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Cruise Ship Review
Holland America Line

Zaandam

by Susan Hansen

Zaandam

Rain started to pour moments after we entered the warehouse-like structure where my fellow passengers and I checked in for our Eastern Caribbean cruise on the m/s Zaandam. "Could this signal a bad omen for our trip?," I wondered to myself. Yet, after having returned home from our jaunt through paradise, I now know that the rain was most definitely not a bad omen, but more of a welcome way to cool things off in the muggy Florida (and Caribbean!) heat. My family and I had a wonderful trip on the Zaandam.

Embarkation

The embarkation was smooth and painless. Your first photograph (of many) is taken as passengers board the beautiful vessel. Upon actually boarding, there was a line of stewards waiting to escort passengers to their cabin. When we entered, we were greeted by the welcome sight of our luggage, placed neatly on the floor.

Cabin

We were fortunate enough to have outside mini-suites, on the Verandah Deck. The cabins were very nice, and exceeded what I had envisioned our cabin would be like. It had a queen-size bed that could have been separated into two twin beds. There was a very nice balcony that housed a chaise lounge chair, a small table and chair. It provided for a most luxurious atmosphere: sitting outside listening to the waves and enjoying the beautiful scenery. There was a light for the verandah so you could enjoy it at night, as well. The bathrooms were fine -- I was impressed with the thickness of the towels!

As someone who brought too many clothes, I can guarantee that there is ample closet space. A feature that I was not expecting that was certainly appreciated was the curtain that acted to partition the cabin. I shared the cabin with my sister, so it was helpful that we could just section off the room to get dressed. There was a radio at the headboard which played five channels, one of which played any announcements made over the public address system, that normally only go to public areas. Our cabin steward, Tuwarji, made sure the room was meticulous and was very attentive to whatever needs arose.

Dining

Choosing the second seating was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was nice to have more time to lounge around and not have to be dressed and ready by about 5:30. But not actually eating 'til almost 9:00 was a bit tiring. We had young children in our party, but the "yum yum men" (crew members who distributed the mints after dinner) kept the kids entertained. The head steward also attended to the 8-year-old, which was a nice touch!

Dining Room EntranceDinner was held in the elegant Rotterdam Dining Room, which defined the luxury that HAL is known for. The Marco Polo Restaurant was the designated "alternative" dining room. We dined there one night and it was very nice. The food (everywhere) was delicious and there were many options to choose from. Our whole family just loved our steward, Michael. He was SO nice, friendly and helpful. When we would see him for lunch or breakfast in the Lido restaurant, he came over and talked to us . . . he was the best!

We did not take advantage of the late-night buffets, but the presentation was beautiful. The Terrace Grill, by the Lido pool, was a great alternative to eating in the Lido restaurant. Complimentary room service was offered 24 hours, which was a helpful amenity. Overall, the food was excellent, wherever you ate!

Entertainment/Activities

The dance cast put on some great shows! I really enjoyed the Mondriian Lounge, where all of the shows were held. Entertainment including dancing shows, a night of magic, comedians and a singer/impressionist. I am not really into magic, but the comedian was pretty funny. Our family really took advantage of the daily activities. I became addicted to Bingo -- unfortunately I never won, but it was a great mid-day activity. Bingo was hosted by Jim Leary, the assistant cruise director. He was a riot!

Many of the other activities were hosted by the cruise staff: Anthony, Courtney, Joanna and Nathan. They were great! All four were young, good-looking, funny kids who seemed to really like their jobs. These people, together with cruise director, Susan Wood, and Jim, were a major reason our cruise was so enjoyable. Susan was a delightful English woman with a great sense of humor who seemed to really make herself available to guests. We were most impressed with the entire staff.

Every evening my dad and I would go to the Ocean Bar for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. This worked out really well; we were able to preview a menu, and we became friendly with Doris, one of the waitresses. Nightlife was usually dominated by going up to the Crows Nest, located on Sky Deck 9. The Crows Nest had a unique atmosphere, with a live band for part of the evening, and DJ Nathan spinning the hits until the wee hours. Everyone had a great time dancing and drinking!

There was great shopping on the vessel! They had huge sales of all kinds . . . jewelry, makeup, watches. I did not have anything done at the Spa, but they sponsored some activities of which I took advantage. The spa was really nice; it was already booked up early into the trip. The casino was a good size, where many different tournaments were held throughout the week. I stuck to the slots and managed to win a little money, which I couldn't complain about!

Ports of Call

Nassau, Bahamas
Unfortunately, we were in Nassau from 7 a.m. - Noon on a Sunday morning. All of the stores were closed and the natives were all at church! We could see the Atlantis Resort from where we docked, so we took a taxi over there and toured around. It's located on Paradise Island, only about 10 minutes away. This was a great way to see some of the island and the very different way they live -- worlds away from my Chicago life! This resort was absolutely gorgeous! I highly recommend that anyone who goes to Nassau also tours Atlantis.

We didn't have much time there, and it cost $25 per person to see the elaborate fish tanks and some of the other more exclusive sights. We were able to go to the shops (obviously!) and the casino, plus the lobbies of the hotel. They had lavish stores (including a discount perfume store and a cute beach-wear store that sold adorable Lilly Pulitzer dresses). Their casino was quite large, with many different tables. Be on celeb-watch if you go; we saw NBA player Dickie Simpkins at the Craps table!

San Juan
We were in San Juan on July 4th, so it was a national holiday there, as well. Luckily most of the shops were still open! The shopping there was decent (there will be scheduled "shopping talks" the night or two before each port). Old San Juan was busy, but cute! Since we had the whole afternoon there, we hired a driver to take us around more of the city . . . this was a good way to see it all! There are some great sights there, including the fort. Another tip: There is a Citibank literally right across the street from where we docked, which was quite convenient for us.

St. John
You won't actually go to St. John unless you have signed up for one of the shore excursions. Luckily we did, and were therefore able to see this immensely beautiful island. A tender comes up alongside the Zaandam and takes those who have purchased excursions over to St. John. Everyone else continues on to St. Thomas. We went on the Trunk Bay Beach Tour, to go snorkeling -- it was a great tour! (Which included a wild ride on the bed of a pickup truck, complete with benches, the preferred mode of taxiing on the island.) This beach was voted one of the "World's 10 Most Beautiful Beaches" and it certainly deserves its title. We saw some unique fish, and it was really a fun activity. Trunk Bay also had a gift shop and snack bar, which was handy. We were back on the Zaandam by noon and then it was off to . . .

St. Thomas
This was my favorite of all the islands! We took a taxi into downtown Charlotte Amalie, which was plugged to have the best shopping of all the islands; it definitely lived up to its reputation. There are a ton of jewelry stores that had some great deals. There is also a cute open-air market that had lots of original USVI items. Also, alcohol there is SO cheap! It was great!

Half Moon CayHalf Moon Cay
This is the private island that Holland America owns. It is actually a really cute little island on which you could do water sports such as snorkel, go on a Banana Boat ride, go on a glass-bottom boat ride and more. Get there early to reserve your beach chairs, as they do go fast! There is a nice barbecue at the lunch hour. My sister was excited that they do hair braiding here! One neat thing about this island is that to actually get there, they lower about three lifeboats from the ship to use as tenders to transport guests from the Zaandam to Half Moon Cay. Being a bit naîve, I was thinking that the lifeboats were still of the Titanic age -- but was pleasantly surprised to learn that these are unsinkable!

Well, I think that's it. As I hope you can tell, this was one of the best vacations we have taken. I truly commend the Holland America line, specifically the Zaandam staff and crew, for making this vacation a memorable and pleasurable one. I was really sad that my jaunt through what I considered to be paradise was over, but hey, there's always next summer!

Photos courtesy of Alan Walker.

To read more reviews and view more photos of ZAANDAM, CLICK HERE.

Line

Susan Hansen lives in Chicago, Illinois and may be reached at: shansen@commerce.state.il.us.


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