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.
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.
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!
Note: Reports from later cruises indicate that the embarkation procedure has been significantly changed and improved, so the procedure which we so disliked on our cruise has presumably been replaced by a (hopefully) better one.
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 dEcor 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 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 dEcor 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.
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 terms of enhancing the ship's dEcor if not necessarily as stand-alone art. While there are some lovely original artworks and artifacts throughout, there are also some fake ones which are aesthetically lovely but which simply do not live up to the "museum-quality" billing that HAL gives their art collection.)
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 dEcor 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 dEcor does not impress except for die-hard fans of red velvet!
The room's biggest problem is most certainly not its dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor, 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 Queen's 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 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 dEcor 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 Cafe. 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 dEcor. 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 Cafe 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor 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 dEcor, 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 dEcor 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 dEcor, 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 dEcor. 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 dEcor. 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 dEcor, 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 dEcor; 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, there are many lovely pieces throughout the ship's public areas to enjoy... My favorites of course being Stephen Card's great paintings (as always).
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 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 fine; 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 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 dEcor 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.
Finally, for photos from this cruise please see: http://shiploverny.fotki.com/zuiderdam/