Below is my opinion of the Zuiderdam formed by my experience on the ship. This was my second cruise. by all counts, though, it should be considered my first cruise since I was a drunken 18 year old on a senior cruise for my only prior voyage. I hope this helps clear up some issues and inform those who read it.
Rumors and Myths
"Odors" - None detected anywhere on the ship.
"Engine Vibrations" - Yes and no. During the first two nights we had rough seas and strong headwinds so the engines had to compensate. This caused vibrations at our table on the 2nd floor dining room. And do I mean vibrations. The ceiling grid was vibrating along with all the silverware. One minute quiet, the next was shaking the room. One evening, the Cruise Director, Dottie, announced that we had a medical emergency on board so we had to proceed full stream ahead. She warned us there would be some vibrations in the dining room. BUT, on the evening(s) with light seas, you would not know the engines were turning. Regarding engine vibrations, it does exist but it's degree of intensity depends on several factors.
"The ship rocks and rolls" We had rough seas for the first three days and the boat was dramatically rocking enough to make several in my party seek Dramamine. Being my second cruise in 20 years I have no idea how it compares to another ships accept the passengers from the Golden Princess told me they were dramatically rocking as well. I do know that 6 days after the trip, I still have occasional feelings of sea motion.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
Embarkation and disembarkation was a snap. We arrived around 2:00 pm for our 5:00 pm sailing and, after 20 minutes of check-in, we walked right to the ship. It would have been even shorter for 2 people but I had 2 kids to check-in as well. Disembarkation was even easier. We had a No. 1 card so it may be a different story for others behind us. We got the early release because our flight was leaving @ 10:45 am. From the time INS cleared the ship to the time I sat down in the cab was about 15 minutes. The longest part was finding my luggage.
I was left disappointed with the dining experience. Perhaps I should not compare a cruise dinner with a land-based dinner due to the logistics involved. Aside from the poor quality of the beef dishes, (my wife chose everything but the beef and was very satisfied) service was less than par. Examples:
Entrees coming out while eating soup and being told "Sorry, the food is just coming out of the kitchen so fast" - and then receiving our salads.
The wait staff did not identify who they were and what roles they would be performing for us. It took me two days to figure out the guy with a small hubcap on his gold chain was the one to ask for all drinks.
When we got the waiter, asst. waiter, or the sommelier's attention to ask for something, they would politely come to the table, find out what we needed, and then promptly leave without seeing if anyone else at the table needed anything. by the end of the evening I felt we were running him to death but if he took the time to ask the question, he could have saved some trips.
When my next drink would come, the empty one would sit until I asked for them to take it. Once, I had three empty glasses in front of me. (plus one empty water glass, which is a whole other gripe). Yes three and no I'm not a booze hound. Dinner took on average two hours and fifteen minutes so I had time to imbibe.
Some may consider me as too picky, but if you are going to present a five course meal for your guests, follow through with the premise.
The ship was beautiful with many different places to explore. Our secret place was on the front of the ship. If you take the corridors (on floors 6, 7, & 8 only I think) all the way to the front of the ship, you'll come to a door. Pass through the door to private balcony reaching from one side of the ship to the other over looking the bow. Wonderful for pictures when approaching ports of call.
Cabin and Cabin Steward
We had an A Verandah which was very nice. Even with my wife and two kids we were not incredibly cramped. The cabin steward, Wasi, was incredible. You never saw him but the room was always clean and made. After dinner the beds were turned down (stow away bed was dropped from the ceiling and sofa bed pulled out) with notes and chocolates on the pillows. Twice a day the ice bucket would be filled.
Note on Alcohol
We were able to purchase duty free alcohol in the ship's store with out any corkage fee and take it back to our room. Cheap, cheap, cheap!. 1 liter of Absolute Vodka or Meyers dark rum - $9.95 normally $17-$19) We were also able to bring on booze from the islands with out a single question and they did not confiscate it.
I would try HAL again but only after gaining more experience with other lines. Maybe then I'll have an appreciation for HAL's product but for now, I'll look else where. After re-reading my review, I have found if you took dinner out of the equation, it would have been a great trip. Hopefully my poor service experience was just a fluke.