Patrick & Harriette Regan
Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: September 21, 2002
We just returned from a 7 day Alaska cruise, roundtrip from Vancouver. We experienced the good, the bad and the ugly or funky as the case was on the Zaandam.
Our previous 2 cruises were with Royal Caribbean, the last one in Spring 1999 transiting the Panama Canal. Nice relaxing 11 day trip in a veranda mini suite on the then nearly new, “Vision of the Seas”.
The food was not very well prepared & we felt that the food handling by waiters & assistants was not as sanitary and safe as it could & should be.
The get up and boogie atmosphere coupled with constant loudspeaker announcements and drink sales pushes everywhere turned us off of RCI.
We have been visiting the cruise boards daily for the past few months reading the newest reviews, looking for a bit more elegant cruise line with better food (in regard to taste, presentation and proper sanitary handling) than RCI without paying nosebleed Seabourn prices. We chose Holland American. I had been a passenger on the Rotterdam NY to Europe when I was in the Air Force and I had memories of 2 nice Atlantic crossings with HAL.
PRE-CRUISE DAYS IN VANCOUVER:
We live in Santa Monica, CA but we have a seasonal apartment in North Vancouver with a view of the cruise ships going in and out of the harbor under Lion’s gate bridge and docking at Canada Place, whetted our appetite for cruising again.
We spent some pre cruise days in beautiful, friendly, reasonably priced Vancouver. It’s a great way to start a vacation.
Translink, the public transit entity, sells a shirt pocket sized Greater Vancouver Transportation Map (2002 edition) for $2.50 CDN which also serves as a convenient city map. If you like to walk or bicycle, circling Stanley Park is a great workout with a fantastic view.
We buy daily transit passes and ride easily around town on any bus, skytrain or seabus we wished for one daily fee. Take a skytrain to get a nice view ride through the city. Take a mini-cruise, 12 minutes long on the seabus from the Seabus and Skytrain terminal building next to Canada Place and wander through the Lonsdale Quay Marketplace, the North Vancouver terminus of the seabus.
Across the street and 100 yards east of the Quay is a superb Italian Restaurant, Quattro di Gusto. Fantastic gourmet lunch with reasonable prices. Great food inside the Quay Market too.
We also went to Hon’s Wun-tun House, a huge, delicious Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant on Robson St. (the ‘Via Veneto’ of Vancouver) within walking distance to Stanley Park.
If you are coming in from Vancouver International Airport they have great New York style deli sandwiches (fantastic potato salad too) at Kaplans Star Deli on Oak St near the corner of 41 St. on the way into the downtown area.
A few doors east of Hon’s on Robson(corner of Jervis) is Cows, an old fashioned ice cream parlor where you can practice acquiring pre cruise calories. There are many bargains in Vancouver. Leave room in your luggage.
We arrived at Canada Place by around 1 PM, received our boarding numbers and finally got on the ship @ 3:30 PM. We ate a late breakfast so we wouldn’t get too hungry but by 3:30 we were definitely hungry. We dumped our carry on luggage in our Deck 7 veranda mini-suite and raced for the Lido Buffet on deck 8. We arrived about 3:45 and were informed that the buffet was closing. There would be bar snacks in the Crow’s nest and other bars at 6PM. 24 hour room service was not up and running at this moment.
We were second seating dining so we had to eat something soon. Next time I will bring protein bars or snack food in my carry on luggage.
We sailed out of majestic Vancouver harbor under Lion’s Gate Bridge with the party music playing and our stomachs growling; we were not in the mood for any “frozen thingies”.
We recognize how difficult embarkation/debarkation days are for the crew (and the newly boarded passengers) but at these prices maybe they could pre-make simple sandwiches and have them available or keep a small part of the buffet or grill open. We discovered that on most days the Grill in the pool area is open when the Lido isn’t. That was not the case on embarkation day.
The Zaandam is an elegant looking, well laid out vessel. More like a ship than a floating resort supership. The elevators are plentiful and there is not much waiting like on the bigger ships. Most decks have 3 banks of 4 elevators.
The Erasmus Library on Deck 5 is beautiful but they don’t enforce the library silence rule. People just wander in and start loud conversations. It is the only quiet room on a ship full of great places to relax and talk. A lot of our fellow passengers were not concious of what is or isn’t going on around them. The Zaandam singers and dancers alternate as librarians. Shame on HAL for closing the library so early every night. There is an internet center next door. They charge 75 cents a minute but they have a 250 minutes for $100. deal available. You can’t word process on these computers only surf the net.
Various attractive public rooms and lounges surround the Atrium on 5 and the
Hotel Desk is on 4.
Our long but narrow mini suite was the farthest aft cabin on deck 7 (the Navigation Deck). The veranda was nice and had more room because it was the last one aft. We could see over the side of the ship as well as the ship’s wake. We loved our veranda. We don’t ever want to cruise again without a veranda.
The bathroom was good sized with a large mirrored storage cabinet that easily held all of our stuff and the cabin storage was excellent. There was even room to put our luggage in the closets. Holland American gets a gold star for the bath and the closets. The lighting was good and the sitting area has a small couch and a curtain dividing it from the sleeping area so one can read while another sleeps.
I decided to use the bathroom and when I lifted the lid for the first time there was a large load of poop. A portent of things to come? Not an auspicious beginning!
My wife enjoys giving herself beauty treatments in the privacy of her stateroom during cruises. However on this cruise she was unable to because the state of cleanliness of the room grossed her out. For example; the full length mirror inside the closet door seemed to be smeared here and there with something like vaseline. She could not bring herself to do floor exercises in our mini-suite because as she said looking at the stained carpeting “Did they housebreak a puppy on this carpet?”
I can’t say I disagreed with her. The carpet was worn well beyond the time when it should have been replaced. The narrowness of the room dictates a narrow walking path to the sitting room and the veranda and it was well worn. I mentioned this to the front desk and they offered to clean the carpet; since this would curtail our use of the cabin for a day, we declined. We put towels down in the worst spots. The carpet was also worn through around the edge of the bed. Our friendly room steward tried to help but the carpet was beyond spot cleaning. Holland American should consider using vinyl on the high traffic paths in the room. The couch also required towels, and the nice little pillow collection was pretty funky. I suspect the cause was previous romance on the high seas. We’re not going to talk about the bedspread; suffice to say we put the bedspread under the bed and asked our steward to leave it there. The HAL bathrobes that hung in our cabin helped us to remain relatively microbe free. The equivilant of putting a towel down before you sit at a nudist camp. Those of you familiar with the comedy routines of Howie Mandel know he carries a blacklight to look for germs.
Our hard working steward was completely worn out. He had 14 rooms to clean and some people were paging him constantly trying to use him as their personal butler. He was paged twice during a short conversation I was trying to have with him. I noticed officious housekeeping staffers spiffy in their uniforms checking rooms but they were missing a lot considering the condition of our cabin. Or was it just part of keeping up appearances and making check marks on a list? Is anyone supervising the supervisors?
Now we get to the sleeping part. The brochures say the beds are queen sized but they are not standard queens. They are 2 twin beds put together to make one. Their queen, 75 inches long, is 2 inches shorter than standard queen sized beds. I’m six feet two and a half inches tall and my heels hang over the end of the bed. I tried to scrunch up but my sleep was fitful. I mentally blamed it on being in the far aft cabin where it is noisier and bouncier than midships but we wanted the view. I slept the second night in the 2 inches shorter bed and realized that I needed to remedy the problem.
I dropped by the front desk and talked about my bed and they said they could help me. They were very nice.
I went on about my business heading to the gym. The gym was spacious with all the goodies but it was a bit grungy. Rubber handles had broken off various machines, the deck needed vaccuming, chrome and brightwork was dirty and the huge picture windows were filthy. Loud CNN was on TV, and an instructor was shouting through an aerobics class with driving workout music playing. I asked a staff member to at least mute the TV sound but they kept it on along with the music. Not a very cruisey atmosphere.
Went back to the cabin and the message light was on. They were checking to see if the bed had been fixed. It hadn’t. I asked to speak to Judy Shepheard, the guest relations manager. Her hours were listed a 8A to early afternoon; maybe she could help. The Captain, Tore Lura, mentioned in his speech that the ship was a hotel with a propeller -- a line that they cut out of the cruise video they were offering. I liked that line. It fit.
We both work in motion picture production and spend a lot of time on location and have stayed in all manner of hotels both first cabin and almost dives. I figured a bed change would be easy. It says queen sized in the brochure and that’s what I wanted. Judy Shepheard never called. When I visited the desk again she was in a meeting. I went back to my cabin in the late afternoon and there was a wooden bench about 30 inches wide, with a pillow on it. I called the desk and they said to just put it on the end of the bed. That might have worked had the bench been long enough to stretch across the whole width of the bed. The bench and pillow were dirty also. I got madder. I called the desk and asked why the guest relations person was ducking me. She’s in a meeting was the stock answer through 3 calls to the front desk, even though her hours are listed in the daily handout. I considered calling the hotel manager, Rene Tuinman, who had a card in the room telling me to have a perfect cruise and to contact him with any problems.
I took the bench & its filthy pillow down to the hotel desk and asked again to see Judy Shepheard. It was dinner time but I didn’t care. I wanted a hearing. I get testy from lack of sleep. After waiting awhile a desk person said Judy would call me and I might as well leave. I said that I wasn’t leaving until I saw Judy. This is a high priced hotel, I expect reasonable hotel service, especially from a particularized guest relations department. Note to Rene Tuinman: Don’t leave a nicely printed card in the cabin with your signature on it wishing me a good trip and inferring he and his staff are here to help with any situation that might arise (I’m paraphrasing-I forgot to bring the card)and leave it in the hands of a related guest relations department head who was practicing avoidance in dealing with short beds.
Judy finally appeared listened to my story and left for a minute. She came back with information on bed length and admitted to me that the 2 beds together had 2 inches less length than the standard queen. There were no standard queens on the ship. Why this info took all of the second cruise day to obtain is beyond me. They could have told me a hell of a lot earlier in the day.
The little bench they sent looked used, so I’m not the first one with this problem. Judy was actually Judy Shepheard-Tuinman according to her business card. She is married to the Hotel Manager, Rene Tuinman. She is a most invisible Guest Relations person. She seems to prefer to let the harried front desk assistants handle the complaints.
If Holland-American would just get some “long-twin beds” they could accommodate taller people. They could set aside a few rooms for these purposes and they would always sell out. I recognize the problem that then the cabins would be 2 inches narrower and look smaller but cruises are about comfort, not just non stop food and entertainment. We finally solved the bed problem by pulling the mattress out from the wall 6 inches, placing pillows in the gap between the wall and the beginning of the top mattress.
The theme of the Zaandam is music and it plays everywhere...There are some interesting musical artifacts on display...I never thought I could get tired of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald etc. but the playlist was narrow. I mean I’m a baby boomer, no longer middle aged according to my daughter. She explained I stopped being middle-aged when I passed 60, and my wife and I were probably in that 25% of younger passengers. It’s an older crowd. I love this kind of music but enough is enough...more variety please. No Vera Lynn songs. It can’t all be nostalgia. Can it?
The Wilson Palomo Trio played in the Explorers lounge...a great group playing Jazz and contemporary pop...then dinner ends and the 1st seating crowd is ready to dance and the music switches to a never ending waterfall of foxtrot and waltz music interspersed with ricky-tick Samba’s and Cha Cha’s.
Same problem in the Crow’s nest...The Sunshine band is great...they play excellent country, rock and pop but when 1st seating is over in come the dancers and that 4 beat foxtrot. I heard the cloying, sacharine “Anniversary Waltz” & “Tennessee Waltz” every night of the cruise. I don’t wish to sound mean spirited but the formula drove us out. Please keep it eclectic. I’m HAL’s new target demographic. I’ll be getting my medicare card in a couple of years.
We retreated from the musical venues and relaxed more in our (funky) cabin or by strolling the decks. It never got as cold as we thought Alaska would be. We brought a big bag of parka & foul weather gear that we did not use.
Note to Holland American. We had the lowest bar tab we have ever had on a cruise. Baby boomers may be pushing 60 but we need to rock a bit. (My wife is still under 60.) It’s hard pleasing all of the people all of the time to paraphrase an old maxim.
The Rotterdam Dining Room was excellent service wise and spotty food wise. The filet mignon was not very filet or mignon. The vegetables were cooked to death. The meals got better as the cruise wore on getting, much better near the end of the voyage. We preferred eating there to the Lido cafeteria. It’s ambience gave us the feeling of cruising we wanted.
We broke up the dining routine with room service served well and promptly.
We didn’t go to the Lido until the 4th day of the cruise in order not to be burned out by its sameness. This method works. When you finally go to the Lido cafeteria it’s new to you.
We enjoyed eating breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room and lunch too. We ate during the open seating at breakfast and lunch at our regularly assigned table with our favorite servers. I can’t say enough for Enrico our waiter and Dadang his assistant along with dining room captain Muarif and 2nd maitre’d Helmi. They were professional and funny without being obsequious. They represented the best HAL had to offer us. We thank them!
The person I saw checking his department the most was Jerry the Maitre’d. Early in the morning, later at night there he was; watching, talking to the troops, making sure. I would pass his office and the door was always open. The sign of a good manager. The Chef, Wolfgang Wasshausen, also was always on the scene. Food service was the best run part of the hotel side. Food taste versus food description is another matter. It’s mostly rubber chicken level banquet food. The better Las Vegas hotels (Bally’s,Mirage,Rio etc.)have buffets and cafes that meet my expectations on a regular basis. It can be done.
The wait staff is tired. They always seem to be on duty. They should close the Rotterdam for breakfast and lunch a couple of days a week and the Lido at least one day for breakfast & lunch.
The Monte Carlo is a great little Italian change of pace. The food is very good. Maitre d’ Hilman and Chef Lazlo have a created a welcome respite from the main room. The desserts were great too. We had a lunch and a dinner there. Very pleasant. HAL doesn’t charge any extra for this place but I’m rethinking my previous resistance to paying for alternative cruising ala Celebrity or NCL. It allows you more variety in taste and cruising. One of the reasons we chose HAL was because of the alternative dining for free. If I can have more alternative dining I’m now ready to pay for it.
Las Vegas wins again. Don’t they always? The slots were tight. It was very smoky. There was no table game excitement being generated. No buzz. They would promote a special game of dealer’s cards up blackjack all over the ship and then only run one table. They could loosen the slots to get the energy in the room up and maybe put some of these looser machines in the public room next door and make this area non smoking. The gaming staff was friendly and helpful. It was strange to walk through a casino in the morning and see all of the slots asleep...no noise or flashing lights. Very bizarre.
The public areas were constantly being cleaned and vacuumed but it seemed more for show than cleanliness. They pick up and clean but not very well. There is less obvious mess but the surfaces haven’t been cleaned well, just picked up. That part of the crew is tired. I’ve spent time in Holiday Inns or Days Inns with higher standards than the Zaandam. The only day that they seemed to be really cleaning was embarkation/debarkation day. The standard of cleanliness was higher outside on the decks and in the pool & grill areas than inside.
I never saw the Hotel Manager (Rene Tuinman) walking the operation except when he was introduced by the Captain at the welcome party and at the never ending debarkation marathon talk by the cruise director. At the latter the Mr. Tuinman ducked the limelight. I checked the video footage and Mr. Tuinman is indeed a shadowy figure ducking into the wings of the showroom after his introduction. He certainly doesn’t manage the public areas visibly or invisibly in my opinion.
I suspect the management of thinking the balance sheet is most important and the hotel was full. Why change a thing?
This hotel manager should take managing lessons from a Club Med Chef de Village.
The captain’s crew is invisible also. It’s almost like ‘we’re running this ship...we’ll be at our posts out of sight and out of mind. Don’t talk to or bother us.’
Only the Captain is visible. Some of the time. I must say his team runs the ship part well. They maneuvered as closely and slowly as they could in Glacier Bay. Unfortunately, since Sept. 11 there are no more bridge tours; we had been looking forward to one.
It is indeed a hotel with a propeller and a poorly managed one at that from my point of view as a customer.
Juneau, the state capitol, was overcast on our day there. Not worth taking the aerial tram to the top in clouds. The aerial tours were cancelled too. You can’t control the weather. We enjoyed wandering there. We spent Monday night in Juneau until an 11PM sailing. They have a local ABC affiliate there broadcasting over the air, not just cable. It would have been nice to see the Monday night football game in our cabin.
Skagway is metaphorically just a wide place in the road. We ignored the 3 1/2 plus hour White Pass train trip. We stayed in town and wandered around and were hustled in our own language by our own countrymen imploring us to take this and that tour...We finally asked one of these hucksters where to get a good cup of coffee in town. He whispered a greasy, patronizing aside in my ear “Just ask a local” and sent us to Mabel’s. The coffee was thin and awful. Made Micky D’s breakfast coffee taste like Starbucks. Anecdotally, we heard there had been a Starbucks there but it closed. When is the last time a Starbucks closed? The Skagway locals’ behavior reminded me of the arrogance of the locals in rural Hawaii.
Ketchican was the third city we visited. It was nice to look around. Great totem poles. A pleasant place. We prefer city meandering to being bused to sites of interest. My wife and I have scouted too many locations and we hate riding in maxivans without being paid for it. I’d rather pay a knowledgeable taxi driver for a couple of hours of looking around and waiting while we shop.
Glacier Bay was fogged in. The cold of the glacier causes the fog to rise enough to see the bottom of the glacier but not much else. The sailors did a great job for us that day getting us as close as they could. It was the best day of the cruise even with the foggy conditions. In the cruise video they cut in shots of the glacier on a clearer day. That’s entertainment!
HAL’S TIPPING NOT REQUIRED POLICY
is a bigger load than what we found when we first entered our cabin bathroom. The service people work hard and keep smiling. We left the tips recommended on most cruises and sometimes over tipped. We heard some folks talking about how nice it was not to tip. Shame on them. The cocktail servers seem to suffer the most, fiscally and physically doing the most running & smiling and getting stiffed on a regular basis. C’mon folks....we’re talking less than $200. for the whole cruise. Give it up to those who have served you well.
They deserve to be tipped when they take care of you. The unctuous cruise director (who sounded a lot like Merv Griffin) Jack Chambers, got into HAL’s tipping not required policy briefly, skirting around the edge of it in his debarkation lecture. The subtext of his speech was tip ‘em if they deserve it, but a lot of folks chose to ignore the subtlety of his message.
Kudos to his assistant, Johnny I the bingo guy & Gavin his cohort for keeping it as real as they could during the more inane moments. They did a good job with the bingo games.
I want to thank the cruise critics and reviewers who have worked hard at informing us what’s up on the ships. Tom Milano & Vincent Fanelli come to mind as well as the cruise Diva and many others.
We’re hooked on the cruising part of cruising. We want better food (Vegas level) and more variety and choice of music. More interesting and exciting gaming and more relaxing days at sea. We have promised ourselves another cruise (with a veranda) in the not too distant future, of at least 10 days. It really does take a couple of days on board to really get relaxed. Then the real cruising begins. We also want some days before and after the cruise spent exploring the embarkation/debarkation cities. Europe or the South Pacific are looking good to us.
Yo ho ho and a bottle of light beer.