Upon our return from our April 1st cruise aboard HAL's Ryndam, we wrote a very comprehensive review that was posted on many of the web review sites. Being the Zaandam is very similar to the Ryndam, and wanting to avoid being repetitious, we will restrict our review to telling you how the ships differ, and the highlights and the negatives of our cruise. URL for our Ryndam review: http://www.sealetter.com/Jun-00/rynd700.cfm
As you read our review, please remember that our perspective might be very different from yours. The very things we consider negative might seem trivial and non-consequential to you, and something that we feel very positive about you might consider to be unimportant and insignificant. When you read words like awful and disappointing, don't assume it means anything other than we didn't like it personally. You may not think it awful and you may not be disappointed, in fact you may even like it. It's a matter of every ones taste being different. In order for you to better judge if your tastes are similar to ours, we are giving you the URL to an article we wrote, "Why We Love Cruising," which we believe will give you some idea of our likes and dislikes. http://www.cruisereviews.com/LoveCruising.htm
We are aware that HAL has a very loyal following and some of our remarks may not sit well with those folks, but we feel that we wouldn't be fulfilling our obligation to the readers of this review if we didn't tell it as we experienced it and how we perceive the changes that have taken place. Please remember, it's our opinion, which doesn't mean it's right, its just our opinion. If you have any questions concerning any part of this review, please e-mail us for clarification and if we can, we will be happy to answer any questions you might have.
PASSIONATE CRUISERS: After taking our first cruise aboard Celebrity's Zenith, a little over four years ago, we became totally addicted to cruising and it has become a very important part of our lives. We are in our mid-seventies and in all of our 27 years of retirement and many land vacations all over the world, we have never enjoyed ourselves as much as we do as when we cruise. Mary & I can't think of more romantic, intimate way of spending quality time with the one you love than when on a cruise. We cruise as often as we can, and with God's grace we hope we have many more cruises in our future. If you haven't experienced a cruise vacation with the one you love, we suggest you try it.
We have made 17 cruises in four years and 9 in the last 19 months. (Mary & I affectionately refer to our cruises as "Honeymoons.") We have booked cruises aboard the 'Enchantment of the Seas' for October 1st, an 11 day cruise aboard the 'Splendour of the Seas' for Nov. 27th, 'The Explorer of the Seas' for Feb. 10th, 2001 and Celebrity's Millennium for March 25th, 2001. After having sailed with most of the major lines that make Ft. Lauderdale and Miami their home ports, we have concluded that the Celebrity and Royal Caribbean lines fulfill our expectations on a more consistent basis than any of the cruise lines we have sailed with. We had high hopes that HAL might be another until our August 5th cruise. Our Zaandam cruise was a very disappointing experience.
THIS WAS AN UNEXPECTED CRUISE: Our agent Gari called and said that HAL had issued a FLASH SALE to their top agencies for a August 5th Western Caribbean cruise aboard their new ship the 'Zaandam.' We had read a lot about this new ship and jumped at the chance to get what turned out to be a very good deal. We had Gari book us an outside cabin, ROS. When we were checked in the HAL terminal, we got our cabin assignment and were pleased to learn that we had received a four category upgrade. We were assigned Cabin # E1862.
WE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: We should have known better than to have booked a cruise during school vacations, but because of HAL's reputation of having a much older clientele, and our own observance of this on two previous cruises with them, we never gave it a thought that it was school vacation time. When we were waiting in the HAL terminal we thought it rather strange to see so many young children but we didn't feel the full impact of their presence until our first day at sea. When we went to the pool area, we looked for a Jacuzzi to soak in for awhile before going to the pool for a dip but we soon realized this was an impossible dream. When we entered the pool deck the Jacuzzi and the pool were inundated with unattended children, most being under the age of 10. It was mass bedlam. A lot of screaming and squealing as only little ones with their high pitched voices can do. Right next to the sign that said no diving, they were diving and splashing and having a glorious time. It wasn't very long before some of the older boys were catapulting the younger boys high into the air so they could swan dive into the pool. We made a rough head count and there were over 60 children in the pool at one time. We have nothing against children having a good time but it shouldn't be at the expense of everyone on board. We thought the conditions might be better at the aft pool but we found it to be the same. Most cruise lines have rules and regulations and have Jacuzzis that are for adults only. This was not the case with HAL. The childrens wading pool was empty but every Jacuzzi was filled with children. None of the crew made an attempt to stop the diving or restrict the children from using the Jacuzzis. That was the end of our spending time around the pool; we never were able to use a Jacuzzi or either pool area during our entire cruise. Very disappointing.
SOME DISCONTINUED SERVICES: DISCONTINUED THAI COOKING STATION: While we are talking about the pool area, let us tell you of a few changes that HAL has instituted on the Zaandam. On the Ryndam and other Hal ships they featured a Thai chef, in a separate cooking station on the pool deck. He prepared a number of Thai lunch dishes and explained the various dishes and made suggestions. It was a very popular spot. It was our favorite place for lunch. HAL has seen fit to discontinue the separate cooking station and instead have a few Thai items in the Bain Marie area where they have embellishments for the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs. The discontinuing of the Thai cooking station was a major disappointment for both of us.
DISCONTINUED SEPARATE PIZZA STATION: HAL has also discontinued the separate cooking station for Pizza. As on the Ryndam and other Hal ships they have a great venue where you can have a choice of a number of different kinds of excellent Pizzas. This was an extremely popular area. HAL has eliminated this area entirely and instead have a counter stand of some 3 ½ - 4 ft. near the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, that has a couple of overhead heat lamps over an area that has two Pizzas and a serving ladle that you help yourself. The Pizzas are replenished by the counterman that are serving the Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, in between taking care of people at their busy counter. You no longer have a choice of what kind of Pizza you want. Whatever the counterman put there is what you get. On one occasion, when Mary & I decided to have Pizza, the two choices were either Pineapple Pizza or Artichoke Pizza. Yes, you heard right Pineapple Pizza. I like when people are creative, but Hawaiian Pizza? Not for this Italian. Needless to say we didn't have Pizza. Another disappointment.
DISCONTINUED ROSARIO STRING QUARTET: The Rosario String Quartets have been a HAL cruise line feature for many years. These very accomplished groups added a touch of elegance to wherever they performed. It was always a special treat when they played in the dining room and when they played during afternoon tea in the Explorer lounge. In the evening as they played their favorite classical renditions in the Explorer Lounge, they were joined by a loyal group of followers. They were as much a part of these rooms as the tables and chairs and fixtures. In the Rotterdam dining room HAL has replaced them with a piano player and in the Explorer lounge a female Harpist has taken their place. The Rosario Strings will be sorely missed, especially by the HAL faithful. Another disappointment and another example of HAL cutting back.
FOOD:- DINING ROOM AND MARCO POLO RESTAURANT: Whereas we were very pleased with the food aboard the Ryndam, we found the food served in the main dining room of the Zaandasm to be very mediocre at best. The very first night when our waiter Toko took our order, I ordered the Snapper. Toko said, "Mr. Milano that's a very light dish." I thought he meant light as compared to heavy, but what I soon found out was that he meant it wasn't very good. And he was right, it was terrible. Of course he offered to bring me whatever I wanted but by then my appetite had left me. If I can't get what I want cooked properly the first time around I no longer have very much interest in the meal. After the first night I could see food was going to be a problem so I told our waiter Toko that I would order what Mary & I would like but if he knew that it wasn't very good, he should tell us. We struck out most every night and had to settle for our second or third choice. The result was, we not only didn't get what we wanted but what we got wasn't very good. We don't think the kitchen should get two chances to get it right. We found the soups very thin, the meat not of top quality and the entree and dessert selections very limited. The food was a big disappointment, especially after having such a good dining experience aboard the Ryndam.
MARCO POLO: BOTH GOOD AND BAD Saturday night, Gotko the Maitre`di, came to our table and handed us an invitation to have dinner with the Captain. We were surprised because we weren't long time HAL customers. In fact, this cruise was only the third time we had sailed with HAL and unexplainably have twice been invited to have dinner with the Captain. I thanked Gotko and told him we were happy to accept.
The Captains dinner was held in the Marco Polo alternative dining room. The Marco Polo is truly an elegant dining room. The table settings and appointments are outstanding, everything you would expect of a fine restaurant. We were a party of five couples and the Captain, Nico Corbin and his wife. Both he and his wife were very personable and the conversation was very lively and enjoyable. We were surprised to learn that Captain Corbin was the youngest captain in the HAL fleet. Both the food and the presentation could not have been any better. The food was superb and the service was impeccable. In all, it was a very pleasant evening.
MARCO POLO--THE SECOND TIME Not knowing we were going to be invited to have dinner with the Captain at the Marco Polo, soon after boarding we made dinner reservations for Thursday evening. After having such a wonderful dinner with the Captain, we were eagerly looking forward to another great dining experience. Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. Everything went well until the main course was served. We had both ordered Lamb. It was completely undercooked, to the point of being raw and inedible. When we finally got the waiters attention, he offered to take it back to the kitchen and bring us something else but by that time our appetite had disappeared. As we have said before, we don't think the kitchen should have two chances to get it right. I'm sure this sort of thing will be corrected but it was a disappointment. So much for consistency.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ZAANDAM AND THE RYNDAM:
THE OCEAN BAR is a very warm, attractive room. A four piece combo, N'Joy, supplies the dance music. A cute little fellow Johnny, (Mary's term for him) is the Hor D'oeuvre man and Mylene is one of the waitresses. Johnny is set up and ready to serve hot Hor D'oeuvres at 5:15 for the first seating and 7:15 for the second seating. Hot Hor D`oeuvres are also served in the Crows Nest and The Sea View Lounge at these same times. A slight improvement over the Ryndam.
THE CROWS NEST: The bar position and dance area have been changed and it has opened the entire room. The dance area is much larger and more spacious. They have a row of leather recliners with foot rests along the full width of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bow of the ship. This area affords you a spectacular view, especially when there is a sunset.. We visited the Crows Nest every evening before dinner and enjoyed having a cocktail and some hot Hor D'oeuvres and of course a dance or two. The Wilson Palomo quartet lived up to their billing. Johnny plays piano/keyboard and his wife is the vocalist. They played the songs of yesterday and today, the kind of music Mary & I love to dance to. They played all our favorites. Billie is the personable Maitre`di of the room and Ernie, Jason and Emma are the very pleasant servers. Emmas husband is the bartender in the Ocean Bar.
THE SEA VIEW LOUNGE formerly THE PIANO BAR LOUNGE. Whereas the former Piano bar was an enclosed room, the Sea View Lounge is located along a deck walkway, similar to the Explorer Lounge. It is a very attractive area, and somewhat larger, but it doesn't have the feeling of intimacy of the former Piano Bar. When we sailed the Ryndam, every time we passed in the vicinity of the PIANO BAR we would hear the entire room singing along with the talented piano player, having a glorious time. Whereas on the Zaandam, of the many times each evening we passed by the Sea View, not once did we ever hear any of the guests join in the singing. Some will view the new Sea View lounge as an improvement because of its accessability to the deck walkway, but we think the HAL faithful will miss the fun times they had in the former Piano bar.
THE MONDRIAAN SHOWROOM In our opinion, we think the Mondriaan showroom was unspectacular in every respect. The only word I can think of to adequately describe the appearance of this showroom, is garish. The color combinations of the settee and chairs are purple, orange and bright red. The carpet is another tone of red and the curtain is made of what appears to be, a silver lame. It may not appear garish to anyone who thinks Carnival is a great cruise line but for anyone who has cruised the major lines, we think they would agree with us. It would be interesting to hear what the long time members of the Hal family think of it.
A suggestion; When you go to the showroom make sure you don't sit in the single chairs. If you do you will find that the upholstery on the seat is so thin that you will have a difficult time making it through the show. If you can, pick a love seat settee, and you will find that they are a little better than the board like single chairs.
On every cruise ship that we have sailed, an announcement is always made before a show that children must be accompanied by their parents and that children are not to sit in the first two rows. HAL doesn't do this. As it was in the pool area, the children came front and center in the showroom. Before the show small kids would be chasing each other all over the showroom. On a number of nights the two front rows were occupied by unattended children, many under 12 yrs of age. And as children are prone to do, there was a constant jostling for seats and of getting up and sitting down. Constant movement up front across the entire showroom. with nary a parent to be seen. As the cruise progressed they became bolder and more offensive. We finally gave up and didn't even bother to go to the showroom. This was another major disappointment, especially for Mary.
THE ROTTERDAM DINING ROOM: The Rotterdam dining room on the Zaandam is a duplicate of the Ryndam with one major difference. Mary & I, and I'm sure many of you, were enthralled with the Murano Glass ceiling of the Ryndam. We didn't expect that that type ceiling would be duplicated aboard the Zaandam, but we thought that HAL would treat that area in a special way, being this was the newest ship in their fleet. Instead, the ceiling in this area was nice but very ordinary. The kind of ceiling you see in the dining room or lounge of every ship. The very common twinkling lights against a blue background. This may sound picayune or trivial but after seeing the Murano Glass ceiling of the Ryndam dining room, this was also a disappointment.
THE CENTERPIECE OF THE ZAANDAM--THE ORGAN: We were excited when we heard that a gigantic pipe organ was the centerpiece of the Zaandam. We envisioned a magnificent instrument, it's cylindrical pipes extending three decks high, spewing forth the beautiful tones that only an organ can produce. Maybe, similar in appearance to that magnificent organ that graced the Roxy theater in New York. Instead what we saw was a huge three story monument that appeared to be made of plaster of paris. You wouldn't realize it was supposed to be an organ till you walked down the stairway three flights and noticed the keyboard jotting out from one side. The keyboard of this three story organ was the size of a keyboard on a spinet piano. No pull stops or multiple keyboards or foot pedals, as you see on all large organs. My little Yamaha spinet organ has a more intricate keyboard than this three story monster. We can't for the life of us imagine how a design committee could ever have selected this peculiarity to be the featured centerpiece for the companies newest ship. If it wasn't for the fact that Hal is a very respected cruise line, steeped in a tradition of elegance, it would be laughable. But instead it's really sad that such a bad decision was made in choosing this totally inappropriate creation to be the main feature of their newest ship, the pride of their fleet.
DIMINISHED DRESS CODE: On formal nights, less than 10% of the passengers dressed in tux or evening gown. The guests dressed more casually on this cruise than on any of our cruises. This even applied to the formal night we had dinner with the captain. Of the four other men, not one wore a tux. Now before anyone says so what, Mary & I unabashedly in the old parlance, tell you we enjoy getting dressed up. It is a very important part of our enjoyment in cruising and if ever it comes to the time when all the cruise lines go casual, that is when we will no longer cruise. In our opinion the world is becoming over casual and we have no intention of being part of that trend. Getting all dressed up for formal night and then being with a large group of people who are also dressed for the occasion, adds something very special to the evening. Something we don't experience very often in our every day life. It's something so special for Mary & I that we prepare for it in advance of a cruise by having what we call, "Fashion Week." We wrote about it in an article we wrote. You might like to read it. The URL is: http://www.cruisereviews.com/CruiseExperience.htm
OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HAL'S TIPPING POLICY: Taken from the HAL brochure: "A long-standing tradition is our "Tipping not required policy." You are free however, to extend monetary recognition if you wish." Ask yourself a hypothetical question. After reading the HAL declaration on tipping, how many new cruisers or cruisers who have a tendency to be a little tight, do you think will leave an adequate tip to crew members. We bet your answer is the same as ours, not to many. There are people who have a tough time getting their hands out of their pockets when it comes to tipping, Give them an out, like the HAL statement and forget it, no tip. No one can tell us that the crew does not get anxious wondering if they are going to be tipped or not and sometimes go overboard in trying to insure themselves a gratuity.
On our first cruise with HAL we had a lounge waiter who after having asked us our names, would call out to us wherever he saw us. When he saw us, no matter where it was, he would wave to us and call out in very loud voice, "Hello Tom & Mary." I want you to know I am a very friendly and gregarious fellow but after a few days these incidents got completely out of hand. When we were walking near the pool and he spotted us from the other side, he would stop whatever he was doing and wave to us and call out in a loud voice, "Hello Tom & Mary," as if he just recognized a long lost relative. In the showroom as he was serving the front row and he spotted us a dozen rows back, he would stop what he was doing wave to us and call out, "Hello Tom & Mary." He was over friendly to the point of being obnoxious, pandering for a tip. We did everything we could to avoid him. The last night after I tipped him, he disappeared like a vapor. During disembarkation, as the multitude of people walked by the Ocean Bar heading toward the gangway, he had the nerve to stand in the middle of the walkway hoping that people who missed tipping him the night before might be intimidated by his presence. When we walked by he didn't even say hello. We're sure this is not the norm but it is an example of what this kind of policy can foster. So much for the brochure statement, "Our tipping policy ensures that the professional and gracious service you receive is sincere." So much for sincerity.
It is our opinion, HAL's tipping policy causes a great deal of confusion, not only with their guests but also with their crew. The last night of the cruise we're sure many of the guests play the tipping game, "Should we or shouldn't we", while the crew members play the game "Are they or aren't they," wondering if they are going to receive any remuneration for their efforts. When we sail with Hal we tip what the cruise guidelines suggest or better, regardless of HAL's stated policy. It is our opinion and our belief, that HAL's Filipino, Indonesian servers should receive the same consideration as the crew members of any other line. We hope that HALs longtime faithful followers aren't faithful followers because of their tipping not required policy.
WE ALMOST DIDN'T WRITE THIS REVIEW: It was Friday morning, the last day of our cruise, and Mary & I were at the Java bar having a Coffee Lotte when I told her we had a dilemma. I told Mary that I wasn't sure that we should write a review because most all our thoughts about this cruise were negative. We were disappointed with so many things that I thought it might be that we were being over critical. We were wondering if anyone else felt the way we did or was it just us. I was feeling very uncomfortable.
As we were standing at the Java counter, playing that "should we or shouldn't we" game, we noticed a gentleman that we had seen at the Mariners Society awards party, talking to another gentleman. I remember him being introduced at the Mariners party and the Captain placing a medallion around his neck for having made 50 cruises with HAL. I overheard some of the things he was saying and before you know it I was in the conversation. I couldn't believe my ears. This very loyal follower of Hal, who made 50 cruises with them and 50 other cruises was saying the very same things Mary & I had talked about. It was like hearing a recording of our earlier conversation. He was talking about the same things that troubled us, the kids, the discontinued services, the food in the dining room, the lack of formal dress, the showroom, the atrium centerpiece and changes that have been made that only a long time HAL cruiser would be aware of. He said he began to notice the changes soon after Carnival took over and for all intents and purpose, this was his last cruise with HAL. After our conversation with this long time HAL cruiser, who felt the same way we did, our mind was clear, we knew we were going to write a review.
It is much easier and more pleasurable for us to write about a positive cruise experience than having to tell you about many negatives such as you have read in this review. In fact, it concerns us that this review might discourage someone from cruising, or perhaps dampen some ones spirit who has booked the Zaandam. The only thing we can tell them is, 'Don't let our review scare you.' As we stated at the very beginning of this review, the very things we consider negative might seem trivial and non-consequential to you, and something that we feel very positive about you might consider to be unimportant and insignificant. When you read words like awful and disappointing, don't assume it means anything other than we didn't like it. personally. You may not think it awful and you may not be disappointed, in fact you may even like it. 'Don't let our review scare you..'
THINGS YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL:
WE suggest, if you intend to dine at an alternative restaurant, make your reservation the afternoon you board. The earlier the better.
We suggest you always check your table assignment as soon as possible.
WE suggest you get $2 dollar bills from your bank. Great for tipping servers. They won't forget you.
WE suggest. You will know by the second day if the cabin attendant is efficient. If so, give him his full weeks tip and tell him you would appreciate if on disembarkation you could stay in your cabin till your number is called. He has 20 cabins to clean, yours can be the last. No problem.
WE suggest that on the first night, you give the waiter half of his probable tip and tell him the rest is to come. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It will ensure you the best he's capable of.
WE suggest you always book your cabin on the Port side, it gives you a scenic view of the Port.
WE suggest you always have a brochure in front of you when you book a cruise. Check if your stateroom has a symbol. If so, check symbol legend. Read your brochure like a travel agent, from the back to the front.
WE suggest when dancing in the Crows Nest, look over at the guitarist of the Paloma quartet and smile. We guarantee he will smile back at you with his whole body. A very personable group.
WE suggest if Cozumel is your favorite port, this Itinerary is not for you. On this Itinerary the last tender leaves Cozumel for the ship at 1:30 P.M. Hardly enough time to do anything.
As is our custom, we are sending a copy of this review to Holland American headquarters in Seattle, Washington. We believe the cruise line is entitled to know what we have written about them, both the good and the bad.
We welcome any comments or questions. If you e-mail us, would you please tell us on what web-site you saw our review.