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Zuiderdam

The Zuiderdam, not quite three years old, was the first of Holland America's Vista class ships, very similar in atmosphere and amenities to its newer sisters, the Oosterdam and Westerdam. These ships are the largest in the line's fleet, and its casinos are the largest and most active as well.

Zuiderdam has an ultramodern casino centered around 11 gaming tables (six eight-deck blackjack tables, one three-card poker, one Caribbean stud poker, one Let It Ride, one roulette and one craps table). The Zuiderdam casino also has 133 slots, including six offering a shot at winning the Ocean Players Club progressive Megacash jackpot, which on this August 2005 sailing had climbed past $285,000.

Most of the table games have a $5 minimum and $200 maximum. As always tends to be the case on cruise ships, the $5 minimum tables attract cruisers with limited gambling knowledge as well as more experienced players, and the bizarre hit-or-stand decisions some of the blackjack neophytes make at times leave others at the table speechless (which under the circumstances, is probably all for the best).

But the Zuiderdam offered a $25-$500 blackjack table that produced a somewhat more consistent level of play. The casino also allowed one VIP player who had made special arrangements with the Ocean Players Club in advance to play at that table for considerably higher than posted limits.

The blackjack games are played under rules that include the player-friendly requirement that the dealer stand on soft 17.

The dealers on the whole were competent -- and some were very engaging -- but this ship also seemed to have a higher-than-usual number of dealers (and a supervisor or two) who could benefit from personality transplants. Casino management was highly attentive to the one very-high-roller on the cruise, and on a number of occasions comped drinks for others playing for higher stakes.

But casino supervisors did not seem particularly proactive in inviting players to join the Ocean Players Club, and we reiterate our reminder: YOU should be sure to ask about the Ocean Players Club, find out how you can sign up for it, and insist on being rated if you are planning to log long hours at the $25-$500 table.

It is also worth noting that the Zuiderdam is one of what still is a fairly small universe of cruise ships that now have poker rooms. The Zuiderdam poker room at this point only has one table (shown above) and it is open a fairly limited number of hours (afternoons on sea days, and 9 pm to casino closing nights). The table was generally full, with other prospective players lurking nearby in hopes of playing Texas Hold 'em. We suspect these rooms will proliferate, have more tables and be open longer hours if enthusiasm for Texas Hold 'em remains at its current level.

Overall, the Zuiderdam offers a good sized, attractive casino and there is no question you can have a good time at its gaming tables. But if the new name of the game in cruise ship casinos is reaching out to VIP players, and providing them with an experience that encourages cruiseline loyalty, we believe there is room on the Zuiderdam for improvement.

--The Savvy Cruiser

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