We just returned from the March 19, 2012 sailing on the Zuiderdam, visiting Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Panama Canal, Costa Rica and Half Moon Cay. We are three 50-something ladies who get together to have some R&R and good laughs every other year. 2010 was the Emerald Princess, this year the Zuiderdam was our choice because of the itinerary in both cases.
We stayed at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort for two nights before the cruise. The hotel was right across from the beach, but we had no idea that it was spring break and it made for some very interesting people watching. We ate at H20 and at Casablanca Cafe. Both were excellent choices. We purchased 6 bottles of wine for our cruise at Total Wine and have to say that we were very disappointed with their recommendations. Next time we'll stick with wines that we are familiar with. We each purchased splits of vodka, baileys and gin and tucked them into our toiletries. I also took several small bottles of gingerale. We also purchased three large insulated to-go cups from Target. We used these extensively because the water from the tap in the cabins was yucky. So we filled our to-go cups with ice water in the Neptune Lounge and in the dining room several times a day. Bottled water is available for purchase in the room and throughout the ship, including the dining rooms. I also packed a water bottle to take with me when I went off the ship.
We were very pleased with our aft wraparound cabin choice. I worried that the aft cabin might have more motion than I could handle since I suffer from motion sickness, but I took a Bonine at bedtime each night and never experienced a problem, even during the two or three nights of rougher seas where the ship was really rocking. Our only disappointment was that the wind prevented us from enjoying sitting outside until after we reached Aruba. The Panama Canal experience was perfect on the balcony since it was raining that morning and 5190's balcony is completely covered.
Our room steward (Bayoo, sp?) was very attentive and kept us amused with his fabulous towel animals. We had asked for and received a third lounger on our balcony. We indulged ourselves in room service for breakfast several mornings and appetizers before dinner from room service and the Neptune Lounge (mid ship on deck 7). The Neptune Lounge also has latte/expresso/coffee but we preferred the purchased coffee in the Explorations Cafe which is at the front of the ship on deck 10.
Condition of the ship: We read many reviews prior to this cruise that said the condition of the Zuiderdam was very poor. We did NOT find this to be the case. Our airconditioning worked extremely well in our cabin, the public restrooms were always clean and in working order except for one occasion and the problem was fixed before the end of the day. We did find the dining room to be very warm a couple of nights so keep that in mind when dressing for dinner.
There were only a couple of nights that we couldn't find something on the menu that was to our taste. We had several exceptional meals in the Anytime dining room (deck 2) and also booked the Pinnacle Grill, including the Cirque night. Ivy in the Neptune Lounge made our reservations (dial "information" on your suite phone). We love our desserts and the red velvet cake was so yummy we mentioned it to the Maitre'D, and he arranged for us to have it again another night. We also requested a small sample of the lobster mac & cheese in the Pinnacle Grill and all agreed that it was superb (but we didn't think we could have eaten a whole meal of it). We never had to wait for a table because we were willing to sit at a larger table with other guests. We met a lovely couple from Arizona that we dined with several times throughout the cruise. We ate at the Lido buffet for lunch a few times and also enjoyed the burger grill poolside.
We only tried a couple of the shows and were disappointed both times. We caught a fabulous rendition of Unchained Melody during the karaoke show one night. The casino kept us entertained most evenings but the smoking kept our visits short (and our pocketbooks thank the smokers!) The trivia competitions were fierce in the Crows Nest most afternoons.
Aruba - we booked a snorkel trip with Aruba Bob. It was fabulous! Stuart picked us up at the dock and we snorkeled Mangel Halto using motorized handheld units. We freshened up at Club Arias (where Aruba Bob is based), using the restrooms, outdoor showers and having a refreshing drink before returning to the ship.
Bonaire - we walked down the street towards the freight containers and snorkeled on a little beach across from a condo. We love Bonaire.
Curacao - we booked the dolphin swim excursion through Holland America. They gathered everyone on the cruise ship dock in the hot sun so we checked in with them and then went to sit in the shade further down the dock. We were all assigned a cab driver who took us to the Dolphin Academy adjacent to the Lions Dive Resort. We were told to look for the same cab driver at 1:45 pm and not to be late or he would leave us. They had change facilities and lockers. We got some basic information and were assigned flippers before getting into the pool. No cameras were permitted. We had six people on our team and two dolphins. Each person got to shake the dolphin's flipper, get the to do a trick and have the two dolphins pull them along in the water. You could also swim alongside the dolphins and rub them. After the swim, you could purchase photos and/or a DVD. Then you had to wait until 1:45 pm. The aquarium affiliated with the dolphin swim was pathetic and around 1:15 they put on a dolphin show. This was an expensive excursion and I would not do it again.
Panama - we did not get off the boat in Panama since we felt it was not safe. We did enjoy the Panama Canal from our balcony and from the Crows Nest but could not go outdoors since it was raining for most of the transit. We were surprised that they used the lifeboats to take excursion passengers off the ship. Over 350 passengers were delayed getting back to the ship from their Holland America excursion/full transit of the canal and the ship waited for 90 minutes until they were back on board. At one of the other ports a couple was shopping and late getting back to the ship, but the ship did wait for them.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - we booked a private excursion with Your Lucky Tours prior to the cruise. We weren't certain what time to meet Eduardo since his email said 8 a.m. but there was a time difference between the ship & port on this stop only. So we decided to depart the ship at 7 a.m. and found Eduardo waiting for us. Our group was four people and our guide was a little late arriving. Eduardo told her to take us to the Jungle Breeze zipline first and we were glad he did, since a cruise ship excursion of 100 people arrived just as we were finishing. The zip line was awesome and we did not have to brake - they did it for us. We also did the Tortugeuro Canal where we saw a family of howler monkeys, a toucan, an alligator, a sloth and many birds. We visited the banana plantation (where a snake made an appearance on the path in front of us and ended our visit per our request!) The tour ended with a trip to the grocery store for coffee and other goodies. The grocery store does take credit cards. Eduardo does not. The cost was $89 and we were back to the ship by 1:30 pm. I highly recommend this tour.
Half Moon Cay (pronounced Key): This is a money maker stop for Holland America. The snorkeling was not good, but the beach was lovely.
We felt that the photos were outrageously expensive and that printing all of them was a huge waste of paper/ink. The viewing system is very time consuming and the hallway is very congested. I would like to see the cruise lines go to a system similar to Disney's Photo Pass where your cruise card would be swiped at each photo and then you could view your photos on a screen and select the ones you wanted to print or perhaps purchase the entire selection of photos on CD.
Please review your bills carefully by requesting a copy at the front desk (or Pinnacle Lounge for guest suites). Keep your receipts as you purchase items throughout the cruise because several times we found the wrong cabin number on our purchases. The bills aren't delivered until the morning you are disembarking and you won't have time to dispute charges at that time. Even after we disputed charges, we found them still on our bill.