The Oct. 25 Zuiderdam sailing was enjoyable. The weather was mild, the food and crew were typical Holland America excellent. Ship's singing and dance company was very weak, but the comics and the steel band made up for it... Very good.
We took Amtrak from our home to Ft. Lauderdale and stayed in the Rodeway Inn. Cab from Amtrak ripped us off with a spiel about mandatory fares to motels, but the hotel was nice, clean and inexpensive. Breakfast was decent and the shuttle to the port was comfortable and free. The hotel manager regales you with jokes - some actually good - while you wait for the shuttle.
Boarding was smooth - although we took advantage of the accessible lines - and we got to our room quickly. Balcony was large, room was comfortable, bed was good. Zuiderdam is up for a renewal in the docks, and feels like it around the edges. Carpets are a bit worn, and some seats - as in the Queen's Lounge, are actually patched with duct tape. But it is clean and overall in good shape.
First stop was Half Moon Cay... Beaches... We're not beach people and stayed on board. Sea day was good with plenty of activities. We enjoyed breakfast on our balcony most days - great. We dressed a bit for formal nights, but many did not. It was OK but loses the formal flair when there are so many men without ties. It may be time to scratch formal nights altogether on Caribbean cruises at least.
Ships singers and dancers were mediocre at best. Perhaps they were new, but they never really hit the mark. However, the comics and steel band on other nights were enjoyable and made up for some of the troupe's failings.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaco... Dry, almost desert islands. Weather was hot. We took bus tours on Aruba and Bonaire - one through the ship and one at the dock. The one we got at the dock was better and cheaper, but the ship's tour wasn't too bad. We took the trolley train in Curaco. It was the cheapest of the ship's shore excursions, and it was still not worth it. You take a cab to the trolley, get a short ride, then - if you want to stay downtown and shop for just a few minutes, you have to catch your own cab back. You could walk, but we had a back pain flareup and that was not an option. We got rained on as well, but the heat made it pleasant.
The Panama Canal was fascinating. We saw most of it from our balcony - but took a few quick trips up to top decks for a better view. It is an amazing place. The shore excursions from Lake Gatun seemed overpriced and were rated pretty poorly on Cruise Critic, so we stayed on the ship. It was really neat to see the process through and back. The balconies give a great view.
Colon, Panama was as advertised... A poor and fairly restricted shopping area at the end of the pier. We grabbed a few souvenirs and hit the grocery there for some coffee. That was enough.
Costa Rica was interesting. We took the Enviro-Animal Rescue tour and saw the things advertised. A cautionary note, however, this tour requires a lot of walking - despite the description - and many elderly or walker-equipped folks had real troubles here.
Final sea days were pleasant. The Holland America crew was, as usual, excellent. They do seem to really try to help. During times of heavy demand, the Lido Deck does not have enough help and many elderly had real trouble getting food to their table. The chairs on the Lido are far too tight for large people. They do have a few larger chairs, but they are garish so that your status as a large person is heavily advertised if you ask for one... Although only the supervisors seem to know about them. The food in all the regular eateries was good - although the Lido could use some better labeling. We did not try the Pinnacle, but heard it was good.
The barrista in Explorations was really untrained. He had trouble with English and really did not know much about espresso drinks. He seemed fine on cold blended drinks, but could not make a cappuccino if his life depended on it. HA really needs to do some training there. A number of people made comments in my hearing. Prices, understandably, were quite low.
Disembarkation was smooth, and the US Customs people were half asleep when we went through and didn't even check our passports. They seemed irritated that we were there.
Overall the cruise was what we expected and up to Holland America standards. We will probably sail HA again in a few years. We still rank Cunard and Celebrity line at the top of our list, with HA next, but well ahead of Carnival and RCL. But that's just our opinion.