These ships were Holland America's first foray into mega-size vessels, and they marry traditional HAL style with a partying Caribbean feel -- a weird fit that is toned back somewhat in each successive sister ship.
Typical Per Diems: $85-$150
Noordam sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring).
Oosterdam sails the Mexican Riviera from San Diego (winter, spring), Alaska from Seattle (summer), and Hawaii from San Diego (fall 2011, winter/spring 2012).
Westerdam sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring), from San Francisco (fall); the Panama Canal from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring); and Alaska from Seattle (summer).
Zuiderdam sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring) and the Panama Canal from Fort Lauderdale (winter, spring) & from San Diego (fall).
Built in a design similar to Carnival's Spirit-class ships, Zuiderdam (named for the southern point of the Dutch compass, and with a first syllable that rhymes with "eye"), Oosterdam (eastern, and with a first syllable like the letter O), Westerdam, and Noordam (northern compass point) were technically Holland America's first megaships, though they're downright cozy compared to the behemoths other lines are churning out these days.
Designed to help HAL shed its image as your grandmother's cruise line and attract baby boomers, the first of these vessels -- 2002's Zuiderdam -- came off totally unnatural, mixing ultrabright Carnival-esque colors, stark W Hotel modernism, and the traditional style for which HAL was previously known. That mistake was toned down some for sister ship Oosterdam, and by the time Westerdam came on the scene in 2004, the new look had been refined. The fourth and final sister, Noordam (which replaced the previous Noordam, which left the fleet in November 2004), seems to do it just right, mixing classic wine reds, dark blues, and earth tones with just a hint of zany, such as the silver-framed benches on the elevator landings and in the Pinnacle Grill and Pinnacle Bar.
In the spirit of learning from their mistakes, HAL has gone back and tweaked parts of the Zuiderdam, replacing some of the loudest carpeting with darker shades, for example, and removing some jarring "art" pieces like the giant-red-lips bench that graced one corridor. All four sisters are extraordinarily spacious, with large standard cabins, truly glamorous two-level dining rooms, and distinctive specialty restaurants.
Cabins in all categories are comfortable and, as aboard every HAL ship, are among the industry's largest, with insides and outsides ranging from 185 to 200 square feet. The simple decor of light woods, clean lines, and subtle floral bedding is very appealing. Overall, more than two-thirds of them have verandas, with the deluxe veranda suites and staterooms in the stern notable for their deep balconies, nearly twice the size of those to port and starboard. You get a romantic view of the ship's wake, too, but because the decks are tiered back here, residents of the cabins above you can see right down.
Standard outside and veranda cabins all have a small sitting area and a tub in the bathroom -- a relatively rare thing in standard cabins these days. Closet space in all categories is more than adequate for 7-night cruises, with nicely designed fold-down shelves and a tie rack. Each has a flatscreen TV and DVD player, makeup mirror, real hair dryer, massage shower head, bathrobes, and extrathick, supercomfortable bedding. Dataports allow passengers to access e-mail and the Internet from every cabin via their own laptops.
Suites run from the comfortably spacious 298-square-foot Superior Verandah Suites (with wide verandas, a large sofa bed, walk-in closet, separate shower and bathroom, and extra windows) to the 1,000-square-foot Penthouse Verandah Suites -- extremely large multiroom apartments with a flowing layout, a pantry, palatial bathrooms with oversize whirlpool baths, and ridiculously large private verandas with a second, outdoor whirlpool. Their decor is reminiscent of 1930s moderne style. Guests in every suite category have use of a concierge lounge whose staff will take care of shore-excursion reservations and any matters about which you'd normally have to wait in line at the front desk. The lounge is stocked with reading material, coffee, and juice, and a continental breakfast is served daily.
Twenty-eight cabins are wheelchair accessible.
Public rooms on the Vista-class ships run the gamut from the traditional to the modern, and from the lovely to the weird (again, we're talking mostly the Zuiderdam and Oosterdam, which still have some of their original ill-conceived public rooms). The more traditional spaces, done mostly in blues, teals, burgundies, and deep metallics, include the signature Explorer's Lounge, a venue for quiet musical performances and high tea. The top-of-the-ship Crow's Nest lounge, an observation lounge during the day and nightclub/disco at night, has wide-open views, comfortable leather recliners toward the bow (a perfect reading perch during days at sea), and even a few rococo thrones on the starboard side, good for "wish you were here" cruise photos. The rear port corner of the Crow's Nest is the most truly elegant lounge area aboard, with high-style, striking, and comfortable furniture; it's also one of the ships' Wi-Fi hot zones.
The Lower Promenade Deck is the hub of indoor activity on these ships. In the bow, the three-deck Vista Lounge is the venue for large-scale production shows, while the Queen's Lounge/Culinary Arts Center at midships hosts chef demos by day and comedians and other cabaret-style acts in the evening. Between the two, there's a piano bar and a casino, the latter really flashy on all but the Noordam. You'll also find HAL's first-ever dedicated discos, but they're uninspired at best (and, on Zuiderdam, just butt-ugly). Our favorite room, the Sports Bar, is as far from the standard rah-rah sports-hero-and-pennants sports bar as you can imagine, with comfortable free-form leather seating and table lamps. Tr?s chic. Only the multiple TVs give away the place's true identity.
One deck up, the traditional Ocean Bar -- with bay windows to port and starboard -- wraps around the understated three-deck atrium, with its Waterford crystal chandelier centerpiece. Moving forward, you pass through the drab shopping arcade, whose displays spill right into the central corridor, courtesy of retractable walls, forcing you to browse as you walk from stem to stern. A lot of lines are doing this and it's a pretty crass sales pitch; it gets a big thumbs-down from us. Once you get through, you come to Explorations Café, the ships' hub, and a combination specialty coffee shop/Internet center/library, with HAL's signature inlaid marble tables.
Other public rooms include the Main Deck's Atrium Bar, a very comfortable, small-scale nook vaguely reminiscent of a 1930s nightclub; the wicker-furniture outdoor Lido Bar on the Lido Deck (which unfortunately lacks the charm of similar spaces on the line's older ships); and the KidZone and WaveRunner children/teen centers, which are a bit bare, though roomy and sunny. Art in the public areas of the ships includes maritime artwork by Stephen Card, replica 18th-century Dutch engravings, ship models, and on the Zuiderdam, some nice humorous paintings by Hans Leijerzapf, Commedia dell'Arte statues, and jazz sketches and paintings by Wil van der Laan. Oosterdam's Java Corner has several sketches of landmark designs by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Oceanview elevators at port and starboard midships are a little boxy, closing off some of the intended inspiring views. Much better views are to be had from outdoor areas forward on Decks 5, 6, and 7, and from an area just forward of the gym, above the bridge. You can even check a ship's compass here.
Pool Fitness & Spa Facilities
Gyms are well equipped with a full complement of cardio equipment and weight machines arranged in tiers around the cardio floor; the space is attached to another room where you'll find chaise longues and a large dipping pool. There's also a basketball/volleyball court on the Sports Deck. The Greenhouse Spa is fully 50% larger than any other in the HAL fleet, and besides offering the usual massage, mud, and exotic treatments, it has a couple of HAL firsts: a thermal suite (a series of saunas and other heat-therapy rooms) and a hydrotherapy pool, which uses heated seawater and high-pressure jets to alleviate muscle tension. Oddly, there's no compelling design motif like you'd find in other signature spas. Around the pool, extraheavy wooden lounge chairs are thickly padded and nap-worthy. The pool area doesn't quite work on Zuiderdam, where the colors are jarring and the materials cheap-looking. However, as in many other areas aboard, the colors on Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Noordam are a vast improvement, very pleasant all around.
Outdoors, the wraparound Promenade Deck is lined with classy wooden deck chairs -- a nice touch of classic ocean-liner style -- and is popular with walkers and joggers. The main Pool Deck is the hub of outdoor activity on sea days, with hot tubs, music, and pool games, and can be covered with a sliding roof in inclement weather. The hallmarks of the pool area on both ships are giant bronze animal statues -- from a polar bear to a penguin and dolphin. Another pool, in the stern on Lido Deck, is a lovely spot for sunbathing and open views of the sea, and it's also the venue for outdoor movies and videos on a large LED screen.
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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.