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Good, better, best. Never let it rest." When I think about Holland America Line (HAL) that age-old saying keeps running through my head. If my Panama Canal/Caribbean cruise aboard the recently refurbished Zuiderdam is any indication, the ship (together with her three Vista-class sisters) is getting better all the time.
"I have cruised on the Zuiderdam five times, and HAL has continued to enhance the ship through its Signature of Excellence [program]," said Wendy Rosenberg, a CLIA Elite Cruise Counselor with Chicago’s Fancy-Free Holidays.
She agreed that last year’s refurbishments are a vast improvement, particularly the open layout of the shopping arcade.
Another popular spot that has emerged from the refurbishment is the Pinnacle Bar on Deck 2. The contemporary, yet cozy cocktail venue takes over the former Windstar Cafe. It is located opposite the Pinnacle Grill and facing the open atrium with its shimmering Waterford Crystal seahorse centerpiece. The popular, extra-charge restaurant has been expanded and offers Chef Rudi Sodamin’s updated menu of troll-caught salmon, cedar-planked black cod and a choice of five cuts of prime steak.
Clients wishing to stay connected with the outside world will be delighted with the addition of the Explorations Cafe, a combination coffee bar (specialty coffees are an extra charge), a complimentary pastry and snack counter, library and Internet center. All this comes with floor-to-ceiling sea views, as the space flows directly into the Crow’s Nest observation lounge at the front of Deck 10. The placement of Internet stations in such a prime location gives cruisers an added reason to spend time in the adjacent Crow’s Nest, making the lounge a livelier, more inviting venue at all hours.
Those who like to keep up with the latest movies can do so in the new Screening Room by grabbing a bag of popcorn and sinking into one of the theater’s 34 comfy, oversized chairs. For lounging in the sun, the Lido Deck has been lengthened at the aft Sea View Pool. Club HAL for kids, the teens-only Loft and a video arcade can now be found in a tucked away space on Deck 10.
New this year are complimentary digital workshops taught by Microsoft-trained "techsperts" held in meeting rooms equipped with eight laptops.
Beyond public areas, the Zuiderdam received 34 additional staterooms, increasing passenger capacity from 1,848 to 1,916. The new inside and verandah rooms are located in the extended aft sections of Decks 6, 7 and 8. Other staterooms received a facelift with upgraded pillows, linens and Euro Top beds.
However, clients should be aware of an increasing list of extra charges, including $3 for DVD rentals in certain cabin categories; $40 per person, per day, to use the Greenhouse Spa’s hydropool and thermal suites; and $11 for selected fitness center activities. There is no self-service laundry, though laundry packages are available for a fee.
Zuiderdam will offer a Sept. 26, 18-day sailing from Vancouver through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from $1,799. Available from $1,599 is a 15-day cruise from Los Angeles departing Sept. 29. Ports of call include Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco and Huatulco, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Corinto, Nicaragua; San Blas Islands, Panama; Santa Marta, Colombia; and Half Moon Cay, the Bahamas.
Morning excursions in Panama require tendering to shore and include a scenic train ride to the Pacific coast. Adventurous clients can visit an Embera Indian village via dug-out canoe or go kayaking in the canal. Now, that’s a tale worth e-mailing home about.
Passengers: 1,916Crew: 817Length: 936 feetBeam: 105.8 feetTonnage: 82,000 GRTTotal Cabins: 958 (639 with verandahs)Wheelchair accessible cabins: 28
HAL looks to further ship enhancements By Marilyn Green
The enhancements to the Zuiderdam are by no means all the improvements HAL plans for the coming year or so. With just one new ship on order, Holland America has stated that its emphasis is on enhancing its fleet and bringing all vessels to a common standard, with features found on the line’s newest ships.
HAL announced late last year that it is investing in an 18-month, $200 million Signature of Excellence program upgrading the Statendam, Ryndam, Maasdam, Veendam and Rotterdam. This brings the company’s investment in fleet enhancement to more than $525 million and adds to Signature of Excellence upgrades with Culinary Arts Centers and Explorations Cafes, features such as the sophisticated resort-style Retreat aft on the Observation Deck with its own pool, bar, stage, movie screen and upscale pizzeria, Slice. The Retreat and the Lido Pool area have private, tented cabanas available, with chaise lounges, bathrobes, loaded iPods, and special treats from lunch service to champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Staterooms will have a complete soft goods renovation, and 44-46 new staterooms will be added fleet wide. A new category has lanai doors that open directly onto Lower Promenade decks the walk-around promenade and spa staterooms close to the Greenhouse Spa with special amenities, decor, even distinctive menus for room service, and in-room exclusive spa treatments. The additions and enhancements will bring capacity on the Rotterdam to 1,404 and on Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam and Veendam to 1,350.
An area called Mix will combine three separate bars: Martinis, Champagne and Spirits & Ales. The casinos, too, will be redesigned, with a nightclub feel to the main showrooms. A new Explorations Team will provide enrichment from cruise staff specialists in areas from dance to travel and technology.
The Veendam will lead the way in receiving the new features with a drydock March 29-April 27, 2009; the Rotterdam Nov. 18-Dec. 16, 2009; the Ryndam Jan. 16-Feb. 13, 2010; the Statendam March 26-April 23, 2010; and the Maasdam late 2010.
Scroll down to find out more about HAL's $200 million Signature of Excellence program