For us, this cruise was "A trip of a lifetime". The hints and suggestions that we received from other Cruise Critic participants were very helpful as we prepared for our cruise.
Our cruise started from Sydney, Australia after a long plane ride from Los Angeles, and a night spent at the Jolly Swagman's Backpacker Hotel. At 10am, on our day of departure, we were able to drop our bags at HAL's baggage drop tent at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Circular Quay, and spend some time looking around the area. We boarded the Zaandam at 11:30am, went to our stateroom to freshen up, and proceeded to the MDR for the Mariner's lunch. After attending the mandatory safety drill, we returned to our stateroom to discover our bags and unpack.
The Zaandam proved to meet our expectations in every way. We enjoyed the wide variety of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts that were available in the dinning rooms and the Lido. The Zaandam staff made us feel very welcome, and went out of their way to answer questions and meet our requests. During the 28 days that we spent on the Zaandam, we attended information sessions, visited the casino, discovered great observation decks, spent relaxing time in the lounge chairs on lower promenade deck, attended productions, watched performers, and frequented the Explorations Cafe where the jigsaw puzzles were kept. The great thing about the Zaandam is the fact that a person can always find a comfortable place to sit and relax.
It was not economically possible for us to take all of the ship's excursions that were available, but we were able to go on a 7-hour excursion in Port Villa, Vanuatu, which was very informative. The cultural center we visited was quite similar to the one we went to on our own the day before, but did not include the "fire walker" or the "Water music" presentations. Unfortunately, the ship's tour to Ulva Island was canceled, and we had to arrange to go there on our own. It was wonderful! The best excursion we went on was the Elm Wildlife Tour on the Otago Peninsula. We saw Royal Albatross at the Royal Albatross Center, and were witness to the birth of a New Zealand fur seal at their private reserve. It was there that we also saw a yellow-eyed penguin up close.
We opted for the late dining time, and thoroughly enjoyed our dining companions on both legs of our cruise. We found that meeting, and visiting, with other passengers while eating breakfast in the MDR was one of the better experiences of the cruise.
Our overall assessment of our cruise experience is very positive, and we will be considering another cruise with HAL as time and finances allow.