This Nov 29 to Dec 9, 2013 review of the ms Zuiderdam 10-day Panama Canal Sunfarer cruise is written as my impressions which may or may not conflict with the impressions of others.
Pre-cruise hotel was at the Sleep Inn, Dania Beach for four nights prior to the cruise. There is a small strip mall across the street where we found three restaurants (Mexican, Italian, and Chinese) and a Publix grocery. The Publix had great carry-out food and we could purchase our carry-on beverages. There was also a Walgreen's Pharmacy adjacent to the hotel property. The hotel has a free shuttle to/from both the airport and cruise terminal.
Luggage: Our luggage consisted of two spinner bags, one with clothing and another with miscellaneous computer and camera accessories; large camera bag with three cameras and lenses; roll-on bag with two computers (business and personal), cruise documents, jacket, meds, and personal car keys; duffle bag (personal oxygen concentrator supplies, meds, and spare batteries; a portable oxygen concentrator; and a four-wheeled walker. Two spinner suitcases and the walker were left with the curbside porter who placed them in the rolling cart that would transport them on to the ship.
Scooter: A scooter from Special Needs at Sea was waiting for us near the luggage drop-off location at the HAL terminal.
Embarkation: We arrived at the terminal at 10:30 AM and proceeded directly through the security checkpoint to the HAL Check-in counter. The five-minute process was efficient and with no waiting. We were pointed toward an elevator that took us to the second floor waiting area. We were the first passengers in the waiting area. Due to computer issues with the Border Control, embarkation was delayed until 12:00. The intrusive ship's photographic staff blocked all access to the doorway leading to the gangway but being the first passengers to board, we quickly proceeded past their cameras. I stopped at the Fron Desk to get a hole punched in my boarding card so that I could wear it on my HAL lanyard. Stateroom 6166 was ready for arrival and I dropped off my carry-on luggage before proceeding to the Mariner's Embarkation lunch. Our luggage arrived at 1:30 PM.
Ship's Furnishings: I will dispense with any comments about the decor as being very subjective and having no bearing on my level of satisfaction with the cruise. The artifacts as well as the coloring throughout the ship did indeed complete the intent of the designer.
Stateroom: SC5166 was ready for our occupancy when we arrived. The room was clean and all of the relevant documents were on the bed. We met our Room Steward and revieed our requirements We asked that our mini-bar be removed and this did not happen until the following day. We requested to large ice buckets be filled three times per day and this happened most of the time. The aft-wrap balcony was partially covered with four chairs, two loungers, a foot stool, and large table. At least 30 people could fit on the balcony. Even though our mini-bar was evacuated, we discovered a new bottle of water on the third day and a charge of $2.11 on our final bill. The charge was not worth standing in line at the Front Desk to contest. During the Panama Canal transit, the room temperature rise caused us to close our curtains and the air conditioning returned to normal.
Room Stewards: Hanofi was a good Room Steward but need reminding about laundry bags each day. He provided our free shopping bags on the last day of the cruise.
Dining -- General: Ron, Culinary Operations Manager, provided me the lunch and dinner menus for both the Lido and MDR for all of the Panama Canal cruises as well as for the 7-day Caribbean cruises for the 2013-2014 season. I also obtained the new Canaletto menu. All of the menus were scanned and are being provided to CC members upon request. There was no chocolate extravaganza night as on previous HAL cruises.
Dining -- Lido: The food was good with the Pepperoni pizza being especially favored. It must be noted that HAL pepperoni pizza does not have tomato sauce but rather a light brushing of olive oil. The cooked-to-order pasta was excellent. Line Servers would provide any quantity of items upon request. Of special note was the bread pudding and chocolate chip cookies. The Lido Restaurant management was active in speaking to diners about the service and quality of the food. The servers were friendly and offered their suggestions for those passing down the serving line. Tables were cleared quickly after diners left the table and a rolling cart with free beverages was in constant motion through the dining area.
Dining -- Terrace Grill: The nachos, available after 2:00 PM were a great snack almost every day. Since I often delivered a plate of nachos to the stateroom for an afternoon snack, I shall repeat my helpful hint for delivering nachos whether with melted or shredded cheese: put some cheese on the plate, before introducing the chips, to keep the nachos from sliding off the plate during delivery. The Taco Bar was not open for the first 48 hours due to mandatory Code Orange rules.
Main Dining Room (MDR): The five meals I ate in the MDR were well-prepared and served at the proper temperature. The Assistant Dining Room Manager visited every table on most nights and alos assited the servers on some occasions. The hot, silver, teapots were no longer available as tea water was poured at the server station. Since I ate alone, each meal was completed in less than one hour. On formal nights, I counted only 20 tuxedo-clad males passing my table near the MDR entrance.
Pinnacle Grill (PG): The embarkation night found the PG at only 25% capacity. My steak daine was perfectly cooked and the service excellent. My waiter, Harry, was able to answer lots of my questions since there were only a few customers. I ate two additional meals in the PG and added the Le Cirque as well. The Manager, Vliet, moved from table to table on each evening checking on the customers. The service was impeccable and the food of high quality on my four dining occasions. It must be noted that my cruise was the last with the old menu and a new menu is now in place as I write this review.
Room Service: As on every HAL cruise, food arrived almost to the first minute requested. The food was always at the correct temperature. The fresh-squeezed orange juice was always a treat. It must be noted that if you want an empty glass or chocolate croissants, you need only write it on the Room Service card before hanging it on your door handle
Facilities: The ship was clean and was in a constant state of scrubbing, vacuuming, and painting in all areas. The stateroom across the hall from ours had toilet overflow issues one evening. I wandered to the Crows Nest on a few occasions and always found the lounge chairs were completely occupied. I did not eat anything at the Explorations Cafe. The Library was only sparsely occupied on the few times I passed through it.
Neptune Lounge/Concierge: We had very little contact with the Neptune Lounge except to request a fan and obtain a copy of the new Canaletto menu. There was always a good supply of snacks and desserts.
Laundry: The Laundry was efficient and most days it was returned within 15 hours of my hanging it on my door. All laundered items were returned in excellent condition.
Shops: The Shops personnel were very helpful in finding correct sizes and answering questions. There was never a delay to checkout. The demonstations of liquor and jewelry continued as on all HAL cruises. .
Culinary Arts: I attended three cooking demonstrations and obtained a number of recipe cards.
Computer Classes: I attended one Microsoft class and was impressed with the instruction and technical skill of the instructor. The handouts were very well received by all attendees.
Casino: Since I don't gamble, I can only comment on the lack of smoke when walking past it when the casino was in full operation. There must be new exhaust fans installed.
Ports - Half Moon Cay: I remained on the ship during this stop since I had benn there on other cruises.
Ports - Curacao: With the oppressive heat, I remained on board but took some good video os fhe opening
and closing of the marine bridge.
Ports - Panama Canal: This was a fascinating experience seeing a huge cargo ship higher than my head on the lock just behind us. My pictures and videos will be treasured forever.
Ports - Colon: I remained on board to experience the transfer back through the Gatun Locks
Excursions -- Aruba Sunset Cruise: The heat of the day was oppressive but the catamaran slow cruise was very cooling. The open bar was a real hit and the sunset pictures were incredible
Entertainment: We did not attend any of the shows so I cannot comment on the entertainment.
Meet & Greet (M&G): There was no Meet and Greet held on this cruise.
Internet: The room had a Cisco internet repeater and I purchased the 1000-minute plan. The speed was 786 kbps during the evening hours. With the repeater, I did not have to leave my stateroom to get better reception.
Staff: The staff were exceptional. The Westerdam's officers spoke freely with the passengers when riding elevators or passing in the common areas. The traditional greeting, "How are you today," from the other
Room Stewards that you pass in the hallways was ever present. The dining staff, both MDR and Lido, had frequent interaction with passengers in my observation.
Disembarkation: What appeared to be an emergency situation with a passenger delayed disembarkation and that caused a huge congestion near the gangway. This was releived by routing passengers through the Vista Lounge. There were four Immigration agents available until one left while we were still in line. Passing through the handicapped line gave us only a 20-minute wait while others waited nearly one hour. Taxis were available across the street from the entrance.
Post Cruise: We stayed at the Sleep Inn, Dania Beach, due to its close proximity to the airport and three restaurants within walking distance. There was a two-hour wait until our room was cleaned before we could check in to the hotel.
Summary: As stated at the start of this review, the above are my impressions as a longtime HAL cruiser. I would highly recomment the ms Zuiderdam and especially passing through the Panama Canal during one's lifetime.