Our Cruise
On HAL Zuiderdam
To the Eastern Caribbean
May 2004
In text and pictures
For my 59th birthday, I received a wonderful present! My dear 90 year old Aunt Ruth took us on a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean aboard Holland American's new Vista Class ship, the Zuiderdam. Here we are boarding the ship. In the back are our darling daughter Andréa, then my dear wife Renée, long time friend Joy Ellison and yours truly, Mike. In front are Bill Ellison, and Aunt Ruth. Later we were joined by another long time friend Suzy Layton. It made for a very convivial group and we had a wonderful time on this great trip.

We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Sheraton (not a hotel I would recommend in the future). Their advertised shuttle to the port turned out not to exist, so we took a van in to Port Everglades at a cost of $7 per person. We arrived about 11:15 AM and there was a pretty good line, but the doors opened promptly at 11:30 and the processing went very quickly, so we were on board and enjoying the Lido buffet by 12:00! It is very encouraging when they hand you TWO maps when you board -- one of the whole ship, and a special map of the buffet, showing Deli, Bistro, Wok, Italian, Sandwich, Grill, Sweets and so on!

We had Deluxe Verandah Suite (category S) cabin #7054. This was a perfectly located cabin, just two doors down from the Neptune Lounge for suite passengers. The suite is incredibly roomy for people like us who are used to standard cabins! The sitting area features a large comfortable couch, coffee table and two arm chairs. There is a desk area, a dressing room, bathroom with double sinks and whirlpool tub and shower. Lots and lots of closet and drawer space is available. A large window looks out on the ocean, and a door leads out onto the amazingly spacious balcony. Since many people ask about suite accommodations, I have made a page of suite pictures so you can see how great the suites are.
We settled into the cabin, toured the ship, booked our time in the Thermal Retreat for all week, and headed up to the Lido buffet. This is a truly lavish buffet. In fact, it is almost TOO big. If you can decide between Deli, Italian, Asian or all the other choices, you can fill up your plate at one station. But if you have eclectic tastes, and want a bit of pizza, a turkey and cheese wrap, some sushi, soup, a hot dish and dessert, it is really quite a long walk around to gather up all that food! After lunch, we went back to our cabin and relaxed on the balcony (for the first of many times) while awaiting sailing. The ship is extremely beautiful, decorated all around with many great works of art, from classical to modern. The outside elevators give a magnificent view, and contrary to my expectations do not leave you feeling that you are about to fall into the sea!
One of the privileges of suite living is hot and cold hors d'oeuvres before dinner. It is really very nice to be able to invite everyone in to your suite for a relaxing party before dinner. Then we went down to the dining room for the first of many wonderful meals. The Indonesian service staff is extremely polite, friendly and attentive. However, there were just enough little glitches in the service to keep it from being really "Excellent". Here and there a dish got forgotten, a water glass went unfilled, the wrong fork was put on the table. Komang, our headwaiter, was always around, supervising constantly and keeping an eye on everything. It is a bit disconcerting that the waiters are not at all knowledgeable about the food. Even when I asked Komang what the sauce was on the scallops, he simply went and got the menu and read me what it said. However, the attentive service and desire to please, coupled with the really wonderful food, make dining a very good experience. This was the second week of the "automatic" tipping, a new trial for HAL. It seemed to be working very well.
That night was the opening show, and the Zuiderdam cast put on a stunning performance in the big production number. The theater is large but the acoustics are great. Some sight lines are blocked by pillars, however, especially in the balcony. The stage has lots of features like rising sections that make some interesting effects.

The next day was a good time to try out breakfast on the balcony. Room service was prompt and efficient and it was very nice to have breakfast outside most mornings. We could watch the ship approach Half Moon Cay and see the first tenders head ashore as we ate. Since suite passengers have priority tender passes, my DW Renée and Suzy headed ashore early to take full advantage of the water. Aunt Ruth, Andréa and I followed later.

Arriving at Half Moon Cay, we were greeted by the delightful staffers ashore. It was an island full of friendly people, all very helpful and outgoing. It was a warm day with only a few clouds in the sky, a perfect day for the beach. We could see the snorkelers as we came ashore, and the parasailers were in the air! As we watched, a banana boat hurtled by with the rider hanging on for dear life! All those water sports are a bit too active for me. The ice cream parlor and bar were more attractive to my way of thinking. After exploring a bit, we boarded the tram and headed down the beach for the ...
PINK CABANA! The cabanas on Half Moon Cay are the really luxurious way to make the most of your day at the beach. The charge was $179 and the cabana comes equipped with float boards and snorkel equipment for four. The air conditioner and ceiling fan are very nice to have as the day warms up. The lounge chairs are equipped with water misters for cool sun bathing. The refrigerator has veggie snacks, salsa and chips, water and soft drinks included. You have your own shower on the porch.

But the best thing is your very own cabana steward. As soon as you arrive he will be happy to take your drink order and take care of trudging down the beach to the bar, returning laden with Pina Coladas and Margaritas to your order. Then when lunch time comes, off he goes to the BBQ line and brings back plates full of ribs, chicken, beans, slaw and all the accompaniments.

Half Moon Cay is a very beautiful beach. As we were the only ship there that day, it was very uncrowded, especially down the beach where the cabanas are located. The water in May was a bit chilly but not too cold to enjoy. The ship in the distance makes the perfect backdrop for that great picture of your day in the sun! For those who would like to know more about the cabanas, I have put up a full page of cabana pictures.
The next day was a day at sea, always a favorite of mine! We had booked week long passes to the Thermal Retreat and the Hydropool and made full use of them almost every day, but the sea days are the perfect time to spend in the spa relaxing. The Thermal Retreat features mosaic couches, heated from inside, looking out over the ocean, to relax and loosen you up. Then you have your choice of the warm aroma room, with the odors of cinnamon wafting around you -- or the steam room, which is truly steamy -- or the classic sauna room. Between rooms you can relish the cool streams pouring from the lion's mouths. When you are ready for the shower, you can set it for a warm tropical rain, and then hit the button for the icy mist from the ceiling! It is quite an experience. Being co-ed makes it nice to enjoy the room with your special someone.

The Hydro pool is beautifully located, surrounded with glass and makes both Renée and me happy because by moving around in the pool you can choose the intensity of the water motion. Renée liked to relax on the lounging end, on a couch shaped bench with gentle bubbling. Then she would move to the downspout for a real back rub! I preferred the central section where the intensive water jets give a real workout. This is the way to spend those sea days.

That night was my birthday! Formal night at sea in the Caribbean is the ideal way to spend a birthday. We got to meet the Captain, a strikingly handsome young man who charmed my 90 year old aunt. Then we went down to the dining room, and after a magnificent meal they topped it off, of course, by presenting me with a birthday cake, featuring Birthday Greetings done in white chocolate. Since I had told them that I found the standard "Happy Birthday" song to be inane, I was instead treated to a version in Indonesian! A very happy birthday indeed, spent with my loved ones.
The next morning it was fun to sit on the balcony in the luxuriant HAL bathrobes and watch the ship arrive in St. Thomas. The balconies of our two adjoining suites connected so we had a lot of space to spread out on. All of us enjoyed the balconies many times during the week.
Since some of the members of our party were of limited mobility we thought it better to book private tours in most ports. In St. Thomas we were met by Armitage Allembert in his open air safari bus called "Air Force One"! Armitage is a great guide and tailored a tour especially for us. After having been on the beach at Half Moon Cay, we skipped the famous beach at Megan's Bay and instead opted for the scenic tour of St. Thomas.
First we went to Paradise Point, where we had a beautiful view of the five ships in the harbor, and the scenery of St. Thomas. The houses of the town climbing up the hillside are a very pretty sight. We relaxed, had a drink (a Coke for Aunt Ruth) and guess what, the ladies did some shopping. Then we traveled on to Mountaintop for more great scenery and guess what, a bit more shopping. From there we moved on to Drake's Seat, where legend says Sir Francis Drake used to sit and spy the pirate ships in the bay below. And guess what, there was a row of vendor's booths so the ladies could do some more shopping. Finally Armitage took us back to the ship, and after fortifying themselves with lunch, the five ladies once again took off for the (guess what?) shopping mall!
The next day we were in Tortola. This island is becoming a major cruise ship stop, but the tours are limited. We chose the North Shore tour, climbing up the Ridge Road to the very top of the island, then descending to Pusser's Landing, where I enjoyed a "Painkiller" and Aunt Ruth had a Coke again. Then we drove back by the coastal route. It was an interesting tour, but Tortola has quite a way to go to become a major tourist attraction. Renée, Suzy and Andréa took the hike of Sage Mountain and enjoyed it a lot, although they said it was uphill both directions!
One of the perks of the suite living is the Neptune Lounge. This is a wonderful place to enjoy your breakfast before heading for the Thermal Retreat. Sandy and Joena, the concierges, treat the passengers wonderfully, take care of all your paper work, order your shore excursions, see to it that you have everything you need, and arrange afternoon tea and pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres delivered to your suite at your request. There is always coffee and tea, along with fruit juice, available in the Lounge, and after breakfast it is well stocked with little nibbles like cheese, sandwiches and petit fours. There is also a large screen TV and a selection of games. It is a very nice place to relax.
The real heroes of the cruise are the executive chef and food and beverage manager! We toured the galley and got to see the bakers, room service staff and vegetable flower carvers at work. It is a spotless place full of stainless steel, with maximum working space in cramped quarters. I can imagine how harried the staff must be when it is full of more than 100 waiters during the dinner hour. They turned out a wonderful array of great food, not only classic dishes but great Dutch food and also the specialty of HAL, Indonesian dishes. I have scanned in a sample HAL dinner menu and posted it here.
The last stop of the cruise was Nassau, Bahamas. Again we had booked a driver, with an air-conditioned van this time. We were met by Donna of On the Wings of Eagles, and had a fine tour of all the sights. We visited Fort Charlotte and Fincastle, the Queen's Staircase, the Bahamanian Crafts Center, and finally the famous Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island. It is quite a place to see, and features a large aquarium in the middle of the hotel. One tank of the aquarium is available for free viewing by the public. The sculpture and decoration of the hotel is a tourist attraction in itself.

Aunt Ruth had a wonderful time on this cruise, did everything and participated fully, and enjoyed herself at every turn. She is a truly delightful lady, and I have posted a lot more pictures of her having fun aboard the Zuiderdam on Aunt Ruth's Cruise Page.

Since we all had late flights out of FLL, we rented a van from Budget and traveled along Highway A1A to Fort Lauderdale beach. We had hoped to "Ride the Ducks" but sadly they were closed, awaiting a new duckling, they said. So we explored Beach Place, watched the bungee jumpers, checked out the beach lovers, and had lunch at Lulu's Bait Shak featuring alligator bits, catfish, "cajun popcorn" crawfish tails, and mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat. Then we went on out to the airport and had a very easy departure.

This was a perfectly wonderful cruise and we traveled with a delightful group. Having good friends around makes a great time even better. The Zuiderdam is a beautiful ship, her crew are attentive and eager to please, the entertainment, food and facilities and outstanding, and in every way this was a GREAT cruise!

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