This was a back-to-back, with friends who did the first half; these were my 13th and 14th cruises, my 2nd and 3rd on the Zuiderdam.
The flight down from Ottawa, Canada to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale was uneventful except for flying down the 'wrong' side of Florida (the Gulf side), in the wake of tropical storm Noel. Embarkation in Fort Lauderdale was very short, largely because one of the friends I was with, had filled in all of the on-line forms prior to departure, meaning far less paperwork than any time previously. (We did carry print duplicates in case of computer crashes, etc.) Being temporarily off the ship as an 'in transit' passenger at Ft. Lauderdale on the 10th was also very quick, as was the final disembarkation on the 17th,, whence I proceeded straight to the airport on leaving the ship.
Since the itinerary was the same with both trips, I have covered each port of call only once. One advantage is that there are lots of things to do in each port of call, so one can do things the second time around that one missed the first.
Becauseof Tropical Storm Noel (which later became a hurricane North of Florida in the Atlantic), the seas were rough during the first week until we hit Tortola.
Grand Turk Cruise Terminal, south of Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, British West Indies -- We traveled overnight and full day at sea, before docking the next morning at the new Grand Turk Cruise terminal, built by Carnival a couple of years ago. Grand Turk has been under colonial administration since the late 1760s, passing between various maritime powers, mostly Britain; at present most of its internal affairs are run by an elected Legislative Assembly but it remains a British colony. It is more laid back than the Bahamas, illustrated by the fact that although independence was agreed to in 1976(?) for "sometime in 1982", this was never followed up after a change in the locally elected government! Grand Turk is the most easterly of the islands of the Turks & Caicos group and is both southerly and easterly of the Bahamas and North of the western end of the Dominican Republic. It is only seven miles long, and has a large number of thorny miniature Acacia trees. These islands have not been often frequented by large cruise ships, since there were no sizeable port facilities, but have long been used by the yachting community.
Cockburn Town has old houses dating from the 18th and 19th century, close to the architecture found in Bermuda rather than resembling that of the Bahamas. I do not recommend bothering with the old 19th century prison in the town, used until very recently, however you should not miss the National Museum on Front Street: The reefs around many of the islands comprising the Turks and Caicos group and especially Grand Turk resulted in many ships being lost and a lot of artifacts have been brought up and are on display, such as the Molasses Reef Wreck dating from the early 1500s. Like most Caribbean islands, Grand Turk also has its supposed Columbus landing site, with the obligatory plaque, and elsewhere there is a plaque marking where US astronaut John Glenn first set foot on land after his sea landing in 1962! In the North of the island is a protected ecological park where there sits a still functioning lighthouse (now electrified) which was built when the U.S. threatened to cancel all trade because of the dangerous reefs; the lighthouse was landed on the beach in 1852, in segments and re-assembled as a typical example of Victorian enterprise (the original lenses and light system are on display at the National Museum). It is beside a former US Naval station which played a role during the Cuban missile crisis; there are also the remains of a satellite tracking station on the island, necessary in NASA's early days before technology made earth to satellite trackers obsolete.
For those interested in expeditions, there are beaches, and from December until the spring, there is whale watching. There are several reefs for scuba diving trips, and catch and release fishing is available. Most of HAL's expeditions involve water sports, but there are also buses which drive around the island from which one can get on and off. Grand Turk lacks a lot of infrastructure (except for the airfield), and Cockburn Town is quite untidy, but has its charm. Salt ponds are still everywhere on the island, since salt production used to be one of the important industries here, primarily run out of Bermuda in the earliest days. The local beer (brewed in nearby Providenciales) is Turks Head; the local punch is good. For a bar, try the Sandbar on Duke Street, downtown Cockburn Town, frequented by Yachtees. I do not recommend the Margaritaville built in the Cruise Terminal; there are 3 to 5 employees per customer who have nothing to do and the drinks are watered down and are really over-priced; there is a swimming pool there which is huge and clean, but I am not sure what ecological sacrifices have been made to create it, since Grand Turk does not have much fresh water.
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, British West Indies -- The next stop was at Tortola, British Virgin Islands, also a British colony. Here there are tours sponsored by the ship, but if you are scheduled to be in port for the whole day you can make local arrangements just beside the pier for a lower price. Tortola is famous for its beaches and scuba diving. There are several land tours however, and most of them do lead up into the mountains (Sage Mountain), providing spectacular views over the BVI. The 3 of us went to sample the "Pusser's Painkiller" at Pusser's Landing (I recommend this place for eating as well as rum, it is on the waterfront). They sell souvenir mugs which are interesting. One of the ladies behind the bar has worked there for over 30 years! Clothing and such are expensive in the big stores, but the flea market just outside the cruise terminal has some good deals, particularly if you buy more than one thing. Do not miss the Sunny Caribbee Herb and Spice Co. and the Sunny Caribbee Art Gallery which sell local crafts, soaps, a very large variety of spices and chutneys, and teas (all of which can be brought back to North America with no customs problems); samples are often available, particularly of the chutneys and mango teas.
The old "Main Street" just off the waterfront is crammed into the side of the hill; the small lanes leading into it are very narrow but give some indication of the older Road Town, with its mixture of architectural styles from Bermuda villas to West Indian. The J.R. O'Neal Botanical Gardens are close to downtown on the Main Street extension, and are worth seeing; there is a miniature tropical rain forest, with orchids, tropical birds, and several red-legged tortoises not found elsewhere. If the cruise ship is there all day, you can take a day excursion to Virgin Gorda (1 hr to 1.5 hrs each way by ferry) or Jost van Dyke (45 minutes each way by ferry), two small islands nearby. There are ship-provided expeditions to both places, but they book up early.
Charlotte-Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands -- The next morning we stopped at nearby Charlotte-Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. On the first round, we were docked at a former US submarine base away from the main port at Crown Bay, where the shuttle buses are $3.00 each way (reasonable) and run all day. On the second round, the ship was closer to the downtown in the main docking area since the Carnival Victory was late into port owing to a medical emergency, and not only had to give up its spot, but also was anchored completely outside of the port (our ship provided some tenders to speed up the Victory's getting people ashore. The advantage of the main pier is that everything is in walking distance. The Green House, on the waterfront close to where all ship tenders drop people off from cruise ships stationed in the bay itself, is in the centre of the shopping district and is a good place for lunch and for margaritas. I obtained a gold tie-pin at Diamonds International which would have been at least 3 times more expensive at home. I suggest riding up the funicular, which is above the main dock; on top there is a restaurant, a look-out, and a few shops. There are several maps posted identifying the visible islands, the largest being St. Croix to the South, and on a very clear day you can see as far as Saba, one of 3 small islands of the Netherlands Antilles 'North' (the other 3 are near Venezuela). It is possible to get a one-way funicular ticket and to then walk down back to the main part of the town (or right back to the ship).
Other things to see are Fort Christian V whose construction began in 1660s (right by the shore not far from the main pier, it is the largest building in Charlotte-Amalie, having had many uses including as the local jail), it now houses a museum. There is also the Legislative Building near the main port area, the "99" steps up to Government Hill and 'Blackbeard's Castle' (which houses a small hotel).
Half-Moon Cay, Bahamas -- The last port of call after a day at sea was Half-Moon Cay, leased from the Bahamanian government by Holland America, but occasionally visited by Carnival ships. Situated between two slender elongated islands in the Bahamas, it is about 100+ miles southeast of Nassau. Its real name on the nautical charts and elsewhere is Little San–Salvador. I went to the ship's BBQ on both occasions, crowded but good. The second round I walked up to the western tip of the island a way beyond where the horseback riding takes place. On a clear day, both nearby islands are visible, the southern tip of Eleuthera to the West, and, from a higher vantage point, to the East, the northern end of Cat Island. We were fortunate in only having our own ship at Half-Moon Cay, since it can get too filled with people when any more HAL ships are anchored off the facilities. If the opportunity presents itself, you should go ashore; HAL/Carnival has provided extra-size tenders which remain based on the island, rather than using the ship's tenders, which means that even on a larger ship, the tendering process is fast. If the seas are too rough, you miss the call there, as I have done on at least one previous occasion. Drinks are the same price as on the ship, unlike some cruise islands which charge you more. Aside from water sports, there is horse-back riding. Bring insect repellent, water and sunscreen.
I write about one or two features on any given ship
The Pinnacle Grill and a new way to open a Champagne bottle -- The Pinnacle Grill was excellent. We went once, for dinner. Steaks. Filet minion. Mmm.
This is also where the gourmet wine tastings are situated. The wine tasting included a good variety of wines as well as the opening of Champagne (1) using a sabre-cut or sabrage decapitation, and (2) by similarly executing it using a wine glass to hit the same precise spot. It is not advisable to do this at home, you should watch the pros do it. Champagne bottles are under considerable pressure, the bottles have to be specially made, with a seam connecting the two halves lengthwise and another below the lower annulus (the lower lip of the cork-mount). The secret of Champagne bottle beheading (with a "sabre" or a heavy cooking knife, or glass) is to chill the bottle entirely, including the neck, so do not use an ice-bucket. The muselet, or wire basket over the cork, the foil, and the metal caplet over the top of the cork, are removed gently. Find one of the two seams along the side of the bottle moving up the neck nearest to the lower annulus using the fingers; there should also be a seam there; clear the foil along the seam along the neck for a smoother slide. Drape the bottle with a towel for safety reasons, hold it as you would carry a small Dachshund, neck UP, about 40 degrees off the horizontal and not aiming in the direction of anyone or anything like a window or mirror. Lay the sabre or knife flat along the seam and slide it firmly against the protruding lip at its joint with the bottle; you may use the sharp edge of a sabre or knife or the blunt one. No passengers or crew were injured, sprayed with Champagne, or showered with glass during this exercise. Opening a Champagne bottle with a wineglass is a similar process, only the Assistant somelier went through 3 glasses to do it (they are too light-weight to do this properly and then you have to get rid of the broken glassware).
Vista Dining Room -- I was at the late seating at a table for 4 for the 3 of us on the first trip, lower level. The food is good but sometimes lacking in variety. For the second trip, I was at a table for 6, second-last seating, upper level, the people with whom I was seated were interesting and I discovered that one of them is going in May on the same cruise as friends and I.
The Lido, Lido Grill -- The Lido for Breakfast and Lunch is difficult to navigate if with more than 2 people, since someone has to guard the seats. On the smaller HAL ships this is not a problem. I frequently had breakfast and lunch in the Lido when alone. The Lido has a lot of variety, for breakfast and lunch, the dining room less so. For less formal things (i.e. before a shore expedition or after one), the Pool Grill (near the Lido bar -- often called the Dolphin bar on HAL ships because of the chairs being molded dolphin tails) has been expanded a little to go beyond hamburgers & hotdogs. It should not be ignored since there were Mexican and other things available with more variety than in the past.
General Comments About the Ship -- The ship was built in 2002, and has had several upgrades, such as improvements to the linens, and the beds are very comfortable. The TVs are hard to work and, unfortunately, are of the old type, hung from the wall. I gather these will all be changed for flat screens with a simpler operating system fairly soon, the sooner the better. Since rugs in high-frequency areas are changed frequently, there is little sign of wear and tear for a ship which, over 255 voyages, has carried over 471,250 passengers.
The acknowledgement of HAL alumni (Mariners' Society) was done differently. Instead of having everyone in the Vista Lounge, where a few drinks are served to too many people, and a lot of names are read out for many, many who do not show up at these things, there were two separate parties (depending on dinner seating times) for those with under 100 days, followed by the Captain's party for the relatively few of us with 100 days or more or for those who were to receive the 100 day medallion (or more). This was followed by advance-seating by those with 100 days, at an early lunch which included all of the alumni, with complimentary wine and the gift of a ceramic tile. This is a much better way to do it.
The daily quiz is still available, but was not advertised in the daily program, a mistake, and the events for which one wins 'Dam dollars' which are redeemable at the end of the cruise were not as numerous as they used to be.
I had the same cabin to myself for both trips, close to amidships, starboard side, upper promenade deck (4103), while for the first leg, the friends I was with had a deluxe verandah on the Rotterdam deck (7087), also starboard and slightly more aft. My cabin was spacious, but if shared, there is something of a lack of drawer and storage space. The friends I was with chose a cabin which was odd shaped, at a bend of the ship where that particular deck narrows, meaning the suite was larger albeit oddly shaped, and had much more than average the verandah space.
It should be noted that after April 2008, there will be some changes on several decks, since the deck plans on HAL's website give plans for before and after that time.
My Past Cruises
1st-(Old) Noordam, 1998 (retired Nov. 2004); 2nd-Statendam, 1999; 3rd-Zaandam, 2000; 4th–Statendam, 2001; 5th/6th-Ryndam, 2002 (same ship); 7th-Zuiderdam, 2003+; 8th-Veendam, 2003; 9th -Volendam, 2004; 10th/11th-Westerdam, 2006-01; 12th-Amsterdam, 2006-11; 13th/14th-Zuiderdam, 2007
Cabin We were in cabin 5104 which was directly over the tenders. That was a bit disappointing, but once we got used to them, they were easy to ignore. Plus having the chance to see them being deployed for use was actually quite interesting.
The cabin was roomier than expected, and two people with clothes for 21 days had no trouble finding storage space. We had empty drawers and hangers once we'd unpacked.
We had a lovely sized bathroom and the medicine cabinet was larger than ours at home. The flusher on our toilet was less than accurate though. My elderly mother had nothing but trouble trying to make it work. The European style shower was another issue for her. The left tap controls the water and the right controls the temperature.
The sofa in our stateroom had seen better days but I understand the ship is going in for a refit soon.
I'll agree with all the comments about the comfort of the beds. In fact, two days after our return home, I had to go out and purchase a new mattress as I could no longer justify sleeping on the onewe had!
Ship My overall impression of the fittings and decor on the Zuiderdam is positive. Very elegant, just like I expected a cruise ship to be.
The library is sufficient, but the best part is the paperback swap. I read about 17 novels on the trip and only had to purchase 4 of them. The rest were trades.
I used the Internet onboard once. Ridiculous charges so that was that. At least I can say I did it and can put forth my opinion.
The stores are good, but I found that the staff in the one "department" type store could have been MUCH friendlier and more helpful. If customer service is important, these folks need a bit more training.
Staff Members I had no negative experiences outside the stores as mentioned above. In fact, I was amazed by the ability of staff to remember so many people's names on such a consistent basis!
Special kudos to Purwadi, our room steward. He looked after us so well! His wife had their second child while we were onboard. His contract doesn't expire for 7 more months and as a parent, I felt very empathetic to his situation.
Edrin and Marcie from the Windstar Cafe! Two of the sweetest people! They were over and above what you would expect from people who make your specialty coffee for you. Wonderful! We felt like their favorite customers and I know ALL their customers felt the same way.
Food The food was okay. Nothing special and my favorite food, sushi, was not done well. I did continue to eat it, but the first thing I did upon my return 3 days ago was head out to my favorite restaurant and eat GOOD sushi!
My mom and I ate a couple of times in the dining room, but we found that the food at the buffet was the same quality and we could set our own hours.
Entertainment The few times we went to the Vista Lounge, we truly enjoyed the presentations. Lots of excellent talent!
Overall I never felt the ship was crowded except for the couple of times the coffee ran out during the breakfast rushes.
The teak and cushioned deck chairs were my favorite hangouts.
Our fellow travelers were, for the most part, wonderful and we made quite a few shipboard friends.
I/we would cruise again on the Zuiderdam with no hesitation whatsoever.
It is important to note a bit of background on our cruising experience and what we look for in a vacation. A good vacation is one that meets our expectations. A great vacation is one that surpasses our expectations. This was a great vacation!
We are a semi-retired professional couple in our late 40's/early 50's and have the good fortune of sailing 50+ cruises as passengers. Additionally, following our first retirements, we found a second career in combining our love of travel and people -- we worked as onboard cruise staff for 4+ years with Carnival and Princess Cruises. Accordingly, we have experienced cruising from both sides. For this holiday, we treated ourselves to a deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA stateroom 7047) and every single hard-earned penny was well spent!
Pre-Cruise We arrived a day early into Vancouver, B.C. from Longboat Key, FL, USA. The Delta flight included one change of planes in Atlanta and was uneventful. A prearranged rental car from Alamo onsite at the airport was inexpensive and convenient since we were able to return it onsite at Canada Place before boarding the ship. The Park Plaza Hotel on Broadway wasclean and comfortable and recently refurbished in an art deco motif that was aesthetically pleasing. It's location on Broadway offered many options for dining and shopping.
Embarkation After a good night's sleep, we arrived at the terminal at 11:10 am, returned our rental vehicle and went through the entire process of embarkation and were onboard before 12 noon. The actual process of embarkation took less than 20 minutes and all staff was personable and professional. Our key cards in hand, we posed for our first of many photographs, were videoed as we traversed the gangway, and heard those heart warming words as we took our first step onboard, "Welcome Home". The familiar HAL Mariner motto of "Once onboard, never forgotten" is replayed not only in words but in the actions of all crew members. We had a suite on deck 7, near the Neptune Lounge. Accordingly, we elected to stop by to introduce ourselves to the concierges Carlo & Faye, pour the first of many (many, many) delectable cappuccinos and to drop off our carry on bags. We had a light lunch at the Lido buffet, complete with scrumptious velvety bread pudding, before hearing the announcement that all staterooms were ready. (Approximately 1:20pm)
Stateroom/Suite Ammenities Ahhhhh, the sweet life of the suite life. Although we had cruised 50+ days with HAL, this was the first deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA) we had ever booked with the line. As many others have stated in their reviews, once you have experienced the bonuses that accompany the HAL superior deluxe suite, you will never want to cruise any other way. My husband and I agree that it was the fact that we were in a suite that made this vacation one we will never forget and one that stands apart from all others we have taken as passengers. The stateroom size is astounding. It measures at 510 sq. feet (although a standard verandah cabin measures half that size at 249 sq. feet) and is pure heaven. The color pallet is warm, understated elegance in crème, mauve and burgundy. So much has been written about the extra living space, storage space, oversized balcony, the fresh flowers, the premium duvet, oversize bath towels, and unlimited complimentary laundry and pressing that I will not elaborate. Our cabin steward Rahmat immediately appeared and welcomed us with a warm and genuine smile. Within one hour our 4 checked bags were delivered -- plenty of storage room for both my and my husband's 21 day outfits and 21 evening outfits. Our 4 large bags easily fit under the king size bed and were out of view for the cruise. Ample hangers were provided for all clothing requiring them. I separated out clothing to be pressed for the next 2 days and presented them to our steward for the laundry department. Throughout the entire cruise all clothing sent to be washed or dry cleaned was returned the next day and that to be pressed was returned that same evening as it was sent.
A bit of an aside, for those with long hair, I brought my own hair dryer and am quite happy I did since the one provided in the suite was not sufficient. Also, I did not bring my own shampoo/conditioner and elected to purchase some when the opportunity arose. (I guess I am in the minority on the Elemis products?)
We were off at 4:30pm to the lifeboat drill where the rain could not dampen our spirits. Speaking of spirits, after the drill my husband poured us a glass of champagne (thank you Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells) and we toasted each other to the start of a great holiday.
Captain: Joreon van Donselaar
Hotel Manager: Mark Pells
Suite Concierges: Carlo & Faye
Cruise Director: Jason Venner
Asst. CDs: DJ Drew, Michael, Chris, Aga
Staff Entertainment: Jenny & The Hall Cats, Randall Powell on Piano (in Crow's Nest), Dan Brady on piano (the Piano Bar), Porto Fino (Ocean Bar band), City Quartet (Explorers Lounge plus special occasions string quartet)
Ports Although this was considered a repositioning cruise, it was extremely port intensive. In the 21 day cruise from Vancouver, FL, we visited 13 ports of call (including embarkation & disembarkation). We had the good fortune of varied ports from the pacific northwest region of our port of embarkation, Vancouver, to rainy Seattle, to the cosmopolitan port of Los Angeles, to the 6 ports of Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas), the rain forest area of Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, the maritime/fortressed port of Cartagena, Columbia and the flavor of the western Caribbean islands, Key West, FL. We pre-booked our shore excursions using the HAL online booking and accordingly not only insured receipt of all of the tours we requested but also had them paid for before we sailed. Of particular mention were our personal favorites of the Mini 4 x 4 Expedition in the muddy hills of Puerto Vallarta and the Mountain Bike Tour in Huatulco. Our out of town tours in Cabo San Lucas (Todos Santo) and Manzanillo (Nogueras) were both interesting and insightful of the Mexican culture. While in Seattle, what is not to love about a tour of a winery (complete with wine tasting) at 10:30 am on a rainy day? And a highlight tour of L.A. including Rodeo Drive shopping came in handy for that "oops, I forgot to bring my favorite black pants (wink-wink)" which resulted in the purchase of not one but two new pair of pants plus other necessities! As a special treat, the Hotel Manager, Mark Pells, arranged for no less than 8 folkloric shows to perform for the passengers when in port. These special and unexpected cultural shows were well received by many passengers and a further insight into the colorful entertainment side of the Mexican and Columbian cultures.
Panama Canal Spectacular does not say enough about the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal. When you remember that the Panama Canal shortens by many thousand of miles a voyage that would otherwise involve going around the tip of South America, and couple it with experiencing it first hand through the transit of 3 locks, it is definitely a cruise not to be missed. Many people take cruises wherein the ship is their destination. Others seek out particular ports (i.e. St. Petersburg or perhaps Aruba) that they dreamed of visiting. On this cruise, the transit itself is a destination! We had the renowned guest lecturer Dr. Jay Wolff onboard. Dr. Jay shared his knowledge and passion with us as we sailed the full 21 days. His riveting story-telling combined with his personally compiled slides made his talks a standing room only activity. Dr. Jay prepared us for our journey with talks first on San Francisco and its Pioneers, to Cortez and Spain's greed lead to conquest Mexico, to the Digging of the Canal by Uncle Sam, to the Caribbean where Molasses to Rum To Slaves and Pirates were our topics. If you missed or could not get a seat at one of Dr. Jay's talks, it was broadcasted on the in-room television the next day.
Entertainment This area is often quite subjective and no two people on the same cruise will feel the same way about their experiences. I have listed the onboard staff above. There was enough diversity for us among the onboard entertainment staff; however we do not take cruises for the night life. Remembering that there are 1900+ passengers with varying tastes, I believe that there was a respectable variance in entertainment. On the sea days, we especially enjoyed the mid-day music at the Lido pool, mid-ship. On port days, the Lido pool, aft, took stage for Jenny & The Hall Cats and/or Randall on Piano for the sail-a-way parties. It was particularly enjoyable to listen to the "banter" of fog horns between the respective Captains of the Zuiderdam and the Noordam as the Z sailed away first out of the premier pier berth in Cabo San Lucas. The margaritas and laughter were overflowing as the celebration of our sojourn into Mexico began to become reality for us passengers. Our vote for the best of the best onboard entertainment was the City Quartet who played nightly at the Explorers Lounge and often graced us with tunes at formal dinners, special cocktail parties and our most special evening -- the Renewal of Vows ceremony. Featured Vista Lounge entertainment was spread equally among comedians, vocalists, pianists, etc. A bit of a disappointment was the hypnotist; however a raving review is deserving of Doug Mattocks, a virtuoso on banjo! Stage shows by the Z dance troupe were enjoyable, however there were only 3 different shows (twice repeated) presented on this long itinerary. Mid-cruise, the Officers Black & White Ball was held in the Vista Lounge with Jenny & The Hall Cats accompanying. It was a sea of Black & White tuxes and ball gowns, balloons and streamers. The videographer was present and captured many a couple shaking a leg and also snuggling close on an especial evening of pageantry. The officers looked dapper and the ladies looked gorgeous.
On a day to day basis, the cruise staff led the activities which included a wide array of basketball throws, ping-pong tournaments, ring toss, golf putting, trivia contests, dance classes, etc. We earned enough "dam dollars" to redeem for a long sleeved t-shirt, a short sleeved t-shirt and a set of wine glass ID rings (with the ship theme). I had the luck to win at Bingo on one occasion and also was chosen to "win" a cute t-shirt from DelSol during one of the Port Lecturer talks. My husband was selected to enter the Zuiderdam Superstar contest and he was graced by the judges CD Jason, beautiful singer Jenny and fun-loving, boisterous Randall with the title of "Zuiderdam Superstar", winning a bag full of HAL goodies including t-shirts, mugs, hats, water bottle, key chain, clock, umbrella, etc. Of course there were always new feature films in the Queens Lounge daily as well as replays on 2 television channels each day. There were art auctions by Park West that were scheduled on sea days in the afternoon and often included free champagne. A Walk for the Cure was held on the last Sunday (sea day) and it garnered good participation. We found there to be more than enough to keep us busy and I am enjoying a bit of a respite now that we are home.
Dining I would equate the dining with that of a country club. Choices were more than plentiful, and the selection and quality of sugar free desserts was abundant. The dining room staff was eager to please. We had a table for 2, early dining, top level. However, because of the way the tables were configured and due to the length of the cruise, we often chatted with the 4 top next to us as well as other nearby tables. The Lido buffet was typically our choice for breakfast and lunch with the omelet station in the a.m. being my personal favorite. Pizza and ice cream served most anytime throughout the day were among my husband's favorites. Of special note were the sea day afternoon BBQ's, which varied from Satay BBQ, to Salmon Bake, to Rib BBQ to Mexican Fiestas. The Chocolate extravaganza was absolutely remarkable and held on two separate evenings. We dined at the Pinnacle Grill one evening and found it to our pleasing; however the steaks and service at the dining room were equally satisfactory. I particularly enjoy starters and a number of the soups, the liver pate and escargot were among my favorites. Our favorite meal was served in the Pinnacle Grill for the suite passengers. Kudos go out to the Pinnacle Grill Manger Elvira and her staff. Hosted by Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells, we were treated to a formal sit down luncheon of Indosian cuisine, with plenty of red and/or white wines to compliment the fare. The rice pudding dessert was tremendous! We were honored to be seated next to the Captain with a number of other cruise critic members at our table of eleven! Service was impeccable as was the company of our tablemates! (This was definitely a highlight of our cruise!)
Renewal of Vows Ceremony Without exception this was the number one most memorable event of our cruise. Near the end of the cruise we stated our vows to each other before the Captain in a moving ceremony. There were 5 couples and many witnesses to such a joyous ceremony held in the Oak Room. The City Quartet provided a lovely musical background to the magically decorated room. Champagne and hor d'ourves were served and many a tissue was used to dry the tears of those in attendance! For those considering it, the ceremony as performed by this Captain was sincere and not the least bit chintzy or hokey. Each couple was called individually before the Captain to recite their vows and to pledge their love. A beautiful photo album/memento book was sent to our cabin the next day with photographs, certificate signed by Captain and a recitation of the vows. You may invite witnesses/guests for a nominal fee to share in your special evening. We invited three couples to experience with us this special declaration of love and all the staff was accommodating in taking group photos for us. Also included in the package is a bottle of wine, corsages for the ceremony, a bouquet of flowers for your stateroom and dinner for two at the Pinnacle Grill.
Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle A nicer group of hooligans you will not find!!!! These people know how to have a good time! Through the leadership of Cool Chile (and her husband) and CP 556(and her husband), we had not one but two meet & mingle gatherings. We had the first of the two on our first sea day out of Vancouver (day 3 of cruise). It was held in the afternoon in the Oak Room and was attended by the HM Mark Pells and the Beverage Manager Murat Kaya. The HM spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a round chair discussion format telling us about HAL and its workings. He clued us in to some special entertainment planned for the cruise and gave us some insider tips. The second meet & mingle was the morning after L.A. We were 20+ strong and had numerous door prizes awarded. (Thank you again to our fearless leaders Cool Chile and Rob for their efforts) We had mimosas, coffee and cookies, mimosas, jokes and jabs, mimosas and with all of that champagne flowing through our veins -- FUN! Attended by HM Mark Pells (does that guy ever rest) and CD Jason, everyone walked away with something to remember the cruise critic gang. We were a bit like children in the lunchroom trading our stash for another's. As the days of the cruise came and went, we found that a number of us gravitated toward each other and lunches, walks, talks, shore excursions, coffees and cocktails and more gatherings developed. A lovely penthouse suite cocktail party was hosted by two of our gang on the third of our formal evenings and a Panama Canal lunchtime soiree was hosted by two others in their aft wrap around suite. The cruise critic gang knows how to turn up the temperature and have a grand time. Thank you to one and all!
Suite Ammenities WOW for "Way Over Wonderful" describes our feelings as we reflect on the suite experience. We have stayed in suites on Princess, Celebrity and of course all staterooms are suites on Radisson and Crystal. However, this was unparallel. The location of our stateroom near the Neptune Lounge undoubtedly had a great deal to do with our experience. We enjoyed ducking in throughout the day for juice or a cappuccino. My husband forgot (okay I forgot) to pack his cummerbund and the concierge took care of it. His tux shoe started to fall apart and the concierge took care of it. We had a minor issue with our key cards not working and the concierge took care of it. Invitations needed for our Renewal of Vows -- concierge. RSVP to various invitations we received -- concierge. Discrepancy on bill -- concierge. Need something pressed ASAP -- concierge. Phone Card -- concierge. We had no need to go to the front desk the entire cruise since Carlo and Faye were so readily available. Also, special welcome cocktail parties held in the Neptune Lounge the evenings of Vancouver, Seattle, and the last evening of cruise were lovely and well attended by suite passengers and upper management both. Corsages for formal nights were lovely. VIP cocktail party in the Oak Room with the string quartet was special. The luncheon in the Pinnacle Grill being one of the highlights already mentioned, it was overall just the feeling of being known by your name makes you feel special. While it is true that many of the staff and crew know your name when you sail as a passenger on HAL in a non-deluxe suite, the extra money spent, in our opinion, to have the Neptune Lounge and its services was well worth it.
Captain von Donselaar/Mariners party/Captains Toast Our Captain was quite visible on this cruise. Prior to daily comments of CD Jason, the Captain gave his address from the bridge every day at 1 pm. Near the end of the cruise, on the final formal evening, there was a lovely cocktail party served between the two fixed dining times for Mariners with less than 100 days. (A second more elaborate luncheon was served for those medallion holders on a separate day.) It was held in the Crow's Nest and attended by the Captain, HM, Onboard Cruise Consultants Arky & Shirley, as well as some other upper level staff. Wines, champagne and soft drinks were served. The Captain's Welcome Toast was in the Vista Lounge on the evening of the first formal night and was as described by others to be a glass of champagne with the Captain von Donselaar's opening comments and a toast. The Captain and Chief Engineer also held a Q & A during one of the sea days. For over one hour, many passengers had well thought out questions that were answered in simple lay terms. As we transited the Panama Canal you could see the Captain on the bridge, as with many of the port days as he skillfully glided us into narrow as well as shallow ports. Near the end of our cruise we had a fire alarm sound off during our dining hour. The Captain was on the PA in minutes with a calm and soothing voice informing us that there was smoke on deck 7, starboard, midship which sounded the alarm. (Our cabin was deck 7,starboard, midship) No less than 5 minutes later he once again came on to inform us that it was merely an A/C issue and no damage or concern. Whew!!!! It was handled professionally and at no time did we have any concern for our safety.
Photography Staff/Greenhouse Spa We found the photography staff to be pleasant and courteous at all times. If we chose not to be photographed, a simple no thank you sufficed. We purchased the end of cruise "Cruise Chronicle" DVD and find it to be fantastic. It puts into motion those memories of the cruise, the activities we participated in and many of the people we had the pleasure of spending time with on the cruise. It is under-promoted and is a gem! As for the fitness center and spa, the work-out equipment was more than adequate and we never had any difficulty getting the machines that we desired to use. The hydrotherapy pool and thermal chairs were a welcome treat near the end of the cruise when I needed a bit of R & R after constantly being on the go. There was never a hard sell by any of the salon/spa girls and I understand that appointments were usually available.
Disembarkation We arrived before dawn into FLL. We had been issued tag Red-1 and were called to disembark first. We pre-arranged for a rental SUV from Thrifty, waited in line less than 10 minutes to get off the ship, disembarked scanning our keycard one last time, located our 4 bags all in the same row, hailed a porter and were through customs and on the Thrifty van within 5 minutes. A quick ride to the rental location and the reality of being back on land set in. The 3-1/2 hour drive back to Longboat Key was a bit somber as we realized our vacation was at its end.
Our family of three consists of one "almost fifty year old" Mom and 2 teenagers age 19 and 14. This was our seventh cruise, the others having been to Caribbean destinations and the eastern Mediterranean. Our past cruise ships have included Holland America (both Westerdams, old and new), Carnival (Destiny), Royal Caribbean (Adventure of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas) and Celebrity (Galaxy).
The plan for this Alaska cruise originated with a planned vacation to Vancouver. We had intended to visit Vancouver a few years ago, even bought the airline tickets, and then had to bail when we had a conflict in dates with another arrangement.
It just seemed to make sense that if we were going to fly from Toronto to sight see in Vancouver for one week, we could add a second week to cruise to Alaska and make one grand holiday out of the whole thing.
Although we've had a few friends who cruised to Alaska and said it was wonderful, no one really described the trip in any detail, and we had seen almost no photographs.
This probably means we didn't know quite what to expect, in many ways!
The choiceof cruise line was fairly easy as we had very much enjoyed our previous experiences with Holland America. An important consideration was the timing as we needed a cruise that would sail from Vancouver on either August 18 or 19.
The Ship Zuiderdam went into service in 2002 as the first of Holland America's Vista Class ships. Westerdam, on which we cruised the Caribbean two y ears ago, was the third Vista Class ship so we generally knew what to expect in terms of the layout although the décor and especially the art varies from one ship to the other.
Embarkation was very quick and smooth. We had completed our on-line check in prior to our vacation and from the time our taxi dropped us at the pier until we were walking onboard Zuiderdam wasn't more than 20 minutes. We were advised that the stateroom was unlikely to be ready before 1 p.m. and directed to the Lido where we had a bite to eat.
Based on past experience of the stampede to the spa, I knew enough to head in that direction right away to book the treatments that I wanted. This way I was able to get all the times and dates I wanted. When I returned from making those appointments at the Greenhouse Spa, my daughter laughingly told me that a gentleman at a nearby table on the pool deck of the Lido lost his entire pizza slice when a plump seagull swooped down to his table and carried the pizza away. The guilty gull returned a little later (as evidenced by the streak of tomato sauce on his beak).
Stateroom We went to check on our stateroom at about 1:10 and it was ready for us. It was a superior verandah suite, Cat SA, and was spacious, well furnished, and very nicely laid out. The verandah was a "double width" and therefore featured two comfortable faux wicker chairs with ottomans, and a round table with 4 chairs.
We found during our week on board that we had more storage space than we honestly knew what to do with. A nice problem to have! We had 2 closets each (one a hanging closet, the other with shelves) and plenty of drawers, cupboards, and other places to stash stuff.
Our stateroom had several electrical outlets which was handy for recharging all that electronic gear that invariably follows us around these days.
We enjoyed and took advantage of the "free" laundry service that Holland America offers to suite guests. Since we had already been traveling for 7 days when we boarded the ship, it wasn't long before we were able to fill a laundry bag and each time we did so, the clean clothes were returned to our suite the following day.
Our Stateroom Attendant seemed very capable, made us lovely towel animals, and generally was unobtrusive. My teenage daughter has a tendency to "sleep in" during her summer vacation which meant that T couldn't tidy the stateroom until late morning but he had others available to him much earlier and I think learned to save us until last.
Dining We originally requested early seating, small table, but about 2 months prior to sailing I re-thought that because some of our excursions were in the late afternoon and would interfere with an early seating time. I think the early seating request was a leftover from the years when my children were younger but they can easily wait until 8 p.m. now. Our travel agent made the request for a change to main seating and was told we would be wait-listed.
Upon check-in at the pier, we were given our cruise cards and they showed main seating, 8:15 p.m. so we were quite happy with that. Interestingly, on the first evening we showed our cards as we entered the dining room, were shown to our table and drink orders taken. Notably, our waiter did not introduce himself or his assistant and already I had the sense that he felt rushed and somehow not on top of his game.
I was sipping my wine when our waiter informed us we were at "the wrong table". I replied that this was the table to which we were directed when we presented our card upon entering the dining room. But the problem was, we were supposed to be at Table 195 and this was NOT Table 195.
After a bit of a shuffle, we relocated to the REAL #195 which was a table for 6 with 3 passengers already seated, a couple (perhaps 70-ish) traveling with their 13 year old grandson. They were pleasant to visit with so we were happy enough with the change.
However, I have never experienced such poor co-ordination between waiter and assistant in any cruise ship dining room as we saw between the two gentleman who were looking after us.
It was almost comical but it was not prompt nor particularly professional. There was a noticeable lag between each course, my entrée was incorrect (entirely the wrong dish) and when it was replaced, the replacement (salmon) was nearly raw.
The second evening, the formal Gala night, our table mates did not show up. Again the service seemed haphazard with the waiter doing almost everything and hardly a sign of the assistant waiter. Not only was this dramatically different than our previous Holland America dining room experiences, but it was way below the standard of any cruise ship on which we've sailed.
On Holland America ships, the assistant is shared between two waiters and it occurred to us that perhaps the second waiter was using up more than his share of time.
Ever since an experience a few years ago when our companions at a table for 6 only showed up about half the time, we have learned it works better for us to request a small table and fill it than be 3 at a table for 6 which is just an awkward arrangement.
The second evening near the end of the meal, the Assistant Dining Room manager came by to ask if everything was OK. I mentioned to him that our dinner companions had not put in an appearance and asked whether they had requested a change of seating. It occurred to me they might have done so because I think they felt the lateness of the seating might not be the best thing for their 13 year old grandson.
Sure enough, they had requested a somewhat earlier seating and so we would not have them with us again. On that basis, I asked for a change to a small table for the balance of the cruise. He returned half an hour later with a small card indicating a change of table for the following evening.
Our new table was in an adjacent section, only a few feet away, but this made a big difference to us because it brought us Wayan as our waiter and Evan as his assistant. Our dining experience onboard Zuiderdam took a full 180 degree turn for the better from that moment on!
Wayan was a superb server, friendly, professional, engaging, and with great suggestions about which items on the menu were really "the good stuff". Once again we felt we were onboard a Holland America ship and decided to consider table #195 as just a blip on an otherwise flawless radar screen.
The food was generally quite good and with enough choices to always find something satisfying. It wasn't "quite" the dining experience we had on Celebrity a year ago but certainly as enjoyable as other Holland America sailings.
A couple of years ago when I reviewed our cruise on the new "Westerdam", I commented that the breakfast buffet in the Lido required getting used to because things were scattered around quite a bit. For example, you do not get your custom cooked eggs at the omelet station but rather in the same line up as the general breakfast buffet. Many people seemed confused by this, walking up to the omelet chef to ask for "2 eggs over easy". Couldn't be done.
The Lido is designed predominantly as a cafeteria where you carry the tray and they serve up the food. Only the salad bar is self-service. This means that it can take a bit of discussion to get the right combination of items on your plate but the staff are generally very accommodating and will try to get things to your satisfaction. If you do not want to carry your tray to a table (or are unable to do so) there always seems to be a staff member more than ready to take it from you and look after things.
Concierge/Neptune Lounge We had a Concierge Class suite but to be honest I wasn't sure we would be able to make much use of the concierge lounge (Neptune Lounge). We sailed on Adventure of the Seas at New Year's and my daughter was not permitted to enter the lounge because she was younger than 18 years. The first day on the ship I went to the lounge to introduce myself to the Concierges (January and Carlo) and asked whether my daughter would be able to enter. They said "absolutely". I think the difference was that no alcohol was served in this lounge; on Adventure of the Seas there was a bar in the Concierge lounge.
The Neptune lounge proved very useful to all of us but especially to my daughter who tends to be a "grazer", foraging for bits of food at odd times during the day. She is quite slim and can afford those extra delicacies! The Neptune always had a variety of small chilled items available, canapés, fruit trays, veggie trays, pastries, and the like as well as an assortment of juices, tea, and coffee. My daughter was probably their most frequent visitor and this proved to be a very useful amenity for us.
On the other hand, I did find the Concierge on board Adventure of the Seas (an RCI ship) more useful to me personally, because she sent me an e-mail about one week before our sail date to offer her services in a variety of ways.
Because of that communication with RCI's concierge, I was able to book the reservation-only restaurant, spa appointments, and shore excursions via the Concierge well in advance of our arrival on the ship. I didn't have any advance contact with Zuiderdam's concierge and consequently I looked after making my own appointments either before we boarded or immediately upon boarding.
Demographics I have to say that generally this was the "oldest" of the cruises we've taken. That is not to say there were loads of senior seniors, but rather there were very few young people and especially teenagers relative to other cruises we've taken (including with Holland America).
My daughter went to explore the "teen program" a couple of times but returned to the cabin saying "there are only about 6 kids there, and they're playing video games". They just didn't seem to have an adequate supply of teens to get anything more interesting off the ground. Maybe a few more teens came out of the woodwork later in the cruise, but my daughter gave up after tracking the teen program down for the first couple of days.
It seemed to all of us that there was a higher proportion of "first time cruisers" on this ship than we've experienced in the past. I attribute that to our destination. Europe is easily visited without a cruise ship. Likewise anyone can get to the Caribbean easily enough.
Alaska is not so easy and the ports we visited were not easily accessible by any means other than plane or boat. There are no highways in or out of Juneau. And Skagway is only connected by highway to one other city. So cruising seems the logical option for accessibility. Coupled with that, the best scenery was to be found on our "Scenic cruising" days and literally you would HAVE to be cruising to see the scenery. Therefore, people who have not chosen to cruise to any other destination will probably cruise to Alaska if they go to Alaska at all.
Ports and Excursions Our itinerary for this cruise provided 3 ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. It also included 2 "scenic cruising" opportunities, Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay.
Tracy Arm: After one full day at sea, we arrived very early in the morning at the opening to Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is literally just that, an arm, and you cruise into it and then out of it again. It doesn't lead anywhere, but it provides some beautiful scenery and views, and was our first opportunity to view icebergs and a glacier.
Although most of the icebergs were quite small, there were a few larger ones and some amazingly blue glaciers As we later learned, the blue colour is the result of the intensely compacted ice which the blue rays of the colour spectrum are not able to penetrate and therefore the blue is reflected. These icebergs would eventually become clear or white as they were impacted by air and water.
We received a notice in our stateroom the evening before we cruised into Tracy Arm, indicating that hot chocolate and warm raisin buns would be served on the bow at 7 a.m. The poor servers were nearly knocked down by the stampede of people looking for hot chocolate. Eventually everyone who wanted hot chocolate succeeded in getting one (and in some cases, several) and I think passengers used these mugs as much to warm their hands as to enjoy the hot and tasty beverage inside the mugs.
It was c-c-c-cold out there! Many passengers were wearing ski jackets, hats, and gloves. I had a sweater and my camera and was quite appreciative of both.
I took many dozens of photos that morning and in reviewing them, I was struck by how "cold" the water looked, the wispy streams of clouds in the valleys and across the mountain faces, and the sheer beauty of a couple of brilliantly blue icebergs that I captured as they floated past.
By late morning, we were working our way out of Tracy Arm again.
Juneau: The following morning we arrived at Juneau where the ship was anchored and we were tendered to shore. Juneau looked quite interesting and I was eager to explore and do a little souvenir shopping. First, though, we took off for our shore excursion which was a visit to Mendenhall Glacier followed by a salmon bake.
The Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Centre is located about 12 miles out of Juneau. It was interesting to walk from the parking lot up to the visitor centre and see the "bear" caution signs along the way. It was clear that bear sightings were not uncommon. The nearby river was full of salmon and it seemed very likely that any time a bear could come down the river bank to scoop one up.
The Mendenhall Glacier is quite impressive, even from a bit of a distance. We were not able to get right to the glacier but certainly close enough to take very good photographs. The visitor centre was interesting and the 11 minute film did a good job of refreshing my rusty memory on Glacier creation and facts.
From the Glacier, we were taken by bus to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. This was truly an experience. I cannot imagine how many pieces of salmon they grill per day over their alderwood fire, but they were clearly quite expert at it. I have never, ever eaten better salmon!
The driver of our bus gave us the heads-up that the cornbread would be excellent and it would be even better with the sweet sauce on top that they serve on top of the salmon. We dutifully asked for an extra spoonful of sauce over the cornbread. Well, that sauce is to die for and it could probably make anything taste like heaven. We can vouch for the fact that it has this effect on cornbread. We went back for seconds on the salmon and the cornbread. My son said the ribs and chicken were good, I enjoyed the salads and especially the baked beans.
For dessert they had a variety of home-baked pies but I was much too full to even consider them. For the young and young-at-heart, they had a campfire, marshmallows, and sticks. My daughter very kindly roasted a couple of marshmallows for me and those crispy golden treats were my dessert.
After dinner we stretched our legs just a little with a short walk to a very pretty waterfall before boarding the bus which took us back to the port area. We still had a few hours remaining in port, so we went shopping for a few souvenirs and bought a warm fall weight jacket for my son who hadn't brought a jacket and had looked quite chilled on the bow of Zuiderdam in Tracy Arm the day before.
Skagway: There is no question that Skagway was our favourite port, and that is because of the two sensational excursions we enjoyed.
Our first excursion of the day was the Helicopter tour to a Glacier. This was an amazing experience for all three of us. We began by being fitted with glacier boots (they go on right over your shoes) and safety vests. We then had a safety briefing and then proceeded outdoors to wait in our groups at the assigned helicopter pad. There were 6 helicopters and 6 pads, and they all came in together, one right behind the other, which was a very impressive sight.
We had been advised of our seating positions in the helicopter (they have to balance the load by weight) so then it was a matter of getting into our seats, putting on the seatbelts, getting our headphones in place and settling in to enjoy the ride.
The pictures we took in flight will always remind us of this experience but it isn't possible to capture the magnitude of the view in the frame of a photo. We flew in and out of glacial valleys, through the low hanging clouds, above the glacier, alongside mountains, and it was absolutely beautiful.
When we landed, we were met by a glacier guide who provided additional safety information for walking on glaciers, handed out "walking sticks" to a few people who felt they would be beneficial, and then for 40 very informative and interesting minutes we walked on the glacier and learned as much as we could absorb.
Our 40 minutes were over all too soon and it was time for another wonderful 20 minute helicopter flight back to the heliport. We flew over our ship, and Summit which was docked alongside, and felt that we'd just had the most exhilarating excursion of any of our cruises.
That feeling lasted about 4 hours, until our second excursion of the day which in its own way was every bit as exciting.
Our second excursion was to a Musher's Camp for a summer sled experience and interaction with husky puppies. Before the fact, I thought this would be something of a woodsy experience, seeing the "real" Alaska, and a bit of fun to interact with some playful pups.
Goes to show what I know about Musher's Camps!
Oh, it was woodsy, "real", and fun all right. But it was NOTHING at all like the experience I had imagined.
We started with our 1 mile summer sled run. I do not use the word "run" lightly. These dogs were NOT purebred Siberian huskies. They weren't purebred anything. They were 50 pound racing "mutts", bred for speed, endurance, and sheer desire to "go!". They had all of that and then some.
When they took off, with 6 adult passengers and a musher in a summer sled (equipped with wheels instead of runners) it was probably 600 pounds of dog pulling 1500 pounds of human. Didn't matter. We were pinned to the back of our seats by the sheer energy of these dogs the moment they were told to go.
When not "going", they seemed to divide into two groups. First, those who lay on the ground waiting to hear the word "go" before springing into action and, second, those who stood in harness, vibrating like a Maserati at a red light, waiting to hear the word "go" and have their gears engaged.
Wow! There were lots of sharp turns, curves, and some serious drops along the side of the gravel road. I called to the musher "do you have steering on this thing?". "I have a steering STICK!", was the response.
My suspicion is that a steering stick is nothing like the power steering on my car!
This was the most exhilarating experience I had in Alaska and probably one of the most exhilarating experiences in my entire life. I really had underestimated this one. My heart was racing, I held on for dear life, I took some fantastically blurry pictures (which I love because they clearly delineate the speed and momentum and sheer vivaciousness of this experience), and at the end I felt that this had been a roller coaster. Not, I might add, a roller coaster built and supervised by engineers and other professionals who determine every tolerance and load. This roller coaster was built by dogs and one human, the musher, and it was quite the ride.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Glacier Bay: We received a notice to our stateroom on Tuesday evening to let us know that on Wednesday morning the Captain would be holding the ship directly in front of the Glacier "Marjorie" and a wine and cheese party would be held on the bow.
After the chilly experience of Tracy Arm, I laid out many layers of clothing on Tuesday night before bedtime, determined that I would (for a change) be the first one to exit the stateroom but properly dressed for whatever form of inclement weather Alaska might throw my way.
Murphy's Law being what it is, this meant that Wednesday morning dawned bright, cloudless, and relatively mild, and only got better as the morning progressed.
As the ship made its way into Glacier Bay we picked up a Park Ranger who provided commentary from the bridge, over the loudspeaker system, throughout the day.
The approach to Marjorie was beautiful, the water was as serene as a sheet of glass, a beautiful colour, and the morning was just perfect and sunlit. No need for mugs of hot chocolate and hot raisin buns here. I began to see how "wine and cheese" was going to fill the requirement perfectly.
What can I say about Marjorie except that she is one mile wide at the mouth, clean and white and jagged with peaks and striations of clear brilliant blue, surrounded by glorious mountain scenery. Never in my life have I attended a party in such a magnificent venue, decorated only by Mother Nature, and likely not to be rivaled by any event I attend or create in the rest of my life.
Cameras of course were in action on all sides. It just seemed impossible to take enough pictures to capture the drama, the spectacle, the panorama that was in front of us. After a very long time spent with the bow pointing directly towards this magnificent glacier, the ship began a very slow pivot so that every side of the ship had an opportunity to take in the scene.
At one point the Glacier Bay park ranger indicated she was going to speak only through the ship's internal speakers (not broadcasting out onto the bow) because a mother bear and her two cubs were grazing on a rocky slope and the ranger did not want the sound of her voice on the loudspeakers to scare them away.
I managed to capture a photo of them, albeit they looked like small brown specks in the distance. However, I was carrying an excellent camera with a good lens and later some careful cropping managed to expose the reality that these 3 dots were in fact a mother bear and her cub family out enjoying a beautiful morning.
Ketchikan: We had booked a private Hummer tour at Ketchikan. In hindsight, it was a little bit of a waste because Ketchikan was a bit like the other 2 ports and so there wasn't a great deal to see that we hadn't seen already in a similar fashion. Probably the most interesting area was Creek Street, which is an easy walk from the pier.
We did travel with our Hummer driver to see local scenery, salmon spawning, a bald eagle pair, with a stop for a very tasty salmon dip snack along the way.
But the most memorable thing about Ketchikan was "Dolly's House", the infamous local bordello from the days when these ‘houses' were legal in Ketchikan . Dolly was clearly an entrepreneur ahead of her time, a woman who marched to her own drummer and knew exactly how to get ahead in a male-dominated society. Upon her death, she donated her house to the town, complete with décor, gadgets and gizmos and resplendent with outlandish décor.
In hindsight, I wish we had booked no excursions for Ketchikan and simply spent all of our time in the Creek Street area. If this was the first port on our itinerary, it would have been much more worth the exploration. As the last port, it was just a bit too "been there, done that" with the exception of this one historic and very cute street with a few artsy shops and generally just a very pretty area to walk around.
It has been 2 months since we left Alaska and came home to the height of summer. When I think of Alaska now, the scenes that spring to my mind are the absolutely indescribably magnificent scenery (especially Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay), the helicopter flight to the glacier and the musher's camp.
This was a wonderful trip, a wonderful cruise. Between the 3 of us we must have taken at least 1,000 photos. Choosing my favourite 50 would be no easy task.
The Zuiderdam and its staff really provided a comfortable, warm, hospitable backdrop to an experience that is truly incredible and that even 1,000 photographs can only begin to hint at.
Grand Turk, Tortola, St Thomas, & Half Moon Cay
This review is my opinion of what we thought of this cruise and ship. Any thing we might not like is our opinion. Only. We have cruise a lot and found totally different opinions with in our own group. We live in Florida, so we drove to the pier and arrived around 11:30 am. There were 6 of us, my parents who are in there 70’s, my wife and myself and our 2 daughters 17 & 19.
Embarkation was the best of all our 18 cruises, I dropped our bags at 11:30, and I parked right across the street. We printed out the paper work from home. We were in the Lido having Lunch at 12.
Cabin Our Cabin was 6132 and was very nice. I had read that the cabins seemed smaller than others that people have sailed, Our opinion was they seemed just as big as any Balcony cabins we have had in the past on various lines. There was ample storage. Also there are drawls under the bed for extra storage. The bathroom was big and the tub wasa nice feature although we never used it. (The girls had a inside cabin across the hall with shower only) Wow the beds were amazing, we asked our room steward for an egg crate to get rid of the crack between the beds and it worked out great. My wife loved the beds and I kept telling her it was only because she was on Vacation, Man when we got home and tried our bed, wow was I wrong. My bed (#@$$#@) Guess new beds are in the future budget. Thanks Hal!!!
My parents had Cabin 5067 and although there room was the same size there balcony seemed to be a couple feet smaller, depth wise. They were very happy though. Our cabin steward was efficient and did a good job but nothing that wowed us; the little fridge only gets stocked at the beginning of the cruise. I ask our steward about more stuff and he said room service was the only way to restock it. It was a small thing I found weird.
Ship The ship was very nice and very easy to navigate; at the end of the first day I pretty much knew where every thing was. You need to investigate due to the fact there are little room (shops, lounges, ect.) Tucked away. A very nice atmosphere. I’m not sure if it because of low kid count but the elevators were very fast. The gym had a nice selection of equipment and free weights. The crows nest is a awesome place, its to bad they reserve this room for lots of private gatherings, We tried several times to go there with signs posted private party. The secondary show lounge (The Queens Lounge) is kind of small to have some of the events there that they tried to have. Bingo, Not so Newlywed game. There was standing room only a few times, I feel the main show lounge (The Vista Lounge) would have been better. You can walk all the way around the ship on deck 3 (the Promenade Deck) 3 times around equal a mile. Overall the ship is great. It never seemed to crowded at all. There was only a few times where it seemed a little crowded.
Out side the dining room before dinner, the first day in the Lido and as mentioned before, the Queens Lounge. Other than that it seemed at times we had the ship to our self.
(Note) At the pool Hal puts a rolled towel on every lounge chair in the morning, so you can make the mistake that the chairs are all taken. If the towel is rolled the chair is most likely free. Many people made this mistake. The Casino dealers and pit bosses were friendly and talked to the players. That adds so much to the experience. My 19 year old played for the first time and got 4 of a kind on Caribbean stud and won $700, I hope I didn’t create a monster. LOL the shows were ok, not anything special but we did enjoy them.The Ports
This is going be brief do to the fact that everyone does such different things while at port.
Grand Turk: This was our favorite stop. The beach, Margarita Ville, and the Pier was all right together. There was a huge pool with drinks and a DJ that provided fun entertainment. The beach was nice. The rocks you read about are about 15 feet out in the water, not on the beach. They are very large rocks so you cant miss them. The rock only go about 30 feet out and then there is no more. It’s only like a little ledge and the are not sharp at all.
Tortola. This was our least favorite island and I might not being fair. By the time you dock it was dark in 21/2 hours. They offer a island tour on the ship for $59. They offer the same tour at the pier for $20; we were riding with people who paid the ship. They were going to complain but I don’t know how that worked out.
St Thomas Well after 10 or more times their St Thomas is St Thomas, The morning cost me a bundle and in the after noon we took the sky tram and had some bushwhackers. We also ate lunch at the top of the hill and it was OK, Good bar food.
Half moon Cay This is just paradise. The only reason it wasn’t our favorite was the fact you had to tender, also a pretty good rainstorm came in about noon that put a damper on the day.
The FOOD The dinning room food was excellent and the service was awesome. The pinnacle was slow and the food wasn’t as good as the dinning room, and to think we paid $180 extra dollars for this. No I did not tip extra, the service was so slow. I did take the extra tip and gave it to our main wait staff. I know they pool their tips but it made me feel better. Oh well live and learn.
The Lido was ok It would fill you up.
Room service was great, although a little slow at times.
Over view. Overall this was a very good cruise (5 star out of 6) and we will defiantly cruise Hal again. At the same time there wasn’t any thing so outstanding that I would only cruise Hal, The youth program might be ok for younger teens but my 17 year old said it was kind of corny, (I don’t think that was her exact word) and there just wasn’t much for her to do. The rest of us had a great time.
When I got home a friend ask me if anything if there was any thing that made Hal better than other cruises we have been on.I don’t know if any thing made it better, but there were some things that stood out. The bedding was awesome. Cloth hand towels in the public bathroom less crowds around the ship the 12 to 10 room service menu. Being able to order room service from the main menu. staff all seemed friendly and said hi Dinning room staff. The best At the end of your cruise they give you a little journal of your cruise. we like being able to share a soda card. First rate toiletries in the cabin. Different ports than the same ol run of the mill.
Some of these are silly but made our cruise better. If you have any questions fill free to ask.Ed
On our 30th.Anniversary our son and his wife gifted us with an Alaskan cruise on the msZuiderdam. It was the best vacation we ever had. I cannot say enough about the service and the staff. Everyone was so attentive and friendly.
The cruise was the highlight, Alaska, though very beautiful was the icing on the cake. I was very impressed with the overall cleanliness of the ship. The food was wonderful and presented so artistically. The decor of the ship is beautiful, you feel as if you are in a magnificent hotel and the smoothness of the sail was great. Holland America line has two more fans and we will definitely sail with them again.
This was our sixth cruise on the beautiful 3-year-old ms Zuiderdam, which says a lot about both ship and crew. Having been accustomed to the tasteful elegance of HAL past, we have warmed to the energizing color schemes and decorating un-style of this innovative ship. She still boasts the huge, over-the-top floral arrangements and expensive art found in other HAL ships, but is approaching a more eclectic mix of textures and colors. We never tire of the luxurious stateroom accomodations, spa facilities, and generous public areas. We enjoy the many shipboard activities as well as take an occasional foray into the 'unknown' (to us) ports. There have been a great many days when we simply don't care to leave the ship. Aaaahhh...
Shopping & Booking & Stuff: Our goal on this cruise was simply to enjoy our favorite ship in a comfortable cabin, so we chose a sail date that fit into our business schedule. Our excellent travel agent, Lori Cunningham at SkyscraperTours always gives us the best price of all, so we selected cabins and booked a lovely Cat SS6117. We sneaked a peek at this cabin when we left our lastcruise, and it has that extra angle space in the sitting area that makes it roomier. The veranda is kinda funky, but the trade-off worked for us. A few days before sailing, Lori called us with an upgrade to a full suite midships, and we couldn't refuse. I couldn't surprise Jim with it this time, 'cause he was within earshot when she called [See my May '03 Review].
Prior to embarkation: We usually book our own air transportation because we like to have control. Well, let me tell you this before someone turns me in to the Complacency Police...
I usually make the air plans, print the itins, fill out and print the online immigration forms and put them in the Cruise Wallet. When the docs come, I separate the contract and charge slip and add it to the wallet. The day before I check in with the online flight site and print boarding passes, highlight the important info and add them to the wallet. We're done, right? I will never, NEVER forget to double-check everything! Instead of highlighting the departing flight time, I marked the arriving flight time, and when we got to the airport at 6:15 the plane had left without us! Jim had left to park the car, so I was on my own with this one! (I wondered what was the penalty in Georgia for rage murder). Well, we must live right, 'cause there was another flight one hour later that would make connecitons in Atlanta and get us to the ship on time. Another marriage saved... Aside from that, we made it to the ship in time for bread pudding and a short nap before the safety drill.
Embarkation: We arrived at about 3:00, much later than usual, breezed through check-in and were in our cabin in 15 minutes. After the usual cabin once-over, we headed to the Lido for our bread pudding fix. Saddened to see that Hunky Dory was not yet back on the ship, we found a wonderful young server named Wega. He is very outgoing, and remembered our names all week. That might not mean so much to some people, but it's one way that HAL makes you feel as if their ship is your home.
Cabin: Our cabin, Category S7024, Rotterdam, Portside 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. Their usual Dutch brand shampoo, conditioner, soaps and body lotion were provided, along with laundry basket 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 TV, cooler with minibar and CD/DVD player, dataport, 2 telephones with voicemail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger.
Generally at this time I write about the ship facilities, but the real estate hasn't changed since my last 5 reviews, so I'll refer you to those.
TV: In addition to 3 or 4 channels showing various shipcam views, each offering a different music genre, the stateroom television features TNT programming, CNN Headline News, shore excursions, safety information, ship programming and feature movies.
Movies: The Queen's Lounge offered (complete with complimentary popcorn): Bewitched; The Island; The Perfect Man; Stealth; The Longest Yard; Must Love Dogs; War of the Worlds
Lido Restaurant: We loved the great layout of this buffet! It has the cafeteria-style order, but to eliminate standing in one long, long line, there are different stations: Drinks (24 hours) The Express (breakfast) The Bistro (full breakfast) The Continental (cold meats, fruits, juices) The Eggs (omelets) The Wok (oriental and asian dishes) The Italian (pasta and pizza) The Bistro (rotisserie and grill) The Salads (salad bar) The Deli (sandwiches made to order The Sweets (ice cream and pastries) The Italian (pizza and pasta) The Bistro (roasted & grilled meats and seafood) The Sweets (ice cream and pastries)
Pinnacle Grill: We always enjoy this marvelous Coastal Northwest restaurant, and were not disappointed with the perfect filets, seafood, and the Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake. Hotel Manger James Deering visited with us during dinner (we had to excuse ourselves from the Captain's VIP Cocktail Party for these rez) and presented us with a wonderful bottle of Essencia Orange Muscat wine (Andrew Quady Vinyards, I believe) which complemented the Volcano cake (actually could have replaced the dessert). We appreciate the slower-paced dinner service, as we were able to just visit with old friends without being rushed. Make your reservations as soon as possible, as the restaurant is often fully booked by the second evening.
Casino: While we certainly love to win in the casino, we could not have as much fun if the dealers and other staff were not friendly and helpful (and, sometimes, patient). Special thanks goes out to Casino Manager Mirela Domocos, Supervisor Nina Williams, Supervisor Sorin Paraschiv and Ocean Players Club Supervisor Allen Brown. Jim played Texas Hold'em quite a bit, and left me alone at the craps table so I could concentrate (!) Even though the dice were cold, the dealers and pit bosses on this sailing were outstanding! I found them all helpful and personable, and the payoffs were accurate. HAL still does not rate players as other casinos do, as the Carnival systems are not yet fully integrated into their ships.
Internet Café: Check your email from your own ISP, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. or use HAL's CruiseE-Mail (ask the Tech). This place is open 24 hours and offers these packages: 1 Minute for 75¢ (+ $3.75 service charge) 40 Minutes for $24.00 100 Minutes for $50.00 250 Minutes for $100.00 Dialup acces in your cabin is 50¢ per minute WiFi access was in the Internet Center, the Library, Lobby and some other public rooms (cards for your own laptop are available). We prefer dialup in our cabin, so we can compose and save emails to upload all at one time for fifty cents.
Staff: While we thought all officers, staff and crew members were special in their own ways, these deserve special mention: James Deering, Hotel Manager Mirela Domocos, Casino Manager Heide Schuster, our Neptune Lounge Concierge Camilla Baum, activities staff
Smoking: There are now non-smoking hours in the casino.
Our next Zuidy cruise is scheduled for November '06. We consider this beautiful ship our 'vacation timeshare' with variable dates and a whopper of a surcharge. Well, 'whatever makes you happy...'
I love to chat about Zuidy... E-me any time!
I've cruised more than 20 times on various lines, and this was probably the best overall cruise experience I've had over the years: a touch of luxury at a bargain-basement price.
I'll try to include only that information relevant to prospective cruisers on this ship, rather than bore you with details about every meal we ate and how we got to the ship.
THINGS WE LIKED:
Food was very good to excellent in the dining room -- definitely a notch above anything you'll find on NCL, Carnival or Cunard. We also very much enjoyed our experiences in the informal Lido Café, where you’ll find freshly-squeezed orange juice in the mornings, along with made-to-order omelets. Waiters quickly refill your coffee/tea at the table, even though this is otherwise a self-service buffet restaurant. We also appreciated the fresh flowers (live orchids!) on every table in the Lido cafe. Sandwiches and pastas at lunchtime are made to order in the Lido Cafe, with a choice of breads, meats, or anything else you want. It's a nice touch, versus the "pre-made" approach taken by other cruise lines. Unfortunately, we did not get to try the PinnacleGrill specialty restaurant, as it was completely booked by the second day of the cruise. Tip: You can avoid this disappointment by making a reservation for this restaurant in advance of your cruise on Holland America's website.
Entertainment on Zuiderdam was also quite good, with a lot of variety. For example, two-time Olympic gymnast Lance Ringnald performed in the main show lounge, giving a demonstration of world-class gymnastics, spiced up with a little juggling and even a song on the piano. We appreciated the chance to see something so different while at sea. We were also impressed with the quality of the song-and-dance shows. One centered on well-known songs from the movies and Broadway, and featured Bob Mackie original costumes. It may not sound it, but there was no "cheese" factor here -- just well-staged musical numbers with something for everyone. The singers and dancers were very talented -- much more than most cruise ship performers.
The crew is mostly Indonesian; crew members are exceptionally friendly and very well trained to do their jobs in an efficient manner. We were greeted everywhere, every day, with warm smiles and a sincere desire to serve. I gave them the highest possible rating for service, and would definitely recommend Holland America to anyone looking to be pampered with good service.
THINGS THAT NEED IMPROVEMENT:
As you may have read in other reviews, the use of color in the decor is, well -- eye-popping. The colors in the Lido Cafe make it look much like one of those enormous, swirled lollipops one might purchase at an amusement park. The patterned carpets throughout the ship are garish, and look like they would be more at home on a Carnival ship. The good news is that the Zuiderdam is scheduled to go into dry dock later this year for a complete overhaul of its design scheme. We understand it will be brought in line with the classic nautical designs typical of the rest of Holland America’s fleet. That's quite an investment/admission by Holland America, since this ship is only three years old.
These were evident in a few areas, particularly in and around the casino and sports bar. We are non-smokers, and these areas were so smoky that we made a beeline to get out of there. We wish Holland America would go the way of the airlines and ban smoking altogether on their ships.
Average Age of Passengers
This is not Holland America's fault at all, but the average age of the passengers on this cruise was about 70 years. We're both in our early 40s, so we felt a bit out of place with so many retirees on board. Again, this is not the cruise line's fault or responsibility. We knew in advance that there would be very few younger people on board because our cruise occurred during the school year when most people our age are at home raising kids. It can feel a little odd, though, to walk into a room full of nothing but grey hair!
*Our outside cabin had a full tub/shower combination, but the shower curtains block all light when they're pulled closed. A small light in the ceiling would be helpful, as it gets very dark in there with no window. The tub also did not drain properly, so water pooled in there during showers.
*Avoid steaks in the main dining room. It doesn't matter how you order it cooked, it will come to the table very well done. However, we were advised by others that the steaks in the Pinnacle Grill are excellent.
*The lounge chairs in the pool areas do not lie flat. This can be uncomfortable if you want to lie on your stomach. Not a big deal, but it would be a nice change if they're re-designing the ship's furnishings anyway.
We have been on about 12 cruises on 5 different lines. Sometimes we select a cruise for the itinerary but other times just to be on the ship. This time it was all about the ship for us.
Positives 1) Service was outstanding. All staff was helpful, smiling, and friendly. The new tipping policy of adding $10 per day to your account seems to have just made the staff more friendly. There was no mention of tips the entire cruise. 2) Décor was typically HAL but a little more colorful. Enjoyed the fresh flowers in all public areas. There were even live orchids on each table in the Lido buffet area! Artwork was displayed in all stairways. Explorer's Lounge had great paintings and the carnival costume display. 3) Ship layout was convenient. Lots of elevators and staircases. Good space ratio so we never felt crowded.
4) Pinnacle was fantastic! It is a bit confusing whether it is the Odyssey or the Pinnacle restaurant. Beef is of the highest quality! So if you want an excellent steak on board this is the place. Seafood presentation was fantastic too. We opted for beef becausethe beef in the dining room is usually ordinary which is understandable since it is very hard to do a grilled steak in large batches. We booked the Pinnacle from home for the first night so it was only $10 per person. Just call the HAL service number to make a reservation. 5) Vista Dining Room. Loved the dark red interior; our table felt very private and quiet. Food and Service has been better on HAL in the past; in the past our experience in the main dining room on HAL had been on par with the specialty restaurants. Now it seems to be somewhere around a 2 star restaurant. However our experience was better than any of the cruises we have taken in the last 5 years so it's probably a trend across all cruise lines. Dinner was still the highlight of the day! 6) Wine policy. It is very nice that HAL tells you up front that you can bring wine and champagne onboard. There is a $15 corkage fee to have the wine opened in one of the restaurants. We brought excellent wines from home and paid the corkage fees. So we had wine that was not available from the wine list and still at a lower price than most restaurants charge. 7) Lido Buffet. I love my food served hot. In the Lido each warm plate is served with a warmer cover so that even after you get a drink and find a seat your food is still warm! So I had warm food for breakfast and lunch from the buffet, never happens at other buffets. 8) Poker. The casino staff had set up one table of Texas Hold 'Em. A nice touch for the poker fans. It was in a small room next to the Explorer's lounge, separate from the casino. Just one table but that fit the needs of the cruise I was on. 9) No pushy sales. We were never bothered by the camera guys, the drink staff, or loud announcements in the cabin. But we always had fantastic service when we wanted it.
Negatives 1) Room layout. We had the lowest category room inside. It had a weird layout with no sofa but a little extra dressing space. The worst part was that the lights were in all the wrong places. Not enough lights to see into the closet and too much light near the TV. Also the extra trash container for paper recycling was so close to the bed we constantly were bumping it or moving it to avoid getting cut. So avoid the non standard layouts if possible. 2) Wine pricing. There still is not a good onboard wine plan. Even signing up for the plan means you pay almost 3 times retail for a limited selection; remember even when you do the plan they add the 15% gratuity on top of the plan. Also the corkage fee on HAL only includes $2 tip (on RCL it included $5 tip). So we did tip our wine steward.
Those were the details. Now the summary. FANTASTIC Cruise! We loved the ship and the service. We got off the ship at the private island and Key West both were lots of fun and very nice. We had a great time on the Promenade Deck, HAL's signature. Exercise room was great. Pools and rest of the ship were uncrowded. Production shows were excellent, especially the Movie and Screen Production. The dining was the highlight of each day! We felt pampered and relaxed the entire time.