Wow, we had a great trip on the Zuiderdam. My husband and I have been on one prior HAL cruise, and two Norwegian cruises. We are in our 40s and traveled with my parents for their first ever cruise. My father was very interested in the Panama Canal so we talked them into it. They loved it, I think they are hooked for life.
The ship was in great shape. It was clean, the staff was so friendly, the food was yummy. We really had very few complaints. Our Verandah cabin on deck 5 was so comfortable. The beds are great. We had open dining, and other than one or two nights, never had a wait. Once or twice, we simply went down for dinner and took a pager to get a drink. It all went very smoothly. We found the food to be excellent - especially the fish. We had dinner twice at the Pinnacle Grill (once on my birthday) and twice in Canaletto. Pinnacle is such a fine, dining experience. It was just amazing. The Italian spot was also great. We had gone on the N.A. before they began charging and I think the food is MUCH better now. The cod is fantastic. We found the entertainment was just so-so. We enjoyed the magician, and the steel drums. Everything else we caught, we left early. Just not our cup of tea.
The morning of our Costa Rica stop, we woke up to a toilet that wouldn't flush. My parents next door had the same issue. We called the front desk and they admitted that there was an issue on our deck. By the time we got back on board, everything was working fine and we never had another issue. We felt very fortunate based on reviews of others experiences on prior sailings. We didn't really see any other issues with the toilets in the public areas. We did notice a few 'smelly' areas on the ship, especially deck 2. Even my DH, who never notices things, made a comment. It certainly didn't ruin our cruise and we'd sail on the Zuiderdam again, but it was noticeable.
Our stops were great. We just spent an hour or two at the beach on Half Moon Cay. We didn't eat the picnic, but hit the Lido when we got back on board. Aruba was fine, we just wandered around a bit and had a lovely dinner on the beach. Curacao was a pleasant surprise, what a neat spot. We really enjoyed exploring it. In Cartagena, we hired a local guide for a small tour and had a fantastic time. She did an excellent job hitting the high points and helping us avoid the crowds and rush. The old city was so charming. The canal itself was truly amazing. We didn't get off the ship, but ran all over the place to experience the locks from all kinds of angles. It really exceeded our expectations. In Costa Rica, we also hired a private local guide and it was a great day.
I had so much fun, especially experiencing cruising with my parents for the first time. They ate it all up. We spent enough time in the casino that they sent us chocolate covered strawberries. Not good! :) Probably the only real downer of the experience was the disembarkation. Due to the gov't cutbacks, the port only had 3 customs officers to process our arrival. We were one of the last groups to be called, and the wait was just unfortunate. We had planned to surprise my mom with an event in Palm Beach and it didn't quite work out as hoped. Many people seemed to miss flights. I felt badly for the elderly and those who seemed to struggle to wait in line for hours. I was thankful to HAL for allowing us a comfy seat for as long as possible, and also grateful that we planned an extra night in FLL.
All in all, an awesome vacation!