We've cruised once before, on the Celebrity Mercury. We're a middle aged gay couple. We wanted to try a longer cruise, so we got a deal on HAL and really liked it. It was just two weeks ago.
Holland America Line Zaandam lived up to and exceeded its reputation in our eyes. The Seattle round-trip was convenient because we are local. Parking was easy; the shuttle was there and waiting for us. We were surprised to have to load our own luggage, but we managed fine. (This is a brand new dock/terminal, and apparently by the time of our return the arrangement for luggage handling to and from the parking lot was straightened out, so we didn't lift a finger.)
We arrived at 1:30 pm for a 4 pm sailing. Only a few people were behind us in line to check in, and there were dozens ahead of us. The host and registration personnel were knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. Within 45 minutes we were on board, having dropped our carry-on in the room, already enjoying a buffet lunch on the Lido Deck. The Captain informed us immediately following the muster that we would embark at 5 because there were still items being loaded onboard. True to his word, we sailed at 5 pm.
The Lido Buffet served great food. They always had an Asian, American and an Italian station open. There were a manned sandwich bar and ice cream bar. There was plenty of variety. Salmon, beef and chicken were on the buffet too. Outside there was a pizza, taco and burger outlet. Special occasion buffets were set up on deck by the pool. It seemed odd though, that there were periods during the day when no food was available at all on the Lido Deck. Apparently all food service shut down to switch each meal service. We both disliked waiting half an hour for food service at 11:00 a.m. in Ketchikan. It was cold and rainy outside and we were only in port for the morning, so an early lunch was in order.
Ours was a promenade deck outside window cabin. The single beds were already pushed together. The room was clean, quiet, and plenty roomy to store clothing and luggage. The bath was a good size with great water pressure and water temperature. Our first night or two were chilly although we had the heat turned up. I mentioned this to our cabin attendant. That evening we had two additional blankets waiting for us. The last few nights of our stay, we turned the heat down and stowed the blankets. I believe our cabin attendant passed our concern on to engineering who must have fixed it.
Speaking of our Ali, he behaved utterly professionally, commanded English well, and anticipated our needs. For example, when he realized we are smokers, he left us an ashtray designed to catch all the ashes, etc. even in the wind. We took advantage of the smoking area on the promenade just around the corner from our cabin. We thought that was very thoughtful of him. He kept our cabin fastidiously. He had clearly mastered the art of towel sculpting too!
We selected the traditional 8 pm dinner seating. We were never disappointed. Our server and team were friendly, funny, and professional to a tee. It was great fun to share the table with four other people. There were plenty of options at each meal for each course. We were invited to order multiples of appetizers and skip soup if we like. Likewise we were invited to have two desserts rather than be forced to choose. There seemed to be a special occasion each night, like chocolate night, the Dance of the Napkins, and the Baked Alaska parade. Surf and Turf on one of the formal nights impressed us. While we're all dressed up for a special evening we had as many Lobster Tails as we liked! All six of us at the table came to dinner that night!
Shipboard, we took the beginner wine tasting class. That served us well because we met the cellar master and wine steward early on. Later in the week the cellar master recommended an unlisted wine to us. We accepted and the bottle was on the table waiting for us when we arrived in the dining room. The recommendation was excellent and complimented the venison that was served that night. We enjoy moderately priced wines just fine, and HAL provided them with aplomb.
We took in a presentation in the Cuisine Center. One of the chefs showed the cruise director how to prepare a dish in the demonstration kitchen. It was fun and informative. The staff gave everyone a taste of the completed dish, on china, with silver and a cloth napkin, while the show went on. It was interactive so some people asked questions and made comments. The staff gave us the recipe card printed on a hard stock sort of commemorative card. That was definitely worth a stop while we at sea.
We had breakfast brought in a few mornings. Room Service was prompt. Eggs were cooked the way we ordered and served hot. It was so convenient to just check mark your selections on a menu the night before and hang it on your door. Your breakfast came within a half hour window of time. The server handled the big tray expertly. It was nice to have coffee and breakfast while watching CNN for a few minutes.
We popped into the mixology class on the last day at sea, at the last minute. The bartenders at the Crow's Nest taught it. They had taken great care of us all weeklong. Spending a little time with them in their element was a treat, and we learned to make three smashing cocktails to boot. Again, we were given the nicely printed recipe cards for each one. Serge and Federico, Joana and Jamala up in the Crow's Nest spoiled us all week. They were tirelessly hospitable-every bit as personable at noon as they were at midnight!
We stopped in the casino in the evenings and took in some shopping on board. Tried our luck at the $100,000 bingo came, but came up just a few numbers short! The string quartet is not to be missed, even if you just pause on your way to or from the dining room. The library is inviting, well stocked, and staffed. There's an interactive TV that will give you the ship's location and map it too. It turned out to be time well spent to attend the shore excursion presentation on our first day. It was so much easier to make decisions about which ones while the staff presented them. Then, you just check the boxes for the tours you want and drop the form into a box on the way out. We got all of our selections and our tickets were delivered to our cabin that afternoon.
As for Alaska, well it's breathtaking. We saw many whales and porpoise. Sea lions were all around. Bald Eagles soared in crystal blue skies against snow-capped mountains that rose vertically from the ocean. It's just stunningly beautiful. Cruising Glacier Bay was informative because park rangers narrated, and it was awesome just to see. We did see a large iceberg calve off a glacier to top it off!
We enjoyed fantastic weather for being so early in the season. It was sunny and clear the entire week but for a few hours in Ketchikan. Juneau's shops offered some good deals, especially on caps and outerwear that we needed for the next few days. The Mt. Roberts Tram is a must-do, as is getting out to Mendenhall Glacier. Sitka was a welcoming town. We'd recommend the submarine tour and a stop at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Lumberjack show in Ketchikan is super fun (our team, Dawson Creek, won!) and seating is covered and heated. The horse drawn carriage tour was perfect on a rainy day as well.
We recommend the Crow's Nest on the top floor. That room offers panoramic views that really suit the days at Sea and the inland seas too. You can spend hours watching the beautiful scenery float by while the staff serves you about anything you want, including hot split pea soup while you cruise into the cold reaches of Glacier Bay. The Crow's Nest staff served hot appetizers in the evenings along with your cocktails. In fact, the staff at the Crow's Nest and the entire team aboard the Zaandam delivered a top-notch cruise experience.
Finally, there were people from all over the World on board. It seemed easy to meet people and share a few words. We met quite a few people and enjoyed some great fun times with them. This was an adult group, which we wanted. There were few children on board, though there were youth programs available. We think most everyone enjoyed them selves like we did.
HAL 3317, outside window on promenade. GREAT location for a smokerjust a dash outdoors around the corner. GREAT location for a deck-walker too, with your quick and convenient access. Bath is fine. Prefer the sitting area to be in front of the window, instead of the bed. No biggie. Still plenty of room to sleep and change, and even eat a breakfast or two.