This is only my second cruise and it's been a while since my first. This would be my first, but definitely not my last as a solo cruiser. I was determined to have a good time and to have reasonable expectations while on board, and I was overwhelmingly surprised and pleased.
While her exterior was weathered and showing the harsh wear and tear of the time in the salt and its previous voyage to and from Hawaii, the interior was just the opposite. Based on a lot of reviews I had read my expectation were set quite low, but evidently they have been quite busy trying to keep the Zaandam up to the standards I expected and hoped for from HAL.
Embarkation was organized, fast and painless. I had my bags checked, ship identification in hand and I was aboard by noon. I got lucky and had both of my suitcases by 1:00 and after a nice lunch at the Lido buffet I was busy unpacking and using the laundry facilities to press my slightly wrinkled dress shirts. My cabin steward, Bam, would prove to be outstanding in every way possible. 5 stars!
My cabin was a little larger than I anticipated and would prove to be very, very comfortable. Full shower and bath with good water pressure and the condition of the tile and fixtures were almost new. There was a little wear and tear on the edge of the sofa and the edge of the desk and a scuff or two on the wall but nothing to be concerned with or even annoyed about. I was upgraded twice from a selected cabin below the MDR as I had read about noise from the kitchen areas further forward. I ended up under that area and there was some noticeable noise but nothing that would either keep from going to sleep or wake me up as one review on the sister ship Volendam would imply. My stateroom was 3373. I was told that the Zaandam is due for a month long dry-dock this coming October, so I bet she returns to service brand new! Overall the ship was in great condition and had staff cleaning and polishing continuously.
Hygiene was top priority on ship and the buffet was served by staff only for the first 48 hours. Automatic hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere and the crew would actually make sure that you had a dollop in your hands before entering the buffet or the MDR. It was quite reassuring they intended to keep us from getting sick on the cruise.
As for the food I can't complain about much. If your expectations are reasonable you will be pleased. The Lido buffet was actually very good for buffet style food. The fruit was ripe and had great flavor, the hot entrees were of decent flavor and hot if you found a table and sat down quickly as one would expect. The sandwich station became my early favorite. There was a good selection to fit all kinds of appetites. Timing when you ate at the Lido Restaurant was a big key. If you're up there when they open everything is good and piping hot. On the first day or two there was some confusion as to where the lines started and stopped at the various stations but if you just looked for the signs it was fine. It did frustrate a quite a few people and if there was one glaring issue with this cruise it was people complaining. I would learn to quickly tune them out after realizing you can't please some people at any time. Lunch and dinner in the MDR was always good and there was plenty to choose from on every menu. I had the 8:00pm sitting and other than the first night running about 10 minutes late it was like clockwork every night after. The wine steward was a bit young and needed some education but I'm sure he's getting it! There wasn't anything I regretted ordering or that I found too bland or overpowering. It became a bit of a joke after the third night but for some reason one of the stewards who filled up the water glasses always skipped my glass. It was worth a good laugh. I blamed it on being the fifth wheel with two other couples. They were great dinner companions and made me feel right at home being a solo. Dinner in the Pinnacle was a real treat and rivaled some of the top restaurants I have visited in Seattle. It was worth the additional charge. The coffee and the help at the Explorations coffee stand was middle of the road, but I am biased being from Seattle, coffee snob central.
As for the entertainment on the ship I can't comment on too much. Most of the shows didn't appeal to me but the Olympic gymnast Lance Ringnald was great and the music and comedy of Dennis Blair was an absolute hoot. May and the HALcats provided some great Motown music as well. Location guide Kainoa provided some great information and commentary while whale watching and information on Puerto Vallarta, Cabo and Mexico in general.
With two extra days in San Diego following the cruise, I chose late disembarkation and had a room service breakfast delivered right on time, just as ordered and nice and hot. Less than 15 minutes off the boat I had my bags and was on my way.
The age demographic on the ship was older than I was but I also expected that and it was not a problem at all. I was a little discouraged by the lack of nightlife on one or two nights, but the crow's nest was still a great place to put the finishing touches on each of the great days on board. Being solo on this cruise probably made this more apparent.
I suppose the only complaint I would have other than the mood of some of the passengers was the dirty windows. You would think while they were gassing up they could asked to check the oil and have the windows cleaned?
This was a great cruise with great excursions and no regrets. The doctor was right and the prescription cured me, but I think the medication is addictive.