our ocean voyage

Our Ocean Cruise around the Hawaiian Islands, late 2008.

Several years ago, my friend Marie and I took Holland America's Alaska cruise and we enjoyed it a great deal. All the details and some pictures live at http://www.sticksite.com/cruise/. In the meantime, Marie took another cruise with Carnival Lines but she said their service was nowhere near as good as what we enjoyed on the Alaska cruise. Thus, it was easy to decide to let Holland America serve us again.

Possibly my notes will provide you with a few ideas for YOUR next cruise.

A WARNING:

IF YOU are planning a trip and think maybe you will deal with Travelocity, you would be well-advised to read my HORRIBLE experience with them at http://www.sticksite.com/travelocity.html first.


The Ship:

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This cruise was on the "Zaandam" which took its maiden voyage in the year 2000. It carried 1,375 guests, has 10 passenger decks, a crew of 598 and has a gross tonnage of 63,000 tons. It is 785 feet long, has a beam of 106 feet, a maximimum speed of 23 knots (= 26 mph) and has Automatic Stabilizers and is registered in The Netherlands. It produces 370,000 gallons of potable water per day and consumes 174,000. It uses 85 gallons of diesel per mile to run its 2 Cegelec Alstom Electric Propulsion motors which produce total power of 42,000HP. The captain is Jan Smit.

This is a shot of the "Ocean View Stateroom" which is what Holland America's website indicated that we had:

ship cabin

And this is the cubbyhole they actually gave us: (those cupboards are CLOSED; not open here)

ship cabin

The Cruise online:

You can visit Holland America's site at http://www.hollandamerica.com/find-cruise-vacation/FindCruises.action?destCode=H&dateCode=9_2008&durationCode=4&portCode=YVR&shipCodeSearch=AA

Here are a map and itinerary of the cruise:

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SUN 21 SEP Sail from Vancouver, Canada 5:00pm
MON 22 SEP Victoria, Canada 8:00a 5:00pm
TUE 23 SEP Sea Day
WED 24 SEP Sea Day
THU 25 SEP Sea Day
FRI 26 SEP Sea Day
SAT 27 SEP Sea Day
SUN 28 SEP Kona, Hawaii 8:00am 5:00pm TENDER REQUIRED
MON 29 SEP Nawiliwili Kauai, Hawaii 8:00am 5:00pm
TUE 30 SEP Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 9:00am 11:00pm TENDER REQUIRED
WED 01 OCT Honolulu, Oahu, United States 8:00am 5:00pm
THU 02 OCT Hilo, Hawaii 8:00am 5:00pm
FRI 03 OCT Sea Day
SAT 04 OCT Sea Day
SUN 05 OCT Sea Day
MON 06 OCT Sea Day
TUE 07 OCT Ensenada, Mexico 4:00pm 11:59pm
WED 08 OCT Debark Ship San Diego, California 7:00am

Shore Excursions:

On this cruise there are many, many Shore Excursions available. The website where we went to make our choices is very well-structured to make choosing easy. Well before the cruise, we went online and booked three "shore" excursions and they are:

KONA: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: US$99 each
LAHAINA: Atlantis Submarine Dive: US$89 each
HONOLULU: Pearl Harbor History & Honolulu: US$41 each

Getting Ready:

About 7 weeks before the cruise, after we had paid HAL in full, we received our official tickets and a nice folder with all sorts of information about the cruise.

My "regular" digital cameras are a bit bulky and as I wanted to travel "Light" on this trip, I picked up a new Kodak Easyshare with 12 Megapixels, 5x optical zoom and 2 1/2 inch LCD and put one of my 4Gb SD cards into that. Turns out, this camera ate batteries like they were chocolate; I used about 28 "AA" cells.

Rather than bring a laptop computer to keep up with some email, I got a "netbook" computer; it is very small and light; an "Asus Eee PC 2G Surf" which is very nice and runs on Linux. Turns out I did not put it online at all during the cruise and used it only to keep a daily diary.


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I made detailed notes but here I present a very brief report of the cruise.

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A "Tender" is a life-boat which is used to carry passengers ashore where the boat cannot tie to a pier; it holds 90 people and when used in an emergency, 150 people.

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One thing we noticed on the ship was that you are expected to wash your hands constantly, using the machines provided.


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Day 1: Sunday, Sept. 21: We flew from Grande Prairie to Edmonton, from there to Calgary and then to Vancouver, B.C. Once there we hiked to the processing center, towing our two suitcases; we did not envy all those folks who had 4 or 5 suitcases on carts. After interminable hours of zigzagging in mile-long line-ups, we finally were able to board the Zaandam. Our captain played a lot with his foghorn, to the ultimate discomfort of his passengers. Clearly he has never had to use hearing aids. After this very looooong day, we turned in.


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Day 2: Monday: The shower worked very well; nice and hot. We are, so far, surprised at how solid and stable the ship is; no "rock and roll" at all. So far. We rode at anchor just off Victoria all morning. The captain explained that is was too windy to come closer to shore. Finally 46 more passengers were brought to the ship in a smaller boat. As the men on the tender were hooking the boat onto the pulleys the wind was so strong that four of them had their hard-hats blow off into the water. This afternoon we had a serious lifeboat drill. Everyone had to attend.


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Day 3: Tuesday: We are now well out onto the Pacific Ocean and can feel the rolling motion quite well. I walked the Promenade deck, Deck 3, and made 3 laps; 4 laps = 1 mile. Marie does not drink coffee but she did anyway; the rough sea on top of that made her quite ill. She started some breakfast but soon got sick again. We were hiking toward our room when she upchucked on the hallway carpet. She went down while I went looking for some seasick pills. I soon found some. They did not perform any miracles for her. Many people were sick. Some have little patches, like bandaids, size of a penny, behind their ears. These are to avoid sea-sickness.


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Day 4: Wednesday: We rocked and rolled all night but I slept well; Marie did not sleep. I got up early and went in search of excitement. Marie was OK again. I was having a coffee with Bill (Carolyn) from Whiterock when Marie arrived. She started some breakfast but soon got sick again. We were hiking toward our room when she upchucked on the hallway carpet. She went down while I went looking for some seasick pills. We have seen two other ships so far; both on the horizon, many miles away.


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Day 5: Thursday: I put my soiled clothing into the bathtub and trampled on them while taking a shower; then hung it all up around the tiny bathroom. At coffee with "The Boys" they pointed out the captain, Jan Smit, sitting alone nearby so I joined the captain for a brief chat. He is only 49 years of age and comes from Amsterdam so we had something in common. I saw something round and black near the boat and figured it was either a black ball or a negro treading water. Saw several passengers with walkie-talkies. One such person pointed out that hers were good for up to 20 miles and worked well on the ship. There are all kinds of people on this ship; several are blind, one has a seeing-eye dog, some have walkers or wheelchairs, some are disabled in various other ways and of course, there are lots of what Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, calls those "Fat-Assed Americans." No doubt most of them are, in fact, Canadians. In the "fancy" restaurant, food was poor; fancy-looking but not good to eat. After that we went to the theater where there was a guy singing, a standup comic who did juggling, and a piano player. I could not hear well so did not get much out of that.


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Day 6: Friday: After breakfast we did numerous laps on Deck 3. Marie worked on a 3000-piece jigsaw with other people for awhile. We took in the movie "Bucket List."

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Day 7: Saturday: Took the usual hike around Deck 3 several times and wandered around the ship all day visiting here and there. Nothing good to drink other than juices at breakfast. In the evening we went to the Jim Coston show; he is a very talented banjo player. In our room after that we found towels tied in cute animal shapes as we did last night. There is a constant assault on your wallet; papers delivered to your room, and the all-too-often "Can I get you something from the bar?" "Gordon" an 80-year-old former advertising man, told of his experiences and how one should put his investments "offshore" like in the Cayman Islands to avoid Canadian Income Tax. He was very enthusiastic about Lake Chapple in Mexico. Interesting art on the walls of the ship; many of them by M. C. Escher.


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Day 8: Sunday: Up at 5:30 and we could see the lights of Hawaii. Two beach blankets were left on the bed last night so we packed for some swimming. After showers we were off to breakfast; on the way there, we ran into Bob and he reminded us to be in the Explorers' Lounge for the US border patrol to look at us and our passports. We then went to the Mondriaan Lounge for a super long wait of Organized Confusion before we finally got called to get onto the tender to go ashore. It was a fun trip of a mile or so. It was hot and very humid. We immediately got into a bus and were on our way to the volcano park. This was our first Shore Excursion. Twenty minutes into the drive of this 8-hour trip I got so fed up with the driver's banter that I turned off my hearing aids. Most of the time there was no view; trees on both sides and fog/smoke where there were no trees. The view was good at the one site. We were provided with a very nice lunch. Marie had been told that we should take jackets as it could be cold but in fact it was hot. I see regular gasoline is 4.399 per gallon here. I was most disappointed in the place; instead of beautiful houses and yards, I see the opposite; Hawaii to this point looks like a poverty-stricken third (or fourth?) world country; a real mess. The window on the bus was so dirty it was hard to see anything and when Marie mentioned it to driver "Jim" he mumbled something we did not understand and did nothing about it. The paper he gave us made it very clear that the $99 each of us (47 passengers) had paid, did NOT include his tip. Near the end of the trip he mentioned each would get a free black pearl but we never saw that. He played a couple of movies; one showed us on a defective 10-inch TV in the bus, all the pretty sights of Hawaii that we would never see. Lots of bus loads of tourists. Many of the passengers appeared to sleep some of the time. I did. At the place where there was a lot of steam coming out of the ground I figured he would stop as others did, but he slowed and kept going. We did stop at the place where there is a tunnel. It rained all the way back to the ship and we had a fun ride back on the tender. We stopped at one place for samples of Kona coffee. We were, to my relief, back on board at about 4:30. we had a cold tea and joined "Elmer" an 80-year old gent with a walker, from Scottsdale, AZ. Then we got some supper and at 7 went to the theater for the female comedienne. This was the only time we ever saw Elmer.


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Day 9: Monday: Up at 5:30 and we were nearing Kauai. Breakfast with Marie as we pulled into the Nawiliwili harbour. Free shuttle bus to Wal*Mart with the usual can prominently displayed asking for tips. I got 20 Energizer AA batteries for US$9.96 and large nail clipper for $1.97 and pair of nice shorts for $16.88 plus tax of $1.20 on all the above. Lots of wild bantam chickens running all over the place, even in traffic. They are protected. The Pepsi vending machine outside Wal*Mart had a price of 75 cents a can but the machine didn't work; it gave me back my three quarters plus a dime tip; tips are everything here it seems. Instead, I got two 20-oz bottles of Pepsi but with tax, they were $1.81 each; very similar to what we would pay on board to use the pop in our room. To get back on board we had to show our passports and room cards (keys) to a lot of fat lazy border types who seem to do next to nothing most of the time. Marie asked the front desk about her calling Alaska Air to confirm our fight but was told to use a payphone on shore. So much for that. Then we took another free shuttle to K-Mart.


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Day 10: Tuesday: We anchored at about 7:45 A.M. at Lahaina, on the island of Maui. Our little newspaper tells us that the Canadian stock market suffered its largest drop ever; 841 points. Then tenders (Lifeboats) were taking passengers ashore. We took a tender ashore and wandered the street of Lahaina awhile, amazed at the Banyan trees. There were 18 little "slips" along the beach and we found that our submarine excursion started from slip 18. At 1:10 their tender took us out to sea about mile where another of their boats sat waiting for the sub to surface. The men running the show were appropriately funny. Finally we got onto and then into the sub which had portholes with pexiglass 3.5 inches thick. We went down 138 feet. It was very nice but I was surprised at the lack of color at that depth. Almost no color at all. Unfortunately, we saw no mermaids. Back ashore we strolled and hung around Lahaina. One store I went into for a cold Pepsi wanted $3.69 so I decided "no way are you ripping THIS tourist off." The next store had them at 79 cents. Chatted with "Chuck" who runs 5 fishing boats from one of the slips. He tells me he could have given us a good deal if we had come along just as he was sending out with less than a full load. We saw where some young local lads had a small octopus on the grass; they were going to eat it: raw. Then back through security but nobody had told us to bring picture ID so Marie had a minor delay there.


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Day 11: Wednesday: Honolulu struck me as a mess of huge buildings. We took a bus for our Pearl Harbor Memorial and Honolulu tour. I found the memorial nothing worth bothering with but the film was good and it was neat to see the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln there for a visit. We were not allowed to carry ANY kind of bag there. Lots of waiting, millions of tourists. I heard a guide say, "Hawaii has no resources; the military is our biggest industry; tourism is next."


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Day 12: Thursday: Arrived at Hilo. We chatted with a fellow operating a tour using a small van and learned that his industry is in deep trouble; last year there were 300 cruise ships and next year's forecast is for 100. There were about 10 of these little operators lined up, asking for $40 to $55 for a tour. We took the free Wal-Mart bus instead; wandered through Wal-Mart and then to the mall at Macy's. This time I did manage to get a can of Pepsi for 75 cents from a machine. Then back through all the security and hand-washing routines again, back on ship. We cast off at 5 so had supper as we were leaving Hilo. At the railing we met Tom, a man totally blind from birth and tried to "see" for him and walked him to his room. At 7 we went to the theater to enjoy a stand-up comic. The one joke that stuck with me was the one about Jack who was a Catholic, married to Jane. For Lent, Jack decided to give up sex. Jane noticed that he had not made any passes at her, day after day. Finally, she told him, "hey, it's been too long; tonight you better be ready!" Jack replied "I can't; it's Lent." Jane replied, "I don't care who you lent it to, you better have it back by tonight!"


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Day 13: Friday: Up at 6:30 as we are trucking across the Pacific Ocean headed for Mexico. Waffles for breakfast. Then we burned off some of that energy by walking Promenade Deck 3 five or six times with a strong wind and the ship rocking and rolling. Marie watched the Poseidon Adventure; not the best choice of movies to play on a cruise ship methinks. Tried to stroll the deck again later but it was too windy.


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Day 14: Saturday: Very windy but we did about 5 laps on Deck 3. It would be handy to have little straps to hold your glasses on; it would be bad if they blew off and into the briny deep. The bad news from Canada is that the TSX dropped another 800 points to 10,900. The ocean is about 15,000 feet deep here.


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Day 15: Sunday: Being on the lowest deck, Deck 1 has the advantage that we get lots of exercise going up to Deck 8 to eat. Also, being close to the water, we can get a much better feel for the size of the waves, the wake caused by the ship and the speed at which we are moving. We learned that although you tend to eat a lot on a cruise ship, you do not get fat; it is the salty air that shrinks your belt.


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Day 16: Monday: After supper we went to the Wajang Theater and watched another hour of dancing/singing. For me, being an "outdoor" person, that was nothing less than "cruel and unusual punishment" but it seems the crowd did enjoy it. Immediately after that, we went to bed to watch the continuing horrors of the US politics and worldwide stock markets unfold on CNN. The Dow closed at under 10,000. So far, no word of any investors jumping overboard. At 10:30 PM the alarm went off. We jumped up but there was no long tone at the end so I looked out the window and told Marie not to worry; we were still moving just fine. She did not believe me and got dressed in an extraordinary hurry. I looked down the hallway and nearby were several crew in emergency gear, laughing and joking. I went back to bed. Marie kept fussing. The announcements came then that there appeared to be a fire someplace. No sweat; I tried to get back to sleep but Marie went down the hall to learn more. Eventually the captain announced that there had been reports of smoke and they had found a fan belt in an elevator shaft smoking. So much for that excitement.


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Day 17: Tuesday: At breakfast, we noted that an elderly female passenger was sitting on the floor surrounded by crew etc and her nose was bleeding profusely. We were told she tripped or slipped on something and even her ear was bleeding. I went to the theater and grabbed seats for the disembarkation talk. It was a long wait and a long talk followed by many of the crew taking the stage. The entire performance to be on the TV later. Frequently on this cruise I have thought that a voice recorder would have been useful.

The Cruise Director gave us a list of her 10 favorite FAQs:

1. does the crew sleep on the ship?
2. does the ship generate its own electricity?
3. is that island over there completely surrounded by water?
4. when I go to the photo gallery, how will I know which pictures are mine?
5. the people with the patches behind their ears; what religion are they?
6. will I have to leave the ship to take a shore excursion?
7. is the water in the toilet salt water, or fresh water?
8. where is the elevator to take me to the back of the ship?
9. what do you do with the ice carvings afterwards?
10. do they change the rug (with name of the day) in the elevator every day?


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Day 18: Wednesday: The ship left Mexico shortly before midnight. I got up at 6:45 as we were entering the San Diego harbor in the dark. My new suitcase was severely damaged so I reported that and got a copy of the damage report. Next was a walk to the bus. The driver collected all the tickets but Marie was looking out the window so he missed her. I noticed and she called after him, "Do you want mine?" He turned back and got hers too. At the airport we got our suitcases and went to the Alaska/Horizon counter where the lady was extra helpful running the machine which we should have been able to run ourselves. Then through security again; it is VERY important in the USA. We even had to take our shoes off. This time we boarded a Horizon Air B737-900. They gave us pretzels and juice. At one point on this flight, I noticed another large jet hardly a half mile away, at out altitude, going past in the opposite direction. A flight of about 2.5 hours took us to Seattle. This time we took a CRJ700 to fly us from Seattle to Edmonton. In Edmonton, we and another couple went to the Nisku Truck Stop for supper; another mistake; poor service, poor food. Next morning, a taxi picked us up and for $20 + $5 tip took us to the Greyhound Bus station for the 5-hour trip home to Grande Prairie. The bus was supposed to leave at 2 PM. Finally, after waiting in line for 45 minutes, they told us that the bus was in the garage for repairs. Finally, at 2:56, the bus left. On the bus, one teenage girl was on her cellphone, in a serious gossip session. She made people VERY unhappy. Finally, Marie caught the bus driver, outside and complained. He did nothing about it. While Marie was talking to him, another lady, who was seated much further from the offending girl, went and spoke to the girl directly. It worked. No more loud gossip; cellphone turned off. I gave the lady a note thanking her and at home complained to Greyhound.


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I took 496 pictures; these are a few, reduced in size.


A very brief summary:

The cruise was too long. To see the Pacific Ocean is a thrill but after 10 days of nothing else, that thrill wears thin.
The food was fine but not fantastic as we saw on another cruise.
There were lots of activities but few that interested most people; it got boring.
Hawaii is nice but so developed that it turned me off; the high heat and terrible humidity made me dream of being home again in Canada's north.
Many passengers were not thrilled with this cruise; we were told by "experienced" cruisers that after Carnival Lines bought out Holland America, the latter's quality went down.
US security is a true pain in the ***. It is EVERYWHERE.
Hand-washing is almost taken to extreme.
Would I take this cruise again, or recommend it to others? No and no.


And for those who want the $$ info:

- the cruise itself, with taxes/fees, fuel supplement: US$2,151.99 each
(having used H.A. before, we get a small discount)
- the mandatory "tips" charge of US$10 per person per day: US$170.00
- a credit thanks to the Mexico government fees: US$5.00
- a credit thanks to the city of Victoria because we did NOT use their pier: US$11.36
- three shore excursions mentioned above: US$229.00
- shuttle bus from Vancouver airport to the ship: C$13.62
- shuttle bus from ship to San Diego airport; booked at/on the ship: US$18.00

And for us, add to that:

- flight from home to Vancouver, Westjet: C$261.10 each
- flight back to Edmonton, from San Diego, Alaska/Horizon:* US$255.90 each
- bus fare back from Edmonton, home: Greyhound: C$42.10 each
- internet access: we decided not to use it.
- passports
- trip/travel insurance (about $60 - $87)
- new suitcase (wrecked on this trip; I have asked for a refund)

*We tried to book a flight home via Air Canada and went through all the steps online and when we finally got to the place to enter the credit card information, their website messed up. I emailed them and got an automated message telling me that a reply could take 15 days. In disgust I went to Alaska/Horizon instead. NO problems there at all.


Warning:

The disaster of the Costa Concordia in 2012 caused some reviews of cruise ships' practices. One thing that came to light is the disclaimers that passengers subject themselves to when they "sign on the dotted line." When you sign, you sign away virtually all your rights to any kind of compensation in any kind of situation. You are left stripped. READ the fine print completely and carefully and if you still want to take the cruise, it might be wise to buy insurance from a third party to give yourself the protection you need.


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