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Brian Hatch

Age: 29

Occupation:Software Development Manager

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: November 22nd, 2003

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

We're different from many reviewers in that we are a young family with a 16 month old baby. We have cruised with Holland America, Princess, and Carnival, and would rate them in that respective order in terms of quality.

I won't discuss the itinerary, ports, or the complete layout of the ship... other reviews do a much better job. But I will give the pro's and con's from the perspective of a young family man.

Bringing Children
Holland America is often regarded as an older cruise line, and that is probably true. But there were several families on board, some with infants. In other words, it didn't feel too "old," and we actually appreciate being on a ship that doesn't have hundreds of kids running around (just a couple dozen). Most importantly, Holland America is one of the best cruise lines because they offer personalized baby-sitting. For $8 per hour, you can have a private baby sitter watch your child in your room, in the playroom upstairs, etc. My wife and I love this because we can have 2-3 hours per night alone... it is a Date Night every night! The babysitters were all excellent, professional, and dependable!

Pro's of Ship: 1) We liked the decor. A lot of bad reviews on this, but when we actually saw it, I was more impressed than turned off. We had previously been on Holland America's flagship sailing out of Venice, so this ship is definately more "loud" than the other ships. But there is enough of the art, the class, the fine materials, etc. to make us really like this ship. And we really liked the large, comfortable chairs everwhere. Everywhere you go, there is leather. Perhaps the decor would have looked different to us if we weren't in the Carribean, but it "worked."

2) Service - the service was beyond excellent. Because tipping is not mandatory (but expected for good service), they were universally delighted when we tipped well for the best service we have had on any cruise. Please don't forget to budget your tipping - even if not required, $10 per person per day is the minimum to distribute to the crew.

3) Food portions - on many cruise's the portions are large. On this ship, the portions were just right to order a 5-6 course meal and not walk out too stuffed. So order whatever you want, even multiple dishes of the same thing, and enjoy the sampling and the five-star restaurant presentation. I will say that based on prior experiences, I was hoping for higher quality... but I would place the food quality on par with Princess - very good, but not excellent.

4) Odyssey - the alternative restaurant is the best we have seen on any ship. Elegant setting, upgraded linens, cutlery, dishware, and the very best food. The $20 per person cover is more than worth it - don't get cheap. I would put the dining experience on par, if not better, than Mortons. We ate there twice... could have made it three times. Do it on the informal or casual nights, when the main Dining room has weaker menus. Order the larger filet, the thai soup, the crab cakes, and of course, their chocolate dessert. Don't miss out on this, and make your cruise's reservations immediately upon boarding.

5) Casino - without a doubt, the busiest casino I have seen, even compared to Carnival. Great people, tables, staff.

6) Getting on and off the ship - many ships have steep gangway's to walk up and down. You can't believe how dangerous it can feel with a little baby in your arms and a stiff breeze. But this ship has a great system of letting people on and off that is the shortest, lowest, best gangway I have ever seen. Minor detail, but to be noted.

1) It is absolutely ridiculous how few bathrooms there are on board. And when you do find one, it is closed about half of the time. This was frustrating, and like other reviewers have said, makes you want to go back to your room. I feel that this mark alone should remove half a star from the ship's rating.

2) Photography - Prices were the most expensive I have ever seen - nearly twice what I saw on a Princess ship just a few months ago. I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to pay $15 for a glorified 5x7. Personally, I thought $8 was too much, but I always bought a few. Bring your own camera, and get other couples to take pictures of you in port, on the ship, etc.

As you can see, the advantages surely outweighed the disadvantages. Really nice ship, pleasant cruise (having been here before, we didn't get off at every port, instead enjoying the relaxation of wandering the ship, reading books, etc.). I think the crew was great, and given the babysitting plus, we'll definitely be back again on Holland America. However, I will say that the difference between Princess and Holland America has been drawing closer over time, and I am just as likely to book Princess if I get a better deal. But my days of even considering Carnival are long over.

Would I recommend this ship to you? Absolutely. Try to get the best deal, and never pay over $100 per day, per person, for a Holland America or Princess class cruise. I normally pay $75-80 - do your web research.

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