Zuiderdam Cruise: Jan. 11–18, 2003 New ship, December 2002/Note: Opinions, not a review, as we are not qualified with so few cruises in our past.
Our cruise started with an overnight stay in Ft. Lauderdale, as we had friends in the area, so booked our own airfare—nonstop and cheaper too! I have two cruises behind me and hubby had none. He was very excited about his first cruise and afterwards thought it was wonderful—he didn’t want it to end, nor did I. While these are our opinions/thoughts, others may have different feelings. But I hope everyone who sails on her will find his experience as wonderful as we did.
Embarkation was smooth. Our friends dropped us off at the dock about 2 p.m. Our bags were immediately taken and we entered the terminal to get processed. It took less than an hour. We were then given a number to board the ship. But, there was no wait; we walked right on. There were people to point you towards your cabin, but not individual escorts. This didn’t bother me. Finding your room is simple. We got upgraded from Cat G to Cat. D, (an outside cabin with a full view (but not floor length window) from an outside with partial view (obstructed by a lifeboat) so that was a nice surprise. It was also on the main deck opposed to Deck 4. Very nice location near the front desk and the atrium. At 194 sq. feet, it looked just like pictures we had seen before, and roomier than we expected. The bathroom was nice; plenty of room to store things, including a medicine cabinet—the shower/tub worked fine—very good water pressure and plenty of hot water. The hairdryer was permanently positioned in the room, not the bathroom, but that was fine with me, as I could sit and use the dryer while hubby was in the shower. The bed was fine; double pillows, and situated right in front of the window so we could turn around and sit up and watch in the evening and morning water and skylights when we went to bed. You had your own thermostat. We hardly changed it all week. The temperature was very constant. Our cabin steward Imat was nice. Everything was always in place and replaced as needed. We didn’t have one complaint or missing item that we had to ask for. Each night you get a program of the next day’s activities, as well as the dress code for the dining room. Oh, yes, the room had a mini bar that is replenished as you use it. At charge of course. I could have liked a daily TV accounting of our expenses as some ships have. A friend said this was possible on the Carnival Victory. I think it is a nice touch so you can keep track. We saved all of our receipts and compared them with the totals we got the night before last. You then get another one the last night. Everything checked out fine.
The ship itself is big and beautiful. If you’re looking for a fancy Atrium 5 to 10 decks high, you won’t find it here. It is just 3 decks high, very nice and elegant though with a rotating $400,000 crystal seahorse at the top. It overlooks the Atrium bar on deck 1. The entire ship is designed with art of many forms—sculpture paintings, glassware, and flowers—all beautiful to look at. Colors of carpets and window treatments are bolds in turquoise, blues, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, and purples. Some have said it is gaudy. We loved it all. Simple, ordinary designs and colors would have been boring.
The ship is easy to navigate, as there are ship maps and signs posted by the elevators/stairways. Taking an elevator never had much of a wait nor were they ever crowded. And speaking of crowding, sometimes we felt like we were the only people on the ship; there were few walkers at night on deck 3 on which you can completely encircle the ship. Even within the ship we never felt overcrowded in the least—often wondered where all the people were. And it was almost a full ship; one source said just 100 short.
I guess a lot of them were on the Lido deck which is the buffet deck and pool deck. While we had a few breakfasts there, we opted to have most of our meals in the main dining room. So, we can’t give a fair opinion on the buffet food. I must say the food looked good, but the lines were long, and it seemed to me if you did the buffets, by the time you got your food, beverages, etc. and been seated, some would have started to cool. It is just not our thing. But I must say there were always plenty of people doing just that so the food must have been good. Much of it was the same thing we got in the dining room anyway. We like the seating, service, the no-waiting, and hot food that the main dining room provides. Some like the casualty and flexibility of buffet eating. We had the early seating, which gave us plenty of time after to see the shows, visit the lounges, and partake in other activities. We did use the Lido for the ice cream bar, desserts (always plentiful but closed after a certain hour), coffee, and pizza on occasion. One disappointment was the ice cream bar. There were a few ice cream, yogurt choices, and a couple of containers of toppings, one was a watery caramel and the other looked like berry. Then there was a brown plastic bottle of Hershey’s chocolate. Yes, the kind you find in the supermarket. That was a bit tacky to me. It was right out there in the bottle; I would have preferred a nice thick fudge topping, or caramel one. There were some sprinkles and jimmies and a couple of alcoholic cordials to put on top also. Still it was fine. Since there is no midnight buffet on Zuiderdam, you may be out of luck when late night hunger hits you. There is 24-hour room service too, but we never got to that point.
Main dining room food was excellent in our opinion; we ate there every night but one. There are numerous menu choices and we tried many; were never disappointed and had clean plates every night! Service was fine, not like I remember 10 years ago, but no complaints there. I think the passenger has to put the servers at ease, as many of them seem very quiet, but the crew was always smiling and doing their job, that is for sure.
One night we paid the extra $20 per person in the Odyssey restaurant. No regrets there. It was the most wonderful, elegant meal we have had anywhere, service was very good; food was excellent and presented very nicely, beautiful crystal and china was everywhere. There were about 8-10 main course selections. We had filet mignon and it was perfect—very big, as we chose the Odyssey cut, rather than the smaller cut. We also ordered a bottle of wine there. It was just a very nice couple of hours and a leisurely meal. Next time we might do it a second night.
There are afternoon teas, consisting of tea and desserts, little sandwiches. We went to a couple of them, one of which was the dessert extravaganza (afternoon also), in which the cooks made a lot of desserts, nice ones at that. There was one ice carving, the only one I saw on the ship, but it was nothing like midnight buffets I’ve seen in the past. Holland America is supposed to have a Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza one day. I thought it would be a midnight gala with carvings, the works, and all chocolate. I never did see it on this trip. I forgot to ask, but am thinking this particular afternoon tea was it. So, if that was it I am disappointed, as I was looking forward to totally going nuts on chocolate. Someone out there, help. Did we miss it?
The lounges were all nice. We preferred the Ocean Bar, Crow’s Nest, Explorer’s Bar, but visited them all. Missed a drink only in the Sports Bar. We used them during the day and early evening mostly before there were too many smokers. What would be nice are smoke-free bars. I know Carnival has one totally smoke free ship. Ditto for the casino—smoky. But, you have choices; you visit places when it is less smoky. And we did. There was never a problem finding a place that we were happy at. We saw pool parties going on, games, etc, but didn’t partake in them. We were too busy exploring. Queen’s Lounge had game shows, dancing, entertainment, other things going on. Movies too. It is a smallish lounge, but adequate for these smaller shows. But not for movies. This was the worse spot, as the screen was down to the floor, and anyone sitting behind another had a very obstructed view, as there was only one level of chairs. The chairs were movable, and people were constantly moving them to try to see. A tiered floor plan would help. But, since it is a multipurpose room, considerations have to be made for different activities being held there
Entertainment is top notch. The dance troupe that performed 3 nights was superb. We spoke to 2 of the kids when we spotted them on the ship one day in normal everyday clothes, etc. Nice kids. So much energy. They came from CA and signed up for a 6-month stint. They are wonderful. The pianists, comedian/magician, comedian/juggler of other nights were fantastic as well. Everyone seemed to have fun, both the performers and the audience. Highly recommended. We didn’t miss one show. The crew also puts on a show one night. All the shows last less than an hour, so there is plenty of time for other things. They sure pack a lot into the timeslot allowed.
We used the gym (treadmills) a few mornings that we didn’t go ashore. There are plenty of machines/equipment of all types, plus free classes. Cycling and Pilates are extra. The spa was great but extra and expensive, so did not use any services there. The large hydrotherapy pool was partially not functioning, so it was free all week to whoever wanted to use it. That was nice, but since only part of it worked you had to wait your turn to "get to the bubbles" Still, the warm water felt good.
Other things to mention. Pools are nice; there is a library, internet center (fee), coffee bar (extra, but very reasonably priced coffee drinks); sports deck (11) for basketball, volleyball, badminton; never saw anyone use it, but know there were scheduled activities for these things as well. Deck 10 was Observation deck (views on both front and rear of ship) and this is where the kids club is located as well (indoors). No knowledge of that, but we only saw kids in it once or twice. Shopping area consists of about 4-5 rooms all together. Something different each night is on clearance or special so don’t buy the first day! Last night was clearance on t-shirts, but I didn’t look closely enough; the one I bought had a crooked emblem on it.
W saw few children running about anywhere. When we did see them, they were generally well behaved and with their families. Saw a few very young families as well. Yes, I guess older couples seem to be in the majority, as most HAL ships are. There were young couples and singles as well, but, we get along with anyone, and there was plenty of mix for everyone to mingle if they wished, or enjoy the time together alone. To me, on a ship, everyone is out to have an enjoyable time and we’re all the "same age". However, they need to get more young people on the ship. That would be wonderful, as there is a disco that was almost bare. Perhaps their reputation of being for an older crowd will be hard to change. Hopefully word of mouth will help change that! We are young 50s and we were up late every night having a blast!
I won’t go deeply into ports of call, or make recommendations, but we did choose to go on our own after reading books prior to the cruise, for flexibility as well as expense. I will just tell what we did.
In Nassau, we just did a horse surrey ride through town for about a half hour, then walked around on our own—shopped, walked a lot and had a few beers. It was fun.
St. Kitts was beautiful. We hired a cab driver along with a few other couples and did a 3-hour tour of the island with a stop at Brimstone Hill Fortress (which we wanted to see) and Caribelle Batik. He then dropped us at the shopping area near the dock. For this it was $11 each plus $4 admission to Brimstone Hill. Saw a lot of the island in the ride too.
In my plan to do St. Thomas, St. John: I had to change it. It took forever to get off the ship; I still don’t know why, but it was way too long. Immigration? Customs? We got numbers, and I guess they let people going on excursions off first. By the time we did get off, I thought there would not be enough time to go to St. Johns and do St. Thomas as I planned so rather than take the chance, we opted to go to Sapphire Beach and relax. It was wonderful, and by hiring our own cab driver got to see much of the island just by driving to the beach (I purposely found a far one to do just that). It was on the far end of the island, so we got good views on the ride and a great beach at a private resort, open to the public, no fee, and $5 an hour for snorkeling. The snorkeling was great for right on-the-beach snorkeling. We saw hundreds of KINDs of fish. The hotel was cooking out lunch—burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwich plates for $6, and $2 beers. Weather was perfect.
BTW it was perfect all week, from 80 to 85 or so. Sun almost all the time. It rained one day on ship for about 15 minutes. What more can you ask for?
Finally Half Moon Cay. What can I say? It was perfect. It was a great relaxing day before the end of the cruise. (Most visit Half Moon first, then Nassau last, but we chose this one for a nice ending to it all.) Hammocks, chairs, beach, powdery sand, walks on the beach, and barbecue lunch. This private island is beautiful. We had fun in the outside bars too, watching all the activity from our barstool. While many watersports/boats are available for extra cost, we only rented rafts and snorkeling gear. Snorkeling was good when you went way out to the rocks that hang out, but more varieties of fish were seen in St. Thomas at Sapphire Beach.
Would we sail the Zuiderdam again? Definitely. But with a different itinerary. I would do St. Thomas again, only to get to St. Johns, but Nassau and St. Kitts were seen and done with. We found the ship wonderful in every way. Never a dull moment or lack of things to do. The few petty things we did find (as mentioned above) did not take away from our enjoyment at all. A cruise is what you make of it. Where else can you get so much for what a hotel room at a nice resort would cost alone? We had the week of our lives in every way. But I sure would like to know where that Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza is? I’ll be sure to write Holland America about it. If it was there and we missed it, then we didn’t read our daily paper thoroughly enough, but I think what I was expecting was just not what it was meant to be.