Age: 31 to 40
Occupation:Systems Trainer and Advisor
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: September 16, 2000
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Have you ever been on a vacation and came home feeling like it all went by so fast that you have practically forgotten the entire experience? Well, we just returned from one of the most memorable experiences of a lifetime and one that will not soon be forgotten.
This was our first cruise so we decided to go to the Western Caribbean. When we originally looked at the prices, we had decided on a mini-suite in lieu of a regular stateroom. After REALLY looking at the overall value and amenities you get with the suite we ended up booking one of the suites with the HUGE veranda (more on the details of the suite as we go along).
We flew a non-stop flight from Washington, D.C. to Ft. Lauderdale where a Holland America representative who immediately took us to the baggage area promptly met us. Eventhough we had paid for the baggage/shuttle service we ended up scanning the baggage claim area just to be sure something wasn't missed. When we felt the baggage was under control we proceeded to the bus awaiting us right outside. The bus took us directly to the Holland America terminal where the Zaandam proudly waited for her new group of eager passengers. We were in awe over how big the Zaandam was and how emaculate the outside looked. In fact, we saw several men giving her a "touch up" paint job prior to our departure. SUGGESTION: We highly recommend that you purchase the $24.00/each option for transportation and baggage handling to and from the cruise…it's really nice and worth it. We didn't have to handle our bags from the time we left home until we got back home.
When we arrived the terminal, we were immediately checked in (there was a special queue for those passengers with suites). The HAL rep checked us in by looking at our passports, asking us for our cruise tickets, giving us our cruise ID cards and by giving us a priority embarkment card. All other passengers are giving boarding numbers and are boarded according to those numbers. Those with suites are boarded immediately after the handicap, which is practically within the first 10 minutes. After we received our boarding cards we went up to the huge waiting room. We had arrived somewhat early so we had an opportunity to purchase some liquor at the Duty Free Shop in the waiting area. SUGGESTION: Don't purchase liquor at the Duty Free Store…we ended up not drinking an ounce of anything we bought. Why? Well, the drinks on the ship our moderately priced so we didn't mind paying. I'm a fan of Manhattan's and they only ran $4.75. In Washington those same drinks can be $6.00+ !! We became fans of Planter's Punch while we were cruising…they were tasty and most of the alcohol was top shelf.
Once we boarded the Zaandam we were escorted directly to our suite. We couldn't believe our eyes! The suite was fabulous! Very modern décor with a European design. Comfortable furniture and even more importantly, the suite was EXTREMELY tidy and clean. We went out on the huge veranda, which had a nice round table (that seated four), and two lounge chairs and an extra side table. This still left tons of space. We knew we would be spending a lot of time out there and we did.
Because of storms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Captain decided to reverse our cruise…instead of heading to Mexico, we headed for the Bahamas. We left the dock right on time and within minutes we were making appointments at the Steiner Spa on the Lido Deck (Deck 8). We also made our dinner reservations for the following Wednesday at the Marco Polo (we chose Wednesday because we heard that the main dining room has either a Dutch night or Indonesian night for dinner which we were not interested in). SUGGESTION: Make any massage, facial, pedicure/manicure appointments immediately or you will not get one. They book up very quickly. Also, if you are interested in eating in the Marco Polo, make those reservations as well. We hear that you can only eat one night in the Marco Polo.
Our cabin steward was FABULOUS and we never had to call on him to take care of our room. He knew when we were out and always had the suite made up in the morning, and the beds turned down in the evening. Because we had a suite, we also had unlimited laundry/dry cleaning privileges which we used extensively. Every morning we gave our steward laundry and it was back promptly either that afternoon or the following morning. Needless to say, we came home with little laundry to do. This benefit alone was worth the cost of a suite! Hahaha!
We threw two cocktail parties during the week for a few other couples we met. Suite benefits include having appetizers and setups sent to your suite at any specified time. We did our parties right before our dinner seating and they both were very nice. Both were at no additional cost. SUGGESTION: If you arrange a cocktail party in your suite, ensure you call before Noon that day to arrange it.
Regarding the food during the cruise…overall I would have to give it an 8 out of 10. We didn't care for the Lido Deck food but it was "ok" for cafeteria style serving. We did eat there a couple of times before we realized that you could actually eat in the formal dining room. Food was MUCH better there. We ate several breakfast there (when we weren't being served in our suite) and several lunches in addition to the nightly meals.
Entertainment in the Mondrian Lounge was excellent and worth seeing. Although we missed the night of the Magician, we heard he wasn't very good and needed a little work. The signing/dancing cast who was contracted to the ship was excellent and very creative. We enjoyed the shows. The late night hours of what they call a "disco" does leave MUCH to be desired. While dancing to "She's a Brick House" does bring back some fond memories of the 70's, it would have been nice to have some updated music to dance too. We didn't dance once the whole week, which I found to be a bit disappointing, but no big deal.
We played bingo almost everyday. It was really fun and we actually walked away with some cash. Although I couldn't get past the little descriptions the bingo caller made as she called our numbers…"The next number is B11, B11…that's two pair of legs!!" Immediately someone from the audience would whistle as though someone with a nice pair of legs was walking past. It was amusing though and fun enough to return.
The casino was a blast…I actually learned how to play the Roulette wheel and wasn't to bad at it. If you're into gambling, there were the usual tables and slots to keep you busy.
My day at Steiner Spa was OUTSTANDING and a MUST for anyone into massage. I opted for the 105-minute "Top to Toe" package which included massage and a VERY nice facial which lasted an hour itself. SUGGESTION: The prices start dropping at the end of the week on the different services as people cancel appointments or they realize they have extra openings. I paid $169.00 for the "Top to Toe" package and a few days later it was $100.00!! It was worth the $169.00 but DEFINITELY worth $100.00 if you want to take your chances on getting an appointment later in the week.
Without going into every detail about the excursions, here are the highlights we thought were worth mentioning:
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas: This is Holland America's private island and a MUST SEE! The Zaandam positions itself right offshore and the tenders take you in for a day on the beach. It was grand and highly recommended. The water is beautiful and the temperatures were perfect for sunning. There is food served (sort of a picnic style lunch) so you won't go hungry.
Jamaica: Initially we did not care for this port of call at all. Why? We were confronted with horribly rude and confrontational cabbies right outside the dock area. In addition, there were tons of beggars and people offering you drugs. It was the only time I felt a little unsafe during the whole trip. Almost immediately I turned around and got back on the ship until our scheduled excursion to the horseback riding stables came along. The horseback riding on the beach was FAB-U-LOUS! The staff was awesome and redeemed my view of that area. However, if Holland America were to delete that port of call from their itinerary, you aren't missing anything special.
Grand Cayman's : I LOVED it here…it was beautiful and very upscale. The people were really nice. I opted for the Sting Ray City excursion. I had read where it wasn't a big deal but I'm here to tell you it's a chance of a lifetime. The stingrays were the most incredible creatures I've ever been around and very friendly. It's a little scary at first but fun after you get used to them. DO IT, you'll LOVE it!
Those were the only excursions I did so I can't speak about the other one's. However, I didn't hear a bad review from anyone during the cruise so most of them are well thought out and fun.
The one thing that impressed me more than anything about Holland America was their timeliness. When they say they're leaving a port at 5PM, they mean it! We also arrived on time to every port-of-call and docked quickly so you could get off the ship. Excursions were also on time so don't worry about missing the boat (oops, sorry, it's a SHIP, not a BOAT)!!
When we arrived back to Ft. Lauderdale, the suites had been given first priority to disembark. We had no trouble catching our 11AM flight back to Washington…we were off the ship by 8:45 and ended up waiting for our plane. It all worked out great!
I can't speak highly enough about our experience, it was AWESOME! We are already looking into our next cruise somewhere around Europe this time. Although, I'm so partial to the Zaandam I wouldn't mind getting our old suite back again! If you have the extra money (and it's not THAT much more) go for the suite. The mini-suites are nice but the large suites are exquisite. However, it doesn't matter whether you have a suite or a regular stateroom, your time on the Zaandam will be unforgettable! Please email me if you have any other questions.