I've cruised more than 20 times on various lines, and this was probably the best overall cruise experience I've had over the years: a touch of luxury at a bargain-basement price.
I'll try to include only that information relevant to prospective cruisers on this ship, rather than bore you with details about every meal we ate and how we got to the ship.
THINGS WE LIKED:
Food was very good to excellent in the dining room -- definitely a notch above anything you'll find on NCL, Carnival or Cunard. We also very much enjoyed our experiences in the informal Lido Café, where you’ll find freshly-squeezed orange juice in the mornings, along with made-to-order omelets. Waiters quickly refill your coffee/tea at the table, even though this is otherwise a self-service buffet restaurant. We also appreciated the fresh flowers (live orchids!) on every table in the Lido cafe. Sandwiches and pastas at lunchtime are made to order in the Lido Cafe, with a choice of breads, meats, or anything else you want. It's a nice touch, versus the "pre-made" approach taken by other cruise lines. Unfortunately, we did not get to try the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant, as it was completely booked by the second day of the cruise. Tip: You can avoid this disappointment by making a reservation for this restaurant in advance of your cruise on Holland America's website.
Entertainment on Zuiderdam was also quite good, with a lot of variety. For example, two-time Olympic gymnast Lance Ringnald performed in the main show lounge, giving a demonstration of world-class gymnastics, spiced up with a little juggling and even a song on the piano. We appreciated the chance to see something so different while at sea. We were also impressed with the quality of the song-and-dance shows. One centered on well-known songs from the movies and Broadway, and featured Bob Mackie original costumes. It may not sound it, but there was no "cheese" factor here -- just well-staged musical numbers with something for everyone. The singers and dancers were very talented -- much more than most cruise ship performers.
The crew is mostly Indonesian; crew members are exceptionally friendly and very well trained to do their jobs in an efficient manner. We were greeted everywhere, every day, with warm smiles and a sincere desire to serve. I gave them the highest possible rating for service, and would definitely recommend Holland America to anyone looking to be pampered with good service.
THINGS THAT NEED IMPROVEMENT:
As you may have read in other reviews, the use of color in the decor is, well -- eye-popping. The colors in the Lido Cafe make it look much like one of those enormous, swirled lollipops one might purchase at an amusement park. The patterned carpets throughout the ship are garish, and look like they would be more at home on a Carnival ship. The good news is that the Zuiderdam is scheduled to go into dry dock later this year for a complete overhaul of its design scheme. We understand it will be brought in line with the classic nautical designs typical of the rest of Holland America’s fleet. That's quite an investment/admission by Holland America, since this ship is only three years old.
These were evident in a few areas, particularly in and around the casino and sports bar. We are non-smokers, and these areas were so smoky that we made a beeline to get out of there. We wish Holland America would go the way of the airlines and ban smoking altogether on their ships.
Average Age of Passengers
This is not Holland America's fault at all, but the average age of the passengers on this cruise was about 70 years. We're both in our early 40s, so we felt a bit out of place with so many retirees on board. Again, this is not the cruise line's fault or responsibility. We knew in advance that there would be very few younger people on board because our cruise occurred during the school year when most people our age are at home raising kids. It can feel a little odd, though, to walk into a room full of nothing but grey hair!
*Our outside cabin had a full tub/shower combination, but the shower curtains block all light when they're pulled closed. A small light in the ceiling would be helpful, as it gets very dark in there with no window. The tub also did not drain properly, so water pooled in there during showers.
*Avoid steaks in the main dining room. It doesn't matter how you order it cooked, it will come to the table very well done. However, we were advised by others that the steaks in the Pinnacle Grill are excellent.
*The lounge chairs in the pool areas do not lie flat. This can be uncomfortable if you want to lie on your stomach. Not a big deal, but it would be a nice change if they're re-designing the ship's furnishings anyway.