Our background- couple, married 31 years, both self-employed, travel frequently (a trip to New Zealand and 2 Caribbean cruises in last twelve months). This was my 6th HAL cruise and hubby's 3rd.
The decision to go on this cruise was made at the last minute (Jan 3) and our choices were the Veendam out of Tampa, Zaandam out of Port Canaveral or the Zuiderdam out of Ft. Lauderdale. Destination didn't matter and airfare was about the same. Our choice of the Zuiderdam was based on the fact that we knew that Fort Lauderdale was an easy connection to the ship and we could get a verandah guarantee for less than a thousand dollars p.p. We normally take an "S" suite but thought we'd give this a shot. TA warned us this room would be small compared to what we're used to.
About a week before sailing, we got an offer to upgrade to a "S" suite for an additional $275 pp. The only catch was, the suites available were either on the back corners or on the side right by the glass elevators. We chose #7132, aft, port side. A few days later, despite the chance to upgrade further to the penthouse for a fantastic price, we stayed with #7132.
January 25 we awoke at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to go to the airport (DFW) for a 7:30 a.m. flight. We left home at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. As hubby got out to check the bags curbside, we discovered the hanging bag with the formal clothes was still at home! Mad dash back home, back to airport arriving at 7 a.m. Despite a problem with one bag's ticket, we got checked in only to have me get selected for a "wanding" in security. While I was getting a good "once over" we heard them announce our flight for boarding. We just did make it!
The flight on AA was fine and we had the most attentive flight attendant I've ever encountered. Got to FLL a little ahead of time, got our luggage and in a cab. Check in was easy, all our documents were filled out and we got in the "suite" line. We were given priority boarding passes and told we would be allowed to board about 1:00 p.m. Check-in has been moved into the luggage terminal due to the number of passengers. After room-keys were issued, security photos were taken. Found seats upstairs across from a nice couple from Georgia and passed the time talking cruises with them. At right about 1:00, they came for the wheel-chair passengers and priority passengers were next. Photographs were taken and we were on board. First big change, no officer greeting us and handing us off to an escort to our room. Once we arrived on deck 7, though, there was a steward to escort us to our room, and no, I didn't care much for the new uniforms, a little blah to my taste.
The room itself was a little smaller than the usual suite but the verandah more than made up for it. The verandah was L-Shaped, with a table and 4 chairs, 2 lounge chairs with ottomans, and 2 chaise lounges. The bed was made up as a king, there was a full length couch, side chair, glass coffee table and a chair at the built in desk. The only electrical outlet was above the desk so I was glad I had brought my faithful extension cord. There was just enough room to walk between the table and bed and I can't imagine how you would function if the sofa were made out into a bed. Two nightstands had two drawers each (each one had one locking drawer). There were three sections of closet, one with a rod (lots of hangers), the other two had shelves (and rods) and the safe (combination, not credit card activated) was in one of those. The bed had two drawers at the foot (one with extra bedding) but plenty of room for the suitcases. The minibar was stocked and at our request some of the soft drinks were replaced with our favorite. A bottle of wine and a bottle of champagne as well as a basket of fruit were on the bar. Rubai, our steward, told us just to let him know when we wanted them iced down and we did.
We went up to the Lido for lunch and to get familiar with the "food court" concept. Hubby opted for a sandwich (the first station we came to) and I had the salad bar and excellent prime rib with mashed potatoes. The new concept was confusing to most people for the first couple days. There were stations for sandwiches, hot entrees, pizza and pasta, oriental, desserts, etc. The famous bread pudding stood alone however, on the drink station! Didn't find it until the second or third day. The rest of the trip found me at the pasta station every day for lunch, those who tried the pizza raved about it. I missed having someone hand me my tray with the menu card on it, another change.
We took the ship's tour to get familiar with the layout and it was okay but spent way too much time in the spa, selling their services. There was a separate spa tour you could take and we ended up with them. There are three banks of elevators on the ship (color-coded), red (forward), blue (mid) and wine (aft). There are also glass exterior elevators at mid-ship. Those were fun to ride but some of the railings were broken or missing altogether.
Up to the aft deck for 5:00 p.m. Sail Away party. We had only brought shorts and short sleeved shirts----we were freezing! It was so cold everyone had on jackets and we didn't actually leave until 6:00 so after a drink we went downstairs to our room and put on our bathrobes (no belts with them until we asked) and went out on our verandah. Let 'em laugh!
Dinner was second seating, table A, an oval for eight just as you entered the upstairs dining room. First night, there were only four of us there. Waiter was RRRRRRudi, (his pronunciation), okay but not great. He did have iced tea waiting for us every night after the first. Food was satisfactory but not really great throughout the trip with a couple exceptions. Never did get the assistant's name and we only saw the table captain a couple times, no real service from him.
Sunday the 26th was in Nassau Bahamas. As it was a Sunday morning, most of the stores were closed. As we had been to Nassau on a previous cruise, we didn't care to take any tours and only walked into town for a few minutes. This was also Super Bowl Sunday and the ship hosted a watching party in the Neptune Lounge for the suite occupants. As a result, we missed the Captain's Reception (this was also first formal night). We had a chance to meet the Captain and Hotel Manager at a cocktail party the previous night in the Queen's Lounge. We had sailed with Captain Mercer on the Veendam in 1999 along with Cruise Director, Shawn Cavanah.
Missing was the Ship's Hostess, a position HAL has eliminated from its ships. Another change, not necessarily for the better. We felt the hostess lent a certain style to the cruise. I don't know if the next item is necessarily a change but in all my HAL cruises, on formal nights we have always had a ship's officer join us at our table for dinner. Not on this cruise.
There were of course, the ubiquitous Bingo Announcements heard throughout the ship. The daily program was down from 4 pages to 2. Another change. About the only activity we participated in was Trivia. The teams are down from 6 members to 4 (fewer prizes) and the one time that my team won, we got a single deck of cards.
Immediately after boarding, we had gone to the Neptune Lounge to make a reservation for dinner in the Odyssey. We went for the first time on Tuesday night and discovered 4 of our stalemates there also leaving one couple alone at our table for 8! After we finished, we went to the dining room and joined them for coffee and dessert. I ordered the petite filet and I think it was definitely the best meal of the week. Perfectly prepared. Service was perhaps a little slow. Two mornings we had breakfast in the Odyssey (a perk for suite passengers) but service was very slow and the food was found lacking. The menu is the same as the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. January 29th was our 31st wedding anniversary so our entire table went to the Odyssey for dinner. I love the look of the Odyssey, it's a shame the food and service aren't quite there yet.
In St. Kitts, we only went ashore long to enough to walk to the end of the pier and take a photograph of the Zuiderdam and the Oceana berthed side by side. St. Thomas found us anchored outside the channel and forced to tender in. The tenders on the Zuiderdam look as though they are many years older than the ship. The rubber bumpers have come off in many cases and need to be replaced. We were told that they would be leaving one behind in Ft. Lauderdale to be repaired on each of the next few trips. Many passengers got frightened when the tenders got caught in rough water while boarding. Our departure from St. Thomas was delayed as a small boat was deployed to go back for 2 late passengers. This did allow us to see the departure of the other ships that were in St. Thomas that day.
We attended a few of the shows in the Vista Lounge (yes, the dining room, lounge and class of ship all have the same name!) We found that the much-touted Royal Boxes do indeed have sight line problems as well as the upper rows of seats on the lower floor. After the first night we sat in the balcony (3rd floor). There were always plenty of empty seats available. I did notice the "odor" in the hallway close to the Queen's Lounge, it wasn't very pleasant but they always had a fan blowing in the hallways to help dissipate it. The staff member who conducted the ship's tour told us that there was indeed a problem with some of the public restrooms and suggested we use the facilities in our cabins whenever possible. She also said that additional public restrooms were being constructed in existing storage rooms. We did notice "out of service" signs on some restrooms.
The stage in the Vista Lounge is much larger than on the other ships and the props more elaborate. The shows were new to us and I don't know if they are unique to the Zuiderdam or not. They didn't have the "Rock and Rolldies" show we had seen on previous cruises. (It was time for it to go in my opinion, even though it was fun to participate in it.)
The Windstar Cafe is an additional source of revenue for the ship but we only went once and it didn't seem very busy. I could have lived without it. However, at home I drink my cup of coffee while I read the paper and have never walked into one of those "S*******" places.
Menus in the dining room are reduced to one page and the selections did seem more limited. I compared copies of the Dutch night menu from this cruise and a previous cruise and found the entrees were mainly the same with fewer appetizers and of course only one salad offered most days. Copies of the evening's menu were delivered to our mailbox each day. It appeared that only applied to the suites. The Zuiderdam has a holder on the wall outside each room for the daily paper, tickets, ship mail, etc. that you used to find slipped under your door.
My first impression of the ship was that it was a little too glitzy for me, (my favorite ship was the Veendam) but as the week went on the quirkiness of the dEcor began to grow on me. I have since seen photos of the ship that reflected areas I did not see. It is a big ship but once you learn your way around it's not too bad. On our last cruise on the Zaandam hubby complained the whole time that the ship was too big! We tended to stay in our suite as we enjoyed our verandah so much. No need to go to the pool and fight for a deck chair.
Friday was Half Moon Cay, which we shared with the Zaandam (they got there first). We tendered over just to walk on the beach. It was cool enough that only a few people were in the water. If the weather had been nicer, it would have been very crowded on the island. It rained off and on while we were there. We had the barbecue lunch but were disappointed and wished we had gone back to the ship instead.
We did have some plumbing problems (toilet that wouldn't flush early in the morning on a few occasions) and the showerhead in the walk-in shower wouldn't stay in place so we showered in the tub.
My general impression is that HAL has indeed made some changes and cutbacks. Some of the problems we encountered were due to the fact that it is a new ship but it did seem that the staff was not quite as efficient or as friendly as on past cruises. Maybe this too will resolve itself with time. I feel some of the changes are due to the fact they seem to be aiming at a different demographic (younger, more families). While I understand the need to fill all these new ships, I sail on HAL because I like their style.
Would the changes and problems stop me from sailing HAL and especially the Zuiderdam again----------------Absolutely Not!