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Sail Date: June 2002
June 2002 Elegant Explorer ! Just back from the pre-inaugural cruise on the new Holland America - ms Prinsendam in NYC. Fresh flowers and magical art everywhere. I had a room with a private verandah. Built in 1988 for Royal Viking ... Read More
June 2002 Elegant Explorer ! Just back from the pre-inaugural cruise on the new Holland America - ms Prinsendam in NYC. Fresh flowers and magical art everywhere. I had a room with a private verandah. Built in 1988 for Royal Viking Line, she was transferred to Cunard in 1994 when they acquired RVL, and then on to Seabourn. It seemed to me that the real vision of the cruise line while building this ship must have been passenger to space ratio. With fewer than 800 guests, it truly felt like a home at sea. Visiting places all over the globe, this ship is for those seeking adventure-elegant style. The food served in the Lido restaurant and in the La Fontaine dining room was five star. They also have a new alternative restaurant - The Odyssey Restaurant, which was spectacular. The hi -tech internet cafe was neat. On board shopping is very simple. The Casino was limited. Entertainment on board this ship was simple and sweet. The Wajang theatre is a nice place to catch up with recent blockbusters and complimentary popcorn is served before each feature presentation. The Queen's Lounge is where they have the nightly shows and is very spacious. The Ocean Spa was heavenly. There is also 2 bars and 3 other public lounges, a library and a cigar room - The Oak Room, which is very classy. Intimate yet spacious is what describes this ship. So go ahead - book yourself on a trip where wonders await you and where you can truly call yourself - The Elegant Explorer. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2003
This is a chronicle of back-to-back cruises on Holland America Line's ms Zuiderdam, the first of HAL's Vista Class ships. Itineraries, Sept 6 - 20, 2003: Week One - Western Caribbean - Key West, Cozumel Mexico, Georgetown Grand ... Read More
This is a chronicle of back-to-back cruises on Holland America Line's ms Zuiderdam, the first of HAL's Vista Class ships. Itineraries, Sept 6 - 20, 2003: Week One - Western Caribbean - Key West, Cozumel Mexico, Georgetown Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay Bahamas. Week Two - Eastern Caribbean - Half Moon Cay, Philipsburg St Maarten, St Thomas USVI, Nassau Bahamas. Sea days were Monday and Thursday, both weeks. Ship's time equal to local at all ports. Zuiderdam sails on Saturday. Precruise: I seem unable to find a travel agent versed in the cruise industry. I became so frustrated dealing with amateurs, that I decided to try out booking directly with HAL. The service was terrific, and the price was actually less than what I saw quoted on cruise agency web sites. The HAL reps were unfailingly courteous and helpful. During initial booking, the reservations representative steered me away from less desirable cabins. She sent my booking confirmation and invoice while we were on the phone by e-mail attachment (Adobe Acrobat). When I later discovered we were eligible for an AARP discount, it was quickly taken care of. The whole experience was so clean and efficient it would take a significant discount for me to return to booking with a travel agent. Of course you can book completely on-line, but I'd advise talking to a HAL rep who can provide assistance with cabin location. If you require a little hand holding, HAL will assign a personal "Cruise Consultant" to assist you so you'll be able to consistently deal with the same person. We flew Continental out of Houston, TX (IAH) to Zuiderdam's homeport, Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) one day early. Stayed overnight at the Renaissance Hotel on 17th Street, approximately mid way between the airport and HAL's pier 26 at Port Everglades. The location, AAA's four diamond rating, and a low government rate made this a good stop over. Renaissance is a comfortable hotel with an excellent, but pricey, restaurant. Boarding: Zuiderdam begins boarding to the ship's public areas at 11:30AM. Open and active are the pool and grill, Windstar Cafe (an Italian coffee bar with moderate charges for coffee and pastries), Internet cafe, art gallery, front office and most of the lounges. Luggage and coat storage is also available. The Lido buffet begins serving lunch at 12:00N. Cabins are ready for occupancy by 1:30PM. We arrived about 11:15AM and were aboard by noon. There were at least two dozen HAL rep's in the terminal to process passengers. Our luggage was delivered soon after the cabins were open. The Ship: Zuiderdam has eleven decks. Decks four thru eight and part of deck two are cabins. Two per cabin occupancy is 1,824 with 800 crewmembers. She weighs 82,000 tons and is 935 feet long so that three circuits around the continuous lower promenade deck approximates one mile. She is powered by five diesel engines and one gas turbine, and she is propelled by 25,000 bhp Azipod props (more about these later). The dEcor is appropriate to the itinerary. Zuiderdam was built and designed for year round Caribbean cruising and the interior motifs reflect this concept. Some areas offer a challenge to navigate; especially the central lounges adjoining the casino on deck two. There are nooks, crannies and small corridors to deal with, somewhat similar to what is occasionally found in the lounge areas of some land resort hotels. Maybe this is what the designers had in mind? The central atrium is smaller than on the S Class ships. This provides more space for the lounges and other public areas, but I miss the larger atrium which I often use as a reference point for navigation. The ship is impeccably clean and shows little signs of wear, a credit to the maintenance crew, her Hotel Manager Nick Burger, and Captain Johannes van Biljouw. Zuiderdam's condition and appearance is extraordinary considering that 1800 people tramp through her every week. Unlike the S Class ships, Zuiderdam does not have a passenger use laundry. Twice we used the $12 per 'full bag' laundry service. Both times delivery was next day. The Lounges: The Best: Crow's Nest. Great viewing lounge with huge wraparound window located forward on deck ten. Cocktail piano, also theme night music such as 50s & 60s tunes by CD. Explorer's Lounge. Classical music by The Rosario Strings. This is also the venue for afternoon tea. Excellent snacks and a good selection of teas (save room for the scones!). The Worst: Queen's Lounge. So poorly designed that it's useless for any function. That's too bad because The HAL Cats, a truly good band fronted by a first-rate vocal quartet, plays danceable music here most nights. Ocean Bar - Once again, poor design. This lounge is totally open to the atrium losing any identity as a lounge, and the dance floor is too small. For some incomprehensible reason, a divider is installed across the center of the seating area, disconnecting the rear of the lounge from the front. Music is by Meir & Rae Ann on drums and a piano. How eclectic is that? Music is mostly traditional dance: fox trot, waltz, tango, etc. No Opinion: Northern Lights - Late night activity usually starting at 10PM, mostly disco and light rock. A DJ spinning CDs supplies music. Booth seating surrounds a largish dance floor. Design by Gateway. There's also a Sports Bar. Since the signal is international, the TV schedules are mainly soccer. A WNBA game was showing on NFL Sunday afternoon! To be fair, they do pick up Sunday and Monday night NFL games. The Vista Lounge, The main showroom is forward on decks one and two. This is an attractive room of good design with comfortable seating. Just don't sit behind one of the many pillars or in the rear of the upper section. Unfortunately, the quality of the shows does not match the setting. The production shows are LOUD. Who decided that loud is good? To paraphrase Shakespeare, let's kill all the soundmen, too! Following cruise ship tradition there are two production shows. The first was decent, but the second, a review of movie musicals, was near unbearable. Almost every number, including the romantic ballads, was programmed in a hyper, upbeat tempo, making all the tunes sound alike. The show was completely out of sync and boring. The music for the production shows is prerecorded. Did I mention that it is LOUD? The cast was excellent with talented dancers and singers, all completely wasted. We didn't repeat any shows during week two. The Vista Dining Room: An attractive and well-constructed design. There are two levels located aft on decks two and three. Seating is well organized with comfortable chairs and some banquet tables. Best of all, each dining area has its own galley located immediately adjacent to the dining rooms. Instead of waiting for dumb waiters from a galley below, dishes are more directly served. This means hot dishes arrive hot and cold are offered cold. You do want to avoid seating the far aft section of the lower dining room. When cranked up the Azipod propulsion system delivers a significant vibration. The shaking is primarily felt on the back end of the lower deck. However, it's only a problem when the engines are pressed. The captain tries to maintain lower revs during dining hours, but there are times they must be turned up. When this happens the place settings won't dance off the tables, but it's definitely uncomfortable. Our cabin: Since we were on for two weeks I upgraded us from our usual standard outside to a "superior verandah suite" located amidships on deck six. The SS cabin is 288sft, and the balcony 100sft. The room is well designed with two queen size beds, which we had put together, a restful full sized fold out sofa, three chairs (one too many), a glass top coffee table, a writing desk and the standard desk. There are plenty of drawers, shelves and closets. The bathroom is large, with a full size Jacuzzi tub, a separate shower stall, double sinks, two medicine chests and a long shelf running under the sinks. The standard outside cabins, as well as the inside (if you don't mind the dark), are more than adequate in size and design. DVD rentals are available from the front desk. There's a $25 deposit for each disk. Dining: The Vista dining room offerings are equal to, and often exceed, Celebrity. The quality and presentation is far better than on the other HAL ships we've sailed on. Menu selections are extensive: two or three selections are available for each precourse and there are four primary and three "from the grill" optional entrees every night. Steaks and prime rib are delivered to order; however, note that medium rare is usually too rare for the distaff side. The Odyssey has to be the best alternative restaurant at sea. It even rivals the best upscale steak houses on land. Steaks, rib eye, tenderloin and two sizes of filet mignon are offered. The steaks are Prime Sterling beef and are cooked on a 1600 degree grill. It doesn't get any better than this. Although the menu features steak, the other entrees are superb, most notable is a seafood ravioli. The wait staff was recruiting out of Hungary, primarily Budapest. HAL obviously sought out the best servers among Budapest's world-class restaurants. They are smooth, attentive and prompt. With minimal delay between courses, we were in and out in less than an hour and a half. This whole staff was brought on board Saturday, the thirteenth. Some early patrons complained of uneven and clumsy service. However, we dined there on Wednesday evening, and it seemed they'd been serving there forever. It's a testament to their skills that they adapted in such a short time. These guys are good! The Crew: The Indonesian dining stewards and The Philippine bar staffs were excellent as usual. Nearly all were up to HAL standards. Oddly enough, there were a few grumps, who even bordered on rude. I don't recall experiencing this on previous cruises with HAL. Oddly enough, one of the ice cream servers was a real grouch, which is totally out of character for that station. Fortunately, the grouches were fringe players and a very small minority. The dining room staff were prompt and, as you'd expect, well trained, cheerful and eager to serve. Our Head Steward, Alexander, was especially caring, very personable and always ready to lend a hand. My wife is originally from Japan. Wayan, our table steward for both weeks, spoke fluent Japanese providing my better half with a special feeling of welcome. We had two different cabin stewards each week, both efficient and in the best tradition of cabin stewards: always out when we were in, and in when we were out. Ridwan, our steward the first week, had completed his twelve-month contract. Saturday afternoon he flew home on leave before continuing on to Nice to help outfit Vista Class number three, ms Westerdam, which is scheduled to launch May 2004. The ship's officers seem friendlier than on other ships, always offering a greeting and a smile. It's amazing how the front office staff manages to maintain a cheerful and polite appearance in spite of the frequent rudeness and confrontational attitude of so many guests. For some reason, people seem to adopt an 'in your face' attitude with these gals who, after all, are really no more than desk clerks without any real authority to resolve disputes or provide managerial decisions. Despite this, all of the front desk people were consistently courteous and helpful. Guests ought to realize that only a supervisor or the guest relation's manager can resolve problems. Often, even they have to get instructions from Seattle to resolve a policy dispute. The Passengers: A more diverse age mix than on other HAL cruises. The Zuiderdam is evidently appealing to the younger set. The dress code was universally observed in the main dining room. Formal night saw only a few out of uniform in the other public areas. Over the two weeks, four of our eight tablemates were from Florida, two from NYC and two from Canada. Naturally, there are lots of Floridians taking advantage of the "Florida Resident Discount". Speaking of discounts, midway of the first week a flyer was distributed offering the following week for $199 inside or $299 outside, a pretty good deal! I've never seen this before, nor was it repeated during the next cruise. I suspect Hurricane Isabel precipitated cancellations and HAL decided any revenue is better than none. After all, a major profit element is the money we spend while on board. As regards the small people, school was back in session so there was only a small number of toddlers and a couple of infants. On board is a dedicated kids area called Club HAL. It must have been nearly deserted. Shore excursions -- I discovered snorkeling on our first cruise and became instantly captivated. As a result, I have very little first hand knowledge about above water activities on any of the islands. It was only due to a sore throat in the middle of week two that wifey and I did a land/water tour on St Maarten. Booked through the ship, it's titled "French Connection Sea & See". It's a bus transit around the island interrupted by a shopping stop in Marigot and tour of coral reefs at Grand Case's Creole rock. Creole Rock is purported to be the best snorkeling area around the island. I saw enough while on the glass bottom boat to suggest that snorkeling would be very marginal here. The bottom is mainly rocks with some coral and common fish such as Sergeant Majors and Wrasses. Lots of huge Uni, however, made my wife's taste buds tingle. This was aboard the "Seaworld Explorer', an underwater moving observatory. The tour was a good overview of the island, but the guide went around the island bassackward, stopping in Marigot first. Most of the stores in Marigot follow the French tradition of closing between one and two o'clock which is when we were there, resulting in a wasted forty-minute stop. That was too bad because there are some nice shops in Marigot. The wife, an avid casino connoisseur, took the "Discover Atlantis & Harbor Cruise" in Nassau. This is a gal who considers Las Vegas resorts 'quaint', but found Atlantis too gigantic. In the end, she simply made a small donation to the slot machine gods and returned to the ship. Now for the good stuff. The following snorkel trips are listed in order from best to least good; however, the least is still darned good. Nassau: "Snorkel Bahamas Adventure" is a 5-½ hour trip operated by Stuart's Cove. On a previous excursion I went on the impressive Athol Island snorkel. This Stuart's Cove outing surpassed all of my previous experiences, including Athol Island. The boat trip is @ three hours, and visits Schoolhouse Reef, the spectacular Golden Key Reef and finally a "swim with the sharks" at 'The Wreck of the Bahama Mama'. I have never before witnessed such a number and variety of fish as at Golden Key. There are never-ending fish, large and small, singly and in large schools. The floor is decorated with huge, magnificent coral formations of all shapes and sizes. While there, a shark cruised past our group. He obviously thought this was his ocean and didn't know, nor care, that we weren't scheduled for a shark encounter until after Golden Key. Surprisingly, getting in with a dozen or so sharks is not frightening. I suspect we were too caught up with their grace and magnificence to be scared. The fact that the boat captain hadn't lost a diver in twelve years was also encouraging. This is a five star, gold medallion, prime trip, not to be missed! Georgetown: I booked a two reef and stingray swim with Capt Marvin. This is again a three-hour boat trip with snorkel stops at Coral Gardens and the Barrier Reef, followed by a visit to Stingray City. The Barrier Reef extends for many miles and is near enough to the surface to be visible from above. There is abundant sea life, and of course, extensive coral. Here I saw my first Moray eel. As for Stingray City, there are just too many boats and people crowded together to enjoy it. I stumbled around among the crowd for a bit, then got back in the boat. The kids seem to enjoy it. Key West: A catamaran trip to Sand Key Reef with the Fury Cat operation. Fury is found extensively through the Yucatan and Caribbean. Our trip was on a 65' catamaran with a small enough group so we were never crowded. Unfortunately, westerly winds from the recent tropical disturbance in The Gulf had stirred things up so that visibility was only about 15 - 20 feet. The reef, however, is marvelous. Did you know that the reef off Florida's coast is the third largest in the world? I didn't. We got enough of a taste to make me want to return. I can unreservedly recommend this trip. Half Moon Cay: A surprisingly good snorkel trip. The coral garden area is only a ten-minute boat ride from the tender dock with lots of fish and coral. There's a very nice beach, but the bottom is too sandy for good snorkeling. Just relaxing on the beach and swimming is the most popular past time. There are lots of beach toys and other activities available for rent. Comfortable beach chairs are plentiful. There's also a pavilion with souvenir shops and a bar. A barbecue lunch is served at noontime. Half Moon Cay is perfect for kicking back and enjoying a restful day. Cozumel: We went to Chankanaab Park for snorkeling and beach time. The park offers a sheltered beach area with palapas, a lagoon, a swim with the dolphins, a sea lion show, snuba and a number of boat trip operators who work from the beach area. There's also a full menu bar & grill. The conch ceviche was very good. There's probably lots of other stuff, too. Unfortunately, the beach was fly infested so we didn't stay long. The snorkeling from the beach is fair. Dzul Ha is much better, but you can experience some swift currents there. Chankanaab's waters are more sheltered, so it's a good alternative for marginal swimmers. I have previously boat snorkeled Columbia and Palancar reefs from Cozumel. The reefs here are world class and there are many good operators. Disembarkation: The procedure has greatly improved since our last visit. Immigration is held in the terminal, not on board. This greatly expedites clearance since we don't have to wait for the inevitable latecomers to clear before we can leave the ship. The preliminaries are routine: put luggage in hallway the night before, leave your cabin by 8:00AM and wait in a public area for your number/letter to be called. Both the Lido and main dining rooms are open for breakfast. We had a noon flight and were off the ship and at our boarding gate by 9:30. Of course, when all those ships return from Alaska things won't go so smoothly. I should mention that stuff happens. Disembarkation was delayed the previous Saturday due to a late departure the previous day from Half Moon Cay. However, even then we would likely have been at the airport by 10:30 or 11:00. Final Thoughts: As devotees of HAL, we were concerned because of the numerous negative Zuiderdam reviews that appeared in the early months. Certainly Zuiderdam has some odd quirks, but the overall design is easily adapted to and becomes an ultimately user friendly floating resort. We found absolutely no evidence of unpleasant aromas in any area. The mechanical systems such as toilets, A/C, hot water, elevators, etc never failed. Fellow passengers were largely polite, friendly and in pursuit of a fun trip. We never witnessed one instance of rowdy or inappropriate behavior. We had a wonderful journey. My advice is go and enjoy. Following are some of the web sites I found useful researching our cruise: ms Zuiderdam: http://www.hollandamerica.com/fivestarfleet/zuiderdam.htm ms Zuiderdam Virtual Tour: http://www.virtualtoursusa.com/hollandzuiderdam.htm Port Everglades: http://www.co.broward.fl.us/port.htm Georgetown: http://www.edenrockdive.com/ http://www.captainmarvins.com/ http://www.caymanonline.com/info/watersports/snorkel/index.shtml Cozumel: http://www.cozumelinsider.com/ Key West: http://www.furycat.com/snorkel.htm Nassau: http://www.dive-bahamas.com/ Philipsburg: http://www.stmaarten-activities.com/trips.htm - Snorkelin St Thomas: http://www.vinow.com/ http://www.cokidive.com/ Travel Insurance: http://www.insuremytrip.com/ Read Less
Sail Date: October 2004
We have found the "perfect" holiday! A cruise is relaxing for both my wife and I, and she can take many active shore excursions. I have mobility problems (mild M.S.), so I stay on board in every port. That's why we reserved ... Read More
We have found the "perfect" holiday! A cruise is relaxing for both my wife and I, and she can take many active shore excursions. I have mobility problems (mild M.S.), so I stay on board in every port. That's why we reserved a big suite (huge - good for my wheelchair, although a walker or canes are needed for the raised washroom; and so well-appointed. Even two telephones - one in each corner of the suite, lots of storage space and a great little dressing room, with its own sink - we could both be brushing our teeth at the two sinks, without tripping over each other). I toddled (using my walker) off to the private veranda - big - 12'x 20', and I could call room service if my wife had a lengthy time on shore. I was never bored, that's for certain. I barely touched on the ship's features. This was, in part, necessitated by our late (8 p.m.) dinner seating, which made doing anything else in the evening nearly impossible. Next time, I'd choose the early seating (5:30 or 6:00) for dinner, so we can go to the shows, which (other passengers say) were excellent, if you remember you're not in New York or Toronto. One thing for certain, the supper itself was excellent. The service was friendly and efficient, and the food was gourmet and so beautifully presented. We ate every night in the main dining room, and breakfast and lunch were taken at the Lido (cafeteria restaurant), the main dining room, or for a quick lunch, one of the little pizza/hamburger/tacos bars around the pool. I'd give the meals 5 out of 5, always. One couldn't ask for anything more, as the food wasn't our central concern. Friendliness IS, and always will be, and the staff (Indonesian and Filipino) genuinely was. We felt like a million dollars on this, one of the smaller ships.The staff does speak broken English, but my wife and I broadened the lines of communication by using a few foreign phrases. One doesn't need to. Smiles are international. But since we're going to take several more Holland America cruises (Caribbean this spring, and Alaska this Summer), I will spend more time with my Indonesian phrase book. Cruises can be affordable, too. A healthy person only needs a place to sleep at night. He/she is never in the room anyway. We loved the big room because of my wheelchair, but most people can use less. If you want a traditional cruise, then Holland America is a consideration. And the Veendam, as the subject of our first cruising experience, will remain in our hearts. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2004
The Rotterdam is a beautiful, classic ship. The interior decoration is elegant and tasteful, with gorgeous fabrics used throughout. Food was about on par with other lines- dishes that don't mind overcooking, like lamb shanks, were ... Read More
The Rotterdam is a beautiful, classic ship. The interior decoration is elegant and tasteful, with gorgeous fabrics used throughout. Food was about on par with other lines- dishes that don't mind overcooking, like lamb shanks, were great, but fish is understandably overdone. Yes, the line does lean strongly toward the over 60 (heck, over 80) crowd- one person in 10 had a cane or a walker. We were on a long trip, with many sea days, during the school period, so there were very few children. I wondered why there had been talk of HAL abandoning this age group to court the under 50 crowd, but it was obvious on the trip. My impression was that these people don't drink or gamble much, expect to be waited on like royalty, and plan to squeeze every penny out of the cruise humanly possible. There were more crotchety and downright rude cruisers on this trip than I have run across on other lines- including the woman who stood over my shoulder at the slot machine even when I asked her not to, because it was HER machine. I am the first one to condemn seat saving abuse, but when 4 of us went to the show, and the women got up to use the ladies room, the men nearly had to come to blows to keep our places from being squatted upon- "NO seat saving allowed!" Service was hit and miss. Our steward did a nice job, but liked to stay and chat, and couldn't seem to remember that we wanted ice at 5 daily. THe neptune lounge concierge couldn't have been sweeter, but when I asked if alcohol was included in the cabanas at half moon cay, she assured me it was. When we got there the cabana girl said soft drinks and chips and dip only. After we walked down the beach for lunch we were told we could have lunch in the cabana. We didn't think it was worth $219 for 6 sodas and a bag of chips in a plywood hut. Bottom line-this cruise was everything I expected after reading the HAL message board comments. Many people love it, but it is not the line for us- we don't like regimented meal times, being told what to wear, and the constant nickle and diming. We are going back to Windstar, Silversea, or even NCL. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2004
We boarded the Rotterdam after a smooth embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale. We were on the ship in under 20 minutes despite the additional security measures that have been added to embarkation. The captain of the Rotterdam for this cruise was ... Read More
We boarded the Rotterdam after a smooth embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale. We were on the ship in under 20 minutes despite the additional security measures that have been added to embarkation. The captain of the Rotterdam for this cruise was Peter Bos, the Hotel Manager was Robert Versteeg, and Executive chef was Rene Rojas Olea. The entertainment included Attillio at the piano bar, and Martin Lass, a violinist with incredible talent! We found the Rotterdam to be very clean and this was the first cruise that I can recall never smelling any kind of foul odor anywhere on the ship. Our suite was lovely, well kept with the new (and very wonderful) linens and duvet. We did have a few days of a "slow" flushing toilet, and the captain. announced this was a ship wide problem that was thankfully rectified by our 3rd day on the cruise. We never had another problem, nor did I hear of any reported by fellow passengers. Our cabin steward was Bambang, an Indonesian steward who had been with HAL for over 7 years. In fact, he was part of the crew that prepared the ship at the Italian shipyard. (I know this as he lamented to us about the food he ate in Italy and the lack of rice in the meals.) He was wonderfully efficient and friendly, we enjoyed him a great deal. While onboard we saw familiar faces from our other cruises, and each greeted us like old friends. This time we traveled with 2 friends. They were in an outside room and reported that their cabin steward was also friendly and efficient. Unfortunately, our friends encountered so many "problems" on board the ship that they have vowed to go back to another cruise line. Their problems began with a disastrous first night in the dining room. We and our friends were seated at a table for 8 with a view of the kitchen door. It was amazing to me that although our other 4 table mates were also in suites, we were placed at what proved to be the worst table in the dining room. When we arrived at the table, we had the menus shoved in our faces by a stone faced waiter without even a hello. We requested ice tea at the beginning of the meal, and received it after the main course had arrived. It had been warm and we requested a refill, which never was provided. Our orders were totally screwed up that night and 2 of our table mates ended up getting no main course with the steward insisting in a surly voice that they had not ordered them!! The topper of the evening was that one of our assigned table companions had obviously partied quite heavily before coming to dinner, and she continued to drink through dinner with no entree....needless to say it was not a pretty picture. Needless to say this was not a good way to start the cruise and I fretted about having to approach our concierge the next day with the problem as I am not one to whine about things on a cruise. Nevertheless, I presented the situation to her early the next morning and within 2 hours we were put at a different table, this time for 4, with very efficient wait staff. The second problem they encountered sealed the deal for them. One day while many were coming in from shore there was an announcement that all the elevators would be inoperable for the next ½ hour as they were testing their emergency generator system. Those of us who were onboard the ship heard the announcement but those just reboarding did not. Not knowing of the inoperable elevator, they got into the elevator on "A" deck without any of the staff attempting to stop them or the 5 others that got on, including a man in a wheelchair with serious medical problems. Anyway, they got on the elevator, it went up a bit and stopped dead. The people in the elevator attempted to use the phone inside the elevator to call for help and it wasn't working either. For over 20 minutes our friends were stuck in the elevator with one man tapping out SOS in morse code with his cane on the door. No one responded. When the elevators resumed service 20 minutes later, no one was there to ask if anyone was okay and when my friend told the security officers of their traumatic ordeal, they received a curt answer that an announcement had been made and they were "stupid" for not heeding the warning. Miffed, our friend went to the front desk to also report the incident, and were also brushed off by the staff. Unfortunately, that left a lasting impression with my friends, who now vow to never return to HAL. I myself feel terrible as I was the one to rave about the cruise line and they relied on my recommendations and went home with a sour feeling. After this I can understand how different people have vastly different experiences on a cruise. We had a fabulous time! We found the food in the dining room, the Lido and from room service to be wonderful. We did not find any problems with tough beef and the 4 of us enjoyed every meal. I was thrilled to see that the cold soups were back on the menu, as I didn't recall seeing them on the Ryndam this last summer. This ship and cruise felt more formal than our cruises on other HAL ships, including the 17 day South America cruise on the Amsterdam. This surprised me for a Caribbean cruise. The dress code was strictly adhered to by the passengers including no shorts in the dining room. Many of the men wore tuxes and I saw no one "underdressed" in the dining room. This was very different from our experience in Alaska this last summer. We did have an opportunity to eat at the Pinnacle this time and noted that they still are staffed by the Indonesian waiters. During a cocktail party we were seated with Captain Bos, who stated that he feels that the crew is happier when there isn't a mixing of staffs nationalities. I had to wonder if this was why the Pinnacle was not staffed by Eastern Europeans as on other HAL ships. One thing we did miss was the lack of any Caribbean music on board. In fact one day we were docked next to the Brilliance of the Seas and from our balcony we could hear their steel drum band, it accentuated how sedate our experience was with Frank Sinatra being piped into the Lido. Many commented on the lack of Caribbean music on board. Despite our friends' unfortunate experience, we found this cruise to be very lovely and the service to be top notch in general. My fears that I had about a lessening of quality on the ship were again not proven. I would recommend this cruise and this ship, but I may shy away from ever inviting friends who've not cruised HAL to join us as experiences can differ greatly among passengers on the same cruise! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2005
My wife and I are very regular travelers. We are in our sixties. We usually take a couple of trips a year either on land tours and/or cruises. We have been on approx. 20 cruises to date from the Princess to the Crystal cruise line. This is ... Read More
My wife and I are very regular travelers. We are in our sixties. We usually take a couple of trips a year either on land tours and/or cruises. We have been on approx. 20 cruises to date from the Princess to the Crystal cruise line. This is our first time with HAL and this is probably our last time with HAL based on the experiences we had on this 13-days Panama Canal cruise on the Oosterdam. To begin, let us at least say a few positive words about the cruise and the ship. FIRST, our cabin was on 8th deck, one of the SS suite. The cabin was very spacious, with plenty of cabinets and drawer space for clothes and miscellaneous. The cabin steward was nice and quite attentive to our needs. The veranda was large and well-partitioned for privacy. SECOND, the front office staff, especially the pursers, were very friendly and they tried diligently to answer questions and solve problems to the best of their abilities. THIRD, the Pasta Station in the Lido deck made one of the best pasta (cooked to order) better than most cruise ships including the Crystal Harmony and Serenity. FOURTH, embarkation and disembarkation were orderly and swift. We were aboard the ship in less than 1/2 hour after we checked in. Likewise, we were able to get off the ship quickly and early enough to catch an earlier flight home. PRECRUISE: Since we are from the West Coast and bought our own plane tickets, we needed to travel to Ft. Lauderdale one day early to avoid any uncontrollable delays and therefore miss the ship. We took the pre-cruise hotel package from HAL, staying in the Hyatt Regency in Ft. Lauderdale. The hotel staff, from the bellman to the coffee shop waitress, were rude, unfriendly, and incompetent. The room was dirty and had stains all over the carpet. The bellman walked off with our luggage without indicating where he was headed towards. The waitress presented us with the wrong check, and when we questioned her, she refused to make any changes until we talked to the coffee shop manager. We realize that HAL has no direct control over the service and room conditions of the hotel, but since this is a pre-cruise hotel package and part of the cruising experience, we paid HAL for arranging the pre-cruise package. Therefore, HAL should shoulder the responsibility for their choice of offered hotel in their pre and post cruise packages. THE SHIP AND THE CRUISE: The layout of the ship is difficult to comprehend. Maybe this is such a large ship and HAL's idea to give the ship and cozy and intimate feel, is to chop up the public rooms, ie the bars and the lounges were divided into myriads of different compartments and tucked into corners and corridors. The atrium and the lobby were so small and uninviting. It is not a place one would like to linger to share a drink and enjoy visiting unless you had business with the front/excursion desks. The hallways were dark and narrow, like going through dark tunnels to no where, ie out of no where there is a stairwell or a lounge or an elevator or a wall blocking your passage. If you wanted to go from the front of the ship to the back of the ship or vice versa, you had to navigate your way through the casino, and or the gift shops with merchandise arranged half hazardly blocking your way. The dinning room is like a large cafeteria with tables back-to-back barely having enough room for the waiters to walk behind the table to serve the food. The music pit is in the middle of the dinning room and was so dark that the musicians were like playing music under a darkened mushroom canopy. FOOD: the quality of the food in the Lido is typical cafeteria food. There were a lot of choices, but the quality and taste needed much improvement. The best was the Pasta Station and the worst was the Asian food station. The rice was not cooked properly and the so called asian menu of Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino food were comparable to the worst of any asian cafeteria in San Francisco. The food in the Vista dinning room is uneven. You have both good and bad meals. Steaks and beef dishes were good, chicken dishes were so-so and the seafood dishes were not fresh. The couple of times that we had lobster dinners, the lobster was slimy and had a rotten taste. The shrimp and the shrimp cocktails were not that much better. The salads were occasionally brown and wilted. The Pinnacle Grill is definitely not worth a visit. We had a free dinner from our nice travel agent, but still I have to say that the Pinnacle Grill is over-rated. The steaks were dry and burnt. The scampi was dry, tough and without any sauce and taste. ENTERTAINMENT: the dance music on this ship is not for dancing. The dance music was to put the passenger to sleep early. The music from all the bands and groups had no rhythm, beat, and energy. This was a Panama Canal, Mexico cruise, you would think the music would be lively and reflect the rhythm of the ports, ie, some mariachi, salsa, folkloric, latin music. The production shows were second rate. The singers and dancers had a lot of energy, but unfortunately the sets and costumes did not give them justice for their efforts. On most 12 days cruises we have been on, there were at least 3 production shows with great sets and complements of talented magicians and comedians. There were only two shows on this long cruise and the singers and comedians were amateurish. SERVICE: service on this ship was not something to brag about either (to my great surprise based on HAL's advertisement of outstanding service). The waiters and assistant waiters in the main dinning room provided adequate service, but when they rotated up to the Lido deck they somehow turned into a different mindset when servicing the guests . For example, when one of the guests on our table asked for tea, the waiter pointed to the tea station and indicated for her to serve herself. Another waiter proudly told us (and I hope he was in jest) that he liked rough seas because the guests would get seasick and not come to dinner and therefore save them a lot of work. Very seldom did I observe a waiter helping a guest with his/her tray, they generally congregated in small groups and chatted with each other. The servers behind the Lido counters were rude and had little patience in serving the food, they tended to just slop the food on the plate and pass the plate to the guest. HAL Oosterdam's Food and Beverage dept. is definitely not up to the standard of a premium cruise line. LAUNDRY SERVICE: Since there were no laundromats on board, you had to send your laundry out to wash every few days. The laundry service was always late in returning your clothes, (supposed to be returned within 48 hrs.). ORGANIZATION: the ship's management is not well organized. The first day after embarkation we waited for more than an hour to see the dinning room head waiter to ensure that we had the correct table and dinner time. The waiting line was so long that it caused frustration amongst the guests, who started to push each other around to try to get closer to the front of the line. This could be prevented if HAL were more organized and attuned to the guests' needs. Likewise, on the first tour day to Cartegena, the waiting line for the city tour was so long, that the guests had to wait for close to an hour just to get a bus ticket/assignment. These incidences were not necessary and could have been avoided by better planning on HAL's part. The ship's crew were also constantly trying to sell spa and related services. Every time you turned around their were crew members, especially spa staff, trying to sell spa packages, soft drinks packages and seminars on board. One of the purpose of taking a vacation is to have temporary reprieve from constant solicitations and hustling. HAL is overdoing their selling products efforts. Based on our experiences during this cruise,( mainly the food, the entertainment, the services and the organization of the ship and its management), we found this cruise was overrated and overpriced for a very mediocre, undistinguishable cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2005
We are resubmitting this review because the previous submission on January 2005, after our trip, did not get posted. We are regular travelers and are in our sixties. We usually take a couple of trips a year either on land tours and/or ... Read More
We are resubmitting this review because the previous submission on January 2005, after our trip, did not get posted. We are regular travelers and are in our sixties. We usually take a couple of trips a year either on land tours and/or cruises (20 cruises to date from the Princess to the Crystal cruise line). This is our first time with HAL and this is probably our last time with HAL based on the experiences we had on this 13-days Panama Canal cruise on the Oosterdam. THE SHIP AND THE CRUISE: The layout of the ship is difficult to comprehend. Maybe this is such a large ship and HAL's idea to give the ship a cozy and intimate feel, is to chop up the public rooms, ie the bars and the lounges were divided into myriads of different compartments and tucked into corners and corridors. The atrium and the lobby were so small and uninviting. It is not a place one would like to linger to share a drink and enjoy visiting unless you had business with the front/excursion desks. The hallways were dark and narrow, like going through dark tunnels to no where. If you wanted to go from the front of the ship to the back of the ship or vice versa, you had to navigate your way through the casino, and/ or the gift shops with merchandise arranged half hazardly blocking your way. The dinning room is like a large cafeteria with tables back-to-back barely having enough room for the waiters to walk behind the table to serve the food. The music pit is in the middle of the dinning room and was so dark that the musicians were like playing music under a darkened mushroom canopy. FOOD: the quality of the food in the Lido is typical cafeteria food. There were a lot of choices, but the quality and taste needed much improvement. The best was the Pasta Station and the worst was the Asian food station. The rice was not cooked properly and the so called Asian menu of Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino food were comparable to the worst of any Asian cafeteria in San Francisco. The food in the Vista dinning room is uneven. You have both good and bad meals. Steaks and beef dishes were good, chicken were so-so and the seafood dishes were not fresh. The lobster was slimy and had a rotten taste. The shrimp and the shrimp cocktails were not that much better. The salads were occasionally brown and wilted. The Pinnacle Grill is definitely not worth a visit. We had a free dinner compliments from our travel agent, but still I have to say that the Pinnacle Grills is over-rated. The steaks were dry and burnt. The scampi was dry, tough, and without any sauce and taste. ENTERTAINMENT: The dance music on this ship is not for dancing. The dance music was to put the passengers to sleep early. The music from all the bands and groups had no rhythm, beat, and energy. This was a Panama Canal, Mexico cruise, you would think the music would be lively and reflect the rhythm of the ports, ie, some mariachi, salsa, folkloric, Latin music. The production shows were second rate. The singers and dancers had a lot of energy, but unfortunately the sets and costumes did not give them justice for their efforts. On most 12 days cruises we have been on, there were at least 3 production shows with great sets and complements of talented magicians and comedians. There were only two shows on this long cruise and the singers and comedians were amateurish. SERVICE; service on this ship was not something to brag about either (to my great surprise based on HAL's advertisement of outstanding service). The waiters and assistant waiters in the main dinning room provided adequate service, but when they rotated up to the Lido deck they somehow turned into a different mindset when servicing the guests. For example, when one of the guest on our table asked for tea, the waiter pointed to the tea station and indicated for her to serve herself. Another waiter proudly told us that he liked rough seas because the guests would get seasick and not come to dinner and therefore save them a lot of work. Very seldom did I observe a waiter helping a guest with his/her tray, they generally congregated in small groups and chatted with each other. The servers behind the Lido counters were rude and had little patience in serving the food, they tended to just slop the food on the plate and pass the plate to the guest. HAL Oosterdam's Food and Beverage dept. is definitely not up to the standard of a premium cruise line. Since there were no laundromats on board, you had to send your laundry out to wash every few days. The laundry service was always late in returning your clothes (supposed to be returned within 48 hrs). ORGANIZATION: the ship's management is not well organized. The first day after embarkation we waited for more than an hour to see the dinning room head waiter to ensure that we had the correct table and dinner time. The waiting line was so long that it caused frustration amongst the guests, who started to push each other around to try to get closer to the front of the line. The could be prevented if HAL were more organized and attuned to the guests' needs. Likewise, on the first tour day to Cartegena, the waiting line for the city tour was so long, that the guests had to wait for close to an hour just to get a bus ticket/assignment. These incidences were not necessary and could have been avoided by better planning on HAL's part. The ship's crew were also constantly trying to sell spa and related services. Every time you turned around there were crew members, especially spa staff, trying to sell spa packages, soft drinks packages and seminars on board. One of the purposes of taking a vacation is to have temporary reprieve from constant solicitations and hustling. HAL is overdoing their selling products efforts. Based on our experiences during this cruise (mainly the food, the entertainment, the services and organization of the ship and its management), we found this ship was overrated and overpriced for a very mediocre, undistinguishable cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2005
We stayed pre-cruise in Lauderdale by the Sea and arranged for a limo service to pick up four of us at 1 p.m., arriving at the pier after the short drive. There were no lines at all for embarkation, it may have taken 15 min at the most to ... Read More
We stayed pre-cruise in Lauderdale by the Sea and arranged for a limo service to pick up four of us at 1 p.m., arriving at the pier after the short drive. There were no lines at all for embarkation, it may have taken 15 min at the most to get on the ship, our rooms were ready when we boarded. The luggage started to arrive right away and all luggage was delivered within a half hour -- this ship was full with over 1800 passengers and we were amazed by how quickly we could get settled in. Our cabin was a bit smaller than on the Rotterdam, but it was comfortable and there was plenty of room to unpack for a 13 day cruise. The balcony was plenty big enough for two arm chairs, a footstool and a small table and we could open the partition between our cabin and our friend's. The bath is roomy and the beds are out of this world. My only complaint is that the desk is too small for the TV, wine bucket, ice bucket and such -- you have to put the ice stuff on the floor when you want to use the desk for primping. Our cabin steward Dana was super!! I have mixed feelings about the public spaces, they are bland, not classy but not offensive. The atrium is boring and inside there are a lot of weird corridors that gave me a closed in feeling -- there are no WOW look at that areas. Outside there are plenty of spaces for lounging both by the pools and on upper decks, on a full ship with lots of sea days you never had trouble finding a quiet place to sun. The Lido is well designed for traffic flow and the Crow's Nest feels like an old friend with spectacular views and great lounge chairs. The food is good, our waiters Made and Dalo were the best we have ever had -- PERIOD!! We took advantage of the first night bargain at the Pinnacle and the steak is to die for, it is worth the price of admission to smell the volcano cake, let alone eat it. I did think that the service we had from Made was better than the Pinnacle. This was a repositioning cruise so it was not a standard itinerary, but I feel that the shore excursion staff was uninformed about the port of Cartagena. I took a tour where I feel that 15 of us were put into a potentially dangerous situation. My friends took the city tour and were chased onto the bus by vendors and rumor was that people on the Rosario Island tour got their money back. I did ask for specifics of the tour before I took my chances and plunked my money down. For the other ports we took independent tours and fell in love with Mexico. The highlight was seeing whales in Cabo. The ship tour sold out well in advance of sailing but we were able to book a small boat on shore. If you need a big whale watching boat, book online as early as you can. This is a nice ship -- even when full it did not feel crowded. It is indeed the cleanest ship I have ever been on and I will say that overall this is the best crew we have ever seen, even on other HAL ships. I prefer the smaller ships but would not hesitate to sail on the Oosterdam again. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2006
This was our first cruise on Holland America after 6 cruises on Princess. We were looking to take a roundtrip cruise to the panama canal area in April and had initially planned to take Princess for this itinerary. Our vacation schedule ... Read More
This was our first cruise on Holland America after 6 cruises on Princess. We were looking to take a roundtrip cruise to the panama canal area in April and had initially planned to take Princess for this itinerary. Our vacation schedule changed, however, and the Zaandam was the only ship sailing this route during the one week in March we could all go (5 adults). Travel to Embarkation Port: We live in Florida and 2 of us had planned to rent a car and drop it off at Hertz's location near the Port (as we had done on many prior cruises). By the time we arrived, we discovered that all the rental car return lots have been relocated to the airport. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a crowded shuttle bus that stopped at the Star Princess and Celebrity's Infinity before finally arriving at Zaandam. Next time, we'll just pay to park our own car near the port. Stateroom: We had 2 separate minisuites on Verandah deck (deck 6). The ship is kept impeccably clean. Staterooms were in excellent condition. Small LCD televisions and DVD players, very comfy beds. Free shoe-shine service. Stocked refrigerator and mini-bar (not free!). Nice robes. Ample closet and drawer space for 2 people. It was a little tighter for the 3 of us in the other cabin; small sofa bed (doesn't pull out; small twin mattress only.) Ship Info: Very elderly passenger clientele. Our age range was 40 - 80 in our party but most passengers were clearly in their 70s-80s. Maybe 10 kids on the entire ship. Public rooms were in excellent shape. Beautiful promenade deck. Excellent library, the best we've seen at sea. Ugly organ in the atrium -- a real eyesore. It sounds like a calliope at a carnival; really laughable. The only criticisms: typical "luck of the draw" stench of cigarette and cigar smoke on your balcony if your unlucky enough to have smokers in the next door cabin. Also, a strange unpleasant smell amidships that we were never able to quite place... It's been noted before with regard to the Zaandam. It would come and go during the course of the cruise -- ?sewage ?clogged drain? Who knows. The gym was outstanding. Spa services are very overpriced (200 dollars for a 50 minute couples massage seems outrageous). Dining: Outstanding service. We ate in the main dining room and had one dinner at Pinnacle Grill. Genuinely friendly, helpful waiters. On Princess, you have a very overworked waiter and assistant waiter (who refills beverages when he/she has a chance.) On Holland America, the head water actually WORKS and helps out the wait staff. We saw our headwaiter at all 3 meals in the buffet/Lido Cafe actually and he got to know our family very well; very kind gentleman. So each table really has 3 waiters; water glasses and ice tea refilled without asking; fresh bread brought out whenever your basket runs low; prompt orders and food brought out quickly. Coffee actually arrives with the dessert! Very good food. Some dinners were truly outstanding. The Lido cafe also had very attentive waiters who would carry trays to tables, refill drinks, just chat with you. The buffet had more limited choices than we recall from Horizon Court on Princess, but there was still more than enough food to choose from. Also free ice cream, free pizza, excellent outdoor barbecue burgers, fries, etc. by the main pool. We had breakfast one morning in the dining room and it was excellent. We really ate well. Pinnacle Grill was outstanding; steaks were delicious. Service: Overall outstanding. We gave extra tips to our room steward, head waiter and main table waiter. Even on the last morning when disembarkation was underway staff were patient, helpful, smiling, joking with guests. Minor problems with the cabins were dealt with patiently and promptly. They really want you to be very satisfied and happy. The staff is anxious to please. Excursions: Half Moon Cay is a beautiful island. Great barbecue lunch. Aruba and Curacao are poor stop-overs in my opinion. We took the Canal tour in Costa Rica which was enjoyable. The panama canal crossing was the highlight of the trip, but the ship only passes through the first set of Gatun Locks on this particular cruise -- it then sits inexplicably for 2 hours in Gatun Lake during which time only passengers who booked Holland America excursions can leave the ship. We really think the excursions in the canal zone are a poor value. The ship then returns through the Gatun Locks (again a fascinating experience) and docks in Colon which is truly a wretched port stop. We had planned to hire a taxi to go to the Gatun Locks visitor center and spend an hour or so watching ships at street level go through the locks; we were warned not to do so by the ship's staff citing safety concerns. We were told specifically not to leave the Colon shopping area. Once we got there we understood why; it looks deserted and very creepy around the Colon port stop. We think cruise ships are likely obligated to stop in Colon for political reasons (offer local merchants the chance to sell to the passengers for example.) We understand that there is much poverty in this part of the world and we were ready to buy small souvenirs without hesitation. But it seemed to us that a much better alternative to Colon would be a 24-hour or 36-hour transit of the entire canal with a stop in Balboa/Panama City -- where there are things to see of historic significance; the ship would return to the Caribbean via the Gatun Locks and still stop in Costa Rica then return to Florida. Disembarkation: A breeze. We used the porters at Port Everglades, boarded a shuttle back to the airport and picked up the rental car for home. It took 30 minutes from the time we left the ship to the time we were leaving the airport in our rental care. Summary: PROS: Great staff attitude; very clean ship; great food. CONS: Chronic nasty smell amidships on the Zaandam; poor port stops in Aruba, Curacao, and Colon. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2006
We have talked about doing a Panama Canal cruise for a long time, wo we looked forward with great anticipation to our 17-day east to west transit aboard Holland America's Zaandam. I was just a little concerned about spending such a ... Read More
We have talked about doing a Panama Canal cruise for a long time, wo we looked forward with great anticipation to our 17-day east to west transit aboard Holland America's Zaandam. I was just a little concerned about spending such a long time on one ship, but as it turns out, there is evidently no end to the amount of pampering I can put up with. Packing for such a long trip was tricky, however. This was our fourth cruise and the third with Holland America, having sailed on the Maasdam and Statendam before. We immediately felt very much at home on the Zaandam as it is a lot like the others we had been on. We like the smaller yet less crowded feel of that class of HAL ships. Embarkation was complicated by some kind of computer malfunction, but passengers and staff alike remained cheerful. We were among the first passengers to board, so things may have gotten a little testy later on. Our room was not quite ready. Only one robe was available, and we suspect it was one left from the previous passenger. The famous little bowl of fruit was not there. We later found out from our room steward that there had been a changeover, and he was very apologetic for the lapses. One major disappointment was finding that we had been assigned "Lower Main Seating" in the dining room at 8:30. We immediately went to speak to the Maitre D' and literally had to "take a number". When our turn came, he graciously assured us he would "do everything he could" to respect our request--the same thing he told dozens of other people. We booked five months in advance, and had just assumed we would get what we wanted! We've always eaten at an earlier seating before. Later we actually talked to several people who were at the earlier seating and had not requested it. Many people never eat in the dining room, and it seems wrong to have empty tables sitting there when there were so many who much preferred eating earlier. It was kind of amusing to hear everyone standing around grumbling about the late hour each evening right before the doors opened at 8:30. As it happens, there were a few advantages to eating later--including having a nice long afternoon to enjoy an ice cream cone by the pool and still having plenty of time to get dressed for dinner. And we were lucky to have very pleasant dinner companions. So we ended up eating in the dining room almost every night. Since the complete transit of the Canal is not one of the more routine itineraries, I won't try to give a day-by-day critique, or even port-by-port. I will just say that every port was interesting and beautiful in its own way. And the day spent going through the Canal itself was fascinating from dawn to dusk. A list of the "high points" would have to include the day at beautiful Half Moon Cay, HAL's "Private Island" in the Bahamas. The beach is just unbelievably clean and white and the water is that luminous turquoise color of the Caribbean. There were bright flowers everywhere, and a barbecue lunch was efficiently served in a pavilion just back a ways from the beach. We did our own thing in Puerto Rico and found much to see and do within short walking distance of the ship's dock. One of my favorite moments was standing on the deck as we sailed away from Puerto Rico at midnight, gliding past the lights of "Old Town" and the ancient El Morro fort. Another memorable "sail away" was spent in the Crow's Nest Bar at sunset as the ship did a 380 degree turn leaving the harbor at Puntarenus, Costa Rica. A member of the Crow's Nest Band played soft "New Agey" music as we watched the panorama of shore and rocky islands go slowly past until we were turned to sail directly into the sunset. We also often enjoyed having predinner drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the Explorer's Lounge listening to live strings and piano. To me, it's those "little moments" that make a cruise such a wonderful vacation. I have read some critical comments about the shows on Holland America, but I have to say that we enjoyed each of all 17 evenings. The line-up included three "full-out" singing and dancing shows featuring a very talented group. Then the official on-board orchestra provided live back-up for a variety of other musicians as well as comedians, magicians and other performers. The "Mondriaan Lounge" theater is, to me, the most beautiful of the three HAL ships we've been on. Almost every seat has a good view of the stage. Another small "advantage" of late seating in the dining room is that the lounge was almost never crowded for our shows. We were a little disappointed with the piano bar on the Zaandam. The way it was laid out was kind of like a wide spot in the promenade--very open. And the pianist didn't seem to get much participation from the people around him, but rather was more of a "performer". I've been in piano bars on other ships that had more of a cozy, intimate feel where people could interact and sing along. The food was almost always very good, with plenty of choices for each meal. My husband was a little critical of the lack of variety at the Asian station at the Lido for lunch. Service at the Lido Buffet was courteous and efficient, and lines didn't get too long. However, sometimes the people just ahead of us seemed awfully slow. But that's just the way buffet goes, I guess. All in all, it was a wonderful cruise. Holland America is known for the little touches like fresh flowers everywhere. The wait staff is outstandingly pleasant and friendly, and everything is kept sparkling clean. We hope to sail with HAL again, soon, and wouldn't mind a bit if it was on the Zaandam. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2006
Zuiderdam cruise was 18 days from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco via Panama Canal. STATEROOM. We were in VC class with verandah. The room was smaller than an equivalent class on HAL's older ships such as Statendam. This newer ... Read More
Zuiderdam cruise was 18 days from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco via Panama Canal. STATEROOM. We were in VC class with verandah. The room was smaller than an equivalent class on HAL's older ships such as Statendam. This newer 'Vista Class' of HAL has more verandah rooms than previous, but size has been reduced. Knock one star off the final rating for this feature alone. SHIP INFO: Public Areas were clean. Only one gangway in ports of call which did cause some lineups. Note - they have NO self service laundry. Their laundry charges were reasonable however (by the bag). For 18 days my wife and I got by with only $24 in laundry charges. Internet charges were outrageous at 75 cents/minute and it was slow. The ship's store has almost nothing in the way of sundries so make sure you bring them with you or you will have to get them ashore. I guess there is more profit in cheap watches than toothpaste. DINING: Main dining room food very good and varied. They almost make you forget that your food is being produced on an assembly line. Pork dishes somewhat dry, but all others excellent. They have only one specialty dining room (The Pinnacles) with a $20 surcharge. The only draw that I could see there was a large portion of steak. The buffet (Lido deck) was reasonably good for that style, but we seldom ate there unless main dining room was closed. ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT: We are not night owls so we only went to a few events. I would classify the quality as fair. The most attended of evening events were the shows the crew (from Indonesia and the Philippines) put on. Some of the daytime lectures were excellent. Lots of Bingo. SERVICE: Excellent with few lapses. Room service menu was ample and delivery was always prompt. If you're going on an early shore excursion, in room breakfast suddenly becomes important. The quality was much better than we experienced on Princess where only a cold continental breakfast was available. SHORE EXCURSIONS: If you're in to snorkeling, parasailing, deep sea fishing etc they seemed to have enough to satisfy. We're older so we limited ourselves to bus or walking tours. I thought they were over priced and usually crowded. But unless you want to trust a local cab driver to take you around, they were the only game in town. DISEMBARKATION: Needs fine tuning. Standing in lines. Fed us breakfast while our number waited to be called. Process took three hours. SUMMARY: Best feature - on board services (except internet). Worst feature - our room size. Princess going same route was only 10% more for same class for room 25% larger but they were booked. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2006
Just completed a 30 day on MS Veendam. The ship is clean, the crews morale outstanding, and the ports of call were well thought out. We left LA, went through the Panama Canal, then up the Amazon River 850 miles, back down, and after ... Read More
Just completed a 30 day on MS Veendam. The ship is clean, the crews morale outstanding, and the ports of call were well thought out. We left LA, went through the Panama Canal, then up the Amazon River 850 miles, back down, and after bouncing around to Caribbean ports, ended in TAmpa. I have sailed 3 times on HAL, but this was the best. The Cruise Director, Tom Faulkner, and his asst, Mark Fishman, were superb. Lots of meaningful activities were provided daily. The entertainment was also a cut above the average Holland Cruise. Many terrific entertainers were flown in, and the nightly shows were excellent. Of special mention is the ships band, The HALCATS. They were far superior to most cruiseship bands. They are very versatile, and can support almost any type of backup on a moments notice. Another thing worth mentioning was the Ships Captain. He was superb, a great speaker, had a sense of humor, and was far superior to other HAL ships captains we have observed. His attitude is a direct reflection of the ships crew morale which was high. One thing to mention: The ships self-service laundrys were overcrowded, and I observed several verbal confrontations between ladies doing their laundry. Problem is, washing takes 36 min, and drying 45 minutes. There are 4 dryers and 4 washers, so from the onset, the customers get backed up using the dryers, and after a day, the women are fighting over dryers.!! To resolve this issue the cruise line should have 2 more dryers than washers in each laundry, so there is enough to keep up with the volume of wet clothes. Aside from that the Veendam is a great ship. It was a pleasure to ride her. The head waiters were very thoughtful, and always made the rounds, speaking to each guest. The cruises are becoming more and more competitive, and the employees at dept head level are under a lot of pressure to maximize profits. I noticed drinks on this cruise were very expensive, and there was a lot of pressure to "push" them. I realize that the Beverage manager is under the gun to maximize sales, as are all the other Dept Heads. The Pinnacle Grill had raised prices to $30 on Veendam, which was a $10 increase from other HAL ships I traveled on this year. I believe we will see more and more price increases across the board as the cruise lines struggle to stay in business, due to overbuilding of cruise ships who will sail with less and less passengers. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2006
Embarkation at San Francisco was quick, easy and efficient. Our time for embarkation was 3:00 pm and we arrived shortly after 2:00. No waiting and our luggage arrived in the stateroom before dinner. My only complaint was that there was ... Read More
Embarkation at San Francisco was quick, easy and efficient. Our time for embarkation was 3:00 pm and we arrived shortly after 2:00. No waiting and our luggage arrived in the stateroom before dinner. My only complaint was that there was very little, Welcome Aboard information with what was going on that day. We didn't have the daily sheet showing times of dinners, shows etc. Shortly after sailing, we had our first lifeboat drill - we felt that we were being tugged in a dozen directions and weren't sure which way was up. Do you explore ship? How do you find out where to go and what to do? Next day, much better. Daily sheet arrived, met Charlie our cheerful, competent Steward. At 11 am the Cruise Critics who had registered on the Roll Call Forum met in the Crows Nest, wearing our Mardi Gras Beads. We weren't a large group so we were able to meet for lunches and get-togethers during the voyage. One couple was English, one American and 3 couples were Canadian. Our fellow CC certainly enhanced our enjoyment of the holiday! Since this ship had departed from Vancouver, there were a lot of Canadians aboard and the Zuiderdam staff provided Canadian Newssheets and had a Turkey Dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving. Dining in the Vista Lounge was interesting. Each menu had a myriad of choices and the description of the meal often didn't match the finished product. They were all tasty though and the creative writing descriptions gave our table companions some laughs. Plates were beautifully presented with servings not huge (thank goodness) and quite varied. On occasion, one of our tablemates would request a second helping and it was not a problem for the dining room staff to comply. We enjoyed our table companions very much but sharing a table for 18 days is quite a long time. It would have been interesting to have different dinner companions sometimes. I understand that other cruise lines are experimenting with free style dining but there are problems with this style too. Wines: We purchased wine with dinner and the house wine at $18 was quite acceptable. The steward was pleased to recork it and serve us the remainder the next day. We ate lunch at the Lido restaurant and enjoyed the variety. Breakfast was usually room service. Ports of Call: This was a fantastic Itinerary. Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatalco, Acapulco, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cartagena Columbia, Jamaica, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas in addition to the piece de resistance, the Panama Canal. We participated in shore excursions at most ports and found them to be well run and interesting. The only hiccup was Cartagena which is the most interesting city with its ancient fortifications and cathedrals. 47 buses lined up to take passengers on excursions - most of which were city tours. They all seemed to end up at the same place at the same time causing tremendous traffic jams. The tour was billed as an easy tour but hiking up the battlements of the fort and up the hill to the cathedral was quite strenuous. As usual, there wasn't enough time to explore everything you wanted to, but such is life. They always find time to deliver you to the Approved Shops which sell the same ugly tee shirts and tourist souvenirs. Columbia had the benefit of Emeralds though and many people were sporting some lovely pieces at the next formal night! Some of our fellow cruise critics hired a taxi and had the benefit of a guided tour with their private guide. Half Moon Cay was a delight. Lovely white sand, warm, turquoise sea. A few chaise lounges in the shade would have been appreciated. All of the cabanas were gone early - you would be well advised to book these in advance. We took a snorkeling trip on a boat and just loved it. We have a few physical limitations (age, artificial joints) but had no trouble entering the water and snorkeling in the choppy water. Everyone wore a swim vest that could be inflated and there were two lifeguards. Entertainment: Showtimes were just great. We went to most shows and they had a great diversity. The theatre is quite sophisticated and holds about 650 people. Early shows were quite full, the later show was not. We also enjoyed the Zuiderdam Superstar show - home grown Karaoke talent which was excellent and much fun. Daily entertainment was good too. They had a series of lectures on Geology as it pertained to the area we were transiting as well as a series of enrichment lectures: Spies, Gismos and Gadgets. There was an ACBL Director giving Bridge Lessons and hosting a game in the afternoon of sea days - both Duplicate Bridge and Party Bridge. This was great as many people who have played bridge for years were able to update their methods. There was a guest chef aboard, James Mazzio. He gave a culinary demo which was interesting, informative and fun. Later in the cruise he and the Zuiderdam's executive Chef had a cook off which was lots of fun. We also had a tour of the galley. In addition to these activities, there were trivia contests, ballroom dance lessons, singles get-togethers, exercise classes, gym, spa services, movies, bingo, afternoon tea - it was impossible to participate in more than a fraction of the entertainment aboard ship. We found the layout of the ship very pleasing. There are lounges scattered throughout the public areas and we never found ourselves overwhelmed by people. Many times we would go for a drink in the Crows Nest and there would only be a dozen or so other people there, a small band playing and a few people on the dance floor. In the pool area there were many lounge chairs empty; the Promenade deck had lots of shaded lounges just waiting. Management of people departing for tenders to Ports was well handled and we were never waiting in line for more than just a few minutes. It was hard to believe that there were 1,800 people aboard the ship. The layout of the ship is such to encourage you to use the decks for exercise In General: Passengers were an older crowd - it was a 3 week cruise from Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale so that is to be expected. There were only a few children and 1,000 grannies! The staff was wonderful - friendly, helpful and cheery. We will be cruising again and believe that Holland America offers excellent value. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2006
This is 17th Cruise I have taken since Jan. '05 & the 4th Holland America Cruise in 2 yrs. I've traveled on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Oceania & Princess lines. This voyage was one of the best all around. EMBARKATION: ... Read More
This is 17th Cruise I have taken since Jan. '05 & the 4th Holland America Cruise in 2 yrs. I've traveled on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Oceania & Princess lines. This voyage was one of the best all around. EMBARKATION: Getting to port was very easy & fast. I had rental car & they brought me to port. Lines were a bit long but went smoothly & staff at pier were very pleasant & accommodating. Arrived about 1:30pm & was on board by 2:30pm. Even security staff were pleasant. THE SHIP: This ship is very well designed & comfortable for cruising. There was only one place that you had to go up & down stairs to get to & that was the LaFontaine Dining Room on Deck 4. The rest of the areas on the ship were easily accessible & didn't have any traffic flow issues. The public areas are very tastefully appointed & kept up in very good condition. The main theater was smaller than I'm use to after being on larger ships but it was very adequate & had all the latest stage equipment. There are laundromats on 3 decks. There were 4 machines on my deck & they worked very well. This is a great convenience if you do a lot of cruising. The library on this ship (Explorer's Lounge) has the most comprehensive selection of current travel books on any ship I've traveled on. They also have an extensive DVD rental library. Their is an outside deck (3) that allows you to walk completely around the ship. They also let you go up to the bow of the ship when in a port to get a great view. The pool area is nicely configured although not very large & they have a closeable roof in case the weather is inclement. DINING: There are 4 main areas for food service. (1)The main dining room (La Fontaine) is located on deck 4 & 5. (2)The Lido Restaurant is located on Deck 8 & is the Buffet restaurant for the ship. I try to eat breakfast in main dining room on most ships because food is usually better. The Lido Restaurant on this ship was a surprise because the buffet was equally as good. I opted to eat there most of the time for breakfast & lunch. Food in the Lido Restaurant was better than most buffets that I have experienced. I especially enjoyed the chocolate bread pudding in the dessert area. I traveled earlier in the year on the new Noordam (Caribbean & Transatlantic) & the food was of equal quality here. (3)The Terrace Grill is outside near the pool on the Lido deck. It is a small area that features Hot Dogs, Hamburger, Bratwurst, Pizza, etc The food in all areas of the ship was excellent. Food was best in the main dining rooms & was consistently well prepared, presented and there was ample variety. Service in the main dining room was prompt & courteous. I was at a table for 8 at 8pm. I also had friends at a table for 10 at the 8:30pm sitting. They didn't seem to have as good service as I did. We always had ample time to dine & still catch the shows for each evening. I also tried the hot dogs & hamburgers one day & found them to be excellent. Went to the (4)Pinnacle Grill with a large party (10)one night. Food was superb & service was also great considering size of table. Generally I don't go the specialty restaurants (have tried on most of the cruise lines) on board since food in main dining room is usually quite good. This was an excellent meal. I was very pleased overall with the food on this ship. CABIN: My cabin was wonderful & ideally located. I was right in the middle of the ship on the port side. There was easy access to the dining rooms, show lounges, & pool deck. I was in a Veranda Suite with a balcony. Room was well appointed & very comfortable. It was quiet & my cabin steward was excellent. Always had cabin made up after breakfast & turned down after I left for dinner. There is jacuzzi in bathtub which I used couple of times. Balcony had a lounge, chair & table. It was great for viewing during visit to the Panama Canal & at each port. They have the new beds in all cabins & they are really comfortable. My cabin also had new flat screen TV with a DVD player. ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment on this ship was very good. The production shows were (4 of them) above average but I have seen better on other ships. The singers & dancers were very energetic & performed very well. The other talent was also very good. They had a comedian (Al Katz) who was very professional; a flutist, that was very professional & talented; & a great magician. There was a Filipino Crew Show one evening that was great. The producer of the show (Nestor) was our wine steward. The overall entertainment was definitely above average & I went to all performances. PORTS: There was a great mix of ports & sea days on this cruise. It allowed you to relax between running. Half Moon Cay - weather was a bit rough & missed going onshore by 20 minutes. They stopped tendering & would only allow people to come back to ship. Enjoyed another day aboard ship. Aruba - Had a private excursion planned but due to weather it was cancelled. Walked around & took public bus to hotel zone. Turned out to be a nice day. Curacao - Took a private all day snorkeling tour that was great. Had a good day. Town is really nice to visit. Very clean & seemed safer than Aruba. Panama Canal/Cristobal - After much hassle from the port agent, was able to get private tour from Gatun Lake to Portobelo including snorkeling. Had a great day. Colon is rough town & would not recommend walking around on your own. Shopping at pier was competitive with decent selection. Puerto Limon - Took another private tour here & had a great time. Walked around town a bit before going back to ship. DISEMBARKATION: This went very smoothly. They let you stay in your cabins if you want to instead of having to vacate at 8am. This is a real nice touch. I found on RCCL that they want you out of your cabin by 8am. Took the ships transfer to airport. Cost $12 which is very reasonable & this went very smoothly. Best transfer I had to date. OVERALL EVALUATION: The MS Amsterdam is the flagship of Holland America Lines. It does an around the world cruise in January. I found it to be a very comfortable ship. The staff & crew were very hospitable. The food was one of the best on any cruise I've taken. I really liked the design & tasteful ambiance created by the architects of this ship. I will sail on this vessel again in the future. Regards, Cory Lynn Read Less
Sail Date: December 2006
Amsterdam Dec 9, 2006 Panama Canal partial transit We stayed the night before at Amerisuites.  We had been there before but it has gotten quite ratty. They did have free parking for the entire cruise and free shuttle service to pier. ... Read More
Amsterdam Dec 9, 2006 Panama Canal partial transit We stayed the night before at Amerisuites.  We had been there before but it has gotten quite ratty. They did have free parking for the entire cruise and free shuttle service to pier. Only bad thing we got there around 6pm and the sign-up for the shuttles left us a 1 pm slot ! So we did take a cab to the ship around 11am. Only $10, so that wasn't bad.  no problem returning to the hotel with the shuttle. Embarkation: We got there before the doors were open so we had a little wait outside, line moved quickly after they opened and we were on board in no time. Ship: Beautiful, spotless, great shape. We had an outside cabin on Dolphin deck (sleeping with the fishes !) It was roomy, lots of storage.  our steward was good.  bed was wonderful. Plenty of hot water and 2 hairdryers ! good storage in the bathroom. I brought a power strip since there is only one outlet and we had a mini-fridge.  allowed me to plug in camera charger without disconnecting the fridge. We brought wine on board and had a glass or two before dinner on the promenade deck. Lovely !! Dining: We had the 8pm seating.  table for 4 right on the balcony.  room was pretty, service excellent. The food was good, not gourmet but very good. Some nights had more of what we liked, but hey ! I wasn't cooking or cleaning up afterwards.  so everything was wonderful. 2 formal nights. Ports: We stopped at Half Moon Cay despite it being quite breezy.  some excursions were cancelled.  and it was a bit on the chilly side. So we didn't get to snorkel there but the beach was very pretty. Sea day and then on to Aruba.  here we used our own equipment and took a cab to Malmok Beach and snorkeled for about 2 hrs.  cab came back on time (I was a bit nervous about that) and then we had time to do some exploring. Since we had stayed in Aruba for 2.5 weeks over the years we only found internet access and peeked in a few stores. Then to Curacao.  never had been there.  thoroughly enjoyed the island. We took a cab tour on our own and saw some highlights. Again, inexpensive internet access (as you can tell I have an addiction to the net !!). We walked around the city, enjoyed the floating bridge.  left in the dark so the lights of the pretty pastel buildings was neat to see.  We wished we had gone on the little tour train (like the conch train in key west) early in the day and then took the taxi tour.  the train was done around 3pm !! so we didn't get to it. Panama Canal: Amazing thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We did not take any excursions, just went through the Gatun Locks twice. Friends took the boat to the Pacific side and enjoyed that. There was a lecturer on board Michael Millwood. He gave three talks on the canal and one on Christopher Columbus and his explorations in the Caribbean. All were enlightening. During the canal transit we had a narrator from the canal talk us through. Found internet access in Colon at the pier. Then to our last port....Costa Rica.....We took the ship's boat tour on the Tortugera canals. Saw monkeys, sloth, bats, and a crocodile ! Clean rest rooms where we got on the pontoon boats.....they had music, fruit, beer and juice ! complimentary. Then on the way back to the ship we stopped at a banana plantation and learned a bit about picking, processing and shipping the fruit. The bus ride to and from the ship provided us with the opportunity to learn a bit about Costa Rica from our guide. Some took tours of the local area, went horseback riding in the rain forest.....everyone claimed their tour was the best ! Great port ! Got online there too !! right by the pier..... Sea Days: 2 sea days on our way back to Ft L were relaxing weather was perfect. Met up with several fellow cruise critics during the cruise.  had 2 meetings in the Crows Nest lounge. Never went to the casino, never played bingo. The shows were good. Dancers/singers have so much energy ! Comedians, violinist, magician all were good. I was surprised at the quality of the entertainment.  very good ! I went to a cooking demo.  chef from the Pinnacle Grill and the head baker did challa bread and potato pancakes. Very enjoyable ! The Pinnacle chef is very witty and could have his own TV show. Friends did a hands-on with the chef desserts. They thought it was fun.  got to sample their efforts and received an apron and a few other trinkets. You have to sign up very early to get in to the classes. They did this before dinner on the first night. There were several places to listen to pre/post dinner music. Piano, strings, light rock&.all very good. The Mariner cocktail party was also very nice. Champagne and a few tidbits. There was so many repeat cruisers !! Says a lot for the quality of the experience on board. We are avid HAL fans ! And Superman was the best !! He greeted us every morning in the Lido.  remembering our names after the first day. Amazing. Do not miss the Indonesian show&.the crew puts on a super show&.so much talent. The staff were all very friendly, always offering smiles and greetings. They seemed genuinely interested in your day ! Disembarkation: A little longer than we thought, but you could go anywhere on the ship or stay in the cabin while waiting. Getting the luggage was a snap. and we were in our car by 11am heading to Tampa and home. All in all it was a wonderful 10 days. I made an online album and if anyone wants to see it just post with your email and I will forward it. It is long !! Took about 250 pix ! __________________ pam Read Less
Sail Date: January 2007
Volendam 2 Jan - 12 Jan 2007 Panama Canal Disclaimer  these are our opinions and experiences others may have had a different experience. We flew into FLL a day early and stayed at the Ramada Inn. This hotel has a cruise special that ... Read More
Volendam 2 Jan - 12 Jan 2007 Panama Canal Disclaimer  these are our opinions and experiences others may have had a different experience. We flew into FLL a day early and stayed at the Ramada Inn. This hotel has a cruise special that not only picks you up at the airport but also takes you to the pier the next day. This was very well organized as there were approximately 200 people going out on both the Volendam and Amsterdam staying in this hotel and they ran multiple buses to the ships. Embarkation  We arrived at 11:45 AM and proceeded to the express check-in line. HAL only had 4 agents checking in people so we had to wait inline for close to 40 minutes. An elderly gentleman collapsed and paramedics were called, it is our understanding that he just was not used to standing for long periods of time. We were finally able to get checked in and headed straight to the boarding area, only to be stopped by the photographers and not allowed to pass until they took our picture, (this was the first time a photographer actually would not let us pass until our picture was taken). We were greeted on entering the ship by multiple people and directed to the Lido deck for Lunch and to await our cabin being ready. Cabin  The announcement that the Cabins were ready came at about 1:30 we proceeded to our cabin 6188 an AA Verandah and were met by our cabin steward Matt. Matt asked us if there was anything we needed and then informed us of the hours he would be available and how to contact him. He was an excellent steward and kept our cabin spotless. The cabin its self was good size with a queen bed and a queen size sofa. There was stationary in the cabin with our name and cabin number on it. Also, our pre-ordered shore excursions were in the cabin. The Verandah was nice size with a lounger and chair with a small table. Life Boat Drill  This was the first time in 11 cruises that everyone was real attentive during the drill. The usual cross talking did not occur, this made the drill go quickly and it was done in 20 minutes. Dining  As food is subjective I will only say that we felt the dishes on the Maasdam and Oosterdam had more flavor to them. We were at table 104 port side next to the window 6:15 Seating. This is a table for 6, the first night one other couple were at the table, this was the only night they were there as they preferred a table for two. The next night 2 other couples (Joe and Nancy) and (Kelly and Les) Kelly and Les were at the table only one night as someone from the late seating was at their table and they were moved to ours for the one night. Joe and Nancy became our regular table mates and we enjoyed them very much. However, we had one other couple join us one evening, (Wes and Sherry) they normally dined in the Lido but the Lido was not serving the dish they wanted so they came to our table for the one night. I must say it was interesting to meet so many different people at the dining table. This could have been a sample of what freestyle dining is like. Our waiter and asst. waiter (Asep and Iskander) were very good and dealt with the multiple people coming to the table with a very good attitude, as at times we had already ordered and then someone else would show up at the table. Once it was discovered that I am allergic to onions the Head waiter (Donny) provided me with the next night's menu so I could order and they would ensure that there were no onions in any of the dishes I received. Lido  We at the Lido for breakfast and lunch. There was a nice selection at breakfast as you could have eggs to order, express with scrambled eggs, omelet station and then fruit and cereal and pastries. Lunch also had different stations however we were being good and only had salads for lunch. Shows  The production shows were the same ones we saw on the Oosterdam during Thanksgiving just with different performers and sets. The best show was Paul Pappas the piano player he did two shows one that covered a wide range of music and one that was more classical piano. Ports  HMC what can you say but it was beautiful, the water was a little cold so you could not stay in very long, also we shared HMC with the Maasdam. Aruba we did the DE PALM Island Snorkeling and had a great time. The Island has something for everyone you can just sunbath/swim, snorkel, scuba, snuba, or sea trek (hard hat underwater tour). Curacao, this is a very clean and beautiful island, we did the Curacao tour and folkloric tour and had a great time. Panama Canal, we had never been here and just to see the canal and the locks work was worth the trip, we did not take any excursions here. Limon, Costa Rica, here we took the Old Banana Train Tour we had a good time on this tour as we rode a bus out to the Banana Plantation toured the banana processing area and learned a lot about bananas, then we caught the old train back to Limon, we saw Monkeys, Sloth's, and Alligator's along with varies birds (vultures) and plant life. Our guide Roy made this a very good tour. The Ship  The overall appearance of the ship was good, it was clean and the crew did everything possible to make sure it stayed that way. Yes, there is some worn carpet and chairs but with the amount of traffic on this ship that is to be expected. On sea days we did not have to deal with chair hogs, there always seemed to be a chair available when we wanted one. Both pools were used and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Spa  We won a free scalp massage, my wife took this and came back just glowing, it is more than a scalp massage but also a neck and shoulders massage. Since she raved about it I also had one and it was great and plan to have one on our next cruise the first day out it just relaxed me so much. Disembarkation  With being able to stay in you cabin this went smooth, our number was called we went down and claimed out bags. Our bags were all together in one spot, first time ever. Went through customs and out to the bus to the Airport, waited about 20 minutes before the bus left and we were still at the airport within 45 minutes of leaving the ship. Well organized and planned. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2007
My wife and I embarked in NY for an 18 day cruise through the Panama Canal with disembarkation in Long Beach. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, midtown NY, for five days before the cruise. The room and services were good. Location next to ... Read More
My wife and I embarked in NY for an 18 day cruise through the Panama Canal with disembarkation in Long Beach. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, midtown NY, for five days before the cruise. The room and services were good. Location next to Grand Central Terminal and 42nd Street was great. The hotel cost about $2,500. msNoordam is new, beautiful and enjoyable. The staff and services were great. The ride was fine, smooth and trouble free. Food was very good. All other services were above average. Overall: good to superior. Embarkation: A porter took our bags where the taxi dropped us. Group numbers were assigned by Holland America Line (HAL) personnel when we arrived. The ship arrived late pushing the boarding process back 4 hours. When groups were called we quickly reached a processing agent, received our boarding pass and when aboard ship. The cabins were ready shorting afterwards. Cabin: Our four empty bags fit nicely under the bed. We had very adequate closet space and two large draws at the end of the bed. Two storage spaces above the sofa were very handy. A TV with DVD player offered CNN and several satellite channels with others for shipboard information and repeats of lectures or shows. The bath was a tub/shower combination with a storage vanity and shelf underneath the sink. The bed was comfortable. Activities: A teak deck on level 3 was very popular for walkers, some fast and some slow. Deck chairs with towels were available on levels 3, 9 and 10. Two swimming pools, a spa, gym and hot tubs were popular. Other activities included: specialists lectures on various topics, first run movies (with popcorn), bingo, bridge, crafts, team trivia, dance lessons, shopping, internet (55 cents per min) and lots of free time to relax. Variety entertainment was offered at two shows each evening. Service: The room stewart was exceptional with continuous attention to keep our cabin perfect. Meal room service was very good and prompt. The buffet on level 9 was available about 18 hours per day with very good quality food and service. A taco bar/hotdog/hamburger service was available poolside. Shore Excursions: We booked one in each port. All were enjoyable but about half were not worth the money. Most ports did not offer service near the pier so either a tour or taxi ride were required. Dining: We had early seating (5:30-6:00) on the upper level (3 vs 2) at table 12 (6 people vs 2/4/8) next to a window. The table stewart (Wayan) worked two tables with an assistant (Bodi). The attention was excellent and the food very good. We had a different menu each night. Children's Clubs: We only saw about a dozen children onboard. Disembarkation: Very smooth with and practiced elegance. We were sorry to leave. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2007
Warning - This will be a very long post, just read the bits you want to. Background 19 nights Panama Canal cruise from Vancouver to San Diego aboard the Volendam. It was smooth sailing all the way apart from the first 2 nights but they ... Read More
Warning - This will be a very long post, just read the bits you want to. Background 19 nights Panama Canal cruise from Vancouver to San Diego aboard the Volendam. It was smooth sailing all the way apart from the first 2 nights but they weren't too bad and didn't cause us any discomfort. This cruise was to celebrate my 50th birthday with my sister. We are from Scotland and have cruised 4 times previously but this is the first time with Holland America. These are my thoughts and may differ from other cruisers on the same cruise. Vancouver We flew straight to Vancouver from Scotland (10 hours) and stayed for 4 nights at Le Soleil Hotel. It was a small boutique style hotel, the rooms were all suites (separate bedroom and lounge) and furnished in the Louis XIV style. I must recommend this hotel, it is in a fabulous location and had so much more character than 'big chain' hotels that are every where. Our 4 days were great, we did all the sights around the city and also went to Grouse Mountain. I have been to Vancouver before and really like it but there was a lot of building work going on at the moment. 28th September - Embarkation We made our way to Canada Place around 12 Noon, our bags were quickly taken from us and then we had to go through immigration. We had our finger prints taken and also the iris of our eyes were scanned. This is the first time we've ever had to go through this and it was a bit daunting. As I had filled out pre-registration on line (apart from registering our credit cards) all we had to do was register our credit card and we were on our way to the ship. We were told that the rooms were not ready but to make our way to the Lido where lunch was being served. As we were in a deluxe suite with access to the Neptune Lounge I thought it would be a good idea to check it out before lunch. Good idea, as our room was very near the Neptune Lounge and a quick glance through the open door showed us it was ready. Suite I won't go into too much detail of the suite as many people before me have already done so. Suffice it to say that it met our expectations. We have stayed in suites on Princess and NCL, and this was on par with them. We were pleased to see the welcome bottle of champagne from the captain, the bottle of wine and 2 complimentary soda cards from the travel agent plus $50 per person on board credit, were already in place. We then visited the Neptune Lounge and introduced ourselves to Guillbert, who was fabulous, so courteous and just wanting to please. After lunch in the Lido we went back to the room, where our room steward Asriel introduced himself. He too was very courteous and couldn't do enough for us. He also brought our 4 suitcases so we could unpack way before the obligatory life jacket drill. There was room for everything, nice high hanging closets where you could hang full length dresses for formal nights and still have room to spare for shoes at the bottom. There was enough room for 4 large suitcases and 2 carry ons to go under the beds out of sight. The room also had a dressing area which was great for doing your hair and putting your make up on, this area could also be closed off from the bedroom by a curtain. The beds are wonderful and comfortable and the goose down soft pillows and duvets are to just die for. Captains welcome cocktail party All the deluxe suite guests were invited to meet the captain, have a glass of champagne etc. and also meet all the other officers in the Neptune Lounge on the first evening. It was also a great time to meet other suite guests. We realized there were lots of Scottish connections with the officers. The Food & Beverage managers' son went to Glasgow University, the Cruise Director had family from Preston Pans and visited a lot, the Customer Relations Manager has a Scottish boyfriend and used to live in Leven, so we felt really at home. Dinner We had the 8pm sitting on the upper level at a table for 8. Our steward Ida and assistant steward Ness introduced themselves, as did Charlie the wine steward. They were just fabulous at keeping us entertained, getting to know our likes and dislikes and we really have nothing but good things to say about them. The first night there was only the 2 of us at a table for 8 but we were assured that the other guests would join us the next night. This is the first time we've had fixed seating, Princess and NCL let you eat where you want when you want. But I'm really glad we had fixed seating on this cruise and we had some great table mates who kept us laughing and amused all the way through the cruise. Entertainment The Volendam cast put on 4 shows (one they repeated after San Diego). The lead singers were really good and the dancers were so energetic. We did a backstage tour and saw the tiny spaces they have to keep all their costumes in and where they have the many clothes changes throughout the show. We had a terrific violinist who played with the London Philharmonic orchestra, and had just been playing at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles and Camilla. She was really outstanding. Also a fantastic singer from Australia also did a show one night. Other nights were comedians, jugglers, pianist. We used to try and not fall asleep as the shows were very good (we were still on a different timezone body clock). They weren't the lavish productions Princess put on but they were still good. Brunch with the Captain for Suite guests One day suite guests had brunch with the captain and other officers. There was lots of champagne, wine etc. being poured and the food was wonderful. Another great time to meet suite guests and the officers. Ship The Volendam is smaller and older than other ships we've been on, and it was in really great shape, there was always someone cleaning the outside, painting the teak verandah banisters, cleaning the brass work, polishing every inch of it, fresh flowers everywhere that she really does not look her age. 29th September - Astoria, Oregon We went on the Seaside and Cannon Beach trip, they were nice little towns with a few good shops but nothing much else apart from a lovely beach but it was too cold to enjoy it. When we got back to the ship we had missed lunch so we went to the Neptune Lounge and picked up a few snacks to take back to our cabin to eat on the verandah. Our table mates joined us that night so we had a lot of introductions to do and get to know everyone. 30th September - At Sea (my birthday) and the 1st of 5 formal nights After opening my presents, then having a champagne breakfast, my sister and I had both booked ourselves into the Spa for some treatments. It was wonderful, what a great way to spend my birthday being pampered. We then had lunch and went to the dance class. There were 4 dance hosts on the ship, one of whom was the dance instructor - Ray, who was fantastic, very funny and made jokes with everyone to put them at their ease. He is a retired professor of psychology and a fabulous dance teacher. Over the 19 days we learnt the Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Marenge, Samba, Rumba, Tango and the Swing. We both thoroughly enjoyed the dance classes. We then went to the craft class but wasn't too impressed as no-one demonstrated what to do and there were no finished articles of what you were making so that you could see what the end result would be. It was just instruction table by table which is not the best way to teach about 20+ ladies. We decided to go back and have cocktails on the verandah and start to get ready for the first formal night. I really enjoy getting dressed up and as it was my birthday it was extra special. The dance instructor Ray sat at our table and kept us entertained with his jokes and stories. There were now 9 of us at the table (we squeezed him in but it was fine). The ship also gave me a birthday cake and the waiters all sang happy birthday to me which was fun. We then went to see the show and fell into bed after midnight. It had been a great birthday. 1st October - At Sea It was so nice to relax on the verandah as the weather started to warm up. There was lots to do on the ship, we only went to the dance class and cooking demonstration by the Pinnacle Grill chef Sheldon. We also tried the craft class but left after a few moments. We had lunch in the Lido, they have a great sandwich bar where a server makes your sandwich to order with anything you want on it. We used this every day for lunch when we were on the ship. 2nd October - San Diego There wasn't much choice of tours from the ship here, so we decided to take a taxi to the Old Town which was just great. It was very mexican and had all sorts of old fashioned shops, mexican restaurants, museums etc. We spent all day here as the weather was lovely and in the 70's. I just hope the fires have not destroyed too much of this lovely city. A lot of guests got on here so there was another cocktail party in the Neptune Lounge to meet the captain and officers. We were also invited the 2nd time. 3rd October - At Sea and the 2nd of 5 formal nights We were getting into the routine, breakfast on the balcony, touring the ship, dance class, cooking demonstration, craft class, lunch in the Lido, hors d'oeuvres from the Neptune, cocktails on the verandah, get ready for a lovely dinner. We were well and truly in the holiday mode. 4th October - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico It was getting much hotter, now high 90's. We had to tender ashore. We decided to go on the ships tour - Discover Todos Santos. We had a 1.5 hour drive there and the same back and the most interesting thing to see was the Hotel California which inspired the Eagles to write their song. The hotel is lovely, it looks as if it hasn't changed a bit from the 60's, all very colorful and quaint. We had lunch here, walked around a while then headed back to the ship. I probably would have preferred to stay in Cabo San Lucas as we were very tired and hot when we came back and didn't want to walk around too much. The air conditioned ship was beckoning us. 5th October - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Here we decided on the taste of Mexico tour. We saw the sights of the town, its lovely church, shopping and then went off for our cookery lesson Mexican style in an open air restaurant. We all had the ingredients in front of us to make Salsa with avocado, the chef talked us through what we had to do e.g. dice up the onion, tomato, chilli, squeeze of lime, pinch of salt, mash up the avocado etc. We then ate what we made, this was really a lot of fun and we finished off by flattening and cooking our own enchiladas to eat with our lunch. All washed down with Margaritas. We really enjoyed this. In the evening we went on the Rhythms of the Night tour on Las Calletas island which we reached by boat. The island is beautiful, lots of lovely dancers met us at the pier. The dinner was very good, eaten under canvas watching the sea, it was buffet style which was served up with Margaritas or whatever you wanted to drink. The toilets were amazing, carved out of the rock with candles lit all around. The show was also fantastic and was based more on an Aztec style. The trip back to the boat was great with dancing and drinking, but we got soaked when we left the boat as a thunder storm had started along with lightening and by the time we got back to the ship we were drenched although the boat gave us umbrellas the rain was just torrential. We were just in time to see the Indonesian crew show when we got back to the ship which was very good, there is a lot of talent amongst the crew. 6th October - At Sea and the Master Chefs dinner Another lovely lazy day whiling our time away with all the activities aboard the ship. Tonight was the Master Chefs dinner, this was a unique experience for us. It started off with ballet - the waiters dancing in to the Viennese waltz and delivering napkins to everyone. The starter was brought in by the waiters performing to a Swing song. The main course was brought in with the waiters spinning plates on top of poles. The dessert was outstanding - Chef Rudi's 'Hats off dessert' with a white chocolate chefs hat topping off a wonderful delicious pudding. All the guests were given chefs hats to wear and the menu was in the shape of a chefs hat with corkscrew, wooden spoon. It was so impressive I kept it as a souvenir. This is unique to HAL and something we've never come across on other cruise lines. We then went to the show and again fell into bed after midnight. 7th October - Acapulco, Mexico I've already been to Acapulco, I enjoyed it last time and I wondered if I would enjoy it this time. I was not disappointed. We did the City Tour with Cliff Divers. We enjoyed this trip especially the cliff divers, they were even better than I remembered. We had an advantage point from the restaurant right beside the cliffs. We even got photos of the divers afterwards as they came to the restaurant (looking for tips, but who can blame them after putting their lives at risk). We were also treated to a Mexican dance show and a man doing rope tricks. We then went back to the ship for a sandwich and came back out to go shopping. We only went a short way when someone came up to us and said he would take us to a shop who paid him to take us there. I had done this on the last trip so I said this was probably the best way to get what we wanted. Again we were not disappointed. The shop was huge selling all sorts of Mexican ware and we could barter with the price. We bought quite a lot and then we were taken to the market. Again the man took us to where he would get commission but also somewhere which sold really good quality mexican jewelry. Again we bought things, we then went to another stall and also bought other stuff. He said if we were happy with his service we could give him a tip but he didn't want anything for taking us around in his car. We were really happy so of course gave him a tip. 8th October - Santa Cruz, Mexico and the 3rd of 5 formal nights. We decided to take the Scenic Drive and La Crucesita tour here. It was very picturesque and took lots of lovely photos, we stopped at a place with a vantage point to take a photo of the ship which has turned out great. Tonight was the black and white ball, when it is ladies choice in the Crows Nest. All the officers marched in with the captain, lined up and when the music started the ladies had to ask the officers to dance. I didn't need to be asked twice. I danced with about 5 - 6 officers and it was great fun. Again this doesn't happen on other cruise lines. 9th October - Puerto Chiapas, Mexico This is a new port that is just trying to establish itself with tourism to cruise ships. We chose to do the Mexican Charro festival which was a show on horse back. First out were about 12 young girls proving they were very proficient horse woman with their display. We also had a display showing men roping a bull and men doing rope tricks on top of horses. It was very good, and thought it was well worth it. The port put on a spectacular display of dancers and musicians to greet us as we came off the ship and also when the ship was leaving. I hope the cruise liners decide to make this a regular stop as the people really put themselves out for us. 10th October - At Sea Another sea day to relax and enjoy everything the ship had to offer. Tonight we went to the Pinnacle Grill. I was going to do this for my birthday but I thought it much better fun being at the dining table with our table mates on the formal night. My sister had brought Dom Perignon champagne with her to celebrate my birthday so we had it chilled for us and brought to our table. It was delicious, as was the food. The steak was really tasty even though it wasn't Aberdeen Angus beef, the best beef in the world :-) 11th October - Puntarenas, Costa Rica Here I did the Train Ride & Mangrove glide and my sister had been booked on picturesque Sarchi but she cancelled at the last minute as she wasn't feeling too well. The anti malaria tablets she was taking were bothering her stomach. Before the trip we went into the town to buy a few things we needed. It was pouring rain, the locals told us it had rained for 3 days, others on the ship said this was the first time they'd ever seen rain in Puntarenas when they'd docked there before. It was still raining when we left to go on the tour, as we were passing through towns and villages we saw lots of localized flooding. The tour was very good especially the boat ride through the mangroves. We did see quite a few animals - crocodile, hawk, beaver, monkeys, iguanas. That night we ate in the Lido as I did not get back till about 6.45pm, the ship had to wait for a tour bus to get back as they had been stuck in a landslide and were more than 2 hours late getting back. We found out later the tour that was late was the one my sister should have been on. Dinner in the Lido was certainly not as good as the restaurant. It was the same menu but it had been lying out for a while as we were nearly the last ones to be served. One night (can't remember which one) there was also the chocolate dessert buffet at 11pm. This was spectacular, there was every kind of dessert imaginable all laid out in a splendid display. The chefs had made lots of carvings out of chocolate, fruit, ice etc. to decorate the tables. I really have not seen this kind of spread before. It was laid out around the swimming pool. 12th October - Scenic Cruising, Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica and the 4th of 5 formal nights The scenery was lovely and we whiled away our time on the verandah watching the world go by. Of course we went to the dance classes and joined in lots of other stuff that was going on around the ship. Again we got dressed up, got our photos taken by the professionals and had a great dinner. 13th October - Panama Canal We got up just before 6.30am to see Panama city and the ship going under the bridge of the Americas. Panamanian rolls were being served on the outside deck so we got some and went back to our verandah to get a great view of entering the first lock. It took a long time to get through the locks but it was a great day as this was my first time going through the canal. The ship had brought someone on board who explained everything you ever needed to know about the canal and what and when it was all happening. The ship had a sale of Panamanian goods up on the Lido deck and this was really jumping like a fair. Tonight was the Filipino crew members turn to entertain us, and again it was very good. 14th October - Cartegena, Columbia Here we did Scenes of Cartegena, I can thoroughly recommend this tour, we saw all the sights we wanted to see - Old City, Monastery, La Popa, The Fort, and of course more shopping. I felt really comfortable here, although there were a lot of vendors a firm no sent them on their way. Although we did buy quite a lot from them as they too are trying to make a living and feed their families. This was one of my favorite ports. It was Indonesian night in the Dining Room, all the waiters dressed up and during dinner the guests learned to play the Angklung (Indonesian instrument). They were conducted by a veteran of the Angklung and played Twinkle, Twinkle and Que Sera. It was another enjoyable night at dinner. 15th October - At Sea and the last of 5 formal nights Another day to just do what we wanted around the ship and get ready for the last formal night. Tonight the chefs took a bow and it was the parade of the Baked Alaska's. This is great fun and it's nice to see the waiters also enjoying themselves and posing for photos. We asked our waiters, wine steward and Head Waiter to sign our menus as they were very grand. This is a great memento to keep. 16th October - At Sea A great day to just do everything we wanted to do in our own time, drinks on the verandah, Neptune Lounge treats and not even think about packing until after dinner. The last supper was great, I must say the food was very good every night, much better than some cruises I've been on. It was also time to say goodbye to our table mates, exchange email addresses, and to give envelopes with their tips out to our room steward, waiters, wine waiter and Guillbert in the Neptune Lounge. They had looked after us soooo well for 19 days we just thought they deserved more than the $10pp per day charged to our room. They were all so pleased and very gracious when accepting them. We put our luggage out just after midnight and had our last nights sleep in those fabulous beds. 17th October - Disembarkation, Fort Lauderdale We had our last breakfast on the balcony, and left the ship at 9am. We picked up our luggage, got a taxi to the airport and got our hire car to drive up to Sanford International Airport in Orlando where we were getting a direct flight back to Glasgow (8 hours). I must say this was one of the best cruises I've had and Holland America do so many thoughtful and different things than other cruise lines, just to name a few: Indonesian afternoon tea Royal Dutch afternoon tea Black & White ball - ladies choice to ask officers to dance Brunch and meet the captain and officers Cocktail party and meet the captain and officers Dance Hosts Indonesian Night in the Dining Room Baked Alaska parade Chocolate buffet Master Chefs dinner etc. etc. etc. I had the best 50th birthday ever, a holiday that I will always remember, memories I will never forget and a fantastic collection of photos, thanks HAL. Scotland Read Less
Sail Date: September 2007
It is important to note a bit of background on our cruising experience and what we look for in a vacation. A good vacation is one that meets our expectations. A great vacation is one that surpasses our expectations. This was a great ... Read More
It is important to note a bit of background on our cruising experience and what we look for in a vacation. A good vacation is one that meets our expectations. A great vacation is one that surpasses our expectations. This was a great vacation! We are a semi-retired professional couple in our late 40's/early 50's and have the good fortune of sailing 50+ cruises as passengers. Additionally, following our first retirements, we found a second career in combining our love of travel and people - we worked as onboard cruise staff for 4+ years with Carnival and Princess Cruises. Accordingly, we have experienced cruising from both sides. For this holiday, we treated ourselves to a deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA stateroom 7047) and every single hard-earned penny was well spent! Pre-Cruise We arrived a day early into Vancouver, B.C. from Longboat Key, FL, USA. The Delta flight included one change of planes in Atlanta and was uneventful. A prearranged rental car from Alamo onsite at the airport was inexpensive and convenient since we were able to return it onsite at Canada Place before boarding the ship. The Park Plaza Hotel on Broadway was clean and comfortable and recently refurbished in an art deco motif that was aesthetically pleasing. It's location on Broadway offered many options for dining and shopping. Embarkation After a good nights sleep, we arrived at the terminal at 11:10 am, returned our rental vehicle and went through the entire process of embarkation and were onboard before 12 noon. The actual process of embarkation took less than 20 minutes and all staff was personable and professional. Our key cards in hand, we posed for our first of many photographs, were videoed as we traversed the gangway, and heard those heart warming words as we took our first step onboard..."Welcome Home". The familiar HAL Mariner motto of "Once onboard, never forgotten" is replayed not only in words but in the actions of all crew members. We had a suite on deck 7, near the Neptune Lounge. Accordingly, we elected to stop by to introduce ourselves to the concierges Carlo & Faye, pour the first of many (many, many) delectable cappuccinos and to drop off our carry on bags. We had a light lunch at the Lido buffet, complete with scrumptious velvety bread pudding, before hearing the announcement that all staterooms were ready. (Approximately 1:20pm) Stateroom/Suite Amenities Ahhhhh, the sweet life of the suite life. Although we had cruised 50+ days with HAL, this was the first deluxe verandah suite (Cat SA) we had ever booked with the line. As many others have stated in their reviews, once you have experienced the bonuses that accompany the HAL superior deluxe suite, you will never want to cruise any other way. My husband and I agree that it was the fact that we were in a suite that made this vacation one we will never forget and one that stands apart from all others we have taken as passengers. The stateroom size is astounding. It measures at 510 sq. feet (although a standard verandah cabin measures half that size at 249 sq. feet) and is pure heaven. The color pallet is warm, understated elegance in crème, mauve and burgundy. So much has been written about the extra living space, storage space, oversized balcony, the fresh flowers, the premium duvet, oversize bath towels, and unlimited complimentary laundry and pressing that I will not elaborate. Our cabin steward Rahmat immediately appeared and welcomed us with a warm and genuine smile. Within one hour our 4 checked bags were delivered - plenty of storage room for both my and my husband's 21 day outfits and 21 evening outfits. Our 4 large bags easily fit under the king size bed and were out of view for the cruise. Ample hangers were provided for all clothing requiring them. I separated out clothing to be pressed for the next 2 days and presented them to our steward for the laundry department. Throughout the entire cruise all clothing sent to be washed or dry cleaned was returned the next day and that to be pressed was returned that same evening as it was sent. A bit of an aside, for those with long hair, I brought my own hair dryer and am quite happy I did since the one provided in the suite was not sufficient. Also, I did not bring my own shampoo/conditioner and elected to purchase some when the opportunity arose. (I guess I am in the minority on the Elemis products?) We were off at 4:30pm to the lifeboat drill where the rain could not dampen our spirits. Speaking of spirits, after the drill my husband poured us a glass of champagne (thank you Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells) and we toasted each other to the start of a great holiday. Staff: Captain - Joreon van Donselaar Hotel Manager - Mark Pells Suite Concierges: Carlo & Faye Cruise Director - Jason Venner Asst. CDs - DJ Drew, Michael, Chris, Aga Staff Entertainment - Jenny & The Hall Cats, Randall Powell on Piano (in Crow's Nest), Dan Brady on piano (the Piano Bar), Porto Fino (Ocean Bar band), City Quartet (Explorers Lounge plus special occasions string quartet) Ports Although this was considered a repositioning cruise, it was extremely port intensive. In the 21 day cruise from Vancouver - FLL, we visited 13 ports of call (including embarkation & disembarkation). We had the good fortune of varied ports from the pacific northwest region of our port of embarkation, Vancouver, to rainy Seattle, to the cosmopolitan port of Los Angeles, to the 6 ports of Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas), the rain forest area of Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, the maritime/fortressed port of Cartegena, Columbia and the flavor of the western Caribbean islands, Key West, FL. We pre-booked our shore excursions using the HAL online booking and accordingly not only insured receipt of all of the tours we requested but also had them paid for before we sailed. Of particular mention were our personal favorites of the Mini 4 x 4 Expedition in the muddy hills of Puerto Vallarta and the Mountain Bike Tour in Huatulco. Our out of town tours in Cabo San Lucas (Todos Santo) and Manzanillo (Nogueras) were both interesting and insightful of the Mexican culture. While in Seattle, what is not to love about a tour of a winery (complete with wine tasting) at 10:30 am on a rainy day? And a highlight tour of L.A. including Rodeo Drive shopping came in handy for that ... "oops, I forgot to bring my favorite black pants (wink-wink)" which resulted in the purchase of not one but two new pair of pants plus other necessities! As a special treat, the Hotel Manager, Mark Pells, arranged for no less than 8 folkloric shows to perform for the passengers when in port. These special and unexpected cultural shows were well received by many passengers and a further insight into the colorful entertainment side of the Mexican and Columbian cultures. Panama Canal Spectacular does not say enough about the engineering feat that is the Panama Canal. When you remember that the Panama Canal shortens by many thousand of miles a voyage that would otherwise involve going around the tip of South America, and couple it with experiencing it first hand through the transit of 3 locks, it is definitely a cruise not to be missed. Many people take cruises wherein the ship is their destination. Others seek out particular ports (i.e. St. Petersburg or perhaps Aruba) that they dreamed of visiting. On this cruise, the transit itself is a destination! We had the renowned guest lecturer Dr. Jay Wolff onboard. Dr. Jay shared his knowledge and passion with us as we sailed the full 21 days. His riveting story-telling combined with his personally compiled slides made his talks a standing room only activity. Dr. Jay prepared us for our journey with talks first on San Francisco and its Pioneers, to Cortez and Spain's greed lead to conquest Mexico, to the Digging of the Canal by Uncle Sam, to the Caribbean where Molasses to Rum To Slaves and Pirates were our topics. If you missed or could not get a seat at one of Dr. Jay's talks, it was broadcasted on the in-room television the next day. Entertainment This area is often quite subjective and no two people on the same cruise will feel the same way about their experiences. I have listed the onboard staff above. There was enough diversity for us among the onboard entertainment staff; however we do not take cruises for the night life. Remembering that there are 1900+ passengers with varying tastes, I believe that there was a respectable variance in entertainment. On the sea days, we especially enjoyed the mid-day music at the Lido pool, mid-ship. On port days, the Lido pool, aft, took stage for Jenny & The Hall Cats and/or Randall on Piano for the sail- a-way parties. It was particularly enjoyable to listen to the "banter" of fog horns between the respective Captains of the Zuiderdam and the Noordam as the Z sailed away first out of the premier pier berth in Cabo San Lucas. The margaritas and laughter were overflowing as the celebration of our sojourn into Mexico began to become reality for us passengers. Our vote for the best of the best onboard entertainment was the City Quartet who played nightly at the Explorers Lounge and often graced us with tunes at formal dinners, special cocktail parties and our most special evening - the Renewal of Vows ceremony. Featured Vista Lounge entertainment was spread equally among comedians, vocalists, pianists, etc. A bit of a disappointment was the hypnotist; however a raving review is deserving of Doug Mattocks, a virtuoso on banjo! Stage shows by the Z dance troupe were enjoyable, however there were only 3 different shows (twice repeated) presented on this long itinerary. Mid-cruise, the Officers Black & White Ball was held in the Vista Lounge with Jenny & The Hall Cats accompanying. It was a sea of Black & White tuxes and ball gowns, balloons and streamers. The videographer was present and captured many a couple shaking a leg and also snuggling close on an especial evening of pageantry. The officers looked dapper and the ladies looked gorgeous. On a day to day basis, the cruise staff led the activities which included a wide array of basketball throws, ping-pong tournaments, ring toss, golf putting, trivia contests, dance classes, etc. We earned enough "dam dollars" to redeem for a long sleeved t-shirt, a short sleeved t-shirt and a set of wine glass ID rings (with the ship theme). I had the luck to win at Bingo on one occasion and also was chosen to "win" a cute t-shirt from DelSol during one of the Port Lecturer talks. My husband was selected to enter the Zuiderdam Superstar contest and he was graced by the judges CD Jason, beautiful singer Jenny and fun-loving, boisterous Randall with the title of "Zuiderdam Superstar", winning a bag full of HAL goodies including t-shirts, mugs, hats, water bottle, key chain, clock, umbrella, etc.. Of course there were always new feature films in the Queens Lounge daily as well as replays on 2 television channels each day. There were art auctions by Park West that were scheduled on sea days in the afternoon and often included free champagne. A Walk for the Cure was held on the last Sunday (sea day) and it garnered good participation. We found there to be more than enough to keep us busy and I am enjoying a bit of a respite now that we are home. Dining I would equate the dining with that of a country club. Choices were more than plentiful, and the selection and quality of sugar free desserts was abundant. The dining room staff was eager to please. We had a table for 2, early dining, top level. However, because of the way the tables were configured and due to the length of the cruise, we often chatted with the 4 top next to us as well as other nearby tables. The Lido buffet was typically our choice for breakfast and lunch with the omelet station in the a.m. being my personal favorite. Pizza and ice cream served most anytime throughout the day were among my husband's favorites. Of special note were the sea day afternoon BBQ's, which varied from Satay BBQ, to Salmon Bake, to Rib BBQ to Mexican Fiestas. The Chocolate extravaganza was absolutely remarkable and held on two separate evenings. We dined at the Pinnacle Grill one evening and found it to our pleasing; however the steaks and service at the dining room were equally satisfactory. I particularly enjoy starters and a number of the soups, the liver pate and escargot were among my favorites. Our favorite meal was served in the Pinnacle Grill for the suite passengers. Kudos go out to the Pinnacle Grill Manger Elvira and her staff. Hosted by Captain von Donselaar and HM Mark Pells, we were treated to a formal sit down luncheon of Indonesian cuisine, with plenty of red and/or white wines to compliment the fare. The rice pudding dessert was tremendous! We were honored to be seated next to the Captain with a number of other cruise critic members at our table of eleven! Service was impeccable as was the company of our tablemates! (This was definitely a highlight of our cruise!) Renewal of Vows Ceremony Without exception this was the number one most memorable event of our cruise. Near the end of the cruise we stated our vows to each other before the Captain in a moving ceremony. There were 5 couples and many witnesses to such a joyous ceremony held in the Oak Room. The City Quartet provided a lovely musical background to the magically decorated room. Champagne and hors d'ourves were served and many a tissue was used to dry the tears of those in attendance! For those considering it, the ceremony as performed by this Captain was sincere and not the least bit chintzy or hokey. Each couple was called individually before the Captain to recite their vows and to pledge their love. A beautiful photo album/memento book was sent to our cabin the next day with photographs, certificate signed by Captain and a recitation of the vows. You may invite witnesses/guests for a nominal fee to share in your special evening. We invited three couples to experience with us this special declaration of love and all the staff was accommodating in taking group photos for us. Also included in the package is a bottle of wine, corsages for the ceremony, a bouquet of flowers for your stateroom and dinner for two at the Pinnacle Grill. Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle A nicer group of hooligans you will not find!!!! These people know how to have a good time! Through the leadership of Cool Chile (and her husband) and CP 556(and her husband), we had not one but two meet & mingle gatherings. We had the first of the two on our first sea day out of Vancouver (day 3 of cruise). It was held in the afternoon in the Oak Room and was attended by the HM Mark Pells and the Beverage Manager Murat Kaya. The HM spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a round chair discussion format telling us about HAL and its workings. He clued us in to some special entertainment planned for the cruise and gave us some insider tips. The second meet & mingle was the morning after L.A. We were 20+ strong and had numerous door prizes awarded. (Thank you again to our fearless leaders Cool Chile and Rob for their efforts) We had mimosas, coffee and cookies, mimosas, jokes and jabs, mimosas and with all of that champagne flowing through our veins - FUN! Attended by HM Mark Pells (does that guy ever rest) and CD Jason, everyone walked away with something to remember the cruise critic gang. We were a bit like children in the lunchroom trading our stash for another's. As the days of the cruise came and went, we found that a number of us gravitated toward each other and lunches, walks, talks, shore excursions, coffees and cocktails and more gatherings developed. A lovely penthouse suite cocktail party was hosted by two of our gang on the third of our formal evenings and a Panama Canal lunchtime soiree was hosted by two others in their aft wrap around suite. The cruise critic gang knows how to turn up the temperature and have a grand time. Thank you to one and all! Suite Amenities WOW for "Way Over Wonderful" describes our feelings as we reflect on the suite experience. We have stayed in suites on Princess, Celebrity and of course all staterooms are suites on Radisson and Crystal. However, this was unparalleled. The location of our stateroom near the Neptune Lounge undoubtedly had a great deal to do with our experience. We enjoyed ducking in throughout the day for juice or a cappuccino. My husband forgot (okay I forgot) to pack his cummerbund and the concierge took care of it. His tux shoe started to fall apart and the concierge took care of it. We had a minor issue with our key cards not working and the concierge took care of it. Invitations needed for our Renewal of Vows - concierge. RSVP to various invitations we received - concierge. Discrepancy on bill - concierge. Need something pressed ASAP - concierge. Phone Card - concierge. We had no need to go to the front desk the entire cruise since Carlo and Faye were so readily available. Also, special welcome cocktail parties held in the Neptune Lounge the evenings of Vancouver, Seattle, and the last evening of cruise were lovely and well attended by suite passengers and upper management both. Corsages for formal nights were lovely. VIP cocktail party in the Oak Room with the string quartet was special. The luncheon in the Pinnacle Grill being one of the highlights already mentioned, it was overall just the feeling of being known by your name makes you feel special. While it is true that many of the staff and crew know your name when you sail as a passenger on HAL in a non-deluxe suite, the extra money spent, in our opinion, to have the Neptune Lounge and its services was well worth it. Captain von Donselaar/Mariners party/Captains Toast Our Captain was quite visible on this cruise. Prior to daily comments of CD Jason, the Captain gave his address from the bridge every day at 1 pm. Near the end of the cruise, on the final formal evening, there was a lovely cocktail party served between the two fixed dining times for Mariners with less than 100 days. (A second more elaborate luncheon was served for those medallion holders on a separate day.) It was held in the Crow's Nest and attended by the Captain, HM, Onboard Cruise Consultants Arky & Shirley, as well as some other upper level staff. Wines, champagne and soft drinks were served. The Captain's Welcome Toast was in the Vista Lounge on the evening of the first formal night and was as described by others to be a glass of champagne with the Captain von Donselaar's opening comments and a toast. The Captain and Chief Engineer Eric van der Wal also held a Q & A during one of the sea days. For over one hour, many passengers had well thought out questions that were answered in simple lay terms. As we transited the Panama Canal you could see the Captain on the bridge, as with many of the port days as he skillfully glided us into narrow as well as shallow ports. Near the end of our cruise we had a fire alarm sound off during our dining hour. The Captain was on the PA in minutes with a calm and soothing voice informing us that there was smoke on deck 7, starboard, midship which sounded the alarm. (Our cabin was deck 7,starboard, midship) No less than 5 minutes later he once again came on to inform us that it was merely an A/C issue and no damage or concern. Whew!!!! It was handled professionally and at no time did we have any concern for our safety. Photography Staff/Greenhouse Spa We found the photography staff to be pleasant and courteous at all times. If we chose not to be photographed, a simple no thank you sufficed. We purchased the end of cruise "Cruise Chronicle" DVD and find it to be fantastic. It puts into motion those memories of the cruise, the activities we participated in and many of the people we had the pleasure of spending time with on the cruise. It is under-promoted and is a gem! As for the fitness center and spa, the work-out equipment was more than adequate and we never had any difficulty getting the machines that we desired to use. The hydrotherapy pool and thermal chairs were a welcome treat near the end of the cruise when I needed a bit of R & R after constantly being on the go. There was never a hard sell by any of the salon/spa girls and I understand that appointments were usually available. Disembarkation We arrived before dawn into FLL. We had been issued tag Red-1 and were called to disembark first. We pre-arranged for a rental SUV from Thrifty, waited in line less than 10 minutes to get off the ship, disembarked scanning our keycard one last time, located our 4 bags all in the same row, hailed a porter and were through customs and on the Thrifty van within 5 minutes. A quick ride to the rental location and the reality of being back on land set in. The 3 ½ hour drive back to Longboat Key was a bit somber as we realized our vacation was at its end. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
Our first cruise in '03 was not a great experience so in preparation for this cruise DH prepared by doing a lot of research on cruise critic and I prepared by going clothes shopping. Embarkation: - was a vast improvement over our ... Read More
Our first cruise in '03 was not a great experience so in preparation for this cruise DH prepared by doing a lot of research on cruise critic and I prepared by going clothes shopping. Embarkation: - was a vast improvement over our first cruise. There was no sitting and waiting. The lines kept moving through the various steps and we were quickly on board. We shocked the crew by deciding to walk up to the Lido deck with our carry-ons. Stopping for a breather on deck 5 we learned the rooms were ready so we went to our room. Cabin: - We had what we booked, a VC balcony. SHOCK. It was so much smaller than I remember our room on the Ryndam. But after unpacking and discovering storage space all over and then putting ALL the bags under the bed the room was just right. I don't remember the Ryndam having all that storage space. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean but the veranda furniture was getting ratty. That was ok though, because it might as well get totally used up by refit time. The TV had a mind of its own. We had Ratiman, our cabin steward, replace the remote but that just made it possible to turn it off. The TV worked fine on the ship information channels so I took it as a sign that I was not meant to spend the cruise in my room watching TCM. Our cabin steward gave us excellent service and many towel animals that DH would not take apart. By the end of the cruise we could not sit on the sofa because of all the "pets". Dining: - We checked out the Vista dining room and found our table. MMM, an oval table with views of the aft and port side. Very nice. That evening we met the waiters, Bucha, Wayan and Joel. They quickly learned our quirks and took good care of us. We ate mostly in the Vista, early seating at 6:15. The downside of this time is that we missed most port leaving parties. The upside was that we ate at the proper time for us. We enjoyed our table mates and looked forward most evenings to catching up with their stories. We were very lucky to have a dance host sit at our table. Wine every formal evening courtesy of the ship. At least that was his story. A couple of times we had to eat in the Lido and much preferred the excellent service in the dining room. We also went to the Pinnacle Grill three times. The food was great, the service over the top but we found the menu repetitive and the meat portions large. Are you a Tea drinker? That was a frustration. Wayan quickly learned that I preferred my tea bag in the pot before he added the water and the bigger the pot the better. So all the tea drinkers at the dinner table could pour from a steeped pot. BUT breakfast was different. There are no teapots in the Lido. A bag in the cup is not what I want first thing in the morning. I went on a teapot hunt in Cabo. Only expensive souvenirs were available. Eventually I stole a teapot from the dining room and used it in the Lido. If you are a tea drinker, buy a little one from the thrift shop to take on the cruise then leave it at the end. Services: - The shops on board are strange. Why would one buy art on a cruise? So we ignored that. Why would one buy gems on a cruise? I looked then ignored that. The store was, for us, wasted space. They ran out of film and cold medicine. They could not give away the Caribbean Rum Cakes. I wondered how long those cakes had been on board. They were there in Vancouver. I succumbed at the TShirt sale and bought two. With the liquid restrictions on airlines the duty free store was off limits for us. The library had lots of books but not many that I was interested in. I forgot to take a pocket book so that I could exchange it. I am not a spa girl. I felt ripped off there on the Ryndam and learned my lesson. Avoid the spa. This trip I won a foot massage. and Yes she tried again to sell me the lotions. This time there was no pressure and she quickly accepted my no. I also got my hair styled for formal night. $39 for a creation that I could have done in my room with the pathetic hairdryer. DH went for a hair cut and paid what he normally pays at home $25. So if you are not into massages and beautifications ignore that area. The gym was all right. The few times I got there I did not have to wait for equipment and was not rushed off the equipment I was using. The photographers were pleasant. They did not mind the 'no' shake of the head and when I did say yes they made me look almost beautiful. I bought that one. The internet service was expensive and not fast: $55 for 100 minutes. Considering it is satellite I suppose that was reasonable and it is not the ship's fault that I told everyone I would keep in contact through Facebook - super graphics intensive so took ages to load. Every time I used the 'net it would take 10 minutes to accomplish very little. I stopped using the ship's internet, left the time to DH and switched to portside cafes. We found a really cheap place with quick service in Cabo. $1 for 30 minutes. There is one close to the dock at Puerto Vallarta. Do not bother with the internet at Chiapas. It is more than slow, almost not moving at all, a great one at the dock in Cartegena, and of course, Key West had many internet cafes, not cheap but cheaper than the ship. Did not have time at the other ports to look for internet. Use the laundry bay service. One can cram lots in the little blue laundry bag. And the $12 service includes ironing the freshly cleaned articles. I made the mistake of sending some items separate from the bag and that was not necessary. The only problem I had was DH discovered some of those "grey" Tshirts he owned were actually white. Entertainment: - We enjoyed the entertainment on board. We did not get to every show. The banjo player was awesome, the comic magician entertaining, the olympic gymnast was something different and good. I am leery of comedians because so many are rude, lewd or crude so did not go to those. The first song and dance night was so LOUD that I also avoided the rest of their shows. But we enjoyed every act we did go to. We found the best entertainment to be in the Explorer's Lounge in the evening - "Coffees, Cognacs and Classics with the City Quartet". Remember to get the chocolates from the drinks table. Drinks - We bought a soda card when we embarked. The kind lady assured me that if my card ran out I could always buy another. Be careful. Over $2 (includes tip) for half a can of pop. We stocked up on soda in Cabo. The card lasted the whole trip. Now for the shore excursions. Seattle: - we live too close to waste money here. I read about the underground tour so we caught a taxi into Pioneer Square and took that tour. It was pouring with rain and the tunnels were drippy. Something one only has to do once. Then we walked back through Pike's Market to pick up the few things we did not pack. Los Angeles: - We thought we were docking in San Pedro and made plans. Instead we docked in Long Beach. There is a free shuttle into Long Beach. The Aquarium was very interesting and one can take pictures (without the flash) Cabo: - been there and done it. We walked around town, found the internet, an ATM to stock up on Mexican pesos and a grocery store. (Damn elegant high heels on first formal night had raised some painful blisters. Room service was unable to provide a basin to soak the foot. Grocery store had a pretty plastic bowl just the right size. Blisters were quickly gone) Wondered if I would survive the humid heat. This first taste in Cabo was not a good sign. The humid heat sure sucks out all one's energy. Puerto Vallarta: - DH was looking forward to the America's Cup sail but it was cancelled. So he went on a hike through the Sierra Madres - after a night of drenching rain the river was high and could not be crossed. Meanwhile I set off on "A taste of Mexico and City Highlights 3 1/2 hr." Not good. Large bus on very narrow streets of old town made for a slow trip. The walkers and scooters made the walking portion even slower. It was almost two before we got to the cooking and food. Over four hours later I arrived back at the ship worn out. Heat. Remember to drink and, please, food sooner. Manzanillo: - private tour with CC Roll Call group. AWESOME. Arturo was raised in Manzanillo, emigrated to the states but chose to come back to Mexico in his teens. He loves the place and it made the tour enchanting. The lunch in Comala was fun. Keep drinking and the food keeps coming. Trays of nibbles of this and that. Who cares what it was, it was all delicious. A small van with six people was perfect for traveling the narrow streets and the speedy highway. It will be a more convenient place once the cruise terminal right downtown gets finished. Acapulco: - private tour with CC Roll Call group. Larger group this time but still in a van. Rosie took us to Los Flamingos, the cliff divers, the Cross on the hill but lunch was not great. Our TA had told us to just stay on the ship in Acapulco. The place is so big, so busy, so pushy. It will be a place of been there done that and won't have to get off the ship next time. Huatulco: - Small, just my size. We walked around the little village in the morning, the store clerks were not as pushy as the ones at the previous stops. The beach was beckoning. In the afternoon we went on the sailing adventure. (Me the non sailor terrified of any breeze - what was DH thinking) The sailing ship is a 40 foot concrete boat. VERY stable and sturdy. I kept my life vest on. There was not enough wind so we motored up the coast learning about the national park and seeing the blow holes etc. Then into a little private bay. The others got off quickly and swam to shore. One went snorkeling. There was another chicken on board. He put on his life vest and kindly let me enter the water first. WOW. What fun! The water was warm. I swam to shore (no scary riptides) walked along the empty sandy beach then swam back to the ship. No one seemed to mind that I was still wearing my sun hat and vest. This is a great excursion. The wind picked up on the journey home and the sails were raised. Terrified, I asked the Captain if I could sit in the cockpit if I got too scared. He said I could but it was a pleasant sail back and the fallback plan was not needed. Puerto Chiapas: - We had planned nothing for this enchanting place. Just walk the dock, visit the large grass hut and spend the rest of the day on board. But we discovered a van-based tour of Tapachula City and Izapa for only $25 each, about half the price of the ship's tour. We signed up for the afternoon trip. It POURED with rain. The afternoon ship tours were cancelled, but we head off through a foot of rain on the road wondering if we will ever see the ship again. Izapa is deserted. We wade through ankle deep watery grass. Then back to the van to Tapachula. We stop at a regional artisans store for shopping. No bargaining and no hassling. Money is spent. DH enjoyed the archeological museum while I wandered around the plaza enjoying a Mexican town more interested in getting on with life than in tourists. Book this tour on the dock. Puerto Caldera: - We signed up for the 9 hour Poas Volcano tour, advertised as strenuous. The only strenuous part was sitting in the bus ALL day. We had to be in the Vista lounge at 7:30 to get started. Tender into port then straight to the bus. It is a long journey to the Volcano, made even longer by mud slides from all that rain. The volcano is behaving and we have a great view of the crater. But because of the mudslide delay there is no time to shop in the gift store. Mutiny almost breaks out. Then a long drive to lunch. Again food past my regular eating time. BUT it is SO good. We are at a hacienda used for wedding receptions. It is pouring with rain but who cares, the plants are interesting. Then there is a discussion on whether there is time to make it to Sarchi. Yes, we get to Sarchi, a large souvenir shop. I'm not interested in painted oxcarts. BUT a souvenir shop with NO pushy salesman where I can look at anything, touch it, consider it in peace! I spend a fortune. If you have to buy stuff for gifts back home do it here. We catch the 7:00 tender back to the ship. A very long day of sitting. Panama Canal: - Was great. Not much to add to the other postings. The Roll Call gang made it perfect. Cartegena: - private CC tour with guide Claudia. We saw everything in a different order than the ship's tours so no crowds. The ship's jewelry salesladies were telling us that we should not buy any gems in Cartegena, and that we risked being mugged the moment we left the gem store. They were pushing their $1 million collection coming on board at Cartegena. Claudia explained that we were very safe. The street sellers police their turf to keep the tourists safe. There was less hassling in Cartegena than most Mexican ports. The souvenir shops let one look and touch without high pressure selling. We had a very positive experience in Cartegena (except for the disparity between the million dollar highrises at one end of town and the squalor on the other side of town). Key West: - We take the Orchid Garden walking tour. This day got off to a bad start with the immigration fiasco for foreigners delaying us. Many never did get their scheduled tour. We were supposed to start the tour at 9:30 but did not get off the ship until nearly 10. There was a tour waiting for us. An interesting walk but not sure it was worth the $39. Disembarkation: - We were eligible for the expedited disembarkation. So we are packed, out of the room and waiting in the Ocean Bar by shortly after seven. We were off the ship, taxied to the Airport ($20 for two with a generous tip) rented the car for a day in Ft. Lauderdale and back on the road all by 8:05 Whew, the end of a most pleasant cruise except for the standard end of trip souvenir - the vicious cold picked up by me leaving Cartegena. Almost two weeks later and I am just now feeling almost 100%. We have only cruised on Holland America. Is it the right cruise line for us? This long cruise was populated with mostly older people. We saw very few children and very few "beautiful starlets". The swimming pool had so much cellulite, varicose veins, and paunchy bellies that I knew we had made the right choice for us. What fun to splash about the wave pool! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
we just returned from our 1st cruise from LA down the mexican Riviera through the panama canal ending in ft lauderdale. for first time cruisers we were totally disappointed. first of all there was NO briefing on ship. we didn't know ... Read More
we just returned from our 1st cruise from LA down the mexican Riviera through the panama canal ending in ft lauderdale. for first time cruisers we were totally disappointed. first of all there was NO briefing on ship. we didn't know when we got off ship where it was safe in mexico, where not safe, where to eat, where not to eat, do we need pecos or dollars, etc...... so no briefing on a 17 day cruise is unacceptable!! have to say the food was good both on lido deck and dining room and service great. hired help works hard for money. however, our main complaint was the lack of entertainment!! the daily program was awful. nothing to do. my husband and i are in our 50's and wanted activities that kept us busy, not bingo, or cards, or the casino. we were totally bored!! AND worst even was the nightly entertainment. they had a piano bar upstairs (can't dance to) a piano bar downstairs (can't dance to) and one small nightclub with a band that was geared towards the elderly with tango's , foxtrot, etc.. definitely not for us. the dj on board is a total waste. nobody was in northern lights. the dj starts at 10-11 at night instead of 7 pm when you want to dance. who dances that time of night and then gets up for excursion. nobody , that is who. we were the only ones in there. we asked him to play us country and he could not or would not. literally, nobody was in there. instead of them making it a country lounge where you can hear some george strait or alan jackson (whom most people that age bracket like) they prefer to not use the lounge at all. it was just awful. also note, most piano players take one hour long breaks so when you sit down to order a drink and plan on listening awhile they usually disappear and your left with no music at all. what horrible entertainment. also have to say shows on stage at night fell far below expectations!! JUST awful - two bad nights of bad comedians where people walked out. another night of a hypnotist that was god awful. people called up to stage actually walked off stage. nobody was hypnotized. that show belonged in a elementary school, not on a stage. singers just ok. have seen much better. entertainment fell so far below our expectations, we hated cruise. this cruise cost quite a bit of money since it was 17 nights and not worth it at all. also note, there is no washer/dryer on ship so for 18 days your stuck unless you want to pay expensive price for a small bag of laundry. also ship very very cold! everyone complaining and nothing was done so result was everyone got sick on board!! WE'RE home sick now. store had no meds. ran out. dr only works 2 hrs a day even when 3/4 of ship is sick i guess!! that's a disgrace. excursion desk very unfriendly and not helpful. when asked about a excursion i wanted to book which was $240 for hubby and i and said 7 1/2 hrs i asked about lunch if included. she said no just fruit. the trip said it would take 1-1/2 hr drive to and1-1/2 hr drive back and 45 mins at site i questioned what were we doing rest or time since it said 7 1/2 hrs i was told "we don't know"!!!!! CROWD is older 70's and 80's hubby and i are in 50's so we were totally bored between no music and no entertainment. will never cruise holland american again. the cost of the trip was much too high for what you rec'd. first excursion we went on was pirate ship and snorkeling. we went out to ocean , all got snorkel gear on , went into water and all got stung!! most likely jelly fish. some really bad. no refund was offered. it was not worth the money. think long and hard before booking this ship unless you enjoy sitting around and just eating and gambling and drinking!!! PRETTY much all there is to do on this ship and i'm sure that is where HA wants you, in the casino or the bar!!! never again. diane Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
ZUIDERDAM OCT 3-20 PANAMA CANAL SAILING Embarkation: The line had about 300 people as we arrived at the Long Beach Terminal around 11AM. We'd stayed the previous night aboard Queen Mary and the bellman was able to simply wheel our ... Read More
ZUIDERDAM OCT 3-20 PANAMA CANAL SAILING Embarkation: The line had about 300 people as we arrived at the Long Beach Terminal around 11AM. We'd stayed the previous night aboard Queen Mary and the bellman was able to simply wheel our luggage on a cart over to the cruise terminal checkin. Quite convenient. There was no separate line for Suite Check-in, although we were using the Carnival terminal which had a special section for the purpose. All those boarding used the same queue. After boarding the ship, we moved to the Queen's Lounge where they confirmed that our onboard account was to be on credit card. Boarding took about 40 minutes total. Staff was friendly and efficient. Cabin: We were told cabins were ready, so we were escorted immediately to our SC Suite #6158. The cabin was large (not as large as the SA Suites, but more than acceptable for two people) with a great bathroom ... shower stall plus tub with shower. Two sinks! And plenty of storage space in closets and hidden nooks like drawers under the bed. The balcony was magnificent. The side measured 6'x15' and the main portion was 14'x20'. We had a party during the Panama Canal transit and there were 28 people on the verandah ... with room to move around! Some of the deck furniture was pretty worn (drydock is scheduled for the Spring), but we had three loungers (including one wooden HAL chair), a table with 4 chairs, and two large chairs with ottomans. They barely made a dent in the size of the verandah. We have posted pics of 6158 in another CC thread today. The Ship: Zuiderdam is a great size for longer cruises like our 17 Day itinerary. There were areas we never even explored. The ship was clean and well-cared-for. There were areas that did not look brand new, but nothing was shabby (except our woven deck furniture that was approaching shabby status). From reading previous posts I expected the decks to have numerous holes, but we found only a few such places. Also from reading posts, I expected the dEcor to be garish. In our opinion, it was not. There was lavish use of red in the Vista (main) lounge and in some elevators, and the carpets were brightly patterned, but we found the dEcor tasteful. One thing we really liked was the different color carpet used to mark Fore & Aft sections ... Fore was red, Aft was blue. Once you realized that, it became more difficult to get lost. Dining: We had early seating, table for two, in the upper level of Vista Dining Room. Service was friendly, but s l o w. It took one hour for the entrEe to be delivered after we'd ordered, and DH decided that was too long, so we ate in the dining room only three of the 17 nights. The other nights we dined casually in Lido, or in our cabin, or at the Pinnacle Grill. Lido: Lunchtime was crowded most days. The offerings were many, and there was never a time when I couldn't find something I liked. The salad bar was consistently good, and remained open till mid-afternoon, which was great after a shore excursion. The Lido became more popular for dinner as the cruise progressed. The dinner entrees matched those of the dining room (maybe one less than the dining room had) and the separate stations for Asian, Deli, Italian, Sweets, Salads and the Main Buffet made it easier and quicker to be served. The stewards hustled to clean tables as soon as they were vacated, and we never had to wander around looking for a place to sit. There were usually 2-3 selections of no-sugar-added (not sugar free) desserts. And if I asked, the ice cream man always had at least one tub of no-sugar added ice cream. And cookies! Their cookies were WONDERFUL. Just right. Pinnacle: I must admit: I love the Pinnacle Grill. The food and service are consistently superb. There were also a couple of nights with "specials" - the guest chef created a Caribbean Menu one evening, and another evening was Jamaican specialties. The Grill's Manager, Elvira, was unfailingly polite and excellent at her job. And our two favorite waiters, Raymond and Osman, were super waiters as well as making us laugh. There were at least two nights where dinner was $20/pp instead of $30/pp. Usually DH chose the lamb chops, with an appetizer of crab cakes, but when he ordered the filet, he stated that it was quite possibly the best he'd ever eaten. If you dine at the Pinnacle frequently, they will substitute a different amuse-bouche if you ask ... generally you receive the same three tasty little morsels, but after a few times the waiter asked if we'd like something different. I substituted no-sugar-added ice cream for dessert at the Pinnacle most times, except for my one downfall into the spectacular Chocolate Volcano Cake. Amazing. And remember, PS-SC guests are offered breakfast at the Pinnacle daily. The menu is no different than the dining room, but the atmosphere is so fabulous and is a great way to start the day. Spa: All we had were a couple of facials and massages. They were very good. The Spa did not seem crowded whenever we were there. We considered buying a hydro-therapy pool pass, but I'm pretty anal-retentive and on our tour we saw a hair floating in the pool. Certainly not a serious offense, but enough to keep me out. Room Service: Excellent. Food was fast, at the proper temp, and delivered with unfailing smiles. Morning coffee was delivered on time, or even early! And dinner was served en suite upon request with a flourish of white linen and china. Lecturer: We were fortunate to have Dr Jay Wolff aboard, who gave lectures on the Panama Canal and Caribbean. He's an amazing man who prefers the designation of "storyteller". He would speak for an hour at a time with no notes, and he never stumbled. Dates, names, facts all were included and we were amazed at his abilities. One day, when it unexpectedly rained and shore excursions were cancelled in the afternoon, Dr Wolff volunteered for an unexpected Question and Answer session, which was well-attended. Suite Guests: Since it was a longish cruise, we had a Welcome and Farewell Reception in the Neptune Lounge, as well as a Suite Indonesian Luncheon in the Pinnacle Grill. We were honored to be seated at Captain von Donselaar's table, and he was a most charming host. We received a menu that listed and described the Indonesian specialties we were devouring, which was a good thing. This is picky, but I missed the slippers I'd become used to when sailing in an HAL suite. We were told the ship was out of them. Little things mean a lot, though, esp when you don't have other slippers with you.... Laundry: We used the benefit of free laundry and dry cleaning offered to Suite guests. And I met the Head Housekeeper and asked her the age old question about hot water washing. Her reply: they read the clothing labels and use hot, warm or cold water as directed. If a garment says dry clean and the guest asks for it to be washed, they contact the guest before doing so. They do not officially do hand laundry, but the laundry chief on Zuiderdam WILL most times do it as required. Bottom line: our blacks came back black, and our whites came back white. Most of the time: twice some laundry came back feeling "rough" and we sent them right back out again, and one time our whites came back with what looked like a green tinge. Had we been paying for the laundry, we would have made sure that we were not charged twice in those instances. One button popped off a shirt, but it wasn't a new shirt so that wasn't surprising. Casino: I can speak with first hand experience only about the slot machines. They were quite friendly the first few days, then seemed to really tighten up. The last night of the cruise they were friendly again, and you heard the sound of winners cashing in frequently. I've found this to be the norm on most cruises, so I wasn't surprised. The casino staff was very good, and Victor the Cashier made it a point to remember patrons' names, which was astounding. One thing I did like was that there were 3 or 4 non-smoking nights in the casino over the 17-night cruise. And these non-smoking nights were enforced! I'd put on my Midway-Through-The-Cruise Comment Card that smoke was keeping me out of the casino as much as I'd like, and perhaps they listened. Or perhaps the non-smoking nights were already planned. Nonetheless, last year on our 7-night cruise there was only one non-smoking night, so the ratio has improved. And I, for one, am grateful. Surprise: The second to last night of the cruise the fire alarm sounded. We were in the Lido, and staff having their meal there immediately stood and walked out very very quickly. The Officer of the Deck came on the PA announcing that a sensor had detected smoke midship on Deck 7 and that more info would be forthcoming shortly. The captain was immediately next on the PA saying that everything was under control. His next message was that an air conditioning unit on Deck 4 had overheated and smoke was circulating, but that there was no fire. About five minutes later he gave the All Clear and announced that fire teams could stand down. In about 70 cruises I'd never had this happen. But Captain van Donselaar was very much in control and we felt safe and informed throughout the situation. We saw the Captain later that evening at a reception and he said it happened only 2-3 times a year. Signature Express Baggage Service: We were extremely disappointed in this service. We requested it thru the Neptune Lounge concierge early in the cruise, and we met the requirements: flight out of Fort Lauderdale after 11:30AM and on Delta. The last day of the cruise we received official confirmation that we'd been accepted for the program and received barcoded luggage tags and our airline boarding passes. A sheet of instructions was attached, including our number (Green 3) … we were to wait onboard until Green 3 was called for disembarkation. Being a veteran of many cruises, I should have known better and just disembarked when I thought we should … Green 3 wasn't called until 10:15AM, at the same time as "All Signature Express Baggage Service Participants" was called. We did as requested and claimed our bags in the terminal and a porter took us out through Customs. As he asked about SEBS, a harried-looking rep brusquely said "TOO LATE". We asked what she meant and she irritatedly replied "You're too late for that service. Take the bags to the airport yourself." Needless to say, DH & I weren't pleased. So we slammed the bags into a taxi (one on my lap) and made our way to curbside checkin at Delta, where the rep couldn't have been nicer. The problem was that he had to take our paperwork into the terminal to cancel the baggage tag #s and boarding passes HAL had arranged thru SEBS, and reissue us new ones. All this took some time, but we were still on time for our 12:23PM flight. I guess the disappointment was fueled by the fact that we were now perspiring and stressed … NOT the way to end a wonderful 17-day vacation. Especially when we had anticipated the benefits of SEBS. We emailed HAL on our return home so that our credit card could be reimbursed the $30 charge ($15/person) and have had no reply except a form email saying "We'll get back to you". Zuiderdam Bug: Around Day 4-5 of the cruise I started developing a sore throat, accompanied by a dry cough. Since I carry a pharmacy with me, I began dosing myself so that the bug would not progress. DH developed the same thing around three days later. Each of us spent one day in the cabin, drinking liquids and dosing with medications. Turns out that nearly every person we came in contact with developed (or their spouse developed) the same bug during or after the cruise. Cough, hacking, sore throat, loss of voice. The cruise director even made a joke about it one night in his show! Staff members were not exempt … one of the Neptune Lounge concierges developed it as well. Hundreds of people ended up at the infirmary, and the ship's store quickly ran out of cough drops and cold medicine. The bug was attributed to an airborne virus and since it wasn't spread by hands, no Code Red was called and buffets continued to operate as usual. One became used to hearing hacking coughs coming from behind closed cabin doors or from seats in the show lounges. Ports: I think the ins & outs of the ports are covered thoroughly in other reviews, so here's my short opinions: Cabo San Lucas: Ship's excursions were sold out by the time we boarded, so we just wandered around the port area. DH's gold neckchain had broken, so my fractured Spanish brought us to a local jeweler (NOT one frequented by tourists) and he replaced the clasp while we waited for US $10. An excellent deal, we think. Puerto Vallarta: We took a big-bus ship's tour of the area and the guide, David, was excellent. There was a lot more walking than shown in the tour's writeup, and streets were cobblestone and sometimes hard to walk on safely. I feared for the elderly and/or disabled passengers who'd taken this tour thinking there was minimal walking. Manzanillo: Another big-bus ship's tour, with a guide named Antonio. He showed us the beautiful architecture of the resorts in the area, and we had a cool drink in a shaded restaurant's patio. It was Sunday, so many of the stores were closed, but a jewelry and souvenir shop opened and we bought the obligatory t-shirts. Acapulco: We did a private tour for 10, pre-arranged by one of our CC group members. The guide, Rosie, was wonderful and her English excellent. We saw the cliff divers (of course) as well as Johnny Weissmuller's "round house" at one of the resort hotels. DH & I bagged out of the tour early (I wasn't feeling entirely well) and Rosie insisted on driving us back to the ship while the other group members had a Mexican lunch. One interesting fact: DH & I were looking for Oaxaca Black Pottery and there was a store in the Acapulco Cruise Terminal that had native artisan's work. We bought a fabulous Black Clay pot for US$19, and I saw it elsewhere for US$50 … apparently that store was government-operated and all proceeds went back to the artisans. Their prices were fantastic, and if I'd known HOW fantastic I would have purchased more. The store is near the street entrance to the Cruise Terminal and if I recall, it has bright green signage. Huatulco: One of the highlights of our trip. We had a private guide, arranged through Xpert & Professional Travel, and he was wonderful. His English was almost accent-free and he really knew the area. There were only four of us in his van which seated at least eight, so he took us off the standard tour route and we saw how people in Santa Cruz Huatulco really live. We visited a Mezcal tasting room (oy!), a carpet weaving factory, and had time to shop for carved wooden souvenirs - Alebrijes ( brightly-colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical animal-like creatures.) The workmanship was excellent and the prices very fair, we thought. Puerto Chiapas: DH went on an archaeological shore excursion to Tapachula City & Izapa. I remained aboard Zuiderdam nursing my upper respiratory bug. DH enjoyed the tour, although very little of the ruins have been unearthed so far. He says that in 5-10 years Puerto Chiapas will really be a wonderful destination. It was the people of Puerto Chiapas who touched me. Although I didn't get off the ship, I looked down at the terminal area throughout the day. Dancers and musicians entertained outside and indoors when the rain started. And when we left, hundreds of people turned out to wave Bon Voyage. There was a wonderful fireworks display as we sailed away, and one ground-based display lighted up as FAREWELL. People on both sides of the channel were waving and yelling ADIOS, and Zuiderdam returned the salute with her whistles. It was a touching moment, and I'd love to return. Puerto Caldera: There'd been rain for several days before our visit and Capt van Donselaar had told me at a reception the previous evening that it might be doubtful we could make our call there. But the rains stopped, temporarily, and the ship anchored in the harbor, about a 10-minute tender ride from shore. We did a ship-sponsored tour that included the Railway (narrow gauge) and a Mangrove Glide through a rainforest. Our guide, Daniel, was informative and we were fortunate to be the first bus out that morning. Roads were muddy and subsequent buses had difficulty on some of the hills. There was a small artisan market set up at the tender pier with Costa Rican coffee, wood carvings and some wonderful pottery handmade by Yalila Ocon, who sold it at a very reasonable price. (You can already tell we love pottery, can't you….lol…) The Canal: There are no words to describe it. Take what you've heard and magnify it 1000 times and you'll be close. We held a private party on our verandah during the Gailliard (Culebra) Cut portion and the views were spectacular. If you love to look at various cargo ships, this is the destination for you. Completely fascinating and awe-inspiring. We had a lecturer onboard for the entire transit, and he spoke about history of the Canal and what we were seeing. The broadcast came into public areas and was available on the TVs in staterooms ... so we turned our volume up loud while we were on the balcony. Cartegena: I did an earlier review about our private (8 person) tour arranged by Lee Miles. It can be found by searching for posts from cp556. Key West: Key West is Key West. Crowded, happy, touristy, and overall fun. We did the Trolley Tour which allows you to hop on & off the trolley all day for one price. We visited Ernest Hemingway's House (yes, we petted the 6-toed cats), the Lighthouse Museum, and drove all over the island craning our necks to see the sights. We're returning in February with friends so part of our goal was to mark where we'd like to return … and there's one glass shop on Duval Street that's going to get a visit from us. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
My Mother and I took a repositioning cruise through the Panama Canal. Our trip started on a short flight from San Jose CA to LA. We were met promptly with a HAL representative at the luggage area and immediately taken to a bus bound for ... Read More
My Mother and I took a repositioning cruise through the Panama Canal. Our trip started on a short flight from San Jose CA to LA. We were met promptly with a HAL representative at the luggage area and immediately taken to a bus bound for our ship. The bus driver took us to the wrong ship first, but eventually we did make it to the dock where our ship was. It was very chaotic as for some reason we had to reclaim our luggage from under the bus and take it to the man with the cart who would take it on board the ship. My mother is older, so that meant I had to get her and my bags and personally take them to the man rather than have the man come to me. It was very awkward and I could not find a reason why they could not have gone right to the room as they were pre-labeled and we had put them on the bus. Then we had a long line to wait in to get checked in on the ship. I have been on other cruises and this was supposed to be expedited check in. All told, we arrived in LA and were on the bus by 11:30 a.m. We did not reach our room until 3:15 p.m. We found the ship clean and our rooms were ready. It did not take long for the luggage to get to our room. We had missed lunch due to the above and had the lifeboat drill yet to get through. Room: We had a VD on the starboard side, about 6 cabins from the back of the ship on the upper promenade deck. It was a nice and clean room and felt large with the verandah. It was fine for us. The TV was looking old and showing its age but worked ok. There was a bottle of champagne on ice for us from the captain and hotel manager as well as a bottle of wine from the travel agent. Ship: Very lovely and comfortable. It seemed very well laid out and we were able to get around very easily. We spent time in the Crow's Nest, and in the Ocean Bar. I enjoyed the shops and purchased t-shirts and some jewelry from inch of gold. The service from all the staff members was wonderful. People learned our names and our likes and dislikes wherever we were. We had hors doerves in the Crows nest often. The captain kept us updated daily and we felt very safe even after there had been a fire alert called. Dining: We had requested early seating as My Mom is a diabetic but were assigned 8:30 p.m. and she did not want me to complain. It was hard as neither of us are night people. We also asked to be seated with 8 people and we were seated with just one other couple who asked to be changed to earlier seating so that left us. The maitre d did try and find us a compatible table but that one emptied too. There were still many seats open and more openings as others were moved. One night I even ate alone. We ate our other meals on the Lido Deck. The food choices were wide and I loved all the menus in all locations. We did shore excursions through the ship at five ports of call and were able to find things to do at the ports of call where we did not do excursions through the ship. All were well organized and worthwhile. I loved the Panama Canal and Puerto Caldero the best. We did the riverboat Mangrove tour. It was interesting and made the trip very exciting. Entertainment: I found things to do every day, from walking on the promenade deck, cooking classes, photography class, trivia, music trivia, and once even a craft class. I enjoyed our entertainers and found them varied. A highlight was Jason, our cruise director, whom brought on folklorico groups at all the local ports of call. Our cruise critic meet and greet was fun and well organized. We even had door prizes! It made us feel like we had friends on board and we saw one another almost every day. Disembarkation was not remarkable. We did get off at our designated time, found our luggage and a porter and took the bus to the airport. We did qualify and use the signature service. Overall, this was a fantastic cruise and we would go again. It was sad that there was an airborne illness that got many passengers ill the last week on board. Coughing and Sneezing were the norm. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
We started our journey at 2:30AM on Nov 2 when we got up to catch our super shuttle to the Phoenix airport. We had a 6am flight to Ft. Lauderdale. The flight was uneventful and we arrived about 4pm. We called the hotel Sleep Inn Dania, FL. ... Read More
We started our journey at 2:30AM on Nov 2 when we got up to catch our super shuttle to the Phoenix airport. We had a 6am flight to Ft. Lauderdale. The flight was uneventful and we arrived about 4pm. We called the hotel Sleep Inn Dania, FL. They met us about 30 minutes later and took us to the hotel. Back ground information. I am 62 and wife is 58. We celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary on the cruise. We were in a group of 4 other couples. We knew two of the other couples and met two new couples. It was great meeting the new couples. One couple the husband is 73 and the wife is 57. They have been married for 26 yrs. Very nice people as was everyone else. The Hotel was great. Room was great. Was very impressed with everything. Free breakfast in the morning and free shuttle to the airport but you need to make your shuttle time as soon as you check in. They fill up fast. Got to the ship about 10:30am and had to wait till 11:15 to be able to board the ship. We were one of the first to board. We were not able to take our carry on to the room. I suspect that if I just went to the room it would of been okay but decided to take the carry on with us up to the Lido deck for lunch. We were able to take our carry on to the room about 1pm so it worked out. Our luggage arrived about 2pm and we unpacked. the room was very spacious with lots of room to hang things. We had a shower/tub which was great. Much to my surprise we ate most breakfast and lunch on the lido deck. Had dinner each night in the dinning room. My thought was to eat everything in the dinning room but it was fun to end up doing what I did. Shows were okay. I liked the comedy guy who told all clean jokes which proves you don't need vulgarity to tell jokes. There was also a guy who did unicycle and even had a member of the audience on his shoulders. Very impressive. Our cabin steward was Mohamad Ali who told us that he had a famous brother. He was great and very attentive to our requests. We did our own thing on excursions so much cheaper and we got to do things our way. Did some duty free shopping in Colon, They have a good variety of liquor but did not have what I wanted. Get your liquor in Colon as the prices are lower there then on the ship. They ship will tell you different but its not true. I was not all that impressed with the food. Some nights were good and some nights it was not. Please remember that my comments are subjective and not meant to influence you in anyway. I expected more flowers and ambiance but did not fine it. Our dinner staff people were great Ida and Harry table #162. We tipped extra to our cabin steward, dinning room staff and the Wine steward. A friend got a wine card and some how the wine steward forgot allot to punch it. Don't know how that happened!!! Over all we had a nice time. My D/W enjoyed the cruise more then I did. I would sail HAL again but would not be my first choice. On the other hand my wife had opposite opinion. Robb Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
This was our 10th cruise, our first with HAL. We were looking for a trip with some new destinations for us so the Panama Canal and Costa Rica were what sold us. We were traveling with another couple who also had a great time. Also not ... Read More
This was our 10th cruise, our first with HAL. We were looking for a trip with some new destinations for us so the Panama Canal and Costa Rica were what sold us. We were traveling with another couple who also had a great time. Also not their first cruise. Hotel: We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Hollywood. Good choice. The people were friendly and helpful, the grilled chicken sandwich poolside hit the spot, and the $7/night parking and free shuttle transfer was great. While we did not get as good a rate as I've seen published here (we got $107), they did not charge us for the 1st night parking or the last day. Be sure to make your shuttle reservation as soon as you check in -- they fill up quickly. We didn't want to be forced into a very early shuttle and have to sit in the cruise terminal all morning. The shuttle took 1/2 hour to get to the ship, and when we disembarked they were there within 1/2 hour to pick us up. Embarkation: This was the fastest, easiest I've ever been through. We had completed the on-line form, so it was get our picture taken, grab our cards and on to the waiting area. Since we had arrived somewhere near 11:30, we didn't have a very long wait to board the ship. We went right to the Lido deck for lunch, and into our cabin by 1:30. Cabin: The cabin was very spacious. Larger than any I had been in. We only turned on the TV a few times, watched an interesting show on jewelry making, and CNN a couple times. We never made use of the DVD player, but that was a nice touch. Food: Can't say enough about how good the food was in the Lido. We ate breakfast and lunch there every day (except one lunch in the DR -- too slow!). The food was fresh, delicious, a great selection of anything you could want. This was the best casual dining room we've had. We sat at a table of 6 in the DR for dinner. Table 62 -- upstairs, early sitting. Formal nights are not my thing, so we skipped two nights in favor of the Lido, but all other nights the food was excellent. (The Lido serves just about the same menu -- minus the pricey surf/turf, on formal night.) Shore Excursions: Half Moon Cay -- I had the foot and ankle massage in the beach hut. Very nice. Beach was very, very clean. Soft sand, although the water was a little chilly. We opted for the $14 clamshell to keep the sun off of us on the very first day. The BBQ was a distance from the beach area, but it was good. Aruba: We visited friends at the Westin for the day because we have been to the island before, but the other couple we were with took the island tour and loved it. The Butterfly Pavilion was their favorite stop. Curacao: We have been here before -- this time I found it very dirty. Lots of construction going on, lots of trash. Even the path from the ship leads through a construction site. We took a small footbridge near the floating market and ended up in a very bad part of town -- abandoned buildings, piles of trash, etc. When we stumbled across the Maritime Museum we decided to go in. $6pp seemed like a lot for the little museum, but it was interesting. Panama Canal: I don't suggest getting up at the crack of dawn to get up on deck for this. I waited until a reasonable hour, daylight, and saw everything. I've been through locks before, but the process is fascinating. We had a Princess ship next to us, and it's amazing how close together they are going through there. We did not take a tour, but chose to sit in the Crow's Nest for the morning. This is the greatest place -- the view is fantastic, and unless there's a dance class or trivia contest going on in there, it's quiet. The little shopping area Colon 2000 is nothing to write home about -- mostly the stop is just to pick up the tour groups after exiting the locks. Costa Rica: We took the train/eco boat trip. The train is old, and I'm glad we did it first (some of the tours did the boat then the train) because it would have been a let down. The seats were wet, you can't see much from your seat (they stop so you can get up if they spot something), and the sloths and monkeys are way up in the trees. Bring your binoculars and zoom lenses. We saw the boat on the canal as we passed over on a bridge and I thought "uh-oh" -- the water is a coffee brown color. But it was the highlight. We saw so many different types of birds, lizards, sloths (one with a baby very close to the boat). The little shopping area at the HAL ship dock is fun -- much more reasonably priced that at the canal boat dock. On board activities: I was very surprised about the charges for activities on-board. Spinning classes were $11, Pilates $11, wine tasting $15, a "how-to" mixology class was $10. Seems like they already own the exercise equipment -- why the charges? We did enjoy the tour of the kitchen (although it was short, and they dumped us in the Pinnacle Grill without even saying "thanks for coming" -- most of us weren't sure the tour was even over), and the backstage tour. You got to cross the stage, go backstage and meet the singers and dancers. It was fun -- and very popular. Spa: I also had a Swedish massage -- great. I expected the product sales pitch after the massage, so I wasn't surprised. Art Auction: I always love the art auctions. Negatives about the ship: The prices of everything were high. Sodas $2, water getting off the ship $1, drinks $7, photos $15 for small $40 for formal shots. When you first get onboard they are trying to sell you the 3 or 5 bottle package of wine. They'll pour it at dinner, you can take it to your room, etc. Thank goodness someone had mentioned the wine card on this website (and the soda card). $36 plus 15% grat. for 10 glasses of wine. I overheard one woman on the 2nd day complaining to the front desk that the $10 charge for her glass of wine could not be right! I immediately stopped her and told her about the wine card. The staff never mentions this option -- you have to ask for it. While it's house wine (they offered me chardonnay, pinot grigio and merlot and cabernet), it's available at all the bars and at dinner. The soda card is $18 plus 15% grat for 20 glasses of soda (fountain soda, not cans). Still -- these prices beat anything they are pushing. (And, we did bring liquor aboard with us in a carry on without a problem.) Service: It is evident that staff is being stretched. Waiters are covering more tables, cabin stewards are responsible for more cabins. Service was not what it has been in the past, but this is not the individuals fault, it's industry-wide. State of the ship: I'm glad to read that the ship will be dry docked before returning to Alaska. It does need some refurbishment -- but overall I thought it was great. I hope they get some new chairs -- most were very uncomfortable if you were sitting in them for any length of time. The Crow's Nest had some recliners -- nice touch. The library has some nice ones with headphones -- I could never get the sound down low enough, but that's just me. Read Less
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