Overall, this was an excellent trip. Of course, we enjoyed some uncommonly phenomenal weather, so that set the tone for most of the trip. The pre-cruise hotel stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver was the perfect place to kick ... Read More
Overall, this was an excellent trip. Of course, we enjoyed some uncommonly phenomenal weather, so that set the tone for most of the trip. The pre-cruise hotel stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver was the perfect place to kick things off. The hotel couldn't be in a better location (at Canada Place overlooking the pier), and the accommodations and service were wonderful. Having read some of the other reviews, I had some concerns about whether I had made the best choice of ship for our family group of 4 adults (2 in their early 50s and 2 in their early 70s).
I chose the Zaandam because I was looking for a smaller, more elegant ship that would be easy to navigate and would hopefully allow us to avoid congestion and long lines. The ship is in very good condition, and I think it was a perfect choice for our group. For the most part, there were never lines, congestion or waiting for anything. The ship's common areas are tastefully decorate and spacious, and allow for easy traffic movement. We elected to upgrade to the Neptune Suites, and we had adjacent staterooms and adjoining balconies. There are certainly far less expensive stateroom options on the ship, but we definitely wanted access to balconies for this trip to Alaska, and the up charge from a balcony cabin to a suite was quite reasonable. In my opinion, the extra space of the stateroom (about 450 sq. ft.) and access to the Neptune Lounge alone justified the modest additional expense. With the Neptune Lounge, you have delicious food and beverages available all day (many days we ate breakfast and lunch in the lounge), and the services of a personal concierge. It is a terrific perk, among others that are afforded suites passengers (e.g., daily laundry and dry cleaning service). The stateroom itself was also tastefully decorated and quite spacious. My only criticism would be that the bathrooms, which are perfectly functional, are quite dated looking. I know the ship was christened in 2000, but I can't imagine when in the last 15 years the color palate in the bath areas was ever "in."
The food onboard the ship was, for the most part, excellent. We particularly enjoyed The Pinnacle Grill, but we had several excellent meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room. Our experience at Le Cirque was very good, although we all agreed that we preferred our meals at The Pinnacle Grill, and we didn't feel the significant up charge for Le Cirque was justified. I think the real standout of this cruise with HAL, though, was the customer service we encountered while on the ship. The service was very warm and personal; in fact, it was not uncommon to be addressed by name if we encountered staff members outside of our cabins. They really seem to have a "whatever, whenever" philosophy about offering assistance in any way they can, and their enthusiasm and quick smiles and greetings really made us feel like special guests. We enjoyed excursions in every port (several of which I scheduled on my own before the cruise due to cost savings), and the disembarkation/embarkation process in every port was quick and hassle free.
My two criticisms of the entire almost two-week trip concern the disembarkation process on the final day (Seward) and the post-cruise/post-Denali hotel stay in Anchorage. First, the land tour specialist on the boat completely mishandled the disembarkation process for those of us continuing on a land tour to Denali, and it resulted in a lot of hurry up and wait time at 7:00am. When we were finally cleared to leave the ship, it was a cluster to secure seats on the bus and our group was separated. It was unnecessary and frustrating, and set a bad tone for an all-day bus trip to Denali. Once in Denali, the McKinley Chalet was clean and comfortable, but it was the Wilderness Tour the following day that more than made up for the hassle of getting there. On an 8-hour tour, we saw dall sheep, moose, caribou, and 4 adult grizzlies and 4 grizzly cubs. It was phenomenal! The return trip to Anchorage the following day aboard the McKinley Explorer train was also a highlight. In addition to the amazing sight-seeing aboard the domed rail cars, the food and service onboard the train was top-notch. In fact, HAL impressed us with the caliber of the guides and drivers. They were all genuinely engaging, informative and entertaining. Now, back to the other criticism, and a big sore point of the trip: The post-cruise hotel stay at the Westmark Hotel in Anchorage. In a nutshell, it's a dump and really should be removed from the itinerary. After having kicked off the trip at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver and then spent a week in a suite onboard the ship, to end the trip at the Westmark was a real letdown. The Westmark enjoys a great location in Anchorage, but there was a Hilton and a Marriott within a stone's throw of our hotel, and I would insist on staying in one of those properties if I had it to do all over again. Fortunately, our time there amounted to less than 24 hours of entire trip, and it didn't kill us (at least nothing we've been diagnosed with yet), but it was sure a low-light of the trip and definitely a misstep on HAL's part. Read Less