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Paul and Amy Novak

Age: 56/35

Occupation:Free-lance writer

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: February 28th, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean


My wife and I are long-time Holland America aficionados. Most of our previous cruises have been on the old Westerdam, the Statendam, Zaandam and now the Zuiderdam. I have also sailed on Royal Caribbean a few years ago. Over the years, she has cruised on many cruise lines, both out of the U.S. and internationally. We’re not wealthy and do not reserve the deluxe, penthouse or verandah suites. On this cruise we were in a large outside stateroom with a partially obstructed view (by the lifeboats).

We heard and read about the Zuiderdam "problems" prior to cruising on this ship. The two predominant ones were an unexplained odor and vibrations on the lower level of the dining room.

Odor - I did catch a few whiffs of a "garbage" like smell up on the Lido deck two or three times. It was fleeting and did not re-occur. Seemed like I only smelled it the first day or two of the cruise.

Vibration - Yes. When the captain revs the engines either because of rough seas or to gain time…there is a definite loud noise and significant vibration in the dining room .Normally, the engines are kept at a lower speed during evening dining so it is not a problem. But anyone who has dined on the lower level has heard it and felt it. We sat towards the front of the dining room on the lower level and were very much aware of it when it happened. I remember it occurring only twice and for a short time.

Neither of these two problems would keep me from recommending you to cruise on this ship.

Embarkation - Incredibly efficient. This was our first cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale and our expectations, despite positive comments we read, were that it just couldn’t be that good. It was that good. We arrived around 12 noon and walked right through everything. It took us about 20 minutes from arrival at the terminal to boarding the ship. Holland America does this unbelievably well. We had also sailed out of Port Canaveral and Vancouver on HAL and this was a dream in comparison…even though the other two weren’t bad either.

The Ship - We heard much of the new more contemporary colors and furnishings and how many veteran HAL cruisers might have trouble adapting.

We found no problem with it at all. Yes, there are brighter colors and more modern style furniture in places, but HAL has made this difference subtle and classy. The ship retains the expected HAL elegance.

Public rooms/lounges are large and comfortable. We read that the Queen’s lounge, doubling as a movie theatre, did not work very well. To us, it was just fine. There is plenty of seating, and it is usually not crowded at all so seeing the screen is not a problem. The lounge is located off of one of the main passageways of the ship but is isolated and has doors so that passing traffic and noise did not seem a problem to us.

There are numerous music venues going…a piano bar with singer; another lounge with a string and piano trio, the Northern Lights lounge with a bit more lively goings on, etc. etc. Something for everyone. The Windstar coffee café is wonderful. Many tables, delicious coffees of all sorts, pastries (which are free with a coffee drink…but you have to ask). It is open a lot. Didn’t check the hours but every time we went there it was available and was never full. Great lattes, mochas, cappuccino, and the like for a couple of $$.

Regarding the coffee on the ship. If you enjoy a vibrant, bold taste without any bitterness or aftertaste, HAL makes the best coffee we have tasted anywhere on land or sea. It is outstanding. Just wish more ships and restaurants could duplicate it. Whether on the Lido Deck, main dining room, coffee café…no matter what time of day…it is truly superb. If you prefer a weaker taste to your coffee, you may not like it.

Lido Buffet - Zuiderdam’s Lido buffet has been rated the best at sea. It is. Specifically the layout and crowd handling are unmatched. As you have read by now from other reviews, there are many separate locations for food of various sorts. There is the main buffet line, the express (coffee, juices, yogurt and rolls), The Deli (fantastic sandwiches), Omelet bar, the Wok (mostly Asian delights), Italian (including pizza) and I don’t know if I have even captured them all. In the morning at the main buffet line, if you catch it just "wrong" you may experience a 5-10 minute wait. The food is generally very good. Eggs are made/cooked to your preference while you watch; same with omelets, pasta, deli sandwiches.

And then there is always the ever-present ice cream bar. This is good hard-packed ice cream in several flavors each day and they even have the big waffle cones.

My only suggestions for the buffet would be a little better selection of rolls and pastries in the morning. Also, the general selection of desserts on this deck seem not so great. But all in all, the Lido is a 9 out of 10. Only other comment is that the Italian bar uses a lot of garlic (per request) and sometimes there is a rather overwhelming smell of garlic in the room for those of us with whom garlic does not agree. Again, it doesn’t last long and I only smelled it perhaps a half dozen times during our cruise.

Main Dining Room - A couple of noteworthy comments here. First the room is elegant with deep red walls and matching patterned, almost Asian style armed chairs. The food is excellent. The entrees are hot and the cold stuff is cold. That’s good. Good variety of choices from night to night. We were offered everything from sirloin steak to lobster. Veal, lamb, roast Peking duck, fish, pork loin, excellent chilled soups, are all part of the menu.

However, the service, in our opinion, was not up to HAL’s usual perfection. This may well have been our waiter and busboy, but the usual things that happen automatically on a HAL cruise didn’t seem to "just happen." Our waiter seemed to have a difficult time communicating in English and, as a result, there was little of the usual happy rapport one covets on HAL. The couple next to us seemed to have some of the same problems. However, the table for six across from us did not experience this. Their waiter was lively, joking, and their service was very good.

Not to over-emphasize the problem, our basic service was very good. The waiter was competent, not un-friendly. Just a couple examples of the "missing" things:

1) My wife ordered coffee with her meal every night of the cruise. Not once did either the waiter or busboy serve it to her without her asking. Normally, on HAL, this would not happen. Minor…but a bit of an irritant when you saw the waiter at the next table serving his group the breadsticks (not on the menu) they enjoyed each night without fail.

2) My wife ordered a second cup of the lobster bisque which she always enjoys because HAL does it so well. Either the waiter misunderstood or forgot. It never came. Again, not on HAL, usually.

3) The gentleman at the table next to us ordered a baked potato every night and requested extra additional condiments for the potato. By the end of the cruise we had to laugh because not one time did the busboy or waiter give them to him, even after he specifically ordered them with his meal. He finally gave up.

Frankly, language or not, we determined it was a case of not really caring to go the extra step…or not listening to what his customers were telling him.

Sleeping rooms - Very Nice. Well-sized. Bed was comfortable. Sheets and pillowcases were absolutely top-of-the line. Both thick and thinner pillows were available right in the room as well as an extra blanket. Room Steward was outstanding and invisible.

Ports:

Half Moon Cay - Probably one of the top highlights of the trip. We had visited HAL’s private island a year before and fell in love with it. It is our ideal of a Caribbean Island paradise. Huge powder sugar white sand beach with tons of lounge chairs, warm blue and aqua-blue water with underwater visibility unlimited. If you are there for 6-8 hours, HAL puts on a wonderful barbecue with many roofed pavilions. You are served ribs, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, baked beans, fresh fruit. Wow!

St. Thomas - U.S. Virgin Islands. I had heard nightmares about St. Thomas (and Nassau) about the over-commercialization, the crowds, uncleanliness, vendors who nagged you until you bought something, and on and on. I found none of it to be true. St. Thomas was wonderful and I would go back and stay there for a week with no hesitation. Yes, of course there are hundreds of shops. That’s what happens when cruise ships come in continuously. But my wife and I found it pretty clean, with air-conditioned shops, and not once did a vendor bother us other than to ask if we needed assistance. St. Thomas has wonderful duty-free jewelry, loose diamonds and tanzanite. Great prices on liquor and, because it is included in the itinerary of the ship, you can bring back up to 5 liters apiece.

Tortola - British Virgin Islands. This is the least developed of the cruise destinations. There is only one HAL recommended shop on the island. That is Sunny Caribbee, but we found it very crowded and very limited in its selection, though we found there the best price on a map of the Caribbean islands. Some bargains can be found. Recommendation: Do your major shopping on St. Thomas. I did buy a good quality ball cap for $6.

Tortola is supposed to have beautiful beaches. We took a 2 ½ hour tour of the island with a local who did a wonderful job of explaining and answering questions. We stopped at one of the beaches - Cain’s Bay. Found it to be crowded, extremely narrow (perhaps 30 feet of actual beach) and not nearly as beautiful as Half Moon Cay. Many bars line the beach, and in places it is kind of trashy. The tour was well worth it however. Saw much of the island. It cost us $20 U.S. each. I think the ship’s tour was twice that. Gorgeous views of the harbor we docked at and nearby islands, including St. Thomas which appears like you can reach out and touch it.

Nassau I would say…ditto St. Thomas. The horror stories we heard about Nassau were abundant. However, in our opinion…totally untrue. Again, hundreds of shops and you have to be careful about bargains. But the streets are very clean, the shops are done well both inside and out. The world-renowned Straw Market of Nassau was supposed to be a nightmare of vendors nagging you to death and walking away with you until you gave up and bought something. Not true, again. The Straw Market is crowded with hundreds of vendors with their tiny spaces packed with goodies. The aisles are only wide enough for one person at a time. But I would not have missed it. Yes, almost every vendor will ask you if you would like to buy something from them. If you express an interest…they do latch onto you…but only after you express an interest. Don’t miss the wood-carvers outside the Straw Market carving animals of every kind and size out of a piece of rough logs.

If you want a lively dining experience, visit Senor Frogs near the Straw Market. Decent Mexican cuisine. An outdoor patio right on the water and a jivin’ guy with a microphone who has people up and dancing and gives away large drinks to the guy who can do his kind of dancing the best. Worth a stop.

Disembarkation: Smooth and efficient. We were #27 out of 35 groups. Docked at around 8 a.m. The ship started the disembarkation about 8:40 a.m. Were off the ship out in front of the terminal at 9:40 a.m. Immigration, baggage claim and customs took about 15 minutes total.

Summary: We both thought it a very pleasant experience. Had a rough couple of days at sea in the beginning but also plenty of sun the rest of the way. The cruise bargains HAL is offering right now are unbelievable. Our large outside was $600 apiece including all port taxes and fees. That’s half of a normal cruise.

HAL has been, is now and always will be one of the finest cruise experiences in any ocean at any price. By the way, we docked at all ports except Half Moon Cay (where there is no dock), which made it extremely convenient.

Recommend to others: A definite Yes.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you might have… paulnovak@adelphia.net .

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