This was our third HAL cruise. We went into San Diego one night early. We stayed at the Bay Club Hotel & Marina, which is on Shelter Island. December is an especially nice time to stay at the here because of the marina and many of the boats are decorated for Christmas. The Bay Club has a lovely view anytime, but especially nice in December. They also provide a complimentary full breakfast buffet, airport pickup & port drop-off.
Embarkation: We arrived around 11:00 and were on board by noon. We had access to the cabin around 1:30.
The ship is beautiful and we enjoyed the smaller size. There were bouquets of fresh flowers everywhere, and we were fortunate that some of the Christmas decorations were up.
Cabin: We booked a BC guarantee, and were assigned a B. Our cabin was very quiet, roomy, comfortable & in an excellent location. The balcony was large enough for 2 small chairs & a lounger. We had dinner one night on the balcony. The bed was very comfortable and the bath was large enough to move around in with a very nice tub/shower combo. The towels are large and absorbent and the bath supplies are very good quality. Our room stewards, Hemly & Huru, were excellent. We would leave our room for breakfast or an activity and it was always clean when we returned. The ice bucket was never empty which is important to us.
Dining: We had late traditional dining. Best food I've had on a cruise in years. The menu selections were excellent with a number of appealing choices each evening. Our servers, Gede and Made, were fabulous -- they had that perfect combination of friendliness, warmth & professionalism. We went to the Pinnacle one night and DH's porterhouse was perfect but I had to send my filet back as it was overcooked. The service in the Pinnacle was not nearly as good as the service in the MDR.
Entertainment: We went to a show each night and/or went to one of the lounges. Since entertainment is a matter of personal taste, I will only mention the entertainment that we thought very good to excellent. Mondriaan Showroom: Elliot Finkel, Jeff Tachta, and the last production show, Love, Broadway were very enjoyable. We also thought that the HALcats, Neptunes & Piano Man were excellent. The Mondriaan showroom seating does not have good sight lines to the stage, so I recommend going early.
Ports/Excursions: When we left the ship in Hilo we had a lovely surprise -- they gave each of us fresh flower leis which lasted most of the cruise. In Hilo, we shared a private tour (Ricky's Tours) with two other couples from the roll call. We enjoyed the tour, which concentrated on the volcano. In Honolulu, we took a bus to Waikiki & walked on the beach, shopped in the Aloha Tower Shopping Mall & had Mai Tais. We felt fortunate to be in the Honolulu harbor late because they had a parade of boats with their Christmas decorations which was fun. Kauai: Took a free shuttle to a little shopping center near the Marriott, had lunch at Dukes & walked around the Marriott hotel & beach area. Maui: Enjoyed a HAL tour that went to the Iao Needle and then the Ocean Center. The Ocean Center was a really worthwhile experience.
We had some concerns about going on the Zaandam because of some negative posts but the ship is beautiful with elegant touches. The service, the food, the ambiance all made for a fabulous cruise. We were also concerned about being exposed to a lot of smoke on the balcony, decks & in the casino, but that was never a problem for us on this cruise.
We did have 2 situations which I'd like to mention if only to forewarn future Zaandam cruisers :
1. At embarkation, we were told by all the staff upon boarding to go to the Lido. When I told them that we were going to the dining room, they responded that the lunch in the dining room was by invitation only. I was prepared for this because I had read that it had happened on an earlier cruise, so we went to the dining room. When they requested our invitation before seating us, I explained to them that "Welcome Back Embarkation Lunch in the dining room" was a benefit for all Star Mariners, so they did seat us.
2. We had two erroneous mini bar charges during the cruise, which we straightened out while on board only to come home and have an additional $25 added to our bill after the 'final statement' was delivered to our stateroom. We did call HAL and were given a credit. It was annoying, so I recommend checking your charges.
Disembarkation: Easy & very organized. We took a cab to the airport for $10 plus tip.