Zuiderdam - The Ship
Older ship, but renovated in 2017. Maintenance is never ending for ships. Each port day we observed, scraping, painting and power washing. And, yet, there still are areas of rust and wear. But, overall, the ship was well maintained. Deck crew worked hard, long days.
A few of the public rooms were too small for their intended purpose. For example: BB King lounge – The lounge was crowded every night. Arrive early to get a seat. Some of the BB King lounges on other HAL ships occupy an upper and lower level. The lounge on the Zuiderdam occupies one level.
BillBoard On-Board – Dueling Piano’s – Again, this lounge was crowded every night, with standing room only remaining. Arrive early to get a seat or be prepared to stand.
Staterooms – Our balcony stateroom number 4156 was meticulously maintained. The cabin stewards instinctively knew our daily routines, and were never intrusive. Each night we were amazed at the towel animals waiting on our bed. The room itself was spacious, with plenty of drawer space and storage for our suitcases under our queen-sized bed. Bathrooms and showers are equally spacious, in comparison to other cruise lines.
Service – Generally speaking, service was excellent. The embarkation and debarkation process and shuttles were seamless. In ports where tendering was required, the process was well organized. There were always several tenders in operation, and the lines moved quickly.
There was always a friendly face at reception. And, they were eager to assist with any problem. We needed to have our dining hours changed. Not only did the receptionist change the dining hours, she created a new key card, as well, to indicate the change.
Most evenings we ate in the Main Dining Room. We never experienced any problems with service. We were always greeted with smiles. And, the waiters knew their menu. Furthermore, we never waited for bar service.
On occasion, the table cleaning service was slow in the Lido Market. But, considering we had a full ship, it’s understandable.
Food – As I mentioned, we dined primarily in the Main Restaurant. The menu was varied, and everyone at our table enjoyed the quality or quantity of food.
One evening we dined in the Pinnacle Restaurant and were not impressed. Neither the food nor the service had that “wow” factor. The steaks were good, but no better than the main dining room. Some desserts were also served in the main dining room (crème brulee, for one). Furthermore, the waiters were very slow in cleaning the surrounding tables. For most of the meal we felt like we were sitting in a sea of dishes. No one appeared to be “in charge”.
We enjoyed breakfast every morning at the Lido Market. There was always a great variety of food. The tea drinkers in our group were very happy with the assortment of teas; from herbal to British blends – caffeine and non-caffeine. Speaking of tea, afternoon tea was offered in the main dining room on sea days. Scones with jam and clotted cream were offered, as well as various tea cakes and sandwiches.
Burgers and French fries were perfectly cooked to order at the Dive-Bar. A pager was provided with each order, so there wasn’t any waiting around in long lines.
We didn’t eat in Canaletto, the Italian specialty restaurant that shares space in the Lido Market. The space, including tables, isn’t any different than the Lido Market. It didn’t make sense to pay to dine there. Additionally, the Italian food offered free in the Lido Market was excellent.
Many a sea day was happily spent sipping a specialty coffee in the Exploration Café. It’s lofty (deck 10), far reaching views were spectacular.
Entertainment – If you are expecting spectacular stage shows, HAL is not for you. Most nights, entertainment in the main show lounge consisted of singers, comedians, musicians, magicians, and dancers. Some, were well known entertainers, such as Darren Day. Only one show was poor – “Post Modern Jukebox”. While each person in the group was a good singer, the concept of giving oldies and standards a new twist fell flat.
Besides the main show lounge, there’s BB Kings, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard on Board. All draw large audiences. There’s dancing in the BB King Lounge, after the final BB King show of the evening.
The Ocean Bar is the least busy lounge, except during happy hour. It’s a great spot, but there isn’t anything (no live music – except on formal evenings during happy hour) to attract people.
During sea days, there was bingo, lectures, bridge, a galley tour, mahjong, chess, ballroom dancing, trivia games, book club, movies and computer classes.
Most people downloaded the daily programs to their phones. Paid computer access was not required to enjoy this perk.
HAL is the only cruise line that I know of that offers excursion guide services. This is different from the shore excursions desk. And, HAL understands that not all guests want to book shore excursions through them. The “EXC Guides” belong to the entertainment department, while Shore Excursions is a revenue department (selling shore excursions). The EXE Guides provide valuable information via live lectures about the ports of call to assist guests in their planning. It’s a great, free, service and it doesn’t interfere with the selling of shore excursions. Besides the lectures, the EXC guides have desk hours for questions relating to the itinerary and ports of call.
Excursions: We generally do not book shore excursions with the ship. We prepare our own research, and make reservations before we embark on our cruise. Below is a brief description of our port visits:
Bergen, Norway – Strolled into town from the ship. Rode the Funicular up to Mt. Florian. Wonderful views. For the more adventurous, walks, hikes and guided tours are offered. Recommend purchasing tickets on-line to avoid long lines. Although busy with tourists, we walked through the reconstructed old town buildings and outdoor markets.
Aalesund, Norway – With the ship docked in town, everything in town is close. And, the first place to visit is the Tourist Cinema located inside a corner souvenir shop, at Lorkenesgata 1. It’s literally across the street from the cruise port. The film takes the visitor on a journey of history, and provides a bird’s eye view of the spectacular fjords. The show lasts 17 minutes. Also recommended is the HOHO bus, which travels to all the major attractions both in and out of the City. The entire tour takes about 80 minutes. The Aksla viewpoint, as well as the aquarium, are worth a Hop-Off. It is recommended that visitors use their credit card for the HOHO bus. Not only is it the best exchange rate, there’s a 10% discount on the price of the tour.
Seydisfordur, Iceland – It’s a short walk into town. Be sure to visit the Blue Church. Walk up the stairs alongside the melting glacier. The Gufufoss (Steam Falls) is a short ride (30 minutes) from the town center.
Akureyri, Iceland – With a short walk into town, be certain to visit “Into the Arctic” located at Strandgata 53. This exhibit provides excellent insight to life in the north. Akureyrarkirka Church – by Eyrarlandsveg is worth a visit. It was the grandest church in Iceland when it was built in 1940. Definitely the best ice cream in Iceland, visit Brynjuis Ice Cream – Adalstraeti 3. Lake Myvatin is worth a visit, located an hour from Akureyri.
Isafjordur, Iceland – The ship tenders to shore. Despite this being a very small town, a few good museums are located here. Visit the Hevrsdagssafn – Museum of Everyday Life, located at Hafnarstraeti 5. It provides an inside look of life in Iceland.
Reykjavik Iceland – The HoHo bus stops at the cruise terminal. It stops at all major sights in town. Don’t miss: “The Whales of Iceland” exhibition, located at Fiskislod 23-25, in the old harbor area. Best whale museum I’ve seen. Visit the Volcano House. View 2 documentary films about the most powerful volcanic eruptions over the last 40 years in Iceland, located at Tryggvagata 11.
For an absolutely stunning view of the City, take an elevator to the top of the church tower of Hallgrimkirkja, located at Hallgrimstorg 1. A must is the Golden Circle Tour offered by Snaeland Travel. A private car and driver will meet you at the Cruise Ship Center. The following was visited on this tour: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs, the magnificent Gullfoss, Faxi waterfalls, including the fish ladder and the geothermal ovens at Laugavata Fontana to witness bread being baked.
Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland – Ship tenders to the small town. Hired Shetland Taxi Company to provide us with a private car and Gordon, our guide, to showcase the island. Gordon, took us northwest to Wormadale Hill and as far south as Sumburgh Head Light House. We stopped at the Croft House Museum. Gordon proudly showed off the amazing hills and coastline of Shetland Island. If your interests lie in archeological sites, there are historic sites all over the island. But, the best, in my opinion, is Clickimin Broch, dating between 1,000 BC to 500 AD. Do not miss seeing the Shetland ponies or the puffins!
Intergordon (Inverness) Scotland – We decided to visit the area on our own, and hired Robert, owner and operator, of ness-tours.co.uk. Robert helped us create a 5-hour personal itinerary, visiting Loch Ness, Inverness, Beauly, Black Isle and the surrounding countryside. Robert is a natural, confident, tour guide and great fun.
Copenhagen, Denmark – The ship is docked outside of town. Don’t consider a taxi; it’s too expensive. Either take a Stromma HOHO bus, (the red busses all look identical, but they’re different companies), or the public bus and train. Stromma stops at the dock (OceanKaj) and visits all the major sites. During the summer, there are 3 different bus tours, Classic, Urban Green, and Colorful Copenhagen. All 3 tours costs 33 Euros. HOHO’s run every 30 minutes. However, be prepared to wait longer when traffic is heavy. Jump off at the Stroget to shop, eat and people watch. Don’t forget to visit the “Little Mermaid”. There’s always a crowd here, especially if the weather is nice. If you’ve never experienced “Tivoli Gardens” make a point to visit. You won’t be disappointed. There are amusements, beautiful gardens, and, of course, restaurants.
Aarhus, Denmark – It’s a nice stroll into town from the ship. Follow the footprints from the port into the City. With only six hours in port, there wasn’t enough time to visit the historic village of Den Gamle, since it opens at 10:00am. We visited Aarhus Domkirke, a beautiful gothic church from the 12th century. The latin quarter is definitely worth a visit. Nestled between modern buildings, with its shops and restaurants. The area dates back to the 14th century with its narrow, cobbled streets. There is a wonderful art museum in the heart of town, and is considered one of Europe’s largest art museums, and is the ONLY museum with an enclosed walkway around the top! Visit the Stroget, a unique pedestrian shopping street.
Tallinn, Estonia – The ship docks a walkable distance from the old town center. Just follow the signs. FYI – The HOHO bus does not enter the old town, as it primarily pedestrian. Tallinn is an easy town to navigate, with so much history to see. For a map, stop at the Tallinn Information Center. A Tourist information Center is located at the dock, as well as in Old Town. There are organized walking tours, but one can feel confident navigating Old Town with a map. Visit Market Square, with the oldest, continually operating pharmacy. Must see: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; St. Olav’s Church; St. Catherine’s Passage; Great Guild Hall.
St Petersburg, Russia – The ship docks outside of town at an impressive, and relatively new, cruise ship terminal. DO NOT spend money on a ship’s tour. Hire an independent guide, BEFORE your arrival in St. Petersburg. I highly recommend St. Petersburg Guided Tours. They arrange the visa’s for the 2-days in port. Not only did we jump the lines in all museums, we visited areas too small for large bus tours, such as the Grotto at the Peterhof. For lunch, we ate at small local restaurants, experiencing local delicacies. Our guide, Valerie, was knowledgeable, personable, fun and spoke perfect English. She worked with us to create the “perfect” excursion. Her commentary made the history of this beautiful city come alive right before our eyes. The tour included 2-days with an English-speaking guide, private van – with driver (Alexander), entrance tickets, photo permission in all museums, and bottled water. We visited: The Peterhof; Peter & Paul Fortress; Hermitage; Savior on Spilt Blood; St Isaac’s Cathedral; Yusupov Palace, Catherine’s Palace. Furthermore, we did a vehicle tour down Nevsky Prospect, a famous shopping street in St. Petersburg. We chose not to shop.
Helsinki, Finland – The ship docks outside of town. Take the HOHO from the cruise ship terminal. If not a Sunday, visit the Rock Church (actually built into rock). Stop for a coffee, or a meal at Market Hall. Walk the Esplanade. Visit St Nicholas and Uspenski Cathedrals. Helsinki is a very walkable City.
Stockholm, Sweden – Ship docks outside of town. BEWARE – The ship will sell HOHO tickets at a premium. For less money, walk down to the ferry dock, (a city block away) and pick-up the HOHO there. Visit Gamla Stan (Old Town). Eat and shop in the many restored buildings of this area, which is pedestrian only. Witness the changing of the guard (about noon – Monday – Saturday) at the Royal Palace. Visit the Vasa Museum to view the war ship that sank on its maiden voyage. It was recovered in 1956 and restored. If you’re an Abba fan, there’s a museum celebrating this famous Swedish group. Visit City Hall (tours only) where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually. Rooms are gilded with gold.
Warnemunde, Germany – A beautiful seaside town…charming is an appropriate description. Walk from the ship to the center of town. Stroll the promenade that’s always humming with activity (Alte Strom). Try a fish sandwich or a bratwurst. Visit the Heimatmuseum (Alexandrinstr 31) to learn about life in Warnemude during the early 20th century. Don’t go to Berlin. Stay in town, you’ll be happy you did.
Kiel, Germany – Unless the HOHO bus system has improved, do not use it. The buses were not on time, and the narration was not synced with the bus stops.
If you can get there – visit the U-995 U-boat museum. As far as I know, It’s only reachable by car. The Kiel Maritime Museum is also worth a visit, and is walkable from the Cruise terminal. Walk along Kiellinie, which offers spectacular water views. The viewing platform at the Kiel Canal is not walking distance from town. It can be reached on the HOHO bus, public transportation or taxi. Keep in mind that taxis are expensive.
Skagen, Norway – No, they don’t make watches here. The ship docks within walking distance of town. Originally, we planned to take the bus to the Skagen Bunker Museum, a World War II museum, and Grenen. But the weather was incredibly beautiful, so we decided to remain in town, to experience the Skagen Music Festival. There were bands, as well as, individual musicians visiting from all over Europe. We sat outside a local café for hours, listening to music and people watching. What a great end to a fabulous cruise. Read Less