The ship was badly affected by what can only be described as the Holland America cost cutting strategy. This was evident everywhere on the ship and throughout the 34 day cruise.
The main restaurant should be the main attraction of any cruise ship, this was our 22nd cruise on various cruise lines and ships and our worst possible main restaurant experience by far. The plates were very nice, but night after night no variation in the menus, "no taste", too often "rice" or mashed potato", mass catering vegetables, nearly always cold, very small portions. Service was always good, but what value is good service when dinner each evening and also gala evenings, was such a disappointment. We therefore moved to the Lido Buffet on deck 8, which was always much better and very often the same selection of food available as in the main restaurant. It was no surprise the main restaurant was often half empty.
One niggle at the Lido Buffet, breakfast, lunch and dinner was the frequency of "crew and staff" sitting 1 or 2 persons for a table of 4 or 6, when passengers could not find tables which were free.
Reduced service staff at the Lido also caused tables not to be cleared and cleaned, leaving passengers "waiting" for a clean table, Bar service was almost non-existent due to not enough Bar staff, again a result of cost cutting. Bars are normally a profit center so why not enough service staff?
Bar and restaurant Service" was generally excellent and so very friendly, the service staff could not do enough for you. But in some areas and at certain time there were not enough service staff, again a clear indication of cost cutting.
Entertainment - The main theater dancers and singers were an exceptionally good and very talented team, the theater band was also of the highest quantity. But outside the theater entertainment was also non-existent. The quality of music around the ship was poor, HAL get what they pay for, but why should cruise passengers who pay high prices have the quality of their vacation reduced because of cost cutting in the entertainment area. After about 21:00 hours each evening it seemed like HAL wanted passengers in bed so as to save money on entertainment. The Crow's Nest was almost empty every night, there was no dance band. The "singer" each evening in the Ocean Bar lounge was like a "sleeping tablet". Music at the Lido and Sear View bars was the same day after day.
Excursions - Far too expensive and did not fully provide value for money. In future we will book in advance our own private tours, for a cost 60 - 70% lower. It was also very noticeable the HAL staff organizing the tour departures out of the theater and off the ship, were not in any way identified with the Holland America brand.
We liked the Zaandam very much as a medium size, passenger friendly, easy to find your way around, very comfortable cruise ship, but we were very disappointed and disturbed by the effects of cost cutting, an awful main restaurant where only "the plates were nice", poor entertainment, over-priced excursions, and our biggest niggle, 15% service charges continually being added to our main cruise invoice.
We objected very strongly to the Holland America policy of "15% service charges" being added to Beverage Packages purchased in the Internet. This was in effect an additional 15% "administration charge", because we were also expected to pay 14.50 USD per person per day, which is also stated to be a "service charge", so yes, passengers are being asked to pay double service charges. We went to the reception and insisted that our service charges be reduced to the absolute minimum. Partly because we wanted the 15% internet administration charges refunded and partly because cost cutting has created a quality of service which does not meet our cruise expectations, especially for the price we pay. This does also affect any future purchase decision when we book a future cruise.
The cabin was quite acceptable. It was comfortable and with quite good storage space. The cabin stewards (2 of then) were excellent and could not do enough for you.
Negatives were, the air conditioning was leaking inside the main wardrobes, condensation water was leaking down onto our clothing leaving many clothes wet and stained with a yellow color. Twice the hotel management were called, on both occasions clothing was taken away for cleaning. The hotel and cabin staff were very helpful, but wet and damaged clothing should never happen.
Another annoyance, our cabin was located close to one of the our side doors leading to the deck 3 Promenade Deck, the hydraulic arm on the door was non-effective, the door would always bang closed in the wind, disturbing us when sleeping, this should also not happen, it was reported but never repaired.
City old and new. a group of 46 persons was far too big for one tour guide.
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Ushuaia and Cape Horn were cancelled due to bad weather. Disappointing but safety must come first.