Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: November 30th, 2001
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean Seafarer
Increased Security: You are required to carry your passport and room key with you at all times when you are off the ship. Your purchases and personal belongings are checked when you return to the ship, and you are subjected to a hand-held wand search. Immigration was required three times on this cruise. This consists of a note in your room with your name on it telling you what section of rooms is going to be called when. The process itself is very smooth and fast, but takes at least an hour for the whole ship, and no one can leave the ship until everyone has passed through immigration. Suite passengers get to go to immigration whenever they want to. We also were required to fill out Bahamian immigration forms and customs forms as usual at disembarkation. We were told that effective in January, all cruisers must have valid passports. They will no longer accept birth certificates. Although the increased security is necessary and welcome, it does get a bit tedious towards the end to be told when you have to get out of your room for roll-call, after all, it is a vacation. It is something we all will have to get used to.
Embarkation: Due to the number of mobility-challenged persons and suite occupants on this cruise who receive priority boarding, it was almost an hour before boarding of the rest of the passengers took place. Boarding went smoothly after the priority boarding, and we were on the ship by 2:00 p.m. The ship was completely sold out, due in large part to the tremendous discounts being offered very close to the sailing date. Our luggage was arriving at the same time that we were being escorted to our room, so we were able to immediately unpack and head up to the buffet for lunch. The life jacket drill was held at 4:30 p.m. and we set sail around 5:15 p.m.
Cabin: Our room, located mid-ship on the lower promenade deck, was very comfortable. It contained two twin beds, two night stands, a desk with three drawers, a chair, an ottoman, a sofa, a table, four closets. Our large suitcases fit nicely under the bed, and we still had some empty shelves in the closets. The room was close to the stairs and it was only a short one or two flights up to almost everything on the ship. We rarely used the elevators.
The Zaandam is the sister ship to the Volendam. The ships are identical with the exception of the artwork on board. We had heard many comments about the organ located in the atrium and extending three decks up as being gaudy and out of place. We found the organ to be enchanting. It plays everyday at 11, 12, 2, and 4, sometimes for 6 minutes, sometimes for only one minute, the time is randomly selected as are the songs. All the instruments that the cherubs and various musicians surrounding the organ at various levels move to the sound of the music. You really have to sit and watch the organ play to appreciate it. The rest of the ship contains several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of antiques. We highly recommend the art and antiques tour that is conducted on the first full day of sea. A few interesting items to mention are King Tut’s tomb and the huge set of yellow lips located by the library known as Yellow Jasper. The remainder of the ship is your usual HAL style, with the movie theater, explorer’s lounge, ocean view lounge, crow’s nest, library, etc. all located in the same places as on other ships. The internet café had some kind of “special”, unlimited use for $169.95 for the whole cruise. Didn’t see many takers for that and frequently saw that whole room with nobody in it. One nice thing about the newer HAL ships is that the shore excursion office is located right next to the front desk. The ship was kept immaculate at all times. The wood trim and brass railings were polished at least once per day. There are numerous enormous displays of fresh flowers throughout. All crew members were just wonderful to us and attended to our every need, remembering the drinks we preferred and our names throughout the cruise. How do they do that, with 1,300 plus new passengers every week!?
The Zaandam, in mid-ship area ,contained a sewer smell. I noticed in reviews by previous travelers that the ship’s crew had stated that the problem was being taken care of. That was a few months ago the smell is still there. We did not have the smell in our rooms, but people about further down toward the atrium did smell it in their rooms.
Several items on board were broken for the entire cruise, three elevators, the yogurt machine, the air conditioning in the dining room worked off and on, etc. It was also noticeable that cuts had been made in staff and amenities. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a first-rate cruise, but when you have been on several HAL cruises, you notice that some of the little extras are missing. There were less workers to collect plates, offer towels, things like that. Gone is the basket of fruit in each room and the big bowls of fruit on the Lido deck contained only apples and a few pears. The Mariner’s Party was simply a gathering of previous HAL cruisers with some free champagne and some nuts on the tables. The appetizers were few and far between and nowhere near as elaborate as on previous cruises. Another problem that continues to plague HAL in general is the constant saving of seats in the show lounge. They clearly state that reserving of seats is not permitted, yet it is routinely done. On formal nights when there are doings in the lounge before the shows, you have to wait in line outside the lounge a half-hour to get a seat to see the show. HAL should make their show lounges big enough to hold an entire dinner seating as well as extras for the people that eat in the Marco Polo Restaurant or the Lido Buffet and choose to go to the show that is not the one for their dinner seating. It is a vacation, people should be able to go to whatever show they want and be able to get a seat without waiting. The crowding is much worse at the earlier show due to the fact that people who book late and can’t get anything but the late seating at dinner frequently eat in the alternative restaurants instead of the dining room and then go to the first seating’s show. HAL should be prepared for that. Due to the long lines and seat saving, I attended only the three Las Vegas type shows on formal night. They were excellent and many people gave the young dancers and singers a standing ovation after each show. My mother attended all of the evening shows and loved all of them. The entertainment on HAL is definitely geared to the mature traveler, and I was simply not that interested in the remaining entertainment and waiting in line to see it and choose to go to the evening movie instead. In fact, most of the younger people on the ship could be found at the evening movie instead of in the show lounge. I did enjoy the eight movies I had a chance to see, all movies that had been in the theaters sometime during this year. The popcorn in the theater is a nice touch.
There was plenty of food everywhere. I do not like fancy food, so I am not the one to judge the quality. My mother enjoyed all courses at all meals and loved everything, except the Marco Polo (more on that later). The desserts are simply sinful, and I managed to have something chocolate for dessert every night. The only food I really didn’t care for was the pizza. In the past, the pizza was quite tasty. This year it seems that the pizza has become a repository for unused vegetables. Everyday there would be one vegetarian pizza and one other kind, which also consisted of all the same vegetables and maybe some meat or some seafood. I thought the veggie burgers at the grill were very tasty.
Alternative Dining: The Marco Polo is a five-star restaurant. It is very elegant and the service is impeccable. It really is for a special occasion, and I would highly recommend it for a birthday or anniversary. I had reserved this as soon as I boarded for my mother’s birthday. While the food was good, it was not great. And my mother preferred our tablemates’ conversation to dining alone in the Marco Polo. Because it is a small restaurant, it gets booked for the entire cruise by the second day, so if you are interested in reserving a table, make reservations as soon you can.
Ports of Call:
One general note: The prices on shore excursions have gone up and most of them are not worth the money. I find that at ports that I have stopped at on previous cruises, I do not book shore excursions but go it alone. If you are only traveling with a few people, the extra money doesn’t make that much difference. But you certainly would not want to pay $50 times ten people for a ride around the town when cabs that are readily available can transport you for far less. I prefer the safety of the ship-sponsored tours, but you do pay for that in the higher pricing. And again, the crowds waiting to board buses and vans have to be dealt with.
Bonaire – We took the Island Journey ($49 for air-conditioned van, $39 for non-air-conditioned bus). It was raining the entire morning in Bonaire, but we were able to see the salt mines, the slave huts, and a few flamingoes that had not gone under cover from the rain. We were still able to see everything scheduled on this tour, just not the wildlife in as much abundance that it would have been had it not been raining. Many of the divers on board said that some of the fish in Bonaire are the most colorful they have ever seen.
Isla de Margarita, Venezuela – ($49, reasonable price for the length of the tour, 5 hours) Again, it was raining. We chose the Rumba on the Chiva bus tour. The rain stopped once we got to the beach. There is nothing really close to the dock area. There are city buses that will pick you up and take you around town, but we did not feel comfortable with this. The area by the dock is run-down. There are some beaches right by the dock, very shallow water, but we did not feel that it was safe in that area to go it alone. We thoroughly enjoyed this bus tour. We were taught all about Venezuela and how to rumba on the ride to the beach. At the beach, we were treated to island delicacies and drinks. We then stopped for shopping (not much to shop for), and returned to the ship. The cruisers who took the $500 Angel Falls tour said it was fantastic and worth every penny.
St. Kitts – The rain for the most part was over for the rest of the cruise, just a few island sprinkles on the remaining days. This was my third time in St. Kitts, but my mother’s first, so we chose the Fortress and Gardens Tour ($44 ) that I had previously been on. It was a nice stop at the Brimstone Hill and then on to the Batik Factory and the beautiful Romney Gardens.
St. Lucia – We chose the Queen’s Route ($54), by far the best shore excursion that I have been on to date. We left the ship in Castries and traveled by bus with stops at the batik studio, the volcano, the sulphur springs, the botanical gardens and waterfall, viewed the Piton mountains, and ended at the other end of the island in Soufriere where the ship sent tenders to pick us up. It is nice not to have to take the 1 ½ bus ride roundtrip. There were about 300 people on this tour and we all ended up in a lovely little place called the Plantation House while we waited for the ship and were treated to island music, dancing, drinks and snacks. I mentioned to the shore excursion manager that I just loved this tour and he agreed that it was his favorite, too. The only way to see the most of this simply beautiful island is on this tour. I highly recommend it.
St. Thomas – Having been to St. Thomas three times and yet to shop in the downtown area, we once again chose a shore excursion instead of shopping. Big mistake. We chose the Tropical Paradise Island Tour ($44). We were sent up by cable car to Paradise Point and left there for an hour with nothing to do but spend money at a few shops. We then traveled to Mountain Top for an hour of shopping and sightseeing. Mountain Top is beautiful, but I have seen that several times and did not need to see that again. We did not stop at the gardens as described in the booklet and many people were upset. The cable car ride was also not stated in the shore booklet, and some folks had a hard time climbing the stairs to the cars. They complained to management. Having been on four cruises now with the same shore excursion manager, I told him this shore excursion was a waste of time and money and he told me that he has had so many complaints about this tour the last few cruises that it would have to be improved or would be discontinued . The Coral World Island Drive tour I took last year was much, much better and I would recommend that one any day over this one.
Nassau, Bahamas – Due to the increased security at every port, what HAL has done is shorten the hours spent in each port to be able to complete the trip on time. We did not arrive in Nassau until 12:30 and had to be back on at 5:30, so we opted to go it alone and walk around the town. Big mistake. The actual area where the ships dock is very run down. We docked by a huge garbage dumpster that smelled of rotting food. The shopping area located very close to the dock is decrepit. The famous Straw Market burned to the ground in October and in the process of being rebuilt was hit by a hurricane. They have some type of make-shift straw market which consists of a tented space over a parking lot. You can’t even stop for a second to look at items without a vendor coming up to you and pressuring you to buy something. We left immediately without buying anything. Many of the buildings are damaged, the streets and sidewalks are in disrepair. All the good things about Nassau, Cable Beach, Atlantis, Paradise Island, are over the bridge, which you can get to by either a shore excursion or one of the several tours offered right off the dock. Swimming with the dolphins was a sold-out tour and highly recommended ($99) by all who took it.
Disembarkation – Except for the fact that immigration began calling rooms at 6:45 a.m., and this created a lot of crowding for breakfast, the whole process went smoothly and we are off the ship by 9:00 and at the airport checked in by 10:00 for a 12:00 flight.
Summary – For various reasons, this was not my favorite HAL cruise, but it was still a great time and an opportunity to meet new friends. I would not hesitate to go on another HAL cruise.