After reading several reviews on the state of the Zuiderdam, I expected to arrive to a rust bucket. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to the ship and my stateroom and everything was just to my liking. Yes, there are a few stains on the carpet and yes, there are some scuffs and marks in places. BUT, if I ran 2,000 people through my house 4 or 5 times a month and only had 5-6 hours to clean in between, no telling what repairs I would have to make. Heck, it is only me, my husband and two dogs and there are rooms that could use a fresh coat of paint. My point is, the state of the ship in NO way impaired our trip. Please don't let it ruin yours.
Embarkation was a breeze. We were on the ship in no time since we had priority boarding. Lunch was wonderful and our luggage was at our suite before we were.
Suite Amenities - Neptune Lounge was great for grabbing a snack and a Latte several times a day. The conciereges knew our names the first time we entered. Nice touch. They were always pleasant, but didn't always have the correct information and sometimes opted for politeness over real information. Breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill was great. Country specific breakfasts on the menu and very attentive staff. Our only complaint was the promise of priority tendering. Didn't happen, ever. Our traveling companions who are frequent HAL passengers complained and they couldn't answer why this didn't occur. They got a complimentary bottle of wine because of it. Free laundry service was very fast, but my husband's brand new shirt came back with a hole and a shirt of mine came back with an iron burn. Overall, though it was better that we could save room in our suitcases for souvenirs and have them do our laundry.
Ports - Half Moon Cay - My husband and TC's loved it. They did the AquaTraks and snorkeling. I opted for the Eco-Lagoon Tour. It was ok, I saw some lovely starfish, but wouldn't pay to do it again.
Aruba - Can't say enough about this port. If you are in the market for fine jewelry this is the port for you. We didn't schedule a ship excursion because we wanted to shop. After we were done, we hired a tour service that is right by the pier for a two hour tour of the island. A word to the wise, when you first get off the ship the price is $10 a person, later in the afternoon it jumps to $20 for the same tour, but we did it anyway. Edward was our driver and it was a great way to see the island. I would highly recommend it.
Curacao - Again, one of my TC's and I wanted to shop our companions did not. We sent them on a scuba trip. The guy was standing on the corner with a sign. $60 a person and off they went. Curacao is a beautiful island, but we were slightly disappointed in the shopping. Aruba is better.
Panama Canal - Wow this was the highlight of the trip. We didn't fight the crowds to go up on deck. We stayed on the Verandah and didn't feel like we missed a thing. We could step in the suite and see the front view from the ship's camera. Don't miss the Panama Rolls that they have that morning. Yummy! We did the Canal Experience Excursion. Would I do it again, no. Did I love it, yes. It was an EXTREMELY long excursion. Hour bus ride to the ferries and then I lost count of how many hours on the ferry and then depending on traffic 60-90 minutes back to the ship. We had to wait for another ship to enter the locks with us and it took forever. It was really hot and humid although there was a small air-conditioned room to go into. There is a sweet woman on board that sells souvenirs. If you want souvenirs from Panama, buy them from her because the excursion is notorious for running long and you will have no time to shop in Panama. Our buses were so late coming back, we got an escort from the Panamanian Police that took us directly to the ship. Smoking is allowed on the ferry and it is located by the restrooms, so if you are a non-smoker be prepared. It is not the smokers fault for the location of the designated smoking area and the restrooms.
Costa Rica - My husband and TC's went ziplining and I went to the Veragues Rainforest Conservation center. We all had a great time. The Rainforest tour is quite long and involves a lot of walking in high humidity and heat. Drink plenty of water if you go. Loved the shopping area across the street from the parking lot. Great deals. Be sure and haggle.
Days at Sea - There is always something to do. The magician and his dog Indy was especially fun. Ship board trivia was a hit. Loved the casino - watch for Mary Ann one of the waitresses there, she is a hoot. Then there was the spa. I had 8 services and loved each and everyone of them. The staff is wonderful. What I didn't appreciate is that there is an offer of 10% off 1st treatment 20% off 2nd, 30% off 3, BUT there are asterisks to denote services that aren't included in the offer and what do you know, full body and leg massages are not included and neither are salon services. So 8 services and not a single discount or thank you. It is not about the money. I wouldn't have booked the services if I was. The point is that there is no appreciation for a passenger that chooses to spend his/her time and money with them. Heck, a small bottle of massage oil would go a long way to feel appreciated.
Food - We ate on the Lido Deck, MDR, Pinnacle Grill and Room Service. The food everywhere was delicious. We particularly appreciated a cheeseburger and fries from the Terrace Grill after eating all the rich food in the MDR. The Pinnacle Grill was delicious and well worth the upcharge. Room service - Always early and piping hot. My husband and I are big coffee drinkers and instead of ordering a couple cups of coffee asked for a LARGE pot of coffee and that's what we got. Our only complaint was the desserts. Except for the Chocolate Decadence on Jacques Torres night, it was very sub-par. We even turned away a couple.
And to answer some of the questions popping up on the threads, no plumbing problems, no engine problems. We were on one of the first cruises post new HAL smoking policy. In the interest of disclosure we are smokers. Smoking is allowed in the casino, half of the sports bar by the casino, back of Lido deck, Observation deck outside the Cafe, about life boat 9 on Promenade deck and on the Verandahs. There may be more, but we really didn't seek them out. We never detected the smell of smoke in our room or in the hallways.
I think our biggest surprise on the ship was the general lack of etiquette and downright rudeness of the other passengers. We are in our late 40s and early fifties as are our TC's. We didn't mind the more senior nature of the cruise because all of our children are four-legged and furry. We thought that this generation who grew up in an era where manners were emphasized, would have common courtesy. Boy, were we wrong. I guess when a majority of them went on vacation, so did their manners. Cutting in front of us when we are talking to someone, blocking the views of the excursions despite instructions from the tour guide to sit down, busting from the back of the elevator to get out when we all want the same floor. We might have expected this on a Spring Break cruise, but not this one. Didn't ruin the trip and made for some funny stories afterward, but people please pack your manners with your formal wear.