My wife and I just returned from the inaugural Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Zaandam (May 6-13). Here is our report for those who are curious.
Check in and boarding was the usual HAL efficient process. We actually boarded a bit early (despite one of our party forgetting their passport) and were able to tour the ship and eat a relaxed lunch before the lifeboat drill.
The ship was absolutely beautiful. The descriptions posted at HAL's web site are an understatement from my personal impressions. You had to really look close to find any flaws. The few that stick in my mind are the centerpiece pipe organ that is supposed to automatically play each 15 minutes. The front desk said that the organ would play from the keyboard, but not from the music roll. After a couple of days, one of the passengers volunteered and would play the organ each day at noon. The volume was very low key (I guess I should have expected that they wouldn't want to disrupt business at the desk and shops). The other minor annoyance was the ladies room near the Mondriaan Lounge (main show theatre). It appeared to spend most of the cruise out of order. The ladies would have to go up stairs to use facilities.
The ship continues the HAL expectation of shiney and spotless. The hotel and food service staff were absolute fanatics about keeping the public areas pristine.
This ship has the lowest level of vibration and noise during the cruise that I have experienced so far. I opted for an inside cabin this cruise and was embarrassed to oversleep on the first morning in Nassau. The cabin was roomy with more storage space that we required. The cabin (2574 K class) was configured with two twin beds which the steward (Sapri Ali) quickly configured into a large queen bed. He also removed the hassock and soft drinks at our request (thanks for that hint r.t.c!). The temperature control was electronic with an led display that dimmed when the lights were turned down (nice touch eh!). Water pressure and temperature were ideal. CNN and TNT were available in room 24/7 so I got to keep track of the news and NBA playoffs.
The food and dining service were superb. This was the first full capacity, two seating cruise so the first dinner ran late (glad I had first seating). The meals were typical for HAL, with no one at our table disappointed. All food was served at the correct temperature. Our wait staff was a little slow at remembering our drink preferences, but by the third day, no one had to ask for anything. The pastry quality and variety was better on the Zaandam than on my previous two HAL cruises. Breakfast and Lunch at the Lido were excellent as usual. A big plus were the separate counters for omelets and Lunch sandwiches, which served to reduce the lines. The BBQ served on Tuesday evening (San Juan) was delicious. Along with the usual ribs, steaks, chicken, they served grilled prawns (big shrimp) and salmon. I had extra salmon and skipped the desert.
Entertainment variety was the usual cruise ship blend. Better that expected were the orchestra (great sound guys!), the comedian and juggler. The dance team is newly assembled for this ship and are very energetic and talented. The steel drum band came to this ship from the Westerdam, and continue to surpass other bands I've heard. They are the only band I've heard that plays at just the right volume. This ship has their music piped throughout the lido pool area so they don't have to play deafening levels to allow the other side of the pool to hear. They also gave a classical concert that is not to be missed. The in-room and theatre movies were relatively recent - they are on par with satellite and cable PPV fare.
The ports of call were Nassau, San Juan, St John and St Thomas USVI, and Half Moon Cay (Little San Salvador). All of these are what you chose to make of them. I took bread from the restaurant (hint - bring your own ziplock bags) to Trunk Bay in St John and Half Moon Cay, and was surrounded by of fish almost immediately. This attracted quite a few people to watch. One lady asked what type of fish they were. I couldn't resist and told here I thought they were piranhas and that I was just about out of bread so maybe we should head for the beach. She called BS on me when she saw my grin. HAL continues to improve Half Moon Cay. The facilities are first rate and are not to be missed.
Each passenger was given an inaugural plate and certificate. The plates are Deft china made in Holland, and quite lovely.
The cruise staff was very active and pleasant. We took advantage of many of the passenger participation events and were thoroughly entertained and pleased. The staff and ships entertainers mingled with the passengers and were very receptive to suggestions and comments.
Disembarkation was just as efficient as arrival. Our party had driven to Ft Lauderdale so we waited in the Lido restaurant with coffee and tea. We were loaded and driving home by 9:40 AM.
Cudos and a tip of the hat to HAL and the crew and staff of the Zaandam! A perfect voyage from start to finish.