Sailing the Inside Passage – the Holland America Way

The Zuiderdam makes her way through the Inside Passage en-route to Juneau on August 12, 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

This morning, a cool and overcast dawn broke aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam, as we entered British Columbia’s scenic Inside Passage en-route to our first port of call: the Alaskan state capital of Juneau.

But chilly weather can’t dampen the mood of those aboard the Zuiderdam, including myself. It’s been a few weeks of scorching temperatures in Vancouver, and I spoke today with several guests from the Midwest and eastern United States who are glad to be leaving the heat behind them for a while.

The beauty of the Inside Passage is just the prelude of things to come. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Even in overcast conditions, Alaska can be strikingly beautiful, with layers of mist and cloud presenting an ever-shifting landscape.  Off to our starboard side, the mountains of British Columbia lie tantalizingly close, materialising from the mist every now and then, only to be obscured by low-lying cloud again.  But it’s far from cold; I was able to walk a mile (3 laps) around Zuiderdam’s promenade deck this morning, sans jacket.

Plenty of Seats Here: In the Pinnacle Bar, as throughout the rest of the Zuiderdam, seating is rarely an issue. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Mid-morning, I went up to the Crow’s Nest to begin writing this post and enjoy a cappuccino from the Explorations Café. After having spent a few voyages on ships that carry 500 passengers or less, I was half-expecting to turn around due to lack of seating. I shouldn’t have worried; despite carrying roughly 2,000 guests, finding a quiet place to sit and unwind aboard the Zuiderdam isn’t an issue.  In fact, it’s one of Holland America’s greatest strengths: designing ships that really could hold another five or six hundred passengers, but don’t.

Watching Zuiderdam’s cast rehearse for tonight’s show in the Vista Lounge – a rare treat to be able to do so, and part of the daily activities! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

So with the weather largely keeping most passengers indoors, here is a look at just a few happenings onboard the Zuiderdam as we sail for Juneau, Alaska:

  • 7:00am- Fitness Class Stretch & Relax – Greenhouse Spa, 9
  • 8:00am – Morning Tai Chi with Lifestylist Nick – Lido Poolside, 9 midship
  • 9:00am – Aqua Aerobics with Lifestylist Nick – Lido Poolside, 9 midship
  • 9:00am – Creative Crafts: Travel Journals – Culinary Arts Center, 2
  • 9:00am – Interdenominational Service – Hudson Room, 3
  • 9:30am – Creative Photo Editing with Techspert Tricia – Digital Workshop, 2
  • 10:00am – Learn to Rumba with Erin & Jess – Northern Lights, 2
  • 11:00am – Ask Your Travel Guide with CJ – Atrium, 1
  • 12:00pm – Rehearsal for this evening’s show open to public – Vista Lounge, 2
  • 1:30pm – Team Trivia Challenge with Cruise Director Kieron – Crow’s Nest, 10
  • 2:00pm – Mixology Class ($12.50) – Ocean Bar, 3
  • 3:00pm – Alaskan Beer Tasting ($12.50) – Lido Poolside, 9 midship
  • 3:00pm – Royal Dutch High Tea – Vista Dining Room, 3
  • 4:00pm – Gen Next: Wii Pour Hour – ages 18-25 – Northern Lights, 2
  • 5:00pm – Evening Tai Chi – with Lifestylist Nick – Northern Lights, 2
  • 7:45pm – Captain’s Welcome Toast – Vista Lounge, 2
  • 8:00pm and 10:00pm – Showtime: In Concert – Vista Lounge, 2
  • 10:00pm – Piano Bar Favorites – Piano Bar, 2

…and even then, I’m omitting many activities for space.  For those more adventurous than myself, donning a bathrobe and proceeding at 2:45pm for the $40,000 Bathrobe Party Bingo event in the Vista Lounge could pay off handsomely, particularly as one card is handed out for free – provided you show up clad in your comfortable HAL bathrobe!

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Instead – and without my bathrobe – I joined in the Alaskan Beer Tasting at the Lido Bar poolside on Deck 9. For $12.50, it’s a great deal, particularly if you’re keen to sample a wide variety of beers brewed in Alaska. It was also well-attended, so much so that extra tables and chairs were added, taking up almost the full width of the Lido Pool deck!

In just a few minutes, every one of these seats would be taken. Over 100 guests attended the Alaskan Beer Tasting! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

On tap for the tasting: Alaska’s Amber Ale, Summer Ale, Pale Ale and White Ale.  The atmosphere was definitely fun and jovial (perhaps moreso as the beer-drinking progressed), but I was surprised at how much I was able to learn from this event, which I almost didn’t sign up for.  I’m glad I did: I discovered I enjoyed both the Amber and White Ales quite a bit, but didn’t care as much for the Summer or Pale ales.  For the white ale, we were invited to place a slice of freshly-cut orange into our glass, as it would enhance the flavor – and did it ever!

We also learned that the Amber Ale pairs excellently with pizza, so slices of the famous foodstuff were dutifully trotted out and placed on our tables. Alas, I didn’t have the stomach for more food!

The ever-changing Inside Passage never fails to amaze, even after three past voyages to Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Of course, this all took place within sight of the majestic Inside Passage on either side of us as we glided smoothly along. In many ways, sailing the Inside Passage can be quite surreal; it feels almost as if someone’s put a scenic filmstrip up against the windows and is just slowly moving it along from left to right.

The sun came out during our tasting and shone brightly through the retractable Magrodome sliding roof that covers the Lido Pool. Glasses clinked, beer was drunk, and everyone generally had a very good time.

The soft blue hues of nightfall descend upon the Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

As we sailed the Inside Passage today, I saw purposes just barely breaking the waters next to the Zuiderdam, along with tugboats, trawlers, birds, mountains, trees, and a lot of driftwood earlier this morning. In short: if you’ve never sailed this famous stretch of water, expect to be glued to the windows or outer decks – and don’t forget your camera!

Few public rooms are quite like the Pinnacle Grill aboard the Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Since tonight is our first formal night, and in celebration of my first full day onboard, it seemed only fitting to dine at the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America’s signature specialty restaurant.

First Things First: Preparing the Lobster Bisque tableside in the Pinnacle Grill. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

At $25 per person, I figured the Pinnacle would understandably represent a small step up in terms of food quality and presentation, coupled with the exclusivity of dining in more intimate surroundings, as similar venues on other lines do.  But the Pinnacle Grill here onboard the Zuiderdam didn’t just meet my expectations; it blew the doors off at the hinges.

Step Two: quite possibly the best Caesar Salad I’ve ever had! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Rather than simply being a “step-up”, the Pinnacle Grill is an experience unto itself, and one that has rivaled anything I’ve had on other mainstream-premium lines. In fact, the Pinnacle Grill came tantalizingly close to matching the level of service, presentation and food quality found onboard some of the ultra-luxury lines and hotels I’ve had the privilege of dining in.

Case in point: you’re invited to choose as many items as you’d like from the menu. Portions are reasonably sized, meaning you’re not left to fill up on salad before the main event.

The Ingrigue: Preparing my filet mignon tableside. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I ordered the Lobster Bisque on waiter Steven’s recommendation to start with, along with a Caesar Salad. I love Lobster Bisque but am lukewarm on Caesar Salads; Steven managed to impress me on both counts.

The bisque was presented in front of me; small, bite-sized chunks of lobster littered a deep serving bowl.  Just as I was about to ask where the broth was, he produced an iron kettle from which the broth was poured into the bowl. The service was exacting without ever being obtrusive, and the staff seemed to work like clockwork.

The Caesar Salad was equally impressive, prepared tableside and according to my personal wishlist of ingredients.  It was, without a doubt, the best Caesar Salad I have ever had.

The Finale: Dessert. Well, actually, the pre-dessert! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Before I knew it, my Filet Mignon arrived – also prepared and flambéed tableside. The side dishes I had selected were trotted out in their own unique serving dishes with exceptional flourish.  I honestly didn’t know whether to eat them or frame them!

If you’re looking for an intimate, memorable experience, I highly recommend the Pinnacle Grill. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Dessert – a triple-flavour Crème Brulee – followed, along with black coffee.  Despite dining alone, I was astonished to discover two solid hours had passed. Sailing solo on this trip, that was the ultimate surprise. I was enjoying myself so thoroughly that I didn’t even realize what time it was!

Around the ship this evening: The Aft Pool Deck. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

My experience at the Pinnacle Grill tonight was one that approached my experiences on ultra-luxury lines so closely that for a moment, I wondered what ship I was on.  I expected the Pinnacle Grill to be good – any passenger would – but I never anticipated the degree to which the service, food and presentation would impress me. If they included a glass of wine in the price of admission, it might be enough to put the Pinnacle firmly into ultra-luxury territory.

It’s strange to like a corridor, but I’ve always thought the design of the corridor outside the Queen’s Lounge on Deck 2, with its sweeping corridor and large windows, is striking. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Sports Bar aboard the Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Around the Ship: Part of the Lido Restaraunt on Deck 9. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Looking to do something special on your next Holland America cruise? I cannot recommend this highly enough.  Take your time with it. Don’t rush dinner.  The Pinnacle Grill isn’t just a meal; it’s an experience in its own right.

A fitting conclusion to our first full day onboard!

The Zuiderdam sails into the night, bound for Tracy Arm and Juneau, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam returns tomorrow as we call on picturesque Tracy Arm and the capital of Alaska itself, Juneau!


8 Responses to Zuiderdam Live Voyage Report – Day 2

  1. That’s so great that HAL is doing the Alaskan beer tasting. I’ve long been a fan of Alaakan’s brews, so it’s nice to see more than just their Amber onboard. The Summer is my favorite!

  2. Nicholas Sabalos, Jr., CDR, U.S. Navy (Ret.) says:

    Ahhh….just spent 15 minutes relishing every word and photo from aboard Zuiderdam in today’s report. You just made my day!

  3. Michael Silver says:

    My wife and I enjoy reading about your trip and looking at your pictures.We are booked to leave on the Zuiderdam 15 sept and will book into the pinnacle grill after reading what you had to say about it.We are looking forward to reading more.

  4. Susan Hall says:

    My husband and I are looking forward to this cruise on the 25th and you’ve certainly whet our appetite. I’m enjoying your entries daily at lunchtime and find them so relaxing to read and to gather tips. I’ve shared this at work with colleagues sailing another line on a similar itinerary this weekend too. If you’re looking for a website where you’d be welcomed by many warmhearted cruisers, without any criticism, drop in and say hello at where I’ve been a member for over 12 years.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Thansk for the tip about Cruise Addicts, Susan – I will check that out! Glad I can help get you revved up for your cruise on the 25th!

  5. Scott Lara says:

    And now people know why I love Holland America Line so much!

    Scott Lara
    @scottlara1961 on Twitter

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