Year Started: 1873
Ships in Fleet: 15
Summary: A high quality upper mainstream cruise line with smaller ships and value prices. A cruise line for people who want to step up from mainstream at great value prices.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Transpacific, West Coast, Erope
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Eastern Seaboard, South America
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Value for Money. Teens. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Africa, Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Scandinavia, The Orient
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Eastern Seaboard, Hawaii, Mexico, South America
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, The Orient, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Central America, Hawaii, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Foodies.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Central America, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
My wife and I were on our 16th cruise sailing from Ft. Lauderdale on Thanksgiving Day for 10 days visiting St. Lucia, Tortola, Barbados, St Kitts, Martinique and Half Moon Cay. This was our second trip on Holland America and we are both 45 years old. This review will be detailed for those that want specific information.
We stayed at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa prior to the cruise. They have a restaurant called 3030 which is one of the top places to eat in Ft. Lauderdale. We had a fantastic meal at 3030 which was one of the highlights of the trip. My wife also used the Marriott spa for her seaweed wrap. The cost is cheaper than you will pay on the Noordam and includes a message jet bath which the ship doesn't. I set this up in advance and my wife loved it. The Marriott has a private beach and a tropical pool which were both excellent. A great start to a vacation.
Ports We really enjoyed all the ports and particularly enjoyed the "Boat Yard" beach in Barbados and Cane Garden in Tortola. The Boat Yardis $4 per person by cab and provides a free ride back to the ship. Entrance cost is $15 per person and includes chairs, umbrella, choice of free drink and unlimited use of non motorized beach items. In Tortola we got off the boat and found a 30 person taxi waiting. He was charging $6 per person for Cane Garden Bay Beach. We spent 5 ½ hours at Cane Garden and found plenty of taxis for the return trip ($6) back to the ship. Chairs are $5 per person and several friendly vendors will set you up right on the beach (umbrellas were $10). The beach has plenty of shade if you don't want to pay for an umbrella. We had lunch at Sharkys on the beach which had a great lobster salad and cold beer.
Embarkation We arrived at the pier about 1:30 pm at the same time as a few buses from the airport. We found a line out the front door and thought we were in for a long wait. This was because the metal detector and x-ray machine are at the entrance which actually worked better. The line moved fairly quickly and the only snag was with the medical questionnaire. The lady who handled it was rude, didn't give instructions until you were at the point where you needed to have it filled out and just a pain in general. Not a big deal and we quickly filled it out while in line before getting to the check-in counter. Note: even when filling out everything on line "before" hand, you still have to have the immigration form in your cruise documents signed. They then write completed on a line across the top. The whole check in took about 30 minutes and because it was after 1pm we were able to go directly to our cabin and drop off carry on bags.
Crew I will say that we have seen several different types of crew members over the years. We have had crew members who do what is required only and those who go above and beyond especially with automatic tipping. The Noordam Cabin Stewards, Waiters, Assistant Waiters, pool and cleaning staff are all from Indonesia. Your bar staff is from the Philippines and your officers are mostly Dutch. All crew members are highly trained and it shows. We never heard the word "NO" and heard "Yes" to all requests. I had very high praises on the comment card and to some supervision about this very hard working crew. They smile all the time and will accommodate special request with a smile. Just ask if you want something and give them a little notice in the dining room and it's done. Service really makes HAL and out of 1900 passengers on board, 1300 were repeat customers. Many people have had comments about extra tipping, the extra cash given to an employee stays with that employee. The automatic tipping is pooled and distributed based on a formula. I was told that as long as you left the "service charge" as they call it alone, the crew kept the extra cash given.
Cabin We booked a "guarantee" inside and were upgraded to a large inside. The cabin had 3 separate closets, tie holder mounted to the door, shoe shine basket (for free shoe shine) a safe, plus plenty of space, once you placed the life jackets under the bed. Note there are two drawers under the end of the bed that pull out. You can easily place suitcases and life jackets under the bed to allow for more cabin space. The cabin has a hidden dirty laundry hamper located in the chair under the vanity/desk. You pull the seat top off the chair and place dirty laundry in it. It seals up and the chair slides right back under the vanity/desk. You also have a full mini bar located to the right of the vanity with the same pricing as the other ship bars. On the left of the vanity/desk a hidden compartment has a hair dryer and extra glasses for wine or champagne (a bottle opener and cork screw are provided with your ice bucket). The hair dry only plugs into the vanity and can't be used in the bathroom. Two HAL robes are provided and are a nice touch and so are the full size bath towels. HAL uses Elemis spa shampoo, body wash, conditioner, lotion and soap (replaced daily). They don't use those stupid wall mounted soap and shampoo dispensers. Beds were fantastic and the room was keep spotless.
Pool and Deck Space Plenty of deck chairs padded and non-padded. Chairs were always available at both pools and plenty of chairs were available in the shade. No signing out towels with a limit (like RCI -- so stupid) you just help yourself. This includes towels when going ashore which are not signed out with a threat of being charged if you don't return them. Other lines need to take note here, we are adults and don't need to sign out a towel. HAL gets points for having towel stations all over the ship. You don't have to go down to the pool to get towels from the upper decks (like RCI). They also have towels at the hot tubs and on the Promenade deck #5. The pool and decks are clean and trash is removed quickly to avoid stuff blowing all over (NCL is famous for this one). I was very pleased with the efficient deck staff and their willingness to get water or tea for seniors.
General Areas Spotless and public bathrooms have cloth hand towels which keep the restrooms clean. No paper towels anywhere and plenty of hand sanitizers. Bars and common areas have comfortable seating, the recliners are located in the observation lounge, great leather seating in Library/Coffee bar. In the stairwells between decks is some very nice art work of the different HAL ships through the years. Outside the shops on deck #3 is a touch screen interactive map showing ship location and other information about the ship.
Food This one is subjective but this is my opinion. The Noordam Lido has the same concept as you see on Costa and Carnival with the newer ships. The use of food stations which include a sandwich bar, pasta and pizza, salad, dessert and ice cream, Asian and sushi station and a hot food station. They have the stations located on both sides of the ship when in full service. They also have a taco, fajita, hamburger and hot dog station by the pool. What is different here is the execution. You are served most of your food and several things are cooked at the food station limiting people handling items and keeping food fresh. All plates are served covered to keep food hot until you return to your table. In the mornings most stations cook eggs, make toast and have basics along with the specialty items. This keeps lines down because you have multiple egg stations going at the same time. They have three special breakfast items daily plus all the basics. They have a great waffle station and an eggs benedict station which had some nice combinations. During the day, tea and water are served table side so you don't have to get up for a refill. Juices are available from 6am to 6pm at the ice cream station (just ask the attendant). Free fresh squeezed orange juice is available in the morning which is not the case on most lines. I found limited lines and the Lido staff assists with carrying trays and keep lines moving. This concept is less of a buffet and I found the food quality to be very good. Plus not as much food sits out and people handling items is kept to a minimum.
The dining room food was on a 20 day menu cycle which gives better variety on longer trips. The lobster was excellent because we asked in advance for it to be steamed, not broiled. The prime rib and all steaks were very good. The Coho salmon was good and the Noordam uses large shrimp, not the mini shrimp used by other lines. All the deserts were lighter (less sugar) than I have seen on other ships. The sugar free items were pretty good and the ice cream selection was nice. Fresh fruits were top notch! We did assigned second seating and had a table for two (plenty of them) and had fantastic service. I didn't notice any major waits for the "as you wish dining" but didn't use it. We also skipped the specialty restaurant Pinnacle Grill which I never saw even close to full. Overall food was very good.
Spa/Gym/Pools The gym was very nice, good sized with most of the standard equipment, classes and a great view. A nice touch is the cold towels available in the refrigerator after your work out. The Spa is very nice and the girls are very friendly. We only used the hydro pool and the relaxation room (a hidden gem with a great view and chairs that will make you fall asleep). The sauna and locker rooms are complementary and so is the gym. The hydro pool can be purchased with packages or just used at a rate of $20 a day. That includes use of the robes, slippers, showers and changing area. We chose the day pass and it was nice, but, I would not get the whole week. Pools are not sea water and the main pool (top) was closed and opened according to weather conditions. The whirlpool closest to the spa has foot jets and seats that fit the body.
Entertainment The Vegas acts were very good and vary from cruise to cruise. We had a comedian, classical pianist who did magic and a juggler. The dancers had nice sets and a great theater and several production shows. Two male dancers destroyed some classic songs and several of the female dancers were a bit chunky (which was something I had seen in other reviews and made me laugh). Overall it was fine and we went to most shows. The crew also has a show which is popular.
Overall this is a great ship and I found numerous people under 40 who were trying cruising for the first time. It is true that most of the ship is over the age of 55, but I found the older group to be fun, interesting and respectful. So this ship is a winner for all ages.
Of twenty-two cruises, this was my fourth on the Maasdam, and I must say the 'old girl' looks just fine. Embarkation in Ft. Lauderale was a breeze, and although the Lido lunch was crowded as expected, it wasn't long before the cabins were ready -- mine no. 753 on A deck, outside, midships.
The cabin was spotless, and continued to be so throughout the cruise thanks to my wonderful and caring steward. Once, he became concerned about my accidentally injuring myself on St. Martin -- I take blood thinners -- and he took it upon himself to bring me Bandaids, etc. He was really a jewel.
The shower had its problems -- low pressure and a strange black residue erupting into the toilet and out of the floor drain after showering. My steward cleaned it up immediately. I chose, however, to shower in the men's locker room; great shower, lots of water. But that was my choice.
No odor from the residue was apparent.
Dining was just wonderful. I was placed at a large table, and the folks there were absolutely delightful; and the food was excellent. I love both lamb and seafoodespecially, and our great waiter knew in advance to bring me double lamb chops and double fish -- on one plate, not two. The wine stewardess was both helpful and personable. They both, along with the asst. waiter, made dinner time a treat. The chef's special dinner was a thing to behold! So much better than the old Dutch hat and cap routine.
The 'Hal Cat' band was only so-so, but it got better when a sound tech came onboard and adjusted things. But, then again, they provide deck entertainment; they are not there to put on a show.
I can't speak for the evening shows in the main lounge as I am an early-to-bed guy.
As for the ports of call, I've been to all of them several times, so there was less pressure to buy into lots of tours. The rum tour on St. Lucia was a hoot -- factory and then tasting. The tasting amounted to about 20 bottles -- open -- and they left you alone for about 45 minutes. Well, that bunch of staid folks turned into a party. We sang and laughed all the way back to the dock.
Only problems were on Dominica and Guadeloupe. On Dominica, I did not take a tour, having been on two before. The harrassment by locals on the pier was so intense, I just returned to the ship. On Guadeloupe, it was worse. A couple were mugged at gunpoint and others were followed and threatened by thugs. HAL is not sailing to Guadeloupe again because of this; guests were warned by authorities not to go beyond the barricades, which enclosed a few kiosks and a duty free shop. All of this said, it is a part of visiting different ports; just know where to go and where not to.
Other ports were wonderful, especially Tortola and fabulous Cane Garden Bay Beach!
Otherwise, a nice ship, friendly folks, great food, superb service and personal care make for, to me, what is a wonderful cruise. I'm on the Maasdam again in May for a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Montreal. That ship is becoming my home away from home.
About Us Jim (66) and I (61) have taken 24 cruises, mostly on HAL. We cruise with HAL largely because of the excellent service, but also to enjoy their generously appointed cabins. We love lazy sea days and usually sleep late and close the casino at night.
Overview This was our tenth cruise on our favorite ship; our first 10-day and our first Panama Canal. We hadn't been on a cruise since March, and this one was well-deserved. As the ship itself is our destination, we won't have any comments about shore excursions.
Service Service, as always, was exemplary. Captain van den Berg found us the calmest waters and even docked ahead of schedule a time or two.
Hotel Manager Mark Pells runs a fine hotel, and all services ran smoothly. Mr. Pells graciously attended our Meet 'n' Greet, which was held in a private section on the port side of the Crow's Nest. It was originally set up with a table for cookies and coffee, but Beverage Manager Mr. Daniela pulled it all out and they served champagne, Mimosas, Bloody Marys and juice, and walked around with trays of pastries, all courtesyof Mr. Pells. He filled us in on the itinerary and answered a few questions, then introduced the Panama Tour Guide Richard Ditrich, and Cruise Director Jesse. He is probably the most accessible Hotel Manager we've ever met, and it is clear that he is well respected by his dedicated and professional crew.
Most notable staff/crew:Captain Dirk van den Berg Hotel Manager Mark Pells Cruise Director Jesse "Yessie" Higley Concierges Kate and Bong DR Manager Mr. Sanjay Nariani DR Supervisor Arpad Plavecz DR Supervisor Mr. Leo
We found a few nice surprises! The physical changes to the ship are beautiful. At first I balked at the demise of our beautiful Oak Room, but once I experienced the Explorations Cafe, it grew on me. This combination library/internet center/coffee bar is beautifully designed to flow easily into what's left of the Crow's Nest. Every time I visited, it seemed to be better utilized than the old locations were. There is a sliding wooden panel which is pulled close to separate it from the Crow's Nest when in use for private functions. The old Internet Center is now a screening room; the old library is now Mirebella, an upscale gem boutique; the Windstar Cafe is now the new Pinnacle Lounge, a beautiful bar and comfortable seating area attended by the amiable Mark the Shark.
Embarkation I think HAL has the very best embarkation procedure of all. There are very short waits for check-in, and we were aboard in about 15 minutes.
Cabin We were upgraded from SS8099 to SA7061, a Deluxe Suite directly across from the Concierges in the Neptune Lounge. This is the best location we have ever had, and we did not hear any noise from the Lounge entrance at all. This suite was outstanding! Huge (510 total square feet), comfortable room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs. Plenty for two. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. A generous variety of Elemis products was provided, and refilled daily as needed. There was also an umbrella, laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and 2 fluffy cotton robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table with 3 drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror (1X/5X), 3 closets with mirrored doors and a safe (3 more closets are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with flat screen TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player, binoculars, data port, 2 telephones with voice mail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger. Our cabin steward Muc served us well, working around our odd sleeping habits and provided plenty of ice and towels on request.
We found the usual bottle of champagne from Captain van den Berg and Hotel Manager Mark Pells, a packet from the Concierges with a list of the services they provide, our custom-printed letterhead, post cards & pen. We have stayed in this Cat suite many times, so were not surprised by the clean, well-kept and recently upgraded condition. The only change since our last cruise was the flat screen TV. Everything else seemed 'like home.'
Dining As You Wish Dining is here to stay. Although there is overwhelming support for Traditional (fixed) seating, HAL is holding on tightly to this more flexible dining plan. AYWD allows you to appear at the Vista Dining Room at any time and be seated either alone or with other passengers. I personally do not care to repeat the same cruise talk with new tablemates every night. I like having my iced tea or pretend wine waiting for me when I'm seated, refills without asking, or having my plate removed without waiting for everyone else to finish the course.
On the first night, when there is only one Showroom show, seating in AYWD is difficult to coordinate, so the wait may be longer than other nights. After that, the wait should be no more than a few minutes.
Don't misunderstand -- we had excellent service by all dining room attendants, but, except for the Supervisors, they were different every night. If you 'click' with a waiter at the beginning, you can make a standing reservation at his table for a certain time every night. We tried to ask for Hunky Dory's table, but he was so popular he was completely booked.
Ship's Facilities I have reviewed this ship many times before, so I will not write about everything.
Internet Café: I have no idea how I managed to use up 100 minutes of internet in 3 days. I frequently have many windows open, and even though I logged out of one, the others may have stayed connected. What I need is a (complimentary) unlimited plan.
Staff The Officers, Staff and Crew on this ship offer the highest level of service we have ever seen. They are professional, yet personable, and easily accessible.
Excursions This is my stock advice. I print it with every review. If you haven't already booked online, when you arrive at your cabin you will find a Shore Excursions brochure listing the various activities available shoreside. You may fill out the order form at your leisure and deposit it in the Express Drop Box at the Shore Excursions Desk. Please keep in mind that the most popular trips sell out very fast. If you are traveling with friends and want to go together, put all the tickets on one room card. One time we ordered separately and one couple got the tickets and one couple didn't.
Other Stuff Paul Tanner's show was SRO, and we were lucky to be able to stand up against the wall in the balcony. What a great singer!
At the Mariners' Award Ceremony we received our copper medallions. There were also some silvers and a platinum award. Cocktails and elaborate hors d'oeuvres were served, after which we proceeded to the Vista Dining Room for a lovely luncheon. There are so many Mariners now that the luncheon is divided into two separate seatings on different days.
The Panama Canal The Hotel Manager opened the bow and served Panama Rolls (yum) and offered Mimosas, Champagne and juices. Even though it was drizzling, we enjoyed Richard's history lesson over the PA while we entered the locks. Instead of Colon, we stopped on the dock at Cristobal, which seemed to go on forever. There were many booths with local handicrafts and a great band playing American hits in the local steel drum fashion. The half-naked native Panamanians kind of surprised me, but I guess it's part of the culture.
Thanksgiving Day was by far our BEST sea day ever! We spent a lazy morning getting ready for the sumptuous feast in the Pinnacle hosted by Hotel Manager Mark Pells. He served a lovely Champagne Luncheon with a special dessert -- ice cream in a crunchy shell, fresh strawberries and blueberries topped with strawberry sauce. Devine!
Our friends wanted to have dinner in the Lido, which was not nearly as special as the dining room. The food was the same as in the dining room, but although the service was faster, it was too casual for me. I missed the linen tablecloths, and the room just didn't 'feel' special. I spent the next hour tracking down my favorites to give them their 'above and beyond' tips, and take the last few photos of my vacation family.
Debarkation We had Pink/1 tags, and should have been first off after the wheelchair pax, but at 8:15 we went down to get in line. There were hundreds of people there, but the elevator left us at the head of the line, so we stayed there.
Someone came through and asked everybody ELSE to step aside so they could proceed, and it looked like the Red Sea parting. I think we got off at about 9:00 and found a porter right away who went all the way to the far corner to find our bags, and had us through Customs in about 5 minutes.
Once outside, they told us about the taxi strike, and a very aggressive East Indian van driver offered us a ride for $11 each, so we jumped in. At the airport, he left our bags at the curb, but not at the end of the curbside checkin line that already had 50+ people in it. We got another porter to take the bags inside, and the line there was even longer. I told him my flight was at 10:05, so he took the luggage to the head of the line for luggage tags and found the biggest one was 4 pounds overweight, so he had to charge me for that, and another charge for the 5th bag. I gave him $35 and he sent them through.
He then took us to the front of the Security line (jumping about 100 people) and we had to run to the gate. I paid for priority boarding, so we got right on the half-boarded plane, picked very good seats (first come, first served on Southwest) and departed on time. Whew! If it hadn't been for this wonderful porter, we never would have made that flight.
After we got to Jacksonville, we were so tired we checked back into the hotel and slept for 3 hours. Once on the road, the construction backed us up for about 1-1/2 hours, but we finally got home at about 8:00. We left the puppy at Doggy Sleepover Camp for one more night and made an admirable attempt at unpacking and laundry, but honestly we (I) took 2 days to finish.
Regarding the debarkation, it's annoying when SO many things go wrong. I'm just grateful it happened at the end of the cruise instead of the beginning. Since it was too late to mention this fiasco on our comment cards, I emailed this info to Mark, hoping they can make some adjustments to make certain the early fliers GET OFF EARLY!
Final Thoughts HAL's ms Zuiderdam, whenever she's in the Caribbean, is our ship of choice. We enjoy seeing our 'family' and spending time in her beautiful public areas and generous private accommodations. The passenger mix is right for us -- no uncontrolled children, no trouble finding a chaise at the pool, no pressure to drink all day. It's harder to sail the Zuiderdam now that she's not in the Caribbean in the summer, but we can be patient. One day we may even bite the bullet and actually try an Alaskan cruise.
See you around someday, maybe, on some "dam" ship!
My wife and I are recently retired, in our 60's, and have cruised 21 times. We are not in the travel business and are not cruise experts, so I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in this review.
Extensive photos of the Noordam and of some of the ports on our cruise are available on the internet by clicking here: here. Click on the index photo for thumbnails of all the Noordam photos, then click on the slideshow option or click on individual thumbnails to enlarge them. There are far too many photos to include in this review, but they will give you an idea of what to expect on this beautiful ship.
I shall begin this review with some general observations about the Noordam, then some details of our particular cruise experience, and then conclude with our suggestions for independent sightseeing at each of the ports we visited. I will highlight some topics in ALL CAPS so that you can skip to any areas of particular interest.
THE SHIP This cruise, our third in 2008, was a 10 day Southern Caribbean itinerary in November on HAL's Noordam, the newest of HAL'sfour Vista class ships named after the points of the compass. This was one of the most enjoyable cruises we have experienced so far on any cruise line, and it was certainly the best value, in part due to a last minute cabin upgrade.
We have enjoyed the ambience on previous HAL cruise ships. On the Noordam everything seemed even better, from the décor to the entertainment options to the dining. The service remains topnotch. More about all that later.
At 82,000 tons and a full complement of 1,918 guests, the Noordam is an ideal size for us -- small enough to avoid the hassles of some mega-ships, but large enough to offer a variety of activities and venues, especially on days at sea. As a premium cruise line, HAL offers more of the larger verandah suites (three mid-ship decks worth) than mainstream cruise lines, so the ship seems less crowded (has a higher space ratio) than most.
The Noordam's DECOR is more elegant and subdued than on the Zuiderdam, the first of the Vista class ships. The Noordam's public areas and staterooms should please cruisers wanting a refined and upscale, but still informal, experience. Again, visit the photo link given above to understand what I am talking about.
One special aspect of HAL cruises is their fresh flower arrangements in public areas. These can be quite impressive. On this cruise we learned that a sub-contractor had two full-time staff creating and replenishing these arrangements every day. Even the dining tables in the Lido Buffet had orchids. Again, see the photo link above for examples.
Innovations on the Noordam include an expansion of the LIBRARY and INTERNET center into a beautiful lounge area (Explorations Café) with comfortable leather chairs and an excellent collection of current books and magazines. Here one can also get loaner Ipods for a self-guided tour of the ship's surprisingly extensive ART COLLECTION, which ranges from classical to whimsical. Some of the art is even mounted on the ceilings, and we would have missed it were it not for this tour.
Unfortunately the INTERNET SERVICE is as slow (satellite dependent) and unjustifiably expensive (75 US cents per minute, with some concessions when purchasing bulk usage) as on most other cruise lines. Some cruise lines have offered free internet access to their repeat cruisers (five or more cruises), but not HAL. We always have been able to find fast and reasonable (less than 10 US cents per minute) internet service in each of the Caribbean ports. Usually these are near the cruise piers, and locals are happy to direct you to them.
Unfortunately several of the computerized MUSIC LISTENING STATIONS in this area were non-functional, and most of the remainder had poor headsets with only one earphone, so one hears one's favorites (the music menu is enormous) in one ear and ambient noise in the other ear, which makes no sense. Other cruise lines have opted out of this service, perhaps because it is difficult to maintain. The one operable dual headset I found was top quality and was a joy to use. The music listening chairs are so comfortable (the famous Eames chair) that library book readers sometimes fill them.
Near the Explorations Café are meeting rooms for private groups and for informal Q&A SESSIONS WITH THE SHIP'S OFFICERS. We had never attended any of these before (the concept was new to us), but we found them very informative and entertaining. In one session the hotel manager answered questions from the audience. In one response he informed us that cabin stewards work in pairs for health reasons -- one does the "clean jobs" and the other does the potentially "dirty" ones, so that there is no cross-contamination. In general, the HYGIENE AND SAFETY STANDARDS (gels, hand wash signage, waiter service at buffet lines, etc.) on this cruise were the best we have seen on any cruise line.
At another Q&A session the Noordam's chief ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICER showed us a video and then answered questions about how regulations are met to keep the ship and the surrounding seas clean. With crew members, this ship is a city of about 3,000 people, and the environmental and waste management issues are impressive. We never realized, for example, that with a faltering world-wide economy recycling has become almost impossible because no one is willing to accept the recyclables for processing -- their market value is now too low to make it worthwhile economically.
We highly recommend attending these OFFICERS Q&A SESSIONS. We found them the best part of the educational and enrichment programs onboard. There is also a professional lecturer onboard, but we attended only one of her lectures, on Caribbean marine life.
Also new on the Noordam is the CULINARY ARTS CENTER, a small stage venue with a kitchen and closed circuit TV. During demonstrations the TV cameraman is a whiz at displaying close-ups of the chef's working area. The only negative, to our taste, was the use of non-culinary "sidekicks" to ask silly questions and otherwise interrupt the chef's instructions. The chefs are as talented as any on broadcast TV, and should be left alone to present their recipes and techniques.
This area is also called the QUEENS LOUNGE and is used as a small stage venue for such activities as movies, lectures, and talent shows. The KARAOKE contests which took place here (the finals were in the large Vista theater) were absolutely a scream. We highly recommend seeing one or more of these friendly contests, especially the finals.
Also on Deck 3 are the shopping center and photo gallery. SHOPPING is a major activity for many cruisers, and they seemed to enjoy the various sales available onboard during this cruise. In contrast, we are definitely not shoppers. My wife and I travel with one carry-on and no checked baggage wherever we go in the world, even on cruises like this. Yes, it can be done quite easily since three outfits (one formal, two casual), plus shorts, swim wear, and snorkel gear are all we need.
Airline and other connections are so unreliable nowadays that this habit has come to our rescue many times. During the last year alone we have had seven missed connections, canceled flights, or involuntary re-routes out of a total of nine vacations. Having our airline carry-ons with us at all times has been a lifesaver.
In any case, HAL supports shopping addicts (Emptor, ergo sum?) by providing a SHOPPING CONSULTANT, shopping lectures, and excellent maps for each port of call on this cruise. Fortunately, the maps also include good background information and sightseeing suggestions for non-shoppers.
The PHOTO GALLERY is near the main dining room and provides an entertaining stop when one goes to dinner. As on most cruise ships, the photo prices are quite high, so we have rarely taken advantage of this service. Relatively few passengers on our cruise seemed interested in formal sittings. Watching formal night photo sessions, however, can be good entertainment, especially when one views the results the next day.
The CROW'S NEST observation lounge is located on the top deck forward, and provides a nice retreat with forward facing recliners and huge windows to watch the scenery as one approaches ports. This area is also used for various meetings and activities, including the daily TEAM TRIVIA challenge. This is a low-key contest where everyone wins a prize ("Dam dollars" which can be traded for small prizes at the end of the cruise) just for showing up. When done with good humor, as on HAL, this activity can be great fun and is a nice way to meet new friends (we joined a new team each session that we attended).
Just below the Crow's nest is the GYM AND SPA facility. Unfortunately, as on most cruise ships, 10% of the people (those who pay for spa services) get 90% of the space. The other 90% of the people are crowded into the 10% of the space where free exercise equipment is available. This equipment is very popular, even among older cruisers.
The major problem we have with almost all shipboard gyms is the noise. The exercise classes, with their over-amped music, are held in the gym area. Since gym rats who want music have their own tunes (Ipods, Walkmen, and the gym's personal TVs), the booming music during classes and throughout the day is intrusive -- as bad as second hand smoke. Only ear plugs and early work-outs (0600) provide reasonable quiet in these gyms. HAL is better than most in this regard, but could be even better.
In spite of the noise, the SPA STAFF are friendly, and cruisers seemed to appreciate their services. In addition to the usual spa and salon services, there is a daily charge for the hydrotherapy pool. The sauna is free and is conveniently located near the swimming pool.
There are two freshwater SWIMMING POOLS with adjacent HOT TUBS, one mid-ship with a retractable roof, and the other aft. Both are better for soaking than for lap swims, but both are enjoyable. Mid-mornings are especially nice since there is no music or entertainment poolside, which makes this a great time for quiet relaxing.
Unfortunately HAL cruisers, like most others, can be POOL PIGS. They "reserve" pool chairs by placing open towels and personal debris on them, then wander off for an hour or two of other activities before returning to use the chairs. One morning when I was up early I saw this behavior even before the overnight safety nets had been removed from the pools. Another time I saw only one occupied chair in a front row of fifteen chairs that all had used towels or personal debris. The pool was empty at the time. The HAL pool staff are too polite to correct this situation, but should be trained to do so.
One feature of HAL ships enjoyed by all active cruisers is their full wrap-around promenade decks. These are especially appreciated by those with inside cabins. Traditional wooden deck chairs are available on this promenade, and they were well-used on our cruise. For those who enjoy walking this circuit, HAL went one step further by sponsoring a 5K "Walk for the Cure". For a $15 donation passengers received a cancer awareness T-shirt and wristband. The remaining (tax-deductible) proceeds went to support cancer research.
In addition to the options listed above, ENTERTAINMENT comes in many varieties to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. The main (Vista) show lounge has good acoustics and sightlines, and HAL fortunately does not over-amplify its shows. The shows are loud, but not painfully so. Unfortunately, HAL amplifies some shows, like the piano recitals, which should not be.
The SINGERS AND DANCERS on our cruise did a fine job. We usually do not enjoy Broadway style production numbers, so we are not the best critics, but we were impressed with the young talent and the high production values (costumes, technical support, etc.) that we saw here. A Q&A session with the cast was available one afternoon, and it proved to be fun and informative.
We did not catch the lounge acts on our cruise and did not hear any comments, good or bad, about them.
There is a small but very good DANCE BAND that plays every evening in the Ocean Bar adjacent to the atrium. This provides music to several decks, but leaves little space for a dance floor, which is in the smoking area next to the bar. We enjoyed an occasional dance here anyway, usually before dinner. Once they removed some furniture obstructing the dance floor, the dance floor was rarely crowded.
There are two good pianists who play in the piano lounge (nostalgic classics and name-those-tunes, I believe), the Ocean Bar (dancing), and the Crow's Nest (relaxing). In addition, there was a classically trained pianist from Las Vegas who gave two concerts incorporating popular classics (Chopin) with works he composed himself.
Near the main dining room in the Explorers' Lounge was a talented string quartet (from Hungary I believe) which played light classics in a near marathon all evening (I admire their stamina). This provided the wonderful option to listen to fine music while waiting for dinner companions or enjoying an after dinner drink.
For late night revelers, the Crow's Nest provided dance options, as did the Northern Lights night club. As I mentioned earlier, the Noordam is large enough to offer entertainment options for almost every taste.
OUR CRUISE We booked a STANDARD VERANDAH (balcony) cabin several months in advance, for the bargain rate of $110 US per person, per day (pppd) including port charges, taxes, and shipboard credits. Only HAL's $11 pppd charge for tips was extra.
This represents an exceptional value, perhaps because November is relatively low season for Caribbean cruises, especially in the current economic downturn. We met quite a few Britons and Canadians on this cruise who said that they were glad they booked before the recent drop in their currencies (against the dollar, which is the cruise line currency), and would not have booked the cruise after the devaluation.
An unexpected bonus came shortly before our cruise -- two upgrade offers that our Pavlus Travel agent received from HAL. First, for an additional $500 pp, we could upgrade to a category SA, SB, or SC DELUXE VERANDAH SUITE. These cabins are twice as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 500 square feet of space including the verandah. We did not need that much space and declined this offer.
A few days later we were offered an upgrade to a category SS, SY, or SZ SUPERIOR VERANDAH SUITE for an additional $98 pp. These are one and a half times as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 400 square feet of space. They include double sinks, double showers, and a whirlpool bath tub. They also include a comfortable sitting area with a couch and two chairs inside, and both dining and lounging areas outside on the verandah. Of course, we accepted this offer in a heartbeat.
This cabin proved to be one of the nicest we have ever had -- about as large as the suites we have experienced on small luxury ships, but at a third of the price. Our suite on the Noordam was so enjoyable that we spent much of our time just enjoying our unexpected private luxury.
Because AIRLINES can be unreliable, especially in winter, we booked our own flights, flew to Ft. Lauderdale a day in advance, rented a car for local sightseeing, and spent a night in a motel.
We stayed at a modest but nicely renovated motel, America's Best Inn, just off Highway 1 halfway between the FLL airport and cruise port. The rooms are small (about the size of a standard cruise cabin) but efficient, with a refrigerator, microwave, iron, coffee maker, and LCD TV. Each room has one queen bed, and baths have showers rather than tubs. A continental breakfast is included in the rate. At $55 per night plus tax for two, we found this a great bargain. The immediate area does not have walking access to shops or restaurants, but even with taxi rides this is a far cheaper pre-cruise option than most hotels in the area. To get an idea whether this option fits your style, check the internet for reviews and further information.
While in Ft. Lauderdale, we avoided the main beach (parking $10 according to the signs) and visited two very nice state parks instead. Hugh Taylor Birch SP is north of town on the beach and near the Galleria Mall. John U. Lloyd SP is south of town directly across from Port Everglades, with a huge beach and excellent views across the waterway of the Noordam. For children the south end of this park also offers great views of incoming and departing FLL jets.
In years past we have enjoyed the all day water taxi service in Ft. Lauderdale, which offers great views of the city, elegant homes, and large yachts. This time we had only two half-days, so we skipped this option.
EMBARKATION was a breeze. We dropped off our rental car near the cruise port rather than the airport (check with your rental company if they offer this option), and then we took their free (plus tip) shuttle to the ship.
TAXIS can be a problem between the airport and cruise port. If you arrive at or leave from the cruise port by taxi, make sure that your driver uses the most direct route between FLL and the cruise port -- usually the west entrance on 24th St., just off Highway 1.
Some taxi drivers will take a roundabout route or use the north entrance (off 17th St.) to pad their fares. For example, when we disembarked this cruise, our taxi driver pretended not to know the direct route back to the airport and tried several times to turn north, even though there were huge signs to the airport all along 24th St. He also "forgot" that we had bags in his trunk, even though he picked us up at the cruise ship. (Having learned our lesson in Buenos Aires, one of us always remains inside the cab until the bags are unloaded from a cab's trunk). Our direct route taxi fare for two without excess baggage between FLL and the cruise port was $11.30 plus tip (we did not short the driver in spite of his disingenuous behavior).
When we arrived at the cruise port, we had to wait only a few minutes until a CHECK-IN agent was available to imprint our credit cards and give us our key cards. We had pre-printed our boarding passes on HAL's web site, as had most passengers. There was an express line for category SC suites and above. Our SY suite did not qualify, but the regular lines moved so quickly that it made no difference.
An embarkation LUNCH was available at the Lido buffet, and hand baggage could be checked until 1:30 pm, when the cabins were ready for occupancy. This is a pleasant contrast with some small luxury ships, which charge an extra $150 per person for early boarding and lunch on embarkation day.
Our cabin has been described above. It was located mid-ship on the port side, which turned out to be the "port" side at most stops on this cruise. It gave us pleasant views over the islands and harbors while we were docked, and added drama to the arrivals and departures.
This itinerary featured four (of ten) days at sea, which we thoroughly enjoyed. My wife is a late sleeper and enjoys room service breakfast on the verandah. I am an early riser, so I took advantage of the quiet time at the gym, had a light breakfast at the Lido buffet, then joined her for a second breakfast when she woke up.
We usually ate in the Vista (main) dining room at lunch and dinner. Because we enjoy the OPEN SEATING on small luxury ships, we opted for this new option on the Noordam. On previous HAL cruises we have always enjoyed our fixed seating tablemates, but this gave us a chance to meet new people and hear new stories every day. There was never a wait for the open seating option at lunch, and at dinner the line was short and moved quickly. Those who want a specific dining time or a particular table size can make reservations, but we never bothered to do this.
The FINE DINING in the Vista dining room was the highlight of our cruise. The imaginative menus, the artistic presentations, and the generally excellent preparation of quality ingredients was the best we had ever had on a premium or mainstream cruise, and it often was equal to what we have experienced on luxury cruises. In our opinion, the Noordam is second to none in fine dining.
We were a bit worried at first, because the sesame encrusted snapper on the first night was tough and over-cooked, and the rack of lamb on the second night was not available rare. After that, however, the fish were cooked to perfection and the meats were rare when we wanted them to be.
The appetizers were often so tempting that sometimes we chose two and skipped the soup or salad course. The soups were inventive, usually two hot and savory and one chilled and sweet. The salads featured a nice variety of fresh and tender greens, with no iceberg lettuce or other fillers. If one did not find a main course one wanted, the off-menu salmon or strip steak were always good alternatives. Vegetarian options were always available, but we did not try them.
The desserts, as usual, were delightful, and were served in portions small enough that sampling more than one never left one feeling guilty.
The Vista dining room did such a fine job, in fact, that we never sampled the Pinnacle Grill, the ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANT (surcharged $10 pp at lunch when open, $20 pp at dinner). We have enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill on other HAL ships. On this cruise we thought we might request rare rack of lamb at the Pinnacle since it was not available at the Vista, but only lamb chops were available and no substitutions were allowed. This is the one advantage of luxury ships -- the smaller kitchens allow greater flexibility.
The LIDO BUFFET was a pleasure each time we sampled it, usually at breakfast or when the Vista dining room was closed. We generally skipped the main buffet lines, which other passengers said were good, and chose made-to-order items from the smaller specialty stations such as waffles, omelets, pasta, Asian stir-fry, deli sandwiches, or salad bars. One impressive aspect of the Lido buffet is that most foods are served by stewards, and all self-service silverware is refreshed frequently, minimizing the health risks of shared utensils. In addition to this, we always use the hand gels or washrooms between buffet line and table when cruising.
Although we did not try it on this cruise, several friends recommended the dinner service at the Lido. The tables are covered in linen and meals are served by stewards, as in the main dining room. We have found this a nice quiet option on other ships. On the Noordam the two deck Vista dining room has a relatively small atrium, so it was never too noisy to converse -- we never felt the need to find a quieter dinner venue.
DINING SERVICE, even with our open seating option, was always smooth, efficient, and very professional. Fixed seating has some advantages if one has particular drink or other preferences, but having a different waiter and assistant waiter each night was a pleasure for us -- they all were well trained and responsive to our requests.
CABIN SERVICE was also top notch. Our cabin stewards were rarely visible, but somehow they always managed to clean and refresh the cabin and bathroom whenever we were gone. They provided additional entertainment each evening by folding towels into amusing animal shapes, which were waiting on our bed with chocolates after dinner each night.
ROOM SERVICE also did a good job. One can order from the regular restaurant menu at dinner time (we did not). Hot foods are never as hot when delivered as when served in a dining room, but we enjoyed our room service breakfasts.
CONCIERGE SERVICE was available by phone in our suite category, and is available in person in the Neptune lounge on deck seven for higher category suites. The phone concierge always responded promptly and answered my few questions well.
As mentioned above, HAL has now instituted an AUTOMATIC TIPPING policy, in which $11 pppd is charged to one's shipboard account. Of this, I was told that 35% goes to cabin stewards, 35% to dining stewards, and the remaining 30% to the workers "behind the scenes" who add to one's cruise enjoyment. Any amounts given directly to crew members are supposed to be turned into these pools. I was also told, however, that amounts above the automatic charges could be kept by individual crew members.
We usually tip more than the standard amount, so we added $5 pppd in the form of direct cash to the room stewards and our maitre d', and a supplement to the charges on our shipboard account for the open seating dining stewards.
DISEMBARKATION was also a breeze. HAL has instituted new policies allowing those with little baggage, which they can carry off the ship themselves, to receive priority disembarkation. The ship was cleared a little before 0800, and priority disembarkation occurred about 30 minutes after this.
Airline schedules to our regional airport have been pruned back so much that we had only one option for our homebound flight, and it departed in the afternoon. Those passengers, like us, in no rush are allowed to remain in their cabins until last call, which occurs between 0930 and 1000.
Instead of constant announcements, disembarking passengers are simply given a 15 minute time window in which they are to report to the gangway and leave the ship. These new policies make for a wonderfully smooth and quiet disembarkation process.
IN SUMMARY, this was one of the best quality, most enjoyable, and most reasonably priced cruises we have ever had the pleasure of taking. We definitely will put HAL at the top of our list when we plan our next cruise. Unfortunately, the January 2009 HAL cruise that we just tried to reserve on our return home is already sold out!
PORTS OF CALL Our cruise called at Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. We almost always prefer to explore ports of call independently rather than book excursions in advance. Most ports offer nice alternatives to the ship sponsored tours, and most Caribbean ports offer good and inexpensive public transportation.
That being said, this was the first cruise where we had less than optimal luck ashore. We were glad we had a suite as a fallback option.
In ARUBA we simply walk across the street from the cruise port to the local bus station. Buses leave every 15 minute and travel northbound along the west coast to the hotel district (the Marriott is the main destination). A few buses each hour continue farther to Malmok, which is a convenient area for offshore snorkeling. There are a few pocket sized beaches with shade umbrellas nearby.
From the Malmok bus terminus one can walk 10 minutes farther north along the coast to Arashi Beach, which is one of the nicest on the island for frolicking in the water. We have even met several Marriott guests who drive to Arashi, preferring it to the hotel beaches along the way. Hurricane Omar in 2008 has taken a good deal of sand away, but Arashi still has more than enough left. A new parking lot is being built there, which means this beach may become more crowded in the future.
When returning to the ship it is worthwhile walking the ten minutes back to the Malmok bus stop. There is Arashi bus service, but it is unpredictable. We think some drivers running behind schedule do not go to the Arashi end of their route. The cost of a perfect beach day? About $2.50 US round trip on the public bus.
Before boarding the ship, stop at the internet shop one block south of the cruise port entrance. It is about 10 cents US per minute for rapid and reliable connections. The storefront is visible, and locals can also direct you.
On our cruise it rained until early afternoon, so our beach stay was limited to two hours.
In CURACAO the main attraction is the quaint and colorful waterfront. This is a photographer's dream (again, see the photo link given at the beginning of this review). If one gets off the ship soon after docking, one can walk through the old fort, cross the floating bridge (retractable), and watch the floating market before it becomes crowded.
Unfortunately, Curacao beaches are not readily accessible by public bus. Friends on our cruise took a taxi to Thiel Bay (about $30) and said the snorkeling there was good, with sea snakes and other unusual sights. One local recommended a small beach called Sonesta, which is a shorter taxi ride from town.
We opted for a bus ride to the far end of the island (West Point route or Lagun and Knip Bay route). Either route costs about $3 US and takes an hour each way. We were told that beaches are available within walking distance of the ends of these routes, but one has to leave town early (0900 for West Point or 0830 for Knip Bay) to have beach time before returning, since buses leave only once every two or three hours.
The bus yard is just a few blocks from the cruise port (due west of the floating bridge). There is a booth for bus tickets, which accepts US cash and gives change in local currency (bring singles). Because we had spent most of our morning in town, we opted to stay on the bus at mid-day and just sightsee, to make certain we made it back to the boat in time. Our driver was great fun -- she had the most elegant manicure we have ever seen, but she drove the huge bus like a Formula One.
In DOMINICA we usually take the minibus to the southern end of the island at Scotts Head. This costs about $2 US and takes about 30 minutes. Minibuses leave every 15 minutes or so (when full) from an area about two blocks inland from the cruise port.
Scotts Head offers very nice offshore snorkeling, with clear water and a good drop-off. The snorkel point is a short walk beyond the minibus stop, in the bay at the base of the hill. After snorkeling, a walk on the trail to the top of the hill gives beautiful views back to the ship in the far distance.
Unfortunately, this was the first time we were on Dominica on a Sunday, and everything, including buses, was shut down. Some taxi drivers were willing to take us to Scotts Head and wait there for us, but they wanted from $60 to $150 for this service, and since we had done this often enough before, we were not willing to pay so much. We enjoyed our suite instead.
In ST. THOMAS we docked at the Crown Point yacht harbor rather than the usual Havensight pier and mall area. This made us very happy because it is walking distance to our favorite USVI option -- the 1030 ferry from Tickles restaurant to Water Island. A short walk on Water Island brings one to the usually quiet and serene Honeymoon Beach. The ferry costs $10 US pp round trip -- less than a roundtrip taxi ride almost anywhere else on the island.
Unfortunately, this beach has recently been discovered by local tour companies. What used to be an empty stretch of sand as long as a football field now has one or two tour groups visiting each day. It is still beautiful, but no longer offers a great advantage over popular Magens Bay.
For those interested in shopping, taxis have set prices and cost only a dollar or two more than they would from Havensight into town or to beaches.
On HALF MOON CAY, HAL's private island, a new larger tender service moves hundreds of people at a time between the ship and the private beach. The downside is that if one is traveling against the flow (early or late) one has to wait as the entire group passes through security. This means that some transfers can take more than 30 minutes, so plan accordingly.
The beach is one of the nicest in the Caribbean, with unbelievably fine white sand and good tree shade. It is not necessary to rent a cabana or shade shell, which are at the crowded near end of the beach anyway.
A (free) beach barbecue and various (surcharged) activities including horseback riding are available here. Snorkeling is not very good off shore because this beach is largely sandy with no coral, so plan on just enjoying the sun and surf while here. A short walk along the shoreline will take you away from the crowds.
Because I was worried about sand and security, I did not take my camera ashore except on Curacao (our first time there) and Half Moon Cay. Again, photos are available at http://www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk.
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008
We are a married couple, 30 years old. My mother also cruised with us and she is 67. We have cruised on Holland America, Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
This cruise was the 15 day Circle Hawaii cruise that sailed roundtrip to the islands from San Diego, CA. We visited Hilo, Lahaina, 2 days in Honolulu and Kona.
Embarkation We arrived at the pier around noon. There were lots of people there already but check in was easy and we only had to wait in line a few minutes. When we boarded the ship the staterooms were not ready so we headed to Lido for a bite to eat.
Stateroom Our Stateroom was an outside cabin on Deck 1 -- Dolphin Deck, Midship Category E. The cabin was very nice with plenty of storage for all three of us. The third bed is a sofa which makes into a bed. My mother said it was not very comfortable. Our bed was two twins pushed together and was comfortable. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo. The service form the cabin stewards wasexcellent.
Sea Days and Things to do on the Ship There were 10 sea days on this 15 day cruise. Most of the passengers on this cruise were 65 years or older. We only saw a few young people and 2 small children. The ship was very peaceful and quiet. No drunk people and no kids running around. We like cruising with the older people so we fit in great.
However, due to the average age of the passengers there were not many activities geared toward the younger crowd. Every day there would be cooking demonstrations, trivia, live music, bingo and sports events. We took part in the sports events to collect the Dam Dollars to redeem at the end of the cruise for souvenirs.
There were also dance lessons, coffee chats, travel talks, and various other events during the sea days. The library had many books, magazines, games and puzzles for people to use. Most sea days the library was packed with people reading or playing games. DVDs were also available to check out for $3 each. Every cabin has a TV and DVD player.
Big screen movies would play in the culinary theatre at night. The selection of movies was very good. But the theatre is not set up very well with the position of the chairs and the screen. It helped very much that there were 2 large screen TVs on each side of the big screen to see the movie as well. These were much clearer and provided for an unobstructed view of the movie. They also provided popcorn and sold drinks. I wish they would have played the movies during the sea days as well. But usually that lounge was used for cooking demonstrations during the sea days. They also played these movies on the cabin TVs the next day.
There was also a travel guide aboard the ship to tell us all about Hawaii. He was very knowledgeable and fun to listen to. He would give talks during the day and they would be shown on the cabin TVs as well.
The Casino is very small but all of the staff was very friendly. They had the usual table games and the limit was low at $5. Every sea day they would hold 2 sessions of Texas Hold'em Poker. The slot machines were very tight and did not pay anything.
The shops were your average souvenir and jewelry stores you find on cruise ships.
Entertainment The cruise director on the ship was Lizabeth and she was a very nice lady. She fit the older crowd but was not very entertaining. The production shows with the singers and dancers were great shows. However, the singing was awful and the shows were missing the live music that Carnival always has.
The other entertainers included singers, comedians, ventriloquists, and jugglers. All of these shows were fantastic.
The live music around the ship was very nice as well.
There were also 2 crew shows -- one Indonesian and one Filipino. Both were excellent shows!
Food The food on the ship was very good. I would not say it was outstanding but it was very good. Every night in the dining room there would be one dish of either chicken, beef, fish, pasta and vegetable. These were accompanied by appetizers, soup, salad and of course dessert. The service in the dining room was excellent.
The lido buffet was good as well serving almost the same thing for dinner each night as was served in the dining room.
Lunch offered a variety of items as well as a deli, salad bar, Mexican bar and hamburger/hot dog/pizza station by the pool. Dessert and ice cream was offered as well.
Late night snacks were also provided on lido deck starting around 11pm.
Drinks On this cruise you could purchase a drink card for soda, wine or cocktails. Each card has its own price and offers a certain amount of drinks. Your card is punched every time you have a drink. The price you pay initially includes the tips and taxes. My husband purchased the wine card for $67 + tax and tip. This provided 20 glasses of house wines which he could use anywhere on the ship.
The best deal was the happy hours in the Ocean Bar. Almost every day from 4pm-5pm they would offer half price drinks in the Ocean Bar. This was a great deal and better than purchasing any of the drink cards.
Gym/Spa We did not purchase any spa services but took a tour of the area. It was very nice and the gym was quite busy on sea days. They offered specials throughout the cruise.
Photographs The photographs were very expensive. We only purchased our embarkation photo along with a photo of the ship in a Folio album. This cost $53. There were only a few photographers on the ship and they did not hound you to take photos like on other cruise lines. They didn't follow you around or make you take photos. They would usually ask first if you wanted a photo. This was a great feature.
Hawaiian Ports We did not take any of the HAL shore excursions as they were very expensive. With 3 people we found it cheaper and better to rent a car in each port. We explored the islands and saw the sights we chose and did it all on our own time schedule. I think this is a great way to see the islands. We calculated that the cost of the car plus gas averaged $24 per person per day. This is a great way to see many places at your own pace and for a low cost.
We were supposed to sail past the Volcano on the big island once we departed Hawaii on the last port day. The captain switched the schedule so that we would sail past the Volcano after the first port day in Hilo. He did this because we would be sailing past at an earlier time so more people would be awake to view this. Unfortunately, it was raining and we could not see the volcano very well. We did see the glowing red lava but it was very far away and hard to see through the fog/rain.
I believe each person can make the best or worst of their port days so I won't go into detail about each stop. I will say that we really enjoyed Hawaii and there is a lot to see and do. Make the best of your time there!
Disembarkation Originally we were going to have a silent debarkation. This means you are given your designated time to leave the ship and you go at this time. However, it was changed and they did make announcements for when we could leave the ship. We got off the ship early and with no problems. However, there were a lot of people trying to get off the ship and it seems like they needed more time between each color being called. The elevators were slow as were there were people walking off the ship with their luggage. More time for each group of people to leave the ship would have been better.
Conclusion This was a wonderful cruise with excellent service. The food was very good and the entertainment was great. We really enjoyed the long cruise experience. It provided for relaxing sea days and plenty of time to enjoy all areas of the ship.
Expect an older crowd with the average age of the guests being 65 years and older. Most of the passengers have been to Hawaii before and cruise mainly for the experience.
We did not encounter any long lines, party atmospheres or kids running loose. It was a very quiet and peaceful cruise. We had a great time and would take this cruise again!
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008 by DougMacP Alaska August 7, 2009
This is my 23rd cruise, (crossings not included) and my 4th on HAL. I've done a variety of cruise lines from Carnival to Crystal, the most recent being a Panama Canal trip on the Celebrity Mercury in January.
Embarkation: The commute to the ship was a grueling 7-minute drive from my home. I could have made it in 6 minutes, but there was a red light. I arrived at Pier 91 at 1:15pm, and I kid you not was onboard by 1:30pm. The longest and slowest line I encounter was for the welcome aboard picture, which I by-passed.
The Crowd: It is summer, school is out and it was a diverse crowd. Seniors, toddlers, teenagers, large family groups, everything and everyone were represented. Any thought that the Lido (covered) pool was adult only was abandoned immediately. The place reverberated with the screams and laughter of children. It was so chilly in the aft pool area that they had to go somewhere, and I'm not that much of a curmudgeon that I would deny them their fun.If you want a less kid (verses kid-less) cruise book before the end of May or in September when school is in session.
Stateroom, Public Rooms, Condition in General: The Zaandam is not a new ship. Are there loose carpet seams here and there and a bit of wear and tear? Yes. Is it tired and dirty? No way. The ship has great flow, attractive public areas, fantastic art and is extremely comfortable with cushy and inviting furniture throughout. Of special note, the mattress in my cabin wasn't a thin piece of foam over a plastic platform (like the Mercury for example) it was a real, honest to goodness thick mattress. My stateroom was functional and clean and kept that way by my stealthy room attendants.
Food: My expectations were in check due to a lot of comments about the decline in the quality of HAL's food from the Boards. I'm a foodie and to be honest can be critical of sub-par food and service. With all that said, I thought the food was good to excellent throughout the cruise. I tend to lean more towards beef and chicken so take that into account. The portions aren't huge in the dining room, but with 5 courses they shouldn't be. If that is a concern just order an additional entrée and the waiters will gladly comply. The service in the dining room was professional and appropriate. The food in the Lido was equally a pleasant surprise.
Entertainment: More "ugh" than "awe". Quality entertainment at night on the Zaandam was not so easy to find.
The Showroom: I've learned never to expect much from the Production Shows on a cruise. The ships don't pay enough to get top tier talent, the stage isn't big enough, and the production values (props, costumes and special effects) are about squeezing one more season out of what is already paid for then investing in anything new or fresh. HAL exceed my expectations, but probably not the way they intended. The Production Shows were so tired, cheesy, poorly danced and sung I had to wonder if I was missing something. Was this a parody of a production show? The Headliners, a musician billed as a young Kenny G (is that a compliment?) and magician/comic did provide some good moments and was worth checking out. A most welcomed surprise.
Lounge Acts: The Zaandam has beautiful Lounges but less than half the Lounge bands were competent and entertaining. Additionally, kudos to the D.J. in the Crows-Nest who always seemed to find the right songs to get people out of their seats and on to the dance floor. From there it falls off the face of the earth. A venue I love, the Piano Bar was a wasteland every night when it should be packed because of a guy that doesn't play very well, sings worse and appears to not to like people very much. At the bottom of the entertainment heap was a very good band, with lead singer so vocally challenged she dragged them to the bottom faster than one of the Zaandam's huge anchors. I really had to wonder if anyone in the corporate offices of HAL even bothers listening to the audition tapes. The other alternative is that they are trying to drive people into the Casino by having such limited quality entertainment at night.
Stuff to Do: While the daily program aren't as packed as the most of the recent cruises I've been on, the activities were well paced and interesting. The culinary demonstrations, lectures and computer classes blend well with the regular cruise ship fare of trivia, pool games and bingo. There is no reason to be bored if you want to get involved. A major plus was the Cruise Director Michael who was seemingly everywhere at once, with boundless energy delivered in an engaging and believable manner. The Captain joked at a function that Michael was the best Cruise Director in a 250 mile radius. Personally, I thought he was one of the best I've seen in 23 cruises.
Things I should have believed: No matter how hot it is in your part of the country or even in Seattle, be prepared and dress appropriately for chilly weather and rain, fog or drizzle. Remember even if it is 65 degrees (F) with the speed of the ship underway the wind chill on deck is substantial. Don't think I ever was not wearing fleece of some sort.
Ports: Personally the trip for me was about seeing Glacier Bay, and it did not disappoint. Imagine if the Teton's or Rockies had an Ocean at 10,000 feet and you were right next to them? It was magnificent. A Ranger from the US National Parks Service who appears not only to have a degree in geology but also drama narrated the trip. Despite his over to top moments of poetry, native flute interludes and asking us to spiritually become one with the Glacier, he kept us well informed of the history and conditions in the area.
I was reluctant to pre book excursions due to fluctuating weather conditions in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. A floatplane trip in the fog would not be my idea of fun. As for wild life watching, we saw so many Whales and Eagles from the ship that after a few days it became commonplace. I just got off the ship and wandered around without paying attention to the ships shopping guides, as they only include stores that pay huge kickbacks to the cruise line. If I had to do it over I would do the salmon bake in Juneau, which drew rave reviews.
What HAL does best in one word: Service. From the Officers to the people who clear the tables HAL gets it right. Here are a few adjectives I jotted down during the cruise: Friendly, familiar yet respectful, impeccable, smiling, seamless and gracious.
And in the end: A solid performance, more hits than misses and a comfortable platform to enjoy the sights of Alaska.
If you don't believe that I am not a "Chronic Complainer", please read my Cruise Critic Review of Explorer of the Seas, May '08. If you are already booked for the Eurodam, you may want to avoid reading the following review, as it was an unpleasant experience.
This is our experience during Holland Eurodam's Inaugural Season. The first of their "Signature Class Ships," the Eurodam is nice, however it photographs much nicer than it looks in person.
Background My partner and I are in our early 40s and were traveling with our friends who are a married couple, also in their 40s. Eurodam was my and my partner's 6th voyage (2nd Holland) and our traveling companions' 26th voyage (3rd Holland). We all sailed the Westerdam a few years ago and loved it so much that we were really looking forward to another Holland America cruise.
Embarkation We flew in from NJ the day before sailing and stayed with friends in the Orlando area that night. We then drove from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale in a Hertz vehicle. Upon returning the car in Lauderdale at 10:00AM, we were whisked to Port Liberty by a Hertzstaff member to the Holland America Eurodam. We were able to drop our luggage off and check-in (with no lines) at the port immediately following. We were of the first group to board at approximately 11:30AM. Upon boarding there was a concierge available to secure dinner reservations, which we immediately did. Although we had traditional 8:00 seating, we wanted to secure reservations for Tamarind, Canaletto and Pinnacle. We were able to reserve exactly what we wanted by making our reservations upon boarding.
Lido Restaurant Our next stop was the Lido Restaurant for a buffet lunch. The Lido is TIGHT! There is barely enough room for one to walk through the room empty-handed, let alone with a tray of food! This was a poorly designed room with arm-chairs at the tables which were very cumbersome as well. The room is beautifully decorated, but THE CREW was the absolute WORST we've EVER ENCOUNTERED on ANY SHIP EVER!! There was never enough silverware in the Lido and when asking a crew member for anything on this ship, it was like pulling teeth. We would practically have to beg for everything (including silverware). The kitchen staff worked feverishly to serve quickly, but the Lido attendants all walked around aimlessly as though they had nothing to do but talk among themselves and ignore the passengers. Many officers roamed around on cell phones, ignoring passengers as well. The crew members were mainly around to pour coffee and drinks (at the machines), basically getting in everyone's way. It would have been much easier if everyone had just poured their own drinks. Speaking of drinks, about halfway through this cruise, they must have run out of half & half and were pawning milk (and even skim milk) off on us in containers marked "cream". I know this isn't the end of the world, but for a die-hard coffee w/cream lover, it was unacceptable. Just label it milk! After we had finished our first meal in the Lido, we were approached by the Food and Beverage Manager, Herman, who asked us (however diplomatically) to please leave our table so that others could find a place to eat. He suggested we wait in the Ocean Bar until our rooms were ready. We instead roamed the ship. On the plus side, the food at the Lido was great. We did not have a bad meal on this ship.
After being asked to leave the Lido I had stopped to use the restroom. Not realizing it was labeled a Handicapped restroom, I was told by another officer that I should not use that facility, but should use the men's room on the other side. Nothing like making a passenger feel welcome during "Hour One".
Purser's Desk Staff One word for them -- RUDE. Okay two -- RUDE & CLUELESS. After leaving the Lido (and the correct men's room) I decided to try to secure a Retreat Cabana. I had read about them and thought it might be a nice way to spend a pool day. Our friends had just returned from the Purser's Desk where they had inquired and were told to reserve the cabana on the Lido Deck. I asked an attendant on the Lido Deck and she escorted me to the Spa. The staff there told me that reservations for cabanas are made at the Purser's Desk. So I picked up a house phone and called the Purser's Desk. I was then informed that I had to come down to the desk to reserve the cabana. Off I went to the desk. At least I was able to work off lunch!
Cabanas The cabanas cost $45 for a port day. After reserving the retreat cabana, I went up to take a look at them. The one we reserved, Mirabella, was only large enough to accommodate two lounge chairs. I really didn't care for the whole set up, so, back to the Purser's Desk to cancel. I was told that the transaction was in fact canceled, only to discover on Day 6 that it had not been and that they wouldn't be able to straighten the charge out until the next day. Thankfully I checked and they did. My observations of the Purser's Desk were that there was never a visible person in a position of authority (nor did we ever see one on the entire ship), and the Purser's staff appeared rude and indifferent. They were surely not welcoming at all. The night before disembarkation, our friends witnessed several passengers pleading with purser's desk crew to straighten out situations with their luggage being sent to incorrect airports. We don't know the outcome of their experiences.
Stateroom Cabins were ready at exactly 1:30PM. We were in Cabin #8097 and our friends in #8095. They were "V" Category, which is of the highest balcony categories onboard. The rooms were the most beautifully designed we've ever seen. They were spacious with three closets and plenty of storage. The balconies were large with two chairs, a small table and an ottoman. We arrived to gifts from our Travel Agent, Marianne from Travel Emporium, which included delicious chocolate covered strawberries and a voucher for a complimentary formal night dining room photo. The bathroom included a shower-tub and storage shelves and large bath sheets. The beds were comfortable. There was a flat-panel TV with a DVD player.
I met our stateroom attendant (Widi) for a very brief moment. I introduced myself and gave a him a short list of items we wanted. A bathrobe, feather pillows and ice. He returned later with two bathrobes, one feather pillow and ice. I handed him back one robe and asked him for another feather pillow. He gave me a disappointed look that I had asked for a second feather pillow and we never did receive it during the cruise. Luggage arrived by 4PM and Muster Drill immediately followed. No one in our drill could understand a word that was said during the drill, as the crew member conducting it had a very heavy accent. I could've gotten over the fact that so far we felt unwelcome on this ship until on Day One we had returned from dinner at around 10:00PM and (are you ready for this? Are you sitting down?) NO TURN-DOWN SERVICE!! I know it might sound petty to some, but COME ON!! Our traveling companions had never, ever experienced this on any of their 25 previous voyages! They had no clean towels in their room at this point and when we inquired at the Purser's desk about the lack of turn-down that evening the reply was (are you sitting down?) "we'll let your cabin attendant know to provide turn-down service nightly for you!" And "what exactly is it that you need?" I told the woman I'd like another feather pillow. She said she would have one sent. As I stated earlier, she never did. After that we were afraid to throw another used towel on the floor, for fear it may never be picked up and replaced! However, we did receive nightly turn-down service thereafter. Whew!
Sailaway What? We went to the Sailaway Party on the Lido Deck for Pina Coladas (which didn't include any garnish). That's right -- looked like a milkshake. Still tasted good. Bartenders on the Lido -- rushed and unfriendly!! No Cruise Director or Staff out on deck for this party. Just the Hal Cats (band) there to sing a few tunes. The views were beautiful. The tunes weren't.
Rembrandt Dining Room We had requested a table for four and found that there were few (if any) in the VERY cramped Rembrandt. One word to describe the feeling in the dining room -- SARDINES!! We were piled upon one another at several tables for 10. Our servers were rushed and again, not the friendliest of crew. The food however was excellent. Portions small (our server actually laughed when he had to serve me my tiny portion of crab leg appetizer. And he said "sorry" a lot. We enjoyed the company of two couples from Australia during dinners. Hello to Pat, Brian, Jennie and Daryl if you're reading this! Overall the Rembrandt Dining Room was not a pretty room and was much too small to accommodate the amount of seated passengers or servers during meals.
Production Shows Holland America didn't skimp here. Best sets and costumes on any ships. Shows were good. We liked the first one, better than the second. The cast did a great Michael Jackson Thriller number! We really enjoyed the actor who performed Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves more than the leading lady. She was more talented and should be cast in the lead. There was also a comedian (from Home Improvement) on Day One who was funny.
Captain's Reception What? 15 minutes before the show, the captain said a quick hello and goodbye. Champagne was served.
Ports I won't go on and on, but they were the saving grace of this ship! St. Thomas, San Juan, Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay were all WONDERFUL!!
Northern Lights Disco The nightclub had a nice atmosphere, but didn't flow well. DJ Jazzy was terrific and took requests. Service was very good here. It would have been more crowded if smoking were allowed, as everyone (including a large gay group) was in the Casino Sports Bar outside of the nightclub puffing away with their cocktails. I must say the passengers on this cruise all jelled beautifully. Straight, gay and everything in between -- all got along famously.
Lido Party Oh, there's the Cruise Director. Saw very little of him or his staff during the cruise. Oh, and this also must have doubled as our "Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza", because Holland America cheaped out on that too. They did have chocolate fountains during the Lido Party. We danced and had much fun!!
Halloween Bash Halloween was much fun on the Lido Deck. We dressed as Mainstream Vampires from HBO's TrueBlood. There was a parade of costumed passengers, great food and dancing with the Hal Cats. The Lido was decorated beautifully. I had hung a paper skeleton on my stateroom door which was torn off by someone after Day Two. You know who you are and should be ashamed of yourself!
Tamarind Complimentary for lunch. The most beautiful restaurant on the ship. We had lunch there. Set menu of dim sum. Good service, great food!
Pinnacle Just okay and I wouldn't recommend spending the $20pp cover for this one. My partner actually liked his steak in the Rembrandt better than the one served here.
Canaletto Complimentary for dinner. Service by Marius was the absolute best on the ship. He was quick, efficient and really knew his job. Although he was not overly friendly, he was the best server we encountered on Eurodam. Food was excellent!
Past Guest Party NONE!!! Not for anyone with less than 25 days sailed with Holland anyway! We received Delft tiles and a thank you note from the captain, but as "Mariners" we didn't rate a reception! Sorry Holland, but that in and of itself made up my mind never to sail with you again!! You should have seen the beautiful reception Royal Caribbean provides ALL of their past guests. Complete with cocktails, appetizers and mingling with the ship's officers. Big disappointment! Big disgrace!
Disembarkation We had express disembarkation which allowed us to walk off of the ship with luggage in hand. We were never told which deck to disembark from and when calling the purser's desk shortly before disembarking, one of our friends was told that they DIDN'T KNOW where the gangway was and that there would be an announcement. We discovered that the gangway was on deck 3. The announcement never did indicate where to disembark. After finding the deck ourselves, we were off the ship by 7:30AM.
Holland America's Eurodam has been sailing for months now. It's about time someone is held accountable for the crew's actions (or lack of). Someone must be held accountable for untidy conditions in areas of the ship. At 7:30 one morning as I was strolling the Promenade Deck, there were tons of dirty glasses (obviously from the previous night) littering the deck, and dirty cups and plates at various times on the tables of the Lido Deck. Does no one see this? Someone from corporate had better pose as a passenger on this ship before this crew sinks it!!
I really could go on and on, but I'm tired of hearing myself talk (and type). As I've said, I'm not a chronic complainer. As our traveling companions said, we're not looking for service which is above and beyond (although that would have been nice). We're just looking for basic needs (like clean towels in our room or a fork and knife at lunch). And we didn't receive even basic service on the Eurodam.
Someone is asleep at the helm.
Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by TyinPS Black Sea October 16, 2008
I have cruised 32 years. First one on Holland Amnerica. Worse cruise ever.
The muster was incomplete. We got excuses. There was a sounding at 2AM on the second night out and no crew appeared. A loud message said there was an electrical fire and to stay in our cabins. Stories varied the next day.
After claiming all desserts were fresh, executive chef and bakery chef finally admitted they were frozen commercial products and served stale, cold and dry.
At embarkation we noticed kitchen and other staff coughing and sneezing. One quarter of earlier port arrivals had the same symptoms. Some were on this ship months. Many spent a day in bed.
I got it 2 days in and discovered when I got home that I had contracted a highly transmittable viral bronchitis.
There was no welcome aboard; just a one hour hard sell by the cruise director's wife pushing future cruises.
Culinary class partly pre-empted for the same reason.
Entertainment was vaudeville-like. Comedian told gay jokes as did the very defensive cruise director.
If you are on this ship months you will be pampered. Catersto those in mid 40s. Best advice is to stay away from this one.
My trip on the Maasdam didn't turn out so well.
The only good ports (St. Marteen and the private island) were cancelled due to inclement weather. They were turned into simply sea days.
We booked this cruise through Cruise Direct, which turned out to be an even bigger mistake.
We were promised two free nights in a hotel, which turned out to be only good for Sunday through Wednesday at something called a "Toured Stay." Do you think they try to sell you vacations?
I'm going on my 14th cruise and I guarantee that I will never book with Cruise Direct again.
When I complained, their answer was "then don't go."
Our review starts with an overall assessment for the first day for this 30 day round trip cruise aboard the Holland America Statendam -- San Diego to San Diego.
San Diego Harbor Embarkation was in San Diego which has a good pier for cruise ships and the best part is the pier is in downtown, not far from the airport or city attractions. We stayed at the Marriott Gaslamp Hotel which is a short cab ride from the pier. Expect to pay around $12 for a short trip in the downtown area.
At the pier was a Carnival ship and the Statendam. Our cab was permitted to cross security and pull along the ship terminal. Unloading was a snap as many porters were present. Holland America never mailed us baggage tags thus we had to ask a porter and then take the time to complete filling them out. When I offered $10 for the two baggage tags and the porter service, I was rudely told I would have to pay $20.
Inside the building we went through security and got in line to get our cabin assignment. The lines moved veryquickly. There is a separate line for handicapped and the wait was even shorter. Suggest if you are handicapped, look for that line. Once documents are given to you, the walk to the ship is short. There is an elevator for the handicapped. You may wonder why I am often mentioning the handicapped. There were many handicapped aboard this ship including many in wheelchairs.
We were in our cabin within minutes. This was a very quick embarkation. It could not have gone easier.
Dining Let's start with the one subject that is most often heard in a conversation aboard a ship. Eating! We were greeted with a new dining concept aboard the Statendam, called "As You Wish Dining." The Main Statendam Dining Room as many will recall who have sailed on this ship earlier, is two decks. The top deck (Deck 8) is reserved for early and late fixed dining time seating. The bottom dining room (Deck 7) is for "As You Wish Dining." You can make a reservation the day of dining for seating at various times. Unfortunately we never found open times available other the 5:30PM and 8:00PM. Perhaps you can have better luck. You can also "walk in" and ask for seating, however from the long lines we saw and the unhappy passengers who were turned away while we were dining at 5:30, it is difficult to see how this is going to work to everyone's satisfaction. We were told it was better to ask for late seating as late times were plentiful. For "walk in" dining you will be seated at the next vacant seat, thus you may sit at a table for 2, 4, 6 or 8. After a few days it appeared this system begin to break down as many people including ourselves sat at a specific table. We noticed many people doing this and less and less dining reservations were noted in cabin mailboxes.
The Rotterdam Dining Room: It's day number four and I need to update the "As You Wish Dining" process. A call for reservations this morning was not successful. I was told that all reservations were taken except for 8PM. I checked with a fellow passenger and she was told the same, nothing available until 8PM. It may be a coincidence, on being told there was no reservations available and then seconds later getting a call from the front desk wanting to know if there were any problems and was there anything the front desk could help with. I declined any help and decided we will try the "walk in" approach this evening. If that doesn't work we will head for the Lido Deck dining area.
You also have the option of eating at the Lido, which has just been renovated with a new serving area and new seating. It is very nice. You may not be able to serve yourself as almost all the food is behind glass window dividers and you ask the server for the item. Perhaps some of this separation was brought about due to health concerns. Now the passengers cannot get directly to the food. No more touching food with your fingers, coughing or sneezing over the food. The serving area is broken down into theme type foods (Asia, beef, Italian, fish, etc.) This makes it rather easy to go directly to the items you desire. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in this manner. Remember the times you have had to wait for a passenger who could not decide what slice of bacon they wanted and the line backed up and backed up? Now they get the next two pieces of bacon. If that is not your thing then you may not like this expedited serving process. We also noticed that portions offered are smaller. In fact everything that is served seems to be in smaller portions. Juice glass, coffee cups, etc are all smaller than we found in the past.
The Pinnacle Grill: The Pinnacle Grill is open for both lunch and dinner. There is an additional charge of $10 for lunch and dinner $20. We never saw many passengers dining in this restaurant. The food at dinner is steak and seafood. It is excellent. Lunch includes a hamburger -- remember you are paying $10 to $20 extra per person to dine in this restaurant. Several passengers we found out had been given complimentary seating from their travel agents.
Terrace Grill:If you like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza or tacos, the Terrace Grill is on the same deck as the Lido Restaurant. Service is slow as each item is cooked after you order. We tried this snack bar several times and the slow service never changed. Your burger is not cooked until you place your order and cooking will take several minutes. The process never seemed rushed so expect ordering to take several minutes. If you drink cokes, then a drink card is available for $25 for 20 cokes. HOWEVER we learned that the card does have limits. For example my wife asked for a diet Sprite. Sorry but diet drinks are not available from the auto dispenser, only in cans and guess what? Cans are not included with the card. We went to three bars one afternoon before we found a bartender willing to let us have two glasses of Diet Sprite poured from a can. There is no refill and the drinks show up in a small glass. You can also purchase from the bar cans of drinks. There is also a coffee card available for $20 for 10 coffees. Look at the prices as you will probably be better off purchasing individual coffees as you desire rather than buying the coffee card. In fact the bartender told us we might rather purchase individually than purchase the card. There is free coffee in the Lido Restaurant. Specialty coffees are available at several places on the ship at an additional cost.
Ice Cream and Desert Bar -- Lido Deck: Contrary to other ships we have recently sailed, this ship has an ice cream bar where you can get soft serve and hard frozen ice cream until 5:00 PM without charge. You can make your own sundaes, get the ice cream in a dish or in a waffle cone. Several toppings were also available.
Cabin Location This is a small ship, thus cabin location does matter. We've had cabins, on other Statendam cruises, in several places throughout the ship. Trust me -- don't get too close to the front and aft ends of the ship as you will feel the ship's motion all night long and even more so if you are in rough seas. Some travel agents assist you and you decide which cabin suits you best. If you have a long cruise don't settle for anything less than what you want.
Photo Shop We continue to believe the cost of snapshots on cruise ships is way too much and this ship we found no different. The quality of the snapshots left a lot to be desired. Purchase your own quality digital camera and either print them off your computer or have a quality shop print them when you return home. The quality will be much better, plus you can have all the photos you want to print. TIP: Notice where the ship photographers go with their equipment, both on the ship and off the ship. Then take photos of your traveling companions at those locations, just like being at Disneyworld where there are many signs that read "photo spot." You will be dollars ahead. Photos sold as portraits aboard ships are just snapshots made with a medium price digital camera. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Prices on photo supplies are high aboard cruise chips, so make your purchases at a discount store before you leave home.
Sports Activities There is a basketball court on the top deck and ping pong on deck 11. Traveling on the Holland America Statendam will usually provide you ample opportunity to play. There is also golf putting, golf chipping, shuffleboard, basketball and volleyball aboard the ship. You can earn "Dam Dollars" if you win and later exchange those dollars for prizes.
Ping Pong is located on Deck 11.
There's a neat Hideaway on Deck 12.
Who Are My Fellow Passengers? Traveling on the Holland America Statendam is certainly a far cry from traveling on a Carnival or Princess cruise ship. There were a large number of handicapped passengers and a great number that are social security age. We only saw one grade school child on board and two small 1 year old children. We would strongly urge young passengers, honeymooners, and families with children to consider a cruise other than this one. While the destinations are great, you should expect to sit at a table with seniors rather than people who are younger. Do you really know what to expect for table talk? You'll hear about the stock market, global travels, social security, Medicare, grandchildren and politics. Unless my observations are all wrong 90-95% of the passengers would easily fall in the 70-85 year old range.
Want a Great View? The Crow's Nest is great for relaxing and seeing the world go by. The days we visited it was obvious a lot of smokers had "camped out" in the area. We found the smell of smoke too much to stay a long time plus on many days they kept the area very cool. Wear a sweater just in case you go there on one of those days. There was free coffee, tea and cookies on some days. There are many bars throughout he ship, however we never found any of them very busy. Each morning the cruise director has a coffee chat with an entertainer. We found the chats interesting and informative. Some of the entertainers also participate in lectures aboard the ship. Time and locations vary.
Art Auctions As with most cruise ships there is an art auction. If you want to buy a print or painting wouldn't you really be better off going to the local art dealer and discussing such a purchase? It's difficult to believe quality art work, in such scarce quantities, could be found aboard a cruise ship a thousand miles out in the sea. Think about it.
Future Cruise Purchase We are always amazed to see large numbers of passengers talking with an onboard Holland America future cruise person. There is the offer of $100 ship board credit or a room upgrade if you just put a down payment today for that cruise next year. The cruise industry is like so many other businesses in this day and time. There are good buys and even great buys to be made on future cruises. Are they aboard a cruise ship? You be your own judge. We get so many e-mails advertising discounted cruises that we have always been hesitant to purchase a cruise while at sea.
Internet Access OK, I am an internet junkie and this is most often the way I stay in touch with family and friends. The service aboard this ship was equivalent to the old dial up service that I ditched 10 years ago. There was one big difference as the cost was $100 for 250 minutes. I could even live with that however just getting onto the internet sometimes took a full 10 minutes with each minute costing 40 cents. I updated this review on day four. The internet is said to be working so I head for the internet area. After 15 minutes I finally log onto the ship's system, however it will not let me go to the internet. I ask the attendant for assistance and she told me I didn't know my name and the password needed to log onto the internet and that I should call my provider (sbcglobal) when I get to Hawaii. This is strange since I have been using this service and have maintained my "login name" and "password" for many years. I ask the person next to me if he has been able to log in and he advises that he is on the ship's hookup but can't get to his bank account to pay a bill. Almost thirty minutes have passed and I started to try to reach various providers and sites. Finally by going to Google and them to SBCGlobal I am able to at least get to my provider's web site. A few minutes later I am on my site and I get into my e-mail. The fellow next to me is still trying. One thing I noticed, once you log onto the ship's system you will find various Holland America links. DON'T GO THERE AS IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET OUT WITHOUT LOGGING OFF. That will mean having to go back and try the process all over again thus wasting many, many minutes. I figured sending a simple e-mail was costing me many dollars each time. I have experienced far faster connection time aboard the Princess line. The person on duty was friendly and helpful, and it was not her fault.
Library and Internet Rooms I plan to rethink my internet experiences aboard cruise ships. I will no longer sign up for the ship's internet service unless the ship is reasonably close to land. No more open sea "lack of internet service" for me. The quality of the service is poor even in the best of times. You have a far better chance of getting a reasonably good quality hookup when docked. Another tip -- take a minute to meet the person in charge of the ship's service. If she/he does not appear proficient or willing to help you, then pass up the high internet fees and wait until you are on shore. Thus far I have been unable to use my own laptop on this cruise as I hook up one minute while being disconnected the very next minute. Asking for help on this cruise was certainly not even close to the excellent service we received on a recent Princess cruise.
I have been unable to use my laptop in my cabin. I asked some other passengers if they can get on the internet in their cabin and neither have they. I was able to use my iPhone even in the cabin to connect to AT&T and download my emails. The phone worked great in all ports in Hawaii.
Retail Stores If you can find poorer retail stores in the cruise industry please send me an e-mail as the stores on the Holland America Statendam have some of the poorest quality merchandise we have ever seen. In addition some stores had very little merchandise. One store advertised everything in the store at a $10 price. We thought we were at the local dollar store. My wife had always purchased perfume aboard cruise ships, but not this one. The selection and quality was extremely poor. Holland America needs to address this immediately.
Van Gough Lounge This is the entertainment area for the onboard singers and dancers as well as other invited entertainment. It is worth a visit to the area during the day time just to view this very nice theater area reminiscent of eras gone by. Looks a lot like the movie theater I attended in the 1940s. Seating is comfortable and the theater is small, compared to the big mega ships. The entertainment is one star level therefore don't expect much and therefore you won't be disappointed. Movies are sometimes shown on a small screen. Sound is not the best. Limited amounts of popcorn may be available for free on days movies are shown. Movies were also shown in the Wajang Theater.
Casino One of the smallest casinos we have ever seen on a ship. One roulette wheel, five or 6 tables for various card games, one craps table and one table for poker. There are a limited number of older slot machines. The staff is far more friendly than we have experienced on recent cruises. This is certainly not a place where you go to win money. It is just entertainment. Don't worry, they will take your money just as quickly on the older slots as the newer electronic machines. One of the best gambling bargains is the Texas Holdem Poker Tournament. Buy in for $30 and the winner of the tournament gets $200 with the runner up getting $50. A great hour of fun and play and not too expensive. On our ship the first time players seemed always to beat out those who thought they were pros. Be patient with the players and dealers as this is not a professional tournament.
Sports Activities On most days there is some type of competitive sport activity taking place. Shoot basketball and golf putting are two such activities where you can win cruise dollars that, if you accumulate enough, you can win a prize. Kind of like going to the fair or carnival.
Shore Excursions As with many other items you may purchase, you may find shore excursion prices beyond your budget. Shore excursions can cost you far more than the price of the cruise, therefore I suggest you be very selective. Costs range from $59 to $599 for such excursions. If you are not the adventurous type, don't like to go off on your own and don't much like driving in an unfamiliar area, then the ship's shore excursions may be your only choice if you want to get off the ship and see the sights, so let me suggest some alternatives. In Kauai there is a helicopter ride of 1-1/2 hours that sells for $265. By doing a little research on the internet we found an equivalent helicopter tour priced at $350.40 for two passengers, thus we saved almost $180.00. We were fortunate in that our son is a pilot and he had flown on the helicopter we booked, thus we got a great recommendation. The price of the ship's helicopter could have been purchased for around $200 on shore on the identical helicopter, thus there was a mark up of approximately $65 per passenger for the ship's tour.
In Hilo the ship's tour office has a variety of tours costing $51 to $219 per person. Find another couple and rent a car for around $50 and head for some of the same tourist spots at a fraction of the cost from the tour office. By splitting the cost of the rental car and gas, you can see the exact same sights on your own time and save a bundle. All it takes a little internet research and a few reservations before you arrive.
One couple at our dining table made reservations with a tour company that will meet them at the dock and take them to the same places as the ship offers with the really big difference being the price, which was less than 50% off the ship cruise prices, plus don't forget the freedom that goes with such a tour -- stop when you want to and stop where you want to.
Tenders Like many passengers we are not always excited when we have to "tender in" at a port. The tenders on this ship ran quite well when it came to passenger pickups, transportation and drop offs.
Car Rental Tips We rented cars at Hilo, Kailua, Lahaina & Honolulu. Check and double check that you understand where the cars are located and how you will get there. For example we were told by Alamo Rental that we could walk to their office in Honolulu. Upon arrival we found the office to be about 6 miles away or a $30 taxi ride. Most rental car companies will pick you up at the dock at no additional charge. Make certain that you know what the closing hour is for that location and if you can turn a car in after closing hours. In Honolulu the Hertz office was close to the cruise terminal, however they did not permit car turn ins after 4PM. Parking in Honolulu was $30 to $50 for overnight. Plan your traveling route well before you arrive at the port. We found that even though we were at Honolulu for two days, a one day rental was plenty as the traffic was a nightmare. Also determine the kind of vehicle you really need. Unless you are going "four wheeling" don't opt for a Jeep Wrangler on the islands. These are not the most comfortable vehicles to drive or ride in (I own one and thus I write from experience) and they will cost an arm and a leg at most locations. Going down the highway in Hawaii in a convertible is a picture of fun. Maybe and maybe not, as we hit rain quite often, thus time after time we lowered the top only to have to raise it an hour later. Otherwise the convertible was quite fun. Leave all your "stuff" in the cruise ship cabin as it will be exposed for the easy heist at your next unattended stop. Do you really need that extra insurance for collision and theft? You need to review the terms of your credit card AND your personal insurance policy and then make your own decision. Many articles and guide books stated that car reservations should be made before leaving home. While that is a good suggestion, we found prices to be the same or in some cases lower at the location than prices quoted before leaving home.
Library A very good at sea library offers many books and DVDs (cost $3 to rent) that can be viewed in your cabin. All need to be checked out at the desk and returned by the due date. There is a section for paperback exchanges which is free. Just leave the book that you have read for another passenger and pick up a paperback of your choice. Some of these books were in French with most being in English.
Spa and Salon Located on deck 11 there is a very nice Spa and Hair Salon. Depending on what part of the country you live in, expect to pay highly inflated prices.
Wajang Theater The movie theater has been renovated and is now a theater with movies being shown several times a day. It also serves as the location for the Culinary Arts Center where cooking and food demonstrations are given. Seating is in comfortable theater chairs. Popcorn is available for free at the movies. Get there early if you want free popcorn as it goes fast and there was never enough for the entire crowd.
Queens Room and Explorations Cafe Lots of internet locations in this area and several good areas to relax and read a book.
Explorers Lounge A great place to relax and watch the world go by, have a drink and read a book. Comfortable seating throughout the room.
Ocean Bar One of the places we found to be the busiest aboard ship. Good seating where passengers can have a drink and chat with friends.
Half Moon Room and Hudson Room These rooms are next to one another on the Promenade deck. They were being used by private groups much of the time and were also used by some of the ship's lecturers.
Pool Areas Located on the Lido Deck is the Lido Pool which can be covered by a sliding glass dome when weather is adverse outside. The area is very nice and there are new lounges, chairs and tables throughout the area. Plenty of towels are available for those who want to take a swim or get into one of the hot tubs. Just one deck below is a small outdoor pool. We did not find many passengers using that pool as the weather was windy and cool. There are a couple of ping pong tables located close to the indoor pool.
Deck 6 This deck offers a walking area completely around the ship and there are plenty of lounge chairs along the way. On the days "at sea" this area was heavily used by the passengers.
Bars and Lounges If you are one of those that don't mind expensive drinks aboard ship, then head for one of the six lounges or bars on this ship. There are four on deck 8, one on 11 and one on 12. We never once found a bar or lounge full and could always find a seat. Service is sometimes slow as there were few attendants during some hours.
Ports I will not try to list all the ports. The reason we found most passengers taking this cruise is for the unusual ports in the South Pacific, the cost of which to go to individually by air would be astronomical. We found that a few hours at each port only whets one's appetite for future visits.
Raiatea, French Polynesia: A most interesting port with modern port facilities. Rent a car and take a tour of the island. It can be covered in about an hour, thus a four hour car rental would be sufficient. There is a Eurocar Rental office not far from town and we found a representative at the docks offering a ride to the office. Roads are decent and not a lot of traffic. You can stop often and take in the sights. Check your travel book for those places the author feels are a "must to see." There are vanilla plantations on the island. Take a tour. Rentals will be about $100 for four hours.
Bora Bora: Here we rented a car at the city docks (Avis). Takes about two hours to circle the island. Suggest you take a slow leisurely trip and use the four hours you are paying for the rental car. About $100 for 4 hours. There is only one road around the island and it is a good road for most of the way. Don't hesitate on a car rental as there is little traffic and driving is easy. Bloody Mary's is located on the southwest side of the island. It is a great tourist destination.
Moorea: "Le Truck" is the common form of transportation in Moorea. We suggest you pick up a rental car and travel at your own pace.
Papeete, Tahiti: The central market is located downtown. You can walk to a lot of the downtown sites. Traffic is as bad as bad can be. We were discouraged from renting a car here.
Traveling on a cruise to the South Pacific can be an adventure of a lifetime. Island stops were too short as we would have liked to have stayed longer at some of those islands that are not on the regular tourist beat. The opinions and observations expressed in this review are those of this traveler and we recognize that with 1200 passengers on the same trip there will be different opinions and observations, and we respect that. We are in no way connected with the cruise line industry. I would be pleased to try to answer any questions anyone may have concerning this review. Just send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Would we travel again on this same ship? Yeah, we would. Would we want to take this same destination cruise? Yes, we would.
Have a great cruise no matter where you travel!