Zuiderdam to get a New Look

This Holland America favorite prepares to enter dry-dock in May for its final "Signatures of Excellence" upgrades and a new look and feel.

When Holland America's Zuiderdam debuted in 2002, cruise enthusiasts knew something had changed at Holland America. The ship was purpose-built for Caribbean cruising - a region where Holland America had almost no history.

At the time, most Holland America ships rarely touched the resort isles, concentrating instead on Alaska, Europe, the South Pacific, world cruises and other more exotic destinations. But the line had to bring some ships to the Caribbean every winter - they couldn't stay in Alaska. So Zuiderdam was built for year-round Caribbean cruising in the hope that people would start to identify Holland America with the region.

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Atrium Seahorse   Piano Bar   Blue Room with Fancy Tables
Casino   Atrium Crystal   Sports Bar

In fact, Holland America has always had some of the best Caribbean itineraries - often at great prices, because they go ten days to get you to the deepest Caribbean while still leaving out of Florida. The line's 10-day deep Caribbean cruises from Ft Lauderdale get you to Aruba, Venezuela, Curacao, Costa Rica, Panana and back in 10 days. Their oversized staterooms and service make them an incredible value for the price.)

But Holland America needed a full-time ship in the Caribbean, so was Zuiderdam conceived. When the ship was introduced, it was designed was inspired by hope for a younger audience; the same people who regularly book 7-day caribbean cruises on the contemporary ships who might be looking for a step up in quality without emptying their wallet.

Holland America allowed their regular designer, Frans Dingemans, free rein in making Zuiderdam a ship likely to appeal to a younger audience than Holland America is traditionally known for. He apparently chose to take his cues from the most famous ship designer, Carnival's Joe Farcus, (HAL is part of the Carnival Corp. family). A few special rooms on the ship, notably the disco looked nothing like what Holland America guests were used to. Some wondered if the normally conservative and safe Holland America had flipped its lid.

The design for the majority of the ship was vivid bright colors throughout -- even neon. There were turquoise and bright yellow leather sofas in adjoining rooms. A red and purple carpet on Promenade Deck led into a cherry red hallway outside your cabin. or you could take the fire engine red elevator trimmed in brass.

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Lido Buffet Area   Lido Pool Area

Zuiderdam had Holland America's first dedicated disco -and it was ugly by HAL standards. I watched many folks on the inaugural voyage walk out of it just shaking their heads, as if they were not sure exactly what they had just seen.

Décor aside, the ship had many of the best elements Holland America has built into its fleet. The ship is Vista class -- newer and bigger than most of the others in HAL's fleet. It has the most extensive children's facilities in the fleet, and also some of the best sports equipment.

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Oddessy Bar   Red Hallways

Starting in March 2008, the ship added "Anytime Dining," which allows you to eat whenever you want during restaurant hours, and with anyone you please. And in May 2008, the ship will receive the last of its "Signature of Excellence" refinements.

"Signature of Excellence," announced in 2004, is a program of enhancements designed to bring all the Holland America ships up to the next level in comfort, cuisine and service. What was initially announced as a $250 million program to upgrade the fleet by 2008 would eventually cost closer to $450 million.

But what makes these latest enhancements special is that they are only being done to the four Vista class ships (Noordam and Westerdam are already completed, while Oosterdam is set for dry-dock in May 2009).

Vista-class Signature Enhancements The planned upgrades to Zuiderdam are similar to those accomplished on the Westerdam: Some 34 staterooms will be added, a new nightspot called the Pinnacle Bar adjacent to the Crow's Nest and separate from the Pinnacle Grill, will come alive, and an array of new shops will be nestled together in a cozy arcade. On new shop will be the Merabella, first introduced on the MS Amsterdam.

The Explorations Café in the Crow's Nest (and powered by The New York Times) is a comfortable coffee-house environment where you can browse an extensive library, surf the Internet and check email or simply read the morning paper.

The Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine Magazine, is a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen offering interactive gourmet cooking lessons taught by the ship's own Master Chef. Special culinary cruises will feature guest chefs.

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Future Culinary Arts Center   Spa Pool Area

Improved standard stateroom amenities will include flat-panel TV sets in every cabin, make-up mirrors, a stainless-steel ice bucket and tray, high-thread-count linens, large fluffy cotton towels, deluxe bathrobes and plush Euro-top Mariner's Dream Beds.

Every cruise will feature guest lecturers as part of a fleet-wide expansion of the Exploration Speaker series. These lecturers will do more than speak: They are charged with making the cruise an immersion into the region the ship visits, and will coordinate the onboard experience with the local area. They will lead special Medallion and Collection shore excursions, and advise the chef on local delicacies.

Other dining enhancements include new wine packages, so guests can select their vintages at the beginning of the cruise and have the wine delivered each night at dinner, no matter where they may choose to dine. In addition to the anytime "As You Wish" dining, all the restaurants will receive exclusive flatware, china and stemware. The special restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, will receive a new, expanded menu.

Zuiderdam has plenty of eclectic art, and soon there will be an iPod recorded, self-guided tour so guests can learn about each piece.

The guest capacity of Zuiderdam will also increase with the addition of 34 verandah and inside cabins on the aft Upper Verandah, Rotterdam and Navigation decks. The new staterooms, complete with signature amenities such as flat-panel TVs and plush Euro-top Mariner's Dream Beds, give Zuiderdam a guest capacity of 1,916.

Itineraries - Europe and Panama Canal Although Zuiderdam was built for Caribbean cruising, these enhancements make her the ideal choice for longer, more adventurous cruises. After her dry-dock she will head to the Mediterranean for a series of 12-day cruises roundtrip from Venice with stops in Croatia, Athens, Istanbul, Mykonos, Ephesus, Santorini and Katakolon.

The 12-day Mediterranean Romance voyage leaves from Venice to Croatia, Corfu, Santorini, Catania, Naples, Rome, Florence and Barcelona.

The 24-day Classical Worlds cruise is a combination of the two above cruises. These European cruises feature a port almost every day. The goal is to see Europe in comfort and with convenience, and smaller capacity, state-of-the-art Holland America ships like Zuiderdam are an excellent choice. At a per diem rate starting at about $150 per person, they are a great value as well.

Next fall the ship returns to North America, but instead of routine Caribbean cruises, the itineraries will offer 10-day visits to the Panama Canal with stops in Aruba, Curacao, Panama and Costa Rica.

Summing Up Holland America has always had the signature of excellence as far as I am concerned, but with these scheduled enhancements, Zuiderdam will be a very special ship, especially for the Holland America fleet. It has the liveliest décor of any ship in the fleet, and it will have all the onboard lecture series, stateroom upgrades, dining enhancements and new children's programs that will make it one of the best ships in the region.

Even if you are used to a livelier atmosphere like Carnival or Royal Caribbean, you can think of Zuiderdam as the "crossover" ship to bring you to a more sophisticated level of cruising. And if Holland America is already your cup of tea, then Zuiderdam is the lemon zest.

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