This was our first cruise on Holland America. We've cruised three times before on other lines. Overall, this was a good experience, not the best cruise we've taken but not the worst either.
One port of call was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The ship stayed overnight and this allowed us to experience some of the nightlife. This was the first cruise we took that did this. We had the time to find places to visit that was a bit off the beaten path and eat dinner in a local's restaurant rather than the usual tourist traps. The other was Cabo San Lucas, which was fine, even though it felt like visiting a mall.
We found the ms Zaandam to be a nice ship. There are plenty of areas to sit and relax as well as many activities in which to participate. We took advantage of the "Techspert" several times, attending classes on the use of Microsoft Windows to edit photographs and to use a digital camera. The things we learned is evident in the much improved quality of our photos. Other classes on towel folding, flower-making, etc. were just as informative and enjoyable. Mike, the singer-guitar player in the Piano Bar was by far the most talented person we have had the pleasure to enjoy on a cruise ship, even when signing his original songs. The shows, on the other hand, were typical cruise ship fare. There was an excellent juggler but the musical shows could be easily skipped.
Our cabin, 1808 on the Dolphin deck was quite a bit smaller than the online description would led one to believe. There is no sofa, only a chair and small table. We had the room configured for one bed and due to the odd, non-rectangular shape of the cabin, make moving near the bed difficult. I would recommend a twin-bed configuration. There is a DVD player in the room and the ship offers a large library of movies to check out. Our cabin steward, Dedi, could not have been nicer. He was always present but never in the way. He filled our fruit basket daily, provided an ever-increasing number of chocolates (reached 12 pieces on the last night) and an adorable towel animal every night.
Food service was very spotty. The Lido Restaurant (not a buffet, more cafeteria style service) was decent, although the food seemed to not have much variety. One could eat the same meal any day of the voyage. Food quality was better in the Rotterdam dining room, but like all cruise ships, the food is more like what one receives at a wedding rather than a fine restaurant. The service was spotty (missing bread plates, missing forks, courses served out of order, etc.) Being a Californian, these really aren't issues for me but many guest seemed to be upset. Room service, on the other hand, was absolutely terrible. The first time we tried room service, the food never arrived. By the time we gave up, all other food service had ended so we didn't have any dinner the first night. The second time we tried, we were told the wait would be 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After 2 hours we called back and were told there was no order for us. The food arrived about 1/2 hour later but the order was incomplete and very cold. We tried a third time by ordering breakfast using the card we hung on the door handle the night before. The food arrived at the requested time but was also incomplete, and there was only one set of silverware and no cream for the coffee. Overall, food is the most problematic issue on this cruise. Finding the silver lining, I actually lost 1 pound.
Our voyage included Easter and this probably accounted for the large number of children on board. We were told that there were 1,590 guest on board which is about 150 more than the stated capacity of the ship. Many children running around, playing on the elevators, etc. detracted from the experience. We never had the chance to use any of the pools due to the number of children. There didn't seem to be much parenting going on and the cruise line, understandably, didn't step in unless complaints were made.
Although Holland America is considered to be a premium cruise, we did not find that to be true. By far they were better than our trip with Royal Caribbean, but below that we found with Princess or Carnival.
Cabin is much smaller than the Holland America website suggests. There is no sofa, only a single chair. The walls are a bit offset, resulting in a non-rectangular cabin. When the beds are together, this results in about 6 inches of clearance along one side of the bed. The port holes are OK, but a full-size interior cabin would be preferable. There is some noise when the anchor is dropped but that's to be expected. What was surprising was the loud "thump" of the water hitting the hull during a night of moderately rough seas. It was enough to wake me up on several occasions. The bathroom, however, is a good size. There is a full-sized bathtub. We have never had that on a cruise ship before.
We really enjoyed Puerto Vallarta. The city is very international, English is widely spoken, and there is so much to do. The food is incredible, especially away from the Malecon (tourist-y boardwalk area). The people are friendly and the city feels very safe.
Not having much time to experience "Cabo", my impression is that it is a nice diversion, but not for anyone seeking to experience Mexico. The natural beauty of the desert, beach, and sea is amazing. The shops and restaurants surrounding the pier area (the only area we had to explore) might as well be in any mall in the US. Maybe there is a real Mexican side to the city, but we didn't have enough time to find it.