By Julie Northington
I just had a nice opportunity to sail on Holland America's Zuiderdam. This sailing was roundtrip Vancouver, BC, Canada and featured Alaska's Inside Passage and Glacier Bay.
Arriving to Vancouver airport on a Saturday presented long lines in customs area. With international flights from Beijing and Sydney and several others, at the exact same time as our, it was at least a 1 1/2 hour zigzag line. I must say the airport was beautiful. Seems since the Olympics in 2008, the airport and city improvements really shined. Just adding a few more customs agents in the empty stalls would have expedited check in for hundreds of us!
Collecting luggage and embarking on motorcoach to the pier was a breeze after that long line.
Upon arrival to Canada Place 1, we found the Zuiderdam and Golden Princess awaiting new guests. With that, there were lots of passengers in 1 long, long zigzagging line, again! Once through security, Canadian customs and US customs, passengers were separated to their respective cruise ships for another line to check in.
One positive about this check in on arrival was our return to Vancouver the following Saturday was most pleasant... very short line for Canadian customs and zipped out with luggage within 1/2 hour from disembarkation.
Zuiderdam was built in 2003 and is the sister ship to the Oosterdam. As with any 8-9 year old ship, it has it's positive and negatives.
Our sailing was filled 100%, as with most Alaska sailings. Surprisingly, about 40% of guests were from Australia / New Zealand! That was refreshing as they are very friendly and so happy to be north of the equator! They were all so nice and we enjoyed their sense of humor!
About 300 guests disembarked in Skagway and proceeded with a land tour of the Yukon to complete their trip. And then of course, 300 new guests came aboard from their pre-cruise land tour. It was interesting to hear their stories and you could tell who the newbies were as they were the "lost" ones, trying to get their sea legs!
The outside of the ship is showing its wear, but a nice coat of paint will take care of that.
Inside, at first it looked quite shiny and clean, but at closer look, we noticed lots of tables in the showroom with lots of nicks and paint chips. Many of the popular seats in the show rooms/lounges are quite worn, especially the leather seats with best views.
In our comfy stateroom the bedding was very good. A large balcony greeted us and small bathroom w/tub was sufficient. We did notice rust at the top of the balcony door and a few stains on the carpet. Soft renovation is in order.
Overall, the food was ok. The first 48 hours the crew in Lido buffet did the serving, to avoid any illness brought on by new guests. Lines were long due to this, but worth it to nip any illness. By Monday night, we were serving ourselves.
Breakfast in main dining room proved to be a long wait from ordering to receiving plate. The food was good, but just too way too long.
Hint... 24 hour room service is complimentary... from the 2nd day on we ordered in room breakfast ... that was the best thing ever!
For lunch, Lido buffet offered lots of choices from pastas, Asian, hamburgers, fish, chicken, taco makings, and salad....the typical fare. The most popular was the last day's seafood buffet; long lines again.
Deserts included several sugar free choices as well as ice cream...different every day.
Late night at Lido offered pizza, pasta and cookies. The chocolate extravaganza buffet was beautiful, around the pool area which is held once on the sailing.
Several years ago Holland rolled out the "anytime dining" program. The traditional main and late seating is still available on the upper dining room. The lower dining room was open from 5:30p – 9:30 p.m. to handle the "anytime diners" and guests who called in to make reservations. Walking up to dining room never presented a wait and we were seated immediately.
Our experience of dinner service presented a disappointment 4 out of the 5 times we ate there. Not sure the problem, but on our anniversary, we had a reservation for 7:45p.m. We arrived promptly, were seated and after 10 minutes and our waiter still had not introduced himself. The wine sommelier saw our faces and asked what was wrong...he eventually brought us water and bread. Still after another 10 minutes or so, my husband went to the head waiter and complained. It was not the fact it was our anniversary, but no guest should have to wait that long for a menu and a little attention. I certainly would not want my clients to have that happen to them. As an experienced cruiser on Holland that service was unacceptable.
Our visit to the Pinnacle Grill was on the special night called "Le Cirque". Menu items included a unique pate with raspberries, special cuts of pork chops, beef, sea bass and exotic deserts. Service was much better than in dining room, which was refreshing. The cost was $39per person.
Entertainment onboard was typical Holland America. The featured entertainer this week was a magician, just off the Las Vegas Strip. He was entertaining. Broadway type shows, singers, dancers were the mainstay.
Just in case you are not versed on Bingo, a 3 card play is good for 4 games at $25 per card. Our Bingo master, Mark, would give out free single cards valid for the cover-all 4th game if you showed up to specific games/dances/lessons (this gave all the bingo people reason to attend those events, even if not interested). He was like a magnet...guests following him all over to get their free cards. It was a hoot!
Finally on the last day I won game 3. As I was the only winner, I did not have to split the winnings (my winnings just were credited to my shipboard account, so I never saw the cash!).
There were very few die hard poker players on this sailing. However, there were enough to have 2 tournaments. Once on Monday (came in 3rd) and once on Friday. I came in 2nd on that one and recouped my entry, plus a little more ($60 is entry for this tourney).
One of the favorite places to be was up at the Crow's Nest. This offered 180 degree views from the front of the ship; very lively place for viewing whales and enjoying the drink of the day. Just as you enter, there is Explorations Cafe, offering coffees/pastries/soda. The pastries were complimentary, but there was a price list for the beverages. And just across was the Internet area with lots of stations offered. Price list was "as you go" $.75 per minute. And 2 pre-paid packages for 50 and 100 minutes; initial set up fee was $3.75. Connection was slow at best when out to sea and in inside passage. Since we were mostly in US ports, we used our iPods/phone texting for communication when needed. Internet personal did offer free assistance/printing for guests trying to check in online and print out boarding passes the day prior to disembarkation.
Once of the highlights of the cruise was in Glacier Bay. We were close enough to hear the clack and thunderous sounds when the glacier starts to calf. It was a glorious sunny day (very few indeed!) from what the park ranger said. If you had a balcony, it was the perfect place for viewing as all the outside deck areas were always congested. The ship did two 360 degree turns so everyone had a view. And we did see several bear sightings and orca whales along the way (take binoculars!!).
The shore excursion we participated in Juneau was Dog Sledding and Musher Camp. This is like summer camp for the Iditarod and Quest dogs! It was located on Douglas Island, only a 15 minute drive from Juneau pier. In a wooded, secluded area, there are 5 stations the guests walk to and are explained by an experienced Iditarod musher.
- First: Suspension Bridge
- Second: Meet and feed one of the dogs and learn about their life
- Third: Musher explains the gear required for the races and race details
- Fourth, and best: Being pulled in a converted golf cart by a team of 16 dogs. This "ride" lasts about 10 minutes through the trails. The musher explains the calls and stops several times for resting.
- And fifth, but not least: Holding the new puppies! Tour cost is about $129pp for nearly 3 hours.
Another popular tour is the White Pass and Yukon Narrow Gauge Train. This departs at sea-level in Skagway and traverses switch-backs and trestles up to over 3,000 feet at the White Pass. This train was used over 100 years ago for the transport between the sea and the Yukon. Gold was the goal and we learned much about the history from the docent aboard.
In Ketchikan, in addition to many fishing, wildlife and float-plane glacier tours, we participated in a combination boat ride to where they catch the Dungeness Crab and had lunch at a beautiful lodge outside of Ketchikan. Of course it was an all you can eat crab lunch! The cooks were quite animated and very welcoming! This was over 3 hours and about $159per person. We were treated with eagle, humpback whale, bear and seal sightings along the boat ride!!
And before we knew it, the week had ended. We opted to have an adventure upon arrival in Vancouver. Instead of pre-paying for motorcoach transfer back to the airport, we collected our luggage and took a 15 minute leisurely walk up, out of Canada Pier Place 1, and went around the block to the "Sky Train". This is the public transportation available city-wide and the airport. For only 2.50 per person (CAD), we took the 20 minute train back to the airport. If you can handle your luggage for a few blocks and your flight is not before 12 noon, this is a great inexpensive option. Otherwise a transfer from Holland would cost $24 per person and a taxi more than that.