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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!

Perfect Panama Canal Cruise

Zuiderdam Cruise Review by cruiserkima

10 people found this helpful
Trip Details
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!
cruiserkima’s Full Rating Summary
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Cabin
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Ages 7 to 9
Service
Onboard Experience
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Cabin Review

Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
Cabin VD 6017
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. The furniture in the rooms was new, the doors and carpets all appeared new, everything was well-maintained, and the beds were more comfortable than ours at home. Our plumbing had to be serviced once, but it wasn't because we were experiencing any problems. They just needed access to our room, and the problem was resolved with zero inconvenience. It was quiet at night, and I didn't have any trouble sleeping, whereas on my last cruise with Princess, I could not sleep at ALL due to noise.
Rotterdam Deck Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Island Tour
    I can’t say I’d recommend this tour. It does deliver what it promises—a comprehensive island tour including a visit to the salt factory and slave huts, flamingo sighting, and a drive through Kralendijk and Rincon. Here’s what you need to know, however. Your tour will consist of riding around in a van for hours with little chance for exploration. We got out of the van only three times and for only a few minutes at a time. While we did see flamingos, we saw them from quite a distance. Our fellow travelers were thankful for the binoculars we had brought. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable, but not personable, so some of the content’s delivery felt dry. Bonaire’s best offerings are in the water: If I had it to do over again, I’d skip the tour and hire a taxi to take me to an awesome snorkeling spot. Or if possible, I’d rent a golf cart or Jeep for a self-guided and better-paced tour of the island’s highlights.
    View All 86 Island Tour Reviews
  • Monkey Watch
    My family and I were so glad that we decided to take the Panama Canal excursion. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been allowed off the boat until we reached Colon, which is a pretty sketchy, uninteresting port that has little to offer in itself. Our tour began with a 90-minute trip in a comfortable, air-conditioned motorcoach to the boat launch for the jungle cruise. During the ride the guides crammed us, perhaps too much, with information about the Panama Canal. When we arrived at the launch, we separated into smaller boats, each with its own guide. The tour was fun. We got to see the Pacific side of the canal and to travel from island to island to look for wildlife. We were wildly successful! We saw white-faced capuchin monkeys, Titi monkeys, and Howler monkeys. In addition, we saw a sloth and a huge iguana along with many species of birds. The monkeys were surprisingly social. Some even jumped on our boat or walked down the sides searching for an easy meal. We had ample opportunities to photograph the monkeys. After the monkey tour, we boarded the bus again and were taken to the Colon terminal to meet our ship. Trust me, this excursion was much more exciting than a visit to sketchy Colon.
    View All 11 Monkey Watch Reviews
  • Snorkeling
    This was an amazing tour that I would recommend to anyone who loves wildlife. Our guide Hette made this tour informative, exciting, and best of all, personal by highlighting her unique heritage as a Dutch woman who has lived in the Caribbean for decades. We loved learning from Hette, and she made each guest feel valued and respected. Our first stop was to see flamingos skimming the surface of the water for the algae that turns them pink. Then, we arrived in Shete Boka National Park, where we took an easy hike through unusual terrain, where we saw fossils, cacti, and blue-tailed salamanders. The hike culminated in visiting an overlook where we tried to spot sea turtles. Although we had no luck, we still enjoyed the hike greatly; and what came next more than made up for it. At Fisherman’s Beach we snorkeled with a dozen HUGE sea turtles that swam all around us in the shallow water. My eight-year-old son had no trouble navigating these waters and enjoying close encounters with this beautiful species. Funny, he lost a tooth while snorkeling and kept right on swimming after safely storing the tooth in my husband’s board shorts. The snorkeling was such a success because Hette gave us valuable advice that other tour guides clearly didn’t know about how to leave ourselves open to closer encounters without touching or scaring the turtles. Her respect for them definitely influenced all of us to feel the same. On our way back from the beach, we stopped by Knip beach for lunch and snorkeling among tropical fish. Then, we visited a beautiful colonial plantation house converted to an art gallery, where we learned about Afro-Caribbean culture and purchased souvenirs. The whole trip gave us a strong connection to Curacao and a desire to return soon.
    View All 42 Snorkeling Reviews
  • Everglades Tour
    This excursion has to be the best way imaginable to avoid sitting around the airport for hours after your cruise returns. It was short, organized, and fun, and we loved the fact that this tour doubled as a timely transfer from ship to airport with all our luggage safely in tow. We made it to the airport with time to spare for lunch. After your cruise, a fancy air-conditioned motorcoach picks you and your luggage up and takes you to the airboat launch. Along the way, a guide shares interesting facts about Florida and the Everglades. Then, you arrive at the launch, where the guides equip you with ear plugs. The boat skims at high speed along the top of the water, which is fun in itself, but it also slows down or stops for wildlife viewing. Our airboat operator shared interesting facts about the alligators and birds we saw as well as about the Everglades, overall. After the half-hour ride, we toured the animal sanctuary next to the launch, which is an amazing operation that accepts rescues of exotic animals, especially alligators, to keep them from being destroyed. We learned a lot about all the animals from knowledgeable, caring guides.
    View All 124 Everglades Tour Reviews
  • Half Moon Cay
    Half Moon Caye was beautiful, clean, and easy to navigate. It's an island privately owned by Holland America Line. We enjoyed relaxing on the beach, snorkeling, and eating lobster.
    View All 1,186 Half Moon Cay Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Half Moon Cay Cruise Port Review
  • The Tortuguero Canals
    I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone who wants to see a lot of what Costa Rica has to offer in a little time. The tour was mildly active and well-paced but not at all strenuous. Our family’s tour began with a scenic drive in Eric’s air-conditioned van through the Limon countryside to the Tortuguero canal, where we saw loads of wildlife on our hour-long cruise, including spider monkeys, howler monkeys, iguanas, a toucan, oropendula, and more. Our guide Renato was very knowledgeable about spotting and describing the abundant wildlife. Thereafter, we stopped by a banana plantation and observed part of the process of raising the crops. We arrived shortly thereafter in Cahuita National Park, where we took a walk through the jungle adjacent to the beach to observe sloths, a raccoon, a boa, medicinal plant life, and more. Although there were a lot of people visiting Cahuita, I really liked it and thought it would be fun to return to stay there for a week in the future. Our last stop was at a roadside souvenir shop, where I sampled and bought the amazing Costa Rican coffee. Aside from the attractions, my family truly enjoyed riding around Costa Rica through towns and countrysides, listening to Renato’s stories about life in Limon. The tour felt very intimate, which will make us remember it forever. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to experience Costa Rica.
    View All 68 The Tortuguero Canals Reviews