My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. This would be our lucky thirteenth cruise and second on a HAL ship. We have sailed the Caribbean on Galaxy; on the defunct Commodore Lines' Enchanted Isle; and on Norwegian Sun and HAL's ms Veendam. We cruised on Regal Princess to the Baltic and Sun Princess to Alaska. We took Carnival's Elation to the Mexican Riviera and Celebrity's Infinity both through the Panama Canal and to Hawaii. In 2003 we did the Mediterranean on Infinity's sister ship Millennium. Our most adventuresome trip was around Cape Horn from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity's Mercury. This past May we did a Transatlantic repositioning cruise on Celebrity's Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome. All of these cruises except the first two, Carnival's Elation cruise and the Enchanted Isle trip; can be found on reviews on this site.
Why This Cruise?
We enjoyed our trip on Veendam, the timing and price were right; and we had experienced only one of the stops, St. Thomas. And that stop was spent shopping for essential clothing for Edith since Celebrity had left her suitcase in San Juan. Also, at the time we booked this cruise, our only anticipated cruise was on Oceania's Insignia down the Amazon to Barbados in March, so it appeared to be a good interim cruise.
We sailed from Port Canaveral on Saturday and had two sea days. Our first stop was Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and the next day we arrived about 40 miles away in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands. After a sea day we made an abbreviated stop at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, an island owned by Holland American. The next day we returned to Port Canaveral.
Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not
I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino, which seemed fairly nice, and had some frequent play from our dinner companions. We do not use the spa facilities, although Edith did sign up for yoga classes. We can't rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship.
Pre-planning Any Cruise
If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the "Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004" Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the "Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition"; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and "Stern's Guide to Cruise Vacations 2004"; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. I know the Berlitz 2005 edition is listed for release. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines' websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships' layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of "specials" and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options.
We did not do nearly as much preparation on this cruise as on some others. Basically I read some of the standard guide books on the islands, and bought a good Insight Flexi-Map of the Virgin Islands. The books spoke highly of Virgin Gorda, a neighboring island to Tortola, and especially a place called The Baths at Virgin Gorda. Both the beach and snorkeling were said to be interesting and good. Again the guide books referred to two ferry services from Road Town, the landing point and major town on Tortola. The internet provided schedules and fares for both services, and Speedy's Ferries seemed to offer the best time going and returning. In browsing various reviews about St. Thomas I came across a trip on a 43 foot yacht for six hours. The yacht is the Winifred and the Captain is Sharon Allen. This seemed interesting as it traveled to the neighboring island of St. Johns. We arranged this over the net also. Her site is: www.sailwinifred.com and the E-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her phone, and this is a US area code; is 340-775-7898. For Half Moon Cay we made no plans at all, nor did we sign up for any tours.
Shipboard Accommodation Planning
Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to "standard" cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature "veranda" cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled "suites"; some of which, like Celebrity's "sky suites" are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a veranda, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better "at sea" experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don't spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships' architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. We had read many reviews which noted that the cabins on Zaandam were a good size, and for a week we certainly did not need a suite.
This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts. Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships' layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. We have managed to cut down on our clothing a lot since our initial cruises, and still find that we have brought one or two items which were never worn.
Getting to the Ship and Back Home
The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use "open jaw" flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety's sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay.
Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don't have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to you travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind.
Off To the Caribbean Again
We wanted to visit some property we owned near Sarasota, so we flew in to Orlando the day before and rented a car. This way we could do a round trip to and from Orlando. The car rental was quite reasonable, and we ate in a nice restaurant on Siesta Key south of Sarasota. The nest day we visited the property and still had plenty of time to get to Port Canaveral, arriving about noon. We decided to get a quick bite to eat before returning the rental car which proved to be a good idea, although Port Canaveral is not exactly a gourmet paradise. When the rental car shuttle got us to the pier about 1:30 we faced a very long line to check in. We were told that the ship had been late arriving. It had just completed its summer Alaska cruising and come down the west coast and through the Panama Canal. We finally got to our cabin at 3:00, but most people in line were cheerful enough, and the line was constantly moving. On Veendam we had both a shipboard card, which served as a charge card and debarkation/embarkation card, plus a room key. Zaandam had the usual system of one card which does everything but open the safe. We were escorted to our room, which is a nice touch.
We had what HAL calls a "Verandah Suite", ( Class B) on the Verandah Deck, Deck 6, Cabin No. 6187. It measures 284 square feet, including the verandah, which makes it almost the size of a Celebrity Sky suite, and larger than most standard verandah cabins. The verandah has a composition material for the deck, a comfortable lounge chair and side chair and small table, and is about six feet from door to railing. The railing is clear glass up to the wooden top rail. The dividers between the verandahs are not solid, there being a six inch gap at the floor level and afoot gap at the top. This allows one to hear conversations from the adjoining cabins, and for the light from one verandah to shine onto its neighbor. Why cruise lines do not make these dividers solid is beyond me. There is a good sized desk with a lighted makeup-up mirror, the first we have seen on a cruise ship. One of the desk drawers also had a portable hair dryer. We had personalized stationary. The desk had nine drawers. There is a standard 72 inch couch and small table. An end table does double duty as a small refrigerator, stocked with all sorts of drinks for sale. At the end of the desk there is a television set with VCR and a shelf with glassware and more mini bottles of various alcoholic treats for sale. Between this area and the bed area there is a drape which goes about 3/4s of the way across the cabin. The bed has two light sources, which was nice. Between the bed area and the closet and bathroom area was another drape which could close off the entire main portion of the cabin so that a someone entering the room would not necessarily see into the living area. Edith liked these curtains very much. The closets were large and with a great supply of nice wooden hangers. As usual, we never came close to using all the clothing storage space provided. The safe uses any credit card with a magnetic strip to open and close; but I prefer the code system used by Celebrity and many other lines, since you don't have to worry about either carrying a credit card or leaving it somewhere in the cabin. The bathroom had a small jacuzzi tub/shower arrangement. There was one medicine chest and one under sink shelf provided which was enough for all our toiletries. The thermostat controls actually worked and effected a change in room temperature. Bathrobes are provided. The cabin was decorated with three nice pictures, a mirror in back of the bed and a full length mirror on the back of one of the closet drawers. The room had good quality wallpaper and painted surfaces, was spotless and overall one of the best staterooms we have ever experienced.
The Ship Layout
The ship was very well laid out from our point of view. The lower three decks are all cabins; with Deck 3 having a teak promenade making a total circle. Deck 4 aft has the Lower Rotterdam Main Restaurant. It is isolated from the rest of that deck and can only be reached by going down from Deck 5 or up from Deck 3 via the aft stairs and elevators. Unlike Veendam and Maasdam, Zaandam had a mid-ship set of stairs and elevators. Forward of these on Deck 4 you can reach the Wajang movie theater and the Pinnacle specialty restaurant. Past this is the Java Bar, a free coffee and cappuccino feature of all HAL ships. You then enter the middle level of the three story atrium, which is largely filled with a white rococo organ. This area also has the Front Desk, Shore excursion office and photo gallery. Continuing to the forward part of Deck 4 you enter the Mondriaan show theater. On Deck 5 forward there is the balcony of the Mondriaan Theater. Proceeding aft you enter the upper level of the atrium, with the Ocean Bar on one side and a boutique on the other. The Ocean Bar has a small dance floor and bandstand. Aft of this is a small shopping arcade and the casino. Beyond this on the starboard side is the extremely attractive Explorer's Lounge which is used for afternoon tea and entertainment by the classical music group, the Atlantis Trio, at night. Opposite this on the port side are the Erasmus Library, internet room, the Half Moon Room set up with card tables and the Hudson Room for small meetings. Aft on this deck is the upper Rotterdam Restaurant. Decks 6 and 7 are both cabin decks. Deck 8 is the Lido Deck with an outside pool and deck chairs overlooking the aft end of the ship. Forward of this is the Lido Buffet Restaurant. Midships has the Lido Pool, which can be opened or covered with its roof panel, and the Terrace Grill and pizza kiosk. Forward of that is the spa and gymnasium. The Sports Deck above this has the traditional Crow's Nest Lounge with its forward view. One can walk back past the sliding roof for the Lido pool, past two sports courts to an aft seating area. and the Skyroom for children's activities. There is an open Sky Deck above the Sports Deck forward which also has a forward view and a few chairs. This arrangement meant that we had an easy time getting around from our Deck 6 cabin since we were halfway between the midship and the aft stair and elevator banks.
The stateroom corridors do not have art displayed as do Celebrity ships, although there are flocked panels with musical notes inset along the corridors at intervals. The coloring for these corridors and panels is cream and gold. The carpeting throughout the ship is patterned in deep red and orange. The elevator and stair bank areas are spacious and pleasant, with the elevators at 90 degrees to the stair wells. Attractive art, including some wonderful paintings of past and present HAL ships are found in the stairwells. The walls of the public area are dark slate grey, but this is not as depressing as it sounds, they set a quiet tone. There are a number of display cases around the ship, many with musical instruments; and some with antique objects d'art etc. The chairs and sofas in the lounges are quite comfortable, with the exception of those in the Mondriaan Theater unfortunately. Everything is spotlessly maintained, although there were some worn places on the beautiful dark wood hand railings in the stairwells. The general impression is low key, tasteful and relaxing. Zaandam is 63,000 gross tons, and with a passenger complement of just under 1400, has a space ratio of 45, which is excellent. We seldom felt crowded and that was only at the end of shows and for the kitchen tour which we chose to skip because of the numbers waiting.
Dining Venues and Food.
The main dining room is the Rotterdam Room, which, as noted, is a two story room at the aft of Decks 4 and 5. Under HAL's arrangement, there are two seatings, each with separate seating times. The "early" early seating is on Deck 5 and starts at 5:45; the "late" early seating is on deck 4 at 6:15. The late seating start at 8:00 and 8:30 respectively. We had not known of the range of options on our Veendam cruise so had been placed on the 5:45 list, which we felt was too early, so we were pleased to sign up for and be placed on the 6:15 seating. HAL prides itself on Rosenthal china, which is nice, but hotel grade china of course, not true porcelain. The table settings are quite good, the table arrangement reasonably placed, and our table was near the aft windows and not bothered by much serving noise. The only inconvenience was that we could not enter on Deck 5 and walk down the grand staircase to our Deck 4 table; we had to use the aft stairs (or elevators).
The Lido Buffet Restaurant has two main serving lines, a dessert area, an omelet station that has grill specialties for lunch, an ice cream station open from 11:30 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 8:30, and a salad line for lunch and probably dinner. Unlike Celebrity, HAL serves a regular dinner in the Lido Buffet, with menu list that is smaller than, but in its offered items, the same as the main restaurant. Their buffet food is cooked directly behind the serving lines, with rotisseries capable of holding large roasts, grills and normal cook tops. At the beginning of each buffet line there is a stanchion with a round object looking like a gumball machine. This contains a cleaning agent released when you pass your hands under its spout, where you are spritzed with a small amount of liquid and advised to scrub your hands together. The agent dries rapidly with no noticeable odor and you proceed to the line. You are provided with a tray and china dishes. The cutlery is found in rolled cloth napkins on the tables or available form stockpiles located here and there. There is an occasional effort to assist passengers with trays, but more upon request than part of the normal service as on Celebrity. Edith had difficulty moving the comfortable, but very heavy and somewhat ungainly chairs. The buffet was often busy, but we were always able to find seats, even for some of the active shore day breakfasts. Nor did we feel that there was at any time any line long enough to constitute an annoyance.
The Pinnacle Room is the specialty restaurant on Deck 4. I had made reservations by calling a number listed on the HAL website. When I did so, my credit card was charged at that time, and the charge showed up on my monthly statement of course, but not on the ship's bill presented at the end of the cruise. This advance registration was probably not necessary, but the restaurant seemed to do a steady if not overflowing business. It is divided into three parts, which makes for a quiet ambiance. The china is good Bulgari, and the rest of the settings match. The charge for this is $20.00 per person.
Now That We Are Sitting Down, How Is the Food and Service?
In the Rotterdam Room I felt that, as on Veendam, HAL does an excellent job with soups, both hot and cold, a very nice job with the entrees, and a fairly good job with desserts. I don't eat salads, but Edith reported that they were good. She likes a vegetarian diet on cruises, and felt that HAL's selection was somewhat limited and uninspired. I had one lamb chop entree which was poor, but I very much enjoyed the Indonesian special dinner and the venison, which drew compliments from several others at our table also. What was offered as chocolate mousse' came across as chocolate pudding. HAL serves cappuccino without charge, along with the normal after dinner coffee and tea, which I think Celebrity should do also.
The breakfasts at the buffet were fairly standard, without much variety. The toast, English muffins and bagels were handed to us hot from the toasters, which was a welcome change, but the potatoes were not hot, nor well seasoned, and there were never any blintzes. There always was smoked salmon and cheese however. Lunches at the buffet were marked by a very good, hot and well seasoned fish selection, as well as hot vegetables. Again, desserts at the buffet were okay, but not inspired. There were some good soups also.
The one meal we had at the Pinnacle Restaurant was a great success. I was pleased that, although it was "informal" night, with a jacket requested, I was accepted in my long sleeve Jhane Barnes shirt. The service was provided by an all European wait staff in contrast to the all Indonesian staff in the Rotterdam. The food selection was not wide, but my filet mignon was excellent, as was everything else. There was no music as we expected, but the meal went very smoothly and we would have been out in time for the show had we chosen to go that night.
There were a number of late night theme buffets which we did not attend, but we did make the sacrifice and attended the afternoon dessert extravaganza.
The service in the Rotterdam was good, but a little rushed since our waiter, Yogi, and his assistant, Puspada, were required to cover three tables in addition to our table of eight. The headwaiter, Nali was around often checking, and the sommelier was very attentive.
On the first sea day, after lunch at the buffet, we strolled outside to the poolside Lido area and got a piece of pizza. While we were seated at the plastic poolside table, two crew members, a young lady and young man in white came over and sat down next to us to eat. We recognized the man from the lifeboat drill as a Third Officer. A few minutes later two more officers came over, led by a fairly young man carrying a plate of food. He politely asked to join the others and was invited to sit. I noticed that he had four gold stripes on his shoulder. They were all pleasantly chatting, in English, although the first two had spoken Dutch when they sat down. As we got up to leave I went over to the four striper and said; "you look like someone important - what's is your job?" He laughed and pointed to his badge, which read - "Master". I told him he had a beautiful ship and he thanked me and cheerfully wished us a happy voyage. I had been a little misled by his stripes since on Celebrity and Princess, I think also, the Captain has a broad gold stripe beneath his four other stripes, but HAL is like the U.S. Navy in denoting the rank of Captain with four stripes. The broad stripes in our Navy are reserved for Admiral rank officers. When we read the Captain's resume in an edition of the ship's newsletter it appeared that he was probably just in his early to mid 40's, which is fairly young to reach his position.
The rest of the crew was as uniformly pleasant as their Captain, but this was not much of a surprise since HAL has a well deserved reputation for good customer relations from its staff. We had almost no contact with our cabin steward, and had the same report from others, but had got the work done quickly and well. The Java Cafe staff was efficient, but not overly friendly. The front desk people were always smiling and helpful. We had no occasion to use the excursion staff since we booked no ship's tours. Edith's experience with the Yoga instructor was very good.
Our Fellow Passengers
While Holland American has a reputation for catering to the elderly, we thought that the age range was pretty broad. On our Veendam trip, over spring break, we had over 120 children, who were very well managed. There were very few children on Zaandam. It does seem that HAL's "quiet" reputation was reflected in our fellow passengers, since there did not seem to be any party animals or a rowdy group of any kind. We sat at a table of eight. The first night we had three ladies traveling together and two couples from Houston, also traveling together, so there were actually nine. The next day the three ladies decided to move elsewhere, and two other ladies traveling together joined us. We very much enjoyed the company, and in fact seemed to be always one of the last group to leave the restaurant.
On Board Activities and Entertainment
It was here that we felt HAL did not deliver a first class cruise. As we noted, we started out with two sea days. The Daily Program, which listed events briefly but adequately, contained a mixture of somewhat inane games, a lot of Bingo, which was also promoted loudly and often over the public address system, and activities geared to selling excursions, merchandise or spa services. There were no informative or educational talks, whereas Celebrity would have at least four such activities on every sea day. We spent a lot of time reading. Edith did sign up for yoga classes, which at $33.00 for the cruise was a reasonable price, especially since they held one class on shore on Half Moon Cay. The kitchen tour on Sunday was postponed until Monday, and then was so crowded we felt we would not have been able to hear anything. We had done this on Veendam in any event, and a ship's kitchen is a ship's kitchen.
The Wajang Theater showed a total of 7 movies, but few were appealing and one we had seen.
The Mondriaan Theater shows were the usual mixture. There was the comedian, typically not very funny; the juggler; a fairly good impressionist/singer; a husband and wife magic act and the standard shipboard song and dance revues. We enjoyed these revues as we normally do. The staging was not nearly as high tech or professional as on Celebrity ships, but the singers and dancers were fun and enthusiastic. On the last sea day I did get to meet them all, except for the one assigned to Library duty, and toured the backstage area. There were two small dance bands, and we danced to the trio, which included a girl singer, at the Ocean Spa. They were fine, and quite danceable. The group we enjoyed the most was the Atlantis Strings, a trio composed of flute, violin and cello. These were serious music students who played light classics at tea and every evening from 9:15 to midnight in the Explorer's Lounge. They also played at the formal dinners, but their location on the upper level of the Rotterdam Room prevented us from hearing them at our table aft on the lower level. We truly enjoyed this group and they added the right touch of elegance and good taste to the cruise. HAL also always has a show put on by crew members, but we had seen the Veendam version, so we skipped this one. There also was a pianist at the Piano Bar, and she seemed to have a small but faithful group for sing alongs.
As noted above, we had decided not to book any excursions through the ship. Our first port of call was Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We had decided to visit the neighboring island of Virgin Gorda to see the Baths, a major attraction. Guide books had told us of two ferry services, and the web gave us the schedules. One called Speedy's Ferry seemed to have the best schedule. They did not reply to my e-mails, but we decided to try them anyway. The ferry pier is about a ten minute walk from the ship's gangplank. The ferry to Virgin Gorda costs $25.00 per person, round trip, and they throw in a bus ride to and from the Baths. The official currency of the BVI is the US dollar. We waited about fifteen minutes to board a small boat holding perhaps 40-50 people, some obviously locals. We also carried a mail sack. The trip takes about 30 minutes and was uneventful. There is not much in Spanish Town, the landing place on Virgin Gorda. The transportation was provided by "buses" consisting of pickup trucks with 3 or 4 rows of seats welded to the back and a surrey type roof. I would not recommend trying to walk to the Baths because it seemed like about 2-3 miles. The road is marked with a lot of speed humps. The road actually climbs about 100 feet up from the pier to the top of the Baths. There you pay a $3.00 per person entry fee to the BVI National Parks Trust, and get an all day ticket to the Baths, Devil's Bay Park, Sage Mountain Park and a Botanic Garden. The regular tour people have their fee paid of course. We arrived after a group from either our ship or a Carnival ship that was in port that day also, so there was a group of about 100 going to the Baths. The path down is fairly rough, and people trying to bring their children's strollers were having a difficult time. The beach area is not large, but the large boulders that are the main attraction are interesting. The water was warm and crystal clear. I did a little snorkeling, and saw a few fish, but I would not call this a great snorkel site. We tried to find a place in the shade, but the rising tide forced us out into the sun. We went back up to our arrival point after about an hour at the Baths. There is a restaurant on top, with a small bar and limited food service. But it is basically a large covered porch, with a fresh water pool and a delightful view of the Caribbean while providing a wonderful Trade Wind breeze. We understand why people build their homes high in the islands, because this is where you have an almost constant cooling breeze, while the seaside is quite hot. We caught our return "bus" back to the pier and while our ferry was late in arriving, we got back to Road Town and the ship in time for a late lunch. We then walked back to Road Town and explored most of it on foot. It is not truly tourist oriented and is not particularly attractive, but everyone seems friendly enough. Our Virgin Gorda Baths expedition cost $30.00 per person, including a $2.00 bottle of water at the restaurant and the $3.00 entry fee. The same trip, without the water, cost $57.00 per person as a ship's excursion.
The next day we arrived at Charlotte Amalie, USVI. We took a taxi to Red Hook for the standard fare of $8.00 and shortly afterwards met Sharon, our Captain. We boarded the Winifred, a beautiful 43 foot ketch with a racing configuration. It was built in 1956 and is constructed of mahogany with teak fittings. It had won several Caribbean races in its class under its original owners. There were two other couples with us, friends who were staying for a vacation on St. Thomas. Sharon has a crew/first mate in the form of Steve, a large, cheerful young man. Sharon is very determined that her passengers should not get sunburned, but Edith and I, like good Arizonans, were well prepared with Solumbra shirts and heavy duty sunscreen. After about two hours sailing in a delightful breeze we arrived off shore at St. Johns, and there proceeded to snorkel for about an hour and a half. The water was very clear, and I was able to spot some good fish. Unfortunately my underwater camera, a $10.00 Kodak, broke after two shots. We then had lunch and sailed back, arriving at about 3:00 P.M. The cost was a little high, $110.00 (cash - $120.00 if by credit card), but it was a very nice experience. We returned to Charlotte Amalie and walked around the pier side shopping area. St. Thomas has excellent duty free shopping, with a higher allowance than at other ports in an effort to promote business; but we did not buy anything, although a lot of passengers did.
After a sea day, we arrived at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. The Cay is a flat island, about two miles long and one deep, with a long curving beach on the west side, and a lagoon on the east side. The only structures are those designed for cruisers, and they are very limited. There were a number of water related activities, although, as I noted, Edith's Yoga class was moved on shore to the beach, which she appreciated. I went for a walk past the portion of beach area with service buildings and beach furniture, and found a road down to the lagoon where there were kayaks and jet skis waiting for customers who started arriving shortly. The HAL vessel Zuiderdam, about 1/3 larger than Zaandam, was also in port. I then found a small beach farther up the lagoon, and since it was pretty isolated, went skinny dipping briefly. I returned to the main beach area where I went in for a normal swim. The beach is at least a mile long, and except for the first few hundred yards near the landing area, was not used by swimmers at all. The sand is beautiful and the water crystal clear, although there was no surf. We were due to depart at 2:00, so we returned at noon for lunch. This was the only tender stop, but the transfers were managed quite well, although we waited until almost 3:00 when the last tender arrived. The captain actually had the ship under weigh and the tender had to chase us down and debarked its passengers while the ship was moving.
The captain announced as part of his regular bridge report that we would be arriving in Port Canaveral at 6:00 the next morning, but when I got up at 7:00 we were still moving and did not actually dock until almost 8:00. Everyone had to go through a pre-immigration clearance in the Mondriaan Room first. This did not even start until after 9:30, and we had told our taxi service we would be on the dock by 10:00. We were called down by deck, but because we were running late, we simply just walked down without waiting for our deck and were cleared. We thought that we would have to wait until everyone cleared before leaving, but discovered that we could walk off the ship. After a slight delay in finding our luggage we went through customs fairly quickly and met Art's Limousine service without any further problem. The ride to Orlando International cost $56.00, which was more than the ship's $48.00 transfer charges for two, but we liked the convenience of the van, which had only one other couple on board.
Overall Cruise Rating
Zaandam is a beautiful ship. Our stateroom was as fine as you could expect in its class of a "standard" verandah cabin; with plenty or room, nice decorations and an overall aspect that was most pleasant. The public rooms were easy to reach, mostly well furnished and comfortable. The on board shopping was very limited compared to the Millennium Class Celebrity ship. The library is a very pleasant room, with a few good maps, but somewhat limited in its stock. The daily ship's news sheet is adequate. There is no general news sheet compared to the eight page Celebrity world news report put out in several languages every day. I did see one copy of the New York Times four page news sheet lying on a table in the library, which we had seen at irregular intervals on the Regal Princess for our Baltic cruise, but I never found out where it came from.
The crew is very nice, although the language barrier is higher than on most ships. The food is still second only to Celebrity, a cut above Princess and definitely superior to Carnival and Norwegian. We will be sailing on Royal Caribbean in May and Crystal next November, so we are looking forward to these new experiences.
The on board activities were not exciting, nor was the entertainment more than adequate, with the exception of the Atlantis Strings which were a true cruising delight. If you are in to water sports, I would guess that Half Moon Cay is fine, but for us it was just a very nice beach. The other port stops were our own, so they cannot figure into an evaluation of HAL.
So our overall impression is that this was a relaxing, if somewhat unexciting trip on a very beautiful and stylish ship, with a professional and helpful crew, a pleasant group of fellow passengers and a very nice week on beautiful Caribbean waters with marvelous weather. Would we do it again? Probably not, simply because there is a lot left for us to see in the world, and no need to repeat this trip, good though it was.