This was my 8th cruise, 3rd with HAL and 2nd time on the Zuiderdam. I found the Zuiderdam was clean, and in good condition, not worn as others had previously posted. No problems with air conditioning or toilets. The crew often cleaned/polished throughout the cruise and were very pleasant, polite and friendly. I noticed a faint sewer smell a few times and one day they must have cleaned the carpet in the casino as there was a strong almost gasoline-like smell. But overall the ship was in good repair.
It is an older ship and I’m not sure the designer could decide on a theme ... Swarovski crystal seahorse in the Atrium, Venetian mural and life-sized Venetian mannequins with masks behind a large window on the 2nd floor, two polar bears in the mid-ship pool, and a cartoon-like throne in the aft pool area.
They could have been more inventive regarding the naming of various areas:
..Vista Lounge at the front of the ship where shows were held, Vista Dining Room at the back
..Explorer’s Lounge on the 2nd floor, Explorations Café on 10th floor
..Lido Poolside and Seaview Poolside – finally figured out they were mid-ship pool and aft pool respectively.
Embarkation was quick and easy. We arrived about noon and went immediately to the dining room for lunch. Our luggage was in our cabin upon our arrival. We had a deluxe verandah oceanview (VC) room on the 5th floor near the front of the ship. Spacious enough, clean with adequate storage. Our room attendant Irwin was attentive and quick. We tipped him twice during the cruise. We couldn’t figure out how to get cold water from the sink but this did not bother us.
We had the 8 pm seating in the MDR located right beside a serving station. We moved the 2nd night to another table by the windows away from the serving area. The food in the MDR was very good except for the last formal night where everyone’s filet mignon was undercooked and the lobster was bland. I’m sure they would have rectified this if we complained, but we did not. The dinner service in the MDR seems a bit scattered… not sure if this was a supervision problem or lack of staff. We ate breakfast in the MDR and service was good.
We ate in the Canaletto 3 times for dinner – very good food and service, I highly recommend the stuffed ravioli. Since my girlfriend and I were both celebrating our birthdays on this cruise– we left the men at home – we decided to go to the Pinnacle Grill on Le Cirque night. The service was a bit slow to begin with, but the food was impeccable. Quite unique was being served the soup at the table from a teapot. The time change wreaks havoc with your dining times as we were eating the Chateaubriand at 9 pm ship time, but for us it was 11 pm - made for a late night as we went to the show afterwards. Nice touch to have a Le Cirque memento gift waiting for us in our room that night.
Ports – Half Moon Cay – this was the best beach day – we rented a double clamshell but did not need to use it. The water was so blue and sand so fine and white. Barbecue lunch on the island was very nice, very tropical, but there’s something odd about eating bbq chicken while watching a rooster roam freely around the island.
It’s a long haul from HMC to Aruba with a sea day in between and my girlfriend had motion sickness. Gravol did not seem to be helping. A call to the front desk and they told us to eat a green apple, crackers and tea. This seemed to help.
In Aruba we took the Kukoo Island Tour & Beach Getaway. The bus tour operator was a lot of fun. The music was energizing and they gave each of us a maraca, which we all shook whenever we saw someone walking or jogging - but we could have done without the two stops at the chapel and the lighthouse. The beach was nice enough - the access path had a lot of debris and it looked like a public beach to me. I fell and scraped my knee on an 8” cement wall that was partially hidden in the sand on the way from the water to our beach chairs and noticed another lady fell hard right after me – they should place a pylon or something there. Luckily neither of us were hurt.
Curacao was very different than Aruba, very clean and colorful (and expensive). There is a fort with some shopping at the port. We took the pedestrian bridge and went shopping on our own.
In Cartegena, we took the horse and carriage excursion. This was my favorite port stop – it was pleasant, although very hot and no shade available on the carriage – sun screen and a hat are a must. There were about 20 horse/carriages and we paraded through the walled city. We were given ear pieces so we could hear the guide, which worked well. We stopped at The Dungeons which were converted to boutique-type shops. But outside the Dungeons, the street vendors were relentless.
At the Panama Canal, they opened the bow access on the 4th floor and we had coffee and Panama rolls there while watching the ship creep slowly towards the lock and go through the lock. It rained here lightly for about 15 minutes, otherwise it was nice weather.
We took the Panama Railway Dome Car & Motor Coach excursion. The dome car used to be an ice cream parlor in Jacksonville, Florida. This was a long day - it consisted of: taking a tender to the bus, a one hour bus ride to the train (there was a one hour delay on the train as they were repairing the track), one hour ride on the train, a one hour stop at a museum with a 10 minute 3D movie about the canal, then one hour bus ride to the ship. We did see the new lock doors which are ready, waiting for the expansion to be complete next year, and a lot of greenery. It was definitely impressive seeing the engineering and effort of it all but this excursion was long, a bit boring and quite expensive… We spoke to others who had stayed on the ship and they said it was a long day for them as well.
In Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, we went to the little market just at the port and made some souvenir purchases. We ventured out further towards downtown but it was very poor, dirty and someone was speaking very loudly, continuously on a loudspeaker – not sure what that was about so we went back to the ship.
We had a few medical incidences on this cruise. On the third day at sea, a passenger had to be airlifted by helicopter due to a heart attack. The Zuiderdam does not have a helicopter landing strip so he was literally hoisted into the helicopter and brought to Grand Turk. His wife had to wait til Aruba to get off and meet him in Grand Turk. There was another middle-aged lady who also had a heart attack - we saw the ambulance leaving, can’t remember which port this was at. At Panama we were delayed leaving for Costa Rica by 3 hours waiting for 8 buses (300 people) to come back from their excursion. It seems a sailboat hit one of the ferries and they had to make a report – luckily no one was hurt.
Entertainment – Yolanda and the HALcats were excellent – very entertaining – very good and different music each night. She said she was on The Voice. Carly and the HALcats were good too. Two magicians… one pretty good and one not as good. Heather Sullivan, who got on at Curacao, looked and sounded like Dusty Springfield and she was very good. Kevin, the steel drum player was excellent. Almost every day at 4 pm Kevin gave steel drum lessons which was ok but people were allowed to practice in the mid-ship pool area afterwards and this got old after a while…. time to hit the aft pool.
Debarkation was brutal – 2 ½ hours waiting in line to get off the ship – we were placed in the “non-USA” (International) line – we’re from Canada - apparently there was only one customs officer working for this line – then finally another 2 customs officers came and the line moved more quickly. Same thing for the bus to airport arranged through HAL – at each stop, there were wheelchairs to accommodate before anyone could get off. This was the longest I’ve ever had to wait to get off a ship or bus transfer.
This cruise had more than its share of wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes. There was a group of quilters on the ship so we met a lot of older, very nice ladies. Someone said the average age on the ship was 72. This made for slow-going in the Lido Buffet and getting off at the ports but it meant that there was never a problem getting a beach chair in the pool areas.