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First-Time Cruisers Sing HAL Praises

First-time HAL cruiser Kevin Elsley, along with his wife Norma and two other couples, spent a week on board Zuiderdam cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage. Mr. Elsley sent us this wonderful article and photos highlighting their unforgettable experience.

Nobody probably will ever know for sure, so there’s a real chance it could have been me. Someone on Holland America Line’s cruise ship, the Zuiderdam, was responsible and being part of the group involved it could well have been me.

The question ‘who dun it’ will remain an unsolved mystery really but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. My conscious is clear but the thought that maybe it was me will always linger.

But seriously, this mystery has a good feel about it. The issue here is all about a sum of $2 million, the amount that has been raised by Holland America passengers interested in supporting breast cancer research. Captain Zimmer of the Zuiderdam can be held responsible for this so-called mystery for mentioning how much has been raised during the ship’s cruises just before I and some 100 other fellow passengers set off on a five-kilometre (nine times around the deck) fund raising walk.

Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage.

We had all put in our $15 each to do the non-competitive trek so, being part of the action, it well could have been my $15 that pushed the grand total over that magical figure.

So please let me fantasise and tell my grand children I was the one because no doubt others on that non-competitive walk will also claim to be held responsible.

Being a bit of a walker/jogger back home in Australia and noting how much my clothing was ‘shrinking’ on this cruise (was it the Northern Hemisphere climate or the washing powder?) no-one had to talk me into doing the walk when it was announced on board a few days into our cruise up the Alaskan coast from Vancouver to Ketchikan and back.

Congratulations Holland America Lines for your initiative in raising much needed funds to fight breast cancer.

About this week-long cruise……for my wife and I this was our first and hopefully not our last. Pleasant surprises started for us from the time we lined up to receive our stateroom allocation to the final night on board. We had been given our room number well before embarking and it was on the same deck and close to the rooms given to two other couples touring with us, but at the front desk all that changed when us two were upgraded to a stateroom five decks up – at no extra cost.

Kevin Elsley donning his chef's hat at the farewell dinner.

A waiter on board Zuiderdam gives the Elsley crew two thumbs up!

Surprise number two had to do with food. Someone experienced in cruising forewarned us about this. No matter where you went tasty delights beckoned to us at all hours, so do you get the message about those ‘shrinking’ clothes?

My wife must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Faced with so much culinary temptation only made worse by the other five in our group eating what we liked, my other half stuck to her guns and for that we must compliment our ‘personal’ dinner table waiter who took on responsibility to see that she received a menu a day in advance to choose her gluten-free meal.

The words of the old song ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’ reflect my feelings about this cruise which I will remember for so many little but significant and unexpected pleasantries, like returning to our stateroom after the nightly shows to find someone had made a figure out of towels and placed on our bed along with chocolates.

And about those shows. Every night we had the choice of taking in good clean entertainment of exceptional standard, the kind you would expect to pay big dollars for anywhere else.

Shopping is not my scene, but was impressed with the way one of the retail shipboard stores went about promoting its wares. Everyone in the store was offered a ticket and if your number was drawn you got a gift or a decent discount off a particular item. It sure drew the crowds into that shop.

We had shore leave to look over the historical and beautifully preserved Alaskan towns of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and their nearby attractions – so well preserved in fact that I expected to see a look-alike of John Wayne stride out from one of the saloons for a shoot-up in the main street. At Ketchikan we had the surprise of experiencing one of those near-perfect northern summer days in what we were told is the wettest part of Alaska.

Don’t think there’s need for connections to get you from ship to town centre. No need of them, because the cruise ships can park practically adjacent to the main street. What a picture perfect sight it was to see Zuiderdam’s bow towering above Skagway’s main drag with the town’s quaint vintage tour coaches in the foreground.

To cap everything off, our drinks waiter back on the Zuiderdam found out my wife and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary so, yet another surprise when he sang a love song to us during our meal.

Our final evening on board and the surprises kept coming. It was the master chef’s night with a souvenir menu and chef’s hat for all of us to keep, followed by fun and frivolity as the head man and his crew swung into party mood. How they managed not to drop or spill anything while kicking up their heels amazed me.

Holland America, you can take a bow from us first-time cruisers. Thanks to you, we are hooked.

  • Elbert L.J. Bosma

    This story arouses our feelings for cruising to Alaska on ‘Zuiderdam’ in September next year (!) that we booked already as a long-yearned present for our 47th wedding day.

  • Denise P

    Our first cruise was also the 7 day Alaska on Zuiderdam. Your memories bring all our memories back. Many thanks. By the way, we also are very firmly hooked now. Happy cruising.

  • Louise Campbell

    As a first time “cruiser” also in September 2011, Kevin’s story has wetted my holiday appetite even more. Can’t wait to get on board.

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