The Cruise Critic member reviews are like oxygen for me when I consider booking a cruise, they are essential. This was my 26th cruise and my 5th on HAL. I admit I had concerns about the frequency and consistence of the negative comments about the condition of the Zuiderdam going into this cruise (10 day Southern Caribbean with a partial Panama Canal transit) but I was heartened by the good comments, so I took a chance. So to those that come after me...here are my thoughts...
1. The food is excellent! I was completely and totally blown away with the quality of the food in the main dining room (MDR) and the Lido. Service in the MDR was also excellent.
2. The ship is not falling apart. The elevators worked fine. One is out in the forward stack but those are worst ones to use anyway since they get the most traffic. Use the middle stack where there are 4 more outside elevators. Did not see one public bathroom out of service, nor hear of anyone having problems with the room toilets other than the occasion and quickly remedied issues caused by passengers flushing non-authorized objects.
3. The room...(suite), is well laid out, lots of drawer and closet space and the bathroom has both a shower and next to it is jetted bathtub which also has a showerhead. Honestly it is a waste of space, as the regular shower is so small you were dancing with the curtain if you used it, and the tub/shower was fantastic. The beds and pillows very comfy and the room was kept very clean by our outstanding room attendant.
4. The entertainment was the best I've experienced on any HAL cruise. Not one bad group. Two shout outs...the piano player Jim Fisher is exceptional (sadly he's leaving after this cruise...but will be on the Noordam soon) and the high quality of the shows in the main show room was a huge surprise!
5. Loved the private island!! It will be the best beach you'll see. Hint....order a clamshell online for 15 bucks before your cruise unless you like a lot of direct sun...or want to walk quite a ways down the beach so find some shade. They sell out quickly.
6. Be realistic about your expectations and be tolerate of your fellow passengers. HAL is not a 5 star line...and the beautiful and elegant people shown in the ads are paid actors. If you are a fitness fanatic or like a youthful crowd don't go on a HAL cruise. The average age was probably early to mid 70's. More of a surprise was the high percentage of morbidly obese and super morbidly obese (at least 30%) followed by obese (another 30%) then another 30% overweight. It made me confront my own prejudices on the matter...and I'm overweight. After all, it is there cruise too.
7. They care...they really do. Before leaving Puerto Limon they made the announcement for two missing passengers. The ship waited Â½ hour past scheduled departure then began pulling away. Once we are away the from the pier the Captain announced we were returning to the pier to pick them up...All witnessed by passengers the neighboring Island Princess who were hooting and hollering. Lucky passengers...since they would have had to fly all the way back to Fort Lauderdale which was our next and last port. Don't try this on your next cruise...and make sure when the ship changes time zones....you set your watch accordingly.
8. A cruise is a comfortable and convenient way to get in the sun, that is dollar for dollar cheaper than a land based vacation. Keep reminding yourself of that when something bugs you.
Now the negatives...
9. Some of the furniture in the cabins is very tried (true) and the carpet on some of the stairs is showing through especially near the dining rooms. She is far from a rust bucket but neither does she have the glow of youth. Not a big deal to me...but you did notice it.
10. BRING EAR PLUGS....The cabins are well soundproofed to noise from the other cabins but the ceiling panels in our cabin (6113) and many others (according to our room attendant) pop, squeak and groan very loudly in anything other than a calm sea. If I didn't have them I would have gone crazy, it was that loud.
11. Don't expect to see the officers on deck or circulating amongst the passengers. What I read before I cruised was true....they are nearly invisible. When you do see them they slink past you as if you weren't there. When we were docked next to the Island Princess in Puerto Limon...we saw more of their officers in several hours walking their promenade and lido decks...then we did ours the entire cruise. I've been on "happy ships" where the officers and staff strive for excellence on each cruise and enjoy interacting with the passengers. This wasn't one of them.
11. While the food in the Lido (buffet) is surprisingly good the service was generally quite poor. Not having trays isn't as much of a problem as is no set-ups (silverware) on the tables much of the time, or in spots where the passengers could easily find them. Throughout the Lido generally the staff was either scowling and ignoring you or singing to themselves and ignoring you. Never have I rated a service person on HAL as a poor on the survey until this cruise.
12. Canaletto: The reservation only no additional fee Italian Restaurant was a major disappointment in food and service. My entree was so over salted I could only manage a few bites (and I cook with a lot of salt). My friend's pasta dish was dull but tolerable. A bit of extra parmesan cheese would have helped but it was not available..(really??) When I told the waiter that the dish was inedible he didn't offer another entree or to get the manager, he simply removed it...and I sat there with nothing. It was so absurd it was actually sort of funny. As it turns out it has the same manager as the Lido who was nowhere to be found as I was leaving. Another "poor" on the comment card.
Final Thoughts: The Zuiderdam offered a very solid product and the positives clearly outweighed the negatives. While I'm still a bit off put by the zombie like quality of the officers, number 8 above remains true...and that is...a cruise is a comfortable and convenient way to get in the sun that is dollar for dollar cheaper than a land based vacation. Keep reminding yourself of that when something bugs you.