We had done a HAL Southern Caribbean cruise a number of years ago, and enjoyed it; we wanted to go someplace warm and when I saw that Cartagena was on our itinerary, we decided to book.
I had really not wanted to do this cruise; it was a concession to my husband who wanted a change from 5th wheel camping. Here's why: we had been on a few RCCL cruises, one of which was a disaster due to the X-rated cruise director and RCCL's ugly customer service people. Then we took an MSC cruise from Southampton, which was bad in so many ways that I really never wanted to take another cruise. Add to that a bunch of negative discussion about the new Explorer Lounge/aka Crow's Nest, and I was filled with trepidation. I'm happy to say that I've never been so wrong! We just had the best time from the minute we stepped on that ship. HAL is a great cruise line in so many ways.
The Zuiderdam is really gracious. I really iked the Explorer Lounge/Crows Nest. The interactive tabes had a lot of good information about each port on the cruise, but short so you couldn't get bored. The combined coffee shop/bar was fine - not really too busy to get what you wanted. A couple of things I mentioned on my feedback were that the navigation screens blocked prime viewing real estate and those little stool-like things by the interactive tables were downright uncomfortable; it's better to stand! The regular chairs were comfortable but the couch didn't fit me at 5'1" or my husgand at 6'. However, it was great and a lot of people must have thought so too, because it was always busy. The library was a big issue on the forum board, and I'll agree to an extent. Do we need 20K books on a ship in the age of Kindle? I don't think so; but perhaps a few works of fiction and a small book exchange area would be welcomed.
We took 2 ship tours, both excellent (Colonia Panama and Miraflores Locks and Tayurtic Hacienda in Costa Rica). I posted detailed reviews of those on the HAL webpage.
The food was good and varied. I loved the Pasta bar in the Lido, and loved the Asian lunch bar too. Service was excellent; they hire and train great people. We enjoyed the open seating in the dining room and never had to wait more than a few minutes.
The entertainment was so great. We had to excellend comics, David Pengelly and Dan Chopin. There was an illusionist that everyone loved, 3 performances by the Holland American Singers & Dancers, and the magnificent Island Magic Steel Drum band. (It's worth taking the cruise just to hear them). The only disappointment was that one evening was dedicated to streaming the Oscars. I so don't care so we skipped that. Others said the same thing.
Although I'm a heavy Windows user, i took advantage of the Microsoft Windows classes and learned some useful tips every time, and even was able to get into some apps that I hadn't had a reason to explore before. The facilitator was excellent and patient; with systems, there are inevitably people getting lost. (I've trained systems, and know that not everyone can handle it like she does.) She offered everything from Windows 10 Essentials to photo apps and security. She also had a handout with navigational instructions after each class.
Something I LOVED but was unable to take full advantage of is the HAL Navigator app which is free. If only my husband hadn't been so last-century and refused to let me download it for him, I would have been saved a lot of frustration trying to find him!! This app shows you the entertainments of the day, dining menus, events around the ship (letting you build an 'itinerary) and best of all, a chat function with other ship people you add (hence my frustration with my husband.) The steps they have taken to modernize are good - change is inevitable in any area of life, and they did it graciously, IMHO.
The TV/Movie selection in our rooms was way more extensive than I'd dreamed it would be, and they had some excellent documentaries on Panama that I'd never seen.
Embarkation and disembarkation we both easy. On my last cruise (MSC), the disembarkation was a nightmare, so I was prepared. This was such a non-event. Quick Hint - this is not ship related: download the Mobile Pass app (which you'll see advertised in the waiting room for embarcation). We flew through customs on the way out - there was a special line for Mobile Pass people and few were in it.
I can't say enough good about Holland America and the advantages of a small ship. For some people, rock climbing is important, but we're a little past that kind of excitement and aren't looking for that kind of ship and the inevitable large number of passengers. There is plenty of social interaction, intellectual stimulation, and relaxation to be had on the Zuiderdam.
We booked a balcony room becuase it was a good value at the time we booked. It was beautiful, spacious, and comfortable in every way. Our cabin attendants were great and not intrusive at all.
This is nothing but a beach break. Nothing really to do there if you're into history and cultural experiences, but that's not what it's for. We went on land to walk around and have some lunch which was good.
It was very hot here; we had taken a tour on our 1st visit here and there wasn't really too much to see and do. The heat was so bad that we bought a few souvenirs and some suntan lotion and got back to the ship within an hour. We did enjoy a lively conversation with two local ladies in one of the stores. If you haven't been there before, the tours would increase your enjoyment. The people on this island are really lovely!
This port was also very hot. There were some nice places to eat, and some places we could have walked to see, but we just did a general spin around, walked across the bridge and took pictures. We did get inside the historical fort. I was a bit horrified to see it was filled with shops. Something this significant being commercialized? Not cool, in my opinion. We were on land maybe 90 minutes. We had previously taken a tour on an earlier cruise, and something like that would be worthwhile. It really is beautiful, and you'll see some great old architecture even off the main drag.
This tour was totally excellent in every way. We saw so much and even got to visit El Popa church - way up on a mountain - that the big cruise ship busses couldn't visit due to a recent mudslide. Our tour guide, Dora, was wonderful. She knows and loves her city and country and gave us a really good overview of the historical, political, and cultural situation in Colombia and Cartagena. We went to several sites around the city and really enjoyed the walking tour of the walled city. Cartagena is beautiful! I'd recommend Cartagena Tours to anyone - I think we got the best tour possible of any offered by anyone.View All undefined undefined Reviews
In this port, you must book a ship's tour to get off the ship. I see the reason for that now - sometimes the time schedules for getting through the locks get significantly delayed, and you'd be in trouble with an independent tour operator. Our tour, Colonial Panama and Miraflores Locks - was excellent - it's perfect for seeing the city, Ft Amador views of the bay and Pacific, the old architecture (undergoing a lot of preservation work), and a close-up land view of Miraflores locks. I would really recommend that tour if you want a good, complete overview of Panama, the old Canal Zone, and the locks. I posted a detailed review on the HAL website that you'll want to read if you are looking for a tour.View All 39 Panama City Reviews
This was the best ship's tour I've ever taken! We saw and learned so much from this tour that I'm still marveling about it. We saw and learned detailed - not surface - processes for harvesting and processing macadamia nuts, sugar cane (with some samples of their homemade candy that is not for sale anywhere), and coffee. The included lunch was delicious - typical local food (but nothing weird!) They brewed their coffee and made a wonderful drink that we all thought was iced tea but wasn't (ask for their secret recipe!). The guide was excellent and the driver was steady and wonderful. I can't say enough good about it. I posted a review on the HAL website too. I recommend this tour.View All 15 Tayutic Hacienda Reviews