don't pay their staff an appropriate rate. It also leaves the customer still feeling they want to reward more directly and personally some special service or kindness. So, despite the $168 extra charge at the end of the week we found ourselves still making sure we had enough dollars to hand over to a few really deserving crew members. Perhaps one day all will be well enough paid to end this.
Overall impressions? Staff aboard, mainly from the Philippines or Indonesia, work very very hard (often on long contracts which keep them away from home for over a year) and are friendly and helpful. Food is good on the whole, especially in the main Vista restaurant, but doesn't match the best of shore-based restaurants. Given the numbers catered for it might be seen as remarkable. Entertainment was pretty good with something somewhere for most tastes. Gary Lithgow in the Crows Nest bar and the Halcats' 'Motown' evening were our favourites. However, despite the friendliness and helpfulness of staff it is hard to avoid the feeling that you are more of a marketing opportunity than a guest. From dawn to dusk the ship sells. From frequent invitations to buy drinks, the crew circulating the decks selling branded flasks, the relentless jewellery promotions and the tv channels devoted to more purchasing opportunities your wallet is under attack. Some efforts are hilarious in their hyperbole, eg one invitation invited us to "peruse rare hand-selected designs by world-renowned visionaries." we searched in vain for the Gandhi designed pendant or the Martin Luther King designed earrings. On a more serious note the on-board use of the key/charge card for all purchases did raise some questions in our mind over security and possible fraudulent use.