Easter 2004 Cruise on HAL's Zaandam, April 10-17
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's Degrees. 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 my 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.
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), shuffleboard, 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 prizes 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.
Of course each cruise line had its own web site. I particularly like reading cruise reviews on several of the numerous sites. Simply do a google search of "cruise reviews," or "cruise reviews Zaandam" to find these sites.
We were at first concerned that this would be a senior citizen's cruise. We also wanted to make sure that there were youths 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 youths 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. 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.
A month before the cruise we wrote to HAL's headquarters and requested a complementary cabin upgrade. We were advised by our travel agent that we had been upgraded to a large outside cabin. We also researched our destinations: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and Tortola, 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 chance to 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 lackluster 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 weekend. 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 12:30 p.m. 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 card 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 of many posed pictures were taken. Only one hour after arriving at the port we were enjoying lunch at 1:30 p.m.
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 muster drill, which went smoothly. Then we went 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 the case 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 hallways observing the art work I visited the restroom. When I tried to exit the slipping door wouldn't budge. 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 later 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 seas days, my wife would tell me, is her favorite day ever on a cruise. We rose at 6:00 a.m. 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 swimsuits 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 had hair styling appointment. I took the occasion to enjoy an afternoon nap in the cabin with the ocean moving swiftly by our window. Leslie awakened me and I went on deck. John was 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 who participated. There was a wide range of ages. John and I met in the Championship. I won.
I went to the room to prepare for formal night. Leslie was beautiful with her new hair style and dress. We went 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 enjoyed her company. Her grandson Zack was going to Club Hal.
The show was "Up on the Roof," the songs for the '50s and '60s. 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 visited the casino but did not wager since I am a loser at the tables.
We retired at 11:00 p.m. We placed our morning coffee and fruit order outside the door. We agreed that we don't have enough room to comfortably enjoy breakfast in the room. Leslie stated that this has been her favorite day ever on a cruise.
Day 3, Monday, April 12, 2004, At Sea: We rose early and get chairs by pool at 7:00 a.m. We had breakfast at 7:30 a.m. 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 participated in ping pong and shuffleboard tournaments.
I showered, steamed, and dressed 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 was informal. One third of men are not wearing jackets. The show featured 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 went to the Crow's Nest Lounge for TV Tune Trivia, which was fun. Then we retired for the night.
Day 4, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands: We awoke at 6:00 a.m. and could see that we'd arrived at Tortola as scheduled. We were 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 to 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 10:00 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. to go to 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 was pretty good. We found a beautiful coral reef.
We'd enjoyed the beach and wanted to return to Road Town for shopping and sightseeing 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 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 Crow's 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 4:30 p.m.
Tonight was 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 6:00 a.m. It was a short trip to St. Thomas, and we are docked. We could see other mega-ships like the Princess's Golden Princess, and Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. We had 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 needed 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 has 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 if 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 play a 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 Havensight Shops. She bought a bracelet which she wears daily. I walked back to the ship. I tried to find John at a ping pong tournament, and then checked 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 them. 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 had a headache and retired for the evening. I went see The Hill Brothers Show. This is an excellent comedy and juggling show. After the show I checked on Leslie, who was sleeping. I went to the piano bar and joined a Name That Tune team. My teammates were a family we've gotten to know. They had three generations on the cruise. We did well scoring 25 points, while 26 wins. Leslie was still sleeping and it was 1020 p.m. I walked the deck and went to the theater for The Hill Brothers Show. I really liked this juggling and comedy act. The brothers are both in their twenties.
Tonight was 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 felt much better. We had breakfast in the Lido Dining Room. We claimed poolside chairs. We enjoyed the sun and Caribbean band music. John and I participated in another ping pong tournament.
Since I enjoy the Rotterdam Dining Room and today would be our final lunch onboard, I decided 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. The 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. Thunderstorm and rain arrived for the late afternoon. George and our new pal Mike invited me for a few drinks in the Crow's Nest. We enjoyed the view of ocean and conversation.
Tonight was a formal dinner night. I streamed, showered and dressed in the locker room. We had more photos taken. This was the best dinner of the week. I had 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 went 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 retired to the Explorers Lounge for some classical music. The live trio plays piano, bass, and violin. After this we went to the piano bar.
The youth ages 13-17 were having their own casino night. Leslie and I walked by their large room and made eye contact with our fifteen year old. His eyes said hello but do not enter. We moved and retired to our cabin and changed into more comfortable clothes. John came back and he and I went to play some night time ping pong. Then to bed.
Day 7, Friday, April 16, 2004. (Half Moon Cay): We rose early because the private island experience is our favorite and we wanted to be among the first ashore. We realized that the last tender returning to the ship left at 12:45 p.m. The "tendering" is scheduled to start at 800 a.m. At 7:00 a.m. we found that no land was in sight yet. We learned that there was a weather delay. High waves were causing concern about the safety of the tenders beside the ship. At 9:10 a.m. we saw the island. Leslie was sunning. John and I played ping pong with friends. We caught a tender at 9:30 a.m., and arrived at 9:45 a.m. We had three hours on the island. We found a secluded part of the beach near an empty hammock. We relaxed and enjoy the sun. Photographers from the ship came by with a variety of clever photo opportunities.
We loved the private island experience. Clear ocean water, white sandy beaches, clean, shopping, water sports, Caribbean music and a simple buffet. I snorkeled out to 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 went back to the ship ahead of us. Leslie and I strolled the beach.
We ran into and visited with a newlywed 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 sat on the beach and chatted.
At 12:15 p.m. Leslie wanted to return to the ship. I wanted to stay and see Angela and Bill (our table mates) ride the banana boat. She went back to the ship and I hang with them. When I'm walking to the tender I chatted 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 not the single men she'd come to meet. The cruise director had told us that there were 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 pal George and we returned to the ship together. His family left him too. We joined Angela and Bill on the tender. I found John napping in the cabin and Leslie sunning. It was too windy so we went inside. We checked out our photos. We needed to get our 15 for $99. I saw on the daily schedule that there was an event called "Meet the Zaandam Cast." They were charming. Their ages are about 18-25 years old. Many passengers and particularly young girls had questions. They then took us on a backstage tour to see dressing rooms, costumes, wigs and props.
This was our last evening onboard. We had a full table since Bill and Angela's daughter Mattie had brought along a seven year old pal. I had artichoke dip, conch and corn chowder, chilled pineapple and banana soup, Greek salad, roast duck, prime rib, and finally bananas flambE 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 liked the show. After the show we stayed for Jackpot Bingo. The grand prize of $5,800 was to be awarded. A twelve year old girl won. They also had the cruise lottery winner drawing, again we did not win. Big fun for all. We returned to the cabin to pack for Saturday arrival at port. Our bags must be outside the cabin door by 1:00 a.m.
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 went together. It was wonderful, of course. They had about any breakfast item imaginable available including fresh fruits and fresh squeezed juices.
We relaxed on deck until our group was called to leave the ship. We quickly retrieved our bags and went 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.