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Sylvain Forest

Age: 46

Occupation:Administrator

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: December 20th, 2001

Itinerary: Wayfarer (southern caribbean)


My wife and I, along with another couple have sailed on a 10-day cruise on the Zaandam between Dec. 10 and 20, 2001. Our ages range from 43 to 51. Both couples are childless and married 23 and 19 years respectively. This was our 6th cruise. We have cruised on Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruise Lines previously. Our wives work at for the same employer and all of us get along well enough to travel together, live to repeat the process and look forward to our next cruise together. From what I hear, that is quite an accomplishment in itself.

We had made our travel arrangements through our travel agent. We had arranged for a 3-day pre-cruise stay and a 2-day post-cruise stay in Fort Lauderdale. Documentation we had received from Holland America Lines (HAL) indicated boarding would begin around 2:30 PM and that was fine with us. Boarding and debarkation were quite straightforward and went on without any difficulties.

This is not the first time I post a review on the Internet after a cruise. A copy of this is also being sent to HAL for their information. I believe in balancing these reviews; no ship is all good, nor is any ship all bad. I will endeavor to cover both extremes of that spectrum.

The ship came out of Fincantieri shipyards in April 2000. Her public rooms are luxurious and appointed in an a quiet, understated kind of way. Nowhere is the ship garishly decorated. One finds museum-quality antiques and reproductions at every corner and their art collection is truly nice. Live plants, bonsai and huge cut-flower bouquets are found everywhere in the ship’s public rooms, hallways and staircases. The Zaandam’s elevators are quick and plentiful. The ship is ultra-clean from top to bottom, bow to stern.

We were disappointed in the ship’s handling at sea. Waves out there were usually less than 4 feet high. One day, they registered at 4 to 6 feet; by no means heavy seas. The ship pitches and rolls slightly as is expected (and normal) of any sailing vessel. However, the ship would regularly experience a sharp vertical jolt. She would also shake as if we were experiencing an earthquake. We have used our video camera to document that fact in the dining room, using our filled water glasses. This earthquake would last for sometimes up to a minute, go away for a bit and start all over again. We asked around and no one could explain this phenomenon.

The Zaandam’s theme is music and one hears live music everywhere in the lounges in the evenings. One major disappointment was the pipe organ that stands in the foyer (decks 3, 4 and 5 forward). We had ordered the Zaandam’s preview video from HAL and we had marveled at that pipe organ. We had envisioned sitting somewhere nearby while someone played it. As it turns out, the whole thing is a monumental fake. It is constructed of cardboard tubes and plaster. Its rudimentary single keyboard could be purchased at Radio Shack for under $100. It is a sculpture, as opposed to a musical instrument of grand proportions. We enquired at the purser’s desk and were told no one plays it, even though there plenty of musicians on board. In lieu of live performances, synthetic, nosey, cheap electronic organ music is piped in through the ship’s music system in that area. That monstrosity has got to go. This is one area where HAL goofed big-time, make no mistake about it.

The Zaandam offers her passengers an internet room where you can stay in touch with the rest of the world, should one feel so inclined. We were tempted, but the high prices commanded by these services made us rethink our needs. We ended up going for a beer at an Internet café in Curaçao, where we used the computers for 30 minutes to check our E-mail and send a few greetings to our friends. It only cost us $4.00 that way (excluding beer) and it was fine.

Air conditioning throughout the public rooms was consistently set too cold. The wives often complained of cold drafts on their shoulders and neck, whereas we kept warm by wearing long sleeve shirts and dinner jackets every evening. Oddly enough, air conditioning in our room was just right.

Our outside cabin, located on aft Lower Promenade deck, was quite roomy. Furnished with a king-sized bed, 2 night tables, a 3-drawer desk, a chair, a small oval table and a 2-seater sofa, plenty of closet space, an electronic safe and a modular shelving system. The closets could use a few more hangers, but I persist in saying we took more clothes than necessary for a 10-day cruise. All furnishings were clean and in fine working order. The bed was comfortable and high enough off the floor for me to slide our biggest suitcases under it without any difficulty. Our cabin steward was very helpful and excelled at working during our absence. Lighting controls were conveniently scattered in 4 locations, all over the room. Our bathroom featured a bath and shower and featured sturdy handlebars my wife found quite helpful to enter and exit the bath tub. In all, we were very satisfied with the size and amenities in our room.

The Rotterdam Dining Room service was superlative. Our waiter (Made) and bus-boy (Rianto) were so unbelievably personable, attentive to detail, unobtrusive, and polite you would have thought they had no one to care for but us, when in fact they managed to keep 4 tables (approximately 16 guests) extremely happy for the whole duration of the cruise. The dining room food’s quality, variety, presentation and taste were always first-rate. We enjoyed a table for 4 located in the dining room’s lower level (Promenade deck) on the ship’s port side, located directly by the floor-to-ceiling windows. We prefer eating late and always choose second sitting dining arrangements.

We didn’t go the Marco Polo Italian restaurant, as reservations for the whole trip were taken at the beginning of the trip and booked solid by day 3 of the cruise. The fault was ours, as we didn’t reserve early enough.

Food at the Lido was always good, but not as good as the dining room’s fare. We went there on occasion for breakfast, lunch or the midnight buffet which, by the way, is served at 11:30 PM. This is a cafeteria-style hot and cold buffet, with a salad bar at the very end and a made-to-order counter on each side of the ship. An interesting quirk is that on any given day, these two made-to-order counters didn’t feature the same fare. One side could be serving stir-fry, while the other side could be making wraps (for example). This was perfect when were in port and only wanted to grab a bite before setting off on your own. Being a diabetic, I truly enjoyed the sugar-free desserts that were featured in both the Lido and the Rotterdam dining room.

Another place one could grab a bite is the midship pool’s restaurant. Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries were featured there from noon to 5PM every single day. Food there was definitely boring, overdone, reheated and unappealing. After sampling their hamburgers once, we avoided eating there as much as we could. We only called room service twice, to order the day’s first coffee and were always served with speed and discretion.

We are not heavy-duty drinkers, but some of us do enjoy a cocktail or two before dinner, an occasional bottle of wine at dinner and sometimes liqueur after dinner. This is one area of the Zandaam’s performance that was definitely lackluster. Our wives both enjoy a Bloody Caesar before dinner. After ordering them on two separate occasions in two different locations, they abandoned the idea and started drinking 7-up with a little orange juice added to it.

I enjoy a good gin and tonic. I got gin and club soda at least twice. Unless specified, they would fill the glass with crushed ice before they made the drink. After a few minutes, you end up drinking gin-flavored ice water. We ordered Kir Royal one night at the Crow’s Nest and it was delicious. We placed the same order another night in the Explorer’s Lounge and we got something that was more akin to a Shirley Temple than a Kir Royal. Quality of the drinks differed greatly from one room to the next. We feel HAL needs to quickly implement a set of stringent standards and procedures for all its bartenders on board the Zaandam.

Wine service in the dining room was not the province of a sommelier, as we had experienced with other cruise lines. Although he was very pleasant, a standard bar waiter took our order. Obviously lacking basic wine training, he wasn’t able to knowledgeably recommend something to compliment your entrée selection, much less discuss the merits of one wine compared to another. He took the wine order, uncorked it, gave you the cork to smell (one never smell the cork!), poured a sample for me to taste and served it. That’s it, that’s all. You will have guessed that this is another area that HAL needs to improve on the Zaandam.

The Zaandam offers her passengers 2 freshwater pools. This was a first for us, as our previous ships had always featured saltwater pools. However, the water in there was positively cold. When a ship fills its pools with saltwater daily in the Caribbean, it is usually warm water. Both pools are surrounded by a low wall that contains the water that splashes with the ship’s movements. I estimate that wall must have been around 20 inches high. It is topped by a redwood bench. There are no steps to get over the wall and down again into the pool’s tiled margin. There are 2 steps to get into the hot tubs but no steps to get down from there to the pool area. My handicapped wife had to sit on the bench and swing her legs over to the pool. Once safely inside the enclosed pool area, each pool is accessed through an angled ladder featuring redwood steps about 8 inches high, which made things easier for her.

Entertainment on board was consistently very good, with the possible exception of the entertainer featured on the last night, who juggled plungers and tried to impress us by floating a ping-pong ball in a hair dryer’s air stream. Many people left during that performance, more intent on finishing packing their suitcases than wasting time watching that act. We stayed to the end, but in retrospective, we should have finished our packing. We particularly enjoyed the Indonesian Crew’s Show, where Indonesian culture was showcased. The Angklung Concert Orchestra was simply amazing. It made us discover a bamboo musical instrument from Java that dates back to the Neolithic period.

We visited Willemstad (Curaçao), La Guaira (Venezuela), Port of Spain (Trinidad), Fort de France (Martinique), Charlotte Amalie (St-Thomas) and Half Moon Cay (HAL’s private island in the Bahamas). When in port, our days are not typically spent shopping for luxury items. We enjoy going to the beach and snorkeling. The ship only stopped a few hours in Trinidad, arriving at 12:30 PM and leaving around 5PM. The same thing happened in Martinique, where we arrived around 8 :30 AM and left around 1 :30 PM. A normal day in port typically goes on from 8 :00 AM to 5 :00 PM and that is short enough as it is without cutting the day in half. We sincerely believe HAL should correct the itinerary so that a full day in port can be made available.

Half Moon Cay is HAL’s private island. What a place! Everything there was first rate. We had a grand time at that island. The water is clear, calm and warm. The accommodations are well laid out and snorkeling was very pleasant. There were jellyfish around, but HAL can’t be blamed for that and you could easily avoid them while snorkeling. My friend got stung once by a small specimen and the sting was no worse than a mosquito bite. The beach is ultra clean, supervised and large enough that even if everyone got off the ship at the same time, it wouldn’t be crowded. Tours are available from the excursion desk, but we rented snorkeling equipment directly on the island for $16 for the whole day, which we felt should have been free, given the amount of money we had already given them in the last 9 days. We then snorkeled on our own, right there at the beach’s snorkeling area and had a great time, jellyfish notwithstanding.

Gratuities is one area where HAL really beats around the bush. At the debarkation talk, our cruise director read HAL’s statement pertaining to its no tipping required policy. That’s just fine; tipping is not required. Should you decide to leave a tip to your waiter, your bus-boy, your room steward or anybody else, you are entirely on your own. It is a good thing we had previous experience in that field and we knew what to leave our faithful service friends. We are among adults here, let’s get it out in the open. You will love the service and you will wish to leave them a tip. What other means do you have to show your appreciation?

Should you have any questions about our cruise, please feel free to drop me a line. My E-mail address is lourspolaire@yahoo.com .  I’ll do my best to answer it to the best of my ability, as quickly as I can.

SYLVAIN FOREST

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