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Holland America Line: Zuiderdam

Fodorite Reviews

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Mar 30, 2017

Review of Zuiderdam

Zuideveld Age: 65 Occupation:director Number of Cruises: 1 Cruise Line: Holland America Ship: Zuiderdam Sailing Date: 2015-07-22 Itinerary: Exploring the Mediterranean The cruise was most enjoyable & fun. Stateroom was great, plenty of wardrobe space, didn't have to live out of suitcase. Staff so experience, knowledgeable & so eager to assist if there was any issues. One issue as to ensuite, such a large bath would have preferred a larger shower

recess. Our personal issues are as follows: Wine select was inadequate (bought the wine package when we chose a bottle it was not available or it had not been place in wine cellar! - sorry not good enough you charge incredibly prices for very mediocre wines, drinks (including bottle water, I understand you are a floating hotel even the 5 star hotel have complimentary water ( thank goodness for one of your staff member went the hold ten yards to secure a bottle for us). Crows nest window was dirty when we boarded in Venice & was not cleaned throughout the 22 days! Please understand that these are my petty issues however, it does leave a bad taste in ones mouth. We were also put in an embossing position when our credit card supplier contacted us advising we had exceeded our limit due to your accounting department putting a claim on the 22 days 3 times that amount instead of 1. The food was edible but not special. Fantastic, roomy cabin. TV could have been positioned better at enter of bed instead of side. OK shows and activities, what we attended was enjoyable WAY TO EXPENSIVE shore excursion! Enjoyable cruise given it was our first, would we go on another, probably not, would do a little more research. The on board expenses on wifi, corkage, water, wine we considered excessive. The port we visited were fantastic.

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Aug 19, 2015

Exploring the Mediterranean

The cruise was most enjoyable & fun. Stateroom was great, plenty of wardrobe space, didn't have to live out of suitcase. Staff so experience, knowledgeable & so eager to assist if there was any issues. One issue as to ensuite, such a large bath would have preferred a larger shower recess. Our personal issues are as follows: Wine select was inadequate (bought the wine package when we chose a bottle it was not available or it had not been

place in wine cellar! - sorry not good enough you charge incredibly prices for very mediocre wines, drinks (including bottle water, I understand you are a floating hotel even the 5 star hotel have complimentary water ( thank goodness for one of your staff member went the hold ten yards to secure a bottle for us). Crows nest window was dirty when we boarded in Venice & was not cleaned throughout the 22 days! Please understand that these are my petty issues however, it does leave a bad taste in ones mouth. We were also put in an embossing position when our credit card supplier contacted us advising we had exceeded our limit due to your accounting department putting a claim on the 22 days 3 times that amount instead of 1. The food was edible but not special. Fantastic, roomy cabin. TV could have been positioned better at enter of bed instead of side. OK shows and activities, what we attended was enjoyable WAY TO EXPENSIVE shore excursion! Enjoyable cruise given it was our first, would we go on another, probably not, would do a little more research. The on board expenses on wifi, corkage, water, wine we considered excessive. The port we visited were fantastic.

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Mar 21, 2015

Efeso excursiones

No estaba seguro de qué esperar cuando reservé este viaje, pero me sorprendió gratamente . Nuestro conductor Josef era muy profesional y siempre disponible. Nuestro guía era muy eficiente y amable , y siempre fue un viaje fenomenal para nosotros. Fue uno de los puntos destacados de nuestro viaje y yo se lo recomiendo a los que quieran hacer un recorrido por la zona. Ada la Agencia de Viajes Ada Vegas Travel ( adavegastravel.com ) era rápido en

el suministro de información y muy bien organizado . Gracias a todos por un tiempo maravilloso en Turquía.

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By Lexi_CR

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Sep 25, 2014

Inside Passage Alaska

Overall a wonderful experience. Cabin staff and crew were amazing, friendly and helpful and always ready for a laugh or a chat. Food, particularly the Vista Dining Room was delicious. Entertainment was diverse and of a high standard. Shopping on board was OK. Not a great range of gear and you are better off waiting til you visit the stops along the way. Spa was beautiful and if you don't mind paying a bit extra, the pampering is definitely worth

it. Just watch the sales pitch for products though. They aren't cheap. Best service and meals were in the Vista Dining Room. Lido food was ok but sometimes hard to get a table. Stateroom was lovely. Fantastic veranda views. Did not participate in any organised activities except for trivia nights. Spent most of our time enjoying scenery, reading and chatting to folks from different parts of the world. Dog sled ride was disappointing. Beware the jewellers at each stop. They are ruthless! The Lumberjack show was fun.

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Jul 14, 2012

Alaska

Wow! What a fantastic experience! The entire crew from stewards to entertainers to the cruise director were all so very professional and friendly! Their service was extraordinary! The food was outstanding! The best 5 Star dining I have ever had! Amazing how fresh everything was and what a huge selection! The only way to survive the waistline bulge is to do a lot of walking and always take the stairs! The stateroom was excellent! I

would highly recommend a room with a terrace! We spent a lot of time out there! The activities were outstanding! There was lots of selection and it was often difficult to decide what to participate in as there were sooo many great activities! The musical entertainment ( except the guitar soloist) are worth the trip alone! The zipline in Juneau through the rainforest is outstanding! The tour operators were charming and extremely experienced! It poured rain however it did not change the experience-in fact I think it added to the experience! Don't miss it! We also did the train ride in Skagway which was great! The lumberjack show in Ketchikan was very entertaining! A little corny but funny and interesting! My trip was amazing! The entertainment was outstanding. Other than the guitar soloist, the talent of the musicians and dancers were better than many things I have seen in New York and LA! Truly one of the highlights of the trip was the Zuiderdam singers and dancers! They were outstanding and off stage they were charming and always took time to answer questions and talk to the patrons!

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Apr 12, 2012

panama canal

Overall cruise experince is horrible. The sip is so run down. But the cabin stewards are super nice if i could give a rating of how good they were from one to ten it would be a 10. The lido resturant is pritty bad the first day in the lido was ok it had nice pork.the vista dining room was ok some days it was good but other days it was pritty bad.I cant even believe there was le cirque on the ship it wasnt even le cirque HORRIBLE. The pinnacle

grill was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So good. We had to move staterooms 3 times the floors were not straight there was co2 gas air conditioner was broken tv remote was broken toilet was clogged and also leaking. Alot of things to do from i think like 11 am to 11 pm very fun cooking class and computer class and shows were pretty.

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Jan 10, 2012

Panama Canal

Once again Holland America provided exceptional value. After a previous cruise on a competitor (NCL) this cruise was like "Coming Home". The dining roon staff were outstanding; hot food, well presented, and every effort to meet special requests. The cruise director was entertaining and engaging. Thoughout the ship, the entire crew was cheerful and most hospitable. It would seem that "NO" is not in their lexicon as every request is promptly granted.

The ZUIDERDAM is immaculately kept and the ships condition belies its 10 year age. Simply walking around the ship is like a museum vist for all the displayed art and antiquities. Overall, the food was very good featuring a wide variety of selections that were served HOT and well presented. The dining room staff made every effort to accomodate our vegan companion. Yes, it is obvious the cost pressures have effected the level of service, but not intolerably. Our wine steward seemed to have far to much area to adequately service and our waiter was also challenged by his area. This did not efect their attitudes for they remained cheerfull and accomodating. Portions seem to have been reduced, particulary in the size of beef dishes, but this really is not a bad thing, Getting enough to eat on a Cruise Ship is never problematic ! Dishes with shrimp were not acceptable (small and poor quality shrimp). Lobster tails were also quite small and diners had to remove shells themselves (usually the waiter removes the shell after the dish has been presented). These detracters did not materially impact our overall high level of satisfaction with the cuisine. The wine list featured no disappoinments and bar service served well made and presented cocktails. We upgraded our stateroom to a veranda suite (SY) for this cruise (approx. 350 square feet), we loved it. Having both a tub and a separate shower, as well as two vanity sinks, was a treat. Remarkably, we actually had more storage areas than stuff ! We almost never saw our cabin steward but, miraculously, everything was taken care of to our complete satisfaction. The veranda was at least twice the size that we have with our usual cabin (VA) and it was very enjoyable in this cruise venue. Room service was exceptionaly prompt and high quality. My only regret is that we may now be spoiled !! The available activities were many and varied. The ship pulled out all the stops for new years eve. Entertaiment ( as usual ) was quite good but NOT as exceptional as usual. The main production show was the same show ( Sets, songs, dances, etc) as we saw on our 20009/2010 HAL cruise. The two second tier singers (male and female) were noticeably better than the main performers. The other acts ( Comedian, Magician, Steel Drum Band) were enjoyable. The "Cabaret" entertainers were also very good. As we have been to thes ports many times, we did not participate in any of the excursions. All comments we heard from fellow cruisers regarding their excurisions were positive. Embarcation was well organised and very fast. Our luggage was in our stateroom before 4 PM. The cruise intinerary ran smoothly without incident. Disembarcation was delayed by about an hour, presumably due to shore officials. Overall this was a relaxing and enjoyable cruise in keeping with the high standards that HAL seems intent to maintain regardless of the economy.

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Jan 10, 2012

Panama Canal

Once again Holland American provided exceptional value. After a previous cruise on a competitor (NCL) this cruise was like "Coming Home". The dining roon staff were outstanding; hot food, well presented, and every effort to meet special requests. The cruise director was entertaining and engaging. Thoughout the ship, the entire crew was cheerful and most hospitable. It would seem that "NO" is not in their lexicon as every request is promptly granted.

The ZUIDERDAM is immaculately kept and the ship's condition belies its 10 year age. Simply walking around the ship is like a museum visit for all the displayed art and antiquities. Overall, the food was very good featuring a wide variety of selections that were served HOT and well presented. The dining room staff made every effort to accomodate our vegan companion. Yes, it is ovbious the cost pressures have effected the level of service, but not intolerably. Our wine steward seemed to have far to much area to adequately service and our waiter was also chalenged by his area. This did not effect their attitudes for they remained cheerfull and accomodating .Portions seem to have been reduced, particulary in the size of beef dishes, but this really is not a bad thing, Getting enough to eat on a Cruise Ship is never problematic ! Dishes with shrimp were not acceptable (small and poor quality shrimp). Lobster tails were also quite small and diners had to remove shells themselves (usually the waiter removes the shell after the dish has been presented). These detracters did not materially impact our overall high level of satisfaction with the cuisine. The wine list featured no disappoinments and bar service served well made and presented cocktails. We upgraded our stateroom to a veranda suite (SY) for this cruise (approx. 350 square feet), we loved it. Having both a tub and a separate shower, as well as two vanity sinks, was a treat. Remarkably, we actually had more storage areas than stuff ! We almost never saw our cabin steward but, miraculously, everything was taken care of to our complete satisfaction. The veranda was at least twice the size that we have with our usual cabin (VA) and it was very enjoyable in this cruise venue. Room service was exceptionaly prompt and high quality. My only regret is that we may now be spoiled !! The available activities were many and varied. The ship pulled out all the stops for new years eve. Entertaiment ( as usual ) was quite good but NOT as exceptional as usual. The main production show was the same show ( Sets, songs, dances, etc) as we saw on our 20009/2010 HAL cruise. The two second tier singers (male and female) were noticeably better than the main performers. The other acts ( Comedian, Magician, Steel Drum Band) were enjoyable. The "Cabaret" entertainers were also very good. As we have been to thes ports many times, we did not participate in any of the excursions. All comments we heard from fellow cruisers regarding their excurisions were positive. Embarcation was well organised and very fast. Our luggage was in our stateroom before 4 PM. The cruise intinerary ran smoothly without incident. Disembarcation was delayed by about an hour, presumably due to shore officials. Overall this was a relaxing and enjoyable cruise in keeping with the high standards that HAL seems intent to maintain regardless of the economy.

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Oct 6, 2011

Ft Lauderdale to Vancouver

This was our 50th wedding anniversary gift to each other. What a wonderful way to celebrate this special occasion. There were no negatives only positive items. Our verandah stateroom was the best way to see our ports and the Panama Canal transit. Sitting on the verandah having breakfast during our transit into the Canal is time we will never forget. Even though it was very warm, the cold towels handed out by the crew on our return from excursions

was an outstanding idea and a very welcome relief for the heat. The food and the food service was 5 star. The extra special dinner in the Pinnical Restaurant was the highlight of food and service we enjoyed. Our stateroom staff were outstanding and within the first day we were a first name basis. My request for plenty of ice was met with our ice being replenished every time we left our stateroom, what service! We are scanning HAL'S brochures for next trip. Well done HAL We enjoyed eating out at a 5 star restaurant. Outstanding! I am a big guy but found the bed even more comfortable than my bed at home. Did not do too many activities, but spent some time on my computer in the library area. Found the chap in charge was very helpful. Having the coffee bar there is a great idea. My only suggestion is that HAL consider a more reasonable for using the ship's Wi-Fi. Don't miss having one meal in the Pinnical Grill, even if it is lunch. Not much to say, except we can't wait till we are on board again.

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Apr 15, 2011

Panama Canal Cruise

My wife and I have been on many cruises but this is the first one on Holland America. It certainly won't be the last. In fact we were so pleased we may never use another cruise line except Holland America. All the food, accommodations, crew members, everything was world class. If you were bored it was your own fault. There was at least a dozen things going on at all times. You never had to look very far to have something to do. I had a slight medical

problem and you would have thought I was the only person on the ship. The medical staff were johnny on the spot and ahd me back on top in no time. Thanks Holland American for a wonderful experience. On a scale of 1 to 10 it was a 14. Room 8121 on the Navigation deck. One floor down from the Lido deck and all the food etc. Great accommodations. Best we have ever had. Always something to do. The shows in the Vista Lounge were Broadway class. Para-sailing in Half Moon Cay, Bus tour in Panama, Pineapple plantation tour in Costa Rica. Enjoyed every moment of the 10 days. Will go again on the Zueiderdam when it does an Alaskan Cruise.

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Feb 23, 2011

Panama Sunfarer

We had an enjoyable 10-day cruise with Holland America aboard the Zuiderdam on the Panama Sunfarer Cruise. We enjoyed stops at Aruba, Curacao, the Panama Canal, and of course the fantastic island of Half Moon Cay. We did not enjoy the stop at Colon, Panama, as we had our small digital camera stolen as we went through the shops at the port. Our stop at Limon, Costa Rica was okay also. The ship we found to be very comparable to the Westerdam, Oosterdam,

and the Eurodam. Also - the service on the ship was excellent. The food was excellent as always. The Vista Dining Room was great with excellent service. The Lido restaurant had a great selection of food to choose from for breakfast, lunch, and supper. The Pinnacle Grill was fine also. We had a verandah on deck 8, the Navigation Deck, and it was fine. The stewards we had provided excellent service. They had many activities all day long in a wide variety for everyone. We enjoyed trivia games, the casino, the music, carribean food night, dessert night, and their nightly shows with singers & dancers; comedians; magician; and especially a group called Island Magic, who used steels drums and big kettle-type drums - they were amazing. Nothing to say. I would tell anyone that Holland has some of the greatest service I have ever seen. Their Indonesian staff are trained exceptionally well, and alwys seem to be there whenever you need them - such polite individuals. The one thing I would tell someone who is a first time cruiser, and looks at Hollnd - keep in mind that the ships we have been on seem to be cruised by older adults. On this cruise my wife and I, who are both 62, felt like we were some of the youngest on the ship. We didn't see very many young couples or children on this cruise.

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Sep 12, 2010

Alaska Inside Passage

Our 20 Anniversary Vacation was EXCELLENT and worth every penny. Food was all wonderful. I would suggest eating in the Vista Dining room at every meal because the Lido is very busy and hard to find a seat. Room Service is also very good and we had some of the most wonderful breakfasts in our room. Make it a point to eat at the Pinnacle Grill at least once the $20 is well worth it. The upgraded stateroom was wonderful. Always clean and we loved

the animal towels and chocolates on our beds every night. There were plenty of activities to keep us busy and they were all a lot of fun. The line dancing was fun but could've lasted longer then a half hour. White Pass Summit and Bike was AWESOME!!! This was our first cruise and I have to admit it was a Wonderful one. We arrived in Vancouver, BC on the Thursday prior to our cruise on Saturday and had a nice time exploring the city. I strongly recommend eating at any of the earl's restaurants, they are awesome. Saturday we arrived at Canada Place around noon and were immediately met by some nice gentleman waiting to take our bags. We then had to go through customs which took a little time but it wasn't terrible, then we waited in another line to get our ship cards and have our picture taken. (Make sure if you want to buy souviners in any of the ports there is a great coupon book in the walkway to the ship) When we boarded the ship we were able to go to the Lido Buffett and have something to eat. It was pretty busy and hard to find a place to sit but we had some really good pizza and the sandwiches are great. Also don't forget to have an ice cream cone or cookie they are awesome. Coffee, Iced or hot tea and water is available at the buffet at no charge. After we ate we went to my sister and brother-in-laws room which was ready because it was one of the two penthouse suites on the ship. If you have a chance to travel with someone that can afford one of these suites its worth it because of the perks they get. They had champagne waiting in there room and also a large bowl of fruit. The room was very nice and large which was a great place for all of us to hang out since we had a group of 11. They announced our room was ready around 1:30 and we went to find it. We had booked a MM inside standard room guarantee and ended up getting upgraded to a large D room on the main deck with a window. I'm glad we ended up with that room because other people in our group had inside rooms and they were very small. We had a good size room with a couch and the bathroom had a bathtub. The only downside to having a window is that I was up early every morning looking out to see what was outside. That night we all had dinner in the Vista Dining room with the open seating. Since we were with my sister and she was in the Penthouse we never had to wait to sit they always had our table ready and we would just walk in and sit. The food was wonderful in the Vista and the service was spectacular. Sunday we were on the ship all day and found many activities to keep us busy. We loved the trivia daily in the Crow's Nest and Gene the host is great. My sister's and I took the Mixology classes and they were so much fun, the bartendars were so entertaining and funny. Thank you Oro and Nick for making the classes fun. Oro is the bartendar in the Atrium bar and Nick bartends in the Northern Lights Disco and they are lots of fun. Sunday was the first formal night and the food in the Vista was once again great. Then we went to the show and it was very entertaining. Monday we arrived in Juneau, Ak and the weather was cold and rainy. We explored the shops for a while and really wanted to go in the Red Dog Saloon but it was so busy we couldn't even get in. We ended up having a beer at the Lucky Lady Bar, which the prices were good but the bartendar was so crabby and acted like she didn't anyone there. There are so many jewelry stores in every port it gets kind of annoying. How much jewerly can one person buy. Juneau was not my favorite port. That night my husband and I ate by ourselves at the Pinnacle Grill, that was by far some of the best food I have ever eaten. I had the lobster and my husband had the Porterhouse steak. Well worth the $20. Fabulous food and service. If your not a lucky person don't waste your time in the casino. The slot machine were pretty tight and we didn't win anything. Tuesday we arrive in Skagway, my favorite port. It is a cute little town with interesting looking buildings and everyone is so friendly. We took the White Pass Summit train up and biked down. The weather once again was cold and rainy but we still had a good time. The tour guides on our bike trip back down to Skagway were excellent. We even saw a bear on the side of the road eating a mountain goat which they said is very rare. That night we ate at the Italian Canaletto Restaurant on the ship. The food was very good but a little spicy for Italian. The desserts were fantastic. Wednesday we arrived in Glacier Bay, very pretty views and lots of picture taking. I was kindof hoping it would've been a little more white in the bay and not so brown but it was still beautiful. We were all able to enjoy the large balcony off of my sister's suite and didn't have to fight the crowds on the bow of the ship for great pictures. Wednesday night was our last formal dinner in the Vista, once again very good food, the lobster was a little salty but otherwise very good. The only downfall of that dinner was the tacky white chair covers which were not needed because the chairs are prettier without them. Thursday we arrived early in Ketchikan. Neat town with lots of fishing. The salmon were in spawn so that was pretty neat to see. We walked around and did some sightseeing and also road on the duck tour. Same kinds of stores as the other towns. That night we were so tired of eating that we had room service sandwiches for dinner. The tuna and club sandwiches are very good if your tire of having a big meal. That night we went to the Queens Lounge for the Marriage game and my husband and I got picked to be contestants. It was a lot of fun and we ended up winning a received a bottle of champange, which all the couple received. Friday we were at sea all day and just did activities on the ship. Saturday we woke up early because we chose the expediated departure. We brought our own bags off the ship which went very smoothly and customs went well. I suggest if you fly from Seattle like we did that you don't waste to much time in Vancouver unless you have a late flight since we waited in line at the border for an hour. All and All we had a Super Great Time and would definately take another cruise with Holland America.

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By Joan_CR

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Jul 10, 2010

Alaska Inside Passage

After reading some bad reviews, I was worried I would not enjoy my Alaska cruise on the Zuiderdam. Now that I have returned I have to wonder if these complainers were on the same ship. The crusie was wonderful from start to finish! After watching some of the rude customers on board, I have come to realize that some people are just not happy if they do not invent something to b*^%h about. Of course a ship with 2,000 passengers on board might have

a small problem or two. Heaven forbid you have to wait 3 minutes to get your omelet cooked or something. My advice;don't believe these whiners and book on the Zuiderdam to Alaska, sit back and enjoy!! The food was really good. I saw the complaints about the LIdo and can't really understand it. The breakfast was wonderful and cooked to order. The chocolate crossiants were to die for and YES, the orange juice is fresh sqeezed and delivered with a smile. The dining room food and service were great and the meal at the Pinaccle Grill was the best steak I have ever eaten. I had been on a Carnival cruise before and the food was disgusting. This was FAR better! We received a free upgrade to a balcony room. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. Our steward was great and always available when we needed something. The room was always clean. I wish I had brought him home with me! There was certainly something fun to do all the time if you wanted. We loved lounging around and looking at the incredible views!! The spa had a daily special that was affordable. I had a full body massage, scalp massage and facial for $119 and it was incredible. Shows were fun and we loved the addition of a 5K breast cancer walk for charity on the deck on the last sea day. What a fabulous idea! We loved the musher's dog camp at Skagway and the Lumberjack show at Ketchikan. Whale watching was good but we saw more whales from our balcony on the ship! We were treated like celebrities all week. If you are a snob who is never happy with anything, I guess stay away. If you are a regular joe like us, believe me, you won't be disappointed aboard the Zuiderdam!

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By Joan_CR

  • New

Jul 10, 2010

Alaska Inside Passage

After reading some bad reviews, I was worried I would not enjoy my Alaska cruise on the Zuiderdam. Now that I have returned I have to wonder if these complainers were on the same ship. The crusie was wonderful from start to finish! After watching some of the rude customers on board, I have come to realize that some people are just not happy if they do not invent something to b*^%h about. Of course a ship with 2,000 passengers on board might have

a small problem or two. Heaven forbid you have to wait 3 minutes to get your omelet cooked or something. My advice;don't believe these whiners and book on the Zuiderdam to Alaska, sit back and enjoy!! The food was really good. I saw the complaints about the LIdo and can't really understand it. The breakfast was wonderful and cooked to order. The chocolate crossiants were to die for and YES, the orange juice is fresh sqeezed and delivered with a smile. The dining room food and service were great and the meal at the Pinaccle Grill was the best steak I have ever eaten. I had been on a Carnival cruise before and the food was disgusting. This was FAR better! We received a free upgrade to a balcony room. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. Our steward was great and always available when we needed something. The room was always clean. I wish I had brought him home with me! There was certainly something fun to do all the time if you wanted. We loved lounging around and looking at the incredible views!! The spa had a daily special that was affordable. I had a full body massage, scalp massage and facial for $119 and it was incredible. Shows were fun and we loved the addition of a 5K breast cancer walk for charity on the deck on the last sea day. What a fabulous idea! We loved the musher's dog camp at Skagway and the Lumberjack show at Ketchikan. Whale watching was good but we saw more whales from our balcony on the ship! We were treated like celebrities all week. If you are a snob who is never happy with anything, I guess stay away. If you are a regular joe like us, believe me, you won't be disappointed aboard the Zuiderdam!

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Jun 11, 2010

Alaska

The ship was clean but nothing to brag about. Not a whole lot do do. Room steward was ok but we kept asking for 4 bananas a day and he would only give us 2. We hardly ever saw the steward. Dining rooms were ok but not beautiful and on formal nights the chairs were covered with what looked like sheets. Food was average. One meals-veal was inedible with the veal impossible to cut much less chew. We did open seating and we always felt we were

being rushed. The servers were not very friendly and service was not nearly as good as on the Princess line where you are made to feel a princess or prince. clean, ok, balcony room ok not much to choose from The best part of our trip was the land portion where we went into the Alaska interior and Yukon, Canada. The Westmark motels were not fancy but very clean and all the staff was very friendly.

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By Nel_CR

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Sep 5, 2009

Alaska

This was our first cruise experience and we loved it. The inner passage Alaska cruise was almost totally smooth all the way and while the ports of call were nothing to write home about if since we already live in Beautiful BC, the overall experience is very relaxing. Rooms with veranda's are worth a few extra dollars even if the weather is not your friend. If you want great glacier views then you must wait until the very end of summer but the glacier

views are spectacular. The service and entertainment was so memorable. It is amazing how a ship with nearly 2000 people aboard can feel so intimate. We loved the chef's dinner selections and the variety of choices and food service venues. We especially loved having breakfast in bed every morning for no extra charge. The mirrored wall made the room seem larger and the stewards daily treat of specially folded animal towels was such fun. The room was always clean and the service was polished with a smile. My only negative comment ... smoking on board... inside??? What's with that? Yuck! It seems that smoking was permitted only in the casino but everyone needed to pass through the casino to/from the main shows and that was stinky. We had a great time with audience participation venues and the wide variety of choice in styles of live music was impressive. We were on a tight budget so the excursions didn't attract us. It was nice to get off the ship and walk, but the ship generally offered all we needed and the views from the ship were fabulous. It was our 25th wedding anniversary and we met people from all over the world who were celebrating special occasions or just on "ski" vacations - Spending Kids Inheritance (learned that from an Australian).

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By Gena_CR

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Aug 1, 2009

Alaska

Holland America is NOT worth the extra money. The worst food and service I have ever had on a cruise! OK decor. You would think if you had champagne delivered they would put it in an ice bucket. Not only did I have to ask the Steward two times for an ice bucket but eventually I had to get it myself. Terrible-no entertainment after about 10pm In July of 2009, I went on a much anticipated Alaskan cruise roundtrip Vancouver on Holland America.

Alaska was fabulous, I loved it. Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan are very touristy but all in all cute towns. The wildlife was fabulous. Tracey Arm and Glacier Bay where the highlights and just gorgeous worth it to stand on the deck for several hours. Saw dolphins, humpback and orca from the ship. I have cruised many times in the Caribbean and yes it was different but fabulous in its own way. Now for Holland America-I hated it! Extremely poor service all around. Terrible entertainment, ok if all you like is AM radio and a cheesy 70's look a like in the show lounge. Most entertainment ended at 10pm. No midnight buffets, they were at 10PM and limited. Terrible if you got done from the last dinner seating at 930pm. Never in my life have I seen crew eating with the guests but in fact that did happen everyday at the lunch buffet. Most of the time only half of the buffet was open and very crowed with long lines, and it just really ticked me off to see 7-8 crew members standing in front of me for food. They are not a paying guest. What does it say when the lunch buffet is the best food on the ship? Dinners were terrible, generic and tasted like they were mass produced and defrosted days in andvance. Don't ask for them to accommodate any food requests because they won't. Our bar service was lucky to get to us by the salad and served wine at the main entree. Not even if I were to get a free cruise would I spend my hard earned money on Holland America.

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By Rita_CR

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Sep 28, 2008

Mediterranean Romance

I wanted to add this review since so many were negative and we had a very positive experience. Our cruise started off in Venice and continued down toward Greece around Sicily and up the western coast of Italy then to Barcelona. The ports were wonderful and the crew was even better. All parts of the trip were great and a bargain for the price. Each port had so much to do and a tour lecturer, Tom, who was most informative. The stops were all memorable

and the weather was warm and comfortable. The food was very good and the pasta station on the Lido deck was fabulous. They cook it right in front of you and it was delicious. All of these touches and the friendliness of all the staff was the best. Especially Honky Dory. He worked on the Lido deck and after one introduction he could remember everyone's name. It was a wonderful skill and all appreciated being greeted by him with a warm hello. We ate at open seating and missed having th same waiter each night but found their system ran very smoothly and we never waited to be seated. It worked out well. vry impressed with the steak which was offerede nightly in lieu of the menued items. The cabin steward couldn't help us enough and called us by our names. That made it very personal and friendly. The room was always spotless and clean. I need him at home! The room showed sign of age and use but was still clean and well kept. Fine for me since we only slept there and used the facilities. We also opted for an inside guaranteed room and got upgraded to the top floor. I felt if we wanted a view the top deck was the best spot and the weather was great so it was the best. The nightly show was the only part of the onboard activites that we took advantage of. We enjoyed the shows and found them to be of a better quality than most ships. They were not the Las Vagas type. Excursions to the islands were the best. They seemed to be the best way to see the most area in a short time while in port. I highly recommend the one in Santorini to the town of Oia and the donkey ride down the cliff. Great place!! I also thought Argostoli was best seen with a guide. It had the best beaches, and quaint villages. Sicily was beautiful and the town of Tourmina was a place full of history and small streets and shops. It also had an old Greeco-Roman theater on the hill. Our trip was wonderful and the reviews did not do it justice. An added tip is to use the main desk to exchange all money for Euros. They give the best rate and charge no fee. Getting off the ship was as smooth as getting on. We took the Barcelona highlights tour for 4 hours and found it to be great too. I recommend that too.

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Mar 19, 2008

Key West, Nassau

I am compelled to write after reading the posted review. We had a fabulous cruise, great verandah room, never saw the steward, but the room was spotless, excellent dining service, the shows were so so, but the ship was lovely...we are going on the Miracle in a few weeks and are booked on the Spirit for Alaska in June...and am looking for a spring break cruise fior '05... Just can't imagine what all the whining is about! Holland America

told me that there was NOT ANY formal nights on this cruise, so we brought no formal wear... and many people were told the same thing, I found out later in a letter from them...Thus not many dressed in formal wear... we would have been happy to comply...Anyway... it was a fabulous cruise!    

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Mar 19, 2008

Caribbean

The Itinerary – Day Location Arrive Depart Day 1 Fort Lauderdale, FL 5:00 pm Day 2 Half Moon Cay (HAL private island) 8:00 am 4:00 pm Day 3 At Sea Day 4 Tortola, British Virgin Islands 8:00 am 5:00 pm Day 5 St Thomas, US Virgin Islands 7:00 am 6:00 pm Day 6 At Sea Day 7 Nassau, Bahamas 12:00 noon 8:00 pm Day 8 Fort Lauderdale, FL 8:00 am The Booking – We booked through Vacations To Go (http://www.vacationstogo.com). Although the

Zuiderdam has 788 outside cabins (623 with balconies), our preference is for an inside because I tend to be a cheapskate in some areas and just can’t see paying so much more for an outside cabin, or even a suite; when I end up sitting at the same table, eating the same wonderful meals, watching the same great shows, and visiting the same exciting ports-of-call as the folks in the higher priced cabins. Besides, this leaves us more money for $hore excur$ion$, $hopping, the ca$ino, $ouvenir$ etc. Brochure price for an inside guarantee (category NN) was $1,297.88 per person. Our price, through Vacations To Go, was $1,217.32 for both! That, in and of itself, was pretty darn hard to pass up. We ended up booked into cabin # 8118 (category J). That’s a six category upgrade! So, total savings for the cruise was $1,938.44. WOW!!! The Cabin – 8118 is about 10’x16’, with three closets (one with a programmable safe), a vanity with a large mirror and a mobile make-up mirror that SunFlower wanted to buy, a bath with shower, two night stands, table and chair, and a color TV with remote. There were 12 channels available, ranging from HAL TV, to CNN International, to movies; as well as the regular forward and aft CCTV views, the Shore Excursion and the Port & Shopping channels. The refrigerator will be locked, but ask your steward to unlock it if you want to use it. We never did. There were two 110v single outlets at the dressing table, and one in the bathroom. The power strip and an extension cord will come in handy. We had the twin beds converted to a queen and that mattress was the next best thing to our SleepNumber ® bed (soft, fluffy, comfy and snuggly). The A/C was controlled by a thermostat in the cabin and was very quiet. There was a bit of steam fogging the bathroom mirror, but putting the desk fan on the counter eliminated that, real quick. We were on Verandah Deck, aft, port side, and just about under the pool. I was concerned about the potential for noise, but my fears were unjustified. There was one evening that a country line-dance contest was held above us, but that wasn’t too loud and it ended about 10:00 pm, so sleep was never interrupted. Our Cabin Steward was Abdu Rahman, and he did a fantastic job of keeping up with us. The cabin was kept spotless and the linens were changed daily. He was always present but never obvious and could usually be found with his buddy “Henry” (the vacuum). We did follow Julie Barr’s suggestion and made sure we folded the lead end of the toilet tissue back into a point before we left the cabin. I think it worked as Abdu did keep giving us the strangest looks. Poor fellow probably thinks we never used it! The Embarkation – We took the motel’s 12:00 am shuttle to the cruise terminal, arriving at the HAL terminal 25 minutes later. We had all our paperwork in order and were directed to the check-in counter. Maybe 5 minutes in line, then it was ID, ID, passport, passport, credit card, sign here, photo, photo, boarding number (group 9), through the security check-point and … up the escalator. By 12:45, we had our gangway photo taken and were aboard. One of the most painless and efficient embarkations I have gone through. Kudos to the terminal staff. Since the cabins weren’t ready, we headed to Lido Deck. Well, I headed to Lido. SunFlower went straight to the Greenhouse Spa to book her hair and nail appointments for the formal nights. Long ago we learned the hard way that available time slots on formal nights go quickly. I, of course, began grazing, as the Lido Buffet, poolside grill and sail-away parties were in full swing. The Ship – Master – Captain John Scott. Cruise Director – Dane Butcher. Executive Chef – Raymond Southern Godmother – Joan Lunden The M/S Zuiderdam II (“zuider” rhymes with "cider") was built at the Fincantieri Shipyards in 2002. She is 951 feet long. 105 feet abeam, and weighs in at approximately 85,000 tons. Her power is from five Sulzer diesels (three-16 cylinder and two-12 cylinder) and one GE 2500 gas turbine engine (15.4 megawatts). She has twin Azipod propulsion (a sort of outboard motor arrangement, under the waterline) which give her amazing maneuverability. Capable of speeds in excess of 24 knots, water-skiing is a possibility! With eleven passenger decks and 924 cabins/suites for 1848 passengers, the Zuiderdam II is the first of five planned Vista Class ships, which HAL will be putting into service. Named for the cardinal points of the compass, her sisters are/will be, the Oosterdam (East), Westerdam (West), Noordam (North) and ?-dam . HAL has begun a program to change their image (“the old folk’s line” and “rest home at sea” were the most common tags applied). They now actively markets to singles, couples and families; with ages ranging from the 20-somethings to the post-retirees (70+). There were about 100 or so children on board, but other than one baby (2 months old) who cried one evening in the Vista Dining Room, they weren’t that noticeable (i.e., it wasn’t like Carnival, RCCL or Princess, where children tend to run amok, up and down the passageways, at all hours). Without exception, every young person we met was very well behaved and a pleasure to be around (even the unhappy young fellow that one night). A good deal has been said about the décor of the Vista class ships. Heavy, audacious colors have been liberally used. Reds, greens, blues, yellows and violets predominate. There are still the hallmark HAL touches, highly polished brass, holy-stone rubbed teak decks, oiled walnut, oak, and other hardwood paneling. And … the flowers. Everywhere, the flowers! Bold, vivid and striking are the best descriptors I can think of. Every table, alcove and bar. What a nice touch! The amidships glass elevators provide a stunning panorama and appeared to be the elevators of choice for most of the passengers. I can certainly understand why, but I do recommend using the stairways to work of a few of those calories. OK. The layout of the ship … Working from mast to keel (top to bottom) – Sports Deck (11) – Forward is the Observation Deck, above the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Excellent views and a tall glass windscreen to protect passengers. Two stairways connecting to Observation Deck (10), one of which has a carrier for wheelchairs. Aft are the volleyball and half-basketball courts. Enclosed by a net to keep the balls from polluting the oceans, they got a lot of use. Observation Deck (10) – Forward is HAL’s signature Crow’s Nest Lounge. The music is hot and the view is spectacular! Live contemporary music every evening during cocktail hour. Theme nights, dancing and team contests/games. HAL has a bank of about a dozen adjustable recliner chairs forward. The perfect spot for relaxing with a Frozen Thingie and watching the world unfold. There are two private areas off the sides of the Crow’s Nest (Oak Room – starboard; no name – port). Perfect for little get-togethers or quiet time. Working aft, there is plenty of deck space and HAL’s famous teak deck chairs. A spiral staircase leads down to Lido Deck (9). Be careful. It’s twisty (go figure). Passing the mobile pool cover you’ll find Club HAL (youth center) and the golf simulator (a computerized system which allows you to play golf courses of the world, without leaving the ship – neat). Lido Deck (9) – Forward is another observation deck. To reach it, you’ll have to enter the GreenHouse Spa area from the port side, go forward to the desk, cross to the starboard side, pass the gym and you’ll find an unmarked glass door. On the other side you’ll find a quiet secret of the Zuiderdam … an observation deck directly above the bridge and almost never used. It is a bit windy, as there is no glass shield as on Observation Deck (11). Moving aft, you’ll come to the Gym. Very nice aerobic and strength training equipment that was seldom, if ever, used. A fitness trainer is on site, so if you have any questions, ask away. They’ll be glad to help you loose the pounds you’ll pack on in the restaurants! The GreenHouse Spa. OK It’s another Steiner operation, so be warned. Prices are higher than what you’re used to back at home (about double) but the staff is very knowledgeable and well trained (4 years). The spa’s Hydropool (is that redundant, or what?) is very relaxing and children are not permitted. Guarded by a mama polar bear and her cub, the Main Pool is next. An average sized cruise ship pool, with a wide splash section (2”-4” deep) No diving! Three hot tubs and a shower (for rinsing, not bathing – please!). There are also a couple ping-pong tables, which got a lot of use during our cruise. Something new is a tattoo parlor. Relax parents. This is an air-brush tattoo parlor. The tats are sprayed on (with an air stylus) and last about a week. So, if junior wants a tattoo, here’s their chance. The kids loved this feature. Heading on back, the next section is the Lido Dining area. I’ll cover this fairly well later. On the stern is the Aft Pool and hot tub. Not very large, but apparently sufficient for the guests. This area saw a lot of activity, as children are not permitted during the mid-afternoon. There is usually a portable bar set up, so you can have plenty of Frozen Thingies without waiting. Navigation (8), Rotterdam (7), Upper Verandah (6), Verandah (5) and Upper Promenade (4) Decks are all cabins. Promenade Deck (3) – OK. Were back to the action now. Forward is the upper tier fo the Vista (show) Lounge. There are two circular box sections overlooking the stage wings. Great view, if you want to squiggle around in your seat a bit. There are safety railings in the front to keep one from taking a John Wilkes Boothe style dive, and they do obstruct one’s view terribly. I recommend just about any of the other seats at this level, but not for give-away events. Thrown prizes just don’t reach that high. Working aft, you’ll come to the Internet Center (starboard) and the Half-Moon, Hudson and Stuyesant meeting rooms (port). Internet connection for $25/30 minutes. The biggest problem I had with this was that the connection speed is quite slow (I’m used to broad-band/cable connection) and checking your e-mail and checking account took up all our time. If I wanted to send a reply to any of the e-mails, I had to go off-line, prepare it as a word document, then go back on-line and do a cut-and-paste. Otherwise, I’d have been spending way too much to chat with folks who should have accompanied us in the first place! Next is the Java Corner (think Starbucks at sea). HAL used to have free cappuccino 24/7 in the Lido Restaurant, but have now replaced it with a cozy little bistro style coffee/pastry shop. Question. Why pay for ‘specialty’ coffee and cookies when excellent (normal) coffee and cookies are still available for free, six decks up? Next aft, on starboard side is the Erasmus Library. A very nice facility. Quiet. Cozy. Books, magazines, newspapers, stationary and playing cards are available. A charge to your account ($25) is made to check out a book, and removed when you return the item. The Duty-Free Shop is on port side. Note: “Duty Free” only means that import duties have not (yet) been paid on the items, that’s why they’re so inexpensive. Depending on you home country, and allowances, you may well be charged duty on your return. Learn your allowances. The shop has your usual selection of gifts, necessities, clothing, liquor, cigars, perfumes, watches and jewelry. Don’t buy early on in the cruise. Prices drop in the second half. Wait for the sales. OK. Now we’ve gotten to the Atrium and the Ocean Bar (midships). Whew! Be sure to check the cut crystal seahorse chandelier. Gorgeous! The Ocean Bar is on both sides of the Atrium and has a small stage to port. Comfortable seating and beautiful views! Heading aft, you’ll have to travel the starboard side, through the photo gallery. Very long and the only place we really experienced any crowds. Guess there are still people surprised that they can look so good when they glance in the mirror, but so bad when the view is through a camera lens! Prices are reasonable (generally) and don’t change till after the cruise, when they drop to 50% off! The only place left is the Upper Vista Dining Room. Again, covered elsewhere in this review. Lower Promenade Deck (2) – Again, starting forward, you have the mid section for the Vista (show) Lounge. Generally all seats are good, but there are a couple with semi-obstructed views. No problem. Seats aren’t assigned. Move over one. Aft is the Piano Bar (starboard) and the Casino. The Piano bar was usually fairly well used. Primarily because 1) the pianist was very good, and 2) it was the nearest liquor to the casino (drink away your losses). A little farther aft is the Sports Bar. Actually a takeoff from the Casino (there are gaming screens build into the bar counter), you can almost always get caught up on your team(s) via ESPN. Yes, it is satellite. No, they don’t have cable. (Can you believe, someone actually asked that?) On port side is the Northern Lights Nightclub (and bar), run by DJ Gino. A great place for theme music, contests and dancing. Geno knows what he’s doing and keeps the crown entertained. The seats are not the most comfortable in the world, and are covered in a Holstein pattern (my daughter-in-law would love them – she ‘collects’ cows). One neat thing I found was that, as you enter/leave the club, the overhead lights in the winding passageway light up as you pass under them and go out once you have passed. Way cool, but then SunFlower says I’m way too easily impressed! Midships is the Queen’s Lounge (and bar). Another center of entertainment activity on the ship. Intimate, but not too small. Think a comedy, or jazz club. Great shows. Next is the Odyssey Restaurant and Wine Bar. The private, by appointment only, surcharge dining room. We did not try this one out, but everyone we spoke with raved about it. Next time. They usually run a special on first nigh out (half-price). Take advantage of this. Heading on back, you’ll pass through the Windstar Café and the Coffee Bar. Two nice areas for relaxing and watching the world go by with both old and new friends. The Are Gallery is next and usually spills into the Explorer’s Lounge. Many very nice works (canvas) and the prices are not too bad. If you’re really interested, don’t miss the art auctions. You can get some great pieces for very low prices. Finally, you’ll reach the Lower Vista Dining Room. Main Deck (1) – Again, only cabins. A Deck (0) – Generally not used by guests, except for tender embarkation/debarkation and the infirmary. Were there weak points? Sure. If you look hard enough, you can find a worn spot of carpeting, a mar on a passageway bulkhead (wall), etc. But to be perfectly honest, I have better things to do with my time than try to find fault in things, especially when I’m on vacation! The Drinks – With eleven regular bars and lounges, and between three and four temporary bars (usually set up by the pools), there is no excuse for not finding a Frozen Thingie when needed. I’m (basically) a non-drinker, but them that do told me that they felt the bar prices were reasonable. Mixed drinks were in the $4.25-$6.50 range. US domestic beer was $3.75 with imported beer/ale at $3.95. Wines were $4.25 – $7.50 per glass. Fruit juice (at a bar) was $2.10, but free at the self-serve drink stations. Mocktails (non-alcoholic drinks) were $3.25 and soda-pop was $1.75. Regarding sodas, if you’re a soft drink person, I strongly suggest buying the “soda-card”. The cost is $35 for the week. For that price, you get a sticker on your sign and sail card. Just show the card to any bartender or cocktail waitress and soda is free (note: I did see a few people who would get their free soda at the bar, give the drink to their partner, then order a free soda from a passing waitress. Come on - If money’s that tight, maybe you should just reconsider this whole vacation thing – just my opinion.Water, iced-tea, lemonades, fruit juices (from the drink station), milk, coffee and tea were free, except for the specialty coffees in the Coffee Bar (think Starbucks). The “Frozen Thingie of the Day” runs $4.25. Saturday - Cuban Mojito Sunday - South Seas Aviation Monday - Hand Shaken (not stirred) Champagne Dreams Tuesday - Fresh Lime Margarita Wednesday - Fresh Squeezed Lemon Drop Thursday - Fresh Grapefruit Cosmo Friday - Cucumber Lime Smash The Food – Oh … my … gosh! Well if you know me, you know I love food; and HAL has once again given me a reason to fall in love. The meals were fantastic. Starting with the Saturday afternoon sail-away party up on Lido Deck, and going on through to the farewell breakfast a week later, I was very seldom disappointed. SunFlower did have one item she didn’t care for (the pâté one evening just wasn’t quite to her liking). No problem ma’am. Whoosh …. Immediately replaced with a double serving of jumbo shrimp cocktail! From my perspective, it was all great … from the three perfectly prepared New York Strips for lunch, to the double escargot appetizer accompanied by the four (yes, I said four) lobsters on the second formal night! My usual day consisted of early coffee, with whole cream (not coffee-mate or half & half) and a couple of chocolate croissants on Lido Deck, aft. Then it was time to take SunFlower a cup of hot coffee, to help her wake up before breakfast in bed. Then, it was down to the dining room for a nice, sit-down, a la carte breakfast. Bet you didn’t know breakfast can be a five course meal, did you? Then, there were plenty of fresh pastries to tide me over to lunch. We alternated lunches between the Lido Cafés and the Vista Dining Room. It all depended on if it was a shore or sea day, and whether we had an excursion scheduled or not. Dinner was (almost) always in the Vista Dining Room. The Vista Dining room, under Executive Chef Raymond Southern, is a two deck restaurant aft, on 2 and 3 Decks. There is an elevated platform in the middle of the dining room atrium, which holds a small piano to provide light dinner music. We had a very nice table for four (#173) aft on 2 Deck (lower level), overlooking the stern and a beautiful; view of the sea and our wake. Our waiter was Putu; an amazing young man who spoke English one whole heck of lot better than we ‘talked’ American. More on the Lido Cafés – Under the culinary direction of Chef Cochrane, the Lido Cafés are a collection of eleven serving areas set up cafeteria style on Lido Deck. For breakfast (working aft from midships) you have a 24 hour drink station (coffee, tea, fruit juices, lemonades, iced tea and ice water). Next are two omelet stations. Standard ingredients are: bacon, ham, cheese, green pepper, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, salmon and shrimp. On the side are the potato cakes, link sausage, sausage patties, bacon, ham, and four to six different breads and muffins. The juice bar is next with fresh squeezed orange juice, on request. Other juices include: tomato, grapefruit, apple, V-8, cranberry and good ol’ prune. The next section is the Deli Bar with scrambled eggs, all the standard side items mentioned above, as well as a nice assortment of fresh fruits, cheeses, sliced meats and pâtés. Next is another 24 hour drink station then a salad, pastry and fresh fruit bar. Finishing up the Lido area are two Continental Breakfast stations with eggs to order and (again) all the standard side dishes. Each day, around 10:30 am, the Lido changes its arrangement. You still have the forward and aft 24-hour drink stations. Then there is an Italian station, with a nice assortment of pastas, sauces, plenty of garlic bread and wonderful pizzas. Moderately thin crust, light but tangy tomato sauce and a variety of toppings. Yummy! On the opposite side is The Wok. Home of your Asian specialties. From stir-fry to chop-suey to sushi to wor-shu-op, these folks did a great job! Interesting variety, texture and flavors. No, it’s not “Iron Chef”, but it was awfully good. The juice bars are transformed into sweet centers. A nice selection of ice creams, sherbets, pies, cakes gelatins and fresh from the oven, warm cookies! The Bistros are next, serving various rotisseries and grill selections, then the salad bar, followed by the Delis serving a multiplicity of hand carved sandwiches. Working in the Lido Café is a crew member who goes by the name “Honkey Dorey” Wait till you meet this guy! The first time Honkey Dorey meets you he will introduce himself, “Hello. I Honkey Dorey. What you name? Pleased to meet you (insert your name here). I Honkey Dorey” From that point in time onward, he will remember you! I’m not kidding. At first I thought it was just well developed short term memory/recall ability, until I observed this little encounter the second day. As Honkey was introducing himself to a lady, he happened to glance over her shoulder, waved to an approaching couple and called out, “Hi Kathy, Hi David! It me, Honkey Dorey!” The couple stopped dead in their tracks and the lady said, “Honkey, it’s been three years!” Honkey Dorey looked pensive for a moment and replied, “No. Almost. It three years in July.” This guy is absolutely phenomenal (almost to the point of being spooky). Every morning, I was greeted with, “Good morning John, Where Pat?” And, on occasion, “Hi John. Pat looking for you.” Whoops … can’t forget the Lido poolside grill. Open from around 10:00 am till 6:00 pm the grill serves up a nice selection of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, bratwursts, and chorizo (a spicy-hot Mexican sausage), all on homemade buns! There is also an adjoining taco bar with everything needed for nachos, tacos and fajitas! The Entertainment – Under the supervision of Cruise Director Dane Butcher, we were very entertained throughout the cruise. Events included: Off Broadway/Vegas style shows every night. The major production numbers – Saturday: “Under The Sun” with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble, and Comedienne Julie Barr in a wild and rocking laugh marathon. Sunday: “Showtime – A Tribute to Sir Elton John” by Joel Mason. Platform shoes, outrageous costumes and timeless classics. Monday: “Showtime – Under the Boardwalk” with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Tuesday: “Showtime – Filipino Crew Show” staring members of the Zuiderdam service staff, in a tribute to their home country, the Philippines. Wednesday: “Showtime – Master Illusionist James Cielen” Direct from Las Vegas, James Cielen (Winner of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Gold Medal) dazzles you with a wide variety of magic, ranging from the extremely difficult slight –of-hand to the equally impressive large-scale illusion – AND – Late Night Adult Comedy with Julie Barr. Thursday: “Showtime – Stage and Screen” with the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Friday: “Showtime – Farewell Variety Show” with James Cielen, Joel Mason, Julie Barr, Dane Butcher and the Zuiderdam dance ensemble. Note – one afternoon, while passing through the Lido Pool area, we met up with Julie Barr (the comedienne). She was very gracious and invited us to sit with her. We had a really nice chat and made a great new friend. This is typical of every cast and crew member we met. They are all great people! Julie, if you’re reading this, “Hickory, Dickory, Dock…” In addition, there were more things to see, do, and/or participate in than you could possibly do on one cruise. I started to list everything that took place but with over 40 port, history and shopping talks, sports tournaments, demonstrations, art shows & auctions, dance lessons and competitions, poker, slot machine, blackjack, and bingo tournaments, karaoke, trivia and a host of other events scheduled per day, the list quickly grew beyond comprehension. Suffice it to say, there is more than plenty to do, and something for all ages, just about all the time! If you are bored on this ship, it’s probably because either 1) you want to be, or 2) you’re dead! The Ports of Call – Fort Lauderdale – Although not technically a ‘port-of-call’, Fort Lauderdale was our embarkation and debarkation port. I’m a firm believer in arriving (at least) one day early, just in case something goes wrong (delayed/cancelled flight, lost luggage, etc.). So, we booked a single overnight at the Holiday Inn Express on SE 17 Causeway. We got a non-smoking king room for $124.00. This place isn’t real fancy, but it is clean, neat, safe and affiliated with a major national chain. Besides, they offered free airport and cruise terminal shuttle service. Works for me! We called from the baggage claim area and the shuttle arrived within 15 minutes. Although check-in isn’t until 3:00 pm, they had our room ready and we had our shoes kicked off by noon. They advertised ‘continental breakfast’, and I was expecting the usual bagels, OJ and coffee. They actually put out a pretty good spread. 4 cereals, coffee, assorted teas, OJ (of course), milk (1/2 %, 1% and 2%), bagels, English muffins, waffles, white, whole wheat, raisin and rye breads, hard boiled eggs, cinnamon rolls, mini-muffins, and fresh fruit. Of course, I had to try everything. Very nice. And I do recommend them. For more information, check out: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ex/1/en/hd/fllcc You can call them directly at: 954-728-2577, (Fax) 954-728-2591 (E-Mail) hiex@bellsouth.net. Since we got in so early, we had plenty of time to wander the area. Across the street from the motel was a strip mall. Feeling a few hunger pangs (hey, the airlines don’t feed you anymore), we went in search of some local flavor. There was a really nice place called The Yacht Club, or something like that. I asked if it was a private club. The valet laughed and said, “No, it’s just another restaurant with a fancied-up name.” So, went in and were told it would be just a minute or two for a table. Great. Gave us a chance to look over the menu ($14-28/entrées) and check out the boats docked alongside. After 20 minutes of looking at other folks extravagances and being generally ignored by the hostess (who, oh my gosh, had, like, a cell phone, you know, growing, totally, out of her head), we walked … Across the street was a nice little sandwich and coffee bistro. Sorry, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember the name. You can’t miss it though. As I said, it’s next door to the snooty yacht club restaurant, and adjacent to a good sized yacht docking garage. Good prices, good food and free wi-fi connection. After a light lunch, it was time to explore a little. We walked over the 17th Causeway, to see if we could get a view of any ships and a general idea of whether or not we (I) wanted to walk to the ship the following morning. The way I figured, if it was easy enough, we could walk to the terminal around 8:00 or 9:00 am, sit back, read our books and be the first on board. It’s not as though I was excited or anything. Thankfully, a calmer head prevailed, as SunFlower shot down my plan! Just as well, as we found out the next morning that the Zuiderdam was at the far end of Port Everglades and it would have been about a one mile drag of the luggage! Saturday was the end of McDonald’s Fleet Week in Fort Lauderdale, and the USAF Thunderbirds treated us to a rehearsal of an air show. They were swooping, diving, looping, and buzzing all over the area, but kept circling over the causeway and the cruise liners. I did have my digital handy and got a few shots. Nothing as spectacular as seeing it in person, but that was the fault of the camera operator. There was a Walgreens (drugstore) a block from the motel, so picking up the last few things for the Calgon Bag was not a problem. We went back to the motel for a bit of a siesta and took in a movie: “Master and Commander, Far Side of the World”. Very fitting before a cruise! Around 6:00pm I was beginning to feel hunger pangs and started sniveling about being abused, beaten and starved. SunFlower just shook her head and we headed out to dinner. Just down the road (about a block), in the north-west corner of the Southport Shopping Center, is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant named Kelly’s Landing. I found it on the Internet before leaving for the cruise, and they sounded good, so thought we’d give it a try. Not anything fancy, but good, solid, New England seafood; Boston style. You have to go here. The clam chowder is to die for and the onion rings are delicious. We enjoyed it so much that we stopped there after the cruise for a final lunch before heading back to the frozen north (Michigan). Reservations are suggested for groups of five or more. They don’t have a web site (yet) but you can reach them at: (954) 760-7009. The Ports – Before I go much further, I need to explain something. I’m a firefighter. I know you’ve all seen us doing our thing on TV and maybe even in person. In addition to our turn-out gear (bunkers) almost every station has a department T-shirts (duty shirts). Of course, no one (other than rookies) wear their own department’s shirt. You have to wear other departments. So, with that in mind, I decided to take some of my department’s shirts with me to try to swap in the islands. Half Moon Cay – This is Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas; something all the major cruise lines seem to be doing now. HAL claims it is ‘uninhabited’, but there are about 20-30 HAL employees who live on the island year round. You will be tendered from the ship to the Half Moon dock. From there (after the obligatory photo) you have a choice of activities. The Aqua-Trax Adventure ($39) has you driving your own personal watercraft on a guided tour of a lagoon, along the shoreline and out to the reef. Horseback riding ($69) takes you from the stables to the island’s highest point, a spot of ‘refreshment’ then back to the beach for a ride through the surf. Parasailing ($69) is a great chance to get a true bird’s eye view of the cay, without getting your feet wet. There is also a stingray adventure ($19), Snorkel Tour ($49), Scuba dive ($69), and a host of other activities. Or, you can just hit the beautiful 1 mile beach and get the sugar sand between your toes! The water is wonderfully warm and your tuxedoed waiter will deliver Frozen Thingies to you in the surf! *sigh* No fire station on the island, but I did manage to meet with Second Officer Wayne Follett, a Fire Officer with the Zuiderdam’s Security Division. Although post-911 policy has eliminated ship’s tours, Wayne was kind enough to give me a peek behind the scenes of his division. I was mightily impressed! The gear and equipment is all top-of-the-line and better than much of what I have seen in full-time professional departments in major cities! The fire crews are equally well trained and certainly know their business. Good thing too, since a hundred miles at sea, there is no mutual aid! After my mini-tour, I can tell one and all, in full confidence, that HAL really be lives in safety first. Sleep well and enjoy your cruise. Yes, I did give Wayne a duty shirt and he said he will be getting one off to me. Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands – Was probably our favorite port on this cruise. As we had an early tour scheduled, we didn’t head into town at first. We booked the Sea and See tour ($64). This was a guided tour by open air safari taxis (a converted pick-up with a covered, five bench, 20-passenger section on the back). We went all around the island, got some nice photos and a really informative narration. Tortola has a very interesting history and our guide was quite knowledgeable. We stopped in West End and boarded a 40’ sightseeing boat for a run through Drake’s Channel between St. Johns (USVI) and Tortola. We sailed over to Norman Island (the original “Treasure Island”) and then back across Drake’s Channel to Road Town and the ship. Well worth the cost and loved every minute of it. Once ashore, we visited the vendor area just outside the port. About 50 ladies had 10’x10’ pop-up tents set up and the prices were very reasonable. But, please don’t insult them. You really are expected to haggle over the prices. SunFlower headed back to the ship and I made a bee-line for the fire station. Went in, showed my ID/shield and introduced myself. Was given the royal 50 cent tour and invited to join the duty crew for a bite to eat. Great timing! Great meal too! My new friends were only too happy to trade shirts. All in all, I got the better end of the deal … one duty T-shirt for a meal and a beautiful knit polo shirt with embroidered Royal Crest and printed logo on the back! I’m going to have to send them something to make up for the inequity of the trade. We loved Tortola! Not crowded. Not heavily commercialized. Very friendly people. Other tours included: Dolphin Encounter ($129), The Wreck of the Rhone Scuba Dive ($111), Virgin Gorda & the Baths ($57), Island Secrets ($39). Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands – Charlotte Amalie is (basically) a big store. Jewelry, cameras, jewelry, watches, jewelry, perfumes, jewelry. Oh, and in case you missed it …. jewelry. You can’t swing a dead cat more than twice without hitting at least three jewelry stores, or the barkers trying to guide you in to them. We took the Island & Mountain Top Tour ($24). This was a very basic sightseeing tour in an open air safari taxi. We stopped at just about every roadside tourist stand and were offered the same trinkets as were available down in town, for only two to three times the price! Yes, there were some very beautiful views, but the guide didn’t stop unless there was a tourist stand there. Hmmmmmm, could there have been some kind of arrangement? LOL. Go figure. After our return to Charlotte Amalie, we did our obligatory shopping and SunFlower indulged me in a stop at the local fire department. Again, success! Traded one of my duty T-shirts for one of theirs. Met some more fellow firefighters and had a chance to have a nice chat. There were four ships in harbor this day. Zuiderdam, and two others over at the Havensight Docks; and the Disney Wonder across the harbor. This made for a busy and crowded shopping experience, but we did enjoy the day. A sample of the more than 20 HAL sponsored shore excursions for this port include: Sea Trek Helmet Dive ($94), Coral World ($39), Kon-Tiki Party Cruise ($34), Catamaran Sail ($79), etc. Nassau, Bahamas – Our least favorite stop. This may have been due to a number of things 1) it was toward the end of the cruise and we were just plain getting worn out, 2) the humidity was very high, and 3) the port was pretty crowded (six ships really added to the number of tourists). We first took a horse drawn carriage ride around town. The going price was $30, but for us … “special … 20 dollar”. Sure, why not? Actually was a nice ride, but the guide was so set in his spiel that he didn’t hear our questions and, on more than one occasion, repeated an entire paragraph without knowing it. Too funny! Next, we took the Semi-Submersible tour out to a reef near the port. You sit about five or six feet below the water line and have a great view of the reef and of marine wildlife. Not real exciting, but very interesting. Ashore, we found the Straw Market to be over crowded, hot, stuffy and filled with overly pushy vendors. Basically, the aisles are about three feet wide and each vendor sits in front of her wares. Each stall is about eight feet wide and stacked upwards of 20 feet high. As a result, you are squeezing through a gauntlet with a vendor every 4-6 feet. Over-whelming. Other tours included: Atlantis Hotel & Beach ($54 + $25 beach fee), Two-Tank Scuba Dive ($109), Sail & Snorkel ($49), Blue Lagoon Island. I, of course, stopped at the fire brigade headquarters to swap duty shirts. They were out, but an assistant chief accepted one from me, took my information, and promised to mail me one of theirs when the next order comes in. Ya gotta believe! Debarkation – The bags were packed the night before, and left outside the cabin door. They were gone before we went to bed! The next morning, we enjoyed another wonderful breakfast as we entered Port Everglades. Then it was just a matter of waiting for our color and number to be called, and it was off the ship, down the gangway, find the luggage, clear customs and grab a taxi. Debarkation began about 9:00 am and we were off the ship by 11:00 am. Met with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson and headed into Fort Lauderdale for lunch and a (way too) short get-together. In Conclusion- Would we take this cruise again? In a heartbeat! The Calgon Bag is still packed and I’m ready to go. The Zuiderdam is another fine ship in a series of “Dam Ships” and Holland America certainly knows what they’re doing. We had an absolutely fantabulous great time!!! Please E-Mail any questions to Calgon1@Yahoo.Com

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Aug 17, 2007

Alaska

Our family of three consists of one “almost fifty year old” Mom and 2 teenagers age 19 and 14.     This was our seventh cruise, the others having been to Caribbean destinations and the eastern Mediterranean.    Our past cruise ships have included Holland America (both Westerdam's, old and new), Carnival (Destiny), Royal Caribbean (Adventure of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas) and Celebrity (Galaxy).   The plan for this

Alaska cruise originated with a planned vacation to Vancouver.   We had intended to visit Vancouver a few years ago, even bought the airline tickets, and then had to bail when we had a conflict in dates with another arrangement.     It just seemed to make sense that if we were going to fly from Toronto to sight see in Vancouver for one week, we could add a second week to cruise to Alaska and make one grand holiday out of the whole thing. Although we’ve had a few friends who cruised to Alaska and said it was wonderful, no one really described the trip in any detail, and we had seen almost no photographs. This probably means we didn’t know quite what to expect, in many ways!    The choice of cruise line was fairly easy as we had very much enjoyed our previous experiences with Holland America.    An important consideration was the timing as we needed a cruise that would sail from Vancouver on either August 18 or 19. THE SHIP Zuiderdam went into service in 2002 as the first of Holland America’s Vista Class ships. Westerdam, on which we cruised the Caribbean two y ears ago, was the third Vista Class ship so we generally knew what to expect in terms of the layout although the décor and especially the art varies from one ship to the other. Embarkation was very quick and smooth.    We had completed our on-line check in prior to our vacation and from the time our taxi dropped us at the pier until we were walking onboard Zuiderdam wasn’t more than 20 minutes.   We were advised that the stateroom was unlikely to be ready before 1 p.m. and directed to the Lido where we had a bite to eat.   Based on past experience of the stampede to the spa, I knew enough to head in that direction right away to book the treatments that I wanted.   This way I was able to get all the times and dates I wanted.       When I returned from making those appointments at the Greenhouse Spa,  my daughter laughingly told me that a gentleman at a nearby table on the pool deck of the Lido lost his entire pizza slice when a plump seagull swooped down to his table and carried the pizza away.   The guilty gull returned a little later (as evidenced by the streak of tomato sauce on his beak). STATEROOM We went to check on our stateroom at about 1:10 and it was ready for us.   It was a superior verandah suite, Cat SA, and was spacious, well furnished, and very nicely laid out.   The verandah was a ‘double width” and therefore featured two comfortable faux wicker chairs with ottomans, and a round table with 4 chairs.   We found during our week on board that we had more storage space than we honestly knew what to do with.    A nice problem to have!   We had 2 closets each (one a hanging closet, the other with shelves) and plenty of drawers, cupboards, and other places to stash stuff.  Our stateroom had several electrical outlets which was handy for recharging all that electronic gear that invariably follows us around these days. We enjoyed and took advantage of the “free” laundry service that Holland America offers to suite guests.    Since we had already been traveling for 7 days when we boarded the ship, it wasn’t long before we were able to fill a laundry bag and each time we did so, the clean clothes were returned to our suite the following day. Our Stateroom Attendant seemed very capable, made us lovely towel animals, and generally was unobtrusive.   My teenage daughter has a tendency to “sleep in” during her summer vacation which meant that T couldn’t tidy the stateroom until late morning but he had others available to him much earlier and I think learned to save us until last. DINING We originally requested early seating, small table, but about 2 months prior to sailing I re-thought that because some of our excursions were in the late afternoon and would interfere with an early seating time.   I think the early seating request was a leftover from the years when my children were younger but they can easily wait until 8 p.m. now.   Our travel agent made the request for a change to main seating and was told we would be wait-listed. Upon check-in at the pier, we were given our cruise cards and they showed main seating, 8:15 p.m. so we were quite happy with that.  Interestingly, on the first evening we showed our cards as we entered the dining room, were shown to our table and drink orders taken.  Notably, our waiter did not introduce himself or his assistant and already I had the sense that he felt rushed and somehow not on top of his game. I was sipping my wine when our waiter informed us we were at “the wrong table”.  I replied that this was the table to which we were directed when we presented our card upon entering the dining room.   But the problem was, we were supposed to be at Table 195 and this was NOT Table 195..   After a bit of a shuffle, we relocated to the REAL #195 which was a table for 6 with 3 passengers already seated, a couple (perhaps 70-ish) traveling with their 13 year old grandson.   They were pleasant to visit with so we were happy enough with the change.  However, I have never experienced such poor co-ordination between waiter and assistant in any cruise ship dining room as we saw between the two gentleman who were looking after us.    It was almost comical but it was not prompt nor particularly professional.   There was a noticeable lag between each course, my entrée was incorrect (entirely the wrong dish) and when it was replaced, the replacement (salmon) was nearly raw.   The second evening, the formal Gala night, our table mates did not show up.   Again the service seemed haphazard with the waiter doing almost everything and hardly a sign of the assistant waiter.    Not only was this dramatically different than our previous Holland America dining room experiences, but it was way below the standard of any cruise ship on which we’ve sailed.  On Holland America ships, the assistant is shared between two waiters and it occurred to us that perhaps  the second waiter was using up more than his share of time.  Ever since an experience a few years ago when our companions at a table for 6 only showed up about half the time, we have learned it works better for us to request a small table and fill it than be 3 at a table for 6 which is just an awkward arrangement.     The second evening near the end of the meal, the Assistant Dining Room manager came by to ask if everything was OK.    I mentioned to him that our dinner companions had not put in an appearance and asked whether they had requested a change of seating.  It occurred to me they might have done so because I think they felt the lateness of the seating might not be the best thing for their 13 year old grandson. Sure enough, they had requested a somewhat earlier seating and so we would not have them with us again.  On that basis, I asked for a change to a small table for the balance of the cruise.    He returned half an hour later with a small card indicating a change of table for the following evening. Our new table was in an adjacent section, only a few feet away, but this made a big difference to us because it brought us Wayan as our waiter and Evan as his assistant.     Our dining experience onboard Zuiderdam took a full 180o turn for the better from that moment on!    Wayan was a superb server, friendly, professional, engaging, and with great suggestions about which items on the menu were really “the good stuff”.     Once again we felt we were onboard a Holland America ship and decided to consider table #195 as just a blip on an otherwise flawless radar screen. The food was generally quite good and with enough choices to always find something satisfying.     It wasn’t “quite” the dining experience we had on Celebrity a year ago but certainly as enjoyable as other Holland America sailings. A couple of years ago when I reviewed our cruise on the new “Westerdam”, I commented that the breakfast buffet in the Lido required getting used to because things were scattered around quite a bit.   For example, you do not get your custom cooked eggs at the omelet station but rather in the same line up as the general breakfast buffet.    Many people seemed confused by this, walking up to the omelet chef to ask for “2 eggs over easy”.   Couldn’t be done. The Lido is designed predominantly as a cafeteria where you carry the tray and they serve up the food.    Only the salad bar is self-service.   This means that it can take a bit of discussion to get the right combination of items on your plate but the staff are generally very accommodating and will try to get things to your satisfaction.    If you do not want to carry your tray to  a table (or are unable to do so) there always seems to be a staff member more than ready to take it from you and look after things.  CONCIERGE / NEPTUNE LOUNGE We had a Concierge Class suite but to be honest I wasn’t sure we would be able to make much use of the concierge lounge (Neptune Lounge).     We sailed on Adventure of the Seas at New Year’s and my daughter was not permitted to enter the lounge because she was younger than 18 years.     The first day on the ship I went to the lounge to introduce myself to the Concierges (January and Carlo) and asked whether my daughter would be able to enter.   They said “absolutely”.  I think the difference was that no alcohol was served in this lounge; on Adventure of the Seas there was a bar in the Concierge lounge. The Neptune lounge proved very useful to all of us but especially to  my daughter who tends to be a “grazer”, foraging for bits of food at odd times during the day.   She is quite slim and can afford those extra delicacies!    The Neptune always had a variety of small chilled items available, canapés, fruit trays, veggie trays, pastries, and the like as well as an assortment of juices, tea, and coffee.   My daughter was probably their most frequent visitor and this proved to be a very useful amenity for us On the other hand, I did find the Concierge on board Adventure of the Seas (an RCI ship) more useful to me personally, because she sent me an e-mail about one week before our sail date to offer her services in a variety of ways. Because of that communication with RCI’s concierge, I was able to book the reservation-only restaurant, spa appointments, and shore excursions via the Concierge well in advance of our arrival on the ship.   I didn’t have any advance contact with Zuiderdam’s concierge and consequently I looked after making my own appointments either before we boarded or immediately upon boarding. DEMOGRAPHICS I have to say that generally this was the “oldest” of the cruises we’ve taken.  That is not to say there were loads of senior seniors, but rather there were very few young people and especially teenagers relative to other cruises we’ve taken (including with Holland America).  My daughter went to explore the “teen program” a couple of times but returned to the cabin saying “there are only about 6 kids there, and they’re playing video games”.    They just didn’t seem to have an adequate supply of teens to get anything more interesting off the ground.   Maybe a few more teens came out of the woodwork later in the cruise, but my daughter gave up after tracking the teen program down for the first couple of days. Alaska is not so easy and the ports we visited were not easily accessible by any  means other than plane or boat.  There are no highways in or out of Juneau.   And Skagway is only connected by highway to one other city.   So cruising seems the logical option for accessibility.    Coupled with that, the best scenery was to be found on our “Scenic cruising” days and literally you would HAVE to be cruising to see the scenery.     Therefore, people who have not chosen to cruise to any other destination will probably cruise to Alaska if they go to Alaska at all.     PORTS AND EXCURSIONS Our itinerary for this cruise provided 3 ports of call:  Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan.   It also included 2 “scenic cruising” opportunities, Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay. TRACY ARM After one full day at sea, we arrived very early in the morning at the opening to Tracy Arm.     Tracy Arm is literally just that, an arm, and you cruise into it and then out of it again.  It doesn’t lead anywhere, but it provides some beautiful scenery and views, and was our first opportunity to view icebergs and a glacier.  We received a notice in our stateroom the evening before  we cruised into Tracy Arm, indicating that hot chocolate and warm raisin buns would be served on the bow at 7 a.m.     The poor servers were nearly knocked down by the stampede of people looking for hot chocolate.     Eventually everyone who wanted hot chocolate succeeded in getting one (and in some cases, several) and I think passengers used these mugs as much to warm their hands as to enjoy the hot and tasty beverage inside the mugs.  It was c-c-c-cold out there!     Many passengers were wearing ski jackets, hats, and gloves.   I took many dozens of photos that morning and in reviewing them, I was struck by how “cold” the water looked, the wispy streams of clouds in the valleys and across the mountain faces, and the sheer beauty of a couple of brilliantly blue icebergs that I captured as they floated past.   By late morning, we were working our way out of Tracy Arm again. JUNEAU The following morning we arrived at Juneau where the ship was anchored and we were tendered to shore.    Juneau looked quite interesting and I was eager to explore and do a little souvenir shopping.    First, though, we took off for our shore excursion  which was a visit to Mendenhall Glacier followed by a salmon bake. The Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Centre is located about 12 miles out of Juneau.   It was interesting to walk from the parking lot up to the visitor centre and see the “bear” caution signs along the way.    It was clear that bear sightings were not uncommon.     The nearby river was full of salmon and it seemed very likely that any time a bear could come down the river bank to scoop one up.  The Mendenhall Glacier is quite impressive, even from a bit of a distance.    We were not able to get right to the glacier but certainly close enough to take very good photographs.   The visitor centre was interesting and the 11 minute film did a good job of refreshing my rusty memory on Glacier creation and facts.   From the Glacier, we were taken by bus to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake.   This was truly an experience.    I cannot imagine how many pieces of salmon they grill per day over their alderwood fire, but they were clearly quite expert at it.  I have never, ever eaten better salmon!   After dinner we stretched our legs just a little with a short walk to a very pretty waterfall before boarding the bus which took us back to the port area.   We still had a few hours remaining in port, so we went shopping for a few souvenirs and bought a warm fall weight jacket for my son who hadn’t brought a jacket and had looked quite chilled on the bow of Zuiderdam in Tracy Arm the day before.   SKAGWAY There is no question that Skagway was our favorite port, and that is because of the two sensational excursions we enjoyed. Our first excursion of the day was the Helicopter tour to a Glacier.     This was an amazing experience for all three of us.    We began by being fitted with glacier boots (they go on right over your shoes) and safety vests.   We then had a safety briefing and then proceeded outdoors to wait in our groups at the assigned helicopter pad.    There were 6 helicopters and 6 pads, and they all came in together, one right behind the other, which was a very impressive sight. We had been advised of our seating positions in the helicopter (they have to balance the load by weight) so then it was a matter of getting into our seats, putting on the seatbelts, getting our headphones in place and settling in to enjoy the ride.  The pictures we took in flight will always remind us of this experience but it isn’t possible to capture the magnitude of the view in the frame of a photo.   We flew in and out of glacial valleys, through the low hanging clouds, above the glacier, alongside mountains, and it was absolutely beautiful.  When we landed, we were met by a glacier guide who provided additional safety information for walking on glaciers, handed out “walking sticks” to a few people who felt they would be beneficial, and then for 40 very informative and interesting minutes we walked on the glacier and learned as much as we could absorb.   Our 40 minutes were over all too soon and it was time for another wonderful 20 minute helicopter flight back to the heliport.    We flew over our ship, and Summit which was docked alongside, and felt that we’d just had the most exhilarating excursion of any of our cruises. That feeling lasted about 4 hours, until our second excursion of the day which in its own way was every bit as exciting. Our second excursion was to a Musher’s Camp for a summer sled experience and interaction with husky puppies.    Before the fact, I thought this would be something of a woodsy experience, seeing the “real” Alaska, and a bit of fun to interact with some playful pups. Goes to show what I know about Musher’s Camps! Oh, it was woodsy, “real”, and fun all right.    But it was NOTHING at all like the experience I had imagined. We started with our 1 mile summer sled run.    I do not use the word “run” lightly.   These dogs were NOT purebred Siberian huskies.  They weren’t purebred anything.  They were 50 pound racing “mutts”, bred for speed, endurance, and sheer desire to “go!”.    They had all of that and then some. When they took off, with 6 adult passengers and a musher in a summer sled (equipped with wheels instead of runners) it was probably 600 pounds of dog pulling 1500 pounds of human.  Didn’t matter.   We were pinned to the back of our seats by the sheer energy of these dogs the moment they were told to go. When not “going”, they seemed to divide into two groups.  First, those who lay on the ground waiting to hear the word “go” before springing into action and, second, those who stood in harness, vibrating like a Maserati at a red light, waiting to hear the word “go” and have their gears engaged. Wow!    There were lots of sharp turns, curves, and some serious drops along the side of the gravel road.   I called to the musher “do you have steering on this thing?”.     “I have a steering STICK!”, was the response. My suspicion is that a steering stick is nothing like the power steering on my car! This was the most exhilarating experience I had in Alaska and probably one of the most exhilarating experiences in my entire life.  I really had underestimated this one.   My heart was racing, I held on for dear life, I took some fantastically blurry pictures (which I love because they clearly delineate the speed and momentum and sheer vivaciousness of this experience), and at the end I felt that this had been a roller coaster.   Not, I might add,  a roller coaster built and supervised by engineers and other professionals who determine every tolerance and load.    This roller coaster was built by dogs and one human, the musher, and it was quite the ride. Would I do it again?   In a heartbeat. KETCHIKAN We had booked a private Hummer tour at Ketchikan.   In hindsight, it was a little bit of a waste because Ketchikan was a bit like the other 2 ports and so there wasn’t a great deal to see that we hadn’t seen already in a similar fashion.   Probably the most interesting area was Creek Street, which is an easy walk from the pier.   We did travel with our Hummer driver to see local scenery, salmon spawning, a bald eagle pair, with a stop for a very tasty salmon dip snack along the way. But the most memorable thing about Ketchikan was “Dolly’s House”, the infamous local bordello from the days when these ‘houses’ were legal in Ketchikan .   Dolly was clearly an entrepreneur ahead of her time, a woman who marched to her own drummer and knew exactly how to get ahead in a male-dominated society.   Upon her death, she donated her house to the town, complete with décor, gadgets and gizmos and resplendent with outlandish décor. In hindsight, I wish we had booked no excursions for Ketchikan and simply spent all of our time in the Creek Street area.  If this was the first port on our itinerary, it would have been much more worth the exploration.    As the last port, it was just a bit too “been there, done that” with the exception of this one historic and very cute street with a few artsy shops and generally just a very pretty area to walk around. It has been 2 months since we left Alaska and came home to the height of summer.    When I think of Alaska now, the scenes that spring to my mind are the absolutely indescribably magnificent scenery (especially Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay), the helicopter flight to the glacier and the musher’s camp. This was a wonderful trip, a wonderful cruise.    Between the 3 of us we must have taken at least 1,000 photos.   Choosing my favourite 50 would be no easy task.   The Zuiderdam and its staff really provided a comfortable, warm, hospitable backdrop to an experience that is truly incredible and that even 1,000 photographs can only begin to hint at.      

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Dec 30, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

This was our fourth family cruise in the past five years. Last year we made a New Year’s resolution to spend every New Year’s Eve at sea on a family cruise. We are now on our third cruise line having previously tried and enjoyed Carnival (Paradise) and Royal Caribbean (Navigator of the Seas). Now that we have several cruise experiences to compare, I find that every ship has its own strengths and weaknesses. I would probably call the

Zuiderdam the best cruise (so far), but like all the others there are things that are memorable and things we would just as soon forget. Booking I used the HAL website and called the direct HAL reservation number. I seemed to get all the information from the website that a travel agent would provide, including the location, category and cost for each specific cabin that was available. The HAL operator was friendly and helpful. He even gave us a discount for being repeat customers of Carnival (which apparently also owns HAL). I have now booked cruises with and without the assistance of a travel agent, and can’t tell any difference. Since we drive to the port, the arrangements do not include airfare, hotels and shuttles which makes the whole thing a lot simpler. Embarkation What went well: 1) convenient baggage drop - I drove up to the terminal and parked the car just a few feet away. There was plenty of room and we could take as much time as we needed to unload the trunk and organize our stuff. With five people, this is a big deal. Also, covered parking was just steps away. Better than Miami, IMO. 2) short lines - I mean really short. Zuiderdam is the smallest ship we’ve sailed in terms of passenger capacity and one place where it’s very noticeable is at check-in. Virtually every service (registration, security, photo) was ready as soon as we walked up. Not so well: 1) HAL terminal greeters - my family was treated like they were in the way during the registration despite the fact that each one of them has to personally present themselves to the registration agent to verify their identification. In my view, the problem was not that they were in the way, but that HAL didn’t really provide enough space to handle a five-person family registration. Not a big deal, but not the best first impression for a line known for its hospitality and service. 2) HAL on-board greeters - strangely, there was really no noticeable welcome as we first walked onto the ship. This probably sticks out because RCCL does this so well. Last year, the RCCL staff was dressed to the nines, pouring champagne, passing out goodies, etc. This may be unique to the New Year’s cruise, but this was HAL’s New Year’s cruise too. The Ship What went well: 1) staterooms - the best we have seen so far. Very big, particularly in the bathrooms which have a shower and a tub. Our cabin steward removed the divider between our balconies so we each had extra lounging space. Also, the new beds are the best I have ever slept on at sea. We also had bathrobes and towels without the threat of being charged $20 if they are lost on board (a pet peeve I have against Carnival and RCCL). 2) Zuiderdam Culinary Center - very cool and unique. A stage set in the Queen’s Lounge for live cooking demonstrations during the cruise (more on this below). Large TV monitors frame the stage and overhead cameras can zoom and pan around the work area as the chef moves from place to place. It felt like being on the set of a Food Network show. 3) The gym - high quality workout equipment, all relatively new and in excellent working condition. 4) Lido Pool - it has a retractable roof which can be quickly opened or closed depending on the weather. Also, the pool is a fresh water pool - a first for us. 5) External Glass Elevators - again a very clever and innovative idea. When the elevator drops below about the third deck the glass exterior gives way to painted panels of underwater scenes. 6) Cigar room - very quiet and comfortable. Excellent bar service and good ventilation. Not tucked away in some remote corner, but on deck 10 next to a popular lounge. Not so well: 1) Zuiderdam’s promenade - pales in comparison to other ships. Meandering and narrow, it splits in multiple directions and dissolves into other spaces (like the casino) without helpful signage. I wouldn’t call it a true promenade. Even after 7 days on the ship it was still confusing to use. 2) Atrium - small, uninspiring. I think the atrium and the promenade were sacrificed by the ship’s designers to make other spaces bigger. Probably a fair trade, but a visual and aesthetic disappointment. The Food What went well: 1) Main Dining - excellent variety and creativity in the dishes. In combination, our family has a lot of food allergies to deal with, but we had no trouble finding enough on the menu to satisfy everyone. The best tasting food of any cruise we have been on. The highlight was the desserts. It was not at all uncommon for us to have 8-10 dessert plates on our table. 2) Pinnacle Grill - noticeably upscale dishes in comparison to the Main Dining Room. Intended for the adventurous and open minded. Very creative dishes and flashy presentations (the wife’s Flambé burned for several minutes before she could start eating it). It succeeds admirably. If you’re just looking for a thicker steak, it’s there too. Also, the Pinnacle is beautifully decorated and, when in a port, excellent views are available out the windows. 3) Lido deck food - again delicious and bountiful. I only ate there for breakfast which was an absolute feast every morning. There are many stations where the staff will cook a hot dish to order, including omelet's, waffles, French toast, fried eggs, ham steaks, etc. The rest of the family says the all day taco bar was the highlight of the Lido food and should be mandatory on all ships. No so well: nothing really. My only comment here is that I do not understand why every cruise ship makes such a big fuss about baked Alaska. The Zuiderdam had the best baked Alaska of all the ships we’ve been on (Carnival - blecch), but no other dessert was available and we preferred the variety of a full dessert menu.   The Service What went well: 1) cabin stewards - the best. Always working, but never in our way. Unbelievably responsive and often anticipated our needs. The kids’ cabin got service that was every bit as good, if not better. I was quite impressed. No so well: 1) wine steward - a pretty big disappointment given how much I had heard about the dining room staff in other reviews. Despite the fact that we ordered a bottle of wine every night, I had to repeatedly ask our “waiter” to find the wine steward and send him to our table. Often we would not see the wine until after food had been served. 2) table steward - Our waiter was also not as attentive as I would have expected. I doubt he ever learned our names or knew any of our preferences despite the fact that the whole family ate in the dining room every night (except one night for the wife and I at the Pinnacle). Nothing terrible happened, but service was often slow and frequently the orders were confused. I hope he was just having a bad week. It was a huge contrast to our prior RCCL cruise where we loved our table steward. On the other hand, we were pleased that there was less of that goofy serenading and dancing than the other cruise lines. On-Board Activities What went well: 1) Dancing - the wife and I enjoy ballroom style dancing and the Zuiderdam provided a great five piece band (C-Winds) and a couple fine dancing spaces. The band played most nights from about 6:00 pm to midnight. The dance floor was often full of ballroom dancers and the atmosphere was just very friendly and open. The band leader even let a few of the guests take the mike for an occasional song (including the wife). If you have any interest in ballroom dancing, this is your ship. 2) Culinary Classes - Zuiderdam’s executive chef taught two 90 minute classes in the Culinary Institute. What a blast! Three dishes were made each time and recipe cards were passed out to all the attendees. The cruise director hosted a playful and often hilarious Q/A session while Chef Raymond walked us through the preparation of each dish. At the end of each show, some servers came out with samples of the dishes, many of which were also being served at the Pinnacle Grill. Seats went quickly for each session, so get there early if you’re interested. Not so well: 1) Aerobics - the fitness classes (as opposed to the toning or yoga classes) were only offered at very unusual times like 7:00am. One was cancelled even though the wife got up early to attend. It seemed like the spa ladies didn’t want to tech the classes at all and were trying to find a way to avoid the work. Later we discovered why - neither of the “instructors” had any clue about how to lead an aerobics class. 2) Show Staff (Dancers and Singers) - As background, let me mention that we are big city people (Chicago) who often see professional shows and musicians. We are undoubtedly spoiled to some degree by the opportunities available to us on a regular basis where we live. Still, I thought the performers were almost universally poor with the exception of the magician. I would say that most small colleges provide a similar level of talent. Too many young female singers sacrifice both pitch and tone for style and theatrics, and this group was no exception. Our Fellow Passengers I am not exaggerating when I say that the average age of the Zuiderdam cruiser is about 68. One night in the casino I played blackjack with a man who was 97. Another player was 82 (we called him “junior”). We didn’t see a lot of people our age (low to mid 40s) or our kids’ ages. Still, there were enough young people on board for our 13 year old to make friends and have a group of kids (about a dozen tweens) to hang out with. I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this except that it is very noticeable. Ports and Excursions What went well: 1) Half Moon Cay - this is HAL’s private island. Normally, I resist these places, preferring destinations that have local color and “real” social structure. But I have to admit that Half Moon Cay was beautiful and relaxing. It had everything you could possibly want without any crowds or hassles. Our 18 year olds sailed their own 12 foot Hobie, the others had a horseback riding excursion (on land and in the sea). I just sat on the beach with some of the softest sand I have ever seen. 2) St. Thomas - we love it for shopping. Even though it is getting harder to spot jewelry bargains, we have recently noticed that the perfumes are an absolute steal here. The wife’s hard to find fragrance was at least 50% cheaper here than at home. 3) Nassau - if you like history, the Pirate Museum is a must see. It doesn’t get as much publicity as it should. It has a Disney style presentation including a very entertaining pirate greeter at the entrance. Your kids will love him - and the museum. Only $12, two blocks off the main shopping street (near the Haagen-Daas store). It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to slowly work through the exhibits. Not so well: 1) Tortola - billed as unusually warm and friendly, it was the opposite. Also boring, and shops were a little on the pricey side. Maybe three years from now it will be better. I saw a lot of new construction. 2) Dolphin swim on Tortola - If you want the dolphin swim, do it at Nassua, not Tortola. You get better service and more interaction with the dolphins. 3) U.S. Customs at St. Thomas - miserable. Every single passenger on the ship had to be awake (at 8:00 am) and presented to US Customs officials in the Queens Lounge (with passport) before any passenger could disembark. It’s stupid and accomplishes nothing in terms of added security. Of course it’s not HAL’s fault. Miscellaneous The weather was sunny and in the mid 80's most of the time. There was a 15 minute rain on St. Thomas and Tortola, otherwise the weather was beautiful. We had just one day with high winds and choppy seas. I was the only one in our group who needed a Bonine pill (which worked almost immediately). Tipping was the most low key we have ever seen. No tip lines on the bar bills, no little envelopes delivered to the cabin on the last night, no recommendation that you tip the dining room manager. Of course tipping is appreciated, but absolutely no one is pushy about it. A refreshing change. There is a weird “no-ironing in the stateroom” policy. Either you use the ship’s pressing service or you wear wrinkled clothes all week. Really, are travel irons that dangerous? Joel may have been the weakest cruise director we have seen. He was on the young side and obviously not yet comfortable with the position. Also, I don’t care much for cruise directors who demand a roar of approval from the crowd (Joel: I can’t hear you .. I said are you excited? Us : Rah.) If you want a group to be excited then do something to excite them; don’t berate them when they fail to give you a big cheer for doing nothing. Joel is not the only cruise director who does this, but it’s getting really old. Summary Yes - go and sail the Zuiderdam. It’s great. Rah ... no, make that WAHOO!!!      

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Dec 9, 2006

Western Caribbean

We sailed on the Zuiderdam from December 9 through 16, 2006, out of Fort Lauderdale, on a seven day eastern Caribbean itinerary. “We” consisted of another couple, my wife, and me. This was our 14th cruise, the other couple’s fifth or sixth, and first for all of us on Holland America. We’ve cruised multiple times on RCCL, Celebrity, and Princess, and once on Carnival. We were all a little apprehensive about going HA, given their

reputation for catering to an older crowd, but this proved to be no problem. It is true the passenger base is a little older, but that didn’t negatively affect anything. And, there were passengers of all ages, from babies on, with amenities and activities planned for all ages and interests. The ship was a little bit of a disappointment, just not quite as breathtakingly gorgeous as most of those we’ve been on before, but it was also one of the smallest ships we’ve been on, too. However, the ship was certainly beautiful, very well maintained and always immaculate, which can’t be said for some others. The food was excellent throughout, and we all really appreciated the multiple service area, specialized food court style instead of the usual buffet. This kept the food quality up and the lines down. I don’t know why they all don’t go to this concept for the casual dining. The rest of the food experience was superior as well. We ate twice in the extra cost, Pinnacle, dining room, and it was magnificent. I usually tend to avoid this sort of add-on, feeling that the regular dining room food is so good that the optional, extra cost dining is just not worth it. But this was definitely worth it. The service in the Pinnacle was as good as the best fine restaurant, and the food was to match. The quality of beef was as good as the finest steak house anywhere, and the seafood dishes were also first class. But, honestly, the food in the regular dining room was also good, there was certainly no need to go to the Pinnacle for relief. We only had dinners in the dining room, but all agreed that the food was a notch better than on any previous cruise. Most impressive! The crew on this ship seemed to be the happiest we’ve ever encountered, except maybe on the Tahitian Princess, and the most willing to help. We were always treated to a smile and a greeting, and really felt that they were glad to be there and to be helping us. None of us could come up with any negative criticism of any crew, or the service provided. The shows were the standard cruise ship stuff, but we were all quite impressed with the stage sets and quality of performers, particularly given the relatively small size of the ship and passenger list, which was just over 1800. We peeked in at a couple of shows we didn’t think sounded all that great, but wound up staying even for those. The cruise director’s staff was also excellent, very friendly, and warmly encouraging people to participate in the evening festivities in the night spots, and then trying to make sure everyone was having fun. We only went to a few of the bars “events”, but had a blast when we did. Everything showed a little extra thought and care. The only criticisms we could come up with, and we actually tried to be as critical as possible, as we consciously try to compare lines as we cruise, were the poolside music, and pool games. We love the steel drum, Caribbean type music on ships, as adding to the ambiance, but they had regular band and singer music, with mostly “oldies” music most of the time. And, there were not many pool games, which we always enjoy participating in, or at least watching. We agreed that these were pretty petty complaints, particularly in view of all the things we felt were better on this ship than others. Overall, we were very, very favorably impressed, and all agreed that we will be sailing Holland America again – without reservation. For me, HA may have just beaten out RCCL as my favorite.      

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Oct 27, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

We had a great time aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam! I have been on 6 cruises in the past. Three (3) on Royal Caribbean, Two (2) on Carnival, and one (1) on Holland America and this was by far the best! The service was unbeatable. Every crew member we encountered smiled and asked how our day was. Even if they didn’t mean it, they acted like they did. It’s the special touches that set HAL apart from other cruise lines. For

example, we received a complimentary HAL tote in our room the first night of our cruise. HAL provides after dinner mints, dates, ginger, etc as you leave the dining room. On hot days by the pool, they will serve ice cold water without being asked. At the end of your cruise each stateroom will receive a cruise log detailing the dates sailed the temperature and sea conditions and port of call. This makes a great scrap book keepsake! The ship is ugly inside. The furniture is very gaudy and over the top, but this was not that important to me. I could overlook the ugliness for all the other pleasant aspects of this ship. I loved the smaller size. The lido deck and other public areas never seemed too crowded. The food was the best I’ve had on any ship. One night, they served barbecue under the stars on Lido Deck and that was the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted! I was expecting the options to be limited to chicken and maybe hot dogs and hamburgers, but was pleasantly surprised to find pork chops, steak and ribs among the choices. The same type of barbecue was served on their private island Half Moon Cay the last day of our cruise. The comedian, Julie Barr, was hilarious! And family friendly too. They also had a very talented musician James Celian. The shows with the HAL dancers and singers were not up to par with other ships, however, it was still enjoyable. It seemed as if the stage was smaller and might have limited their choreography choices. We visited 4 great ports….Grand Turk, Tortola, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. Grand Turk is just now beginning to build up. There is a beautiful and huge swimming pool right off the pier at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. There is also a public beach located right off the pier. My family took the Dune Buggy excursion, but next time I think I will be just as happy hanging by the pool. It was very hot the day we visited. Tortola was the most beautiful of the 4 ports we visited. The water color was gorgeous as we pulled into the dock around 1:30pm. My family took the Virgin Gorda and the Baths excursion. I would highly recommend this excursion. The location is just breathtaking and we all had a great time climbing in and over the giant boulders that populate the area. It may be harder on older individuals as there is a lot of climbing and steps and I don’t believe the beach was handicap accessible. If you’re able to do it, go for it! I think you’ll love it as much as I did. St. Thomas was a bit commercial for me. This was the second time we visited this island. It’s well known for shopping, but everything seemed overpriced to me. My family took the Mini Boats and Hidden Beaches excursion. We drove in two person inflatable, motorized boats to a private island (Christmas Island) where we snorkeled and were able to see stingray in addition to a variety of fish. The boats were a lot of fun! The final port was HAL’s private island Half Moon Cay (pronounced Key). This island is visually stunning. The beach extends into a large crescent shape around the warm ocean waters. There were a lot of activities to keep you occupied, but I chose to just relax and float on the mat I rented for $9 a day. I also recommend renting a “clam shell” (also $9 a day) which is a large umbrella shaped like an open clam that provides you a place to relax in the shade. The beach had the softest sand I’ve ever encountered. It was very pleasant to walk in and this great sand extended all the way into the ocean. You could easily see straight to the bottom in the clear ocean water so there was no need to be scared of what you might step on. I really enjoyed this private island, but I prefer Labadee (Royal Caribbean’s private island) over this one. I enjoyed the shopping on Labadee (a Haitian market) to the shopping on Half Moon Key (supposedly a Bahamian Straw Market, but to me everything was way over priced.) All in all, this was a fabulous cruise! I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Hope you have as good an experience as I did. As I always say, there’s no vacation in the world like a cruise vacation!      

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Jun 9, 2006

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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May 26, 2006

Alaska

I had read many reviews of the HAL Zuiderdam. Ranging from very good to disgruntled. I decided to keep an open mind and not look for problems. My wife and I traveled from LAX to Vancouver one day prior to embarkation. We wanted to see some of Vancouver prior to the cruise. We booked a 3 1/2 hour tour of the city. The tour bus picked us up at our hotel, with our luggage, and showed us the sights of Vancouver. Stanley Park was the highlight

for us, nothing like it in LA. At the end of the tour, about 1:30 local time, we were deposited, along with our luggage at The Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal. As we proceeded through customs our luggage was boarded. Customs and HAL boarding took about thirty-five minutes. I would estimate about three-hundred people were going through the process as we were. Shortly after 2:00, we stepped onto the Zuiderdam for the first time. As we did, there was a Steward waiting to show us to our stateroom, which happened to be 6103 on the Upper Veranda Deck. I should stop at this point to mention something which I had read about in other reviews and which was one of the few drawbacks which continued for the entire cruise. Essentially, you are entering mid-ship, between the Atrium and the Queens Lounge, a passage I might add, you will travel many times to reach the Vista Dining Room or in the other direction, the Casino and the Vista Showroom. The distinct smell of sewage was in the air at all times. However, this was the only location it was ever noticeable. There was food available in the Lido Dining Room when we arrived. Which brings me to the second and last of my negative issues with HAL. Wherever, you go there are Cocktail Stewards ready to bring you whatever drink you wish. This in itself is terrific. On each occasion, you must hand over your Ship's ID, again, understandable, then comes the part which seem to be left over from the stone age. The steward writes out a hard copy receipt and you sign. I only had soft drinks and juices and still could paper a wall with the receipts. HAL should be able to swipe the card and achieve the same result. The receipts aren't necessary. The Zuiderdam Crew was great. I have only admiration for people who are at your beck and call and are always smiling an eager to please. Especially since most of them are far away from home and family for six months to a year at a time. Every inch of the passage was smooth and uneventful. The scenery cannot be adequately described, so, I will not try. It should be noted however, the entire trip was essentially a cruise through the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest, and almost all the way the forest was our guideline. The ship makes three stops. Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Plan your excursions well. Generally, there are one to three other ships in each port when you are and the streets and excursions can get crowded. We were booked for an excursion in each port and believe me the timing can get tight. At Ketchikan, we stepped directly on to our boat to the "Misty Fjiords", left immediately and returned twenty-five minutes prior to leaving port. So, plan your time well, because, the Zuiderdam arrives and leaves on time! There are many excursions available. My personal favorite was the Chilicoot Trail Walk just outside of Skagway. It is basically a two mile hike to the Taiya River and a raft float to the start point. Be sure to check the difficulty factor in the Excursion Handbook. In the first half mile, there is a 700 foot rise in elevation which could prove taxing on some people. The scenery is spectacular. You are in the middle of an old growth rain forest with dense vegetation and all the while you are walking the Trail the Prospectors took in 1898 to reach the "Golden Stairs" to the Klondike Gold Fields. Then it hits you, those guys had to make the 33 mile treck with 2,000 pounds of gear. I had to take a nap just thinking of that. The day after we left Skagway was devoted to Glacier Bay and cruising to Ketchikan. Awesome best describes the Glaciers and surrounding mountains. Margery Glacier put on quite a show for us. The crew brought the ship within a few hundred yards and during the hour we floated there, with our eyes glued to the ice, we had about eight or ten instances when large chunks broke away with thunderous roars and great splashes into the bay, each instance accompanied by "oohs" and "aahs "from the passengers. You just have to see it to believe it. The Vista Showroom turned out to be one of the highlights of our week aboard the Zuiderdam. The first night out, I was forced to go because my wife and the couple we were cruising with wanted to. Initially, the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers did nothing for me and I was sure I would never go again. Then, the comedian came on stage and I laughed for the next 30 minutes. The next night was to be entirely the Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers in a production called "Under the Boardwalk" I was not going to go. My wife asked that I give it one more chance and if I didn't like it she would leave me alone the rest of the Cruise. Reluctantly, I went. The show turned out to be a collection of favorite beach type tunes and was great. That sealed my fate, I went to all the rest of the shows and looked forward to doing so. My advice to anybody cruising to Alaska this year. Give the shows a chance. June 2nd, was my wife's birthday and we made reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. Food was excellent and the service first rate. All the while viewing the passing landscape of north western Canada. I have digressed from the review because I thought is was more important to attempt to relate the flavor of the cruise. It can be whatever you make it. The Zuiderdam generally has a crew of 800 and room for 1800 passengers. Fully 1/3 on our particular cruise were from Austrailia and New Zealand. Everywhere you went you could hear, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oui, Oui, Oui. We found them to be fun loving and engaging at all times. On two occasions I was taken aback because of my provincial thinking. My wife and I were in line to take a tour of the Galley. We were standing and speaking with two Aussie women, when, one of them said to me, "You don't have much of and accent, for an American". My mouth must have been hanging open because in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would hear that from an Australian. On another occasion, I was in the Casino and another Aussie turned to her mate and said, "I can't get used to this American money, it's all the same color". We docked at precisely 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and were off by 9:00 a.m. We took the HAL bus to the airport. We had a 5:00 p.m. flight scheduled back to LA. Bad move. Because we wanted to leave plenty of time for debarkation and travel, we got to the airport at 10:00 a.m. and were unable to change our flight. So, my advice to you is, HAL is always on time, plan accordingly.  

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Apr 7, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

We had a wonderful time on this cruise with the exception of some disappointments with the shore excursion personnel on-board. The food was great. A variety of appetizers, entrees and deserts were available in both the Lido buffet and the main dining room. We were blessed with four other friendly, interesting dinner companions at our table for six. We all got along so well that we also spoke and laughed while doing shore excursions and

resting around the pool. Food presentation was beautiful and portions were more than enough to satisfy. Food service staff was impeccable. Everyone needs to make a point to go to the Lido buffet and meet L. Hunky Dory. AKA “Hi, I’m Hunky Dory”. It was said that he had memorized about 1740 of the over 1860 guests names, and I don’t doubt it, as I never saw him corrected after greeting everyone by name. Phenomenal memory and a wonderful personality. Our room steward Rante kept our room in tip-top shape, even straightening my wife’s cosmetics on Formal night while we were at dinner. We really loved the towel animal menagerie too. Entertainment was top-notch including an Elton John tribute piano player who is also an accomplished guitarist, a marvelous illusionist and one of the funniest comedians I’ve seen in years. Especially nice, was the Indonesian crew show of native song, dance and story-telling. The only disappointing moments came when we were told on-board that the Aqua Trax excursion at Half Moon Cay was full. When we got off the tender (without our drivers licenses, since we were told no vacancies existed) we saw that there were indeed vacancies, but the time involved in taking a tender back to the boat for licenses precluded us from taking that excursion. After a truly wonderful, shop and beach excursion on St. Thomas, we were again disappointed in the Dolphin Encounter excursion on Tortola. We checked for vacancies for the Dolphin Swim every day on board the ship. We were on the waiting list for the swim in case there were any cancellations. We found out after boarding the bus to the Encounter that the Ship had scheduled another swim for 3pm that afternoon, but they never notified the people on the waiting list. That sort of customer service oversight is clearly unacceptable in a customer service business. When we reached the Encounter, we were sat under yellow and white canopies in front of two televisions in the bright sunlight to watch the familiarization video. One tv was in English and one was in French. Between the glare from the sun and canopies and the two languages, very little of the video was seen or heard clearly. Our Encounter group, sadly, spent two hours standing in waist deep water on two different platforms, while three different trainers tried to get four different dolphins to work. While I completely understand that you can’t force the dolphins to work, I understand that they could have taken us to a different pen with working dolphins, but they didn’t bother to do that. The last trainer basically ended up in the water pushing the dolphin to the platform so that people could get their dolphin “Kiss”. We got none of the dolphin touching time that the other groups got. Both the encounter people and the Holland America staff felt we were compensated by giving us a free picture of the dolphin “kiss”, while Holland America still hasn’t addressed the issue of why people on the waiting list were never notified of the additional “swim”. Our greatest luxury on this cruise was the week long pass to the hydrotherapy pool. Absolutely worth the price. Provides great relief for all your aches and pains. And the spa staff are as cheerful and helpful as one could want. Overall, I’d cruise this ship again, but I’d make my own arrangements with the island folks for my shore excursions.

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Apr 1, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

On April 1, 2006 the ship left Ft. Lauderdale for a 7 day cruise. My cabin was 7007. The Zuiderdam did not seem as new or clean as I was expecting. On the fourth morning of the cruise, I awoke to discover two welts on my right forearm. On the following two mornings, I found two more welts on my left arm when I awoke. These welts festered with each passing day and were very irritated. The area surrounding was red and swollen. I complained

to a woman at the front desk on the third day that I suspected my cabin had bed bugs, showed her the welts, and requested a new mattress and pillows. I did not watch to see if anyone actually removed the mattress and/or pillows although the front desk instructed the cabin steward to do so. I visited the ship dispensary and was seen by a male nurse who said they had never had bed bugs on that ship. His attitude was hostile. He called my individual welts a “rash” and also suggested I might have shingles. I have never had shingles. I thought a “rash” meant more than one welt in an area. I didn’t expect an honest diagnosis from the ship dispensary but I wanted the appearance of welts documented. On the following morning, (the last day of the cruise) I had five more welts on four fingers of my left hand. These welts were extremely uncomfortable and got worse with each passing day. (larger, more swollen, red, irritating, pus) While driving home later that day, I stopped at a hospital emergency room in Port Charlotte, FL and was diagnosed with “acute soft tissue infection with possible allergic reaction” and given a 7-day prescription for an antibiotic. Upon arriving home, I did not unload our luggage from the car into the house. Instead, I systematically washed in hot soapy water with bleach, or vacuumed, anything that might harbor bed bugs or came in contact with the beds on the ship. So far, I have had no new bites since leaving the ship. Also, upon arriving home visited my regular doctor who ordered, in addition to the antibiotic, tetanus and steroid shots. (for inflamation) He said he has seen bed bug bites before, but never a reaction so severe as mine. I am sorry to think that this week there are more unsuspecting passengers sleeping on the beds in cabin 7007.

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Apr 1, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

The April 1, 2006 cruise was the only cruise I have ever taken. My cabin was 7007. The Zuiderdam did not seem as new or clean as I was expecting. On the fourth morning of the cruise, I awoke to discover two welts on my right forearm. On the following two mornings, I found two more welts on my left arm when I awoke. These welts festered with each passing day and were very irritated. The area surrounding was red and swollen. I complained

to a woman at the front desk on the third day that I suspected my cabin had bed bugs, showed her the welts, and requested a new mattress and pillows. She was sympathetic and helpful. I did not watch to see if anyone actually removed the mattress and/or pillows although the front desk instructed the cabin steward to do so. I visited the ship dispensary and was seen by a male nurse who said they had never had bed bugs on that ship. His attitude was hostile. He called my individual welts a “rash” and also suggested I might have shingles. I have never had shingles. I thought a “rash” meant more than one welt in an area. I didn’t expect an honest diagnosis from the ship dispensary but I wanted the appearance of welts documented. On the following morning, (the last day of the cruise) I had five more welts on four fingers of my left hand. These welts were extremely uncomfortable and got worse with each passing day. (larger, more swollen, red, irritating, pus) While driving home later that day, I stopped at a hospital emergency room in Port Charlotte, FL and was diagnosed with “acute soft tissue infection with possible allergic reaction” and given a 7-day prescription for an antibiotic. We have not unloaded our luggage from the car into the house. Instead, we are systematically washing, in hot soapy water with bleach, anything that might harbor bed bugs or came in contact with the beds on the ship. So far, I have had no new bites since leaving the ship. What is most horrifying to me is to think that this week there are more unsuspecting passengers sleeping on the beds in cabin 7007.

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Jan 7, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

Until this cruise, Holland America was our favorite line. The Zuiderdam's decor is GAUDY - garish colors in a retro/art-deco kind of motif. This was certainly one the most UN-classy ships on which we have sailed. Whomever designed the cabin reading light should be shot....it is located ON the headboard of the bed (NOT above)...so whenever you prop up the pillows to read the light is covered completely. The only way to read at night

is with the overhead lights on, which makes it very annoying for anyone else trying to sleep! Unbelievably, the ship ran out of the following foods: On the 5th day of the cruise the ENTIRE ship ran out of lemonade; on the 5th day the ENTIRE ship ran out of limes; on the 4th day the dining room ran out of Pinot Grigio wine; on the 6th day the Lido ran out of sugar; went to the grill for nachos and they were out of cheese sauce. The Mariner's party (get-together for past Holland Am. passengers) was at 11:45 AM - not a 5pm cocktail party like every other cruise line we had been on. The AC went out in our cabin one afternoon and was not repaired until 2AM the next morning (they did supply a fan, but it was still very HOT). The dining room is very noisy, especially since it is on a lower deck directly over the engines. The service was good - our room steward was great. I didn't think that the food was up to normal Holland Am. standards - good but not excellent like other cruises. I would not recommend this ship to others.  

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Jan 7, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

I have sailed on 32 different cruises on many cruise lines. This was my first Holland America Cruise. Check in Check in was great. The check in was flawless and quick. Once aboard we had to wait until cabin was ready at approx 1:30. If you want to go straight to cabin you might want to wait until 1:30 to board the ship. Otherwise you have to go to a public area with your carry on baggage. Baggage arrived quickly to the stateroom.

FOOD The food was pretty good. The Lido deck food was the usual food served during the day. Breakfast was ok and if you are in a hurry forget the omelet line as it takes forever. The other breakfast items are just sort of plain old standard fare. Lunches are also sort of plain standard food. Dinner in the dining room was very good and the service there was excellent. We had dinner in the Pinnacle Grill and the food there was GREAT! There is a $20 per person charge for the Pinnacle, but it was worth it! ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment was the best I have ever seen on any cruise! It starts with the Cruise Director Eric Powis. He was the most friendly cruise director we have ever had. We saw him several times during the cruise on deck and even once while we were ashore. He gave us very good advice on shore excursions. His staff also was great in organizing activities and stuck with it one night when it was very windy on deck. There was a comedian on board Julie Barr who was wonderful and funny. The had a Magician James Sielan who was very good as well. There was an Elton John impersonator Joel Mason who was very very good! The Zuiderdam Cast of Singers and Dancers were the best I have ever seen. I have seem over 60 Cruise cast shows on Cruise ships and this was the BEST! The singers Sara Bauer (lead female singer) and Christian (lead male singer) were a perfect couple! They had unbelievable voices and stage presence. The two other singers were also wonderful and a perfect compliment to the lead singers. The cast dancers also were the best I have seen on a cruise ship. They even performed on a night that the seas were very rough and you could not even tell, as they were flawless. Anyone who likes shipboard entertainment will love this group of people. Casino The casino was the standard ship casino. There was nothing special about it. It was nice and had the standard slot machines and table games. Shops The shops aboard are very nice and prices are pretty good as well. PORTS OF CALL Holland America Island-very nice beach day. Great beach and lunch on the island was very nice. St Thomas-Nice American island with tons of tourist shopping. If shopping is not your thing go up the mountain in the ski lift type car. Its $16 but really worth it. The food at the top is very good with bar type food. Very fun and great views. TOTILLA-very nice island. Defiantly go to PUSSERS (ask and they will tell you where it is and you can walk from ship FREE). They have great wings with a great honey sauce. Nassau-lots of junkie tourist shopping. Best part of island was Starbucks with rooftop views of the ships. If you have any questions about this cruise or ship please email me.  

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Dec 22, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I are in our middle aged and retired we have traveled 5 times prior to this cruise. All of our cruise experience has been with Holland America and we have been well satisfied with each and every cruise. This cruise was a Holland American Christmas Cruise, departing from Ft. Lauderdale on December 22 and returning on December 30. The ship was the Zuiderdam. This ship is one of the new vista class ships it is a 85, 000 ton

ship and was larger than the 55,000 to 60,000 ton Hal Ships we normally cruise. This cruise was an Eastern Caribbean cruise. The ports of call were Half Moon Cay, La Romana, Dominican Republic, Philipsburg St. Maarten, Tortola, BVI, and Nassau. We arrived at port around 11:30 and checking in went smoothly. We were pleasantly surprised when we reached the ticket counter and discovered that we had been upgraded from an L class inside room to a D class outside room. Our room was on upper promenade deck so much of the time our view was partially obstructed by a life boat however you still could see out and had a partial view. Our shore excursions were previously booked on line and this is truly the way to go. After throwing a few things in our room which was very clean. One good thing was the air conditioning worked very well and the beds were wonderful with plenty of storage underneath the beds. We then went to lunch at the Lido of course I treated myself to a bowl of bread pudding with Hal’s special sauce. It was wonderful. That evening in the main dining room we enjoyed a delicious prime rib with baked potato and sour cream. All of our meals in the dining room were very good. I did however notice that since they are serving probably close to a third more people the service between courses is perhaps a little slower than it is on the smaller ships. You can sit there and gripe about it or you can take the time to relate to your dinner mates. The choice is yours. On night two we ate at the pinnacle grill. The meal did have a $20.00 per person add on fee but the service and the quality of the meal was absolutely superb. It was well worth the extra few bucks for something special. We found all the entertainment on the cruise very enjoyable. I really enjoyed the young dance kids. They did an outstanding show. I have to say however one of the highlights of the cruise for me was the international crew Christmas Carol Choir. They were broken up between the English Speaking Choir who consisted of mainly ship officers, The Pilipino Choir and the Indonesian Choir. While many of the selections were of a non religious nature, most selections celebrated the birth and life of Christ. Prior to the performance the Capitan of the Ship gave a wonderful reading in the spirit of Christmas. I was so proud of the event it brought tears to my eyes. After the choir service there was a midnight Mass for Catholics and a midnight service for Protestants. The Excursions: On Friday we spent the day on Half Moon Cay, this is always a highlight of a Caribbean Cruise for us as it is a day of rest and of playing in the crystal clear water. I love to snorkel near the rocks for many beautiful fish can be found there. The Hal also provides a very nice lunch for us on the beach. On Christmas day we docked in La Romana. Because of the Holiday here wasn’t much going on. The excursion schedule was limited which was understandable. I do think that La Romana needs to upgrade its facilities if it ever expects to be a port of favor. On Monday the Ship Docked at St. Maarten. I chose to do the golden eagle catamaran This was extremely fun the drinks flowed freely and the music was great. It was as absolutely wonderful experience. On Tuesday I went to the Gorda Baths. This is perhaps one of the most wonderful beach /snorkel sites I have ever seen. One thing different though is Holland America excursion contractor does not provide the snorkel equipment as they normally do. You have to rent the stuff at the beach and the line is long and the deposits and fees are high. You could spend most of your snorkel time standing in line. It’s a bad deal and a better arrangement could be made. It would be better if the excursion charged for the mask snorkel and fins as a add on to the cost of the excursion. I will never go on another Hal snorkel expedition where equipment is not provided and has to be rented. Thursday was in Nassau. Here I went on the Seahorse Catamaran the boat was similar in size to the Golden Eagle but that is where all similarity stopped. The boat was understaffed, the crew was not friendly, the music sucked and the drinks certainly were not as good as on the Golden Eagle. they made no effort to take us to a snorkeling site which was some what out of the wind. In Summary, we really enjoy our Cruise. The food was wonderful, the ship was clean and the staff did there very best to make it a wonderful experience. What more could you ask for.  

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Dec 22, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I are in our middle aged and retired we have traveled 5 times prior to this cruise. All of our cruise experience has been with Holland America and we have been well satisfied with each and every cruise. This cruise was a Holland American Christmas Cruise, departing from Ft. Lauderdale on December 22 and returning on December 30. The ship was the Zuiderdam. This ship is one of the new vista class ships it is a 85, 000 ton

ship and was larger than the 55,000 to 60,000 ton Hal Ships we normally cruise. This cruise was an Eastern Caribbean cruise. The ports of call were Half Moon Cay, La Romana, Dominican Republic, Philipsburg St. Maarten, Tortola, BVI, and Nassau. We arrived at port around 11:30 and checking in went smoothly. We were pleasantly surprised when we reached the ticket counter and discovered that we had been upgraded from an L class inside room to a D class outside room. Our shore excursions were previously booked on line and this is truly the way to go. After throwing a few things in our room which was very clean. One good thing was the air conditioning worked very well and the beds were wonderful with plenty of storage underneath the beds. We then went to lunch at the Lido of course I treated myself to a bowl of bread pudding with their special sauce. It was wonderful. That evening in the main dining room we enjoyed a delicious prime rib with baked potato and sour cream. All of our meals in the dining room were very good. I did however notice that since they are serving probably close to a third more people the service between courses is perhaps a little slower than it is on the smaller ships. You can sit there and gripe about it or you can take the time to relate to your dinner mates. The choice is yours. On night two we ate at the pinnacle grill. The meal did have a $20.00 per person add on fee but the service and the quality of the meal was absolutely superb. It was well worth the extra few bucks for something special. We found all the entertainment on the cruise very enjoyable. I really enjoyed the young dance kids. They did an outstanding show. I have to say however one of the highlights of the cruise for me was the international crew Christmas Carol Choir. They were broken up between the English Speaking Choir who consisted of mainly ship officers, The Pilipino Choir and the Indonesian Choir. While many of the selections were of a non religious nature, most selections celebrated the birth and life of Christ. Prior to the performance the Capitan of the Ship gave a wonderful reading in the spirit of Christmas. I was so proud of the event it brought tears to my eyes. After the choir service there was a midnight Mass for Catholics and a midnight service for Protestants. The Excursions: On Friday we spent the day on Half Moon Cay, this is always a highlight of a Caribbean Cruise for us as it is a day of rest and of playing in the crystal clear water. I love to snorkel near the rocks for many beautiful fish can be found there. The Hal also provides a very nice lunch for us on the beach. On Christmas day we docked in La Romana. Because of the Holliday there wasn’t much going on. The excursion schedule was limited which was understandable. I do think that La Romana needs to upgrade its facilities if it ever expects to be a port of favor. On Monday the Ship Docked at St. Maarten. I chose to do the golden eagle catamaran This was extremely fun the drinks flowed freely and the music was great. It was as absolutely wonderful experience. On Tuesday I went to the Gorda Baths. This is perhaps one of the most wonderful beach /snorkel sites I have ever seen. One thing different though is Holland America excursion contractor does not provide the snorkel equipment as they normally do. You have to rent the stuff at the beach and the line is long and the deposits and fees are high. You could spend most of your snorkel time standing in line. It’s a bad deal and a better arrangement could be made. It would be better if the excursion charged for the mask snorkel and fins as an add on to the cost of the excursion. I will never go on another Hal snorkel expedition where equipment is not provided and has to be rented. Wednesday was a sea day. Thursday was in Nassau. Here I went on the Seahorse Catamaran the boat was similar in size to the Golden Eagle but that is where all similarity stopped. The boat was understaffed, the crew was not friendly, the music sucked and the drinks certainly were not as good as on the Golden Eagle. they made no effort to take us to a snorkeling site which was some what out of the wind. In Summary, we really enjoy our Cruise. The food was wonderful, the ship was clean and the staff did there very best to make it a wonderful experience. What more could you ask for.  

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Nov 12, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My husband and I sailed on the Zuiderdam again this year and took the same cruise we took in November, 2004. This time we had a veranda cabin and the extra price was well worth it. We loved having breakfast on the veranda and watching the ocean go by. Room service always came on time and they always got the order correct. However, when making the reservation, we weren't told that our room was only one flight above the lifeboats. While

they didn't block our view, we would have been happier one floor higher. Embarkation took about an hour. We had prepared two immigration forms, one on line and one handwritten as was suggested by a previous poster, but it didn't really seem to make a difference. It still took an hour to board. Our steward kept our room very neat and we appreciated it. We had asked for a table for two and did get it. I think it was because we renewed our wedding vows on the trip. The captain performed the "ceremony" in a candle lit room with a four piece stringed quartet playing. They served us champagne and took pictures. We also got to have a free dinner in the Pinnacle Grill which was excellent and well worth the extra money they usually charge. About six other couples renewed their wedding vows at the same time, but each couple was called up individually. The captain made it very special and we were glad we had decided to do this. Service in the dining room was very good and when we ordered crudités they came every night without having to ask. However, while the food in the dining room was good, it wasn't exceptional. The lido had long lines and I got tired of waiting on them to have my food cooked. Every possible kind of food was available for lunch, but still the lines were annoying. I won't mention the ports since I covered them in my last review and it's still online. We went to the same beaches again and loved them. My only complaint is that in the past year, I went to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal with Holland America so this was our third trip on the line in a year. The shows were all the same and it got pretty boring to hear the same musical numbers again, even if the staging was slightly different. Since they have so many repeat cruisers, it would be nice to have new shows. School was in session and there were very few children. Most of them were under three. During Thanksgiving week, they were expecting 400 children and I can't imagine what that would be like. The average age on this cruise seemed to be between 50 to 60, slightly younger than what I've seen before. One night we were in a tropical depression and the captain took us out of the Atlantic and into the Caribbean so the trip would be smoother. When we got to our next port, we talked to some people who were on another line and they said they had a terrible night because their captain didn't change the course. The Zuiderdam is a little too big for me. I preferred the Rotterdam which was a perfect size, but I would sail this ship again.

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Sep 9, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

This was my first ever cruise and I must say the best vacation I’ve ever taken thus far. The Zuiderdam is a beautiful ship, the staff though, in my opinion is what made the trip so enjoyable. These people really enjoy there jobs even though they are so very far away from the families. The decor of the ship is nice, though somewhat “loud” with very bright colors and in some places seems very “goddy”. Our cabin was an outside

cabin with an unobstructed view. It was small as they usually are, but fit myself, my fiancee, and his two teen boys just fine! They slept on the couch which folded out to a twin size bed and the other slept on a bunk that folded out of the wall. Our bathroom lacked a bathtub, something I wish would have been there. Our room steward, Ohau, was very nice and accommodating. I was sea sick 2 of the days we were onboard and he always asked how I was feeling and remembered all of our names. There are two pools onboard the Zuiderdam, the lido pool and the aft. The lido pool was mainly for kids and the aft just for adults. I really like this feature because like most adults going on cruises they would rather be able to relax and enjoy the pool rather then having a bunch of kids run around splashing and yelling. Food onboard the Zuiderdam was excellent. The lido breakfast buffet was usually pretty busy especially on days we were docked somewhere. Coffee was running out pretty frequently but nothing you had to wait more then 5-10 minutes for. The fresh juices and fruit are not to be missed very tasty and refreshing. I ate so much pineapple I started to get sores in my mouth! We usually dined in the lido for lunch but the hamburger/hotdog/grilled chicken stand by the lido pool was nice and convenient. Though I wish they had more drink stations you had to walk all the way into the buffet area to get a drink. Plenty of bars though. The Vista dining room was an event in itself. They had a good variety of food for people who are scared to try anything to over the top. Our waiter, Putu, was most excellent. Never seemed to busy to carry on conversation and share his native heritage with us. Blake our oldest boy, was only at dinner at the Vista twice, but Putu always asked about him by name and was always wondering how we spent our day. The wine steward was also very gracious and made a chair out of one of our wine bottles caps for us! We ate at the Pinnacle our last night on the ship, and boy did we wish we would have ate there a few more times. They have a porterhouse steak that’s over 30 ounces! The food quality at the Pinnacle was above the Vista and lido but nothing to complain about. All of our stops on the trip were in my opinion great. Half moon the liners private island was BEAUTIFUL!!! The sand is like brown sugar and the water is to gorgeous for me to even try to describe. I couldn’t believe the people who complained that there was nothing to do besides lay out on the beach, whats so wrong with that?! Tortola was interesting, I suggest grabbing lunch at Pusser’s they have some awesome baby back ribs. St.Thomas is a place for shopping I got a Prada purse for $40! If you take a cab ride into downtown I suggest you hold on they drive like a bunch of crazies there. Nassau was ok, got my hair braided in a air conditioned shop. There was a lady in there off another cruise ship, her daughter had gotten her hair braided. And instead of being the responsible person and finding how much it was going to cost before her daughter got it braided she waited till the lady was done. Then she stood there and cussed this 50yr old lady out for doing her daughters hair! I couldn’t believe the nerve of this lady, this is how they make a living and for her to treat this lady as though she was a piece of dirt really disgusted me. I wish people would respect the islanders when they go on trips no wonder noone likes Americans! All in all it was a wonderful cruise and I highly recommend Holland America and the Zudierdam to anyone. I don’t suggest it to anyone looking for a “spring break” kinda time. Its more geared towards people 30 and up and smaller children. They do have a Club HAL for kids and teens which the boys really enjoyed. Hope this helps who ever it may concern!

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Sep 9, 2005

Western Caribbean

I spent so much time reading the reviews before my cruise. And after reading some stories people had written, I began to worry that I might have booked a cruise that would turn out to be miserable for my wife and I. People did an awful lot of complaining. Now that I've sailed on the Zuiderdam, I realize that it's not the cruise that's miserable, it's all the miserable, unhappy passengers! Some people just aren't happy unless they're

complaining about something. There wasn't a moment that I was unhappy with any part of the cruise or the staff on this ship, but if I had to take another week on board with some of these crabby old people, someone would be going overboard! My wife and I couldn't believe how much complaining we heard from people about some of the most petty things... Get a life! And to the credit of the staff, they handled all the complaining with a smile and a polite tone. Despite the moaners, there were some very nice people on board. There were some young kids on board that seemed to bother the sour seniors in the pool area, but my wife and I enjoyed watching the young kids have fun. The ports were beautiful. The food was outstanding. I didn't like having to board the lifeboats as tenders to shore just because it was hotter than hell. It would be nice if a larger boat intended for moving large numbers of people could be chartered at the ports where there are no docks. Our room was great, always clean. We did not do any excursions, so I cannot comment on that. All I can say is that the ship is beautiful, well kept and fun to be on. The staff is always catering to the passengers, and if they have any down time at all, they're spending it cleaning and polishing something. My only advice to anyone planning a cruise and reading these reviews is to take some of these reviews with a grain of salt. Don't get panicked- you'll have a great time!

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Sep 9, 2005

Western Caribbean

We just returned from our cruise to the Western Caribbean aboard Holland's Zuiderdam. We were rather disappointed in a few things, delighted with others. So let's start with the disappointments. 1) Service...it was not as good as last year. Our bed was left unmade more than a few times. I had to remove our room-service trays after no one came for them, even with a phone call requesting their removal. I sat them on the floor in the hallway,

only to be told it was a hazard and I shouldn't be doing that! If they weren't going to come retrieve them, they were going in the hall, especially when we waited over 4 hours for them to come get them! I also was in the Lido pool when I decided I wanted some iced tea. I went over to where you normally get it. Yes, there was iced tea, but no clean glasses. When I asked someone for one, they said go to the bar. I walked over to the bar, and they refused to give me one. They said go to the Lido and get one. I replied that you can't go in there in a wet suit and they just shrugged and said, "Oh go on in." So I went over there...the air conditioning was freezing me standing there in a dripping wet suit, and I suddenly was very uncomfortable with the notion of just walking into the Lido dressed like that. I asked a waiter if he would bring me some iced tea. He said he would so I waited there by the entrance for him to return. It took a while, but eventually I returned to the pool area with 2 iced teas. My husband wanted to know where in the world I had been! When I explained to him, he was amazed that I had been treated like that. I wasn't too happy with it myself. 2) Dinner: again, service. Our courses were served so far apart that we usually were looking around wondering where things were! The other people at our table agreed...service was very poor. I remember reading here that someone told their waiter to bring shrimp cocktails for 6 every night and they got it. So I tried that and was simply told, "We can't do that." I coaxed but to no avail. In fact, when I asked for french dressing, which is very easy to whip up in any kitchen, I was told if it wasn't on the menu, I couldn't have it. 3) Front Desk: I requested, in writing, that they adjust our tips amount. When it wasn't done on the preliminary bill, I went to the front desk and complained. She politely explained that it would be done on the final bill. I received that just before disembarkation and it had not been done, however there was no longer enough time to go back again to the front desk. 4) Children misbehaving: There were several children at the pool who just had no manners! Of course this is in no way the fault of Holland, but I hope it serves as a wake-up call to parents of ill-behaved children. ADULTS DO NO APPRECIATE CHILDREN WHO REPEATEDLY JUMP FROM THE STATUARY, SPLASHING EVERYONE NEARBY. I found it to be extremely rude of them to not consider those who were lounging in the pool, having conversations, when these kids began their wild romp. Immediately after jumping from the polar bear statue, they would climb out, walk to the statue and repeat it again. Very annoying... 5) Stained sheets: We prepared to get in bed one night, only to find the sheet had blood stains on it! Very disconcerting, to say the least. 6) Flight plans made through Holland: Holland got us the earliest flight available..6:30 am..which left us in a scramble to make the 1 1/2 hr trip to the airport! I was so exhausted but figured I could sleep on the plane, plus get a nap in the early afternoon onboard the Zuiderdam. Not to be...Delta shooed us inside after getting off the small plane, saying our 2 carry-on bags was too far back in the plane and that we would have to retrieve them at baggage claim. So we found our way to the Ft Lauderdale baggage claim and the Holland rep. We waited and waited for our bags to arrive but they never did! So I hiked down to Delta and they found that my 2 carry-on bags were on their way to Raleigh, North Carolina! I was so horrified because my pills for the week were in that bag! (The plane was too small to allow very many carry-ons to be inside the cabin.) We spent the entire afternoon in the airport, holding our breath in the hopes that our bags would make it back to Florida in time for the 5pm sailing. Otherwise, we couldn't go! I was so annoyed with Holland for putting us on such a flight. We finally got our bags back, rushed off to the ship just in time to sail. I got neither any rest or anything in compensation. 7) Foul Odor: I awoke one night because of a foul odor in our cabin. I couldn't sleep because of it. It smelled like sewage gases. I called the front desk and reported it, but they never did anything about it, to my knowledge. Now to what we did like: 1) We loved going to Costa Maya, Grand Cayman Island, Key West and Half Moon Cay. They were all wonderful. We would have gotten up earlier for Half Moon Cay if we had realized how great it was! We missed out on it last year because of hurricane weather. But now we know how wonderful it is so we'd be very disappointed any subsequent trips on Holland to miss it. (Yes, I guess I will give Holland another try..but they will not get a 4th trip from me if it hasn't improved) 2) The food: I found most of the food to be very delightful. My husband has a broader range of food tastes than I, but I still found things I liked. Often at dinner, I would choose one side dish from one dinner and combine it with another. The waiter accepted that and didn't seem to think it was a problem. I still missed those shrimp cocktails though! 3) Those lovely thick robes: it saves quite a bit of room in the ol suitcase when you don't have to pack a bathrobe! And they are quite nice robes too. Very roomy and soft. 4) Pina Coladas: Mmmmmmmmm...what can I say except Yummy! 5) The shows: excellent, talented singing and dancing. Very entertaining! 6) Dinner companions: We lucked out with a couple who was very friendly and likeable. We had a lot in common, which makes us wonder if that was on purpose by those who decide who sits where? 7) Verandah: I would never cruise again without getting one. They make the trip so much nicer. What can match going out on your verandah at midnight, looking out at the ocean and enjoying the solitude? Makes for a very nice few moments to just think quietly. Well, that's my thoughts for this cruise. I hope everyone who cruises gets to have more pleasant moments than unpleasant! This trip didn't have the charm that last years had, but then again, we were 1st timers last year!

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May 20, 2005

Western Caribbean

This was our first 7 day cruise, May 21-28, 2005. We sailed with Disney on their land sea cruise and loved it!!! This one was for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and we met 4 other couples celebrating it too. This was just for the two of us and for the most part we loved it. We had picture perfect weather all seven days, we never saw a cloud!! We would probably do another cruise with HAL, but my heart still belongs to Disney it was the

very best. Getting on the another line to get on board, cause of the person taking pictures of all the passengers. Cabin: 8063 on the Navigation deck was wonderful, Quiet and spacious. We had a king size bed, and lots of cushy chairs and ottomans and a table and chairs for our breakfast on the veranda. It was beautiful to sit out there and watch the sea go by, very relaxing. Shows: Pretty good, Joel Mason is the Elton John impersonator he’s just magnificent!!!! Don’t miss his show, funny and very talented. He’s a must see!!! Julie Barr is the comic, she’s good too. Food: Pinnacle is a must, especially beef eaters, to die for!!! We went the first night when the sur-charge is half price, what a deal. The Vista dinning was fine too, we were on the lower level and it was fine, we had very nice table mates. Ports: This was the first cruise where we had to board tenders to get to the port of call. Plus HAL has you come to one of their lounges and get a number and when your number is called you can go down and wait in line to get on one. I would prefer a ship that ports right at the docks, and they changed the times that you had to be back on board the ship and because of the tenders it was even earlier. Half MC the last tender was 3:30, it’s like being there half a day. The same with Cayman. Very disappointing. Half Moon Cay was very pretty. (Disney’s island Castaway Cay is still the best) Not to many shops and not a huge variety of stuff to buy. We had one of those half clam shells for $9 what a bargain!!! Compared to $200 for those cabanas for about 6 hours on their island, what a rip off. They’re big and they really keep the sun out. It was blistering hot the day we were there and I’m glad we had it to take shelter from the sun. I did the snorkel trip with HAL that morning at Half Moon and it was very nice, I could of stayed out longer but it was fine. Cayman Island: We booked on line ourselves with Captain Marvin they are easy to find on line and much cheaper then booking through HAL. The HAL Sting Ray City excursion is more money and that was the only stop they made. We paid $25 less person and we had two snorkel stops along the way before we went to String Ray City. Our Captain brought bait with him and told us to follow him to the reefs and wait with our underwater cameras ready and he dove done and found a hammer head shark and also a huge green eel . It truly was the most amazing snorkel trip I’ve ever been on and the Sting Rays were so gentle, if you are scared you can just move to avoid them they don’t come after you at all. The water is only up to your waist at the sand bar and we saw so many different sizes of them. Can’t wait to get back there someday! Costa Maya: Our huge disappointment of our cruise. We booked a HAL excursion, we couldn’t find one on line and now we know why. They island is so underdeveloped. DON”T book the Snorkel Beach Adventure!!!! Our guide couldn’t speak English at all, we couldn’t understand him. It was a very long ride in a hot bus and the beach was VERY disappointing and a mess. They take you snorkeling from the shore and the water was so murky we couldn’t see a thing and I got cut from the coral that our guide took us right over in shallow water. Finally my husband had to help me twice when I got in trouble with the coral and we just turned around and swam back to shore and gave up on it. As did most of the people we went with. We all could not believe the price$49 PP for this. We wrote a letter to HAL requesting our money back, that’s a first for us. This was truly the worst excursion we have ever been on in all our vacations. My husband and I lost count of how many times they asked for tips from us either while we were still on the beach and on the bus ride back. HAL told us our tip was included, but if they went above and beyond we could tip more if we wanted. We usually do, but not this time. Key West: We loved it, we were hoping that the ship would dock closer to town, but we docked at the Naval pier. Don’t book a 9am excursion, we did on line not through HAL with Furry, but you have to get all your customs stuff done for EVERYONE on the ship before you can get off the ship. There are always people who don’t have their papers filled out and the ones who just don’t come down when their deck was called. We were furious that this caused us our time to get off the boat, not mentioned in any on the HAL papers!! Cause that’s technically when you re-enter the USA. We barely made our excursion and we ran all the way after the trolley took us to Mallory Square. We also went to Fort Henry beach, not the greatest, we thought it would be much nicer. Disembarkation: Went very smoothly, but we couldn’t check our luggage and had to lug it around in the heat till our flight at 7:40pm. Spirit Air wouldn’t take it till four hours before our flight. But when we got off the Disney ship we were met by every airline truck you could think of, and no matter what time your flight was that day you could check you luggage that morning by 8:30am when we got off the ship. So when we left the terminal (we were renting a car to go to the Kennedy Space Center) we didn’t have to lug around our 8 pieces of luggage, that was a perk we didn’t know about till it happened. Would love to cruise Disney again, they have a new one that takes you to their own island twice in the week, I can’t wait!!  

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Mar 19, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

Before I start, I must say that the Zuiderdam was a grand experience and one that was very memorable. The embarkation process took all of five minutes. There were more than a dozen people that would help you and it went really fast. There were many Holland America workers that would take you up to your room and open your balcony and they were extremely friendly. As to the rumor of the ship smelling of sewage, completely false. I don’t

know who came up with that one and why they would complain, the ship had no order whatsoever. It was a nice to sit outside, the Lido deck was only really crowded at the leaving of port. The dining room staff was superb. Our waiters, Muid and Dharma, were extremely friendly and nice and of course, there was Hunky Dory. The crew seemed to go out of their way to be friendly and were always willing to help with the slightest problem. Our cabin steward was also very nice and would not come in if we were in the room. Somehow, the room always got clean. The captain and the cruise director did a great job at keeping us informed on what was happening and where we were at. The only line we waited in was to get a tender (run by Holland America) to the private island. Hunky Dory, a staff member in the Lido and in the restaurant, managed to learn every ones names and remembered them. The great thing about the dining room is that you don’t have to pay for the food but it is as good as anything you’d get in a five star restaurant. If you didn’t like the menu, they always had stuff like steak and Caesar salad. The shore excursions sell out quickly so be sure to get there ahead of time. We went snorkeling in Tortola and it was a very nice trip. We saw a lot of fish and coral. We even saw a sea turtle. It was great and it was all Holland America people. Except for the drinks and shore excursions, there was nothing to pay for. The entertainment was top notch. They had an Elton John impersonator who was an unbelievable piano player and joke teller (he played a solo while lying under the piano). Also, they had an amazing magician who did the neatest tricks ever. The Lido was open all the time and the lido pool had a grill with burgers and fries. You don’t have to pay for coffee, tea, iced tea, and lemonade so you don’t need a soda card. All told, it was an amazing cruise and I would recommend it to everyone. The only problem with disembarkation was that you had to get of the ship. I would definitely cruise the Zuiderdam again. Thanks HAL for one of the best weeks ever.  

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Mar 12, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

This was out second cruise on the Zuiderdam. We had been with them for a Christmas cruise in 2003. Things have gone decidedly down hill on the Zuiderdam. Cabin: basic veranda was average and as expected. Tip: don't book an adjoining room unless you know or want to get to know your neighbor, gap under the door is large. Our second cruise was in a deluxe suite. It was fabulous and on day one you get the red carpet treatment! After day

one is a bit of a let down because then you become part of the crowd. Tip: ask to have your fridge emptied if you are not interested on the mini bar. It can come in handy for your own use. Service average. Speedy room clean. Room service has improved over out first cruise. Without being politically incorrect, the 2003 cruise featured a telephone waitress who spoke very little English. Getting the order for a piece of cake took from 9 until 11pm. With the poor waiter (also with limited communication skills) making several trips trying to understand what I wanted. March cruise was a fluently English speaking waitress. Food: Bland buffet with obvious "salvaged" items from the night before. ie. evening menue, twice baked potatoes, next day lunch, twice baked potato soup. One evening our steaks were literally raw. We sent them back and they actually scrapped the steaks from out plates. This was surf and turf night and they apparently could not spare the extra "surf" to bring us fresh meals. This would be shocking in a run of the mill restaurant, much less on a "premium" cruise line. After several days the food all sort of took on the same flavor regardless of what you ordered. Very disappointing. Club Hall if you are with children is wonderful. Our 5 and 9 year old had a great time. Don't expect night life. We were surprised to find most of the evening shows were repeats from our previous cruise, over a year and a half ago. The first time the shows are moderately entertaining but once is enough. I guess they don't expect any repeat business?? Itinerary was four stops on this cruise, so it was a great one for bringing the kids to the beach. The private island is beautiful and one of our favorite stops. Tip: book a sun shade on the ship as soon as possible. They sell out before you hit shore and even though this was our second visit we were not aware that you needed to book ahead. Great snorkel spot for children. They can stand in the water and see the fish as the snorkel area is shallow. Tip: bring a bun from breakfast and watch the fish close up! Overall: Will not travel with Holland American again. There is too much competition out there to settle for average anything on a cruise!

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Mar 5, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I just got off the ZUIDERDAM, we were on from 3/5-12. we are both 31 and knew what we were getting into. I am going to break this review into two main sections – THE GOOD and THE BAD. But before I even begin, how can a modern ship not offer pay per view movies in the room nor allow you to book any excursions through your tv? THE GOOD the staff is amazing, from the porters, the room steward, the bartenders, etc. the embarkation/debarkation

real smooth. The excursions, besides always starting at least 10 minutes late, fantastic. Spa and golf services were great as well. The room was great, as well the view, VA 7020. EXCURSIONS Deep sea fishing at Half Moon Cay, even thought the captain was “missing” before we were scheduled to go, it was great to have a boat just for me and my wife. No better way to spend a day than fishing in beautiful blue waters. Kon Tiki Booze Cruise on St. Thomas, every thing you could want from a rum booze cruise. The only negative was that the beach they took us to did not offer many things to do, i.e. kayaking, etc. Snorkeling by boat in Tortola. Once again this started late, the reef they brought us to was ok, nothing really to see. No excursions in Nassau, went to paradise island and just walked around and found some nice bars to hang out in. SPA/GOLF CENTER Jeremy in the golf center was a really good guy, unfortunately the person who was in right before I went in was a real hacker and ripped a divot out of the mat that made the simulator a little harder to use. But it was definitely better than sitting in a driving range. My wife and I had the couples massage, she enjoyed hers more than I enjoyed mine, but it was still enjoyable. THE ROOM The room was real nice, the only thing that I really did not like was not having the option to rent movies on demand in the room. This is something that even the most basic hotel now has, I can’t understand how a modern ship does not offer this service. Back when I last was on a cruise in ’97 the ship had pay per view movies. THE BAD Basically everything else was bad. I’ll start from the beginning, we check into our room and there is a note saying that our request for a table for 2 will not be granted. After settling in, we decide to go see if there was anything that we can do about this. After waiting 20 minutes in a lounge we finally saw the DR steward who looked at his computer and said that we were at a table of 4 but that only the 2 of us are booked there. So we wasted the first half hour of our vacation taking care of something that we shouldn’t have even been bothered with from them. THE FOOD AND DRINK We went to the bar on the lido deck and asked what kind of bottled beers they had, the bartender gave me a list of beers. I asked for a Budweiser Select and he said that he was all sold out. SOLD OUT! How can you be sold out of a beer and you haven’t even left port yet, but we persevered. (I did find it later on in the cruise at one of the other bars, but still) BREAKFAST The first day we decided to order breakfast in, it was horrible and tasteless. The English muffins, OJ and bacon were all terrible. To say the least that was the last day we had breakfast. LUNCH Well if you did not make it to lunch by 2p you were basically regulated to hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza. Otherwise the selections were OK at best, the taco bar was a little better than OK, but not much. DINNER First night at dinner I ordered the NY Strip steak which was more like a tasteless shell steak, we chalked that up to first meal blues. But besides the crab legs, lobster tail, and beef tenderloin the rest of the food was quite a disappointment. By the time we found out that the Pinnacle Grill was a zillion times better than the dining room, it was too late. Mind you, my wife and I went on this cruise expecting some good food, when we go away our bill before tip and we don’t order bottles of wine, are at least $150/night. To say that we were disappointed would be an understatement. For this reason alone we will not cruise with HAL again unless there’s nothing else available. ROOM SERVICE As I already stated the breakfast was horrible, we ordered lunch one day since we missed the 2p cutoff and didn’t want bad pizza. They have something called an ALL AMERICAN BURGER on the menu, that only comes with SWISS or CHEDDAR cheese. How can you have an ALL AMERICAN BURGER and not offer American cheese? My wife ordered the shrimp cocktail, which were a bunch of small shrimps that you would normally get from a Chinese take out place. The only salvation were the chocolate chip cookies. THE MIDNIGHT BUFFET oh yeah, there isn’t any. If you wanted a late night meal you better get a slice of pizza or order in some room service. THE NIGHTLIFE Before my wife and I went on this cruise we knew it was going to be laid back and probably not that many people close to our age. When we were first checking in, we were definitely afraid that we were going to be the youngest by at least 20 years. Thankfully as the day went on we started to see people around our same age and made friends with a few couples who were in close proximity. At night your choices are limited to whatever act they brought in for the geriatric crowd, the casino, the piano bar, the sports bar (that only plays espn deportes, even though every port we went into had espn usa), and northern lights the dance club. As I already mentioned, since there were no pay per movie choices in the rooms, you either hung out in one of these places or went back to your room by 10:30pm. So my wife and the other people our age split time from the casino and northern lights. Whomever on HAL’s staff is in charge of what goes on what nights in Northern Lights should have their head examined. For example, one night was Karaoke, then it went to country music trivia to country line dancing to a hip hop club. Pick a theme and stick with it for the night. The casino was fun, especially after over hearing that the ship lost over 20g’s at the craps table during the duration of the cruise. Btw…The sail away party from St. Thomas was absolutely horrible. MISC. - The automatic $10/day pp tipping policy seemed fine to me, you can always tip extra if you want to. The one thing that I did not understand is the 15% service charge per drink, it’s one thing if you are bringing a drink to my lounge chair, but it is quite another when you get charged and you are sitting at the bar. - Also for those who say that you never win at the slots as the cruise goes on, my wife won for over $125 the last night, even winning $95 on one pull at the nickel slots. - There is definitely no feel like you are on a cruise music wise, which was more disappointing then I thought it would be. OVERALL I will not travel on a HAL cruise again, the main reason being that the food was such a disappointment and the ship lacked any real character

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Feb 26, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

After reading many disappointing reviews of this ship, I must admit we were apprehensive. However, we LOVED this cruise! I think some of the negative comments I read come from some very spoiled people. From a smooth embarkation to a very timely debarkation, the entire cruise was heavenly. Good: Excellent illusionist on two of the nights. We are not usually very interested in magician types, but this guy was awesome! Very good food every

night in the dining room, and we were blessed with 2 other very nice couples. Very nice room, we took an obstructed view for a reduced price, but could still see around the lifeboat and the full size patio door let in plenty of light. We have found that we did not use the balcony on other cruises very much, so we saved $$ here. Wonderful staff - very friendly and attentive. Our cabin was always clean and ice refilled. Ports were fine - I think most of the Caribbean is pretty much the same and I love it. Bad: The only thing we regretted was signing up for the expensive mini boat snorkel tour in St. Thomas. The reef we went to was pretty lame. The little boats were no match for the 4-6 footers we had to cut through. The Virgin Gorda/Baths tour was excellent. This is one you do NOT want to try and do on your own. There is a ferry service, but it seemed very unreliable and the Baths were a good 45 minute boat ride away from the ship. We will definately sail this ship again. We have been on the Westerdam which is not nearly as nice. Also have sailed with Princess, Norwegian and Costa. Holland is our favorite.

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Dec 17, 2004

Western Caribbean

Embarkation is a breeze. Cabin size and amenities good, not great! Note that new pillow top mattresses will replace the standard ship board-like mattresses now in use. Condition of this ship, tired! Only 2 years old and old looking. From non-functioning toilets to broken and taped mirror-glass panels in the Lido restaurant, to non-functioning elevators, this is an old ship. We never saw our cabin stewart and that is just fine, however,

not enough blankets ( that is changing also) and not enough lotion, shampoo. I noted some mold on the shower curtain liner. The cigarette ashes on the balcony were not ours! The cabin should have been vacuumed daily, and it is hard to say it was vacuumed at all. The automatic tipping is applied to room service, waiter service, bar service and I can say we probably would not have tipped as high. We found the waiter service bland, and not very good. Just average. Same goes for the food. But, we already knew institution food and expected what we got. The shows are entertaining if you don't get out much. We tried to get in to see the comedian, however after waiting for over twenty minutes at the doorway, we found the space was just not large enough for all the people who wanted to see the comedy show. How disappointing. The photographers were not very good and we saw an awful lot of photos still on the wall the very last night of the cruise. The ship itself is hard to navigate, choppy design makes it hard to manuever. We often found ourselves outside just to figure out where we were. Back to the cabin, it creaked when the ship was out at sea. It creaked big time. Just randome enough to keep you awake. We complained in writing and received a small plate of chocolate dipped fruit. Plus, a card allowing a visit to the hydrotherapy pool and heated stone chairs. We discovered our cabin telephone was dis-connected on the fourth night of our five night cruise. The front desk had called said they sent someone to investigate and they heard nothing. Of course! The ship was not moving! This cruise we decided to forego excursions, so sorry we can't help there. Hated Nassau, told to go back to America by a vender in Straw Market when I did not buy anything. Its dirty, smelly and expensive. Loved Key West, very friendly and easy to navigate the streets. The gym looked great, but the crows nest high up at the front of the ship was better. Even if we sat a full 25 minutes the first time we went there before we were asked if we wanted a drink. We were disappointed that formal night is no longer so formal. I loved seeing everyone dressed up. Dis-embarkation is now pleasant. After breakfast we simply waited in our cabin until our number was called and we were off the ship before 9:30. Now if the airlines could just be as efficient, all would be great! Oh, almost forgot. If going out to Half Moon Cay,the private island, do not go if it looks like a storm is coming. An hour and a half after getting there, a storm blew in and the Tender operation was suspended leaving about 2000 people stranded in a long,long line in wet bathing suits, pounding rain and strong winds. Cold! We waited about 2 hours to get back to the ship. Will we go again on Holland? Yes, it is still a good deal for what you get. Oh, I should let you know that the ships are filling up with all ages. We saw many,many families with children of all ages. Not just retirees, and baby-boomers. So the atmosphere was very lively.  

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Nov 27, 2004

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.

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Nov 27, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

This was our first cruise and we weren’t sure what to expect. We stayed to night before in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We arrived at the embarkation area about two hours before things started. There was already a long line, however things went very smoothly. Initially the rooms weren’t ready for the guests so we went to the Lido deck and enjoyed some complimentary refreshments while we waited. Shortly there after we were allowed into

our room. We had a partial ocean view room, so nothing real fancy. It had two twin beds that were pushed together to make a queen sized bed. The bed was very comfortable and we had no problems sleeping on it. It had a table and love seat, along with a small vanity and t.v. There was plenty of closet space and hangers. We were happy to see that the bathroom had a medicine cabinet as well as a full bath and didn’t seem to confined for space. The ocean view was very filtered with the life boats just outside the window. Other than the filtered view the only thing about the room that we didn’t like was the lighting was awkward. There were many switches and I don’t know if we ever figured out what went to what. Next time we’ll bump up to a balcony suite. We thought the food was very good in the main dining room. We were able to have seconds (and thirds once) of the main course. The food was hot and tasted very good. The service in the main dining room was excellent. Had the same servers all week and got to know them very well. The food court area on the Lido deck also provided good food and several different options. I especially liked the ice cream bar that was open very late. They had Italian, Chinese, Sandwiches, and one that changed each night. The only other place we ate was in our cabin for breakfast. The room service is great. They were on time every day and our food was always warm and how we wanted it. With the room service you got to choose the time your food was delivered which made it very accommodating to our schedule. The service in generally was exceptional. The room service was almost scary, in that every time we left the room, even if only gone for a few minutes when we came back the room had been cleaned. The cabin stewards do a fine job. The dining room staff was very attentive and we probably will miss our servers the most of anybody on the crew. They were very personably and we got to know a lot about them. The only negative about service aboard the ship was the customer service desk. The lady working it seemed not very eager to help. Our ports of call were great, except for Tortola. We found there was not much to do there and wouldn’t go back again. Other than that there was plenty to do at each port and we had a great time exploring the different islands. Overall we were very pleased with our experience. We would highly recommend the Zuiderdam to our friends. We are planning another cruise with HAL soon, this time with a balcony suite.  

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Nov 27, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

We took the Zuiderdam on 27 November. It was not a pleasant cruise. There were several problems. The room was small for the price and the balcony was dirty when we got on the ship. We had to ask to have it cleaned and then, it took 2 more days before the room steward cleaned the balcony. Excursion desk staff was disorganized and not friendly. Ship booked tour left 20 of us in downtown St. Thomas with no transportation to the snorkel

boat. Only apology after an hour wait and a trip not to snorkel but back to the ship was a voice message. To get in the Captain's party, you have to wait in a long line and are FORCED to take 2 pictures. This is my 15th cruise and by far the worst. If Zuiderdam is supposed to be upscale, I will be happy to go back to Princess and Royal Caribbean! Do not waste your money on this ship.

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Nov 13, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

Joel below has it right on, but I wanted to go one step further. Here goes..... We chose to book a hassle-free trip, and thus, decided to try cruising. My only other cruising experience was when I was a kid and we sailed on a great line called Sitmar. Anyway, HAL seemed like a good line and was competitively priced, so we gave it a whirl. I will start with the good and then tell you the bad: The ports (Half Moon Cay, Tortola, St. Thomas

and Nassau) were all great. St. Thomas was over-commercialized and HMC was just ok, but the weather was perfect each day of the cruise. The check in was super easy. The cabins were nice. We had a balcony which was nice. The Pinnacle Grille was nice and definitely worth the supplemental $20/person per meal. Ok -- the bad: Food: Mediocre. The food in the main dining room was so mass prepared looking and rarely hot. It took complaints to the head waiter to get hot food. The Lido deck dining room was ok, and offered a wide variety if you wanted a snack throughout the day. Room service was ok too, but the service (see below) was poor and the room service staff only would stick to the menu strictly (for example, if you wanted a bagel instead of toast, they said -- we don't have it even though it was available in the dining room). Service: The staff is extremely lazy!!!!The waiters do not wait on the ladies first at a table and provide no elegance to the cruising experience. Also, the staff is all about selling selling selling. Unlimited sodas for $35, pre-ordered wine, etc., but to get a cocktail by the pool requires extra effort on the passenger's part. We were playing bingo in a lounge and wanted a drink, and the staff said, "we aren't opened for another 30 minutes." Are you kidding me? The staff should be there to do whatever the passengers want -- that is what cruising should be about to me. The Ship: Cheezy, closed in public areas. They are more about selling overpriced ugly art than making the ship accomodating to the passengers. Passengers: We were lucky enough to be traveling with 400 people who participated in the Post-Election Cruise for the NATIONAL REVIEW. Lucky I brought my swastika. They took up public areas for private functions and made sure they were known. Most of the passengers were nice but DEFINITELY 50 PLUS. Stay away unless you have an oxygen tent with you. I would try cruising again, but would go on Celebrity or Princess only. The Z-dam is second rate at best and not worth it.

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Nov 13, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

My husband and I sailed on Holland America’s Zuiderdam on a seven night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, November 13th. This was our 4th cruise with Holland America. Last winter we sailed the Veendam from Tampa to the Western Caribbean, and this summer we were on the Statendam to Alaska cruising seven days from Vancouver to Seward, and seven days back to Vancouver. I was skeptical about sailing on

the Zuiderdam because I had read so many negative comments about the vibration and the decor. Our outside cabin, 1050, was on the Main Deck. and close to the front of the boat. It was very roomy, but lacked drawer space. The only drawers were in the two night tables. There were several shelves in the spacious closets, but I would have preferred the drawers that were located in the desk area on the older ships. There was very little vibration in our cabin and we never found it to be a problem. However, the back of the dining room on the upper level, did have some vibration, but nothing terrible. The table we had in the back of the dining room on the Veendam had as much, if not more vibration. We both found the decor of the ship to be very colorful, pleasing and upbeat. There were beautiful fresh flower arrangements and lovely artwork all over the ship. The ship, a vista class, was much bigger than the Veendam and the Statendam, and some people did complain about having trouble finding their way around. The Crow’s Nest was only accessible from the elevators in the front of the ship, and it took me several days to locate it. I loved the view from the outside elevators located midship. My favorite spot on the ship was the few tables outside on the Lido deck at the aft pool. I enjoyed eating breakfast there because it was quiet and not too many people seemed to know about these tables outside .Another great spot was the outside deck near the Crow’s Nest . It had loads of chaises in the sun, and some comfortable chairs that were under a shade canopy so I could read without getting burned. Since my husband likes the sun and I need shade, this was a good compromise for us. We had requested an early dinner seating and were given 5:45, which was a bit early and some days I felt rushed coming back from the beaches and having to be ready for dinner at that time. The food in the dining room was very good, as was the service. My complaint, however, is that the food came so fast that I felt rushed. Although the Lido on this ship has several specialty stations, I found the food there to be quite ordinary. We saw the waiters take the deserts out of boxes and put them into the cases, making us wonder if they were baked on the ship. The specialty Odyssey Restaurant was great, and well worth the $10 per person discounted charge on the first night of the cruise. Since we both love the beach, we didn’t take any of the scheduled tours that Holland America offered, but went instead to the beaches.. We stopped first at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s island, and we had to use the tenders to access the island. The sand was a beautiful fine white powder. We had reserved a clam shell to protect me from the sun, which was a great idea, except that it was a very hot day and it was hard to get air inside the shell. The beach front is narrow and was crowded. Our second stop was St. Thomas which we had visited about 30 years ago. We shared a van with two other couples and went to Magen’s Beach which is supposed to be one of the top ten beaches in the world.. Cab fare was $6 per person each one way. The beach was beautiful and filled with many trees for shade. Lunch and snacks were available as well as chairs and chaises to rent. After the beach, we wandered around town and browsed a few of the jewelry stores. I was impressed with the array of stones available and the unique designs, but after pricing a gold bracelet, I felt the prices were no better than I could get in the jewelry district in New York City. The next stop was Tortola where we shared a taxi to Cane Garden Beach and paid $5 a person. This beach had chaises and umbrellas to rent, although I again found shade under the trees lining the beach. We ate lunch in a charming restaurant on the beach and bought some souvenirs for our grandsons from one of three concession stands. The water here was very warm and my husband loved it. On the cab ride back to the boat, I started talking to my seat mate who was sailing on the Costa, an Italian ship docked along side the Zuiderdam.. We discovered that we came from the same hometown in New York and that she and my daughter knew each other in High School. Our last stop was Nassau. where we went to the Wyndham Resort on Cable Beach, recommended by the ship’s port and shopping expert, and used their facilities which were free. We shared the cab with two other couples and were charged $6 each. On the way back, it was just the two of us and the charge was $15 total . Lunch was available at the beach and the food was quite good We did see evidence on this beach of hurricane damage to the palm trees, some of which were bare, and some which had been uprooted. We enjoyed two of the shows on board, Edge, the comedy- juggler, and the Under the Boardwalk extravaganza. The other shows were just so so. The Vista Lounge is quite colorful, but there are some blind spots in the middle section due to supporting poles in the theater. The front desk staff was very friendly and helpful, however the people at the cruise excursion desk weren’t able to tell me if there was shade or umbrella rentals on the beaches in St. Thomas or Tortola. There were very few children on this cruise, and the average age was over 60. We loved the stately feel of the Veendam, but found the Statendam to be showing its age. The Zuiderdam was a fun ship, and we would cruise her again.  

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Oct 29, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

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!

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Sep 17, 2004

Western Caribbean

We boarded the Ms. Zuiderdam around 1:00PM. It only took about 30 minutes from the time we arrived until we were on board. A wonderful lunch was waiting as well as a welcome aboard get together. When I started looking for a ship we knew we wanted it to have at least a 5 star rating. We wanted a ship that did not have a lot of children aboard and one that offered excellent serivce. We also wanted a suite w/balcony on a newer ship.

The ports we visited were not so important to us but we did want to spend two days at sea. We live in the desert. The Ms. Zuiderdam was absolutely beautiful. The entire ship's decorating just flowed together rather nice. I never felt crowded or pushed around. The dining rooms were roomy and no matter where you sit you could see the ocean out the huge windows. The service and food was absolutely great! Never had one complaint. We always had room service for breakfast in our suite. The breakfast was always there on time. Only once did we have exactly what we ordered but the food and service was good. Our suite was on the sixth deck, S suite. It was roomy, extremely clean and our steward, Komang, certainly knew his job. The balcony was definately worth the extra money it cost. The bathroom was the clencher to a great time. It had double sinks, huge mirrow with bright lights, a glass shower and seperate jeted tub w/shower. We were also provided a clean robe each morning. We had down pillows and the bed had a pillow covering which was nice. One thing I noticed is that we never heard the next door neighbors or people going up and down the halls. Nice and quiet. The entertainment was good. The staff presented "Under the Boardwalk" and it was very nicely done. The other shows were entertaining and well done. We had the 6:15 seating for dinner. I do not recommend this for anyone considering this cruise. They offer several different shows; Not so Newly Weds, What's My Line, etc., between the seatings and we were extremely rushed to make the shows. Severly times we were not able to finish our dinner. We wanted to attend church Sunday afternoon and was not able to as the lady that was presenting some shopping in the ports talk ran about an hour over her time. We found this very disturbing and rude. If we had stayed for church we would have been late for dinner. Feeding our stomachs won out over feeding our souls. Ports: Key West was our first stop. We have been there several times so it was not that exciting for us. Cozumel, Mexico was our second port. We had booked the Jungle ATV excursion. We did some shopping which was very nice. Good deals on jewelery ladies! If you go to Cozumel you absolutely must book the ATV excursion. That was the highlight of our trip! I guarantee you that you will not be bored. The men that run it have outstanding upbeat personalities, the ATV's were new and the scenery, when you could see it, was beautiful. We own ATV's and ride quite often but, not like them. Take it and you will not regret it. Due to hurrican Jeannie our ports were changed. Our next stop was Costa Maya, Mexico. We booked the 4 hour Myan Ruins tour. Don't bother to do this tour. It was 90 degrees outside. They loaded around 60 people on a bus with no air conditioner and drove us for over an hour to the ruins. The windows would not go down. The guide knew his business and was knowledgeable but we were so hot from the bus ride and then we walked around two miles in the hot sun. This really took the fun out of the trip. By the time we returned to town on a bus with no air conditioner I was ill from the heat. We did not like shopping in Costa Maya as the salesmen were extremely pushy and just flat rude at times. This was a big party port. It is a very small town with a few shops and many bars. The beach is rock so there were public pools. We thought about going swimming but the pools were full of many drunk people. Our ship was late in leaving as it took a long time to gather up all the drunks and get them aboard. But, once the drunks were aboard we never saw or heard them. Not sure what they did with them. Our next port was to be Grand Caymons but Jeannie changed that. In fact, she changed the rest of our cruise. We ended up cruising back towards Florida and was detoured to the waters 30 miles off Cuba. The ports in Ft. Lauderdale were closed and our cruise extended an extra two days! Panic set in for us and many of the passengers due to scheduled flights, jobs, baby-sitters, etc. Holland America gave each passenger 15 minutes of free telephone time to make contact with the real world. The Captain kept the passengers informed at all times about the hurricane. The staff made those additional two days at sea very special. They came up with new shows and many different types of entertainment. The food remained excellent. At no time did we feel like we were in any danger. Yes, we missed several ports and were disappointed that we did not get to snorkle with the sharks, etc. But, we are the ones that booked a cruise during hurricane season. No complaints - in fact, the additional days at sea were nice. If you want a more laid back cruise with good food and service we think you would be very happy booking on the Ms. Zuiderdam. We give it 5 stars.

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Sep 10, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

My husband & I went on this cruise because it was our 35th wedding anniversary. We informed Holland before we left home about that and they forgot. However, our suite cabin was fabulous! More room than we needed, actually. We got so much enjoyment from the verandah. We would never go on another cruise without getting a verandah! We ate room service breakfast out there almost every day, wearing our plush terry robes. Hubby sat on a tube

of suntan lotion, getting it on his pants and the bed. Our room steward came and got both, and when we came back from dinner, a new bedspread was on the bed and his pants were cleaned for only $4. The little room safe came in handy for our camera when it wasn't needed. We didn't care for the Dutch meal, but I've heard we weren't alone and Holland will be changing that. The Lido restaurants were nice, but I sure could have used some ordinary French Dressing on my salads. They only offered it one time the whole week. It's my favorite and I intend to take a few individual packets with me next time. Ahhh...and then there was room service. What a delight! We could stay late at the casino, wander about the ship, and then end up in our room to order burgers. That was something we enjoyed...simple but fun. We aren't a couple who needs lots of fancy stuff to spoil us. What we love is being waited on and we got plenty of that. We never once felt the need to complain about that. When the servers found out that the night before had been our anniversary, they were mortified and tried to make it up to us the next day. Since there were a lot of hurricanes last year about that time, we missed out on Half Moon Cay. I was really looking forward to going there. But we did get to go to St Maartens, Tortola (wow.. what a buggy ride!), and Bahamas. I liked the Straw Market and everyone there was very anxious to make a sale. But I held firm and only bought what I wanted. We had drinks and chips/salsa at Senor Frogs and the music and mood there was very tropical and fun. The captain was very good about keeping us informed about the hurricanes and we only had rough seas one night. I got a little seasick and those pills don't help! I will make sure I take the patch with me next time. Everyone said they work better. I took someone's advice and took some wire coathangers with us. I was glad I did. We only had a few in the closets and they definitely wouldn't have been enough. I wonder if you can ask for more? Since I brought some, I didn't need to ask. Then when we left, I just left the hangers there. We got our photo taken numerous times, but since I'm not particularly fond of my own photos, we declined most of them. Can't anyone make me look 20 and gorgeous?? Sigh... But all in all, we had a great time and definitely would do it again. I'm curious about other cruise lines, but for now, will stick with Holland. Does being a repeat cruiser with any one line really give you a good discount?  

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Aug 27, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

After a great mediterranean cruise on NCL and a wonderful western carribean cruise on RCL, we decided to take a "step up" and take a Holland America cruise. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and the boarding process was fairly smooth (about an hour). We found our room 5185 on the rear of the ship and were quite pleased with the large private veranda, larger stateroom and a bathtub. Our first sign of trouble was when our luggage had not

shown up by 6PM. Attempting to ask our cabin steward, we found that he spoke no English at all. After finally going to the front office because we could not get anyone to answer at the front desk, we found our luggage ourselves in lost and found and brought it up through the ship ourselves. Our first night at the late dinner seating was very disappointing. The food was just terrible and everyone at our table was commenting on their meals. I am not one to ever send back meals however a piece of red snapper was so tough, I could not cut it with a fork to eat it. The ship has a "food court" type set up called the Lido. It features different cuisines, served cafeteria style. While nothing was actually horrible, nothing was very good either. It appeard to me that the ship had a hard time keeping cold things very cold (milk, butter, yogurt, etc), which concerned me somewhat. There is a private restaurant called the Pinacle at Oddessy that features Sterling beef and regional northwest cuisine. The food in the restaurant was well worth it and excellent, despite the $20.00 per person surcharge. The staff was the least friendly of any line I've been on (two others). I suspect that it has to do with the fact that tips are deducted from passengers accounts at the end of the cruise and consequently they don't have an immediate incentive to provide good service. Nobody was ever rude, but nobody was very friendly either with the exception of a two very pleasant and memorable staff members. We purchased a "soda card" upon embarkation for $35.00. It allows you unlimited fountain soda's for the cruise. We both found that once a waiter was aware you were using a soda card instead of paying for a drink, they avoided you. The swimming pools were filthy. They were often oil covered by late afternoon and very unpleasant. The entertainment was very hoo-hum. Our first night was a comedian, night two a juggler, night three a majician. Very amateurish and a number of guests remarked that it was rather boring. The ship is clean and quite attractive although the air conditioning does not keep it nearly cool enough. Our cabin on the rear of the ship received a lot of sun due to the step back design of the ship and our room was never cool enough. Although our large veranda was great at night, it became so hot during the day that it was unusable and contributed to the overheating of the room. A side balcony though smaller would be nicer. I cannot comment much on ports. Half Moon Cay was quite nice to swim and the staff did a very nice bbq. We were caught in hurricane Danial for the rest of the rest of the trip and stayed at sea and extra three days hiding from it. You can't blame the ship for the weather of course but the lack of information on the hurricane had MANY passengers ready to mutiny. It appeared as though the ship was actually witholding any news of the storm. They even took CNN off of the air and only allowed us CNN from Europe! Sadly, I would not choose Holland America again. Instead of being a step up for us, it was several steps down.  

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Jul 23, 2004

Western Caribbean

I have to disagree with many of the cruise travelers of ms Zuiderdam. I absolutely loved sailing the Zuiderdam. Although this was my first cruise, I feel that because of this ship, I cannot go on another cruise line if it is not with Holland America. From the moment that the porters took our suitcase to the moment we left the ship, it was just a wonderful experience. I traveled with a group of seventeen and it was just so much fun. Some

comments that I have read are from older travelers who may not like to explore the ship or are just used to one way and do not want to change. I feel that because my group was so large, we always something to do and with someone. If one person wanted to go swimming while another wanted to go work out, it was just fine because we would always run into someone we knew. The guests as well as the workers were super friendly. Our room staff and wait staff knew us as Mr., Miss or Mrs. and the employees took their time to explain our questions and show us around. The ship was so spic and span- that one could eat from the floors. It was amazing how clean the ship was kept. The public restrooms were so clean that using the public restroom never grossed me out. It was just a wonderful ship and a wonderful experience. If someone had a problem with it, they truly are “scrooges” and just do not know how to have fun.  

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By Vic _CR

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Jun 25, 2004

Western Caribbean

Just returned from a wonderful cruise. This was our first cruise. We loved the ship. There was plenty of activities we thought we might get bored, not a chance. We left Fort Lauderdale after a nice lunch on the Lido Deck. Had dinner in the Pinnacle Grill - what a wonderful experience, great food and great service. Well work the money. Arrived at Key West the next am. Decided not to take any prebooked shore excursion mostly due to cost

and we like to explore on our own. Shopped for a while mostly tourist beach wear and t-shirts. Then rented scooters - what fun. Toured the island in less than 2 hours - if there is more than one of you get 2 scooters they are not big enough for 2 comfortably. Well the heat was getting to us so we shopped as we walked back to ship. Had the barbeque on the Lido deck that night – it was ok. The tri tip was very good. There were several low carb/sugar free options available throughout the cruise. Sailed to Cozumel next. Cozumel was in the process of repairing/upgrading it sewer system – not very pleasant to say the least. We choose to shop vs. the shore excursions. We enjoy seeing the town and the culture vs. the tourist activities. You have to bargain otherwise you will pay retail and you could save yourself 40%. Got some great deals on jewelry. There were some nice shops, clothes, boots, tequila, and nice tourist stuff. Check out the shop that had the metal work – some really nice stuff. Shopped for 6 hours –the Engineer husband was very tired, but he was a trouper! Had dinner in the dining room that night. The food was good not great but good. (we are food snobs and really enjoy great quality food). The service was very rushed. We choose not to eat there again and ate in the Pinnacle Grill for dinner the rest of the week. Which was wonderful. Service and food was great. Visited Georgetown, Grand Cayman snokereled at Cemetery Beach – with some very friendly fish! Saw lobster and a fair amount of coral for it being as shallow as it wad. Next we went Half Moon Cay. Wonderful beach, the barbeque was good. Snorkeling was very poor. On the way out we found that back side of the beach inland a little bit had some great looking reef’s and we heard later on that the snorkeling was really good there. All in it was well worth it. Have fun sailing.

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Jun 11, 2004

Western Caribbean

Upon arrival at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, you are met with the sheer beauty of this ship, the M.S. Zuiderdam. The luggage dropoff is certainly smooth, but check-in can be quite troublesome if you arrive later than 230pm. The lines to check-in are significant, unless you happen to book a specific "upgraded" room-type, which then allows you to check-in in another area that is less crowded. Upon arriving onto the ship, you are

met with very modern colors that are not necessarily representative of any other cruiseship. Leather furniture galor, utilizing colors of the palat that I've never seen on furniture, inclusive of the cow hide theme in the disco. The lobby atrium area is much smaller than you would anticipate, but this does allow for the incorrect image that you are on a smaller, more quaint ship. However, the modernistic look of the furniture and the plethora of art that is abound on the ship, is a pleasant change of the normal "nautical" feel of most other liners. First, the cruise director of the ship, Ms. Dottie Kulasa, was absolutely fantastic. She is the epitome of a cruise director and is a true professional with every aspect of her job that is within the public eye. From morning to night, she is always pleasant, groomed to a T, and is always willing to assist, even saying good-bye on the gang-ways at the Ports of Call. The entertainment varied, from an excellent Comedian, Tom Drake, who could easily be one of the most successful comedians around, to the good magic of James Cielan (spelling?), who virtually has no stage personna. On this cruise, there was a juggler by the name of "Edge" who was obviously a former Ringling Brothers Clown, but who certainly can work the "Diablo", chinese yo-yo, like I've never seen before. The singer on the sailing, which I understand was a fill-in for the normal act, was Mr. George Solomon. He is very active on stage and allows for great audience participation, but his voice is that which you can hear in any karaoke bar. The food on board was primarily good, however the portions were ridiculously small. Even in the $20 upcharge restaurant known at the Odyssey Grill, the Surf and Turf was only a 5oz, piece of meat and a half of Lobster tail, cut in half by length. The bar service was very slow and soemtimes, frustrating. The language barrier was seemingly greater on this cruise, especially when you call down for room service, which is a painful experience. In all, this Vista Class ship of Holland America, is leaps and bounds above other ships that we've been on. However, the "premium cruising" experience was not what we were expecting, although thanks to the cruise director and some of the entertainment, they were the best that we've experienced. By the way, the cast of the Zuiderdam Dance troop was superb, from a dancing point of view. If you do go on the Zuiderdam, book a room with a verandah and also arrive early at check-in. The $10 per day per person, I'm not keen on. I believe that they are still experimenting with that, but it is not our favorite way to entice better service, with the staff knowing that they are getting a set tip anyway. Checking off of the Zuiderdam is very easy and is done by your stateroom location and number that will be assigned to you on the last evening of the cruise, delivered to your stateroom. Very efficient and much better than that of the other ships that just allow everyone off at the same time. By the way, Half Moon Cay is the best. We could have stayed there for much more time, if not days. Departure time from Cozumel is early, which is unfortunate. The other ports, Key West and Grand Cayman are good. Grand Cayman however is too crowded, as there were three other ships just as large as our in port, all which have to tender to the island. Key West was great, as the Zuiderdam was the only ship in on that day. Enjoy your cruise. If Dottie is your cruise director and Tom Drake is your comedian, you'll have a great time.

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Jun 4, 2004

Caribbean

Wow what a wonderful way to spend a vacation on a spectacular ship. This was our first cruise and I have always been apprehensive about cruising, my wife is prone to sea sickness and I'm a little claustrophobic so the last thing on our minds was a cruise. Yet we decide on this vacation at the last minute (only two weeks before we left) so we decided to give it a try. I went on the Internet and discovered a wealth of information concerning

the different types ships and all the fun ports to explore, and I decided to make our decision based almost solely on price. We booked an SS suite on the Zuiderdam for the price of what most ships charged for an inside cabin..it was a great value. After I gave them my credit card # I started to read the reviews of the ship and boy did I start to worry, Everybody was complaining about something...it was so bad I was afraid to tell my wife or my friends what ship we were taking. Well guess what? All the bad reviews are wrong...yes it does take 45 minutes to get on board but for a week in paradise its well worth it. Our room was magnificent! Large King size bed, very large bathroom with two showers and a Jacuzzi bathtub on what a great balcony with two full sized lounge chairs, table and plenty of extra room. We slept with the door upon all week and woke up each morning with a view of another wonderful Island. The Stewart was great I would hire him for my company in a minute, he cleaned our room at least three times a day. The food is as good as any five star restaurant I have been to and dinner at the Odyssey room was even better. We worked out at the great gym everyday and had a blast walking two miles around the deck each morning. I had heard many stories that Holland America is only for the old crowd but this was not the case at all. We our both 51 and I would guess this was the average age on this trip. I will admit this was not the cruise ship for my 20year old son or my 22 year old daughter but on this trip we left them at home. If your looking to fall back in love with someone again don't let any bad reviews chase you away from this ship. What a pleasure!

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May 28, 2004

Western Caribbean

My partner and I enjoyed a relaxing week on the 7-day Western Caribbean on the Zuiderdam, May 29 - June 5. We got a terrific price on a Category AA verandah cabin. This was our first cruise on HAL, and we had high expectations based on what we'd read on the HAL boards and heard from friends. Although we had some minor disappointments described below, we enjoyed ourselves and will certainly consider HAL again, especially if we see such

a great value. To give you a sense of our cruise experience, we had previously cruised on Celebrity (five times) Princess (three times) NCL (once) and RCCL (once). We’ve enjoyed every cruise we’ve taken, including this one. We're a childless gay couple in our early 40's, and we put a lot of importance on the quality of service and the food on a cruise. We cruise to relax, so the destination is less important to us than the on-board experience. Pre-cruise - The cruise departs from Ft. Lauderdale, but we flew in to Miami the day before as it's the only non-stop flight from San Francisco on United airlines (we were using miles). I think the 40-minute, $70 cab ride up to Ft. Lauderdale is worth it to avoid the hassles of changing planes and the chance for delay, etc. We stayed at the Marriott Marina on the 17th Street Causeway overnight, enjoying a nice dinner in the waterfront restaurant. We spent the dinner admiring the gigantic, 100+ foot long, four story yacht owned by someone who has too much money that was parked in front of the restaurant's windows. The next morning we worked out in the fitness center, had room service breakfast, and got ready to leave. I called downstairs about 11 a.m. to check about the free shuttle to the cruiseport, and found out that they take reservations on a first-come, first-served basis. The first open spot would be at 2:30 that afternoon. Next time, we'll know to put our name on the list the night before. Instead, we took a taxi for under $10 and were over at the ship in ten minutes. Embarkation - We gave our bags to a porter when we arrived (tip these guys - they work hard!), then got in line. There was a big line outside the terminal when we arrived (11:30-ish) which snaked into the building and back out again. It was probably a full hour from when we got in line until we got up to the desk inside. We saw special (shorter) lines for suite guests, but not for Mariner's Society members. We're Captain's Club members on Celebrity, and they always have special counters for their frequent cruisers in addition to suite guests. Also unlike embarking with Celebrity, there was no place to sit down, nor any refreshments, and we were tired after standing for an hour even though we're both pretty spry for 40! After getting our key cards, we went through the security check, boarding photo, and on board very quickly. There was a lineup of crew as soon as we got on board, and we were directed to follow one of the stewards. No champagne greeting like on Celebrity! We were expecting to be escorted to our cabin, but instead were kind of waved toward the elevator lobby. When we asked we were told that the cabins aren't available until 1 p.m. but that we could enjoy the buffet. We weren't hungry so we explored a little bit until we heard an announcement that we could go to our cabin. We found our cabin easily, #6123, a Category AA verandah cabin right by the rear elevator bank. We had booked an AA guarantee for a terrific price only a month before the cruise, so we didn't have any choice as to its location. We were a little worried about the location, but never had any trouble with noise from the elevator lobby. Cabin: This was one of the highlights for us. For a "standard" verandah cabin, we were very impressed by the size, layout and furnishings of the cabin. At almost 200 square feet with a balcony of 48 square feet, the cabin was larger and nicer than any other we've been in that wasn’t a suite. The bathroom with a mini-tub was well laid out, the water pressure and temperature control was great, and we had enough storage space for our stuff in a little medicine chest and a shelf under the sink. The closets and shelves were just large enough, and had real wooden hangers that could be removed. There is a wooden shelf in the middle of the closets that can be folded up to allow longer items to hang on top. When this shelf is folded up the hangers on the top don’t quite fit and the clothes get scrunched when the door closes. There are also drawers in the bedside tables, and (surprise!) under the beds and the sofa. The bed drawers have the extra coverlets stored in them, but the sofa drawers are empty and are pretty spacious. There are several "special" touches in the cabin that we appreciated: the height of the cocktail table can be adjusted from cocktail to dining table, a feature we used to eat room service in the room. The mini-bar is stocked, rather than being just an empty refrigerator (I know some prefer an empty refrigerator, but we like the convenience of sodas, beer, wine and cocktails available anytime). The verandah furniture was a comfortable armchair with cushion, ottoman, and a straight-backed chair with cushion, all made out of an imitation rattan that looked great all week. There is also a tiny, round cocktail table, just big enough for two glasses or two coffee cups. The door to the verandah was hinged rather than sliding, which made it much easier (and quieter) to go in and out. The complimentary bathrobes are a comfortable combination of waffle and terry cloth. Our cabin steward (Akmed) was fine but not great. He didn’t introduce himself the first day (on Celebrity the cabin stewards make a point of searching you out and introducing themselves on the first day and asking about your schedule and your preferences, and telling you how to find them); and on several days our cabin wasn’t made up until after noon. We also didn’t have several items in our room at first (stationary, a pen, breakfast order cards) and I ended up breaking into the stewards’ storage room one night to find them. I’m probably now featured on the cruise video! Public rooms: There are a lot of strong opinions about the Zuiderdam’s decoration. Usually, they fall into two categories: HAL regulars comment on how bright the colors are (“garish” comes up a lot); and non-HAL regulars comment on how dark the ship is. We fall into the second category. We did think that there were many beautiful and/or elegant spots on the ship, and we appreciated the sprinkling of artwork around the ship. We thought there were several spaces on the ship that are made to feel smaller and more “intimate” (a.k.a.: claustrophobic) than necessary, such as the atrium, the dining room, the lido pool, and the staircases (are those narrow staircases really up to code?) but other spaces that worked wonderfully: the Erasmus Library and the internet room next to it; the buffet area, and the Crows’ Nest. Dining: Vista Dining Room: Any reviewers’ comments about the dining experience on any cruiseline need to be taken with HUGE grains of salt: always consider whether you have the same tastes as the reviewer. As I noted above, we enjoy a fine dining experience with professional service, a wide choice of excellent food with good presentation, and professional wine service. We expect such a dinner to take upwards of two hours; we feel rushed if it takes less. By this standard, our experience on the Zuiderdam was not great. Good, but not great. Other reviewers have commented that the dining room on Zuiderdam is crowded and that the servers are clearly overworked and are serving too many tables with too few people. I can confirm that is true. Our Waiter, Ali, was certainly friendly and capable, and the Assistant Maitre d’ for our area, Ferry, stopped by each night. Ferry even helped out in serving, pouring water or removing plates occasionally. Our wine steward(ess), (name?) was friendly and very efficient after the first night when she was a little overwhelmed. Our assistant waiter, Surya (sp?) was a problem, and was clearly unhappy about being there. The second evening he disappeared for an hour – our tablemates even joked that they hoped he’d quit and at least we’d get better service. But then he came back… The menus had a good selection of choices, always several meats, two fish, one pasta dish, and one vegetarian option. My partner is vegetarian so we noticed the limited choices for him – Celebrity has a whole separate vegetarian menu that changes every night, and Princess always has several choices and can make up any kind of pasta. Our waiters never offered him anything other than what was on the menu. Chicken, steak and salmon were always available. The plating and presentation were well done, although the portions were a little large for our taste (see comment about different tastes, above). The china, crystal and silverware are of a good quality. So what didn’t we like? As noted, the servers were rushed, and there was little of the daily chatting and joking with the servers we have enjoyed on other cruises. The courses were brought out rapid-fire, so that the table wasn’t synched up: one person had their appetizer while another had salad, etc. The ladies weren’t served first; the plates weren’t centered when they were placed on the table; the table was never crumbed all week; the silverware was never arranged for the next course. The several times that our table companions asked to change their order or asked for a second portion it was clearly a problem. Once a gentleman at our table asked the assistant waiter if he could have a second portion and he got a stare, then Surya said “I’ll have to check with Ali.” I’ve never heard that before on a cruise! The wine service was good, and the selection was interesting even at the lower end of the price range, with moderate quality Chilean, Australian, and French wines. Lido Restaurant (a.k.a.: the Buffet): a real bright spot! The room is very well designed, as there are six or eight stations each of which has something different: deli sandwiches; pizza and pasta; sushi and stir-fry; carved meats; salads, deserts; and regular buffet foot. Therefore, you could select the kind of food you wanted and stand in a shorter line than on other cruise ships. Although you have to get your own plastic tray with no linen place mat, at least the servers cover the hot dishes with a lid – a nice extra. The tables are cleared quickly, and a rolled-up linen napkin with silverware inside is placed on a clean table so you know it’s available (and so you don’t have to carry the silverware around with you). The Lido is between the mid and rear elevator banks so there is easy access from both ends and good traffic flow, and you can take your food out on the back deck to eat al fresco. Bar servers circulate frequently so you can get wine, beer, or soda easily. Servers also circulate with carts of iced tea, lemonade and water in case you forgot to get them from the dispenser or if you want a refill. We only ate there for lunch so cannot speak to the breakfast service. Room service: When we’re on a cruise, we order breakfast in our room every day. Zuiderdam has door hangers with a good selection of continental style breakfast, along with eggs any style and breakfast meats. If you order a hot breakfast the plate arrives on a warmer that keeps it at the right temperature – a very nice touch. They use the same elegant china as in the dining room, and the silverware is rolled in a linen napkin as in the Lido. You order in ½ hour ranges, and our breakfast arrived within five to ten minutes of the beginning of the period every day. They also provided room service on the last day, unlike some other cruiselines, so you didn’t have to leave your room and eat with all your belongings in tow. Several days we ordered room service lunch when it was late or we wanted to eat on the balcony and read – orders were delivered in less than ½ hour and very well presented. Specialty dining: We enjoyed our table mates so much that we didn’t try the Odyssey Restaurant during the week. The space looked very interesting, including tables overlooking the atrium and tables by large windows on the sea. The menu looked pretty meat-heavy, like a steakhouse, rather than the Pacific Northwest cuisine we thought it was supposed to be. Fitness center/Spa: We generally work out every morning, so the gym equipment and design is important to us. The gym on the Zuiderdam was well equipped and well designed for a ship-board gym. There is a good circuit of selectorized machines on one side of the room, plenty of cardio equipment including treadmills, bikes (both upright and recumbent), elliptical trainers, and “striders” facing a curved wall of windows across the front of the ship, and three benches (flat, decline, and adjustable) with a rack of dumbbells up to 40 lbs. The gym is located at the top of the ship above the bridge and below the Crows Nest, looking forward. There is a wood-floored area for classes in the middle, which included aerobics, yoga (fee) and spinning (fee). Although signup was required for the classes, they didn’t look that full. I used the Hydrotherapy pool every afternoon, as I have a bad back. The charge is $15 per day or $80 for the week, and was well worth it for me – the doors have a card-access system to make sure no one sneaks in. The pool is very similar to the Thallassotherapy pools on Celebrity’s Century class ships, and the space includes a large skylight and lounge chairs to relax, and there are showers to rinse off. The spa also includes a “Thermal Spa” with steam and sauna that I didn’t even visit, although I paid for access – the Hydro pool was enough for me! There is a small men’s locker room with showers and facilities, and presumably a comparable locker room for ladies. My partner got a haircut during the week, but we otherwise didn’t use any of the spa facilities for massage, etc. Entertainment: We enjoyed the entertainment on this cruise more than any other we’ve been on. The two production shows (“Under the Boardwalk” with music from the 50’s and 60’s and another show with music from movies) were very professional and enjoyable, and the singers and dancers had great talents. There was also an Elton John impersonator (surprisingly good) and a juggler who we didn’t see. The Vista Lounge is an intimate theater with one balcony, and the sightlines are good if you’re not behind a column. There are no cocktail tables for your drinks unless you sit up front on the banquettes. Also, what’s with passing off Korbel for champagne?!? We were not impressed by the selection of drinks or wine either in the Vista Lounge or in other lounges. We found the jazz trio in the Ocean bar early on, and tried to stop in each evening to have a nightcap and enjoy their music. Frequently, we were the only people in the bar at 11:30 or midnight to appreciate this wonderful group. Lounges/public spaces: Many evenings we stopped at the Crows Nest for a drink before dinner and to watch the couples dancing. The views from the front of the ship are pretty spectacular. As mentioned, we also liked the Ocean Bar for the live jazz. Most afternoons would find us in the Windstar Café having a Latte while playing Scrabble – we have a tradition of playing Scrabble on our cruises, so we bring our own board. We were surprised that for a cruiseline as supposedly upscale as HAL, they insisted on serving coffee in paper cups. We had to ask every time to have our coffee in a china cup and saucer. There is also no table service in the Windstar: you have to stand in line, even though it was never crowded. The Explorers’ Lounge is along one side of the passage from the Windstar back to the Dining Room, and is a lovely room. Unfortunately, they pull the curtains before dinner, making an already dark room oppressive. There is a talented three-piece group that played right after dinner while they offered after-dinner liquors. The Piano bar off the Casino was a nice space but we didn’t quite warm to the piano player so didn’t spend any time there all week. The Casino: We normally spend some time in the casino every evening after dinner or after the show, or both. We each came out about even playing the slots, and we enjoyed watching others lose money on roulette and craps. The dealers and other casino staff were friendly. Ports: Key West – we got off the ship about 10 a.m. and were back on about noon, eating lunch. It was so humid in the town that we really couldn’t take it – we’re wimps out here in California! For our dose of “cul-chuh,” we visited the Oldest House in Key West, a state monument, and spent about an hour touring the house and outbuildings. We also walked down Duval Street and browsed in some of the shops. Cozumel – we took a ship’s tour in the morning that included both kayaking in clear, acrylic kayaks, followed by snorkeling in the same general area. We also had about an hour after snorkeling to relax at a beach with drinks, a pool, and some shade. We had never seen the clear kayaks before and they were more than just a novelty: you could see the coral heads and schools of fish through the bottom and sides of the kayak! The snorkeling was also quite nice, and we were allowed to relax in the shade for a while before returning to the ship. Grand Cayman – This was our first tender port, and it does add 45 minutes to an hour to go on shore. As anyone who’s visited Grand Cayman knows, the small port area can get very crowded and a little confusing. We were there with a Princess and a Carnival ship; HAL probably handled the crowds better than either of them did. Upon returning, we were able to walk aboard a tender to the Zuiderdam with no waiting, whereas the line for the Carnival ship snaked down the block and into a nearby parking lot. We had booked a trip to Stingray City with Native Ways on the web; although it was a smaller group on the boat than the huge catamaran used by the ship’s tour, we wouldn’t recommend them – the boat broke down on the way back to harbor, and the crew clearly didn’t know what to do. We had a wonderful time with the stingrays, and we also made a stop to snorkel that was fabulous, but that would be true with any operator. Half Moon Cay – everything you hear about how beautiful HMC is, is true! Light blue water, powder soft white sand, beautiful set up. For beach lovers, this is heaven! HAL has the perfect set up there, and very organized tendering, nice buildings and pathways, freshwater showers, clean bathrooms, etc. We didn’t rent a cabana, but we did rent a “clamshell” a tent-like structure that gives shade for two lounge chairs. We lasted about a hour, reading in the shade with an occasional swim in the warm water. By that point, we were panting in the heat, and decided to head back to the ship rather than having lunch on shore. We enjoyed the empty ship, and had one last game of Scrabble that afternoon. Departure – HAL allows you to stay in your cabin on departure day, and calls you by tag color. We had room service breakfast, and relaxed while waiting to be called. Very civilized! We were off around 9:00 a.m., found our bags in the hall, got a taxi and were at the airport in 20 minutes. Our flight wasn’t until 11:30, and we just got a paper and sat, as there was no Red Carpet Lounge for United frequent flyers at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Final thoughts – Overall, this was a great, mindless, vacation. For tropical beach lovers, the stops would be perfect. Sunbathing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, windsurfing, sailing; they were all available. We’re not beach lovers, and we like at least a modicum of culture with our vacations, so we didn’t fully appreciate the ports. We could have done without the frequent, intrusive announcements on board, the “party hearty” games and music by the pool, or the paper “to go” cups for coffee. HAL service was fine, certainly better than Princess, RCCL and especially NCL, but not up to the standards we’re used to on Celebrity. That said, we love certain HAL touches: the larger cabins; hot bites with hors d'oeuvres; the quality entertainment. We do understand from our research that the Zuiderdam is not typical of HAL ships and we are interested in trying other ships in their fleet that might be better examples of their level of service. We loved getting to know our table mates during the week, and we generally found our own fun. We hope that everyone finds a cruiseline that’s “right” for them and enjoys their time on board – it’s your vacation, you deserve to enjoy it!

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May 21, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

My husband and I were very disappointed with the Zuiderdam. Having cruised with Princess, Celebrity, NCL, and Royal Caribbean in the past we were able to compare. The embarkation consisted of standing in line for one hour. The dining room service was poor - on the other ships your chair was pulled for you to sit; the pepper was ground for you; and the lobster

meat was definitely pulled from the shell. None of this was done on this ship. We didn’t feel pampered at all. It was as if they didn’t want to be there. Our table for two was in front of a large emergency door and behind a service station and there was a vibration the first two nights that was very disturbing – not very romantic for our honeymoon dinners. The Lido restaurant had a sandwich station that stayed open late – I was having a sandwich made and the server was coughing all over the meat and bread. It was obvious that he was sick. I politely took the sandwich and put it in the trash. My husband and I both came home sick. The ports were good and the shows were average. However, I wouldn’t recommend this ship to anyone.

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Apr 30, 2004

Western Caribbean

Our flight, booked thru HAL, arrived at Ft Lauderdale early. We thought this would be a plus, instead we had to wait a longer period of time for the pre arranged transportation to pier. The previous week's cruise cleared port late (11 am, we were told), so we had to wait until the buses brought all the people to the airport before they could take us back to

ship. This resulted in a very long check in line at the pier. It moved rather quickly for the # of people boarding. Once on board we were ushered to the Lido for lunch, the staterooms would not be available until 1:15. Around 1 PM we heard the announcement, staterooms were ready. We booked Veranda category A. Room was clean, the balcony very nice. We checked out some of the ship and returned to find our bags in room & ready to unpack. Ernas, our room steward, very friendly and eager to please. We saw him first and last day, rest of the time, he was invisible, yet the room was always made up, fresh towels & fresh ice. It was magical! Sail away & lifeboat drill were uneventful. Our dinner seating was 5:45 PM, they now have 4 seatings, not 2. Would have preferred 6:15. Food was good, nice presentation. I miss the old menus, new ones are one page and you don't get a souvenier at end of voyage. We enjoy pulling out the old ones & remembering the good times had over meals. We had nothing to take home. The meals weren't much too remember either. We sat with nice people, but had nothing in common. We were only folks at large table to order a wine or cocktail. This made it kind of boring. Also, we were only folks at our table that followed the formal dress code, informal dress code. The other folks came informal for formal night & casual remainder of cruise. We cruise HAL because we like traditional cruises that still have the elegance...this was the most casual of all the HAL ships we've sailed. Shows were excellent! The comedian was very good. Ventriloquist excellent. The Zuiderdam cast very energetic & put on great shows. Casino is large, but very, very tight. We did see someone win $25,000 on a slot machine, but that was about it all week. We went to bingo twice. They only play 1 game. Didn't like that much, in past it was 4 games. We didn't participate in many activities, enjoyed our private verandah instead. The few times by the aft pool, it was nice but had to wait for 2 chairs together. DJ was always hosting some activity - conga around the pool for free teguila shots, belly flops for free shot, etc. Not our style. We like the western itinery, but would have preferred later day in Cozumel 6- 2:30 couldn't do much. Who gets up early on vacation?? Too early a start for the beaches and shopping. By the time we did some shopping there was only time for one round at Carlos & Charlies & it was time to be on board. Half Moon Cay was wonderful as usual. I could take a week at HMC! What a beautiful island! We've been there a few times & always look forward to returning. The Food on the Lido deck was very good. The Italian station, Deli, and Omelettes being our favorites. It was hard to get ice tea. It always seemed to out of tea. We used our soda card a lot on this cruise. Would have preferred tea. At night the tea selection was always out of Sleepytime, my favorite before bed, had to settle for something else. The 11:30 pm buffets were good. Variety nice each night. Very good pizza selection too. We didn't bother going to the Chocolate Dessert Extravaganza. It's now held at 4 in the afternoon instead of midnight. Afternoons are for pool or beach, not a dessert party - I want dessert at night. The night club was ok, Marc, the DJ tried very hard to get people involved, but the music was the same day after day. If you heard it last night you will hear it again at the pool & again tonight! Need better variety. The cruise director & entertainment crew were just ok. We've had better, and those are our most memorable cruises. Shops on board were good, nothing special, but very reasonable. Photos were always being taken, this was first cruise we bought none - the quality just wasn't there. If they took better pictures I would buy them. Disembarkation was very smooth. It was nice being able to stay in room until # is called. HAL now adds tips to your shipboard invoice. $10 pp per day. Not sure we like this policy, we usually tip a lot more and it's based on service and given directly to the people given us the service. We gave more money to our room steward besides what we were billed, he deserved it. Luggage roundup was uneventful, plenty of porters to help. When we did the 'postmortem' on this cruise...it was probably the lowest rating we ever gave HAL, 7-7.5 on scale of 10. The ship was beautiful, very large for HAL, the atrium was too small & was disappointing for this size ship. We enjoy the casino, when you spend three times your daily budget in 10-15 minutes with no money back to play with - your time is very limited in casino. We don't expect to win, but we expect to get some 'play' out of our money - when all you do is put it in & get nothing back - there is no fun to it. It also means there is nothing to do in the evening. We wound up spending a lot of time on our balcony or watching tv. Not sure that we would do the Zuiderdam again. Zaandam or Veendam were a lot more fun!

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Apr 30, 2004

Western Caribbean

I just like the facts in a compact space that takes less than 5 minutes to read. I will attempt such in this review. I must first start by saying this is my first cruise. My wife and I find the concept of confined space unnerving and we decided to take this trip as a “test” of our compatibility with the cruise concept in general. We have traveled

much and have visited two of the ports of call on this itinerary before during land vacations so I will have some input regarding that as a comparison at the end. Due to our home being in Arizona, we had to arrive the day before due to flight schedules. We stayed at the Embassy Suites on 17th Street. A very pleasant stay and they provided on-time delivery to the ship by sign up. I have heard horror stories about hotel shuttles to the ships, but nothing but kept promises on our experience. Granted, had I had to wait 10 minutes I would have hired a taxi for 10 bucks anyway. Getting on the ship was a piece of cake. Drop your luggage off at the curb, pay the porter 5 bucks (the sign states you don’t need to tip, but the hands are out for a tip anyway. My experience is if you want your bags in your room, instead of in the back of the porters car that night….invest the $5) and get in line. If you are smart, you have done your paperwork online with the HAL web site. If not, you get in a line that is 5 times as long with a whole host of people with that “I don’t know how to turn a computer on” look in their eyes. If you are reading this review, you will be in the short line. We arrived at 11:30 on the shuttle and were on the ship at 11:45. We met our steward at the room, unloaded our hand carries then took a quick walk around the ship, had a snack and returned to our room at 1:00 to find all our bags in our room ready to be unpacked. We had a standard verandah room of about 245 sq ft which we found adequate. Plenty of storage and drawers for what we brought. The king bed was hard, but are all being replaced by pillow-top beds in the next few months. Those that we met that had the new beds raved about them. The suites and deluxe rooms already had the upgrades. Room accommodations were fine, water pressure was better than at home, occasional sewer smell in the bathroom that seemed to coincide with windy conditions outside. I opened the exhaust vent to full capacity and that seemed to eliminate the problem. Let me say something about sea-sickness. I am not prone to motion sickness. as I spent a lot of time in aircraft traveling. To be safe, my wife and I got the prescription patch that you place behind your ear and started a day before the cruise as directed by our physician and friends that are “in the know” about cruises. The side effects stated are real….nausea, blurred vision, loss of balance, a feeling of being half high and dryness of mouth that I have not experienced even during the driest of Arizona desert days. General consensus on the ship was that Bonine is the best for motion sickness. We met a pharmacist on board on day two, he told us to remove the patch immediately and things improved over the next two days as the effects of the patch wore off. The stuff is really bad. I could not even read a menu till day 3. It takes about 4 days to be completely clear of the side effects. I will never touch it again. My wife had the same exact side effects as did many others on the ship wearing the patch. We all thought is was keeping us from getting really sick, in fact it was making us sick. The pharmacist was right, the FDA goofed on approving this one. The passenger to space ratio is as good as they claim. I seldom felt crowded on the ship with the exception of expected meal times. About 90 percent of the time our elevator was empty. The ship really did feel half empty even though the ship was completely full. Use of the tenders went very well. I was careful to always return at least one hour prior to the last tender back to the ship. Never had to wait more than 5 minutes. They run non-stop. Contrasted to the Carnival Triumph that was in Grand Cayman at the same time…1-2 hour wait to get back on the ship. People standing in line in the humid hot sun while we waited across the street enjoying mahi-mahi fish and chips with a view of the tenders coming in. When one came in, we stepped across the street, stepped on the tender and went back to the ship. The looks of envy from the carnival cruisers was intense. 46 sq ft per passenger verses 29 for the cheap seats for carnival really showed here. The ship was spotless. I don’t recall even seeing a scrap of paper or anything out of place. I am a non-smoker and learned which areas allowed smoking and avoided them. It was not an issue. Our stateroom was smoke free. The A/C units in the rooms run non-stop, even when not cooling, and I was surprised by the lack of smoke smell in the ship generally. Ports of call are the same no matter the cruise line. We went to Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Half Moon Cay. Shore excursions are shore excursions. We booked our own and saved enough $$ to upgrade our flight to FLL to first class. I am convinced we got better service for less $$. Not as easy as booking with HAL, granted, but for me worth it. Grand Cayman is a mess on Wednesdays. 4 mega ships in the same day. 10,000 people trying to capture Caribbean happiness. Glad I was diving and not shopping. I only had to contend with the fish. Half Moon Cay was very nice. Weather was great, we had the island to ourselves. We walked around to the far right side of the half moon. Had the whole beach to ourselves. The sand is pristine, not a rock or shell to be found…just white perfect sand. Lunch was great and once again the food line was well organized and my longest wait was for the server to put the bar-b-q’d ribs on my plate. The meals on ship varied in quality. We found all food served in the Vista dining room to be excellent. By the end of the cruise we were eating most of our meals there. Dinners were exceptional. We found the beef plates average with the exception of excellent prime rib. The other meals and meat dishes were all excellent. The fish was all very good. All meals we had were very hot and fresh. Considering that they served 55,000 total meals during our 7 days, I was most impressed with the quality of all the food in the Vista dining room. Portions were small but adequate and very tasty. If you tried an appetizer, soup, salad, entrée and dessert….you were full. It was fun trying new things I would never venture to try at home. Service was excellent and prompt every time we ate there. If you want to spend $20 per head to eat at the Odyssey on deck 2, we found it well worth it. I had the Filet Mignon with lobster. Simply put, the best 20 dollar meal to be had anywhere on the planet. We found the food on the lido deck to be typical of what you would find in any food court at a mall in a city near you. Some of the food was very good, some very poor. I can usually tell by looking which is which. The lido deck is divided into types of food, Oriental, Italian, Bistro, Deli, salad bar, continental breakfast, etc….I found the sushi and pizza very poor and also the “pre-cooked, served well done and then some” hamburgers on the lido deck by the pool less than what I had hoped for. After a couple days of that, we were driven back to the cuisine of the Vista dining room verses the quantity of the lido deck. Most of the more “experienced” eaters congregated on the lido deck with plates of food that reminded me of the Matterhorn at Disneyland. These were the same people that gravitate to the European speedo’s and two piece swim suites. It was disturbing, yet entertaining. Entertainment on board was good. The ships performers (singers, dancers for the Las Vegas style shows) performed for two nights. They had good voices and were talented but will not be replacing Mama Mia at the Mandalay Bay any time soon. The comedian was very funny and the early show was cleaner than the late one. I find rank humor for the weak minded. There was an Elton John imitator that was very talented and flamboyant. The illusionist on board was very good. Great personality and skilled. There was a ventriloquist that we did not go see that was also supposed to be very good. Keep in mind that the acts change all the time. So you may have better or worse at any given time. We enjoyed the entertainment overall. The other bands on board seemed very good. The violinist in the explorers lounge was arrogant, but very good. The piano bar pianist was very good, but the steel drum band on lido deck should have been dropped off in the middle of the Caribbean and put out of their misery. The disco was dead. I did not gamble at the casino. I paid enough for the cruise already. Overall, a great cruise. I would like to do it again without the motion sickness patch as I would have had a 7 day cruise instead of a 4 day cruise. I must admit there are good and bad things about cruising. I felt rushed in the ports of call. I don’t you get to really see the islands, you just get snippets of what it is really like. You don’t get to sample the food really or the night life. You really have to consider your destination as the ship. If you want to experience the Riviera Maya, you are better off spending a week in the Yucatan south of Cancun. My next cruise would most likely include family or friends. My wife never felt settled on board, partially due to the effects of the patch and one day of high winds that made for a sleepless night. I found HAL very organized, accommodating and service oriented. Getting off the ship was as easy as getting on. We docked at 7 AM, went to the Vista dining for Belgian waffles for breakfast, went to our stateroom and watched a movie till our number was called at 9 AM then walked off the ship and grabbed our color coded luggage all in about 15 minutes. Once again, painless. Some people were waiting in public places from 7 AM to get off the ship…many upset. If you understand and work within the system….everything is great. Some people just don’t get it….

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Apr 9, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

Introduction: This review will be long and detailed. Prior to our last cruise I enjoyed reading such reviews and researching cruise options. I kept a journal throughout our cruise in order to document our experiences, adventures, observations, helpful suggestions, likes and dislikes. Who Are We?: My wife Leslie and I have been married for eighteen years. I’m forty-three years old and she’s forty. Our son John is fifteen. I’m in sales, and

Leslie is a CPA. We both have our Bachelor Degree’s. We are very active in our community, son’s school, church, and we enjoy our involvement in Republican politics. We are from the Charlotte, NC area. Prior Cruise Experience: My wife of 18 years, our 15 year old son John and I set sail from Port Canaveral on April 10, 2004. This is my fifth cruise. All were with my wife Leslie. Three cruises were during the 1990’s onboard the now defunct Premier Cruise Lines. That was a very family oriented cruise line which we liked. Our son then five joined us for one of those. In 2000 my wife and two couples sailed together. That was a seven night cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s, Grandeur of the Seas from Miami to San Juan, PR. Our Royal Caribbean cruise in 2000 was all we could ask for. We flew to and from Miami. However, there was one overwhelming source of irritation. There were prevalent and frequent references of a sexual nature, and inappropriate humor. For example, the cruise director suggested several times that the rocking ship was due to people having sex in their cabins. On the two formal nights we dressed for dinner, and then were exposed to sophomoric crude humor from the theater stage. The belly flop contest disturbed by wife’s rest beside the pool one day. We knew that we’d want a more mature and sophisticated experience on our next cruise. Why Cruise? Cruising makes our perfect vacation. We enjoy researching and choosing our cruises very much. We not only love the large ships and the beautiful tropical destinations, but the fact the trip is one all-inclusive price. Of course alcohol, gambling, shopping, professional photographs and tips are extra. My family and I enjoy the fact that we don’t have to spend any time or energy evaluating the cost of various options. Professional Photography Deal: HAL made all passengers an offer that we felt was excellent. For $99 you could select any fifteen photographs. There is a gallery with all pictures displayed. Throughout the week we Organized On Board Activities: HAL offers whatever you’d like with regard to organized activities. My son and I like the contests like golf putting, ping pong (we were both champions on different days), shuffle board, team trivia and team name that tune. Team trivia competitions were held each day we were at sea in the lounge. There is no need to bring your own team. Players are very friendly and some teams will need another player, or sometimes teams will split to accommodate additional players. The more the merrier. The prized range from HAL logo’d coffee mugs, to travel alarm clocks, to a visor. For me the best part of the activities is getting to know more people. I always try to remember names and to use them throughout the cruise. It fun for me and people like having their names remembered. Selecting HAL and Zaandam: First we identified our possible cruise dates. Our target date was to depart on the Saturday when our son’s spring date started. As long as the port was within driving distance, we knew we preferred to drive to the port instead of flying. This was to both save money, and to give us more travel flexibility. Plus with the hassles of travel to and from the Orlando airport and the port, and possible flight delays, driving made sense for us. Therefore we wanted the port to be as close as possible to our Charlotte, NC area home. There are limited cruises from North and South Carolina ports, and we found no match. Port Canaveral became our first choice of ports. Once we selected the port, we used various web sites to see what cruises were available. We eliminated Carnival Cruise Lines because as I mention earlier we wanted something even more sophisticated that Royal Caribbean. We eliminated Disney Cruise Lines because we knew we did not want that many small children. We also knew we liked the large cruise ships, and we like the eastern Caribbean. My wife did not care to visit Mexico. We knew we wanted a six or seven night cruise. We found HAL Zaandam eastern Caribbean Cruise departing on April 10.3 Of course each cruise line had its own web site. I particularly like reading cruise reviews on several of the numerous such sites. Simply do a google search of “cruise reviews,” or "cruise reviews zaandam” to find these sites. Several that I used were www.epinion.com, www.cruiseletter.com and www.cruisereviews.com. We were at first concerned that this would be a senior citizens cruise. We also wanted to make sure that there were youth onboard that our 16 year old son would enjoy. Since the Easter break is a popular time for Spring Break we were confident there would be plenty of people his age. We were pleased with the wide variety of age groups. Yes, there were plenty of teenagers. Yes, the average age of passengers is older than Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines. We enjoyed the other parents of youth that were onboard. Many onboard were families traveling like we were. There were many groups with three or even four generations traveling together. If you are a young single person looking to find a mate, this cruise is not for you. I’d imagine that if this were a regular fall or winter cruise there would have been a disproportional number of senior citizens. He found the ages were a healthy mix. Before the Cruise: We shopped prices and I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Roger Powe, Vacation Assistant, ONLINE VACATION CENTER, www.onlinevacationcenter.com, 1801 NW 66 Avenue Suite 102, Plantation, FL 33313, 1-800-780-9002 Ext 6449, 954-377-6449, Fax: 954-377-6401. We reserved level MM, which was an inside cabin. Our full price with port charges and taxes was $1,856. We reserved about ten months in advance. We purchased the cruise insurance as well. This was because my mother has not been in the best health, and we did not want to risk loosing our money should we need to stay home with home. However, all was well and the insurance was not needed. We knew we wanted the early dinner seating. On HAL this seating is in very high demand, due to the older passengers and the many families. Late seating diners A month before the cruise we wrote to HAL’s headquarters and requested a complementary cabin upgrade. Roger advised us when he received notification that we had been upgraded to a large outside cabin. We also researched our destinations: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and Tortula, British Virgin Islands, plus the two private island days. We knew we would not purchase the cruise line shore excursions. Rotterdam Dining Room Service- Poor: On most cruises the dining room service is excellent and passengers have a change tom really bond with their servers. That was not the case for our table. Our primary server was Rachmat. He displayed little or no personality. He never attempted to know our names and frequently made mistakes. He also offered few good suggestions. Rachmat was assisted by Nur Aziz who also did not impress us. Those at other tables served by this team agreed. I’m sure their tips and reviews reflected the lack luster service they provided. Friday, April 9, 2004: The three of us drove from Charlotte, NC to Jacksonville, FL for the night. This allowed us to travel at a leisurely pace and get a good night’s sleep. We reserved the hotel well in advance due to this being Easter week end. We each had prepared a small overnight bag that would allow us not to unpack our entire car trunk for our one quick night. Day 1, Saturday, April 10, 2004, Embark From Port Canaveral We made the final ninety mile drive at a relaxed pace. Our bags were already labeled with the tags HAL had sent us. We arrived at the port at 12:30PM. We were thrilled to see huge ships in port. Large signs directed us to Holland America. We were pointed to an unloading parking space. Our luggage was taken away to soon arrive in our cabin. I drove to the nearby parking area, which was uncovered. I paid the $10 per day in advance. The check-in went smoothly. Documents were checked. They collected credit cards information so that you’re on ship purchases can be easily charged at the end of the cruise. Room keys that also serve as on board charge card are issued. The first on many posed pictures were taken. Only one hour after arriving at the port we were enjoying lunch at 1:30PM. We were very pleased with our cabin. The two twin beds were moved together. Our son would sleep on a sofa that converts to a cot. There was a desk with chair. The bath had plenty of room for us. There was a large window. Prior to our arrival we’d been upgraded from an inside cabin on the Dolphin deck to a large outside cabin on the main deck. We then explored the ship including the library, spa, and pool decks. I visited the concierge to make sure we were being seated at a large table for dinner. We prefer to sit with a large group instead of our just sitting as a party of three. We were assigned to a table for eight, perfect. My son and I visit the basketball area. There we meet a father and son that live within fifty miles of us. George and his son “G” were very friendly. I somehow knew our paths would cross many times during the next week, and I was right. We really hit it off with them. Late in the afternoon we had the fire drill, which went smoothly. Then we went with to leave our son at the Bon Voyage Party. He was eager to say good-bye to us, which was fine with us. Leslie and I went to the top deck to waive good-bye to Florida. Then we went to prepare for dinner. The dining room is two stories. There was a pianist near the entrance. Very elegant. We were the last to arrive at our table, which was next to a large window. We were with a good group. There was a family of three, which included a seven year old daughter. We immediately enjoyed her parents Rick and Angela, both about age thirty-five. They were from Tennessee. The other pair was a seventy year old grandmother named Del traveling with her thirteen year old son, Zack. They were from Florida. We all spoke openly and all participated in the conversation. We knew we’d enjoy meals with these people. If we had not felt this was I would have immediately ask to have my table assignment changed. After dinner our son went to Club HAL (youth program). Leslie and I went to the auditorium for the show. The entertainment was a comedian named Dwayne Cunningham. His show included juggling and wholesome humor. We enjoyed it. As we wandered the upper deck hall ways observing the art work I visited the restroom. When I tried to exit the slipping door wouldn’t. I knocked on the door, and shouted. No one came. This was a fairly remote area. After about fifteen minutes my wife heard me. She told me through the door that she was getting help. Ten minutes later she returned, and then ten minutes an engineer arrived to remove the door. Forty minutes after entering I was freed. To add insult to injury my wife advised me while I was locked in that I was in the women’s room, not the men’s. Fortunately this mishap was not a sign of things to come. Day 2, Sunday, April 11, 2004, Easter Sunday, At Sea At days end my wife would tell me that this is her favorite day ever on a cruise. We rose at 6:00 AM and went to Interdenominational Easter Worship in the Waging Theater. It was a full house. A retired Navy Chaplain led the service. After breakfast John and I played ping pong. Leslie and I got chairs and lounged by the pool. We read, chatted, and napped. We went to find John for lunch but he was eating with some new friends. Leslie and I went to our cabin and changed from swim suits and went to Rotterdam dining room for a more formal lunch than the Lido Deck Dining Room offered. We were seated with a charming older couple. We talked until we were nearly the last guests in the room. If it’s service and atmosphere you want then the Rotterdam dining room is the best choice for meals. After lunch Leslie has hair styling appointment. I take the occasion to enjoy and afternoon nap in the cabin with the ocean moving swiftly by our window. Leslie awakens me and I go on deck. John is in an organized basketball free throw contest with other passengers. I joined in too. It was very windy on deck. You had to shoot a free throw three feet to the right to have a chance of the wind blowing it in. It was fun watching and cheering. We then played in ping pong tournament. There were 24 males that participated. There was a wide range of ages. John and I met in the Championship. I won. I go to the room to prepare for formal night. Leslie is beautiful with her new hair style and dress. We go to the Captain’s reception early to avoid the long lines for traditional picture with the captain. We were right; the lines were very long later. We enjoyed champaign with other passengers then went on deck for more pictures of our own. We went to the dining room and for the second night waited shoulder to shoulder for the doors to open. (Note: There is no need to arrive early for dinner. They do not open the doors until the prescribed time.) Rick and Angela were late for dinner because she had a spa treatment that went late. They are a lot of fun to be with, and are very funny. For dinner I had lobster bisque, Caesar salad, crab legs (already split) with hot butter, and crusted salmon. The head steward made flaming crepe suzette beside the table. We invited our table mate Del to sit with is for the show and that we’d save her a seat near the front. She liked the idea and we enjoy her company. Her grandson Zack in going to Club Hal. The show was “Up on the Roof,” the songs for the 50’s and 60’s. Lights, costumes, dancing. The cast had about ten performers. After the show we went to the cabin to find our son John under the covers watching a baseball game. He’s bushed. We then rushed to play Name That Tune in the piano bar. We were not alone. There was a big crowd. We strolled the ship enjoying the art displays and various musical offerings. We visit the casino but did not wager since I am a loser at the tables. We retire at 11:00PM. We place our morning coffee and fruit order outside the door. We agree that we don’t have enough room to comfortably enjoy breakfast in the room. Leslie states that this has been her favorite day ever on a cruise. Day 3, Monday, April 12, 2004, At Sea We rise early and get chairs by pool at 7:00 AM. We have breakfast at 7:30am. I worked out in the gym, which has all cardio machines facing forward toward the open sea. It’s a nice view. HAL is known for well equipped fitness centers, and the Zaandam is no exception. John and I participate in ping pong and shuffle board tournaments. I shower, steam, and dress in the spa to give Leslie and John more room to prepare for dinner. I really enjoy this practice. I’m surprised that more passengers don’t shower and dress for dinner in the spa. Dinner is informal. One third of men are not wearing jackets. The show features Paul Tanner who sings and is an impressionist. His finale is Elvis which many men really appreciated since the women were really swooning. Leslie, John and I go to the Crow’s Nest Lounge for TV Tune Trivia, which was fun. Then we retire for the night. Day 4, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Road Town, Tortula, British Virgin Islands We awoke at 6:00AM and could see that we’d arrived at Tortula as scheduled. We are the only ship in port. Our coffee arrived as requested. John and I had breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room. Breakfast is his favorite meal of the day. This breakfast was outstanding. We were eager visit Road Town. We could see the beautiful island and its beaches. We went ashore and took a cab to a beach we’d read about called Brewers Cove. The driver gave us much local information. The taxi trip to Brewers Cove is $6 per person. He dropped us off at the beach which had a small snorkel equipment rental shack, which served drinks as well. Chickens and roosters ran wild around the shack and beach. We’d brought our own snorkeling equipment; therefore John and I were ready to go. We had the beach all to ourselves. No other passengers arrived until we’d been there for over two hours. (Note: We’d have felt safer and had a better time if we’d waited until 10:00AM instead of 8:00AM to go the beach with more fellow passengers.) The three of us were all alone for over two hours after the cab driver left us. This is not the best feeling in a foreign land. The water was clear and snorkeling is pretty good. We found beautiful coral reef. We’d enjoyed the beach and wanted to return to Road Town for shopping and sight seeing so we caught a taxi that was dropping off passengers. John wanted to freshen up on board since he was tired and felt sandy, but Leslie and I wanted to stay in town. He returned to the ship alone. Leslie and I walked the town and joined went on board an hour later. We purchased forty postcards and BVI postage stamps. We found John napping. Leslie and I had lunch on board. I retired to the Crows Nest to write cards to friends and family back home. John found me and convinced me to come and play in the shuffleboard tournament. Afterward I returned to Road Town to mail the cards and for more shopping. I ran into Leslie while re-boarding at about 4:30PM. Tonight’s the big Caribbean Deck Party and BBQ. During the day I’d ran into our table mates and we all agreed that we’d be on deck and would not dine in the Rotterdam Dining Room. A big draw is $10 unlimited rum punch served in a pineapple. Prior to dinner I again showered, steamed, and dressed in the spa. There was a huge buffet on the Lido deck and the Caribbean band played. It was a great time. The evening closed with Comedian Dwayne Cunningham in The Mondriaan Lounge. We enjoyed this show as much as the one on our first night on board. Day 5, Wednesday, April 14, 2004, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands We again rose at 6:00AM. It was a short trip to St. Thomas, and we are docked. We can wee other mega-ships like the Princess’s Golden Princess, and Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. We have to see customs to get a card to go ashore. We wait for our level to be called, which was a mistake. (Note: If you wish to go ashore as soon as possible then get in line with customs as soon as possible.) Our son John is an excellent golfer and we need to keep his game sharp during the week long cruise. We’d researched our destinations and learned that there is one golf course in the Virgin Islands. Mahogany Run Golf Course is in St. Thomas and ahs a driving range. John brought three clubs on the cruise and when we went ashore he took them with him for our visit to the course. We caught a cab with our friends George and “G” who were going fishing at Megan’s Bay. The cab dropped the three of us off at Mahogany Run and the driver gave us his mobile number to call when we were ready to return to Charlotte Amalie. The staff at the golf course treated us very well. I’d learned that this course is famous for three holes created on cliffs that overlook the ocean. They are known as “The Devil’s Triangle.” We wanted to see them. I asked a staff member is I could tale our cart to see the holes. He said no, but after accepting a generous tip he offered to take us personally on a cart that easily carried three of us, plus the driver. What a thrill! The beauty was indescribable. The holes were very challenging. Our driver let John playa par-3 hole. He made a par. We made some excellent pictures. We called our taxi driver and he came promptly to return us to the port. I wanted to walk historic St. Thomas instead of returning to the ship. The driver dropped me and took Leslie and John to the ship. Later Leslie would shop at the ship side shops called Haversight Shops. She bought a bracelet which she wears daily. I walked back to the ship. I tried to find John at ping pong tournament, and then check at the trivia tournament, he wasn’t there either. The game was about to start with six teams. I joined in and we won. Lot’s of laughs and fun questions. Dinner was very unusual. It was an informal night. Rick and Angela were having dinner in the Pinnacle Grill ($20 per person, reservations required). Their seven year old daughter Mattie wanted to dine with us instead, so Rick and Angela invited Del to join then. Her grandson, Zack would dine with us too. Our son was dining in the Lido Restaurant with new friends. So there we were: me, my wife, a seven year old girl, and a thirteen year old boy. Neither child was related to one another. None of us knew each other only four days earlier. The head steward seated a couple with us because there were four open seats. Needless to say they were intrigued. The couple was from Tampa and we came to learn that they were in the cabin next door to us. About the time we finished dinner the three adults returned to claim their children. Leslie has a headache and retires for the evening. I go see The Hill Brothers Show. This is an excellent comedy and juggling show. After the show I go check on Leslie, who’s sleeping. I go to the piano bar and join a Name That Tune team. My teammates are a family we’ve gotten to know. They have three generations on the cruise. We do well scoring 25 points, while 26 wins. Leslie still sleeps and it’s 1020PM. I walk the deck and go to the theater for The Hill Brothers Show. I really like this juggling and comedy act. The brothers are both in their twenties. Tonight is the dessert extravaganza. They’ve converted the Lido Dining Room for the midnight event. Many people enjoy taking pictures of the ice sculptures and beautiful desserts. Then they eat again. There is a special flaming crepe suzette station. Day 6, Thursday, April 15, 2004 (At Sea) Leslie feels much better. We have breakfast in Lido Dining Room. We claim poolside chairs. We enjoy the sun and Caribbean band music. John and I participate in another ping pong tournament. Since I enjoy the Rotterdam Dining Room and today will be our final lunch onboard, I decide to go to there for lunch. It’s a party of two, just me and my book. I’ve broken protocol by wearing my dry swim shorts, shoes and a collared shirt. For some reason they seat me at an empty table for six. When I’m about half way through a French couple I’d met earlier was seated at the opposite end from me. They wanted to chat. There topic was that they were disappointed at the extremely casual attire many of the passengers insisted on wearing. The wife shuddered when the stated that she had even seen someone at lunch earlier in the week wearing their swim suit. I shook my head in disgust to show my agreement with her. I then remembered that I was wearing my yellow trunks with big blue flowers. The napkin in my lap and table cloth had thus far hidden my faux pas. I knew I did not want them to know, but I was over half way through when they arrived and I did not want to wait for them to finish, at which time I could stay at my seat and avoid them seeing my trunks. Besides they could see I was well into lunch when they arrived and it would have been very awkward to wait for them to finish and then stay there seated until they left. So when I finished I simply rose and said good bye. The trunks were clear to see. I made no comment and did nothing to call attention, though they seemed louder than normal, and I departed the dining room. I hope they thought that my trunks were simply the latest in American high fashion and sophistication. The moral of the story is to avoid under dressing for any occasion. I went to the team trivia contest in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Thunder storm and rain arrived for the late afternoon. George and our new pal Mike invite me for a few drinks in the Crow’s Nest. We enjoy the view of ocean view and conversation. Tonight is a formal dinner night. I stream, shower, and dress in the locker room. We have more photos taken. This is the best dinner of the week. I have shrimp cocktail, clam chowder, salad with raspberry dressing, lobster tail with hot melted butter, filet mignon, and baked Alaska for dessert. After dinner Leslie and I strolled the deck, plus enjoyed the art work inside the ship. We then go to the Zaandam cast show. We sat on the third row. Great singing, dancing, costumes, props, lights, etc. After the show we play a few slots, and then retire to the Explorers Lounge for some classical music. The live trio plays piano, bass, and violin. After this we go to the piano bar. The youth ages 13-17 are having their own casino night. Leslie and I walk by their large room and make eye contact with our fifteen year old. His eyes say hello but do not enter. We move and retire to our cabin and change into more comfortable clothes. John comes back and he and I go play some night time ping pong. Then to bed. Day 7, Friday, April 16, 2004. (Half Moon Cay) We rise early because the private island experience is our favorite and we want to be among the first ashore. We realize that the last tender returning to the ship leaves at 1245PM. The “tendering” is scheduled to start at 800AM. At 700AM we found that no land is in sight yet. We learn that there is a weather delay. High waves are causing concern about the safety of the tenders beside the ship. At 910AM we see the island. Leslie is sunning. John and I play ping pong with friends. We catch a tender at 930AM, and arrive at 945PM. We’ll have three hours on the island. We find a secluded part of the beach near an empty hammock. We relax and enjoy the sun. Photographers from the ship come by with a variety of clever photo opportunities. We love the private island experience. Clear ocean water, white sandy beaches, clean, shopping, water sports, Caribbean music, and a simply buffet. I snorkel out the some ship wreckage they’ve placed. It has barnacles and many fish. Also saw coral reef. Son John and I nap together in a hammock. John goes back to the ship ahead of us. Leslie and I strolled the beach. We run into and visit with a newly-wed couple we’ve spoken to several times. They are both about 55 years old. The groom told me earlier in the week that they would be married on St. Thomas. They were eager to tell us all about it, and we were glad to listen. We sit on the beach and chat. At 1215PM Leslie wants to return to the ship. I want to stay and see Angela and Bill (our table mates) ride the banana boat. She goes back to the ship and I hang with them. When I’m walking to the tender I chat with a very tall, attractive and sophisticated fifty year old divorced woman. She had not enjoyed the cruise. She was eager to return home to kill (or at least assault) her travel agent. It seems that she anticipated good activities for single women to meet single men. Boy was she on the wrong cruise. She was surprised at how much I’d loved it. She like many were passengers was upset about the short visit to Half Moon Cay. When I looked at the people around us I could see why she was disappointed. It was nearly all families, many with small children. Certainly the single men she’d come to meet. The cruise director had told us that they are 250 kids under eighteen on board, and that last week there were 450. He joked that with 450 youth on board it brought the average passenger age down to eighty-one years old. I ran into my pa George and we return to the ship together. His family left him too. We join Angela and Bill on the tender. I find John napping in the cabin and find Leslie sunning. It’s too windy so we go inside. We go check out our photos. We need to get our 15 for $99. I see on the daily schedule that there is an event called “Meet the Zaandam Cast.” They are charming. Their ages are about 18-25 years old. Many passengers and particularly young girls have questions. They then take us on a backstage tour to see dressing rooms, costumes, wigs and props. This is our last evening onboard. We have a full table since Bill and Angela’s daugher Mattie has brought along a seven year old pal. I have artichoke dip, conch and corn chowder, chilled pineapple and banana soup, Greek salad, roast duck, prime rib, and finally bananas flambé for dessert. At our table we all exchanged addresses. Before dinner Leslie and I had prepared envelopes with tips for various staff, which we personally delivered. Our table servers got very little. After dinner we went to a magic show featuring a husband and wife team. It was called DV8, like deviate. I really like the show. After the show we stay for Jackpot Bingo. The grand prize of $5,800 will be awarded. A twelve year old girl wins. They also have the cruise lottery winner drawn, again we do not win. Big fun for all. We return to the cabin to pack for Saturday arrival at port. Our bags must be outside cabin door by 100AM. Day 8, Saturday, April 17, 2004 Son John’s favorite meal of the day is breakfast, but he’s not yet had breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. He and I go together. It’s wonderful of course. They have about any breakfast item imaginable available including fresh fruits and fresh squeezed juices. We relax on deck until our group is called to leave the ship. We quickly retrieve our bags and go to our car. Back to North Carolina. In Closing: You were warned this was long and detailed. I hope it is as helpful and as entertaining for you and those I’ve read in the past. Happy Cruising!!!

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Mar 20, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

Hi, this is Michael and Susanne, to give a little background about ourselves, we are in our mid-20's, I work for the government, and Susanne is an elementary school teacher. We decided to take a cruise for her spring break, we did plenty of research for this, and taking into account two previous 3-day cruises we took last year aboard the Carnival Fantasy

(Port Canaveral departure), and a 3-day Disney Wonder (Port Canaveral departure). We really enjoyed the Disney Wonder, great food, great accommodations, and excellent shows. We did not enjoy the Fantasy at all, it was old, the crew was very rude, and the shows were sub par. We can say we originally booked on the Disney Magic for 7 days on the Easter Caribbean for March 20, but we received an email about the 15th of January from Holland America offering a SS Class Suite aboard the MS Zuiderdam for the same day. We contemplated it, and decided we would have a more relaxing cruise aboard the Zuiderdam, and it was also a better deal, we had a general verandah aboard the Magic, and got a Suite class room for less price, it was a very economical decision. All in all it was a great cruise with only a few minor problems. Getting There: Port Everglades is a very large and busy port, with many cruise ships, and freighters, it is laid out very difficult with one parking garage feeding 3 ports for Carnival, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. It took about a half hour to get thru the gates to the port, we arrived around 10:30 and were in the ship terminal by 11:15. Embarkation Day: Pt Everglades The check in process went very fast, Holland America does a great job of having personnel at every spot to check and make sure all things are filled out, and in order. We waded thru a line for about 2 mins, we then proceeded up to the check in desk, they asked for all ID’s, took our picture, gave us our keys, opened our shipboard account, sign and sail is great! We then proceeded thru security, and up the escalator, we were #4 group to board, we waited all of 10 minutes to board the ship, and we were on by 11:30, much earlier then expected. When you walk on the ship, they had bell man with very traditional black, red and yellow uniforms on to assist you with your carry on luggage and showed us where our room was, and to much luck, it was already ready, we were on the 6th deck (Upper Verandah) room 6054, it was so nice to have the extra space, it had a television with DVD player, the balcony had a table with two chairs, and to lounge chairs with footrests and a small table. The deck was a bit dirty but it was from all the salt (I will explain later). The room had 3 large cabinets for all our clothes, along with plenty of drawers and ever more space under the bed, our bags arrived around 2pm. After checking out the room, we headed down to see our table, we were seated on the second seating at 8:00pm, in the Upper Vista dining room. Our table was #34, it was great, it was a table for two, more about that later. We then went to the greenhouse spa to sign up for a couples massage on Monday at 2:00 pm, the spa was much nicer then that of Carnival and Disney. We then made reservations for Sunday night in the Odyssey Restaraunt, after trying the supper club on board Disney, we really wanted to compare the two. That was then taken care we then went to the Lido and had lunch, it was incredible, they had a station for Italian, Japanese, American, Sandwich counter, and Dessert Counter, I am a sushi lover and everyday there was fresh made to order Sushi for me, I thought that was an outstanding feature. I had Sushi, and Susanne had made to order pasta from the Italian counter. We then proceeded to our room to unpack, and went for our life boat drill, we pushed off right at 5pm. We watched from the observation deck, we were the first of all the ships to leave and set sail for Half Moon Cay. We relaxed on our deck till it was time to eat, dinner was always something we looked forward to, we had two great stewards in De Arya, and Tagel, Tagel was our favorite by far, very friendly and talkative, both are from Indonesia and anxiously looking forward to going home in two months for vacation. The menus were always top notch, appetizers, salads, soups, entrée’s and desserts. Tagel always made sure our glasses were full, and bread was always being served. After dinner we proceeded to the casino, it was ample size, fair odds, and nice dealers. Here is where we ran into our first of the few problems, now I understand Holland America is geared towards an older clientele, but I could not believe how rude some of the 55+ guests were, they were pushy, rude, never apologized, and I even overheard one lady say to a younger man at the roulette wheel who wouldn’t give up a seat, he told her to go back to Carnival. I thought it was somewhat funny, but it was very small incident, but as the week progressed, there were very rude older people on the cruise, I think they resented the younger people on the cruise for one reason or another. I would say I saw maybe 30 or less people under 25 on the cruise. After winning about $20 dollars at the tables, we went back to the room, ordered room service to be delivered at 9am, and went to bed. We were awaken at around 1am by a very bright light in the window, it was the Oosterdam, the Zuiderdam’s sister ship, they were using there spotlight to say “Hello” in morse code, our ship responded by using their light as well, this went on for about 2 minutes, we got it on tape, and it looks so incredible, something out of a movie, after the Oosterdam passed by, we then went back to bed……again! Day 1: Half Moon Cay Bahamas Room service arrived right on time, I had 2 egg sunny side up, ham, wheat toast, a bagel and 2 glasses of OJ. Susanne had cereal, special K, and a bagel, it was all served piping hot, and we ate on our balcony facing the beautiful Half Moon Cay. We had purchased a private cabana with air conditioning, fan, snorkel gear, mats to float on, bottled water, soda, chips, vegetables, fruit, and with a private server to bring you lunch, and attend to your needs, it was only $150 dollars, and since this was our only vacation this year, we splurged. Now at Half Moon Cay you have to tender to shore, you go to the vista lounge and get a ticket to tender and then wait to be called, since we had the cabana we were able to go straight to the boat. We got right on the tender and landed at Half Moon Cay, we were escorted to our cabana, we soon found the AC didn’t work, some of the food was old, now this upset us, and we found the shore excursion attendant who found someone to fix the AC. We told them about the food, and our server Amadeo arrived and took care of it all, he was great, very helpful and turned a bad moment into a great day. We swam, tanned, and relaxed, it was really worth the money, all the amenities, the server, I really it was worth it. They never were able to fix the AC, the unit had burned out and was unrepairable. It wasn’t all that hot, so it didn’t really bother us. We took the last tender back at 3:30 and showered up, and relaxed till dinner at 8:00 in the Odyssey. We arrived and were given a small booth near the window, Tomas was our waiter, he was from France, after a few drinks, I had the best crab cakes, Caesar salad, and the best Salmon I had yet, Susanne had the tendered filet ever, and we thought we had some good steaks before, for dessert I had baked Alaska, and Susanne had chocolate soufflé. It was great, the restraint uses real fine china, along with white linen, and white glove treatment. After dinner we retired to our room, and looked forward to our day at sea. Day 2: At Sea We spent the entire day at sea, I slept in, at more sushi in the Lido, Susanne laid out on top deck, and at room service for lunch, we had our massage at 2pm, it was quite good, we had a room that overlooked the ocean, and the massage therapists were quite good at what they do, the massage was right up there with the massage we had on the Disney Cruise, it was 50 minutes, and very relaxing, only difference was we paid $220 for this massage, while only paying $89 for a massage on the Disney Cruise, we felt it was about the same quality, but the point was it was relaxing, we both showered right in the changing facility next to the spa, they had soft cotton robes, and slippers to wear, after showering we went back to the room and took naps, we actually slept past dinner time and missed the first formal dinner, we ate room service and went to the queens lounge and saw a movie (Haunted Mansion), it was good, all in all a relaxing day at sea. Day 3: St. Thomas USVI We were awoken at 7am and summoned by floor of the ship to see a U.S. Immigration officer in the Queens lounge on deck 2, apparently when you come from a foreign port, before you can get off, U.S. Immigration must see you in person, it took about 2 mins to go down, and be seen, very harmless and not time consuming at all. We ate buffet breakfast in the Lido, it had every imaginable selection for breakfast, and can serve a hearty appetite, we disembarked at 10:00, and saw that Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princesses, and Celebrity were all there as well, all the ships were huge, it was quite a sight. We rented a jeep for a modest price of $25 for the whole day at Budget, it rained on and off and safe to say, we got soaked, we rode around the entire island, and saw some of the best views we have ever seen. We went down to the shopping district and couldn’t find a place to park, we ended up parking about a half mile away at a post office. We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café, Susanne bought some Tiffany jewelry, and a new Coach purse all duty free, I almost bought a Tag watch from AH Riese, but decided to wait till we got home. All the shopping in St. Thomas is legitimate, and the people are all very aggressive. On board is Chris, your “Port Shopping Ambassador” he will be very helpful in helping you find the best place to shop, he will be off the gangway when you disembark to tell you where to find all your looking for. Anyways, after a day of shopping, we got in the car and went to the top of the island, that can be tricky, if you rent a car, be careful the roads are very steep, and can be very slippery, driving on the wrong side of the road is a real trick as well, other then getting soaked, and driving off a cliff, we dropped the car off, went back to the boat, and cleaned up, we decided to eat the pool side BBQ for dinner. St. Thomas is pretty much dead at night, so this was a safe way to go, the BBQ was awesome, traditional style, chicken, ribs, steak, salads, baked potatoes, beans, and desserts, after din ner we went in the hot tub which was always full of people, and sat on our deck till midnight when we left St. Thomas for Tortola, it was beautiful to sit and watch the island pass by, I highly recommend this, it was great scenery, and something we will never forget. Day 4: Tortola BVI We arose to beautiful mountainous views much like St. Thomas, we had room service delivered again this morning, and had danish’s and bagels on the balcony. We were going to book a shore excursion to the Baths of Virgin Gorda, but didn’t, and we regretted it, there wasn’t much to do in Tortola, shopping was at a sparse, and we went to one bar called “Pussers” and it wasn’t all that great, not to mention they had a Visa logo on the door, but informed us that you could only pay by credit card if over $50 dollars, so always take cash while in port. We did some walking around town, as the ship drops you right near Main St, but there just wasn’t much to do, so we went back to the ship about noon, had lunch in the lido, tanned, swam, and napped until we pulled out of port around 6pm. We highly recommend a shore excursion in Tortola as there wasn’t anything to do. I also want to mention that Holland America has photographers at ever location, in the dining rooms, in the public area’s in the ship, when you embark, and disembark each port, you feel like a celebrity with as much as you get your photo taken, we didn’t purchase any as we didn’t like how they looked, but always take a look, if anything else they are high quality photos. Back to the day, we sat on our balcony and watched as Tortola passed by, it was much larger then we first thought, and there was only one other ship docked there, it was the Costa Romantica, it was neat to see at the end of the night as we both left, Our ship and the Romantica blasted horns for almost 2 mins, and the echo was very neat. We had steak, and chicken in the dining room, and Tagel and De Arya made it another memorable night. After dinner we went to the lounge and saw Master Illusionist James Cielen perform, the show was excellent, by far the best magic I have seen yet, he made birds disappear, change color, he made a dog disappear, and his assistant Isabelle was cut in half. He did many great stunts with the crowd involved, and my fiancé and I both agreed this was the highlight of the cruise, it was a show well worth of $100 a ticket, he did a meet and greet afterwards and was very nice to speak with, but as a rule, he would not reveal anything. After the show, Susanne and I went to the crow’s nest, enjoyed the live band, which was there everynight, and had a night cap, great music, great atmosphere, overall a great ending to a sub par day. Day 5: At Sea We were awoken at around 4am by very heavy seas, we were swaying back and forth, and this would continue till Friday morning at about 8am. The Navigator came on the P.A. around 10am and we awoke to his announcement that we were now sailing the North Atlantic ocean, and that would explain the very high seas, he reminded us that complimentary sea sick medicine was available at the front desk, and to use extreme caution while walking around the vessel, and wished us great day, we were then greeted by Asst. Senior Cruise Director Rebecca, and she reminded us about “Snowball jackpot bingo”, I honestly heard these announcements everyday, I have never seen more excitement about bingo, but I later learned that the older crowd really was into it, and it led to a fight over a winning card, I wanted to see that! We had lunch in the Lido and I caught up on sleep, and Susanne tanned all day, she got the tan she wanted, but get there early, deck chairs go quick. Thursday afternoon at 3pm was the “Holland America Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza” there were more varieties of chocolate then I have ever seen in my life, it was held in the Vista dining room, there were cakes, pies, pudding, chocolates, fruit, ice cream, everything chocolate was there, we sat in the back of the dining room, and the room shook so bad from the high seas we had to leave as we started to feel ill. Susanne and I went out for some fresh air and were warned it was not safe out on deck 3, the winds were so fierce and water was coming over the top of the deck, it was unreal how rough the seas were, of course we were going our top speed to cut the waves. We went back to the room and relaxed and got ready for the final formal evening. Each night around 7pm you have a daily program for the next day delivered to your room, along with our daily program came a letter from shore excursion, Jacob the shore excursion manager wrote us a letter stating that he had talked to the staff on Half Moon Cay and was deeply sorry for all the problems we had with our cabana, and he wanted us to know that he only charged us half the amount for the day, and that he would stop and see us at dinner to express his apology in person. I was totally shocked at this, but at the same time, realized I was not just a number on the ship, but a passenger and their guest, and it was their duty to see we had the best time ever. The dining room transforms into a very elegant room with white cloth over the seats, fine china, white glove treatment, I had the Surf & Turf, while Susanne had a very moist filet. It was very good, and the presentation for the dessert of the night “Baked Alaska” was very neat to see, and of course it was an excellent dessert. Jacob the shore excursion manager stopped by after dessert and stayed for less then a minute, he said he didn’t want to intrude, he said he was deeply sorry and said that if there was anything he could do, please let him know, I told him that he had done enough, and I was more then grateful for everything. After dinner we went to see a Vegas style show, but were informed that due to very high seas that it was cancelled, and instead the comedian Milt Abel will be performing, he had to perform with about 10 minutes notice, his act was good, not the best we heard, but there were quite a few kids there with their parents, so he had to tone it down a little, still it was a good show none the less. We then went for a drink in the crows nest and to bed, it took a while to get to sleep with the waves so high, but we were starting to get used to it. Day 6: Freeport Bahamas We woke at 8am to have breakfast in the dining room, I had eggs benedict, with waffles, excellent as can be, Susanne had cereal and eggs, hers was equally as good she said. She tanned and I sat and watched an in room movie, we docked at noon, we disembarked to learn we were about 10 miles from town, it was a cab ride of $5 each way per person, we almost wrecked about 10 times on the way, the cab driver kept wanting to know what time we would be back so he could take us back, Freeport doesn’t see that many ships as Nassau, so cab rides are at a low volume, and they get aggressive. There wasn’t much to do in Freeport, we went to Port Lucaya, other then a few duty free shops, that was it, not all that great, we were back at the ship in 2 hours, we reboarded, went to the pool, laid out and got ready for dinner, out last night. We left Freeport right at 7pm, we sat on our deck and watched the sunset, it was so nice. We went to dinner and were surprised to have a bottle of wine delivered to our table from Joe Cheng, he is the food and beverage manager for the Zuiderdam, the note attached went as follows “Michael & Susanne, I am so sorry about the food and beverage accommodations in your private cabana, please accept this bottle of wine as a token of my sincerity, I hope you enjoy your finale dinner, and have a safe trip home, we look forward to having you back on the Zuiderdam, Sincerely Joe Cheng”. This really made me feel great about everything that happened, just the note would have been enough, it shows you that on a ship of 1,800, you are not just a number, and that they really do much to take care of you, now back to dinner. Susanne had steak, and I had oriental duck, it was very tasty, we said our good byes to Tagel and De Arya, went back to our room to pack, it was nice that our bags didn’t have to be out till 2am, unlike Carnival where they had to be out by 10pm, we packed up, got our get away clothes on and went to see the final show, but we goofed and didn’t look at our daily program, the shows were 6:30-8:15, we arrived at 10:30 and apparently it was the grand finale of “Snowball Jackpot Bingo”, we laughed at the amount of older people there ready to win the jackpot, we agreed we had a long drive home and did one last walk around the ship and went back to the room, watched a movie on in house TV, and feel asleep. Day 7: Debarkation The previous night we were given an envelope with customs forms, tags for our luggage, and embarkation number, ours was “30”. We awoke at 8am to see us docked in port, how sad. We had room service delivered one last time, we enjoyed our deck one last time, and got ready, we were about the 10th group called, we exited the ship, going thru immigration, found our luggage with ease, saw the customs officer, and were in the parking garage within 10 minutes, very easy process. I did see some older people huddled around the gangway arguing that they wanted off, but hadn’t been called yet, and one lady actually pushed a Holland America staff member, crazy, crazy, crazy. We loaded up, and paid our $84 dollars for parking in the garage for the week, keep in mind they accept cash, and credit cards. We were on our way back to Tampa, our vacation was over with. Here is our overall review of the ship. Pros: 1. The Holland America staff, and guarantee to take care of each passenger individually 2. The food, always tasty, and a great variety 3. Half Moon Cay, private beach, very serene 4. James Cielen, great show, 5. Embarkation-Debarkation Cons: 1. Vibration in the ship, only on the last 2 days from the sea 2. Older passengers, very rude and inconsiderate, it still surprises me how they acted, on a small note, the kids were always well behaved 3. In room T.V. only CNN, ESPN (In Spanish), but they always played first rate movies on 2 channels 4. Prices for spa, a bit steep for 50 minutes 5. Tortola, and Freeport, not enough to see or do Overall: I could go on for days, the pros outweigh the cons by 100 to 1, for the price we paid, we got a great room with extra towels, more space, luxurious cotton robes, the food was great, and entertainment was great, we didn’t see all the shows, but I didn’t hear any complaints either, all the crewmembers smile, and say hello, and you can tell they really want to help overall. This cruise is defiantly geared towards older passengers, but don’t let that fool you, they have a club for kids under 12, and we saw lots of teenagers having plenty of fun, the retractable roof on the mid deck pool is a great idea, it gave shade, but enough sun to warm the pool. The staff members really made the cruise memorable, and we felt we got more then enough bang for our buck, we would have liked to gone to Nassau instead, and maybe Martinique, the ports were a little bad, but like I said, we had so much fun on the ship, overall we would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this cruise. I am sure I have missed a lot, please email me at MJRGoBlue79@hotmail.com if you have any questions about the ship, I did quite a bit of research on CRUISEREVIEWS.COM before we went, and found a lot to be helpful, and I hope this helps you, enjoy the M.S. Zuiderdam………we sure did Happy Sailing! Michael and Susanne Please email me with any questions what so ever, not matter how big or small, I will answer them all, please don’t hesitate MJRGoBlue79@hotmail.com

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Mar 6, 2004

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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Feb 28, 2004

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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Feb 21, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

  Hi. It's Dan and Judy again (Judy writing). We went on our second cruise recently on the Holland America Lines ms Zuiderdam to the Eastern Caribbean on February 21 through 28, 2004. This time we traveled with another couple, my sister Cathy and her husband of 30 years, Joe. This was their fifth cruise. Our ages range from 39 to 54. We're all from the San

Fernando Valley area, north of Los Angeles. All in all, we had a wonderful time and the scenery was beautiful! Getting There We booked our own airline reservations on line, not with HAL. We departed LAX for Ft. Lauderdale on Song Air (a subsidiary of Delta) on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. Yes, the good old red-eye! Song Air doesn't have pillows to hand out to their passengers, but you can pay $5 for a blow-up one! We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 6:00 a.m., loaded up our luggage onto two carts ($2 each), and waited till Holland America representatives appeared at about 10:30 to transfer us to the ship. The 4-½ hour wait in the airport was excruciating. We discovered a Chili's restaurant in Terminal 2, so we had breakfast to pass the time and pump us up. They have seating at the front of the restaurant, on a "patio", so we were able to park our luggage carts right next to us. By the way, the airport was freezing! Keep a sweater or jacket with you. At about 11:00, the transfer to the ship went very smoothly. It's a 5- or 10-minute ride to the port. Inside was not too crowded and boarding the ship went quickly and smoothly. Once on board (yeah!), we had a great welcome from a line-up of uniformed staff personnel. I thought that was a nice touch to make everyone feel welcome. The Ship My first reaction to the interior of the ship was "Wow!" I loved the bright colors and contemporary design. The carpets are beautiful (if you like wild). The elevator doors are glamorous. There are also more "classic" areas, but most of the ship is quite bright and colorful with modern art displayed in the hallways. Once aboard, we started unpacking. Before you even leave port, the muster (showing you where to go and what to do in an emergency) is conducted. It got WAY too hot standing out there with everyone piled into a small area at the lifeboats at 4:00 in the strong sun! At this point, we had been awake for 34 hours (except for maybe a couple of hours of restless napping on the airplane) and our hearts just weren’t in it! The ship was very large (935 feet, with 1,824 passengers and 800 crew). I had trouble getting around, feeling like a rat in a maze. It seems it was just too easy to get lost. It's a good thing they had nice signs at the elevators, one listing the areas located on that particular floor, and one with a map showing all of the area locations. The only thing that seemed to confuse me was what elevator I took. Was it the aft, mid-ship, or the stern? Sounds simple enough, but it baffled me several times. The hallways are SO long, you lose track of where you are. I'm sure I'm not the only one that thought my key card wasn't working when I tried to get into the wrong stateroom! Speaking of which. . .my cruise/key card did stop working. It wouldn't unlock my cabin door. I went to the front desk and they told me to keep it away from magnets. I couldn't imagine what magnets I had been near, but they fixed it and I put it back into my purse and left. Just a few minutes later I tried to use it and it didn't work again. Hello! My purse had a magnetic snap! So just passing it by the snap on its way into the purse was enough to erase it. I had to either keep it in my pocket, or tuck it into my sock. Wearing a holder around your neck might be a good idea. At mid ship, on both sides, are glass elevators that go up and down the outside. I loved them. The view was spectacular! And they also helped me navigate the ship, knowing that if I saw them, I was at the mid point. >From what I've seen on websites, it seems that staterooms are typically orange and gold. I want different colors! When I saw the public areas of the ship with bright colors, I was hoping the cabin would be also. But guess what? Orange and gold! Oh well. We had type B Deluxe Veranda Rooms on the 5th floor, next door to each other. They were a nice size with a sitting area and twin beds configured as a queen. Our friendly room steward, Freddy, took down the divider between our verandas for us so that we had one long veranda. It was quite private otherwise. No one from above could see us, nor from below, and obviously, the folks on the sides could only see us if they peeked around their walls. Our room was exactly in line with the forward bank of elevators. Handy, but we did hear the constant dinging of the elevators, and of course, the voices and laughter of any happy passengers. The bathroom was nice, with an almost full-size tub and a nice shower head that was fully adjustable. It was quite dark in the shower when you drew the curtain closed. I started not closing it all the way and being careful not to flood the floor. Not that you have to see too much in the shower, but I'm pretty blind without my contacts to begin with, so any light helps. The closet space was great, plenty of room for hanging up clothes and a lot of shelf space. But not enough hangers. I always bring some with me since I tend to over-pack ever so slightly! A full length mirror was attached to the inside of one of the closet doors. And I loved having the safe in the closet. The coffee table in front of our couch was totally movable and height-adjustable, which we didn't realize till the last day! I was surprised that the window door to the veranda is not a slider, but a regular glass door with a full-length window next to it. And there's a sign that asks you to keep it closed at all times. I like to leave it open and let the breeze blow through, so that bothered me a tad. The lighting in the room was a little on the dim side for me. We found the bed to be quite comfy, and the pillows were great; fluffy and soft. We took a travel alarm. I can't believe they don't have clocks in the rooms. Wake-up calls don't do me much good without a snooze button to bang on a few times! I like having the hair dryer at the desk in the sitting area; inside the bathroom would get a little claustrophobic, but it is kind of a drag for the person that's into a movie on the TV while you dry your hair. As always, we took an extension cord with extra plug-ins so that I could have my fan, hair blower/curler, and curling iron going at the same time. Seems there's never enough plugs for my daily regimen. And don't forget the cell phone charger (which I don't think ever worked anyway) and the battery charger for the digital camera. We had a fully-stocked refrigerator, which was great at night when you didn't feel like leaving the room to get a soda. Yes, we were charged for any items used, but it was very convenient and re-stocked magically every day. We didn't realize that our ice bucket was full of ice until the last night. A couple of times I wondered where the ice machines were. I guess they took care of it. I enjoyed filling out the breakfast card at night and having them deliver my food at my requested time in the morning. Everything was good except the scrambled eggs - weird consistency and not too tasty. Someone else complained about the eggs too. The buffet area on the Lido Deck was very pretty. Again, I loved the colors. There was a large variety of food from which to choose, and it seemed there was always pizza available. There was a very large beverage station, which had tea, coffee, juices, water, but no sodas. I got tired of having to go out to the bar to get a Coke. Just a small inconvenience. In the mornings, the bars were not open, so no Coke was available. Yes, I'm a frustrated Coke-aholic! The casino was very nice and quite large. We had pretty good luck at the black jack tables ($5 minimum tables), and the dealers were all quite friendly and helpful. We're not much for slots, so I can't comment on that action. The people at the craps tables seemed to be having lots of fun. One thing that I missed was having an ATM in the casino. The other ship we were on had one, so we were counting on it. I was surprised they didn't have one, if they want people to keep spending money! I believe we could have had gone to the front desk and gotten cash if we added it to our room charge. We found an ATM on Tortola, which, to our surprise it gave us $100's, $50's, and $10 bills, not the usual $20's we get locally. Fifties can be a little inconvenient for cab fare and tips. On the last night of the cruise we realized that we didn't have enough appropriate change for tipping everyone, so Dan went to the money cage at the casino and they gave him change for the large bills. The thermal suite was very pretty. We never actually used it. Dan and I walked in one day and asked about it, but when we found out that the pool in there is 98.6 degrees, Dan wanted to sit out in the Jacuzzi instead. We sat out in the Jacuzzi in the late afternoon under some shade. It was wonderful. He thought that the Jacuzzi wasn't hot enough, but I liked it. I thought that the regular pool wasn't hot enough. After we sat in the Jacuzzi, we decided to play ping pong on one of the three tables next to the pool. We had a great time! Neither of us had played in years. My sister and I had scalp and foot massages at the spa. We agreed that the scalp massages weren't that great. Too much attention to pressure points and squeezing our heads like melons. Not enough scratching and rubbing! The foot massages were heavenly. Especially after a long day of heavy-duty shopping in St. Thomas the day before! If you go to get a massage, make sure you take cash with you for a tip. It cannot be added to your room charge. And for you larger folks, keep in mind that the robes only come in that great "one size fits all." You may want to bring your own if that may be of concern to you. The covered pool on the Lido deck was nice, but I think that the large polar bear statues at one end are rather hokey. Somehow I kept thinking they should be on a ship that cruises Alaska, not the Caribbean. The pool on the top deck was nice, but again, it had a rather juvenile throne thing at one end. There were very few children on our ship, but the few that were there wore ankle i.d. bracelets. Apparently the ship requires it for anyone under 12 year of age. Next to the pool was a taco bar, which I heard someone say wasn't too bad. I never tried it. There is also a grille that serves hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries. The outside bar next to the pool had beautiful brass stools that were inverted fish and you actually sat on their tails. They were beautiful, but there was about 12 inches between each stool, making it nearly impossible for anyone but super-models to get between the seats! The bartender was not too friendly. I think he had a personal vendetta against non-tipping Coke-card carriers. Coke cards are a great invention. Sort of. I thought they were a little expensive on this ship, $27. We went to the first bar we found and asked for three of them. They gave us a separate card to carry around, which was an odd-sized piece of paper. I preferred the sticker that was affixed to your cruise card on our other cruise. Much more convenient. And this card limits you to only a glass of Coke. (They use cans of Coke on this cruise, but you can't have one, except with dinner.) The main dining room was very nice. We had late seating on the lower level, a table for the four of us each night. I had read some complaints about the vibration near the back of the dining room, so we requested a table near the front. It wasn't too bad. For late seating, the upper level seats at 8:15 and the lower level seats at 8:30. I believe the early seating is at 6:15 and 6:30. The service was wonderful. Our head server, Rachman, was very friendly and brought us whatever, or however much we wanted. The assistant, Abu, was very nice and attentive also. Our Cokes were waiting at the table when we arrived every night. And Rachman always remembered our favorite dessert (fan cookies/wafers) and would bring us a plate of them without our asking. Cathy loves Caesar salad and wanted it every night. They were happy to accommodate her, even though it wasn't on the menu every night. And if you wanted more than one serving of something, just speak up! It was great. If three appetizers or entrees sounded good, you didn't have to choose only one! Have 'em all! The food was very good. I especially loved the flourless chocolate cake. I really didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing! Very dark, creamy chocolate. Great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The "final" dinner, the night before the last night of the cruise, was great. The staff sang a song and all the servers marched through the dining rooms with Baked Alaskas lighting up the room with sparklers. It was a lot of fun. On our last cruise we chose personal choice dining, which was very handy, but not as fancy and certainly you weren't spoiled as you are with traditional dining. We ate one night at The Odyssey. There's a $20 charge per person. Worth it. We all had filet mignon, which was excellent. Dan was disappointed that they didn't have lobster on the menu. Our service was pretty good. The décor was very nice, except for the large lighted fruit/cheese pictures on the walls, which kind of reminded us of Denny's. But I think I actually preferred being spoiled in the main dining room. There were many different bars with many different types of music. One bar next to the casino had sports on several t.v.'s and allowed smoking. There was a nice piano bar (non-smoking) right next to the casino that I enjoyed going into and singing along to the music while Dan gambled. Northern Lights (the disco) was on the other side of the casino, featuring different types of music (70's, 80's, etc.) on different nights. The Crow's Nest had a trio playing most of the time. I only went into the Queen's Lounge once to see some line dancing and listen to country music. There is a semi-covered seating area outside on the Lido Deck for smoking cigars after dinner. The main showroom was very nice. Dan and I saw two big production shows. The first one was o.k. We felt that the two male lead singers didn't have strong enough voices, and on the whole the cast wasn't exactly full of "Hollywood lookers." The leading lady was very cute and had a great voice. The costumes were rather lack-luster. It was entertaining, but not great. The second show that they did had costumes done by Bob Mackie. Much better! Lots of glamour and glitz. We were much happier with that show. Joe and Cathy went and saw a magician and a comedian one night and enjoyed that show. Joe liked the magician so much, he went and saw him again the next morning in the Queen's Lounge in a more "up-close and personal" setting. They also saw a singer from Canada one night and enjoyed his show as well. The photo department was a little out of the way. I always enjoy looking at all the photos. Keep in mind that if there's one you want to buy, do it when you first see it. At the end of the cruise there are too many photos for them to display all at once, so if you don't pick it up right away, you may end up sifting through many stacks of photos to find yours. And there are lots of people doing just that on the last night. The atrium was nothing to write home about. It’s not a bustling hot bed of excitement. There’s a Waterford crystal seahorse hanging from the ceiling, and as much as I love crystal, it just wasn’t too impressive. There were no grand lights or impressive stair cases. The on-board shops were very nice. Everything you could need or want. There was a nice selection of beautiful jewelry (real and fake), crystal, t-shirts, fancy clothes, the usual touristy stuff, booze, cigarettes, and sundries. It was nice that they were open till 10:30 p.m., but even nicer that on the final night they were open till 11:00, at which time they wouldn't accept cash, only a room charge. (No cash??? What’s this world coming to?) Dan noticed that cigs were only $18 a carton, half the price of here at home. We heard that the limit you could take home was 5 cartons per person, but when Dan went to purchase them the next day, he was told that you could take home five cartons only from St. Thomas, not Tortola! I don't understand all the duty-free/immigration rules, but if you want to buy booze or smokes, make sure you get the facts before you start cruising. The ship passed out declaration forms before the end of the cruise that needed to be filled out by everyone (or one per family), and they were collected by INS upon your departure from the port building after you found your luggage. On the form you declare what you bought and how much money you spent. When the agent saw that we each had a carton of cigs listed, he asked us if we had any cigars. I said no and he let us pass. I had heard that Cuban cigars are legal, but I thought they were illegal - maybe they're just legal on the ship or in a different country, i.e. the Bahamas or British Virgin Islands? Obviously, I don't know the details. What if INS didn't believe you or wanted to check your luggage? Or if you had five cartons, how do they know where you purchased them? I guess they would have pulled you over right there and checked your luggage? Carrying home heavy bottles of booze seemed rather inconvenient, so we never inquired about it. I think that the limit you could spend was $1,800 without having to pay a duty for your purchases. Cathy had spent a little over that amount on jewelry, etc., and declared it all, but didn't have one of her receipts. The agent begrudgingly told her he'd give her the benefit of the doubt and let her go through. Speaking of immigration and different countries, one day when we got back to our room, there was a form to fill out and a notice that ALL passengers had to be ready for an INS inspection at 6:45 the next morning! Every person had to have their passport or i.d. ready to show an INS agent in the Queen's Lounge. If you didn't show up, you would be fined. I have no idea if that's a common practice on cruise ships since I've never left the country on a ship before, but I didn't enjoy having to wake up at the crack of dawn on a day off of work. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. The drinking age on the ship was 18 since it was on international waters - a topic hotly debated for a while on the AOL cruise boards. During your shore excursions it's a very good idea to carry lots of $1's and $5's for cab fares and tips. The drivers will often tell you that they don't have any change. And everybody from the taxi drivers to tour guides to waiters to bathroom attendants, etc., remind you that it's nice to tip - they're not shy about it! So make sure you have the right change to tip if you feel it's warranted. The Weather The weather during our cruise was very warm (too hot for Cathy and me!) and very humid. We're not used to all the humidity, so it was a real drag. I can't imagine being there in the summer! Just opening the veranda door (most of the time) was like walking into a very windy steam room. On the last day, at Nassau, it was beautiful. A little cooler and less humid, but the wind was so intense that the ship cancelled all snorkeling and helicopter rides. It was very windy (we saw Auntie Em fly by), but very nice otherwise. Shore Excursions Half Moon Cay Our first stop was at Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay (pronounced key). Dan had signed up to go deep-sea fishing ($120). They took him out on a small boat for two hours, and not one bite! He was hoping for a big one. When he got back, we all took at tender (a small boat) to the island for a glass-bottom boat tour ($29 per person). There isn’t a dock, so the ship has to anchor out in the ocean, hence the tender to get you to shore. It was so hot that day. Sitting in the enclosed tender waiting for it to take off was killer. If you don’t do well in the heat, you might want to carry a little battery-operated fan with you. Wish I had. The scenery was beautiful. The island was small with a pretty beach and turquoise water. When we got to the island, there was a small “shopping” area with an outdoor bar and some small outdoor shopping stands. There was one building with a post office and an indoor shop, but it was not air-conditioned. They serve lunch on the island till 2:00, but our tour was getting back at 2:00. If they have tours that run till 2:00, I think they should serve some kind of food later. The “village” area was very cute, with brightly painted buildings, a bar, and a nice bathroom. Just beyond the buildings was the beach. We could see some parasailing going on in the sky. Very pretty but we didn’t have time to enjoy it. Our Eco Lagoon Tour started at 12:30. It was great. The boat was covered on the top and open on the sides, with a glass bottom, and of course there was a nice breeze once we got going. The lagoon was very shallow and we saw lots of different coral and fish. The two tour guides were very friendly and knowledgeable. One of them would jump out and pick up different animals (a star fish and a sea urchin) to show them to you up close. We all enjoyed the tour. We stopped at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday. We docked this time, parallel parked. We took a tour called Island Tour and Mountain Top ($24 each). The “bus” was a pick-up truck that had the bed converted with bench seats, a top, and open sides. The end seat would be best for taking photos, but it also left you in the sun. Again, it was hot. As we drove out of the pier area the roads got worse and steep. We were a little nervous. The tour guide was nice and friendly, and he took us to some higher spots on the island to see the beautiful vistas. Again, there were outdoor swap-meet-like shopping areas selling lots polyester “Caribbean” clothes. I don’t know how people could survive the humidity in polyester clothes! Then we drove up to the highest point of the island and over-looked Megan’s Bay. It was absolutely gorgeous. But I’m not sure if anyone actually gets to go there or not. We just saw it from afar. Made for some spectacular photos! There was a nice air-conditioned indoor shopping/snacking area there and we were stopped for about a ½ hour. It was nice to cool off. On the way back down the hill we saw a 5’ iguana just moseying along. He was quite cool. Apparently there are quite a few of them. That’s about the only wildlife we saw on land, except for some pelicans at the beach. The tour bus took us back down to the downtown area and dropped us off if we wanted to shop, or would take us back to the ship. We wanted to shop. The streets were very narrow and congested. Lots of carbon monoxide! And lots of horns honking. Every two minutes someone was asking you if you needed a taxi. Every store I went into was hard sell. These islands have one industry – tourism. And they need to make their money for the year during the tourist season. Even though the main street was run down, most of the shops were very nice on the interiors. There were many fancy jewelry stores, plus a lot of stores you’d find in Beverly Hills, i.e., Lalique, Swarovski, Coach, Ralph Lauren, etc. After shopping for a couple of hours, we found a hamburger place to eat. No great shakes. There didn’t seem to be too many restaurants. A few of the locals told us to go up this one street and over a block off the main drag, but we didn’t really trust them. They looked rather seedy. So we kept looking on our own. We walked out onto the street and took up one of the taxi drivers and went back to the ship to drop off our purchases. Then Cathy and I went back out to the Havensight Mall (right next to the ship). We spent another three hours shopping there. Cathy found a jewelry store that had too much good stuff. And I finally found some nice T-shirts in XXL for Dan. (Larger sizes are not easy to find!) We also enjoyed the air-conditioned stores and the fact that they were only a five-minute walk back to the ship. Tortola, British Virgin Islands On Wednesday we stopped at Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Again, we docked at a ship parking lot, with another ship right next to us. We headed off the ship on our own, determined to find a beach to hang out on for the day. At the end of the pier was a man asking where you wanted to go and directing people to the appropriate taxis. We got on a taxi that was 98% full of people, but the taxis don’t leave till they are completely full, with four people to a seat (can you say “cramped?”) The people who were already there had been waiting twenty minutes cramped together in the heat and were getting very antsy. They started telling the cab driver to get going, but he didn’t care. Not too friendly, to say the least. There was a big sign in the front of the back section that was rather rude about not putting your feet on the window, that’s what the floor is for. And informing us all that tipping is not illegal. After another ten minutes he finally got another couple to ride up front with him and we were off. As he started driving on the nightmare roads, all of us passengers started looking at each other in disbelief, hoping we’d make it to our destination, which turned out to be Cane Garden Bay Beach. It’s a very poor island and you see lots of trash in yards, roosters, and goats wandering on the roads, and hurricane-ravaged houses. The roads were full of potholes, were very narrow and steep, with no guardrails along some of the cliffs. Pretty scary, folks. When we arrived at the beach, we all got out of the cab and had to pay our $6 each. The first person handed the driver a $20 bill, and was told by the driver rather indignantly that he didn’t have any change. We gave him the required $12 and left. No tip for that bozo. When we walked out to the beach it was very pretty. Chaise lounges lined up everywhere. We picked a chair, sat down, and were immediately approached by a local telling us that a chair would cost us $5 each. O.k. There were palm trees and lots of greenery along the back side of the beach. The water was very blue, with puffy clouds in the sky, and a few sail boats in the bay. Very picturesque. We had a great time watching the pelicans dive-bombing for fish. We sat for a while enjoying the breeze and slight overcast. From out of nowhere, Joe (my brother-in-law) walked up. What were the odds of that happening? Cathy slept in and he got off the ship and took a long island tour. (Not to be confused with a tour of Long Island). He agreed that the roads were rather treacherous, and said that he had been to the highest point on the mountain, and had seen some incredibly gorgeous mansions. A little different from what we saw. After he left with his tour bus, we ventured into the water. It was a little too cold for us. Yes, warmer than Malibu, but still too cold. We decided to stroll along the beach instead. There were many outdoor vendors with clothes hanging for sale. We were quite thirsty, so we continued to the end of the bay where we saw an “outdoor” café. Along the way, Dan spotted something we had never seen before. Topless sunbathers! Made his day! I guess it’s the norm in a lot of places, but not to us. After we quit staring, pointing, and taking pictures for the scrap book (just kidding!), we managed to make our way to the café. There was a stairway, or what used to be a stairway. The wooden steps had been ravaged. Where there used to be a railing, now was only a rope. I wasn’t too crazy about it. Dan went first and assured me I’d make it without incident. I did. Whew. The place was pretty thrashed. We waited at the bar for several minutes before anyone showed up to help us. We bought a couple of cans of Coke and sat for a while. The more I looked around, the more I realized that the Los Angeles County Department of Health would have a field day with this place! Yuck. And yuck. I didn’t see any way that the patio area could be closed up at night or during inclement weather. There was an area in the center that had apparently been a little garden at one time, but was now only growing rusty debris. I took a few photos of the pelicans from the edge of the balcony, and we left and made our way back to our $5 chair. On the way, we saw a man on the beach pushing a dirty old wheelbarrow containing coconuts, a hammer, and an open bottle of rum. Things are a little different there. To our surprise, we actually saw people drinking out of the coconuts. Wonder what they cost. I didn’t care enough to find out. A couple that we had met on the ship saw us and came over to chat. They asked us how we liked the ride over there. Oh yeah. We picked up our towels and went to find a bathroom. Something told me that once I found one, I wasn’t going to want to use it. But to my surprise, the main bathroom in the middle of the beach was actually quite decent. What a relief. A taxi pulled up and dropped off some passengers. We asked him if he could take us back to the ship. He looked at us, and very non-enthusiastically said, “I suppose. But you’ll have to wait for more people or it will cost you an arm and a leg.” Great. At least he was honest - I guess. So we sat down and waited. Dan had a smoke, then another, then another. Seemed nobody was in a hurry to leave – not even the cab driver. He was just sitting on a lounge chair a little ways over from us, basking in the sunshine. Hey – did he pay the required five bucks? After what seemed an eternity, another driver walked up to us and asked if we wanted a ride right then. He said that it would cost us $18 to go by ourselves, but he’d take us if we wanted. We jumped on it. His van had no shocks, no seatbelts, and I honestly didn’t think it was going the make it up to the tops of the steep hills, and was praying it would have brakes on the way back down. It was exciting if nothing else. As we got back over the mountain I asked if there was a downtown shopping area. He said there was only a flea-market type place. He dropped us off there; just a 10-minute walk from the ship. There were ten or twelve small, brightly painted separate shops surrounding a pretty, well-kept, little courtyard. Now this was cute and I was happy. Finally - some nice local atmosphere to enjoy. Each building we went into had someone working in it that was less friendly or responsive than the last. Well, at least they weren’t the hard-sell bunch like St. Thomas! From one extreme to the other. We purchased nothing and walked back to the ship. We saw a building under construction, and noticed that there was very little mortar between the cinder blocks, and very sparse re-bar throughout. I guess they have very loose building codes, if any? We walked back to the ship, enjoyed the heck out of our fabulous dinner, and sorry folks, but we decided that we could do without Tortola again in our lifetimes. That night the seas were a little rough, but none of us got sick. It was kind of interesting trying to sleep on your side when you keep getting flopped back and forth. What excitement! On our last cruise day L, we stopped at Nassau, The Bahamas. Again, we pulled into a large parking lot, five ships parked in a row. The view was spectacular! Now this is what we were expecting! In the distance we could see a very grand hotel, the Atlantis. It put anything in Las Vegas to shame. Right off the ship, we could see a huge, pretty yellow building. There were palm trees planted on the dock. The air was much cooler (yeah!), but it was extremely windy. We were fortunate to not have scheduled any of the shore excursions that were cancelled due to high winds. We got off the ship and were approached by a nicely-dressed Bahamian cab driver. It seemed that they were all well-dressed. He was very friendly. Charlie. He asked us what we wanted to do, and offered to take us on a tour of the island and to the main downtown shopping area for about an hour and a half, for $30 per person. He would “treat us like royalty.” We agreed. He led us through some buildings and down a street to get to his cab. Several times along the way he put up his arms and announced in a booming voice, “Clear the way! Royalty coming through!” Every one would look and laugh. Rather embarrassing, but lots of fun. Luckily he had a nice Mercedes van with air-conditioning and seat belts. He did his darnedest to entertain us. Kept calling us all “your Highness.” He was a lot of fun. The streets were very narrow and FILLED with cars. Everyone drives very aggressively and everyone uses their horn at least five times per each block driven. What a mad house. He took us through the poor area of town, where they don’t even have running water. There is a community spigot where they load up their pails, and they have holes in their yards for waste. Makes me realize how fortunate I am. Then in complete contrast, he took us over to Paradise Island and the Atlantis Hotel. Money dripping. There’s a suite that spans the two main towers. Charlie told us that it goes for $25,000 per night, with a ten night minimum. Puh-lease! He said that Michael Jackson stays there a lot, and of course, a ration of jokes ensued. He dropped us off in front of the hotel to take pictures in front of the beautiful fountain while he parked. Then he took us for a tour through the hotel and casino. Again, it was rather embarrassing when he announced that royalty was coming through. It wasn’t too far-fetched that royalty does go through there! It was gorgeous. Very grandiose. We put $20 in a slot machine and all took turns losing it as fast as we could. It never paid; not even once. There is a HUGE aquarium that you can walk through with incredible tropical fish, lobsters, sharks, manta rays, you name it. The grounds outside were spectacular. Charlie said that an average room runs about $500 a night. After the tour of the hotel, he asked us what we wanted to do. We asked where there was a nice place to have lunch on the beach, and he suggested the Sheraton right next door to the Atlantis. We parted ways with Charlie and headed for the beach and food. It was great sitting back off the beach on a patio and eating. Dan and Joe were brave and tried the Conch (as in those big Conch shells that you see) burgers. (Bahamians do everything possible with the meat of the conch.) It was fried and looked and tasted very similar to a Filet-of-Fish sandwich from Mickey-D’s. We walked around a bit on the beach and took in the scenery. It was beautiful. We walked back out to the main drag and caught a taxi back to town. Another very nice driver in a nice van. He stopped and picked up another couple along the way. He dropped us off downtown, close to the ship. We shopped for a while. Everyone was very kind and helpful. The town was quaint. I’d go back there again anytime. Too bad the ship is only there from 12:00 noon till 7:00 p.m. We started back to the ship just as it started raining. Good timing. Our waiter that night said that it always rains when they stop there. We were fortunate to have had such a nice day. Now we had to pack our bags. No more spoiling. Boo hoo. The Everglades Our flight to head back to Los Angeles didn’t leave Fort Lauderdale till 6:45 that evening, so we signed up for a land excursion tour to the Everglades to ride an airboat and see alligators up close and personal. We disembarked the ship, which went very smoothly, and got ourselves and our luggage on a HAL bus to head for the Everglades. Luckily, we remembered that the airport was freezing, so we packed our jackets right on top of our luggage so we wouldn’t get frost-bitten while waiting a few hours for our flight. When we claimed our luggage at the port, we realized that it was a little chilly outside, so we pulled out our jackets right then before leaving the port. Good thing! When we got to the Everglades it was overcast, windy, and pretty close to bone-chilling compared to the weather we just left behind. I always pictured the Everglades in swamp land in the middle of nowhere. It’s right off the highway! We were all freezing cold. We got onto the air boat and met our tour guide for the ride. A nice guy in shorts and a T-shirt. And we thought we were cold! The ride was a bust because the alligators won’t come out of the water when it’s cold. Didn’t get to see one dang alligator in the Everglades! And the guide didn’t want to go too fast for fear that our appendages would turn blue, fall off, and become alligator bait. They passed out ear plugs to everyone when we boarded the boat. It was very loud! The wind actually blew my clip-on sunglasses off of my glasses. (Luckily they landed on the floor behind me and I was able to retrieve them.) When we got back to the dock, they took us on a tour of their little wildlife sanctuary, where we were able to see a couple of large alligators, and even hold a 20-month old one. He was about 3 or 4 feet long, and they taped his jaw shut. I was surprised when I felt his soft skin. It was a highlight of my trip! How many people get to hold an alligator? How many people want to? I do! O.k. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m weird! Then we moved on to the Florida panther exhibit. He was in a large caged area, with a woman sitting in there with him. At first he was lying in the corner, but then he got up and walked over to her and jumped up to where she was sitting on a bench. He snuggled up to her and went right for her thumb. He loves to suck her thumb. What a majestic animal, and so adorable! Then the lady said that for $10 anyone could go in and pet him. There were no takers. He was just a little too big for comfort, thank you! I never thought I’d choose to hold an alligator over a panther! We left the animals and went through the gift shop and bathrooms. Boarded our bus and headed for the airport. Just a word of warning: My suitcase was overweight. The airlines allow for 50 lbs., and mine weighed 68! Oops. The lady was very nice and reported that it only weighed 62 lbs., so the charge was $20. She said that if she had reported that it weighed 68 lbs, the charge would have been $80! Next time I’ll take two bags instead of one heavy one. At least they let us check in our luggage four hours early so we didn’t have to lug it around the airport. We had a nice flight home and paid the $5 for pillows. We were beat! Our trip was wonderful. We loved the contemporary and colorful interiors of the Zuiderdam, the service, the relaxation, and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Eastern Caribbean. We’re looking forward to many more cruises in our future!

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Jan 31, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

First Time Cruise. It was fantastic. I truly enjoyed the entire experience. Embarkation – Fast and simple. Once my wife and I went through the lines, received our id cards and what not, we were on the ship in under 30 minutes. We were greeted by stewards with white gloves and escorted to our cabin. Our luggage was on the bed waiting for us. Amazing.

We did the “exploring the room” procedure to discover what our accommodations would be for the next week. First, our ocean view window was on the same level as the life rafts. I knew this before I booked the room so it was no surprise. I thought we were going to have a small 3’ by 4’ window or less. We had a full size floor to ceiling window that was 8’ tall and 8 ‘ wide. We could see the water and watch the moon while we sailed along. It was so much more than what I expected and this was foreshadowing for the rest of the trip. Our room also had a bathtub that was wonderful as an option that my wife really enjoyed. We had our bed made twice a day and chocolates at night. Out room steward was great with a fresh fruit plate everyday and fresh linens all the time. Ship was great. My wife and I were in the gym almost twice a day either on the cardio or weights or taking a class like Pilates or Yoga. Some classes were free, but most were 11.00 extra. No big deal. They were good basic classes. The ship had some amazing art pieces around with a theme basically of 17th century Italian sculptures as well as some other really phenomenal pieces ranging from modern and post modern pieces to classical ship pieces done by captains with Holland America. Really nice. Food – Amazing. Variety and quality. The first night I took advantage of the Odyssey restaurant’s 10.00 per person special. Food was really good and the service was fantastic. I bought seat for my wife, mother in law and her friend for the first night. I really enjoyed the servers – Hungarian men and women who were delightful. Had the rack of Lamb with a great Cabernet Sav. with dinner. However!!!!, to me, it was not that much better than the quality of food and service that we received in the main dining room. The main dining room was fantastic. Out waiter was Budi and his assistant was Arief. Really nice friendly attentive fellows. Budi was a bit soft spoken, but was there for our every need. Arief was a bit more outgoing and always smiling. Our Wine Steward/ Sommelier was great (I forget his name right now). Wonderful demeanor, very knowledgeable and always available if I had a question. He was also part of a separate wine tasting/ pairing class I attended on the first at sea day. The food was great, especially considering the amount of people they had to feed. I really enjoyed the choices and quality of the meals. I had everything from Foi Groi (spelling???) pate to a chilled Strawberry, cream and green peppercorn soup to double rib venison chop in a reduced Cabernet wine sauce. The Dover Sole is not to be missed, especially when they bone the fish at your seat. My mother in Law and friend are both Chinese and not fond of the French/Austrian style of the head chef. Budi and Arief went above and beyond getting dishes to their liking. I was very satisfied. Ports of Call – I have visited each place the ship stopped before and really had no desire to get off of the ship, except for Tortola. I still believe that, but I scheduled some sort of tour through the ship for each stop for my family. St. Thomas has great shopping. Other than that it is still a bit of a dump. We booked the tour through the ship and we stopped only at tourist stops where people were selling all kinds of junk. Not too impressed. Our driver had a thick Dominican accent and was hard to understand at times and really did not narrate the island tour one bit. Nice scenery on the north side of the island over looking Meagan’s Bay. It was the only stop where someone was not hawking towels or bags or t-shirts. The nice thing about the ship’s tour is that we knew we would get back on time, although for St. Thomas, the ship did not leave until; 11:30 p.m. I would investigate other tours. Diamonds and Tanzanite and liquors buys were great. I stocked up on Guava berry Liquor since I cannot find it in the States and it reminded me on my younger days in the Caribbean. Tortola was nice. Quiet and serene. The complete antithesis of St. Thomas. I have not been back in over 10 years and it still seems unspoiled. I have never liked Nassau, although the Ardastra Gardens were neat and the tour of the fort was nice, however, for me it is worthwhile to stay on the ship. I have been to Nassau on numerous occasions in the past so I knew we were not missing much, but it was a nice day excursion. On Half Moon Cay, It is a really nice beach and we took the nature walk. A nice walk but out guide, although very sweet, was not very informative and just hiked us along the trail. Aside from being 40 minutes late, it seemed as though we were a nuisance to our guide. A nice walk nonetheless. Half Moon Cay is your idyllic tropical beach and for those who do not get to one very often, this is a really pretty spot. My wife and I were some of the younger people on the ship ( 31 and 33 years old) and that was great for us. Holland America seems to be pursuing the niche of the “Traditional” cruise line with set seating times and more serene atmospheres. I do not think it is better or worse than some of the other more energetic lines. For us, this was a perfect setting. The shows were really great and I loved the Filipino Crew show the best. Really a lot of laughs. The art auction was fun. I cannot wait to go onto another cruise. I have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean and this is a great way to see little snippets of each island and its unique characteristics. If you want to experience island life, do not go on a cruise, you just get a snapshot. Holland America was great and seemed to address the problems I read about by some reviewers during the Dec. 2003 overhaul. There was some vibration in the dinning room, but you are sitting directly over the wheels (propellers) and with the ship making better than 20 knots in 6-8’ seas, I thought it was amazing how smooth it was during dinner. Once the seas hit 12- 15’, the ship’s stabilizers actual became more effective. Counter intuitive, I know, but that was my take. The rocking was most noticeable when the seas were medium in size. There was never enough rocking to become a nuisance, just noticeable and you had to mind your steps when going down the halls a bit. I noticed no foul small on any level even during the roughest seas. I also found there were plenty of public restrooms and there was little to no wait for any of the elevators. My favorite evening activity was the Cigars under the Stars in the Oak Room on the 10th level deck. There was a lovely waitress there every night and had my port wine waiting for me as I lit me cigar. I met some really nice gentlemen up there and got a chance to reflect on the days activities and what a great time I was having. Going on Norwegian in November and I cannot wait.

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Jan 31, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

This was my first cruise on Holland America. In the past, I’ve cruised Celebrity (my favorite) and Royal Caribbean. Every year my best friend Joan and I take a vacation in the January/February time range, since the weather is about as miserable as it gets during those months in Michigan. The last few years we have discovered cruises, and we don’t even consider any other type of vacation any longer. We had shied away from Holland

America in the past because we had heard they were for a much older crowd, but the reviews of their new ships were so good we decided to give the Zuiderdam a try. What a wonderful decision on our parts that was! We booked our cruise through BestPriceCruises.com, who we have had great luck with on other cruises. The service is outstanding, and they have always offered the best price for the cruises we are interested in. Because we are people who enjoy our room (and being women, we do NOT travel lightly) we selected on of the SS category suites. We love the extra room a suite provides, plus the larger verandah that usually comes along with the bigger room. In order to avoid any nasty Michigan Weather Glitches, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Friday, January 30; so we would be sure to make the sailing of the Zuiderdam on Saturday, January 31. We booked AirTran out of Flint for $206 round trip, and the flights were smooth as could be. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 9:45 pm, and took a cab to our hotel, the La Quinta in Plantation ($80 on Hotel.com). The hotel was great; large clean room with a free continental breakfast. It was raining when we arrived, but it was about 65 degrees warmer than Michigan, so we didn’t mind a bit. The next morning, we checked out at 11:00 and called a cab to take us to the port. WARNING! When we got to the port, the Port Police Officer noticed that our cab driver had NOT turned on his meter! He had obviously been planning on charging us an exorbitant fee, but didn’t get away with it due to the sharp eye of the police officer. He confiscated the driver’s license and paperwork, chewed him up one side and down the other, and ordered him to drive us to the ship and then come back for a little visit with him. The driver kept apologizing profusely, but to no avail. Finally the officer warned him that one more word would land him in handcuffs, so he quickly shut up and drove us to the ship. ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE METER IS ON!!! We were very happy to get out of the cab and looked happily at the beautiful hull of the Zuiderdam looming above us. The trip was finally beginning! Embarkation couldn’t have been smoother. I have read horror stories of long waits and a strange system of number calling, but we didn’t run into that at all. We gave our luggage to the porter street side, and headed in to the terminal. We were directed to the check in line, with no one in front of us, and had our ship cards in about 5 minutes. Then a quick security check, and we were on the ship in about 10 minutes. We weren’t supposed to go to our rooms until 12:30 pm (it was about 12:00 at this time), but we snuck up to our floor anyway, and discovered our cabin steward Russ still working on our room. He was a doll, and let us leave our carry on luggage in the room. We took a quick look around (more on that later) and then headed to the Lido Buffet on 9 for lunch and a drink. It was official – we were back on a ship! The Lido has great food for both breakfast and lunch. There are several stations for each type of food, so the lines don’t ever get too long. It wasn’t as nice a setup as I had found in the buffet on the Brilliance (that was the best buffet I’ve ever seen, with the best arrangement – lots of little islands accessible from all sides and a fantastic selection of items) but the food was good and there was plenty of variety. The staff serves you most of the choices, similar to the way Celebrity buffets work. I actually prefer to serve myself, but it does make you feel pampered. By the time we finished our lunch, we heard the announcement saying we could go to our rooms. We headed down to 8, and reentered our room (legally this time). The SS suites are fantastic! The room was about double the size of a regular verandah room on most ships, and the verandah itself was also twice the regular size. The room had 2 beds, a couch that also turned into a bed, 2 chairs and a coffee table, 2 desks, TV, mini bar, and loads of storage space. The closet had a large area for long dresses (thank Heavens!), a shorter hanging area for tops and slacks, tons of hangers, and several large, deep shelves. There were drawers in both desks, and in the nightstands, so for the first time, we were able to put everything away and still have drawers left over! The bathroom was even better, a full Jacuzzi tub with a shower, a separate stall shower, a HUGE long counter with 2 sinks and a full-length shelf underneath, and 2 large medicine cabinets behind the side mirrors. I’ve been in hotel rooms with smaller bathrooms, so we were thrilled. The verandah had 2 wicker chairs with ottomans, a small table, a large table, and 2 more wicker chairs. There were 2 large drawers at the foot of the bed, and plenty of space underneath for suitcases. We couldn’t have been happier with our room. Since we didn’t have our luggage yet, we decided to begin our explorations. Since the Spa figures heavily into our enjoyment of our cruises, we headed back up to 9 to the Greenhouse spa. We cut through the large pool area, which was covered, but could be opened on nice days (still raining that Saturday). The spa was just before a very nice gym, with lots of treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes, free weights, and a large floor for classes. I used the gym several times, (admittedly earlier in the trip – by the end, my enthusiasm for exercising had waned), and it was never crowded. Ah, but the Spa! We got one of the lovely spa ladies to give us the grand tour, and got slightly giddy with all the wonderful choices available. The thermal suite was amazing, several lounge chairs covered in tile that heated up, positioned to look out at the ocean. It also contained a sauna and shower, and was across from a beautiful thalasso pool (salt water). Both the thalasso pool and the thermal suite had a $15/day charge, or $80 for the entire cruise. After much discussion, we selected and booked our treatments for the week. I signed up for 3 days of yoga (one on the beach at Half Moon Cay!), oxygen facial, a pedicure, and a shampoo and blowout for the first formal night. Joan selected a massage on the beach at Half Moon Cay, the oxygen facial, a pedicure and a blowout. With that important task out of the way, we headed next to the Odyssey Specialty Restaurant to confirm our dinner reservations. We had made our reservations in advance through the Holland America Customer service help line. This turned out to cause more confusion than necessary – they couldn’t figure out how our ship account should be charged, given that they had already charged my American Express card. Since the Odyssey was never full, I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to book in advance. As a matter of fact, I called the Customer Service line a few times before our trip, and found the customer service reps to be somewhat surly and NOT helpful at all! Not really a good first impression for Holland America Cruise line! Once we had our reservations straightened out, we began exploring the ship. Since many people have given excellent descriptions of it already, I’ll just add that we absolutely loved the bright colors throughout. There are huge bouquets of fresh flowers everywhere, and exquisite paintings, sculptures, and other works of art throughout the ship. The furniture, especially, in the lounges and lobbies is especially nice – both modern and traditional styles are represented. We were in awe, and had a splendid time checking everything out. We then headed up to the Crows Nest for a cocktail, since we were exhausted from our explorations. Nick, our bartender, set the standard for all of the bartenders and waiters throughout the ship. He was charming, attentive, and had a wonderful sense of humor – as did everyone we encountered all week. Holland America has done a wonderful job in selecting and training their staff. Everyone we encountered went out of his or her way to be pleasant and helpful – such a pleasure! After a couple of delicious drinks, we headed back to our room to prepare for muster. That passed uneventfully, and we returned to our room to unpack (all luggage had arrived safely) and prepare for our first dinner in the Odyssey. It did not disappoint – the service was exquisite and the food outstanding. It is a steak house, serving Prime Sterling meats, and even though I’m not much of a red meat person I found the filet to be absolutely delicious. The breads, salads and side dishes were equally good, and the deserts were out of this world! Be sure and try the chocolate volcano cake – beyond superlatives. As an example of the wonderful service, when I asked for a decaf capuchinno with my desert, the waitress happily ran to the other end of the ship to get it for me! We returned to our room full and feeling very pampered and spoiled. Day 2 – Half Moon Cay We have to agree with Tom and Mary Milano – Half Moon Cay was the most beautiful private island we have ever seen, and we would have been perfectly happy to spend the week there. We tendered over about 9:00, and couldn’t believe the exquisite beaches, lovely public areas, and even immaculate restrooms! Joan was soon settled into her massage on the beach, while I joined the yoga on the beach class. We loved both activities, and then returned to our beach chairs for some well-deserved relaxation. We rented a clamshell for a very reasonable $9 (I’m a red head who burns) and settled in to gaze at the crystal clear water, watch our fellow cruisers, and sip Bahama Mamas. The weather was perfect, low 80’s and sunny, and we couldn’t believe we had escaped the frigid Michigan weather. At 11:30 lunch was served, and we enjoyed a wonderful barbeque buffet. Then more lounging around, and I took a long walk on the beautiful beach. We sadly returned to the ship about 2:30, and headed to the spa for our pedicures. I must admit, I’ve had much better pedicures in my life. The technician was sweet, but had us soaking in a portable footbath, rather than in a special pedicure chair. She didn’t do a good job removing my calluses and dry skin, although the foot massage was nice. For $55, I would recommend you get your toes done at home and spend the money on something else. With newly done toes, we decided to have dinner in the buffet so we could watch the SuperBowl. HAL had thoughtfully set up many wide screen TVs in several of the lounges to accommodate the SuperBowl crowds, along with a light snack (hot dogs, chips, and popcorn). We did feel the buffet wasn’t at its best for dinner, the selection was limited and not that special. However, we exited well fed anyway, and headed for the Crow’s Nest to watch the show. There were plenty of seats, lots of TVs, and the lovely waiters circulating to make sure we had everything we needed. Although I’m not a sports fan (Joan has 6 older brothers, so she certainly is), it was the best SuperBowl party I’ve ever attended! Day 3 – At Sea Joan and I both love sea days. We ordered breakfast room service, and ate on our balcony while we watched the sea roll by. We checked in with CNN to make sure it was still frigid in the Midwest (it was) and thus reassured, we spent the day lounging around, sunning, eating and drinking. After an afternoon nap to recover from our busy day, we headed back to the spa to have our hair done for dinner. We both were very happy with our dos, and returned to the room to get primped up for our first dinner in the dining room (formal night). We were at table N on the 2nd floor, a table for 6. However, we were delighted to find out that a 7th guest was to join us that night – the ship’s Chief Engineer Willem Dullaert! Not only was he a charming and interesting companion, but also he treated the entire table to a selection of wines with dinner! The food was wonderful, and our waiter and his assistant were just perfect. Our dinner companions Bill and Sharon and Vic and Amy were equally delightful, and it was a wonderful evening. After dinner, we stopped in at the Theater to catch the show. Unfortunately, it was a ventriloquist, and we stayed about 5 minutes before escaping. We aren’t much on the shows on ships; I’ve yet to find one that I really enjoyed. But, please remember, this is just our opinion, and you might love the entertainment. To each their own! Day 4 – St. Thomas Joan and I have been to St. Thomas before, so we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We disembarked early, and took a cab to Megan’s Bay. The driver was very interesting, although I found it hard to pay attention since he was racing along on the wrong side of the road up the hairpin turns to get up the mountain to the other side. We did arrive unscathed, and spent the morning enjoying the beautiful beach. About lunchtime, we headed back, stopping at the dairy outside the beach area for a fabulous milkshake! Then back to the ship for lunch, clean up, and then head back to town for shopping. The only downside was the shops all closed up tight right at 5:00, so although we were in port until midnight, there wasn’t much to do after that. We returned to the ship, had another wonderful dinner in the dining room, then settled in on our balcony with a drink to watch the ship pull our of the harbor. What a sight! The lights of St. Thomas were beautiful, and we watched them fade into the distance as the cool breezes washed over us. This is how life should be! Day 5 – British Virgin Islands We woke up to the sight of the mountains of Tortola rising around us. Due to our busy day in St. Thomas, we had neglected to sign up for any shore excursions, so we spent the day on the ship, enjoying the aft pool within sight of the beautiful scenery of the BVI all around us. The ship was quiet since most people disembarked, and it was another delightful day. Day 6 – At Sea It was another perfect day, topped off by the sight of a double rainbow rising out of the ocean! There were a few sprinkles of rain, not enough to spoil the day, but just enough to create the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. We both had Oxygen Facials that day, and they were fabulous and well worth the money. They completely wiped the bad pedicures off our mental cameras! Then we dressed for the last formal dinner, and spent another delightful evening with our charming hose Chief Engineer Dullaert. As you can tell, we aren’t much for the nightlife on ship, so we can’t really comment on the bars or shows. Day 7 – Nassau We’ve been to Nassau several times, so we again decided not to leave the ship, We spent the day revisiting our favorite places on the ship, and took in the wonderful afternoon tea. It was served in one of the lounges, and it included little sandwiches, cakes and deserts, and scones with cream. Fabulous! We also checked out the poolside taco bar and grille, also fabulous. We finished our shopping in the ship shops, and sadly began to pack up. We had a final dinner in the Odyssey, just as wonderful as the first one, and spent our last evening taking pictures of ourselves next to some of our favorite sights on the ship. Disembarkation Couldn’t have been smoother! We had room service breakfast, wandered down to one of the lounges, and waited a little while until our number was called. We quickly found our luggage, grabbed a cab, and were back at the airport in under 30 minutes (with the meter ON, this time!) All in all, a perfect trip. Now, a few of our special Likes and Dislikes: Likes Size of room and bathroom Large window and door wall in room Furniture, both in our room and throughout the ship Bathrobes Bar set up in room, including a wine bucket (we brought wine with us) 2 nd desk area by the window in the room Breakfast and lunch buffets Room service – food arrives hot and on time Half Moon Cay! Lunch in the Dining Room Odyssey Crows Nest Bright colors throughout the ship Suede elevators Cotton washcloths for hand towels in public restrooms Smooth ride of ship Very, very friendly and nice staff Very few kids Ship liquor policy (they let you purchase duty free liquor in the shops and take it back to your room to enjoy!) Food in Dining Room No announcements in the rooms Fitness Center and Spa Dislikes Door to verandah – much prefer sliding door to the type that opens outward Bed – somewhat hard No plugs for hairdryer in bathroom Dinner in buffet Shower drain – slow Holland America Customer service help line Tipping policy! HAL states that tipping is not required, but that you may tip if you received excellent service. We found this very confusing and awkward, since we received excellent service everywhere we went. I much prefer having gratuities added to my drinks and the standard tipping policy on other lines. I was worried that some of the excellent staff wasn’t getting the tips they deserved due to this confusion policy. NOT an advantage! Other than those few items noted, it was one of our very best cruises ever. Holland America is a winner in our book, and the Zuiderdam is our new favorite ship! Happy cruising, Cathy and Joan

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Dec 20, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

My sister and I enjoy a Christmas Cruise. We did the Western Caribbean last year on the Amsterdam. That was my sister’s first cruise. I had cruised on the “Big Red Boat” when my daughter was 6. I also cruised on the Aranui through the Marquesas and did the Blue Lagoon Cruise through the Ansawa’s. We choose the Eastern Caribbean this year and looked forward to a first visit to St. Kitts and St. Thomas. We booked the Deluxe Suite

as we did last year as we enjoy access to the Neptune Lounge and Concierge. During booking I chose Cabin 7068 as it was near the elevators and stairs and not in the Neptune Hallway, as that can get busy. Other preparatory events including booking a post and pre trip hotel and air through HAL, packing all of the necessities Tom and Mary suggest and buying small Christmas presents for the staff. Dallas-Ft Lauderdale and Boarding We usually don’t use a travel agent and worked directly with HAL. We were satisfied with the price of our cruise but made the mistake of letting HAL do our hotel and air arrangements. Getting a direct flight from Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale is not easy and the times are not the best (for example Delta’s direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas is either 6 am or 6 pm). Therefore, we flew at inconvenient times. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Westin. The hotel was very nice and HAL had arranged a late checkout the next day. HAL representatives were at the hotel to board us on the bus to the Pier and that went smoothly. Luggage was loaded for us and waiting for us to identify on the Pier. The Suites have their own check-in area and there was no line. We went directly to the desk where a very nice young man reviewed our documents, took an imprint of our credit cards, took our picture and handed us our room keys. The picture is kept in the computer and is tied to your room key. When you board the ship and your room key is scanned your picture pops up. We began to make our way to the boarding area and noticed that the HAL service remained friendly as employee after employee joked, wished us Merry Christmas, etc. By the time we got to the gangplank, we were ready to enjoy our cruise. The Room The room was very nice but it and the balcony was much smaller that the same category on the Amsterdam. Still we had more than enough room for two. Upon entering the room there were closets on the right and the sitting room and bathroom to your left. There was plenty of room to stow your clothing, shoes, etc. The sitting room also had closets where we hung our long dresses. Note to Hal: Clothes slip off those wooden hangers. We finally used the hangers with clothespins on everything. The sitting room was a little small for getting ready in the evenings but was fine. The bathroom was very big with a tub (whirlpool) and shower and another separate smaller shower. There were two sinks and two medicine cabinets. As you continued into the room, there was a living area that had a couch, table and two chairs. There was a small bar that had two bottles of champagne, one from the Capt and one from our aunt. There were two twin beds pushed together and you have the option of keeping them like that with bedside tables on the outside or separating them and putting the bedside tables to the inside. It seemed the room would be easier to navigate if the beds were together so we left them like that. We had a TV, DVD and CD player as well as more cabinet and drawer space in the room. The room had two telephones, which was nice. Our balcony was OK. It had a table with a couple of chairs and a couple of deck chairs. It was not very clean and we spent very little time out there. We had hoped to have breakfast on the balcony but it was very windy. The Staff Our steward was Jazam and he was very good. Like most stewards he seems to come and go like magic, making up your room and leaving you ice. We did the Tom and Mary trick of pre-tipping and I thought Jazam was about to cry. It seems that much of the staff has had very bad experiences on the boat with folks and he appreciated the consideration. Jazam never gave us details but other staff did. I believe that the problems that HAL has with the Zuiderdam (which are not the staff’s fault) lead to unhappy customers who take it out on staff who have no control over the situation. One example of this was in the Neptune Lounge. The concierge, Marie, was handling the hundreds of little items that occur during boarding when a group came in very upset that Seattle had told them there would be 2 formal nights and we had three. Marie offered them assistance with tuxedoes and dresses but that wasn’t good enough. I am not sure what Marie was supposed to do for them. They ended up complaining to the Hotel Manager and the next thing we knew Marie was at the front desk instead of the Neptune. We also had a group of 16 who always arrived for breakfast late at the Odyssey. They complained about one of the servers who was clearing a table and she got in trouble. Well, she was clearing the table, because the guests were late and now the staff was going to be running late for lunch. Sister and I decided that when a lot of people pack they seem to leave their manners at home. But that is another story. Our dining staff was Shy (our waiter), Teghue (our assistant waiter), and Presty (our area Steward). All three were very friendly, remembered our likes and dislikes and gave us big Hello’s by name when we saw them in other parts of the ship. Our wine steward was Antonio. Other dining staff that we encountered in the Lido was also very competent, friendly, etc. If you do have one complaint about the staff it is that they are young and inexperienced. Comparing the staff of the Zuiderdam with the Amsterdam, we noticed that the Z staff did not have the polish and spirit of the Amsterdam. However, we had no complaints about the staff. Suite guests were invited to a Captain’s Reception and a brunch. Opportunities to meet and mingle with the crew are always fun because you learn things about the ship that you might not know otherwise. The crew is very professional. Dining There is always a lot of food and it is everywhere. As suite guests you can take tea in your room at 3-3:30 and have hot snacks delivered between 5-5:30. In addition, the Neptune Lounge always has sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and an assortment of juice, coffee, and teas. Breakfast can be delivered to your room and we found the scrambled eggs to be the best we had ever eaten. Suite guests can also have breakfast or lunch in the Odyssey. We had eggs benedict one morning and also took a lunch there. Food was fabulous. We chose late dining this year and a table for two. Our table, #90, was perfectly located upstairs at the railing. We enjoyed watching the people around us and the ones downstairs. We took 2 dinners in the Odyssey and one night had room service. The other nights we dined in the Vista. We planned to dine in the main dining room Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the last night, as these are usually extravaganzas. The menu is delivered to your room early enough for you to decide if you want to enjoy alternative dining. The Vista menu is also the room service menu during the Vista serving hours. All of our meals in the main dining room were very good. Two things come to mind when thinking about the meal: variety and presentation. I don’t care how picky you are about food; you will find something to eat. The presentation is beautiful and the servings are manageable, although we never were able to clean our plates. I am not a dessert person but sister enjoyed them. I did ask for a cheese plate one night and it was served with saltines (not my favorite cracker with Brie). Dining usually took about 2 hours and ended with the best coffee! The Odyssey is a treat not to be missed. The M’aitre D is Tomaz. He sets the tone immediately. Sister and I were taken to a very nice booth and the table sparkled with silver and china. Our server’s were Ana and Czsba (I never got his name right). The Hungarian staff is young, energetic and friendly. Our server’s asked us to please ask for them on our next visit and we did. They ended up serving us on all our subsequent trips to the Odyssey and we were very pleased with them. The food is outstanding with delicious filet mignon, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, potatoes, and more. We made all of our dinner arrangements upon arrival and noticed by the third day that the Odyssey was completely booked for the rest of the cruise. HINT: The staff noted that people made their reservations and then did not show up. So, if you decide you want to eat there, you might just go by. There were always empty tables while we were there. Whether it is the hamburger, hot dogs and tacos by the Lido pool or the hot snacks in the Crow’s Nest, all of the food was good, at the right temperature and plentiful. Activities Where to start?? Everyday, sister and I would take our activity sheet and highlight what was of interest. We had done the spa thing last year and decided that we were going to stay away this year. Our shared interests included trivia, bingo, shopping, swimming, sun and reading. Sister is more inclined to go watch ice carving or take a galley tour. I am more inclined to participate in the slot machine tournament and ping-pong. We both found plenty to do and got an afternoon nap. I love the casino and found that the ship gave very good payoffs. I won something called Captain Ron’s Bonus, which is given while you are playing the slot machines, and I also was one of the 5 finalists in the slot tournament (got a cool t-shirt from both). The slots seemed to pay off quite a bit. My real love is roulette and I played in the late afternoon with the same two fellows. Again, we seemed to be lucky. I stay away from the black jack table as too many people don’t know how to play and you can lose a lot of money when the person to your right keeps drawing cards when they shouldn’t. Movies were available in your room on two channels (Terminator 3, Day Care Daddies, Bruce Almighty and more). In addition there are daily movies like Seabiscuit. We could also check out DVD’s and did that on our room service dinner night. There are multiple venues in the evenings. The youngsters seemed to enjoy the Northern Lights with DJ Matt until the wee hours of the morning. You could get a night cap and some music on Deck 10 in the Crow’s Nest or enjoy jazz or dancing down at the Piano Bar. Almost everything is on Deck 2 and 3: shopping, food, bars, art, library, art gallery, and Internet. Excursions First, we did not book any excursions. We prefer to wander about or make those plans ourselves. St. Kitts: not much to say about St. Kitts except that we found some shopping at the Island Hopper and a nice lunch. The locals are pretty pushy about braiding your hair, or taking you on a tour, etc. We enjoyed sitting on the upper level of our outdoor restaurant and watching the folks go by. St. Thomas: a shopper’s paradise! Save all of your money and enjoy. Sister was very interested in David Yurman. She had priced things at Neiman’s etc and was ready to get a deal. Ries is very good to shop. For jewelry we also liked Ballerina’s. Camille Pissaro’s gallery is very interesting. All of this is a very short, $3 cab ride. After shopping arrange to go to Magan’s Bay. It is one of the top 10 beaches in the world. This island is beautiful and you could probably spend the whole week here and lose yourself doing it. Half-Moon Cay: we had been here last year and went ashore this year too. The Zandaam was also there so it was a little crowded. We slipped away early and found the pool on board was deserted and took advantage of that. Departure HAL lets you stay in your room until departure. The cruise director Dotty does a nice departure seminar, which is broadcast on one of your TV channels just in case you missed her in person. Food venues are open early and room service was the option we chose. It arrived on time and I got to enjoy those scrambled eggs one last time (don’t eat them at home). Luggage was whisked away and we were ready to go. Everyone is given a number or letter and there is no delay in disembarking. We identified our luggage quickly and were off to our post-trip hotel: The Hyatt. Unfortunately, the Hyatt was not ready for any of us and we waited in the lobby for SIX hours for rooms. Not the way you want to finish your trip. However, the Hyatt had a Spa and nice pool and we took advantage of both while we waited for our room to get ready. Our Delta flight at 6:00am was pretty empty so we got entire rows to ourselves to stretch out and sleep. Final Thoughts 1. Tom and Mary’s hints about tipping work as do the $2 bills. 2. This is not a singles ship. We encountered several singles (male and female) who were not very happy with the lack of singles activity. 3. This is not a “loud” ship. The first two days a large party from New York was very loud at various events. Evidently someone from the ship spoke to them because they disappeared and never got loud again. One crewmember said something to them during Bingo like: “This is not Carnival keep it down”. Again, this to me was representative of a young, inexperienced crew. 4. The Zuiderdam moves at an incredibly fast pace the first two nights and people were getting sick right and left. TAKE Bonine (or some seasickness remedy) the first two days whether you think you need it or not. The trick is to take it early. The boat rocked A Lot the first two days. 5. The vibration people complained about was bad in lower decks. We felt it the last night in the Crow’s Nest. 6. The smell that people complained about during the early months was only present one time that we could tell. Take a room freshener, like a Lampe Berger or plug in. 7. The service is better than previously reported. However, the crew is young and inexperienced. This leads them to say things that perhaps an older, more experienced waitperson would not say or do. 8. Take a good attitude. There were a lot of unhappy people on board. We had a couple get into a pretty good fight one day and on more than one occasion we saw people say things to crewmembers that was completely inappropriate. 9. We would not sail on the Zuiderdam again as we prefer the smaller ships. Also, we don’t think we would cruise the Caribbean again. Now we are looking at Europe and Alaska…with HAL! Hope this review is of some assistance!

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Dec 20, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

We are a family of repeat cruisers on various lines, and decided to make the Zuiderdam our holiday family trip. After all I had read about this ship, mostly negative but more recently positive comments, we decided to give it a try. Well, we were more than 100% satisfied! Holland America, in our opinion, is a great value. The food seems to get better on every cruise-both in the Vista Dining room and in the Lido. And for a special

treat the Odyssey Restaurant ($20 surcharge per person) can't be beat-the best steaks we have had in a long time, cooked and served to perfection. The service everywhere was attentive and we tipped generously to those that took such good care of us. I only wish that the other passengers took as good a care of the staff as we did. (I do think that HAL needs to revise their tipping policy) The things we appreciated on this ship versus other Holland America ships we have recently sailed (Veendam, Maasdam and Volendam) are absolutely NO lines anywhere, the variety of lounges and evening options, larger spa and exercise area, and the lovely balconies. The cabins are spacious and well designed and the balconies large enough for two chairs, but we did find the lack of self-service laundry to be disappointing. Entertainment was better than normal, perhaps because it was a holiday sailing. There was some type of big show each evening, and many other evening show options including a fun karaoke knock-off on American Idol called "Zuiderdam Idol". Our fellow passengers were very talented and provided us all with great entertainment during the week of competition. We can't wait to try the Oosterdam or the new Westerdam coming out in 2004. HAL just keeps getting better & better!

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Dec 13, 2003

Eastern Carribean

This past cruise was suppose to be a celebration of 4 generations. All eleven of us had balcony suites. All of our cabins were tastefully decorated. We had 3 cabins that were category SS. While these cabins were wider we did not feel that the configuration was necessarily better. The couch is across from the bed so you do not get the 'feel' of a separate space. We left port on Saturday and embarkation went very smoothly. We had lunch

in the lido and liked the way they have separate stations for different foods. Service tho is very SLOW. The food was very good considering this is buffet style. On Sunday we visited the private island Half Moon Cay. We all had a great time. As usual the beach is clean and there were plenty of chairs available. We left HMC about 2:30 pm. My wife and I were getting cleaned up and ready to go to dinner (5:45 sitting). All of a sudden my wife got very ill. While she was in the bathroom my daughter came to our room saying she felt just awful. Next thing I knew she was on our balcony throwing up while my wife was doing the same in our bathroom. My wife became so ill that she had to go to the infirmary. The ship CREW doctor was wonderful. When the PASSENGER doctor arrived in the infirmary she seemed a little 'put out'. Meanwhile the CREW doctor gave my daughter a shot to stop her throwing up. The next morning both my wife and daughter felt fine. A little weary from the previous night but no temp etc. To our surprise the head nurse along with the ships customer relations person told us that we would need to get off the ship at the next port! The PASSENGER doctor says they both had NORWALK VIRUS. We feel it was food poisoning from HMC. My wife and I along with my daughter and her husband had to stay in our rooms Monday, then leave the ship on Tuesday in St. Maarten. Our daughter and her husband did leave the ship. We stayed as long as my wife promised not to leave the cabin. I was allowed to roam freely on Tuesday. Meanwhile my wife stayed in the cabin and the a/c went out for 6.5 hours! It was like a sauna in there. When we asked the question on why I could be out and about we were told that I wasn't contagious (but I was sleeping in the same room etc etc.) This made no sense to us. Also, I nor my son in law ever got sick. And we were the ones cleaning up after them. My wife was allowed her freedom on Wednesday. I must also tell you that no medical personnel came and took any vitals after Monday morning. During our quarentine we were treated very poorly. We had to eat off paper plates, plastic forks, paper cups what don't they have sanitizing dishwashers? Also, this type of service didn't start until WE said something about if my wife is so contagious how come the cabin steward etc don't know about it? When we did get a chance to eat in the Vista dinning room the food was good but the vibrations were awful. We were at table 26 & 28 overlooking the rear of the ship. The view was wonderful but our son and other son in law got sick every time they ate there from the vibrations. The Vista is crowded, the tables are so close together it is very hard for the waiters to serve you. Even the head waiter said it was hard to work in this dinning room compared to the other HAL ships. All in all we did not have a good time. We wrote a letter to HAL and they will only reimburse for our daughters unused portion of her trip. It was a real shame to spend over 10K for a family celebrating 4 generations to walk away with such bad memories. HAL will not get our business again.

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Dec 13, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

We drove to the Holland America Lines pier located at Ft Lauderdale Fl. and parked at the Mid Port parking garage. We arrived about 11:30 am and were eating in the Lido by 12:15. Holland America has certainly improved the embarkation procedure. Since this was our first voyage on the Zuiderdam, we just explored the vessel for the remainder of the day. She sailed on time at 5:00pm. We had an inside cabin and it seemed somewhat larger

then what we expected, although the bathroom was very small. We had heard so many negative comments about the Zuiderdam that we just decided to form our own opinion. Since we just returned this afternoon, and while it is fresh in my memory, here are our comments: By HAL standards, the Zuiderdam is a large Vista Class Vessel and like anything new , it takes time to figure out the layout. It is not like the other HAL ships. Many people have commented about the loud colors (carpeting & furniture), but we found them refreshing. We enjoyed the "outside" elevators, and took them whenever possible. Great views. The stage productions were great, but the sound was somewhat loud for my taste. The comedians were terrific. The food served in the Vista dining room was generally very good, but the service was slow. And the tables were much too close together. We had asked for a table for two and they simply pushed our table up against a table for four, with a little space in between. Not what we asked for. The air conditioning was warm in some areas and very cold in others. Before we departed, i had read comments about the vibration felt mainly in the Vista dining room However, it was very minimal and we hardly noticed it at all. Now, I must mention, that the Zuiderdam had just come out of dry dock and the vibration problem was one of the repairs corrected. According to the crew, she will be going back into dry dock after the Holiday cruises. Don't know what she will be going in for this time. As on all HAL ships that we have sailed, the crew was very pleasant and accommodating. We visited St. Martin, St. Thomas and Nassau and their private island, Half moon Cay. Half Moon Cay is always a delight. Although we didn't participate in any of the water activities, we enjoyed our time there. We had arranged for an island tour of St Martin and enjoyed that. There was a lenghthy stop on the French side. St. Martin was very crowded, since there were five other ships in port. The Zuiderdam docked along side the pier at St Thomas near the Havensight Mall, and it is a nice clean area for shopping. We also went into Charlotte-Amalie for some shopping and returned late in the afternoon. Last year, while visiting St. Thomas, we took the island tour, including the paradise point tramway which is a must. If u are into shopping, St Thomas is the place. Nassau also has lots of shopping. And a trip over to Paradise Island to the hotel Atlantis is another must. In summary: We enjoyed this trip on the Zuiderdam and would recommend it to anyone considering a cruise. It is a big ship with lots of activities. Always something going on into the wee hours. Nothing structured, so u can choose whatever activities u are interested in.

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Nov 30, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

There have been quite a few reviews written about the Zuiderdam, Holland America’s first "Vista" class ship launched in December 2002. This review will add my (and some of my wife’s) impressions of this cruise and will provide what we hope are useful hints for pre-cruise, ports of call, and post-cruise arrangements for the budget-minded traveler. Because this is an extensive review, we will highlight each section with a KEY PHRASE,

so that the reader can scan down to specific areas of interest. Please be aware that the world of travel is constantly changing, so that some of the content of this review may have outdated since it was written. My apologies for any resulting inconvenience. THE BOTTOM LINE is that this was a very enjoyable cruise on a beautiful new ship at a price that was an astoundingly GOOD VALUE. We would recommend it for anyone who enjoys the relaxation and luxury of shipboard life with occasional mainstream (sometimes crowded) ports of call. PRO’S: Numerous balcony cabins at reasonable prices; improved cuisine, now second to none; first-rate musicians and production shows; the kindest dining and cabin stewards anywhere; the best powder-sand beach in the Caribbean (Half Moon Cay). CON’S: An itinerary crowded with other cruise ships and passengers (St. Martin, St. Thomas, Nassau); unnecessarily high prices for internet access, photographs, and liquor; lack of self-service laundry; lack of bathrobes in most cabins. HOLLAND AMERICA has a reputation for attracting older cruisers, and we found that most passengers on our cruise were in their 60’s or 70’s. One might think that this cruise would be a turn-off for younger couples and families with children, but one gentleman told me that his children were enjoying this cruise and Club HAL (the children’s program) much more than their previous cruise on the Disney Magic. His children felt special on HAL, but were just part of the overwhelming crowd of (sometimes unruly and unhappy) children on Disney. My guess is that HAL attracts an older crowd because in years past they did little discounting until too late, selling leftover cabins at the last minute to Florida retirees. (Floridians apparently get price concessions from cruise lines). On my first HAL cruise a few years ago I was unhappy to learn that we had paid $1,000 more for our inside cabin than two of our tablemates had paid for their inside cabin, and $200 more than two other tablemates had paid for their outside cabin. It was a while before I was willing to trust HAL again, but those days are now past. Fortunately, HAL is now using capacity-controlled pricing much the same as other cruise lines (and airlines) are, resulting in some great bargains, especially during the shoulder season before Christmas. Price shopping using internet cruise sites (there are several good cruise-bargain newsletters) or a large-volume cruise agency (more about this later) is very worthwhile. THE ZUIDERDAM is at the large end of medium-sized cruise ship spectrum, at 82,000 gross tons. She carries 1,800 passengers with almost one crewmember for each pair of passengers. As a Vista class ship, she is very similar to the Millennium class ships of Celebrity Cruises –- the hull is wide and somewhat boxy (just narrow enough to squeeze through the Panama Canal), but the superstructure is narrower and tall enough to provide a relative abundance of balcony cabins. MODERN CRUISE SHIPS seem to be categorized into small (20-50,000 tons), medium (60-90,000 tons), and mega (100-150,000 tons). The small ships tend to be either old, with wonderfully exotic itineraries (but idiosyncrasies such as occasional tiny cabins or port holes) or ultra-luxurious (with amenities and prices to match). The mega ships tend to be moving cities with an emphasis on large shopping malls, exotic activities (do you really want to go cruising to ice skate or rock climb?), and of course large masses of people. As you can guess, the mid-sized ships are our favorite, especially the newer ones like the Zuiderdam. Much has been written about the INTERIOR DECORATION of the Zuiderdam. It is a departure to see combinations of red, orange, purple, and turquoise on a HAL ship (HAL is known for a more conservative, nautical style), but it is all top quality and surprisingly attractive. There are quite a few small, uniquely decorated public areas, most non-smoking, so it is easy to find a quiet retreat day or night. There is not as much emphasis on artwork as on some other HAL ships, but there is something for every taste from museum-quality serious to Las Vegas whimsical. Fresh flowers are a hallmark of HAL ships, but they seemed less grand than on previous cruises. Still, most public areas had a nice arrangement or two of exotic blooms tucked away here and there. Surprisingly, the public area CHAIRS provided some of the most unique art experiences on the ship. These chairs were uniformly very heavy, very expensive, and interesting to look at, but almost always less than completely comfortable (poor low back support). Still, the chairs (and all of the décor) have great entertainment value if you keep your eyes open. Unfortunately there was no art and architecture tour of the ship – it would make a good option during a day at sea. THE CABINS are pleasantly decorated with warm colors and easy-to-appreciate lithographs. Even the inside cabins are a reasonable size, so no one will suffer the surprise we had a few years ago on another (highly regarded but old) cruise ship when we found our cabin had two bunk beds, one desk, and an ottoman squeezed into a less than 7 by 9 foot space (the renovated bathroom added another 4 by 6 feet). The Zuiderdam’s numerous BALCONIES vary in size. Ours was a category BB (the least expensive) on deck 5 amidships, and it was quite shallow (room for two chairs and an ottoman but no table to enjoy breakfast al fresco) because of the adjacent lifeboat hardware. In this category the lifeboats block the view downward to the water (but not outward to the horizon), so you may want to avoid this category if that is important to you. My wife loves the privacy and fresh air of a balcony, and this ship is one where balcony pricing is quite reasonable. Our cabin was provided with a mini-refrigerator, television (with the usual movies, cable news, weather cams, and music channels, but surprisingly no classical music, just pop), a mini-safe, and more than adequate closet space (but only a dozen coat hangers and open shelves rather than drawers in the closet). Bring a few extra plastic hangers with you (more about this later). If you cannot find that extra blanket, try looking inside that ottoman under the vanity. Inside the door of each cabin is a small slot to hold the do-not-disturb sign. This makes a great place to leave your key-card whenever you return to your cabin. Searching pockets for missing cards can be a thing of the past. Balcony cabins (and I believe most outside cabins) have the luxury of a bathtub rather than a shower, but do not expect a plush terry bathrobe to wear after your hot bath. Bathrobes are now only supplied to the highest category cabins (suites). Personally I think this is a false economy that will have negative returns. Cruise lines are beginning to offer two standards of service, sometimes with designations such as "concierge class". Only the future will tell if snobbism sells. Fortunately, most of the upgraded amenities offered on the Zuiderdam are available to all. Nothing in our past cruises was a greater turn-off than the three-class system we encountered on the QE2. We thought class distinctions went down with the Titanic, but apparently they will live on with the QM2. One thing you definitely will not find on HAL’s new Vista class ships is a LAUNDERETTE or ironing board –- they still exist on older HAL ships, but on the Zuiderdam (and its newer sister-ship the Oosterdam, which sailed alongside us on our final day) you either wash clothes in your sink or you pay very high prices ($12 per small bag) to have the crew do it for you. A clothes-pressing package deal is also available. Again, we think eliminating self-service launderettes will backfire and will alienate mainstream passengers. One thing you may not find easily is a RESTROOM in each public area. Actually there are more restrooms than one thinks, they are just discreetly hidden. If you need a restroom, look up as you search, since most have lighted ceiling signs in the adjacent hallway. However, some areas truly have no convenient restroom –- men dining on the upper level of the main dining room will have to go up or down one deck to find the nearest restroom. Besides the extra balconies of the Zuiderdam, the greatest improvement since our previous HAL cruises was in the DINING ROOM. The food served in the main dining room is better than ever in variety, presentation, and flavor. Mealtime became an entertaining experience on this cruise. In years past, Celebrity Cruise Lines seemed to set the standard in dining, but based on our experience on this cruise, HAL has risen to meet the challenge. The main dining room is on two levels with a central atrium rather than horseshoe-shaped balcony. This decreases the conversation noise, but previous reports of engine noise and vibration in the stern portion of the lower level are too true. The daytime views from this area are fantastic, and hopefully when the ship returns from dry dock in early December 2003, this problem will have been solved. The main dining room is an elegant dark red, with unusual-looking but surprisingly comfortable chairs, upgraded china, and a relative abundance of well-situated tables for two. The linens are now white (rather than gold), making it a more formal experience. The dining room staff is Indonesian and is as skillful as ever. Music is provided by the always-enjoyable Rosario trio, who thankfully seem to be present in some incarnation on every HAL cruise. The FOOD throughout the ship is uniformly top notch, which is quite an accomplishment considering the wide variety of dining venues and cuisine styles. The BUFFET line has been divided into multiple areas, each with a specific theme or purpose. This is diagramed on maps provided with the deck plans at the beginning of the cruise. This increases the variety of food stations and decreases the length of lines, although some cruisers who are used to the standard single cafeteria line approach seemed to have difficulty adapting to the flexible layout. Dining is available at almost any hour -- we especially enjoyed the fantastic pastries in the mid-afternoon and had pizza with cocktails on our balcony in the evening. (As an alternative, complimentary hors d’oeuvres are now served with evening drinks in the lounges). The poolside grill and Mexican buffet were also enjoyable diversions. ALTERNATIVE DINING (at a surcharge of $20 per person) is provided by the Odyssey Restaurant (AKA Pinnacle Grill) adjacent to the central atrium. We ate there once and found the steak and rack of lamb better prepared than any we had eaten before (and we come from a state that produces both). When I asked the chef later in the cruise how he made the wonderful and intensely flavored sun-dried tomato and beef stock reduction that came with my steak, I learned that the process required two days of slow cooking with multiple herbs. It was a reminder (as is the entertaining galley tour) of how much work goes into the food preparation. The Odyssey never seemed to be full, and obtaining reservations was no problem. I think that the main dining room is so good that the Odyssey has stiff competition. The wines (and drinks in general throughout the ship) are expensive (by our standards). If you are a heavy drinker of sodas, consider buying a soda card at the beginning of the cruise – it will probably save you money and is good any time throughout the ship. The CREW throughout the ship was topnotch, as on previous HAL cruises. The officers are Dutch. We have always been impressed by their attention to details, especially safety, having watched them life raft-drill the crew on a previous cruise. The boat drill at the beginning of the cruise is taken very seriously. Too bad some cruisers always seem to chatter during this most important ten minutes of the cruise. The remainder of the crew is largely Indonesian and Filipino. It is this crew which makes HAL stand out among the cruise lines we have experienced. We have found no gentler, kinder, more thoughtful stewards than these. On this cruise it seemed that the proportion of Indonesians has decreased relative to Filipinos, perhaps because of recent American xenophobia towards Muslim nations. I feel so sorry that these Indonesians may be the victims of ethnic profiling, making U.S. visas and work permits more difficult for some nationalities to obtain. They have always welcomed us on our travels to Bali and Java, and I hope that we can do the same for them. ENTERTAINMENT also has improved since our previous HAL cruises. To be honest, we do not often attend Broadway or Las Vegas style musical productions, but the ones we saw on this cruise were top quality. The main theater has a dozen pillars which obstruct the view from some seats, so go a bit early to get a prime sight line. All of the singers had great voices and the dancers had excellent choreography and impressive costumes. The only fault I could find was the excessive amplification –- one could feel the music in one’s gut, it was sometimes so loud. That has been the case on almost every previous cruise ship, so now I simply bring along a pair of ear plugs -– they bring the volume down to an ideal (for me) level. The MUSICIANS elsewhere on the ship were also the best we have heard on any cruise. The Crossover Band played classic dance numbers perfectly, and their singer was stylish and always in tune –- she sounded like a recording in the best sense of that word. The piano trio in the Ocean lounge improvised with great skill and good humor. The evening musical scene in general was an embarrassment of riches. The one thing that was lacking in the way of entertainment was a series of EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS or ENRICHMENT LECTURES (there was a single interesting talk on digital photography for beginners). Some of the high-end cruise lines are adding these options, and I hope HAL and other cruise lines follow their lead. In the meantime, the LIBRARY is well stocked with recent books –- it was no problem to find several that I had always intended to read when I got the time (but ended up only reading two on this cruise, since there were so many other things to do). The INTERNET room is beautifully appointed with the latest in flat screen monitors and reasonably rapid response times. The prices, however, are unnecessarily high ($3.75 just to open an account and $.75 per minute thereafter). This may be the reason that I never saw anyone but the technical assistant in the room any time I visited it. There are internet package deals, but no great concessions like those on Princess cruise ships, for example, which allow unlimited free internet use to its regular (more than 5 cruises) clients. The GYM and SPA were well equipped. The layout is unusual. The saunas are across the ship and down the corridor from the changing rooms, and as a result were rarely used. Unfortunately the sauna area can be locked from the inside and may not be available if someone wants to monopolize it. The indoor and outdoor SWIMMING POOLS were filled with frigid water –- great if the weather is sunny, but little used on our blustery cruise. Unfortunately both pool decks are smoking areas (no port and starboard separation of smokers and non-smokers). This could be a problem if you want to take your buffet meal to one of the outdoor tables near the pools. The onboard SHOPS had a good mixture of logo souvenirs and convenience items. Sale prices seemed fictitious, but were not exorbitant. The CASINO was terra incognita to both my wife and myself. I once cruised with a friend whose casino tab ended up greater than the cost of the cruise itself. Perhaps we should be grateful that casino losers subsidize the rest of us cruisers. The CRUISE ITINERARY begins with a short day on HAL’s private island, HALF MOON CAY. This is a beach paradise that can get crowded near the tender dock but always has footprint free sand at the far end of the beach. We prefer to skip the beach picnic and take a mid-day break from the sun by having lunch in the main dining room, returning to the beach for an afternoon swim. The first passenger tender leaves about an hour after anchoring, because the early tenders are taken up by crew transporting food and beach gear. Avoid the last return tender if you can, because stragglers can delay it, and you make have to wait for a while. After a day at sea, there is a half-day at Phillipsburg, ST. MARTIN. One can walk 15 minutes into town along a new sidewalk or take a short $3 taxi ride. There is a new man-made beach along the waterfront, but non-shoppers usually opt for Grand Cas or Orient Beach (both topless) on the French side of the island. The $2.50 public mini-bus ride to Grand Cas (via a change of buses in the French side capital of Marigot) takes 1-2 hours each way depending on traffic (St. Martin is subject to gridlock just like St. Thomas). Minibuses leave from westbound Back Street, just flag one down. Grand Cas is not a great beach (there are buildings along its entire length) but the ride there is fun for the adventuresome, and it has some nice views. Tour buses cover the same route with greater comfort and speed. Orient Beach is not reachable by public transport other than taxi. The next port is a full day at Charlotte Amalie, ST. THOMAS. This shoppers’ orgy is a major turn-off for me (and thankfully for my wife too). We have been to the USVI nearly a dozen times by air and by sea, and Charlotte is always the low point. Magens Bay on the north side is a reasonable taxi ride and entry fee away. It is a beautiful beach, the far west end of which is not too crowded. If we are docked at Havensight, we sometimes take a short taxi ride to the Frenchman’s Bay beach of the Marriott Hotel. It is a small beach, but safe and usually uncrowded. If we really want to get away, we visit friends on nearby Water Island. On this cruise, the Zuiderdam anchored and tendered passengers to the center of the Charlotte waterfront, very near the St. John’s ferry (tempting, but there really is not enough time to go there and get back for the last tender). What time was lost by tendering was made up by the convenience of not needing a taxi from the Havensight pier into town. Passport clearance at St. Thomas begins onboard around 0645 for the lower deck cabins and ends around 0815 for the upper deck cabins. The first tenders leave soon thereafter. After another day at sea, the final port of call is NASSAU, on Providence Island in the Bahamas. This is another shoppers’ orgy, which we usually avoid. We either take a taxi to Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island (for about $5 per person), or we take a public bus for $1, east along the waterfront to the base of the old (southbound) bridge. It is a 10-minute walk over the bridge to Paradise Island (the north end of the bridge is adjacent to the ferry dock). Once on the island, we walk another 10 minutes toward the Sheraton hotel (straight ahead). Public beach access is just to the right of the hotel. There are no restrooms on the beach, but chair, umbrella, parasail, and wave-runner rentals are readily available. We usually walk another 10 minutes east along the beach to avoid any crowds from the nearby Atlantis Hotel complex (which is an interesting sight in itself if you have the time). That sums up our impressions of the cruise. What follows is a series of SUGGESTIONS ABOUT PRE-CRUISE, PORTS OF CALL, AND POST-CRUISE ARRANGEMENTS (and cruising in general) aimed at the budget-conscious traveler. These ideas have worked for us, but feel free not to follow them if they are not your style. AIR TRAVEL to the cruise port can be problematic in the winter. We have found that making our own reservations is less expensive than booking through the cruise lines, but one loses the cruise line protection if there is a delay or cancellation. We fly into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) the day before the cruise, and usually plan a return flight in the afternoon of the last cruise day, to allow for disembarkation and airport delays. TAXIS from the cruise port to the FLL airport are about $10 plus tip, making this less expensive (and faster) than the cruise transfers. Except for some previous cruises when we were last off the ship, we have never had to wait for a taxi. On this cruise, HAL kindly put us in the first group (disembarking about 8:30 am) since we had an early return flight. The bonus is that airport security lines are shorter early in the day, before most cruise passengers get there. Again, if possible book your return flight for noon or later to be certain you arrive in time (once after a previous cruise we did not clear airport security until 1 pm even without checked bags, the airport lines were so long, but that seems to have improved recently). If you arrive at FLL early and have no checked bags, you can always standby for an earlier flight. In Ft. Lauderdale we usually stay at one of the several chain HOTELS on 17th Street, which are only minutes away from the airport and cruise port. Most of these hotels provide free shuttle service to and from the airport and cruise port. Nice rooms should be available for less than $100 by using any of the internet discount booking engines or sometimes by booking through the hotels directly. If hotel prices are too high, we rent a car for 24 hours and drive to a motel a few miles from the port (check your AAA guide for options). The price difference more than pays for the car rental, and shoppers can use the car for a visit to Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall, one of the largest in the country, located about 30 minutes west of town (they have great, relatively inexpensive men’s and women’s formal wear shops if you need some additional elegance). Amerisuites, Embassy Suites, Marriott, and Holiday Inn all have properties on 17th Street. There is a large Publix grocery and liquor store within walking distance for any last minute purchases, and there are many restaurants and food outlets nearby. There are even a few upscale clothing stores catering to the yachters in the nearby marinas. The water taxi-tour boat stops (hourly on weekdays, half-hourly on week-ends) at the Marriott marina, which is within walking distance of most other 17th Street hotels. In good weather the water taxi is a great, inexpensive ($5 for the entire day) way to see some very fancy homes and boats, and one can hop on and hop off at any of the numerous stops to see Ft. Lauderdale’s sights. LUGGAGE is often a problem when cruising because most people pack far too much. This suggestion is not for everyone, but my wife and I each travel with only a regulation-size (21x13x8 inch) airline carry-on, even when going around the world or on cruises. A micro fiber black suit, one dress shirt, two casual shirts, two slacks, two shorts, and two T-shirts with three sets of underwear do fine for me. Add a Gore-Tex rain jacket, swim trunks, a pair of Teva-style sandals, a daypack, a wash-kit, and a light sweater, and I am ready for anything. My wife substitutes a micro fiber black dress with fancy jacket and jewelry, plus additional items analogous to my own, and she is ready too. TRAVELING LIGHT is the greatest skill we have learned in our years of travel. To be honest, most cruisers are so concerned about their own appearance that they do not care what you are wearing anyway. One of our favorite evening activities on formal nights is to sit near the photographers’ stations and watch the fashion parade. If you are a compulsive shopper and short on luggage space, pack a duffel bag for the return home. LAUNDRY can be a problem, especially on ships like the Zuiderdam which offer no self-service launderette. We have found that one can hand-wash almost anything (no jeans please), roll it in a dry bath towel for several minutes, and then hang it (it does not drip) from the air conditioning vents overnight and it will be ready to wear the next morning (gauche, but no one, not even your cabin steward or hotel chambermaid, need know). We carry two or three plastic hangers for just this purpose, and use paper clips as adapters if the hangers are too thick. Never, never, never hang anything from the sprinkler heads in your cabin or hotel room. EMBARKATION in the FLL cruise port is very efficient. The lines may be long, but they move quickly. One can be on the ship by late morning and enjoy lunch at the buffet while the cabins are being cleaned (cabins are usually available by 1pm). DISEMBARKATION is equally simple. HAL is now generous enough to allow passengers to wait in their cabins until their disembarkation group is called. On this cruise, HAL kindly put us in the first group (disembarking about 8:30 am) since we had an early return flight. With no suitcases to claim, we just walked right through US customs to the head of the taxi line and were at the airport in less than 15 minutes. ROUGH WEATHER is always a possibility, although it is rare after the summer/fall hurricane season. New cruise ships have such a relatively high profile and shallow draft (about 25 feet) that they tend to list or rock in high winds. Take some meclizine tablets or scopolamine patches if you are a fair weather sailor. I hate the hung-over feeling I get from either, and have found that my wife’s over-the-counter anti-reflux medication works like a charm for me, with no side effects. WHINY CRUISERS are the greatest disappointment on the seas. Some people just seem to enjoy being unhappy about not being royalty. The crew is amazingly patient with these folks – the crew deserves our admiration dealing with trivial complaints when their own families at home may be lucky to have basic food and shelter. Don’t get caught up in whiny cruisers’ games and don’t be impressed by their princess-and-the pea attitudes. Just walk away and be glad they are not your neighbors (if they are at your table, ask the maitre d’ to relocate you). GLUTTONOUS CRUISERS are the second greatest disappointment. It is sad to see the excessive consumption and waste of food on every cruise, especially when the culprits are sometimes morbidly obese. Don’t get caught in the same cycle. The main dining room offers a portion-controlled refuge if your self-control weakens. I must admit HAL’s dense-and-chewy raisin bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice (not out of the dispenser, but on the nearby shelves), and wafer-thin-crisp-as-can-be-bacon made me think each morning that I had died and gone to heaven, but I was careful to enjoy smaller portions during the rest of the day. SMOKERS deserve our sympathy because very few drugs are as highly addictive as nicotine. That being said, I was glad to be protected from smoke in the dining room and most public areas. Unfortunately, the open decks and enclosed pool area are open to smokers without the usual portside smoking/starboard side no-smoking split. Mea culpa, I apologize to the kindly gentleman who wanted to join me for breakfast on deck. When I learned he was a smoker, I suggested I would meet with him later in the day but needed a non-smoking table to eat. I still feel guilty about being so blunt, but after years of seeing people die of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other smoking-related illnesses, I have become more an anti-smoker than non-smoker. SECURITY has never been a problem for us on HAL, but we did once have a bag and cashmere sweater stolen on another (highly regarded) cruise line. On the same cruise line a fellow passenger’s passport was stolen from a shelf in her cabin. She and her infant daughter spent three extra days in London getting a new one. Another passenger’s (one of that cruise line’s gentleman hosts) wallet was stolen from his bedside table. The moral is keep your passport and all other valuables in your room safe all of the time. Take your driver’s license ashore for those ports which require a photo id (most say they do, but we rarely needed more than our cruise key card for identification). HEALTH CONCERNS have gotten a lot of press recently, ever since the Norwalk virus and other nasty critters started cruising. Most disease outbreaks are due to fomites (commonly touched items such as door-knobs, buffet serving tongs, friendly handshakes especially in reception lines) rather than aerosols (sneezes, air-conditioning). Few people wash their hands immediately before eating on cruises, but restrooms are almost always nearby. This is especially important when in self-service buffets. The risk of illness from touching one person is minimal compared with the risk of serving tongs that may have been touched by hundreds before you. HAL has been very conscientious in having most food served by crew wearing disposable gloves and by keeping silverware individually wrapped at the tables rather than in the usual self-serve racks, but communal serving tongs will never be completely eliminated on any cruise ship. Similarly, HAL serves cocktail nuts in narrow neck flasks and has "Yum-yum Guys" dispense after-dinner mints so that no one’s hands dip into communal serving dishes. They also provide mini-towels to dry hands and open the restroom door when finished (just toss it back into the used towel hamper as you exit). If you think about it, the close quarters of cruise ships increase the risk of disease spread, but countering this is the fact that scant public hardware (door knobs, railings, elevator buttons, etc.) are as thoroughly cleaned as on cruise ships. If hand washing is too much bother, at least buy and use a bottle of the alcohol-based disinfectant hand gels which are now widely available for travelers. You, and your fellow passengers, will be glad you did. TIPPING is always problematic on HAL cruises, since they currently have a tipping-not-required policy. Personally, I think this policy is unfair to the cruise staff and confusing for the cruise passengers. I hear that HAL may change this policy and conform with other cruise lines, on which tipping is not mandatory but is expected, and tipping guidelines are freely given. A few cruise lines automatically charge standard tips (about $10 to $15 per passenger per day) to shipboard accounts. I think this is acceptable only if clearly stated before the cruise is booked, and should be reversible if the passenger prefers to tip directly. Ship crews work so hard and depend so much on tips that spending money on bingo, casino games, liquor, souvenirs, or whatever and then stiffing the crew is inexcusable. Finally, the subject every reviewer seems to avoid – CRUISE PRICES. During the pre-Christmas lull, cruise prices can be the greatest bargain in travel. Through the kind services of Pat Webb (whose Galaxsea agency is one of the largest and who has a useful e-mail newsletter of cruise bargains), we were able to obtain a balcony cabin on this cruise for less than $700 per person for the week, including port charges, taxes, and a shipboard credit. An inside cabin would have been proportionally less. Who could ask for a better, more enjoyable travel value? Happy cruising!

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Nov 22, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

Background We're different from many reviewers in that we are a young family with a 16 month old baby. We have cruised with Holland America, Princess, and Carnival, and would rate them in that respective order in terms of quality. I won't discuss the itinerary, ports, or the complete layout of the ship... other reviews do a much better job. But I will give the pro's and con's from the perspective of a young family man. Bringing

Children Holland America is often regarded as an older cruise line, and that is probably true. But there were several families on board, some with infants. In other words, it didn't feel too "old," and we actually appreciate being on a ship that doesn't have hundreds of kids running around (just a couple dozen). Most importantly, Holland America is one of the best cruise lines because they offer personalized baby-sitting. For $8 per hour, you can have a private baby sitter watch your child in your room, in the playroom upstairs, etc. My wife and I love this because we can have 2-3 hours per night alone... it is a Date Night every night! The babysitters were all excellent, professional, and dependable! Pro's of Ship: 1) We liked the decor. A lot of bad reviews on this, but when we actually saw it, I was more impressed than turned off. We had previously been on Holland America's flagship sailing out of Venice, so this ship is definately more "loud" than the other ships. But there is enough of the art, the class, the fine materials, etc. to make us really like this ship. And we really liked the large, comfortable chairs everwhere. Everywhere you go, there is leather. Perhaps the decor would have looked different to us if we weren't in the Carribean, but it "worked." 2) Service - the service was beyond excellent. Because tipping is not mandatory (but expected for good service), they were universally delighted when we tipped well for the best service we have had on any cruise. Please don't forget to budget your tipping - even if not required, $10 per person per day is the minimum to distribute to the crew. 3) Food portions - on many cruise's the portions are large. On this ship, the portions were just right to order a 5-6 course meal and not walk out too stuffed. So order whatever you want, even multiple dishes of the same thing, and enjoy the sampling and the five-star restaurant presentation. I will say that based on prior experiences, I was hoping for higher quality... but I would place the food quality on par with Princess - very good, but not excellent. 4) Odyssey - the alternative restaurant is the best we have seen on any ship. Elegant setting, upgraded linens, cutlery, dishware, and the very best food. The $20 per person cover is more than worth it - don't get cheap. I would put the dining experience on par, if not better, than Mortons. We ate there twice... could have made it three times. Do it on the informal or casual nights, when the main Dining room has weaker menus. Order the larger filet, the thai soup, the crab cakes, and of course, their chocolate dessert. Don't miss out on this, and make your cruise's reservations immediately upon boarding. 5) Casino - without a doubt, the busiest casino I have seen, even compared to Carnival. Great people, tables, staff. 6) Getting on and off the ship - many ships have steep gangway's to walk up and down. You can't believe how dangerous it can feel with a little baby in your arms and a stiff breeze. But this ship has a great system of letting people on and off that is the shortest, lowest, best gangway I have ever seen. Minor detail, but to be noted. Con's 1) It is absolutely ridiculous how few bathrooms there are on board. And when you do find one, it is closed about half of the time. This was frustrating, and like other reviewers have said, makes you want to go back to your room. I feel that this mark alone should remove half a star from the ship's rating. 2) Photography - Prices were the most expensive I have ever seen - nearly twice what I saw on a Princess ship just a few months ago. I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to pay $15 for a glorified 5x7. Personally, I thought $8 was too much, but I always bought a few. Bring your own camera, and get other couples to take pictures of you in port, on the ship, etc. Summary As you can see, the advantages surely outweighed the disadvantages. Really nice ship, pleasant cruise (having been here before, we didn't get off at every port, instead enjoying the relaxation of wandering the ship, reading books, etc.). I think the crew was great, and given the babysitting plus, we'll definitely be back again on Holland America. However, I will say that the difference between Princess and Holland America has been drawing closer over time, and I am just as likely to book Princess if I get a better deal. But my days of even considering Carnival are long over. Would I recommend this ship to you? Absolutely. Try to get the best deal, and never pay over $100 per day, per person, for a Holland America or Princess class cruise. I normally pay $75-80 - do your web research.

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Nov 8, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was our 2nd cruise. Our first was 10 yrs ago on Royal Caribbean, Majesty of the Seas. We decided on the Zuiderdam because of the great value and also because it is a fairly new ship for our 20th wedding anniversary. Before the cruise I read many mixed reviews about the ship. Most of the bad reviews were not seen on our cruise. The embarkation was very smooth and quick. We arrived at the terminal at 12 noon dropped off the luggage

outside and was in the Lido eating within 15 minutes. The lido on the 9th floor has a variety of food. Sure, it is crowded at times, especially the first day when they send everyone up there after you board the ship, but the dining room staff helps you find a seat and are all exceptionally helpful throughout the cruise. Around 1 pm an announcement was made that our rooms were ready. We were on the upper promenade deck(4)starboard side, aft. Room 4173, balcony. Room was spacious with a queen size bed, small couch, chair and private balcony. Plenty of space to put all your clothes, plenty of hangers, and 4 pieces of empty suitcases fit nicely under the bed. I have read bad reviews about this, but we had no trouble with the room. The cabin steward was excellent. Very friendly and courteous. He kept the room very neat and clean. The TV had 2 movie channels and CNN and a few others. Not much of a choice, but we weren't there to watch tv all week. We ordered room service in the morning. Had coffee and danish on the balcony 2 or 3 times, which was very nice. Room service was always there on time and is complimentary (couple of bucks tip)  Speaking of the food, we ate breakfast in the dining room 3 times, which was always nice, it is open seating and it keeps you away from the lido buffet style if you prefer. We also ate lunch twice in the dining room . They also have Dutch tea (at 3:15 pm) in the dining room on the formal nights which is very nice. (chocolate extravaganza) We had late seating dinner at 8:30 pm. Seatings were early at 545 and 615. Late was at 800 and 830. The dinners were very nice, waiters and his assistant were great. The portions of food were not huge. They were enough and tasted fine and the presentation was nice. It seemed you were eating all day long, so you shouldn't be very hungry for dinner. We did not eat in the pay restaurant, although we heard it was well worth the $20 per person. We were at a table for 6, but it was only us at the table the first night. Then 3 ladies who were sitting alone sat with us the remainder of the cruise. We also had an officer sit with us on the formal nights. Many of the reviews mention the vibration and engine noise in the dining room....yes, we were sitting toward the rear of the dining room on deck 2, a little vibration and some noise, but not overbearing. The front of the dining room had considerable less noise. The Private Island was great. It was the best stop of the cruise in my opinion. Beautiful powdery sand and clear water. It was a nice sunny day. The stop at St Maarten was cancelled due to rain and rough seas. We diverted to St Thomas and it rained all day there , also. It cleared up for the Nassau stop on Friday, but was very windy. We went to Paradise Island to the beach for a little while($5 a piece taxi ride) and went through The Atlantis Hotel. Then went a little shopping near the pier. A lot of the Nassau people bother you to braid your hair, etc. especially at the beach. The decor of the ship was nice, despite what others claim. We saw nothing wrong with it. We also had no trouble with finding a bathroom as others had claimed. The shows weren't extravagant, but entertaining. The exercise room was spacious and had lots of equipment. I would have liked to play basketball on deck, but it was too windy for any activity outside. The pool areas had enough seats available. They take many pictures on this cruise, but never force you to buy any. We never smelled any foul odor that others have claimed. Also, the ship will be in dry dock in December for some minor updates. More restrooms and to fix the engine noise and vibration problem (so, I was told) Overall, we had a great time, and it rained 3 of the 7 days. Seas were rough all week. The crew said it was the rainiest week ever! We would definitely take this cruise again , you will not be disappointed. The staff is great, many things to do, and good food. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Just email me!

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Oct 24, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

My husband and I sailed with our 2 granddaughters with adjoining cabins on the Verandah Deck. I admit I was a little apprehensive about the "Z" after reading some reviews. Overall - this is a great ship with a great crew. We have no complaints about the service provided in our cabins and in the dining room. Our food was well prepared and promptly served. The crew doted on our grandchildren and fellow passengers made their voyage memorable.

We smelled no odors and found that most of the crew spoke excellent English and had no communication problems with the staff. Club Hal is excellent and the director is top notch and our grandchildren loved her. As with all cruise lines, we found the shore excursions overpriced and we spent the majority of our time enjoying the beautiful ship. As usual, there were the complainers on board who found fault with everything. I bit my tongue a few times when my grandchildren were told not to splash water in the pool and to not laugh so loud! These were the same people that complained about the food, the service, the weather, etc. etc. I think all the complaining justifies in their own minds their "no tipping" policy. We were amazed to see people walk out of the dining room on the last night of the cruise without even thanking their wait staff. Cheap people never cease to amaze me. This was our 16th cruise - we have done Holland America, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian and I would go back on the Zuiderdam tomorrow. They gave us great value, service, accommodations and food. Thank you HAL for a job well done.

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Oct 17, 2003

Western Caribbean

So many times, people complain about bad things & fail to compliment successful efforts, & my recent one was certainly that. My wife & I were traveling with another couple & went on the October 18 Zuiderdam Western Caribbean trip. It was our first experience with a Holland America cruise. I have to say that upon reading some reviews of the Zuiderdam online at different sites, I had some concerns, but either major problems had been

overcome, or they were substantially exaggerated based upon how things went for us. We were on deck 5 in outside verandah suites, midship and starboard, though not adjoining. The couple we were with did experience some kind of sewer odor in their room the first night upon returning from dinner, but it never resurfaced during the voyage. My wife and I did notice a foul smell one evening upon going out on our balcony, but quickly returned inside and that problem never occurred again. Those were the ONLY unsatisfactory aspects of this cruise. Our highest compliments were extended to Rubai, our cabin steward, who always saw to our needs when we were out, but was so stealth in achieving it that we virtually never actually saw him except for when I tracked him down in a supply room on the last night to extend thanks and a gratuity. Our dining staff of Abe-waiter, Din-assistant and Lilik-maitre d', was absolutely wonderful. They were always very polite and went out of their way to please or meet special requests, even putting up with others at our table (who sometimes were quite honestly a bit rude and hard to please), and made great efforts to make every night a 5-star dining experience. We made the decision after a few days to NOT eat at the Odyssey, because we so appreciated this staff, were impressed with the meals we were being served in the Vista Dining Room, and just didn't feel the need to miss out on an already superior time of enjoyment. The staff and service at the Lido buffet were always courteous and helpful, as was the case in general at every venue on the ship. We immensely enjoyed the nightly entertainment in the Vista Lounge and rated it superior to prior cruise experiences. We never had any major problems or delays in getting on or off at ports and the arrival and disembarkation procedures were far quicker than we might have expected and went off without a hitch. The only itinerary issue we had was the time in Cozumel. We elected to visit the ruins in Tulum, which was a great experience, but due to the extended time, it left us no time on Cozumel itself. Any potential to extend the evening departure time by even a few hours would enable those who visit the ruins to get some benefit out of Cozumel itself, even if for a short while. Otherwise, we enjoyed all ports and our experiences at each of them. The excursions we participated in, including Tulum at Cozumel as well as snorkeling and scuba diving in Grand Cayman were not cheap, but we did think they were reasonable values for what we were able to do & see during them. We had no problems getting around the ship itself and were very positively impressed with its decor and overall condition. I would highly recommend this ship and the quality and value of services provided by Holland America.

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Oct 10, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was our 17th cruise, fourth on a Holland America ship and our first on the Zuiderdam. The cruise was an anniversary celebration and we had purchased the anniversary celebration package, which was well worth the small cost. It was very nice to receive the special attention that this package brings. The eastern Caribbean itinerary that we sailed, Half Moon Cay, Saint Martin, St, Thomas and Nassau is one that we have done often and

all of the ports we visited have become old friends. What follows are some thoughts, discoveries and insights into our cruise and the ship. The Zuiderdam is the first of a series of ships that HAL calls the Vista Class. Others in the series include the Oosterdam launched in 2003 and soon to arrive, in 2004, Westerdam. I was told by the Ship's hotel manager that the follow on ship to the Westerdam will be called the Nieuw Amsterdam, continuing the HAL tradition of reusing names from the lines history. The Zuiderdam is the second ship to be so named. The ship utilizes the same basic design as the Spirit Class of Carnival and the Atlantica Class of Costa. Of course each line has decorated and outfitted their ships to reflect their respective design philosophies and cruise market. The interior designer of the Zuiderdam is the same person/company who did previous HAL interiors, which is actually hard to believe. Somewhere along the line he was told, or so it is said, to "Jazz things up!" And boy did he ever! I guess he wanted to prove that Joe Farcus, the interior designer for Carnival, had nothing on him. The colors in most areas are not subtle ranging from ultra bright red suede leather in some elevators to bright yellows, blues and purples. Throughout much of the ship the carpeting is a multi-hue design in shades of blue. Designs include some very modern finishes, there are art deco touches, chairs and couches in red and gold brocades, tan leathers, white chairs and colored fabrics galore. In direct contrast with the wide range and variety of materials the interior corridors on passenger decks are a very bland, gray colored, man-made simulated wood material. Maybe to try and "Jazz" things up the wood pattern runs horizontally but I don't think that it works very well as it looks oh so fake. This patterned finish also shows up is some public areas in different hues of course. Fortunately for HAL regulars there are some areas that were left alone, including the Explorers Lounge, which is done in a tone very familiar to that on other HAL ships, the full promenade lined with teak deck chairs and the spacious, nicely decorated cabins. The swimming pools are fresh water and can be heated if necessary. The many reviews of this ship have thoroughly covered the layout so I will skip this. Instead here is what I think works and what I think doesn't. The sliding dome over the Lido: I have been a big advocate of domes over lido pools but now I have come to see that they are a mixed bag. Having a dome provides a protected pool and sunbathing area and allows use of this area in all types of weather. This is especially nice when cruising in cold weather areas and of course when it rains. The downside to having the dome is that it cuts the Observation Deck off from the Lido Deck below rendering most of the midsection area of the Observation Deck unusable for sunbathing and/or listening to the music from the Lido deck below. The Lido Restaurant The Lido Restaurant is different in that he food is served from different serving stations. There are six major food serving area with two main lines, two deli stations, an Asian food station, an Italian station serving pasta and pizza plus two desert stations and a salad line. The food served here is excellent, amongst the best we have ever had at a Lido. HAL really does excel in Lido dining. While the food is really good the problem is finding a table to sit at to eat it. The number of tables is wholly inadequate for the number of people being served and at peak times during morning and lunch nary a table or empty seat can be found. Large dividers used to break the room up into smaller spaces are a main cause of the problem by eating up valuable floor space. Plans are already being made to redesign the area by removing these dividers to increase the seating capacity of which will be a good thing. The Atrium You call this an atrium? If so you only need to look at Royal Caribbean designs to see how it can and should be done. The atrium here is small, narrow and only three decks high. Also the ceilings in the area around the atrium seem very low eliminating the feeling of openness one should get from an atrium space. Consider this a space for connecting between decks and not a place one wants to linger at. The decoration is interesting with the central focus being a revolving Seahorse suspended from the ceiling. Each deck is done differently making for some really odd juxtaposition of color and design depending on which way you look. A small bar rests on the lowest level of the atrium but surprisingly there are no waiters or waitresses here to serve you. It is strictly get your own from the bar. Music from the Ocean Bar two decks above provides the only entertainment. The Odyssey Restaurant We ate here twice and both times were amply rewarded with the best meals we have had at sea. The menu concentrates on beef but alternatives are also offered. The porterhouse steak I had was yummy and the filet mignon was simply superb. The Crab soup and crab cakes offered as appetizers are fantastic. The restaurant is done up in white upholstered heavy metal frame chairs and matching tables. The ceilings are decorated with what appear to oversize replicas of sand dollars. Fiber optic lighting simulates rays of light flowing out from the center along the spines. To add some color large backlit pictures of vegetables and wines are used as wall decoration. The tables are elegantly set in a very formal presentation. All in all it is simply a superb place to enjoy a meal. There is a $20 per person cover charge to eat here and it is worth every penny spent. The charge is added to your on board account. Incidentally the cover charge does not include a tip so be sure to bring some cash to tip the waiter and his assistant. One very nice touch is that the chef comes out and chats with you at the end of the meal talking about the food it's presentation and just about anything else. While we never saw the Odyssey totally full I highly recommend making your reservations for early in the week. This way if you want to come back for a second visit you have first dibs simply by telling your waiter. The Ocean Bar The Ocean Bar has always been a special place for us to have a pre-dinner or post dinner dink, enjoy hot appetizers before dinner and listen to good music. On all other HAL ships the Ocean Bar is a totally separate, self-contained area, elegantly decorated with a special ambiance. On the Zuiderdam the Ocean Bar now surrounds the upper deck of the atrium and is totally open to it except for the area with the bar. The bar area is divided off and reserved for smokers but it is now separated from the music which is on the other side of the Atrium! Traffic flows through the entire area and that special Ambiance has been lost. And it seems even the servers have a hard time providing the level of prompt and courteous service that is so typical of HAL. For me the Ocean bar is a complete miss and regretfully there seems to be little that can be done to improve it. The Vista Dining Room The Vista Dining room is a two-deck affair with a single circular staircase and small atrium connecting the two levels. In designing the restaurant the designers were forced to make a decision that I think they now regret. The choice was this: either have was two dining rooms separated by a galley in two fire divisions or confine the dining area and galley to one fire division. Unfortunately the decision was the latter and the compromises this choice forced on the design are not good ones. First of all the dining room is too small for the number of tables and seats required. This has forced the spacing between tables to be very tight and has also forced the use of numerous rectangular tables seating ten. The tight spacing means that the waiters often have a tough time getting to the people at the far end of the table without making someone else move their chair or "pull in" a bit. The lack of space also forced the atrium to be far less grand and with only one staircase. Visibility of the staircase is so restricted that anyone wanting to make a "Grand Descent" at dinner is simply wasting their time, as nobody can see them. And the vibrations reported by others are real. The ship now slows down during dinner hours to lesson the vibrations and at least where we sat at the stern on the upper level it was tolerable. The vibration is caused by a design flaw resulting from air bubbles generated by propeller cavitations hitting the bottom of the hull. A fix has been developed and this fix has been incorporated in the Oosterdam. The fix will be retrofitted into the Zuiderdam and that should eliminate the problem. The Vista Dining Experience The quality of the food served in the main dining room has certainly improved over that we have had on other earlier HAL cruises. The presentation was excellent; the food arrived hot and cooked as desired and well seasoned. The appetizers were varied and tasty and the soups were wonderful, but the salads were a bit bland. The entrees seemed to be wholly enjoyed by all at our table. Noticeably absent from the menu were any veal dishes (a favorite of mine). Flowers and Art Work This ship continues the HAL tradition of placing artwork, antiques and antique reproductions throughout the ship. Fine paintings of prior HAL ships and large pieces of art are found in the stairwells. Everything is labeled and one could spend quite a bit of time just studying the art onboard. Fresh flower arrangements are also spread throughout the public areas of the ship. Since the ship is so much larger than other HAL ships the arrangements just don't seem as numerous. The Crows Nest The Crows Nest lounge is now a truly a nice evening venue for live music as this ship has a separate disco. On other HAL ships the Crows Nest is a dual-purpose room becoming a disco late in the evening. The Zuiderdam arrangement is far superior. The Crow's Nest surrounds the forward part of deck 10 providing tremendous views during the day. Unfortunately reclining leather-covered lounge chairs that line the forward glass wall of the lounge were broken. I would think that the chairs would have to be replaced with sturdier chairs. The sides of the crows nest are decorated differently from the main area giving them a different feel from t he main lounge. These areas feature ceilings with Murano glass tiles. The Vista Lounge The Vista lounge design is much better than that of the other HAL ships. The lower level is steeply inclined to provide stadium like seating that provides excellent views for everyone except those unlucky enough to be sitting behind one the support columns of which there are more than a few. The upper level also provides pretty good sightlines. The décor is bold being all red and there is a fabric covered ceiling decoration that looks like a huge parachute. The stage, lighting, sound and special effects are state of the art. Unfortunately so is the music, which is all prerecorded eliminating that special feel that a live orchestra provides. The shows are good, standard production fare, a magician, a male singer and a comedian rounded out the entertainment and all were fine. Public Restrooms There seems to be a dearth of public rest rooms or perhaps there are enough but they are placed in strange locations. Many times it was simply easier to go back to the room rather than search around looking for one, which is not very convenient. What bathrooms there are were nicely decorated and provided with clean hand towels to dry your hands and even the men's rooms have small vases of flowers in them. The Queens Lounge The Queens Lounge serves as a dual-purpose room being both a lounge and movie theater. While practical it lacks the feel of a true movie theater, the seating is of the lounge type and site lines are poor from the sides as the movie screen is set too far back on the stage to be seen. However, freshly popped popcorn is still served when movies are shown and the sound system is very good. The Northern Lights Disco For those who enjoy disco the much talked about Northern Lights Disco certainly has a unique and somewhat bizarre color scheme that looks like a giant commercial for Gateway computers as all the seating and some walls have a what looks like a faux cowhide finish in black and white. But it is a real disco and was well used on our sailing. The Sports Bar A first for HAL this bar is located adjacent to the casino and since we were cruising during the playoffs it became a popular spot at night. Some complaints were made that college football games were not being shown. Instead international sports such as soccer were on the numerous boob tubes. The Elevators Unlike previous HAL ships the elevators lack fold down seats in them. I never used the seats so I don't know if this is a good or bad thing. The elevator interiors are very bold in color, which wakes you up in the morning! The glass enclosed elevators that face outward and provide ocean views are delightful and a real plus. Miscellaneous We never visited the Piano Bar but it seemed a nicely decorated room. Being nonsmokers we never visited the Oak Room, which is the cigar smokers lounge. Unlike other HAL ships there is no self-service laundry. If need be you can fill a laundry bag with dirty clothes and have them all cleaned for a flat $12 charge. Room service was excellent providing a good selection of items and was always on time. Be sure to tip the steward a dollar or two. The Service Traditional HAL service was somewhat hard to come by on this ship. The crew seemed a bit tired as they have been onboard since the beginning and seem to be getting worn down a bit. The warm and gracious service that we have found on other HAL ships was noticeably absent in most areas of Zuiderdam. However there were still some bright spots to be found, some service people that greeted you warmly, remembered your name and even from where you came from. Hopefully this will improve as fresh crew is brought aboard and the existing crew is recycled for some well earned rest. First impressions can be both misleading and/or correct. In the case of the Zuiderdam they turned out to be both, especially for those who have sailed on Holland America's other ships. Upon first entering the ship and having a quick look around one starts to wonder, "Where is the Holland America interior that I have grown to love? The colors are so much bolder and bright that you almost think that you are surely on a Carnival ship. After awhile though you begin to notice the decorator touches and finishes that make HAL what it is. The flowers are still there, the Murano glass is still there, as are the artwork, and antiques and high value finishes such as leather and suede. It's just that it takes some time to notice some of them. My fellow passengers confirmed these impressions. First time HAL cruisers loved the interior designs and those who have sailed on other HAL ships did not find some of them quite as appealing. For me the emotions and feelings about this ship are quite mixed. It has some truly great pluses and some truly great misses from a design standpoint. The plusses are the Odyssey Restaurant, a truly magnificent alternative dining venue, A Lido buffet area that does a terrific job at keeping lines small by splitting food service into six different major food stations plus two desert bars. The minuses are just as significant. The Vista Dining Room is too small and seating is very tight. Seating in the Lido is inadequate to handle the number of passengers dining there for breakfast or lunch, although this should soon be rectified. The Ocean Bar is a total flop losing all of the charm and ambiance that make the Ocean bars on other HAL ships so special. Finally the atrium is actually so small as I hesitate to call it an atrium. It seems even smaller than those on the smaller HAL fleets and should only be considered as passage between decks. Finally, did I enjoy this cruise and ship. The answer is absolutely and positively yes! While many of the comments I have made may seem negative understand that may dislikes we are a talking a matter of degree from a very high opening standard and expectation. They should be not be misconstrued as being a total dislike or condemnation for the ship or the cruise. It is just a fact that the Zuiderdam is so different from previous HAL offerings that one cannot help but to make comparisons. Apparently even HAL has done some rethinking and the evidence can be seen in the follow-on Oosterdam and Westerdam as they have reportedly returned to a more traditional HAL interior décor. For the most part our cruise was delightful and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I would recommend this ship to my friends. For all cruise lines and cruise ships the bottom line is "Would I sail on this ship again?" For us the answer is yes.

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Oct 10, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was my first Holland America cruise. Wow what a pleasant surprise! Embarkation could be improved as I feel much of the check in process could be done from home or your travel agent. That being said it took about 45 minutes. We has a class SS small suite and it was well laid out and comfortable. The verandah was large and the most impressive was the bathroom facilities. They are really good. Having a shower and separate bath is

a nice luxury. The best thing about the Zuiderdam is the crew. They really go out of their way to please. I mean everyone. This really enforces how well a no tipping policy works. We tipped of course but only the people who earned it, i.e. room steward, waiter and a couple of bartenders. The ship was wonderful. It was well laid out and designed. The complaints I had read about pre-cruise simply did not exist. I never smelled sewage and the vibration in the dining room was not too noticeable as the Captain would lower the revs during dining hours. I did learn the Zuiderdam is going into dry dock in November to fix that problem and others. The vibration is apparently caused by cavitation around the propellers and they intend to place air jets on the hull near the wheels to divert air away from the props. The food was very good. I have no complaints. The best thing was that dining staff did not read the menu to you nor did they recommend anything. This practice on some lines drives me nuts. We did not try out the Odyssey Specialty Restaurant as we were happy the the main dining room. I heard though that the prime rib there is to kill for. The Crow's Nest lounge is my favorite though they was all quite nice. Rudy at the Aft Pool Bar was a great bartender as well as most friendly. Ports of call were as expected. Half Moon Cay is OK if you are a sun worshipper. Holland America needs to improve the transportation to and from. It was very confusing. We were the last to go ashore and even then we had to wait too long. St. Martin was OK but I thought a little trashy and dirty. Their port facility although new left a lot to be desired. St. Thomas is St. Thomas. It is one of my favorites and having been there about ten times I know the drill and my way around. Nassau has gone the way of Jamaica. Dirty crowded and quite unpleasant. We ended up at Hard Rock Cafe and found it super. One note about Nassau. There is a new huge casino there and they want to charge you $ 25.00 just to get in. This if after a $ 20.00 water taxi drive. The Cruise Director (a boring person) should have alerted the passengers. It really angered a great many folks. Luckily, not being a gambler, we didn't get sucked in. Disembarkation was the smoothest ever. We had a 11:25 flight and were there at 9:15. Even security at FLL is smooth and efficient. Summary: Holland America is about as good as it gets! I highly recommend them and the MS Zuiderdam. We are already booked for two weeks back to back. Peter Cunningham Fairhope, AL

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Sep 12, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

We had read some rather awful reviews of this ship. This was our fourth time on a HAL ship and we had seen it when in Ft. Lauderdale last winter and had chosen our S suite. We arrived at 12:45 and told that we could enter our suite at 1:30, so we went to the Lido bar and promptly at 1:30 it was announced that we could enter our cabins. In the past, our luggage

had been there before us. It did not come until after the lifeboat drill. Purple, not a favorite color of ours, was everywhere. We had a wonderful cabin boy, Bam and excellent dinner partners as well as waite staff. The entire staff was extremely nice. We had planned to eat in the Odyssey Room one night, but decided to take the invitation to sit at the Captain's table more appealing. We do not gamble or did we see any of the shows, as it was we meant many wonderful people to converse with. Of course, there are rude people everywhere and this ship was no exception, by ignoring them, they tend to find someone else to be rude to. We did find it difficult to believe that when the ship was coming into port, the Crow's Nest was being used for Bingo. We will be going out on HAL for our 40th anniversary in February, and look forward to another great HAL experience. The insurance company was on board inspecting, with the Hotel Manager Nick any problems as the ship is still under warranty, so imagine a lot of the negative complaints will be taken care of when she is in dry dock in 5 weeks.

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Sep 5, 2003

Western Caribbean

This was our second Holland America Lines (HAL) cruise. The first one was on the Maasdam, 5/26/02. We looked forward to the Zuiderdam, since it is the first of the five "Premium Vista Class Ships" to be completed at Fincantieri Shipyards, Marghera, Italy. When HAL took possession of the Zuiderdam, the next Vista Class ship the ms Oosterdam was within months of completion. The Zuiderdam was launched December 2002: her length is 935 ft.,

width is a Panamax 106 ft., draft is 26 ft., gross tonnage is 82,000 and she has a maximum speed of 24 knots. Guest capacity is 1,824 (this cruise had 1,800 passengers) and a crew of 800. Although this class is the newest for HAL, the Zuiderdam's long black hull and pointed prow are characteristic of the HAL fleet and reminiscent of those transatlantic liners of the first half of last century, such as those "BLUE RIBAND" winners of the transatlantic races of old: the Mauretania, the Europa, the Rex, the Normandie and of course, the United States, which holds the record to this day (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes, at the speed of 34.5 knots). The major difference in the silhouette of this ship is a much taller super structure, rather than the long and sleek line of the older ships and, of course, the superior speed of those winners which averaged about 30 knots or more against the Zuiderdam's 24 knots. However, the Zuiderdam was built for cruising, and that she does very well under the most capable Captain Johannes van Biljouw. EMBARKATION In Ft. Lauderdale, boarding was scheduled for 3:00 pm, but processing started at 12 noon and passengers were allowed on shortly thereafter; however, staterooms were ready at 1 pm. Stewards were there to assist passengers in wheelchairs. We were accompanied to the Lido Restaurant, Deck 9 for the excellent "Welcome Aboard Buffet." It was a bit difficult to negotiate the buffet lines with carry on luggage, since we could not take it to our cabin until 1:00 pm. It is worthy of notice that HAL has adopted the new "one card ID system" which makes the on board credit card function as a stateroom key, as well as the boarding identification document. This innovation improves security by efficiently tracking passengers on and off the ship and it makes the boarding process more expeditious. THE SHIP HAL has standardized the looks of their ships with the dark hulls and the logo on the stack; however, the Vista Class ships have two stacks, one located behind the other, indicating two independent Engine Rooms, containing gas turbine engines, not the former diesel engines. This new design reduces stack emission pollutants and minimizes the risk of stranding if engine problems occur. Azipods make the ship more maneuverable and fuel efficient. The name of "Vista Class" appropriately implies that most of the staterooms of these ships (85%) have ocean view and 2/3 of all staterooms have balconies. Main Deck 1 has mainly staterooms and the bottom deck of the Atrium mid ship with the Front Office and Shore Excursion desks. Lower Promenade Deck 2 has the Vista Lounge Theatre with phalanxes of huge urns and two very large sculptures by Lebigre & Roger, Italy (one depicting a seated woman doing needle work, the other a reclining work man). Toward midship, are three separate bars: First, there is the Northern Lights with its black and white "Mad Cow" decorations, bringing to mind Gateway computer boxes, but the semicircular leather couches and barrel chairs are functional and arranged nicely around the dance floor. Next, there is the Piano Bar sporting an imbedded piano and comical art work by Leijerzapf (Holland) which are huge scenes of sailors in "Humorous Activities." Finally, there is the Queen's Lounge which is decorated in the most vivid hues of Holland tulips (red, yellow, purple and orange). Mid ship is the 2nd deck of the Atrium with gorgeous blown glass by Bremer ("Shell, Polyps and Anemone"). Also, here is the Odyssey Restaurant, the Art Gallery and the Explorer's Lounge , all simply and tastefully decorated (more later). Finally, aft is the lower level of the Vista Dining Room, a study in black, red, blue and lavender. The most eye catching features are the black lacquered chairs with silk floral backs and the lovely silver table ware and crystal torches. Promenade Deck 3 has a true wrap around promenade with many deck chairs often in use. Forward has the balcony of the Vista Lounge Theatre where the acoustics are wonderful, but, the many poles result in some seats with obstructed view of the stage. Midship are the meeting rooms, Internet Cafe`, Library, and the on board shops (with the standard fare) and the upper deck of the Atrium. Toward aft is the huge Galley and then the Upper Vista Dining Room.. Upper Promenade Deck 4, Verandah Deck 5, Upper Verandah Deck 6, Rotterdam Deck 7 and Navigation Deck 8 are all staterooms. Lido Deck 9 forward has the Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Lido Pool, covered by a Sliding Dome, with a bemusing Polar Bear sculpture. Mid ship is the Lido Restaurant and aft is another pool. Observation Deck 10 forward has the Crow's Nest Lounge, a lovely room with an expansive view of the ocean. Mid ship is the Kid Zone, Wave Runner, Game Room and Golf Simulator. Sports Deck 11 has the Observation Deck forward and the Volleyball/Basketball Court aft. There are three sets of elevators which make this ship easily circulated. The central elevators have two sets of elevators overlooking the ocean (Not only are these beautiful to ride in, but they are also the ones that respond more quickly to the call button!). All elevator doors are cast aluminum with beautiful floral designs by Lebigre. Rather than discuss the multimillion dollar collection of art work on board by decks individually, we prefer an overview on this ship. This ship is quite beautiful in its simplicity. It is not gaudy, busy or overcrowded. Each piece in its collection has been selected for relevance and showcased in an a` propos manner. The Waterford Crystal Seahorse (logo), which is suspended in the Atrium, sets the mood for the exquisite pieces to be seen around this elegant ship. In its foyers and staircases there is a recurring Venetian theme with bronze busts of the Doge and well known figures from the Commedia dell'Arte, such as Pulcinella, Harlequin & Columbine, and other characters like Pagliacci. In all of these areas are chairs and sofas with comfortable cushions modeled after Roman marble ones. In the Odyssey Restaurant there are more chairs by Lebigre, sculpted then cast in aluminum and gilded with silver. There are also nautical items which must be seen: the 19th century German silver gilded ship model "Nef" and the beautiful French Baccarat table ornament which is a semicircular frosted panel of glass etched with a galleon and mermaids in a storm at sea. By far the largest piece of art is the Fleurs de Mer by Barbara Nanning (Holland); these huge wild roses with open centers forming focal points are suspended from the ceiling of the Vista Dining Room, gilded red/gold and with modern fiber optic illumination; however, this piece did not impress us as much as the many original paintings and sculptures throughout the ship. Not only does the art work merit close scrutiny, but, also the many gorgeous displays of real flowers (lilies, antherium, birds-of-paradise, ginger, carnations, etc., etc...) command one's attention from their sheer beauty. A great spectacle throughout the ship! Holland is famous as the flower garden of the world and her ships reflect it. SERVICE AND FOOD Service on board under Hotel Manager Nick Burger is crisp and friendly. HAL is noted for its Indonesian crew which on this ship puts on a stunning show featuring songs and dances of Bali and Java and playing the "angklung," a bamboo musical instrument from West Java. We dined at Table #169 for two with Randy and Endro as our capable stewards under Head Steward Alex, who went above the call of duty (providing special services like lactose free milk etc.). Yvette, our Wine Steward, was friendly and knowledgeable. All of these fine people made dining an elegant pleasure. Food on board was excellent and portion sizes were perfect and there was no "pushing of seconds." Passengers in suites received High Tea at 3:30 pm and hot/cold hors d'oeuvres at 5:00 pm; thus, since we had dinner at 6:00 pm (main seating), we rarely arrived at dinner hungry. Appetizers are fresh fruits, crab legs, prosciutto ham etc.,. Soups are both hot/cold, such as Cream of Asparagus, Santa Fe Tomato, or iced Vichyssoise. etc. Salads are just the right size and dressing is served on the side. Entrees include Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, Prime Rib of Beef, Salmon and Snapper, etc. Desserts are a huge array (12 or more choices) of Rum cakes, fruited tarts, ice cream (many flavors), Sorbets (Lemon, Mango etc.) No sugar desserts include a Black Forest cake that must be tried. The Lido Restaurant has so many stations: Oriental, TexMex, Italian, deli, salad bar, etc... that it takes a bit of time to orient oneself, yet there is no reason anyone should go unsatisfied. In addition there is 24 hr room service for a variety of food and beverages. There is also the specialty restaurant, the Odyssey, for a remarkable meal ($20 charge). CABIN We had reserved Cabin # 8036 wheelchair accessible, but when we saw it, we immediately went to Passenger Services and spoke with Marianne, from whom we purchased an upgrade to a suite, since the first cabin was more of a hallway than a room, and with very little storage space. Suite #7078 is 516 sq. ft. with a verandah on which there are a table with four chairs and two rattan chairs with separate ottomans. Entering the suite, on the left are three armoires, one with a personal safe, a curved maroon leather sofa, and two butterscotch leather chairs, and a glass door leading to the verandah. Entering on the right is the lady's anteroom with a lighted vanity and three more armoires. Through that there is the bath with double sinks, medicine cabinets, glassed shower, jacuzzi tub & shower, all with an assortment of safety rails and a tiled floor. It is both nice and functional; however, it is somewhat austere when compared to some luxurious baths found in suites of other cruise ships. Next, there is a king sized bed with double night stands and on the far wall a grand picture window with plants over the desk, then a refrigerator and an entertainment center with TV, VCR, & DVD. The walls of the suite are butterscotch ribbed silk and a huge picture of a golden carp fish is directly across from the bed. There are two other pictures of fishing villages with delph blue borders. The carpet and draperies are butterscotch and maroon; very nice and restful. This suite is a great home away from home. ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual shows where the dancing was quite good and there were even costumes by Bob Mackie. By far the best presentation was by singer/impressionist Paul Tanner, who gave great renditions of Neil Diamond, Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Bennett and finished with an Elvis Presley which brought on a standing ovation. Bravo! There is also a fine pianist every evening in the Crow's Nest, Daniel Thivierge, who has a great repertoire of classic melodies and beautiful songs: wonderful music for relaxation. There are the usual Bingo games, Trivia games and Library Trivia (which needs someone more effective in making corrections to the participants' quiz sheets). All in all there are many activities to occupy a cruiser's time. PORTS OF CALL We are not going to describe these port nor the relative shore excursions, since we have reported on them many times before in other cruise reviews. For those readers who are interested in reading those reviews, search the archives of this web site. Sunday, 9/7/30 Key West, FL Arrival 7:16 am Departure 7:00 pm Tuesday, 9/9/03 Cozumel, Mexico Arrival 6:00 am Departure 3:30 pm Wednesday, 9/10/03 Grand Cayman Arrival 7:00 am Departure 5:30 pm Friday, 9/12/03 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Arrival 7:00 am Departure 7:30 pm The departure was delayed due to a mechanical problem with the winch lifting tenders onto the ship. This delay caused a late arrival in Ft. Lauderdale. Saturday, 9/13/03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrival 8:00 am Disembark 10:00 am DEBARKATION Debarkation was delayed due to the late arrival. Wheelchair assistance was excellent -- the crew made a list of the physically challenged passengers entering the Ocean Bar and called them in order! Very efficient. The whole process was delayed, but then HAL does not like to rush passengers off. Debarkation began after 9:00 am. However, the process was expeditious to the satisfaction of most passengers. CONCLUSION HAL is keeping pace with the growing cruise industry. With the new Vista Class ships HAL offers staterooms with balconies at competitive prices. No longer is it necessary to book a suite in order to have a balcony, since the majority of the ocean view cabins on the Zuiderdam and other Vista Class ships have balconies. We thought this cruise was a great value for us when we initially booked a category A cabin (Deluxe Verandah Outside), but once on board we preferred an upgrade to a category S suite, a really spacious and beautiful stateroom, for eight hundred dollars more. This made our cruise even better by getting the extras that the occupants of suites are pampered with, such as special invitations to the Captain's and Hotel Director's parties, as well as afternoon tea with petit fours and pre dinner hot and cold canapés and hors d'oeurves served in our suite. We enjoyed a very relaxing cruise. In general the atmosphere on this ship was more tranquil, thus much less vivacious and festive than that of many other ships which sail the Caribbean Seas. On this ship, it was like a deja` vu to observe the many passengers on the wrap around promenade laying on the deck chairs, reading their books or enjoying the scenery, just like on the liners of yesteryear. One tradition that we did not appreciate was the covering of the dining room chairs with wrinkled white covers for a special effect on the second Gala Night. If the covers were intended to make the atmosphere more formal, the effect was the opposite: It was spooky and messy. Please note that some traditions are not worth keeping. Those beautiful chairs should never be covered! We are looking forward to the next cruises we have already booked: The Explorer of the Seas on October 11th, the Coral Princess on October 30th, the Serenade of the Seas on December 6th and the Costa Mediterranea on January 11th. We also plan to write reviews of these ships. Happy Cruising!

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Sep 5, 2003

Western Caribbean

This was our second Holland America Lines (HAL) cruise. The first one was on the Maasdam, 5/26/02. We looked forward to the Zuiderdam, since it is the first of the five "Premium Vista Class Ships" to be completed at Fincantieri Shipyards, Marghera, Italy. When HAL took possession of the Zuiderdam, the next Vista Class ship the ms Oosterdam was within months

of completion. The Zuiderdam was launched December 2002: her length is 935 ft., width is a Panamax 106 ft., draft is 26 ft., gross tonnage is 82,000 and she has a maximum speed of 24 knots. Guest capacity is 1,824 (this cruise had 1,800 passengers) and a crew of 800. Although this class is the newest for HAL, the Zuiderdam's long black hull and pointed prow are characteristic of the HAL fleet and reminiscent of those transatlantic liners of the first half of last century, such as those "BLUE RIBAND" winners of the transatlantic races of old: the Mauretania, the Europa, the Rex, the Normandie and of course, the United States, which holds the record to this day (3 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes, at the speed of 34.5 knots). The major difference in the silhouette of this ship is a much taller super structure, rather than the long and sleek line of the older ships and, of course, the superior speed of those winners which averaged about 30 knots or more against the Zuiderdam's 24 knots. However, the Zuiderdam was built for cruising, and that she does very well under the most capable Captain Johannes van Biljouw. EMBARKATION In Ft. Lauderdale, boarding was scheduled for 3:00 pm, but processing started at 12 noon and passengers were allowed on shortly thereafter; however, staterooms were ready at 1 pm. Stewards were there to assist passengers in wheelchairs. We were accompanied to the Lido Restaurant, Deck 9 for the excellent "Welcome Aboard Buffet." It was a bit difficult to negotiate the buffet lines with carry on luggage, since we could not take it to our cabin until 1:00 pm. It is worthy of notice that HAL has adopted the new "one card ID system" which makes the on board credit card function as a stateroom key, as well as the boarding identification document. This innovation improves security by efficiently tracking passengers on and off the ship and it makes the boarding process more expeditious. THE SHIP HAL has standardized the looks of their ships with the dark hulls and the logo on the stack; however, the Vista Class ships have two stacks, one located behind the other, indicating two independent Engine Rooms, containing gas turbine engines, not the former diesel engines. This new design reduces stack emission pollutants and minimizes the risk of stranding if engine problems occur. Azipods make the ship more maneuverable and fuel efficient. The name of "Vista Class" appropriately implies that most of the staterooms of these ships (85%) have ocean view and 2/3 of all staterooms have balconies. Main Deck 1 has mainly staterooms and the bottom deck of the Atrium mid ship with the Front Office and Shore Excursion desks. Lower Promenade Deck 2 has the Vista Lounge Theatre with phalanxes of huge urns and two very large sculptures by Lebigre & Roger, Italy (one depicting a seated woman doing needle work, the other a reclining work man). Toward midship, are three separate bars: First, there is the Northern Lights with its black and white "Mad Cow" decorations, bringing to mind Gateway computer boxes, but the semicircular leather couches and barrel chairs are functional and arranged nicely around the dance floor. Next, there is the Piano Bar sporting an imbedded piano and comical art work by Leijerzapf (Holland) which are huge scenes of sailors in "Humorous Activities." Finally, there is the Queen's Lounge which is decorated in the most vivid hues of Holland tulips (red, yellow, purple and orange). Mid ship is the 2nd deck of the Atrium with gorgeous blown glass by Bremer ("Shell, Polyps and Anemone"). Also, here is the Odyssey Restaurant, the Art Gallery and the Explorer's Lounge , all simply and tastefully decorated (more later). Finally, aft is the lower level of the Vista Dining Room, a study in black, red, blue and lavender. The most eye catching features are the black lacquered chairs with silk floral backs and the lovely silver table ware and crystal torches. Promenade Deck 3 has a true wrap around promenade with many deck chairs often in use. Forward has the balcony of the Vista Lounge Theatre where the acoustics are wonderful, but, the many poles result in some seats with obstructed view of the stage. Midship are the meeting rooms, Internet Cafe`, Library, and the on board shops (with the standard fare) and the upper deck of the Atrium. Toward aft is the huge Galley and then the Upper Vista Dining Room.. Upper Promenade Deck 4, Verandah Deck 5, Upper Verandah Deck 6, Rotterdam Deck 7 and Navigation Deck 8 are all staterooms. Lido Deck 9 forward has the Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Lido Pool, covered by a Sliding Dome, with a bemusing Polar Bear sculpture. Mid ship is the Lido Restaurant and aft is another pool. Observation Deck 10 forward has the Crow's Nest Lounge, a lovely room with an expansive view of the ocean. Mid ship is the Kid Zone, Wave Runner, Game Room and Golf Simulator. Sports Deck 11 has the Observation Deck forward and the Volleyball/Basketball Court aft. There are three sets of elevators which make this ship easily circulated. The central elevators have two sets of elevators overlooking the ocean (Not only are these beautiful to ride in, but they are also the ones that respond more quickly to the call button!). All elevator doors are cast aluminum with beautiful floral designs by Lebigre. Rather than discuss the multimillion dollar collection of art work on board by decks individually, we prefer an overview on this ship. This ship is quite beautiful in its simplicity. It is not gaudy, busy or overcrowded. Each piece in its collection has been selected for relevance and showcased in an a` propos manner. The Waterford Crystal Seahorse (logo), which is suspended in the Atrium, sets the mood for the exquisite pieces to be seen around this elegant ship. In its foyers and staircases there is a recurring Venetian theme with bronze busts of the Doge and well known figures from the Commedia dell'Arte, such as Pulcinella, Harlequin & Columbine, and other characters like Pagliacci. In all of these areas are chairs and sofas with comfortable cushions modeled after Roman marble ones. In the Odyssey Restaurant there are more chairs by Lebigre, sculpted then cast in aluminum and gilded with silver. There are also nautical items which must be seen: the 19th century German silver gilded ship model "Nef" and the beautiful French Baccarat table ornament which is a semicircular frosted panel of glass etched with a galleon and mermaids in a storm at sea. By far the largest piece of art is the Fleurs de Mer by Barbara Nanning (Holland); these huge wild roses with open centers forming focal points are suspended from the ceiling of the Vista Dining Room, gilded red/gold and with modern fiber optic illumination; however, this piece did not impress us as much as the many original paintings and sculptures throughout the ship. Not only does the art work merit close scrutiny, but, also the many gorgeous displays of real flowers (lilies, antherium, birds-of-paradise, ginger, carnations, etc., etc...) command one's attention from their sheer beauty. A great spectacle throughout the ship! Holland is famous as the flower garden of the world and her ships reflect it. SERVICE AND FOOD Service on board under Hotel Manager Nick Burger is crisp and friendly. HAL is noted for its Indonesian crew which on this ship puts on a stunning show featuring songs and dances of Bali and Java and playing the "angklung," a bamboo musical instrument from West Java. We dined at Table #169 for two with Randy and Endro as our capable stewards under Head Steward Alex, who went above the call of duty (providing special services like lactose free milk etc.). Yvette, our Wine Steward, was friendly and knowledgeable. All of these fine people made dining an elegant pleasure. Food on board was excellent and portion sizes were perfect and there was no "pushing of seconds." Passengers in suites received High Tea at 3:30 pm and hot/cold hors d'oeuvres at 5:00 pm; thus, since we had dinner at 6:00 pm (main seating), we rarely arrived at dinner hungry. Appetizers are fresh fruits, crab legs, prosciutto ham etc.,. Soups are both hot/cold, such as Cream of Asparagus, Santa Fe Tomato, or iced Vichyssoise. etc. Salads are just the right size and dressing is served on the side. Entrees include Lobster Tails, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, Prime Rib of Beef, Salmon and Snapper, etc. Desserts are a huge array (12 or more choices) of Rum cakes, fruited tarts, ice cream (many flavors), Sorbets (Lemon, Mango etc.) No sugar desserts include a Black Forest cake that must be tried. The Lido Restaurant has so many stations: Oriental, TexMex, Italian, deli, salad bar, etc... that it takes a bit of time to orient oneself, yet there is no reason anyone should go unsatisfied. In addition there is 24 hr room service for a variety of food and beverages. There is also the specialty restaurant, the Odyssey, for a remarkable meal ($20 charge). CABIN We had reserved Cabin # 8036 wheelchair accessible, but when we saw it, we immediately went to Passenger Services and spoke with Marianne, from whom we purchased an upgrade to a suite, since the first cabin was more of a hallway than a room, and with very little storage space. Suite #7078 is 516 sq. ft. with a verandah on which there are a table with four chairs and two rattan chairs with separate ottomans. Entering the suite, on the left are three armoires, one with a personal safe, a curved maroon leather sofa, and two butterscotch leather chairs, and a glass door leading to the verandah. Entering on the right is the lady's anteroom with a lighted vanity and three more armoires. Through that there is the bath with double sinks, medicine cabinets, glassed shower, jacuzzi tub & shower, all with an assortment of safety rails and a tiled floor. It is both nice and functional; however, it is somewhat austere when compared to some luxurious baths found in suites of other cruise ships. Next, there is a king sized bed with double night stands and on the far wall a grand picture window with plants over the desk, then a refrigerator and an entertainment center with TV, VCR, & DVD. The walls of the suite are butterscotch ribbed silk and a huge picture of a golden carp fish is directly across from the bed. There are two other pictures of fishing villages with delph blue borders. The carpet and draperies are butterscotch and maroon; very nice and restful. This suite is a great home away from home. ENTERTAINMENT There were the usual shows where the dancing was quite good and there were even costumes by Bob Mackie. By far the best presentation was by singer/impressionist Paul Tanner, who gave great renditions of Neil Diamond, Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Bennett and finished with an Elvis Presley which brought on a standing ovation. Bravo! There is also a fine pianist every evening in the Crow's Nest, Daniel Thivierge, who has a great repertoire of classic melodies and beautiful songs: wonderful music for relaxation. There are the usual Bingo games, Trivia games and Library Trivia (which needs someone more effective in making corrections to the participants' quiz sheets). All in all there are many activities to occupy a cruiser's time. PORTS OF CALL We are not going to describe these port nor the relative shore excursions, since we have reported on them many times before in other cruise reviews. For those readers who are interested in reading those reviews, search the archives of this web site. Sunday, 9/7/30 Key West, FL Arrival 7:16 am Departure 7:00 pm Tuesday, 9/9/03 Cozumel, Mexico Arrival 6:00 am Departure 3:30 pm Wednesday, 9/10/03 Grand Cayman Arrival 7:00 am Departure 5:30 pm Friday, 9/12/03 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas Arrival 7:00 am Departure 7:30 pm The departure was delayed due to a mechanical problem with the winch lifting tenders onto the ship. This delay caused a late arrival in Ft. Lauderdale. Saturday, 9/13/03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrival 8:00 am Disembark 10:00 am DEBARKATION Debarkation was delayed due to the late arrival. Wheelchair assistance was excellent -- the crew made a list of the physically challenged passengers entering the Ocean Bar and called them in order! Very efficient. The whole process was delayed, but then HAL does not like to rush passengers off. Debarkation began after 9:00 am. However, the process was expeditious to the satisfaction of most passengers. CONCLUSION HAL is keeping pace with the growing cruise industry. With the new Vista Class ships HAL offers staterooms with balconies at competitive prices. No longer is it necessary to book a suite in order to have a balcony, since the majority of the ocean view cabins on the Zuiderdam and other Vista Class ships have balconies. We thought this cruise was a great value for us when we initially booked a category A cabin (Deluxe Verandah Outside), but once on board we preferred an upgrade to a category S suite, a really spacious and beautiful stateroom, for eight hundred dollars more. This made our cruise even better by getting the extras that the occupants of suites are pampered with, such as special invitations to the Captain's and Hotel Director's parties, as well as afternoon tea with petit fours and pre dinner hot and cold canapés and hors d'oeurves served in our suite. We enjoyed a very relaxing cruise. In general the atmosphere on this ship was more tranquil, thus much less vivacious and festive than that of many other ships which sail the Caribbean Seas. On this ship, it was like a deja` vu to observe the many passengers on the wrap around promenade laying on the deck chairs, reading their books or enjoying the scenery, just like on the liners of yesteryear. One tradition that we did not appreciate was the covering of the dining room chairs with wrinkled white covers for a special effect on the second Gala Night. If the covers were intended to make the atmosphere more formal, the effect was the opposite: It was spooky and messy. Please note that some traditions are not worth keeping. Those beautiful chairs should never be covered! We are looking forward to the next cruises we have already booked: The Explorer of the Seas on October 11th, the Coral Princess on October 30th, the Serenade of the Seas on December 6th and the Costa Mediterranean on January 11th. We also plan to write reviews of these ships. Happy Cruising!

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Sep 5, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This is a chronicle of back-to-back cruises on Holland America Line’s ms Zuiderdam, the first of HAL’s Vista Class ships. Itineraries, Sept 6 – 20, 2003: Week One - Western Caribbean - Key West, Cozumel Mexico, Georgetown Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay Bahamas. Week Two – Eastern Caribbean - Half Moon Cay, Philipsburg St Maarten, St

Thomas USVI, Nassau Bahamas. Sea days were Monday and Thursday, both weeks. Ship’s time equal to local at all ports. Zuiderdam sails on Saturday. Precruise: I seem unable to find a travel agent versed in the cruise industry. I became so frustrated dealing with amateurs, that I decided to try out booking directly with HAL. The service was terrific, and the price was actually less than what I saw quoted on cruise agency web sites. The HAL reps were unfailingly courteous and helpful. During initial booking, the reservations representative steered me away from less desirable cabins. She sent my booking confirmation and invoice while we were on the phone by e-mail attachment (Adobe Acrobat). When I later discovered we were eligible for an AARP discount, it was quickly taken care of. The whole experience was so clean and efficient it would take a significant discount for me to return to booking with a travel agent. Of course you can book completely on-line, but I’d advise talking to a HAL rep who can provide assistance with cabin location. If you require a little hand holding, HAL will assign a personal “Cruise Consultant” to assist you so you’ll be able to consistently deal with the same person. We flew Continental out of Houston, TX (IAH) to Zuiderdam’s homeport, Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) one day early. Stayed overnight at the Renaissance Hotel on 17th Street, approximately mid way between the airport and HAL’s pier 26 at Port Everglades. The location, AAA’s four diamond rating, and a low government rate made this a good stop over. Renaissance is a comfortable hotel with an excellent, but pricey, restaurant. Boarding: Zuiderdam begins boarding to the ship’s public areas at 11:30AM. Open and active are the pool and grill, Windstar Café (an Italian coffee bar with moderate charges for coffee and pastries), Internet café, art gallery, front office and most of the lounges. Luggage and coat storage is also available. The Lido buffet begins serving lunch at 12:00N. Cabins are ready for occupancy by 1:30PM. We arrived about 11:15AM and were aboard by noon. There were at least two-dozen HAL rep’s in the terminal to process passengers. Our luggage was delivered soon after the cabins were open. The Ship: Zuiderdam has eleven decks. Decks four thru eight and part of deck two are cabins. Two per cabin occupancy is 1,824 with 800 crewmembers. She weighs 82,000 tons and is 935 feet long so that three circuits around the continuous lower promenade deck approximates one mile. She is powered by five diesel engines and one gas turbine, and she is propelled by 25,000 bhp Azipod props (more about these later). The décor is appropriate to the itinerary. Zuiderdam was built and designed for year round Caribbean cruising and the interior motifs reflect this concept. Some areas offer a challenge to navigate; especially the central lounges adjoining the casino on deck two. There are nooks, crannies and small corridors to deal with, somewhat similar to what is occasionally found in the lounge areas of some land resort hotels. Maybe this is what the designers had in mind? The central atrium is smaller than on the S Class ships. This provides more space for the lounges and other public areas, but I miss the larger atrium which I often use as a reference point for navigation. The ship is impeccably clean and shows little signs of wear, a credit to the maintenance crew, her Hotel Manager Nick Burger, and Captain Johannes van Biljouw. Zuiderdam’s condition and appearance is extraordinary considering that 1800 people tramp through her every week. Unlike the S Class ships, Zuiderdam does not have a passenger use laundry. Twice we used the $12 per ‘full bag’ laundry service. Both times delivery was next day. The Lounges: The Best: Crow’s Nest. Great viewing lounge with huge wraparound window located forward on deck ten. Cocktail piano, also theme night music such as 50s & 60s tunes by CD. Explorer’s Lounge. Classical music by The Rosario Strings. This is also the venue for afternoon tea. Excellent snacks and a good selection of teas (save room for the scones!). The Worst: Queen’s Lounge. So poorly designed that it’s useless for any function. That’s too bad because The HAL Cats, a truly good band fronted by a first-rate vocal quartet, plays danceable music here most nights. Ocean Bar - Once again, poor design. This lounge is totally open to the atrium losing any identity as a lounge, and the dance floor is too small. For some incomprehensible reason, a divider is installed across the center of the seating area, disconnecting the rear of the lounge from the front. Music is by Meir & Rae Ann on drums and a piano. How eclectic is that? Music is mostly traditional dance: fox trot, waltz, tango, etc. No Opinion: Northern Lights – Late night activity usually starting at 10PM, mostly disco and light rock. A DJ spinning CDs supplies music. Booth seating surrounds a largish dance floor. Design by Gateway. There’s also a Sports Bar. Since the signal is international, the TV schedules are mainly soccer. A WNBA game was showing on NFL Sunday afternoon! To be fair, they do pick up Sunday and Monday night NFL games. The Vista Lounge, The main showroom is forward on decks one and two. This is an attractive room of good design with comfortable seating. Just don’t sit behind one of the many pillars or in the rear of the upper section. Unfortunately, the quality of the shows does not match the setting. The production shows are LOUD. Who decided that loud is good? To paraphrase Shakespeare, let’s kill all the soundmen, too! Following cruise ship tradition there are two production shows. The first was decent, but the second, a review of movie musicals, was near unbearable. Almost every number, including the romantic ballads, was programmed in a hyper, upbeat tempo, making all the tunes sound alike. The show was completely out of sync and boring. The music for the production shows is prerecorded. Did I mention that it is LOUD? The cast was excellent with talented dancers and singers, all completely wasted. We didn’t repeat any shows during week two. The Vista Dining Room: An attractive and well-constructed design. There are two levels located aft on decks two and three. Seating is well organized with comfortable chairs and some banquet tables. Best of all, each dining area has its own galley located immediately adjacent to the dining rooms. Instead of waiting for dumb waiters from a galley below, dishes are more directly served. This means hot dishes arrive hot and cold are offered cold. You do want to avoid seating the far aft section of the lower dining room. When cranked up the Azipod propulsion system delivers a significant vibration. The shaking is primarily felt on the back end of the lower deck. However, it’s only a problem when the engines are pressed. The captain tries to maintain lower revs during dining hours, but there are times they must be turned up. When this happens the place settings won’t dance off the tables, but it’s definitely uncomfortable. Our cabin: Since we were on for two weeks I upgraded us from our usual standard outside to a “superior verandah suite” located amidships on deck six. The SS cabin is @ 288sft, and the balcony 100sft. The room is well designed with two queen size beds, which we had put together, a restful full sized fold out sofa, three chairs (one too many), a glass top coffee table, a writing desk and the standard desk. There are plenty of drawers, shelves and closets. The bathroom is large, with a full size Jacuzzi tub, a separate shower stall, double sinks, two medicine chests and a long shelf running under the sinks. The standard outside cabins, as well as the inside (if you don’t mind the dark), are more than adequate in size and design. DVD rentals are available from the front desk. There’s a $25 deposit for each disk. Dining: The Vista dining room offerings are equal to, and often exceed, Celebrity. The quality and presentation is far better than on the other HAL ships we’ve sailed on. Menu selections are extensive: two or three selections are available for each precourse and there are four primary and three “from the grill” optional entrees every night. Steaks and prime rib are delivered to order; however, note that medium rare is usually too rare for the distaff side. The Odyssey has to be the best alternative restaurant at sea. It even rivals the best upscale steak houses on land. Steaks, rib eye, tenderloin and two sizes of filet mignon are offered. The steaks are Prime Sterling beef and are cooked on a 1600 degree grill. It doesn’t get any better than this. Although the menu features steak, the other entrees are superb, most notable is a seafood ravioli. The wait staff was recruiting out of Hungary, primarily Budapest. HAL obviously sought out the best servers among Budapest’s world-class restaurants. They are smooth, attentive and prompt. With minimal delay between courses, we were in and out in less than an hour and a half. This whole staff was brought on board Saturday, the thirteenth. Some early patrons complained of uneven and clumsy service. However, we dined there on Wednesday evening, and it seemed they’d been serving there forever. It’s a testament to their skills that they adapted in such a short time. These guys are good! The Crew: The Indonesian dining stewards and The Philippine bar staffs were excellent as usual. Nearly all were up to HAL standards. Oddly enough, there were a few grumps, who even bordered on rude. I don’t recall experiencing this on previous cruises with HAL. Oddly enough, one of the ice cream servers was a real grouch, which is totally out of character for that station. Fortunately, the grouches were fringe players and a very small minority. The dining room staff were prompt and, as you’d expect, well trained, cheerful and eager to serve. Our Head Steward, Alexander, was especially caring, very personable and always ready to lend a hand. My wife is originally from Japan. Wayan, our table steward for both weeks, spoke fluent Japanese providing my better half with a special feeling of welcome. We had two different cabin stewards each week, both efficient and in the best tradition of cabin stewards: always out when we were in, and in when we were out. Ridwan, our steward the first week, had completed his twelve-month contract. Saturday afternoon he flew home on leave before continuing on to Nice to help outfit Vista Class number three, ms Westerdam, which is scheduled to launch May 2004. The ship’s officers seem friendlier than on other ships, always offering a greeting and a smile. It’s amazing how the front office staff manages to maintain a cheerful and polite appearance in spite of the frequent rudeness and confrontational attitude of so many guests. For some reason, people seem to adopt an ‘in your face’ attitude with these gals who, after all, are really no more than desk clerks without any real authority to resolve disputes or provide managerial decisions. Despite this, all of the front desk people were consistently courteous and helpful. Guests ought to realize that only a supervisor or the guest relation’s manager can resolve problems. Often, even they have to get instructions from Seattle to resolve a policy dispute. The Passengers: A more diverse age mix than on other HAL cruises. The Zuiderdam is evidently appealing to the younger set. The dress code was universally observed in the main dining room. Formal night saw only a few out of uniform in the other public areas. Over the two weeks, four of our eight tablemates were from Florida, two from NYC and two from Canada. Naturally, there are lots of Floridians taking advantage of the “Florida Resident Discount”. Speaking of discounts, midway of the first week a flyer was distributed offering the following week for $199 inside or $299 outside, a pretty good deal! I’ve never seen this before, nor was it repeated during the next cruise. I suspect Hurricane Isabel precipitated cancellations and HAL decided any revenue is better than none. After all, a major profit element is the money we spend while on board. As regards the small people, school was back in session so there was only a small number of toddlers and a couple of infants. On board is a dedicated kids area called Club HAL. It must have been nearly deserted. Shore excursions I discovered snorkeling on our first cruise and became instantly captivated. As a result, I have very little first hand knowledge about above water activities on any of the islands. It was only due to a sore throat in the middle of week two that wifey and I did a land/water tour on St Maarten. Booked through the ship, it’s titled “French Connection Sea & See”. It’s a bus transit around the island interrupted by a shopping stop in Marigot and tour of coral reefs at Grand Case’s Creole rock. Creole Rock is purported to be the best snorkeling area around the island. I saw enough while on the glass bottom boat to suggest that snorkeling would be very marginal here. The bottom is mainly rocks with some coral and common fish such as Sergeant Majors and Wrasses. Lots of huge Uni, however, made my wife’s taste buds tingle. This was aboard the “Seaworld Explorer’, an underwater moving observatory. The tour was a good overview of the island, but the guide went around the island bassackward, stopping in Marigot first. Most of the stores in Marigot follow the French tradition of closing between one and two o’clock which is when we were there, resulting in a wasted forty-minute stop. That was too bad because there are some nice shops in Marigot. The wife, an avid casino connoisseur, took the “Discover Atlantis & Harbor Cruise” in Nassau. This is a gal who considers Las Vegas resorts ‘quaint’, but found Atlantis too gigantic. In the end, she simply made a small donation to the slot machine gods and returned to the ship. Now for the good stuff. The following snorkel trips are listed in order from best to least good; however, the least is still darned good. Nassau: “Snorkel Bahamas Adventure” is a 5-½ hour trip operated by Stuart’s Cove. On a previous excursion I went on the impressive Athol Island snorkel. This Stuart’s Cove outing surpassed all of my previous experiences, including Athol Island. The boat trip is @ three hours, and visits Schoolhouse Reef, the spectacular Golden Key Reef and finally a “swim with the sharks” at ‘The Wreck of the Bahama Mama’. I have never before witnessed such a number and variety of fish as at Golden Key. There are never-ending fish, large and small, singly and in large schools. The floor is decorated with huge, magnificent coral formations of all shapes and sizes. While there, a shark cruised past our group. He obviously thought this was his ocean and didn’t know, nor care, that we weren’t scheduled for a shark encounter until after Golden Key. Surprisingly, getting in with a dozen or so sharks is not frightening. I suspect we were too caught up with their grace and magnificence to be scared. The fact that the boat captain hadn’t lost a diver in twelve years was also encouraging. This is a five star, gold medallion, prime trip, not to be missed! Georgetown: I booked a two reef and stingray swim with Capt Marvin. This is again a three-hour boat trip with snorkel stops at Coral Gardens and the Barrier Reef, followed by a visit to Stingray City. The Barrier Reef extends for many miles and is near enough to the surface to be visible from above. There is abundant sea life, and of course, extensive coral. Here I saw my first Moray eel. As for Stingray City, there are just too many boats and people crowded together to enjoy it. I stumbled around among the crowd for a bit, then got back in the boat. The kids seem to enjoy it. Key West: A catamaran trip to Sand Key Reef with the Fury Cat operation. Fury is found extensively through the Yucatan and Caribbean. Our trip was on a 65’ catamaran with a small enough group so we were never crowded. Unfortunately, westerly winds from the recent tropical disturbance in The Gulf had stirred things up so that visibility was only about 15 – 20 feet. The reef, however, is marvelous. Did you know that the reef off Florida’s coast is the third largest in the world? I didn’t. We got enough of a taste to make me want to return. I can unreservedly recommend this trip. Half Moon Cay: A surprisingly good snorkel trip. The coral garden area is only a ten-minute boat ride from the tender dock with lots of fish and coral. There’s a very nice beach, but the bottom is too sandy for good snorkeling. Just relaxing on the beach and swimming is the most popular past time. There are lots of beach toys and other activities available for rent. Comfortable beach chairs are plentiful. There’s also a pavilion with souvenir shops and a bar. A barbecue lunch is served at noontime. Half Moon Cay is perfect for kicking back and enjoying a restful day. Cozumel: We went to Chankanaab Park for snorkeling and beach time. The park offers a sheltered beach area with palapas, a lagoon, a swim with the dolphins, a sea lion show, snuba and a number of boat trip operators who work from the beach area. There’s also a full menu bar & grill. The conch ceviche was very good. There’s probably lots of other stuff, too. Unfortunately, the beach was fly infested so we didn’t stay long. The snorkeling from the beach is fair. Dzul Ha is much better, but you can experience some swift currents there. Chankanaab’s waters are more sheltered, so it’s a good alternative for marginal swimmers. I have previously boat snorkeled Columbia and Palancar reefs from Cozumel. The reefs here are world class and there are many good operators. Disembarkation: The procedure has greatly improved since our last visit. Immigration is held in the terminal, not on board. This greatly expedites clearance since we don’t have to wait for the inevitable latecomers to clear before we can leave the ship. The preliminaries are routine: put luggage in hallway the night before, leave your cabin by 8:00AM and wait in a public area for your number/letter to be called. Both the Lido and main dining rooms are open for breakfast. We had a noon flight and were off the ship and at our boarding gate by 9:30. Of course, when all those ships return from Alaska things won’t go so smoothly. I should mention that stuff happens. Disembarkation was delayed the previous Saturday due to a late departure the previous day from Half Moon Cay. However, even then we would likely have been at the airport by 10:30 or 11:00. Final Thoughts: As devotees of HAL, we were concerned because of the numerous negative Zuiderdam reviews that appeared in the early months. Certainly Zuiderdam has some odd quirks, but the overall design is easily adapted to and becomes an ultimately user friendly floating resort. We found absolutely no evidence of unpleasant aromas in any area. The mechanical systems such as toilets, A/C, hot water, elevators, etc never failed. Fellow passengers were largely polite, friendly and in pursuit of a fun trip. We never witnessed one instance of rowdy or inappropriate behavior. We had a wonderful journey. My advice is go and enjoy.

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Sep 5, 2003

Western Caribbean

After reading many negative reviews about MS Zuiderdam on this website, I was a bit disheartened on why I had booked this cruise. However I kept my hopes high and to my pleasant surprise the cruise by far exceeded my expectations. I flew from London, UK to Miami and transferred to Ft. Lauderdale for a 3 night stay at Radisson Bahia Mar Beach Resort. The flights

to Miami worked out much cheaper than flight to Ft Lauderdale. The stay at Radisson Bahia was very pleasant, as we were not only located along the beach, but also next to the marina which had the water taxi stop there. Hence it was very easy to travel around to some beautiful areas the place had to offer (the riverfront, Las Olas Boulevard etc. The embarkation was a breeze and had no problems whatsoever. We were met by the porters who asked us for our room numbers which I didn't have and he looked it up in his data log sheets and found us the room numbers. Once we handed our luggage to him, we proceeded into the terminal and since we were non US citizens we were directed to a different check in desk and luckily there was no queue at all as most of the passengers traveling were American citizens. Since I had asked my tickets to be picked up at the terminal, there were ready to be picked up at the check-in desk who issued us with a boarding card which was also to be used as a room key and to pay for any purchases on board. All this took around 5 minutes and were ready to board. In the next 5 minutes (after a photo) we were on the luxurious ship! This was the fastest embarkation I had witnessed and must give 10 out of 10 to HAL for this. Once inside we were asked to go for lunch as the room were going to be ready by 1.30 and it was only noon then. We looked around the various lounges and bars before proceeding to the Lido which was where lunch was being offered. All the lounges had a very art-deco feel to it and definitely to my taste. I just loved the various pieces of furniture, paintings, etc and couldn't wait to explore the rest of the ship. Lunch was excellent as there was lots of variety from simple sandwiches to Asian cuisine to salads, pizzas, sushi etc. At around 1.30, we were asked to proceed to our staterooms and I was gobsmacked when I entered the cabin. It was much bigger than what I had expected, the bathroom was a decent size and the best thing was the balcony. I just loved it! Once we had everything unpacked, we went to explore the different parts of the ship. The atrium was not one of those huge ones which you see on some ships but it was quite beautiful with a revolving sea-horse hanging at the top. The casino was of a decent size, the main show lounge (vista) was huge and was comparable to some of the theatres in Leceister square in London. There was another smaller show lounge (Queens) as well which was also to be used as a cinema. The other bars were all classy and had their own unique art-deco furniture. In fact I can go on and on about the different lounges on this beautiful ship, but I'll leave it for you to explore. The service and quality of food offered were of A class and I was pleasantly surprised that there there were plenty of vegetarian varieties on the menu. All the staff - from the cabin boy to the waiters in the dining room to the front reception staff were all very courteous and always smiling. The various ports of call were very interesting. Key west was my personal best followed by the beautiful private island 'Half Moon Cay' owned by Holland and America in the Bahamas. A very well developed island compared to other private islands owned by other cruise lines. All the excursions offered were very expensive as expected. I went on 2- Tulum tour in Cozumel and everglades air boat ride at the end of the cruise in Port Everglades. I only took the latter as I didn't want to wait for 8 hours at the airport. Both were OK but definitely not value for money. All the tours can be done at a much cheaper rate by yourself as I experienced in Key west and Grand Cayman. The drinks on-board were quite reasonable and so was the on-board shopping. The shows were a mixed bag ranging from excellent to just OK. My best ones were the Broadway style shows by the cruise staff and of course the crew show which got a huge applause. Another show which I immensely liked was by a stand-up comedian called Barnaby who was just so funny. My worst ones were by another stand-up comedian who had very dry humor and Paul Tanner whom I didn't like at all. However there were many others who loved him. Films were shown in the Queens Lounge and popcorn was served when films were shown. However this room is not designed as a cinema and thus not a very pleasant movie watching experience. It would have been better if it was built as a cinema. Hence this is one small negative part of the ship. After all nothing is perfect. On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise on MS Zuiderdam for its immense beauty, great service making it one of the best value for money cruises in recent times. Please contact me by e-mail if you have any questions. Also please don't be put off by the many negative reviews you see on this ship. I would definitely go back on MS Zuiderdam especially if it offered another interesting itinerary.

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Aug 22, 2003

Western Caribbean

We sailed aboard the ms Zuiderdam, on a Western Caribbean cruise, embarking August 23, 2003 through August 30, 2003. For my wife and I, this was our second cruise, our first with HAL (Holland American Line). Our first ever cruise was aboard a Royal Caribbean ship. Having spent seven days aboard a HAL ship, the two of us are eternally hooked, and have little

incentive to go anywhere except with HAL. The following critique is submitted to expel all myths and half-truths presented by previous travelers, including those paid to review cruise ships. I want to reassure all of you that this review is sincere in context, and solely based upon our personal observations and thoughts, whether good or bad. Our aim is to present an impartial review of the ship. Please feel free to forward any questions or complaints you might have to chamy72@rogers.com. I fully expect to hear from many of you who think I’m “off my rocker”. I feel as though some of you have given HAL a bad name, judging from your reviews. My wife and I feel obligated to set the record straight, once and for all. Like most of you, we purchased our tickets through a travel agent; we chose priceline. Although priceline’s deals were very good compared to others, there are several areas one needs to be aware of. For starters, priceline sent our cruise tickets to an address in Florida; we live in Canada. As a result of this, we received our cruise package three days before sailing. Our second issue concerns a shipboard credit, included with our package. It wasn’t until three days into our cruise that we received notification that no such credit would be extended to us, even though our invoice statement clearly mentioned it. I’ve since contacted priceline and they’ve agreed to fix the problem. We realize this isn’t the case with every priceline cruise package, however, we believe that it’s necessary to mention this as a reminder to all, nothing is error proof. Prior to booking our cruise, my wife and I took considerable time, thoroughly researching each and every cruise line. We highly recommend this to everyone going on a cruise, especially newcomers. Believe us, we’ve read just about every review/critique on the net. Some are true, but an overwhelming majority, especially those written about the ms Zuiderdam, are horrible inaccurate by a long shot. I don’t know what ship the rest of you sailed on, but it wasn’t the ms Zuiderdam, for those of you who claimed to have sailed on her in the past, and expressed a dislike for her. EMBARKATION We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale from Ottawa, Ontario @ 1:00 p.m. We had no trouble locating HAL representatives in the baggage claim area. They were a very friendly group of people. After a short wait, a group of us boarded a bus to the terminal. The entire ride from the airport to Port Everglades took no longer than ten minutes. Once at the terminal (#26), our luggage was immediately turned over to porters. Unfortunately, we had no idea what cabin we were staying in; we booked a guarantee category and saved a few bucks. The porters were able to locate this information for us, and we rewarded them with a nice tip. Keep in mind: tipping is not required for porters. We then proceeded inside and inquired with another HAL representative as to which line we should get in. Because my wife is German and I’m an American, we were able to queue up in a line for non-citizens. The entire time from check-in to the gangway took no more then 30 minutes, lucky for us! As for others, their line was rather long, but not too long. I’m unable to comment on how long they waited. On a good note, we noticed that HAL had some 15 or better service counters open and operating. Previous reviewers mentioned that you were moved from one line to another, we did not encounter this. We received our ID cards and proceeded directly to the ship; we did not wait in any lines after the check-in counter. Perhaps HAL has recently changed its boarding procedures. THE SHIP The ship is immensely large. Some of you have commented on the appearance of the ship from the outside, saying that it resembles a barge or large tugboat. While HAL ships may not be as flashy as others, they do not resemble barges or tugboats. I would consider them to be on the conservative side, with a touch of elegance. If you’re seeking big, flashy ships, I recommend going elsewhere. Remember, you cannot judge a book by its cover, and HAL ships fall into the category. There are ten public decks, not including A deck. Once on the ship, we went directly to our cabin, located on deck 6, upper verandah deck. Just a quick note for everyone: Avoid those elevators closest to the gangway. Instead, proceed across the hall and use the other 4 elevators. After arriving on deck 6, we inquired with a crewmember as to the location of our cabin. We then proceeded down the long hallway where we ran into our cabin steward. His name was Three. Instead of asking for our name, he addressed us as Mr. And Mrs. so and so!! We were very impressed to say the least. Our cabin was an outside verandah stateroom w/balcony, and it was immaculate! It was very roomy with lots of storage area. The bathroom was roomy as well, enough storage space for all of our toiletries and then some. The balcony was great, especially on sea days. CROW’S NEST, DECK 10 The Crow’s Nest is located at the very front of the ship. It provides a breath taking view while underway or in port. There are numerous blue “lazy-boy” type chairs located near the front. These reclining chairs provide a nice place to relax and enjoy some quite time or read a book. However, some of these chairs are broken, which I found disappointing. During the evening, Daniel Thivierge plays the piano. Don’t forget the bar as well…. A truly great place to relax and enjoy some time alone. NOTE: If you’re not a seasoned cruiser, this area of the ship “rocks” a great deal, especially when the ship is encountering high seas. Just outside the Crow’s Nest are two smaller rooms, one room on either side. Both of these areas provide an intimate setting for anyone wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the main room. LIDO POOL AFT AND LIDO POOL MIDSHIP LIDO RESTAURANT DECK 9 Both pools seemed very popular to everyone. My wife and I did not swim in any of the pools. Some of you commented on the cleanliness of the pools. Here again is another myth. Both appeared clean and well maintained, judging by the amount of people who utilized them on a daily basis. The midship pool is much larger than the aft pool and equipped with a sliding roof. I read a review from another site, which depicted the sliding roof as an “old and squeaky contraption”, with lots of visible rust. This is an absolutely, totally made-up story. The Lido Restaurant is a fantastic place to eat. The food is excellent, with a wide variety to choose from. Some comments have suggested that the set-up is awkward and confusing. I respectfully disagree, and here’s why. The main reason why the layout of the restaurant is the way it is, is to prevent long lines. If everyone lined up in one line, it would stretch from deck 9, all the way down to the casino, located on deck 2. And as for finding a place to sit, this too is not a problem, as some have suggested. You might have to circle the room twice, but you will find a place to sit. Some have suggested that it’s absolutely impossible to find a seat in the Lido. To them I say, come earlier or go and dine in the main dining room. Also, on disembarkation morning—avoid the Lido at all costs! Instead, go and eat breakfast in the Vista Dining Room. It’s nearly empty. The Lido is jammed packed with people, and you will not get a seat! I cannot comment of the Greenhouse Spa, or the beauty/hair parlor, also located on deck 9, as we did not use them during our cruise. DECK 3—Library, Ocean Bar, Hudson Room, Shopping Arcade, Vista Lounge (balcony level), Internet Café. We did not use the library, so it would be improper for us to comment on this area. There were books and tables inside the room, but that’s about all I can say. The Ocean Bar is another area, which we have little knowledge of. The Hudson Room was mainly used for religious services; my wife and I attended Catholic services, twice. They offered a nondenominational service as well. The Mass was excellent as too was the Priest. The Shopping Arcade is comparable to a small strip-mall. We cannot say too much except that the prices seemed to get lower and lower as the cruise went on. Shop with care. The Vista Lounge is a large arena where Broadway style shows and other similar performances, take place nightly, normally after main dinner and late dinner seating. Comments concerning where to sit during performances are absolutely true; so by all means do head the warnings posted by others. Avoid sitting in the balcony at all costs. Instead, sit on the main floor (deck 2). Position yourself in the center of the room, and do avoid those posts; they do obstruct viewing of the stage. As for the shows, my wife and I have mixed reviews. She enjoyed them all; I on the other hand, disliked the first Broadway performance and enjoyed everything else. The best performer by far was Paul Tanner. He’s a singer impressionist---and dear God can he sing!! Whatever you do, do not miss his show. As for the other entertainers, they too were very good, with a wide array of talents to suite anyone’s taste. The Internet Café is a bit expensive. I don’t remember the exact pricing but there are ample computers in this area. We did not use the café during our cruise. DECK 2—Northern Lights Disco, Art Gallery, Casino, Sport’s Bar, Queen’s Lounge, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Vista Dining room, Windstar Café, Odyssey Restaurant. The Northern Lights Disco is an area of the ship that, in my humble opinion, lacks good taste. Although the music is great and there is ample room to “boogie the night away”, the appearance is a bit too much for me. For starters, the “ white poke-a-dot” decor just doesn’t appeal to me. And the seats are uncomfortable. Don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself. They have a little something for everyone—70’s disco, 80’s, 90’s night and even country night! The Art Gallery is very nice if you’re into collecting art works. There are several auctions (live) held throughout the cruise. If you’ve never participated in a live auction, I suggest that you give it a whirl. Yes, some of the paintings are a bit outrageous, but you can snag a few bargains. The casino is just that, a casino. We spent a grand total of $1.00 our entire cruise. Enough said. The Sport’s Bar is located near the casino. It’s just another area to throw away your money. The Queen’s Lounge is a nice place to see some alternative shows, mostly organized by the entertainment staff. We participated in a few of the shows and thoroughly enjoyed each. The HAL Cats play here nightly; they too are a terrific band and a must see while onboard. The Piano Bar is an area that we cannot comment on. The music sounded great as we walked by, but we did not attend any functions here. Sorry. The Explorer’s Lounge is a wonderful place to relax and unwind after enjoying the shows (Vista Lounge). Each night, a three-piece band gets together and performs classical music. It too is a must see (and hear). We made a point to sit here every night and listen to the wonderful music—the violinist is superbly talented! Also, we do recommend attending afternoon tea, held almost every day at 3:30 in this room. Arrive early in order to get a decent table. The Vista Dining Room—another area that is filled with half-truths and myths, much of which is totally bogus. The food was excellent in every way, as too was the service. I want to spend a few minutes correcting comments from previous passengers concerning vibrations at the rear of the ship. Although we were not seated in the rear (our table was located on the side, about half way in), comments suggesting that the ship has a serious vibration problem are hogwash, to put it bluntly. If that were the case, why then did so many people show up, night after night, for dinner? We made an effort to walk around the back of the ship while it was at sea (during diner) and felt or heard nothing. If you’re the type of person who can feel such small vibrations (yeah, it did vibrate ever so slightly, but not anywhere to the extent as some have described it), then you’re obviously the type of person who can feel an earthquake in Southern California, while in the state of Maine! Please, spare us the drama will you; we’ve got enough of it in our daily life. I will say this about the Vista Dining Room, however. On high sea days, it does rattle a bit in the rear of the ship. But never once did any of our utensils or glasses fall off the table, nor did other patrons, as some have suggested. I cannot believe people would utter such nonsense. The Windstar Café is a nice little place to enjoy a cup of coffee or hot tea. This is the only place onboard the ship where you will be charged for ALL your drink purchases. The service is outstanding….and they do try to remember your name. The Odyssey Restaurant is a must. One cannot say enough about the superb quality of the food. And the service is comparable with any five-star restaurant. It is well worth the money ($20.00 per person) to dine here. I enjoyed a 20oz Porterhouse steak, well done. It was the best I’ve ever had. Someone mentioned that it was a bit too cozy, and that the seats were too close. Once again, another false statement by those hell-bent on giving the ship a bad name. It’s obvious to me that since they were unable to find any faults with the restaurant, instead chose to complain about the chairs and the amount of space they take up. Those comments are phony. The restaurant is gorgeous and very sophisticated in every way. As for the age group of the passengers, it was mostly middle-aged people. We’re both in our early 30’s. There were young children onboard and most were well behaved. As for HAL catering to an older crowed, it’s hard to say. Also, I’ve read hordes of reviews, which complain about the lack of public restrooms on the ship. Again, another ridiculous account. For the record, there is a plethora of public toilets on each deck for which there are public areas for passengers. I never once had any difficulty locating a bathroom when I needed one. Either you’re to drunk or just blind. One other issue that I’ve seen floating around different sites concerning a sewage smell on ms Zuiderdam. I visited an area of the ship where this sewage smell is reportedly coming from. And yes, you can smell it. The area in question is located on deck 1 near the front desk; cabins located to the left of the front desk. Not only that, those passengers appear to be right above the engines as well. We stood in this hallway for a moment and could smell a pungent order as well as an intense vibration from below. I truly feel sorry for passengers in this area of the ship. Also, someone complained about how difficult it was to open the bedside desk drawers in their cabins. I’ve figured it out, for those of you who don’t understand why. The reason why these drawers are a bit hard to open is to prevent them from opening during high seas. If they were easy to open, some of us would be tripping over them in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom), which might cause more serious injuries. Just pull a little harder on the drawers, eh. SHORE EXCURSIONS This is an area that many of you should pay close attention to. Although you may not totally agree with my remarks about the ship, pay close attention here. Although we disembarked the ship at each port, we did not, however, pay for any of the ship-sponsored tours. Instead, we chose to book our own via the Internet, prior to going on the cruise. With a little pre-planning, you can and will save money. Key West Florida. The ship’s tour costs $24.00 per person (I believe), for a tour of the city. You can take the same tour for $12.00 per person, booked online. That’s a savings of $24.00! With the ship’s tour, you travel one time around the city and back to the port. If you want to re-visit a site, you’ve gotta find your own way back. With our Internet booked tour, it’s a jump on/jump-off type tour. Check the Internet for better options. Cozumel, Mexico. If you’re looking for diamonds, you’ve come to the right place. Take a taxi downtown for $6.00. Once there, visit a place called Diamonds International; you’ll hear more about this place on the ship. By the way, so long as you purchase the diamond loose, not attached to the ring, it’s duty free!! So go shopping for the biggest and clearest diamond money can buy! Grand Cayman. Once again, avoid the ship’s tours, especially a tour to the Turtle Farm. Instead of paying $24.00 per person with the ship, my wife and I paid a grand total of $23.00 together, including admission to the Turtle Farm! Take the public buses (ask for directions once on shore, it’s a very short walk from the dock) for 6$ going, and $5 return. They take American cash. The admission to the park is $6 per person. You do the math. DISEMBARKATION DAY Once you leave the ship, those of you who arrived via airplane, will leave the same way. Please note: If you arrive at the airport more than three hours before your scheduled departure, you will not be allowed to check in. Do not try it, it will not work, trust us on this. My wife and I found a corner and waited it out. The airport is very crowded and congested on this day, so be prepared and expect to wait in line. I think I’ve rambled on for long enough. If you should have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at the address above. And if you want to tell me how crazy my comments are, feel free to express your opinions too, I don’t mind.

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Aug 8, 2003

Western/Eastern Caribbean

Background We are veteran cruisers: I have 12 trips and my wife has 8. We went with our two teenage sons in August, so between the four of us, we total about six months afloat. Although we have sailed on Holland America (HAL) before, this was our first cruise on any ship as large as the Zuiderdam (we prefer the smaller upscale ships). But we had heard about the new Vista series and were curious enough to try it out. Because our busy work

schedules ease up in August, we were able to book two consecutive cruises back-to-back, one to the Western Caribbean and the other to the Eastern side. We look forward to the intermediate-length cruises rather than the standard week-long fare to give us more time to unwind and enjoy the ship, and to return a sense of balance to our lives. Embarkation We always drive to Fort Lauderdale rather than fly because the city is so familiar to us (my uncle lived there) and we avoid the hassles of air flight. We arrived the eve of the cruise, and enjoyed a relaxing dinner and good night’s sleep before the hectic day that would follow. This time we stayed at the Marriott Marina, and found it to be cleaner and better run than other motels we’ve stayed at before in the city. After our breakfast Saturday morning, we drove one block to the entrance to Port Everglades. After clearing the security gate, which is run by very pleasant people who are doing a very serious job, we drove over to Pier 19 to drop our luggage, park at the neighboring garage (very convenient and safe) and catch our first sight of the Zuiderdam. And what a sight she is! Over 950 feet long, the Z is outfitted with Holland America’s well-known blue and white décor and prominently displayed nameplate. Though lacking the graceful lines of classic passenger lines, and tending toward the boxy frame of contemporary floating apartment blocks, she nonetheless is an impressive sight. The boxy frame is somewhat minimized by verandah balconies that recess a bit further with each deck, creating a stairstep appearance to her silhouette. Checkin procedures have been significantly improved since our prior HAL voyages, more closely matching the simplified procedures of Princess and Celebrity. After showing our passports at the door, we proceeded through the standard metal detector, then across a vast room to a row of check-in desks similar to an airport lobby. This process will take some minutes, since you must present your passport a second time (it used to be several more times, so this is a small victory for efficiency) and cruise contract. You will need to fill out immigration forms, but they are available on the HAL web site for your completion well before arrival. You will also register your credit card for your onboard account, eliminating the need to do this after boarding the ship. They took our pictures for our boarding passes, and presented my younger son with his bracelet that identifies his lifeboat (in case we are separated during an emergency, the crew will get him to the lifeboat). You will also receive a pocket guide with a deck plan for the entire ship, which you will surely need throughout the week. Shoreside service was very courteous and professional, from the porters to the security personnel to the guest services representatives. All put a pleasant start into effect for the cruise. Then it was upstairs to a waiting lounge with convenient rest rooms. Because we were in line early when the doors opened, we were in the first group to board precisely at the announced time of 11:30. This is another improvement in the process, letting people on board well before the previous standard of 1:30 so they can have more time to get acclimated to the ship and avoid the long wait on shore. We went through the customary photo shoot and crossed the gangway to experience the adventures of the Zuiderdam. Cabin Our cabin 1095 was an outside stateroom amidship on the Main Deck, just down the hall from the gangway where we entered. The room is standard for newer HAL ships – nearly 200 square feet in size, twin beds that combine to form a queen, very firm mattresses, many small pillows that plump up, adequate closet space for four of us to hang garments, but insufficient drawer space that creates the inevitable clutter. The sleeper sofa is also surprisingly comfortable. The living space between doorway and bed is not terribly useful in a room this size, but becomes more roomy in the suites. The bathroom is large enough to move around, and the counter space and cabinet were more than adequate to store out toiletries. The shower provides hot water, though it will run down the curtain and onto the floor if not properly closed. It remains a mystery, however, why the electric outlets for the hair dryer are outside the bathroom – very inconvenient after a shower. Hopefully this design flaw will be corrected in a future upgrade. Soufriano, our room steward, was a veteran of some twenty years service with Holland America and was extremely responsive and visible, not at all like some ships where the room steward becomes invisible upon departure. He fulfilled our requests for service, and even showed us how to use the remote control for the television. He was a great guy, and his twice-a-day visits were very efficient and welcome. And the chocolates on our pillows every evening were a nice touch. Laundry service is very reasonable – just stuff all you can into a large laundry bag for $8. However, dry cleaning is no bargain compared to land prices. The lack of any self-service laundromat is a bone of contention for us do-it-yourselfers. The Neptune Lounge is HAL’s concession to a class society – only suite guests may enter this concierge lounge and enjoy the fresh fruit and coffee, hostess, priority reservations at the alternative restaurant, CNN on the big screen TV, magazines – jut like an upscale hotel lobby. Entertainment The centerpiece on this ship is a three-level show room, the Vista Lounge. HAL veterans will no doubt miss the lounge tables and couches that are present in older vessels, and the flat floor level precludes tiered seating and clear sight lines. The room has pillars that block sight at a few seats, but the balcony overcomes these problems. The décor is bright red, very upbeat and not as subdued as previous HAL ships. The semicircular stage contains an elevator to raise and lower performers, and a rear entrance that is used throughout production. The three-man production crew is very professional and competent. The entertainment we saw included magician Sam Simon and juggler Barnaby. Both were comic in their acts, and we enjoyed the chance to meet and talk with them informally during the cruise. Sam put on quite the show for us when he tried to tell our older son that he was going on curfew for some unspecified rules infraction! Both fellows are genuine people, quite warm and sincere, and a pleasure to meet. Other entertainers included a ventriloquist who was hilarious (my 12-year-old was in hysterics) and a singer who mimicked other well-known singers in a very strong and varied voice (clearly influenced by Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond). The cast members are wholesome young adults in Bob Mackie costumes, though their singing ranges were uneven and the choreography was quite basic. In general, we found the solo acts worth attending, and lost interest in the cast shows. Public Rooms The Main Deck where we stayed contains the base of a three-story atrium and spiral staircase, and is a focal point of conversation and photographers. The revolving sea horse at the top of the atrium sculpture is a Tiffany crystal masterpiece that attracts attention and comments. The Front Office and Excursion Desk are located in the central area of the Main Deck, as are several staff offices, the radio communications office and the first of eleven (by my count) bars. This bar is never very crowded and caters to stateroom guests in the early evening. As for the Front Office, I went to them a number of times with questions and issues – our biggest problem was the stripe rubbing off our room keys – and they were very congenial and helpful. The ladies who serve behind the desk are the ambassadors of the cruise line in dealing with the customers, and did a masterful job. At the forward end of the Main Deck is a small, hidden room where kids can play arcade games in a safe and secluded area. The hallways then lead into the bottom of the Vista Lounge. Exiting the Vista Lounge upstairs are the Lower Promenade and Promenade Decks, the center of evening social life aboard. On the starboard side forward on Lower Promenade are the Piano Bar and Sports Bar. The Sports Bar was a room to relax, smoke, and enjoy a drink while watching ESPN – the monitors are on all day. The Piano Bar is literally built around a piano, hence its name. The place is dead during daytime, and I never saw more than eight people inside while the pianist played at night. This is a lighter attendance than I’ve seen on other ships, and I suspect that it is due to the limited specialties of the pianists themselves (only Oldies the first week and Motown the second). Pianists with broader repertoires would draw more listeners and bigger bar tabs, I’ve learned.Portside across from these bars are the Casino and Northern Lights nightclub. The Casino was more packed with people than any other ship I’ve sailed before. By midnight, one can hardly walk through without bumping into happy gamblers, drinks in hand. I didn’t see many winners, just a lot of happy faces. The Northern Lights is a high-energy discotheque with disc jockey and flashing lights all around. Teens must leave by 10 PM, when the bar opens and the young-at-heart grownups take over. Music themes vary each night – 80s one night, disco the next, 50s grease another, etc. The faux cowhide booth is a conversation piece, but a very hard seat. But then, the purpose here is to mingle and dance, not just sit and watch. Next comes a theater spanning the ship, the Queen’s Lounge, which serves three purposes. It is a movie theater by day, however the flat surface does not provide the same atmosphere as a true movie theater. The room also holds meetings of 40-100 people. Finally, it turns into a nighttime cabaret where people can sit comfortably with a drink and enjoy a relaxed show by the HALCats, a group of four singers and four instrumentalists. They proved to be an excellent backup band on the main stage, but as an act on their own they lack spark and choreography. There was little if any dancing, and the noise could easily be heard in our room below. The atrium area on this deck is not well utilized on the starboard side, while the port side contains an art gallery to promote the ever-popular art auction. But the gallery never drew any visitors; the best marketing draw for the auction is the free champagne! Next comes the Windstar Café, a coffee bar that is a welcome addition to HAL, bringing onboard a Starbucks-style influence with decadent (and very reasonably priced) coffee specialties and fruit smoothies. They were a hit with us, though rather underutilized by other cruisers. In time however, this idea will catch on. The Explorers Lounge, an eternal fixture on HAL ships, hosts afternoon tea and post-dinner relaxation with the Champagne Strings, a superb trio of musicians. Like the previous areas, it is little utilized. Space management is always a concern on major cruise liners, where space is at a premium, and several fine ideas are not being exploited by the passengers on the Z. More advertising onboard may be required. I had read complaints from previous cruisers about an insufficient number of public rest rooms. I saw no such problem, and only once in two weeks did I see even one person wait in line for a room to become available. Nor did I notice the proverbial odor of sewage or paint, as some have reported. However, shipboard septic systems do clog up on occasion, so be forewarned. The Promenade Deck is so named because of a teakwood (not carpeting) walkway around its perimeter. This allows a complete circuit of the ship in the open air. Three laps equal one mile on this large vessel. Inside on the Promenade Deck is the Photo Gallery, which spans the ship to ensure that passengers coming and going to dinner see the latest pictures, charge card in hand. Since the photos are arranged along the walls of the main corridor, traffic congestion just before dinner is a major problem. This problem is aggravated by the use of only one register, creating long lines for purchases. The photographers are very friendly, and their freestyle photos are a big hit with many younger passengers. However, the prices are noticeably higher than I’ve encountered on other cruise ships. If you’re willing to spend the money however, they have a machine that can impose a formal portrait on a china plate for an excellent souvenir. One passes through the Ocean Bar before returning to the Atrium. This bar had a Hungarian duo that performed for the seniors who danced before and after dinner. The bar spreads across the ship, so some seats are physically separated and cannot see the stage or dance floor. It’s such a delight to see the older couples dance to the music here. The mixed drinks themselves are not watered down and seem reasonably priced, thought the service was painfully slow. On the other side of the Atrium is the shopping arcade. These are specialty shops that sell logo merchandise, jewelry, alcohol, tobacco and sundries. There is no brand name clothier on board, though a tailor is present to measure and place an order for you. The shops straddle the ship, so you cannot avoid passing through and window shopping, but there is no traffic congestion here and the system works well. Patronage was reasonably high in all stores. The library has a small collection of hardbound books, so bring your own reading material from home. At the very least, HAL could find some books on nautical history and cruising to make the selection worthwhile. The area outside the library is another underutilized, wasted space where people can hang out. The Internet Café has a steady stream of users who maintain connectivity with the rest of the world while on board. The package deal of $100 for 250 minutes sounds steep, but one has little choice when the roaming charges between satellite cells at sea are so frightfully high. Though Internet connectivity is a necessary evil for those of us who must still read e-mail and review work documents while on vacation, the Cafe connections are much faster than the slower connections available in the staterooms. And the attendant was very knowledgeable and friendly. The ship has three meeting rooms for about 40 people each that are used for religious services, group meetings, etc. They are not soundproof, so music from services will spill out into the adjacent hallway. The ship’s art collection is a variety of classic sculptures and mementos from Dutch culture, as well as paintings of past HAL ships and awards to the Z herself. The colors and carpet designs are much brighter than prior HAL ships, though not over the top as you would find on Disney or Carnival. Dining The Fontaine Dining Room provides a sweeping view over the ship’s stern, a spiral staircase in the middle and tulip lights in the ceiling (another Dutch touch). Much was made in previous reviews of noise and vibration in the room. We felt no vibration at all, though the engine noise was very noticeable and should be resolved in the ship’s December refit. Raymond the doorman called us to dinner each night with his strolling chimes ala the traditional hotel bellhop. Our table service by Hadir and his assistant Hance was first rate, and both were very personable and talkative. Our wine steward, Elizabeth, is a charming lady and pleasant conversationalist, though the table wines we sampled were unremarkable. A typical menu contained several choices of appetizer, three soups (one of which was chilled), two salads, seven entrees and five desserts. The appetizers were exotic, well presented and enjoyable, and the soups were fabulous. The waiters had no problem helping me choose between two options – they just brought them both! The salads and breads were very mediocre however, and best ignored. Our steaks and seafood were prepared to our taste and melted in our mouths. Vegetables were excellent though small in portion. The desserts were decadent and easy on the pallet, though by that time it was difficult to roll away from the table! When finally able to do so, we met Raymond or Edy, who handed out figs and mints to exiting diners. Edy was well acquainted with napkin tricks and could entertain the children while mom and dad dawdled. Prominent on the Lower Promenade Deck is the alternative Odyssey restaurant, where dining by reservation only is available for a flat fee of $25 per person. We passed on this opportunity because we enjoy the formal dining so much, but I did see the layout and it was reminiscent of a garden café with a well-windowed side and metallic furniture. The Lido Restaurant is a buffet with all sorts of food stations – pasta, salad, hot entrees, deli, Chinese, desserts, plus tacos and burgers out by the pool. The traffic patterns are not at all congested and the lines are shorter than I have experienced on other ships. And yes, I did see stewards carry trays for the elderly – the personal touch again. Danelo prepared our eggs every morning without my asking, and was so kind to our younger son. Oh yes, the food – much better than the standard cafeteria fare, and the ice cream bar is well-attended by young and old alike, and it’s free (except for the calories!). Topside Upstairs is the Lido Deck, the centerpiece of daytime activity. There are two outdoor pools, one for adults to work on their tan, the other for kids to splash around. This second, larger pool has a retractable magrodome that covers it during rain. These pools aren’t for laps, just for laughs. The Steiner spa has a staff nearly twice as large as other HAL ships, and just as congenial. It has the usual beauty salon and spa rooms, plus a hydro pool at $15 per dip, and a gym that was big enough to avoid waiting for treadmills. The fitness instructors are serious about their work, and their operation matches your favorite fitness center. Above Steiner on the Observation Deck is the Crow’s Nest, a fully windowed room to get a view in front of the ship or take a nap. The reclining seats would have been even more comfortable had they worked (most were broken). The biggest disappointment here was the night life. A swinging place on other HAL ships, the Nest on the Z is deader than the desert. The ship had just moved the HALCats downstairs a couple of weeks before to add some zest to the Promenade area, but instead it killed the nightlife up top. Reversing this decision would seem an idea worth considering. The Oak Room is the cigar smoking area, and the French Renaissance chair is an appealing touch. However, this is another little-used room. The stuffed chairs outside in the sun bore somewhat more presence of life, but were also largely empty. Above the Lido Restaurant were a golf simulator for a fee, and the Club HAL meeting and game room for kids. This area is not terribly large for a ship this size, so many children’s activities are held on the Lido Deck. But the little ones were enthralled by the arts and crafts, music and games played here. And the ladies on the staff are wonderful with the children. There is a Sports Deck topside with an observation area above the Crow’s Nest and tennis and basketball courts behind the smokestacks. Organized games draw a dozen or so persons, but the rest of the time this space is largely ignored. Shore Excursions The Excursion Office has a drop box for reservations, since it is only open limited hours. We only took one land tour, the dune buggy ride in Cozumel, which was great fun and well organized with courteous and professional guides. Though they appear to have dropped somewhat from prior cruises, land tours still tend to be pricey, and a fine way to blow your bank account! Tender service to shore was a major problem our first week. Waiting times of 45 minutes were common, even in the second and third hour of service. After some loud complaints (including us), the problem magically was rectified and did not occur at all the second week, when departures were prompt and wait times down to ten minutes. Shoreside shopping is a key element of any port call for us, and we found the Port Ambassador and his talks to be excellent, including insight on buying diamonds. We were well prepared for exploring onshore. Havensight Mall in USVI had the same deals as downtown Charlotte Amalie, St. Maarten continues to improve in shopping pleasure, and Key West has great souvenirs. Disembarkation The final morning is sad for the passengers and very hectic for the crew. Once Customs finally cleared the ship, the process went quite smoothly to get so many people off so quickly. Although HAL did misplace one piece of luggage (a first for us), it was located after ten minutes of hard search ashore and we were on our way home. The Z’s passenger mix is largely middle- and upper-middle-class. It is less the traditional HAL crowd and more like Princess or Royal Caribbean passengers. I heard no complaints about the size of the ship, once people figured out where they were going, though many were clearly first-time travelers on HAL and did the inevitable comparisons with their more familiar lines of choice. HAL is clearly borrowing ideas from competitor lines to bring in more business, and is apparently succeeding if the Z remains filled to capacity, as it was both weeks we were onboard. Since we have traveled on HAL before, the tipping policy is well understood. We enjoy discretely passing out envelopes during our last night, with artwork designed and drawn by our younger son, and see the warmth and genuine surprise on the faces of these hard-working people. We maintain e-mail contact with several stewards whom we’ve met over the years. International friendships can be made so quickly…

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Aug 1, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was our first experience with Holland America Line. After reading so many negative comments prior to the sailing, obviously I was concerned as to whether I made the right decision to take this cruise over Royal Caribbean Line. I have been to Eastern Caribbean cruise with Carnival 10 years ago. Here is our experience: Embarkation: HAL staff were great at the airport providing a positive experience. The check in was much better

than anticipated. Line was not long, everything was handled very efficiently. Direct boarding right after check in. Having filled out the information via internet prior to getting to the pier sped thing up. Stateroom: We got an ocean view with balcony, Rotterdam deck (7th level) towards the bow on the starboard side. Room was relatively spacious. The toilet did not work on the first day, after being put on hold for 5 minutes, my request for repair was put in at 2pm. At 4 p.m., still not fixed, went to the front office and was told that there were a good number of staterooms with same problem! Asked for a time commitment for resolution, received none. It was fixed when we returned from dinner - 1st sitting. Certainly did not give me a good experience with a relatively new ship. Everyone seems to have problem opening the night table drawers, they are just so tight, you have to fight with them to open and to close. Cabin Stewart was great, doing a good job, very pleasant. Dining: In general the food was good, a touch better than Carnival and Royal Caribbean. However nothing really stand out that surprised us. Dining room staff was good too, did not experience any long wait, messed up order. The Chief Stewart is working as hard as the Stewarts and their assistants. Do not have any communication problem at all. They were doing a fine job. Wine Stewart was a bit disappointing. We did not receive much suggestion or recommendation. Couple of wine we had from the wine package were disappointing. Went to the Odyssey Restaurant worth every penny (costs $20 pp). Food was great, service was excellent. To enjoy such dining experience on land can easily run up to $150 pp). The daily afternoon tea was only 1/2 hour long and in navigator lounge. Capacity was low, either you get there early or you will not be served. The Royal Dutch Tea and The Chocolate theme afternoon tea were good. The line up was quite unbearable. A long line up. We spent more than 30 minutes lining up. They seems to be running out of ice cream cones (plain and waffle) everyday! By miracle, more is available next day! Should not have daily quota, have more available, does not cost a lot. It was very disappointing to people who prefers ice cream going with their cones. Public Rooms/area: Reviews I read about the vibration and noise the aft of the ship on 2nd level (dining) was true and evident. We had lunch in that area once and the noise was quite unbearable. Vibration when the ship going over 20 knots was noticeable. Odor mentioned in a lot of the reviews was real. I think that had to do with the design of the ship where they have service area connecting to public corridors. Queen's lounge can sit 170 people. The band was ok, but always playing the same songs every night, almost the same sequence too. Not really catered to ballroom or Latin dancing at all. The lounge on 10th floor was big. The lazy boys would be good if they worked, quite a number been broken and remained in broken state during the entire cruise. The spa and fitness centre was ok, same as the other lines. Decor and interior design: Everyone will have their own preference. The partition used in Lido restaurant reminded me of the corner cafe in the 50's and 60's looked old and cheap. Color coordination was not to my liking. Entertainment: Paul Tanner, the impressionist is very good, the ship's production was great, Bernie the comedian was super. The magician and the juggler were only so so. Other people may not agree with my view, but that is ok, we all unique. Excursion: Did not take any as I find, in general, they are pricy (same with every other lines) Summary: The cruise I was on (over 2000 clients, over 300 were kids). I did not expect that many youngsters on a HAL cruise. Will I go back? Well, No, I will not go on Zuiderdam again. The ship in my mind been over rated and it is a 4 star at best and not 5 or 5.5 stars. I may try another HAL ship.

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Aug 1, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

My husband, daughter (20 years old) and I have just completed a 7-day cruise aboard Holland America’s “Zuiderdam.” This 7-day Easter Caribbean cruise (Aug. 2-9, 2003) took us to Holland’s private island, Half Moon Cay, and to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau, Bahamas, with two additional days at sea. We were pleased with the itinerary, especially enjoying Half Moon Cay and Nassau. As I share details, I will be making a

few comparisons to our last 2 cruises, both with Royal Caribbean (Monarch of the Seas – May 2001 – Eastern Caribbean and Enchantment of the Seas – August 2002 – Western Caribbean). The Eastern Caribbean ports are definitely our preference. This was our first cruise with Holland America. The port itinerary was a big factor in our choice this year, as well as wanting to try another cruise line. (Our preference is still Royal Caribbean.) I will give a general overview and then more specifics for those desiring more detail. Considering the Zuiderdam is only one year old, the ship is surprisingly in need of a couple major corrections: (1) there is a lack of sufficient public restrooms around the pools, dining rooms, and lounges (One or two stalls for the ladies…quite inadequate). 2) a foul odor is hard to miss around the ship, especially when the ship is docked. As a plus, the Zuiderdam has many cabins with balconies and larger bathrooms in the cabins. Embarkation and debarkation went quickly and smoothly (I can’t say as much for check-in at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It’s taken two hours just to check or luggage…and we haven’t even attempted going through security yet). The Zuiderdam was punctual with reaching and departing each port (and almost an hour early arriving in Nassau). Their immigration checks were quick and simple. The Zuiderdam’s food and service were good…no better, no worse than R.C. One thing we were disappointed in was the décor of the Zuiderdam. Even knowing this before hand (we had read the reviews of others) we still would have preferred a “prettier” ship. Both Royal Caribbean ships were beautifully decorated. Others we talked to on board were equally disappointed, especially with the atrium. We were accustomed to beautiful staircases, glassed atrium elevators, grand pianos, mirrors, flowers, and much more space. There were lots of kids on board (350 of the 1200 people). Next time I would limit travel to a time when school was in session. There were activities for the kids 5 years and older. The two days at sea brought all the kids and teens to the small pool. It’s not that I think the kids shouldn’t use the pool, they are just not considerate of anyone around them. The ships ride was smooth for the most part. We only had stormy time (before dawn) when the waters were rough and we really felt the motion. Ok, now for some specifics: Embarkation/Debarkation: We had read many unfavorable reviews about this endeavor. However, we were surprisingly pleased at how quickly we were checked in and allowed to board. We arrived at the port at 11AM and were onboard by Noon and found our way to the Lido restaurant for our first meal. The cabins were ready for occupancy by 1:45. Our luggage arrived in plenty of time to get ready for dinner at 6 PM. This was a smooth, easy process. Debarkation began at 8:45 and everyone was off the ship, had their baggage, and were on their way to the airport by 10:15. Cabins: We were in Cabin 8029, a Category A, Deluxe Veranda Outside. We had 2 twin beds and our daughter slept on the sofa bed. The veranda was nice, with 2 chairs and a small table. There was adequate drawer and closet space. The luggage fit nicely under the beds. Although not a “roomy” cabin, we also didn’t feel crammed. The bathroom was larger than both Royal Caribbean ships. This bathroom was a real plus. Food: We enjoy eating dinner each night in the formal dining room. There were 2 formal dress nights (the 2 days at sea), 1 semi-formal and 4 casual dress nights. The food offerings were very nice (except we were never offered crab cakes L The beef dishes were the best I’ve ever eaten (Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon). Plenty of seafood was offered. All our other meals were in the Lido (cafeteria style). A real “plus” was the availability of both soft-serve and regular ice cream from 11AM-1AM each day J (Royal Caribbean only made soft-serve ice cream available for a couple hours a day). We found the food to be very good on both Holland America and Royal Caribbean. We enjoyed one afternoon “Royal Dutch High Tea” in the main dining room. The pastries were both attractive and delicious. Tea was served in a smaller lounge a couple other times during the week. We were out on the islands at these times. The “Chocolate Extravaganza” was similar to the “High Tea.” It was nice as well. We were not overly impressed as it was so similar to the “Royal Dutch High Tea” with much the same desserts. The Chocolate display did not compare to those on Royal Caribbean’s Midnight Buffet. The Zuiderdam did not offer a midnight buffet (sigh L). One added nicety was a behind the scenes tour of the ship’s kitchen. The Oddessy Restaurant (beautifully decorated and the prettiest spot on the ship) offered alternative dinner dining for $20 per person. We did not eat there (why pay with all the free food???) but heard from others that they had a delicious meal. Entertainment: For the most part, we enjoyed the after dinner shows. There was a juggler (Barnaby), a magician (Sam Simon) and a singer/impersonator (Paul Tanner). The last night they all performed a short 15 minute show. We enjoyed each one. We were disappointed in the Zuiderdam singers/dancers and even walked out on their show when it became too risqué. We were disappointed with the comedian (Bernie M.). He found his humor in putting down other people and places. We were told his performance was even more unacceptable at the later night performance with ‘R’ rated material. Ports: Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Holland’s Private Island – What a beautiful spot to spend the day!! The beach had the clearest water and the whitest, softest sand anywhere. The day was so relaxing, with a BBQ lunch served and easy access to/from the ship. This non-commercial island offered a most wonderful day. Day 3: at sea Day 4: St. Maarten – Having been on St. Martin before (the French side) we chose to spend a few hours on a beach close to the ship (a quick water taxi ride away). The jet-skiing was the best we’ve ever had, with calm waters and a very large area to ride. We walked for a very short time down the street of shops. The area was very run down and we left quickly. Day 5: St. Thomas – We had been on this island before. It is not one of our favorites. We spent a couple hours at Sapphire Beach. The waters were clean, but the beach was very rocky, making it hard to enjoy being in the water. It was too hot to stay on the beach very long. Our taxi driver was friendly and pointed out a couple beaches and a golf course as we rode to our designated beach. Day 6: At Sea – A nice day to relax on board. We went to the pool early to get lounge chairs. By noon, no chairs were available for those just arriving. Day 7: Nassau, Bahamas – This was our first time on Nassau. It’s a very pretty area. The shopping just up from the ship (Bay Street) was very nice. Although we weren’t there to buy much, we liked the nice clean shops (unlike St. Maarten). Next we took a water taxi to Paradise Island, walked through the grounds of the Atlantis Hotel. We were unable to access the beach from there as it was for Atlantis Hotel guests only. We were able to get on the beach a few hundred yards away via a pedestrian only access. We chose to jet-ski. There was a large area; however the waters were very rough. The beach/water was clean and clear (but lacked restrooms/changing facilities). Excursions: We did not use any of the excursions offered by the ship. In Conclusion: We always enjoy our vacation times as a family. The port itinerary was great. As far as cruise lines, my first preference would be Royal Caribbean over Holland America. I am not leaning toward the mega ships (skating rinks, golf course, climbing wall) but definitely prefer a ship larger than the Zuiderdam. We found the service on the Zuiderdam to be good, but not as personable as on the Monarch or the Enchantment. There was a library, but when we went to it in the evening the bookshelves were all locked. There was limited hours to access a book or game. The smaller size was very limiting in the atrium space and other public areas. There were only 3 onboard shops, instead of the 10-12 we were accustomed to on the RC ships. If you are looking for a relaxing, enjoyable time, you will have it….less attractive décor and size. Had this been our first cruise, we would have enjoyed it more….not knowing what other lines offer.

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Jul 25, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

After reading all the negative reviews on this site, I was absolutely DREADING this cruise! We could not have been more pleasantly surprised. The service was excellent, particularly in the dining room, the food was much better than we expected, there was no waiting to get into the dining room (2nd seating), our stateroom was tastefully decorated, and, the pillows were just the right size! The tender to the private island was fast

- about a five minute wait - and the island itself was beautiful. There was a short wait at other destinations, maybe 5-10 minutes max. The embarkation and disembarkation was a little hectic, but reasonably fast and well-organized, we thought, considering the large crowd. The entertainment was enjoyable, especially the comedian - not as hokey as we had expected. The gym is REALLY good and has a nice view. Finding a table in the Lido was challenging, at times, but not a big deal. We ended up sharing tables with some folks and met really nice, friendly people - you just have to be flexible. At first look, I thought the Lido was garishly decorated, but I got used to it. For the most part, the ship was tastefully decorated and comfortable, with lots of lounges and places to curl up. All in all, an excellent experience.

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Jul 4, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I just returned last week from the July 5th to 12th cruise on the Zuiderdam. We have been on over a dozen cruises, but this was our first with Holland America. The Good: The check in was a breeze, even with the wait to have our pictures taken by video cam and put on our cards. Great idea. When you check in and out of the ship’s gangway your picture shows on their computer screen so nobody else can come aboard using

your card. I heard a couple at our table say it took them longer to check-in. They did not fill in the immigration forms online, as I did, so maybe that was the difference. When we arrived at our cabin our bags (all of them) were already inside the room. That was a first. We had cruises before where we dragged them in ourselves after hearing them dumped outside the door much later. The cabin was nice. We had a bathtub and a little more space in the bathroom than we usually had on ships before. The little tub is a big improvement over banging your elbows in one of those little fiberglass showers. The balcony was a little tight, but adequate. The ship (inside at least) and its amenities are beautiful. The carpet is a little wild for my taste, but not bad enough to complain about. The food at the Vista Dining Room was the best we have ever had on a cruise ship. We did not try the Odyssey ($20 per person charge, reservations required) Restaurant. Most of the support staff (despite a language problem with some of the stewards) was extremely courteous. As usual our cabin steward was excellent and seemed to be the hardest working person on the ship. Whenever we needed something he was usually easy to find and eager to please. He even gave us his personal bathroom night-light to use when I showed him that the polarity plug on the one we brought prevented me from plugging it into the only outlet in our bathroom. I don’t like flipping on their 300 watts of lights and singeing my eyeballs when taking a middle of the night bathroom break. The shows were good enough. We have seen better and worse on other ships. I heard and read before that Holland America is the cruise line of the elderly, not that I cared one way or the other, but I thought this particular sailing had just the right mix of all ages. The Bad: The first night we went down a little after 8:00pm for our late seating dinner. Our cabin was just around the corner from the elevator and 3 decks directly above the dining room. When the elevator doors opened there were so many people in line that we could hardly get out. I decided to go back up and wait for the line to clear. At 8:30pm I called the front desk to ask if the line is that bad every night. The lady stated that it probably would not be as bad, but “You had better go down now because they are ready to close the doors”. After hearing my “Excuse me?” she repeated the statement. So, you stand in line at 8:15pm and if you arrive a whole 15 minutes later they close the doors on you! Breakfast is from 8:00am to 9:30am most days (which is not too bad), but lunch is only from noon to 1:00pm. These short, rigid time frames for the dining room force a large percentage of the ship (us included) up to the Lido Deck to stand in numerous long lines for mediocre cafeteria food. Then, when you do get your food, trying to find an empty table is an adventure in itself. After the second day of this we split up in separate teams, one to look for a table and the other to get in line with the trays. This is not my idea of vacation. My wife had a hard time opening the balcony door. It took a little leaning into it to open it and it closed with such force that I would think it to be a hazard for young children. They have a sign telling you not to leave it open for air conditioning purposes. I think they worried too much about making sure it stayed shut, and not enough about what would happen if some child slipped and had their head or fingers slammed in the heavy door. I thought it would be convenient, but, if you’re a light sleeper, do not get a room too close to the elevator. The sound from the hall travels right through the door like it was open. About 6:00am every morning you can expect to start hearing DING –DONG several times a minute until you are ready to scream profanities. Forget about covering your ears with the pillows. They are so small and soft I think they must have sewed napkins together with just the cotton from inside an aspirin bottle in each one. The tender service to get off at the little private island (Half Moon Cay) was ridiculously slow. THREE HOURS after beginning they still had people taking numbers and waiting in the lounge for tenders. They need to use more tenders or hire some efficiency experts to teach them how to move people faster, or both. In St. Maarten we went on the Golden Eagle excursion. Mostly to snorkel at the reef described in the booklet. At the pier we were told that, due to the weather, we were sailing to an alternative “dive site”. Anyone prone to seasickness was allowed to abort the trip and receive a refund. A few left, we stayed. It was not until after we relinquished our tickets and were on the boat that the captain announced that this alternative site was simply a beach with NO REEF. So I ended up paying $160 for a boat ride to a beach, about $10 worth of canned rum punch and some little sandwiches. By the way, the little sandwiches are apparently supposed to be the hors d’oeuvres described in the booklet. I started to feel bad that afternoon and had a full blown cold by the next morning. We booked online and prepaid for an excursion in St Thomas(Tiki Party Boat) departing at 1:00pm that afternoon. I went down to the front desk as early as I could. They said to go out on the Pier and speak to the excursion people. I found a young man named Brett that apparently just got out of college with a degree in apathy. “No refunds, no exceptions” is all he said. They do not care how sick you are or what the reason for not going. Once they have your money they will not give it back. When I asked him “with all the virus problems on cruise ships last year and now the SARS scares, do you really want for me to go on this crowded boat ride and possibly spread my cold to several other passengers so early in the cruise week?” His response. “That’s your decision to make sir, but we will not give your money back”. The Ugly: Who picked that hideous color for the outside of the Holland America ships? It makes them look like an ugly barge or freighter. What do you call that color, Navy Blue Black Purple? The inside is beautiful and the Zuiderdam is almost new, but it looks ten years old from the pier because of the paint color. In conclusion I think this will probably be our first and last experiment with Holland America. I see no reason to try them again unless they go to an open seating dining policy such as NCL or offer a particularly attractive itinerary that no one else has. I found the absolutely no refunds policy on cancelled excursions to be particularly annoying also.

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Jun 28, 2003

Western Caribbean

This was my fifth cruise but my first time on Holland America. The food is better than other cruise lines, and the service is also better. But the entertainment is better on Carnival. If you are not a party women or guy, I recommend Holland America. And you will never want to go home. The islands are nice. Not crazy, but Half Moon Cay is beautiful!!! The crew was very nice. The passengers are very nice. But one thing their is, there

is no self service laundry. So bring lot's of clothes!!! And don't buy tours on the ship. IT'S A RIP-OFF. I wanted to change my dinner seating. I went some where and I picked a number. I waited till they called my number and when they did, I was asked to go to another room. When they closed the door and I was in front of the 2nd Maitre 'D and you have to tell her why do you want to change dinning times. Is it me, or am I not the customer?

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Jun 27, 2003

Western Caribbean

First of all, the negativity that some people wrote about this ship is totally false. Let me start with embarkation. We arrived at Port Everglades and proceeded to check in....This took about 15 minutes.......and walked upstairs and boarded the vessel at 11:30 am. RECORD TIME. The ship is immaculate, the service is impeccable. Food was very very good....Even Lido buffet was exceptionally good. Key west was nice/ Cozumel beaches were

nice ( go to Mr. Sanchez Beach. ) It's free admission- it's right next door to Playa Beach which charges 14.00 p/person for admission. I do not advocate buying cruise tours.....Buy on your own at the port and SAVE $$$. We went on the submarine Atlantis in Cayman. It was nice and half the price because I purchased tickets at the pier. Only complaints. Not as many kid activities as Carnival/ and not as many afternoon activities on the ship . Zuiderdam is trying to attract families/and offers a great deal, however still caters primarily to the older crowd..... We all had a wonderful time......I like the size of this ship. It is similar to that of Carnival Legend and Spirit. However, the service on HAL is three notches higher than that of Carnival...... Book this cruise.....You will enjoy it immensely. and don't pay attention to all the negativity you read on line......Feel free to email me with any questions you may have. jeffreyweiss @comcast.net 

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Jun 27, 2003

Western Caribbean

This was my fifth cruise but my first time on Holland America. This was the best cruise out of all four. First I'll tell you about the food, the food was excellent on this ship. I thought the dining room entertainment was better on the other ships, all of them were (Carnival). On the Carnival ships there lido deck sucks but the lido deck buffet on this ship was wonderful. I liked it better than the dining room. The entertainment

on this ship was not as good as Carnival's they don't do things all the time like on Carnival. The one thing they had almost everyday was BINGO. The crew was very friendly. The islands were nice, my favorite was Half Moon Kay. DO NOT BUY TOURS OFF THE SHIP!!! There to expensive and you can get the same tour at the pier for half the price. There were alot of kids on board about 300 of them. If you have any more questions about this ship please e-mail me. Don't hassle GO ON THE HOLLAND AMERICA ZUIDERDAM!!!!!!!!!!

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Jun 21, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was the first cruise for my wife and I. We had a few concerns about sailing on the Zuiderdam after reading some other reviews, however, none of our fears came to be. It was a spectacular cruise. Though the ship was sold out, I hardly ever felt crowded. The ship's decor is opulent and luxurious, although somewhat gaudy at times. There was a variety of entertainment offered, and it was mostly very good. Some of the choreography

for the Broadway style shows was a bit off, but the main performers were excellent. It was amongst the best food I've ever eaten and the service was impeccable. The filet mignon was especially good. The crew was especially friendly and always helpful. The only thing we didn't like was the soda policy. Soft drinks cost extra, so my wife and I each bought unlimited cards. However, we could only get drinks by the 6 ounce glass. The soft drinks were not available in the Lido Restaurant, so we had to go to a bar. This was very inconvenient. There was no problem obtaining soft drinks in the Vista dining room however. We will definitely cruise again, and we will give Holland America and the Zuiderdam first consideration.

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May 16, 2003

Western Caribbean

This was our 6th Holland America cruise. In summary, the Zuiderdam was our least favorite ship of any that we have cruised on on any line and this was our least favorite cruise of all. Embarkation: This was the usual all-day ordeal that Holland America makes it. We stayed overnight in Ft. Lauderdale the night before and arrived at Port Everglades around 10:30 a.m. They took our luggage and then we waited in the hot sun to be allowed in to begin

the embarkation procedures at 11:00 a.m. Holland America has two separate lines, one for people who have filled out their immigration forms on-line and one for those who did not. Supposedly doing the form on-line gave you “express check in.” We found this to be hardly the case. Most of the people filled the form out on-line, so those who did not were in a much shorter line. Hardly an incentive to fill out the form ahead of time! After waiting about 45 minutes to get our room assignment, we then had to wait in line to have our picture taken so it would show up on the computers when we exited and entered the ship. After this we were sent to what we call the HAL holding pen for about 3 hours before we were allowed to board. Priority boarding is given to those in wheelchairs and those in the upper bracket suites. Numbers are given out and then after the priority boarding, everyone else boards by numbers, after having your picture taken yet again for the first of numerous photo ops throughout the cruise. We had number 13 and boarded about 2:00. We were pointed in the direction of our room, not escorted. We have since found out that Holland America’s embarkation procedures are the most tedious of all lines. We were exhausted from all the waiting around. Our Room: Our room was a “B” category balcony room on the Verandah Deck located about fifteen rooms from the back of the ship. We had never been this far back before, but we were upgraded for a minimal charge and also had never had a balcony before, so we thought we would give it a try. Were we disappointed with this room! An outside room has much more room to walk around in because the beds are up against the window. In this balcony room, the beds were up against the one of the walls so we could get to the balcony door. This made a tight squeeze. HAL cut down the amount of closet space from 4 to 3, and did away with the nice 4 drawer space they had and replaced it with a mini-bar. The bathroom is very plain and very small. It is so small that there is not enough room for the hair dryer, that is “hidden” in a cabinet by the mini-bar. Nobody would call this a tub and a shower. The tub was the size of a dog tub, no person could take a bath in that tub. This room was not cleaned very well. There were no hangers – we had to call for those. There was no bath mat – we had to call for that. During our stay, the telephone broke and we waited almost two days for them to fix that. A light switch broke so that we had to sleep one night with the light on. These things you would expect on an older ship, not on a brand new one! Everyday our room had a different odor. One day it was diesel fuel. Another day it was cooking smells. This was a common complaint with people in our area of the ship. We also could not control the air conditioning. The vents were located right above our beds and always seemed to be blowing. Anytime anyone else used their balcony and closed the door, the whole row shook. We were not impressed with this room and would not even take a balcony room again if it was offered as an upgrade. We have had much nicer rooms when we selected a large outside room. The Ship: The Zuiderdam is a poorly designed ship and so different from all other HAL ships that it does not even look like a HAL ship. It has long, mazelike hallways and huge wasted space between the main elevators. This probably where they get their space ratio figures from, the enormous amount of space in the hallways by the main elevators to each floor. The three-tier open air atrium is no more; it has been replaced with a bar on one floor, a sitting area on the second floor and a crystal seahorse hanging on the third floor. So plain compared to the atrium on the Amsterdam, Volendam, Zaandam, etc. This ship is being poorly maintained. There were several areas of railing, particularly on the back balconies, that were already down to the bare wood with varnish scraped off. These were more worn than on any other ship we have been on and this ship is only six months old. There were also several cracked tiles on the floor throughout the ship as well as buckling of the countertops in the Lido buffet. In addition, we never saw any HAL workers on the ship fixing problems like this. On other voyages, they were always polishing, cleaning, painting the ship to keep it looking new. The movie theater has been replaced with a multipurpose theater. The screen goes all the way to the floor and you cannot see the movie if anybody is sitting in front of you because the aisles are all the same height! In addition, the ship rotated five movies for the seven-day cruise, meaning movies were repeated numerous times. There was a better selection of movies in the room, but there were only a few of those and they were also repeated not only throughout the day but on another day as well. HAL really has to do something about their TV problem. They lose the CNN station after the first day of the cruise and all they get is CNN Europe. They do not get the signal back until close to the last day of the cruise. There is virtually no way to get any news except for the barely adequate newsletter they send around each day. This is because they now want you to buy newspapers from them. They also no longer have complimentary papers in the library that you can read. In the three-tier show lounge, you can only see the dancers’ feet if you are more than halfway back in the second tier due to the overhang of the balcony. By the time we realized this, of course, all the seats were filled and we could not move. Also have never seen so many pillars blocking the view in any show lounge. Trying to find a seat that did not have an obstructed view was a tough job. The library is located in a very noisy spot, not fair away from the crowds for those who like to read. We liked the library since it seemed to be the only spot on the ship with a different type of air conditioning vent and we could actually sit in there and not freeze to death or have cold air blowing on us. The shopping area is so small that it is not pleasant to have to step all over people to look at things -- we didn’t buy a thing. And there were never any sales announced like on other ships, no closeout on T-shirts, no purses, etc. In fact, very few things were thrown under our door announcing anything. They do not actually put this stuff under your door anymore, there are little mail slots next to your door. It is too cold almost everywhere in this ship, except for the Lido Restaurant. It is too hot on one end of it – we were told that is due to the constant opening of the doors by the pool. This was never a problem on any other HAL ship. The Explorers Lounge was probably 50 degrees, it was too cold to even sit in there. The Queens Lounge was also very cold. There always seemed to be a draft everywhere due to the long hallways mentioned earlier. And the cover over the inside swimming pool creaks like it’s fifty years old when they attempt to close it. We had our dining in the upper level of the dining room and looked out on the walk-around deck instead of the beautiful ocean. And people walking around kept looking in at us while we were eating. We did not appreciate this design again and wished we had known about it and could have changed to the main dining room. Also did not appreciate the long table we had with eight people. We have always had a round table before and liked that much better for conversation purposes. Shore Excursions: General note: We realize that shore excursions continue to be a bigger and bigger source of income for cruise lines, but they continue to be a bigger and bigger source of irritation for passengers. We have had it with the crammed in like sardines, old, barely working air conditioning buses that we are shoved on to do your shore excursions. In Grand Cayman, they put 26 people on a bus that only fit 22 comfortably, 4 people had to use jump seats. In Cozumel, the bus was old as the hills and the air conditioning did not work very well at all, and this was over an hour ride. We do not appreciate this ridiculous and stressful way of sight-seeing and will tour on our own from now on. You would think that HAL would do a better job on these shore excursions since most of the tours are available directly at the dock for less price than the ship charges. Key West: Took the Trolley tour, $34 booked through the ship or $29 on your own. However, if you book on your own, you have to wait until all ship passengers have their tour and go later in the afternoon, so it’s worth the extra $5 to go earlier. This was described as a ninety-minute tour but it only lasted a little over an hour. Key West is a delightful little town and we enjoyed this tour. But beware that the trolleys have no air conditioning and you cannot open the windows all the way, they give you paper fans when you board. It is highly advisable to take this tour in the morning before the heat of the day. We then toured the town on our own and enjoyed some conch fritters and Key Lime pie. Cozumel: We paid $158 for two of us to take an island tour of Cozumel and then see a folk show. People who only saw the show paid $39 each. The 1 1/2 hour tour of the island consisted of taking us to the south side of the island where nobody lives! The tour guide even told us nobody lives there, no hotels, nothing to see. There is nothing except a small lookout point called La Mirador to see. We were not impressed with this island at all. We might have felt differently if we had been there longer than a few hours and had a chance to explore it more thoroughly. Some of the shore excursions were not available to us due to the limited time we spent at this port. Grand Cayman: We took the Island Drive which basically consisted of a tour to Hell and the Turtle Farm. Think this was $39. Hell is a place that takes five minutes to tour. The gift shop has throngs of people all piling out of buses at once so you can’t get near anything to buy. The Turtle Farm is a nice place to visit once. This was a two-hour drive which left us plenty of time for shopping. There were numerous ships in port that day, the shopping area was very crowded. Half Moon Cay: Having been to this island numerous times, we did not get off the ship this day. We wanted to, but there was an announcement that tender service was very slow due to giant sea squalls. We watched the tenders from our balcony and they were really rocking back and forth, so we decided to take a pass. But this is a beautiful island and a nice place to sit and relax and you do not have to spend a dime for any shore excursions, just relax in the sun and then head to the pavilion for a delicious barbeque lunch. The Food: The food was adequate, nothing spectacular. Holland America has replaced the buffet in the Lido area with a food court type of arrangement. We prefer the buffet where you slide your tray up and down and pick out what you want. The new arrangement has you getting some pasta, then you have to carry the try all the way to the other side for a sandwich, and then carry it around to the middle for something to drink. And nobody helps the elderly with their trays like on other ships, either. There is also no midnight buffet (replaced with a “late night snack”); no more Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza (replaced with some “dessert” thing that is not very well advertised); very limited menu choice on room service; no more Dutch High Tea (replaced with tea in the Explorers’ Lounge). These are all cut backs that HAL has made across the board that in our opinion regulate Holland America to a standard cruise line from the premium title it held before. They also now charge for all specialty coffees and even have a separate café called the “Windstar Café” where you purchase all these items. We did enjoy the pizza and pasta station which is open 18 hours a day. The alternative restaurant now cost $20 per person. HAL is the last cruise line to charge for this fancier type of dining, so although we do not fault them there, we did not eat in this restaurant. We feel we pay enough for the cruise which includes food served in the dining room and are not about to pay extra to dine. The decor here is really quite garish and we did not care for the look at all. We were able to tour this restaurant as they excorted us through this restaurant to the kitchen tour. Summary: In summary, we did not like the style of Holland America’s new Vista-class of ship and will not be traveling on another one of them. We also will not be booking ahead of time on Holland America anymore, but instead will wait until closer to sailing date and see what bargains are available on Holland America or another line. There are just too many people getting much better prices when they book closer to sail date. There really is no advantage that we can see to booking a year or even six months ahead. Would we sail on HAL again? Yes, if the price was right and the itinerary was something more than the same old boring Caribbean ports. But not on a Vista class ship. In short, this was a most disappointing cruise from a cruise line that we had come to know and love.

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May 9, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

Just take the cruise. It is fabulous; one of the best vacations we have ever taken. After reading several reviews before booking the trip, I've come to the realization that you cannot make everyone happy. Some folks will complain about anything. Zuiderdam - beautiful ship, great service, fun ports, exceptional food, spacious cabins, good entertainment, friendly hard-working employees, attention to detail. Enough said? Just take

the cruise, you'll love it.

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By Giz _CR

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Apr 25, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

First a little background. This was my eighth cruise, last cruises being on Princess and Disney. We picked HAL because everything we found about the line led us to believe it would be even better than those other two lines. We picked the Zuiderdam because I have been spoiled with the larger, newer ships around today, and the amenities they provide. It was myself and my husband, both in our mid to late thirties. We had a category A

verandah cabin on the navigator deck. Those of you loyal to HAL and thinking it can do no wrong, may want to just start flaming me now and get it over with. I don't know if maybe something has been lost in moving from the smaller ships to the larger, or if HAL is just cutting so many corners, that it is becoming obvious to passengers. Or maybe Mariners are just so loyal to HAL they don't experience the other lines and are not aware of how great things are on the "other side." Whatever it is, I left with a general feeling of bewilderment because many the reasons I chose HAL didn't seem to exist. EMBARKATION: This was very uncomfortable. Many other lines do check-in while also allowing boarding simultaneously. I felt as if it were quite uncivilized to have huge crowds milling around waiting to get on board. It was like waiting on line at the deli for them to call my number. I assume part of the reason they do this is to allow for the personal escort to the cabin, but I would choose finding my own way over being treated like cattle. They did not begin boarding till close to 2:00. THE ROOM: This was the best stateroom in this level of room that I have been in. The room truly was larger than the standard. The bed was large, long enough and very comfortable. The goose down pillows were a great creature comfort as was the excellent shower and larger size tub. When we arrived at our room, neither key worked. I went to the front desk and it was fixed immediately. Also, a hot water leak in the bathroom was fixed within a half hour or so once we reported it, and the desk told us our steward had put in a work order at 1:00. They followed up with a phone call and card to make sure things were taken care of. The balcony was also larger than the usual. We had a large "wicker" chair and ottoman, a smaller chair and table. We could easily move around the verandah and could have fit more or larger furniture. You could probably have at least six or seven people standing out there without it being too crowded. THE DECOR: On other ships of this size and capacity, I have found that when you leave a public area and head into another, you pick up on a different ambiance or theme. (I don't in any way mean a Carnival like tacky theme.) The decor on this ship was in a word underwhelming. I expected more of an atrium, and more of a presence. The art and decorations were beautiful, but I really had to look hard to notice these things since they seemed to get lost. The Vista lounge was beautiful. I could tell a lot of thought went into decorating it with all the little touches and embellishments. OUR ROOM STEWARD: It seems as if he did only the bare minimum. The bed was made and towels fresh, but the room was never by any means "spotless." He never left us "towel animals" as every other cruise I have been on had. If there was a used plate or glass in the room when he came in to do the second servicing and turn down, he left it there. One night we left the previous day's pillow chocolate out on the night stand. It made a return appearance on the pillow. That was just too tacky. DINING ROOM STAFF: The dining room customer service experience started out wonderfully. Our team was efficient, pleasant and basically accommodating. By day four there was a complete turn around. Meals took excruciatingly long to arrive and mistakes were made. By day six and seven, we were spending so much time waiting between courses, we ended up giving up and leaving before finishing dessert so we would have time to get to the show. By the way, we were at a table for two and were always the first in our waiter's group to order. CUSTOMER SERVICE IN GENERAL: I found that the customer service we received from many people we had contact with was not even close to the "five stars" HAL bills itself as being. While every staff member was friendly and had a smile and hello for us, I have never been told "no" or "I can't" so many times on a cruise. I had been under the impression that if the person you asked of couldn't or didn't know how to do whatever it was, they would find a way or another person to make any reasonable request happen. This was my experience in the past. Unfortunately that was not the case with this cruise. My husband wanted to use his soda card at dinner and thinking that the assistant steward who handles drinks and such would be the one to do this asked him for a soda. He said "You have to ask the wine steward." That didn't make sense so we thought maybe he misunderstood and we asked the waiter. He also said "you have to ask the wine steward." A five star response to our query is "The wine steward handles all bar requests. I will send her over." We requested a basket of fruit from our room steward, and his reply was "I am not allowed to do that, you have to ask room service." A five star response would have been "I am not allowed to handle food items, but I will let room service know of your need." At "Royal Dutch High Tea" I requested cream instead of milk and was told, "we don't have cream." What? Isn't the correct, customer service oriented answer, "I have none in the dining room (odd an idea that may be) but I will go and get you some, so it may take a moment?" My husband noticed that on the nights shrimp cocktail was not on the menu, the waiters were still bringing them out by the tray full, so one night he tried to order it. He was told "no, you can't have it tonight, maybe tomorrow." That is just weird. I think the language barrier we noticed would fall in the customer service category as well. I often found it difficult to get an answer about what an item was at the Lido late night snack buffet. During the day, there were accurate signs saying what was available, but in areas or at times the signs were not present, it was quite difficult to find out what the items where. In the dining room, making a special request such as no sauce or a different vegetable was met with confusion and usually the wrong item. I am not talking about ordering off the menu or anything like that. When I ordered the filet mignon without the fois gras sauce, I didn't get a vegetable or rice that night. It got to the point that I gave up on asking for anything because it was exhausting being told no so often or being misunderstood. I think the fact that supervisor positions in areas of high customer contact are not filled with English as a first language staff, makes this problem even worse. FOOD: The food was delicious at most venues and at most times. The beef at dinner was always served the way we ordered it. The food tasted fresh and well seasoned. The chilled soups especially were great. I know a lot of people don't like "Dutch night," but that menu was one of my favorites. My husband enjoyed the authentic Indonesian noodle dish, and I enjoyed the vegetarian casserole in puff pastry. The pizza and pasta sauces were better than I expected, and it was nice having the option of sweets and a variety of ice creams available from early till late. Breakfast at the Lido was very comprehensive with an omelet station as well as eggs any way you like. I felt at other times, the Lido's selection paled in comparison to what I have experienced on other line's ships of this size and capacity. The first day or so, the Lido was nice, but the food available was hardly different from day to day. There was no special pizza or burger of the day, and the deli always had the same variety of sandwiches available. Also, the hours the Lido is open is pretty poor compared to other Lido type buffets. I had gotten used to there being something to snack on other than a burger and fries throughout the day on other lines. But, the Lido was open only during meal times to a slightly extended degree. We got so tired of the variety that we decided to eat lunch in the dining room. The menu there was also pretty limited, and I often found myself having yet another burger for lack of something better to pick. The dinner menu was limited as well when compared to other line's menus. On past cruises I often couldn't decide between a hot soup or cold and found myself ordering one entree and another as a side so I could have a taste of something different. I never experienced that on this cruise. There was some sort of fish or seafood, a beef and a chicken, and occasionally a pork or lamb dish, as well as a vegetarian entree. The day they had pork for dinner, we had already enjoyed it once at lunch. Other lines have a different game bird each night. Unless you are a true beef or steak lover, you may be disappointed. Chicken was the only poultry offered other than duck once or twice. The vegetables and garnishes were quite uninspired. I have often found other line's vegetables to be of such high quality that we would order a side of something that sounded interesting other than what came with our entree. The vegetables on the Zuiderdam were pretty much nonexistent. One night I got three asparagus spears and another night one broccoli floret. People used to side dishes and garnishes receiving the same care as the main course will be disappointed. The salad selection was limited to basically the house salad and an occasional Caesar salad. The dressings rarely changed and were nothing special. Any of the desserts made with chocolate where quite a treat. It was obvious they used quality Dutch cocoa in those recipes. But, the desserts were all pretty much the same. You can only have some form of chocolate mousse so many times in a row before getting bored of it. I found it odd that we were on a Caribbean cruise yet there was a lack of fresh fruit availability. Other than breakfast time prunes and melon, finding a piece of fresh fruit was an extremely rare event. PORTS: I won't go into this as so many other reviews do, but we did not get to go to Half Moon Cay as the seas were too rough to tender. We enjoyed a complementary glass of champagne at the second formal night due to this. ENTERTAINMENT: I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Vista shows. It was amazing that on a relatively small stage, shows with advanced choreography and lots of technical scene changes and moving sets were pulled off so well and professionally. I was surprised that the cast was always able to get to the right part of the stage at the right time without getting run over by a set or another cast member. The singers were talented, and the dances were engaging. When we found that this was only the first week on board for this particular cast, I was even more impressed. By the way, we found out that only the four principle singers are mic'ed and yes, the rest is track. But, the other cast members do sing during the productions even though we can't hear them. The non-production show entertainment was pretty good as well. DISEMBARKMENT: I was surprised at how uncivilly this was handled. I can't imagine that it really can take six hours to turn over the rooms, yet we were ordered out of our rooms by seven. We were left to congregate in the public areas, and all were crowded. We didn't begin disembarkment till after 8:30, despite having docked early, prior to 6:30. I know that customs is probably more responsible for the delay in disembakment than HAL is, but kicking us out of the rooms and encouraging crowds of disgruntled passengers certainly didn't help matters. By the time the first group was called to disembark, the mentality of the crown had turned ugly. People didn't bother to show or wait for their numbers but just stormed off the ship. On a positive note, we asked to change to an earlier group so that we could try for an earlier flight, and that was one of the few "yes" answers we received. SUMMARY: Unfortunately I went to HAL thinking it would be even better than the excellent experiences we had on Disney, Princess and other cruises, and my expectations were not met. I found many others onboard who felt the same way. I overheard our neighbors on both sides, both Mariners, discussing the decline of what they were used to. I spoke with highly traveled passengers new to HAL who were upset that they didn't receive the level of service they had been led to expect. I chatted with older passengers and younger familes, all of whom felt disillusioned with the whole experience. Many I spoke to said they would never travel HAL again. I don't know why my experience and what HAL described as what my experience would be differed so greatly. I don't know if they just can't get the bigger ship thing right, if this is a cost cutting thing, or if HAL really has begun to decline from the strong, quality oriented service that was its reputation. Maybe I was just on one of those unlucky cruises that we all hear about. But whatever the reason, my experience left so much to be disired as compared to my experience with similar classes of ship on other lines, that I would not consider another HAL cruise at this point.

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Apr 18, 2003

Western Caribbean

Introduction: We set out on 19 April 2002 for a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise on HAL’s new ZUIDERDAM. For me, this was my first HAL cruise, though other members of our party had sailed HAL numerous times. ZUIDERDAM has been a very controversial vessel and I was quite looking forward to seeing her first-hand and forming my own opinions about this ship, as well as sampling HAL for the first time. Ship Background: ZUIDERDAM is the

first of five new Vista-class ships for Holland America; at 81,769 GRT she is by far the largest HAL ship ever (the previous largest HAL ships were VOLENDAM and ZAANDAM at 60,906 GRT each) and represents HAL’s vision of the future, at least on their 7-day Caribbean and Alaska cruises. Like VOLENDAM and ZAANDAM a few years ago, HAL has made a point of saying that this ship is designed to appeal to a new generation of cruisers. I guess this means that the twins were not quite successful at this ;-)… That said they have certainly taken a much more aggressive approach with ZUIDERDAM, using a totally new design rather than simply a tweaked STATENDAM-class. We will see later on whether she lives up to her promises in this respect… A little technical background – she is, as noted above, 81,769 GRT; at 950 ft long and 106 ft wide she is of Panamax breadth and is only a few feet short of the maximum to go through the Canal as well. She is loosely based on Carnival Corporation’s 8000-series ships; these included CARNIVAL SPIRIT and COSTA ATLANTICA among others. She is powered by five diesel and one gas turbine generators, which provide electricity for onboard use as well as for her two ABB Azipod propulsion units. ZUIDERDAM carries 1,848 passengers in lower berths with a generous space ratio of approximately 44.2 GRT per passenger with all lower berths full. Fully two-thirds of her cabins have private balconies, bowing to a trend that has taken the industry by storm in recent years. Embarkation: We arrived at Port Everglades’ Terminal 26 at approximately 1:30 PM on 19 April. HAL’s embarkation procedure is by far the worst (most time-consuming) that we have seen, and was the source of much frustration for many passengers. Upon arriving at the terminal, passengers wait on a line where they are given a number (ours was 32), and several forms not included in the document package. After detouring to fill out the forms, one then goes to another line to check-in and receive their ID cards. There is then a third line for the security photo which is embedded on the ID cards, as is typical of the high-tech security systems on the latest ships. After completing this process (which takes in total about a half-hour), you are directed to a large waiting area (actually the same room where all the other procedures took place) to sit and wait until your “number” is called for boarding. When we arrived they were calling number 14; by the time we sat down they had gone to 17. It is this part of the boarding procedure which comes across as frankly quite useless, not to mention time-consuming. On other cruise lines, after checking-in, you can (if the ship is ready) simply proceed right to the gangway and board. While there is understandably a continuous stream of people walking on to the ship, we see no problem with this procedure. In comparison, on HAL, they called a number roughly every ten minutes, at which a few dozen people would stand up and walk aboard, followed by another ten-minute lull with no activity whatsoever. Even airlines generally call the next group as soon as one has boarded, so this procedure is honestly quite perplexing. In all we waited about two hours in the noisy, crowded, not especially comfortable waiting area, while on other cruise lines this entire step is eliminated. HAL, you can do better! Cabins and Suites: Upon boarding we were directed (not escorted) to our cabin – 1015, a large inside Cat. J on Main Deck… i.e., the cheap seats :-). We found the cabin to be rather disappointing. It was quite large (I’d judge around 180 sq ft, which is also indicated in the HAL brochure, but cabin sizes vary greatly on this ship) however the layout and design is quite awkward, as you can see from the photographs in my gallery. The storage space was also rather limited for such a large cabin – showing poor space utilization. Furthermore the décor was quite sparse (not even a painting, mirror, or curtains behind the bed – just a blank wall), and the furnishings seemed to be of a very low quality. The bathroom was surprisingly not very good either – a very small shower stall, which had the disadvantage of an opaque shower curtain and no light within; the result is showering in complete darkness which caused me to spill out the entire little bottle of shampoo the first night out :-). The bathroom was (as is common on new ships) made almost entirely of a composite (fiberglass?) liner, but unusually, there was not even a small tiled inset in the floor… Rather the plastic was molded in an imitation of tile, with large squares of a mottled, raised design that were separated by grooves representing tile and grout respectively. Very cheap and tacky. It is worth noting that not all cabins on this ship are created equal, especially in the lower grades… So choose carefully. If looking for an inside cabin, do choose one of the Cat. J or K grades on main deck; or best of all, one of the Cat. I cabins. These are classified as “large” rather than “standard” and are indeed much larger; the ones I saw all had some form of sitting area. I must have seen at least three or four different layouts to the inside cabins, and it is impossible to tell from the deck plans which are which… So choose carefully. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which cabins are which, and I haven’t found anyone who can! The standard outside cabins are quite like those seen on other HAL ships, while the balcony rooms are essentially standard outsides, but with balconies (unlike other HAL ships where they are slightly larger and called “mini-suites”). The suites – from what I saw – looked nice enough. It’s worth noting that the décor in the balcony cabins and suites was much nicer… As they comprise two-thirds of her accommodation, it almost looks as if they ran out of money for the lowest grades. Do note that none of the suites, except the two penthouses, are actual suites; i.e. you cannot separate the sitting and sleeping areas – not even with a curtain. Even in many standard cabins it would seem as though one could easily be fitted, but it was not. Public Areas: We start our tour of ZUIDERDAM’s public areas on Deck 1 (Main Deck), the lowest passenger deck on the ship. Amidships is the lowest level of the Atrium. The Atrium is three decks high, and culminates at the top with a large Waterford crystal seahorse sculpture. The Atrium Bar is located on the lowest level of the Atrium, along with the Front Office and the Shore Excursions Desk. The Bar is located at the center of the three-deck Atrium, and is surrounded by a free-form shape area of white marble decking. Along a curved wall behind the bar is seating with turquoise leather chairs and caramel-colored settees, as well as gold-colored cocktail tables. The wall behind this area is in dark suede and has fiber optic “points of light” which twinkle in the image of a night sky. Set in this wall is a glass display case which contains a BEAUTIFUL antique silver ship model. (This is typical of the art collection on the ship, which is one of her strong points as far as design is concerned; it is really excellent.) In this area passengers will notice for the first time the specially-designed stain-hiding carpet which is a common thread throughout the ship. It consists of various blotch-like shapes and patterns in different colors designed so that stains will blend in with the random-looking pattern. In certain color combinations, it is truly ghastly in appearance. This carpeting is featured in almost all of the public areas of the ship, though in some places plain (non-patterned) carpet is used to provide relief from this particularly bold pattern. The colors of the pattern are different in many areas so as to compliment the color combinations of the room. The rest of Deck 1 is dedicated to passenger cabins. All the way forward, is the lowest level of the Vista Lounge, the main lounge on the ZUIDERDAM. The lounge is designed to be entered from Decks 2 and 3; however there is also a Deck 1 entrance, through which we will now walk. The Vista Lounge can seat about 800 passengers at any one time, and spans three decks. The Orchestra is suspended between Decks 1 and 2, while the balcony descends from Deck 3. The room is decorated almost entirely in bright red, in a décor scheme that would surely cause an angry bull to have a nervous breakdown. Seating is mainly in settees in red velvet, though near the stage there is a wooden dance floor which is covered by individual chairs in the same fabric when it is not in use. The carpeting is the inevitable stain-hiding pattern, this time in a color scheme predictably centered on red. The columns are in red velvet with brass trim. The ceilings are in red suede. I imagine by now you get the picture… Along the sides of the room on the lower level, there are bronze-colored fixtures each one deck high, designed in the imitation of oversized table lamps. The only relief from red in most of the room is the brown and purple patterned wall covering. However, in the three-deck high center area, the ceiling is draped by a billowing silk parachute in a white-and-red pattern likened by many passengers to the corporate logo of the American discount store chain Target. It is certainly an imaginative ceiling treatment, though sadly the rest of the room’s monotone décor does not impress except for die-hard fans of red velvet! The room’s biggest problem is most certainly not its décor though… It is the incredible number of pillars scattered around. Other cruise lines have in recent years managed to conceive of rooms larger than this that are designed so that there are no obstructions to the sightlines of any seat, and I fail to see why HAL could not do this as well. Unfortunately they have failed miserably in this aspect, as in fact a majority of seats would seem to have a pillar directly obstructing their view of the stage. Not only is there such a profusion of pillars, but the seats are arranged in such a way that the pillars affect a maximum number of viewers. Whereas it would make sense for the pillars to come between the seats and the adjacent aisles, the seats are arranged so that pillars come directly in the midst of large rows of seats, directly obstructing the views of the seats behind and to the sides. The room is connected by two spiral staircases, one on each side of the ship. Using one of these, we ascend to Deck 2, Lower Promenade Deck. Deck 2 houses a majority of the more intimate public areas of the ship. Moving aft from the Vista Lounge, we pass through the forward (red) staircase and come upon a foyer directly aft of it, in which another staircase, connecting only Decks 2 and 3, is located. An interesting woven wall covering is featured here, and along this staircase the ship’s port plaques are displayed. The forward staircase also has four passenger lifts, correspondingly decorated in red. The lifts on decks where public spaces are housed feature an elaborate metal engraving which looks like it would easily have fit in on NORMANDIE. Moving through the foyer we come to the Casino, which for a ship of this size, is not very large, and on our cruise, was not very well patronized for that matter. The décor here is typically orange and red, with a mirrored ceiling. Off the forward/starboard corner of this room is the Piano Bar. The focal point of this room is a grand piano around which is built a small bar - a design feature which ZUIDEDRDAM borrows from the ships of HAL’s parent company, Carnival. The room has a very bold décor, with curved, coral-colored ceiling panels, coral and dark green leather seating, and dark green iridescent wall covering. Bar seats appear to be hollowed-out spheres and are covered in the dark green leather. A live pianist was indeed featured in this room each evening, as would be expected considering its name. In the aft starboard corner of the full-beam casino, you will find the Sports Bar. The décor here is perhaps more radical than anywhere else on the ship. This tiny room has blonde wood-effect paneling, myriad flat-screen televisions, large and small, showing the requisite sports for which it is named, and a black lacquer bar. The furnishings are in brightly colored vinyl, and oddly shaped in curved forms that look almost as though they were carved out of fruit. The décor here is certainly rather shocking to see for the first time, and a complete departure from what one might expect to find on a ship of the normally conservative HAL. Opposite the Sports Bar, on the port side, is the Northern Lights nightclub, which along with the Sports Bar is one of the more radical rooms on the ship. Entering through the Casino, we pass a bar, which features stools similar to those in the Piano bar, but this time in bright gold. The décor in the Northern Lights is typically dark for a nightclub, with black wall coverings, black overheads, and a dark violet floor. Settees here are in a black-and-white spotted vinyl imitating cowhide, and are accompanied by white chairs. Immediately next to the aft exit of Northern Lights is the “back door” to the Queens Lounge. This is a combination cinema and also as the name suggests a lounge. Unfortunately, it does neither very well. The décor here is again eclectic and bold, though in comparison with the Sports Bar and Northern Lights it is almost restful. Again the predominant colors are dark, with dark red wall coverings, settees in dark red and gold, tub chairs in gold, and smaller chairs in bright orange. The chairs are arranged in a horseshoe shape around the smallish stage, and there are few pillars. The failure of this room as a cinema is that almost all of it is on one level which means that sightlines are quite poor unless you are quite literally in the front row. As a lounge, while it does have a large dance floor, the chairs are for the most part arranged in the format of a theatre, in rows, which are not conducive to conversation. So I will have to give a thumbs-down to HAL for dumping the genuine cinema and replacing it with this dual-purpose room which is good for neither purpose. The fact is, during our cruise, the Queens Lounge was used for nothing that could not be done every bit as well in the traditional cinema/auditorium. Exiting the Queens Lounge using the main entrance, there is a curved passageway which is the starboard side boundary of the lounge (on the port side, it is the aft portion of Northern Lights). Moving aft again, this passageway leads us through the main (blue) stairs. It is here that you will find the much-touted exterior glass lifts. There are six lifts on this staircase, a pair of glass ones on either side, and a pair of the more standard type in the center. The call buttons for each pair of elevators only calls that pair, unlike the other staircases where all four elevators are called. While those are admittedly closer to each other, it would be more efficient to have all elevators in each staircase operate off a single call button. Crossing over to the port side, we come along Odyssey, the controversial alternative restaurant located on the port side of the Atrium here on deck 2. The controversy stems from the fact that the food (and of course coffee, which after all is the point of having the place) here is extra cost – something which has never before occurred on HAL (though the phenomenon hit most other cruise lines a few years ago). The décor of the room is very interesting. The first thing that will likely strike you are the chairs – huge, heavy metal chairs in an ornate design which is quite indescribable outside of a photograph. The decking is white marble, and on the ceiling are large fiberglass plates in the shape of sea rays, with fiber optic veins in them that sparkle and twinkle discreetly above. The artwork is in my opinion rather less successful – it consists of huge still life photographs of various foods, which to me looks like it belongs in a grocery! Moving aft on the starboard side of the Atrium on Deck 2 is the Windstar Café. This is essentially a coffee bar in the fashion of the ever-popular Starbucks (in a departure from HAL tradition, all items are extra-charge), but with a rather more nautical décor. Indeed it is in my opinion one of the most attractive spaces on the ship. The ceiling is gently cambered and done in brilliant blue-green suede with copper lighting clusters. Along the outboard side are large windows which can be covered by opaque wooden latticework panels, rather than curtains. On the inboard side are half-height walls which are covered by huge enlargements of photographs of sailing ships. The furniture in this room is especially nice – wooden “deck furniture” with the HAL logo engraved. At the aft end is a large model of WIND STAR, the first ship of HAL subsidiary Windstar Cruises and the pioneer of the modern sail-cruise ship (really sail-assisted, rather than traditional sailing vessels which have the wind as their main power source). Overall it is a stunning space, one of the best on the ship. Going aft of the Windstar Café is Explorers Lounge, a signature room for HAL, which should be a relief to HAL loyalists who might not agree with some of the more avant-garde décor on the ship. We pass through the first of two round vestibules here, which feature beautiful glass decking laid over a sea-themed painting. Moving past this we come to a large glass display case containing several Venetian Carnival costumes, followed by a second round vestibule which marks the aft end of the Art Gallery. Beyond this we finally enter Explorers. The décor here features a restful color scheme, mainly using dark reds along with dark wood veneer. Along the inboard passageway, separated from the lounge by a half-height wall, is a large mural of the harbor of Venice. The lounge itself is divided in two by the piano and musicians’ alcove. In the aft section, the décor lightens up slightly, with soft beige fabric on some of the sofas and chairs providing a break from the dark reds and browns which dominate the room. At the very aft end of Explorers is a small room that could pass for a miniaturized version of the library of an English manor house. The floor is inlaid wood, and the room has dark paneling and deep, traditional leather furniture. There are several bookshelves here, which were all totally empty. The room would work as a smoking room (for which the décor is quite appropriate) as it can be closed off entirely by heavy wood-and-glass doors, so as to keep smoke from the other areas. (Of course, the ship HAS a smoking room, elsewhere!) As far as I know, this room does not have a name, and we saw nobody using it at any time through the whole cruise. I have no idea of its intended purpose; in its present state, it looks almost unfinished with all the empty bookshelves and the complete lack of people. I’d say most passengers likely don’t even know it’s there! We now come to the aft (magenta) staircase. Off this vestibule is the Lower Vista Dining Room. The name here is rather confusing, seeing as there is also a Vista Lounge. Initial HAL publicity called this the La Fontaine Dining Room (a traditional HAL name) which I feel would have been more suitable. Red is again the predominant color in the dining room, though the use thereof is much more subdued than in the Vista Lounge. The dining room features windows on three sides and is two decks high, though this is not as dramatic as it is in the dining rooms of ZUIDERDAM’s predecessors – the rather small central atrium is filled mostly with a large staircase and also with a musicians’ balcony which did not host any musicians at all during our cruise (or if it did, we certainly couldn’t hear them)! The dining room is relatively restrained in its décor for the most part, with the exception of a few points, notably the heavy, black lacquer-framed chairs in bright red vinyl with the back panels in vinyl in a bright print of large flowers. The design of these chairs did not win many compliments that I heard, and I would tend to agree that they are not the most attractive choice, though you do get used to them after a while! Also, as we ascend to the upper level of the dining room, in the center are large, gold flowers hanging from the ceiling, which are certainly not restrained… I did not get to see one of these up close and am perplexed as to just what they are made of. Whatever they are, they’re positively hideous in my opinion. In general the dining room is rather disappointing; it is quite generic in appearance and even rather gaudy in some places as mentioned above. We now exit the Upper Vista Dining Room on Deck 3, Promenade Deck. This deck is circled outside by a full wrap-around teak promenade deck (shaded in most parts either by the deck above or by lifeboats), which features traditional wooden steamer chairs that are provided with cushioned pads during the day. Well done, HAL! Inside, we proceed forward from the aft staircase through the photo gallery, on the starboard side. There is not that much to be said about this area, except for a rather interesting aluminum chair, apparently designed to look as though it came from an antique airplane, which is housed here, presumably as art! It is worth noting that the rest of the beam of this area (as well as the corresponding area, housing Explorers Lounge on Deck 2) is taken up by the galley for the main dining room and Odyssey. Moving forward we enter the Ocean Bar, which is another signature feature of HAL ships, though the layout here is quite novel. The Ocean Bar consists of the entire upper level of the atrium, with raised, enclosed sections on the sides, as well as seating open to the atrium in the center… The place to sit for a good view of the seahorse! Colors here are primarily coral and turquoise with pastel-blue patterned bulkheads, and in one of the various alcoves is the namesake bar – quite attractive in what is almost a sort of 1940s streamline style. Out in the open area, there is a smallish dance floor of S-shaped brass tiles – very attractive and unique. This is overall one of the better areas on the ship, in décor if not in layout. We now move forward past the midships stairwell and on to the shopping arcade. Whereas most ships have a variety of different shops, on ZUIDERDAM this is a full-beam area which is rather like a department store, with all of the various categories, from jewelry to logo items to sundries all in the same area, which is divided up by interesting colored-glass display cases. There’s really very little to say about this area; aside from a bottle of sunburn-relief spray (story later on!) we bought nothing so I really cannot advise on prices, selection etc. To the starboard side just forward of the shopping arcade is the Erasmus Library. This is a very interesting room, with a large inlaid-stone research table that is made to appear as though it is a historical artifact. This contrasts with the modern furniture, in bright colors, and dark blue bulkheads to make a very attractive space. The ceiling is worth noting; it features small niches, each of which contains a molding in the shape of a book-binding. Hard to describe, but it’s rather whimsical and quite attractive in person :-). Moving forward on the starboard side we find the Java Corner, which does not appear to be used except for the on-board tailoring service. It has rather pleasant décor, with interesting tan leather chairs and light wood veneer. On the port side are the ship’s three “all-purpose” rooms for meetings, card games, etc., the Hudson, Half Moon, and Stuyvesant rooms. They’re really quite ordinary, but attractive enough, and certainly functional for their purpose. Besides, the names remind me of home :-)! Moving forward again is the forward staircase and then the entrance to the balcony of the Vista Lounge. Decks 4-8 contain the majority of the ship’s passenger accommodation. We therefore move all the way up to Lido Deck, 9, where off the forward staircase we find the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. From a brief look it appears to be large and well-equipped, on par with similar facilities on other ships. It includes a salon, spa treatment rooms, sauna, gymnasium, and a “thermal suite” for aromatherapy and the like. Just aft of the forward stairs is the Hydrotherapy Pool. There is a charge of $15 per day for the use of this indoor pool, which appears to be rather like a giant Jacuzzi tub. Needless to say we did not pay the $15 so I cannot comment on the experience :-)… However the décor in here is worth a look, with large (Moorish?) columns and an interesting skylight which is covered up by a silk parachute. The point of this escapes me, but it’s certainly different :-)… We now move aft to the Lido Pool, the ship’s main pool which features the obligatory Magradome. This is quite large, with rubberized (Bolideck?) deck covering (not teak) and plenty of deck chairs. Interestingly, the Magradome was kept only partially open during our cruise, despite beautiful weather the whole time. At the foot of the pool is a statue of too large polar bears… When the ship came out, I and a couple of other people said immediately that they looked TOO WHITE, a comment which brought a lot of laughs… After all, what color are polar bears going to be? (Well, on AMSTERDAM they’re a sort of bronze color, but then they’re not polar bears!) Unfortunately they ARE too white, and too big… From most angles the immense white bears blend right into the scene; all that stands out are the eyes and noses. What’s more, they’re rather too large for the area; when the Magradome is closing (or even closed) one gets the impression from some angles that the larger of the poor beasts is going to be decapitated :-)! Aft is the Lido Bar, notable for its dolphin (the fish, not the mammal) shaped stools. Also back here is a grove of trees, made up of flexible metal tubing rather like that of my gooseneck desk lamp. At the end of these are small round lights. Unfortunately they have the opposite problem as the polar bears; due to the height of the dome they’re quite small “trees” and the taller amongst us are liable to bump into them! Aside from their questionable artistic value (gooseneck lamp trees?!) they are quite impractical. Aft of this we find the traditional companion to the Lido Pool, the Lido Restaurant. On ZUIDERDAM it has a new twist – rather than the typical buffet, there are various “stations” for different types of cuisine. At first this can be quite confusing for those of us used to each buffet having the same items as the next; but after a while we got used to it and in the end came to like it very much… More in the “dining” section. As for the décor, it’s also a twist on the traditional Lido… The usual colored glass lamps are here in a soft translucent plastic instead. The traditional light wood paneling is here too; but the contemporary furniture looks like it came from IKEA (I like it). The ceiling is perhaps most interesting; it is printed to look like a blue sky with wispy clouds. Interesting effect, but the wispy clouds often have flat edges to them where there are seams in between the ceiling tiles! Also of note are several large urns, a beautiful mural of flowers which graces the central dining areas, and a yellow (!) grand piano which we never saw used. Finally we come to the Aft Pool, the second (and also quite large) pool on the ship. This is the more traditional fantail pool, this time with teak decking, and again with plenty of space for deck chairs. This is also generally the venue for the poolside games, entertainment, etc. Personally I prefer it to the Lido Pool, but both were quite busy during this jam-packed holiday sailing. Going up the outdoor stairs, we move up to Observation Deck. Here we find a vast expanse of (mostly teak) deck space, partially empty and partially with loungers, all fully exposed to the sun (OK, the funnels do cast a FEW shadows…). Most of the time this area was quite empty, and it was quite enjoyable to walk around up here and view the scenery (what scenery there was!) from WAY, WAY above the sea… Amidships on this deck are the golf simulator, game room, and children’s facilities, none of which I ever did see. All the way forward on this deck is the traditional Crows Nest lounge. As on many recent HAL ships, it is subdivided into three areas – the central lounge, and two more intimate side areas with different décor. In this case, the area on the port side is open to the main room, whereas the starboard alcove is closed off and features a completely different décor. The main room and starboard alcove are done predominantly in bright blues and greens, while the starboard-side room is quite attractive with rattan furniture (the exception being the room’s centerpiece, a HUGE, very ornate chair that might be used as a throne), inlaid marble flooring, light wood paneling and light earth tones. The main attraction of the Crows Nest is its spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, providing spectacular 270° views from ten decks above the sea. At the forward portion are a large number of blue leather chaises for those wishing to relax and watch the world go by… Also, aft of the port-side alcove is the Oak Room, the ship’s smoking room. This features quite modern décor, with even more of the ubiquitous pale wood paneling and furnishings, and an elaborate carved mantelpiece which sadly cannot contain a fireplace due to safety regulations. The treatment of this was quite odd; there was simply a large black board covered in felt plugging up the mantle. Perhaps a faux fireplace with a few logs inside (giving the impression that it might sometime be used) would be more appropriate? Above the Crows Nest, on Deck 11 forward, is the observation deck. It is unfortunately not great for observing, as it is surrounded by full-height wind baffles all around which unfortunately have extremely dark tinted glass that is quite difficult to see through. Up here the decking is fake teak (unlike all of the other similar areas, except one small patch on each side of the ship on Deck 10), and loungers (cheaper plastic-and-mesh ones) are the primary occupants of this space. At the center is the interesting radar mast; it is comprised of a sort of metal grille. Up the center appeared to be a sort of broad yellow tubing… If anyone sees the photo of the radar mast in my gallery and can tell me what this is, I would be most interested. That concludes our tour, as we’ve exhausted all of her public space… A good thing otherwise this review would REALLY be too long :-)! All in all I quite like this ship’s public areas, except for the main (Vista) lounge, Queens Lounge, and the dining room, all of which I thought were quite lackluster. The other (smaller) public areas however show an incredible variety as well as really fascinating details in the décor; after a week on the ship I was still noticing new “little things” everywhere I went. Also notable is the ship's excellent art collection... My favorites of course being Stephen Card's great paintings (as always)... You can see all of them in my photo gallery. Dining: Overall we found the dining experience on ZUIDERDAM to be quite good… Certainly better than we’ve experienced on other mass-market ships recently. In the dining room, we found the menus to be both well-planned and extensive, with very good presentation and taste… Everything came just as it was described on the menu, with hot food coming hot, cold food coming cold, and so on. There’s nothing extraordinary about the food – it is after all really just banquet food, as is the case on ALL large ships, but this was about as good as banquet food gets. Of special note was Dutch Night – the Dover Sole I had that night was probably the best food I ate the entire cruise, including the Odyssey. Breakfast in the dining room was quite good, with the full selection of American and British breakfast items as well as Continental breakfast naturally available for those wanting “light fare”. We did not eat lunch in the dining room at all, so cannot comment on that. As far as the Lido goes, it is BY FAR the finest casual dining area we’ve seen on a ship. The selection is positively astounding, and we never got around to trying everything! It is divided into several stations, including Italian, Asian, Delicatessen, Salads, Bistro (main hot entrees), Grill, Sweets and so on. As I said, we didn’t get to try everything, but all of it was really quite good! Considering how awful the casual food offerings are on many other ships, HAL really puts them to shame… The Lido is TRULY superb. At breakfast, the various stations are transformed to do duty for various items. Eggs are made to order here, not served out of a huge tray, and again the variety was excellent and the quality, quite frankly, amazing. Even items that are normally a “no-no” at buffets (for instance bacon) were astoundingly fresh. I don’t know how they do it :-)! It’s also worth noting that real china, cloth napkins, glassware, etc. are used here, unlike some other cruise lines. In particular we have always seen plastic glasses at similar dining areas on other cruise lines, and on occasion even encountered paper napkins, so it was good to see that they did not skimp in this regard… At dinner the Lido is transformed into a casual alternative with tablecloths, china, etc. and partial waiter service… We did not go up there during that time period, but did see them setting up, and also viewed the menus, and it looked quite nice. The one weakness of the Lido is that the hours for many of the stations are rather limited… For instance, I went in search of a bowl of fruit at 2:30 PM and could find one. Generally other lines schedule an “afternoon snack” in between lunch and dinner, but not HAL. A minor issue though – the Lido is truly excellent and HAL should be commended for their industry-leading standard in this area! The third option for dinner is of course the Odyssey (or Pinnacle Grill, as it is now being styled). This is an upscale American restaurant (i.e. steakhouse) for which there is a $20 per person charge. We thought the charge was quite reasonable for the experience provided; the meats and various accompaniments were excellent and a similar meal on shore would cost easily twice as much, if not more. Personally I could do without an option like this – the food in the dining room was more than sufficient – but it is a fine value for those who like to have an extra option. Entertainment: Entertainment is really not a focal point of a cruise for us – it’s just something to do at night after dinner :-). I found the entertainment to be quite good; nothing spectacular but certainly adequate. The production shows were rather low-budget; there was no live orchestra and they were OK, but nothing special. Frankly I find most cruise ship production shows to be rather alike, and I have already forgotten which ones were on ZUIDERDAM :-). The guest entertainers, in my opinion, were considerably better than the production shows. Of special note was pianist Paul Pappas who has just started an exclusive contract with HAL and is a real asset to the entertainment program. In addition to two (well, one and a half) nighttime shows, he also held a daytime concert on the second sea day which was standing-room only. There was also a comedian/magician, Sam Simon, who was also quite good… Not everyone appreciated his rather dry sense of humor, but personally I got a few good laughs :-). I can see why some people might tire of it though… Ports of Call: FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: Lots of ship sightings at our home port, including MONARCH OF THE SEAS, GOLDEN PRINCESS, ISLAND ADVENTURE, OCEANBREEZE, CARNIVAL LEGEND, CENTURY… KEY WEST, FLORIDA: We basically just walked around in town and enjoyed the atmosphere here… We’ve been to Key West many times (not on cruises) and like the place very much. Unfortunately we headed back to the ship quite early as it was sweltering hot that day! This was our maiden call at Key West, and there were no other ships in port that day, aside from a visiting Royal Navy vessel berthed nearby. COZUMEL, MEXICO: We had previously only been to the mainland, so this time we decided to take a tour of the island… Frankly we found this quite dull, as there is, surprisingly, not very much ON Cozumel. I’m rather puzzled as to whether so many ships stop here, in fact. And ships there were – along with us, we found ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS, GALAXY, JUBILEE, and last but not least SENSATION (berthed right alongside us). Nothing very exciting, but nice to see a few ships nevertheless. It was the first time we’d seen another cruise ship in a few days in fact. GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN: This time we decided to take a Nautilus semi-submersible. We had done this previously in Aruba, and thought Grand Cayman’s was superior. We saw two rather interesting wrecks and a large profusion of marine life. A nice way to see underwater, but without getting wet… In port today were several billion dollars’ worth of cruise ships, including CARNIVAL TRIUMPH, GRAND PRINCESS, NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS, and SUMMIT. Three post-Panamax ships in the same port in one day! Not to mention the profusion of tenders as Grand Cayman has no cruise-ship pier… HALF MOON CAY, BAHAMAS: HAL’s private island proved to be the big surprise of the trip. It was far, far nicer than other similar private islands we’ve been to (Labadee and Coco Cay). HMC is far more developed than others we’ve seen, and had really beautiful, uncrowded beaches. The food was adequate, nothing special, but then what do you expect on a desert island ;-)? Unfortunately, despite factor 45 sunblock, I managed to get terrible sunburn on this last day of the cruise. So much for “waterproof for up to two hours exposure”, etc.! Naturally there were no other ships in port with us today… Flotsam and Jetsam (general comments and observations): - Service throughout the ship was adequate, though in most cases not especially friendly. It would appear as perhaps the crew is still rather unsettled on this new ship. - We found a few noticeable cutbacks, including VERY skimpy daily programs, consisting of a single letter-size page (not folded). I just obtained a few daily programs from a recent cruise on another HAL ship; they appear to still be the “normal” ones. - There are no self-service laundries, in a departure from HAL tradition. Interestingly, the “Know Before You Go” booklet still indicates that there are self-service laundries on all ships in the fleet. - There is excessive vibration on the lower level of the dining room, all the way aft. It is not known whether this is due to broken or damaged equipment, or if it is from a design flaw… Regardless, it is NOT supposed to vibrate this much ;-). Luckily it would not seem to affect any cabin areas, where it could be quite disconcerting. - The ship's sign maker ought to be thrown overboard ;-)! Amongst other errors, in every stairwell you will find a plaque telling you to "please no use the lifts in the event of an emergency"... In Summation: In most ways, ZUIDERDAM is a very good new addition to the HAL fleet, which will perhaps bring in some of their much sought-after younger clientele. Certainly moving to a larger ship with more varied décor and a few more facilities (dedicated nightclub, smoking room) will help. The food was excellent; entertainment and service were quite adequate… In general, a very good cruise. On the other hand, it is surprising to see that a company like Carnival Corporation, with so much experience and money, would make so many mistakes in the design of a ship… For instance the poor design and furnishing of the cabins, poor sightlines in the main lounge and Queens Lounge, disappointing dining room, and so on. In some ways this would seem to be a step backward from the very well-received STATENDAM-class. Hopefully some of these issues will be rectified on ZUIDERDAM’s newer sisters and also on Cunard’s QUEEN VICTORIA. Would I recommend ZUIDERDAM? Depending on itinerary, price, and the other ships available, yes. Would I go again? Yes, but not on this itinerary, we’re all quite tired of the Caribbean already, at least this part of it. My preference is always to try something new, so obviously that disqualifies her in most cases, but notwithstanding that, I’d certainly have no objection to sailing in this ship again.

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Apr 5, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

From the first minute on board, we encountered poor conditions. This ship, that is less than 5 months old, had more problems than all of the other ships that I've ever been on combined. Not only did the ship look 10 years old but it smelled like a sewage disposal plant. The main lobby and all of the common areas around it would leave anyone that walked thru them ill! The smell reached cabins frequently, even to the point that we slept

with the deck door open two nights due to the smell! Many of the public bathrooms were broken and when you found one that worked, you ran the risk of being stuck inside with doors that did not open correctly. I must compliment the crew as being some of the nicest that we have ever met while sailing. The class of passengers was excellent as well. However, this will change as many of us had the same reactions to this horrible experience. The ship's propellers need major work as we were late to every port starting with leaving Ft. Lauderdale at almost midnight the first night. The noise and vibrations from the propeller problem were a constant annoyance for all in the aft of the ship's cabins or the dining room. We would never sail this line again. We are going back to Celebrity and Royal Caribbean as soon as we can, our experience with this line is over for good!

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Mar 22, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This being our 56th cruise may seem to many that we could not possibly get excited AGAIN, doing the SAME OLD, same old, Caribbean cruise we have done so may times. Well, we always get excited when we step on board a ship, and the excitement of the priveledge to sail on the brand new ZUIDERDAM was almost too much to bear!! We often cruise with friends and family, however, we did not this time. I must also note, that we have had many

wonderful cruises with Princess, and we had a serious problem with our booking for Coral Princess, and decided to cancel our Coral P cruise. We booked NCl, and canceled that due to reviews here at cruisereviews.com - so, we booked the Z-dam. We drove to Pt. Everglades from Virginia (yes, we used to live in Vermont),. and the drive was ok, BUT, book motels BEFORE you set out, wherever you may drive from to ANY port, as more and more people are taking auto vacations, rather than flying. Parked the car at Mid-Port Garage, $12.00 per day, cash only, right opposite the ship, pier 26. Security was VERY TIGHT. We were mere days into the war, and the security was obviously beefed up. BEFORE YOU GET THE PIER - have all paper work filled out, signed et cetera...security check points and trunk checks were done randomly. Documents were scutinized. You will proceed through baggage x-ray, and metal detector, then more doc checks and finally (HA HA ) the ships photo as you embark. We sailed full, if 1870 pax is full. The age mix was very different for a HAL. Lots of teens, and kids, and infants. The age for adults was heavily 30's to 50's. There were seniors, more on seniors later. Princess used to let you board when you arrived, and that was great. HAL made you wait, with a number in your hand, at the passenger terminal. AC, comfy chairs, snack stand, and a great place to view fellow paxs. However, the bathrooms are located in an unsecured area, and you must go through a "lame" form of security to use the toilets! It is so lame, anyone could filter in and out. NOT GOOD. Our number was 13. Boarding was to begin a 1pm. At 2;40 number 13 was called. HURRAY! So, we go through security, pose for the picture, and were greeted by white gloved staff, who took our carry ons, and escorted us to our stateroom. This was indeed a very impressive touch. This gentleman gave us a run down about the cabin, the TV, fridge and how to operate the safe. We assumed he was Indonesian. His English, as was every crew member we encountered, was superb. Shortly our cabin steward arrived, all smiles, and bubbling with the warmth of a million welcomes. Our steward was Filmar, and he was tops. Our cabin 5016, was spotless beyond belief, and kept that way. Everyone wants to know about the bathroom. It is small, yet complete. It is one molded unit, without tile flooring. The tub is small, yet deep. The shower curtain heavy, not the clinging type. Delft (faux) tiles decorate the mocha walls. There is a clothes line in the tub. Medicine cabinet and shelf space was adequate for our needs. The electrical outlet is for razors only - no hair dryers please! We have had many vac-toilets over the years, however, this one was special - when you flush, it sounded like Godzilla. The stateroom was very nice, although smaller than a comparable stateroom on the Grand or Sun class of Princess ships. We were offered a huge upgrade, for a price, by HAL, and declined, prior to sailing. There were two handsome tulip prints and a Venician print in the cabin, gold, orange and saphire blue fabrics, pumpkin leather chair and ottoman, small tv, mini bar, fully stocked with nips of liquor, soda, water, wine and sparkling wine from Germany, Prices ranged from $2.00 to $5.25, and replaced as used, and charged to your ships account. It also must be noted, HAL will let you buy liquor in the ships shop and consume as much as you want in the cabin. The prices, and the "deals" were good at the ships shop. The hair dryer in hidden on the right lower side of the desk, the closets are quite adequate, extra drawers are obvious, and there are extra drawers in the base of the beds AND love seat. The queen bed configuration was comfortable, and the mattresses were real, not a four inch slab of foam, as is often the case on some other ships. There are only emergency announcements made in the staterooms, and the only one we had was for the boat drill. Life boat drill is ON DECK, where it should be. Roll is taken. Kids 13 years and under, wear a color coded wrist bracelet or anklet, to alert the crew of their parents and muster station in the event of an emergency. We were due to sail at 5pm, and docked at 6pm.. Our seating was goofed up, however, we kept the first seating, and table for two. Sure, we missed the gala sail-out with the condo people saluting the ship, but, we were sailing, they were not. We did have a sail-away drink on deck, long before we sailed, and if it had any booze in it, I would be shocked. Worst drink ever. Ran around the ship, all too quickly to drink the beauty of this elegant ship in. First night dinner, sailing out of port, was the start of something gastronimically superior to ANY ship in recent years. Dodo, our dining room steward, his assistant, Antwin, our head waiter, Iwan endeared themselves to us instantly. We were in the gorgeous Vista Dining Room 5 minutes, and they made us feel as though were had been on the ship a week. Then along comes Alphonso, our wine steward, a fine asset to our superb dining experience. We had table 164, lower level in the Vista. Usually first night dinner stinks, I mean it, on other ships, not so Z dam. It was a grand prelude of fine dining to come. Great food, excellent staff. Food and dining will only be critiqued as needed, or for special mention. We made many friends during this cruise, the pasengers were indded friendly. At the next table to ours were two "condo" people, the ones that wave as you sail from Port Everglade, Irmgard and Hubert, as regal and cordial as one could hope. ENTERTAINMENT - may as well just lump it all together - Comedian Bernie McGenahan was stupendous. Caribbean Magic, the steel band, entertained poolside, and once during the cruise, poolside, at night, very nice. Paul Pappas, pianist, very good. The "Cast of the Zuiderdam", dance troup, lively and ablaze with handsome costumes. Friday nights show was very special. The cast performed the not so usual Hollywood/B'way musical numbers, from Judy Garland to (not exactly Hollywood or B'way) Donna Summer, with every thing in between. Songs very diverse for a ships troup, and refreshingly different. The disco numbers brought down the house. Now, here is where I get excited! We have seen this wonderful performer only once before. BARNABY - juggler/comedian extrodinare! If you should chance to have this kind man on your ship, you are in for a real treat. The Indonesian Show is NOT TO BE MISSED. The Z dam's cruise director is tops for every resason a cruise director must be, HE IS EVERYWHERE - his name is John Challenger. This is one fine, caring, good humored and thoughtful man. There are many, many venues for enjoying music, although there is no "big band" on this ship, which for HAL is unusual. LIDO RESTAURANT - a busy, not pushy-not crowded place. This is a run-down of the Lido: WOK - top-notch Asian specialties, including sushi, pad thai, et cetera, stir fries and so forth - wonderful. ITALIAN - what more can be said about a perfectly made Bolognese sauce, or pesto? Each day the made on board pasta shapes change. Garlic bread, al fredo sauce yum! BISTRO - I can not recall roasted breast of veal on a ship being offered, yet it was here, rotisserie chickens, an extravagance to be sure. SALADS - fresh, make your own. DELI- all manner of sandwiches made to your liking on breads and rolls to die for(breads and rolls on this ship the best in recent memory). GRILL- hot dogs, disappointing burgers, and checken, bbq'd. TACO - did not try this one, looked "messy". SWEETS - from cookies to pies, and ice cream, creme brulee, AND NO SUGAR ADDED gooey-tasty desserts, superb. Make your own sundaes, too, with all the toppings, AND ALL FREE! Now, for the ship itself. To describe every public room would be impossible, and I have my own pics and bought some interior shots on board as well, so all I will say is that this ship is absolutely elegant. There are not enough adjectives in English to describe the Z dam. There is a richness, and a warmth, a soul that is evident everywhere on this magnificently decorated and fitted out ship. Not one area lacks for beauty. The works of art are treasures, and respect for the artist is a must. Take time to appreciate what is around you, what HAL has provided for you visionary pleasure. And, then there are the flowers, floral arrangements that would do a Ritz Carlton proud. Not to mention the smiles of every crew member, no matter where you encounter him or her. The cleanliness on board. This is a magical, sensory ship, and there will be more of them coming. Now, there were horrendous complaints, at first, from the seniors on board. No big band, kids on board, too young a crowd on board. Well, those complaints vanished quickly. Imagine a couple in thier 80's clapping and enjoying Grace Jones "Pull up to the Bumper," as performed by the "Cast of the Zuiderdam". NASTY - OH SO NASTY - this is the biggest complaint from this entire cruise: infants wearing diapers in the ships pools. Enough said. PORTS - hate Nassau, did not get off the ship. Ocean Breeze was there, looking way nicer than before. Nasty in the pool, so could not use it, nasty the whole trip, too. ST KITTS - took to catamaran shore excursion, worth every penny ($109.00 per). The once beautiful beach at Nevis has been severly damaged by hurricanes, however, it still is loverly!. BBQ lunch - eat the chicken. The dogs were truly "dogs". If you love booze, this is the trip for you. CAPTAINS COCKTAIL PARTY AND DINNER - the party was lovely, with hot/cold hor'doerves (sp?) and pre-made drinks. We ordered our own drinks, as pre-made are not to our liking, try a Wnag Wang, awesome. The dinner was a feast beyond compare. New England lobster, crepes, all the goodies. Each evening a different flambed dessert is offered. When I was 20 years old I sailed on the SAGAFJORD, a 21 dayer, my 4th cruise, and to this very day I remember that wonderful captains dinner, and finally found its near duplicate on this ship. Amazing. ODYSSEY RESTAURANT - a must for anyone that enjoys outstanding dining. Bvlgary china, Rosenthal Crystal, Frette linens, heavy Wm-f hotel service and a room that sets the mood for culinary excellence. I will not spoil one calorie of this grand dining excursion for you - It is worth the paltry $20.00. ST THOMAS - shopped, and shopped, our usual past time. Had lunch at the oddly named "Friends of Bo Peep" one street back of Front Street. Clean, freindly place. Good island food, and American style as well. Ask for Diego. HALF MOON CAY - poor weather, call cancelled. Bummer. Too make up for that, our gregarious Captain let the champagne flow that night at dinner! WELCOME PARTY - we kept with the bloodies, as they were good, and being made fresh. We had passengers celebrating 100, 300, 500, 700 days with HAL, and one 902! There was a lady on board, from the maiden cruise in December! I could go on and on about this ship. We consider the ship as our destination, not the ports of call. So, from the smiling pursers, and deck hands, stewards, entertainers, the wonderful cruise director, John, and the good humored captain, the beauty of this ship, and all that sail her, this was one very fine cruise. If you know HAL, you know who the YUM YUM'S are, and we can't wait to see them again!

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Mar 1, 2003

Bahamas

While on a recent cruise with RSVP Vacations which was chartered on the Holland America MS Zuiderdam, I experienced an extreme lack of service and attention to detail that surprised me based on Holland America’s Prideful push that this ship was the first of your 5 Star Vista Line. Our cruise was the second leg of a two week charter, and while waiting in line to enter the terminal, I spoke with someone who had taken part of the first

week leg of the trip. He seemed to be overjoyed about not only the trip but also highly praised the Odyssey Restaurant. Before embarking on my trip I had read some web site reviews of the ship, and those were mostly negative. I however, having spent many years in the hotel industry took both perceptions into account and boarded the ship with absolutely no preconceived expectations except to have the time of my life. Upon boarding and going to our rooms, we found everything to be clean, and in order. A couple of my friends found some personal items from the previous guest left in their nightstand however. We then strolled through the ship, making it to the dinner reservations table where the officers from the ship and RSVP staff handled our reservations efficiently. After checking out the ship I joined my friends in their cabin, whereupon their luggage was delivered. I have to say the luggage was delivered far quicker than on my previous cruise (Carnival). Their cabin steward appeared and we asked a few questions. One of which was where the laundry room was (I had previously read on the web that this ship charged for many things that were free on other ships and so I wanted to test it). He indicated in broken English that there were no Laundry/Ironing areas. It would be necessary to turn in laundry to the laundry service. I soon was to experience a number of events that would qualify this ship as having the worst service I have ever experienced in my life. My group proceeded to the Lido Pool Aft to enjoy the ship’s leaving Ft. Lauderdale. I first experienced a bartender at the Lido Bar that spoke broken English, and did not exert any customer service skills at all. He slowly moved throughout his station taking an order every minute or so and rumbled around arranging glasses, wiping the bar and taking his time to complete an order. When I finally asked him for my order it took a good 3-4 minutes to complete the transaction. My initial thought was, if the cruise ship makes money on the bars, why he was moving so slowly to accommodate us? After that, my group and I proceeded to enjoy our voyage towards Key West! I later joined my group for our early dining assignment. We all gathered at our table and upon ordering found that the waiter was unaware of the menu as one guest at our table asked about what were the ingredients included in a desert dish. He was unable to respond. I later asked, (as I had before on Carnival without question) for a copy of the dinner menu. The waiter acted hesitant, which I accepted, because I was on the early dining schedule. There was a later seating, after all. He came back a few minutes later and said that he would hold a menu for me and give it to me the next day. This was certainly acceptable but then he came back to me 10 minutes later and said he checked with his supervisor and it was a new “regulation” that they cannot give out menus, but instead, we could buy them! I immediately thought this was a sham because the menus were printed with the RSVP name and could never be used again. It is a piece of paper that would be thrown away later. I also have to comment that when we first boarded the ship, we went to the Lido Restaurant and enjoyed the food served there. I later found that I did not enjoy the food at the Vista Dining Room for most dinners. One night I ordered the Filet Mignon and it came out tasting like dried up Roast Beef. I had to refuse it and reorder the Duck. This was slightly better. The Captain’s Dinner was a disappointment for my friends and me in that they did not have Steak and Lobster available. I’ve heard this is a staple for that dinner. The night that Lobster was available, it was spongy and ill-prepared. Later in the week it became apparent that the Odyssey Restaurant was booked or not available. We learned that it was due to the fact that on the first leg of the cruise many people had booked reservations and did not show up. Therefore they released much of the staff for the second leg. Many nights, I had friends that were on the wait list and went to see if they could get in. They saw only a handful of people and many empty tables but could still not be seated. It was later relayed that due to the above, there was not enough staff to allow other entries. This poses the question, if there is a service that was not utilized by another cruise’s guests, should the following guests have to deal with that consequence? Perhaps there should be a regulation that if someone is 15 minutes late for their reservation, the table would be released. With this standard the staff could have been retained for our cruise and they would have made the money. Money is another issue. The literature that I received prior to the cruise was misleading. What I read was that there was no charge, however it was suggested that if you wanted to tip the wait staff it is advisable because that may be the only time you see them. The reality was it was fifteen dollars a head to experience it…plus tip I am sure!. The breakfast routine was also very awkward. They had three buffet lines going, the first one had the regular items plus they were preparing fried eggs and omelets (one order at a time). The second one was just fast buffet items (scrambled eggs, bacon, etc) and then the third one had the same. For some reason everyone always went to the first one and the line was always long. Could they not just have one buffet for the items that took longer and had more orders being done at once? Finding anything other than coffee or tea was challenging as well. Glasses of orange juice and punch were left in obscure locations that many of us didn’t see until the 4th day. I also found muffins and croissants, but never found anywhere to make toast. In the evening of the first night when we expected to enjoy the early entertainment in the Vista Lounge we had comedian Judy Gold performing. She started the show in a fabulous fashion and had the crowd very pleased until during one of her punch lines an alarm sounded. It was a short time before the Captain (or his assistant) came on the speaker and announced that there was a fire on board! He indicated that they would investigate the event and notify us of further developments. Immediately my friends became alarmed, but Judy Gold continued with her act and hoped to ease the fear. Unfortunately, every time she was to deliver a punch line the alarm would sound. With each alarm, the Captain (or Assistant) sounded more frantic. Eventually there was an announcement for all personnel to report to their station. It was at this time that I noticed even the lighting booth in the showroom was vacant of employees. I immediately had thoughts of a fire breaking out and 900 guests in the showroom panicking. My initial thought was that the cruise ship played such an importance of the lifeboat drill from a person’s room, but nothing was stated about what should happen when in another part of the ship. Should I report to my same muster station? If so, where was I to get a life jacket? There might not be enough time to get to my room to get my life jacket and then proceed to my muster station! Frightening! It turned out that it was apparently an electrical fire from some device (a laptop that was plugged into the outlet under the TV on the desk). We were never informed. If it was some device that was plugged in by a guest, I would assume they would make an announcement to all passengers to make sure the problem did not occur again. This did not happen. It may be one of those “new ship” things. The following day, we docked in Key West and enjoyed the day, and then upon returning to the ship we planned for the evening’s events. A short time into the evening while at a party, my cabin mate came to me and relayed that he went through the ship on the Lido deck trying to find a bathroom. He asked 5 people where the bathrooms were and due to the language barrier, not one employee could answer. He eventually found one himself. I later went to find a public restroom and found that all public restrooms had electronic doors. It was necessary to push a button to open it and push a button to close and lock it as well. When leaving it, I tried to open the door and found it would open only a short bit. After pushing the button a few times the door only opened about 5-6 inches. I pushed against the opening of the door to open it further and found that the doors have a metal edging. It sliced my palm open. While mostly what was a surface wound, blood started flowing and I immediately went to the nearest employee location, which was a bar that was on the Upper Lido deck and pointed out the cut to the bartender. I didn’t want to cause a scene but quietly showed him the blood flowing over my palm and told him I was concerned about other passenger’s safety with these doors and wanted him to report the situation. Thoughts ran through my mind (based on hotel my experience) that he would immediately call a manager and responded with first aid actions. Antiseptic should be applied. However, he kept pouring drinks and expressed no concern. It wasn’t until the bar was closing that he symbolically offered me a free drink. Any cut is a serious matter; a cut from a bathroom door is certainly more alarming. It is imperative that the proper first aid administrations are carried out, and that all employees either know themselves or who can perform these functions. Throughout the week, it became very clear we could not depend on any line staff to assist us. They couldn’t understand English! Most passengers that I spoke with gave up on speaking with any service attendants. Through out the week, whenever going to the Bar, we experienced the same slow, almost non-existent service. Once while joining friends at the Lido Aft, I went to the bar there and stood waiting to order a drink. While I stood there, no more than 10 people had approached the bar while I stood there, however it took 20 minutes to fill my order and that was only because I had to eventually yell out my order repeatedly for the bartender to make sure he heard me. No bartender throughout the ship ever gave eye contact…they had their job to do…no matter how slow! I found it very interesting as well that the Captain’s Reception was a bore. The Reception was no more than gathering all attending in the showroom, making us sit facing the stage. It felt like a funeral in process and I would never have joined if I knew what to expect. My understanding is that the Captain’s reception should be a chance to meet the captain and briefly speak with him. In addition to that, it turns out that the photo opportunity with the Captain at the Captain’s Reception was not with the Captain at all, but with the Hotel Manager. With this example of how a Captain runs his ship, it would appear to me that the Captain had no interest in meeting the guests. I assume this is why the line staff has no interest in serving us. The final night was a one of the most unbelievable, service-wise. While we were dining, a waiter dropped an entire strawberry sorbet down my back. His response was so slow and unapologetic that I wanted to bring it to the waiter’s attention. What I got from the waiter was a muddled “Sorry” and then he was off. No concern if my clothes were soiled or for the inconvenience. Later, I stopped by the front desk to settle my account and asked if they had a comment card for the ship. They said they did not but that RSVP had a comment card. I then asked what they do for a regular un-chartered cruise and they said they do have comment cards but refused to give me one because RSVP had theirs. I relayed my experiences when I returned to Los Angeles to my good friend who had taken a Holland America Cruise to Alaska a year and a half ago, and he was shocked at the service. Holland America? What has happened? Why did we experience this? While on my cruise last year with Carnival and RSVP and experiences with that staff -- the Captain himself actually showed at many events and especially at the final disembarkation talk truly expressed a heartfelt interest that we book with them again -- and all other points of a guest’s experiences, I certainly have no interest in booking with either of the Holland America and RSVP cruises in 2004. The service does not justify the expense. For RSVP’s part, I have to say that it was obvious that it was decided among yourselves what the entertainment should be. “Dead End Disco Diva’s” don’t do it! You showed on this cruise that you really don’t have a connection to the passengers. You were there when we boarded and when we left, but were virtually non-existent throughout the cruise itself. On my last cruise with RSVP the interaction with your representatives was far superior. You should be more visible. We are, after all, your paycheck!

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Feb 8, 2003

UNKNOWN

Being disabled and traveling with a service dog, I wanted a cruise ship that did not cater to children or teenagers. The stateroom was comfortable with a balcony that my dog loved to watch the dolphins. However, be aware that to see St. Thomas you have to take a tender in to port. If you have hip, knee, back or balance problems getting on and off a tender in rough water is unsafe. Holland America and the cruise agency conveniently

forgot to pass that along. The food can only be described as "lousy". While at their "private island" Half Moon Cay, the chef had to dump the potato salad out as it was spoiled. When returning to the tender port to return to the ship, I took a nasty fall. Not one HAL crewmember lifted a finger to assist me. Had it not been for several passengers lifting me into the tender, I probably would still be on the dock. When we arrived back at the ship, and the passengers were assisting me from the tender to the ship, several people advised the crew members I had been injured. The crew members just looked like "so what - no understand". I was assisted by the passengers to my stateroom where I fell into bed and woke up over 7 hours later. Since I had slept through my assigned meal seating I went in search of food and potty break for my service dog (who got more attention and love than me! Hmm). I went to the purser's desk to advise them of a hazardous situation at the dock at the tender port on this "private" island. They paged the nurse, handed the phone to me, and Nurse Ratchet wanted to know why I was just reporting it now, who did I think I was, and I had to go to the infirmary to make a report. Once I got there her sarcastic attitude turned me off completely. Then some guy in jeans and a polo shirt said "follow me". I asked him who he was and he said the doctor. He spent all of 5 minutes and offered me a Tylenol. Nurse Ratchet kept bellowing at me about how much did I have to drink (ice tea), was I drunk when it happened (check my bill - one bottle of water and one diet coke. They were uninterested in the hazardous situation on the gangplank down to the tender dock. If a cruise line is going to cater to a more mature audience, then perhaps their medical crew needs an attitude adjustment and work on a more positive bedside manner. Holland America Corporate headquarters in Seattle, customer relations, could care less about this. Once they have your money, make sure your affairs are in order because most of the crew barely understands English, there is no food available after 10pm, and the crew all have selective hearing (my dog is more friendly than any of their crew members. My advice: Don't waste your time and money on Holland America.

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Jan 25, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

This was our 10th cruise on HAL. We wanted to experience their new Vista-class ships and felt seven days was not sufficient. We booked two 7 day back to back. We would have preferred alternate Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries as they usually do and which Zuiderdam will offer beginning in April. EMBARKATION: We submitted an internet immigration form to HAL several days prior to sailing which informed us we had been upgraded from a BB to

a SS cabin. We called HAL to confirm the cabin change and were assured we would have the same cabin for both weeks. We filled out all the forms prior to arriving at the pier but upon were required to fill out 3 more- two Bahamas immigration forms (one for each passenger) and form to register our credit card. It would have been helpful if those forms had been sent to us with our other documents. It was helpful to register your credit card before boarding rather than have to do it aboard ship at a long line at the front desk. There was a shorter internet line for those who had submitted their immigration forms on the web. When is a suite not a suite? When it comes to priority boarding. Though SS cabins are described as "Superior Veranda Suites" they do not entitle you to priority boarding for which a Deluxe Veranda Suite or Penthouse is required. Boarding began around 1PM and we boarded about 2PM. We were not escorted to our cabin as on previous cruises. Our dining room seating was not in our cabin so I visited the Maitre 'D who confirmed the table for two which we had previously requested. We then enjoyed an excellent buffet lunch in the Lido restaurant. IMPRESSION OF SHIP: We liked the decor and artwork throughout the ship. It was brighter than previous HAL ships but tastefully so. We especially liked the rotating Waterford Crystal Sea Horse in the Atrium. DINING ROOM: Our table for two was where we requested, on the upper level near the musicians. Unlike other HAL ships which placed the musicians at the forward end of the upper dining room between the staircases, on the Zuiderdam they suspended just above the center of the lower dining room. You would think this arrangement would provide pleasant dinner music from the Champagne Strings to a larger area of the dining room. This was not the case because acoustics are terrible. We sat about 20 feet away from the violinist and could hardly hear him. Many passengers on the lower level could not hear them at all. For some reason they played at first seating but not at second seating? We prefer a table for two because we do not like to linger in the dining room for two hours but prefer to dine and then go dancing or walk the promenade deck. Unfortunately, our table was remote from the station of the wait staff serving us and we really saw them. The head waiter often served us because the waiter and his assistant were busy out of sight. We noticed an efficient wait staff trio serving the large tables adjoining our and requested Maitre 'D to assign them to serve us during our second week. He did and the service provided by Iwan, Pu and Rudi during the second week was superb, in contrast to that we received during the first week. We were disappointed that our two favorite HAL entrees (Rack of Lamb and Alaska King Crab Legs) were not on the menu in the dining room. Steaks, other than Filet Mignon were very tough and the desserts were not as varied as previous HAL cruises. The third day, we had lunch in the dining room lower level and were amazed at the vibrations present towards the back of the ship. Many passengers in that location for dinner complained of the problem for which no reliable reason was given other than rumors of a damaged propeller or shaft bearing? The vibration increased markedly with the speed of the ship. DANCE MUSIC: My wife and I like to dance and have always enjoyed the dance music on HAL ships, especially in the Ocean Bar. Zuiderdam was no exception. A talented and delightful Australian couple, Colin and Simone, performed there nightly to standing room only in the Ocean Bar. His piano virtuosity and arranging ability combined beautifully with her smooth vocal style and fine violin playing. They honored many requests and if they didn't know the song, they would bring it up on their laptop and have a version of it ready the next night. They were among the highlights of our cruise. In contrast, the quintet in the Crow's Nest was mediocre and indifferent. They were first musical group we encountered on any HAL ship that did not know the "anthem" of the senior generation-Glenn Miller's classic "Moonlight Serenade." When we suggested a special song for which we brought the sheet music, they said they couldn't read music. Naturally, we spent little time in the Crow's Nest. ENTERTAINMENT: The shows in the main theatre were uniformly excellent. The production cast numbers were spectacular by a young, energetic and talented cast. A fantastic pianist Paul Pappas performed several times during the week to large appreciative audiences. Unfortunately, all the same shows were repeated the second week. The lighting, sets, sound, costumes etc. in the theatre were all first rate. There is an alternative theatre in the Queens Lounge used for late night shows and afternoon entertainment. Unfortunately, it is a poor venue for showing films, unlike the popular Wajang theatre on other HAL ships. FITNESS CENTER: Much has been made of HAL's new Greenhouse Spa which apparently replaced HAL's previously popular Passport to Fitness program. No fee exercise classes are limited to two a day at 7:30AM and 5:00PM which were performed by competent instructors. Unlike the exercise rooms on other HAL ships which were set aside away from all the exercise machines, the exercise area on Zuiderdam is surrounded by machines and TV sets. This is especially distracting for those wishing for privacy and solitude in the for fee Yoga and Pilate classes. The large ball Pilate classes were often difficult if any ship's motion was present which was often. There were no previously advertised water-aerobics classes or Ti Chi. SHIP ACTIVITIES: An excellent cruise director, Shawn Cavanaugh presided over the many activities. We are big Team Trivia fans and were disappointed that trivia teams were reduced from six to four (less prizes). The trivia competitions were well conducted by Shawn and Lori even though the prizes were less than satisfying. LIDO DINING ROOM: We found the Lido offered less variety than we had enjoyed on previous HAL ships especially in the area of desserts. For some reason, containers of milk were not easily available at lunch. You had to ask for them at the sandwich counter. The pasta sauces at the pasta bar never changed. It was hard to find a table in the Lido especially on sea days. PORTS OF CALL: HAL's private island Half Moon Cay was very popular although we had to share it with Zaandam during the first week. It was much more enjoyable the second week when only Zuiderdam was there. We had to tender in St. Thomas the first week when 4 other large ships were present. We docked the second week which was much appreciated. St. Kitts and Nassau were good ports although we only had a half-day in Nassau the first week. EXCURSIONS: We like snorkeling and enjoyed the Athol Island snorkel excursion in Nassau. The 5 1/2 hour St. Kitts Catamaran snorkeling excursion was less than satisfactory as you actually spend only 45 minutes snorkeling. If you prefer 3 hours sailing with loud Caribbean music, drinking rum punch and sitting in the sand eating chicken on Nevis, you may enjoy this excursion. I would have preferred more time snorkeling and less sailing. I understand the St. Kitts Railway tour was popular although it was not available the first week. CABIN ACCOMMODATIONS: We liked our SS suite although there were no lounges on the large balcony where you could lie down. Instead they rattan chairs with hassocks. For the second week, our upgrade was rescinded and we were required to move our belongings to our original BB cabin. That cabin had no drawers, limited closet space and no table on the veranda where you could enjoy room service. We were not happy with our downgrade and HAL offered us a discount on a future HAL cruise. The cabin attendants in both cabins were excellent. SUMMARY: We felt that overall, the Zuiderdam did not meet the standards we enjoyed on previous HAL ships. It did not ride well even in relatively calm seas. The promenade deck is circuitous, narrow in places, often cluttered with maintenance activity. You can't avoid the smoky casino when exiting the main theatre on the lower promenade deck. The most mentioned complaint of passengers was occasional odors of sewage, petroleum and paint in various areas of the ship. I have never seen so much painting on a new ship. We sometimes detected odors in our cabins which appeared to come from the shower drains. The vibrations in the lower dining room are totally unacceptable. We would not be inclined to book another HAL cruise on a Vista-class ship in the near future. The staff, as usual, were uniformly excellent though many appeared to prefer other HAL ships.

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Jan 4, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

Overview. We had a most enjoyable cruise, in part because this is a wonderful new ship of a very well managed cruise line and because we vacation with a mind set to enjoy everything. Holland America Line delivers on everything that they promise in their brochures, and more. The MS Zuiderdam is new (she entered service in December 2002), very well designed, polished and spacious. Her crew are, without exception, skilled, gracious and

genuinely pleased to be of service. We feel that we obtained good value in a totally first class vacation. Background. I am a geologist and a bank chairman. My spouse Claudia is a CPA. This cruise was an impulse purchase done in October. We selected this cruise because it fit perfectly with our other travel plans and because we wanted to try a new mega ship. We often spend week 52 in our time share in the Florida Keys. This year we drove to the Keys, and then to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale where we left our car in the parking garage in the pier. Driving to a cruise is a special joy. We never surrendered control of our travel schedule or luggage to anyone Our previous cruise experiences have been on smaller ships. We have over a span of nearly 20 years taken six cruises and we enjoyed them all. We tend to seek and always enjoy something new, thus our prior cruises were on port intensive itineraries including some of the more unusual cruise offerings. Our first cruise was on the Starward of NCL, then Oceanus of Epirotiki (now Royal Olympic) in the Greek Islands, then Stella Solaris of Royal Olympic for two weeks on the Amazon River and southern Caribbean and later three weeks on the Stella Solaris in the Mediterranean and transatlantic, then Olympia Voyager of Royal Olympic for a 2000 Mayan Equinox cruise and a 2001 cruise to additional ports in Central America. This, our first visit to the Holland American Line is different in three respects - we are experimenting with a cruise of only one week, a new mega ship and a cruise with only four port visits. The Zuiderdam is brand new, 82,000 tons and in only her fourth week of one week cruises to the Eastern Caribbean. This is our first testing of a ship as a destination for the vacation. For us, the ports of this cruise, being U.S. and British, offer culture experiences/differences that are more modest than our previous cruise selections. We purchased this cruise directly from HAL via their web site and we were pleased by that process. Years ago we purchased our cruises from a local travel agent, but like so many local travel agents, the local agency folded. We then twice used Golden Bear Travel of California, an all cruise agency that offers attractive pricing and often an on board host and some on board special services and parties. It was one of their fliers that alerted us to this cruise, but the HAL web site offered pricing about $150/person lower, at least on the day that I checked and booked. A few days later, the web site pricing was significantly higher so I can only suggest shopping around. Purchasing online worked perfectly - we knew our specific cabin number and location before completing the purchase. Travel documents arrived as promised about 30 days before the cruise Embarkation and First Impressions of the Zuiderdam. The embarkation process was smooth although there was no hiding a crowd of 1,800 passengers. While listed on the tickets as a 3-5 PM embarkation, passengers were allowed to board beginning at 1 PM. We drove to the pier where porters unloaded our luggage. In a 20 minute flurry of activity I had parked the car in the garage, we stood in long lines that moved very quickly, flashed a lot of documents to various folks, had our credit card scanned, were photographed for the ship’s security system and were on board and in the cabin. Within the hour, our cabin steward had personally brought our checked luggage to the cabin. The Zuiderdam is very new, having entered service in December 2002. She is the first of five sister ships on order by HAL. She is large, clean, spacious and polished. The public spaces are more than ample and our cabin, a superior verandah was positively luxurious. Passenger cabins occupy most of six decks while four more decks are devoted entirely to public rooms. The Vista Dinning Room food and service were first class in every respect. The main cafeiteria option, the Lido Restaurant, offered a surprisingly wide range of choices, all prepared and presented well. Claudia and I are watching our diets and have shed a lot of pounds over the past year. We were able to enjoy the food, service and presentation while always finding healthy menu options. Criticisms. This will not be a 100% positive review, but to be fair, my negative observations are mostly a result of my personal biases. I am a research geologist and early in my career spent parts of six summers as chief scientist on research ships. I have traveled all over the world. I like ships with curves in their steel and massive teak rails. Ships, not imitations of Las Vegas hotels. Ships that have traveled and will again travel all of the world's oceans. The Zuiderdam is massive, boxy and looks top heavy. I am not suggesting that she is in any way unseaworthy. Only that she does not look as much like a traditional ocean liner as I would prefer. Her interior spaces are so large that I could forget that I was on a ship. While only a month old, the varnish was peeling from her wooden rails, probably because that wood is not real teak. Our dinning room table, the aft most table on the port side of deck three of the Vista Dinning Room, suffered from some engine room vibration and noise. The noise and vibration came and went, I suspect depending on whether the main engineers were in or out of sync. At times, the ship lacked that massive solid feel of a ship built with heavier gage steel. In the Lido restaurant, the cafeteria that many passengers including us used for breakfast and lunch, we found the variety and presentation of the food to be better than excellent, but there were times when all tables were occupied and we would wait, holding our food trays, for a minute or two for an opening at a table. In all other public spaces on the ship we sensed having ample space and seating choices, but it was in the Lido that we were reminded of being two of nearly two thousand folks feeding in mass. Now, please, do not take any of this as a complaint. Truth is, we were having a most enjoyable cruise. It is just that I like ships and at times the Zuiderdam felt more like a very large, very nice, very well staffed, very well run resort hotel. Overall, the HAL designers have been remarkably successful in almost all aspects of the interior of this ship. In every respect, the interior is beautiful and wonderfully comfortable. However, on the exterior of the ship there are more rust spots and peeling varnish than I would have expected on a ship in only its second month of passenger service. My impression is that this ship was build to standards of a 20 year amortization schedule rather than the 30 or 40 year amortization that is more typical in highest quality shipbuilding. Having said all of the above, it is important for me to report again that with respect to service and passenger comfort, Holland America Line delivers on everything that they promise and more. Our cabin was the best that we have experienced on any ship, the main dinning room and the upscale Odyssey restaurant are absolutely first class in every respect, the skill levels and attitudes of all of the ships crew are top of scale and this cruise felt to us to be a good buy. I could be very pleased to book another HAL cruise, but will more likely return to smaller ships and more exotic ports. Half Moon Cay. Whatever one might hope to find and enjoy in a day on a Caribbean beach, Half Moon Cay is better. The ship anchored about a half mile off shore and the passengers were tendered ashore in the lifeboats carried by the Zuiderdam. Half Moon Cay is an island owned by and used exclusively by Holland American Line. While there are ample beach chairs, fresh water showers, bars and food available, it was the long unspoiled beach and the hiking trails through the sand and vegetation that were the attraction for us. We began by walking about a mile along the beach to where we felt as if we were the only two people on the island. Swimming was wonderful. The beach sand perfect. After an hour or two in the water we had a drink at one of the island bars and then walked some of the trails. By 11:30 AM we had enough sun for one day so we selected a table in the shade to enjoy the barbeque lunch and calypso band provided by the ship. By 1 PM we tendered back to the ship in preparation for a 2 PM sailing. A vacation morning just does not get any better than this. In a small world story, we met on the ship two other couples from our home town of Champaign, Illinois. At 3 PM we were all gathering for drinks on our cabin, which in a Veranda Suite category cabin is large enough (just barely) to seat six for drinks. That evening was the first of two formal nights. We dressed for dinner, enjoyed the food and service and had our photos taken several times by the ship’s photographic staff who proved to be the best that we have experienced on any ship. Over the next several days, we purchased many of their photos of us. A Day at Sea. We began with breakfast in the Lido. Our assistant waiter from the formal dinning room was on duty this morning in the Lido. He spotted us and stopped by our table to chat. He is very nice, from Indonesia, newly married, working on the ship on a three year contract, works eleven hours per day seven days per week and is sending money home. We then did some good workout time in the ship's gym, especially enjoying the treadmills that allow for an unobstructed view forward from the a high deck. I learned to enjoy walking the full circuit of the ship on deck three where an outside deck offers a walk of nearly 0.4 miles per circuit of the ship. Team trivia, a tour of the galley, some time on the Internet catching up on home/work issues and lots of most enjoyable conversations filled the day. I did a lot of exploration of this very large ship. I have only compliments for the deck plans of the ship and all of the interior spaces. I have the highest of compliments for the attitude of absolutely every member of the ship's crew that I met. For this Monday evening we reserved a table for late night dinning - 8:30 PM - in the high end, alternative restaurant. Claudia participated in ladies night at the spa. We again dressed for dinner at about 7:30 PM, enjoyed dancing for a while in the Crow's nest on the highest enclosed deck and then dinner. The Odyssey restaurant is an alternative dinning option, available for reservations and for a $15/person surcharge. Dinner there offered food of the highest quality that we have experienced anywhere in the world and service that was absolutely top of scale. We recommend that any HAL passengers treat themselves to a dinner in the Odyssey. St. Kitts. We began the day by exercising in the gym. By 10 AM the ship had docked at Basseterre on the island of St. Kitts. We had reserved via the Internet, well in advance of the cruise, the ATV experience. Some 16 passengers were bused in two taxi minivans to the edge of the city where we were offered 15 minutes of instruction and then issued a helmet and our own individual ATV. In two groups of eight, each with a trail leader, we rode over hill and dale, along the volcanic slopes, through sugarcane fields and with stops for lessons in botany. It was a blast of a three hour trip. We had a ball. By 3 PM we were back at the dock for a walk through the city, a cold beer and an opportunity to purchase a current newspaper before reboarding the ship. Friends had invited us to dine with them in the Odyssey Restaurant, so we returned, this time with a party of six. Two trips to this upscale restaurant are not enough to explore its menu. St. Thomas. The ship docked in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I took the catamaran and snorkeling tour. We were bused about 10 minutes to a small marina where we boarded a large sailing catamaran for the one hour sail to a beach in the U.S. National Park in the islands. The swimming was wonderful as were the views of beautiful beaches, palms and smiles all around. The catamaran Alurra is an interesting story. It was build by three brothers in North Carolina in 2000 and is today operated as a family business of two of those brothers, their mother and two friends. They treated the 40 or so passengers well. I am a sailor and own and race a sailboat. I could not resist - I asked for and was granted an opportunity of sailing the catamaran for about 30 minutes of the return trip. It was a great day and I had only a mild sunburn after 4.5 hours on and in the water. A Second Day at Sea. A day at sea is a most wonderful experience on any cruise ship. We slept in, exercised and enjoyed a few silly games and some quality conversations. I'll use this moment to describe a few of my favorite places on this ship. Obviously, any list of favorites is a personal one and will vary with each individual. Mine are: The deck 3 outdoor promenade that allows for a four tenths of a mile hike for each full circumference of the ship; the forward facing recliner chairs in the Crow's Nest, a bar/lounge high in the ship facing forward; the forward facing treadmills in the gym that also allow for a full forward facing view and on a day with some rolling give the exercising person a sense of having the helm on a rolling sailing ship; the balcony of our cabin; our table for two in the Vista dinning room; and especially for me, the Internet computer center where I kept up with the world, at least to the extent that I wished to do so. Finally, any review of a HAL cruise should emphasize the ship's crew. Without exception, the crew, whether in the food service, cabin service, entertainment or simply upon a chance meeting in a passageway are uniformly skilled, gracious, attentive and genuinely pleased to be of service. The HAL training program is serving this line well. Thursday evening was the most extravagant of the already high end dinners in the main dinning room. I had two appetizers, the caviar and the escargots, soup, lobster and of course the flaming baked Alaska dessert. After the main course, while relaxing and waiting for the dessert, the waiter brought me a second lobster dinner. Nice touch. Nassau. This is a city that we had visited just a year earlier. Claudia took the snorkeling with the sharks excursion which she reported as great. I walked the two or three miles to the Atlantis Casino on Paradise Island, toured the facility but did not gamble and then took a water taxi back to the pier. That $3 water taxi ride was the best buy of the week. Some time in a most reasonably priced Internet cafe allowed me to catch up on work, a current copy of USA Today allowed me to catch up on the news and finally I took some photos of the ship. As always, the last afternoon is a bit of a downer as we began to pack in preparation for the next phase of our lives. Disembarkation and Summary. The Holland America disembarkation process is very well organized and smooth, but U.S. Customs and Immigration procedures are more serious than was the case a few years ago so the procedures took some time. We were in no hurry as we had a car in the parking garage adjacent to the ship. We were one of the last groups of passengers to leave at about 10 AM. We found the signature of the Holland America Line experience to be the uniformly high levels of skill and service provided by all of their staff.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

This - Holland America’s Zuiderdam - was my first cruise experience, and I really enjoyed it! Having no previous trips to compare it to, I will just provide my impressions. The ports we visited were Eastern Caribbean: Half Moon Cay, Road Town Tortola, St. Thomas, and Nassau. Cruise Duration: 7 days. First, the food was excellent!! The menu in the main dining room featured a variety of selections each night, and they were consistently

wonderful. Even a kids’ menu, which was great for my 10 and 6 year olds. The meat was always cooked to perfection…and the featured soups were a treat. The more informal Lido deck also served tasty fares in a buffet setting. The staff was extremely courteous and accommodating… one of the guys would even make cute origami animals for the children. Also, we were amazed at the efficiency of the crew in processing 2000 passengers during various times: immigration screening, lifeboat drills, and debarkation. All were made very quick and painless to our amazement. All of the ports were really nice and had interesting things to do. My only complaint is that the ship wasn’t there long enough at any of them to really enjoy the places to their full extent. Also the shopping was great in most ports. Road Town had street vendors in an outdoor market, where we bought a really cute outfit for my daughter at a great price. My daughter (10 year old) liked Half-Moon Cay the best, because of the horseback riding shore excursion, and the fact that everything was located close together, so you could really fit more than one activity in on that day without much travel time. On St. Thomas, we took a boat to St. John for the Trunk Bay Beach Excursion. It was a beautiful beach, but it did involve time to get there, so we only got to stay about an hour and a half for a 4 hour excursion! Nassau’s Straw Market was really unique and a great place to buy souveniers, but hotter and steamier than a pot of lobsters! Diehard shoppers like me will love it, but don’t drag hubby in here unless he’s a shopaholic too. We had a verandah stateroom which had a small balcony and was cozy. It would have been perfect for two, but with four, it got a little cramped. Next time, I would probably spring for a larger room if money permits. Certainly if I booked a longer than 7-day cruise. Overall, I would rate the cruise very highly… Here is my advice on the following based on our experience: Clothing: Be sure to pack some warm clothes, like a sweatshirt and pants, to deal with the air conditioning even if you are cruising to warm climates. Also, prep your family for dress up nights! My husband (and 6 year old son) also really disliked having to dress up (wear a suit/tie) for the 2 formal nights – he (hubby) didn’t understand why he had to dress up while on vacation. Plus, we couldn’t wear shorts in the dining room, so even the casual nights were not as casual as my husband would’ve liked. Moms - prep yourself: after a long day on the beach or in the heat, kids may be ripe for balking at wearing “dorky” dress clothes. Kids: Take advantage of Club Hal activities. Our kids liked it and it gave us a break. Shore Excursions: Plan your time wisely, and inquire about “travel time” to and from the excursion. Our favorites were: Horses, & one snorkel adventure (stingrays). Also, it was really HOT lugging your stuff from ship to shore destination. Travel cool & light, if possible. I recommend morning excursions vs. afternoon.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

About us. My wife and I are a very young age 53 and 56. She power walks 4 miles a day and I run 10K a day. She's a Personal Shopper at Bloomingdale's and I'm a trial lawyer. We live in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All year we eat a healthy, low-fat, low-calorie diet, except when we cruise, and then we eat everything not nailed down, usually in multiples of at least two. An August 2005 cruise we had booked in August 2004 on board

Celebrity's Century was cancelled in December 2004, so we sailed instead on Holland America's Zuiderdam to the eastern Caribbean from August 6, 2005 to August 13, 2005. Our companions were a slightly older local couple and a slightly younger couple from Wisconsin. Both couples had cruised with us before on the Century. All of us like to cruise and love to laugh. Before sailing. I had read a number of Internet reviews complaining that the Zuiderdam's loud and powerful engines caused some sections of the lower level in the Vista Dining Room to shake and smell from fuel, which at least in my mind do not create a desirable dining ambiance. I had therefore requested a table for six for dinner in the upper level of the Vista, "main" seating ("early dinner" seating on board the Zuiderdam is more like "late lunch"). Because we had made our cruise reservations and paid our deposits at least six months before sailing, you would think that Holland America would have no problem satisfying my request. But you'd be wrong. It took months of telephone and e-mail contacts with Holland America and a final exchange of unpleasantries just a few weeks before sailing until Holland America said yes to my request. I believe it was my dogged determination that saved the day, when instead it should have been the incomparable tradition of unsurpassed service which Holland America proudly, and at least in this case, falsely advertised. By the way, during my cruise I took the time to personally verify that those complaints about the noise and vibrations on the lower level of the Vista were in fact true and accurate. The ship. Some Internet reviewers complained about the decor and appearance of the Zuiderdam. I tell you that they should have their eyes examined. Less than 3 years old, the Zuiderdam is, in three words, a beautiful ship. Artwork is everywhere, sometimes even in the shape of lamps, bar stools, elevator doors, and wall and floor surfaces. Glass elevators run along the sides of the ship, offering a panoramic view of the sea. The atrium is not as majestic as, say, Celebrity's Century, but is still impressive. Most of the cabins have verandahs of various sizes, and they are worth the price. Our cabin on Verandah deck 5 was comfortable and more than adequate for our needs, which included mooning other cruise ships. As avid exercisers, my wife and I appreciated and took advantage of the excellent gym on Lido deck 9 and the running track on Promenade deck 3. A beautiful ship does not however make a perfect ship. There were no shaded areas for lounge chairs by the swimming pools - an astonishing omission for a cruise ship - and those of us who listen to our dermatologists about the dangers of the sun were forced to seek shade elsewhere. (By contrast, the Century had plenty of shaded areas by the pools for lounge chairs.) In the otherwise splendid Zuiderdam theatre, posts obstructed the views from some seats. For a big ship like the Zuiderdam, though, with a passenger capacity of nearly 1,800, there was rarely any congestion; attributed either to superior design, or to the group of 500 Evangelical Christian passengers on board our cruise who arranged for their own entertainment and stayed clear of the bars, nightclubs and casino. Embarkation. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and, I imagine, several other cruise lines, have calypso bands playing on deck when their ships leave port for the tropics. For the crew, of course, it's just another work day; but for the passengers it's the exciting beginning of an exotic adventure, and the music makes the occasion festive and fun. But when the Zuiderdam left Ft. Lauderdale, no band was playing on deck, few people were even on deck, and except for some minor activity on the aft deck, the ship was strangely silent as we set sail. It was almost as if we were sneaking out of port. Holland America has a reputation for being the cruise line of the elderly, so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many young people on board, but no one will ever mistake the Zuiderdam for being a Party Boat. Entertainment. I don't choose a cruise line for the quality of the entertainment, but you won't hear me complain if the entertainment is good, and on the Zuiderdam the entertainment was exceptionally good. The shows were sophisticated with high production values and talented performers. The costumes, staging, lighting and music were what you might see on a slightly grander scale on Broadway. In addition, there was a comedian on board who was hilarious and a magician who was amazing. The ports. Like many cruise lines, Holland America owns an island and makes it a port of call. The day we dropped anchor there, the sun was too hot for me to handle, but my wife and some of our friends raved about the beach, the surf, and the lunch which the Zuiderdam served on shore. We also stopped at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, a port so dull our comedian joked that the only activities on the island were happening on board our ship. In retrospect, I realize that he wasn't making a joke. The remaining ports of St. Thomas and Nassau are standard for most cruise lines. The service. One of the two criteria which make or break a cruise for me. In a nutshell, the Holland America service was not as good as Celebrity, which in my opinion sets the standard for the industry, but it was still good, and regarding our cabin steward, very, very good. Our cabin steward was named Mohammed Ali, and no, it's not who you're thinking. Our Mr. Ali, who like most of the crew came from Indonesia, was a young man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. He was always available, although I never saw him work with an assistant. Especially in the evenings, he arranged our bed sheets so beautifully it was almost criminal to sleep on them. Our dining room waiter was also from Indonesia and the first night at dinner we presented him with a challenge. Shrimp cocktails for all six of us every night, we told him. Even if they aren't on the menu. He had no problem bringing them or bringing us a multitude of other dishes or multiple dishes. As on the Century, our drinks from the bar were waiting for us on our table in the dining room as we had requested. However, on the Century, our waiter was there to greet us each evening and to hold our chairs for us. Then he explained each item on the menu. When we ordered lobster tails, he shelled them. On the Zuiderdam, occasionally our waiter's assistant would hold our chairs for us, but the menu was never explained and we shelled the lobster tails ourselves: an example of the difference between a good cruise line and a great one. Also, in the Zuiderdam's Lido restaurant, a buffet where we ate breakfast and lunch, there were usually several waiters standing around, but they rarely offered to carry our trays to the tables unless we asked them. But why should we have to ask them? Which brings me to the delicate topic of tipping. Years ago, Holland America was noted for a "no tipping required" policy. That this cruise line would discourage tips to its employees for working so hard seems heartless, and the rationale that Holland America offered was ridiculous. Our staff, they claimed, loved working for you so much that money was not even a consideration. I frankly never understood how an Indonesian I had never met before and would never see again would enjoy a week as my slave, and I suppose that this enigma finally occurred to Holland America. Today the policy is to automatically charge $10 per passenger per day as tips to spread equally throughout the staff on the ship, which is unfair to those like Mr. Ali and our dining room waiter who deserved to be compensated for their exceptional service. So at the end of the cruise, and at Holland America's invitation, we simply gave Mr. Ali and our dining room waiter (and his assistants) some extra cash just for themselves and not to share with anyone. The food. The primary reason I cruise and my main criterion for choosing a cruise line. Except for the Zuiderdam's superior Lido buffet, I regret to report that the quality of food was not quite as good as Celebrity's. As for the superb Lido, the breakfast selections were limited only by your imagination, and at lunch there were several stations to satisfy almost any taste: Salads, Soups, Sandwiches, Sweets, Hot Dishes, Asian, Italian, and probably others I can't recall offhand. The grill just outside by the pool produced hamburgers, hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, chicken, tacos, fries and other items. However, unlike the burgers on board the Century which tasted like ground filet mignon, I'm told that the Zuiderdam's just tasted like, well, burgers. The vegetarian burger was nothing special either. Dinner in the Vista Dining Room was good, but not great. Although there was still plenty to eat, the Zuiderdam's menu - from the bread on the tables to the appetizers, entrees and desserts - was adequate but less extensive than Celebrity's, and while the food was tasty, not "as" tasty. There were no midnight buffets, although pizza, ice cream and other desserts were served in the Lido restaurant until after midnight. A Dutch Chocolate midnight buffet that I remember seeing advertised in the Holland America brochure never materialized. On the afternoon of the second formal night, there was a Dessert Buffet in the dining room, which was a poor imitation of the spectacular Midnight Grand Buffet on board Celebrity's ships. Furthermore, as far as the timing was concerned, offering us a dining room full of desserts a few hours before serving lobster tail and filet mignon at the formal Farewell Dinner was, in my opinion, idiotic. Which brings me to a final paradox. The Holland America brochures loudly proclaim that master chefs prepare only the finest cuisine for their passengers, and that every meal is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. But it's not true. At best the food we're served in the Vista Dining Room and the Lido restaurant is second best, because on board the Zuiderdam there is a "special" restaurant called "The Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey". Now, I don't know where the Odyssey "is" that the Pinnacle Grill is supposedly located "at", but dropping the pretense, this restaurant is located on Lower Promenade deck 2 along the atrium. Truthfully speaking, the Pinnacle Grill is a beautiful room, and passengers can eat there for an additional $20 per person. Unlike in the Vista Dining Room and the Lido restaurant, guests are limited to just one entree, but the food is supposed to be superior. I am frankly offended that for all the money I paid, I must pay even more at The Pinnacle or be served second best in the Vista Dining Room and the Lido, although I suspect that it's just a gimmick to extort extra cash from passengers duped into believing that the food is better there. I wound up canceling the dinner reservations I had made at The Pinnacle for the last night of the cruise, because I had a vision of the staff snickering as yet another sucker handed them $40 dollars to eat essentially the same food. I simply didn't want to be that sucker, and the two portions of roast beef I enjoyed in the Vista Dining Room were delicious enough. The bottom line. Having been spoiled by a verandah cabin on board the Zuiderdam, we will never cruise again on Celebrity's Century or any other ship without that affordable option. However, the newer ships on most cruise lines, including Celebrity, all have plenty of available verandah cabins like the Zuiderdam. Factoring in the verandah, and assuming that Celebrity and Holland America both offered cruises at the same time of year and to similar ports of call, we would choose Celebrity. If, however, Celebrity did not offer convenient times or attractive venues, we would sail Holland America again, but not before giving another popular and prestigious cruise line like Princess a try.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

The Zuiderdam is a beautiful ship and we enjoyed our trip. It is a new ship and we felt the crew worked their hardest, but need a little more experience. The games were great fun around the pool and they also played "game show" games that were a lot of fun and laughs. The crowd is older and there were a few wheelchairs and such. We are not big party people so we don't usually look for a young cruise but we like a good mix of ages. We

felt as though we were some of the youngest ones on the boat, however there were also very few children which is a plus for us. Our room with a verandah was very nice and the room steward was prompt and efficient. We would sail Holland America again if it was offering the best price but it wouldn't be our first choice because of the age group.

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

My wife and I did not like the Ziuderdam. The Holland America service just isn't there and can't be with that style ship and size. For instance, a waiter Capitan never stopped by our table during our first week, we did see one a couple of times during the second week. All the little specialties like flaming desserts are gone on this ship. The Lido Dining room is just one big cafeteria, no one to carry your tray on this ship, and much walking

to many different counters to get your lunch. They call the ship elegant and beautiful. I call it glitsy and Las Vegas style. They also have problems that will be solved. The ship can not operate at designed speed without shaking so bad that you can't eat in the dining room. Because of this we were late into nearly every port. The fire doors were blocked open for the first 12 days of the trip because the fire control system wasn't working, according to a ships officer. We really are Holland America fans and love the smaller ships. I think that this ship and the next four to be built just are not for our age group or cruising experience. Maybe Holland America is just going to be another part of their new owner, Carnival.

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Nov 30, -0001

Bahamas

I was fortunate to be among a group of travel agents that cruised on the Zuiderdam for 3 nights before her inaugural cruise. This will be a short review as I am sure there will be more extensive ones posted. This ship is the first of their Vista class. Our room was oceanview on the main deck. I would recommend upgrading to a higher deck as we could hear the crew moving heavy things around on the deck above us. The lighting in the room

especially around the mirror was inadequate. The only place to put on makeup was in the bathroom. Speaking of the bathroom, ours did not have a bathtub - only a shower (although most rooms on this ship do have a tub). Perhaps we have been spoiled by having balcony cabins on our last few cruises. The décor of this ship is not your typical Holland America style but rather more colorful. There was a lot of red velvet and purple. Some of it bordered on gaudy. All 3 shows were excellent! Bob Mackie designs all the costumes. The shows and lounges offered lots of music from the 50’s and 60’s to appeal to the Baby Boomer generation. You won’t hear Big Band music on this ship if that is what you prefer. The food was also excellent! The food was not only visually appealing but tasted great too. Holland America always offers complimentary hors d’oeurvres and popcorn. Cappuccinos and lattes have always been complimentary but on this ship there is a small fee for these of $1.65 . (in the Java café). Our only port of call was at Half Moon Cay which was very nice. The barbeque lunch was excellent. The shrimp were the largest I have ever seen. They butterflied and grilled them and they were delicious! The Holland America experience is made more special but not having any public announcements coming into your room (unless it is an emergency). They also serve you on Rosenthal china and have fresh flowers throughout the ship. They also do not add gratuities to your bill. It is these details that give their ships a 5 star rating. I give this ship a high rating especially for their entertainment, food and service. The target market for this ship is people in their 40’s and 50’s. They also have Club Hal for the kids.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

EMBARKATION: Well if you are in a wheelchair or you are handicapped they have a disabled line and they also have wheelchairs available for embarking. If you are not in a wheelchair be there early. The lines go very slowly and when a thousand people are on line it could seriously turn ugly. The lines are split into to aisles. One for forms that were printed off the website, the other for people who used the original form. Both aisles get

longer and shorter ,so if you want fill out both forms ,so you can jump on the shorter line. When you get to the front desk they will give you a key card, DO NOT LOSE IT! This is your boarding pass AND room key. Then they will take a picture of you to store in the card ,so when they swipe it when you get on and off the ship that you do not need photo identification. Then you walk upstairs where they take yet another picture of you ,but this time this one will be on display in the photo gallery on the ship ,so you can purchase it (Hint: Look your best)Then once your on the ship you swipe your card and either by elevator or by stairs (You're on the 2nd floor) you go to the 9th floor for a welcome lunch. Don't worry they have plenty elevators with ususally at least 4-6 in each area. The Lido Restaurant offers Italian, the Wok, the Bistro, and the Deli for lunch. You may have to do some searching for a table. YOUR ROOM: Well don't over pack because the room even if you went out of your way is pretty small. I got a verandah ,so it seemed larger. You also have a room steward who is absolutely exceptional. When you go to Breakfast and come back the bed is made. When you go to dinner and come back your bed is ready to sleep on. DINNER: You can go to three places for dinner, the Vista which has the elegance (on your room card/boarding pass it tells you what level you are on and what time. Be pretty prompt. Then there is the lido for days that you are too tired to dress up. If you think about it, the Vista and the Lido have the exact same food ,but the Vista's food is well decorated. On the days that you are at sea it is formal night. They tell you tuxedo's are appreciated ,but not many men wear them. You could bring both and if you have a dinner before you sneak down and see what they are wearing. For women basically a dress or nice skirt and blouse. All food is basically the same. The Pinnacle Grill has a "nominal fee" to attend. I should seriously not encourage it even though I never went there. DAYS AT SEA: There is always plenty to do on the ship ,so look at the little pamphlet that you get at night to make a schedule for yourself. The ship has 2 pools. They are not exactly big ,but many adults don't even get in them. PORTS: There is lots of shopping to do at port and if you want an excursion go to the first level Shore Excursion Desk where they help you find a tour suitable for you. Make sure there is enough time for you to go shopping! Be on board like an hour before all aboard because when they blew that horn you could see hundreds of people start running from every direction. AGE GROUPS: There is usually enough kids on the boat and their is plenty sampling from old to just married to in between. If you are over the age of 10 and not yet 13 do not attend CLUB HAL unless you want to sit in a circle clapping. DISEMBARKATION: Well this part is a pain in the neck. They tell you one thing and you do that and then something else happens. We had to eat breakfast before 8.30 is what they said. We did ,so and we did not disembark until like 10! So everyone was standing around bored to death. Then getting your luggage and going through customers is SOOOOOOOOo annoying. If you are a U.S. citizen it may be faster or slower mattering on how many people are foreign. You know that little tag they gave you, keep it! They call you by that tag and that is how you find your luggage! Getting to the Airport: Is a long senseless thing. You must do it ,but you will not enjoy it AT ALL! One last tidbit: The entertainment is pretty good. So overall go for it! You will enjoy it !

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

This is the first time I’ve ever submitted a review to Cruise Reviews, but I’ve so enjoyed others sharing that I thought, “It’s my turn!” My mother and I went on Holland America’s Zuiderdam (pronounced “ZI-der-dam”, like “cider”…this was clarified on the FIRST day of the cruise by the activities staff) out of Ft. Lauderdale on August 27, 2005. It went to Half Moon Cay; Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island; Costa Maya,

Mexico; and Key West, Florida (7 days). This was my first cruise with Holland America. Previously, I’ve cruised with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, and Princess. Embarkation was smooth. One stop checks you in, takes your picture, and gives you your stateroom key all at the same time. At other cruise lines, this process requires multiple stops at different stations. We boarded immediately (at 1pm) and were led by a friendly Philippino crew member to the Lido deck (9) for a buffet lunch, since cabins would not be ready until 2:30pm. Compared with other ships, the Zuiderdam’s interior is small and dark. Hallways are narrow. Public rooms are small. The carpet is dark, the walls and draperies are dark, and the furniture is in shocking shades of pink, blue, yellow and purple. There are a lot of Asian inspired decorations used. There is only one large pool, midship (deck 9). A tiny pool, “for adults only” is on deck 9, aft, but the adult only policy is not enforced and children are everywhere. Out of the 2 adult hot tubs, one was broken for the entire cruise. Everything takes place on either deck 9, 2, or 3. And I didn’t see any of the teak lounge chairs that Holland America displays in their advertisements…just plastic tan wicker and some dirty white plastic chairs. Our cabin on deck 7 had a balcony and a full size tub! It was the largest bathroom I’ve ever had on a ship. Beautifully decorated, well-stocked, and with a silver ice bucket, the cabin was very clean and had adequate storage space for 2. Achmad, our cabin steward was fast, friendly, efficient, and left our room beautiful day after day, and night after night. There was a minibar in the room filled with expensive sodas, water, and alcohol, but it wasn’t cold. When I informed the front desk it wasn’t working, they told me it wasn’t a refrigerator, but a “cooler”. Either way, the beverages were warm. Princess does this better by providing you an empty cold refrigerator to keep what you want in it (I tend to travel with my own diet sodas). The food is good. A lot of variety. The Lido deck has a grill (burger, hot dog, and fries), a “Bistro” section, Italian station, Salad Bar, Deli station, and “Wok” station. Not to mention a dessert section with ice cream available most of the day (at no additional charge, unlike Princess). My only complaint is with dinner. While the pasta, pizza, and ice cream stations stay open until 1am, the Bistro, Wok, and Deli close down too early during lunch and dinner. Our daily schedule said the Lido would serve casual dining until 9pm, but the chefs closed up everything, except pasta and pizza, by 8pm. When I questioned this, I was told the schedule was in error and the chefs operate on “their own schedule”. Other passengers were not pleased with this either. Breakfast on the Lido has the usual standard of fruit, cereal, eggs/omelets made to order, and other hot breakfast items. The best thing was the FRESH SQUEEZED ORANGE JUICE! They even bring you the fresh squeezed stuff for breakfast with room service. One thing I noticed was that the chefs SERVED you in the Lido. Only the fruit/cereal/pastry bar (during breakfast) and salad bar (during lunch/dinner) are self-serve. I liked this because passengers didn’t overfill their plates and waste food, and it decreased infection (multiple passengers touching tongs, spoons, and food). However, this made for some slow, long lines. The Vista Dining room provides excellent food and service for lunch and dinner. However, lunch is not offered here during port days, which is a disappointment for those who remain on the ship. Dinner provides fine dining at its best. The specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey, only charges $10 per person on the first night, instead of $20 (this is not advertised). When I tried to make a reservation, I was told, “We don’t have a table for 2”. However, there were many empty tables that night as we stood outside the restaurant and observed. They refused to accommodate us. Other passengers raved about the service and steaks, but reported some seafood was “dry”. We went to tea a few times. They hold it in different places each time. It was all desserts and self-served. They never came around to refill our tea cups after the first fill. Princess does “tea time” much, much better! It was impossible to contact room service. The one time I got through (in 7 days of trying), they forgot the silverware and the crackers to go with my crackers and cheese. When trying to call, either no one answers the phone or you are put on hold indefinitely. However, the pre-ordered in-room breakfast (ordered the night before, and the paper placed on your door handle) came on time and hot. It was also difficult to reach the front desk. No one answered the phone. They reported that they only have one line, and it’s in a back room. While standing at the front desk, I overheard other passengers voicing complaints about not being able to reach room service, the front desk, and being unable to find the infirmary (which even I, a RN, had trouble locating). The shows were wonderful! The dancers, singers, costumes, music, stage sets/props were some of the best I’ve ever seen! Other activities included: first-run movies in the Queens Lounge, dancing/karaoke, trivia, craft class, sports events, and special game shows. They don’t post the movie times anywhere except in the daily schedule, so keep it with you. The midnight movie was overrun with loud, unsupervised teenagers with no Zuiderdam staff present for control. The Zuiderdam's gym is spacious, with a large number of treadmills, bikes, and weight machines. They had trouble keeping the clean towels stocked though. The Spa is nice...a bit expensive. However, things go "on sale" by the 4th day of the cruise, so just wait a little and that $100 massage will go down in cost. We went on an excursion in Costa Maya, called “The Blue Lagoon/Speedboat for 2 adventure”. It was very long. The brochure said 6 hours, but we were gone 7 ½ hours. The lunch provided was small and the staff seemed unprepared for our group. For 40 people they only had 8 boats. We had to wait 2 hours to drive our speedboats for 50 minutes. The Captains Gala was impressive…lots of hors d’oeuvres and champagne flowing. After announcing the Officers, the Captain also brought up the “employee of the month”, a small Philippino boy who worked in the laundry department. I admired the way the Captain treated this young man with the same respect as if he was an Officer. The Captain and Bridge Officers are Dutch, the Casino and Shops staff British, and everyone else is from the Philippines, Bali, or Indonesia. The Asian crew provides the most astounding service I’ve ever received on a cruise! Always smiling, polite, hardworking, and aiming to please. While I like the fact that Holland America allows you to remain in your cabin until your luggage tag is called for disembarkation, the process is long. Our cabin steward actually asked to make our beds for the next cruise while we were still in the room. I think it's better just to wait in a public area of the ship until your tag is called. Comparing Holland America to the other lines I’ve traveled with, I find them inferior to Celebrity and Princess. While I enjoyed the entertainment and friendly Asian crew, the errors in service times, problems with the phone system, and the décor and set up of the ship discourage me from traveling with Holland America again.

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal

Overall, the cruise was ok. BUT, Holland America sure knows how to nickel & dime you. We were in a Deluxe Verandah Suite (top of the line) and got nickel and dimed the whole way. We had access to the Neptune Lounge (Suites only) and had very nice appetizers, but they had no soda and when you did have a soda they charged $2.00 for each one. At this level of cruising, come on, throw in some free pop. The cabin was over $10,000 for the two of us.

Another example was that everyone was encouraged to get up at 5:30 am for the entry into the Panama Canal and to join the captain on deck for a mimosa toast. It was inferred that the mimosas were complimentary. However, after we got up super early and were on the foredeck in the pitch darkness, they were charging $5.00 per mimosa. I would have had no problem with this if they had said so before hand, but they did not. Just seemed cheap. Also, there was a constant pressure from the bar staff and wine stewards to up-sell you on everything. As a person who is highly competent in wine selection, I was bullied on the first night for an up-sell on the wine that I had selected. I decided to give the person the benefit of the doubt and to with her selection. Big mistake. My original selection was much better AND $10 cheaper too. Overall, the cruise was ok, but the up-selling left a bad taste in our mouths. The food was pretty good. It was a high 3 1/2 stars and had something for everyone. The service from the servers was great too. We had a lovely Deluxe Verandah Suite, which was spacious and comfortable. They were ok. Don't miss Half Moon Cay. The water is great and the beach is beautiful. Definitely don't go into Puerto Limon, Costa Rica if you are not on a shore excursion. The town is extremely dirty and unsafe. We counted 45 police officers within 3 blocks. The Panama Canal is outstanding, but you don't need to get up at 5:30 am to enjoy it. You also don't need to go to the foredeck to see it either. You can just go to the front of decks 7 and 8 to see everything and with less crowds. Overall the trip was great. Our entire family went and there was definitely something for everyone. We all had a great time, but everyone remarked on the nickel and diming.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

Zuiderdam Cruise: Jan. 11–18, 2003 New ship, December 2002/Note: We are a couple in our 50s. 2 past cruises before this, but 10 years ago. Eastern Caribbean: Nassau, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay Our cruise started with an overnight stay in Ft. Lauderdale, as we had friends in the area, so booked our own airfare—nonstop and cheaper too! I have two cruises behind me and hubby had none. He was very excited about his first cruise

and afterwards thought it was wonderful—he didn’t want it to end, nor did I. While these are our opinions/thoughts, others may have different feelings. But I hope everyone who sails on her will find his experience as wonderful as we did. Embarkation was smooth. Our friends dropped us off at the dock about 2 p.m. Our bags were immediately taken and we entered the terminal to get processed. It took less than an hour. We were then given a number to board the ship. But, there was no wait; we walked right on. There were people to point you towards your cabin, but not individual escorts. This didn’t bother me. Finding your room is simple. We got upgraded from Cat G to Cat. D, (an outside cabin with a full view (but not floor length window) from an outside with partial view (obstructed by a lifeboat) so that was a nice surprise. It was also on the main deck opposed to Deck 4. Very nice location near the front desk and the atrium. At 194 sq. feet, it looked just like pictures we had seen before, and roomier than we expected. The bathroom was nice; plenty of room to store things, including a medicine cabinet—the shower/tub worked fine—very good water pressure and plenty of hot water. The hairdryer was permanently positioned in the room, not the bathroom, but that was fine with me, as I could sit and use the dryer while hubby was in the shower. The bed was fine; double pillows, and situated right in front of the window so we could turn around and sit up and watch in the evening and morning water and skylights when we went to bed. You had your own thermostat. We hardly changed it all week. The temperature was very constant. Our cabin steward Imat was nice. Everything was always in place and replaced as needed. We didn’t have one complaint or missing item that we had to ask for. Each night you get a program of the next day’s activities, as well as the dress code for the dining room. Oh, yes, the room had a mini bar that is replenished as you use it. At charge of course. I could have liked a daily TV accounting of our expenses as some ships have. A friend said this was possible on the Carnival Victory. I think it is a nice touch so you can keep track. We saved all of our receipts and compared them with the totals we got the night before last. You then get another one the last night. Everything checked out fine. The ship itself is big and beautiful. If you’re looking for a fancy Atrium 5 to 10 decks high, you won’t find it here. It is just 3 decks high, very nice and elegant though with a rotating $400,000 crystal seahorse at the top. It overlooks the Atrium bar on deck 1. The entire ship is designed with art of many forms—sculpture paintings, glassware, and flowers—all beautiful to look at. Colors of carpets and window treatments are bolds in turquoise, blues, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, and purples. Some have said it is gaudy. We loved it all. Simple, ordinary designs and colors would have been boring. The ship is easy to navigate, as there are ship maps and signs posted by the elevators/stairways. Taking an elevator never had much of a wait nor were they ever crowded. And speaking of crowding, sometimes we felt like we were the only people on the ship; there were few walkers at night on deck 3 on which you can completely encircle the ship. Even within the ship we never felt overcrowded in the least—often wondered where all the people were. And it was almost a full ship; one source said just 100 short. I guess a lot of them were on the Lido deck which is the buffet deck and pool deck. While we had a few breakfasts there, we opted to have most of our meals in the main dining room. So, we can’t give a fair opinion on the buffet food. I must say the food looked good, but the lines were long, and it seemed to me if you did the buffets, by the time you got your food, beverages, etc. and been seated, some would have started to cool. It is just not our thing. But I must say there were always plenty of people doing just that so the food must have been good. Much of it was the same thing we got in the dining room anyway. We like the seating, service, the no-waiting, and hot food that the main dining room provides. Some like the casualty and flexibility of buffet eating. We had the early seating, which gave us plenty of time after to see the shows, visit the lounges, and partake in other activities. We did use the Lido for the ice cream bar, desserts (always plentiful but closed after a certain hour), coffee, and pizza on occasion. One disappointment was the ice cream bar. There were a few ice cream, yogurt choices, and a couple of containers of toppings, one was a watery caramel and the other looked like berry. Then there was a brown plastic bottle of Hershey’s chocolate. Yes, the kind you find in the supermarket. That was a bit tacky to me. It was right out there in the bottle; I would have preferred a nice thick fudge topping, or caramel one. There were some sprinkles and jimmies and a couple of alcoholic cordials to put on top also. Still it was fine. Since there is no midnight buffet on Zuiderdam, you may be out of luck when late night hunger hits you. There is 24-hour room service too, but we never got to that point. Main dining room food was excellent in our opinion; we ate there every night but one. There are numerous menu choices and we tried many; were never disappointed and had clean plates every night! Service was fine, not like I remember 10 years ago, but no complaints there. I think the passenger has to put the servers at ease, as many of them seem very quiet, but the crew was always smiling and doing their job, that is for sure. One night we paid the extra $20 per person in the Odyssey restaurant. No regrets there. It was the most wonderful, elegant meal we have had anywhere. Service was very good; food was excellent and presented very nicely—beautiful crystal and china was everywhere. There were about 8-10 main course selections. We had filet mignon and it was perfect—very big, as we chose the Odyssey cut, rather than the smaller cut. We also ordered a bottle of wine there. It was just a very nice couple of hours and a leisurely meal. Next time we might do it a second night. There are afternoon teas, consisting of tea and desserts, little sandwiches. We went to a couple of them, one of which was the dessert extravaganza (afternoon also), in which the cooks made a lot of desserts, nice ones at that. There was one ice carving, the only one I saw on the ship, but it was nothing like midnight buffets I’ve seen in the past. Holland America is supposed to have a Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza one day. I thought it would be a midnight gala with carvings, the works, and all chocolate. I never did see it on this trip. I forgot to ask, but am thinking this particular afternoon tea was it. So, if that was it I am disappointed, as I was looking forward to totally going nuts on chocolate. Someone out there, help. Did we miss it? The lounges were all nice. We preferred the Ocean Bar, Crow’s Nest, Explorer’s Bar, but visited them all. Missed a drink only in the Sports Bar. We used them during the day and early evening mostly before there were too many smokers. What would be nice are smoke-free bars. I know Carnival has one totally smoke free ship. Ditto for the casino—smoky. But, you have choices; you visit places when it is less smoky. And we did. There was never a problem finding a place that we were happy at. We saw pool parties going on, games, etc, but didn’t partake in them. We were too busy exploring. Queen’s Lounge had game shows, dancing, entertainment, other things going on. Movies too. It is a smallish lounge, but adequate for these smaller shows. But not for movies. This was the worse spot, as the screen was down to the floor, and anyone sitting behind another had a very obstructed view, as there was only one level of chairs. The chairs were movable, and people were constantly moving them to try to see. A tiered floor plan would help. But, since it is a multipurpose room, considerations have to be made for different activities being held there Entertainment is top notch. The dance troupe that performed 3 nights was superb. We spoke to 2 of the kids when we spotted them on the ship one day in normal everyday clothes, etc. Nice kids. So much energy. They came from CA and signed up for a 6-month stint. They are wonderful. The pianists, comedian/magician, comedian/juggler of other nights were fantastic as well. Everyone seemed to have fun, both the performers and the audience. Highly recommended. We didn’t miss one show. The crew also puts on a show one night. All the shows last less than an hour, so there is plenty of time for other things. They sure pack a lot into the timeslot allowed. We used the gym (treadmills) a few mornings that we didn’t go ashore. There are plenty of machines/equipment of all types, plus free classes. Cycling and Pilates are extra. The spa was great but extra and expensive, so did not use any services there. The large hydrotherapy pool was partially not functioning, so it was free all week to whoever wanted to use it. That was nice, but since only part of it worked you had to wait your turn to "get to the bubbles" Still, the warm water felt good. Other things to mention. Pools are nice; there is a library, internet center (fee), coffee bar (extra, but very reasonably priced coffee drinks); sports deck (11) for basketball, volleyball, badminton; never saw anyone use it, but know there were scheduled activities for these things as well. Deck 10 was Observation deck (views on both front and rear of ship) and this is where the kids club is located as well (indoors). No knowledge of that, but we only saw kids in it once or twice. Shopping area consists of about 4-5 rooms all together. Something different each night is on clearance or special so don’t buy the first day! Last night was clearance on t-shirts, but I didn’t look closely enough; the one I bought had a crooked emblem on it. W saw few children running about anywhere. When we did see them, they were generally well behaved and with their families. Saw a few very young families as well. Yes, I guess older couples seem to be in the majority, as most HAL ships are. There were young couples and singles as well, but, we get along with anyone, and there was plenty of mix for everyone to mingle if they wished, or enjoy the time together alone. To me, on a ship, everyone is out to have an enjoyable time and we’re all the "same age". However, they need to get more young people on the ship. That would be wonderful, as there is a disco that was almost bare. Perhaps their reputation of being for an older crowd will be hard to change. Hopefully word of mouth will help change that! We are young 50s and we were up late every night having a blast! I won’t go deeply into ports of call, or make recommendations, but we did choose to go on our own after reading books prior to the cruise, for flexibility as well as expense. I will just tell what we did. In Nassau, we just did a horse surrey ride through town for about a half hour, then walked around on our own—shopped, walked a lot and had a few beers. It was fun. St. Kitts was beautiful. We hired a cab driver along with a few other couples and did a 3-hour tour of the island with a stop at Brimstone Hill Fortress (which we wanted to see) and Caribelle Batik. He then dropped us at the shopping area near the dock. For this it was $11 each plus $4 admission to Brimstone Hill. Saw a lot of the island in the ride too. In my plan to do St. Thomas, St. John: I had to change it. It took forever to get off the ship; I still don’t know why, but it was way too long. Immigration? Customs? We got numbers, and I guess they let people going on excursions off first. By the time we did get off, I thought there would not be enough time to go to St. Johns and do St. Thomas as I planned so rather than take the chance, we opted to go to Sapphire Beach and relax. It was wonderful, and by hiring our own cab driver got to see much of the island just by driving to the beach (I purposely found a far one to do just that). It was on the far end of the island, so we got good views on the ride and a great beach at a private resort, open to the public, no fee, and $5 an hour for snorkeling. The snorkeling was great for right on-the-beach snorkeling. We saw hundreds of Kinds of fish. The hotel was cooking out lunch—burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwich plates for $6, and $2 beers. Weather was perfect. BTW it was perfect all week, from 80 to 85 or so. Sun almost all the time. It rained one day on ship for about 15 minutes. What more can you ask for? Finally Half Moon Cay. What can I say? It was perfect. It was a great relaxing day before the end of the cruise. (Most visit Half Moon first, then Nassau last. We chose this one for a nice ending to it all.) Hammocks, chairs, beach, powdery sand, walks on the beach, and barbecue lunch. This private island is beautiful. We had fun in the outside bars too, watching all the activity from our barstool. While many waterspouts/boats are available for extra cost, we only rented rafts and snorkeling gear. Snorkeling was good when you went way out to the rocks that hang out, but more varieties of fish were seen in St. Thomas at Sapphire Beach. Would we sail the Zuiderdam again? Definitely. But with a different itinerary. I would do St. Thomas again, only to get to St. Johns, but Nassau and St. Kitts were seen and done with. We found the ship wonderful in every way. Never a dull moment or lack of things to do. The few petty things we did find (as mentioned above) did not take away from our enjoyment at all. A cruise is what you make of it. Where else can you get so much for what a hotel room at a nice resort would cost alone? We had the week of our lives in every way. But I sure would like to know where that Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza is? I’ll be sure to write Holland America about it. If it was there and we missed it, then we didn’t read our daily paper thoroughly enough, but I think what I was expecting was just not what it was meant to be. Lastly, there have been reports of engine problems, noise, a shaky ride, public restroom problems, and similar. I can’t say for others, but during our week, we were not aware of any of this.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

Our Christmas week cruise on Holland America Line's M.S. Zuiderdam was our first cruise. We are late 40 somethings traveling with 21 & 17 yr old daughters. We booked with HAL based on reviews, and recommendations from friends. We booked through a travel agent, but we went whole HAL with the entire package - Airfare, insurance, re-cruise hotel stay (recommended), and Airport-Hotel-Ship-Airport transfers. I would book the entire package

again, but would book a post-cruise hotel night since air travel out of Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday was a zoo. This was Zuiderdam's 2nd voyage, being placed into service Dec. 14, 2003. We booked a Category B Verandah suite, and an across the hall inside room for daughters (definitely worth the price for the verandah AND the additional room). Port was Ft. Lauderdale, with Eastern Caribbean stops in San Juan, St. Thomas, St. John and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Disappointments beyond HAL's control: This being Christmas week - the ship was full and there were many young children. It was difficult sleeping if you're idea of vacation is getting to bed by midnight. Avoid the Holiday Cruises if you want a restful cruise. We found many passengers to be rude and not at a very high level of sophistication for a pricey cruise (you would get strong whiff's of Acapulco Gold or some exptic weed wafting from one of the Verandah's close to ours each night - along with a lot of cursing and obnoxious behavior). It was a fairly diverse mix of passengers which can be good, but we expected more of a Christmas spirit. Disappointments HAL was responsible for: Food quality in the Lido restaurant was barely a cut above dorm food. Lines were long and open tables for lunch were nearly impossible to find. Breakfast hours in the Vista (main dining room) changed throughout the cruise and were too short. For example, some mornings, hours were from 7:00-8:30, other mornings 8:00-9:30 (in the same time zone). Then hours changed again with the time zone. HAL' stayed with ship time vs. time zone time in San Juan, but changed to time zone time in St. Thomas. The time changes for breakfast were confusing and not well communicated. We missed a couple of the breakfast hours and had to eat the upscale dorm food in the Lido. It was often impossible to get an answer when calling Room Service in the evenings. A couple of times we gave up. Entertainment on-board ranged from pretty good with the Broadway style dance shows, to really bad with the pianist. It was also annoying because many of the older passengers liked to humm, talk and sing as "unrequested" back-up for the entertainers. The organization of shore excursions was pitiful. DO NOT take the Trunk Bay Beach Tour in St. John's. We paid $136.00 for 4, waited for the 12:30 pm tour start, were herded to taxi's, taken to the beach w/ no help from the Shore Excursion staff. The snorkel equipment promised as part of the tour was nowhere to be found at the beach. A courteous complaint to the Shore excursion desk on board was met with an unsympathetic "no refunds" comment. TIP: St. Johns & Trunk Bay are beautiful. Take a cab to the beach and get there early. We would have spent $32.00 for 4 for any of the plentiful and courteous taxi drivers at the dock instead of the $136 paid to HAL for a taxi to the beach. The positives: The ship is beautiful. It has the classic ocean liner look instead of the giant floating jelly bean look of some of the mega-liners. Other than stabilizer problems which contributed to a rough ride, there weren't many significant glitches. The Verandah rooms are very nice and a good value compared to other ships. The Vista dining room was nice, with very good food quality and variety for Breakfast and Dinner. Lunch menu could stand improvement. The Vista dining room staff was outstanding. Our head waiter, his assistant and our wine steward were our friends by the end of the first night's dinner and gave us absolutely the best service we have ever had at any restaurant. Our cabin steward was also very attentive and stayed in the background. He was careful not to ever disturb us in the room, but always seemed to know when we were out of the room and would freshen towels and clean. The ports were all great. My wife went shopping in San Juan, and said she should have stayed on the boat, while my daughters and I took the rain forest horseback ride - which was a very nice excursion. St. Thomas was fun (I've contributed to the vibrant jewelry trade). St. John was nice - but forget the town and go to the beach. Half Moon Cay (HAL's private island) is a jewel, and was the most fun of all of the stops. Embarkation and disembarkation was fairly orderly, with exception of quite a bit of confusion by the staff directing you on the right bus to the airport. In summary, lest I seem too negative, many of the annoyances were due to the busy week we chose, and HAL can do little about obnoxious passengers. However, we expected quite a bit more based on HAL's reputation. I hope our experience was not typical of HAL, and hope it is not due to penny pinching with Carnival's ownership of HAL. For our next cruise, we will probably try Celebrity or Princess, but there were enough positives on this cruise, especially w/ HAL's new line of Vista ships, where I will be willing to try HAL again...just not during the Holidays.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I just returned from a cruise with Holland America Line, we went on their newest ship the MS Zuiderdam this was our fourth cruise but our first with HAL. I have to say this is one “DAM” awesome ship. THE LIKES: 1- The size of our room. We were in the A category with a private veranda (not completely private). This cabin had a very comfortable queen size plus bed, a large bathroom with a small but useable tub, great storage

space, even enough for my wife. A bit loud but had a nice décor. 2 - The staff was overall outstanding. The cruise staff is as good as we have ever had. 3- The shows were “outstanding”, the on ship singers and dancers are as good as we have seen anywhere including NYC. 4- The Food was outstanding outside of the “Dutch” night. 5- The size of the ship. We found the ship very easy to get around on. Just 3 decks plus the top deck (open pools, sunbathing etc) are used for all public areas. It is not a long walk from dining room to the show lounge (just enough to settle that fantastic dinner). 6- SPACE SPACE SPACE we never felt like a bunch of cattle being herded except for the Lido Buffet (see dislikes). 7- The Lido Buffet the food was great and a great idea on separating the different ethnic groups. 8- The Casino was great. The dealers were 99% great and very helpful (there was one unhappy camper ). The casino manager and pit bosses did not make you feel uncomfortable, actually just the opposite. The manager dealt to me a number of times, I never beat her but she was awesome actually fun and a pleasure to lose money to. 9- The Ice Cream Bar, the guys working this area deserve a gold star. There were many rude people complaining that they did not have the same things they had gotten the day before (one woman yelling I want Cheese Cake for 5 Minutes), but these guys kept smiling and would not allow these “jerks” to ruin their day nor the way they served the rest of us. There were many more likes but normal stuff. The DISLIKES-Our number one dislike has nothing to do with this ship. It was the older and very rude cruisers. Now this is not to say all the older passengers were rude, many were very pleasant and happy. But the rude ones were unbelievable. Most people go on cruises and/or vacation to have a good time and relax, but these people (I have decided) go to make others learn how “not” to act. Must have been their parents never taught them how to play well with others. I hate to say it but they really should stay home and be rude to their relatives or to people they pay to make feel 2 inches tall. (Sorry for venting but there is no need to make others feel like less then human because they are serving you) Now onto dislikes the cruise line maybe able to control. 1- Not enough public bathrooms on the 4 decks used for the public. They need at least double the facilities and more than that for the ladies. I know this will take some doing but it is very much needed and if HAL wants this ship to be a great ship they will make it happen. 2- The Lido buffet was great most of the time but during “rush” hour it took forever to get your meal, the ice would melt in your Ice Tea at lunch and your coffee would be cold at breakfast by the time you get your main course, and found a table. There is room for additional chefs at most of these stations and it would speed things up considerably during these peak times. 3- The staff, mainly dining room staff, seems to be a new staff and some need a bit more training. Examples A- Slow service at times, had to plan on 1-½ hours to have dinner. B- One lunch on the Lido Deck I asked for some lemon for my tea, after I had checked the four places it normally is. I asked one person in the restaurant he sent me to a bar. I went there and they only had limes they told me to try another bar, the first person I asked should have gone to the kitchen and gotten some lemon for me and others wanting the same item. This is minor but important. It also shows how good the service was if this is the only thing that bugged me all week. Overall we would rate the cruise a solid 8.5. If it were not for the “rude” people it would have come in at a 9.5. So those of you would read this and sometimes act unpleasant to other know and understand others do notice. If the average age were closer to 40 then 70 that would have helped as well. But our tablemates were 20 years older then us and they were great fun. So really it is not an age thing, it just seems the older cruisers were the problem kids

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal

Would not do it again! The cruise was nice. The stops in Panama and Costa Rica were rough at best. Panama is filthy and VERY scary. This was my 2nd trip on this boat,love this ship. The food was great. The open dining options were the worst - as you wish was more as they wish - we were told to make reservations daily . We would call 6 or 8 times a day and they would not answer the phone. Also we decided to see if we could have a standing reservation

as was told by our server we could. They refused our request. We noticed that 8-10 couples did get this option - they were seated in the same spot night after night. Nice and very clean. We had a balcony and would spend the money to get the bigger suite than the suite we had. The excursions were the biggest let down of the trip. They had everyone go to a lounge and it was chaos. We even missed one of our excursions and had to pay a taxi $60 to get to the sloth rescue. Panama - STAY AWAY FROM THE INDIAN VILLAGE !!!! It was a 4 hour bus ride with NO bathroom in a VERY SCARY AREA. You take a tiny canoe trip to see an indian village that is as real as disney world . You get there and you get to share a loaf of bread ,slices of cheese and slice of meat - YUK - Then they talk about 10 minutes of how their life is. Then you go and get the hard sell to buy their stuff. It was VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. No one is doing any daily chores or anything they are all looking at you to buy things and you have nothing else to do. It was the biggest rip-off I had ever been on. The people around me were all telling me how uncomfortable they felt. We did not get to see much of the country, but from the window of a dirty bus hoping that we get back alive. I loved the trip. I would NEVER go back to Panama if they paid me.

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