Length: 951 ft
Passengers (all berths): 1,848
One of the four Vista-class ship with lovey staterooms, Explorations cafe and special dining experiences in the Pinnacle GrillBest For People Who Want
A reasonably priced classical style cruise aboard a mid-size ship; large cabins and staterooms with private verandas; non-smoking dining areas; alternative dining venues; Internet Center.Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
the quiet and serene old Holland America of cozy teas and string quartetsOnboard Experience
The Explorations Cafe is a combination library, Internet center, music listening area and sidewalk cafe. Staterooms now offer the best mattresses and duvets sold in Europe, flat screen TVs, and DVD players. There's early boarding and a choice of four dinner seatings.
And a few of many past passengers' favorite HAL traditions remain - the free appetizers at cocktail hour and abundant fresh flowers.
An appointment for dry-dock in May, 2008, includes the addition of flat-panel televisions to all cabins, a new wine program onboard and the enhancement of the Pinnacle Grill Bar and the Explorations Cafe.
Sit on a turquoise leather sofa in one lounge, a bright yellow one in another, a red one elsewhere. Throughout the ship, bright primary colors fairly leap out at you. Traverse a red and purple carpet on Promenade Deck and then a cherry red hallway before ascending to your cabin -- in a fire engine red elevator trimmed in brass.
Because the ship's atrium is not the center of attention as on many other Caribbean ships, most activity takes place on Lower Promenade and Promenade Decks, where the majority of lounges and shops are located. Cocktails are on offer in the refined Explorer's Club, a Sports Bar and the Queen's Lounge. The three-tier Vista Lounge is where you'll find the ship's star studded entertainment, while the semicircular Queen's Lounge on the Lower Promenade Deck presents cabaret-style entertainment and recently released movies. Pre-dinner dancing happens in the Crows Nest, an attractive lounge on Observation Deck with potted palm trees, silver-blue and cobalt leather chairs, and wonderful recliners overlooking the bow of the ship.
Keeping in mind the goal of this ship was to shake up the old image, there's no other way to say it: Holland America's first-ever dedicated disco is an eyesore. But with the lights turned down and a few drinks, it just might make you feel crazy enough to actually try the Karaoke on tap.
The most notable features of the pool area are giant polar bear and penguin statues, fairly incongruous given that Zuiderdam sails year-round in the Caribbean.Cuisine
The beautifully presented, banquet-quality, Continental cuisine in the Vista Dining Room has improved in recent years as a result of more contemporary menu selections such as seared tuna and grilled rack of lamb. Gone are the bland entrees of a few years ago. Service in the dining rooms has taken a noticable leap forward, now that the expansion of the cruise line is no longer tapping the best service people for the newest ships. On a recent cruise, the waiter was not only efficient, but engaging and warm, remembering our preferences and never missing a beat. In fact, when it was pointed out to him that his badge had the all too typical misspelling "Dinning Room Steward" he actually had it corrected by the end of the cruise.
The lunch buffet on Lido Deck, along with the separate food stations for Italian and Asian cuisine, offers abundant variety and easy access. Lines are rare except at peak times. The Deli custom sandwich bar serves its phenomenal grilled BLT on a baguette; don't even consider not trying it, while the Poolside Grill offers hamburgers and hotdogs all day with hand-stirred mayo, mustard and ketchup. There's also a taco bar immediately forward of the Grill. Unlike many mass-market cruise lines, a request for an ice tea from a bar waiter outside will not be answered with "you can get those yourself inside." They will actually bring to your table for you - no charge.
The alternative Pinnacle Grill specializes in dishes featuring ingredients from the Pacific Northwest, an homage to Seattle, the home city of Holland America Line. There is a $20 per person surcharge. The food is cooked in a separate area of the main galley, and served piping hot. The desserts alone are worth the price of admission, especially the tri-flavored creme brulé sampler or the "Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake."
Watch for specialty nights such as the "Chef's Dinner" for 12 people with wine-pairing - cost $89 per person.
Also the "Le Cirque" night in the Pinnacle Grill when they serve itrems from the menu of the iconic New York restaurantRestaurants
The two-level Vista Restaurant has spacious seating and good soundproofing. There are tables for two, four, six, eight and ten. Floor-to-ceiling windows line three sides of the room, and grand staircases flank the bandstand, from which live music flows most appetizingly while you dine. The ship's Lido cafe, serving breakfast and lunch, becomes a casual dining dispensary of pizza and pasta by night. Holland America is known for its buffets, and continues to offer the Asian stir fry, deli sandwiches, and, at breakfast, made-to-order omelets that made their name.
The $20 per person (without wine), dinner in the luminous reservations-only Pinnacle Grill can be a memorable experience, with a well-executed menu concentrating on the flavours of Holland America's Pacific Northwest home, with salmon, premium beefsteaks, Dungeness crab cakes, venison carpaccio, Washington apples, and Oregon bleu cheese.Service
Holland America's Indonesian and Filipino crew is warm and gracious, and over the last few years, as the line's rapid expansion phase has ended, they have become much more fluent in English and accustomed to their jobs.Tipping
For years Holland America was known for its no-tipping policy, but today gratuities of $10.00 per person (including children) are automatically added daily to the shipboard account for dining and stateroom service. Visit the front desk to adjust that amount. There is also a 15 percent service charge automatically added to bar bills.Entertainment
Zuiderdam's new Culinary Arts Center, with video cameras and overhead monitorso capture the action for those in the back rows, is set up very much like a TV Food Channel set, and is a marvelous addition. A number of demonstration classes are given at no charge. Hands-on classes, limited to about a dozen students, charge modestly. As these classes are very popular, be sure to sign up early.
Another big improvement is the New York Times-powered Exploration Café, featuring an excellent lending library, music listening stations, 24-hour Internet access (for a fee), and a "sidewalk café" featuring specialty coffees, other beverages and bakery treats (all at an additional charge). Those who like to spend a large percentage of their vacations on line should consider a prepaid bulk-minute plan, as the speed of the Internet connection will have you howling in pain. Better to wait for a port and follow the crew to an Internet café.
Things have certainly changed since Holland America was widely thought incapable of staging a credible production show. Instead of the customary four singers and dancers in the production shows, Zuiderdam had more than a dozen, and much more elaborate sets. Late-night adult oriented comedy is offerd at least once per cruise. Other diversions include exercise and dance classes, bridge, bingo, Friends of Bill W., guest lectures, and even ice carving.
There is no dedicated onboard cinema, as on the S-class of Holland America ships, but the Ocean Bar is transformed into a movie theater at least twice daily and you can still find the free bags of popcorn, though they have gone from hot to lukewarm. The movie selection is surprisingly recent releases and refreshingly intelligent in content, favoring good plots over mindless action flicks.Cabins
Zuiderdam's staterooms are larger than most mass-market cruise lines', with balcony cabins bigger still. Standard inside cabins are 182 sq. feet, outside staterooms 197 sq. feet, and standard balcony cabins 284 sq. ft. Balcony cabins have a spacious veranda with two chairs and a table. Be forewarned, though, that staterooms have few shelves and no drawers.
The verandahs on Holland America are quite adequate for two. The well-equipped staterooms offer wonderful new pillow-top beds, better pillows; fluffier towels; duvets and high-thread count sheets; a stocked mini-bar (with charges for all beverages consumed); hair-dryers; safes; functional storage space. Staterooms always feature fresh flowers; a filled ice bucket; and a bowl of fresh fruit that's replenished regularly.
Television service includes several stations, such as CNN, ESPN, television shows, shore excursion presentations, and shopping presentations. There's no self-service laundry, but several laundry packages are available, the $45 unlimited laundry package seems a good deal, though it doesn't include dry cleaning.
Suite passengers have access to the Neptune Lounge on Rotterdam Deck, a private room that serves various snacks (from light breakfast fare in the mornings to hors d'oeuvres at cocktail hour). The concierge therein can book dinner reservations and shore tours.
There's no self-service laundry on this ship, although several laundry packages are available through your room steward.Fitness/Spa
Zuiderdam has one of the most spacious gyms on the high seas, with cardio equipment and weight machines arranged in tiers, and a large hot tub in the center. The Greenhouse Spa and Salon's reception area is situated in the midst of a hallway between the main pool and an elevator bank, making the fitness center purposely difficult to locate. Despite the name, it's still run Steiner's, which means that its treatments are somewhat pricey, though the staff is not quite so relentless about sales.
An nice alternative to a massage is a day pass to either the thelasotherapy pool with extremely strong water jets to soothe your muscles ($20/day), or you can go to the steam and aromatherapy center and relax on heated loungers and take steambaths infused with essentail oils. Day passes to this are also $20/day. Or you can buy a weekly pass to both for $250 unlimited.
Zuiderdam has two outdoor swimming pools, one with a Magrodome roof that can be closed in case of inclement weather. There are also several hot tubs available at no charge. The large gym has state-of-the-art strengthening and aerobic equipment, and there's a jogging track on one of the upper decks. There's a nominal charge for some of the exercise classes.Attire
On the two weekly formal nights, half the men opt for a dark suit rather than renting a tuxedo. Casual on these ships means comfortable, but T-shirts, jeans, swimsuits, tank tops and shorts are all forbidden in the dining rooms and public areas. It isn't allowed, but also not unusual for people to change back to casual after dinner on formal nights. As long as you stick to the deck areas or casino, no one will frown at you.
TAKE CARE before reserving on Zuiderdam or any other Holland America Cruise ships. We traveled as a group of 6 (my family of four with teenage children and my parents). The Zuiderdam has poorly trained staff, extremely uneven quality of dining, and poor services (shore excursions and spa for instance).
Our problems started at arrival. Our family of four received a room which had not been cleaned. Dirty towels and partially eaten food were in the cupboards, food bits and a variety of sundries (including sweatbands) were on the floor, the bed whilst made had sheets that clearly had been used. We complained to the steward who cleaned the closets but did not vacuum and also did not change the sheets. We complained to the front office at dinner after which the sheets were changed. The room was not vacuumed until the second day.
Dinner service was uneven. In the 'set time' dining the tables are jammed full (3rd floor). The 'reserve as you go' dining room is far more spacious (but fewer tables). The 'buffet' on the Lido Deck is almost inedible and the strong smell of cooking food lingers throughout theLido area including the pool. As far as dinner service, the portions were very small (for example: a 'caprese' salad contained one-half of a cherry tomato and one piece of mozzarella; a strawberry desert contained two 1/4 strawberry portions). The quality of food varied from night to night with some dishes exceeding expectations but an equal number far below expectation.
We tried to use the spa services and made reservations. When we arrived for the services we waited (twice), in both instances there was a failure to communicate between the front desk and service deliverer (pedicurist). After 20 minutes wait both times we were offered only the opportunity to reschedule. No explanation was given. We went to the front desk to complain and try to understand but were told that the only responsible 'persons' were the spa management.
We bought the 'enhanced' spa package consisting of access to a warm whirpool and thermal suites. This was billed as an exclusive service that would not be crowded. We were unable to use the 'thermal suites' at most times due to the number of guests who had been sold the service. The whirlpool area had an all glass enclosure allowing light but the blinds were drawn making the space shadowy and dark, not at all pleasant to use.
We booked a shore excursion to St. John's for snorkeling. The shore excursion was canceled due to 'beach inundation' at the last minute (approx. 11:00) before departure with no alternatives given (or available). We checked on surfforecaster.com and called friends who we were to meet on St. John's and both sources indicated that the snorkeling beach was not inundated (some swell but passable conditions). When we confronted the Front Office, the assistant refused to inform a manager of our complaint because "the manager on duty cannot help you and they don't want us to repeat our story". He offered instead that we could 'make an appointment' with someone else and write our complaint.
This last problem sums up our experience. The Zuiderdam has unresponsive staff who are not trained to address complaints or react. It provides uneven service levels that can impact vacation and the whole atmosphere seems that one should have limited expectations.
My parents who have been on over 50 cruises over the past twenty years felt that the Zuiderdam quality of food and service was the lowest they had ever seen. Their comment, "Holland America had a reputation of being a well-oiled machine and this is a complete surprise," sums up our family experience.
If you consider the Zuiderdam look elsewhere. There must be another boat and another line that will care more about your experience.
Ship very old and worn. Poor service throughout, especially Lido restaurant. Very disappointing. Many crew members could not speak English and could not give directions on ship. Our room was left open by room steward. Food was of poor quality. Pinnacle Restaurant was good but was $50 extra dollars.
This was my 13th cruise, 4th on HAL. While I've not superstitious, perhaps I should have been. Embarkation was very smooth and things were fine, until we got to our stateroom. The refrigerator did not work and although checked twice by maintenance, was never fixed. Also, the light on the cosmetic mirror was out, the shower curtain was about a foot short and some of the drapery hooks were broken. The toilet stopped working the 2nd day, but was quickly fixed. However, it seemed the vacuum system had several hiccups during the two weeks. Taken separately, these are small concerns. Taken together, it adds up to lack of maintenance oversight.
We also had issues with the liquor bottle service. There was complete inconsistency in ordering. I wanted to upgrade the scotch from Cutty Sark to a single malt (the answer was no) and they finally agreed to JW Red at no upcharge. Our traveling companions next door wanted to upgrade from Bacardi Light to Bacardi Gold (sold at the same price in the bars) and were told no, period. If HAL is going to offer a bottle service, why make it difficultand not customer friendly?
As to the cruise itself, it was fine, except for the dreaded Novovirus (see end of review). The ship is still in good shape, the staff was very friendly and the entertainment (HalCats & Daryl @ the piano bar) were great. Cruise Director Gene was very friendly and always visible.
Ports: I'm not going to review any ports, except Puerto Chiapas, Mex.: I ask, WHY? this place is a complete waste of time. The town is about a half-hour bus ride from the port and there is nothing there. The ship offered two tours.
Food: typically good HAL fare. Salad choices were strange, but soups and appetizers were inspried. Except for one night when they couldn't seem to cook a steak correctly, entrees were usually well prepared. I don't do dessert, but they looked pretty good.
Disembarkation in San Diego (the ship continued on to Vancouver) was a mess. A few hundred passengers had chosen the expidited program to take their own luggage and HAL completely botched it, leaving most of us queued in the passageway for about a hour after the announcement. I'm 59 and well below the median age on the ship. Imagine a bunch of seniors jammed together and trying to negotiate a couple of narrow ramps with 50 lb. suitcases!
Now the dreaded Novovirus: more than 200 people came down with it. While HAL continues to blame the passengers, I think the cruiseline is more to blame. According to several blogs, HAL has had more breakouts than any other cruiseline. It's either the crew or a sanitation problem and it wasn't the first time on the Zuiderdam.
In summary, while HAL continues to run a class operation and I like the basic ship design and itineraries, the Novovirus problem (and the way they handle it) has me looking at other lines in the near future.