1. Home
  2. Cruise Reviews
  3. Zuiderdam
Zuiderdam cruise 5-6-15 and pre-cruise visit to Rome Please feel free to skip down to the summary if that is all you want! All the details are included from my log as some seem to really enjoy reading these. Background: We booked this cruise in early March when DW’s doctor proclaimed her “Able to resume all normal activities.” Cruising is a normal activity for us and everything lined up so we booked the cruise and airfare. A week later her knee problems returned and they grew more severe than ever. She absolutely did not want to cancel the trip so we are traveling with a wheelchair, walker, and cane. We left our home shortly after 3:00 PM for a 10:05 flight from JFK, which our GPS said was 2 hr. 40 minutes travel time. All went very well until we hit Staten Island. The last 25 miles took over 1.5 hours. We certainly saw places in Brooklyn we’ve never seen before, including “Utrecht Avenue.” Our entire “Margin” was used up but we dropped the car as an off-airport parking lot at 7:00, and were through security and ready at 8:00. We flew Air Europa from JFK to Rome, connecting at their hub in Madrid. The transatlantic flight was fine, as well as they go. At the Madrid airport they treated DW very well, wheeling her in the wheelchair and providing special transportation to customs and then to the connecting gate. We ate a light late breakfast while waiting for our flight to Rome. The Rome flight was delayed about 30 minutes due to the plan arriving late from the Canary Islands. We arrived in Rome less than 15 minutes behind schedule. At the Rome airport we had an excellent helper who wheeled DW from the gate to luggage claim, got a cart for our luggage, and then wheeled her to where our shuttle company was waiting for us. We were out of the airport less than one hour after landing, not bad at all. We used COTAV-FIAVET shuttle service and were impressed with the extra assistance the driver provided. To get to our hotel he went right through historic Rome and it was a very pretty late afternoon. We arrived at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, 22.5 hours after leaving home. That is a very long travel day. The lifts at the hotel are too small for DW to use in the wheelchair. So within the hotel she is using the walker. Right next door is a restaurant, Mattarello. We went there for outdoor dining just as dusk was settling in. Dinner for two for 26.5 Euros is a pretty good deal in Rome, and the food was very good. Monday, May 04, 2015 – Rome day one – Historic Rome After our exhausting travel day, we slept until nearly 8:00, very late for us! We enjoyed a terrific breakfast downstairs at the Garden Inn. The breakfast gets 5 stars. Made to order eggs or omelets, wonderful Italian breads, pastries, and “Local” cookies were all offered. Fruit, yogurts, all types of coffee or tea, and all included with our room due to our Hilton status. For guests that pay for breakfast, it is 12 Euros/pp. That is a lot for breakfast but not if it’s one of two meals for the day when on vacation. After breakfast we needed to finish getting ready for the day, and that included sunscreen as we had a beautiful sunshine, no clouds, and no humidity day ahead! At about 10:20 we went to the lobby as the last taxi in the queue drove away with passengers. One of the helpful front desk personnel called for a taxi and ordered a “Larger one” so we would have room for the wheelchair. He assured us the cost was the same as a smaller one. Away we went to the Roman Forum. Well, we didn’t know any better – but even though we told him which entrance we wanted to go to, he dropped us at the wrong one – actually the Palatine Hill entrance. This is good for most people as there is rarely a line to buy tickets (which are good for the hill, the forum, and the coliseum) but not so good as that entrance is not very friendly for mobility handicapped persons. The people at the entrance were encouraging so we tried it. We certainly did get to see areas we otherwise would not have seen; however, the physical cost was too high. We followed signs to an exit and then had a very hard time exiting through roundabout gates that would not fit the wheelchair. The exit was not staffed so no one was there to open the swing gate. Other helpful guests assisted and got us through. We were back to the street and found it reasonable easy to wheel to the proper main entrance to the Forum. There, an elevator is available to lower you down 2,000 years in time to the Forum grounds. We enjoyed visiting the forum and listening to the Rick Steve’s audio tour. We made our way back to the present and walked / rolled to the Coliseum. There we were whisked in through a special gate and went part-way around the lower level, before taking a lift to the upper level. At the upper level we went all the way around the structure, taking in the views as we went. As we were ready to exit we were approached be two young people who said they were writing a paper on Handicapped access in Rome and asked if we would answer a few questions. We did so and they were very nice. We found the one thing in the Coliseum that was not clear was how to get out if you are in a wheelchair. Eventually, someone at the entrance gate escorted us “Backwards” through the entrance line to the front entrance, where we exited. The next challenge was working our way half-way around the outside of the Coliseum (mostly on cobblestones) to reach the nearest taxi stand. We made it, and at about 2:45 we got into a taxi to head to the Parthenon. We visited the Parthenon in 2012 but it was such a crush of people that we really didn’t “See it.” Today we entered, took seats in the pews, and listened to Rick Steve’s audio guide. It was very enjoyable and it is quite a structure for one that is 2,000 years old! Exiting the Parthenon we rolled one block to just behind the Parthenon and enjoyed a “Lunch/dinner” at Miscellanea, a restaurant recommended in the Rick Steve’s book. Everything was very good, the only caveat was that the excellent waiter did not speak much English and couldn’t answer DW’s question as to what kind of seafood was in a seafood salad. She ordered it anyway, and enjoyed 80% of it, but passed me the Calamari. That was fine, except I ordered Calamari for my main course so I was kind of over – Calimaried (is that a word?). Still including beverages, an appetizer, and two complimentary “Rick Steve’s friends” wine shots each, the bill was 45 Euros which is certainly reasonable for “Sidewalk dining” in view of the Parthenon. From the Parthenon we walked & wheeled our way to the under-restoration Trevi Fountain, which seemed to have just as many people around it while “Waterless” as it had with water in 2012. On the way there, we passed through Rome’s “Galleria Alberto Sordi” shopping mall and I must say that was the easiest wheelchair rolling of the day – those Marble floors are made for it! We made it a few more blocks in search of a taxi stand but never did find one. On one of the main streets we were lucky to wave down a taxi, who quickly returned us to the Garden Inn at about 6:00. After walking through 2,000 year old dust, we were tired and dirty so the shower was calling. I noticed a supermarket just down the street, so I walked there and picked up a six pack of water and two Gelato cups for less than four Euros. That made a great evening snack and we now have a nice water supply. We called it an ‘Early’ night and I wrote my report at about 8:30. Tomorrow we visit the pope (or at least, where he resides). Tuesday, May 05, 2015 – Rome, day two: The clock radio at the Garden Inn was again showing an incorrect time. We didn’t notice it until we were ready for bed. This contributed to our sleeping until nearly 9:00 AM! That was not exactly how we planned to start our day. Regardless, we had a good breakfast at the Garden Inn and arranged for a taxi to take us to the Vatican Museum entrance, arriving about 10:45. Just as Rick Steve’s guidebooks say, the entrance line for those without tickets stretched along the outer walls and around the corner. With DW in the wheelchair, we were waived through to the “Special situations” desk where we were provided with two complimentary passes. We took the provided lifts and ended up “Going in the back door.” This would be true for most of our visit as 80% of the time we were moving against the main traffic flow. We certainly enjoyed our visit to the Vatican Museum, spending nearly three hours there. We used Rick Steve’s audio tour for the Sistine Chapel and that did make the incredible art there come alive. We saw the Raphael rooms and wished we had a Rick Steve’s tour for those rooms! After leaving the museum we walked and rolled a very long way around the walls to the main entrance to St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica. This time we had to wait a bit for the security line to clear in front of us, and afterwards began listening to Rick Steve’s guide to St. Peters. St. Peter’s is huge, the largest church in existence. It is impressive, yes, but not quite what I was expecting. For some reason, the audio guide implies visitors can walk pretty freely around the building, this is no longer true. The area around the main altar and the entire apse were blocked off. One could not even stand directly below the impressive dome. Sometimes something happens that just puts a cloud on an experience, and that is what happened inside the Basilica. I’ve been pushing DW around all day (and yes, she helps wheel herself when possible) but by this time nearly 4 hours non-stop on my feet and I need a few minutes to sit and rest. Sit on the steps outside, and you are told “No sitting there.” Sit on the base of a column inside “No sitting there.” Go to the chairs in front of St. Peter’s crucifixion site and don’t let the guard see you have an audio tour “Those seats are only for prayers.” Neither I nor many of the St. Peter’s visitors are 28 years young and nimble. I can’t imagine Jesus telling people they can’t rest a while when in a church. By the time we were headed out and our tour took us to Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” I was too bushed to appreciate what I was seeing. Regardless, we are glad to have been there and seen it, but I feel “No need to go back.” Exiting St. Peter’s square we saw a sign for a McDonalds “5 minutes this way.” After about 10 minutes we saw another sign “3 minutes this way.” We would have welcomed a break at a McDonalds for a large cold drink and a chance to rest. But, we found a taxi stand before getting close to the McDonalds so we taxied back to the hotel. We quickly downed a bottle of water each, and then headed out to the nearby market for some needed supplies. Afterwards I went to use an ATM but the credit union ATM is indoors and they closed at 4:00 PM, another ATM said something in Italian about “The main office” and it was not working. We returned to Mattarello, the restaurant next door to the hotel, for another wonderful meal with Rogero, our waiter from Sunday evening. As we were very early (by Italian standards) for dinner, we were the only guests enjoying our “Private” al-fresco dining patio. We enjoyed a fabulous two course meal followed by an incredible Chocolate truffle like gelato, which we shared. Every bit of dinner was most enjoyable and we talked with Rogero quite a bit. We learned that this part of Rome is considered the “Expensive” neighborhood and is highly desired. We certainly agree it was nice, but it is still certainly “In the city” with lots of traffic and ongoing noise. We enjoyed a two hour or so meal for a very reasonable cost. Tomorrow we are to be picked up at 10:00 AM to head to the Zuiderdam! It is sure to feel like going home. Wednesday, May 06, 2015 – Embarkation day With the alarm set we didn’t need it this morning. In fact, for some reason we did not sleep well. We were up and enjoyed our last breakfast at the Garden Inn. I tried to use the business center to print another luggage tag but the system was so slow I gave up. It turned out we didn’t need it anyway. I walked to the open credit union across the road and instructions on the ATM were only in Italian. A kind employee helped me but despite the logos matching we could not get either of my ATM cards to work (two different banks). I looked around and noticed a bank about a block away. Their ATM worked but had a 250 Euro limit per day, so I obtained 250 Euros. Back to the Garden Inn we assembled all our belongings and with three elevator trips managed to get everything down to the lobby. We were scheduled for pick up at 10:00 and at 9:55 a van pulled up. I had arranged with COTAV-FIAVET shuttle service to pick us up and then pick up new friends from cruise critic at another hotel. It turns out the van already had another couple on board. When the driver saw the wheelchair he expressed a problem that he could not fit the entire luggage. He called his office while I pulled up the original reservation e-mail in which I clearly outlined the luggage load we had (which was actually very little luggage – but the wheelchair takes up space!). It is a good think I had that e-mail because I honestly think they would have left us if not for that. With the driver’s cell phone, I spoke with the office and pointed out that I had clearly stated the luggage and wheelchair. We proceeded to pick up our new friends and while it was certainly snug in the van, everything did manage to get transported to the port. With great relief we all got out of the van, paid the driver, and the waiting luggage handlers whisked our luggage away. We walked into the terminal, were handed the health questionnaire, and proceeded directly to check in after passing thru metal detectors. Check in took five minutes and we were immediately cleared to board Zuiderdam. One of the crew welcoming passengers assisted with pushing the wheelchair up the gangway. Two other wheelchairs had gone slightly before us so there was a short wait for an elevator for the one deck ride to the main deck, and our cabin #1003. The cabin was ready; there is just enough room to park the wheelchair (folded) and the walker next to the bath in front of the sofa. We put our valuables into the safe and proceeded to the Mariner’s welcome aboard lunch in the Vista dining room. Lunch was excellent and we enjoyed the company of another couple we ran into several more times during the day. We returned to the cabin to find the luggage had all been delivered so we unpacked and stored everything. One of the true joys of cruising – no living out of the suitcase! It was nearing time for the safety drill and we waited as the announcements kept saying do not yet proceed to the stations. We did leave a little early as with the wheelchair we needed to use a lift to deck three. The drill went faster than any we remember with crew members scanning in each passenger’s key card. We returned to our cabin and changed into dinner clothes, then headed to the crow’s nest for our cruise critic roll call informal meet and greet. DW used her walker rather than the wheelchair. On the way there we stopped at the spa to check out the Hydro Pool package. They were offering a “Special” for $249/couple for the cruise. Despite this being a port-intensive cruise, we thought for DW’s medicinal purposes we would take the plunge and use some of our generous OBC towards this expense. We managed to meet about a dozen or so from our roll call and many we are doing tours with. Around 4:45 the staff came around with plates of hot appetizers which were a very nice touch. We are on “Early dining” at 5:45. We timed our arrival just as the first-night line had dissipated so we would not have to stand waiting to reach our table, located near the entrance as requested. DW enjoyed her always available Salmon dinner while I really liked the first night Prime Rib. The Apple Strudel for dessert was just the right size to round out a great meal. At the end of the meal the wait staff took the time to ask our names and welcome us on board. We returned to the room and changed into swimwear and headed to the Hydro Pool. We enjoyed the pool and then the thermal loungers. After about 45 minutes we called it a night as we have an early start for our Naples-based tour tomorrow! Thursday, May 07, 2015 – Naples shore call. Private excursion to Positrano, Amalfi, and Pompeii. We ordered room service coffee to be delivered between 6:00 and 6:30 as our wake up call. Sunlight peeking through the blinds woke us at 6:10. (A reason for an inside cabin?) The room service delivery came at 6:15 exactly as ordered. We were heading to the Lido for a full breakfast at 7:05. Doing the Lido with DW in a wheelchair is a bit of a challenge, but the Vista doesn’t open until 7:30 and that is too late as we have a 7:45 meeting time for our excursion. Met a very nice Omelet maker, Roland, who made us superb Omelets and asked our names. We will need to go back to Roland tomorrow. One of the lido servers took DW’s plate and also brought her coffee while I was gathering up the superb orange juice, and a few other breakfast items. We left very satisfied and headed down to the Atrium bar to meet our touring partners. This excursion was arranged through aptours Italy, and our driver Carlo did an excellent job for the eight of us. We drove to Positrano, stopping at several photo-stops along the way. We enjoyed a brief visit to Positrano, including a stop at a Pharmacy as DW apparently had sunscreen in her eyes and it was very painful. We also stopped to share a baked treat and DW enjoyed a Cappuccino. Back in the van we headed to Amalfi. The coast is incredible and I can understand its “World heritage site” designation. Amalfi I was a bit disappointed in. Yes, I took some great photos from the water’s edge. But the “Pedestrian only” area is anything but. I guess the definition of “Pedestrian only” in Italy is different. We were constantly dodging motor vehicles ranging from Mopeds to Autos to Trucks. We ever witnessed a vehicle at least grazing a leashed dog (the dog’s owner apparently did not notice). So my TripAdvisor review on Amalfi will not be very positive! After our time in Amalfi we headed back over the mountain, which we were told is some 800 meters to the road’s summit, down the other side to Pompeii. While DW needed to pass on Pompeii, I found it to be the highlight of the day. Walking on roads that are 2200 – 2400 years old, on the original stones, really puts time in perspective. I was very impressed with many things at Pompeii, not the least of which were “Crosswalks” and an early attempt to provide night time roadway reflectivity (meaningful to me because of my job). The end of our visit I found very sobering and sad. A team of experts is currently putting the finishing touches on plaster reproductions of some 30 bodies based on skeletal remains, for an exhibit opening later this month. We were able to see this work in progress. Three finished pieces of an adult man, a child, and a dog brought tears to my eyes. They never had a chance to survive as the gases choked most residents to death before the ash and/or lava buried the city. Meeting up back at the van we found that DW had been perusing the local shops just outside the gate and found “Cameos” she found interesting. In talking with our driver, he said that just around the other side of the site, there was an authentic cameo factory and he offered to take her there. So she enjoyed shopping any buying a small souvenir of the day while we were touring. Kudos to Carlo for taking extra care of his guest! We returned to the Zuiderdam at 4:45 for our 5:30 all aboard. Quick showers, a stop at the future cruise desk to arrange for future cruise deposits, and it was time for another excellent dinner. We followed dinner with a “Withdrawal” of on board credit at the casino, a hydro pool / thermal spa visit, and a return to our room to find lots of clean laundry. Tomorrow we visit Sicily for the first time! Friday, May 08, 2015 – Palermo, Sicily, Italy Friday began with a 6:02 alarm on my phone followed a few minutes later by a room service delivery. We ventured up to the lido to Roland who made us excellent Omelets. I found my way around to obtain juices, breads, a little sausage, and a waffle. A few notes on the Zuiderdam so far: Food, mostly excellent. Service the same. There is a smell, not all the time, but quite often, that is not pleasing in the hallway outside our room (Deck 1 forward). It appears to be coming up the stairwell from lower decks. Yesterday I did not mention we were a few minutes ‘late’ in docking. This morning the itinerary said 7:00 but we were not actually docked until about 7:25. This did not affect us as our meet time for our private tour (same group as in Naples) was meeting a 7:45. The ship was cleared at 7:35. We met and while on time, we were the last to arrive. We immediately disembarked and it turned out we were the first, or very nearly the first, to leave the ship. Our driver/guide from Papillon Service Italy was waiting for us just steps from the gangway. He has a very large VW van, which we were surprised, had only eight seats (four rows of two seats). This worked fine for our group but the vehicle certainly could have had at least six more seats, with still room for storage/luggage. In any case, the first thing he told us is that “Palermo is a city of cars. There are more cars than people.” Why? “Because we have very poor mass transit.” There are certainly a lot of cars with crazy traffic. There may be even more mopeds and motorcycles, and they are like “Mosquitos” according to our guide. We drove out to the nearby mountaintop village of Monreale, where the “Basilica Cattedrale Santa Maria Nova” prominently stands out from a distance. Its claim to fame is that nearly the entire inside is finished with gold mosaic tiles. The cathedral was built in the 1100’s by the Normans who controlled Sicily at the time. It was truly impressive, and I thought more so than the larger but plainer St Peters in Rome. They offered a climb to the top of the watchtower for 2.50 Euros. Of the group, I was the only one to take the climb. Honestly I didn’t make it quite all the way up as things became more narrow and short the higher I went, but I did get some wonderful photos none the less! After Monreale we returned to the van to drive over an hour to the seaside village of Cefalu. We needed to back track through part of Salerno and the traffic was near gridlock. Our driver did manage to fine some alternate roads and we arrived in Cefalu at about 11:00. He guided us on a walk through the town, past the main church (also built in the 1100’s as a church and a fortress by the Normans), and down to the shoreline. We walked together until about noon (stopping along the way at a shoe store where DW bought a pair of shoes actually “Made in Italy.”) and which time he showed us exactly where he would pick us up at 1:30. We enjoyed a lunch of Gelato bowls (four different flavors in the bowl!), water, and a cappuccino at Foodsicily on the waterfront. Our table was one foot from the beach. We lingered there, also taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi to send a note home, until just after 1:00. We noticed some street side vendors along the beach and we strolled along to see if they had anything interesting. No purchases were made, and soon it was time to return to the van. We returned to Palermo and our driver gave us a driving tour of many of the major city sites and buildings, including the grand opera house (as seen in the movie, the Godfather), the presidential palace and home, government buildings, the city’s one fountain, several of the 16th century city gates, and more. By 3:20 we were back at the Zuiderdam. This return gave us just enough time to try the burgers at the Terrace Grill. They are excellent. Next we headed to the hydro pool, thermal suite, and then got ready for dinner. Dinner tonight was mixed. DW ordered a “Spicy shrimp” entrée that she did not care for. On the other hand, my “English roast beef” was superb. We went to the show tonight, a magician “Devlin.” He was okay but maybe 3 out of 10. After the show, we thought we would watch the “Country line dancing” lessons in the Queen’s lounge. After fifteen minutes we needed to call it a night. Tomorrow is a much needed, slow paced, relaxing day at sea! Saturday, May 09, 2015 – Sea day #1 (of 2) What? Is it really 8:40 AM? No, I had the watch upside down. It was really 6:10, but the sun was peeking through the not entirely closed window blinds. Back to sleep until 7:45 or so! After really waking up, the breakfast in the dining room was a delightful way to start the day. There was a sale by the pool (of course there is) and two T-shirts were purchased. On board merchandise purchases are subject to a 22% VAT tax as our cruise never leaves the E.U. Guess we won’t be making any additional merchandise purchases! We then used our hydro pool and thermal suite pass to enjoy the rest of the morning taking it easy. For most of the time we were the only ones in the pool or on the loungers, so it was really nice. Afterwards we found a table on the lido with a nice breeze and enjoyed being outdoors and having a light lunch. The afternoon 2:00 “Shore talk” was on five upcoming ports and was rather informative. It served well to reinforce decisions already made on shore plans. At 3:00 it was time for the “Royal Dutch tea.” We certainly enjoyed the Dutch delicacies! At 4:00 I attended the Captain’s Q & A held in the crow’s nest while DW began to get ready for formal night. At 5:15, all ready for formal night, we enjoyed the band at the Ocean bar and were talked into a couple of happy hour beverages. Just before 6:00 we headed to the Vista dining room. The third couple at our table made an appearance. They are very nice, celebrating their 65th anniversary! They said they eat just one meal per day and other evenings they’ve done room service and once at the Pinnacle. Dinner tonight was superb. The Peppercorn Sirloin with Shrimp was very enjoyable and perfectly done. My requested baked potato was also perfect. The dessert menu was rather limited and I mentioned to the waiter that if he happened to find a left-over slice of Apple Pie from the lunch menu I would volunteer to consume it. Sure enough, Apple Pie appeared! Kudos to the maître de’ for bringing the pie. Tonight’s show is the Chapman Brothers. They were on our Westerdam Panama Canal cruise at the time we thought them the best “Guest entertainers” we ever had on a cruise. They did not disappoint. Even though the show was likely identical to the one we enjoyed last year, it was again full of energy and a lot of fun. They received a standing ovation. Closing out the evening, we visited the Piano bar for Frank Sinatra night and enjoyed about 35 minutes of “Old blue eyes” tunes before calling it a night, as we have a very early start tomorrow for our “Yacht outing” in Sardinia. Sunday, May 10, 2015 – Mother’s day in Olbia, Sardinia, Italy A 6:02 alarm began this marvelous Mother’s day. Minutes later the coffee/tea was delivered. Breakfast in the lido this morning as our cruise critic group had a 7:45 meet time. All arrived in time and we departed the Zuiderdam together. This group had arranged for a “Yachting day” on the restored wooden boat “Dea del Mare.” A 16 seat mini-bus picked up the 14 in our group at the port to drive us 45 minutes to the town of Barca. Along the way we were impressed with the Sardinian countryside. The entire island is granite although in many valleys there are sheep farms and vineyards. We even saw some cattle. We were onboard Dea del Mare by just after 9:00 and returned to Barca at about 3:00. This was a wonderful day spent exploring the National Park in the Archipelago Porto Della Madonna. We stopped at Santa Maria Island where a few chose to swim to shore and others rode in to the beach on the rigid rubber motorboat we pulled along. The water was cold, but this was my third visit to the Mediterranean and for the first time I actually went swimming. While many of us were on the beach the crew began preparing our Sardinian lunch. Sardinian flat bread & Olives were followed by a cheese and meat tray with local sourced products. This was followed by a “Tuna sushi, marinated in Olive Oil along with Italian style crusty bread. Finally Spaghetti with a Sardinian twist was served. The grand finale was the traditional Sardinian after-meal drink and the most delicious cookie varieties including a wonderful Almond cookie! Lunch was accompanied by local Sardinian wine. The wine was quite flavorful and it continued to flow all the way back to Barca. There were a few on board who likely didn’t realize the quantity they consumed as it was warm, the sun was shining, and for those who enjoy wine, it went down the hatchet very easily! In any case, we were picked up at 3:10 and were safely back on board the Zuiderdam at 4:10; after a rather long walk from the terminal we were required to pass through due to local security regulations. The promised “Shuttle bus” was not in sight. To complete a very busy day, we enjoyed the hydro pool for a time and I watched the sail away from the thermal suite. Showers and a delicious Turkey and Short Rib dinner followed. Truly, the dining room meals have been excellent, although tomorrow’s menu did not seem so attractive. We noticed on the daily planner that the movie being shown was “Jupiter Ascending.” I had wanted to see that one so we skipped dessert in order to make the 7:00 start time. The show tonight was a violinist so we opted for the movie. Tomorrow we are in Livorno, Italy. It’s a long port call; seven to seven. We are in no hurry as we will remain in Livorno rather than travel far to the popular sights. Monday, May 11, 2015 – Livorno, Italy The “Ship is cleared” announcement at 6:45 woke us, but only for a moment. At 8:30 we visited the Vista dining room for a very nice breakfast. Ziggy, our evening waiter was working and as there were only about a dozen guests in the dining room we had a chance to converse with him for quite some time. He has been with Holland America since 1998 and has a family with three kids at home in Indonesia. After breakfast we made our way down to the port. The shuttle bus provided by the Livorno port (5 Euros for the day) was not wheelchair friendly (with huge steps!) but we were told the next bus was better. Also, DW was “No charge” in the wheelchair. It was not a long wait but once on the bus it was a long wait as the bus filled to beyond seating capacity with perhaps a dozen people standing. Due to the port configuration, it is a very windy and twisty route to get out to the town and finally be dropped off at the main square. At the drop off is a very nice travel information office, which also sells tickets for bus transfers to Pisa, “Hop on, hop off” bus tours of Livorno, and also a canal boat tour. I inquired inside and was assured the canal boat tour was fully wheelchair accessible, but the 10:30 was nearly full so the 12:00 would be better. In the meantime they provided less than perfect directions to the main market. We found the main market (eventually) and enjoyed browsing the various areas. We found the market extended nearly back to the main square and had just enough time for a large Coke Zero (with ice!) and a small milk shake (DW) at a McDonalds. We could not get the free internet to connect however. We met back at the Travel office at 11:45 as instructed and were told to wait at a certain area. At exactly 12:00 a man with a sign showed up and waved everyone to follow him. That is where things went downhill… Obviously this man was not informed that someone in a wheelchair was in the group (and he didn’t bother to survey his guests). It was about a six block “Walk” to the canal boat. Some of the streets crossed had no curb cuts of any types and we fell far behind. One other couple on the tour stopped to assist us and I thanked them several times. Finally reaching the area for boarding, we found that the way down to the canal level was not exactly a ramp, and not exactly steps. It was a ramp built from paving stones and certainly not something I could manage to move DW by myself. I went to see the captain of the canal boat who spoke little English and who shrugged his shoulders as if to say “What do you want me to do?” We headed back by a friendlier route to the travel office and found someone who appeared to be a manager. He was sorry to hear of our experience and hinted that some of these canal boats are better equipped for mobile impaired guests than others. He refunded our tickets and suggested heading to the waterfront boardwalk. At that point, we were exhausted from the canal boat attempt and headed to the shuttle bus stop. While waiting what seemed to be a very long time for the shuttle bus, DW was “Befriended” by one of the many African refugees trying to sell various trinkets and jewelry. Despite our telling him numerous times we were not interested, we could not shake him until our shuttle bus finally arrived. While we never felt threatened in any way, we were glad all our valuables were safely tucked in our money belts. The shuttle bus that arrived was one of the “High steps” variety, but DW was not about to wait around any longer in Livorno. She struggled up the steps while I had the wheelchair put in the luggage area. The full bus headed back to Zuiderdam and we arrived back at about 1:00. After getting off the bus (perhaps harder than getting on?), we were happy to be back on board and headed to the Lido for lunch. I helped DW at the salad bar and ordered for myself from the Terrace Grill. Those sure are good burgers. We enjoyed the hydro pool for a long time, being the only ones in there, and then fell asleep on the thermal loungers. DW took a nap while I took the Kindle down to the promenade deck to read. I stayed until the kindle battery died at 4:50 and we prepared for dinner. Before dinner we enjoyed the band at the Ocean bar for a while. Dinner was very good with “Everyday” selections ordered tonight. DW enjoyed the Salmon while I consumed my perfectly cooked Sirloin. A new shipment of tea has arrived and now they have decaf Black tea, so I enjoyed tea with dessert. There is an open house at the new “Cabana retreat” area that was built at the recent dry dock on deck 11 over the new cabins on deck 10. We toured the area and while it is somewhat attractive, it was windy and cool up there and don’t understand what the attraction would be to pay for space such as this on a cruise like this. In the Caribbean, perhaps – but you are really not near any pool water! As we were getting ready to leave the Captain appeared and he ended up assisting us with getting back into the special elevator that goes from deck 10 to deck 11. There is a lip at the outer door that takes some effort to get over with the wheelchair. The show tonight was the singers and dancers “In concert.” I thought it was mildly entertaining and not as engaging as the shows on the HAL cruises we took in 2014. The end of the show was the best, with first balloons and then confetti being showered upon the audience. After the show we went to the Queen’s lounge for the first performance of the evening of the B B King’s Blues band. The first fifteen minutes was a much extended introduction of the band members, but after that it was much better as the vocalists joined. Finally it was time to call it an evening. Returning to our cabin, we found a towel “Wolfie” on our bed. This was our last port call in Italy. Tomorrow we are on the island of Corsica. Corsica is just north of Sardinia but Corsica is part of France. Tuesday, May 12, 2015 – Calvi, Corsica, France We heard the lowering of the anchor and then the tender boats early in the morning. Sure enough, at 7:45 an announcement was made that the ship was cleared and guests could “Beat the rush” as tendering was beginning. We had arranged to meet friends for a nice dining room breakfast at 8:20 and enjoyed a nice time together. We then met at the tender dock at 9:30 to head over to Calvi. Prior to this time, an announcement was made that “Open tendering” was in place and no tender tickets were needed. We found that there is a “Secret elevator” that goes from A Deck to B Deck for mobility impaired guests. Thereby, DW was able to get right to the tender platform without dealing with stairs. The sea this morning was smooth as glass and there were no waves rocking the tender. Before 10:00 we were on land in Calvi. Near the dock there was a welcome desk set up and all who visited were given a map of the town and a selection of six local candies, nicely wrapped. A very nice welcome indeed. The four of us walked along the waterfront and found that most of the sidewalks did not have curb cuts so I wheeled DW along the edge of the street. This was true most of the day. Traffic is not intense in Calvi and when there was a parade of vehicles we moved over as much as we could. We found our way heading uphill along somewhat gentle slopes and reached a great overlook at the parking lot for the Citadel. From there we followed the map to the Church of Santa Maria. We found the church, and it was about half the size of a one room schoolhouse back home. We decided that the ladies wanted a nice cup of coffee and the men wanted to visit the Citadel, so we returned to the area near the Citadel entrance where there were many cafes. I went with my friend to climb the Citadel and reach the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist at the summit. The church was quite nice and the Citadel is a thriving residential area as well as having many small cafes and restaurants. There would have been no chance of getting there with the wheelchair due to a very steep grade made of coarse and very uneven cobblestones. On our way down, we found the claimed birthplace of Christopher Columbus marked with historical plaques, but we know this is one of several such claimed places. We rejoined our DW’s for a soda and a chance to sit at the café, and then found our way to the local “Pink” colored church. This was a challenge to reach but we did all make it. Afterwards, we found our way back to the waterfront and decided to head back to Zuiderdam for lunch as it was now about 1:00. We obtained a salad in the Lido and found a table in the shade near the Lido pool. A burger and hot dog from the Terrace Grill was my lunch. Those burgers are outstanding! After a bit of ice cream, we changed for a long and relaxing visit to the hydro pool and thermal suite. There was a sail away in the crow’s nest today with music by Adagio. Upon arrival we found they were also having a non-advertised happy hour, and they served everyone a nice cheese plate of appetizers. We stayed at the crow’s nest conversing with a few other guests until dinner time. Dinner was again very good. Prime rib was again on the menu tonight and it was superb, melt in your mouth Prime rib! DW has the Salmon over spaghetti with cream sauce and she liked it. After dinner we visited the Ocean bar and listened to the band until their break. The show tonight was a juggler type of act and we skipped it to call it an early night as tomorrow is a full-day tour from our port call in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Wednesday, May 13, 2015 – Monaco Our alarm woke us at 6:25 as Zuiderdam was on approach to Monaco. About ten minutes later our coffee and tea was delivered and the day was off. We enjoyed breakfast in the Lido, with Roland making our Omelets. We ate on the aft pool deck and enjoyed seeing Monaco from deck nine. At about 8:10 the “Ship is cleared” message was made and we met our touring group at 8:15 as directed. We appeared to be one of the first groups off the ship and after about three minutes our driver & tour guide, Alexo with Nizza travel picked up the six of us with a very nice oversized VW van. He drove less than a mile and parked under Monaco-Ville and then led us on a walking tour of the area. We began by walking through the botanical garden, saw the palace, the cathedral, including the final resting place of Princess Grace and Prince Ranier III, and walked through many of the small, impeccably clean alleyways filled with sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops. Back to the van, Alexo drove us over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix. Along the way we passed famous hotels, the Monaco Casino (where, interestingly, residents are not allowed to gamble), and dealers for many six-digit priced vehicles. Dealerships for Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, McFarlan, and a Mercedes dealership with only their top-end vehicles were all along the race course. We were told that residents with apartments along the course are able to rent out their balconies for 20,000 Euros for the race. We next drove out of Monaco to the hillside medieval village of Eze, France. Alexo got us as close as he could and then needed to back the van down the switchback road as there was no room for him to turn around. He offered to take my DW to the top of a nearby mountain as Eze is not at all accessible in a wheelchair. She really enjoyed this as she was the only one of our group who got to see the Swiss Alps in the distance, as well as seeing Eze from up above! We met at the main road at the appointed time, and proceeded on to France’s fourth largest city, Nice. Alexo gave us a grand tour beginning with a stop at the “Balcony of Nice” for wonderful photos. We passed homes belonging to Elton John and Sean Connery, among others. Alexo was able to stop in the old city of Nice where we had a small bakery snack of a Panini and Apple cake dessert. We walked through the “Flower market” where in addition to flowers, many vendors selling homemade soaps and various baked goods were present. We found one selling almond macaroons. After sampling one, we had to buy a souvenir tin of cookies. We packed this carefully, hoping they make the trip back home! Leaving Nice, we rode the expressway for a short time to the seaside village of Cannes. Today was the opening day of the Cannes film festival, but films were not being shown until tomorrow. It was interesting walking around, seeing all the mega-yachts that have been rented by various movie studios (most of which I have never heard of). Many of the apartments in the building facing the waterfront also had banners attached to the balconies with names of production companies. We did see large posters for several upcoming movies that looked interesting, including a new George Clooney movie “Tomorrowland.” Headed out of Nice we passed the Grand Hyatt, which apparently had several celebrities present based on the crowds gathered outside and the heavy security presence. Speaking of Celebrity, the Equinox was anchored off shore and was tendering passengers into Cannes. We drove through several small seaside towns with beautiful sandy beaches and passed through one with a medieval fortress built right on the waterfront. We then headed back to Monaco and the Zuiderdam, where we arrived at about 4:40. We spent more time in the van that I would have preferred but we certainly did get a good view of the French Riviera. We had just enough time for cleaning up before dinner. There is a barbeque on the aft pool deck tonight. We walked by the check it out, and it looked pretty good, but we headed to the dining room. We were joined by the sisters at our table and dinner was excellent again. I am glad I ordered two entrees as they were both small, but delicious. Scallops wrapped in bacon and Beef tenderloin were both great. Dessert was not that great, but later I enjoyed ice cream with banana at the barbeque. As the sun set, the band began to play at the aft pool deck and quite a crowd was present. I was able to get some good photos of Monaco in the twi-light. At 9:40 we called it a night. Tomorrow is St. Tropez and no long tours are planned, it will be a relaxing day. Thursday, May 14, 2015 – St. Tropez, France We are in port today from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM. We heard the announcement at about 7:35 that the ship was cleared and tender service had commenced. Before 9:30 “Open tendering” was available which worked out perfect for us. We enjoyed a great dining room breakfast, and arrived shore side at about 10:10. Why Zuiderdam has such a long port call here I don’t understand, but I will take the opportunity to take some evening photos of the town from the ship. We walked around town, found the main square, which was filled with carnival type of equipment, and wandered some of the pedestrian only alleyways. We looked into a bakery and took photos through the window. Four euros for a single pastry or cookie seemed a little extravagant for our sense of value. We walked the waterfront and found that many local artists had set up displays of their efforts on the docks. If I owned one of the yachts tied up right next to them I’m not sure how happy I would be about it, but we must assume the town blesses this marketing effort. Just a note on the weather – trip to date, it has been incredible and as close to “Perfect” as one could ask for. Yesterday was the first day with some high clouds and a haze the built as the day went on. Today we had high clouds all day and a fog over the Mediterranean (but not over the bay where we are anchored). As I write this the sun is shining brilliantly yet looking across the bay (not very far, perhaps three miles?) you can see the haze. Still, we have not had a drop of rain and we really appreciate the weather blessings we’ve been enjoying. By Noon we returned to the Zuiderdam and enjoyed a quality coffee from the Explorations café. We relaxed in the crow’s nest for a while and when the coffee was consumed we went to the Lido for lunch. DW enjoyed a salad while I found gold! No, not really gold, but roast turkey was being served. Our favorite lido chef, Roland, gladly cut me a double portion of just white meat. A little brown gravy and some red skin mashed potatoes made this the best lunch of the cruise! We ate outdoors by the aft pool with a delightful light breeze. One of our touring friends found us and joined us for a while. His DW was still ashore “Shopping.” A very relaxing afternoon of enjoying the hydro pool (alone for the first forty minutes) and then the thermal loungers (again, alone for a long time) was what we needed after yesterday’s very full day. We were dinner-dressed by 4:00 and went to the crow’s nest to write up the log and DW was taking advantage of our T-Mobile cell phone plan looking up a few things on the internet. This brings up something else I don’t believe I’ve mentioned to date. Almost every evening if we are in one of the lounges before dinner appetizer plates have been served to us. This had been an extremely rare event on prior cruises and is a welcome improvement. On the other hand, there is now only one “Band” and when the band is needed for the evening show live music in the Ocean Bar is limited to 5:00 – 6:30. This effectively leaves those on main dining without the opportunity for dancing prior to dinner. Further, while on this 11 day cruise there are only two sea days, there has been no, as in ZERO, music at the pool during the day. Prior cruises we nearly always had music at the main pool during the main lunch times on sea days. To me, the loss of live music is more important than gaining appetizer plates. At 5:00 we moved to the Ocean Bar to enjoy the band. We were served another appetizer plate. Dinner was excellent once again. I had the ribeye steak and DW enjoyed a Caesar salmon salad. We left dinner before dessert in order to attend the movie, only to find that the movie was not the one advertised. We returned to the dining room as the mango & blueberry crisp sure looked good (and it was). We attended the show, a comedian Tony Daro. As comedians go he was okay. He really picked on our northern friends in Canada and there are a lot of Canadians on this sailing! After the show we went to the aft deck to try to take evening photos of St. Tropez. Well, there will be no evening photos as the wind was blowing and the camera would not stay still for long exposure shots. During dinner, the Captain announced that a storm was developing off the coast and Zuiderdam would be taking a much longer route, hugging the coast, to Barcelona. He said this route change will minimize the rolling and pitching but the cruise has been so calm thus far he wanted passengers to prepare as it will affect us late tonight and all day tomorrow. We enjoyed a cup of tea in the Lido and called it a night. Friday, May 15, 2015 – Sea day number two (of two) The sea conditions today were not an issue. Yes, there were waves but we could hardly feel the ship move, and there was no “Sloshing” in the pools. It was kind of nice taking a course along the coast as at nearly all times we could see the French and late in the evening Spanish mountains. Breakfast was enjoyed in the dining room. A long and relaxing time in the hydro pool and thermal suite followed. When we were quite warm, we found a table at the Lido pool to watch the handful of children on board enjoying the pool, while sipping teas and soda. After changing into more suitable clothes, we stopped at the front desk to tell them we were not attending the mariner’s lunch and they handed us the new Vista-class commemorative tiles. A lido salad topped with roasted chicken breast made a great lunch for DW. I greatly enjoyed my last Terrace Grille burger of the cruise. Small (really!) desserts followed. We tried to attend the 1:00 movie but at 12:48 there were no seats remaining. This confirms a fear I had – the seats in the screening room are incredibly comfortable, but they take up a great deal of room (like individual recliners would in your living room). There are only about 20 chairs. On sea days they really should show the movie in a larger venue. We attended the Indonesian tea, a regular favorite of mine. The decorations are still there, and I assume the tea is still from Indonesia, but it’s not the same as it was as recently as last year. The tea was weak and the snacks so-so at best. We won’t make the effort in the future. Getting prepared for formal night, we then visited the Ocean bar for pre-dinner music with the band. We watched the captain pose with a number of guests for formal portraits. In truth, there weren’t that many guests having portraits taken. We suspect that most passengers on this cruise are fairly well traveled and no longer purchase photos (our case as well). Dinner tonight was very good. The shrimp cocktail was very nice, and Ziggy took good care of us. My request for an extra lobster tail was gladly accommodated. The lobster was smothered in some type of sauce but it was still quite good. My filet was very thin but perfectly cooked. Tomorrow’s steak in the Pinnacle will be better. We exchanged e-mail addresses and photos with our table mates, and said our farewells to Ziggy and his assistant. Ziggy really worked hard all cruise. We headed to the show room for the singers and dancers in “Avalon.” The show was okay. Overall, entertainment on this cruise is far below what we enjoyed on our three HAL cruises in 2014. Is this because of the type of cruise, being so port-intensive? After the show we called it a night as tomorrow is an early start for our all day tour to Montserrat and the Spanish wine country. Saturday, May 16, 2015 – Docked in Barcelona The alarm went off, the coffee/tea was delivered, and we docked early in Barcelona. We visited the Lido and our favorite Lido cook, Roland, for breakfast. We met our touring friends (just four of us today) and at 8:15 we were off for our all-day tour of Montserrat and the Spanish Cava (wine) country. Our driver Nordine, with Barcelona day tours picked us up a few minutes before the appointed 8:30 meet time in a Mercedes van. Nordine told us the ride to Montserrat would take about an hour, and he told us the history of Montserrat and the “Black Madonna” on the way there. We were passed by a “Fast train” that Nordine told us makes the trip from Barcelona to Madrid in just over two hours. As we climbed the mountain, we stopped for photo stops, and passed through the village which is the base of the cable car and cog railway; two alternate methods of reaching the mountain-top monastery. We were early enough that the security team allowed Nordine to drive us right to the entrance to the Cathedral due to DW’s wheelchair, saving us quite a walk uphill. Nordine told our companions to get into the line to go through the Cathedral to see the Black Madonna, and that we should wait while he parks the van. We did so, and after about 20 minutes he was back. He took us in the accessible entrance to a wheelchair lift. Due to space constraints, only one wheelchair at a time can go in to the upper chapel so we waited a bit. Just as our turn arrived our touring friends came out. They waited as we visited the upper chapel and viewed the Madonna. Nordine then took us through the main cathedral and we took a number of photos. The entire grounds are impeccable and we enjoyed seeing things like the home where the monks live, with the front courtyard strategically planted with “Plants/trees you would find in Israel.” Among these was a fig tree. The two men had hoped to take the funicular to the very top of the mountain, but it is not currently working. Nordine said that it was 85 years old, and the funicular cars were being replaced later this month to update the operation. We perused the souvenir shop and then enjoyed a light lunch at the upper cafeteria. We would later find out there was a lower cafeteria with a more substantial menu, but oh well. We walked the grounds taking photos and noticing that the crowd was certainly growing. We met Nordine again at 1:00 and as we descended the hill saw vehicles parked every spot one could possibly fit. Some of those people had quite a hike just to reach the property gate! We took a different road down and stopped by a church originally built in the 1100’s which was also a convent until 1982, when a new convent was built a few miles away. From this site, we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains, some 200 miles distant. Yesterday’s wind sure cleaned out the atmosphere! The Spanish Cava country is very pretty. Set between the sea, and a row of hills buffering the sea breezes, and Montserrat, which blocks the north wind, they have an ideal climate for growing grapes. We stopped at the ArtCava winery. This was the most inclusive “Wine tour” we have ever taken. We were even shown the “Cave” (Cava is Spanish for cave) where the wine is aged. We were shown how the yeast is removed from the wine (by freezing the neck) and the entire process. We also tasted three different varieties. We would have loved to take a few bottles home but as each weighs about four pounds, the airlines would not like that! We returned to the Zuiderdam at about 5:00. It was time to shower and pack. Afterwards, I tried to check in online for the flights home but Air Europa does not have a great or responsive web site. We visited the “Spanish barbeque” taking place on the lido deck for photos but as we had reservations with friends we toured extensively with at the Pinnacle Grille we did not partake of the barbeque. The Pinnacle was very, very good. Everything was enjoyed and we said our farewells to put the luggage out for the travel day to follow. Sunday, May 17, 2015 – Heading home A final breakfast in the dining room began what under the best conditions would be a very long day. We met another couple we had prearranged an airport transfer with and left the Zuiderdam. Many of the entertainers and officers were wishing everyone a fond farewell as we exited the gangway. We retrieved our luggage and went outside to find / wait for our driver. I had arranged a 9:00 pre-paid pick up with BCN Travel Barcelona. To make a long story short, the pick-up never happened. Finally someone at their emergency number told us to “Take a cab.” I had to scramble to come up with enough Euros to pay the cab fare. After waiting in the cab line we were finally at the airport at 10:10 AM. Checking in with Air Europa went well, but our wheelchair assistant abandoned us after going through security. We had coffee and a soda at McDonalds and began the very long walk to gate G62. Arriving at the gate, we let the gate staff know we were there and they “Called for assistance.” They made us late until everyone else had boarded the plane before the assistant could wheel DW onto the plane. Someone else was sitting in her seat and needed to move. We took off on time but on arrival in Madrid the plane did not pull into a gate. Stairs were brought up, but this was not a small plane, but a 767! The cabin attendants called for a lift and we waited 30 minutes after the last passenger was off before the lift arrived. While waiting we found out this is the same plane that will fly to JFK later this evening. They drove us to nearly the other end of the airport to go into the terminal. The assistant wheeled DW about halfway back to an “Assist station” and told us to meet him back there at 4:30. Since it was now 2:30, and a Burger King was nearby, we retreated to the King of all burgers (but they are not as good as the Terrace Grill by a longshot!) to wait out the two hours. We returned to the meeting place and no one was there. By 4:40 one person from the assist group walked by but he spoke no English. I pushed DW the 15 minutes to gate A1 myself. Of course, now boarding had started so we needed to wait until everyone else boarded the plane. A different assist man showed up and wheeled DW down the level gangway to the plane. The long ride home? Okay, we left Madrid on time. We arrived at JFK about 50 minutes early. Someone from JFK assist was waiting for DW with their wheelchair. We were told ours would be at luggage claim. It was a very long walk to customs and immigration. They now scan your passport and take your photo automatically. This process went quickly. Our two suitcases were quickly retrieved, but no wheelchair or walker. The stewardess from the plane was also working luggage, and she spent over 15 minutes on the phone, finally to be told that they were delivered to the wrong oversize luggage belt. With DW now in her own wheelchair, we were out to passenger pick up#4 and after only a short wait our pick up van from Park Plus airport parking was there. We were back in our van and left their lot at exactly 9:00 PM. In forty minutes we crossed the NJ border and we were home at 11:25 PM. Summary: We would take this cruise again, knowing what we know now? YES. We would take it again as a repeat? Likely not, at least for a while. Cruise summary of the Zuiderdam follows: Food was overall very good to excellent. No complaints whatsoever. Wish list? I wish they would open the main dining room a half-hour earlier on port days. Service was also overall very good to excellent. No complaints in this category in the dining room, lido, Terrace Grill, room service, stateroom attendants, or the front desk. The staff at the gangway was always ready and able to assist DW getting on and off the ship. The spa staff was always pleasant and we never experienced crowding at the hydro-pool or thermal suite. The only service issue we experienced is that I completed the mid cruise “How are we doing card” and received no response at all. Not a big deal by any means, but a surprise as the Westerdam responded within 24 hours last fall. Issues brought up on cruise critic I will touch on. There is always concern about the Zuiderdam because of historic issues with toilet operation. We never had a problem, and did not hear anyone else talking about any problems. I did find that if the “Toilet flush” button in our cabin was not all the way out sometimes it would not flush when first pushed, but that push usually popped the button out and a second push resulted in an immediate flush. Our cabin, far forward on the main deck (Deck 1) was very pleasant, but at times (and unpredictably) there were sewerage type of odors in the hallway and forward elevator lobby. This is one of the items on my mid-cruise comment card that was not responded to. At other times, there was no odor at all… We took advantage of the “Retreat open house” and were not overly impressed with the area. I can see how some might enjoy this on a Caribbean type of cruise. The new cabins on deck 10 do not detract (again my opinion) from the attractiveness of the ship. When the cruise ended the Norwegian Epic was docked next to us. That is one ugly ship. The new seating in the screening room is very comfortable but the chairs are much too large taking up so much space that only twenty or so can attend screenings. On a 2,000 passenger ship, that is just too few seats. We were “Out and about” most of the time, yet I actually saw the captain just three times. Officers in general just “Never seemed to be around.” This was very different than the Westerdam, where we constantly saw officers interacting with guests and crew. The three captain views were at his Q & A session, at the retreat open house, and the last formal night when he was posing for formal night photos. Overall cruise rating – Four stars out of five. For the first two-thirds of the cruise I thought this would be four and a half stars. The smells, subpar entertainment, screening room capacity, and non-response to the comment card made me give the good ship Zuiderdam four stars.

A Wonderful Cruise, Good Ship, Mostly Great Ports, Good Value LONG log/review!

Zuiderdam Cruise Review by StartrainDD

1 person found this helpful
Trip Details
Zuiderdam cruise 5-6-15 and pre-cruise visit to Rome

Please feel free to skip down to the summary if that is all you want! All the details are included from my log as some seem to really enjoy reading these.

Background: We booked this cruise in early March when DW’s doctor proclaimed her “Able to resume all normal activities.” Cruising is a normal activity for us and everything lined up so we booked the cruise and airfare. A week later her knee problems returned and they grew more severe than ever. She absolutely did not want to cancel the trip so we are traveling with a wheelchair, walker, and cane.

We left our home shortly after 3:00 PM for a 10:05 flight from JFK, which our GPS said was 2 hr. 40 minutes travel time. All went very well until we hit Staten Island. The last 25 miles took over 1.5 hours. We certainly saw places in Brooklyn we’ve never seen before, including “Utrecht Avenue.” Our entire “Margin” was used up but we dropped the car as an off-airport parking lot at 7:00, and were through security and ready at 8:00.

We flew Air Europa from JFK to Rome, connecting at their hub in Madrid. The transatlantic flight was fine, as well as they go. At the Madrid airport they treated DW very well, wheeling her in the wheelchair and providing special transportation to customs and then to the connecting gate. We ate a light late breakfast while waiting for our flight to Rome.

The Rome flight was delayed about 30 minutes due to the plan arriving late from the Canary Islands. We arrived in Rome less than 15 minutes behind schedule. At the Rome airport we had an excellent helper who wheeled DW from the gate to luggage claim, got a cart for our luggage, and then wheeled her to where our shuttle company was waiting for us. We were out of the airport less than one hour after landing, not bad at all.

We used COTAV-FIAVET shuttle service and were impressed with the extra assistance the driver provided. To get to our hotel he went right through historic Rome and it was a very pretty late afternoon. We arrived at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, 22.5 hours after leaving home. That is a very long travel day.

The lifts at the hotel are too small for DW to use in the wheelchair. So within the hotel she is using the walker. Right next door is a restaurant, Mattarello. We went there for outdoor dining just as dusk was settling in. Dinner for two for 26.5 Euros is a pretty good deal in Rome, and the food was very good.

Monday, May 04, 2015 – Rome day one – Historic Rome

After our exhausting travel day, we slept until nearly 8:00, very late for us! We enjoyed a terrific breakfast downstairs at the Garden Inn. The breakfast gets 5 stars. Made to order eggs or omelets, wonderful Italian breads, pastries, and “Local” cookies were all offered. Fruit, yogurts, all types of coffee or tea, and all included with our room due to our Hilton status. For guests that pay for breakfast, it is 12 Euros/pp. That is a lot for breakfast but not if it’s one of two meals for the day when on vacation.

After breakfast we needed to finish getting ready for the day, and that included sunscreen as we had a beautiful sunshine, no clouds, and no humidity day ahead! At about 10:20 we went to the lobby as the last taxi in the queue drove away with passengers. One of the helpful front desk personnel called for a taxi and ordered a “Larger one” so we would have room for the wheelchair. He assured us the cost was the same as a smaller one. Away we went to the Roman Forum. Well, we didn’t know any better – but even though we told him which entrance we wanted to go to, he dropped us at the wrong one – actually the Palatine Hill entrance. This is good for most people as there is rarely a line to buy tickets (which are good for the hill, the forum, and the coliseum) but not so good as that entrance is not very friendly for mobility handicapped persons. The people at the entrance were encouraging so we tried it. We certainly did get to see areas we otherwise would not have seen; however, the physical cost was too high.

We followed signs to an exit and then had a very hard time exiting through roundabout gates that would not fit the wheelchair. The exit was not staffed so no one was there to open the swing gate. Other helpful guests assisted and got us through. We were back to the street and found it reasonable easy to wheel to the proper main entrance to the Forum. There, an elevator is available to lower you down 2,000 years in time to the Forum grounds. We enjoyed visiting the forum and listening to the Rick Steve’s audio tour.

We made our way back to the present and walked / rolled to the Coliseum. There we were whisked in through a special gate and went part-way around the lower level, before taking a lift to the upper level. At the upper level we went all the way around the structure, taking in the views as we went. As we were ready to exit we were approached be two young people who said they were writing a paper on Handicapped access in Rome and asked if we would answer a few questions. We did so and they were very nice. We found the one thing in the Coliseum that was not clear was how to get out if you are in a wheelchair. Eventually, someone at the entrance gate escorted us “Backwards” through the entrance line to the front entrance, where we exited.

The next challenge was working our way half-way around the outside of the Coliseum (mostly on cobblestones) to reach the nearest taxi stand. We made it, and at about 2:45 we got into a taxi to head to the Parthenon. We visited the Parthenon in 2012 but it was such a crush of people that we really didn’t “See it.” Today we entered, took seats in the pews, and listened to Rick Steve’s audio guide. It was very enjoyable and it is quite a structure for one that is 2,000 years old!

Exiting the Parthenon we rolled one block to just behind the Parthenon and enjoyed a “Lunch/dinner” at Miscellanea, a restaurant recommended in the Rick Steve’s book. Everything was very good, the only caveat was that the excellent waiter did not speak much English and couldn’t answer DW’s question as to what kind of seafood was in a seafood salad. She ordered it anyway, and enjoyed 80% of it, but passed me the Calamari. That was fine, except I ordered Calamari for my main course so I was kind of over – Calimaried (is that a word?). Still including beverages, an appetizer, and two complimentary “Rick Steve’s friends” wine shots each, the bill was 45 Euros which is certainly reasonable for “Sidewalk dining” in view of the Parthenon.

From the Parthenon we walked & wheeled our way to the under-restoration Trevi Fountain, which seemed to have just as many people around it while “Waterless” as it had with water in 2012. On the way there, we passed through Rome’s “Galleria Alberto Sordi” shopping mall and I must say that was the easiest wheelchair rolling of the day – those Marble floors are made for it! We made it a few more blocks in search of a taxi stand but never did find one. On one of the main streets we were lucky to wave down a taxi, who quickly returned us to the Garden Inn at about 6:00.

After walking through 2,000 year old dust, we were tired and dirty so the shower was calling. I noticed a supermarket just down the street, so I walked there and picked up a six pack of water and two Gelato cups for less than four Euros. That made a great evening snack and we now have a nice water supply.

We called it an ‘Early’ night and I wrote my report at about 8:30. Tomorrow we visit the pope (or at least, where he resides).

Tuesday, May 05, 2015 – Rome, day two:

The clock radio at the Garden Inn was again showing an incorrect time. We didn’t notice it until we were ready for bed. This contributed to our sleeping until nearly 9:00 AM! That was not exactly how we planned to start our day. Regardless, we had a good breakfast at the Garden Inn and arranged for a taxi to take us to the Vatican Museum entrance, arriving about 10:45.

Just as Rick Steve’s guidebooks say, the entrance line for those without tickets stretched along the outer walls and around the corner. With DW in the wheelchair, we were waived through to the “Special situations” desk where we were provided with two complimentary passes. We took the provided lifts and ended up “Going in the back door.” This would be true for most of our visit as 80% of the time we were moving against the main traffic flow.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to the Vatican Museum, spending nearly three hours there. We used Rick Steve’s audio tour for the Sistine Chapel and that did make the incredible art there come alive. We saw the Raphael rooms and wished we had a Rick Steve’s tour for those rooms! After leaving the museum we walked and rolled a very long way around the walls to the main entrance to St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica.

This time we had to wait a bit for the security line to clear in front of us, and afterwards began listening to Rick Steve’s guide to St. Peters. St. Peter’s is huge, the largest church in existence. It is impressive, yes, but not quite what I was expecting. For some reason, the audio guide implies visitors can walk pretty freely around the building, this is no longer true. The area around the main altar and the entire apse were blocked off. One could not even stand directly below the impressive dome.

Sometimes something happens that just puts a cloud on an experience, and that is what happened inside the Basilica. I’ve been pushing DW around all day (and yes, she helps wheel herself when possible) but by this time nearly 4 hours non-stop on my feet and I need a few minutes to sit and rest. Sit on the steps outside, and you are told “No sitting there.” Sit on the base of a column inside “No sitting there.” Go to the chairs in front of St. Peter’s crucifixion site and don’t let the guard see you have an audio tour “Those seats are only for prayers.” Neither I nor many of the St. Peter’s visitors are 28 years young and nimble. I can’t imagine Jesus telling people they can’t rest a while when in a church. By the time we were headed out and our tour took us to Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” I was too bushed to appreciate what I was seeing. Regardless, we are glad to have been there and seen it, but I feel “No need to go back.”

Exiting St. Peter’s square we saw a sign for a McDonalds “5 minutes this way.” After about 10 minutes we saw another sign “3 minutes this way.” We would have welcomed a break at a McDonalds for a large cold drink and a chance to rest. But, we found a taxi stand before getting close to the McDonalds so we taxied back to the hotel. We quickly downed a bottle of water each, and then headed out to the nearby market for some needed supplies. Afterwards I went to use an ATM but the credit union ATM is indoors and they closed at 4:00 PM, another ATM said something in Italian about “The main office” and it was not working.

We returned to Mattarello, the restaurant next door to the hotel, for another wonderful meal with Rogero, our waiter from Sunday evening. As we were very early (by Italian standards) for dinner, we were the only guests enjoying our “Private” al-fresco dining patio. We enjoyed a fabulous two course meal followed by an incredible Chocolate truffle like gelato, which we shared. Every bit of dinner was most enjoyable and we talked with Rogero quite a bit. We learned that this part of Rome is considered the “Expensive” neighborhood and is highly desired. We certainly agree it was nice, but it is still certainly “In the city” with lots of traffic and ongoing noise. We enjoyed a two hour or so meal for a very reasonable cost.

Tomorrow we are to be picked up at 10:00 AM to head to the Zuiderdam! It is sure to feel like going home.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015 – Embarkation day

With the alarm set we didn’t need it this morning. In fact, for some reason we did not sleep well. We were up and enjoyed our last breakfast at the Garden Inn. I tried to use the business center to print another luggage tag but the system was so slow I gave up. It turned out we didn’t need it anyway.

I walked to the open credit union across the road and instructions on the ATM were only in Italian. A kind employee helped me but despite the logos matching we could not get either of my ATM cards to work (two different banks). I looked around and noticed a bank about a block away. Their ATM worked but had a 250 Euro limit per day, so I obtained 250 Euros.

Back to the Garden Inn we assembled all our belongings and with three elevator trips managed to get everything down to the lobby. We were scheduled for pick up at 10:00 and at 9:55 a van pulled up. I had arranged with COTAV-FIAVET shuttle service to pick us up and then pick up new friends from cruise critic at another hotel. It turns out the van already had another couple on board. When the driver saw the wheelchair he expressed a problem that he could not fit the entire luggage. He called his office while I pulled up the original reservation e-mail in which I clearly outlined the luggage load we had (which was actually very little luggage – but the wheelchair takes up space!). It is a good think I had that e-mail because I honestly think they would have left us if not for that. With the driver’s cell phone, I spoke with the office and pointed out that I had clearly stated the luggage and wheelchair.

We proceeded to pick up our new friends and while it was certainly snug in the van, everything did manage to get transported to the port. With great relief we all got out of the van, paid the driver, and the waiting luggage handlers whisked our luggage away. We walked into the terminal, were handed the health questionnaire, and proceeded directly to check in after passing thru metal detectors. Check in took five minutes and we were immediately cleared to board Zuiderdam.

One of the crew welcoming passengers assisted with pushing the wheelchair up the gangway. Two other wheelchairs had gone slightly before us so there was a short wait for an elevator for the one deck ride to the main deck, and our cabin #1003. The cabin was ready; there is just enough room to park the wheelchair (folded) and the walker next to the bath in front of the sofa. We put our valuables into the safe and proceeded to the Mariner’s welcome aboard lunch in the Vista dining room.

Lunch was excellent and we enjoyed the company of another couple we ran into several more times during the day. We returned to the cabin to find the luggage had all been delivered so we unpacked and stored everything. One of the true joys of cruising – no living out of the suitcase!

It was nearing time for the safety drill and we waited as the announcements kept saying do not yet proceed to the stations. We did leave a little early as with the wheelchair we needed to use a lift to deck three. The drill went faster than any we remember with crew members scanning in each passenger’s key card.

We returned to our cabin and changed into dinner clothes, then headed to the crow’s nest for our cruise critic roll call informal meet and greet. DW used her walker rather than the wheelchair. On the way there we stopped at the spa to check out the Hydro Pool package. They were offering a “Special” for $249/couple for the cruise. Despite this being a port-intensive cruise, we thought for DW’s medicinal purposes we would take the plunge and use some of our generous OBC towards this expense. We managed to meet about a dozen or so from our roll call and many we are doing tours with. Around 4:45 the staff came around with plates of hot appetizers which were a very nice touch.

We are on “Early dining” at 5:45. We timed our arrival just as the first-night line had dissipated so we would not have to stand waiting to reach our table, located near the entrance as requested. DW enjoyed her always available Salmon dinner while I really liked the first night Prime Rib. The Apple Strudel for dessert was just the right size to round out a great meal. At the end of the meal the wait staff took the time to ask our names and welcome us on board.

We returned to the room and changed into swimwear and headed to the Hydro Pool. We enjoyed the pool and then the thermal loungers. After about 45 minutes we called it a night as we have an early start for our Naples-based tour tomorrow!

Thursday, May 07, 2015 – Naples shore call. Private excursion to Positrano, Amalfi, and Pompeii.

We ordered room service coffee to be delivered between 6:00 and 6:30 as our wake up call. Sunlight peeking through the blinds woke us at 6:10. (A reason for an inside cabin?) The room service delivery came at 6:15 exactly as ordered. We were heading to the Lido for a full breakfast at 7:05. Doing the Lido with DW in a wheelchair is a bit of a challenge, but the Vista doesn’t open until 7:30 and that is too late as we have a 7:45 meeting time for our excursion. Met a very nice Omelet maker, Roland, who made us superb Omelets and asked our names. We will need to go back to Roland tomorrow. One of the lido servers took DW’s plate and also brought her coffee while I was gathering up the superb orange juice, and a few other breakfast items.

We left very satisfied and headed down to the Atrium bar to meet our touring partners. This excursion was arranged through aptours Italy, and our driver Carlo did an excellent job for the eight of us. We drove to Positrano, stopping at several photo-stops along the way. We enjoyed a brief visit to Positrano, including a stop at a Pharmacy as DW apparently had sunscreen in her eyes and it was very painful. We also stopped to share a baked treat and DW enjoyed a Cappuccino.

Back in the van we headed to Amalfi. The coast is incredible and I can understand its “World heritage site” designation. Amalfi I was a bit disappointed in. Yes, I took some great photos from the water’s edge. But the “Pedestrian only” area is anything but. I guess the definition of “Pedestrian only” in Italy is different. We were constantly dodging motor vehicles ranging from Mopeds to Autos to Trucks. We ever witnessed a vehicle at least grazing a leashed dog (the dog’s owner apparently did not notice). So my TripAdvisor review on Amalfi will not be very positive!

After our time in Amalfi we headed back over the mountain, which we were told is some 800 meters to the road’s summit, down the other side to Pompeii. While DW needed to pass on Pompeii, I found it to be the highlight of the day. Walking on roads that are 2200 – 2400 years old, on the original stones, really puts time in perspective. I was very impressed with many things at Pompeii, not the least of which were “Crosswalks” and an early attempt to provide night time roadway reflectivity (meaningful to me because of my job).

The end of our visit I found very sobering and sad. A team of experts is currently putting the finishing touches on plaster reproductions of some 30 bodies based on skeletal remains, for an exhibit opening later this month. We were able to see this work in progress. Three finished pieces of an adult man, a child, and a dog brought tears to my eyes. They never had a chance to survive as the gases choked most residents to death before the ash and/or lava buried the city.

Meeting up back at the van we found that DW had been perusing the local shops just outside the gate and found “Cameos” she found interesting. In talking with our driver, he said that just around the other side of the site, there was an authentic cameo factory and he offered to take her there. So she enjoyed shopping any buying a small souvenir of the day while we were touring. Kudos to Carlo for taking extra care of his guest!

We returned to the Zuiderdam at 4:45 for our 5:30 all aboard. Quick showers, a stop at the future cruise desk to arrange for future cruise deposits, and it was time for another excellent dinner. We followed dinner with a “Withdrawal” of on board credit at the casino, a hydro pool / thermal spa visit, and a return to our room to find lots of clean laundry. Tomorrow we visit Sicily for the first time!

Friday, May 08, 2015 – Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Friday began with a 6:02 alarm on my phone followed a few minutes later by a room service delivery. We ventured up to the lido to Roland who made us excellent Omelets. I found my way around to obtain juices, breads, a little sausage, and a waffle. A few notes on the Zuiderdam so far: Food, mostly excellent. Service the same. There is a smell, not all the time, but quite often, that is not pleasing in the hallway outside our room (Deck 1 forward). It appears to be coming up the stairwell from lower decks. Yesterday I did not mention we were a few minutes ‘late’ in docking. This morning the itinerary said 7:00 but we were not actually docked until about 7:25. This did not affect us as our meet time for our private tour (same group as in Naples) was meeting a 7:45. The ship was cleared at 7:35.

We met and while on time, we were the last to arrive. We immediately disembarked and it turned out we were the first, or very nearly the first, to leave the ship. Our driver/guide from Papillon Service Italy was waiting for us just steps from the gangway. He has a very large VW van, which we were surprised, had only eight seats (four rows of two seats). This worked fine for our group but the vehicle certainly could have had at least six more seats, with still room for storage/luggage.

In any case, the first thing he told us is that “Palermo is a city of cars. There are more cars than people.” Why? “Because we have very poor mass transit.” There are certainly a lot of cars with crazy traffic. There may be even more mopeds and motorcycles, and they are like “Mosquitos” according to our guide.

We drove out to the nearby mountaintop village of Monreale, where the “Basilica Cattedrale Santa Maria Nova” prominently stands out from a distance. Its claim to fame is that nearly the entire inside is finished with gold mosaic tiles. The cathedral was built in the 1100’s by the Normans who controlled Sicily at the time. It was truly impressive, and I thought more so than the larger but plainer St Peters in Rome. They offered a climb to the top of the watchtower for 2.50 Euros. Of the group, I was the only one to take the climb. Honestly I didn’t make it quite all the way up as things became more narrow and short the higher I went, but I did get some wonderful photos none the less!

After Monreale we returned to the van to drive over an hour to the seaside village of Cefalu. We needed to back track through part of Salerno and the traffic was near gridlock. Our driver did manage to fine some alternate roads and we arrived in Cefalu at about 11:00. He guided us on a walk through the town, past the main church (also built in the 1100’s as a church and a fortress by the Normans), and down to the shoreline. We walked together until about noon (stopping along the way at a shoe store where DW bought a pair of shoes actually “Made in Italy.”) and which time he showed us exactly where he would pick us up at 1:30.

We enjoyed a lunch of Gelato bowls (four different flavors in the bowl!), water, and a cappuccino at Foodsicily on the waterfront. Our table was one foot from the beach. We lingered there, also taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi to send a note home, until just after 1:00. We noticed some street side vendors along the beach and we strolled along to see if they had anything interesting. No purchases were made, and soon it was time to return to the van.

We returned to Palermo and our driver gave us a driving tour of many of the major city sites and buildings, including the grand opera house (as seen in the movie, the Godfather), the presidential palace and home, government buildings, the city’s one fountain, several of the 16th century city gates, and more. By 3:20 we were back at the Zuiderdam.

This return gave us just enough time to try the burgers at the Terrace Grill. They are excellent. Next we headed to the hydro pool, thermal suite, and then got ready for dinner. Dinner tonight was mixed. DW ordered a “Spicy shrimp” entrée that she did not care for. On the other hand, my “English roast beef” was superb.

We went to the show tonight, a magician “Devlin.” He was okay but maybe 3 out of 10. After the show, we thought we would watch the “Country line dancing” lessons in the Queen’s lounge. After fifteen minutes we needed to call it a night.

Tomorrow is a much needed, slow paced, relaxing day at sea!

Saturday, May 09, 2015 – Sea day #1 (of 2)

What? Is it really 8:40 AM? No, I had the watch upside down. It was really 6:10, but the sun was peeking through the not entirely closed window blinds. Back to sleep until 7:45 or so! After really waking up, the breakfast in the dining room was a delightful way to start the day. There was a sale by the pool (of course there is) and two T-shirts were purchased. On board merchandise purchases are subject to a 22% VAT tax as our cruise never leaves the E.U. Guess we won’t be making any additional merchandise purchases!

We then used our hydro pool and thermal suite pass to enjoy the rest of the morning taking it easy. For most of the time we were the only ones in the pool or on the loungers, so it was really nice. Afterwards we found a table on the lido with a nice breeze and enjoyed being outdoors and having a light lunch.

The afternoon 2:00 “Shore talk” was on five upcoming ports and was rather informative. It served well to reinforce decisions already made on shore plans. At 3:00 it was time for the “Royal Dutch tea.” We certainly enjoyed the Dutch delicacies! At 4:00 I attended the Captain’s Q & A held in the crow’s nest while DW began to get ready for formal night.

At 5:15, all ready for formal night, we enjoyed the band at the Ocean bar and were talked into a couple of happy hour beverages. Just before 6:00 we headed to the Vista dining room. The third couple at our table made an appearance. They are very nice, celebrating their 65th anniversary! They said they eat just one meal per day and other evenings they’ve done room service and once at the Pinnacle. Dinner tonight was superb. The Peppercorn Sirloin with Shrimp was very enjoyable and perfectly done. My requested baked potato was also perfect. The dessert menu was rather limited and I mentioned to the waiter that if he happened to find a left-over slice of Apple Pie from the lunch menu I would volunteer to consume it. Sure enough, Apple Pie appeared! Kudos to the maître de’ for bringing the pie.

Tonight’s show is the Chapman Brothers. They were on our Westerdam Panama Canal cruise at the time we thought them the best “Guest entertainers” we ever had on a cruise. They did not disappoint. Even though the show was likely identical to the one we enjoyed last year, it was again full of energy and a lot of fun. They received a standing ovation.

Closing out the evening, we visited the Piano bar for Frank Sinatra night and enjoyed about 35 minutes of “Old blue eyes” tunes before calling it a night, as we have a very early start tomorrow for our “Yacht outing” in Sardinia.

Sunday, May 10, 2015 – Mother’s day in Olbia, Sardinia, Italy

A 6:02 alarm began this marvelous Mother’s day. Minutes later the coffee/tea was delivered. Breakfast in the lido this morning as our cruise critic group had a 7:45 meet time. All arrived in time and we departed the Zuiderdam together.

This group had arranged for a “Yachting day” on the restored wooden boat “Dea del Mare.” A 16 seat mini-bus picked up the 14 in our group at the port to drive us 45 minutes to the town of Barca. Along the way we were impressed with the Sardinian countryside. The entire island is granite although in many valleys there are sheep farms and vineyards. We even saw some cattle. We were onboard Dea del Mare by just after 9:00 and returned to Barca at about 3:00.

This was a wonderful day spent exploring the National Park in the Archipelago Porto Della Madonna. We stopped at Santa Maria Island where a few chose to swim to shore and others rode in to the beach on the rigid rubber motorboat we pulled along. The water was cold, but this was my third visit to the Mediterranean and for the first time I actually went swimming.

While many of us were on the beach the crew began preparing our Sardinian lunch. Sardinian flat bread & Olives were followed by a cheese and meat tray with local sourced products. This was followed by a “Tuna sushi, marinated in Olive Oil along with Italian style crusty bread. Finally Spaghetti with a Sardinian twist was served. The grand finale was the traditional Sardinian after-meal drink and the most delicious cookie varieties including a wonderful Almond cookie!

Lunch was accompanied by local Sardinian wine. The wine was quite flavorful and it continued to flow all the way back to Barca. There were a few on board who likely didn’t realize the quantity they consumed as it was warm, the sun was shining, and for those who enjoy wine, it went down the hatchet very easily!

In any case, we were picked up at 3:10 and were safely back on board the Zuiderdam at 4:10; after a rather long walk from the terminal we were required to pass through due to local security regulations. The promised “Shuttle bus” was not in sight.

To complete a very busy day, we enjoyed the hydro pool for a time and I watched the sail away from the thermal suite. Showers and a delicious Turkey and Short Rib dinner followed. Truly, the dining room meals have been excellent, although tomorrow’s menu did not seem so attractive.

We noticed on the daily planner that the movie being shown was “Jupiter Ascending.” I had wanted to see that one so we skipped dessert in order to make the 7:00 start time. The show tonight was a violinist so we opted for the movie.

Tomorrow we are in Livorno, Italy. It’s a long port call; seven to seven. We are in no hurry as we will remain in Livorno rather than travel far to the popular sights.

Monday, May 11, 2015 – Livorno, Italy

The “Ship is cleared” announcement at 6:45 woke us, but only for a moment. At 8:30 we visited the Vista dining room for a very nice breakfast. Ziggy, our evening waiter was working and as there were only about a dozen guests in the dining room we had a chance to converse with him for quite some time. He has been with Holland America since 1998 and has a family with three kids at home in Indonesia.

After breakfast we made our way down to the port. The shuttle bus provided by the Livorno port (5 Euros for the day) was not wheelchair friendly (with huge steps!) but we were told the next bus was better. Also, DW was “No charge” in the wheelchair. It was not a long wait but once on the bus it was a long wait as the bus filled to beyond seating capacity with perhaps a dozen people standing. Due to the port configuration, it is a very windy and twisty route to get out to the town and finally be dropped off at the main square.

At the drop off is a very nice travel information office, which also sells tickets for bus transfers to Pisa, “Hop on, hop off” bus tours of Livorno, and also a canal boat tour. I inquired inside and was assured the canal boat tour was fully wheelchair accessible, but the 10:30 was nearly full so the 12:00 would be better. In the meantime they provided less than perfect directions to the main market.

We found the main market (eventually) and enjoyed browsing the various areas. We found the market extended nearly back to the main square and had just enough time for a large Coke Zero (with ice!) and a small milk shake (DW) at a McDonalds. We could not get the free internet to connect however. We met back at the Travel office at 11:45 as instructed and were told to wait at a certain area. At exactly 12:00 a man with a sign showed up and waved everyone to follow him. That is where things went downhill…

Obviously this man was not informed that someone in a wheelchair was in the group (and he didn’t bother to survey his guests). It was about a six block “Walk” to the canal boat. Some of the streets crossed had no curb cuts of any types and we fell far behind. One other couple on the tour stopped to assist us and I thanked them several times.

Finally reaching the area for boarding, we found that the way down to the canal level was not exactly a ramp, and not exactly steps. It was a ramp built from paving stones and certainly not something I could manage to move DW by myself. I went to see the captain of the canal boat who spoke little English and who shrugged his shoulders as if to say “What do you want me to do?”

We headed back by a friendlier route to the travel office and found someone who appeared to be a manager. He was sorry to hear of our experience and hinted that some of these canal boats are better equipped for mobile impaired guests than others. He refunded our tickets and suggested heading to the waterfront boardwalk. At that point, we were exhausted from the canal boat attempt and headed to the shuttle bus stop.

While waiting what seemed to be a very long time for the shuttle bus, DW was “Befriended” by one of the many African refugees trying to sell various trinkets and jewelry. Despite our telling him numerous times we were not interested, we could not shake him until our shuttle bus finally arrived. While we never felt threatened in any way, we were glad all our valuables were safely tucked in our money belts.

The shuttle bus that arrived was one of the “High steps” variety, but DW was not about to wait around any longer in Livorno. She struggled up the steps while I had the wheelchair put in the luggage area. The full bus headed back to Zuiderdam and we arrived back at about 1:00. After getting off the bus (perhaps harder than getting on?), we were happy to be back on board and headed to the Lido for lunch.

I helped DW at the salad bar and ordered for myself from the Terrace Grill. Those sure are good burgers. We enjoyed the hydro pool for a long time, being the only ones in there, and then fell asleep on the thermal loungers. DW took a nap while I took the Kindle down to the promenade deck to read. I stayed until the kindle battery died at 4:50 and we prepared for dinner.

Before dinner we enjoyed the band at the Ocean bar for a while. Dinner was very good with “Everyday” selections ordered tonight. DW enjoyed the Salmon while I consumed my perfectly cooked Sirloin. A new shipment of tea has arrived and now they have decaf Black tea, so I enjoyed tea with dessert.

There is an open house at the new “Cabana retreat” area that was built at the recent dry dock on deck 11 over the new cabins on deck 10. We toured the area and while it is somewhat attractive, it was windy and cool up there and don’t understand what the attraction would be to pay for space such as this on a cruise like this. In the Caribbean, perhaps – but you are really not near any pool water! As we were getting ready to leave the Captain appeared and he ended up assisting us with getting back into the special elevator that goes from deck 10 to deck 11. There is a lip at the outer door that takes some effort to get over with the wheelchair.

The show tonight was the singers and dancers “In concert.” I thought it was mildly entertaining and not as engaging as the shows on the HAL cruises we took in 2014. The end of the show was the best, with first balloons and then confetti being showered upon the audience. After the show we went to the Queen’s lounge for the first performance of the evening of the B B King’s Blues band. The first fifteen minutes was a much extended introduction of the band members, but after that it was much better as the vocalists joined. Finally it was time to call it an evening. Returning to our cabin, we found a towel “Wolfie” on our bed.

This was our last port call in Italy. Tomorrow we are on the island of Corsica. Corsica is just north of Sardinia but Corsica is part of France.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 – Calvi, Corsica, France

We heard the lowering of the anchor and then the tender boats early in the morning. Sure enough, at 7:45 an announcement was made that the ship was cleared and guests could “Beat the rush” as tendering was beginning. We had arranged to meet friends for a nice dining room breakfast at 8:20 and enjoyed a nice time together. We then met at the tender dock at 9:30 to head over to Calvi. Prior to this time, an announcement was made that “Open tendering” was in place and no tender tickets were needed.

We found that there is a “Secret elevator” that goes from A Deck to B Deck for mobility impaired guests. Thereby, DW was able to get right to the tender platform without dealing with stairs. The sea this morning was smooth as glass and there were no waves rocking the tender. Before 10:00 we were on land in Calvi. Near the dock there was a welcome desk set up and all who visited were given a map of the town and a selection of six local candies, nicely wrapped. A very nice welcome indeed.

The four of us walked along the waterfront and found that most of the sidewalks did not have curb cuts so I wheeled DW along the edge of the street. This was true most of the day. Traffic is not intense in Calvi and when there was a parade of vehicles we moved over as much as we could. We found our way heading uphill along somewhat gentle slopes and reached a great overlook at the parking lot for the Citadel. From there we followed the map to the Church of Santa Maria. We found the church, and it was about half the size of a one room schoolhouse back home.

We decided that the ladies wanted a nice cup of coffee and the men wanted to visit the Citadel, so we returned to the area near the Citadel entrance where there were many cafes. I went with my friend to climb the Citadel and reach the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist at the summit. The church was quite nice and the Citadel is a thriving residential area as well as having many small cafes and restaurants. There would have been no chance of getting there with the wheelchair due to a very steep grade made of coarse and very uneven cobblestones. On our way down, we found the claimed birthplace of Christopher Columbus marked with historical plaques, but we know this is one of several such claimed places.

We rejoined our DW’s for a soda and a chance to sit at the café, and then found our way to the local “Pink” colored church. This was a challenge to reach but we did all make it. Afterwards, we found our way back to the waterfront and decided to head back to Zuiderdam for lunch as it was now about 1:00.

We obtained a salad in the Lido and found a table in the shade near the Lido pool. A burger and hot dog from the Terrace Grill was my lunch. Those burgers are outstanding! After a bit of ice cream, we changed for a long and relaxing visit to the hydro pool and thermal suite. There was a sail away in the crow’s nest today with music by Adagio. Upon arrival we found they were also having a non-advertised happy hour, and they served everyone a nice cheese plate of appetizers. We stayed at the crow’s nest conversing with a few other guests until dinner time.

Dinner was again very good. Prime rib was again on the menu tonight and it was superb, melt in your mouth Prime rib! DW has the Salmon over spaghetti with cream sauce and she liked it. After dinner we visited the Ocean bar and listened to the band until their break. The show tonight was a juggler type of act and we skipped it to call it an early night as tomorrow is a full-day tour from our port call in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 – Monaco

Our alarm woke us at 6:25 as Zuiderdam was on approach to Monaco. About ten minutes later our coffee and tea was delivered and the day was off. We enjoyed breakfast in the Lido, with Roland making our Omelets. We ate on the aft pool deck and enjoyed seeing Monaco from deck nine. At about 8:10 the “Ship is cleared” message was made and we met our touring group at 8:15 as directed.

We appeared to be one of the first groups off the ship and after about three minutes our driver & tour guide, Alexo with Nizza travel picked up the six of us with a very nice oversized VW van. He drove less than a mile and parked under Monaco-Ville and then led us on a walking tour of the area. We began by walking through the botanical garden, saw the palace, the cathedral, including the final resting place of Princess Grace and Prince Ranier III, and walked through many of the small, impeccably clean alleyways filled with sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops.

Back to the van, Alexo drove us over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix. Along the way we passed famous hotels, the Monaco Casino (where, interestingly, residents are not allowed to gamble), and dealers for many six-digit priced vehicles. Dealerships for Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, McFarlan, and a Mercedes dealership with only their top-end vehicles were all along the race course. We were told that residents with apartments along the course are able to rent out their balconies for 20,000 Euros for the race.

We next drove out of Monaco to the hillside medieval village of Eze, France. Alexo got us as close as he could and then needed to back the van down the switchback road as there was no room for him to turn around. He offered to take my DW to the top of a nearby mountain as Eze is not at all accessible in a wheelchair. She really enjoyed this as she was the only one of our group who got to see the Swiss Alps in the distance, as well as seeing Eze from up above!

We met at the main road at the appointed time, and proceeded on to France’s fourth largest city, Nice. Alexo gave us a grand tour beginning with a stop at the “Balcony of Nice” for wonderful photos. We passed homes belonging to Elton John and Sean Connery, among others. Alexo was able to stop in the old city of Nice where we had a small bakery snack of a Panini and Apple cake dessert. We walked through the “Flower market” where in addition to flowers, many vendors selling homemade soaps and various baked goods were present. We found one selling almond macaroons. After sampling one, we had to buy a souvenir tin of cookies. We packed this carefully, hoping they make the trip back home!

Leaving Nice, we rode the expressway for a short time to the seaside village of Cannes. Today was the opening day of the Cannes film festival, but films were not being shown until tomorrow. It was interesting walking around, seeing all the mega-yachts that have been rented by various movie studios (most of which I have never heard of). Many of the apartments in the building facing the waterfront also had banners attached to the balconies with names of production companies. We did see large posters for several upcoming movies that looked interesting, including a new George Clooney movie “Tomorrowland.”

Headed out of Nice we passed the Grand Hyatt, which apparently had several celebrities present based on the crowds gathered outside and the heavy security presence. Speaking of Celebrity, the Equinox was anchored off shore and was tendering passengers into Cannes. We drove through several small seaside towns with beautiful sandy beaches and passed through one with a medieval fortress built right on the waterfront.

We then headed back to Monaco and the Zuiderdam, where we arrived at about 4:40. We spent more time in the van that I would have preferred but we certainly did get a good view of the French Riviera. We had just enough time for cleaning up before dinner. There is a barbeque on the aft pool deck tonight. We walked by the check it out, and it looked pretty good, but we headed to the dining room.

We were joined by the sisters at our table and dinner was excellent again. I am glad I ordered two entrees as they were both small, but delicious. Scallops wrapped in bacon and Beef tenderloin were both great. Dessert was not that great, but later I enjoyed ice cream with banana at the barbeque. As the sun set, the band began to play at the aft pool deck and quite a crowd was present. I was able to get some good photos of Monaco in the twi-light. At 9:40 we called it a night. Tomorrow is St. Tropez and no long tours are planned, it will be a relaxing day.

Thursday, May 14, 2015 – St. Tropez, France

We are in port today from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM. We heard the announcement at about 7:35 that the ship was cleared and tender service had commenced. Before 9:30 “Open tendering” was available which worked out perfect for us. We enjoyed a great dining room breakfast, and arrived shore side at about 10:10.

Why Zuiderdam has such a long port call here I don’t understand, but I will take the opportunity to take some evening photos of the town from the ship. We walked around town, found the main square, which was filled with carnival type of equipment, and wandered some of the pedestrian only alleyways. We looked into a bakery and took photos through the window. Four euros for a single pastry or cookie seemed a little extravagant for our sense of value. We walked the waterfront and found that many local artists had set up displays of their efforts on the docks. If I owned one of the yachts tied up right next to them I’m not sure how happy I would be about it, but we must assume the town blesses this marketing effort.

Just a note on the weather – trip to date, it has been incredible and as close to “Perfect” as one could ask for. Yesterday was the first day with some high clouds and a haze the built as the day went on. Today we had high clouds all day and a fog over the Mediterranean (but not over the bay where we are anchored). As I write this the sun is shining brilliantly yet looking across the bay (not very far, perhaps three miles?) you can see the haze. Still, we have not had a drop of rain and we really appreciate the weather blessings we’ve been enjoying.

By Noon we returned to the Zuiderdam and enjoyed a quality coffee from the Explorations café. We relaxed in the crow’s nest for a while and when the coffee was consumed we went to the Lido for lunch. DW enjoyed a salad while I found gold! No, not really gold, but roast turkey was being served. Our favorite lido chef, Roland, gladly cut me a double portion of just white meat. A little brown gravy and some red skin mashed potatoes made this the best lunch of the cruise! We ate outdoors by the aft pool with a delightful light breeze. One of our touring friends found us and joined us for a while. His DW was still ashore “Shopping.”

A very relaxing afternoon of enjoying the hydro pool (alone for the first forty minutes) and then the thermal loungers (again, alone for a long time) was what we needed after yesterday’s very full day. We were dinner-dressed by 4:00 and went to the crow’s nest to write up the log and DW was taking advantage of our T-Mobile cell phone plan looking up a few things on the internet.

This brings up something else I don’t believe I’ve mentioned to date. Almost every evening if we are in one of the lounges before dinner appetizer plates have been served to us. This had been an extremely rare event on prior cruises and is a welcome improvement. On the other hand, there is now only one “Band” and when the band is needed for the evening show live music in the Ocean Bar is limited to 5:00 – 6:30. This effectively leaves those on main dining without the opportunity for dancing prior to dinner. Further, while on this 11 day cruise there are only two sea days, there has been no, as in ZERO, music at the pool during the day. Prior cruises we nearly always had music at the main pool during the main lunch times on sea days. To me, the loss of live music is more important than gaining appetizer plates.

At 5:00 we moved to the Ocean Bar to enjoy the band. We were served another appetizer plate. Dinner was excellent once again. I had the ribeye steak and DW enjoyed a Caesar salmon salad. We left dinner before dessert in order to attend the movie, only to find that the movie was not the one advertised. We returned to the dining room as the mango & blueberry crisp sure looked good (and it was).

We attended the show, a comedian Tony Daro. As comedians go he was okay. He really picked on our northern friends in Canada and there are a lot of Canadians on this sailing! After the show we went to the aft deck to try to take evening photos of St. Tropez. Well, there will be no evening photos as the wind was blowing and the camera would not stay still for long exposure shots. During dinner, the Captain announced that a storm was developing off the coast and Zuiderdam would be taking a much longer route, hugging the coast, to Barcelona. He said this route change will minimize the rolling and pitching but the cruise has been so calm thus far he wanted passengers to prepare as it will affect us late tonight and all day tomorrow.

We enjoyed a cup of tea in the Lido and called it a night.

Friday, May 15, 2015 – Sea day number two (of two)

The sea conditions today were not an issue. Yes, there were waves but we could hardly feel the ship move, and there was no “Sloshing” in the pools. It was kind of nice taking a course along the coast as at nearly all times we could see the French and late in the evening Spanish mountains.

Breakfast was enjoyed in the dining room. A long and relaxing time in the hydro pool and thermal suite followed. When we were quite warm, we found a table at the Lido pool to watch the handful of children on board enjoying the pool, while sipping teas and soda. After changing into more suitable clothes, we stopped at the front desk to tell them we were not attending the mariner’s lunch and they handed us the new Vista-class commemorative tiles.

A lido salad topped with roasted chicken breast made a great lunch for DW. I greatly enjoyed my last Terrace Grille burger of the cruise. Small (really!) desserts followed. We tried to attend the 1:00 movie but at 12:48 there were no seats remaining. This confirms a fear I had – the seats in the screening room are incredibly comfortable, but they take up a great deal of room (like individual recliners would in your living room). There are only about 20 chairs. On sea days they really should show the movie in a larger venue.

We attended the Indonesian tea, a regular favorite of mine. The decorations are still there, and I assume the tea is still from Indonesia, but it’s not the same as it was as recently as last year. The tea was weak and the snacks so-so at best. We won’t make the effort in the future.

Getting prepared for formal night, we then visited the Ocean bar for pre-dinner music with the band. We watched the captain pose with a number of guests for formal portraits. In truth, there weren’t that many guests having portraits taken. We suspect that most passengers on this cruise are fairly well traveled and no longer purchase photos (our case as well).

Dinner tonight was very good. The shrimp cocktail was very nice, and Ziggy took good care of us. My request for an extra lobster tail was gladly accommodated. The lobster was smothered in some type of sauce but it was still quite good. My filet was very thin but perfectly cooked. Tomorrow’s steak in the Pinnacle will be better.

We exchanged e-mail addresses and photos with our table mates, and said our farewells to Ziggy and his assistant. Ziggy really worked hard all cruise. We headed to the show room for the singers and dancers in “Avalon.” The show was okay. Overall, entertainment on this cruise is far below what we enjoyed on our three HAL cruises in 2014. Is this because of the type of cruise, being so port-intensive?

After the show we called it a night as tomorrow is an early start for our all day tour to Montserrat and the Spanish wine country.

Saturday, May 16, 2015 – Docked in Barcelona

The alarm went off, the coffee/tea was delivered, and we docked early in Barcelona. We visited the Lido and our favorite Lido cook, Roland, for breakfast. We met our touring friends (just four of us today) and at 8:15 we were off for our all-day tour of Montserrat and the Spanish Cava (wine) country.

Our driver Nordine, with Barcelona day tours picked us up a few minutes before the appointed 8:30 meet time in a Mercedes van. Nordine told us the ride to Montserrat would take about an hour, and he told us the history of Montserrat and the “Black Madonna” on the way there. We were passed by a “Fast train” that Nordine told us makes the trip from Barcelona to Madrid in just over two hours. As we climbed the mountain, we stopped for photo stops, and passed through the village which is the base of the cable car and cog railway; two alternate methods of reaching the mountain-top monastery.

We were early enough that the security team allowed Nordine to drive us right to the entrance to the Cathedral due to DW’s wheelchair, saving us quite a walk uphill. Nordine told our companions to get into the line to go through the Cathedral to see the Black Madonna, and that we should wait while he parks the van. We did so, and after about 20 minutes he was back. He took us in the accessible entrance to a wheelchair lift. Due to space constraints, only one wheelchair at a time can go in to the upper chapel so we waited a bit. Just as our turn arrived our touring friends came out. They waited as we visited the upper chapel and viewed the Madonna.

Nordine then took us through the main cathedral and we took a number of photos. The entire grounds are impeccable and we enjoyed seeing things like the home where the monks live, with the front courtyard strategically planted with “Plants/trees you would find in Israel.” Among these was a fig tree. The two men had hoped to take the funicular to the very top of the mountain, but it is not currently working. Nordine said that it was 85 years old, and the funicular cars were being replaced later this month to update the operation. We perused the souvenir shop and then enjoyed a light lunch at the upper cafeteria. We would later find out there was a lower cafeteria with a more substantial menu, but oh well.

We walked the grounds taking photos and noticing that the crowd was certainly growing. We met Nordine again at 1:00 and as we descended the hill saw vehicles parked every spot one could possibly fit. Some of those people had quite a hike just to reach the property gate! We took a different road down and stopped by a church originally built in the 1100’s which was also a convent until 1982, when a new convent was built a few miles away. From this site, we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains, some 200 miles distant. Yesterday’s wind sure cleaned out the atmosphere!

The Spanish Cava country is very pretty. Set between the sea, and a row of hills buffering the sea breezes, and Montserrat, which blocks the north wind, they have an ideal climate for growing grapes. We stopped at the ArtCava winery. This was the most inclusive “Wine tour” we have ever taken. We were even shown the “Cave” (Cava is Spanish for cave) where the wine is aged. We were shown how the yeast is removed from the wine (by freezing the neck) and the entire process. We also tasted three different varieties. We would have loved to take a few bottles home but as each weighs about four pounds, the airlines would not like that!

We returned to the Zuiderdam at about 5:00. It was time to shower and pack. Afterwards, I tried to check in online for the flights home but Air Europa does not have a great or responsive web site. We visited the “Spanish barbeque” taking place on the lido deck for photos but as we had reservations with friends we toured extensively with at the Pinnacle Grille we did not partake of the barbeque.

The Pinnacle was very, very good. Everything was enjoyed and we said our farewells to put the luggage out for the travel day to follow.

Sunday, May 17, 2015 – Heading home

A final breakfast in the dining room began what under the best conditions would be a very long day. We met another couple we had prearranged an airport transfer with and left the Zuiderdam. Many of the entertainers and officers were wishing everyone a fond farewell as we exited the gangway.

We retrieved our luggage and went outside to find / wait for our driver. I had arranged a 9:00 pre-paid pick up with BCN Travel Barcelona. To make a long story short, the pick-up never happened. Finally someone at their emergency number told us to “Take a cab.” I had to scramble to come up with enough Euros to pay the cab fare. After waiting in the cab line we were finally at the airport at 10:10 AM.

Checking in with Air Europa went well, but our wheelchair assistant abandoned us after going through security. We had coffee and a soda at McDonalds and began the very long walk to gate G62. Arriving at the gate, we let the gate staff know we were there and they “Called for assistance.” They made us late until everyone else had boarded the plane before the assistant could wheel DW onto the plane. Someone else was sitting in her seat and needed to move.

We took off on time but on arrival in Madrid the plane did not pull into a gate. Stairs were brought up, but this was not a small plane, but a 767! The cabin attendants called for a lift and we waited 30 minutes after the last passenger was off before the lift arrived. While waiting we found out this is the same plane that will fly to JFK later this evening. They drove us to nearly the other end of the airport to go into the terminal. The assistant wheeled DW about halfway back to an “Assist station” and told us to meet him back there at 4:30. Since it was now 2:30, and a Burger King was nearby, we retreated to the King of all burgers (but they are not as good as the Terrace Grill by a longshot!) to wait out the two hours.

We returned to the meeting place and no one was there. By 4:40 one person from the assist group walked by but he spoke no English. I pushed DW the 15 minutes to gate A1 myself. Of course, now boarding had started so we needed to wait until everyone else boarded the plane. A different assist man showed up and wheeled DW down the level gangway to the plane.

The long ride home? Okay, we left Madrid on time. We arrived at JFK about 50 minutes early. Someone from JFK assist was waiting for DW with their wheelchair. We were told ours would be at luggage claim. It was a very long walk to customs and immigration. They now scan your passport and take your photo automatically. This process went quickly. Our two suitcases were quickly retrieved, but no wheelchair or walker. The stewardess from the plane was also working luggage, and she spent over 15 minutes on the phone, finally to be told that they were delivered to the wrong oversize luggage belt.

With DW now in her own wheelchair, we were out to passenger pick up#4 and after only a short wait our pick up van from Park Plus airport parking was there. We were back in our van and left their lot at exactly 9:00 PM. In forty minutes we crossed the NJ border and we were home at 11:25 PM.

Summary:

We would take this cruise again, knowing what we know now? YES. We would take it again as a repeat? Likely not, at least for a while.

Cruise summary of the Zuiderdam follows:

Food was overall very good to excellent. No complaints whatsoever. Wish list? I wish they would open the main dining room a half-hour earlier on port days.

Service was also overall very good to excellent. No complaints in this category in the dining room, lido, Terrace Grill, room service, stateroom attendants, or the front desk. The staff at the gangway was always ready and able to assist DW getting on and off the ship. The spa staff was always pleasant and we never experienced crowding at the hydro-pool or thermal suite. The only service issue we experienced is that I completed the mid cruise “How are we doing card” and received no response at all. Not a big deal by any means, but a surprise as the Westerdam responded within 24 hours last fall.

Issues brought up on cruise critic I will touch on. There is always concern about the Zuiderdam because of historic issues with toilet operation. We never had a problem, and did not hear anyone else talking about any problems. I did find that if the “Toilet flush” button in our cabin was not all the way out sometimes it would not flush when first pushed, but that push usually popped the button out and a second push resulted in an immediate flush. Our cabin, far forward on the main deck (Deck 1) was very pleasant, but at times (and unpredictably) there were sewerage type of odors in the hallway and forward elevator lobby. This is one of the items on my mid-cruise comment card that was not responded to. At other times, there was no odor at all…

We took advantage of the “Retreat open house” and were not overly impressed with the area. I can see how some might enjoy this on a Caribbean type of cruise. The new cabins on deck 10 do not detract (again my opinion) from the attractiveness of the ship. When the cruise ended the Norwegian Epic was docked next to us. That is one ugly ship.

The new seating in the screening room is very comfortable but the chairs are much too large taking up so much space that only twenty or so can attend screenings. On a 2,000 passenger ship, that is just too few seats.

We were “Out and about” most of the time, yet I actually saw the captain just three times. Officers in general just “Never seemed to be around.” This was very different than the Westerdam, where we constantly saw officers interacting with guests and crew. The three captain views were at his Q & A session, at the retreat open house, and the last formal night when he was posing for formal night photos.

Overall cruise rating – Four stars out of five. For the first two-thirds of the cruise I thought this would be four and a half stars. The smells, subpar entertainment, screening room capacity, and non-response to the comment card made me give the good ship Zuiderdam four stars.
StartrainDD’s Full Rating Summary
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Cabin
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Service
Free Price Drop Alerts
Get Holland America Zuiderdam price drops
250,000+ people have entered their email

Cabin Review

Large Ocean-View Stateroom
Cabin F 1003
Very happy with the cabin.
Upper Verandah Deck Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins