Our friend and travel agent made the arrangements for our group and also for our shore excursions, pre-cruise hotel, Bon Voyage dinner, Meet and Greet - plus she procured HAL luggage tags for our group! Can't say enough good things about her.
Embarcation was fine despite the fact that the [I]Carnival Spirit[/I] was embarking on her 8 day cruise the same day - the hotel across the street where we were staying was full and the lines on the pier were tremendous: We were glad to stay at the hotel for a couple extra hours to enjoy breakfast on the terrace and a couple of drinks at the bar as the lines on the pier dissipated. One thing to note is that HAL no longer takes your CC for the shipboard account on the pier - either you do it online or you must swing by the front office to set up your account: I waited a couple days to go to the desk to do this to avoid the lines.
Service was splendid and the staff and crew were outstanding - I cannot say enough about how wonderful the crew are aboard Zaandam: CD Anthony is the best I've ever experienced. Edy, Geoffrey, Wayou, Rafael, the guys in the Crow's Nest, the Ocean Bar and Lido Bar and our cabin stewards as well as the spa staff and Kris and Iris at the Front Office took really great care of us. The band was good and the activities were plentiful, if one wished to participate - otherwise, there was plenty of time and space to relax and read a good book (for this itinerary I recommend "Letters from Hawaii" by Mark Twain - available thru Amazon) I also cannot say enough good things about our waiter's conscientiousness regarding my Gluten-Free diet. Scotty and I also caught sinus infections (it seemed to be going around) on the return trip and we both went to the infirmary on separate days - and we were both dealt with kindly and professionally by the staff and the same Doctor we met last year aboard Noordam.
Iris helped us have two Meet and Greets in the Crow's Nest - which I highly recommend, particularly on a longer itinerary, as folks seem to have so much more to share at the end of the cruise. I was also invited to a tea w/ our HM, Fierman, and GRM, Iris, who asked us group leaders how we felt about the cruise - I thought this was a nice touch and showed genuine concern for our well-being.
The ship did schedule some LGBT unhosted meetings in the Crow's Nest but they weren't well attended. Seems that our group was nearly all the LGBT that were aboard and we knew one another already.
Never went to a show. The very idea of scheduling the main seating show before dinner during cocktail hour is ridiculous - and scheduling the Ocean Bar band to take their break during cocktail hour is even dumber! The trio in the Ocean Bar was good despite the drummer's apparent surliness for the first half of the cruise - Thankfully he managed to get himself thrown off the ship in Hawaii during a Coast Guard inspection and the remaining duo seemed much happier without him. The HAL Cats were rather good - but as with most HAL Cats combos, they need to turn down the amplification...
The itinerary was wonderful and we saw so much - every Hawaiian port was truly enjoyable. Some highlights of the trip included encountering a huge herd of dolphins mid-ocean westbound who raced to meet the ship in such great numbers as if we were offering free crack in the ghetto. We also saw a great many whales frolicking off the port of Lahaina, Maui all about the ship all day long. Our friend, Mary, rented a van and drove a number of us around Honolulu to Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace and the state government buildings, and afterwards to the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki for a delightful lunch (I could stay there forever...) Kona is a lovely port just to wander around: much better than Hilo where one must take a taxi or bus to get out of the former Military installation and into town, and Kauai is a gorgeous rustic island which is very much the way I imagined Hawaii to be. I think of my short time in Hawaii, I'd have to say that my favorite ports were Kawai, Honolulu and Kona.
Sadly - [I]Zaandam[/I] herself was not up to the standard of what I expected a HAL ship to look like after the recent January drydock (I could see it from my apartment here in SF for two weeks so I know it was there!) The cabins were in good condition, and the dining room chairs were brand new - but other than that, I could not tell you what had been done:
Hull and Superstructure are in desperate need of paint - Rust streaks are everywhere, the paint was scraped away beneath the bow anchors to such an extent that it appeared more rust than blue (Some painting was done on the portside bow while we were in Kauai - nowhere else) and paint is bubbling and peeling around the windows and hull-doors so that one can easily see the rust streaks on the white superstructure from pier or tender. Lightbulbs burnt out all over the place - and of the 6 chandeliers in the MDR, 1 was never lit for the entire cruise. Lamps in the Lido were broken or crooked. Torn and frayed upholstery in the Lido and certain public rooms on Upper Promenade Deck. Broken out windows in the Lido. Filthy windows, including the Magrodome itself until after we had had some rain in Hilo and Kauai. Decorative decals that wrap around the bulkhead surrounding the opening for the Magrodome are decayed and peeling off in the central areas. Ships clocks are unsynchronized, and the TV channel that gives time and date was often wrong. Forward Lido clock under the Magrodome is correct - Aft Lido clock under the Magrodome is off by 3 1/2 hours. Scuffs and scrapes in the hard flooring around the Lido bar. (It wouldn't take a couple hours one night w/ a floor polisher to get rid of those scrapes, says the Old Military man...) Cracking and peeling finishes on the wooden tables near the Lido Bar. Broken chairs in the Lido Restaurant (I pinched my finger in the loose arm joint of one chair while pulling it beneath me - nearly fell through the broken seat of another...) Hair Salon only had one cape to cover clients - the beauticians had to share back and forth while doing Mother's hair and mine. Also, a chair in the salon had broken brakes: After Mom had her hair washed, the ship rolled and she rolled helplessly towards the windows scaring her half-to-death! Dirty tile in the Thermal Spa - I could take my hand and wipe the dirt away from the tile around the T-Pool. I really wanted to take a scrub-brush to the place! Frayed and poorly laid carpets in the corridors - I could easily see the concrete between the gaps in the cuts! Of the 8 lamp standards around the aft pool: 2 had new lamp globes, 4 had yellowed and filthy globes, and 2 had no globes at all! Damaged artwork: One of the carved marble sculptures outside the Sports Bar was tied up with rope to hold it together throughout the cruise, and the great circular painting at the top of the midship stairwell had gilding from the frame peeled off from what appeared to be tape that had been applied here & there. Broken Lifeboat Davit? Portside-Aft davit was left extended throughout the return trip to California - Didn't notice if it was extended for the entire cruise... Broken Granite floor tiles in the elevators and a huge gouge in the door of one elevator.
When I asked the Captain during one of his talks what happens during a drydock, he mentioned that there's quite a lot of maintenance that goes on - cleaning the hull, polishing the propellers, etc - which is all well and good. I later asked our kind Hotel Manager, Fierman, about the poor condition of the ship to which he replied, "I know". He did say that many ports prohibit painting and window-washing nowadays - but again, one would think that the floors and tiles could have been scrubbed, lightbulbs could have been changed and a good coat of paint could have been slapped on the ship as she sat in the drydock for two weeks, don't you? Yes, it's a 10 year old ship, but it's not going to make it another 10 years unless Seattle puts some time and effort into the condition of this ship - Ryndam and Statendam were in better condition last fall than Zaandam today! IMO, who cares about new showroom furniture, rearranged cocktail lounges and shops and the sliding glass door staterooms that are being installed on the ships when the basics go ignored?
Would I go to Hawaii again? In a heartbeat.
Would I take a Hawaii cruise again? I believe that seeing Hawaii by ship is probably the best way to go - I wouldn't know which island to go to first and think that I might get bored had I been on only one island. However, I honestly don't think that it's worth the time away to only spend 4 days in port and not 5 - All those days at sea got to be a bit much on the return trip that a mere 4 ports just wouldn't be worth it unless an overnight were planned someplace like Honolulu. I'd either book the one 15-day cruise in January 2011 that still includes Kona or the 30-day Polynesian/Pacific Cruise that includes Hawaii - but I wouldn't do the 14-day Hawaiian cruise from San Diego.
...and despite the exceptional staff and crew - whom I've realized is very much the reason I continue to sail HAL - until HAL gets its act in order and cleans up the ship and does some necessary repairs, I wouldn't book any cruise aboard Zaandam as the sad condition of the ship was the most disappointing aspect of the entire cruise.
We only stopped there due to the useless and outdated Jones Act - Having been there before, I didn't bother going ashore as I know that there isn't anything to do there but shop and drink, and the late hours of our time there (8pm-Midnight) it didn't seem like a wise thing to go ashore alone considering the current climate in Mexico.
The only thing that I'd do if I were to return during the day is to get a taxi to the nearby Hotel Coral y Marina and spend time there at the pool enjoying drinks and their spa - but at night, there's no place I'd rather be than aboard ship.
We drove to Pearl Harbor, but didn't get to the Arizona memorial as one has to get there quite early or go with a tour to avoid waiting for hours. Then we drove to the government buildings and toured Iolani Palace which I found quite educational. Later we drove to Waikiki and the Royal Hawaiian and enjoyed a lovely lunch on the Surf Lanai sipping Mai Tais while enjoying the view of surfers and Diamond Head - If I weren't on a cruise I'd stay at this hotel, as the service is exceptional!
We returned to the ship for a short rest, then took a tour to Paradise Cove for the Luau - the grounds are beautiful and the numbers of people are well handled by the facilities. Drinks are plentiful, but lines for them can be long - and you definitely need a coat as it can get chilly out. The entertainment was quite good - I'd like to do another Luau again, but next time a more intimate setting would be preferred.
Afterwards, our guides returned us to the ship and we convinced them to take us to Dukes on the Beach where we enjoyed Mai Tais while sitting out a short rainstorm - then did some shopping and returned to the ship via a free shuttle.
Once ashore, there are a number of nice shops to visit and restaurants to relax in and enjoy the scenery - plus there are some historical sights to see right on the main strip. I highly recommend the Kona Canoe Club for lunch - it overlooks the bay and the food & service are delicious and friendly.
Lahaina is a lovely town to wander around - lots to see and do and buy right off the pier. No need to go whale watching as the whales are all over the place and easily visible from the ship itself.