Skip to main content

Cruise Ship Review

ms Zuiderdamfont color=#C81D00 - Refurbished!/font - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

When Zuiderdam -- the first ship in Holland America's revolutionary Vista class -- was introduced back in 2002, it was much showier than its predecessors, with a flashy color scheme and younger sensibility, devised in an effort to attract a younger audience in a region that was, at that point, fairly uncharted for the line: the Caribbean. The vivid new look, from bright red elevators and hallways to bar and lounge seating in magenta, orange and yellow, raised more than a few eyebrows; in fact, the ships that followed reflected a return to a more conservative design style.

Interestingly, much of the ship's unusually bright decor was left untouched during the recent refit, part of the line's multi-million-dollar Signature of Excellence program. But, whether it is "gaudy" or "contemporary" really depends upon your personal style. After all, as more and more ship designers take risks with different shapes and colors, styles that felt loud in 2002 are more commonplace six years later. Perhaps the ship has just grown into its look.

One thing that's for certain is that Holland America, like many mainstream North American cruise lines, continues to invest money in its older ships via major renovation projects, aiming to bring modern amenities onboard and standardize experiences across the fleet. The Signature of Excellence initiative has been rolling out in phases since 2003. By 2006, every ship in the fleet -- including Zuiderdam -- had either received the first set of upgrades (from plush, new bedding to in-cabin DVD players) or was launched with them.

But a second round of changes was quickly announced, and Zuiderdam went under the knife again in 2008 for more updates. The major ones include:

The aft of the ship looks radically different. It used to be slanted at about a 45-degree angle; during the refit, however, the upper decks were extended outward to make room for more cabins, so the back of the ship is now a bit boxier. This structural change allowed for a total of 34 new verandah and inside staterooms, bringing the double occupancy capacity of the ship to 1,916.

Holland America's now-signature Explorations Cafe was brought to Zuiderdam during the 2008 refit, taking over the starboard side of the Crow's Nest, the top-of-ship lounge. The Pinnacle Grill, located on Deck 3, benefited from the elimination of the Windstar Cafe, which existed on that same deck. The cafe's old spot is now the location of the new Pinnacle Bar, popular for pre-dinner drinks among those dining at the alternative eatery. And because there's now a stand-alone bar, the one that was part of the restaurant was removed, allowing more seats to be added.

The library, too, was removed from Deck 3 (as it's now part of Explorations Cafe), which freed up space for additional shops and a cozy new movie theater, where films are screened throughout each cruise. "Sex and the City" and "Bottle Shock" were two that appeared on our itinerary.

Some areas could have used extra TLC during the dry dock, including some pesky "potholes" in passenger areas. (Watch out for the loose floorboards outside of the main dining room.) There were also chipped tubs and tiling in staterooms and, yes, even some of the bright carpeting was showing its age. But, in the long run, though we do appreciate the museum-quality art onboard -- from paintings of historic Dutch ships to a Waterford Crystal sculpture in the shape of a seahorse -- aesthetics aren't what the cruise experience is about.

For me, what set this cruise apart from other recent sailings was the crew onboard. While it's common for shipboard employees to have had a long history of work at sea, this is the first time I've met crewmember after crewmember with a long history of work, specifically with Holland America. They're loyal to the line, and in many cases, to this specific ship -- they come back, contract after contract.

I was also impressed with the way Holland America has encouraged its mostly Indonesian and Filipino crewmembers to make their cultures a part of the cruise experience on this and other ships in the fleet. There are special Indonesian afternoon teas offered, where crew wear native costumes and serve Indonesian teas and pastries. There is also a Filipino crew talent show held onboard. The cornerstone is local dance and music, but crewmembers also showcase more individual talents, from singing to guitar-playing. After a parody sketch, in which a group of obviously male colleagues pretended to be working in the rice paddies while dressed in drag -- inflated balloons stuffed into the fronts of shirts and backs of pants -- the hilarious emcee (a line cook at the lido grill by day) flashed a sweet smile and said, "I'm so proud of my country."

I couldn't tell you, without looking back at my photos, what color the couches in the Piano Bar are, but I won't forget that these hardworking men and women spent what little time off they do have rehearsing for the show.

Dining

The Vista Dining Room is Zuiderdam's two-deck main dining venue, offering open seating for breakfast and lunch, and two options for dinner: traditional, set tables and times (fixed dining) on the upper level or As You Wish (flexible dining) on the lower level. As You Wish guests are able to make reservations up until 4 p.m. each day for specific time slots (5:30, 5:45, 6, 8, 8:30, 9) or walk in anytime between 5:30 and 9:30 to request availability.

Though we opted for fixed dining, fellow passengers on this particular sailing shared positive feedback about the As You Wish program. One couple reported not having to wait once to be seated, even though they showed up at different times each night without reservations. It's a wonderful way to meet new people because you aren't tied to the same tablemates nightly. On the flip side, dining this way means having different servers every night, and for many cruisers, having a close rapport with a particular waiter or team is important.

Zuiderdam's alternative restaurant is the Pinnacle Grill, open for lunch most sea days at a charge of $10 per person or for dinner for $20 per person; reservations are required. The cuisine is Pacific Northwestern, with an emphasis on steaks. A new menu has debuted on the ship, but the overall concept remains the same -- cheeses, fruits and meats from the Northwest region. Standouts from my visit include a flavorful filet, available in two sizes, 7 and 10 ounces. (Go for the 10 -- you're on vacation!) The restaurant's Chocolate Volcano Cake, a warm and decadent dessert with a gooey center, was worth the cover charge. The wine list includes selections from Washington and Oregon.

Dinner was superb, both in the quality of selections and in service, but a lunchtime visit was slower, and I felt it didn't offer the same value-for-money as supper.

The ship's casual eatery is the Lido Restaurant, which is set up in a somewhat traditional cafeteria fashion -- though there are distinct stations (Italian, deli, bistro fare), they are lined up port and starboard, rather than scattered about, which results in some queuing at peak times.

At breakfast, you'll find scrambled eggs, pancakes or French toast, breakfast meats, cereals, pastries, breads and fruit, along with a station for made-to-order eggs, omelets and even eggs Benedict. Midday, the fare available is almost identical on either side, with one or two differences: For example, at lunch both sides featured the same hot dishes, ice cream and sandwich options, but the Asian station -- frankly, one of the best bets here, with flavorful daily selections and a choose-your-own stir-fry option -- was solely on the port side. Salad fixings and beverages (water, iced tea and juice) can be found in a central walkway between port and starboard.

The Lido is also open nightly for those who opt for a casual dinner, though there was nothing extraordinary about taking supper there. Aside from the Italian station, which always serves pasta and pizza, entrees often matched what was being served in the main dining room, but there were no tableside services, tablecloths or special place settings.

At the midship pool, the Terrace Grill serves up lunchtime burgers, hot dogs, wursts, grilled chicken and vegetarian burgers with fries and crisp onion rings; check out the toppings bar for other options, as well, including taco shells and fillings, and tortilla chips for making your own heaping plate of nachos.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. Breakfast can be ordered by placing a completed hanging card on your doorknob by 2 a.m. It goes beyond the Continental breakfast of muffins and jams to include omelets or scrambled eggs (Egg Beaters available), sausage and more. Otherwise, there are two menus from which you can order in-room meals. A round-the-clock menu features standard fare (hamburgers, triple-decker clubs), and a larger menu, including those items and more (tuna melts, penne primavera), is offered from noon until 10 p.m.

Dishes always arrived when promised and at the right temperature, and I'd suggest this option over the Lido for a night away from the crowds. The vegetarian wrap with a creamy, rich Thai-inspired coconut sauce was particularly memorable.

While there were no truly bum meals in the Vista Dining Room, like most lines, Holland America does a better job in some areas than in others. Ample portions of well-seasoned beef and lamb were always brought out at the temperature requested, and creative takes on fish had a prominent place on the nightly roster. Pasta, on the other hand, was consistently dry. (I learned to ask for extra sauce on the side.) Generally, we found service to be excellent in the main dining room and sporadic in areas like the Lido Buffet. (Purchasing a Diet Coke or asking for a refill on your coffee might prove difficult, though someone always seemed available to clear away trays and prep the table for the next passenger.)

Public Rooms

Most of the public rooms -- including the shops, casino, theaters and many bars and lounges -- are located on Decks 2 and 3 (Lower and Upper Promenade Decks, respectively), which makes it very easy to get your bearings. The open Atrium is the central point of the ship's lower decks, beginning on Deck 1 (Main Deck) as the location of the purser's and shore excursion desks. None of these areas ever felt particularly crowded.

The ship's "shopping arcade," redesigned during the refurbishment, is located on Deck 3; included now is Merabella, a designer jewelry boutique, first introduced on Amsterdam. There's also a shop for fine jewelry and watches and another that sells souvenirs, liquor, clothing and sundries. Each day, a "sale" area rotates different items; one day, you might find tables of mid-range watches (Anne Klein, Kenneth Cole); the next, sweatshirts and tees. If you see something you like, snap it up, as it might not make another appearance!

There are also three small conference/meeting spaces; the new Screening Room, an intimate space with big plush chairs for a real movie theater experience; and, heading aft toward the Vista Dining Room, the ship's photo gallery. The art gallery is located one level down on Deck 2. (Auctions are held in the larger Ocean Bar.)

The Crow's Nest, Holland America's signature lounge at the top of the ship with floor-to-ceiling windows looking forward, is a central point for daytime activities, such as bingo and trivia. During the refurbishment, the starboard side of this lounge was transformed into the Explorations Cafe, a combination library, coffeehouse and Internet cafe. High-speed terminals are scattered around the library. (Wi-Fi is available in hot spots around the ship. Wired, in-cabin access is also offered, though our cabin was close enough to public spaces to pick up the Wi-Fi.) You can pay as you go for 75 cents a minute, buy 100 minutes for $55 (55 cents a minute) or buy 250 minutes for $100 (40 cents a minute).

At the Starbucks-style coffee bar, you can purchase lattes, cappuccinos and specialty hot and iced coffee beverages, starting from $2 and change; espresso and cappuccino are still complimentary in the main dining room.

Cabins

Zuiderdam kicked off a new era for Holland America in being able to offer more outside cabins than ever before. More than 80 percent of all staterooms onboard are outsides, and more than 60 percent of all rooms feature private verandahs -- a large number for a mid-sized ship. Decor is mostly rusts and purples, muted compared to the rest of the ship.

Though the cabins themselves are showing some age, particularly in bathroom fixtures like tubs and tiling, the recent renovations have brought appreciated creature comforts to the mix, such as flat-screen TV's with DVD players in all staterooms, three-time magnifying mirrors and Mariner's Dream Bed mattresses (Euro-top Sealy Posturpedics) with cushy duvet coverings. We also love that unlike many other cruise ships, which are shower-only until you reach suite-level accommodations, most of the staterooms onboard Zuiderdam have tubs with shower heads; exceptions are the lowest level insides and a few random cabins in other categories (check the deck plan carefully).

Overall, staterooms aren't massively large -- standard insides start from just 143 square ft. -- but there is a great deal of cleverly hidden storage space, including cubbies under each of the beds. (Twins make up a queen.) Oceanview cabins start from 185 square ft. In the next step up, Deluxe Verandahs are 249 square ft. (including the balconies) and offer sitting areas. Superior Verandah Suites measure 389 square ft. and feature dressing rooms, sofa beds, full-size whirlpool baths with additional shower stalls and dual-sink vanities.

Deluxe Verandah Suites increase to 510 square ft., and the beds are kings rather than queens. The corner suites (category SB, under Deluxe Verandah Suites) on the aft of the ship offer spacious, wraparound verandahs. Finally, the two Penthouse Verandah Suites are 1,318 square ft.; perks include microwaves, guest bathrooms, hot tubs on the verandahs and private stereo systems.

Suite passengers also have access to a private space, the Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations.

Some 28 cabins in a variety of categories are handicap accessible.

Editor's note: All G-category staterooms have partial sea views. All GG-, H- and HH-category staterooms have fully obstructed views.

Entertainment

A cashless casino is strategically placed on Deck 2 en route to the Vista Lounge, the ship's main theater, featuring completely electronic slot machines (winnings tracked on your key card -- no more coins), the usual table games (roulette, blackjack, craps, Caribbean stud poker) and a dealer-less Texas Hold 'Em table with monitors at each seat for digital multi-player games.

Though many areas of the ship are quiet after dark -- more elderly passengers turn in early -- you'll always find action in the casino and surrounding lounges like the Sports Bar, which broadcasts major sporting events, but mostly features international games like European football (soccer); the Piano Bar, which offers live, themed music (like Beatles sing-alongs) each evening; and the Northern Lights disco (where the D.J. tried his hand at various genres, from 70's disco to recent club cuts).

Nightly performances included decent productions, variety shows and a hilarious comedian in the tiered Vista Lounge. The aforementioned crew talent show is a hit, but also not to be missed is the Zuiderdam Superstar competition, an "American Idol"-type talent show for those passengers not afraid to karaoke for a crowd. The 90-something-year-old man who sang "America the Beautiful" brought me patriotically to my feet but, sadly, did not make the top five. Don't worry about getting to the Vista Lounge early; there are always seats available on the upper level (particularly for the later shows), and as long as you avoid the obvious structural supports, the sightlines are fine from up above.

Even as the onboard experience has evolved over the years, there are some distinctive Holland America touches that have remained, including hot hors d'oeuvres in bars and lounges before dinner, fresh flowers throughout the ship's public spaces and (our favorite) lots of live music in the evenings. For example, a string quartet performs nightly in the stately Explorer's Lounge, where you can sip a cognac before or after dinner, and a pianist plays in the Ocean Bar, a hot spot at the top of the Atrium, for those who like to partake in a little pre-dinner dancing.

No matter the hour, the Crow's Nest is our favorite space on the ship, with friendly bartenders and armchairs facing the sea -- but the space is underutilized at night. There's no live music here as in other areas of the ship, and there's surprisingly little foot traffic after hours. The decision to quiet the Crow's Nest at night is deliberate. It is a peaceful retreat for those who want to stay up past their bedtimes, but who, at the same time, want to avoid the clanging in the casino or the thumping bass in Northern Lights. (Before HAL had nightclubs, dancing was found in the Crow's Nest.) Still, some low-key musicians would add to the ambience.

Daytime activities run the gamut from pool games (yes, even the hairy chest competition made its appearance) to flower-arranging. The Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine, is outstanding. This Food Network-style show kitchen, set up in the secondary show space (the Queens Lounge), is used for cooking demonstrations (which are free) and hands-on cooking classes ($29 per person). The classes fill up quickly, so sign up early in the cruise if you'd like to participate; otherwise, the demonstrations are fun to attend, and overhead cameras and large monitors make it possible for everyone to see the action on the stove.

Holland America recently restructured the titles and responsibilities of its entertainment staff. Some, but not all, members of Holland America's new "Explorations Team" were rolled out onboard Zuiderdam for our November 2008 voyage: There's the Cruise Director, who seems to be in 10 places at once; a knowledgeable and personable Travel Guide, who presides over port lectures; and a party planner, who emcees in the Culinary Arts Center and handles events like martini-mixing.

Coming soon -- by April 2009, the target date for the program to roll out completely, fleetwide -- are a "techspert" (to offer computer and photography classes in conjunction with Microsoft) and a dance director (to run lessons and plan dance-related activities).

Fitness and Recreation

The central pool onboard, the Lido Pool, is set on Deck 9 midship underneath the magrodome (or retractable roof). The serious sunbathers, however, vie for the chairs around the Sea View Pool, aft, open to the blue sky and blinding sun. Both the Lido and Sea View pools are flanked by hot tubs (three and two, respectively), and poolside activities are staggered between both, depending on the day. During peak times, it can be hard to snag a seat, but it's not impossible. There are always deck chairs available on the quieter (though oft windier) Observation Deck (10) just above.

The large, full-service Greenhouse Spa and Salon is operated by cruise conglomerate Steiner Leisure. Its bustling lobby, located forward on the Lido Deck between the covered pool and a stairwell/elevator bank, does not do the rest of the space justice; there are several tranquil treatment rooms, including a couple's massage room (with a private, jetted tub) and several rooms with windows overlooking the ocean so you don't feel like you're crammed into a closet that just happens to smell of essential oils. Treatments range from the standard facial or Swedish massage to hipper sessions like teeth whitening and acupuncture.

Prices felt above-average, and though special combo treatments are offered at decent prices on port days, there are no in-port discounts on regular menu items except on embarkation day. So if, for example, you want that full hot-stone massage (as I did), you'll have to shell out $195. (Even though the treatment was lovely, it was still more than I've paid for the same at high-end New York City spas.) Also, the product pitch -- really more of a major-league fastball -- is among the pushiest I've encountered. I slinked out of the treatment room, feeling guilty for not buying something, rather than feeling relaxed (which defeats the purpose of going to the spa).

There's also a private hydrotherapy area that includes an 18-by-22-foot hydro pool with strong jets to soothe sore muscles and a thermal suite with heated tile loungers and steam/sauna rooms. You have to pay to play: A pass for the duration of our 10-day cruise was $150 per person or $250 per couple. (You can share with a friend, if not your cabin mate.) You can also buy a day-pass for $40. Unlike some ships, which allow spa passengers to use the thallasotherapy pool on the same day they've booked a treatment, Zuiderdam's is only available to those with the separate pass.

The adjacent fitness center is quite spacious for a ship this size, offering more than enough gym equipment, from steppers and treadmills to biking and rowing machines, as well as free weights. There's also a space for aerobic and other organized classes; some are free and others (like yoga and Pilates) carry an $11 fee. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a forward view worth working up a sweat for.

A walking/jogging track is available on the Promenade deck; three laps around equal one mile. This is also the setting for On Deck for the Cure, a fundraising walk for breast cancer held once on each voyage aboard every ship in the fleet. Participants donate $15, a small portion of which covers a T-shirt and pink wristband that you can wear during the walk and then keep. The rest of the money goes to Komen for the Cure, via the Holland America Foundation.

Family

Holland America's kids' program, Club HAL, is broken down into three tiers: Club HAL Kids (ages 3 to 7, must be potty trained), Club HAL Tweens (ages 8 to 12) and Teens (ages 13 to 17). The youngest set might participate in arts and crafts, storytelling or ice cream sundae parties, while the Tweens compete in on-deck sporting events like basketball or disco dance-offs. Teen activities include trivia contests, karaoke and card games.

On Zuiderdam, there's one Club HAL space to accommodate the younger age groups, and it's outfitted with a movie screening area and PlayStation consoles. Meanwhile, teens get their own space in the Loft, which features foosball, a jukebox and more PlayStation consoles. There isn't a kids-only pool, so children are encouraged to use the midship swimming area (the aft pool is technically adults-only, but kids are allowed if they're supervised). Activities are generally offered in the mornings, afternoons and evenings, and an After Hours program is available from 10 p.m. until midnight for $5 per child. In-cabin babysitting services are limited; check with the front desk.

It's important to note that the hours and extent of programming often depend on how many children are onboard. For example, youth staff will organize a HAL talent show for kids … when there are 100 or more onboard. There were only 15 children enrolled in the kid's club on our sailing. (There was one lone teen onboard, who opted not to participate in organized activities.) When I popped in early in the afternoon on the last day of the voyage, the program was already shutting down. But, the youth staff was quick to point out that, during the holiday season, the number of kids and teens onboard climbs to around 175.

We love that the Culinary Arts Center gears two special workshops toward younger cruises: ages 3 to 7 and ages 8 and older. These classes are complimentary and focus on cooking safety, cleanliness and measuring. Teenagers (15 and older) may participate in the adult classes.

Bottom line: Zuiderdam might not be the natural choice if you are planning a kid-centric vacation. But, there are ample facilities and activities to entertain young ones if you are also looking for a ship that's flexible enough to accommodate many age groups on a multigenerational family getaway or reunion -- particularly during peak family travel times like the holidays or spring break.

Fellow Passengers

Age ranges vary by cruise length and itinerary. For example, you're likely to find more young passengers on weeklong voyages to the Caribbean. But, in general, Holland America attracts a slightly older, more affluent clientele with the average ages in the mid-50's. HAL boasts a loyal passenger base, which means each cruise nets a high percentage of repeat passengers. Our sailing, a longer (10-day) trip that also did a partial Panama Canal transit, skewed even a bit older and was comprised mostly of North American travelers, though there were several Canadians and Brits onboard, too.

Dress Code

Our 10-day sailing through the Caribbean and Panama Canal featured two formal nights and one "optional" formal night (about half of the passengers onboard dressed up). On formal evenings, most men wear suits (a few were in tuxedos); women opt for gowns, cocktail dresses or nice pants suits. All other nights were smart casual. In general, T-shirts, jeans, swimsuits, tank tops and shorts should not be worn in public areas after 6 p.m. But, if you want to have a casual evening, you can certainly dress down for dinner in the Lido Buffet.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor

Cabins

Zuiderdam kicked off a new era for Holland America in being able to offer more outside cabins than ever before. More than 80 percent of all staterooms onboard are outsides, and more than 60 percent of all rooms feature private verandahs -- a large number for a mid-sized ship. Decor is mostly rusts and purples, muted compared to the rest of the ship.

Though the cabins themselves are showing some age, particularly in bathroom fixtures like tubs and tiling, the recent renovations have brought appreciated creature comforts to the mix, such as flat-screen TV's with DVD players in all staterooms, three-time magnifying mirrors and Mariner's Dream Bed mattresses (Euro-top Sealy Posturpedics) with cushy duvet coverings. We also love that unlike many other cruise ships, which are shower-only until you reach suite-level accommodations, most of the staterooms onboard Zuiderdam have tubs with shower heads; exceptions are the lowest level insides and a few random cabins in other categories (check the deck plan carefully).

Overall, staterooms aren't massively large -- standard insides start from just 143 square ft. -- but there is a great deal of cleverly hidden storage space, including cubbies under each of the beds. (Twins make up a queen.) Oceanview cabins start from 185 square ft. In the next step up, Deluxe Verandahs are 200 square ft. (54-square-ft. balcony) and offer sitting areas. Superior Verandah Suites measure 298 square ft. (100-square-ft. balcony) and feature dressing rooms, sofa beds, full-size whirlpool baths with additional shower stalls and dual-sink vanities.

Deluxe Verandah Suites increase to 380 square ft. (130-square-ft. balcony), and the beds are kings rather than queens. The corner suites (category SB, under Deluxe Verandah Suites) on the aft of the ship offer spacious, wraparound verandahs. Finally, the two Penthouse Verandah Suites are 1,000 square ft. (318-square-ft. balcony); perks include microwaves, guest bathrooms, hot tubs on the verandahs and private stereo systems.

Suite passengers also have access to a private space, the Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations.

Some 28 cabins in a variety of categories are handicap accessible.

Editor's note: All G-category staterooms have partial sea views. All GG-, H- and HH-category staterooms have fully obstructed views.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor. Updated by Dan Askin, Associate Editor.

Cabins

Zuiderdam kicked off a new era for Holland America in being able to offer more outside cabins than ever before. More than 80 percent of all staterooms onboard are outsides, and more than 60 percent of all rooms feature private verandahs -- a large number for a mid-sized ship. Decor is mostly rusts and purples, muted compared to the rest of the ship.

Though the cabins themselves are showing some age, particularly in bathroom fixtures like tubs and tiling, the recent renovations have brought appreciated creature comforts to the mix, such as flat-screen TV's with DVD players in all staterooms, three-time magnifying mirrors and Mariner's Dream Bed mattresses (Euro-top Sealy Posturpedics) with cushy duvet coverings. We also love that unlike many other cruise ships, which are shower-only until you reach suite-level accommodations, most of the staterooms onboard Zuiderdam have tubs with shower heads; exceptions are the lowest level insides and a few random cabins in other categories (check the deck plan carefully).

Overall, staterooms aren't massively large -- standard insides start from just 143 square ft. -- but there is a great deal of cleverly hidden storage space, including cubbies under each of the beds. (Twins make up a queen.) Oceanview cabins start from 185 square ft. In the next step up, Deluxe Verandahs are 249 square ft. (including the balconies) and offer sitting areas. Superior Verandah Suites measure 389 square ft. and feature dressing rooms, sofa beds, full-size whirlpool baths with additional shower stalls and dual-sink vanities.

Deluxe Verandah Suites increase to 510 square ft., and the beds are kings rather than queens. The corner suites (category SB, under Deluxe Verandah Suites) on the aft of the ship offer spacious, wraparound verandahs. Finally, the two Penthouse Verandah Suites are 1,318 square ft.; perks include microwaves, guest bathrooms, hot tubs on the verandahs and private stereo systems.

Suite passengers also have access to a private space, the Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations.

Some 28 cabins in a variety of categories are handicap accessible.

Editor's note: All G-category staterooms have partial sea views. All GG-, H- and HH-category staterooms have fully obstructed views.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor

Cabins

Zuiderdam kicked off a new era for Holland America in being able to offer more outside cabins than ever before. More than 80 percent of all staterooms onboard are outsides, and more than 60 percent of all rooms feature private verandahs -- a large number for a mid-sized ship. Decor is mostly rusts and purples, muted compared to the rest of the ship.

Though the cabins themselves are showing some age, particularly in bathroom fixtures like tubs and tiling, the recent renovations have brought appreciated creature comforts to the mix, such as flat-screen TV's with DVD players in all staterooms, three-time magnifying mirrors and Mariner's Dream Bed mattresses (Euro-top Sealy Posturpedics) with cushy duvet coverings. We also love that unlike many other cruise ships, which are shower-only until you reach suite-level accommodations, most of the staterooms onboard Zuiderdam have tubs with shower heads; exceptions are the lowest level insides and a few random cabins in other categories (check the deck plan carefully).

Overall, staterooms aren't massively large -- standard insides start from just 143 square ft. -- but there is a great deal of cleverly hidden storage space, including cubbies under each of the beds. (Twins make up a queen.) Oceanview cabins start from 185 square ft. In the next step up, Deluxe Verandahs are 200 square ft. (54-square-ft. balcony) and offer sitting areas. Superior Verandah Suites measure 298 square ft. (100-square-ft. balcony) and feature dressing rooms, sofa beds, full-size whirlpool baths with additional shower stalls and dual-sink vanities.

Deluxe Verandah Suites increase to 380 square ft. (130-square-ft. balcony), and the beds are kings rather than queens. The corner suites (category SB, under Deluxe Verandah Suites) on the aft of the ship offer spacious, wraparound verandahs. Finally, the two Penthouse Verandah Suites are 1,000 square ft. (318-square-ft. balcony); perks include microwaves, guest bathrooms, hot tubs on the verandahs and private stereo systems.

Suite passengers also have access to a private space, the Neptune Lounge, where evening hors d'oeuvres and cocktails are served; the concierge can make spa and restaurant reservations.

Some 28 cabins in a variety of categories are handicap accessible.

Editor's note: All G-category staterooms have partial sea views. All GG-, H- and HH-category staterooms have fully obstructed views.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Dining

The Vista Dining Room is Zuiderdam's two-deck main dining venue, offering open seating for breakfast and lunch, and two options for dinner: traditional, set tables and times (fixed dining) on the upper level or As You Wish (flexible dining) on the lower level. As You Wish guests are able to make reservations up until 4 p.m. each day for specific time slots (5:30, 5:45, 6, 8, 8:30, 9) or walk in anytime between 5:30 and 9:30 to request availability.

Though we opted for fixed dining, fellow passengers on this particular sailing shared positive feedback about the As You Wish program. One couple reported not having to wait once to be seated, even though they showed up at different times each night without reservations. It's a wonderful way to meet new people because you aren't tied to the same tablemates nightly. On the flip side, dining this way means having different servers every night, and for many cruisers, having a close rapport with a particular waiter or team is important.

Zuiderdam's alternative restaurant is the Pinnacle Grill, open for lunch most sea days at a charge of $10 per person or for dinner for $20 per person; reservations are required. The cuisine is Pacific Northwestern, with an emphasis on steaks. A new menu has debuted on the ship, but the overall concept remains the same -- cheeses, fruits and meats from the Northwest region. Standouts from my visit include a flavorful filet, available in two sizes, 7 and 10 ounces. (Go for the 10 -- you're on vacation!) The restaurant's Chocolate Volcano Cake, a warm and decadent dessert with a gooey center, was worth the cover charge. The wine list includes selections from Washington and Oregon.

Dinner was superb, both in the quality of selections and in service, but a lunchtime visit was slower, and I felt it didn't offer the same value-for-money as supper.

The ship's casual eatery is the Lido Restaurant, which is set up in a somewhat traditional cafeteria fashion -- though there are distinct stations (Italian, deli, bistro fare), they are lined up port and starboard, rather than scattered about, which results in some queuing at peak times.

At breakfast, you'll find scrambled eggs, pancakes or French toast, breakfast meats, cereals, pastries, breads and fruit, along with a station for made-to-order eggs, omelets and even eggs Benedict. Midday, the fare available is almost identical on either side, with one or two differences: For example, at lunch both sides featured the same hot dishes, ice cream and sandwich options, but the Asian station -- frankly, one of the best bets here, with flavorful daily selections and a choose-your-own stir-fry option -- was solely on the port side. Salad fixings and beverages (water, iced tea and juice) can be found in a central walkway between port and starboard.

The Lido is also open nightly for those who opt for a casual dinner, though there was nothing extraordinary about taking supper there. Aside from the Italian station, which always serves pasta and pizza, entrees often matched what was being served in the main dining room, but there were no tableside services, tablecloths or special place settings.

At the midship pool, the Terrace Grill serves up lunchtime burgers, hot dogs, wursts, grilled chicken and vegetarian burgers with fries and crisp onion rings; check out the toppings bar for other options, as well, including taco shells and fillings, and tortilla chips for making your own heaping plate of nachos.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. Breakfast can be ordered by placing a completed hanging card on your doorknob by 2 a.m. It goes beyond the Continental breakfast of muffins and jams to include omelets or scrambled eggs (Egg Beaters available), sausage and more. Otherwise, there are two menus from which you can order in-room meals. A round-the-clock menu features standard fare (hamburgers, triple-decker clubs), and a larger menu, including those items and more (tuna melts, penne primavera), is offered from noon until 10 p.m.

Dishes always arrived when promised and at the right temperature, and I'd suggest this option over the Lido for a night away from the crowds. The vegetarian wrap with a creamy, rich Thai-inspired coconut sauce was particularly memorable.

While there were no truly bum meals in the Vista Dining Room, like most lines, Holland America does a better job in some areas than in others. Ample portions of well-seasoned beef and lamb were always brought out at the temperature requested, and creative takes on fish had a prominent place on the nightly roster. Pasta, on the other hand, was consistently dry. (I learned to ask for extra sauce on the side.) Generally, we found service to be excellent in the main dining room and sporadic in areas like the Lido Buffet. (Purchasing a Diet Coke or asking for a refill on your coffee might prove difficult, though someone always seemed available to clear away trays and prep the table for the next passenger.)Editor's note: Beginning December 8, 2014, Zuiderdam will offer world-class musical performances with the B.B. King's Blues Club experience, five nights a week in the Queen's Lounge.

When Zuiderdam -- the first ship in Holland America's revolutionary Vista class -- was introduced back in 2002, it was much showier than its predecessors, with a flashy color scheme and younger sensibility, devised in an effort to attract a younger audience in a region that was, at that point, fairly uncharted for the line: the Caribbean. The vivid new look, from bright red elevators and hallways to bar and lounge seating in magenta, orange and yellow, raised more than a few eyebrows; in fact, the ships that followed reflected a return to a more conservative design style.

Interestingly, much of the ship's unusually bright decor was left untouched during the recent refit, part of the line's multi-million-dollar Signature of Excellence program. But, whether it is "gaudy" or "contemporary" really depends upon your personal style. After all, as more and more ship designers take risks with different shapes and colors, styles that felt loud in 2002 are more commonplace six years later. Perhaps the ship has just grown into its look.

One thing that's for certain is that Holland America, like many mainstream North American cruise lines, continues to invest money in its older ships via major renovation projects, aiming to bring modern amenities onboard and standardize experiences across the fleet. The Signature of Excellence initiative has been rolling out in phases since 2003. By 2006, every ship in the fleet -- including Zuiderdam -- had either received the first set of upgrades (from plush, new bedding to in-cabin DVD players) or was launched with them.

But a second round of changes was quickly announced, and Zuiderdam went under the knife again in 2008 for more updates. The major ones include:

The aft of the ship looks radically different. It used to be slanted at about a 45-degree angle; during the refit, however, the upper decks were extended outward to make room for more cabins, so the back of the ship is now a bit boxier. This structural change allowed for a total of 34 new verandah and inside staterooms, bringing the double occupancy capacity of the ship to 1,916.

Holland America's now-signature Explorations Cafe was brought to Zuiderdam during the 2008 refit, taking over the starboard side of the Crow's Nest, the top-of-ship lounge. The Pinnacle Grill, located on Deck 3, benefited from the elimination of the Windstar Cafe, which existed on that same deck. The cafe's old spot is now the location of the new Pinnacle Bar, popular for pre-dinner drinks among those dining at the alternative eatery. And because there's now a stand-alone bar, the one that was part of the restaurant was removed, allowing more seats to be added.

The library, too, was removed from Deck 3 (as it's now part of Explorations Cafe), which freed up space for additional shops and a cozy new movie theater, where films are screened throughout each cruise. "Sex and the City" and "Bottle Shock" were two that appeared on our itinerary.

Some areas could have used extra TLC during the dry dock, including some pesky "potholes" in passenger areas. (Watch out for the loose floorboards outside of the main dining room.) There were also chipped tubs and tiling in staterooms and, yes, even some of the bright carpeting was showing its age. But, in the long run, though we do appreciate the museum-quality art onboard -- from paintings of historic Dutch ships to a Waterford Crystal sculpture in the shape of a seahorse -- aesthetics aren't what the cruise experience is about.

For me, what set this cruise apart from other recent sailings was the crew onboard. While it's common for shipboard employees to have had a long history of work at sea, this is the first time I've met crewmember after crewmember with a long history of work, specifically with Holland America. They're loyal to the line, and in many cases, to this specific ship -- they come back, contract after contract.

I was also impressed with the way Holland America has encouraged its mostly Indonesian and Filipino crewmembers to make their cultures a part of the cruise experience on this and other ships in the fleet. There are special Indonesian afternoon teas offered, where crew wear native costumes and serve Indonesian teas and pastries. There is also a Filipino crew talent show held onboard. The cornerstone is local dance and music, but crewmembers also showcase more individual talents, from singing to guitar-playing. After a parody sketch, in which a group of obviously male colleagues pretended to be working in the rice paddies while dressed in drag -- inflated balloons stuffed into the fronts of shirts and backs of pants -- the hilarious emcee (a line cook at the lido grill by day) flashed a sweet smile and said, "I'm so proud of my country."

I couldn't tell you, without looking back at my photos, what color the couches in the Piano Bar are, but I won't forget that these hardworking men and women spent what little time off they do have rehearsing for the show.

There's nothing wrong with a classic. And in an era where cruise lines keep adding a dizzying array of features (Skydiving! Bumper cars! Zip lines!), Holland America's Zuiderdam maintains the line's reputation for offering a satisfying and enjoyable, although not particularly surprising, experience at sea.

When Zuiderdam came out in 2002 as the first ship in the Vista class, HAL loyalists cringed at the bright colors and "gaudy" decor; 12 years later, it's hard to see what the fuss was about. The ship does feel a tad dated -- while the three-story atrium is anchored by a gorgeous Waterford seahorse chandelier, the space feels cramped and closed compared to newer vessels. We also noticed some places where the ship seemed worn (although this will be addressed when Zuiderdam goes into dry dock in April 2015).

And we'd never say that Zuiderdam is stuck in time. When HAL does add new features to the ship, such as its successful Dancing with the Stars at Sea program or its fabulous Dive In at the Terrace Grill burger shack, the result is excellent. We're sorry that we missed the B.B. King Blues Club, which returns to the ship in December 2014.

HAL passengers are slow to embrace change, we're told, and thus Zuiderdam contains the line's popular touchstones. The HALCats, Holland America's house band, draw a crowd wherever they play, the signature Pinnacle Grill is usually booked full for dinner and an Indonesian tea is held at least once a cruise. Normally, as we traverse a cruise ship, we hear our share of muttered complaints; on our Alaskan voyage, these grumblings seemed entirely absent.

That's probably because HAL excels on familiar itineraries, particularly when it comes to logistics. For example, our time on the ship was part of an Alaskan cruisetour, and passengers both embarked and disembarked in Skagway. Zuiderdam staff had the process down to a science; our room was ready when we boarded the ship and luggage arrived promptly. While we noticed that wait and bar staff weren't always as friendly, the cruise ship staff clearly have their act together for such an operation to run so smoothly. And it's that consistency that makes a cruise on Zuiderdam a fail-safe proposition.

Dining

Overall, while cuisine on Zuiderdam is about average, we appreciated that large sections of the Lido were open all day, allowing you to grab a variety of snacks at any time. Of particular note is Dive In at the Terrace Grill, HAL's poolside window serving made-to-order hot dogs, burgers and fries; we found the food here to be superior to the rest of the buffet. Other culinary standouts during our cruise were the lobster salad and Chateaubriand served during Le Cirque night in the Pinnacle Grill.

Free Dining

Vista Dining Room (Decks 2 and 3, aft): While Zuiderdam's main dining room has large windows in both the upper and lower sections, the rooms are separated by a ceiling (rather than the upper level looking down onto the lower level). This layout makes conversation easier as voices don't carry as far -- although you don't get that grand effect that's common to other MDRs.

Breakfast is served from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. The menu is fairly standard, with eggs, waffles and hot cereal available to order. Lunch is served only on certain days; check the program for hours. A full four-course meal, with appetizer, soup/salad, entree and dessert, is available if you want it; a typical lunch menu includes Thai curry chicken salad, hot and sour shrimp soup, baked macaroni and cheese or French dip as an entree.

An afternoon tea is served on the upper level from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., and is popular with Zuiderdam's international passengers. Holland America actually has several styles of tea: Indonesian, Royal Dutch and Cupcake, where several flavors of tiny cakes are served.

HAL has two styles of dining for dinner, traditional set tables at 5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. in the upper section of the dining room and As You Wish dining between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. downstairs. The menus, developed by HAL's Chef Rudi Sodamin, often draw dishes from the line's "culinary council" of famous chefs such as David Burke, Elizabeth Falkner and Charlie Trotter.

A typical dinner menu includes shrimp cocktail and duck pate on brioche for appetizers, Caribbean fish chowder, and salad of arugula and frisee for second course, and cracked pepper tenderloin with grilled shrimp, oven-roasted rack of lamb and maple-lacquered duck breast as entrees. Desserts include chocolate souffle, tiramisu, New York cheesecake or a no-sugar Black Forest cake.

For picky eaters, several dishes are available every night, including French onion soup, Caesar salad, grilled salmon, chicken breast and strip steak.

At least one vegetarian entree is offered at dinner. In addition, a complete menu with 22 vegetarian and vegan items is available on request; passengers are advised to order items the night before.

Lido Restaurant (Deck 9, midship): Zuiderdam's buffet is a typical cruise ship spread that offers plenty of choices, most hours of the day. It can be chaotic during prime hours, and lines do form at the more popular stations.

Continental breakfast is served from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Here you'll find fruit, muffins and pastries as well as some cheeses. The full breakfast is available from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and carries the usual variety of omelets, smoked salmon, breakfast meats, cereals, yogurt and fruit.

Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Choices include hot entrees such as baked chicken, a salad bar, Asian and Indian specialties (including sushi), pasta and a rather doughy pizza. The deli counter, with grab-and-go sandwiches, is open 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Lido serves casual dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.; usually some of the same options from the main dining room are available. Sample menus include appetizers like fruit ceviche or eggplant caponata; two types of soup; the 12-salad bar; entrees such as crab pad Thai, Caribbean jerk chicken, New York strip loin steak or curried vegetables. A range of desserts is available, including key lime pie, create-your-own sundaes, a sugar-free dessert, and cheese and crackers.

If you're looking for a late-night snack, Lido has a good variety of choices, including pizza, pasta, Asian dishes, sandwiches and sweets available from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Dive In at the Terrace Grill (Lido poolside, midship): Zuiderdam's newest addition features made-to-order burgers, hot dogs and fries. It's a delicious option that tastes fresher than the usual Lido fare. More importantly, our fries stayed perfectly crispy, even with the addition of "secret sauce" (a spicy remoulade). There's also a Mexican buffet set up in this area. Open 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Explorations Cafe (Deck 10, forward): Attached to the computer lounge and the library, Explorations Cafe has complimentary snacks and pastries; specialty coffee drinks will run you extra. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Room Service: Room service is available 24 hours, with no fee. A full breakfast menu with standard choices, including eggs, omelets, cereal and meats, can be ordered the night before, up until 2 a.m. (ours came exactly within the time requested). From noon until 10 p.m., the menu includes smoked salmon, French onion soup, salads, seared salmon, penne pasta, a variety of sandwiches and desserts.

A limited menu is available any time, which includes a club sandwich, fruit salad, cheese plate and chocolate chip cookies. For passengers who feel seasick, the staff will deliver beef broth, broiled chicken breast, green apples,crackers and hot tea.

Fee Dining

Canaletto (Deck 9, midship); $10 per person: Carved out of the Lido buffet, Canaletto is the ship's Italian venue. Appetizers such as eggplant caponata pasta, and entrees such as veal piccata and roast pork saltimbocca, are served in a white tablecloth setting. We found the fare here underwhelming. Open for dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Pinnacle Grill (Deck 2, midship); $10 per person for lunch, $29 per person for dinner: Zuiderdam's signature restaurant is inspired by the Pacific Northwest. The room makes a nice special occasion dinner, with beautiful Bvlgari plates and gorgeous furnishings. You can't go wrong with a steak here; we also enjoyed the lobster bisque, the cedar-planked halibut with shrimp scampi and perhaps the most delicious roasted vegetables that we've had at sea. Open for lunch, noon to 1 p.m.; and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Le Cirque at the Pinnacle Grill (Deck 2, midship); $49 per person ($89 with wine pairings): Offered once during the cruise, the Le Cirque dinner features classic menu items from Sirio Maccioni's famed New York restaurant. For the meal, the Pinnacle Grill exchanges its usual dishes for Le Cirque's signature orange monkey plates -- a nice whimsical touch. Some of the flavors here were genuinely surprising -- who knew that foie gras mousse would taste good with rhubarb or that huckleberries would add a delicious edge to butternut squash soup? The Chateaubriand is a standout, as is the lobster salad and chocolate souffle. Reservations recommended. Dinner is served 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Cabins

Zuiderdam has 929 cabins, with more than 80 percent facing outside. When the ship enters dry dock in 2015, another 28 inside and balcony cabins will be added on Deck 10. Wheelchair accessible rooms are available in all classes, including suites. Triples and quads are available for families.

All cabins are decorated in golds and blues, with red sofas and blond wood. All have two Mariner's Dream twin beds that can be configured into a queen, several closets and shelves, a nightstand for each side of the bed and a vanity with chair and a magnifying mirror. Baggage can be stored underneath the bed, and each cabin has European and American outlets.

In-room entertainment consists of a flat-screen TV with a limited number of channels, including MSNBC, CNBC, ESPN, BBC, the Comedy Channel and FOX news. You can order DVDs from a comprehensive list to be delivered to your room -- a quaint throwback in this age of On Demand.

Bathrooms have Corian countertops and sinks, a shelf and a medicine cabinet. Most showers come with a full bathtub -- unusual for cabins under suite level. Another plus -- the shower curtain has a liner to avoid the dreaded cling. Included bath amenities for most cabins are Elemis-branded bar soap, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.

Interior: Inside cabins range from 151 to 233 square feet and are located on Decks 1 and 4 through 8.

Oceanview/Porthole: Oceanview cabins are 174 to 180 square feet, and are located on Decks 1 and 4 through 6.

Balcony: Veranda cabins range from 212 to 359 square feet, including balcony, and are located on Decks 4 through 8. The standard balcony is large enough for two chairs and a small table. Our cabin, 4164, and neighboring 4166 had larger-than-usual balconies, thanks to their position near a crew closet; our balcony was roomy enough for a lounger, in addition to the chair and table. Cabins on the aft also have larger balconies.

Suites: Signature suites range from 273 to 456 square feet and are located on Decks 5, 6 and 8. These rooms have a queen-sized bed, separate shower and bathtub and larger balconies. There are also fresh flowers and an umbrella available for use.

Neptune Suite cabins range from 500 to 712 square feet, and are located on Decks 4 through 8. These rooms have a king-sized bed, separate shower and bathtub, dual sinks, walk-in closet and larger balconies.

The largest suites on Zuiderdam are the two Pinnacle Suites, each a monster 1,150 square feet, including a sizable balcony. They are located on Deck 7 and include a living room, a dining room, a king-sized bed, a dressing room, a refrigerator and microwave, and a guest bathroom.

Passengers in Neptune and Pinnacle suites have access to the Neptune Lounge, with a concierge and complimentary snacks, on Deck 7. Other amenities include complimentary binoculars and umbrella use, corsages and boutonnieres for formal night, priority seating, bottled water and hors d'oeuvres before dinner, and laundry, pressing and dry cleaning.

Dress Code

Zuiderdam is a fairly casual ship, particularly during the day. Most evenings, the dress code is smart casual in all dining venues, with men wearing casual shirts and women wearing pants and sweaters. Formal nights are held twice on a seven-night cruise; we saw only a handful of gowns and tuxedos, with most passengers opting for cocktail dresses (women) and a sport coat (men). During longer voyages, passengers tend to dress more formally.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts for passengers in standard staterooms ($12 for people in suites). The tip is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar and spa bills.

Fellow Passengers

HAL has a reputation for attracting a more mature crowd, and our cruise on Zuiderdam confirmed this. On Zuiderdam on a late August Alaska cruise, the bulk of the 2,022 passengers were ages 51 to 74; there were 174 children under the age of 17. During longer cruises through the Panama Canal and Caribbean, the number of children drops to less than a dozen. The number of passengers who are repeat HAL customers also increases on these trips.

HAL draws a fair number of international passengers. On our cruise, Canadians outnumbered Americans, and there were sizable numbers of Australian, Chinese and British passengers. From within the U.S., most people we met seemed to be from the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest and the South; there were few East Coasters, a trend that that is typical across the line.

Public Rooms

Entertainment

Theater

The Vista Lounge Theater, on decks 2 and 3, serves as the main entertainment venue for Zuiderdam. The seats are red plush, with plenty of legroom. Most evenings, the ship has musical performances with its staff of singers and dancers, or a comedian. We found the entertainment about average for a cruise ship.

Daily Fun

During the day, Zuiderdam has the usual range of cruise ship activities, including trivia, bingo, art auctions, wine tastings, mixology sessions and port presentations. Certain events carry an extra fee.

Holland America has a partnership with Food + Wine, and Culinary Arts cooking demonstrations, recipe exchanges and tasting events are held most days in the Queens Lounge/Culinary Arts Center on Deck 3.

Holland America's Dancing with the Stars at Sea program imbues the typical cruise ship dance lessons with a competitive twist. After learning the waltz, the cha cha or the jive, the top passengers have a dance-off to compete in a performance on the last night. The "champion" on that final night is eligible to be selected to win a free spot on Holland America's Dancing with the Stars Champions cruise, where judges and celebrities from the show take part. It's all good fun; on our sailing, the dance floor was packed with wannabe dancers.

On Alaska voyages, a national park ranger joins the ship for a day of commentary and several lectures, which you can listen to in the public areas or in your cabin. There's also a polar dip in the Lido outdoor swimming pool and hot Dutch pea soup served to passengers viewing glaciers on the outer decks in Glacier Bay.

A small Screening Room on Deck 3 shows second-run movies five times a day.

At Night

The Culinary Arts Center on Deck 3 also doubles as the Queens Lounge, with a stage that's used for the HALCats, the ship's house band that plays contemporary and classic rock covers, as well as comedians. In late 2014, this space will be used for the B.B. King Blues Club.

The Casino, a smoking venue, anchors the ship's busiest entertainment area on Deck 2. You'll find slot machines, poker, blackjack, craps and roulette.

Once a cruise, Zuiderdam hosts a pub crawl that becomes quite rowdy, as the beverage manager leads up to 90 chanting passengers from bar to bar. Your $19.95 fee includes four drinks, and that's not including the beer you'll down during the chugging game held at the Lido Bar. If you've been wondering where the young passengers are on your cruise, you'll find them here; that being said, the oldest participant when we went was 83 years old.

Zuiderdam Bars and Lounges

Holland America doesn't have a reputation as a party line, and so most of Zuiderdam's lounges are conducive for drinks and quiet conversation (the raucous pub crawl being the exception, not the rule). Overall, we found nightlife centers around the venues circling the casino, such as the Piano Bar and Northern Lights; most other places were dead unless music was playing. It's a pretty quiet ship after midnight.

Atrium Bar (Deck 1, midship): With limited hours, this bar is primarily known for its martinis. (Open 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.)

Piano Bar (Deck 2, midship): This classic piano venue tends to be the lounge drawing the biggest crowds, and it also stays open the latest. Expect the typical mix of standards and sing-alongs, in a cozy setting (although you do smell some smoke from the casino next door). (Open 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. or later.)

Queens Lounge (Deck 2, midship): Attached to the Culinary Arts Center, the Queens Lounge bar is open when the HALCats play or a comedian is doing a routine. Starting in December 2014, this space will again be used for the B.B. King Blues Club five nights a week. (Hours vary.)

Pinnacle Bar (Deck 2, midship): Across the atrium from the Pinnacle Grill, this bar is a quiet spot for pre-dinner drinks. (Open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Explorer's Lounge (Deck 2, midship): Decorated with maps and globes, this bar is home to art events, classical music performances and chocolate tastings. (Open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Sports Bar (Deck 2, midship): Just off the casino, the Sports Bar has several TVs that are turned to different sports events. It's generally not crowded. (Open 10 a.m. to late, sea days; 5 p.m. to late on port days.)

Northern Lights (Deck 2, midship): The ship's disco is positioned off the casino. With two rooms -- one for the bar, one for a good-sized dance floor and nearby banquettes -- it's inviting enough for those who want to get their groove on, as well as those who just want to sit back and watch. (Open 9 p.m. to close.)

Ocean's Bar (Deck 3, midship): Circling the atrium, the Ocean Bar provides perfect people-watching, both for passengers going to dinner and those outside walking the Promenade. It's busiest when the HALCats perform. (Open 10 a.m. to midnight.)

Seaview Bar (Deck 9, aft): Adjacent to the aft pool, the Seaview provides the usual fruity cocktails and mocktails. (Open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

Lido Bar (Deck 9, poolside): Another active bar for the pool set. On our cruise, this was the place to find Alaskan Brewing Company beer on tap and in bottles. (Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

Crow's Nest (Deck 10, forward): Stretching across the front of the ship, this lounge is one of best places on the ship to get a drink with a view. Extremely popular during sea days, this is also where Cruise Critic Meet and Greets are held. (Open 3 p.m. to close.)

Zuiderdam Outside Recreation

Pools
Zuiderdam has two pools onboard. The aft pool, on Deck 9, has a shallow section appropriate for children, and an odd piece of art that doubles as a bench in it. There are two hot tubs here, as well as covered areas to eat and drink.

Also on Deck 9 -- under a retractable roof -- the Lido Deck pool features a large polar bear statue. Although this area is supposed to be child-free, we saw many kids using the three hot tubs and pool in this area. Light pop songs serve as a soundtrack and there are plenty of lounge chairs.

Recreation
The ship has an outdoor basketball court and volleyball court on Deck 11. During Glacier Bay cruising, outdoor sports decks are closed because of the national park regulations.

Sun Decks
Besides the pool areas, Zuiderdam has sun decks and loungers around Deck 10 and Deck 11 behind the funnel. There are no adults-only sun decks or private cabanas for rent.

Zuiderdam Services

The front desk, future cruise sales and shore excursions desks are located on Deck 1, just off the atrium. The Medical Center on Deck A is open daily from 8 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; a fee applies.

The ship's art gallery, which has the usual auctions and "guess the price" contests, is on Deck 2.

Deck 3 is the ship's main public area. Here you'll find the Photo Gallery, where you can buy pictures from the roaming ship photographers. Several small conference rooms host card games and small group meetings.

Deck 3 also contains the Shopping Arcade, which has the usual clothing, liquor, cosmetics, jewelry and watch boutiques. A separate Marbella store sells high-end jewelry.

Zuiderdam's computer lounge is part of Deck 10's Explorations Cafe, a coffee bar sponsored by the New York Times. It's open 24 hours. Wi-Fi packages cost $24.99 per day, and $149.99 for the length of a seven-day voyage. You can also pay as you go for $0.75/minute.

The Explorations Cafe also houses the ship's library. You'll find a nice variety of best-sellers and classics that you can check out during your cruise, as well as reference books that you can consult within the space. The puzzles here were also popular.

Laundry and dry cleaning services are available onboard for a fee; there are no self-service facilities.

Fitness and Recreation

Spa

Located on Deck 9 forward, the Greenhouse Spa, operated by industry stalwart Steiner, is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except the last day of the cruise, when it closes at 9 p.m. Its salon offers manicures, pedicures, acrylic nails, lash extensions, teeth whitening, blowouts, updos and highlights.

Treatment rooms are scattered around the fitness area, which means you're walking to your massage through the same hallway used by people heading to the gym. Before your treatment, you can spend some time in the Relaxation Room, where there's an array of flavored water, tea and fruit.

The spa offers the usual variety of services, including massages, facials, waxing, acupuncture and body treatments. As of summer 2014, a 50-minute massage cost $119, about average. We enjoyed our hot stone massage, although we didn't appreciate the attempt to sell products at the end.

For an extra fee, you can relax in the Greenhouse Retreat. A pass, which costs $20 per day (cruise-length passes are also available), includes access to a thermal suite with heated loungers and two saunas, as well as a full hydrotherapy pool.

Fitness

Just forward of the spa, Zuiderdam's fitness center is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes and weight equipment; it's a compact space, however. Stretching and abs classes are free. Classes with an extra $12 fee include yoga and indoor cycling; you can also buy a three-class pass for $30. Personal training is available for $85/hour.

Zuiderdam has two decks with tracks that circle the ship. On Deck 3, the classic Promenade is covered by lifeboats, meaning you can get your walk in, even on rainy days; we saw it frequently used. Three laps equal a mile. Once per sailing, Zuiderdam holds a noncompetitive 5K fundraising walk to donate money for cancer (the $20 minimum includes a T-shirt).

You can also walk around the entire ship on Deck 10, although you're exposed to the elements.

Family

Although Holland America is not known as a line that specializes in children, the ship's Alaska itineraries attract quite a few kids. On a late August sailing, for example, there were 174 passengers under 17 onboard. This figure radically diminishes when the ship does its longer voyages in the Panama Canal and Caribbean.

Club HAL, the ship's facility for younger children, is located on Deck 10. Children are divided into two groups: ages 3 to 7 and tweens ages 8 to 12. The club is open from 9 a.m. to 11: 30 a.m., from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Late-night babysitting is available from 10 p.m. to midnight, at a cost of $5 per child, per hour.

Activities for the younger kids include coloring contests, story time and junior ranger programs. There's a sign-in and sign-out policy. The tweens take part in a "kids in the kitchen" event, part of HAL's Culinary Arts program. They are allowed a little more freedom and can sign themselves in and out during the day.

Also on Deck 10, the Loft is a clubhouse for teens ages 13 to 17, open 10 a.m. to late. Activities include scavenger hunts around the ship, video game contests, movie screenings, ice cream parties and dance competitions. Teens are not required to sign in or out, and can come and go when they please.

Cruise Critic

Cruise reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community and online resource for objective cruise information, published by The Independent Traveler. Copyright 1995-2009, The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. Travelocity.com LP neither assumes any liability nor makes any representations with respect to cruise reviews and other content provided by CruiseCritic.com. Before relying on any information in a cruise review, we recommend that passengers confirm the information with the cruise line.