This was our first time on HAL, but we have been on 7 other cruises. We had heard wonderful things about HAL since my parents who were accompanying us had sailed with Holland America before and enjoyed it in the past. We chose HAL because of it's Alaskan itinerary included Glacier Bay, a service call at Tracy Arm a and had long port times.
We embarked around 11a in Vancouver which was a beautiful city. We asked where to go, and once we realized we had to go down into the garage area of Canada Place, there were HAL staff to direct us. We checked our bags easy enough. Then we stood on 2 snake lines for the customs/border control line. It took us about an hour to get through the line since the Zuiderdam and a Princess ship were embarking at the same time. There was no line to get our seapasses. Then we were instructed to wait in a seat until directed when we would be able to board the ship. When we were cleared to go, we had to wait in another line for a picture which we passed on. We were invited to lunch in the Vista Dining room which was very enjoyable and sure beats the crowds in the Lido where it was impossible to find a seat. Our bags were waiting for us in our cabin when we arrived. We unpacked and went to muster.
The Zuiderdam was an older but beautiful ship unlike some of the reviews I had read that described a tattered unkept ship. The only place we saw minor work needed was in the Vista Dining room where part of the ceiling's molding was taped in 3 spots with duct tape.
We had cabins: 1063 & 1059 which were large inside cabins, much larger than other cruise lines we have sailed. The beds were very comfortable. There was a vanity and a sofa in the cabin. The table was missing in our cabin which made eating in our room a challenge, but our daughters had one in their room. There were 3 closets, one had a safe in it. There was also 2 nightstands with 2 drawers, and an underbed drawer. Our cabin steward was pleasant and made our bed and towel animals daily. Soap was never replenished, and one day only 1 bath towel was left when there were 2 of us in the cabin. The bathroom worked well and there was shampoo, conditioner and gel in dispensers in the shower.
Kieran, the cruise director, was very funny without being obnoxious like some are.
We had a few wonderful meals and some disappointing ones. We ate dinner in the Vista 6 out of 7 nights. Your time dining was extremely frustrating. I called early the day of embarkation to make reservations for the first 3 nights, but the only time available was 5:15 or 8p. After a big debate, they reluctantly agreed to give us 2 six pm reservations and an 8p. They were very willing to give us any time we wanted at the Italian restaurant for an upcharge. The service was so slow these three nights----2 1/2 hrs to get through dinner. This interfered with show times. For nights 4-6 we opted to go to the dining room without a reservation since we were only able to get an 8p reservation. We had to wait 45 minutes one night. On the bright side, we had different wait staff (Tatang and Sute) on nights 4-6 and these gentlemen were pleasant and extremely efficient. Our last night we went to the Pinnacle Grill for an up charge where the service and food were spectacular. We had booked this reservation prior to our cruise, which I would recommend because it was quite busy that evening.
We were disappointed that there weren't fun events happening poolside on the sea days, like other cruises we were on, and a sail away party. Daily events like computer courses, beauty techniques, mixology and wine tastings (there were charges for these) were offered.
We took an excursion through HAL to Tracy Arm Fjord since this was just a service call and it was spectacular. The weather was beautiful, the transfers from the cruise ship to the Allen Marine boat were simplistic and the staff on the Allen Marine boat were extremely knowledgeable. The North and South Sawyer Glaciers were beautiful as well as the sail through the fjords. We would highly recommend this excursion although it was costly.
Glacier Bay was another beautiful sailing day. The ship was able to get to the John Hopkins Glacier which was gorgeous! We saw numerous whales, seals, a bear and mountain goats along the way. It was extremely cold at 6a so we sat in the Crow's Nest which allowed for great viewing and we dashed onto the decks intermittently. The park rangers were knowledgeable and informative.
We will continue to sail with Royal Carribean or Celebrity when we do not need a specific itinerary since we feel they go the extra mile. The question we were left with after this cruise was, should we have tried Princess instead of HAL since they had a similar itinerary?