I'm a middle-aged experienced cruiser with 13 cruises under my belt. This cruise was my fourth with HAL and was fully up to HAL's usual high standards. The Zuiderdam ("Z") is the first in HAL's Vista-class of ships built in 2002. Now approaching 10 years old and a seasoned veteran of HAL's fleet. She is typical HAL where understated elegance abounds mixed with modern amenities and tradition. She is well maintained and not unlike any heavily used public venue/conveyance shows some wear patina in some areas and appears like new in others. There were no unaddressed maintenance issues that detracted from the overall cruise experience.
As to the crew, Z has one of the friendliest and attentive crews that I have experienced, with all members smiling and greeting you in some manner. The Z being a mid-sized ship by today's standards with a reasonably high crew to passenger ratio, many crew members will get to know you given a chance. HAL seems to use the formula of having servers who work the lounges in the evenings work the outer decks during the day. The person serving you in the piano bar may be the one getting your drinks in the hot-tub or finding you a table to sit at by the pools, they know you and give you extra attentive personalized service.
Diane Fast was our Piano Bar entertainer, a veteran of HAL's grand and world voyages. She was a gem, had an extraordinary range, and my fellow passengers kept her on her toes and up late at night (sorry to the cabins below her)! In addition to the traditional themes (1-hour intro to each evening) we had an open-mic night that was awesome. She had so much fun she wrote her version of Billy Joel's Piano Man - the Piano Broad, with verses about her experiences on our cruise. The singers and dancers also came in to meet her and join in the merry making which gave everyone a chance to mix with them when they were not up on stage in the Vista Lounge. It was a magical 10 days. The other entertainment on the ship was good, with typical HAL accents towards entertainment to dance to if you choose. With a 10 day itinerary there was a resident singing/dancing troupe (standards/broadway/lounge), Island Magic steel drum orchestra (awesome), comedian, illusionist, guitar soloist, jazz quartet, Halcats - modern swing/vocals, and the Adagio Strings.
Food on a cruise is one of the highlights, and HAL and the Z did not disappoint here. All dining venues have uniformly good selections of high-quality food. The main dinning rooms "MDR" menus were different every evening of the 10 day cruise with a variety to satisfy about any foodie - there was lobster offered 3 times during the 10 days, Alaskan crab legs, pheasant, quail, duck, veal, lamb, fish in addition a vegetarian and the other traditional beef, pork, chicken and pasta selections. All my dinners were cooked to the state of doneness requested and pleasingly presented. All the MDR fare is available for room-service during MDR hours as well. We also dined in the Pinnacle Grill twice and once for the Le Cirque dinner, all of which were outstanding. With HAL the regular MDR food is awesome, and the up-charge venues are "over-the-top" and a great value. The lido dining is uniformly good with main entrees being prepared in smaller batches to maintain freshness and being plated for you. Some of the extras on HAL at no-extra-charge are on-deck BBQs with grilled fish, roast suckling pig, and all the trimmings. Desert extravaganzas. Hand scooped ice cream (wide selection or rotating flavors), soft-serve, with all the toppings, warm bread pudding w/vanilla sauce. Panama Buns are served on the canal day as an extra treat, hot canapes in lounges at cocktail times, chocolates served in the Explorer's lounge with your after dinner cocktails.
The 10 or 11 day partial Panama Canal itinerary is awesome. The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel and worthy of the cruise just by itself - but I'm wired to be interested in that kind of thing. Puerto Limon in Costa Rica is an interesting agricultural port in a Country that is trying to make a difference in Central America. Aruba and Curacao of the ABC islands are resort destinations in of themselves and have great beauty, good infrastructure, history and culture in a higher-class environment from most caribbean nations as they are not poor or underdeveloped.
In conclusion, my 10 day cruise on the Zuiderdam was a relaxing cruise on a premium line where I was well pampered on an interesting itinerary with well traveled fellow passengers.