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Keith and Diane Ballweg

Age: 49

Occupation:Beauty Salon owners

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zaandam

Sailing Date: November 6th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


This was our fifth cruise and second with Holland America. Our previous experience with HAL was in March on the Zuiderdam. We booked this cruise about 3 weeks after returning.
Some of you may have read our Zuiderdam review and are aware of Diane’s phobia on flying. Well, there was no wine on the plane to go with her “feel good pills” so she drank champagne. Let me assure you she will NEVER try to replace wine with champagne again. The flight was an utter disaster.

We flew into Orlando a day early, rented a car and stayed at the Clarion near the airport. The room was nice. They had a complimentary cocktail hour and breakfast. The breakfast was supposed to start at 7 a.m. but was not set-up until 8 a.m. It took me 30 minutes to check-in and 45 minutes to check-out. We had reservations for the end of the cruise but we canceled them.

Saturday morning we drove the 45 miles on 528 E to Port Canaveral. Again, Diane’s fear of traveling in anything moving faster than “It’s a Small World After all” ride at Disney World resulted in an 1.25 hour drive. Anybody else can make this trip in 45-50 minutes.

Embarkation:

Holland America makes this process so easy. There were porters there taking our luggage from the shuttle van onto their cart and we walked into the terminal. No hauling luggage at all. We arrived at the pier at 11:45, security check line took 20 minutes and check-in took 5 minutes. There is a separate line for suite guests.

Itinerary:
Anybody ready to be confused:

At booking the itinerary was: Cozumel; Grand Cayman; Ochos Rio, Jamaica and Half Moon Cay (HAL’s private island)

Before cruise: Due to Hurricanes Grand Cayman was dropped and sea day added.

Day of cruise: Grand Cayman back on itinerary and drop extra sea day.

Day 3 of cruise: Pick-up shipwrecked Cubans (3) and drop Ochos Rio from itinerary and add a sea day.

Yeah you read that right. The captain got a distress call and spent 8 hours sailing around looking for the people. He found them at 3 A.M. That took care of the 8 hours we were to have on Jamaica.

The Bahamian government refused to take the Cubans so Thursday day night a Coast Guard cutter took them off our hands

The Ship:
You who have cruised know how you feel when you first board a cruise ship and so you know what we were feeling. We have been so blessed being able to cruise three times this year. Boarding just brought us into a totally different world. The Zaandam is not what I would call a beautiful ship. It has all the amenities you can expect but on a smaller scale than the bigger ships. It is clean and well maintained. There is the centerpiece pipe organ in the atrium which plays 4 times a day, a harpsichord which I told Diane was “half a piano” which she beleived, guitars signed by numerous musicians, etc.

Rotterdam Dining Room: This is the main dining room. It is a two level affair with two dinner seatings for each level. We had a table for two early seating on the lower level at 6:15 (upper level early seating is 5:45). This was the first time we have not been seated with at least 4 other quests. We missed the companionship and conversation with other quests and will probably not do this again. Service was poor. The first night I got tired of looking at my empty coffee cup after 10 minutes so we went to the Lido Restaurant and got our own coffee. The next night the steward, waiter and assistant waiter were very apologetic and bent over backwards to take care of us. But on the second formal night the same thing happened. This time we waited and the steward and waiter again apologized for the delays. Worst service I have ever had on a ship.

The food is well presented and very good. However, I was not impressed with the selection. We had dinner menus in our room each day. With this knowledge we only ate in the dining room 3 nights. We ate once at the poolside on BBQ Night and at the Lido Restaurant the other 3 nights. The same meals served in both places (big disappointment) but at least we did not have to wait.

Lido Restaurant: The food in the buffet style restaurant is very good for breakfast and lunch. While there are not the multiple stations like other ships the lines ran smoothly and quickly.
I was disappointed with the dinner menu however. The food is good and well presented but it’s the same thing being served in the dinning room. It seems to me there should be a different menu in each dinner venue.

The other disappointment was the juice availability. On other ships the juice is available along with ice tea, tea and coffee. With the exception of breakfast the only way you could get juice was to ask one of the stewards who would get the juice from the back.

Grill/Pizza: Hamburg, hotdogs, tacos and pizza available by the pool. Very tasty.

Pinnacle: Sometimes I think cruises are over to quickly. We had planned to make reservations but never got around to it. Our loss. Others said the food and service were terrific.

Stateroom: The main requirement we had was a verandah. We prefer to relax and enjoy each others company and this is most easily accomplished in our stateroom and on our balcony. We booked an S suite 7012 on the Navigator Deck. The balcony had two lounge chairs and a table with 4 chairs. Great for breakfast while in our HAL robes.

The room itself is very spacious with a separate dressing room with lighted make-up mirror and a small sink. Diane loved this and had me take 4 pictures of her sitting there during the cruise. The bathroom has a water jet tub. There is one sink verses two on the Zuiderdam.

Lounges: Bunches of these each with its own atmosphere. We are smokers so we were limited to which lounges to visit and where to sit. For you non-smokers this should make you very happy. The entertainment varied and was enjoyable.

Casino: We aren’t gamblers so the fact that this was the smallest casino we have ever seen was not a problem. This was the first time I have won at slots on a cruise ship. To you big time gamblers my $45 winnings are probably laughable. Diane won $183 at Bingo.

Mandarin Lounge: The entertainment was varied, pleasant and enjoyable. The usual cruise ship fare.

Activities: The Cruise Director and her staff put on a number of activities throughout the cruise and there were around 7 different movies offered throughout the week.

Photography:

This continues to be my pet peeve as on every cruise we have taken. We enjoy pictures of our experiences. On each cruise I take between 200 and 300 pictures and purchase many of the pictures of the ships photographer. We purchase an album and additional pages on the ship to display the photos.

The embarkation picture starts off each of our albums. All I want is a simple 5x7 picture but no-o-o-o I have to also take the folder and a 5x7 picture of the ship and pay $19.90. Then the photographers on Formal nights don’t know how to take a picture of a tall person (I’m 6’2”) without cutting off the top of my head but leave 2 inches of the bottom of the photo for the ships carpeting. I have mentioned this twice before taking the picture and they still get it wrong.

Excursions:

Cozumel: We were to snorkel but due to strong winds, all water excursions were cancelled. We just shopped at the market place.

Grand Cayman: We just did a little shopping here. Let me say one thing about a restaurant named Breezes by the sea. It is near the tender drop off. The pricing is in GCD NOT USD. The conversion is $.80 GCD to $1.00 US. The only way you know this is if you read the small writing at the bottom of the menu. Also at the bottom of the menu it mentions a 15% gratuity is added to the bill. Two Pina Coladas, a serving of peel and eat shrimp and a cheese burger w/ cole slaw (no fries) came to $48.56 U.S. All the stores were priced USD but not this rip-off joint. They were doing a fantastic business the day we were there.

Ochos Rio: Swimming with the Dolphins cancelled as stop here was canceled.

Half Moon Cay: There have been a number of excursions added since our visit in March. Because we had missed out on snorkeling in Cozumel and swimming with dolphins in Jamaica we decided to snorkel with the sting rays. This offering had just begun the week before. It was great fun and we enjoy laughing at pictures of ourselves in the gear.

Staff:
With the exception of the wait staff in the dining room the staff was great. Our room steward, Shaq was excellent. If we had an issue we simply left a post-it note and it was addressed. When we entertained in our room it was cleaned as soon as we left. I am sure he was watching for us to leave so he could do his thing.

Conclusion:
While there were a number of disappointments with this cruise it has not lessened our love of cruising. On a scale of 1-10 we give this an 8. We were never for want of food but the Lido dinner menu and juice availability have a lot of room for improvement. After the Zuiderdam cruise I was hooked on Holland America but now I think it’s time to try Princess and RCCL.

Keep on Cruising

Keith & Diane Ballweg

 

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