We are a married couple in our 50's who celebrated our 25th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska July 20 to August 3. This was our third cruise and the first one to Alaska and on HAL. We have done two Caribbean cruises with RCI in the past few years.
We had previously reserved for the NCL Pearl for a seven-day Inside Passage in September but changed to this 14 day btb on the Zaandam when we found it discounted in July for only a few hundred dollars more.
It was a great move. I would encourage anyone who is going to Alaska to do an extended stay on land or at sea. There is so much to see and do. Seven days is not enough to even begin to scratch the surface.
I loved the size of this ship. It was easy to get around while being the ideal size to get close to the glaciers.
We loved the friendly staff and impeccable service. We found the food good to very good. The ship is tastefully decorated in an understated way. I was impressed to find orchid plants on every table in the Lido and floral arrangements throughout the ship to accompany an impressive art collection and music-themed memorabilia.
The main showroom entertainment was excellent with a mix of production shows and a comedian and magic act. But the lounge music needs to be updated and Katrina and the HAlcats needs a makeover.
The Ocean Bar was reserved for dance music, but we never saw more than three couples ever using it. I did, however, enjoy the Ballroom Dancing competition in the Crows Nest Bar which is a wonderful venue by day for sightseeing and by night for partying.
There were numerous other activities on board from sports challenges to trivia contests to cooking demonstrations and card games. The Filipino and Indonesian crews presented shows featuring the unique music and dances from their countries. Recently released movies were shown several times a day in the Wang Theatre and the next day on the TV.
The Cruise Director Michelle and her staff were always friendly and enthusiastic.
The best kept secret on board the Zaandam was the Azalea Strings Quartet who entertained in the Explorer Lounge at night. They could play classical, Broadway hits, folk music, jazz, and even the Beatles. Coffee and candy/fruits were served here to accompany the music and hit just the right note. I loved watching these excellent musicians perform up close. We didn't discover this special gem until late in the second half of our cruise.
We had an ocean view stateroom but really didn't spend enough time in the room to warrant the extra cost, imho. It was surprisingly large with an oversized queen bed and loads of closet space. The bathroom had a shower/tub combo which was difficult to step over. There were two under bed drawers that made it impossible to stow a 29" suitcase there. These minor inconveniences were more than made up by our wonderful cabin steward Peri who was always friendly and attentive to any request.
We spent a lot of our time in the Explorer Cafe and Lounge. There were so many cozy nooks to comfortably sit and watch the passing scenery with a book or while listening to music. The library and internet/specialty coffee bar was the perfect place to look up information, read the NYT online, do daily crosswords, or help with a jigsaw puzzle. They even had a paperback book exchange.
Don't miss the Danish and Indonesian High Teas served in the main dining room once per cruise or the daily English Tea. The wonderful finger foods and impeccably serviced hot teas or coffees were a wonderful way to warm up after an busy day ashore especially if it was cold or rainy that day.
The wrap-around Lower Promenade deck was also perfect for viewing the Inside Passage. Four trips around the teak-wooded deck while taking in the breathtaking view equaled one mile. There were also comfortably padded deck chairs with lap blankets at easy access. A Walk for the Cure was held on the last sea day. The Sports deck had a basketball and small tennis court. We never had time to use the pool and hot tubs under the retractable roof or the spa.
AYW dining worked well for us. We never had to wait and met many interesting travelers from around the world. Be forewarned that it can take as long as two hours plus to eat a meal in the main dining room. On evenings when we returned late from shore excursions or wanted to see a conflicting showtime/activity, we opted for the Lido. The same entrees were served there on white table clothes without having to dress up.
We forgot altogether about the 24 hour room service which also serves main dining room entrees if you order within the first half hour of the fixed dining schedules. We did use this option for breakfast several days before an early shore excursion and found all the food to be hot and tasty.
I found the suggested clothing recommendations to be very relaxed. Pack less dress clothes. There were people dressed in casual clothes even on formal nights but nobody seemed to care as we were all enjoying the conversation so much.
Alaska is all about what you do in the ports. Sharing information about tours and experiences made for some lively discussions as many people were also taking a land tour pre or post cruise. Don't fixate on clothes. Dress in layers. Relax and enjoy the company of your fellow travelers.
I highly recommend a btb cruise for those who cannot afford a land tour. You get to do all the ports twice (the exception being the delightful village of Haines instead of Skagway on the return leg) and four glacier days. From the gold panning and salmon bake in Juneau to the gateway city of Vancouver you couldn't ask for a better itinerary.
We had the opportunity to see the glaciers from the bow of the Zaandam, by floatplane from above in Juneau, from a small boat in Kenai Fiords National Park, and to hike up to the Exit Glacier onshore in Seward. This itinerary also gave us a chance to take the White Pass train/bus tour up to the Canadian Yukon. In Ketchikan we visited the Saxman Village to learn about the native culture and did the campy lumberjack show enjoying them both.
We saw so many whales and other wildlife...even a bear up close at the Mendenhall Glacier. This cruise was the perfect combination of scenery, relaxation, and activities. I would highly recommend this ship and HAL to anyone who wants to be pampered and active.
I just wish that the Zaandam could get past the Rat Pack era in the entertainment area. Frank Sinatra would probably have been happy to hear some more contemporary music from time to time himself. While it's obvious that HAL understands who their target audience is, with just a "little bit" of tweaking without changing the standard formula, I bet they could hook a whole new generation (or two) of cruisers as loyal repeat customers.
If the itinerary was right, I'd give the Zaandam and HAL a second look. Bravo to all the crew and cast members who made this a wonderful 25th anniversary celebration.
We are now looking into a Princess cruise which I understand is an interesting cross between RCI and HAL. I guess I like variety. NCL's specialty restaurant concept is appealing to us as well. But nobody can equal HAL for service and quality. They do it right.