We are cruising on the Zuiderdam next month and our only experience with HAL has been on Maasdam last Thanksgiving. From what I am reading on various boards, the Z is not like the traditional smaller HAL ships (such as our wonderful experience on Maasdam) but becoming more upbeat and geared for younger folks. (I'm 30 so not real sure what that means). However, many who have sailed various HAL ships have a variety of opinions on it that I've read about in various boards.
We did not book a balcony so that we can afford to take an Alaska cruise next summer, so I can't help you there. We also haven't cruised Princess so can't compare (only cruised Celebrity, Norwegian and HAL). Because I am a teacher, we can only cruise during traditional holiday/vacation times when the number of kids on board and the prices increase (which is a reason we book HAL - I'd prefer to vacation away from school since I have 140 adolescents every day and don't want 500 kids around me on 'vacation' - and because of the HAL refund policy of when fares drop). I love students, which is why I'm a teacher, but I do need a break every once in a while especially when I teach 140 every day.
One thing that we really like about HAL is their policy of if fares drop - even after final payment. If they drop your base fare by more than 10% after final payment, you can contact your TA (who will contact HAL) for a price adjustment. Last year we received a credit on our credit card and this year we have been told we will again (it takes 6-8 weeks so waiting for it to appear).
According to the website we booked our cruise with, our inside stateroom on Navigation deck (top deck with cabins just underneath Lido/pool deck) is 203 sq ft - plenty of room for the two of us (only had one cruise with larger sq ft at 350). Therefore we feel it is ample size. We had an inside stateroom last year on Nav deck of Maasdam and thoroughly enjoyed the proximity to the Lido deck.
I did research balconies (aft) and found that depending on deck some were private and some were not (depending on deck). At one point a balcony price over an inside was only $125 more per person, but we still opted to keep our inside cabin and save the extra money for excursions.
Yes, they allow you to bring your own wine and champagne. I understand you must pay for soft drinks but can purchase a soda card for unlimited fountain drinks. This wine policy is appreciated as we enjoyed taking a plastic glass of wine to the sky deck at night to sip slowly and enjoy the view of the stars on Maasdam.
I understand many bathrooms have a full bathtub as opposed to shower if that is what you are after. Consult the brochure of deck plans for cabins that have a shower only.
The one very big reason we booked the Zuiderdam for this year was because of the itinerary. We loved Half Moon Cay (which by the way fared rather well with the hurricanes according to other posts - whereas other private islands with other cruiselines were left in very bad shape). Also, the itinerary has Tortola which will allow us to visit the Baths of Virgin Gorda (which we have never seen). And the one big reason we booked the itinerary was the extended port time in St Thomas 8A - 11P (most ships seem to leave by 6 from St Thomas). This gives us time to enjoy St John for the entire day and not be rushed to get back to Charlotte Amalie with the other 10,000 passengers trying to catch their ships (can be a traffic jam - and we are showing several ships in port that day). We married on St John March 2003 on a NCL cruise and this will be our first opportunity to return to our wedding beach - so we've rented a dinghy for the day out of Cruz Bay and contracted with the same chef for another replica wedding cake of what we had. We will return to the beautiful place we exchanged vows before "beach hopping" with the dinghy to the more private / less-accessible beaches that can only be reached by hiking or water.
Hope this helps some even though I can't compare to too many cruises (this will be #5 for 7-nt cruises in the Caribbean for us). We have found a cruise is what WE make out of it - if we go with the attitude of having an enjoyable time, we do. We have found that we can be on the same exact cruise as other people and where we love many things about it, others can't find a single positive and only want to complain about everything. It's all about attitude.
H.A.L. cabins are generally a little bit larger than Princess. The decks on the balcony are often a foot or two deeper, depending on the ship and the deck chosen.
I think H.A.L. is very comparable to Princess. The food varies greatly on H.A.L. but that is true for Princess too. The best food we have ever had in any dining room afloat was on the Veendam and some of the worst food we have ever had was on the Amsterdam.
So go figure. There is a great deal of variation from ship to ship depending on the head cook and the staffing of each ship.
Cruise ship bathrooms are usually small but as the cabin quality goes up so does the bathroom quality.
The overall atmosphere is quiet and mature, but not stuffy. I compare the atmosphere with that of most Celebrity ships, a bit classier than NCL by far.
I monitor online agencies (BestPriceCruises, CheapCruises, Travelocity, etc). The one I booked through showed a decrease, so I emailed them. Worked last year and I have been emailed that this year is a decrease as well (waiting 6-8 weeks for it to show up on my credit card).
For Tortola we are visiting the Baths with Patouche.com charters. I have not heard about the jellyfish so I will definitely do some research!!! Thanks for the heads-up! We've vacationed on St John (not too far away) as well as St Croix and never had a problem, so I appreciate the heads up about the situation for this year!!
Comparing Zuiderdam to Grand and Sun class Princess ships (Standard outside and balcony cabins)
1. Bathrooms on Z are a little larger and not as cramped.
2. The standard inside/outside/balcony cabins on the Z range from about 185 to 198 sq
ft not including balcony. All outside/balcony cabins have a nice sofa/loveseat seating
The P ships range from 135 to 178 sq ft not including balcony. None of the standard
P cabins have a separate sofa/seating area.
MAJOR difference in cabin size making HAL much more comfortable for me.
3. Z balconies are larger then on Sun Class and the same size or larger then on Grand
class except for the "BA" categories on Princess which are huge at about 9'x11'.
4. The main Dining room is a two story set-up with 4 dining times. They do not have PC
or Anytime Dining like Princess.
5. The Z while large by HAL standards it fits in size between the Sun class and Coral
class ships of Princess. While the P ships are decorated in muted light tones with
soaring multideck atriums the Z is much more in tune with vibrant bold colors
art deco touches and a smaller 3 deck high atrium. The Z still tends to be a bit more
formal with Princess tending to be more like a high quality resort feeling. However the
Z is much more "young at heart" and daring then its other HAL counterparts.
6. As far as layout, go to their individual websites and you can see the deck plans.
7. Both lines allow you to bring on wine and/or champagne. HAL is charging a
ridiculously high corkage fee if you have it in the dining room while P charges $10.
8. Soft drinks are not free. $1.75+tip on HAL $1.50+tip on P. This is for cans. (As of 4/04)
9. On both Hal and P ships there are a variety of balconies. Some are covered, some
are uncovered. Some are totally open to the sky above. Some are half covered and
half open. All cabins have a divider that you can still easily look around or hear
people talking on the balcony next to you. The balcony cabins on the lowest Z deck
tend to have metal walls while the upper balconies tend to have plexiglass for better
viewing. The balcony cabins toward the bow on all ships tend to have terrible wind
turbulence while at sea. The Sun class balconies are cut into the hull and are very
small but more private.
10. I go on both lines hand in hand and pick the ship for various reasons. HAL tends to
be a little more formal and of "the old school" and more low key.
Princess is more energetic, more excitement, PC dining, but tends to have a lot
more people on their Grand Class ships.
I have Platinum Status and I travel with Elite status pax on Princess so this tends to
skew things as we get alot more benefits then when we go on HAL. On P we get
Platinum check-in, free internet, priority tender boarding, dry cleaning among other
In the last 3 years I have been on the Star, Grand, Coral Princess and on the Ryndam and Zuiderdam.
I have booked the Diamond P. 11/04, Volendam 4/05 and the Oosterdam 11/05.
Hopefully I have answered your questions well enough to give you a little more insight. Whichever, ship you choose of either line you should have a very enjoyable cruise.
Everyone has given you great info on the Zuiderdam. I was on it last year for my first cruise and I've never been on other ships so can't make any comparisons for you. Given HAL's reputation, I was expecting nearly a nursing home atmosphere. There are guests of all ageas and the seniors I met on board were all great ppl. Even those who were less able bodied got into all the activities and took on the ocean with the best of them! :o)
DH and I were 35 and 38 when we were on the Z. We are quiet and sedate people and don't go to bars or nightclubs. Not to say we are dull or that there was no fun to be had on board! We loved the ship and the atmosphere. There were almost no children on the Z which just makes more room for us old folks to get out there and act like kids! lol
Zuiderdam overcharges (I'm sure all ships do) for the bottled water that you pick up on your way off the ship to the port. That's the only time we purchased drinks. Iced tea is fresh, delicious, and available 24 hours a day, free of charge, on the lido deck. It can be a little inconvenient to access if your not nearby, but I'm an iced tea freak so it was worth it! lol DH and I would even get 2 glasses each and bring them back to our cabin to sip in the evenings on the balcony.
Anyway, speaking of balconies, friends we met on board also had a balcony room. Ours had a glass enclosed railing so your view of the sea was not obstructed. Our friends, on the other had, booked a room with a balcony, but were surpised to see that it was on a part of the ship that required that it be made of metal! When sitting on their deck chairs, they couldn't even see the ocean! I don't know if their TA goofed up and didn't tell them or if ships consider all balconies the same and don't inform guests if theirs with be one out of the ordinary.
Given the opportunity, I'd cruise on the Z again and love every minute of it again! :o) The only reason I didn't choose it for my next cruise is because I'm bringing my teens along this time and the Voyager has many more onboard activities that will keep the kids busy.
HAL does not have Pepsi - only Coke products and they do have Caffeine-free Diet Coke - just make sure you ask for it. Some of the bartenders will tell you they do not have any, but after digging around amongst the cans, they always seem to find one for me. They also have Sprite and Diet Sprite