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Home > Virtual Cruises > Wines of Washington Cruise Onboard HAL's Zaandam
Wines of Washington Cruise Onboard HAL's Zaandam
Day 1: Pre-Cruise Stay in San Diego/Embarkation
Day 2: Wine 101 at Sea
Day 3: Second Day at Sea
Day 4: Disembarkation in Vancouver
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Day 4: Thursday, Disembarkation in Vancouver
Disembarkation in VancouverAs we meander through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and past a string of islands that line a waterway connecting Vancouver with the Pacific Ocean, the rain has stopped and wind gusts are finally manageable. And whether you head outside on a private balcony -- or simply wander over to the promenade deck -- you need to watch the progression of the ship as it nears Vancouver with all your senses.

Seriously, the intense smell of spruce and pine was so pervasive that my spirits rose noticeably. It smells refreshingly clean! In between bouts of packing -- I'd opted for Holland America's express debarkation, where you carry off your own stuff -- I kept nipping back to the balcony for a sniff of fresh air. The snow-capped mountains in the distance only enhanced the picture postcard atmosphere.

Vancouver is one of North America's most fantastic cities (check out our port profile for specific suggestions). It's surrounded by water and mountains (some of which were snow-capped as we pulled in; Zaandam was the first ship to arrive there this "Alaska" season). It's got a lovely Pan Asian influence, a sense of history, plenty of art and culture, and great shops. And the Canadian exchange rate, while not quite the deal it used to be for Americans, still offers a discount.

It being Easter Sunday, Vancouver was rather quiet this morning and, delayed by the bluster of wind and water the day before, we arrived a bit too late to make it for church services at the cathedral in town. And then it was time to go home....

For the ship, this is the end of the route -- for two weeks at least -- as it heads from here to a shipyard in nearby Victoria later this afternoon. Changes will be minimal, I'm told (a little of bit of fresh carpet here and new soft goods there) aside from one major alteration. In a test case funded by HAL and -- get this -- other cruise lines, too, Zaandam will be the guinea pig in a seawater scrubber feasibility project. It's complicated, but in essence the smokestack will be rejiggered to experiment with how using seawater to scrub the stack will reduce air emissions. Zaandam will be outfitted with the necessary technology while in dry-dock.

Other partners in the $1.2 million test include the Environmental Protection Agency, Port of Seattle, Port of Vancouver, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Environment Canada. And Caterpillar. We'll see what happens.

For me, a three-night cruise is too short to get into the easy pace and lovely rhythm of the type of voyage I usually love (more and more, even seven nights feel too few to me!). But this mini-break on Zaandam was still a memorable one. Here are some after-the-cruise reflections:

Pack lightly for such a short cruise. I toted along the usual cruise suitcase and didn't wear three-quarters of the stuff I brought. And Holland America ships have fantastic libraries so go light on reading material, too.

I wish I'd done more research on Washington's wine industry before I arrived. I gained a lot of knowledge throughout the weekend but a better grasp before starting would have resulted in a more relaxed learning experience.

If the ports of embarkation/debarkation are interesting ones (and they almost always are), try to extend your trip. My quick overnight visit in San Diego was a wonderful way to ease into the trip and Vancouver is one of the most spectacular cities in North America (alas, I headed down to Seattle that afternoon because of professional obligations -- but just two hours away by car and a pleasant drive, Seattle was a lot of fun and is another option). Other people I met were renting a car in Vancouver and taking the slow route back to their hometown of San Diego.

If you're interested in participating in a food, wine or mixology cruise, Holland America's got a vast menu from which to choose. Opportunities span all ships and cruise regions. Some focus on regional chefs, such as Seis Kamimura from Seattle's BOKA Kitchen & Bar (he'll be on Zuiderdam in the Caribbean in November); others, those with a national profile, such as Marcus Samuelsson, who's the executive chef of New York's famed Aquavit. The celebrity chefs (or wine experts, cookbook authors and chocolate makers among the special guests invited) are part of a Holland America program in conjunction with Food and Wine magazine. And while activities vary, you can expect at least cooking demonstrations and seminars; you might also get to experience book signings, market tours in ports of call and hosted dinners.

One other note: Even when a cruise doesn't have a celebrity chef, the Culinary Arts Center always offers programs hosted by onboard chefs and these can be amazing, too. One of my favorite memories of a cruise on HAL's Statendam around New Zealand and Australia was an actual hands-on workshop with the chef of the Pinnacle Grill; 12 of us got to belly up to the counter and participate in making the food. Those workshops are usually offered twice per cruise on all ships and cost $29. Complimentary one-hour demonstrations are also offered.

I grappled with balancing the wine program activities and indulging in my own favorite ideas for sea day fun -- and I could have done a better job (never did make it to the spa, for instance). I didn't disembark feeling as relaxed as you might expect from a cruise! But with only three days, it's hard to know what to miss! That's the challenge you'll face on any theme cruise and the resolution really is based on personalities.

One of the highlights of the "Wines of Washington" program was the chance to really mingle casually with winemakers and chefs. That's worth its weight in gold! Our first night onboard I had dinner with winery owner Tom Hedges and his wife, Anne-Marie, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. Same went with a fun, impromptu conversation with Chateau Ste. Michelle's John Sarich one afternoon in the Ocean Bar.

If you cruise with Holland America in the future, really try to participate in the once-per-voyage On Deck for the Cure walk. You're not only doing something healthful for yourself in forcing exercise but also contributing to something -- the fight to eradicate breast cancer. In its first year of the program, Holland America, the only cruise line even remotely involved in something like this, raised $400,000; the news this week was that most of the other Carnival Corporation cruise lines -- Carnival, Princess, Seabourn -- will begin rolling out their own programs.

This isn't my first wine-themed voyage; I'd also spent a week on Carnival Liberty. The wine portion on that trip was focused on our three sea days and I remember feeling similarly overwhelmed at various points. The difference was we had days in between in port to chill out and relax, and that made for a more relaxing getaway.

Another nice element of the wine cruise was the winemaker's meals. Yes, they cost extra, but ours were excellent -- even extraordinary. My favorite has to be a lunch hosted by John Sarich. Each course was outstanding, including Dungeness crab timbale with caviar, seared Alaska halibut and strawberry napoleon (they were served with Chateau Ste. Michelle's wine: Eroica Riesling, an Orphelin Red Blend and a blanc de noir sparkling, respectively).

One caveat to offer: Themes like this one -- which was only marketed to about 10 percent of the folks onboard -- can cause disruptions for those not involved. One case in point: At the Pinnacle Grill, the ship's outstanding Northwest-themed alternative restaurant, dinner on two of the three nights was fully booked within the first hour or so of embarking. That is mostly because the winemaker's meals already took so many tables so there were few left. I heard grumbling about that, and I do think the restaurant staffers could have been more proactive to folks they turned down for dinner and suggested lunch there instead. The Pinnacle Grill offers one of my favorite lunch menus at sea. As well, the Culinary Arts Center and the Wajang Theater share the space -- and on such rainy days there could have been a few additional film showings had our group not been using the facility for lectures and such.

Ultimately, even though there wasn't really enough time to develop the solid camaraderie that comes after a seven-night or longer cruise, meeting fellow passengers at the various events (particularly the lunches and dinners) was tons of fun. The chance to meet other people with similar interests is one of the great features of a theme cruise -- whatever the theme.
Day 3: Second Day at Sea red arrow  

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