Every time I cruise to the Caribbean I lose a piece of my heart to that stunning ocean and its islands. This trip was no different. We saw beautiful things, (John took 320 pictures of beautiful things), consumed quantities of scrumptious food, laughed and talked with new friends, soaked in the dazzling sunshine (best tan I've ever had on a cruise), relaxed and rested.
Since our first cruise in 1996 aboard the modest NCL Seaward, the Zaandam is the smallest ship we have sailed. In her fourth year of service, the Zaandam is handsomely decorated, elegant, but somewhat dark. There was no sweeping 3-5-story atrium to fill the public spaces with light. I think we've reached the conclusion that we prefer the larger ships, but we still enjoyed the Zaandam. We appreciated the outside spaces more. The mid-ship pool featured a retractable roof, hot tubs, a wide open bar area, and provided a balmy, sunny place to take a dip, eat a snack or have an afternoon drink. We spent most of our time, however, in the aft pool area, which was completely exposed to the sky and sea, and we also frequented the deck overlooking the aft pool. This area was quieter and because it was completely open, less smoky.
The presence of cigarette smoke onboard was often bothersome. The lounge areas were more smoky than we liked, and I think this was because the ship was smaller without the aforementioned multiple story high spaces. But this didn't ruin our time and we moved whenever the smoke became a problem.
Because we didn't have a balcony cabin, I think the smoke in our cabin accumulated and there wasn't the air circulation a balcony cabin would have. Upon entering our cabin it was apparent that the last occupants smoked heavily. On the first morning we found out that we could ask that our cabin be "deep cleaned," which was done right away (with a smile!) and that helped a great deal. All of the comforters, pillows, shower curtain, etc. were removed and replaced. The walls were cleaned with some type of detergent and the carpets were vacuumed with something that made them smell better. The cabin was much more pleasant afterward so we were happy.
We paid for a category "K" inside cabin, but we were upgraded to a slightly larger outside cabin (HH) with an obstructed view. For the cost, this cabin was a steal. (The whole cruise was a steal, actually). It was not large by any means (197 sq. ft.), but we had a larger bathroom with a tub, plenty of storage, a little sofa, make-up table with lighted mirror, heavy Egyptian cotton towels, new, thicker, comfy mattresses (although John's side was showing signs of age already), and very high-count, soft cotton sheets. Although the view was obstructed, we only had to look slightly to the right or left and we could see out just fine. The only problem with the cabin (after it was cleaned) was that during the night it was noisy. Other people with cabins in the same area complained of overhead banging and pounding during the night. Not every night was noisy, and somehow I managed to sleep through about 95% of the banging stuff. But this is the "price" you pay when you book a guarantee cabin. For more $$, we could have chosen the exact cabin we wanted in the exact area of the ship, but with a guarantee you take your chances. In our case, it made the difference between being able to afford to cruise, or not cruise at all. For this time I think we made the right decision; I can't imagine not taking this spectacular trip.
The food in the Rotterdam Dining Room and Lido Restaurant was the best we've ever had at sea. I had heard that Holland America served great food, and I wasn't disappointed. The menu was quite varied and the service was excellent. Only on one occasion was there a slight mix-up at our table when some entrees were delivered to the wrong people. But that was quickly remedied and everyone was happy. We sat at a large table of 10, and we had great fun with our tablemates. Absorbed in our lively, laughter-filled conversations, we were some of the last people to leave every night. Every night when our head waiter showed us the dessert tray, we loudly ooohed and aaaahed over each selection in unison, which garnered some smiles and stares from surrounding tables. We applauded the loudest each night for the Jell-O selection and on some nights ordered the Jell-O (along with our "real" dessert choices) just for the fun of it. On night we cut a mound of red Jell-O into 10 wedges, which amused our waiters.
The first two full days of the cruise were at sea, which we LOVED. Both days were picture-perfect, cloudless, breezy, sunny days that were ideal for just lying about, chatting with new friends, and watching the wide Atlantic twinkling in the sunlight. The islands that we visited were Tortola, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay (HMC), Holland America's private island in the Caribbean. While on Tortola we took the one excursion we booked through the cruise line over to the Baths of Virgin Gorda. On Tuesday morning at 8:15 we boarded a jitney which drove to the marina, where we boarded a ferry that docked in Virgin Gorda. We then took another short, bumpy jitney ride to the baths, which were SPECTACULAR. It was an eerily beautiful beach accessed by a 350 yard walk down a rocky pathway to the sea. Once at beach level we encountered powdery sand and clear, aqua-blue water. The whole area was piled with ENORMOUS boulders balanced precariously atop one another. It was breathtaking! On Wednesday we docked at St. Thomas. Unable to make up our minds about a beach to visit, I opted to stay on ship and relax while John went took a taxi Charlotte Amalie to purchase T-shirts and some allergy medication. It was a lovely day on board ship. More sun, more visiting, more food, more drink specials of the day. (The specials were always $3.75, quite reasonable). The Lido Restaurant was wonderful for food in the daytime. In addition to a great buffet of hot food, there was an ice cream bar, a lavish sub-sandwich prep station where cooks would create a custom sandwich to order and grill it to perfection, and at breakfast there was a custom-made omelet station. There was also a Java Cafe serving fancy coffees, mocha-this, latte-that, espresso, etc. All of these touches were included in the cruise price.
We left sunny St. Thomas on Wednesday evening - a beautiful sail-away featuring Mexican food and margaritas. (And that was just our snack before dinner at 8 pm) Yum. Thursday was another day at sea, quite unlike any I've had before. When we woke up the skies were dark, full of rain and the seas were rough. Being the eternal optimist, I figured it would be sunny by noon, but it became darker and the seas became even fiercer. By 1 pm the captain announced that we were in the midst of a wintry Atlantic "swell" (the water temps were still in the 70's) with waves reaching 15-20 feet and winds at 40 knots. Wow! The ship was relentlessly rocked and swayed, making it difficult to walk throughout the ship. Fortunately, neither of us became seasick, so we were able to enjoy the day reading and napping. But not everyone fared as well. But at 3 pm that afternoon the crew served the chocolate dessert extravaganza and you would be surprised how many people crawled out of bed so as not to miss the biggest assemblage of dessert ever seen. Yum again. So much food - so little time. It really was over the top. The seas settled down about 6 pm, (just in time for everyone to get out of bed and dress for another formal night), but they picked up again about 9 pm and the rough seas continued through the night.
We were scheduled to spend the next day, Friday, at Half Moon Cay, which is regarded as the cruise industry's most beautiful privately-owned island. Because of the bad weather on Thursday, I held out little hope that there would be enough weather improvement for us to tender to HMC. BUT I WAS WRONG!!! Even though the skies were threatening in the early morning, by mid-morning it was CALM, clear bright and sunny and we tendered right over. HMC is so beautiful I don't have words to describe it well enough. The only thing I can say is that it is truly paradise! We arrived about 9:45 a.m., and rented a small "clamshell" shelter with two beach chairs for the day, which only cost $9. We walked up and down the beach dotted with tiny 4-person cabanas that are painted Caribbean pastels, (available for $200/day, stocked with hot food, a private servant, all the booze you can drink, air conditioning, fancy wicker furniture, etc.) past hammocks suspended between palm trees, a beach hut where you can get a message and take a 1-hour yoga class right on the beach. Further down was a stable of horses for riding on the beach, and even further down and around the bend was a new "swim with the stingrays" pool. At 10:30 the staff fired up huge barbecue grills and enticed by the fragrance, everyone sat down to dine on barbecued ribs, chicken, fish, hamburgers, hotdogs - all wonderful. Then we waddled down the beach again to plop in the water for a little longer. The only sad thing was that we had to return to the ship by 2 pm, so the Zaandam could sail away at 3 pm and arrive at Port Canaveral on time Sat. morning. There is a sign on the island which says "I wish I could stay here forever," and that is truly a fact. What an exquisite day we had at Half Moon Cay.
So, my friends and family, that is the synopsis of our week-long cruise. For the fourth time, we had an excellent stay onboard ship, and reveled in the water, scenery and sunshine of the Caribbean. We met new and precious friends. While no cruise is EVER perfect, I would change very little and I'm so thankful for this experience. God willing, we will cruise again because we are still in love with the whole cruise experience. It's a perfect way for us to relax and renew.