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Agbacker

Just back from 7/3-7/10 Zuiderdam Eastern Caribbean - GREAT TIME!

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Well, after reading some of the comments here about ship decor, vibrations, etc., I must say I was a little apprehensive about taking the family on the Zuiderdam. We just got home and it was fantastic in every way. The decor of the ship is great and we really liked it. We saw it to be very classy and not anything tacky about it. I guess some people just look for something to complain about. Fresh flowers in many spots. Interesting sculptures. Great spa and workout area.

 

We stayed on the Rotterdam Deck (7) in an S Class Deluxe Verandah Suite. It provided plenty of room for a family of four and we really enjoyed it. HAL has added the Neptune Lounge to its best suite floor and we were regulars there. Wilma was the lead concierge and she did a great job. They were constantly restocking the suite level snacks, little sandwiches, cookies, shrimp, fresh fruits, etc. Breakfast was really convenient. They give you an electronic card for entry to make sure that only the suite guests can get in. There is a great coffee and espresso machine in there that was VERY popular. The lounge closes at 8:30 nightly.

 

The differences in the S class room from our last cruise were a separate shower (very nice), great duvet, more storage space, nice bathroom amenities, CD player and DVD player in the room - take some good CD's to enjoy and they loan out recent DVD's from the Front Desk or the Neptune Lounge. The vacuum flusher was a constant joke with our kids, as it does make a funny sound.

 

The food on the ship was incredible. We had originally intended to go to the specialty restaurant one night, but the Vista Dining Room was so fabulous, that we had no reason to go elsewhere. We actually got a call from the Odyssey Staff one afternoon asking us to make a dinner reservation. Not too many people eating in there, although the ones we talked to who did eat there said it was fantastic too. No problem with vibration in the dining room at all on any night.

 

We remembered the home made soups to be very good on our last cruise and they were again this time. Great variety of choices. Next to the last night was lobster and filet mignon (yes, you can ask to have both of them, as our 14 year old did) and the lobster was some of the best we had ever had. We went to the Lido a couple of times, but decided that we enjoyed being waited on more than standing in lines. Also, the ice cream bar seemed to be constantly running out of frozen yogurt, etc. Kind of surprising and a disappointment to our kids a couple of times. Come on HAL, that is not a big deal to have enough soft serve for your guests!

 

We had one piece of lost luggage on this trip (It has been YEARS since that happened to us) and we saw HAL go into full court press status. They traced the bag and had it delivered to us by day 3 in Tortola - giving us constant updates along the way. They gave me a complimentary use of a tuxedo for the formal dinner in the mean time and a nice toiletry kit to get me through a couple of days without my own stuff. It actually was not too bad. I picked up a swimsuit, a pair of shorts, and a couple of t-shirts in the ships store and with two days spend on the beaches, I was really no worse for wear until my bag arrived.

 

The stops on this tour were incredible.

 

We stopped first at Half Moon Cay - HAL's private island. It was really a great way to start and from what others who have seen the private islands of other lines, this is far and away the BEST private island in the Caribbean. The beach is fantastic and the facilities are really nice. We booked a private cabana and it made the day for us. They have cabana boys who take care of your every need - drinks, getting your food for lunch from the BBQ, getting your snorkle equipment and floats, bringing by ice during the day, etc. The total cost was $214 and it was the best money we spent the whole week. You can book the cabana's in advance through HAL's 1-800 line. The ride back to the ship in the lauches is very hot - uncomfortable even in a swimsuite and t-shirt - and I recommend taking a small hand-held fan. I had read someone else's comments about that before our trip but forgot to take a fan with us.

 

Tortola was our second stop. It is a poor island with Pusser's restaurant and clothing store as the only real attraction on the main island. Their famous "Rum PainKillers" are very good and we got them and the souvenir mugs to take home. We mailed post cards from there for .35 each at the local post office and they do have banks with cash machines that give US dollars. To start the day, we took an excursion over to Virgin Gorda to the "Baths", a natural rocky lagoon area that was one of the most fantastic settings I have ever seen. Look it up on Google before you go and you can see why it is a must see.

 

St. Thomas is very commercialized these days - and was not as great as we thought it would be. Our cab driver showed us some nice resorts, but it is just a city for the most part - not real impressive. Our tour book said it was easy to get a ferry to St. John, but we soon found out that the ferry from Charlotte Amalie is not near the ship. We had to get a cab ($8 per person each way - $64 total) to Red Hook on the other end of the island and wait in the sun for the ferry ($4 per person each way - $32 total) over to St. John. Then a cab for $4.50 per person each way ($36 total) to the beach. For the day, we spent $128 just in transportation. But not to complain too much - WOW! St. John is an incredible island. Our intent was to go to Trunk Beach, but our cabby on St. John advised us to go to Cinnamon Bay instead and we were SO glad we did. Very uncrowded and great snorkeling! We passed back by Trunk Bay on the way back to the ship and it was a ZOO! Great tip from the cabby. I will say that next time I would take the ship excursion. We saved only about $40 doing it on our own, but we did have the uncertainty factor of making the ferry back, getting to the boat before it left, etc. For first timers, I would suggest sticking with the planned excursions.

 

In Nassau, we only had from noon to 6:30 in port, so we took the excursion over to Blue Lagoon - to Snorkel with Stingrays. Our kids enjoyed that more than anything and it was a great way to end the trip. We wish there had been more time at the lagoon, but we had to run back to be on the boat by 6:30 PM.

 

The staff of the ship was great with super friendly attitudes. There was one Norwegian blonde who was very attractive, but had the only "attitude" I encountered on the ship. She didn't like me using paper coffee cups to get juice in the lounge and it started to tick me off, actually. The only negative I encountered, crew-wise.

 

The shows were pretty good, a great illusionist, funny comedian, and really enjoyable Elton John impersonator who put on a super show that our whole family enjoyed. We were coaxed into playing bingo a couple of times and we won about $150 dollars. Not being bingo players, it is a hoot to watch the serious ones play the games and use their crazy bingo lingo. We were mostly laughing at them, not with them, but it was pretty fun to participate.

 

Alas, it is hard to be back home. What a great week! We will go back again and with HAL we know it will be fantastic. We met a man who had cruised more than 900 days with HAL in his lifetime! He wore a nametag that said "Mr. Ryndam". While I will never make it that long, we will be back. Happy Cruising!

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Agbacker,

 

It is so nice to see such an upbeat review. It certainly does make it a better vacation when you see only the good, not only the bad, doesn't it? Of course, it sounds like you did go a little high on the hog and I am positive this helps in making the trip better. The S suite sounds great and the amenities sure sound like a grand thing.

 

We are going 8/28 on the same itinerary. Looking forward to it. After doing the balcony thing and a transatlantic on Norway, we just opted for an inside guarantee and we will get whatever we get. So long as it is a cruise, we are happy.

 

A few questions. Mostly interested in the food experience and the excursion in Tortola. When did you eat dinner and where? Who were your wait staff?

 

In Tortola, I want to do the Baths but I am a little concerned about the climbing thing. How old are you and did you find the Baths strneuous at all? I am not old (just turned 50 last week) but if I don't have sneakers on, climbing is tough for me. I desperately want to go snorkeling there and I am curious about that experience. I would only do these trips with the ship. I am used to booking my own excursions (did so in Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios) but on an island like Tortola, I get a little nervous.

 

Is it true that since you did Tortola first then St. Thomas, everyone had to go a customs station on board at the crack of dawn? This was mentioned on another thread some time ago.

 

Thanks for all your info and I sure am glad you had such a good time.

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So glad you had a good time :) We will be doing the Eastern Caribbean on the Zuiderdam the end of August. The current itinerary says St. Thomas on Tuesday and Tortola on Wednesday. It looks like the days from your cruise are switched. I know that's been a hot topic lately here... but my question.. when did you find out they had been flip-flopped ? Hopefully before you got one board ?

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Hello Rob and Jodie -

 

Rob -

We choose the earliest seating at 5:45 on the upper level of the dining room, table 18 - waiters were Ferry and Al and they were FANTASTIC! The maitre' d was Dadang, pronounced just like it sounds, and he was great too. They made dining a great experience, knowing our names, that we wanted iced tea and no butter on the table after the first night we were there. Eating early gave us the flexibility to do other things at night - gamble a little bit, take in the shows, etc. and not feel too full at bed time.

 

In Tortola, there ain't much, but we grabbed a great burger at Pusser's, a touristy place but with a lot of history and very good food. Their store has some classy sports clothes.

 

As far as the Baths go, I am 47, 6 ft, 210 and in OK shape and, while it wasn't a walk in the park, we made the trek to the 2nd beach at the baths with no problem. There are a couple of small passes through the rocks that you have to bend down or squat to get through, but I saw people in all stages of age and physical condition that made it fine. It was no problem at all for our family - wife 45 and kids 18 and 14 to make the jaunt. However, even if you never take the hike through the rocks, you still are in the "Baths" area where you first arrive and it is beautiful right there, with great snorkling. There are lockers there that rent for $2.50 to stow your gear and a cash refreshment bar on the beach. They also sell the waterproof cameras, thankfully, as mine was still in the lost luggage. Now we are talking about Virgin Gorda, one of the excursions from Tortola. You have to sign up for an excursion to get there, but that is easy.

 

One thing that hit me, I had practiced snorkling in a swimming pool with no problem. But when you get in salt water you get the normal burn in the eyes saltwater in the mouth, etc. and it is a different experience. I had been told to take one of those small inflatable snorkle vests with me but I blew it off and thought I'd never need it. I have changed my mind. When we went out to snorkle, I got so mesmerized with the fish, urchins, sea sponges, etc, that when I turned back to look at the shore, I was about 150-175 yards out and I panicked. My kids were 20 feet further than I was and my youngest felt the same way. I got to her and she did need help getting in. With some added adrenaline, we got in just fine, but honestly, the thought of drowning did cross my mind. I would say take one of the snorkling vests with you - it collapses totally down and is very light. With those, we could have stayed out for a long time with no problem at all.

 

There was not a time that we had any weird times for customs at all. In fact, we commented that HAL handled this very well at every stop.

 

Jodie -

Evidently they can change the order of destinations at any time. We found out in St. Thomas that 5 cruise ships had been there the day we were supposed to go and it would have been a real zoo. HAL did us a favor in switching days for the ports. I was worried about the change in dates, realated to the excursions, but that was not a problem at all.

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Ag,

 

Thanks for the info. Being a bit older and QUITE a bit bigger, the bending thing could be a problem. Are the lockers pretty safe? Did you use the ship excursion or go on your own? I wonder if yougo with the ship if the transportation will store personal stuff. I have a bathing suit that has a waterproof wallet attached to it for ship card and cash. Feels safer that way. When you get to the baths, is there snorkeling there? And what is the difference between Virgin Gorda or are they completely separate destinations? The ship's excursion does have both on the same tour.

 

As to the snorkeling, again, I think the ship's tour provides vests. I have asthma and equilibrium problems but when I go snorkeling, nothing bothers me at all. The vest is a pain but makes it so easy to just float there. Also, with the ship's tour, I assume there will be a dive master and I find they are most knowledgeable, especially when they dive deep to get that picture for you!

 

As to the flip-flop, On the website they still have the itinerary listed as St. Thomas then Tortola for the crusie that left yesterday but when I spoke to HAL directly, one agent actually understood what I was askiing and he did confirm the flip-flop. For my trip 8/28, the website has St. Thomas then Tortola AND the agent did NOT confirm the flip, but there is a website that shows all ships scheduled. They do not have Aug yet but I am sure they will be changing this for all cruises at least for the summer.

 

Jfishe, are you on the 8/28 trip? There is a thread on the Roll Call board.

 

Thanks again, Ag.

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I would say take the excursion to Virgin Gorda/The Baths and don't worry about going to see the other Baths beach through the rocks. The Baths is the main attraction on Virgin Gorda. The main beach that the excursion takes you to is great in itself and you can just buy a postcard to see the other one.

 

There is snorkeling there and it is OK. There is better snorkeling elsewhere, but we saw some good stuff here too. (On St. John at Cinnamon Bay was the best - you could see schools of fish, lobster, octopus, turtles, parrot fish, etc.)

 

The lockers at the Baths are metal with the key that you can take with you. They sell a token for $2.50 that works in the locker. We actually even left some stuff on one of the picnic tables at the bar and nobody bothered it. There was no other area to store personal stuff, but there were plenty of lockers.

 

There were no vests supplied on this excursion. There were at Half Moon Cay when HAL was involved, but this is a private excursion and they didn't have them available here or at most beaches. That is why I would say it is good to invest in one and get your own mask and snorkel. Nobody used fins, so don't bother with them.

 

As an aside, there are some wild house cats that live around the beach bar and people were petting them. Tip - leave them alone. One of the men on the excursion got bitten and it drew blood. All I could think of was rabies and the poor guy was worried sick.

 

You will have a great time. I wish I were going again.

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Agbacker,

 

Some great tips, thanks.

 

You said there was better snorkeling. Where is it better at this port? Or is Virgin Gorda the best place in Tortola? Concerning the vests. I will definitely do the ship excursion and I am sure they provide vests. But I am a good swimmer (despite being pleasantly plump) so I am not too worried.

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Agbacker -

Thanks for sharing your feedback on your recent cruise! We're booked on the same ship for Thanksgiving, and definitely enjoyed reading your comments. Your cabbie did make a good suggestion for Cinnamon - we have vacationed on St John and loved Cinnamon (Trunk definitely gets crowded - best to enjoy it at 7 or 8 in the morning when there are just a few couples on the entire beach!!) Yes - the switching of itineraries concerns us - we were hoping to order another wedding cake for the St Thomas (St John) stop so we could share it on the beach we married on at St John. I'm going to wait until closer to see if we also get switched. Glad you enjoyed your cruise - I know we will!

drdaddy -

Here is an excursion for Tortola you might want to consider - I had read very positive things about them on other boards and have had extremely good communication with them. http://www.patouche.com/ I've also explained the recent last-minute switching of ports (Tortola and St Thomas) just to see how they would handle that switch, and it is absolutely no problem. The only drawback is they only do the Baths on Wednesdays (as we are currently scheduled) and other islands off Tortola on Tuesdays. We'll be happy doing either, so asked them to book us for either day - whatever day our ship is in port, we'll be knocking on their door! :)

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GREAT review, thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us. I have an S cabin booked for the Zuiderdam in March, doing a "girls" cruise. We are all very excited about this. Was your cabin an aft cabin?

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Hello, I will be sailing on the Zuiderdam in a few weeks. I have read that they do not allow duty free alcohol to be used on the ship, but do allow duty free wine and champagne. Is this true? Do you know if I can buy the wine and champagne in port, or do I have to purchase on the ship?

Thank you.

Marny

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May I ask if HAL has their own pier at Ft. Lauderdale, and if so, do they have their own duty free shop like Celebrity does in San Juan? Are you able to bring duty free liquor on board if there is a shop owned by HAL at the pier?

Thanks.

Marny

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