Feb 8, 2008
Boarding: Most of my party arrived at about noon, we followed the “Mariner” signs, but the lines where no longer than the ones at the non-mariner area. My pre-printed US immigration form downloaded from the web was ready and this sped everything along, the entire process took about ½ hr. Your luggage is left at the luggage drop off with the baggage handlers – Note: there are signs clearly posted that they are salaried and tips are not necessary. For this process I give HAL overall 3 out of 5 stars, nothing great or out of the ordinary. Note that a cab ride from the Fort Lauderdale airport is about 10 minutes and the cost is about $10 per person.
Cabins: My past experience with HAL was that most of the cabins are about the same square footage (unless you are in the premium ones i.e., veranda, suite etc.) and they are relatively large in size compared to other lines. However, on the Zuiderdam it appeared that room size was related to category, cabins for our group ranged from a category “N” (lowest) to an “AA”. I was in a category “G”, an outside cabin with obstructed view (you had a full floor to ceiling view of a life boat - but this was not an issue as I spent very little time in my cabin). Room size was about 185 sq ft, but the arrangement was poor. Storage cabins beneath the bed were awkward, some drawers with locks were very hard to open and the hair dryer (which automatically turned off when it got a bit hot) was in the small sitting area vs. the bathroom. Room colors were not lively and considering how new the ship was, it looked worn. I visited a category ‘N” cabin and it was SMALL! Additionally, prior to this sailing I had read about problems with the ship toilets and I did encounter a toilet leak on the first day of the cruise and another member of our party complained that her toilet did not work and that there was an awful smell the entire trip in many of the public areas. Additionally, we were on level 4 and could hear the LOUD noise from the shows and the bands until the wee hours on the morning. I will give HAL 2 out of 5 stars in this category.
Food/Dining Room: Food on this ship was very good, but the dining experience was lacking. One of the big events during every cruise is dinner with all my family members present at once, at the same table (9 adults). We are aware that this is hard to coordinate and try every time to book a table with our TA, but we always go directly to the maitre d' once on board to arrange the seating as our table has only been booked ONCE by our TA correctly. Note that we always request the earlier and less crowded seating for this reason. However, the table they seated us at was clearly for 7, not 9 adults and seating was VERY cramped throughout the cruise. Even after repeatedly voicing our request for a larger table, nothing changed, making dinner a little less than desirable. Our “solution” was to be given chairs without arms to make more room at the table. Additionally, we noticed that tables for 10 had numerous small children and some tables were even empty through out the cruise – why could they not have moved some people…?!! To add fire to the fact, the dining room had a very low ceiling and is located on the second level above the engines and also this makes for a very noisy dining room. I read about the noise and vibration prior to the cruise and it was real- not something I experienced on any previous cruise. There were times that you had to shout to be heard. Air conditioning throughout the dinning room was also very inconsistent, some areas were cold and some were hot. I also observed a number of areas, which had plastic covering taped to the ceiling. The waiter and busboy provided good service, but appeared tired and overworked. I am very mixed about giving a grade here as I thoroughly enjoyed the food and it deserved 4 stars, but the atmosphere really detracted from the experience, so I would give HAL 3 stars here.
Entertainment: In the evening, you will find music at a variety of locations throughout the ship. HAL is trying to break away from the big band era and cater more to the growing baby boomer population. However, they seem to be having an identity crisis as they are trying to do too many different things to please everyone. The Disco in the Northern Lights was great, but there were only 8-9 booths to sit in, therefore people were standing everywhere. Plus it caters towards the 40 year old crowd, so the younger folks have nowhere to go. The disco/theme night was moved to the Crows’ Nest and it was a huge success because there was plenty of room and the younger crowd had the disco to themselves. The Crows Nest was a very nice but underutilized lounge. They had a piano player vice a nice band. One negative for me personally was that this was also the first cruise (and only ever to date) I have ever taken where there was NO karaoke (apparently HAL is phasing it out)! The nighttime shows at the Vista lounge were below par, I usually attend almost every show, but on this ship I walked out on three occasions. Except for the juggler and one variety show, the overall quality was terrible. 2.5 stars here, it could be 3.5 if they moved some of the activities to different lounges.
Activities: Most daytime activities were well planned but the ship's main areas of activity were decks 2 and 3 and the flow of traffic was a nightmare. It was always crowded, smelly, and you could never find anything. 2.5 stars.
Excursions: I rarely take the ship excursions as I find them too expensive and can usually do my own excursions, and save quite a bit of cash. However, for this sailing I made an exception for the “America’s Cup” excursion (you cannot do this on your own as the ship reserves this company for their excursions and there is no alternative). All I can say is that this excursion was one of the best things about this cruise (you need to be stopping at St Maarten to do this), it is a MUST! Be forewarned that this was a very active excursion and if you are prone to seasickness or not in shape, look elsewhere! Note: sign up on the HAL website 2+ weeks before sailing for your excursions, this avoids the lines on the boat and also prevents from being told that the tour is “sold out”. Note: Upon docking at St Thomas, ALL passengers were required to wake up by 7AM and proceed in person to US immigration with their passport. Even though the process was painless and takes less than 3 minutes, having everybody get up at 7AM while you are on vacation for a three minute procedure even though you can’t get off the ship for another 3 hours seemed like poor planning. Every person I encountered complained about the early hour. Once again poor planning by HAL, as the ship could have easily docked at a more reasonable hour or done the process differently.
Tipping: The HAL policy of “Tipping not required” just ads more confusion with all the envelopes and separate cash you have to carry. Also, if you order drinks at any of the bars, you might want to carry a few dollars for tips since HAL does not add 15%.
Front desk/purser: I had to include this category since on most ships you rarely get good service and the lines are always long. The Zuiderdam was no different. The desk area was always fully staffed but the staff did not have many right answers. Some questions got the usual “I can find out” or “you need to..,” “ perhaps” All I can say is HAL needs training and work in this department.
Disembarkation: This is a hassle. You have to be out of your cabin by 7AM and sit in a hallway and wait for your number to be called. You're hungry, tired and you just spent thousands of dollars - what a way to say goodbye. O stars.
Overall: I have tried to be as objective as possible in hopes of giving you an overall big picture. I want to be very clear that I had a very nice time, as cruising is always great, but this is a review. Even though this was a new ship, I was amazed at the number of problems I encountered from the awful smell, to the poor layout of the ship, to the air conditioning and small public spaces and staterooms. Additionally, the officers seemed aloof and were not up to my past HAL experience. Employees seemed overworked and did not smile often. My other HAL experience seemed to be a world away from this one. With so many problems, and so many other ships at sea, I would not recommend this ship and will probably never sail on HAL again.
Feb 7, 2008
Sailing date: 25 November 2006
This was my 14th cruise, and my 4th on a Carnival ship. My group comprised 11 adults: 3 married couples (30-50yrs), a 35yr old couple, and three single adults 28, 26 and 21yrs. I selected this ship because it was new and I loved the itinerary. I had read so much about the Noro virus that was prevalent on this ship on its trans-Atlantic crossing, but I was not concerned in the least as I figured Carnival would not want folks to get sick and would do all it could to rectify the situation.
Embarkation: The normal mass confusion, but I was standing in the shade, and once I got inside the main building processing moved quickly. Carnival needs to invest in a microphone system for a few supervisors so they could make announcements instead of shouting at the crowd. We got to the port about 11:30 AM and were on board by about 1:00 PM.
Cabins: I always book the cheapest inside, but this time I got a great price on an outside cabin and went for it - it was nice having the extra space and window. The rest of my group except for one other couple had inside cabins and everyone was happy. I had read stories about the small size of the bathrooms (I am average size person and so is my wife), but it was never a problem for me. Do not expect a large bathroom - this is not the Ritz after all. The rooms were nicely decorated with a few new features, like ordering pay per view TV movies, checking your ship charges, previewing the different dining menus, plus you get a sports channel. The room is well laid out with lots of storage space, a small couch, and a dresser. The bathroom had a nice soap and shampoo stocked dispenser as well as some nice complimentary toiletries.
Dining/Food: Overall, dinner food in the main dining room was my biggest disappointment. The meat dishes were very tough and overcooked. Even lobster was tough! The quality of the other dishes was fair (I heard the fish dishes were quite good) but nothing to write home about. Appetizers were average, but after experiencing so many fine meals on my other cruises (including my Carnival cruises) I was highly disappointed. I ate breakfast at the Lido buffet and got so fed up with standing in line that I switched to the dining room. Service was commendable and you do get a few items not served in the buffet. Lunch included a variety of buffet stations on the Lido deck, but I still preferred the main dining room over the crowds at the buffet. The lines at the LIDO buffet were excessively long and moved slowly, perhaps this was due to all the excess sanitation everyone had to go through? I did not eat at Supper Club as I thought the $30 price tag was steep per person, but maybe I should have spent the money with the food I was served in the dining room...
Public Rooms: The ship was decorated in a garden-like atmosphere and the atrium was fabulous. The ship is designed with its 4th and 5th decks serving as the main hub of activity, i.e. with shops, a casino, lounges, photo, library. One of the newest on board attractions is a HUGE TV screen on deck #10 overlooking the pool. This screen displayed various scenes of aquatic life during the day, but in the evening it featured movies and college football games. They also served popcorn and provided blankets - a nice touch on windy seas.
Entertainment: In the evening, a variety of music was offered at several locations throughout the ship. There was a piano bar, variety music in the Victoria Lounge, and karaoke at the Stage Lounge which was jam packed each night I attended (due to my singing?). In addition, the Atrium featured a band that played into the wee hours. The disco was disappointing - too much rap music played. I was disappointed in the shows offered at the Venetian place which consisted mainly of mediocre dancing. There was one comedian, but that was it. The last night was the usual legends show where passengers dress up as music legends and do karaoke. It was entertaining to watch (it would have been more entertaining if I was featured in the show).
Excursions: We embarked at three terrific ports. Some of the best ports I have been to on a cruise yet! Panama, Costa Rica, and Costa Maya - I did my own thing at each port once again.
Activities: The variety of usual ship activities (trivia, bean bag toss, newly not so newly wed games, etc.) are offered, but not much in terms of athletic or ‘survivor’ type games. This area could stand to be improved a bit. Even the "bar hop" event was REALLY lame and disorganized.
Disembarkation: You can take your own bags off during the first hour, otherwise it goes by deck and numbers, no real issue, expect the normal hassle getting a cab.
Overall: Decent ship with a terrific itinerary. Still too many times where Carnival tries to sell you something, and the lack of activities made for a less-than-friendly passenger base. I would sail the itinerary again, but it would be hard to get me on the ship again.
Feb 5, 2008
After about a 15 minute ride, we reached the trail head and began our hour-long trek to the river/creek head. Once we reached the creek head, our adventure truly began. We started by rappelling down a 20 meter waterfall, then we trekked through the river to rappel after rappel, each one more exciting than the last. After the final descent, our crew picked us up in a canoe and took us back to the Indian camp where we were cooked a hot meal - yum! Pete had us back to the ship just in time for a few knickknacks before boarding.
Cabo San Lucas - another great Mexican Rivera port, but it seems like every time I've been here I have about 4 hours to enjoy all the scenery! If you ask me, the port time here is WAY too short! Can't the cruise lines figure out that we'd rather spend 9 hours here than in Mazatlan? Cabo is a great place for excursions and beach time - here we went ATV-ing in the desert and then off to rock rappelling - what a blast!
A fun cliff to repeal(above) MUST DO**
Afterwards on the tender (you always tender in this port, which cuts back on your time here immensely) back to the ship (sadly):Son-in-law,me,wife, secretary in the picture
Feb 4, 2008
Getting to beach - take a cab - priced at about $30 one-way (espanol helps). Or, for the more adventurous, you can take a bus. The bus you have to take to Pie de la Cuesta is one in particular. The bus to take MUST read on its windshield 'PIE DE LA CUESTA' - 'LUCES' some will also read 'PLAYA'. There are other buses that will also read Pie de la Cuesta but will NOT read Luces - DON'T TAKE THOSE. The reason for this is that once you get to the Pie de la Cuesta area, the road divides in two. One will drive you right through Pie De La Cuesta beach (where you want to go), but the other will take you to where the locals live and there is no beach there. Once you see that the right bus, all you have to do is choose where you want to get off and yell BAJAN! that means "I'm getting off". The bus drivers will usually stop for you if the bus is not going too fast.
Feb 3, 2008
Feb 2, 2008
In my review below you'll note my rating system - each category gets a star rating, with 5 being Outstanding, 4 Excellent, 3 Satisfactory, 2 Marginal, and 1 Unsatisfactory.
Embarkation: Solid 4 stars
NCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. You just print out the materials and have them checked at the dock outside the main building. We began our embarkation process at about 11:30 am. You go through one line outside to hand in your pre-registration, one inside for actual key card registration, and one to get on the boat after registering. The last line was a bit annoying as you had already checked in and had to wait to basically get your photo taken, regardless if you wanted your photo taken or not. However, the lines where short and moved fast, the building was air conditioned and bathrooms were readily available. There was also a Latitudes line for key card registration to facilitate repeat NCL guests – it moved fast and was a nice perk. The only negative was the total CONFUSION regarding luggage drop off and luggage tags. You are expected to turn in your luggage to a porter once you arrive at the NCL dock area. However, there are no signs, no general area marked and everyone seems to point you to a different direction. Meanwhile, you are lugging your bags all over the place and dodging people and cars - a hassle. After 10 minutes of floundering I finally found the desk (that was not manned at the time – 10:00 am) and then I had to find my room number, get the correct tags, put them on your bags and then hand them to a porter!
Cabins: Solid 4 stars
We had three different cabin categories assigned to our group - Inside, Outside and Balcony. Each cabin category appeared slightly larger in size. I viewed all three cabins and was impressed. The outside cabin had a nice sized picture window and the bathroom was nicely laid out. Note that you really should bring your own bar soap – they have dispensers in the sink and shower and the soap is barely usable! The shower had a door instead of a curtain, which was nice. Each room had a mini fridge that you could use to store drinks in, etc.. It did not come with the usual mini bar snacks, which was nice, as I don’t use them anyway. The closet storage space was adequate and had a room safe. The only real complaint that we had was noise and sounds from next door cabins and cabins above us. On two separate occasions the banging above my cabins was so loud that I could hardly sleep all night. The TV had two separate commercial channels, plus the on-board channel and two movie selections which where fine, although I was rarely in my room to watch. Our cabin steward was fine – nothing to rave about – just doing the basic good cleaning and a few smiles in the hallways.
Dining/Food: 3 stars.
Freestyle Dining: The concept is to choose from a variety of restaurants in addition to the normal dining rooms; you can eat at any time within the operating hours. There is one restaurant/snack area that is open 24hrs – the Blue Lagoon (which you have to order from a menu and wait for your food) – great hot wings and fish and chips at this place! However, this concept comes with a PRICE. Besides the two main dining rooms (which have almost the identical menus, just different styles of rooms) you have a choice of an Italian – La Trattoria (not that good and is basically the buffet area with tablecloths and chair covers sectioned off) and a Tex-Mexican style (which I did not eat at, but my fellow passengers did seem to like). The other four specialty restaurants charge a minimum of $20 per person + depending on what you order. So even though “Freestyle” means eating at your leisure, this comes with a price tag. Formal clothing is optional but on formal nights and I would say about 75% of the passengers were dressed up – not to the tux level, but nice cocktail attire. In every restaurant I visited I found passengers waiting for a table. Overall food in the main dining rooms was good. Some nights better than others, but biggest disappointment was the “FISH” dishes (with the exception of Orange Roughy), which tended to be dry and oily, yet the meat dishes were excellent. I had read a great deal about the buffets and to avoid it, but I found this not to be the case, the buffets were excellent with a great deal of variety in the stations. Each day a different vegetarian buffet was offered at one station and most days they also had a BBQ cookout on the pool deck in addition to the grill selections. To insure that my party of 6 always was seated together for dinner, we scoped out the tables in each dining room prior to the ship sail time made dining time arrangements with the maitre d’. We were given a set table and asked to arrive at a certain time every night - 6pm to ensure our table. The entire staff was accommodating and friendly. We even liked our waitress so much we demanded her for our table every night (they rotate the servers in the main dining rooms, so it is not like other ships with the same staff every night)!
Public Rooms: 4 stars
Simply beautiful. The ship was nicely decorated and was in tip top condition. The ship was designed with making the 6th and 7th decks the main hubs of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), casino, lounges, photo, etc. The eating snack area” Blue Lagoon” located on deck 7, had great food, but its location was poor and the seating extremely tight. I was very disappointed in the duty free shop on board as the prices were high - you could get better deals on shore. Rest rooms were easily marked and elevators were plentiful and always operational. Note – internet service prices are VERY high on the ship ($.75/min with a $3.95 set up fee, packages - $55 for 100 minutes and another I cannot recall), better to pay for a few minutes on board and then find an internet café while in port.
Entertainment: 2 1/2 stars with room for improvement
In the evening, you will find a very good piano player at the Cagney’s Lounge and a good guitar player at the Red Lion pub. The Carousel lounge features easy listening music until about 10:00pm, when the popular adult Karaoke begins. At 11:30pm the Disco starts in the Carousel, but this was a VERY poor place for a disco – small dance floor and bad location in the middle of a traffic area. The lighting and sound are just not great – as was shown in the amount of people that actually stayed for the disco. I think one or two nights they had the disco in the Spinnaker, but it was also not that great for a nightclub – NCL is lacking in this area very badly. The Spinnaker also featured a live band on most nights AND on theme party nights (a DJ would have been better for theme night parties), but these events were not very well attended by passengers – what a waste of a lounge. The live Spinnaker band also played at the pool deck most days. Mind you, I thought the band was pretty good, but listening to them every day and night got old fast. The nighttime shows at the Stardust lounge were a major disappointment. The Stardust lounge is VERY pretty and no annoying poles everywhere, but the shows in general were 2 stars at the most. I enjoyed the Magician and the “Elton John” Piano player, but the three musical reviews were not to my taste. The Chinese acrobats where a good addition, but too far and few in between POOR dance routines. One of the other couples actually joined the Pub Crawl one night, which was a BLAST, but too bad it was only one night. Overall, the entertainment is a very weak area.
Excursions/Ports: No rating
The Star stops at four wonderful ports; Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. The problem rests with the length of the stops in each port. In Acapulco, your first stop, you arrive at 11:00am (12 noon Acapulco time) and depart at midnight, which is excessively long in my opinion. Your second stop is in Zihuatanejo, where you have to tender, you arrive @7:30 am (8:30 am Zih time) and leave by 1:30PM(last tender), which is WAY too short and not enough time to do anything as most shops open at about 9-10am. In Puerto Vallarta you also tender, again leaving you are short on time. Your last stop is Cabo San Lucas -another tender stop, where you arrive @8:30 am and leave by 1:30PM(last tender), which is WAY too short and not enough time to do anything! As for excursions, I usually opt to do my do my own excursions, and saving a lot of money. On this cruise I experienced three wonderful and unique excursions that I would recommend anyone who desires a bit of adventure.
Activities: 3 1/2 stars
A variety of daytime activities are offered throughout the cruise. From the usual trivia (offered twice a day) to the Very Expensive Bingo (I always play bingo; but on this cruise I was a shocked by the high cost of playing -$39 a pop - and the low prize money given, so I only played twice the entire cruise vice every day). The not-so-newlywed game, liars club, martini tasting, tequila seminars, etc. were all fun and well attended. The Casino was the norm, but I'm not much of a gambler. My lower rating was based on the LACK of activities during the final day at sea and the lack of consistency in each day’s events. You would have a day filled with activities all bunched together, and then you would have a lot of dead times. Art auctions where prompted daily and got a bit annoying over the loudspeaker….
Disembarkation: 5 stars
GREAT ending to the cruise. Basically you leave depending on your connecting accommodations. You get a specific tag color based on your connections and deck, but you do not need to leave the ship immediately and can wait in your stateroom! The disembarkation was quite smooth - it seems that cruise ships are beginning to get the picture on this one.
Overall: Despite a few negatives, this is a wonderful ship and a cruise itinerary not to be missed. I would not hesitate to recommend this ship to anybody. The entire staff from busboy to the officers seemed very friendly - everyone had a smile and was willing to help. NCL seems to be developing a niche and is promoting its Latitudes loyalty program which has some benefits (lower cost on cruises, drink specials, parties, and a few giveaways) over other lines' frequent cruiser programs.