Our cruise party consisted of my wife and I, in our sixties, and our grown son and his fiancée in their 20's. This was the 5th cruise for my wife and I, and the first for the "kids". We had booked two balcony cabins on the sixth (Upper Verandah) deck, which were near the stern on the port side of the ship. (The cabins were sound insulated and well worth the price difference for the balcony which we used a lot.)
Fearing that the category 5 hurricane, "Isabelle" would disrupt the planned itinerary and perhaps even cause Holland America to cancel the Zuiderdam cruise, I checked with the home office in Seattle before making the hard "red-eye" flight from Spokane to Ft. Lauderdale. The customer relations representative asked me to hold while she checked, and came back on the line to tell me that after some discussion of alternatives that the course of the hurricane appeared to be a non threat, and the cruise would depart as scheduled, with a possibility of some enroute adjustments to the itinerary. (I give HAL high marks for this kind of response to my question---many lines would have a "don't worry, everything's fine" response without checking.)
I dreaded the embarkation processing, especially after a long, tiring night of travel. I had visions of a repeat of our last trip where we stood for hours in a long line at the airport, pushing all our luggage as we worked our way forward in the hot unairconditioned room to be interviewed by ship's staff. Not so. We were greeted by the HAL staff, collected our luggage, got on a bus and drove to the port, with only a short wait for enough passengers to fill the bus. The driver dropped off the luggage that would be delivered to our cabin, and then we went to the "processing area". This was an air conditioned room, with a line reminiscent of the old college registration routine; going from station to station completing the processing in just a few minutes. We were on board by 12:30 and in our cabins by 1:30 for the 5 p.m. sailing. This was the best organized processing I have observed to date, as were the lifeboat drill, going off and on the ship, and other routine functions.
Two other worries turned out to be non problems for us. One was the reported "vibration" at the rear of the Zuiderdam while underway; the other was the reported sewage smell in the ship. These things were discussed in some reviews. We were seated in the lower level of the gorgeous Vista dining room, right at the rear window where we could watch the sunsets and the ship's wake through the beautiful Caribbean waters. There was a little noise and vibration, but nothing distracting. This is a ship, and without the gentle beat of the screws, we wouldn't go very far. And smell? We didn't notice any at any time, anywhere on the ship.
All the mega ships seem beautiful to me, but the Zuiderdam is really quite new, and was truly impressive. The equipment on board is quite obviously top quality stuff. I'm not a physical fitness nut, but the workout room, the changing rooms, and all the athletic facilities are very impressive. The architecture is more conventional than some of the mega ships.the Atrium is only a few decks high instead of nine, and the stairways a little less impressive than some, but the ship is truly beautiful, and new, with impressive décor. The decks are arranged so that no one area gets crowded, and there is not the feeling of being in a herd.
We attended one of the floorshows. I thought it was very good; probably the same quality as comparable production numbers on the Carnival ships. There was a good selection of shows including magicians, comedians, jugglers, etc.
Shore excursions are great for the first time cruisers. The "kids" especially enjoyed a snorkel-party catamaran-beach tour. We enjoyed the Half Moon Cay (private island) port of call, partly because of the interesting tendering operation that got us there. But it's a beautiful clean place, with lots of water activities and shopping.
Ports of call are beginning to seem all the same.a row of Diamond International and Carlos and Charlie's or Senior Froggy's and T-shirt stands. This is the time to negotiate an informative drive around the island with a local taxi driver.always very interesting.
Food service has to be one of the highlights of this cruise. The food is delicious and served very well. The staff was most courteous and efficient. Even the informal buffet food is delicious and attractive. The kids preferred the informal venue.
My wife is a "shopper" and loved the onboard boutiques and shops. The Zuiderdam's price guarantee was reassuring. My wife thought the service and quality of merchandise was outstanding, and prices very reasonable compared to shops at home.
There are a couple of criticisms I would make, but then I'm a value conscious traveler. I feel that the picture prices, and drink prices are getting a little out of hand. There are a lot of "extra charge" things that become profit centers for the line, as well. We were advised that gratuities were included in the cost of the booking, but the message was conveyed that it was really expected, if we thought the service was good. (And the service in every respect was exceptional) However, I did like the policy to allow bottled liquor purchased on board to be taken to the cabin to be used.
I put this ship at the top of the list of any we have sailed on. Very good service, wonderful food and beautiful cabins showed that the staff of the Zuiderdam is indeed trying to make a difference.