I didn't find much about teens on the Zaandam, so thought I would write my first review ever! We have sailed often, NCL, Disney, Carnival, Celebrity, and now HAL. I was concerned that HAL might not be teen-friendly, but booked this cruise as it fit with our dates and I liked the itinerary that included College Fjord and Glacier Bay.
Stateroom: We were in a stateroom on the first floor, far aft. Our stateroom attendant was amazing and always kept our room clean and neat. The bathroom was large enough for all three teens to cram in at one time if necessary. As others have mentioned, the windows need to be cleaned, but we were able to at least note where we were to determine if we should go upstairs for a better view! Others have mentioned smells on the lower decks. On one day, there was a terrible sewer smell midship, but it didn't reach our cabin. On the same day, our toilet stopped working, but a stop at the front desk had that fixed within the hour. There was amazing storage in the stateroom. We managed to put everything away in drawers or closets, with the suitcases under the bed. The two beds were very comfortable, the sofa bed not so comfortable. Overall, we were happy with the stateroom.
Ship: I thought the ship was in decent shape, though a bit tired. The promenade around deck 3 was a highlight. I spent many hours walking around and enjoying the beautiful scenery all around. The main thing that needs upgrading (as others have mentioned) is the terrible red carpet. It would be nice to have the windows cleaned as well.
Teens: The teens loved the teen club, the Loft. They also enjoyed having the private outside teen area, the Oasis. However, it was really too cold to spend a lot of time at the Oasis. They would have preferred a warmer cruise to take full advantage of the teen area. My biggest concern before this cruise was that my three teens would be the only teens on the ship. Not to worry!! There were over 20 teens in the Loft on any given evening. My kids stayed up late each night at the Loft, coming back at midnight or even 1 am! The nice thing about the teen club is that the teens mainly seemed to hang out there. You didn't see a lot of teens running around pushing elevator buttons, for example. In fact, I felt like the teens were almost too invisible! Overall, my teens had a blast and are still in touch with their new friends on Facebook.
Pros: Promenade on Deck 3. Great for long walks, 4 times around is a mile. Great place to spot wildlife. Saw a ton of whales, sea otters and seals. Food was outstanding, good variety. Loved our wait staff. We had anytime dining, but got the same table and servers every night by arriving early. Forward deck 6 for Glacier Bay was wonderful. Get there either by going through the theatre and up the stairs, or just going forward on deck 6. Very quiet, great views. Captain did an amazing job getting very close to glaciers. Naturalist in Glacier Bay was outstanding. Cruise director was very upbeat and friendly. Other passengers were friendly. Crew was amazing, probably the friendliest crew of any of our past cruises.
Cons: There is one thing I found odd about this cruise. Not sure if it occurs on all HAL ships or just the Zaandam. I know there is always food available somewhere, but it was a nuisance that the Lido was closed between 8 and 11 pm. We usually eat dinner early (5:30 pm), skip dessert, and then have dessert in the buffet around 9 pm. We had to adjust this to have dessert at 11 pm. Not a big deal, but on all the other ships I have sailed, the buffet was open many more hours. Here room service was the only evening option.
There was also a scheduling oddity. On the final night, the waiters put on a nice show and it seemed appropriate to be there to support your waiter for all the fine service they have provided all week. However, just during dinner we arrived at College Fjord. Thus most people missed the formal dinner.
Entertainment on the ship was only so-so, far inferior to NCL, a bit inferior to Celebrity. But with all the beautiful scenery and long days of sunlight, you didn't really need great shows. The exception was the Piano Bar. As others have noted, this was a real gem.
Overall: We enjoyed the HAL Zaandam and would sail on HAL again if the itinerary was right. Certainly I wouldn't hesitate to bring teens on a HAL Alaskan itinerary!
Teen Friendly Excursions:
Ketchikan: We fished with Ken from Northern Lights. So many fish in 3 hours we couldn't deal with them all! Ken is so funny, really enjoyed our morning with him. Ken has a three-hour special rate, three hours was plenty for us. Afternoon, geocaching around town.
Juneau: Hiked West Glacier Train at Mendenhall Glacier on our own. We didn't see any bears, but were slightly nervous we might! We had empty soda cans filled with rocks to make noise just in case.... The hike was nice, we got way above the glacier looking down. We had meant to hike TO the glacier but took a wrong turn. It turns out you need to take the trail marked "Hazardous Unmaintained Trail", that is the correct trail to take! Hmmmm... It was raining and the trail did seem hazardous so we stayed on the main trail. It also got pretty hazardous! Overall, fun hike with lots of vertical (1200 ft at least) and nice downward view of the glacier. And....free. Well, I guess not totally free. We rented a car at Rent-a-Wreck for about $50.
Skagway: Our best day. We started out the morning doing zip-lining at Mammoth waterfalls zipline. This is a new zipline, just opened this year. It was not offered through the ship, but probably will be by next year. Only other people on the excursion were a group of young adults who had a day off from their jobs at the White Pass RR. We have been on many ziplines, all over the world. Thus I didn't have high expectations for this one. However, it was really fun! The lines went over the river and waterfalls, very beautiful. The guides were hilarious, safe and fun. Highly recommend.
Then, our best excursion of the entire cruise: Paintball in Skagway! If you have teens, this can't be beat! It is called Splat Paintball, the owner Josh picks you up right at the ship in his splat bus and takes you to his beautiful course right by the river. It is really two fields, both incredibly scenic. Western theme. $40 per person, and it lasted for several hours. It was so much fun! Josh provides complete jumpsuits to keep your clothes clean, my teens wore double suits for added protection. He provides all the safety gear and all the paint and everything you need. You just show up by your ship and he takes care of everything else. Because the other family didn't show up, Josh arranged for us to play with some locals who were awesome! This was the highlight of our excursions! Thanks Josh! And thanks Heath and Eric too for playing with us!
We usually arrive early for cruises and wait in endless lines. This trip we arrived around 2pm, walked right on the ship with all of our luggage, straight to our cabin and unpacked! Very easy, on the ship within minutes of arrival. We have also typically had long lines to get off the ship. HAL really has this down pat, at least in Seward. We did self debarkation, walked off the ship with all of our luggage at 9 am, absolutely nobody in front of us, just walked off, walked through customs, and got our ride to the rental car. Off the ship in maybe 5 minutes max. Amazing!
Self Drive to Airport:
We had a late flight so kept the fun coming! We first visited the Sea Life Center in Seward. Small, but very nice, took maybe an hour. Then drove to Portage Glacier. Took a really nice boat ride to the glacier front, definitely worthwhile! Then hiked to Byron Glacier where we could actually walk on ice. Byron Glacier trailhead is right at Portage Glacier, so it was easy to get to. Last stop was the Alaskan Wildlife Center. It was ok, not great. But it was fun to see bears close up! Finally to the airport to say goodbye to beautiful Alaska!