First, I am not a Holland America "homer". I've now sailed with them 3 times but my allegience is with Princess thanks to the great amenities we've earned over 22 sailings. I wish CCL would allow Captain's Circle members the same amenities on Holland as the Mariner Society members receive and vice versa. It would be really good for CCL business if they allowed that type of arrangement among all of their cruise companies. Our cruise was booked close to a year in advance. As the date got closer I looked into Zaandam reviews on cruisecritic and was somewhat alarmed at what was written by some people who must be very difficult to please. It's not the rundown vessel plagued by poor service some would like others to believe. Yes, there is a little rust here and there but I challenge everyone to try not to find rust on a 10 year old vessel. I noted only one burned out lightbulb on the ship. The overall service was outstanding.
Boarding: We arrived at Seattle pier 91 a bit later than we had hoped and waited 20 minutes to get our keys
Cabin: We switched to a 4 person cabin about 6 weeks from departure when it appeared Grammie's work schedule would allow her to join us. We ended up as far forward and inside as one can be on the Dolphin Deck. Great exercise going up and down the stairways to the dining areas and very convenient to the Mondrian Lounge where all the shows were held. Twin beds with a pull down bunk for grandson #2 and a pull out sofa for grandson #1. Lots of closet space and space under beds for luggage. Bathroom was quite adequate and the shower seemed a little roomier than what we find on Princess. Only detractor for the cruise was the intermittent operation of the toilet flushing mechanism. It was tempermental but the resident plumber showed us how to use a "magic pencil" to flush the toilet manually when necessary. (There's a little hole on the right side of the bowl at the wall, insert the pencil and whoosh). The trouble was noted and scheduled for fixing. Flat screen TV worked well with a decent selection of channels like CNN (constantly nothing new), cartoons, the bow channel, a couple of movie channels (one showed the movie NO SIGNAL for most of the cruise). Cabin attendent Aden did a good job keeping the room squared away.
Dining: Dining manager Indra assigned us a window seat at table 110 every evening at 5:15 in the anytime (Deck 4) section of the Rotterdam Dining Room. Our waiter Tono was quite special and very good with the boys. All of his recommendations during our 6 nights with him were spot on and he and his assistant kept the meals going at a reasonable yet unrushed pace. When he had a moment, Tono conversed with us and even showed us some magic tricks. We enjoyed our final dinner at Caneletto a nice, no-surcharge, Italian focused dining area set aside from the Lido buffet on Deck 8. The antipasto, minestrone, lasagne, fruitti de mare and tiramisu were quite good. From conversations we heard at tables nearby it seemed as if many folks spent the majority of their dinners at Caneletto which had a superb varied menu that I would have enjoyed multiple times. The meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room were stellar. Breakfast choices were limitless and those we ordered were wonderful. Our dinner choices of crab legs, steak, seafood, lamb chops, soups, salads and desserts were served at the proper temperature and all thoroughly enjoyed. (The lobster was a bit salty.) The Lido breakfasts and lunches were equally impressive regarding variety and quality. The staff was right on top of cleanliness in all eating venues. Tried the poolside taco bar once and was completely satisfied.
Entertainment: Cruise Director Erik put together great shows for us. I generally sat through both early and late shows because the boys were at Club HAL during the early show and they wanted to see the stage shows as well. Lee Bayless' comedy was totally family oriented and fun proving one doesn't require profanity to be successful. Well Done Lee! Joel Mason's Elton John tribute was done to perfection and interlaced with family suitable comedy. What a talented musician he is. The Zaandam singers and dancers were energetic and technically very proficient and the band was fantastic. The dueling drummer and bongo player during a break in the Elton John act was top notch...well done ladies! Club HAL: The boys spent nearly every waking onboard moment with new friends and a kid-passionate counselor, Cassandra, immersed in numerous, never boring, Club HAL activities. Everything they got involved with was judged to have passed with flying colors according to the boys. They even had some high quality one on eight interaction with a Park Ranger in Glacier Bay.
Itinerary: I chose this cruise with the boys because I wanted them to experience Sitka's Russian heritage, the Raptor Center, and also a wildlife expedition. Princess does not visit Sitka very often and not out of Seattle. Unfortunately, on the first night out Zaandam ran into very high seas (30+ft swells) that really pounded the ship. With an unfavorable forecast for better conditions the Captain wisely turned around and detoured the ship into the Inside Passage. A lot of meclizine was consumed that night. Being berthed well forward we had e-ticket thrills for quite a while. I resurrected my USN sealegs and was thankful to have them come back so quickly. Unfortunately, the change in routing caused Sitka to be axed from the schedule. Disappointing to everyone? Yes, but the Captain did the right thing for our comfort and safety. The weather in Juneau was good enough for us to enjoy a visit to Mendenhall Glacier and a trip up the Mt. Roberts Tram before the weather turned foul. People who took helo rides up to the glaciers were not disappointed. Despite the rainy (what else?) weather in Ketchikan, The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show was a big hit with those who attended. Having visited Victoria several times in the past, we stayed aboard during the 4 hour stop in that port.
Disembarkation: Very smooth as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, let most everyone off ahead of us and we took care of our own luggage. No heartburn here!
Other comments: Paula the Party Planner was a joy. She hosted numerous activities in the Wajang Theatre/Culinary Arts Center that were quite popular. The cooking demonstrations and the galley tour were fun. Pilar in the gift shop was also very personable as was Maki, the barrista in the Explorers Cafe. The daily sudoku and trivia contests in the library were challenging and the musicians (especially the "Adagio Strings") did a fine job of entertaining the passengers throughout the ship. The Front Office staff were well-groomed, professional, personable, and helpful. I did not miss the Park West art program but couldn't get too excited by its replacement. John and Miriam who run the future cruise assistance desk are fine HAL representatives and very knowledgeable about the HAL vessels and itineraries. The material condition of Zaandam was good and effort continues daily to keep the ship up to HAL's high standards. I didn't see a frown on the face of any crewmember the entire week. Even the deckhands cleaning the lower promenade wraparound deck at 5am were in good spirits. Reflecting back on some derogatory comments I read by recent posters on cruisecritic.com I wonder if we were on the same ship.