Sometimes I get off a cruise and then read the reviews and wonder if I was on the same ship as some of the reviewers. I was a little worried about our planned trip on the Zaandam from Vancouver to Seward when I read some reviews that were so negative. The food was awful, the beds were terrible, the ship was old and the cabins and bathrooms smelled, the wait staff were surly, ETC, ETC. I don't know what ship these folks were really on, but it sure wasn't the Zaandam that I was on. We took the cruise tour and left Vancouver August 18th and cruised to Seward arriving on August 25th. From there we transferred to a train to Anchorage, spent the night there and took the next day train to Denali. We spent a day in Denali and then went on to Fairbanks and flew home from there. The ground portion of the trip was spectacular. We took the ground tour (Tundra Wilderness tour) and saw Grizzly Bears, Moose, Caribou, and Mountain Sheep, as well as eagles and maybe a wolf but couldn't positively identify that one. But since this is a review of the Zaandam, I will write mostly about our ship experience.
Boarding was easy. We took a bus up from Seattle that deposited us at the pier. It took all of about 15 minutes to check in. I would give HAL an A+ for the ease of check-in.
We were on board around 2 PM and our cabin was ready. Luggage was delivered in about an hour. We quickly met our cabin attendant who was always smiling and trying to please. We were on the Dolphin deck which was deck 1. We had an ocean view cabin with the beds together . The cabin itself was quite spacious and had much more storage than the Celebrity Solstice which was the last ship we sailed on. We had lots of drawer space as well as plenty of room to hang up all our clothes. The bathroom was clean and didn't smell. The cabin attendants kept it clean for our entire trip. It was old with tile that was dated but everything worked. One note is the shower was "different" to turn on. We had to call the cabin attendant to show me how to make the shower work. I wasn't the only one as we talked to others at dinner who had the same problem. Some people up on deck 6 had a sign in their room explaining how but those of us down in the basement were left to fend for ourselves. The secret is you pull down on the faucet spout but if you aren't familiar with the system you don't see where to pull down. It really isn't obvious. Other than that everything about the bathroom was functional. We even had a full bathtub although we just used it as a shower. My only complaint about the room is it did not have a refrigerator. Cabins on upper decks did but not on deck 1. Our cabin attendant did keep us supplied with a steady supply of ice in a large champaign style bucket so we could keep stuff cold. Still I would have appreciated a refrigerator.
I always fill a large thermos type coffee cup with orange juice at breakfast and take it back to the room to drink later in the day. HAL only serves orange juice at breakfast so you have to get it then if you like OJ. I would keep it cold all day by putting the container in the ice bucket. It worked but would have been easier with the refrigerator.
We ate all our dinners in the main dining room. I have read of people complaining about slow service and taking too long for dinner. Well it is a cruise and long relaxing dinners with many courses brought by attentive waiters is one of the reasons I like cruising. We always asked to be seated at a shared table and usually were seated at a table for 8. The first question to our table mates was (where are you from?). Even though dinner could take up to two hours, it didn't seem that long because we were deep into conversation with our new friends. We usually ate around 6 PM and normally were seated right away. I really like that HAL now has the open seating as an option. If you don't like your dinner entree, you can ask for a replacement and they bring you something else. The only bad meal I had was the Halibut. It was over done and really not very good. Other than that the food was really very good. We had surf and turf with lobster with filet mignon one night and several people opted for two lobster tails and no steak. That was not a problem, although I had both and they were both excellent Many of the food complaints were about the food served in cafeteria buffet. I really can't comment on that because I only ate there for breakfast on port days. Otherwise I was in the main dining room. I saw no need to try the specialty restaurants as the main dining room offered a good variety of choices and didn't cost extra.
Shows, I went to a comedy show and a magician show. Both were excellent. In fact the comedian was actually a ventriloquist and was really really good. The theater isn't very large so if you wanted a good seat it is best to arrive at least 15 minutes early. They also had singing and dancing shows but that isn't my thing so I can't comment on those.
Ports were interesting. Ketchikan we walked around over by Creek street and saw the salmon coming up the creek. There were thousands of fish and it was quite spectacular. We had been to Ketchikan before so we just walked around town, checked on our internet etc. Juneau, we took a tour out to Mendenhal glacier. You can do this on your own as they sell tours at the dock. At the glacier there is a salmon stream that had a mother bear and her two cubs fishing. I got some great photos. When we got back to town, we still had a lot of time until the ship was to leave. Mt. Roberts has a sky train that costs $31 for a ride to the top and views of the area. We decided to climb up as there is a trail. After 4.1 miles and around 2000 feet elevation gain, we made it to the top. The trail is not in good shape, lots of tree roots and pretty steep. My wife says she wouldn't do it again but if you are in decent shape it is a good way to work off some of those shipboard calories. It took us about an hour and a half from the ship to the top. We rode the tram down and that was free if you spent $10 a person at their restaurant or gift store. Not hard to spend $10 when a beer cost $6 and after that climb, the beer was very good. Skagway was our next port call and we took the White Pass train ride. It was very good but we took the morning train and it was cloudy on top. The people on the afternoon train said they had good views on top. One hint, go to the cars near the front of the train as they are less crowded.
The cruise portion ended in Seward. Some people stayed on for a return back to back cruise. Others were bused or took the train to Anchorage for a flight home and we along with many others started our land tour. If I was doing it again, I would have opted to spend more time in Denali. We lucked out on the weather and had great vies of the mountain. We also took the early tour for the Tundra Wilderness Tour as that is the tour that gets you deep into the park and gives you the best chance of seeing wildlife. Our tour left at 6:20 AM so we could be back in time to catch the train to Fairbanks. By leaving early, we saw more animals than tours that left late so if you decide to take this tour, try to get on the earliest one you can.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time on the Zaandam. Good food, and nice people. Really not a lot to complain about.