Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: November 21st, 2005
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
An uneventful flight on United the Sunday prior to the cruise. I checked into the Fort Lauderdale Wyndham Airport. Arrived to a very, very dirty bathroom. To their credit someone was sent to clean up but it did make me wonder how clean the rest of the place was. The hotel has a run-down appearance in general. There is literally nothing located within walking distance of this hotel, so plan on renting a car if you want to get out. I had the breakfast buffet, which was very good ($12.95). They no longer provide a complimentary shuttle to the port, even though the website says one is offered.
I was aware of tropical storm Gamma so I called HAL at 9:30 AM to check on the status of Zaandam, which was due in at 7:00 AM. I was told she was on schedule so I arranged for a car from Rose Limo Service (avoid these guys as they try to jack up the rate given on the phone.) to pick me up at 12:30 PM. I arrived to a traffic jam at the pier. We were directed to wait at another pier as the Zaandam was two hours late getting in and was just finishing up disembarkation. I'm very sympathetic to weather problems, but why was I not told this on the phone? I would've been happy to wait by my hotel pool. It took 3 hours of waiting in a semi-air-conditioned terminal before I was allowed to embark. A poor start.
I had cabin 2705, an outside on Main Deck all the way aft. There was plenty of storage, a full size couch and adequate space. There was mild to moderate noise and vibration from the engines, as I expected there would be (I had to book at the last minute so I had no choice). The beds were very nice as was the flat-screen TV and DVD player. My cabin steward, Azwar, did a very good job. He kept everything clean, was unobtrusive and left funny towel animals every night. My favorite was the monkey.
The Zaandam is a bit larger than the Maasdam but laid-out nearly identically. I had no problems getting around.
The aft pool area is much larger than Maasdam's with a nice bar area. Great views aft, over the wake of the ship. Bartender Edguardo is excellent. He does card tricks and honored me with an ornately decorated Dutch hat on the final night. A very pleasant guy who remembers your name, cabin # and drink.
Zaandam has had its SOE upgrades, so the new Explorer's Cafe is very nice. I'm not a coffee aficionado so I can't speak about the quality of the extra-charge coffees. Basically, the new cafe replaces the old coffee bar, library and Internet cafe.
The color scheme and decoration is almost the same as the Maasdam, with a couple of notable exceptions. The art onboard is mainly reproductions, including the doo-dads in the cases. Maasdam has a lot of original pieces. Zaandam's dining room ceiling is very cheap looking. It is a blue painted affair with twinkle lights embedded into it. It is a far cry from the Chihuly-like glass ceiling on Maasdam. Overall, Zaandam looks good. One gets the feeling of being at the country club. A very well maintained ship.
The organ in the atrium is just plain ugly. I really did try to like it but could not warm up to it.
The piano bar is oddly situated in a hall-like area. No smoking allowed there so I can't comment much about the music, as I was just passing through.
Ocean's bar had a very good quartet, Vista4, from Romania. Always a pleasant time. Bartender Ed and server Terri were quite nice.
Crow's Nest - Much nicer than Maasdam's. There’s a great circular bar in the center. The furniture is upscale. Music was not to my tastes. Joanne (I met her on the Maasdam) Mydel and Wylan were excellent.
The food was OK to disappointing. I was expecting a similar quality as what I had last April aboard the Maasdam. This goes for the dining room and buffet areas. The offerings were rather basic and cheaper (sirloin on Zaandam vs. NY Strip on Maasdam). The most exotic dinner offering was pheasant. No quail, wild boar, elk or venison. Lots of pork loin dishes. Vegetables were prepared very well but were very repetitive. The duck and lamb were overcooked, even after being sent back. Soups and appetizers were generally good. The menu was so dull one night; I skipped the dining room in favor of a room-service hamburger. Taragan, our dining steward, did an admirable job. I didn't get the name of his assistant, as he was very busy. Dondi, our wine steward, was friendly and attentive. I never saw our headwaiter. Maybe we didn't have one.
The captain's reception was a bit of a fiasco. The ship's photographers set up a secondary photo station that took a long time get through. I was near the end of the line, with about 75 behind me. By the time I got near the front, I could see the captain had left his receiving line. Assistant Cruise Directory, Ashley, explained that the line moved so slowly the captain had to start the program so the 8:00 dinner people could make their seating.
Many, myself included, felt the officers in general seemed very aloof. The captain, when he dined at his table, did so with his back to the room. They were rarely seen. Lessons could be learned from Captain Van der Loo and his staff aboard the Maasdam.
Half-Moon Cay - We missed this stopped due to weather. No big deal for me, as I had been there in April. We were credited $13.22 in port charges and given a glass of champagne at dinner.
Oranjestad, Aruba - I stayed on the ship because I had been there before. Nice island though. Aruba is the most unique looking island in the Caribbean, in my opinion.
Willemstad, Curacao - Very beautiful city with Dutch architecture, all done-up in pastels. The famed swinging bridge was closed for repairs but a free ferry was provided to cross the channel. I did a self-guided walk around the perimeter of the central business district. We did not dock in the normal area where we would've passed under the very high bridge. I found the people friendly, especially the drivers that would stop to let you cross the streets.
Panama Canal - As a life-long engineering fan, I found the Gatun locks fascinating. There are 3 locks in the series, which raise the ship 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake. It takes about 40 minutes for the entire process. If you want a good spot on the bow, plan on getting there well in advance. For some reason (I suspect so the casino and shops could remain open) we anchored for 6 hours in Gatun Lake. We were supposed to have 'scenic cruising' for an hour after people were done tendering to their shore excursion, then we were to exit the locks and make way to Colon, Panama.
Colon, Panama - Due to the extended anchoring in Gatun Lake, we arrived at 5:00 PM (as opposed to 1:00 PM, per the itinerary). This left us with just over an hour in Colon. We got to see a mall. I wrote Annabel Soulag, guest relations manager, and was told nothing would be done about this. No explanation was offered. The tour operators were very disappointed (as was I) when I told them about our very short stay.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - I took the ship's Tortuguerro Canal Tour. It was excellent! We had a great guide, Jose. He was very knowledgeable and spoke perfect English. Whenever wildlife was spotted, they would stop the boat for photos. They would even turn the boat around so both sides had an equal opportunity for photos. We saw monkeys, alligators, sloathes, and many types of birds. After the tour I visited the market. The people really seem to appreciate our visit. Also in port with us was the Saga Rose (originally Norske Amerikalinje's Sagafjord, built in 1965). What a classic looking old ship.
We docked on schedule. I was in Green 5, one of the last groups, yet I was off the ship and through customs by 10:00.