Asia Explorer: Zaandam Cruise Review by rafinmd
Overall Member Rating
Pre-cruise I booked one of the hotels HAL uses in Singapore, the Fairmont, but booked it independently at a significantly lower price. It was a very nice hotel in a great location. One tip here: The Fairmont's internet access is quite pricy, but I joined their frequent stay group and on checking out found it is free for their members.
Post-cruiseIn Hong Kong, I stayed post cruise at the Langham. It's a very nice hotel just 2 blocks from Ocean Terminal, and I would gladly recommend it (although others may be just as good).
Ship: The Zaandam is one of HAL's 4 R-Class ships. Roughly 60,000 tons and 1,400 passengers it is a nice size. Built in 2000 it is actually the near the middle of the age range of More their ships. I thought it was mechanically in excellent condition but did have some cosmetic issues which detracted somewhat from the feel of the ship. The most significant one was carpeting near the elevator landings which appeared to have suffered from unequal application of cleaning products and had large discolored sections.
Activities: To me this is HAL's biggest weakness. They tend to cater to sophisticated travelers and other lines like Cunard offer extensive enrichment programs with a variety of speakers. HAL's program is are arranged around 4 areas (World,Food,Technology,and Wellbeing) Wellbeing is typically handled by the fitness center and is usually considered in addition to the activities. Technology is a bit too closely tied to their exclusive relationship with Microsoft and for me lacks depth. I am not really big on food as a topic. The World area had mostly offerings from the Travel Guide, Spencer Brown. Brown was excellent and unbiased but dealt mostly with what to see and do and did not go deeply into the history and background of the area.
Service: Superb. Many staff I had previously encountered only briefly addressed me by name and were always ready to go the extra mile to help. Personal but unobtrusive.
Port & Shore Excursions: One of the challenges of this area is that many of the key cities (Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi) are quite distant from their nearest ports, making shore tours challenging and tiring. Excursions were generally pretty well done given the circumstances. They might better be seen by land, but independent travel in this region is a challenge I wouldn't tackle.
Summary: A wonderful cruise to an unforgettable part of the world
Travel To Port of Embarkation: While not staying in the hotel through HAL, their hospitality desk did sell me a transfer at a reasonable price. The transfer was smooth, although embarkation was slow. I think the problem was an immigration delay in getting guests disembarked from the previous cruise.
Stateroom: My oceanview stateroom on the Lower Promenade (outdoor walking) deck was comfortable and well laid out. This class ship provides fridges only on verandah cabins but the ice bucket was kept filled (Fridges are available for rent). There was a bath tub but it was quite small. The cabin temperature was always comfortable.
Dining: One of the dining rooms's levels was for traditional dining with early and late fixed seatings, while the other was "anytime". I was unable to get my request for traditional dining, and ended up in the anytime despite my wishes. I missed having the opportunity to get familiar with my waiters, but was alwas promptly seated when I arrived. The meals wouldn't be called gourmet but were more than satisfactory. The selection and quality of food in the Lido restaurant were generally quite good. I did not use the specialty restaurants on this voyage.
Children's Clubs: There were only a small smattering of youth on this voyage. I seldom saw them while at sea, and have to assume they were occupied and engaged with the activities for them.
Entertainment: The Zaandam singers and dancers performed 4 excellent shows. Most of the other nights we had headline acts (singer, instrumentalist, and so on). They ranged from good to excellent. Of the 4 bars, one had a latin dance band, one a classical string group, a third alternated between guitar (early) and piano (after 9PM), and finally the Crows Nest with a band or DJ.
Disembarkation: Hong Kong authorities came on board by the last sea day and processed immigration in the background. There was a delay in their processing and we did not get our passports back until the final morning but from then everything went very smoothly and on schedule. There were no border formalities the final morning. I walked off the ship at 8:50, walked away from the terminal with my luggage, and was at my hotel at 9:10. Less