We live close to Vancouver, so a cruise to Alaska is one of our favorites. Even though this was the fifth cruise to Alaska for us, we never tire of the spectacular scenery. This cruise was actually two separate cruises back to back, a 7 day northbound and a 7 day southbound. We had been on this identical cruise two years earlier and ended up with an onboard credit which we wanted to use.
The Zaandam is an older, smaller ship, but we prefer that to a mega-monster. It has been well maintained, with new carpeting throughout, and constant cleaning and upkeep happening during the cruise. We especially all the big windows--it was never hard to find a comfy chair in front of a window to do some reading. There were some rustspots evident in places, but we all show our age at some point!
Embarkation was relatively quick, and we were on board by noon. We were surprised to be allowed to go to our cabin right away-no waiting until 1pm, and schlepping our luggage around with us til then.
The first week we had chosen an oceanview cabin at the very back of Deck 2. We were disappointed that instead of a window, we ended up with two little portholes. At least we could look out and check the weather, but not much more! The cabin was quiet, with one major exception. There is a lovely little deck at the aft end of deck 2, and the doors to this slam very loudly. We were constantly jarred by this door slamming-a little thoughtfulness on the part of those passengers using the door would have been nice. Also, during docking and sailaway it was quite noisy, because the area with the mooring ropes was directly below. So if you have booked cabin 2706, considered yourself warned! The second week we moved to an inside cabin-also on deck 2, and it was quiet.
We chose to eat all our meals in the Lido. We choose not to spend money on the specialty restaurants, and gave up eating in the mdr several cruises back. We simply do not enjoy spending 2-3 hours over our dinner, and the mdr is also amazingly noisy. We could always find a quiet window table in the Lido where we could enjoy our dinner. The menu was also the same as in the mdr, for the most part. During breakfast and lunch, it was often a challenge to find a table, and there were not enough wait staff to keep the tables cleared. We were happy with the variety of food offered in the lido, and I was delighted to find that lactose free milk was available right beside the regular milk at breakfast. Other cruise lines-- please take note! DH liked his steak dinner, and I was happy with the variety of salads offered. Unfortunately, because I am lactose intolerant, almost all the desserts were off limits. Gluten or sugar free does not mean milk free. This is also another reason that we don't eat in the specialty restaurants-there is virtually nothing on the menu that is lactose free.
We found the crew and staff to be unfailingly polite and helpful. It became obvious very quickly in the lack of activities (esp. on sea days) that HAL is cutting back on staff. I am referring here to activities that do not have a fee attached to them. Any 'activity' that the spa advertises invariably is a commercial for one of their overpriced services or products. Bingo doesn't count either! There were virtually no sports activities, except for a total of three (very well attended) table tennis tournaments, plus the odd baggo or golf putting game, for the entire 14 days. Anything else, like golf putting, or baggo rated a one time appearance each week. My DH loves to participate in anything active, and there was very little of that offered. I love to read, but that's not all I want to do. The activities staff was comprised of one guy, who also hosted the trivia (which happened daily, and which we loved), plus he was also the nightclub host. The prizes offered for any activity were an insult to adults. Really, a ship-shaped lapel pin?! HAL could learn from Celebrity-on our last cruise in March, there were ongoing table tennis and golf tournaments, as well as trivia,bocce, shuffleboard, and a variety of other daily activities. For the first ever on the 25 cruises we've taken, we were honestly bored.
The onboard library is one of the best we've seen on a cruise ship, although we would have preferred the full time librarian to be replaced with another activities staff member.
We liked that there are laundromats on the stateroom decks-it meant packing that much less! However, do not wait until the last day to do your laundry, unless you want to spend most of the day in the laundromat guarding your place in line for the dryer! Good thing I'd brought my own detergent-the dispenser was out of order.
We choose to tip the stateroom attendants personally. However, much to our anger and dismay, we discovered that the crew has to turn in to the tip pool any tips given to them personally. The front desk informed me that the crewmember will only get back about half of what we give them!! HAL is in reality robbing their own staff by doing this.
While we did enjoy the cruise, we won't be back on HAL. Too few real activities, and their tipping policy, made that decision for us.