Just returned from a 16 day round trip Vancouver -- Hawaiian Islands on the Zaandam, September 23 to October 9, 2012.
The cruisers -- my 82 year old father (walks short distances but we have a travel, folding wheelchair), my husband, and myself.
Check in: this is the first time I've cruised out of Vancouver and gone down to Parking 2. HAL's Statendam and the Golden Princess were also in port. We arrived around 11:30am. It took a few minutes in a car line up before we got out. While we waited in the car we saw a huge line up of people in the parkade lining the sidewalk just to get in the building. A porter showed up and whisked off all our luggage and we got in the line which 30 minutes later got us through security. Then on to US customs. There were so many handicapped passengers we would have probably been better off getting in the fully mobile line up but we have to go where the staff send us and they have different lines for mobile people and handicapped. Usually it's a benefit traveling with a person in a wheelchair but not this time. I've never seen so many walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters on any other cruise! When we finally get to the check in there is a problem with the computers. Really slow. All the staff working the desk are very frustrated. Our check in lady was really grouchy, probably brought on by the stress of the slowpoke computers but whatever, thanks for the snarly attitude. We changed the credit card we were using and I made it very clear that all 3 of us were using this one card for all of our onboard charges. We finally get onboard at 1:15pm.
Going back to the check in process, the next day my husband gets a letter saying he has not let HAL know how he will be paying for his onboard account and to contact the front desk. So thanks for screwing up grouchy check in lady! Now we are inconvenienced by having to go stand in a line at the front desk to do the credit card thing one more time because they won't do it over the phone.
Toilets: no problem with the toilet in our bathroom nor any of the public ones on the ship. I heard no complaints from other passengers about toilets not working.
Air conditioning: worked. In fact it worked overtime. It was very cold in some areas including our cabin even though we had the setting on midway between heat and air conditioning.
Sewer smell: very strong only on Deck 4 outside the Pinnacle restaurant. Now that's gotta be a joy eating in there! After the shows a large group of passengers would make their way down this hallway to the midship elevators and everyone commented on the stench. Woowee!!! Peeyew!!! There are restrooms nearby but I don't think the overpowering stink was coming from there. My husband said there was most likely a hole or leak in an outtake pipe of the ship's waste storage system causing the stink. Something like that is very hard to find or repair. The last 2 days the staff was using an air freshener outside the Pinnacle trying to mask the sewer stink.
Swimming pools -- usually open 7am to 7pm no matter how late the Explorer says they're open. The crew were netting them just after 7 each night and turning off the lights in the Lido pool area. Hot tubs supposedly open to 10pm if you can find them in the dark!
Bedtime: 9pm bedtime on the Zaandam. The place becomes a ghost town after that. Must be discouraging for the entertainers on the late shift who are playing to an almost empty room.
Passenger accommodations and comfort: We were in a triple cabin, deluxe veranda B category, on Deck 6, Veranda deck, #6203, near the aft elevators. Good location. We chose our cabin, did not book a guarantee. Twin beds for my father and husband. I bunked on the couch that coverts to a single bed made up by the stewards each night. The first couple of days they left it as a bed but I asked them to turn it into a couch by day. Room was good enough. I know a lot of people complain about dingy, and color schemes, etc but I'm not all about that. This is ocean life. Salt air and moisture, they choose colors and furniture that will stand up. The only thing I'll say is that there was a long gouge in the desk and a previous cruiser gouged their cigarette multiple times into the couch and the chair.
Passengers in cabins on Deck 1 and 2 were suffering from flooded cabins. One woman told us their bed/bedding was flooded, along with everything else in the cabin. They asked for a new cabin but were told the ship was sold out. 3 days before sailing HAL contacted us and asked if we wanted to pay extra to upgrade to a superior suite or a penthouse but we turned it down and other passengers I spoke with also got similar offers. So that tells me unless they sold out at the last minute there probably were available cabins but Zaandam unwilling to upgrade a passenger on Deck 1 up to Deck 7. Instead they put two cots into the housekeeping room for these passengers and offered them a $500 future cruise credit. The woman was livid. What makes HAL think they'd ever cruise with them again after this? A woman on our trivia team told us one of her dinner tablemates had water flowing down her wall the entire cruise. There were about 20 cabins flooding on these 2 decks and affected passengers were offered $300 future cruise credit. All the Zaandam staff could do was mop up these cabins as best they could but I got the feeling from the flooded out passengers that there was no sense of urgency. The flooding issues were not fixed and that would be tough to do without ripping out walls and ceilings and they'd need a dry dock to do that. Ironically the Zaandam was supposed to be in dry dock right now but it was cancelled and instead they're sailing to Mexico and back to Vancouver instead. One of our friends was on Deck 1 and their cabin was not wet but the cabins that were leaking the water came out under the doors and onto the hallway so they had to walk over wet carpets and said the staff were out there occasionally with mops and shop vacs trying to keep up with the water.
Deck 5 main dining room last Friday had the elevator area closed off. There was a ladder set up and several ceiling panels on the floor so pipes had sprung a leak there too. The hotel manager/director Edwin Brunwink happened to be standing there looking up at it when we walked past. My husband asked him what happened and he said "Routine scheduled maintenance." My husband asks "You scheduled a flood?" Brunwink glared at him and turned and walked away without a word. I mean why lie? Most people through life experience have probably had a leaky roof or a toilet or bathtub overflow. The ceiling below gets a water stain and the drywall puffs out. Why lie to the passengers? Later on we saw a staff member up the ladder working on the leaky pipe. He was a lot friendlier and smiling. I don't know if they fixed it but the ceiling was replaced later that day.
Deck 3 -- this is the Lower Promenade Deck even though it's the deck that is usually called Promenade deck on most other cruise ships with the outside walk around. There are passenger cabins here. The outside view cabins look out on the walkaround. And vice versa. People who are going walkaround can look in on theses cabins. HAL might try to fool you into thinking these are mirrored windows and people can't see in but I could see in just fine if the curtains were open. And I wasn't pressing my nose up to the window. I was just going walkabout and I could see in. Day or night I saw people inside these cabins. Though at night time in addition to the curtains being open the lights also had to be on for me to see in. Sorry future Zaandam cruisers. If someone at HAL told you that people walking around on the deck can't see in, they lied. If you book an outside cabin on Deck 3 on the Zaandam and you want privacy -- keep your curtains closed!
Meal service and accessibility: the absolute worst I have ever encountered on any cruise line. The first problem is getting to and from the MDR on Deck 4 which is only accessible by stairs or elevator. We are anytime dining. Works better for us. My father never knows when he might be hungry but usually we go down around 5:30 to 5:45. First night we ate in the MDR and we had a good server and all was more or less fine. The food would have been better if it was served hot. Very noticeable is the lack of assistants. Cut backs, sick staff, or not all servers get an assistant I don't know. Second night we went down around 5:30 and they were already giving out pagers. We had about 15/20 minute wait and then were seated at a table for 12 with several other passengers which was fine, we're happy with any sized table. But no way did 12 people eat and leave in the last half hour. It just took the staff a long time to set up due to lack of MDR staff. The next night was formal night so we ate in the Lido. The following night we went to the MDR around 5:45 and were given a pager. We were the 16th person to get a pager. Finally got paged at 7:10pm for a table and sat with others again which was fine. A table is a table. There are a lot of angry passengers. What happened is for anytime dining the Zaandam staff are taking reservations? I mean what??? This is anytime dining. Go down when you're ready to eat and instead throughout the day the Zaandam is taking reservations and screwing up the whole anytime dining concept. What is the point of having anytime dining? When our pager went off and we came back to the MDR one person we talked to had pager #32. When we got our food it was cold. That was actually pretty much normal for the MDR any meal we took there, cold food. Total passenger mutiny in the MDR that night and the manager started bringing complimentary champagne around to the passengers around 8:30 as an apology for the bad service.
We tried the MDR a couple of other times on the cruise and they tried to pass me a pager and I said forget it we'll eat the Lido instead.
Our last night at sea we tried the MDR one more time. Got there around 6pm and was handed a pager. Fortunately my father wasn't hungry yet and that's why we planned it figuring by the time we got seated he might be. They tell you to go up to Deck 5 and wait in the lounge which we did all 3 times we got a pager. Got paged nearly 30 minutes later. I ran down the stairs to let them know we're coming just that my husband and father were waiting for an elevator. The maitre'd tells me they paged me 15 minutes earlier and I didn't show up so they gave my table away. So for the first time ever on a cruise I argue with the sucker telling him no the pager just went off a couple of minutes ago. Those pagers make a fair amount of racket. They vibrate, lights flash, and a loud voice tells you to return to the dining room your table is ready. I had the pager sitting on the table in front of us. 3 of us watching a pager are not going to miss it. No way it went off 15 minutes earlier like he insisted. Like I said its very obvious when the pager goes off so I'm arguing with the guy that they may have paged me 15 minutes ago but the pager went off just now. So he assures me we'll get the very next table which we got about 2 minutes after my father and husband arrived on the elevator. Meanwhile these two jokers behind the maï¿½tre d station decide to test my pager and call it. Nothing happens. Hah! Told you! Apparently this particular pager has a delayed reaction. Which I guess I should be fortunate was only 15 minutes delay otherwise I could have been sitting up there for a couple of hours! We get seated and the server ignores us. No water in our goblets, no bread on the table. Though the people who got seated at the table next to us 10 minutes after us got their bread and water right away. After we'd been sitting there 25 minutes the server brings us water and bread and returns 5 minutes later to take our order. Meanwhile the people seated 10 minutes after us already have their appetizers. We should have just bailed and gone up to the Lido. As it was we didn't stick around for dessert and got up to the Lido just before they closed and got our dessert there.
What I've learned about the Zaandam's dining room service is if you are physically handicapped to the point you need to use an elevator and if you like to eat in the MDR -- the Zaandam is a BAD choice.
If you like to get good dining room service - the Zaandam is a BAD choice.
If you like to get your food hot and eat it while it's hot in a dining room - the Zaandam is a BAD choice.
We chatted with a man who has over 200 days with HAL and has sailed on the Zaandam several times. He was very disappointed with the deterioration of the meal service. Likewise hundreds of other frustrated Zaandam passengers on our cruise were also fed up with this crappy meal service in the MDR.
The Lido buffet area. Decent food and at least passengers had a higher rate of success of getting hot food here instead of in the main dining room. Continental breakfast starts at 6am, with a full breakfast starting around 6:30 or 7, really depended on the day if it was a sea or port day. Lunch same story, maybe 11:30 to 2 but sandwiches and desserts available all afternoon. Dinner 5pm to 8pm.
Dinner at the Lido was decent enough and this is the place to be on the Zaandam if you actually like to eat hot food because they keep it under warmers. There was one female cook/server who hated her job and hated the passengers. Because I'm not sure of censoring of bad words on Cruise Critic, I'll call her Witchy, but substitute that w with a b if you want to know what we really called her! One little old lady made the mistake of telling Witchy she put too much food on her plate. Witchy made a huge point of sighing loudly, scraping all the food off the plate and into the garbage, and glaring at the little old lady making sure she got her point across how inconvenient the old biddy was making her life. My husband asked her to put a little gravy on the meat for my father's plate. Instead she dumped gravy on everything on the plate. One time my husband and I were both standing in line getting a plate of food for him and my father. He asked for small portions for only the plate for my father who has a small appetite. Then for his plate he said load it up so Witchy made a point of putting tiny portions on his plate too and when he asked for more she glared at him and flung the food across the plate making the food presentation match her attitude -- lousy.
There is a pasta bar just before the main entree area with one fellow operating it. Fortunately Witchy never got assigned pasta detail! Or maybe it would have been better if she had because the fellow serving pasta ignored the passengers. Mostly he kept his back turned to them and kept busy doing something across from the pasta station though he kept looking over and knew people were waiting for the pasta. I usually gave up trying to get him to serve up some pasta and moved on to eat something else. Hello Witchy! And what do they do with all that leftover pasta the fellow refuses to serve in the Lido that night? My guess is they serve it in the Canaletto the next night! $10. Signs in all the elevators.
Dinner is served in the Lido between 5pm and 8pm. One side is closed down. The Canaletto is on that side of the Lido and takes up around 1/3 of the seating area, perhaps a little less but let's call it a third. The rest of this side is reserved for officers and staff during the 3 hours. Hunh??? I'm not saying the crew don't deserve to eat but they seem to have no problem fitting in with the passengers during lunch and breakfast so what's the issue with fitting in with the lowly passengers at dinnertime too? If they had to have their own private time in the Lido can't they choose a less busy time. So 5 tables or less were usually in use by staff leaving a lot of empty tables on that one side of the Lido. Meanwhile on the passenger side of the Lido all the tables are full of passengers who've given up on the crap service and food in the MDR so its hard to find somewhere to eat. Several times we went to one of the pool decks with our food. So one night my husband went upstairs to check things out around 6pm and came back down to tell me that one man was arguing with the staff member in charge of keeping the lowly passengers out of the staff side of the Lido during dinnertime. He was complaining there was nowhere to sit on the passenger side and no staff were eating on the side reserved for them and there were lots of empty tables and he should open them up for everyone. Then more passengers got involved in the argument. 20 minutes later we came up to the Lido to eat and the crew member must have gotten worried about a mutiny and removed the sign stating crew only and allowed the passengers to come in and use the tables. What's the big deal why they separate staff and passengers?
Beverage services: My father used the bar service a few times in the Mondrian Lounge prior to a show. Staff were friendly and efficient and very good at remembering what he liked to drink. There was one woman who I think was a senior bar staff because she was the one on stage serving the officers on the night of the champagne toast. I saw her before shows in the lounge and I nicknamed her The Scowler because she never smiled and just glared around the room. One time I was in the Lido pool and the roof was open and it was windy and there was a bit of swell to the ocean. The bar staff had a display table with various drinks on it including bottles of beer. A bottle of beer rolled off the table and smashed onto the deck. Could smell that from where I was in the pool. The Scowler appears from nowhere putting on this dramatic performance like the busted beer bottle mess was the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen. You'd think the cost of the beer was coming out of her paycheck or something the way she was carrying on! You'd think the main priority would be to clean up the mess -- or call in whoever's responsibility that belongs to and make sure there is no broken glass in the area because this is an area where its very likely barefoot passengers are walking around. Instead she spends much time lamenting the death of this beer before clean up begins. Bizarre.
Elevators: Remember my father and the wheelchair? At our aft elevators only 3 out of 4 were working. One was always dark. Out of the other 3 it seemed like 2 of them rarely budged. This became a nightmare at chow time when walkers, scooters, and wheelchairs are all trying to get to the food. The problem is Deck 4 MDR can only be accessed by stairs or elevator. The galley is on the other side of the stairs so there is no hallway that accesses the forward areas of Deck 4. You got to go up or down a floor and walk that floor's hallway until you reach the midship stairs or elevators. One time when we came out of the MDR there were 20 wheelchairs/scooters/walkers waiting for an elevator. I went up the stairs and hotfooted it to the lounge to hold seats for my father and husband who was pushing the wheelchair. It took them 15 minutes to get there. I have no idea how long that one elevator was out of service -- sometime during the Alaska runs. If it broke down on the last run and they needed a part or an elevator technician to get it going again, I know of two companies in Vancouver who service elevators and there's probably more. I'm also going out on a limb and saying there are probably companies in Honolulu that service elevators and the Zaandam couldn't get that sucker going? Who knows how long it's been down? So one elevator never working and for whatever reason out of the other 3 elevators only one would be working. You'd see it going up and down and the other two elevators would be stuck on the same floor the whole time. Listen up Zaandam. Not everyone can use the stairs! Get the elevators running!
Zaandam singers and dancers -- I've got good news and I've got bad news. Out of all the HAL ships I've been on the Zaandam singers and dancers are the best I've ever seen. Energy, talent, great routines. Incredible! Loved them! The bad news? This was their farewell voyage. Their contracts are up, they've gone on to whatever it is cruise ship workers do at the end of their contract.
Our travel guide/port lecturer Kainoa was wonderful. Loved his talks! Very passionate about Hawaii as a destination partly because that's his heritage. He's great. Can't say enough nice things about him.
Other entertainers included:
comedian/magician Rich Purpura
pianist Juan Pablo Subirana
ventriloquist Patrick Murray and Matilda -- the passengers loved him but this was the Edgar Bergen/Charlie Maccarthy crowd. He was great.
Comedian/juggler Billy Prudhomme
The Stander Dance Duo (skip this one!)
The Drums of Polynesia Show -- came on board on Honolulu. Wonderful hula show.
Comedian Mack Dryden
The Company Men (quartet singers) more appealing to a younger crowd.
And of course the Filipino and Indonesian crew shows on different nights at 11pm, not well attended because it was past the bedtimes of 99% of the passengers.
Barbi and the Halcats performed throughout the ship -- sailaways, pool party, and Crow's Nest.
In the main show theater, Mondrian Lounge, the first show is at 8pm. To get a semi-good seat you must arrive by 7:30. By 7:40 the lounge will be packed. No seats left. Come back for the 10pm show. Oops, no, can't do that. 9pm bedtime! We came to the 10pm shows a few times. Us and 30 others. Kind of tough on comedian Billy Prudhomme who thanked all the people who showed up for his performance disguised as couches and chairs. At one point he's yelling "wake up, wake up" and I turn around and an old man sitting by himself a few rows behind me is sleeping. And Billy tells him "I don't come to your cabin and juggle."
One time my husband and I came up to the Crow's Nest at 8:50pm and caught Barbi and the Halcats last couple of songs. We were their only audience. We came up a couple of times after 11pm to listen to them. Its pretty sad when a 5 piece band outnumbers the audience but can't keep people up past their bedtime can you!
Ports of call:
I prebooked cars in all the Hawaiian Islands. Cost including GPS ran between $45 and $55 depending on island plus between $10 and $30 for gas. Not bad for entertaining 3 people.
Hilo -- it was a free day at Volcano National Park so we drove up there and around the rim and stopped at the lookouts for photos. Then we drove back to Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm and bought some goodies. We drove back to Hilo and checked out Rainbow Falls and went to Big Island Candies and Cookies. Tons of free samples in that place and bought some more goodies here too. My father wasn't hungry when we got back to the ship. Gee I wonder why! We found a parking spot half a block from the farmer's market. I bought an incredible bouquet of orchids for $5 that I kept in my cabin for the cruise. That would have cost me $50+ back home. We also bought various jams and honeys from the vendors.
Lahaina -- this is a tender port. Another reason the Zaandam is an extremely bad choice for disabled passengers is you have to walk down a flight of steps (and back up upon return) to get to the tender launch. There are no lifts for handicapped passengers. Walk the stairs or stay on board. We knew about this in advance and yes my father can walk up/down stairs. Slowly. The staff will assist with a steadying hand and carrying wheelchairs or scooters on and off the tender. We've all been to Maui numerous times so we just did a scenic drive and had lunch in Kihei and took the car back to the rental place to catch the 3pm shuttle back to the dock. Last shuttle is at 4pm. Miss it and take a taxi. Anyway we get back on the tender and the floor is really wet so I figured surf was up and water was sloshing in because the doors are open with just a rope keeping people in. When we got off the captain was standing there greeting passengers. A little odd. First time ever I've seen a captain do that. My father wanted to nap so we dropped him off at the cabin and went back to the tender about 15 minutes later. The captain is no longer there at the security station. Oddly enough an engineer also gets on our tender and is giving the pilot some tips. He drove to the dock very slowly and carefully. Only one other couple is on the tender going back to Lahaina. They told us they were on a tender back to the ship about half an hour earlier and the waves were high and the fellow piloting the tender decided to run it fast and full tilt into the oncoming waves. Yee haw!!! Unfortunately he forgot to close a hatch and a woman sitting in the front got drenched. Twice! And a crew member was injured. So that would account for why the captain was down greeting tender passengers. Must have happened a boat or two before us. Something serious enough like that would bring him down to check that all involved were OK. And probably to relieve the tender driver of his duties! Then he stayed there awhile keeping an eye on how the tenders were being operated.
Kauai -- we drove out to the Waimea Canyon -- the grand canyon of the Pacific. Gorgeous. Afterwards we stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation where they have free samples of about 16 or 20 different types of coffees. Different roasts and flavors. I don't drink coffee but my father loves the stuff. Then on to Red Dirt Shirt Factory because we saw it on Dirty Jobs a couple of years ago. I'm distracted because right across the street I see the Kauai Chocolate Company. I help my husband pick out a couple of nice polo shirts then I run across the street and buy dark chocolate macadamia nut fudge and 3 other chocolates, some local creation that was very good with caramel, cookies, macadamias, and covered in chocolate. We went for lunch at Puka Dogs. I'd heard about these Hawaiian hot dogs and we decided to give them a try. They're OK. Can say we've done it. Then we visited the nearby spouting horn blowhole.
Honolulu -- again been here so this time did a circle tour of the island. Stopped at the Dole Pineapple Plantation where I annoyed my husband by buying my father a bag of coconut pineapple popcorn that he munched on for the whole drive. We stopped at a shrimp truck on the north shore and I tried coconut shrimp. It was very good. Nice drive. Lots of photo opportunities. Last stop the big Hilo Hattie not too far from the cruise ship where we bought our last souvenirs. We overnighted in Honolulu. The next day my husband and I caught a bus down to the International Marketplace -- its gone downhill since I was last there -- and walked on Waikiki Beach.
5 days at sea coming and going. The weather was good. No rain though overcast on our last sea day.
First night at sea after we exited the Juan de Fuca and got into the Pacific was very rough. I woke up around 3 or 4 in the morning -- take your pick, the time turned back an hour that night -- and wandered out on the balcony to see how high the waves were. Probably about 10 feet. Enough to keep me awake. A lot of passengers were seasick that night and the next day. The front desk staff said they'd passed out LOTS of motion sickness pills. Fortunately none of us were sick.
All staff we dealt with were professional, courteous, and smiled. But there is something very, very wrong on this ship especially with the food and beverage service staff. When they're not dealing with passengers they get into small groups and talk in their own language and they're very angry. Must be huge management or supervisor problems in these departments -- not sure if they're separate departments or come under same management. But after Brunwink stomped off after we caught him in a lie, if he has that same attitude with his staff maybe he's the problem or maybe its lower down, I don't know. I've seen employees unhappy with their workplace and the Zaandam screams it. Staff moral sucks on this ship.
Final words about the Zaandam. For a small cruise ship it is very badly managed. The Zaandam has created a lot of problems that they seem incapable or unwilling to fix. The main dining room is a fiasco and joke. A place to be avoided if you like eating your meals hot or if you are physically unable to walk up and down stairs.
Loved the destination -- who couldn't love the beautiful Hawaiian Islands - but the overall cruise experience on the Zaandam is the worst I've ever had.
I will never sail on the Zaandam. In fact I might not ever come back to Holland America.