BACKGROUND: This was the 8th cruise for my husband, Tom, and me (Laura). We started cruising in 2000 to celebrate our 25th anniversary, the "trip of a lifetime". The trip of a lifetime became the first of many. Joining us on this ... Read More
BACKGROUND: This was the 8th cruise for my husband, Tom, and me (Laura). We started cruising in 2000 to celebrate our 25th anniversary, the "trip of a lifetime". The trip of a lifetime became the first of many. Joining us on this cruise were 2nd-timers, Tom's mother, Dorothy and his sister, Susan. We had decided on this cruise as incentive for Dorothy to get well, who a year earlier was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. She is a survivor, with no reoccurrences, and we all ended up on the Zaandam cruising to Hawai'i!
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION AND HOTEL INFO: We boarded a Frontier airlines jet in Denver the day before our cruise and arrived on time in sunny San Diego. Our reservation at the Hampton Inn-Downtown included a shuttle from the airport and another shuttle to the cruise port. The Hampton Inn is clean and comfortable. The location is approximately three blocks from the cruise port. We made reservations for the cruise port shuttle when we checked in. The shuttle leaves every hour on the half hour. Even with registering early, our choices were limited to either 10:30 or 1:30. The shuttles fill up fast. If you are planning to use this service, make your reservations at arrival. We checked in at approximately 11:30.
After checking in, we stashed our bags with the hotel and walked down to the port area. We found a restaurant inside the Holiday Inn right across from the cruise port, Elephant & Castle, with delicious sandwiches and great service. By the time we were finished eating and had walked back to the hotel, our rooms were ready.
The Hampton Inn has a free breakfast, free wireless internet connection in the lobby, and is within walking distance to the pier and to Rite-Aid for last minute necessities (including wine). The hotel is adjacent to the trolley/train tracks. The trolley/train provides quick transportation to many parts of San Diego, but also has a loud whistle that bothers some. The whistle did not bother me. I slept well.
EMBARKATION: The next morning, following a breakfast of bagels and fruit, we were on the 10:30 shuttle to the port. There were employees in abundance to guide us at check-in. Because Dorothy uses a walker when she cruises, our group was able to accompany her to the handicapped boarding. This process bypasses the Embarkation Photo and the steep gangway. You board after taking an elevator to the top ramp. I kind of missed not having the Embarkation Photo taken, sometimes that is the only one that we buy, but we did save a lot of time with handicapped boarding. Once aboard, which was a very simple and speedy process, we were taken by elevator to the Lido deck for lunch. There was a place near the pool to check our carry-ons, so our hands were free as we walked around the public areas after lunch. Our rooms were ready at 1:30. The life boat drill was held promptly at 4:15. The drill ran smoothly and was over quickly.
SERVICE AND DINING: The quality of service aboard Holland America ships is outstanding. Most of Tom and my cruises have been on HAL and we have always been pleased with the service. On this trip it seemed as though the room stewards had more rooms assigned to them, which made our room cleaning delayed a few hours over other cruises we have taken. Our dining room stewards had more tables to take care of, making our dining time longer. But the service each provided was up to the high standards that HAL is known for.
We choose traditional assigned dining at 5:45 at a table for eight. We sat with a family from the Sacramento area (Katie, Meredith, R.K. and Greg) at an oval table. Each night at dinner was a celebration. We talked and laughed so much that we were noticed by other diners who did not have such lively times. The fun was enhanced by our table stewards, Ridwan, Rudi and our wine steward, Geoffrey.
The Zaandam has a new restaurant that began operation (I have read) on the cruise right before ours. It serves Italian food, and is called Canaletto. Tom and I ate there one night and highly recommend it. Reservations are required but there is no extra charge. Dress is casual. For lunch there are options of the grill by the Lido pool, the Lido buffet, and the dining room. My favorite was the grill, serving hamburgers, cheeseburgers, veggie-burgers, brauts and hot dogs. They also have a taco bar. For breakfast, choices are the Lido buffet and the dining room. There is a wide variety of breakfast foods. The Lido is also available for dinner as an option to the dining room. The Zaandam has another restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, a for-charge restaurant that we did not try on this trip. Room service is open 24 hours for no extra charge; however it is customary (but not required) to tip.
ENTERTAINMENT: Entertainment in the show lounge was adequate for a diversion. The most enjoyable entertainer that we saw (we didn't go to every show) was Jeff Trachta. Jeff was formerly on the soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" from roughly 1988 to 1999. He did impressions, told jokes and sang. We both enjoyed his show.
I really enjoyed listening to talks by the Hawai'ian travel guide, Kainoa. He told of the history of Hawai'i and told of places to visit at each port. He was available daily in the library for questions and answers. And he gave hula lessons. The class graduation was a performance before a full house waiting for the disembarkation talk in the show lounge.
The best entertainment of any cruise ship, and especially HAL ships because the outside deck wraps completely around the ship, is being out on deck in the middle of the ocean away from 'it all'.
The casino is open when the ship is not in port. Bingo sessions are held at least once and usually twice on sea days. First run movies are shown nightly. If you miss the show, the movies are shown in the staterooms on TV the following day.
SHIP INFORMATION: The Zaandam is a beautiful HAL ship. She is going into dry dock in January 2010. We were told on board that besides a little spiffing up the changes will mostly be behind the scenes. The character and charm and musical decor will not change. The Zaandam has capacity for 1432 passengers and 615 crew members.
ACTIVITIES: Wii games; volleyball and basketball games between passengers and crew; "On Deck For The Cure", a fund-raising activity for breast cancer research; culinary classes; napkin folding classes; dance classes; a well-stocked library; card room; computer classes, including an intro to Windows 7. In the evenings many of the bars have musical entertainment. I'm sure I missed something, but there is usually something going on beginning on the hour and half hour especially on sea days.
DISEMBARKATION: Based on how you fill out the disembarkation questionnaire that is due at the Front Desk soon after arrival, you are assigned a time to exit the ship. You are asked not to crowd the gangway but to wait in your stateroom or in a public area until the time shown on your disembarkation papers. Your bags, with color-coded tags that you attach the night before, will be in the terminal at your assigned disembarkation time. If you disembark earlier than assigned, your bags will not be ready for you. Enjoy the last morning on board and don't rush to get off. For this cruise, it was a silent disembarkation. There were no announcements telling you when your color-coded group should leave. All instructions were on the disembarkation papers. It seemed to run smoothly except for the bottleneck caused by those who couldn't wait to get off and crowded the gangway.
PORT REVIEW - HILO, BIG ISLAND (HAWAII) It rained all day in Hilo, varying from a steady downpour to mist in the air. Hilo is one of the wettest places on earth with 200 inches in the town and 500 inches in the mountains surrounding Hilo. Consequently it is very green. The port is in an industrial area. We didn't get a chance to walk around town after our excursion because the ship arrived almost two hours late due to rough seas slowing us down in route. Tom and I took a ship's hiking excursion in Volcano National Park. The tour operator provided backpacks and raingear for those who didn't have their own. The tour consisted of a first stop at the Thurston Lava Tube for a walk-through. Then we walked back across the parking lot where the tour van was parked and caught a trail that leads through a rain forest and eventually to the Kilauea Iki (small) crater. We saw steam vents with steam so hot you could barely hold your hand over it. We saw a lot of lava, both smooth and rough. Before walking across the crater we had lunch of a sandwich and bottled water provided by the tour operator. We walked across the crater, up a steep trail, and into another part of the rain forest. Our walk ended back at the parking lot. We walked a total of about 4 miles across sometimes rough terrain. It was a pleasant walk. It is probably good that it was raining. If the sun would have been out, it would have been hot. We made a stop at the visitor center where there are lookouts over the park and a museum and gift shop. Because we were so late getting to Hilo, we only had ten minutes at the visitor center before we had to leave and get back to the ship. The cost for this excursion was $149 per person, which seemed high to take a walk in a National Park. If I were going to do this again, I would rent a car and drive myself to the park.
PORT REVIEW: HONOLULU, OAHU It was a sunny day with a clear blue sky and about 80 degrees. The four of us had booked a ship's excursion to Pearl Harbor and a tour of the city. It has been said many times that Pearl Harbor is a must-see on your first visit to Honolulu. I agree. Pearl Harbor is a big part of US History and the bombing was the beginning of the US entrance into World War II. We first visited the museum and gift shop. When our tour was called, we were ushered into a theater where we saw a short film on the history of December 7, 1941. Then it was our turn to ride a shuttle boat to the memorial over the USS Arizona. After the Pearl Harbor visit we drove around Honolulu and saw some of the sights including the Punchbowl Crater (the national cemetery of the Pacific), various Buddhist and Shinto temples, and the King Kamehameha statue. We stopped at the statue to take pictures. At that stop there were various street vendors selling shirts, jewelry, and homemade crafts and food items. This tour also makes a stop at Hilo Hatties for souvenir shopping. We didn't get off at this stop, but later took a free shuttle there. They have nice shirts that seem to be well made. There were other items in the store that I saw for up to 50% less at other shops that we visited later. The ship docks right in downtown Honolulu. There are many shuttles at the dock (and at the other ports) that go to chain discount department stores. You can ride the trolley or city bus to Waikiki Beach. There is a combination indoor/outdoor mall at the dock. This is where the Aloha Tower is. It used to be the tallest building in Hawaii at 10 stories until the height restriction was lifted for Honolulu. You can go to the top of the tower by elevator for a view of the area. Note: It closes at 5:00 p.m.
PORT REVIEW: NAWILIWILI AND LIHUE, KAUAI The ship docked at Nawiliwili, which is the name of the harbor. The nearby town, within walking distance (approx 5 blocks) is Lihue. Tom and I took a ship's excursion to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon. It is a 45 minute bus ride from the port. Along the way our driver (who was hilarious) told us about the island and the various towns as we drove through them. The bus made some stops after visiting Waimea Canyon. One stop was at a gift shop where we could taste complimentary Kauai Coffee. It is very mild and tastes good. Another stop was at a blow hole with beautiful views. The ocean waves were crashing into the shore at the blow hole and at another stop where we saw a now-unused harbor.
Waimea Canyon is very colorful. It was cold and windy when we were at the lookout and the trail is very steep in places. It is wheelchair-assessable but it would be much easier to navigate if your wheelchair was motorized. Kauai has some very rough landscape. There are areas in the interior that you can only see by helicopter. Many movies and TV shows have been filmed here. It is very beautiful and would be a great place to take an extended vacation. There are colorful wild chickens all over Kauai whose ancestors were brought in by some of the first inhabitants of Hawaii many centuries ago.
After the bus tour and eating lunch on board the Zaandam, Tom and I walked to Kalapali Beach. The beach is in downtown Lihue. Many people were swimming and surfing on the beach. All beaches in Hawaii are free to anyone and are open 24 hours. Not all have lifeguards, so enter the water at your own risk.
PORT REVIEW: LAHAINA, MAUI This was my favorite port. As we cruised toward Maui we saw so many rainbows I lost count. The weather was sunny and warm. This is a tender port. The streets of Lahaina are narrow and filled with gift shops, small restaurants and tourists (at least when a cruise ship in anchored off shore). The tender pier is right in town. There are shuttle buses available to take you to different places. We did not have a shore excursion planned. We walked around town and took in the sights. There is a huge Banyan Tree in the city park near the pier that takes up a whole city block. Next to the park is a combo visitor center and museum. When we were there they had samples of Hawai'ian pineapple for tasting (very sweet). Tom & I took a walk to the largest Buddha outside of Japan (the brochure said). It is at a Buddhist mission about six blocks from the pier. There are two nice beaches within walking distance from the pier. One is near the Buddhist mission; one is within a block or two of the pier. We spent the afternoon at the one closest to the pier. The water was clear and warm and the sun was bright.
In the evening all four of us went on a ship's excursion to the Drums of the Pacific Luau at the Hyatt Hotel in Ka'anapali, a town about six miles from Lahaina. The Hyatt is beautiful. The luau had the typical foods of roast pig, chicken, fish, lots of salads, poi, and Mai Tais (all you could drink). There was also a dessert bar. Hula dancers put on a show and told of the history of Hawaii. After the luau the tour buses took us back to the pier. The night was so beautiful that Tom & I stayed in town for awhile and took a later tender back to the ship.
PORT REVIEW: KONA, BIG ISLAND (HAWAII) It was hot and dry in Kona. This is another tender port. Tom & I did not have an excursion planned for today. We decided to take a shuttle ($5 each way per person) to Turtle Beach, which the Zaandam Hawai'ian guide, Kainoa, recommended for snorkeling. Tom snorkeled here, I sunned and swam and took pictures of the wildlife: a turtle, colorful birds, and fish. It was a nice way to spend a Monday morning. There is not much sand on this beach, nor on any of the beaches that we saw in Kona except one. That one is the Disappearing Sands beach. During certain times of the year there is sand, other times there is not. In early December 2009 there was a lot of sand on this beach.
After our morning at the beach, we returned to the Zaandam, showered and ate lunch. In the afternoon I went back to Kona without Tom to check out the town and gift shops. In my opinion there are more gift shops in Kona than in any other port we visited on this trip. They have some great deals, example: tee shirts 7 for $20. I didn't look too close at these and didn't buy any, so I can't tell you the quality. (I did buy tee shirts in Maui for $6 and $7 that have held up well after two or three washings.)
The ship did a late night passing of the Kilauea Volcano. Under a full moon with no clouds in the sky, the red hot lava and white billowing steam clouds gave us quite a show.
PORT REVIEW: SAN DIEGO Pre-cruise, Tom & I walked down to the pier and took a self-guided tour of the USS Midway. The ship is now a museum but served the US Navy from 1945 to 1991 as an aircraft carrier. We were there approximately two hours. That is not nearly enough time to see it all. On the top deck is a display of military aircraft. On other decks you can tour the jail, officer's quarters, enlisted men's quarters, infirmary, engine room, etc.
Post-cruise we booked a ship's excursion bus tour of San Diego. For $75 per person the bus drove us through Old Town, New Town and the Gaslight District while our tour guide gave a history of the city. The tour included a drive over the bridge to Coronado Island and we stopped for a short time at the Hotel Del Coronado. We were able to walk the grounds and go inside the hotel. It is a beautiful hotel with a lot of history. We stopped in Old Town and the four of us ate at the Old Town Mexican Cafe. The food was delicious. The place we stopped was near an area of shops and other attractions. We happened to be in town during one of the rare rainstorms in San Diego, it was pouring so much we didn't tour this area but went back on board the bus after lunch.
The tour ended at San Diego International Airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 3:10 to take us back to below-freezing temperatures in Denver. The flight finally took off at 7:40, but that's another story unrelated to this cruise review! Read Less