We took a repositioning cruise on HAL Zaandam from Vancouver BC to San Diego in early October. This was our fourth time on HAL and our 23rd cruise overall. We flew from Ohio to Seattle the day prior to the ship sailing and stayed at the Hampton Inn downtown and then took the Cascades train to Vancouver. We used the Seattle bus system to reach the King Street Amtrak station which worked pretty well but there were several mentally ill street people on the bus one of whom was partially dressed. and raving so we would take a cab in the future. Some passengers headed for our cruise ship had their luggage misplaced/swiped by someone on the train. When the train stops all bags are deposited on the platform with no security so be certain that you get off ASAP and be aggressive in claiming your property.
After retrieving our luggage from the train we walked our rollers to the Sky Train platform and used that method to go to Canada Place where we boarded the ship. We could not locate an elevator from street level to the Sky Train platform so we had to carry our bags up a long stairway. It's surprising that there isn't an elevator or escalator, or at least one that we could locate. Also, the ticket issuing machine is not at all user friendly to those using US money or credit cards so I strongly suggest that you get $2.50 C for each passenger prior to using Sky Train. The doors on the cars of this EL close quickly and with some force so be very alert and fast when boarding. When we used this system in 2008 my wife was almost left at the platform and this time it was my turn. The route to Canada Place is on your right at the top of the stairs, the signage is a bit unclear on this. A short ride took us to the cruise ship terminal and we boarded in about fifteen minutes. The stevedores showed little enthusiasm for stevedoring however, so we tagged our bags, rolled them to the pile and departed without tipping anyone for services not performed. These are not HAL employees by the way.
The cruising part of the cruise was quite pleasant. The buffet was open and not crowded when we boarded and the food throughout was very good there. A nice couple of features were the sushi at lunch time and not to be missed fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning. RCCL charges $2.00 per glass for this as we later discovered. The tables were quickly bussed and staff moved through the area offering drinks. The meals and service in the main dining room was also very good, superior to RCCL ship we took on back to back cruises when Zaandam landed. As we had noted on our previous HAL cruises, activities on board are insufficient. There just isn't enough to do so that days at sea can seem long. We used the as you wish dining option and had no delays in being seated and met some interesting table mates.
We had an inside cabin and our hopes for an upgrade were not realized. The cabin was similar in size and design to those on other ships. We met the cabin steward for the first time the night prior to leaving the ship when he distributed the customer satisfaction survey but the room was well maintained so we can live with that.
Disembarkation was a breeze and we walked off with our luggage and strolled to a nearby hotel to spend one night in San Diego (a wonderful town by the way) to rest before boarding the RCCL Radiance of the Seas for a five night cruise to Mexico departing the next day. Back to back trips on different cruise lines provided us with a very clear comparison of each company. I will post a review of Radiance when I post this one in case the reader would like to peruse it. To summarize however, HAL is superior in food, wait staff, overall service, customer focus and cleanliness of the buffet while RCCL is superior in on board activities and equal in entertainment. HAL passengers seemed more refined and frankly older but that is becoming a better fit for us with each cruise.
Please see review above where the cabin is described. However, let me add that there are light switches on the bed's headboard which permit cabin lighting to be adjusted. Those of us who tend to flail about at night though, managed to turn the lights on several times per night. Take along a very understanding partner so that when you demonstrate this "Let there be light" phenomonen you don't ruin the night for her.
Victoria is a charming but pricey little town in B.C. We suggest that if the weather is nice walk along the waterway to the left of the ship and see the town. There is very little happening in Victoria until the shops open at 11 AM however. The library will permit non residents with proper ID to use their computers for one half hour so this is an excellent to check email without paying ships prices.