1st time with HAL, 1st time cruising out of Ft. Lauderdale, 1st time cruising to all ports and the Panama Canal.
Flew in day before and stayed at Fairfield Inn. Fairfield provided free from airport to Hotel. Fairfield Inn. provided transportation to Cruise Port for $8.00 per person. At same time we purchased transportation between cruise port and the airport on day of disembarkation for $10.00 per person.
We rented a wheelchair and 4 oxygen tanks from Special Needs at Sea. On arrival at port, Special Needs at Sea had area right near the baggage drop-off where you can pick up wheelchair. Bottled oxygen bottles were waiting for us in our cabin.
Once entered check-in area there were a lot of folks sitting as was told there was a slight delay in boarding. Wheelchair cruisers were directed to special area and check in was very quick and we were then able to go to a area designated for handicapped and those needing special assistance and we were the first to board the ship.
On the day of disembarkation we chose to take advantage of HAL's program to have bags picked up and sent directly to the airport @ 19.95 per person. Cruisers taking part in this program are one of the first group to disembark. We were called at 07:30. This was a blessing as when we got to customs, they only had 3 Customs agency working. We were told due to our government's handling of the countries financial situation, U.S. Customs had cut down on the # of agent available. Unless some others showed up, I felt sorry for all the other passenger who had yet to disembark!
Cabin -- We got a balcony which was really nice. Room was nice with a sitting area. Only complaint our rooms stewards never formally came by to introduce themselves. We had early dining 05:30 pm. For the first 8 days when we came back from dinner our room had yet to be made up for the night. Couple of times, wife was already in bed when they came by. On the 8th night they did ask if we had gone to dinner yet. Upon further conversation they said they were told we were signed up for the late dining time.
Entertainment. Shows were good. Liked the house band. They did have a comedian and a magician we really liked.
Food -- Was good but nothing really stood out. Can't complain though. Thought the food in the Lido cafeteria was really good from what I can remember from past cruises.
Out headwaiter and assistant waiter were really nice and good at their jobs but from what I could count, they had 5 tables they were responsible for during dinner time. They were always on the go and couldn't spend a lot of time at a table to talk etc. Felt sorry for them being so busy.
Port -- All ports were great with very good tour guides on the excursions we took.
Half Moon Cay. Very nice island. Highly recommend. Lots of vegetation, restrooms. Just a enjoyable island
Aruba -- Took a bus tour of the island. Informative and got good overview of the island
WILLEMSTAD(CURACAO), ANTILLES. Took a trolley tour of Willemstad. Very nice and informative
PANAMA CANAL (CRISTOBAL). What more can you say about going through the Panama Canal. We took the train ride and how many can say they went from the Caribbean Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in the say day! Train was air-conditioned and the tour guide was great. Trained followed the Panama Canal and we were able to take a short bus tour of Panama City. We did pass what we were told was a prison that was in the middle of the jungle while on the train and tour guide said this was where Manual Noriega is housed. Highly recommend this tour!!
On way back from train to our ship, we were had to drive through the city of Cristobal. What a experience. There are no stop lights in the city and we were driving through during evening rush hour. We came within 1 foot or less from broad siding a car that pulled in front of us. It's everyone for themselves when driving in the city. Very good tour guide. Provided lots of information.
COLON, PANAMA - Took a boat ride on a canal. Saw lots of birds, sloths, monkeys. Nice easy ride. On return for boat ride, they provided free refreshments including BEER!
OVERALL Impressions -- Could not have asked for better weather and smooth seas. Average age of fellow cruisers was 40+. I could count on my hands the # of children/teens that were on the cruise. The Zuiderdam was a well maintained ship. Clean, staff friendly.
Front Desk crew were exceptional. They were very nice and did all they could to help and answer any questions!