Boarding the Zuiderdam in Vancouver, we had taken several hours to evaluate this lovely ship from the docks, and we were impressed. Our high marks for the ship itself and their remarkably helpful and friendly staff were equalled by a fortunate selection of shore excursions (well, 2 out of 3) and we will definitely cruise with HAL again. Hopefully soon!
EMBARKING VANCOUVER: customs lines are the same everywhere, but moved quickly.
WELCOME: Friendly, helpful staff members were placed everywhere, luggage in room quickly, lots of info in printed form on bed for quick orientation.
STATEROOM: can't say enough about this lovely (deluxe verandah) room. Spotless, nicely decorated, great touches like umbrella (didn't need, fortunately) and binoculars in room, bed HUGE and very, very comfy.
ROOM STEWARDS: Ohmygosh, the joke that if you get up to use the bathroom at night, you'll return to a re-made bed seemed close to the truth. These smiling, ever-helpful guys could not have been better. Made every effort to tidy up when we were elsewhere--left little goodies. Wish I could have brought them home!
EXERCISE FACILITY: beautiful; seemed about the right size for this ship as you rarely had to wait long for a machine. Great classes.
ROOM SERVICE: wonderful. We had Eggbeater omelets every morning and they were delicious (and I'm picky) and hot upon arrival, always arriving in the time slot we requested. Seemed that if they were unsure about exactly what item you wanted, they sent both!
LIDO BUFFETS: We had great experiences here -- quality, fresh, beautiful foods. Salad greens were crisp, many salad-bar add-ons, fresh fruit, etc. I'm diabetic and I was delighted to find many entrees I could eat and a variety of "no sugar added" desserts at every meal. Cruise was too short to try it all! And the staff was ever-present and always smiling. Also fresh coffee and iced tea, snacks all day long.
CANALETTO: This was the only mediocre meal we had; antipasto was beautiful and delicious but the entrees were bland. Staff went out, however, to find me a no-sugar-added dessert when asked, cheerfully.
VISTA DINING ROOM: Excellent food, attentive staff, what's not to like? However, the last night the staff planned a "show" for the diners and it delayed service significantly -- I would have preferred less dancing and faster service!
PINNACLE GRILL: equalled any fine restaurant we've been to, and we've been to a lot. My beef was fork-tender and cooked as ordered and my husband's salmon was as good as he's had anywhere, he said. Will go here several times next cruise.
SHOWS: nicely amusing and well-performed. Let's face it, this is not Broadway, but the performers are excellent and the shows about an hour long.
STAFF: remarkable, unfailingly smiling and helpful. Cruise director (Shane Michaels) was a riot -- don't miss every morning "Good Morning Zuiderdam" show on closed-circuit tv. Captain (Werner Timmers) very personable and tolerant -- good sense of humor. Dining facility staff and room stewards just great! Shore excursion people helpful as can be.
WINE TASTING and FOOD DEMOS: excellent. Will do again.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES TOUR: This was fantastic. Expensive but we loved it. Went on the BRIDGE, to the galleys, monitoring center for mechanical functions, saw trash-sorting-for-recycling area (who'da thought?), etc.
BARS,ETC: just like bars!
NEPTUNE LOUNGE: special for suite-occupants -- nice help with ordering items, goodies to munch and coffee/tea/?wine?, etc. available. Didn't really need it much as so much was available elsewhere on the ship.
DIDN'T PARTAKE of: EXPLORER LOUNGE (new Starbucks-like coffee shop)--it looked
interesting but was very busy everytime we looked. Also didn't partake: spa, casino, children's facilities, beauty salon, stores (much), snack bars on deck.
PUBLIC AREAS; (slammed in former review) while not brand-new they are scrupulously maintained and attractive. As I'd expect on a premium ship.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: See below: Juneau: huge pods of both orcas and humpback whales. Do this! Skagway Railroad was well worth it; gorgeous views. Ketchikan: would not recommend the 4-wheel drive. Lots of hard bumps and no views to make them worthwhile. All towns are heavily touristy -- but I figure people must like this to support them so much -- but we didn't shop in those places.
VIEWS, NATURALISTS, SURROUNDINGS, ETC: Life-changingly inspirational. Just incredible. To see so much land undisturbed by humans was eye-popping! Lots and lots of wildlife viewed--whales, bald eagles, 1 bear, sea lions, mountain goats, otters, owl, puffins, glaciers calving. Just remarkable.
HOLLAND AMERICAN WILL BE MY CRUISE LINE WHENEVER POSSIBLE, AS THEIR COMMITMENT TO QUALITY IS OBVIOUS AND THEY SPOILED US FROM START TO FINISH. Their managers must be excellent because you don't get such a smooth-running, people-oriented, quality service without great management.