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Copyright 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

 

Zuiderdam
August 2-9, 2003
Eastern Caribbean Itinerary

by Sue Adam

Eastern Caribbean Itinerary: St. Thomas, St. Martin, Nassau, and Holland America Line's private island, Half Moon Cay.

With this ship the subject of so much controversy on the Internet lately, I couldn't wait to see what was in store for us on this cruise. These are my honest thoughts on this new ship and design.

EMBARKATION:
We spent a pre-night stay at the Embassy Suites on 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale (great price with the help of BiddingFun.com) and arrived at the pier at around 11:30. We always take a taxi instead of waiting for the hotel shuttle as it is so inexpensive and we can get there at our convenience. To our surprise, we were checked in and on the ship by 11:45. Although we were told that we were not allowed to go to our cabins until approximately 1:30, we were able to look around the ship, have a nice lunch and enjoy what the ship had to offer until our staterooms were ready. What a great change HAL has made in this area. We still had memories of sitting in 'chairs' for several hours until mid afternoon a few years ago when we were sailing on the Zaandam.

CABIN SS 6052:
We found our rooms were ready just before 1:00 and we unpacked our carry on luggage and then relaxed on the balcony for a while until our luggage arrived. Within an hour we had received all but one of our bags. We quickly unpacked and by that time the last one arrived. Vacation starts for me after everything is put away and the luggage is stored, then it is time to kick back and relax.

We had booked one of the SS Suites that are located where the ship bows out, SS 6052. This Suite is 330 square feet compared to the 297 square feet found in the normal SS Suites.  Not being able to find out anything on the Internet about this layout, it was exciting to see what it offered. What a great suite. The angled entrance to the balcony made it much roomier than the regular SS Suites we viewed. The balcony is shaped in a relaxed Z with three sections. One contained a nice large table with two chairs, the next the entrance from the room, and last two comfortable padded chairs with ottomans and two small round side tables. Very nice and totally covered, we could enjoy it no matter what the weather. Also because it is situated behind the extension, the wind was minimal on this balcony. We spent many long hours morning, noon and night just watching the world pass us by and enjoying the ocean views.

The rest of the cabin was also very roomy, plenty of room for even three people with the Queen/Twin bed and the sofa sleeper that would comfortably sleep one person. The added electrical outlets in the room were a great asset, as we were used to having only one main outlet for the entire cabin on other lines. It gave us an added outlet to charge things like camera batteries, etc.

Storage was unbelievable with large closets and drawers and we located two large drawers at the base of the beds that were never used by us--we didn't need them. Even the round, padded dresser stool has storage underneath (which we found is where they stored the contents of our honor bar when we asked that the items be removed). 

The bath is wonderful. Dual sinks and a regular sized Jacuzzi tub with separate shower were perfect (although the separate shower was pretty much on the small side for regular use).  I packed  bath scents and bubble bath to make that experience very relaxing. Two mirrored storage cabinets, one located on each side of the large bathroom mirror made separating his and hers easy. Also a larger shelf under the sinks that ran the full length of the bathroom kept everything up and out of the way. HAL provides soap, shampoo, lotion, and a shower cap for you, although we always bring our own.

A hair dryer is provided in the top left drawer of the dressing table, but even though I have very short hair, it was a chore to use. Not much power and I would strongly suggest that you bring your own as this took forever just to dry my hair, I can't imagine the time it would take for someone with medium or long hair with this. I have never suggested in any review that anyone bring their own hairdryer as I know they are cumbersome to pack, but for this ship, it is a must.

A nice sized safe was also located in the main closet that could be programmed with your personal 4 digit code. Much nicer than having to scan a credit card each time you needed to remove/add anything.

We found that taking our little adapter that is used for No. America, So. American and the Caribbean came in handy to plug in our night light in the bath. This electrical outlet has a switch that you can access 110 or 220 Volt as needed. But you can only plug in something that has prongs of the same size (where as most of ours have one larger and smaller prong that will not fit). It worked perfectly and made it also very relaxing to soak in the Jacuzzi with the soft lighting instead of the harsher fluorescents.

We met our room steward at around 9:00 the first evening, it was the first time we had set eyes on him since we boarded. It might have been our schedule, but for some reason he did not get his timing right with our cabin. We never leave at the same time on any given day and that might have thrown him off. We could leave at 8:00 for breakfast, come back at 10:00 to find our room had not been touched. But as soon as we returned he would be knocking on the door wanting to know if he could clean. One day we left for shore and returned about 1:00 and he still had not been in the room. A bit embarrassing for us as we had guests accompany us back to our room and here we all sat with unmade beds and dirty towels over the tub. HAL has no card to put out to alert the room stewards that you have left as some other lines do, so we attributed the problem, in part, to this difference. Others we talked to that seemed to always leave at the same time each day did not seem to have a problem with him and we shared the same room steward. It was all in the timing as when he did straighten up, he did a wonderful job for us. We just never keep the same schedule day to day on a ship, we go with the flow of what we are doing on any particular morning.

DINING:
We chose early seating but when we received our documents it said 'confirmed for late seating.' When we arrived in our stateroom we found our dining assignment and again we were back to early seating. Very interesting. We were seated at table #82, a table for two, next to the half glass partition upstairs with a perfect view of the orchestra and the upper and lower dining areas. I couldn't have chosen a better table location if I had picked it out myself.

The first evening our waiter seemed to be having a difficult time, he just could not get the food delivered correctly and was very slow. But it was the first night and so we showed patience, never commenting about it, except to each other. It must not have been just us that noticed as beginning the second night we had a different waiter. Not sure what happened, and we never asked. The service was good on some nights but the waiters seemed to have far too many tables to handle and they got behind quite regularly. It was not uncommon for us to sit with dirty plates in front of us for up to 15 minutes. (Not complaining, but it was just something we noticed was happening that rarely takes place in the dining room.) We found the food in the dining room, and everywhere on the ship to be the high quality that HAL always provides, very very good to excellent. Nice presentation, always served very hot or very cold accordingly. Plenty to choose from on the menu and all prepared perfectly to our tastes. Much spicier items have been added to the menu, much different than we remembered from the Zaandam as a few years ago. We remembered the food used to be more on the bland side than anything else. But they have spiced it up and offer more items to challenge all tastes.

One thing to keep in mind if running into a problem, giving this example of a small item thing we encountered. We ordered iced tea on the first evening and it was delicious. The second night we also ordered iced tea but never received it. On the third evening, when it was ordered and never arrived, we asked the Maitre d' when he came by our table if there was a reason that we just could not be served tea with our meal? He immediately took care of the problem and every night after our tea was waiting for us when we arrived. They addressed us by name as we entered the dining room after that also. It just goes to show that a problem can be corrected quickly without making a fuss. But if the problem is not brought to their attention, it is hard to make it right. If you run into some small inconvenience while onboard, mention it nicely to someone and it will be taken care of immediately.

We normally ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet, and although the quality was quite good, the selection seemed to be quite minimal compared to other lines we have sailed on. Adequate, but minimal. The staff was wonderful in the buffet and we found them very accommodating, not overly friendly, but very business-like. If you decide to have breakfast at the buffet, try one of the maple-pecan rolls, better make that two as it would be very difficult to eat only one. They are delicious, for lack of any other word that would make them the BEST that I have seen on any ship in years. If that is not too your liking because of the nuts, the homemade raisin bread in thick slices runs a close second. 

Room Service, now this is one section that this ship excels. A great menu and the foods always arrived hot as they were supposed to be. One thing we did find is that write-in items were not honored. We never tried calling in our breakfast order we just hung out little breakfast sign on our door before retiring. One morning for breakfast we attempted to have hash browns or some type of potato with our breakfast and also large Orange Juices. Neither of which were honored, but the items that were checked on the breakfast menu were exactly what were delivered. The fresh squeezed orange juice on this ship is wonderful and it is delivered with room service, and also offered in the dining room and buffet areas both. The poor little guy running the juicer machine looked like his poor arms were ready to fall off on some mornings as the passengers just loved his orange juice.

The coffee was remarkably good, even my husband drank the ships coffee, which for him is very rare. We still always bring along our travel pot as one of us always seems to rise long before the other and that way coffee is right there waiting for us without waking the one left sleeping by ordering it from room service.

The only dining option we found was simply awful was the poolside BBQ that we attended. They closed the dome except for a small area to let the BBQ smoke escape, but that still made the pool area very smoky and hot. Tables were set up as if it were a banquet and bar service and drinks were almost non existent. If I had the choice, we would not attend this again, it is highly over rated.

All in all, we would have to say that HAL seems to have some of the best menu items, prepared perfectly, when compared to other cruise lines. Very consistent! An A+ would go to the Filet the first formal night, it could be cut with a fork. Also the breakfast rolls were some of the best we have ever seen (probably explains the extra pounds that we gained on this trip).

Now, I am a firm believer that it is YOUR vacation and you should be comfortable, but I do have my limits. I was amazed to see the very short shorts and T-Shirts that would parade past our table in the evening for dinner. More amazed that they were allowed to wear these clothes in the dining room and not be asked to join the buffet upstairs since it is a definite dining room no-no. I have never been one to look down on anyone who does not 'overdress' on a cruise, but this was even more than I could handle. Even on formal night some of what passengers wore was almost like they had no clue whatsoever that formal attire was requested and, yep you guessed it, some in shorts! A bit much in even my mind. I even saw one passenger in short stretch jogging shorts and a belly shirt with flip flops, and this was NO teenager. Sorry, but it was very out of place in the dining room in the evenings. I do not usually preach about dress and as I said above, I feel all should be comfortable, but when a cruise line states "NO" shorts at dinner, I expect them to mean it and deal with it accordingly which they don't seem to do on the Zuiderdam.

THE SHIP:
Although this ship is not the normal fare for HAL, it was quite interesting. Much more colorful than the other "dam ships," but HAL seems to be growing with the current flow of offering more color and things to do to compete with all of the ships sailing from all cruise lines.

Pools were normally full of children on this sailing, after all, we are still in the middle of summer vacation. We found that the children seemed more controlled by the parents and except for a few late night runs down the hall and a few childish screams heard late into the night as they passed, they really weren't a bother. I must admit, it was the first time that I witnessed a 'stroller line up' outside the dining room at dinner. The halls resembled a used car lot only strollers took the place of the vehicles. There were more very small children and babies on this ship then I have ever encountered before.

We found on deck two that there is a slight (?) smelly problem. As you walk through this deck in one area, sewer gas smells are every few feet in one section. Quite irritating but hopefully this will be corrected in December when the ship goes in for repairs. We found ourselves just avoiding those areas (which were only on deck two and only existed for about 100 feet on this deck but were very noticeable). 

ENTERTAINMENT:
Shows were the normal fare with a few good acts on some nights. Sam Simon, the magician did a very funny 'G rated' routine on two nights that was entertaining to say the least. My husband was again brought into the act (I think Magicians like him for some reason as this was not the first time he has assisted a magician on a ship). After that my husband became a celebrity onboard with adults and children giving him the hand signals that were used in the act for him to respond. Around every corner and even on shore, my husband was greeting his fans, but I think he kind of liked it as everyone on the ship seemed to know him on a first name basis. 

ITINERARY & VIBRATION PROBLEMS:
The ship's officers seem to have discovered how to control the vibration problems it has encountered since it entered service. We were informed that the vibration can be so bad that it will rattle the dishes off the tables in the dining room, explained to us by the Maitre d'. But they slowed the ship way down during dining times so you never notice a thing, or at least we never did. This also was explained why the port times have been shortened. They have to slow her down unless the seas are perfectly calm as to control the problem and not upset the passengers. It really cut down on arrival times in port and we were always the first ship to leave, making tours and exploring a bit on the rushed side compared to other cruises we have been on. But, when seas were calm, we arrived early in some ports, which was welcome. 

DEBARKATION:
The smoothest that we have encountered so far. We were actually the last group to leave the ship as we had planned a post cruise stay in Fort Lauderdale, but were off by 9:45 and claiming our luggage. Very smooth and I feel in part to do with the way HAL does their embarkation. They call nothing in order, numbers are called randomly, which keeps passengers from gathering in the hallways thinking their number will be called next and causing a terrible confusion of passengers trying to leave the ship through hundreds just standing around hoping their number would be called next. Very well organized and very smart of HAL to do this without a pattern to forewarn the next group.

SHORE EXCURSIONS:
Just to add a bit on what we did on shore. 

We booked the Golden Eagle Catamaran in St. Martin, not the first time and definitely not the last time we will book this. A great day of sailing and swimming. One thing you might keep in mind if considering this with small children. This catamaran takes you to a beach on the French side of the island, which means it is 'clothing optional.' We have always found that a group is there that have decided to use the clothing optional method and so if you decide to take small children onboard, you might want to prepare them for what they might see.

On St. Thomas we chose the Champagne Catamaran to St. John. This excursion had to be the worst catamaran tour we had ever taken on any cruise. A very small, overloaded Catamaran that takes you to a beach with very strong currents. The Catamaran is so tiny that the only rest room facilities are located through a trap door on the floor on deck. You need assistance to open the door, then when you need out you have to bang on it in hopes that someone will hear you and set you free of your tomb. The 'champagne' part of this tour consisted of two bottles of very cheap champagne shared with 28 other passengers. Food provided onboard, and this is no joke, was a small buffet of fruit and peanut butter and jelly out of the jar. The crew even complained when they had to put out more bread when the basket was empty. Seating was non existent and we ended up having to sit on top a cooler in the back for lack of seating room anywhere else on board. It is priced the same as the Golden Eagle but there is absolutely no comparison between the two excursions. If you are only able to chose one, the Golden Eagle would be the best choice. 

In Nassau we booked the Stingray snorkel excursion, but it was cancelled at the last minute because of rough seas (although we saw no rough seas, but instead found the seas to be very calm). Not sure what happened there, but our account was credited with the pre-paid amount charged for this excursion.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
We enjoyed this ship very much, especially the SS Suite. The food was superb and some of the best we have had on a ship in many years. The service was very good for the most part and we give high marks to the crew for their efforts. Booking this ship again for us would mean they would have to extend the port times though because we just found that cutting these times so short made it too rushed to enjoy to it's fullest. Hopefully any small problems we encountered will be repaired and this new design will be enjoyed by many passengers in the future.

Photo Courtesy of Holland America Line


Holland America Line - Cruise Reviews


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