This was my 3rd time on Zuiderdam, and 6th on HAL. I usually try to find cruise itineraries that stop in places I haven't been to, but in this case, none of the stops were new. However, it had been 10 years since my last and only other visit to the Panama Canal and Costa Rica, so it felt like something fresh. It was quite funny to find myself in SS cabin 8070 AGAIN, as I was in the very same cabin in 2005 on the Zuiderdam!
Embarkation was fine in Port Everglades, despite their complete disorganization...the port facilities are under construction and renovation, which means ships are being almost randomly assigned to various piers, and the port signage often doesn't match. Our ship was parked where the Princess ships normally park, and the signs at the western port entrance had no mention of it. None-the-less, once we found the right pier, we entered, checked in, and boarded in under 20 minutes from car door to ship elevators.
Zuiderdam is scheduled for refurb very soon - we were the 2nd-to-last cruise before she undergoes wet-dock in Freeport. I've never been the particularly picky type who considers a cruise a complete failure because a carpet had a stain, or a chair was worn, so this was not something I worried about. The ship's condition was actually pretty decent and clean, with the typical and expected signs of wear and tear on cushions of deck chairs, weathering of wood decking, etc. Anyone reading this review should have nothing to worry about, since those should all be taken care of by the time of your next cruise.
I love the SS cabins - lots of room to spread out, lots of storage space, large balcony - no complaints. Room stewards were attentive and friendly and handled all personalized requests (separate beds, empty minibar goods to make room for sodas and milks, get rid of extra bedspreads and sheets, etc.).
The captain Christopher Turner was excellent at keeping to schedule, very informative in his daily bridge updates, and friendly in person. Cruise director JT Watters was familiar - at the Cruise Critic meet & greet I found out why - he was the same cruise director I had on Eurodam just last year! No complaints on ship staff and crew - all as to be expected on HAL.
I stuck with the main dining room throughout the cruise - no visits to Pinnacle this time. I had fixed seating, 8pm, table for 8. I've had very good luck over the past 8 years with getting very friendly tables, with everyone getting along immediately...and this cruise was no exception. Waitstaff was excellent, and right away got into our sarcastic and joking atmosphere of our table. Food quality was, if anything, even a little better than it has been on Zuiderdam - it's always been reliably good, but they were really doing well in the dining room with the selection as well as food quality overall. Lido dining I have very limited experience with - I typically visited the omelette station on some mornings, and the sandwich/bistro station on some afternoons - I tried no other selections as I'm more of a light breakfast and lunch type.
It was great to be back aboard the Z, and I look forward to the next time.
My photo gallery from this cruise is located at:
Port reviews to follow.