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Cruise Ship Review
Holland America Line


by Alan Walker


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.

The Cabin

Inside CabinMy 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.

BathroomThe 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
Dining RoomThe two level dining room is exquisite, with picture windows on both levels on either side, as well as floor length windows at one end (because the restaurant is at the aft end of the ship). Colors are varied with blue, red and purple carpets, red chairs, green chairs, taupe table cloths, and other color accents. Staircases on either side lead from the upper levels to the lower level of the 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
Marco Polo"California-style" Italian cuisine is featured in the elegant Marco Polo restaurant, a lunch and dinner alternative to dining in the main Rotterdam dining room. There is no additional charge to dine there, but a reservation must be made in advance. Tip: book immediately you're on board, as the Marco Polo only seats 88 people, and less than half of the passengers will have the opportunity to eat there in the evening during a seven day cruise. Given the elegance of the dining room, a formal night would be a good night to have a reservation. The walls of the Marco Polo are filled with a 17th century collection of still life paintings. Great sea views may be had, and the lightness of the room is enhanced by decorative windows looking back into the passageway which winds around the outside of the restaurant. The Filetto Al Barolo and Tiramisu that I enjoyed in the Marco Polo was one of my most memorable meals.

Lido Buffet Restaurant
Lido RestaurantBreakfast, lunch and snacks could be had in the Lido Restaurant on Deck 9, which is adjacent to the outside pool on one side, and the covered pool, hot tubs and Dolphin Bar on the other side. This bright, attractive eating area suffered from the usual line-up syndrome. It's a pity that the designers didn't follow the new trend of having separate "stations" for the different food courses so that the buffet line-up is not stalled by a passenger agonizing over her individual strawberry selections. The buffet food was adequate. There is a separate station where you could have omelets cooked to order at breakfast, and pasta at lunchtime. In addition to the main Lido lunch buffet, there is also the Terrace Grill at the far end of the Lido Deck - beyond the covered pool. The menu is mainly pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, but is open for service until 3:30 p.m. (the Lido Buffet itself closes at 2:00 p.m.).

Special Meals
Those with special requirements for meals must advise the ship when booking their ticket, and then must re-confirm with the maitre'd prior to the first dinner. Special meals include vegetarian dishes, low sodium, kosher (pre-packaged), diabetic and fat free/low cholesterol.

Room Service
A complete breakfast could be obtained in your cabin between 6:30 and 10:30, but only by filling out a breakfast card and putting it outside your cabin door. A lunch and dinner menu was available between noon and 10 p.m. Sandwiches, bagels, beef broth, cheese and desserts were available 24 hours.

Other Food Venues
The Java Café offered espresso and fancy coffees. There is an ice cream and yogurt parlor in the Lido restaurant, but unfortunately only open at odd times for a total of five hours per day. "Late Night Snacks," the modern equivalent of the old "Midnight Buffet," were available in the Lido Restaurant between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.

Casino, Dress Codes and Tipping

CasinoThe casino was attractive, and had an interesting collection of art. Otherwise, it was just a casino. In addition to the usual slots (108 of them), table games included blackjack, roulette, draw poker, stud poker, and craps. You could charge your chips to your shipboard account, and although I didn't check, I think there is a percentage fee for that privilege. Interestingly, the casino which is always closed when in port, was open during our stay at Half Moon Cay, courtesy of special arrangements with the Bahamian authorities.

Dress Code
The Zaandam has the standard dress code: casual wear is acceptable during the day, on shore excursions, and for designated "casual" nights on board, except that shorts and tank tops are frowned upon in the evening. On "informal nights" (a misleading expression) men are expected to wear jackets, and ladies a dress or pant suit. On "formal nights," ladies are requested to wear cocktail dresses or a formal gown, and men a tuxedo or dark suit.

HAL advertises "tipping not required," but what does that really mean? Here's my views on the whole tipping topic. On high end cruise lines where the policy is stated to be "all tipping declined" (or the equivalent), it's easy - no tips. On standard cruise lines (including Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, etc.):

  • give the suggested tips for average service
  • give extra tips for extra-special service
  • reduce tips for bad service (but one is better off making a formal complaint immediately if service is poor)

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).

Children's Programs

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

Website CafeI'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.

While the café is open 24 hours a day, the café manager is only in attendance for 11 hours on sea days, and 7 hours on port days. If you have a problem or a special request outside of the manager's hours, you're going to be out of luck.

Logging In (or On)
First you need to find an unused terminal, which wasn't always an easy task. A backlog of would-be users developed during busy times, and there appeared to be no organized system of determining who was next in line for a vacant terminal. Perhaps this problem will be addressed by HAL in the future. To log in, you need to create a "user name" which must be your first initial, last name, and cabin number, with no spaces. Your initial password is your "folio number," which is on the bottom of your cruise card. After the initial log-in, you select your own personal password, and use it for the remainder of your cruise. Keep in mind that, as soon as you log-in, your onboard account is going up at the rate of 75 cents a minute. A couple sharing the same cabin could use the same user name. It's quicker logging in for the second and subsequent times.


Your e-mail address on board is your "user name"@zaandam.cruisemail.net, thus my e-mail address was awalker3411@zaandam.cruisemail.net. 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
Access to the wonderful word of www was almost instantaneous. I didn't try printing anything I looked at, so I can't say whether your could print off - at no cost - anything that you wanted. I only noticed one printer in the café (which automatically prints out your bill when you log off).

Checking your regular e-mail accounts
I'm no technical expert, so treat the following comments with caution . . .

  1. If you have a web-based e-mail address such as hotmail or Yahoo mail, you could obviously check your mail once you've accessed the internet
  2. If you have a proprietary based server such as CompuServe, you need to organize a web-based mail box with your server before you leave home
  3. If you have a non-web-based server, you should theoretically be able to access your e-mail once you're on the net, by using Outlook Express, or some other mail program. Two problems (which I hope some future cruiser could advise me on): I don't recall seeing a standard mail program on the terminals, and secondly, you would need to set up your own account within a standard mail program to get your mail, and I really can't believe that any passenger could simply modify the mail program at will.
  4. You can check e-mail on any server (other than proprietary ones like CompuServe), by using mailstart.com or similar websites that provide this service, once you have successfully got on to the internet. To use such a service, you will need to remember your username and password from your regular e-mail program. (Try it out first at home.) Caution: mailstart.com and like websites are not secure, and neither The SeaLetter nor me take any responsibility for your using such a service.

Extra Facilities

  • For $4.95 extra, you can send a 15-20 second voice and video of yourself with an e-mail (a tiny video camera and mike are attached to the top of each computer monitor)
  • For another $3.95, you can play either "Tiger Woods Golf" or "You Don't know Jack" on the terminals, keeping in mind that the 75 cents a minute is still ticking

Tips and Cautions

  • Be careful to follow the three stage "log-off" procedure because the per-minute cost keeps going until you log-off fully
  • Don't forget to bring a hard copy of your e-mail addresses with you from home
  • Write out your e-mail messages before you get to the internet café (otherwise, you'll be paying time charges while you pause and think)
  • Don't assume that you can copy to or from floppy discs. The computers themselves are locked up, and, as indicated above, a manager is not always on duty. Even if a manager were on duty, I'm not sure that you'd be allowed to use the floppy drive
  • If you're a "hunt and peck" typist like me, learn to type and save money!

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.


Explorers LoungeThe 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.

Art Work

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. GuitarsWhile 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).


  • Cabins 3390 and 3394 were very noisy, according to some ladies I met. They said their cabins were under the galley, and they could hear loud noises right through until 4:00 in the morning.
  • The drinking age on board is 21, and you have to be 18 to play in the casino
  • Tours of the bridge and the engine room are available when announced in the daily program, but you need to move fast to sign up for one before they are filled
  • Babysitting is available on board - for a price
  • There's both a doctor and dentist on board
  • A useful description of Customs regulations and duty-free allowances is contained in the ship's directory in your cabin
  • Coin-operated launderettes are located on most cabin decks, and also have ironing facilities
  • You can pay for laundry and dry cleaning services, and your cabin steward will look after it if you place your stuff in the laundry bag in your cabin, and fill in the appropriate form. Your laundry is returned the next day, but if you're in a hurry, you can get it back the same day with a 50% surcharge
  • Joggers are limited to the Sports Deck. Walkers can circle the entire ship on the Lower Promenade Deck
  • Two paddle tennis courts are located on the Sports Deck
  • You can send a fax from the Front Office (HAL's name for the "Purser's Office"). You can make direct long distance calls from your cabin at $7.95 a minute
  • U.S. currency is used on board (although most everything may be charged to your ship's account which may be paid at the end of your cruise with a credit card, cash or travelers' checks)
  • To call the Zaandam, you need to phone 1-900-225-5425, and give the name of the ship, the name of the passenger and the passenger's cabin number
  • Smoking is not allowed in the dining areas, in the show lounge, and on one side of the public rooms. Cigar and pipe smoking is only allowed on open decks and at the outdoor Dolphin Bar
  • There's a duty-free shop on board
  • 23 of the cabins are equipped for the physically challenged
  • The Zaandam boasts three sets of elevators (versus two on some of their earlier ships), which makes you always handy to an elevator. The elevators each have two fold-down seats -- the first time I have seen these on elevators. It would have to be a very long elevator ride to want to sit down (grin)
  • A teak deck totally encircles the ship on Deck 3, a tradition from the grand days of transatlantic ocean liners. The deck chairs are the classic wooden ones
  • Non-U.S. citizens are required to attend a U.S. immigration inspection on disembarkation day at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m.
  • The Shore Excursion desk and the excursions themselves seem to have been well organized, but our brief cruise only visited Half Moon Cay. I'll be writing a separate article about that visit.
  • The Ocean Spa fitness center has dual saunas and steam rooms as well as six spa treatment rooms
  • The fitness room has great ocean views, and features treadmills, stationary bikes, stairsteppers, rowing machines, weights and weight machines. I didn't try any.

Last Words

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!


Alan WalkerOriginally 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.

To find all of Alan's SeaLetter columns, featured and humorous articles, and cruise and port reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Alan Walker" as your search phrase.

Alan loves email, and can be reached at: Alan@sealetter.com.

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