Zuiderdam 2/1/03 - Eastern Caribbean This was the ship's 7th sailing. Full ship - 1823 passengers onboard.
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 style. For Caribbean cruises, we book for the ship 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 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.
Our vacation didn't start very well when our flight from Denver was delayed by over 6 hours but we finally made it to our hotel in Fort Lauderdale about midnight. On the bright side, since the delay was mechanical not weather, we were given free round trip tickets to be used within the next year. Saturday morning we joined my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Tom for breakfast and then we all taxied to the port.
We arrived at the terminal about 20 minutes before the doors were opened and stood in a line of about 100 people. Once the doors opened the line progressed through security quite quickly and then a Holland America staff person checked to make sure you had all your documents - we were missing one form and stopped to fill it out before going to the check-in lines. We also had our pictures taken, which are used for identification each time you reboard the ship - when your keycard is read, your picture comes up on their computer. There were two counters for suites and all four of us were checked in within ten minutes. I'm glad HAL is now imprinting your credit card at check-in rather than having to make a trip to the purser's office later in the day. We went upstairs to the waiting room and killed about an hour "people-watching."
At about 2:15 the wheelchairs and other disabled people were being assisted and "S" boarding was called. Since my Uncle uses oxygen, we were shown to the front of the line, just following the wheelchairs. We were escorted to our S suites 7047 and 7049; located just aft of the Penthouse on starboard. We were escorted, but when we arrived at the suites he just pointed at the doors and left.
Chilled champagne, flowers and fruit bowl awaited us in the cabin. The suite itself is noticeably smaller than on previous ships, but is well- decorated using bright colors. All the soft furniture was upholstered in leather and was very comfortable. The dressing room which leads into the bathroom is about half the size of previous ones, but still functional. I really like having a dressing table that is not in the cabin itself. As we explored the suite Evan, our steward came and introduced himself and asked if we had any special requests. Then he opened the door in the divider so that our verandahs were joined - I really like this feature when you are traveling with others. The kingsize bed was wonderful (of course, it was new!) and there were feather pillows. The bathroom included a whirlpool tub with shower and a separate shower. (The separate shower was broken but was fixed on day 4.) There was also a long vanity area with two sinks and plenty of storage space. The two fluffy robes were hanging in the closet.
We then checked in with Sherry and Tom to see how they were getting along in their cabin and found that we had different dinner times/tables. A quick trip to the Concierge in the Neptune lounge and this was fixed. Tom's oxygen was delivered about 30 minutes after we boarded; so that worry was taken care of and we could all relax.
We located our lifejackets and laid them out in preparation for the drill and then popped one bottle of champagne. I made a quick trip to the Neptune for some finger sandwiches and we all sat on the verandah and watched the preparations dockside. Our luggage arrived in good time and we began unpacking . soon it was time for the safety- at-sea drill. Following the drill we went to the sail-away party at the aft pool on the Lido deck. The band played Caribbean music and we had a "rum punch in a plastic souvenir glass." It was rather cold and windy so we went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner.
We explored the ship a little on our way to the Vista dining room. The decor is quite art deco and very bright - not like HAL's older ships. Its WOW- factor is high; individual pictures of the different areas can't give you the feeling of how it works together. I really liked the style and although some of the furniture is funny shaped, it is all very comfortable. Each area is unique in its style, which makes finding your way around even easier. For example, the mid-ship elevators and lobby area are done in blues and the forward elevators and lobby in red. I enjoyed the art throughout the ship; it ranged from whimsical to very elegant. There was always something to look at, a new piece of art or the style of a room; except for the hallways by the staterooms the whole ship is visually stimulating.
Our table in the Vista was on the upper level at the aft windows so we had a great view of the wake. It was a rectangular table for six, but only the four of us were seated there. The chairs are upholstered in a flowered fabric and have arms. I dislike dining room chairs without armrests! Our waiter and assistant waiter were pretty good, but we often sat with dirty plates in front of us for quite some time before they were removed and each meal at least one item was forgotten; one person's appetizer or another's soup. We only ate in the Vista three times and the food was well prepared each time. We had room service on the verandah twice, Lido once and the Odyssey once.
The Lido is very well designed with different islands for the specialty foods like pizza/pasta and oriental (good sushi) and of course, the ice cream bar. We had one lunch and one dinner here. The number of items to choose from should keep anyone happy. Although no one ever offered to carry my tray, someone always assisted my Aunt and Uncle.
I thought the Olympic restaurant was beautiful, but heard another couple say it was the ugliest room on the ship. It is basically white and silver/chrome. As suite passengers we could eat breakfast and lunch here (like the Kings/Queens room on the older ships). We had one breakfast and one lunch here that were exceptional. Sadly, our dinner experience wasn't as good. While being seated we told the Maitre de that we would like to order cocktails prior to dinner and that we wouldn't be ordering wine. We sat for about 15 minutes before anyone even filled our water glasses; he then called over a waiter to assist us. We ordered our cocktails and dinner; two fillet mignons and two lamb. The waiter couldn't remember who ordered what. This is certainly not what I expect from a restaurant that is supposed to be fine dining. When the entrees came - there were three, two steaks and one lamb.. So we waited for about 15 minutes for another lamb entree to be brought and then ate (ours were, of course cool by then). The steak was delicious and so tender you could cut it with a fork and the side of asparagus and mushrooms was good too. When we finished eating, we sat back waiting for the dessert choices; after 15 minutes of sitting with dirty dishes in front of us- we walked out.
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. The Explorers Lounge is very nice but was used almost every evening for private receptions; we attended two receptions there for Suite guests. The attention from waiters at during the dinner hours was very good, but at any other time of the day at most of the bars the waiters seemed to cluster talking to the bartender and it was difficult to get a drink even when you went up to the bar. The Atrium Bar was never open when we walked through, but I loved the sculptured look of the furniture and floors.
We missed the Mariner's Party because the time conflicted slightly with the Suites lunch.
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. I saw several people taking an afternoon snooze in them.
This ship is the first to have a dedicated nightclub, the Northern Lights. This room is interesting to say the least. As you walk down the entry hallway lights in the ceiling light and dim over your head following your path into the nightclub; there are fiber optic lights embedded in the carpet and sparkles on the walls. The "Iceberg" is located here, but I must say it didn't do anything for me. But the most eye- catching feature is the black and white cowhide upholstery on the booths. One of the Officers told me that the crew has nicknamed it the "Cow's Nest."
The Spa area is really beautiful, I enjoyed the thermal room for a while one afternoon - and used the Therapy pool twice (both times were on sea days) - there was no charge for these because they are still working out problems with the facilities. I was looking forward to the therapy pool and was very disappointed to find that it still had not been fixed. The water was quite cool and only a few jets were working - the bubble loungers were not working at all. I looked into a couple of the treatment rooms - they were the nicest I've ever seen - the tables were draped in bright colored fabric and had fresh flowers laying on each.
Ports: Half Moon Cay: We tendered in to the island after room service coffee and some sweet rolls from the Neptune. Our Priority tender passes allowed us to walk right onto the boat instead of waiting in lines (another perk of an S suite). The day was a mix of sun and clouds and a bit too cool to be in the water although a few brave souls were swimming. We had the buffet lunch on the island (hotdogs, hamburgers & ribs); it was ok. We were the only ship at the island - think it would be awfully overcrowded if there were more than one ship. This remains one of the best things about sailing with HAL!
St. Thomas: We wandered around the jewelry shops.
St. Kitts: We took the new Railroad excursion. It had only begun running two weeks prior and is a very nice trip. You have a choice of an upper (open) seat or a seat in the lower enclosed car. Complementary rum punch was served and there is narration that gives much information on the island.
Nassau: We did the dolphin encounter. It was very well done with everyone having a great deal of time to interact with the dolphins.
Additional items to note: Our mini bar was broken and removed for repair - it was returned on day 6. It didn't bother me much, but irritated my husband who wants a cold Coke with his Jack Daniels.
There was a nasty sewer odor in our cabin 2 days. The only other place I noticed it was in a hallway near the Queens Lounge one time. It seems to only affect small areas of the ship and at different times. No one could answer my question about what caused it.
The service is still a little confused, but should improve with a little time. With the exception of a few bar staff, everyone was attentive, friendly and smiling in the usual HAL style.
Formal nights - we wear tuxes and gowns. I noticed fewer tuxes at early dinner than late and although most people did dress for dinner, there were more suits than on past sailings.
The Neptune lounge is very nice and the staff was very helpful; it was nice to just take forms to them instead of running down to the main desk. Our cabin was very close to the lounge so we used it often for snacks and appetizers. If the cabin had been further away such as the aft S suites, I don't think I would have used it as much.
We also enjoyed the casino and actually spent a couple hours playing the slots. It was large and well laid out.
We thought the photos were high priced (but I'm finding that on all the ships we've sailed lately) and not as good in quality. There were many backdrops available on formal nights. But, as usual, we bought a number of them for our trip album.
The fresh flowers throughout the ship remain one of my favorite things!
To sum up: it was a good trip, but not great. I think I prefer the smaller HAL ships, but price and itinerary being right I would sail Zuiderdam again.