BACKGROUND This spring I embarked on my ninth cruise with Holland America, my fifth HAL big band cruise. I chose it specifically for the big band theme and was pleased to see HAL resume big band cruises, after not scheduling any in 2007. It was my second experience with a HAL Vista Class ship, the first having been on the ms Noordam, the newest ship of this class, in the fall of 2006. The Zuiderdam was the first, and therefore is the oldest, Vista. Like the Noordam, it never seems crowded.
This was Zuiderdam's last cruise before her April dry docking, with a major refit planned - more about that later.
PRE CRUISE The booking process started on a somewhat sour note. I booked quite early - approximately 8-1/2 months out - Category H outside, obstructed-view cabin (no. 4106) on the Upper Promenade Deck and requested second seating dinner. About ten days later HAL announced their new "As You Wish Dining" (AYWD) concept, to take effect on my particular Zuiderdam cruise. The subject is discussed in extensive detail on several threads of the HAL message boards, but suffice it to say that it purportedly offers a choice of open seating in the lower dining room and traditional assigned seating in the upper dining room. I say "purportedly" because what actually happened was that most if not all requests for traditional dining were wait listed, together with a notation on the HAL website that dining assignments would be made on board after embarkation.