This was our ninth cruise in four years. We have sailed on Princess, Carnival and Holland America. Holland America is still our favorite because it delivers what we expect from a cruise. We stay pretty active and love ships that have a wraparound promenade deck. We avoid activities like art auctions, gambling, and don't like smokey bars and lounges. We daily participate in the organized fitness activity called Passport to Fitness, starting with the morning walk around the Promenade Deck and finishing up in the late afternoon on the treadmill, and then the steam room. If there is a lull in the Passport to Fitness activities, instead of baking ourselves like cookie dough on a lounge chair, you find us in a shaded area like the Library. Our preference is the more classically-designed "DAM"-class ships which carry fewer passengers, are smaller than the current craze of Mall of America ships, and are intimately and tastefully decorated.
Arriving and Boarding
As usual, we booked our own air. We always book an early nonstop flight, knowing that even if there are some problems, there is still a nice cushion of time built in.
We were met by a Holland America representative in Ft. Lauderdale and even though he said our luggage would be pulled, we still went to the baggage claim area to make sure; call us superstitious. After the carousel made its turns and our luggage was obviously pulled, we took a taxi to the pier. We were charged $10, but it seems that the rate can vary from $7 to $10, depending on whether the cabby turns on his meter or not.
We boarded about 1:45 p.m. and before going to our cabin, we went to the Marco Polo alternative Italian Restaurant and made a reservation for Tuesday night. We picked this night because the ship would be docked in San Juan until midnight. I figure that it would be a casual dress night and as a result, my favorite lobster dinner would not be served in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We got a tip from a cruise board to book the Marco Polo early and, sure enough, by late afternoon, the restaurant was fully booked for the week.
We booked a guaranteed inside and were upgraded to an outside cabin in the fore of the ship. This was on the Dolphin Deck and it meant we would be doing a lot of walking throughout the cruise. The first things we noticed upon entering the cabin were two portholes and no sofa. I guess as the ship tapers to the front, the portholes replace the large windows and the cabin shrinks some. The room was still spacious enough and we had more storage space than needed. The closet was divided into two sections to hang clothes and flanking shelves for everything else. At the vanity table, there were three drawers. We put our garment bags in our suitcases, and under the bed they went. We got the steward to remove the ashtray, fruit and soda. The cabin was done in beige and brown and the bed was already made up as a king. The bathroom was large and had the usual toiletries, including shampoo, lotion, large soap and hairdryer. The shower came with a deep tub.
At 63,000 tons, the Zaandam is slightly bigger than the Statendam-class ships we have sailed on previously. Holland America's ships are not as large and certainly not as glitzy as the competition. At capacity, it carries 1440 passengers and cruises at a maximum of 23 knots. The Atrium is only two decks high and there are no bars and panoramic elevators. At the center of the Atrium is "The Organ", which was made in the Netherlands and Italy over a two-year period; it has wooden pipes, drums and mixed media designed by F.C. J. Dingemans and V. Janssen.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Erasmus Library, which is well stocked with a good variety of books including guidebooks and my favorite authors, Clive Cussler and Stuart Woods. We took advantage of the free stationery and Zaandam postcards to send notes to friends and family. The library has large windows that provide a great view as the ship cruises along. The Zaandam rides well, but when we were approaching San Juan in the early morning, I woke twice(around 2 a.m. and 5 a.m) due to the movement of the ship. Looking out the port holes, I saw lots of swells and white caps in the moonlight. I looked over at my wife and she was sleeping like a log. Some people are just lucky.
Wining & Dining
We ate all dinners in the Rotterdam Dining Room, except for the single night in the Marco Polo Restaurant. We pretty much split lunches and breakfasts between the dining room and the Lido Restaurant, depending on our desire at those particular times. If you have read any of my previous reviews, you would know that I am a seafood lover. Except for trying a rack of lamb as an extra entrée one night, I certainly enjoyed the well-prepared and presented shrimp, mussels, fish, crab and my favorite, lobster. We were not impressed with the Marco Polo service and food. Personally, I can take or leave Italian food, but my wife enjoys it. However, because the initial service was very slow and we complained to the Maitre d' who gave us a cockamamie excuse, it had an effect on that night's alternative dining experience. The Antipasto Italiano was too salty, but the salad Insalata Cesare and entrée Grigliata Di Mare were acceptable for me. My wife's opinion was tepid on all courses.
This was not the case in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We enjoyed good wine, good service and very good food. As usual, we had an intimate table for two against the glass partition on the upper level with a nice view looking down on the first level. HAL had a wine package that I had not seen before and the list is called the "Wine Navigator." On the list are 12 wines equally divided between white and red. The option is any 4 wines for $69, or 6 for $99. We took advantage of the former. If we had purchased each bottle separately from the main wine list, it would have cost us $84.
I have to mention that one of the best desserts I always enjoy on HAL is the mango sorbet that is made on board. As for the dress code, there were five casual nights and two formal nights. For whatever reason, informal night was not included and if we had been notified, I could have left the extra outfit at home.
We attended all of the afternoon teas in the Crows Nest, where the 180° view of the ocean was great and so were the treats and tea. Even more enjoyable was the elegant Royal Dutch Tea that took place on one afternoon in the Rotterdam Dining Room. There was a good variety of food in the Lido Restaurant, but don't forget to visit the omelet and freshly-squeezed orange juice stations.
We prefer days at sea. It is great to be on the Sports Deck or walking around the Promenade Deck and be able to see nothing but the ocean. At Sea days also mean enjoying the ship and doing many of the Passport to Fitness activities. Our days were filled with the following:
Walk a mile; Ping Pong; Quoits; Dance Class; Shuffleboard; Basketball; Paddle Tennis; Volleyball; Spa Seminars; Golf Putting; Aerobics; Steam Room; and the Steiner Fashion Show. We always enjoy our few minutes of fame modeling in the poolside fashion show on all our HAL cruises.
We won a mixed doubles shuffleboard tournament and were awarded HAL key rings. We also won mixed doubles in paddle tennis. Besides burning Calories in the organized fitness activities, it is a great way to make friends, since throughout the cruise most of the participants become regulars. I was amazed by one lady who was about 89 years old and a regular participant. From what I saw, she was more active that a 55-year-old person. She was very outgoing, talking and laughing a lot. I bet her activeness and personality have a lot to do with her longevity.
This was the seventh consecutive cruise that we have not ridden in a ship's elevator. We use the stairs at all times and since we generally book a cabin near the lowest deck, you can just imagine how many times we go up and down the stairs. The Zaandam has the biggest gym of all the HAL ships we've cruised on. Among the various pieces of exercise equipment, there are 11 treadmills, 3 stairmasters, and 7 exercise bikes. One reason the gym is so big and spacious is because HAL eliminated the Juice Bar.
Our first port of call was Nassau. Three other ships were in port, including Carnival's Ecstasy. The other two ships were the Imperial Majesty (formerly the OceanBreeze) and Premier's Big Red Boat Personally, they both look like rust buckets and not cruise ships. It was our first visit to Nassau but since the port call was very short and it was Sunday, we decided just to walk around a little and head back to the ship. We walked through the Straw Market but bought nothing as it was the same old thing of cheap souvenirs and T-shirts. Been there, done that.
In San Juan, we just walked around since we have been there before. We stopped at a time piece shop and got my watch battery replaced for $5. We window shopped as there was nothing of interest to buy. Before going back on the ship, we sat and enjoyed the scenery in the square next to the Centro De Informacion Tourista in the shade of trees. We had a good view of the Zaandam at pier 1 and the Granduer of the Seas at pier 3.
In St. Thomas, we passed the NCL Norway anchored in the harbor of Charlotte Amalie. Because of the low draft, its passengers had to be tendered to shore. I was impressed with the exterior of the Norway but I have no intention of sailing on NCL because of their "freestyle cruising" and proposed "a la carte dining." We always enjoy St. Thomas but since Sharen's sinuses were acting up, we decided to skip the beach. We took a picturesque walk to the city and did some shopping. On our way back, it was too hot, so we got a taxi. Did a little more shopping at Havensight Mall and reboarded the ship.
We docked early at Half Moon Cay and took the tender to shore. We grabbed a couple of hammocks that were shaded by trees. After relaxing for awhile, we sat near the surf and built a large sand castle and scrawled "Sharen Loves Hondu" in the sand. Later, three middle age women were walking by and one said, "how nice, are you on your honeymoon?" We laughed and Sharen said no, that we were actually celebrating our 9th anniversary. We did some snorkeling and saw a lot of fish especially when a few people started feeding them cereal. We had lunch at the Pavilion while listening to the Pantastic Steel Band. Afterwards, we enjoyed some swimming until 2:30 p.m. and then tendered back to the ship before the rush that would come with the 3:30 p.m. final boarding. Being our favorite port stop on a Caribbean cruise, we wished to stay longer.
EntertainmentThere was a varied amount of entertainment at night. Since we are pretty active during the day, by the end of late seating dinner, we are almost ready to call it a night. The Explorer's Lounge is always enjoyable with string music including a harpist with the tallest harp I have ever seen. After dinner drinks and chocolate covered strawberries are served. The Mondriaan Lounge had the usual cruise fare including Las Vegas style shows, comedy and magician acts and late night adult comedy. Crow's Nest is where the disco would be and throughout the day recent movies like Hurricane and American Beauty played in the Wajang Theater. Prior to each daily feature, free fresh popcorn was served. Some nights, after dinner, we took leisurely walks around the ship enjoying the multi-million dollar art collection. Another after dinner pleasure for us was our romantic walks around the Promenade Deck.
Notes and ObservationsThere was a good mix of passengers with a high percentage of middle aged cruisers. There were 250 children on board and Club HAL has a program for ages 5-17. We saw babies of no more than 6 months old and 2 pregnant women. One of the latter was very active in the Passport to Fitness program.
On one afternoon in the gym, this young couple was jogging on treadmills and left their two year old nearby to entertain himself with a pacifier and a scooter. Well like all curious kids, he climbed on a vacant bike and on vacant treadmills reaching up to the control board. The father removed him several times and went back to jogging. But the kid's curiosity was too strong. As I looked around the gym, I could tell that others felt like I did, that the kid was going to get himself hurt. The hotel manager just happened to come into the gym and he too saw the makings for a bad injury. He took the child off of a treadmill and held him in his arms as the parents laughed and continued to jog. I could not understand why both parents insisted on jogging at the same time when it would have been far safer for one to take care of the child and then switch.
We were on the Promenade Deck for the departure from St. Thomas and some passengers have never failed to amaze us with their contempt of the rules. The gangway was scheduled to be lifted at 4:30 p.m with the ship to sail at 5:00 p.m. As many as thirty stragglers including a family of 5 with a baby boarded between 4:40 p.m and 4:50 p.m. It was like the ship had to wait for them since they walked nonchalantly along the dock.
On the final morning, we went to the Mondiaan Lounge at about 7:30 to check-in with Delta Airlines. There was a line and after getting our boarding passes and baggage tags, we went to the Lido Restaurant for a leisurely breakfast. We vacated our room just before 9 o clock and were off the ship at 9:20 a.m. There was certainly no need for a special membership card that cost $35 to rush off the ship. We were at the airport by 9:45 a.m., with more than enough time before our 12:25 p.m. flight. And so ended yet another enjoyable cruise on Holland America which was made even more special by the pins we were presented for having achieved the first level of 25 sailing days.
Photos courtesy of Alan Walker, Andy Newman of Holland America Line, and Hondu Wiltshire.
To read more reviews and view more photos of ZAANDAM, CLICK HERE.
Hondu and Sharen Wiltshire hail from Houston, Texas and are regular SeaLetter readers and contributors. They can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please