Another of Holland America's Signature of Excellence enhancements was the installation of a demonstration kitchen in the Wajang Theater. The program is offered in conjunction with Food & Wine magazine and often, though not always, guest chefs from restaurants around the U.S. are onboard to give demonstrations and workshops. If no "celebrity" chef is onboard, the ship's own chefs host classes. Some are free and open to all, but the more intimate and hands-on classes must be reserved (and are not free of charge). The Wajang Theatre also screens a movie three times each day.
The Mondriaan Lounge is the venue for production shows, specialty acts and enrichment lectures. I found the one production show presented on my cruise to be startlingly amateurish. The taped sound track was enhanced by live musicians.
New to Zaandam in early 2009 is the Microsoft Digital Workshops program, comprised of complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.
Surprisingly, there were no bridge experts, and bridge players organized their own play.
There is music throughout the ship. A dance trio plays in the Ocean Bar. A pianist plays standards in the Piano Bar. A combo plays easy listening rock in the Crow's Nest. A string quartet plays light pre-dinner classical music in the Atrium, and after dinner in the Explorers' Lounge. There is a DJ for late night disco in the Crow's Nest. (Ballroom dancers, please make note: The dance floors are very small.) Bar drinks are fairly priced at about $5.50 for a standard drink. (Polish vodka, for some reason, is priced at $9.50, while Russian is $5.50.) There's a drink of the day, which is discounted. Wine by the glass starts at $5.
Affinity group meeting times (e.g., Friends of Bill W., Friends of Dorothy) are posted in the daily program. A crafts instructor helps passengers make a project each day at sea.
The cruise staff hosts bingo, trivia quizzes and line dancing. Zaandam offers self-guided tours of the artwork decorating the ship by iPod. There are art auctions conducted by Parke West Galleries. The casino has the usual table games (Texas Hold 'Em, Caribbean stud, blackjack), roulette and slot machines from 1 cent to $1.
Zaandam Public Rooms
Among the changes introduced with the Signature of Excellence updates was retrofitting the library into The Explorations Café and Library. This enhanced space has become a center of shipboard life. There are numerous stations for computer use. Time is sold in units at prices ranging from 75 cent to 40 cents per minute. The default page is the New York Times (the room's sponsor), so it is possible to keep up with the world's news online. (A cheaper way is to read the Times Digest, which is delivered daily to each cabin.) All the ship's public rooms have hotspots for wireless Internet, so passengers can access the ship's Internet services with their laptops. Explorations also has a coffee/tea bar, where most specialty offerings are under $2, and a large and well stocked library of books, games and DVD's.
Most public rooms are located on Decks 4 and 5. On Deck 5 from fore to aft are the Mondriaan Lounge (upper level), the Explorers' Lounge and Explorations Cafe and the Rotterdam Dining Room (upper level). On Deck 4 from fore to aft are the Montriaan Lounge (lower level), the Photo Gallery, the Purser's Office, the Wajang Theatre and Culinary Arts Center, and the Pinnacle Grill and the Rotterdam Dining Room (main level). As on other Holland America Line Ships, the kitchens block access to the dining room on Deck 4, so you must go up or down one deck to the rear stairway to reach the main level of the dining room.
The ship's shops are four: a perfume shop, a jewelry shop (with some clothing), a logo shop and a liquor store (with some sundries). There are the usual daily specials: designer watches or inch of gold, for example. The shops could be on just about any other line's ship. (Won't some line please hire a decent buyer?) The greatest bargain on the ship is liquor. You can buy liquor by the bottle and take it to your cabin to consume onboard, unlike on most ships where liquor purchased onboard is held until the last day. Liquor prices really are duty free. A liter of Absolut is $9.95; a liter of Johnny Walker Red is $15.95.
Zaandam Spa & Fitness
Among my favorite features of this ship is its wraparound teak promenade deck (Deck 3) with wooden deck chairs (four times around equals one mile). Fitness staff organize a mile walk each morning at sea. (Warning: Don’t book an outside cabin on Deck 2!) For the more active passengers, the ship provides basketball and paddle tennis courts. Traditional shipboard games like shuffleboard and Ping-Pong are also available.
There are two outdoor swimming pools (one with a retractable magrodome for inclement weather) and two hot tubs. Fitness trainers offer yoga, aerobics, spinning and Pilates (some for a fee). An ample number of plastic sun loungers surround the pools. (Pool towels are supplied poolside).
The gymnasium (Deck 8) has a splendid location overlooking the bow. It is very well equipped with exercise cycles, spinning cycles, ski machines, treadmills, weight training machines and free weights. The machines are all of the Cybex brand. There is a mat area for free-standing exercising.
The Greenhouse Spa (Deck 8), run by Steiner, the London salon and spa people, is accessible to passengers who have booked treatments or with a day pass. Day passes are available for $20 (discounts for multiple days are given). Located within the spa, the Greenhouse Retreat consists of a grotto of wet and dry heated spaces with mists, sauna and steam room with ceramic loungers, a heated salt water pool with added salts and a hydrotherapy pool with water jets.
Elemis health and beauty treatments include a variety of facials, wraps, manicures, pedicures and massages; if you plan to partake of more than one or two, ask about packages, which can save you a bit. Also, typically the biggest discounts for treatments occur during port days, so booking when in port is another way to save. Speaking of saving money, do beware that Steiner staffers are required to offer health and beauty products for sale. You are not required to buy -- and if the therapist is too pushy, you should file a complaint.
The minimum age for using the spa is 18, but some services (pedicures, for example) are available to younger passengers who are at least 13 and accompanied by an adult. There are also hair salon services for women and men.