This was our 4th cruise. We did have a great time on this sailing (December 11th through the 18th). We have sailed NCL (the Seaward before its elongation), then Royal Caribbean (Rhapsody of the Seas), and 4 years ago, the Dawn Princess. I would give this Zaandam sailing an 8 out of 10, Melissa gave an 8.5 or 9 out of 10 (she didn't experience a particular problem I did). I would agree with many other previous statements in other reviews concerning this ship: food was excellent, cabin noise between cabins was very minimal, dining stewards "became family members" as one so accurately put it. But there were a few surprises that would cause us next time to choose Princess or RCI. Namely, cigarette smoke, which I'm sure is somewhat of a problem on every ship, and the inexplicable noise the crew makes working above and outside the cabin starting at 4 am, every morning.
But an 8 out of 10 is a good score none the less. We loved visiting Virgin Gorda and the Baths, and Half Moon Cay reflects accurately the raves mentioned on the boards here. HMC was a most gorgeous setting. In spite of very rough seas on our day at sea coming up from St. Thomas, and expecting not to be able to tender in to the island, as is mentioned in the catalogue, "Conditions permitting," which Melissa suggests means that about 1/3 of the time the seas are too rough to transfer from ship to tender. But we were blessed, and enjoyed most of the approximate 6 hours allowed ashore. We just paid the $9 for a clamshell and enjoyed a spectacular morning with new friends made at the late seating in the Rotterdam. The clamshells were very available and you couldn't reserve one until you showed up and paid for it. But I suppose if you get ashore early you'll have no problem acquiring one. The shops on the island only take cash, which we didn't know until we wanted to buy something! If we had known, we would have taken cash with us, but we hadn't heard, not attending any of the excursion meetings in the lounges. It probably should have been mentioned in the daily paper. We sought no further excursions than the trip to Virgin Gorda upon landing in Tortola, as we wanted to economize. And we had seen St. Thomas a few times already.
For us the best part of the trip was dining. The Rotterdam Dining Room was very nice, and seated at 8 pm on the upper level was fun, but our tablemates were the best. At first quite well behaved though talkative, the gang of 10 individuals, from Newfoundland Canada, San Francisco, North Carolina and upstate New York, grew increasingly raucous. We probably made the most noise and stayed the latest while the stewards patiently and good naturedly waited for us to finish our merriment and depart. Our master waiter (or whatever you call the person responsible for the table, working for the white coated station chief) was a blast, and enjoyed tormenting us during the dessert presentation with the "wiggling Jell-O." We wondered did ANYONE ever order the Jell-O when so many other incredible delights were available? Was there even any Jell-O available at all, since surely no one would order it; there probably only existed that one lone demonstration plate, and they just changed its color every evening! We answered the question one evening as one of the young women at the table ordered a Jell-O and, upon receiving it, cut it into 10 equal parts and passed it around the table for consumption. The next night I ordered a Jell-O myself just to prove they were prepared to supply whatever demand, and sure enough, It came. The staff was not at all shy of granting multiple dessert requests, you could definitely order more than one. Until more people do this, of course, and they put a stop to such frivolousness! Another evening Melissa spotted a young lady at a nearby table entertaining her tablemates with the old "spoon hanging from your nose" trick and showed us at our table that it really could be done without smoke and mirrors! To everyone's delight of course. Yes, the dining experience was special!
The ship, being about 5 years of age, 4 years in service, was smaller with a more closed feeling (rather than exuding an open feeling walking around its interior public areas) than we have experienced before, such as on the Dawn Princess and the Rhapsody of the Seas (its 1st year in service). But it was pretty well kept for being so "old." It was a beautiful ship. Melissa and I both love the ships rocking motion while at sea, and the smaller ship seemed more apt to move. Though, for you who hate this, it is not at all excessive, so don't worry on that account. The third day at sea, when we hit gale force winds and rough seas, the movement was almost like an amusement park ride. I loved it especially sitting in the Crow's nest fully Forward and as high (deck-wise) as possible.
Now, about the noise and the smoking. And the elderly. We too had heard it all about the age range of HAL, and as others have mentioned, were still a bit surprised and the seemingly large number of very elderly, and in wheelchairs, and using walkers, and others just moving slowly. But we both recognized that it was fabulous that those at such an advance age could actually get out and enjoy a cruise. We think everyone should! It just surprised us, is all.
Being non-smokers we had a harder time on this ship trying to escape the filthy smoke floating in our direction as if a magnetic attraction existed. We'd have to get up a lot and move to avoid the smell and toxin. There just seemed to be more smokers around than on other ships. I believe if one chooses to indulge in a bad habit it should be kept to oneself. Smoke all you want just keep it IN you, don't share it with me. I know, I'm fighting a losing battle. It's not that I get ugly with people about it (other than a dirty look as I am forced to get up and find a better place). But why should I, a paying passenger, be forced to do this just so someone can spread their cigarette, or cigar smoke with everyone else on their deck? Explain that to me!
And our cabin, while very clean and roomy, had an appaling smell of cigarette smoke in it. We heard someone mention that they had the same problem, and was offered the "deep cleaning." This helped immensely but I think, talking with our cabin steward, that they just sprayed the walls, carpet, and fabrics with something to mask the smell and exchanged the bedspreads. I don't think they actually replaced the drapes, and you can't do much more with the furniture and carpet. But it did help, and one should feel free to mention it to the Customer Service personnel as soon as you discover the problem. They were quite happy to please their customers.
The last problem I'll mention I had, which, interestingly, Melissa didn't have (and neither of us drank much onboard, so it wasn't that!), was an early morning noise problem. I was awakened just about every morning at around 4 am to very loud banging and things bumping and crashing into other things. It must have been the ship's crew doing what they needed to do to run and maintain the ship. Sometimes this meant high pressure spraying of the decks and outside walls to clean off the salt water, or what ever. (This I noticed at 4:30 am one morning after getting awakened I walked around the ship exploring; virtually no one else was up -- except the working crew -- spraying down the deck, walls and underside of lifeboats. Other loud banging noises were more inexplicable. It sounded like they were just moving around large pieces of equipment, like boilers or lockers. This might be the problem with a cabin like # 3397, an outside stateroom very far Aft. Maybe if we weren't upgraded from the K cabin, this wouldn't have been an issue. But I found it annoying in the extreme. I didn't complain to anyone about it (except for our tablemates) because I knew I would be spending the day napping anyway. But I never experienced this on the previous 3 ships. I don't know how to explain it. I must add that this noise is not the same as noise between cabins. I only heard brief faint talking from one adjoining cabin on two occasions. So I think the walls between cabins must be very well insulated. I guess I can't say the same for the outside walls!
There is so much more to say, as anytime you travel to the Caribbean on a cruise ship it is magical. I could talk about the small movie theater on board that shows VHS editions of new movies, and all seats will have someone's head blocking part of the screen (that must be fixed when the ship goes into dry dock in 2005!), or the really cool ships itinerary map on the wall near the Casino, or the interactive map allowing one to explore histories more famous and important voyages while showing their routes on a huge wall map, or how the bread pudding wasn't everything others were raving about, or the really cool models of ships on display throughout. Maybe next time.
On a last note, we booked early through American Way Cruise Vacations and got an unbelievably fabulous price for this cruise. And Melissa found a very inexpensive third party for the cancellation insurance. Very recommended. Why not save money if you can? We did this by using the "guaranteed cabin" thing, it being more expensive to choose one's own cabin. But we moved up from the Main deck (deck 2) to the Lower Promenade Deck (deck 3), from a K to an HH, the cabin was a little more roomy. Though note the caveat I describe above.