I just returned home after a last minute booking on the 11 night Holland America Sunfarer cruise aboard the Zuiderdam. Booking at the last minute does save you money however, your choices in staterooms are limited. I had looked at the deck plan and saw that one of the staterooms available was 4119 which is listed as having an obstructed view due to the lifeboat outside our window. Looking closely at the deck plan, it appeared that this stateroom was at the end of the lifeboats and that perhaps not the entire ocean view window would be blocked. I then googled “Zuiderdam stateroom 4119” to see if there were any reviews of this stateroom. The reviewers were saying what I was seeing – that it is not a totally obstructed stateroom, that it has a floor to ceiling window and it has a bathtub (not important for me but important to some people). I was feeling pretty good about our chances for a decent stateroom.
Like many travelers, we flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our cruise. During the winter months, this is very important to me. There are so many hotels to choose from that will offer free or low priced shuttle rides to the dock. We chose to stay at the Hyatt Place mainly because it was within walking distance of the Harbor Shops, a nice strip shopping center that had restaurants, shops and a Publix grocery store. We paid $169 for the 2 bed suite. They had a nice breakfast bar but it does close very promptly at 9 AM. We could walk to the Harbor Shops but elected to have the shuttle bus drive us there.
At the Publix I was able to buy my wine for the cruise (HAL allows you to bring in 2 bottles of wine at the beginning of the cruise per stateroom), my 12 pack of cola and a 12 pack of water. I would carry the wine on board but for the cola and the water, I taped a luggage tag onto them and had them delivered to my stateroom with my luggage. I had brought down to Florida my clear packing tape as well as a couple extra luggage tags that I had printed off to use on the cola and water.
I like to get to the docks early and this time was no exception. We signed up for the first shuttle from the hotel which was at 10:00. The shuttle to the dock cost us $7 and we had to pay the driver separately from the hotel bill – make sure you sign up for the shuttle when you check in to the hotel. If you elect to leave your car here while on the cruise, the price as of this date is $7 per day. By 10:30 we were at the dock, luggage, cola and water dropped off outside, checked in and received our boarding group number, with the deck plan and our ship card in our hand, which is used whenever you leave or return to the ship or when you want to purchase something on the ship. Getting there early allowed us to find a seat to sit and wait in comfort. As we were waiting we could see the line to check in was getting longer and longer. We liked our strategy to get there early. At 11:45 we were boarding our home away from home for the next eleven nights and going to our stateroom to drop off our carry ons.
Since we had sailed on Holland America previously, we were Mariners. I was a three star and my friend was a one star – the number is based on the number of sea days you sail and how much money you spend while on the cruise. Many people do not know that one Holland America Mariner perks is that you can eat lunch in the Vista Dining Room upon embarkation rather than the crowded Lido buffet. We had a delightful luncheon with a couple from Canada that we would see off and on throughout our cruise.
We explored the ship going to one of my favorite locations first – the Culinary Arts Center by day and the Queens Row Lounge by night. In this lounge, cooking demonstrations are held during the day as well as a few hands on cooking lessons that are $29. The cooking lessons are held on sea days and there were two lessons during our trip. Ten participants are allowed at these classes and there always is a waiting list. I quickly signed up for the class and chose which one I wanted to do. I chose the class that featured Cajun Grilled Shrimp over Greens with three different vinaigrettes, mashed potatoes with surfeit, grilled pork chops with a picadillo salsa and tres leche cake. We were to work with one of the chefs on the ship as well as the “Party Planner” in preparing the meal. After we made it, we would be served the meal made by the kitchen on board the ship at the specialty dining room Pinnacle Grill complemented with our choice of red or white wine.
We continued our tour and went to the spa area. Holland America has a separate thermal pool, a relaxation room with five tiled heated loungers, and two saunas. There is a few to go here and if you book on the first day there is a discount. We signed up for this and knew that we would avail ourselves of the thermal pool with jets to ease our aching muscles and to put me in the relaxation mood for this trip.
We stopped by the Digital Workshop which is staffed by Microsoft. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be open for the first five days of the cruise. Once it was open, they would offer workshops three times a day and then another session for a question and answer period. Laptops were there but the number of laptops, as well as seats, were limited. Even getting there 30 minutes prior to the workshop did not allow you to get a seat. If this interests you, get there about 45 minutes before the class begins.
We had signed up last minute for this cruise and were given the fixed dining time of 7:45. We did not want this time knowing that we probably would not be having the dining room till about 9:30. We met with the maitre’d and he could not change us to the early seating and said if we went to the Any Time You Wish seating then we would have to eat at 5:15 as they had no reservations left. We were a little frustrated but then a waiter whispered to us to just show up. We decided to take his advice when it was time to dine.
Our final stop before heading to our stateroom to unpack our suitcases was to the Shore Excursion desk. We had only booked one excursion before we left and although I probably wasn’t going to book another ship excursion, my traveling companion was interested in getting more information for our stop in Aruba as well as Costa Rica. They explained some of the differences between the excursions as well as the activity level needed for each excursion. Two booked excursions later we finally went to our stateroom to find our luggage in the room and we began unpacking.
We walked into the Any Time You Wish dining room (Vista Dining room, deck 2) and were seated sharing a table with four other people. This is the benefit of having Any Time You Wish dining – you get to meet new people every night. Each night we widen the number of people that we met and began to know on this ship.
A delicious meal, entertainment in the Vista lounge, going to the Piano Bar and have a late night ice cream in the Lido buffet ended our first day on the Zuiderdam.
I want to say hello to my fellow HAL cruisers who may be reading this blog for the first time. It was a pleasure meeting you and talking about travel and points. If you like this blog, please consider receiving my blogs in your email by clicking “Follow Me” on the right side of this blog. To read more about cruising, go to the category tab and look for it in the drop down menu.