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Sail Date: May 2000
General Information -- The following is a detailed account of our cruise on the Zuiderdam from May 14-21, 2005. We are two professionals in our early 50's who are on our fourth cruise in only 24 months. Our first three trips took ... Read More
General Information -- The following is a detailed account of our cruise on the Zuiderdam from May 14-21, 2005. We are two professionals in our early 50's who are on our fourth cruise in only 24 months. Our first three trips took place on Princess ships to Alaska, Western Caribbean, and the Panama Canal. We found both positive and negative points on the Zuiderdam and will point them out in this review. The Zuiderdam is a large beautiful ship built in 2002. The interior color scheme is very unusual with oranges, blues and purples galore. These colors and the shape of the ceilings reminded us of the set using for the cartoon show, the Jetsons. There are a lot of nooks and crannies so we got the feeling we were almost alone on the ship. The atrium seemed smaller than on previous ships we had been on and did not go from the top to the bottom of the ship. There was an abundance of elevators - four each in the bow and aft and six in the center. Four of these center elevators were glass-enclosed and allowed us to see outside the ship as we traveled vertically. Very seldom did we have to wait long to use one of these elevators. Signage was also strategically placed to help us find our bearings. We did find some unusual artwork scattered throughout the ship. Embarkment -- We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before and stayed at our favorite motel in Dania, the Sleep Inn. This motel provides free transportation to and from the airport and the ship port. They also have good rates, an excellent breakfast and there is a Walgreen's and Publix store across the street for all the last minute items we needed (like pop and water). There is also a mom and pop-style Italian restaurant across the street with excellent garlic rolls and ice cream desserts. We took the hotel shuttle to the ship port at 10:00 on Saturday and were in line by 10:30. The porters try to get us to tip them, but there is a sign on the building stating that the porters were salaried and that tipping is not necessary. The ticket process started at 11:00 and 30 minutes later we were on board. Because we could not get into our stateroom until 1:30, we ate lunch on the Lido deck, took a short orientation walk and then ended up on the Crows' Nest where we rested in some nice captains chairs. There is also a facility onboard we could have stored our hand-carried luggage if we wanted until we got into our cabin. At 1:30, we were allowed to go to the cabin, but the luggage did not arrive until 4:30. We almost missed the muster drill because there was no announcement on the TV to go directly to our station. After 10 minutes of silence on our desk, we hurried down to our station and got our life jackets on. We came back to unpack our belongings and to participate in our Cruise Critic bon voyage party. Cabin and Surroundings -- We were in cabin SS 6064 which was on the port side of the ship between the bow and mid-point. This room was much larger than the mini-suite we had on a Princess ship. It included a queen-size bed, television, DVD player, vanity table, lots of closet space, a safe, and room to put the empty luggage under the bed. The bathroom too was spacious having a tub, a shower, and two sinks. We didn't feel like being in an MRI tube to shower like we had on previous trips. We loved the Royal Dutch soap and shampoo that was provided. The verandah was spacious as it contained two lounge chairs and a small table as well as another large eating table and two upright chairs. We opened the divider between the other cabins next to us (all Cruise Critic members) and had a six-cabin open veranda. Our cabin steward from Indonesia was called Harry and he kept our room in spotless shape. Walking down the hallway to our cabin was a chore. It seems that the "Z" is the first Vista ship to be built and they used poured concrete for the floors. This concrete is now breaking up and makes walking on it difficult (especially with high heels). HAL really needs to tear up the carpeting, patch up the cement and replace it with new carpeting. Perhaps they will perform this task at their next dry-dock. Food -- In general, the "lack of refrigeration" became the key phrase for the cruise. The ship was without a major refrigerator which malfunctioned most of the week and we were without ice cream, whole eggs and a lot of other foods. One official told us that over $250,000 worth of food was lost because of this problem. HAL brought in several portable refrigerators in St. Thomas and hopefully, got the problem fixed by the time the next cruise began. We went to the upscale Pinnacle restaurant on the first night (the price is reduced from $20 to $10 per person that evening). There were multiple courses, the food was tasty, and the service was superb. In fact it really spoils you for the rest of the cruise. We had filet minion and rib eye steaks for the main course, both made from the finest cuts of beef. We both favored the crème brulee over their famous chocolate volcano cake. Eating here is an experience all cruisers must indulge in at least once. Our breakfasts and lunches were all eaten at the buffet on the Lido deck. Instead of a long straight line like on the Princess ships, there were various stations which open and close at different times of the day. There were stations for Italian food, a bistro, express food, salad bar, etc. Also, instead of serving yourself, the food was dished out by the staff members. Tea and coffee was served with every meal as well as fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning and lemonade in the afternoon. A similar but limited meal found in the main dining room was provided for evening diners on the Lido deck. One afternoon, there were chocolate dipped strawberries available as well as giant prawns which we thoroughly enjoyed. During the afternoon upon arriving from a short excursion, we would go to the Lido deck and get something to eat to hold us over until dinner. However, sometimes we were disappointed as the desserts were not made by hand. This was verified by guests who told us the saw the cakes and pies bring taken out of store-brand boxes. I personally don't think the chefs onboard actually baked any desserts while we were there. We ate our evening meals in the Vista Dining Room. There are four different times scheduled and we were at the 6:15 setting on the lower level. We sat at a table with four ladies - a retired WWII nurse and her daughter and another nurse with her 93-year old aunt. With my wife being a nurse, you know what we talked about! The food in the Vista was tasty and we were able to sample a variety of different foods. We particularly liked the appetizers and cold soups and had several of each per meal. However, some of the desserts were not so appealing. The last night we had the signature dish - Baked Alaska as the ship brought onboard new ice cream that day when docked at Nassau. Another night we had lobster tales and I had read you needed to order at least two of them, which we did. Being from Kansas City, we like our barbecue. However, we found the food at the ship's barbecue was unappetizing. In fact, it tasted similar to the food served at lunch at Half Moon Cay. We did like the hamburgers and brats at the grill next to the pool area and ate there several times. Overall, we felt the food on the Princess ships was more tasty, there was more variety, and the presentation was better than on the Zuiderdam. But at least we were able to go a week without having to prepare meals and do the dishes, so that was a plus. Entertainment -- The nightly entertainment onboard ship was excellent. There was a female comedian Julie Barr who performed several nights, along with singer Alfreda Gerald, and James Cielen an illusionist. We really enjoyed the tricks Mr. Cielen performed and he used several animals in his act (including a white poodle). Several days earlier while on the fourth deck, we came across a white poodle prancing down the hall and it confused us. We knew there was a rule that no animals were allowed onboard and here there was a poodle in front of us. It didn't look like a seeing-eye dog and it wasn't until it was brought out during the show that it was the same poodle we had seen earlier. We also enjoyed the two shows done by the ship's professional dancers - one on the 50's and 60's and the other doing show tunes. Unfortunately, this is the last week these dancers were to perform on our ship. Ship Activities -- There were many activities onboard the ship each day for us to partake. We walked around the deck of the ship the mornings we did not have any shore excursions. It takes three complete laps for a mile and this is done on Deck 3. Beware that the decks can be wet and slippery and the winds could make your jogging/walking a real task. We did not use either the gym or the spa on this voyage. We visited the library and found a poor selection of books. Being a university library director, Ray scanned the titles and found very few current books available. Also, seldom was there a staff member available to assist us with accessing the collection. The ship photographers snapped our pictures at every port, formal dining room seating, etc. and then tried to sell us the pictures. We didn't like any of the poses so did not purchase any prints. Another activity we did not try on this cruise was to use the Internet. To do E-mail, it costs 50 cents a minute (slightly cheaper if you buy blocks of time), whereas it is only 35 cents a minute on the Princess ships. We believe HAL should reduce the rate for this service. We watched television programs in our cabin and enjoyed the selection provided by HAL. We enjoyed both the views from the bow and aft of the ship but did not care for the accompanied music selection. There were several movie channels, CNN international, and ESPN sports (usually soccer which we liked). We spent time attending the two art auctions and won several prints which we had framed and sent home. The auction included artists not shown on Princess ships and was performed in a slightly different manner. We brought our laptop computer onboard ship and took hundreds of photographs with our digital cameras. Then at night, we would download these pictures onto the computer and then make a backup onto CD's. We ended up with almost 1,000 pictures showing all aspects of our trip and some of these will end up on our Web page on the Internet. We also brought along a small stuffed Garfield cat and took many pictures of him around the ship. These photos will be developed into a cruise album starring "Garfield the Cat Taking a Cruise". Daily Activities -- For the most part, the weather was overcast and we had some rain throughout the week. The waves were also somewhat choppy while traveling to and from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The following is a sampling of what we did on our excursions: Half Moon Cay - We tendered over to HAL's private island about 9 a.m. and walked around the island. There were lockers on the island, but the majority of them were broken, so we ended up carrying our equipment with us all day. After cooling off in the shade for awhile, we ate their barbecue lunch and then snorkeled at the left side of the island near the children's area. We found that the hut above the rocks to be a great place to put our gear while we snorkeled as it was cool and not crowded. We had brought some small bits of dog food with us and that brought the fish in where we could take some photographs. About 2:30 p.m., we then tendered back to the ship. The water here was cooler than the other ports and there were not as many fish as we had hoped to see. It was a relaxing day and helped us prepare for the rest of the trip. Tortola - We had booked a catamaran/snorkeling cruise through Patouche and was their guests from 9 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. We got on a 49 foot catamaran with 10 other vacationers and sailed to Virgin Gorda where the famed Rocks are located. We walked through the rocks, snorkeled some in the area and then went to Cooper Island for some more snorkeling. They feed us onboard the ship, provided drinks, gave us a history of the region; all for only $90 per person. The weather was overcast and that kept the temperature down some and helped us not to burn so much. We highly recommend this tour. St. Thomas - We took a taxi to Coral World and Coki Beach ($7 per person) and received a $3 off coupon to Coral World from the cab driver. We rented a locker at Coral World for $3 and put our snorkeling gear in it and toured the facilities. There is a large sphere which allowed us to look into the outside coral reefs and see all the fish. There were also several other buildings with various marine life and a nature trail with larger animals. Special pools housed turtles, stingrays and there were iguana all around. One special treat we did was to pet a nurse shark. We then changed into our snorkeling gear and walked several hundred yards to Coki Beach. There were thousands of fish along the coral reef and they all loved my dog food pellets we provided. After snorkeling, we stopped at Havensight Shopping Mall and walked to the Kmart store (10 minutes away). However, we did not take the gondola up to Paradise Point as the cost was $16 each and the sky was overcast and you could not get a very good view. Nassau -We packed our luggage in the morning and watched as we sailed into Nassau around noon. There was a Disney ship, Carnival ship and the Norwegian Dawn which recently was hit with a huge wave. We walked around the town, visited the busy Straw Market, climbed the 66 steps of the Queen's Steps and visited the fort nearby. We could see the huge Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island but did not have time to see her. Our opinion of Nassau was that it was a noisy, busy city and we did not feel very comfortable there. Cruise Critic -- One of the best features of this cruise was being involved with other members of Cruise Critic. We had a roll call of over 30 cruisers and have posted 600-plus messages. We talked about our trip for months and helped each other get ready for the voyage. There were cruisers from Washington DC, California, Louisiana, Florida, Boston, New Jersey, Kansas, and even New Zealand. There were even six groups who had cabins next to each other (we had Cruise Critic people from Washington DC and New Zealand on the two sides of us) and we opened up the verandah between our cabins and made one extremely long balcony. We invited Mr. James Deering, Hotel Manager for the "Z" to attend our bon voyage party and he spent over 30 minutes getting to know each and every Cruise Critic member. He took down our names, gave us his card in case we needed anything, and provided us tips on how to enjoy our tour. Mr. Deering also invited us to a reception with Mr. John Scott, the ship's captain. We found Mr. Scott to be very friendly and he took pictures will all of us. Our group has corresponded since our return and we are sure this will continue for many months to come. I highly recommend joining a Cruise Critic roll call and carry it through to the end of the cruise. Do's and Don'ts -- 1. Bring an extension cord with you. There are only two outlets: one in the cabin and one in the bathroom. If you have any technical equipment that needs charging up, you will need this cord to handle your needs. 2. Go to the bow of the ship for great photographs. If you walk to the front of deck four, there are two separate entrances to the bow. Photographs can be taken there without any Plexiglas barriers. Beware; it can be windy out there. 3. On surf and turf night in at dinner, orders at least two lobster tales - one is not enough. 4. Read the crisecritic.com religiously before you consider a cruise and before the cruise begins. We read it at least once a week all year round. 5. After lunch on the first day, go up to the Crows Nest where it is air conditioned, the scenery is great and the captains chairs are comfortable. We almost fell asleep before they called us to our cabins at 1:30 p.m. 6. Don't let taxi drivers try to sell your tours you don't want. Ask for the price of a specific location before you get out, have the exact change ready when you get to your destination, and say no for an extended rides (unless you want to). 7. There are no self-service laundry services available on the ship. Either you bring enough clothes to wear for the week (we did!) or you pay to have the ship's personnel do it for you. Disembarkment -- We arrived in port at 6:30 a.m. and docked a half hour later. After breakfast, we went up to our cabin for some final packing and waited until our number was called (which was the final group at 9:45 a.m.) All of our packed luggage had been placed in our hallway before 1 a.m. the night before and had been taken to the hull of the ship. I liked the idea of being able to stay in our room rather than the hallways, especially if you have to wait for over an hour. Getting off the ship with our luggage went smoothly and took less than 15 minutes. We took a cab to the airport which is only a $10 fare. We had until 5:30 p.m. for our plane to take off so had looked for possible shore excursions to fill up time. The one we wanted was cancelled and the other was over $70, so we decided to spend our time in the airport. We just camped out and visited with our Cruise Critic friends and made some new friends also just off their cruises. We discovered that there is a Chili's sit-down restaurant in Terminal 3 (as well as take-out) and storage space ($5 per bag) where you can leave your luggage. Finally, our plane took off in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. We visited Atlanta and then got home by 10 p.m. in Kansas City. Overall, we enjoyed our cruise on the "Z" and will go cruising again soon. It was a great vacation, with some nice scenery, great friends, and a new appreciation for the Eastern Caribbean. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2003
Our background- couple, married 31 years, both self-employed, travel frequently (a trip to New Zealand and 2 Caribbean cruises in last twelve months). This was my 6th HAL cruise and hubby's 3rd. The decision to go on this cruise was ... Read More
Our background- couple, married 31 years, both self-employed, travel frequently (a trip to New Zealand and 2 Caribbean cruises in last twelve months). This was my 6th HAL cruise and hubby's 3rd. The decision to go on this cruise was made at the last minute (Jan 3) and our choices were the Veendam out of Tampa, Zaandam out of Port Canaveral or the Zuiderdam out of Ft. Lauderdale. Destination didn't matter and airfare was about the same. Our choice of the Zuiderdam was based on the fact that we knew that Fort Lauderdale was an easy connection to the ship and we could get a verandah guarantee for less than a thousand dollars p.p. We normally take an "S" suite but thought we'd give this a shot. TA warned us this room would be small compared to what we're used to. About a week before sailing, we got an offer to upgrade to a "S" suite for an additional $275 pp. The only catch was, the suites available were either on the back corners or on the side right by the glass elevators. We chose #7132, aft, port side. A few days later, despite the chance to upgrade further to the penthouse for a fantastic price, we stayed with #7132. January 25 we awoke at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to go to the airport (DFW) for a 7:30 a.m. flight. We left home at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. As hubby got out to check the bags curbside, we discovered the hanging bag with the formal clothes was still at home! Mad dash back home, back to airport arriving at 7 a.m. Despite a problem with one bag's ticket, we got checked in only to have me get selected for a "wanding" in security. While I was getting a good "once over" we heard them announce our flight for boarding. We just did make it! The flight on AA was fine and we had the most attentive flight attendant I've ever encountered. Got to FLL a little ahead of time, got our luggage and in a cab. Check in was easy, all our documents were filled out and we got in the "suite" line. We were given priority boarding passes and told we would be allowed to board about 1:00 p.m. Check-in has been moved into the luggage terminal due to the number of passengers. After room-keys were issued, security photos were taken. Found seats upstairs across from a nice couple from Georgia and passed the time talking cruises with them. At right about 1:00, they came for the wheel-chair passengers and priority passengers were next. Photographs were taken and we were on board. First big change, no officer greeting us and handing us off to an escort to our room. Once we arrived on deck 7, though, there was a steward to escort us to our room, and no, I didn't care much for the new uniforms, a little blah to my taste. The room itself was a little smaller than the usual suite but the verandah more than made up for it. The verandah was L-Shaped, with a table and 4 chairs, 2 lounge chairs with ottomans, and 2 chaise lounges. The bed was made up as a king, there was a full length couch, side chair, glass coffee table and a chair at the built in desk. The only electrical outlet was above the desk so I was glad I had brought my faithful extension cord. There was just enough room to walk between the table and bed and I can't imagine how you would function if the sofa were made out into a bed. Two nightstands had two drawers each (each one had one locking drawer). There were three sections of closet, one with a rod (lots of hangers), the other two had shelves (and rods) and the safe (combination, not credit card activated) was in one of those. The bed had two drawers at the foot (one with extra bedding) but plenty of room for the suitcases. The minibar was stocked and at our request some of the soft drinks were replaced with our favorite. A bottle of wine and a bottle of champagne as well as a basket of fruit were on the bar. Rubai, our steward, told us just to let him know when we wanted them iced down and we did. We went up to the Lido for lunch and to get familiar with the "food court" concept. Hubby opted for a sandwich (the first station we came to) and I had the salad bar and excellent prime rib with mashed potatoes. The new concept was confusing to most people for the first couple days. There were stations for sandwiches, hot entrees, pizza and pasta, oriental, desserts, etc. The famous bread pudding stood alone however, on the drink station! Didn't find it until the second or third day. The rest of the trip found me at the pasta station every day for lunch, those who tried the pizza raved about it. I missed having someone hand me my tray with the menu card on it, another change. We took the ship's tour to get familiar with the layout and it was okay but spent way too much time in the spa, selling their services. There was a separate spa tour you could take and we ended up with them. There are three banks of elevators on the ship (color-coded), red (forward), blue (mid) and wine (aft). There are also glass exterior elevators at mid-ship. Those were fun to ride but some of the railings were broken or missing altogether. Up to the aft deck for 5:00 p.m. Sail Away party. We had only brought shorts and short sleeved shirts----we were freezing! It was so cold everyone had on jackets and we didn't actually leave until 6:00 so after a drink we went downstairs to our room and put on our bathrobes (no belts with them until we asked) and went out on our verandah. Let 'em laugh! Dinner was second seating, table A, an oval for eight just as you entered the upstairs dining room. First night, there were only four of us there. Waiter was RRRRRRudi, (his pronunciation), okay but not great. He did have iced tea waiting for us every night after the first. Food was satisfactory but not really great throughout the trip with a couple exceptions. Never did get the assistant's name and we only saw the table captain a couple times, no real service from him. Sunday the 26th was in Nassau Bahamas. As it was a Sunday morning, most of the stores were closed. As we had been to Nassau on a previous cruise, we didn't care to take any tours and only walked into town for a few minutes. This was also Super Bowl Sunday and the ship hosted a watching party in the Neptune Lounge for the suite occupants. As a result, we missed the Captain's Reception (this was also first formal night). We had a chance to meet the Captain and Hotel Manager at a cocktail party the previous night in the Queen's Lounge. We had sailed with Captain Mercer on the Veendam in 1999 along with Cruise Director, Shawn Cavanah. Missing was the Ship's Hostess, a position HAL has eliminated from its ships. Another change, not necessarily for the better. We felt the hostess lent a certain style to the cruise. I don't know if the next item is necessarily a change but in all my HAL cruises, on formal nights we have always had a ship's officer join us at our table for dinner. Not on this cruise. There were of course, the ubiquitous Bingo Announcements heard throughout the ship. The daily program was down from 4 pages to 2. Another change. About the only activity we participated in was Trivia. The teams are down from 6 members to 4 (fewer prizes) and the one time that my team won, we got a single deck of cards. Immediately after boarding, we had gone to the Neptune Lounge to make a reservation for dinner in the Odyssey. We went for the first time on Tuesday night and discovered 4 of our stalemates there also leaving one couple alone at our table for 8! After we finished, we went to the dining room and joined them for coffee and dessert. I ordered the petite filet and I think it was definitely the best meal of the week. Perfectly prepared. Service was perhaps a little slow. Two mornings we had breakfast in the Odyssey (a perk for suite passengers) but service was very slow and the food was found lacking. The menu is the same as the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. January 29th was our 31st wedding anniversary so our entire table went to the Odyssey for dinner. I love the look of the Odyssey, it's a shame the food and service aren't quite there yet. In St. Kitts, we only went ashore long to enough to walk to the end of the pier and take a photograph of the Zuiderdam and the Oceana berthed side by side. St. Thomas found us anchored outside the channel and forced to tender in. The tenders on the Zuiderdam look as though they are many years older than the ship. The rubber bumpers have come off in many cases and need to be replaced. We were told that they would be leaving one behind in Ft. Lauderdale to be repaired on each of the next few trips. Many passengers got frightened when the tenders got caught in rough water while boarding. Our departure from St. Thomas was delayed as a small boat was deployed to go back for 2 late passengers. This did allow us to see the departure of the other ships that were in St. Thomas that day. We attended a few of the shows in the Vista Lounge (yes, the dining room, lounge and class of ship all have the same name!) We found that the much-touted Royal Boxes do indeed have sight line problems as well as the upper rows of seats on the lower floor. After the first night we sat in the balcony (3rd floor). There were always plenty of empty seats available. I did notice the "odor" in the hallway close to the Queen's Lounge, it wasn't very pleasant but they always had a fan blowing in the hallways to help dissipate it. The staff member who conducted the ship's tour told us that there was indeed a problem with some of the public restrooms and suggested we use the facilities in our cabins whenever possible. She also said that additional public restrooms were being constructed in existing storage rooms. We did notice "out of service" signs on some restrooms. The stage in the Vista Lounge is much larger than on the other ships and the props more elaborate. The shows were new to us and I don't know if they are unique to the Zuiderdam or not. They didn't have the "Rock and Rolldies" show we had seen on previous cruises. (It was time for it to go in my opinion, even though it was fun to participate in it.) The Windstar Cafe is an additional source of revenue for the ship but we only went once and it didn't seem very busy. I could have lived without it. However, at home I drink my cup of coffee while I read the paper and have never walked into one of those "S*******" places. Menus in the dining room are reduced to one page and the selections did seem more limited. I compared copies of the Dutch night menu from this cruise and a previous cruise and found the entrees were mainly the same with fewer appetizers and of course only one salad offered most days. Copies of the evening's menu were delivered to our mailbox each day. It appeared that only applied to the suites. The Zuiderdam has a holder on the wall outside each room for the daily paper, tickets, ship mail, etc. that you used to find slipped under your door. My first impression of the ship was that it was a little too glitzy for me, (my favorite ship was the Veendam) but as the week went on the quirkiness of the dEcor began to grow on me. I have since seen photos of the ship that reflected areas I did not see. It is a big ship but once you learn your way around it's not too bad. On our last cruise on the Zaandam hubby complained the whole time that the ship was too big! We tended to stay in our suite as we enjoyed our verandah so much. No need to go to the pool and fight for a deck chair. Friday was Half Moon Cay, which we shared with the Zaandam (they got there first). We tendered over just to walk on the beach. It was cool enough that only a few people were in the water. If the weather had been nicer, it would have been very crowded on the island. It rained off and on while we were there. We had the barbecue lunch but were disappointed and wished we had gone back to the ship instead. We did have some plumbing problems (toilet that wouldn't flush early in the morning on a few occasions) and the showerhead in the walk-in shower wouldn't stay in place so we showered in the tub. My general impression is that HAL has indeed made some changes and cutbacks. Some of the problems we encountered were due to the fact that it is a new ship but it did seem that the staff was not quite as efficient or as friendly as on past cruises. Maybe this too will resolve itself with time. I feel some of the changes are due to the fact they seem to be aiming at a different demographic (younger, more families). While I understand the need to fill all these new ships, I sail on HAL because I like their style. Would the changes and problems stop me from sailing HAL and especially the Zuiderdam again----------------Absolutely Not! Read Less
Sail Date: February 2003
Ms Oosterdam Eastern Caribbean February 08, 2004 - February 15, 2004 Voyage Number 26 Deluxe Veranda Suite Cabin 7058. We sailed on the Ms Oosterdam and returned on the 15th. It was a totally enjoyable cruise. The mean spirited reviews ... Read More
Ms Oosterdam Eastern Caribbean February 08, 2004 - February 15, 2004 Voyage Number 26 Deluxe Veranda Suite Cabin 7058. We sailed on the Ms Oosterdam and returned on the 15th. It was a totally enjoyable cruise. The mean spirited reviews We've read of her and of her sister Vista Class ship are totally and completely exaggerated and unfair. Our cruise last week on , the Ms Oosterdam was by far the best cruise experience we've had, this cruise has raised the Bar and probably spoiled us for ever. Where do We begin? Since we live in South Florida, we had a short drive to Port Everglades. Baggage drop-off was quick and friendly and the Port has excellent parking facilities just across from the HAL terminal. Since we had a Deluxe Veranda Suite, Embarkation was a breeze. We had our own area to check in, no line, no waiting. We simply walked up to the counter, provided the agent with our documents, had our picture taken, received our boarding cards, went through security and were on the ship within 15 minutes. We took advantage of HAL's 11:30 early boarding and were promptly escorted to the Neptune Lounge. We were greeted by two very charming young ladies, Arlene and Julie who welcomed us to the Oosterdam Family. Captain Mercer and HAL's management team should take pride in these two employees. Over the next seven days they made sure our every wish was taken care of. Arlene & Julie took care of our shore excursions, our private cabana on Half Moon Cay (well worth the extra charges), our dinner reservations, and even the complimentary laundry and dry cleaning. All guests in (S) Deluxe Verandah Suites enjoy the amenities of the Neptune lounge and its staff. A wonderful perk which included coffee/tea service all day, drinks, snacks, finger sandwiches, etc. Arlene and Julie who staff the lounge are a sweet, lovely and caring young ladies who will help you with anything you need. This was our first cruise with HAL's Deluxe Veranda Suite and we are spoiled. The stateroom suites are very spacious, nicely decorated, a changing area, and large bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower stall. Our room steward Si took pride in servicing the cabin and always made sure are room was clean, neat and well stocked. On days in Port Si could be found washing the Verandahs and making sure the cabin was always in tip top shape. The veranda is quite large and includes a small dining table, four chairs and 2 lounge chairs and ottomans. We enjoyed sitting on the veranda, as we enjoyed our morning room service. Room service was efficient and our food was delivered hot. The "S" cabin is well worth the few extra dollars you will spend if you like being treated like Queens & Kings. The ship is beautiful and the dEcor is timeless. The ship is easy to maneuver and well lit. The layout of this ship is well thought out. The food on the Lido was delicious and the service was terrific. Sammy one of the servers was often seen carrying trays for many of the older cruisers. The food choices were well varied and the desserts and ice cream were delicious. We were 2nd seating on deck 3 of the Vista dining room, right along the staircase railing. It is true that the room did vibrate for a moment or two and the ship did "rock and roll" However the winds were gale force and the waves were quite high, if Captain Mercer could control the weather he would have. We had the opportunity to meet Captain Mercer at both the Private Suite Cocktail Party and the Private Suite Brunch in the Crows Nest. Both events are additional special treats for guests in the Deluxe Verandah Suite. The food in the Vista Dining Room was fantastic, however the Captain and his crew made sure the food at the Suite Brunch was even better. We received exceptional service from our Head Waiter Freddy, our waiter Mohab, our assistant waiter, Heri, and our Wine Steward Ricardo. The food was excellent and the portions were in perfect amounts. Some appetizers/entrees/desserts were so good; we had second portions that were delivered immediately. We also had breakfast and lunch in the Vista, and although the servers were different due to the open seating we were always treated like royalty. We visited the alternative dining venue - The Pinnacle Grill. It's name says it all, the food was Fantastic!. Our server Atilo was superb (the $20/pp cover charge was well worth it). Pools are small, but never seemed overcrowded. However one of the few negatives on this ship was poolside service.. Poolside servers were sporadic, deck attendants were non existent. The ports of call Nassau, St. Martin and Tortola were great, and the ship's excursion staff made sure the excursions came off without a hitch. Half Moon Cay was our last port of call and HAL left the best for last. Half Moon is lovely, fantastic, wonderful, beautiful, dreamy, and the addition of the Private Cabana, made Half Moon Cay our little piece of paradise. Our last day was spent on one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen with soft white sand, in the warm sun, swimming in crystal clear aqua blue water. Along with the rental of the cabana comes the pampering staff of JoJo and Oliver who made sure we had plenty of food and drink. This port of call is the one reason why we wouldn't sail with anyone else but HAL or its parent Carnival who share this island. HAL and its Vista Class of Ships are truly the top of the Contemporary Cruise Lines. We have read many nit picky, moaning, whiny reviews and wonder why certain people are so critical. HAL is clearly not the equivalent of Crystal or Radisson however it is at the top of the Contemporary Lines along with Celebrity. HAL attracts a special group of passengers who are nice, friendly and yes the average age on the ship is sixty something. What we did not miss were hundred of cruisers who might have had a little too much too drink, HAL is a happy classy ship but not the party ship. The new cruise director Dane, the Senior Assistant Cruise Direct Jason along with Elizabeth, Cameron and DJ Mark did an excellent job making sure everything from BINGO to KARAOKE were enjoyable. It's too bad we did not win the $5,000 Bingo Jackpot!! The Oosterdam Singer and Dancers were fantastic, the headline acts were great and "The Mikes", were a special treat. If you like being spoiled on vacation book HAL and the Oosterdam. Bon Voyage. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2003
Before I go into my review, I thought it helpful to disclose a little about myself so that readers can get a sense of what my opinion is based on. Also, please note that I read numerous negative reviews prior to sailing and did not let ... Read More
Before I go into my review, I thought it helpful to disclose a little about myself so that readers can get a sense of what my opinion is based on. Also, please note that I read numerous negative reviews prior to sailing and did not let that persuade me as I love ANY cruising and judge for myself and went into this cruise with the same positive attitude that I usually do. Additionally, I am not really a complainer onboard the ship - everyone is human and life is not perfect. This was my 10th cruise overall and my 2nd HAL cruise. Having been on many previous cruises, and traveled abroad significantly it is not easy to impress me, however I do enjoy cruising as a vacation method and have been able to find positives on every cruise sailed previously. I do expect to get full dollar value for what I pay and prior to any cruise, I extensively research the ship, read the boards, email others, and basically do my homework.   On this cruise I was traveling with a group of 31, ages ranged from 16-58 years. I selected the Zuiderdam because it met my selection criteria; i.e. new ship, reliable line (having cruised HAL before on the Zaandam, I had experienced relatively high quality and service), medium passenger load (around the 2000+/-0 is about right) and reasonable cost.   Boarding: Most of my party arrived at about noon, we followed the "Mariner" signs, but the lines where no longer at the non-mariner area. HAL insists on a passport or birth certificate as a form of ID, no other forms of ID are acceptable, oh well! My pre-printed US immigration form downloaded from the web was ready and this speeded everything along, but before you can proceed, HAL insists on having each passenger fill out a Bahamas immigration form that nobody checked yet collected (I was told this form was required for the private island, you will have to do this form once more if the ship stops in Nassau, kind of an overkill IMHO). This entire process took about ½ hr and then we proceeded to the ship. Your luggage is left at the luggage drop off with the baggage handlers - Note: there are signs clearly posted that they are salaried and tips are not necessary, you will leave your luggage - before you enter the terminal, so make sure your room number is clearly indicated on your HAL luggage tags. For this process I give HAL overall 3 out of 5 stars, nothing great or out of the ordinary, heads up, a cab ride from the Fort Lauderdale airport is about 10 minutes and the cost is about $10PP.   Cabins: I try and book the cheapest; my past experience with HAL is that most of the cabins are about the same Square footage (unless you are in the premium ones i.e., veranda, suite etc) and they are relatively large in size compared to other lines. However, on the Zuiderdam it appeared that room size was related to category, Cabins for our group ranged from a category "N" (lowest) to an "AA". I was in a category "G"; outside cabin with obstructed view/yes you had a full floor to ceiling view of a life boat/ but no big deal as I spent very little time in my cabin. Room size was about 185 sq ft, but the arrangement was poorly laid out. Storage cabins beneath the bed were awkward, some drawers with locks were very hard to open and the hair dryer (which automatically turned off when it got a bit hot) was in the small sitting area vice in the bathroom. Room colors were not lively and considering how new the ship was, looked worn. I visited a category 'N" cabin and be advised they are SMALL! Prior to this sailing I had read about problems with the ships toilets, I did encounter a toilet leak on the first day of the cruise and another member of our party complained that her toilet did not work and that there was an awful smell the entire trip. Additionally, we were on level 4 and our category "N" cruisers said they could hear the LOUD noise from the shows and the bands until the wee hours on the morning. I will give HAL 2 out of 5 stars.   Food/Dining Room: Food on this ship was very good, but the dining experience was lacking. Let me explain; one of the big events during every cruise is dinner with all my family members (there were 9 adults), so once on board ship, a member of my party went directly to the maitre'd to insure we were seated together at first seating - Note my daughter was first in line( to see the maitre'd) and was told that first seating, which we requested and got, is typically less crowded. Apparently this was not the case as we were seated at a table for eight and there were nine adults. Even after repeatedly voicing our request for a larger table, nothing changed throughout the cruise. Our "solution" was to be given chairs without arms to make more room at the table. Additionally, we noticed that tables for 10 had numerous small children and some tables were empty - why could they not have moved some people.? I was given the standard excuses needless to say it was very unpleasant and cramped through dinner. Additionally, the dining room has a very low ceiling and is located on the second level above the engines and tables are very close together, this makes for a very noisy dining room. I read about the noise and vibration and it is real- not something I experienced on any previous cruise. There were times that you had to shout to be heard. Air conditioning throughout the dinning room was very inconsistent, some areas were cold and some were hot. I also observed a number of areas, which had plastic covering taped to the ceiling. The waiter and bus boy provided good service, but appeared tired and overworked. Flame-type desserts were non-existent. Since this is a vacation, I usually eat all my meals in the dining room, and try and avoid eating at BUFFETS, but the service in the dining room was so slow that I started to eat at the LIDO for breakfast and lunch; I will say that the variety was excellent and the lines were never long. I am very mixed about giving a grade here as I thoroughly enjoyed the food and it deserved 4+stars, but the numerous problems encountered detracted from the experience, so overall I would give HAL 3 stars.   Entertainment: In the evening, you will find music at a variety of locations throughout the ship. HAL is trying to break away from the big band era and cater more to the growing baby boomer population. However, they (HAL) seem to be having an identity crisis as they are trying to do too many different things to please everyone. The Disco in the Northern Lights was great, but there are only 8-9 booths to sit in, therefore people are standing everywhere and it caters towards the 40 year old crowd, while the younger folks have nowhere to go but a few bars. The one evening where the disco/theme night was moved to the Crows' Nest it was a huge success and there was plenty of room. Speaking of the Crows Nest, it is very nice but underutilized and they have a piano player (one of two) vice a nice band. This was also the first cruise I have ever taken that there was NO Karaoke (apparently HAL is phasing it out). The nighttime shows at the Vista lounge were below par, I usually attend every show, but on this ship I walked out on three occasions. Except for the juggler and one variety show, the overall quality was poor. Once again I am having a tough time and HAL could easily have made this a memorable cruise. I give them 3 stars, but if they moved the theme nights to the Crows Nest, turned the Northern Lights over to the 20's crowd and booked better entertain, it would be GREAT!   Activities: Most daytime activities were well spaced, from the usual trivia (there was a lot of that) to the Bingo (I always play bingo; HAL has kept the cost of bingo at a reasonable level while maintaining a fair prize money distribution). The Casino was the norm, but what I did not like was the space, the lack of ease with which you could move around and the general feeling of being crowed as it was in the center of the ship - main traffic area. Everybody seemed to be having a good time but were confused on the direction of where to go. I will assume HAL designed the ship's entertainment by keeping passengers around decks 2 and 3 (except for the pool and LIDO buffet). This might have been a grand idea, but it was so difficult to move around, getting in and out of the different duty free shops was very confusing and the passenger flow in the casino was awful. 3 out of 5 stars.   Teen activities: HAL is advertising the ship as kid friendly, there were plenty of kids on board and I did see the activities in full swing, since nobody on our group participated, I am unable to comment.   Excursions: I rarely take the ship excursions as I find them too expensive and can usually do my own excursions, visiting the same places as the ship's excursions, and save quite a bit of cash. However, for this sailing I made an exception since I have done a great deal of independent reading regarding the "America's Cup" excursion (you cannot do this on your own as the ship reserves this company for their excursions). All I can say is that this excursion is one of the best things about this cruise (you need to be stopping at St Maarteen to do this), it is a MUST, be warned this is a very active excursion and if you are prone to seasickness or do not wish to try a physical activity, look elsewhere, otherwise, it is a MUST! Note; if you want to go on any ship excursion, sign up on the HAL website 2 plus weeks before sailing, this avoids the crowds and also being told the excursion is "sold out" which was evident on the popular ones. In Nassau, my party rented a private boat, went snorkeling at a wonderful reef, spent some time on our own private island and it was the same cost as the ship's excursion for our own private yacht!   Tipping: The HAL policy of "Tipping not required" just ads more confusion when there are envelopes throughout left for all the passengers to pick up. How can you not tip when your waiter tried to please you and it was not your room boy's fault that the room was poorly designed. As for tipping amount, I use the standard rule of thumb, waiter $3.50-4.00 per person per day, Bus boy half the waiter tip. I ordered the wine package (if you drink wine it is a fair deal) HAL does NOT ADD the normal 15%, so be aware that the steward and ANY other bartenders need to be tipped. Your room steward gets the same as the waiter. If you order drinks at any of the bars, you might want to carry a few dollars for tips since HAL does not add 15%. All this cash adds to the frustration, as HAL would not allow for you to add tips when you sign the check. Trying to remember which person served you a drink or which bartender needs to be tipped at the end is a major hassle, and HAL seems to refuse to change. Front desk/purser: I had to include this category since it is usually a hub of activity; in most ships you rarely get good service and the lines are always long. The Zuiderdam desk area was always fully staffed but the staff did not have many right answers. Some questions got the usual "I can find out" or "you need to..," " perhaps" All I can say is HAL needs training and work.   Disembarkation: This has been a hassle on every cruise line but one. You have to be out of your cabin by 7AM and sit in a hallway and wait for your number to be called. Why cruise lines have not adopted the very successful procedures that have been on NCL ships I will never know. 1 out of 5 stars. Notes: I had read that former passengers complained of an odor from different areas in the ship. I did not believe this, however it is true and very noticeable in some public areas and in hallways. On the second day of the cruise, five public restrooms on the 9th deck were not in operation and on another occasion, cabins on the sixth floor had a foul odor with guests complaining. Additionally, throughout the ship, numerous public rooms were under some type of construction/repair. Areas were covered in plastic and you could hear the load noise of drilling and cutting etc. This was an irritant and if you were trying to sleep late, that did make noise. Upon docking at St Thomas, ALL passengers were required to wake up by 7AM and proceed in person to US immigration with their passport. Even though the process was painless and takes less than 3 minutes, having everybody get up at 7AM while you are on vacation for a three minute procedure even though you can't get off the ship for another 3 hours seemed like poor planning. Every person I encountered complained about the early hour. Once again poor planning by HAL, as the ship could have easily docked at a more reasonable hour or done the process differently.   Overall: I have tried to be as objective as possible hoping to give you an overall big picture. I want to be very clear that I had a very nice time, as cruising is always great, but this is a review. Even though this is a new ship, I was amazed at the number of problems I encountered. The ship is not well laid out and everything seems worn out. The officers seemed aloof and were not up to my past HAL expectation. Employees seemed overworked and not often smiling. But my wife does not agree; she thought they were all very nice and helpful. HAL seems to want to make but some changes but these changes do not seem to have been well planned. Prior to this cruise my previous HAL experience was superb, however, with so many problems, and with so many other ships at sea, I would not recommend this ship and would rank this cruise as my 5th best among my 10. Happy sailing, Read Less
Sail Date: August 2003
Boarding: Most of my party arrived at about noon, we followed the "Mariner" signs, but the lines where no longer at the non-mariner area. HAL insists on a passport or birth certificate as a form of ID, no other forms of ID are ... Read More
Boarding: Most of my party arrived at about noon, we followed the "Mariner" signs, but the lines where no longer at the non-mariner area. HAL insists on a passport or birth certificate as a form of ID, no other forms of ID are acceptable, oh well! My pre-printed US immigration form downloaded from the web was ready and this speeded everything along, but before you can proceed, HAL insists on having each passenger fill out a Bahamas immigration form that nobody checked yet collected (I was told this form was required for the private island, you will have to do this form once more if the ship stops in Nassau, kind of an overkill IMHO). This entire process took about ½ hr and then we proceeded to the ship. Your luggage is left at the luggage drop off with the baggage handlers - Note: there are signs clearly posted that they are salaried and tips are not necessary, you will leave your luggage - before you enter the terminal, so make sure your room number is clearly indicated on your HAL luggage tags. For this process I give HAL overall 3 out of 5 stars, nothing great or out of the ordinary, heads up, a cab ride from the Fort Lauderdale airport is about 10 minutes and the cost is about $10PP. Cabins: I try and book the cheapest; my past experience with HAL is that most of the cabins are about the same Square footage (unless you are in the premium ones i.e., veranda, suite etc) and they are relatively large in size compared to other lines. However, on the Zuiderdam it appeared that room size was related to category, Cabins for our group ranged from a category "N" (lowest) to an "AA". I was in a category "G"; outside cabin with obstructed view/yes you had a full floor to ceiling view of a life boat/ but no big deal as I spent very little time in my cabin. Room size was about 185 sq ft, but the arrangement was poorly laid out. Storage cabins beneath the bed were awkward, some drawers with locks were very hard to open and the hair dryer (which automatically turned off when it got a bit hot) was in the small sitting area vice in the bathroom. Room colors were not lively and considering how new the ship was, looked worn. I visited a category 'N" cabin and be advised they are SMALL! Prior to this sailing I had read about problems with the ships toilets, I did encounter a toilet leak on the first day of the cruise and another member of our party complained that her toilet did not work and that there was an awful smell the entire trip. Additionally, we were on level 4 and our category "N" cruisers said they could hear the LOUD noise from the shows and the bands until the wee hours on the morning. I will give HAL 2 out of 5 stars. Food/Dining Room: Food on this ship was very good, but the dining experience was lacking. Let me explain; one of the big events during every cruise is dinner with all my family members (there were 9 adults), so once on board ship, a member of my party went directly to the maitre'd to insure we were seated together at first seating - Note my daughter was first in line (to see the maitre'd) and was told that first seating, which we requested and got, is typically less crowded. apparently this was not the case as we were seated at a table for eight and there were nine adults. Even after repeatedly voicing our request for a larger table, nothing changed throughout the cruise. Our "solution" was to be given chairs without arms to make more room at the table. Additionally, we noticed that tables for 10 had numerous small children and some tables were empty - why could they not have moved some people.? I was given the standard excuses needless to say it was very unpleasant and cramped through dinner. Additionally, the dining room has a very low ceiling and is located on the second level above the engines and tables are very close together, this makes for a very noisy dining room. I read about the noise and vibration and it is real- not something I experienced on any previous cruise. There were times that you had to shout to be heard. Air conditioning throughout the dinning room was very inconsistent, some areas were cold and some were hot. I also observed a number of areas, which had plastic covering taped to the ceiling. The waiter and bus boy provided good service, but appeared tired and overworked. Flame-type desserts were non-existent. Since this is a vacation, I usually eat all my meals in the dining room, and try and avoid eating at BUFFETS, but the service in the dining room was so slow that I started to eat at the LIDO for breakfast and lunch; I will say that the variety was excellent and the lines were never long. I am very mixed about giving a grade here as I thoroughly enjoyed the food and it deserved 4+stars, but the numerous problems encountered detracted from the experience, so overall I would give HAL 3 stars. Entertainment: In the evening, you will find music at a variety of locations throughout the ship. HAL is trying to break away from the big band era and cater more to the growing baby boomer population. However, they (HAL) seem to be having an identity crisis as they are trying to do too many different things to please everyone. The Disco in the Northern Lights was great, but there are only 8-9 booths to sit in, therefore people are standing everywhere and it caters towards the 40 year old crowd, while the younger folks have nowhere to go but a few bars. The one evening where the disco/theme night was moved to the Crows' Nest it was a huge success and there was plenty of room. Speaking of the Crows Nest, it is very nice but underutilized and they have a piano player (one of two) vice a nice band. This was also the first cruise I have ever taken that there was NO Karaoke (apparently HAL is phasing it out). The nighttime shows at the Vista lounge were below par, I usually attend every show, but on this ship I walked out on three occasions. Except for the juggler and one variety show, the overall quality was poor. Once again I am having a tough time and HAL could easily have made this a memorable cruise. I give them 3 stars, but if they moved the theme nights to the Crows Nest, turned the Northern Lights over to the 20's crowd and booked better entertain, it would be GREAT! Activities: Most daytime activities were well spaced, from the usual trivia (there was a lot of that) to the Bingo (I always play bingo; HAL has kept the cost of bingo at a reasonable level while maintaining a fair prize money distribution). The Casino was the norm, but what I did not like was the space, the lack of ease with which you could move around and the general feeling of being crowed as it was in the center of the ship - main traffic area. Everybody seemed to be having a good time but were confused on the direction of where to go. I will assume HAL designed the ship's entertainment by keeping passengers around decks 2 and 3 (except for the pool and LIDO buffet). This might have been a grand idea, but it was so difficult to move around, getting in and out of the different duty free shops was very confusing and the passenger flow in the casino was awful. 3 out of 5 stars. Teen activities: HAL is advertising the ship as kid friendly, there were plenty of kids on board and I did see the activities in full swing, since nobody on our group participated, I am unable to comment. Excursions: I rarely take the ship excursions as I find them too expensive and can usually do my own excursions, visiting the same places as the ship's excursions, and save quite a bit of cash. However, for this sailing I made an exception since I have done a great deal of independent reading regarding the "America's Cup" excursion (you cannot do this on your own as the ship reserves this company for their excursions). All I can say is that this excursion is one of the best things about this cruise (you need to be stopping at St Maarten to do this), it is a MUST, be warned this is a very active excursion and if you are prone to seasickness or do not wish to try a physical activity, look elsewhere, otherwise, it is a MUST! Note; if you want to go on any ship excursion, sign up on the HAL website 2 plus weeks before sailing, this avoids the crowds and also being told the excursion is "sold out" which was evident on the popular ones. In Nassau, my party rented a private boat, went snorkeling at a wonderful reef, spent some time on our own private island and it was the same cost as the ship's excursion for our own private yacht! Tipping: The HAL policy of "Tipping not required" just ads more confusion when there are envelopes throughout left for all the passengers to pick up. How can you not tip when your waiter tried to please you and it was not your room boy's fault that the room was poorly designed. As for tipping amount, I use the standard rule of thumb, waiter $3.50-4.00 per person per day, Bus boy half the waiter tip. I ordered the wine package (if you drink wine it is a fair deal) HAL does NOT ADD the normal 15%, so be aware that the steward and ANY other bartenders need to be tipped. Your room steward gets the same as the waiter. If you order drinks at any of the bars, you might want to carry a few dollars for tips since HAL does not add 15%. All this cash adds to the frustration, as HAL would not allow for you to add tips when you sign the check. Trying to remember which person served you a drink or which bartender needs to be tipped at the end is a major hassle, and HAL seems to refuse to change. Front desk/purser: I had to include this category since it is usually a hub of activity; in most ships you rarely get good service and the lines are always long. The Zuiderdam desk area was always fully staffed but the staff did not have many right answers. Some questions got the usual "I can find out" or "you need to..," " perhaps" All I can say is HAL needs training and work. Disembarkation: This has been a hassle on every cruise line but one. You have to be out of your cabin by 7AM and sit in a hallway and wait for your number to be called. Why cruise lines have not adopted the very successful procedures that have been on NCL ships I will never know. 1 out of 5 stars. Notes: I had read that former passengers complained of an odor from different areas in the ship. I did not believe this, however it is true and very noticeable in some public areas and in hallways. On the second day of the cruise, five public restrooms on the 9th deck were not in operation and on another occasion, cabins on the sixth floor had a foul odor with guests complaining. Additionally, throughout the ship, numerous public rooms were under some type of construction/repair. Areas were covered in plastic and you could hear the load noise of drilling and cutting etc. This was an irritant and if you were trying to sleep late, that did make noise. Upon docking at St Thomas, ALL passengers were required to wake up by 7AM and proceed in person to US immigration with their passport. Even though the process was painless and takes less than 3 minutes, having everybody get up at 7AM while you are on vacation for a three minute procedure even though you can't get off the ship for another 3 hours seemed like poor planning. Every person I encountered complained about the early hour. Once again poor planning by HAL, as the ship could have easily docked at a more reasonable hour or done the process differently. Overall: I have tried to be as objective as possible hoping to give you an overall big picture. I want to be very clear that I had a very nice time, as cruising is always great, but this is a review. Even though this is a new ship, I was amazed at the number of problems I encountered. The ship is not well laid out and everything seems worn out. The officers seemed aloof and were not up to my past HAL expectation. Employees seemed overworked and not often smiling. But my wife does not agree; she thought they were all very nice and helpful. HAL seems to want to make but some changes but these changes do not seem to have been well planned. Prior to this cruise my previous HAL experience was superb, however, with so many problems, and with so many other ships at sea, I would not recommend this ship and would rank this cruise as my 5th best among my 10. Happy sailing, Read Less
Sail Date: August 2003
Well...I am finally getting settled and my wife, daughter and I wish we were still on board. The ship was great, the weather fantastic. A little boring background first: H 41, W 40, D11, professional, Manhattanites originally now live on ... Read More
Well...I am finally getting settled and my wife, daughter and I wish we were still on board. The ship was great, the weather fantastic. A little boring background first: H 41, W 40, D11, professional, Manhattanites originally now live on Long Island. About 30 cruises on all the major lines and ships and a few minor lines. Now the important stuff for those ready to travel or planning to do so on the Zuiderdam: Friday 8/15: Left JFK in the middle of the blackout via Jet Blue. Our flight was one of the few not cancelled. Lucky!!! Stayed at the Westin Diplomatin Hollywood. Beautiful new hotel about 1 year old which replaced the old diplomat I stayed at when I was young. Great beach and pool. Went to sleep ealry because we were exhausted from the whole blackout/flight/etc. Saturday 8/16: Limo to Zuiderdam around 11am. Got to pier and checked bags. Gave a $20 tip. I am a generous tipper but find I get better service. 5 bags so $10 would have probably been ok also. Went inside and found a small handful of people checking in. Only maybe 5 or so families in each of many lines. We went ot the Deluxe Veranda Suite line where there were two lines with about 1 or two families ahead of us. We had a category S on Rotterdam (7) Deck a few doors down from the Neptune Lounge. They gave us the Bahamas Immigration forms to fill out as we waited on line. This was for the Half Moon Key visit. We later received a second set of Immigration forms for Nassau later in the week. Check in was a breeze. We registered our credit card., took security photo for cabin key. Off we went through security and xray and up to the terminal waiting area. We were given little gold sticy stars to id us as suite guests so when we got up to the waiting area we were able to get our embarcation photo taken and board immediately. Aboard ship we were directed by many ushers/staff to the Neptune lounge where we dropped off one unimportant carry-on and went to the Lido on Deck 9 for lunch. We could have eaten in the Neptune but wanted to explore. Went back to the Neptune around 1:15 and at 1:30 we were told by Jig the concierge that our stateroom was ready. It was beautiful. Well furnished and we had no problems with storage space for 5 huge suitcases and 3 humans! No smells, no dirt, no problems. Our steward Slammet introduced himself and after that we went to the life boat drill at 4:15 which was short and sweet and enjoyable. Then we sailed at 5. Only other major ship in port was the Century and as we sailed out of the port past a few apt buildings, someone had a HAL flag flying from their balcony! Dinner that night was 2nd seating table for 4 (3 of us though)number 86 on the upper level of the Vista (Deck 3). Our waiters Tagel and Agus were great. They remembered our names by Sunday night and I never had problems ordering a second appetizer or entree or dessert. My daughter would eat a combo of the childrens menu and parts of the adult menu with no problem. The wine steward Ronald was fantastic. We are not big drinkers but he had a scotch and soda for me every night and new when to bring me the second one without asking (I stop at drink 2!). On formal night, he chilled the champagne given to us by HAL in out suite and served it to perfection. Let me add that he was personable and spoke with us a for a few minutes each night without being intrusive but at a level of comfort. Prior to dinner each night, there was the doorman Raymond (aka) Yum Yum Man who played musical chimes to announce dinner and then dispensed after dinner mints. He remembered our names right away and was so much fun that some kids were crying at the end of the cruise! All the dinners were excellent. We chose to eat in the Odyssey Tuesday night which coincidentally was Dutch Night. The Odyssey was great and I thought the steaks were almost as good as Peter Luger for my fellow NY'ers! Let me add that so as not to bore you I will not discuss the ports which were fine but rather concentrate on the ship. Entertainment: Not the best but I have seen far worse. Paul Tanner, a singer/impressionist was enjoyable as well as a comedian. Did not see all the shows. We did not attend the CC get together because my wife wanted to go to the Art Auction monday. Thought the prices were a little too high after they sold one painting for $9000.00. I have spent money on art but $500 and not more than $1000 is my cruise ship limit. Pools were busy. The rear pool was fine. A few wild kids jumping into the mid ship pool but a few times people asked them to stop and they did! No major cause for concern! About half the ship wore tuxedos and about 40 percent of the rest wore suits on formal nights. I wore a tux the first formal and a suit teh second time around. Another suit on Wednesady which was informal night. All the rest were casual. Ate in the Odyssey for breakfast once and the Lido once. The remainder days in the Vista. We thought the Vista was a little to harried for breakfast and liked the quiet of the Vista for breakfast. Ate in the Lido for lunch every day and while busy, we always found a table. Enjoyed the Pasta and Taco bars which were open from 11am until 5pm. Disembarkation: Although we made our own air arrangements, we purchase HAL ship to airport transfers on 8/23 so we did not get the S tag to leave as soon as the ship was cleared (about 9:15) We were called right after that (about 9:30) and by 10 or so were at the airport. Checked in and the rest is history. Comments: -Never smelled anything other than food. -Enough bathrooms all in working order. Only time they were closed was for cleaning. -Dining Room vibration noticeable in the after of the Vista lower level. More pronounced than on some ships but no worse than on some others so for newbies it may be an issue but it did not bother us. -Decor of the ship..I can't understand why anyone would let this ruin theer vacation because it was fun, bright and cheerful. -Fellow passengers..many repeaters few first timers to cruising but most were on other lines before. Afew hated HAL. One was quite a "large" lady (politically correct!) who complained about the food while piling her plate at the Lido. Another one said the ship did not have enough activities but her only otehr crusie was on Carnival!. Another couple said the staff did not speak english well enough but everyone we spoke with had no trouble understanding us. I doid observe many people who were polite to their fellow passengers treating the staff terribly. That may account for the negative response from the staff. These people are humans and should be treated with the same respect we expect. The doorman turned away people who were not properly dressed (tanktops, etc). One man came to breakfast in his bathrobe! He did not get in. The best was one man who ordered eggs benedict and wanted extra hollandaise sauce with 6 (not 5, not 7) jellies on the side. The type of orders and "demands" were so pathetic and "diva" like that I give the staff credit for dealing with all of us! Tipping: I was very generous because I felt they deserved every penny. Well, that's all for now. If you have specfic questions, ask and I will try to answer. I will be on the boards regularly for teh next week or so but then reality will set-in and I will have to concentrate on work so as to pay for the next cruise. By the way, no qualms about sailing HAL again. All the best to everyone and smooth sailin! All The Best To All Sailing With Us! Read Less
Sail Date: August 2003
We sailed on the Zuiderdam in August 2003 with our two children ages 10 and 15. This was our eighth HAL voyage and our children's fourth. I was expecting such a wonderful ship and couldn't wait. Wow, what a disappointment. Our ... Read More
We sailed on the Zuiderdam in August 2003 with our two children ages 10 and 15. This was our eighth HAL voyage and our children's fourth. I was expecting such a wonderful ship and couldn't wait. Wow, what a disappointment. Our cruise was booked to capacity and contained well over 2,000 people. There were a huge number of kids and teens. We had a Suite, which was by far the best part of the voyage. The concierge desk for the Suite occupants was also a nice feature. The new Lido configuration tends to be confusing and the lines do not run smoothly. People cutting in and out of the line was really problematic. There was a lack of available seating on both the inside and outside of the Lido area. Many people were leaving personal items in order to "reserve" Lido tables for hours at a time. This is the first time I have seen something like that on a HAL ship. The Lido was not keep as clean as it is on other ships either, the carpet was constantly dirty and many tables needed to be bused. Forget about getting a chaise by the pool. These were "reserved" from dawn to dusk. We found the same problem with the hot tub. While others complained about service being too fast in the diningroom, we found ours to be monotonously SLOW...we always have second seating and numerous times we were left waiting to order while others around us were already eating (and no, we weren't late for dinner) Finally, the head waiter took over our service and it improved on the fourth night. We found the food in the Odyssey restaurant oddly lacking. It didn't seem to be any different than the food in the diningroom and for $80 (4 of us) we'll pass next time. The ship was way too large and seemed to be poorly configured. It was not as easy to get around as it is on other HAL ships. There were far too many people and for some reason there seemed to be an unusually large number of rude people on this particular voyage. Disembarkation from this ship was a disaster. We had priority disembarkation and could not get through some of the stairwells and hallways when our number was called. An "excuse me" or "pardon me" did not have any impact on this crowd. I think we will stick to the smaller ships and some of the more obscure ports in order to a avoid such crowds. Overall, I think we'll pass on any future Zuiderdam cruises. When I think of the Zuiderdam, I imagine it is what a Carnival cruise ship would be like. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2003
My husband and I have been on 15 cruises in the last 3 years, We have sailed on every major line in the industry . We are pretty much laid back people and we had always thought that there was no such thing as a " Bad Cruise" but ... Read More
My husband and I have been on 15 cruises in the last 3 years, We have sailed on every major line in the industry . We are pretty much laid back people and we had always thought that there was no such thing as a " Bad Cruise" but alas, we just experienced one. For HAL's benefit I will list the positives first: 1} Embarkation and debarkation were easy and very organized. 2} Casino literally gave away money!! I truly had never seen a ship casino pay out on so many slot machines. 3} Entertainment was better than average Thats IT for positives!! Now for the negatives The Zuiderdam cannot find its place in the HAL lineup, You know that they are trying to achieve a younger audience but they just can't pull it off. Between the Decor ,[If you could call it that} which looks like a remnant sale at Kmart , the closed in hallways, the low ceilings and congested layout, this boat is was headed for disaster before it even left on its maiden voyage. We read the message boards before going on board, so we sort of knew what to expect. The first time cruisers on this ship probably thought it was wonderful, but if you are a seasoned cruiser, PAY ATTENTION TO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK on different boards, they are all true!! The vibration problem in the back of the ship is NOT a myth, it is a reality. After speaking with the maitred requesting a change of tables BEFORE the ship even sailed, he informed us that the upper level dining room was completely booked and not to worry we were in the front of the lower dining room. And by the way ,he mentioned that they had brought in heavier tables to reduce the vibration so the plates don't vibrate off the tables anymore. We knew we were in trouble when I asked if it was true that the ship was going into dry dock, He responded with a reluctant yes, and the ship will be drydocked in December for Mechanical Problems.. The sewer odor problem is NOT a fantasy! This ship is obviously not vented properly ,because at certain times of the day the overwhelming odor of raw sewage is prevalent throughout the ship. We could not use our balcony every morning because of it. Maintenance was sent, but they were well aware of the problem and their was nothing that they could do. Lack of maintenance was appalling, this ship is only 9 MONTHS OLD! It could easily pass for at least 5 years old. Water leaks in The "GRAND ATRIUM" turned the gold leaf green and moldy. I watched the art auction with buckets around me to catch dripping water from the ceilings. decks were not cleaned in the A.M. from the previous evening. laminate surfaces were buckling everywhere, door cabinets were hanging off hinges, paint was falling off the balcony roof in our friends mini suite . HAL definitely gets an F in maintenance. Dining room service is a disaster. We had only a waiter, no asst waiter or busboy. The food service was rushed and hurried ,they were trying to get second seating diners out in 1 hour! We had to keep calling the maitred over to tell our waiter to slow down. The first night at dinner he threw the menus at us and told us to make it "snappy". It all went downhill from there. The food was mediocre at best, the dessert selection was even worse, unless of course you consider JELLO to be a Treat! We were constantly holding onto our plates so our waiter would not swipe it away from us while we were in " Mid - Bite". It got so bad that the Head waiter removed our waiter from our section and served us exclusively the last 3 nights of our cruise. We were not alone in hearing dining room horror stories from other passengers ,we knew of at least 10 other tables that were experiencing the same kind of service. We also took a walk toward the back of the dining room one evening to "experience" the vibration problem. If anyone DARES to write that they felt no vibration, then they were either dead or drugged. You had to raise your voice just to have a conversation and the background noise from the vibration was like a scene out of the movie EARTHQUAKE! HAL definitely gets an F for dining room service. Our Cabin which was a category B balcony was below typical of other cruise lines. Once again you had the WAL-MART decor surrounding you, which flowed so beautifully with the prison grey corridor walls. A painting or two would help along the corridor walls but they obviously didn't have it in their budget. HAL gets a D for room and hallway decor The Staff on board was helpful in getting my room changed from the back of the boat to midship { Due to the heavy vibration in our cabin} other than that you are basically getting Holiday Inn level of service. I will have to say that room service was the highlight of HALS customer service. HAL gets a C- for service { it would have been a D if not for room service!} I have taken pictures of many of these things that I have listed here and intend to email them to HAL. Lets just say that this was a major disappointment on HALs part. As everyone knows HAL is giving away their cruises because the senior population is not traveling as much as they once did and they have to open themselves to other markets. They have a very long way to go and should look upon Celebrity Cruise line as their role model. If you are a 1st time cruiser all I could say is Bon Voyage, If you are a truly experienced cruiser then you will quickly know that all is not right with this vessel. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2003
My husband and I have been on 15 cruises in the last 3 years, We have sailed on every major line in the industry. We are pretty much laid back people and we had always thought that there was no such thing as a " Bad Cruise" but ... Read More
My husband and I have been on 15 cruises in the last 3 years, We have sailed on every major line in the industry. We are pretty much laid back people and we had always thought that there was no such thing as a " Bad Cruise" but alas, we just experienced one. For HAL's benefit I will list the positives first: 1} Embarkation and debarkation were easy and very organized. 2} Casino literally gave away money!! I truly had never seen a ship casino pay out on so many slot machines. 3} Entertainment was better than average. That's IT for positives!! Now for the negatives The Zuiderdam cannot find its place in the HAL lineup, You know that they are trying to achieve a younger audience but they just can't pull it off. Between the Decor, (If you could call it that) which looks like a remnant sale at Kmart , the closed in hallways, the low ceilings and congested layout, this boat is was headed for disaster before it even left on its maiden voyage. We read the message boards before going on board, so we sort of knew what to expect. The first time cruisers on this ship probably thought it was wonderful, but if you are a seasoned cruiser, PAY ATTENTION TO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK on different boards, they are all true!! The vibration problem in the back of the ship is NOT a myth, it is a reality. After speaking with the maitre 'd requesting a change of tables BEFORE the ship even sailed, he informed us that the upper level dining room was completely booked and not to worry we were in the front of the lower dining room. And by the way, he mentioned that they had brought in heavier tables to reduce the vibration so the plates don't vibrate off the tables anymore. We knew we were in trouble when I asked if it was true that the ship was going into dry dock. He responded with a reluctant yes, and the ship will be drydocked in December for Mechanical Problems.. The sewer odor problem is NOT a fantasy! This ship is obviously not vented properly, because at certain times of the day the overwhelming odor of raw sewage is prevalent throughout the ship. We could not use our balcony every morning because of it. Maintenance was sent, but they were well aware of the problem and their was nothing that they could do. Lack of maintenance was appalling, this ship is only 9 MONTHS OLD! It could easily pass for at least 5 years old. Water leaks in The "GRAND ATRIUM" turned the gold leaf green and moldy. I watched the art auction with buckets around me to catch dripping water from the ceilings. Decks were not cleaned in th A.M. from the previous evening. Laminate surfaces were buckling everywhere, door cabinets were hanging off hinges, paint was falling off the balcony roof in our friends' mini suite. HAL definitely gets an F in maintenance. Dining room service is a disaster. We had only a waiter, no asst. waiter or busboy. The food service was rushed and hurried ,they were trying to get second seating diners out in 1 hour! We had to keep calling the maitre 'd over to tell our waiter to slow down. The first night at dinner he threw the menus at us and told us to make it "snappy". It all went downhill from there. The food was mediocre at best, the dessert selection was even worse, unless of course you consider JELLO to be a Treat! We were constantly holding onto our plates so our waiter would not swipe it away from us while we were in "Mid - Bite". It got so bad that the Head waiter removed our waiter from our section and served us exclusively the last 3 nights of our cruise. We were not alone in hearing dining room horror stories from other passengers. We knew of at least 10 other tables that were experiencing the same kind of service. We also took a walk toward the back of the dining room one evening to "experience" the vibration problem. If anyone DARES to write that they felt no vibration, then they were either dead or drugged. You had to raise your voice just to have a conversation and the background noise from the vibration was like a scene out of the movie EARTHQUAKE! HAL definitely gets an F for dining room service. Our Cabin which was a category B balcony was below typical of other cruise lines. Once again you had the WAL-MART decor surrounding you, which flowed so beautifully with the prison grey corridor walls. A painting or two would help along the corridor walls but they obviously didn't have it in their budget. HAL gets a D for room and hallway decor. The Staff on board was helpful in getting my room changed from the back of the boat to midship (Due to the heavy vibration in our cabin). Other than that you are basically getting Holiday Inn level of service. I will have to say that room service was the highlight of HAL'S customer service. HAL gets a C- for service (it would have been a D if not for room service)! I have taken pictures of many of these things that I have listed here and intend to email them to HAL. Let's just say that this was a major disappointment on HAL's part. As everyone knows HAL is giving away their cruises because the senior population is not traveling as much as they once did and they have to open themselves to other markets. They have a very long way to go and should look upon Celebrity Cruise line as their role model. If you are a 1st time cruiser all I could say is Bon Voyage, If you are a truly experienced cruiser then you will quickly know that all is not right with this vessel. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2003
We are Dan & Cheryl, a married couple of about 5 months when we went on the Zuiderdam from September 13-20, 2003. We drove from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale on the 12th, not even sure if we were going on a cruise or not—Hurricane ... Read More
We are Dan & Cheryl, a married couple of about 5 months when we went on the Zuiderdam from September 13-20, 2003. We drove from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale on the 12th, not even sure if we were going on a cruise or not—Hurricane Isabel seemed a sure bet to hit dead on where we wanted to be, so we were pretty nervous about whether or not we would get to go. We had called Holland America a couple of times, and both times they told us that if at all possible, the cruise would go—maybe on a different itinerary, maybe a day late, but it would go nonetheless. We arrived to find out that although the hurricane remained strong, our captain had chosen to stick with the planned Eastern Caribbean itinerary of Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau. This was great news, as we had really been looking forward to going to St. Thomas together (Dan had been there on a Celebrity cruise with his family about 2 weeks before proposing to Cheryl, and really wanted her to see what he considered the most romantic spot on earth!) This was Cheryl's 2nd cruise, and Dan's 4th. (He had two previous cruises with his family on Celebrity, and we had gone on Royal Caribbean for our honeymoon). We were cruising with Dan's parents and his 2 younger sisters. All of us had booked inside staterooms. Our first impression of the Zuiderdam was that she was HUGE, and completely gorgeous with all of her banners flying (and with Isabel wreaking havoc somewhere out there, believe me, those banners were FLYING!) Our inside staterooms were more than adequate, and extremely well appointed and decorated. There was storage space everywhere, and plenty of it—we were extremely comfortable, even with Cheryl's tendency to overpack—WAY overpack. One of our favorite features were all of the different lightswitches—you could control all of the lights in the room from anywhere in the room, including the bed. This was wonderful for reading in bed with every light on, and turning them all out without even having to move. Holland America's reputation for great service held true in a big way---Our stateroom attendant, Iman from the Philippines, was an extremely gracious host, willing to go the extra mile to make us comfortable. We greatly enjoyed getting to know him over the course of the week—he even made us an origami version of the Zuiderdam on the last night, and wrote on it how much he had enjoyed taking care of us for the week! We took great care in getting it home safely, and it sits on top of our refrigerator, reminding us of our cruise and the wonderful hospitality we received. The dining room service was equally wonderful—the Filipino and Indonesian crew aboard the Zuiderdam take great pride in their service, and they should—it is the best we have experienced. Our head waiter, Subur, was a very visible presence each night, and kept us entertained—both with his quick wit and his warm, engaging personality. He truly made us to feel like honored guests in his home. Our waiter, Denny, was equally wonderful. He took great care of us all week, (welcoming us to "Denny's" restaurant each night!) remembering what each of us liked with our meal and making sure that we got it—whether it was on the menu or not. He did magic tricks for us, and really spent a great deal of time getting to know us. Our assistant waiter, Hendra, was a wonderful person and server as well—He was a bit of a shy young man, but over the course of the week really opened up to us. He seemed truly saddened when we left, and spoke very wistfully of what a happy family we seemed to have. He is engaged to his sweetheart back home, hoping to make enough money on the cruise boat to go home and marry her and be able to live comfortably. We wish him all the best, as we do to all of the wonderful crew. We can't mention the crew, without mentioning a few other standouts—Imam from the Lido, who learned (and remembered!!) the names of just about everyone who went through his breakfast line in the morning, and welcomed each one so warmly. Eep, who also served in the Lido, and also spoke to us each day and inquired how our day went—and truly listened to the answer. Every member of this crew, even the ones not assigned to our dining room table or our staterooms, went out of their way not only to provide great service, but to be warm and friendly and to make you feel like welcome friends. The weather during the week was (understandably!) a little bit different. The seas were quite high at times, and you could truly feel the moving of the ship. All of this was due to the hurricane, though it was many, many miles away, stirring up the waters. One night in particular during the middle of the week, it felt like if you didn't hold on, you could just about be rolled out of the bed. And we did see some rain, but every port was beautiful! Regarding some of the infamous Zuiderdam "problems"—the ONLY one that I can vouch for is the movement and the engine noise in the dining room. We were on the very back, at the windows, looking out over the water coming out of the propellers, and I can definitely say that we could feel movement, our water glasses and plates vibrated, and that on certain nights when we were moving at a high rate of speed, the engine noise was distracting. I definitely understand why this has been so highly debated—there are many areas in the dining room that did NOT have this problem—it seems to only be near the very back, and only on one level. I also have no doubt that the rough seas (again, the wonderful Isabel) exacerbated the problem. However, did it ruin our cruise? No. Did it ruin our dinner? No. We may have been just a little seasick at dinner one night, but the food onboard the Zuiderdam cured us pretty quickly! We all have different tastes, and all enjoy different kinds of food, but we all found plenty of food to love on the Zuiderdam. The Lido had a little bit of everything (we ate breakfast and lunch their almost every day, and the selection was unparalleled), and the food in the Vista Dining Room was equally delicious. Every steak, every fish dinner, every single thing we ordered seemed prepared perfectly. Excellent quality and quantity. We are not gourmet food critics, just normal people, but we couldn't find anything to complain about. A quick word about the ports— Half Moon Cay has to be the most beautiful island I have ever visited. We had perfect weather (amazingly) and it was beautiful. We swam in the crystal clear water, laid on the beach in the sand, and enjoyed the delicious barbecue lunch provided by Holland America. What more can you ask for? It was truly an island paradise. St. Maarten was wonderful—There was only one other ship in port—from what we were told, a LOT of cruiselines and ships decided to take the Western route for the week due to, yes you guessed it, the hurricane. Also, from what we heard, by staying on our original Eastern course, not only did we have less crowded islands, we apparently got the better weather, too. We had rough seas sometimes, but the weather in every port was beautiful. We took a water taxi to another part of the island immediately after docking, and found a private tour van. The driver agreed to take the six of us for $20 apiece on a tour of both the French and Dutch sides of the island. We really enjoyed this, as we saw not only the touristy spots on the island, but the way the people lived. She stopped at several beautiful spots to give us a chance to take pictures, and a couple of times at different places to let us shop. She did make one stop that we would rather she had not—she stopped at a hole-in-the-wall tavern to go in and buy herself some kind of alcoholic drink, that she proceeded to drink for the rest of the tour. When we started going up and down the little winding roads up in the mountains, that got a little scary—I prefer sober tourguides! In St. Thomas, (where, thanks once again to Hurricane Isabel, we were the ONLY boat in port! Woo-hoo!) Dan and I set out alone to enjoy the island together. We got on a tour tram with a wonderful tourguide named John. He started the tour with his open-air tram full, but at the first stop (Sapphire Beach), everyone but us got off the bus, and wanted to stay to swim! So from that point on, we had a private tour of the island—just the two of us. John took us to several beautiful spots on the way up the mountain to take pictures, took us to the Magen's Bay Overlook, Mountaintop, and several other places. He even took pictures for us of the two of us together, when he saw us taking pictures of each other. We knew we would enjoy the beauty of St. Thomas, and that we wanted to be alone there, but we certainly never expected a private tour! On the way back, he stopped at several places to see if anybody was ready to go back, but they weren't—it wasn't until we got back to Sapphire Beach (almost back to where we would get off the tour) that there were other people on our bus again, and then only for a few miles! We went back to the boat and had lunch, and wanted to go back out swimming, but it was just so much money for another cab ride to anywhere to swim, that we gave up and just walked around in town some. St. Thomas is definitely the most beautiful and breathtaking place I have ever seen. In Nassau, we immediately took a taxi over to Paradise Island, and walked through as much of the beautiful Atlantis hotel as we could. Then, we set off on foot to a local public beach, with our minds set on renting jetskis—it was a pretty good walk, but not terribly bad. It wasn't hard to find the guys selling time on jetskis—they find you. After we talked the guy WAY down on his price, Dan & I bought half an hour on one jetski, while his sisters bought an hour on another. We took turns driving, and just had a blast out in the water for a half hour. The water was EXTREMELY choppy—probably the roughest weather we had in a port all week—but Dan just thought that made the jetski that much more fun. After our half hour was up, we thought we might try swimming—but the water was so rough, nobody was going in more than ankle deep—we tried it, and ended up getting wiped out and rolling back through the sand, scraping up elbows and knees and getting COVERED in sand. Sand was still coming out of both of our ears WEEKS after we got back. Enough swimming for one day. We went back to the boat for lunch, and then Dan and I ventured back out into Nassau alone. We walked through the straw market (got a BEAUTIFUL Nassau picture frame for $1.00—talked down from $7.00!), and then came the best part of our whole cruise—our Nassau Adventure. Dan spotted a horse-drawn buggy, and, after once again talking the guy down on his price, we went on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of Nassau! It was extremely romantic, and our driver was hilarious—he kept us laughing the whole ride. He was quite a driver, too—when he was ready to go, he just pulled out in front of everybody. We nearly caused multiple accidents, but it was just so much fun. We ended up running back to the boat to get our camera to come back and have our picture made with him—we left the boat 30 minutes before departure time(!!!) to run back into town, had our picture made with our horse & buggy, and then got back on the boat FIVE minutes before all aboard time—It was probably the most fun twenty-five minutes that either of us have ever had on a cruise, and definitely our best memory! Back to the boat, and time to pack that night! But who cares, we were still on a cruise! We were playing shuffleboard at midnight, unpacked, when bags had to be in the hall by 2:00—but we made it, and all is well that ends well. Debarkation came, and it was a fairly smooth, if long & drawn out, process. The beautiful Zuiderdam and her incredible staff had given us a trip of a lifetime, and we will never forget it. Would we take this boat again? You better believe it—first chance we get!! ? Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
After 23 cruises over the same amount of years I found the MS Zuiderdam a wonderful surprise. Everything worked as it should from embarkation to disembarkation. The ship is new and the crew is geared towards pleasing ALL its passengers. It ... Read More
After 23 cruises over the same amount of years I found the MS Zuiderdam a wonderful surprise. Everything worked as it should from embarkation to disembarkation. The ship is new and the crew is geared towards pleasing ALL its passengers. It is the only cruise I have ever been on that I found very little to complain about. This was the Eastern Caribbean cruise with ports of call including Half Moon Cay, St. Marten, St. Thomas, and Nassau. I found NONE of the problems reported in previous reviews of this ship. There was NO sewage odor, vibration in the dining room was as expected while being on a ship over her screws, the entire staff was pleasant and eager to please. The food was very good. We did not try the Odyssey speciality restaurant but heard the prime rib there was to kill for. The shows were OK but not exceptional and the normal day to day shipboard activities were what one would expect. One of the nicest things was no one on the staff was hawking drinks or any other profit oriented endeavor. I thought the no tipping policy was a refreshing change and found the staff worked harder that those lines which demand x amount of dollars per day per person and especially those which automatically place said charges on your bill. Therefore it was nice to compensate those who treated you well accordingly. We had a class SS cabin (6063) and found it perfect. It is midships, starboard and a little forward. I found it well laid out and the only complaint was that as on most ships there are not enough electrical outlets. I knew this in advance so we brought along a power strip and that solved the problem. The only disappointment on the cruise was the fact that there was no engine room or bridge tour. Holland America's corporate office indicated that there would be and to sign up at the front desk. The front desk personnel responded to my request "Oh no, that is impossible, because of 911". Well excuse me, I don't buy into that. As far as I am concerned they could make a profit center out of those locations and charge say $ 100.00 and take small parties well guarded to secure areas. So that is my opinion of the Zuiderdam. I highly recommend her and Holland America. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
MS Zuiderdam Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean Sail Date: 10/11/03 This was our 17th cruise, fourth on a Holland America ship and our first on the Zuiderdam. The cruise was an anniversary celebration and we had purchased the anniversary ... Read More
MS Zuiderdam Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean Sail Date: 10/11/03 This was our 17th cruise, fourth on a Holland America ship and our first on the Zuiderdam. The cruise was an anniversary celebration and we had purchased the anniversary celebration package, which was well worth the small cost. It was very nice to receive the special attention that this package brings. The eastern Caribbean itinerary that we sailed, Half Moon Cay, Saint Martin, St, Thomas and Nassau is one that we have done often and all of the ports we visited have become old friends. What follows are some thoughts, discoveries and insights into our cruise and the ship. The Zuiderdam is the first of a series of ships that HAL calls the Vista Class. Others in the series include the Oosterdam launched in 2003 and soon to arrive, in 2004, Westerdam. I was told by the Ship's hotel manager that the follow on ship to the Westerdam will be called the Nieuw Amsterdam, continuing the HAL tradition of reusing names from the line's history. The Zuiderdam is the second ship to be so named. The ship utilizes the same basic design as the Spirit Class of Carnival and the Atlantica Class of Costa. Of course each line has decorated and outfitted their ships to reflect their respective design philosophies and cruise market. The interior designer of the Zuiderdam is the same person/company who did previous HAL interiors, which is actually hard to believe. Somewhere along the line he was told, or so it is said, to "Jazz things up!" And boy did he ever! I guess he wanted to prove that Joe Farcus, the interior designer for Carnival, had nothing on him. The colors in most areas are not subtle ranging from ultra bright red suede leather in some elevators to bright yellows, blues and purples. Throughout much of the ship the carpeting is a multi-hue design in shades of blue. Designs include some very modern finishes, there are art deco touches, chairs and couches in red and gold brocades, tan leathers, white chairs and colored fabrics galore. In direct contrast with the wide range and variety of materials the interior corridors on passenger decks are a very bland, gray colored, man-made simulated wood material. Maybe to try and "Jazz" things up the wood pattern runs horizontally but I don't think that it works very well as it looks oh so fake. This patterned finish also shows up is some public areas in different hues of course. Fortunately for HAL regulars there are some areas that were left alone, including the Explorers Lounge, which is done in a tone very familiar to that on other HAL ships, the full promenade lined with teak deck chairs and the spacious, nicely decorated cabins. The swimming pools are fresh water and can be heated if necessary. The many reviews of this ship have thoroughly covered the layout so I will skip this. Instead here is what I think works and what I think doesn't. The sliding dome over the Lido: I have been a big advocate of domes over lido pools but now I have come to see that they are a mixed bag. Having a dome provides a protected pool and sunbathing area and allows use of this area in all types of weather. This is especially nice when cruising in cold weather areas and of course when it rains. The downside to having the dome is that it cuts the Observation Deck off from the Lido Deck below rendering most of the midsection area of the Observation Deck unusable for sunbathing and/or listening to the music from the Lido deck below. The Lido Restaurant: The Lido Restaurant is different in that he food is served from different serving stations. There are six major food serving area with two main lines, two deli stations, an Asian food station, an Italian station serving pasta and pizza plus two dessert stations and a salad line. The food served here is excellent, amongst the best we have ever had at a Lido. HAL really does excel in Lido dining. While the food is really good the problem is finding a table to sit at to eat it. The number of tables is wholly inadequate for the number of people being served and at peak times during morning and lunch nary a table or empty seat can be found. Large dividers used to break the room up into smaller spaces are a main cause of the problem by eating up valuable floor space. Plans are already being made to redesign the area by removing these dividers to increase the seating capacity of which will be a good thing. The Atrium: You call this an atrium? If so you only need to look at Royal Caribbean designs to see how it can and should be done. The atrium here is small, narrow and only three decks high. Also the ceilings in the area around the atrium seem very low eliminating the feeling of openness one should get from an atrium space. Consider this a space for connecting between decks and not a place one wants to linger at. The decoration is interesting with the central focus being a revolving Seahorse suspended from the ceiling. Each deck is done differently making for some really odd juxtaposition of color and design depending on which way you look. A small bar rests on the lowest level of the atrium but surprisingly there are no waiters or waitresses here to serve you. It is strictly get your own from the bar. Music from the Ocean Bar two decks above provides the only entertainment. The Odyssey Restaurant: We ate here twice and both times were amply rewarded with the best meals we have had at sea. The menu concentrates on beef but alternatives are also offered. The porterhouse steak I had was yummy and the filet mignon was simply superb. The Crab soup and crab cakes offered as appetizers are fantastic. The restaurant is done up in white upholstered heavy metal frame chairs and matching tables. The ceilings are decorated with what appear to be oversize replicas of sand dollars. Fiber optic lighting simulates rays of light flowing out from the center along the spines. To add some color large backlit pictures of vegetables and wines are used as wall decoration. The tables are elegantly set in a very formal presentation. All in all it is simply a superb place to enjoy a meal. There is a $20 per person cover charge to eat here and it is worth every penny spent. The charge is added to your on board account. Incidentally the cover charge does not include a tip so be sure to bring some cash to tip the waiter and his assistant. One very nice touch is that the chef comes out and chats with you at the end of the meal talking about the food, it's presentation and just about anything else. While we never saw the Odyssey totally full I highly recommend making your reservations for early in the week. This way if you want to come back for a second visit you have first dibs simply by telling your waiter. The Ocean Bar: The Ocean Bar has always been a special place for us to have a pre-dinner or post dinner dink, enjoy hot appetizers before dinner and listen to good music. On all other HAL ships the Ocean Bar is a totally separate, self-contained area, elegantly decorated with a special ambiance. On the Zuiderdam the Ocean Bar now surrounds the upper deck of the atrium and is totally open to it except for the area with the bar. The bar area is divided off and reserved for smokers but it is now separated from the music which is on the other side of the Atrium! Traffic flows through the entire area and that special Ambiance has been lost. And it seems even the servers have a hard time providing the level of prompt and courteous service that is so typical of HAL. For me the Ocean bar is a complete miss and regretfully there seems to be little that can be done to improve it. The Vista Dining Room: The Vista Dining room is a two-deck affair with a single circular staircase and small atrium connecting the two levels. In designing the restaurant the designers were forced to make a decision that I think they now regret. The choice was this: either have two dining rooms separated by a galley in two fire divisions or confine the dining area and galley to one fire division. Unfortunately the decision was the latter and the compromises this choice forced on the design are not good ones. First of all the dining room is too small for the number of tables and seats required. This has forced the spacing between tables to be very tight and has also forced the use of numerous rectangular tables seating ten. The tight spacing means that the waiters often have a tough time getting to the people at the far end of the table without making someone else move their chair or "pull in" a bit. The lack of space also forced the atrium to be far less grand and with only one staircase. Visibility of the staircase is so restricted that anyone wanting to make a "Grand Descent" at dinner is simply wasting their time, as nobody can see them. And the vibrations reported by others are real. The ship now slows down during dinner hours to lesson the vibrations and at least where we sat at the stern on the upper level it was tolerable. The vibration is caused by a design flaw resulting from air bubbles generated by propeller cavitations hitting the bottom of the hull. A fix has been developed and this fix has been incorporated in the Oosterdam. The fix will be retrofitted into the Zuiderdam and that should eliminate the problem. The Vista Dining Experience: The quality of the food served in the main dining room has certainly improved over that we have had on other earlier HAL cruises. The presentation was excellent; the food arrived hot and cooked as desired and well seasoned. The appetizers were varied and tasty and the soups were wonderful, but the salads were a bit bland. The entrees seemed to be wholly enjoyed by all at our table. Noticeably absent from the menu were any veal dishes (a favorite of mine). Flowers and Art Work: This ship continues the HAL tradition of placing artwork, antiques and antique reproductions throughout the ship. Fine paintings of prior HAL ships and large pieces of art are found in the stairwells. Everything is labeled and one could spend quite a bit of time just studying the art onboard. Fresh flower arrangements are also spread throughout the public areas of the ship. Since the ship is so much larger than other HAL ships the arrangements just don't seem as numerous. The Crows Nest: The Crows Nest lounge is now a truly a nice evening venue for live music as this ship has a separate disco. On other HAL ships the Crows Nest is a dual-purpose room becoming a disco late in the evening. The Zuiderdam arrangement is far superior. The Crow's Nest surrounds the forward part of deck 10 providing tremendous views during the day. Unfortunately reclining leather-covered lounge chairs that line the forward glass wall of the lounge were broken. I would think that the chairs would have to be replaced with sturdier chairs. The sides of the crows nest are decorated differently from the main area giving them a different feel from the main lounge. These areas feature ceilings with Murano glass tiles. The Vista Lounge: The Vista lounge design is much better than that of the other HAL ships. The lower level is steeply inclined to provide stadium like seating that provides excellent views for everyone except those unlucky enough to be sitting behind one the support columns of which there are more than a few. The upper level also provides pretty good sightlines. The dEcor is bold being all red and there is a fabric covered ceiling decoration that looks like a huge parachute. The stage, lighting, sound and special effects are state of the art. Unfortunately so is the music, which is all prerecorded eliminating that special feel that a live orchestra provides. The shows are good, standard production fare, a magician, a male singer and a comedian rounded out the entertainment and all were fine. Public Restrooms: There seems to be a dearth of public rest rooms or perhaps there are enough but they are placed in strange locations. Many times it was simply easier to go back to the room rather than search around looking for one, which is not very convenient. What bathrooms there are were nicely decorated and provided with clean hand towels to dry your hands and even the men's rooms have small vases of flowers in them. The Queens Lounge: The Queens Lounge serves as a dual-purpose room being both a lounge and movie theater. While practical it lacks the feel of a true movie theater, the seating is of the lounge type and site lines are poor from the sides as the movie screen is set too far back on the stage to be seen. However, freshly popped popcorn is still served when movies are shown and the sound system is very good. The Northern Lights Disco: For those who enjoy disco the much talked about Northern Lights Disco certainly has a unique and somewhat bizarre color scheme that looks like a giant commercial for Gateway computers as all the seating and some walls have a what looks like a faux cowhide finish in black and white. But it is a real disco and was well used on our sailing. The Sports Bar: A first for HAL this bar is located adjacent to the casino and since we were cruising during the playoffs it became a popular spot at night. Some complaints were made that college football games were not being shown. Instead international sports such as soccer were on the numerous boob tubes. The Elevators: Unlike previous HAL ships the elevators lack fold down seats in them. I never used the seats so I don't know if this is a good or bad thing. The elevator interiors are very bold in color, which wakes you up in the morning! The glass enclosed elevators that face outward and provide ocean views are delightful and a real plus. Miscellaneous: We never visited the Piano Bar but it seemed a nicely decorated room. Being nonsmokers we never visited the Oak Room, which is the cigar smoker's lounge. Unlike other HAL ships there is no self-service laundry. If need be you can fill a laundry bag with dirty clothes and have them all cleaned for a flat $12 charge. Room service was excellent providing a good selection of items and was always on time. Be sure to tip the steward a dollar or two. The Service: Traditional HAL service was somewhat hard to come by on this ship. The crew seemed a bit tired as they have been onboard since the beginning and seem to be getting worn down a bit. The warm and gracious service that we have found on other HAL ships was noticeably absent in most areas of Zuiderdam. However there were still some bright spots to be found, some service people that greeted you warmly, remembered your name and even from where you came from. Hopefully this will improve as fresh crew is brought aboard and the existing crew is recycled for some well earned rest. First impressions can be both misleading and/or correct. In the case of the Zuiderdam they turned out to be both, especially for those who have sailed on Holland America's other ships. Upon first entering the ship and having a quick look around one starts to wonder, "Where is the Holland America interior that I have grown to love?" The colors are so much bolder and bright that you almost think that you are surely on a Carnival ship. After awhile though you begin to notice the decorator touches and finishes that make HAL what it is. The flowers are still there, the Murano glass is still there, as are the artwork, and antiques and high value finishes such as leather and suede. It's just that it takes some time to notice some of them. My fellow passengers confirmed these impressions. First time HAL cruisers loved the interior designs and those who have sailed on other HAL ships did not find some of them quite as appealing. For me the emotions and feelings about this ship are quite mixed. It has some truly great pluses and some truly great misses from a design standpoint. The plusses are the Odyssey Restaurant, a truly magnificent alternative dining venue, A Lido buffet area that does a terrific job at keeping lines small by splitting food service into six different major food stations plus two desert bars. The minuses are just as significant. The Vista Dining Room is too small and seating is very tight. Seating in the Lido is inadequate to handle the number of passengers dining there for breakfast or lunch, although this should soon be rectified. The Ocean Bar is a total flop losing all of the charm and ambiance that make the Ocean bars on other HAL ships so special. Finally the atrium is actually so small as I hesitate to call it an atrium. It seems even smaller than those on the smaller HAL fleets and should only be considered as passage between decks. Finally, did I enjoy this cruise and ship. The answer is absolutely and positively yes! While many of the comments I have made may seem negative understand that may dislikes we are a talking a matter of degree from a very high opening standard and expectation. They should be not be misconstrued as being a total dislike or condemnation for the ship or the cruise. It is just a fact that the Zuiderdam is so different from previous HAL offerings that one cannot help but to make comparisons. Apparently even HAL has done some rethinking and the evidence can be seen in the follow-on Oosterdam and Westerdam as they have reportedly returned to a more traditional HAL interior dEcor. For the most part our cruise was delightful and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I would recommend this ship to my friends. For all cruise lines and cruise ships the bottom line is "Would I sail on this ship again?" For us the answer is yes. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
My husband and I recently sailed the Zuiderdam with our 2 grandchildren ages 7 and 5. We have also sailed the Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam, Statendam and the old Westerdam. I was a little apprehensive after I read some of the reviews of the ... Read More
My husband and I recently sailed the Zuiderdam with our 2 grandchildren ages 7 and 5. We have also sailed the Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam, Statendam and the old Westerdam. I was a little apprehensive after I read some of the reviews of the "Z" but we had obtained what I felt was a great deal on two adjoining balcony cabins on the Verandah deck. Overall - the ship is great. No odors, great food and service. Our only major complaint was the cold temperature in the main showroom. It was much too cold for comfort. Club Hal is fantastic for children. Amy (the person in charge of the children's programs) has a genuine love for the children and managed to keep our granddaughters very amused. Every time there was an activity they wanted to attend. She was very creative and it seemed that all of the children in the 5-12 age group (approximately 10) had a fantastic time with her. The 7 year old is a 3 X cruiser and was thrilled to be a part of the juggler's act one evening. A real highlight for her and I was the proud grandmother in the audience. The 5 year old did not want to get off the ship and wanted to sail forever. Never a mention of Mommy or Daddy - she was having too good a time to think about home. My husband and I have sailed Celebrity and Holland America many times and we really enjoyed this new ship. The balconies were very enjoyable and my husband will be hard pressed to get me back into an interior cabin. The food was excellent and hot dishes were hot and cold dishes were cold. The staff was extremely busy but managed to take care of most passengers needs. There are always those who can't be satisfied and there were a few around us that had to find fault for one thing or another. I was very discouraged to see passengers walk out of the dining room without even a handshake. I know Holland America has a no tipping required policy but I think it is only reasonable that the staff be recognized by passengers with a gratuity for the service provided. I have no complaints about the ship or the service. Shore excursions continue to be, in my opinion, a real rip off on all of the lines. My big disappointment was with some fellow passengers. Many people talked with us and commented on how well behaved the children were and both their grandfather and I were proud of their behavior. However there are some people that do not like children in any shape or form. I had to bite my tongue numerous times because of passengers having a problem with splashing in the pool, laughing at the pool, etc. One gentleman said he thought children should be banned from cruising and that their be a minimum age of 60 for cruises. What a sad human being he is - he doesn't realize how much he can learn from the younger generation. My hat is off to Holland America for providing top quality entertainment, food, lodging and service at a very affordable price. The new ship is lovely and I wish I could sail again next week! Do not be scared off by any negative comments - she is a great ship with a great crew. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
MS Zuiderdam Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean Sail Date: 10/11/03 This was our 17th cruise, fourth on a Holland America ship and our first on the Zuiderdam. The cruise was an anniversary celebration and we had purchased the anniversary ... Read More
MS Zuiderdam Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean Sail Date: 10/11/03 This was our 17th cruise, fourth on a Holland America ship and our first on the Zuiderdam. The cruise was an anniversary celebration and we had purchased the anniversary celebration package, which was well worth the small cost. It was very nice to receive the special attention that this package brings. The eastern Caribbean itinerary that we sailed, Half Moon Cay, Saint Martin, St, Thomas and Nassau is one that we have done often and all of the ports we visited have become old friends. What follows are some thoughts, discoveries and insights into our cruise and the ship. The Zuiderdam is the first of a series of ships that HAL calls the Vista Class. Others in the series include the Oosterdam launched in 2003 and soon to arrive, in 2004, Westerdam. I was told by the Ship's hotel manager that the follow on ship to the Westerdam will be called the Nieuw Amsterdam, continuing the HAL tradition of reusing names from the lines history. The Zuiderdam is the second ship to be so named. The ship utilizes the same basic design as the Spirit Class of Carnival and the Atlantica Class of Costa. Of course each line has decorated and outfitted their ships to reflect their respective design philosophies and cruise market. The interior designer of the Zuiderdam is the same person/company who did previous HAL interiors, which is actually hard to believe. Somewhere along the line he was told, or so it is said, to "Jazz things up!" And boy did he ever! I guess he wanted to prove that Joe Farcus, the interior designer for Carnival, had nothing on him. The colors in most areas are not subtle ranging from ultra bright red suede leather in some elevators to bright yellows, blues and purples. Throughout much of the ship the carpeting is a multi-hue design in shades of blue. Designs include some very modern finishes, there are art deco touches, chairs and couches in red and gold brocades, tan leathers, white chairs and colored fabrics galore. In direct contrast with the wide range and variety of materials the interior corridors on passenger decks are a very bland, gray colored, man-made simulated wood material. Maybe to try and "Jazz" things up the wood pattern runs horizontally but I don't think that it works very well as it looks oh so fake. This patterned finish also shows up is some public areas in different hues of course. Fortunately for HAL regulars there are some areas that were left alone, including the Explorers Lounge, which is done in a tone very familiar to that on other HAL ships, the full promenade lined with teak deck chairs and the spacious, nicely decorated cabins. The swimming pools are fresh water and can be heated if necessary. The many reviews of this ship have thoroughly covered the layout so I will skip this. Instead here is what I think works and what I think doesn't. The sliding dome over the Lido: I have been a big advocate of domes over lido pools but now I have come to see that they are a mixed bag. Having a dome provides a protected pool and sunbathing area and allows use of this area in all types of weather. This is especially nice when cruising in cold weather areas and of course when it rains. The downside to having the dome is that it cuts the Observation Deck off from the Lido Deck below rendering most of the midsection area of the Observation Deck unusable for sunbathing and/or listening to the music from the Lido deck below. The Lido Restaurant The Lido Restaurant is different in that he food is served from different serving stations. There are six major food serving area with two main lines, two deli stations, an Asian food station, an Italian station serving pasta and pizza plus two desert stations and a salad line. The food served here is excellent, amongst the best we have ever had at a Lido. HAL really does excel in Lido dining. While the food is really good the problem is finding a table to sit at to eat it. The number of tables is wholly inadequate for the number of people being served and at peak times during morning and lunch nary a table or empty seat can be found. Large dividers used to break the room up into smaller spaces are a main cause of the problem by eating up valuable floor space. Plans are already being made to redesign the area by removing these dividers to increase the seating capacity of which will be a good thing. The Atrium You call this an atrium? If so you only need to look at Royal Caribbean designs to see how it can and should be done. The atrium here is small, narrow and only three decks high. Also the ceilings in the area around the atrium seem very low eliminating the feeling of openness one should get from an atrium space. Consider this a space for connecting between decks and not a place one wants to linger at. The decoration is interesting with the central focus being a revolving Seahorse suspended from the ceiling. Each deck is done differently making for some really odd juxtapositions of color and design depending on which way you look. A small bar rests on the lowest level of the atrium but surprisingly there are no waiters or waitresses here to serve you. It is strictly get your own from the bar. Music from the Ocean Bar two decks above provides the only entertainment. The Odyssey Restaurant We ate here twice and both times were amply rewarded with the best meals we have had at sea. The menu concentrates on beef but alternatives are also offered. The porterhouse steak I had was yummy and the filet mignon was simply superb. The Crab soup and crab cakes offered as appetizers are fantastic. The restaurant is done up in white upholstered heavy metal frame chairs and matching tables. The ceilings are decorated with what appear to oversize replicas of sand dollars. Fiber optic lighting simulates rays of light flowing out from the center along the spines. To add some color large backlit pictures of vegetables and wines are used as wall decoration. The tables are elegantly set in a very formal presentation. All in all it is simply a superb place to enjoy a meal. There is a $20 per person cover charge to eat here and it is worth every penny spent. The charge is added to your on board account. Incidentally the cover charge does not include a tip so be sure to bring some cash to tip the waiter and his assistant. One very nice touch is that the chef comes out and chats with you at the end of the meal talking about the food it's presentation and just about anything else. While we never saw the Odyssey totally full I highly recommend making your reservations for early in the week. This way if you want to come back for a second visit you have first dibs simply by telling your waiter. The Ocean Bar The Ocean Bar has always been a special place for us to have a pre-dinner or post dinner drink, enjoy hot appetizers before dinner and listen to good music. On all other HAL ships the Ocean Bar is a totally separate, self-contained area, elegantly decorated with a special ambiance. On the Zuiderdam the Ocean Bar now surrounds the upper deck of the atrium and is totally open to it except for the area with the bar. The bar area is divided off and reserved for smokers but it is now separated from the music which is on the other side of the Atrium! Traffic flows through the entire area and that special Ambiance has been lost. And it seems even the servers have a hard time providing the level of prompt and courteous service that is so typical of HAL. For me the Ocean bar is a complete miss and regretfully there seems to be little that can be done to improve it. The Vista Dining Room The Vista Dining room is a two-deck affair with a single circular staircase and small atrium connecting the two levels. In designing the restaurant the designers were forced to make a decision that I think they now regret. The choice was this: either have was two dining rooms separated by a galley in two fire divisions or confine the dining area and galley to one fire division. Unfortunately the decision was the latter and the compromises this choice forced on the design are not good ones. First of all the dining room is too small for the number of tables and seats required. This has forced the spacing between tables to be very tight and has also forced the use of numerous rectangular tables seating ten. The tight spacing means that the waiters often have a tough time getting to the people at the far end of the table without making someone else move their chair or "pull in" a bit. The lack of space also forced the atrium to be far less grand and with only one staircase. Visibility of the staircase is so restricted that anyone wanting to make a "Grand Descent" at dinner is simply wasting their time, as nobody can see them. And the vibrations reported by others are real. The ship now slows down during dinner hours to lesson the vibrations and at least where we sat at the stern on the upper level it was tolerable. The vibration is caused by a design flaw resulting from air bubbles generated by propeller cavitations hitting the bottom of the hull. A fix has been developed and this fix has been incorporated in the Oosterdam. The fix will be retrofitted into the Zuiderdam and that should eliminate the problem. The Vista Dining Experience The quality of the food served in the main dining room has certainly improved over that we have had on other earlier HAL cruises. The presentation was excellent; the food arrived hot and cooked as desired and well seasoned. The appetizers were varied and tasty and the soups were wonderful, but the salads were a bit bland. The entrees seemed to be wholly enjoyed by all at our table. Noticeably absent from the menu were any veal dishes (a favorite of mine). Flowers and Art Work This ship continues the HAL tradition of placing artwork, antiques and antique reproductions throughout the ship. Fine paintings of prior HAL ships and large pieces of art are found in the stairwells. Everything is labeled and one could spend quite a bit of time just studying the art onboard. Fresh flower arrangements are also spread throughout the public areas of the ship. Since the ship is so much larger than other HAL ships the arrangements just don't seem as numerous. The Crows Nest The Crows Nest lounge is now a truly a nice evening venue for live music as this ship has a separate disco. On other HAL ships the Crows Nest is a dual-purpose room becoming a disco late in the evening. The Zuiderdam arrangement is far superior. The Crow's Nest surrounds the forward part of deck 10 providing tremendous views during the day. Unfortunately reclining leather-covered lounge chairs that line the forward glass wall of the lounge were broken. I would think that the chairs would have to be replaced with sturdier chairs. The sides of the crows nest are decorated differently from the main area giving them a different feel from t he main lounge. These areas feature ceilings with Murano glass tiles. The Vista Lounge The Vista lounge design is much better than that of the other HAL ships. The lower level is steeply inclined to provide stadium like seating that provides excellent views for everyone except those unlucky enough to be sitting behind one the support columns of which there are more than a few. The upper level also provides pretty good sightlines. The dEcor is bold being all red and there is a fabric covered ceiling decoration that looks like a huge parachute. The stage, lighting, sound and special effects are state of the art. Unfortunately so is the music, which is all prerecorded eliminating that special feel that a live orchestra provides. The shows are good, standard production fare, a magician, a male singer and a comedian rounded out the entertainment and all were fine. Public Restrooms There seems to be a dearth of public rest rooms or perhaps there are enough but they are placed in strange locations. Many times it was simply easier to go back to the room rather than search around looking for one, which is not very convenient. What bathrooms there are were nicely decorated and provided with clean hand towels to dry your hands and even the men's rooms have small vases of flowers in them. The Queens Lounge The Queens Lounge serves as a dual-purpose room being both a lounge and movie theater. While practical it lacks the feel of a true movie theater, the seating is of the lounge type and site lines are poor from the sides as the movie screen is set too far back on the stage to be seen. However, freshly popped popcorn is still served when movies are shown and the sound system is very good. The Northern Lights Disco For those who enjoy disco the much talked about Northern Lights Disco certainly has a unique and somewhat bizarre color scheme that looks like a giant commercial for Gateway computers as all the seating and some walls have a what looks like a faux cowhide finish in black and white. But it is a real disco and was well used on our sailing. The Sports Bar A first for HAL this bar is located adjacent to the casino and since we were cruising during the playoffs it became a popular spot at night. Some complaints were made that college football games were not being shown. Instead international sports such as soccer were on the numerous boob tubes. The Elevators Unlike previous HAL ships the elevators lack fold down seats in them. I never used the seats so I don't know if this is a good or bad thing. The elevator interiors are very bold in color, which wakes you up in the morning! The glass enclosed elevators that face outward and provide ocean views are delightful and a real plus. Miscellaneous We never visited the Piano Bar but it seemed a nicely decorated room. Being nonsmokers we never visited the Oak Room, which is the cigar smokers lounge. Unlike other HAL ships there is no self-service laundry. If need be you can fill a laundry bag with dirty clothes and have them all cleaned for a flat $12 charge. Room service was excellent providing a good selection of items and was always on time. Be sure to tip the steward a dollar or two. The Service Traditional HAL service was somewhat hard to come by on this ship. The crew seemed a bit tired as they have been onboard since the beginning and seem to be getting worn down a bit. The warm and gracious service that we have found on other HAL ships was noticeably absent in most areas of Zuiderdam. However there were still some bright spots to be found, some service people that greeted you warmly, remembered your name and even from where you came from. Hopefully this will improve as fresh crew is brought aboard and the existing crew is recycled for some well earned rest. First impressions can be both misleading and/or correct. In the case of the Zuiderdam they turned out to be both, especially for those who have sailed on Holland America's other ships. Upon first entering the ship and having a quick look around one starts to wonder, "Where is the Holland America interior that I have grown to love? The colors are so much bolder and bright that you almost think that you are surely on a Carnival ship. After awhile though you begin to notice the decorator touches and finishes that make HAL what it is. The flowers are still there, the Murano glass is still there, as are the artwork, and antiques and high value finishes such as leather and suede. It's just that it takes some time to notice some of them. My fellow passengers confirmed these impressions. First time HAL cruisers loved the interior designs and those who have sailed on other HAL ships did not find some of them quite as appealing. For me the emotions and feelings about this ship are quite mixed. It has some truly great pluses and some truly great misses from a design standpoint. The plusses are the Odyssey Restaurant, a truly magnificent alternative dining venue, A Lido buffet area that does a terrific job at keeping lines small by splitting food service into six different major food stations plus two desert bars. The minuses are just as significant. The Vista Dining Room is too small and seating is very tight. Seating in the Lido is inadequate to handle the number of passengers dining there for breakfast or lunch, although this should soon be rectified. The Ocean Bar is a total flop losing all of the charm and ambiance that make the Ocean bars on other HAL ships so special. Finally the atrium is actually so small as I hesitate to call it an atrium. It seems even smaller than those on the smaller HAL fleets and should only be considered as passage between decks. Finally, did I enjoy this cruise and ship. The answer is absolutely and positively yes! While many of the comments I have made may seem negative understand that the dislikes we are a talking are a matter of degree from a very high opening standard and expectation. They should be not be misconstrued as being a total dislike or condemnation for the ship or the cruise. It is just a fact that the Zuiderdam is so different from previous HAL offerings that one cannot help but to make comparisons. Apparently even HAL has done some rethinking and the evidence can be seen in the follow-on Oosterdam and Westerdam as they have reportedly returned to a more traditional HAL interior dEcor. For the most part our cruise was delightful and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I would recommend this ship to my friends. For all cruise lines and cruise ships the bottom line is "Would I sail on this ship again?" For us the answer is yes. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2003
I realize this review is a little late, but it is one of those things that I thought I had done but haven't. Anyway, we drove to Tampa the night before the departure day. Our past cruises have included 2 Carnival, 1 Royal Caribbean, ... Read More
I realize this review is a little late, but it is one of those things that I thought I had done but haven't. Anyway, we drove to Tampa the night before the departure day. Our past cruises have included 2 Carnival, 1 Royal Caribbean, and 1 Premier Cruise Lines. Why did we choose Holland America? Well, one big reason was the price. We bought an inside guarantee from the cruise line for $423.00 including all taxes/fees, etc. Another reason was that my research demonstrated that HAL was more in line with our travel tastes. We are not 'party-hardy' people and we thought Holland America would fit the bill and it did! We had a party of six; me, my wife and child, my sister and my in-laws. For me, one of the best things about taking a cruise vacation is the anticipation of seeing the ship. I would never take a cruise on the same ship twice because I LOVE to see what all of these ships are like. They still put me in awe of how big and nice they all are. You can look at 1,000 pictures on the internet and they just don't do the ships justice. Embarkation: A very BIG positive of the embarkation was being able to park right next to the ship. This was great. While other ships had their parking across the street, the Veendam had it's parking on the same side of the street as the ship. Make sure you complete and print the embarkation/immigration form online at the HAL website and bring it with you. This will save you some time. The whole embarkation process was smooth and without any negatives. Of course, you have to wait in line, but the\at+ is expected. The Ship: The Veendam is not huge, but it is quite adequate in size. I don't know if the ship was sold out, but it did not seem crowded at all. Walking into the atrium you immediately see the huge sculpture of murano glass. I am not a modern art fan, but it is pretty and colorful. HAL ships are not nearly as gaudy and glitzy as Carnival. There are lots of brass and wood touches throughout the public areas with elegant colors such as burgundy, teal, and some earth tones. It gives the impression of restrained elegance. This is the first ship with a 2-story dining room that we have sailed on. The decor in the dining room was pretty subdued with lots of burgundy and large murals of flowers on some walls. The glass flower chandelier wasn't very impressive. It looked like just a bunch of oversized glass morning glory blooms stuck against the ceiling. One thing that I loved was all of the FRESH flower arrangements that decorated many of the public rooms. They were so beautiful and were made of real tropical flowers that made me think we were going to Hawaii. Also nice on the Veemdam is the extensive art collection. There are many statutes, paintings and historical artifacts scattered throughout the ship. A wonderful touch was the real cloth towels located in all of the public restrooms. Cleanliness was never a problem on this ship. The halls, restrooms, every room was always spotless. HAL obviously caters to a more mature clientele. I would say 75% of the passengers were 65 and over. This was a positive for me, even though I am still in my early 40's. It was quiet, calm and serene anywhere you went on the ship. That is the kind of vacation I enjoy. RELAX, RELAX, RELAX! My 5-year old daughter also loved the fact that there was hardly ever anyone in the pool. Most of the time it was just us. I guess older people don't swim much. We used the hot tubs alot and so did the other passengers. Good for the arthritis (I have it, too!). The Cabin: It was great! Very roomy, much like Carnival's in square footage, but arranged better. There was a sofa on one wall that really came in handy if you just wanted to chill while waiting for the wifey to get ready to go somewhere. The Food: The food was as good as any I have had on a cruise ship. We ate dinner in the dining room and breakfast in the buffet. Lunch was about evenly split. The Entertainment: Most of it was really good. The magician and comedienne were both excellent. Other shows were o.k. I did not miss the disco of Carnival or the vegas-style shows with nudity. The Service: Holland America has the best service we have experienced. The waiter was superb, as was our room steward. The Ports: The Grand Caymans was my favorite. We booked a stingray city tour with Captain Marvin's. It saved us at least $30.00 over the ship excursion. This was a wonderful and memorable experience. If you have never swam with stingrays you need to try it. Even my squeamish wife decided it was great. We also snorkeled on the same tour. I highly recommend Captain Marvin's. Montego Bay, Jamaica was pretty much a waste of time. We walked around the shops for a while. I bought a beautiful tablecloth. In fact, I buy one at every port we go to. There was really nothing else to do in Montego Bay. Cozumel was great, as always. We shopped and ate at a place called "Pancho's Backyard". The food was very good. Be careful if you order any drinks. We ordered our daughter a nonalcoholic pina colada and what we got had alcohol, and it had alot! We took a taxi to a beach and had a blast. Very few people were there. I can't remember the name of the beach. I think it was $15.00 each way. The taxi waited for us at the beach. Miscellaneous: We attended several of the art auctions. My sister got hooked quickly. She bid on and won several items. I bid but I didn't win. I'm just too cheap, I guess. One thing I have to find fault with is the movie theater. Although they played good movies, they were always playing at a time we were doing something else. We never got to see any of the movies. So what is the final rating of HAL? Let me just say that I would not hesitate to go again on a HAL cruise. It is one of the most relaxing cruises of my life. I bet there wasn't more than 20 kids on the ship and all that I saw were very well behaved. That is a problem I have with Carnival, it isn't the cruise line's fault, the parents should teach their children how to behave in public. Being a child is no excuse for being noisy. Well, that's all folks. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2003
First let me say that this was my first HAL cruise, but I have been on many different lines and 36 cruises since first cruising in 1987. I was very apprehensive because in the past I have seen in various ports the HAL passengers and in a ... Read More
First let me say that this was my first HAL cruise, but I have been on many different lines and 36 cruises since first cruising in 1987. I was very apprehensive because in the past I have seen in various ports the HAL passengers and in a few occasions not only did they seem to be just about one foot in the grave but also many seemed to be in very foul moods. I was very pleasantly surprised! Right from the beginning the service was efficient and in most cases excellent. Check in was very smooth and fast. No long lines whatsoever. We boarded about 1245pm and were directed to the Lido Restaurant as the cabins would not be open to passengers until 130pm, and that seemed unusual but I figured whatever. This would be the only time I knew how crowded the ship actually was. There were absolutely NO seats in the the restaurant or by the pool and that was pretty frustrating but when the cabins opened up the mass exodus began and we relaxed for the cruise. The ship is very nice and I think very nicely decorated. The atrium is very small and is NOT the focal point as it is on many other ships, in fact I rarely did anything in the atrium area. HAL has started a new 4 tier dinner seating and this was confusing to us, this is something that HAL needs to explain better so others don't miss their meals. The first seating are at 530p for the upper dining area and 600p for the lower are follows by 800p and 830p for second seating. The service in the dining room was very efficient and professional but with the Indonesian staff there was less getting to know our wait staff vs the International staff on other lines. We did try the Odyssey Restaurant and it was worth every penny of the $20 we paid the service was excellent and the food delicious, everyone should try it once you won't be disappointed! The food at the Lido was very good and the variety was excellent. I was impressed with the fresh squeezed orange juice and made to order eggs (any style, both are uncommon on many lines I have sailed on). The port were ok, I have been to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau many times. If you are into aviation then don't miss Maho Beach in St. Maarten for a great beach and airplanes really close up! It was my first visit to Half Moon Cay and that was a nice out island, second in my opinion only to Disney's Castaway Cay. The sand was the finest grain sand I have ever walked on! The stage shows were surprisingly good (I have seen so many review shows on board I was skeptical, but they really were pretty good). The staff on all levels was excellent, always helpful and friendly. A standout was Eugene a bar waiter in the Crow's Nest Lounge, he asked our name in the hours before sailing and then always greeted us everytime we went there for the rest of the cruise. Some negatives were the lack of choices on the in cabin TV and the vibration in the dining room, it was pretty loud making everyone talk louder than they should and making the overall volume in the room high. Our inside cabin was large and they under bed drawers are a great idea, making a great place for dirty clothes. IN conclusion this was an excellent cruise and we are already looking at the Zuiderdam or one of her Vista sisters for our annual November cruise in 2004. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2003
This was one of the best cruises we have ever had despite the fact that I hate the itinerary. It was our first time on Holland and now we know what we've been missing. Embarkation was a breeze. There were lots of employees and all ... Read More
This was one of the best cruises we have ever had despite the fact that I hate the itinerary. It was our first time on Holland and now we know what we've been missing. Embarkation was a breeze. There were lots of employees and all between the ages of 65 and 80. Don't know what that's about but they sure were efficient. Our cabin was a dream. Generously sized. King bed (with side tables) and the best linens I've slept on in years. A full size couch with side table and lamp and coffee table. Mini bar, 'frig, nice size TV, VCR, etc. Good size balcony. Loved that. Cruises are just not the same without a balcony! Bathroom was nice size with a whirlpool tub. The single drawback was having to move out to the living area to do my hair as my appliance plugs didn't fit in the bathroom outlets. I have since bought a set of universal plugs and won't fall victim to that again. The food was average to good with service in both the beautiful dining room and on the Lido deck excellent most of the time. The were huge urns of fresh flowers everywhere and a mammoth Christmas tree near the main staircase. Lovely. The entertainment was deplorable. There is simply no better word to describe it. With one exception, it was worse than you can imagine. We met the most wonderful people on this cruise who were having just as good a time as we were. That always makes it special. I took both a yoga and a pilates class that were each very poor. The instructors were obviously not certified. The private island is fantastic. Rugged, raw, beauty. The ports on this itinerary are way, way, way too crowded. Don't think of doing this itinerary if you want relaxed, laid back port time. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2003
This was my 11th cruise with my wife (56 & 51 years old) and my first on Holland America. I normally travel on Celebrity, RCL, and Princess. This was a 7 days cruise which took in Half Moon Cay, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and finally ... Read More
This was my 11th cruise with my wife (56 & 51 years old) and my first on Holland America. I normally travel on Celebrity, RCL, and Princess. This was a 7 days cruise which took in Half Moon Cay, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and finally Nassau. The itinerary was fine, even though we have been to all ports many times before. The weather was very good around 80 most of the time and the seas were fairly calm which made for all the ingredients of a successful cruise. The Zuiderdam is about one (1) years old, but came across as a much older ship. The vessel was cheaply built (Tinny was the word used by others) and it was apparent from the start that the crew was having a hard time keeping up with all of the repair requirements which were extensive. The ship was just put into an emergency drydock for 2 days prior to this cruise at Newport News, Virginia but several of the crew members told me that few of the problems were fixed. The problems included broken public bathrooms; paint scraping above and below the surface; broken Yogurt and drink machines (Constantly); electrical problems in the private suites and problems with getting hot water. Virtually everyone on the ship encountered these problems. In addition the ship was poorly designed and poorly built. The architect built a ship that looked like it was made for the 1950's with tacky colors and design. None of the fine art work or teak work was showing on this ship which are a trade mark of Holland America. All of these problems were compounding by the fact that the crew did not clean the boat in the public areas and we found constantly dirty balconies, carpets, bathrooms, and other common areas. Other ships you constantly see the staff painting and cleaning and this was never apparent on this ship. The two swimming pools were the smallest in the industry making the 2 hours set aside for laps every day a matter for jokes. The spa pool was an extra $ 11.00 per day compared to being free on Celebrity. In the private cabins their was inadequate drawer space and the beds were hard as rocks. The bathrooms were made cheaply with a plastic shower curtain instead of glass. No bathrobes were offered which has become a standard with comparable rated cruise lines. For those that like to workout in the Gym and spa this also left a lot to be desired. The equipment was very basic and limited compared with similar sized ships. I think this was partly due to the very old crowd that normally cruises on Holland America. Walkers and wheel chairs were everywhere blocking anyone who wanted to walk quickly. To Holland America's credit they do work hard to please these customers, but this also scares away younger cruises below 70. This was definitely a cruise for the 75/90 crowd. On the positive side the ship provided some great entertainment with a very fine comedian (Tom Drake); an excellent singer (Claude Eric); and two very good production shows with a great cast of dancers and singers with excellent costumes. These shows ranked right up with the best we have seen on cruises. The food was very good and hot, but the service was inconsistent. We ate at the early seating at 6:15 pm since the late seating at 8:30 pm was much to late considering some people took almost 2 hours to be served at dinner! Some nights the service was fast at dinner and other nights our servers seem to just disappear. We liked the fresh squeezed orange juice every morning and the place settings at each table in the upstairs Lido Restaurant was very nice. I also liked that you could get a snack almost anytime in this restaurant and their was a nice ice cream bar with a variety of flavors at no extra charge. The ship provided fresh fruit in our balcony stateroom which was a nice touch and a daily limited newspaper was delivered to your cabin every morning. All public bathrooms had cloth towels in plentiful supply at all times which is not always the case with other cruise lines. During days at sea we were often bored during the afternoons. Holland America has very little in the way of exciting activities unless you consider playing cards and bingo as enough. Myself and my wife both read 2 books since we had so little alternate stimulation and even the movie theatre broke down twice during the voyage. Overall the good food and entertainment could not overcome the poor design and condition of the ship. We heard this loud and clear from the other passengers including one couple who were veterans of 35 cruises with Holland American. The notoriously famous large cabins were non existing on these new class of ships of Holland America and we frankly thought out loud that the changes were a result of Carnivilization of the fleet. In other words maximum the profit of carnival at the expense of a quality cruise. I would say that better then 70% of the passengers on this cruise said 'Never again' on this ship or Holland American. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2004
Traveled with six other people. It was our sixth cruise in as many years. Had previously been with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess cruise lines. The Volendam was a complete disappointment. The food was poor to average. Not a ... Read More
Traveled with six other people. It was our sixth cruise in as many years. Had previously been with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess cruise lines. The Volendam was a complete disappointment. The food was poor to average. Not a single meal could be called memorable in a positive manner. The entertainment was unimaginative. One night's entertainment consisted of a ventriloquist, another night was a pianist. The "special" Indonesian crew staff night was indescribable. Even the bingo board was broken for a day or two. For two days the ship smelled of raw sewage. The captain announced that they were having problems with the ship's waste management system. Toilet flushing was on again - off again. The seventh day out, all toilets on the sixth floor were out of use. Twice, I was grossly overcharged for purchases from on-board shops. Bought one watch - was charged for two. Bought three photographs - was charged for fourteen. However, the crew and staff were excellent. We all agreed that this would be our final cruise with Holland America. Had mixed feelings about the shore excursions. Swimming with the stingrays in Nassau was the highlight of the trip. However, swimming in the ocean on Dominica (where the sewage runs right into the ocean) was disgusting. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2004
Eastern Caribbean (Jan 4-11/2004). We have had five past cruises on HAL, and while this was a good cruise, it was "off" from past experiences with HAL on other ships. We particularly didn't like the "nickel & ... Read More
Eastern Caribbean (Jan 4-11/2004). We have had five past cruises on HAL, and while this was a good cruise, it was "off" from past experiences with HAL on other ships. We particularly didn't like the "nickel & diming" that occurred that had not been part of past HAL experiences (i.e. wine tasting price was up from $5 to $7.50, but you couldn't apply that fee to a bottle of wine as on past cruises; $.75/min for internet usage which hardly anyone took advantage of; soliciting of drinks in the Lido Restaurant; etc). Pluses included: a nice B cabin with large bathroom (though the balcony was small), Lido food was very good, good service by the staff generally (some cruise staff for activities were a bit testy), embarkation was handled smoothly and we got on the ship by noon; the Sport's Bar was a nice addition; pre-selecting shore excursion on HAL's web site. The ship layout seemed cramped in the public areas, though the casino and Crow's Nest lounge were large. The Vista Lounge had columns that hindered views of the stage. The shows were typical, but the HAL lead singers were too full of themselves which was iratating. The Queen's Lounge was used for movies, but the chairs in the front were higher than the back lounges so sight lines were difficult. Meals in the main dining room (Vista Dining Room) were fairly ordinary and the portions (particularly vegetables) were small, though the presentation of food was excellent. Food quality seemed to improve during the week. Passengers could also ask for more and it was provided with no problem. Tables were fine as long as you weren't at an oval table that had 6 people and should have had 4. We take issue with charging for "Espresso coffee" in the Windstar Cafe and the new exclusive dining room for an extra $20/person. The onboard activities were good and offered a variety of choices for the passengers. The library had a small selection of books and games and again, there was a charge (though refundable) to check out books. The decor was "interesting" and adjusted to the "wild" colors by the third day. The Piano Bar was a bit weird for such a venue, in grays and black. All the pianos on the ship were electronic (except the piano never played in the Lido Restaurant), and particularly in the Piano Bar there should be a "real" piano. In discussion with other past HAL passengers, it was felt by everyone we talked with that this ship was a "little less" than they had experienced on other HAL cruises. We hope that HAL will raise the level of this ship to what we have experienced before and certainly hope that they have not regressed backwards on all their ships. We have been so satisfied/loyal in the past to HAL that we have been afraid to switch and not receive the same cruise vacation, but we think that for our next cruise we will try another cruise line. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2004
PLANNING After considering several lines for our 16th anniversary celebration, my partner Philip and I decided that we would give HAL a try and booked for this cruise. We were both looking forward to the sailing since neither of us had ... Read More
PLANNING After considering several lines for our 16th anniversary celebration, my partner Philip and I decided that we would give HAL a try and booked for this cruise. We were both looking forward to the sailing since neither of us had sampled HAL and felt it would be a good fit for our lifestyle. Even though we live in Houston and had had a wonderful cruise on RCI's Rhapsody of the Seas (out of Galveston) earlier in 2003, we wanted to try a different line and hopefully find one to call home. We had a great experience with our travel agent (I will be happy to send the name and URL to anyone who'd like to have it) and were pleased with the price we paid. We found the agency after doing some reading on the boards and I noticed several posts concerning this particular agency. I went to their website and was amazed at how much lower their prices were than HAL and several other sites. Even though there was a discrepancy from the posted itinerary on some of the online sites we had previously researched (they had shown an extra sea day on this sailing) we decided to stick with the ship and date since it dovetailed nicely with our holiday plans and available travel window. I would advise all readers and less experienced (and even some more experienced) travelers to pay close attention to this caveat: the itinerary information is apparently incorrect with some regularity at one of the major online booking sites. Plan well but always double check information that is critical to your success quotient. Fortunately, the extra stop was only a half day and didn't ruin the plan for us. PRE-CRUISE: Because I have been in the travel business (airline) for most of my post-adolescent life, I tend towards planning for the unexpected. That said, we opted to fly down to Ft. Lauderdale one day early just to be able to relax and not have the stresses and possibilities of real upset with a missed cruise. Once again, information on CC was helpful to us in making our plans. Several posters and responders had talked about possibilities for best combination of amenities, location and price for the Port Everglades area and the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 came up often enough for us to want to try that. After getting some good advice from BurBunny and other posters about using Priceline to bid for a lower rate than the $249 per night the hotel wanted through standard booking procedures, we were able to drastically reduce that with a successful bid of $80.00 for our stay. The hotel was fine, the location convenient and it worked well for us. It is a good idea to remember that not all Hyatt Hotels are created equal. Hyatt House, Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt can be as different as day and night. I had only stayed at Grand Hyatt locations before so initially the hotel was a bit of a letdown. But, at the end of the day, the price and satisfaction ratio worked well and the staff were all very accommodating. CRUISE DAY - EMBARKATION: We woke up early on Sunday and had a light breakfast at the hotel. We had planned to take a taxi to the ship but when we got to the front of the hotel, there were none to be had. The Bell Captain arranged quickly for us to be driven over in the hotel van. Unfortunately, our drive had some missteps along the way and even did some drive through at the RCI pier to troll for passengers which consumed a lot of our time. Nonetheless, we did make it to pier at 11:30 and got in line to enter the terminal. This was our first experience in Ft. Lauderdale so we had no expectations. Apparently Pier 29 is not the best place to deal with check-in and embarkation. Crowd control was a mess. Upon entering there were two Passenger Service Reps in red coats who were misdirecting passengers with gusto! In hindsight it's funny. At the time, it was a little maddening. At 11:30 the lines had already snaked through this gymnasium-like structure and to the front door. Fortunately, we were able to ferret out a line for the Suites and proceeded to step into it. We were only about 6 or 7 deep in that line. We thought it would only take 10-15 minutes at most. It took almost a full hour just to get to the check-in agent. She was a doll and very capable. Because we had everything completed, out and ready, we were through with her in two shakes and on our way to the ship. Also, since there has been some question about old vs. new - the credit card registration and all of that is handled right at check-in along with the security picture. The single card was complete and valid as a license to board, bed and buy. We politely bypassed the "welcome aboard" photo and made our way to the ship. They did give us a gold sticker that meant absolutely nothing to anyone. Ever. I still don't know what that was supposed to do other than make us look like spelling-bee winners! ONBOARD: I suppose I should have known better, but I really did want to be "wowed" as soon as we boarded. Unfortunately, there is no white-gloved steward to welcome and escort. There was a very sullen person pointing in the general direction of the elevator. We took the hint and hightailed it into the first sliding door we came to and pushed 9 to begin our exploration and visit the Lido to await the "cabin ready" announcement. The Lido was packed with people and belongings. It was extremely uncomfortable from just about every perspective. Philip took the opportunity to go the Neptune Lounge and sign us up for a cabana at Half Moon Cay. We managed to make our way to a serving station for iced tea and tried to find a quiet space near the pool area to wait. Afterwards, we had the good fortune to meet a very nice couple from San Francisco there and we chatted until we were able to go to our respective cabins. We went back the way we came to go to the elevator and down to 5, Verandah Deck. Lo and behold, when the elevator stopped and the door opened, there was indeed a white-gloved steward.... walking quickly away from the elevators. I had to laugh ... but clearly we could find our way without assistance. After all, being welcomed aboard by a gracious steward is only a "nice to have" after all. For those of you who have not had a cabin at the extreme rear of the ship it is a long walk. With no scenery to break up the monotony, the hallways seem incredibly long. But it was great for building up the anticipation! CABIN: We had wanted to try the suite experience since it looked like the best way to get a nice oversized balcony and the kind of privacy we both appreciate. We opted for the Aft Suite - 5168 on Verandah deck and were pleased as punch when we walked inside. The welcoming bottle of champagne, the bowl of fruit, flowers and an additional bottle of wine that was sent by our travel agent were all there to welcome us in to a temporary home. Who needs white-gloved stewards? The Aft Suites have had a lot of comment (including my own questions) and here's my $.02: While the literal square footage is indeed about 30 square feet smaller than the side S cabins, the HUGE (really - over 300 sq. feet) balcony far outweighed that loss of indoor maneuvering room. For those who are really wanting to compare, the Verandah Deck Aft Suites do have the most interior square footage of the Aft Suites. 365sf vs. 393 in the side suites. Other Aft Suites range (according to deck) down to about 320sf I believe. You will find divergent views about the Aft Suites. I think some of that stems from the location of the occupant and the relative space comparison. You can find out the actual dimensions for each of these from the HAL site or by doing a quick pseudo-booking on Expedia. The layout was great for us with plenty of closet space. More drawers would be a plus but there was plenty of space overall. There are also two drawers at the foot of the bed (we had ours already assembled into a King) for extra bedding or whatever you might need to stow there. There are sufficient light switches strategically placed so that you can manage your cabin's ambience fairly easily from just about any point in the room. Oddly, the lamp nearest the TV can only be turned off at that location. Oh, and the TV/DVD/CD/RADIO set-up is easy to operate. The complete movie library is in the black notebook. DVD check-out is easy to arrange and there is a HUGE selection! I checked out the bathroom and found it to be eminently functional. It is boring beyond belief. It has absolutely no snap. That's only an opinion and from a person who has a house filled with deep chocolate, brocaded walls, etc - so take it for what it's worth. I do think it's a little odd though that RCI manages to increase the posh quotient considerably once you hit the lower level suite categories - even their B/GS manages to have a nice wood-based, marble-topped sink and vanity area. But it was functional and roomy. The shower is not huge but does work well and although we did not make use of the whirlpool tub, it is there and seems reasonably large. One good laugh was the hair dryer placement in the make-up/vanity area leading to the bathroom. HINT: Open the drawer halfway, reach in and pull up and twist to get the thing out. You will not be able to open the drawer and take the dryer out normally otherwise. Oh .. And the toilet might be in a delay cycle. Be patient .. The tanks do some refill action and then the flushing action will work shortly. So push the button and don't worry. I believe that during the cruise some folks along the back had a little more difficulty than we did with that process but ours was fine. In all other respects, the cabin was quite comfortable. It was not luxurious in any way but it was very comfortable and perfectly suited for restful days at sea. I do believe if I had not seen some pictures prior to this cruise, I would have felt a bit down-market in terms of the choices of appointments. This is the highest category of suite before Penthouse and, personally, I think it could have been a little better dressed. I do realize that this is entirely subjective and probably most folks would simply call it "understated". But everything worked well and was in good order. I especially like having the service bar area stocked with extra champagne and wine glasses, salt and peppers, etc. They all came in handy. The balcony was the highpoint for us. There were two full length teak deck chairs, an additional two largish wicker chairs with ottomans and a teak table with four chairs. And then there was the dance floor! On the side portion of the balcony, there was another 20+ foot run, almost 6' deep. This was far and away the highlight of my cruise. We did have guests in cabin several times during the cruise and the balcony easily handled the needs of social interaction, serving of goodies and still with plenty of room to sit, visit or just lean on the railings. Truly an outstanding piece of floating real estate! After we had some time to get acquainted with our cabin, our room steward, Hari, came to introduce himself and send greetings from the prior guests! That was great fun! Unfortunately, he had to leave us in St. Maartin due to terrible family emergency. It turns out that while he was on this assignment, he became a father to a son. His son died before he ever got to meet him. That was terribly sad. What is amazing is that we did not know this until another crewmember happened to share the story. He had continued to do his work with great grace without ever hinting at the extent of his own personal tragedy. NOISE, VIBRATION and HARSHNESS Nope. Not an issue. On our long leg down from Nassau to Sint Maartin we had some seas that were apparently classified as "rough" with waves of +/- 12'. Not even a wiggle back there for us. In fact, the only time Philip got queasy (okay sick) was when we were more mid-ship and he returned to the cabin to stabilize! It may be that someone else would interpret ambient noise as difficult (I did after all spend some of my airline years working inside jets), but even Philip said that he didn't find it excessive in any way. I hope this might take some apprehension down a notch for folks who might be concerned. DINING We opted for the Odyssey on our first night out. I'm glad that we did experience it for ourselves but I would not do it again. Our waiter and his assistant did a perfectly acceptable job. The food was prepared well enough. Nothing was wrong. But somehow for us there was no "sparkle" to really make this more special. Rather than pick it apart I will leave it where it was for us - utterly adequate. I'm sure other people may have a different experience. I do not have a negative thing to say about it so please, gentle reader, do not interpret this as a slam. But the Lido is another story. We had thought that the boarding chaos was just that - peculiar to boarding. Unfortunately, we found it to be chaotic at all but the leanest times and consequently never had more than a passing snack there during extreme off hours. The layout should, in theory, work well. But there is simply not enough room for the number of people who show up at meal times. From the aggressively pushy (physically - and I'm not exaggerating) to the downright surly service personnel and the inability to move around with any sense of comfort, the place was just a disaster for us. We could find no reason whatsoever to endure that experience and took advantage of room service for breakfast nearly every day. The Vista Dining Room is lovely with the lights not on bright (as they are on casual nights). We had table 77 upstairs on the starboard rail. We were served by Hari and Januar and we had some jolly good laughs at the table. We were frequently visited by Asep, a head steward and a Henricus who served as Maitre d'. One night Henricus brought a lovely bottle of wine to our table with his compliments. That was very thoughtful. Also, on the last night of the cruise, he discovered while were talking that I was looking forward to my second cruise if, for no other reason, to get one of the tiles. He went away and returned with 3 of them (in two different designs) wrapped for us to take with us. We thought that was very kind! We had a very nice discussion with Henricus also about the service flow in the dining room. I asked him specifically if he felt they had made good planning decisions in the layout of the dining facilities as it related to their service requirements. He related to me the methods on the other ships vs. the Vista class and, unfortunately, it is not nearly as easy for the staff. The workload is made more difficult (which is how this translates into service irregularities) by the placement and utilization of the serving stations and number of assigned assistant waiters. With everything said about meals on the boards I expected to be disappointed. Instead I was surprised at how much I enjoyed most every aspect of the meal service. I'm sure part of that was the fun we had with people near us at other tables (families, other couples, etc.) and our service staff. I especially enjoyed Dutch night and it was the one meal I looked forward to least! We truly enjoyed all of our meals (including some of the Jeanne Jones choices) in the Vista Dining room and enjoyed seeing that most passengers did indeed respect the suggested dress for the evenings. It added some sparkle and a feeling of not being "run of the mill". THE NEPTUNE LOUNGE After the wondrous verandah ... (yes, we liked it that much!) .. My next favorite thing on the ship was the availability and staff of the Neptune Lounge. Gary and Michelle (sp?) were on staff throughout the cruise and could not have been kinder or more accommodating. Sail7Seas, Peaches and others have not exaggerated when they say that essentially all of your needs can be handled in this one place. And it is also a mid-ship respite from the day ... a nice place to visit for a morning muffin, lattE and a chat or a little nosh in the late afternoon. Quiet, serene and beautifully functional. Really an outstanding attribute of the Suite life on board! MY THIRD FAVORITE LOCATION? : THE CASINO! If anyone spent anytime at all in the casino the heard the dulcet tones of the jackpot bells going off with great regularity! This casino was MUCH more generous overall than that of our RCI ship. Several times EVERY day there were winners of significant jackpots! I even had the good fortune to win a few of the smaller ones. And the casino highlight for me was winning a consolation prize T-Shirt in the slot tournament! FYI: The nickel machines are HOT HOT HOT! But you might consider the "max bet" button to get the most benefit! THE REST OF THE SHIP SO now that you know what we did do, you might see clearly what we didn't do ... dining and miscellaneous night life are not as critical to Philip and I as some of the other nighttime and relaxation areas. Except for brief visits to see them we did not use the pools, hot tubs, etc. Nor did we spend any appreciable time in the other lounges. Philip enjoyed dancing a bit in the Northern Lights disco. If you like meeting crew, this is a good place for it late at night. PORTS Nassau: crowded and hot. Since I had never been and Philip didn't care for it, we only shopped a bit and strolled around. I imagine it might have some level of enchantment if we could have stayed longer and ventured further. It was interesting to see how much like a mystical place the Atlantis looks from the vantage point of the balcony on leaving port! St. Maartin: We took a can directly to Orient Beach and spent some time on a lounger in the sun and played in the surf. It was crowded but very pleasant. Afterwards, we visited Front Street in Philipsburg to make some money in the Diamond Casino (kind of dark and dank but it paid well!) and then strolled the jewelry shops. We bought two rings that we were VERY happy with and returned to the ship. I don't do well with large crowds in general so we tend to want to get back to peace and quiet fairly quickly. Tortola: Did we go there? I slept through most of it. Philip was able to go with some very nice folks from CC on their charter and he absolutely LOVED Virgin Gorda and Peter Island. Clearly this is a place best used as a launching point for water-based activities. I had no expectations and no disappointments. Half Moon Cay: What a lovely place! I would have been just as happy to have had this as my only port and the rest of time on the ocean. We took advantage of the cabaña option and enjoyed the "pink" one immensely. Because wait staff were on hand to bring food to us and the cabaña came stocked with cold beverages and various kinds of munchies, we never had to venture far. This was by far the best port activity to me!!! I can see why people rave about HMC so much. The water was clear and perfect, the sun just right and the company splendid! TIPS We tipped. A lot. And we were quite happy to do it. As suggested we did have a lot of singles to use for the bar staff and had pre-planned others with the minimum suggested (according to this and other boards) by stuffing personal cards to write our "thank you" on before we left home. Then we added amounts and people as the cruise went along in relation to our interaction. This was the first time we have ever tipped the Maitre' D but it was also the first time we have so much as a "how do you do" from one. Tipping in this cruise was a real pleasure. I highly recommend it! DISEMBARKATION If our embarkation was Dante's ninth ring of hell, then surely our disembarkation was its polar opposite! We had the letter S for disembarkation. We woke, went to the Vista Dining Room for breakfast and then returned to our cabin to wait for our letter to be called. We were the first group called. From the time we left the cabin until we were at the curb in a cab was less than 20 minutes - inclusive of immigration and baggage recovery! We were at the airport at 9:30 AM. I tend to be one of those folks that recognizes when the party's over, it's time to go home so I was glad that it was not a long and miserable experience. The S letter was very helpful so that is yet another reason to only book a suite for the future! FINAL NOTES For those who wanted more details about ports and certain other areas of the ship, my apologies. This is how we spent our cruise vacation. It worked well for us and we loved it. Would we cruise HAL again? Yep. Would we cruise HAL in less than a suite? Almost certainly not. We are fond of the quiet areas, the spacious balconies, the Neptune Lounge services and some of the things that go with the suite life. So much so that the cruise vacation for us is typified by that far more than the pools or the ports or the bars and lounges. I would definitely give the experience an 8.5 and a solid 9 if the embarkation had not been so hard to overcome. That's it for my summary. I know that other people have different viewpoints and I hope that this one was helpful in some way. My thanks to the many people who take the time to post their experiences so that we can learn. This is my version of giving some back to the boards. Happy Cruising to all! Cheers, Steve in Houston. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2004
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside...an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. ... Read More
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside...an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. This was our 17th cruise and second on HAL. The ship is probably not the right one for the trip. They need a faster ship to cover the transit time, on time. The first four sailing from Norfolk have returned 4, 3, 5, and 2.5 hours later respectively than the scheduled 8am arrival. The long sail from St. Thomas, the last port, to Norfolk, at 19.5 knots just cannot be done in time if any little ripple in the seas or wind occurs, and it usually does. As a result the ship does not leave until, typically 7 or 8pm when departure is scheduled for 5pm. In fact, no one can get aboard until, typically, 3pm, and many several hours later. Knowing the variability of arrival, we monitored it via a local webcam at http://www.wvec.com/cams/norfolk.html. It did not arrive until 1pm on Feb 21. There were shuttle buses from a parking area available, or porters at the curb for those arriving by car. The terminal, at Norfolk's maritime museum, Nauticus, adjacent to the battleship Wisconsin, does a good job of handling inbound and outbound passengers despite the fact that it is not really a cruise ship terminal. Once we entered Nauticus our cabin assignment was checked and we were assigned a boarding number. We arrived at 3:15pm and received number 34. We were then given free admission to the museum, and HAL had sodas available. It was very interesting touring the museum and the battleship and made the time pass quickly. Perhaps not so for those who had arrived at the pier at noon. At 5, (4 hours after arrival), the suite passengers and the first boarding numbers were called for embarkation processing. It only took about two hours for them to board all the passengers, a remarkable feat. No credit card was necessary at check-in, as they provided a form and simply asked that we present it at the purser's office within 24 hours with the credit card information. I had been informed by phone that my cabin guarantee was an upgrade from Cat H to Cat E cabin 728. In fact, we found out at check-in that our cabin was 782, and the bags had the wrong cabin on them. We were very happy to find that in the 3 ½ hours between the time we dropped them off and the time we got to our cabin, they had corrected the bag tags and all luggage was in the cabin. Nicely done! The lifeboat drill was delayed until 10:15am on the first day at sea due to the later boarding. The cabin was on A deck, the lowest passenger deck, exactly amidships on the port side, and overlooked the pier. At 182 sq ft, it was ample, with convertible twin beds, a room desk/dressing table, with 8 large drawers, a sofa bed, adjustable height coffee table...perfect for room service...and a hassock. There were four closets, and the bath had a full tub. The only amenities were shampoo and lotion, other than soap. The TV carries no local TV in any port other than CNN, but does have nearly first run movies running on two channels, TNT movies, and some series like ER. There are the usual port information and cruise video channels, and the ship channel that alternated between maps of the voyage, weather, and ship's information and deck plans. Room service is available 24/7, but with a limited menu at night. I had preordered, by phone call to HAL customer service in Seattle, a liter of Beefeater's which came with an obligatory 3 cans of tonic water. It was not there on arrival, but was delivered the next morning and there were very willing to exchange the tonic for some soft drinks my wife preferred. We also packed a case of wine in a wine shipping box, and checked it in with baggage. It arrived fine. Those attempting to carry hard liquor on board had it confiscated at the pier. Most had gotten the word of this recent change in HAL policy. All liquor purchased in the onboard shop and in all ports was gathered at the gangway and stored till the last afternoon when it was delivered to the cabin. We asked the cabin steward to keep one bottle of champagne iced and to provide a second bucked ice daily. He not only quickly accommodated us, but also provided two champagne glasses. Since we had requested second sitting, fortunately since we didn't get aboard till a little after 7pm, I checked the diagram outside the dining room on deck 8 and found that our table was for two, as requested, table 139. I can say, without hesitation, that this probably the best dining team we have ever had. The headwaiter was present constantly, the waiter was very efficient, and the assistant waiter outdid them all. If we wanted to try a second entrEe, they brought just the meat or fish without the side dishes. On lobster night, we requested two tails and the plates arrived with two tails on them, and the waiter later walked around offering more from a platter. Every night among the dessert choices was a flambE, which included bananas foster, crepe suzette, pear flambE, baked Alaska with cherries jubilee on top, and so on. Entrees included such items as halibut, grilled prawns, rack of lamb, filet mignon twice, crab legs, chateaubriand, orange roughy, lamb chops, Dutch recipes on Dutch night, lobster tails, cod, salmon, and prime rib. On the night we left St. Maarten, they also held a BBQ at the Lido Pool with steaks and king salmon from 6-8pm and offered happy hour prices on select beer and shots. Breakfast in the Lido includes the usual mix of fruits, cereals and cafeteria hot table, but also includes eggs to order and an omelet station. Staff were eager to assist with trays and help with beverages. In a few days we noticed some even called us by name. Lunch in the Lido has standard cafeteria fare, but included such items as a stir-fry station on several days, pizza, and a sandwich station for made to order sandwiches. By the Lido Pool is a station open from 11-5pm offering hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken breast, and a hot table with tacos, burritos and fajita fixings. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room is only on the upper level, on deck 8. The dining room offers eggs benedict every day I was happy to discover. Casual dinner is also available in the Lido. As you may surmise from this summary, we were very pleased with the food on the Maasdam, with one exception. On "Dutch Night" we opted for a reservation in the Pinnacle Grill, the featured specialty restaurant, with a $20 per person surcharge ($10 on sailing day). We had a reservation for 8:30pm and arrived a few minutes early. Forty minutes after we were seated they finally took our order. By then the wine steward, who had held the wine tasting the first day at sea, had opened the wine I had brought to dinner and helped himself to a large glass without asking instead of the tasting cup. Butter arrived 20 minutes after the bread. While water from a pitcher was adequate in the regular dining room, the Pinnacle poured bottled water, at extra charge, without asking. An hour and 20 minutes later, still only on the second course, I tried to order another bottle of wine. They were out of 15 wines. I went back to the cabin and brought another of my own. The presentation was fine and the food was good, but no better than the dining room food. There were huge time gaps between courses, and they tried to explain it away that every order was prepared from scratch to order and takes time. The restaurant was less than half full by that time and that excuse doesn't fly. Gracefully, they said they wouldn't charge the corkage fee for my wine because of the slow service. We enjoy dancing before dinner and after shows. The Ocean Bar on Deck 8 each evening had a trio playing traditional dance music, and before dinner hot appetizers were brought to each table. The Crows Nest on Deck 11 had a solo musician who played danceable music until about midnight, when the DJ took over, playing until ?? It was not very crowded at any hour. Show entertainment was a weakest link. The singers, dancers, costumes, and production were far inferior to almost every other ship we have sailed. Fortunately there were only three production shows in 10 days. Other nights offered singers (Gail Nelson with Broadway experience, and Bill Burns a very talented impressionist and singer), comedians and variety artists, and an Indonesian crew talent show. Every evening there were two shows, one after each dinner seating, except on the last night both shows were before dinner. I was happy to find that HAL was not aggressive in pushing the daily tropical drinks. They were more visible on a few days, but nothing like we have experienced on other lines. The deck waiters circulated with iced tea or lemonade daily in the afternoon, and high tea is available. Dress code was as follows: Day 1 Casual Day 2 At Sea, First Formal night, and it was widely observed Day 3 After Half Moon Cay, Casual Day 4 At Sea, Second Formal night Day 5 San Juan, Casual Day 6 St Maartin, Casual Day 7 Antigua, Casual Day 8 St Thomas, Informal (coat and tie/cocktail dress) Day 9 At Sea, 3rd Formal Night Day 10 At Sea, Casual The photographers were available for portraits on formal nights and there were essentially no lines, amazingly. On the first formal night, the Captain's Welcome Aboard Dinner, they had a receiving line leading into the pre-dinner reception, and there were two portrait stations everyone passed through, and one snapshot with the Captain. They did offer a free cruise video if you purchased four 8x10 pictures during the cruise, and we took advantage of it, as we could see from the video which was run each day on TV that we were also in some of the shots. The video was a $34 value. Port Days: Half Moon Cay. We arrived about 1 hour later than scheduled due to the late departure from Norfolk. The first tenders left at 1245. At 1:45 we went down for tender tickets. At 3pm we got on a tender. We returned on the last tender at 5:30. The process was so slow that the Rotterdam lent several tenders to help shuttle passengers. A strictly personal observation was that a more elderly passenger make up made for slower movement into and out of tenders. As usual we enjoyed the beach and snorkeling (I bring my own gear), and there were many more fish where the floats met the breakwater than I had ever seen there. The water is so clear you can see fish in thigh-deep water without a mask. They even nipped at my wife's knees, so I suspect they have been fed there. The sea day between these two ports was Fat Tuesday, and the dinner show was Party Gras. Advertised as a Mardi Gras from Bangkok to Calgary to Brazil, it turned out to be their standard show. However, at 11pm in the Crow's Nest they held a costume Mardi Gras Party with Hurricanes at happy hour prices. Having chanced they would have some celebration we brought masks about 20 sets of beads and two umbrellas. My wife Karen won the "Miss Mardi Gras" for original costume: Her formal beads, feathered mask, and an open parasol. She won a bottle of champagne, and I received a silver 8x10 picture frame just for participating. Lots of fun, with dancing snacks afterward. Best crowd of the cruise in the disco. San Juan. We arrived at 7:30am on Ash Wednesday, and US Immigration held mandatory immigration checks beginning at 7:30. Lines moved quickly. The ship was cleared about 9:30am. We went back to bed for nap and left the ship at 11:40. We took the free trolley bus from the stop across the street from the pier. We rode past El Morro, which we had visited on other trips and rode into Old San Juan to a stop near the old Cathedral. We were in time for noon Mass and distribution of ashes. We then walked to Hard Rock Cafe, only to find it closed for street construction. We found there was now a Senor Frog's in San Juan, behind the Windham Hotel a block from the pier, and we walked there to enjoy lunch, stand on a few chairs, and have the usual raucous time there. We walked from there to the Dept of Information building on the waterfront and partook of the free Puerto Rican rum drinks, and then walked back to the ship. Underway at 6pm. St Maarten/Martin. We arrived in one of our favorite ports at 7am and the ship was cleared at 8am. We went ashore at 9pm, rented a car at the end of the pier with no reservation, a Toyota Camry with a/c for $45 all day. Due back by 5:45pm. We drove past the airport to see Maho Beach where the planes pass very low overhead, past Simpson Beach and a very resorty area, and found Cupacoy Beach. The beach is down a stairway along sandstone cliffs, with sandy beach. It is, however, clothing optional despite being on the Dutch side, just short of the boundary from the French side. Water was affected by wind, but the snorkeling was good. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and drinks available from a vender at the top of the cliff. We left in time for lunch and drove into Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin. As we have been here on Sundays before, when everything was closed, we were looking forward to lunch in a French sidewalk cafe and some shopping. We parked in the free public lot, and ate at La Vie en Rose, complete with french bread and wine. However, French St. Martin is using the Euro, which is currently $1.25US to 1 Euro, and things are expensive. They don't make much effort to cater to tourist trade. There is a flea market across the street and we purchased T-shirts for the kids there. Then on to Grand Case beach, where I had previously seen many large starfish last year. The beach is deserted and sandy, but without facilities except in the waterfront restaurants. Unfortunately, only one starfish this time. Then we drove on to Orient Beach and spent an hour there before heading back at 5pm to Philipsburg. We returned the car at 5:40pm and asked them to shuttle us back into town, which they did. Shops were on the verge of closing, despite the fact that Maasdam and the Radisson ship were in port till 11pm. Some folks went back out to casino's after dinner. We did catch the Guavaberry Emporium in time, and on the main shopping street purchases our liquor for several dollars per bottle below the prices aboard Maasdam in the duty free shop. Cigarettes were also $1 per carton cheaper there. Fortunately for me our favorite jewelry shops were closed. Antigua: Arrived at 7am. We had purchased tickets to the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Excursion and reported to the Rembrandt Lounge at 8:40. We left at 9am, and walked a short distance to the Tamiami Catamaran, which made about a 30 minute run to Paradise Reef in deep water. Water entry was from the boat into deep water, so this is an excursion for experience snorkelers. There reef coral and the fish were impressive. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we reboarded and set sail for Runaway Beach where they anchored in 10 feet of water and some chose to swim to the beach. My wife does snorkel but the bar was opened and never-ending strong and tasty rum punch was available, as well as soft drinks and other liquors. After about 30 minutes we left and returned to the pier at 1230pm. There is a duty free mall at the end of the pier in St John's. While me wife napped I did succumb to the lure of a nice ruby, which they mounted as a pendant on gold chain at a jewelry shop for my wife's birthday present. We sailed at 6pm. St. Thomas: Arrived at 7am, berthed at the pier at Havensight, and Immigration checks again at 7:30am. We were permitted to leave the ship as soon as we individually had been cleared. We were on the pier at 8:20 and on the way in a taxi, $16 for two, to Red Hook. We caught the 9am ferry, $3 per person each way, to Cruz Bay on St John's. The ride takes only 13 minutes. We took a taxi, $4 per person, from the pier to Trunk Bay, National Park ($4 per person admittance), arriving about 9:35. No crowds yet. There is in underwater snorkeling trail marked leading to an island where there was plenty of coral and plenty of fish. I really enjoyed it. The park also has lockers, showers, restrooms, and concessions, including equipment rental. We caught a taxi at 11:30 back to Cruz Bay and took the noon ferry back to St Thomas. We arrived back at the Havensight mall a little after 12:30 and had plenty of time to shop before returning to the ship by 2pm. The ship sails at 3pm for the long trip home. Two ladies, arriving late, after lines were cast off, reportedly were fined about $3,000. There was a sailaway party on deck, the only one of the cruise. The cruise director didn't think the passengers would be interested. We would have been. It was in the 80's and HOT. In fact, we had no rain the entire cruise in any port. By the next morning a weather front 1,000 miles wide had intervened along our route while East of Cuba. By mid day 12-15 foot waves, with some swells to 25 feet and 32 knots of wind from the north caused the ship to plow along, banging head on into the waves. The water in the pools was leaping out and the pools were closed. It was still in the 70's and partly sunny. The Mariners Society repeaters reception was held at noon in the Rembrandt Lounge in the bow of the ship, and it was all people could do to walk up to receive recognition and a photo. Many of the people recognized for many cruises on HAL were elderly and having a rough time moving around. It was a relaxed day, however, and great movies were running in the theatre and on TV, such as Seabicuit, Under the Tuscan Sun, and others. I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, too. Dancing that evening was a bit tricky due to the motion of the ocean. By the morning of the last day at sea, the weather had calmed, the water was like glass as we passed the Carolinas, and weather was still in the upper 60's and partly sunny. By the last day the ship was out of wines, bagels, lemons and limes. Luggage did not have to be out until 1am. We celebrated my wife's birthday at dinner. We were scheduled to arrive at 8am, but the captain had announced the day before that we'd be in about 10:30, which was right on target. This allowed a leisurely wakeup call, and breakfast at 9am. Weather was 60 and cloudy with a forecast of increasing wind. At 1045 the first customs call was made. We were permitted to remain in our cabins until debarkation. The first debarkation group was not called until noon, and we were called about 2:40pm, in the last group because we lived locally and were driving. While no lunch had been planned, without announcement they opened the Lido about 1pm and dredged up prime rib and salads, much to me excitement! All in all, a great trip, outstanding food, wonderfully friendly and helpful staff, a low key cruise director who was as genuine in person as he was when he was "on", and we are booked for the next one, an 11 day Maasdam in December. There is talk that they may consider replacing Maasdam with a faster ship by then. I hope they don't shorten the St. Thomas stop, as it is just long enough to do anything meaningful. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2004
Previously we have cruised twice, both times with Celebrity. This was our first cruise with HAL and probably our favorite so far. On the negative side, Norfolk is not ready for cruises. The ship was very late getting into port and ... Read More
Previously we have cruised twice, both times with Celebrity. This was our first cruise with HAL and probably our favorite so far. On the negative side, Norfolk is not ready for cruises. The ship was very late getting into port and embarkation was slow and annoying. We had a low number and still had to wait in line for a very long time, unlike our previous experiences in Ft, Lauderdale and Charleston. disembarkation was extremely slow, taking about 3 hours I believe. Once aboard everything changed. Our standard inside cabin was much larger than the ones we were accustomed to on Celebrity. It was clean, pleasant, and our attendant was excellent. There was much less pool-side activity on this ship, which we liked. Also, it was a treat to be able to get a lounge by the pool without having to be out very early. Celebrity is known for their excellent cuisine, however we much preferred the meals in the dining room on this ship. Every course at every dinner was excellent. The selections are a bit less gourmet, but to our taste they were superior. Neither my husband nor I had a tough piece of meat which hasn't always been the case previously. Their breakfast pastries and desserts were much better on HAL as well. Don't miss the pecan danish offered on alternate days at breakfast at Lido. My only disappointing meal was in the dining room at breakfast-- cold dry waffle. We took all breakfasts at Lido after that. The service was friendly and special. The ports on this cruise were the typical eastern ones. Had been to all of them before except for Half Moon Cay which was exquisite. We, as the sign says, didn't want to go home. Wish we could have stayed longer there, especially since our late arrival due to late departure from Norfolk. Be warned that there are rough seas on your return from the Caribbean to Norfolk.. Many people were absent from dinner on the last formal night. Too bad;it was the filet/lobster/baked alaska parade night. I wouldn't recommend Norfolk to anyone with a seasick situation. We were fine, although it made taking a shower quite interesting! It was a great cruise: beautiful weather, friendly people, excellent service, a charming ship. Who could ask for more? We'll be back. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2004
I just returned from my cruise aboard the Holland America M.S. Zandaam and while I had a good time (how can you not on board a cruise ship?) it was definitely in my opinion not a five star cruise. I believe it was nice and as should be ... Read More
I just returned from my cruise aboard the Holland America M.S. Zandaam and while I had a good time (how can you not on board a cruise ship?) it was definitely in my opinion not a five star cruise. I believe it was nice and as should be expected for the money, but not necessarily a five star cruise in my opinion. I only have one other cruise experience to go by and that was a 7 night Royal Caribbean Cruise aboard the Grandeur of the Seas and I enjoyed that experience as a whole moreso. Embarkation and Disembarkation was smooth. I find Port Canaveral to be very easy to get around and getting aboard ship took no time at all. When I took the Grandeur in New Orleans it was much slower and chaotic. Seas were very choppy and rough but I blame that on the weather moreso than anything. The Zandaam ship has very nice rooms. We started out with a C cabin (outside stateroom) that was very nice and were given a option to upgrade to a Verandah suite which was very nice. The rooms are definitely more spacious and taken very well care of. The balconies are of a nice size. We ate breakfast out on the balcony on one occasion and it was very enjoyable. I would say the rooms are nicer on the Zandaam than that of the Grandeur. Service on the ship was good to excellent. I did enjoy the service on the RCCL Grandeur more because they went out of their way to know your names and joke around with you and at the same time remain professional all the while. I think for the most part the help on the Zandaam were friendly enough but didn't understand as much English as I would have liked to have seen. I found there was some confusion at times with language barriers. Food was comparable to that on the RCCL Grandeur for lunch and dinner. I didn't care for the desserts on the Zandaam as much as the RCCL Grandeur and the breakfasts were not that great at all on the Zandaam....Matter of fact, I could have missed out on that altogether. Beef on the Zandaam was either not a good grade of beef or not cooked to be tender enough. Filet Mignon was just not as tasty as I would have liked. The chicken and potato meals were divine on the Zandaam and there was one dessert that was spectacular in the dining room. It was a Chocolate Mousse Tulip. Outstanding! I found on the Zandaam time constraints were too rigid. The Lido Dining room closed at 8pm and on the RCCL Grandeur it stayed open till at least 10pm. Room service after 10pm on the Zandaam was almost nothing......unless you liked cold sandwiches or broth....you didn't have much to pick from. One thing I would suggest that the Zandaam do that the RCCL Grandeur did was offer the opportunity to have breakfast, lunch and dinner in your room from the dining room menu. The only time this was offered was for the first 45 minutes of the first seating in the evening only. It would have been nice to have had this available for all three meals. All pools closed around 9pm which definitely was not good for many. Anyone with kids would want the pools open longer than this. The Midnight buffet on the Zandaam was nice, but no where comparable to the RCCL Grandeur. Entertainment on the Zandaam was good, but on the RCCL it was great. The RCCL brought on such guest as the Platters and other outside entertainment that were really excellent. The Zandaam had one really good outside performer named Vinnie Talarico. He had an amazing voice and I was really impressed. The Holland American Zandaam performers were comparable to those on RCCL. On the Zandaam there was not a lot of scheduled performances like the ones on the RCCL....It definitely lacked there. Costumes for the Zandaam performers were better as a whole than for the RCCL performers. The RCCL Grandeur had their cast perform a farewell performance the last night that was just hilarious, and the Zandaam had no such thing...... Activities were sparse on the Zandaam but I think that is due to the large part that the majority look to be 60 years of age or older and in many cases older than 70. There were at times hours where we had nothing to do on days at sea as far as activities other than eating or lying out in the sun or swimming. I probably saw 2 dozen kids under the age of 18 the whole trip. I just made 40 and was definitely one of the youngest aboard. There was plenty of bingo which was fun. There was the usual belly flop contest, Newlywed contest and such but no karaoke which I enjoyed a lot on the RCCL. We did have one night of lip-syncing which just isn't as good in my opinion. There was plenty of live music and all was very good on both ships. Don't worry about visiting the casinos but that's on any cruise ship for the most part from what I hear. The ship is kept up very well and is small in size when I look back on the size of the Grandeur.....The atrium can barely be called a atrium to me but of what it is it is very nice. There is a wine guy in the dining room that is just wonderful. His name is Armando. I highly recommend you getting to know him if you take this ship. The cruise director and his immediate staff were not as friendly on the Zandaam as on the Grandeur but were still very nice. They did not mix as much with the people as they did on the Grandeur. The ports of call were Tortola VI, St. Thomas VI and Half Moon Cay Bahamas. Tortola was a poor island and needed much cleaning in a lot of areas. From the ship it looked beautiful but once on land you could tell the difference. We did take an excursion to the Cane Garden Beach which was very beautiful but the shoreline on the beach was very narrow and crowded. Beware to those of you who have small children, topless sunbathing is permitted here. I had to take a double take when I first got there. I suggest to Holland America to make Tortola a half day only at port and spend more time in St. Thomas. St. Thomas was beautiful with lots of shopping available. Tortola had very little to shop at in comparison. We did take the Atlantis Submarine Excursion in St. Thomas which was nice, but I think just going to Coral World would have been nicer. One of the employees at Atlantis Submarine even told us that to her Coral World had more to offer than just the submarine ride. However, the submarine ride was neat, and we did get to see many things even 5-6 Caribbean Reef Sharks and more. The only thing that was disappointing to me was that the Coral Reefs were not as colorful as I had expected them to be. Holland America definitely needs to make sure more time is spent in port at St. Thomas. There just wasn't enough time to spend in the hours that we had there. Finally, the last port day was at Holland America's private beach called Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. Its a very beautiful beach and the barbecue they furnished was really good. The water is magnificent here even though it was too cold for me to swim in. (Others were swimming though.) My only suggestion here is that they open more stores and such for souvenirs and so forth. Overall, I think the Holland America M.S. Zandaam deserves a 4 star rating on their ship and services. I think the RCCL Grandeur of the Seas maybe deserved a 4.5 to 5 star....That is the only difference in the two. I tried to hit the points that I thought were important to me. If you have any other questions that you would like to email please feel free to do so. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2004
Embarkation: We had a challenge on getting flights down to Florida but did get a flight into Ft Lauderdale and drove the 3 hours to Port Canaveral. Orlando would have been the logical place to fly into but since we booked on such short ... Read More
Embarkation: We had a challenge on getting flights down to Florida but did get a flight into Ft Lauderdale and drove the 3 hours to Port Canaveral. Orlando would have been the logical place to fly into but since we booked on such short notice this was the best we could do. The car rental agency, Budget, that we dropped our car off at got us to the boat quickly. They parked right at the luggage drop off where the dock workers unloaded our luggage to be loaded on the Zaandam. It was a couple of hundred feet to the embarkation center, through security, up a flight of stairs on an escalator and we were completing our boarding paperwork (5-10 minutes). Then it was onto the ship. This was our first cruise on Holland America so we really didn't know what to expect. The HAL Kids Club representatives who gave us an itinerary for the week of the kids programs greeted us at the gangway. We went up the gangway and were on board at 3PM. We walked around exploring the ship with our 2 children ages 7 and 10. There was the required pre cruise lifeboat drill. We were back at our cabin by 4:30 and our luggage had already arrived! The fastest I have ever seen my luggage arrive in the 3 cruises I've been on. I had a good feeling about this cruise. I wasn't disappointed. The Zaandam: What a boat!! Everything about this ship was impressive. The artwork throughout the ship, the reading areas, the library/internet room, the formal dining area, the lounges, the Pinnacle Grill, were all very well decorated, elaborate and "classy". We loved the size of our cabins (the room seemed a little bigger than the super liner rooms we had been in previously). Much of the lido deck area was a casual atmosphere with the casual buffet area, "outdoor grill", 2 bars, 2 swimming pools and 2 hot tubs. A real positive was the retractable roof over the swimming pool area. Early in the cruise it was extremely windy and at times overcast. The crew within seconds could close or open this enormous roof to adapt to the changing weather conditions. We did not use the spa located on the lido deck. The casino was small by cruise ship standards and contained about 8 card tables, a roulette table, a craps table and about 100 slot machines ranging from nickel to 5-dollar slots. It never seemed overly crowded and didn't overpower the upper promenade deck. There were 4 lounges on the upper promenade deck, several meeting rooms, the internet/library, a liquor shop, 2 clothing shops, the upper part of the Rotterdam formal dining room, the upper part of the showroom the Mondrian Lounge, and jewelry shop. The promenade deck contained the main entrance to the Rotterdam dining room, the main entrance to the showroom the Mondrian Lounge, Main Office, Movie Theater (really movie theater like with free popcorn), photographers showing area, coffee or high tea area, and kids arcade. There was also a basketball/tennis area, volleyball area, HAL kids club area and disco lounge called the "Crow's Nest" with large windows running along the exterior (really sharp) at the top deck. Overall, I never felt crowded or boxed in. When I was in the promenade or upper promenade areas it felt elegant. I wanted to be dressed up, refined, and enjoy the moment. I'm not sure how the Freddy Mercury or Iggy Pop autographed guitars hanging on the walls fit in with the overall refined theme in these areas but somehow it worked. We stayed in 2 inside cabins. It was fine because we weren't in there but to change or go to sleep. The only time it mattered was when you woke up. You had to look at a watch to figure if it was day or night. I did go into an outside cabin and was impressed with how large the window was. The last time I took an outside cabin; it wasn't worth it because I almost broke my neck trying to get an angle to look out the tiny porthole. That wasn't the case on the Zaandam. We also went into a suite one night to socialize with a family we met. The suite had a large balcony about the size of our room. The interior was twice the size of our cabin. There was also a separate changing/sink area outside the bathroom. The bathroom had a tub rather than a standup shower. The suite was quite impressive. The Crew: I had been on 2 cruises on Carnival super liners. The crew was often distant and in the background. What a difference. I got to know the wine steward, the maitre d, waiters, the buffet cooks, and crewmembers. They would greet our kids by their first names and call me Sir John and my wife "Mum". I had to ask, "Please just, John." I found the Indonesian and Philippine crew to be intelligent, articulate, genuine, engaging and very friendly. One night the Indonesian crew performed songs and dances from their 12,000-island homeland. It was quite a cultural experience. The following week the Philippine crew would do a show with their cultural songs and dances. Food/Entertainment: The food was very good. On the Lido deck there was an omelet chef at breakfast as well as hot/cold buffet. During the casual lunch there was a hot/cold buffet served on the Lido deck dining area, there was a sandwich bar in which you could design your on sandwich, or a pasta bar where you could do the same, there were several types of salads available. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and pizza available at the Lido deck grill. Ice cream was available in the afternoons. We only ate in the formal dining room during dinner. There was the requisite lobster tail night. There was always a strip sirloin or filet mignon on the menu. Some type of seafood was featured each night as well as fowl such as breast of duck or chicken. Thankfully, there was a kid's menu. One night, Wednesday night, there was a cookout on the Lido deck. We attended this instead of the "Dutch menu" in the formal Rotterdam dining room. There was also another dining room called the Pinnacle Grill. For an additional $20 per guest you could eat in this very upscale restaurant. There were several types of aged beef. This was definitely a step above the formal dining room. One gentleman we spoke with said that at the Pinnacle he had the best steak he's ever eaten. In retrospect we wish had tried it. It didn't seem worth it because we had our kids with us who eat plain pasta, hamburgers and chicken nuggets. We should have taken them to the casual dinner and then gone ourselves to the Pinnacle when they went to HAL kids club. Oh well, next time. The entertainment in the main theater, the Mondrian Lounge, had its highs and lows. I wish rather than a featured entertainer playing a one-hour show, they had several performers play each night in a one-hour variety show. Some of the entertainers were just not that talented to carry a performance by themselves. It was easy to lose interest. The 2 nights that the Zaandam song and dance company provided the entertainment I found it more varied and enjoyable. There was string quartet playing in one of the lounges, A sing-a-long piano player in another lounge, A quartet playing jazz or big band tunes in another lounge. While I haven't focused on it too much the median age of the guests on this cruise was pretty high. There were many elderly guests on board. This is not a party ship. There was disco entertainment at for the late night crowd in the "Crow's Nest Lounge". This was the focal point for the late night crowd. I didn't see very many singles or young couples. During the day a steel drum band played reggae tunes on the Lido deck. Girl watching was very, very, limited. We were fortunate enough to pick a school vacation week so; there were more than a hundred children on board for our kids to meet. It was easy enough to make acquaintances and it was a very social atmosphere. The Islands: We stopped in Tortola, ST Thomas and Half Moon Cay. TORTOLA During the Tortola visit we took an excursion to the Baths at Virgin Gorda. This was a very physical trip. The Baths are inlets good for snorkeling, swimming, sun bathing and viewing sea life. There are several caves to explore that have been formed by falling rocks. This is a very physical trip which includes hiking down a trail to the beach and much bending and crawling to explore the caves and inlets. It is very beautiful. We were very happy we went. Upon our return to the Zaandam, we decided to explore Tortola. Some acquaintances took cabs to other beaches. The open air cabs were available right off the dock. We took a short walk into town but there wasn't much to see. The kids got some trinkets and my daughter had her hair braided at a bazaar at the dock facilities. ST Thomas My wife and I had been to St Thomas before. We took the Zaandam tender boat to St Thomas spent a short period of time looking at the downtown bazaar but didn't spend any time jewelry or electronics shopping. Instead we loaded the family onto a ferry boat that took us to St John, a neighboring island. St John is very quiet compared to St Thomas. The boat ride was about 40 minutes. From the dock at St John we took an open air taxi $8 each way to Cinnamon Bay. This is one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen. The water was crystal blue. The beaches were like Talc. We were ecstatic that we went. The cab ride back was a bit hurried since wanted to make the 2:15 ferry back to St Thomas. In talking to some of the guests waiting for the tender boat, the liquor shopping in St Thomas was very, very good. The ship duty free shop was about $1.00 more per bottle and had less of a variety. In either case, you could not bring the liquor back to your cabin it was held for you until the last day. Half Moon Cay Half Moon is an island owned by Holland America. The beach here is very beautiful as well. The theme here is beach, ocean and sand. There are a number of beach activities like parasailing, snorkeling, fishing and swimming. There are a small number of stores and an open air bar. My daughter got her braids redone here. The Tortola braiding didn't hold up well. The stay here was very short. Maybe 4 hours. That was okay with us because the day was overcast and not very warm. There was a cook out with the same menu as the Lido deck barbecue. Hamburgers and hot dogs. If you can, wait till you get back to the ship. Once again there were not dock facilities for the cruise ship so we took a tender boat to and from the island. Overall: We were looking for a vacation to relax, be entertained, and entertain our kids and to feel special. This cruise certainly did that. If we were looking for a party, this was not the ship. We felt special and well taken care of. We felt that this was indeed 5 star quality. Our kids loved this trip. Their concerns about seasickness, making friends, the food, and nothing to do, never materialized. When the boat was rocking, they thought it was fun! While we might explore other cruise lines for a younger crowd or better entertainment, I wouldn't hesitate to try this line again if the same value was there. Read Less
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