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 budget-minded traveler.
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 Please be aware that the world of travel is constantly changing, so that some of the content of this review may have outdated since it was written.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 resulting inconvenience.
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 diningand 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 mainstream passengers.
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 stiff competition.
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 ship.
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 them.
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 cruises) clients.
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 exorbitant.
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 thereafter.
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 elegance).
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 sights.
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 minutes.
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 you.
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?
The Zuiderdam is barely one year old, but because of the number of passengers, over time its starting to show some wear and tear in the dinning room, state rooms and other high traffic areas. The elavators in particular are nicely appointed with red velvet interiors but hardly any of them escape the street artist who wants to write their name or do a finger painting to personalize their ride to the Lido Deck.
The quality and variety of the food was very good and as I remember, slightly better than what was served on the two Norwegian cruise line ships my wife and I sailed on not long ago. My only two regrets are that we sailed during the Thanksgiving holiday,and even though the dining room and some other areas were decorated for Thanksgiving, it seemed like just another day at sea. The other is that I was attracted by the price. The reason it was such a good deal was because the cabin was on the Main Deck. Even though our cabin was large and amidship, we experienced three distinct noises that caused 7 sleepless nights. We were gettinga very strong vibration that ran right up through the bed. It was as if we were in a Motel 6, on a coin operated vibrating bed. The second noise sounded like a fog horn and was cyclical, on for 13 seconds and off for 3. That went on for hours on end. The last was because we were on the Main Deck, the crews quarters were directly below us and several times each hour of each day it sounded as if something huge and metallic was being dragged along the narrow hall way. I complained to the front desk about the noise and was told that I should have addressed that sooner, that perhaps they could have moved us into another cabin. I pointed out that we tried that even before the ship left port but was told the cruise was sold out. So my reaction to the Zuiderdam is mixed. Its still a beautifull ship with very good food and an exceptional staff. But I may not want to sail on her again. And as far as HAL's no tipping policy, we still tipped, but they won't give you any guidlines so you have to use your own judgement.
Below is my opinion of the Zuiderdam formed by my experience on the ship. This was my second cruise. by all counts, though, it should be considered my first cruise since I was a drunken 18 year old on a senior cruise for my only prior voyage. I hope this helps clear up some issues and inform those who read it.
Rumors and Myths
"Odors" - None detected anywhere on the ship.
"Engine Vibrations" - Yes and no. During the first two nights we had rough seas and strong headwinds so the engines had to compensate. This caused vibrations at our table on the 2nd floor dining room. And do I mean vibrations. The ceiling grid was vibrating along with all the silverware. One minute quiet, the next was shaking the room. One evening, the Cruise Director, Dottie, announced that we had a medical emergency on board so we had to proceed full stream ahead. She warned us there would be some vibrations in the dining room. BUT, on the evening(s) with light seas, you would not know the engines were turning. Regarding engine vibrations, it does exist but it's degree ofintensity depends on several factors.
"The ship rocks and rolls" We had rough seas for the first three days and the boat was dramatically rocking enough to make several in my party seek Dramamine. Being my second cruise in 20 years I have no idea how it compares to another ships accept the passengers from the Golden Princess told me they were dramatically rocking as well. I do know that 6 days after the trip, I still have occasional feelings of sea motion.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
Embarkation and disembarkation was a snap. We arrived around 2:00 pm for our 5:00 pm sailing and, after 20 minutes of check-in, we walked right to the ship. It would have been even shorter for 2 people but I had 2 kids to check-in as well. Disembarkation was even easier. We had a No. 1 card so it may be a different story for others behind us. We got the early release because our flight was leaving @ 10:45 am. From the time INS cleared the ship to the time I sat down in the cab was about 15 minutes. The longest part was finding my luggage.
I was left disappointed with the dining experience. Perhaps I should not compare a cruise dinner with a land-based dinner due to the logistics involved. Aside from the poor quality of the beef dishes, (my wife chose everything but the beef and was very satisfied) service was less than par. Examples:
Entrees coming out while eating soup and being told "Sorry, the food is just coming out of the kitchen so fast" - and then receiving our salads.
The wait staff did not identify who they were and what roles they would be performing for us. It took me two days to figure out the guy with a small hubcap on his gold chain was the one to ask for all drinks.
When we got the waiter, asst. waiter, or the sommelier's attention to ask for something, they would politely come to the table, find out what we needed, and then promptly leave without seeing if anyone else at the table needed anything. by the end of the evening I felt we were running him to death but if he took the time to ask the question, he could have saved some trips.
When my next drink would come, the empty one would sit until I asked for them to take it. Once, I had three empty glasses in front of me. (plus one empty water glass, which is a whole other gripe). Yes three and no I'm not a booze hound. Dinner took on average two hours and fifteen minutes so I had time to imbibe.
Some may consider me as too picky, but if you are going to present a five course meal for your guests, follow through with the premise.
The ship was beautiful with many different places to explore. Our secret place was on the front of the ship. If you take the corridors (on floors 6, 7, & 8 only I think) all the way to the front of the ship, you'll come to a door. Pass through the door to private balcony reaching from one side of the ship to the other over looking the bow. Wonderful for pictures when approaching ports of call.
Cabin and Cabin Steward
We had an A Verandah which was very nice. Even with my wife and two kids we were not incredibly cramped. The cabin steward, Wasi, was incredible. You never saw him but the room was always clean and made. After dinner the beds were turned down (stow away bed was dropped from the ceiling and sofa bed pulled out) with notes and chocolates on the pillows. Twice a day the ice bucket would be filled.
Note on Alcohol
We were able to purchase duty free alcohol in the ship's store with out any corkage fee and take it back to our room. Cheap, cheap, cheap!. 1 liter of Absolute Vodka or Meyers dark rum - $9.95 normally $17-$19) We were also able to bring on booze from the islands with out a single question and they did not confiscate it.
I would try HAL again but only after gaining more experience with other lines. Maybe then I'll have an appreciation for HAL's product but for now, I'll look else where. After re-reading my review, I have found if you took dinner out of the equation, it would have been a great trip. Hopefully my poor service experience was just a fluke.
After not having sailed on HAL since 1994, it was a pleasant surprise to see that where other lines have left go of excellence; HAL is still providing quality. The current cruise director Dottie is the crown jewel of NCL, and she came over to HAL about 1 1/2 years ago. Dottie and her staff made this an outstanding voyage for my 30th cruise.
The diversity of the passengers made this an extrememly enjoyable cruise. The ship is in top condition and the staff is an amazingly happy, professional crew. I would not hesitate to recommend this line or this ship. Probably one of the best "values" in cruising right now. Enjoy!
I thoroughly relaxed on this cruise and enjoyed the company of friends but the ship itself was so so.
My room (S Suite) was GREAT. LOTS of closet space and a nice spot for entertaining. Two friends has SS suites (one cat down) and the room they had was smaller although adequate. The best thing about the S suite is the concierge and the free laundry service. Not to mention the ability to rent a cabana at Half Moon Cay. The cabana was by far the best part of the trip and well worth the $$. Go to the excursion desk ASAP to get one as there are only 4!
The food was OK, nothing exciting, but passable.
The pool area was poorly designed with a dome than took up way too much space on the deck above.
The ship itself was disappointing. No grand spaces. It was more like a Carnival ship--kinda flashy and lacking charm. I much prefer the style of the Celebrity ships.
The service was great. Some of the best service we have ever had.
So many times, people complain about bad things & fail to compliment successful efforts, & my recent one was certainly that. My wife & I were traveling with another couple & went on the October 18 Zuiderdam Western Caribbean trip. It was our first experience with a Holland America cruise, third overall.
I have to say that upon reading some reviews of the Zuiderdam online at different sites, I had some concerns, but either major problems had been overcome, or they were substantially exaggerated based upon how things went for us. We were on deck 5 in outside verandah suites, midship & starboard, though not adjoining. The couple we were with did experience some kind of sewer odor in their room the first night upon returning from dinner, but it never resurfaced during the voyage. My wife & I did notice a foul smell one evening upon going out on our balcony, but quickly returned inside & that problem never occurred again. Those were the ONLY unsatisfactory aspects of this cruise. Our highest compliments to Rubai, our cabin steward, who always saw to our needs when we were out, but was sostealth in achieving it that we virtually never actually saw him except for when I tracked him down in a supply room on the last night to extend thanks & a gratuity.
Our dining staff of Abe-waiter, Din-assistant and Lilik-maitre d', was absolutely wonderful. They were always very polite & went out of their way to please or meet special requests (even putting up with others at our table who sometimes were quite honestly a bit rude & hard to please), & made great efforts to make every night a 5-star dining experience. We made the decision after a few days to NOT eat at the Odyssey, because we so appreciated this staff, were impressed with the meals we were being served in the Vista Dining Room, & just didn't feel the need to miss out on an already superior time of enjoyment. The staff & service at the Lido buffet were always courteous & helpful, as was the case in general at every venue on the ship. We immensely enjoyed the nightly entertainment in the Vista Lounge & rated it superior to prior cruise experience. We never had any major problems or delays in getting on or off at ports & the arrival & disembarkation procedures were far quicker than we might have expected & went off without a hitch. The only itinerary issue we had was the time in Cozumel. We elected to visit the ruins in Tulum, which was a great experience, but due to the extended time, it left us no time on Cozumel itself. Any potential to extend the evening departure time by even a few hours would enable those who visit the ruins to get some benefit out of Cozumel itself, even if for a short while. Otherwise, we enjoyed all ports & our experiences at each of them. We participated in shore excursions, including Tulum @ Cozumel, as well as snorkeling & scuba-diving @ Grand Cayman, & although they were not cheap, we believed that they were reasonable values for the prices paid. We had no problems getting around the ship itself & were positively impressed with its decor & overall condition. I would highly recommend the Zuiderdam & the quality of service provided by Holland America before, onboard & after the cruise.
Holland America Line Zuiderdam by jhor9 Western Caribbean October 4, 2003
I've been on approx 35 cruises inc silver seas crystal and seabourn,the cabin I had was the best ever. I booked an ouside/balcony and was upgraded to a suite about 15/35 ft. with a powder room and a large balcony.
complimentary concierge room with tasty treats, also able to have breakfast and lunch. Also complimentary breakfast/lunch in the oddessey room (dinner $20 pp).
The service throughout was excellant, the food was average amd the shows were good. Yhe overall ship was beautiful.
I am 45 and my husband is 46 years old; we have been on 31 cruises since 1984 -- Celebrity, Princess, RCCL, Holland America and a couple of lines no longer in existence. While we do have our favorite (Princess), we have not had a bad cruise on any line.
Pre-Cruise Stay Our Rating: A+
We stayed at Embassy Suites and thanks to BurBunny and www.betterbidding.com, I felt comfortable going thru Hotwire. I paid $55 for a room plus $12 taxes for a total of $67 – a great room, great hotel, great location, GREAT PRICE.
Embarkation Our Rating: A+
Arrived at the port at 11:45 am and entered the Neptune Lounge on board the ship by 12:05 pm. Yes, being in an S suite helped, but I did not hear any complaints about embarkation, regardless of cabin type.
Cabin Our Rating: A
We booked a Category S suite (number 7133, aft corner, Rotterdam Deck). The room was huge and the veranda is at least 500 sq. ft. Was privacy an issue? Yes. Do not book these cabins if you don't like people looking down at you, or noise from other aft cabins.At one time or another, my husband complained about both. (I told him next time we could book a side cabin. But he said he wanted the huge back balcony and could put up with a few small annoyances. I was not bothered by any of it -- maybe because I had read so much about it and knew exactly what to expect.)
The suite itself is noticeably smaller then the S suites located on the sides of the ship. But I knew this before I booked it and it didn't bother us. We had plenty of room, plenty of storage space, and would book it again without a doubt. I did notice that drawers were at a minimum, but that did not bother me. There are plenty of closets with pull-down shelves and hanging spaces. We didn't use half of the available storage space.
The cabin was clean, the bathroom was huge with two sinks, a bathtub with a shower and Jacuzzi, and a separate stall shower. Nothing in the cabin looked worn, rusted, or broken. The one thing my husband commented on immediately was the size of the TV. It's this tiny TV in this huge room. Princess' mini-suites have two fairly large sets, and this huge suite only has a TV with a 15-inch screen. I know you don't go on a cruise to watch TV, but we do enjoy watching movies late at night and when we are getting dressed. (As for the movie selection in the Neptune Lounge, it is pretty lame. We never go to the show, do not have any movie channels at home, and could only find two movie titles in their selection that we had not seen.)
The veranda did get minimal debris from the Lido deck, but hardly enough to notice. I wouldn't have mentioned it except for previous posts that found it a problem. Our room steward even wiped the deck every morning, making sure it was clean and dry. The Category S suite amenities were wonderful. They really made a difference. I loved the free laundry service, private cocktail party with the captain, special concierge service, private lounge, preferred check-in and private breakfast and lunch in the Odyssey restaurant. The only reason I did not rate the suite A+ is because it is smaller then other cabins in its category.
The Ship Our Rating: B
The Zuiderdam is a nice, new ship. I've been on other HAL ships and on many other ships much bigger then this one. The things that I thought were very good about this ship were the Lido layout, the cabins, and the gym.
Some of the things I thought were OK, but much better on other ships: The layout and visibility of the Vista Lounge; the Queens Lounge is a very nice room b ut bad for movies (you can only hear and see well if you are in the front row of seats). The Atrium was OK but too closed in for me. The pool area was also adequate, but nothing spectacular. The Crow's Nest is a great room; it should be the disco. Northern Lights is also a nice room, but too small and disjointed to be the disco. The shopping area is OK, but did not (IMO) lend itself to "calling my name." It is in an area of the ship that is easily avoided and the shops seemed small, without a lot of inventory. I did find things to buy, but only because I sought them out, not because I walked by and could not resist.
Laundry Our Rating: A
We sent quite a bit of laundry out and it always came back promptly, clean and pressed. We did have two bright red cotton shirts come back a deep purple, but they were brought to us personally, along with a credit form. The settlement was fair and relatively easy to negotiate.
Room Service Our Rating: A+
I used it almost daily. It always came prompt, correct, and with a smile.
Neptune Lounge Our Rating: A
Used it several times a day, Debbie, Susan and the waiter did an excellent job. I did not have any complicated requests, but several small ones. All of my needs were taken care of promptly and also with a smile. A lot of suite people, including myself, did not fully understand that just about anything you need to do, or have arranged, can be done through the girls in the Neptune Lounge.
Cruise Director and Staff Our Rating: B
Dottie (the cruise director) was on board for her first week -- not only her first week on the Zuiderdam, but her first week working for HAL. I liked her; I understand her husband was also an entertainer on board, a comedian. Most of her staff was good. The only person we had problems with was Mike, one of the Sports Directors. He would not show up at scheduled activities, or would be there and ignore the passengers that did show up. Also, at sports trivia late one night in the Crow's Nest, he was very rude, yelling at people, and not being nice at all to anyone who asked any questions. Some of the trivia questions he was having trouble reading (they did not make sense). After repeating them several times he would be belligerent to anyone who couldn't understand what he was saying. Yes, I did add that to my comment card.
Dining: Our Rating: B
In the Vista Dining Room, we had first sitting. We were at a table for 10. Nice Room, nice set up. We were on the upper floor, table 89, aft center. Nice location. The food was very good, but service was bad. Basically, the waiter and busboy ignored our table. We didn't starve, but we would get there at 6 p.m., not even hear or see them until 6:15, then not get our first course until 6:45. On all but one night, we were the last table out of the dining room -- and NOT by choice. Iced tea, water...forget about it. It was unbelievable. The table was great, and we made the best of an unusual situation. We tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but eventually we just joked about it. We were joined two nights by the Environmental Officer (Paul) and his wife (Marissa) and they were delightful. On those nights we were sure the service would improve. Not on your life. On the last formal night, when they turned out the lights and started walking around with the baked Alaska, we had just received our entree. The officer even remarked that he never had to eat in the dark before.
Odyssey Restaurant: I recommend going to the Odyssey at least once. The service was great; we went the first night and got the two-for-one special. (We paid and made our reservations prior to boarding.) The food was excellent.
Lido Restaurant/Grill/Taco Bar: The Lido is well laid out. And the variety was excellent. We like the idea of different food stations from the Deli to pizza to taco bar to sushi.
Overall the food on the ship is very good. I had plenty to eat and the choices were endless. If I was disappointed in anything it was the desserts. I could always find something I liked, but the variety I am used to was not there.
Entertainment Our Rating: B-
The juggler was pretty bad, the comedians were OK, and the Zuiderdam Staff Variety Group was pretty good, nothing spectacular. I did like the piano player in the Piano Bar. I went to all shows except the last day (recap variety show.)
Overall Experience Our Rating: A-
Overall it was a great cruise. We would go on the Zuiderdam again, and Holland America remains my second-favorite line. After reading all of the horrible reviews, it was good to find that most, if not all of those concerns had been taken care of. I did encounter one "smell" often, though. I walk on deck a lot and always encountered the smell of bread being baked. I can't really remember that on any other ship!
Let me add a final thought on public bathrooms. I am an expert on bathroom availability. I can't pass one without going in. While they have added some since the ship came out, it is still a bit difficult to find one in some places. And many that they added (women's) had three or four stalls and one sink (with an additional two or three places for sinks, but no sinks). I am sure they added what they could, and will add those sinks while in dry dock. One day I walked into one such bathroom and an older woman (who had 700+ days on HAL) came in and went ballistic when she saw the line waiting to use the sink. She went on and on about how she was going to contact the powers-that-be at the company and have them fix this. She kept saying, "What is happening to the Holland America I know and love?" While it was comical, I could tell she was a HAL loyalist and it was a bit ridiculous to only have one sink. I only realized at the Mariners get-together who she was -- she and her husband got some special award. After the get-together I saw her talking to the Captain for the longest time and couldn't help wondering if she was telling him about that sink.
We just returned from our most wonderful cruise thusfar. This is our 8th cruise and we have been on Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity and Holland America (by far our favorite cruise line). We went on the Zuiderdam, rather daring of us with all the bad press, but as we suspected it appeared to be a snowball type effect. There will always be complainers and they love to jump on the bandwagon, but you will not go wrong by booking a cruise on the Zuiderdam. We are spoiled for life!!!! Our cabin was terrific, lots of room, great service, clean and could not think of a thing more we needed. The food was the best, in fact we had planned to go to the Odyssey (we had heard wonderful things about the food there) but we enjoyed the food so much in the dining room that we hated to miss a night there, we never went to the Odyssey.
Our servers were right on top of things and the head server was working right along with them. The entertainment was outstanding and we accidently found out that the dancers and singersworked at the library so we had the added pleasure of talking to them and finding our where they were from and some additional information about them which made it even more fun to watch them perform. The decor was very different from other Holland America ships but a nice change. I like to think we are never so old that a move in another direction does not rock our boat so much that we cannot make adjustments. Thats what keeps us young. The only two things that could stand improvement were the lack of a laundry or at least some place with an iron and ironing board and the room where the movies were set up just did not work. I actually found the Zuiderdam to be terrific in all ways except for the two negatives above which could be corrected in a day. So let me assure you, book a cruise on the Zuiderdam. You will not be sorry.
This was our second sailing on Zuiderdam, the first was on her seventh sailing in early February. Many of my comments will reflect changes from this early sailing.
First, a little about us because not everyone looks for the same cruise experience. We are Jim and Sue, in our lower 50's, all kids grown and gone. Our cruising choices tend toward the ships that offer a more elegant experience rather than a casual one. For Caribbean cruises, we book for the ship, the suite, and number of sea days, not for the ports. Our routine onboard any ship is similar (others probably would find it boring) - a lazy relaxed morning with coffee and sometimes breakfast delivered by room service. We spend a lot of time in the cabin and on the verandah so for us a suite makes a lot of sense. Since we usually only eat two meals a day, we usually skip lunch and have appetizers late afternoon prior to dinner. We rarely attend the shows because we enjoy having a nightcap on the balcony before going to bed.
We always fly to the port city aday ahead of time to avoid any air delays or other mishaps and to be able to board the ship relaxed and refreshed. Our flight from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale was on time and uneventful and our stay at the Embassy Suites was very nice. We particularly enjoyed meeting several new friends from the message boards at the complimentary cocktail party at the hotel.
Saturday morning we had breakfast and then taxied to the port. We were quite early and waited in the line outside the terminal for about 20 minutes, but after the doors were opened check-in was a breeze! We had received all paperwork with our documents and had it all filled out as well as having done the online immigration forms so we went right to the counter for Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah Suites (S). They checked us in and took our pictures with a small camera attached to the computer and we went upstairs. Within about 15 minutes they called for priority boarding and we went onboard. I think this is the biggest improvement Holland America has made - allowing you to board the ship and use the public areas until the cabins are ready at 1:30. We went directly to the Neptune Lounge and I asked the Concierge (Susan and Jasmine) about booking a cabana on Half Moon Cay. We got the Pink one - just as we had hoped! We also arranged for appetizers to be delivered to our suite every afternoon at 4:30. After a few munchies in the Neptune Lounge we decided to see if we could get to our cabin. On our previous cruise our suite was located near the Neptune and we used it often - this time being on a different deck and all the way aft, we didn't use it at all.
We booked S suite 8135, an aft suite with a balcony that is covered by the Lido deck above and wraps around the side of the ship. The verandah was everything we had hoped for. it had two lounge chairs, a table with four chairs and two chairs with ottomans - we spent much time on it. On the other hand, the suite left much to be desired. It was much too small to be considered an S suite. The bathroom was the same as other S suites; it included a whirlpool tub with shower and a separate shower. There was also a long vanity area with two sinks and plenty of storage space. The two fluffy robes were hanging in the closet. I really like the dressing room, which includes a dressing table out of view of the cabin so I don't have to worry about cleaning it up and the closet doors have full-length mirrors so you can really see how you look. All of the S suites on Zuiderdam are slightly smaller than on the older ships, but this one was barely bigger than the king-sized bed. There were no drawers in the cabin except those in the nightstand - the ones under the bed were filled with extra bedding which we could have asked to be removed, but made do without. We had no barware and had to ask for champagne glasses for our complimentary bottle of champagne for sail-away. For the rest of the trip, we made our in-cabin toddies in the water glasses. We had one chair removed, but the other blocked the mini-bar and the closet. Later in the cruise I spent some time with Nick Berger, the Hotel Manager (we knew him from previous cruises) discussing the suite and I recommended that they reclassify it as an SS. Ok, enough complaining about the cabin.
The ship is really interesting and many of the problems we found on the early sailing have been (for the most part) fixed. We didn't encounter any bad odors and there seemed to be plenty of restrooms in the public areas. The service is still rather apathetic, not what we were used to on the older ships, but also nothing to really complain about. I thought the flower arrangements were spectacular - this is one of Holland America's real strengths, not using artificial flowers! I enjoy the artwork throughout the ship, but the "masquerade" window is my favorite. then again I really like the miniatures near the elevators and the large photos that cover the photo gallery when it is closed. The colors through out the ship are much brighter than on the older ships and the style is mostly art deco. My husband was particularly happy to find that Monday Night Football was on in the Sports Bar (Broncos /vs. Raiders). Being from Denver, we were interested in the game and it was fun to watch it dressed in our formal attire!
We had several breakfasts and one lunch in the Odyssey (a perk for suites) and enjoyed them. The Indonesian wait-staff there was recently replaced with Hungarians and (comparing with our earlier sailing) the language problem was solved, but they seemed to be rather unorganized. We didn't have dinner in it so I can't give any opinions on that. The Odyssey remains one of my favorite rooms on the ship - I love the white and silver color scheme. I do think that lowering the dress code to follow that of the ship is rather a shame; it used to be coat and tie or better every evening.
Our table in the Vista Dining Room was on the upper level (3 Deck) at the railing overlooking the lower level. We really enjoyed listening to the musicians that played at the start of dinner, and missed them when they stopped playing about 10 minutes after seating time. Our tablemates were great, Pat and Christine (a mother & daughter) and Sherry and John.
Most evenings we went to the Ocean Bar either for a before- or after-dinner drink. This is one area that, although convenient to the dining room, isn't well designed. The band and dance floor are located on one side that has very little seating and on the other side you can't hear the music. As on our last sailing, the Atrium Bar was never open when we walked through, but I like the sculptured look of the furniture and floors.
We attended the special Captain's lunch for suite guests in the Crow's Nest; as usual the food served was excellent and they didn't skimp on the caviar! The Crow's Nest is similar to those on the other ships with the exception of some great lounge chairs that face out the windows.
We didn't get off the ship at any of the ports except Half Moon Cay as we had sailed this route several times and our goal for the trip was just to relax. The ship is very quiet the pace is slow during the times that most of the passengers are ashore - I enjoy these times immensely - in fact, it's the only time I'll go to the pool. Our last day aboard ship was the stop at Half Moon Cay; it gets better each time we go. The water and weather were perfect and we loved the private cabana. Currently there are only four available with another just about finished. They are offered to PS and S passengers for a cost of $149 and go very quickly. That cost includes the cabana with a ceiling fan and air conditioner, sodas and beer, a vegetable and dip platter, fresh fruit platter and chips and salsa. There is a table with six chairs and two chaise lounges with cool misters along side each, and a shower to rinse off the salt water and sand. You are also provided with floaters and snorkel equipment. Stewards from the ship will get drinks from the bar and deliver your barbeque lunch right to the cabana. Life is good! We had invited Pat and Chris (our tablemates) to join us and we all had a wonderful time - really the highlight of the trip.
In summary the trip was ok, not great. As I said at the beginning, our style of cruising includes a lot of time spent in the cabin and this cabin was a disappointment. We did not let it spoil the trip. the verandah was wonderful and we spent hours out there reading. We did get our money's worth as I booked the trip on a special offer sent via email to Mariners and we had free air passes! I think I prefer the older ships like Maasdam and will plan to book one of them next time, but would sail Zuiderdam again if another special offer rolls our way.