Zaandam Cruise Review by squeaky_1974: Not my cup of tea
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Not my cup of tea
We were a group of three adults in two cabins: my parents (aged 70 and 64) and myself. My parents had cruised once before on the Norwegian Dawn and loved it. They were the ones who picked this cruise. My flight into Vancouver was the night before, due to the distance and lack of direct flights. I booked a hotel near the waterfront, took the Canada Line, and simply walked six or eight blocks to the dock in the morning, with my luggage. Coming back, I stayed closer to the airport, so I took my own luggage off the ship, hopped onto the Canada Line again, got off on Marine Drive, and trundled my salmon-stuffed suitcases a mile or so over to the hotel, which provided a free shuttle to the airport the next morning. As long as you're physically capable of lifting, carrying, and moving multiple suitcases quickly, this is a piece of cake especially with wheeled luggage. But I do not recommend it for anyone who uses a wheelchair. The curbs in Vancouver are extremely high, the sidewalks are More
often narrow, and it's hilly. Yet I spent perhaps CAD$13.75 on ground transportation, total, including generous tips to anyone who had to handle my luggage. There was about 100 pounds of it, including carry-on, after I'd committed the last smoked salmon run.
The windows on the Zaandam never seem to be cleaned on the outside. They wash the outside of the ship while they're in port, but not the windows or the lido cover. It rains most days in Alaska, but on clear port days there's no reason to not at least wipe down the outer windows in the public areas so that people can get a clear view of the fantastic scenery at least for a while.
The hallways and public areas tended to be very noisy, especially in the restaurants, which were always crowded and extremely noisy. There's always some canned music playing in the lido area, and the noise and acoustics were bad enough to make both my parents turn off their hearing aids. Conversation became almost impossible. I'm not a huge fan of standing in line, which was always necessary at the Rotterdam, but having to stand in line several times for just one meal at the lido buffet is tiresome. There was almost always a crush of people, and although the Club HAL program seemed to be attractive to people with kids, there was no game plan for dealing with children at mealtimes. So they tended to get lost in the lido buffet and panic. They would also fidget, shout, cry, and act out during the two-hour meals at the Rotterdam main dining room. I can't say I blame them: two hours at a table is far too much for a toddler. Also, at times I felt like shrieking myself.
The Rotterdam food was very well presented but generally cold by the time it arrived, and although steak cooking instructions were generally followed, language barriers prevented the use of special instructions such as "dressing on the side". The lido food that was prepared on the spot, such as the eggs Benedict, was great. Things that had to sit under heat lamps were generally tepid. There was a lot of starch: plenty of noodles, rice, potatoes, and a neverending supply of bread. There were a lot of sugary things to eat. Most of the available food is what I call "fat people food": heavy on the starch, sugar, grease, and especially salt, and low on actual nutritional value. I solved the problem by either eating salad at the lido (which is quite healthy, if you skip the dressing and cheese), generally skipping the hit-and-miss desserts, and choosing food that is supposed to be greasy, salty, and cold. I pigged out on fruit, rolls that are more cake-like than bread-like (very American but not in a nice way), and smoked salmon. So despite seven days of enforced sedentary activity while surrounded by an obesogenic system designed to make people pack on the pounds, I didn't actually gain an ounce.
I need at least a couple hours of hard exercise every day, but there's no running track or lap pool, and for some reason we're not allowed to run or jog on the outdoor promenade. There's a miniature toy basketball court, shuffleboard floor, and toy tennis court for the kids, but they're on the top deck. They're not usable in bad weather, nor is there-- for example-- a tennis pro on board so I could book and pay for a lesson. There is a gym of sorts, with extra-fee yoga classes and a few free group exercise sessions, and the gym has some ancient Nautilus-type equipment and a few treadmills where you can look out through the filthy windows at all the fresh air you're not getting. We stuck our noses into the gym facility right away, but the sales pitch started immediately and just didn't let up. Sometimes you just want to work out and not have a bunch of papers pushed on you. No, I don't want a body fat analysis, personal training regimen, or one-on-one "consultation" about extra supplements or therapies. Supplements and therapies are pseudoscience bunk, and I already have a trainer I pay for the rest. Can't we just work out in peace without being huckstered to buy-buy-buy a bunch of products we don't need, don't want, and can't use? No? Fine, I'll get out of your hair. We never went back.
Since I had to leave my guitar at home and couldn't practice, I needed something to do with my hands, but very little was available. I ended up getting a lot of knitting done. Between the three of us, we tried out just about every activity on the ship, and eventually concluded that there was nothing to do, except sit around and watch other people do something.
Dance classes don't exist-- you can't pay someone to teach you to samba-- but there's some kind of TV based "Dancing With The Stars" contest with some classes attached. We checked it out, but it was just a bunch of people sitting and watching a video of a dance class. Apparently people who can already dance have a competition of some sort while everyone else sits and watches them. We did the 5k charity walk for cancer, and were able to get the laps done with minimal disruption from the ship photographer who does not understand the words "No, no more, please don't. Please stop snapping that flash in my face." By the end of the ship I was so sick of having black spots on my retina from her flash bulb that I seriously considered grabbing that camera and tossing it overboard.
The salesmanship and pitchmanship just never seems to end. There's paper, paper, paper left on your bed or next to your door, hawking this future cruise or that spa special. Every day, in addition to the program, there are so many bits and scraps of coupons and whatnot that it's hard to locate what you really do need to read and understand. It's safe to say that I got more junk mail on the ship than I did at home, and I sincerely doubt that they recycle any of it. Every day, especially at sea, there are intercom announcements hawking some activity or other. The "informative" lectures and presentations are generally thinly disguised sales pitches for overpriced geegaws. My mother bought a pair of earrings, but I've always hated shopping. Even at the spa, where we each paid about $250 (after the mandatory gratuity) for extremely mediocre massages, we still had to sit through a sales pitch at the end where we were pressured to buy the greasy, pore-clogging oil used on us instead of light oil or lotion. You'd think that, after $250, a person would have earned a bit of freedom from the high pressure sales. But... no. Everywhere you went on board, there was a neverending drumbeat of Buy-buy-buy-buy.
Stage entertainments exist, but are extremely amateurish. We went to the Northern Lights show and sat through a song-and-dance presentation that featured some good voices, some mediocre choreography, and content that was downright offensive. My Canadian mother did not care for the slapstick presentation of the Mounties as buffoons, and as a bi person I see no point in calling public attention to my orientation. Nearly half of the songs were thinly disguised gay anthems. I like "True Colors" well enough, and it's a lovely song in its own right, but Monty Python's lumberjack song and Queen's "Don't Stop Me" both have lyrics that the performers elected to not sing, because of the second verse. If you're going to do a gay anthem, then do it and own it. Don't sneak it in and try to be cute about it, like we're all part of some inside joke. That got old with the Village People's "Don't Stop The Music" movie.
The musicians were very skilled, especially the classical duo that performed in the Explorer Lounge every night. That became our favorite hangout in the evening, because we were able to have a drink and a conversation without being interrupted, bumped into, or having to stand in line. The classical performers understood the basic reality of playing background music: the idea is to not drown out everything else. In all the other lounges, the volume of the music was set far too high to allow conversation. Result: people who wanted to socialize mostly left.
One stage show that can't be missed is a late-night presentation by the Filipino crew. They do some traditional dances and songs from their home, and some of the people you see serving your drinks or working at the front desk are extremely talented. To be honest, they out-performed the professionals. I'd have liked to have seen them earlier in the evening, when more people could attend, instead of at 11 PM. These folks, who rehearse entirely on their own time, received a well earned standing ovation.
I think I'd have enjoyed the sedentary, mostly passive activities if I'd been 80 years old, or confined to a wheelchair, or perhaps a newlywed who'd brought my entertainment with me.
The ocean view cabin was immaculate (like the rest of the ship interior), with a spacious bathroom. Our two stewards were very attentive, and we made friends with one of them in particular. It turns out that stewards, wait staff, and many of the service workers put in 15-hour days, seven days a week, 10 months out of the year. That's why so many of them move slowly and seem to struggle with basic tasks: they're physically exhausted and burned out. There are economic reasons why these employees consider their jobs worthwhile, and they're too complex for me to get into here, but it turns out there's a sizable humanitarian cost to all this luxury. So we made sure to not impose on our stewards, or anyone else, with special requests. I found it hard to be happy and upbeat in the midst of so much human suffering.
If this is what cruising is like, I don't think I care for it. I can stand in line and be part of a crowd pretty much anywhere, and spend substantially less. Next time, I'm going to fly into Ketchikan and book some kind of deep sea fishing expedition, with lots of pointy hooks, waves, and physical exertion. Perhaps if there's some kayaking or other adventure I'll feel like I'm actually having fun. I want to be so worn out the end of the day that I'm not sure where I am. That's my idea of a vacation. Less
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Cabin review: 3403
Outstanding cabin with a decent view and excellent access to the outdoor promenade deck. The full bathroom included a bathtub with shower head.
Port and Shore Excursions
The weather was rainy, which is an authentic Alaskan experience, but I think we would have done better on a shore excursion. Shops for the most part were tourist traps hawking junk and "local" art that was frequently not what it appeared to be. The etching I paid top dollar for turned out to be a print, not an original. Some of the historical sites such as the Red Dog saloon are worth a peek.
Maybe if I went zip-lining or something I could have enjoyed this town better.
Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour
The crab fishing demonstration was informative, and the eagle sanctuary was very impressive. I was hoping for a little more hands-on activity with the crab fishing, and was under the impression we'd get to eat the results, but that apparently is a different tour. I love listening to old-timers talk about their experiences, so if you like hearing fishing stories this is the place to go. There is a bit of sales-pitching for the DVD and souvenir products (there's a kiosk on board) but it's nowhere near as bad as being on the ship or in port.
You can find some locally owned shops if you're willing to go further north and east than you'll see on the map they hand you on the ship. Go ahead and cross the bridge over the creek, and then you'll find out where you can get things that really do support the local economy. Ketchikan is a much bigger town than Skagway and has a bona fide local industry (sustainable fishing) that allows a good chunk of the town to not depend on tourism for income. I scored big with some Copper River salmon and king salmon. It really is the salmon capital of the world.
White Pass Scenic Railway
The White Pass tour is worth doing even in bad weather, but we lucked out and got a beautiful, clear day. The tour guides have a lot of historical information about the area, and point out landmarks as you pass. The views are phenomenal, and although we did not get to ride on the steam engine train (there was fine print about that) it was still a great trip.
There are a very few local restaurants and shops in Skagway that are worth checking out. A lot of the time, the artists whose work is featured on the walls of the shop happen to also be working the register. There's plenty of tourist-trap overpriced jewelry and furs too, if you're into that. I try to make sure at least some of what I'm spending stays in the community.