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4 Boston to Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

We embarked in Boston for an 18-day cruise to San Diego via the Panama Canal. Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida at the time while Hurricane Jose was setting sights on Puerto Rico. Captain Jutten navigated between the storms, never ... Read More
We embarked in Boston for an 18-day cruise to San Diego via the Panama Canal. Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida at the time while Hurricane Jose was setting sights on Puerto Rico. Captain Jutten navigated between the storms, never getting closer than 500 miles to either. We had 15-foot seas for one full day but the ship handled them well. Our interior cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck, #417, was spacious and comfortable. We loved walking the teak deck at four laps to the mile. Arriving at Fort Lauderdale, we found the city mostly without power and all shore excursions cancelled. We got a taxi to the beach but never made it there due to sand clogging the streets. We found a store running on a generator and got some supplies before re-boarding. Thankfully, the airport had reopened the day before and two dear friends were able to join with us for the remainder of the cruise. This was our longest itinerary to date and the first time cruising with friends. Maasdam is an older ship (1993) that is aging gracefully. She is well maintained and the perfect size for 1,200 or so passengers and 500 crew. We never felt rushed and didn't have to wait in a line for a single thing. Service from all staff was cheerful and attentive. Dining choices and food quality were very good. We had salads most days for lunch and went to the Rotterdam Dining Room most nights for dinner. We pre-purchased the Cellar Master Package, which afforded us several bottles of wine, two dinners in The Pinnacle Grill and two wine tasting events. The steaks were very good in Pinnacle but the Alaskan King Crab legs were even better; the premium wine tasting event was superior. The ship's entertainment was very good, with talented singers and dancers and an excellent comedian. About a week in, hotel staff advised that another passenger had designs on our stateroom, asking if we would mind relocating to a Vista Suite. Seems this other passenger was booked in cabin #417 for the next cruise, a 50+ day journey from San Diego to Sydney, and wanted to settle in as soon as possible. We were happy to oblige and super cabin attendant Joe made moving to balcony cabin #151 a breeze. What a great upgrade! The ten-hour passage through the Panama Canal was memorable. A local narrator came on-board for the 50-mile journey. That, together with excellent lectures and documentaries, really brought home the significance of this engineering marvel. Shore excursions were likewise excellent. Costa Rica's rivers and jungles, with crocodiles, poison dart frogs and exotic plants, Nicaragua and Guatemala, with smoldering volcanoes, bubbling mud pots and Mayan ruins and Cabo San Lucas, with its famous rock formations and snorkeling. Yet it was unassuming Puerto Chiapas, Mexico where we experienced the highlight of our cruise. On a small tour, we visited the modest but beautiful home of Josefina, a world-class chocolate maker with a wall of awards including #1 world's best chocolate as selected in competition at Perugia in Umbria, Italy. She served us an authentic Mexican breakfast on banana leaves, then demonstrated her art, picking the cocoa fruit, toasting the beans and inviting us to grind them up. She separated out the hulls in a wheat vs. chaff maneuver and packed the remainder tightly together for our tasting. We felt fully immersed in this wonderful culture. A tropical storm lay in our path on the last leg to San Diego, but the ship handled it with ease. We had a great last day watching sea lions in La Jolla and visiting Cabrillo Point, then on to our red-eye flight home. What a great cruise, made all the more special with the company of very close friends. It opened our eyes to how enjoyable longer itineraries can be, and we look forward to cruising with Holland America again soon. Read Less
Sail Date September 2017
Always have wanted to Cruise the canal . Ship left from Boston , where we live so perfect. Captain had to miss several Hurricanes, which he did . A little rough but not bad . Ft Lauderdal was in tough shape so excursions had ... Read More
Always have wanted to Cruise the canal . Ship left from Boston , where we live so perfect. Captain had to miss several Hurricanes, which he did . A little rough but not bad . Ft Lauderdal was in tough shape so excursions had been canceled . Missed a few more storms and than clear sailing . Great tour in Columbia by a firm called Duran Duran . Booked it myself and we had a terrific time . We stopped in Costa Rica , Nicaragua, Guatemala , Puerto Chiapas , Cabo and San Diego . Every stop was an adventure Botanical gardens , coffee plantation , Banana plantations colonial capitals and a great thermal spa in the mountains overlooking the volcano's . Truly a great tour. as usual Holland staff were on top of their game . Great waiter, wine steward , bar staff just excellent . The concierge in the Neptune lounge was amazing , couldn't do enough . Everyday a new treat . Nicaragua left a lot to be desired . Leon is a few walls still standing that could have been a barbecue pit . The view to the lake was spectacular . but just not much to see . check in and disembarkation were like silk , just smooth . As always thanks Holland America Read Less
Sail Date September 2017
To start with I want to let you know, until recently HAL was my wife and mine favorite cruise line. We are both 4 star and over the last 45 years I have been at sea for over 1200 days. The following applies to all the HAL ships we have ... Read More
To start with I want to let you know, until recently HAL was my wife and mine favorite cruise line. We are both 4 star and over the last 45 years I have been at sea for over 1200 days. The following applies to all the HAL ships we have sailed on in the past few years. In the last few years I have noticed significant changes with HAL. They are shifting to a more cut-rate cruise line (like Carnival). They are cutting back at every corner in both services and also ship maintenance and it shows. They have cut back on staff and the poor kids are simply worn out and exhausted (like most of their ships). There were very few officers visible and when you do see one, they do not acknowledge the passengers at all. The food in the main and specially dining rooms is still good to very good but once again the service personnel are overworked and have to work even if they are sick. On one of our last cruises (90 days) it seemed like everyone on board came down with a cold. As the crew came down with the same cold they still had to work which spread the condition back to the passengers for a second round. Of the 90 days on board both my wife and I felt miserable for 30 days. On nights we did not want to eat in the dining room the Lido had the port side half of the serving area closed for officers and crew, which reduced half of the seating, making finding a table very difficult. The line and wait for food took close to ½ hour. On several occasions I have received dirty silverware in the Lido. If you want good service you have to eat in the specialty dining rooms. It cost an additional $25 per head but the service is exceptional (like it used to be in the main dining room). HAL had a reputation as not being a "nickel and dime" cruise line but that is all changing (for example, it now cost for espresso in the main dining room during dinner). The ships are not being maintained like the used to. On one ship half of the showroom at sea had to be closed off whenever it rained as the water would drip from the overhead. On another ship the same thing took place in the Lido. As a result both ships always had musty/moldy smell. I have taken photos of rust, leaking pipes, broken cableways and general lack of routine maintenance and sent them to HAL. The only time I got an answer was when I pointed out what I thought was a minor safety hazard. They did reply that their ships were always maintained in a safe condition and that they took safety very seriously. They did not address the specific condition I had brought up. The entertainment is OK but repetitive on longer cruises. To sum it all up: Quality has gone way down, ships conditions have gone down, HAL staff has been cut and is now overworked and service is not what you would expect, HAL is becoming a “nickel and dime” line, and is NOT the same Holland America we once knew. All that said the Panama Canal is fantastic. A must do. In my opinion "Even a bad day at sea is better than a good day on a golf course"   Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
Recently returned from a 21 day Panama Canal cruise on the Veendam with Holland America. For those of you who have not sailed through the Panama Canal, I heartily encourage you to do so. I read David McCullough's book on the canal ... Read More
Recently returned from a 21 day Panama Canal cruise on the Veendam with Holland America. For those of you who have not sailed through the Panama Canal, I heartily encourage you to do so. I read David McCullough's book on the canal before I cruised, along with a couple of other books about the canal, so I knew the remarkable history of the canal beforehand, and I encourage you to do that, also. It will definitely increase your enjoyment on the day you pass through the canal if you can appreciate the challenge, for example, that was presented by the Culebra Cut, by doing some advance work. Let me begin my review by stating what I've said in previous reviews: true wine and food devotees simply don't feed these passions by cruising. Why not? Because cruise ships have to prepare massive amounts of food for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of passengers multiple times during the day. Do you really believe that the chef is waiting for your order to come to him before he starts to prepare your lamb chop? I think not. If you really want to have food specially prepared for you as you order it on HAL cruises, you will need to eat nightly at the Pinnacle Grill or the Canneletto--and that will cost you $25 pp or $10 pp extra respectively. SO: I accept that eating in the Rotterdam Dining Room means that I will be getting food that is prepared in advance based on historical expectations of how many of each entree will probably be ordered. Having said that, I must say I found the food to be very good and only occasionally (when ordering a vegetarian option) found an entree I didn't like, but only because I like spicier food, and not because the food was overcooked or underdone. Indeed, I found some truly delightful meals, particularly their pasta dishes, like the one with figs and bacon--delicious! So, dinner for me was very enjoyable. Because I enjoy a good meal, though, I also splurged and had dinner at the Canneletto (twice), Pinnacle Grill (once) and LeCirque (1). Canneletto was delicious, so was Pinnacle, despite the fact that they no longer flambe the Steak Diane tableside. I had chateaubriand at LeCirque which was delicious, but I don't think I will splurge for the extra $39pp for this option any longer. I just don't think LeCirque is that much better than the regular dining room fare. I used room service many times for breakfast as I enjoyed eating in a quiet location without having to chase down my meal, then my coffee, then my juice. I found my room service meals hot and delicious, every time, and served at precisely the time I requested them. SO: Meals on the Veendam? A big success for me. I might add I love to cook and think I'm a pretty good cook, too. This ship: I am very familiar with the Veendam as I have traveled on this ship to Bermuda several times with HAL. Quite honestly, I was afraid the ship would be too confining for a 21 day trip, but I was wrong. I WAS disappointed that the pool was closed for several days for repairs when we boarded in Boston (apparently, the pool had been closed for at least a week before this when the 28 day Panama Canal cruise started in Quebec). I find this unacceptable on a ship that only has one pool. Additionally, HAL, take note, I love the teak loungers on the lower promenade deck, but the cushions are well past their life expectancy and need replacing. They just look gross and unclean. Time for new ones. The rest of the ship was very clean though. My cabin was an outside cabin on deck six, which was plenty spacious for a single cruiser. I had no issues whatsoever with temperature in the stateroom. Or with extraneous noise, even though I was right next to doors leading to the outside promenade deck. Entertainment: I enjoyed all the shows I saw. The comedians were funny (Julie Barr--you and your pink hair cracked me up!) and an edgy black ventriloquist. Went to the Indonesian crew show and enjoyed that too, had fun commenting to crew members later that week that I enjoyed seeing them in the show and seeing them blush with pleasure. Heard from many people who went to other shows that they enjoyed them. The guitar player at the Lido Pool was fabulous. The Adagio Strings were great. The band leader from the Neptunes is a lecherous old man to be avoided at all costs, though, if you are a woman traveling alone. Women, beware. They had a geologist onboard from Minnesota who gave wonderful lectures on the Panama Canal, the effect of a huge asteroid when it hit in Mexico, a discussion of global warming, the effects of population on natural resources, and the gold rush in California (which, btw, was partially responsible for the urge to build a canal through Central America in the first place). Enjoyed the lectures very much. Ports of call: In Florida, I rented a car in Cape Canaveral and drove to Merritt Island National Refuge. Only about 30 miles away and fabulous! In Ft. Lauderdale, rented a car and went to the beach at Hollywood, next time I'll just use a taxi, it's close enough to not make it worthwhile to rent the car. The beach at Hollywood is clean and very nice. In Key West, rented a bike and went all over the island, snorkeled, and just had fun. Cayman Islands: Rented a car and drove to the Cayman Islands national seashore area and never saw another person there. Had the whole place to ourselves. If you go there, you must bring water shoes, though, because of some shore plants with thorns. Cartegena, Colombia--did a private tour and next time, would just rent a taxi, as our tour guide indicated that taxis are very reasonable. Found a beach that I would park myself at and swim where I felt entirely safe. Did a historical tour of the walled city and also went to the top of the hill where there was a spectacular view of the city but you can see that Cartegena has a way to go before all of its citizens have running water and sewage. But I learned a lot on the tour. Panama Canal: EPIC! Loved it! Everyone should do this at least once! I will do it again. Costa Rica: My favorite part of this tour was the riverboat tour on the Tarcoles River. Fascinating! And the meal provided afterwards was authentic and delicious, beer was cold and cheap ($2). Nicaragua: Went to Leon. Hated the city. Dirty, felt unsafe walking around by myself. Had a taxi driver warn me that two men following me on a motorcycle were up to no good. But I learned a lot about the political history of the area from our tour guide who explained why he was a Sandinista. But next time, I won't leave the port area. I will take a taxi to the local beach that looked lovely. Guatamala: Took a taxi with three other people to a local public beach and swam all day in warm water with HUGE waves. Had fun and always felt safe. The taxi cost $5 pp and the cabana was $2 for all four of us. We shared it with two other families (all Guatamalans) and in fact were the only gringoes on the beach, but never a problem. Three ports of call in Mexico: Puerto Chiapas: Took a private tour that included a folklore center (very nice!), an area of Mayan ruins (a waste of time, no one there who knew anything about it, and the ruins don't even begin to compare with Mayan ruins on the Eastern coast of Mexico) and then the city of Chiapas. My advice? Take a taxi and have them take you around the bay to the beach area instead. Hualtalco: LOVED IT. Coming back. Going to find someone who will take us to one of the nearby bays where the beaches are sandy and there are NO roads, so the only way to get there is by boat, to snorkel and swim. Cleanest water I ever saw, sea turtles everywhere. Loved this port of call. Puerto Vallerta: Took a HAL excursion to the former estate of director John Huston, loved it, would do it again, even if pricey at $105, included meals, drinks (alcohol, too) use of snorkel gear, kayaks, etc. I paid extra $50 to dive (my first ever, did a PADI) and I am hooked. Will definitely repeat this HAL excursion. San Diego: disembarking were effortless. Crew and staff: I had a pleasant time with most crew members. I've already mentioned the Neptune bandleader to be avoided. Service in the Crow's Nest, where you would find me almost every afternoon from 4-5 for happy hour, was slow--you would think they would staff it better as there was always a crowd!!--and some of the staff there was at times a bit snippy. But loved Imade, my dining steward. He took very good care of our table of 6. I rarely saw my room steward but I knew he'd been there because my room was always clean and he kept me in wine glasses for the wine we brought on board and the ice bucket was always filled. Most of the people on this cruise were considerably older than me. In fact, I think I met only 4 people who were younger (I'm in my late 50's). Almost everyone was also retired (not me). So, if you are looking for a crowd that was dancing and up late, this is not the cruise for you. On the other hand, never had to worry about finding a lounger by the pool or at the back of the boat, or on the lower promenade, and found some interesting people to listen to. The ship offered a morning stretch class and an "abs" class that I took every morning that was free. I also had two massage treatments that were pricey but I loved them. I only cruise about once a year, and if I can't splurge then, what's the point? To sum up, I will absolutely do this exact same cruise again, maybe in a year or so. I learned a lot about Central America, had some delightful ports of call, came to appreciate what my taxes in the US pay for (clean water, septic, stop lights, safe streets, paved roads, animal control!!) and next time might do some of the ports of call a little differently. But I came away both invigorated and also refreshed. What more can you ask of when you are finished with your cruise vacation??!! Read Less
Sail Date October 2013

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