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Mark Weber

Age: 54

Occupation:Engineer/retired

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: October 4, 2002

Itinerary: Panama Canal

Embarkation in San Diego:
HAL has been called "God's waiting room". When we arrived at the embarkation facility, were given a boarding number and sat in a cavernous white room, I thought it was really true. I think this facility is under construction. I hope so at least because it was noisy and hard to hear any of the announcements. Other than that it went smoothly.

Clientele on Board:
Don't believe all you hear about how old the clientele are. They do not have wheelchair races for the amusement of the ship’s staff - the staff were not amused.

This being a 16-day cruise while school was in session, we had exactly 3 kids on board - and they wondered how we all knew their names! Needless to say, no noise, no running, no crowded swimming pools – geriatric heaven.

Truth be told, the older folks were more friendlier than the few embryos (by comparison) we had on board. The non-mature of us tend to be shyer, have less to say, are more defensive of our space. The more mature of us are always wanting to pass-on a good story.

What with HAL’s reputation and the length of this cruise, the passengers were definitely a higher class. They actually looked like the models in the brochure books. You know, the silver hair - blue blazer couple. Actually every day I could see my hair get grayer and grayer.

The Ship:
A lot has been said about the atrium, all true. That white plaster organ looks like a cork in a hole. Okay, it’s fun to hear the music on the hour, but not enough to schedule your day around. Otherwise, it was like a white elephant.

The ship is laid out in typical segregated HAL fashion. The higher class rooms on top, conveniently located between the lounge/dining floors and the Ledo deck, and the lower class rooms below all this.

The Captain seemed to pop up more often than on our other cruises. He seemed genuinely friendly.

Our Room:
HAL is known for larger than average rooms. However, our mini suite was smaller than the Princess Line’s Grand-class mini suites. I’ve got to tell ya’, those Princess mini suites are sweet. All in all, the HAL mini suites are okay, but the closet “hanging area” is tight. There are plenty of shelves and drawers though.

Even in the mini suite, the bathrooms were still only big enough for one person. There was plenty of storage in the medicine cabinet and under the sink. The bathrooms came equipped with shampoo, lotion, bath and hand soap, shower caps, and drinking glasses large enough to hold dentures. The tubs were nice as was the adjustable shower head. However, it was a real problem trying to keep the water in the tub while taking a shower. This was really a problem when in port and tendering because the ship would list (uneven weight distribution?) to port and in our starboard-side room you had to walk uphill to get into the cabin. Anyway the shower water would run downhill onto the bathroom floor and we had a swimming pool one day because the floor drain didn’t. They should put in shower doors instead of curtains or at least use some kind of channeling device to keep the water spray from running down and out the side of the tub.

And boy, did this ship creak. When the ship was under power, the floor would shutter every 5 seconds and various wall and ceiling joints would creak. We had the maintenance man in our room twice jamming wedges into the seems to stop the creaking. The floor still shuttered but you got used to it. Other people I heard had this same problem in their room. I do know that the main office creaked like a haunted house when the ship was moving so I think it was poor design on somebody’s part.

The safe uses a credit card to close. That’s their philosophy. Personally, I prefer a number code lock. Maybe older folks forget numbers easily so a credit card is more reliable. The Zaandam, unlike some other HAL ships, did not have a scanner device that matches your room key card with a picture of yourself that can be used to identify passengers as they return to the ship. Therefore, when going ashore, you needed to carry an ID to get back on (but not to get off? – wonder how many problems that caused). This means you needed to carry your room key card, your credit card, your ID card, and cash with you when you left the ship, or your room key card and credit card just to walk around the ship. On the other hand, this requirement keeps your mind sharp so you don’t fall into that mind numbing trance of “eating-sleeping, eating-sleeping”.

We thought the balcony was great for canal viewing. It was convenient and the canal talk was channeled through the TV and the room radio. We used the balcony a lot to talk to our neighbors also. We are spoiled in this respect, we enjoy the view and the natural light that the expansive glass of balcony rooms offer.

Television:
Could use more channels. Enjoyed the movies they showed which were the same ones they showed in the movie theater. We enjoyed the movie theater and the fresh popped popcorn.

Lines for food and tendering:
This was not a problem. HAL ships have a lower density of passengers plus older people don’t take as many excursions and certainly don’t go to the beach as much. Therefore on their private island, absolutely no lines for food and plenty of beach chairs and cabanas for all. And if there was a hint of a line, older people can’t walk fast so it was easy to get in front of them (just kidding).

And the elevators were always empty (or broken). Quite a change from our previous cruises where the elevators were always full.

Food:
The food was great. Definitely better than Princess (which was okay), the only other cruise line I have been on. The specialty restaurant, Marco Polo, was even better. Try the veal.

The ice cream bar was popular. However they never had any chocolate until I complained, then they had it every day. So it does pay to fill out those surveys they hand out in mid-cruise.

Another popular item was the cinnamon danish at breakfast. They had a winner there. It was so popular, the pastry cart was always out of it first. But the server could go to the kitchen and get you more if you requested. It became sort of a running joke between me and the other passengers who knew how good it was.

The service staff:
There were problems with understanding English. Whereas on Princess where the staff learned English in school in their native Eastern European country, the Filipino and Indonesian public schools evidently do not teach English.

On embarkation, they insisted on showing you to your room, even though most of the passengers, I’m sure, knew exactly where their room was. But if they insisted, then why didn’t they do the whole job. I mean, they showed you to the room and that was it. Then they waited as if expecting some reward. They didn’t show you how the shower knobs worked – there was a separate knob for temperature with a scald-prevent stop button that could be overridden. They didn’t show you how the safe worked. They didn’t tell you about the built-in radio above the headboard – a passenger had to tell us about it.

When using room service, we frequently ended up with wrong or incorrectly prepared food items. It seemed the more you explained, the more confused they got. So double check everything that is delivered before the attendant leaves.

The dining room staff were not overly friendly or trying to be your best friend. Actually, I enjoy when they try to be. It makes dining fun. Only the wine steward was “bubbly”, so everyone at our table had a good time with him. He knew how to work the crowd and I’m sure was rewarded as much.

Cruise staff – Entertainment:
Disorganized was the word used most often. This is probably because this was a repositioning itinerary. The staff were all new. And the cruise director (Jessica) while seemingly nice, was aloof. An exception was Calvin. He made friends with everyone and everyone loved him. Hopefully this situation will be rectified when the ship gets into a routine plying the Caribbean.

The entertainment in the show lounge was, well, lounge-grade. We only saw one large production show. There was another one on the first night we boarded but we were too tired to go see it. It was hardly the Vegas or Broadway style entertainment we had become accustomed to on the Princess cruises. The were a couple of really good acts, the rest were okay, nothing to write home about.

On sea days, there were not more activities than on port days. So bring a good book.

Cruise Photos:
Very laid back as was the whole cruise. You weren’t inundated with strange creatures (e.g. “pirates”) every night at dinner to have your picture taken with. You did not feel compelled to take or buy any pictures.

Internet Café:
There were about 8 stations. This isn’t large but it was enough for the passengers on this ship. The data throughput speed seemed to be similar to dial-up. It was probably regulated for each workstation since it didn’t increase when only one computer was in use. The cost varied from 40 cents per minute to 75 cents per minute depending on the plan you chose.

Panama Canal:
It may have been a spectacular wonder in 1914 when it opened, but by today’s standards, yawn. It not like it’s a joy ride, the ship moves but there is no sensation of movement. You can’t see the water rush in or out since it flows through the bottom of the channel. The real excitement is seeing the other ships, mainly cargo, close up. What really gets your blood flowing is hearing about all the graft, corruption, and kickbacks that were part of the canal building process.

Tours:
The tour charges seemed high for what was offered. I know for a fact that HAL charges an average $5 more than Royal Caribbean for the exact same tour. But what are you gonna do! Also, if you try to arrange your own tour, the tour company “seats” are all already reserved for the cruise ship. The exception was in Grand Cayman, where we used Captain Marvin for a Stingray City excursion. Stingray City is a must - phenomenal.

Be warned when taking those “overview” tours, that’s a euphemism for “shopping”. We enjoyed the beach and snorkeling excursions the most. The jeep tour of Aruba was also fun. Other than that, the ports (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta after the hurricane, Huatulco, Puntarenas, Aruba, Grand Cayman) were tourist ports (i.e., “traps”) – all had the same merchandise, prices, and mundane buildings. This is not Europe folks.

Shopping:

The prices on board were very reasonable. They have a low price guarantee too. The shopping on land was not enticing. Like I said, typical tourist jewelry and perfume stores. Everything was expensive. It may have been a good value (you must do research) but still expensive. I doubt if the residents of those towns shop in those stores. We actually enjoyed dealing the most with the street vendors. Low prices, good quality, and it was fun to feel that you got a “steal”.

Debarkation:
This was the first time the Zaandam had docked in Port Canaveral, and it showed. It took forever to do anything – dock, security, customs. The first passengers were let off at 10:30 a.m., usually when the last passengers get off. We finally were let off at 11:30 a.m. but then had to wait an hour and a half for the buses to the airport because they did not have enough buses even though we had all prepaid for this transportation. A real disaster. Lucky for us our plane was scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. departure from Orlando. HAL so far has not acknowledged any correspondence from us or others we have talked to about this problem. This left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth after such a fun cruise. At least we all had a lot to talk about on the hour-long bus trip to the airport.

Overall:
We enjoyed seeing our (new) friends every day, on the ship or on excursion. On a trip of this length you do make a lot of friends. It was like living in a retirement village. The ship was conveniently sized, offered great food, evening entertainment that you did not feel compelled to see (a plus for some), and non-frenzied daily activities. A good time was had by all. Despite all I have said above, there’s no doubt we would take a HAL ship again. It was the fellow passengers who made it all worthwhile.

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