My wife and I are newbie cruisers, because we used to enjoy more DIY travel until we got married on the Oasis. Anyways, here's is our "biased" review of the Zuiderdam on May 17, Alaska via Glacier Bay.
We were happy as everything went smoothly. The security check was efficient and we waited little to get our room keys and greeted by the various departments of the ship on the gangway.
Ship 1st impression:
It's a classy ship with lots of colors and artwork. These does not cover up the fact the ship is older. We saw various workers working on maintenance works like scraping old tiles, baseboard, carpet cleaning etc. Surprisingly, even they were busy working, they greeted us with smiles. They staffed extra people on the corridors to direct lost passengers to their room. We found our room easily and found 1 of our checked luggage at the doorway (efficient). While we were exploring the room, our room attendants knocked and introduced themselves and asked if we were hungry. They offered suggestions to where to eat at lunch time. We gave them a tip for the good work done (as with our previous cruise), and we went and explore.
The Zuiderdam has everything separated in various part of the ship, thus we had to locate where we were and used the paper map given to us to go to our destination. It would be nice to have larger maps at various traffic areas for the first time. Fortunately the staffs were busy roaming around and we asked for directions.
For the first 48 hours, all self-serve services were stopped to prevent illness. We went to Lido for lunch, it was busy and for every line, there were at least 5-6 people in front waiting to be served. Suggestion here: be greedy at Lido, ask for more food because they will give you a small plate!! Even the glassware and cups are small!! Overall, the food is adequate here. On the other hand, the Dive-In hot dog and burgers were amazingly good.
Dinner at Vista Main Dining Room were excellent. The portion, the flavors and the cooking technique were top notch, we were treated fine dining every night. They served west coast meals during the trip. The waiter and the assistant waiter were without question, good.
For breakfast, the Vista dining room had the slowest service for the similar level of quality at the Lido. We wanted a quick and casual breakfast so that we never tried again. All of our lunches and breakfasts were in Lido or Dive-in.
We signed up for LeCirque, due to the smaller scale, we found it a huge step up from the MDR. Did it justify the $50/pp? I think so, but we would probably try to Pinnacle Grill instead. We loved the plates they used on the night, but they were for show, they served with other plates. We also found out only 1 chef would prepare the LeCirque.
Bar services were great, the bartenders had the proper techniques. They were definitely not stingy about pouring, at many times my drinks could have at least 2 oz or more liquor in there. The bar prices were slightly higher, average $7.50 per after all the charges. The virgin drinks were horrible, I guess they expect someone would order them. They were too sweet.
I am a coffee geek, the Exploration Cafe at deck 9 scored very low marks. The staff there lacks the proper technique to call a barista. The latte came out too hot, expresso was not temped at all. Even McDonald could make a better cup of latte. I visited once and never bought from there again. The atmosphere there was great to read a book or just gaze at the ocean.
On our cruise, the majority was about 40+, and being a smaller ship, most of the activities we found too passive. There were game shows, musical performances and classes. The musicians' performance were good, but there weren't too many audiences around after 9pm. The atmosphere was plain and uneventful. For that reason, we did not participate too many of the onboard entertainment and watched movies in our room from our laptop. The LCD TV had HDMI and we could easily hook up the laptop with it. We were told beforehand that they have an excellent culinary program and we signed up for the mixology and cooking shows and classes. For the drinkers, $10 gets you 3 martini/cocktail and you learn how to make it. The cooking class is $30 hands on with the head chef that prepares the LeCirque. It includes a lunch at the Pinnacle Grill with wine. My wife and I found them to have excellent value since we got to learn something, take something and have a nice meal. We highly recommend that culinary programs.
As with most cruise ships, they run cruises all year around. I found the room to be clean in general but with some reservations. For example, I found dirty clothes inside the closet from the previous guest; I found the TV remote dirty to touch; some areas have layers of year old dusts. I understand the crews would clean up the busier areas but I would imagine maybe at least a complete cleaning once a month? My room review could be seen at the cabin review later.
Like any other cruises, there were tons of shopping opportunities for luxury goods. We didn't participate in any of them. We bought some liquor for our house bar and smokes for friends. The selections of liquor and smokes were small. The biggest brands would be there but the mid-range brands were absence. On the Alaska cruise, there were no duty free at ports, therefore the ship is the only place to buy them. For majority of the shopping, the ports had better selections and pricing compare to the ship.
If we went again, we would definitely buy the Spa package, where we could use the steam, sauna and the hydro pool for the duration of the trip. We would also want to try the Pinnacle Grill more because the quality of the food is significant better.
This vacation with the Zuiderdam was uneventful, but relaxing. The smaller crowd, attentive services and good food would be something I would recommend. Despite of some complaints and older ship, none of them is a deal breaker for an once in a lifetime experience in the Alaska.