This will be a long review of our Holland America Zaandam 10 day cruise from San Diego to Mexico and the Copper Canyon. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. No one else does this particular route. Besides the usual Cabo San Lucas, Matazalan, and Puerto Vallarta, that everyone does, this cruise adds Loreto, Guymas, and Topolobango (port for Copper Canyon.) Personal Background Information We are Princess Cruise fans and it's been over 20 years since we were on a Holland American ship (the old Westerdam, no longer in the fleet). So there will be a number of comparisons as we kind of viewed Holland America with fresh eyes. We both retired last year and while we worked we were both librarians so that's our background. Travel To Port of Embarkation We live in a suburb of Los Angeles (Torrance) and traveled via Amtrak train to San Diego from LA's Union Station. The great thing about doing this is that instead of 4 inches of legroom, you get 4 feet between rows and coffee served at your seat in business class. But the best thing is that when you arrive at San Diego's Union Station, you are just across the street from the cruise ship. So we just wheeled our bags over there and dropped them off in no time. Embarkation Embarkation went relatively smoothly except that the checkin computers went dead just before we walked in so we had to wait about 20 minutes before they got those working again. We had a CruiseCritic Meet and Greet that I contacted Holland America to arrange. As usual great people. You learn so much talking to them. They reserved the Piano Lounge and had the bar open and music. They didn't provide the coffee and cookies they promised, but everyone was happy to have a reserved space and to order their own drinks. The Ship The Zaandam was built in 2000 and just came out of dry-dock after two weeks of refurbishment. They did a 14 day Hawaii cruise right after that, just before our Mexico cruise. During the Hawaii cruise, they ran into a giant storm and the ship was really banged about from what we heard from some passengers who continued on after the Hawaii cruise to our Mexico one. The ship's crew said the same thing. They lost the use of 5 elevators during this storm. They were able to fix three of them with spare parts on board, but 2 remained out of service during our cruise because they needed more parts which they will get in San Diego. The dry-dock was not a major remodel. The dining room got all new chairs (quite comfortable). The verandas got new loungers and chairs too. At a focus group meeting that we were invited to at the end of the cruise, the hotel manager reflected on the fact that the dining room chairs were one inch wider, so he could now only get 7 chairs at a table that used to hold 8. Additionally, the lounge chairs on the verandah are 10 inches longer than before. They now span the entire depth of the verandah from the glass railing to the glass doors. It's difficult to move them as they are so tight a fit. But they sure are comfortable! So here's our personal take on the ship. We don't expect that everyone will agree with us, but it's our experience this time. Nice HAL touches You can have hot items on the room service breakfast like scrambled eggs (even with egg beaters if you wanted) or a ham and cheese omelet and a choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. Princess doesn't offer anything hot for breakfast on the room service menu. Holland America prints a 4 page folded mini version of the daily New York Times and this is distributed to every room. I think Princess may do this but there's a charge if they do. Holland America serves appetizers in the lounges prior to dinner, Princess doesn't. We didn't actually see what was offered because we usually had "happy hour" out on our balcony each night. There were nice canapEs in the Exploration Cafe stand where they do the fresh coffees. Princess offers something similar on the new ships in their atriums and that feature is being brought to their older ships as they go into dry-dock. That's the good news for Holland America. Essentially we were not impressed with the design of the Zaandam. This is a ship built in 2000 the year Grand Princess was built and we've been on her a number of times. So we couldn't help making comparisons. They are very different ships. Grand Princess is of course much bigger—2,600 passengers versus 1,400 on Zaandam. Many Holland America cruisers prefer these smaller ships. They are more compact and easier to get around for mobility impaired passengers. Stateroom But we kind of felt cramped both in the cabin and in the public areas. The Verandah Suite we stayed in is comparable to the mini-suites on Grand Princess and her sisters. There was a Jacuzzi tub which in not on the Princess ships, but these cabins are considerably smaller than Princess mini-suites. They run about 295 sq. ft versus around 325 sq. ft. on Princess. This was OK for this cruise for the two of us. However, I love to SCUBA dive (not on this trip), and in the future there would really be no room for my diving gear in these type cabins whereas there is plenty of room on the Princess ships. Part of this is the design of the "living room" area where the couch is. On Holland America the desk and mirror is directly across from the couch so this narrows the room for that section. On Princess the desk is angled out between the bedroom areas and living area so the living room has nothing across from the couch but a l chair. There's more a feeling of open space and more storage space because of the two dividing partitions on the Princess ships which have lots of shelves, TV's and the refrigerator. We weren't too impressed with the public spaces on this ship, but I think this relates to what the interior designers chose to do with this particular version. The three story atrium is completely filled with a giant white ornate pipe organ. It goes from floor to ceiling and is so wide that it really fills up the atrium. You gain no sense of open space on any of the three floors of the atrium. Princess atriums are all spectacular spaces with most of the public rooms connected around them. That's the other weird thing in the Zaandam design (shared by the smaller Holland ships), the real "promenade" deck where you can walk completely around the ship is not a public deck. It is filled with passenger cabins. There are lots of outside cabins whose picture windows look out to this deck. They have a mirrored covering so you can't see in during the day but you have to be sure to close your drapes at night because you would be able to see in then. The good news for Holland is that this design gave them more outside rooms with unobstructed views as the two public decks are above this is where the life boats hang and block any possible views. To make things even more confusing they called all three of these "promenade—upper, lower and main. There are relatively few cabins with balconies in this design. Grand Princess has four and a half decks of balcony, mini-suite, and suites with balconies. There are two decks on Zaandam with either full suites, or "verandah suites". There are no standard balcony cabins. Holland is trying to fix this in a kind of strange way. On the four smaller 1,200 passenger versions of this design, they are taking out the picture windows on the promenade deck outside cabins and putting in a single glass door. They are trying to give the effect of a balcony cabin, except that your "balcony" is really the promenade deck which is public and everyone walks around it. The deck chairs outside your room wouldn't be "yours" either because they are the public ones. We don't think we would like this lack of privacy but its' a kind of desperate attempt to update these older ships with more balcony type cabins. Many of the public corridors on the two public decks are paneled in a kind of grey weathered wood effect. We found this a little dark and depressing. We are used to lighter and brighter colors on Princess ships. Their lounges are very nice but some of them open up to the casino where they permit smoking. This drifts into the piano bar and we aren't fans of breathing other peoples smoke. They are doing a survey of current passengers on smoking on board so they may change their policy in the future. The gym was perfect. It was up top and in front so had great views. Precor treadmills and Cybex weight machines were great. We spent a lot of time up there trying to work off all of the food. Dining Food is my next comparison. The food overall was very good, we never had a bad meal. But we do think Princess has an edge here. The quality and presentation are nicer on Princess and the extra cost Pinnacle Grill on Zaandam (and all other Holland ships) is blown away by the Crown Grill on the newer Princess ships. The biggest disappointment was the Canaletto Lido restaurant just installed on Zaandam. There is no cost to this one unlike Pinnacle, but the extra cost Sabatini's on board most Princess ships put the Holland version to shame. It's kind of heavy pasta in Canaletto not the wonderful quality and presentation that Princess does. This brings me to my worst grade for Holland America. It's their wine list. They get a big fat "F" for outrageously overpricing. Princess markup is around 3 to 4 times from retail. Holland was 5 or 6 times markup. Example, our house chardonnay at home is Chateau St. Michelle. It's a very nice chardonnay and not that expensive for everyday. We bought 4 bottles of it at Ralph's supermarket in downtown San Diego (we actually live in LA and took the train down to San Diego). It was on special for $7.77 a bottle. They don't have it on the regular wine list on the ship, but it's on the Pinnacle Grill wine list for $59 a bottle. That's almost insulting. Eighty percent of the Holland wine list would cost $8 to $11 per bottle in the supermarket, but costs roughly $49 to $59 on the wine list. The result is that despite their very high corkage fee ($18) far more people bring their own wine bottles into the dining room than any Princess ship we've ever been on. In desperation, I purchased four $25 bottles of great quality California cabernet and chardonnay and brought them into the dining room too. Adding the corkage fee of $18 made that come to $43. If they would have had those particular wines on their wine list, they would have charge me $100 plus 15% tip for the wine steward. What's really bad is that Holland America doesn't pay retail prices for wine, they buy in bulk wholesale so the markup is really huge. So it's really a big rip off. Holland has a "coke" card that's cheaper than the Princess one but here you get what you pay for. Holland's version is a punch card setup where they punch the coke card each time you have one and you are maxed out at 20. You are also limited in the size glasses as they won't give you really large glasses of Coke but kind of regular iced tea size. On Princess you pay more for the card, but the Coke is unlimited with it for the cruise. They also have much bigger glasses than Holland. When we are in the hot and humid Caribbean I can down three of the large Princess ones at lunch alone. While we didn't need that much drink on this cruise because it wasn't very hot, I would be in big trouble in the Caribbean on Holland. Holland also has a wine card which Princess does not. I did buy one of these to use in the public lounges. It works out roughly to $4 per glass which is cheaper than the regular list price of glasses of wine. However as other Holland passenger have recently pointed out, most of what you are limited to is really not very good. The cabernet is "red" I'll admit, but it doesn't taste much like cabernet. Many people have stopped buying the wine card since they changed whatever brand they are now using. The only decent wine is the Pinot Grigio which is imported from Italy so it's relatively light and drinkable. Staff & Service The staff was outstanding from top to bottom. The Indonesian and Phillippino crew were just wonderful and cheerful. When we were on Holland American about 25 years ago, we found them to be very polite and give wonderful service, but they were a little more formal and reserved that we were used to on Princess. That is no longer the case. They always said hello and bartenders and waiters quickly learned your name even after going for just one night. The shore excursion people were great even accompanying us on the buses and train to Copper Canyon to ensure things went OK. At the end of the cruise, we were randomly selected for a focus group session with the Cruise Director , Hotel Manager, and Shore Excursion Manager. There were a couple of travel agents there that had a few complaints about the condition of the cabins (due for refurbishment next year) and the good old "what happened to the trays in the Lido buffet?" thread. The Hotel Manager gave a good account of the tray thing. This was deliberate decision by Holland America after much study. What happens when the trays are used is that passengers get into the "cafeteria" mentality—I must take my tray, and start at the beginning and run it along every station serving food whether I want food from that area or not! What this does is clog the Lido buffet to extreme. Also people tend to pile up lots of food this way, and then leave lots unfinished on their plates after they have eaten and leave. The elimination of the trays has altered this pattern. People go to the specific station they want i.e. salad bar, sandwich station, Italian or entrEe station and get specifically what they want. They then sit down and eat it. If they are still hungry, they come back for more. This allows people for example to get a salad and eat that, and then go to the buffet for their hot entrEe and the entrEe is hot when they eat it. If they do the "cafeteria" thing, then they get everything on the tray, eat the salad first, and their entrEe is almost cold by the time they get to it. Finally, Holland discovered there has been a lot less wasted food left on the tables (that was an inadvertent consequence that they actually hadn't planned on). So the trays are definitely not coming back! Entertainment We didn't hit any of the shows as we had late seating and just felt like listening to the string quartet in the lounge or the last few nights the woman at the Piano Bar who was excellent. No one commented at our table on the shows, so we don't have any feedback there. Shore Excursions We did the following things at each port (all booked through Holland): Cabo San Lucas We did the deluxe whale watch tour on a large catamaran. It was great. Just by luck we sat up front and that's where the whales appeared. We saw them swim, dive and later followed a mother whale and her calf. The calf just loved to jump up out of the water repeatedly so he/she put on quite a show. I got great photographs. Loreto We did a van tour way up into the mountains to see the best preserved Spanish mission church in Baja. It is not the earliest, but it is still almost like it was in the 1600's and yet in a great state of preservation. Had a great ride up to the town. The first 10 miles were paved, but the next 10 miles were gravel road and a little bumpy. But we had great views from the top of the canyons. We had lunch at a local restaurant in the little village at the top. We also walked through some local gardens. They were healthy and used a well designed hand built, gravity reclaimed water irrigation system. Guymas We hadn't booked anything here and planned just to walk around the downtown area. When we docked, we were kind of outside the downtown area in an industrial port area. The surprise was that there were free shuttles into downtown. When we got downtown, there were a number of teenagers with T-shirts that said in big letters "May I help you". They were great. They spoke perfect English. I had forgotten our map of the downtown area from the ship and they gave me a new one. Guymas is famous as a fishing port especially for shrimp. I asked them for a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch with shrimp and they gave me a color flyer for what turned out to be a giant shrimp fiesta out on the plaza facing the bay. They had craft booths set up, tented areas for you to sit down and have lunch too. On one side were individual food vendors where for a "tasting fee" of $2 you could have shrimp any of about six or seven ways. I OD'd on not just large, not just giant, but colossal shrimp (2 plus some nice rice). Beers were a $1. So for about $12 Maureen and I had some great shrimp and two beers each. They also had folklorico dancers who put on a show for everyone there. The town really celebrated. We heard later that we were the first cruise ship of the year so I guess we were special. I don't know whether they will do that for later ones (they only get about 6 cruise ships per year). Topolobango This is the port for Copper Canyon. We chose this cruise primarily because it had this trip. The only other way to see Copper Canyon is to drive or take a bus tour from Texas south to the inland end of the Copper Canyon. On Holland, this was an almost 16 hour trip in total and was over $400 per person. It's a pretty expensive tour. We had to get off the ship at 4:30 am. We then boarded very nice clean and newer Greyhound type buses which were very comfortable. There was an hour and a half bus ride to the El Fuerte where we picked up the train. The reason they don't board the train in Topolbango is that the section of track between Topolobango and Las Fuerte where we boarded hasn't been improved. It took an hour and a half by bus, but it would take 4 hours on the train making it impossible to do this trip in one day. So they use the buses. The train cars are restored 1950's and the seats were wide and probably three to four feet between rows. They were very comfortable. There was a tour guide on each train car who narrated the trip as you went up the canyon. The route is very scenic as you climb up the canyon. There are 86 tunnels and lots of bridges as you climb up the sides of the canyon. At one point there are three switchbacks up the side of a canyon wall that climb 1,000 feet in elevation. The turnaround points for each level are the tunnels so you kind of never see yourself turning around. At the end of 6 hours on the train, we reached the top. They took us to an overlook where we could see the Copper Canyon proper and a lot of other canyons too. It is not as big, nor quite as colorful as Grand Canyon in Arizona. There's more white rock than Grand Canyon although there's lots of red rock too. There's more vegetation in the Mexico version too. There were native Indians selling handmade baskets as you walked up to see the view. Next we went to lunch at a hotel nearby. The dining room had a spectacular view of the canyon while you had your buffet. Holland has also given up a box breakfast on board the train up, and a box snack coming down. The local Indians gave us a short program of their native dances with music from rustic handmade instruments. It was then time to take the train and bus back to the ship. That's another 6 hour train ride and one and a half hour bus ride. The fun thing we did was to go back one train car to the bar car. They had a Mariachi singer who sang songs and they provided fresh popcorn and peanuts while you sipped your beer or margarita. That made some of the time fly. We got back to the ship at 10 pm and the Captain and senior officers were all out on the tarmac to welcome us back. They gave us all a glass of champagne and announced there was a prime rib buffet up in the Lido for the returning passengers if you wanted it. It really tasted great after a long trip! Matzalan We did a walking tour of the old historic Colonial city here. Had a great time and learned a lot. Stopped by a restored old mansion, the opera house, an art gallery being restored, the Melville Hotel and we started with the cliff divers. We also stopped at a wonderful old panderia for baker items. Tthe guide took us out to the plaza in front where there were a lot of restaurants facing the central square. He treated us to a beer while we sat outside on the patio. Finished with a tour of the cathedral. Matzalan was ready to start Carnival that evening. We were tempted to jump ship! Puerto Vallarta We did a van tour which took us downtown to see the older part of town. After doing some shopping and walking we stopped for lunch and had a cooking school at a local restaurant which has an open front wall facing the bay. We made salsa by chopping up fresh tomato, onion, cilantro, and serano peppers and tasted our creation with some chips provided. They told us to save most of our salsa and then gave us a half avocado to chop and mash into the salsa. That made great guacamole! We also made a chicken tostada. Finally we made mole chicken enchiladas. I'm not a big fan of "mole" which is a dark brown chocolate sauce that the Mexican's love. It's not sticky sweet as it's more like dark chocolate and it was OK. There was a spectacular sunset here while we relaxed out on our balcony as we didn't sail until 10 pm. Finally we had two days at sea returning to San Diego. Disembarkation Disembarkation went very smoothly. They asked that you vacate your cabin by 8 they planned to start at 8:15. Customs delayed that a little so they didn't start until 8:45 but we were off the ship by 9:30 am. Summary All in all we had a wonderful time. But we have come to the conclusion that we do prefer Princess to Holland America. We would consider Holland again if the price and itinerary were really great, but we'd had to make some adjustments to our normal cruising experience on Princess. We would go again, but our first choice would be a Princess ship if the routes were the same. I'm sure others would disagree, and I'm only expressing our view. Other people have different priorities than we do and that's great. It's "whatever floats your boat"!!! Thanks Norm

Zaandam 10 Day Mexican Riviera & Copper Canyon

Zaandam Cruise Review by nreeder

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: February 2010
  • Destination: Mexican Riviera
  • Cabin Type: Vista Suite with Verandah
This will be a long review of our Holland America Zaandam 10 day cruise from San Diego to Mexico and the Copper Canyon. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. No one else does this particular route. Besides the usual Cabo San Lucas, Matazalan, and Puerto Vallarta, that everyone does, this cruise adds Loreto, Guymas, and Topolobango (port for Copper Canyon.)
Personal Background Information
We are Princess Cruise fans and it's been over 20 years since we were on a Holland American ship (the old Westerdam, no longer in the fleet). So there will be a number of comparisons as we kind of viewed Holland America with fresh eyes. We both retired last year and while we worked we were both librarians so that's our background.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We live in a suburb of Los Angeles (Torrance) and traveled via Amtrak train to San Diego from LA's Union Station. The great thing about doing this is that instead of 4 inches of legroom, you get 4 feet between rows and coffee served at your seat in business class. But the best thing is that when you arrive at San Diego's Union Station, you are just across the street from the cruise ship. So we just wheeled our bags over there and dropped them off in no time.
Embarkation
Embarkation went relatively smoothly except that the checkin computers went dead just before we walked in so we had to wait about 20 minutes before they got those working again.
We had a CruiseCritic Meet and Greet that I contacted Holland America to arrange. As usual great people. You learn so much talking to them. They reserved the Piano Lounge and had the bar open and music. They didn't provide the coffee and cookies they promised, but everyone was happy to have a reserved space and to order their own drinks.
The Ship
The Zaandam was built in 2000 and just came out of dry-dock after two weeks of refurbishment. They did a 14 day Hawaii cruise right after that, just before our Mexico cruise. During the Hawaii cruise, they ran into a giant storm and the ship was really banged about from what we heard from some passengers who continued on after the Hawaii cruise to our Mexico one. The ship's crew said the same thing. They lost the use of 5 elevators during this storm. They were able to fix three of them with spare parts on board, but 2 remained out of service during our cruise because they needed more parts which they will get in San Diego.
The dry-dock was not a major remodel. The dining room got all new chairs (quite comfortable). The verandas got new loungers and chairs too. At a focus group meeting that we were invited to at the end of the cruise, the hotel manager reflected on the fact that the dining room chairs were one inch wider, so he could now only get 7 chairs at a table that used to hold 8. Additionally, the lounge chairs on the verandah are 10 inches longer than before. They now span the entire depth of the verandah from the glass railing to the glass doors. It's difficult to move them as they are so tight a fit. But they sure are comfortable!
So here's our personal take on the ship. We don't expect that everyone will agree with us, but it's our experience this time. Nice HAL touches
You can have hot items on the room service breakfast like scrambled eggs (even with egg beaters if you wanted) or a ham and cheese omelet and a choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. Princess doesn't offer anything hot for breakfast on the room service menu. Holland America prints a 4 page folded mini version of the daily New York Times and this is distributed to every room. I think Princess may do this but there's a charge if they do. Holland America serves appetizers in the lounges prior to dinner, Princess doesn't. We didn't actually see what was offered because we usually had "happy hour" out on our balcony each night. There were nice canapEs in the Exploration Cafe stand where they do the fresh coffees. Princess offers something similar on the new ships in their atriums and that feature is being brought to their older ships as they go into dry-dock.
That's the good news for Holland America.
Essentially we were not impressed with the design of the Zaandam. This is a ship built in 2000 the year Grand Princess was built and we've been on her a number of times. So we couldn't help making comparisons. They are very different ships. Grand Princess is of course much bigger—2,600 passengers versus 1,400 on Zaandam. Many Holland America cruisers prefer these smaller ships. They are more compact and easier to get around for mobility impaired passengers.
Stateroom
But we kind of felt cramped both in the cabin and in the public areas. The Verandah Suite we stayed in is comparable to the mini-suites on Grand Princess and her sisters. There was a Jacuzzi tub which in not on the Princess ships, but these cabins are considerably smaller than Princess mini-suites. They run about 295 sq. ft versus around 325 sq. ft. on Princess. This was OK for this cruise for the two of us. However, I love to SCUBA dive (not on this trip), and in the future there would really be no room for my diving gear in these type cabins whereas there is plenty of room on the Princess ships. Part of this is the design of the "living room" area where the couch is. On Holland America the desk and mirror is directly across from the couch so this narrows the room for that section. On Princess the desk is angled out between the bedroom areas and living area so the living room has nothing across from the couch but a l chair. There's more a feeling of open space and more storage space because of the two dividing partitions on the Princess ships which have lots of shelves, TV's and the refrigerator.
We weren't too impressed with the public spaces on this ship, but I think this relates to what the interior designers chose to do with this particular version. The three story atrium is completely filled with a giant white ornate pipe organ. It goes from floor to ceiling and is so wide that it really fills up the atrium. You gain no sense of open space on any of the three floors of the atrium. Princess atriums are all spectacular spaces with most of the public rooms connected around them.
That's the other weird thing in the Zaandam design (shared by the smaller Holland ships), the real "promenade" deck where you can walk completely around the ship is not a public deck. It is filled with passenger cabins. There are lots of outside cabins whose picture windows look out to this deck. They have a mirrored covering so you can't see in during the day but you have to be sure to close your drapes at night because you would be able to see in then. The good news for Holland is that this design gave them more outside rooms with unobstructed views as the two public decks are above this is where the life boats hang and block any possible views. To make things even more confusing they called all three of these "promenade—upper, lower and main.
There are relatively few cabins with balconies in this design. Grand Princess has four and a half decks of balcony, mini-suite, and suites with balconies. There are two decks on Zaandam with either full suites, or "verandah suites". There are no standard balcony cabins. Holland is trying to fix this in a kind of strange way. On the four smaller 1,200 passenger versions of this design, they are taking out the picture windows on the promenade deck outside cabins and putting in a single glass door. They are trying to give the effect of a balcony cabin, except that your "balcony" is really the promenade deck which is public and everyone walks around it. The deck chairs outside your room wouldn't be "yours" either because they are the public ones. We don't think we would like this lack of privacy but its' a kind of desperate attempt to update these older ships with more balcony type cabins.
Many of the public corridors on the two public decks are paneled in a kind of grey weathered wood effect. We found this a little dark and depressing. We are used to lighter and brighter colors on Princess ships. Their lounges are very nice but some of them open up to the casino where they permit smoking. This drifts into the piano bar and we aren't fans of breathing other peoples smoke. They are doing a survey of current passengers on smoking on board so they may change their policy in the future.
The gym was perfect. It was up top and in front so had great views. Precor treadmills and Cybex weight machines were great. We spent a lot of time up there trying to work off all of the food.
Dining
Food is my next comparison. The food overall was very good, we never had a bad meal. But we do think Princess has an edge here. The quality and presentation are nicer on Princess and the extra cost Pinnacle Grill on Zaandam (and all other Holland ships) is blown away by the Crown Grill on the newer Princess ships. The biggest disappointment was the Canaletto Lido restaurant just installed on Zaandam. There is no cost to this one unlike Pinnacle, but the extra cost Sabatini's on board most Princess ships put the Holland version to shame. It's kind of heavy pasta in Canaletto not the wonderful quality and presentation that Princess does.
This brings me to my worst grade for Holland America. It's their wine list. They get a big fat "F" for outrageously overpricing. Princess markup is around 3 to 4 times from retail. Holland was 5 or 6 times markup. Example, our house chardonnay at home is Chateau St. Michelle. It's a very nice chardonnay and not that expensive for everyday. We bought 4 bottles of it at Ralph's supermarket in downtown San Diego (we actually live in LA and took the train down to San Diego). It was on special for $7.77 a bottle. They don't have it on the regular wine list on the ship, but it's on the Pinnacle Grill wine list for $59 a bottle. That's almost insulting. Eighty percent of the Holland wine list would cost $8 to $11 per bottle in the supermarket, but costs roughly $49 to $59 on the wine list. The result is that despite their very high corkage fee ($18) far more people bring their own wine bottles into the dining room than any Princess ship we've ever been on. In desperation, I purchased four $25 bottles of great quality California cabernet and chardonnay and brought them into the dining room too. Adding the corkage fee of $18 made that come to $43. If they would have had those particular wines on their wine list, they would have charge me $100 plus 15% tip for the wine steward. What's really bad is that Holland America doesn't pay retail prices for wine, they buy in bulk wholesale so the markup is really huge. So it's really a big rip off.
Holland has a "coke" card that's cheaper than the Princess one but here you get what you pay for. Holland's version is a punch card setup where they punch the coke card each time you have one and you are maxed out at 20. You are also limited in the size glasses as they won't give you really large glasses of Coke but kind of regular iced tea size. On Princess you pay more for the card, but the Coke is unlimited with it for the cruise. They also have much bigger glasses than Holland. When we are in the hot and humid Caribbean I can down three of the large Princess ones at lunch alone. While we didn't need that much drink on this cruise because it wasn't very hot, I would be in big trouble in the Caribbean on Holland.
Holland also has a wine card which Princess does not. I did buy one of these to use in the public lounges. It works out roughly to $4 per glass which is cheaper than the regular list price of glasses of wine. However as other Holland passenger have recently pointed out, most of what you are limited to is really not very good. The cabernet is "red" I'll admit, but it doesn't taste much like cabernet. Many people have stopped buying the wine card since they changed whatever brand they are now using. The only decent wine is the Pinot Grigio which is imported from Italy so it's relatively light and drinkable.
Staff & Service
The staff was outstanding from top to bottom. The Indonesian and Phillippino crew were just wonderful and cheerful. When we were on Holland American about 25 years ago, we found them to be very polite and give wonderful service, but they were a little more formal and reserved that we were used to on Princess. That is no longer the case. They always said hello and bartenders and waiters quickly learned your name even after going for just one night. The shore excursion people were great even accompanying us on the buses and train to Copper Canyon to ensure things went OK. At the end of the cruise, we were randomly selected for a focus group session with the Cruise Director , Hotel Manager, and Shore Excursion Manager. There were a couple of travel agents there that had a few complaints about the condition of the cabins (due for refurbishment next year) and the good old "what happened to the trays in the Lido buffet?" thread. The Hotel Manager gave a good account of the tray thing. This was deliberate decision by Holland America after much study. What happens when the trays are used is that passengers get into the "cafeteria" mentality—I must take my tray, and start at the beginning and run it along every station serving food whether I want food from that area or not! What this does is clog the Lido buffet to extreme. Also people tend to pile up lots of food this way, and then leave lots unfinished on their plates after they have eaten and leave. The elimination of the trays has altered this pattern. People go to the specific station they want i.e. salad bar, sandwich station, Italian or entrEe station and get specifically what they want. They then sit down and eat it. If they are still hungry, they come back for more. This allows people for example to get a salad and eat that, and then go to the buffet for their hot entrEe and the entrEe is hot when they eat it. If they do the "cafeteria" thing, then they get everything on the tray, eat the salad first, and their entrEe is almost cold by the time they get to it. Finally, Holland discovered there has been a lot less wasted food left on the tables (that was an inadvertent consequence that they actually hadn't planned on). So the trays are definitely not coming back!
Entertainment
We didn't hit any of the shows as we had late seating and just felt like listening to the string quartet in the lounge or the last few nights the woman at the Piano Bar who was excellent. No one commented at our table on the shows, so we don't have any feedback there.
Shore Excursions
We did the following things at each port (all booked through Holland):
Cabo San Lucas
We did the deluxe whale watch tour on a large catamaran. It was great. Just by luck we sat up front and that's where the whales appeared. We saw them swim, dive and later followed a mother whale and her calf. The calf just loved to jump up out of the water repeatedly so he/she put on quite a show. I got great photographs.
Loreto
We did a van tour way up into the mountains to see the best preserved Spanish mission church in Baja. It is not the earliest, but it is still almost like it was in the 1600's and yet in a great state of preservation. Had a great ride up to the town. The first 10 miles were paved, but the next 10 miles were gravel road and a little bumpy. But we had great views from the top of the canyons. We had lunch at a local restaurant in the little village at the top. We also walked through some local gardens. They were healthy and used a well designed hand built, gravity reclaimed water irrigation system.
Guymas
We hadn't booked anything here and planned just to walk around the downtown area. When we docked, we were kind of outside the downtown area in an industrial port area. The surprise was that there were free shuttles into downtown. When we got downtown, there were a number of teenagers with T-shirts that said in big letters "May I help you". They were great. They spoke perfect English. I had forgotten our map of the downtown area from the ship and they gave me a new one. Guymas is famous as a fishing port especially for shrimp. I asked them for a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch with shrimp and they gave me a color flyer for what turned out to be a giant shrimp fiesta out on the plaza facing the bay. They had craft booths set up, tented areas for you to sit down and have lunch too. On one side were individual food vendors where for a "tasting fee" of $2 you could have shrimp any of about six or seven ways. I OD'd on not just large, not just giant, but colossal shrimp (2 plus some nice rice). Beers were a $1. So for about $12 Maureen and I had some great shrimp and two beers each. They also had folklorico dancers who put on a show for everyone there. The town really celebrated. We heard later that we were the first cruise ship of the year so I guess we were special. I don't know whether they will do that for later ones (they only get about 6 cruise ships per year).
Topolobango
This is the port for Copper Canyon. We chose this cruise primarily because it had this trip. The only other way to see Copper Canyon is to drive or take a bus tour from Texas south to the inland end of the Copper Canyon. On Holland, this was an almost 16 hour trip in total and was over $400 per person. It's a pretty expensive tour. We had to get off the ship at 4:30 am. We then boarded very nice clean and newer Greyhound type buses which were very comfortable. There was an hour and a half bus ride to the El Fuerte where we picked up the train. The reason they don't board the train in Topolbango is that the section of track between Topolobango and Las Fuerte where we boarded hasn't been improved. It took an hour and a half by bus, but it would take 4 hours on the train making it impossible to do this trip in one day. So they use the buses.
The train cars are restored 1950's and the seats were wide and probably three to four feet between rows. They were very comfortable. There was a tour guide on each train car who narrated the trip as you went up the canyon. The route is very scenic as you climb up the canyon. There are 86 tunnels and lots of bridges as you climb up the sides of the canyon. At one point there are three switchbacks up the side of a canyon wall that climb 1,000 feet in elevation. The turnaround points for each level are the tunnels so you kind of never see yourself turning around. At the end of 6 hours on the train, we reached the top. They took us to an overlook where we could see the Copper Canyon proper and a lot of other canyons too. It is not as big, nor quite as colorful as Grand Canyon in Arizona. There's more white rock than Grand Canyon although there's lots of red rock too. There's more vegetation in the Mexico version too. There were native Indians selling handmade baskets as you walked up to see the view. Next we went to lunch at a hotel nearby. The dining room had a spectacular view of the canyon while you had your buffet. Holland has also given up a box breakfast on board the train up, and a box snack coming down. The local Indians gave us a short program of their native dances with music from rustic handmade instruments.
It was then time to take the train and bus back to the ship. That's another 6 hour train ride and one and a half hour bus ride. The fun thing we did was to go back one train car to the bar car. They had a Mariachi singer who sang songs and they provided fresh popcorn and peanuts while you sipped your beer or margarita. That made some of the time fly. We got back to the ship at 10 pm and the Captain and senior officers were all out on the tarmac to welcome us back. They gave us all a glass of champagne and announced there was a prime rib buffet up in the Lido for the returning passengers if you wanted it. It really tasted great after a long trip!
Matzalan
We did a walking tour of the old historic Colonial city here. Had a great time and learned a lot. Stopped by a restored old mansion, the opera house, an art gallery being restored, the Melville Hotel and we started with the cliff divers. We also stopped at a wonderful old panderia for baker items. Tthe guide took us out to the plaza in front where there were a lot of restaurants facing the central square. He treated us to a beer while we sat outside on the patio. Finished with a tour of the cathedral. Matzalan was ready to start Carnival that evening. We were tempted to jump ship!
Puerto Vallarta
We did a van tour which took us downtown to see the older part of town. After doing some shopping and walking we stopped for lunch and had a cooking school at a local restaurant which has an open front wall facing the bay. We made salsa by chopping up fresh tomato, onion, cilantro, and serano peppers and tasted our creation with some chips provided. They told us to save most of our salsa and then gave us a half avocado to chop and mash into the salsa. That made great guacamole! We also made a chicken tostada. Finally we made mole chicken enchiladas. I'm not a big fan of "mole" which is a dark brown chocolate sauce that the Mexican's love. It's not sticky sweet as it's more like dark chocolate and it was OK. There was a spectacular sunset here while we relaxed out on our balcony as we didn't sail until 10 pm.
Finally we had two days at sea returning to San Diego.
Disembarkation
Disembarkation went very smoothly. They asked that you vacate your cabin by 8 they planned to start at 8:15. Customs delayed that a little so they didn't start until 8:45 but we were off the ship by 9:30 am.
Summary
All in all we had a wonderful time. But we have come to the conclusion that we do prefer Princess to Holland America. We would consider Holland again if the price and itinerary were really great, but we'd had to make some adjustments to our normal cruising experience on Princess. We would go again, but our first choice would be a Princess ship if the routes were the same. I'm sure others would disagree, and I'm only expressing our view. Other people have different priorities than we do and that's great. It's "whatever floats your boat"!!! Thanks Norm
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