Holland America Line
These handsome ships represent a successful marriage of HAL's usual elegance and gentility with a well-done dose of classy modern pizazz. And they're an ideal size, too: big enough to offer lots of amenities and small enough to be much more intimate than today's jumbo megaships.
Typical Per Diems: $100-$205
Volendam sails Alaska from Vancouver & Skagway (summer).
Zaandam sails the Mexican Riviera from San Diego (winter, spring); Hawaii from San Diego (winter, spring) & from Vancouver (fall); and Alaska from Vancouver & Seward (summer).
Introduced at the turn of this century, Volendam and Zaandam marked Holland America's first steps into a more diverse, mainstream future, offering an experience designed to attract the vital 40-something boomers while still keeping the line's core older passengers happy. The ships have alternative restaurants, Internet centers, and huge gyms that can't be matched by many lines attracting younger crowds, but their overall vibe is more traditional than Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean -- and, for that matter, than the line's newer and much more glitzy Vista-class vessels. These are classy, classic ships, but with just a touch of funk to keep things from seeming too old-fashioned -- note the autographed Bill Clinton saxophone and Iggy Pop guitar in Zaandam's elegant Sea View Lounge.
These ships, along with the rest of the HAL fleet, were upgraded over the past few years with the line's Signature of Excellence enhancements, including the Explorations Café Internet center, beefed-up kids' facilities, a Culinary Arts Center demonstration kitchen, and upgraded cabin amenities.
In a word: roomy. These standard 186- to 196-square-foot cabins are among the largest in the industry, and with a much more modern, daring look than on the line's older ships. Fabrics are done in salmon red, burgundy, gold, and bronze, and the walls in a striped pale-gold fabric, hung with gilt-framed prints. Bathrooms are roomy and well designed, with adequate storage shelves and counter space. All outside cabins have shower/tub combos (short tubs, but tubs nonetheless), while inside cabins have only showers. Cabin drawer space is plentiful, and closets are roomy, with great shelves that fold down if you want to adjust the configuration of space. There's a storage drawer under each bed.
All cabins have sitting areas, plus Holland America's Signature of Excellence enhancements, from flat-panel TVs and DVD players, to terry-cloth bathrobes, massage shower heads, lighted magnifying makeup mirrors, and salon-quality hair dryers. Beds are supercomfy with plush triple-sheeted mattresses and 100% Egyptian cotton bed linens.
On the Verandah and Navigation decks, 197 suites and minisuites have balconies. The single gorgeous Penthouse Suite measures 1,126 square feet, including veranda, and is adorned with one-of-a-kind pieces such as 19th-century Portuguese porcelain vases and Louis XVI marble table lamps.
Twenty-one cabins are wheelchair accessible.
The two-story main dining rooms are truly glamorous, framed with floor-to-ceiling windows and punctuated by dramatic staircases. A classical trio serenades guests from a perch on the top level. Just outside the second level of the dining room is a place that women won't want to miss: a wonderful powder room with ocean views and lots of elbowroom for primping, with vanity tables and stools in one room, and the toilets and sinks adjacent. Both ships also feature HAL's fleetwide Pacific Northwest specialty restaurant, the intimate Pinnacle Grill").
The Lido buffet restaurants are attractive and efficiently constructed, with separate stations for salads, desserts, and beverages, cutting down on the chance of monstrously long lines. A sandwich station serves its creations on delicious fresh-baked breads.
Volendam's public areas are floral-themed; Zaandam's sport musical motifs. Aboard Volendam, each aft staircase landing has a still-life painting of flowers, and a spot outside the library has a collection of elaborate Delft tulip vases (ironically, with fake silk tulips). You could even call the gorgeous graduated colors in the show lounge seating floral-themed, with colors from magenta to marigold creating a virtual garden in bloom. Zaandam's theme is exemplified by one of the more bizarre and inspired atrium decorations we know of -- a huge, mostly ornamental baroque pipe organ decorated with figures of musicians and dancers -- as well as by numerous musical instruments scattered around the ship in display cases, from a classic Ornette Coleman-style plastic Grafton sax in the Sea View Lounge to the elaborate Mozart harpsichord display (with busts and a candelabra) outside the card room. The display of electric guitars in the atrium stair tower, signed by Queen, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones, says something about HAL's drive to attract younger passengers -- even if "younger" means 50-somethings.
In general, as aboard almost the entire HAL fleet, public areas are very easy to navigate. Corridors are broad, and there's little chance of getting lost or disoriented. Surfaces and fabrics overall are an attractive medley of subtle textures and materials, from tapestry walls and ceilings to velveteen chairs, marble tabletops, and smoky glass. Volendam even has a red-lacquer piano and suede walls woven to resemble rattan. Zaandam's pianos are all funky: The one in the piano bar is painted to look as though it's made of scrap lumber and rusty nails; the one in the Lido restaurant is downright psychedelic.
The main hub of the ship for many is the Explorations Café, a combination Internet center and coffee bar, with plenty of comfy seating and magazines to read.
The warm and almost glowingly cozy Explorer's Lounge is another favorite area, along with the nearby Sea View Lounge and the adjacent piano bar, with its round, pill-like leather bar stools and plush sofas. On busy nights, the Ocean Bar can get crowded by the bar, but there's usually plenty of space across the room or near the dance floor, where a live jazz band plays danceable music before and after dinner.
The ever-popular Crow's Nest nightclub has been redesigned and now has features such as banquettes in bright, modern colors and translucent white floor-to-ceiling curtains that function both as decor and movable enclosures for private events. Cocktail mixology classes and other events are held here during the day; after dinner, it becomes the ship's disco and nightclub. The Culinary Arts Center demo kitchen shares space with the Wajang Theatre, and is the venue for at least two cooking demonstrations per cruise that are hosted by well-regarded chefs. As on other HAL vessels, the ships' main showrooms are two-story affairs with movable clusters of single seats and banquettes on the ground level in front of the stage so that passengers can get comfortable.
Both vessels have impressive art and antiques throughout their public areas. The booty on Volendam includes an authentic Renaissance fountain outside the casino (the ship's most pricey piece), an inlaid marble table in the library (a HAL signature), and a small earthenware mask dating from 1200 B.C. that's kept in a display case near the Explorer's Lounge. On Zaandam, an area outside the library features reproductions of Egyptian jewelry and a huge repro Egyptian statue fragment.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The gyms on these ships are attractive and roomy, with floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding dozens of state-of-the-art machines. The ship's spa has been upgraded and you won't be disappointed with the treatments.
Three pools are on the Lido Deck: a small and quiet aft pool (behind the Lido buffet restaurant, which now features a new bar, pizzeria, and large LED movie screen) and the main pool and wading pool, located under a retractable glass roof in a sprawling area that includes the pleasant, cafelike Dolphin Bar, with rattan chairs and shade umbrellas. There are more isolated areas for sunbathing above the aft pool on a patch of the Sports Deck and in little slivers of open space aft on most of the cabin decks. The Sports Deck also has a pair of practice tennis courts, as well as shuffleboard. Joggers can use the uninterrupted Lower Promenade Deck to get their workouts.