The ms Zaandam is a wonderful ship for this route. It is comfortable with all the elements of what we had hoped for from Holland America, with outstanding food and service, elegant architecture, a true wrap around teak promenade deck, a double height dining experience, and a well-stocked Lido.
The itinerary is second to none in the world I am sure. Holland America has had a relationship with the US Antarctic Program for 13 years and brings on board an experienced expedition team. The captain is not afraid of ice bergs and takes the ship carefully but boldly into what seem impassable channels, and even bring on board a full Antarctic team from Palmer Station (weather permitting).
The antarctic experience is quite unlike any other area of the planet, and is unspoiled due to a highly co-operative global treaty. While there are options on smaller vessels to make zodiac landings, we surprisingly didnt really miss this at all in part due to the dramatic scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island and Shetlands. We saw more penguins, whales, seals etc. than we could ever dream of, and we didnt have to disinfect, get kitted up, and wait for small landing parties, but could use many of the uncrowded areas of the ship to be up close and personal to a large berg. The bow thrusters move the bergs away from the ship in a very efficient manner for safety, and HAL takes the treaty to the letter in disallowing any form of food or beverage consumption outside whilst in Antarctic waters, and switches the entire ship over to more expensive diesel for this part of the trip to reduce carbon footprint.
We booked two adjoining cabins for our family and were delighted with the layout and space by doing so. The cabins were extremely well noise-insulated otherwise, but with the ability to open the internal door gave us more room on this long cruise.
We deliberately chose cabins that were between two other passenger cabin decks (Main deck) and that were low down near mid-ships to minimize the effect of the roaring 40s and Drake Passage (which was thankfully calm). Highly recommend this area of the ship and we never heard people on the promenade deck above these cabins.
The bathroom is a little dated and the TV could be replaced again (even though it was the Signature of Excellence updates), but generally the ship is charming and not showing its age.
Its not a 2017 ship nor is it a mega-ship, but it feels like an old ocean liner and is comfortable.