Mark M. Rubin and Joanne Scheidt
Occupation:Opera and Choral Music Singer
Number of Cruises: 30+
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 4th, 2006
Itinerary: outhern Caribbean/Panama Canal
I wanted to post this review while the room still seems to be gently rocking back and forth. This will wear off in a few more days, I hope.
With all the cruises I have taken, this was the first on HAL. This came about because Celebrity, my generally favored cruise line, annoyed me by smashing my luggage on my last cruise to Bermuda and ignored me for many months before finally making settlement with me for the damages. By then, I had booked HAL.
The cruise experience began quite well with an on time flight from JFK to Fort Lauderdale on Jet Blue. When flying out of JFK on a mid-winter flight, one must be happy that it's on time and not delayed by bad weather.
The airport at Fort Lauderdale is a fine point to begin a cruise. Got the baggage quickly and after a short taxi ride arrived at the cruise ship terminal where only two ships were there to take on passengers for departure.
They accept your baggage at curbside and you don't see it again until it arrives at your cabin mid afternoon. So it's a good idea to keep absolute necessities with you in a shoulder bag. (prescriptions, for example)
Check in was quick and easy. The secret of success and easy check in is to submit the required pre-check questioner over your computer, in advance and have your passport and documents in good order and organized.
Unlike Celebrity, HAL does NOT greet you on board with champagne and a steward to show you your cabin. That's because the cabins are not ready until 1:00 P.M. So the thing to do is go up to the LIDO deck and get yourself a nice lunch from the buffet.
The cabin was ready on time and the luggage delivered, inside the cabin rather than left in the hallway, and all was in order. We ( me and my insignificant other, oh, that's significant other) unpacked and went for a stroll around the ship (not BOAT, boat is my 12 foot aluminum row boat with 4 H.P. motor kept up at the lake.)
The ship sailed out of the beautiful Fort Lauderdale harbor exactly on time and glided past the high rise condo's at the harbor entrance, this time with NO residents mooning the departing ship as they are sometimes are want to do.
The life jacket drill (required by law) was conducted before sailing to get it out of the way and get the life jackets back into the closets where they happily stayed.
Now I'll talk about elements of the cruise, by catagory.
HAL's private island was a good stop. Lots of sun, swimming and relaxation. Tender service with the ship's life boats was no problem.
Aruba. No, we didn't find the missing American girl. No interesting shore excursions so we walked around town and shopped. The park was pretty. Nice stop.
Curaco. Beautiful Synagoge there, A short, easy stroll. Don't miss it. Met "David" who was running a dry goods store featuring a bar of Lifeboy soap in his window. He came from Williamsburg, Brooklyn many years ago. His wife was sitting on a stool at the cash register just like the "good old days".
Loved it. Going through the locks and into Gatun Lake quite a "don't miss this". The stop at Colon, Panama was just to retrieve excursion people. Some said that the excursions were so-so and they would have been happier to see the ship's exit back through the locks. We stayed aboard because we read that it was a better thing to do in a Cruise Reveiws.Com review posted by a knowledgeable reviewer.
Tortoga Canal Boat Trip (and banana plantation visit) a must do. Lots of monkeys, alligators and birds, and that was just ON the boat. Well done.
Built in 2000, and recent renovated, the Zaandam is tastefully appointed, attractive, clean and well designed. I also like the size. 1400 (a full complement) passengers were reasonably well served and it didn't feel crowded. The ship was smooth and although there were time when motion could be felt, no one should have been in discomfort from the light movement. The Caribbean was not rough and the ship's stabilizers did their job.
The cabin was an outside cabin well laid out with plenty of cabin space and the bathroom even had a tub. The cabin was slightly larger that other outside cabins on other cruise lines. Design and decoration was low key and suited to the taste of the type on cruiser HAL attracts. Nice flat screen T.V. with attached DVD player. Air conditioning was controllable on a thermostat but, if other cabins were like mine, everyone kept the setting on "coolest" with was only adequate to keep the cabin comfortable. Some complained that their cabin was warm and a few actually described it as uncomfortably hot. Plenty of drawers, for two people, and bathrobes provided for use aboard ship.
The bed was great. Pillows might have been larger and firmer.
The dining room was spacious and well appointed and quite attractive. We got the table for two we requested at the 6:15 seating. I, for one, can eat at the late seating and have any hope of sleeping on that big meal.
The two pools were never very busy. The main pool has a sliding glass roof the was employed a few time when we encountered a brief shower. After a few minutes, it was reopened. Plenty of lounges and seating at the pool but during lunch time many people liked to sit by the pool and eat causing a little delay in getting a table and chair. No big problem. Smoking was permitted on the port (left) side of the ships pool deck so many people wanted to sit on the starboard (right) side of the deck.
Interior public rooms were all very good. The library/coffee bar was large and well equipped with many books, DVD's (playable in your cabin) and computers.
The Piano bar might have been a little cozier. It was an open space causing a level of foot traffic passing through.
Other gathering places, like the Crow's Nest, were comfortable and nicely appointed with chairs a real human being could sit in.
The dining room was a two tier design with a balcony for the 5:45 dinner seating. I, personally, would not like to eat at 5:45, but it was busy enought to suggest that there are those that requested it.
We liked the Promenade Deck. Many walkers and strollers there. After breakfast, it was so busy that I referred to it as the "Bataan Death March" watching trekkers going round and around seeking the exercise needed to walk off a bigger than usual breakfast.
The Sports deck had a hardly used basketball court and volleyball court with plenty of lounges for the sun worshippers. There was a special section for "teens" but there were no "teens" on board. Oh yes, there were many passengers born in the "teens". 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918. It's nice to see men wearing hats proclaiming them to be World War 1 veterans.
Plentiful and good. The Lido Deck cafe had a good selection of most anything you could want. And Hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken, as well as Mexican food, available at poolside. The hamburgers were no match for "Big Nick's" on the West Side of Manhattan. Can't cruise ships learn to charcoal broil a burger better instead of using that metal grill?
I never did use room service and always prefer to get out of the cabin to eat. Balcony passengers could not possible be happy eating breakfast on a windy verandah in muggy Caribbean air.
Ice cream is always available and made on board. The ships offers some creative flavors as well. Anchovy, horse radish and ketchup were just a few of the creations.
Phillippino and Asian crew well trained and pleasant to be around. Very hard working and with a ready smile. Our waiter tried, but didn't share my sense of humor. When I asked him if the duck was, "all it was quacked up to be" he offered to bring me both the duck and the steak.
I like cruise ship entertainment. Singers and dancers are well rehearsed and show clear talent. So what if I am funnier that the comedian? The banjo player was fun and the magician was entertaining. So "wadya" want, Frank Sinatra?
The piano bar guy knew his music. Lots of old time favorites. O.K. So he was sometimes flat (I never sing flat) but never "unmusical".
The usual poolside entertainment of hitting wiffle golf balls into to pool. If you must have a rock climbing wall, miniature golf course, golf driving simulator and ice skating rink, you will have to cruise with Royal Caribbean.
At 64, they called me "sonny". The average age of this passenger list was, well, let me say that one guy I met at the pool said the he remembered when dirt was invented. This is definitely a mature crowd. Lots of Floridians, worried about the tires on the houses going flat. Canadians, always interested to tell you what's wrong with America. Some Germans, struggling not to raise their arms in the traditional salute. But only a few kids, who risked being thrown overboard if discovered alone.
HAL is for the older crowed. Family types, young singles, disco lovers and heavy drinking party doers might chose another carrier. This cruise had a number of high school reunion participants on board. I wouldn't hesitate to do a reunion cruise, if offered. I went to a really tough high school in Brooklyn, New York. How tough, you ask? It was Benedict Arnold High School, and it so soooo tough that we had our own morgue.
I got a good deal from BUYCRUISE.COM, one of many on-line brokers that will sell a cabin for less that the cruise line itself. Planning a cruise? Shop around with the computer on-line brokers and you'll get a better deal. Sometimes the throw in free insurance and shipboard credits. Shop around but dont buy directly from HAL. They don't even have a desk aboard the Zaandam in an effort to sell you a future cruise as do many other cruise lines.
HAL is quite the equal to the well regarded Celebrity and superior to Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. I told some Swedish people, I met on the cruise, that I always wanted to cruise Scandanavia, but I couldn't AFFORD it. They wet their pants with laughter.
Zaandam cruise staff is first rate and they try hard to please with corny jokes and a well thought out program of activities like cooking classes and they make themselves accessable to the passengers.
I would definitely use HAL again. So what if the toilet failed to work on 4 or 5 different occasions because of either poor design or misuse by passengers? And the man they found doing the dead man's float in the main pool who actually had a heart attack and expired? They put him in the meat locker with the filet mignons and all was well.
Smooth and easy. We even caught an earlier Jet Blue flight to New York. Book your own transport and don't let the cruise line do it for you. They will suit themselves rather that you and get you home later.