Age: 21 to 30
Number of Cruises: First cruise
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: September 16, 2000
Itinerary: Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Caymen, Cozumel
Ocho Rios, Grand Caymen, Cozumel
This cruise on board the Zaandam was my first, and Holland America exceeded almost all my expectations. As a tail-end "Gen-X'er", I was slightly concerned that I might find the cruise and other passengers to be a bit, well, stuffy. I was also not sure how I would feel about being on a ship of this size for a whole week--what if there weren't enough activities to keep me busy? In the end I needn't have worried as you shall see...
I flew to Fort Lauderdale with my partner and two friends and took advantage of HAL's pre- arranged transportation. We were met at the gate by a representative and escorted down to the ground transportation area, where another representative showed us the way to the bus. The embarkation facility is only a 10 minute ride away and check-in only took a matter of minutes as well. The transportation fee was $12 one-way per person. We realized that four of us could have piled into a cab and gotten to the dock much more cheaply, but we had a tight connection on the way back and weren't sure if cabs would be available at the port the following weekend, so we decided to go ahead and shell out the cash. This was meant to be a worry-free vacation after all!
We had about an hour to wait before embarkation began (which was approximately 1pm) so we entered the waiting lounge. The cavernous room reminded me of a crowded airline departure lounge and as the room begin to fill I did notice that I was definitely one of the younger people there. Now I must admit that I am not a huge partier and I was actually hoping for a rather refined, sophisticated clientele. On the other hand I did worry that perhaps this would be a cruise where the carpets were rolled up at 10pm for the night. I'm happy to report that while the majority of the patrons appeared to be baby-boomers and up, there were other young people, and even a few families with children.
Our friends had a suite so they were allowed on first, and we followed about 25 minutes later. Embarkation is done in groups (much like boarding an airplane) which is quite sensible, given that the boat was slated to be full. We boarded the gangway and were met by a wave of stewards in bright red and blue uniforms, one of whom escorted us to our state room (a ‘C' category outside cabin) and showed us how everything in the room worked. The room was comfortable and had two twin beds, a small loveseat with ottoman and table, and a desk area with chair and TV. We had the two twin beds put together and that did make the room seem a bit smaller, but certainly not claustrophobically so. There was a ton of closet space--enough for all our clothes, shoes and suitcases. In several of the closets the shelves folded up against the wall so you could either hang clothing or fold it. The bathroom was also very adequate and had a shower/tub combination. One interesting item of note: If you book an outside cabin on the lower promenade deck, your window is literally on the walkway. The windows are mirrored slightly, so during the day people can't see into your room. If you have your lights on inside your cabin at night however, you need to close your curtains before disrobing! Our cabin steward Asip cleaned our room twice each day, provided a gracious turn-down service each evening.
And then the fun began. After a quick peek at our friends' suite (in a word HUGE) we hit the Lido restaurant. The line was quite long, however that is understandable given that it was only venue open for eating while still at port. We ended up eating breakfast and lunch there on several occasions and found the food to be very good for a buffet-style eatery.
We walked around the ship and then sat on the by the outdoor pool sipping cocktails as we sailed out of Fort Lauderdale. Drink prices on board were quite reasonable, and in many cases actually less than you might pay for at a restaurant or bar on land. They do have duty free liquor for sale in the shops on board. There is a catch though: The advertised price on the shelves is good only if the liquor is delivered to your stateroom on the last night of the cruise. If you want to take it with you out of the shop (i.e. to drink on board) there is a 20% surcharge.
Our ship reversed its itinerary due to a hurricane SW of Florida, so we headed to HAL's private island first. The ship anchors about a mile off-shore and is reached by tenders. We only had to wait about 10 minutes to get on a tender and the ride to shore is also about 10 minutes. The water was breathtakingly blue and the beach sand squished wonderfully between one's toes. We did rent mats and snorkel gear. The mats were well worth the cost, but the snorkeling was only so-so (the island has no coral reef). I recommend saving your pennies for one of the snorkeling shore excursions at Grand Cayman or Cozumel.
The next several days were spent lounging about and partaking in all the activities on board. There was truly something for everyone. I spent a day-and-a-half in the Steiner spa getting the royal pampering. The staff was an energetic bunch from all over the world and did a wonderful job. Adjacent to the spa was a gymnasium area with nautilus equipment, some free weights and cardiovascular equipment. While not as fancy as your gym back home, you can get in a decent workout here. HAL has a program called "Passport to Fitness" whereby you earn stamps for planned physical activities (like basket ball free throw tournaments) and gym workouts. At the end of the cruise you can turn your stamps in for items such as t-shirts, water bottles or (if you went all out physically) big bathrobes or tracksuits. The gym also had an area for aerobics and stretching classes. I went to a few classes and noticed that many of the seniors were puffing and grunting, seemingly in pain. I felt the staff should have been a bit more cognizant of participants' ability levels before some really injured themselves.
There was literally some planned activity going on every minute during the day, including, bingo, board games, art auctions, movies (in a real movie theatre), sports activities, afternoon tea, ice sculpting, ship tours and casino gambling. And of course there was always a chair on the deck with my name on it. Not only were my fears of boredom unfounded, but I wish I could have been cloned! Now having said this many of the structured activities (e.g. board games or ping-pong tournaments) are not things I do at home, so I did have to go forward with an open mind. But I found most things enjoyable, and there was no pressure to stay if one didn't like the activity.
The boat never seemed crowded even though it was fully booked. When we docked at Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico, I stayed on board and felt like I had the ship to myself. I did get off the boat in Grand Cayman, and had a nice time walking around Georgetown. We also took the snorkeling shore excursion which was really worth the money. You visit both an old shipwreck in the harbor and a section of the reef.
Each night but one we ate in the Rotterdam dining room, where both the food and the service were superb. The entire week there was only one dish I didn't care for, and that was a matter of personal taste. And indeed, if you don't care for something, you can simply ask for a different dish. Two evenings were formal, but a tuxedo wasn't necessary and you certainly would feel comfortable in a dark suit and tie. One evening was semi-formal (with sportcoat and tie) and the other evenings were dressy casual, meaning nice slacks and shirt for the men. On the formal evenings, photographers came by all the tables to take pictures. You also had your picture taken pretty much every time you got off the ship in port. All the picture-taking got to be annoying after a while; I would have preferred to have the photographers off to the side so that those who where not interested in pictures would not have to wait in line on the gangway.
The photography issue aside, everything about the cruise was wonderful indeed. I must also make note of the extraordinary service provided on board. Every time I turned around, a waiter or waitress was there to assist you. The service was relaxed and friendly, and I got the sense that the crew isn't out (solely) to make tips. That's not to say that tips are not appreciated. HAL has a "tipping not required" policy, which is not the same as a "no tipping policy". What you decide to give is totally up to you, but you need to remember that most of the crew has family back in Indonesia or the Philippines to support, and so tips are important.
I felt that Holland America provided me a great cruise value for the money I spent and would recommend them to anyone looking for a relaxing cruise that also provided a sense of style. If you're looking for a nonstop party or a cruise with tons of physical activity, this might not be the best match for you. Everyone else looking to slow their pace of life down a leisurely notch or two would enjoy the Zaandam wholeheartedly.