My wife and I are 50 year olds in good physical standing and have been on 20+ cruises on HAL, CCL, NCL, and RCCL, as well as a few others. We were on the first sailing of the Zuiderdam out of Fort Lauderdale cruising to the Panama Canal, ... Read More
My wife and I are 50 year olds in good physical standing and have been on 20+ cruises on HAL, CCL, NCL, and RCCL, as well as a few others. We were on the first sailing of the Zuiderdam out of Fort Lauderdale cruising to the Panama Canal, Nov 9-19. This was to date our most expensive cruise and our second on Hal and we were expecting a lot. Our first Hal cruise was on the Westerdam to Alaska and it was possibly our favorite cruise of all we had taken. We enthusiastically encouraged our close friends to join us on the classiest line we had experienced.
We started to worry as we heard that 7+ day cruises in the school season had a large percentage of elderly couples and the entertainment was geared toward them. We found this to be true and the average age of our fellow guest had to be in the 70's. Ok no problem...we like older people too, though the ship rolled up its sidewalks precisely at 10pm. We were often one of 2-3 couples in the nightclubs.
The previous sailing from the Mediterranean to Florida had serious norovirus issues and this started our dream vacation on a very sour note. Our cruise would be delayed until 12 at night while the crew scoured the ship, we would have to find entertainment for 4 in Florida. Our travel agent never told us of any problem, but I had heard of the problem thanks to Cruise Critic. Many fellow cruisers were unaware of the delay as well. There is no reason HAL could not have sent an email directly to me, they have my email and they have shown no problem in the past inundating me with sale ads and junk mail. Why on the most important aspect of my cruise would they not communicate direct? When we got to Fort Lauderdale an HAL agent told us check in would begin at 7 pm. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 9 am and proceeded to spend the next 10 hours in a rental car and a local casino. Upon arrival at the port we were informed they were running a bit behind and that we would be bused to a convention center where 1400 of our fellow guest had already gathered. These people were unbelievably patient and waited over 2 more hours until the first busses were called for guest to be brought back to the ship. Some guest had been there 14 hours before they finally headed back to the dock. For us the wait would continue as a very disorganized transfer of the 1400 began. We had bus 32 and it would be after 12:30AM before we would finally make the ship. We were happy to hear the lifeboat drill would take place the next morning, unhappy to hear that we would miss our first port, Half Moon Cay. We were given a $75 per person room credit for our troubles. Finally at 2 AM we hit the bed having been up 22 hours.
The ship was nice and laid out well, very easy to navigate and our room was centrally located 2 doors form the main elevator bank. But unfortunately lines were to be a problem for the first half of our trip. Code red handling procedures were in affect, which meant hands off most things for the passengers. In the buffet the lines were horrible, the food mostly overcooked I presume to minimize food borne problems and with so many elderly needing help with getting to their table, very understaffed. In fact the singers and dancers and even one of the ship staff's wife were called into service. While most seemed happy to pitch in, I heard several say this was not what they signed up for. The crew worked their butts off for 5 days and who knows how many days before and we appreciate their efforts, however its not what I paid for us premium dollars for. It was 5 days before I saw a medium rare cut of meat, saltshakers on the tables as well as any other condiment, or the buffet without long unmoving lines. So now we have a bad taste in our mouths so to speak, it becomes very difficult to see this cruise as anything other then a mess.
The spa was closed, hot tubs, the library, the ping-pong tables, the basketball court.... many things but not the casino!!! Are you telling me I'm more likely to get sick from handling a basketball them I am from sitting in a casino, handling chip, slots, close quarters et al.
On the 2nd day we are informed that one of the guest has taken ill and will need to be removed by helicopter back to land. We were on the top deck as the Coast Guard crew flew a helicopter right to the front of the ship, hovered for many minutes as a crewman was lowered to the deck and then the patient elevated to the copter. This was an example of our finest working with civilian ships and executing a difficult maneuver with hundreds watching. Well done by both air and ship personnel.
On the 3rd day, at 3am, a loooong blast goes off in my ear, finally the Captain comes on and say this is not a drill.... there is a fire in the forward boiler room...oh boy now what, do we prepare to abandon, do we roll over, do we get our life vest out and on.... we chose to roll over. No sooner do I fall asleep and second blast goes off.... the fire is in the wind box and there is not supposed to be fire in the wind box, but the fire crew is on the scene, passengers are not to worry yet, he will get back to us. I roll over again, fall asleep again, and am blasted awake again to be told the fire is under control, and we can go back to bed. The next morning no more is said, that I heard, about the fire, except that many passengers never heard anything.... how that was possible I will never know as the speaker was literally at the guests head.
Good things, yeah there were a bunch as well. The ships dancers and singer were excellent, some of the best we have seen and the 3 production performances were wonderful. Paul Tanner, an impressionist was a breath of fresh air and finally brought some life into the crowd. The comedian was forgettable. The guest talent show had heart if little talent. There was but one band that we could listen too and that was Jenny and the Halcats who performed daily and followed a theme for most nights, Motown , 60's, 50's etc. The trio was just not for me, Moon River and all, nor many others it seemed judging by the crowd, and while the piano guy could play...he sure couldn't sing and that made me uncomfortable.
We really like the ports being younger we were able to do thing our fellow guest were not. Aruba we horseback rode with Rancho la Ponderosa, we were picked up at the ship and returned at the end of the excursion. Our trail took us over the mountain and down to the water on the rough side of the island, it was beautiful and took 2-3 hours on the trail 4-5 hours overall. The cost was $55 per person if you booked online. The horses were allowed to run many times and the views spectacular. We were given a local beer upon finishing the ride, with the tips we paid $130 total.
Curacao we rented a car from Avis right at the port, $55 for the day we were two couples so reasonable. We went up the coast towards the Westpont and stopped at a resort and scuba dove, a shore dive, as Curacaos coast is perfect for this. The cost was $40 for 2 tanks, and gear for one. We had brought one set. The other couple paid a $5 fee, which allowed use of the facilities and chairs etc, it was near Santa Cruz. Diving was very good, and snorkeling was also.
In Gatun Lake we had the highlight of our trip, which was a ship excursion to a Embera indigenous tribe via bus and then dugout canoe. This is a tough excursion due to a 45-50 minute dugout ride and slippery walking in several places, but if you can handle it, it may be among the most incredible events of your life. The village is legit, not faked and the people really live there and for the most part live off the land, there apparently are several villages that may be used, and you may not get ours but the simple lifestyle was evident and a loving people made us feel very welcomed as we entered their world. The most beautiful children you ever saw, and the 70 or so who made this trip would all be quick to bring them back with us if we could. This excursion was $99 and well worth the money, the canoe ride alone was worth it. As we pulled in the ladies of the village were cleaning tilapia along the riverbed, this was to become our lunch along with fruit and fried plantains...it was fantastic.
In Costa Rico we prebooked with Oscar Brown and went Zip lining at Jungle Resorts. Along the way Oscar shared his culture with us and stopped several places to show us views, sloths, fruit and other sights unusual to Americans. He did a good job and we felt safe with him in what may be for some an unsafe feeling local. This was $70 per person including the zip line. The zip line was fabulous, 12 lines vary lengths from 75 yards to 270 yards. This took 4-5 hours and I would do it again. We saw sloths and very small red frogs as well a thick lush jungle, both from below and above. He has a website called oscarbrowntours. Total with tips was $160, although other tours only were much cheaper, we really wanted to try zipping.
Our room was a nice obstructed view with a sitting couch. The shower was good with no smells and although the flush had a mind of its own and seemed to go off when it wanted to we had no real problems. The small refer kept nothing cold, only cool. The AC worked great. We had 2 stewards who had 32 rooms and worked very, very hard. They kept the room clean and organized and we saw them doing the little things like sanitizing door handles and wiping down handrails in the hall. I don't know how they kept up with 32 rooms.
Richard Dietrich provided information most days and we found them and him quite enjoyable. His help was appreciated on the Embera excursion and the info he provided on each port and its history was great. While we didn't make many of the actual talks we listened to them conveniently in our room.
Our waiters and assistant were good and they tried their best in trying situations. But for the first 5 days the food was poor, over cooked and dry, no seasoning and salt and pepper was rationed out in small square packets, the kind you get in a picnic pack. No bread on the table, no butter, no sugar or cream. The selection seemed limited, being a beef man the lack of good steak or roast was a serious concern for me. There was a strip steak on the alternative menu, but for the first 5 days our waiter shied us away from it stating they were not good so far, I suspect because they had to serve it well done. It had been 2 years since our Alaska cruise and the food was among the highlights of the trip and we had bragged extensively to our friends about what to expect. What a disappointment and with 20 cruises themselves they said they couldn't wait to get off the "dam" ship. In fairness the food did get better the last 5 days but first impressions are so very important and theirs was not good.
Disembarkment was chaotic and the line wrapped around the whole ship for the 9:00 - 9:30 times. Our luggage tag was blue but was located under the pink tag color, so who knows, maybe someone's colorblind.
We heard through others that HAL had offered a refund or a different sail date to those who chose not to go on this cruise, we were never offered this. Given an opportunity I'm sure I would never want to follow a norovirus cruise again, there was just to much frustration involved for a guy who hates lines. The price we paid was for a premium cruise of a lifetime, what we got was far less and if not for a few of the staff and the ports it would have been a complete failure. For now, both couples are turned off on HAL and will stay away. Of course if a good prices comes along I reserve the right to change my mind. I suspect the following cruises will be fine and the experience will be better for most. Read Less