We sailed aboard the ms Zuiderdam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking August 23, 2003 through August 30, 2003. For my wife and I, this was our second cruise, our first with HAL (Holland American Line). Our first ever cruise was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship. Having spent seven days aboard a HAL ship, the two of us are eternally hooked, and have little incentive to go anywhere except with HAL.
The following critique is submitted to expel all myths and half-truths presented by previous travelers, including those paid to review cruise ships. I want to reassure all of you that this review is sincere in context, and solely based upon our personal observations and thoughts, whether good or bad. Our aim is to present an impartial review of the ship. Please feel free to forward any questions or complaints you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org. I fully expect to hear from many of you who think I'm "off my rocker". I feel as though some of you have given HAL a bad name, judging from your reviews. My wife and I feel obligated to set the record straight, once and for all.
Like most of you, we purchased our tickets through a travel agent; we chose priceline.com. Although priceline's deals were very good compared to others, there are several areas one needs to be aware of.
For starters, priceline sent our cruise tickets to an address in Florida; we live in Canada. As a result of this, we received our cruise package three days before sailing.
Our second issue concerns a shipboard credit, included with our package. It wasn't until three days into our cruise that we received notification that no such credit would be extended to us, even though our invoice statement clearly mentioned it. I've since contacted priceline and they've agreed to fix the problem. We realize this isn't the case with every priceline cruise package, however, we believe that it's necessary to mention this as a reminder to all, nothing is error proof.
Prior to booking our cruise, my wife and I took considerable time, thoroughly researching each and every cruise line. We highly recommend this to everyone going on a cruise, especially newcomers. Believe us, we've read just about every review/critique on the net. Some are true, but an overwhelming majority, especially those written about the ms Zuiderdam, are horrible inaccurate by a long shot. I don't know what ship the rest of you sailed on, but it wasn't the ms Zuiderdam, for those of you who claimed to have sailed on her in the past, and expressed a dislike for her.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale from Ottawa, Ontario @ 1:00 p.m. We had no trouble locating HAL representatives in the baggage claim area. They were a very friendly group of people. After a short wait, a group of us boarded a bus to the terminal. The entire ride from the airport to Port Everglades took no longer than ten minutes.
Once at the terminal (#26), our luggage was immediately turned over to porters. Unfortunately, we had no idea what cabin we were staying in; we booked a guarantee category and saved a few bucks. The porters were able to locate this information for us, and we rewarded them with a nice tip. Keep in mind: TIPPING IS NOT REQUIRED FOR PORTERS!
We then proceeded inside and inquired with another HAL representative as to which line we should get in. Because my wife is German and I'm an American, we were able to queue up in a line for non-citizens. The entire time from check-in to the gangway took no more then 30 minutes, lucky for us! As for others, their line was rather long, but not too long. I'm unable to comment on how long they waited. On a good note, we noticed that HAL had some 15 or better service counters open and operating.
Previous reviewers mentioned that you were moved from one line to another, we did not encounter this. We received our ID cards and proceeded directly to the ship; we did not wait in any lines after the check-in counter. Perhaps HAL has recently changed its boarding procedures.
THE SHIP The ship is immensely large. Some of you have commented on the appearance of the ship from the outside, saying that it resembles a barge or large tugboat. While HAL ships may not be as flashy as others, they do not resemble barges or tugboats. I would consider them to be on the conservative side, with a touch of elegance. If you're seeking big, flashy ships, I recommend going elsewhere. Remember, you cannot judge a book by its cover, and HAL ships fall into the category.
There are ten public decks, not including A deck. Once on the ship, we went directly to our cabin, located on deck 6, upper verandah deck. Just a quick note for everyone: Avoid those elevators closest to the gangway. Instead, proceed across the hall and use the other 4 elevators.
After arriving on deck 6, we inquired with a crewmember as to the location of our cabin. We then proceeded down the long hallway where we ran into our cabin steward. His name was Three. Instead of asking for our name, he addressed us as Mr. And Mrs. so and so!! We were very impressed to say the least.
Our cabin was an outside verandah stateroom w/balcony, and it was immaculate! It was very roomy with lots of storage area. The bathroom was roomy as well, enough storage space for all of our toiletries and then some. The balcony was great, especially on sea days. CROW'S NEST, DECK 10
The Crow's Nest is located at the very front of the ship. It provides a breath taking view while underway or in port. There are numerous blue "lazy-boy" type chairs located near the front. These reclining chairs provide a nice place to relax and enjoy some quite time or read a book. However, some of these chairs are broken, which I found disappointing. During the evening, Daniel Thivierge plays the piano. Don't forget the bar as well.. A truly great place to relax and enjoy some time alone. NOTE: If you're not a seasoned cruiser, this area of the ship "rocks" a great deal, especially when the ship is encountering high seas.
Just outside the Crow's Nest are two smaller rooms, one room on either side. Both of these areas provide an intimate setting for anyone wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the main room.
LIDO POOL AFT AND LIDO POOL MIDSHIP LIDO RESTAURANT DECK 9
Both pools seemed very popular to everyone. My wife and I did not swim in any of the pools. Some of you commented on the cleanliness of the pools. Here again is another myth. Both appeared clean and well maintained, judging by the amount of people who utilized them on a daily basis.
The midship pool is much larger than the aft pool and equipped with a sliding roof. I read a review from another site, which depicted the sliding roof as an "old and squeaky contraption", with lots of visible rust. This is an absolutely, totally made-up story.
The Lido Restaurant is a fantastic place to eat. The food is excellent, with a wide variety to choose from. Some comments have suggested that the set-up is awkward and confusing. I respectfully disagree, and here's why.
The main reason why the layout of the restaurant is the way it is, is to prevent long lines. If everyone lined up in one line, it would stretch from deck 9, all the way down to the casino, located on deck 2. And as for finding a place to sit, this too is not a problem, as some have suggested. You might have to circle the room twice, but you will find a place to sit. Some have suggested that it's absolutely impossible to find a seat in the Lido. To them I say, come earlier or go and dine in the main dining room.
Also, on disembarkation morning-avoid the Lido at all costs! Instead, go and eat breakfast in the Vista Dining Room. It's nearly empty. The Lido is JAMMED packed with people, and you WILL NOT get a seat!
I cannot comment of the Greenhouse Spa, or the beauty/hair parlor, also located on deck 9, as we did not use them during our cruise.
DECK 3-Library, Ocean Bar, Hudson Room, Shopping Arcade, Vista Lounge (balcony level), Internet Café.
We did not use the library, so it would be improper for us to comment on this area. There were books and tables inside the room, but that's about all I can say.
The Ocean Bar is another area, which we have little knowledge of.
The Hudson Room was mainly used for religious services; my wife and I attended Catholic services, twice. They offered a nondenominational service as well. The Mass was excellent as too was the Priest.
The Shopping Arcade is comparable to a small strip-mall. We cannot say too much except that the prices seemed to get lower and lower as the cruise went on. Shop with care.
The Vista Lounge is a large arena where Broadway style shows and other similar performances, take place nightly, normally after main dinner and late dinner seating. Comments concerning where to sit during performances are absolutely true; so by all means do head the warnings posted by others. Avoid sitting in the balcony at all costs. Instead, sit on the main floor (deck 2). Position yourself in the center of the room, and do avoid those posts; they do obstruct viewing of the stage.
As for the shows, my wife and I have mixed reviews. She enjoyed them all; I on the other hand, disliked the first Broadway performance and enjoyed everything else. The best performer by far was Paul Tanner. He's a singer impressionist---and dear God can he sing!! Whatever you do, do not miss his show. As for the other entertainers, they too were very good, with a wide array of talents to suite anyone's taste.
The Internet Café is a bit expensive. I don't remember the exact pricing but there are ample computers in this area. We did not use the café during our cruise.
DECK 2-Northern Lights Disco, Art Gallery, Casino, Sport's Bar, Queen's Lounge, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Vista Dining room, Windstar Café, Odyssey Restaurant.
The Northern Lights Disco is an area of the ship that, in my humble opinion, lacks good taste. Although the music is great and there is ample room to "boogie the night away", the appearance is a bit too much for me.
For starters, the " white poke-a-dot" decor just doesn't appeal to me. And the seats are uncomfortable. Don't take my word for it, go and see for yourself.
They have a little something for everyone-70's disco, 80's, 90's night and even country night!
The Art Gallery is very nice if you're into collecting art works. There are several auctions (LIVE) held throughout the cruise. If you've never participated in a LIVE auction, I suggest that you give it a whirl. Yes, some of the paintings are a bit outrageous, but you can snag a few bargains.
The casino is just that, a casino. We spent a grand total of $1.00 our entire cruise. Enough said.
The Sport's Bar is located near the casino. It's just another area to throw away your money.
The Queen's Lounge is a nice place to see some alternative shows, mostly organized by the entertainment staff. We participated in a few of the shows and thoroughly enjoyed each. The HAL Cats play here nightly; they too are a terrific band and a must see while onboard.
The Piano Bar is an area that we cannot comment on. The music sounded great as we walked by, but we did not attend any functions here. Sorry.
The Explorer's Lounge is a wonderful place to relax and unwind after enjoying the shows (Vista Lounge). Each night, a three-piece band gets together and performs classical music. It too is a must see (and hear). We made a point to sit here every night and listen to the wonderful music-the violinist is superbly talented! Also, we do recommend attending afternoon tea, held almost every day at 3:30 in this room. Arrive early in order to get a decent table. The Vista Dining Room-another area that is filled with half-truths and myths, much of which is totally bogus. The food was excellent in every way, as too was the service.
I want to spend a few minutes correcting comments from previous passengers concerning vibrations at the rear of the ship. Although we were not seated in the rear (our table was located on the side, about half way in), comments suggesting that the ship has a serious vibration problem are hogwash, to put it bluntly. If that were the case, why then did so many people show up, night after night, for dinner? We made an effort to walk around the back of the ship while it was at sea (during diner) and felt or heard nothing. If you're the type of person who can feel such small vibrations (yeah, it did vibrate ever so slightly, but not anywhere to the extent as some have described it), then you're obviously the type of person who can feel an earthquake in Southern California, while in the state of Maine! Please, spare us the drama will you; we've got enough of it in our daily life.
I will say this about the Vista Dining Room, however. On high sea days, it does rattle a bit in the rear of the ship. But NEVER once did any of our utensils or glasses fall off the table, nor did other patrons, as some have suggested. I cannot believe people would utter such nonsense.
The Windstar Café is a nice little place to enjoy a cup of coffee or hot tea. This is the only place onboard the ship where you will be charged for ALL your drink purchases. The service is outstanding..and they do try to remember your name.
The Odyssey Restaurant is a must. One cannot say enough about the superb quality of the food. And the service is comparable with any five-star restaurant. It is well worth the money ($20.00 per person) to dine here. I enjoyed a 20oz Porterhouse steak, well done. It was the best I've ever had.
Someone mentioned that it was a bit too cozy, and that the seats were too close. Once again, another false statement by those hell-bent on giving the ship a bad name. It's obvious to me that since they were unable to find any faults with the restaurant, instead chose to complain about the chairs and the amount of space they take up. Those comments are phony. The restaurant is gorgeous and very sophisticated in every way.
As for the age group of the passengers, it was mostly middle-aged people. We're both in our early 30's. There were young children onboard and most were well behaved. As for HAL catering to an older crowed, it's hard to say.
Also, I've read hordes of reviews, which complain about the lack of public restrooms on the ship. Again, another ridiculous account. For the record, there is a plethora of public toilets on each deck for which there are public areas for passengers. I never once had any difficulty locating a bathroom when I needed one. Either you're to drunk or just blind.
One other issue that I've seen floating around different sites concerning a sewage smell on ms Zuiderdam. I visited an area of the ship where this sewage smell is reportedly coming from. And yes, you can smell it. The area in question is located on deck 1 near the front desk; cabins located to the left of the front desk. Not only that, those passengers appear to be right above the engines as well. We stood in this hallway for a moment and could smell a pungent order as well as an intense vibration from below. I truly feel sorry for passengers in this area of the ship.
Also, someone complained about how difficult it was to open the bedside desk drawers in their cabins. I've figured it out, for those of you who don't understand why. The reason why these drawers are a bit hard to open is to prevent them from opening during high seas. If they were easy to open, some of us would be tripping over them in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom), which might cause more serious injuries. Just pull a little harder on the drawers, eh.
This is an area that many of you should pay close attention to. Although you may not totally agree with my remarks about the ship, pay close attention here.
Although we disembarked the ship at each port, we did not, however, pay for any of the ship-sponsored tours. Instead, we chose to book our own via the Internet, prior to going on the cruise. With a little pre-planning, you can and will save money.
Key West Florida. The ship's tour costs $24.00 per person (I believe), for a tour of the city. You can take the same tour for $12.00 per person, booked online. That's a savings of $24.00!
With the ship's tour, you travel one time around the city and back to the port. If you want to re-visit a site, you've gotta find your own way back. With our Internet booked tour, it's a jump on/jump-off type tour. Contact me for more info.
Cozumel, Mexico. If you're looking for diamonds, you've come to the right place. Take a taxi downtown for $6.00. Once there, visit a place called Diamonds International; you'll hear more about this place on the ship. By the way, so long as you purchase the diamond loose, not attached to the ring, it's duty free!! So go shopping for the biggest and clearest diamond money can buy!
Grand Cayman. Once again, avoid the ship's tours, especially a tour to the Turtle Farm. Instead of paying $24.00 per person with the ship, my wife and I paid a grand total of $23.00 TOGETHER, including admission to the Turtle Farm! Take the public buses (ask for directions once on shore, it's a very short walk from the dock) for 6$ going, and $5 return. They take American CASH. The admission to the park is $6 per person. You do the math.
Once you leave the ship, those of you who arrived via airplane, will leave the same way. Please note: If you arrive at the airport MORE THAN THREE HOURS before your scheduled departure, you WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO CHECK IN. Do not try it, it will not work, trust us on this. My wife and I found a corner and waited it out. The airport is very crowded and congested on this day, so be prepared and expect to wait in line.
I think I've rambled on for long enough. If you should have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at the address above. And if you want to tell me how crazy my comments are, feel free to express your opinions too, I don't mind.