I was determined to try a Holland America ship after our cruise to Alaska last year on Princess. Princess has always treated us very well, but when we docked in Victoria next to HAL's Amsterdam, the ship just looked so elegant. Reviews of the fleet, the service, and the food confirmed my impressions, so we booked a test run on a 1 day sail from Seattle to Vancouver.
Pre-board: Documents and luggage tags arrived via email as expected, but what was missing was information about boarding time. Because I routinely visit cruise forums, I had heard that boarding would be late on this sailing due to maritime testing. Unfortunately for MANY passengers, this message was not conveyed. Even a call to HAL on the day of sailing produced incorrect information. The CSA said that boarding would begin at 11:30. When I mentioned I had heard there would be a delay, she then took my information and said boarding would be at 4 PM, but we might be able to board as early as 1 PM. I believe they called the first group of passengers at 3:30 to begin boarding.
Room: We were in 1883 (ocean view - Dolphin). The room felt spacious compared to a comparable room on Princess and the tub was wonderful! However, this was probably the only area where I felt like HAL outdid Princess.
Decor: Oh boy. From the exterior, HAL's Zaandam looks elegant, classic, and timeless. The inside told a different story. Faded fuchsia and yellow paint spatter carpets, beveled smoked mirrored walls, gaudy stone statues and masks that looked like they came from one of those yard art roadside stands, and that inexplicable three story silver-toned organ that completely overwhelmed the atrium... it was all very tacky. On the positive side, I thought the dining room was lovely, the library/Internet area was beautiful, the Lido was nicely done, and the cabin was very tasteful.
Food: It wasn't awful, it wasn't amazing. We ate dinner in the main dining room and breakfast at the Lido. We also sampled some snacks at the coffee bar. For desert, I had ordered something called "The Big Blitz". While it was tasty, the presentation was not thrilling - a lone piece of pie (broken crust) on a plate minimally drizzled with caramel sauce. No topping, no flair. Princess seems to always go the extra mile with presentation, so this was a disappointment.
The Lido was just odd! I've never not been able to serve myself in a buffet before unless someone was prepping an omelette for me or cutting meat. They wouldn't even let you pour your own coffee or grab a blueberry muffin. That said, there was good variety and the french toast was quite good.
Service: Service seemed really poor. No one was terribly friendly, unfortunately. Our room steward would quietly knock and then immediately walk in the room without pause. The morning of debarkation, he told me that we should be off the ship even though they had not yet called our group and our scheduled time was still more than an hour away. When I told him what group we were in, he seemed confused and muttered something about having to go check. He never returned. Service in the dining room was polite at best. Not friendly and fairly abrupt. Receiving a drink in the Crow's Nest was slow. From order to delivery was a 20 minute process and I later heard other passengers complaining.
I think HAL missed a really good opportunity with this sailing to gain future cruisers. However, all of the passengers we spoke with had a similar experience to ours and were also using this as a way to see if HAL was a good fit for them for future cruises. Unfortunately, I didn't talk to one person who said they would sail on HAL again. I am not sure if this was typical of a HAL cruise or if things were off because of the odd 1 night sail. That said, there is never an excuse for poor customer service.