My wife and I love to travel, but with kids in college it's tough to budget for luxury vacations. Cruises are a great solution.  We enjoyed gourmet meals, live entertainment, scenic vistas, deluxe accomodations and superb service for an entire week - and all for under $1800 (total for two).  We met lots of other budget travelers onboard, too.  The passengers are varied: families of all ages, couples from all over the country, and some new local friends that we plan to see again. Most were very friendly, one cute old lady thought 'all the mountains looked the same' and that 'whales are boring'!    We sailed out of San Diego on Celebrity's Mercury in Nov 07 for a two week cruise along Mexico's west coast and enjoyed it a lot, even from our inside cabin with its 'virtual porthole' (the TV tuned to the exterior camera on the bow). We met a lot of passengers from San Diego who cruised often.  Last month, we decided to check out local departures from our home port of Seattle. We settled on the 6/5 sailing on HAL's Zaandam and found a discounted deal in H class to get at least a porthole. My TA at VTG was very helpful in putting the package together and our good karma landed us an upgrade to a nice verandah cabin on deck 7. We had a great time.    The weather was questionable as we left Seattle on Friday afternoon and we sailed in thick fog on the way to Juneau, but most of the week was bright sun. The seas were calm and the temperatures mild, but some thin blooded FL & AZ retirees consider anything below 72 to be 'freezing'. I never put on my coat or vest; didn't need to.  The ship was kept sparkling clean. We liked the size of the vessel; not too big and not too small. HAL's 'Star of Excellence' program' must be real because every hand on that ship was sincerely friendly and helpful. Everybody was sharing good comments about the staff & crew. Our cabin steward, Koko from Bali, earned an extra tip and the $11/day added gratuity was probably less than the crew deserved. Without exception, they were all great, in the dining rooms, the shows, the entertainers, the cruise director Michelle, DJ Barok, et al. Thanks!  HAL rocks!    The port calls in SE Alaska are small towns. Juneau has a comical cruise-central commercial street, but we avoided that and enjoyed the State Museum and its interactive displays. Forget the '50 years of statehood' caps; no Alaskan would ever wear one (Alaskans voted down statehood twice before the military was bussed to the polls to vote it through).In Sitka we rented bicycles from Yellow Jacket Bikes @ $25/day and got some needed exercize. The scenic workout room on the top level forward and walks around deck 3 (4X=1mi) helped burn off the buffets too. Ketchikan had good shopping and we rode the Duck for a 90 min amphibious tour (I highly recommend Seattle's Duck tours to local visitors here). Frankly, I would have enjoyed rain in Ketchikan; 300 days of rain per annum and I get the odd sunshine! We stayed on board in Victoria, it deserves a full weekend to enjoy the gardens, water taxi tour, and high tea.    The food was good on board (my fave's). We alternated breakfast between Lido buffets (scottish eggs benedict) and Rotterdam seated dining (kippered herring). Lunch was always a quick buffet for us (asian noodles, sushi rolls) or the on-deck BBQ (beef/chicken satay, salmon). We floated around a calving blue glacier on Monday and were served yummy dutch pea soup on deck. We saw lots of orca pods, humpback whales, seals on icebergs, huge bald eagles and various smaller birds and critters throughout the cruise. Beautiful snowcapped mountains, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and rotary engined Otter floatplanes. Not a single bad moment to remember.    There was more going on than we could find time to do. Still we enjoyed bingo (first time and it was surprisingly fun), cooking classes, movies in the theater, and onboard contests (putting, trivia, hoops). I brought some new DVD's to watch in the cabin - but never did. We didn't even open all the wine we brought!  The drink punch cards are convenient (great martinis & mojitos) and the bartenders were Joval (yes, that's his Indonesian name). At dinner, we enjoyed the Rotterdam, especially on the two formal nights (escargo, steak & lobster, baked alaska). Try the chilled soups! We ate two dinners and a lunch at the Pinnacle and it was worth every penny of the token fee (onion soup, fillet mignon, vanilla souffle). I eat well entertaining clients in fine restaurants, but the service and food here were as good as it ever gets.    Now, let me offer some negative comments for balance. The art and jewelry for sale on the ships had zero appeal to us. We skipped the land excursions - but heard good comments from those who went. I was amazed to see three or four huge cruise ships all dock in these small towns on the same days. And these must be the toughest crowds for entertainers anywhere. The comedian-magician, Jeff Peterson, was very good, but the crowd looked like a bunch of Republicans after the last election. The singers and dancers were also very good - and nobody can complain about a medley. They have to keep it all very family oriented, so let me share you my own gag: "when my wife was filling out her comment card, she rated: Service: the top number 9, Food: 9, Entertainment: 9, Sex:7. When I looked at her card, I asked why the sex only rated 7 and she said, 'oh no honey, you were always a 10, but those other guys were all fives and sixes - none better than an 8".    The embarkation and disembarkation in Seattle was quick and painless (unlike San Diego's cattle drive) and we are already looking at future cruises on HAL. Two weeks would have been nice!

Dam good cruise!

Zaandam Cruise Review by cheechaku

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2009
  • Destination: Alaska
  • Cabin Type: Vista Suite with Verandah
    My wife and I love to travel, but with kids in college it's tough to budget for luxury vacations. Cruises are a great solution.  We enjoyed gourmet meals, live entertainment, scenic vistas, deluxe accomodations and superb service for an entire week - and all for under $1800 (total for two).  We met lots of other budget travelers onboard, too.  The passengers are varied: families of all ages, couples from all over the country, and some new local friends that we plan to see again. Most were very friendly, one cute old lady thought 'all the mountains looked the same' and that 'whales are boring'!    We sailed out of San Diego on Celebrity's Mercury in Nov 07 for a two week cruise along Mexico's west coast and enjoyed it a lot, even from our inside cabin with its 'virtual porthole' (the TV tuned to the exterior camera on the bow). We met a lot of passengers from San Diego who cruised often.  Last month, we decided to check out local departures from our home port of Seattle. We settled on the 6/5 sailing on HAL's Zaandam and found a discounted deal in H class to get at least a porthole. My TA at VTG was very helpful in putting the package together and our good karma landed us an upgrade to a nice verandah cabin on deck 7. We had a great time.    The weather was questionable as we left Seattle on Friday afternoon and we sailed in thick fog on the way to Juneau, but most of the week was bright sun. The seas were calm and the temperatures mild, but some thin blooded FL & AZ retirees consider anything below 72 to be 'freezing'. I never put on my coat or vest; didn't need to.  The ship was kept sparkling clean. We liked the size of the vessel; not too big and not too small. HAL's 'Star of Excellence' program' must be real because every hand on that ship was sincerely friendly and helpful. Everybody was sharing good comments about the staff & crew. Our cabin steward, Koko from Bali, earned an extra tip and the $11/day added gratuity was probably less than the crew deserved. Without exception, they were all great, in the dining rooms, the shows, the entertainers, the cruise director Michelle, DJ Barok, et al. Thanks!  HAL rocks!    The port calls in SE Alaska are small towns. Juneau has a comical cruise-central commercial street, but we avoided that and enjoyed the State Museum and its interactive displays. Forget the '50 years of statehood' caps; no Alaskan would ever wear one (Alaskans voted down statehood twice before the military was bussed to the polls to vote it through).In Sitka we rented bicycles from Yellow Jacket Bikes @ $25/day and got some needed exercize. The scenic workout room on the top level forward and walks around deck 3 (4X=1mi) helped burn off the buffets too. Ketchikan had good shopping and we rode the Duck for a 90 min amphibious tour (I highly recommend Seattle's Duck tours to local visitors here). Frankly, I would have enjoyed rain in Ketchikan; 300 days of rain per annum and I get the odd sunshine! We stayed on board in Victoria, it deserves a full weekend to enjoy the gardens, water taxi tour, and high tea.    The food was good on board (my fave's). We alternated breakfast between Lido buffets (scottish eggs benedict) and Rotterdam seated dining (kippered herring). Lunch was always a quick buffet for us (asian noodles, sushi rolls) or the on-deck BBQ (beef/chicken satay, salmon). We floated around a calving blue glacier on Monday and were served yummy dutch pea soup on deck. We saw lots of orca pods, humpback whales, seals on icebergs, huge bald eagles and various smaller birds and critters throughout the cruise. Beautiful snowcapped mountains, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and rotary engined Otter floatplanes. Not a single bad moment to remember.
   There was more going on than we could find time to do. Still we enjoyed bingo (first time and it was surprisingly fun), cooking classes, movies in the theater, and onboard contests (putting, trivia, hoops). I brought some new DVD's to watch in the cabin - but never did. We didn't even open all the wine we brought!  The drink punch cards are convenient (great martinis & mojitos) and the bartenders were Joval (yes, that's his Indonesian name). At dinner, we enjoyed the Rotterdam, especially on the two formal nights (escargo, steak & lobster, baked alaska). Try the chilled soups! We ate two dinners and a lunch at the Pinnacle and it was worth every penny of the token fee (onion soup, fillet mignon, vanilla souffle). I eat well entertaining clients in fine restaurants, but the service and food here were as good as it ever gets.    Now, let me offer some negative comments for balance. The art and jewelry for sale on the ships had zero appeal to us. We skipped the land excursions - but heard good comments from those who went. I was amazed to see three or four huge cruise ships all dock in these small towns on the same days. And these must be the toughest crowds for entertainers anywhere. The comedian-magician, Jeff Peterson, was very good, but the crowd looked like a bunch of Republicans after the last election. The singers and dancers were also very good - and nobody can complain about a medley. They have to keep it all very family oriented, so let me share you my own gag: "when my wife was filling out her comment card, she rated: Service: the top number 9, Food: 9, Entertainment: 9, Sex:7. When I looked at her card, I asked why the sex only rated 7 and she said, 'oh no honey, you were always a 10, but those other guys were all fives and sixes - none better than an 8".    The embarkation and disembarkation in Seattle was quick and painless (unlike San Diego's cattle drive) and we are already looking at future cruises on HAL. Two weeks would have been nice!
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