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About 81Zoomie

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    HAL, Princess, Celebrity, Azamara

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  1. You could sail a luxury cruise line for much less....
  2. We are on your Equinox sailing in March. I was pretty excited to see that I might finally get shareholder credit like we have been getting with CCL for years. I emailed in the form and documents on Wed. I received a confirmation email from Celebrity that it was received. I was delighted to see an email from Celebrity this morning until I saw that I had been denied. I went to the link provided and the only thing I can find that would apply is that our reservation was made in Jan 2019. Since you frequently get different answers from different people at Celebrity, I’m wondering if it’s worth trying again next week.
  3. We have heard that Carnival intends to build a pier at HMC. Could this be the reason?
  4. There is an abundance of salad options for lunch in the buffet as well as fresh fruit. You can order fish at almost every meal and ask for extra veggies! The only problem is that there is a temptation at every turn! The gyms are great, and it is very enjoyable walking around the decks!
  5. You could use Smiths transportation and leave the driving to them. We had them meet us in London at the hotel and take us to Southampton. We planned a stop at Stonehenge along the way, and the driver waited while we walked around. Tickets for Stonehenge are for specific times and do sell out. We bought our own online months in advance.
  6. The last time we arrived at Heathrow the passport/immigration process took over an hour after the long walk to get there. In my experience arriving from the US and transferring to another European flight as a US citizen, 2 hours is the minimum time I accept. If Brexit happens before you travel, who knows!
  7. Day 9 - Disembarking and Looking Back We were both up before 6am. Through the crack in the curtains I could see the lit silhouette of a ship behind us. We were still moving, but slowly. The Zuiderdam slid along the dock shortly after 6am. We went in head first, which is opposite of how the ship was docked when we departed. DH and I popped down for one last Pinnacle breakfast. I had mixed fruit and an omelet. I figured this would be breakfast and lunch! We have always self disembarked in order to get to the airport early. Since we were driving this time, we sent our bags out last night. We were in Group 1, 8:15. The groups were called a bit early and we walked off at 7:45. We found our suitcases, maneuvered to the Global Entry line, and were out the door. It is a little bit of a walk to the parking garage. If you have lots of luggage, I would recommend having someone wait at the curb and the other person bring the car around. We were bags loaded, out of the garage, and a full tank of gas on Federal Highway by 8:15am! I must say, it was a very different feeling for us leaving the ship today knowing we were driving home instead of flying. We were so much calmer. And for a late lunch on the road... an “unwich” from Jimmy Johns. A lettuce wrap, let the diet begin! Looking back we had a nice cruise. The goal for us was total relaxation and we booked this HAL cruise and our cabin with that in mind. We wanted total relaxation. This cruise was 100% on the mark with this goal in mind. We loved our cabin! The crew worked very hard and was so eager to please. Everything is subjective. I will reflect giving my opinions. Your thoughts may be different, and that is OK. Things HAL/Zuiderdam does well: - Friendly helpful crew. Our stateroom was immaculate! - The Zuidy was in excellent condition. Interior was well coordinated and had a more contemporary vibe. Everything was in excellent shape and worked well. - Things feel classy, not trendy - In general, the food and service was very good. Menu was well marked with gluten free and vegetarian options. - Fresh squeezed OJ - Generous sized cabins, balconies, and plenty of storage. - Good availability of lounge chairs during the day. - Wide promenade deck you can walk around with old school teak chairs on this ship. - Flowers, especially orchids were lovely. (They are not as plentiful as before.) - The Dive In French fries and Mexican buffet bar by the Lido pool - Classical music at the Lincoln Stage - BB King band is great, but size of the venue is limiting. - No more smoking in the casino! - Well qualified crew who put safety first even if it meant missing a port. Things HAL could improve: - It appears staffing has been It to the bone. As examples: We saw no asst stateroom attendants, no buss boys, and a limited number of drink servers. Cruise director staff consisted of a cruise director, entertainment director, and 3 HAL club personnel. - Entertainment. The magician was great. The comedian was funny. The Step One Dancers were very talented, but their performances became repetitive. There is no live music during the day. No broadway or cirque du soleal type shows in the theatre. No musicians or vocalists in the theatre. - Daily ‘What and Where’ agenda was very repetitive. Foot print analysis, Microsoft classes (6 one day), meet for pickle ball, meet for tennis, port shopping, jewelry lectures, etc... - No cooking demos. No chefs table or wine dinner. No liquor tasting seminars with the exception of wine. - No escargot. No more bread sticks. Only 3 basic flavors of ice cream each day, with a 4th rotating (dairy free available upon request). No gelato, sorbet, or sherbet in the Lido. There Is no dessert available after dinner (8pm) with the exception of room service or if you are eating late in the dining room. - Bar hours were not listed in the daily program. Some bars were closed in the late afternoon/early evening. Happy hour is no longer available shortly before dinner. It is now at noon, 3 pm, and 9pm. Regular well cocktails and their prices were not printed in the bar menus. Several of the bars were near empty after dinner. The one thing that was apparent, everywhere, is that the atmosphere lacked energy, lacked fun. What’s fun you ask? Learning to play a steel drum. Singing along with a vibrant pianist. Watching a flight of 7 martinis being poured. Taking a tango lesson. Some type of passenger crew competition. A bar with a vocalist or band before dinner. A put put golf challenge. A Bourbon tasting. Expand on the Orange party concept to an Orange day (Orange Julius drinks, orange sherbet, orange pancakes, orange mashed potatoes, orange cookies, crew in orange shirts) that culminates in an Orange Party. Everyone’s idea of fun is different, these are simply my thoughts, everyone’s idea of fun is different. Our next cruise will be in March on the Celebrity Equinox. We do not often cruise in such close proximity. The March cruise is a family event with my brother and his DW and we had to negotiate on the timing, price, and ship. Sitting over lunch DH and I were trying to do rough math to see how the all inclusive Celebrity pricing (drinks, grats, internet, and OBC; Veterans Day sale) compares to our HAL cruise with just a little OBC. It will require a pad and pencil. We are looking forward to comparing the two products since we will be in a suite on Celebrity for the first time. It will be an apples to apples comparison. The one thing I can say for certain, is that our aft verandah on The Zuidy was priceless!!! Another cruise is in the books with one on the horizon. We hope wherever and whenever you sail, you find smooth seas and happy sailing! Bon Voyage!
  8. Day 8 - At Sea Our final day at sea is beautiful even if the wind is blowing at 40 knots. We slept in and had a leisurely breakfast at the Pinnacle. The Texas French Toast was great. We have had the mixed fruit plate every morning. Berries must be out of season. The plate has been watermelon, banana, cantaloupe, 1 raspberry, and 1 blackberry every morning. I have not seen a blueberry, and the only strawberry is a sliced garnish on the French toast. Same goes for pineapple. It is missing in action except for a garnish/salsa at the Mexican food bar and grilled with an entree at dinner. We read on the back deck and enjoyed the sound of the wake. Fortunately, we are sheltered from the wind. I joked with DH that we could put up video screens on our lanai at home and project the wake! The lure of our balcony was stronger than the jewelry auction, bingo (3 cards for 4 games $29.99), and the t-shirt sale (2 for $20) at the Lido pool. I did give into the temptation of Dive In French fries! We plan to go to the Captains lecture/question and answer at 3pm. Then....it’s time to pack the dreaded suitcases that appeared on our bed this morning! At some point we will have the time to do a B2B and experience a turn around day! The Captains question and answer was interesting as always. First question asked, “Have you ever seen a UFO?” Another question that drew a chuckle, “Did you really call the ship next to us a monstrosity?” It is usually an informative and humorous discussion and today was no exception. We accomplished our dreaded packing. It’s amazing... but it goes so much easier with a glass of champagne in hand :-). We decided to go to dinner early to catch the 7:30 show with the comedian and the awesome magician. Dinner was packed and it took longer than expected. The Shrimp Crab Louie appetizer was quite tasty. I recommend you avoid the Parmesan Crusted Pork Loin. It was a dry tough piece of pork schnitzel with a few sprinkles of cheese on it. We had to pass on dessert if we wanted to make the show. I gave in hoping to snag something sweet later. The show was very good and once again, the magician was amazing! Did I get my dessert.... NO 😞. At 8:20 the Lido was shut down with the exception of pasta and pizza. The Neptune lounge had zip and they told us to call room service. I still think it is very strange that a floating resort has no venue where you could get a piece of cake, a cookie, ice cream, etc. to grab and go after 8pm. I guess we could have tried to get back into the dining room, but that didn’t sound like much fun. The winds continued to blow and it was clear it would be another rough night. We knew we wouldn’t sleep all that well the last night, so we turned in early. Tomorrow..... we go home.... A few pics of the Dive In fries, the Lido at lunch (entrees, Mexican, dessert), and the dreaded suitcases
  9. The Step One Dance Company is on board. I have seen 3 men and 2 women during the performances. It is not clear if they are on for the entire trip or if they rotate to other ships when in port. There have been no dance lessons as daily activities. The only exception was a line dance lesson that was inserted into the activities the day Cozumel was cancelled. I am not certain who taught the line dancing.
  10. Day 7 - Costa Maya Day 7 found us starting out much like day 6. We were approaching Costa Maya with a large ship behind us and another in the distance. It was windy. I thought the seas are a little more accommodating than the previous day. Today, however, there was rain around. We were the first ship in. We appeared to be backing in. Then we stopped. Then we hovered. Then it poured. Off in the distance there was a rainbow. I felt like it was a good sign! Finally, after a long hover in place we crept ever so slowly toward the pier. The Captain came on to say it was a very challenging docking at the edge of the ships capabilities and that one ship had already sailed by. Once the ship was cleared we gathered out items and off we went! If you ask HAL we were in Costa Maya. This is an artificial name and town much like Amber Cove. It is a private cruise line built area complete with winding streets, a pool, lots of shops (the usual suspects), a flamingo pen, and bars. The name of the town in this spot is actually Mahahual. The local villages are actually quite small and generally self sustaining. We booked a highly rated tour through a third party. It was a short 4 block walk once we navigated through the Costa Maya maze of shops. We were going to the ruins at Cacchoben and then to the Blue Lagoon. Our group of 16 boarded our air conditioned Mercedes Sprinter van and off it went. It took approximately 50 minutes to reach the ruins. Our tour guide pointed out we were the first to arrive. How great is that? If we hurried, we could get pictures before the crowds appeared. Perfect! We wandered around each of the Mayan temples before the bus loads of other tours arrived. At each temple, we were leaving as others arrived. We learned about the Mayan history, how the ruins are hidden by the jungle after thousands of years, and were able to walk the ancient paths. The paths were quite flat. Some of the rock steps were quite tall. Forty minutes later we were back in the bus for a ride to the Blue Lagoon. We slowed to a near stop and turned off the highway onto a dirt road. The only marker, a canvas sign that said “Blue Lagoon.” Our tour guide joked that this was a “road massage.” The dirt road was narrow, and littered with bumps and holes as we jostled our was through the medium jungle. To the sides were rows of pineapple plants and banana trees. We drove for what seemed like 1-2 miles into literally the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, out popped concrete bungalows and a smooth rocky surface. We had arrived at the small resort. Only 2 people beat us there! We were treated to an authentic lunch of corn tacos, beef, pork, chicken, even vegetarian. There was salad, beans, rice, and an assortment of spices described as mild, hot, and hotter. Our guide mentioned in his family the each eat a habanero pepper at every meal and jalapeños are like candy! Margaritas, beer, and soft drinks were included. The water in the Lagoon (2nd largest lake in Mexico) was beautiful shades of aqua. It was cool but not cold. There were kayaks and tubes you could use which were included. Rows of beach chairs awaited us and well and small playgrounds for the children. The bottom had some lime stone, and I would recommend water shoes if you visit. It was quite relaxing. After nearly 2 hours, it was time to return to the port. I slept the 1 hour drive back. It was a very nice tour and we learned a lot about the local culture. Upon arriving back at the port I had one shopping goal.... a bottle of tequila which I missed buying in Cozumel. Wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find a duty free liquor store. There was a ”Tequila Museum”, that was quite staged, but no other store. Oh well, I will have to get over my quest for ‘only available in Mexico’ tequila. Once back on the boat I read on the verandah while DH napped. There was a downpour that caught folks on the long pier as they were returning to the ships. It came up very quickly. We were very fortunate with the weather. The forecast called for 100% chance of rain. It only rained when we arrived and before we left. The weather was right about 80 degrees with a generous breeze. Our tour guide mentioned the temps can climb to 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer! I am also happy to report there were no bugs or mosquitos with the exception of a few flies. It is gala night tonight, so we went to the dining room for surf and turf. The lobster was better than the steak. The Tiramisu was excellent! DH wanted to stop by the casino so we did. At 9:15 there was a parade of chocolate on deck 2 music walk. All of a sudden many waiters appeared carrying trays of mini cakes, marshmallow pops, chocolate, and mini lemon meringue cones. It was awesome. HAL should do this more frequently! Now nearing a chocolate coma.... we went to see the Step One dancers. They are a talented group. I did tend to lose a bit of interest with the video projection and the repetitive theme. Or maybe, it was just because I was tired. It was time for bed. The Captain told us to expect a rough night. You could feel the rocking begin to pick up. Off to sleep we went... PS - Quick note about cell service. Our T-Mobile text when we came out of airplane mode in Costa Maya said “Cruise Ship plan” instead of the usual “welcome to Mexico.” I think the WiFi (port town) was provided by the cruise line. We never got any other cell service ashore. Usually in Mexico and Canada we can use our phones just like in the states. This didn’t happen in Costa Maya or the places we visited today. There was no WiFi or cell service available to us on TMobile.
  11. Day 6 - At Sea DH elected you take a short nap and then go to the gym. I elected to walk about and read a book I received for Christmas. At 6 pm we headed up to the Sea View bar for a cocktail. Timing was perfect and we went up to Deck 10 to watch the sunset. It was stilll quite windy, but we found a sheltered spot. Up popped a star... or perhaps a planet. It was very bright. I made a wish! We really hoped to eat on our verandah. It was still too windy. We decided to order room service and eat in the cabin instead. We had music playing on the tv and it was very cozy. Pics of our dinner are attached, We had the hummus and the prosciutto appetizer with the beef tri tip entree. Creme brûlée and the apple cranberry crosp rounded out our meal. We had a very relaxing day. We still feel for the crew. One crew member was supposed to have 6 hours off today after nearly no time off the ship in 30 days. We are so blessed to vacation like this. It would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of the crew. Costa Maya is scheduled in the morning. It’s still a bumpy and we can hear the wind. Hoping for the the best tomorrow. Good night!
  12. Our Day 6 in Cozumel didn’t quite go as planned. As I mentioned, there was a little motion when we left Grand Cayman yesterday. The seas were rolling and the wind was blowing as we approached Cozumel. We were due in at 11:00 am with 12 hours in port. MSC, RC, and Carnival were at the docks. A Viking ship was leaving port. It was WINDY, 25 gust 37 knots. There are no tugs. We spun in circles as the captain made 3 attempts before electing to sail by as the Viking ship had done. This was the prudent call, especially given the Carnival incident here several weeks ago. Our leisurely day in Cozumel was not to be. No tequila tasting, dinner, or shopping on shore. Disappointing for us, but especially sad for the crew. All we spoke to had time off this evening. One waiter was going shopping for items he could only get in Cozumel. Our room steward was looking forward to calling home to Indonesia. The casino staff had off and the main dining room was closed. Instead they all had to smile and spring into action at lunch time. I now have some unexpected time to download my underwater pics. (Olympus ’Tough’ point and shoot, nothing fancy) I really can’t emphasize enough how amazing and graceful the stingrays were. Additionally, I have 2 pics showing the difference between our intimate tour experience and the large group tours.
  13. Day 5 - Grand Cayman We set an alarm this morning since we have an excursion planned. It was another beautiful day in paradise! We are ship #4. The Seaside, Serenade OTS, and Volendam were already there. The Disney Fantasy arrived a couple of hours later. The Lido opened promptly at 6:30 for breakfast. The ship was cleared, and tendering began at 8:00. The large shore based tenders were used. Priority tendering worked perfectly. We simply walked downstairs, showed our key cards, and were allowed to board. We were ashore by 8:20. Our plan for the day was our stingray excursion and the Cayman Island distillery. We selected a third party Stingray sailing tour after reading many online reviews on multiple sites. The tour we selected had a maximum of 20 people and had rave reviews. The biggest factor was the description of how the crew treated the animals with respect, didn’t grab them and told them up for pictures, and taught us how to interact with the rays. We didn’t need a picture of the animals out of the water, we wanted to see them in their natural habitat. The crew informed us that we would have many more rays than the large congregations of boats and people because the rays learn who treats them kindly. They were correct! We hopped into the chest deep water and there was a swarm of large and small rays that swam up to us, and brushed against us. The females were quite large and the males were small. They were like puppies coming to say hi. It was a little intimidating at first, but they were just being friendly. The undersides were very smooth and the tops were a bit more coarse. The crew had names for most of them. We were in the water for about 30 minutes in our own little group with perhaps 3 dozen rays. The big circle of boats and hoards of people had just a few. This was a most incredible experience and the highlight of our cruise so far! We were also able to snorkel by a small reef and saw many colorful fish. The captain hoisted the sail and we sailed back to the island. These photos are on my waterproof camera, so the download will take a bit longer. We were back to the docks by 1pm. Then we caught a cab to the Cayman Spirits distillery famous for its Seven Fathoms rum that is actually aged in barrels 7 fathoms underwater. We prefer their dark Governors Reserve and the Coconut rums. They are not available in the states, so we pick up a few bottles when we visit the island. The distillery is family owned and operated. One of the owners was happy to pour us an overflowing shot of our favorite rums on the house! This is a small scale unpretentious operation. The emphasis is on producing small batch handcrafted rums and having fun. It’s a little off the beaten path, but not far from the Tortuga Distillery. If you want to have a bit of fun we would recommend it. They called us a cab and we were at the docks by 1:50pm. We jumped in line for a tender and we just missed one. DH didn’t want to wait for another because we Would miss lunch. We walked up to the Carman Craperie and had a quick slice of pizza and a drink. Who could resist a 7 Fathoms rum and coke in Grand Cayman? We finished, caught a tender, and were back on board by 3pm. There wasn’t much to do before we sailed. We spend a lot of time on the verandah. The downstairs bars were very quiet before dinner. We went to dinner at 6pm. DH had the Caribbean Chicken and I had the lasagne. Both meals were good. The service was better than we experienced in the Pinnacle Grill the other evening. One comment about the Club Orange. We have always been seated with folks who were not in CO and who waited no longer in line than we did, and have been seated at a table for 6 by the water. The separate white menu is a bit wasteful because it is printed and produced for only one additional entree item. The only thing it does is to identify to the waiter that you are eligible for the additional entree. Tonight it was a duck breast. The Billboard Onboard piano bar was rather subdued. “Raindrops keep falling on my head,” was the tune being played. The audience was just staring off into space. This was a far cry from the days of the piano bar when folks would sing along and the room was packed. Lincoln Stage had a string quartet and the atmosphere, as one would expect, was rather quiet and focused. Searching for a little energy, we went to the casino. No big wins, but we were entertained. At 9pm we walked about in search of ice cream, or a cookie, or chocolate, anything to snack on. The Lido buffet was closed. The Neptune Lounge was dark and had a few left over appetizers. Explorations Central no longer has snacks like the Explorers Cafe did. It was hard to believe, but at 9pm there were no food options available with the exception of room service. It’s not like we were starving or needed the extra calories, but we are on vacation! BB Kings was packed and lively, but all the seats were taken. We stood next to the bar for a few minutes, swayed to the music, and enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere. It was a long day and we headed to bed. For the first time all cruise we felt a little movement in the cabin, no vibration, just rocking. And, it rocked us right to sleep! As always, pics to follow after we do the device transfers. Thankfully we have T-Mobile cellular so we have free data on shore to work with as well as the ships WiFi.
  14. The bacon was thick but not crispy. I was surprised it was not very greasy. We thought maybe it was baked? You have to unhook it by hand. I ate it with a knife and fork.
  15. Yes, my error, the piano players do sing, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of energy. The times we heard them it seemed more like duets rather than dueling pianos. Just my opinion.
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