Cruise Ship: Zuiderdam
Cruise Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Cruise Dates: November 30 - December 6, 2003
Guest Contributor: Ed Schlenk
Guest Contributor's note: This Zuiderdam cruise review is now a few years old but still has useful information about the ship and about touring Eastern Caribbean ports of call on your own. Since this was written most cruise lines, including Holland America, have made an effort to upgrade their services and cabin amenities, so your cruise experience should be even better now. Some cruise lines have also upgraded their prices, but Holland America still offers great values for a great product. Please be aware that the world of travel is constantly changing, so that some of the content of this review may have outdated since it was written. My apologies for any resulting inconvenience.
Guest Contributor's background: 50s, semi-retired, not in the travel business (no special concessions or prices were received). Previous cruises: multiple, including Holland America, Celebrity, Princess, Cunard, and Carnival.
There have been quite a few reviews written about the Zuiderdam, Holland Americas first "Vista" class ship launched in December 2002. This review will add my (and some of my wifes) impressions of this cruise and will provide what we hope are useful hints for pre-cruise, ports of call, and post-cruise arrangements for the budget-minded traveler.
The bottom line is that this was a very enjoyable cruise on a beautiful new ship at a price that was an astoundingly good value. We would recommend it for anyone who enjoys the relaxation and luxury of shipboard life with occasional mainstream (sometimes crowded) ports of call.
Pros: Numerous balcony cabins at reasonable prices; improved cuisine, now second to none; first-rate musicians and production shows; the kindest dining and cabin stewards anywhere; the best powder-sand beach in the Caribbean (Half Moon Cay).
Cons: An itinerary crowded with other cruise ships and passengers (St. Martin, St. Thomas, Nassau), unnecessarily high prices for Internet access, photographs, and liquor; lack of self-service laundry; lack of bathrobes in most cabins.
Holland America has a reputation for attracting older cruisers, and we found that most passengers on our cruise were in their 60s or 70s. One might think that this cruise would be a turn-off for younger couples and families with children, but one gentleman told me that his children were enjoying this cruise and Club HAL (the childrens program) much more than their previous cruise on the Disney Magic. His children felt special on HAL, but were just part of the overwhelming crowd of (sometimes unruly and unhappy) children on Disney.
My guess is that HAL attracts an older crowd because in years past they did little discounting until too late, selling leftover cabins at the last minute to Florida retirees. (Floridians apparently get price concessions from cruise lines). On my first HAL cruise a few years ago I was unhappy to learn that we had paid $1,000 more for our inside cabin than two of our tablemates had paid for their inside cabin, and $200 more than two other tablemates had paid for their outside cabin. It was a while before I was willing to trust HAL again, but those days are now past.
Fortunately, HAL is now using capacity-controlled pricing much the same as other cruise lines (and airlines) are, resulting in some great bargains, especially during the shoulder season before Christmas. Price shopping using internet cruise sites (there are several good cruise-bargain newsletters) or a large-volume cruise agency (more about this later) is very worthwhile.
The Zuiderdam is at the large end of medium-sized cruise ship spectrum, at 82,000 gross tons. She carries 1,800 passengers with almost one crewmember for each pair of passengers. As a Vista class ship, she is very similar to the Millennium class ships of Celebrity Cruises - the hull is wide and somewhat boxy (just narrow enough to squeeze through the Panama Canal), but the superstructure is narrower and tall enough to provide a relative abundance of balcony cabins.
Modern cruise ships seem to be categorized into small (20-50,000 tons), medium (60-90,000 tons), and mega (100-150,000 tons). The small ships tend to be either old, with wonderfully exotic itineraries (but idiosyncrasies such as occasional tiny cabins or port holes) or ultra-luxurious (with amenities and prices to match). The mega ships tend to be moving cities with an emphasis on large shopping malls, exotic activities (do you really want to go cruising to ice skate or rock climb?), and of course large masses of people. As you can guess, the mid-sized ships are our favorite, especially the newer ones like the Zuiderdam.
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