Fourth HAL cruise, first on Zuiderdam. Like others, I was a bit apprehensive after reading about A/C and plumbing issues and ship being in disrepair but am happy to report that we experienced no issues nor did I hear anyone complain while on board. (our friends did experience a sewer odor in their bathroom, cabin 5187, but it was not noticeable at all in the main cabin area). In general, the ship was in great condition and we saw ongoing maintenance from the time we boarded the ship until we disembarked so they are obviously trying to keep her ship-shape. If we looked hard, we did notice some things that need to be replaced (e.g., carpet in waiting areas of the middle bank of elevators, table tops and fabric wall dividers in Lido, verandah table tops) but nothing that made us feel like we were sailing on a ship that needed to head for the scrap heap, or worse, that was unsafe. As we've always experienced on HAL cruises, the crew was wonderful, worked their tails off, and everyone we passed smiled and said something to us - from the captain to the person cleaning the stair railings.
We found the entertainment a bit lacking but not enough to detract from our overall experience. We did enjoy the BB King Experience but the volume was too loud for the size of the venue. The Adagio Strings (a pianist and a violinist) were wonderful and always had a nice size audience in the evening. We did not care for the CD's style (Hamish) but that's just our taste and nothing against him. We do enjoy the quieter atmosphere that HAL cruises provide.
Food in all venues was usually very good and with a fairly decent variety but service sometimes lagged and we especially noticed that in the Pinnacle Grill at breakfast and lunch. PG dinner was top-notch in all aspects. Canaletto dinner was nothing to write home about - it was extremely warm in the restaurant and we had a "herd of elephants" running overhead (from the open track on Deck 10) which really detracted from the experience. We didn't use room service so I can't comment about that.
The itinerary was the reason we chose this cruise and it did not disappoint! There was a good mix of sea and port days and we enjoyed all the ports. It rained hard the first couple of hours at Half Moon Cay (really, the only rain we experienced the entire cruise) so we waited out the storm and then tendered over for a couple of hours to enjoy the beach and water. At the Canal, we took HAL's Embera Indian Authentic Village tour and it was truly a Nat Geo experience! Highly recommend it! In Aruba, Curacao, and Puerto Limon we arranged private tours since HAL didn't offer excursions that interested us.
The embarkation process was painless and quick and we were happy to find our stateroom available before 11:30, in time to drop bags, look through all our invitations and cards and head to the Mariners Lunch at noon. Disembarkation was nice in that we were allowed to wait anywhere on the ship, including our suite, so we enjoyed breakfast in the MDR, got our things from our stateroom after, and walked right off about 9:15. The only thing I wish they could improve on is the long wait going through immigration but I know HAL can't control that part of the process so it is what it is.
A few miscellaneous things to mention: we like that they now email the Satisfaction Survey rather than having to write it all down while on the ship; we miss the trays in the Lido; we also miss being greeted by a white-gloved staff member handing us a glass of champagne as we stepped onto the ship; smoking on verandahs continues to be a thorn in our side and we were kept from using ours on occasion by people out smoking on theirs; we would have preferred an actual Canal authority guest speaker on board doing the Canal presentation rather than the CD standing up front and reading from a slide show - fortunately there was someone up on the bridge while we went through the Canal who was very knowledgeable; internet speed continues to be slow and expensive and I heard several complaints.