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August 2-9, 2003
Eastern Caribbean Itinerary
Itinerary: St. Thomas, St. Martin, Nassau, and Holland America Line's private
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Photo Courtesy of Holland
America Line - Cruise Reviews
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