By Chris Gray Faust
Cruise Critic Managing Editor
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Entertainment

Zuiderdam Entertainment & Activities

Theater

The Vista Lounge Theater, on Decks 2 and 3, serves as the main entertainment venue for Zuiderdam. The seats are red plush, with plenty of legroom. Most evenings, the ship has musical performances with its staff of singers and dancers, a comedian or a magician. The stage has been updated in recent years with an LED system, and the best performances we saw took advantage of this -- the Billboard show with the Zuiderdam singers and dancers was particularly effective. Another standout on the mainstage was "Frozen Earth," a performance that utilized two of the line's partnerships -- BBC and "Live from Lincoln Center." The classical musicians played while gorgeous imagery from the world's Polar Regions were broadcast on a screen.

Daily Fun

In recent years, Holland America has doubled down on the number of branded partnerships that it has: the roster currently includes BBC Earth, Oprah’s O magazine, Microsoft Windows and America's Test Kitchen. All of the enrichment events and activities sponsored by these affiliates are in addition to usual cruise ship activities, such as trivia, bingo, art auctions, wine tastings, dance lessons, mixology sessions and port presentations (certain events require an extra fee). As a result, it's almost impossible to get bored.

Holland America signed up with America's Test Kitchen in 2016, and the B.B. King Blues Club doubles as a space for sea day cooking demonstrations. Although you don't get to taste (boo!), the presenter on our sailing made up for it with actionable tips and a down-to-earth manner that made it easy to follow along. Sheets with recipes and recommended products are also distributed at each session.

A small Screening Room on Deck 3 shows second-run movies and BBC Earth movies several times a day. On some days, there's a special BBC Earth trivia held in the Explorations Central lounge.

Once per voyage, there's an O magazine book discussion group. Unfortunately, we didn't know what the book was before we left, so we weren't prepared to join. (Apparently, we also missed the early notice in the daily program; the book was sold in the shops so if you're a fast reader, you can catch up.) The O magazine partnership also holds mindfulness sessions near the Lido pool in the early mornings, as well as healthy eating seminars.

Microsoft has a branded computer room on Deck 2. As many as six class sessions a day were held on our cruise, on topics such as "tell your stories with photos" and "Windows 10 security." (Apple users were out of luck.)

On Alaska voyages, a national park ranger joins the ship for a day of commentary and several lectures, which you can listen to in the public areas or in your cabin. There's also a polar dip in the Lido outdoor swimming pool, and hot Dutch pea soup is served to passengers viewing glaciers on the outer decks in Glacier Bay.

On Panama Canal sailings, commentary is given as you go through the locks. The front bow is open to passengers early, with coffee and Panama sweet buns served. Don't miss the port talks on the Canal given by the Explorations Central staff; this is one experience where you might want some professional guidance before picking your excursions to make sure you're getting exactly what you want out of the day.

At Night

The Casino anchors the ship's busiest entertainment area on Deck 2; it's a nonsmoking area. You'll find slot machines, poker, blackjack, craps and roulette.

Once a cruise, Zuiderdam hosts a pub crawl that becomes quite rowdy, as the beverage manager leads up to 90 chanting passengers from bar to bar. The $19.95 fee includes four drinks, and that's not including the beer you'll down during the chugging game held at the Lido Bar. If you've been wondering where the young passengers are on your cruise, you'll find them here; that being said, the oldest participant when we went was 83 years old.

Zuiderdam Bars and Lounges

With three musical partnerships -- B.B. King Blues Club, "Live from Lincoln Center" and Billboard Onboard (the latter two spaces added in a 2017 refurbishment) -- the ship has a fair amount of energy at night. A Holland America ship will never be rocking past midnight, but until then, the Music Walk on Deck 2, where the clubs are located, is fairly lively.

Holland America offers several drink packages, including both nonalcoholic (the Quench non-alcoholic drink package; $17.95 per day) and alcohol-inclusive options. A 15-percent gratuity is added to the price. Both passengers in the cabin have to get the drink package, and there's a daily limit of 15 drinks.

If you like to have a bottle with dinner, packages separate the wine into three "cellar" categories, and you can buy four, six or eight bottles for one price, depending on what package you purchase. You're allowed to bring one bottle of wine per person onboard for free; otherwise, you pay a corkage fee of $18 (which is fairly reasonable when you see bottle prices).

Billboard Onboard (Deck 2): Adjacent to the casino (the machines' sounds are turned down at night so the ringing doesn't compete), Billboard Onboard has two dueling pianos with performers playing the number one hits you can't help singing along to. Chairs are comfy (although during the first performance of the night it can be hard to get a seat!) and cool screens on the wall give you information about the song that's being played. The performers here were gregarious and talented, joking with passengers and playing most requests. A typical evening included two themed shows, like 1960s or country, with the last performance being all request.

Gallery Bar (Deck 2): Located where the ship's disco once was, the Gallery Bar is now a cross between a library and living room. Several large screen TVs make it a comfy place to watch big games, and the bar itself specializes in whiskeys and cognacs. It's often the spot for 10 p.m. happy hours. During the day, this is where small groups sometimes meet.

B.B. King Blues Club (Deck 2): The B.B. Blues Club has a stage and a dance floor that's often busy when the band plays R&B, soul, jazz and rock hits. On nights that the band is on, there are three shows and most are packed. When the band quits at 11:15 p.m., a DJ spins all-request dance songs (although the crowd mostly clears out at this point).

Pinnacle Bar (Deck 2): Across the atrium from the Pinnacle Grill, this bar is a quiet spot for pre-dinner drinks.

Lincoln Center Stage (Deck 2): "Live from Lincoln Center" brings classical music to Zuiderdam. A quintet usually played three shows daily, one in the afternoon and two in the evening. Performances showcased Brahms, music from the movies and ballet, among others. A sign warns passengers to be quiet while passing by during performances. If you want a seat, get to performances early.

Explorer's Lounge (Deck 2): This bar holds the overflow from the Lincoln Center Stage during performances and is a comfy place to hang out when the musicians aren't playing. While there's no bar, drinks are sold from a cart.

Ocean Bar (Deck 3): Circling the atrium, the Ocean Bar provides perfect people-watching, both for passengers going to dinner and those outside walking the Promenade. A pianist plays before dinner and happy hour specials are served here.

Seaview Bar (Deck 9): Adjacent to the aft pool, Seaview provides the usual fruity cocktails and mocktails.

Lido Bar (Deck 9): Another active bar for the pool set. On an Alaska cruise, this was the place to find Alaskan Brewing Company beer on tap and in bottles. On sea days in warm climates, servers often circulate with mimosa and bloody mary fixings.

Explorations Central at the Crow's Nest (Deck 10): Stretching across the front of the ship, this lounge is not just one of best places on the ship to get a drink with a view, it's the destination center for your cruise. The space includes a small circular cafe counter with specialty coffees and free pastries. Tables nearby are designed for puzzles, and there is also an array of board games that you can check out.

In addition, the space has the ship's excursion desk where passengers can book tours or get information on the next port. There are also cool touch tables that have info on the ports that you'll be visiting. On the port side of the lounge, there's a presentation space where basic language lessons are offered or port lectures are held. Cruisers can share their opinions with the interactive Question of the Day station, which asks a daily travel-themed question for people to answer. Ship geeks will like the digital displays that mimic what the captain sees on the bridge -- azipod status, propeller rotation rates, speed, ocean depth, etc. There's also a very limited library, composed mostly of coffee table books.

Zuiderdam Outside Recreation

Pools

Zuiderdam has two pools onboard. The aft pool, on Deck 9, has a shallow section appropriate for children, and an odd piece of art that doubles as a bench in it. There are two hot tubs here, as well as covered areas to eat and drink.

Also on Deck 9 -- under a retractable roof -- the Lido Deck pool features a large polar bear statue (which might fit Alaska but looks extremely strange in the warm Caribbean). We found that this space worked better in a cold climate, where the roof gives you just the right amount of element exposure, than the Panama Canal, where the enclosure made the humidity unbearable. Although this area is supposed to be child-free, we saw many kids using the three hot tubs and pool on our Alaska cruise. Light pop songs serve as a soundtrack and there are plenty of lounge chairs.

Recreation

The ship has an outdoor basketball court and volleyball court on Deck 11. During Glacier Bay cruising, outdoor sports decks are closed because of the national park regulations.

Sun Decks

Besides the pool areas, Zuiderdam has sun decks and loungers around Decks 10 and 11 behind the funnel. You can also find deck chairs down on Deck 3.

For those looking for extra privacy and pampering, The Retreat is a fee-only cabana retreat area on Deck 10. The cabanas, which can be rented per day or for an entire cruise, are shaded tents with lounge chairs and sun beds. The area also has an exclusive bar and private elevator near the spa; a light lunch is also served. The price of the Retreat varies, costing $125 on sea days and $75 on port days.

Zuiderdam Services

The front desk is located on Deck 1, just off the atrium. Deck 3 is the ship's main public area. Here you'll find the photo gallery, where you can buy pictures taken by the roaming ship photographers. Several small conference rooms host card games and small group meetings. The future cruise desk that used to be near here has been moved to Deck 10, at Explorations Central.

Deck 3 also contains the shopping arcade, which has the clothing, liquor, cosmetics, and jewelry and watch boutiques. A separate Marbella store sells high-end jewelry.

The ship's art gallery, which holds auctions and "guess the price" contests, is on Deck 2.

Zuiderdam has a small computer lounge on Deck 1. Wi-Fi packages are offered in three tiers: social, with which you can access social media sites ($14.99 per day); surf, with which you can email, news and browse the web ($24.99 per day) and premium, with which you can stream ($29.99 per day). We found that the speed of the connection varied by day and location on the ship; the area near the casino was a total dead zone, for example.

Laundry and dry cleaning services are available onboard for a fee; there are no self-service facilities.

The medical center on Deck A is open daily from 8 a.m. to noon and 2 to 6 p.m.; a fee applies.

Zuiderdam Spa & Fitness

Spa

Located on Deck 9 forward, the Greenhouse Spa, operated by industry stalwart Steiner, is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, except the last day of the cruise, when it closes at 9 p.m. Its salon offers manicures, pedicures, acrylic nails, lash extensions, teeth whitening, blowouts, updos and highlights. Medi-spa treatments and acupuncture are also available.

Treatment rooms are scattered around the fitness area, which means you're walking to your massage through the same hallway used by people heading to the gym. Before your treatment, you can spend some time in the Relaxation Room, where there's an array of flavored water, tea and fruit.

The spa offers the usual variety of services, including massages, facials, waxing and body treatments. As of early 2018, a 50-minute hot stone massage cost $149, although prices were drastically reduced on sea days and toward the end of the voyage. We enjoyed a 75-minute package for $159, which came without a sales pitch.

For an extra fee, you can relax in the Greenhouse Retreat. Passes are sold by the cruise only, for $149 per person and $299 per couple. It includes access to a thermal suite with heated loungers, a steam room, an aromatherapy room and saunas, as well as a full hydrotherapy pool. We found this a worthwhile splurge on our Panama Canal cruise, simply for the gorgeous sunsets we were able to catch from the thermal suite's floor-to-ceiling windows.

Fitness

Just forward of the spa, Zuiderdam's fitness center is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes and weight equipment; it's a compact space, however. Stretching and abs classes are free. Classes with an extra $12 fee include yoga and indoor cycling; you can also buy a three-class pass for $30. Personal training is available for $85 per hour.

Zuiderdam has two decks with tracks that circle the ship. On Deck 3, the classic Promenade is covered by lifeboats, meaning you can walk even on rainy days; we saw it frequently used. Three laps equal a mile. Once per sailing, Zuiderdam holds a noncompetitive 5K fundraising walk to donate money for cancer research. (The $20 minimum includes a T-shirt.)

You can also walk around the entire ship on Deck 10, although you're exposed to the elements.

Zuiderdam For Kids

Although Holland America is not known as a line that specializes in children, the ship's Alaska itineraries attract quite a few kids. On a late August sailing, for example, there were 174 passengers under 17 onboard. This figure radically diminishes when the ship does its longer voyages in the Panama Canal and Caribbean; we had no children on our Panama Canal cruise.

Limited in-room babysitting for ages 3 and up is available at $10 for the first child and $7 per hour for each additional child; there's no babysitting services when the ship is in port.

Children

Club HAL, the ship's facility for younger children, is located on Deck 10. Children are divided into two groups: ages 3 to 6 and tweens ages 7 to 12. The Club HAL program is open on sea days from 9 to 11:30 a.m., 1 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m. On port days, the hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m.

Activities for the younger kids include coloring contests, story time and junior ranger programs. There's a sign-in and sign-out policy; all children 6 or younger must be signed in and out by a parent or designated guardian. Kids must be toilet trained and out of diapers/pull ups. (This is true for all swimming pools as well.)

Teens

Tweens take part in activities such as ice cream eating contests, theme parties and tournaments, as well as the specially designed BBC Earth Experiences Amazing and Awesome Fact Show. They are allowed a little more freedom and can sign themselves in and out during the day. All kids ages 12 and under must wear an Assembly Station wristband.

Also on Deck 10, the Loft is a clubhouse for teens ages 13 to 17, open 10 a.m. to late. Activities include scavenger hunts around the ship, video game contests, movie screenings, ice cream parties and dance competitions. Teens are not required to sign in or out and can come and go when they please.

Holland America Zuiderdam Ship Stats

  • Crew: 800
  • Launched: 2002
  • Decks: 11
  • Passengers: 1,970
  • Registry: The Netherlands
  • CDC Score: 100

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