We 3 adults cruised on the Holland America Zuiderdam for the Panama Canal/Southern Caribbean 10 day cruise. The cruise visited Costa Rica (Puerto Limon), Panama Canal (Gatun Lake and Colon), Aruba, Bonaire, Half Moon Cay and back to Fort Lauderdale.
We flew into Ft Lauderdale the evening prior to the cruise and arrived late that evening. We stayed the night at Homewood Suites Ft Lauderdale. We were too late for their dining room and there are no nearby restaurants. We were prepared for this so it was not a problem.
This hotel is adequate for an overnight stay, has a shuttle from the airport and supplies an excellent cooked breakfast. The hotel was clean and friendly, good value though you have to pay for the shuttle to the port. Would stay there again.
Embarkation was easy as we arrived early, latecomers had extended waits. Transfer of luggage was simple(and quick)and they allow you to take wine on board.
We stayed in a Superior Verandah Suite (cat SY) (6066) which had a large Queen bed (which could be 2 singles)and an excellent Single bed (from sofa)and plenty of space. It had both a shower and bath, good plentiful supplies of body wash,shampoo & conditioner (no need to bring your own - unless you have special hair). Excellent balcony that only became unusable in severe weather. Wonderful sunrises from this cabin on the way South. I guess it would be the same for sunsets on the reverse itinerary, but you would obviously have to be on the other side of the boat. The balcony was spacious for all 3 of us to be on it at the same time - with coffee or tea or wine - depending on the time of day.
Many critics have complained that the ship is "garish" and has old paintwork - pay no attention to them - I did not find this to be the case. The decor may not be your taste but look at the pictures on line - I liked it. The paint may be "tired" but on the whole ship looked very nice and was clean.
Fellow Passengers - were from all walks of life and several countries. This ship was NOT full of oldies and walking frames. Most were middle aged or retired + some children. An enjoyable group.
Dining - we mainly used the Lido Restaurant which is self service and at busy times had long lines. The food was excellent and varied. We used the Vista dining room on many evenings. We did not book in advance and it you were seated fairly quickly in spite of the ship being full. It was unusual to have to wait as long as half an hour, in that case they sent you off and gave you a time to come back. My only misgiving was being seated right at the stern in really rough weather. It was noisy (engines) and bumpy - we felt unwell and were moved further forward. You could choose whether to join a group or have your own table. Service and food were excellent - we never left hungry!
When we had an early start we booked an in-room breakfast. It always arrived on time - though there was an occasional minor error in the order. The system worked well.
The ship recommended excursions were quite expensive, however they were very enjoyable.
Costa Rica. We were not enamoured with HA's offerings so went with William to the Tortuguero Wildlife Tour. The main complaint about the ship's tours is that they are expensive and take you in large boats. This tour costs just as much and goes for just as long - but in a small boat (just the 3 of us)- brilliant.
At Panama 2 of us took the "The Canal Experience to Colon". Absolutely brilliant especially for those who are amazed at the engineering and want to say that they have traversed the canal. It poured with rain when we went but that did not diminish the experience. Views were much of what you would expect on a canal - not brilliant!
1 of us took the "Authentic Embera Indian Village to Colon". We read up on this extensively before embarking on this trip. A zoom up the river in a real dugout canoe followed by an "authentic" village - amazing experience for those who prefer people and cultures to mechanical marvels. (I hear a boy /girl division here). It seems that villages near the port are less authentic and the ones further away are more so. Holland America probably uses the furthest available. All were impressed.
In Bonaire we took the "Mangrove Boating Eco-Adventure", basically we thought we might see some wildlife - all we saw were mangroves. I guess you can't complain seeing that "mangrove" is in the title, but "adventure" is really a misnomer - boring
In Aruba we just meandered about but took a local trip around the island which was great and only $20 each.
If you snorkel or dive the last 2 destinations were wonderful (according to guests we spoke to)
Half Moon Cay - just a beach but with Holland America standards of cleanliness and dining. Actually went to the rest room in bare feet and felt I didn't have to sanitise my whole body afterwards. Hired a clam-shell which was essential for sun and/or rain. Extremely relaxing and didn't feel crowded.
We had a plane to catch so we took the early shift. Though you take you own cases down everything went smoothly. In future we would pay for the advanced disembarkation package to the airport. Seems much simpler and worth the money. We didn't do this as we applied too late. Needs thinking of as you embark!