September 29, 2010
I took a walk from San Francisco’s Embarcadero BART station yesterday morning, north along the water to Pier 27. There, Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam was berthed for the day, on her way south following many other ships whose Alaska cruising seasons had come to an end.
A great advantage to living here, especially when one is a cruise specialist, is the ease with which you can visit ships when they’re in town. They’re so close to downtown and my office you could play catch with the captain. When I worked for Royal Viking Line back in the 80s we had amazing views of the Bay – and the ships, too. And in the 90s when I worked for Seabourn, the views weren’t bad either. But Seabourn’s 55 Francisco didn’t hold a candle to RVL’s expensive real estate high atop Embarcadero Center.
I hadn’t seen a Holland America ship since the early 90s when the Maasdam came through town as part of her inaugural tour. Tony Orlando and Dawn were the featured entertainment and I got to spend the night on board the ship. All I really remember about her were the many delft tiles and an oak tree. It was a bit flashy compared to what I was used to at the time.
The Zuiderdam is unlike any ship I’ve seen in years in that it’s fairly old fashioned. The colors are deep purples, blues, reds. The furnishings include antiques, or derivatives thereof. For instance there are benches in elevator lobbies that seem out of 16th Century Italy. There are etchings of Dutch maritime scenes. There are reproductions of flower prints, probably tulips. The furniture itself is early 20th century, except for a couple of lounges where contemporary leather is the look, but still in the same deep colors. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. And there are outdoor glass elevators, not to let one forget that the ships are actually new. This one was launched in 2002. She’s about 82k registered tons and carries just over 2,000 guests.
Tulips and Dutch maritime scenes? Strangely enough Holland America Line has kept to its 1873 Dutch roots. Also, in a world where most cruise ships I know have a mish-mash of cultures on board, it seems HAL has Dutch officers and a fully Indonesian crew. [Don’t forget the Dutch-Indonesian connection.] The crew to guest ratio is 2 to 1, higher than its sister company, Princess Cruises. They’re both owned by the Carnival Corporation. Carnival’s yet higher end brands are Cunard and Seabourn.
I did have lunch onboard and it was nice. The lemon mousse dessert was quite good. The coffee was not. I’d rate it a step above Royal Caribbean or Princess, but not as inspired or gourmet as Celebrity. Seabourn, Regent et al are on another level entirely. The service levels were very good and consistent, as they were all over the ship.
Holland America is known for some pretty exotic and lengthy cruises in additional to the more typical ones. So I’d say, if you’d like a very solid, traditional, old fashioned cruise experience, Holland America might be good for you.
For my complete set of photos from this trip and others, visit my photo home page.