This was our first cruise on Holland America. We were traveling with another couple.
Previously we have cruised on Royal Carribean, Princess, and Celebrity.
We found the Zuiderdam to be quite a beautiful ship.
Embarcation at Ft Lauderdale was a bit slower than we have experience with other cruise lines. On the way to check in you are given a group number. After checking in and receiving our cruise cards we had to wait until our group number was called. Our wait was approximately 30 minutes before we could board. With our other cruises, you could board as soon as you checked in.
Once on the ship we headed for the Lido buffet and lunch. The buffet was well arranged with a wide variety of foods. Service was a bit slow at the self service drink location because an attendant was filling and distributing drinks.
We originally opted for any time dining. However, after our first night of trying to get seated at a table for four and waiting over a half an hour, we opted for the Italian Resturant on deck 9. The second night for anytime dining wasn't much better. When we finally were given a table it was right next to one of the food service stations. After a brief discussion with the head waiter we were given another table away from the food service area. After these problems we requested and were assigned a table at the 8 PM seating. This was not the best option because we did not want to dine at 8 PM. However, you only have a choice of the 5:30 seating or 8 PM seating. For our party of four the anytime dining did not work on Holland America as it has on other cruise lines.
We also tried the Pinnacle Grill one night on the Zuiderdam and were disappointed. The decor in the Pinnicle Grill was well done and inviting. Howver, it took 2-1/2 hours to finish our meal due to extremely slow and unattentive service. Paying the extra $20 per person did not result in a fine dining experience. The Caesar Salad was made table side with a premixed Caesar dressing which tasted like it came from a bottle. The lettuce was warm and the crouton were tasteless. While my filet mignon was cooked perfectly, my wife's lobster tail was cooked with an excessive amount of salt.The highlight of my wife's diner was the baked Alaska desert. After this experince our party of four decided to stay with the main dining room on deck 2.
The food in the main dining room was quite good. However, Thanksgiving dinner did not turn out as expected. My wife ordered the turkey dinner and received two small slices of turkey, a small dab of tasteless dressing, a dollop of what was supposed to be cranberries, and some mashed potatoes. Needles to say this was a poor excuse for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. I ordered the beef entree and was satisfied.
Most other lines we have cruised with sell a soft drink card for endless soft drinks. Holland America handles w this a different way and sells a prepaid cash card. You pay $25 and get a card preloaded with $50. So basically you are paying half price for a soft drink. This assumes you completely deplete the value of the card by the end of the cruise.
Our excursion to Half Moon Cay did not turn out well. We attempted to rent a paddle boat which turned out the be defective and in the process of returning it
to shore, managed to capsize it and ruin a camera. The second paddle boat wasn't much better and we returned it early. The ship's excursion desk was very helpful and refunded the excursion fee because of our problems.
We didn't do much in Aruba and mainly walked around the area near the dock.
In Curacao we walked around the town and took the the Atlantis semi-submersible boat around the reef. Unfortunately it was an overcast day and the colors were muted and we did not see many fish. However, when the diver started feeding the fish, he was swarmed.
The Pamama Canal Excursion was the highlight of the trip. The Zuiderdam went through the locks to Gatlin Lake and disembarked passengers going on canal excursion. We took the Canal Excursion to the Pacific on a ferry. We were tendered to a yacht club and then bused an hour to where we met the ferry. Once on the ferry were transited the remaining locks to the Pacific Ocean. It rained on and off on this trip and approximately 300 people were on the ferry. Not only was it crowded, but also quite wet. The ride back to the ship docked at Colon was exciting to say the least. It was raining heavily and our driver was driving agressively. Fortunately we made it safely back to the ship on time. The canal experience was well worth the inconvenience of the rain.
Our next stop was Limon in Costa Rica. Through some folks on the Cruise Critic board for our cruise, we took an independent tour with Your Lucky Tour and Eduardo Humphries. We were picked up in an air conditioned van outside the dock area. Nine of us were on this tour. Our first stop was the Tortguero Canal. We cruised the canal in a small outboard boat and viewed the local wildlife closeup. After the canal we drove to the Jaguar Rescue Center. Along the way Eduardo stopped the bus so we could photograph three local kids displaying two sloths and a small howler monkey. At the rescue center we did not find any jaguars mainly because none were currently staying at the center. However, a number of howler monkeys, several sloths, racoons , various poisonous snakes (in cages)and tucans were available for viewing. The center is run by a couple involved with rescuing these animals and returning them to the wild. It was the highlight of this tour. Because we were short on time and it was raining off an on we chose not to do any beach time at Cahuita National Park. If you plan to do this adventure, be aware that the road in certain parts of Costa Rica are very bumpy and full of pot holes. Fortunately Eduardo has a sturdy van and a good driver. This is a tour for adventurous people.
All in all we enjoyed our 10 day Panama Canal cruise on the Zuiderdam.