Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: November 27th, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
This was our seventh cruise, but our first with Holland America. All of them have been to the Caribbean with our remaining favorite being a trip to the Southern Caribbean on Celebrity's Summit.
The embarkation & debarkation process was very smooth. Even if you don't have a suite (and we didn't) that provides a "Zero Line" perk. It's an older crowd, so get to the pier early or late to avoid the longest lines.
Despite what I read in reviews before departing, the Zuiderdam's decor is bold, but not obnoxious. There are many small nooks and crannies thoughout the ship for quiet conversation with or without cocktails and srolling the upper prominade deck on a starlit night is one of the most romantic things a couple could ever do.
We always select a balcony cabin and found this one to be slightly larger than most. The cabin lighting was a little dim and the television was mounted in a way that blocked a third of the mirror above the only lighted dressing area in the cabin. Our cabin attendant was superb. He went out of his way on several occasions to make sure all of our needs and/or special requests were met with efficiency and a smile. We usually use room service for breakfast each day and Zuiderdam's room service was always on time with hot food. We even varied from the menu slightly with a couple of items and never encountered a problem. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill on two nights. The food, presentation, and service easily justified the $20 surcharge. However, the menu was somewhat limited. The restaurant touts Pacific Northwest cuisine, but all the seafood items are frozen?? The porterhouse steak was excellent, but the filet mignon was only "OK". Try the scampi on a cedar plank and the Thai chicken soup for special flavor treats. The Lido deck buffet has a wonderfully wide variety of offerings. Everything from Sushi & Asian fare to a very complete deli to Italian dishes with an aroma of garlic drifting all the way out into the hallway. Zuiderdam also serves ice cream during most hours of the day at no charge. The main dining room is a real area of opportunity for improvement. The food was mediocre at best and service was terrible. On previous cruises our wait staff has gone out of their way to introduce themselves and learn the names and desires of the guests at their assigned tables. By the second or third night your drinks are served without ordering and you wife's chair is adjusted for her by a waiter who calls her by name. None of that existed on Zuiderdam. Even the highest levels of Zuiderdam's dining staff failed to grasp the importance and value of going beyond setting plates in front of a body at a table. The pool waiter staff was not very attentive either. You really had to work at ordering a drink & having it brought to your deck chair. In contrast, staff in the Hydrotherapy pool & Spa area was excellent. $80 per week for unlimited use of this area was an excellent value. They only sell 36 passes per week, so buy yours even before you spend time finding your assigned table in the dining room.
Zuiderdam's entertainment had highlights in Edge(juggler)and Julie Barr(comedienne), but the production shows were not professional quality. Dane Butcher, cruise director, was aloof and relied too heavily on his staff in leadership roles.
The Zuiderdam's ports-of-call were routine, but fun. St Thomas is very commercial and offers some great prices for specific shoppers. But you can also escape to St John aboard a beautiful Oyster trawler or snorkel in Turtle Cove off of Buck Island via a sleek catamarran. Nassau is also terrific for trinket shoppers. Not a shopper? Take a $1 bus to Cable Bay & stroll through the Crystal Palace Resort & Casino instead of fighting the hordes of folks that want to see Atlantis. Although the aquarium there is worthwhile. Tortola is no big deal, but a 30-minute ferry ride to Vigin Gorda for $25 (r/t with taxi transfer to The Baths) is worth it's weight in gold. Beautiful beach, exciting rock formations, great snorkeling, and beautiful postcard view from the Top of the Baths Cafe. Try the conchburger for a taste treat. Half Moon Cay is HAL's private island and even though we chose to stay onboard that day, fellow passengers commented that it's the best private island in the industry.
My wife & I are in our mid-50's, but we are still very active and young at heart. Our impression after boarding was that Holland America Line's(HAL) loyal followers are far beyond retirement age and unless HAL updates their image and attitudes, they'll pass away with their best supporters.
We would sail with HAL again, but we wouldn't go out of our way to pick them from a list of strong competitors.