• Overview

  • Ocean-view

  • Cabin Amenities Overview

  • In-Room Dining Overview

  • Drinks Overview

  • Explorations Café

  • Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

  • Hudson Room

  • Atrium and Front Office

  • Explorer’s Lounge

  • Greenhouse Spa and Salon, Gym

  • Signature Shops

  • Photo Gallery

  • Art Gallery

  • Club HAL, The Loft and The Oasis

  • Neptune Lounge

  • Digital Workshop

  • Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

  • Hudson Room

  • Photo Gallery

  • Atrium and Front Office

  • Mondriaan Lounge

  • Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

  • Pools and Decks

  • Lido Pool and Lido Bar

  • Sea View Pool and Sea View Bar

  • Sports Deck and Sky Deck

  • Lido Pool and Lido Bar

  • Sea View Pool and Sea View Bar

  • Outdoor Walkaround

  • Services & Staff

  • Ship Tour Overview

  • Staff

  • General Health and Safety

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview

  • Overview


The Zaandam has 716 cabins, which is about average for Holland America’s midsized fleet. There are four main types of cabins: Interior, Ocean-view, Verandah and Suites, with variations in size, view, amenities and pricing within each type. About 28 percent of the cabins have balconies; 54 cabins have connecting doors to an adjoining unit.

We chose an Interior Cabin for our cruise—the cheapest option. Representing almost 20 percent of the ship’s overall accommodations, it was stocked with most of the amenities of the other cabins with two main exceptions: a bathtub and, of course, a view. Interior cabins range between “standard” and “large”—some of these can accommodate three or four guests, in a sofa bed and Pullman bunk bed. You can read about our experience in a typical Holland America Ocean-view cabin aboard the Statendam here. Three different types of “suites” are also available on Zaandam.

Standard features throughout all cabins are terry cloth bathrobes for use on-board, flat-screen TV and DVD player, complimentary fresh fruit on request and two lower beds that can be converted into one queen-size bed (in Deluxe Verandah and Penthouse suites, the bed is king-size).

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Overall, we found our cabin to be fine, with a pleasingly subdued décor.


Overview

So, we were counting our pennies and chose to book an Interior Cabin for our cruise on the Zaandam. We measured the cabin’s size as 182 square feet, which is not large, but it was adequate save for one issue: the clearance between the edge of the sofa and the foot of the bed was less than a foot—a tight squeeze. The cabin had a subdued but attractive design—welcome, especially considering there was no view. Our main complaint was that the lighting seemed a bit dim—there was sufficient light for reading in bed but most of the rest of the cabin didn’t feel bright. We also would have liked to have a mini-fridge in our room, an amenity not found on most of Holland America’s older ships. But overall we found our cabin to be fine.

Our bed was an inviting Sealy Posturpedic mattress—actually two mattresses that were joined together (the seam between the mattresses was apparent but not obnoxious). We slept very comfortably each night. There was no window, but a curtain lined the wall above our head with an overhead fluorescent blub running parallel; there were also directional reading lights on either side of the bed. A pair of small nightstands with drawers flanked the bed, with a phone on one side. There were under-dressers, but these prevented us from storing our empty luggage under bed.

Our bathroom was fairly standard-issue—that is, compact. There was an electrical outlet, marked “shavers only,” and a bottle opener. There was an old-school Aliseo Sirocco hair dryer mounted on the wall; a First Class 1600 model hair dryer was tucked in the bedroom dresser.

Although the bathroom was not large, the shower was slightly bigger than those we’ve experienced on most cruise ships—37 by 29 inches its at widest points. There was a 3-inch metal lip along the floor that kept the water in the right place, along with a curtain. The showerhead was Grohe model with an adjustable spray, and there was a retractable clothes line. Our towels were replaced most days, even when they were hung on the towel rods.

Bath products were Elemis, and included shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, via wall-mounted shower dispensers.

Lining one wall of the cabin was a desk and vanity with a big mirror as well as a magnifying make-up mirror at waist level. The TV was on a shelf above the desk, at about the 6-foot level; the DVD player was mounted underneath the shelf. Facing the desk and TV was a couch with a small oval coffee table that could be raised and lowered with a handle underneath.

The TV screen was an older 20-inch—LG model, in a fixed position angled toward both the couch and bed. The throw to the bed pillows was about 11 feet—for that distance a slightly larger monitor was warranted. The DVD player was a CyberHome CH-DVD 300.

Although there was no fridge, there were cans of soda on the desk for purchase (2 Coke, 2 Diet Coke, 2 Sprite plus 2 liter-sized bottles of Crystal Geyser); a metal ice bucket was refilled by our cabin attendant daily. The desk also had a makeup mirror, a hair dryer in the top drawer, and a pair of electrical outlets—one 115-volt, the other a 220-volt.

A curtain could be pulled to divide the room, providing a small dressing area next to the bathroom door (handy for when non-couples share the room). Facing the bathroom door, four doors opened into the closets, each measuring between 20 and 27½ inches wide. The widest had hangers and fold-down shelves, while the smallest had shelves only. One contained the safe, which was not large enough for an average sized laptop, and at the bottom was a wicker basket for shoes to be shined. We found about two dozen clothes hangers, a tie rack, and life vests on the top shelf. Overall, combined with nightstands and the under-dressers, this seemed like ample storage space for two or three guests.

There were two main lighting systems for the cabin: One was an overhead at the cabin entrance and a florescent bulb at the other end of the room, spanning the width of the bed. The other, in the middle of the room, was a lamp attached to the mirror and a couple lights over the couch pointed at the framed painting. There were switches for these systems at the front door, at the desk and one on either side of the bed. There was a lamp next to the couch which was not, by itself, bright enough for reading. There were also individual reading lights on either side of the bed, not quite bright enough by themselves for bedtime reading.
We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Holland America Line. Note that any photos on this page may be provided directly by the cruise line and not our reviewer.


Ocean-view

2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, bathtub, shower. All FF-category staterooms also have 1 sofa bed & pullman upper. Approximately 140–319 sq. ft.

Stateroom amenities include:
• Luxurious beds featuring Sealy® Premium Euro-Top mattresses and finely woven cotton linens
• Deluxe waffle weave and terry cloth bathrobes for use during your voyage
• 100% Egyptian cotton towels
• Premium massage showerheads
• 5X magnifying make-up mirrors and salon-quality hair dryers
• Fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure
• Complimentary fresh fruit on request
• Elegant ice bucket and serving tray for in-stateroom beverages
• Flat-panel TV and DVD player
• Ice service, shoeshine service and nightly turndown service_
2 lower beds convertible to 1 queen-size bed, whirlpool bath & shower, sitting area, private verandah, mini-bar, refrigerator, floor-to-ceiling windows. All A-category staterooms also have 1 sofa bed. Approximately 297–379 sq. ft. including verandah.

Include all the stateroom amenities, plus:
• A variety of firm, medium and soft pillows
• No-host mini-bar for easy entertaining
• Personalized cruise stationery
• Oversized bath towels
• One-touch telephone concierge service
• Fresh flowers
• Complimentary DVD library_


2 lower beds convertible to 1 king-size bed, whirlpool bath & shower, large sitting area, dressing room, private verandah, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, mini-bar, refrigerator, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 558–566 sq. ft. including verandah.

Suite amenities include:
• Use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge and personal concierge service
• Complimentary laundry, pressing and dry cleaning throughout your cruise
• Complimentary sparkling wine served in the Neptune Lounge upon embarkation
• Complimentary bottled water provided in suite at embarkation
• Gorgeous corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night
• Cold hors d’oeuvres served before dinner each evening on request • • • • Binoculars and umbrellas for your use on the cruise
• Cocktail party with ship’s officers
• Priority boarding for tendered ports of call
• Special disembarkation service
• Priority dining and seating requests
• Exclusive daily breakfast service
• High tea service in suite on request
• Elegant wooden clothing brush, lint remover and shoehorn for keeping clothing immaculate
• Fragrant bath salts and exfoliating loofah mitt for an invigorating shower experience
• Neptune Lounge: A very special amenity exclusively for guests cruising in Deluxe Verandah Suite or Penthouse Verandah Suite.


Bedroom with 1 king-size bed, oversize whirlpool bath & shower, living room, dining room, dressing room, private verandah, pantry, 1 sofa bed for 2 persons, mini-bar, refrigerator, guest toilet, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 1,296 sq. ft. including verandah.

Include all the suite amenities, plus: Neptune Lounge: A very special amenity exclusively for guests cruising in a Deluxe Verandah Suite or Penthouse Verandah Suite.


Like other Holland America ships, our cabin on Zaandam a couple nice extras.

Cabin Amenities Overview

Standard amenities on Holland America include a DVD player, a fruit basket filled on request and shoe shining service was available. Although our Interior Cabin didn’t have one, outside cabins had a bathtub in the bathroom

Complimentary DVDs loaned to guests is a perk not common on most ships. Nearly 1000 titles ranging from classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and Shane to year-old releases. There is a good collection of offbeat releases, such as Like Water for Chocolate and The Other Boleyn Girl, and family films, documentaries and quality TV series (The Sopranos, Mad Men) as well. The DVDs are available by calling the front desk, and treats can be delivered with the flick—popcorn (free), candies, chips and snacks ($1).

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Although there were discrepancies between menu descriptions and what was delivered, Holland America features a better-than-average room service menu.


In-Room Dining Overview

There were three room service dining menus on Zaandam. The 24-hour menu encompassed such basic fare as smoked salmon, mixed green salad, club sandwich, hamburger, omelet, cheese plate, fruit plate and a few desserts; there were also a few “time-tested” seasickness remedies, including beef broth, boiled chicken breast, and green apples and crackers. An expanded menu was also available from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and featured soups, salads, sandwiches, and a couple entrées (seared salmon and penne primavera).

Breakfast could be ordered by choosing delivery time, in 30-minute blocks between 6 and 10 a.m., with a door tag, hung on our cabin door by 2 a.m. the night before. The selection included cold and hot choices: juice, fruit, yogurt, assorted breads and toast with preserves, packaged cold cereals, eggs any style (eggbeaters available), omelets, and ham, sausage or bacon.

Our cabin had room for one person to eat at the desk or for two (barely) to share the small coffee table. There was an empty metal bowl with a card inviting us to order fruit for the room, including apples, bananas, pears and oranges. We made our selection and the bowl was refilled as needed each day.
We asked for breakfast to be delivered between 7 and 7:30 a.m.—the knock on the door came at 6:56 a.m. It was presented on a tray with a metal lid on top of the plate, the toast in a basket and wrapped in a napkin, a paper cap over the glass of juice and plastic wrap on the pitcher of milk. There were salt and pepper shakers, packets of sugar (and substitutes) and a container of marmalade. Three hours later someone knocked on door to pick up trays (which had already been cleared by our room attendant).

When we ordered lunch we were not given a timeframe for delivery; our order arrived 43 minutes later. Lunch was delivered on a single tray, with utensils wrapped in a napkin and salt and pepper shakers but nothing else.

For breakfast we ordered eggs over easy served with a fried potato cake, a half-grapefruit, fresh squeezed orange juice—all fine. The tasty wheat toast was lukewarm. Coffee was hot and the pitcher held more than three cups.

For lunch we ordered the seared salmon steak and a salad of mixed garden greens. The salmon warm, not hot, but the flavor was good. Carrots and broccoli on the side were barely steamed. No mashed potatoes, as promised on the menu, but instead the dish served with white rice. We also ordered the mixed garden green salad, which the menu said was tomato, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts and blue cheese crumbles. There were no sprouts, and the cheese was grated parmesan, but the greens were fresh and crisp. Apple tart was more like apple pie, but no matter—it was delicious, with a spicy apple filling.

Our cabin’s minibar (no fridge) included two cans each of Coke, Sprite and Diet Coke ($1.95 each) and 1-liter bottles of Crystal Geyser water ($2.95). Our in-room dining menu availed other options, including six domestic or imported beers ($21-$23), wine packages (starting at $89-$118 for three bottles) and liquor and mixer packages, including a gin and tonic package (one bottle of Beefeater gin and three cans of tonic water), Cutty Sark Scotch and soda, Smirnoff or Stolichnaya vodka and tonic, Jim Beam bourbon and coke, and Bacardi white rum and coke; these were priced $30 to $34 each.

A 15-percent service charge was automatically added to all drinks.
Though there wasn’t a wide variety of restaurants on the Zaandam, we had several good meals, along with some disappointments.


We’ve found cuisine to be one of Holland America’s strong suits. The menu for the main dining room—which changes nightly—is reasonably ambitious, and features a couple appetizer and entrée selections each evening from Holland America’s “Culinary Council,” a quintet of renowned chefs—one night had an appetizer and entrée by Jacques Torres, another was Charlie Trotter, etc.

What we experienced on Zaandam at the Rotterdam Dining Room, however, was a little more hit and miss than we like; we also found that what was delivered sometimes didn’t match the menu descriptions. The ship’s buffet option, the Lido Restaurant, was generally very good, while the pool grill was fairly simple, unsurprising. There are a couple specialty venues, including the Italian Canaletto restaurant, which occupies a corner of the Lido Restaurant each night; the food was good and we appreciated that a surcharge wasn’t added. There is an add-on for the steakhouse, Pinnacle Grill, and our dinner here was very satisfying in a handsome room with attentive service. Lunch at the Pinnacle Grill, however, was a total letdown.

Vegetarian selections were available daily at the Rotterdam Dining Room and Lido Restaurant. Although pretty much all cruise lines cater to vegetarians today with a meatless item or two on their daily menus, Holland America goes a step further. In addition to a nightly selection from the regular menu, an all-veggie menu is available at the Rotterdam, including a number of vegan items. The only hitch: selections from the vegetarian menu needed to be pre-ordered each morning.

At dinner, both in the main dining room and at Canaletto, we were offered “natural water—still or sparkling” to drink. The water carried a surcharge, but waiters couldn’t tell us where it was from or why it was better than the ship’s regular water. We didn’t spring for it.

Set seating times for the Rotterdam Dining Room were 5:45 and 8 p.m. but guests may opt for open seating during the cruise booking process, available between 5:15 and 9:30 p.m.

Editor's Note: Shortly after our cruise on Zaandam, Holland America Line began charging $10 to dine at Canaletto. The menu was also revised, but otherwise the venue has not changed. We’ll have a review of the new Canaletto experience on a future ship soon.

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There was a variety of inviting cocktails to try, and a decent wine list as well.


Drinks Overview

There were eight bars and lounges providing a variety of venues, though not as many as on some of Holland America’s most recently upgraded ships. During the day, the business was centered on the Lido Bar area, around the pool, though when the weather cooperated the action shifted to the open-air Sea View Bar. As the first seating for dinner approached, the Crow’s Nest bar—just above the bridge—perked up.

Beverage tasting events provided an opportunity to try new wines, beers and mixed cocktails and are offered throughout the voyage. The Signature of Excellence Mixology Classes were $12.50 each, and there were beer and wine tasting sessions as well.

Guests were permitted to bring bottles of wine and champagne on board; an $18 corkage fee was applied for bottles brought to the ship’s restaurants or bars. Other alcoholic beverages—those carried on board or purchased in the shops—could not be consumed while on the ship. Holland America’s drinking age was 21, regardless of port regulations. A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders, including Mixology classes.
The beer list available at the ship’s bars was fair: the usual domestics were offered for $4.75, with Corona, Amstel Light, Heineken, Beck’s and Stella Artois for $5.25; Grolsch was available for $5.95. Being an Alaska itinerary, our cruise featured Alaskan Amber and other brews from the Juneau brewery ($5.25).

Wines available by the glass started at $4.50 for Zonin pinot grigio and $6 for Alice White shiraz. The red wine list included Batasiolo Barbara d’Asti ($7), Meridian pinot noir ($7.50), Wolf Blass cabernet sauvignon ($9) and Les Closiers Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($12). Sparkling wines by the glass included Prosecco Cantine Maschio Brut ($5), Pierre Larouse brut ($5) and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut ($14.50).

Wines by the bottle included a good representation from the Pacific Northwest (where Holland America is based, and where most of the line’s many Alaska cruises originate).

The ship’s standard bar menu included mojito, margarita, daiquiris, etc.—all of which could be made with the classic recipe or with mango, strawberry, or banana. Cosmopolitans could be made “Sex in the City” style, or with grapefruit, candy apple or apricot liqueurs. Most other signature cocktails had their own twist—the Royal Manhattan used bourbon, red vermouth and a dash of angostura bitters—but there was a Vintage Collection page that handled the classics without embellishments. All of the above were priced $6.95.

Drinks were made with the ship’s house spirits—but call spirits were available for .50 cents extra and “premium spirits” were $1 more. Solo, the call spirits were available for $5.75 and up.

There was a theme cocktail of the day offered at most of the ship’s bars—Arctic Kiss, Ice Kool Aide, etc. These were $5.95—a buck off the usual price—and were highlighted in the daily newsletter.

Wine Navigator packages offered a slight discount off wine when several bottles were purchased at once. Three bottles of wine ranged $89-$118 (depending on whether the standard or premium selection was chosen); the five-bottle package was $149-$199 and the seven-bottle was $199-$269.

Beverage cards availed a slight discount, though these were most attractive for soda drinkers—a $50 soda card could be purchased for $25, providing a 50 percent discount on soft drinks. Beverage card applicable for any drinks were sold in $100 and $250 increments and availed a 5- and 10-percent discount respectively

Several packages were available for cabin consumption only. These included a gin and tonic package (one bottle of Beefeater gin and three cans of tonic water), Cutty Sark Scotch and soda, Smirnoff or Stolichnaya vodka and tonic, Jim Beam bourbon and coke, and Bacardi white rum and coke; these were priced $30 to $34 each. There were also beer packages: A six-pack of domestic beers was $20 and imported and aluminum bottles were $22.

Mocktails were available at most of the ship’s bars, and included Fresh Grapefruit Not-a-Cosmo, Ultimate Unleaded Margarita, and Cool as a Cucumber; these were priced $4.25. Soft drinks were priced $1.95, while juices by the glass were complimentary at the Lido Restaurant for breakfast, including delicious freshly squeezed OJ (the rest of the day juices were prices $2.75 at the bars). Coffee, tea and tap water were free of charge.
From tai chi sessions to spinning classes to ping pong tournaments, there was a decent variety of recreational activities on this mid-sized ship.


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Proudly displaying the New York Times logo, the coffee house was a wonderful sanctuary with inviting loungers.


Explorations Café

This was a terrific lounge for caffeine lovers, serving coffee drinks (with a surcharge) and light snacks (no charge) and it also served as the ship’s library and internet station. There’s a decent selection of books, including travel books, and the New York Times digest—in print—was available each morning. The nytimes.com website could be accessed on the ship’s 13 PCs at no charge, but internet use here (and elsewhere on the ship) was at the usual exorbitant sea-faring rates.

Comfy Scandinavian leather loungers fill out the space, make a very inviting hangout, but these spots were so coveted that we rarely saw them empty, except after dinner. The bookcases were locked each evening, and travel books were not allowed out of the café—a sensible rule for ports we were visiting on our cruise, but a little unnecessary for guides to other destinations.

Food

The café had a small deli counter offering between-meal snacks. We found glasses of fresh sliced fruit in parfait glasses, small sandwiches—tomato and mozzarella, ham and cheese croissants—English pound cake, cookies, almond energy bars, oatmeal cranberry bars, and other treats through the day.

Drink

The usual espresso drinks were available, and we enjoyed the latte we tried. Baristas usually fill orders in to-go cups, but one can request drinks in ceramic cups. Prices for hot and iced drinks ranged $1.60 for a 12-ounce Americano to $2.55 for the caramello latte; the 16-ounce size were .50 additional. Tazo tea drinks (including chai tea lattes) were also available. Spiked coffee drinks included Irish Coffee (with Bailey’s Irish Cream), Icy Bourbon Mint (bourbon, crème de menthe and chocolate) and coffee nudge (crème de cacao and brandy)—these were $6.25 to $6.50.

Additional Details

There were 13 computer stations available for use. The basic price for internet access was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 charge for activation; this same fee structure applied to WiFi access for laptops. Various packages were available that brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/minute), 250 minutes for $100 (.40/minute), etc.

The café served from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and the bookcases were locked up at night.
Classical string quartet and a piano bar vibe created an inviting ambience each evening.


Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

This multi-purpose, 125-seat venue is home to Zaandam’s Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. Though the sessions were engaging, the concoctions were pretty simple—smoothies, chilled raspberry soup, steak Diane, shellfish boil, etc.

Shows and Performances

The theater was also used for movies daily, generally shown three times starting at 6 p.m. But the screen was fairly (not as big as some TV monitors we’ve seen), and wide-screen movies shown in their proper letterboxed format were puny presentations. The sound was fine, but we didn’t like squinting.

Hudson Room

This small conference room on Deck 5 could accommodate up to about 50 people, seated theatre-style. It was also used for various events during our cruise, including interdenominational service, journal crafting, etc.

Atrium and Front Office

The three-story atrium of Zaandam was defined by a three-story Dutch pipe organ rising from Deck 3. In the style of traditional Baroque barrel organs found on the streets of the Netherlands, this self-playing contemporary instrument actually tooted and clanked away at several points of our cruise.

On Deck 4, halfway up the atrium, is the ship’s front office and shore excursions desk. These posts were efficiently handled, and we rarely saw a line for either desk. Most of the ground floor of the Atrium on Deck 3 was oddly unutilized.

Explorer’s Lounge

This was the main venue where the Adagio Strings played each evening, for several hours starting between 6 and 9 p.m. nightly. Running along the port side of Deck 5—flanking a central traffic corridor opposite the Explorations Café—the lounge was a good place to tuck in to a book or coffee when all the café seating was occupied. It was used for a few seminars (beer tasting, jewelry sales events) but otherwise was little used during the day. The string quartet mostly played classical music, with a few contemporary standards thrown in.

Active pursuits were reasonably varied, but the ship’s gym was overdue for an equipment upgrade.


Greenhouse Spa and Salon, Gym

As with many of the spas as sea, the spa, salon and gym on Zaandam is managed by Steiner Leisure, an outfit that oversees spa facilities on a majority of cruise ships. The Greenhouse Spa is an attractive facility located on Deck 8 forward and a variety of treatments were available.

Steiner Leisure’s pricing is fairly consistent from ship to ship, their standard rates are somewhat higher than we find at most quality resorts. Prices were discounted on port days, and other specials became available as the cruise went on, particularly for those booking multiple appointments.

Rates ranged from $119 for a 50-minute Reflexology or Swedish massage to $199 for a 75-minute bamboo massage. The 50-minute couples massage was $269. Facials started at $119 for the 50-minute LaTherapie Hydralift Facial. Manicure and pedicure services started at $45 and $65 respectively. The men’s salon package was $89 and included a cut and style, mini-facial and frangipani scalp massage. The menu of services also included waxing, tooth whitening and acupuncture.

There is also the Greenhouse Thermal Suite, a small, shared facility within the spa featuring dry heat, steam and aromatherapy chambers, heated ceramic loungers and a body temperature mineral pool. Akin to a Turkish bath, a seven-day pass to use the Thermal Suite was $99, a fee that seemed excessive to us (but not to some who wanted this morsel of semi-exclusivity to themselves).

A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

Sports and Fitness

Overlooking the forward panorama, Zaandam’s modest-sized gym was accessible through the entrance to the spa. Although carpeting appeared to be new, much of the short supply of exercise machines was outdated. The Precor treadmills were alright, but the Cybex cross trainers and recumbent bikes were overdue for replacement; there were no upright bikes and at peak hours there was a wait for some equipment. We were told that new Life Fitness equipment would be installed on the ship later in the year—readers?

Fitness classes were available, though some required an additional fee. Three sessions of abs conditioning and “legs bums and tums,” plus daily stretching exercises were complimentary, announced in the daily Explorer newsletter; yoga, pilates and spinning classes were $12 per session.

The shops carried a fairly predictable selection of jewelry, watches, perfumes and theme merchandize, and the sales pitches were profligate.


Signature Shops

We found a fairly standard selection of merchandize in Zaandam’s shopping arcade. The interconnected shops were located at midship on Deck 5, next to the Casino Bar—smoke from that venue swirled through much of the shopping area.

Retail

Cruise apparel themed to our destination was available, along with Holland America logo merchandize such as T-shirts, caps, beach towels, mugs and Zaandam ship models. There was a selection of jewelry, watches, fragrances, skin care products and binoculars. Sundries included candy, chips, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine napkins, disposable lighters and razors. Duty free cigarettes and liquor were also available.

Zaandam had a small crew of photographers snapping casual and formal shots of guests onboard. These included informal gangway pictures, shots in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

A small gallery of art pieces for sale was located on Deck 4, with additional pieces hanging on the walls extending down the corridor past the Pinnacle Grill. With sales managed by Park West Gallery, there were art auctions almost daily, held in the Ocean Bar.

There was a decent kids program and varied enrichment opportunities for adults.


Club HAL, The Loft and The Oasis

Located on Deck 9 aft, Holland America’s youth program—which goes under the name Club HAL—had dedicated venues for three age groups. For ages 3-7, the room had a spilled-paint theme and was stocked with board games; an adult was required to sign kids in and out. Another room was set aside for tweens ages 8-12 and had a Foosball table and video games; sign in/out was handled by tweens with adult permission. Both of these areas were supervised for most of the day and evening, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with set staff breaks at meal time). Sitting services were available for $5 per hour (per child) from 10 p.m. to midnight.

An unsupervised room with Xbox and Wii games was available; the equipment could not be removed from the Youth Center.

For ages 13-17 there was a separate teen venue called The Loft, with a DJ booth, stage and couches for hanging out. This venue was not staffed, but there were scheduled activities through the day and evening.

Just above The Loft, accessed by hidden stairway, was a teens-only outdoor space called The Oasis, decked out for a volcano-themed pool party with a splash pool and waterfall, faux palm trees and sun loungers. But the waterfall wasn’t operating and we never saw any teens using the space.

The basketball and tennis courts were located right outside Club HAL and The Loft.

Neptune Lounge

A private lounge reserved for guests booked into Deluxe Verandah Suites, this area was tended by a concierge at most hours. Light bites were available throughout the day, along with worktables, an oversized TV, sofas, and computer stations where WiFi is offered at a reduced rate.

Digital Workshop

In this venue, also known as the Queen’s Room, classes in Microsoft programs are taught using 16 Sony laptops, each equipped with a mouse. We found the teacher to be upbeat and accommodating with a variety of skill levels, with a special focus on photography.

While subjects were mostly at the beginner level, the range of classes was impressive and included introductory PC buying and security, files, folders and sharing, an introduction to the Cloud, and multiple sessions on photo editing and processing (as well as digital camera basics). The room was locked when not being used for classes.

Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

This multi-purpose, 125-seat venue is home to Zaandam’s Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. Though the sessions were engaging, the concoctions were pretty simple—smoothies, chilled raspberry soup, steak Diane, shellfish boil, etc.

Hudson Room

This small conference room on Deck 5 could accommodate up to about 50 people, seated theatre-style. It was also used for various events during our cruise, including interdenominational service, journal crafting, etc.

Zaandam had a small crew of photographers snapping casual and formal shots of guests onboard. These included informal gangway pictures, shots in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

Atrium and Front Office

The three-story atrium of Zaandam was defined by a three-story Dutch pipe organ rising from Deck 3. In the style of traditional Baroque barrel organs found on the streets of the Netherlands, this self-playing contemporary instrument actually tooted and clanked away at several points of our cruise.

On Deck 4, halfway up the atrium, is the ship’s front office and shore excursions desk. These posts were efficiently handled, and we rarely saw a line for either desk. Most of the ground floor of the Atrium on Deck 3 was oddly unutilized.

The performers aboard Zaandam were talented, but the overall style of entertainment was aimed at an older audience.


Mondriaan Lounge

Zaandam’s two-level main showroom was a very seductive venue—the red, purple and orange color scheme didn’t hurt. Front row balcony seating provided good sightlines. We didn’t care for the sound mix in this room, with vocals particularly over-amplified.

Shows and Performances

There were talented singers and dancers onboard Zaandam, singing and dancing to heavily synthesized backing tracks. There were four stage shows during our seven-night cruise, but none of them seemed geared to anyone under about 50 or 60 years of age. There was a tribute to Broadway with costumes by the sultan of sequins, Bob Mackie, and a tribute to the South on another night. The vocals were excessively sweetened with reverb, and the music was plastic, as were the sets and choreography. If it were all more arch, with a bit less starch.

Other nights featured a comedienne whose regular show was bland and restrained (we’ve seen this same comedienne let loose with a more adult act on other ships, to better result), and there was a comedy-magic act we missed. One late-night event featured the Indonesian crew show—like karaoke there are always a hit-and-miss affair, but the talented acts inspired enthusiastic applause.

Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center

This multi-purpose, 125-seat venue is home to Zaandam’s Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. Though the sessions were engaging, the concoctions were pretty simple—smoothies, chilled raspberry soup, steak Diane, shellfish boil, etc.

Shows and Performances

The theater was also used for movies daily, generally shown three times starting at 6 p.m. But the screen was fairly (not as big as some TV monitors we’ve seen), and wide-screen movies shown in their proper letterboxed format were puny presentations. The sound was fine, but we didn’t like squinting.
Although we enjoyed the ship’s live musicians, stage shows were dated and plastic, and lacked spontaneity.


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Two pools and lots of deck space made this a good ship for sun-lovers.


Pools and Decks

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Thanks to a retractable roof covering one of them, there was a pool available for whatever weather we encountered.


Lido Pool and Lido Bar

Covered by a retractable roof, this area was a focal point on sea days—a good-sized pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining (the Terrace Grill was in this area, and the Lido Restaurant nearby). The roof was opened when the weather cooperated, but was closed at other points. Ping Pong tables were available (and popular).

Sea View Pool and Sea View Bar

This large open area on Deck 8 aft had a decent-sized pool and sun deck, with a couple curious cow sculptures posing at one end. The pool was unheated and 6’9” deep; showers were available for rinsing off. On our cruise, most swimmers stuck to the protected Lido Pool at mid-ship.

There were a number of tables here that were used as overflow for the Lido Restaurant. Blankets were provided when the air was nippy. Smoking allowed on starboard side, next to the bar.

Stairs lead down to the aft areas of lower decks. These were secluded areas stocked with a few loungers, overlooked by most passengers.

Though Zaandam is modestly sized, there was plenty of open deck space for us to explore, and crowding was never an issue.


Sports Deck and Sky Deck

The Sports Deck extends the length of the ship on Deck 9 and provides the bulk of the sports activities (other than the gym): a basketball court, tennis court and shuffleboard court. On our cruise this deck didn’t see a lot of action (no tournaments or open play sessions were scheduled), but it was a good place for enjoying the sun and sea air.

A staircase led up to the Sky Deck, the ship’s uppermost accessible level, replete with sun loungers and showers.

Lido Pool and Lido Bar

Covered by a retractable roof, this area was a focal point on sea days—a good-sized pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining (the Terrace Grill was in this area, and the Lido Restaurant nearby). The roof was opened when the weather cooperated, but was closed at other points. Ping Pong tables were available (and popular).

Sea View Pool and Sea View Bar

This large open area on Deck 8 aft had a decent-sized pool and sun deck, with a couple curious cow sculptures posing at one end. The pool was unheated and 6’9” deep; showers were available for rinsing off. On our cruise, most swimmers stuck to the protected Lido Pool at mid-ship.

There were a number of tables here that were used as overflow for the Lido Restaurant. Blankets were provided when the air was nippy. Smoking allowed on starboard side, next to the bar.

Stairs lead down to the aft areas of lower decks. These were secluded areas stocked with a few loungers, overlooked by most passengers.

Outdoor Walkaround

Deck 3 was home to Zaandam’s promenade deck. Deck chairs were lined up at midship and provided a good place to hang out and enjoy the view. Smoking was permitted on the starboard side of the deck.

Four laps around the ship equaled a mile, but no jogging was allowed, despite the relatively wide deck area.

This was also where the Muster Drill took place, beneath the lifeboats.

The mostly-Indonesian crew was good-natured and professional.


Services & Staff

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There was a daily newsletter, Explorer, and it arrived in our cabin each evening. We liked the format and it was easy to find the ship’s activities and events.
There were four main decks fully dedicated to common areas.


Ship Tour Overview

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Service was upbeat and gracious.


Staff

A majority of Zaandam’s crew was Philippine and Indonesian, the latter adding a connection to Holland’s colonial history. Service was uniformly upbeat and managed the right balance of gracious and not too formal.

One issue we had with this cruise actually took place before we boarded. A week prior to embarkation we tried to book our transfer from the airport to the departure port. The Holland America offices informed us that the transfer buses were “sold out” and we would have to make our own way. With some research we discovered that a car rental for the day would cost over $300; a taxi to cover the nearly 100-mile distance would likely be even more. We took our chances and arrived at the airport to find there was plenty of space on the Holland America coach; the agent there told us that: “they always tell people it’s sold out and put people into a panic.” This struck us as both poor customer service and poor management.
A gratuity of $11.50 per day, per guest was charged to our shipboard account (the gratuity is $12 per day for those staying in suites). The gratuity is shared by room stewards and waiters. Additionally, a 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to all bar charges and to wine purchases in dining rooms.
By day, the dress on Zaandam was relaxed and casual. Holland America asks that shoes and a cover-up be worn over a bathing suit when passing through public areas inside the ship.

On a typical seven-night cruise two formal nights are scheduled, with tuxedos, dark suit or jacket and tie expected for men and suit, gown or cocktail dress for women. This was largely (though not totally) adhered to by the guests using common areas on these evenings. The rest of the cruise was defined as smart casual—slacks and collared shirts for men, casual dresses, slacks or informal evening wear for women. T-shirts, shorts, etc. were not allowed in public areas after dark.

The drinking age on our cruise was 21. Holland America allows guests to bring wine on board for private consumption; a corkage fee of $18 is applied to the bill for personal wine bottles opened in restaurants or bars. Hard liquor brought on board is stored and delivered to cabins the night before disembarkation.
Guests are automatically enrolled in Mariner Society membership after their first cruise with Holland America. Each day earns Cruise Day Credits which can be accumulated; services purchased on-board—such as spa treatments, dining at specialty restaurants and taking shore excursions—also count. The credits can be used towards a gourmet dinner, massage, shore excursions, etc. on future cruses. The more cruise day credits cruisers accumulate, the higher their “star” level. After 30 cruise days one attains 2-Star Mariner status; 75 days equals 3-Star Mariner; and the highest level—Four-Star Mariner—is attained after 200 cruise days.

Other perks of the Mariner Society, depending on star level, include a 10-15 percent discount on Holland America’s merchandize, a 50-percent discount on cruise fares for the third or fourth guests sharing your stateroom on certain sailings, waiver of air deviation fees; priority disembarkation, tender and check in, etc.
There was no public laundry room on Zaandam. In addition to dry cleaning at the usual exorbitant rates, there were laundry packages available. All the laundry we could fit in a Holland America laundry bag—not quite a full load for most washers—was $20. Unlimited laundry on a seven-day cruise was $49, or $84 on a 12-day cruise. Unlimited pressing service was $28, or $48 on a 12-day cruise.
Attention to health and safety issues seemed to be spot-on during our cruise.


General Health and Safety

For the first two days of our cruise, servers handled plates for us in the buffet (to minimize contamination), a process that worked relatively well.

For the Muster Drill passengers attended at their assigned muster stations, located on the Outdoor Walkaround, Deck 3. Roll call was handled verbally with a clipboard just before sail-away.
A medical clinic was located on Deck 1 forward. Hours were 8 a.m. to 12 noon, and 2 to 6 p.m. daily. There was a physician available for more serious issues; consultations were to be charged to an on-board account.
Smoking was not permitted in Zaandam guestrooms or anywhere indoors “with the exception of certain designated areas.” Smoking was permitted on the starboard sides of the Outdoor Walkaround and the SeaView Pool deck, at the casino bar and most of the casino tables and slots, and in the center of the Crow’s Nest bar. Smoking was also allowed on stateroom balconies.
First going to sea in May 2000, Zaandam is a fairly average ship within today’s Holland America fleet. With a capacity for 1432 passengers (double occupancy), Zaandam is of average size and average age—the 61,396-ton ship also delivered a fairly average cruise experience. Though we wouldn’t recommend against sailing on Zaandam, we also didn’t find much to get excited about. This might be in part due to the fact that that some of Zaandam’s common areas haven’t received a facelift since the ship first debuted, more than a decade ago. The gym was stocked with outdated equipment; the musical theme sprinkled through the ship includes a few choice artifacts (a Bill Clinton saxophone, signed guitars from Eric Clapton and Iggy Pop) but the ambience was hardly as cutting edge as your average Hard Rock Café. A dry dock planned for late 2013 could address some off these issues.

Meanwhile, meals are usually one of Holland America’s strong points but we found our dining experience in Zaandam’s Rotterdam Dining Room to be more uneven than it should have been. We noticed a recurring problem with dishes delivered not matching the menu descriptions. However, the Lido buffet was fine, and we had a pleasant meal at Canaletto, the ship’s Italian venue. The surcharge steakhouse, Pinnacle Grill, provided a very good dinner one evening, along with a lunch for which the small add-on was not justified.

Overall, our Interior Cabin was fine—not large, but adequate, and we slept comfortably. Lighting seemed a bit dim and we would have appreciated a mini-fridge in the room, but the shower was a decent size, there was ample closet space and we liked being able to borrow DVDs from the front desk, an amenity not common to most other mainstream lines.

At certain hours (mostly in the evening) we found smoke prevalent at mid-ship on Deck 5—the smoke in the casino seemed reasonably well ventilated, but smoke at the adjoining Casino Bar seemed to linger. In fact it was usually impossible to pass through mid-ship on this deck without inhaling a stiff dose of smoke in our lungs. We also found the deluge of marketing material from the spa, the shops and the art dealer to be excessive and wasteful.

We liked the live musicians, especially the string quartet Adagio Strings and a slick band called the HALcats—both performed daily at various venues. Otherwise, we found the stage entertainment depressingly old-school. There was a good array of enrichment activities on the daily schedule. While the computer classes and cooking demos were somewhat basic, a number of guests enjoyed them, and they were professionally handled. Holland America’s traditional Indonesian afternoon tea was a delight, served in the Rotterdam Dining Room, while Explorations Café was a fine library and coffee shop that we loved working in—when we could find an empty seat.

Holland America’s ships cater to a somewhat older audience. You won’t find rock climbing walls, flashy entertainment or pulsing discos. Although there was a long list of activities, especially on sea days, the Zaandam didn’t try to get in the way of the destination. For us, letting the destination shine was a good thing, and it made our cruise an enjoyable one in the end.
Service was professional at Zaandam’s main dining room, but food quality was inconsistent.


Overview

The two-story Rotterdam Dining Room was a serviceable venue for most of our meals, with sea views from a majority of seats, and tables primped with small bouquets of flowers. Holland America’s “culinary council” includes David Burke, Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres and Charlie Trotter joining the line’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin—each has one appetizer and entrée selection on one night of the cruise. As with celebrity chefs who “cook” for airlines, the results are largely dependent on conditions beyond their control. And although breakfasts were fine, our dinners at Rotterdam were uneven at best.

Service was also spotty—one dinner stretched on for almost two hours and a cheese plate ordered for dessert came without the crackers, a request that was ignored till we gave up. On formal night the ship’s quartet played until 8:45, but when they left the stage on the upper deck the sound system was switched abruptly to generic pop music, a sorry transition.

Starters we enjoyed included the Garden Symphony—grilled vegetables (zucchini, asparagus, eggplant, etc.) served with Montrachet, an herb-infused goat cheese. A cabbage soup was tasty, with lots of black pepper spark. There was an interesting shrimp appetizer one formal night—the shrimp was infused with an almond flavor and topped by a drizzle of creamy almond dressing and riddled with quinoa. The dish was unique, though as it was served tails-on and in a silver goblet, eating it was a bit clunky. We were let down by the tomato and fennel soup, which was thick and gloppy with little fennel flavor. A garden greens salad was unmemorable, ruined by heavy, bottom-shelf dressing.

None of the entrées we tried wowed us. Best was probably David Burke’s filet of barramundi with lobster dumpling—the fish was good with lots of olive oil flavor. An entrée-size duck salad was artless: The duck breast was not sitting on frisée, watercress and mâche (as the menu promised) but instead on a heap of boring Romaine; the bland sour cherry dressing did little to tie together this mess. Our surf and turf on formal night was disappointing—the lobster was fair, but steak was a poor cut and delivered well done, not medium rare as requested.

An all-vegetarian menu was offered at the Rotterdam during our cruise—eight appetizers, three soups, two salads and nine entrees, about half of which were listed as vegan. Items from this menu, available nightly, must be ordered by that morning, presumably because these items were not being prepared in advance, except on request. Among the offerings were a mezze plate (baba ghanoush, hummus, stuffed grape eaves and tabbouleh), vegetable empanadas, lentil and garbanzo salad, pad Thai and vegetable jambalaya.

We chose from this menu on one evening but the results were disappointing, primarily because the actual dishes we received omitted some of the ingredients promised on the menu. Our Asian noodle soup was good, with a subtle bean sprout, mushroom and coconut flavor. But the vegetarian sushi roll was only rice with flecks of carrot wrapped in seaweed—the menu described sesame seeds, avocado, cucumber, pimento and pickled ginger. The tossed fresh garden greens salad also missed a few ingredients and was ladled with more of the gloppy dressing. The main course—an asparagus, carrot, zucchini tart—was tasty, but the “three grain pilaf” on the side was two grains short—lentils and barley—of the description (maybe “one grain pilaf” doesn’t sound right?). We’ve had Holland America’s vegetarian menu on other ships with better results.

Breakfasts were fine, and the atmosphere was subdued, uncrowded. The menu was nicely varied, with the usual fare supplemented by an egg white frittata Italiana, eggs Benedict (and Florentine, Royale), belgian waffles (though we found ours a bit tough and dry), French toast, and pancakes (with banana or blueberry). There was also a Japanese breakfast (miso soup, white rice, tamagoyaki and broiled salmon), the full English breakfast (scrambled eggs, English banger sausage, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, grilled half tomato), a Scandinavian breakfast (smoked salmon, pickled herring, hard boiled egg, dark rye bread) and a Dutch breakfast (Uitsmijter, an open-face sandwich with thick white bread, ham, aged Gouda, and two eggs sunny side up).

On sea days, the restaurant was open for lunch and the selection covers comfort foods like burgers, pasta and sandwiches (tuna melt, turkey sandwich).

In addition to the standard bar menu an expanded wine list was available at the Rotterdam Dining Room. Prices on bottles ranged from $22 (Santa Carolina chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon) to $79 (Silverado cabernet sauvignon, Franciscan Magnificat), with several pricier options from the Pacific Northwest (Holland America’s home base) along with a reserve wine list. Champagnes included Domaine Chadon brut ($47), Tattinger Cuvée Prestige rosé ($99) and Cristal Louis Roderer ($244).
Afternoon tea was served here on sea days at 3 p.m. Of particular note was the Indonesian tea service, with music of the islands and tropical desserts of banana and coconut.

There were two seatings for dinner, at 5:45 and 8 p.m. nightly, with the upstairs deck devoted to open seating, between 5:15 and 9 p.m. Breakfast was served for 90 minutes, starting at 7, 7:30 or 8 a.m. daily, and lunch was available on sea days from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
The main buffet restaurant on Zaandam was busy—and with good reason.


Overview

Located on Deck 8, the Lido Restaurant offers one of the better buffet spreads we’ve seen on mainstream cruise ships. Two buffet lanes served a similar selection, with seating areas running along the windows on each side, with each of the tables enlivened by potted orchids.

During the first two days of our cruise, crewmembers served guest plates at the buffet, a system designed to minimize spread of communicable diseases. This Holland America policy is probably wise, though it did slow the buffet lines for those first few meals. And seating was limited throughout our cruise during the breakfast hour, and at lunch on sea days. This was a popular dining room, but deservedly so. The best-kept secret was dinner: The venue was never crowded at night and—at least on this cruise—the food overall was better than what we had in the Rotterdam Dining Room.

Breakfast was always busy, and there was a reliable range of standards, including various pastries and breads (toasted to order) with a broad selection of packaged preserves to choose from. The cold station included fresh sliced fruit and fruit salad, yogurts, smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and sliced red onion, packaged cereals, muesli; hot oatmeal was also available. At the griddle we found blueberry pancakes, French toast and waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries or cherries. Poached egg dishes included various eggs benedict—Florentine, Messina, Stanley crab, Scottish and Italian—along with traditional Omelet station, with assorted meats and veggies, or an omelet of the day.

For lunch there was a sandwich bar with various meats, cheeses and veggies, and sandwiches could be grilled like panini; plates came with potato chips. There was a modest salad bar plus a rotating selection of prepared salads that were usually satisfying, including a squid marinara salad, carrot, raisin and feta salad, beef salad with green beans and tomato, a jicama slaw, etc. There were two soups daily, including such options as Oriental chicken consommé, cheddar cheese, and a San Francisco-style cioppino. The pasta bar featured a daily baked lasagna or pasta dish, along with various noodles and sauces, and pizzas were available by the slice. The carving station featured two meats, one of which was usually chicken, and entrées available included Hungarian beef goulash, lamb, souvlaki, haddock a la Orly, pork picatta, etc. There was also an Asian corner, where we found a stir-fried beef in hoisin sauce, Asian noodles in peanut sauce, chicken chow mein, blsckened beef stir fry; there was also a small selection of sushi.

The dessert station offered a good range of treats, starting with an ice cream station with both soft serve and scooped (including sugar-free), and sundaes. Other items available for dessert included black forest cake, banana cream pie, tiramisu, chocolate cheesecake, a daily mousse, and cookies; sugar-free tarts and puddings were also available daily.

Dinners were still fairly casual here, but the preparations were a little more involved, and often satisfying. Along with a salad bar, prepared salads included broccoli tossed with blue cheese and bell peppers, Waldorf, and a Moroccan couscous salad with toasted almonds and scallions. We enjoyed the Lebanese lamb osso bucco, the grilled tilapia with olives, onions and peppers, and a tasty tofu and vegetable korma (there was always a vegetarian entrée, and Indian food made a regular appearance). Other entrées included a bourbon-glazed beef with mushrooms, bay scallops and Manila clams over noodles, and grilled French cut pork chops. Accompaniments included rice and potatoes, sautéed or steamed veggies, two different soups nightly, a pasta station and assorted fresh baked breads. Trays of condiments—Tabasco, A-1, chutney, etc.—were available next to the seating areas.

A pair of self-service beverage stations flanked the buffet lines and availed coffee, tea, iced tea and lemonade. For the first two days of the cruise, these stations were staffed and we were not allowed to fill glasses. Other drinks could be ordered from the nearby Lido Bar. At breakfast there was delicious freshly squeezed orange juice available, along with about eight other juices.

The full buffet at the Lido Restaurant was available for breakfast daily from 7 to 10:30 a.m., and a bit earlier on a couple early port days. A continental breakfast selection available for an additional 30 minutes before and after. Lunch was available from 11:30 a.m, to 2 p.m., with the deli section open till 5 p.m. Dinner was offered 5:30 to 8 p.m., with a themed late night snack available from 11 p.m. to midnight, culminating with a Dessert Extravaganza on the sixth night of our cruise, at 10:30 p.m.
This was a good alternative to the buffet, and on Zaandam the Italian dishes were tasty.


Overview

Transforming one corner of the Lido Restaurant each evening, Canaletto is Zaandam’s Italian diner, replete with waiters outfitted in striped gondolier shirts, light opera music in the background and a candle (electric) sparking a romantic ambience. While we didn’t exactly think we’d been transported to Italy, it proved to be a good alternative to the buffet and the main dining room.

Editor's Note: Shortly after our cruise on Zaandam, Holland America Line began charging $10 to dine at Canaletto. The menu was also revised, but otherwise the venue has not changed. We’ll have a review of the new Canaletto experience on a future ship soon.

Our experiences at Canaletto has been uneven on other Holland America ships, but on Zaandam we had a good meal, which started with a wonderful selection of antipasti—roasted vegetables, tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, calamari and slices of meat. The zuppa di pesce—seafood soup—was satisfying with the fish flavors mingling nicely with a hearty tomato broth. For our entrée we chose the tasty cod putanesca; the fish was lightly sautéed with a grilled cheese polenta propped against it and a tomato concassée lathered to one side. Dessert of lemoncello crème was okay, but we would have liked more of the alcohol’s spark.

A beverage attendant offered the ship’s standard drink menu, plus Canaletto-branded Italian wines. For dessert, the liqueur lemoncello was offered.

Canaletto was open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly. With limited seating, not all passengers can be accommodated on a typical seven-night cruise. Make your reservation early on (note: on the first night of our cruise Canaletto was quiet).
Situated in a classy room with elegant art, this was our best dinner on the cruise, as well as our most disappointing lunch.


Overview

The Pinnacle Grill is Holland America’s steakhouse, serving the expected cuts of Sterling Silver premium beef along with Colorado lamb chops, broiled king salmon, lobster tail, cedar planked black cod and shrimp scampi, plus a selection of skewered dishes. The polished service didn’t miss a beat, the plate-ware and Riedel stemware was handsome and the room was embellished with late-19th century artworks by French and American painters. Fabric walls helped the acoustics, allowing for a pleasant backdrop of 19th and 20th century classical music with a little Scott Joplin thrown in for good measure.

Once a week the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into “An Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grill,” a tribute to the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York, replete with Bvlgari china. On this evening guests will find a set menu with wine pairings, and reservation are necessary; there is a $39 supplement for this meal. You can read about our Le Cirque experience aboard Holland America's Veendam here.

On certain days, the Pinnacle Grill also hosts lunch, with a $10 surcharge.

We started with the lobster bisque, spiked with a dose of sherry and laced with chunks of succulent lobster meat; the richness made us float away. We might have hesitated on that bisque had we known the amuse bouche to follow was an eggy lobster flan, but the double crustacean whammy was fine. Our arugula salad deserved a lighter dressing—something less goopy (maybe something fresh rather than bottled) but the wealth of bacon nibbles stole our attention.

We’ve enjoyed the steaks at Pinnacle Grill on previous Holland America cruises, so we thought we’d try the black cod. “It’s a bit fishy,” said our waiter—our cue to stay away. Instead we opted for the lamb, a trio of very tasty cuts—not large, but a satisfying portion nonetheless. We ordered the meat medium rare and two of the cuts were on the money, while one was a tad overdone. Dessert of chocolate bread pudding sounded scrumptious, but it was heavier than it needed to be (considering all that preceded it).

As good as our dinner was, our lunch was disappointing. The salad was composed of uninteresting leaves of Romaine with big, fat wedges of flavorless yellow and red tomato. If tomatoes are to be the star of a dish, they should be savory, singing with flavor, and the fact that these were served in the middle of summer (when tomatoes are at their peak) was anathema. Worse yet was the burger we ordered: It was requested medium but arrived medium-well (virtually no pink) and, other than limp leaf of lettuce and a pair of thin tomato slices, there were no condiments (these were requested and arrived a few minutes later). Saving grace: The dainty French fries were delicious. But the steakhouse should deliver the best burger on the ship, but we found ours to be about on-par with the one we received a couple days later at the Terrace Grill. For dessert we ordered something like an English pudding, which was sticky and not overwhelmed with chocolate flavor.

The wine list at Pinnacle Grill was almost identical to the one offered at the Rotterdam Dining Room, but added a few very high-end recommendations, such as a 1999 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux ($799) and a 2001 Château Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux ($1100).

Reservations were required for dining at the Pinnacle Grill. Dinner was offered nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Lunch was available on four days of our cruise, from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
This pool grill served satisfactory burgers and hot dogs, along with a small Mexican buffet spread.


Overview

Located next to the Lido Pool, the Terrace Grill doesn’t look like much but it was great for a quick bite when we were using the pool, and it provided relief when the Lido Restaurant was packed.

Of particular note: The cheeseburger was pretty much on par with the one served at Pinnacle Grill and it was just as well-done, but we didn’t pay a surcharge for it this time. The fries weren’t so petite, but they were fresh. Pizzas sitting under a heat lamp included four-cheese, double Pepperoni, and a garlic chicken. They were okay, if very cheesy.

The Mexican spread seemed to appear daily. We enjoyed the beef tamale and found the guacamole appropriately spicy without much added filler. Most dishes were oddly unmarked—woe to the unprepared—including a tasty ceviche.

The Lido Bar on the other side of the pool had a full range of drinks for us, and full waiter service around the pool.

The Terrace Grill was open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Proudly displaying the New York Times logo, the coffee house was a wonderful sanctuary with inviting loungers.


Overview

This was a terrific lounge for caffeine lovers, serving coffee drinks (with a surcharge) and light snacks (no charge) and it also served as the ship’s library and internet station. There’s a decent selection of books, including travel books, and the New York Times digest—in print—was available each morning. The nytimes.com website could be accessed on the ship’s 13 PCs at no charge, but internet use here (and elsewhere on the ship) was at the usual exorbitant sea-faring rates.

Comfy Scandinavian leather loungers fill out the space, make a very inviting hangout, but these spots were so coveted that we rarely saw them empty, except after dinner. The bookcases were locked each evening, and travel books were not allowed out of the café—a sensible rule for ports we were visiting on our cruise, but a little unnecessary for guides to other destinations.

The café had a small deli counter offering between-meal snacks. We found glasses of fresh sliced fruit in parfait glasses, small sandwiches—tomato and mozzarella, ham and cheese croissants—English pound cake, cookies, almond energy bars, oatmeal cranberry bars, and other treats through the day.

The usual espresso drinks were available, and we enjoyed the latte we tried. Baristas usually fill orders in to-go cups, but one can request drinks in ceramic cups. Prices for hot and iced drinks ranged $1.60 for a 12-ounce Americano to $2.55 for the caramello latte; the 16-ounce size were .50 additional. Tazo tea drinks (including chai tea lattes) were also available. Spiked coffee drinks included Irish Coffee (with Bailey’s Irish Cream), Icy Bourbon Mint (bourbon, crème de menthe and chocolate) and coffee nudge (crème de cacao and brandy)—these were $6.25 to $6.50.

There were 13 computer stations available for use. The basic price for internet access was .75 per minute, plus a one-time $3.95 charge for activation; this same fee structure applied to WiFi access for laptops. Various packages were available that brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/minute), 250 minutes for $100 (.40/minute), etc.

The café served from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and the bookcases were locked up at night.
With a panorama spreading more than 180 degrees from Deck 9 above the bridge, this was Zaandam’s showcase bar, though it received surprisingly minimal traffic, despite a row of very comfy lounge chairs facing the view. It was a venue for various sessions through the day—dance lessons, tai chi, cocktail mixing lessons—and after dinner Crow’s Nest was the ship’s de facto disco. Though the DJ did his best, there wasn’t much to stay up late for, though we did enjoy one evening when the HALCats played here.

We would have used this spot more on sea days were it not for the bland pop music playing through the day. We preferred to tune it out and focus on the view.

Smoking was allowed in this lounge, behind the bar in the center section. But we rarely smelled anyone lighting up here during our cruise.

Zaandam’s central bar and lounge area doesn’t seem to have received much of the “Signature of Excellence” makeover that most of Holland America’s ships have. The Piano Bar appears to be outfitted in the same style as the ship debuted with in 2000, rather than the more contemporary assortment of MIX bars found on the line’s other ships. Despite this, the Piano Bar is a fairly busy hangout before and after dinner. A solo guitarist played contemporary pop tunes till 9 p.m., with the pianist taking over (and taking requests) after 9 p.m.

The ship’s standard drink menu was available at the Piano Bar.

Along with the Piano Bar, this was one of the ship’s main lounges. The Neptunes were a very enjoyable jazz trio that played standards each evening. But during the day, randy pop music didn’t quite set the right mood here.

The ship’s standard drink menu was available at the Ocean Bar.
Zaandam’s two-level main showroom was a very seductive venue—the red, purple and orange color scheme didn’t hurt. Front row balcony seating provided good sightlines. We didn’t care for the sound mix in this room, with vocals particularly over-amplified.

There were talented singers and dancers onboard Zaandam, singing and dancing to heavily synthesized backing tracks. There were four stage shows during our seven-night cruise, but none of them seemed geared to anyone under about 50 or 60 years of age. There was a tribute to Broadway with costumes by the sultan of sequins, Bob Mackie, and a tribute to the South on another night. The vocals were excessively sweetened with reverb, and the music was plastic, as were the sets and choreography. If it were all more arch, with a bit less starch.

Other nights featured a comedienne whose regular show was bland and restrained (we’ve seen this same comedienne let loose with a more adult act on other ships, to better result), and there was a comedy-magic act we missed. One late-night event featured the Indonesian crew show—like karaoke there are always a hit-and-miss affair, but the talented acts inspired enthusiastic applause.

As with many of the spas as sea, the spa, salon and gym on Zaandam is managed by Steiner Leisure, an outfit that oversees spa facilities on a majority of cruise ships. The Greenhouse Spa is an attractive facility located on Deck 8 forward and a variety of treatments were available.

Steiner Leisure’s pricing is fairly consistent from ship to ship, their standard rates are somewhat higher than we find at most quality resorts. Prices were discounted on port days, and other specials became available as the cruise went on, particularly for those booking multiple appointments.

Rates ranged from $119 for a 50-minute Reflexology or Swedish massage to $199 for a 75-minute bamboo massage. The 50-minute couples massage was $269. Facials started at $119 for the 50-minute LaTherapie Hydralift Facial. Manicure and pedicure services started at $45 and $65 respectively. The men’s salon package was $89 and included a cut and style, mini-facial and frangipani scalp massage. The menu of services also included waxing, tooth whitening and acupuncture.

There is also the Greenhouse Thermal Suite, a small, shared facility within the spa featuring dry heat, steam and aromatherapy chambers, heated ceramic loungers and a body temperature mineral pool. Akin to a Turkish bath, a seven-day pass to use the Thermal Suite was $99, a fee that seemed excessive to us (but not to some who wanted this morsel of semi-exclusivity to themselves).

A 15-percent gratuity was automatically added to the bill for all treatments.

Overlooking the forward panorama, Zaandam’s modest-sized gym was accessible through the entrance to the spa. Although carpeting appeared to be new, much of the short supply of exercise machines was outdated. The Precor treadmills were alright, but the Cybex cross trainers and recumbent bikes were overdue for replacement; there were no upright bikes and at peak hours there was a wait for some equipment. We were told that new Life Fitness equipment would be installed on the ship later in the year—readers?

Fitness classes were available, though some required an additional fee. Three sessions of abs conditioning and “legs bums and tums,” plus daily stretching exercises were complimentary, announced in the daily Explorer newsletter; yoga, pilates and spinning classes were $12 per session.

The Sports Deck extends the length of the ship on Deck 9 and provides the bulk of the sports activities (other than the gym): a basketball court, tennis court and shuffleboard court. On our cruise this deck didn’t see a lot of action (no tournaments or open play sessions were scheduled), but it was a good place for enjoying the sun and sea air.

A staircase led up to the Sky Deck, the ship’s uppermost accessible level, replete with sun loungers and showers.

Covered by a retractable roof, this area was a focal point on sea days—a good-sized pool area with the ship’s two hot tubs at one end. Loungers flanked the pool, along with tables for dining (the Terrace Grill was in this area, and the Lido Restaurant nearby). The roof was opened when the weather cooperated, but was closed at other points. Ping Pong tables were available (and popular).

The Lido Bar offered the ship’s standard drink menu.
This large open area on Deck 8 aft had a decent-sized pool and sun deck, with a couple curious cow sculptures posing at one end. The pool was unheated and 6’9” deep; showers were available for rinsing off. On our cruise, most swimmers stuck to the protected Lido Pool at mid-ship.

There were a number of tables here that were used as overflow for the Lido Restaurant. Blankets were provided when the air was nippy. Smoking allowed on starboard side, next to the bar.

Stairs lead down to the aft areas of lower decks. These were secluded areas stocked with a few loungers, overlooked by most passengers.

The ship’s standard drink menu was available at the Sea View Bar.

Deck 3 was home to Zaandam’s promenade deck. Deck chairs were lined up at midship and provided a good place to hang out and enjoy the view. Smoking was permitted on the starboard side of the deck.

Four laps around the ship equaled a mile, but no jogging was allowed, despite the relatively wide deck area.

This was also where the Muster Drill took place, beneath the lifeboats.

This was Zaandam’s main indoor smoking venue, and it was popular with smokers. Unfortunately it was also poorly ventilated. A bank of monitors over the bar area was tuned to various sporting events. Wii tournaments were scheduled here on a couple occasions during our cruise.

The ship’s standard drink menu was available at the Casino Bar.
Located on Deck 9 aft, Holland America’s youth program—which goes under the name Club HAL—had dedicated venues for three age groups. For ages 3-7, the room had a spilled-paint theme and was stocked with board games; an adult was required to sign kids in and out. Another room was set aside for tweens ages 8-12 and had a Foosball table and video games; sign in/out was handled by tweens with adult permission. Both of these areas were supervised for most of the day and evening, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with set staff breaks at meal time). Sitting services were available for $5 per hour (per child) from 10 p.m. to midnight.

An unsupervised room with Xbox and Wii games was available; the equipment could not be removed from the Youth Center.

For ages 13-17 there was a separate teen venue called The Loft, with a DJ booth, stage and couches for hanging out. This venue was not staffed, but there were scheduled activities through the day and evening.

Just above The Loft, accessed by hidden stairway, was a teens-only outdoor space called The Oasis, decked out for a volcano-themed pool party with a splash pool and waterfall, faux palm trees and sun loungers. But the waterfall wasn’t operating and we never saw any teens using the space.

The basketball and tennis courts were located right outside Club HAL and The Loft.

A private lounge reserved for guests booked into Deluxe Verandah Suites, this area was tended by a concierge at most hours. Light bites were available throughout the day, along with worktables, an oversized TV, sofas, and computer stations where WiFi is offered at a reduced rate.

In this venue, also known as the Queen’s Room, classes in Microsoft programs are taught using 16 Sony laptops, each equipped with a mouse. We found the teacher to be upbeat and accommodating with a variety of skill levels, with a special focus on photography.

While subjects were mostly at the beginner level, the range of classes was impressive and included introductory PC buying and security, files, folders and sharing, an introduction to the Cloud, and multiple sessions on photo editing and processing (as well as digital camera basics). The room was locked when not being used for classes.

We found a fairly standard selection of merchandize in Zaandam’s shopping arcade. The interconnected shops were located at midship on Deck 5, next to the Casino Bar—smoke from that venue swirled through much of the shopping area.

Cruise apparel themed to our destination was available, along with Holland America logo merchandize such as T-shirts, caps, beach towels, mugs and Zaandam ship models. There was a selection of jewelry, watches, fragrances, skin care products and binoculars. Sundries included candy, chips, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine napkins, disposable lighters and razors. Duty free cigarettes and liquor were also available.
This multi-purpose, 125-seat venue is home to Zaandam’s Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen used for cooking demonstrations that were scheduled several times daily. Though the sessions were engaging, the concoctions were pretty simple—smoothies, chilled raspberry soup, steak Diane, shellfish boil, etc.

The theater was also used for movies daily, generally shown three times starting at 6 p.m. But the screen was fairly (not as big as some TV monitors we’ve seen), and wide-screen movies shown in their proper letterboxed format were puny presentations. The sound was fine, but we didn’t like squinting.
This small conference room on Deck 5 could accommodate up to about 50 people, seated theatre-style. It was also used for various events during our cruise, including interdenominational service, journal crafting, etc.

Zaandam had a small crew of photographers snapping casual and formal shots of guests onboard. These included informal gangway pictures, shots in front of designated backdrops, as well as more formal portrait sessions. The shots were assembled each day and showcased here for us to buy.

A small gallery of art pieces for sale was located on Deck 4, with additional pieces hanging on the walls extending down the corridor past the Pinnacle Grill. With sales managed by Park West Gallery, there were art auctions almost daily, held in the Ocean Bar.

The three-story atrium of Zaandam was defined by a three-story Dutch pipe organ rising from Deck 3. In the style of traditional Baroque barrel organs found on the streets of the Netherlands, this self-playing contemporary instrument actually tooted and clanked away at several points of our cruise.

On Deck 4, halfway up the atrium, is the ship’s front office and shore excursions desk. These posts were efficiently handled, and we rarely saw a line for either desk. Most of the ground floor of the Atrium on Deck 3 was oddly unutilized.

Overview

Located on Deck 5 at mid-ship, Zaandam’s casino was a good-sized facility for a ship of this size. In addition to several dozen slot machines there were table games, including Blackjack, Face Up Blackjack, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, Roulette and Craps.

Guests playing at tables were expected to bet with cash, but cash advances were available; they incurred a 3-percent service charge. For guests playing slot machines, up to $300 could be charged to a shipboard account. Or, after creating a gambling account linked to a cabin key, bills could be inserted directly into a machine in the casino—winnings would be collected at the cashier’s office or applied to the cabin account.

Texas Hold’em lessons were held on the first day of the cruise, with various tournaments scheduled at other points.

The casino is designated as non-smoking, but that term didn’t jive with reality—a majority of the slot machines and tables had a sign that said “smoking allowed while gambling.” But cigarette smoke wanders where it will, including a few feet over to the non-smoking slots and tables. That said, overall the casino itself was usually not too smoky, though the casino bar sometimes got pretty rank.

This was the main venue where the Adagio Strings played each evening, for several hours starting between 6 and 9 p.m. nightly. Running along the port side of Deck 5—flanking a central traffic corridor opposite the Explorations Café—the lounge was a good place to tuck in to a book or coffee when all the café seating was occupied. It was used for a few seminars (beer tasting, jewelry sales events) but otherwise was little used during the day. The string quartet mostly played classical music, with a few contemporary standards thrown in.

A small selection of after-dinner drinks was available each evening, from 7 to 11 p.m.

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