After reading all the reviews of the Zuiderdam, I was almost fearful of sailing on the 1/3 Panama Canal voyage. I had visions of the air conditioning not working, the days long and boring and the food mediocre. Seeing that I was paid in full, I decided to go and make the best of it.
Embarkation: Flew to FLL from ATL day of sailing. Took the flight that arrived at 10:30, and grabbed a taxi to the port. It was confusing where to bring the luggage. Even the taxi driver stated that this was arranged differently than it had been the last sailing. Once that was figured out, stood outside in line just to get to security. With as long as the line was, I was surprised that only 2 points were open for security - when they had twice as many screening stations. This backed up the line and was time consuming. Once through security, I was then able to get in line for check in. Pictures were taken and boarded the ship. I was in my stateroom by 1:15.
Booked a Deluxe Verandah Suite. It was spacious. All prebooked items were there as well as the beverage card that came with the booking, and a complimentary bottle of champagne. The temperature in FLL was cooler than usual, so the room was comfortable.
The muster drill went smoothly, but I didn't see the personnel directing passengers to their stations. One had to ask to find out where to go. The routes were not clearly marked.
Food: Since it was an early morning, decided on room service the first night. The room service menu is more expanded than that of RCCL, Carnival and NCL. The onion soup and turkey club sandwich were awesome. Service was friendly and the waiter bringing it in, did not wait for a tip. I had to call them back, as they were quick to leave. The tips were appreciated, not expected. I had room service several nights and many breakfasts. The food was always on time and though not quite hot, at a decent temperature.
I had any time dining. I never had to wait, and was always seated with a group of people that were momentary strangers. The food was good. I noticed that spices were actually used. The jerk chicken had some kick to it and was very good. It was a pleasant surprise to find that food was cooked as it was supposed to be instead of the normal salty bland to cover the taste of the masses. The service was good in all areas of the dining room as I was seated in different areas of the dining room floor with different wait each night I attended.
I went to the specialty restaurants for 3 nights, twice at Pinnacle Grill and once at Canaletto. The Pinnacle
Grill was okay the first night, and better the second. The food was okay. Nothing spectacular, not sure if I would pay the additional cost to do it again. Canaletto was good. The menu is kind of confusing, as they state that food has to be shared, and they recommend one of these and two of those.... Once it is figured out, it is basic Olive Garden fare. The only item that really stuck out for me was their meatballs. I'm not sure what it was called on the menu, but they were basic meatballs - very good.
I attended the Captain & Hotel Director lunch at the Pinnacle. It was a Polynesian style lunch. There was a photo op with both of the officers and then they left. It was okay.
The poolside Mexican buffet is good - very good salsa and the poolside grill was also good with hamburgers/hot dogs, bratwursts and fries.
Activities: First sea day I went to the spa. I had a full hour message, which they added a free eye treatment in. The special advertised cost, was different than what I paid, as they add a tip automatically. Since the message was wonderful, and there was no hard sell for the eye treatment materials, I paid an additional tip. It was well worth it.
I usually don't play Bingo, but one afternoon, there just didn't seem to be anything else to do. I'm glad I did as I won one of the games, and split the pot with 3 others. That was fun.
The casino is small, but had a lot of games to play. I don't know whether they just have a good exhaust system, or if there were less smokers, but it never really smelled smoky.
The piano player and violinist were really good. It was nice to stop to listen to them when passing through. The BB King Blues club was also really good. I went on a whim and was glad I did.
The cooking demonstrations were fun. I just wished that they had a little more hands on for the people in attendance.
Ports of Call: I had been to their private island before while on a Carnival cruise, and knew what to expect. It was nice just to get some beach time, even though liquid sunshine came through for a while, the sun came out and it turned out to be a nice day. I took the island tour excursion and was able to see where the inhabitants lived, see all that the island had to offer and go into areas that usually aren't open to guests.
Aruba: Took the 4X4 off road adventure tour. It took us to most of the highlights of the island and brought us to a beach. The beach was terrible - no place to sit except on the sand, and no place to change.
Curacao: Took the beach express tour. We went by bus to a beach that is part of a hotel. There were food venues, snorkeling venues, chairs, but no umbrellas to rent. The water was murky and cool. It wasn't the best excursion.
Panama Canal: Woke up early to watch us go through the locks and saw how snarky people can be. One young lady wanted to move to the front to take a picture - one of the gentlemen in her way turned around and told her she should have gotten up earlier to get a space. Really?? All she wanted was a picture. I let her get in front of me and she took a few pictures and left.
I took the old/new canal excursion. It was very interesting. It was fun to be up close to a ship going through the locks while in the observation tower. The new locks will be much wider in order to take on the bigger ships. To me it just seemed like a big hold in the ground and didn't look near completion, even though we were told that the ready date would be August 2014.
The bus just left us off in Colon. What a nasty dirty city. No one wanted to venture out of the area and they wouldn't let us in the port authority building. The ship had to be docked and ready before we were allowed to even cross the street to the side of the pier. This was the only part of the excursion that I didn't like.
Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica: I took the River cruise. I had read many good reviews and was impressed. After a short bus ride, we boarded boats and went down the river. Saw many birds, lizards, two types of monkeys and a sloth.
Disembarkation: Very easy. I chose to pay the valet luggage fee, and had my bags checked all the way to my final destination. Once my number was called, I left my room, got in line and was off the ship in no time. There was a longer line at customs that I thought, but there were only two agents open for US passengers.
Overall, going in with bad reviews in my head, I found that people just like to complain. I had a great time, would want to do it again and would recommend it to a friend. I found the staff to be friendly, not over bearing looking for tips, and happy to assist. The air conditioning was never a problem in any of the public rooms or in my stateroom. Yeah, there may have been an area that could have used a coat of paint, but who looks that closely at that when the overall reason is the cruise, not a threadbare carpet.