Regions:Alaska, Central America, Transpacific, West Coast, Erope
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Eastern Seaboard, South America
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Value for Money. Teens. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Africa, Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Scandinavia, The Orient
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Foodies.
Regions:Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Eastern Seaboard, Hawaii, Mexico, South America
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, The Orient, West Coast
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Central America, Hawaii, West Coast
Good for: Overall Service. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Teens. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Central America, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
It is important to note a bit of background on our cruising experience and what we look for in a vacation. A good vacation is one that meets our expectations. A great vacation is one that surpasses our expectations. This was a great vacation!
We are a semi-retired professional couple in our late 40's/early 50's and have the good fortune of sailing 50+ cruises as passengers. Additionally, following our first retirements, we found a second career in combining our love of travel and people -- we worked as onboard cruise staff for 4+ years with Carnival and Princess Cruises. Accordingly, we have experienced cruising from both sides. For this holiday, we treated ourselves to a deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA stateroom 7047) and every single hard-earned penny was well spent!
Pre-Cruise We arrived a day early into Vancouver, B.C. from Longboat Key, FL, USA. The Delta flight included one change of planes in Atlanta and was uneventful. A prearranged rental car from Alamo onsite at the airport was inexpensive and convenient since we were able to return it onsite at Canada Place before boarding the ship. The Park Plaza Hotel on Broadway wasclean and comfortable and recently refurbished in an art deco motif that was aesthetically pleasing. It's location on Broadway offered many options for dining and shopping.
Embarkation After a good night's sleep, we arrived at the terminal at 11:10 am, returned our rental vehicle and went through the entire process of embarkation and were onboard before 12 noon. The actual process of embarkation took less than 20 minutes and all staff was personable and professional. Our key cards in hand, we posed for our first of many photographs, were videoed as we traversed the gangway, and heard those heart warming words as we took our first step onboard, "Welcome Home". The familiar HAL Mariner motto of "Once onboard, never forgotten" is replayed not only in words but in the actions of all crew members. We had a suite on deck 7, near the Neptune Lounge. Accordingly, we elected to stop by to introduce ourselves to the concierges Carlo & Faye, pour the first of many (many, many) delectable cappuccinos and to drop off our carry on bags. We had a light lunch at the Lido buffet, complete with scrumptious velvety bread pudding, before hearing the announcement that all staterooms were ready. (Approximately 1:20pm)
Stateroom/Suite Ammenities Ahhhhh, the sweet life of the suite life. Although we had cruised 50+ days with HAL, this was the first deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA) we had ever booked with the line. As many others have stated in their reviews, once you have experienced the bonuses that accompany the HAL superior deluxe suite, you will never want to cruise any other way. My husband and I agree that it was the fact that we were in a suite that made this vacation one we will never forget and one that stands apart from all others we have taken as passengers. The stateroom size is astounding. It measures at 510 sq. feet (although a standard verandah cabin measures half that size at 249 sq. feet) and is pure heaven. The color pallet is warm, understated elegance in crème, mauve and burgundy. So much has been written about the extra living space, storage space, oversized balcony, the fresh flowers, the premium duvet, oversize bath towels, and unlimited complimentary laundry and pressing that I will not elaborate. Our cabin steward Rahmat immediately appeared and welcomed us with a warm and genuine smile. Within one hour our 4 checked bags were delivered -- plenty of storage room for both my and my husband's 21 day outfits and 21 evening outfits. Our 4 large bags easily fit under the king size bed and were out of view for the cruise. Ample hangers were provided for all clothing requiring them. I separated out clothing to be pressed for the next 2 days and presented them to our steward for the laundry department. Throughout the entire cruise all clothing sent to be washed or dry cleaned was returned the next day and that to be pressed was returned that same evening as it was sent.
A bit of an aside, for those with long hair, I brought my own hair dryer and am quite happy I did since the one provided in the suite was not sufficient. Also, I did not bring my own shampoo/conditioner and elected to purchase some when the opportunity arose. (I guess I am in the minority on the Elemis products?)
We were off at 4:30pm to the lifeboat drill where the rain could not dampen our spirits. Speaking of spirits, after the drill my husband poured us a glass of champagne (thank you Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells) and we toasted each other to the start of a great holiday.
Captain: Joreon van Donselaar
Hotel Manager: Mark Pells
Suite Concierges: Carlo & Faye
Cruise Director: Jason Venner
Asst. CDs: DJ Drew, Michael, Chris, Aga
Staff Entertainment: Jenny & The Hall Cats, Randall Powell on Piano (in Crow's Nest), Dan Brady on piano (the Piano Bar), Porto Fino (Ocean Bar band), City Quartet (Explorers Lounge plus special occasions string quartet)
Ports Although this was considered a repositioning cruise, it was extremely port intensive. In the 21 day cruise from Vancouver, FL, we visited 13 ports of call (including embarkation & disembarkation). We had the good fortune of varied ports from the pacific northwest region of our port of embarkation, Vancouver, to rainy Seattle, to the cosmopolitan port of Los Angeles, to the 6 ports of Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas), the rain forest area of Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, the maritime/fortressed port of Cartagena, Columbia and the flavor of the western Caribbean islands, Key West, FL. We pre-booked our shore excursions using the HAL online booking and accordingly not only insured receipt of all of the tours we requested but also had them paid for before we sailed. Of particular mention were our personal favorites of the Mini 4 x 4 Expedition in the muddy hills of Puerto Vallarta and the Mountain Bike Tour in Huatulco. Our out of town tours in Cabo San Lucas (Todos Santo) and Manzanillo (Nogueras) were both interesting and insightful of the Mexican culture. While in Seattle, what is not to love about a tour of a winery (complete with wine tasting) at 10:30 am on a rainy day? And a highlight tour of L.A. including Rodeo Drive shopping came in handy for that "oops, I forgot to bring my favorite black pants (wink-wink)" which resulted in the purchase of not one but two new pair of pants plus other necessities! As a special treat, the Hotel Manager, Mark Pells, arranged for no less than 8 folkloric shows to perform for the passengers when in port. These special and unexpected cultural shows were well received by many passengers and a further insight into the colorful entertainment side of the Mexican and Columbian cultures.
Panama Canal Spectacular does not say enough about the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal. When you remember that the Panama Canal shortens by many thousand of miles a voyage that would otherwise involve going around the tip of South America, and couple it with experiencing it first hand through the transit of 3 locks, it is definitely a cruise not to be missed. Many people take cruises wherein the ship is their destination. Others seek out particular ports (i.e. St. Petersburg or perhaps Aruba) that they dreamed of visiting. On this cruise, the transit itself is a destination! We had the renowned guest lecturer Dr. Jay Wolff onboard. Dr. Jay shared his knowledge and passion with us as we sailed the full 21 days. His riveting story-telling combined with his personally compiled slides made his talks a standing room only activity. Dr. Jay prepared us for our journey with talks first on San Francisco and its Pioneers, to Cortez and Spain's greed lead to conquest Mexico, to the Digging of the Canal by Uncle Sam, to the Caribbean where Molasses to Rum To Slaves and Pirates were our topics. If you missed or could not get a seat at one of Dr. Jay's talks, it was broadcasted on the in-room television the next day.
Entertainment This area is often quite subjective and no two people on the same cruise will feel the same way about their experiences. I have listed the onboard staff above. There was enough diversity for us among the onboard entertainment staff; however we do not take cruises for the night life. Remembering that there are 1900+ passengers with varying tastes, I believe that there was a respectable variance in entertainment. On the sea days, we especially enjoyed the mid-day music at the Lido pool, mid-ship. On port days, the Lido pool, aft, took stage for Jenny & The Hall Cats and/or Randall on Piano for the sail-a-way parties. It was particularly enjoyable to listen to the "banter" of fog horns between the respective Captains of the Zuiderdam and the Noordam as the Z sailed away first out of the premier pier berth in Cabo San Lucas. The margaritas and laughter were overflowing as the celebration of our sojourn into Mexico began to become reality for us passengers. Our vote for the best of the best onboard entertainment was the City Quartet who played nightly at the Explorers Lounge and often graced us with tunes at formal dinners, special cocktail parties and our most special evening -- the Renewal of Vows ceremony. Featured Vista Lounge entertainment was spread equally among comedians, vocalists, pianists, etc. A bit of a disappointment was the hypnotist; however a raving review is deserving of Doug Mattocks, a virtuoso on banjo! Stage shows by the Z dance troupe were enjoyable, however there were only 3 different shows (twice repeated) presented on this long itinerary. Mid-cruise, the Officers Black & White Ball was held in the Vista Lounge with Jenny & The Hall Cats accompanying. It was a sea of Black & White tuxes and ball gowns, balloons and streamers. The videographer was present and captured many a couple shaking a leg and also snuggling close on an especial evening of pageantry. The officers looked dapper and the ladies looked gorgeous.
On a day to day basis, the cruise staff led the activities which included a wide array of basketball throws, ping-pong tournaments, ring toss, golf putting, trivia contests, dance classes, etc. We earned enough "dam dollars" to redeem for a long sleeved t-shirt, a short sleeved t-shirt and a set of wine glass ID rings (with the ship theme). I had the luck to win at Bingo on one occasion and also was chosen to "win" a cute t-shirt from DelSol during one of the Port Lecturer talks. My husband was selected to enter the Zuiderdam Superstar contest and he was graced by the judges CD Jason, beautiful singer Jenny and fun-loving, boisterous Randall with the title of "Zuiderdam Superstar", winning a bag full of HAL goodies including t-shirts, mugs, hats, water bottle, key chain, clock, umbrella, etc. Of course there were always new feature films in the Queens Lounge daily as well as replays on 2 television channels each day. There were art auctions by Park West that were scheduled on sea days in the afternoon and often included free champagne. A Walk for the Cure was held on the last Sunday (sea day) and it garnered good participation. We found there to be more than enough to keep us busy and I am enjoying a bit of a respite now that we are home.
Dining I would equate the dining with that of a country club. Choices were more than plentiful, and the selection and quality of sugar free desserts was abundant. The dining room staff was eager to please. We had a table for 2, early dining, top level. However, because of the way the tables were configured and due to the length of the cruise, we often chatted with the 4 top next to us as well as other nearby tables. The Lido buffet was typically our choice for breakfast and lunch with the omelet station in the a.m. being my personal favorite. Pizza and ice cream served most anytime throughout the day were among my husband's favorites. Of special note were the sea day afternoon BBQ's, which varied from Satay BBQ, to Salmon Bake, to Rib BBQ to Mexican Fiestas. The Chocolate extravaganza was absolutely remarkable and held on two separate evenings. We dined at the Pinnacle Grill one evening and found it to our pleasing; however the steaks and service at the dining room were equally satisfactory. I particularly enjoy starters and a number of the soups, the liver pate and escargot were among my favorites. Our favorite meal was served in the Pinnacle Grill for the suite passengers. Kudos go out to the Pinnacle Grill Manger Elvira and her staff. Hosted by Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells, we were treated to a formal sit down luncheon of Indosian cuisine, with plenty of red and/or white wines to compliment the fare. The rice pudding dessert was tremendous! We were honored to be seated next to the Captain with a number of other cruise critic members at our table of eleven! Service was impeccable as was the company of our tablemates! (This was definitely a highlight of our cruise!)
Renewal of Vows Ceremony Without exception this was the number one most memorable event of our cruise. Near the end of the cruise we stated our vows to each other before the Captain in a moving ceremony. There were 5 couples and many witnesses to such a joyous ceremony held in the Oak Room. The City Quartet provided a lovely musical background to the magically decorated room. Champagne and hor d'ourves were served and many a tissue was used to dry the tears of those in attendance! For those considering it, the ceremony as performed by this Captain was sincere and not the least bit chintzy or hokey. Each couple was called individually before the Captain to recite their vows and to pledge their love. A beautiful photo album/memento book was sent to our cabin the next day with photographs, certificate signed by Captain and a recitation of the vows. You may invite witnesses/guests for a nominal fee to share in your special evening. We invited three couples to experience with us this special declaration of love and all the staff was accommodating in taking group photos for us. Also included in the package is a bottle of wine, corsages for the ceremony, a bouquet of flowers for your stateroom and dinner for two at the Pinnacle Grill.
Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle A nicer group of hooligans you will not find!!!! These people know how to have a good time! Through the leadership of Cool Chile (and her husband) and CP 556(and her husband), we had not one but two meet & mingle gatherings. We had the first of the two on our first sea day out of Vancouver (day 3 of cruise). It was held in the afternoon in the Oak Room and was attended by the HM Mark Pells and the Beverage Manager Murat Kaya. The HM spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a round chair discussion format telling us about HAL and its workings. He clued us in to some special entertainment planned for the cruise and gave us some insider tips. The second meet & mingle was the morning after L.A. We were 20+ strong and had numerous door prizes awarded. (Thank you again to our fearless leaders Cool Chile and Rob for their efforts) We had mimosas, coffee and cookies, mimosas, jokes and jabs, mimosas and with all of that champagne flowing through our veins -- FUN! Attended by HM Mark Pells (does that guy ever rest) and CD Jason, everyone walked away with something to remember the cruise critic gang. We were a bit like children in the lunchroom trading our stash for another's. As the days of the cruise came and went, we found that a number of us gravitated toward each other and lunches, walks, talks, shore excursions, coffees and cocktails and more gatherings developed. A lovely penthouse suite cocktail party was hosted by two of our gang on the third of our formal evenings and a Panama Canal lunchtime soiree was hosted by two others in their aft wrap around suite. The cruise critic gang knows how to turn up the temperature and have a grand time. Thank you to one and all!
Suite Ammenities WOW for "Way Over Wonderful" describes our feelings as we reflect on the suite experience. We have stayed in suites on Princess, Celebrity and of course all staterooms are suites on Radisson and Crystal. However, this was unparallel. The location of our stateroom near the Neptune Lounge undoubtedly had a great deal to do with our experience. We enjoyed ducking in throughout the day for juice or a cappuccino. My husband forgot (okay I forgot) to pack his cummerbund and the concierge took care of it. His tux shoe started to fall apart and the concierge took care of it. We had a minor issue with our key cards not working and the concierge took care of it. Invitations needed for our Renewal of Vows -- concierge. RSVP to various invitations we received -- concierge. Discrepancy on bill -- concierge. Need something pressed ASAP -- concierge. Phone Card -- concierge. We had no need to go to the front desk the entire cruise since Carlo and Faye were so readily available. Also, special welcome cocktail parties held in the Neptune Lounge the evenings of Vancouver, Seattle, and the last evening of cruise were lovely and well attended by suite passengers and upper management both. Corsages for formal nights were lovely. VIP cocktail party in the Oak Room with the string quartet was special. The luncheon in the Pinnacle Grill being one of the highlights already mentioned, it was overall just the feeling of being known by your name makes you feel special. While it is true that many of the staff and crew know your name when you sail as a passenger on HAL in a non-deluxe suite, the extra money spent, in our opinion, to have the Neptune Lounge and its services was well worth it.
Captain von Donselaar/Mariners party/Captains Toast Our Captain was quite visible on this cruise. Prior to daily comments of CD Jason, the Captain gave his address from the bridge every day at 1 pm. Near the end of the cruise, on the final formal evening, there was a lovely cocktail party served between the two fixed dining times for Mariners with less than 100 days. (A second more elaborate luncheon was served for those medallion holders on a separate day.) It was held in the Crow's Nest and attended by the Captain, HM, Onboard Cruise Consultants Arky & Shirley, as well as some other upper level staff. Wines, champagne and soft drinks were served. The Captain's Welcome Toast was in the Vista Lounge on the evening of the first formal night and was as described by others to be a glass of champagne with the Captain von Donselaar's opening comments and a toast. The Captain and Chief Engineer also held a Q & A during one of the sea days. For over one hour, many passengers had well thought out questions that were answered in simple lay terms. As we transited the Panama Canal you could see the Captain on the bridge, as with many of the port days as he skillfully glided us into narrow as well as shallow ports. Near the end of our cruise we had a fire alarm sound off during our dining hour. The Captain was on the PA in minutes with a calm and soothing voice informing us that there was smoke on deck 7, starboard, midship which sounded the alarm. (Our cabin was deck 7,starboard, midship) No less than 5 minutes later he once again came on to inform us that it was merely an A/C issue and no damage or concern. Whew!!!! It was handled professionally and at no time did we have any concern for our safety.
Photography Staff/Greenhouse Spa We found the photography staff to be pleasant and courteous at all times. If we chose not to be photographed, a simple no thank you sufficed. We purchased the end of cruise "Cruise Chronicle" DVD and find it to be fantastic. It puts into motion those memories of the cruise, the activities we participated in and many of the people we had the pleasure of spending time with on the cruise. It is under-promoted and is a gem! As for the fitness center and spa, the work-out equipment was more than adequate and we never had any difficulty getting the machines that we desired to use. The hydrotherapy pool and thermal chairs were a welcome treat near the end of the cruise when I needed a bit of R & R after constantly being on the go. There was never a hard sell by any of the salon/spa girls and I understand that appointments were usually available.
Disembarkation We arrived before dawn into FLL. We had been issued tag Red-1 and were called to disembark first. We pre-arranged for a rental SUV from Thrifty, waited in line less than 10 minutes to get off the ship, disembarked scanning our keycard one last time, located our 4 bags all in the same row, hailed a porter and were through customs and on the Thrifty van within 5 minutes. A quick ride to the rental location and the reality of being back on land set in. The 3-1/2 hour drive back to Longboat Key was a bit somber as we realized our vacation was at its end.
Cabin We were in cabin 5104 which was directly over the tenders. That was a bit disappointing, but once we got used to them, they were easy to ignore. Plus having the chance to see them being deployed for use was actually quite interesting.
The cabin was roomier than expected, and two people with clothes for 21 days had no trouble finding storage space. We had empty drawers and hangers once we'd unpacked.
We had a lovely sized bathroom and the medicine cabinet was larger than ours at home. The flusher on our toilet was less than accurate though. My elderly mother had nothing but trouble trying to make it work. The European style shower was another issue for her. The left tap controls the water and the right controls the temperature.
The sofa in our stateroom had seen better days but I understand the ship is going in for a refit soon.
I'll agree with all the comments about the comfort of the beds. In fact, two days after our return home, I had to go out and purchase a new mattress as I could no longer justify sleeping on the onewe had!
Ship My overall impression of the fittings and decor on the Zuiderdam is positive. Very elegant, just like I expected a cruise ship to be.
The library is sufficient, but the best part is the paperback swap. I read about 17 novels on the trip and only had to purchase 4 of them. The rest were trades.
I used the Internet onboard once. Ridiculous charges so that was that. At least I can say I did it and can put forth my opinion.
The stores are good, but I found that the staff in the one "department" type store could have been MUCH friendlier and more helpful. If customer service is important, these folks need a bit more training.
Staff Members I had no negative experiences outside the stores as mentioned above. In fact, I was amazed by the ability of staff to remember so many people's names on such a consistent basis!
Special kudos to Purwadi, our room steward. He looked after us so well! His wife had their second child while we were onboard. His contract doesn't expire for 7 more months and as a parent, I felt very empathetic to his situation.
Edrin and Marcie from the Windstar Cafe! Two of the sweetest people! They were over and above what you would expect from people who make your specialty coffee for you. Wonderful! We felt like their favorite customers and I know ALL their customers felt the same way.
Food The food was okay. Nothing special and my favorite food, sushi, was not done well. I did continue to eat it, but the first thing I did upon my return 3 days ago was head out to my favorite restaurant and eat GOOD sushi!
My mom and I ate a couple of times in the dining room, but we found that the food at the buffet was the same quality and we could set our own hours.
Entertainment The few times we went to the Vista Lounge, we truly enjoyed the presentations. Lots of excellent talent!
Overall I never felt the ship was crowded except for the couple of times the coffee ran out during the breakfast rushes.
The teak and cushioned deck chairs were my favorite hangouts.
Our fellow travelers were, for the most part, wonderful and we made quite a few shipboard friends.
I/we would cruise again on the Zuiderdam with no hesitation whatsoever.
This was a 7-day cruise, end of Alaska season.
Good food, very good service and nightly entertainment, a clean ship, well decorated.
Only complaint -- don't go if you're bothered by cigarette smoke, as people ignored the rules and nobody enforced them.
1. Emergency (and non-emergency) phone numbers did not work on or about 6 September 2007 and on or about 12 September, or were printed incorrectly in HAL literature and prevented us from reaching HAL in Seattle or the MS Rotterdam:
(a). When we needed help with American Airlines late arrival and British Airlines baggage transfers, which HAL literature prominently promised to provide in just such a case as we faced: American Airlines arriving in London 1.5 hours late that caused us to miss the booked (and only available) connection.
(b). When we tried to notify ship of above.
(c). When TravelGuard doctor tried to phone back 12 Sept. after Rotterdam's medical department declined to involve in a medical emergency. (TravelGuard has documented this to us in writing.)
2. When we reached an emergency number late that day (6 September):
(a). It proved to be an Answering Service.
(b). "HAL won't provide help with luggage."
(c). "HAL won't provide help with airline connections."
3. When we reached a live HAL representative (Dianne) on 7 Sept., she said "Computers were out system-wide yesterday."
(a). She at least notified Rotterdam about our having to meet them in Istanbul. Bythen, apparently, our original cabin, 3314, had been assigned to someone else because we were placed eventually in 3328.
(b). However, nobody on board Rotterdam knew of that alleged computer failure (which is now the world's #1 excuse for bad service)! In fact, the Rotterdam's reservation person reported having used that system on the day it was reported to us to be "out."
4. Without divine or HAL intervention, we could not reach Athens before the Rotterdam sailed.
5. Therefore, we missed 2 days of sailing, eating, sleeping, vacationing, etc.
6. 8 Sept. 2007: Rotterdam Guest Relations Supervisor (GRS) assured us we should go on the planned day trip for which we had prepaid to Istanbul on Day 3 and she'd stay on top of the luggage problem; also that we did not have to shop Istanbul for new clothes and other belongings; she guaranteed our luggage would be on board by the time we returned. Period. No chance of a slip-up, no need for us to switch to a "Plan B."
(a). Luggage was delivered to 4 other passengers;
(b). Our luggage was not delivered, and the GRS was unaware of that fact until we called her attention to it! i.e. She had not stayed on top of the problem as promised.
(c). When GRS delivered the above bad news, I broke down with uncontrollable crying so severe that GRS volunteered to come to our cabin to assist. Others among the senior passenger representatives also were aware of this.
7. I was without clothing for approximately one week;
(a). Rotterdam shops had almost nothing suitable; We found:
i. 1 pair of men's shorts;
ii. 1 ill-fitting dress;
iii. 2 T-shirts (with HAL logos!);
iv. 1 long skirt unsuited to the above and Judi's one jacket top that she'd carried aboard.
v. The above cost us $172.30.
(b). Rotterdam's rep suggested solution: Express Laundry (in by 9, back by 5) which would have left Judi naked most of the day, and in violation of deportment regulations!;
(c). The situation was, at best, Humiliating!
i. I danced barefooted since my only shoes -- sneakers -- were utterly unsuited to dancing;
ii. I faced attending high holiday Rosh Hashanah services without proper clothes.
iii. I missed the Captain's cocktails out of embarrassment (as per note to Captain Smit);
(d). Emotionally distressing!
i. I consumed my maximum doses of pain killer for my spine condition during this stressful period and beyond;
ii. Rotterdam staff witnessed me breaking down into uncontrollable crying (when they reported they had not dealt properly to insure that my luggage made the ship on the day they promised) tried to offer me some of their own wardrobe, but none were nearly the right size!
iii. When lost luggage at long last arrived 12 Sept., my extra supply of essential, prescribed pain killer medication was missing from it;
iv. The Rotterdam's medical department was unable or unwilling to assist with obtaining a new supply of her prescribed pain killer when we first asked them; later they relented (after the TravelGuard insurance doctors were unable to reach us because of HAL's bad electronic service or improperly printed numbers), but charged for their assistance ($25).
8. Franklynn was without vital items for 7 days and subjected to extreme stress.
(a). He and Judi were unable to cohabit due to the lost luggage;
(b). He could not recharge his cameras' or back-up storage system's batteries without the missing luggage;
(c). He could not wear his contact lenses;
(d). He was obliged to become fulltime care-giver, because of my fragile condition brought on by the lost luggage, instead of vacationer;
(e). He required medical attention upon return to the USA because of the stress;
9. We found HAL literature and web site distressingly misleading and unprofessional;
(a). We say this as professional writers with 50-year backgrounds (each):
i. Newspaper columnists in 50+ newspapers reaching 2-million+ readers from 1983 until 1995 (when we dropped it to focus on a newsletter that has paid for our "retirement");
ii. Authors of 22 trade and professional books;
iii. Designers and copyrighters of sales literature for Epic Systems (largest vendor of medical software), Deloitte Touche, Orion Systems.
iv. Freelancers of 1,000+ articles (often with photos) on science, business, consumer protection and travel that won 7 awards from American Business Press, National Press Club (2 consecutive years), Nat'l. Conf. of Christians and Jews, Best Home-Schooling Book of 2007, Oberhausen Grand Prix for documentary film on Vietnam War, etc.
(b). Example: At the web site where this trip was purchased, the "fine print disclaimer" is in 5 point type (at its largest), which is well below FTC guidelines; in fact, I discovered the disclaimer only yesterday while studying documents for possible use beyond our present claim.
10. We found Shore Excursions generally very disappointing and literature about them misleading.
(a). Example: Istanbul "HAL OK'd rug store" sold us a genuine Turkish carpet—later found to be probably made in China!
(b). Example: Pyramids trip of 3 hours on a bus with a guide who had degrees in everything (just ask her) told us less than we learned from another group's guide who did accompany his charges to the Pyramids, unlike our guide. She also spent 5 minutes hawking a gift shop where we'd stop. And the beggars of baksheesh, including uniformed police, were outrageously aggressive, the worst we'd encountered in any country. The camel drivers were not far behind. This should have been discussed in H.A.L. literature with advice (since our guide left us at once to wander on our own): don't make eye contact and don't speak and the hucksters may go away.
If you can't trust the people to whom you entrust your life when flying or sailing, who can you trust? One of our most-planned trips ever proved you can't trust anybody! For us, that now includes American Airlines, British Airways, their sometime baggage handler Havas, hoary Holland America Line and their fairly new owner Carnival Lines. Even the Wisconsin travel insurer fell apart when we needed them.
Savoring our new retirement, we immediately booked what sounded like a wham-bang cruise on Holland America Line's MS Rotterdam. We'd never felt the cruise muse, but this one went from Athens through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Istanbul and Black Sea ports in Bulgaria, at Odessa and Sebastopol, past romantic-novel Russian dachas on Black Sea beaches and back out to Rhodes and the Pyramids of Egypt. Who could resist?
The cruise was to start in Athens, so we let American Airlines schedule our flight from Madison, Wisconsin, in plenty of time to catch the ship. They routed us to London's Heathrow airport, where (two hours later) their "One World" partner British Airways would take us to Athens. Rank innocents, we pre-booked and pre-paid for everything, from tripinsurance to Holland America's port-of-call sightseeing jaunts, so we wouldn't have a vacation worry. For the next few months, we sat back and anticipated the fun.
Departure date arrived, with blue skies forecast for during the whole flight. We checked through to Athens our two suitcases (small for Frank's clothes, large for Judi's and our non-carryon sundries) and the plane left on time. Our connection at O'Hare was ready to leave on time, but that's when Hell began its rise. American Airlines had boxed in our plane with two others. Our pilot couldn't pull away to take off until they did. It took half an hour to move them. Having lost our place in the O'Hare take-off queue, we now had to wait 45 minutes in line.
Ah, you say, pilots can pick up time over the Atlantic. Ours made up precisely 5 minutes.
Just before we landed, a steward announced, "Please remain seated unless you have a tight connection. Those with tight connections, please go to the Flight Transfer Desk." That meant us, since we now had 70 minutes to take-off for Athens. It must have also meant most others on the huge 777, because they all tried to shove their way out of the plane and to the designated desk. "We must make our flight to get on our cruise!" we implored the steward. "Don't worry, a flight leaves for Athens every hour," she assured us.
There's a reason London's Heathrow was voted the second worst airport in the world. Reaching the flight transfer desk took 10 minutes, shoving and being shoved all the way. There we learned (1) our next flight left from another terminal, reachable only by bus, (2) we'd have to go through Security again at the next terminal, and (3) nobody at AA or British Airways cared whether we missed our flight and therefore our cruise.
We got to the line for the bus and saw it was 3 buses long, they left every 5 minutes, and the ride was 10 minutes. In desperation, still hoping to make the plane, we played Ugly American and crashed the line. Miraculously, we arrived with a full 30 minutes before take-off.
Did you know that airlines, not governments, set up and bankroll the Security line configurations at major airports? To the left, at Terminal 1, was the 2-person line for first-class and business ticket-holders, guarded by a burly fellow who doesn't care how many flights you miss. To the right was the wheelchair line. Between was a huge snake of what seemed like 500 hyperanxious steerage passengers, kept in their place by a series of stanchions and straps. Seizing on a break in the strapping, we crashed that line too. We were through Security with 10 minutes to flight time. But we didn't know what gate the flight left from. We looked for a flight board -– and saw another Flight Connections desk, which was shared by BA and AA. We went to BA to find out and were told, "You missed your flight."
But what about the next one? Sorry, she said, none until the next day. "But our AA attendant said there's an Athens flight every hour."
Who do you trust?Okay, so we weren't fated to board our ship in Athens. We'd see the Bosporus and the Dardanelles on the ship's way back out of the Black Sea. "Reroute us to Istanbul, our next port of call."
Partner or not, British Airways couldn't change our ticket since AA had set it up. "You'll have to get in line at the AA desk next door." We stood in that line.
AA cheerfully agreed to reroute us to Istanbul. "But our luggage -- can we have it rerouted, too?" Sure, she said and scurried over to the BA desk. Lo and behold, five minutes after the BA desk told us our flight had already left, this woman worked a miracle. She said she'd retrieved both suitcases from the "already left" flight to Athens.
Who do you trust?
Thinking nothing else could go wrong, we cell-phoned "sorry, please cancel" to the Athens driver we'd reserved to take us to the ship. Then we reached out to Holland America Line, having carefully copied in all four phone numbers they'd provided online and in all their literature for passengers needing help with airline screw-ups, lost luggage, missed flights and other emergencies: an 800 number, a non-800, a "24-hour emergency line" and a direct number to phone the ship Rotterdam.
We phoned then. We phoned later. We phoned on arrival in Istanbul and several times more. We got no answer except once. That time, a baritone identified himself as a Seattle answering service and told us that Holland America doesn't help with luggage, schedules, late planes or any of those kinds of problems, period. "Go away," was the message we heard.
Who do you trust?
In Istanbul, despite our qualms, the little suitcase actually did arrive on our plane. Unsurprisingly, the large one did not. BA's lost-suitcase agency here, called Havas, was busy and seemed efficient. We filled out forms, showed luggage tags, and suggested that the bag had most likely flown to Athens. We were assured, repeatedly, that it would be rerouted and delivered right to our hotel next day, as soon as it arrived in Istanbul.
Athens to Istanbul takes the ship Rotterdam two days, so we had next day free. Our hotelier said they'd surely accept our new luggage, so we went sight-seeing. Back at the hotel, our suitcase hadn't arrived. We phoned Havas. "Sorry, it is coming on the midnight flight. We will deliver it to your hotel." No, we said, we'd be boarding the ship early the next morning -- though it wasn't leaving port until 6 PM. "Oh, then we'll deliver it to the ship." We took her name, phone extension, and everything else we could think to ask, so we could follow up.
We also tried Holland America's phones again -- and this time we did reach a live HAL representative -- in Seattle. "Where was everybody?" we asked. Sorry, she said, but their entire computer system (including the phones) had been down world-wide the previous day or so, otherwise we'd have received their help.
"Our computer was down." Heard that one before? Funny, but when we did finally climb on board the ship, the Chief of Reservations said that nobody there had any computer troubles in the past few days.
Who do you trust?
Next morning we boarded the Rotterdam, where HAL's official Passenger Services representative greeted us. We had prepaid for a 9-to-5 sightseeing trip in Istanbul -- should we go or wait for our luggage, we asked, anxious to make sure it arrived. Do go on the trip, she assured us, she'd make sure it arrived. We needn't phone Havas again or take the precaution of shopping in Istanbul for new duds. (Remember, all Judi's clothes were in that suitcase.) She took down all the details about the suitcase, and we felt a weight lifted.
Back on board at 5:30, we rushed to our stateroom so Judi could change from the ratty clothes and sneakers she'd flown in and worn three days. No dice -- no lost luggage greeted us. We phoned the passenger services desk. "What luggage?" they asked. We asked for the Passenger Services rep. Oops, (obviously having forgotten all about it), "Let me check." So much for her morning promises. She phoned back to report (as if to soothe!) that four other passengers' lost luggage had been delivered that day. "Wasn't yours?" Looking out our porthole, we saw water moving. The ship was leaving Istanbul! "What should we do?" we asked, Judi finally having broken down into sobs. She had three solutions:
One, she's spoken with Istanbul's Harbor Master and he'd get the suitcase from the airport, keep it until we came back out of the Black Sea, and bring it out to the Rotterdam himself when he came to guide us back through the Dardanelles five days later.
Two, meanwhile we could avail ourselves of the ship's costly Express Laundry service, in by 9 back by 5. Sure, we could just imagine Judi wandering the Rotterdam decks au natural while the one outfit she wore was washed.
And three, we could try the ship's two clothing shops up next to the casino, one for sportsware, the other for finery. She'd put through a $50 credit toward our purchase.
The finery shop's stock consisted of costume jewelry, formal wear, and furs. In the sports shop, we did find a $42 top that fit. (DAM Ships, it said across the pocket. We found the logo very fitting indeed!) We found a $48 pair of men's shorts, size 38, that were just a bit large. And we found a $68 skin-tight dress that ended above the knees. (Judi wore it once and ran for her jacket to cover up! She'll never again scoff at those sight-seeing matrons in teeny bopper dresses. Maybe their luggage got lost, too!)
Sorry, no underwear or shoes either place, not even sandals.
Five days later, that was us hanging over the Rotterdam's side watching for the Harbor Master. The suitcase arrived, along with 5 chocolates and a sorry note from HAL. Elated, Judi threatened to change clothes thrice a day to wear everything she'd packed.
One item was missing from the suitcase: Judi's reserve bottle of prescription painkillers. But she'd carried-on enough to get her through the cruise, so there was no real problem. We thought.
We phoned the on-board medical office and explained our predicament. Sorry, an assistant said, they had none of that medication on board. "Okay, just write us a prescription and I'm sure an Athens pharmacy will fill it." Sorry, they couldn't do that either.
We remembered that we had bought Traveler's Insurance from TravelGuard. It covered just such emergencies. We phoned them and their doctor promised to phone us back within the hour with the name of an English-speaking Athens physician who'd write us a prescription. We gave him the name of our ship, its direct phone number, our stateroom number, etc.
Who do you trust?
We waited two hours in the stateroom. No call. We checked our messages later. No call ever came from them. Happily, an Athens pharmacy refilled our prescription with no hassles. And TravelGuard refunded our entire premium when, after we were home, we phoned to complain, "Why didn't you phone us?"
They had tried, just not hard enough when the ship's number still didn't work (remember, the one we'd tried to phone two weeks before when their computer was allegedly out?).
Is trust obsolete?
Franklynn Peterson and Judi K-Turkel are Madison, WI authors and journalists who've traveled extensively to 49 states and two dozen foreign countries, written 22 books and won 7 journalism awards.
Our family of three consists of one "almost fifty year old" Mom and 2 teenagers age 19 and 14. This was our seventh cruise, the others having been to Caribbean destinations and the eastern Mediterranean. Our past cruise ships have included Holland America (both Westerdams, old and new), Carnival (Destiny), Royal Caribbean (Adventure of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas) and Celebrity (Galaxy).
The plan for this Alaska cruise originated with a planned vacation to Vancouver. We had intended to visit Vancouver a few years ago, even bought the airline tickets, and then had to bail when we had a conflict in dates with another arrangement.
It just seemed to make sense that if we were going to fly from Toronto to sight see in Vancouver for one week, we could add a second week to cruise to Alaska and make one grand holiday out of the whole thing.
Although we've had a few friends who cruised to Alaska and said it was wonderful, no one really described the trip in any detail, and we had seen almost no photographs.
This probably means we didn't know quite what to expect, in many ways!
The choiceof cruise line was fairly easy as we had very much enjoyed our previous experiences with Holland America. An important consideration was the timing as we needed a cruise that would sail from Vancouver on either August 18 or 19.
The Ship Zuiderdam went into service in 2002 as the first of Holland America's Vista Class ships. Westerdam, on which we cruised the Caribbean two y ears ago, was the third Vista Class ship so we generally knew what to expect in terms of the layout although the décor and especially the art varies from one ship to the other.
Embarkation was very quick and smooth. We had completed our on-line check in prior to our vacation and from the time our taxi dropped us at the pier until we were walking onboard Zuiderdam wasn't more than 20 minutes. We were advised that the stateroom was unlikely to be ready before 1 p.m. and directed to the Lido where we had a bite to eat.
Based on past experience of the stampede to the spa, I knew enough to head in that direction right away to book the treatments that I wanted. This way I was able to get all the times and dates I wanted. When I returned from making those appointments at the Greenhouse Spa, my daughter laughingly told me that a gentleman at a nearby table on the pool deck of the Lido lost his entire pizza slice when a plump seagull swooped down to his table and carried the pizza away. The guilty gull returned a little later (as evidenced by the streak of tomato sauce on his beak).
Stateroom We went to check on our stateroom at about 1:10 and it was ready for us. It was a superior verandah suite, Cat SA, and was spacious, well furnished, and very nicely laid out. The verandah was a "double width" and therefore featured two comfortable faux wicker chairs with ottomans, and a round table with 4 chairs.
We found during our week on board that we had more storage space than we honestly knew what to do with. A nice problem to have! We had 2 closets each (one a hanging closet, the other with shelves) and plenty of drawers, cupboards, and other places to stash stuff.
Our stateroom had several electrical outlets which was handy for recharging all that electronic gear that invariably follows us around these days.
We enjoyed and took advantage of the "free" laundry service that Holland America offers to suite guests. Since we had already been traveling for 7 days when we boarded the ship, it wasn't long before we were able to fill a laundry bag and each time we did so, the clean clothes were returned to our suite the following day.
Our Stateroom Attendant seemed very capable, made us lovely towel animals, and generally was unobtrusive. My teenage daughter has a tendency to "sleep in" during her summer vacation which meant that T couldn't tidy the stateroom until late morning but he had others available to him much earlier and I think learned to save us until last.
Dining We originally requested early seating, small table, but about 2 months prior to sailing I re-thought that because some of our excursions were in the late afternoon and would interfere with an early seating time. I think the early seating request was a leftover from the years when my children were younger but they can easily wait until 8 p.m. now. Our travel agent made the request for a change to main seating and was told we would be wait-listed.
Upon check-in at the pier, we were given our cruise cards and they showed main seating, 8:15 p.m. so we were quite happy with that. Interestingly, on the first evening we showed our cards as we entered the dining room, were shown to our table and drink orders taken. Notably, our waiter did not introduce himself or his assistant and already I had the sense that he felt rushed and somehow not on top of his game.
I was sipping my wine when our waiter informed us we were at "the wrong table". I replied that this was the table to which we were directed when we presented our card upon entering the dining room. But the problem was, we were supposed to be at Table 195 and this was NOT Table 195.
After a bit of a shuffle, we relocated to the REAL #195 which was a table for 6 with 3 passengers already seated, a couple (perhaps 70-ish) traveling with their 13 year old grandson. They were pleasant to visit with so we were happy enough with the change.
However, I have never experienced such poor co-ordination between waiter and assistant in any cruise ship dining room as we saw between the two gentleman who were looking after us.
It was almost comical but it was not prompt nor particularly professional. There was a noticeable lag between each course, my entrée was incorrect (entirely the wrong dish) and when it was replaced, the replacement (salmon) was nearly raw.
The second evening, the formal Gala night, our table mates did not show up. Again the service seemed haphazard with the waiter doing almost everything and hardly a sign of the assistant waiter. Not only was this dramatically different than our previous Holland America dining room experiences, but it was way below the standard of any cruise ship on which we've sailed.
On Holland America ships, the assistant is shared between two waiters and it occurred to us that perhaps the second waiter was using up more than his share of time.
Ever since an experience a few years ago when our companions at a table for 6 only showed up about half the time, we have learned it works better for us to request a small table and fill it than be 3 at a table for 6 which is just an awkward arrangement.
The second evening near the end of the meal, the Assistant Dining Room manager came by to ask if everything was OK. I mentioned to him that our dinner companions had not put in an appearance and asked whether they had requested a change of seating. It occurred to me they might have done so because I think they felt the lateness of the seating might not be the best thing for their 13 year old grandson.
Sure enough, they had requested a somewhat earlier seating and so we would not have them with us again. On that basis, I asked for a change to a small table for the balance of the cruise. He returned half an hour later with a small card indicating a change of table for the following evening.
Our new table was in an adjacent section, only a few feet away, but this made a big difference to us because it brought us Wayan as our waiter and Evan as his assistant. Our dining experience onboard Zuiderdam took a full 180 degree turn for the better from that moment on!
Wayan was a superb server, friendly, professional, engaging, and with great suggestions about which items on the menu were really "the good stuff". Once again we felt we were onboard a Holland America ship and decided to consider table #195 as just a blip on an otherwise flawless radar screen.
The food was generally quite good and with enough choices to always find something satisfying. It wasn't "quite" the dining experience we had on Celebrity a year ago but certainly as enjoyable as other Holland America sailings.
A couple of years ago when I reviewed our cruise on the new "Westerdam", I commented that the breakfast buffet in the Lido required getting used to because things were scattered around quite a bit. For example, you do not get your custom cooked eggs at the omelet station but rather in the same line up as the general breakfast buffet. Many people seemed confused by this, walking up to the omelet chef to ask for "2 eggs over easy". Couldn't be done.
The Lido is designed predominantly as a cafeteria where you carry the tray and they serve up the food. Only the salad bar is self-service. This means that it can take a bit of discussion to get the right combination of items on your plate but the staff are generally very accommodating and will try to get things to your satisfaction. If you do not want to carry your tray to a table (or are unable to do so) there always seems to be a staff member more than ready to take it from you and look after things.
Concierge/Neptune Lounge We had a Concierge Class suite but to be honest I wasn't sure we would be able to make much use of the concierge lounge (Neptune Lounge). We sailed on Adventure of the Seas at New Year's and my daughter was not permitted to enter the lounge because she was younger than 18 years. The first day on the ship I went to the lounge to introduce myself to the Concierges (January and Carlo) and asked whether my daughter would be able to enter. They said "absolutely". I think the difference was that no alcohol was served in this lounge; on Adventure of the Seas there was a bar in the Concierge lounge.
The Neptune lounge proved very useful to all of us but especially to my daughter who tends to be a "grazer", foraging for bits of food at odd times during the day. She is quite slim and can afford those extra delicacies! The Neptune always had a variety of small chilled items available, canapés, fruit trays, veggie trays, pastries, and the like as well as an assortment of juices, tea, and coffee. My daughter was probably their most frequent visitor and this proved to be a very useful amenity for us.
On the other hand, I did find the Concierge on board Adventure of the Seas (an RCI ship) more useful to me personally, because she sent me an e-mail about one week before our sail date to offer her services in a variety of ways.
Because of that communication with RCI's concierge, I was able to book the reservation-only restaurant, spa appointments, and shore excursions via the Concierge well in advance of our arrival on the ship. I didn't have any advance contact with Zuiderdam's concierge and consequently I looked after making my own appointments either before we boarded or immediately upon boarding.
Demographics I have to say that generally this was the "oldest" of the cruises we've taken. That is not to say there were loads of senior seniors, but rather there were very few young people and especially teenagers relative to other cruises we've taken (including with Holland America).
My daughter went to explore the "teen program" a couple of times but returned to the cabin saying "there are only about 6 kids there, and they're playing video games". They just didn't seem to have an adequate supply of teens to get anything more interesting off the ground. Maybe a few more teens came out of the woodwork later in the cruise, but my daughter gave up after tracking the teen program down for the first couple of days.
It seemed to all of us that there was a higher proportion of "first time cruisers" on this ship than we've experienced in the past. I attribute that to our destination. Europe is easily visited without a cruise ship. Likewise anyone can get to the Caribbean easily enough.
Alaska is not so easy and the ports we visited were not easily accessible by any means other than plane or boat. There are no highways in or out of Juneau. And Skagway is only connected by highway to one other city. So cruising seems the logical option for accessibility. Coupled with that, the best scenery was to be found on our "Scenic cruising" days and literally you would HAVE to be cruising to see the scenery. Therefore, people who have not chosen to cruise to any other destination will probably cruise to Alaska if they go to Alaska at all.
Ports and Excursions Our itinerary for this cruise provided 3 ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. It also included 2 "scenic cruising" opportunities, Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay.
Tracy Arm: After one full day at sea, we arrived very early in the morning at the opening to Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is literally just that, an arm, and you cruise into it and then out of it again. It doesn't lead anywhere, but it provides some beautiful scenery and views, and was our first opportunity to view icebergs and a glacier.
Although most of the icebergs were quite small, there were a few larger ones and some amazingly blue glaciers As we later learned, the blue colour is the result of the intensely compacted ice which the blue rays of the colour spectrum are not able to penetrate and therefore the blue is reflected. These icebergs would eventually become clear or white as they were impacted by air and water.
We received a notice in our stateroom the evening before we cruised into Tracy Arm, indicating that hot chocolate and warm raisin buns would be served on the bow at 7 a.m. The poor servers were nearly knocked down by the stampede of people looking for hot chocolate. Eventually everyone who wanted hot chocolate succeeded in getting one (and in some cases, several) and I think passengers used these mugs as much to warm their hands as to enjoy the hot and tasty beverage inside the mugs.
It was c-c-c-cold out there! Many passengers were wearing ski jackets, hats, and gloves. I had a sweater and my camera and was quite appreciative of both.
I took many dozens of photos that morning and in reviewing them, I was struck by how "cold" the water looked, the wispy streams of clouds in the valleys and across the mountain faces, and the sheer beauty of a couple of brilliantly blue icebergs that I captured as they floated past.
By late morning, we were working our way out of Tracy Arm again.
Juneau: The following morning we arrived at Juneau where the ship was anchored and we were tendered to shore. Juneau looked quite interesting and I was eager to explore and do a little souvenir shopping. First, though, we took off for our shore excursion which was a visit to Mendenhall Glacier followed by a salmon bake.
The Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Centre is located about 12 miles out of Juneau. It was interesting to walk from the parking lot up to the visitor centre and see the "bear" caution signs along the way. It was clear that bear sightings were not uncommon. The nearby river was full of salmon and it seemed very likely that any time a bear could come down the river bank to scoop one up.
The Mendenhall Glacier is quite impressive, even from a bit of a distance. We were not able to get right to the glacier but certainly close enough to take very good photographs. The visitor centre was interesting and the 11 minute film did a good job of refreshing my rusty memory on Glacier creation and facts.
From the Glacier, we were taken by bus to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. This was truly an experience. I cannot imagine how many pieces of salmon they grill per day over their alderwood fire, but they were clearly quite expert at it. I have never, ever eaten better salmon!
The driver of our bus gave us the heads-up that the cornbread would be excellent and it would be even better with the sweet sauce on top that they serve on top of the salmon. We dutifully asked for an extra spoonful of sauce over the cornbread. Well, that sauce is to die for and it could probably make anything taste like heaven. We can vouch for the fact that it has this effect on cornbread. We went back for seconds on the salmon and the cornbread. My son said the ribs and chicken were good, I enjoyed the salads and especially the baked beans.
For dessert they had a variety of home-baked pies but I was much too full to even consider them. For the young and young-at-heart, they had a campfire, marshmallows, and sticks. My daughter very kindly roasted a couple of marshmallows for me and those crispy golden treats were my dessert.
After dinner we stretched our legs just a little with a short walk to a very pretty waterfall before boarding the bus which took us back to the port area. We still had a few hours remaining in port, so we went shopping for a few souvenirs and bought a warm fall weight jacket for my son who hadn't brought a jacket and had looked quite chilled on the bow of Zuiderdam in Tracy Arm the day before.
Skagway: There is no question that Skagway was our favourite port, and that is because of the two sensational excursions we enjoyed.
Our first excursion of the day was the Helicopter tour to a Glacier. This was an amazing experience for all three of us. We began by being fitted with glacier boots (they go on right over your shoes) and safety vests. We then had a safety briefing and then proceeded outdoors to wait in our groups at the assigned helicopter pad. There were 6 helicopters and 6 pads, and they all came in together, one right behind the other, which was a very impressive sight.
We had been advised of our seating positions in the helicopter (they have to balance the load by weight) so then it was a matter of getting into our seats, putting on the seatbelts, getting our headphones in place and settling in to enjoy the ride.
The pictures we took in flight will always remind us of this experience but it isn't possible to capture the magnitude of the view in the frame of a photo. We flew in and out of glacial valleys, through the low hanging clouds, above the glacier, alongside mountains, and it was absolutely beautiful.
When we landed, we were met by a glacier guide who provided additional safety information for walking on glaciers, handed out "walking sticks" to a few people who felt they would be beneficial, and then for 40 very informative and interesting minutes we walked on the glacier and learned as much as we could absorb.
Our 40 minutes were over all too soon and it was time for another wonderful 20 minute helicopter flight back to the heliport. We flew over our ship, and Summit which was docked alongside, and felt that we'd just had the most exhilarating excursion of any of our cruises.
That feeling lasted about 4 hours, until our second excursion of the day which in its own way was every bit as exciting.
Our second excursion was to a Musher's Camp for a summer sled experience and interaction with husky puppies. Before the fact, I thought this would be something of a woodsy experience, seeing the "real" Alaska, and a bit of fun to interact with some playful pups.
Goes to show what I know about Musher's Camps!
Oh, it was woodsy, "real", and fun all right. But it was NOTHING at all like the experience I had imagined.
We started with our 1 mile summer sled run. I do not use the word "run" lightly. These dogs were NOT purebred Siberian huskies. They weren't purebred anything. They were 50 pound racing "mutts", bred for speed, endurance, and sheer desire to "go!". They had all of that and then some.
When they took off, with 6 adult passengers and a musher in a summer sled (equipped with wheels instead of runners) it was probably 600 pounds of dog pulling 1500 pounds of human. Didn't matter. We were pinned to the back of our seats by the sheer energy of these dogs the moment they were told to go.
When not "going", they seemed to divide into two groups. First, those who lay on the ground waiting to hear the word "go" before springing into action and, second, those who stood in harness, vibrating like a Maserati at a red light, waiting to hear the word "go" and have their gears engaged.
Wow! There were lots of sharp turns, curves, and some serious drops along the side of the gravel road. I called to the musher "do you have steering on this thing?". "I have a steering STICK!", was the response.
My suspicion is that a steering stick is nothing like the power steering on my car!
This was the most exhilarating experience I had in Alaska and probably one of the most exhilarating experiences in my entire life. I really had underestimated this one. My heart was racing, I held on for dear life, I took some fantastically blurry pictures (which I love because they clearly delineate the speed and momentum and sheer vivaciousness of this experience), and at the end I felt that this had been a roller coaster. Not, I might add, a roller coaster built and supervised by engineers and other professionals who determine every tolerance and load. This roller coaster was built by dogs and one human, the musher, and it was quite the ride.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Glacier Bay: We received a notice to our stateroom on Tuesday evening to let us know that on Wednesday morning the Captain would be holding the ship directly in front of the Glacier "Marjorie" and a wine and cheese party would be held on the bow.
After the chilly experience of Tracy Arm, I laid out many layers of clothing on Tuesday night before bedtime, determined that I would (for a change) be the first one to exit the stateroom but properly dressed for whatever form of inclement weather Alaska might throw my way.
Murphy's Law being what it is, this meant that Wednesday morning dawned bright, cloudless, and relatively mild, and only got better as the morning progressed.
As the ship made its way into Glacier Bay we picked up a Park Ranger who provided commentary from the bridge, over the loudspeaker system, throughout the day.
The approach to Marjorie was beautiful, the water was as serene as a sheet of glass, a beautiful colour, and the morning was just perfect and sunlit. No need for mugs of hot chocolate and hot raisin buns here. I began to see how "wine and cheese" was going to fill the requirement perfectly.
What can I say about Marjorie except that she is one mile wide at the mouth, clean and white and jagged with peaks and striations of clear brilliant blue, surrounded by glorious mountain scenery. Never in my life have I attended a party in such a magnificent venue, decorated only by Mother Nature, and likely not to be rivaled by any event I attend or create in the rest of my life.
Cameras of course were in action on all sides. It just seemed impossible to take enough pictures to capture the drama, the spectacle, the panorama that was in front of us. After a very long time spent with the bow pointing directly towards this magnificent glacier, the ship began a very slow pivot so that every side of the ship had an opportunity to take in the scene.
At one point the Glacier Bay park ranger indicated she was going to speak only through the ship's internal speakers (not broadcasting out onto the bow) because a mother bear and her two cubs were grazing on a rocky slope and the ranger did not want the sound of her voice on the loudspeakers to scare them away.
I managed to capture a photo of them, albeit they looked like small brown specks in the distance. However, I was carrying an excellent camera with a good lens and later some careful cropping managed to expose the reality that these 3 dots were in fact a mother bear and her cub family out enjoying a beautiful morning.
Ketchikan: We had booked a private Hummer tour at Ketchikan. In hindsight, it was a little bit of a waste because Ketchikan was a bit like the other 2 ports and so there wasn't a great deal to see that we hadn't seen already in a similar fashion. Probably the most interesting area was Creek Street, which is an easy walk from the pier.
We did travel with our Hummer driver to see local scenery, salmon spawning, a bald eagle pair, with a stop for a very tasty salmon dip snack along the way.
But the most memorable thing about Ketchikan was "Dolly's House", the infamous local bordello from the days when these ‘houses' were legal in Ketchikan . Dolly was clearly an entrepreneur ahead of her time, a woman who marched to her own drummer and knew exactly how to get ahead in a male-dominated society. Upon her death, she donated her house to the town, complete with décor, gadgets and gizmos and resplendent with outlandish décor.
In hindsight, I wish we had booked no excursions for Ketchikan and simply spent all of our time in the Creek Street area. If this was the first port on our itinerary, it would have been much more worth the exploration. As the last port, it was just a bit too "been there, done that" with the exception of this one historic and very cute street with a few artsy shops and generally just a very pretty area to walk around.
It has been 2 months since we left Alaska and came home to the height of summer. When I think of Alaska now, the scenes that spring to my mind are the absolutely indescribably magnificent scenery (especially Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay), the helicopter flight to the glacier and the musher's camp.
This was a wonderful trip, a wonderful cruise. Between the 3 of us we must have taken at least 1,000 photos. Choosing my favourite 50 would be no easy task.
The Zuiderdam and its staff really provided a comfortable, warm, hospitable backdrop to an experience that is truly incredible and that even 1,000 photographs can only begin to hint at.
After a dozen cruises on several different lines, my wife and I took our first HAL cruise.
Simply put, it was fantastic. From the minute we stepped on board and the room steward knew our names, to the staff carrying trays at the poolside display, to the wine steward at dinner who knew everyone's favorite drink, the service was extrodanaire!
The food, in both the buffet and the main dining room was top notch. Ice cream (several flavors), no sugar desserts, and a variety of fresh burgers were available all afternoon.
I won't repeat each port's excursion, but I would note there was a very nice variety ranging from sea kayaking to individualized tours of the Fortress of Louisberg. In spite of HAL's demographics, the cruise should actually appeal to parents (or grandparents) of children between 8 and 16 who would enjoy something other than a caribbean beach.
One final first for us: This is the first cruise that so impressed us that we've already reserved next summer's vacation!
We traveled independently and took the train from Rome Termini Station to Civitavecchia. The cost of the train for 2 people was 9 Euros (about 13USD). We found other people at the train station in Civitavecchia and shared a cab with them to the ship (2.50 Euros each). Embarkation was very smooth. We had done online check-in previous to arrival. All documents were processed in less than 2 minutes at the pier. There was no line when we arrived. Note: The brochure notes that it "strongly suggested" your passport not expire for 6 months after travel date. However, in reality, HAL will not let you complete embarkation if your passport expires within that period. Trust me: my partner's passport expired in October and he had to run to Philadelphia 2 days before we traveled and get a new one.
Overall: At first, as many of us are, I was not overly impressed. But as the 10 days went along, I really came to enjoy the layout and feel of the ship. The corridors had a nice flow. It was very clever the way the gift shops open up to one largearea. The glass elevators overlooking the sea are so much nicer than those on other ships that merely overlook an atrium or public area. It was great to see a real wood Promenade Deck, which was used by many of us for walking and jogging. Of course, HAL has those great deck chairs on that deck. Put me in one with a book, look at the sea, and I'm asleep! My only concerns were the atrium and some of the décor. The atrium was clearly too small and always seemed tight. There is a bar on Main Deck right in the center, which obstructs traffic flow. Some of the décor is eclectic, at best. While the elevator doors are designed with beautiful metal designs, the interiors are modern with strange colors and the areas in front of the elevator also had a mixture of classic and modern styles.
Dining Room: The dining room is very attractive. Get a table near a window; part of the dining room is windowless. The service was wonderful, as it usually is on HAL. I did my best to learn some basic phrases in Indonesian and Tagolog, showing the wait staff interest in their culture.
Spa/Gym: While I didn't use the spa, I did use the gym every day. It's not the biggest and is missing cross-training machines, which I prefer. Nearly half of the gym floor was taken up with exercise classes, which did not often take place.
Cabins: Nicely decorated, though the art work was a bit strange. There was plenty of "secret" storage space. I discovered midway through the cruise there were drawers under the cushion portion of the couch, and on the last day realized that there were very large drawers under the bed. The bathroom was attractive and offered sufficient room. The ammenities were plentiful and of high quality.
Activities/Shows: I participated in many trivia contests, although I was disappointed that many occurred during late "main" seating dinner. I would suggest having them very late 10:30, or before late seating. The shows were much better than I expected. The house is large, but there are many poor sight lines. I always have trouble with canned singing on cruise ships, but the dancing was excellent.
Breakfast: We ate most meals in the dining room, planning our day, so that we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy it. Nearly everything that was offered in the Lido buffet was offered in the dining room.
Lunch: This we had to take in the Lido, since we were off the ship during lunch hours. I was impressed with fact that there was an Asian station, which stayed open throughout the afternoon. There was usually a vegetarian meal. Occasionally, we ordered sandwiches in the room when we returned from touring. They were tasty and presented with class.
High Tea: One of the highlights of the day. Between trips to the gym, we indulged on pastries and scones with clotted cream at high tea. The service was white glove and a very professional string quartet entertained.
Dinner: We took this in the dining room each night, except when we stayed in Santorini for sunset. (On that night, there was a barbeque buffet poolside. We returned at 9:15 and it seemed disorganized and sloppy.) Dinner was always presented with style and was prepared and plated well. I usually had 2 appetizers, since portions were small and some were just wonderful! Kudos to the Head Chef for having an abundance of mango and papaya selections. I couldn't get these in the Caribbean!! Not being a meat eater, I cannot speak to those dishes, but I can tell you the fish was excellent, particularly the sea bream and Dover Sole.
Ports of Call
I must preface all ports by saying there was a heatwave. It was 100 degrees or higher many days and touring was just tiring. I carried liters of water with me and still looked like I just ran a marathon.
Dubrovnik -- This was one of the highlights of the cruise. We shared a taxi from the ship to the city walls. I think it was 5 or 10 Euros for the cab. Cab drivers will try to sell you tours. That's your call. We walked the entire city walls. Well worth it—the highlight of the city. We visited churches and synagogues in the city and stopped for a beer (a daily ritual).
Corfu -- The weakest port. We walked to town. Big mistake (well, I got lost!). We should have taken a cab. (HAL had shuttle bus service, but it was always more than sharing a cab.) Corfu had little to offer. We stopped for a Greek (Turkish) coffee and beer and visited St. Spyridon Church, paying respects to the saint and icons. A priest blessed all who saw the crypt.
Katakolon -- I had been here before, but didn't go to Olympia. We found a well air-conditioned new train that goes from Katakolon to Olympia for 1 Euro (yes ONE euro). The ship did not mention this. We found some other cruise passengers who joined us. We visited the Museum in Olympia, before seeing the ruins. The museum is well worth it; those on the tour who did not see the museum were disappointed.
Santorini -- We took the donkeys up the mountain. Faster (and smellier) than the cable car, whose line seemed to wrap around the island). Hint: go after 12 pm, most people have made the assent by then. We enjoyed the shopping and tiny streets. We found some churches and took tons of pictures. We stopped for a beer (surprised), high above the harbor. 3 cruise ships were in. We returned to the ship at 1pm and came back to Santorini (tendered) at 7pm for sunset and another drink. Do this—all the visitors do.
Athens -- We walked to the Metro (mistake—take the #845 bus) and then took the Metro directly to Monastiraki, where we shopped, visited the Agora and Temple of Hepheastion. We had been to the Acropolis, so we skipped it this time. Besides, it was 8 bi-zillion degrees. Again, we stopped for a cold local beer. (Beer note: I'm a dark beer drinker. It's very hard to find any dark beers in the Med and on the ship, there are NONE for sale.)
Kusadasi -- We enjoyed shopping in the city. I bought a 14k ring and some cheap souvenirs. Everything is walkable. We found the mosque and visited it. A local showed us the proper way to wash our feet. We took a shore excursion to Ephesus – the only shore excursion we took. We really enjoyed it, even with the extreme heat. It's really spectacular.
Messina -- We really wanted to go to Taormina (having been there before) and would have taken the train, but the ship departed at 2pm. Therefore, we walked around the city, visiting 5 churches. The most fascinating (and we found it by accident) was a monastery where we saw the preserved body of a female saint. (I'm sorry; I cannot remember her name). We found a way up to pay respects, high above the alter.
Rome -- We stayed in Rome one night before the cruise, and again, one night after the cruise. On the first day, we saw (via bus and Metro) all of the major sites, except for the Vatican Museum (line too long). As tired as we were, on the return to Rome, we took a train to Assisi for a quick 3 hour visit. The train ride was worth it; Assisi is truly unique. Our hotel in Rome was the Diocleziano, near the train station. Well worth the $120 euros. We could walk to and from the train station.
We just got back from our cruise on the Noordam July 8th-15th, 2007. It was a very relaxed and wonderful cruise.
The only time I smelled cigarette smoke was walking by the Ocean Bar (and it was pungent) and going into the casino. The air was fairly good in the casino despite that, unless someone lit up right by you. I just try to hold my breath walking thru those areas and try not to go by there. My husband usually went to the casino without me after I went to bed. Smoking is the worst part of any cruise for me.
I loved the people on our cruise and the cruise personnel. They were wonderful. We had a Verandah and enjoyed it so much. Alaska is beautiful. One morning I woke up and opened my curtains to Juneau. Oh my gosh, it took my breath away. The green mountain with the little pictuesque town below. We took Captain Larry's Whale Quest, Orca's Enterprises, booked before the cruise (not a ship excursion). It was great. We saw lots of orcas, whales -- including a baby orca -- eagles and seals. Onething we never saw were bears. The people in Alaska are so friendly.
It rained on us in Sitka. We went into the Luthern church waiting for the Caholic church to open. Oh my gosh, they gave us a very informative personal tour. Just wonderful and much better than the cathedral that was drab inside and not as friendly, except this one lady who looked like pictures of Russians with her round face, scarf and big smile on her face. We asked some question and she was happy to answer for us. I needed some personal things and found the drug store that had exactly what I needed. The only thing I collect are the ink pens for souvernirs and there were none with Sitka on them -- just Alaska. At one store this lady gave me her business pen that had Sika on it. Not fancy, but it was free.
The worse part of this whole trip, which was wonderful, was Victoria, Canada. We took the Butchart Garden tours booked thru the ship. No fireworks, no enchanting lighted gardens cause we left before it got dark and before the fireworks. The parking lot was packed with busses (big busses like ours, which was a greyhound). We walked in with a crowd of people and we couldn't get away from that crowd of people thru all the paths and all the stores. It was just packed with people. Very warm and miserable despite walking off the boat with a cool breeze blowing. There were two other large cruise ships in port besides the Noordam. The only openness in the Garden was where a group was playing on a stage and people were sitting on a lawn viewing area. This had the most room, but who had time to sit down (with no blanket - no one ever said you might need a blanket to sit on). We had 2-1/2 hours to see the gardens and get our souvenirs. Another tourist trap. We got a bottle of Coke and a bottle of water for $6 (we were so thirsty after going down the paths). $42 for 3 shot glasses, 3 junky-looking ink pens, and 2 keychains with a little fuzzy teddy bear on them. Junk for $42. Eeeek.
It was curious how that tour was not included in the dvd that showed about the cruise. Showed a lot of excursions, but not that one. Wonder why? Could it be they didn't want to show how awful it is? We got the dvd free since we booked 12 people at one time. I could have done without Victoria cause it marred my good feeling about the cruise and wonderful Alaska. We could see Seattle's lights when we left Victoria, so why the rush to leave? Why couldn't they have stayed in port long enough for us to see the fireworks and the enchantment of the lighted garden after dark? We met in the Vista Lounge for all the excursions at 6 pm. We stayed in port till 11:59. But it wasn't enough time. Not sure I wanted to be in that crowd any longer, but they could have left the ship later and got us there and let us stay when it was dark. Basically stay away from this excursion if you want to keep your wonderful feelings about the cruise.
We embarked and disembarked very smoothly. No herding around in crowds. Thumbs up to Noordam and Holland America for the wonderful organization of those. The suitcases were grouped by the color you disembarked with. Yet on this Victoria excursion we were herded around. The paths were so crowded, just constantly bumping into people and losing my husband and getting apart from the rest of our group.
I have learned a really hard lesson here, and that is to not book excursions thru the ship. I will be leery of excursions booked thru the cruise line in the future. Study these boards and find out what is good and book on your own, or go out and explore on your own; anything but the ship's excursion. Beware of Butchart Garden also. It's a terrible experience!
My wife and I along with two grown sons sailed on the Caribbean Princess on June 10-17, 2007. Let me begin by saying that this is our second cruise experience. Our first cruise was ten years ago on Carnival Cruise Lines. My wife and I were very pleased that we booked a balcony room. We thoroughly enjoyed having a balcony, and we were glad that we were on the Aloha Deck as we had a roof and no one looking down on us.
My sons stayed across the hall in an interior room which was obviously much cheaper. They didn't seem to mind it because they could come to our room whenever they wanted to. The showers and the toilet were both improvements over our previous cruise. The rooms was plenty big enough for us, and our cabin steward was excellent.
We were quite surprised at the number of swimming pools and hot tubs, and were surprised that the pools had fresh water in them instead of salt water like our last cruise.
We ate at Sabatini's and found it to be a five star experience and well worth the $20 fee.The evening entertainment in the Princess Theater was very good, especially the comedians. We had asked for traditional dining and were too late to get it. The anytime dining worked okay for us though. We especially liked being able to sit as a family without someone else at our table. The food was always good, and we really liked all the seafood that was available throughout the week. We really appreciated the generous onboard credit we were given when we booked our cruise.
However, there were some things about our cruise we were not happy about. When we booked our flight we included air transportation. On the trip to Ft. Lauderdale we flew on Delta Air. Our seats were not good. On the first flight we had the last two seats on each side of the plane. This was an unpleasant experience for all four of us, especially for my son who had to face the continual opening and closing bathroom door. The transfer flight to Ft. Lauderdale was only slightly better as we were a few seats up from the very back. Interestingly, our return flights seats were very good as we were near the front of coach section. Could it be because we changed the original flight plans that Princess made for us (at a cost of $90 per person)?
When we got to Ft. Lauderdale Airport we were not happy with the transfer service. We had to wait a long time to move out to the loading area. Then we had to go outside and stand in the hot sun for quite a while and wait for our bus. We noticed the lady from Princess who had taken us out stood across the street in the shade. Carnival took us outside very quickly to a waiting bus.
The check in at the ship seemed very slow to us. Why did we complete information ahead of the cruise online only to have confusion over credit cards? We didn't get on the ship until 4:00 PM (our day had begun at 5:00 AM). It would have been nice to have had a little more afternoon time on the ship. It took over two hours to get our bags to our cabin. Carnival was about a half hour.
It seemed to us throughout our entire cruise there was a tremendous effort to push alcoholic drinks. We don't drink much and found the constant questioning, “Do you want a drink?” to be annoying. The first night seafood buffet which was recommended by staff was a disappointment, as the lobster claws and crab legs were cold. We would have preferred warm. We also thought that the ice cream on the deck should have been free.
We would also suggest that a laundry room be put at both ends of the hallway, as we had to walk a very long distance to iron clothes. We found the staff in the dining room to be efficient, but not overly friendly.
Perhaps this is because their tip is automatically charged to your account, and the fact that we had a different waiter at every meal. We have no problem with the dining room dress codes. However, at every dinner meal there were people not following the dress code. This includes the two formal nights. If you are going to have a dress code enforce it. If you are not going to enforce the dress code then don't have it. My wife was disappointed that there was a charge for cappuccinos. We had no such charge on Carnival. Lastly, my wife was very disappointed with the lack of aerobics classes in the gym. Only one was offered for the entire week. Carnival had a class daily. Also, there a charge for other classes like pilates and spinning?
Here are my comments on our four stops:
Princess Cays- Princess Cays was a beautiful island and we had a thoroughly enjoyable day. It was very nice that Princess provided cold, fresh water for everyone to drink. They served a nice lunch on the island. This was truly a day at the beach!
Ocho Rios, Jamaica- We went to Dunn's River Falls in the morning at it was very nice. I would say though that the falls is harder to climb that the excursions make it out to be. I would not recommend it to any with any physical ailments. That said, we were not impressed with Ochio Rios. When you walk the streets to shop you are approached every fifty feet by a drug dealer or begger. We did not like this at all.
Grand Caymen Islands- We had planned on going to Seven Mile Beach but it rained all day so we didn't go. The rain kind of ruined our shopping too. We went back to the ship early.
Cozumel, Mexico- We went to an adventure park for rock climbing, zipline, and snorkeling. It was fun. The shopping here was very nice. My wife got some good deals on jewelry. You can bargain prices at most of the stores. Interestingly, many of the stores offer you a beer or a shot of tequila. I do not recommend any drinking. We saw several people being helped to get back on the ship.