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Michael McCaig

Age: 47


Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Zuiderdam

Sailing Date: June 10th, 2006

Itinerary: Alaska

My Mom and I returned recently from our glorious cruise aboard Holland America's Zuiderdam. While I have cruised before with various other lines, this was my first on Holland America, but will surely not be the last. Our overall experience was wonderful in almost every way, mostly though because of the happy, amazing staff we experienced throughout the ship.

Boarding with Holland America is an absolute breeze. After a bit of a wait through customs etc., we sped through a very organized check-in procedure and were whisked aboard before noon!. We were told our rooms were not quite ready, but were invited to have lunch up at the Lido Cafe. No sooner had we finished our luncheon of sushi, roast beef and fabulous bread pudding, when it was announced our rooms were ready for us.

My Mom and I were surprised by the tiny size of the cabin (our first with a veranda), but quickly got used to the compact and generally well-organized space. The decor was warm and inviting, and we had a nice little loveseat where we could have our breakfasts. Our veranda (on the 4th level) was more spacious than I had expected, and it was the veranda that really put our cruise over the top. I would never sail without a veranda again; its amazing how much more in touch with your destinations you are by being able to simply open a door and be a part of all the wondrous glory of nature all around.

As we explored the ship we could not help noticing the very odd, loud decor. Some if it was fun and whimsical, but mostly we thought it was just too much. Perhaps this colorful decor would work better in the Caribbean (the ship was designed to stay year-round in the Caribbean, we were told), but was not appropriate for Alaska. We were also disapponted by the tiny atrium, which is usually much more grand on a ship of this size.

Eventually we did find some nice areas, especially The Crow's Nest and the adjoining Oak Room (don't sit here unless you like the smell of cigar). I also fell in love with the Spa and Gym area. The exercise facility is fairly large and thoughtfully laid out. I really enjoyed whale watching while doing my cardio - all the treadmills etc. face a wall of windows which look out over the front of the ship. The gym was clean and well-equipped with perhaps a dozen strength training machines. The classes available include yoga and Pilates, and they were not crowded at any time.
After a good workout I floated for hours in the amazing Hydrotherapy Pool. There is an additional charge for use of this area and also an adjoining Thermal Suite, a small sauna, steam and inhalation room. The hydrotherapy area compares favorably to others I've seen on ships. Most days I had the whole wonderful place to myself, including a clean changing room complete with floor-to-ceiling windows! It all made for a very relaxing experience, though if you do use the hydrotherapy pool, take an old swimsuit as mine got completely ruined....either by chlorine or perhaps by the minerals they add to the seawater. Staff at the spa are very efficient although the Reception Desk there got a bit busy at times.

We enjoyed many meals, especially those in the Main Dining Room. We had a 6 p.m. sitting (as requested), and had a table for two (also as requested). Our waiter, Cassidy, and Wine Steward Rual absolutely went out of their way to please us, and each dinner was indeed a pleasure. Rual always had a Campari and soda waiting for me, and Cassidy soon got to know our preferences etc. If we wanted double vegetables, no problem. Turf without the Surf? No problem. Courses were timed beautifully, even when adjacent tables were on a different course, everything ran seamlessly. The food, however, is one part of the Holland America experience that could use some fine-tuning. While we were generally pleased with our main courses, appetizers and desserts can be a disaster. Steer clear of the seafood starters and the fluffy, airline-like desserts. Instead try a nice soup (all a bit salty but very good) or a nice crisp salad with house-made dressing (Italian was my favorite and my mom favored the blue cheese). For main courses, the plainer the better. They do a decent job with the basics like steak or roasts (sauces available on the side), but are less successful with the trendy or ethnic dishes (Indonesian food was surprisingly disappointing). Fowl is generally done well too- try the roast duck. Skip dessert unless you like ice cream, and have your sweets at lunch instead...head to the Lido Cafe and find that delicious bread pudding! Other meals onboard were usually quite good. We always had breakfast in our stateroom, watching the beautiful, misty islands float by as we listened to the day's offerings on our television (other TV channels include LOTS of info on local sights, shopping, and tours; and there are also channels for kids, news and recent movies). Breakfast was fine, although a few mistakes were made with our orders, food was generally tasty. For lunch we usually sauntered up to the Lido Cafe where you can have basically whatever you want. There are several different food stations - one for pasta, one for Asian food, one for hot entrees, and so on. This is great for those with different tastes and appetite levels. Try to go at off-peak times though as each station gets fairly lined up. Food was good (okay the sushi was not always great), and we particularly enjoyed the small salad bar. Service at the Lido, like everywhere on the ship, was solid and friendly. We were amazed that everyone on the ship remembers you and also what you prefer to drink with your meal.

After a few days we got to know our way around the ship quite well but there is something very confusing in the layout of public rooms. Certain areas outside showrooms etc. have tiny hallways which cause bottlenecks after a big show. Entertainment was standard....lots of singing and dancing....but of very good quality. The casino is great fun and rarely got overly crowded. There is a small area of penny and nickel slots where everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The bartenders make fabulous, real cocktails with house-made sour mix. Try a guava margarita if you dare!

I was very surprised by all I learned on my cruise. Holland America stands out in this area. There were lectures about glaciers as well as some thoughtful commentary during our visit to Glacier Bay. Also on board that day were a group that talked about the indigenous people and demonstrated various herbal remedies, art, etc. It was most fascinating, and there was a totem pole carver on board for the entire cruise working on a piece near the Lido pool. There was also very good information provided whenever whales were spotted and we were lucky enough to see a killer whale breach quite close to the ship- awesome! We also saw quite a bit of other whale activity, and there was always commentary regarding the whales behaviors and movements etc.

I really cannot say enough good things about my Holland America cruise. My overall experience was relaxing and unforgettable. Do not sail the Zuiderdam if you are expecting an elegant ship of taste and refinement. Do not sail the Zuiderdam if you want nothing but perfect gourmet cuisine. DO sail the Zuiderdam if you are looking for a great cruise and wonderful, warm service. If the overall experience is more important to you than the specific components that make up a cruise, then I think this is the right ship for you.

I should add that while almost everything ran smoothly for our entire sailing, there was a snag in Ketchikan. We arrived there late which caused many cruise guests to miss their early seating for dinner. We also missed ours and when we arrived at the Lido Cafe for a casual dinner, hundreds of cold, hungry passengers had to endure endless line-ups as half the Cafe had been closed! Management hastily opened the other side but we were served cold and uninspired food. Let's hope this does not happen often.

Overall, what can I say but I'm already planning my next Holland America cruise. It is one of the last true cruise lines which still sail to the most remote corners of the earth. I hope to see as many of those corners as possible, and would be DELIGHTED to see them from a veranda stateroom of the Zuiderdam, the Oosterdam, the Westerdam or the brand new Noordam. Highly recommended!


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