by Maureen Halsall

On Sunday, December 19, 2010, Airways Transit picked me up at my home in
Hamilton, Ontario at 7 a.m. for transfer to Terminal 1 at Toronto's Pearson
International Airport.  Long lines, first for U.S. Customs and then for Security,
kept me standing about there for over an hour before being allowed to proceed
to the departure gate.  Then de-icing problems delayed the departure of Air
Canada 777 from 10:30 a.m. until noon; but en route to San Diego the pilot made
up 45 minutes of this lost time.

Upon arrival in San Diego, after collecting my luggage in Terminal 2 and proceeding
to the entrance, I was met by a Holland America representative and eventually taken
by bus the short distance from the airport to the dock.  There, in a rather dingy port terminal, I went through a check-in procedure so casual as almost to qualify for the
term "sloppy" and received a little cardboard "Welcome aboard" folder containing
a deck plan and my ID card (to be used as the stateroom key as well as for all
purchases on board and when embarking and disembarking at ports).

Using my new ID card, I boarded Holland America's ms Zaandam and made my way
to Stateroom 3422 on the Lower Promenade Deck.  There I was happy to find that my namesake niece, Maureen Glenn, had already arrived from Victoria, B.C.  Just
imagine my dismay, however, upon learning that, although her luggage had been
checked through from Victoria to San Diego, United Airlines failed to transfer it from their Victoria-San Francisco flight to their connecting flight to San Diego.  By the time United were forced to acknowledge their error and locate her bag, it was too late for
them to fly it to San Diego and forward it to the ship, which was scheduled to sail at
5 p.m.  Hence Maureen, having decided against bringing a carry-on bag, was left until December 24 with only the clothes she stood up in.  Since we wear very different sizes, the best I could supply her with were socks, sneakers and an extra-large jacket, which
I happened to bring along to serve as an additional outer layer in case of cold weather;
so she had to supplement those items from the limited resources of the onboard shop. 
I must say that she bore up under the coming four days of clothing deprivation very cheerfully, even though it meant avoiding dinner in the formal Rotterdam Dining Room until Christmas Eve.


Holland America's Circle Hawaii cruise involved fourteen nights on board ship and included only four days when passengers could go ashore in the Hawaiian Islands. 
The remaining ten days were spent at sea, sailing to and from Hawaii across the
Pacific Ocean.  Since the activities available to passengers on days at sea tend to
be repetitive, instead of proceeding diary-style to recount what Maureen and I did
on each day, I shall summarize here those among the multitudinous possible
shipboard activities that we chose to participate in.

In the course of the cruise, we sampled three of the five eating establishments
available: the Rotterdam (formal) Dining Room, the Canaletto (Italian) Restaurant
and the Lido (buffet) Restaurant.   In all cases, the food proved to be excellent.

One or the other of us took in most of the movies shown in the Waijang Theater, including: Oceans; Inception; Salt; Pearl Harbor; Princess Kai'iulani; Knight and
Day;  Eat, Pray, Love; The Switch; and Amelia.  We both eschewed Blue Hawaii
as well as the Santa Claus movies aimed at the large contingent of children aboard.

Since the ship was completely full for this holiday cruise, the gymnasium turned out
to be too busy for comfort--crowded with young and not-so-young men pumping iron.
Maureen made up for being deprived of her daily gym routine by walking more miles
than she could count, round and round the Lower Promenade Deck. 

Books and Email
A Library, Internet Centre and Bar constitute the Explorations Cafe on Deck 5. 
Both Maureen and I borrowed a good number of books.  She used the computers
there fairly often to access her e-mail, and even used one on January 1 to print out
her United Airlines boarding passes for the return journey to Victoria.

Art Tour
I joined an art tour: Secrets and Treasures of the Zaandam, offered by the gallery manager.  Most of the ship's art works turned out to have a musical theme.

Kitchen Tour
I also joined the Executive Chef's tour of the Culinary Department (kitchen) for
a look at the working areas where food is prepared and the service counters where
it is picked up by the dining room stewards, all of which proved immaculate. 

Lectures on Hawaii by Kainoa dela Cruz
Kainoa is a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of Oahu in the city of
Honolulu.  He studied at New York University and the University of Hawaii.  His
towering bulk and deep, rich voice give him considerable presence as a speaker.
In the course of the cruise, as well as making himself available for consultation
as a travel guide to the islands, he lectured in the Mondriaian Lounge every day
spent at sea on such topics as the following:
December 20The Geology and Geography of Hawaii
December 21Hilo port; and
                             The Migration of Hawaiians
December 22       Nawiliwili and Lahaina ports; and
                             Hawaii - Kingdom to State
December 23Oahu and the port of Honolulu; and
                             The History of Hula: Part I
December 28Hawaii Review
December 29       The History of the Hawaiian Lei
December 30Hawaiian Trivia
December 31       The Amazing Captain Cook; and 
                             The History of Hula: Part II.

The Digital Workshop presented in partnership with Microsoft
Microsoft representative Erin offered a set of classes, which were repeated
several times throughout the cruise, involving such topics as the following:
Say Cheese, dealing with Camera modes, including Auto, Macro, Portrait,
                      Landscape and Flash
A New Window To Your World, dealing with Instant Search, Pin to Taskbar,
Using a Jump List, Snap Windows Side by Side, Shake, Peek, Snip
and Add a Gadget
Safe And Sound, dealing with Microsoft Security Essentials, including Automatic
Backup and System Restore
Seeing Is Believing, using Live Messenger to add contacts, start a Live Chat
session including a Video Chat, share photos and protect privacy
Put Your Best Face Forward I, improving photos by adjusting images, cropping,                        eliminating red eye and creating a panorama from separate shots
Put Your Best Face Forward II, improving by retouching, creating pop art, batch
                     editing and using photo fuse (e.g., in a group photo replacing someone
                     whose head is turned with his/her forward-facing image from a
                     second version of the same group shot at the same time).


On Friday, December 24 at 8 a.m., ms Zaandam docked at Hilo on the island of
Hawaii (also known as Big Island). 

At 9:30 a.m, we set out by bus on a 3 1/2 hour tour entitled  "Imiloa Astronomy
Center and the Essence of Hilo".   This began with a short drive through historic downtown Hilo along Banyan Drive and past Liliuokalani Japanese Garden to
Rainbow Falls, which is surrounded by a rain forest of mangos, banyan trees and
African tulips.
From there we drove to the highlight of the tour: the Imiloa Astronomy Center. 
This fascinating facility explores and celebrates Hawaiian navigation and culture, including both the Polynesian star-guided voyages to settle Hawaii and the modern journeys of exploration carried out by today's astronomers at the observatory on
nearby Mauna Kea mountain.  After touring the various exhibits, we were treated
to a full-dome planetarium show, including a live sky lecture featuring the sky as
viewed from Mauna Kea.  The Planetarium at Imiloa is the first in the world to have
3-D stereoscopic capabilities.

At the entrance to the facility, we walked across the lovely floor mosaic below, which
depicts the deeply-felt relationship between Hawaiian sea, land and sky.

Upon returning to the Zaandam at 1:15 p.m., however, I felt that I needed a rest;
but Maureen, being still full of energy, decided to explore Hilo on her own prior to
the ship's departure at 5 p.m.  In the meanwhile, at 3 p.m. I had my hair styled by
a South African girl called Maxine at the Greenhouse Spa on Deck 8, in preparation
for our first formal dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room at 5:15 p.m.  The delivery
of Maureen's luggage to the Zaandam in Hilo port had at last made it possible for us
to dine there in style.  I also took the opportunity of responding to a letter from the Excursions Office, containing the unwelcome news that our Honolulu excursion
entitled "A Tale of Two Palaces" (which I booked in September) had been cancelled.
An excursion entitled "Little Circle Island Tour" was substituted.

On Saturday, December 25, we docked at Nawiliwili on the Island of Kauai; and at
11 a.m. we set out by bus on an excursion entitled "Kauai Plantation Railway Train
Ride & Manor House Visit". 

In 1935, when sugar was in its heyday, Gaylord Parke Wilcox, head of the Grove
Farm Plantation, decided to construct his dream house at Kilohana estate.  When
completed, this 15,000-square-foot pseudo-Tudor mansion would be the most
expensive home ever built on Kauai.  Once the centre of a 26,000 acre sugar tract,
today its setting remains impressive: 105 acres containing not only beautiful tropical gardens of native and imported flora, but also a working farm.
The University of Hawaii certainly has created a world-class facility at Hilo, where
I would have welcomed the opportunity to spend a great deal more time.
Soon after arrival, we boarded a narrow-gauge train of pure mahogony-wood
passenger cars pulled by a 1939 Whitcomb Diesel Engine.  What followed was
a fully-narrated 40-minute tour through many acres of agriculture, with splendid
views of orchards that grow more than fifty varieties of exotic fruit trees, including acerola cherries, cashew nuts, mangos, star anise and lychees.  We saw fields of pineapple, sugarcane, bananas, papayas and taro, plus native Hawaiian hardwood
trees, tropical flowers and beehives.  The train also stopped to let the intrepid
get off and feed the herds of wild pigs, goats and sheep, as the rest of us watched,
while also observing more-distant cattle, donkeys and Clydesdale horses.
After the train ride, we had an hour to spend touring Kilohana Manor House,
which has been painstakingly restored to its 1930's state, but basically is a
commercial venue for shops featuring "Kauai Made" jewelry and other products. 
Upon our return to the Zaandam, Maureen took the opportunity for a brief tour of
Nawiliwili prior to our scheduled departure at 6 p.m.  Later, at 7:45 p.m., we enjoyed
a formal Christmas Dinner together in the Rotterdam Dining Room. 

On Sunday, December 26 at 8 a.m., ms Zaandam docked at Honolulu on the island
of Oahu in pouring rain.   Later in the day conditions improved, as demonstrated by
my second photograph of the Aloha Tower taken in the afternoon. 
At 9 a.m. our bus set out on the 3 1/2 hour "Little Circle Hawaii" tour, which circles
the south-east section of Oahu.   We drove along Ala Moana Boulevard to the resort
area of Waikiki, then on to view the two dormant volcanoes of Diamond Head and
Koko Head.   At Diamond Head I photographed the memorial plaque to the first of Amelia Earhart's two unsuccessful 1937 attempts to circumnavigate the globe.
From Diamond Head we proceeded east to Hanauma Bay, a natural marine preserve,  and then drove north-eastward along the coast towards Makapuu Point, travelling up
a snake-lke road through a series of stratified cliffs of volcanic remains.  En route we viewed Sandy Beach, famous for body-surfing, and also stopped at the Halona Blow
Hole, where I failed to observe the advertised "spectacular eruption from a natural
saltwater geyser".

Finally we turned north-west, heading back towards Honolulu, passing through the homestead area of Waimanalo, and stopping at Nuuanu Pali Lookout for truly spectacular panoramic views of the Windward coast of Oahu.
Returning to the Zaandam at 12:30, I was ready for lunch and a rest; but Maureen set
out to spend the afternoon touring Honolulu, which she had ample time to do, since
the ship was not scheduled to sail until midnight.

On Monday, December 27 at 8 a.m., ms Zaandam anchored off the port of Lahaina
on the island of Maui.   At 8:45 a.m., we were taken ashore by tender and set out
by bus on a 4 1/2-hour tour entitled "Maui Tropical Plantation & Ocean Center". 

Our first stop was on the coast at Papawai Scenic Lookout, a sanctuary where
humpback whales come to breed.  A young male volunteer with a telescope
assisted me in spotting the whales; but they proved to be too far from shore for
my small camera to register the whale-spouts.
Next our bus proceeded to Maui Tropical Plantation, a 60-acre working plantation,
where we boarded a tram for a fully-narrated 40-minute tour.  This tour included
stopping to watch a coconut-husking demonstration in the course of the tram's route through sugarcane fields, macadamia nut orchards and meticulously labelled crops
of coffee, pineapple, papaya, mango, guava, bananas and more, plus an amazing
variety of flowers, including enormous poinsettias.
From Maui Tropical Plantation our bus transported us to the Maui Ocean Center,
the largest tropical aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, which is dedicated to
fostering understanding, wonder and respect for Hawaii's marine life through a
close-up view of live coral, sharks, rays and more, including Hawaii's beloved green
sea turtles.  All the animals displayed are collected exclusively from waters around
the Hawaiian Islands; and many, such as the green sea turtles, are part of hatch-
and-release programmes. 

In an effort to perpetuate the island's host culture, the Center's exhibits and tours
also showcase the language, myths and history of the Hawaiian Islands.  In this
context, it is noteworthy that, when a shark is brought into or released from the
aquarium, it is blessed by one of the Center's cultural advisors, for sharks are
considered na'aumakua (deified ancestors or personal gods) by old Hawaiians.

Finding it difficult to photograph in the crowded holiday conditions while inside the
various buildings, I restricted my photographs to the outdoor green turtle exhibit.

Returning to the Lahaina dock at 1:30 p.m. for transfer by tender to ms Zaandam
and lunch, I left Maureen behind to explore Lahaina and complete her Hawaiian gift-shopping prior to the ship's scheduled departure at 5 p.m.

December 28-31 were days spent at sea.   The only onboard activity I was involved
in that lay outside the routine already summarized was a champagne luncheon in
the Rotterdam Dining Room, which the Captain hosted for members of the Holland America Mariner Society (passengers who have previously cruised one or more
times with the line).

On Saturday, January 1, 2011, most passengers attended a morning presentation on disembarcation procedures given in the Mondriaian Lounge by the Cruise Director
Eric, who informed non-US citizens that US Customs and Immigration
representatives would board the ship at 6 a.m. the next day to process us. 
Considering this unusual, I checked at the desk, only to learn that we would be processed ashore much later in the morning.

Since vessels not registered in the country are required to dock in some foreign port before returning to a port in the U.SA., the Zaandam was obliged to fit in a stop at
Ensenada, Mexico.   Accordingly, I had booked an excursion entitled "Folklore of Mexico", which involved viewing an evening performance in the former hotel and
casino Riviera del Pacifico.  When 8:30 p.m. came along, however, having arisen
at 6 a.m., I decided that I was too tired to accompany Maureen ashore.  She later
told me that, although the performance was good, the weather being cold and the
building unheated, I would have needed to bundle up very warmly to enjoy it.

On Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 6 a.m., ms Zaandam docked in San Diego.   Both
of us disembarked for transfer by Holland America shuttle bus to the airport:
Maureen at 8:30 a.m. for transfer to Terminal 1 and myself at 9:30 a.m. for transfer
to Terminal 2.  During the latter process I almost lost my luggage, when the bus
driver unloaded my two bags at Terminal 1 and prepared to drive away, leaving
them on the sidewalk outside the terminal for anyone to snaffle.  It was only
through luck that I had moved from an inside to an outside bus-seat at that point
and thus chanced to spot those distinctive purple bags abandoned there.  Even
then, despite clearly visible signs to the contrary, the bus driver tried to argue
that Terminal 1 houses Air Canada's operations.

Check-in at the Air Canada desk in Terminal 2 proved easy, with no line-up
whatsoever.  Also the Customs officials were speedy.   I had quite a long wait before
Air Canada 778 boarded almost an hour late at 2:30 p.m.; but the pilot made up
some time en route.  We landed just before 10 p.m. EST; and, after clearing Customs
and Immigration plus considerable delay collecting my luggage at a carousel clogged
with the bags from several flights, I was transferred to Hamilton by Airways Transit, reaching Forest Glen at midnight.


Having sailed four times previously aboard ms Amsterdam, I measured this Circle
Hawaii cruise against those earlier experiences and found it markedly inferior.

As on previous voyages, the food on ms Zaandam was excellent, as was service by
cabin crew, dining stewards and other Holland America onboard employees with
whom I had contact.  The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the representatives ashore, who handled embarcation, disembarcation, assignment to tour buses and
transfer to and from San Diego airport.  Those persons seemed uniformly
disorganized, running the gamut from harrassed and obviously overburdened to
casual in the extreme.

My major cause for complaint, however, was not with the staff, whether onboard
or ashore, but with the condition of the ship.  Possibly as a result of the recession,
ms Zaandam appears to have been sailed continuously without necessary
refurbishment.  Hence the stained carpets in the public areas, the unrepaired grout
in our bathroom, and the general impression of grubbiness which struck me as soon
as I entered stateroom 3422.  This impression of grubbiness, as far as I could
determine, is more likely the result of wear than of actual uncleanliness.  Clearly,
however, the current physical condition of the Zaandam does nothing for the
reputation of Holland America as an up-scale cruise line and should be remedied
as soon as possible.