TWO DAY PREVIEW CRUISE, May 2, 2000
Holland America (HAL) has a winner with the Zaandam - the best of HAL's traditions have been kept but with a new light, bright modern look - catering to the baby boomers as well as the yuppies and the puppies. Wonderful food, exquisite dining rooms, and nighttime entertainment that really satisfies.
Well, that's what I said in last month's SeaLetter - now it's time for me to put some meat on the bones. The preview cruise was primarily for travel agents and media types. The Zaandam left its new home of Port Everglades (the port for Fort Lauderdale), whistled down to Half Moon Cay, and turned around immediately for home. Because it was such a short cruise, and because it was Zaandam's very first cruise, my observations are bound to be incomplete, and some aspects may be better (perhaps worse!) in the view of subsequent cruisers who try out its alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries over this summer.
Getting On and Off
Embarkation and debarkation were well organized, but a lot of that organization is shore-side, and not a function of the ship. The cruise card given to you at check-in functions as your room key, charge card on board and for a security check when you re-board the vessel. No white gloved attendant guided me to my cabin on Deck 3 (the Lower Promenade Deck), but I found it without trouble.
My inside cabin was near the back end of the ship, and while inconvenient to reach some things, it was easy to reach the dining room, which is also at the aft end of the ship, and the main pool on the Lido Deck. My cabin had two single beds, which could be rearranged to make a queen size bed. There were individual reading lights just above the beds, which was quite a convenience. The telephone sits between the beds, rather than on the desk. There is a built-in radio in the bed headboard. If you turn the radio to channel 5, you will hear all of the announcements on board (which may not be a good thing if you are planning on sleeping in). The night tables each have two drawers, and can be locked. The cabin was large enough to have a love seat. There is an additional curtain at the end of the sitting area, and I am assuming that its purpose is to give you privacy if you wish to leave the door open (which lots of people like to do when they have an inside cabin), but at the same time, preserving your privacy. The desk and chair were quite practical, and there were three big drawers to the desk. One disadvantage of the desk is that it only has one American power outlet, so if you are bringing a laptop, charger, and maybe some other stuff, you may also want to bring some kind of extension cord.
The closet space seemed quite ample. There are two full size closets for hanging dresses, pants, etc. and two with shelves, but also with enough room to hang shirts, blouses, etc. In one of the closets with shelves, there is the safe, which is the kind I don't like: you need to use a credit card of some kind to lock the safe, and reopen it. (It is wise to use some kind of unimportant card for your safe, such as a library card, rather than one of your usual credit cards - otherwise you will be forced to take your good credit card ashore.)
The air conditioning in the cabin seem less than perfect. While there is an individual control for your cabin, it basically can only be set to "cooler" or "warmer," with no temperatures being shown whatsoever. I found my cabin to be warm, notwithstanding it was set on the coolest temperature for the whole of the cruise.
The bathroom was reasonably adequate. As usual, the European plumbing resulted in one scratching one's head prior to being able to operate the shower. I was disappointed to see that there was still a shower curtain, rather than a solid glass door as appears on some other new ships. Freebies in the cabin and in the bathroom included Holland America's own brand of shampoo and body lotion. There was also an ample supply of soap in the bathroom cabinet. The bathroom contains a built-in hair dryer, which seemed more than adequate. As with all ships, the toilet was vacuum operated, and a little noisy. I always enjoy the sign behind the toilet which says "Do not flush while seated," a task which would be difficult to do at the best of times, but I have always wondered what the result would be (you'd end up in the Panama Canal?). There is a clothes line in the shower in case you want to do any wash and wear stuff.
Fruit and flowers were in the cabin when I arrived. The fruit was a couple of apples and an orange, and I'm not sure whether they would have been replaced automatically, as I didn't have any vitamin C on this cruise. The cabin didn't have a mini bar or mini fridge, which was a disappointment, as many ships now have them in all cabins (the suites and deluxe staterooms on the Zaandam do have a mini-bar). There was no bottled water in the cabin, although no doubt you could ask your steward for some - at a cost. While I heard no noise at all from adjacent cabins, I could certainly hear the ship's stern thrusters. Be sure to book a cabin in the middle of the ship to avoid engine noise.
The cabin television had a reasonable menu: one was an advertising channel for Holland America; CNN was on one; TNT was on another; there were two movie channels, and the movies were relatively current for my cruise (early May, 2000) with "Three Kings," "The Interrupted Girl," "Random Hearts" and "The Thomas Crown Affair." Another channel described the "HAL Family," in other words, had advertising for Carnival, Cunard, and other members of the Carnival Family, which obviously includes Holland America itself. Last of all, there was a channel describing future shore excursions. Suites and deluxe staterooms have VCRs, so I'm told.
Did I like the cabin? Yes, I found it quite roomy, the facilities more than adequate, and my only complaint is that I didn't have a window.
Life Boat Drill
The drill was carried out at 4 o'clock on embarkation day prior to the ship sailing. A roll call was carried out, and it was implied, perhaps jokingly, that those passengers who didn't show up for the drill would likely be the last ones to be embarked in the lifeboats in the case of a real emergency. I could hardly believe my ears when the announcement was made that women and children should stand nearest to the rail because they would be boarded first in the case of an emergency. Get real, Holland America: surely the difficulties of splitting up families (as shown in the "Titanic" movie based on real events) would only hamper a hurried disembarkation!
Rotterdam Dining Room
On the first night, there was an appetizer -- a choice of grilled vegetables, prawn cocktail, an antipasto plate, crab cakes or mushroom ravioli. This was followed by a choice of lobster bisque, Pueblo chicken, chilled gazpacho or baby spinach with mushroom salad, with a choice of dressings. Caesar salad was also available. For the entrées, there was a choice of jumbo prawns, yellow tail tuna, prime rib, veal chop or prosciutto wrapped chicken breast cordon bleu. For the vegetarians, a course of Thai vegetarian spring rolls with black beans and corn salsa was available. My dinner (the prime rib) was as tasty as anything I can remember on a cruise ship.
Marco Polo Dining Room
Lido Buffet Restaurant
Other Food Venues
Casino, Dress Codes and Tipping
And where does HAL fit in? In my opinion, you should tip the same as standard cruise lines - about $3.50 per person per day for both the waiter and the cabin steward, and $1.75 per day for the assistant waiter or busboy. (Those passengers with moths in their wallets like to say that the HAL crew are paid better and don't need tips - it's not true.)
The Ship Herself
The Zaandam is, with her sister, the Volendam, the largest of the HAL fleet at 61,000 tons (that's about 6 million cubic feet of enclosed space). Even the Amsterdam, which debuts this year also, will be no larger than the Zaandam. While the passenger capacity of the Zaandam is advertised as being 1,380 passengers, you might find its maximum capacity is 1,846 passengers if all berths are filled during a busy time of year such as spring break. One interesting statistic I noted was that while the Zaandam is 80% larger than the Noordam (now HAL's oldest ship), it only carries 19% more passengers.
Daytime entertainment included putting and chipping golf tournaments, table tennis tournaments, blackjack and slot machine tournaments, Scattergories®, Pictionary® and team trivia games. I expect that Bingo will be a staple, although it wasn't featured on this cruise. The movie theatre featured two or three movies at various times during the day and in the evening.
In the main Mondriaan Lounge that first evening, the rocking sounds of "S.R.O." were heard - described as "America's #1 Party Band." And, what a party it was, with music of the 60's, 70's and 80's, great dancing on stage and great dancing by the passengers on a specially-constructed dance floor. I think HAL has found the message - the baby boomers (now 52% of all cruise travelers) want something more lively than a vocalist warbling "Oklahoma."
On our second and last night, the ship's dancers and singers put on the "Monte Carlo" show, which was also upbeat - I enjoyed it, and I usually don't like the "Broadway" numbers that so frequently are the mainstay of cruise shows. The Zaandam certainly appears to aiming at a younger crowd.
Other entertainment featured comedian Bernie McGrenahan with "adult humor" (I was too busy to catch his act).
I hardly saw a child on this cruise, and didn't see any of the special facilities for children with the exception of the Skyroom Lounge -- a kids-only place hidden behind the paddle tennis courts. The Zaandam brochure says "Our Club HAL program caters to kids, featuring games, prizes and experienced youth directors. These supervisors lead a myriad of learning and recreational activities appropriately designed for age groups 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17. When they step ashore on Alaska and Caribbean cruises, youngsters can scout exciting adventures with others their age through the 'kids-only' shore excursion program."
The Website Café
I'm personally delighted that cruise lines are finally waking up to the reality that a significant number of passengers want to check their e-mail and surf the net while at sea. The whole process is about two years overdue in my opinion. Holland America has made a good start with its Website Café (also called the "Internet Café"), which, despite its name, is not a place for food and drink but a center with eight modern computers (including flat monitors), and a general "library" feel to the whole room.
First you need to find the Website Café, which is not quite as easy as looking at a diagram of the ship. The café is located between the (very beautiful) Erasmus Library and the Half Moon meeting room on the Upper Promenade deck (Deck 5), but the café can only be entered by going THROUGH the library or through the Half Moon room.
Logging In (or On)
Your e-mail address on board is your "user name"@zaandam.cruisemail.net, thus my e-mail address was email@example.com. One of the many things I didn't find out about the café was whether you could receive an e-mail which was sent to you BEFORE you ever logged on, or whether it would be bounced back to the sender - I suspect it wouldn't work.
An outgoing e-mail [using the ship's e-mail account] costs $3.95 (in addition to the time meter ticking along). I asked the manager whether each "cc" of an e-mail was an additional $3.95, but the manager didn't know for sure (I'm sure she knows by now!). Based on what was charged to my account, I think there's no extra charge, but be sure to check before sending 60 of your best friends the same e-mail message. Also keep in mind that you're going to have to laboriously enter every e-mail address you need into the terminal while the money clock is ticking. [If you are able to use your own e-mail account (see discussion below), you only have to pay the time charges (but minimum of five minutes), and not the $3.95.]
Incoming e-mails are free! Wow, us passengers finally get a break.
Surfing the Web
Checking your regular e-mail accounts
Tips and Cautions
While I'm delighted with the Zaandam having a cybercafé (similar facilities are being added to all HAL ships), there are still some aggravations - and definitely significant costs. I think the cafés will be a solid revenue source for HAL. I was disappointed to note that the cabins do not have a dataport on the phones, because even at $7.95 per minute for long distance charges, I could have uploaded and downloaded my e-mail on my laptop for less than it cost me in the cybercafé (unless I was unlucky enough to have one of my friends send me an mpeg or wav file while I was on board (grin)).
Stores and Boutiques
Sorry ladies, but I never managed to inspect any of these. There appeared to be a good mixture of high end jewelry and clothing stores, souvenir shops and necessary sundries (like Tylenol and sunscreen). I didn't try out the Beauty Salon either, but it was run by Steiner - as with most cruise ships.
The Crow's Nest Lounge way up on the Sports Deck can be a busy disco in the late evening, but at other times the Crow's Nest lounge is very relaxing. A continuous seat around the outside windows gives you a fabulous view of what's happening, as the Crow's Nest is right at the front of the ship, and you can see everything ahead of you, and on both sides. Even if the disco is blaring away, there are two "wings" to the lounge where it is possible to carry on a conversation.
The Seaview Lounge is a cozy meeting place and features a piano decorated with a driftwood motif. The Explorers' Lounge has a magnificent seafaring mural by English artist Ian Cairnie. The main Mondriaan two-storey show lounge was attractive, with good sight lines.
Much of the artwork (two million dollars' worth!) was in Holland America's usual style with sculptures, historical stuff, paintings of old Holland America ships, and some abstract art. An unusual addition was a collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. While much hoopla has been made about the Zaandam being in a musical motif, the only obvious evidence of that in the artwork were various guitars and other musical instruments signed by the likes of President Clinton, Queen, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, and the Rolling Stones.
Under the "artwork" heading, the 22-foot-high pipe organ in the Zaandam's atrium is an interesting piece of sculpture, resembling an extravagant church organ, but at its heart (according to the publicity), it's a "Dutch street organ"! Puppets around the organ move in time with the music, and the organ may be played by hand or operated electronically. Overall, however, I thought this centerpiece was a mini-disaster. An atrium is supposed to be an open connecting area, bringing light and a feeling of space to the interior of a ship (or a building). The Zaandam's giant organ totally overwhelmed the atrium space. When the organ was not playing (and it never did play in my presence), it certainly looked forlorn, with its mini stage doors closed and an empty organist's chair. I'll be interested to hear what future cruisers say of its musical capabilities, and how the employees of the nearby front desk and shore excursion office love hearing it all day (grin).
The fact that Holland America picked teen superstars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to dedicate the ship on May 4th indicates that HAL is trying to promote a younger image. Perhaps too young: I had to ask my wife who they were.
Holland America has succeeded in creating a more youthful image with its newest ship while retaining the tradition of understated elegance. The Zaandam may not have a rock-climbing wall or an ice skating rink, but I think it's going to be a winner.
Photos courtesy of Alan Walker & Holland America Line.
To see more photos, click HERE!
To read Alan Walker's port review of Holland America Line's private island, Half Moon Cay, click HERE!
Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.
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