This was our second sailing on Zuiderdam, the first was on her seventh sailing in early February. Many of my comments will reflect changes from this early sailing.
First, a little about us because not everyone looks for the same cruise experience. We are Jim and Sue, in our lower 50's, all kids grown and gone. Our cruising choices tend toward the ships that offer a more elegant experience rather than a casual one. For Caribbean cruises, we book for the ship, the suite, and number of sea days, not for the ports. Our routine onboard any ship is similar (others probably would find it boring) - a lazy relaxed morning with coffee and sometimes breakfast delivered by room service. We spend a lot of time in the cabin and on the verandah so for us a suite makes a lot of sense. Since we usually only eat two meals a day, we usually skip lunch and have appetizers late afternoon prior to dinner. We rarely attend the shows because we enjoy having a nightcap on the balcony before going to bed.
We always fly to the port city a day ahead of time to avoid any air delays or other mishaps and to be able to board the ship relaxed and refreshed. Our flight from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale was on time and uneventful and our stay at the Embassy Suites was very nice. We particularly enjoyed meeting several new friends from the message boards at the complimentary cocktail party at the hotel.
Saturday morning we had breakfast and then taxied to the port. We were quite early and waited in the line outside the terminal for about 20 minutes, but after the doors were opened check-in was a breeze! We had received all paperwork with our documents and had it all filled out as well as having done the online immigration forms so we went right to the counter for Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah Suites (S). They checked us in and took our pictures with a small camera attached to the computer and we went upstairs. Within about 15 minutes they called for priority boarding and we went onboard. I think this is the biggest improvement Holland America has made - allowing you to board the ship and use the public areas until the cabins are ready at 1:30. We went directly to the Neptune Lounge and I asked the Concierge (Susan and Jasmine) about booking a cabana on Half Moon Cay. We got the Pink one - just as we had hoped! We also arranged for appetizers to be delivered to our suite every afternoon at 4:30. After a few munchies in the Neptune Lounge we decided to see if we could get to our cabin. On our previous cruise our suite was located near the Neptune and we used it often - this time being on a different deck and all the way aft, we didn't use it at all.
We booked S suite 8135, an aft suite with a balcony that is covered by the Lido deck above and wraps around the side of the ship. The verandah was everything we had hoped for. it had two lounge chairs, a table with four chairs and two chairs with ottomans - we spent much time on it. On the other hand, the suite left much to be desired. It was much too small to be considered an S suite. The bathroom was the same as other S suites; it included a whirlpool tub with shower and a separate shower. There was also a long vanity area with two sinks and plenty of storage space. The two fluffy robes were hanging in the closet. I really like the dressing room, which includes a dressing table out of view of the cabin so I don't have to worry about cleaning it up and the closet doors have full-length mirrors so you can really see how you look. All of the S suites on Zuiderdam are slightly smaller than on the older ships, but this one was barely bigger than the king-sized bed. There were no drawers in the cabin except those in the nightstand - the ones under the bed were filled with extra bedding which we could have asked to be removed, but made do without. We had no barware and had to ask for champagne glasses for our complimentary bottle of champagne for sail-away. For the rest of the trip, we made our in-cabin toddies in the water glasses. We had one chair removed, but the other blocked the mini-bar and the closet. Later in the cruise I spent some time with Nick Berger, the Hotel Manager (we knew him from previous cruises) discussing the suite and I recommended that they reclassify it as an SS. Ok, enough complaining about the cabin.
The ship is really interesting and many of the problems we found on the early sailing have been (for the most part) fixed. We didn't encounter any bad odors and there seemed to be plenty of restrooms in the public areas. The service is still rather apathetic, not what we were used to on the older ships, but also nothing to really complain about. I thought the flower arrangements were spectacular - this is one of Holland America's real strengths, not using artificial flowers! I enjoy the artwork throughout the ship, but the "masquerade" window is my favorite. then again I really like the miniatures near the elevators and the large photos that cover the photo gallery when it is closed. The colors through out the ship are much brighter than on the older ships and the style is mostly art deco. My husband was particularly happy to find that Monday Night Football was on in the Sports Bar (Broncos /vs. Raiders). Being from Denver, we were interested in the game and it was fun to watch it dressed in our formal attire!
We had several breakfasts and one lunch in the Odyssey (a perk for suites) and enjoyed them. The Indonesian wait-staff there was recently replaced with Hungarians and (comparing with our earlier sailing) the language problem was solved, but they seemed to be rather unorganized. We didn't have dinner in it so I can't give any opinions on that. The Odyssey remains one of my favorite rooms on the ship - I love the white and silver color scheme. I do think that lowering the dress code to follow that of the ship is rather a shame; it used to be coat and tie or better every evening.
Our table in the Vista Dining Room was on the upper level (3 Deck) at the railing overlooking the lower level. We really enjoyed listening to the musicians that played at the start of dinner, and missed them when they stopped playing about 10 minutes after seating time. Our tablemates were great, Pat and Christine (a mother & daughter) and Sherry and John.
Most evenings we went to the Ocean Bar either for a before- or after-dinner drink. This is one area that, although convenient to the dining room, isn't well designed. The band and dance floor are located on one side that has very little seating and on the other side you can't hear the music. As on our last sailing, the Atrium Bar was never open when we walked through, but I like the sculptured look of the furniture and floors.
We attended the special Captain's lunch for suite guests in the Crow's Nest; as usual the food served was excellent and they didn't skimp on the caviar! The Crow's Nest is similar to those on the other ships with the exception of some great lounge chairs that face out the windows.
We didn't get off the ship at any of the ports except Half Moon Cay as we had sailed this route several times and our goal for the trip was just to relax. The ship is very quiet the pace is slow during the times that most of the passengers are ashore - I enjoy these times immensely - in fact, it's the only time I'll go to the pool. Our last day aboard ship was the stop at Half Moon Cay; it gets better each time we go. The water and weather were perfect and we loved the private cabana. Currently there are only four available with another just about finished. They are offered to PS and S passengers for a cost of $149 and go very quickly. That cost includes the cabana with a ceiling fan and air conditioner, sodas and beer, a vegetable and dip platter, fresh fruit platter and chips and salsa. There is a table with six chairs and two chaise lounges with cool misters along side each, and a shower to rinse off the salt water and sand. You are also provided with floaters and snorkel equipment. Stewards from the ship will get drinks from the bar and deliver your barbeque lunch right to the cabana. Life is good! We had invited Pat and Chris (our tablemates) to join us and we all had a wonderful time - really the highlight of the trip.
In summary the trip was ok, not great. As I said at the beginning, our style of cruising includes a lot of time spent in the cabin and this cabin was a disappointment. We did not let it spoil the trip. the verandah was wonderful and we spent hours out there reading. We did get our money's worth as I booked the trip on a special offer sent via email to Mariners and we had free air passes! I think I prefer the older ships like Maasdam and will plan to book one of them next time, but would sail Zuiderdam again if another special offer rolls our way.