We just returned from the 11 night partial Panama Canal transit from February 3-14. After reading many threads about the plumbing and air conditioning issues on the Zuiderdam, I was not sure what to expect. We were in stateroom 5191, and I am happy to report that we had no issues on either front. We actually turned our air conditioning up a couple of times because it was too cold. We also had no issues with the plumbing or water temperatures in the shower or tub. One time I noticed that a public bathroom was out of order, but a plumber was working on it to get it fixed. There was a slight sulfur odor in the aft portion of the ship on deck 9 or 10 that I noticed one day, but that was all.
We left the hotel at about 10:30 and got to the port shortly thereafter. There was no line to get through security or to get our key cards. Security noticed my 4 bottles of wine, and directed me to the table to have them logged. Since the rules had just changed on how much you could bring on, the person checking the wine in seemed confused on the process. There was a sign on the table that said one bottle of wine per person was permitted and that additional bottles may be brought on board for a charge of $18 each. The person logging the wine said that I could only bring on the two (one of me and one for my husband), and that HAL would hold the additional two bottles until the last day of the cruise. I turned the sign that was on the table around to show him what the rule was, and he finally allowed me to pay the additional $36 to bring on the other two bottles. Hopefully they have figured out a system by now.
We waited for about 10 minutes in the holding room, and they began boarding. We were permitted to go directly to the stateroom to stow our bags. The room steward came in to introduce himself and ask us if the room was to our liking. We assured him that it was perfect!
I had read in several threads that the Zuiderdam was in need of an overhaul. I disagree! The only carpet that I saw on board that was thinning was replaced one day at port. The ship has been maintained and continues to be maintained on a daily basis. There are places that are showing signs of rust, but other than that, the ship looks good.
Our dinner in the MDR was originally scheduled for 5:30. After the first night, we changed it to 7:45, as 5:30 was just too early to eat. Food was prepared to order each night and was always the perfect temperature. The wine steward was very attentive and our wine glasses and water glasses were never empty. Our waiter (Nur) and assistant waiter (Luke) were wonderful! Every night, the headwaiter (Indra) came to our table to ask how dinner was. We have not complaints regarding the MDR.
Each morning we had breakfast and coffee delivered to our balcony. The food was delivered on time and exactly as ordered. We had eggs benedict on several mornings, and that was not even on the menu. We wrote it on the card we hung on our door and it would come the following morning perfectly prepared. We ate in the Lido for lunch three times and the food was always hot and prepared well.
The entertainment on the ship was average, except for BB King. They were amazing! I highly recommend seeing them if you are on a ship that they are on. The HalCats seem bored with what they do. The guitar player in the Crows Nest plays well, but I did not enjoy his singing. The piano player of the piano/violin duo was very good, but the violin player was not good at all. The entertainment on this ship needs an overhaul for sure!
We booked three excursions through HAL. The first was sailing and snorkeling in Aruba. It was very windy, so the water was murky and the shipwreck that was 50 feet down was hard to see. The shallower water snorkeling was clear, but not much to see. I would not recommend this excursion, as it was expensive for what you got out of it. In Panama, we did the Authentic Embera Indian Village Tour. This excursion was very good, but after getting up early to see the locks, it was a long day! If I ever go to the Panama Canal again, I will not plan an excursion on the same day as the canal. The last excursion that we did was in Costa Rica. It was a tour of the Veragua Rainforest and Tortuguero Canals. This was a wonderful excursion, and probably my favorite of the three. I highly recommend this one!
We were to disembark between 8:00 and 10:00 at our leisure. What they don’t tell you is that at 8:30, your room steward will come strip your linens and take your towels, so be sure you are about ready to leave by then, or you won’t get a shower. We left the room at 9:00 and walked off the ship. We were escorted by a customs agent off the ship and taken directly past the line of 100’s of passengers to a back room. We were not sure why, but finally realized that we had purchased a piece of jewelry on board and needed to pay duty on the item. It was very nice not having to stand in the customs line. By 9:30 we were in a cab headed to the airport.
This was without a doubt, the best cruise I have ever taken. The average age of the guests is probably 65 or so, but if this isn’t an issue for you, I’d highly recommend the partial transit on the Zuiderdam!