I am 45 and my husband is 46 years old; we have been on 31 cruises since 1984 -- Celebrity, Princess, RCCL, Holland America and a couple of lines no longer in existence. While we do have our favorite (Princess), we have not had a bad cruise on any line.
Pre-Cruise Stay Our Rating: A+
We stayed at Embassy Suites and thanks to BurBunny and www.betterbidding.com, I felt comfortable going thru Hotwire. I paid $55 for a room plus $12 taxes for a total of $67 – a great room, great hotel, great location, GREAT PRICE.
Embarkation Our Rating: A+
Arrived at the port at 11:45 am and entered the Neptune Lounge on board the ship by 12:05 pm. Yes, being in an S suite helped, but I did not hear any complaints about embarkation, regardless of cabin type.
Cabin Our Rating: A
We booked a Category S suite (number 7133, aft corner, Rotterdam Deck). The room was huge and the veranda is at least 500 sq. ft. Was privacy an issue? Yes. Do not book these cabins if you don't like people looking down at you, or noise from other aft cabins. At one time or another, my husband complained about both. (I told him next time we could book a side cabin. But he said he wanted the huge back balcony and could put up with a few small annoyances. I was not bothered by any of it -- maybe because I had read so much about it and knew exactly what to expect.)
The suite itself is noticeably smaller then the S suites located on the sides of the ship. But I knew this before I booked it and it didn't bother us. We had plenty of room, plenty of storage space, and would book it again without a doubt. I did notice that drawers were at a minimum, but that did not bother me. There are plenty of closets with pull-down shelves and hanging spaces. We didn't use half of the available storage space.
The cabin was clean, the bathroom was huge with two sinks, a bathtub with a shower and Jacuzzi, and a separate stall shower. Nothing in the cabin looked worn, rusted, or broken. The one thing my husband commented on immediately was the size of the TV. It's this tiny TV in this huge room. Princess' mini-suites have two fairly large sets, and this huge suite only has a TV with a 15-inch screen. I know you don't go on a cruise to watch TV, but we do enjoy watching movies late at night and when we are getting dressed. (As for the movie selection in the Neptune Lounge, it is pretty lame. We never go to the show, do not have any movie channels at home, and could only find two movie titles in their selection that we had not seen.)
The veranda did get minimal debris from the Lido deck, but hardly enough to notice. I wouldn't have mentioned it except for previous posts that found it a problem. Our room steward even wiped the deck every morning, making sure it was clean and dry. The Category S suite amenities were wonderful. They really made a difference. I loved the free laundry service, private cocktail party with the captain, special concierge service, private lounge, preferred check-in and private breakfast and lunch in the Odyssey restaurant. The only reason I did not rate the suite A+ is because it is smaller then other cabins in its category.
The Ship Our Rating: B
The Zuiderdam is a nice, new ship. I've been on other HAL ships and on many other ships much bigger then this one. The things that I thought were very good about this ship were the Lido layout, the cabins, and the gym.
Some of the things I thought were OK, but much better on other ships: The layout and visibility of the Vista Lounge; the Queens Lounge is a very nice room b ut bad for movies (you can only hear and see well if you are in the front row of seats). The Atrium was OK but too closed in for me. The pool area was also adequate, but nothing spectacular. The Crow's Nest is a great room; it should be the disco. Northern Lights is also a nice room, but too small and disjointed to be the disco. The shopping area is OK, but did not (IMO) lend itself to "calling my name." It is in an area of the ship that is easily avoided and the shops seemed small, without a lot of inventory. I did find things to buy, but only because I sought them out, not because I walked by and could not resist.
Laundry Our Rating: A
We sent quite a bit of laundry out and it always came back promptly, clean and pressed. We did have two bright red cotton shirts come back a deep purple, but they were brought to us personally, along with a credit form. The settlement was fair and relatively easy to negotiate.
Room Service Our Rating: A+
I used it almost daily. It always came prompt, correct, and with a smile.
Neptune Lounge Our Rating: A
Used it several times a day, Debbie, Susan and the waiter did an excellent job. I did not have any complicated requests, but several small ones. All of my needs were taken care of promptly and also with a smile. A lot of suite people, including myself, did not fully understand that just about anything you need to do, or have arranged, can be done through the girls in the Neptune Lounge.
Cruise Director and Staff Our Rating: B
Dottie (the cruise director) was on board for her first week -- not only her first week on the Zuiderdam, but her first week working for HAL. I liked her; I understand her husband was also an entertainer on board, a comedian. Most of her staff was good. The only person we had problems with was Mike, one of the Sports Directors. He would not show up at scheduled activities, or would be there and ignore the passengers that did show up. Also, at sports trivia late one night in the Crow's Nest, he was very rude, yelling at people, and not being nice at all to anyone who asked any questions. Some of the trivia questions he was having trouble reading (they did not make sense). After repeating them several times he would be belligerent to anyone who couldn't understand what he was saying. Yes, I did add that to my comment card.
Dining: Our Rating: B
In the Vista Dining Room, we had first sitting. We were at a table for 10. Nice Room, nice set up. We were on the upper floor, table 89, aft center. Nice location. The food was very good, but service was bad. Basically, the waiter and busboy ignored our table. We didn't starve, but we would get there at 6 p.m., not even hear or see them until 6:15, then not get our first course until 6:45. On all but one night, we were the last table out of the dining room -- and NOT by choice. Iced tea, water...forget about it. It was unbelievable. The table was great, and we made the best of an unusual situation. We tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but eventually we just joked about it. We were joined two nights by the Environmental Officer (Paul) and his wife (Marissa) and they were delightful. On those nights we were sure the service would improve. Not on your life. On the last formal night, when they turned out the lights and started walking around with the baked Alaska, we had just received our entree. The officer even remarked that he never had to eat in the dark before.
Odyssey Restaurant: I recommend going to the Odyssey at least once. The service was great; we went the first night and got the two-for-one special. (We paid and made our reservations prior to boarding.) The food was excellent.
Lido Restaurant/Grill/Taco Bar: The Lido is well laid out. And the variety was excellent. We like the idea of different food stations from the Deli to pizza to taco bar to sushi.
Overall the food on the ship is very good. I had plenty to eat and the choices were endless. If I was disappointed in anything it was the desserts. I could always find something I liked, but the variety I am used to was not there.
Entertainment Our Rating: B-
The juggler was pretty bad, the comedians were OK, and the Zuiderdam Staff Variety Group was pretty good, nothing spectacular. I did like the piano player in the Piano Bar. I went to all shows except the last day (recap variety show.)
Overall Experience Our Rating: A-
Overall it was a great cruise. We would go on the Zuiderdam again, and Holland America remains my second-favorite line. After reading all of the horrible reviews, it was good to find that most, if not all of those concerns had been taken care of. I did encounter one "smell" often, though. I walk on deck a lot and always encountered the smell of bread being baked. I can't really remember that on any other ship!
Let me add a final thought on public bathrooms. I am an expert on bathroom availability. I can't pass one without going in. While they have added some since the ship came out, it is still a bit difficult to find one in some places. And many that they added (women's) had three or four stalls and one sink (with an additional two or three places for sinks, but no sinks). I am sure they added what they could, and will add those sinks while in dry dock. One day I walked into one such bathroom and an older woman (who had 700+ days on HAL) came in and went ballistic when she saw the line waiting to use the sink. She went on and on about how she was going to contact the powers-that-be at the company and have them fix this. She kept saying, "What is happening to the Holland America I know and love?" While it was comical, I could tell she was a HAL loyalist and it was a bit ridiculous to only have one sink. I only realized at the Mariners get-together who she was -- she and her husband got some special award. After the get-together I saw her talking to the Captain for the longest time and couldn't help wondering if she was telling him about that sink.