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Zaandam Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
558 Reviews

Buenos Aires to Santiago and HAL is Off the Rails

Zaandam Cruise Review by TheChicagoDude

16 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Dec 2018
  • Destination: South America
  • Cabin Type: Verandah Suite

Our ninth cruise with HAL. It's likely going to be our last with the awful experience we're having on this cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago. Currently enroute from Stanley, Falkland Islands and the problems just keep piling up.

As we're in an upper-end cabin, we had the "Signature Experience" which included two nights in a Buenos Aires hotel, an "event", and appropriate transfers. At virtually the last minute we were moved from a 5-star hotel to a hotel only open two weeks in a less-than-desirable area of Recoleta (downtown). This hotel was filled with problems - apparently HAL saved a few bucks in the process however.

When we arrived at the ship we had (for the first time on any cruise) our passports confiscated by HAL staff! We were given a printed card as a receipt for the passports - which had a signature line NO ONE would sign! We've asked repeatedly on board for HAL to explain this unusual situation, but no one in management will return our calls.

This ship is 20 years old. And perhaps not much longer for HAL's inventory, as they are now ignoring maintenance items that would seem to be routine. Examples:

*. Heat/cooling in our cabin is generally non-functional

•. Overnight today our thermostat even quit working

•. Sun curtains in the dining rooms (on the back windows) are "stuck" in a midway position (our waiter said they haven't worked in months)

•. Hallway carpets are worn and dirty as are the deck areas around the Lido pools

Internet service is unusable despite the high cost and claims that the service supports "video and audio streaming". This is a bald-faced lie - it rarely is even able to send email! Service on this ship is provided by Speedcast.com, who are well aware of the problems and blame HAL for "overselling" the system.

We have been continually annoyed with the aggressive solicitations by crew members for dubious up-sells and "special events". They bothered us during dinner with these phony wine tastings, and then started calling our room just before dinner and offering the Pinnacle Grill or Cannalato Restaurant "experience" for $5 less than the published (upgrade) price! I've asked the office repeatedly to put us on the "Do Not Call" list without any positive results. HAL is engaged in other, airline-type "upgrades" to what used to be an all-inclusive experience. The breakfast room service menu has few choices now but several pricey "Upgrades" available. So does the dining room menu. We are offended by these changes.

Dining room food has been its usual high-quality, with friendly and competent waiters. However service has been slow with long waits between the starters and main course common. We were also surprised to see primary-school-aged children on this cruise. HAL staff refuses to intervene with the parents of some of the more troublesome in the group.

Much of the rest of the crew seems sullen and disinterested. This is especially true with the servers in the Lido deck food areas. Food service and quality there has been lackadaisical to say the least.

However by far the biggest shamozzle was the issuance of "tender ticket" reservations. You'd think that HAL had never done this before. At 7:30am almost 100 people were already in a queue down the hallway for an 8am ticket call. These tickets are meant for people who have firm (non HAL) day trip bookings so they can go ashore as early as possible. But it has turned into a free-for-all, with non-English speaking passengers in particular not understanding the process and no one from HAL available to speak to them in Chinese. When the ticket issuance started, the Chinese passengers were being given individually 2, 4, up to 8 tickets on the earliest tender transfers despite these people neither NEEDING the early transfers nor everyone standing in line like the rest of us.

The day of the tender to Stanley, these same passengers were giving the additional cards away to others without cards, or holding much later tender times. HAL staff ignored the complaints by the other passengers who were prepared to follow the system, such as it is.

In Ushuaia, at the last minute we were forced to tender due to some problem with the pier. This meant an even bigger free-for-all trying to get tender tickets. This showed how ill-prepared the crew is for any unplanned change. With a short port call at Ushuaia scheduled (Noon to 7PM), this left large numbers of passengers with shortened or missed tours - extremely unfortunate as Ushuaia is an especially scenic location. The last passengers who wanted to go ashore got there over four hours later than planned, with only 3 hours left for touring. HAL would not extend the onboard time (even though we had daylight until after 10pm).

When any cruise line actively markets to newer cruise markets like China and don't do anything to educate these new cruisers on the experience, it does a disservice to all the passengers. HAL management admitted that they had no Chinese-speakers on their staff. We had a large number of Chinese who were doing things that were out of the ordinary - for example filling up plastic bags with food from the Lido. Bad food handling practices in particular are often the cause of norovirus on these ships. HAL staff just shrugged when they saw these things occurring. Haven't these passengers been told they can use room service 24/7?

We did enjoy the cooking demonstrations on most days, and many of the musicians on board seemed very talented. We aren't much for the late night shows so didn't attend them.

We used the spa area for massages and the staff in these areas is always competent and friendly. As the cruise progresses pricing goes down - we always wait for the inevitable "sale" flyer.

TheChicagoDude's Full Rating Summary
Onboard Experience
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Cabin Review

Verandah Suite

Cabins of the same category are much smaller than on other Holland America ships. Cabins have an odd smell. Bedding is comfortable although they had to be prodded to change our linens. Cabin attendants are first-rate, quickly learning the things that are important to us (ice twice daily, turndown while we're at dinner, etc).

Arrival in San Antonio (one of two ports for Santiago) was fine. Short shuttle-bus ride to the actual terminal where about 40 crew members were camped using the wifi. Porting in Valparaiso would be better for the cruisers (many of who had day trips there prior to their late-evening flights), but we understand that's a political issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

City Tour

Terrific tour of Montevideo including the cathedral, old city, and beaches area. Tour guide spoke acceptable English. We had been promised a 12 seat van (for 8 people), but were jammed into an 8 seat van.

View All 62 City Tour Reviews

The Falklands are a very important stop on a cruise - arguably the best location to see penguins and sea life up-close. The bigger tours go to an area where you won't be able to get as close as the independent tours. We booked this local tour guide (born on the Falklands) with his 4x4. A 2 hour drive on unsealed roads, and then 30 minutes or so in off-road driving got us to one of the premier sites. We were able to walk among the thousands of nesting penguins, and they were comfortable as long as you didn't approach a nesting male and moved slowly. First rate!

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Tierra del Fuego National Park

As I noted in our review, our much-later arrival in Ushuaia compounded with tendering issues on the Zaandam got us ashore almost two hours after the scheduled time. The tour guide was patiently waiting for us at the end of the pier. This was a private, three-person tour so we were able to make up some of the lost time and still get a full program in the national park. The national park here is a must for visitors to Ushuaia. Tour guide was entertaining, competent, and recommended highly. He also give us a shortened tour of the city. We would have liked to have had a meal in Ushuaia, which is famous for the local crabs, but alas did not.

View All 93 Tierra del Fuego National Park Reviews

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