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Sally Kochender

Age: 60+

Occupation:Retired, Human Relations

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: July 27th, 2002

Itinerary: Alaska

Alaska At Last!

Waiting three weeks post-cruise before writing this review seemed a wise idea. I wondered if the ‘high’ I experienced would diminished. It hasn’t.

“Beyond all expectations” could best summarize our week’s round trip Vancouver cruise on the Holland America’s Zaandam recently. I had read and found helpful the review written here of the same ship’s maiden voyage in May, 2001. I feel an update and another impression is in order.

My prior cruise experience has been limited: Charleston to Bermuda about twenty years ago, then in 1997 a Panama Canal cruise on the Cunard Line. Oh yes, I must not forget the eleven day round trip Bergen Line cruise in Norway two years ago.

My travel companion and I found a bargain early morning flight from the southeast to Seattle the day before the cruise. That provided an extra day to adjust to the three hour time change (which wasn’t enough for me) and lessened the potential stress of missing the cruise if same-day connections were missed. The Pacific Cascades Amtrak trip to Vancouver the next morning was scenic and relaxing. We elected Business Class, had no wait in line, roomy seats...a real treat! There are pros and cons to taking the cruise lines flight/hotel/cruise package but this worked just fine for us.

First positive amazement: less than thirty minutes from the time our cab dropped us off at the Vancouver Port Terminal to the time we entered our cabin! Very well organized! Very welcoming! Very well directed! There was a bit of confusion at first because two other cruise ships were boarding at the same time. Reassurance from the baggage handler and well-marked luggage allayed our fears of having to wear our blue jeans for Captain’s Night!

Our travel agent had misinformed us that a prior cruise on the Cunard Line, part of Holland America’s cruise family, would warrant the latter’s Mariner Society, which I had trusted would enhance the probability of an upgrade on our election of a ‘run of the ship’ cabin. Not so.

Only former cruise members on the same line earn membership in the Mariner Society. Thus, no upgrade. We could have, and next time will, elect a specific cabin.

Signs at check-in stated the ship was full and ‘no upgrades are available.’ This is probably standard operating procedure and we later learned that many had obtained upgrades. Only those who believe in signs didn’t have the option.

Our cabin was on the bottom deck, way in the aft of the ship. We made jokes that ‘if we hit an iceberg, we’d be the first to know it’ and ‘we’ll arrive even before the Captain.’ Nevertheless, the cabin was roomy and comfortable, more than enough storage space. We appreciated the lighting behind the draperies that gave the illusion of daylight! The only negative was that it was near the housekeeping station and thus not the best location for one who wanted an afternoon siesta. But we were going to Alaska, not Mexico, right?

We took advantage to getting checked in early to locate the Vancouver liquor resources and brought aboard a couple bottles of wine and liqueurs, with the cruise line’s blessing. As prearranged, we brought along a supply of dollar bills to tip service along the way, for favors such as supplying us wine glasses, etc. No mandatory tipping being one of Holland America’s policies pleased us yet we didn’t forget to do so when we appreciated the extra service. And that could have been most all the time!

Service was absolutely fantastic aboard ship. As expected, coffee and tea were available 24/7, but one midmorning I wanted milk, and another day orange juice. No problem. One of the servers contacted a worker behind the ‘food curtain’ and I had 2-3 of either! Food was gourmet all the way, with lots of options. I’m pleased to say that the meal portions were reasonable, not huge. More room for sampling and much less waste! Speaking of waste, and conservation, I would like to have seen the opportunity for room linens to be reused, as is the case in many hotels nowadays.

Perhaps because I had chatted at length with the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager, but I don’t think so. I have a passion for green tea in the morning and remarked that no more was available and few alternatives. He assured me that it would be there day after next...and it was!!

The ship’s cleanliness was A-1, with the exception being the public restrooms near the common areas at times. These could have been serviced more frequently. Signs on the sinks stated when a service person had been there....quite awhile ago for these areas, if indeed the times were accurate.

The July 27th cruise was blessed with absolutely marvelous weather. Visibility was so much greater than usual the locals in port reported how fortunate we were weather-wise. Enjoying the heated pools and jacuzzis in the open air of Alaska was hard to believe. The top jogging deck was a fine place to get some morning air and to walk up an appetite before breakfast. Their gym facilities were more than adequate with treadmills, weight machines, etc. The fee-based spa facilities with head-to-toe treatments seemed well-utilized though I did not avail myself.

I had elected to take independent tours rather than ship excursions. Through a phone call to Rainbird Tours in Ketchikan I obtained references for tours in both Juneau and Skagway. In Juneau, a $5 bus ride took us out to Mendenhall Glacier where I made a four-mile hike around the East Glacier Trail. A vacationing couple met there joined me for a visit to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure, happily toured in a golf cart! In Skagway Klondike Tours gave us a thorough sight-seeing in a small van, and in Ketchikan, Ann of Rainbird Deluxe Tours, my original contact for all the others, chauffeured just the two of us around, sharing poignant features of life in the area. Our only regret was not taking the Misty Fjords flight-seeing tour.

The peak experience for us was Glacier Bay. The visit was prefaced with a talk by a US Forest Ranger, who not only gave a very informative and interesting talk, but passed among the guests outside, answering questions, etc. I never imagined that watching and listening to glaciers ‘calving’ would be so awesome. I’m determined to match that glacier blue color to a paint sample and cover something in my house with it!!

Back to life aboard the ship. Details of most of the fantastic food are already covered in the previous review. I did want to add that the Java Bar was a treat; a cappuccino in mid-afternoon helped tie one over until the late seating...or at least until Happy Hour with hors d’oeuvres!

The Marco Polo Restaurant was absolutely fantastic! Due to limited seating, people were discouraged from more than one dining experience there. My travel partner and I like challenges, however, so we talked our way back in (thanks, Joko!) and had another memorable meal our last night aboard.

A wide age-range peopled the ship. For breakfast in the main dining room, waiters understandably wanted to gear people toward tables where others had just been seated. Beginning the day with a family of children was not my ‘cup of tea’ so to speak so I would simply say that I was looking for my roommate...and move elsewhere! On the subject of seating, we sat with two wonderful couples at a rectangular table. After the third night in the same chair position I made a point to take someone else’s place to break up the conversation pattern. It worked! For that reason, round tables would be my preference.

Several lounge areas enabled one to get away from crowds and to enjoy music of one’s taste in the late afternoon, pre-dinner hours. Our favorite, for indoor sightseeing and after dinner music, was the Crow’s Nest Lounge, with its 180° view.

Now, the one big bummer....social life for singles. An attempt was made to have a get-together one afternoon. It bombed. The ‘facilitator’ might have done his but made a poor choice for the location-a lounge area where traffic continued by. It was not orchestrated well. Reciting our names, place of residence and cruise history was insufficient, (and absolutely fatiguing in every other encounter as well.) My next book will be “What to Say After You Say Hello.. on a Cruise Ship.” The event was not publicized well. (Although we did appreciate that we were not continually bombarded with announcements, many more came through about the Art Auctions).

The putting golf practice activity left me wondering. We had five stations into which we were to putt the ball, marking our score and room number on a card. No feedback. Nothing more. Is the activity used for promotional lists for golf resorts?

Gimmicks, like a free glass of champagne were used to lure passengers to certain activities, like the already-maligned art auctions. In my opinion, that’s fine for the very few who participated in the auctions; however, I do not believe the space and time reserved for them were justified.

Photograph-shootings were another nuisance that we had to become quite assertive to avoid. The Computer/Internet Access was extremely expensive, and hopefully its scant usage will encourage the decision makers to rethink policy. You could check and see if you won free usage for the remainder of the cruise, but first had to pay access fees, log-in fees, etc.

The reading room/library provided a pleasant place to write cards, relax quietly. There again, it’s being closed 5-7pm didn’t fit my schedule personally.

A free yoga class was offered early in the cruise, then a charge for subsequent classes. The resident craftsperson/artist aboard did nothing more than sit at a table displaying, working on his/her wares, to my knowledge. The casino did have a couple of free gaming classes. Many opportunities could have been available for people to have mini-sessions of 3-4 classes to learn something new.

Even though an extra fee was charged, the afternoon wine-tasting was an informative and enjoyable session, my favorite ‘activity.’

My travel partner was disappointed in not having dance partners. We inquired and learned that dance hosts are furnished on some, but not all of Holland American cruises. Why this particular cruise did not merit dance hosts, we did not learn.

All in all, criticisms are few and minor compared to the overall experience..

Oh yes, mail your postcards in the port towns; those mailed on board ship took over three weeks to reach their destination. I did not check the postmarks, however.

Debarkation was went smoothly. We had reserved the Quick shuttle back to Seattle airport with the hope of getting a 2pm flight home rather than the 10pm redeye for which we (luckily) scheduled. Several hours waiting at US Customs prevented this, however. No official was attending the buses and when one finally did arrive, no luggage was inspected, nor were the customs forms even collected! One would think they would be better prepared for the thousands that left the cruise ships that morning...the port retail shops certainly were!

I’d write more here, but I have some planning to do for the next cruise....it will take the competition some work to measure up to what was provided by Holland America on the Zaandam.

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