It was our 30th wedding anniversary cruise -â€" 18 months late. (that is another story, but lets say work schedule didn't work well). There were 4 of us in our "group", me and DH, my dad and a family friend who platonically shared a cabin (they are both widowed). We chose the HAL Zuiderdam because of the itinerary.
We have never been to the Panama Canal, and didn't have time, nor did we really want to go through the headache of a full transit -â€" so this cruise is perfect -â€" 10 days, including the Canal. What could be better.
The ship -â€" about a 7. It is showing its age, and needs the refurbish (hear it is going in next year). Areas of worn carpet, broken tiles, cabin had a cabinet with a broken door , restrooms on deck that were habitually out of order. Nothing major, just a little worn around the edges. We were on the Nieuw Amsterdam last Thanksgiving, and while the floorplan is very similar -â€" that ship seemed more open. Several of More
the lounges and other spaces seemed a bit closed off on the Zuiderdam. Regardless -â€" we enjoyed the ship. Not too big, not too small but as Goldilocks would say Just right. One pet peeve -â€" in the main lounge -â€" there are support poles on the floor. They really messed up sight lines and made it difficult to see the stage. Hope the update that -â€" pick seats carefully
Dad lives in Port St. Lucie so we drove from Tampa night before, got up the morning of the cruise, realized all our luggage wouldn't fit in one car (OK so I over packed) and ended up caravanning in two cars. We parked at Park and Go (I think that is the name). GREAT experience -â€" 5 minutes there, car well cared for and price was great. They schlepped the luggage for us.
Check in was painless and very quick -â€" then onto the ship. I'd give embarkation a 9. We were able to get to our room right away, lovely balcony one floor above the lifeboats. Spent many a night there enjoying the sound of the water on the ship hull. No noise or smoker smells for us. We had a problem with AC in our room. The fan kept blowing all the time so it was FREEZING. The thermostat on the wall (digital) had no numbers showing -â€" so it was broken. We ended up propping the balcony door open to make it liveable (note -â€" I am NEVER cold, so this was a biggie). Talked to cabin steward, hall steward, called front desk, went to front desk twice -â€" they fixed it two days in and from then on out all was fine! Cabin about a 6.5 (due to air issues, and broken cabinet). Lots of storage, and a small bathtub. Wow!
Off to the Lido for lunch -â€" jam packed, but we were able to find a table and get some food. The first two days of HAL staff having to serve you may be necessary -â€"but is really a pain in the neck and it slows things WAY down. Did the Lido deck most breakfasts and lunch. I give it an 8. The pasta station (they do it for you, with what you want) was a favorite for me. My DH loved the omelette station in the morning. Liked the asian station with sushi. I don't do sushi much, but the California rolls were great. Also mix a little wasabi with your asian dish -â€" yummy. Found grits on day two (I am a southern girl -â€" yummy). Fresh cookies and ice cream were the afternoon snack for us (with a late seating). They were great! Terrace grill (hot dogs and hamburgers) was good, but very disorganized. Almost always a line, people in back didn't seem to be communicating - between order taker and cook. Items on menu on wall were not available (chicken, lamb, low carb) -â€" but I loved me some burgers and fries while on the ship.
Dining -â€" We did the late seating in the Dining room. Had a table of 8 and met two other delightful couples who often cruised together. We had a BLAST at dinner. Our waiter (MAS) was great. Had some issues with the wine steward/drink guy for our section -â€" some of our group wanted the special shooter of the night and he messed it up two nights. Food was about an 8 -â€" 9 most nights. As with any cruise, it is hit or miss. The key is finding the HIT item of the night. Pasta was either really good, or not very good, not much in the middle. Fish seemed good most nights. Beef seemed very tenderized. Surf and Turf (lobster and filet) on formal night was GREAT. Loved most of the desserts. I will say that the vegetables with dinner were almost always spectacular. Cooked well (not too limp) and very tasty.
Entertainment -â€" 8 for the shows. 10 for the Piano Bar. More to come. We liked having a show after late dinner. It was always a gamble for us, as we were the last table to be served by our waiter. The crew shows were really well done, good talent, nice sets (see note before on columns in theater). Comedians were good, took a little time to "get" their humor but it worked. They had a guy who was an impressionist (and singer). HE WAS FABULOUS as an impressionist. Best I have heard and did at LEAST 50 voices.
OK, so my regular evening was dinner, show (say good night to my husband) then off to the casino. Play blackjack almost exclusively (or a version called fun 21). Actually came out ahead for the cruise which was nice. Nice dealers and great time with folks at the tables. Then off to the Piano Bar for sing alongs and listens.
Diane, the piano bar player and host was amazing. Talented musician, gracious with the group, always asking people for requests, and encouraging us to sing along. She even remembered all our names through the cruise. Note -â€" our cruise included the Adventure Bears Cruisers. A group of gay men , who cruise. They were a hoot, and I ended up in the Piano Bar with them several nights -â€" often singing show tunes and rock and roll. The last night Diane wrote a version of Billy Joel's Piano Man (Called Piano Broad) that referenced all the folks that had been on our cruise and in the Piano Bar with her, by name. Brilliant.
Shore Excursions -â€" Did a lot of our own thing -â€" 7. Seemed to have things for everyone.
Half Moon Cay -â€" Truly beautiful, but had been there last year, so didn't spend much time on the beach.
Culinary Center -â€" I went to many of the cooking classes that were offered and they were GREAT. Have some recipes (crÃ¨me brulee, jerk chicken) I'm itching to try soon. Jen was wonderful and the set up is really nice. Went to the "premier" wine tasting ($35 pp). I would recommend this. Had 4 wines and champagne with small appetizer tastes to use with the pairing. It was well worth it.
Summary -â€" loved the cruise. Enjoyed sea days and 10 days of cruising. Panama canal was amazing. A great celebration of our 30th anniversary. Less
Aruba -â€" did the ship tour of 4 wheel drive jeeps and beach. The jeep tour was great -â€" got to see most of the island, climb around, bounce around. However it was a 6 hour tour with no food -â€" that was no fun for my DH. We went to a local beach, where we swam, but the waves kicked up, the skies got dark and it rained. Back to the ship. Tour company did a great job. Might try to arrange something similar on my own next time.
Note on Panama Canal viewing -â€“ They tell you to go front on deck 4 for viewing. It was a mad house. I looked behind me and there were several decks with forward access. We went to deck 7 all the way forward- there was access (not usually open, just at canal) and it was fantastic. Got to see the traverse, without squishing someone else. I would recommend going forward on one of those decks. We did the Panama Canal Ferry tour -â€“ that took us through all the locks. Some folks have no manners on ships these days. Lots of running for pictures but blocking the sight lines for others (my pet peeve). I felt nickled and dimed on this tour - there was the lady selling Panama items on the boat (called the wal-mart). The guy who would take pictures of you on the bow of the boat with the locks in the background and make a certificate). Enough already. Good to see the locks and hear the history -â€“ once.
In Costa Rica we did a private tour with Eduardo of Your Lucky Tours. He was FABULOUS. Arranged it all by e-mail, he called me on my cell phone. Was there to pick us up exactly where he said. We did the Veragua Rain Forest Tour = which was fabulous. The ride up was bumpy -â€" but his vehicle was great. Lunch there was included and yummy. We then went to the canal and did the wildlife tour. Many animals similar to Florida, boat was not as "pretty" as ship boat, but had a great guide who found us lots of critters. We asked Eduardo about getting coffee -â€" we stopped in town at the local supermarket and picked up 5 lbs of coffee for about $25 (for gifts). Much better than on the dock and anywhere else. We did all of this for what the ship charged for one tour. Eduardo was great, and we would recommend him.