Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: May 27th, 2006
I had read many reviews of the HAL Zuiderdam. Ranging from very good to disgruntled. I decided to keep an open mind and not look for problems.
My wife and I traveled from LAX to Vancouver one day prior to embarkation. We wanted to see some of Vancouver prior to the cruise. We booked a 3 1/2 hour tour of the city. The tour bus picked us up at our hotel, with our luggage, and showed us the sights of Vancouver. Stanley Park was the highlight for us, nothing like it in LA. At the end of the tour, about 1:30 local time, we were deposited, along with our luggage at The Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal. As we proceeded through customs our luggage was boarded.
Customs and HAL boarding took about thirty-five minutes. I would estimate about three-hundred people were going through the process as we were. Shortly after 2:00, we stepped onto the Zuiderdam for the first time. As we did, there was a Steward waiting to show us to our stateroom, which happened to be 6103 on the Upper Veranda Deck.
I should stop at this point to mention something which I had read about in other reviews and which was one of the few drawbacks which continued for the entire cruise. Essentially, you are entering mid-ship, between the Atrium and the Queens Lounge, a passage I might add, you will travel many times to reach the Vista Dining Room or in the other direction, the Casino and the Vista Showroom. The distinct smell of sewage was in the air at all times. However, this was the only location it was ever noticeable.
There was food available in the Lido Dining Room when we arrived. Which brings me to the second and last of my negative issues with HAL. Wherever, you go there are Cocktail Stewards ready to bring you whatever drink you wish. This in itself is terrific. On each occasion, you must hand over your Ship's ID, again, understandable, then comes the part which seem to be left over from the stone age. The steward writes out a hard copy receipt and you sign. I only had soft drinks and juices and still could paper a wall with the receipts. HAL should be able to swipe the card and achieve the same result. The receipts aren't necessary.
The Zuiderdam Crew was great. I have only admiration for people who are at your beck and call and are always smiling an eager to please. Especially since most of them are far away from home and family for six months to a year at a time.
Every inch of the passage was smooth and uneventful.
The scenery cannot be adequately described, so, I will not try. It should be noted however, the entire trip was essentially a cruise through the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest, and almost all the way the forest was our guideline.
The ship makes three stops. Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Plan your excursions well. Generally, there are one to three other ships in each port when you are and the streets and excursions can get crowded. We were booked for an excursion in each port and believe me the timing can get tight. At Ketchikan, we stepped directly on to our boat to the "Misty Fjiords", left immediately and returned twenty-five minutes prior to leaving port. So, plan your time well, because, the Zuiderdam arrives and leaves on time!
There are many excursions available. My personal favorite was the Chilicoot Trail Walk just outside of Skagway. It is basically a two mile hike to the Taiya River and a raft float to the start point. Be sure to check the difficulty factor in the Excursion Handbook. In the first half mile, there is a 700 foot rise in elevation which could prove taxing on some people. The scenery is spectacular. You are in the middle of an old growth rain forest with dense vegetation and all the while you are walking the Trail the Prospectors took in 1898 to reach the "Golden Stairs" to the Klondike Gold Fields. Then it hits you, those guys had to make the 33 mile treck with 2,000 pounds of gear.
I had to take a nap just thinking of that.
The day after we left Skagway was devoted to Glacier Bay and cruising to Ketchikan. Awesome best describes the Glaciers and surrounding mountains. Margery Glacier put on quite a show for us. The crew brought the ship within a few hundred yards and during the hour we floated there, with our eyes glued to the ice, we had about eight or ten instances when large chunks broke away with thunderous roars and great splashes into the bay, each instance accompanied by "oohs" and "aahs "from the passengers. You just have to see it to believe it.
The Vista Showroom turned out to be one of the highlights of our week aboard the Zuiderdam. The first night out, I was forced to go because my wife and the couple we were cruising with wanted to. Initially, the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers did nothing for me and I was sure I would never go again. Then, the comedian came on stage and I laughed for the next 30 minutes. The next night was to be entirely the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers in a production called "Under the Boardwalk" I was not going to go. My wife asked that I give it one more chance and if I didn't like it she would leave me alone the rest of the Cruise. Reluctantly, I went. The show turned out to be a collection of favorite beach type tunes and was great. That sealed my fate, I went to all the rest of the shows and looked forward to doing so. My advice to anybody cruising to Alaska this year. Give the shows a chance.
June 2nd, was my wife's birthday and we made reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. Food was excellent and the service first rate. All the while viewing the passing landscape of north western Canada.
I have digressed from the review because I thought is was more important to attempt to relate the flavor of the cruise. It can be whatever you make it.
The Zuiderdam generally has a crew of 800 and room for 1800 passengers. Fully 1/3 on our particular cruise were from Austrailia and New Zealand. Everywhere you went you could hear, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oui, Oui, Oui. We found them to be fun loving and engaging at all times.
On two occasions I was taken aback because of my provincial thinking. My wife and I were in line to take a tour of the Galley. We were standing and speaking with two Aussie women, when, one of them said to me, "You don't have much of and accent, for an American". My mouth must have been hanging open because in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would hear that from an Australian.
On another occasion, I was in the Casino and another Aussie turned to her mate and said, "I can't get used to this American money, it's all the same color".
We docked at precisely 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and were off by 9:00 a.m. We took the HAL bus to the airport. We had a 5:00 p.m. flight scheduled back to LA. Bad move. Because we wanted to leave plenty of time for debarkation and travel, we got to the airport at 10:00 a.m. and were unable to change our flight. So, my advice to you is, HAL is always on time, plan accordingly.