This is a review of my cruise on the HAL Zuiderdam on 3/13/04. I was traveling with my 10 year old daughter. This was an Eastern Caribbean cruise departing from Fort Lauderdale. Embarkation was a breeze. The lines looked long, but we were processed and on board the ship in under a half an hour. We boarded about noon and headed up to the Lido dining room to grab a bite of lunch. First impressions of the Lido were very good. Rather than one long buffet line, there were several "stations" offering Chinese, Italian, a deli, and a "Bistro" line for the other food. This worked quite well to keep crowds to a minimum, however, as the cruise progressed, I did notice some room for improvements. More on that later. We ate on the aft deck by the pool. Although it was a bit windy, it made for a very relaxing start to the trip. The lifeboat drill was much more thorough than the one we experienced on Celebrity. HAL also had a wristband (or ankle band) for kids under 13 to wear that would identify their lifeboat stations so that they could be reunited with their parents in the event of an emergency. While I thought this was kind of a nice thought, my daughter thought otherwise, since she was the one having to wear the band.
The ship - I didn't know what to expect - but I found that the colors were quite nice. The ship was large, but pretty easy to navigate. The directory posted at most elevators (all except the outside elevators) made finding things easy. The elevators (with the exception of the midship center elevators) were quick to respond and very fast between floors. The interiors of most elevators had a suede type of fabric that many seemed to enjoy writing things on. Unfortunately on a couple of elevators, someone decided to leave a more "permanent" mark by scratching the fabric. The outside promenade deck was very nice to walk - 3 times around the ship was a mile, and you were somewhat protected by the winds. The observation deck was okay, but often times rather windy.
The cabin - It seems like everybody writes about the suite or verandah room that they had. This is a report from one in "steerage" - a main deck inside stateroom. I have to say that I was impressed. I was in a category K stateroom - main deck aft. The room was remarkably roomy, with two beds, a writing desk, a sofa and a nice sized bathroom. Noise was not a problem at all, and I was somewhat concerned because of the vibration stories I heard. This room was quiet - and motion was barely noticeable (we had a couple of days with "rough" seas).
Dining - There were 2 early seatings and two late seatings in the main dining room, we were in the second early seating (6:15). This worked out well for us. Originally, my mother and sister were to join us on this trip, but my mother was taken ill a week before the cruise and the doctor orders were "no travel". So they cancelled. There were still two empty seats at our table for them. The second night, when going to the dining room, we noticed that a completely different group was sitting at our table, so I spoke to the maitre'd about this. Apparently, they received the notice that my sister (who shares my daughters name) had cancelled. So they thought it was us. We were given a new table rather quickly, and the maitre'd seemed to be servicing our table a bit more than the others. All in all, this "mistake" was handled very well.
I can only compare service to my only other cruise, on Celebrity - the nod for food and service has to go to Celebrity in this case. While the food was good, I did not feel that it measured up to what we were served on Celebrity. Service also seemed to be a step behind Celebrity, although good, there were enough "little things", like the waiter remembering your name, that stood out. With one big exception. There was a waiter who worked the breakfast buffet line named Imam, or as most cruisers called him, "hunky dory". This gentleman made it a point to ask the names of everyone who came through his line. After that, he never missed addressing you by name whenever he saw you. He was given the moniker "hunky dory" because he'd wish everyone a "hunky dory day". Even in the main dining room, while having a cup of coffee with a friend at his table (neither of us had Imam as our waiter), he asked "Can I get you another cup of coffee, Joe?". HAL should realize what a jewel they have in this man.
A note here about vibrations in the dining room. Some other posts indicated a "horrible" vibration in the main dining room. While I did notice a slight vibration, "horrid" is not the word I would use to describe it. It was noticeable, but not overwhelming.
Club HAL - My daughter can be a bit shy at first, but I coaxed her up to Club HAL Sunday evening. She asked me to come get her in a half an hour. When I returned, she asked me to come back later. From that point on, I had a rough time keeping track of her. She was having the time of her life. The Club HAL staff was great - she met about 10 new friends her age, and they kept busy. Club HAL allows you to either have your child to come and go on their own (which I did), or they require that someone sign them in and out. They provide a "CD" packet with activities for the childs age group - kids 5 to 9, "tweens" from 10 to 13, and teens from 14-17. It was VERY well organized, and my daughter looked forward to "planning" her days on the Club HAL activities.
Shows - We attended shows four of the seven nights. All were quite enjoyable, and suitable for adults and kids.
Miscellaneous - There were bars everywhere, and the only thing that bothered me was that HAL didn't include a 15% gratuity for the wait staff. I don't carry cash with me on the ship and I felt bad that I couldn't give the waiter a tip on my room charge. From what I read, HAL will be changing this in May. It's for the better, in my opinion.
Room for Improvement - I found only two areas that I felt had any need for improvement. First, the Lido for breakfast. I am an early riser, so these weren't problems for me - but my daughter woke at about 10:00 on our at sea days, and one half of the Lido was closed down - making for a rather long line on the other side to get breakfast. They should leave both sides open for a little longer. The second area was with the "Baked Alaska Parade". I had the "late-early" seating (6:15) in the main dining room. "parade" began about 6:45.the upper restaurant diners were most likely finished, but those of us in the later seating were still working on salads or entrees, certainly nowhere near finished eating, when the lights were dimmed and we were encouraged to clap along to the music as the baked Alaska was paraded. I'd suggest combining the seatings for that night - it just felt out of place to be doing this while many guests were still eating.
All in all, this was a great cruise. The ship is very nice, the service was good, the itinerary was wonderful. I am sorely tempted to take this ship again in the near future. Out of 5 stars, I'd give it 4 and a half.