This was our first time on Holland America's Zuiderdam and the jury is still out on whether to do a Holland America cruise again. We choose this cruise because we got a great price(under 2000.00) and because of the itinerary. This was also our first time to the Panama Canal as well as Curacao, Costa Rica,Panama, Cartagena Columbia.
Embarkation was a disorganized mess. HAL really needs to up the bar here. Many of the HAL workers were busy talking to themselves and little direction was given. Plus there were Princess cruise line signs up all over the place and you were not sure where to go. This also is the first cruise lines that will dictate to you if you choose to pay cash as a deposit on room charges. They estimate 60.00 per day per person and you will need to pay that upfront if you expect to go on the ship. I have never had to do this on Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean or Princess cruise lines. I always set a limit on cash to budget our money. You will not be able to do this on Holland.
Once we were in line to get on the ship we got on the ship around 1:00 pm and our room was actually ready at that time. We had an inside room on the main deck number 1060. The room itself was really quite large and even has a wrap around couch in the corner which was great. Plenty of room to put away 11 days worth of clothes. Our room steward Indra and his assistant Sugi were excellent and did a great job. They always called us by our names and did a great job taking care of us throughout the entire cruise.
I would say avoid this room though because you are almost right under Northern Lights and we could feel the bass drum all the way through the room once the band started playing. Thank goodness the older crowd does not stay up late which worked out ok in spite of a couple nights with the band playing after 12PM.
The food and service in the dining room....
Well I had heard all kind of great things about HAL comparing them and their service to Celebrity and the better cruise lines.
Not even close. Carnival had better food and service. And I'm not a Carnival fan.
The food in the Lido was ok at best and you could not serve yourself the first 48 hours because of a possible Norovirus threat.
The serving crew were busy talking to each other and ignored guests. Plus many of the cooks seemed unhappy and were not very friendly. All except for the ice cream guy who was very funny and friendly.Certain times they took drinks around such as ice tea,lemonade and water. For sure you would always see the bar servers all around for wine,beer etc..
If you are in a hurry or need to be on an excursion get room service. And actually they had a pretty big room service menu. The room service was actually very good and prompt on this ship.
The dining room on this ship was really poor. Every steak I got was a very poor cut of meat lots of fat and gristle. Plus they very rarely cooked it to order accurately.
The salmon my wife had was also very hit and miss as well as the waiters we had. We had open dining so it was really hit and miss. You had waiters reaching across the table pouring water and slopping it on the table etc..
A couple waiters we had were good though. Service was very slow expect to spend at least a couple hours in the dining room with only 4 courses.
Don't get me wrong the selections on the dining room menu were very diverse but just poorly cooked and executed. Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson is listed as one on the contributing chefs and I would say he deserves to be chopped as well as many of the others. I had some gazpacho soup which was literally so spicy it was inedible. None of the waiters-not one made any menu suggestions or explained any of the dishes. Not one time. Now I want to say this was just my experience but the ship was not even full so I'm not sure what the problem was, The Baked Alaska was good at the end of the cruise even though they used Neapolitan ice cream the rest of it was executed well instead of just getting ice cream cake like you get on most lines. A great thing about the Vista dining room was that you could get an espresso free after dinner which I thought was great.
Does not make up though for the poor service we received in the Vista and Lido though.
We did not do the Pinnacle because of the poor cuts of steak I had already gotten. And we avoided going to Canaletto's the other pay restaurant and I will tell you why. The place itself is not a space that's set aside like the Pinnacle. It's actually set in a corner of the Lido with a couple off statues set around. So you share the space with the Lido crowd. They basically just throw table clothes over the table and put up some nice glasses and plated. Not many courses offered (nothing even close to Sabatini on Princess). And they basically just go over to the Lido and put together the guests dishes from there. Don't get me wrong the pasta on this ship was really great and cooked to order. But why spend 10 bucks to have someone carry your food to you in the corner of the Lido?
They did do a killer after hours Chocolate buffet. HAL had really kept to an old school event here which most other lines have thrown aside and executed it in a beautiful way.
The ship itself on the exterior was really beautiful. I heard from some other return guests to HAL that the ship looked to be in poor shape. I didn't see that at all. The ship has great looking artwork all over the ship. We spent a full day at sea just looking at the ship. A really classy looking ship. Yea some hand rails were worn but they were bust sanding and re varnishing the ship the whole cruise.
The big problem here was this ship internally needs to real long dry dock for the safety and comfort of the passengers.
We had 2 (count em) 2 fires at sea. And they were not from a passenger throwing a butt over a balcony or something like that. There were 2 fires inside the ship due to malfunction which was actually quite alarming. They were both toward the end of the cruise and while we were at sea. Let me say this though the Captain on board was Chris Turner and to date he will be my favorite out of any line we have ever cruised. This captain took a lot of time to explain a lot while we were at port and at sea which was very neat. Plus he was a really great guy and highly competent. The second fire was in the AC system on the same floor we were on but on the opposite side. It was after midnight after a day at sea as we were heading back toward Fort Lauderdale. Part of the main floor had to be evacuated as a result of the fire and the captain handled all this quite well even though it was a scary experience.
JT the cruise director was a nice guy and very approachable. Entertainment was pretty good. Julie Barr was funny and the magician was very good. The production shows were all pretty good as well. The Hal Cats though were not very good and I don't think Iv e ever seen a band that looked more like they didn't want to be on the ship than these guys. The Halloween Party was really poorly put together and Im not sure how they figured out who the winners were they just kinda picked 3 without any crowd response.
The ports here were the real reason we went though and they were all great. We missed Half Moon Cay because it got trashed as a result of Hurricane Sandy but we got more time in Aruba which was great. I will go more into the ports in my port reports.
One thing I will applaud HAL on and a reason I will probably cruise with them again was their promotion of "Susan K Komen On Deck For The Cure 5K" Nick the fitness director was great and this was well organized and promoted well and is done fleet wide. I'm a 6 year cancer survivor so this is close to my heart and HAL does a great job. Unlike Princess who overall is a better cruise line but does a poor job on the On Deck gig. Nick also did a lot of cool things like Tai Chi twice a day (for free) and swimming across the Panama Canal.
Days at sea were pretty relaxed and not a heck of a lot to do but that was ok since we like to just take time to chill.
Let me mention the Photo crew on board here. No you didn't have annoying people always trying to snap a picture off. They were polite about this. Robert the video guy was very nice as well.
The big problem was in the prices (more expensive than Disney). And the staff on board was very rude and uncaring. I've got to say I have never seen this except on Carnival where the photo staff inside the photo place would not help you find pictures and acted like they would rather be somewhere else. (Which was the overall groove of this ship).
The shops had a lot of great deals and there were very good prices on shirts and souvenirs.
PS you can buy beer and sodas at the ports and bring them back on the ship. No problem here.
We did not use the spa here the thermal beds and saunas were way over priced at 40.00 per person per day. That's bad when you can get a pass on Disney for half that price.
I also need to mention that the shopping guru's on board Edel and Damien were the very best I have seen on any cruise I have been on.
However Party planner Shannon needs to be in a different position. You just can't take a cute blond and throw her into a position. At every event including the ice carving she read robot like off a script. Not to be mean but why not put someone in a position who actually knows what they are talking about.
Will we cruise HAL again?
Probably, because they continue to promote "On Deck For The Cure" fleet wide.
Hopefully on our next cruise there will be no fear of fire and better dining and food service.
We will give them one more try.