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Phillip Stirton

Age: 61

Occupation:retired

Number of Cruises: 15+

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: April 24th, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


This was my first cruise with Holland America Line being heavily persuaded to see what the difference was between the average cruise lines and the so-called “premium” category. I have cruised extensively on P&O, Princess, Cunard and the now defunct Thoresen Line (Singapore based). For this cruise I had traveled some 16000kms to connect with the ship and was obviously looking forward to maximizing the time in each port.

Embarkation

I embarked at Fort Lauderdale. HAL handled this part of the exercise is a very professional and efficient manner and I was on the ship within fifteen minutes being escorted to my cabin.

Ports of Call

The ship sailed Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale (where I joined it), La Romana-Dominican Republic, Cartagena – Colombia, Puntarenas-Costa Rica, San Juan Del Sur-Nicaragua, Puerto Quetzal-Guatemala, Huatulco-Mexico, Puerto Vallarta-Mexico, Cabo San Lucas-Mexico, Los Angeles-USA, Astoria-USA and finally Vancouver-Canada. The cruise lasted some 20 days.

The ports of call were all great except for La Romana which was too far removed from the places of interest in the Dominican Republic to appreciate its great history. For some inexplicable reason (cost cutting ???) the Captain regularly arrived late and left early in close to every port we visited which obviously curtailed the time available. We also spent a good part of a day cruising the Golfo Dulce which turned out to be a waste of time which could have been better utilized extending the short time in other ports. The ship was some considerable distance from the shoreline due to navigation issues coupled with the Captain’s explanation that it could experience volcanic activity at any time so the ship could not go any closer – the mind boggles !!!

We were fed regular forecasts of impending weather which failed to materialize at any point in the cruise but which seemed to be the regular excuse for arriving late or leaving early with regular monotony. One might be led to believe that the real reason was that considerable fuel savings could be achieved by cutting short the time in port and allowing the ship to travel at a much slower speed ??????

Shore Excursions

The shore excursions arranged by the ship were well organized, reasonably priced and enjoyable and gave a good picture of each locality within the Captain’s imposed time restraints. The trips to the old cities of Cartagena, Antigua and Granada were a great way of viewing the history of these places. I opted to disembark at Huatulco and undertake an independently arranged trip to Mexico City to see the Pyramids at Teotihuacan ( an incredible experience) and rejoin the ship in Puerto Vallarta. Despite having this approved by HAL some two months before boarding it was necessary to make some four separate requests to the Front Office to ensure that they had arranged disembarkation/embarkation. Apart from what has now become the usual difficulty in having them understand plain English I got the distinct impression they had no idea what they were doing !

Cabin/Room Service

I opted for a D grade stateroom on Verandah Deck which was at the front of the ship. It was roomy and had two large windows facing the front of the ship which was great when you were entering the various ports. Immediately outside the cabin was a large deck which overlooked the bow of the ship. The cabin itself was very comfortable with good storage space, comfortable beds, LCD TV and a full bathroom. A minor problem arose with the toilet when it blocked up but once reported was promptly cleared, however for the duration of the cruise it never smelt fresh and one wondered how effectively the daily cleaning was undertaken. I also had occasion to request that a new sheet be replaced due to a large stain on it – again the room steward was most apologetic and attended to it promptly. I was rather surprised it was even put on the bed in the first place as it was clearly obvious.

I tend to like to establish some sort of relationship with the room steward and engage in some conversation rather than just an “hello” or “good evening”. This proved a little difficult this time around as I didn’t even know who the room steward was until Day 3. I then found it almost impossible to conduct any conversation in English although I found him to be a most pleasant person to deal with. A nice touch was the replenishment of fruit in the cabin and the steward’s talent with towel sculptures.

The Ship Itself

Zaandam is a very attractive ship with some very nice interior finishes (except for the hideous carpets), plenty of cosy lounge areas, internet facilities and a reasonably stocked but well furnished library which also contains a coffee bar where you can obtain a coffee and cake (an additional charge).

One of the highlights of the ship is the Rotterdam Dining Room which has a balcony as well as main level. It is quite impressive as far as design is concerned which in some part makes up for the shortcomings in the culinary arena.

One of the more eye catching areas of the ship was the aft swimming pool which has two fiberglass cows on its edge – a whimsical touch !! The indoor pool was very impressive in size as well as the fact that it could be closed over in inclement weather – it also had a very attractive bar area. There was never any problem securing a lounge by the pools.

Catering/ Food

Clearly not one of HAL’s strong points !!! Whilst the dinner menu in the Rotterdam read like one from Maxim’s in Paris that was where any comparison ceased. For some inexplicable reason for the first few days it was great and then it fell into a hole. With regular monotony meat dishes were tough which on a so-called premium cruise line is unacceptable. This applied to chicken, veal, pork and beef each of which I optimistically tried in turn in the hope that at least one of them might end up being edible – alas I was to be sadly disappointed !

Vegetables were indeed a rarity with one or two pieces of asparagus looking like they had been dehydrated for a year prior to serving and the serving of broccoli barely being visible under a microscope – that was of course on the odd occasion when any vegetable was served.

Chocolate lovers would probably be in heaven as the dessert menu was abundantly blessed with a vast range of chocolate endowed offerings. For others the choice was very limited and somewhat monotonous.

To counter the failings in the culinary area the table stewards were excellent but again it was on occasion difficult to converse.

On the other hand the Lido Buffet catered well for both breakfast and lunch with a good range of food available both hot and cold. The Buffet is also open for dinner as an alternate to the main dining room but with a similar menu. Casual dress is acceptable in the Buffet. The peak of their culinary expertise is the bread and butter pudding which is to die for !!!

They also have another alternate dining area known as the Pinnacle Grill which incurs a $20 surcharge. The interior décor is most attractive and it specializes in NorthWestern cuisine. Whilst I did not dine there my companions on my table in the Rotterdam did and whilst they enjoyed it as a change from the main dining room they were not overly impressed.

Entertainment

Consisted of a number of magicians, comedians, singers, a violinist and a pianist. The violinist in particular was outstanding and the remainder entertaining. The dance group that attempted a number of musicals was embarrassing – Simon Cowley would have ousted them in the first round of American Idol . Their choreography (a generous description) as well as their vocals could only be described as totally amateur and not up to the standard one might expect. The interesting part was that they repeated an earlier performance and it was worse than the initial one !!! One wonders how much monitoring is undertaken by the Cruise Director – perhaps he/she should visit Princess Cruises and pick up a few tips.

Summary

The ports of call and the ship itself made up for a number of shortcomings in other areas. Those shortcomings do not warrant a “premium” ranking for HAL at least in respect of the Zaandam. It is not up to the standard of Princess in a number of areas particularly catering and entertainment.

Would cruise with Princess or Celebrity or RCI next time.

 

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