Ms Zuidedam December 10-22, 2012
The Zuiderdam is a Holland America ship in the same class as the Oosterdam in which we had taken a Mexican Rivera cruise the previous year. It is about 10+ years old ship. Before this cruise began, the ship was in dry dock for 10 days getting some new carpeting and touch-ups. The dry-docking did though produce some exterior dirt that is not normal for HAL ship.
Our cabin was a Superior Veranda on deck 8 mid-ship. I really like this type room for the extra width (rather than length) that it provides. It feels very comfortable and uncrowded. There was plenty of space for in cabin breakfast room service. The veranda was nicely equipped with two chairs and footstools plus a table with 2 chairs. This cabin, and the entire ship for that matter seemed a little chilly and beyond the ability of the room thermostat to marginally control. The dry-docking did provide our cabin with a new and fresh carpet, Bed and linens were of high quality and comfortable. This room also had a double sink, and a shower separate from a tube with jacuzzi. There were minor chips and spots on the cabinets and walls which were normal wear and tear on a ship this age.
The cabin steward, Danny, was excellent, as was the entire crew on this ship, which, while coming from 40 countries, is mostly Filipino and Indonesian. I am always inspired by the youthful co-operation of the members of these crews
Food was at a high level at both the Pinnacle Grill (Steakhouse) and the Caneletto (Italian) restaurants. The bone in Rib steak in the Pinnacle, and the Antipasto tray in the Canelleto were both memorable. The room service breakfasts were hot and on time (actually slightly early), and that included the omelets and egg entrees which are not available on many cruise lines. The main dining room (Vista) waiters were friendly and very efficient. Inca impressed us with both his attention to our needs and his supervision over his assistants. The Mariner's club (2 or more HAL sailings) luncheon on the last day was maybe the best meal outside the Pinnacle and Canaletto.
Entertainment provided some pleasant surprises. The ships singers and dances were uniformly good (as we find most in-house ensembles), but on this cruise the outside entertainment was very, well, entertaining. The Island Spice Steel Drum band was amazing, and a Diva pianist, Amy Ambler(?) was amusing and very talented. A magician, a juggler and some improvisational comedy rounded out the 10 day program. We also enjoyed the classical duo, Adagio, and the band HALcats, specially the saxophonist.
There was a lot of miscellaneous amusements, such as trivia, games shows, swimming contests, and cooking demo's, but that stuff is not really what we enjoy. The travel expert, Lance, gave us some informative lectures on the ports we were going to see, and the Panama Canal itself, which is the high point of this cruise. HAL does not emphasis lectures and other more intellectual entertainment options, at least in the Caribbean and Mexico itineraries, which for us in unfortunate. We find both Cunard and Celebrity doing a better job in this department. So we spent a good bit of time in the Explorations Cafe and Library on the top deck. The book selection is good and the views are great. I finished three books on this 11 day cruise.
We selected this cruise because it does not go through the Panama Canal, just in to Gatun lake and then back out. We did not want to go again to the ports on the Pacific side of a trans-canal cruise; so this was perfect.
Ports of Call included Half Moon Cay (a private island of HAL), Aruba, Curacao, Cartajena, the Canal, and Costa Rica. Half Moon Cay is a beach stop, but we wanted to swim in Aruba and Curacao also. A private excursion in Curacao on Peter's Tours was very good, and provided the best beach front experience of the cruise. We were very disappointed in Cartejena Columbia. Of course it was hot and humid, but some of the attractions were closed to individuals not on ship excursions, and the street vendors were just obnoxious--the worst we have seen since being in Russia. We could not even get into churches without pretty stiff entrance fees. So the decayed corpse of St Peter Clavier was the highlight. We love social and political concept which Costa Rica embodies, ie., universal eduction and literacy, universal health care, and a respect of elders by providing security for all. You don't feel the meaningless rat race mentality in this country, and it is refreshing. We were in the poorest province though, and it showed. The eco-tour of the Tortaguero Canals, and a banana plantation was very interesting, and we saw Howler monkeys, sloths, Caymans, many birds and bats in their native habitat. No mosquito's though (thankfully). Take the morning excursion. The Panama Canal is just a marvel of simple but brute engineering. It has been in operation 100+ years, but over 40,000 men died in its construction, mostly from disease. You see it up close and personal, and it is crowded with many ships of all sizes waiting to enter and in queue. We did not go out on tour, but saw if from the air-conditioned Crow's nest of the ship.
There were some unusual events on this cruse that we have never before encountered. Usually the drill at the beginning of a cruise, is the first and last time you think of safety. But on this cruise there were 2 small fires in which the fire alarm went off, and more unnervingly, a complete power failure of the vessels including all lights, appliances, air-conditioning and propulsion. Although the failure lasted only 20 or 30 minutes, it was never explained and never re-occurred. We have to assume it had something to do with some work done in dry dock, but who knows. I would like to avoid drifting in the open ocean with no power in the future!
My fellow passengers were a definitely older demographic, mainly American and Canadian. We all know that cruises can fatten you up considerably in a week or 10 days, but I have to say that this passenger base came onto the ship as corpulent as I have experienced in eight previous cruises; and 10 days of wall to wall dining did nothing for their figures (or their health I suppose). I consider myself overweight, but I was unexpectedly slim compared to this group. I remember a trip I took up the Pacific coast of California to a spot near Big Sur where hundreds of elephant seals spend their day luxuriating on the beach barely moving. Do you get the picture?
So, this was a good solid cruise and a value (we took it during one of the low travel weeks of the year) to boot. It is not for the 20/30 something set, unless they book in droves to change the age distribution curve significantly. But for the older cruiser, it was interesting, relaxing, had interesting ports, good food and plenty of it, and the crew was friendly and helpful.