Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: December 28, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
One year ago I told my husband that we
should plan a New Years cruise. While we have cruised previously (3 times on
Celebrity, 3 times on Carnival and 1 time on Royal Caribbean) we have never
cruised with our parents, and never on a Holiday Sailing. We were a group of 7,
my husband and myself, both early 40’s, our kids 10 and 14, my in-laws, both in
their 70’s and my father who is 88. Since we had such a broad range of ages we
decided on Holland America. We felt it was the best cruise line for such a
diverse group. We also like to cruise from Port Canaveral and the Zaandam seemed
to fit our needs nicely. Everyone except my father are all experienced cruisers.
To date our favorite cruise line is Celebrity, with the Infinity being our
favorite ship. We knew that Holland America would compare in many ways with
Celebrity. In many ways HAL exceeded our expectations, but in a few areas they
didn’t. Please bear in mind that this review is based on our personal opinions
and our own observations.
We had Basik Shuttle Service pick us up at our home at 11:15am. We always find it easier when traveling with a large group to arrange transportation, rather than having to take two cars. They came out with a 15 passenger van, and about an hour later we were pulling into Port Canaveral. The lines weren’t that long and after a short wait we were on board the Zaandam at about 1:30pm. We heard music being played and were warmly greeted and escorted to our cabins. Being escorted to our cabins was a nice touch that we missed on our past two cruises. After going to our cabins we were all happily surprised to see our luggage was already in our cabins. Shortly afterwards we all met and went to the Lido Deck for lunch. The selection was wonderful, and there was not one complaint about anyone’s choices. Afterwards we unpacked and explored the ship. What a beautiful ship the Zaandam is. On Holiday cruises ships are decorated magnificently and the Zaandam was no exception. Glorious decorations were everywhere, even on each cabin door and they really added a festive touch to the cruise.
Our group was divided into three cabins. We had connecting cabins 2635 and 2633 on the Main Deck, and cabin 6223 Mini Suite on the Verandah deck. Both the cabins on the main deck were more than adequate for 2 or 3 cruisers. There was ample closet space, and everyone loved the shelves that you can adjust to your needs in the closets. The bathroom was very impressive, with a tub and not a stall shower. Everything was up to par in both of the standard cabins that our group had. The cabin steward Danielle was adequate and did a good job, but did not try to go out of his way for anything.
My husband and I had a mini-suite on the Verandah deck. Our cabin was quite large and very well appointed. We can honestly compare the two types of cabins and felt that our cabin was worth the extra money. There was a better TV, including a VCR, a refrigerator, an expanded desk area with more drawer space than the standard cabin, and adequate closet space. The mini-suites have the same amount of closet space as the standard cabins. Our bathrooms were identical with the exception of our tub being a Jacuzzi (for one) and better quality towels, soaps and such. Our bed was set up as a queen and we were surprised to find that even though it was two beds put together you can’t feel the seem whatsoever. Our steward Dwi was excellent and kept our cabin emmaculate. There was not one request that wasn’t met with a smile and a gracious demeanor. He is such a professional, who made us feel like we were his personal guests. After the first night we moved our daughter in our cabin (who was originally staying with my in laws on the main deck) and he wasn’t phased whatsoever. Kudo’s to HAL for helping us expedite the transition of our daughter from one cabin to another. Dwi always made sure that we had enough of everything, including extras.
One of the highlights of any cruise to us is spending time on our verandah. Our lives are quite hectic and we always seem to relax and unwind while sipping a cocktail on our verandah. We find it to be one of the most relaxing parts of our whole cruise experience. Herein lies our biggest complaint about our cruise, and to us it is a major one. We always choose aft cabins, as I am a smoker who does not want to offend others while having a cigarette on the verandah. Since the far aft cabin is a handicapped cabin, we were able to get the cabin next to it. Unfortunately our cabin, and the two to our left and the far aft cabin to our right were constantly under water. A couple of inches of water would slosh between all of our cabins. There were very few times we were able to go out on the verandah barefoot without stepping into water. Even on sunny days there was always a pool of water that covered our verandah. This was no fault of our steward, but rather a design flaw of the ship. There was nothing our steward could do to stop the onslaught of water onto our verandah. Even on sunny days there was always a pool of water that covered at least half of our verandah. We were able to use it, but not without having shoes on. This left the carpet quite wet at times which became an annoyance. This was disappointing to say the least. We made the best of it and sort of chuckled at times, but other than our flooded verandah, the cabin was really a very nice cabin that would have been perfect.
WOW – what can we say about the food on Holland America. We had all of our breakfasts on the Lido Deck. There was always a huge selection with plenty to choose from. One of our favorite things for breakfast was the made to order omelettes and the fresh squeezed orange juice. The regular selections always included French Toast, Pancakes, Smoked Salmon, Scrambled and Fried Eggs along with a huge selection of bread, toast and cereals. Lunches were also taken on the Lido Deck with plenty to choose from. There was always a couple of hot dishes, plenty of salads and lots of desserts to choose from. I personnally liked the deli station and my husband loved the alternative station (one day curries, one day pasta made to order, another day oriental, etc.) Our son absolutely loved the grill and the taco bar. I don’t think there was one day where he didn’t get a taco of some sort. For dinners we all ate in the Rotterdam dining room. We sat at first sitting and our table was # 142, on the lower floor across from a window. We had a table of 7. Our waiter was Tomee and there was never any problem with getting what we want. There was always a great selection for soup, salad and an entrée. Some of the highlights were Crab legs, Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Dover Sole and so much more. There were times that our daughter (who is 10) couldn’t find anything to eat from the adults menu. Tomee always made sure that she received a Kid’s menu and was able to pick and choose from both menus. Our wine steward was also wonderful, and always made sure we had our cocktail of choice ready when we arrived. Everyone, including the Head Waiter was absolutely great and true professionals. The service we received during dinner was always top notch. We didn’t eat in the Marco Polo, but spoke to those who did and who gave the experience 5 stars. Our son ordered room service a couple of times and he said the service and the food was really good. All in all, the food on Holland America was really great. The only complaint we have (and it is slight) is that the food is definitely cooked a bit on the bland side. We occasionally like some spice to our food. Other than being a bit bland at times, there was not one complaint about any of the food on the Zaandam.
There was plenty of entertainment on the Zaandam. Our parents took in every show and thought they were all done professionally and really enjoyed them. Also, there were many different bands playing throughout the ship at all times. Strings in one bar, a trio in another the choices were there. There are many different lounges throughout the ship such as the Crows Nest, The Ocean Bar, The Piano Bar and the Seaview Lounge. All had different types of music that covered all different tastes. There was also the obligatory Bingo Sessions. To our amazement they actually ran out of Bingo Cards during one session which really upset some folks. We have never seen that happen before. The casino was very small, and in my opinion the slot machines were extremely tight, although I did win a small amount of money on one machine. This was the first cruise that I did not play any roulette, as in my opinion most of the dealers were not that friendly. I normally enjoy playing roulette while at sea but with happy friendly dealers. In fact on our last cruise on the Pride I spent many a night at the casino with wonderful dealers. Everytime I got near the roulette table on the Zaandam I was put off by the attitude of the dealer. Not one was ever smiling, or even acknowledged my presence even though there was no one playing at the time. I look at it as HAL’s loss as I had money to spend playing roulette, and the money wound up coming home with me (my husband was greatful). There was also a Casino Bar which normally had ESPN playing on the Monitor. However, on the night that the College Championship was playing there was Tennis on the TV at the Casino bar and not the game. Unfortunately Holland America did not pay for the rights to broadcast the game which upset many a person on the ship. I give high marks to the staff on the Zaandam as they did come down and explain to the crowd why they could not broadcast the game, and told everyone who to contact at HAL to state their dissatisfaction. They did bring in a radio feed so those who wanted to listen to the game were able to do so in the Library. Other than that glitch there were many other things to do while on the ship, the galley tour, the art auctions, etc. All in all our opinion of the entertainment and activities for adults were fine. There is always something for anyone’s tastes.
Not too much has been written about Club HAL on reviews, so here are our perspectives. Our daughter is 10 and was put into the Tween Group (9 – 12). Normal hours for Club Hal were 7:30pm to the latest 9:30pm on port days and 10:00am – 12:00pm 2:00pm – 4:00pm and 8:00pm – 9:30pm on sea days. While she had a great time in the activities, and came off the ship with many items from Club HAL (A tee shirt, a purse, a fanny pack and a hat) she was disappointed at the lack of nighttime activities, especially during formal nights. While our daughter does occasionally like to dress up, she would prefer changing later on in the evening and having fun with her new found friends. We don’t understand why there are such limited hours for activities in Club HAL, especially on Formal Nights. On other lines hours are much more expanded and many more activities are planned for the kids. While we are not the type of cruisers who dump our kids off in the kids program day and night, we do like to enjoy Formal Nights sans our kids. I understand that HAL does not cater to those with children, but expanded hours at least on Formal Nights would be a great thing. Most activities ended at 9:30pm which left an entire night with nothing to do for our daughter. We did have her join us on some nights in some of the lounges to listen to some music, but for a 10 year old that isn’t really too exciting. Our son is 14 and Club HAL grouped him with teens that were much older than he was (teens are grouped from 13 – 17). He felt uncomfortable with the older teens and was too old for the younger group. Unfortunately that left him out of many activities. He enjoyed spending time watching sports in the Casino Bar, but other than the very small arcade there was nothing for him to do on the Zaandam. Both of our kids enjoyed eating in the dining room (they both love great food and great service) and they enjoyed the ice cream bar immensely, but as far as organized programs for kids we found HAL to be way below Celebrity. Both of our kids really enjoy Celebrity’s kids program, and both stated they prefer Celebrity to Holland America. Oddly enough Celebrity doesn’t market too strongly to families (the same way that HAL does) but the kids programs and facilities are really truly great on Celebrity. This is a major flaw with HAL from our perspective, as we enjoy good food, great service and everything HAL had to offer us, but not as a family vacation.
Ports of Call
Since this was a Holiday cruise the ports of call were not the regular ones. We had the Amsterdam in every port as we were (The Amsterdam left from Ft. Lauderdale). The first port of call was Half Moon Cay. What a beautiful Island!! Unfortunately the weather was a bit chilly when we got there so we didn’t go to the beach (my in-laws did and stated that it was quite chilly to go swimming). We walked around the island and had a nice barbeque lunch while we were there. The island is immaculate and service was fine. There are a few shops to buy things and plenty of bars to purchase any cocktail of choice. After Half Moon Cay we had a day at sea and boy were the seas rough that day. There were high winds and was the ship rocking. It didn’t bother us at all, but did bother both my father and my mother in law. There were many people missing that day at dinner. This was the first time that we saw sea sick bags placed by the elevators, the seas were that rough. The second port of call was St. Thomas, where temperatures were in the middle 80’s and beautiful sunny skies! We tendered in that day as there were 8 ships on St. Thomas while we were there. We tendered in from the inner harbor so it really was a breeze. Kudo’s to the HAL tender staff, as they were always helping my father (who is 88) on and off the tenders. We have previously been to St Thomas and found the crowds to be a bit too much. We went onshore for a little, and did a bit of shopping. We then returned to the ship to enjoy the pools and such while the masses were on shore. The next port of call was St. John and it was a pleasure it was to be tendered directly into Cruz Bay. Normally you have to get to St. John via St. Thomas, but not on this cruise. We hoped in a taxi (which were plentiful) and headed over to Trunk Bay for some snorkeling. Trunk Bay is spectacular (we have been there before) and although the beach was a bit crowded there was plenty of room to find a spot to place your towel on. The snorkeling was a bit hard as the seas were rough, but the weather held out until we were heading to the tender. Then the skies opened up. After the ship left St. John we had another sea day before we docked at Freeport. We are never impressed with the Bahamas, so we just walked off the ship for a bit, took a look around the shops that they have on the pier, and came back to the ship. Unfortunately the weather was overcast and raining, so I am not sure what other folks did while on Freeport. The next day we were back at Port Canaveral.
New Years Eve
This was our first New Years cruise and let me be the first to say HAL definitely does it up right. There were great decorations in all of the public rooms which made for a wonderfully festive atmosphere. When we went into the dining room there were hats and crowns on each of our plates for us to put on. When we left the dining room they were handing out noise makers and horns for everyone to take. Each and every lounge had something going on for New Years Eve. At 11:00pm they opened up the Mondriian Lounge for the big Gala New Years Eve Party. There the decorations were spectacular and the whole mood was one of a big gala Party. The band played continuously and streamers were being passed out to those that wanted them. There was the traditional count down to Midnight and come Midnight they had a wonderful balloon drop and confetti cannons went off. It really was a sight to see! Everyone was pretty much dressed to the nines which we love to do for New Years. The only drawback was my being misinformed that New Years Eve was a formal night from Holland America. When I called them and inquired I was told that New Years was one of the two formal nights. This was not the case, but it was added as a formal night. This meant that there were 3 formal nights on a 7 day cruise. It caused a bit of a “dressing” dilemma, but one that was easily fixed. Ladies, pack accordingly for your Holiday Cruises as you will need 3 formal outfits, not just two.
Odds and Ends
We absolutely loved the Java Café. What a nice addition to any ship. If any of you get the chance, please try a Mocha Cappucino. They are truly yummy! The library was also very nice, and it looked like the internet café was also a nice place to be. The lower promenade is wonderful and we enjoyed walking around the entire ship. There are many nooks and crannies to explore on the Zaandam, from going to the very front of the ship, to the back verandahs, there were plenty of places to explore. The shops were your standard cruise ship shops, with the standard merchandise that one would find on any ship. We noticed a custom tailor on board but never once saw anyone talking to them about custom clothing. Photographers aren’t as pushy as other cruise lines and a polite “No thank you” was acceptable. Those Bingo announcements are a horror and should really be discontinued. You keep thinking it is something important and then you hear that it is a Bingo announcement. Sheesh! Soda cards are a must for any kid onboard. Our son never had a problem getting a soda when he wanted one, and every night he had a sprite waiting for him at dinner. It definitely saved us a ton of money during the cruise. As far as the Officers and the Crew goes, Captain Werner Timmons is the Captain of the Zaandam. I give him high marks for his attitude and the way he spoke to the staff. We saw him and many other officers throughout the ship and all were quite friendly and never in a rush to answer any question you may have. In fact this is the first time we saw officers and staff eating along with the passengers. To us that was great – many other cruise lines have their Captains kept away from the passengers. This was a pleasant change. The décor and artwork on the Zaandam is definitely unique to say the least. We did get a kick out of seeing various instruments with autographs on it. We never got to hear the organ in the Atrium, but those that did said it was alright. Everyone seemed to agree that the Organ in the Atrium is an oddity though. Other than that the Zaandam really is a nice ship.
The bad points
Other than our flooded verandah (which is a major disappointment to us) and an occasional leak from our Air Conditioner Vent while at port our only other complaints were with Holland America themselves. In the beginning of December I sent a fax to Holland America requesting a bottle of champagne to be delivered to my father-in-law at dinner on New Years Eve. Along with the champagne, I ordered a formal portrait as a gift for my mother-in-law. Holland America called me at my office to verify my credit card number and confirmed the two gifts to be sent. Lo and behold, the voucher for the portrait never arrived in her cabin, and questions to both the Photo Department and the front desk were left unanswered. As far as the champagne goes, when we arrived in the dining room on New Years Eve I noticed that the champagne was not at the table. When I asked our wine steward he stated that he did not have an order for it. He asked his supervisor who also stated that there was never anything ordered. Oddly enough two days later we come to dinner and voila there was a bottle of champagne with a card that said “Happy New Years Dad”. The wine steward was most embarrassed and stated that he just received the order that night. We had a chuckle and said we must be the only ones to get to relive New Years Eve all over again. Although we made the best of the situation we really wanted the champagne on New Years Eve and not three days later. When we returned from our cruise and we spoke to our Travel the porter brought us out to the shuttle area where Todd from Basik was waiting for us. All in all a smooth embarkation and disembarkation.
Would our family ever choose another HAL cruise? Yes, but not with our children. While HAL is trying to market to families, until they have more activities and more places for kids to be we will stick with Celebrity for cruises with our children.
As far as enjoying our cruise on the Zaandam, other than the problems we mentioned, and cruising with my in-laws , we really did enjoy our cruise. Being on the high seas for a holiday cruise is really something everyone should experience. It definitely is magical.