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Keith & Diane Ballweg

Age: 52

Occupation:Beauty Salon owners

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: March 6th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Diane - 48

To avoid keeping you all in suspense as to our impression of this cruise let us just say, WOW. We are now hooked on cruising at sea as opposed to motorcycle cruising which I was already hooked on. This was only our third cruise and all have met our needs for fun relaxation and while Diane may argue this point, romantic. It took three cruises to determine to wonderful times we had on the first two were not aberrations.

We have booked another cruise for early November and started planning for next years cruises. This might sound like a big deal to you but let me give you some personal background.

Diane is one of many people who fears flying, riding in a car, any amusement ride that isn’t equal to the Teacups or Small World rides at Magic Kingdom. On a carousel, it can’t be the moving horse. The motorcycle cruising I mentioned earlier is Diane-less.

I on the other hand have traveled extensively visiting every continent except Antarctica. Any fears I have are not relevant to this review.

So, you ask, how did I get her to take this cruise? I must take you back four years when my parents, who 80 years of age and very experienced cruisers, were booked on a cruise to and around Australia. Two weeks prior to sailing my father, who to that point was in reasonably good health, had a stroke, broken hip and heart attack all at one time. Needless to say, the cruise was cancelled and until November of 2003 he has not been able to cruise.

My parents received an invitation to cruise with a group headed by Dr. James Kennedy with whom some of you will be familiar from television and/or his many books. My parents, especially my father, were very interested. They talked to my father’s doctor who felt he was physically able to take the cruise as long as he had someone to watch over him besides my mother. They decided to make it a family affair by asking my three sisters and me along with our spouses to make the trip.

Now it was just a matter of how was I going to get Diane to the ship? Some filler: We live about and hour drive; with Diane make it two and a half hours, to the airport and then a 3 hour flight to Miami and then a half hour BUS ride to Ft. Lauderdale.

Diane, for all her fears, knew how much it meant to me for my parents to be able to go on this cruise. She visited her doctor, got the appropriate amount of medication and, basically, psyched herself and got a huge amount of support and understanding from me.

Oh, yeah there were those wonderful glasses (Note plural) of red wine on the plane.

OK, so now you know how Diane got there, what about the rest of the family? Two of my sisters were unable to make the trip and my father broke a blood vessel in his bladder one week before the cruise and my parents had to CANCEL.

Let’s get on with it now that you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or have sympathy for me or give-up on this review.

Airport reception: The Holland America representative met us at the luggage claim area with a cart so we did not have to carry our luggage to the bus. As a matter of fact, she even pushed the cart to the bus waiting area. Talk about service with a smile. I tipped the bus driver as he loaded our luggage in the underneath compartment and guess whose luggage was on a cart with a porter as we disembarked the bus? While others were waiting for luggage and finding a porter (which is not difficult by any means, there are plenty at the terminal) we were walking directly to the check-in counter. Suggestion: Have all your paperwork filled out and documentation readily available. I did and we were walking up the gangway in less than 5 minutes. And I saw others still filling out paperwork.

Embarkation: OK, HAL makes money from the photography, but $20.95 for an embarkation picture! Absurd. All I want is a picture of Diane and I with the silly Zuiderdam life preserver on a stand. I don’t need an 8X10 with a bunch of sea shells and starfish cluttering it up.

We were greeted by a ship’s officer, introduced to a steward who took us directly to our stateroom, Suite 8070 on the Navigation Deck. This was our first experience with a suite having only cruised twice previously. While the suite is “to die for”, the price can limit the number of cruises we take. The primary reason this time was to be near my parents. Oh well, we loved it.

Rather than break every day down, I will just categorize various aspects of the cruise. We did not take any excursion this cruise. We had planned a relaxing time without the hustle and bustle of excursion preferring to enjoy whatever the Zuiderdam had to offer as an alternative.

Stateroom: As I mentioned earlier, we had a Deluxe Veranda Suite. It was everything we expected and more. We fully enjoyed the spaciousness. We used this cruise to relax and rejuvenate ourselves and spent quite a bit of time in our stateroom and on the verandah. Many feel for the amount of time spent in a stateroom, a suite is an unnecessary expense. I fully understand. As with selecting a cruise if you want to party, that’s the ship you need to find, if you want to cruise Alaska, don’t book a Caribbean cruise.

We were offered an opportunity to extend our cruise another week at an unbelievable rate but no suites were available. We did look at the stateroom (Deluxe Outside w/ verandah. Quite honestly it was nice. It was larger than staterooms of that category on the other ships we have sailed. As I understand it, HAL is known for this. It took us until the next morning to decide it would not be possible due to home obligations.

Ports:

Half Moon Cay: The island is absolutely wonderful. Everything from the yellow archway at the entrance to the miniature village, to the thatch roofed bar to the lounge chaired beach, etc. is breathtaking. Diane and I said and heard many of guests reiterate the words on the sign located on the walkway to the beach “I could stay here forever”. The HAL private island is serviced by tenders which in and of itself is a rather enjoyable experience. The crew is very efficient in loading passengers and getting back to the ship after an enjoyable day on the island was a breeze. No waiting on line or waiting for another tender. With the exception of waiting on the dinner line waiting for the doors to open was the only line of ant significance all week. More on that under “Food”.

St. Thomas, US V.I.: We took one of the open air pick-ups to the center of town which we could probably have walked to faster but been a whole lot more tired. The town has lots of duty free shopping but I suggest you price electronics, camera, etc. at home before you buy it here. I did and found most of it I could get in the states for the same price or better especially with internet shopping. The Port Shopping Ambassador, Richie gave a seminar the night before the ship arrives in port. He gives lots of good information, so plan on attending if you will do any serious shopping. He can be found walking around St. Thomas to provide on-hand shopping assistance for Zuiderdam guests.

Tortola, B.V.I: Again no excursions and I see this as a tourist trap wannabe. It’s quaint and Diane and I had fun bartering with the vendors at the make shift market at the dock.

Nassau, Bahamas: Diane’s heaven on earth. She just loves the aqua-blue water of the Bahamas.

Again no excursions but the bartering with the straw market was fun.

Food: Even with the extensive travel I have done, I am still a fussy eater. I don’t eat this, I don’t like that and don’t ever put fish on my plate. That said, the food was tremendous, the service is everything it’s cracked up to be and it only added to our enjoyment of the cruise.

Breakfast: Each morning we had coffee delivered to our room. I don’t wake-up until I’ve had at least two cups of coffee. The after planning our day, we dressed and went to the Lido Restaurant to eat. The way HAL has it set up is great. Multiple serving stations depending on what you desire. Eggs and omelets are prepared to order and the waiting was for the food to be cooked not waiting to order. We never ate breakfast in the main dining room.

Lunch: Again a variety of places to eat. On Half Moon Cay a great barbecue buffet was prepared. They have numerous roofed patios with picnic tables to eat at. Diane absolutely loved the roasted chicken at the Lido Restaurant and would have been willing to subsist on only that all week. There is a grill poolside with hamburgers and hotdogs. I don’t know what brand they are but they ain’t McDonald’s let me assure you.

Dinner: I mentioned waiting on line earlier. We only did that the first night after that we did not leave our stateroom until 5:45 which was our seating time. Then we got there, no line and went directly to our assigned table. Every night was something absolutely delicious. We ate all but one of our dinners at the main dining room with my sister and her husband and did not take advantage of the alternative restaurant but on our next cruise we will.

The one dinner we did not eat in the Vista Dining Room was the BBQ Dinner poolside. The steaks were grilled to perfection.

Entertainment:


Vista Lounge: Generally speaking the entertainment was just OK. It was something to do so we did but the song and dance was something I could have missed and not been sorry.

On the other hand there is Barnaby, the juggling comic. This guy is terrific and should not be missed. He involves the audience and the entire show is inter-active. Don’t miss him.

Then there is James Cielen, a magician, and very good at it. Magic or for you purist, illusionist, he was great. Magic has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I never get tired of watching a magic act.

Lounges and Disco: Very nice. The groups onboard are topnotch from the Crow’s Nest to the Piano Bar to the Explorer Lounge. The Disco spins discs and you can make requests which Diane did without hesitation. She even got things going with the Electric Slide.

Poolside: I would be remiss in not mentioning the reggae group at the Lido pool. They were terrific and Diane and I enjoyed basking in the sun to the music.

Onboard Shopping:
Great variety of items including everyday essentials, jewelry, tropical shirts, skirts and dresses, formal dresses, souvenirs and trinkets, etc. We felt pricing was very reasonable given our limited experience on other ships and cruise lines.

$30 for a cruise line polo shirt on others was only $19 on the Zuiderdam. Not a big deal to you none smokers but they didn’t have Diane’s Virginia Slims. Good thing we brought 2 cartons with us. We couldn’t find them at St. Thomas either.

Photography: I won’t spend a lot of time on this but will make some comments:

1. Give the guest what they want. If they want only a small 5X7 of them at embarkation, don’t give them a 8X10 with a bunch of nonsense thrown in and then charge $20.95.

2. When you are a photographing a tall person back up so you don’t cut off the top of my head (I’m 6’2”). There goes one picture by the ships photographer from formal night

The photographers are everywhere. Going to the theater for the meet the captain night, we were stopped 3 times for pictures and held up at 1 spot so they could take somebody’s picture. We missed getting to the line for a picture with the captain which is something Diane and I want from each cruise. By the third day I stopped being polite about it and simply ignored them. Enough said and I got that off my chest.

Staff: The staff is everything you could hope for except for the two occasions mentioned below. The room steward was super. We don’t ask for much but the couple times we needed something he dealt with it immediately (The bathtub wasn’t working properly when we went to dinner but an hour later it had been fixed when we returned).

Wait Staff: Our Server and Assistant Server were great. They knew our wants and needs the first night and never had to be reminded. When I ordered one evening our server suggested I order something else apparently he overheard a comment I made earlier in the week. Remember, I’m a fussy eater.

Three comments

1. A man and woman were attempting to use the Jacuzzi near the aft pool but it would not “do its thing”. A couple of ships officers (they had 3 gold bars on their epaulets) were relaxing at the bar which was closed. The woman approached them and explained her dilemma. One of the officers said he would contact the engineering officer, which I believe he did using a walkie talkie. Then the two officers went back to their discussion.

At no time did either man advise the guests when someone was coming or even if anyone was coming to make necessary repairs. The guests finally left unsatisfied, I’m sure.

2. The second night out, I was in need of a men’s room. After walking up and down the hallway near the theater, I asked a crew member where the men’s room was located. “I’m not sure” was the response, then walked away. I decided to walk back to the dining room where I knew there was a men’s room. The next day I located a men’s room less than 30’ from where I had encountered the crew member

3. Then there is Honkie Dorie at the Lido Restaurant. He prides himself on his ability to remember names. The first time he’s talks with you he asks your name and puts it into memory. After that for the next 6 days, every time he saw Diane it was “Hi Diane” even if it was from afar. She would have to search the crowd to see who was saying hi to her.

As for me, He got the K alright Hi, Ken, Kevin, Karl but I guess he was unfamiliar with the name Keith. He never did get it right.

Passengers: The quests on the ship where what I consider an “older crowd”. I only saw one baby and two young girls, around 8 or nine years of age, one being the onboard doctor’s daughter on the ship. Diane and I enjoyed being able to relax at the pool without fear of children making to much noise or splashing us as we basked. Things got quiet early and some nights while walking the deck we thought everybody had abandon ship.

If they had, they were missing a great cruise. But I would see them all the following morning jogging around the deck as we drank our third cup of coffee and smoked our fourth cigarette.

Conclusion: You have now read the impressions of Diane and me. There were a
few negative occurrences but the ship was beautiful, clean and well maintained, the food was tremendous and the service impeccable. Without a doubt, Diane and I rate this cruise a 9.999 out of a possible 10. We highly recommend the Zuiderdam and Holland America Cruise Line.

High Points Low Points
1. Roasted Chicken at Lido Restaurant 1. Photography
2. Barnaby 2. Staff attention to detail
3. Half Moon Cay

We thank Tom Ogg for this venue to relive our cruise. Also I thank Tom and Mary Milano for the inspiration to write this review. I can only hope you have enjoyed reading this review. If you got this far I guess the preamble was not to painful and you will benefit from what we have written.

Any comments are requested and welcome via e-mail so I can avoid or expound on future reviews.

Keep on cruising,

Keith and Diane Ballweg
e-mail address: kballweg@net1plus.com

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