In this review, my family and I cruised on the Holland America Zuiderdam for the Panama Canal/Souther Caribbean 10 day cruise. The cruise visited Half Moon Cay (private island in the Bahamas), Curacao, Bonaire, Panama Canal/Colon, Panama, and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This was my second time on Holland America and my first time going to the Southern Caribbean as well as the Panama Canal. My last time on Holland was the Veendam for an Alaskan cruise. From my previous experience, I enjoyed the excellent service and fine cuisine. However, this time, I had some concerns with the Holland America service as well as the cleanliness of the ship. Otherwise, I had a great time with the Zuiderdam.
Check-in was good but there was one thing that bugged me. For some reason, when you enter the terminal in Fort Lauderdale, there is someone to check what kind of cabin you are in as well as the Mariner status. This created congestion. The person in front of me was not only a 4 Star Mariner but staying in a suite. Therefore, she was handed a special badge to let her use the priority check-in as well as board whenever she wanted. I think that they should have just given her the badge at the priority check-in counter. Otherwise, the check-in process was pretty smooth.
This was one of my biggest complaints. The Zuiderdam, even though it is 10 years old, looks like a cheap 1990s design. Also, because the ship uses a dark red color theme, it makes most of the areas darker than it should be. The ship look tired as well and in desperate need of a refurbishment. There were also areas that seemed dirty. I also found that the layout of the ship was okay, but not great.
I was book in a deluxe veranda on deck 6. The room had the basic touches but nothing really stood out. There was a small flat screen TV with a DVD player that I liked. I also enjoyed a small tub in the bathroom.
The veranda was great for which I spent much of our time there, especially when we visited the Panama Canal. However my biggest complaint was that our neighbors used their balconies to smoke. Unlike other cruise lines like Celebrity, guests can smoke on their balconies.
Continuing on my tirade about cleanliness, our room had many areas that were dirty. The bed had unusual stains on the sheets as well as the pillow. The pillow also had an unusual odor. The cups in the bathroom looked like it was not cleaned.
The food on Holland America was great. However, most of the meats had too much fat on it and I ended up eating only a couple of ounces. This was evident in the Vista Dining Room. I also enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill but the service was okay and the food was nothing much to say about. However on the "Le Cirque" night, the food was excellent and seemed like the ship was saving the best food for the "Le Cirque" night.
The Lido Restaurant was good as well but breakfast options were good but were a little bit boring after a while. The lunch buffet was good and did not see anything repeated. I loved the Indonesian buffet as well as other speciality lunch buffets. However, the desserts on the cruise seemed like it was pre-made from a supermarket chain.
I also dined at the Italian restaurant, Canaletto. I enjoyed it and it seemed too good to be true that it was complimentary.
My main complaint about the food was the presentation. To me it was very sloppy. Whoever cleaned the side of the plate seem to use a dirty cloth.
Another complaint I had was when I went to the Mariner brunch. I ordered a salad and the salad had a small insect. I informed my waiter and he just apologized and did nothing else. I was expecting him to ask me if I wanted something else but nothing came out. Furthermore, the service was not as great as other cruises I been on. My family chose "As you Wish" dining so we got a different waiter each night. Some of the waiters forgot our drink orders or served the wrong food to the wrong person. Also, it seemed as if the waiters had a chip on their shoulder or something. They also seemed rushed.
Entertainment on Holland was okay. The entertainment on Holland is not as great as entertainment on other ships like NCL. All the shows seem to lack a cohesive theme and seemed amateurish. Also, it seemed to target an older audience, since most of the ship had older passengers, so there was nothing new or current with all the shows. There was also an impersonator and singer, Jeff Trachta, of the "Bold and the Beautiful" fame. He was the best as he knew how to put on a show. There was also a comedian/writer, Marty Brill or Krill. He was an older man that to me was not funny and in fact only targeted the older audience. The last performer was Jeff Peterson, the magician with the dog. He was great too but everyone was really there for the dog.
Activities on board
On sea days, Holland kept me busy. I went to many of the cooking demonstrations and enjoyed it. Anise, the party planner, was brand new and looked very young. She was very nice and always had a smile on.
I also went to trivia sessions conducted by the young cruise director (more on him below).
I did not use the spas or go the technology sessions but it was great that Holland did not charge for technology lessons. I know that Celebrity charges guests on "how to use iTunes" which is very absurd.
The staff on the ship were generally nice and helpful. However, it seems as if Holland have not trained their staff to say "hello's" and "good mornings" when guests pass by. The cruise director, Jason Venner, had good presentation and personality. Unlike other cruise lines like Celebrity, he was involved in almost every activity, including conducting trivia sessions. He was not cold and and pretentious like Celebrity and did not rely on his CD staff to do everything. Furthermore, his CD staff was friendly and approachable.
Most of the cruisers on this ship were older guests. Some joked that it was a "floating senior citizen center" and was much cheaper than going to a senior citizen home on land. One of my complaints was that these older guests were very slow and seemed to be absent minded. I understand that they cannot go as fast but should be considerate of the other guests.
On a fine note, I praised Holland not for pushing or pressuring guests to buy things. I know on my previous cruise with Celebrity, there was a big push to buy wine, cookbooks, and other Celebrity items. There was a cookbook for sale but there was no pressure to buy it. In fact, one guest asked Anise, the party planner, where to buy it and she did not know herself. I was expecting her to make a sale on the spot.
One thing that bugged me was the ship was at the port, there was a rush and crowd to leave the ship. I was especially concerned in Curacao as I had a tour. I left 20 minutes before and was ten minutes late. Luckily there were others that were late as well. I thought that Holland could have handled the situation better.
Overall, I had a great cruise with the Holland America Zuiderdam. However, they need to reposition to a more modern image. The ship is not in bad shape it's just it looks very old, dated, and dark. They also need to work on their cleanness. My cabin steward should have noticed the stains and should have prevented me from seeing it. There also needs to be better training to handle my "insect" situation as I was not satisfied about my response.
Otherwise, I enjoyed seeing the Panama Canal and hope to see more of Holland America.