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HAL's ms Zuiderdam
Saturday, November 10-17, 2007
Eastern Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands; Tortola, BVI; St. Thomas USVI; Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Jim (Sir James) and I (ZuiderPrincess) are in our 60s and this was our 22nd cruise; mostly on HAL but also Celebrity, RCI, NCL and Carnival. At first we tried to do everything... every onboard activity every day, at least one excursion in every port, every Captain's Cocktail Party, every formal photographic opportunity... now we enjoy each day on a whim, napping through activities or port stops, just doing as we please, and enjoying every restful moment.
This was our 8th cruise on the beautiful ms Zuiderdam. She is now 5 years old, and is in excellent shape for a ship heading to drydock in a few months. From our conversations with both officers and crew, it's clear that they are all very proud of their ship, and are excited to see the new structural and esthetic changes planned for next year. Every time we board, we are welcomed by the intoxicating floral scents, energized by the bright colors and fabrics, and drowned in an ocean of fluffy down duvets... like a second home. A home with generous public rooms, beautiful works of art, luxurious spa facilities, and remarkable dining, virtually 24/7. While we sometimes never leave the ship, we will occasionally visit a yet unvisited port.
Shopping & Booking & Stuff:
We originally booked two SY cabins (traveling with friends), but about a month before sailing, our excellent travel agent called with an upgrade offer from HAL, and we couldn't resist the two SA cabins very near the Neptune Lounge.
Prior to embarkation: We usually fly from SAV to ATL to FLL for about $500. This year the best price I could find was $800, so we decided to drive to JAX and fly down for $400. We also chose to drive down the night before and stay at the Hilton Inn. We were able to leave our car there for free, offsetting the cost of the room, each under $100. For me, the savings was about 2 dice rolls.
Fearing the worst, we boarded our first ever Southwest Air flight. We checked in online 24 hours in advance, and were the first to board. It was open seating, and we nabbed the exit row for the leg room. The crew was outstanding! Cabin attendants Sharon and John were efficient, but entertaining. We left the plane with wings, playing cards and luggage tags, and will fly Southwest whenever we can from now on. Our flight arrived at about 1:30, and we taxied to the dock and zipped through the Suite Line. Here we were provided with a welcome packet containing a portable deck plan, an overview of facilities, our ID cards (combination cabin key and boarding & charge cards) and were in our cabin in 15 minutes. A quick trip to the Lido for bread pudding was followed by the safety drill. About half of our x group met at the Seaview Bar for SailAway, and we had time to take a nap before the evening activities.
Our cabins, Category SA 7051 & 7053, Rotterdam Deck, Starboard, were outstanding! Huge (510 total square feet each), comfortable room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs. Plenty for two. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. A generous variety of Elemis products was provided, and refilled daily as needed. There was also a laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and 2 fluffy cotton robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table with 3 drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror (1X/5X), 3 closets with mirrored doors and a safe (3 more closets are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player, data port, 2 telephones with voice mail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger. Our cabin steward, Nurman (and his subTaufiq) served us well, working around our odd sleeping habits and provided plenty of ice and towels on request.
Scattered about the cabin were a bottle of champagne from Captain van Donselaar and Hotel Manager Mark Pells, a packet from the Concierges with a list of the services they provide, our custom-printed letterhead, post cards & pen. Hotel Manager Mark Pells sent a note offering Suite guests complimentary breakfast in the Pinnacle, and Captain van Donselaar sent a note outlining fire safety precautions and encouraging increased attention to the prevention of the spread of any gastrointestinal disease that may sneak aboard.
Generally at this time I write about the ship facilities, but the real estate hasn't changed since my last 5 reviews, so I'll refer you to those.
Sorry, no flat-screens as yet. In addition to 3 or 4 channels showing various shipcam views, each offering a different music genre, the stateroom television features TNT programming, CNN Headline News, shore excursions, safety information, ship programming and feature movies.
The Queen's Lounge offered (complete with complimentary popcorn): Evan Almighty, License to Wed, Rescue Dawn, Transformers, The Ultimate Gift, and Evening.
The Vista Lounge showed Hairspray,
We love the great layout of this buffet! It has the cafeteria-style order, but to eliminate standing in one long, long line, there are different stations for:
Drinks (24 hours)
The Express (breakfast)
The Bistro (full breakfast)
The Continental (cold meats, fruits, juices)
The Eggs (omelets)
The Wok (oriental and asian dishes)
The Italian (pasta and pizza)
The Bistro (rotisserie and grill)
The Salads (salad bar)
The Deli (sandwiches made to order
The Sweets (ice cream and pastries)
The Italian (pizza and pasta)
The Bistro (roasted & grilled meats and seafood)
The Sweets (ice cream and pastries)
Vista Dining Room:
Agung Suki (DR Supervisor), Rudi (Waiter), Yudin (Assistant Waiter) and Joel (Wine Steward) served our table 120, a 4-topper along the port side windows. At first the service was unbearably slow, but after a few words with the DR Supervisor, the pace picked up significantly. The menu was varied, and I sometimes ordered two entr?es (one to share with the table).
Ioan (Waiter) and Sofia (Assistant Waiter) served us in the Pinnacle. Their service was excellent! In past visits, only about half the tables were occupied and the service was very slow. This time the Grill was nearly full and we breezed through dinner. Make your reservations as soon as possible, as the restaurant is often fully booked by the second evening. The four of us ordered the Petit Filet, Planked Halibut and Planked Shrimp, together with the asparagus, creamed spinach, mushrooms, potatoes, basmati rice, and, of course, the Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake and Cr?me Brul?e.
Although I did not have time to attend, Chef Rajeev held the following demonstrations were held in the Queen's Lounge:
Mango Soup, Herb Crusted Caribbean Scallops
Tuesday ($29 Max 12)
Paella Salad, Empanadas with Banana
Goat Cheese Potato Galette, Apple Strudel
Fay and Carlo were happy to help us arrange part of the x party, and even loaned me a jump drive to get the invitations done. Ioan, the Neptune steward, always kept the buffet stocked and quickly cleared dishes from tables.
I had emailed the Casino Manager, Chris Whiteford, to ask him to arrange our Ocean Players Club VIP status. I introduced myself on the first evening, and he said he had found our registration from our last cruise. We generally find the Casino Managers, OPC Hosts and dealers quite friendly. Although I had a nice conversation with the Chris on the first night, a scheduling and promotional problem arose (which was handled appropriately by his assistant), and after that the Manager was "unavailable". Jim played (live) Texas Hold'em every day, and thinks the poker dealers Tony, another guy and a gal, were professional, friendly, understood the RULES and controlled the table properly. The other dealers were rather bored (and boring). I tripled my money at the Craps Table, and Jim did even better at poker, winning a tournament on the first day, and more later during the week.
You can use your onboard account to purchase tokens at the Cashier's Window (minimum $20) or chips at the tables (Minimum $50), $1,000 per day maximum, 3% service charge. The Casino was non-smoking on Tortola and Half Moon Cay days.
Check your email from your own ISP, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. or use HAL's Cruise Email (ask the Tech). This place is open 24 hours and offers several packages. WiFi access was in the Internet Center, the Library, Lobby and some other public rooms (cards for your own laptop are available). We prefer dialup in our cabin, so we can compose and save emails to upload all at one time for 75 cents.
Jacquie Ainsworth, Internet Manager, was really helpful when I had a dialup problem. Somehow, we also had WiFi access in our suite, but you really have to remember to shut down your notebook to close the connection or it could be very pricey. Same with dialup... yank it out of the wall when you're done.
Greenhouse Spa & Salon:
This was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had in a ship spa. The usually surly and aloof staff were friendly and personable, and in my 3 treatments, I was not pressured into buying product. Look for the daily specials, especially on port days.
While we thought all officers, staff and crew members were special in their own ways, these deserve special mention:
* Mark Pells, Hotel Manager
* Jeroen van Danselaar, Captain
* Parker Cristan, Cruise Director with great legs
* Fay and Carlo, our Neptune Lounge Concierges
Saturday, Embarkation Day:
After the Safety Drill, our x group had a few drinks together at the Seaview Bar for SailAway. About 20 of us attended, enjoying the beautiful (if windy) weather, and dancing to the HALCats.
We had time for a short nap before the Captain and Hotel Manager's Welcome party in the Neptune Lounge. At our late, lower seating (8:30) we met our friends at table 120 for the first of many enjoyable dinners. We checked out the Casino, skipped Elliott Maxx's comedy show (big mistake) and DJ Drew's Dance Party, and headed to bed.
Sunday, At Sea:
This beautiful day at sea proved to be a lazy one. Jim highlighted a number of activities in the Daily Program, but the only things we did all day were Slots and Hold'em. At 3:00 we had our official x Meet 'n' Greet in the Oak Room. HAL provided refreshments, and we were joined by Hotel Manager Extraordinaire Mark Pells and Cruise Director Parker "Sexy Legs" Cristan. Mark was kind enough to handle a little Q&A for us, giving us some insight into the future of HAL and the Eurodam Inaugural. Many thanks to Mark for making our little party memorable.
Formal Dinner was delicious, although service was still slow. We somehow missed the Captain's Welcome Toast, partly because we didn't see any formal photographers. Jimmy went to play Hold'em, and I've seen Under the Boardwalk before, so I crashed.
Monday, Grand Turk:
A short windy day in Grand Turk, I went ashore early looking for some of our CC group. It's mainly a large shopping area surrounding the Duty Free Store. Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville is a taste of Key West, complete with sprawling free-form pool with adjacent lounger area and a swim-up bar. The band was great, and everyone looked to be having a good time. I should have gone ashore earlier.
The rest of the day we relaxed, had dinner, missed the show, gambled, ate & slept.
Captain van Donselaar took the ship through the Sir Francis Drake Channel on the way to Tortola. Hotel Manager Mark Pells opened up the bow area offering a spectacular panoramic view of this approach. Once in Road Town, we took an excursion to the North Shore and Pusser's Landing. We took an open tram around the shoreline to Pusser's Landing, a small harbor, shopping area and bar. This 20 minute stop was hardly enough to grab a drink and look in one store, which is a shame because the windows showed some upper scale, unique items I had not seen in the other ports. A drive to the highest point on the island was bumpy, and the Kodak Moments found there were mostly obscured by low clouds. The complimentary rum drink was pretty bad. The ride down was faster, and it was raining by that time, so we had some close calls and damp seats. I'd love to have the brake and tire contract on that island!
This night was the BBQ dinner, and we ate in the Pinnacle.
Wednesday, St. Thomas:
Surprise! Due to the tardiness of a Carnival ship, Captain van Donselaar was able to obtain berth #1 at Havensight Mall, so NO TENDERING! The comments I heard proved you cannot please everybody... some pax cheered for the berth, some jeered at not being taken downtown.
Immigration went very smoothly. HAL really has an excellent system, so that once your deck is called, you go to the Queen's Lounge, flash your ID, pick up a green card and you're done. We never stood still the whole time. There was then time for a full breakfast before my spa treatments. I then went ashore for a little trinket shopping at Havensight, but Jim stayed aboard, and later won the Hole in One Contest.
The Captain and Hotel Manager invited us for cocktails in the Oak Room, and we loved mingling with the Mariners and Suite Passengers we had met so far.
James Cielen's show was awesome, as usual. He had his toddler participate along with his little poodle. We ALWAYS go to James' show. Some of the illusions were the same, but I still can't figure them out. We hated to miss The Quest (which is always fun) and the Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza, but we were unusually sleepy that night.
Thursday, At Sea:
I attended a special brunch for Mariners and Suite Guests, which was a nice change from the old Mariner Awards venue. Jim slept too late to attend The Great Zuiderdam Scavenger Hunt, and James Cielen's close-up demonstration for the magic fanatics, where he promised to teach everyone at least one trick. Texas Hold'em and the Slot Tournament won the coin toss for that time slot.
A couple from our x group hosted a cocktail party in their wake suite, and it was SO relaxing out there on that huge veranda, watching the sunset, enjoying hors d'oeuvres and champagne. This is probably the most time I've spent with our Roll Call friends on any of our cruises, and it was a truly enjoyable time.
Our favorite game, The Newlywed, Not-so-newlywed game show, was held during our dinner seating, and we try not to miss a meal. Early bedtime also preempted the Stage and Screen Show and Elliott Maxx's Late Night Comedy Show.
Friday, Half Moon Cay:
SUNSHINE! Most people left the ship, but I stayed behind this time to enjoy the vacant pool area (my only sunbathing this cruise) and have some spa treatments. We pretty much lazed around all day (all that relaxing that week wore us out), and lingered in the dining room a little longer. I went up to pack and Jim went to play poker. I had the bags outside on time, and checked on them about 4:00 but they weren't picked up yet. I couldn't get through to the Front Desk, so I went down there and was assured that even though they were the ONLY bags out there, they would be picked up OK. When we found them in the warehouse, they were unopened. Whew!
Saturday, Debarkation Day:
As suite guests, we were assigned the first call off the ship. We ordered room service, visited in our cabin with our friends, and when the call came, we went down to the gangway and right off the ship. The warehouse has been changed around some, and the color flags have not been moved yet, but an agent pointed us in the right direction. Jim found a porter while I found the bags, and we were through Customs, in a cab, and at the airport in just minutes.
Our next Zuidy cruise (#9) is scheduled for March 2008. We consider this beautiful ship our 'vacation timeshare' with variable dates and a whopper of a surcharge. Well, 'whatever makes you happy...'
I love to chat about Zuidy... E-me any time!
? 2007-08 Candy the ZuiderPrincess