On Wed., Oct. 14 we flew from Houston, TX to Ft. Lauderdale, FL very early in the morning. Had a little "weight" problem with one bag and had to do some shuffling from one bag to another...they were real sticklers on weight! Took a taxi from the airport to the cruise terminal, but detoured by the Publix store to pick up a 10-day supply of Dr. Pepper. That cost quite a few extra dollars on the taxi meter!! There was a CVS right on the corner on 17th St. & Cordova which would have been much more convenient and cheaper in the long run. I'll remember this for next time! By the time we got to the cruise terminal, a two-mile $10 taxi ride cost us almost $30.
We arrived about noon, along with about ' of all the other passengers boarding the Zuiderdam. There was a very, very long line out the door at the terminal, all the way down the sidewalk and extending almost around the corner...out in the hot sun. The line didn't move very fast but once we were inside, the lines moved pretty quickly. The staff was very friendly & helpful.
Once on the ship we went directly to our cabin to drop off our carry-on things, then up to the Lido for a wonderful lunch. The Lido has different "stations" for various types of food selections...Asian, Pasta & Pizza, Bistro, Deli, Salads, Drinks, Ice Cream & Desserts. All of these food "stations" are on both sides of the ship, so it was never terribly crowded at any one place. At the Lido pool (inside/outside retractable roof) was the Terrace Grill which offered hamburgers & hot dogs, french fries & potato chips, as well as the taco bar. The whole time we found the food to be quite tasty, a good variety, and something was available almost any time of the day or night. Hand-dipped and soft-serve ice cream is available off and on throughout the day and evening, and they have lots of yummy toppings to choose from too. One of the very first things we learned after we boarded the ship is the correct pronunciation of the ship's name...Zider-dam. With that lesson learned, we were ready for the highlight of the cruise...the lifeboat drill! It was handled in a very efficient and expeditious way and we were free to go about our business in just a few minutes. Since we planned to eat around 6:00, we went back to the cabin to freshen up and get ready for dinner.
When we returned to our cabin, we noticed that it wasn't very cool at all; reported it to our cabin steward and went on about our way. Our cabin was one of the lower-priced inside cabins on Deck 1, and the cabin was basically square. It was very roomy, quite comfortable, had a great sofa & small table, and we found it to be an extremely convenient location. My biggest complaint about the cabin was the TV was mounted to the wall facing the sofa, and it didn't swivel at all, so we couldn't watch TV from the bed...most disappointing! Very, very comfortable bed and I loved the pillows! Also the lighting at the vanity table was so dim you could hardly do anything there that involved seeing...I'm talking really, really dim. As long as I'm listing my complaints (which aren't really so major!), our hair dryer was the pits. It wasn't powerful at all and blew only barely warm air. Hair dryers in the upper cabins might have been better. And my last complaint was the shower curtain. The inside liner was basically clear, but the outside curtain was deep orange. With the shower curtain closed, it was so dark in the shower you literally couldn't see. We brought clothes pins, and we folded the orange curtain up to the top and clipped it up there; then we could easily see in the shower. Don't know if the more expensive cabins had the same shower curtains, but the clothes pins was a great solution to a very fixable problem. I will say that they furnished wonderful Elemis bath products...shampoo, conditioner, lotion & shower gel. The lotion smelled heavenly and I used it all the time!
I am unbelievably "directionally challenged" and I made a brilliant discovery after exploring the ship the first afternoon. I can't ever remember which is the front and which is the back of s ship. Well...the stairway carpets are color-coded on this ship, and you can always tell where you're located by the color: Bright RED stairway carpet -- FORWARD (red ahead) BLUE stairway carpet -- MID-SHIP BURGUNDY stairway carpet -- AFT (burgundy back) Sounds awfully primary, but it sure helped me for 10 days!!! I called the Lido pool the polar bear pool (because it has a polar bear in it!). It's the pool with the retractable roof and food is served out there every day. There are also three hot tubs at this pool. The Lido pool is actually mid-ship; forward from there on the Lido deck is the spa & gym. The gym is hard to find and inconvenient. Because of this it was more or less intimidating to me, and consequently I didn't use the gym at all.
The Sea View pool is at the VERY back (aft), has two hot tubs, and the Lido Restaurant is between the two pools. Once I got my mind wrapped around this concept, I didn't have any trouble locating these key places on the Lido Deck.
Hand sanitizer units are mounted on walls everywhere, absolutely everywhere, and we saw people using them all the time; I found that encouraging.
Drink stations all had ice, lemonade, tea, water, coffee (reg. & decaf) and hot water for tea (large variety available) and Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets. They had packets of sugar, Equal, Sweet 'n Low & Splenda.
At breakfast, a huge variety of juices were available, and the orange juice was fresh squeezed. It was so tasty & delicious, I don't know if I can ever drink the concentrate stuff again!
We had Any-Time Dining, for the first time ever, and really loved it. The first two nights the service was the slowest we've ever seen. We were in the dining room over two hours both nights and missed the first 15 minutes of the entertainment the second night. After the second night, the service got much better and dinner usually took an average of 1.5 hours...much better! We thought the food was excellent and had no trouble at all finding something on the menu that appealed to us. My husband was disappointed that shrimp cocktail was not available every night on the "Alternative" menu, but he did get his fill of shrimp before the cruise was over.
The entertainment the first night was the Zuiderdam singers & dancers, along with Shane the CD, doing a spoof on game shows. It was different from anything we'd ever seen and really was pretty cute. We were tired that night and went to bed immediately following the show.
Thurs., Oct. 15 -- Arrived in Half Moon Cay about 8:30; accessing the island by tenders. After 10:00 tickets were no longer necessary and we found a fairly short line that moved quickly once the tender arrived. It was a very short ride over to the island. Half Moon Cay had the most beautiful beach & water I've ever seen; the beach was groomed immaculately. Beach lounge chairs were provided everywhere and we were given a beach towel as we left the ship. We swam in the beautiful clear water for a while then had lunch at the beach barbeque. They had all sorts of delicious choices of meats (hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ, chicken & fish), salads (marinated bean, Greek, green), fresh fruits, vegetables and potato chips. Beverages (tea, lemonade & water) were served in another pavilion area, as well as cookies & brownies. Beer was available for purchase also. There were plenty of picnic tables in a number of different covered pavilions, all very close to the area where the food was served. Chickens roamed around freely while we ate! Walking around you could stay on a paved walkway or take off in any direction in the sand. There was a small outdoor shopping area with various crafts & souvenirs. A tram was available to transport people over to the picnic area, and restrooms were located in several convenient places, as well as outdoor showers. The last tender back was at 2:30; we returned to the ship about 1:30, tired from a wonderful time at Half Moon Cay...then took a nap.
Entertainment tonight was Jeff Taveggia, a juggler. This was probably our least favorite show...when you've seen one juggler you've seen them all!
Fri., Oct. 16 -- Today was a sea day; had a very nice Cruise Critic gathering in the Crow's Nest at 11:00 a.m. The cruise line provided light refreshments including some cocktails. The Captain, Cruise Director, Hotel Mgr., Beverage Mgr. & Guest Relations Mgr. were all there and each spoke briefly and answered questions. Many thanks to Candy for putting it all together and making the arrangements!!! It was nice to put faces to some of the screen names we've been communicating with for the last few months.
We reported again that our cabin wasn't very cool. They came and checked it, said it was "normal", but we still weren't satisfied with the temperature. They said they'd check it again. Royal Dutch High Tea was served from 3:00-4:00 in the dining room. I didn't go but saw it all set up and it looked very nice. Checked back at the cabin again and the room was much cooler. The front desk called twice to ask us if we were satisfied. We were impressed with their customer service. This was our first formal night...no lobster. The show tonight was the HAL Singers & Dancers doing "Stage & Screen"; very talented & hard-working group of young people. We enjoyed their talent & energy.
Sat., Oct. 17 -- We had a medical emergency on the ship and needed to get to Aruba as quickly as possible, so the captain shifted that puppy in high gear and we arrived at 9:00 a.m. instead of noon. That gave us three more hours to enjoy Aruba. We docked along-side, which makes it so much easier to come & go on & off the ship as you please. We left the ship about 10:00, without our umbrellas or rain poncho...big mistake! About 10 minutes later the bottom fell out. We were just shopping in town and after trying to dodge the rain for about 30 minutes, we chose to make our way back to the ship...and didn't get off again that day. We watched the Texas/OU football pre-game on ESPN...unfortunately the game wasn't carried on ESPN so we didn't get to see it, but they gave scores and game up-dates on ESPN very often. The weather cleared up mid-afternoon, which was good for all those out on shore excursions.
The entertainment tonight was The Filipino Crew Show. We didn't get to the show but watched it on TV the next day...not my favorite.
Sun., Oct. 18 -- Arrived in Curacao about 8:00 a.m. but we didn't even get off the ship. We looked over the town from the ship, then thoroughly enjoyed the half-empty ship the rest of the day. We continue to enjoy meeting new people and making new friends each night at dinner. At 5:00 p.m. we attended the interdenominational church service in the Hudson Room. This is something we've never had the opportunity to do before. The guy who was speaking said he was told there would probably be about 10 people there; there were 30 people. The service very simple, quite nice; had a brief message, sang several songs, said several prayers and it lasted about 30 minutes; very glad we went.
Entertainment tonight was a steel drum band, Island Magic. They were so totally awesome, I just can't tell you how wonderful they were. They had the audience totally mesmerized with their music.
Mon., Oct. 19 -- Getting closer to the Canal all the time. We're already making plans what time to get up, where to stake our claim for a good view, etc. for tomorrow. Today is another sea day and will be a "lazy day" for us in preparation for the early & long day tomorrow. Tonight is the second formal night. Lobster Thermidor on the menu for dinner...don't be fooled into thinking this is "lobster night"...the stuff was awful! Pina colada creme brulee was totally awesome for dessert and more than made up for it tho. The HAL Singers & Dancers entertained again tonight and as usual, were wonderful.
Tues., Oct. 20 -- Today was the BIG DAY...Panama Canal. We had no shore excursions booked; just stayed on the ship to experience the complete transit experience from the ship, both ways. I got up at 5:15 and was up in the Lido getting coffee and some breakfast before 6:00, and watched the sun come up. It was very cloudy and not much of a sunrise, but it was so peaceful & nice outside at that hour. Going thru the first time (which actually happened about 7:00) my husband & I positioned ourselves on Deck 9 at the very back of the ship, out by the Sea View Pool. I pulled a small table over to the edge, with two chairs, and we were quite comfortable sitting there and standing right there at the rail. This was a great place to see the back view and take pictures from that perspective. Captain Turner had recommended that the best place to be was on the bow on Deck 4, in the crew only area that they open up for passengers during the transit time. Since all passengers were on the ship going thru the first time, we knew this area on Deck 4 would be unbelievably crowded; that's why we chose to be at the back. Many passengers got off the ship for shore excursions when we reached Gatun Lake, and the ship wasn't nearly as crowded coming back thru the locks. As we headed back thru, we chose to position ourselves on the bow on Deck 4, and get pictures from the front this time; good move. The ship's crew had put up a tent with chairs, they had cold water for us, and they even set up a little mini-bar there with some specialty drinks available to purchase. It really is quite a large area, but space around the railing is limited, and that's where you have to be to see everything. We made it back thru the locks and were on our way to Cristobal by 2:00. I got off the ship at Cristobal and shopped for a while in the market at the pier. It was really quite a large area, all inside, and they had lots of beautiful hand crafts as well as shops with jewelry, liquor, perfume, souvenirs & sundries. The building had a bar or two also. We were running low on my husband's Dr. Peppers, and they aren't to be found anywhere in that area, so I picked up some Diet Coke & Diet Pepsi there, to tide us over for the remainder of the cruise. Several groups of Panama natives did dances for tips in the shopping straw market area; quite interesting.
The entertainment tonight was James Ceilen, illusionist, and his wife Isabella. When you've seen one juggler you've seen them all...however, not so with illusionists. This guys was amazing. His wife helped him a little, but she had her own talent and performed an acrobatic-type act on two long flowing sheers hanging from the ceiling. She was amazing too. Their two children were with them on the ship, two & four years old. I saw the Ceilen family 3 or 4 nights in the dining room, and twice the children came to dinner in their pajamas...it was hilarious.
Wed., Oct. 21 -- We got up very early to eat a good breakfast; had a great shore excursion booked for 8:00 a.m.; the only shore excursion we book on the entire cruise. As we were eating we were just coming into port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica which was our last port. It was a beautiful day. The captain came over the PA and announced that because of a dock workers strike there, we wouldn't be able to dock there and would have to leave. He came back a few minutes later and said they were trying to work something out and to don't give up hope just yet. We watched from the Lido deck as two of our ship officers talked on the dock with their port authorities & dock workers representatives. It started out being just two from the ship and two of "them". But as time went by the crowd grew, and more of "their people" began getting involved. The action was all taking place right beside and around the gangway to the ship, which was on Deck A mid-ship. I went down to Deck 3, the lowest outside deck, and watched at the rail directly above where the negotiations were going on. We weren't close enough to actually hear what was being said, but we could see expressions on their faces and could tell that these guys weren't happy...the natives were restless! It wasn't long before Captain Turner himself joined the growing group outside. By now, more dock workers had eased on down toward the gangway, including a one-armed guy riding a bicycle. He, as well as a few others in their group appeared to be quite vocal; some it appeared were listening more than they were talking. All this time, we weren't even allowed to tie up at the pier...we were basically sitting right beside their dock treading water. By now several security officers from the ship were out there too; each contingent was growing. At first, the Costa Rican representatives were nicely dressed professional looking men, one even carrying a briefcase. As time went on, by the time the others had made their way to where the action was, there were some very rough looking characters in the crowd. Talking continued, cell phones were being used by both "sides", as well as walkie talkies among the ship representatives. All of a sudden, Captain Turner turned and briskly walked up the gangway, quickly followed by all the other officers/staff/crew and two of the crew immediately hauled in the gangway. In just a brief minute or two the ship started slowly easing away from the dock. Shortly the captain came over the PA and said he was talking to headquarters in Seattle and cruise line officials were talking to the Puerto Limon Port Authority officials and they were still hoping to work out something at that level. But in the meantime the Puerto Limon dock workers wanted our ship gone and because of their agitation, everyone involved felt it was best to continue any further negotiations with the ship a safe distance out, away from the dock & their people. All efforts failed and we were headed toward Ft. Lauderdale by mid-morning. Captain Turner came back over the PA and completely explained everything to the passengers, very openly and honestly. He was most apologetic and extremely disappointed, but he said that he could no longer be assured of the safety of passengers if we were allowed to go ashore, and that was unacceptable to him. He told us our port tax for that port would be refunded back to our account and that complimentary champagne would be served in all dining rooms at dinner. The staff made arrangements for many new activities to take place all day and they printed a new Daily Program and distributed to all cabins before noon. It was a very unfortunate thing for us all and there were certainly lots of extremely disappointed passengers. Well, the situation is what it is and we have to live with it...I took a good long nap this afternoon!
Entertainment tonight was Tony Cherry, a singer. He was quite good; sang hit songs of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Englebert Humperdink, Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis impression, and MANY more and he sounded exactly like each of them...exactly. He was really quite talented.
Thurs., Oct. 22 -- This was a lazy relaxing day at sea. Went to the "Celebrity Cook-Off" in the Culinary Arts Center; very entertaining & fun. At 11:30 we went to the Mariner's Society brunch in the Vista Dining Room. Quite nice, excellent food, served wine, gave each guest a lovely little gift. This is the third and last formal night...still hoping for "lobster night". Well...it finally happened...lobster tonight. Surf & turf was the "biggie" on the menu and most people who ordered it asked for two lobster tails. Oh my goodness it was fabulous!!! Entertainment tonight was the final performance from the HAL Singers & Dancers in "DreamPark". Very good! At 9:00 p.m. I went to the Love & Marriage Game Show; it was nothing short of totally hilarious. At 10:30 they had the Dessert Extravaganza on the Lido Deck by the pool. The desserts were fabulous, the presentation was so spectacular. I just don't know how they do some of the things they do...what talent!
We received a plate of beautiful chocolates this afternoon, with a note from Guest Relations, apologizing for our air conditioning problem the first two days. Oh my goodness...talk about customer service! Gestures like this will go long way in enticing people to cruise with HAL.
Fri., Oct. 23 -- Last day, packing day...sad day! Steel Drum band Island Magic had another show at 3:00 this afternoon; the Vista Theater was packed and overflowing. That made the day better! The theme of dinner tonight was "Dinner Theater". The dining room staff put on a special "show" for us and topped off the dinner experience with a showy presentation of Baked Alaska for dessert. It was pleasantly entertaining, the food was excellent, and we were about to burst when we walked out of the dining room! Quite an appropriate grand finale after ten fabulous days on the Zuiderdam.
The entertainment tonight was a "Farewell Variety Show" featuring Tony Cherry and James & Isabella Ceilen. Once again, they were fantastic.
In summary, for my husband & me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime cruise. The Panama Canal is something that is difficult to "explain" to someone, it's just something that one has to "experience". I don't know how our cruise could have possibly been any better or nicer than this cruise on the Zuiderdam. It wasn't perfect, but no cruise experience is perfect; there's always some little something that you would like to improve or change. But this cruise not only met all my expectations, it far exceeded them, and I would consider that a very successful cruise experience by any standards.
Happy Sails to All... kruzkween