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J. Don Lance

Age: 51 to 60

Occupation:Travel Agent

Number of Cruises: 6 to 10

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: September 30, 2000

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

ABOUT US

My wife and I are travel agents.  That means we may review a ship from a slightly different prospective.  We look at value for our clients as well as fun for ourselves.  This was our ninth cruise, 3 others on brand new ships.  We have sailed the Carnival Paradise, the Norwegian Sky and Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, which were all brand new at the time of our sailings.   The Zaandam has been in service since May, 2000.  As I boarded the ship, I began to formulate this review, comparing this new ship with other new ships that we have sailed.  This was our second cruise on a Holland America ship and I wanted to look for the small value items that add to Holland America’s appeal and to their price.

Just one other personal note.  We really seem to favor the “floating resorts”.  The new mega ships, with all their bells and whistles, really do appeal to us.  I enjoy the nostalgic ships from the  “golden days of cruising”, but all in all, the new ships with their luxury and amenities really leave us awe struck.  I guess “awesome” really nails my opinion of these beauties.

EMBARKATION

We arranged our own air and transfers, since the plans for this cruise were made at the last minute.  We are unable to evaluate shoreside personel and the transfer process other than to say that we were somehow singled out by the HAL representatives in the baggage claim area and given suggestions about embarkation even though we did not use their services.  I believe them to be very accommodating and efficient at finding their passengers and assuring them a smooth transfer from airport to ship.

We arrived by taxi at the cruise terminal at 3:00P for a 5:00P departure, thus the lines had already disapated.  Embarkation was very smooth.  We had completed all the necessary forms before arrival and simply walked through the process with minimal hassle.  HAL does not require credit card info at the embarkation desk, but simply asks that you check at the main desk the next day to provide that needed info.  That cuts down on time in line and makes the process painless.  We moved immediately to the ship.

OUR CABIN

When cruising with “appreciation fares”, the cabins are assigned.  We have been in cabins ranging from “inside”, about the size of a closet, to spacious “veranda” cabins with private balconies.  When we received our confirmation, we were assigned to an inside cabin at the bow of the ship.  Subsequently however, we were assigned cabin C3323, an ocean view cabin, starboard side, on the lower promenade deck.  Here I must say a word about value.  We loved this cabin!  Cabins on the lower promenade are a little smaller, to make room for the promenade, circling the ship.  Smaller size meant that the sofa and chair were smaller and against the bathroom wall rather than the standard outside wall placement.  The small “coffee table” was underfoot so much that we moved it to the end of the bed and that gave us a little extra room to move around the cabin.  We never complained about the size of the cabin.

Our large picture window opened onto the promenade deck.  We immediately checked the window tinting and found that the mirrored surface stopped any view into our cabin during the day.  Lights inside the cabin did allow a view into the cabin at night, so we were careful to close the drapes.  Having the promenade immediately outside our cabin offered a feel similar to a balcony cabin.  Our room was the middle cabin of a row of three, with doors to the promenade on either side of us.  Just a short walk and we were outside. For the most part, the promenade was deserted at night so we could walk to the rail and enjoy the movement and sound of the water from our own “semi-private” veranda.  To us, this was a good value.

We are somewhat seasoned cruisers and therefore pack efficiently.  The storage space in the cabin was enough for 3 people, more than ample for the two of us.  We had three large closets, drawers below the vanity and two nightstands with drawers.  After unpacking, we complemented the large amount of storage space available.  A safe inside one closets provided a secure place for valuables and the upper drawers on the nightstands locked with a key.  One hint about the safe.  Instructions indicate that you slide your card through the slot to lock and unlock your safe.  Assuming the card to be your room key, I tried it several times and gave up believing that that the mechanism was broken.  Finally, I tried a real MasterCard and it worked.  That is a minor inconvenience because you need to carry a credit card as well as your room key when you leave your cabin to be certain that your valuables are secure.

LAYOUT OF THE SHIP

Once onboard, we toured the ship.  We were immediately impressed with the ease of movement about the ship.  Never did we have to go up or down to move from forward to aft.  All decks were through and through and there were three elevator areas to take you from floor to floor easily.

The ship has a musical motif.  The atrium area is three stories tall and has a central pipe organ as its focus.  The organ’s computer plays and the statues move at about 4:00P each day.  Examining the keyboard and visible controls, I wonder if anyone could actually play the instrument?  It is an interesting piece, but not the most exciting central atrium that we have seen. 

The Promenade and the Upper Promenade decks contain most of the public areas.  A nice HAL touch is the relative sameness of the floor plans on most of their new ships.  That facilitates movement from ship to ship.  If you are comfortable on one ship, you should easily adapt to the others. 

Two of the lounges are lined up just aft of the shopping arcade on the Upper Promenade.  The Sea View Lounge and the Explorer’s Lounge are well decorated and are the gathering spots after dinner.  The Oceanview Lounge is forward of the shops and is the gathering place before dinner for complementary hot hors d’oeuvres and dancing.  The Rotterdam dining room is located at the stern of the ship and Marco Polo dining room is about amidships, on the Promenade deck.  The Crows Nest Lounge, at the bow of the ship, has a panoramic view of the sea from its high vantage point, located forward of the pool dome on the Sports Deck.

The Lido Deck is where the two pools are located. The Lido restaurant separates them. The Lido pool has a retractable cover for inclement weather and the smaller outside pool is exposed.  Both have bars adjacent to them.  The Salon and Spa are forward on the Lido Deck.

PASSENGER TYPES AND CROWDING

We immediately noticed an older crowd on this ship.  I believe all the cruise lines have distinctive characteristics which appeal to differing personality types and age groups.  Holland America has typically had a more senior following.  We are in our 50’s and 60’s and enjoyed the sedate atmosphere.  Generally announcements were minimized and quiet types of music were available.  There were few children but the ones onboard were well behaved and gave youthfulness to the ship.  I believe that all the cruise lines strive to be “all things to all people” but it is refreshing to be able to pick a cruise line for its distinctiveness.  I hope there is always a preference of age types for each line. 

We did notice the passenger to space ratio seemed excellent.  Only one time did we feel crowded in a line and that was the last morning at breakfast when everyone slept in till the last minute and descended on the dining room at the same time.  The lounges were never full.   The dining rooms were full but not crowded.   The lines for the shore excursions were short except for ports requiring tenders, and then we waited in the show lounge for ticket assignments.  Even the pool always had enough lounge chairs and never did we notice anyone needing to save a chair with a towel or book. 

FOOD

Breakfast is one of our favorite meals.  The menu was only slightly varied day to day.  Basic breakfast fare was always available with a separate Continental Breakfast line.  Small changes in potato types as well as the variablilty of pancakes, waffles or French toast was noted on different days.

We were impressed with the lunch choices.  The typical buffet line was available in the Lido Restaurant but there was also a sandwich buffet with hot and cold choices made to order, as well as an ice cream bar with good ice cream and yogurt.  We also liked the poolside buffet with a choice of Pizza as well as tacos and fajitas with all the trimmings.  Hamburgers and hot dogs were available at the grill as well.  I do wonder why HAL insists on serving food in the buffet lines rather than allowing passengers to serve themselves.  Do they feel this is added service or perhaps a way to provide smaller servings and control food cost?  Overall, it made the lines slow to move and caused confusion if anyone asked for a larger serving or cut in line for a single piece of toast or a glass of juice.

Dinner at the Rotterdam was good but typical cruise ship fare.  We chose to eat at the Marco Polo one night and that meal rated as one of our best ever.  We ordered room service once when we became tired of all the rich food in the dining room and enjoyed the poolside barbeque on another night.  All in all, we would rate the food on the Zaandam as great to excellent.   We have never had a truly bad meal on a cruise, but the food on this one, considering all the choices and varied locations for dining, was among the best we have ever had.

SERVICE

Service at sea is always good.  Our room steward was prompt and efficient.  The room was made up twice daily with fresh towels and turndown service as usual.  Kayron is a late sleeper and he adjusted his schedule to service our room after all others were done.  Our privacy was never interrupted and yet he was very efficient.

Dining service was good but I cannot say better than other ships.  The wine steward was overworked but never failed us.  We were unsure of our assistant waiter’s presence untill the last night when we asked his name.  He did a good job but was not prominent at the table.

Bar service was good and quickly the staff learned our names and preferences.  About the same as other cruise lines.

TIPPING

Having read other opinions about HAL’s tipping policy, I will put in my two cents worth.  They feel that tipping is not required and should be a reward for excellence.  As a travel agent, I realize that Holland America charges a higher price for their cruises.  I know that the antiques, the art and the décor of the ships, all add to the cost.   I would like to ask HAL if some of the extra cost goes to the service staff in the form of higher wages.  If so, are the passengers, in effect, tipping twice? Once with the extra cost of the cruise and again in direct tips?  I know that other cruise lines pay minimal salaries and that the staff lives off tips.  Of course they deserve and appreciate their tips.  We tipped on the Zaandam because the staff did a great job and we believe that tipping is the right thing to do.  The “tipping not required” policy created some confusion and questions from the passengers. I think everyone would appreciate having a better understanding of the policy so that they know if the staff is already well compensated.  Just my thoughts.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

Because we had done the Western Caribbean Itinerary many time before, we did not choose any of the shore excursions, instead simply leaving the ship to explore and shop on our own.  We did truly enjoy Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.  HAL has done an excellent job of designing and maintaining this small slice of paradise.  There were enough chairs and hammocks for everyone not to feel crowded.  For me, a small walk up the beach quickly discovered a single hammock in relative seclusion with a beautiful view of the ship framed by the trees, for my obligatory after lunch nap.  This was a real treat 

ENTERTAINMENT

We enjoyed Thien Fu, the comedy juggler.  That is a performance not to be missed.  He is truly funny and talented.  We heard comments about other performances and they were generally positive.  We enjoyed the music in the Oceanview Bar and the Piano Bar music was also good.  The steel drum band was seemingly ever present and we considered them excellent.

DISEMBARKATION

Leaving a ship is always a chore.  The mood is gloomy and waiting in a public area till your number is called is a drag.  We were assigned number 12 and anticipated a long wait but were surprised when the sequence of numbers varied depending upon availability of ground transportation.  Debarkation began at 8:40A and we were off the ship by 9:30, efficient enough to secure an earlier flight home.  Certainly, this was not the best debarkation (Voyager of the Seas was the most efficient and a much larger ship) but it was not awful either.  I believe some of the problems lay with the mixed nationality onboard and therefore the language barrier.  Several times we heard announcements requesting non-US citizens to meet the immigration officials and seemingly that slowed the process until translators asked again in native languages.  Somehow, inevitably, we all left the ship in an orderly fashion.

OVERALL

Rating this ship and itinerary is not difficult.  Overall, we would say this was one of our best cruises ever.  Holland America does a good job with small details that ensure a great cruise experience.  The complementary hors d’oeuvres, the flowers and fruit in the cabin, the excellent embarkation procedures, the overall good service, the flowers and antiques throughout the ship, the better than average food and the lack of intrusive announcements all combine to provide an above average cruise experience.

When we boarded this ship, our intent was to compare the total experience of this vessel with other new ships that we have sailed and to discover the little things that make the extra cost of a HAL cruise worth the money.  Now, I can truly say that I believe this is one of the top ships of the 4 newbuilds that we have cruised and I will say that there is extra value in the Holland America product.   This is a quality ship and a quality cruise line.  Nothing fake or “glitzy” here.   We are looking forward to another cruise on a Holland America ship in the near future and will continue to recommend Holland America as a “value” cruise experience.

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