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Zaandam review - 2/19 (eastern Carib)


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Part 1

Very good trip. Seas were heavy the first two days, 7.5 - 12 feet and we got rocked around a little. This being my first cruise, I thought I was mentally exaggerating the motion, but our tablemates (very experienced cruisers) said this was about as bad as they had experienced.


The Carnival Glory and the Disney Magic were pulling out of Port Canaveral the same afternoon we left. I loved the ships' horn for the Magic. It's the first notes to "when you wish upon a star". IT brought a grin to my face. They pulled out ahead of us, and we could hear the broadcast of the Magic's tour director, with attendant screaming by the pax. It made me very glad to be on the Zaandam.


The average age of the pax was lower than I expected, there were 110 children on board. Due, no doubt, to the spring break phenomenon, and the 7 day length. They were very nice kids. Getting a lounge chair in the pool areas was a challenge. Aft pool had a much younger clientele.


Embarkation was effortless. We flew in late, and didn't board until 2:30. There is express check-in for suite pax, and no one ahead of us in that line. It took 5 minutes, and we were escorted to our cabin, and introduced to our cabin steward, Uman. Our cabin was everything we had hoped it would be. We ran up to the Lido for a VERY late lunch (which was welcome, as the coffee we had at Dulles was seven hours earlier and we had had nothing since then). When we came back down 1/2 hour later our checked luggage was waiting for us. The suite had more than enough storage space and drawers. Now, let me say that the photos shown on the HAL website were not representative of the decor. Though it's had the upgrade, the carpet and furnishings are as before. The bed linens were of extremely high quality, and the bed extremely comfortable. We had 7009, slightly forward of amidships. We got rocked around a lot less than the rest of the folks, and I would get that cabin again in a heartbeat. I cannot think of anything I would have wished for with the service in the cabin. Though Uman was very visible, his attention to the cabin and our comfort was flawless. Absolutely perfect. If things went wrong, they were attended to immediately.


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Part 2-

Now, about suite amenities. Everyone says that once you have a suite on a HAL ship, there is no gong back. They are right. The Neptune lounge is FANTASTIC. The furnishings were brand new, very stylish and very comfortable. As Dakrewser has said, that coffee machine had the best coffee on the ship (besides the Exploration Cafe) and endless amounts of it. I became addicted. Pastries, cereals and fruit (and smoked salmon) in the morning, something to nibble on all day. The Concierges were Lizelle and Anita. Both were as gracious and helpful as humanly possible. We usually ran into our table mates there around 6 (we had the 8pm seating).


The King's Room is now open for breakfast and lunch for suite pax only, and we had the best meals on the ship there. (Besides the Pinnacle, of course). Every time we did NOT eat there we were sorry - but the window for seatings was very narrow. Service in that room was also superior to the rest of the dining venues (including the Pinnacle). We missed most of the Suite parties (the champagne receptions with the Captain, and the suite luncheon held the last sea day). We did make the suite cocktails with the ship's officers - very nice event, but we had Pinnacle reservations and stayed only a few minutes. Our tablemates said the suite luncheon was the best event they had ever attended on a HAL ship - with outstanding food.


Food: The stir-fry in the Lido was the best thing I tried in there. The rest of it was only acceptable, the other thing I enjoyed was the burrito/taco bar in the Lido pool. Pizza and burgers were not good. IT doesn't matter what you get in the Pinnacle, it's going to be well presented and delicious. The wine list in that venue was also very creative and interesting. The Rotterdam dining room food was average. Service was pretty poor, except on lobster night. Whoever said order your drinks two at a time, because you may not see them again, had a good suggestion.


Laffnvegas, I SO WISH that Tom was on this cruise. I've eaten a lot of lobster in my life, and cook it at home regularly. These tails were 6oz at least, and were cooked PERFECTLY. Not watery, not rubbery, just perfect. They cheerfully brought us two when requested. I'm sure they would have brought more. There is no way Tom could have beaten his record with these.


I was ready to kill the wine steward by the third night. I had resisted getting the Wine Navigator package, as I was not thrilled with the selection in the regular or the Admirals package. I wanted to see and experiment with the rest of the list. I will re-think this in the future. unexciting wine already at your table is infinitely preferable to no wine at all - which is what happened most of the time. SO next time it's the package for me. I figured it cost them around $150 in lost revenue from us. At one point I considered going down to the office and asking them to take the 15% surcharge on the wine we were able to purchase in the dining room and give it to anyone BUT our wine steward, and then decided that life was too short to get my knickers in a twist about it. Interestingly, the wine-tasting was very lightly attended, and hosted by the Bar Manager for the ship. Nice man, who was a little shy and really didn't know anything about wine and was completely out of his depth. But I bet he makes a mean martini. The 5 wines were lowest common denominator (Beringer White Zinfandel????) but the folks at our table were interesting and fun. So it hardly mattered.

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Part 3-


We did the kitchen tour. Fascinating - but HUGE crowd. You just can't take 50-60 people tromping thought those small spaces and give them anything but the bare bones in information - most of which we couldn't hear as we were at the back of the tour. I'd like to see it become advance reservations only, and limit attendance to 25.


Entertainment: The Zaandam Trio was really pretty good, I wish we heard more of them - we caught them once up in the Crows Nest, and they played at most of the ship parties. Barrie Blythe in the piano bar is not an experience I want to repeat - but he was quite popular. The classical trio was also good. At one point they loosened up and started doing a little jazz, with a female vocalist. I liked the little bit I heard. I think they were Danish. We didn't go to many of the shows....missed the magician and the comedian, caught the ship's cast for the 50-60's night (lots of good, clever sets and energy). The show lighting in the Mondriaan was very good as well, very professional. I agree that the place to see the shows is on level 5. Seats are quite comfortable - which cannot be said of the main level. The Mondriaan itself is just beautiful, and spotless. We caught Paul Tanner - musical impersonator. He's very good at what he does, close your eyes and you may not be able to tell your not listening to Neil Diamond. I just can't say I enjoyed it immensely. His impersonation of Johnny Mathis would have been amazing and riveting (not to mention hysterical) but the guy kept breaking up during it. Could not keep a straight face.


The show reprise on the last night let us get a gander at the magician and the comedian. I don't like magicians, but this guy had a lot of energy and a very quick wit. It made me sorry I didn't see his show. My husband liked the comedian, a ventriloquist. I was ambivalent.

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Part 4 -


Tortola - The roughness on the first two days came in handy for the trip from Tortola to Virgin Gorda. The morning ferry shuttle was one wild ride! We were on the top deck of the ferry, and that boat was just screaming across the bay - I thought it was a lot of fun. Afternoon return was much more sedate. As long as I'm on the subject of Tortola, I might as well talk about it. I think it was my favorite portion of the trip. We got up early to watch the docking - very interesting. The Costal XXX docked next to us. The weather cleared, and we had a FABULOUS trip to Virgin Gorda. It was a perfect tropical day, with clear skies. The trip down to the Baths from the Top of the Baths was fairly easy. That beach had quite a few folks on it - and we could have happily stayed there, but opted to follow the guides through the rock tunnels to the more private beach. They are not kidding, you need to be agile to get there. And you need your hands free - so take a backpack. The private beach has no faculties. One word of caution...the rip tide was significant...the drop off almost immediate...and my husband, a strong swimmer was swept out very quickly. It was not an easy task to get back, and I think this should have been mentioned. Some folks were getting banged around the rocks. This beach has sand, but you are surrounded by huge basalt boulders. The hike back up to the car park was pretty easy. I will say that the HAL Shore Excursion for this is not long enough. We got to spend about an hour 15 minutes on the beach. And I would have wanted more time and an opportunity to have lunch at the Top of the Baths restaurant, which has some of the best views I've ever seen. If we were to do this again, I think I'd do a private tour. As we didn't sail away until 11pm, there was plenty of time for things to go wrong with a tour and still get back to the ship.


We had a quiet evening on the verandah that afternoon/night. It was so satisfying to watch the Tortola harbor comings and goings, and to watch the full moon rise, and the lights wink on over the harbor and town. IT was an unexpected special period during the trip, and one I will always remember.




St. Thomas was a great day, weather-wise. We did not go on a tour (we will next time) but went shopping instead. We docked at the new dock (crown B?) Boy, that dock is going to be wonderful when it's finished in November. The cab ride to the shopping district was $3.50 per person. The Radisson Navigator was docked next to us. I'm interested in this ship for a future cruise, so it was nice to see it up close and personal. The Magic and the Glory were docked at the old docks that day.


Half Moon Cay was everything everyone says it is. The water was really cold, but I didn't care, and we had a fabulous time. Next time it's going to be parasailing and the horseback riding. Time there is just too short. Last tender back was at 1:30. We tendered back at 1pm.

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Part 5 -


Boy, the casino was crowded at all times. Folks that knew more than us commented that this sure did seem to be a gambling crowd on this sailing. The last night the craps and blackjack tables looked like Vegas, with three deep at every table. The slots were, as everyone has said, extremely tight.


Exploration Cafe. Wonderful area, beautifully appointed, very comfortable. Nice place to relax, get a great cup of coffee, read, watch the sea. IT was quite popular, seats were sometimes at a premium. The title selection was very, very good. DVD titles were extensive - I looked but did not partake. Every cabin gets an eight page newsletter gleaned from the Times every morning. We had seen that the market had tanked at one point in the trip, but had no idea as to why - which worried us - but not so much that we wanted to log on to TheStreet.com to find out and possibly cause us to freak more when there was little we could do about it till we got home. The newsletter explained the reason the next morning, and we were glad to find out why.


We had a wonderful time, would recommend HAL, and the Zaandam, to anyone. Cruising is definately for us. Was it perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. But the few things we wished were different were not overarching concerns. Lousy service in the dining room certainly didn't spoil anything for us, our tablemates kept us amused and happy. The crew on board that ship seems to be pretty tightly knit, and everyone we asked said they hoped they would get reassigned to this ship again. A good sign. I liked the size of the ship, not sure I would like anything bigger. I'll be posting some photos on our website, and will give a heads up when they are uploaded.

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thanks so much for the great review. Was logging on hoping people would start to post from their trips Presidents week since we are thinking about saiing that week next year. What were the temps in the ports - and was the water to cool for swimming? Have never sailed that week so curious about the weather




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Bob - the temps in ports were around 75 degrees - but on Tortola got up to 80. The water temps were always "unavailable" but let me tell you, it was chilly. Once you adjusted you were fine, and there were plenty of snorklers. Small children were pretty blue in the lips by the time they got out.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to write this extensive, well-balanced, thorough review! And keep your hands off my coffee machine:rolleyes:


For future reference, my non-scientific data mining seems to indicate that smaller tables in the DR get better service than larger ones, late seatings better than earlier ones.



A trick we've used in the past (didn't need it on our recent O'dam cruise where we had a terrific wine steward) is to - at the end of dinner - ask for the wine list and the next night's menu and then pre-order wine based on your probable choice on food. That way you get to pick from the entire wine list yet have the bottle waiting when you get to the DR.


Happy cruising!

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What a wonderful review!!!:) I'm going to read back through and take notes for our upcoming Spring Break trip. It sounds like there might be a similar type crowd. I'm wishing now that we had biten the bullet and booked a suite. Well there's always next cruise.:)


As for the riptide... we planned to snorkle at Virgin Gorda. Is the snorkling area "safe" (shallow enough or sheltered from the riptide)? I would sure hate for one of our group to get pulled out by the tide.:( My children are swimteam swimmers, but sometimes that doesn't make a difference if someone panics...


Thank you again for a great review!

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Rich -


The sea conditions we experienced in the sheltered cove that day may have been an anomaly. But based on what we experienced, I would not snorkel there...I really, honestly do not believe it was a safe thing to do there that day. Mr. Kate swam on his college team, and as I said, is a very strong swimmer still at 58. It was very easy to get swept out half-way and then slammed into the rocks. I think the rip was due to the unique conformation of the cove, and the snorkeling on the main beach may have been much better.


I watched the sailboats tender folks into the cove with some pretty tricky maneuvering to get them on the beach, and get the dinghys back out of the rip - and they had experienced helmsmen. I decided then and there that...I though I swim well, I am not as strong as my DH, and decided immediately this was not a good idea for me. But let me stress this was at the more remote cove only. The main beach was probably much different.


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Dakrewser -


EXCELLENT advice. Next time I will not go for the package, but I will get my behind down to the wine room on the first day and sit down with the menus for the week and make my decisions based upon that.


THank you!


I'm sure that a smaller table would have better service, but that would deny us the opportunity to meet more wonderful people, and develop a relationship with them over the course of 7 days. That's paramount in my book. I would not have wanted a smaller table, even with the prospect of better service.

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Thank you for your wonderful review. We've been waiting for one from someone who sailed on Zaandam following the SOE improvements. Not in a suite this trip, but you've definitely made my mind up that we will be on the next HAL cruise. The perks sound great.


Were they doing the cooking demonstrations? If so, did you attend and how were they?


Thanks again-



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Thank you for a very thorough review; it was excellent.


May I ask what you didn't like about the piano player, Barrie Blythe? Especially since you said he was otherwise popular. Wrong style? Too loud? Poor singer? Weak repetoire?

I enjoy piano bars/lounges and always like to have an idea of the entertainer when I board.

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Thank you so much for the detailed review. Zaandam is our current favorite ship and we will be back on her on March 26.


Your comments on the Explorations Cafe sound wonderful except that you could not always find a seat...that worries me. I had become rather attached to bringing our laptop down to the library and sitting at one of those wonderful desks that used to face the sea to read, compose and send daily e-mails to family who are still at home. Are those nice writing desks still there? What have they done with the furniture along the windows?


Who is the current captain?


Thank you again.

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Tina - I did not get the chance to view the cooking demonstrations, though I'm fairly sure they had them. I'll check the daily activities sheet in the next few days.


Ruth, my idea of jazz piano is Bill Evans or Bill Charlap - but Evans is dead, and Charlap is not going to be found on a cruise ship. I know this (sigh) but...Blythe's fingering was frequently inept (which I can forgive) but his absence of improvisation skills and lack of mastery and/or understanding of the basic melody was painful to me. There was a total absence of exploration...he just played the notes. Did he know the songs? Seemed to be familiar with the American Songbook, plus some show tunes. Was he loud? No. He fortunately did not sing much. He attracted a crowd mainly because they recognized the melodies, and he smiled at them a lot.


By contrast, the Trio was VERY young, and seemed to be new to each other, there were frequent mistakes, and they stepped on one another, but there was some grasp of the music they were playing, or attempting. They were trying to make music, not just get through until the next break.


Arzz - the Cafe has very comfortable lounge chairs alone the windows (some with listening headphones), punctuated by bookcases that run vertical from the wall, creating intimate little seating spaces. There were some writing desks/crossword puzzle desks along the back wall next to the bookshelves, and 4 man low internet kiosks that had partitions for privacy, but did not interrupt the visual flow. They are in the middle. Remember that we had some rough seas and overcast weather on a couple of days, so I'm sure that contributed to the congestion.


The Capt. is Wimmer. Have a great time on the Zaandam!


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Thank you so much for your wonderful, detailed review. We are looking into sailing on the Zaandam on our next Circle Hawaii Cruise and I am delighted that you are so pleased with her.


We also found the coffee in the Neptune Lounge to be outstanding. We ordered room service breakfast and asked for an empty coffee pot so we could fill it with Neptune Lounge coffee each morning.


I am also interested in the fact that you were able to have breakfast and lunch in the King's Room. This was a suite perk that many of us enjoyed and had been discontinued. I can only hope that HAL is considering reinstating it. The service in the King's Room was always so extraordinary. I am very happy you were able to experience it.



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