Several folks who had been on past HAL Grand Voyages, couldn’t make this one, but are planning one in the future, have asked me “How is it post covid?,” or “Is the Grand Voyage any Less Grand?” This is a topic of discussion rooms, Facebook pages and Cruise Critic forums. Everyone has their own cruise and different people will answer differently but, as I have some time during our second long sea interlude, here is my answer.
“Don’t worry, you’re gonna have a great time.”
Yes, things will be different, some things much better, some not so much. It depend on what you’re looking for. People looking at the cutbacks and at changes they think are negative are not enjoying it as much as those of us who roll with it, or laugh at it. If you’re booked for 2024, don’t worry.
Yes things are different. For instance, you don’t get a towel animal on your bed every night. When I first start cruising, I thought they were special, then I got used to them and took them for granted. Now that they show up about once a week, I appreciate them more. Plus I appreciate less carbon in the atmosphere (diesel to generate electricity to make fresh water, to wash 1,000 extra towels a night, and to dry them) and less detergent in the waste stream.
Zuiderdam is not Amsterdam. It’s bigger but the rooms are smaller with much less storage space. That requires you to do a more judicious packing or come up with ideas on how to stash things. There’s lots of advice about that on Facebook or Cruise Critic. Holland America has come up with some fixes. One is a magnetic hanging bar that attaches to the steel overhead. But be careful. We got one and read the 20 Kilo (44 pound) weight limit and, although we don’t have a scale, we kept to it — mostly. But as the cruise went on we hung just one more thing, than one more, and — it held — until it got rough in the middle of the night and the clothes on the bar started swaying and then, out of a sound sleep, “CRASH!!” What to do, laugh before deciding whether to pick it up now or lot the clothing slowly wrinkle until morning.
Pillow gifts are few and far between. And while many of them delighted me on earlier cruises, many now sit in a drawer somewhere. We found a few useful, the universal plugs and the stuffed penguins that we gave to grandkids. But the only ones I really miss are the messenger bags and the neck wallets. If I had known we would not get them I would have brought one of the ones I got on other cruises. You may want to do that. No big deal. Although I do hope we get roller bags near the end to stuff all the stuff we have gotten for the trip home. I am not holding my breath.
One thing I would recommend is to research your ports in advance and to print or download maps of ports of call. HAL is not providing maps any more and while most tourist offices do provide them (some do not) they are not very useful for planning out a route the night before if they are sitting in a rack at the port waiting for you to pick them up. Without a destination guide (that has been merged into Cruise and Travel Director) there is no Barbara (former world cruisers will know who I mean) to spend the time to get the information you need. Ian is one person with limited “office” hours and doing two jobs. Best to prepare beforehand. We had our maps all printed out, but they were in the suitcase Alaska Airlines misdirected so they do us no good. Glad the internet on board is better this year than it has been in the past although I do wish HAL would provide maps and better information.
That said, Holland America service is still tops. The staff take time to talk to you, learn about your home as you learn about theirs. One waiter was excited about buying a regulation basketball in Australia but found it too windy and rough to play. He is looking forward to better weather so he can practice his jumps and palming the ball. Other staff we met on past cruises catch us up on their families. This part of the cruise is still unbeatable.
The food is still great and as an added plus you no longer have to stand for 45 minutes for the lifeboat drill several times during a long cruise. For those who like formal nights, they are back. (for me, “meh,” but they make a lot of people happy.) HAL has added some new features that I have written about in earlier posts, including the block party and the “glamp out.” But what happened last night I think typifies the spirit of the cruise and why you are going to have a great time.
The Music walk is an innovation that has been evolving over the last couple of years. Different venues for different types of music, classical, dance and jazz, piano, and rock. Then there are the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers. Last night the musicians decided to mix it up. The idea came from the musicians themselves. They hosted each other at each other’s venues and the evening was magic. At the classical venue the rock guitarist, who is an excellent acoustic player, joined the classical duo to fill in the sound and create some great music. The rock pianist joined the classical musicians for some Brahms Hungarian Dances and the interplay, and playfulness between the musicians was a lot of fun. Then Lilly, the classical violinist, became a fiddler picking up her instrument and with “Follow me.” She played a Celtic dance tune while we danced our way to the Rolling Stone Lounge where she joined the rock guitar in a killer version of “Stairway to Heaven.”
The Zuiderdam dancers got everyone (even me!) on the floor for “I love Rock and Roll” and I think every musician on the ship jammed “Uptown funk” before Kya from Billboard on Board (whose idea this was) shouted “Who will follow me to my venue?”
And we danced to Billboard on Board for a great rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” followed by other pieces ending with a singalong. The musicians had fun, we had fun. It was a mashup of different music genres by good musicians who, over the past two months on a long cruise, had become good friends. It reminded me of the jams at some of the Folk Festivals we’ve attended.
The post-pandemic (if that’s where we are) cruise is evolving and despite cutbacks in decorations for theme nights, towel animals and pillow gifts the party continues.