Just off the Zaandam in the Pacific Southwest
Wanted to knock out a short review of this little 3-day cruise we just disembarked from this morning. Hadn't been on a ship in more than a year after disembarking in Hong Kong in March 2010 so we were desperate to get back aboard. Our best buddies Bob and Judy suggested this one with an overnight at their place the night before and we jumped at it. Sailing with them is always a barrel full of monkeys.
Drove to Canada Place to board the Zaandam and arrived there at 11:00 am. Had to wait about an hour due to a Coast Guard inspection but when we finally got on at noon, our cabins were ready which was GREAT as we had elected to drag our luggage aboard as opposed to having it delivered to our room. Unpacked and eating lunch within 40 minutes flat. AMAZING! Every cruise line should do this. Make a commitment to have cabins ready by noon. OUTSTANDING and kudos to HAL and the entire staff for making it happen.
We had read on the Cruise Critic boards that we could do lunch at half price in the Pinnacle Grille specialty restaurant on embarkation but found that this was not the case so don't expect to do that. We later found that there was a special brunch/lunch for members of the Mariner Society (past HAL cruisers of which we were four) in the main dining room but no one had told us this. So we are telling you now. If you have sailed with HAL before, head there once you board. Since we didn't know this we headed up to the buffet for lunch. HAL has a new policy that to prevent NORO outbreaks they do not allow you to serve yourself in the buffets until 48 hours after sailing. This was strictly adhered to. This meant that the poolside grille had no condiments for hot dogs or hamburgers or self-serve pizza until lunch on our last full day. Kind of drag on a 3 day but we understand.
I think I will break the rest of this review up into the good and the bad and then a couple of extra notes.
First the good. Food was good (not great). Everyone always wants to know that first. HAL cabins are outstanding. More storage than you could shake a stick at and maybe the most comfortable beds we have ever slept on in our 14 previous cruises. Our cabin steward Abdul was outstanding. He introduced himself as soon as we walked out of our cabin on our first day and gave us his card with his extension number and told us to call anytime we needed anything. That's the right attitude.
Other PAX were outstanding. We did "Anytime Dining" (more about that later) and had wonderful table mates every night. We met tons of other great people through our Cruise Critic roll call and people who knew our buddy Judy (which we think was most of the ship).
We also thought that the Zaandam herself for being more than 11 years old was in gorgeous condition. The ship is truly beautiful and very well taken care of. We saw very few cosmetic touches that needed fixing.
Now the bad. We were on this cruise to kind of do a test run to see if we would enjoy the Zaandam on a longer trip. We are normally Celebrity cruisers but Bob is looking for a 14+ cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii and back and the Zaandam fits the bill. We wanted to see if we would enjoy her that much. We had three HUGE problems on this cruise.
First was the smoking. Celebrity (our usual cruise line) has pretty much banished smoking from every ship other than two designated spots on each ship. If you are a non-smoker, you can easily avoid those. HAL on the other hand still allows smoking throughout the ship including many lounges, private cabins and verandahs. I am extremely allergic to cigarette smoke and even the slightest whiff gives me a sinus headache that puts me flat on my back for the rest of the day. HAL needs to catch up with the rest of the world. If entire countries (Ireland, Italy) and states (Washington, California) can ban smoking in public places then HAL can to. I am just not sure that I could put up with a ship where I had to go downstairs to go to the front of the ship because I couldn't walk from the front to the back on a public deck due to the smoke. And as Bob pointed out, the age of the ship makes Zaandam's air circulation system unable to keep up with the smoke where newer ships might not have that problem.
Second was HAL's "Anytime Dining." This was a joke as was their dining room in general. Let's start with trying to make reservations for dinner. We stopped and asked on the first day at the reservations desk and asked for a 6:30 pm reservation. We were told that they were only taking reservations for "Anytime Dining" at 5:15 and 7:30. We felt that was both too early and too late for us. We were told that if we wanted to eat between those two times we would need to "walk up." So that night we went down at 6:30 and were told it would be about an hours wait. We took their buzzer and went to wait in the lounge. About 10 minutes later, it buzzed and we were seated. We almost gave up and went to the buffet but thankfully we didn't. We ended up eating around 7:00.
The second night we went a little earlier (closer to 6:15) and were again told, it would be an hour. This time it was more than an hour. Finally around 7:15 I went down to see how things were going and ran into a couple from Redmond who were trying to ask the same thing. Every person who asked was told an hour. She and I both pushed a little and we were seated almost immediately. In the dining room were a bunch of empty tables but we felt they were understaffed so they were not able to seat everyone. The second night also had to wait quite a while to order or even get menus and finally were done with dinner pretty close to 10:00 pm.
Both the first two nights there was a continuous line at the entrance to the dining room but the last night there wasn't. We had made 5:30 reservations, got there, got seated right away and had a very nice dinner. Part of this ease on the last night could have been because we were still docked in Victoria until 10:30 and some PAX were off the ship eating in Victoria or because many of the people who had stood in long lines the night before had just given up.
I will say that in the dining room there seemed to be no systems in place. Busboys walked around looking at dirty dishes on tables and made no effort to remove them. Waiters appeared and disappeared sporadically. We had to ask to find a wine steward which is usually unheard of because that is a major profit center for them but each night we had to ask. Once we did get menus and order things usually went pretty well and the waiters we had weren't bad, they were just overworked and disorganized in general.
And we tried to eat breakfast in the dining room every morning and each time we were told that it would be, "an hour wait." Ridiculous. Especially when later we found that people right behind us in line before we gave up got in within 15 minutes.
Another HAL bad is the coffee. The coffee we had in the dining room or the buffet was HORRID! Worst coffee ever! Thankfully we were able to go to the Explorations Cafe on deck 5 and buy Torrefazioni coffee which is an outstanding Starbucks subsidiary. The problem with the Explorations though is that they have only one person working the counter and that person literally takes 7-10 minutes to make a single drink. Seriously. It took forever.
I will also say that while we didn't see either of the two evening shows, we did hear many of the lounge acts and the classical violin trio was HORRIBLE! One of the members was beyond tone deaf. Sounded like you would imagine a child of five would sound while practicing their scales.
Lastly, after experiencing Celebrity's service I just don't think that HAL is up to par. Even bad X service. Our first morning out I wanted to walk the lower promenade deck for the hour before we docked in Seattle. I passed about 15 different crew members and gave each a smile and a "good morning" but not a single one said a word back to me or even acknowledged me. That would NEVER happen on an X ship. Also that morning there were a number of people doing laps with me but about an hour before we docked, three crew members came out and roped off a section of the deck so we couldn't make a complete circuit. They then sat there and drank coffee for an hour while people came up to the rope, stopped, turned around and went completely around to the other side of their rope. Why they felt they had to rope it off so they could stand there and drink coffee and cut us off from a normal run is beyond me.
Disembarkation was a piece of cake. We did breakfast in the dining room (first time we had ever been able to do that without an hour's wait) and then walked off the ship with our luggage in tow. Some PAX were a little upset that there was no luggage pickup the night before as there usually is on a cruise. They told everyone that they needed to get their own luggage off the ship themselves but if they needed help, they should just call. It seemed to work extremely well. We were called to leave the ship at 8:00 am and were in the car driving home by 8:30. Not too bad.
All in all we enjoyed ourselves but we won't be able to do that longer cruise until HAL fixes their smoking policy and brings it more into line with the rest of the world. Once they do that, I will be able to treat them as secondary line in my life to X. Until then, Celebrity gets my money.