Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: August 22nd, 2007
I've just returned from a seven day cruise to Alaska on Holland America's Zaandam. It wasn't my first choice to go HAL but I had family visiting from Australia and their travel agent fixed their travel dates which forced us to select HAL. I had traveled on the Veendam a few years ago and I did not want to travel HAL again.
My first instincts were right on the money. Even though I attempted to improve the odds of a better trip by booking a more expensive cabin (7050), it did not pay off.
Service was very inconsistent. The best service is usually from the lowest paid employees on the ship with an inverse relationship the further up the food chain you go. The dining room steward, wine steward and cabin steward were all excellent however the cruise director, cruise event planner, casino manager, and front desk staff were all in dire need of some customer service training. Front desk staff were uninformed on the promotions that were included in our package. We were supposed to receive a free bottle of wine with our two cabins which did not show up until the 5th day of the cruise. We surmised that it was intentional. The cruise line probably wanted us to drink their alcohol before drinking our own. The front desk clerk was trying to locate our promotion from day 2 and then called us on day 5 to let us know he was still working on it when I had to inform him that I received the wine. Clearly a lack of communication at play!
The same front desk clerk told us that our cooking demonstration class would include the guest chef. When he mentioned this, I inquired again to make sure that I had heard him correctly because none of the advertising had mentioned this. He assured me that yes indeed the guest chef would be a part of the cooking demonstration class but he was not. We were late arriving to the class and we were treated like the plague. Now it definitely was our fault that we were late but the event planner did absolutely nothing to ensure that we were included in the class. She didn't even have enough aprons for us! It was as if she wasn't expecting us and she was annoyed when we showed up. The kitchen was also not well-equipped. We ran out of paper towels and we asked the event planner for some. She promptly disappeared and then re-appeared empty handed and completely ignored us. Even the chef was annoyed. He mentioned to me that he did not like a kitchen that was not organized because it made him look bad. The whole experience was terrible and I would not recommend this activity to any passengers.
Although the Zaandam is a musically-themed ship, it was surprising how many times music was missing. At dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room, they did not play music unless you count the clanging of dishes and cutlery as notes. There was music throughout the ship in the lounges but they had a limited repertoire and only played our requests a couple of times. Our party joked that we would create our own play lists and bring music sheets the next time we traveled.
The food at the Pinnacle Grill was excellent and so too was the service. HAL should study how things are done in the PG and then replicate it throughout the rest of the ship. The servers were polite, gracious, attentive and friendly and the food was very good. It is too bad that you have to pay $30 extra for this level of service but if you compare it to what you get in the Lido Dining Room, it is probably worth it. On several occasions we served by a surly server in the Lido Dining Room whose body language said "I wish you would get your food somewhere else". Now servers work very hard with long hours so it is understandable they would have a bad day. It just isn’t pleasant when you are at the receiving end of this kind of behavior. The variety of food was very good but again quality was inconsistent. By the end of the trip passengers will learn what to try and what to avoid. The tea was always cold which could be easily remedied by putting boiling water in flasks. The best cup of tea can be found in the Pinnacle Grill or in the Explorer Lounge. The coffee was marginal and although you can buy fancy coffees in the Explorer Lounge, I was loathe to pay extra.
We only went to the casino once. We tried a machine that required quarters or quarter tokens to move other tokens and prizes towards the opening. The machine was not working properly and when we mentioned this to the casino manager, he checked the machine and said there was nothing wrong despite the fact the machine ate our money without any action. We did not lose too much this way but it is the principle of the matter. The casino manager ignored our concerns and when the next player stepped up and the same thing happened to him, the manager took him seriously. Either there was a gender or race issue at play here. The manager took apart the machine and moved coins and tokens in the opening and that player benefited from this. This was just one of a number of occasions where we felt that we were treated more like the Indonesian crew than passengers. It is probably due to the passenger profile being more European than Asian. If you fit the former profile, you will probably fare better on this cruise line.
We were treated very well by a lady in the Explorer Lounge who was named Peg. We wanted to play a game of mahjong and she found us a nice quiet room where we could play as loud as we wanted…it was the Kings Room! When they needed the room for another event, she moved us to the Queens Room. We had a ball playing in a private room on the ship. Kudos to Peg! Other cruise staff like Robert, Timothy and Kelsey could learn a thing or two from her.
Shopping on the ship was entertaining albeit a bit boring after a few days. There isn’t much choice and prices don’t move much in the 7 days. If you are shopping on the ship, be sure to ask what promotions are on or try to negotiate. If you don’t ask, you will lose out as I did. The gold by the inch promotion was if you bought a 21 inch or longer necklace chain, you would receive a free bracelet. What they did not tell us was that if you bought several bracelets and their length equaled or surpassed 21 inches, you would still receive the free bracelet. I only found this out several days after I bought bracelets for my friends and family and I did not bother to go back to ask for my freebie.
Now for the ports of call…I did not intend to take a shore excursion in each port but I landed doing exactly that. I booked one shore excursion prior to leaving but two others while on the ship. The process was relatively painless but it is best to go around meal times to book as lines can get long. In Juneau, I went on the Photo Safari-Land and Sea. The weather wasn’t great but the guide and captain tried to give us as many opportunities to see and photograph wildlife. The highlight was seeing a young black bear trying to catch spawning salmon. That alone was probably worth the price as we did not see any bears after that. I did not visit the town of Juneau as the weather was not great and I headed back to the ship when the tour was over. In Skagway, we took the Musher's Camp and Dog Sled tour. Be forewarned that the sled is not really a sled and the ride up to where the dogs are is rough. Visiting the kennels was the most entertaining. We got the chance to hold the puppies and to pet some of the dogs plus learn directly from a musher how she breeds and trains her dogs. While we were busy sipping hot chocolate inside the camp, we missed seeing a brown bear with her cubs as they fished in a stream only a few hundred yards away! We returned to the town of Skagway and walked around. There are a lot of jewelry shops and kitchy tourist shops but the buildings made for some nice photo ops.
Our next stop was actually not really a stop but cruising in Glacier Bay. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of the cruise. It was only then that the price of a balcony suite felt worthwhile. The glaciers were breath-taking. Some people were even able to catch a glimpse of the glacier calving but I missed it due to the culinary class we were taking. Definitely a bad choice on my part!
Our last stop was in Ketchikan where we took in the Saxman Village Tour and Lumberjack Show. The tour was informative and made much better by some of the best weather the town has had all season. The sky was blue, blue and there was not a drop of rain in sight which is highly unusual for a place that measures the annual rainfall in feet rather than in inches. If you know nothing about totem poles, this is a good tour for you. If you already familiar with the why and how of totem poles, you will probably find this part of the tour boring. The Lumberjack Show was good. I never knew that timber sports were such a big thing and I may even stop surfing the TV channels when I next see them on ESPN. Following the show, we shopped in town for some last minute gifts and then headed back to the ship which was docked in town.
Disembarking was not as smooth as embarking probably because it is done over a shorter period of time and people are in a hurry to get to the airport or take another tour. Since we live in Vancouver, we were some of the last people to get off the ship and stepped out to a rather disorganized system of finding taxis. We are glad to be home and are finding our land legs overall I would say that if you thinking about an Alaskan cruise, you should definitely go but choose something other than Holland America.