Cruise Ratings
Sail Date: October 2008
It has been just a week since we disembarked the Zuiderdam in Ft. Lauderdale. We are still working our way back to reality - even though, some days, we would rather not. After having spent four glorious days in Venice we arrived at the ... Read More
It has been just a week since we disembarked the Zuiderdam in Ft. Lauderdale. We are still working our way back to reality - even though, some days, we would rather not. After having spent four glorious days in Venice we arrived at the cruise terminal to unbelievably long lines for check-in. This was not a good way to begin our voyage but, as it turns out, it was definitely the worst part of the whole trip. We have done a fair amount of cruising and love life on board and were not disappointed. As we have come to expect on HAL ships, the crew was phenomenal. They work so very hard and really got put to the test this time because of the arrival of the "norovirus". The ship was on "code red" for most of the trip and this certainly led to a few inconveniences for all of us but it meant extra work for all of the crew - which they did and still continued to smile! This is the first time we had "As you Like" dining. We were not sure how it would work out but it was fine. We found a window table that we really liked and made a reservation each night for that particular table. After being there a couple of nights the dining room stewards knew, ahead of time, what we liked and would bring things without being asked. We also like to dance and enjoyed the trio that was playing in the Ocean Bar each night, as well as the ship's band that played on several different occasions. The entertainment was good. We particularly enjoyed the individual artists that entertained during the cruise. The ship's singers and dancers were quite good and the costuming has improved greatly over some we have seen, on earlier cruises. Since we were onboard for Election Day, there was mock election onboard - a nice touch for us political junkies. All in all it was a wonderful cruise ! Ahhhh - sweet memories! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
Sailing out of Venice is one of the most exciting and beautiful "sail outs" in all of cruisingdom and ours on the Zuiderdam October 23, 2008 was no exception. We had arranged to have our first Cruise Critic Board member ... Read More
Sailing out of Venice is one of the most exciting and beautiful "sail outs" in all of cruisingdom and ours on the Zuiderdam October 23, 2008 was no exception. We had arranged to have our first Cruise Critic Board member "Meet and Greet" during the sailaway and were all gathered in the Crows Nest meeting one another in person for the first time and watching Venice slide by when Mark Pells, the Hotel Manager, welcomed us and announced that the bar was open and he was treating! That was only the beginning of Mark's generosity. He also gave us a Mimosa and Champagne party AND a delicious luncheon in the Pinnacle Grill. His warm hospitality was exhibited by the entire crew of this remarkable ship. Our cruise continued through fabulous ports (Dubrovnik, Corfu, Messina, Civitavecchia, Cartegena, Cadiz, and Funchal) before sailing for Half Moon Cay (changed to Nassau) and Ft. Lauderdale. Several days into the cruise we became aware that the Noro Virus was also aboard and I must say here that I cannot praise the crew of the Zuiderdam enough even though both my husband and I caught the bug. The Medical Staff were compassionate, thorough and effective in treating us and making us comfortable but even more amazing was the entire ship's compliment as they fought this contagious bug. In spite of doubling their chores, the crew continued to smile and jump to do even small services, anything to make a passenger's day happier. The heroic and continuous cleaning were truly impressive. A friend of ours suggested that they also place Purell in the elevators. Not only did that happen right away, our friend received flowers and chocolates in her cabin for having made a good suggestion. Only about 282 people fell ill out of well over 2000 folks aboard. This is a remarkably low number when you consider we were all in a highly enclosed environment together for 17 nights. Many many thanks to HAL! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
Sanitation: poor. We departed Venice on Oct. 23, 2008, for the 17-day cruise and it wasn't until Oct. 27 that passengers were notified the GI virus had infected passengers on the preceding cruise. By that time the virus was ... Read More
Sanitation: poor. We departed Venice on Oct. 23, 2008, for the 17-day cruise and it wasn't until Oct. 27 that passengers were notified the GI virus had infected passengers on the preceding cruise. By that time the virus was spreading on our cruise and hundreds of passengers became ill. The extensive but belated efforts to encourage hand washing should have been initiated the first day we boarded and passengers should have been IMMEDIATELY informed of the virus danger. Being sick or weak from the illness for nearly one-third of the cruise took much of the enjoyment out of our trip. And it was insulting to hear the repeated announcements that such shipboard virus outbreaks are common. They are not, and this was the first cruise we have been on where there was such an outbreak. It was amusing that we were diverted from our scheduled port stop at Half Moon Cay because another Holland America ship was there, and instead docked at Nassau, where four or five cruise ships from other cruise lines were docked. Apparently infecting them was of no concern. Food: inconsistent quality. Sometimes the beef was wonderful, other times it was so tough it couldn't be cut with a knife. The veal would be good one time and awful the next. The baked goods (as cookies) were only fair. The dining room food often arrived cold (as did the room service coffee) and service was very slow. Overall the food quality was not nearly as good as on our previous cruises. Passengers: there were more poorly dressed passengers than we have ever seen before (such as one man wearing a tee-shirt in the dining room on formal night). Perhaps because of airline luggage restrictions cruise ships may have to entirely give up on any dress code. There seemed to be less courtesy among the passengers than usual, perhaps because of the virus. Entertainment: very good variety and quality. Embarkation/Debarkation: Both were very poorly organized. Hurriedly dumping 1,800 passengers into a processing building which had only two immigration inspectors to handle us was ridiculous. Apparently Holland America wanted to begin a belated thorough disinfecting process ASAP before the next cruise passengers boarded. One report was that their scheduled morning boarding was delayed until 11 p.m.! (I wonder if the cleaning helped?) Laundry service: slow, and my $80 shirt had a hole punched in it. The cost for unlimited service was $120! But with no self-service laundry, there is not much alternative (unless you enjoy wearing dirty clothing or spending a lot of time washing in your cabin). On-board shops: average. Prices of course are almost always better for the same items in the ports, if you can find them. Cabin: The heating/cooling vent in the ceiling blows directly in your face, and if you have sinus problems this can be very uncomfortable. We taped it partially shut to divert the airflow. Our cabin was on the Navigation Deck, immediately below the Lido Deck swimming pool and outside bar dining area at the stern of the ship. The deck of our balcony was constantly soaked with water, apparently from the crew washing the deck immediately above us. The noise from the cleaning crew moving tables and chairs on the Lido Deck woke us up daily between 5 and 7 a.m. I would not recommend this cabin location, and wave motion would have been less felt on a lower deck. The cabin furnishings were worn, dirty and needed replacing. The bed was very comfortable. The day before we docked two crew members (not our room steward) knocked very briefly and then barged in on my wife in bed before she could reply, to empty the refrigerator. Interior stairways: They only have about a 10.5 inch horizontal surface, and can often cause mis-steps/falls. Poor design. Port stops: Average; it would have been nice to have visited Mykonos, Rhodes or Santorini. But of course we knew the itinerary in advance. Venice was great as always. Crew courtesy: excellent, under difficult circumstances. Both the cabin and dining room stewards are greatly overworked, probably another sign of cost-cutting by Holland America. Our hard-working cabin steward, for example, was responsible for about 30 cabins. Summary: Will we cruise Holland America again? Doubtful; probably back to Cunard. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
We sailed HAL for the first time on the Zuiderdam, transatlantic, Venice - Ft. Lauderdale. It was the cruise from "Hell" for us. Embarkation of 1800 folks was chaotic.. hurry and wait, hurry and wait.. Just imagine folks ... Read More
We sailed HAL for the first time on the Zuiderdam, transatlantic, Venice - Ft. Lauderdale. It was the cruise from "Hell" for us. Embarkation of 1800 folks was chaotic.. hurry and wait, hurry and wait.. Just imagine folks in a warehouse with 10 - 20 counters checking you in and my wife and I with advanced "registration". The number of people on canes, walkers and "scooters" was impressive although we are not of that disability.. we appreciated the older folks who dared the transatlantic crossing. Our basis of comparison was six other cruises, including a transatlantic cruise on the QE II before she was purchased as a hotel. We even bought Carnival stock during the cruise, thinking that we would take advantage of the rumored discount if you owned Carnival stock for our future cruises. As we finally entered our stateroom (not ready when we boarded - but Lido Buffet allowed us to sit and have lunch and buy the $200 wine package) we noted, casually, a letter of "welcome" telling us about previous incidents of "norovirus" and advising us to wash hands frequently from day one. By day five, the buffet had saran wrap closing it in, all trays, silverware, etc. were handed to the guests by ship employees; all salt and pepper was removed and meal service in the dining room slowed to 1 1/2 to 2 hours (including breakfast).. public restrooms were considered off limits and "code red" was in effect. Our $250 thermal package which included the spa pool and thermal rooms were closed and we watched them scrub and clean these areas due to an out of control virus.. Rooms that reported the norovirus were specially handled with masked employees - cleaned and sanitized.. it was reported there were 300 passengers who fell to the virus. Our problems occurred when my wife was tossed into the bathtub during the one day of rough seas with "possible cracked ribs" according to the ship's doctor and the last six hours of the cruise when both of us contracted the norovirus. The nurse came twice during the night, administered a shot and medication to me and scolded my wife for waiting so long to report the symptoms. The virus was a severe case of "Montezuma's Revenge" that I've had in Mexico. It was as if a hand was grasping my intestines and squeezing them with the resulting diarrhea and vomiting for 4 hours. Since it was at the end of the voyage our stateroom was quarantined prior to disembarkation and we were gather with others separately and I was wheeled off the ship, through immigration, customs and onto the bus to Ft.Lauderdale airport where I was wheeled through Ft. Lauderdale, Cincinnati and St. Louis Missouri airports. I was absolutely debilitated and I had trouble holding up my head. We followed up with HAL in Seattle. We had already deposited and schedule our transatlantic crossing on the Eurodam for April, 2009 and have requested full refund of our deposit and reimbursement for costs of getting to departure gates at the various airports in November, 2008. We're anxious to see how HAL recognize our "pain and suffering" during out sixth cruise. We did find many experienced travelers on HAL, the ones we interacted with, were disappointed and said this was not up to HAL standards. Perhaps staff is less available given the cost cutting. Our cabin person confessed that he no long was responsible for 15 cabins but rather 30 as of this crossing. Our stateroom was cleaned and readied by 4 p.m. daily. I'm afraid that this Zuiderdam experience has queered our future sailings. We will think long and hard before we take any other cruise during our lifetimes. We have heard recently that the Regency Cruise Lines is expensive but worth the extra - no "nickle and dime" pestering for drinks and extras as we felt was the case on the Zuiderdam. Our ship board charges amounted to over $2,000 in addition to the cruise and air costs. We learned that many others paid far LESS for similar ship accommodations which was disappointing since we had deposited and reserved six months in advance and thought that we had be treated well. Little did we know that certain charter groups from Canada especially, were attracted by extreme bargain cruise and charter air prices. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
Seventeen days on the Zuiderdam - a very nice experience. There have been several reviews of this cruise, so I will try to comment on just a few pertinent areas. First: The noro virus. Some people have written that the ship remained ... Read More
Seventeen days on the Zuiderdam - a very nice experience. There have been several reviews of this cruise, so I will try to comment on just a few pertinent areas. First: The noro virus. Some people have written that the ship remained silent about this problem for the first week or so of the cruise. I remember it differently. I specifically remember an announcement on embarkation day that there had been some cases of intestinal disorder on the previous cruise and advising passengers to take the appropriate precautions. There was also a written note to that effect in our suite. After 3 or 4 days, it became clear to the medical staff on board that the virus was still with the ship. There were announcements every day from that point on about the situation and reminders to be sanitary, wash hands, etc. I spent a day and a half in quarantine and felt that I got excellent, professional treatment. Every member of the crew pitched in and helped, particularly in food service where, because of the virus, passengers were not allowed to touch anything until it was on the plate. This was particularly cumbersome in the Lido Buffet. As a result lunches were not very enjoyable. I thought the officers, crew, and medical staff did everything they could to deal with this problem. The CDC calls this virus the second most common contagious disease(next to the cold.) The presence of such a virus in an enclosed environment presents most difficult challenges. I applaud the crew for their hard work and great attitude while dealing with this problem Two highlights: The quality of food at dinner time on this ship was as good as, or better than we have experienced in something over a dozen cruises. I have always thought that Holland America provided good, but not great food. They exceeded my expectations on this cruise. Every evening meal on this 17-day cruise was excellent! We enjoyed the meals in the main dining room and had three dinners in the Pinnacle Grill. The food in either venue was consistently outstanding. The Pinnacle Grill quality was slightly better and the service there was as good as I've seen. We have enjoyed wonderful meals on Crystal and Regent. Our experiences on this cruise were just as memorable. What a great surprise! The other highlight was the quality of the singing and dancing troupe on the ship. These young folks were more talented than any I have seen on a cruise ship. In a cast like this, I usually find one singer with great talent while the rest are just supporting. This cast had 4 singers, and each one was tremendous. The dancing and showmanship of the entire cast brings a smile to my face even now. One "lowlight": "As You Wish Dining" doesn't work very well on Zuiderdam. Indeed, we began to refer to it as "As the Zuiderdam wishes dining." We tried advance reservations. (They don't take reservations during the most desirable dining times - so if you want a reservation you must eat before 6 or after 8:30.) We tried showing up "when we wanted to dine with whom we wanted" (as the ads say). Each appearance at the restaurant was an adventure. We were shown to tables that were already occupied. We were told that there were no tables for four, only to get to the room and see several empty tables for four. Then, on other nights everything worked very well. There may be a way to make this system work. If so, Zuiderdam hasn't discovered it. Although a problem, it was overcome by the outstanding food we enjoyed once we were seated. One final comment. I'd read in various reviews that the decor of the Zuiderdam was rather gaudy. This must have been mitigated in the ship's most recent drydock. We felt that the ship was very tastefully decorated and had no complaints at all in that regard. Summary: The cruise was excellent despite the nagging presence of the noro virus. The outstanding attitude and amazing hard work by the crew is what made the cruise enjoyable despite the big challenges they faced. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
We are a couple from south Florida who booked this cruise as an (early) celebration of my 60th birthday. Because of a small inheritance, we had some extra money, so we really "splurged" on this cruise! We flew business class ... Read More
We are a couple from south Florida who booked this cruise as an (early) celebration of my 60th birthday. Because of a small inheritance, we had some extra money, so we really "splurged" on this cruise! We flew business class from Miami to Zurich to Venice, and booked a deluxe suite on the Zuiderdam in the stern of the ship with a huge, wrap around balcony. We flew into Venice a couple days early and stayed at a great B&B near St. Mark's Square. It was great to have extra time in that magical city, but it wasn't near enough. We boarded our lovely ship at around 13:30 Thursday, October 23rd. It was a little disorganized and, although we went to the shorter line for suite check-ins, it didn't really matter because there was a huge line for the security scans. No matter. Even with the long line, it only took us about 20 minutes or so to get aboard. Although it was close to 14:00, a staff member greeting us as we boarded said that our rooms weren't ready. So, we went up to the Neptune Lounge to wait. But when we reached there, they cheerfully informed us that, of course our suite was ready and escorted us to our room. What a room! We'd had an SS suite before on the Westerdam, and the SC cabin was similar, but with some nice additions. Six roomy closets, half with optional shelves, cabinet space all over the room; a dressing room with a three-drawer vanity; and a huge balcony! I practically lived on that balcony. I don't know if we would have gotten so much use out of a side balcony because it was cold and stormy during some of the trip. But our completely covered balcony was out of the wind and weather if you didn't go over to the side section. I'd never had a wake cabin before and found the sound of the water hypnotic. It sounded like a waterfall (Niagara?) and I found my eyes closing too often as I sat out there and gazed at the water. The room was in good shape, though there was a slight stain on the carpet. Our cabin steward, Dedi, was fantastic, going beyond the call of duty several times during the cruise. The sailaway in Venice was breathtakingly beautiful. We enjoyed it from the Crow's Nest as we met our fellow Cruise Critic cruisers from our roll call. We had an extremely active roll call and about 60 of us showed up at the Meet and Greet. It was great to have "friends" aboard whom you'd been "talking" to online for ages as we all anticipated our upcoming cruise. Sorta like having a ready-made family aboard. It really increased our enjoyment of the cruise to have friends to hang with on shore excursions and on the ship. The hotel manager, Mark, was very welcoming to us. He attended both the first Meet & Greet, but also our second one on our first sea day. Then he surprised us with a special luncheon for CC'ers at the Pinnacle Grill. What a treat that was!! HAL has a reputation for good service, and it lived up to its reputation as far as we were concerned. We had great service in the dining room with waiter Ali and assistant waiter, Kadek. They were so sweet and went out of their way to anticipate our needs. All the crew, especially those that worked in food service, were working double and triple time because of the extra burden of being under Code Red for most of the cruise. Yet, almost every one of the crew and staff we had any dealings with were unfailingly polite and professional. We had no complaints whatsoever about the service on the Zuiderdam. We really disliked what they've done to the Crow's Nest - adding the internet cafe and library. Why would anyone put a library and nightclub in the same room?? It has completely destroyed the ambiance of the Crow's Nest, which used to be our favorite place to enjoy a drink and do a little dancing. Adding the screening room was a nice touch on deck 3, but we never got to see a movie there because the seats were always taken. There also seemed to be fewer shops with fewer choices than we had seen on the Westerdam in March 07. We both found the food to be excellent in both the dining room and lido. Loved all the ice cream choices - totally free. Nothing feels like "vacation" as an ice cream cone. And, of course, the scrumptious bread pudding with vanilla sauce!! Pinnacle Grill was great for dinner and breakfast. We didn't see as many shows as we normally do. Part of that was because the entertainers were sick with Noro virus. But mainly the problem was the change of time for the shows. We had fixed dining at 8pm. In order to see a show, we had to go to the 7pm one, which was just too early for us, especially days we were in port. We used to enjoy the 10 pm shows very much, so were disappointed with the change of times. Again, can't figure the logic of whomever made that decision. We greatly enjoyed all the ports: Dubrovnik, Corfu, Sicily (Taurmina), Rome, Cartegena, Cadiz, and Madeira. The only complaint I had about the ships tour in Rome was that we couldn't hear the tour guide on the headsets. Combination of static and a heavy accent. We used CC - especially our roll call - to guide what we did at each port. Our fellow cruisers were informative and helpful. Yes, I got the noro virus despite taking all precautions, but, thankfully, it was while we were making the crossing, so I didn't miss any of the ports. The medical staff, the Neptune Lounge, and our cabin steward all were wonderful about taking care of me and making sure we had everything we needed. Didn't like getting sick, but at least had a great room to be quarantined in! Used the spa a lot, and the quality of their services (massages, seaweed wraps, etc.) was great! Love the wrap around promenade on the HAL ships. Loved the piano bar, cigars under the stars. Too many things to count, and this review is already long. We had a fantastic time on our "cruise of a lifetime." We might not be able to afford to go all out again, but are already planning a Hawaiian cruise on the Zaandam - probably in a regular balcony room. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
We recently returned from the now infamous transatlantic crossing on the Zuiderdam and even though I have never posted a review of any other ship before, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this cruise experience. Prior to sailing, I ... Read More
We recently returned from the now infamous transatlantic crossing on the Zuiderdam and even though I have never posted a review of any other ship before, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this cruise experience. Prior to sailing, I read reviews of the Z that were filled with complaints regarding sewage odors, disrepair of the ship, and a lack of attention from the crew. Frankly, those reviews made me apprehensive to embark on our transatlantic journey on this ship. I tried to prepare myself for a cruise that was not up to Holland America's standards and perhaps a less than stellar than usual. In retrospect, the only times that I had that were not positive were when we were told that the Captain decided to substitute Nassau for my beloved Half Moon Cay to spare the Westerdam the notorious norovirus that had been sailing with us for most of the journey—the Westerdam was sharing the island with us that day. Instead, we had to spend eight hours in Nassau with thousands of cruise passengers from five other ships rather than on an idyllic private island. The other time I was unhappy was when we were disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale and reality was setting in that our wonderful cruise was over and it was time to return to our life on land. We were part of the Cruise Critic roll call group and the ship treated us well by hosting two gatherings for us in the Crow's Nest which included drinks and hors d'oeurves. We also received formal invitations from the hotel manager, Mark Pells, to a lovely lunch in the Pinnacle Grille. Speaking of Mark, what an ambassador he is for this ship and HAL. He was very entertaining and informative along with approachable, gracious, and generous in spite of the difficult conditions he was confronted with on this sailing. Our journey began in Venice where we spent two nights prior to sailing, too short a period of time, in this magical town. While there I felt that if the cruise was not what we hoped for, I would still be content because we had the opportunity to experience the essence of what makes Venice so unique. When it came time to board the ship, the terminal became chaotic after a while with a check-in system that broke down and if fault needs to be assigned, I would have to assign it to the terminal staff who stopped communicating with the passengers waiting to check in—in some instances for a lengthy period of time. I witnessed passengers who were so irate that they kicked their carry on luggage, stomped around the terminal, and uttered expletives that made your ears blush. I guess that they were anxious to get in that line in the Lido to start their 17-day feeding frenzy! Perhaps I am being too hard on them. Some had just arrived from the States and were exhausted but I don't feel that a lack of decorum is justified even under those circumstances. We boarded after waiting about an hour and were ushered/herded to the Lido because our cabins were not ready. We had the usual welcome aboard Lido lunch and sooner rather than later, we were able to go to our cabin where I was expecting stains, tears, marks, and grime. None of the above was present. Our carpeting even looked fairly new. No complaints so far except our verandah only had one chair and an ottoman even though it could accommodate another chair. We ended up putting the chair in the cabin out there when we wanted to enjoy the verandah together. Problem solved. We opted for As You Wish Dining which we had chosen for the first time on a recent cruise on the Prinsendam and I must say that I thought it was much more efficient on the Z than on the previous cruise. The only time we had to wait was when we made a reservation so we never made one again and we were always seated immediately. We tended to go to the dining room around 7:00 or 8:00 and ended up very pleased with how expediently we were seated. Most nights we chose to be seated with others and one or two nights we opted for a table for two. No problem. We enjoyed our meal in the Pinnacle as we always do. The food and the service was outstanding, and the atmosphere peaceful and elegant. My husband had the filet which he said was one of the best he has ever had and I had the halibut and king crab leg and both were prepared perfectly. Of course my meal was completed with the chocolate volcano that is just decadent and delicious and my husband enjoyed the triple crème brulee. We rarely go to the Lido for dinner, but we experienced rough seas one night and decided to eat lightly and thought that would be a good alternative for us. It was not our favorite dining experience. I remember when that alternative dinner service was first initiated on HAL. White table cloths adorned the candlelit tables, you went through the line for your appetizer and salad, then placed your order for your entree which was then served to you when it was ready. That is either no longer something HAL offers or it is not available on the Z. There were no tablecloths, etc. and you get all of your food just like you would at lunch time. We prefer the dining room even though we observed the dining stewards and their assistants serving several more passengers than usual. One of the head waiters told us that each steward has between 20 and 26 passengers at any time. Quite a difference from the good old days when they had two tables that were on the same course at the same time. In spite of the increase in the numbers served, we were impressed with how seamless it all was accomplished. They are a hard working staff and their work became more difficult as the virus multiplied and the ship was under the dreaded Code Red. No more salt and pepper shakers on the tables, bread and butter was passed, cream and sugar was only handled by the wait staff. Everyone who worked on the ship was doing double duty. We did a double take one morning when one of the women who played the violin in the string quartet in the Explorers Lounge was dishing up the French toast in the Lido. You saw constant cleaning and polishing going on. Purell dispensers were everywhere and you began to feel like you were bathing in it. All of the captain's and cruise director's announcements included the daily count of those newly afflicted followed by pleadings to wash your hands thoroughly. Most took this seriously but there were those who felt they were immune or special and who had different rules for themselves. This was our second transatlantic and when we were in the middle of the Atlantic the first time, I don't remember it being noted by the staff. Well, that was not the case on this sailing. In the middle of the Atlantic, in the middle of the afternoon, on a beautiful, sunny day, a party was held at the aft pool that included the ugliest fish (purchased in Madeira) that you could possibly imagine grilled poolside for our eating pleasure and in spite of its appearance, it was yummy. Along with accompaniments to the fish was an OPEN BAR. When was the last time you were on a cruise that had an OPEN BAR?! For me, never. What a generous gesture and one that was greatly appreciated by the passengers. Our Cruise Director, Jason (fondly called Yason by the Captain), was dressed as Neptune and before we knew it, officers were invited to jump into the Atlantic (the pool) clothes and all! Passengers were invited to join them and we had a few Cruise Critic members who took the plunge! They are among the few that can say they swam in the middle of the Atlantic! Thank you Holland America for a fun time! I have to be honest and say that we usually are not big fans of HAL entertainment but that changed on this cruise. The quality of the performers particularly the pianist and the flautist were world class and the production numbers with the state-of-the-art sets and special effects were the most enjoyable entertainment we've experienced on any ship in a long time. We loved the itinerary which is why we chose this crossing and are grateful for the extraordinary efforts the staff put forth to make our experience the best it could be under the difficult circumstances. Would I sail on this ship again? You betcha! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
I am 61 years old and have been on several cruises before although not with Holland America. On this cruise I travelled with my wife and another couple who are also very experienced travellers. We like to dance and enjoy experiences not ... Read More
I am 61 years old and have been on several cruises before although not with Holland America. On this cruise I travelled with my wife and another couple who are also very experienced travellers. We like to dance and enjoy experiences not available in our home towns. Our first shock came when we went to the dance bar on a Saturday night to find there was no band. Instead, there was a three piece combo playing songs like Moon River. You can imagine the type of dancing you can do to those kinds of tunes. This continued throughout the trip and even when there was a band it finished at 11:30. In the afternoons many cruise ships have activities around the pool. I mistakenly assumed this was the same on this ship. To my great disappointment the only entertainment was a single piano player who entertained for one hour with such rousing tunes as Moon River. I assumed this was to not wake the dozens of people fast asleep by the pool. Even the nightly entertainment was over by 10:00 PM so we were forced to go to the 7:00 PM show before our 8:00 dinner seating. To their credit there was a disco, which I describe as an unimaginative hole in the wall with irritating strobe lights. The disc jockey could not figure out whether to play 50's, 60's or RAP so it became more annoying than pleasurable. There were many other irritants such as no iron, having to go through the main switchboard anytime you wanted the steward or other service, entertainment scheduled during your dinner hour and insulting social staff. Also, the Pinnacle Grill, which is their marquis dining room, served us the worst fish I have ever tasted. It had the texture of a rubber ball. This dining room is $10 extra for lunch ad $20 for dinner. Of course this was above the GI on board. Speaking of the GI the crew kept insisting the number was around 22 when in fact the actual number was closer to 300. The crew also refused to give any information on the spread of the GI other than wash your hands. Did you know the virus can last up to 21 days on a surface? I found this out after I left the ship. My warning is this. If you are under 70 or can actually dance something faster than a waltz, do not go on this ship. If you like to have fun and actually laugh do not go on this ship. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
The Zuiderdam is a lovely ship with nice amenities, such as a 3 deck high theater, glass outside elevators, a nice view astern in the lower dining room, a large and diverse buffet, a pool area with a removable cover. The ship had evidently ... Read More
The Zuiderdam is a lovely ship with nice amenities, such as a 3 deck high theater, glass outside elevators, a nice view astern in the lower dining room, a large and diverse buffet, a pool area with a removable cover. The ship had evidently recently had renovations as the deck map available did not show the internet access area and library had been moved from the promenade deck, Deck 3, to the Crow's Nest on Deck 10. This made room for additional shop space and a small movie theater on Deck 3. The dining arrangements are either fixed dinner in the upper dining room, or anytime dining in the lower dining room. Breakfast (usually 8:00 - 9:30) and lunch (12:00—1:00, except there is no table service in port) are anytime dining in one dining room or the other. There is no fixed seating for either of these meals. I found the breakfast, lunch, and dinner anytime dining room service is completely dysfunctional. It is impossible to obtain a complete meal as ordered in a timely manner. A couple examples, I ordered the breakfast special, two eggs with grits, with a side of ham at about 9:15. I received the dish, without the ham, after everyone at the table was finished at about 10:20 and waited 10 minutes more for the ham, or another time a person at our table was told they were out of oatmeal. Later in the cruise we found that by waiting until near 9:00 pm to enter the dining room for dinner, the service was better. This may have been due to the lack of a crowd, or the number of complaints resulting in an improved effort. The service in the dining room appears intended to drive one to the buffet, at least for breakfast and lunch. There are some nice touches in the buffet, namely fresh cooked stir fry and pasta dishes for lunch and made to order omelets and egg benedict for breakfast. Dinner selections available were usually similar to the dishes available in the dining room. When GI illness is present the ability to serve oneself is removed and the service in the buffet becomes iffy, meaning it is often difficult to communicate with the serving staff to obtain what is desired, and the lines are often long. The cleaning personnel appeared to be lacking in training or experience. We were in deck chairs on the promenade deck one afternoon and were splashed by water hitting a nearby boat. Then a second splash occurred, and I got up as the third salvo hit. Looking up I saw a room steward cleaning a balcony two decks up. With the sickness on the ship it is easy to imagine the worse as to what he was cleaning and tossing off the balcony. Room cleanliness was hit or miss, an example is I wiped up a coffee stain on the bathroom floor after our room was made up for the day. Beverage service personnel are prevalent on the upper decks and in the bars and theater prior to shows. There is a wine card available that provides 20 glasses of a limited wine selection for a fixed price of about $80. The card evidently is not highly thought of by the staff as the first time I tried to use it the server took our order prior to a show, punched the card, and I never saw him again, no wine, nothing. From then on I waited to see the wine before allowing them to punch the card. The GI illness on the ship was a holdover from the previous voyage. There were no precautions taken at the start of the voyage to avoid its spread, and it quickly showed up either due to a lack of cleanliness or a carryover of sick people from the previous voyage. The state of the epidemic was given daily in the afternoon status briefing at the beginning, but soon was not mentioned after measures to stop the spread of the disease were ineffective. We had an itinerary change near the end of the voyage. The last port was suppose to the Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, which serves other Holland America ships. It was decided to go to Nassau instead. This decision was obviously made to avoid contaminating the other company ships. In response to the GI illness, after our voyage a general cleaning was undertaken prior to boarding the new passengers. Of course if the crew is infected this will be ineffective. I hope the new passenger take every precaution themselves to avoid illness. My personal defense was to avoid the gym and spa, don't touch anything on the meal table, and when in the buffet use only one hand to touch serving utensils, don't touch plates or glasses with that hand, and then disinfect hands after obtaining food and prior to eating. Even with the no touch policy in place I found myself disinfecting my hands after obtaining anything at the buffet. Since the hot tubs were closed the entire voyage I didn't have to avoid them, but this would be a good idea if they are available. Entertainment in the theater varied from non-existent on a couple nights to very good performances from some individual artists. There were also two pianists, a string quartet, and a dance band available in the bars. I'd give entertainment overall a C, as it provided what you'd expect on a cruise ship catering to an older crowd. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
My wife and I love watching Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel. On one show she took her first cruise. She was on her balcony sipping champagne while the ship sailed out of Venice - along the Grand Canal. Well - that was it! We ... Read More
My wife and I love watching Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel. On one show she took her first cruise. She was on her balcony sipping champagne while the ship sailed out of Venice - along the Grand Canal. Well - that was it! We looked at each other and said in unison - "We HAVE to do the same!" So - this cruise is all Samantha Brown's fault. Next step was to look for a cruise. We quickly found the HAL Zuiderdam cruise from Venice to Fort Lauderdale departing October 23, 2008. We usually book Category E but when we saw the small difference for a balcony we quickly decided to follow in Samantha's footsteps. We were so glad we did. We selected a cabin on the port side since it would be on the sunny side crossing the Atlantic. This turned out perfectly - also considering that the port side gave us the best views of Venice during the "sail away." We also liked this repositioning cruise since it was more than just a transatlantic crossing. The ports were all interesting - Dubrovnik, Corfu, Messina, Civitavecchia, Cartegena, Cadiz, Madeira, and Half Moon Cay (the latter was changed to Nassau during the cruise.) I have to admit we were somewhat apprehensive about the Zuiderdam due to some negative reviews on CC. We did not encounter the problems of other reviewers. Our cabin was well maintained, no odors, no spots on the carpet, etc. that were reported in other reviews. Of course, having traveled by land to over 90 countries and to many third world locations, we have developed the attitude that you make of travel what you put into it. I suppose we are the "glass is half full" types. If you want everything to be just like the US, don't leave home. We also look for the best experience for the money - and this cruise definitely hit the mark on cost for value, in our view. We ended up paying about $147 per day for the cruise in a VD category verandah - each. Just before departure, the cruise was discounted further from what we heard. Since we own stock in Carnival, we received $250 ship board credit which is always nice! One way airfares can be expensive but we found a wonderful deal on Aer Lingus from LAX to Dublin - $430 per person. We stayed in Dublin for two nights and then flew on to Venice on Aer Lingus - 32 Euros and 29 Euros tax!!! We arrived in Venice about 5 weeks before the cruise and spent two weeks in an apartment near Assisi and 10 nights in an apartment in Venice. We also spent a few nights in hotels near Padua and on Lake Garda. We love staying in one place for an extended period to really get to know a place. We often use www.vrbo to find apartments. The cruise was excellent in our view. There will be those who disagree but we loved our time on the Zuiderdam. This cruise did make the news due to a large outbreak of norovirus - my wife got it even though we used so much Purell that it was probably in our blood stream! We thought the ship handled the emergency well. The ship substituted Nassau for Half Moon Cay - the hot and humid environment in the tenders could have been a perfect environment for spreading the virus even more. We thought that was a good decision. The main negative in our view was the boarding process in Venice - but this was the fault of the port agent I am sure. I am writing HAL about the boarding process - along with the positives of course. The check-in process was total confusion and with many people just arriving from long flights and with jetlag, it made for a "the Perfect Storm." Dubrovnik was an excellent port - nice weather - not too hot. We found a taxi driver at the dock who took us on an hour drive around and above the city for some lovely views. His English was excellent and he told us about the war years. He dropped us at the "back" entrance to the city which was not at all crowded. There is an entrance to the city walls near this entrance that was also not crowded. This is a great city for just walking around the picturesque streets. When we left, we got a taxi quickly from the "back" entrance. When we drove by the main entrance on the way back, it was a zoo! Since the taxi was one price, it was actually not a lot more than the ship's shuttle. You can walk from the port but it is a long way and we thought it would take away too much of our time in port to walk. Corfu was a fun stop but it is obvious this is a party island a lot of the year. In late October it was calm. We rented a car from an agency recommended on a CC board. They met us at the cruise terminal parking lot, gave us maps, advice and we were off! Driving on Corfu was not a problem for us - but then again I have been driving in Europe for 40 years including a year living in England. My wife navigates and I drive. We also love the "roundabouts" in Europe. Our record is going around the circle 4 times looking for the right road! In Messina, we were only in port until 2pm so we took a tour organized by another Cruise Critic "roll caller." This was about our only day with rain but we had a "blast!" Went to the village where the first Godfather movie was filmed! Also visited Taoromina but this is when the heavens opened so we spent time in a cafe watching the world go by - one of our favorite activities anyway! We were impressed with the scenery along the roads in Sicily and want to go back for an extended visit. In Civitavecchia, we opted not to take the long jaunt into Rome, having been there several times before. The prospect of a long day on the train and fighting the crowds in Rome did not appeal. Our trusty excursions organizer, Liz, put together a wonderful excursion for 8 of the Roll Call group. We visited Bagnoregio, Orvieto, and Tarquinia. Bagnoregio is one of Rick Steves favorite places and we AGREE! Be prepared for a hike across an uphill bridge - no other way to get there. When we arrived there was fog, the bridge seemed to head straight up into heaven - we could not see where we were going! Well worth the climb. Orvieto is wonderful - we have been there before but a return visit was one of our favorites of the trip. Tarquinia has Etruscan tombs that we wanted to see but they were closed on a Monday. Of all the nerve to close when we want to be there! :) Cartegena, Spain is a new stop for cruise ships from what we know. We just walked around the city - the ship docked almost in the downtown. It is a charming place - not fabulous - but quite nice. Of course, the best part was stopping for hot chocolate (more like hot pudding) and churros. Heaven! We have been to Cadiz twice before. On previous stops we enjoyed the hop on hop off bus and then walking around the old town. This time we were in Cadiz on a Thursday - a day when the Royal Spanish Riding School has a show in Jerez de la Fontera. We bought tickets from their website on line and rented a car in Cadiz from National. Due to the starting time of the show, we were worried about the train or bus. As it turned out, the bus would have worked especially since the terminal is virtually across the street from the dock. Another Roll Call couple did this and beat us to the Riding School! Due to some road construction in downtown, our walk to the National office took a little longer than planned but it was still quite close. Finding the school was a little tough - get a good map, ours was very basic. The show was incredible! The Sandman sherry bodega is next door so we went there after the horse shore. The tour costs but it includes tasting of several kinds of sherry. We opted for the tour, tasting, and tapas! Great fun! Madeira was wonderful - again our Cruise Critic Roll Call tour organizer Liz did a fabulous job. We had the best driver/guide of the trip. Our tour included the west side of the island and some spectacular scenery. It was a rainy - no sunny - no rainy day! :) This all day (8am to about 4pm) tour was only 36 Euros per person including lunch. And the lunch was incredibly good and plentiful. The Atlantic crossing had some rough seas "here and there" but we don't mind rocking and rolling. Sea days are almost our favorites - having perfected the art of doing nothing. We were disappointed that the Zuiderdam did not have the day of the week mats in the elevators - how can we know what day it is on a transatlantic crossing? :) The substitute port of Nassau was OK - but with so many ships in port it was a bit of a zoo! Enjoyed just walking around! The entertainment on the ship was good - we love the cast shows. Comedians are not our "thing" but several of those who went liked them. Our favorite was Sally Jones who we have heard on other cruises. She really can sing....wonderful! The food was very good - we enjoyed having dinner in the Lido most nights. This was our first cruise where we did not bring formal wear - not wanting to drag it around Italy for five weeks before the cruise. We ended up liking our decision. The crew on HAL always "makes" the cruise for us. They are so friendly. I would really like to know how they remember so many names! One of the stewards in the Lido - "Hunky Dory" - memorizes at least 700 names per cruise according to the Hotel Manager and I believe it. The most incredible thing for us was seeing a steward we thought we recognized. He came up to us and said, "Hi, I'm Buddy. I was on the Statendam in April and just arrived on the Zuiderdam - isn't your name Doug?" Unbelievably we had been on the Statendam from Hong Kong to Vancouver in April/May. How do they do it? All in all - we had a great time! I never know whether I can mention tour operators or give their email addresses so I have not. If anyone is interested, you can email me at and I will give you this information. Doug Clark Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
The boarding in Venice was a zoo! We were there at 11:30 for a 5PM sail and there was already a crowd. No organization. We finally just got into a line and half way thru, someone asked us for a number. We explained that we never got a ... Read More
The boarding in Venice was a zoo! We were there at 11:30 for a 5PM sail and there was already a crowd. No organization. We finally just got into a line and half way thru, someone asked us for a number. We explained that we never got a number. They shrugged and passed us on. Overheard many guests comment later that that's just the way it's done in Italy! The ship was in dry dock in April, '08 for refurbishing. As we heard from many, there was no deck plan map of the ship in our welcome packet. I got a couple from the front desk - it was the map of the decks six months earlier, before the refurb. At least half a dozen public rooms had been deleted or relocated, however the old map was the only map available. At least the diagrams at the elevators were correct. Cabin was perfect - Verandah w/balcony - nothing like stepping outside when you want a breath of fresh air and to catch the fantastic sun rise/sets and the island passes. The Mediterranean was very warm for the end of October and we often couldn't get the room cool enough for comfort - reported, but not repaired. The mini-bar wasn't very cold - it was explained that it was only a cooler and not meant to be a refrigerator. It's performance degraded and warmed to room temperature about 12 days into the cruise - reported, but never repaired. The food was very good in all restaurants including room service. The lamb was often a bit overcooked but the beef was perfect - don't know how they do it. While there was Prime Rib available in the Lido & Vista dining rooms, there was no rib-eye steak in the Pinnacle Grill, but the porterhouse steak was a masterpiece! All that wonderful beef and no horseradish to be found anywhere! The Culinary Arts classes were reasonably priced, well organized, informative and just plain lots of fun! Bar staff were always friendly, exceptional! I joked with one bartender that the can of Miller MGD that was served was past the expiration date on the bottom of the can and they stopped serving it. We had a grumpy waiter one AM for breakfast in the Vista and had dinner twice in the Pinnacle Grill where service was a bit slow. The PG wine steward made a point of making you feel guilty for not ordering the PG premium wines, even tho you might have already signed up for the much promoted 3-5-7 bottle wine packages. Also in the PG, I pointed out that the after dinner drink prices on the dessert menu were quite a bit more than on the wine list for the same item, she snapped that she would charge me whatever I wanted and snatched the menus from me explaining that they hadn't been updated yet.......since April, like the deck map? Kitchen walk-thru tour was crowded, but not to be missed. Was very disappointed to learn that we would be passing thru the Straits of Gibraltar at 3:30AM. One of the landmarks of the world would be missed! They should have skipped Cartegena, passed thru the Straits in daylight, and spent more time in Cadiz! I still got up in the middle of the night and ran up to the Observation Deck to stare in wonder at two different continents, each only four miles away and the transition from one major body of water to another! Shore excursions - we took a wide variety from all day Rome tours to walk-it-ourselves. Found all arranged by HAL to be fact-filled & valuable. The Mt.Etna/Messina excursion had to be cancelled due to a stalled bus (not ours), on narrow roads. The guide was still great and tour amount was refunded. Enrichment - The lectures were well planned and informative, although I did tend to nod off at times. Presenters need to take a basic course in PowerPoint for more entertaining and detailed graphics that will play well on TV replays next day on cabin TV's. Had the second best massage of my life. Ask for Leah..... There were major problems with the communications systems: • Unequal audio levels between TV channels - a simple equipment adjustment but indicates lack of monitoring/maintenance. • Intermittent/geographical reception of some channels like CNN. Explanation given was that CNN/HAL had licensing issues by geography or we were out of satellite 'footprint'. Fox News was delivered by phone line satellite technology and often locked-up/froze. This was national election week here folks, I'm sure a deal could have been worked out so CNN could have been delivered by phone lines also and wouldn't have minded another 2500+ audience for their advertisers. This would been a good balance to present the other political bias. • It was confirmed prior to trip and we were assured that cell phones would be available by both HAL, SeaMobile and their parent company, WMS. Their website says: "Always On - Always Available" global VSAT services through its MTN Satellite Services division to insure connectivity virtually anywhere in the world, however, the cell phones worked until we left Madeira island and never worked again until we reached Nassau and connected to the land-based roaming system there. Also, I confirmed with WMS prior to sailing that cell text service would be available - it never worked. The HAL staff just shrugged their shoulders and said they would report the service & text problems. Perhaps they sold more of their own phone cards that way - • HAL phone cards were a convenient and 'inexpensive' way to "phone home". Without the card, if you called direct from your cabin phone, the charges are about $8/minute, when SeaMobile cell service worked, their charges would be $2.49/minute and the HAL cards were 12 minutes for $25 = $2.08/minute. The frustrating part was the cards were only available in 12 minute chunks, no other time amounts available. How stupid! What marketing dunce dreamed up that amount? I don't know about you, but catching up with our two kids at home takes more than 12 minutes and you get disconnected at the end. If you call and get an answering machine in 15 seconds and hang up, the card deducts a whole minute. Very frustrating - get the cell phones working. It also allows someone on the ship to call and locate someone else on the ship by cell phone, if expensively needed. • My biggest complaint of the whole cruise was the appalling and pathetic internet service. The Zuiderdam was built in 2002 with wired internet outlets and capability in each & every cabin - probably now Ethernet capable. Granted, the original was a "dial-up" service but it was wired. The wired system was abandoned at the April, '08 refurb for a wireless system, ostensibly to facilitate shipboard 'Wi-Fi hot spots'. The wireless connections, in fact the wired connections in the Exploration Cafe, are no better than the most antiquated current dial-up available anywhere. If you retrieve your e-mail as most people do when traveling, by going to your ISP and using their webmail client, in my case, it costs you about $1 worth of access time just to get to your messages and start reading them. Take anytime at all answering a lengthy one, or do a little surfing for an item of interest and you agonizingly wait for the pages to load, while the time/dollars click away. Regardless if the connection is wired or wireless, apparently the bottleneck is the satellite connection and it's available bandwidth. My point is that HAL/SeaMoble/WMS is making money hand over fist at an average 50 cents per minute, they could certainly provide performance that is equal to already antiquated DSL (1 MBs) speeds. I swear, at times I thought I could rate my connection at a baud rate instead of KBs. You know darn well they're not surfing and communicating at those speeds up on the bridge, or in the officer's quarters…… Last, but not least, are comments about the Norovirus GI infections. Facts from the CDC: • Voyage Dates: 10/23-11/9 • Number of ill passengers out of total number of passengers: 262 of 1820 (14.4%) • Number of ill crew out of total number of crew: 17 of 794 (2.14%) Half Moon Cay, the HAL-owned island - next-to-the-last stop was bypassed due to the possible cross-contamination of another HAL ship visiting at the same time. We went to Nassau instead which was just fine, although I wonder how the Bahamanian's felt receiving a contaminated ship. We understood from conversations with staff, and even a letter in our 'welcome pack' that the ship was "Code Red" prior to us first embarking from the Barcelona to Venice leg of the prior cruise/voyage. If so, why were guests allowed to serve themselves for the first few days in the Lido as if nothing was out of the ordinary? Was the ship given an extraordinary cleaning prior to us boarding as it was after we left? I don't think so. Don't get me wrong! While on board, it was obvious the staff & crew were trying nearly everything possible to keep things clean and working long hours and even different jobs doing it. I saw Casino dealers slopping salads and even the ship's nurse serving. For the most part, they kept a good sense of humor while trying their best at keeping themselves and everyone healthy. My spouse and I never contracted anything but were diligent in consistent hand washing at every opportunity. I always understood that Purell was anti-bacterial and Noro is a virus. Also placed around the bars were hydrogen peroxide based, anti-viral 'cloth' wipes. We used those whenever possible to wipe hands, arms, bar railings, poker/slot machines, etc…….. I wonder how effective in quarantining an ill person in their cabin and letting their spouse/cabin-mate still circulate. Not that the sick person should be allowed out, or they would even feel like it, or that the well partner should be similarly quarantined……..just wondering. The place that seems the most impossible to prevent the spread is the casino. While the machines and other surfaces were sanitized, once even shut down for 15 minutes, there are still a lot of people, in close proximity, smoking & drinking & cross-handling chips, dice and cash. Don't see anyway around all that but to close it……unlikely to close such a revenue stream…….. The most obvious neglect we observed that could certainly contribute in a major way to the spread of the disease was the co-mingling of supposedly unused silverware in the restaurants. We observed in both the Vista Dining room and Pinnacle Grill a practice of removing 'thought-to-be-unused' silverware from a guest's seating place and that flatware being put into a central location to be used at a later time on a different table. In the Pinnacle Grill, my wife did not have a salad but tasted my salad with her outside salad fork and replaced it back on the far left of her place setting. After that course was finished, all the outside flatware was collected and placed in a cart where other wait staff could access it for other guest needs during some other course, like dessert. It's not uncommon for any guest to sit down at a table and touch and move any items on the table like wine glasses, bread plates, etc, and then, when not having wine, have that "unused" but 'unclean' wine glass removed and placed on another table for another guest. Perhaps, under 'Code Red' conditions, only tableware that is needed for each course be brought to the table or all tableware be considered contaminated once a guest has been seated. We reported the above incident and concern when noticed in writing about 13 days into the cruise to the Cruise Director - but did not notice any change in procedures, in fact noticed the practice continuing to the end of the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2008
WHO WE ARE. We are an active 60-something couple, making up for lost time in our travel adventures since Retirement. This was our third cruise, all on Holland-America, and our first transatlantic. We have never been to Mediterranean ... Read More
WHO WE ARE. We are an active 60-something couple, making up for lost time in our travel adventures since Retirement. This was our third cruise, all on Holland-America, and our first transatlantic. We have never been to Mediterranean Europe before, so all the ports of call were new to us. We were members of a Cruise Critic Roll Call group of 60+ people, whom we had never met in person before this cruise. I must say that traveling with a group of friends - even Internet friends - makes a cruise an even more special event than normal. CODE RED. Let's get this out of the way first: This ship was in Code Red from the second or third day onward, and this did affect our enjoyment of the cruise. There was a very bad norovirus outbreak, affecting almost 15 percent of the passengers. As a result, this was not as relaxed a vacation as we had hoped because we needed to remain so vigilant about what we touched. Moreover, the level of service was not as high as we would normally expect, since the entire crew was doing double duty. It was especially wearing on the six transatlantic at-sea days when there was no escape to ports of call. But, you know what? Bad stuff happens sometimes, and you just have to deal with it and move on. The crew worked exceptionally hard in trying to contain the problem, maintaining their cheerfulness and professionalism through it all. Their efforts were obviously not enough to contain the illness, but I don't think they could have done any more to address the problem. My hat is off to them; they were amazing. We were fortunate and did not get the illness. EMBARKATION. We traveled from our Venice hotel (near San Marco) to the Marittima docks by water taxi, which we shared with another couple. It was worth the 16€ per person for an exhilarating ride down the canal in a speedboat, to say nothing of the convenience of having a private conveyance. Our luggage was offloaded to waiting porters and we strolled about ¼ mile to the terminal building. The check-in line was long, but well organized and moved quickly. A separate line for security also moved quickly. We probably spent no more than 45 minutes total in both lines. Cabins were available shortly after we boarded at around noon. Because local authorities wanted to examine all of the luggage brought onboard, our suitcases did not arrive in our room until late in the afternoon. THE SHIP. The general condition of the ship's public areas was very good. The overall dEcor is getting a little dated. The layout of the ship is logical and not too difficult to learn. The ship recently had additional cabins added to the stern and other changes, but they obviously did not do a complete overhaul. There was no updated map of the ship available - the front desk made pen-and-ink changes to the old map when we asked for one. OUR CABIN. We booked a balcony cabin on the 4th deck, aft. We chose a portside cabin so that we would be on the sunny side of the ship as we crossed the ocean, east to west. We have sailed on a Vista class ship before, so we knew that the cabin size and configuration would be acceptable to us. Holland-America has freed up much needed space on the vanity top by moving the TV and DVD/CD player to a wall bracket above the vanity. The furniture in the room looked worn and dinged, giving the cabin a slightly shabby appearance. The carpets could use a deep cleaning. The beds were very comfortable, and the A/C worked perfectly. The bath was clean and well maintained. There was plenty of closet and drawer space. Our two cabin stewards, who worked as a team, did a good job, although they obviously were stretched thin, especially with the extra Code Red precautions. THE FOOD. We had dinner on all but two nights in the Vista Dining Room. The food was generally well prepared, using very good ingredients, and was artfully presented. The appetizers, soups and salads were fine. The entrees were often too bland for my taste. I would have appreciated having a choice of at least one entrEe with more zip. Our steward, knowing my preference and at his initiative, routinely brought a small ramekin of chili sauce for me to add to my entree. The desserts were quite often disappointing, beautiful to look at, but without much flavor. Pastries were tough, not flaky. I usually ended up with ice cream, which was excellent. I have to mention that our dining room steward Joko and his assistant Hajib made an awesome team. They were attentive without being fawning; friendly without being familiar; and completely professional without being stuffy. Kudos to both of these gentlemen! I usually purchased wines at a supermarket in each of the ports we visited. It was nice to have wines of the region with dinner, and even with the $15 corkage fee, the total price was equivalent or lower than ordering from the ship's wine list. We also opted one evening for dinner in the Pinnacle, and believe that it was well worth the $20 per person charge - more flavorful food, quieter ambience. They served the best asparagus I believe I have ever had. Very nice. We ate in the Lido only for breakfasts and snacks, which were OK. The raisin buns are excellent. The Terrace Grill near the Lido pool makes a great hamburger and fries (if you don't mind well-done meat.) We had room service occasionally for continental breakfast, and it was delivered promptly and at the proper temperature. SPECIAL EVENTS. As part of the Cruise Critic Roll Call group, we were treated to a wonderful lunch in the Pinnacle Grill. The ship's staff also provided the Cruise Critic group with two meet-and-greet opportunities in the Crow's nest, where we got the lowdown on the cruise from Hotel Manager, Mark Pells, who was exceptionally gregarious, funny and informative. We appreciated his attention to our group. The Mariner's brunch in the Vista Dining Room was also a very nice affair. There was a special barbecue for all passengers on the aft pool deck after we left Sicily. and a great deck party with local seafood and free booze after leaving Madeira. ENTERTAINMENT. I was very impressed with the quality of the entertainment onboard. The two big Las-Vegas style shows were really good, even though I don't usually care for that kind of thing. It was not over-amplified, as such shows often are. The HALCats band on this ship is really terrific, and provided excellent backup to the guest entertainers, who were all quite talented. As a special treat we got a classical piano concert by the bandleader, James, and, on our final evening, a solo concert of gypsy music by the band's guitarist, Felipe, on his seven-string guitar. We had late fixed dining (8:00 p.m.), so we attended the early performances, which left us little to do after dinner. We are not night owls, so usually after a walk around the ship, we retired for the evening. This did not bother us, but it might be an issue for people who like a lot of night life. MISCELLANEOUS HIGHS AND LOWS The GYM was well equipped and not very busy. We enjoyed using the HYDROTHERAPY POOL until it was shut down because of the Code Red. My wife loved the COOKING CLASSES, and now that we are back at home, I am the happy beneficiary of her expanded culinary repertoire. The CRUISE DIRECTOR, Jason Verner, was quite humorous and seemingly born to the job. We learned to look forward to his repartee with the Captain (and the captain's struggles with certain English words) on their ship-wide announcements each afternoon. Jason even made the disembarkation talk enjoyable. The ON DECK FOR THE CURE 5K walk was well attended, and the ship's staff went above and beyond to make it a festive occasion, with a beautiful pink cake and pink bubbly. Many of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group were participants. We were unimpressed with the onboard SHOPS. There was a tiny corner stocked with a meager assortment of sundries, and the liquor selection was small. A great deal of deck space was devoted to very high-end jewelry, and there seemed to be few browsers, and even fewer buyers...certainly not us. The PHOTOGRAPHERS were not pushy. Only on the first formal night did they insist on getting everyone's photos at the dining table. Otherwise, they asked permission, and graciously accepted a "no" answer. I don't think combining the INTERNET CENTER and LIBRARY with the Crow's Nest was such a great idea. There is no way to keep the noise level from the Crow's Nest contained and, in general, the areas' functions seem incompatible. Coffee at the EXPLORATION CAFE is a BIG step above coffee served elsewhere on the ship. It was exciting to do some scenic cruising off the active volcanic island of Stromboli, north of Sicily. The LAUNDRY SERVICE was reasonably priced but very slow, and they damaged two of our items with bleach or extra-strong detergent. PORTS OF CALL VENICE. Fabulous. We arrived four days before our cruise, and that was not enough. (Actually it was way too much for our wallets.) A few tips for first timers like us: -The Alilaguna boat from the airport to the San Marco area was an inexpensive alternative to a water taxi, albeit slower. -The Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge's Palace is not to be missed. -It's worth it to pay the few Euros to see the Pala d'Oro altar screen in St. Mark's Basilica. -Be sure to visit the basilica between 11:30 a.m and 12:30 p.m. when they turn on the lights. Otherwise it's kind of gloomy inside. -Musica a Palazzo is a wonderful small-scale opera performance, held in a genuine Venice palace on the Grand Canal. It's hard to find - locate the place during the day, so you won't be rushed at showtime. I found this to be the highlight of our time in Venice. -Rick Steves' (free download) audio guide of the Grand Canal on Vaporetto #1 was like having a personal tour. Recommend this highly for an overview of Venice. DUBROVNIK. We took the ship-sponsored shuttle bus ($15 per person, round trip) from the port to the old city at the Pile Gate. We're glad we did, since it left of plenty of energy to walk atop the wall that rings the old city. It took us about two very scenic hours to do the circuit. Beware: Lots of steps. There is an ATM just inside the gate near the gift shop to get a few Kunas for the day. However, everyone seemed to take Euros, so it may not be necessary. The town is lovely, crawling with tourists with lots of places to shop and grab lunch or a snack. CORFU. A member of our Cruise Critic group graciously arranged a private tour of the island, which made for a great day of sightseeing. We saw some magnificent mountain and sea scenery, learned about the process of making olive oil at a small museum, stopped for Greek pastry and coffee at a cliff-side restaurant, sampled some local goodies at a roadside stand, and did a little shopping in Corfu town. We also did a quick tour of the Achillion mansion, which was lovely, but we really weren't able to spend enough time there to make it worthwhile. I would rather have spent more time in the town. MESSINA. We only had a few hours in this port. We took the ship's tour of Taormina and the Greco-Roman ruins, which worked well for us. After a 45 minute drive in a large coach on good roads, we arrived in the beautiful Sicilian town of Taormina, where our guide gave us a walking tour and narrative history of the place. Then we were able to see the ruins of the ancient amphitheater which is reported to frame a fantastic view of Mt. Etna in the distance. Alas, when we were there it was raining, so the mountain was nowhere to be seen. After strolling back to the meeting point, we all climbed back onboard the coach for the uneventful drive back to Messina and the cruise ship. CIVITAVECCHIA/ROME. We had a whirlwind tour of Rome, arranged by one of the members of the Cruise Critic group. It was a fabulous way to get a flavor of the city in one day just enough to whet one's appetite to return for a longer visit. The six of us traveled in a comfortable van, and our driver was courteous, knowledgeable, and an all-around nice guy. In the morning we managed to quickly tour: the Coliseum (one hour), Circus Maximus, the Forum from Capitoline Hill, the Victor Emmanuel memorial, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. Whew! After a delicious quick lunch at a place recommended by the driver, we met up with a private guide for a walk through the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel. We dawdled a bit too long in the museum, so we only got a quick dash through St. Peter's before we had to leave for the ride back to the ship. Having a private driver was not much more expensive than the ship's coach excursion, and it was really good to be in a smaller vehicle that can be parked nearer the sites. Also, the loading/unloading time is much less with only six passengers instead of an entire coach-full. The driver was keenly aware of the importance of returning to the port before all-aboard. CARTEGENA. I was blown away by the beauty of this clean and friendly Spanish city. We did nothing more than get lost in the side streets, enjoying the flower market and the amphitheater ruins in town. A highlight on this cool, clear day was Cafe Valor, very near the dock, where we had the most delicious, rich hot chocolate that was almost the consistency of pudding. The chocolate is not drunk, but eaten by dunking churros think sweet, crispy doughnuts in the shape of breadsticks. CADIZ. Another charming Spanish city, perfect for walking. The city is on a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, and there is a pedestrian walkway for almost the entire outer perimeter. There are beautiful parks with benches covered in blue and yellow Spanish tiles, a bathing beach, and amazing views of water, sky and city. The large cathedral is worth a quick look inside. They have painted colored lines on the sidewalks of the town, indicating various walking routes. Three is also a hop-on, hop-off tour bus available if you can't or don't want to walk . MADEIRA. We took a private van tour to see some very dramatic scenery in the west part of the island. The island is much more mountainous than I had imagined, and that terrain creates some crazy weather patterns. On the southeast side near the beautiful city of Funchal, where the ship docks, there are banana trees, tropical plants, and sugar cane. As we traveled west, and climbed in elevation, we saw remnants of the previous night's snowfall, and at one point, traveled through an active hailstorm - a bit nerve-wracking on those narrow, mountain roads. The steep cliffs and huge waves crashing on rocks were breathtaking. We spent some time strolling in a charming seaside village called Ribeira Brava and had a fabulous lunch with local seafood, across from the pounding surf in the town of St. Vincent (I believe that was the name). NASSAU. Because of the Code Red, and the weather, we were diverted from Half Moon Cay to Nassau. We were unprepared for this port, so we took the ship's excursion that provided an overview of the island and a stop at two forts and the Queen's Staircase. The highlight of the tour was a visit to Ardastra Gardens, a lovely tropical oasis with a small zoo. The most famous residents are the marching flamingos. Using the birds' natural tendency to flock, they have trained them to do a parade of sorts forward march/halt/about face. As part of this show, the trainer selects a few lucky members of the audience to come into the ring with the birds and do their best flamingo imitation, whereupon the birds will nuzzle them. My wife is a great flamingo lover and happily got to do her time in the ring. After a short time window-shopping in Nassau town, we returned to the ship for the last time before sailing to Ft. Lauderdale. (Sigh.) SUMMARY This was a wonderful vacation. The itinerary was fantastic. The ship was in generally good shape, except for some wear and tear in our cabin that really needs to be addressed. The taste of the food was a bit disappointing to me personally, but the quality of the food was high. And, overall the service was very good, which is amazing when you consider that everyone was pulling double duty. I would not hesitate to recommend this cruise or this ship to anyone. 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Zuiderdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.2
Dining 3.5 4.1
Entertainment 4.5 3.7
Public Rooms 3.5 4.1
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.7
Family 2.0 3.7
Shore Excursion 5.0 3.8
Enrichment 5.0 3.6
Service 4.0 4.4
Value For Money 4.5 3.8
Rates 4.0 4.1

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