The EMBARKATION: Things were going pretty well for us the morning we boarded the ship... arrived from the Holiday Inn Express (exactly as it is named... express -- but used points so no cost! ) and got the luggage sent away -- easy peasy.... There were several hundred in the terminal...at 11:00... not too surprising here... through the back and forths in the line... but that's when it happened... Have you ever gotten to the very front fi the line and SNAP! ! ! the computers go down... about a 20 minute conversation with the very nice lady from Holland America while we watched all of the agents struggle to re-boot the system... Finally they were working again and we were rushed through the check-in process... swish... swish... pictures taken and onto the ship. We head to the Main Dining room for the worst meal of the trip, the Mariner welcome aboard lunch in the main dining room. Things had to get better... and they did.
The SHIP: Certainly not a new vessel... she could use a bit of refurbishing -- new cushions on the chairs, replacement of most of the deck chairs, several coats of paint would do wonders... there was much rust showing -- but not surprising... it is sailing on the ocean! The maintenance crew actually repainted the balcony areas and refinished the railings around our cabin one day while we were gone. The venues were all in fine shape -- she just needs a touch of new... Our cabin had more storage than I remember in the past. 3 closet doors (one was just shelves where the safe was), space under the sink, 2 drawers in each of the night stands, a large drawer under each bed and 2 large drawers under the sofa. We had no problems with plumbing or air conditioning. Still can't figure out which switch turns on which lights... we never did figure out how to turn the light on next to the mirror. Our DVD was broken, no big deal, we were just going to look at some pictures we purchased. Only 2 plugs at the small desk to charge cameras, phones and computers.... Just saying...
The FOOD: In a word.... GOOD.... Not spectacular, no WOW factor... but certainly tasty. Lobster on the 3rd formal night was worth waiting for (be sure to order 2). Our Main Dining Room waiters ALWAYS greeted us by name, had iced tea waiting on the table and on our anniversary, they brought us a cake and sang to us. We ate one evening in the Pinnacle Grill -- well worth the extra cost -- ours was actually a gift from our travel agent. Food and service were a step above... Unfortunately, I sprang for the dinner at Le Cirque.... Do not waste your money for that... did not meet any expectations of being "world class" or special in any way... the Pinnacle Grill dinner was every bit as good... The Lido was always good and very busy for breakfast, crowded and not well organized. The tea and coffee areas were always a hassle -- either no glasses or little small glasses. We had room service bring breakfast several times... always on time, and always correct and can you say... convenient. The Mariner's lunch on the last sea day was an overflow from the lunch on the sea day before, there we apparently many Mariners on this cruise -- the food was very good there as well.
The SERVICE: OK -- they cleaned the cabin whenever we left it - almost as we leave.... where is the camera -- they have to be watching somehow. They did a fine job, with a new towel animal each evening. We tried the $20 all-you-can-stuff-in-a-bag laundry service... everything came out just fine. And my shoes are now the shiniest they have ever been. Around the ship, everyone greeted you as they passed... even our waiters and waitresses at the different before dinner drink venues started calling us by name whenever, wherever they met us.
The Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers -- Better than average, lead singers were pretty good, the dancers were pretty good. No one here will be winning a Tony award, but good entertainment -- enjoyed their 3 performances.
Comedian -- Elliot Maxx - OK -- clean and funny... a good way to spend an evening.
Juggler -- Benji Hill - average... a hard gig to make interesting... seen one, seen two, pretty much seen the act... funny when he "dropped" the "axe" on the selected passenger. Thought he was going to have a heart attack!
Magician -- Jeff Peterson -- He did some really fabulous tricks... "How did he do that?" was uttered more than once. He did a matinee performance of close up magic and an encore show later in the cruise. Enjoyed his comedy and the tricks were good. But the best part of the act was Indie, his dog, who is a psychic magician also...
Singer -- Impersonator -- Jeff Trachta by far the most dynamic of the performers... he had video running behind him, lights, and much sound mixing made for a most enjoyable program. He also shared an encore evening with Jeff the Magician.
Steel Drum Band -- Island Magic - All I can say is WOW! The audience leapt to their feet at the conclusion of their performance -- it wasn't just a standing ovation where everyone kinda sees someone standing then by guilt stands up and claps ... NO ! We leapt to our feet ! ! That was the first time I had ever heard classical music and Broadway tunes played by a steel drum band. They did an afternoon matinee and apparently played by the pool one afternoon -- we missed that one. Pretty amazing to hear Amazing Grace in four part harmony on steel drums... don't miss this group if you ever get a chance to hear them.
Fort Lauderdale -- not an official stop on the cruise, but we went in a day early. We took the river taxi on Easter Sunday past the behemoth yachts and the humongous houses --who are these people? Ate lunch at Mangos on Las Olas Blvd then had a margarita on the beach followed by dinner at Shooters... a very nice way to spend an afternoon.
Half Moon Cay -- owned by Holland America -- very well done. The horseback riding was really fun, SPASH into the ocean we went! The horses looked to be well taken care of and the trainers were very helpful in getting us on and off. We also did the Stingray encounter... the water there was pretty cloudy, but a really neat experience to get to feed them. There was some confusion around the lunch area, the iced tea machines were not working well, nor were the ice dispensers... probably a way to sell more soda and drinks. Food was good, not great... good -- about what I expected. The beach was really clean, and with 2 ships, was not really crowded at all. The tendering process was well coordinated -- missed the cool towel and drink of water that the Noordam crew setup for their passengers.... Do not miss the rum punch at the "I wish I Could Stay Here Forever" Bar -- make it a double -- you won't regret it.
Aruba -- took the Sea and See tour from Holland America shore excursions... the semi-submersible was interesting -- but most of the viewing of the submerged shipwreck was on the starboard side -- I was sitting on the port side and without standing up and trying to share the window with my fellow passenger, I would not have seen much. The land portion was interesting, the California lighthouse, the fallen natural bridge and the smaller baby bridge, and the Casibari rock formations were sights to see. Try a Balashi beer at the refreshment stand at the lighthouse -- brewed locally there in Aruba. There were many resort hotels on the island that would make for a nice week's vacation.
Bonaire -- went on a snorkeling trip booked off-ship with Woodwind tours... Dee and her crew were great. She even had several prescription masks available for folks that wore glasses. They brought along a photographer that went along on our "dives". Dee was quick to point out all the interesting underwater formations and creatures that we saw. Safety was covered very well, "drowning is against company policy". 2 "dives" of about an hour each with food at the end and snack/drinks in between. A really good outing! We negotiated a taxi tour at the souvenir tents at the dock to take us out to see the flamingos. Went to the salt flats in the South and Lake Gotomeer in the North and Rincon in the middle... saw every bit of that small island...
Curacao -- Took the Willemstad Trolley sightseeing excursion from the shore excursions desk -- best advantage to this was getting a taxi ride from the dock to the Punda side. The train ride passed the floating market, several restored homes including the "wedding cake house" and then made a photo stop at a beautiful church, known as the "Cathedral of Pietermaai" or Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. End of the ride was at Fort Amsterdam location of the Governor's Palace. We did some shopping and walked back across the Queen Emma pontoon bridge back to the ship. A 15 -20 minute walk -- longer if you stop to shop!
Panama -- a really long day that started too early. The time changed on the ship overnight, they forgot to set the wake-up call computer back... we were awakened an hour earlier that we had scheduled. Do not miss the Panama rolls served on all of the outside areas. We started watching the transit from our 5th floor forward portside balcony, and I couldn't take it anymore, I had to go to the bow to see the gates open - A really cool experience in the heat of Panama. We were scheduled on the Canal Experience excursion, so midway through the 2nd lock we had to go get breakfast -- after all, we had been up now for 5 hours. After scarfing that down, I was up on deck 10 by the time we entered Gatun Lake. EVERYONE was on a tour...therefore EVERYONE was in the Vista Lounge for their turn at the tenders. The tenders got us off to the yacht club and awaiting busses quickly and efficiently. Upon arrival at the ferry boat dock about an hour's bus ride away, we were told that they had to add a 2nd boat to accommodate all the passengers... we were assigned to the smaller boat -- only had 84 passengers and had a really great lunch... glad not to have had to fight for space on the larger ferry with over 200 folks fighting for a space. Started at the bridge of Americas and ended at the Pacific ocean through the Pedro Miguel lock and the 2 Miraflores locks -- got to touch the sides of the 100 year old locks... pretty cool. Panama City is quite the modern city compared to the other Panama, the 3rd world dirty trashy place I had expected. Panama is checked off the list -- no need to go back there.
Costa Rica -- we had arranged an off-ship tour through Greenway Tours that took us to the zip line at Cedar Valley Ranch, the Del Monte banana plantation and a Tortugero canal boat tour. First time to zip line -- it certainly won't be our last! ! The crew there was very accommodating, one of the fellows even HELD a poisonous dart frog to show us. After a really quick informative stop at the banana processing plant we arrived at the small boat dock for our canal tour.... We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys and a sloth along with a caiman, iguana, and several types of herons. I expected a bit more, but a very good tour. We will go back to Costa Rica someday to see more of their jungle.
The photographers are everywhere ! ! And from what they charge, they are really, really proud of their work... REALLY !?
The 9th deck forward elevators force you to exit to the Lido pool through the spa reception area... we felt like we were inconveniencing the spa staff every time we walked through there from our room to the Lido Cafeteria or pool.
Late night was non-existent -- expected such -- it is the senior cruise on Holland America. I did feel sorry for DJ Steve in the Northern Lights Disco... NO ONE was there any time I stopped by.
JT Watters, the cruise director and his staff were good, not the energetic Fun Patrol that you see on Carnival, laid back as it should be - this is, after all, Holland America... JT ran the team trivia each day -- we got to be quite the close knit group. Most obvious (?) question of the cruise .... A Donkey sinks in quicksand - True or False?
Formal nights were well attended -- 40%-50% of the men wore Tuxes on the first formal night a few less on the 2nd and 3rd -- yes there were 3. Plus, there was a smattering of white dinner jackets on each of those nights as well. Everyone else was in dark suits and ties. Very nice! 10-15% of the men wore sport jackets on the Smart Casual evenings as well. The women all looked fine in gowns, dresses and suits.
Disembarkation ran smoothly only a bit behind schedule, and Customs was easier than the security at the airport -- don't get me started on this one -- repacking overweight bags and all....
We took the cruise because of the itinerary -- the ABC islands, the Panama Canal and Costa Rica -- it did not disappoint -- this was a great cruise, we relaxed a bit, we saw many things and we ate really well (only gained 6 pounds). We like Holland America and will sail with them again... but we will probably be going back to Celebrity for our next cruise.