Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 31st, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
This was my first cruise on
Holland America. In the past, I’ve cruised Celebrity (my favorite) and Royal
Caribbean. Every year my best friend Joan and I take a vacation in the
January/February time range, since the weather is about as miserable as it gets
during those months in Michigan. The last few years we have discovered cruises,
and we don’t even consider any other type of vacation any longer. We had shied
away from Holland America in the past because we had heard they were for a much
older crowd, but the reviews of their new ships were so good we decided to give
the Zuiderdam a try. What a wonderful decision on our parts that was!
We booked our cruise through BestPriceCruises.com, who we have had great luck with on other cruises. The service is outstanding, and they have always offered the best price for the cruises we are interested in. Because we are people who enjoy our room (and being women, we do NOT travel lightly) we selected on of the SS category suites. We love the extra room a suite provides, plus the larger verandah that usually comes along with the bigger room. In order to avoid any nasty Michigan Weather Glitches, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Friday, January 30; so we would be sure to make the sailing of the Zuiderdam on Saturday, January 31. We booked AirTran out of Flint for $206 round trip, and the flights were smooth as could be. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 9:45 pm, and took a cab to our hotel, the La Quinta in Plantation ($80 on Hotel.com). The hotel was great; large clean room with a free continental breakfast. It was raining when we arrived, but it was about 65 degrees warmer than Michigan, so we didn’t mind a bit.
The next morning, we checked out at 11:00 and called a cab to take us to the port. WARNING! When we got to the port, the Port Police Officer noticed that our cab driver had NOT turned on his meter! He had obviously been planning on charging us an exorbitant fee, but didn’t get away with it due to the sharp eye of the police officer. He confiscated the driver’s license and paperwork, chewed him up one side and down the other, and ordered him to drive us to the ship and then come back for a little visit with him. The driver kept apologizing profusely, but to no avail. Finally the officer warned him that one more word would land him in handcuffs, so he quickly shut up and drove us to the ship. ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE METER IS ON!!! We were very happy to get out of the cab and looked happily at the beautiful hull of the Zuiderdam looming above us. The trip was finally beginning!
Embarkation couldn’t have been smoother. I have read horror stories of long waits and a strange system of number calling, but we didn’t run into that at all. We gave our luggage to the porter street side, and headed in to the terminal. We were directed to the check in line, with no one in front of us, and had our ship cards in about 5 minutes. Then a quick security check, and we were on the ship in about 10 minutes. We weren’t supposed to go to our rooms until 12:30 pm (it was about 12:00 at this time), but we snuck up to our floor anyway, and discovered our cabin steward Russ still working on our room. He was a doll, and let us leave our carry on luggage in the room. We took a quick look around (more on that later) and then headed to the Lido Buffet on 9 for lunch and a drink. It was official – we were back on a ship!
The Lido has great food for both breakfast and lunch. There are several stations for each type of food, so the lines don’t ever get too long. It wasn’t as nice a setup as I had found in the buffet on the Brilliance (that was the best buffet I’ve ever seen, with the best arrangement – lots of little islands accessible from all sides and a fantastic selection of items) but the food was good and there was plenty of variety. The staff serves you most of the choices, similar to the way Celebrity buffets work. I actually prefer to serve myself, but it does make you feel pampered. By the time we finished our lunch, we heard the announcement saying we could go to our rooms. We headed down to 8, and reentered our room (legally this time).
The SS suites are fantastic! The room was about double the size of a regular verandah room on most ships, and the verandah itself was also twice the regular size. The room had 2 beds, a couch that also turned into a bed, 2 chairs and a coffee table, 2 desks, TV, mini bar, and loads of storage space. The closet had a large area for long dresses (thank Heavens!), a shorter hanging area for tops and slacks, tons of hangers, and several large, deep shelves. There were drawers in both desks, and in the nightstands, so for the first time, we were able to put everything away and still have drawers left over! The bathroom was even better, a full Jacuzzi tub with a shower, a separate stall shower, a HUGE long counter with 2 sinks and a full-length shelf underneath, and 2 large medicine cabinets behind the side mirrors. I’ve been in hotel rooms with smaller bathrooms, so we were thrilled. The verandah had 2 wicker chairs with ottomans, a small table, a large table, and 2 more wicker chairs. There were 2 large drawers at the foot of the bed, and plenty of space underneath for suitcases. We couldn’t have been happier with our room.
Since we didn’t have our luggage yet, we decided to begin our explorations. Since the Spa figures heavily into our enjoyment of our cruises, we headed back up to 9 to the Greenhouse spa. We cut through the large pool area, which was covered, but could be opened on nice days (still raining that Saturday). The spa was just before a very nice gym, with lots of treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes, free weights, and a large floor for classes. I used the gym several times, (admittedly earlier in the trip – by the end, my enthusiasm for exercising had waned), and it was never crowded. Ah, but the Spa! We got one of the lovely spa ladies to give us the grand tour, and got slightly giddy with all the wonderful choices available. The thermal suite was amazing, several lounge chairs covered in tile that heated up, positioned to look out at the ocean. It also contained a sauna and shower, and was across from a beautiful thalasso pool (salt water). Both the thalasso pool and the thermal suite had a $15/day charge, or $80 for the entire cruise.
After much discussion, we selected and booked our treatments for the week. I signed up for 3 days of yoga (one on the beach at Half Moon Cay!), oxygen facial, a pedicure, and a shampoo and blowout for the first formal night. Joan selected a massage on the beach at Half Moon Cay, the oxygen facial, a pedicure and a blowout. With that important task out of the way, we headed next to the Odyssey Specialty Restaurant to confirm our dinner reservations. We had made our reservations in advance through the Holland America Customer service help line. This turned out to cause more confusion than necessary – they couldn’t figure out how our ship account should be charged, given that they had already charged my American Express card. Since the Odyssey was never full, I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to book in advance. As a matter of fact, I called the Customer Service line a few times before our trip, and found the customer service reps to be somewhat surly and NOT helpful at all! Not really a good first impression for Holland America Cruise line!
Once we had our reservations straightened out, we began exploring the ship. Since many people have given excellent descriptions of it already, I’ll just add that we absolutely loved the bright colors throughout. There are huge bouquets of fresh flowers everywhere, and exquisite paintings, sculptures, and other works of art throughout the ship. The furniture, especially, in the lounges and lobbies is especially nice – both modern and traditional styles are represented. We were in awe, and had a splendid time checking everything out. We then headed up to the Crows Nest for a cocktail, since we were exhausted from our explorations. Nick, our bartender, set the standard for all of the bartenders and waiters throughout the ship. He was charming, attentive, and had a wonderful sense of humor – as did everyone we encountered all week. Holland America has done a wonderful job in selecting and training their staff. Everyone we encountered went out of his or her way to be pleasant and helpful – such a pleasure!
After a couple of delicious drinks, we headed back to our room to prepare for muster. That passed uneventfully, and we returned to our room to unpack (all luggage had arrived safely) and prepare for our first dinner in the Odyssey. It did not disappoint – the service was exquisite and the food outstanding. It is a steak house, serving Prime Sterling meats, and even though I’m not much of a red meat person I found the filet to be absolutely delicious. The breads, salads and side dishes were equally good, and the deserts were out of this world! Be sure and try the chocolate volcano cake – beyond superlatives. As an example of the wonderful service, when I asked for a decaf capuchinno with my desert, the waitress happily ran to the other end of the ship to get it for me! We returned to our room full and feeling very pampered and spoiled.
Day 2 – Half Moon Cay
We have to agree with Tom and Mary Milano – Half Moon Cay was the most beautiful private island we have ever seen, and we would have been perfectly happy to spend the week there. We tendered over about 9:00, and couldn’t believe the exquisite beaches, lovely public areas, and even immaculate restrooms! Joan was soon settled into her massage on the beach, while I joined the yoga on the beach class. We loved both activities, and then returned to our beach chairs for some well-deserved relaxation. We rented a clamshell for a very reasonable $9 (I’m a red head who burns) and settled in to gaze at the crystal clear water, watch our fellow cruisers, and sip Bahama Mamas. The weather was perfect, low 80’s and sunny, and we couldn’t believe we had escaped the frigid Michigan weather. At 11:30 lunch was served, and we enjoyed a wonderful barbeque buffet. Then more lounging around, and I took a long walk on the beautiful beach. We sadly returned to the ship about 2:30, and headed to the spa for our pedicures.
I must admit, I’ve had much better pedicures in my life. The technician was sweet, but had us soaking in a portable footbath, rather than in a special pedicure chair. She didn’t do a good job removing my calluses and dry skin, although the foot massage was nice. For $55, I would recommend you get your toes done at home and spend the money on something else.
With newly done toes, we decided to have dinner in the buffet so we could watch the SuperBowl. HAL had thoughtfully set up many wide screen TVs in several of the lounges to accommodate the SuperBowl crowds, along with a light snack (hot dogs, chips, and popcorn). We did feel the buffet wasn’t at its best for dinner, the selection was limited and not that special. However, we exited well fed anyway, and headed for the Crow’s Nest to watch the show. There were plenty of seats, lots of TVs, and the lovely waiters circulating to make sure we had everything we needed. Although I’m not a sports fan (Joan has 6 older brothers, so she certainly is), it was the best SuperBowl party I’ve ever attended!
Day 3 – At Sea
Joan and I both love sea days. We ordered breakfast room service, and ate on our balcony while we watched the sea roll by. We checked in with CNN to make sure it was still frigid in the Midwest (it was) and thus reassured, we spent the day lounging around, sunning, eating and drinking. After an afternoon nap to recover from our busy day, we headed back to the spa to have our hair done for dinner. We both were very happy with our dos, and returned to the room to get primped up for our first dinner in the dining room (formal night).
We were at table N on the 2nd floor, a table for 6. However, we were delighted to find out that a 7th guest was to join us that night – the ship’s Chief Engineer Willem Dullaert! Not only was he a charming and interesting companion, but also he treated the entire table to a selection of wines with dinner! The food was wonderful, and our waiter and his assistant were just perfect. Our dinner companions Bill and Sharon and Vic and Amy were equally delightful, and it was a wonderful evening. After dinner, we stopped in at the Theater to catch the show. Unfortunately, it was a ventriloquist, and we stayed about 5 minutes before escaping. We aren’t much on the shows on ships; I’ve yet to find one that I really enjoyed. But, please remember, this is just our opinion, and you might love the entertainment. To each their own!
Day 4 – St. Thomas
Joan and I have been to St. Thomas before, so we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We disembarked early, and took a cab to Megan’s Bay. The driver was very interesting, although I found it hard to pay attention since he was racing along on the wrong side of the road up the hairpin turns to get up the mountain to the other side. We did arrive unscathed, and spent the morning enjoying the beautiful beach. About lunchtime, we headed back, stopping at the dairy outside the beach area for a fabulous milkshake! Then back to the ship for lunch, clean up, and then head back to town for shopping. The only downside was the shops all closed up tight right at 5:00, so although we were in port until midnight, there wasn’t much to do after that. We returned to the ship, had another wonderful dinner in the dining room, then settled in on our balcony with a drink to watch the ship pull our of the harbor. What a sight! The lights of St. Thomas were beautiful, and we watched them fade into the distance as the cool breezes washed over us. This is how life should be!
Day 5 – British Virgin Islands
We woke up to the sight of the mountains of Tortola rising around us. Due to our busy day in St. Thomas, we had neglected to sign up for any shore excursions, so we spent the day on the ship, enjoying the aft pool within sight of the beautiful scenery of the BVI all around us. The ship was quiet since most people disembarked, and it was another delightful day.
Day 6 – At Sea
It was another perfect day, topped off by the sight of a double rainbow rising out of the ocean! There were a few sprinkles of rain, not enough to spoil the day, but just enough to create the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. We both had Oxygen Facials that day, and they were fabulous and well worth the money. They completely wiped the bad pedicures off our mental cameras! Then we dressed for the last formal dinner, and spent another delightful evening with our charming hose Chief Engineer Dullaert. As you can tell, we aren’t much for the nightlife on ship, so we can’t really comment on the bars or shows.
Day 7 – Nassau
We’ve been to Nassau several times, so we again decided not to leave the ship, We spent the day revisiting our favorite places on the ship, and took in the wonderful afternoon tea. It was served in one of the lounges, and it included little sandwiches, cakes and deserts, and scones with cream. Fabulous! We also checked out the poolside taco bar and grille, also fabulous. We finished our shopping in the ship shops, and sadly began to pack up. We had a final dinner in the Odyssey, just as wonderful as the first one, and spent our last evening taking pictures of ourselves next to some of our favorite sights on the ship.
Couldn’t have been smoother! We had room service breakfast, wandered down to one of the lounges, and waited a little while until our number was called. We quickly found our luggage, grabbed a cab, and were back at the airport in under 30 minutes (with the meter ON, this time!) All in all, a perfect trip.
Now, a few of our special Likes and Dislikes:
Size of room and bathroom
Large window and door wall in room
Furniture, both in our room and throughout the ship
Bar set up in room, including a wine bucket (we brought wine with us)
2 nd desk area by the window in the room
Breakfast and lunch buffets
Room service – food arrives hot and on time
Half Moon Cay!
Lunch in the Dining Room
Bright colors throughout the ship
Cotton washcloths for hand towels in public restrooms
Smooth ride of ship
Very, very friendly and nice staff
Very few kids
Ship liquor policy (they let you purchase duty free liquor in the shops and take it back to your room to enjoy!)
Food in Dining Room
No announcements in the rooms
Fitness Center and Spa
Door to verandah – much prefer sliding door to the type that opens outward
Bed – somewhat hard
No plugs for hairdryer in bathroom
Dinner in buffet
Shower drain – slow
Holland America Customer service help line
Tipping policy! HAL states that tipping is not required, but that you may tip if you received excellent service. We found this very confusing and awkward, since we received excellent service everywhere we went. I much prefer having gratuities added to my drinks and the standard tipping policy on other lines. I was worried that some of the excellent staff wasn’t getting the tips they deserved due to this confusion policy. NOT an advantage!
Other than those few items noted, it was one of our very best cruises ever. Holland America is a winner in our book, and the Zuiderdam is our new favorite ship!
Cathy and Joan