Previous cruises: multiple, including Holland America,
Celebrity, Princess, Cunard, and Carnival.
There have been quite a few reviews written about the Zuiderdam,
Holland America's first "Vista" class ship launched in December
2002. This review will add my (and some of my wife's) impressions
of this cruise and will provide what we hope are useful hints for
pre-cruise, ports of call, and post-cruise arrangements for the
Because this is an extensive review, we will highlight each
section with a KEY PHRASE, so that the reader can scan down to
specific areas of interest. Please be aware that the world of
travel is constantly changing, so that some of the content of this
review may have outdated since it was written. My apologies for any
THE BOTTOM LINE is that this was a very enjoyable cruise on a
beautiful new ship at a price that was an astoundingly GOOD VALUE.
We would recommend it for anyone who enjoys the relaxation and
luxury of shipboard life with occasional mainstream (sometimes
crowded) ports of call.
PRO'S: Numerous balcony cabins at reasonable prices; improved
cuisine, now second to none; first-rate musicians and production
shows; the kindest dining
and cabin stewards anywhere; the best powder-sand beach in the
Caribbean (Half Moon Cay).
CON'S: An itinerary crowded with other cruise ships and
passengers (St. Martin, St. Thomas, Nassau); unnecessarily high
prices for internet access, photographs, and liquor; lack of
self-service laundry; lack of bathrobes in most cabins.
HOLLAND AMERICA has a reputation for attracting older cruisers,
and we found that most passengers on our cruise were in their 60's
or 70's. One might think that this cruise would be a turn-off for
younger couples and families with children, but one gentleman told
me that his children were enjoying this cruise and Club HAL (the
children's program) much more than their previous cruise on the
Disney Magic. His children felt special on HAL, but were just part
of the overwhelming crowd of (sometimes unruly and unhappy)
children on Disney.
My guess is that HAL attracts an older crowd because in years
past they did little discounting until too late, selling leftover
cabins at the last minute to Florida retirees. (Floridians
apparently get price concessions from cruise lines). On my first
HAL cruise a few years ago I was unhappy to learn that we had paid
$1,000 more for our inside cabin than two of our tablemates had
paid for their inside cabin, and $200 more than two other
tablemates had paid for their outside cabin. It was a while before
I was willing to trust HAL again, but those days are now past.
Fortunately, HAL is now using capacity-controlled pricing much
the same as other cruise lines (and airlines) are, resulting in
some great bargains, especially during the shoulder season before
Christmas. Price shopping using internet cruise sites (there are
several good cruise-bargain newsletters) or a large-volume cruise
agency (more about this later) is very worthwhile.
THE ZUIDERDAM is at the large end of medium-sized cruise ship
spectrum, at 82,000 gross tons. She carries 1,800 passengers with
almost one crewmember for each pair of passengers. As a Vista class
ship, she is very similar to the Millennium class ships of
Celebrity Cruises –- the hull is wide and somewhat boxy (just
narrow enough to squeeze through the Panama Canal), but the
superstructure is narrower and tall enough to provide a relative
abundance of balcony cabins.
MODERN CRUISE SHIPS seem to be categorized into small (20-50,000
tons), medium (60-90,000 tons), and mega (100-150,000 tons). The
small ships tend to be either old, with wonderfully exotic
itineraries (but idiosyncrasies such as occasional tiny cabins or
port holes) or ultra-luxurious (with amenities and prices to
match). The mega ships tend to be moving cities with an emphasis on
large shopping malls, exotic activities (do you really want to go
cruising to ice skate or rock climb?), and of course large masses
of people. As you can guess, the mid-sized ships are our favorite,
especially the newer ones like the Zuiderdam.
Much has been written about the INTERIOR DECORATION of the
Zuiderdam. It is a departure to see combinations of red, orange,
purple, and turquoise on a HAL ship (HAL is known for a more
conservative, nautical style), but it is all top quality and
surprisingly attractive. There are quite a few small, uniquely
decorated public areas, most non-smoking, so it is easy to find a
quiet retreat day or night. There is not as much emphasis on
artwork as on some other HAL ships, but there is something for
every taste from museum-quality serious to Las Vegas whimsical.
Fresh flowers are a hallmark of HAL ships, but they seemed less
grand than on previous cruises. Still, most public areas had a nice
arrangement or two of exotic blooms tucked away here and there.
Surprisingly, the public area CHAIRS provided some of the most
unique art experiences on the ship. These chairs were uniformly
very heavy, very expensive, and interesting to look at, but almost
always less than completely comfortable (poor low back support).
Still, the chairs (and all of the décor) have great
entertainment value if you keep your eyes open. Unfortunately there
was no art and architecture tour of the ship – it would make
a good option during a day at sea.
THE CABINS are pleasantly decorated with warm colors and
easy-to-appreciate lithographs. Even the inside cabins are a
reasonable size, so no one will suffer the surprise we had a few
years ago on another (highly regarded but old) cruise ship when we
found our cabin had two bunk beds, one desk, and an ottoman
squeezed into a less than 7 by 9 foot space (the renovated bathroom
added another 4 by 6 feet).
The Zuiderdam's numerous BALCONIES vary in size. Ours was a
category BB (the least expensive) on deck 5 amidships, and it was
quite shallow (room for two chairs and an ottoman but no table to
enjoy breakfast al fresco) because of the adjacent lifeboat
hardware. In this category the lifeboats block the view downward to
the water (but not outward to the horizon), so you may want to
avoid this category if that is important to you. My wife loves the
privacy and fresh air of a balcony, and this ship is one where
balcony pricing is quite reasonable.
Our cabin was provided with a mini-refrigerator, television
(with the usual movies, cable news, weather cams, and music
channels, but surprisingly no classical music, just pop), a
mini-safe, and more than adequate closet space (but only a dozen
coat hangers and open shelves rather than drawers in the closet).
Bring a few extra plastic hangers with you (more about this later).
If you cannot find that extra blanket, try looking inside that
ottoman under the vanity.
Inside the door of each cabin is a small slot to hold the
do-not-disturb sign. This makes a great place to leave your
key-card whenever you return to your cabin. Searching pockets for
missing cards can be a thing of the past.
Balcony cabins (and I believe most outside cabins) have the
luxury of a bathtub rather than a shower, but do not expect a plush
terry bathrobe to wear after your hot bath. Bathrobes are now only
supplied to the highest category cabins (suites). Personally I
think this is a false economy that will have negative returns.
Cruise lines are beginning to offer two standards of service,
sometimes with designations such as "concierge class". Only the
future will tell if snobbism sells. Fortunately, most of the
upgraded amenities offered on the Zuiderdam are available to all.
Nothing in our past cruises was a greater turn-off than the
three-class system we encountered on the QE2. We thought class
distinctions went down with the Titanic, but apparently they will
live on with the QM2.
One thing you definitely will not find on HAL's new Vista class
ships is a LAUNDERETTE or ironing board –- they still exist
on older HAL ships, but on the Zuiderdam (and its newer sister-ship
the Oosterdam, which sailed alongside us on our final day) you
either wash clothes in your sink or you pay very high prices ($12
per small bag) to have the crew do it for you. A clothes-pressing
package deal is also available. Again, we think eliminating
self-service launderettes will backfire and will alienate
One thing you may not find easily is a RESTROOM in each public
area. Actually there are more restrooms than one thinks, they are
just discreetly hidden. If you need a restroom, look up as you
search, since most have lighted ceiling signs in the adjacent
hallway. However, some areas truly have no convenient restroom
–- men dining on the upper level of the main dining room will
have to go up or down one deck to find the nearest restroom.
Besides the extra balconies of the Zuiderdam, the greatest
improvement since our previous HAL cruises was in the DINING ROOM.
The food served in the main dining room is better than ever in
variety, presentation, and flavor. Mealtime became an entertaining
experience on this cruise. In years past, Celebrity Cruise Lines
seemed to set the standard in dining, but based on our experience
on this cruise, HAL has risen to meet the challenge.
The main dining room is on two levels with a central atrium
rather than horseshoe-shaped balcony. This decreases the
conversation noise, but previous reports of engine noise and
vibration in the stern portion of the lower level are too true. The
daytime views from this area are fantastic,
and hopefully when the ship returns from dry dock in early
December 2003, this problem will have been solved.
The main dining room is an elegant dark red, with
unusual-looking but surprisingly comfortable chairs, upgraded
china, and a relative abundance of well-situated tables for two.
The linens are now white (rather than gold), making it a more
formal experience. The dining room staff is Indonesian and is as
skillful as ever. Music is provided by the always-enjoyable Rosario
trio, who thankfully seem to be present in some incarnation on
every HAL cruise.
The FOOD throughout the ship is uniformly top notch, which is
quite an accomplishment considering the wide variety of dining
venues and cuisine styles. The BUFFET line has been divided into
multiple areas, each with a specific theme or purpose. This is
diagramed on maps provided with the deck plans at the beginning of
the cruise. This increases the variety of food stations and
decreases the length of lines, although some cruisers who are used
to the standard single cafeteria line approach seemed to have
difficulty adapting to the flexible layout. Dining is available at
almost any hour -- we especially enjoyed the fantastic pastries in
the mid-afternoon and had pizza with cocktails on our balcony in
the evening. (As an alternative, complimentary hors d'oeuvres are
now served with evening drinks in the lounges). The poolside grill
and Mexican buffet were also enjoyable diversions.
ALTERNATIVE DINING (at a surcharge of $20 per person) is
provided by the Odyssey Restaurant (AKA Pinnacle Grill) adjacent to
the central atrium. We ate there once and found the steak and rack
of lamb better prepared than any we had eaten before (and we come
from a state that produces both). When I asked the chef later in
the cruise how he made the wonderful and intensely flavored
sun-dried tomato and beef stock reduction that came with my steak,
I learned that the process required two days of slow cooking with
multiple herbs. It was a reminder (as is the entertaining galley
tour) of how much work goes into the food preparation. The Odyssey
never seemed to be full, and obtaining reservations was no problem.
I think that the main dining room is so good that the Odyssey has
The wines (and drinks in general throughout the ship) are
expensive (by our standards). If you are a heavy drinker of sodas,
consider buying a soda card at the beginning of the cruise –
it will probably save you money and is good any time throughout the
The CREW throughout the ship was topnotch, as on previous HAL
cruises. The officers are Dutch. We have always been impressed by
their attention to details, especially safety, having watched them
life raft-drill the crew on a previous cruise. The boat drill at
the beginning of the cruise is taken very seriously. Too bad some
cruisers always seem to chatter during this most important ten
minutes of the cruise.
The remainder of the crew is largely Indonesian and Filipino. It
is this crew which makes HAL stand out among the cruise lines we
have experienced. We have found no gentler, kinder, more thoughtful
stewards than these. On this cruise it seemed that the proportion
of Indonesians has decreased relative to Filipinos, perhaps because
of recent American xenophobia towards Muslim nations. I feel so
sorry that these Indonesians may be the victims of ethnic
profiling, making U.S. visas and work permits more difficult for
some nationalities to obtain. They have always welcomed us on our
travels to Bali and Java, and I hope that we can do the same for
ENTERTAINMENT also has improved since our previous HAL cruises.
To be honest, we do not often attend Broadway or Las Vegas style
musical productions, but the ones we saw on this cruise were top
quality. The main theater has a dozen pillars which obstruct the
view from some seats, so go a bit early to get a prime sight line.
All of the singers had great voices and the dancers had excellent
choreography and impressive costumes. The only fault I could find
was the excessive amplification –- one could feel the music
in one's gut, it was sometimes so loud. That has been the case on
almost every previous cruise ship, so now I simply bring along a
pair of ear plugs -– they bring the volume down to an ideal
(for me) level.
The MUSICIANS elsewhere on the ship were also the best we have
heard on any cruise. The Crossover Band played classic dance
numbers perfectly, and their singer was stylish and always in tune
–- she sounded like a recording in the best sense of that
word. The piano trio in the Ocean lounge improvised with great
skill and good humor. The evening musical scene in general was an
embarrassment of riches.
The one thing that was lacking in the way of entertainment was a
series of EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS or ENRICHMENT LECTURES (there was a
single interesting talk on digital photography for beginners). Some
of the high-end cruise lines are adding these options, and I hope
HAL and other cruise lines follow their lead. In the meantime, the
LIBRARY is well stocked with recent books –- it was no
problem to find several that I had always intended to read when I
got the time (but ended up only reading two on this cruise, since
there were so many other things to do).
The INTERNET room is beautifully appointed with the latest in
flat screen monitors and reasonably rapid response times. The
prices, however, are unnecessarily high ($3.75 just to open an
account and $.75 per minute thereafter). This may be the reason
that I never saw anyone but the technical assistant in the room any
time I visited it. There are internet package deals, but no great
concessions like those on Princess cruise ships, for example, which
allow unlimited free internet use to its regular (more than 5
The GYM and SPA were well equipped. The layout is unusual. The
saunas are across the ship and down the corridor from the changing
rooms, and as a result were rarely used. Unfortunately the sauna
area can be locked from the inside and may not be available if
someone wants to monopolize it.
The indoor and outdoor SWIMMING POOLS were filled with frigid
water –- great if the weather is sunny, but little used on
our blustery cruise. Unfortunately both pool decks are smoking
areas (no port and starboard separation of smokers and
non-smokers). This could be a problem if you want to take your
buffet meal to one of the outdoor tables near the pools.
The onboard SHOPS had a good mixture of logo souvenirs and
convenience items. Sale prices seemed fictitious, but were not
The CASINO was terra incognita to both my wife and myself. I
once cruised with a friend whose casino tab ended up greater than
the cost of the cruise itself. Perhaps we should be grateful that
casino losers subsidize the rest of us cruisers.
The CRUISE ITINERARY begins with a short day on HAL's private
island, HALF MOON CAY. This is a beach paradise that can get
crowded near the tender dock but always has footprint free sand at
the far end of the beach. We prefer to skip the beach picnic and
take a mid-day break from the sun by having lunch in the main
dining room, returning to the beach for an afternoon swim. The
first passenger tender leaves about an hour after anchoring,
because the early tenders are taken up by crew transporting food
and beach gear. Avoid the last return tender if you can, because
stragglers can delay it, and you make have to wait for a while.
After a day at sea, there is a half-day at Phillipsburg, ST.
MARTIN. One can walk 15 minutes into town along a new sidewalk or
take a short $3 taxi ride. There is a new man-made beach along the
waterfront, but non-shoppers usually opt for Grand Cas or Orient
Beach (both topless) on the French side of the island. The $2.50
public mini-bus ride to Grand Cas (via a change of buses in the
French side capital of Marigot) takes 1-2 hours each way depending
on traffic (St. Martin is subject to gridlock just like St.
Thomas). Minibuses leave from westbound Back Street, just flag one
down. Grand Cas is not a great beach (there are buildings along its
entire length) but the ride there is fun for the adventuresome, and
it has some nice views. Tour buses cover the same route with
greater comfort and speed. Orient Beach is not reachable by public
transport other than taxi.
The next port is a full day at Charlotte Amalie, ST. THOMAS.
This shoppers' orgy is a major turn-off for me (and thankfully for
my wife too). We have been to the USVI nearly a dozen times by air
and by sea, and Charlotte is always the low point. Magens Bay on
the north side is a reasonable taxi ride and entry fee away. It is
a beautiful beach, the far west end of which is not too crowded. If
we are docked at Havensight, we sometimes take a short taxi ride to
the Frenchman's Bay beach of the Marriott Hotel. It is a small
beach, but safe and usually uncrowded. If we really want to get
away, we visit friends on nearby Water Island.
On this cruise, the Zuiderdam anchored and tendered passengers
to the center of the Charlotte waterfront, very near the St. John's
ferry (tempting, but there really is not enough time to go there
and get back for the last tender). What time was lost by tendering
was made up by the convenience of not needing a taxi from the
Havensight pier into town. Passport clearance at St. Thomas begins
onboard around 0645 for the lower deck cabins and ends around 0815
for the upper deck cabins. The first tenders leave soon
After another day at sea, the final port of call is NASSAU, on
Providence Island in the Bahamas. This is another shoppers' orgy,
which we usually avoid. We either take a taxi to Cabbage Beach on
Paradise Island (for about $5 per person), or we take a public bus
for $1, east along the waterfront to the base of the old
(southbound) bridge. It is a 10-minute walk over the bridge to
Paradise Island (the north end of the bridge is adjacent to the
ferry dock). Once on the island, we walk another 10 minutes toward
the Sheraton hotel (straight ahead). Public beach access is just to
the right of the hotel. There are no restrooms on the beach, but
chair, umbrella, parasail, and wave-runner rentals are readily
available. We usually walk another 10 minutes east along the beach
to avoid any crowds from the nearby Atlantis Hotel complex (which
is an interesting sight in itself if you have the time).
That sums up our impressions of the cruise. What follows is a
series of SUGGESTIONS ABOUT PRE-CRUISE, PORTS OF CALL, AND
POST-CRUISE ARRANGEMENTS (and cruising in general) aimed at the
budget-conscious traveler. These ideas have worked for us, but feel
free not to follow them if they are not your style.
AIR TRAVEL to the cruise port can be problematic in the winter.
We have found that making our own reservations is less expensive
than booking through the cruise lines, but one loses the cruise
line protection if there is a delay or cancellation. We fly into
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) the day before the cruise, and usually plan a
return flight in the afternoon of the last cruise day, to allow for
disembarkation and airport delays.
TAXIS from the cruise port to the FLL airport are about $10 plus
tip, making this less expensive (and faster) than the cruise
transfers. Except for some previous cruises when we were last off
the ship, we have never had to wait for a taxi. On this cruise, HAL
kindly put us in the first group (disembarking about 8:30 am) since
we had an early return flight. The bonus is that airport security
lines are shorter early in the day, before most cruise passengers
get there. Again, if possible book your return flight for noon or
later to be certain you arrive in time (once after a previous
cruise we did not clear airport security until 1 pm even without
checked bags, the airport lines were so long, but that seems to
have improved recently). If you arrive at FLL early and have no
checked bags, you can always standby for an earlier flight.
In Ft. Lauderdale we usually stay at one of the several chain
HOTELS on 17th Street, which are only minutes away from the airport
and cruise port. Most of these hotels provide free shuttle service
to and from the airport and cruise port. Nice rooms should be
available for less than $100 by using any of the internet discount
booking engines or sometimes by booking through the hotels
directly. If hotel prices are too high, we rent a car for 24 hours
and drive to a motel a few miles from the port (check your AAA
guide for options). The price difference more than pays for the car
rental, and shoppers can use the car for a visit to Sawgrass Mills
Outlet Mall, one of the largest in the country, located about 30
minutes west of town (they have great, relatively inexpensive men's
and women's formal wear shops if you need some additional
Amerisuites, Embassy Suites, Marriott, and Holiday Inn all have
properties on 17th Street. There is a large Publix grocery and
liquor store within walking distance for any last minute purchases,
and there are many restaurants and food outlets nearby. There are
even a few upscale clothing stores catering to the yachters in the
nearby marinas. The water taxi-tour boat stops (hourly on weekdays,
half-hourly on week-ends) at the Marriott marina, which is within
walking distance of most other 17th Street hotels. In good weather
the water taxi is a great, inexpensive ($5 for the entire day) way
to see some very fancy homes and boats, and one can hop on and hop
off at any of the numerous stops to see Ft. Lauderdale's
LUGGAGE is often a problem when cruising because most people
pack far too much. This suggestion is not for everyone, but my wife
and I each travel with only a regulation-size (21x13x8 inch)
airline carry-on, even when going around the world or on cruises. A
micro fiber black suit, one dress shirt, two casual shirts, two
slacks, two shorts, and two T-shirts with three sets of underwear
do fine for me. Add a Gore-Tex rain jacket, swim trunks, a pair of
Teva-style sandals, a daypack, a wash-kit, and a light sweater, and
I am ready for anything. My wife substitutes a micro fiber black
dress with fancy jacket and jewelry, plus additional items
analogous to my own, and she is ready too.
TRAVELING LIGHT is the greatest skill we have learned in our
years of travel. To be honest, most cruisers are so concerned about
their own appearance that they do not care what you are wearing
anyway. One of our favorite evening activities on formal nights is
to sit near the photographers' stations and watch the fashion
parade. If you are a compulsive shopper and short on luggage space,
pack a duffel bag for the return home.
LAUNDRY can be a problem, especially on ships like the Zuiderdam
which offer no self-service launderette. We have found that one can
hand-wash almost anything (no jeans please), roll it in a dry bath
towel for several minutes, and then hang it (it does not drip) from
the air conditioning vents overnight and it will be ready to wear
the next morning (gauche, but no one, not even your cabin steward
or hotel chambermaid, need know). We carry two or three plastic
hangers for just this purpose, and use paper clips as adapters if
the hangers are too thick. Never, never, never hang anything from
the sprinkler heads in your cabin or hotel room.
EMBARKATION in the FLL cruise port is very efficient. The lines
may be long, but they move quickly. One can be on the ship by late
morning and enjoy lunch at the buffet while the cabins are being
cleaned (cabins are usually available by 1pm). DISEMBARKATION is
equally simple. HAL is now generous enough to allow passengers to
wait in their cabins until their disembarkation group is called. On
this cruise, HAL kindly put us in the first group (disembarking
about 8:30 am) since we had an early return flight. With no
suitcases to claim, we just walked right through US customs to the
head of the taxi line and were at the airport in less than 15
ROUGH WEATHER is always a possibility, although it is rare after
the summer/fall hurricane season. New cruise ships have such a
relatively high profile and shallow draft (about 25 feet) that they
tend to list or rock in high winds. Take some meclizine tablets or
scopolamine patches if you are a fair weather sailor. I hate the
hung-over feeling I get from either, and have found that my wife's
over-the-counter anti-reflux medication works like a charm for me,
with no side effects.
WHINY CRUISERS are the greatest disappointment on the seas. Some
people just seem to enjoy being unhappy about not being royalty.
The crew is amazingly patient with these folks – the crew
deserves our admiration dealing with trivial complaints when their
own families at home may be lucky to have basic food and shelter.
Don't get caught up in whiny cruisers' games and don't be impressed
by their princess-and-the pea attitudes. Just walk away and be glad
they are not your neighbors (if they are at your table, ask the
maitre d' to relocate you).
GLUTTONOUS CRUISERS are the second greatest disappointment. It
is sad to see the excessive consumption and waste of food on every
cruise, especially when the culprits are sometimes morbidly obese.
Don't get caught in the same cycle. The main dining room offers a
portion-controlled refuge if your self-control weakens. I must
admit HAL's dense-and-chewy raisin bread, fresh-squeezed orange
juice (not out of the dispenser, but on the nearby shelves), and
wafer-thin-crisp-as-can-be-bacon made me think each morning that I
had died and gone to heaven, but I was careful to enjoy smaller
portions during the rest of the day.
SMOKERS deserve our sympathy because very few drugs are as
highly addictive as nicotine. That being said, I was glad to be
protected from smoke in the dining room and most public areas.
Unfortunately, the open decks and enclosed pool area are open to
smokers without the usual portside smoking/starboard side
no-smoking split. Mea culpa, I apologize to the kindly gentleman
who wanted to join me for breakfast on deck. When I learned he was
a smoker, I suggested I would meet with him later in the day but
needed a non-smoking table to eat. I still feel guilty about being
so blunt, but after years of seeing people die of cancer, heart
disease, stroke, and other smoking-related illnesses, I have become
more an anti-smoker than non-smoker.
SECURITY has never been a problem for us on HAL, but we did once
have a bag and cashmere sweater stolen on another (highly regarded)
cruise line. On the same cruise line a fellow passenger's passport
was stolen from a shelf in her cabin. She and her infant daughter
spent three extra days in London getting a new one. Another
passenger's (one of that cruise line's gentleman hosts) wallet was
stolen from his bedside table. The moral is keep your passport and
all other valuables in your room safe all of the time. Take your
driver's license ashore for those ports which require a photo id
(most say they do, but we rarely needed more than our cruise key
card for identification).
HEALTH CONCERNS have gotten a lot of press recently, ever since
the Norwalk virus and other nasty critters started cruising. Most
disease outbreaks are due to fomites (commonly touched items such
as door-knobs, buffet serving tongs, friendly handshakes especially
in reception lines) rather than aerosols (sneezes,
air-conditioning). Few people wash their hands immediately before
eating on cruises, but restrooms are almost always nearby. This is
especially important when in self-service buffets. The risk of
illness from touching one person is minimal compared with the risk
of serving tongs that may have been touched by hundreds before
HAL has been very conscientious in having most food served by
crew wearing disposable gloves and by keeping silverware
individually wrapped at the tables rather than in the usual
self-serve racks, but communal serving tongs will never be
completely eliminated on any cruise ship. Similarly, HAL serves
cocktail nuts in narrow neck flasks and has "Yum-yum Guys" dispense
after-dinner mints so that no one's hands dip into communal serving
dishes. They also provide mini-towels to dry hands and open the
restroom door when finished (just toss it back into the used towel
hamper as you exit).
If you think about it, the close quarters of cruise ships
increase the risk of disease spread, but countering this is the
fact that scant public hardware (door knobs, railings, elevator
buttons, etc.) are as thoroughly cleaned as on cruise ships. If
hand washing is too much bother, at least buy and use a bottle of
the alcohol-based disinfectant hand gels which are now widely
available for travelers. You, and your fellow passengers, will be
glad you did.
TIPPING is always problematic on HAL cruises, since they
currently have a tipping-not-required policy. Personally, I think
this policy is unfair to the cruise staff and confusing for the
cruise passengers. I hear that HAL may change this policy and
conform with other cruise lines, on which tipping is not mandatory
but is expected, and tipping guidelines are freely given. A few
cruise lines automatically charge standard tips (about $10 to $15
per passenger per day) to shipboard accounts. I think this is
acceptable only if clearly stated before the cruise is booked, and
should be reversible if the passenger prefers to tip directly. Ship
crews work so hard and depend so much on tips that spending money
on bingo, casino games, liquor, souvenirs, or whatever and then
stiffing the crew is inexcusable.
Finally, the subject every reviewer seems to avoid –
CRUISE PRICES. During the pre-Christmas lull, cruise prices can be
the greatest bargain in travel. Through the kind services of Pat
Webb (whose Galaxsea agency is one of the largest and who has a
useful e-mail newsletter of cruise bargains), we were able to
obtain a balcony cabin on this cruise for less than $700 per person
for the week, including port charges, taxes, and a shipboard
credit. An inside cabin would have been proportionally less.
Who could ask for a better, more enjoyable travel value?