Zaandam Christmas Cruise 12/18/04 - 12/28/04
Us -- We are a family of 11- 4 adults- late 30s-early 40s, 2 adults mid 60s, 1 great grandmother -- 90+ and 4 children -- girls 15, 12, 10 & 8. Family cruise history: HAL, Renaissance, Cunard, Princess, NCL, Carnival, RCI, Celebrity, Costa, Chandris/Fantasy, Majesty, Delta Queen Steamboat, American Hawaii Cruises. My grandmother is in her 90s and has cruised for over 60 years for obvious reasons, won't list all the lines she has been on...
Overview -- There were a fair share of families aboard for this Christmas holiday sailing. Overall it was easily evident that HAL's median age is older than most other cruises. This presented a fairly wide variety of age groups, and reported 200+ well-mannered children. It was pretty exciting shortly after embarkation, to encounter strolling carolers. Unfortunately this was the one and only occasion where we saw this.
Pre-Cruise -- We stayed at the Radisson at Port Canaveral. Nice resort and clean. They presented an excellent breakfast buffet with friendly service. What a great way in which to begin our family holiday. The drawback was being packed like sardines on buses for the shuttle to the port. Again, the resort's problem not HAL'S. There were 3 ships leaving Port Canaveral on this day. The wait, loading of luggage etc. on a 50-passenger bus was EXTREMELY chaotic and time consuming. Pick up by the Radisson shuttle at the end of the cruise was via their "regular" shuttle and went very smoothly.
For those debating pre-cruise parking, signage is excellent leading to the port via stationary and electronic signing. Parking at the port is also extremely easy with convenient drop off areas for both handicapped persons and baggage. The parking area is fenced in and charges $10 per day.
Porters were readily available to transport our luggage the 3 feet from the storage under the bus to the forklift palette. We were very disappointed by our first impression of HAL when the same guy asked for a gratuity after having already being "taken care of." If no tip had already been given, it would have been one thing, however we tipped him more than a $1 per bag for our entire family. When I last checked this was the recommended guideline.
Embarkation -- Longest part of the line was of course waiting to go through the metal detectors along with the X-ray of all carry-on items. Inspections were thorough and as we all know necessary. Cruise line reps were all pleasant and polite, check-in agents were also plentiful and efficient. We did have all our forms pre-printed and filled out, as most people did.
Our daughter was issued an ID bracelet with her lifeboat muster station in the event there was an emergency and she was separated from us. Ship staff could then easily take her to where she was supposed to be. As a parent this was very reassuring.
We arrived about 11:30 a.m. and the whole process from arrival to boarding was about a half hour. Our grandmother, taken aboard via wheelchair, had separate check-in, which was of course much faster than that of the "masses." The family met up at the Lido for lunch. At 1:40 p.m. the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. Luggage arrived very shortly afterward and everyone in our group was able to unpack prior to the 4:30 p.m. lifeboat muster drill.
The steward (forgive me for not knowing his name -- my Dad had the most personal dealings with him) who wheeled her aboard was ready to ditch her off as soon as they were aboard. My father mentioned to him that a tip would be offered if he would to take her to Lido deck and he became her best buddy though out the entire cruise! Lucky for us he worked at the Piano Bar where we gathered nightly for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Again, he took excellent care of our entire family making sure we always had plenty of hors d'oeuvres and peanuts to go along with our drinks.
Side story -- The last day at sea he asked for the names of our family members. Little did we know and how delightfully surprised we were when he searched us out in the Lido the next morning to present to each family group a "personalized" Dutch hat signifying the date, family members and signed, presumably by him! He received an additional gratuity on the last evening to show our appreciation for his great service.
Crew -- See the Dining Room heading for our favorite crew member. Overall everyone on the ship was extremely pleasant and helpful. There were plenty of smiles all around. I cannot begin to tell you how many times in the Lido I had to politely and with a smile, ask one of the "boys" to carry the tray of someone else "who REALLY needed the help."
The Ship -- The Zaandam had the best layout out of all of the newer ships that I have personally been fortunate enough to cruise on. The Zaandam's layout made it very easy for my elderly grandmother to walk around with out having to walk a "mile" to get anywhere as she does on a "MEGA" ship. If you book on deck 6 or 7 you will never have to go any lower than deck 4 on the ship except for shore excursions. With the Lido and pools on deck 8 there is not too far too travel up and if you can obtain dining in the Rotterdam Upper Dining Room, you will only have to go down to deck 5.
With the before mentioned problems with our cabins, overall cleanliness aboard the Zaandam was excellent. The ship's dEcor is a little worn around the edges, but no real complaints. The ship is going into dry dock January 2005 and will be getting some new carpeting along with the other scheduled SOE enhancements.
On our cruise aboard the Golden Princess in late 2003, DH and I, still childless, reveled in the sanctity of the their "Adult Only" Aft swimming pool. In September of 2004 our soon to be adopted 8 year old daughter arrived in our lives. Both swimming pools aboard the Zaandam had signs posted "saying no children swimming without supervision under the age of 13" at both the Lido and Aft swimming pools. The daily bulletin, for only the first few days of the cruise, "requested" that the children use the Lido Swimming Pool.
Well we tried that. I'm sorry, but with a crowded holiday sailing it was just plain unrealistic. The Lido Pool area is perfect for relaxing when it is cool outdoors. On hot Caribbean days the air was downright hot, even with the roof fully open. The water was opposite, positively cold. Even had it not been a sold out sailing, there were not enough seats never mind chaises around the Lido pool to reasonably expect families to solely use that pool. Our daughter, with chattering teeth asked if we couldn't swim in the aft pool. Ever mindful of the peace for the adults, after some discussion we decided to try the aft pool. Much to our surprise we discovered other well behaved children and adults thawing out in the sunshine.
Our daughter never had the luxury of swimming lessons in her previous foster homes. At all times she was accompanied by one of us at least sitting at the pool's edge, if not in the water with her, to ensure she would not splash or otherwise interfere with any of the adults present. All of the children always behaved themselves, which led us to the conclusion that HAL does attract a more conservative clientele.
Pinnacle Grill -- Did not dine there, but did see the beautiful table settings and dining room. Christmas Day they offered their "$49.95 pp Wine Dinner."
Gym/Spa -- I had a terrific manicure at a very fair price. My SIL and her family had multiple spa services and were very pleased with the staff and wonderful massages, manicures and pedicures, which they received. We both booked immediately after lunch right after we boarded the ship. And glad we were. Do not call, go there in person, otherwise, they will tell you they will call you back and that may not be for a long long time. The new Spa will be going in during dry dock. The spa staff will have off for two weeks and the last week in dry dock will be spent on training for their new "digs."
Shows/Entertainment -- Did not attend any shows. Family members who did, said they were just "so, so." We regularly listened to Sonia Marie while in the Piano Bar, she had her "following," though I don't think any of us would have gone out of our way to listen to her play. Sea Breeze was better and they played in the Crow's Nest.
For the most part, after the last show, the ship grows quiet. You can find people in the casino, Casino Bar or Crow's Nest. Each evening the Crow's Nest featured a different theme such as Disco, '50s, Black & White, from about 11 p.m. to midnight. Then music reverted to a DJ who played for the most part hip-hop. The Crow's Nest was a late night "hangout." On the last evening of the sold out holiday cruise at 1:30 a.m. there were all of 12 people still there.
Cabin Accommodations -- Our family of eleven had 4 (3/3/3/2) -- Cat. A. Verandah cabins on deck 7- 7048, 7050, 7052 & 7054. For two persons the cabins were terrific. With 3 people the cabin quickly became difficult to maneuver given the narrowness of space between the end of the queen size bed and the wall. For privacy there was a curtain, which extended 3/4 of the way to divide the cabin between the "living area" or in our case, sleep sofa for our daughter and the queen size bed. There was an additional curtain that provided privacy between the bathroom and closet area from the rest of the cabin.
For families, if only for the space, if budget allows, I would highly recommend a Cat. S suite. This allows not only more room to get around, an additional sink with private dressing area separate from the tub and water closet. Even better would be an adjoining or inside cabin for the kids. Even for couples, if you enjoy breakfast on your balcony, the only way in which to have a table AND chairs for a "sit down" breakfast would be in a Cat. S suite.
Just as an added note, we had a comparable mini-suite on the Golden Princess last year. The cabin was much more spacious and though the balcony was slightly smaller, the cabin itself offered more seating and was much less cramped. Cat. A Balconies on the Zaandam are equipped with a high quality comfortable chaise lounge as well as matching chair with end table. Nice touch over the cheap hard plastic stuff found elsewhere. I don't know if it was because of our location higher up on the ship than where we were last year, but our balcony remained virtually salt free. Last year while sailing Princess, after just a few days the furniture was so encrusted in salt you needed to sit on a towel.
Princess did offer an advantage with two TVs as opposed to just one. When there is a disaster the size of the recent Tsunami, if only while getting dressed in the morning and at night, DH and I are interesting in keeping up with what is going on. Our daughter is too young for gory tragedies of this nature and much preferred watching cartoons on Boomerang! In each cabin there was a directory including movie listings and the channel offerings: ESPN, CNN, TNT, CNN Headline News, Boomerang!, Discovery Channel, "On Board" -- promos for ship services, "In Port" -- shore excursion and port information, Nautical Info with view from the bridge, and "Port Shopping." Our cabin also had a VCR and a very long listing in cabins of videos available for pick-up at the front desk. The Wajang Theater offered movies such as Collateral, Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, Santa Clause 2, Bourne Supremacy, and The Manchurian Candidate.
There were 2 Movie Channels showing a daily rotation of movies (beware parents ... we awoke one morning to our 8 year old watching an "R" rated movie). It was nice during a Christmas cruise, if you are inclined to stay in your cabin, to have the option of viewing Christmas movies, some classics such as, It's a Wonderful Life, Noel, White Christmas, ELF and Santa Clause 2. For adults there were also movies such as Collateral, The Terminal, The Stepford Wives, King Arthur, Troy and Manchurian Candidate. For kids, there was Around the World in 80 Days, Spy Kids, The Prince and Me, Cinderella Story and Shark Tale.
The same steward served our 4 cabins. He spoke next to no English. Formerly serving as a bartender on the ship, he was now cleaning cabins and poorly at that. At the end of our voyage, everyone pretty much agreed that his lack of English speaking skills were more than likely the root of most of our "cabin problems" not being solved in a timely manner.
We were surprised that our cabins, which had sofa beds, were never converted back to sofas during the day. Upon arrival we walked into cabins with a queen size bed and one sofa. After the first night's dinner we returned to cabins with the queen size bed and a small narrow bed, which remained such for the entire cruise. In other words, with one chair IN the cabin and one chaise lounge and additional chair on the balcony for three people, don't plan on sitting around. Room service breakfast balancing plates on our knees would not have been a pretty sight.
In that our family had 4 cabins adjacent to one another we were hoping to have the doors between the 4 cabins opened for easy access to one another. Our cabin steward said it was not possible. As we were waiting to disembark along comes a crew member climbing over the railing opening door upon door so that he would be able to walk through balcony to balcony while he was hosing off the salt.
My cabin as well as my parent's cabin did have mildew present amongst the grout in the bathroom tiles. Big turn off considering it is easily curable with a little of the right cleaner and some elbow grease.
First night prior to leaving for dinner we left a note for the cabin steward: from the previous cruise which had disembarked that morning, we were left with: a bathroom wastebasket which had not been emptied, a desk full of crumbs and a shelf full of receipts from the previous cabin occupants. 3 of 4 cabins had 3, not 4 occupants. Each of the four cabins only had two bath towels! They were not offered outright, each cabin had to request the 3rd bath towel for the 3rd occupant individually. Sorry but is that not just common sense?
Cabin 1 -- safe would not lock, a screw had fallen out. Called each morning for repair, 3 days in a row, with no response. A phone call was placed day 4 and we asked simply for a screwdriver to repair it ourselves. Afternoon of day 4 we remembered we had an eyeglass screwdriver. DH used this and fixed the safe himself.
Over the period of 6 nights, the cabin became progressively warmer at night. Called day 7 for someone to check it. Front desk phoned morning of day 8 to see if it had been repaired. No it had not. By the end of the day it was fixed and in perfect working condition.
Unfortunately in the same cabin one of the children accidentally broke the flexible hose off of the shower nozzle to brace herself and avoid falling during a swell (too young and never having traveled before, she did not know enough to grab one of the hand holds). Called for repair as soon as it happened prior to dinner and it was repaired by the time dinner was over.
Cabin 1 again -- besides the problems with the safe, one morning there was an 8:15 a.m. knock on the door from maintenance. They knew, without it being reported, that the cabin had low water pressure. Without asking anyone to vacate the cabin they went into the bathroom and did what they had to do. Again, the privacy curtain between the cabin entrance where the bathroom is located and the rest of the cabin was appreciated since everyone was in pajamas and one person was still in bed.
Cabin 2 -- ring on tub faucet was broken, thus shower did not function. Called for repair, no response. After my SIL had a total of 4 others shower that evening in her cabin she called the front desk for a second time requesting repair. "She" explained it would be appreciated if our grandmother who had paid over $20,000 for this cruise had a shower that actually functioned. The shower was repaired by the time we returned from dinner that evening.
Cabin 3 -- one day the cabin was just never cleaned, morning nor night. We did see a supervisor making notes on a clipboard outside of the cabin as we were departing for dinner that evening. No way of knowing if one thing had anything to do with the other. No phone calls were made to have the cabin cleaned. At this point we just couldn't be bothered considering HAL'S staff unresponsiveness to other maintenance problems in the cabins. The following day the cabin steward apologized stating that he had "forgotten about it." This cabin also had an intermittent odor of sewage from the toilet, which was not present in the other cabins.
Lido -- Quality of the food was good and the selection was for the most part pretty good. Breakfast buffet open 7 or 7:30 a.m. -- 10 or 10:30 a.m., offered just about everything imaginable except for waffles or soft boiled or poached eggs (yes, heard someone ask for poached, but they did offer hard boiled eggs). If you arrived at breakfast early enough before it got too busy, the waiters would be kind enough to get your coffee or tea for you. Arrive later when it was busy and it was "hit or miss" whether you would be lucky enough to be offered a refill by one of the waiters roaming with a pot for such purpose.
At lunch, the buffet was open 11:00 a.m. -- 2 p.m., the soup and salad bar was a big hit, open 11:30 a.m. -- 5:00 p.m. as well as the deli. Stir Fry and a Pasta Bar rotated day to day. The ice cream bar is extremely popular as well with flavors of ice cream and some toppings rotating daily. Wish there was an easier way to get a soda on the Lido though. They had a bartender set up at this little table. Half the time they did not have what you wanted and the rest of the time he was off getting, presumably, more soda. I had a good chuckle when one of the waiters asked ME, who herself was wondering where he was, where the bartender was. Alas, a mind reader I am not... Toward the end of the cruise, we just found it easier to order a soda at the pool bar on our way in for lunch.
Besides never missing ice cream, our children all especially enjoyed making their own tacos and daily selections of pizzas, which were offered. This food was available from 11:30 a.m. -- 5 p.m. If you were still full from breakfast, it was also very convenient to stop by late afternoon for a burger or a "make your own" plate of nachos to snack on. Still enjoying our time poolside, this was a better option than having to go to our cabin and order room service.
Though we did not have dinner in the Lido, tables at night were set with linen tablecloths. A condensed version of the evening's menu is offered buffet style. The exception being your entree that you order while in line and then is served to you by a waiter at the appropriate time.
Room Service -- HAL does excel and shows some nice touches in their room service. My favorite late lunch was the French Onion Soup and a Caesar Salad. One of our cabins had room service breakfast almost daily. One cabin had early morning coffee delivery along with juice. At no extra charge, there were a good variety of items available for appropriate times of the day, which were delivered in a timely manner, whether ordered the night before (breakfast) or via telephone.
Christmas eve morning an order was placed for a couple of cheese plates for delivery to one of our cabins that night. This was no problem and they arrived promptly at 6 p.m. as requested. A bottle of wine and six cans of beer ordered at 5 p.m. for 6 p.m. simply never showed up. The server who delivered the cheese stated he would check on the liquor delivery, but we never heard back from him either.
A sampling of items offered 12 Noon -- 10 p.m. are: Bay Shrimp Cocktail, Smoked Salmon Appetizer, Onion Soup, Caesar Salad, Chef Salad, Club Sandwich, Chicken Breast Sandwich, Tuna Melt, Vegetarian Wrap, Steak Sandwich and Hamburger.
Dining Room & Food -- Our family booked this cruise in July and the only seating available was the Main seating 8:30 p.m. Since booking, we had been waitlisted for the 8 p.m. seating. Upon embarking, my Mom and SIL, visited the Maitre d' in order to take one last stab at changing to the 8 p.m. seating. Fat chance!
None of us had hopes that the time would be changed, so contented ourselves with the fact that HAL had accommodated our request for a table for 11 people. Evenings the family gathered pre-dinner for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, usually at the Piano Bar and then proceeded to our table J in the Lower Rotterdam Dining Room.
We had the opportunity to enjoy some breakfasts and one dinner in the upper dining room and noticed a drastic difference in room temperature. It was unbelievably cooler on the upper level than the lower level. It did not matter that on the Informal nights gentlemen were requested to wear a sports jacket. Half way through dinner, in our area of the lower dining room, many men room were removing their jackets.
Overall, as some others have stated, HAL does have some problems in the dining room. HAL is spreading their dining room waiters and busboys so thin that they have all they can do just in order to keep up. I don't require polite chitchat and you do not have to know me by name. I can appreciate feeding the children early in the meal. But my Mom did teach me to be polite, and "wait for everyone to be served" before beginning to eat. Only problem was that we were never served courses together. Food was served as soon as it came out of the kitchen as long as you were finished with your previous course. It did not matter where your tablemates were in their meal. A regular production line for sure, but again, we in no way fault the dining room staff, they are just trying to do the best they can with what they have.
It was no wonder that pepper grinders are on the tables in the dining room. While HAL is at it, another time saving measure to make it easy on everyone would be to place a pitcher of ice water, salad dressings and sour cream on the table as well. Everyone can agree there is nothing worse than a cold baked (steamed) potato with sour cream or having to ask for a second cup of coffee.
Our head steward, Oka, really saved our HAL dining experience. He in his supervisory position tried his utmost to provide the touch of service that one used to find on all cruise ships. Oka picked up the slack as best as he could, refilling water glasses, clearing dirty plates etc. He not only took care of all of us, but in particular, this father of 3 young children, who are home in Bali, took great joy at dessert time, in pleasing the 4 children in our family. There were napkin animals, magic tricks, jokes, puns and riddles. In return the children taught him a few of their own for him to add to his repertoire for future passengers.
Oka, also accepted special orders in advance for the following evening. The kids in particular became hooked on the Fettuccine Alfredo with extra sauce and extra cheese on the side. He found out that our daughter was head over heels for shellfish. A couple of nights she dined on 2 double portions of huge shrimp, one for an appetizer and one for dinner. Following her first taste and love at first sight with King Crab Legs, he surprised her on another night with the biggest portion of King Crab that you have ever seen!
One night dinner was open seating due to the Lido Deck BBQ. The dining room was serving only in the Upper Rotterdam Dining Room on a "first come, first served basis". Oka made sure that he saved a highly coveted table for 10 (which he squeezed into 11) for us. We did not have our regular waiter, but Oka made sure he surprised our daughter once again with a huge portion of King Crab. On our last morning, Oka helped us out with breakfast once again. The steward was insisting our family, together again for one last time until most likely next Christmas, had to split up into two tables of 6 & 5. Oka raced across the room and whisked us off to a table for ten, quickly adding an additional place setting and chair. Obviously this is why he "gets paid the big bucks."
There has to be a better way with the March and festivities taking place at dessert time for the Main seating in the Upper dining room. Being the "late" seating we were just being served our entrees in the darkness of the festivities. The Baked Alaska on the upper level was most likely to die for; however downstairs, after our meal, we were served a melted mushy mess. I was embarrassed for the dining room staff actually having to "slop" the drippings onto the plates.
Even the wine stewards are ragged. Some nights sodas were not received until the entree was being served. Those drinking soda gave up on ordering seconds and simply began ordering two sodas at one time. The wine steward quickly picked up on this and kindly obliged and kept this as a standing order. One night, and one night only, toward the middle of the cruise, the "standing" soda order was already present on the table when we arrived!
If you love wine, and are adventurous, you have to love the Zaandam's "Wine Navigator." These packages offered a mix of wines from all over the world. The Wine Navigator Package was priced 4 bottles for $82 or 6 bottles for $125. You are able to pay for the package and then as you go, choose from the list of wines offered. Choose every bottle the same, or try a different one each night! My Mom and sister-in-lawn really lucked out since two of their favorite wines were offered through the "Admiral's Choice" Package. This package offers higher price pointed wines, which were 6 bottles for $175. Both packages offered savings on a good balance of whites and reds from around the world. The price of the packages does not include the automatic 15% gratuity.
Guess it would not happen too often, but the night we had open seating for dinner, those ordering individual bottles of wine as I did, vs. those ordering from "their package" were served first. My bottle of wine arrived at the table in a timely manner. The wine from the package, which my Mom had selected, did not arrive at the table until the salad was being served. Perhaps the wine steward felt I deserved better service since the 15% auto tip was going directly into his pocket vs. that from the Wine Package that was already pre-paid and presumably pooled among all the wine stewards?
Breakfast here was awesome and cappuccino or espressos were at no extra charge. Service in the morning was excellent in every way. Most of the time, the toast was actually even still warm.
Diabetic selections in the Lido and the Dining Room are excellent. You will have no trouble dining on this cruise, even more so in the goodie department ... sugar free ice creams, cookies, desserts...
Items are hardly if at all salted (including popcorn at the theater) so those on low sodium diets will have no problems. If you like salt, be prepared to "shake, shake, shake."
Soups and breads were especially excellent, as well as the King Crab Legs and most of the Appetizers. "Daily Alternatives" were offered: Caesar Salad, Grilled Salmon, Broiled Chicken Breast and Grilled Sirloin Steak. The Sirloin was disappointing in that it was "hit or miss." Just about everyone at our table ordered it on one night or another, and whether ordered rare or medium well, the taste was never consistent. Portions for all of the courses served were a perfect size. Each of us always had enough room to sample dessert. Again though, if HAL would like to show true quality of their line they would not bother serving certain items such as Carpaccio. Offered on several evenings, it was so paltry, it was laughable. There IS a difference between thinly sliced and translucent. If you do order it, ask for a double!
Christmas -- The rest of the family had cruised two years again over Christmas with RCI and were moved to tears by the beauty and amount of decorations around the Grandeur of the Seas. The Zaandam in their opinion was very lacking in comparison. Just no oomph! Yes, each cabin door had a small wreath, there were Gingerbread houses at the entrance to the dining room and Christmas trees were not overly abundant. Yes there were fresh flowers in Christmas displays, including the cabins and dining room. Chocolate Santas were put out on display at the Lido Buffet on the 27th of December, the day after the Chocolate Extravaganza on the 26th. Two days before the end of the cruise the ship's flowers were for the most part wilted and dead. I personally would prefer they just remove the dead/dying flower arrangements, as opposed to the sad remnants of dried carnations and wilted orchids left in the holiday aftermath.
Egg Nog was served Christmas morning to those waiting in the Mondrian Lounge for those waiting for Santa. Following an old fashioned "sing-a-long" we watched via two large screens, Santa's trek from arrival at the top of the ship's stack, down the ladder onto the sports deck and then various stops such as the spa, weight room and Lido prior to his "live" entrance to the Lounge.
IMHO, call it sour grapes if you like, but I do need to mention the selfishness of the childless persons who crowded the front of the lounge. I am not saying that this is a "family only" event, but it would have been nice if families with children received some type of priority seating in the lounge.
With an 8:30 p.m. dinner seating which was all which could be offered 5 months prior to booking, how early could we drag our eight year old out of bed the next morning to get a seat in the front of the lounge? After we opened Santa's gifts in our cabin, attended breakfast with the rest of the family in the dining room, which HAL so thoughtfully served until 10 a.m., our family made the lounge 15 minutes prior to Santa's arrival. This was not nearly enough time to get those highly coveted seats near Santa which had already been taken by those who did not have "family obligations" prior to Santa's arrival. Kids received a wrapped gift, a "Club HAL" baseball cap, and had their picture taken with Santa by the ship's photographer. This made another nice cruise keepsake for only the price of a ship's photo gallery.
I can fully understand how older or single folks would like to see the delight in the children upon seeing Santa, but how about giving a break to the parents? Our kids only believe in Santa for so many years, why not let us appreciate it while it lasts. When the day comes and our children no longer "believe" we will gladly join you in the back of the lounge to make room for the younger families.
Itinerary & Weather -- 4 full days at sea, one of the reasons our family chose this itinerary/ship, the ship was our destination and resort.
We had near perfect weather with a mostly cloudy and cool sail away. First day at sea was more clouds than sun and last day was chillier and mostly cloudy. The other days in between were stunning Caribbean perfect with warm temperatures and refreshing trade winds. Most mornings, as typical of the Caribbean, there were also rainbows a plenty.
That late afternoon and throughout the evening of our last night the waves were reaching upwards to 13 feet+ along with a gale force wind which made the ship very "creaky." If you were a novice cruiser you did notice the "barf bags" placed at all elevators, but did not know that this would mean a rough night. After departing Half Moon Cay, it was too windy to be out on deck. All in all this made for an excellent opportunity for packing and last minute on board shopping. The Mohito Happy Hour was moved from the Aft pool to the mid-ship Lido Swimming Pool where the roof was closed well before 3 p.m.
Tortola -- Here is a tale of two families who choose two outings. Half of the family, a party of five, awoke early and were off the ship just after 8 a.m. Their aim was to catch one of the ferries to the Baths. Walking off of the pier, both Speedy's and Smith's Ferry companies had representatives selling packages. The party of five, basically ended up going with Speedy's after the reps from each company fought back and forth over who was going to charge what. Speedy's finally won the competition. By this time, it was going to be cutting time short for them to walk from the pier over to Speedy's ferry departure point. The Speedy's rep was kind enough to throw in a free taxi ride for the five of them so they could make the ferry in time. The family had a terrific time exploring the Baths and then a late lunch at the "Top of the Baths" before taking the ferry back to Road Town.
The rest of us got off the ship after lunch and "tried" to hire a taxi. All the drivers were absolutely insisting that we had to go to Cane Garden Bay. We politely declined asking for a ride to either Brewer's Bay or Sapphire Beach. They continued to refuse to take us to Brewer's Bay and to them Sapphire was just way too far and out of the question. After seeing some threads regarding the water conditions, we told them that we thought the water may be unsafe due to discharge from the boats anchoring here. Of course they stated this was not correct. Our vacation, and health, so we did not want to take a chance, especially knowing there were other places we could visit. As a side note, HAL no longer offers their Cane Garden Bay excursion.
Interestingly enough, it was only when the six of us turned away to re-board the ship, where we would not have to pay a taxi to get to the ship's swimming pool, and thus taking our money with us, that one of the drivers came forward. He was more than happy to take us to our destination of Brewer's Bay. He was even fortunate enough to fill up his taxi with six additional people. Evidently after agreeing to a return time in two and a half hours it was worth his time since he parked and hung out at the snack bar.
We paid $10 pp round trip from the ship to Brewer's Bay. It was a great place to hang out even if you have only a few hours, much cheaper than any three-hour beach excursion the ship could offer. You can rent chaise lounges for $5 each. There is a bar with liquor and snacks. The ride over and back was a good way to see the beautiful vistas and the driver was kind enough to stop for photo opportunities without even being asked.
Snorkeling is off to the west side of the beach along the rock cliff. The water is fairly shallow and clear. There are a few rocks on this west end of the beach, but water shoes are not required. Walk/swim a short ways out and the bottom becomes ALL sand. The further you walk east down the beach, the sandier it gets.
When in Tortola, if you do not want to venture to the Baths this is a great alternative! In our case the Baths were not doable for my 90+ y/o grandmother. She went to Brewer's with us and loved watching her granddaughter swimming and playing in the sand.
St. Martin -- Mom and Dad did what they do best here, spending 4 hours making a sizable donation to their friends at Ballerina Jewelers.
The ship's "Discover Scuba" excursion was sold out way in advance of sailing. I found out through this board about Shore Trips® so for an additional $12 per person over the ship's excursion price my brother, niece and sister-in-law booked a trip through them to try out scuba. As had happened with my husband and I after our first dive, once you do it, you are hooked! They had a fine experience with Shore Trips® and would not hesitate to use them again.
The rest of the family enjoyed the Aft swimming pool which, as you can imagine was very peaceful.
Barbados -- Wow is all I can say! This day was by far one of the highlights of our Christmas cruise aboard the Zaandam. We sailed aboard the Silver Moon II on Christmas Eve for their 5 hour Lunch Cruise. The new 45' catamaran is sister to the original 44' Silver Moon. SM II sails this lunch cruise with a maximum of 18 people aboard. Cost was $80 per adult and $50 per child and well worth the expense. The cat does hold up to 40 persons for private charters, so it is obvious that there is plenty of room for 18 people to comfortably sail, drink, eat and swim or snorkel.
Our family made up 11, out of a total of 18 people aboard. There was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. Never did we feel crowded. There was shade for my Grandmother and anyone else who wanted it and plenty of spots for sunning and relaxing. Captain Nick, the owner, and his crew, the kind of young men which every parent would like their daughter to marry, spoiled us from the first moment we stepped on board and we could not have been more pleased with this excursion.
Our excursion this day was 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We were met outside of the cruise terminal and transported via mini-bus the few minute ride to the marina. The boat is new, and kept clean as a whistle. You must remove your shoes to even step aboard. We were a little concerned about my grandmother being able to walk on board, but the crew very very carefully and skillfully cajoled and assisted her. Once we were all aboard drink orders were taken and we began our 5 hours of bliss. First off we were told that there was a very strong swell out of the north and the waves were just too big to get in with the turtles. A snorkel above a couple of wrecks would be substituted instead. After a 45-minute sail, the first snorkel stop was to a reef. The crew passed out high quality and well kept, snorkel gear. At each stop one of the crew members snorkeled with the group and acted as guide.
Following this snorkel, everyone re-boarded, rinsed off with the fresh water hose and ate a delicious bountiful lunch of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, fish, garlic bread and Caesar salad. All the while, we were offered unlimited soda, beer, wine, pina coladas, rum punch or strawberry daiquiris. Lunch was even followed by Rum Cake and coffee or tea.
Seeing some of the other passing catamaran excursions packed to the gills, we knew no matter how much others had paid for their excursions, we had the best value for our money and it was the absolute best decision to go with Silver Moon. Don't' believe me, check out this thread ... Silver Moon Catamaran - Great !!!!!
Martinique -- Been there had already done that. Brother and SIL paid $25 each for a taxi tour with another couple and now they too can say, "been there done that." DH and I spent a quiet relaxing day lounging by the aft swimming pool.
Daughter spent the morning in Club HAL and then returned for the afternoon session after a dip in the pool and her luncheon feast. Please see "Club Hal" in this report for information on what this day held.
Half Moon Cay This is a beautiful island for sure. It is very similar to Princess Cay, but with much more in the way of facilities. Our half day, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on the island was shared with the passengers from the Zaandam's sister ship, the Volendam. The island's weather this day was mostly cloudy, cool and extremely windy, but nonetheless, the beach was crowded. If you are unable to walk a distance down the beach, the advice is to make sure you get to the island early.
The new children's water play area was nice, however was not officially open? A water slide is just not a water slide without running water. On a Christmas cruise with a lot of kids (well for HAL right?), there was enough disappointment to go around. But they made the best of it, using the floating platforms. Most, if not all, of the excursions this day were cancelled due to high winds. To avoid the children's water park area, head north, the further the better.
Food was typical out island BBQ: Baby back Ribs -- to die for, the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, salads, fruit, brownies, cookies. There was also steak albeit under cooked.
Zaandam Christmas Cruise 12/18- Club HAL, Disembarkation, Favs & Overall Club HAL -- The oldest and the youngest children in the group participated. In that this was a Christmas cruise there were a fair number of children aboard, but not an overwhelming amount as I thought there might be. There was no charge for the club, not even supplies.
The teen made tons of new friends and generally just ended up "hanging out." Most night's teen events (ages 13 - 17) ran 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. There was an organized "get together" for the teens, for some reason it seems they were held mostly at the Aft Pool or Sky Room. With the upcoming addition of the Oasis Lounge, of course this will be the new place for the teens to gather.
Our daughter picked and chose which Club HAL activities she wished to participate in. She enjoys arts & crafts and now has some nice souvenirs from her first cruise. I was not too thrilled the day she played "Toilet Tag" until I was let in on the details. This was a regular game of tag with a little bit of a different title.
Only disappointment in the Club was the day we were in Martinique. We had signed up our DD the day before as required. When my husband went to sign her into the club that morning, none of the Club HAL staff was there. "They" decided they felt like taking the day off, and we were "lucky" that one of the male entertainers "volunteered" to man the Club that day. My husband chatted with the gentleman long enough to determine he felt safe leaving DD at the Club. Our daughter happily played on the computer for a couple of hours, but obviously that was beside the point.
Disembarkation -- Debarkation on Dec. 28 was miserable. I don't believe this was any fault of the cruise line. Departure questionnaires were left in our cabin earlier in the week. Since we had driven to the Port, we knew we would be some of the last people off of the ship. Each cabin was later assigned a letter, which would be called for disembarkation.
It is terrific that HAL allows you to remain in your cabin, so were astonished they had repeat the age old announcement for people not to gather around the gangway, staircases, etc. Although the ship had arrived in Port on time, there were the usual cases of inconsiderate passengers needing being paged over and over to report to immigration. The first numbers were not called until about 9:30 a.m. We did not get off until almost 10:30 a.m.
The good news was that if you did NOT require a porter it was very easy to claim your luggage and get out of the terminal. If you need to get to Orlando definitely make arrangements to have someone meet you rather than relying on the whim of one of the taxi drivers. Our Radisson shuttle picked us up and took us back to the resort to retrieve our cars.
Overall Experience -- Another holiday cruiser stated they "would return to HAL. However, we all felt that Princess was slightly better than HAL." Our group was of mixed opinions. The three kids who had cruised previously with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean would choose Royal Caribbean.
HAL would have won us over completely if their dining room service were improved and the quality of the food elevated just ever so much. Problems with the cabins were annoying but as time has faded become less important. Let's just say it was good enough that three in our group just booked a suite on the Westerdam for a 15 day transatlantic cruise in April.
Favorites: 1. Our kids loved the Pizza & Taco Bar in the Lido. 2. Salad bar and Ice Cream bar in the Lido. 3. Cappuccino and Espresso at the Java Bar. 4. Soda card at a little over $50 (including the non-optional 15% gratuity) sounds like a lot of money but is actually a bargain. If you drink two sodas per day, it pays for itself. In the hot Caribbean sun if you drink more than that, you will be ahead of the game. Thumbs up to HAL for including ginger ale and Diet Sprite in the package. 5. Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Classy Touches: 1. Terry cloth hand towels in the public restrooms. 2. Pleather document holder. 3. Keepsake Portfolio of Captain's Farewell Dinner & Christmas Dinner menus. 4. A wheelchair was given to my grandmother for her use throughout the entire cruise. She is able to walk short distances with the aid of a cane to get her from place to place on the ship. Our last night at sea was too rough for her to walk at which time she was able to revert to using the wheelchair rather than miss dinner in the dining room. 5. Happy to see a cruise line who still conducts a kitchen tour. 6. The Cruise Log presented at the end of the voyage makes another nice keepsake of our trip.
Could Have Done Without -- It was heavenly, there were only sporadic "reports from the bridge" given by the Chief Navigator, not the Captain. Sadly, we had bingo announcements a plenty. "You gotta be in it to win it"... Daily bingo announcements are just plain rotten. If the passengers cannot remember what time bingo is scheduled, let them carry the daily schedule with them.
Additional Notes: My husband does not buy the latest fashions in clothes, doesn't have a ear splitting stereo or an expensive sports car. He is however what I refer to as a "coffee snob." No Starbucks double Latte for him, just good, high quality, read expensive, coffee and the right machines for grinding his own beans and brewing the perfect cup. The one complaint I hear from him, everywhere but inside our own home, is how rotten the coffee is. Finally I can send him to the Zaandam! Whether in the Lido, Dining Room or Java Bar the coffee was near perfection and lived up to his expectations.
Upon arrival, each cabin already had a nice complimentary holiday arrangement. For this Christmas cruise there was an additional offering of Holiday gifts available for delivery once aboard. DH and I purchased various gifts for our family and ourselves directly through Hal's Ship Services. Besides the 28 inch Christmas Tree for my grandmother's cabin and the 16 inch trees for our other three cabins. We ordered "Frosty The Snowman" for our daughter. The description was labeled a "festive drum filled with traditional seasonal trimmings." Traditional seasonal trimmings it indeed did have. So fresh and so green was it that my allergies forced Frosty into relocating to my parents cabin. There were also bottles of wines and orders of Chocolate strawberries with Champagne. We had faxed the order to ship's services well in advance of departure and brought the copies with us should there have been any problems with delivery. Each and every item arrived on the appointed day and nothing was forgotten. Especially wonderful was not only the chocolate covered strawberries, but the California Chase-Limogere, Brut which came with it. Read Less