This was our second Holland America Lines (HAL) cruise. The first one was on the Maasdam, 5/26/02. We looked forward to the Zuiderdam, since it is the first of the five "Premium Vista Class Ships" to be completed at Fincantieri Shipyards, Marghera, Italy. When HAL took possession of the Zuiderdam, the next Vista Class ship the ms Oosterdam was within months of completion.
The Zuiderdam was launched December 2002: her length is 935 ft., width is a Panamax 106 ft., draft is 26 ft., gross tonnage is 82,000 and she has a maximum speed of 24 knots. Guest capacity is 1,824 (this cruise had 1,800 passengers) and a crew of 800.
Although this class is the newest for HAL, the Zuiderdam's long black hull and pointed prow are characteristic of the HAL fleet and reminiscent of those transatlantic liners of the first half of last century, such as those "BLUE RIBAND" winners of the transatlantic races of old: the Mauretania, the Europa, the Rex, the Normandie and of course, the United States, which holds the record to this day (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes, at the speed of 34.5 knots).The major difference in the silhouette of this ship is a much taller super structure, rather than the long and sleek line of the older ships and, of course, the superior speed of those winners which averaged about 30 knots or more against the Zuiderdam's 24 knots. However, the Zuiderdam was built for cruising, and that she does very well under the most capable Captain Johannes van Biljouw.
EMBARKATION In Ft. Lauderdale, boarding was scheduled for 3:00 pm, but processing started at 12 noon and passengers were allowed on shortly thereafter; however, staterooms were ready at 1 pm. Stewards were there to assist passengers in wheelchairs. We were accompanied to the Lido Restaurant, Deck 9 for the excellent "Welcome Aboard Buffet." It was a bit difficult to negotiate the buffet lines with carry on luggage, since we could not take it to our cabin until 1:00 pm.
It is worthy of notice that HAL has adopted the new "one card ID system" which makes the on board credit card function as a stateroom key, as well as the boarding identification document. This innovation improves security by efficiently tracking passengers on and off the ship and it makes the boarding process more expeditious.
THE SHIP HAL has standardized the looks of their ships with the dark hulls and the logo on the stack; however, the Vista Class ships have two stacks, one located behind the other, indicating two independent Engine Rooms, containing gas turbine engines, not the former diesel engines. This new design reduces stack emission pollutants and minimizes the risk of stranding if engine problems occur. Azipods make the ship more maneuverable and fuel efficient. The name of "Vista Class" appropriately implies that most of the staterooms of these ships (85%) have ocean view and 2/3 of all staterooms have balconies.
Main Deck 1 has mainly staterooms and the bottom deck of the Atrium mid ship with the Front Office and Shore Excursion desks.
Lower Promenade Deck 2 has the Vista Lounge Theatre with phalanxes of huge urns and two very large sculptures by Lebigre & Roger, Italy (one depicting a seated woman doing needle work, the other a reclining work man). Toward midship, are three separate bars: First, there is the Northern Lights with its black and white "Mad Cow" decorations, bringing to mind Gateway computer boxes, but the semicircular leather couches and barrel chairs are functional and arranged nicely around the dance floor. Next, there is the Piano Bar sporting an imbedded piano and comical art work by Leijerzapf (Holland) which are huge scenes of sailors in "Humorous Activities." Finally, there is the Queen's Lounge which is decorated in the most vivid hues of Holland tulips (red, yellow, purple and orange).
Mid ship is the 2nd deck of the Atrium with gorgeous blown glass by Bremer ("Shell, Polyps and Anemone"). Also, here is the Odyssey Restaurant, the Art Gallery and the Explorer's Lounge , all simply and tastefully decorated (more later). Finally, aft is the lower level of the Vista Dining Room, a study in black, red, blue and lavender. The most eye catching features are the black lacquered chairs with silk floral backs and the lovely silver table ware and crystal torches.
Promenade Deck 3 has a true wrap around promenade with many deck chairs often in use. Forward has the balcony of the Vista Lounge Theatre where the acoustics are wonderful, but, the many poles result in some seats with obstructed view of the stage. Midship are the meeting rooms, Internet Cafe`, Library, and the on board shops (with the standard fare) and the upper deck of the Atrium. Toward aft is the huge Galley and then the Upper Vista Dining Room..
Upper Promenade Deck 4, Verandah Deck 5, Upper Verandah Deck 6, Rotterdam Deck 7 and Navigation Deck 8 are all staterooms.
Lido Deck 9 forward has the Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Lido Pool, covered by a Sliding Dome, with a bemusing Polar Bear sculpture. Mid ship is the Lido Restaurant and aft is another pool.
Observation Deck 10 forward has the Crow's Nest Lounge, a lovely room with an expansive view of the ocean. Mid ship is the Kid Zone, Wave Runner, Game Room and Golf Simulator.
Sports Deck 11 has the Observation Deck forward and the Volleyball/Basketball Court aft.
There are three sets of elevators which make this ship easily circulated. The central elevators have two sets of elevators overlooking the ocean (Not only are these beautiful to ride in, but they are also the ones that respond more quickly to the call button!). All elevator doors are cast aluminum with beautiful floral designs by Lebigre.
Rather than discuss the multimillion dollar collection of art work on board by decks individually, we prefer an overview on this ship. This ship is quite beautiful in its simplicity. It is not gaudy, busy or overcrowded. Each piece in its collection has been selected for relevance and showcased in an a` propos manner. The Waterford Crystal Seahorse (logo), which is suspended in the Atrium, sets the mood for the exquisite pieces to be seen around this elegant ship. In its foyers and staircases there is a recurring Venetian theme with bronze busts of the Doge and well known figures from the Commedia dell'Arte, such as Pulcinella, Harlequin & Columbine, and other characters like Pagliacci. In all of these areas are chairs and sofas with comfortable cushions modeled after Roman marble ones. In the Odyssey Restaurant there are more chairs by Lebigre, sculpted then cast in aluminum and gilded with silver.
There are also nautical items which must be seen: the 19th century German silver gilded ship model "Nef" and the beautiful French Baccarat table ornament which is a semicircular frosted panel of glass etched with a galleon and mermaids in a storm at sea. by far the largest piece of art is the Fleurs de Mer by Barbara Nanning (Holland); these huge wild roses with open centers forming focal points are suspended from the ceiling of the Vista Dining Room, gilded red/gold and with modern fiber optic illumination; however, this piece did not impress us as much as the many original paintings and sculptures throughout the ship. Not only does the art work merit close scrutiny, but, also the many gorgeous displays of real flowers (lilies, antherium, birds-of-paradise, ginger, carnations, etc., etc...) command one's attention from their sheer beauty. A great spectacle throughout the ship! Holland is famous as the flower garden of the world and her ships reflect it.
SERVICE AND FOOD Service on board under Hotel Manager Nick Burger is crisp and friendly. HAL is noted for its Indonesian crew which on this ship puts on a stunning show featuring songs and dances of Bali and Java and playing the "angklung," a bamboo musical instrument from West Java.
We dined at Table #169 for two with Randy and Endro as our capable stewards under Head Steward Alex, who went above the call of duty (providing special services like lactose free milk etc.). Yvette, our Wine Steward, was friendly and knowledgeable. All of these fine people made dining an elegant pleasure.
Food on board was excellent and portion sizes were perfect and there was no "pushing of seconds." Passengers in suites received High Tea at 3:30 pm and hot/cold hors d'oeuvres at 5:00 pm; thus, since we had dinner at 6:00 pm (main seating), we rarely arrived at dinner hungry.
* Appetizers are fresh fruits, crab legs, prosciutto ham etc.,. * Soups are both hot/cold, such as Cream of Asparagus, Santa Fe Tomato, or iced Vichyssoise. etc. * Salads are just the right size and dressing is served on the side. * Entrees include Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, Prime Rib of Beef, Salmon and Snapper, etc. * Desserts are a huge array (12 or more choices) of Rum cakes, fruited tarts, ice cream (many flavors), Sorbets (Lemon, Mango etc.) * No sugar desserts include a Black Forest cake that must be tried.
The Lido Restaurant has so many stations: Oriental, TexMex, Italian, deli, salad bar, etc... that it takes a bit of time to orient oneself, yet there is no reason anyone should go unsatisfied. In addition there is 24 hr room service for a variety of food and beverages. There is also the specialty restaurant, the Odyssey, for a remarkable meal ($20 charge).
CABIN We had reserved Cabin # 8036 wheelchair accessible, but when we saw it, we immediately went to Passenger Services and spoke with Marianne, from whom we purchased an upgrade to a suite, since the first cabin was more of a hallway than a room, and with very little storage space. Suite #7078 is 516 sq. ft. with a verandah on which there are a table with four chairs and two rattan chairs with separate ottomans. Entering the suite, on the left are three armoires, one with a personal safe, a curved maroon leather sofa, and two butterscotch leather chairs, and a glass door leading to the verandah.
Entering on the right is the lady's anteroom with a lighted vanity and three more armoires. Through that there is the bath with double sinks, medicine cabinets, glassed shower, jacuzzi tub & shower, all with an assortment of safety rails and a tiled floor. It is both nice and functional; however, it is somewhat austere when compared to some luxurious baths found in suites of other cruise ships. Next, there is a king sized bed with double night stands and on the far wall a grand picture window with plants over the desk, then a refrigerator and an entertainment center with TV, VCR, & DVD. The walls of the suite are butterscotch ribbed silk and a huge picture of a golden carp fish is directly across from the bed. There are two other pictures of fishing villages with delph blue borders.
The carpet and draperies are butterscotch and maroon; very nice and restful. This suite is a great home away from home.
ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual shows where the dancing was quite good and there were even costumes by Bob Mackie. by far the best presentation was by singer/impressionist Paul Tanner, who gave great renditions of Neil Diamond, Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Bennett and finished with an Elvis Presley which brought on a standing ovation. Bravo!
There is also a fine pianist every evening in the Crow's Nest, Daniel Thivierge, who has a great repertoire of classic melodies and beautiful songs: wonderful music for relaxation. There are the usual Bingo games, Trivia games and Library Trivia (which needs someone more effective in making corrections to the participants' quiz sheets). All in all there are many activities to occupy a cruiser's time.
PORTS OF CALL We are not going to describe these port nor the relative shore excursions, since we have reported on them many times before in other cruise reviews. For those readers who are interested in reading those reviews, search the archives of this web site.
* Sunday, 9/7/30 Key West, FL Arrival 7:16 am Departure 7:00 pm * Tuesday, 9/9/03 Cozumel, Mexico Arrival 6:00 am Departure 3:30 pm * Wednesday, 9/10/03 Grand Cayman Arrival 7:00 am Departure 5:30 pm * Friday, 9/12/03 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Arrival 7:00 am Departure 7:30 pm The departure was delayed due to a mechanical problem with the winch lifting tenders onto the ship. This delay caused a late arrival in Ft. Lauderdale. * Saturday, 9/13/03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrival 8:00 am Disembark 10:00 am
DEBARKATION Debarkation was delayed due to the late arrival. Wheelchair assistance was excellent -- the crew made a list of the physically challenged passengers entering the Ocean Bar and called them in order! Very efficient. The whole process was delayed, but then HAL does not like to rush passengers off. Debarkation began after 9:00 am. However, the process was expeditious to the satisfaction of most passengers.
CONCLUSION HAL is keeping pace with the growing cruise industry. With the new Vista Class ships HAL offers staterooms with balconies at competitive prices. No longer is it necessary to book a suite in order to have a balcony, since the majority of the ocean view cabins on the Zuiderdam and other Vista Class ships have balconies. We thought this cruise was a great value for us when we initially booked a category A cabin (Deluxe Verandah Outside), but once on board we preferred an upgrade to a category S suite, a really spacious and beautiful stateroom, for eight hundred dollars more. This made our cruise even better by getting the extras that the occupants of suites are pampered with, such as special invitations to the Captain's and Hotel Director's parties, as well as afternoon tea with petit fours and pre dinner hot and cold canapés and hors d'oeurves served in our suite.
We enjoyed a very relaxing cruise. In general the atmosphere on this ship was more tranquil, thus much less vivacious and festive than that of many other ships which sail the Caribbean Seas. On this ship, it was like a deja` vu to observe the many passengers on the wrap around promenade laying on the deck chairs, reading their books or enjoying the scenery, just like on the liners of yesteryear.
One tradition that we did not appreciate was the covering of the dining room chairs with wrinkled white covers for a special effect on the second Gala Night. If the covers were intended to make the atmosphere more formal, the effect was the opposite: It was spooky and messy. Please note that some traditions are not worth keeping. Those beautiful chairs should never be covered!
We are looking forward to the next cruises we have already booked: The Explorer of the Seas on October 11th, the Coral Princess on October 30th, the Serenade of the Seas on December 6th and the Costa Mediterranea on January 11th. We also plan to write reviews of these ships. Happy Cruising!
This is a chronicle of back-to-back cruises on Holland America Line's ms Zuiderdam, the first of HAL's Vista Class ships.
Itineraries, Sept 6 - 20, 2003: Week One - Western Caribbean - Key West, Cozumel Mexico, Georgetown Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay Bahamas. Week Two - Eastern Caribbean - Half Moon Cay, Philipsburg St Maarten, St Thomas USVI, Nassau Bahamas. Sea days were Monday and Thursday, both weeks. Ship's time equal to local at all ports. Zuiderdam sails on Saturday.
Precruise: I seem unable to find a travel agent versed in the cruise industry. I became so frustrated dealing with amateurs, that I decided to try out booking directly with HAL. The service was terrific, and the price was actually less than what I saw quoted on cruise agency web sites. The HAL reps were unfailingly courteous and helpful. During initial booking, the reservations representative steered me away from less desirable cabins. She sent my booking confirmation and invoice while we were on the phone by e-mail attachment (Adobe Acrobat). When I later discovered we were eligible for an AARP discount, it was quickly taken care of. The whole experience was so cleanand efficient it would take a significant discount for me to return to booking with a travel agent. Of course you can book completely on-line, but I'd advise talking to a HAL rep who can provide assistance with cabin location. If you require a little hand holding, HAL will assign a personal "Cruise Consultant" to assist you so you'll be able to consistently deal with the same person.
We flew Continental out of Houston, TX (IAH) to Zuiderdam's homeport, Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) one day early. Stayed overnight at the Renaissance Hotel on 17th Street, approximately mid way between the airport and HAL's pier 26 at Port Everglades. The location, AAA's four diamond rating, and a low government rate made this a good stop over. Renaissance is a comfortable hotel with an excellent, but pricey, restaurant.
Boarding: Zuiderdam begins boarding to the ship's public areas at 11:30AM. Open and active are the pool and grill, Windstar Café (an Italian coffee bar with moderate charges for coffee and pastries), Internet café, art gallery, front office and most of the lounges. Luggage and coat storage is also available. The Lido buffet begins serving lunch at 12:00N. Cabins are ready for occupancy by 1:30PM. We arrived about 11:15AM and were aboard by noon. There were at least two-dozen HAL rep's in the terminal to process passengers. Our luggage was delivered soon after the cabins were open.
The Ship: Zuiderdam has eleven decks. Decks four thru eight and part of deck two are cabins. Two per cabin occupancy is 1,824 with 800 crewmembers. She weighs 82,000 tons and is 935 feet long so that three circuits around the continuous lower promenade deck approximates one mile. She is powered by five diesel engines and one gas turbine, and she is propelled by 25,000 bhp Azipod props (more about these later). The décor is appropriate to the itinerary. Zuiderdam was built and designed for year round Caribbean cruising and the interior motifs reflect this concept. Some areas offer a challenge to navigate; especially the central lounges adjoining the casino on deck two. There are nooks, crannies and small corridors to deal with, somewhat similar to what is occasionally found in the lounge areas of some land resort hotels. Maybe this is what the designers had in mind? The central atrium is smaller than on the S Class ships. This provides more space for the lounges and other public areas, but I miss the larger atrium which I often use as a reference point for navigation. The ship is impeccably clean and shows little signs of wear, a credit to the maintenance crew, her Hotel Manager Nick Burger, and Captain Johannes van Biljouw. Zuiderdam's condition and appearance is extraordinary considering that 1800 people tramp through her every week. Unlike the S Class ships, Zuiderdam does not have a passenger use laundry. Twice we used the $12 per 'full bag' laundry service. Both times delivery was next day.
The Lounges: The Best: Crow's Nest. Great viewing lounge with huge wraparound window located forward on deck ten. Cocktail piano, also theme night music such as 50s & 60s tunes by CD. Explorer's Lounge. Classical music by The Rosario Strings. This is also the venue for afternoon tea. Excellent snacks and a good selection of teas (save room for the scones!).
The Worst: Queen's Lounge. So poorly designed that it's useless for any function. That's too bad because The HAL Cats, a truly good band fronted by a first-rate vocal quartet, plays danceable music here most nights. Ocean Bar - Once again, poor design. This lounge is totally open to the atrium losing any identity as a lounge, and the dance floor is too small. For some incomprehensible reason, a divider is installed across the center of the seating area, disconnecting the rear of the lounge from the front. Music is by Meir & Rae Ann on drums and a piano. How eclectic is that? Music is mostly traditional dance: fox trot, waltz, tango, etc.
No Opinion: Northern Lights - Late night activity usually starting at 10PM, mostly disco and light rock. A DJ spinning CDs supplies music. Booth seating surrounds a largish dance floor. Design by Gateway.
There's also a Sports Bar. Since the signal is international, the TV schedules are mainly soccer. A WNBA game was showing on NFL Sunday afternoon! To be fair, they do pick up Sunday and Monday night NFL games.
The Vista Lounge, The main showroom is forward on decks one and two. This is an attractive room of good design with comfortable seating. Just don't sit behind one of the many pillars or in the rear of the upper section. Unfortunately, the quality of the shows does not match the setting. The production shows are LOUD. Who decided that loud is good? To paraphrase Shakespeare, let's kill all the soundmen, too! Following cruise ship tradition there are two production shows. The first was decent, but the second, a review of movie musicals, was near unbearable. Almost every number, including the romantic ballads, was programmed in a hyper, upbeat tempo, making all the tunes sound alike. The show was completely out of sync and boring. The music for the production shows is prerecorded. Did I mention that it is LOUD? The cast was excellent with talented dancers and singers, all completely wasted. We didn't repeat any shows during week two.
The Vista Dining Room: An attractive and well-constructed design. There are two levels located aft on decks two and three. Seating is well organized with comfortable chairs and some banquet tables. Best of all, each dining area has its own galley located immediately adjacent to the dining rooms. Instead of waiting for dumb waiters from a galley below, dishes are more directly served. This means hot dishes arrive hot and cold are offered cold. You do want to avoid seating the far aft section of the lower dining room. When cranked up the Azipod propulsion system delivers a significant vibration. The shaking is primarily felt on the back end of the lower deck. However, it's only a problem when the engines are pressed. The captain tries to maintain lower revs during dining hours, but there are times they must be turned up. When this happens the place settings won't dance off the tables, but it's definitely uncomfortable.
Our cabin: Since we were on for two weeks I upgraded us from our usual standard outside to a "superior verandah suite" located amidships on deck six. The SS cabin is @ 288sft, and the balcony 100sft. The room is well designed with two queen size beds, which we had put together, a restful full sized fold out sofa, three chairs (one too many), a glass top coffee table, a writing desk and the standard desk. There are plenty of drawers, shelves and closets. The bathroom is large, with a full size Jacuzzi tub, a separate shower stall, double sinks, two medicine chests and a long shelf running under the sinks. The standard outside cabins, as well as the inside (if you don't mind the dark), are more than adequate in size and design. DVD rentals are available from the front desk. There's a $25 deposit for each disk.
Dining: The Vista dining room offerings are equal to, and often exceed, Celebrity. The quality and presentation is far better than on the other HAL ships we've sailed on. Menu selections are extensive: two or three selections are available for each precourse and there are four primary and three "from the grill" optional entrees every night. Steaks and prime rib are delivered to order; however, note that medium rare is usually too rare for the distaff side. The Odyssey has to be the best alternative restaurant at sea. It even rivals the best upscale steak houses on land. Steaks, rib eye, tenderloin and two sizes of filet mignon are offered. The steaks are Prime Sterling beef and are cooked on a 1600 degree grill. It doesn't get any better than this. Although the menu features steak, the other entrees are superb, most notable is a seafood ravioli. The wait staff was recruiting out of Hungary, primarily Budapest. HAL obviously sought out the best servers among Budapest's world-class restaurants. They are smooth, attentive and prompt. With minimal delay between courses, we were in and out in less than an hour and a half. This whole staff was brought on board Saturday, the thirteenth. Some early patrons complained of uneven and clumsy service. However, we dined there on Wednesday evening, and it seemed they'd been serving there forever. It's a testament to their skills that they adapted in such a short time. These guys are good!
The Crew: The Indonesian dining stewards and The Philippine bar staffs were excellent as usual. Nearly all were up to HAL standards. Oddly enough, there were a few grumps, who even bordered on rude. I don't recall experiencing this on previous cruises with HAL. Oddly enough, one of the ice cream servers was a real grouch, which is totally out of character for that station. Fortunately, the grouches were fringe players and a very small minority. The dining room staff were prompt and, as you'd expect, well trained, cheerful and eager to serve. Our Head Steward, Alexander, was especially caring, very personable and always ready to lend a hand. My wife is originally from Japan. Wayan, our table steward for both weeks, spoke fluent Japanese providing my better half with a special feeling of welcome. We had two different cabin stewards each week, both efficient and in the best tradition of cabin stewards: always out when we were in, and in when we were out. Ridwan, our steward the first week, had completed his twelve-month contract. Saturday afternoon he flew home on leave before continuing on to Nice to help outfit Vista Class number three, ms Westerdam, which is scheduled to launch May 2004. The ship's officers seem friendlier than on other ships, always offering a greeting and a smile. It's amazing how the front office staff manages to maintain a cheerful and polite appearance in spite of the frequent rudeness and confrontational attitude of so many guests. For some reason, people seem to adopt an 'in your face' attitude with these gals who, after all, are really no more than desk clerks without any real authority to resolve disputes or provide managerial decisions. Despite this, all of the front desk people were consistently courteous and helpful. Guests ought to realize that only a supervisor or the guest relation's manager can resolve problems. Often, even they have to get instructions from Seattle to resolve a policy dispute.
The Passengers: A more diverse age mix than on other HAL cruises. The Zuiderdam is evidently appealing to the younger set. The dress code was universally observed in the main dining room. Formal night saw only a few out of uniform in the other public areas. Over the two weeks, four of our eight tablemates were from Florida, two from NYC and two from Canada. Naturally, there are lots of Floridians taking advantage of the "Florida Resident Discount". Speaking of discounts, midway of the first week a flyer was distributed offering the following week for $199 inside or $299 outside, a pretty good deal! I've never seen this before, nor was it repeated during the next cruise. I suspect Hurricane Isabel precipitated cancellations and HAL decided any revenue is better than none. After all, a major profit element is the money we spend while on board. As regards the small people, school was back in session so there was only a small number of toddlers and a couple of infants. On board is a dedicated kids area called Club HAL. It must have been nearly deserted.
Shore excursions I discovered snorkeling on our first cruise and became instantly captivated. As a result, I have very little first hand knowledge about above water activities on any of the islands. It was only due to a sore throat in the middle of week two that wifey and I did a land/water tour on St Maarten. Booked through the ship, it's titled "French Connection Sea & See". It's a bus transit around the island interrupted by a shopping stop in Marigot and tour of coral reefs at Grand Case's Creole rock. Creole Rock is purported to be the best snorkeling area around the island. I saw enough while on the glass bottom boat to suggest that snorkeling would be very marginal here. The bottom is mainly rocks with some coral and common fish such as Sergeant Majors and Wrasses. Lots of huge Uni, however, made my wife's taste buds tingle. This was aboard the "Seaworld Explorer', an underwater moving observatory. The tour was a good overview of the island, but the guide went around the island bassackward, stopping in Marigot first. Most of the stores in Marigot follow the French tradition of closing between one and two o'clock which is when we were there, resulting in a wasted forty-minute stop. That was too bad because there are some nice shops in Marigot. The wife, an avid casino connoisseur, took the "Discover Atlantis & Harbor Cruise" in Nassau. This is a gal who considers Las Vegas resorts 'quaint', but found Atlantis too gigantic. In the end, she simply made a small donation to the slot machine gods and returned to the ship. Now for the good stuff. The following snorkel trips are listed in order from best to least good; however, the least is still darned good.
Nassau: "Snorkel Bahamas Adventure" is a 5-½ hour trip operated by Stuart's Cove. On a previous excursion I went on the impressive Athol Island snorkel. This Stuart's Cove outing surpassed all of my previous experiences, including Athol Island. The boat trip is @ three hours, and visits Schoolhouse Reef, the spectacular Golden Key Reef and finally a "swim with the sharks" at 'The Wreck of the Bahama Mama'. I have never before witnessed such a number and variety of fish as at Golden Key. There are never-ending fish, large and small, singly and in large schools. The floor is decorated with huge, magnificent coral formations of all shapes and sizes. While there, a shark cruised past our group. He obviously thought this was his ocean and didn't know, nor care, that we weren't scheduled for a shark encounter until after Golden Key. Surprisingly, getting in with a dozen or so sharks is not frightening. I suspect we were too caught up with their grace and magnificence to be scared. The fact that the boat captain hadn't lost a diver in twelve years was also encouraging. This is a five star, gold medallion, prime trip, not to be missed!
Georgetown: I booked a two reef and stingray swim with Capt Marvin. This is again a three-hour boat trip with snorkel stops at Coral Gardens and the Barrier Reef, followed by a visit to Stingray City. The Barrier Reef extends for many miles and is near enough to the surface to be visible from above. There is abundant sea life, and of course, extensive coral. Here I saw my first Moray eel. As for Stingray City, there are just too many boats and people crowded together to enjoy it. I stumbled around among the crowd for a bit, then got back in the boat. The kids seem to enjoy it.
Key West: A catamaran trip to Sand Key Reef with the Fury Cat operation. Fury is found extensively through the Yucatan and Caribbean. Our trip was on a 65' catamaran with a small enough group so we were never crowded. Unfortunately, westerly winds from the recent tropical disturbance in The Gulf had stirred things up so that visibility was only about 15 - 20 feet. The reef, however, is marvelous. Did you know that the reef off Florida's coast is the third largest in the world? I didn't. We got enough of a taste to make me want to return. I can unreservedly recommend this trip.
Half Moon Cay: A surprisingly good snorkel trip. The coral garden area is only a ten-minute boat ride from the tender dock with lots of fish and coral. There's a very nice beach, but the bottom is too sandy for good snorkeling. Just relaxing on the beach and swimming is the most popular past time. There are lots of beach toys and other activities available for rent. Comfortable beach chairs are plentiful. There's also a pavilion with souvenir shops and a bar. A barbecue lunch is served at noontime. Half Moon Cay is perfect for kicking back and enjoying a restful day.
Cozumel: We went to Chankanaab Park for snorkeling and beach time. The park offers a sheltered beach area with palapas, a lagoon, a swim with the dolphins, a sea lion show, snuba and a number of boat trip operators who work from the beach area. There's also a full menu bar & grill. The conch ceviche was very good. There's probably lots of other stuff, too. Unfortunately, the beach was fly infested so we didn't stay long. The snorkeling from the beach is fair. Dzul Ha is much better, but you can experience some swift currents there. Chankanaab's waters are more sheltered, so it's a good alternative for marginal swimmers. I have previously boat snorkeled Columbia and Palancar reefs from Cozumel. The reefs here are world class and there are many good operators. Disembarkation: The procedure has greatly improved since our last visit. Immigration is held in the terminal, not on board. This greatly expedites clearance since we don't have to wait for the inevitable latecomers to clear before we can leave the ship. The preliminaries are routine: put luggage in hallway the night before, leave your cabin by 8:00AM and wait in a public area for your number/letter to be called. Both the Lido and main dining rooms are open for breakfast. We had a noon flight and were off the ship and at our boarding gate by 9:30. Of course, when all those ships return from Alaska things won't go so smoothly. I should mention that stuff happens. Disembarkation was delayed the previous Saturday due to a late departure the previous day from Half Moon Cay. However, even then we would likely have been at the airport by 10:30 or 11:00.
Final Thoughts: As devotees of HAL, we were concerned because of the numerous negative Zuiderdam reviews that appeared in the early months. Certainly Zuiderdam has some odd quirks, but the overall design is easily adapted to and becomes an ultimately user friendly floating resort. We found absolutely no evidence of unpleasant aromas in any area. The mechanical systems such as toilets, A/C, hot water, elevators, etc never failed. Fellow passengers were largely polite, friendly and in pursuit of a fun trip. We never witnessed one instance of rowdy or inappropriate behavior. We had a wonderful journey. My advice is go and enjoy. Following are some of the web sites I found useful researching our cruise: ms Zuiderdam: http://www.hollandamerica.com/fivestarfleet/zuiderdam.htm ms Zuiderdam Virtual Tour: http://www.virtualtoursusa.com/hollandzuiderdam.htm Port Everglades: http://www.co.broward.fl.us/port.htm Georgetown: http://www.edenrockdive.com/ http://www.captainmarvins.com/ http://www.caymanonline.com/info/watersports/snorkel/index.shtml Cozumel: http://www.cozumelinsider.com/ Key West: http://www.furycat.com/snorkel.htm Nassau: http://www.dive-bahamas.com/ Philipsburg: http://www.stmaarten-activities.com/trips.htm - Snorkelin St Thomas: http://www.vinow.com/ http://www.cokidive.com/ Travel Insurance: http://www.insuremytrip.com
We sailed aboard the ms Zuiderdam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking August 23, 2003 through August 30, 2003. For my wife and I, this was our second cruise, our first with HAL (Holland American Line). Our first ever cruise was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship. Having spent seven days aboard a HAL ship, the two of us are eternally hooked, and have little incentive to go anywhere except with HAL.
The following critique is submitted to expel all myths and half-truths presented by previous travelers, including those paid to review cruise ships. I want to reassure all of you that this review is sincere in context, and solely based upon our personal observations and thoughts, whether good or bad. Our aim is to present an impartial review of the ship. Please feel free to forward any questions or complaints you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org. I fully expect to hear from many of you who think I'm "off my rocker". I feel as though some of you have given HAL a bad name, judging from your reviews. My wife and I feel obligated to set the record straight, once and for all.
Likemost of you, we purchased our tickets through a travel agent; we chose priceline.com. Although priceline's deals were very good compared to others, there are several areas one needs to be aware of.
For starters, priceline sent our cruise tickets to an address in Florida; we live in Canada. As a result of this, we received our cruise package three days before sailing.
Our second issue concerns a shipboard credit, included with our package. It wasn't until three days into our cruise that we received notification that no such credit would be extended to us, even though our invoice statement clearly mentioned it. I've since contacted priceline and they've agreed to fix the problem. We realize this isn't the case with every priceline cruise package, however, we believe that it's necessary to mention this as a reminder to all, nothing is error proof.
Prior to booking our cruise, my wife and I took considerable time, thoroughly researching each and every cruise line. We highly recommend this to everyone going on a cruise, especially newcomers. Believe us, we've read just about every review/critique on the net. Some are true, but an overwhelming majority, especially those written about the ms Zuiderdam, are horrible inaccurate by a long shot. I don't know what ship the rest of you sailed on, but it wasn't the ms Zuiderdam, for those of you who claimed to have sailed on her in the past, and expressed a dislike for her.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale from Ottawa, Ontario @ 1:00 p.m. We had no trouble locating HAL representatives in the baggage claim area. They were a very friendly group of people. After a short wait, a group of us boarded a bus to the terminal. The entire ride from the airport to Port Everglades took no longer than ten minutes.
Once at the terminal (#26), our luggage was immediately turned over to porters. Unfortunately, we had no idea what cabin we were staying in; we booked a guarantee category and saved a few bucks. The porters were able to locate this information for us, and we rewarded them with a nice tip. Keep in mind: TIPPING IS NOT REQUIRED FOR PORTERS!
We then proceeded inside and inquired with another HAL representative as to which line we should get in. Because my wife is German and I'm an American, we were able to queue up in a line for non-citizens. The entire time from check-in to the gangway took no more then 30 minutes, lucky for us! As for others, their line was rather long, but not too long. I'm unable to comment on how long they waited. On a good note, we noticed that HAL had some 15 or better service counters open and operating.
Previous reviewers mentioned that you were moved from one line to another, we did not encounter this. We received our ID cards and proceeded directly to the ship; we did not wait in any lines after the check-in counter. Perhaps HAL has recently changed its boarding procedures.
THE SHIP The ship is immensely large. Some of you have commented on the appearance of the ship from the outside, saying that it resembles a barge or large tugboat. While HAL ships may not be as flashy as others, they do not resemble barges or tugboats. I would consider them to be on the conservative side, with a touch of elegance. If you're seeking big, flashy ships, I recommend going elsewhere. Remember, you cannot judge a book by its cover, and HAL ships fall into the category.
There are ten public decks, not including A deck. Once on the ship, we went directly to our cabin, located on deck 6, upper verandah deck. Just a quick note for everyone: Avoid those elevators closest to the gangway. Instead, proceed across the hall and use the other 4 elevators.
After arriving on deck 6, we inquired with a crewmember as to the location of our cabin. We then proceeded down the long hallway where we ran into our cabin steward. His name was Three. Instead of asking for our name, he addressed us as Mr. And Mrs. so and so!! We were very impressed to say the least.
Our cabin was an outside verandah stateroom w/balcony, and it was immaculate! It was very roomy with lots of storage area. The bathroom was roomy as well, enough storage space for all of our toiletries and then some. The balcony was great, especially on sea days. CROW'S NEST, DECK 10
The Crow's Nest is located at the very front of the ship. It provides a breath taking view while underway or in port. There are numerous blue "lazy-boy" type chairs located near the front. These reclining chairs provide a nice place to relax and enjoy some quite time or read a book. However, some of these chairs are broken, which I found disappointing. During the evening, Daniel Thivierge plays the piano. Don't forget the bar as well.. A truly great place to relax and enjoy some time alone. NOTE: If you're not a seasoned cruiser, this area of the ship "rocks" a great deal, especially when the ship is encountering high seas.
Just outside the Crow's Nest are two smaller rooms, one room on either side. Both of these areas provide an intimate setting for anyone wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the main room.
LIDO POOL AFT AND LIDO POOL MIDSHIP LIDO RESTAURANT DECK 9
Both pools seemed very popular to everyone. My wife and I did not swim in any of the pools. Some of you commented on the cleanliness of the pools. Here again is another myth. Both appeared clean and well maintained, judging by the amount of people who utilized them on a daily basis.
The midship pool is much larger than the aft pool and equipped with a sliding roof. I read a review from another site, which depicted the sliding roof as an "old and squeaky contraption", with lots of visible rust. This is an absolutely, totally made-up story.
The Lido Restaurant is a fantastic place to eat. The food is excellent, with a wide variety to choose from. Some comments have suggested that the set-up is awkward and confusing. I respectfully disagree, and here's why.
The main reason why the layout of the restaurant is the way it is, is to prevent long lines. If everyone lined up in one line, it would stretch from deck 9, all the way down to the casino, located on deck 2. And as for finding a place to sit, this too is not a problem, as some have suggested. You might have to circle the room twice, but you will find a place to sit. Some have suggested that it's absolutely impossible to find a seat in the Lido. To them I say, come earlier or go and dine in the main dining room.
Also, on disembarkation morning-avoid the Lido at all costs! Instead, go and eat breakfast in the Vista Dining Room. It's nearly empty. The Lido is JAMMED packed with people, and you WILL NOT get a seat!
I cannot comment of the Greenhouse Spa, or the beauty/hair parlor, also located on deck 9, as we did not use them during our cruise.
DECK 3-Library, Ocean Bar, Hudson Room, Shopping Arcade, Vista Lounge (balcony level), Internet Café.
We did not use the library, so it would be improper for us to comment on this area. There were books and tables inside the room, but that's about all I can say.
The Ocean Bar is another area, which we have little knowledge of.
The Hudson Room was mainly used for religious services; my wife and I attended Catholic services, twice. They offered a nondenominational service as well. The Mass was excellent as too was the Priest.
The Shopping Arcade is comparable to a small strip-mall. We cannot say too much except that the prices seemed to get lower and lower as the cruise went on. Shop with care.
The Vista Lounge is a large arena where Broadway style shows and other similar performances, take place nightly, normally after main dinner and late dinner seating. Comments concerning where to sit during performances are absolutely true; so by all means do head the warnings posted by others. Avoid sitting in the balcony at all costs. Instead, sit on the main floor (deck 2). Position yourself in the center of the room, and do avoid those posts; they do obstruct viewing of the stage.
As for the shows, my wife and I have mixed reviews. She enjoyed them all; I on the other hand, disliked the first Broadway performance and enjoyed everything else. The best performer by far was Paul Tanner. He's a singer impressionist---and dear God can he sing!! Whatever you do, do not miss his show. As for the other entertainers, they too were very good, with a wide array of talents to suite anyone's taste.
The Internet Café is a bit expensive. I don't remember the exact pricing but there are ample computers in this area. We did not use the café during our cruise.
DECK 2-Northern Lights Disco, Art Gallery, Casino, Sport's Bar, Queen's Lounge, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Vista Dining room, Windstar Café, Odyssey Restaurant.
The Northern Lights Disco is an area of the ship that, in my humble opinion, lacks good taste. Although the music is great and there is ample room to "boogie the night away", the appearance is a bit too much for me.
For starters, the " white poke-a-dot" decor just doesn't appeal to me. And the seats are uncomfortable. Don't take my word for it, go and see for yourself.
They have a little something for everyone-70's disco, 80's, 90's night and even country night!
The Art Gallery is very nice if you're into collecting art works. There are several auctions (LIVE) held throughout the cruise. If you've never participated in a LIVE auction, I suggest that you give it a whirl. Yes, some of the paintings are a bit outrageous, but you can snag a few bargains.
The casino is just that, a casino. We spent a grand total of $1.00 our entire cruise. Enough said.
The Sport's Bar is located near the casino. It's just another area to throw away your money.
The Queen's Lounge is a nice place to see some alternative shows, mostly organized by the entertainment staff. We participated in a few of the shows and thoroughly enjoyed each. The HAL Cats play here nightly; they too are a terrific band and a must see while onboard.
The Piano Bar is an area that we cannot comment on. The music sounded great as we walked by, but we did not attend any functions here. Sorry.
The Explorer's Lounge is a wonderful place to relax and unwind after enjoying the shows (Vista Lounge). Each night, a three-piece band gets together and performs classical music. It too is a must see (and hear). We made a point to sit here every night and listen to the wonderful music-the violinist is superbly talented! Also, we do recommend attending afternoon tea, held almost every day at 3:30 in this room. Arrive early in order to get a decent table. The Vista Dining Room-another area that is filled with half-truths and myths, much of which is totally bogus. The food was excellent in every way, as too was the service.
I want to spend a few minutes correcting comments from previous passengers concerning vibrations at the rear of the ship. Although we were not seated in the rear (our table was located on the side, about half way in), comments suggesting that the ship has a serious vibration problem are hogwash, to put it bluntly. If that were the case, why then did so many people show up, night after night, for dinner? We made an effort to walk around the back of the ship while it was at sea (during diner) and felt or heard nothing. If you're the type of person who can feel such small vibrations (yeah, it did vibrate ever so slightly, but not anywhere to the extent as some have described it), then you're obviously the type of person who can feel an earthquake in Southern California, while in the state of Maine! Please, spare us the drama will you; we've got enough of it in our daily life.
I will say this about the Vista Dining Room, however. On high sea days, it does rattle a bit in the rear of the ship. But NEVER once did any of our utensils or glasses fall off the table, nor did other patrons, as some have suggested. I cannot believe people would utter such nonsense.
The Windstar Café is a nice little place to enjoy a cup of coffee or hot tea. This is the only place onboard the ship where you will be charged for ALL your drink purchases. The service is outstanding..and they do try to remember your name.
The Odyssey Restaurant is a must. One cannot say enough about the superb quality of the food. And the service is comparable with any five-star restaurant. It is well worth the money ($20.00 per person) to dine here. I enjoyed a 20oz Porterhouse steak, well done. It was the best I've ever had.
Someone mentioned that it was a bit too cozy, and that the seats were too close. Once again, another false statement by those hell-bent on giving the ship a bad name. It's obvious to me that since they were unable to find any faults with the restaurant, instead chose to complain about the chairs and the amount of space they take up. Those comments are phony. The restaurant is gorgeous and very sophisticated in every way.
As for the age group of the passengers, it was mostly middle-aged people. We're both in our early 30's. There were young children onboard and most were well behaved. As for HAL catering to an older crowed, it's hard to say.
Also, I've read hordes of reviews, which complain about the lack of public restrooms on the ship. Again, another ridiculous account. For the record, there is a plethora of public toilets on each deck for which there are public areas for passengers. I never once had any difficulty locating a bathroom when I needed one. Either you're to drunk or just blind.
One other issue that I've seen floating around different sites concerning a sewage smell on ms Zuiderdam. I visited an area of the ship where this sewage smell is reportedly coming from. And yes, you can smell it. The area in question is located on deck 1 near the front desk; cabins located to the left of the front desk. Not only that, those passengers appear to be right above the engines as well. We stood in this hallway for a moment and could smell a pungent order as well as an intense vibration from below. I truly feel sorry for passengers in this area of the ship.
Also, someone complained about how difficult it was to open the bedside desk drawers in their cabins. I've figured it out, for those of you who don't understand why. The reason why these drawers are a bit hard to open is to prevent them from opening during high seas. If they were easy to open, some of us would be tripping over them in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom), which might cause more serious injuries. Just pull a little harder on the drawers, eh.
This is an area that many of you should pay close attention to. Although you may not totally agree with my remarks about the ship, pay close attention here.
Although we disembarked the ship at each port, we did not, however, pay for any of the ship-sponsored tours. Instead, we chose to book our own via the Internet, prior to going on the cruise. With a little pre-planning, you can and will save money.
Key West Florida. The ship's tour costs $24.00 per person (I believe), for a tour of the city. You can take the same tour for $12.00 per person, booked online. That's a savings of $24.00!
With the ship's tour, you travel one time around the city and back to the port. If you want to re-visit a site, you've gotta find your own way back. With our Internet booked tour, it's a jump on/jump-off type tour. Contact me for more info.
Cozumel, Mexico. If you're looking for diamonds, you've come to the right place. Take a taxi downtown for $6.00. Once there, visit a place called Diamonds International; you'll hear more about this place on the ship. By the way, so long as you purchase the diamond loose, not attached to the ring, it's duty free!! So go shopping for the biggest and clearest diamond money can buy!
Grand Cayman. Once again, avoid the ship's tours, especially a tour to the Turtle Farm. Instead of paying $24.00 per person with the ship, my wife and I paid a grand total of $23.00 TOGETHER, including admission to the Turtle Farm! Take the public buses (ask for directions once on shore, it's a very short walk from the dock) for 6$ going, and $5 return. They take American CASH. The admission to the park is $6 per person. You do the math.
Once you leave the ship, those of you who arrived via airplane, will leave the same way. Please note: If you arrive at the airport MORE THAN THREE HOURS before your scheduled departure, you WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO CHECK IN. Do not try it, it will not work, trust us on this. My wife and I found a corner and waited it out. The airport is very crowded and congested on this day, so be prepared and expect to wait in line.
I think I've rambled on for long enough. If you should have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at the address above. And if you want to tell me how crazy my comments are, feel free to express your opinions too, I don't mind.
We just got back from our 7 day cruise aboard the Zuiderdam(Z-cider-dam) to the Eastern Caribbean. We were 16 people ranging from 18 to 70 with a majority in the 40's on our first cruise. Getting on and off the ship was smooth. Our rooms were bigger and nicer then we had hoped. We all had BB verandah suites.
Thanks to all the reviews we read it helped us to make the right choice for seating in the dining room. We chose the second level (Vista 3) Thank God! We had breakfast in the lower dinning room and the coffee cups were falling off the tables. It was very difficult to eat in the lower dining room just about every night. The seas were very rough but when we asked why the glasses were rattling the staff said the vibration was from the captain trying to make port on time. Five days out of 7 it was almost impossible to walk straight in the dining room (and that was on the 2nd level).
The food was good and you could have as much as you wanted. The staff was wonderful (theywere all Asian)...
There is a terrible problem with sewage smells. Two of the 8 cabins we had were woken up in the middle of the night with the strong smell of sewage. The front desk was called. They acknowledge the smells and said the sewage was being processed and sometimes it gets in the air-conditioning vents. They filed a report and we heard nothing more. This only happened one night.The smells were also in some of the hallways around the ship. You would turn a corner and there it was.
The ships decor reminded me of one of the older casinos in Atlantic City.(Slightly tacky)
The seas were terribly rough. My son is a captain on a charter fishing boat out of Miami and told us the seas were some of the roughest he had seen. The patch was what I used and it helped me to get through the cruise. The showroom was so rocky even the acts were commenting on the movement. The comedian (Bernie)was great and the best act on the ship. The rest of the shows were OK and the impressionist was torture to watch!
We ate one night in the Odyssey ($20.00 p.p.).The wine didn't get to the table until dinner was served. The staff said the wine cellar was on another deck (order before you go)
The food in the Vista was good and plentiful (as much as you wanted).The Lido was were we had breakfast and snacks. There is a grill and a taco bar at the pool. Room service was always a problem. When we wanted soup it wasn't available at the time. I thought room service had everything you could want and more.
We all used the Spa. One of us had a masseuse fall asleep while giving a foot massage. She was not charged for the massage and compted another.
Half Moon Cay was beautiful. This was the only island that you needed to tender. We loved St. Thomas the best of all the stops.
Don't go to the wine tasting unless you didn't get a good nights sleep. The wine steward said he would keep it light and not serious and oh boy did he lie! We are members of the James Beard Society and attend many wine tasting and dinners. Never had a wanted to walk out in the middle of anything but this tasting. Don't waste your time or the $7.50.
Take the tour through the kitchen. It would have been much nicer if it was guided. They give you a map of what you are looking at. We also went to the cooking demo of the chef from the Odyssey. All in all I would rate this cruise a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.I don't think the ship deserves a 5 star rating in anything expect the service staff.
I cruised on the Zuiderdam, May 17 to the 24th with a group of 12. We did the Western Caribbean. You would never know over 1800 passengers were on board. There are so many areas to hide and little bars all over the ship. The week I was on it, there were few children. It seemed the average age was around 50. Much younger than I thought I would be with.
I had an S Suite. What a room and balcony, 7087! Friends kept coming by just to visit and relax. It will be difficult to ever go to a smaller room. The S Suite offers access to the Neptune Lounge and Concierge. Included is finger foods, pastries, juices, and coffees. Laundry service is included with the S. The ship ran a special for others, for $15.00 you can have all the clothes you could stuff in a given bag cleaned. The suite has a DVD player along with a stereo, so bring CDs. DVDs are available for your use.
As for food in the main dining room, it was average. The food in the Odyssey Restaurant is worth the $20.00.You might want to go twice! The Lido area food was good for breakfast and lunch. Room service has some kinks in that they couldn't get the order right but it was delivered as promised. Liquor purchased in the shops had the best prices I've ever seen. You can take it back to your room with you.
As for vibration, our table was on the 1st floor at the very back of the ship. I had late seating and at 9:30 to 10:00PM, the engines do kick in. It is noticeable due to the back and forth rocking of the ship. I would suggest sitting as far forward and on the 2nd floor if possible. It feels like the engines are not synchronized. This is the only time I noticed the vibration everyone talks about on the message boards.
This ship is well laid out but appears to have been made for the Alaskan market. The pool areas are smaller than other ships I have been on. The middle has a glass enclosure that was open only partially. It felt slightly claustrophobic because of it.
The ports on the Western tour are fun. Key West is a blast. Cozumel has the most beautiful water that I have ever seen. I couldn't stop looking at the blue hues. The port itself is okay. I much prefer Cabo San Lucas because its cleaner. As for Grand Cayman, the water is just as beautiful. The town is clean and friendly but 4 ships were in town at the same time. It was crowded and busy. The private island is one of the nicest beaches I have ever sunk my feet in. The time you are there is much too short. I could have stayed 2 days there.
Jazzy Jeff (event coordinator and DJ) is a character and well worth meeting. He tries his hardest to get people involved if you want to be. Several college students work as his assistants during the summer. They were all friendly and fun.
Overall, this is a nice new ship with good service. When the Zuiderdam pulls up in port, all the other people on the other ships gawk at how nice it looks from the outside. I would sail on her again but I have to admit I still like Celebrity over Holland America.
I've read some of the other reviews and I wonder if they sailed on the same ship I just did. The ship is the most beautiful in HAL's fleet. The food and service was even better than other HAL ships too, and that takes alot. I complained about the smoking policy on the Zaandam. This ship has plenty of facilities for both non-smokers and smokers alike. Of course the the food facilities were non-smoking but outside of the dining room was a beautiful smoking room with leather couches.
The piano bar room was non-smoking but the sports bar was smoking.... so was the disco - in both smoking and SMOKING. Our DJ, Jazzy Jeff, also ran bingo and was the hit of the ship... very cleaver Jazzy. by the way, if you haven't been to Cozumel recently..it's now beautiful with landscaped streets. And that shopping area off the pier has grown into a great shopping mall. I highly recommend the Zuiderdam to everyone. There could be more draw space but few knew there are large deep drawers under the foot of the beds.
First a little background. This was my eighth cruise, last cruises being on Princess and Disney. We picked HAL because everything we found about the line led us to believe it would be even better than those other two lines. We picked the Zuiderdam because I have been spoiled with the larger, newer ships around today, and the amenities they provide. It was myself and my husband, both in our mid to late thirties. We had a category A verandah cabin on the navigator deck.
Those of you loyal to HAL and thinking it can do no wrong, may want to just start flaming me now and get it over with. I don't know if maybe something has been lost in moving from the smaller ships to the larger, or if HAL is just cutting so many corners, that it is becoming obvious to passengers. Or maybe Mariners are just so loyal to HAL they don't experience the other lines and are not aware of how great things are on the "other side." Whatever it is, I left with a general feeling of bewilderment because many the reasons I chose HALdidn't seem to exist.
EMBARKATION: This was very uncomfortable. Many other lines do check-in while also allowing boarding simultaneously. I felt as if it were quite uncivilized to have huge crowds milling around waiting to get on board. It was like waiting on line at the deli for them to call my number. I assume part of the reason they do this is to allow for the personal escort to the cabin, but I would choose finding my own way over being treated like cattle. They did not begin boarding till close to 2:00.
THE ROOM: This was the best stateroom in this level of room that I have been in. The room truly was larger than the standard. The bed was large, long enough and very comfortable. The goose down pillows were a great creature comfort as was the excellent shower and larger size tub. When we arrived at our room, neither key worked. I went to the front desk and it was fixed immediately. Also, a hot water leak in the bathroom was fixed within a half hour or so once we reported it, and the desk told us our steward had put in a work order at 1:00. They followed up with a phone call and card to make sure things were taken care of. The balcony was also larger than the usual. We had a large "wicker" chair and ottoman, a smaller chair and table. We could easily move around the verandah and could have fit more or larger furniture. You could probably have at least six or seven people standing out there without it being too crowded.
THE DECOR: On other ships of this size and capacity, I have found that when you leave a public area and head into another, you pick up on a different ambiance or theme. (I don't in any way mean a Carnival like tacky theme.) The decor on this ship was in a word underwhelming. I expected more of an atrium, and more of a presence. The art and decorations were beautiful, but I really had to look hard to notice these things since they seemed to get lost. The Vista lounge was beautiful. I could tell a lot of thought went into decorating it with all the little touches and embellishments.
OUR ROOM STEWARD: It seems as if he did only the bare minimum. The bed was made and towels fresh, but the room was never by any means "spotless." He never left us "towel animals" as every other cruise I have been on had. If there was a used plate or glass in the room when he came in to do the second servicing and turn down, he left it there. One night we left the previous day's pillow chocolate out on the night stand. It made a return appearance on the pillow. That was just too tacky.
DINING ROOM STAFF: The dining room customer service experience started out wonderfully. Our team was efficient, pleasant and basically accommodating. by day four there was a complete turn around. Meals took excruciatingly long to arrive and mistakes were made. by day six and seven, we were spending so much time waiting between courses, we ended up giving up and leaving before finishing dessert so we would have time to get to the show. by the way, we were at a table for two and were always the first in our waiter's group to order.
CUSTOMER SERVICE IN GENERAL: I found that the customer service we received from many people we had contact with was not even close to the "five stars" HAL bills itself as being. While every staff member was friendly and had a smile and hello for us, I have never been told "no" or "I can't" so many times on a cruise. I had been under the impression that if the person you asked of couldn't or didn't know how to do whatever it was, they would find a way or another person to make any reasonable request happen. This was my experience in the past. Unfortunately that was not the case with this cruise.
My husband wanted to use his soda card at dinner and thinking that the assistant steward who handles drinks and such would be the one to do this asked him for a soda. He said "You have to ask the wine steward." That didn't make sense so we thought maybe he misunderstood and we asked the waiter. He also said "you have to ask the wine steward." A five star response to our query is "The wine steward handles all bar requests. I will send her over." We requested a basket of fruit from our room steward, and his reply was "I am not allowed to do that, you have to ask room service." A five star response would have been "I am not allowed to handle food items, but I will let room service know of your need." At "Royal Dutch High Tea" I requested cream instead of milk and was told, "we don't have cream." What? Isn't the correct, customer service oriented answer, "I have none in the dining room (odd an idea that may be) but I will go and get you some, so it may take a moment?" My husband noticed that on the nights shrimp cocktail was not on the menu, the waiters were still bringing them out by the tray full, so one night he tried to order it. He was told "no, you can't have it tonight, maybe tomorrow." That is just weird.
I think the language barrier we noticed would fall in the customer service category as well. I often found it difficult to get an answer about what an item was at the Lido late night snack buffet. During the day, there were accurate signs saying what was available, but in areas or at times the signs were not present, it was quite difficult to find out what the items where. In the dining room, making a special request such as no sauce or a different vegetable was met with confusion and usually the wrong item. I am not talking about ordering off the menu or anything like that. When I ordered the filet mignon without the fois gras sauce, I didn't get a vegetable or rice that night. It got to the point that I gave up on asking for anything because it was exhausting being told no so often or being misunderstood. I think the fact that supervisor positions in areas of high customer contact are not filled with English as a first language staff, makes this problem even worse.
FOOD: The food was delicious at most venues and at most times. The beef at dinner was always served the way we ordered it. The food tasted fresh and well seasoned. The chilled soups especially were great. I know a lot of people don't like "Dutch night," but that menu was one of my favorites. My husband enjoyed the authentic Indonesian noodle dish, and I enjoyed the vegetarian casserole in puff pastry. The pizza and pasta sauces were better than I expected, and it was nice having the option of sweets and a variety of ice creams available from early till late. Breakfast at the Lido was very comprehensive with an omelet station as well as eggs any way you like.
I felt at other times, the Lido's selection paled in comparison to what I have experienced on other line's ships of this size and capacity. The first day or so, the Lido was nice, but the food available was hardly different from day to day. There was no special pizza or burger of the day, and the deli always had the same variety of sandwiches available. Also, the hours the Lido is open is pretty poor compared to other Lido type buffets. I had gotten used to there being something to snack on other than a burger and fries throughout the day on other lines. But, the Lido was open only during meal times to a slightly extended degree. We got so tired of the variety that we decided to eat lunch in the dining room. The menu there was also pretty limited, and I often found myself having yet another burger for lack of something better to pick.
The dinner menu was limited as well when compared to other line's menus. On past cruises I often couldn't decide between a hot soup or cold and found myself ordering one entree and another as a side so I could have a taste of something different. I never experienced that on this cruise. There was some sort of fish or seafood, a beef and a chicken, and occasionally a pork or lamb dish, as well as a vegetarian entree. The day they had pork for dinner, we had already enjoyed it once at lunch. Other lines have a different game bird each night. Unless you are a true beef or steak lover, you may be disappointed. Chicken was the only poultry offered other than duck once or twice. The vegetables and garnishes were quite uninspired. I have often found other line's vegetables to be of such high quality that we would order a side of something that sounded interesting other than what came with our entree. The vegetables on the Zuiderdam were pretty much nonexistent. One night I got three asparagus spears and another night one broccoli floret. People used to side dishes and garnishes receiving the same care as the main course will be disappointed. The salad selection was limited to basically the house salad and an occasional Caesar salad. The dressings rarely changed and were nothing special.
Any of the desserts made with chocolate where quite a treat. It was obvious they used quality Dutch cocoa in those recipes. But, the desserts were all pretty much the same. You can only have some form of chocolate mousse so many times in a row before getting bored of it. I found it odd that we were on a Caribbean cruise yet there was a lack of fresh fruit availability. Other than breakfast time prunes and melon, finding a piece of fresh fruit was an extremely rare event.
PORTS: I won't go into this as so many other reviews do, but we did not get to go to Half Moon Cay as the seas were too rough to tender. We enjoyed a complementary glass of champagne at the second formal night due to this.
ENTERTAINMENT: I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Vista shows. It was amazing that on a relatively small stage, shows with advanced choreography and lots of technical scene changes and moving sets were pulled off so well and professionally. I was surprised that the cast was always able to get to the right part of the stage at the right time without getting run over by a set or another cast member. The singers were talented, and the dances were engaging. When we found that this was only the first week on board for this particular cast, I was even more impressed. by the way, we found out that only the four principle singers are mic'ed and yes, the rest is track. But, the other cast members do sing during the productions even though we can't hear them. The non-production show entertainment was pretty good as well.
DISEMBARKMENT: I was surprised at how uncivilly this was handled. I can't imagine that it really can take six hours to turn over the rooms, yet we were ordered out of our rooms by seven. We were left to congregate in the public areas, and all were crowded. We didn't begin disembarkment till after 8:30, despite having docked early, prior to 6:30. I know that customs is probably more responsible for the delay in disembakment than HAL is, but kicking us out of the rooms and encouraging crowds of disgruntled passengers certainly didn't help matters. by the time the first group was called to disembark, the mentality of the crown had turned ugly. People didn't bother to show or wait for their numbers but just stormed off the ship. On a positive note, we asked to change to an earlier group so that we could try for an earlier flight, and that was one of the few "yes" answers we received.
SUMMARY: Unfortunately I went to HAL thinking it would be even better than the excellent experiences we had on Disney, Princess and other cruises, and my expectations were not met. I found many others onboard who felt the same way. I overheard our neighbors on both sides, both Mariners, discussing the decline of what they were used to. I spoke with highly traveled passengers new to HAL who were upset that they didn't receive the level of service they had been led to expect. I chatted with older passengers and younger familes, all of whom felt disillusioned with the whole experience. Many I spoke to said they would never travel HAL again. I don't know why my experience and what HAL described as what my experience would be differed so greatly. I don't know if they just can't get the bigger ship thing right, if this is a cost cutting thing, or if HAL really has begun to decline from the strong, quality oriented service that was its reputation. Maybe I was just on one of those unlucky cruises that we all hear about. But whatever the reason, my experience left so much to be disired as compared to my experience with similar classes of ship on other lines, that I would not consider another HAL cruise at this point.
Great itinerary- private island the best
The ship: Excellent food, service and entertainment Aft pool and wrap around the ship promenade nice touches. Exterior of the ship: stunning and impressive look Interior of ship- not much to write home about- disjointed colour schemes, confusing lay-outs and strange and sometimes scary art
Absolutely no comparison to the Radiance ,Explorer and Voyager of the Seas we have sailed on as far as interior lay-outs, style and colour schemes Inside cabins ridiculous practical size and lay-out compared to those of Carnival and RCCL- paid to move to balcony- very comparable to RCCL but not any nicer- still worth the upgrade price(which was lower than paying agent at home for it- (hint!) Overall, most should enjoy the cruise experience- just don't be too shocked by the public room decors
Kevin and Kelly
Background: Married, late 30s-early 40s, been on 8 cruises (Carnival, Cunard, RCI). First family cruise with 2 children, ages 6 and 14 and first time on HAL.
Embarkation: Very organized, arrived port by taxi (had made independent arrangements and arrived 2 days prior). Arrived 11:30am, went through security-customs, signed document saying that we were not in contact with or have symptoms of SARS virus, checked-in, had photo ID taken, waited in comfortable waiting room for an hour,in our cabin by 1:15pm. Compared to other cruise lines - this was more organized and actually not a bad wait - even with kids (had books, crayons, Gameboy to entertain kids and snacks)..
Room: Crew gave warm welcome, directed us to our cabin. Our steward, Hasan, was there to greet us. I requested a few extra items and they were in our cabin by suppertime!
We booked a Verendah Suite Category B quad. It was much bigger and better than expected. My previous rooms were all inside staterooms, only once in a suite on a Carnival ship in 1985 and don't have any other comparisons.
The balcony was twice the size expected. Plenty of room for 4 peopleto sit out there and have breakfast. The bed was king size, the overhead bunk bed was very comfortable, according to my 14-year-old son (who is 5'9" tall), so it definitely fits an average size adult). The couch had a pull-out single bed which was perfect for my 6-year-old daughter. I didn't need to worry about using a bed guard (she tends to fall out of bed). There was enough armrest on either side of the couch with a couple pillows tucked to keep her from rolling off the bed.
The room, in general, had enough space for storage, a little cramped if the pull-out couch was down - but while 2 people were getting ready - the other 2 would be on the balcony enjoying the view, so I never felt claustrophobic at all. The bathroom was decent sized and had a nice small tub in it. The shower head was portable-moveable and had excellent water pressure (same for sink faucet)-best I have seen on any cruise ship.
Noises: Our room was cabin 4169 (back of the ship or aft - about 4 rooms away from the extreme back of the ship). We heard the usual muffled engine noises that I have heard on every other ship and slept soundly each night.
However, there were people that we met in the halls who were unfortunately in the last 2 rooms in the back (which I guess have really nice large balconies). They complained about really loud engine noises and vibration and were very upset about it.
They said they were unable to get a good night's rest. These were folks in our same age group with families. I felt really bad for them. However, we did not experience this at all in our cabin.
As far as smells, we did get a wiff of a bathroom odor in a couple of areas - but to be honest - from hearing about it in some reviews, I was looking for it. I really don't think I would have thought about it much.
The ship, overall, smelled wonderful with coffee, fresh baked goods and pizza, and the aroma of garlic near the kitchen door - for some examples. Food Service: We were in the lower Vista dining room in the very back right at the window. It was a GREAT location for the view (there was some engine vibration in this location - more than on other ships - but it was not very loud and did not interrupt our dinner in any way.)
The waiters were pleasant, efficient, organized, and sincere. Very accommodating to any special requests.
Entertainment: Shows were VERY good. Disco and other clubs were okay. Only bustling with people after 11-11:30pm - more of a mellow older crowd or with families. Very relaxing.
Kids Program - great folks, very organized, and my daughter LOVED it. Made many friends. Only area of improvement is to add more activities while in ports - so adults could particpate in excursions that exclude children. Private babysitters VERY limited - I was able to get only for 1 of my 3 requested.
Western Caribbean itinerary is okay - prefer Eastern Caribbean. Most breathtaking place was Half Moon Cay - HAL's private island - beach.
Still love Royal Caribbean International, but will definitely take another cruise with HAL.
Overall - I rate this an 8 out of a perfect 10.
I cruised on the Zuiderdam for their Easter sailing from Fort Lauderdale.
The ship is nice but we ran into a big problem with the location of our room. We were in room 4174 the back of the ship. Beautiful view and nice veranda but when the ship picked up speed the whole back end of the ship vibrated so hard and so loud it was impossible to sleep. We questioned other folks in rooms next to us and they had the same problem. After two nights of no sleep we asked to me moved to another location.
We were told by the front desk that nothing could be done. When we would not accept that as a solution we were moved to the lowest deck for one night and then given a veranda room on the deck six. This room was excellent with no noise problems at all.
The main dining room is located on deck two and the same horrible vibration and noise went on each night under our table.
There is definitely a problem with the rear of this ship and Holland America is not facing up to it.This ship should be put in dry dock until the problem is fixed.