Background Information: There were four of us on this cruise … two parents with one in a wheelchair, one adult daughter, and daughter’s friend. We chose the ms Zuiderdam because (1) we were flying from Toronto, and wanted to cruise out of Vancouver without the hassle of going through Customs at the airport, (2) we wanted one room that was wheelchair accessible and had a balcony, and (3) we wanted the Inside Passage, with minimum amount of rough water.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: Canada Place is a beautiful setting, in downtown Vancouver. We arrived at Canada Place in our rental car, and drove down to the underground parking to drop off our luggage with the porters, and some of our group (while the other person drove the car back to the Hertz rental car office on Granville St). Embarkation was very smooth, especially with a wheelchair. We had to go through security, then Customs, and then check-in. The whole experience took maybe a ½ hour.
Stateroom: Our rooms were available as soon as we arrived, which was around 12:30. The wheelchair accessible room (5137) was great. There was lots of room to turn the wheelchair around. The bathroom was roll-in, with a shower. There was a slight ramp from the room to the balcony. Since we were at a curve in the ship, the balcony was extra large, with room for three wicker chairs and a small table. We had one of the indoor chairs removed, to make more room for the wheelchair. You could open and close the curtains using a switch by the bed.
The non-accessible room (5135) was right next door. We had them unlock the divider between the two balconies, so that we could travel back and forth between our rooms on the balcony. The room had lots of storage space. There were three closets, plus storage over the pull-out couch. We had them remove the two indoor chairs to make a little more room in the seating area. Bathroom included a tub, and was quite spacious. Balcony was nice, with two wicker chairs and a small wicker table. There was a small flat screen TV in each room, with maybe about 10 channels to watch. There was also a DVD player, and you could borrow lots of DVDs to watch. Shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel in the bathroom was amazing … don’t bother bringing your own from home. If you need a blanket for sitting on the balcony, then check the drawer under the foot of the bed.
Deck 10 – Observation: Crow’s Nest had the most amazing views out the front of the ship. We found that this area was quite crowded though, and the comfy chairs were pretty much always full. The Captain had a question & answer session there one day, and the Park Ranger had a session there the day we visited Glacier Bay. Explorations Café is next to the Crow’s Nest, and a great place to read books or magazines, work on a group puzzle, or use the computers. We paid for the Wi Fi, but found that the speed in the room was painfully slow, so in an attempt to get better response time we would take the laptop to the Café and use it there. Beware that the internet speed is no where near what you may be used to at home.
Deck 9 – Lido: To the right of the Fitness Center is a door that leads outside, to the front of the boat. I don’t think many people were aware of this, because we saw very few people out there. But you can get amazing views out the front. Dress warmly though. Greenhouse Spa & Salon was very nice. We did a tour on day one, and then had a massage, facial and pedicure there on day two. They have daily specials in the Explorer that is delivered to your room. The people working there were very nice, but sometimes a little pushy when selling products. Lido Pool was often empty on this cruise. Once in a while there were a couple of people in it, or a fitness class being held in it. Since the roof closes, it was a great area to sit and eat meals, or pull a chair up to the window and spend the day watching the scenery and wildlife float by. Sea View Pool was also pretty much empty since it is outside. But there are lots of places to sit and enjoy the view.
Deck 3 – Promenade: Vista Lounge was a great venue for watching performances. There was limited wheelchair seating though. There were only a few spots at the back on deck 3, and they didn’t have great viewpoints. There was a whole row at the beck on deck 2, but most of those chairs were occupied by other people. I think Holland America could make an improvement here, and clearly identify the wheelchair sections, and don’t encourage others to use those seats, since the wheelchair people have no other options. Screening Room was great for watching movies. Movies were current, chairs were large and comfy, and bags of popcorn were supplied. Shopping Arcade was fun. There are only actually two shops (one jewelry, one everything else), but they’re quite large, and they had different sale tables every day. There was a good variety of stuff for sale. While the ship was at sea, they had also had sales around the Lido Pool, mostly for Alaskan clothing (t-shirts, hoodies, hats, etc.).
Deck 2 – Lower Promenade: Casino was lots of fun too. Good variety of slot machines at all denominations. There were a few card tables. We visited a few times, and it was never overly busy. Queen's Lounge & Culinary Arts Center was great. We watched the chef prepare lobster salad from Le Cirque, and got to enjoy crème brulee. Explorer’s Lounge is great place to relax. We attended a craft class there, and made beaded lanyards to hold our room keys, and had lots of fun. Also tried to attend the flower arranging class, but it was very crowded.
Vista Dining Room: We didn’t want to be tied down to eating at a specific time and table. We often showed up at the dining room (on deck 2) for breakfast, lunch, or supper and were able to walk right in with no wait. The room is beautiful, with great views, and was never crowded. Service was impeccable, and the food was always delicious. We dressed casual for breakfast and lunch, and dressed nice for dinner. We saw a wide variety of clothing here.
Pinnacle Grill: We paid $20 per person to eat here on the final night, and it was well worth it. We had a table for four along the windows, with an amazing view. Again, service was superb. Food was out of this world. The Caesar salad was made table side, and the best I’ve ever had. Everything was top notch.
Lido Restaurant: For the first two days, the staff served the food to everyone, and after that you could serve yourself. There is a lot of variety here, and the food was great. Breakfast choices are amazing. Pizza and pasta are always available. It can be a bit hectic here. We usually took our food from here, out to the Lido Pool and sat in the sunshine. Every night from 10:30-11:30 they had food from a different country (i.e. Mexican, Italian, etc.). We usually tried a little something, even though we were still stuffed from supper.
Room Service: We started by ordering breakfast the first day, which arrived promptly. After that we usually ordered juice and coffee for a pre-breakfast, and then had breakfast in the Lido. We also ordered the cheese plate once, and the chocolate cake once. On one of the formal nights we checked the menu at the Dining Room. Found out that it was surf and turf, so we called room service and had it delivered to the room. It arrived promptly, and hot, and was simply fabulous. There is an extensive room service menu. Plus whatever is served in the Dining Room. We also enjoyed pea soup, which was served outside on deck 3 when we visited Glacier Bay.
On the second formal night there was a dessert extravaganza around the Lido Pool. All the chefs came out and were introduced. There were ice sculptures, and every kind of fabulous dessert that you could imagine, including three chocolate fountains.
On the final day there was an Alaskan Salmon Bake at the Sea View Pool, with the most amazing salmon and baked potatoes and salads. It was a really nice surprise, and the food was great.
Activities: Since the scenery is so stunning in Alaska, we actually didn’t participate in many activities. As mentioned above, we made beaded lanyards one day, and went to the Culinary Arts Center once. There were other activities we wanted to try, but just ran out of time. We spent a LOT of time just watching the amazing scenery, either from our balcony, or from the Lido Pool area. We participated in the 5K “On Deck For The Cure” walk, to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. There was a good turn-out (maybe 50 people), and you can walk at your own pace, and quit whenever you need to. This was held on deck 3, and the view was magnificent during the whole walk. We even saw dolphins playing in the waves behind the ship.
Service: What can I say … it is outstanding! From the moment we arrived, people were always ready to help with the wheelchair. When we entered a restaurant or got on/off the ship, there was always somebody to push the wheelchair for us, which is truly appreciated. The room stewards were top notch. They moved around silently, but were always ready and willing to help wherever they could. They were fabulous!
Entertainment: We didn’t have time to enjoy much of the entertainment. We went to the Vista Lounge on the first night, and got to enjoy the singers and dancers. We went back on the final night, and saw the comedian and the magician, which were very fun too.
Disembarkation: There was a delay in getting the first group off the ship, which backed up most of the other groups. We had a leisurely breakfast, and then waited in our room, until our group/colour was called. Seems that some people don’t understand that concept, and insist on waiting where everyone else is trying to exit. Other than that, it was very quick with a wheelchair, since we had our own line for Customs. We then had to find our luggage, in a sea of black luggage. Luckily they had lots of free luggage carts, which made it easier to handle everything. We waited a while for one of us to arrive with our rental car. Everything was smooth, but we were sad that it was over, and wanted to turn around and get back on the ship.
Summary: An Alaskan cruise is amazing. I had only heard positive comments before we left on the cruise, so I had great expectations, but I was totally blown away. The scenery was breath-taking and jaw-dropping around every corner. The air was clean, and the people were friendly. Yes, the crowd was an older crowd, and it was very quiet at night, which was fine with me. This was my first Holland America cruise, and I was astounded by the superb service, and the incredible meals. It was very easy to take a wheelchair person on this cruise, and the extra help offered by everyone was great. I will definitely recommend Holland America to everyone.