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Nancy Upton

Age: 52

Occupation:Professor

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: December 20th, 2003

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My sister and I enjoy a Christmas Cruise. We did the Western Caribbean last year on the Amsterdam. That was my sister’s first cruise. I had cruised on the “Big Red Boat” when my daughter was 6. I also cruised on the Aranui through the Marquesas and did the Blue Lagoon Cruise through the Ansawa’s.

We choose the Eastern Caribbean this year and looked forward to a first visit to St. Kitts and St. Thomas. We booked the Deluxe Suite as we did last year as we enjoy access to the Neptune Lounge and Concierge. During booking I chose Cabin 7068 as it was near the elevators and stairs and not in the Neptune Hallway, as that can get busy. Other preparatory events including booking a post and pre trip hotel and air through HAL, packing all of the necessities Tom and Mary suggest and buying small Christmas presents for the staff.

Dallas-Ft Lauderdale and Boarding
We usually don’t use a travel agent and worked directly with HAL. We were satisfied with the price of our cruise but made the mistake of letting HAL do our hotel and air arrangements. Getting a direct flight from Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale is not easy and the times are not the best (for example Delta’s direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas is either 6 am or 6 pm). Therefore, we flew at inconvenient times. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Westin. The hotel was very nice and HAL had arranged a late checkout the next day. HAL representatives were at the hotel to board us on the bus to the Pier and that went smoothly. Luggage was loaded for us and waiting for us to identify on the Pier.

The Suites have their own check-in area and there was no line. We went directly to the desk where a very nice young man reviewed our documents, took an imprint of our credit cards, took our picture and handed us our room keys. The picture is kept in the computer and is tied to your room key. When you board the ship and your room key is scanned your picture pops up. We began to make our way to the boarding area and noticed that the HAL service remained friendly as employee after employee joked, wished us Merry Christmas, etc. By the time we got to the gangplank, we were ready to enjoy our cruise.

The Room
The room was very nice but it and the balcony was much smaller that the same category on the Amsterdam. Still we had more than enough room for two. Upon entering the room there were closets on the right and the sitting room and bathroom to your left. There was plenty of room to stow your clothing, shoes, etc. The sitting room also had closets where we hung our long dresses. Note to Hal: Clothes slip off those wooden hangers. We finally used the hangers with clothespins on everything. The sitting room was a little small for getting ready in the evenings but was fine. The bathroom was very big with a tub (whirlpool) and shower and another separate smaller shower. There were two sinks and two medicine cabinets.

As you continued into the room, there was a living area that had a couch, table and two chairs. There was a small bar that had two bottles of champagne, one from the Capt and one from our aunt. There were two twin beds pushed together and you have the option of keeping them like that with bedside tables on the outside or separating them and putting the bedside tables to the inside. It seemed the room would be easier to navigate if the beds were together so we left them like that. We had a TV, DVD and CD player as well as more cabinet and drawer space in the room. The room had two telephones, which was nice.

Our balcony was OK. It had a table with a couple of chairs and a couple of deck chairs. It was not very clean and we spent very little time out there. We had hoped to have breakfast on the balcony but it was very windy.

The Staff
Our steward was Jazam and he was very good. Like most stewards he seems to come and go like magic, making up your room and leaving you ice. We did the Tom and Mary trick of pre-tipping and I thought Jazam was about to cry. It seems that much of the staff has had very bad experiences on the boat with folks and he appreciated the consideration. Jazam never gave us details but other staff did. I believe that the problems that HAL has with the Zuiderdam (which are not the staff’s fault) lead to unhappy customers who take it out on staff who have no control over the situation.

One example of this was in the Neptune Lounge. The concierge, Marie, was handling the hundreds of little items that occur during boarding when a group came in very upset that Seattle had told them there would be 2 formal nights and we had three. Marie offered them assistance with tuxedoes and dresses but that wasn’t good enough. I am not sure what Marie was supposed to do for them. They ended up complaining to the Hotel Manager and the next thing we knew Marie was at the front desk instead of the Neptune. We also had a group of 16 who always arrived for breakfast late at the Odyssey. They complained about one of the servers who was clearing a table and she got in trouble. Well, she was clearing the table, because the guests were late and now the staff was going to be running late for lunch.

Sister and I decided that when a lot of people pack they seem to leave their manners at home. But that is another story.

Our dining staff was Shy (our waiter), Teghue (our assistant waiter), and Presty (our area Steward). All three were very friendly, remembered our likes and dislikes and gave us big Hello’s by name when we saw them in other parts of the ship. Our wine steward was Antonio.

Other dining staff that we encountered in the Lido was also very competent, friendly, etc. If you do have one complaint about the staff it is that they are young and inexperienced. Comparing the staff of the Zuiderdam with the Amsterdam, we noticed that the Z staff did not have the polish and spirit of the Amsterdam. However, we had no complaints about the staff.

Suite guests were invited to a Captain’s Reception and a brunch. Opportunities to meet and mingle with the crew are always fun because you learn things about the ship that you might not know otherwise. The crew is very professional.

Dining
There is always a lot of food and it is everywhere. As suite guests you can take tea in your room at 3-3:30 and have hot snacks delivered between 5-5:30. In addition, the Neptune Lounge always has sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and an assortment of juice, coffee, and teas. Breakfast can be delivered to your room and we found the scrambled eggs to be the best we had ever eaten.

Suite guests can also have breakfast or lunch in the Odyssey. We had eggs benedict one morning and also took a lunch there. Food was fabulous.

We chose late dining this year and a table for two. Our table, #90, was perfectly located upstairs at the railing. We enjoyed watching the people around us and the ones downstairs.

We took 2 dinners in the Odyssey and one night had room service. The other nights we dined in the Vista. We planned to dine in the main dining room Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the last night, as these are usually extravaganzas. The menu is delivered to your room early enough for you to decide if you want to enjoy alternative dining. The Vista menu is also the room service menu during the Vista serving hours.

All of our meals in the main dining room were very good. Two things come to mind when thinking about the meal: variety and presentation. I don’t care how picky you are about food; you will find something to eat. The presentation is beautiful and the servings are manageable, although we never were able to clean our plates. I am not a dessert person but sister enjoyed them. I did ask for a cheese plate one night and it was served with saltines (not my favorite cracker with Brie). Dining usually took about 2 hours and ended with the best coffee!

The Odyssey is a treat not to be missed. The M’aitre D is Tomaz. He sets the tone immediately. Sister and I were taken to a very nice booth and the table sparkled with silver and china. Our server’s were Ana and Czsba (I never got his name right). The Hungarian staff is young, energetic and friendly. Our server’s asked us to please ask for them on our next visit and we did. They ended up serving us on all our subsequent trips to the Odyssey and we were very pleased with them. The food is outstanding with delicious filet mignon, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, potatoes, and more. We made all of our dinner arrangements upon arrival and noticed by the third day that the Odyssey was completely booked for the rest of the cruise. HINT: The staff noted that people made their reservations and then did not show up. So, if you decide you want to eat there, you might just go by. There were always empty tables while we were there.

Whether it is the hamburger, hot dogs and tacos by the Lido pool or the hot snacks in the Crow’s Nest, all of the food was good, at the right temperature and plentiful.

Activities
Where to start?? Everyday, sister and I would take our activity sheet and highlight what was of interest. We had done the spa thing last year and decided that we were going to stay away this year. Our shared interests included trivia, bingo, shopping, swimming, sun and reading. Sister is more inclined to go watch ice carving or take a galley tour. I am more inclined to participate in the slot machine tournament and ping-pong. We both found plenty to do and got an afternoon nap.

I love the casino and found that the ship gave very good payoffs. I won something called Captain Ron’s Bonus, which is given while you are playing the slot machines, and I also was one of the 5 finalists in the slot tournament (got a cool t-shirt from both). The slots seemed to pay off quite a bit. My real love is roulette and I played in the late afternoon with the same two fellows. Again, we seemed to be lucky. I stay away from the black jack table as too many people don’t know how to play and you can lose a lot of money when the person to your right keeps drawing cards when they shouldn’t.

Movies were available in your room on two channels (Terminator 3, Day Care Daddies, Bruce Almighty and more). In addition there are daily movies like Seabiscuit. We could also check out DVD’s and did that on our room service dinner night.

There are multiple venues in the evenings. The youngsters seemed to enjoy the Northern Lights with DJ Matt until the wee hours of the morning. You could get a night cap and some music on Deck 10 in the Crow’s Nest or enjoy jazz or dancing down at the Piano Bar.

Almost everything is on Deck 2 and 3: shopping, food, bars, art, library, art gallery, and Internet.

Excursions
First, we did not book any excursions. We prefer to wander about or make those plans ourselves.

St. Kitts: not much to say about St. Kitts except that we found some shopping at the Island Hopper and a nice lunch. The locals are pretty pushy about braiding your hair, or taking you on a tour, etc. We enjoyed sitting on the upper level of our outdoor restaurant and watching the folks go by.

St. Thomas: a shopper’s paradise! Save all of your money and enjoy. Sister was very interested in David Yurman. She had priced things at Neiman’s etc and was ready to get a deal. Ries is very good to shop. For jewelry we also liked Ballerina’s. Camille Pissaro’s gallery is very interesting. All of this is a very short, $3 cab ride.

After shopping arrange to go to Magan’s Bay. It is one of the top 10 beaches in the world. This island is beautiful and you could probably spend the whole week here and lose yourself doing it.

Half-Moon Cay: we had been here last year and went ashore this year too. The Zandaam was also there so it was a little crowded. We slipped away early and found the pool on board was deserted and took advantage of that.

Departure
HAL lets you stay in your room until departure. The cruise director Dotty does a nice departure seminar, which is broadcast on one of your TV channels just in case you missed her in person. Food venues are open early and room service was the option we chose. It arrived on time and I got to enjoy those scrambled eggs one last time (don’t eat them at home). Luggage was whisked away and we were ready to go. Everyone is given a number or letter and there is no delay in disembarking. We identified our luggage quickly and were off to our post-trip hotel: The Hyatt.

Unfortunately, the Hyatt was not ready for any of us and we waited in the lobby for SIX hours for rooms. Not the way you want to finish your trip. However, the Hyatt had a Spa and nice pool and we took advantage of both while we waited for our room to get ready. Our Delta flight at 6:00am was pretty empty so we got entire rows to ourselves to stretch out and sleep.

Final Thoughts
1. Tom and Mary’s hints about tipping work as do the $2 bills.
2. This is not a singles ship. We encountered several singles (male and female) who were not very happy with the lack of singles activity.
3. This is not a “loud” ship. The first two days a large party from New York was very loud at various events. Evidently someone from the ship spoke to them because they disappeared and never got loud again. One crewmember said something to them during Bingo like: “This is not Carnival keep it down”. Again, this to me was representative of a young, inexperienced crew.
4. The Zuiderdam moves at an incredibly fast pace the first two nights and people were getting sick right and left. TAKE Bonine (or some seasickness remedy) the first two days whether you think you need it or not. The trick is to take it early. The boat rocked A Lot the first two days.
5. The vibration people complained about was bad in lower decks. We felt it the last night in the Crow’s Nest.
6. The smell that people complained about during the early months was only present one time that we could tell. Take a room freshener, like a Lampe Berger or plug in.
7. The service is better than previously reported. However, the crew is young and inexperienced. This leads them to say things that perhaps an older, more experienced waitperson would not say or do.
8. Take a good attitude. There were a lot of unhappy people on board. We had a couple get into a pretty good fight one day and on more than one occasion we saw people say things to crewmembers that was completely inappropriate.
9. We would not sail on the Zuiderdam again as we prefer the smaller ships. Also, we don’t think we would cruise the Caribbean again. Now we are looking at Europe and Alaska…with HAL!

Hope this review is of some assistance!

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