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.
After last cruising HAL to Bermuda 23 years ago and seeing a bargain price this past April, I decided to give this vaunted company another go. What I found was a colision of two worlds, old and new. These 85 ton Vista class ships launch HAL into the 21st century to my great pleasure and less pleasure to others. The Zuiderdam(pronounce-Ziderdam)goes right after the Carnival/RCL mass market and tries to be everything to everyone. The 1800 plus passenger ship, to it's credit never felt crowded and the the Main deck cabin was comfortable for me and my gal. Pay an upgrade price and get a veranda cabin to further enhance your ambiance of space, they are plentiful on this Vista class vessel. Vista to HAL is forward thinking, like the massive Crows Nest lounge with it's captain's bridge like views. The port and starbard sides feature multi-deck glass view elevators, a nice visual touch.Decor lovers of red will find this ship a paradise as it flows throuhout the abundant public rooms and bars. Each room nicely appointed and with cozy romantic spots to share the cocktail special of the day($4.25). Entertainment very typical, showgirls and guys, juggler, hasbeen singer, comedian( to her credit gives a mid night R performance ala Carnival). All this performed in a red decorated Vista Show lounge with balcony. Get as much or as little sun as you want as deck and pool space(3 pools!)is plentiful, even a few loungers are available on the shaded boat deck that I favor for taking in the sea air. Food as one would expect is plentiful and something is available 24 hrs. The 2 level(4 dinner sittings)Vista level dining room offers meat, chicken, pasta, and fish every night. Venison was even served one night and yes, surf and turf on Captain's welcome aboard. Casual dining as an alternative featured at least 4 made to order entrees every night along with salad and desert bars. Breakfast the same, dining room or casual omelet station, continental, express line, and the varied bistro lines all move swiftly. Free juices, milk and coffee. Lunch in the dining room or the Lido, including burger/taco grill, Italian/pizza station, sushi/wok stirfry, sandwich deli, Bistro line for hot entrees, salad and sweet/ice cream bars Snacks all day, themed snack every night in the Lido, tea time if you have room for it! All tastely prepared! The ports of call were varied. Get off the boat for Half Moon Cay, the nicest cruiseline private island I have visited. Grand Cayman the city/Stingray city tour is a must, includes turtle farm, the Tortuga Rum factory, and a visit to the township of HELL for the damn funniest T shirts anywhere. Not for the squeemish is Stingray City, located on a sandbar. Feed squid to these fascinating creatures as they swarm around you(some with a span of over 3 ft.). Take in the funky sites and booze it up in this city of bars, Key West. This itinerary has two full activity filled days(Bingo, casino, pool games, duty free shopping arcade etc.)at sea. Embarkation and disembarkation are the smoothest I've encountered on any line. Before you board friendy attendants check your documents before you get to the desk. When it's time to leave you can even wait in your cabin until your number is called to the last minute. The overall service is cordial and efficient and there are those who rise above and anticipate your needs. The Zuiderdam bridges the HAL of the past with that of the future. While our cruise was marred with a few unruly kids running amok through a few of the public rooms and up and down the corridors in the wee hours. I still realized the tremendous value of this cruise and recognized HAL's commitment to please all, with their version of a dream vacation. For you old school HAL cruisers stick to your smaller intimate Staderdam class vessels. Those of you who want to add a little pizzaz, and want to expose first time cruisers or your family to a cruise give this Dam Ship a try!
My 11th cruise, first on Holland America. Embarkation went very fast. Cabin was plenty big for family of 4. deck 5 with verandah. Soda card was worth it. $28.00 on first day. Card is not good on Private Island.Food in all venues was very good. Service in dining room was inconsistant.No napkin on lap or help with chair which are very heavy. We ate on 2nd floor vibration was minamal. Kids went to club HAl ages 9&11.
They had a great time.They still have a few bugs to work out. ex.-T-shirt project and the T-shirts were to small. they should have asked sizes on the form you fill out before camp starts. Private Island was beautiful. St Thomas -We took excursion to St John It Was expensive and short on time. We had 1hr and 10min on the beach. Tortola- we took cab to Cane garden bay and spent day on beach. very nice and they have facilities and food. Nassau- has gotten very bad with beggers. we docked at 12 and there were 3-other ships there. things were closed do to nassau holiday. You must bring picture ID when gettingoff. we only had our ship card and were giving a rough time about it. No other ports asked for picture ID.2 days out to sea, there were not enough activities.There is no midnight buffet but you can get some food on lido deck. There is also not a show every night. The times in the news letter were wrong often so you miss out alot on things. The captians reception was aweful. they came around 1 time with drinks and food. They only had OJ for none drinkers and kids.high tea was nice if you can get there. Disembarking was simple and nice that you can stay in room until you are called. they also have a parking garage in Ft Lauderdale it is $12.oo per day. Overall we had a nice time and met nice people. we probaly will not cruise with HAL again. I have had better service on carnival and Royal carribean.
Well, we're back... ...from another excellent cruise on our favorite ship, and can't wait to go 'round again! Jim and I are 63/57and this is our 4th Zuiderdam, 15th cruise (9th on HAL). We have also sailed HAL's(old) Westerdam x 2, (old) Noordam, Zaandam, and Maasdam; RCI (Enchantment, Brilliance and Majesty), Celebrity Century, NCL Norway, and the ancient barnacle-barge, Seawind Crown (she was our first cruise, and that somewhat explains why we are (almost) never disappointed).
Shopping & Booking & Stuff There wasn't any shopping involved with this cruise. We knew we wanted to sail the Zuiderdam again. Itinerary was not important. We chose a sail date that fit into our friends' schedule and booked it. Our excellent travel agent, Lori Cunningham at SkyscraperTours always gives us the best price of all, so we selected cabins and booked it.
Prior to embarkation We chose to book our own air transportation because we like to have control. We flew the morning of the cruise, as the weather in May is more predictable and we knew if we had to, we could always drive to the port. Connections came off without a hitch, landing inFt. Lauderdale at about 11:40.
Check-In at the PierEmbarkation For a change, our bags were the first off the carousel, so we had the porter take them outside and got into a van. We arrived at the pier 10 minutes later, handed our bags to the pier staff (together with a buck-a-bag tip) and entered the check-in area. We had completed our immigration forms online, but our friends had not, so we stood in 2 different lines. Ours took 30 minutes, theirs 35. We had our photos taken and were on board before 1:00. The first thing we did was hunt for Hunky Dory at the Lido. He had taken the day off, so we looked for Burt Reynolds (number 22 football, Jupiter Florida, famous movie star, Loni Anderson...). We told him our names but he couldn't remember them during the whole cruise. Hunky Dory Rules! By the time we had our lunch by the pool, the cabins were ready and we went to take the first of many naps.
Cabin Our cabin, Category SS, 6098, Upper Verandah, Portside was wonderful! We have been in Cat A and S cabins and this SS was the best of both worlds. Big, comfortable room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs. Plenty for two. The cabin has more desk/counter space than the Cat As, and almost the same as the Cat Ss. There was plenty of closet space, with convertible shelves that fold up to allow for hanging long clothes. We could have used a lot more drawer space, though. The narrow drawers were unsuitable for clothing. The lighting was better than we expected, including the lighted magnifying makeup mirror. The air conditioning was cold, and easily adjustable.
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. SS cabins have not yet been furnished with the SOE bedding and linens, but on a ship I can sleep on anything as long as it rocks.
Generally at this time I write about the ship facilities, but the real estate hasn't changed since my last 3 reviews, so I'll refer you to those.
Movies "Because of Winn Dixie", "Coach Carter", "Hide and Seek", "In Good Company", "Meet the Fockers", "The Aviator" and "Hotel Rwanda" were shown in the Queen's Lounge.
Casino Jim prefers the slots and blackjack, but I haunt the craps table. The dealers and pit bosses on this sailing were particularly good. I found them all helpful and personable, and the payoffs were accurate. Special thanks go to Inga, Richard, Maribel and AnnaMarie for making my whole playing experience a pleasure, win or lose! I do wish HAL would rate players as other casinos do... maybe one day I'll earn a Pinnacle dinner or free photos or excursions or something for all my hard work.
Cash Advances For a 3% service charge, you can get cash at the Front Office, provided you have registered your credit card.
Tattoo Artist Diana airbrushes these henna tattoos at a booth near the Lido pool. I never saw her the whole trip.
Internet Café: 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 access 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).
I visited at various times during the day and evening and there were always terminals available. Instead of visiting the cafe or renting a wireless adapter, I used the dialup in our cabin, which was more convenient for me.
Greenhouse Spa One good thing about not caring much for excursions or ports you've visited many times before, is it gives you LOTS of free time for the spa. I normally have 3 or 4 "treatments", usually on port days at a reduced fee. I have always been able to use the facilities of the hydrotherapy pool or thermal suite at no charge on treatment days. Apparantly this has changed since my last cruise on this ship in November. I nearly had an arguement with a girl at the desk when she said HAL has "never" offered free access, but she would sell me a pass for $10 instead of $15. Even when I told her of my past experiences, she still used the "never" word, and there was no manager around to consult. I tried to use the free sauna, but it was nearly room temperature and what good is that? Emma did my Ionithermie and I lost 6 inches. New services include: Gentle Touch Tooth Whitening; 1-8 shades whiter teeth in one 40-minute cosmetic process, including a 2-week maintenance program, all for $199. I had mine done at home for $450, so I know this is a good price. UdefineU Video Program, a series that teaches women to dramatically alter their physical appearance by learning to use what they already have, i.e., Posture & Poise, Voice & Speech, Etiquette and Style... $99.
Safety Drill Unless you're a total cruise virgin, everyone knows about the lifeboat drill. In addition, there was a full-blown Coast Guard inspection one day. We were, um, napping (yeah, napping), and heard over the PA system that there would be a drill for crew only. There are usually one or two on every cruise, so we figured we could tough it out a few minutes (the speaker is right behind the headboard and the volume cannot be adjusted). This was no routine drill, however, and when Jim was ready to... I mean, um, when we were almost... anyway, the Captain called "Abandon Ship" several times. Then they lowered the life boats for what seemed like an hour, and, well, we gave up trying to, uh, nap. Forever after, "Abandon Ship" will have a special meaning for us.
Saturday, Embarkation Day: Wow, do we love this ship! We knew just how to find Hunky Dory (although he took today off), how to get to our cabin, everything... like going home after a long vacation, only backwards! After our usual embarkation nap (so sorry we missed the CruiseCritic party) we eased into our typically casual shipboard routine. Highlights of the day were the Spa Tour, Liquor Tasting, Port & History Talk, Great Zuiderdam Giveaway, SailAway Festivities, Club HAL Welcome Meeting, $500 Intro Bingo and Welcome Aboard Showtime, featuring "Under the Sun" by the Zuiderdam singers and dancers, and the comedy of Julie Barr.
Casual Dinner tonight... we were seated at our favorite table for six with our two friends, but the other seats either weren't assigned, or they ate somewhere else. I initially ordered the Black Pepper Crusted New York Sirloin Steak, but it was way too spicy for me, so our waiter brought me the Farfalle with Smoky-Grilled Portabella Mushrooms, which was outstanding. We saw the Welcome Show and headed to one of our favorite parts of the ship, the Casino. Jim planted me at the Craps table and left to play Blackjack.
Sunday, Half Moon Cay: This is my favorite island of all. We don't even need a cabana or clamshell... just give me a floatie and push me out to the ropes and let me broil all day. The beach (after last fall's hurricane) is once again powder soft, and the water, although a little cool in May, was clear and the most beautiful color blue. Aaaaahhhhhhh. If you rent a cabana you also get priority tendering. If you get a butler with it, you get an outstanding luncheon of your own design and superb service. There were 13 Shore Excursions ranging from $19 to $119, and Gear Rentals from $6 all day to $50 per hour.
Back at the ship (reluctantly) we napped through the Port & Shopping Talk, Country Snowball Jackpot Bingo and the Liars Club. Dinner was casual again (I had the Floridian Grouper and Smoked Salmon), and afterward we skipped Alfreda Gerald in the Showroom (which I heard was a giant mistake on our part), and the Country Line Dancing Party and went straight to the Casino.
Monday, At Sea: Sea days are my favorite of all. I don't exactly recall, but I know we didn't go to Snowball Jackpot Bingo, the Wine Tasting, Water Volleyball, and certainly not the Sock Hop. We slept through the Captain's Reception, but didn't miss this first formal dinner. We also skipped the "Under the Boardwalk" show, mainly because we've seen it before, but also because we walked by the casino and couldn't resist the musical ka-ching of the slots... it's hypnotizing!
Tuesday, Roadtown, Tortola, BVI: We didn't get off the ship again! We may have played Bingo, but I know we missed the Crew Show (been there, done that) and Volleyball. Jim went to see "The Aviator" and I had 2 spa treatments (details above in the Spa department). There were 12 Shore Excursions ranging from $34 to $149. We don't care for barbeque, so I dined casually in the Vista Dining Room... the Pan Seared Gulf Red Snapper was excellent! Jim wasn't feeling well that night and our friends were exhausted after their excursion, so I showed up alone at our table. Our waiter found me a seat at the next table with a lovely newlywed couple whose dinner partners were also absent, and they were wonderful company. After dinner, the waiter assembled a platter of Pot Roast and other stuff and went with me to personally deliver the dinner to Jim. What a nice thing to do! This is service!
Wednesday, St. Thomas, USVI: Immigration at the crack of dawn? Bummer! It actually was very well organized and we got in a line that was constantly moving... about 10 minutes, tops. The downside to this procedure is that everybody is up and the Lido is packed! We were in no hurry, though, 'cause I was the only one to go ashore, and only for a quick lookaround for chachkies at Havensight Mall. All I bought was Pepto Bismol for the patient. Jeez... I can't even spend money anymore! It's the same stuff everywhere! There were 20 Shore Excursions ranging from $24 to $99, and I missed all of them.
Informal dinner tonight offered one of my all-time faves... Hazelnut Crusted Perch with Pureed Scallion Sweet Potato... MMMmmmmmm..... but we went to the Pinnacle instead, dining on he Planked Shrimp, Petit Filet, and Planked Halibut.
Magician James Cielen We never miss the magician, and although we have seen James Cielen's act before, we went again (my that little puppy has grown a whole 6 ounces!) It's an amazing show and I'd recommend it highly.
Thursday, At Sea: Aaaahhh... another day at sea. Captain John Scott showed off his Bingo calling expertise at his Captain's Win-a-Cruise Bingo game (I think this was in lieu of the Captain's Farewell Party). There was a tie, and only one cruise to give away, so Captain Scott had to cut the ship in half... No! That was King Solomon! Sorry. There was a sudden-death Bingo-off, and although there was a lengthy protest from a lady in the audience, one lucky woman won a 7-day cruise for two in an outside stateroom!
Formal dinner was less formal due to the lack of fancy chair covers used in the past. The traditional Surf-and-Turf was offered, which I enjoyed with Trio of Salmon, Jumbo Shrimp and Pearls of the Ocean, Escargots and Chilled Strawberry Bisque. I love cruises.
Friday, Nassau: There were 10 Shore Excursions ranging from $39 to 119, but this trip to Nassau we did what we have said we would do but never did... we took the water taxi to Atlantis and wandered around. It's a bit of a walk, uphill both ways, but it's worth it if you can win $750 on the $5 slot machines like Jim and Ralph did! I would have played a little Craps, but at the two tables open in the daytime, there were a few men who looked either bored or half asleep, who had chips on the Pass Line and no place bets. No excitement. No shouting. No energy. I'm kind of a formal-slinky-dress kinda dice-throwin' gal, and it just wasn't fun enough for me. We were hungry, though. I checked a menu before we went into the little restaurant, and the $17 pricetag on a roast beef sandwich ala carte was enough to send us back to the ship. The boys went ahead and we window-shopped a little, but nothing was really exciting, so we went home - you know - our other home.
We slept through the Farewell Variety Showtime, which is a shame because I wanted to see Alfreda Gerald. After the casual dinner (I originally ordered the Osso Buco, but it was fatty, so they brought me some Fettuccini Frutti Di Mare, which was quite good) we stopped by the Casino until Final Snowball Jackpot Bingo. I was throwing dice while Jim was accumulating black chips at the Blackjack table. He looked over at me and gestured it was time for Bingo. Looking at the piles of chips, I mouthed, "Are you crazy?" and we kept on playing. No way am I gonna leave all that fun to NOT win at Bingo again! Eventually we colored out, tipped the boys, thanked the dealers and pit bosses, left my CruiseReport business cards, and promised to return in August. We will... we certainly will.
Now, the mad dash to pack. Tossing clothing across the room helter-skelter, not caring particularly what went where, we managed to get it out there by 2:00 a.m. Whew!
Saturday, Debarkation Day: For those of you who have late flights or are staying the night, HAL offered 2 Shore Excursions ranging from $49 to $83 including transfers to either airport. Transfers only were $12 to Ft. Lauderdale or $24 to Miami airport.
This last day is so much easier now than it used to be. We were able to have coffee delivered, have a full breakfast in the Lido. You can now relax in your cabin, if you like, until your color/number is called. We were first off, quickly found our luggage, and moved the overnight stuff from the carryon to a suitcase. One of our TSA locks was missing, but I knew there wasn't anything worth stealing in that bag, so we did not report it.
We went through customs and found a van by 9:45. Unfortunately, the four of us decided to take a van instead of a cab, and mistakenly thought we would be the only passengers. The driver loaded our bags and continued to look for more fares to the airport, loading their bags on top of ours. At the airport, we were first off, and during the loading and unloading, my unlocked carryon bag (with all the jewelry, camera, cash, etc. and NO ID TAG) was left on the van while I checked in at the curb. My husband spotted the van at the next terminal and made a run for it (I haven't ever seen him run that fast). He caught the driver before he pulled away and asked for the bag. He had a hard time describing the contents, but they found the plane tickets in one pocket, and they matched his name. Whew! My luggage was a little more than one pound overweight, but they let it pass. My girlfriend's case was more than five pounds over, so she had to move a few things to another case (no charge for either). It's a good thing that after your suitcase is bumped around for a few hours, things kinda settle, and there's more room than you think.
You know, I just realized something. We didn't do anything on this cruise! Who would pay all that money to just relax and eat and indulge, and... Me, that's who! We will be back in August for our 5th Zuiderdam cruise, and even though Hunky Dory is on leave, we will enjoy doing not much of anything. Just tell Inge to hold that spot next to the croupier for me.
The Booking -
We booked through Vacations To Go (http://www.vacationstogo.com). Although the Zuiderdam has 788 outside cabins (623 with balconies), our preference is for an inside because I tend to be a cheapskate in some areas and just can't see paying so much more for an outside cabin, or even a suite; when I end up sitting at the same table, eating the same wonderful meals, watching the same great shows, and visiting the same exciting ports-of-call as the folks in the higher priced cabins. Besides, this leaves us more money for $hore excur$ion$, $hopping, the ca$ino, $ouvenir$ etc. Brochure price for an inside guarantee (category NN) was $1,297.88 per person. Our price, through Vacations To Go, was $1,217.32 for both! That, in and of itself, was pretty darn hard to pass up. We ended up booked into cabin # 8118 (category J). That's a six category upgrade! So, total savings for the cruise was $1,938.44. WOW!!!
The Cabin -
8118 is about 10'x16', with three closets (one with a programmable safe), a vanity with a large mirror and a mobile make-up mirror that SunFlower wanted to buy, a bath with shower, two night stands,table and chair, and a color TV with remote. There were 12 channels available, ranging from HAL TV, to CNN International, to movies; as well as the regular forward and aft CCTV views, the Shore Excursion and the Port & Shopping channels. The refrigerator will be locked, but ask your steward to unlock it if you want to use it. We never did. There were two 110v single outlets at the dressing table, and one in the bathroom. The power strip and an extension cord will come in handy.
We had the twin beds converted to a queen and that mattress was the next best thing to our SleepNumber ® bed (soft, fluffy, comfy and snuggly). The A/C was controlled by a thermostat in the cabin and was very quiet. There was a bit of steam fogging the bathroom mirror, but putting the desk fan on the counter eliminated that, real quick. We were on Verandah Deck, aft, port side, and just about under the pool. I was concerned about the potential for noise, but my fears were unjustified. There was one evening that a country line-dance contest was held above us, but that wasn't too loud and it ended about 10:00 pm, so sleep was never interrupted.
Our Cabin Steward was Abdu Rahman, and he did a fantastic job of keeping up with us. The cabin was kept spotless and the linens were changed daily. He was always present but never obvious and could usually be found with his buddy "Henry" (the vacuum). We did follow Julie Barr's suggestion and made sure we folded the lead end of the toilet tissue back into a point before we left the cabin. I think it worked as Abdu did keep giving us the strangest looks. Poor fellow probably thinks we never used it!
The Embarkation -
We took the motel's 12:00 am shuttle to the cruise terminal, arriving at the HAL terminal 25 minutes later. We had all our paperwork in order and were directed to the check-in counter. Maybe 5 minutes in line, then it was ID, ID, passport, passport, credit card, sign here, photo, photo, boarding number (group 9), through the security check-point and . up the escalator. By 12:45, we had our gangway photo taken and were aboard. One of the most painless and efficient embarkations I have gone through. Kudos to the terminal staff.
Since the cabins weren't ready, we headed to Lido Deck. Well, I headed to Lido. SunFlower went straight to the Greenhouse Spa to book her hair and nail appointments for the formal nights. Long ago we learned the hard way that available time slots on formal nights go quickly. I, of course, began grazing, as the Lido Buffet, poolside grill and sail-away parties were in full swing.
The Ship -
Master - Captain John Scott. Cruise Director - Dane Butcher. Executive Chef - Raymond Southern Godmother - Joan Lunden
The M/S Zuiderdam II ("zuider" rhymes with "cider") was built at the Fincantieri Shipyards in 2002. She is 951 feet long. 105 feet abeam, and weighs in at approximately 85,000 tons. Her power is from five Sulzer diesels (three-16 cylinder and two-12 cylinder) and one GE 2500 gas turbine engine (15.4 megawatts). She has twin Azipod propulsion (a sort of outboard motor arrangement, under the waterline) which give her amazing maneuverability. Capable of speeds in excess of 24 knots, water-skiing is a possibility!
With eleven passenger decks and 924 cabins/suites for 1848 passengers, the Zuiderdam II is the first of five planned Vista Class ships, which HAL will be putting into service. Named for the cardinal points of the compass, her sisters are/will be, the Oosterdam (East), Westerdam (West), Noordam (North) and ?-dam .
HAL has begun a program to change their image ("the old folk's line" and "rest home at sea" were the most common tags applied). They now actively markets to singles, couples and families; with ages ranging from the 20-somethings to the post-retirees (70+). There were about 100 or so children on board, but other than one baby (2 months old) who cried one evening in the Vista Dining Room, they weren't that noticeable (i.e., it wasn't like Carnival, RCCL or Princess, where children tend to run amok, up and down the passageways, at all hours). Without exception, every young person we met was very well behaved and a pleasure to be around (even the unhappy young fellow that one night).
A good deal has been said about the décor of the Vista class ships. Heavy, audacious colors have been liberally used. Reds, greens, blues, yellows and violets predominate. There are still the hallmark HAL touches, highly polished brass, holy-stone rubbed teak decks, oiled walnut, oak, and other hardwood paneling. And . the flowers. Everywhere, the flowers! Bold, vivid and striking are the best descriptors I can think of. Every table, alcove and bar. What a nice touch!
The amidships glass elevators provide a stunning panorama and appeared to be the elevators of choice for most of the passengers. I can certainly understand why, but I do recommend using the stairways to work of a few of those calories.
OK. The layout of the ship . Working from mast to keel (top to bottom) -
Sports Deck (11) - Forward is the Observation Deck, above the Crow's Nest Lounge. Excellent views and a tall glass windscreen to protect passengers. Two stairways connecting to Observation Deck (10), one of which has a carrier for wheelchairs. Aft are the volleyball and half-basketball courts. Enclosed by a net to keep the balls from polluting the oceans, they got a lot of use.
Observation Deck (10) - Forward is HAL's signature Crow's Nest Lounge. The music is hot and the view is spectacular! Live contemporary music every evening during cocktail hour. Theme nights, dancing and team contests/games. HAL has a bank of about a dozen adjustable recliner chairs forward. The perfect spot for relaxing with a Frozen Thingie and watching the world unfold. There are two private areas off the sides of the Crow's Nest (Oak Room - starboard; no name - port). Perfect for little get-togethers or quiet time. Working aft, there is plenty of deck space and HAL's famous teak deck chairs. A spiral staircase leads down to Lido Deck (9). Be careful. It's twisty (go figure). Passing the mobile pool cover you'll find Club HAL (youth center) and the golf simulator (a computerized system which allows you to play golf courses of the world, without leaving the ship - neat).
Lido Deck (9) - Forward is another observation deck. To reach it, you'll have to enter the GreenHouse Spa area from the port side, go forward to the desk, cross to the starboard side, pass the gym and you'll find an unmarked glass door. On the other side you'll find a quiet secret of the Zuiderdam . an observation deck directly above the bridge and almost never used. It is a bit windy, as there is no glass shield as on Observation Deck (11). Moving aft, you'll come to the Gym. Very nice aerobic and strength training equipment that was seldom, if ever, used. A fitness trainer is on site, so if you have any questions, ask away. They'll be glad to help you loose the pounds you'll pack on in the restaurants! The GreenHouse Spa. OK It's another Steiner operation, so be warned. Prices are higher than what you're used to back at home (about double) but the staff is very knowledgeable and well trained (4 years). The spa's Hydropool (is that redundant, or what?) is very relaxing and children are not permitted.
Guarded by a mama polar bear and her cub, the Main Pool is next. An average sized cruise ship pool, with a wide splash section (2"-4" deep) No diving! Three hot tubs and a shower (for rinsing, not bathing - please!). There are also a couple ping-pong tables, which got a lot of use during our cruise. Something new is a tattoo parlor. Relax parents. This is an air-brush tattoo parlor. The tats are sprayed on (with an air stylus) and last about a week. So, if junior wants a tattoo, here's their chance. The kids loved this feature. Heading on back, the next section is the Lido Dining area. I'll cover this fairly well later. On the stern is the Aft Pool and hot tub. Not very large, but apparently sufficient for the guests. This area saw a lot of activity, as children are not permitted during the mid-afternoon. There is usually a portable bar set up, so you can have plenty of Frozen Thingies without waiting.
Navigation (8), Rotterdam (7), Upper Verandah (6), Verandah (5) and Upper Promenade (4) Decks are all cabins.
Promenade Deck (3) - OK. Were back to the action now. Forward is the upper tier fo the Vista (show) Lounge. There are two circular box sections overlooking the stage wings. Great view, if you want to squiggle around in your seat a bit. There are safety railings in the front to keep one from taking a John Wilkes Boothe style dive, and they do obstruct one's view terribly. I recommend just about any of the other seats at this level, but not for give-away events. Thrown prizes just don't reach that high. Working aft, you'll come to the Internet Center (starboard) and the Half-Moon, Hudson and Stuyesant meeting rooms (port). Internet connection for $25/30 minutes. The biggest problem I had with this was that the connection speed is quite slow (I'm used to broad-band/cable connection) and checking your e-mail and checking account took up all our time. If I wanted to send a reply to any of the e-mails, I had to go off-line, prepare it as a word document, then go back on-line and do a cut-and-paste. Otherwise, I'd have been spending way too much to chat with folks who should have accompanied us in the first place! Next is the Java Corner (think Starbucks at sea). HAL used to have free cappuccino 24/7 in the Lido Restaurant, but have now replaced it with a cozy little bistro style coffee/pastry shop. Question. Why pay for 'specialty' coffee and cookies when excellent (normal) coffee and cookies are still available for free, six decks up? Next aft, on starboard side is the Erasmus Library. A very nice facility. Quiet. Cozy. Books, magazines, newspapers, stationary and playing cards are available. A charge to your account ($25) is made to check out a book, and removed when you return the item. The Duty-Free Shop is on port side. Note: "Duty Free" only means that import duties have not (yet) been paid on the items, that's why they're so inexpensive. Depending on you home country, and allowances, you may well be charged duty on your return. Learn your allowances. The shop has your usual selection of gifts, necessities, clothing, liquor, cigars, perfumes, watches and jewelry. Don't buy early on in the cruise. Prices drop in the second half. Wait for the sales.
OK. Now we've gotten to the Atrium and the Ocean Bar (midships). Whew! Be sure to check the cut crystal seahorse chandelier. Gorgeous! The Ocean Bar is on both sides of the Atrium and has a small stage to port. Comfortable seating and beautiful views! Heading aft, you'll have to travel the starboard side, through the photo gallery. Very long and the only place we really experienced any crowds. Guess there are still people surprised that they can look so good when they glance in the mirror, but so bad when the view is through a camera lens! Prices are reasonable (generally) and don't change till after the cruise, when they drop to 50% off! The only place left is the Upper Vista Dining Room. Again, covered elsewhere in this review.
Lower Promenade Deck (2) - Again, starting forward, you have the mid section for the Vista (show) Lounge. Generally all seats are good, but there are a couple with semi-obstructed views. No problem. Seats aren't assigned. Move over one. Aft is the Piano Bar (starboard) and the Casino. The Piano bar was usually fairly well used. Primarily because 1) the pianist was very good, and 2) it was the nearest liquor to the casino (drink away your losses). A little farther aft is the Sports Bar. Actually a takeoff from the Casino (there are gaming screens build into the bar counter), you can almost always get caught up on your team(s) via ESPN. Yes, it is satellite. No, they don't have cable. (Can you believe, someone actually asked that?) On port side is the Northern Lights Nightclub (and bar), run by DJ Gino. A great place for theme music, contests and dancing. Geno knows what he's doing and keeps the crown entertained. The seats are not the most comfortable in the world, and are covered in a Holstein pattern (my daughter-in-law would love them - she 'collects' cows). One neat thing I found was that, as you enter/leave the club, the overhead lights in the winding passageway light up as you pass under them and go out once you have passed. Way cool, but then SunFlower says I'm way too easily impressed! Midships is the Queen's Lounge (and bar). Another center of entertainment activity on the ship. Intimate, but not too small. Think a comedy, or jazz club. Great shows. Next is the Odyssey Restaurant and Wine Bar. The private, by appointment only, surcharge dining room. We did not try this one out, but everyone we spoke with raved about it. Next time. They usually run a special on first nigh out (half-price). Take advantage of this. Heading on back, you'll pass through the Windstar Café and the Coffee Bar. Two nice areas for relaxing and watching the world go by with both old and new friends. The Are Gallery is next and usually spills into the Explorer's Lounge. Many very nice works (canvas) and the prices are not too bad. If you're really interested, don't miss the art auctions. You can get some great pieces for very low prices. Finally, you'll reach the Lower Vista Dining Room.
Main Deck (1) - Again, only cabins.
A Deck (0) - Generally not used by guests, except for tender embarkation/debarkation and the infirmary.
Were there weak points? Sure. If you look hard enough, you can find a worn spot of carpeting, a mar on a passageway bulkhead (wall), etc. But to be perfectly honest, I have better things to do with my time than try to find fault in things, especially when I'm on vacation!
The Drinks -
With eleven regular bars and lounges, and between three and four temporary bars (usually set up by the pools), there is no excuse for not finding a Frozen Thingie when needed. I'm (basically) a non-drinker, but them that do told me that they felt the bar prices were reasonable. Mixed drinks were in the $4.25-$6.50 range. US domestic beer was $3.75 with imported beer/ale at $3.95. Wines were $4.25 - $7.50 per glass. Fruit juice (at a bar) was $2.10, but free at the self-serve drink stations. Mocktails (non-alcoholic drinks) were $3.25 and soda-pop was $1.75. Regarding sodas, if you're a soft drink person, I strongly suggest buying the "soda-card". The cost is $35 for the week. For that price, you get a sticker on your sign and sail card. Just show the card to any bartender or cocktail waitress and soda is free (note: I did see a few people who would get their free soda at the bar, give the drink to their partner, then order a free soda from a passing waitress. Come on - If money's that tight, maybe you should just reconsider this whole vacation thing - just my opinion.Water, iced-tea, lemonades, fruit juices (from the drink station), milk, coffee and tea were free, except for the specialty coffees in the Coffee Bar (think Starbucks).
The "Frozen Thingie of the Day" runs $4.25.
Saturday - Cuban Mojito Sunday - South Seas Aviation Monday - Hand Shaken (not stirred) Champagne Dreams Tuesday - Fresh Lime Margarita Wednesday - Fresh Squeezed Lemon Drop Thursday - Fresh Grapefruit Cosmo Friday - Cucumber Lime Smash
The Food -
Oh . my . gosh! Well if you know me, you know I love food; and HAL has once again given me a reason to fall in love. The meals were fantastic. Starting with the Saturday afternoon sail-away party up on Lido Deck, and going on through to the farewell breakfast a week later, I was very seldom disappointed. SunFlower did have one item she didn't care for (the pâté one evening just wasn't quite to her liking). No problem ma'am. Whoosh .. Immediately replaced with a double serving of jumbo shrimp cocktail! From my perspective, it was all great . from the three perfectly prepared New York Strips for lunch, to the double escargot appetizer accompanied by the four (yes, I said four) lobsters on the second formal night! My usual day consisted of early coffee, with whole cream (not coffee-mate or half & half) and a couple of chocolate croissants on Lido Deck, aft. Then it was time to take SunFlower a cup of hot coffee, to help her wake up before breakfast in bed. Then, it was down to the dining room for a nice, sit-down, a la carte breakfast. Bet you didn't know breakfast can be a five course meal, did you? Then, there were plenty of fresh pastries to tide me over to lunch.
We alternated lunches between the Lido Cafés and the Vista Dining Room. It all depended on if it was a shore or sea day, and whether we had an excursion scheduled or not. Dinner was (almost) always in the Vista Dining Room.
The Vista Dining room, under Executive Chef Raymond Southern, is a two deck restaurant aft, on 2 and 3 Decks. There is an elevated platform in the middle of the dining room atrium, which holds a small piano to provide light dinner music. We had a very nice table for four (#173) aft on 2 Deck (lower level), overlooking the stern and a beautiful; view of the sea and our wake. Our waiter was Putu; an amazing young man who spoke English one whole heck of lot better than we 'talked' American.
More on the Lido Cafés -
Under the culinary direction of Chef Cochrane, the Lido Cafés are a collection of eleven serving areas set up cafeteria style on Lido Deck.
For breakfast (working aft from midships) you have a 24 hour drink station (coffee, tea, fruit juices, lemonades, iced tea and ice water). Next are two omelet stations. Standard ingredients are: bacon, ham, cheese, green pepper, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, salmon and shrimp. On the side are the potato cakes, link sausage, sausage patties, bacon, ham, and four to six different breads and muffins. The juice bar is next with fresh squeezed orange juice, on request. Other juices include: tomato, grapefruit, apple, V-8, cranberry and good ol' prune. The next section is the Deli Bar with scrambled eggs, all the standard side items mentioned above, as well as a nice assortment of fresh fruits, cheeses, sliced meats and pâtés. Next is another 24 hour drink station then a salad, pastry and fresh fruit bar. Finishing up the Lido area are two Continental Breakfast stations with eggs to order and (again) all the standard side dishes.
Each day, around 10:30 am, the Lido changes its arrangement. You still have the forward and aft 24-hour drink stations. Then there is an Italian station, with a nice assortment of pastas, sauces, plenty of garlic bread and wonderful pizzas. Moderately thin crust, light but tangy tomato sauce and a variety of toppings. Yummy! On the opposite side is The Wok. Home of your Asian specialties. From stir-fry to chop-suey to sushi to wor-shu-op, these folks did a great job! Interesting variety, texture and flavors. No, it's not "Iron Chef", but it was awfully good. The juice bars are transformed into sweet centers. A nice selection of ice creams, sherbets, pies, cakes gelatins and fresh from the oven, warm cookies! The Bistros are next, serving various rotisseries and grill selections, then the salad bar, followed by the Delis serving a multiplicity of hand carved sandwiches.
Working in the Lido Café is a crew member who goes by the name "Honkey Dorey" Wait till you meet this guy! The first time Honkey Dorey meets you he will introduce himself, "Hello. I Honkey Dorey. What you name? Pleased to meet you (insert your name here). I Honkey Dorey" From that point in time onward, he will remember you! I'm not kidding.
At first I thought it was just well developed short term memory/recall ability, until I observed this little encounter the second day.
As Honkey was introducing himself to a lady, he happened to glance over her shoulder, waved to an approaching couple and called out, "Hi Kathy, Hi David! It me, Honkey Dorey!" The couple stopped dead in their tracks and the lady said, "Honkey, it's been three years!" Honkey Dorey looked pensive for a moment and replied, "No. Almost. It three years in July." This guy is absolutely phenomenal (almost to the point of being spooky). Every morning, I was greeted with, "Good morning John, Where Pat?" And, on occasion, "Hi John. Pat looking for you."
Whoops . can't forget the Lido poolside grill. Open from around 10:00 am till 6:00 pm the grill serves up a nice selection of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, bratwursts, and chorizo (a spicy-hot Mexican sausage), all on homemade buns! There is also an adjoining taco bar with everything needed for nachos, tacos and fajitas!
The Entertainment -
Under the supervision of Cruise Director Dane Butcher, we were very entertained throughout the cruise. Events included: Off Broadway/Vegas style shows every night. The major production numbers -
Saturday: "Under The Sun" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble, and Comedienne Julie Barr in a wild and rocking laugh marathon. Sunday: "Showtime - A Tribute to Sir Elton John" by Joel Mason. Platform shoes, outrageous costumes and timeless classics. Monday: "Showtime - Under the Boardwalk" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Tuesday: "Showtime - Filipino Crew Show" staring members of the Zuiderdam service staff, in a tribute to their home country, the Philippines. Wednesday: "Showtime - Master Illusionist James Cielen" Direct from Las Vegas, James Cielen (Winner of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Gold Medal) dazzles you with a wide variety of magic, ranging from the extremely difficult slight -of-hand to the equally impressive large-scale illusion - AND - Late Night Adult Comedy with Julie Barr. Thursday: "Showtime - Stage and Screen" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Friday: "Showtime - Farewell Variety Show" with James Cielen, Joel Mason, Julie Barr, Dane Butcher and the Zuiderdam dance ensemble.
Note - one afternoon, while passing through the Lido Pool area, we met up with Julie Barr (the comedienne). She was very gracious and invited us to sit with her. We had a really nice chat and made a great new friend. This is typical of every cast and crew member we met. They are all great people! Julie, if you're reading this, "Hickory, Dickory, Dock."
In addition, there were more things to see, do, and/or participate in than you could possibly do on one cruise. I started to list everything that took place but with over 40 port, history and shopping talks, sports tournaments, demonstrations, art shows & auctions, dance lessons and competitions, poker, slot machine, blackjack, and bingo tournaments, karaoke, trivia and a host of other events scheduled per day, the list quickly grew beyond comprehension. Suffice it to say, there is more than plenty to do, and something for all ages, just about all the time! If you are bored on this ship, it's probably because either 1) you want to be, or 2) you're dead!
The Ports of Call -
Fort Lauderdale - Although not technically a 'port-of-call', Fort Lauderdale was our embarkation and debarkation port. I'm a firm believer in arriving (at least) one day early, just in case something goes wrong (delayed/cancelled flight, lost luggage, etc.). So, we booked a single overnight at the Holiday Inn Express on SE 17 Causeway. We got a non-smoking king room for $124.00. This place isn't real fancy, but it is clean, neat, safe and affiliated with a major national chain. Besides, they offered free airport and cruise terminal shuttle service. Works for me! We called from the baggage claim area and the shuttle arrived within 15 minutes. Although check-in isn't until 3:00 pm, they had our room ready and we had our shoes kicked off by noon. They advertised 'continental breakfast', and I was expecting the usual bagels, OJ and coffee. They actually put out a pretty good spread. 4 cereals, coffee, assorted teas, OJ (of course), milk (1/2 %, 1% and 2%), bagels, English muffins, waffles, white, whole wheat, raisin and rye breads, hard boiled eggs, cinnamon rolls, mini-muffins, and fresh fruit. Of course, I had to try everything. Very nice. And I do recommend them. For more information, check out: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ex/1/en/hd/fllcc You can call them directly at: 954-728-2577, (Fax) 954-728-2591 (E-Mail) email@example.com.
Since we got in so early, we had plenty of time to wander the area. Across the street from the motel was a strip mall. Feeling a few hunger pangs (hey, the airlines don't feed you anymore), we went in search of some local flavor. There was a really nice place called The Yacht Club, or something like that. I asked if it was a private club. The valet laughed and said, "No, it's just another restaurant with a fancied-up name." So, went in and were told it would be just a minute or two for a table. Great. Gave us a chance to look over the menu ($14-28/entrées) and check out the boats docked alongside. After 20 minutes of looking at other folks extravagances and being generally ignored by the hostess (who, oh my gosh, had, like, a cell phone, you know, growing, totally, out of her head), we walked .
Across the street was a nice little sandwich and coffee bistro. Sorry, but I can't, for the life of me, remember the name. You can't miss it though. As I said, it's next door to the snooty yacht club restaurant, and adjacent to a good sized yacht docking garage. Good prices, good food and free wi-fi connection.
After a light lunch, it was time to explore a little. We walked over the 17th Causeway, to see if we could get a view of any ships and a general idea of whether or not we (I) wanted to walk to the ship the following morning. The way I figured, if it was easy enough, we could walk to the terminal around 8:00 or 9:00 am, sit back, read our books and be the first on board. It's not as though I was excited or anything. Thankfully, a calmer head prevailed, as SunFlower shot down my plan! Just as well, as we found out the next morning that the Zuiderdam was at the far end of Port Everglades and it would have been about a one mile drag of the luggage!
Saturday was the end of McDonald's Fleet Week in Fort Lauderdale, and the USAF Thunderbirds treated us to a rehearsal of an air show. They were swooping, diving, looping, and buzzing all over the area, but kept circling over the causeway and the cruise liners. I did have my digital handy and got a few shots. Nothing as spectacular as seeing it in person, but that was the fault of the camera operator.
There was a Walgreens (drugstore) a block from the motel, so picking up the last few things for the Calgon Bag was not a problem. We went back to the motel for a bit of a siesta and took in a movie: "Master and Commander, Far Side of the World". Very fitting before a cruise! Around 6:00pm I was beginning to feel hunger pangs and started sniveling about being abused, beaten and starved. SunFlower just shook her head and we headed out to dinner.
Just down the road (about a block), in the north-west corner of the Southport Shopping Center, is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant named Kelly's Landing. I found it on the Internet before leaving for the cruise, and they sounded good, so thought we'd give it a try. Not anything fancy, but good, solid, New England seafood; Boston style. You have to go here. The clam chowder is to die for and the onion rings are delicious. We enjoyed it so much that we stopped there after the cruise for a final lunch before heading back to the frozen north (Michigan). Reservations are suggested for groups of five or more. They don't have a web site (yet) but you can reach them at: (954) 760-7009.
The Ports -
Before I go much further, I need to explain something. I'm a firefighter. I know you've all seen us doing our thing on TV and maybe even in person. In addition to our turn-out gear (bunkers) almost every station has a department T-shirts (duty shirts). Of course, no one (other than rookies) wear their own department's shirt. You have to wear other departments. So, with that in mind, I decided to take some of my department's shirts with me to try to swap in the islands.
Half Moon Cay - This is Holland America's private island in the Bahamas; something all the major cruise lines seem to be doing now. HAL claims it is 'uninhabited', but there are about 20-30 HAL employees who live on the island year round. You will be tendered from the ship to the Half Moon dock. From there (after the obligatory photo) you have a choice of activities. The Aqua-Trax Adventure ($39) has you driving your own personal watercraft on a guided tour of a lagoon, along the shoreline and out to the reef. Horseback riding ($69) takes you from the stables to the island's highest point, a spot of 'refreshment' then back to the beach for a ride through the surf. Parasailing ($69) is a great chance to get a true bird's eye view of the cay, without getting your feet wet. There is also a stingray adventure ($19), Snorkel Tour ($49), Scuba dive ($69), and a host of other activities. Or, you can just hit the beautiful 1 mile beach and get the sugar sand between your toes! The water is wonderfully warm and your tuxedoed waiter will deliver Frozen Thingies to you in the surf! *sigh* No fire station on the island, but I did manage to meet with Second Officer Wayne Follett, a Fire Officer with the Zuiderdam's Security Division. Although post-911 policy has eliminated ship's tours, Wayne was kind enough to give me a peek behind the scenes of his division. I was mightily impressed! The gear and equipment is all top-of-the-line and better than much of what I have seen in full-time professional departments in major cities! The fire crews are equally well trained and certainly know their business. Good thing too, since a hundred miles at sea, there is no mutual aid! After my mini-tour, I can tell one and all, in full confidence, that HAL really be lives in safety first. Sleep well and enjoy your cruise. Yes, I did give Wayne a duty shirt and he said he will be getting one off to me.
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands - Was probably our favorite port on this cruise. As we had an early tour scheduled, we didn't head into town at first. We booked the Sea and See tour ($64). This was a guided tour by open air safari taxis (a converted pick-up with a covered, five bench, 20-passenger section on the back). We went all around the island, got some nice photos and a really informative narration. Tortola has a very interesting history and our guide was quite knowledgeable. We stopped in West End and boarded a 40' sightseeing boat for a run through Drake's Channel between St. Johns (USVI) and Tortola. We sailed over to Norman Island (the original "Treasure Island") and then back across Drake's Channel to Road Town and the ship. Well worth the cost and loved every minute of it. Once ashore, we visited the vendor area just outside the port. About 50 ladies had 10'x10' pop-up tents set up and the prices were very reasonable. But, please don't insult them. You really are expected to haggle over the prices. SunFlower headed back to the ship and I made a bee-line for the fire station. Went in, showed my ID/shield and introduced myself. Was given the royal 50 cent tour and invited to join the duty crew for a bite to eat. Great timing! Great meal too! My new friends were only too happy to trade shirts. All in all, I got the better end of the deal . one duty T-shirt for a meal and a beautiful knit polo shirt with embroidered Royal Crest and printed logo on the back! I'm going to have to send them something to make up for the inequity of the trade. We loved Tortola! Not crowded. Not heavily commercialized. Very friendly people. Other tours included: Dolphin Encounter ($129), The Wreck of the Rhone Scuba Dive ($111), Virgin Gorda & the Baths ($57), Island Secrets ($39).
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands - Charlotte Amalie is (basically) a big store. Jewelry, cameras, jewelry, watches, jewelry, perfumes, jewelry. Oh, and in case you missed it .. jewelry. You can't swing a dead cat more than twice without hitting at least three jewelry stores, or the barkers trying to guide you in to them. We took the Island & Mountain Top Tour ($24). This was a very basic sightseeing tour in an open air safari taxi. We stopped at just about every roadside tourist stand and were offered the same trinkets as were available down in town, for only two to three times the price! Yes, there were some very beautiful views, but the guide didn't stop unless there was a tourist stand there. Hmmmmmm, could there have been some kind of arrangement? LOL. Go figure. After our return to Charlotte Amalie, we did our obligatory shopping and SunFlower indulged me in a stop at the local fire department. Again, success! Traded one of my duty T-shirts for one of theirs. Met some more fellow firefighters and had a chance to have a nice chat. There were four ships in harbor this day. Zuiderdam, and two others over at the Havensight Docks; and the Disney Wonder across the harbor. This made for a busy and crowded shopping experience, but we did enjoy the day. A sample of the more than 20 HAL sponsored shore excursions for this port include: Sea Trek Helmet Dive ($94), Coral World ($39), Kon-Tiki Party Cruise ($34), Catamaran Sail ($79), etc.
Nassau, Bahamas - Our least favorite stop. This may have been due to a number of things 1) it was toward the end of the cruise and we were just plain getting worn out, 2) the humidity was very high, and 3) the port was pretty crowded (six ships really added to the number of tourists). We first took a horse drawn carriage ride around town. The going price was $30, but for us . "special . 20 dollar". Sure, why not? Actually was a nice ride, but the guide was so set in his spiel that he didn't hear our questions and, on more than one occasion, repeated an entire paragraph without knowing it. Too funny! Next, we took the Semi-Submersible tour out to a reef near the port. You sit about five or six feet below the water line and have a great view of the reef and of marine wildlife. Not real exciting, but very interesting. Ashore, we found the Straw Market to be over crowded, hot, stuffy and filled with overly pushy vendors. Basically, the aisles are about three feet wide and each vendor sits in front of her wares. Each stall is about eight feet wide and stacked upwards of 20 feet high. As a result, you are squeezing through a gauntlet with a vendor every 4-6 feet. Over-whelming. Other tours included: Atlantis Hotel & Beach ($54 + $25 beach fee), Two-Tank Scuba Dive ($109), Sail & Snorkel ($49), Blue Lagoon Island.
I, of course, stopped at the fire brigade headquarters to swap duty shirts. They were out, but an assistant chief accepted one from me, took my information, and promised to mail me one of theirs when the next order comes in. Ya gotta believe!
Debarkation - The bags were packed the night before, and left outside the cabin door. They were gone before we went to bed! The next morning, we enjoyed another wonderful breakfast as we entered Port Everglades. Then it was just a matter of waiting for our color and number to be called, and it was off the ship, down the gangway, find the luggage, clear customs and grab a taxi. Debarkation began about 9:00 am and we were off the ship by 11:00 am. Met with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson and headed into Fort Lauderdale for lunch and a (way too) short get-together.
Would we take this cruise again? In a heartbeat! The Calgon Bag is still packed and I'm ready to go. The Zuiderdam is another fine ship in a series of "Dam Ships" and Holland America certainly knows what they're doing. We had an absolutely fantabulous great time!!! Please E-Mail any questions to Calgon1@Yahoo.Com
Hello Fellow CruiseMates,
This was my first cruise and I had no idea what to expect. This turns out to be a good thing as the cruise was more than I could have dreamed of.
I took the Eastern Caribbean with Holland America Line-Zuiderdam and have nothing but great things to say about the cruise. The staff was more than efficient and went out of their way to help you with anything you needed, small or big.
Two standouts for me were James Deering, the Hotel Manager, who was exceedingly gracious and always had time and a kind word for everyone. Mr. Deering took his job very serious and always asked if there was anything he could do to improve on the service we were getting. Since the service we got was excellent, we certainly had no complaints.
The second standout for me was our cabin steward Rony. He is such a happy person and a very competent cabin steward. Always polite and helpful and never missed a thing. Rony went a long way in keeping us comfortable during our cruise.
The food was above average in taste and presentation in both the diningroom and Lido deck buffet. Again their staff went out of their way to remember your name and inquire if there was something they could do for you. They were behind the scenes when you were busy and where you needed them whenever you had a question.
We met Captain Scott and his lovely wife Susan for cocktails and after dinner drinks. As a first time cruiser I was quite impressed that I was invited twice! The ship is very elegant yet not stuffy.
We met so many wonderful people on board and many who will remain good friends.
The people we met on CruiseMates message boards were wonderful and so helpful in planning this cruise. We arranged to meet at the Crow's Nest Bar on the first sea day and what a grand time we had. Even James Deering came to ensure we were getting everything we needed and promised prompt resolution by a phone call to him if we ever needed his help. I especially enjoyed meeting Joe, his wife and various members of his delightful family. I definitely would love to keep in contact with them. They were just incredibly nice, down to earth people.
On the whole I was surprised at the variety of ages with active seniors, mothers with children, young couples with and without children and many solo travelers. The Zuiderdam was very accommodating to all the different groups. You could see the children were having the time of their lives whenever you chanced to come upon them.
The whole ship and cruisers were happy and friendly. Everyone had a good morning or some other lovely comment as you past by them or traveled the elevators with them.
I believe I could write a book about how incredible this cruise was. Perhaps that is what I will do on my next cruise with HAL-Zuiderdam. In my opinion, when sailing with Holland America Line-msZuiderdam, you get paradise at a very reasonable price.
I am already planning my next cruise with HAL and hopefully the Zuiderdam, but their "Signature of Excellence" goes way beyond the comfortable beds. It seemed a philosophy with the crew and officers alike to make this and every cruise memorable. I am certainly thankful I had the opportunity to sail with all these wonderful people. Hope to see you on board next time. So long for now, Dani
My wife and I have been on several cruises,this was the second with HAL.Zuiderdam is a nice sized ship,smooth sailing.The staterooms and public rooms are smaller than other HAL ships.The atrium should have been left out all together,to small a space and weak appearence.
Embarkation was very smooth and short,1/2 hour from porters to onboard.The earlier you get there the better.Had lunch in the Lido.Staterooms were ready at 1:50,bags delivered by 2:45.
The ship is clean ,but after 128 voyages some wear is expected.HAL will upgrade this ship before the end of this year.
The Oddessey restaurant is so worth trying atleast one night.Some of the best beef I have had.Try the porterhouse it was fantastic.Service was the excellent.
Also the Vista Dinning room food was very good.Everything Susan and I tried was well seasoned and great.Service could not have been better Jay,Isdra and Antonio had no room for improvement in any way.
About all the vibration complaints in other reveiws.We never once noticed in any part of the ship ,anything worth whinning about.We ate lunch in the Vista on the lower deck as the ship was under full power and we felt nothing out ofthe ordinary.
Actually I should say that if all the passengers were as gracious,happy and kind as the crew,there would be no complaints from me.Futhermore the entire cruise the only problems were from some of the rude,overbearing,over complaining,pain in the backside fellow passengers.If you expect everything perfect you need to vacation elsewhere.After all you are on a ship in the ocean.The crew try as they may can not please people like this and shouldn`t even try.These types should stay at home and every cruise would be perfect for the rest of us!
As for excursions we never have taken one through any cruise line.Cheaper to do on your own.Just make sure to leave plenty of time to return to the ship before they set sail.
HAL passengers are on the average older than on other cruise lines.But that is not a bad thing.This cruise we didn`t take our ten year old son,so it was a very relaxing seven days.If you have a bad time on a cruise then there is a problem with you,period.
As I said before the ship was very clean,no virus
on this cruise.But guys when you use the restroom please wash your damn hands.Antibacterial wipes is always a good thing to bring with you when this many people are in one area together.
Seven days goes far to quickly by, for me!
One thing I will say is that it is too bad that Carnival owns all the "Leading Cruise Lines".This will eventually be the biggest disappointment as all this lines become more Carnivalized....yeuuccckkk!!!!!
What a relief! After reading some negative reviews before my cruise to Key West and the Bahamas, I was expecting the worst. I and my son and two friends had a perfect vacation. These were some of the highlights:
Embarkation: Easy, but a tad late. We boarded around 12 noon because the ship came in late.
FOOD: All I can say is if you couldn't find something you loved to eat on this ship, you are impossible to please! The dining room food was excellent and the casual dining on the Lido deck was great. There was something for everyone. If you didn't want to dress up or didn't want to eat at your specific time, you could go to the Lido deck and choose between Italian, steak, chicken, salads, hamburgers, hot dogs and much more. Not to mention the zillions of desserts and fruit. Then there's the room service. Fill out your breakfast card at night and it's at your door in the morning!! They went out of thier way to make you feel special.
Shore excursions: Can't say too much about this. The excursions I wanted sold out. All Ican say is don't wait! Book any excursions way before you set sail or you'll miss out like I did!
Ship cleanliness: This is a very clean ship. Thne only thing I noticed was my sheets were not changed for three days. Maybe this is to save energy?
Entertainment: I enjoyed the shows in the main showroom but wasn't crazy about the comedian they had.
I would sail this ship again. I have no real complaints---but I heard of a funny one from someone else. When I was waiting my turn at the front desk, I overheard an older couple complaining that there was a dog in the room next to thiers. The man went on and on about how he is allergic to dogs and that he demanded another cabin. Unfortunatly for him, the ship was sold out! When we went to the show one night, it turned out to be an illusionist who had two poodles in his act. He must have been the couple's neighbors. I bet that couple would have like to make those dogs disappear!!!!!
My first and last Holland America trip was on the Zuiderdam. The ship was a big disappointment in that the room with a balcony was small and not very clean, in bad need of updating. The balcony remained dirty from the first day until the day before we left when I finally asked the room steward to clean it. Then, it took him 2 more days to do it. Excrusion desk staff was rude and disorganized.
Twenty of us were forgotten in downtown St. Thomas and the snorkel boat left without us, and there was apology or compensation except a voice message. Food was okay. Ship is not fun. There is NOT a variety of music on-board. Front desk is staffed 24 hours but staff is less than helpful. Overall this cruise was not a value for the money. I will go back to Princess or Royal Carribean and never take Holland America again.
This review represents our personal perceptions and opinions of our Zuiderdam cruise over Thanksgiving.
This was the fifth 7-night Caribbean cruise for my husband and I within the past four years on a variety of ships: NCL Sky (2000), Celebrity Galaxy (2001), NCL S/S Norway (2003), HAL Maasdam (2003), and HAL Zuiderdam (2004). We are ages 30/32 and traveled alone. This was our second cruise on HAL, with both of our HAL cruises being Thanksgiving week. Passenger count: 2,072 according to the Cruise Log provided by HAL at the end of our cruise. Club HAL staff shared with us they had 350 for Club HAL. Booking was made almost six months in advance via an online agency for this Thanksgiving week cruise out of Fort Lauderdale.
As one person in our Messageboard group put it, "It's like my Nissan Altima. Nothing really wrong with it but nothing really special about it either." Compared to our HAL Maasdam cruise the previous Thanksgiving, this was not the same "wow" experience we experienced on Maasdam. Crazy colors, not as many fresh flowers everywhere, steward not as friendly or giving 110% like previously, no more javacafé for yummy hot chocolate, saw more jeans in the dining room for dinner as well as bellybutton rings (at least cover your belly for dinner!), more announcements that you can hear just fine while napping in your stateroom, etc. It was a good cruise and we loved our ports of call, but the ship layout/colors, steward, and multiple itinerary changes created by HAL just didn't have us walking away this time with that "wow, what a great cruise" feeling. However, this was the most friendly Captain we have ever had- Captain John Scott. We certainly enjoyed our conversations with him. Also, our dinner waiter, Nana, was the best ever! Every meal was fantastic, he always had a smile, greeted us by name, and was just awesome.
Would we book with HAL again?
Yes, provided the price is right.
The Mariner's Club benefits are not that great at all - at least NCL offers 20% off on drinks in one of their lounge areas onboard.
I made Pinnacle reservations over the phone with Ship Services for $10 pp the first night. I also asked if we could request a particular area of the dining room for our normal dining, and was told "no". That was interesting since others on various message boards have been able to make requests in the past, even for specific tables.
The port times were changing and not being advertised in advance for St Thomas and Tortola, so that caused some stress trying to get our private shore excursions straight (excursions not offered by HAL). We finally determined we would get there when we get there, which turned out exactly to be the case. The number one reason we booked this cruise was for the extended time in St Thomas so that we could return to our wedding beach on St John and not be rushed with the day - we wanted to fully enjoy an entire day on St John. The number two reason we booked this was a combination of price and our very positive experience on HAL Maasdam the previous Thanksgiving.
PreCruise Transportation and Lodging:
After terrific flights on Southwest Airlines, we stayed at the Renaissance on 17th one night before embarking on the Zuiderdam. No free shuttle was provided, but we paid approximately $10 for the taxi from FLL to the hotel and another $10 for the taxi to the cruiseport. Dinner was at a favorite of ours, Durty Harry's (near the Embassy Suites). The room was clean, comfortable, and in a good location. We picked up bottled water at Walgreens across the street and Curt went one block away to get breakfast for us at Einstein Bagels. The line was well out the door.
Wearing my digital watch, I tend to notice exact times (especially since I'm a fairly analytical person). We arrived at the port at 11:03, the porter took our bags, and we headed to the other end of the building to get at the end of the already long line. At about 11:15, it started moving. By 11:45 we were boarding the ship (no waiting after processing the paperwork). However, I was not wearing the Mariner buttons but had them in our leather wallet provided by HAL. I was told to just carry the leather HAL wallet through the metal detector, but it kept going off. I finally recalled those dam buttons and that solved the problem. Upon embarkation, we grabbed a table by the Lido pool midship and took turns grabbing lunch. The only thing that appealed to either of us was prime rib followed by ice cream at the ice cream bar.
We met our fellow Messageboards at the aft pool bar, where I enjoyed a Kahlua Colada. This was our first time to ever do sailaway from the aft of the ship. I don't recall hearing a band there.
Cabin 8049 (category I - inside):
At 203 square feet, this was the largest inside cabin we have ever had! Storage was plentiful and two electrical outlets were provided by the mirror at the foot of the bed. A large couch was firm, but we never sat on it to relax, nor did we sit in the sturdy chair. An electronic safe (4-digit code) was provided in the closet, and there were two drawers in the nightstand that locked with key (we didn't use it). There was a locked cabinet under the tv area that we finally asked about later in the week, and learned it was a minibar. I guess you had to ask for the key had you wanted to partake in that. However, having access to the fridge would have been nice. We could never hear our neighbors on the side, but did hear people going down the hall at all hours. One lady thought it would be good to teach her daughter the numbers on the cabin door 8 0 4 3 every single time they arrived - not matter what time of day or night it was. However, the cabin location was good - being between two sets of stairs/elevators and only one deck from the Lido deck. The cabin was attended to twice daily, with the focus primarily on the bed-making and bathroom. Our steward never greeted us by name on this cruise, which was totally different from our HAL Maasdam cruise one year prior.
One thing to note: On embarkation day, the carpet outside our cabin in the hallway was ripped up on both sides of our door. The crew was putting down some black tar-looking stuff, apparently to fill in "craters" in the floor. Close to lifeboat drill time, the carpet was tacked back down.
We were assigned table 77 for two along the rail for the 8:00 upstairs dining time. Our waiter, Nana, was the best waiter we have experienced on our five cruises. He always greeted us by name and was such a hard worker. Meals were always excellent for dinner. Breakfast and lunch were normally on the Lido deck and were just fine, but dinner was always excellent. Our dinner at the Pinnacle was well worth the $10 pp on embarkation night, and the volcano cake was even better this year than on Maasdam last year.
We attended only one show, the magician, and he was awesome! The other show we attended was the adult R-rated comedian in the Queen's Lounge. If you get jokes forwarded to you via email on the internet, you probably knew her punchlines as soon as she says the first sentence. What really surprised me was the number of children at this performance, even though it was rated "R" and advertised that way. Parents had their children next to them, and they were obviously children by their looks and Club HAL bracelets. One kid told her dad she felt bad, so he started walking her out (we were standing in the very back right behind them). Next thing we knew, she had fainted before making it to the door and was on the ground. I tapped the mother on the shoulder to ask if that had been her daughter, she said yes, so I let her know she had just fainted. She left to join them.
Beverages on board:
The one time we visited the Crow's Nest for predinner drinks, we were very disappointed in the lack of service. After waiting in chairs for half an hour around 5:00, I finally went to the bar to order a drink. I don't know if it is because of the new automatic tipping or what, but last year on Maasdam, as soon as we would sit down in the Crow's Nest we'd have someone taking our drink order and bringing hors d'vours. The Crow's Nest service this year on Zuiderdam was sorely lacking, and we did not return there for drinks. (It wasn't even crowded that afternoon). We did return three others times wanting to just sit and look out the windows, but it was reserved for various private functions.
The Ocean Bar was our Messageboard meeting point each night. Most of us would have one predinner cocktail. Service was much better here, but we were not sitting at the bar rather near the piano. The drinks of the day seemed to have no kick, especially for someone who goes night-night after just two drinks (I don't drink a lot at all). I usually notice it any time I have a drink, but the drinks on Zuiderdam just didn't have that punch. Others in our group noticed the same thing, and we had about a dozen who met nightly.
Our total bar bill came to $90 for the week, including the wines we had at dinner - so one can see this was not a big expense. Drinks of the day cost $3.75, Cosmos and other drinks cost $5.95, and wines by the glass varied. The corkage fee totaled $15.00 including the automatic 15% tip (brought a special bottle from home). The Cosmos were terrific and were mixed just right in my opinion.
Sea Day Activities:
Compared to NCL and Celebrity, HAL has less activities and more time to just relax. We participated in afternoon tea, aviator's meeting, various board game competitions in the piano bar, and one win-a-cruise Bingo ($10 for one game, $20 for three). The Bingo was the extent of our gambling, especially since we are headed to Bellagio the following month. We also enjoyed playing dominoes that we had brought from home and watching the shipbuilding trials. We did not watch any of the movies onboard. However, we played shuffleboard with the sounds of Madonna, Dave Matthews Band, and other 80s/90s/today music blaring from the nearby speakers (never heard that mix of music on Maasdam last year). Club HAL would lead the kids around the ship, and some kids thought the pucks on the shuffleboard were for kicking, but that was okay - Curt was beating me anyway and I could use a "startover". We enjoyed one afternoon in the aft hottubs but noticed that the aft pool did not enforce the adult swim time 3:00-5:00.
After taking the spa tour on embarkation day I inquired about the week pass they were selling for the hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite. They said they sell only 35 for the week and had only 6 left to sell. Since it was not even 4:00, they said they expected to sell out soon. If they sell out, then day passes are not offered.
Ironically, a few days later, I inquired about a day pass for my husband and I, and was told no problem. Either they didn't sell the 35 week passes or they didn't stick to the limit of only 35 total. We had 2072 passengers onboard.
The spa services were more pricey than the spas I use locally in Dallas (Four Seasons, Grand Spa, etc) so I opted not to utilize the spa services onboard the Zuiderdam. However, the daily specials, especially towards the end of the week for facials, looked appealing!
We were group number one (going standby for a 10:50 flight) and were called at 9:00. Before we even made it from the Lido to our cabin to grab our carryon in our cabin one deck below, they had already called groups 2, 3, 4, and 5. Of course when making it to the appropriate deck it was a madhouse of passengers waiting to get off. The man behind us said he was a Suite and gets to go to the front of the line. I thought they got priority disembarkation (which is why they called S very first) as opposed to cutting in the line of passengers who were also called. Since he had only twenty people ahead of him, I suggested it might just be easier to wait since we were all packed like sardines and nobody could hardly move anyway. I don't understand why HAL calls multiple groups at one time. That day, they were called S, 1, 2 and then 3, 4, 5 just a couple minutes later.
Regardless, we were at the airport by 9:40 in line (after a $10 cab ride) and received boarding passes at 10:03.
Of course you always have airport passengers complaining that the check-in line takes too long, but if someone expects an empty airport in Fort Lauderdale on the weekend after Thanksgiving, especially when all the cruiseship passengers arrive, they need to start using just a little common sense. Weekends in any airport near a cruiseport are hectic, not to mention the busiest travel weekend of the year (Thanksgiving weekend).
Half Moon Cay:
Sunday, scheduled 8:00-4:00
Disembarked around 8:25 (first nonsuite/nonexcursion group), all aboard by 3:30
We arrived in the Queen's Lounge at 7:35 to wait in line for tickets. Instead, they had us sit in chairs so when ticket distribution time came, it really didn't matter how long you were there because they were just randomly distributed. The lady working it seemed to have no clue, as she was part of Club HAL and said she was just helping out today. At 8:15, the cruise director came in wondering why nobody had been boarding except excursions and suites (who had priority). Apparently there had been a miscommunication so we all received tender tickets and proceeded to the gangway. We were all set up in our $9 clamshell by 9:00 near the last three cabanas.
We enjoyed a long walk to the end of the beach to the rocky area, where we saw debris that had not been cleaned up since the September hurricane. We also stopped to watch the horseback riding, which seemed to spend about five minutes in water. The vegetation was growing back from being damaged by the saltwater with the hurricane.
Upon returning to our clamshell, we relaxed in hammocks that were right there and did a little swimming. By lunch, the beach was filling up. A group of passengers arrived, squealing with delight that they had found hammocks. Of course they just threw their flipflops in the hammocks and left, and at the time we left later in the afternoon, they had never returned. Nice of them to be "hammock-hogs" just like "deckchair hogs" you see onboard. Zero consideration for other passengers who might want to enjoy the hammock during the hours they had them "reserved". We observed many passengers during the week onboard with this "me me me" attitude- much more than on previous cruises.
Tuesday, scheduled 8:00 AM-11:00 PM (changed in October to 8:00 AM - 9:00 PM)
Disembarked around 8:15 AM, all aboard by 8:30 PM
According to vinow.com we were to be at Crown Bay (five ships in port total). Upon Saturday's embarkation, we learned that we would be tendering. However, on Monday while at sea we learned we would indeed be at Crown Bay. Fortunately we did arrive on Tuesday (versus Wednesday) as several previous Zuiderdam had experienced unannounced port swapping with St Thomas and Tortola for Tuesday/Wednesday. After clearing immigration at 7:35, we dropped our passports off in our safe and proceeded to the gangway. We were told to go up a deck (a large group of us) to wait for the announcement. Every five minutes someone would go down the stairs to double-check. At 8:15, we noticed others were disembarking via elevators and it was indeed clear for everyone to get off the ship, but the dozens of us waiting up one deck at the top of the stairs as instructed he been neglected in being told. We disembarked and immediately found the taxi dispatcher to get transportation to Red Hook. After being moved to four different taxis (drivers don't like making this run) we were finally on the road at 8:25. We just barely made the 9:00 ferry. Remember: you are on island time. Things don't move as fast even if you have a ferry you are wanting to make. Taxi cost $9 each and ferry cost $3 each.
Upon arrival in Cruz Bay, we met Chef Mulcare on the dock to pick up our wedding cake (same cake but smaller version of the one we had in March 2003 for our St John wedding while on a cruise). We then turned right to walk along the beach to Noah's Dinghies, where we rented a twelve-foot bright yellow dinghy with a 15 hp motor for the day. This enabled us to visit our wedding beach (Hawksnest), snorkel at Waterlemon Cay, walk along Cinnamon beach, have lunch at Trunk Bay, and relax on Honeymoon beach before returning the dinghy later that afternoon. We did some quick window shopping (on a quest for earrings) but ended up making the second 5:00 ferry. Yes, there IS a rush hour in St John. We were amazed at the way people just walked to the front of the ferry line as if it didn't even exist. Once in Red Hook, we got a cab back to Crown Bay, going a different routing to get there due to traffic in the Havensight direction. The passengers already in the van were discontent that they had made the first 5:00 ferry but the driver refused to leave until the van was completely full, waiting on the second 5:00 ferry.
Although we had been told the shops in St Thomas stay open late when a ship is in port, we had called some that we knew we wanted to visit (such as the jewelry store where we had bought our wedding bands in 2002) and were told they were closing at 5:00. Therefore, we straight back to the ship for our 9:00 departure, opting not to have dinner in town.
Wednesday, scheduled 7:00-6:00 (embarkation day schedule now showed 7:00-5:00)
Disembarked around 8:25 (safely docked alongside 7:58 according to Cruise Log, announcement made we could disembark at 8:15), all aboard by 4:30
Having prebooked with Patouche charters, we were to check in between 8:30-8:45. We made it there at 8:55. I am not sure whey disembarkation was an hour late, but it certainly made for a rushed experience walking to Patouche (down past the ferry dock and hospital).
We had an absolutely wonderful day with Patouche on Shamwari. Shamwari is 48' and they take no more than 16 passengers. We snorkeled and toured the Baths and also snorkeled at Haulover Bay at a different island. Upon our return at 4:10, Julie hopped in her van to drive us back to make our all aboard time of 4:30. Again, knocking off an hour of each end of our day by HAL caused a rush with this charter. I wish HAL would have stuck to the original schedule advertised. I'm not sure why we arrived an hour late from St Thomas (it's not that far away) but at least we were given a heads-up on embarkation day that we would be leaving Tortola early. That allowed me the opportunity to use HAL's internet café and email Patouche to let them know if this change - and to re-verify we would definitely be back on time. The late arrival came as a surprise, but of course I realize a ship can change an itinerary at any time for any reason at all.
In port, there was one other HAL ship docked next to us. It was there when we arrived and it departed thirty minutes before we did.
Friday, scheduled 12:00-7:00
Disembarked around 12:20 (one of the first to disembark), all aboard by 6:30
We had booked the Dolphin Swim through Dolphin Encounters of Blue Lagoon independently. HAL did not offer the swim but only the encounter for Nassau, which I was not interested in. By booking independently, I was also able to book my husband as an observer for $20, enabling him to take over 100 digital pictures.
We took a cab to Paradise Ferry Terminal ($10 plus $1 toll) and checked in around 1:00. Our ferry was scheduled for 1:30 but ran a little late, so we all arrived just a little late for the 2:00 program (but we were all on the ferry).
After an introduction to the program, we put on wetsuits and lifejackets. We were placed on three platforms with ten participants each. The program consisted of two parts.
All participants in the water for several "swim bys", petting, kisses, hugs, and dancing.
The swim. Adults had two dolphins propelling them through the water while kids had just one. This was awesome and happened so fast!
After a warm shower, changing clothes, and purchasing a couple photographs (4x6 for $14, picture magnet for $8), we were on the 4:00 ferry back. The first ferry stop was at the ferry terminal, and cruiseship passengers were instructed to stay onboard, as the ferry would take us directly back to the cruiseship dock.
We did some quick powershopping and purchased the earrings we were after on this trip. This was the only day we had time to shop due to booking ourselves with excursions and times in port being shortened.