This was our second Holland America Lines (HAL) cruise. The first one was on the Maasdam, 5/26/02. We looked forward to the Zuiderdam, since it is the first of the five "Premium Vista Class Ships" to be completed at Fincantieri Shipyards, Marghera, Italy. When HAL took possession of the Zuiderdam, the next Vista Class ship the ms Oosterdam was within months of completion.
The Zuiderdam was launched December 2002: her length is 935 ft., width is a Panamax 106 ft., draft is 26 ft., gross tonnage is 82,000 and she has a maximum speed of 24 knots. Guest capacity is 1,824 (this cruise had 1,800 passengers) and a crew of 800.
Although this class is the newest for HAL, the Zuiderdam's long black hull and pointed prow are characteristic of the HAL fleet and reminiscent of those transatlantic liners of the first half of last century, such as those "BLUE RIBAND" winners of the transatlantic races of old: the Mauretania, the Europa, the Rex, the Normandie and of course, the United States, which holds the record to this day (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes, at the speed of 34.5 knots). The major difference in the silhouette of this ship is a much taller super structure, rather than the long and sleek line of the older ships and, of course, the superior speed of those winners which averaged about 30 knots or more against the Zuiderdam's 24 knots. However, the Zuiderdam was built for cruising, and that she does very well under the most capable Captain Johannes van Biljouw.
EMBARKATION In Ft. Lauderdale, boarding was scheduled for 3:00 pm, but processing started at 12 noon and passengers were allowed on shortly thereafter; however, staterooms were ready at 1 pm. Stewards were there to assist passengers in wheelchairs. We were accompanied to the Lido Restaurant, Deck 9 for the excellent "Welcome Aboard Buffet." It was a bit difficult to negotiate the buffet lines with carry on luggage, since we could not take it to our cabin until 1:00 pm.
It is worthy of notice that HAL has adopted the new "one card ID system" which makes the on board credit card function as a stateroom key, as well as the boarding identification document. This innovation improves security by efficiently tracking passengers on and off the ship and it makes the boarding process more expeditious.
THE SHIP HAL has standardized the looks of their ships with the dark hulls and the logo on the stack; however, the Vista Class ships have two stacks, one located behind the other, indicating two independent Engine Rooms, containing gas turbine engines, not the former diesel engines. This new design reduces stack emission pollutants and minimizes the risk of stranding if engine problems occur. Azipods make the ship more maneuverable and fuel efficient. The name of "Vista Class" appropriately implies that most of the staterooms of these ships (85%) have ocean view and 2/3 of all staterooms have balconies.
Main Deck 1 has mainly staterooms and the bottom deck of the Atrium mid ship with the Front Office and Shore Excursion desks.
Lower Promenade Deck 2 has the Vista Lounge Theatre with phalanxes of huge urns and two very large sculptures by Lebigre & Roger, Italy (one depicting a seated woman doing needle work, the other a reclining work man). Toward midship, are three separate bars: First, there is the Northern Lights with its black and white "Mad Cow" decorations, bringing to mind Gateway computer boxes, but the semicircular leather couches and barrel chairs are functional and arranged nicely around the dance floor. Next, there is the Piano Bar sporting an imbedded piano and comical art work by Leijerzapf (Holland) which are huge scenes of sailors in "Humorous Activities." Finally, there is the Queen's Lounge which is decorated in the most vivid hues of Holland tulips (red, yellow, purple and orange).
Mid ship is the 2nd deck of the Atrium with gorgeous blown glass by Bremer ("Shell, Polyps and Anemone"). Also, here is the Odyssey Restaurant, the Art Gallery and the Explorer's Lounge , all simply and tastefully decorated (more later). Finally, aft is the lower level of the Vista Dining Room, a study in black, red, blue and lavender. The most eye catching features are the black lacquered chairs with silk floral backs and the lovely silver table ware and crystal torches.
Promenade Deck 3 has a true wrap around promenade with many deck chairs often in use. Forward has the balcony of the Vista Lounge Theatre where the acoustics are wonderful, but, the many poles result in some seats with obstructed view of the stage. Midship are the meeting rooms, Internet Cafe`, Library, and the on board shops (with the standard fare) and the upper deck of the Atrium. Toward aft is the huge Galley and then the Upper Vista Dining Room..
Upper Promenade Deck 4, Verandah Deck 5, Upper Verandah Deck 6, Rotterdam Deck 7 and Navigation Deck 8 are all staterooms.
Lido Deck 9 forward has the Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Lido Pool, covered by a Sliding Dome, with a bemusing Polar Bear sculpture. Mid ship is the Lido Restaurant and aft is another pool.
Observation Deck 10 forward has the Crow's Nest Lounge, a lovely room with an expansive view of the ocean. Mid ship is the Kid Zone, Wave Runner, Game Room and Golf Simulator.
Sports Deck 11 has the Observation Deck forward and the Volleyball/Basketball Court aft.
There are three sets of elevators which make this ship easily circulated. The central elevators have two sets of elevators overlooking the ocean (Not only are these beautiful to ride in, but they are also the ones that respond more quickly to the call button!). All elevator doors are cast aluminum with beautiful floral designs by Lebigre.
Rather than discuss the multimillion dollar collection of art work on board by decks individually, we prefer an overview on this ship. This ship is quite beautiful in its simplicity. It is not gaudy, busy or overcrowded. Each piece in its collection has been selected for relevance and showcased in an a` propos manner. The Waterford Crystal Seahorse (logo), which is suspended in the Atrium, sets the mood for the exquisite pieces to be seen around this elegant ship. In its foyers and staircases there is a recurring Venetian theme with bronze busts of the Doge and well known figures from the Commedia dell'Arte, such as Pulcinella, Harlequin & Columbine, and other characters like Pagliacci. In all of these areas are chairs and sofas with comfortable cushions modeled after Roman marble ones. In the Odyssey Restaurant there are more chairs by Lebigre, sculpted then cast in aluminum and gilded with silver.
There are also nautical items which must be seen: the 19th century German silver gilded ship model "Nef" and the beautiful French Baccarat table ornament which is a semicircular frosted panel of glass etched with a galleon and mermaids in a storm at sea. by far the largest piece of art is the Fleurs de Mer by Barbara Nanning (Holland); these huge wild roses with open centers forming focal points are suspended from the ceiling of the Vista Dining Room, gilded red/gold and with modern fiber optic illumination; however, this piece did not impress us as much as the many original paintings and sculptures throughout the ship. Not only does the art work merit close scrutiny, but, also the many gorgeous displays of real flowers (lilies, antherium, birds-of-paradise, ginger, carnations, etc., etc...) command one's attention from their sheer beauty. A great spectacle throughout the ship! Holland is famous as the flower garden of the world and her ships reflect it.
SERVICE AND FOOD Service on board under Hotel Manager Nick Burger is crisp and friendly. HAL is noted for its Indonesian crew which on this ship puts on a stunning show featuring songs and dances of Bali and Java and playing the "angklung," a bamboo musical instrument from West Java.
We dined at Table #169 for two with Randy and Endro as our capable stewards under Head Steward Alex, who went above the call of duty (providing special services like lactose free milk etc.). Yvette, our Wine Steward, was friendly and knowledgeable. All of these fine people made dining an elegant pleasure.
Food on board was excellent and portion sizes were perfect and there was no "pushing of seconds." Passengers in suites received High Tea at 3:30 pm and hot/cold hors d'oeuvres at 5:00 pm; thus, since we had dinner at 6:00 pm (main seating), we rarely arrived at dinner hungry.
* Appetizers are fresh fruits, crab legs, prosciutto ham etc.,. * Soups are both hot/cold, such as Cream of Asparagus, Santa Fe Tomato, or iced Vichyssoise. etc. * Salads are just the right size and dressing is served on the side. * Entrees include Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, Prime Rib of Beef, Salmon and Snapper, etc. * Desserts are a huge array (12 or more choices) of Rum cakes, fruited tarts, ice cream (many flavors), Sorbets (Lemon, Mango etc.) * No sugar desserts include a Black Forest cake that must be tried.
The Lido Restaurant has so many stations: Oriental, TexMex, Italian, deli, salad bar, etc... that it takes a bit of time to orient oneself, yet there is no reason anyone should go unsatisfied. In addition there is 24 hr room service for a variety of food and beverages. There is also the specialty restaurant, the Odyssey, for a remarkable meal ($20 charge).
CABIN We had reserved Cabin # 8036 wheelchair accessible, but when we saw it, we immediately went to Passenger Services and spoke with Marianne, from whom we purchased an upgrade to a suite, since the first cabin was more of a hallway than a room, and with very little storage space. Suite #7078 is 516 sq. ft. with a verandah on which there are a table with four chairs and two rattan chairs with separate ottomans. Entering the suite, on the left are three armoires, one with a personal safe, a curved maroon leather sofa, and two butterscotch leather chairs, and a glass door leading to the verandah.
Entering on the right is the lady's anteroom with a lighted vanity and three more armoires. Through that there is the bath with double sinks, medicine cabinets, glassed shower, jacuzzi tub & shower, all with an assortment of safety rails and a tiled floor. It is both nice and functional; however, it is somewhat austere when compared to some luxurious baths found in suites of other cruise ships. Next, there is a king sized bed with double night stands and on the far wall a grand picture window with plants over the desk, then a refrigerator and an entertainment center with TV, VCR, & DVD. The walls of the suite are butterscotch ribbed silk and a huge picture of a golden carp fish is directly across from the bed. There are two other pictures of fishing villages with delph blue borders.
The carpet and draperies are butterscotch and maroon; very nice and restful. This suite is a great home away from home.
ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual shows where the dancing was quite good and there were even costumes by Bob Mackie. by far the best presentation was by singer/impressionist Paul Tanner, who gave great renditions of Neil Diamond, Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Bennett and finished with an Elvis Presley which brought on a standing ovation. Bravo!
There is also a fine pianist every evening in the Crow's Nest, Daniel Thivierge, who has a great repertoire of classic melodies and beautiful songs: wonderful music for relaxation. There are the usual Bingo games, Trivia games and Library Trivia (which needs someone more effective in making corrections to the participants' quiz sheets). All in all there are many activities to occupy a cruiser's time.
PORTS OF CALL We are not going to describe these port nor the relative shore excursions, since we have reported on them many times before in other cruise reviews. For those readers who are interested in reading those reviews, search the archives of this web site.
* Sunday, 9/7/30 Key West, FL Arrival 7:16 am Departure 7:00 pm * Tuesday, 9/9/03 Cozumel, Mexico Arrival 6:00 am Departure 3:30 pm * Wednesday, 9/10/03 Grand Cayman Arrival 7:00 am Departure 5:30 pm * Friday, 9/12/03 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Arrival 7:00 am Departure 7:30 pm The departure was delayed due to a mechanical problem with the winch lifting tenders onto the ship. This delay caused a late arrival in Ft. Lauderdale. * Saturday, 9/13/03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrival 8:00 am Disembark 10:00 am
DEBARKATION Debarkation was delayed due to the late arrival. Wheelchair assistance was excellent -- the crew made a list of the physically challenged passengers entering the Ocean Bar and called them in order! Very efficient. The whole process was delayed, but then HAL does not like to rush passengers off. Debarkation began after 9:00 am. However, the process was expeditious to the satisfaction of most passengers.
CONCLUSION HAL is keeping pace with the growing cruise industry. With the new Vista Class ships HAL offers staterooms with balconies at competitive prices. No longer is it necessary to book a suite in order to have a balcony, since the majority of the ocean view cabins on the Zuiderdam and other Vista Class ships have balconies. We thought this cruise was a great value for us when we initially booked a category A cabin (Deluxe Verandah Outside), but once on board we preferred an upgrade to a category S suite, a really spacious and beautiful stateroom, for eight hundred dollars more. This made our cruise even better by getting the extras that the occupants of suites are pampered with, such as special invitations to the Captain's and Hotel Director's parties, as well as afternoon tea with petit fours and pre dinner hot and cold canapés and hors d'oeurves served in our suite.
We enjoyed a very relaxing cruise. In general the atmosphere on this ship was more tranquil, thus much less vivacious and festive than that of many other ships which sail the Caribbean Seas. On this ship, it was like a deja` vu to observe the many passengers on the wrap around promenade laying on the deck chairs, reading their books or enjoying the scenery, just like on the liners of yesteryear.
One tradition that we did not appreciate was the covering of the dining room chairs with wrinkled white covers for a special effect on the second Gala Night. If the covers were intended to make the atmosphere more formal, the effect was the opposite: It was spooky and messy. Please note that some traditions are not worth keeping. Those beautiful chairs should never be covered!
We are looking forward to the next cruises we have already booked: The Explorer of the Seas on October 11th, the Coral Princess on October 30th, the Serenade of the Seas on December 6th and the Costa Mediterranea on January 11th. We also plan to write reviews of these ships. Happy Cruising!