Well, we're back... ...from another excellent cruise on our favorite ship, and can't wait to go 'round again! Jim and I are 63/57and this is our 4th Zuiderdam, 15th cruise (9th on HAL). We have also sailed HAL's(old) Westerdam x 2, (old) Noordam, Zaandam, and Maasdam; RCI (Enchantment, Brilliance and Majesty), Celebrity Century, NCL Norway, and the ancient barnacle-barge, Seawind Crown (she was our first cruise, and that somewhat explains why we are (almost) never disappointed).
Shopping & Booking & Stuff There wasn't any shopping involved with this cruise. We knew we wanted to sail the Zuiderdam again. Itinerary was not important. We chose a sail date that fit into our friends' schedule and booked it. Our excellent travel agent, Lori Cunningham at SkyscraperTours always gives us the best price of all, so we selected cabins and booked it.
Prior to embarkation We chose to book our own air transportation because we like to have control. We flew the morning of the cruise, as the weather in May is more predictable and we knew if we had to, we could always drive to the port. Connections came off without a hitch, landing in Ft. Lauderdale at about 11:40.
Check-In at the PierEmbarkation For a change, our bags were the first off the carousel, so we had the porter take them outside and got into a van. We arrived at the pier 10 minutes later, handed our bags to the pier staff (together with a buck-a-bag tip) and entered the check-in area. We had completed our immigration forms online, but our friends had not, so we stood in 2 different lines. Ours took 30 minutes, theirs 35. We had our photos taken and were on board before 1:00. The first thing we did was hunt for Hunky Dory at the Lido. He had taken the day off, so we looked for Burt Reynolds (number 22 football, Jupiter Florida, famous movie star, Loni Anderson...). We told him our names but he couldn't remember them during the whole cruise. Hunky Dory Rules! By the time we had our lunch by the pool, the cabins were ready and we went to take the first of many naps.
Cabin Our cabin, Category SS, 6098, Upper Verandah, Portside was wonderful! We have been in Cat A and S cabins and this SS was the best of both worlds. Big, comfortable room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs. Plenty for two. The cabin has more desk/counter space than the Cat As, and almost the same as the Cat Ss. There was plenty of closet space, with convertible shelves that fold up to allow for hanging long clothes. We could have used a lot more drawer space, though. The narrow drawers were unsuitable for clothing. The lighting was better than we expected, including the lighted magnifying makeup mirror. The air conditioning was cold, and easily adjustable.
The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. Their usual Dutch brand shampoo, conditioner, soaps and body lotion were provided, along with laundry basket and 2 fluffy cotton robes. SS cabins have not yet been furnished with the SOE bedding and linens, but on a ship I can sleep on anything as long as it rocks.
Generally at this time I write about the ship facilities, but the real estate hasn't changed since my last 3 reviews, so I'll refer you to those.
Movies "Because of Winn Dixie", "Coach Carter", "Hide and Seek", "In Good Company", "Meet the Fockers", "The Aviator" and "Hotel Rwanda" were shown in the Queen's Lounge.
Casino Jim prefers the slots and blackjack, but I haunt the craps table. The dealers and pit bosses on this sailing were particularly good. I found them all helpful and personable, and the payoffs were accurate. Special thanks go to Inga, Richard, Maribel and AnnaMarie for making my whole playing experience a pleasure, win or lose! I do wish HAL would rate players as other casinos do... maybe one day I'll earn a Pinnacle dinner or free photos or excursions or something for all my hard work.
Cash Advances For a 3% service charge, you can get cash at the Front Office, provided you have registered your credit card.
Tattoo Artist Diana airbrushes these henna tattoos at a booth near the Lido pool. I never saw her the whole trip.
Internet Café: This place is open 24 hours and offers these packages: 1 Minute for 75˘ (+ $3.75 service charge) 40 Minutes for $24.00 100 Minutes for $50.00 250 Minutes for $100.00 Dialup access in your cabin is 50˘ per minute. WiFi access was in the Internet Center, the Library, Lobby and some other public rooms (cards for your own laptop are available).
I visited at various times during the day and evening and there were always terminals available. Instead of visiting the cafe or renting a wireless adapter, I used the dialup in our cabin, which was more convenient for me.
Greenhouse Spa One good thing about not caring much for excursions or ports you've visited many times before, is it gives you LOTS of free time for the spa. I normally have 3 or 4 "treatments", usually on port days at a reduced fee. I have always been able to use the facilities of the hydrotherapy pool or thermal suite at no charge on treatment days. Apparantly this has changed since my last cruise on this ship in November. I nearly had an arguement with a girl at the desk when she said HAL has "never" offered free access, but she would sell me a pass for $10 instead of $15. Even when I told her of my past experiences, she still used the "never" word, and there was no manager around to consult. I tried to use the free sauna, but it was nearly room temperature and what good is that? Emma did my Ionithermie and I lost 6 inches. New services include: Gentle Touch Tooth Whitening; 1-8 shades whiter teeth in one 40-minute cosmetic process, including a 2-week maintenance program, all for $199. I had mine done at home for $450, so I know this is a good price. UdefineU Video Program, a series that teaches women to dramatically alter their physical appearance by learning to use what they already have, i.e., Posture & Poise, Voice & Speech, Etiquette and Style... $99.
Safety Drill Unless you're a total cruise virgin, everyone knows about the lifeboat drill. In addition, there was a full-blown Coast Guard inspection one day. We were, um, napping (yeah, napping), and heard over the PA system that there would be a drill for crew only. There are usually one or two on every cruise, so we figured we could tough it out a few minutes (the speaker is right behind the headboard and the volume cannot be adjusted). This was no routine drill, however, and when Jim was ready to... I mean, um, when we were almost... anyway, the Captain called "Abandon Ship" several times. Then they lowered the life boats for what seemed like an hour, and, well, we gave up trying to, uh, nap. Forever after, "Abandon Ship" will have a special meaning for us.
Saturday, Embarkation Day: Wow, do we love this ship! We knew just how to find Hunky Dory (although he took today off), how to get to our cabin, everything... like going home after a long vacation, only backwards! After our usual embarkation nap (so sorry we missed the CruiseCritic party) we eased into our typically casual shipboard routine. Highlights of the day were the Spa Tour, Liquor Tasting, Port & History Talk, Great Zuiderdam Giveaway, SailAway Festivities, Club HAL Welcome Meeting, $500 Intro Bingo and Welcome Aboard Showtime, featuring "Under the Sun" by the Zuiderdam singers and dancers, and the comedy of Julie Barr.
Casual Dinner tonight... we were seated at our favorite table for six with our two friends, but the other seats either weren't assigned, or they ate somewhere else. I initially ordered the Black Pepper Crusted New York Sirloin Steak, but it was way too spicy for me, so our waiter brought me the Farfalle with Smoky-Grilled Portabella Mushrooms, which was outstanding. We saw the Welcome Show and headed to one of our favorite parts of the ship, the Casino. Jim planted me at the Craps table and left to play Blackjack.
Sunday, Half Moon Cay: This is my favorite island of all. We don't even need a cabana or clamshell... just give me a floatie and push me out to the ropes and let me broil all day. The beach (after last fall's hurricane) is once again powder soft, and the water, although a little cool in May, was clear and the most beautiful color blue. Aaaaahhhhhhh. If you rent a cabana you also get priority tendering. If you get a butler with it, you get an outstanding luncheon of your own design and superb service. There were 13 Shore Excursions ranging from $19 to $119, and Gear Rentals from $6 all day to $50 per hour.
Back at the ship (reluctantly) we napped through the Port & Shopping Talk, Country Snowball Jackpot Bingo and the Liars Club. Dinner was casual again (I had the Floridian Grouper and Smoked Salmon), and afterward we skipped Alfreda Gerald in the Showroom (which I heard was a giant mistake on our part), and the Country Line Dancing Party and went straight to the Casino.
Monday, At Sea: Sea days are my favorite of all. I don't exactly recall, but I know we didn't go to Snowball Jackpot Bingo, the Wine Tasting, Water Volleyball, and certainly not the Sock Hop. We slept through the Captain's Reception, but didn't miss this first formal dinner. We also skipped the "Under the Boardwalk" show, mainly because we've seen it before, but also because we walked by the casino and couldn't resist the musical ka-ching of the slots... it's hypnotizing!
Tuesday, Roadtown, Tortola, BVI: We didn't get off the ship again! We may have played Bingo, but I know we missed the Crew Show (been there, done that) and Volleyball. Jim went to see "The Aviator" and I had 2 spa treatments (details above in the Spa department). There were 12 Shore Excursions ranging from $34 to $149. We don't care for barbeque, so I dined casually in the Vista Dining Room... the Pan Seared Gulf Red Snapper was excellent! Jim wasn't feeling well that night and our friends were exhausted after their excursion, so I showed up alone at our table. Our waiter found me a seat at the next table with a lovely newlywed couple whose dinner partners were also absent, and they were wonderful company. After dinner, the waiter assembled a platter of Pot Roast and other stuff and went with me to personally deliver the dinner to Jim. What a nice thing to do! This is service!
Wednesday, St. Thomas, USVI: Immigration at the crack of dawn? Bummer! It actually was very well organized and we got in a line that was constantly moving... about 10 minutes, tops. The downside to this procedure is that everybody is up and the Lido is packed! We were in no hurry, though, 'cause I was the only one to go ashore, and only for a quick lookaround for chachkies at Havensight Mall. All I bought was Pepto Bismol for the patient. Jeez... I can't even spend money anymore! It's the same stuff everywhere! There were 20 Shore Excursions ranging from $24 to $99, and I missed all of them.
Informal dinner tonight offered one of my all-time faves... Hazelnut Crusted Perch with Pureed Scallion Sweet Potato... MMMmmmmmm..... but we went to the Pinnacle instead, dining on he Planked Shrimp, Petit Filet, and Planked Halibut.
Magician James Cielen We never miss the magician, and although we have seen James Cielen's act before, we went again (my that little puppy has grown a whole 6 ounces!) It's an amazing show and I'd recommend it highly.
Thursday, At Sea: Aaaahhh... another day at sea. Captain John Scott showed off his Bingo calling expertise at his Captain's Win-a-Cruise Bingo game (I think this was in lieu of the Captain's Farewell Party). There was a tie, and only one cruise to give away, so Captain Scott had to cut the ship in half... No! That was King Solomon! Sorry. There was a sudden-death Bingo-off, and although there was a lengthy protest from a lady in the audience, one lucky woman won a 7-day cruise for two in an outside stateroom!
Formal dinner was less formal due to the lack of fancy chair covers used in the past. The traditional Surf-and-Turf was offered, which I enjoyed with Trio of Salmon, Jumbo Shrimp and Pearls of the Ocean, Escargots and Chilled Strawberry Bisque. I love cruises.
Friday, Nassau: There were 10 Shore Excursions ranging from $39 to 119, but this trip to Nassau we did what we have said we would do but never did... we took the water taxi to Atlantis and wandered around. It's a bit of a walk, uphill both ways, but it's worth it if you can win $750 on the $5 slot machines like Jim and Ralph did! I would have played a little Craps, but at the two tables open in the daytime, there were a few men who looked either bored or half asleep, who had chips on the Pass Line and no place bets. No excitement. No shouting. No energy. I'm kind of a formal-slinky-dress kinda dice-throwin' gal, and it just wasn't fun enough for me. We were hungry, though. I checked a menu before we went into the little restaurant, and the $17 pricetag on a roast beef sandwich ala carte was enough to send us back to the ship. The boys went ahead and we window-shopped a little, but nothing was really exciting, so we went home - you know - our other home.
We slept through the Farewell Variety Showtime, which is a shame because I wanted to see Alfreda Gerald. After the casual dinner (I originally ordered the Osso Buco, but it was fatty, so they brought me some Fettuccini Frutti Di Mare, which was quite good) we stopped by the Casino until Final Snowball Jackpot Bingo. I was throwing dice while Jim was accumulating black chips at the Blackjack table. He looked over at me and gestured it was time for Bingo. Looking at the piles of chips, I mouthed, "Are you crazy?" and we kept on playing. No way am I gonna leave all that fun to NOT win at Bingo again! Eventually we colored out, tipped the boys, thanked the dealers and pit bosses, left my CruiseReport business cards, and promised to return in August. We will... we certainly will.
Now, the mad dash to pack. Tossing clothing across the room helter-skelter, not caring particularly what went where, we managed to get it out there by 2:00 a.m. Whew!
Saturday, Debarkation Day: For those of you who have late flights or are staying the night, HAL offered 2 Shore Excursions ranging from $49 to $83 including transfers to either airport. Transfers only were $12 to Ft. Lauderdale or $24 to Miami airport.
This last day is so much easier now than it used to be. We were able to have coffee delivered, have a full breakfast in the Lido. You can now relax in your cabin, if you like, until your color/number is called. We were first off, quickly found our luggage, and moved the overnight stuff from the carryon to a suitcase. One of our TSA locks was missing, but I knew there wasn't anything worth stealing in that bag, so we did not report it.
We went through customs and found a van by 9:45. Unfortunately, the four of us decided to take a van instead of a cab, and mistakenly thought we would be the only passengers. The driver loaded our bags and continued to look for more fares to the airport, loading their bags on top of ours. At the airport, we were first off, and during the loading and unloading, my unlocked carryon bag (with all the jewelry, camera, cash, etc. and NO ID TAG) was left on the van while I checked in at the curb. My husband spotted the van at the next terminal and made a run for it (I haven't ever seen him run that fast). He caught the driver before he pulled away and asked for the bag. He had a hard time describing the contents, but they found the plane tickets in one pocket, and they matched his name. Whew! My luggage was a little more than one pound overweight, but they let it pass. My girlfriend's case was more than five pounds over, so she had to move a few things to another case (no charge for either). It's a good thing that after your suitcase is bumped around for a few hours, things kinda settle, and there's more room than you think.
You know, I just realized something. We didn't do anything on this cruise! Who would pay all that money to just relax and eat and indulge, and... Me, that's who! We will be back in August for our 5th Zuiderdam cruise, and even though Hunky Dory is on leave, we will enjoy doing not much of anything. Just tell Inge to hold that spot next to the croupier for me.