Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 9th, 2005
This was my first time in Alaska, second time cruising. My first cruise was with Princess so that is my only comparison. I was traveling with my friend’s family as part of a group of approximately 30.
We were supplied with a nice wallet-type folder with all of our much needed air/travel documents as well as luggage tags, immigration forms, things to know before you go, etc. It was very handy to keep everything together that way.
When we landed in Vancouver we were ushered very quickly through a customs stop and onto the buses within probably fifteen minutes as part of some program called U.S. Direct. I’m not even sure what that is, it was apparently part of our group package. But it was nice because we had nothing to do except take a nice leisurely bus ride to Canada Place.
EMBARKATION: Very easy. Much quicker than Princess, especially if you’ve done your immigration form online already. The lines for those who hadn’t were very long. So definitely do the immigration form online if you can. They take a quick photo, get your credit card info down and you’re walking to your ship. Before you board you pass through a hand sanitizing station and then of course take the obligatory embarkation photo (which unfortunately for me never turns out!).
CABIN: We were on the Main Deck (2) and had an inside cabin #2679. It had three large closets and more drawers than the two of us could ever use. It was roomy and comfortable with a couch, small table, a chair for the desk, and two nightstands between the single beds. Even with all of that we had room to move around and be comfortable. There was a curtain on the wall that you could light from behind so it had a feel of being outside, even though you weren’t which was nice. The bathroom is very roomy – much roomier than the Princess with a large vanity, pretty nice sized shower (with amazing showerhead!) and great cabinet room. Also with the new improvements on the ship, each room has a great high-powered hair dryer so no need to pack one.
The cabin and bathroom were both spotless – absolutely spotless. We were towards the aft part of the ship and about twenty steps from the door that goes out to the very back deck. It is right under the lower promenade and I don’t think I saw five people down there the whole time. It was a great place to stand and watch whales, etc. with an amazing view. GREAT location!
The closets have a safe in them which is operated by your credit card not your room key. This is only a pain because you’re forced to keep your credit card outside of the safe and with you or put elsewhere in the room. That didn’t make much sense to me as Princess has safes that are simply programmable. It ended up not being a bother at all, just kind of an odd thing.
Our Cabin Steward’s name was Daniel. He introduced himself as we were coming down the hall. He was quiet and very sweet. We rarely saw him in the room but that didn’t matter – our ice was always filled, the room was always clean and turndown service always included an adorable towel animal and chocolates. What fun to return to each night!!
The improvements they have made on the ship include new beds and pillows and let me tell you, they are heaven!!! Absolutely heaven. I slept so wonderfully.
There are nice flat screen TV’s in the room and the selection of movies was okay. On this ship there was Million Dollar Baby, Meet the Fockers, Spanglish, Hide and Seek, Miss Congeniality 2 and a few others as well as CNN, Discovery, Animal Planet, a zaandam goings-on channel, TNT and maybe another. Also a view from the front of the ship so you could see what was going on from your room which was nice. It was fun to watch if you’re still in bed and want to see if you’re docked yet.
The room was pretty quiet except the doors are heavy and late at night when people are returning to their rooms you hear a lot of slamming going on, or we did anyway. It wasn’t too obnoxious just something to be aware of.
FOOD: The first night we went to the Rotterdam Dining room and found that our table was next to a window which was wonderful. One of my favorite things about my first cruise was how wonderful the waiters had been but ours had no personality the first night. It was a little off-putting. His assistant kept smiling and trying to sort of make up for the lack of personality going on with the head waiter. The menu was okay, much smaller and less to choose from than Princess. The food was good though and the desserts were tiny.
The Lido deck’s buffet was very good for breakfast. The first few days I had waffles and French toast with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Heaven! I love the fresh squeezed orange juice and the never ending self-serve coffee bar. They have a good variety I think. Pastries, pancakes, meats, omelettes, cereal, yogurt, etc. It was the same each day, but it was so good I didn’t care!
We also had all of our lunches on the Lido deck. They do a nice made-to-order pasta dish each day, an Asian bar of about five items, a panini/sandwich bar, hand-carved meats, salads, etc. It was very good for the most part. The desserts were hit or miss. Some days they had out really good cheesecake and cake, other times they had our jell-o’s and pseudo crème brulee type things that didn’t appeal to me. There’s always ice cream and cookies though!! As far as food on this ship, that’s the only real complaint I have is that the desserts didn’t seem really creative or fresh. Even the chocolate cake seemed like it had been in a freezer overnight (didn’t stop me from eating it though!)
The best part of the Lido deck is the staff. Their staff on the Zaandam is about 90 percent Indonesian and they absolutely, positively could not have been more wonderful. The guys working in the Lido were so sweet and always have a smile on their face. They would carry your tray, bring you more coffee, pull the chair out for you if you wanted/needed, etc. Also, the guys behind the buffet serving the food were wonderful as well.
There was a late night snack and dessert special served at 11:00 each night but we never once made it back up for it since we were stuffed! We ended up eating all of our dinners except for the last night in the Lido. There were about 8 entrée selections to choose from on the dinner menu and they were all fabulous – from vegetable strudel, to prime rib to various salmon dishes – all wonderful!
We had room service one night and the nice thing is that you can order anything from the Rotterdam menu. So if you feel like staying in your pajamas and watching a movie yet eating really great food – you can! We ordered this amazing mushroom ravioli and tiramisu for dessert along with a pot of tea and it was there in less than ten minutes with a smile.
The last night we returned to the Rotterdam and the waiter was a lot nicer and attentive and the food was wonderful. Right down to the cheesecake sampler for dessert.
We attended a fantastic high tea on the second day with wonderful little desserts like swan shaped cream puffs and cheesecakes. The second-to-last day we attended a Dessert Extravaganza in the Rotterdam which was amazing with ice sculptures and wonderful delights and of course super nice chefs!
We did have one birthday lunch at the Pinnacle Grill. It was the day we docked in Ketchikan so it was pretty empty and unfortunately the service was very slow. So slow that the four guys we were eating with had to go to get off of the ship in time for a shore excursion. So my friend and I stayed and they brought us out our desserts (a warm chocolate explosion!) and the desserts the guys had ordered (fresh strawberries with a raspberry sherbet and a little shortcake on it). A beautiful, delicious coffee service and then even a birthday cake!! The cake we had to take back to the room and our waiter wrapped it in a foil basket. So cute. It was super slow but it was REALLY really good. For lunch that day it was only a $10 charge and so beyond worth it. I recommend making a reservation there immediately.
THE SHIP: To me one of the best parts of a cruise is getting up early and walking the promenade deck. This was supremely easy to do on this beautiful ship. Guys were up cleaning it when I was up by five or so. It was always clean and never busy. The deck chairs were comfortable and there were many.
There were always people cleaning and shining things – and not in the way either.
Though the Zaandam holds 1400 or so passengers, it only ever felt crowded right at lunch time. The set up of the Lido buffet bar is like one long cafeteria line which is VERY annoying. Princess has a bunch of stations so you can move around and not have to wait on people. Other than the 12:00 rush, I never felt like I had to wait and I never felt crowded. There are many lounges for which to choose to relax. Also, there are elevators everywhere it seemed and it never seemed like a long walk to have to get from one floor to another.
The pools were never busy. I only saw people in them a few times. The outside pool is understandable as it was only 58 degrees outside (even if the pool is steaming hot!) but the inside pool was hardly busy either.
As mentioned before about the hand-sanitizer stations, they are outside every place you can eat. If there is food involved, you’re invited to sanitize your hands which I think is a great thing. Even at the Captain’s reception they tell you not to shake hands as to keep everyone healthy. I think that’s smart.
The first full day at sea was pretty rocky, but I like that. My friend took one Dramamine and was fine. The rest of the time, except for part of the last night towards Vancouver was very smooth.
SPA: I only had one service done, an exotic hand ritual which was wonderful. It’s a Steiner operation so things are pricey but I kind of expect it when Elemis products are sold. The girls in there were very nice and helpful, not pushy at all with product. I didn’t use the fitness center but the people I traveled with did and said it was clean, not too crowded and the equipment was good.
CASINO: I only walked through it once. It was super smoky and busy.
CULINARY ARTS: This ship is now famous for giving cooking demonstrations in the theater. I think that’s great, but I don’t think you should have to pay extra for it. It was around 30 bucks a sitting to go and see these chefs prepare food then sample it. You could also watch it on the TV in your room as well for nothing. It just seems like something they could throw in as a ship feature if you ask me.
DRINKS: Do not be suckered into the drink of the day. They were watered down and overpriced. We had a blue whale one day which was like drinking sweetened coconut – horrible! One nice thing is, we weren’t hassled to get a drink card or soda package. The first day on Princess we were asked twenty times. It was nice not to be bothered by it. I don’t even know how much those packages were as we weren’t even asked which was fine by me.
TIPPING: The no-tipping policy is nice, though it adds $70 onto the end of your bill. We still tipped our cabin steward as he did such a great job. Also in the salon they add a line for Gratuity which seemed kind of forward. I like tipping salon people anyway so it wasn’t a big deal, I just think it shouldn’t be written on the ticket as to make you feel you have to do it. As far as the cashless society on the ship and just using your card, it was great. I went down and paid on the account twice with travelers checks during the week and it was no problem whatsoever.
INTERNET: The Explorations Café was wonderful. The wonderful guy Ruben who works in there knew my name and my coffee type by the second morning. The internet connection was only messed up one day, otherwise it was pretty fast. You can purchase different plans. I chose a $27.50 plan for 50 minutes. You can also pay .75 cents per minute which adds up way too fast for me.
This Explorations area is great because they have big puzzles, a million books, DVD’s and great tear-off crossword puzzles. There are huge windows for which to gaze out of while sipping cappuccino and reading your book. This was one of my favorite spots on the ship.
SHOPS: Overpriced, just like any other ship I guess. Definitely not as much selection as the Princess.
PHOTO GALLERY: They take your photo a lot and give you chances to get some good pictures of yourself/family. They’re expensive but the formal ones are worth it I think. A normal package of a 5x7 and four wallets is about $16.00 then you can purchase other packages from there. And if you don’t want them you just take them down and they toss them. They were very unorganized the day I was in there and people were a little frustrated. I guess don’t hit the gallery while you’re at sea as it’s very busy.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only attended two shows. A “southern nights” one which was just horrible and a Beatles review one which was actually pretty good and a lot more fun. What’s NOT to miss are the shows the crew put on. The one done by the crew from the Philippines was wonderful. They ended up showing repeats of it on the TV in the room.
PORTS: In Juneau we went on the Mendenhall Glacier trip which was beautiful. We had a really fun bus drive that gave us a good tour to and from. They gave us a stop at a salmon hatchery which was kind of odd/unexpected…but informative. Once at the glacier we went off the beaten path and took a long walk up to a waterfall which was gorgeous. Worth the rock-scaling that we did to get to it.
In Skagway we took the train ride up to White Pass Summit which was gorgeous but a little long at 3.5 hours. Our companions took the longer tour which was a bus ride up into Canada and the train ride back and they had a fantastic time. Also saw some sun!
One guy went on one or two excursions per port and didn’t get any time in any of the towns. I wouldn’t recommend that as some of the fishing trips are 5 hours long. Or do it once and enjoy some downtime too.
Ketchikan was a rainy mess. We hopped off and hopped back on within an hour.
Each of these ports was interesting in their own right, but horribly overpriced on souvenirs and jewelry. Who needs that much jewelry?! Weird. The best prices and selection was in Juneau, in my opinion. If you’re dying for a Starbucks, there’s one in Skagway.
The best part of the Inside Passage trip is Glacier Bay where the Captain stopped the ship and we just listened to the “calving” of the glacier and enjoyed the unbelievable view. Also, just the magical, beautiful terrain of the passage is heavenly. We saw many whales and porpoises, it was fantastic. It’s like no other place I have ever seen in my life. It only rained that one day in Ketchikan, otherwise it was 55 – 58 degrees. Pack for it – I had no idea what to expect really seeing as how I was coming from muggy 90 degree New York. I brought only one sweater. Bring a scarf, bring gloves, layers, etc. You’ll be glad you did instead of buying things in port (like me).
DISEMBARKATION: Fast, easy, organized…too fast really. I wanted to stay on as long as I could. Buses were waiting to take us to the airport and once there the luggage was waiting and we checked in no problem.
OVERALL: I loved this cruise. I really, really loved it. For the most part it is due to the amazing crew that we had. Every single person was helpful and had a smile on their face and felt really welcoming. I would definitely recommend this ship to anyone considering a relaxing, pampered cruise. I hope this was somewhat useful to a future cruiser! Please email me if you have any questions whatsoever!