Exploring the Last Frontier on Holland America’s Zuiderdam

by Carmel L. Mooney

Getting There

We’ve had the pleasure of taking many family cruises over the years but one of our favorites of all time was aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam to Alaska. It’s Alaska cruising season again so pack your bags and delight in one of the most spectacular family cruise itineraries in existence.

We started our unforgettable voyage by flying from Sacramento to beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. The night before our sailing we all enjoyed staying at the gorgeous Pan Pacific Vancouver with a breathtaking view of the port and the bay. A delightful pool and spectacular food at the Cafe Pacifica only add to the overall exceptional quality of this property.

The whole family loved the excitement of waking up in the morning and seeing our ship waiting for embarkation.

What’s a Kid to Do?

Holland America has one of the best children’s programs on the sea. It’s top-notch quality and fun to boot. Over the years our children have sampled numerous cruise programs for kids and on this last Alaska voyage, our tween fell hook, line, and sinker for Club HAL’s youth program. Wonderful crafts, parties, activities, shows, computer games, movie nights, and contests all geared towards kids of various age levels, puts this wonderful onboard program in a class all its own. Something unique to Holland America is the Culinary Arts Center’s kid programs presented by Food and Wine Magazine.

Our tween and all her new friends loved learning to create culinary masterpieces in this Kids-in-the-Kitchen program, all enjoyed in a full-size dedicated kitchen with a stage and audience.

In addition to all the usual outstanding shows and exercise classes, pools, dance classes, high teas, spa, and Bingo, our family and others enjoyed specially tailored family contests like the Family Foto Hunt and Family Trivia challenges. It was the perfect blend of options for just the grown-ups, just the kids, and family fun together.

couple sit on deck on cruise ship looking at Alaska shoreline

Parents will appreciate the frequent casino tournaments and the beautiful onboard spa. Thermal suites and hydrotherapy pool, beauty salon, massages, and manicure & pedicure area are even more options for mom and dad to be pampered in peace and luxury while the kids are impeccably supervised at Club HAL.

Another Holland American specialty is the Digital Workshops offered onboard where newbies to the technical world can learn in a fun, low-key, and non-intimidating way, how to share digital memories through email, blogging, and social networking. This allows cruisers a way to share their newly learned technological tricks so that friends and family can catch a glimpse of where they’ve been on their cruise, long before they even return home. Microsoft-trained “techsperts” show even novice camera and computer users how to take better vacation photos and create scrapbooks.

“Guests have given the workshops rave reviews since we began offering them,” said Richard D. Meadows, CTC executive vice president, marketing, sales, and guest programs.

All that computer training may make you hungry and Holland America has that base covered for families and covered nicely.

Mother and daughter enjoy a trip in a lifeboat

An Endless Buffet of Options

Of course, kids’ menus are always available but thankfully our kids have always enjoyed eating what we eat.

Our tween’s favorites on the Zuiderdam included Grilled Lamb Chops, lobster bisque, Apricot Glazed Salmon, Filet Mignon, and of course The Gold Rush Baked Alaska and Chocolate Decadence Cake.

What can I say? She has a good taste and mom and dad agree with her selections. Older kids and parents often enjoy ordering free room service where they can take some downtime to relax in their cabin by watching a movie or just enjoying the views as they appear off the cabin balcony. Sometimes room service delivered cookies, cakes, brownies or just a plain PB&J might fit the bill nicely during a respite between activities.

All Ashore Who’s Going Ashore

Our wonderful Alaska cruise itinerary aboard the Zuiderdam began with scenic cruising through the inside passage and Tracy Arm and on to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier National Park, Ketchikan, finally returning to Vancouver.

What we liked best about the Zuiderdam was that being a mid-sized ship with an excellent passenger to space ratio, we were able to have alone time as a family as much or as little as we wished. Many times we’d find our own little private spot to sit in awe of the calving glaciers and abundant wildlife. It was spectacular to enjoy the comforts of the Zuiderdam while watching whales breach, bears frolicking on beaches, and orcas swimming alongside. An onboard naturalist pointing out the various species added to the enjoyment and educational factor for all ages.

couple pose on cruise ship

Holland America offers the best shore excursions in the industry with well over a hundred different possibilities. Everything from adrenaline junkie fare, to tame shopping tours and everything in between insure that your family can see any side of Alaska that they wish. Glacier tours, dog sledding, floatplane tours, helicopter adventures, rafting, kayaking, bicycling, canoeing, zip-lining, Jeep tours, you name it…they have you covered. We decided to try the Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float for one of our shore excursions and could not have been more pleased with our decision. Hiking the gorgeous historic trail and then floating on a raft down the gentle Taiya river with our excellent guide, proved to be a fascinating and educational experience that gave us a glimpse into the wilds of Alaska.

In our opinion, the pinnacle of the trip was taking the Neets Bay Bear Watch by Floatplane adventure where we were flown out to a remote location. There we loved watching dozens of bears up close as they played and fed at a salmon hatchery. It was one of the most unforgettable shore excursions we have ever had the pleasure to experience.

Going Green

Although Holland America is known for its exemplary cruise experience, it is gaining respect for its Environmental Commitment. Waste reduction, recycling, and cleaner-burning propulsion technology meet and in most cases exceed the international regulations and industry standards. With environmental awards too long to list, they are setting the stage and the standard for other lines.

It’s Alaska cruise season and it’s certainly time to start planning that family or multi-generational cruise vacation that the clan will never forget. Holland America is the perfect way in which to explore the Last Frontier in comfort, safety, and luxury.

Back to Cruises…

Carmel L. Mooney is a
travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. Learn more about her at www.RoadTripsforCouples.com. For tips on smooth traveling with kids, check out Carmel’s book, Holiday Family Travel Tips.