September 10-17, 2005
by Craig Longhofer
Just got back from HALs Zuiderdam on the Western Caribbean cruise, and I would like to share my review of the ship and
itinerary. I have to say that Holland America Line is the best cruise line I have taken so far ( previous cruises on Royal Caribbean and Princess. The Zuiderdam may be somewhat flashy and "too red" in its decor, however, the service of the Indonesian and Filipino staff , the cruise directors, dining , bar, and entertainment staff are outstanding!
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale has to be the best port in America, as the airport and port and very conveniently located near each other, with ample hotels near the airport . We arrived the early morning (1
am) prior to embarkation and stayed at the Comfort Suites Airport/Cruise port. I would not recommend this hotel as there are nicer properties for the price who also offer free transportation to the port. Hotel was being refurbished and we did not get the suite we
requested, so we may have been somewhat jaded in our opinion.
Arrived at the ship at 12:00 pm noon. HAL starts embarkation at 11:30, and allows guests to mill around the ship's public areas until the cabin is ready around
Embarkation process was streamlined and NO LINE for the suite category cabins. Was greeted and processed very professionally in about 10 minutes. Was on the ship by noon, after going through security and picture line. As we had a suite, we were escorted by a white gloved steward to the Neptune Lounge on the Rotterdam deck. This is a wonderful quiet place with an excellent concierge service. We were always greeted by name when we entered the Neptune Lounge. The lounge included a television, numbers sofas, chairs, reading material, an excellent coffee/ cappucino machine, fresh juices and iced tea. There also was a wonderful continental breakfast in the mornings, and hors
d'ouevres and desserts throughout the day. The concierge staff are able to book shore excursions, dinner reservations, and anything else you need to make your cruise enjoyable. We were in our suite (7050) by 1:30 pm.
Stateroom: We were in the S category superior verandah suite which is ample room. The suite is tastefully decorated with art work, leather wrap around sofa and chairs,
television, CD player, and DVD player. The bed was the best as in any fine hotel with beautiful duvet, Euro pillow top mattress, ample pillows. Best sleep ever on a cruise ship. HAL has to be commended on their "Signature of Excellence" upgrades to their ships!
We were greeted with champagne,
personalized stationary, bathrobes, umbrella, fresh flowers and binoculars.
Room has an abundance of storage space with drawers and closets
everywhere. There is a nice sized balcony with 2 chairs with ottoman, and a table and 4 chairs. There is also a great addition of a window overlooking the sea from the bedroom of the suite.
Steward service: Saw the steward several times each day, and the room was always spotless. Anything we needed, Supato was able to arrange for us. Excellent , attentive steward service.
Dining: Had a table for 2 in the Vista dining room at the late dining time. HAL uses Rosenthal china in the dining room and nice linens for a beautiful touch. Always fresh flowers on your table. Wine steward (Jayson) was attentive , but not pushy at all. Excellent wine recommendations. Our waiter and 2nd waiter ( Buddy and Mo) were very good and alway greeted us by name. Food was beautifully presented, especially desserts. Salads and soups were very good with several choices nightly.
Main entrees were just the right serving amount with very good taste.
Pinnacle Grill: Did the Pinnacle Grill on the 2nd night of the cruise. This is the Zuiderdam's Northwest Style Sterling Silver steakhouse. Cover price of 20 dollars, and it is worth every cent. Absolutely delicious, tender steaks! Excellent service. Highly recommended to anyone desiring excellent steaks or seafood and a nice environment.
Terrace Grill: This is located on the Lido deck near the main pool. This offers hamburgers, turkey sausage, hot dogs , and grilled chicken from a grill area, as well as a taco and salad bar. Nice for a late afternoon lunch or snack.
Lido Grill: This is the Zuiderdam's buffet, and it is arranged in several servings stations, based on type of food, on both sides of the ship. Food is served to you by the staff from the buffet line. Amazingly, there is a young man one buffet station who remembers
everyone's name! He is able to greet you by name each day. Food from the buffet was the best buffet line food I have had on a cruise ship. Breakfast selections ranged from made to order eggs, omelets, scrambled eggs, pancakes and French toast, fresh fruits, cereals, and on and on. The best part: Fresh squeezed orange juice!
Entertainment: Cruise Director (Bobby Broughton) is excellent with the Zuiderdam
guests - never self promoting, never a crude or nasty comment, no offensive racial or sexual orientation slurs as we have experienced on Royal Caribbean. The female comedian was great, especially her late night adult show. Eddie Holmon ("Hey
There Lonely Girl") was the featured entertainer for 2 shows and he was outstanding and genuine. There also were 2 production shows with the Zuiderdam cast which were very good- one show featured Bob Mackie gowns. HAL offer a crew show on each ship, and the Indonesian crew put on a show one night which was very fun. Very nice touch by HAL to allow the Filipino and Indonesian crew members to share their culture and talents with us.
Ports of Call: Lots of tendering on this itinerary, yet never had to wait for a tender boat.
Half Moon Cay: HAL's private Bahaman island. We had a cabana and this is highly recommended, although sell out early. Air conditioning and ceiling fan in the cabana help to keep you cool; plus, a cooler and
refrigerator with snacks and drinks. They also provide you with snorkel equipment in your size, lounge chairs with misting, and a shower. Cabana boys come by regularly and can supply bar drinks, and maybe even your lunch from the barbeque buffet on the island.
Half Moon Cay has several bars and shops if you desire. The beach is excellent and clean, the water very clear and warm. You can even do horseback riding in the water!
Grand Cayman: Not too impressed with this island, as it is very similar to other islands we have been. However, there is a fantastic shore excursion which will take you to the Tortuga Rum Cake factory and store, the Cayman Turtle farm, Hell, and to the bay. Here you board a boat and go out into the Caribbean to a sandbar. The water is about waist height, and you are able to get out of the boat and play with the stingrays. Had a blast!
Costa Maya, Mexico: 3 ships in port the day we were there. Puerto Costa Maya is a nice area with shops , bars, entertainment within walking distance of the ships. We, however, took a bus (3 dollars one way) into the downtown area, not knowing what we would find. The downtown is a typical Mexican village with dirt streets and numerous street vendors offering their goods. We found a nice restaurant/bar with a thatched roof right on the beach. Wonderful Caribbean breeze coming through the restaurant with dining available within 30 feet of the water! Spent most of the hot afternoon downtown and thoroughly knew we made the right
Key West: Came in on the Naval port side, so you must take a trolley (free) to downtown area. Busy day in Key West (Biker week). Took a glass bottom boat ride which was interesting, although did not see much. Ship stays in port until 5 pm, but we were not able to get off the boat until 10:30 after every one passed immigration. Wish we had more time to explore Key West.
Disembarkation: HAL allows you to stay in your cabin until your number is called to disembark. This is all performed very
smoothly and no major lines to fight. Suite guests are allowed to depart at their convenience.
Post cruise: Stayed in Fort Lauderdale post disembarkation at the Courtyard by Marriott Airport in Dania Beach, FL. Cab was about 20 dollars from the cruise port, but very near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport. This is a new hotel with nice large, clean, nicely decorated rooms for around 109 dollars a night. Offers free transportation to the airport or cruise port. This hotel is adjacent to the Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World and the Fishing Museum. There is a good seafood restaurant and bar within walking distance of the hotel. There also is a Subway adjacent to the hotel. Would recommend this hotel highly, however there is not much else in the immediate area that you can walk to.
Overall, an excellent cruise and experience with the HAL Zuiderdam staff. We were looking forward to trying Holland America, but were somewhat hesitant about the Zuiderdam from what we had read online. Needless to say, we were treated outstandingly by the staff, and they work very hard to make the Zuiderdam a terrific ship!
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