The Booking -
We booked through Vacations To Go (http://www.vacationstogo.com). Although the Zuiderdam has 788 outside cabins (623 with balconies), our preference is for an inside because I tend to be a cheapskate in some areas and just can't see paying so much more for an outside cabin, or even a suite; when I end up sitting at the same table, eating the same wonderful meals, watching the same great shows, and visiting the same exciting ports-of-call as the folks in the higher priced cabins. Besides, this leaves us more money for $hore excur$ion$, $hopping, the ca$ino, $ouvenir$ etc. Brochure price for an inside guarantee (category NN) was $1,297.88 per person. Our price, through Vacations To Go, was $1,217.32 for both! That, in and of itself, was pretty darn hard to pass up. We ended up booked into cabin # 8118 (category J). That's a six category upgrade! So, total savings for the cruise was $1,938.44. WOW!!!
The Cabin -
8118 is about 10'x16', with three closets (one with a programmable safe), a vanity with a large mirror and a mobile make-up mirror that SunFlower wanted to buy, a bath with shower, two night stands, table and chair, and a color TV with remote. There were 12 channels available, ranging from HAL TV, to CNN International, to movies; as well as the regular forward and aft CCTV views, the Shore Excursion and the Port & Shopping channels. The refrigerator will be locked, but ask your steward to unlock it if you want to use it. We never did. There were two 110v single outlets at the dressing table, and one in the bathroom. The power strip and an extension cord will come in handy.
We had the twin beds converted to a queen and that mattress was the next best thing to our SleepNumber ® bed (soft, fluffy, comfy and snuggly). The A/C was controlled by a thermostat in the cabin and was very quiet. There was a bit of steam fogging the bathroom mirror, but putting the desk fan on the counter eliminated that, real quick. We were on Verandah Deck, aft, port side, and just about under the pool. I was concerned about the potential for noise, but my fears were unjustified. There was one evening that a country line-dance contest was held above us, but that wasn't too loud and it ended about 10:00 pm, so sleep was never interrupted.
Our Cabin Steward was Abdu Rahman, and he did a fantastic job of keeping up with us. The cabin was kept spotless and the linens were changed daily. He was always present but never obvious and could usually be found with his buddy "Henry" (the vacuum). We did follow Julie Barr's suggestion and made sure we folded the lead end of the toilet tissue back into a point before we left the cabin. I think it worked as Abdu did keep giving us the strangest looks. Poor fellow probably thinks we never used it!
The Embarkation -
We took the motel's 12:00 am shuttle to the cruise terminal, arriving at the HAL terminal 25 minutes later. We had all our paperwork in order and were directed to the check-in counter. Maybe 5 minutes in line, then it was ID, ID, passport, passport, credit card, sign here, photo, photo, boarding number (group 9), through the security check-point and . up the escalator. By 12:45, we had our gangway photo taken and were aboard. One of the most painless and efficient embarkations I have gone through. Kudos to the terminal staff.
Since the cabins weren't ready, we headed to Lido Deck. Well, I headed to Lido. SunFlower went straight to the Greenhouse Spa to book her hair and nail appointments for the formal nights. Long ago we learned the hard way that available time slots on formal nights go quickly. I, of course, began grazing, as the Lido Buffet, poolside grill and sail-away parties were in full swing.
The Ship -
Master - Captain John Scott. Cruise Director - Dane Butcher. Executive Chef - Raymond Southern Godmother - Joan Lunden
The M/S Zuiderdam II ("zuider" rhymes with "cider") was built at the Fincantieri Shipyards in 2002. She is 951 feet long. 105 feet abeam, and weighs in at approximately 85,000 tons. Her power is from five Sulzer diesels (three-16 cylinder and two-12 cylinder) and one GE 2500 gas turbine engine (15.4 megawatts). She has twin Azipod propulsion (a sort of outboard motor arrangement, under the waterline) which give her amazing maneuverability. Capable of speeds in excess of 24 knots, water-skiing is a possibility!
With eleven passenger decks and 924 cabins/suites for 1848 passengers, the Zuiderdam II is the first of five planned Vista Class ships, which HAL will be putting into service. Named for the cardinal points of the compass, her sisters are/will be, the Oosterdam (East), Westerdam (West), Noordam (North) and ?-dam .
HAL has begun a program to change their image ("the old folk's line" and "rest home at sea" were the most common tags applied). They now actively markets to singles, couples and families; with ages ranging from the 20-somethings to the post-retirees (70+). There were about 100 or so children on board, but other than one baby (2 months old) who cried one evening in the Vista Dining Room, they weren't that noticeable (i.e., it wasn't like Carnival, RCCL or Princess, where children tend to run amok, up and down the passageways, at all hours). Without exception, every young person we met was very well behaved and a pleasure to be around (even the unhappy young fellow that one night).
A good deal has been said about the décor of the Vista class ships. Heavy, audacious colors have been liberally used. Reds, greens, blues, yellows and violets predominate. There are still the hallmark HAL touches, highly polished brass, holy-stone rubbed teak decks, oiled walnut, oak, and other hardwood paneling. And . the flowers. Everywhere, the flowers! Bold, vivid and striking are the best descriptors I can think of. Every table, alcove and bar. What a nice touch!
The amidships glass elevators provide a stunning panorama and appeared to be the elevators of choice for most of the passengers. I can certainly understand why, but I do recommend using the stairways to work of a few of those calories.
OK. The layout of the ship . Working from mast to keel (top to bottom) -
Sports Deck (11) - Forward is the Observation Deck, above the Crow's Nest Lounge. Excellent views and a tall glass windscreen to protect passengers. Two stairways connecting to Observation Deck (10), one of which has a carrier for wheelchairs. Aft are the volleyball and half-basketball courts. Enclosed by a net to keep the balls from polluting the oceans, they got a lot of use.
Observation Deck (10) - Forward is HAL's signature Crow's Nest Lounge. The music is hot and the view is spectacular! Live contemporary music every evening during cocktail hour. Theme nights, dancing and team contests/games. HAL has a bank of about a dozen adjustable recliner chairs forward. The perfect spot for relaxing with a Frozen Thingie and watching the world unfold. There are two private areas off the sides of the Crow's Nest (Oak Room - starboard; no name - port). Perfect for little get-togethers or quiet time. Working aft, there is plenty of deck space and HAL's famous teak deck chairs. A spiral staircase leads down to Lido Deck (9). Be careful. It's twisty (go figure). Passing the mobile pool cover you'll find Club HAL (youth center) and the golf simulator (a computerized system which allows you to play golf courses of the world, without leaving the ship - neat).
Lido Deck (9) - Forward is another observation deck. To reach it, you'll have to enter the GreenHouse Spa area from the port side, go forward to the desk, cross to the starboard side, pass the gym and you'll find an unmarked glass door. On the other side you'll find a quiet secret of the Zuiderdam . an observation deck directly above the bridge and almost never used. It is a bit windy, as there is no glass shield as on Observation Deck (11). Moving aft, you'll come to the Gym. Very nice aerobic and strength training equipment that was seldom, if ever, used. A fitness trainer is on site, so if you have any questions, ask away. They'll be glad to help you loose the pounds you'll pack on in the restaurants! The GreenHouse Spa. OK It's another Steiner operation, so be warned. Prices are higher than what you're used to back at home (about double) but the staff is very knowledgeable and well trained (4 years). The spa's Hydropool (is that redundant, or what?) is very relaxing and children are not permitted.
Guarded by a mama polar bear and her cub, the Main Pool is next. An average sized cruise ship pool, with a wide splash section (2"-4" deep) No diving! Three hot tubs and a shower (for rinsing, not bathing - please!). There are also a couple ping-pong tables, which got a lot of use during our cruise. Something new is a tattoo parlor. Relax parents. This is an air-brush tattoo parlor. The tats are sprayed on (with an air stylus) and last about a week. So, if junior wants a tattoo, here's their chance. The kids loved this feature. Heading on back, the next section is the Lido Dining area. I'll cover this fairly well later. On the stern is the Aft Pool and hot tub. Not very large, but apparently sufficient for the guests. This area saw a lot of activity, as children are not permitted during the mid-afternoon. There is usually a portable bar set up, so you can have plenty of Frozen Thingies without waiting.
Navigation (8), Rotterdam (7), Upper Verandah (6), Verandah (5) and Upper Promenade (4) Decks are all cabins.
Promenade Deck (3) - OK. Were back to the action now. Forward is the upper tier fo the Vista (show) Lounge. There are two circular box sections overlooking the stage wings. Great view, if you want to squiggle around in your seat a bit. There are safety railings in the front to keep one from taking a John Wilkes Boothe style dive, and they do obstruct one's view terribly. I recommend just about any of the other seats at this level, but not for give-away events. Thrown prizes just don't reach that high. Working aft, you'll come to the Internet Center (starboard) and the Half-Moon, Hudson and Stuyesant meeting rooms (port). Internet connection for $25/30 minutes. The biggest problem I had with this was that the connection speed is quite slow (I'm used to broad-band/cable connection) and checking your e-mail and checking account took up all our time. If I wanted to send a reply to any of the e-mails, I had to go off-line, prepare it as a word document, then go back on-line and do a cut-and-paste. Otherwise, I'd have been spending way too much to chat with folks who should have accompanied us in the first place! Next is the Java Corner (think Starbucks at sea). HAL used to have free cappuccino 24/7 in the Lido Restaurant, but have now replaced it with a cozy little bistro style coffee/pastry shop. Question. Why pay for 'specialty' coffee and cookies when excellent (normal) coffee and cookies are still available for free, six decks up? Next aft, on starboard side is the Erasmus Library. A very nice facility. Quiet. Cozy. Books, magazines, newspapers, stationary and playing cards are available. A charge to your account ($25) is made to check out a book, and removed when you return the item. The Duty-Free Shop is on port side. Note: "Duty Free" only means that import duties have not (yet) been paid on the items, that's why they're so inexpensive. Depending on you home country, and allowances, you may well be charged duty on your return. Learn your allowances. The shop has your usual selection of gifts, necessities, clothing, liquor, cigars, perfumes, watches and jewelry. Don't buy early on in the cruise. Prices drop in the second half. Wait for the sales.
OK. Now we've gotten to the Atrium and the Ocean Bar (midships). Whew! Be sure to check the cut crystal seahorse chandelier. Gorgeous! The Ocean Bar is on both sides of the Atrium and has a small stage to port. Comfortable seating and beautiful views! Heading aft, you'll have to travel the starboard side, through the photo gallery. Very long and the only place we really experienced any crowds. Guess there are still people surprised that they can look so good when they glance in the mirror, but so bad when the view is through a camera lens! Prices are reasonable (generally) and don't change till after the cruise, when they drop to 50% off! The only place left is the Upper Vista Dining Room. Again, covered elsewhere in this review.
Lower Promenade Deck (2) - Again, starting forward, you have the mid section for the Vista (show) Lounge. Generally all seats are good, but there are a couple with semi-obstructed views. No problem. Seats aren't assigned. Move over one. Aft is the Piano Bar (starboard) and the Casino. The Piano bar was usually fairly well used. Primarily because 1) the pianist was very good, and 2) it was the nearest liquor to the casino (drink away your losses). A little farther aft is the Sports Bar. Actually a takeoff from the Casino (there are gaming screens build into the bar counter), you can almost always get caught up on your team(s) via ESPN. Yes, it is satellite. No, they don't have cable. (Can you believe, someone actually asked that?) On port side is the Northern Lights Nightclub (and bar), run by DJ Gino. A great place for theme music, contests and dancing. Geno knows what he's doing and keeps the crown entertained. The seats are not the most comfortable in the world, and are covered in a Holstein pattern (my daughter-in-law would love them - she 'collects' cows). One neat thing I found was that, as you enter/leave the club, the overhead lights in the winding passageway light up as you pass under them and go out once you have passed. Way cool, but then SunFlower says I'm way too easily impressed! Midships is the Queen's Lounge (and bar). Another center of entertainment activity on the ship. Intimate, but not too small. Think a comedy, or jazz club. Great shows. Next is the Odyssey Restaurant and Wine Bar. The private, by appointment only, surcharge dining room. We did not try this one out, but everyone we spoke with raved about it. Next time. They usually run a special on first nigh out (half-price). Take advantage of this. Heading on back, you'll pass through the Windstar Café and the Coffee Bar. Two nice areas for relaxing and watching the world go by with both old and new friends. The Are Gallery is next and usually spills into the Explorer's Lounge. Many very nice works (canvas) and the prices are not too bad. If you're really interested, don't miss the art auctions. You can get some great pieces for very low prices. Finally, you'll reach the Lower Vista Dining Room.
Main Deck (1) - Again, only cabins.
A Deck (0) - Generally not used by guests, except for tender embarkation/debarkation and the infirmary.
Were there weak points? Sure. If you look hard enough, you can find a worn spot of carpeting, a mar on a passageway bulkhead (wall), etc. But to be perfectly honest, I have better things to do with my time than try to find fault in things, especially when I'm on vacation!
The Drinks -
With eleven regular bars and lounges, and between three and four temporary bars (usually set up by the pools), there is no excuse for not finding a Frozen Thingie when needed. I'm (basically) a non-drinker, but them that do told me that they felt the bar prices were reasonable. Mixed drinks were in the $4.25-$6.50 range. US domestic beer was $3.75 with imported beer/ale at $3.95. Wines were $4.25 - $7.50 per glass. Fruit juice (at a bar) was $2.10, but free at the self-serve drink stations. Mocktails (non-alcoholic drinks) were $3.25 and soda-pop was $1.75. Regarding sodas, if you're a soft drink person, I strongly suggest buying the "soda-card". The cost is $35 for the week. For that price, you get a sticker on your sign and sail card. Just show the card to any bartender or cocktail waitress and soda is free (note: I did see a few people who would get their free soda at the bar, give the drink to their partner, then order a free soda from a passing waitress. Come on - If money's that tight, maybe you should just reconsider this whole vacation thing - just my opinion.Water, iced-tea, lemonades, fruit juices (from the drink station), milk, coffee and tea were free, except for the specialty coffees in the Coffee Bar (think Starbucks).
The "Frozen Thingie of the Day" runs $4.25.
Saturday - Cuban Mojito Sunday - South Seas Aviation Monday - Hand Shaken (not stirred) Champagne Dreams Tuesday - Fresh Lime Margarita Wednesday - Fresh Squeezed Lemon Drop Thursday - Fresh Grapefruit Cosmo Friday - Cucumber Lime Smash
The Food -
Oh . my . gosh! Well if you know me, you know I love food; and HAL has once again given me a reason to fall in love. The meals were fantastic. Starting with the Saturday afternoon sail-away party up on Lido Deck, and going on through to the farewell breakfast a week later, I was very seldom disappointed. SunFlower did have one item she didn't care for (the pâté one evening just wasn't quite to her liking). No problem ma'am. Whoosh .. Immediately replaced with a double serving of jumbo shrimp cocktail! From my perspective, it was all great . from the three perfectly prepared New York Strips for lunch, to the double escargot appetizer accompanied by the four (yes, I said four) lobsters on the second formal night! My usual day consisted of early coffee, with whole cream (not coffee-mate or half & half) and a couple of chocolate croissants on Lido Deck, aft. Then it was time to take SunFlower a cup of hot coffee, to help her wake up before breakfast in bed. Then, it was down to the dining room for a nice, sit-down, a la carte breakfast. Bet you didn't know breakfast can be a five course meal, did you? Then, there were plenty of fresh pastries to tide me over to lunch.
We alternated lunches between the Lido Cafés and the Vista Dining Room. It all depended on if it was a shore or sea day, and whether we had an excursion scheduled or not. Dinner was (almost) always in the Vista Dining Room.
The Vista Dining room, under Executive Chef Raymond Southern, is a two deck restaurant aft, on 2 and 3 Decks. There is an elevated platform in the middle of the dining room atrium, which holds a small piano to provide light dinner music. We had a very nice table for four (#173) aft on 2 Deck (lower level), overlooking the stern and a beautiful; view of the sea and our wake. Our waiter was Putu; an amazing young man who spoke English one whole heck of lot better than we 'talked' American.
More on the Lido Cafés -
Under the culinary direction of Chef Cochrane, the Lido Cafés are a collection of eleven serving areas set up cafeteria style on Lido Deck.
For breakfast (working aft from midships) you have a 24 hour drink station (coffee, tea, fruit juices, lemonades, iced tea and ice water). Next are two omelet stations. Standard ingredients are: bacon, ham, cheese, green pepper, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, salmon and shrimp. On the side are the potato cakes, link sausage, sausage patties, bacon, ham, and four to six different breads and muffins. The juice bar is next with fresh squeezed orange juice, on request. Other juices include: tomato, grapefruit, apple, V-8, cranberry and good ol' prune. The next section is the Deli Bar with scrambled eggs, all the standard side items mentioned above, as well as a nice assortment of fresh fruits, cheeses, sliced meats and pâtés. Next is another 24 hour drink station then a salad, pastry and fresh fruit bar. Finishing up the Lido area are two Continental Breakfast stations with eggs to order and (again) all the standard side dishes.
Each day, around 10:30 am, the Lido changes its arrangement. You still have the forward and aft 24-hour drink stations. Then there is an Italian station, with a nice assortment of pastas, sauces, plenty of garlic bread and wonderful pizzas. Moderately thin crust, light but tangy tomato sauce and a variety of toppings. Yummy! On the opposite side is The Wok. Home of your Asian specialties. From stir-fry to chop-suey to sushi to wor-shu-op, these folks did a great job! Interesting variety, texture and flavors. No, it's not "Iron Chef", but it was awfully good. The juice bars are transformed into sweet centers. A nice selection of ice creams, sherbets, pies, cakes gelatins and fresh from the oven, warm cookies! The Bistros are next, serving various rotisseries and grill selections, then the salad bar, followed by the Delis serving a multiplicity of hand carved sandwiches.
Working in the Lido Café is a crew member who goes by the name "Honkey Dorey" Wait till you meet this guy! The first time Honkey Dorey meets you he will introduce himself, "Hello. I Honkey Dorey. What you name? Pleased to meet you (insert your name here). I Honkey Dorey" From that point in time onward, he will remember you! I'm not kidding.
At first I thought it was just well developed short term memory/recall ability, until I observed this little encounter the second day.
As Honkey was introducing himself to a lady, he happened to glance over her shoulder, waved to an approaching couple and called out, "Hi Kathy, Hi David! It me, Honkey Dorey!" The couple stopped dead in their tracks and the lady said, "Honkey, it's been three years!" Honkey Dorey looked pensive for a moment and replied, "No. Almost. It three years in July." This guy is absolutely phenomenal (almost to the point of being spooky). Every morning, I was greeted with, "Good morning John, Where Pat?" And, on occasion, "Hi John. Pat looking for you."
Whoops . can't forget the Lido poolside grill. Open from around 10:00 am till 6:00 pm the grill serves up a nice selection of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, bratwursts, and chorizo (a spicy-hot Mexican sausage), all on homemade buns! There is also an adjoining taco bar with everything needed for nachos, tacos and fajitas!
The Entertainment -
Under the supervision of Cruise Director Dane Butcher, we were very entertained throughout the cruise. Events included: Off Broadway/Vegas style shows every night. The major production numbers -
Saturday: "Under The Sun" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble, and Comedienne Julie Barr in a wild and rocking laugh marathon. Sunday: "Showtime - A Tribute to Sir Elton John" by Joel Mason. Platform shoes, outrageous costumes and timeless classics. Monday: "Showtime - Under the Boardwalk" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Tuesday: "Showtime - Filipino Crew Show" staring members of the Zuiderdam service staff, in a tribute to their home country, the Philippines. Wednesday: "Showtime - Master Illusionist James Cielen" Direct from Las Vegas, James Cielen (Winner of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Gold Medal) dazzles you with a wide variety of magic, ranging from the extremely difficult slight -of-hand to the equally impressive large-scale illusion - AND - Late Night Adult Comedy with Julie Barr. Thursday: "Showtime - Stage and Screen" with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Friday: "Showtime - Farewell Variety Show" with James Cielen, Joel Mason, Julie Barr, Dane Butcher and the Zuiderdam dance ensemble.
Note - one afternoon, while passing through the Lido Pool area, we met up with Julie Barr (the comedienne). She was very gracious and invited us to sit with her. We had a really nice chat and made a great new friend. This is typical of every cast and crew member we met. They are all great people! Julie, if you're reading this, "Hickory, Dickory, Dock."
In addition, there were more things to see, do, and/or participate in than you could possibly do on one cruise. I started to list everything that took place but with over 40 port, history and shopping talks, sports tournaments, demonstrations, art shows & auctions, dance lessons and competitions, poker, slot machine, blackjack, and bingo tournaments, karaoke, trivia and a host of other events scheduled per day, the list quickly grew beyond comprehension. Suffice it to say, there is more than plenty to do, and something for all ages, just about all the time! If you are bored on this ship, it's probably because either 1) you want to be, or 2) you're dead!
The Ports of Call -
Fort Lauderdale - Although not technically a 'port-of-call', Fort Lauderdale was our embarkation and debarkation port. I'm a firm believer in arriving (at least) one day early, just in case something goes wrong (delayed/cancelled flight, lost luggage, etc.). So, we booked a single overnight at the Holiday Inn Express on SE 17 Causeway. We got a non-smoking king room for $124.00. This place isn't real fancy, but it is clean, neat, safe and affiliated with a major national chain. Besides, they offered free airport and cruise terminal shuttle service. Works for me! We called from the baggage claim area and the shuttle arrived within 15 minutes. Although check-in isn't until 3:00 pm, they had our room ready and we had our shoes kicked off by noon. They advertised 'continental breakfast', and I was expecting the usual bagels, OJ and coffee. They actually put out a pretty good spread. 4 cereals, coffee, assorted teas, OJ (of course), milk (1/2 %, 1% and 2%), bagels, English muffins, waffles, white, whole wheat, raisin and rye breads, hard boiled eggs, cinnamon rolls, mini-muffins, and fresh fruit. Of course, I had to try everything. Very nice. And I do recommend them. For more information, check out: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ex/1/en/hd/fllcc You can call them directly at: 954-728-2577, (Fax) 954-728-2591 (E-Mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since we got in so early, we had plenty of time to wander the area. Across the street from the motel was a strip mall. Feeling a few hunger pangs (hey, the airlines don't feed you anymore), we went in search of some local flavor. There was a really nice place called The Yacht Club, or something like that. I asked if it was a private club. The valet laughed and said, "No, it's just another restaurant with a fancied-up name." So, went in and were told it would be just a minute or two for a table. Great. Gave us a chance to look over the menu ($14-28/entrées) and check out the boats docked alongside. After 20 minutes of looking at other folks extravagances and being generally ignored by the hostess (who, oh my gosh, had, like, a cell phone, you know, growing, totally, out of her head), we walked .
Across the street was a nice little sandwich and coffee bistro. Sorry, but I can't, for the life of me, remember the name. You can't miss it though. As I said, it's next door to the snooty yacht club restaurant, and adjacent to a good sized yacht docking garage. Good prices, good food and free wi-fi connection.
After a light lunch, it was time to explore a little. We walked over the 17th Causeway, to see if we could get a view of any ships and a general idea of whether or not we (I) wanted to walk to the ship the following morning. The way I figured, if it was easy enough, we could walk to the terminal around 8:00 or 9:00 am, sit back, read our books and be the first on board. It's not as though I was excited or anything. Thankfully, a calmer head prevailed, as SunFlower shot down my plan! Just as well, as we found out the next morning that the Zuiderdam was at the far end of Port Everglades and it would have been about a one mile drag of the luggage!
Saturday was the end of McDonald's Fleet Week in Fort Lauderdale, and the USAF Thunderbirds treated us to a rehearsal of an air show. They were swooping, diving, looping, and buzzing all over the area, but kept circling over the causeway and the cruise liners. I did have my digital handy and got a few shots. Nothing as spectacular as seeing it in person, but that was the fault of the camera operator.
There was a Walgreens (drugstore) a block from the motel, so picking up the last few things for the Calgon Bag was not a problem. We went back to the motel for a bit of a siesta and took in a movie: "Master and Commander, Far Side of the World". Very fitting before a cruise! Around 6:00pm I was beginning to feel hunger pangs and started sniveling about being abused, beaten and starved. SunFlower just shook her head and we headed out to dinner.
Just down the road (about a block), in the north-west corner of the Southport Shopping Center, is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant named Kelly's Landing. I found it on the Internet before leaving for the cruise, and they sounded good, so thought we'd give it a try. Not anything fancy, but good, solid, New England seafood; Boston style. You have to go here. The clam chowder is to die for and the onion rings are delicious. We enjoyed it so much that we stopped there after the cruise for a final lunch before heading back to the frozen north (Michigan). Reservations are suggested for groups of five or more. They don't have a web site (yet) but you can reach them at: (954) 760-7009.
The Ports -
Before I go much further, I need to explain something. I'm a firefighter. I know you've all seen us doing our thing on TV and maybe even in person. In addition to our turn-out gear (bunkers) almost every station has a department T-shirts (duty shirts). Of course, no one (other than rookies) wear their own department's shirt. You have to wear other departments. So, with that in mind, I decided to take some of my department's shirts with me to try to swap in the islands.
Half Moon Cay - This is Holland America's private island in the Bahamas; something all the major cruise lines seem to be doing now. HAL claims it is 'uninhabited', but there are about 20-30 HAL employees who live on the island year round. You will be tendered from the ship to the Half Moon dock. From there (after the obligatory photo) you have a choice of activities. The Aqua-Trax Adventure ($39) has you driving your own personal watercraft on a guided tour of a lagoon, along the shoreline and out to the reef. Horseback riding ($69) takes you from the stables to the island's highest point, a spot of 'refreshment' then back to the beach for a ride through the surf. Parasailing ($69) is a great chance to get a true bird's eye view of the cay, without getting your feet wet. There is also a stingray adventure ($19), Snorkel Tour ($49), Scuba dive ($69), and a host of other activities. Or, you can just hit the beautiful 1 mile beach and get the sugar sand between your toes! The water is wonderfully warm and your tuxedoed waiter will deliver Frozen Thingies to you in the surf! *sigh* No fire station on the island, but I did manage to meet with Second Officer Wayne Follett, a Fire Officer with the Zuiderdam's Security Division. Although post-911 policy has eliminated ship's tours, Wayne was kind enough to give me a peek behind the scenes of his division. I was mightily impressed! The gear and equipment is all top-of-the-line and better than much of what I have seen in full-time professional departments in major cities! The fire crews are equally well trained and certainly know their business. Good thing too, since a hundred miles at sea, there is no mutual aid! After my mini-tour, I can tell one and all, in full confidence, that HAL really be lives in safety first. Sleep well and enjoy your cruise. Yes, I did give Wayne a duty shirt and he said he will be getting one off to me.
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands - Was probably our favorite port on this cruise. As we had an early tour scheduled, we didn't head into town at first. We booked the Sea and See tour ($64). This was a guided tour by open air safari taxis (a converted pick-up with a covered, five bench, 20-passenger section on the back). We went all around the island, got some nice photos and a really informative narration. Tortola has a very interesting history and our guide was quite knowledgeable. We stopped in West End and boarded a 40' sightseeing boat for a run through Drake's Channel between St. Johns (USVI) and Tortola. We sailed over to Norman Island (the original "Treasure Island") and then back across Drake's Channel to Road Town and the ship. Well worth the cost and loved every minute of it. Once ashore, we visited the vendor area just outside the port. About 50 ladies had 10'x10' pop-up tents set up and the prices were very reasonable. But, please don't insult them. You really are expected to haggle over the prices. SunFlower headed back to the ship and I made a bee-line for the fire station. Went in, showed my ID/shield and introduced myself. Was given the royal 50 cent tour and invited to join the duty crew for a bite to eat. Great timing! Great meal too! My new friends were only too happy to trade shirts. All in all, I got the better end of the deal . one duty T-shirt for a meal and a beautiful knit polo shirt with embroidered Royal Crest and printed logo on the back! I'm going to have to send them something to make up for the inequity of the trade. We loved Tortola! Not crowded. Not heavily commercialized. Very friendly people. Other tours included: Dolphin Encounter ($129), The Wreck of the Rhone Scuba Dive ($111), Virgin Gorda & the Baths ($57), Island Secrets ($39).
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands - Charlotte Amalie is (basically) a big store. Jewelry, cameras, jewelry, watches, jewelry, perfumes, jewelry. Oh, and in case you missed it .. jewelry. You can't swing a dead cat more than twice without hitting at least three jewelry stores, or the barkers trying to guide you in to them. We took the Island & Mountain Top Tour ($24). This was a very basic sightseeing tour in an open air safari taxi. We stopped at just about every roadside tourist stand and were offered the same trinkets as were available down in town, for only two to three times the price! Yes, there were some very beautiful views, but the guide didn't stop unless there was a tourist stand there. Hmmmmmm, could there have been some kind of arrangement? LOL. Go figure. After our return to Charlotte Amalie, we did our obligatory shopping and SunFlower indulged me in a stop at the local fire department. Again, success! Traded one of my duty T-shirts for one of theirs. Met some more fellow firefighters and had a chance to have a nice chat. There were four ships in harbor this day. Zuiderdam, and two others over at the Havensight Docks; and the Disney Wonder across the harbor. This made for a busy and crowded shopping experience, but we did enjoy the day. A sample of the more than 20 HAL sponsored shore excursions for this port include: Sea Trek Helmet Dive ($94), Coral World ($39), Kon-Tiki Party Cruise ($34), Catamaran Sail ($79), etc.
Nassau, Bahamas - Our least favorite stop. This may have been due to a number of things 1) it was toward the end of the cruise and we were just plain getting worn out, 2) the humidity was very high, and 3) the port was pretty crowded (six ships really added to the number of tourists). We first took a horse drawn carriage ride around town. The going price was $30, but for us . "special . 20 dollar". Sure, why not? Actually was a nice ride, but the guide was so set in his spiel that he didn't hear our questions and, on more than one occasion, repeated an entire paragraph without knowing it. Too funny! Next, we took the Semi-Submersible tour out to a reef near the port. You sit about five or six feet below the water line and have a great view of the reef and of marine wildlife. Not real exciting, but very interesting. Ashore, we found the Straw Market to be over crowded, hot, stuffy and filled with overly pushy vendors. Basically, the aisles are about three feet wide and each vendor sits in front of her wares. Each stall is about eight feet wide and stacked upwards of 20 feet high. As a result, you are squeezing through a gauntlet with a vendor every 4-6 feet. Over-whelming. Other tours included: Atlantis Hotel & Beach ($54 + $25 beach fee), Two-Tank Scuba Dive ($109), Sail & Snorkel ($49), Blue Lagoon Island.
I, of course, stopped at the fire brigade headquarters to swap duty shirts. They were out, but an assistant chief accepted one from me, took my information, and promised to mail me one of theirs when the next order comes in. Ya gotta believe!
Debarkation - The bags were packed the night before, and left outside the cabin door. They were gone before we went to bed! The next morning, we enjoyed another wonderful breakfast as we entered Port Everglades. Then it was just a matter of waiting for our color and number to be called, and it was off the ship, down the gangway, find the luggage, clear customs and grab a taxi. Debarkation began about 9:00 am and we were off the ship by 11:00 am. Met with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson and headed into Fort Lauderdale for lunch and a (way too) short get-together.
Would we take this cruise again? In a heartbeat! The Calgon Bag is still packed and I'm ready to go. The Zuiderdam is another fine ship in a series of "Dam Ships" and Holland America certainly knows what they're doing. We had an absolutely fantabulous great time!!! Please E-Mail any questions to Calgon1@Yahoo.Com