Zaandam - Holland America Line
Alaska Inside Passage
Inside Passage Cruise: 7 days, 21 Sept to 28 Sept 2002
Vancouver to Vancouver (Round-trip)
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
1999 transiting the Panama Canal. Nice relaxing 11 day trip in a
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 Kaplan's
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 at 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 conscious
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
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 one.
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 equivalent 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
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 vacuuming, 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 cruise-y atmosphere.
Note to Hotel Manager 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.
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.
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 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 a while, 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
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 turned out to be 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.
The theme of the Zaandam is music and it plays everywhere. There are
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 am 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. 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 Sambas and Cha Chas. We like all kinds of music but we need
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, saccharine
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 parkas & 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.
FOOD TASTE & RELATED SERVICE:
It's hard pleasing all of the people all of the time to paraphrase an
The Rotterdam Dining Room was excellent service wise and spotty food
wise. The filet mignon was not very filet or mignon. It was beef of
low quality. 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. Its 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 that
feed huge numbers of people daily 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. Give the
troops some rest. They can't work every meal.
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 cuisine ala Celebrity or NCL. It allows you
more variety in taste and cuisine. 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
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.
Ketchikan 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 overtipped. 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
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 Finelli
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 of at least 10 days (with a veranda) in the
not too distant future. 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.
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