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Holland America Cruises – A behind the scenes look at a luxury cruise line

Is your tag line – “I love to cruise?”


Holland America Cruises! Most people love to cruise! There’s just something about being out on the deep blue sea on a luxury cruise ship sailing on the ocean. On a recent cruise on Holland America Cruises I had a chance to explore Canada and New England. The cruise line was initiating their new Orange Club with luxury amenities for members. Offering a separate boarding line on departure day, special seating in The Dining Room, an exclusive line at Guest Services, and tender boarding without tickets at various ports. You may ask why orange? Other than being a beautiful, festive color, it is the national color of The Netherlands. Holland America Cruises began in the Netherlands in 1873 and today is headquartered in Rotterdam.

Holland America

Passengers who are part of the Orange Club are able to take a behind the scenes tour. On my radio show Travel Bags With Annita I shared my conversations with three crew members from the Zaandam Ship as we sailed from Montreal Canada to Boston, Massachusetts, with stops in Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Halifax, Sydney and Bar Harbor.

There are so many fascinating excursion choices which makes selecting just one very difficult. And, on Canada to New England sailings, the options are filled with culture, history, architecture, and culinary delights.

Come along for a review of my sailing with Holland America on the Zaandam.

Click here to link to the radio show

Saturday, August 10 – Montreal



All aboard and ready to sail at 3 pm. Once we were on board the ship, the next step is loading the Holland America Line Navigator app on my telephone. You can browse all the onboard activities, book shore excursions, reserve dining, and spa treatments, and create your itinerary for each day. And, I was able to chat with fellow passengers.


Deciding what to do and where to go can require a little help from the very personable crew on board. I started with an overview of the Introduction to Zaandam provided by the Cruise and Travel Director held on The MainStage. It was the best way to understand the layout of the ship with dining and recreational spots pointed out in detail. Afterwards I headed to the Lido Deck on the 9th floor for lunch. The International Buffet offers a large selection for a delicious meal.  

Safety is the number one concern and focus when cruising. And, you can believe cruise lines take this part of your cruise very, very serious. Before leaving port, we participate in a Mandatory Passenger Emergency Muster Drill, where we find our emergency spot and life-boat specifically associate with my stateroom. And, there’s no playing around. The drill is like a roll-call, and if you’re not there, they are checking the area to find you. Everyone must participate, including children.

After a walk around the ship and finding the perfect spot for photos as we push back from the dock, we’re off and starting our journey with a Bon Voyage Sailaway at the Sea View Pool on 8, all with special drinks and appetizers. Anchors Aweigh!

Enjoy an evening of fine dining in The Dining Room, Pinnacle Grill, or Canaletto. If you would rather have a more casual evening for dinner, over to the Lido Market, Dive-In, or relax in your room with In-Room Dining. My first dinner on board was in The Dining Room, seated in the Club Orange area with personalized wine and dinner service.

IMG_4121 6A424BE1-2062-4959-880F-96A6896E6D1F

I finished the evening with my friends listening to music at the Piano Bar.

Tips for the day – Take a walk around the ship to familiarize yourself with where things are and find the elevators and stairs close to your stateroom.

Take a few moment to chat with your room stewards.  They will take care of you throughout the cruise.  It’s a great idea to get to know them and develop a connection from the start of the cruise.

Sunday, August 11 – Quebec

Holland America


We arrived in Quebec at 7 am, and after breakfast, in the Lido, I was off the ship and heading to my excursion. I chose the Walk Through Old Quebec and Wine Tasting for my tour. The cost is $69, and you have a chance to see many of the UNESCO sites and European charm of the first French city in North America. One of my favorite places in Quebec is the Chateau Frontenac. It looks like a castle and sits high above the St. Lawrence River, and it is the perfect iconic photo from your trip. Locate in Upper Old Town; you can stroll along the boardwalk of Dufferin Terrace and take in a full view of St. Lawrence River, Ile d’Orleans, and the Laurentian Mountains. For a super fun experience, take the funicular ride from Lower Old Town to Upper Old Town. It’s a short ride but offers a full punch of excitement and views.


Holland America
View from the funicular ride from Lower Old Town to Upper Old Town.

In the Lower Town, you’ll see the Place Royale, which is surrounded by former homes of wealthy residents and business owners. The square is also home to Notre-Dame des Victoires, North America’s oldest standing Catholic Church. Make sure a take a look inside and spend time taking in the activity and scenery around the square. You can imagine life hundreds of years ago. For a super fun photo, take a walk along the narrow cobblestone streets reserved for pedestrians only, and you’ll find a street lined with colorful umbrellas hanging from the historic buildings. It’s an Instagram moment.

Along the narrow cobblestone streets, you will find an array of quaint boutiques, specialty shops, and outdoor cafés.

Holland America

At the end of our tour, we stopped at one of Québec’s historic buildings, which houses the restaurant, Cotes-a-Cotes; here, we sampled a variety of wines from the Province of Québec. A few snacks top-off our wine tasting in this historic building, which was once the home of a rich landowner on the island of Orleans. It was also the very first inn of Palace Royale in 1698. Now a restaurant offering delicious cuisine and a great place to people watch and it’s near the ship port. And, a special note, the wine is delicious, so you’ll want to purchase a bottle. Holland America allows you to buy one bottle of wine per person on tour, and it’s exempt from the onboard corkage fee.

Holland America

We sail away at 5 pm with opportunities to celebrate Mass, enjoy a spa treatment, or enjoy a wine and cheese Sail Away. I watched for a while as my fellow passengers tried their hand at Blackjack and Roulette before enjoying comedian Mike Siegel on The MainStage.

I enjoyed fine dining in the Pinnacle Grill, with a delicious offering of choices in both meals and wine. After dinner, I’m back to the Piano Bar for easy listening with pianist Jeff.

Tips for the day – As we were pulling out from port, whales were reported in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, but when leaving port, the upper deck is a great spot where you can see everything, and maybe some of the local sea life will be visible for an exciting departure.

Our tour involved several hours of walking. Wear comfortable shoes with good support.  You will be walking on beautiful, old cobblestone streets, which does mean uneven surfaces.  Bring along a trekking pole if you have balance issues.

A crossbody bag helps keep your hands free for photos. Pack a few dollars inside to purchase water or souvenirs.

Monday, August 12 – A Day At Sea

Holland America

A Day at sea is the perfect time to enjoy all the activities onboard the ship. You may think it’s a great time to sleep in and enjoy your stateroom, and indeed that’s true. However, I love to start the At Sea Days with morning activities. Holland America partners with O the Oprah Magazine, and one of their programs is the Just Breathe Meditation. I started my day with a guided session of meditation and positive energy. The early morning stretches get the blood flowing, and you’re ready to explore the behind-the-scenes activities around the ship.

Take a look at the photos. You’ll see pictures speak louder than words.

You can’t go behind the scenes on a cruise ship without taking a little time to sit down with Captain Norman. I did just that along with the cruise director, Jude, and hotel director, Bart.

Holland America
Captain Norman

Jude shared that her favorite thing about Holland America is the art onboard the ship. We also asked her to share some of the funniest things passengers ask. Here’s what she had to say.

“Do you all stay on the ship?”
“Do they take you off and bring you back on?”
“Do you get off now?”
“Where is the elevator from the front to the back?”

This Day At Sea has you cruising along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and one of the sights is a lighthouse on little St. Paul’s Island. It is a reminder of days-gone-by. We sailed through the Cabot Strait and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The gulf is vast. It is the world’s largest estuary and is fed from the Great Lakes over 750 miles away. Ten of Canada’s provinces connect along this scenic coast.

Tips for the day – Days at sea are a great time to enjoy all the amenities onboard the ship.  Plan your activities just as you would a day in port.  Include time for relaxing and enjoying the pool or sitting on your verandah.

Explore the ship and check out the EXC (Shore Excursion Desk).  Spend time in the Crow’s Nest, top of the ship. It’s the perfect place to take in the view, sip your favorite beverage, bring along your travel buddy and try your hand at a board game or relax, and read a book.

Tuesday – August 13 – Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Holland America

Arriving at 9 am was great on this day. After a full day at sea and touring the ship, I was ready to get out and explore a destination I have always dreamed of visiting. Prince Edward Island and the book I read, Anne of Green Gables has held a particular interest to me. Reading the book as a young girl, I was interested in knowing more about this young girl who lived in a magical place with rolling green hills and a beautiful seashore. My excursion for this port was straightforward – The Best of Prince Edward Island with a chance to explore all the Prince Edward Island’s most popular attractions and drive through Charlottetown, the birthplace of the Confederation. We started with a stop to take a look at the Confederation Bridge – the longest bridge in the world which crosses ice-covered waters and spans the Northumberland Strait connecting Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Holland America


Holland America

At the Anne of Green Gables Museum located at Silver Bush, descendants of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, welcomed us to the museum. After an overview of Lucy’s life on the island, we had a chance to walk about the museum, followed by a light lunch. On our way back to the ship, we stopped to look around Cavendish Beach and the red sandstone cliffs. A lovely way to end the day exploring Prince Edward Island.

Holland America

Back on the ship for a departure at 6:30, we’re off to the next destination, but first, there is dinner in The Dining Room followed by the Orange Party exclusively for members of Club Orange. In our orange outfits, we danced into the evening, celebrating the new program. 

A note from the Holland America website regarding this tour:

“The houses are not accessible to wheelchairs and may present difficulties for guests with mobility limitations. Paths are grass and gravel. Up to two wheelchairs can be accommodated in the coach’s cargo area.”

Wednesday – August 14 – Sydney, Nova Scotia

Holland America

We arrived in Sydney at 8 am, the largest city on Cape Breton Island. The city has historic homes and churches which date back to the 1700’s and 1800’s. I choose to take a motor-coach tour around the city. When in Sydney, there are several opportunities for exciting excursions. Choose from a boat ride on the Bras d’Or Lake with its wild hills, take a tour to the Cape Breton mines, or visit the home of Alexander Graham Bell at the National site or for more exercise, hike in the scenic areas around the city.  

An option for anyone staying on board on this day is the EXC Talk (Excursion talk). Cruise and Travel Director Jude gave a presentation on the history of the Halifax explosion. It was also a great day to participate in the On Deck For A Cause and join the 5k Walk to support worldwide cancer research.

We departed Sydney at 4 pm heading on to Halifax. The highlight of the day was dinner at Rudi’s Sel de Mer with local fresh seafood, and yes, that means lobster. Master Chef Rudi Sodamin creates the menu selections. After a delicious dinner, we finished with an evening of laughter with comedian Mike Robinson.

Holland America

Holland America

Even the plates are artistic. Below are three examples of their unique designs featuring seafood.  IMG_5185 IMG_5187 IMG_5186

Thursday – August 15 – Halifax, Nova Scotia

Holland America

Arriving in Halifax at 8 am, there was enough time to grab a little breakfast and hop onboard the tour bus to explore a city filled with historical events. Day six of our cruise, I was ready to dig into the histories of Halifax and learn more about why its maritime geography defines it. There is a vibrant mix of history and contemporary art. With nautical-themed museums and fortresses holding space with quaint little shops and eye-catching public art.

It was a toss-up for me with what I would do in a city with so much history. Would I check out UNESCO World Heritage Sites, go on a culinary tour or visit Peggy’s Cove with its striking rock formations and fishing cottages along the shore. I chose the tour with Peggy’s Cove and the Fairview Lawn Cemetery – the final resting place of 121 passengers of the Titanic.

Holland America

Holland America

The road to Peggy’s Cove, is filled with picturesque scenery of green spaces, shorelines, and lovely homes. It has been the inspiration of artists and photographers for years. Spend a few minutes admiring the famous stone monument carved by artisan William De Garthe and the many small inlets with fishing boats resting before heading out to sea again. There are many shops and galleries for souvenir shopping.

Holland America

Visiting Peggy’s Cove is one of the highlights of the cruise. The shoreline is spectacular, and although one is very tempted to walk out onto the rocks, this is not a safe thing to do. One could slip, or a rogue wave could come ashore. It is best to say on the designated paths. The area does have gravel areas, steps, and inclines.

Holland America

The weather can be foggy and cloudy, and you may feel that it is not so good for photos. Yet, the fog does add a unique mood to the area and very creative images.

When we returned to Halifax, we stopped at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery to an area for the final resting place of many from the Titanic. Our guide shared how many of the graves have only numbers and no names. She shared her personal story of her family and the ill-fated ship. Her grandfather was planning to take the boat to America but was late for the departure and missed the boat. We were curious to learn more about Jack and Rose, the characters featured in the movie Titanic. Our guide shared the story of J. Dawson, recovered from the icy Atlantic Ocean waters near Halifax, and inspiring the love story in the movie.

Tips for the day – A visit to Peggy’s Cove means walking on uneven surfaces.  Bring along your trekking pole to steady your steps.

Wear shoes with rubber soles made for gripping slipper surfaces. If there is rain or heavy mist in the air, the rocks can be slippery.

Bring along a lightweight rain jacket in case the weather become misty and rainy.

Friday – August 16 – Bar Harbor, Maine

Holland America

When you think of the quintessential New England coastal town, no other city fits the bill like Bar Harbor. The town filled offers many excursions options with colorful and charming people and buildings. When you walk along the streets, the buzz of both tourists and locals fills the air. Curve our hunger with a lobster lunch or dinner at one of many restaurants offering a meal fresh from the sea. Boutiques along the coastline offer gifts and souvenirs reflecting all the things that make the area special. 

Take an excursion to Acadia National Park, where you can see for miles and miles from Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States. And, here’s a bit of trivia – it’s the first place in the country to see the sunrise.

Holland America

Holland America

Holland America

Bar Harbor is the place to slow down, take it easy, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. 

Tips for the day – Definitely sign-up for the lobster lunch which is part of the Acadia National Park tour.

Bring along your binoculars to fully appreciate the spectacular views from the Acadia National Park tour.

Saturday – August 17 – Boston, Massachusetts

This historic city is the largest in New England and is home to many American historical events. A stroll around New England’s largest city, and you’ll find many sights in both old and new neighborhoods, stores, and restaurants with old-time character and lush green spaces along a beautiful waterfront. Boston has a long list of legendary iconic figures of the American Revolution, and they come alive along Boston’s Freedom Trail, including the Paul Revere House and Old South Meeting House. While there, check out the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the town of Quincy, the birthplace of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

About the ship –

The Zaandam Ship is designed around music and features musical instruments around the ship, including signed guitars from Queen, Iggy Pop, Eric Clapton and the Rollings Stones.  There is also a Baroque-style pipe organ too.  I loved the smaller number of passengers sailing on the Zaandam.  The 781 foot ship accommodates 1432 guests – the perfect size ship to spread out, yet cozy enough to find your way around, explore little hide-away spots and meet fellow passengers.

Holland America has itineraries spanning the globe. Find one that matches your dreams and lifestyle, and next, you’ll say, “my tagline is I love to cruise!”  Now is your time.  Visit their website and start planning your voyage.

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