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4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2019
Panama Canal was on the bucket list, so we pulled the trigger. The price on the Volendam from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco was to good to pass up. This was a 17 day cruise in April so there were kids on board at all, and the average ... Read More
Panama Canal was on the bucket list, so we pulled the trigger. The price on the Volendam from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco was to good to pass up. This was a 17 day cruise in April so there were kids on board at all, and the average age of the cruisers was probably about 75. My wife and I are in our early 50’s so we were some of the youngest on board. We are very active so this review, especially the port stops is geared to the more active types. Volendam is now 20 years old and she shows her age a little bit but it is well taken care of and still very luxurious. It was below capacity (about 1200 passengers) so there were rarely lines anywhere and it is a very spacious considering it’s a small ship compared to most of the big beasts out on the Caribbean. There were plenty of activities on board to keep us busy on the sea days. America’s Test Kitchen was very cool and the EXC port talks and historical talks were fantastic. Pools and hot tubs were never crowded. Our room was an Outside View right on the promenade deck. We were right next to a door leading out to the wrap around promenade, so it was almost like having a balcony…. We loved the accessibility of the room to the walking deck. The had plenty of storage space even with all the clothes we brought for the 17 days. We used the $20 laundry bag service 1 time in the middle of the cruise. The bathroom had been remodeled and the new glass door shower was the largest we’ve ever had on a cruise ship and the temp and water pressure were always consistent. Embarkation in Fort Lauderdale took only about 20 minutes once we got to the terminal which was only a couple miles from the airport. Debarkation took about 30 minutes in SF. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning was also quite spectacular. All in all, with ship, the canal, calm seas, and 9 port stops, it couldn’t have been better. Every part of the cruise exceeded our expectations. The food and service in main dining room was fantastic and even the buffet was quite good. Room service was also excellent, with a different towel animal every night! That’s 17 different animals…. Cartagena: We took a taxi to the old walled city and walked around for several hours. Beautiful architecture and very Caribbean looking. The port had a shop and a nice aviary for no charge with many parrots and other exotic birds and animals. Leave a half hour to explore this area. Panama Canal: Awesome piece of engineering and history. Very cool to see the lock systems and the many other big ships transiting the canal. Costa Rica: Did a HAL zipline excursion. The place was near the coastal town of Jaco and we rode an aerial tram to the top then zip lined our way down the mountain. There were reptile and butterfly displays at the base that were very interesting. Sadly, we didn’t see any wildlife other than iguanas. Very fun tour though. Nicaragua: Took a peddle taxi tour of the little port town. The place was very poor, but our driver was very cool and spoke good English, so we learned a lot about the country and the politics. Not much to see, but made us appreciate what we have here at home. Guatemala: Took a HAL bus for a “on your own” tour of Antigua. It was about an hour bus ride through the countryside with guides giving some history of the area. Antigua itself was very pretty with many fabulous churches. We walked all over town and it was very nice. Puerto Chiapas: Took a HAL excursion to some Mayan ruins and then to a demonstration of how cocoa beans are grown and processed into chocolate. Nice tour but we thought a little over priced at $100 per person. Huatulco: Our favorite stop. Excellent swim beach right by the pier. We took a $5 taxi to Playa La Entrega a couple mile away and it was great. Excellent snorkeling and many restaurants right on the beach. We were there on a Sunday so many locals were there with us which actually made it more fun. The vendors pester the locals too….. Manzanillo: Ship docks right downtown. Lots of shops right there. We took a grueling hike up to the cross on the mountain to the right of town. We were hot and sweaty but the view was amazing. Puerto Vallarta: Did another zipline tour through HAL. This was a great excursion but only for the very physically fit. Right of the ship we boarded a little speed boat that whisked us about 30 minutes south to a bay where we switch to Unimogs to drive to the Zipline. Basically like an Army truck. Perfect for the crazy dirt road. Then after getting geared up, we rode mules up to the top of the mountain. And then it was more than just ziplines. We also repelled down a waterfall, did 2 giant waterslides, and then a new roller coaster zipline to end the tour. Very awesome!! This was our favorite zipline ever. Cabo San Lucas: Went parasailing then walked all over town. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2019
Nine of us traveled together to cruise the Panama Canal. Our group consisted of three married couples and three single ladies ranging in age from 50 on up. Despite different interests among the members of the group, I don't remember ... Read More
Nine of us traveled together to cruise the Panama Canal. Our group consisted of three married couples and three single ladies ranging in age from 50 on up. Despite different interests among the members of the group, I don't remember anyone complaining of being bored. Three of us enjoyed the trivia contests, others spent lots of time (and money!) at bingo, some enjoyed the movies and entertainment in the theatre, one single lady in our group enjoyed visiting all of the lounges, and one of the married gentlemen in our party (my own DH) enjoyed hanging out on his balcony, reading and enjoying the scenery. Our signature suite, SY 8094, was situated where the ship juts out and featured a long balcony, which we both enjoyed immensely. My only complaint would be the casino, which was dinky and did not feature a good variety. Of course, I would have done better if I would have stayed away, as I lost a bunch of money. It wasn't like there wasn't enough to do.... The shore stops were long enough to provide a good overview of places that we'd like to revisit. Entertainment was good, food was good, and I would recommend anyone for this ship and PC itinerary! Consistent quality keeps us coming back to HAL. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2019
Embarkation was organized by group number you're assigned as you check in. We spent a few minutes chatting with fellow passengers and soon enough we were called aboard. There probably is not a wait if you arrive after 11 or so. We ... Read More
Embarkation was organized by group number you're assigned as you check in. We spent a few minutes chatting with fellow passengers and soon enough we were called aboard. There probably is not a wait if you arrive after 11 or so. We were early for this cruise, unlike others where we sailed through embarkation. We chose the expedited group for disembarkation, meaning we carried our own luggage off at 7:30 AM. I highly recommend it because we were through customs and in a cab to the airport by 7:45. It sure beats hanging around the theater or a bar for a few hours waiting for your group to be called. We were very happy with the remodeled bathroom in the cabin. The glass walk-in shower is super-convenient, drained well and was tiled with a no slip surface. The clothes line in the shower served to dry wet clothes overnight, no problem. The cabin was clean and comfortable. Gatot and Sigit took great care of us including the towel animals and chocolates every night. The TV is small and could be upgraded, but it's just fine to catch MSNBC in the morning and maybe get a DVD for a movie one evening. There were plenty of hangers in the closets and there were plenty of drawers and shelves for all your things. We took advantage of the flat-rate laundry bag and got our clothes back and pressed the same day, both times! I'd say the food was very good. We ate at the Lido Buffet and in the Dining Room. I was very impressed by the caring service we got at anytime dining. The beverage service was prompt too. We shared meals with new table mates each time. There were always plenty of laughs. The final night was a standout, from the excellent service in the dining room to the excellent seared Ahi and the rest of the menu. The burgers at the Dive-In are delicious as are the crunchy fries. Be sure to visit the various musical venues as they're all very entertaining. The Adagio pianist and violinist were great! We met members of the house band and their music was as nice as they are in person. Don't miss the Blue Earth show! America's Test Kitchen is definitely worth the time. The presenter is super and you get new ideas. It's too bad that the food wasn't passed around for tasting at the presentations we attended. The gym is clean and has good, new equipment. It's cool to watch the ocean go by as you're on the elliptical. Bar service is great, as always. We spent most of our time at the Aft Bar in the smoking section. You always meet fun people there, and this trip was no exception. Bernard the bar man took great care of us and even arranged for servers to come by after he closed for the night. We found the Signature Beverage Package to be a good deal on this cruise. There are six sea days when you can really enjoy the package to your heart's content. The Panama Canal is the highlight of this cruise and it sure didn't disappoint. Just wrapping your head around locks without pumps takes some understanding. The on board narration helped make you feel like you're part of the experience, regardless of where you happen to be. The ship itself is beautiful. Be sure to notice the beautiful and creative flower arrangements all over the place. There's even orchids on the tables in the Lido Buffet. I noticed workers sprucing up the white paint in preparation for opening the forward decks to passengers during the canal passage. The naturalist is a gifted font of knowledge. Glenn-Michael, the lead EXC is super. He was all over the ship and uniformly seen chatting with one guest or another. He shared some great hints during his port talks too. The officers impressed me by being so accessible and always being around for sail-aways and sea day parties. Even the captain had time to chat for a few minutes. One of us needed some medical attention and found the crew there to be excellent. The check on you and make special arrangements as needed. The small charge for a bit of medicine plus the personal care turned around what could have been a major downer. Holland America does a great job; the Volendam is a fine ship with a highly skilled and friendly staff. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2019
We do an annual late winter cruise every year. We've traveled mainly on HAL, and have been pleased with the smaller ships and good service. This year we did the full transit of the Panama Canal, leaving from San Diego. We ... Read More
We do an annual late winter cruise every year. We've traveled mainly on HAL, and have been pleased with the smaller ships and good service. This year we did the full transit of the Panama Canal, leaving from San Diego. We splurged this year on a Neptune suite. We have had one in the past, and really enjoy the bigger room, but especially the larger balcony. They are twice the size of the Vista suite. The extra perks of the Neptune Lounge and the Concierge service is excellent. We met quite a few other Neptune suite passengers, and had many interesting conversations. The room steward was top notch. Always had ice, coffee and fresh fruit. Laundry service was top notch and was always ready by the next day. Embarkation was very smooth. Neptune passengers go through the same embarkation as the 4 star Mariners. There is virtually no line. For tender ports, there is no need to go for disembarkation passes. You simply hold up your room key, and you're put on the next tender. Unfortunately, there is no priority disembarkation after the cruise. We travel with our daughter, who has a learning disability. She gets her own room. But, she gets to know everyone on board. Her favorite breakfast was an omelet. The Lido omelet chef knew her by name, and what she ate. The same goes for the salad bar crew. We chose to eat in the dining room, along with another couple. Our daughter ate salmon nearly every night, and she had a chocolate mint mocktail every night. For desert, it had to have chocolate. Our dining staff went our of their way to accommodate. On the last night of the cruise, there was no chocolate deserts. But, they went back and got one for her. In addition, my daughter had told them previously that she liked carrot cake. They brought out 2 pieces of carrot cake. She ate one, and carried the second one back to her room. You can't find service like that just anywhere! Every evening, the wine steward would make an origami animal. We did have a complimentary dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. It was very good. It was more than I would normally eat. Steak done to perfection. The only thing I regret is that I didn't try breakfast at the Pinnacle. It was included with the Neptune suite. But, I did have breakfast at the dining room. It is a step above the Lido and I would recommend it. Lunch is also very nice. Lido is a typical buffet. I didn't eat breakfast in the Lido, but opted for a light breakfast from the Neptune Lounge. Lunch offered an International option. They rotated national foods, and it was interesting to try foods from other nations. They were all Asian offerings. The ports were very nice. Some of the places aren't as developed as much as on the Caribbean ports. Cabo San Lucas is a tourist trap, and we didn't have a bunch of time there. We booked a glass bottom boat tour on Viator. A long walk to get there, but well worth it. We didn't book anything in Guatemala, and their port area was very relaxing. On Honduras, we booked with a local guide and it was very informative. In Costa Rico, we booked the eco tour, which took us to a rive to see crocodiles. We visited the aviary in Cartengena, which was very enjoyable. Entertainment was very good. John Wing was the comedian on board. He was runner up in America's Got Talent. I'm not big on production numbers, so I didn't attend. We did spend several evenings at the Crows Nest. Some nights we were the only ones there, some nights there were quite a few. Happy hour at the Crows Nest is always a lot of fun, especially the 2 for 1 drinks. The crew was very accessible, even the Captain. The team at the Neptune Lounge couldn't do enough. I would definitely travel this itinerary again, and would definitely would travel on the Volendam. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2019
We wanted to see Panama Canal, particularly the old part of it. I have done one passing in my previous career at sea more than 30 years ago, on a freighter. Since HAL had a good itinerary suiting the best for our schedule and that ... Read More
We wanted to see Panama Canal, particularly the old part of it. I have done one passing in my previous career at sea more than 30 years ago, on a freighter. Since HAL had a good itinerary suiting the best for our schedule and that there was so good ratings with HAL with travelers with similar preferences we did not hesitate to book this trip, our first on HAL. Our preferences were quite traditional: Piece and quietness, well mannered co-passengers, dining experiences with lots of choices and styles, civilized onboard activitities and entertainment, interesting excursions, kind and friendly staff and responsible shipowners with competent crew. Particularly we were not after activities some other latest cruise ships may offer for families and younger clientele, We tried to avoid cruse lines with all-day partying and noisy teens and kids around. As a summary HAL offered all this in very sophisticated way. Onboard staff exceeded any of our previous experiences. Based on recommendations on the CC HAL group, before boarding we visited at the Total Wine iand picked up a 6 bottle box of selected wines based on their recommendation of "a taste of America". However, after the trip found that the selections onboard was perfectly adequate, if not US-centric. Check-In Fort Lauderdale was done in breeze by very helpful officer, particularly noticing we were not that experienced cruisers on HAL. We boarded soon before noon and had a wonderful lunch served in the MDR after settling in to our cabin. The VD Class cabin was on the 7th deck with a veranda. It was not a suite, but spacious enough for two of us. For our surprise, there was enough storage space even for a much longer trip. There was absolutely no noise from neighboring cabins or from the corridors. Completely quiet, apart quiet hum from the AC. We found ship interiors very nicely designed and we felt being at home soon after boarding. Most of the fellow passengers were naturally from US and Canada, also quite big part, probably a few hundred passengers from Europe and from South America and Far East.. Based on the Skipper's, Jeroen van Donselaar's note, there were some 2100+ passengers and 800+ crew members onboard, so the ship was practically fully booked. Cruise itself offered everything and beyond we expected. For our surprise the seadays were anything but boring. The days were full of activities, e.g. starting from presentation of the ports we were going to call, Digital Workshops, recitals on the Lincoln Center, stand up shows and other performances after dinner at the Main Stage ending upto enjoying the B.B. King's Club. BTW, they played really well. About dining experience, we had dinners in all the restaurants, twice in the Pinnacle Grill, once in Rudy's, once in Tamarind, once in Canaletto and Lido, rest in the MDR. In general, we were fully content with the MDR, but Pinnacle offered us the something to remember for long time. My personal favorite was the Sole Meunier at the MDR, but it was available only once soon after departure, Based on our experience it's difficult to fully understand those who in CC HAL Forum have complained MDR being not upto their standards. Dover Sole in Rudy's; the Maine Lobster, Tartar Steak and Filet Mignon at the Pinnacle. Tamarind was excellent, but as have traveled lots in the far east, we found it a (little bit) too westernized. Sushi was available daily at the Lido. And now we still miss Hamburgers in the Dive In. They were special. Really. Shore excursions we pre-booked, were mostly as expected: In Cartagena the old town was really nice and worthwhile to visit, could have spend a lots of more in the town. Passing Panama Canal was a really highlight of the day. For an ex Sailor (Master Mariner), like me, this was a really meaningful event. We passed the Canal through the old locks, far more interesting than the new ones, which were apparently not that busy on our day of passing. In Costa Rica we chose an Exc to flower gardens up to the mountain having a magnificent view over to the Pacific. We managed to see a pair of macaws not too far away in the garden and a number of crocodiles on the way. It was most beautiful landscape. Time to visit there was far too short, again. In Nicaragua we had a trip to a banana plantation owned by a local prominent family, supplying their products to major brands. Lots of manual, minimally paid work needed before products can be shipped. Highlight of that trip was to see the landscape with active volcanoes on the way. Local people were extremely friendly with us. Really difficult to figure out how they manage to struggle with the average salaries paid in that country. We hope they will manage with their struggle with economy, e.g. expanding from agriculture to tourism. In Guatemala we had another trip to a Coffee Plantation and a small city on the mountain area. Was really beautiful, again. There were also two Mexican ports, Huatulco and Puerto Vallarta on the way. Enjoyed both excursions to the country side. Street vendors in Cartagena and Guatemala were some degree of nuisance, but nothing unexceptional for 'seasoned travelers'. Before the trip we had concerns, e.g. how to cope potential 'cultural differences' during the two weeks with the fellow passengers mostly from US and Canada since we are not that extrovert. That proved to be a non-issue. With all people we spoke with were most friendly curious and knowledgeable what's going outside US. Quite a number of them had visited even to our home country, Finland, on their previous cruises or careers. So overall, would wholeheartedly recommend Panama Cruise with HAL anyone expecting a classy experience to pass the Canal, see beautiful countries with friendly people of Columbia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, spend time with fellow most nice passengers on a well maintained ship with a stellar crew. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2019
Our trip consisted of a group of 8, all arriving from different destinations across Canada. We had a house rented in Fort Lauderdale for 3 days before the cruise, a lovely home within walking distance to the beach. Good thing we had 3 ... Read More
Our trip consisted of a group of 8, all arriving from different destinations across Canada. We had a house rented in Fort Lauderdale for 3 days before the cruise, a lovely home within walking distance to the beach. Good thing we had 3 days, because of weather we where delayed by over 24 hours. We embarked the ship in groups and met up in the buffet for lunch. Our bags arrived quicker than expected, so we sorted ourselves out, then went for a group party in one stateroom. We where on decks 4, 6,8. And we where very happy on deck 4. Turns out to be a good location to scoot out for the safety drill, a nice walk around deck 3, and also easy to run up to deck 3 if there was something to grab a photo of. We kept the tv on in our room when we where there, tuned to the forward cameras. Loved the option of viewing the Canal crossing on the TV, that was a long hot day. Every morning we enjoyed the buffet. You can’t go wrong, everything you can imagine plus some extra surprises. Lunch was by the pool at the burger place, or pizza. We only attended tea in the afternoon one day, but it was a very nice treat. Dinner we had a group table in the dining room for 8. We didn’t dine there every night, but made sure we all attended the gala nights. Other times we tried some of the different specialty restaurants available. The Pinnacle was a dinner that made you feel like you won the lotto. But our true favourite was the Tamarind. The staff made the dinner fun, and you felt truly welcomed. Plus the exceptional food, and presentation, made it a feast for the eyes. Most days, pre dinner, we attended the martini tasting, or the happy hour in the various bars. But be pre warned, the happy hour bars get full fast. We had beverage cards, so we didn’t worry about happy hour pricing. And I am glad we did, the cards where good for everything we wanted to drink, from sparkling water, to special coffees ,and drinks all around. Every day we had wonderful coffees made in the exploration area, the staff there knew your name and coffee within days. Days we didn’t go on excursions, we spent at the pool, loved the unobtrusive music. But there does need to be more shady areas. We found often people pulling chairs into doorways for shade, but that made it very inconvenient for others. Our group had all been at most of the locations on this cruise, so we didn’t depart at every port. But we really enjoyed the small markets they set up by the ship, for those who just want to purchase a souvenir. The casino was very quiet the entire trip, we did go to the bar there and lost some money at the machines. They did have some very nice piano players there as well . After dinner, it was usually a walk around deck 3 , before seeing what was on the show that night. Most nights we didn’t stay, we all found the entertainment to be lacking, the jazz band was not a group to dance to, so most just sat and listened. We all loved the national Geographic show, with the live performance. Disembarkation was a slow process, they called groups by colour, and there was even colours called that were not on the list, we where close to last. The whole finding your suitcase thing and getting in line , seemed confusing for some. Enjoyed a lovely night in San Diego before flying home. Staff who made this trip memorable: Jerry and Jenny in the martini bar. Janny in the exportation cafe. My perfect mocha. Abdul and Made who made our cabin home. Miguel and Joel who had the wine knowledge. Wayo, Davee, who served table 91 with grace. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2019
I chose this cruise because it the most interesting, historical cruise to celebrate my retirement! Loved every minute of it. We are big fans of Holland America, especially the Nieuw Amsterdam ship. Embarkation and disembarkation always ... Read More
I chose this cruise because it the most interesting, historical cruise to celebrate my retirement! Loved every minute of it. We are big fans of Holland America, especially the Nieuw Amsterdam ship. Embarkation and disembarkation always go smoothly. People! There are thousands of people in the cruise terminal. You have be patient and get a grip! You are not the only person on this ship! The ship is always clean and the staff is outstanding. Our cabin is comfortable and exactly what we need. We have a suite on Deck 7 and have access to the Neptune lounge. The concierge (Christine and Kim) are helpful and friendly. Lucia and Martin always cleaned out suite quickly and thoroughly. Always greeted us with a cheerful Good Morning. My husband I went to the entertainment each evening and enjoyed it very much. Yes, there are hit and misses (comedians and magicians), but you have to remember that the Holland America ships do not have a large guest list like other cruise lines. Therefore, the entertainment they can hire will not always be the highest, but it’s the best they can obtain. I loved the orchestral accompaniment to the Earth film. Outstanding! Restaurants are always the best. We love the Pinnacle Grill for formal nights, Canaletto has really stepped up the menu, the Tamarind so lovely - it’s one of our favorites! Lido buffet is always good for lunch or a snack. We’re fine with them serving, rather than self serve if it helps in keeping the ship healthy and no waste. Pinnacle Grill staff - wow! Amin, David (the magic!), Tamas, Anne, Rosalina (!) and Aris. Thank you! The bar service is always outstanding and we’ve made many friends. Louis in the Pinnacle Grill bar - the best mixologist and now friend! The Panama Canal is so outstanding and amazing! Over 100 years and still working! The people of Panama, thank you! I would do this cruise again and again. And best for last our cabana crew! You guys are so awesome! Christian and Joseph - friends forever! We didn’t do any excursions as we have started using the ship as a hotel. However, we did get off on the piers to connect with the people and walk around town. I think that you have to go into your vacation with an optimistic attitude yet not think everything has to be perfect. There will be situations that aren’t ideal, but remember, you are on vacation! You are in the Panama Canal, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Columbia!! If you can’t be excited about that amazing opportunity, then maybe you need to sit on a Florida beach and wish you were here. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2019
The Panama Canal was exciting.it was awesome to see how it was done, The crew on the ship was fabulous expecially as follows Danny , was so amazing always making sure everything was okay, and went out of his way to make you feel so ... Read More
The Panama Canal was exciting.it was awesome to see how it was done, The crew on the ship was fabulous expecially as follows Danny , was so amazing always making sure everything was okay, and went out of his way to make you feel so welcome and enjoyable Rene our drink guy , was so informative of drinks , wines ,if you weren’t sure what you liked he was sure he’d bring something you like and he did Zeri, our mint man after dinner was so entertaining and such a comedian , he even went out of his way to take a picture with the professional photographer. Lucky, our waiter was so deliteful to see every evening, how he remembered everyone’s name was amazing, so astonishing. Aguhn, our server, was so remarkable how he knew everything on the menu. Olivia in Lido restaurant, was so sweet and pleasant. It was a delightful day to see her smiling face every morning and afternoon who went out of her way to make sure you got what you wanted and came and talked to see how your day was going. Sweet as cotton candy, I told her. I will cruise again with Holland American. One complaint, was the evening menu, seem to be a lot of the same, except each night things were changed a little. We did start with the norovirus, it was amazing to see how well everyone was sure not to make it spread. , very well accomplished so our cruise was deli. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
Our group chose this cruise unanimously in spite to the fact that at least 6 of the 26 of us had been through the Panama Canal on a cruise before. We had excellent cabin and dining staff. Brilliant Entertainment! The dining menus ... Read More
Our group chose this cruise unanimously in spite to the fact that at least 6 of the 26 of us had been through the Panama Canal on a cruise before. We had excellent cabin and dining staff. Brilliant Entertainment! The dining menus were up to par as we had experienced on the previous 4 cruises our group had taken on Holland America. The food quality in the Main dining room and in the Lido restaurant was very very good. Our group evening at the Pinnacle Grille was exceptional. The staff on the ship were exceptionally courteous and helpful. One of the very high points was the classical pianist, Hyperion Knight, who entertained us. His on stage work was enthralling but the real cherry was the "practice sessions" he had in The Explorers's Lounge. My wife and I happened on him one morning early in the cruise in the lounge playing the piano. There were only 3 other couples in there at the time and we sat through what turned out to be a "private" concert. He played (without sheet music) for and hour and a half almost continuously and his music had us entranced. He was very personable as he chatted with us and talked about his music. This happenstance became more widely known as the cruise progressed and what started out as a concert for 6 persons became a "practice" session to a full lounge to another day with standing room only to having to be there half an hour ahead of his impromptu unscheduled sessions. He was also a fun participant in the twice a day Trivia sessions. His trivia knowledge is formidable and it was great fun playing with and against his teams. At the end of the cruise everyone of our group were expressing how much they enjoyed this trip and were asking when we would be planning the next one. For a bunch of 75 year old high school pals it was a great time. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by ... Read More
Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by SuperShuttle to take me to the World Cruise Center in San Pedro I received a telephone call from SuperShuttle informing me that at they had NO vehicle available to me and that they were cancelling my ride! My next thought was to try to get an Uber ride instead but, not having any experience with Uber, I was not sure how to pursue it. With the minutes fleeing by I went next door to ask Nina who I knew had used Uber for advice. It seems that Uber relies totally on the use of cell phones, which I do not have. Nina immediately found me an Uber ride, arriving within 10 minutes, just enough time to turn off my TV and lock up my house. An Uber arrived very soon and I was off only a few minutes later than my original departure time of 9 am with SuperShuttle, arriving at the World Cruise Center and my ship, Holland America’s ms Amsterdam, at about 10:30 am. Almost no one else was checking in this early and I was checked in with no wait at all by 11 am, going into the waiting room until my group numbered 7 was called to board, which occurred just before noon. Very quick process! I easily found my upgraded room, 2633, on the Main Deck 2 and it was as to be expected - almost. About 2/3 back from bow of the ship, its location is about the best possible. One change I immediately observed on entering was the bathroom that had been substantially upgraded with the old-fashioned tub and shower combination now replaced with a beautiful and large glass-enclosed shower. My room on the ms Zaandam last July on my Alaskan cruise was identical - except for the bathroom. Since my luggage would not be delivered for a while I went to the Dining Room for a casual lunch, and a glass of wine - of course! Then I stopped by the Pinnacle Grill to schedule my two evenings’ dining at this specialty restaurant, pre-purchased beforehand online. Departure time for our voyage was to be at 5 pm and occurred shortly thereafter. With my luggage now having been delivered to my stateroom I proceeded to begin my unpacking, delayed by my 8 pm dinner in the Dining Room where I had requested a table of 4. However, it turned out that I was the only one at this table so the Maitre D’ suggested that I might prefer a smaller table for 2, which I gladly accepted. Unlike other cruise first nights, prime rib was NOT offered! Too bad! Expecting rough seas because of the recent stormy weather in Southern California, I was pleasantly surprised by the absolutely smooth seas and had no difficulty at all falling asleep in my very comfortable double bed on this, my first night aboard the Amsterdam, headed for the Panama Canal. ~~~At Sea, January 8th & 9th~~~ The seas continue to be smooth as glass, much to my surprise but not to my disliking. With all of the stormy weather in Southern California, I had expected rougher seas. So far, so good! Being the first day at sea this was the first of three “gala”, or formal evenings during this cruise, so out came my coat and tie to wear. The day had been very relaxing with little to do except to complete my unpacking so I was ready for my dinner scheduled for 8 pm and it was not disappointing. I do not recall my menu choices but they were very good in any case. Then it was another early to bed; I am not the night owl I once was! On Wednesday, our second day at sea, I spent most of the day in my stateroom after enjoying yet another breakfast delivered to my room, which will be my normal habit, I think. Although yesterday I did go to the dining room for breakfast, it is so easy to just order in. I know I am missing all of the interplay with the rest of the passengers but, after 53 cruises, I quickly grow tired of hearing all about their grandkids, health problems, recent surgeries, etc., etc. Enough! Fortunately the TV in staterooms has my favorite MSNBC channel which I watch most of the time. With the government shutdown I am beginning to become concerned about my return flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles on January 22nd, by way of Charlotte, North Carolina, a major hub for American Airlines. I am hoping that the wait time for TSA Security check is not unreasonably lengthy when I get to the Ft. Lauderdale airport for my 1 pm flight. Also the weather is of concern. We shall see... That’s about it so far; I will have much more to report after tomorrow’s stop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. ~~~Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - January 10th~~~ After another night of calm seas, our arrival in Puerto Vallarta was right on schedule, at 8 am. There was another Holland America ship, the ms Eurodam, also in port. It has been a few years since I was last here and I was amazed at the recent growth: new port facilities, numerous new high-rise buildings stretching all along the shore of Banderas Bay. My choice of tour for the day was “Best of Puerto Vallarta” departing at 9 am. This is a repeat from the last time I was here, and involved a walking tour of old downtown PV including a walk along the Malecon, or bay front, with all of the many bronze statues present there. The street along here is now restricted to a pedestrian one which was a wise change. We then had a short visit to the famous Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral that incidentally was my first there. Then it was back on the bus for the Tequila Factory part of our tour. The drive out of Puerto Vallarta, past the busy International Airport, was farther that I recalled, but soon we arrived at the familiar Hacienda Dona Engracia for our tour of tequila making, followed by tasting - yeah! - followed by a nice buffet lunch - including choice of beverage - beneath a large tent. My choice was a Margarita, of course! New this time was a performance by a talented group of two couples of fiesta dancers, performed on a center stage in the middle of the tent. Their dances were both quite active as well as exquisitely costumed. There was even a very talented ropedancer performing during a costume change for the dancers. All in all, a most excellent addition to this popular tour. Oh, did I mention the unlimited supply of Margaritas? A good time was had by all! Leaving the Tequila Factory, we returned at 2 pm to our ship, the ms Amsterdam, concluding a wonderful visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tomorrow is another day at sea until we reach Huatulco, Mexico, on Saturday, so there probably won’t be too much to report. ~~~At Sea & Huatulco, Mexico - January 11th & 12th~~~ Another day at sea on remarkably smooth waters, I spent most of the day in my stateroom, again enjoying my breakfast delivered by Benny, in exchange for a customary $2 tip: black coffee, cranberry and orange juices, ham and cheddar cheese omelet along with hash brown potatoes and English muffin. I can wear my sweat pants and sweat shirt in the privacy of my room - all very laid-back and relaxing. I forgot to mention my dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant aboard, on the evening of the second day at sea, Wednesday, January 9th. Online I had purchased for $62 two dinners here, each regularly priced at $35. Starting with a shrimp cocktail of three enormous shrimp - easily the size of small lobster tails, my entree was a 10-ounce filet mignon steak, expertly cooked to medium rare and so, so tender! Dessert was a chocolate soufflé that was incredible. Enjoyable, to say the least! My other dinner here will be on our last evening at sea before arriving at Ft. Lauderdale on January 21st. Huatulco is our second port of call in Mexico, which I had visited on a previous Princess cruise years ago. Today my choice of tour was a “beach break” at one of the many new resort hotels now populating this once-small port, the Secrets Resort. After a small coach ride of about 30 minutes, we arrived at the resort’s gate and were temporarily delayed from entering until proper identification was made. An enormous new resort with many levels leading down to the perfect, crescent-shaped Conejos Bay, the open lobby with high ceilings greeted the 12 of us in our group. After a brief explanation of the facilities and what was available to us, we were allowed the use of all of this inclusive resort’s offerings, including restaurants, pools, beach, and bars. My first choice was a trip to the Castaways Restaurant, located at some distance from the lobby and accessed by means of a small shuttle. I was about 5 minutes early for their 12-noon opening but was soon seated at a table in this open-air luxurious establishment. Ordering a Margarita on the rocks I relaxed immediately for a leisurely lunch. The menu was presented on a large billboard placed near my table and my choice was a rib-eye steak following delicious guacamole and salsa dip with chips. The steak was prepared to perfection as medium rare, and was absolutely delectable! A dessert of coffee flavored mousse topped off my “lunch”. A short shuttle ride brought me back to the lobby where I began looking for the pools. An elevator took me down to the lower level where a variety of beautiful pools were located and, unfortunately, the lounges were already fully occupied. So I sought out a nearby beach bar and ordered more Margaritas. After the two I had enjoyed with lunch, I enjoyed two more here! On the way back up to the lobby I stopped for yet another drink at another open-air bar, enjoying the coolness of it all. We were to meet in the lobby at 3:30 pm for our return trip to the ship, so I went back up to the lobby just after 3 pm, not wanting to be late. There I found yet another bar offering me yet another Margarita while waiting. Others in our group began to appear and 3:30 pm came and went with no sign of our coach back to the ship. Finally, around 4 pm, one arrived - not the same one in which we had been brought here. Evidently through some mix-up, our original coach had been cancelled and another replacement made. Never the less, we were delivered back to our ship, almost on schedule. All in all, a very enjoyable - and liquid! - day in Huatulco, Mexico. Tomorrow we are to be docked at Puerto Chiapas, Mexico a first visit for me. ~~~Puerto Chiapas, Mexico - January 13th~~~ Being my first visit to this small port of call, I had chosen a tour to the Argovia Express: Coffee Tasting and Botanical Gardens for the day. Nothing much else exists at this port except for a new elaborate cruise center. So I was dismayed to be informed the evening before that, due to low participation, this tour had been cancelled! Other tours were offered in replacement but none to my liking, so my visit to Puerto Chiapas was aborted; I chose to stay on the ship all day. Thus, my day was spent much the same as a sea day, relaxing in my stateroom. With ports of call for each of the next three days, the loss of this day was not too great. ~~~Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - January 14th~~~ Originally I had booked a tour just to the old city of Antigua but, having my previous coffee tour cancelled, I decided to change to a tour that would also include a visit to a coffee plantation: “Coffee Estate & Antigua”. Leaving the ship around 8:30 am we traveled on a very new coach for 90 minutes to the Filadelfia Coffee Estate on the outskirts of Antigua where we were given an informative tour of different portions of the estate: nursery, drying areas, mills, and packaging. Then we were invited to a lunch at the estate of an expertly prepared strip steak along with guacamole, black beans and rice, followed by a delicious coffee flavored mousse. Of course, a cup of their finest coffee accompanied this substantial meal. I heard NO complaints at all! Then we were given the opportunity of shopping in their small shop; for me, a bag of their coffee! Switching to two smaller vans, now required in the city instead of the large coaches, we then proceeded into the center of Antigua where we were given a somewhat lengthy walking tour, ending at the city square and the large cathedral. My legs are still crying out in pain! Finally, back again on our large comfortable coach, we spent another hour or so returning to the port and our ship at 4:30 pm, a long, enjoyable albeit energetic day. It was so good to return to my comfortable stateroom for a rest before preparing for dinner. ~~~Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua - January 15th~~~ My tour today was first to the ancient ruins of the original capital city of Leon, destroyed by a volcano and seismic activity in 1610, covering it completely, and becoming the “Pompeii of Central America”. Rediscovered in 1967 it is now a World Heritage Site. It involved walking around the several acres observing walls or parts of walls still existing. The destruction was so severe that it was decided to relocate the new city elsewhere. All very interesting if you are into archeology but with all of the walking with not too much to see, my boredom reared its ugly head - in addition to my also sore legs. Returning to the entrance we were treated to an enjoyable and delicious Nicaraguan lunch in a local restaurant, consisting of chicken, steak, rice and beans, along with crispy fried plantains (bananas). A welcome relief from our walk! We then proceeded on for another hour to the modern city of Leon, traveling through very interesting and scenic country, including many volcanoes, most dormant but some still active. Mount Momotombo is the largest volcano and steam clouds could be seen coming from its cone-shaped summit. In the “modern” (really colonial) city of Leon, we were let off our coach near the city square and given a tour of the monumental cathedral there; it is immense! The interior is quite impressive with the many arches, altars and artwork. We were given the opportunity of climbing the 85 steps to the bell tower from which a magnificent view is possible. OR, if not, visiting a nearby restaurant for a cooling beverage; I chose the later! Finally it was back on our comfortable coach for the hour-long drive back to the port and our ship, arriving again about 4:30 pm along with several other buses at the exact same time. Getting back aboard became a lengthy process. Again, it was SO good to be back in my stateroom to rest my weary legs. Tomorrow in Costa Rica there will be MORE walking! ~~~Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica - January 16th~~~ This will be my 5th visit to Costa Rica and it remains one of my favorites. Seeking to try something different as far as excursions, the one entitled “A Walk in the Clouds” caught my attention, and it did live up to my expectations, although my poor legs might disagree. Leaving the ship at 9:30 am our coach departed the port of Calderas, one of the two Pacific ports for Costa Rica, the other being Puerto Arenas, about 20 miles away, and began our slow but gradual climb up into the range of mountains, their tops covered by clouds. Eventually we will have climbed to over 4500 feet above sea level and be right among the “clouds”. The drive was quite pleasant with the vistas right out of a picture book. We drove through several small towns, coffee plantations, and past many luxurious homes. Finally arriving at our destination, the Finis Nature Conservatory, amid a thick cloud cover, our first stop was for the rest rooms. Then after a short orientation talk by our tour guide we were separated into two groups for our trek. The group I was in was assigned a young enthusiastic naturalist student who was excellent in his knowledge of everything we would be observing. Our first stop was a nearby butterfly enclosure into which we entered and saw dozens of the fluttering insects. One in particular was a very large butterfly with bright blue wings, and whose name escapes me. Our guide explained all of phases of a butterfly’s life that I found most interesting. Next we came upon a suspension bridge, one of many that we would be crossing, high above the canyon and definitely a bit scary! We then proceeded to hike down and down along a trail marked with many stair steps, toward the small river below. A thick cable alongside the path aided tremendously in steadying our progress. More suspension bridges were encountered and eventually we reached the creek at the canyon’s bottom. A spectacular waterfall could be seen nearby and it was here that we encountered the other group having traveled in the opposite direction. Then came the hard part: going back UP the other trail, back to our starting point. My legs screaming out to me, my main problem was breathing and exhaustion but with several rest stops, I made it to our stop near the top where many hummingbird feeders were located. Hundreds of these tiny and colorful birds flittered all around, helping themselves to the feeders. Our guide then explained a lot about the different kinds of hummingbirds present, their habits, and aspects of their lives. Then it was only a short distance farther to our starting point where our lunch was waiting in a large open-air building. Lunch consisted of a buffet offering chicken and beef along with salads, rice and black beans. A delicious berry drink completed our hard-fought-for repast. Then it was time to reboard our coach for the trip back down to our ship. In one of the towns through which we had passed, a brief stop was made for shopping at a large store that offered many souvenirs of Costa Rica, including many coffees for which this country is famous. I purchased a bag of Cafe Britt Dark Roast coffee beans for $17; rather expensive I thought. On previous trips to Costa Rica I had toured the Cafe Britt Coffee Plantation in San Jose and had purchased coffee from them there and on their website. I don’t think I paid so much then! Our tour guide decided to take us by way of a different route back to the port and our ship and we passed through many small towns on the way. In each, he pointed out the presence of a Catholic Church, a school, and a soccer field. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates of any country in the world, largely in part to their elimination of a military many years ago, the resulting emphasis then being placed on education. Right on schedule at 4 pm we arrived back at our ship, this time being the only tour getting back. There was an ambulance at the gangway, most probably some passenger had had a medical emergency; I never found out. As always, it was a relief to get back to my stateroom for a rest before dinner at 8 pm. ~~~At Sea & the Panama Canal Transit - January 17th & 18th~~~ Another full day at sea was required for our travel on to the Panama Canal from Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica, and about the only significant activity of the day for me was the “Gala” or Formal Night. As usual I enjoyed my in-stateroom breakfast, delivered by Benny - who gladly accepts my daily $2 tip: ham and cheddar cheese omelet with hash browns, coffee and juices (cranberry and orange). Finally, our Gala Dinner included “Surf & Turf”, fillet mignon and lobster tail, all very good with my steak grilled to medium rare perfection. Dessert was a Peach Crisp, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum-yum! Our approach to the Panama Canal started quite early on Friday morning with our passing beneath the Bridge of Americas occurring around 6:30 am. With the many towers of the very modern Panama City visible in the distance to the right, and the cranes of the port along side our approach in the channel, we reached the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, about 7 am. Passing through this set of two locks took about an hour putting us in the small lake leading to the second lock, the Pedro Miguel Lock, about 8:30 am. The new set of locks recently opened are located to the left and consist of a set of three locks, much larger at 1200 feet long and 150 feet wide, than the original locks at 955 feet long and 106 feet wide. Once past these locks we entered the portion of the Canal called the Culebra Cut where the majority of the construction excavation took place. A relatively new bridge spans the Canal just before this entrance, and is a stunningly beautiful modern structure. Materials removed for this Cut were used to build the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, creating the Gatun Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Western Hemisphere, and supplying the constant source of fresh water used in the locks. At around the middle of the Canal, before entering the Gatun Lake, we passed by the port of Gamboa at about 10:30 am where much of the maintenance equipment for the Canal is located. Then it was on into the large Gatun Lake for the lengthy passage across to the final set of locks, the Gatun Locks, arriving there around noontime. With three locks, the transit of the Gatun Locks took almost 2 hours. The newly opened set of three locks is located to the right side of the original Gatun Locks, and the super structures of the immense cargo ships using it could barely be seen over the trees. While in the midst of our ship being lowered from one lock into the next, we observed huge cargo ships being raised in the adjoining locks, some stacked so tall with containers as to strain one’s imagination! And yet they were able to use the original locks! One last such cargo ship entering the Canal southbound through the Gatun Locks appeared to be a car transporter because of its huge solid side walls and a ramp on its rear. Gigantic! After returning to the sea level of the Caribbean Sea, we further transited a channel into the Sea, passing beneath an almost-completed new bridge across the Canal, a beautiful new modern bridge not unlike the one crossing the Canal just prior to the Culebra Cut. Entering the Caribbean Sea, the port city of Cristobal was just off the right side. Once we took a cruise on the Grand Princess that, being too large to transit the Canal, ported us here; we then took the train across the Isthmus to Panama City. This railroad predates the Canal by many years and only takes an hour or so to make the trip alongside the Panama Canal. Our entrance into the Caribbean saw the end of our smooth seas; that evening was quite bumpy, a indication of rough seas to come. One good finale to the day was the serving of delectable prime rib in the restaurant that evening. My slice of prime rib was one of THE BEST I have ever enjoyed! Tomorrow: Cartagena, Columbia, our last port of call. ~~~Cartagena, Columbia & Day at Sea - January 19th & 20th~~~ After a night of active sea action, our noon arrival in the huge bay of Cartagena was a relief from the bumpy ride from the Panama Canal. The newer part of this ancient city is resplendent with high towers, mostly residential. On the other side of the bay is located the remnants of the old walled city, walled for protection from the pirates of old. Our ship docked at the main pier to the right of this section, next to another ship, the Monarch, one of Pullmantur’s fleet. The tour I selected for our afternoon in Cartagena included first a catamaran ride from near where our ship was docked, requiring a somewhat lengthy walk, around the bay past the towers on the peninsula to the left and the older section to the right, passing the Colombian Navy installation, finally docking alongside a dock near the walled city. Disembarking the catamaran we were immediately besieged by hordes of street sellers, selling everything from jewelry to hats to T-shirts to water, ... Having been here twice before, I was prepared for the constant barrage, just saying “NO!” repeatedly. Crossing a busy street we came alongside a proportion of the old wall, to an opening that we entered and proceeded with our waking tour of this older part of the city, around the very narrow streets and visiting several plazas. One special plaza was dedicated to Simon Bolivar whose statue adorned the center of the square. A cooling breeze largely compromised the reported high temperatures for the afternoon. Otherwise it would have been miserably hot. Much shade was also provided by the buildings being so closely packed together. We passed by a very elaborate building that had been the one time home of Sir Francis Drake, now available as a high rent hotel. Most buildings facing the narrow streets contain central courtyards with trees and fountains. Also observed was the old cathedral although we did not get to enter. Proceeding around several blocks we eventually returned to our original entrance where a tour of an emerald museum was offered. Entering we were presented with a mock-up of an emerald mine and a museum guide told us all about emerald mining. According to him, Columbia is the largest and best source for emeralds in the world. Of course we were eventually lead into their showroom where emerald jewelry could be purchased. I bought nothing! We were then given an hour or so of free time and, when I asked our tour guide for a good place to get a beer, he indicated a stairway leading to a very nice restaurant just above the emerald museum, where I found a table on their balcony overlooking the square below. Excellent location! After two beers I felt hungry so I ordered a shrimp dish that turned out to be absolutely delicious! And a third beer, of course! When the check arrived, the total - in pesos - was 69,000! Putting it on my Alaska Airlines Visa, this huge total amounted to just over $20. Rejoining our tour group at 4:15 pm, we all then proceeded back to where our catamaran was waiting and boarded for the return boat ride back to our ship. Upon arrival we were offered a free shuttle back along the dock to our ship’s location, fortunately! My poor legs were complaining! As always it was good to again be back aboard and in my stateroom. The ms Amsterdam departed Cartagena at 6 pm. Once past the harbor entrance, the sea action began again and continued through out the night. The next day was another sea day, one of two until our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. My day was as usual, having breakfast in my room, and writing some more on my cruise journal. As the last of our “Gala” nights, I again dressed for dinner in coat and tie. It was a surprise that we again were presented with the same menu as for our previous formal night, “Surf & Turf” which I gladly enjoyed once again, beginning with a generous shrimp cocktail. Staying up way past my bedtime, I waited up to observe the lunar eclipse of the “Super Moon” that occurred around 10:30 pm. My location on the ship for viewing was in the Crow’s Nest Lounge on Deck 8. The full moon was directly overhead as I sat near the front of the lounge. Very cool! Tomorrow I am invited to the Captain’s Reception at 12:30 pm for the Mariners Society, Holland America’s loyalty group of repeat customers, to be followed by a special luncheon in the Dining Room at 1 pm. We will no doubt be receiving the traditional Delft tile from HAL. ~~~Last Day at Sea & Return Trip Home - January 21st & 22nd~~~ The seas had calmed down quite a bit during the day and I went to the Main Stage Theater for the Captain’s Mariners Society Reception at 12:30 pm where I encountered a huge crowd; Holland America has a great repeat business. After struggling to receive my free glass of champagne - I didn’t sit in the right seat! - I did enjoy viewing the many awards to several passengers, mostly quite old, for their unbelievable numbers of cruises taken. My 10 cruises and 129 days had already received a Bronze Medallion on a previous HAL cruise, so I was not individually recognized. Following the Reception we all moved to a special area of the Dining Room for our Mariner Society Luncheon, including wine! Luckily I sat at a table with my new friends, Pat & George, from my many visits to the Ocean Bar on Deck 5. My menu choice was a delectable filet mignon, cooked to perfection - medium rare, and so, so tender! The Captain spoke once more and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves a lot. Dessert was a delicious berry cheesecake that was outstanding! All in all, a very nice experience. Then it was the most dreaded time of any cruise - packing up to leave! However, over my 54 previous cruises I have become adept in the accomplishment of this duty so my luggage was almost completely packed by late afternoon, needing only the clothes and dopp kit required for getting ready for my second evening dining at the specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill at 7 pm. I had delivered extra tips to my waiters and wine steward in the dining room the previous evening, so only remaining were my favorite bartenders in the Ocean Bar, and my two room stewards that I would deliver tonight. For a cruise of this length - 15 days - I usually give them each $20; this is in addiction to the automatic tip of $13.50 charged daily to my shipboard account that is distributed to all service staff - they say! I often wonder how much of this substantial amount actually reaches the intended people! As usual I went to the Ocean Bar before dinner where I said my goodbyes to both Suvit and Mervin - both from the Philippines, as well as to Pat & George from Virginia with whom I had become good friends. Then it was off to the Pinnacle Grill for my last meal aboard. My appetizer again was a cocktail of HUGE shrimp - 4 of them, and almost as large as small lobster tails. SO GOOD! And again I chose the 10-ounce filet mignon, grilled to perfection at medium rare, accompanied by side dishes of creamed spinach, mushrooms and grilled asparagus. I ate every bit of it! For dessert I enjoyed a berry Baked Alaska, sufficient size to serve two, but again I finished it off! What a final dinner! Then it was reluctantly back to my stateroom to finish my packing that was done quickly, adding my dinner clothes and dopp kit to my luggage, being careful to leave out clothes to wear in the morning. In addition to my one suitcase I also use a Princess tote bag to carry my iPad, head phones for the airplane, passport, and a SuperShuttle confirmation sheet, along with American Airlines boarding passes which I had earlier printed in the ship’s internet center. All done, I placed my locked and tagged luggage in the hallway for pickup before midnight; mine was out by 10:30 pm. Special tags indicating departure group from the ship had been issued - mine was Yellow 1, and I left right on schedule at 8:30 am for the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and my 1 pm flight to Charlotte, NC, there changing planes for Los Angeles. Of course I missed my usual breakfast room service on the morning of departure, but waiting in my stateroom until my group color was called allowed me to sleep in until around 7:30 am. Departure was through the forward exit door on Deck 2 so it was most convenient for me since my stateroom was 2633, on Deck 2. A special parting touch of this cruise was the lineup of crew members at the exit as we left the ship, all bidding us farewell and thanks for choosing Holland America. I don’t recall anything like this on previous ships. Very nice! After the long walk in the terminal to the baggage collection hall, I found mine quickly and showing my passport to the emigration control agent allowed my exit to the awaiting airport bus located at the entrance. First telling the driver my flight airline - American Airlines, I went aboard and relaxed for the short drive to the airport, very nearby the cruise ship terminals at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. Arrival at the airport was around 9:30 am and, after a short walk from where the bus dispatched us for American Airlines to the terminal, I quickly checked my luggage with an outdoor agent, not having to pay the $25 fee since I have an AAdvantage Visa card. Inside I found NO lines for security check in and rapidly made way through TSA Pre Check with no delay. Then it was off to find my departure gate E5 and then a nearby restaurant to eat breakfast. Luckily there was a Jack Nicklaus restaurant right next to Gate E5 and, after a short wait for a table, I ordered an immense 3-egg omelet loaded with mushrooms, onions and sausage, served with hash browns and wheat toast: and coffee, of course. Since my flight was not until 1 pm with boarding at 12:30 pm, I had a very enjoyable and relaxing breakfast, sitting there watching all the hordes of people now passing by; the terminal had gotten quite crowded since my arrival. With my Main Cabin Extra Seat on American Airlines, I receive early boarding so just on schedule I boarded Flight 1924 for Charlotte and found my assigned bulkhead seat 5C with no delay. Then I got to watch as the plane filled, all passing right by me. After a bit of bumpiness on take off, the rest of the 2-hour Flight was remarkably smooth and our arrival was almost 30 minutes early, which caused some delay in finding an open gate; the one originally assigned was still occupied. Deplaning in this very large and busy terminal of Charlotte, a hub for American Airlines, I located my departure gate for Los Angeles and was dismayed to find it to be Gate B14; our arrival gate had been at Gate C5. So away I went, riding the many moving sidewalks, until finally I reached Gate B14, at the very end of B concourse. Upon arriving I read that boarding would begin in 15 minutes! Very close connection with the gate change. Boarding was actually delayed by our aircraft arriving late and our eventual departure for Los Angeles was not until 4:20 pm. Again I boarded right away and got to my seat 5C right away. The flight was in fact overbooked and the boarding agent was asking for volunteers to take a later flight; I did not do so! An almost 5-hour flight, I enjoyed a Chardonnay wine twice during the flight that was really quite smooth with only few short periods of minor turbulence. Sleep for me occurred in short patches during the flight and I was happy when our final descent into LA began. There was some turbulence as we passed over the Banning Pass moving our plane about, but the landing was smooth. We landed on LAX’s north runway and had to circle the airport, around the new construction area, past Bradley Terminal, until finally reaching our Gate 42B. First stopping at the nearest bathroom, I then proceeded to locate our baggage carousel that turned out to be Number 4. I was lucky to see my luggage come around very soon and, with a struggle to get it off the carousel, I was then off to find SuperShuttle’s dispatcher for my prepaid ride home. I found the dispatcher’s desk vacant and waited for the next SuperShuttle van to come along. With some confusion, the van for John Wayne Airport eventually took me aboard, along with 4 others seeking transfer to Orange County, so I expected it to be another lengthy trip; I was actually the third one delivered, at about 9:15 pm. The end of a long, exhausting day of travel. Struggling to find the right keys to open my front door, finally I was inside and immediately turned on my heater. Everything looked just fine after 15 days of absence, and it was so, so good to slip into my own bed last night. Today, Wednesday, it could not be more beautiful outside and I put the garbage cans out for their regular collection. My luggage full of dirty clothes will just have to wait! I am home! ~Ron Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We continue to chose Holland America for the customer services, dining experience and how they prioritize you and your experience. The comedian (Andrew Kennedy) was hilarious. Holland America is really trying to appeal to a younger ... Read More
We continue to chose Holland America for the customer services, dining experience and how they prioritize you and your experience. The comedian (Andrew Kennedy) was hilarious. Holland America is really trying to appeal to a younger crowd, which I appreciate. We have traveled Holland America with our daughter, who is now 14, since she was 9. She has always enjoyed Club Hal. She prefers to be in Club Hal, then with us. This was her first year in The Loft. There were no very many teens in The Loft, but she did meet one girl she would make plans with to meet after dinner. They had a great time playing cards, ping pong, video games, etc... New also really appreciate the fact that all persons who work with the children have to have a min of a Bachelors Degree. Club Hal provided an educational experience for her when we went to Alaska on Holland America. The Loft is more about independence for the teens. They can come and go as they please and it is open till midnight. Our daughter would highly recommend both programs. The Panama Canal was an unforgettable experience. I would highly recommend this cruise. Aruba was gorgeous (just remember to bring cash, since there are several shopping locations that only take cash), Curacao was beautiful (make sure you see the moving bridge), zip line in Costa Rica, Guatemala (you can bargain at the shopping location they shuttle you to), Nicaragua (Use the bike taxi to eat at El Pigeon-great fish and beers), and in Oaxaca walk to the city over the hill. If you decided to use a credit card in Mexico make sure you are charged in Pesos. They will not give you the accurate exchange. A return was charging us 118.00 (US) and we asked for our bill in Pesos. The bill then went down to 76.28 (US). Just an FYI---there was an Excursion named Puerto Vallarta Sights and Tequila Distillery. Fist of all your are not taken to a distillery. You are taken to a tasting. The Tequila is good, however they doubled the price of the bottles, just for us. We were also taken to a jewelry store for a waste of 30. min. We did see some downtown sights for an hour and a half. The rest of the time was used to shuttle us around to a photo location, a jewelry store and a shopping area. When all was said and done, I would go on this cruise again. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We simply chose the Holland America volendam because the dates fit in with several of the party we were cruising with. We do enjoy Holland America and our only bad experience out of 7 sailings with them has been on the veendam in the ... Read More
We simply chose the Holland America volendam because the dates fit in with several of the party we were cruising with. We do enjoy Holland America and our only bad experience out of 7 sailings with them has been on the veendam in the spring 2018 so we were a bit anxious about this booking on the volendam. We were absolutely delighted with our experience on the volume down. She is well maintained. Her food is excellent. The crew was extremely friendly. when we had any issue the staff bent over backwards to help us work it out. If we submitted a common card with anything the least bit negative we got a phone call to our stateroom and if we were not in our stateroom to take the call we got a note on our door. They then followed up to make sure every little thing was perfect. of the seven sailings with Holland America in the last two years I have to say this was probably our best overall experience, even though we did enjoy all of our other sailings except on the veendam. What I'm coming to realize is that most ships seem to go through a low period, And then if the company is smart measures are taken to get its act together and correct their weaknesses and make the ship much more pleasing and accommodating to passengers. The volendam is the same class of ship as the veendam and westerdam. As beautiful as a koningsdam and the eurodam are we do enjoy the smaller ships and this class a ship that the volume down is in is somewhere between 1300 and 1450 passengers. A great experience and we would definitely cruise on her again. It was really hard to even find constructive criticism to give on our end of cruise survey. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
Panama Canal cruise, service was great, activities were great, our room was not good, we had banging pipes starting at 5:30 in the morning and 4 hrs every night. We were on the 3 rd deck, dining room up above, they gave us ear plugs, ... Read More
Panama Canal cruise, service was great, activities were great, our room was not good, we had banging pipes starting at 5:30 in the morning and 4 hrs every night. We were on the 3 rd deck, dining room up above, they gave us ear plugs, showed us other rooms that were not acceptable. Will never do that deck ever, when you walked outside on the deck you could hear the pipes, they need to insulate the pipes, duck tape doesn’t make it, needs a upgrade. Activities were good, entertainment, there was a variety of different entertainers that were good. Justen the cruise director was good also, the chef came out every night to talk to every table. Barry from Boston on the piano was Fantastic, went there every night to see him. Joel in the Ocean Bar was Fantastic also. Some of the servers like Alex was very good at his job, Jenny and Dewi in the Lido were also very Great. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2018
First time with this cruise company mainly because we wanted to see the Panama canal in action. From start to finish the cruise was faultless in every aspect. Every destination were worth the visit, with interesting things to see ... Read More
First time with this cruise company mainly because we wanted to see the Panama canal in action. From start to finish the cruise was faultless in every aspect. Every destination were worth the visit, with interesting things to see made more special by excellent tour guides. The cruise staff from top (the captain especially who regularly walks around) to bottom were all happy, efficient and always there to help. Food was excellent and fine dining was true to its word. The most important and impressive part of this cruise company is the fact that they have brought the old style of cruising to the present day. Guests are more sophisticated and pleasant to talk too. I know this might sound snobby but this is not the cruise for you if you like to party till 4am and make noise!! String quartet, piano bar, band, singers and dancers first class. Excellent gym and knowledgeable staff. Food is served by staff everywhere, therefore better for hygiene and waste control. Thank you to all and will look forward to our next cruise. Better than Norwegian, Costa and on par with Royal Caribbean. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2018
This 11 day cruise served up an excellent itinerary of ports that were mostly new to us. Zuiderdam is classy and easy to get around on. No place ever felt too busy or crowded, even the pool deck. This seemed like an adults-only cruise, ... Read More
This 11 day cruise served up an excellent itinerary of ports that were mostly new to us. Zuiderdam is classy and easy to get around on. No place ever felt too busy or crowded, even the pool deck. This seemed like an adults-only cruise, mainly because of the time of year and itinerary. There were probably only a dozen children on board. Embarkation was easy, even though we had made a last minute upgrade the night before. We enjoyed our set dining at a table of 8. Dinner conversation with our new cruise friends was lively and entertaining as we shared the day's adventures. Service at dinner was impeccable and the wine sommelier Edison was quick to learn our preferences and to make very good suggestions. Dinner choices were varied and appealed to both of us as well as the table. The appetizers were particularly good. Some chose from the always on offer classic menu that included American standards. We enjoyed BB King Blues after dinner several nights, as well as the steel drum classical band which seemed to be a hit with the audience. Our cabin was carefully tended to and as requested, we had ice provided at least twice a day. We usually ordered coffee and juice the night before and it was always delivered promptly at the requested time. The excursions were mostly a lot of fun and provided a taste of each port. Half Moon Cay is delightful and offers the best of the Bahamas for a quick stop. The beach and water are exquisite and the food, provided by the ship was quite good for a beach buffet. We especially liked the Tortuega Canals excursion (we saw sloths and monkeys!) in Costa Rica and the City Highlights (with less shopping) in Cartagenia. Both times the guides demonstrated great pride in their countries and offered a good combination of interesting facts and historical background. The Panama Canal excursion on the boat to the Pacific was quite expensive and as such, disappointing. The boat itself is kind of run down with uncomfortable metal chairs and doesn't offer much in the way of shade or A/C. Lunch was pitiful -- I hadn't anticipated much based on the reviews I'd seen, but this was likely the worst meal I've ever had anywhere. Fortunately there were plenty of cold drinks and cheap beer. We tried not to let this get us down and parked near the back of the boat for a good view of the canal behind us. There was no viewing area at the front. We did make comments to the EXC staff on board Zuiderdam as well as Guest Services. In all, we enjoyed our Panama Canal adventure. We are glad that we picked this itinerary and liked the sea days in between to rest up. We also appreciate that HAL offers daily mass and participated a few times. Disembarkation was quick and we took the HAL bus to the airport in plenty of time for our flight home. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2018
This is my second Holland America cruise. The first was last year to Alaska, and it was so much fun I wanted to take another Holland America cruise. I wanted to go to the Panama Canal, so this cruise offered the chance to do both. I ... Read More
This is my second Holland America cruise. The first was last year to Alaska, and it was so much fun I wanted to take another Holland America cruise. I wanted to go to the Panama Canal, so this cruise offered the chance to do both. I made an excellent decision. First...I could not disagree more with those who say the food was not good. I thought it was excellent. Not only did I think it was excellent, but every night I sat at a table with 5 to 9 different people, and every single night every single person at the table raved about how good their dinner was. I don't know where the people who complained about the food were, but in 11 nights of sitting with different people, I never heard 1, not 1, complaint about the food. Second...the ship was spotless! The wonderful, friendly crew were out every night, and often during the day polishing and cleaning. I received a last minute upgrade from an ocean view to a balcony and it was wonderful. Loved it! Third, the ports...I booked 5 excursions through HAL. They were a little pricey, but they offered everything they promised. The Stingray experience at Half Moon Cay, the sailing/snorkeling cruise at Aruba, the horse drawn carriage ride in Cartegena, the Embrera Indian village at the Panama Canal, and the arial tram tour through the canopy in Costa Rica. READ the tour descriptions...if you want animals don't book a tour that does not promise animals! My favorite tour, however, was not a HAL tour. I booked the Shete Boka/snorkeling tour from Curacao Actief through tripadvisor and it was amazing...we had a small group and actually ended up snorkeling with about 100 turtles! Fourth...this cruise was during October...school was in session! I don't know how many families with children cruise HAL during school breaks, but there was only a few children that I saw on this cruise, and most of them appeared to be preschool. Don't expect a lot of children's activities. Also, most of the other cruisers said that they choose HAL because there are not usually a lot of children. Fifth...onboard activities. I would take another cruise just to be able to enjoy the wonderful Lincoln Center Stage performance. A delightful piano/string quintet that performed 2 or 3 concerts every day. This is a program offered between HAL and Lincoln Center and it is fantastic. I loved the piano/singer duet who played and entertained every night and the BBC earth movies offered daily. The best evening show was definitely the steel band, Magic. The others were not earthshaking. Sixth...embarkation and disembarkation were handled very efficiently with very few delays. It is hard to load 1800 people on and off a ship at one time...some people seemed not to understand that there is going to be a wait. Patience is recommended. HAL did everything possible to keep everything organized from having luggage delivered directly to staterooms, having the rooms ready for occupancy immediately upon boarding, delivering luggage to staterooms expeditiously, having assigned disembarkation group codes with approximate times to expect to disembark, having luggage sorted into groups to make picking it up and taking it through customs as easy as possible. All in all, HAL offers a laid back, relaxing cruise experience. It does not brand itself as a PARTY cruise, and those who choose to cruise on HAL are glad it does not. My only real complaint was the America's Text Kitchen. It was fine to watch the different foods prepared, but it seems silly to sit and watch a food demo and not get to sample what was prepared. You may as well just watch it on TV. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
We wanted to do the panama from West to East. We were worried that it might be too hot at this time of year. Yes it was hot but it didn't seem to bother us. We met some people who had air condition problems in their room but ours was ... Read More
We wanted to do the panama from West to East. We were worried that it might be too hot at this time of year. Yes it was hot but it didn't seem to bother us. We met some people who had air condition problems in their room but ours was great. We have been on several cruises before , I know that I would pick this size ship again. You just seemed to get to know people better even though there was still 1100 people on board. We loved the open seating plan in the Dinning Room. Enjoyed the Thermal suite. My husband went to many of the Computer classes and I enjoyed several Test Kitchen shows. The shows every night in the theater were not as good as many we have seen. Although I loved the shows by the Maasdam Singers and Dancers most.. The guitar player Louis S... had problems with his sound so it want that great. I didn't enjoy the Skinny German Juggler. The Ventriloquist with Matilda was very good. the Library ( Explorers Lounge) was my favorite place to hang out on sea days. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2018
My first cruise!...And the first question asked by almost every other passenger we visited with was “How do you like cruising so far?” My honest answer each time was “What’s not to love?” ...Start every day with coffee delivered ... Read More
My first cruise!...And the first question asked by almost every other passenger we visited with was “How do you like cruising so far?” My honest answer each time was “What’s not to love?” ...Start every day with coffee delivered to your room; go up a couple of decks to find a huge selection of breakfast items; return to your room to find your bed made; check your newsletter for what you’d like to do today; stay onboard or disembark depending on where you are but at lunchtime onboard there is always a ton of food choices; enjoy a lecture or movie, go in the pool, spa, etc.; dinner is another huge selection of food options and venues, too; and after some entertainment and maybe a cocktail in one of the many lounges you return to your room to find a turned down bed with a mint on your pillow! “What’s not to love!?” Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
This has been on my bucket list. Planned a Panama Canal raise 5 years ago, but was unable to do this because of serious family illness. After the death of my husband I decided that it was imperative to do a cruise I had always dreamed ... Read More
This has been on my bucket list. Planned a Panama Canal raise 5 years ago, but was unable to do this because of serious family illness. After the death of my husband I decided that it was imperative to do a cruise I had always dreamed about doing. Only did the 11 day round trip from Fort Laudetdale with partial Panama Canal transit We flew into FLL on Southwest Airlines and stayed both pre and post cruise at Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale, which is a hotel that I have used for years. Have previously sailed on smaller HAL ships, so was curious about whether I would like the larger ship. I felt very much at home because HAL retains a similar floor plan for their public decks. The crew was very friendly and helpful. After trying another cruise line, I truly enjoy seeing the friendly Indonesian and Filipino faces that are a hallmark of Holland America. We took excursions in Aruba, Curacao and Costa Rica. Enjoyed our visit to a banana plantation in Costa Rica most among the shore excursions. We stayed on the ship during our visit to the Panama Canal and felt we truly got to see lots of the actual workings of the canal. We enjoyed the movie and TV program about the Canal in our cabin prior to our Canal day. A nice HAL touch was the Panama buns and coffee on deck In the early morning. We enjoyed the Billboard Onboard nightly. Pianists could certainly draw a crowd of us oldies that loved the oldies that they played. The only other entertainment that we saw was a marvelous steel drum ensemble “Island Magic” that captivated a large number of passengers. Embarkation and Debarkation were handled with usual HAL precision. We got thru Immigration and outside the terminal just as a thunderstorm passed through. (Welcome back to Florida,) Have already scheduled another cruise on the Nieuw Statendam, so will be looking forward to another great Holland America Cruise! Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary that included the Panama Canal and Cartagena. We were not disappointed. Embarkation was a breeze. We landed at FLL around 1:00 and were enjoying a light lunch by 2:00. Disembarkation was also a ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary that included the Panama Canal and Cartagena. We were not disappointed. Embarkation was a breeze. We landed at FLL around 1:00 and were enjoying a light lunch by 2:00. Disembarkation was also a breeze. We chose luggage direct and were off the ship by 8:30. Got to the airport a little after 9:00. Our luggage arrived at our final destination, BWI, without incident. The ship had a more laid back vibe, We did not miss the belly flop or wet t-shirt contests. Lounge chairs were at a premium on sea days. You could, however, find a very comfortable deck chair on the Promenade deck. The entertainment was good. The B.B. King All-stars were the best band we have heard on all of our cruises. Listened to them every night they played. The shows in the theater were also good. Drink prices were quite reasonable compared to other cruise lines. The evening special $5.00 martinis at the Billboard Lounge were excellent. Food was uniformly good. We chose anytime dining and only had to wait one night. Service was excellent. The Lido grill served excellent food. Seating could be a challenge at lunch. Canaletto and the Pinnacle Grill were outstanding. The tours in Cartagena, Panama City, and the hacienda tour in Costa Rica were awesome. We had excellent tour guides for all of our tours. We look forward to going back. After 30 cruises, this was our first on HAL. It will definitely not be our last. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
We just returned from an absolutely amazing cruise of the Panama Canal. Before we left, I confess I was apprehensive because of some of the reviews I’d read that said the boat was old, that the itinerary wasn’t good, and that the ... Read More
We just returned from an absolutely amazing cruise of the Panama Canal. Before we left, I confess I was apprehensive because of some of the reviews I’d read that said the boat was old, that the itinerary wasn’t good, and that the activities were too few. I couldn’t disagree more, and I honestly have no idea what all the whining is about. Of course, it could be that before the ship was dry-docked last November it was shabby, but it sure isn’t any more. The furniture in the rooms was new, the doors and carpets all appeared new, the public spaces were well-maintained, and the beds were more comfortable than ours at home. That said, if you’re into glam and glitz, huge ships with entire shopping malls and bowling lanes in them, then, true, this is not the boat for you. But what the Zuiderdam does have—and which is way more important—is high-quality, healthy food that isn’t just sugar, salt, and fat rearranged into different shapes; impeccable service in the rooms, dining rooms, kids’ club, spa, casino, and more; quality dance, comedy, music, and magic acts by talented people; almost no lines for anything; and just enough excitement to make each day fun and relaxing. We stayed in room 6017, a balcony room on the Upper Veranda deck. It was perfectly situated for viewing the canal and its feats of engineering as well as the breathtaking jungle canopies filled with toucans and parrots on either side. Our friendly room steward Gede and his assistants did an amazing job of servicing the room in a timely manner and leaving all sorts of whimsical towel-animal creations for our 8-year-old to enjoy. On the canal tour day, we even had breakfast delivered to our room so that we didn’t miss any excitement. (Do work on those scrambled eggs, though.) Our boy was one of probably only 30 kids on the whole boat! Before you decide that this cruise isn’t good for kids, let me tell you how awesome it was for him to have gotten to know the majority of the others by name and be able to play with them in and out of Club HAL throughout the trip. Besides, he enjoyed the Club HAL activities immensely and appreciated all the love and energy the staff members, like Allison and Amanda, put into organizing enriching things for the kids to do. By day, we took advantage of a wide variety of activities. We played lots of bingo, ping pong, and music trivia, all of which the assistant cruise director Alice made super fun, we hung out by the pool, which is the only cruise pool I’ve been in that wasn’t frigid, we gambled on the wide variety of slot machines, and we had spa services. In particular, the hot stone massage and the acupuncture treatments I got from the knowledgeable Lauren Steigmayer were great ways to start the trip off relaxed and healthy. We also took five excursions, two by Holland and three through our booking agent. We enjoyed all the ports of call except for Colon, which was pretty sketchy. But Holland offered excursions from Gatun Lake that made it well worthwhile to stop in Panama. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Panama. You can read detailed reviews of the excursions we took—the Panama monkey island tour and the Everglades airboat tour--on Holland’s web site. The other tours we took were through prestigecruises.com. The photographers did a great job of capturing all our comings and goings without being pushy. By night, we loved having dinner in the dining room with our excellent waiters Dindin and Asep, who were so welcoming to our son. Thanks to the variety of healthy choices, decadent options, and ethnic dishes, we never tired of the food, which we usually do. (I’m on a special diet, so imagine my pleasant surprise on learning that the Lido deck offered gluten free pasta and bread!) The Pinnacle Grill had amazing crab legs, and when we dined there a second time, they were out of crab legs but made up for it with free lobster tail, instead. The entertainment, which I’m usually not too excited about, was surprisingly fantastic. As a former ballet dancer, I’m a tough critic, but I thought the dancers were quite technical and fun to watch. As music goes, we especially enjoyed Billboard Onboard, featuring the dueling pianists Danny and Ian. Ian was so kind to my son, Cameron, playing his requests and encouraging him to stick with piano. We also really liked the BB King All-stars band, the comedian with his dry sense of humor, and the magic act with the adorable Pomeranians. Nick, the cruise director, did a great job of organizing the activities and getting us excited about them. Zuiderdam, we love you and think you deserve this praise. Keep up the great work! Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2018
We chose this cruise because we knew the Panama Canal is not something that many people get to see. We weren't disappointed in the cruise. She may have a few scratches here and there, but the ship is in great condition with cleaning ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we knew the Panama Canal is not something that many people get to see. We weren't disappointed in the cruise. She may have a few scratches here and there, but the ship is in great condition with cleaning and repair on-going but not in passengers' way. Weather was wonderful--not too hot or humid. Everyone said we had the best weather in the last couple of months. We were pleasantly surprised by the food. It was wonderful in all the venues. We only ate in the dining room twice because we prefer less time spent on dining and not dressing up every night. The Dive In had perfect hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. There was a taco bar that we used several times for taco salads. We got the salad bowl and lettuces from the Lido buffet. We also appreciated that there are servers--not everyone handles the utensils at the different areas. The quality was quite good as was the variety. I think I saw more actual variety at breakfast than I have on any other line I've sailed with. And, the Lido manager brought me a cherry crisp that I had seen on the dining room menu! Pasta bar was great. Many kinds of pasta and add ins were available. We had room 6129 on the Upper Verandah deck. Andri and his assistant did a wonderful job of cleaning, bringing ice, setting a mood for evening after dinner, and making towel animals. Zuiderdam is on the smaller side with 1800 passengers on our trip. I wasn't sure about the arrangement of the decks when I got on and started looking around. Guest services is on deck 1. But it all turned out well. We could get around quickly. I always like a promenade deck that goes all the way around. It was particularly nice for Canal viewing. The entertainment was amazing. I think it's best total package I've ever seen for entertainment. BB King's Blues Club, Billboard Onboard, comedian, classical entertainment, dancers and musicians, especially Steel Drum Island Magic, were all top notch as evidenced by the large audiences for each. America's Test Kitchen was interesting. The lecturers brought onboard for the ports and the Panama Canal were very informative. I'm not at all including the shopping guide. That, to me, is always a waste. All they want to sell is jewelry. Zuiderdam has a Navigator app for your phone to use. It's very handy to get around the ship, schedule your activities, and contact your family. I do wish it would ding though when you have a text. We booked all tours through Holland simply because I like the convenience and they cover what most all the tours do although with a bit more expense. For Bonaire and Curacao, the shopping areas closed early so there wasn't much time for browsing. A bit more time in port would be good. Bonaire was interesting for the salt flats and slave huts. I thought we would stop to see flamingos, but we didn't. We saw some but at a distance. Curacao is a beautiful area. Be sure to see the Kukunu Museum. The guides do a super job of showing you how the island functioned years ago. The town is beautiful. Be sure to go across or at least see the swinging bridge. Free wi-fi is hard to come by. We chose to stay on board at the Panama Canal. The long tours were more than we wanted to do this time, but I think we will make another trip and see the other side of Costa Rica. One tour was 3 hours late returning because the canal doesn't work on strict timing. All the deck areas were open to accommodate everyone who wanted to see what was going on. We got to see the sun come up over the canal. You'll want to get up early! I got off in Colon and walked about 3 blocks through a chain link tunnel to the "mall". There was a military helicopeter and a large police presence there. You'll want to stay onboard I think. Costa Rica was beautiful--another reason to go back so that we can see more of the island. We did the Rainforest Preserve. The rainforest is the most magnificent thing I've ever seen. I love the desert, beach and mountains, but the forest has to be seen to be believed. We did not see many animals which was a bit of a disappointment, another reason to go back. Be prepared to walk whichever tour you take. There's a great market at the port with many booths and crafts people. For sea days, there were many new movies in the room. There were many activities to attend and lots of deck chairs all over the ship to relax in. Shopping was all high end except for small things in the shop that sells candy, t shirts, etc. Why is there always so much high end shopping? Embarkation was pretty smooth. Rooms were ready by 12:30. We got on at 11:30 and had lunch. Debarkation was easy too. We paid $25 for Holland to collect our bags and get them to the airport and print our boarding passes. It was worth it. Hassle-free trip to the airport. Customs was 45 minutes--a long wait. If I could have gotten the Mobile Passport to work, we could have saved a lot of time. I'm not sure what the issue was. We will definitely choose Holland again. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
My only cruise experience was with Renaissance back in the 90s and I hated it. Decided to try again, and my sister and husband are 4 star mariner and loves HAL, so we went along. Also decided to go with the Neptune level to increase the ... Read More
My only cruise experience was with Renaissance back in the 90s and I hated it. Decided to try again, and my sister and husband are 4 star mariner and loves HAL, so we went along. Also decided to go with the Neptune level to increase the potential for a great cruise. It worked! (this ship has 1900 passengers, the Renaissance had about 300, so it was a large ship to us) Our suite was very roomy, 500+ sq. ft. with huge balcony on deck 7. We did not see wear on the ship as other reviewers have mentioned, everything looked really nice, with great decor. I love the fact that we unpacked once and did not live out of a suitcase. We left port late March, and unlike the January cruisers, we had perfect weather. I saw rain for 20 minutes max, the whole cruise. Cartegena was hot but the humidity was not bad anywhere. We took a tour through Expedia in Cartegena that was excellent, through the city, down streets full of street art, to the church on the hill, and through the old city. Our guide took us where we wanted to go and didn't lead us to emerald stores like many others. In the Panama canal we stayed on board, having read reviews before we left of the heat, slow buses and long days on shore excursions. Talking to others afterwards, that had taken those tours, they were sorry they had done so. You could see from the bow, stern and from our balcony everything you could want to see, how the locks worked, while waving at sailors on the sand dredging ship in the next lock. The service aboard was great, from the cabin stewards to the waiters. We also left some money for our cabin stewards the second day and the last day, which probably gave us an extra bit of service. That was in addition to the daily charges. I would say the only negative was some of the food in the dining room was bland. The soups were uninspiring and the lasagna I had one night had maybe a tablespoon of tomato sauce on it. We ate many meals in Canaletto and Pinnacle restaurants, and the food was a step up. The Lido was also good, and they have two salad bars that one reviewer here must not have seen. Also the casino was pretty large for a ship, IMHO. We didn't attend many of the entertainment nights or classes, but may do so the next cruise. We did get hooked on Downton Abbey which was one of many many shows and movies available on our huge TV, on demand. Overall a great cruise, we think HAL is tops and the ship was beautiful. Of course had we had 20 foot seas, I might not be so pleased. We will continue booking excursions ahead of time through the internet (not with HAL). And we will be sailing again with HAL. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2018
We chose the cruise because of the itinerary (through the Panama Canal) and the fact we love HAL and prefer the smaller ships.We had done the Canal once before in 1996. We had the signature suite 8094, which was good size. Bathroom had ... Read More
We chose the cruise because of the itinerary (through the Panama Canal) and the fact we love HAL and prefer the smaller ships.We had done the Canal once before in 1996. We had the signature suite 8094, which was good size. Bathroom had a whirlpool tub and shower plus another free standing shower and two sinks. Large balcony. We ate breakfast daily in the Lido, usually at the omelet station, made to order. Food was always excellent. We had lunch either in the Lido or the Dive Inn hotdog, hamburger cafe outside. A lot of time they had "tapas" in the Lido which sufficed for lunch. Also made to order salads. We really didn't notice any wear and tear on the ship because we were having too much fun. Maybe some paint missing in the elevators was about it. Many raved about the Pinnacle Restaurant, which was an added charge. I didn't think it was worth the extra and the menu doesn't change. The Vista, Main dining room, was great and of course, the menu changed daily. We got a meal in the Cannaletto given to us by my travel agent. It was an added charge restaurant and although it was nice, we won't do it again. We had the signature beverage package so no worry about added charges at the end. Our favorite part of the trip was the staff we met in the bars around the ship. They were above awesome. I would take this ship again whatever the itinerary just for the same people. We became very close to them. We loved the Lido Bar, BB King bar, the Pinnacle Bar and Billboard Bar.We loved the Trivia games and Bingo. We used the spa more than previously. I had some acupuncture sessions for knee pain that were amazing. My daughter and sis had several facials and manicures they were very happy with. I used the fitness center daily which was quite adequate. The Crow's Nest was great for watching the ocean go by and reading or internet. Unfortunately the internet availability was awful. i would never have spent the money if I knew it would just be wasted. Their reason for bad internet might be because we were in the middle of nowhere. Last year we cruised Princess, a sister ship, around South America and had much better reception so middle of nowhere is no excuse. I didn't take any of the ship's excursions but my kids did and were happy with all. Maybe we should have, especially in Corinto, Nicaragua, because there was nothing to do at the port. Probably my favorite cruise of all time!!! Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2018
Three couples chose this cruise because it went to the Panama Canal. I have never been on Holland and didn't know much about them, (found out later they are part of the Carnival/Princess lines of which I am NOT a fan but by then it ... Read More
Three couples chose this cruise because it went to the Panama Canal. I have never been on Holland and didn't know much about them, (found out later they are part of the Carnival/Princess lines of which I am NOT a fan but by then it was too late). This ship and the line were outstanding! We are retired, in our 60's and this was the perfect choice for us. No KIDS, you could get in the hot tubs, no belly flop or newlywed games but still perfect for all of us. Very classy entertainment of all types, every venue and show was outstanding. The ship is beautiful, very stately and in great shape. The food was just fair although the Lido does an excellent job in their serving and preparation. The dining rooms are nice because they don't hoard people at the same time, the anytime dining is very fluid and you can always get a table. The food in the dining rooms was usually lukewarm, it might have been our waiter. There are two speciality restaurants and our travel agent treated us to both. The Italian one was outstanding, our best meal. The steak house had cronic service issues. It was so bad they invited us back again as their guests but unfortunately the service was not much better - it took over 3 hours to eat and we left before desert so we could go to the show. The cabins are lovely - we booked early and chose inside cabins on deck 6 mid ship - 6081, 6071 and 6067 - each was perfect, larger than expected, great location and we loved them. I am not a sit on the veranda kind of cruiser, I like to get up and out and we would go directly upstairs to deck 9 and sat outside. There are two nice pools, one covered. My husband smokes cigars and there is a nice smoking section on deck 9 and it was a great social gathering spot. As I said, the entertainment was great. This was the longest cruise we ever took, might not do another this long but it takes a while to get to the Panama Canal and it was worth it! We took the tour through the other 3 locks and I highly recommend it. Don't sit on the ship that day, the port of Colon is just plain dangerous and you came all that way take the trip through the locks. It is a once in a lifetime experience. We went to the rainforest in Costa Rica, it was so - so there might be other better excursions and we did the hop on -hop off in Cartagena - not necessary the only thing to see their is the Wall city and that is great - don't miss it. Nothing else to see in that city. Half Moon Cay was great, and Aruba has really deteriorated over the years and Curacao is nice. The itinerary was almost perfect - some stops, some days at sea, just right. Our weather was perfect and that adds to the experience. Some of the other poor reviews were I am sure due to the weather. If ours had not been as nice for the entire 11 days it might have been a different experience. Read Less
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