This was our second cruise within four months on HAL out of Fort Lauderdale so we knew what to expect as far as embarkation. There are fine facilities at Port Everglades and a small duty free shop to buy your liquor to take on board. Unlike some other lines HAL does not care if you bring your own soft drinks, water and alcohol. We boarded at 1:15 and since we entered on the main deck we knew our room was to the right in the aft portion of the ship. We did not need to be escorted, but people were available to take anyone to their rooms.
We booked an inside room on a guarantee and it just so happened we were assigned a handicapped room. They are nice because they are a little larger and have a very large shower. Our room lacked a love seat that most rooms in this category have, but we would have never used it. It had a queen size bed with no notable ridge and a super comfortable mattress. We were only one cabin away from the aft deck. We rarely felt any kind of movement. One night there was a gentle rocking (which I love), but other than that it was hard to tell if you were moving. I know many people love having a room with a veranda. It probably is very nice, but I love having a perfectly black room at night and in the morning and then going out into the sunshine on deck with all the people. There is something for everyone.
The ship is absolutely beautiful. All the public rooms are tasteful and have very comfortable seating. The Crow's Nest lounge was a favorite for many because of its incredible view. The Casino is well equipped with all kinds of machines. I won and I lost. That's the whole idea. I never saw anyone waiting to play. The casino bar staff was very competent. I never played the tables but I did hear some complaints from those that did play. Let's face it this is not Las Vegas.
We only went to three of the shows. They were all very entertaining. A young group of energetic singers and dancers, a magic show and a comedian rounded out the entertainment. Not Las Vegas, but certainly not bad.
I agree with other's comments on the giant organ in the atrium. It looked pretty stupid to me and compared to the other wonderful artwork on board it was ugly. HALs flower arrangements were incredible. I'd hate to know how much they spend on flowers on all their ships.
Captain Nico Corbijn of the Netherlands has been with Holland American since 1985. The women all agreed that looking at him was extremely satisfying. The star of the ship was the Cruise Director Susan Woods. She was very visible and was an approachable classy woman. She introduced many of the shows and joined the Captain in the noon announcements. The men on board found her very pleasant to view and the women all seemed to admire her. In my opinion she could run her own public relations firm and make a fortune.
As on all HAL ships, there was plenty of activity from morning until late at night. This cruise had an excellent mix of passengers from very young to elderly. As a rough guess I would say there were 60+ teenagers on board. Wonderful kids having a good time and very well behaved. Around 15+ infants ranging from a newborn to a set of twins were on board. I am in my mid-fifties, childless and a schoolteacher. When on vacation I don't like troublesome kids. These children of all ages were wonderful. I don't know how many kids were elementary age because they were usually involved in Club HAL activities.
I have been on several cruises over the years, but have only traveled on HAL twice and both times with my partner. On the Westerdam we were seated with two other couples. Somehow the mix was absolutely perfect. We all continue to communicate. On the Zaandam we were seated with three other couples plus an e-mail friend I had met on the Internet. He was traveling alone and simply asked to join us. Once again, HAL knew what they were doing. We had a grand time together and yes we are all e-mailing each other since returning. Unless you just really want to spend time with only one other person or are traveling with family, ask for a large table.
At least on this trip there were some fairly major changes for dress at dinner. The traditional two formal nights had about 30% of men in tuxedos and most of the women in just pretty comfortable summer dresses. Very few rhinestones and sequins, but pretty shoulders and both long and short dress. All the other nights were designated "elegantly casual" and the last night "casual." In other words, men only had to wear jackets on two nights. Makes great sense to me and I think it shows that HAL is moving with the times and season.
The Marco Polo, alternative restaurant, was good. Because it is Italian- based the menu is different from the main dining room. Don't be upset if you don't get reservations, but if you go on the first day you usually can reserve. On HAL most Wednesday nights are Dutch, Indonesian, Phillipino foods. Not the best night in my opinion, but a good night for the Marco Polo.
The Lido was good especially for breakfast. They have a separate omelet bar and continental selection. I am not a fast food person, but I liked both the hamburgers and pizza served outside on the Lido at lunch.
I am not good at exercising, but went up to the Ocean Spa. Looks to me as if they have every kind of machine you could want, plus a great view. I used the whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms and loved them. Just a side note, if you are traveling with a group of women sharing a room, go up to the women's spa area and take your shower. There are two huge showers with shampoo and soap. It will make it easier to dress for dinner.
Unusual observations: the Ladies's room outside the Mondriaan Lounge has six dressing tables with tissues, lotion, mirrors, etc. Steiner (Spa/Beauty/Massage) is very low key as far as pushing sales (compared to the Westerdam). I talked to two women who had massages and they were delighted. There is always a lounge chair with cushion available, whether you want to be by a pool or on the side decks. This was a fully booked cruise. The movies available were ones people actually wanted to see. Friends from our table went to Wajang Theatre and my partner stayed in the room to watch some movies on TV.
I always like to climb the stairs to help get rid of some calories I have consumed, but there were so many elevators they were hard to resist. They were big and even had seats if you were tired!
I only wanted to talk about the ship, but I can't resist adding two shore excursion experiences. Two years ago I was on another cruise line taking basically the same Western Caribbean trip. I went on the Sting Ray City excursion. It was a nightmare. The boat docked in deep water (8 - 10 feet) and told us it was shallow. I am a good swimmer and went in with snorkel and had an awful experience. Swore I would never do it again. I went again this time and it was absolutely wonderful. Water four feet deep and the stingrays reminded me of my cats at home when they rubbed against my legs. The other excursion we loved was the catamaran sailing and beach tour in Jamaica. We went in the afternoon because they were overbooked. The seas had gotten very rough. It was exciting and I am not a daredevil in anyway. The crew (all local Jamaicans) was not only fun, but also extremely professional. The snorkeling at the beach was excellent and the ride back extremely exciting. Please be aware there are no life preservers visible on the catamaran. A different world, but I think this crew would have done their best to save us if anything went wrong.
Do not hesitate to book on the Zaandam. Get a suite, mini suite, outside room or like us, an inside room, it doesn't matter. The ship is wonderful and you would have to be a real scrooge to dislike it.
Photos courtesy of SeaLetter Columnist Alan Walker and Holland America Line's Andy Newman.
View more photos of Zaandam at SeaLetter Ships Directory: Zaandam
Marsha Pratt teaches high school debate and creative writing in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her first cruise was a "student boat" transatlantic from New York to France back in 1964. During the past couple of years, she has sailed on Commodore's Enchanted Isle and Holland America Line's Westerdam and Zaandam. Marsha may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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