Airport arrangements, hotel transfers, baggage handling- all with precision. Embarkation took at most 30 minutes shuttle to on board.
Land touring a week before cruise included Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage.Wildlife trip ... Read More
Airport arrangements, hotel transfers, baggage handling- all with precision. Embarkation took at most 30 minutes shuttle to on board.
Land touring a week before cruise included Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage.Wildlife trip to Denali magnificent, breathtaking view of mountain that day. Land tour director was a pro, even assisted in crisis when wife packed ALL my clothes and sent ahead to the ship. Our group of 40 were all punctual cooperative and affable.
One day flight to Anaktuvak Pass village was worh note. The flight up and visit into tundra very good. The village itself was difficult. The locals 'subsistence traditional life' is now all western supported, by importing everything-EVERYTHING- by air. Educate yourself before deciding to spend a large amount of money and full day.
This was our 2nd HAL trip. Layout identical to previous Noordam. Odd to round a corner of a new place and know where you were and what you would see next. This means no adventure in exploring a new vessel.
I am a physician, and visit to Med Facility and listening to shop talk stories from ship's Doc an extra treat. (unlike Cunard).
Staff very attentive, but HAL needs to assist them with English skills-room service, bar. Table waiters and wine steward were absolutely top notch, no issues there. Dining room staff made us feel special.
Pinnacle Grill evening another home run. Our Noordam had been just ok.
Food varied and good. Portions smallish- but waiters would suggest double portions when needed, and brought extra 'tasting' dishes out.
The liberal policy of allowing passengers to bring wine on board made our trip more fun and saved us money.
Between us we had Cunard, Norwegian, Princess as well as HAL previous experiences and we agreed this was best to date.
For some reason the town of Skagway was not listed in the embarkation drop-down. Alright, I'll preface this review by mentioning that I am not a world-weary, sophisticated traveler that is easily bored and has an axe to grind against ... Read More
For some reason the town of Skagway was not listed in the embarkation drop-down. Alright, I'll preface this review by mentioning that I am not a world-weary, sophisticated traveler that is easily bored and has an axe to grind against Holland America but I also do not like tour-oriented vacations where the travelers are led around like cattle which is what the land portion was. This is a type of tour that my girlfriend and I would not normally be interested in but it was a family vacation and our tickets were paid for. Our trip was the 8A 8 day land tour to the n catch the Volendam in Skagway for a cruise through Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage and ending up In Vancouver for disembarkation. If you want the quick review and don't want to read the following, skip the painfully drawn out land tour and do the entire thin via cruise ship. So we traveled by air to Anchorage where we stayed at a Hilton which was a very nice hotel.
We woke up early the next day at around 6 AM for 12 hour train ride to Denali park. One of the engines broke down hence the long time. This was of course the day after most guests had spent the better part of the previous day traveling to Anchorage so it was a long day indeed. But the train was nice, the food was fair, and the guides on board were funny and friendly. We finally pull in to our lodging in Denali park which was agreeable. The next day we were scheduled to have an 8 hour tour throughout the park on a school bus to see bear, moose, etc., that started at 5:45 am and your luggage had to be out before that!!! Yes, you read that right. No thanks. That would have been 3 straight days of sitting with no hiking or real physical activity. So we slept in, did some shopping, and got a quick workout in. We then boarded one of the park buses for a 30 min tour and saw a bear, Dall sheep, and a caribou and her baby. Got lots of pics and had a great Korean War vet bus driver. He was my favorite person on the whole trip. Several couples mentioned after the 8 hour tour that had they known, they definitely should have skipped it.
By now the days were blending together and I couldn't tell what town I was in unless I consulted the itinerary. I was in a daze where time meant nothing and was reminded of my time in Iraq. I had developed the fabled 1000 yard stare actually outside of a combat zone. Sleep was a welcome time shrinker but that was robbed from me as a silly game was started on the bus. Alaska has potholes in it's roads. Big deal. So does every state. Well, on our bus anytime someone said "pothole" the entire bus screamed that word in unison waking anyone foolish enough to grab a few winks.
Next morning we had to have our bags out by 6 am to get an early start. This is a theme that happens throughout the entire land tour. Make no mistake, this is a working vacation as far as hours put in are concerned. The aggravating part is that during the day the tour guide announces how there's extra time so we end up making "additional" stops at crappy gift shops to purchase future thrift-store fodder. You know the items I'm talking about-stuff that when you give it to someone they wait till you leave and say "Really?" So the "we have extra time nonsense" happened on several days and got old real fast. Why not give everyone an extra hour to sleep in and grab a decent breakfast? The answer is that some of the gift shops are owned by Holland America. Please exit through the gift shop!! Frustrating as well is the fact that we rolled into our evening destinations so late that there's little to do but eat, clean up, and go to bed for another very early rise for more hours of sitting.
At about the 4th day the aggravation among guests was getting palpable. The median age was around 65 or so and I was naively thinking these older folks were having a ball. Indeed some were but 65 is apparently the new 45 and they wanted to get out and do more. Sorry, no can do. Sally's gift shop is waiting. Gold-panning at the El Dorado gold mine was quite fun and me and my girl could have done that all week. The people that run the operation are colorful, knowledgeable, and the real deal since it's a commercial mine. For those of you that end up here take this on board: you'll be given a bag of dirt to pan for gold. It goes quick and when it's gone that's it unless you reach down into the trough you're sitting at and grab more dirt. We increased our day's take from 14.50 to 15 bucks utilizing that method!! Enough for more tracks to download on my overworked iPod or coffee. Or sleeping pills. Also, more evidence that this great country is on the decline is that the water is warmed for the tourists. What would the "Greatest Generation" think of the rampant wimpification of Americans??? I digress. The riverboat excursion to a native village was cool and the riverboat dishes out free smoked salmon which I happened to love. What I don't love is 200 people in an enclosed area on the paddle boat with salmon breath. Next day was lunch in a town called Tok with a population of about the amount of people working in the obligatory gift shop and restaurant. What was the point of that stop? I remember now, technically it was for lunch but also to procure cheesy dream catcher thingys and other authentic made-in-Alaska by way of China goods. Next stop was at Beaver creek with a dinner and show. The venue was a cool, open air design with smores for the kiddos to make on an open flame. The show was hokey but not bad. Next stop was White Horse, not terribly memorable. We finally boarded a cool, old train for a very scenic two hour ride into Skagway to board the Volendam. That train ride eclipsed the rest of the scenery thus far. We could have just done that and still seen some of the best terrain in all of Alaska. Overall in my opinion though, the landscapes of Yellowstone and Zion Nat'l park offer much more bang for your buck. Yes, Alaska is of course beautiful but this is not the way to see it. If there's something you'd like to see more of, you can't because the schedule is so preplanned and you have to sit thru the things you don't.
We finally arrived in Skagway and boarded. For a line that's supposedly a step up from Princess for example, I wasn't that impressed. It was nice but is an older ship with not much to do for younger people and especially kids although there was a kid's club but that was about it. There were plenty of activities and some were cool such as a beer tasting. For the most part though, it was bridge lessons and seminars on things like how to photoshop and other simple how-to courses. We had a standard stateroom and it exceeded our expectations. Well appointed and spacious. The food was good and I enjoyed the salmon and clam bake held around one of the pools.
The staff was attentive and polite. No issues there.
I'm usually not to big on entertainment aboard ship but my girl talked me into going to see a comedian one night. He was marginal at best. Not what I'd call edgy or clever comedy. Pretty tame and predictable and obviously geared toward the older crowd.
The one shore excursion was a good time and that was Ketchikan. It's a great little town with good food and interesting sights to see like a salmon hatchery.
You can definitely get your relax on to decompress from the previous Bataan-esque march. There's even a gym and you're all but guaranteed that it won't be crowded. It's also a good spot to see the whales since it's perched up high towards the bow. Glacier bay and the Inside Passage were fun. We grabbed drinks and scanned for wildlife with binos that I brought. Oh yeah, if you're young and single and looking to hook up, hook up elsewhere unless you have a penchat for white hair and the bewitching odor of aspercreme. Not knocking old people at all, that's just a demographic fact of this tour.Disembarkation was very smooth and took just a few minutes. You can even leave early with your own bags instead of having to leave at your assigned time. There were other a few excursions I didn't mention and some of the above may be out of order. I wrote this to let people know how this trip really goes down. It's one of those trips that likely doesn't get repeat customers so I think it will remain as drawn out as it currently is. As I said before, I know some people thought this trip was just the best ever and think this review is way off but I know what the price was for our party of 11. If I were paying, I would definitely feel that I didn't get a fair shake unless I had traveled the entire time aboard the ship which is what I recommend. The land portion was just too much bus and train riding, subpar activities/entertainment at the stops (some locales did have interesting excursions for an additional fee but that's after you've been on the road all day), too early mornings, and too many gift shop stops. In addition, we spoke with another 4 couples once on the boat to ask their overall impression and all were disappointed and at the least would not do the land tour again and these were travelers who normally did tour style vacations. We were all just glad to get to the boat. Too much sitting, not the best time management for a vacation setting, and really not much to see in many of the towns on the land tour. I'd like to go back to Alaska but on my terms, to the towns and hiking areas I want, and for less money.
After a fairly intensive dry dock in Singapore for two weeks, the ship looked very good wih new carpets, seating, decking etc. The ship was due to travel to northern Japan but due to the recent disasters there, HAL opted for South Korea & ... Read More
After a fairly intensive dry dock in Singapore for two weeks, the ship looked very good wih new carpets, seating, decking etc. The ship was due to travel to northern Japan but due to the recent disasters there, HAL opted for South Korea & Russian ports. Less than 1000 passengers.
Each passenger was given $250 OBC and 10% discount on their next cruise due to the itinerary change.
The crew were excellent as with entertainment, although we had seen the regular shows on past cruises (12 months ago)
Meals were the standard fare and nothing to complain about...especially the extra seafood on offer as they were taking new supplies on in Alaska.
Tender ports were speedy with minor lines.
Overall an excellent repositioning cruise.
Click the link to see the highlights:
Video highlights of the Volendam Northern Explorer cruise from Kobe,Japan to Vancouver,Canada via Busan, South Korea, Vladivostok & Petropavlosk,Russia, Kodiak Island & Sitka (via Inside Passage) Alaska May 2-17, 2011.
This was a trip to a) get on the water in a ship once again and b) see how HAL's Zaandam shaped up for a trip we are planning on later.
Canada Place: Embarkation and get off went very smoothly. Nothing unusual. I ... Read More
This was a trip to a) get on the water in a ship once again and b) see how HAL's Zaandam shaped up for a trip we are planning on later.
Canada Place: Embarkation and get off went very smoothly. Nothing unusual. I tried my Nexus card instead of passport and it worked. Bit more slowly cause number had to be entered on lap top at check-in and attendant completely unfamiliar with procedure and sought out help. (early in season and it likely will get better)
Room/ship in good shape. Similar to the Volendam which we had sailed previously.
Tried anytime dining and it was a complete failure. We were allowed to book times of 5:30 or 7:30 OR TAKE CHANCE. Did the later and it didn't work. Although we could see space in the room we waited with a buzzer first night 10 mins. after being sent to wait in lounge.(this was acceptable) 2nd night 1 hour plus. 3rd night we made arrangement to do the 5:30 and just allowed slow ordering to compensate for early hour. 3 night was no problem as we were docked in Victoria and along with the other restaurants being full and people who gave up for the main dining room all worked. There were no delays for walk ins at all.
Breakfast in the main dining room too was unusual also. Long line and staff suggesting that we all eat in the Buffet. Lots of empty tables. (1st and 2nd day) 3rd day was disembarkation and was fine.
Only other issue was the smoking. Odor in and near casino made it unusable for us. Also the piano bar. Crows nest was uncomfortable on several occasions also.
Everything else was as I expected on HAL and had no issues with at all. GReat room staff.
We have been to both Ports many times and didn't get off in Seattle except to check on the Terminal
Victoria we took a $7.50 return shuttle to the inner harbour
Immigration USA on embarkation and Canadian in Victoria and Vancouver...very professional and efficient. Victoria was just an eyeball check as we walked by.
would cruise this class of ship again in a minute. Great size, easy to get around and has all the things I need for a cruise.
Took a cab that day because of the rain, would normally just walk to Canada Place Waterfront. It is about a 10 minute walk from our condo.
Holland America Zaandam
We got there about 1:00 pm and there were huge lineups. It took about 45 minutes to get through. We didn't care as we were pretty excited.
We were in cabin 3389 - lower Promenade deck. Our cruise was almost ruined because of our lack of sleep caused by having to listen to the galley noise all night long. The galley was above on the 4th floor next to the Rotterdam Restaurant. We expected noise such the ship, people etc. This was unacceptable noise- just extreme and constant. Holland America is very aware of the hell their passengers go through when booked under the galley. And yet, they still book people there. I have seen reviews of this very problem from the year 2000. Surely they could try and soundproof the floors and have their staff wear soft soled shoes only. The carts rolled around like rolling thunder and the staff walked around all night. It sounded like bowling balls on top of your head. I begged to move, but they said the ship was full. It is apparent that the staff and the front desk are very used to dealing with the constant complaints regarding this stretch of cabins. They gave us earplugs but that did not help. Had we been on land, we would have moved hotels whether or not we received a refund. Here you are held captive on a ship. The PR person sent us a note saying they would "monitor the situation" So basically they have been "monitoring the situation" since the inception of the ship!! So disappointing for our 1st cruise. Needless to say, our last cruise with Holland America. Now that we understand the importance of cabin placement, this will not happen again. The not so funny thing is we were orignally booked on the Dolphin deck between two floors of cabins. Holland America moved us up to 3389. If we had stayed on the Dolphin all would have been well. We had dinner with people on the Dolphin deck who said it was very quiet. What an upgrade!
Boy have we learned valuable lessons from this horror.
We opted for the anytime dining which worked well for us. We had been told that we could make reservations for this type of dining, but no one answered the phone when we called. I heard other complaining about the same thing. We didn't mind too much though. The food was very good. They had one vegetarian option on the menu each night,so that worked for me. My husband had steak and chicken. We dined at night in the Rotterdam Restaurant.
We had room service in the morning in our cabin, it was excellent!
I had avoided going a cruise because everyone I talked had said they gained weight. I soon realized that did not have to happen. The Promenade Deck has a walkway made of teak wood. Beautiful surface to walk on. So, we walked and walked and walked! Four times around was a mile. We also did the flights of stairs as well. So needless to say, we gained nothing and got more exercise than ever. We also watched what we ate, and did not overeat at all. I know people go on cruises for the food, but we did enjoy enough of the tasty food.
Staff and Service
The staff is very friendly and welcoming on the ship. Our room attendant was wonderful. You don't have to tip because it is charged on your credit card at $11.00 per person per day. However we tipped because we wanted to. It did take a very long time and another call to receive a package of 6 beers to our room. After a half hour my husband called again. They did seem a little confused as to the order. But on the whole everyone was great.
We went to see the comedian - Sean O'Shea one night. Song and dance fellow - He was hilarious! We really enjoyed that. We also played slots at the casino. The only drawback is that smoking is allowed. So if you are non-smokers like us, you may be bothered by it. It was also allowed upstairs in the Crow's Nest, so we did not go up there at all.
The shore excursions were great. We had lots of time to explore the cities and return to the boat.
We were told to be ready at certain time and were called to leave in order. It was so well organized and so quick to get off the ship. Really amazing.
We had a wonderful time with the exception of the cabin. Unfortunately being very sleep deprived does not add anything positive to a holiday. Make sure you pick your cabin and check the deck plans to make sure you don't have areas above you such as a galley. It is really unethical that these cabins are sold to anyone. Disgraceful!
We have booked another cruise on Princess to LA in September. Booked directly through them and picked our room......and specified no upgrades.....live and learn!
Wanted to knock out a short review of this little 3-day cruise we just disembarked from this morning. Hadn't been on a ship in more than a year after disembarking in Hong ... Read More
Just off the Zaandam in the Pacific Southwest
Wanted to knock out a short review of this little 3-day cruise we just disembarked from this morning. Hadn't been on a ship in more than a year after disembarking in Hong Kong in March 2010 so we were desperate to get back aboard. Our best buddies Bob and Judy suggested this one with an overnight at their place the night before and we jumped at it. Sailing with them is always a barrel full of monkeys.
Drove to Canada Place to board the Zaandam and arrived there at 11:00 am. Had to wait about an hour due to a Coast Guard inspection but when we finally got on at noon, our cabins were ready which was GREAT as we had elected to drag our luggage aboard as opposed to having it delivered to our room. Unpacked and eating lunch within 40 minutes flat. AMAZING! Every cruise line should do this. Make a commitment to have cabins ready by noon. OUTSTANDING and kudos to HAL and the entire staff for making it happen.
We had read on the Cruise Critic boards that we could do lunch at half price in the Pinnacle Grille specialty restaurant on embarkation but found that this was not the case so don't expect to do that. We later found that there was a special brunch/lunch for members of the Mariner Society (past HAL cruisers of which we were four) in the main dining room but no one had told us this. So we are telling you now. If you have sailed with HAL before, head there once you board. Since we didn't know this we headed up to the buffet for lunch. HAL has a new policy that to prevent NORO outbreaks they do not allow you to serve yourself in the buffets until 48 hours after sailing. This was strictly adhered to. This meant that the poolside grille had no condiments for hot dogs or hamburgers or self-serve pizza until lunch on our last full day. Kind of drag on a 3 day but we understand.
I think I will break the rest of this review up into the good and the bad and then a couple of extra notes.
First the good. Food was good (not great). Everyone always wants to know that first. HAL cabins are outstanding. More storage than you could shake a stick at and maybe the most comfortable beds we have ever slept on in our 14 previous cruises. Our cabin steward Abdul was outstanding. He introduced himself as soon as we walked out of our cabin on our first day and gave us his card with his extension number and told us to call anytime we needed anything. That's the right attitude.
Other PAX were outstanding. We did "Anytime Dining" (more about that later) and had wonderful table mates every night. We met tons of other great people through our Cruise Critic roll call and people who knew our buddy Judy (which we think was most of the ship).
We also thought that the Zaandam herself for being more than 11 years old was in gorgeous condition. The ship is truly beautiful and very well taken care of. We saw very few cosmetic touches that needed fixing.
Now the bad. We were on this cruise to kind of do a test run to see if we would enjoy the Zaandam on a longer trip. We are normally Celebrity cruisers but Bob is looking for a 14+ cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii and back and the Zaandam fits the bill. We wanted to see if we would enjoy her that much. We had three HUGE problems on this cruise.
First was the smoking. Celebrity (our usual cruise line) has pretty much banished smoking from every ship other than two designated spots on each ship. If you are a non-smoker, you can easily avoid those. HAL on the other hand still allows smoking throughout the ship including many lounges, private cabins and verandahs. I am extremely allergic to cigarette smoke and even the slightest whiff gives me a sinus headache that puts me flat on my back for the rest of the day. HAL needs to catch up with the rest of the world. If entire countries (Ireland, Italy) and states (Washington, California) can ban smoking in public places then HAL can to. I am just not sure that I could put up with a ship where I had to go downstairs to go to the front of the ship because I couldn't walk from the front to the back on a public deck due to the smoke. And as Bob pointed out, the age of the ship makes Zaandam's air circulation system unable to keep up with the smoke where newer ships might not have that problem.
Second was HAL's "Anytime Dining." This was a joke as was their dining room in general. Let's start with trying to make reservations for dinner. We stopped and asked on the first day at the reservations desk and asked for a 6:30 pm reservation. We were told that they were only taking reservations for "Anytime Dining" at 5:15 and 7:30. We felt that was both too early and too late for us. We were told that if we wanted to eat between those two times we would need to "walk up." So that night we went down at 6:30 and were told it would be about an hours wait. We took their buzzer and went to wait in the lounge. About 10 minutes later, it buzzed and we were seated. We almost gave up and went to the buffet but thankfully we didn't. We ended up eating around 7:00.
The second night we went a little earlier (closer to 6:15) and were again told, it would be an hour. This time it was more than an hour. Finally around 7:15 I went down to see how things were going and ran into a couple from Redmond who were trying to ask the same thing. Every person who asked was told an hour. She and I both pushed a little and we were seated almost immediately. In the dining room were a bunch of empty tables but we felt they were understaffed so they were not able to seat everyone. The second night also had to wait quite a while to order or even get menus and finally were done with dinner pretty close to 10:00 pm.
Both the first two nights there was a continuous line at the entrance to the dining room but the last night there wasn't. We had made 5:30 reservations, got there, got seated right away and had a very nice dinner. Part of this ease on the last night could have been because we were still docked in Victoria until 10:30 and some PAX were off the ship eating in Victoria or because many of the people who had stood in long lines the night before had just given up.
I will say that in the dining room there seemed to be no systems in place. Busboys walked around looking at dirty dishes on tables and made no effort to remove them. Waiters appeared and disappeared sporadically. We had to ask to find a wine steward which is usually unheard of because that is a major profit center for them but each night we had to ask. Once we did get menus and order things usually went pretty well and the waiters we had weren't bad, they were just overworked and disorganized in general.
And we tried to eat breakfast in the dining room every morning and each time we were told that it would be, "an hour wait." Ridiculous. Especially when later we found that people right behind us in line before we gave up got in within 15 minutes.
Another HAL bad is the coffee. The coffee we had in the dining room or the buffet was HORRID! Worst coffee ever! Thankfully we were able to go to the Explorations Cafe on deck 5 and buy Torrefazioni coffee which is an outstanding Starbucks subsidiary. The problem with the Explorations though is that they have only one person working the counter and that person literally takes 7-10 minutes to make a single drink. Seriously. It took forever.
I will also say that while we didn't see either of the two evening shows, we did hear many of the lounge acts and the classical violin trio was HORRIBLE! One of the members was beyond tone deaf. Sounded like you would imagine a child of five would sound while practicing their scales.
Lastly, after experiencing Celebrity's service I just don't think that HAL is up to par. Even bad X service. Our first morning out I wanted to walk the lower promenade deck for the hour before we docked in Seattle. I passed about 15 different crew members and gave each a smile and a "good morning" but not a single one said a word back to me or even acknowledged me. That would NEVER happen on an X ship. Also that morning there were a number of people doing laps with me but about an hour before we docked, three crew members came out and roped off a section of the deck so we couldn't make a complete circuit. They then sat there and drank coffee for an hour while people came up to the rope, stopped, turned around and went completely around to the other side of their rope. Why they felt they had to rope it off so they could stand there and drink coffee and cut us off from a normal run is beyond me.
Disembarkation was a piece of cake. We did breakfast in the dining room (first time we had ever been able to do that without an hour's wait) and then walked off the ship with our luggage in tow. Some PAX were a little upset that there was no luggage pickup the night before as there usually is on a cruise. They told everyone that they needed to get their own luggage off the ship themselves but if they needed help, they should just call. It seemed to work extremely well. We were called to leave the ship at 8:00 am and were in the car driving home by 8:30. Not too bad.
All in all we enjoyed ourselves but we won't be able to do that longer cruise until HAL fixes their smoking policy and brings it more into line with the rest of the world. Once they do that, I will be able to treat them as secondary line in my life to X. Until then, Celebrity gets my money.
Zuiderdam is great ship and we enjoyed ourselves on the 22 day repositioning. This was our longest cruise to date and we did not have a 'nothing to do' day.
Embarkation (disembarkation was much better) was a bit ... Read More
Zuiderdam is great ship and we enjoyed ourselves on the 22 day repositioning. This was our longest cruise to date and we did not have a 'nothing to do' day.
Embarkation (disembarkation was much better) was a bit slow due to having a gastric infection with small # of passengers on the previous group requiring additional cleaning, but a glass of champagne at dinner was part of the apology for the delay to board the ship.
We found staff are very cheerful as they do their jobs, and most say hello when they meet you in the hallway. There seemed to be a lot of staff who have been with HAL a long time on various ships.
Food menu selections were better than some seen on our other cruises and both the dining room and the buffet has good selection. 10 stops in 22 days meant lots of excursions and some in ports that do not see a lot of cruise ships-we did not have a bad excursion, just some better than others, and we booked all of ours through HAL as most of these ports were our first time visit.
We had two pet peeves, one was the Vista Lounge/show theatre-the posts for supporting the balcony seem to be larger than required. It resulted in a large number of seats being unusable if you wanted to see the shows. As well, smoking is allowed on all outside decks, and in all of the casino, it meant that at any point a smoker could sit down next to you, and I found myself having to move from my chair quite often.
Noticed that the ship is due for a re-fit as it is getting a little tired and worn in some spots-carpeting and upholstery but nothing that took away the glitz and glory.
I was determined to try a Holland America ship after our cruise to Alaska last year on Princess. Princess has always treated us very well, but when we docked in Victoria next to HAL's Amsterdam, the ship just looked so elegant. Reviews of ... Read More
I was determined to try a Holland America ship after our cruise to Alaska last year on Princess. Princess has always treated us very well, but when we docked in Victoria next to HAL's Amsterdam, the ship just looked so elegant. Reviews of the fleet, the service, and the food confirmed my impressions, so we booked a test run on a 1 day sail from Seattle to Vancouver.
Pre-board: Documents and luggage tags arrived via email as expected, but what was missing was information about boarding time. Because I routinely visit cruise forums, I had heard that boarding would be late on this sailing due to maritime testing. Unfortunately for MANY passengers, this message was not conveyed. Even a call to HAL on the day of sailing produced incorrect information. The CSA said that boarding would begin at 11:30. When I mentioned I had heard there would be a delay, she then took my information and said boarding would be at 4 PM, but we might be able to board as early as 1 PM. I believe they called the first group of passengers at 3:30 to begin boarding.
Room: We were in 1883 (ocean view - Dolphin). The room felt spacious compared to a comparable room on Princess and the tub was wonderful! However, this was probably the only area where I felt like HAL outdid Princess.
Decor: Oh boy. From the exterior, HAL's Zaandam looks elegant, classic, and timeless. The inside told a different story. Faded fuchsia and yellow paint spatter carpets, beveled smoked mirrored walls, gaudy stone statues and masks that looked like they came from one of those yard art roadside stands, and that inexplicable three story silver-toned organ that completely overwhelmed the atrium... it was all very tacky. On the positive side, I thought the dining room was lovely, the library/Internet area was beautiful, the Lido was nicely done, and the cabin was very tasteful.
Food: It wasn't awful, it wasn't amazing. We ate dinner in the main dining room and breakfast at the Lido. We also sampled some snacks at the coffee bar. For desert, I had ordered something called "The Big Blitz". While it was tasty, the presentation was not thrilling - a lone piece of pie (broken crust) on a plate minimally drizzled with caramel sauce. No topping, no flair. Princess seems to always go the extra mile with presentation, so this was a disappointment.
The Lido was just odd! I've never not been able to serve myself in a buffet before unless someone was prepping an omelette for me or cutting meat. They wouldn't even let you pour your own coffee or grab a blueberry muffin. That said, there was good variety and the french toast was quite good.
Service: Service seemed really poor. No one was terribly friendly, unfortunately. Our room steward would quietly knock and then immediately walk in the room without pause. The morning of debarkation, he told me that we should be off the ship even though they had not yet called our group and our scheduled time was still more than an hour away. When I told him what group we were in, he seemed confused and muttered something about having to go check. He never returned. Service in the dining room was polite at best. Not friendly and fairly abrupt. Receiving a drink in the Crow's Nest was slow. From order to delivery was a 20 minute process and I later heard other passengers complaining.
I think HAL missed a really good opportunity with this sailing to gain future cruisers. However, all of the passengers we spoke with had a similar experience to ours and were also using this as a way to see if HAL was a good fit for them for future cruises. Unfortunately, I didn't talk to one person who said they would sail on HAL again. I am not sure if this was typical of a HAL cruise or if things were off because of the odd 1 night sail. That said, there is never an excuse for poor customer service.
We decided to take a quick 1 night cruise to Vancouver BC as part of an anniversary celebration. After checking with the HAL office in Seattle, we found we could board early, eat lunch and then relax on board before we set sail. Alas, it ... Read More
We decided to take a quick 1 night cruise to Vancouver BC as part of an anniversary celebration. After checking with the HAL office in Seattle, we found we could board early, eat lunch and then relax on board before we set sail. Alas, it was not to be.
After scrambling to catch an early morning flight as planned, we were met by security officials at the terminal who said that boarding the ship had been postponed by the Coast Guard. After entering the terminal around 11am, we had to pay to have our luggage stored (adding more insult to injury). We were then directed to check in. As we checked in, we were told that we had been notified about this delay (we had not). A one page written explanation was provided to us. Apparently the ship had "gained weight" (don't we all in middle age?). This had been noted during the last time the ship was in dry dock. As part of licensing procedures, additional testing was needed. The incline test requires that there be no additional weight on board (translation - passengers, food and most of the crew). Engineering crew remained on board along with a few others, we were told.
Some informal networking while enduring the 5 hour wait with fellow passengers (and some HAL employees) revealed that this indeed was known fairly well in advance, but was never disclosed to us during the booking phase. With all the information the cruise lines have for each passenger (cell phone, email, etc), the bigger question remains of why they couldn't send a text or email advising of the delay as the airlines will often do.
Embarking procedures eventually occurred. The waiting was long and uncomfortable. Many people had to sit on the floor. The terminal reminded me and my husband of Ellis Island (but in reverse). HAL provided water and sympathy, as well as a free bus ride into/out of downtown Seattle to help pass the time. We were told to go get lunch (on our own), which we did. Once on board, the rest of the evening was rushed, with many services missing or incomplete. This experience was not what we had hoped for.
During our wait to disembark, we counted at least 5 different groups of staff who came into our room to check on various things (mini-bar, water, linens, bed, etc.). The room stewards came in and asked if they could make up the bed (no problem!), but instead left bundled linens on the bed,towels in the bathtub and left without further discussion. Our check out assignment time had been assigned the prior evening, so we were a little surprised (and annoyed) with all of the interruptions. We just gave up and left the ship early. We guess that is what they wanted, anyway.
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