My wife and I and a widowed friend sailed on Holland America’s Zuiderdam on its 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale on Saturday 30 October 2004. Our inside cabin number on the Upper Promenade Deck was 4157 and our friend was down the corridor in 4171. My wife and I had paid $597 each (M stateroom) and our friend had paid $788 (MM stateroom). We had booked in May when I spotted this sailing was only charging a 50% surcharge for a single occupancy cabin for our friend, possibly because it was the Presidential Election week.
We got aboard at 1.10pm after a 6-hour 300-mile drive to Fort Lauderdale. It only took us half an hour to park the car and check in. Anwar, a very pleasant assistant waiter escorted us to our cabins. By a happy coincidence later that evening we discovered that he and Ali were the extremely efficient and friendly team on our dining room table for the next week.
This was our first time on Holland America or on one of the Carnival Group’s Vista Class ships. Zuiderdam is very spacious and never felt crowded, so much so that we wondered if it had sailed full, only to later discover from watching the port disembarkation computer screens that the ship was carrying 1,968 passengers, which is 120 more than its nominal two-lower-berth capacity. Our initial impression was that the dark public room décor is not as attractive as the Celebrity, Princess and P&O ships that we have been on, but it grew on us as the week progressed. What did impress us were the little touches, such as the beautiful fresh flower arrangements all over the ship, including the orchid on every table of the Lido Buffet. Another was the small, individual fluffy hand towels in the immaculate public restrooms, rather than just paper towels or hand dryers. The padded sun loungers and steamer chairs also made for comfortable relaxation by the pool or on the promenade deck. The food in both the dining room and buffet was enjoyable, though not as outstanding as Celebrity.
We enjoyed the shows on board. James Cielan the magician, Edge the comedy-juggler and Danny Stort the comedian were all very good. Joel Mason who did a Tribute to Elton John was better on the last night when they all did a short spot than on the night he had his own show, when to us he was too self indulgent, played obscure numbers and fooled around, rather than showing his real talent, of which he has plenty. The production shows Stage and Screen and Under the Boardwalk were also excellent. The Filipino Crew Show was too late for us but we saw parts of it on our cabin TV the following day. For the first time ever in our 10 cruises they offered us a Q&A session on the shows and a backstage tour. It was fascinating to speak to some of the dancers and see the sophisticated equipment and lighting backstage.
We had been to Tortola and St Thomas before, though our friend hadn’t. Both are beautiful Caribbean islands that we enjoy visiting and these days invariably do our own thing. Freeport and Half Moon Cay were new to us. Half Moon Cay is beautiful, though it was a bit disorganized that day, possibly because it had only reopened a week earlier following severe hurricane damage. Freeport in the Bahamas had also only reopened a week earlier and the hurricane damage was still very evident. We would not be bothered if we ever went back as there is so little to do or see there compared to Nassau, and the ships dock in a rather industrial port about 6 miles from the city center and Lucaya Beach and Marina.
The only problems we had were a cabin toilet that intermittently but persistently refused to flush and a disorganized and prolonged disembarkation. By the Tuesday evening the toilet problem had not been resolved so I wrote a formal letter of complaint to the Hotel Manager. That got action that finally resolved the problem and also got us a nice plate of chocolates and a bottle of wine as an apology. Disembarkation did not occur in the order of the issued numbers as we have previously experienced. Instead only US citizens were called in disembarkation number order. Only after they had left were Non-US citizens called at 10.50am. By this time some were bound to miss onward flights, so there was a lot of complaining. According to the Fort Lauderdale Immigration Officers the problem was due to the ship failing to transmit the ship’s manifest by the usual deadline, meaning that immigration could not pre-check the list. Therefore they used a fall back plan that clears all US Citizens before checking the 200 or so other passengers.
There is now an automatic $10 a day per person charge to your room account to cover gratuities for your waiter, assistant waiter and cabin steward. This can be modified up or down by visiting the front desk. We find this a convenient way of handling gratuities. Our waiter said that they are also happier as it has eliminated a lot of the confusion surrounding Holland America’s previous ambiguous “No Tipping Required” slogan that resulted in many passengers not tipping staff.
All in all it was an enjoyable cruise, and we will definitely be going on Holland America again, not least because my wife won a free 7-day Caribbean Cruise for Two in the only Bingo game we played! Not a bad return for $10! So Veendam on 29 January here we come!
Cunard QE2 1984 & 1990
Carnival Fantasy 2001, Inspiration 2003, Glory 2005,
Celebrity Horizon 2004, Galaxy 2005, Summit 2006, HAL Zuiderdam 2004, Veendam 2005
Princess Star 2003, Sun 2004
P&O Oceana 2004
RCCL Nordic Empress 2002
Regal Empress 2002
RCCL Legend of the Seas Apr 2006
Saga Ruby June 2006
P&O Arcadia July 2006
Carnival Miracle Oct 2006
RCCL Navigator Apr 2007
P&O Aurora Sep 2007
QM2 Sep 2007
Sapphire Princess Apr 2008