I took this cruise with my two sisters (both mid 50s) to celebrate my 40th birthday. I'm a fairly experienced cruiser (12 cruises under my belt), and usually sail Celebrity, but decided to give Holland America a chance because we ... Read More
I took this cruise with my two sisters (both mid 50s) to celebrate my 40th birthday. I'm a fairly experienced cruiser (12 cruises under my belt), and usually sail Celebrity, but decided to give Holland America a chance because we wanted to cruise the Eastern Caribbean and Celebrity had nothing there during this time.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale the day before the ship left and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on State Road 84. It was a short ride to both the pier and the airport. The hotel was wonderful. It is the newest hotel in Ft. Lauderdale and the facilities are practically perfect. A complimentary shuttle picked us up at the airport and took us to the pier the next day. A full continental breakfast was served that included toast, hard-boiled eggs, pastries, cold cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, milk, juices and coffee. Complimentary internet access is also available. Our room was large and had two queen-sized beds (versus doubles), coffee maker, DVD player, fridge, microwave and a nice desk with two comfy chairs. The bathroom was spotless and included shampoo, conditioner, lotion and nice soaps, and the best shower head and towels I've had in a hotel room in quite a while. The staff was friendly, and allowed a late checkout (12 noon) the next day. It was a great start to our vacation.
Embarkation and Stateroom
Embarkation was the smoothest of any I've ever had. Since access to cabins is not granted until 1:00 pm, we opted for late checkout at the hotel and arrived at the pier about 1:00. Curbside porters were friendly and didn't ask for tips, although we gave them one anyway. We were in a deluxe verandah suite and had a separate check-in counter. The staff were friendly and quick and we were boarding less than 15 minutes after arriving at the pier.
Our room was the most beautiful and spacious of any cabin I've ever been in. There was more than enough storage space and room to accommodate three women and all of their belongings. The beds are the best I've ever slept on outside of my own. The mattress was thick and supportive, but not hard. There were feather pillows, 250 thread count percale sheets and a down duvet on each bed. A large leather sofa was opened each night for the third bed and was ensconced in the same wonderful bedding. The bathroom had a dressing area attached with mirrors and a lighted make-up mirror along with a vanity seat with a lid that lifted for yet even more storage space. The dressing area had a curtain for privacy. The bathroom itself was large, with a double vanity and a shower stall, plus a bathtub with yet another shower. The bathroom was stocked with shampoo, lotion, a shower cap and Royal Dutch soaps (which we all found a bit slimy and difficult to rinse off), as well as a bath mat for the tub. The shower heads were wonderful, and the water pressure and temperature were always correct. Our stateroom afforded us the use of the Neptune Lounge. It is a large room with comfortable seating and a television tuned to CNN.
Continental breakfast and lunch are served each day along with endless fruit and pastries.
The staff in the Neptune was courteous and took care of shore excursions and answering questions that arose during the trip. My sisters utilized their resources to arrange a surprise birthday cake at dinner for me one evening. My only complaint about the Neptune Lounge is that minors are allowed in without their parents. As we all know, kids will be kids, but I found their bad behavior a bit irritating considering I had paid a premium for use of the facilities.
The Zuiderdam is a beautiful ship with modern decor. Primary colors brighten up the public spaces without seeming garish. I especially liked that the hallways in the public areas curved, thereby alleviating the "tunnel" look on most ships. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to hunker down in, and all of the furniture around the public areas was very comfortable. The Crow's Nest provides breathtaking sea views and their is a seating area adjacent to it that looks like a beach house. The library is the best-stocked of any I've seen at sea and employs a true Dewey Decimal System to make finding books very easy. The seats in the library are ultra-comfortable and have movable backs that adjust to each individual. There is also a large marble-inlaid table that is quite impressive. The internet center is available 24-hours a day with pay-per-minute rates at .75 a minute, going to as low as .40 a minute with the purchase of a package. The spa was nice and was on-par with others I've been to at sea. Shopping was okay, but the staff informed us that our purchases could not be sent to our cabins. That was a first. Dining -- To say that I was dissapointed with the food on this ship would be an understatement. Although I'll admit that I'm probably spoiled by the food on Celebrity, truthfully, I've had better food on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. The dishes were salty and otherwise lacked flavor. Although there was a variety of stations in the Lido restaurant, none of the food was all that great. The salad dressings in particular were horrible. I've had better from a bottle. The standout dish in the Lido was the fresh pizza. Hot from the oven, the crunchy crust and tasty sauce made it a treat. Most days we opted for pizza for lunch. The dining room food was no better. Sauces were thick and gummy, meat was over cooked, and fish was not served every day. Also, there was little variety in the fish that was served, unless you REALLY like salmon...you can have salmon seven different ways every day.
The standout dining experience was without a doubt the Pinnacle Grill. If you sail on the Zuiderdam, DO NOT MISS OUT ON THIS. It is the best meal you will have on board. There is a $20 surcharge for this meal...and I would have gladly paid $30 or more. The pear and lettuce salad was superb, with a peppery bite. The Sterling Beef filet mignon was melt-in-your-mouth fantastic and cooked to perfection. The side dishes were awesome. Try the potatoes au gratin...I've never had anything like them. The veggies were steamed to perfection and the chocolate volcano was heaven. Chef Troy stopped by our table to see how we liked the meal, and when we complimented him on the Chocolate Volcano, he returned a few minutes later with the recipe.
Service -- Sadly, service is probably one of the weakest areas on the ship. With the exception of our cabin steward, Evan, the service is not what I expected on a "premium" cruise line. Let me start with the positive, though, and tell you about Evan first. Evan kept our cabin spotless and stocked with everything we asked for. My sister fell ill during the voyage and Evan made sure to keep the cabin stocked with hot water and tea, virtually around the clock. One evening when she was especially ill, he politely asked people in the hallway to "sshhh" because someone was sick. He was friendly, courteous and helpful with everything. In fact, he was the highlight of our cruise. Holland America institutes a mandatory $10 per person per day tip on your cruise bill. Ordinarily, we don't like a "forced tipping policy". However, on this cruise, we didn't feel bad about the $10 minimum, because none of us thought the service deserved more. Evan, on the other hand, was the recipient of a very generous tip from all of us...he received additional money originally ear-marked for other staff. Service in the dining room was the worst I've ever had on any ship. Our waiter and busy boy barely spoke English and could provide little in the way of description or suggestion. Worse than that were their manners. Our waiter stood next to me, and reached across the table to hand someone else their plate of food...while at the same time assaulting me with a nose full of bad body odor. I lost my appetite at that point. Even more startling was watching our waiter lick sauce off this thumb, and then place THE SAME THUMB on my sister's plate as he handed her her meal. That was our first, and last, visit to the dining room. We ate in our cabin for the rest of the cruise.
Unfortunate Incidents We received a note in our cabin stating that "balcony maintenance" would be done on our balcony while we were docked in St. Thomas. That evening, we noticed that the balcony divider had been left open. We didn't think much of it until 3:00 am when we hit rough seas and the divider door kept banging open and closed. After listening to it for a half hour I went down to the purser's desk and asked that a maintenance person be sent up to lock the divider. I was told that they were all sleeping and that it would be taken care of in the morning. This was not the answer I expected, and it took me a good 15 minutes to get the staff to agree to send someone to our room.
On the second night of the cruise, my sister fell ill with what we thought was a heart attack. I called 911 on the cabin phone and got the nurse who told me to bring her down to the infirmary. When I explained that she was in severe pain and couldn't walk that far, the nurse told me to have her "try anyway". We got as far as the Neptune Lounge before she collapsed. The nurse was summoned from the infirmary and she was obviously very put out. There was nothing kind or understanding about her. I told her that we needed a wheelchair, and she stated, "well, I'm not going back down there for one", and directed the staff of the Neptune Lounge to have someone bring a wheelchair to us. Once we arrived in the infirmary, the doctor was both kind and competent. She ordered an EKG, basic blood work and cardiac enzymes and started an IV. When cardiac problems were ruled out, the doctor zeroed in on the problem and administered the drugs herself to care for my sister. All in all, the doctor was great. She apologized for ordering an expensive test, but explained that she felt it was absolutely necessary to ensure the proper diagnosis. Throughout the entire ordeal, she kept me well informed and explained everything. The final bill was $877 U.S.D. which I didn't think was bad, and it was covered by Travel Guard Insurance. Upon leaving the infirmary, we observed the ship's safety officers escorting an obviously drunk and disorderly crew member past us presumably to the brig. Since one of the safety officers was armed with a billy club, I can only guess this is where the crew member was being taken.
On the third night of the cruise, the ship lost all power at 1:00 am drifted in the Caribbean Sea for over 3 hours. During the entire ordeal, we got only 2 updates. The first one began with "ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that we have no power". No kidding. The second one informed us that they were attempting to restart the engines. That's it. No more information. The next day, the crew didn't even acknowledge the incident. When asked questions about it they replied "Power outage?" Finally about 7:00 pm we got a note from the captain under our door informing us that "at no time was the vessel in any danger". All in all, I would have preferred more information during the incident. Overall I would have to say that this was my first, and my last cruise on Holland America. The negatives outweighed the positives, especially since I'm a veteran Celebrity cruiser. I believe I get a much better value for my money on Celebrity, and better food and service too. Read Less