Embarkation at San Francisco was quick, easy and efficient. Our time for embarkation was 3:00 pm and we arrived shortly after 2:00. No waiting and our luggage arrived in the stateroom before dinner. My only complaint was that there was very little, Welcome Aboard information with what was going on that day. We didn't have the daily sheet showing times of dinners, shows etc. Shortly after sailing, we had our first lifeboat drill - we felt that we were being tugged in a dozen directions and weren't sure which way was up. Do you explore ship? How do you find out where to go and what to do? Next day, much better. Daily sheet arrived, met Charlie our cheerful, competent Steward. At 11 am the Cruise Critics who had registered on the Roll Call Forum met in the Crows Nest, wearing our Mardi Gras Beads. We weren't a large group so we were able to meet for lunches and get-togethers during the voyage. One couple was English, one American and 3 couples were Canadian. Our fellow CC certainly enhanced our enjoyment of the holiday! Since this ship had departed from Vancouver, there were a lot of Canadians aboard and the Zuiderdam staff provided Canadian Newssheets and had a Turkey Dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving. Dining in the Vista Lounge was interesting. Each menu had a myriad of choices and the description of the meal often didn't match the finished product. They were all tasty though and the creative writing descriptions gave our table companions some laughs. Plates were beautifully presented with servings not huge (thank goodness) and quite varied. On occasion, one of our tablemates would request a second helping and it was not a problem for the dining room staff to comply. We enjoyed our table companions very much but sharing a table for 18 days is quite a long time. It would have been interesting to have different dinner companions sometimes. I understand that other cruise lines are experimenting with free style dining but there are problems with this style too. Wines: We purchased wine with dinner and the house wine at $18 was quite acceptable. The steward was pleased to recork it and serve us the remainder the next day. We ate lunch at the Lido restaurant and enjoyed the variety. Breakfast was usually room service.
Ports of Call: This was a fantastic Itinerary. Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatalco, Acapulco, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cartagena Columbia, Jamaica, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas in addition to the piece de resistance, the Panama Canal. We participated in shore excursions at most ports and found them to be well run and interesting. The only hiccup was Cartagena which is the most interesting city with its ancient fortifications and cathedrals. 47 buses lined up to take passengers on excursions - most of which were city tours. They all seemed to end up at the same place at the same time causing tremendous traffic jams. The tour was billed as an easy tour but hiking up the battlements of the fort and up the hill to the cathedral was quite strenuous. As usual, there wasn't enough time to explore everything you wanted to, but such is life. They always find time to deliver you to the Approved Shops which sell the same ugly tee shirts and tourist souvenirs. Columbia had the benefit of Emeralds though and many people were sporting some lovely pieces at the next formal night! Some of our fellow cruise critics hired a taxi and had the benefit of a guided tour with their private guide. Half Moon Cay was a delight. Lovely white sand, warm, turquoise sea. A few chaise lounges in the shade would have been appreciated. All of the cabanas were gone early - you would be well advised to book these in advance. We took a snorkeling trip on a boat and just loved it. We have a few physical limitations (age, artificial joints) but had no trouble entering the water and snorkeling in the choppy water. Everyone wore a swim vest that could be inflated and there were two lifeguards. Entertainment: Showtimes were just great. We went to most shows and they had a great diversity. The theatre is quite sophisticated and holds about 650 people. Early shows were quite full, the later show was not. We also enjoyed the Zuiderdam Superstar show - home grown Karaoke talent which was excellent and much fun. Daily entertainment was good too. They had a series of lectures on Geology as it pertained to the area we were transiting as well as a series of enrichment lectures: Spies, Gismos and Gadgets. There was an ACBL Director giving Bridge Lessons and hosting a game in the afternoon of sea days - both Duplicate Bridge and Party Bridge. This was great as many people who have played bridge for years were able to update their methods.
There was a guest chef aboard, James Mazzio. He gave a culinary demo which was interesting, informative and fun. Later in the cruise he and the Zuiderdam's executive Chef had a cook off which was lots of fun. We also had a tour of the galley. In addition to these activities, there were trivia contests, ballroom dance lessons, singles get-togethers, exercise classes, gym, spa services, movies, bingo, afternoon tea - it was impossible to participate in more than a fraction of the entertainment aboard ship. We found the layout of the ship very pleasing. There are lounges scattered throughout the public areas and we never found ourselves overwhelmed by people. Many times we would go for a drink in the Crows Nest and there would only be a dozen or so other people there, a small band playing and a few people on the dance floor. In the pool area there were many lounge chairs empty; the Promenade deck had lots of shaded lounges just waiting. Management of people departing for tenders to Ports was well handled and we were never waiting in line for more than just a few minutes. It was hard to believe that there were 1,800 people aboard the ship. The layout of the ship is such to encourage you to use the decks for exercise In General: Passengers were an older crowd - it was a 3 week cruise from Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale so that is to be expected. There were only a few children and 1,000 grannies! The staff was wonderful - friendly, helpful and cheery. We will be cruising again and believe that Holland America offers excellent value.