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jerseyjk

Zuidy Review - Jan 5-12

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Just back from a week spent cruising the eastern Caribbean on HAL’s beautiful Zuiderdam.

 

Pre-Cruise

Departure was January 5th. Since this was going to be an inexpensive getaway for me and DW without the kids, we booked the lowest of the low NN category GTY inside cabin. A couple weeks before sailing we got an assignment, cabin 8118 category J inside. I carried a secret hope that we would be upgraded again when we got to the ship, but no such luck. Again, because this was an inexpensive getaway, we had to fly in the day of sailing … something I’ve never done … so we booked the earliest flight we could. 6am out of Newark on Continental just in case of weather or other misfortunes. Online checkin got me moved from row 16 to row 5. As it turns out, the flight was uneventful and on time.

 

We now had several hours to kill in FLL. Not a great place to kill several hours. We collected our bags and ate Lunch outside security at an over-priced, low-quality airport café … the only one outside security in Terminal 1. A bit more planning and I would have tried to stow the luggage at the baggage check and gone into Ft.Lauderdale for a better meal and some activities, but I promised DW I would not over plan and this was the price of not being prepared. We found a HAL agent in the airport and asked what time we could realistically get to the port and get onboard. She told us 11:30 or so. She then went on to tell us about the prior day’s crowd boarding the World Cruise. How they were so rich paying upwards of $50,000 a person, but you’d never know it … according to her, they were dressed just like us … I wasn’t sure if that was a backhanded compliment for us, or an insult to them. It was amusing after we thought about it though. We grabbed a cab at about 11:15 and made it over to Port Everglades at a cost of $21 including tip. Better than the $13 each HAL wanted for their bus ride and more convenient. We arrived at the port and found a long line, which moved quickly once the doors to the terminal were opened at 11:30.

 

Check-in / Embarkation

Check in was a breeze. We heard more stories about the crowd which boarded the day before and how some folks took an extra cabin just for their clothes. We waited only about 5 minutes tops between the line outside and the one inside. We had done pre-registration online and had our pictures taken and our cards in hand in under a minute from the time we stepped up to the check-in window. We tried in vane to side-step the obligatory “welcome aboard” photos and were on the ship within about 12 minutes of arrival at the port. Only NCLA has ever beaten that mark for us. So far, I was impressed.

 

We were herded up the glass ocean view elevators (those elevators were one of my favorite things about the Zuiderdam) to the Lido for the buffet lunch while awaiting the announcement that cabins were ready. We ate a satisfactory lunch then went wandering. We made a stop at the front desk to sign up for the cooking class. Choices were Monday (dish was lamb, day was a port day in Grand Turk) or Thursday (dish was salmon on a sea day). They had no idea of the times. We signed up for Monday (we don’t do salmon) and were told they would inform us of the time. We then wandered the public areas for a while and found a spot on a comfy couch in the Atrium on deck 3 to call home and check on the kids until the announcement came that rooms were ready at approximately 1:00.

 

As a side note … When we finally went on Sunday afternoon and checked on the time for the cooking class we had signed up for (the promised notice of time never arrived) we were informed it would be at 10am while we were in port in Grand Turk. Not wanting to miss any time on shore, I was forced to cancel the class. We never did make it to any of the demonstrations either. I was so looking forward to the hands-on class. It’s a shame they schedule during in-port time. Two classes on a cruise with two sea days just seems like a no-brainer to me, but they chose not to utilize one of the sea days for a class … go figure.

 

Cabin

I was very worried about traveling in a standard inside cabin. I’ve always booked verandahs. The cabin was indeed small, but efficiently laid out. The door was on the side of the room (lengthwise) the bed to the right and the bathroom and three closets to the left. Enough space for DW and I, but it could be tight for some. Having been awakened at 4am for our 6am flight, we were wore out and decided a nap was in order. This is where an inside has an advantage. We shut off the lights and found out just what everyone meant when they said an inside was dark! Made for an easy nap. By the end of the trip, I had grown fond of the broom closet, as it came to be known to us.

 

The bed, linens, towels, everything all added to the feeling of luxury. I was ultimately impressed with the cabin and the amenities in it, especially for the price we paid.

 

Ship

I was also a bit nervous sailing on a ship that’s only a couple months ahead of a major dry-dock. The Zuiderdam showed very minor signs of her age. She was in great shape. We sailed the Voyager of the seas when she was about the same age as the Zuiderdam is now. The Zuiderdam is light years ahead of where that RCI ship was in cleanliness and repair. If you go hunting for flaws, you’ll find them, but they are minor. Considering this is an ocean going vessel that doesn’t get a break between cruises, she is in A+ shape. It’s almost mind-boggling because we rarely saw the crew actively cleaning. The occasional window washer or paint crew while in port, or the vacuum here and there, but not obvious to us at all. They must have been there though, because things were kept very clean.

 

Crew

The crew was fantastic. 9 out of every 10 would say good morning, good evening, hi, how’s your day, or other such pleasantries. This goes a long way towards making a trip enjoyable, because it definitely filters down to the guests. After a couple days even other passengers felt compelled to say good morning to everyone they passed in the hallway.

 

Service

Impeccable. Always present, never obtrusive. Our stateroom attendant Adhi was a sneaky fellow. Rarely seen, but always at work. We could eat a quick meal in the buffet and be back in 30 minutes and our room was made up. Very hard working.

 

Jam, our waiter in the dining room was terrific. Willing to do anything he was asked, always calling us by name (or as close as his accent would come to our names) and offering suggestions on that night’s fare. He was particularly fond of offering up the selection of “Yum-Yums” every evening.

 

Ports

Loved the cool towels and water and lemonade they passed out at the gangplanks after a long day ashore. One of a bunch of little things HAL does right.

 

Grand Turk – I was disappointed by Grand Turk. We spent a week on Provo (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos) a few years ago and fell in love with T&C. We expected the same of Grand Turk but didn’t find it. We rented a scooter from Tony’s rentals (which amounts to the back of a pickup outside the cruise center gates). $55 for the day. We traveled virtually every street, dirt road, donkey path on that island and simply can’t believe that people living in such a beautiful spot have such little respect for their own home island. Trash was everywhere. We stopped at a beach on the east side just south of Bohio and could not believe the accumulation of trash just off the beach.

 

We stopped in at Bohio for a drink and a stroll on the beach. It was a quaint little resort, but not impressive in the least.

 

bohio.jpg

 

We made it up to the lighthouse and paid our $7 each to get a nice view of the northern end of the island. It was not worth the cost of admission, but I figured it went towards development of the island … at least I hope so.

 

DW and I can find beauty in almost anything and are fervent believers of getting in and experiencing the cultures and places we visit. The T&C islands are home to some terrific people, but in the case of Grand Turk, if I were ever to go again, I probably wouldn’t leave the cruise center and the shops and beach that were right there. It almost pains me to say, because the cruise center was completely touristy and lacked any evidence of the real culture of T&C. It’s sad, but there is simply not much better to see on that island at this point in time … believe me, we tried. A big part of why we ended up on HAL was because of the stop in T&C.

 

San Juan - We had a nice long stop in San Juan. 10am to 11pm. We noted a Carnival and a RCI ship arriving around 45pm or so. We couldn’t figure out why a line would even bother with a stop where arrival isn’t until 4pm, but we’re just lowly passengers and not cruise line executives.

 

This was the only port we had an excursion booked. DW has been trying to get me on a horse for 15 years. I finally acquiesced. We booked the Rainforest Horseback Riding tour through HAL. I knew ahead of time that it really shouldn’t have rainforest in the name or description at all. You really only get a very quick view of the rainforest from a very great distance. If I hadn’t known this and was really looking for a rainforest experience, I would have been severely disappointed. We were really there for the horseback riding though. We were loaded onto Paso Fino horses and headed out onto the trails. The horses were not simply trained to follow, but actually required a little bit of controlling. All-in-all it was a fun excursion, but not if you want to see the rainforest.

 

We arrived back at the ship around 3pm. After a quick shower, we set out for El Morro and Old San Juan. The free tram or trolley or whatever it was called was a little difficult to locate. Some of the guides advised us that we had to take a cab, others looked at us like we were nuts. We finally got good information way down at the visitor’s information center. Wait outside by the payphones was what we were told. We waited a few minutes and then just set out on foot. The walk from the pier to El Morro is uphill, but easily do-able by anyone who doesn’t have difficulty. We paid our admission fee to enter El Morro and spent a little over an hour exploring the old fort.

 

elmorro.jpg

 

We then wandered back towards the ship with a stop for some refreshments and some cough drops. Tried some local concoction in a 20oz soda bottle labeled Kola Champagne … nasty! We were back on board by 8pm and tired.

 

St. Thomas - We had absolutely no plans for this stop. There were six ships in port that day so not having plans was a risk. We got off the ship and wandered over to the taxi stand and hopped an early cab to Megan’s Bay. $9 per person. Lovely ride over the mountain. Our driver stopped at an overlook with a great view of Megan’s and the adjacent islands of St. John and Jost Van Dyke. We arrived at Megan’s around 8:30am. It was indeed a beautiful place and we spent a few hours there. We finally left around 11am when it started getting pretty crowded. You could escape the crowds somewhat by venturing to the far ends of the beach, but we had enough beach by then. If anyone is considering a stop at Megan’s, do so early and avoid the crowds. It was pleasant early and fine right up until we left. There were still people arriving by the safari-truck-full as we were departing.

 

We took a cab to Mountaintop on the recommendation of a couple locals. Don’t waste the $8 to get there. Nothing there but a bar with a great view and some souvenir shops. We had a better view from the pull-off our initial cab driver stopped at. After a quick walk around, we hopped a cab back to downtown Charlotte Amalie. We found decent buffalo wings and little touristy place called Jen’s and spent a couple hours getting accosted by the jewelry shop owners. Frankly, Charlotte Amalie reminded me a little of the Ponte Vecchio section of Florence, except the vendors were pushing tanzanite instead of gold. We got a cab back to the ship and were back onboard by 2pm or so.

 

Half Moon Cay - Simply beautiful. You can tell this was the original cruiseline-owned island. They have got it right! Princess Cays was one of our favorite places previously and HMC is indeed nicer. We were the only ship there, which certainly helps.

 

hmc.jpg

 

The beach is beautiful, the facilities clean, the landscaping mature and well manicured, the activities and equipment for rent seemed good. We had always planned on spending the entire day on the beach and that’s exactly what we did. Lunch and some wandering around the island were the only things that pulled us away from the beach that entire day.

 

Tender service was quick and hassle free. We headed back to the ship on one of the late day tenders. This was a perfect last stop before heading back to reality.

 

Food

Terrific. I’m not a big “foodie” but can certainly appreciate a good meal. Four nights in the dining room (my vacation plans never include a necktie so we skipped the formal nights) and I didn’t have a bad item. Salads were fresh, soups were hot and tasty, entrées were creative and cooked to what I would consider perfection. The deserts were varied and tasty. In 40 years I’ve never seen cinnamon ice cream until last week on the Zuiderdam. Delicious.

 

The Lido was above average for a buffet I’d say. Food was always hot, well prepared and well presented. You could always get that night’s dining room entrées in the Lido (e.g. I had surf & turf in the Lido since I wasn’t in the dining room for formal night). They placed white table cloths and stemware on the tables in the Lido on formal nights … a nice touch. I overheard one of the supervisors advising the staff to swap out tongs and serving spoons every 30 minutes. Anything the guests touched. A smart move in my opinion. They were working hard to avoid any noro outbreak.

 

The taco bar and grill were passable. Not spectacular, but good at off-hours. We didn’t do any in-room dining.

 

BBQ on HMC was good. Chicken, ribs, burgers, dogs, salads, etc. Just about anything you could want at a BBQ well prepared and served in paradise.

 

We don’t drink so I can’t comment on the selection of wines or the fruity umbrella drinks.

 

About the only negatives I have for food are the marinara sauce in the Lido reminded me way too much of spaghetti-o’s and the taco shells were stale.

 

Entertainment / Activities

Really only took in one show, the magician. Apparently a gold medal winner. He was entertaining, but nothing to rave about. We didn’t manage to make it to any other shows.

 

The Cruise Director & Staff left us flat. They were (save one) lacking energy and never really seemed to be enjoying whatever activity they were doing. Parker the CD was completely unremarkable. Frankly, the cruise would not have been any different if he had been left on the dock in Port Everglades. One of the Cruise Staff had a pretty bad attitude which I imagine she thought was endearing, but we found simply annoying. The two male Cruise Staffers were just blah. No other way to describe them. Only one of the staff seemed to be enjoying what she was doing.

 

The daily activities were mundane. The usual cruise fare … trivia, pool games, bingo, name that tune (which wasn’t done by the Cruise Staff but rather by the pianist in the piano bar) were about all you were going to get. Nothing original at all. No silly horse race though, so I suppose that was a plus.

 

Sea days were pretty relaxing. Always easy to find a spot to sit. We were particularly fond of the teak deck chairs on Deck 10 just up the spiral staircase from the Lido pool. Also the big white cushioned chairs under the shade in the same spot.

 

chairs.jpg

 

Our first sea day we had an informal meet and greet organized by Karen from our roll call. HAL put us in the Hudson room and provided coffee, juice, water and snacks. Another nice little touch. The meet was terrific and it’s always nice to see a familiar face around the ship.

 

Disembarkation

We had a 2:30 flight, but opted for expedited debarkation. We knew the 2:30 flight would be overbooked so we took a chance on hopping an early flight when we got to the airport. We also like Expedited Debarkation because we are perfectly capable and willing to tote our own luggage off the ship. We got up at 6:30, ate a nice last breakfast in the Lido, and returned to our cabin. Collected our luggage and set out to wait in the Atrium deck 3. We ended up on the same couch where we began our journey which turned out to be a perfect spot. When the call came at 7:15 that Expedited Debarkation could commence, we found that the gangway was right there on deck 3. We had our cards scanned for the last time (always a painful thing) strolled off the ship, breezed through customs and grabbed a cab. We got to the airport and were put on standby for the 10:22am flight. So far, so good. We were at our gate by 7:50am. That must be some sort of record. As we approached the gate, we found that the 8am flight was delayed to 9:05. We asked the agent if we could get a seat and sure enough, she gave us confirmed seats in row 11 and then proceeded downstairs to personally make sure our luggage got on board (it did). We were home 2 hours before our original flight was supposed to leave FLL.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall we had a fantastic time. HAL’s our new favorite line with Princess running a not so close second. This after trips on Princess, NCL, NCLA, RCI and Carnival (we’re not much for loyalty programs).

 

HAL does seem to attract an older crowd, which is what everyone advised us beforehand. It made for a nice relaxing week being 30ish and in the youngest 10% or so of passengers. Overall though, there was a good mix of passengers. DW and I tend to relate better to an older crowd anyway. Floating “keggers” are not what we’re out for. There were roughly 20 very well behaved kids on board ranging from toddlers to pre-teens. A few more if you counted teenagers and college age (who were also very civil and mature).

 

Oh, and great towel animals … some I’ve never seen before ...

 

elephant.jpg

 

Bottom line is that service is king and HAL does it right.

 

I’d be happy to answer any specific questions.

 

EDIT: Forgot to mention that somehow we ended up with early upper seating. 5:45pm at a table for six. No idea how we ended up first seating, but it was certainly appreciated.

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Thanks for such a wonderful review. We're heading out on Sat, the 19th and can't wait... ONLY 5 More Days!!! :D It'll be my first time cruising with HAL and my boyfriend's first time cruising ever!

 

TJ

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Your cruise sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing it with us. Your pictures show someone has a good eye.

 

As for that Marinara sauce stuff, I am in total agreement with you. I so want to teach HAL how to make gravy for pasta. :)

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What an excellent review and photos.

Thanks,

 

Steve.

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Thanks for the great review. We're travelling for first time on Zuiderdam Mar 15, 2008 on a transatlantic cruise so I'm interested to know more about it.

We've also been to Grand Turk and were quite disappointed. There seemed to be a lot of litter around, and totally unappealing in terms of scenery. It was also promoted to us as a short scenic walk to the quaint town. It was hot, dry, long and when we arrived, the town looked rundown and there was no where you could get a drink. We were there about a year ago. I've kept this opinion to myself because everyone else seemed to have positive comments.:confused: I was wondering if we missed something. You are the first reviewer who seemed to think the same as us.

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I'll be on the Zuiderdam this Saturday, too (hi teeejh) and what the OP said made me doubly glad I've booked the two-tank scuba dive on Grand Turk. The reef system there is supposed to be truly spectacular. It's really an aquatic desitnation; HAL offers thirteen water-based excursions, three land-based ones.

 

Anyway, nice to read such a positive review. I'm looking forward to my second Vista.

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made me doubly glad I've booked the two-tank scuba dive on Grand Turk. The reef system there is supposed to be truly spectacular. It's really an aquatic desitnation;

 

You won't be disappointed diving T&C. Some of the best diving and snorkelling I've ever done was done on the reefs off Provo, T&C.

 

I would have to agree that GT is an aquatic destination, but unfortunately this was to be a relaxing and not active vacation for us so diving was not in the plans.

 

I should really revise my opinion to point out that there's little outside the cruise center unless you're diving or snorkelling or doing some other such aquatic activity. (although hearsay onboard was that the semi-sub was less than expected)

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Great review, filled with interesting detail and well done pics. Thanks for posting it - a wonderful read.

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Thank you for taking the time to write your review and enclose pictures.

 

I am very surprised to hear that one of the cooking classes is on a port day.

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I just finished your post about your Zuiderdam trip, and I hated to see it end. I especially enjoyed the picture you took on HMC framed between the lounge chairs.

 

May you soon have another cruise you can enjoy:)

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