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   TravelPage.com - Cover Subject

Cover Story  
North to Alaska - Holland America's Zaandam Still Shines

Zaadnam in Haines Alaska

Joe Koshuta, TravelPage.com, Editor


This was a group trip to Alaska to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. Some of the group had been to Alaska before but for most this was their first visit to the "Last Frontier". This would also be the first cruise for most of the group.

There were a total of sixteen people on the trip including: my wife and I plus our two children, my brother and his wife plus their five kids, my sister and her daughter, my mom and two family friends. The ages of the group ranged from eight to eighty.

Getting There

Most of the group was coming from Virginia and we all arrived during the last four days of June. The first members of the group arrived in Anchorage on June, 27th, my family arrived on June 28th and my brother's family arrived on June 30th. Unfortunately, my brother's group was unable to join us for the three days prior to sailing when we drove from Anchorage to Talkeetna.

Day 1

Clarion Suites Downtown AnchorageMy flight to Anchorage was long but then again, that's the nature of the game on this trip. We landed a few minutes ahead of schedule at 11:25 am and then picked up our bags and headed to the National Car rental counter. If you do rent a car in Anchorage, please note that the rental car counters are a bit of a hike from the terminal so if you have lots of baggage, it really makes sense to get a cart. We were on our way to the Clarion Hotel about 30 minutes after we landed.

Weather in Anchorage was cloudy with a bit of spitting rain. We arrived at the Clarion Suites Downtown around 12:30pm where they informed us that we couldn't check in until 3pm so we drove around looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat. I had been to Anchorage three times previously and it hasn't changed much. It is easy to get around with numbered and lettered cross streets.

We ended up going to the Snow Goose restaurant and brew pub which is located on a hill overlooking the rail station and the Knik Arm. The pub has two levels and the upper deck has a nice view of the surrounding area (and the aircraft landing at Elmendorf Air force base nearby).

While at lunch we got a call from my wife informing us that she and my sister and the kids had arrived.

Since we were going to be on the ground for three days, and driving to Talkeetna the next day, my sister and I stopped by the local grocery store, Carrs/Safeway, to pick up some supplies including bottled water and snacks for the room and trip.

Slept as well as possible given the circumstances but still woke up at around 4:30am. Napped a bit and then decided to head down to the hotel's "micro-pool" to get my laps in when the pool opened at 6am. My wife and son headed down to the Clarion's breakfast buffet and it was as good as you get in the mid-price hotel chain. The hot buffet included fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, make you own waffles, fruit and juice and coffee. I stopped by after my swim and had no complaints.

Day 2

Swiss Alaska Inn, Talkeetna, AlaskaThe trip to Talkeetna was very enjoyable. It's about two hours north of Anchorage but the scenery is most interesting. Make sure you stop at the large Gorilla fireworks just north of Wasilla (…you can see Russia from there ya know).

We arrived in Talkeetna around 2pm and headed to the Swiss Alaska Inn to check in. The Swiss Alaska Inn is where my brother used to stay when he climbed Denali and I wanted my Mom and the kids to have a chance to stay there.

After getting settled into our rooms, we all walked over to the Talkeetna cemetery and visited the climbers' memorial. The memorial honors all of the climbers who have died on Mt. McKinley/Denali and includes the name of my brother..

After that we headed back to the Swiss Alaska Inn and sat around talking and having an improvised happy hour. We decided to eat dinner at the Inn so given that there were nine of us we sent our orders over to the kitchen ahead of time. At 5:30pm our meals were ready and I think everyone had one type of schnitzel or another which are the house specialty.

Mt. McKinley Climbers Memorial, Talkeetna, AlaskaAfter dinner we all walked into town via the path in the woods. We headed down to the river at the end of the main street. The "river" is actually the confluence of three rivers: the Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna rivers converge here to become the Big Susitna drainage.

We wanted to see if we could get a view of Denali but the clouds pretty much kept the mountain hidden. By that time it was well after 7pm but because of the latitude the sun is up 20 hours a day and it never really gets dark. The kids waded across a small stream to one of the rocky outcrops into the river to throw rocks.

Most of the group headed back to the Inn while my wife, sister and I stopped by the Fairview Inn for a night cap. Beers were three dollars which was probably the cheapest we will find on the entire trip.

Day 3

In the morning part of the group headed back into town to have breakfast at the Roadhouse which my niece had seen on the TV show Man vs Food. They did not attempt to tackle the 80 dollar meal that had been featured on the show but they did have a big breakfast. After they returned to the Inn we packed up, checked out and headed back into town for one final visit stopping by the ranger station where we watched an excellent short movie about climbing Denali.

We then all piled back into the cars and headed back to Anchorage. The ride back was faster as the construction that had been in place our way up North was gone. We arrived back around 3:30 pm. My sister-in-law and her three girls arrived around 4pm so I headed back to the airport to pick her up before turning in the rental car.

That night we all had a pizza dinner at the hotel and most of the group went to sleep early so we would be fresh for the first day of the cruise. My brother and his two boys got in around 11:30pm and crashed as soon as they got to the hotel.

Day 4

The next morning, I got up early to swim my laps in the micro pool and then grabbed a bit to eat at the hotel buffet. I then walked over to the Egan convention center which was the pick up point for our shuttle to the ship. I was hoping to be able to check everyone in for the transfer if I had their boarding passes but I was told I needed all the passports too.

So I headed back to the hotel to gather up the passports and also decided to pick up everyone's large bags that would be checked straight through to the cabins. I spoke with the hotel shuttle driver and he agreed to take my son and me over to drop off the large bags before returning to the hotel to round up the rest of the crew.

ms Zaandam, Seward, AlaskaEveryone returned to the convention center around 11:45am where we boarded the first bus to Seward. The trip took just under three hours but the scenery for most of the trip is beautiful and the narration of the bus driver kept everyone amused and attentive as we searched for a moose on the side of the road. We ended up seeing two.

As we drove into Seward, Zaandam loomed over the waterfront. Seward is still a small town and when a ship is in port it dominates the surroundings. It was 3pm when we got there and we all proceeded directly to check-in. No lines, no wait, happy people checking us in. It was great. We went through security and then proceeded to the gangway.

During check in one of the women warned about using our cell phones onboard the ship as they would no longer be using shore cellular signal but the more expensive shipboard signal. The reality is that you still have the shore cellular signal until the ship actually pulls away from the dock and is underway for a while. At that point it is a good idea to switch you phone to airplane mode unless you don't mind paying the higher per minute charge for service.

We all headed to our respective cabins, most of which were aft on Main deck. My mom had a suite on the Navigation deck and my wife and I were upgraded to deluxe verandah on the same deck a few days before we left.

It had been a few years since we had been on Holland America but I am happy to report that it felt like it always has - very comfortable and friendly.

To protect against an outbreak of the Norovirus Holland America took the precaution of having the staff serve the food in the Lido for the first 48 hours of the cruise. This slowed things down a bit at certain stations and when you wanted to get a drink but was well worth the precaution.

ms Zaandam Safety Drill, Seward, AlaskaThe safety/lifeboat drill was scheduled for 7:30pm so we decided to eat right after that. Our bags arrived in our cabin around 6:30pm so we had time to unpack before the drill. The drill was conducted in a very professional manner and it is nice to see how seriously Holland America treats the subject.

We had dinner in the upper level of the Rotterdam dining room with two tables of eight - adults at one, kids at the other. There was a variety of well prepared and presented options and everyone at our table seemed to enjoy the meal. We had a bottle of South African Shiraz which complemented the meal perfectly without breaking the bank.

After dinner some of the group headed to the casino to learn how to play poker while others headed to the Ocean Bar for a nightcap. Turns out one of the bartenders at the Ocean Bar, Nestor, had been a bartender at the Ocean Bar on the old Rotterdam during our Alaska cruises back in '92 and '97.

Day 5

Monday was a day at sea, cruising the Gulf of Alaska. A day at sea is always a great day to start a cruise. No reason to get up early so you can just relax, catch up on your planning and maybe get started on that book you brought along.

My wife and I got up and went to the gym which was fairly crowded at 9am. The gym on the Zaandam has four treadmills, four stair machines and a few elliptical machines. The weights are Cybex machines and the variety is enough to allow you to work all your major muscle groups if necessary. There are also some dumbbells ranging from 5 lbs to 50 lbs so anyone can get a decent workout if you put your mind to it. It gets a bit stuffy in there but the view is great and on this itinerary there is always a chance to catch glimpse of a humpback or orca.

ms Zaandam, Lido RestaurantAfter the workout, and a quick dip in the pool we headed into the Lido café for breakfast. The breakfast options are plentiful with individually prepared eggs and omelets available.

The late morning was spent exploring the Zaandam and getting a sense of where the public rooms were and when and where the activities were scheduled. We took a late lunch at the Lido and the grill out by the Lido pool.

For a complete overview of the Zaandam check out our ship profile page here.

That evening we had a private cocktail party scheduled in the Captain's Corner of the Crow's Nest lounge at 6:30pm. Evening dress was formal and everyone in our party showed up dressed in their finest. Since my mom was the guest of honor she was presented with a tin foil tiara by the youngest in our group, my brother's 8 year old twin girls. Two of the teenage boys in our group even sported hand tied bow ties.

We then headed down to the Rotterdam Dining Room where I had made reservations for two tables of eight. As with the previous evening, the adults were at one table and the younger members of our party were at the other. This seems to be working out great and everyone seemed to be enjoy the variety and quality of the food.

Entering Glacier Bay, AlaskaThat evening, some of the group attended a show in the Mondriaan Show Lounge while others got acquainted with the casino. The evening ended with most of the group dancing at the Crow's Nest.

Day 6

Tuesday was our day for cruising into Glacier Bay and the day started out cloudy with a light drizzle. Not the optimal conditions for taking in the glaciers. Fortunately, the clouds began to lift as the day went on and by the time we arrived at the Johns Hopkins Glacier, the sun was breaking through.

When we arrived at the star of the day, the Margerie Glacier, conditions were almost perfect with partly sunny skies and enough sunlight to bring out the bright blue colors of the crevasses in the glacier. We idled in front of the Margerie Glacier for about an hour and were treated to a number of instances of the ice cracking and "calving" from the Glacier into the sea. The sound of the ice cracking was constant but the cracking did not always result in calving as some of the ice must have been falling back towards the glacier.

We left the Margerie Glacier around 3pm and headed back towards Icy Strait, the Lynn Canal and our next destination Haines, Alaska.

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay, AlaskaDinner that night was in the Rotterdam Dining Room and food and service were great. One thing I liked about eating in the main dining room was that they always had certain items on the menu each night so if you could not find something you liked on the daily menu, you could always order a steak, Caesar salad, bowl of French onion soup or some other standard from the menu.

Day 7

Haines is a great little town located at the top of the Chilkat Peninsula. We arrived at 6am on the Fourth of July and we stayed late so that we could take in the fireworks display which Holland America helped sponsor.

At first blush, Haines might appear to be a boring little stop, but if you take the time to walk around and meet some people you will find that it is quant little town with very interesting residents and spectacular views of the Chilkook Inlet and the surrounding mountains. Since it was the Fourth of July the town had a number of events planned throughout the day.

The day started early for some of our group as we talked my niece into participating in the annual run to the top of Mt. Ripinsky. About 25 people participated in the run which turned out to be as much of a climb as it was a run. The course is about 2.8 miles but goes up about 1500 feet from the start and my niece said that at times she literally had to climb using her hands and feet to get past certain portions. She also said that the downhill return was scarier than the ascent because you had to brace yourself with the trees on either side of the path to make sure you didn't fall.

Haines Alaska Annual Mud Volleyball TournamentAll in all however she said it was a great experience and she ended up taking first place for the under 18 female group. The winner set a new course record of just under 25 minutes.

After returning to the ship to workout and change, the youngsters in our group headed into town to participate in the annual mud volleyball championship. Basically, the town uses a couple of lawn sprinklers to saturate a patch of ground where a volleyball net has been set up. After several hours of soaking, the court is at least six inches deep in mud.

Our group of teenagers from Virginia hooked up with a couple of other cruise passengers from Seattle to create a team they named "East Meets West" and they went on to defeat five other teams to claim the 2012 title of Haines, Alaska Mud Volleyball Champions for 2012.

After waiting a while for the kids to try to get as much mud off as possible with a garden hose we all headed back to the ship to change and grab something to eat. Since we were extending our stay in Haines until midnight for the fireworks we had plenty of time to go back into town.

Hammer Museum, Haines AlaskaI headed back in with my daughter and we stopped by the world famous Hammer Museum. What is a Hammer Museum you might ask? Well, it is exactly what it claims to be - a museum dedicated to the history of the hammer. With over 1,500 different types of hammers on display, one dating back to the age of the Pharaohs, it really covers the topic thoroughly. It is hard to miss as there is a 25 foot tall hammer in the front yard.

After a more complete tour of the town with a stop to pick up some wine and champagne for a future in-cabin happy hour we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

That evening they had a 4th of July barbecue set up by the Lido pool with steak, burgers, ribs and everything else you would expect on the 4th of July. Most of the group opted for that choice but my wife and I headed to the main restaurant for a dinner for two. Again, service was great and we ended up talking to the couple at the next table that had lived in Alaska 20 years ago and were on their first cruise.

After dinner we joined the rest of the group in the Crow's Nest lounge to get ready for the fire works. At about 11pm, after a rousing chorus of God Bless America, we all headed outside and up to deck 10 and the side of deck 9 to see the show. The fireworks ended up being to the north of the town so they were a bit further than expected but they did make for an enjoyable show.

Day 8

We docked in Juneau early the next morning and after a quick workout, I headed back to the cabin to change and go ashore. On our last visit, 15 years ago, we had all taken a whale watching tour and had a great time so we decided to see if we could book something same day at the pier since it was too late to book via the Holland America shore excursions.

The local vendors all have representatives set up just outside the gangplank and you can book almost any tour from any representative. The representative we ended up speaking with had a tour leaving in about 30 minutes with Juneau Whale Watch and she was willing to give us a group discount - most of them will do so.

While I normally advise people to book their shore excursions via the cruise line if there is any chance they are returning close to departure time - the ship will not leave without you - I have to admit that you can get really good deals if you do your homework and book directly with the local businesses.

Humpback Whales, near Junea AlaskaThis turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on the entire cruise. After a 20 minute bus ride from the pier to Auke Bay Harbor we boarded the newest boat in their fleet, a two deck catamaran that could hold as many as 50 people. We only had 25 on our tour so there was plenty of space for all.

After a 20 minute ride we arrived at an area where the humpback whales frequented. Our captain was Captain Chad, our naturalist was Chelsea, and the junior naturalist/first mate was Eli. It turns out that from a whale watching perspective this would be our lucky day. Within five minutes of our arrival at the first stop, a group of 9 humpback whales burst to the surface near our boat. According to Chelsea, this group of whales was using a "bubble net fishing" technique to trap fish.

With bubble net fishing, each whale has its own role in the process: one blows bubbles around the herring school to keep the fish from escaping, others vocalize to scare or confuse the fish and help bring them to the surface, and others herd the fish together and upwards. Once the fish are at the surface, all the whales lunge upwards with their huge mouths wide open and try to gulp as many herring as they can.

While the sight of humpback whales is fairly common this time of year, being able to see them using the bubble net technique is rare. My son and I were standing on the top deck outside of wheelhouse when the captain invited us in and we began to chat. My son mentioned that he really wanted to see orcas and a few minutes later when we had reached our 30 minute limit with this particular group of humpbacks, captain Chad said we were off in search of orcas.

In general, Chelsea said they see orcas about 10% of the time. This day however would be a day to beat the odds. As we approached a narrow portion of the bay the boat slowed down and the captain said to keep an eye out for orcas. About five minutes later, I noticed some splashing near the shore and when I turned in that direction I caught the fin of an orca diving.

A few minutes later three orcas appeared near our boat and they looked like they were chasing something. It turns out these were a group of transient orcas and they were chasing a Dall porpoise, which is one of the fasted creatures in the ocean.

orca Whales, near Junea AlaskaWhat unfolded over the next thirty minutes could have been a National Geographic special - minus the majestic background music and solemn narrator. The orcas continued to pursue the porpoise, swimming in ever narrowing circles in an attempt to tire it out. Every once in a while the large orca would leap out of the water and attempt to take a bite out of the porpoise. As time passed, the porpoise tired and eventually the orcas were able to close in and finish it off.

It was a fascinating glimpse of nature in action and one that the crew of the tour boat had never seen before. They all had their cameras out and when captain Chad got a call from the dock telling him it was time to return he said "No, were are staying here to the end. You just do not see this." In fact, when we returned to the dock to pick up the next tour, Chelsea pleaded with us to not tell them what we had seen until later in the day since the odds were set against the boat being able to deliver a similar show on the next tour.

My sister took so many photos that she filled up the image card on her camera and since she didn't have a transfer cable that basically ended her photo taking for the rest of the trip. She was happy with what she had.

Everyone was buzzing on the bus ride back to the ship as we reviewed the pictures from our tour. When we got back onboard, we changed and then caught a bite to eat at the Lido and then headed into town for a walkabout. We ran into my brother and his kids at the base of the Mt. Roberts tramway which they had just come down from. They said it was fun as they were able to hike up to the snow line from the top. They also had great crab soup at the restaurant at the top.

My mom wanted to see St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church which is located up the hill - very up the hill - on 5th street. Given that she had just turned 80 the week before, and she was treating us to this cruise, I thought I should walk with her up to the church to make sure she got there. It was quite a hike but she made it and really enjoyed seeing the church as it is similar to the one that she attended as a child in Pennsylvania.

My son and I walked her half way back down the hill until we got to a point where we were confident she could make it back to the ship. We then headed off in search of a bowl of crab soup that my wife had told him was the best ever. We looked into a number of places but settled on Tracy's Crab Shack which is located steps from the cruise ship dock. A bowl of soup was pricey - $12 - but given the combination of context and flavor, my son swore that it was worth it.

After the crab soup we headed back on board to get ready for our second formal evening of the cruise.

That night, our two family friends were treating my mom to a birthday dinner in the extra-tariff Pinnacle Grill restaurant. For an extra $25 per person, you can have dinner in the more intimate setting of the 120-seat Pinnacle Grill. While some people rave about the smaller size and more personal service, my mom felt the food in the main dining room was just as good and she said if she had it to do over again, she would have probably opted for dinner in the main dining room.

That is where the rest of the group ate and we are happy that we did. The menu featured surf and turf - which in this instance consisted of lobster tail and filet mignon. There were other options on the menu but most of the folks in our group opted for the lobster and steak. This was especially true for the kids table. My son, who took full advantage of the wide range of food choices during the entire cruise, decided he would ask for two lobster tails this evening and his waiter cheerfully obliged. That is one of the reasons I really like Holland America, the staff goes out of their way to make sure that guests are happy.

After dinner we took in the show at the Mondriaan Show Lounge which featured a very funny comic who had tailored her material perfectly for a cruise ship. Her insights about onboard dining and typical passengers you encounter on a typical cruise were very hilarious.

Given that I like to have an occasional after dinner cocktail while on a cruise, I was happy to learn that there was a rotating "happy hour" on board the Zaandam. During happy hour, you can purchase a second drink - rail brands only - for an additional $1.Drink prices are fairly reasonable in general but this is a nice touch.

Day 9

Ketchikan AlaskaFriday morning we were scheduled to dock in Ketchikan around 11am. I had booked a kayaking shore excursion for six of us previously and it was scheduled to begin at 11:30am. I was a bit concerned about being able to get off in time but we actually docked a few minutes early and all of us were off the ship by 11:15am. I had forgotten to print my confirmation email from the tour operator which instructed us to meet at the rain meter on the dock but AT&T came through when our guide called me on my cell phone and directed us to where we needed to be.

I had done this tour the two previous times I had been in Ketchikan - once with my wife in '92 and once with my son in '97. Those tours were booked via Holland America but this time we again took advantage of lower prices by booking directly with the tour operator, Southeast Sea Kayaks. Our tour guide - "Stu" - was yet another East Coaster who had migrated north over the years. She had gone to school in Vermont where she had majored in English Lit and "outdoor sports". There seem to be a lot of people with similar backgrounds working in Alaska each summer.

We walked down the dock past the cruise ships, towards old town Ketchikan where we boarded the floating headquarters of Southeast Sea Kayaks to get outfitted with our spray skirts - to keep the water out - and our life jackets - to keep us alive in the event we flipped over.

After signing away all our legal rights on the waiver, we proceeded to board the kayaks. It took a few minutes to get each of our pairs comfortably configured into our kayaks but then we were off. Given that most of the group had limited kayak experience, we used a brief tour of old town to get familiar with the steering and control of the two-person kayaks.

Then we headed across the Tongass Narrows channel, directly in front of the Oosterdam which fortunately was not quite ready to leave just yet. One of our kayaks just missed grazing the bulbous bow of the Oosterdam as we fought against the current as we entered the narrows.

The great thing about Ketchikan is that when you cross the Tongass Narrows, not only do you have to battle the current, but the channel also serves as the runway for the countless float planes that are taking tourists up for sightseeing tours. So basically, it is a lot like paddling across an active airport runway. Fun times.

Once across the narrows, we spent about ninety minutes paddling around Pennock and Gravina Islands. There are no roads to these islands so the people who live there all commute by boat. We spent the time exploring the coves and rainforest shoreline where we saw a number of bald eagles in action and lots of colorful intertidal creatures just beneath the surface of the water.

At one point, my brother and his eight year old twin daughters raced past us in a rubber motor boat and inquired about whether we needed a tow. He had originally planned to go zip lining or snorkeling (done with the help of a dry suit) but he was too big for the zip line and his youngest was too small for the snorkeling. As a result, he decided to take the boat tour where he drove his own boat and followed a guide. They ended up seeing humpback whales and orcas on their trip but did nothing like what we had seen in Juneau.

Racing NCLs Norwegian Pearl, Ketchikan AlaskaAs we headed back to the dock across the Tongass Narrows, NCL's Norwegian Pearl was departing so we ended up racing her down the narrows for a while before she finally pulled away and we were able to cut behind her. We made it across the narrows and returned the kayaks.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the excursion but I think my sister and some of the cousins were surprised by the amount of effort expended during the tour. This was mostly due to the wind that was blowing all day. On my previous trips the weather was calmer and it was easier to get around.

Once back on board, we headed up to the Lido for lunch and then I grabbed my camera and headed back into to town to explore and document our trip for prosperity. I also stopped by the liquor store to pick up some more beer for the happy hour we were planning.

The entire group reconvened in our cabin around 7pm for happy hour and we broke out my shore side purchases in Haines in Ketchikan. With the ship under way and the balcony door open it we had plenty of space for the entire group and everyone enjoyed sharing their experiences of the day.

We then headed down to the dining room and our standard two tables - one for the adults and one for the kids. We had originally signed the entire group up for the 8pm, late seating in the dining room but switched to "anytime dining" or open-seating, a couple of weeks prior to departure. This ended up working out fine. I only called for reservations once and the other days we just stopped by the dining room sometime after five and had no problem getting what we wanted - including two window tables for a group of 16.

Day 10

ms Zaandam, Aft PoolThe next day, Saturday was a day at sea, which really is a great way to wrap up a cruise. You get to sleep late, relax and - on this itinerary - enjoy the warmer weather as you head south. We lost an hour the previous evening so I had to jump out of bed and hit the pool as soon as I woke up.

Since a number of the people in our group were members of the Holland America Mariner's Society we were invited to a special lunch in the Rotterdam dining room. It was nice but not the same as it used to be when you got the opportunity to meet the captain and shake his hand.

After lunch, it was time to relax and catch up on the reading that I missed during the previous six days. There are few things more enjoyable than sitting on deck chair with a good book (in either traditional or electronic format) and just watching a beautiful day at sea pass by.

While I really enjoyed the sea day, the last evening of a seven day cruise is always a melancholy experience for me. You are finally getting into the rhythm of things and then you have to pack most of your bags and make sure they are out in the hall by midnight.

As a group, we enjoyed our final dinner in the dining room and took our time to linger over coffee and dessert while the beautiful sights along the shoreline of the Straights of Georgia rolled by outside the dining room windows.

Nestor, Ocean Bar, ms ZaandamAfter dinner, and a quick stop by the cabin to pack up the big bags and place them in the hallway, I stopped by the Ocean Bar to say good bye to Nestor and Jerry who had taken great care of me an the group during the week. Another part of our group headed up to the Crow's Nest for one final evening of music and dancing. It was easy to tell we were approaching Vancouver as the number of other ships glimmering in the darkness seemed to increase by the hour.

I finally decided to turn in about thirty minutes past midnight while some of the younger members of our group were determined to get the most out of their last night at sea. Since I had been there, and done that multiple times, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and slowly trundled off to my cabin.

Day 11

I awoke the next morning to the sound of the stern thrusters backing the Zaandam into her berth at Canada Place in the center of Vancouver. If you have not been there before, Canada Place is one of the most convenient cruise terminals in any major city in the world. We grabbed a bite to eat in the Lido and then camped out waiting for our disembarkation numbers to be called.

That happened around 9:30am and we were on our way. My brother, sister and their families grabbed a taxi to the airport while my mom and my family headed to the Hotel Vancouver for one more night. The next morning we headed to the airport for the long trip home and arrived back in Virginia just after midnight.

The Heavy Word

Lower Promenade Deck, ms ZaandamIt had been several years since we had been on Holland America and to be honest I was a bit anxious about how much things might have changed. While we have cruised on all of the mainstream cruise lines, and many of the not-so-mainstream lines since, I had always enjoyed Holland America because it most closely reminded me of the way it used to be when traveling by ship was more than just a way to see the islands.

As a youth, I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of the glory years of transatlantic travel and the sights, smells and memories have stayed with me for almost fifty years. Clearly, that was a different time and place. It was a time when the crew knew your name before you even boarded, when service was something to be expected, and where you felt comfortable knowing that you and the people you were traveling with would be taken care of.

While travel by ship has certainly changed in many ways over the past few years - with the introduction of the super-mega ships and an unprecedented choice of onboard amenities - I am happy to report that at least on Holland America's Zaandam there is a place where you can go to get a taste of how it used to be. And in my humble opinion, that is a very, very good thing.

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Royal Caribbean - Bahamas Getaway from $129 per person
Description: Experience the beautiful ports of Nassau and Royal Caribbean's private island - CocoCay on a 3-night Weekend Getaway to the Bahamas. Absorb everything island life has to offer as you snorkel with the stingrays, parasail above the serene blue waters and walk the endless white sand beaches. From Miami.
Carnival - 4-Day Bahamas  from $229 per person
Description: Enjoy a wonderful 3 Day cruise to the fun-loving playground of Nassau, Bahamas. Discover Nassau, the capital city as well as the cultural, commercial and financial heart of the Bahamas. Meet the Atlantic Southern Stingrays, the guardians of Blackbeard's treasure.
NCL - Bermuda - 7 Day from $499 per person
Description: What a charming little chain of islands. Walk on pink sand beaches. Swim and snorkel in turquoise seas. Take in the historical sights. They're stoically British and very quaint. Or explore the coral reefs. You can get to them by boat or propelled by fins. You pick. Freestyle Cruising doesn't tell you where to go or what to do. Sure, you can plan ahead, or decide once onboard. After all, it's your vacation. There are no deadlines or must do's.
Holland America - Eastern Caribbean from From $599 per person
Description: White sand, black sand, talcum soft or shell strewn, the beaches of the Eastern Caribbean invite you to swim, snorkel or simply relax. For shoppers, there's duty-free St. Thomas, the Straw Market in Nassau, French perfume and Dutch chocolates on St. Maarten. For history buffs, the fascinating fusion of Caribbean, Latin and European cultures. For everyone, a day spent on HAL's award winning private island Half Moon Cay.
Celebrity - 7-Night Western Mediterranean  from $549 per person
Description: For centuries people have traveled to Europe to see magnificent ruins, art treasures and natural wonders. And the best way to do so is by cruise ship. Think of it - you pack and unpack only once. No wasted time searching for hotels and negotiating train stations. Instead, you arrive at romantic ports of call relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Holland America - Alaska from From $499 per person
Description: Sail between Vancouver and Seward, departing Sundays on the ms Statendam or ms Volendam and enjoy towering mountains, actively calving glaciers and pristine wildlife habitat. Glacier Bay and College Fjord offer two completely different glacier-viewing experiences.

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