The cruise destinations to the Panama Canal (history), Costa Rica (rainforest), Aruba (snorkeling), Bonaire (more snorkeling) and Bahamas were amazing and made the cruise for my wife and I. However, there were several HAL service-related issues that detracted from the overall cruise experience. There were also differences in approach that I found disappointing with HAL from other cruise lines. In this review, I will first list the significant positives and negatives experienced on the HAL Zuiderdam (and leave the adequate cruise items unmentioned).
- The food on the Zuiderdam was excellent - above average for a cruise ship with only one meal that was sub-standard. The HAL staff quickly offered to swap that one meal out for a better one so no issues here.
- Lifestyle staff were quite fun and I enjoyed activities on sea day. I especially liked the aqua aerobics classes but there were many classes to appeal to differing tastes.
- Our cabin stewards and dining staff were always courteous and helpful and acted professionally. No issues with anyone we came into contact (so excellent quality control staffing).
- The Historical talks lead by the Excursions team were exceptional -â€“ best sessions I've ever had onboard any ship. The presenter was knowledgeable and excited to prepare cruisers for their upcoming shore visits. The detailed presentations on technical and historical aspects of the Panama Canal were the best.
- HAL excursions were reasonably priced and well executed (particularly the full transit excursion through the Panama Canal).
- The food service was very slow. While they have implemented "Dine as you Wish" cruise dining (where the allow people to eat in the main dining area whenever they want), there were long lines and slow service for any time that my wife and I selected during the 10-day cruise. I suspect this issue is that the galley (kitchen) of the Zuiderdam was designed for banquet seating and not restaurant-style dining (Dine as you Wish) which requires a different galley configuration. Regardless of the issue, the wait time for dining every night was significant and discouraging.
- Sanitation for boarding the vessel and before dining was inadequate. I regularly use hand sanitizers but there was not one insisting that everyone sanitize before coming onboard (so germs from airports, hotel lobbies, cabs were untreated). There were no HAL staff members insisting before entering dining areas that hand sanitizers are used (at least for the first few days).
- Decorations and designs within the ship were rather old with worn carpeting around stairwells and meeting areas. My wife hated to be in our cabin since the yellow colors and old designs were depressing to her.
- Air condition in our cabin (Port side, Forward, Interior Cabin) was inadequate and barely able to keep up in the Caribbean temperatures in December. We had the thermostat set at the maximum cold value for most of the cruise. If you take the Zuiderdam during September or October, it must be unbearably hot. Repairman were everywhere dealing with engineering issues on this ship.
- Entertainment was unimaginative with just random dancing set to music appealing to older Americans (65 and older). The externally contracted steel drum band and the comic were excellent but overall, the ship's entertainment was disappointing as compared with other cruise lines. The HALcats (a band in a smaller bar setting) was good except the bass player who frequently played wrong notes (with other band members grimacing with each mistake). HAL Entertainment should have vetted this new performer for his musical abilities or adequately trained him prior to the sailing (quality control issue).
- Senior HAL management was not present around the ship as with other cruise lines. There were several lower level supervisors and managers but senior leadership was rarely accessible and never seemed to be around for minor or major concerns.
- An issue with the Internet CafÃ© (no connectivity for the last three-days for Mac and iPhone users) went unresolved. When I asked for a partial refund of my unused Internet minutes that I paid for, I was told "No" by several staff despite my inability to upload photos from my iPhone to social media sites (my reason for getting the larger plan). No support for cruisers by HAL management when an honest issue exists with a vendor onboard ship. Just heard that they're a vendor -â€“ nothing we can do. Disappointing that HAL management does not take responsibility for vendors that allow onboard their vessels.