It has been about 10 years since we first started cruising, and the Zuiderdam was our first ship… then it was a seven day East Caribbean itinerary and a very good first experience. And now, after ten years, we are back on the Zuiderdam. It was an 11-day itinerary from Ft Laud to Panama Canal and back – our longest cruise. It was also the oldest crowd we had ever sailed with – most 65+ and only 5 kids on board. Also, while creaky and slow moving, it was the happiest crowd I can remember. The Indonesian crew was great, as usual.
This is our 9th cruise, and 5th on HA. This time, for a reasonable price, we upgraded from a superior verandah to a Neptune suite
First of all, I wish to comment some recent Cruise Critic reviewers that described the tiredness and lack of maintenance on the Zuiderdam. These comments sharpened my focus as I walked anywhere thoughout the ship. We have not found any of the claims to be true…the ship has a few rust spots but it is mostly pristine. I can only presume that this is in the eye of the beholder. I saw no thread bare furniture, worn or stained carpets, or smelly bathrooms. The ship has obviously had several makeovers in the last ten years, and it looks just great. We were told that Zuiderdam was rated as 11th in the HA fleet last year, and now 5th this year – which the crew was quite proud.
Some quickies –
• A Neptune suite is a great room with real suite amenities, and the Neptune Lounge and concierge service is one of them. There is free laundry and dry cleaning, free champagne (on boarding), special parties and lunches, breakfast every day in the Pinnacle Grill, and other niceties. I have been in suites on other ships, but other than the premier lines, there are no additional services.
• Dining room experience has been good to very good
o Vista lounge – best bet for us – good menus
o Pinnacle Grill – good steaks and sides; great services
o Canaletto – fair – nothing over Lido fare - good idea, though.
o Lido – Always a good selection and service; good burger/bratwurst bar, good taco bar.
• Fabulous piano bar
• Full-contact trivia contests – toughest we have ever seen; we only took one first
• Smoking is managed sensibly – only two areas on the ship where it was permitted – all outside and down wind. Never heard a negative comment about smoking.
• Saw one show – very good; all the guests we spoke to who went enjoyed them.
• Prices seemed lower
o Soda was $1.25, and there was a daily two-for-one happy hour in the Crows Nest - never had that before.
o Drinks were about $1 cheaper than other cruises
o Cappuccino was cheaper than other cruises
One of the best excursions one can take on this or any cruise, when available, is the behind-the-scenes tour of ship, and Zuiderdam offered the best one yet. You get to see the bridge, engineering control room, laundry (actually quite interesting), theater, recycling, and everything having to do with food (cold and dry stores, bakery, fish prep, meat prep, fruit, veg, main dining, Pinnacle grill). The best part was a tour of the engine room on C deck…I have not seen this offered on other ship…a little noisy (they have two of the five engine running), but so cool. The condition of each area was exceptional – no bad smells and everything in good order – even pristine. Even the recycling area, where all refuse passes thorough was super clean. The most senior officers give the tours of their sections – even the captain. Our tour comprised 2 two-hour sessions split across two days. Cost was $150- well worth it.
As far as itinerary – Aruba – nothing special; Curacao – story book cute; Cartegena – Old town tour via cab ($25 per person for the ride and the tour…it was worth it…really beautiful and good for two hours; Panama canal (really a must see)– on the boat for us….quick stop in Colon - on and off shopping supplies…popular for the crew; Costa Rica…took the Sloth tour…not a tourist town.
The canal was just the best experience and the on-boat views and commentary were terrific. The forward decks (normally closed) were opened for the guests. Seeing every component of the procedure upfront and the other ships up close underscored the magic and simplicity of the process. It works so well. Highlight of the trip.
First time spa experience – I arrived on board with a backache and plantar fasciitis. At the Neptune Lounge reception on the first night I met the ship’s Acupuncturist (Lisa (“Liza”)) and thought I would give it a try. Never did an on-ship spa or massage therapy before. It was market price, but between the needles and the Chinese style message (no pain, no gain!) the backache went away and the feet felt better. Lisa had been trained in China and knew what she was doing. The needles were painless except for a few that came with a warning. The acupuncture relaxed me, but the intense leg and foot messages had a real effect. Whilst I have no miracles to report. I shall explore this therapy further when back home to augment my current PT regime.
A closing observation. On most cruises when you embark the crew welcomes you as if you were the first to board the ship, and when you leave you are dismissed as a hinderance. On this ship the farewell was as sweet as the welcome….many of the staff lined up in the departure area….really nice.
Best Caribbean cruise ever for us.