My husband and I booked this 11-day Panamanian cruise for our honeymoon. We booked the cruise almost a year in advance, and were counting down the days til embarkation! We had just gotten married and both graduated from graduate school... so the cruise was a much awaited time to relax and enjoy each other (stress free!!).
My parents (and several other dedicated HAL sailors) have nothing but rave reviews for their HAL experiences, which is one of the reasons why we booked this HAL cruise. Unfortunately, our experience on the Zuiderdam for this cruise did not fit the bill...
The Zuiderdam spent 10 days in dry dock before our cruise. I read several other posts about members' pre-dry dock experiences on the Zuiderdam and many people indicted a dire need for ship maintenance and cleaning. The ship returned to Ft. Lauderdale late from dry dock, which made the boarding and embarkation process a complete nightmare. The boarding process was completely disorganized. The ship was supposed to embark at 5:00pm, and being that the ship was late and the ship staff was cleaning, cooking, making up our staterooms, etc, the ship didn't embark until 6:30-7pm. I don't know what (if any) maintenance was done during dry dock, because the ship was very dirty when we boarded. There was sawdust all over the observation deck and stairs, and also on our verandah balcony. My husband also found 3-5 razor blades just laying on a bench on the observation deck (very dangerous). We originally signed up for open seating, however the lines to get in the Vista Dining Room (VDR) were unbelievably long so we ordered room service. The room service was decent. During the whole cruise, we ordered room service about 4 times, and the orders were never entirely correct.
One of the biggest issues with this cruise was that the ship incurred several power outages during our sailing. Our stateroom had intermittent power issues which had to continuously be resolved by maintenance staff flipping a breaker to fix the issues. Furthermore, the ship completely lost power on two incidences... and COMPLETELY stopped moving in the middle of the ocean for several hours. You would think the engines would be running on an alternate power source/back up generators, but it didn't seem that way. It's very unnerving to think we were sitting ducks in the middle of the Caribbean with no method of propulsion and maneuverability.
Being that this cruise was our honeymoon, we upgraded our stateroom several times to finally stay in a superior verandah suite. One of the reasons we upgraded was to get the larger bathroom equipped with both a shower stall and a whirlpool bathtub. The whirlpool bathtub was a complete let down... the jets never worked! My parents also purchased the Romantic Package for us as a honeymoon gift. The package came with a couples massage, a dinner for two at the Pinnacle Grill, a 8x10 photo from the cruise, a bottle of wine/champagne, fresh flowers in our stateroom, chocolate covered strawberries upon embarkation, $25 worth of casino chips, and two robes with our initials embroidered on them. The massages were absolutely amazing and the staff at the spa was very friendly and welcoming. The dinner at the Pinnacle Grill was slightly better than dinner at the VDR, however my husband got food poisoning the next day which we attribute to the dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. The robes were beautiful, however we were told the embroidery machine was broken and we were not able to get our robes embroidered.
The excursions we planned for this cruise were wonderful. We had fantastic excursions in Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curacao, and Costa Rica. I would highly recommend the Dolphin Swim excursion (Curacao) and zip lining excursion (Costa Rica).
The ship staff was very friendly, warm-hearted and helpful. Our servers in the VDR were absolutely amazing and went above and beyond to make our dining experience pleasurable. Our stateroom stewards were very attentive and always did a wonderful job cleaning our stateroom (and making fantastic towel animals!). JT our cruise director was fabulous! The on board entertainment was decent, but mediocre at best.
Overall, we had a lovely time together on the cruise (being it was our honeymoon). This was my husband's first ever cruise, and my overall fourth cruise... yet this was my first with HAL. I honestly don't know if I will ever cruise with HAL again. We met many cruisers who have sailed many times with HAL and have never experienced anything like this cruise before... so there may be some hope. The jury's still out...