Zuiderdam - Eastern Caribbean: Zuiderdam Cruise Review by shellifino
Overall Member Rating
Zuiderdam - Eastern Caribbean
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This was a Spring Break cruise with my husband and four sons (16, 14, 13, and 6) who had never cruised before. Also traveling with us were my brother and 13-year-old niece. We booked fairly late, in January, and were unable to book adjoining or adjacent cabins in a higher category than C on the Main Deck. My brother had a verandah cabin on the Navigator Deck.
We live in the Orlando area, so it was an easy drive for us the morning of embarkation. At about 1:30 we arrived at the port to drop off luggage, then my husband drove to the Park More and Fly to park the minivan. I have an aversion to handing luggage more than necessary, and this worked well. Be aware, if you drive your own vehicle through the security gate, you will need ID handy. Husband was stopped for a vehicle search on the way out to the Park and Fly, but it wasnt a lengthy delay. He rejoined us about 25 minutes later.
There were a few forms that I hadnt filled out (I cant remember exactly which) so I was directed to a table to do so before getting into the check in line. The experience started there. An older gentleman tried to engage my 6-year-old in conversation, and told him where to find the ice cream once he got on board. My son is somewhat shy, and I was experiencing typical (for me) embarkation stress, so I was really relieved when they got into a conversation about things to do and see.
Check-in was fairly easy. We hit a bit of a snag when the agent noticed that I have a different last name than three of my children. A notarized letter was out of the question, so I brought my marriage license in the hopes that it would smooth things over, but it simply took me listing the boys names on a registry (which was pretty full already) of minor children traveling without both parents. Whew! My stress was melting.
Next was an airport-style checkpoint, no big deal. Just be aware you have to go through it. We didnt have contraband booze, so I cant speak to the ease of smuggling.
The kids were all given wristbands to identify their muster station. Security personnel before we boarded the ship insisted that all four put them on. The teens were irritated, but did so. The teens slipped them off later, but we put the band securely around the 6-year-olds ankle.
A crew member escorted us to our adjacent cabins on the main deck. We found them suitably roomy and nicely appointed. We didnt expect suites down on the Main Deck, and we didnt get them, but the rooms served us well. After checking out both cabins and figuring out sleeping arrangements, our room steward Fery introduced himself. We made sure that 4 kids in one cabin and 2 grownups next door would be OK. He assured us it was fine, so we proceeded to meet my brother and niece in his Navigator Deck verandah cabin. It was also nicely appointed, roomy, with a good sized and private balcony. The dividers on the balconies were removable. I was covetous.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE: I still had residual stress from the pre-vacation ordeal (read: Mom was way grumpy) so as soon as I got some food at the Lido Buffet and sat down, the waiter came by and I ordered a few drinks. With food and liquor, I calmed right down and was ready for sailaway. I hit the Wok (good) and Sushi (not so good) stations and started my weeklong quest to eat my weight in smoked salmon.
The food throughout the cruise was not spectacular. There were only two things that stood out as exceptional, the coconut ice cream (almost as good as the coconut gelato at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) and the croissants and Danish pastries on the breakfast buffet. My teens enjoyed the escargots and mussels. One night my 13-year-old didnt see dessert that appealed to him, and asked instead for another bowl of mussels. The Headwaiter (whose unusual name Ive forgotten, but a wonderful gentleman nonetheless) went back to the kitchen and managed to locate some, making my son very happy. Ive had better food, but nothing I ordered was truly bad.
The coffee in the Lido and the dining room was not wonderful. I drink Sumatra from Starbucks, so I do like a very bold brew. One night it was exceptionally weak, but the headwaiter had a fresh pot brewed for me, and ensured a fresh pot each night thereafter. The coffee bar had lattes and cappuccinos at reasonable prices. I didnt bother with a coffee card, and Im glad. The drinks were inconsistent. They did offer many different sugar-free flavored syrups which was nice, but the quality of the espresso was not high. If you like coffee and martinis, the Espresso Martinis are wonderful. My husband and brother enjoyed one almost every night after dinner.
Mixed drinks were reasonably priced and well-mixed. The only one I didnt care for was the mojito, offered as drink of the day on the day of embarkation. Ive enjoyed many real mojitos, with mint leaves muddled into the rum, and this was not one.
Room service was good, if you could get them on the phone. Most days the kids ordered breakfast in their room via the door hanger, I think partly for the novelty of doing so. But getting Room Service on the phone for an order at other times during the day could be at best a 5 minute wait and at worst, a surrender. This isn't time spent on hold. This is with the phone ringing on their end. The food was acceptable to very good, but ordering it should not be so hard.
There were a good number of kids of all ages on this sailing. I was apprehensive about taking the kids on HAL and Im pleased to say my fears were completely unfounded.
My 6-year-old loved going to Club HAL. He enjoyed their activities and he loved getting his own schedule in the mailbox each night. Once he read the Club HAL schedule and realized that he could eat pizza early and go to Club HAL, a long boring grown-up dinner lost all its appeal. He even suggested on port days that we could leave him on board so that he could just stay in Club HAL. Yes, they offer that service, for free; you simply must sign up ahead of time. I think it was 5:00 PM the previous day.
A tip for those with younger kids: The Club HAL orientation is scheduled for the same time as sailaway. They really dont go over anything other than sign in and sign out procedures and how they differ for age groups, introduce staff, and preview a few activities. I would rather have seen the sailaway, since this is all information you will find out as you go along.
The teens enjoyed The Loft. It was too small and dark for my taste but they absolutely loved it. Their activities were loosely structured, but appealing. A scavenger hunt was a big hit. Participation earned the teens high-quality logoed items, like a carabiner keychain, and t-shirts with the logo on the front and dam friends on the back, suitable for autographing.
Our Room Steward, Fery, was simply wonderful. He took good care of what had to have been a disaster in progress in the boys cabin, and he did it with a smile. I did pre-tip him $20 and passed him another $40 at the end of the cruise. We wanted for nothing. Our fruit basket was always replenished, and once he noticed I ate the pears first, I got mostly pears. He did towel animals for the boys. They wanted to bring the monkey, hanging from a pants hanger, home with us.
We were a little late for dinner (8:00 upper level seating) the first night, and found out our waiter wasnt the personable, entertaining, fun waiter everyone hopes for. The next table over was being waited on by the incredible Hunky Dory, so maybe I was just envious. Our Assistant Waiter Anton was a genuinely nice young man, and we felt more comfortable with him around the table than our Waiter, whose name I didnt even remember during our sailing.
Our wine steward, the only female wine steward we saw, was friendly and efficient. Upon learning that we enjoyed our wine, she made sure we knew about both the regular and premium wine tastings. She also recommended the fabulous espresso martinis that my husband and brother enjoyed every evening after dinner.
Marcus and Hunky Dory were traymen in the Lido in the morning. Hunky Dory is as gifted as everyone says. My husband met him first and introduced me. I woke up much earlier than he did and would go get my croissant with jam first thing, and he would always greet me with Good morning Michelle, its meeee, Hunky Dory! Where is Wayne? Marcus was the trayman on the other side of the Lido, and he was very friendly as well. He tries to remember your name, but who can compete with Hunky Dory? Marcus called me Kathy, and after the second day trying to correct him, I just answered to it. He was absolutely charming, I couldnt bring myself to make a big deal of it.
I cant say much about the entertainment. The string quartet in the Ocean Bar was wonderful, what I saw of it in passing. There were shows I would have loved to see, but I was so tired after dinner every night that I just couldnt do it. At home Im up till at least 1:00 AM every night; on the cruise I was out cold by 11:00 at the very latest.
No, there wasnt a steel drum band on the pool deck for long at sailaway or during the week when I was out there. This didnt bother me in the slightest bit. Maybe its the living in Orlando and being around island-y tourist-y things all the time, but I thought it was a nice change.
The only organized activities I did were the wine tastings. The Premium wine tasting was worth the price. There were some very nice wines being poured, and nice portions of fois gras, smoked salmon, pate, and cheeses to go along with them.
I spent most of my time on the deck with one book or another. It was often quite breezy, so a sweatshirt or windbreaker is a good idea.
Half Moon Cay was lovely, but in March the water was FAR too cold for this Florida girl. I had rented a foam float (what the British call a lie-low) and didnt use it. Other people didnt seem bothered at all by the water temperature, including my six-year-old who wound up using the float all day. I tried to rent a clamshell, but we shared the island with the Volendam that day and such things were in short supply. There was a play area for the kids on the beach, complete with a little waterslide. It got a thumbs-up from my youngest. He wanted to go back the next day.
When we got to St Thomas, the immigration procedure was relatively painless. You must present yourself and your documents to Immigration Officers in the Queens Lounge. The lines are long, but move fast. Be prepared for huge crowds in the Lido buffet that morning.
We decided to find our own way to St. John and not book excursions through the ship. We took a shared taxi to Red Hook ($11 per person), then the ferry to St John ($5 per person). Another safari-truck taxi once we got to St. John ($6 per person, one way) took us to Trunk Bay. The water was warmer there, the snorkeling was good and photo ops were great. We missed the last direct ferry back to Charlotte Amalie, so we had to repeat the taxi-ferry-taxi routine. It may be worth the cattle call of an official excursion to get to the beaches on St. John if you arent sure you can make that last direct ferry.
We had read about Speedys Ferry service to Virgin Gorda from Tortola, so again we set out on our own. Once on the dock, I saw a boat with the Speedys logo and asked the gentleman working it where I could get a ferry ticket. He explained very kindly that his was a charter for the Costa ship that was docked next to us, and pointed out the building about ¾ mile away to buy tickets. Tickets for the ferry and taxi to the Baths were I think $28 roundtrip, nothing else to buy except entrance into the National Park. Easy! The public ferry was a comfortable tri-hull with cushy seats, air conditioning, and big picture windows. The taxis were the ubiquitous safari-trucks, but really a nicer way to get around than a big shared van. The Baths and Devils Bay were honestly the most amazing thing Ive ever seen in my life. They were simply incredible. A caveat: This national park is not mobility-impaired friendly. My husband is a large person and he had a very hard time getting through parts of the Devils Bay trail.
The ship also stopped in Freeport, but we only went as far as a little bar right off the ship for some Kalik Gold beers in honor of my Dad. He loved to cruise and he drank them each time he visited the Bahamas.
I loved HALs policy allowing you to wait in your cabin for your color to be called. We were one of the last, since we drove and were in no hurry for our vacation to end. We found our luggage with a minimum of effort and proceeded the walk back out to the real world. Clearing Immigration was no problem. What was a problem was getting all of our luggage into a Park and Fly shuttle van. Remember we drove up and dropped it off on the way in, because we had six people worth of luggage. Repeating that process was impossible for disembarkation. Few shuttle vans were running and it took almost an hour to get back to the car. Next April when I sail out of Fort Lauderdale again, Ill check into alternatives for Park and Fly.
A very good vacation. I loved sailing HAL. It was far from what I had expected, with a good mix of ages, yet very low-key. I never felt pushed around or nickel-and-dimed on this cruise. It was pure relaxation. I could have had a more activity-filled cruise had I chosen to do so, but the relaxation was what I needed. My family loved it and would go again, on that ship, in a moment. I'm waiting for 2008 Itineraries to be planned so I can possibly sail HAL to the Mediterranean. I can't wait. Less
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