Having been on the Zaandam in January 2018 and been very impressed with the ship and its amenities, I chose this cruise for the chance to be on her again and to transit the Panama Canal again with stops in South America.
Embarkation/debarkation: As always, HAL did these impeccably for a mass market cruise line. Both were a breeze and I was onboard for a nice lunch in the MDR in minutes. The guarantee that one's cabin will be ready when boarding is a nice touch.
The ship: The Zaandam is a nice sized ship and is easy to get around. The public rooms and walkways have been left as they were intended when the ship was built. It has a real, wide, walk-around promenade deck: a large library space even though few books; wide internal hallways; excellent, easy to read signage. It was well maintained.
The cabin: I had a standard verandah cabin in the aft part of the ship, It was a very good size with many more closets and drawers than I could use. The beds were comfortable and I had the best pillows I have ever had on a cruise ship in my 44 years of cruising. The furniture and bathroom had been refurbished and the floor coverings were new. The verandah furniture was new and very nice, with a foot stool.
The dining: The food in the MDR has definitely taken a downturn since my prior cruise. The appetizers, soups, vegetables, and desserts were good. They managed to overcook all the fish. The only good fish we had was fresh tuna brought on in Ecuador and prepared seared on the outside and rare on the inside, the correct way to cook it. I skipped the meat. We were in some of the best South American fishing grounds and some of the best wine countries in the world; they should have been bringing on local foods and wines in every port.
The entertainment and activities: The shows done by the production cast of singers and dancers were all very good. Some of the contract performers were also good. In general, nothing was too loud; I hate sitting through performances with my fingers in my ears and only had to do it once on this cruise. There was always live music in multiple venues in the evening. The only underused space was the Crow's Nest, where there should have been a ballroom dance ensemble all evening.
There were two enrichment lecturers who were excellent. One was a flora and fauna specialist and also did a very good talk on the Galapagos. The other was a specialist in South America, particularly the music and dance.
HAL has chosen to combine the cruise director position with the EXC or port lecturer position. In general, this is a mistake since the cruise directors aren't knowledgeable enough to do it. However, we lucked out -- our cruise director had been an EXC manager. He did very good presentations on the ports.
The service: I had excellent room stewards. They were efficient, personable and attentive; and they fulfilled every request I had. The first two nights in the MDR, there was a general service issue; it was corrected by the third night. I had early fixed seating and had excellent waiters and wine steward. The service at breakfast and lunch in the MDR was always limited and slow. I only used the Lido buffet a couple of times and found it to be well laid out and well supplied with a variety of foods. The ice cream was exceptional everywhere. As always, I attribute the food service issues to staff cutbacks.
As always, the Guest Relations representatives were less than helpful. They have few problem solving skills and no authority to fix anything. Up until the last night, I actually thought I was going to experience a first for all my HAL cruises -- no error on my onboard statement. Alas, it was not to be. When the error was pointed out to the GR rep, she agreed that it should be removed from my final bill before I left the ship; but, of course, it was not. I had to take it up with the corporate office and still don't have my refund.
If a request is made in the initial booking for a twin bed cabin configuration, why is this not transmitted to the cabin steward? If the embarkation day's program is supposed to be distributed at check-in, why isn't it? With this many sea days, a passenger book exchange must be provided and properly promoted and labelled.
The Canal: I had done the full transit from Ft. Lauderdale to Santiago once before on Celebrity and chose this cruise because it was a similar itinerary. The Canal is endlessly fascinating. Unfortunately the Canal guide provided to the ship was not very informative; we certainly learned nothing about the ships we were seeing, their cargoes, the new canal, the flora and fauna around us. In addition to the provided Canal guide, Celebrity had an enrichment lecturer who did talks about the canal before we got there and did an extensive and informative narrative while we were in the canal. I was expecting the same from HAL and was disappointed.
The ports and shore excursions: The first port was Aruba; there are many better ones in the Caribbean that could have been chosen. In South America, all the ports are working ports and require special transportation; it was provided at no charge which was quite nice. I thought all the ports were worth a visit -- Fuerte Amador, Panama; Manta, Ecuador; Trujillo, Lima, and Pisco, Peru. We had to skip Coquimbo, Chile, due to civil unrest. I would highly recommend that the cruise line find another termination port than Santiago. The airline flights from this port are not until late in the evening; the air lines do not open their check-in desks until about three hours before flights; there is no comfortable place to wait in the airport with one's luggage; HAL does not provide a day room in a hotel or at the airport for those who are waiting. This requires an expensive all day shore excursion to be purchased.
HAL has really upped its game on shore excursions. In many ports, food and wine focused excursions were offered. I took them all and they were excellent. I read the HAL online shore excursion descriptions, make my decisions based on them, and purchase them before leaving home. For the most part, the excursions as executed were exactly as described. This does not always happen with cruise lines and I expect a refund when it does not.
Miscellaneous comments: Approaching Chile, there was a great deal of concern about ongoing civil unrest. I felt that HAL and the captain handled this well and I felt safe with their decisions. The captain kept us well-informed. Indeed, there was a contingency plan in place in case we needed to remain on the ship and disembark in Argentina. If there was ever a time I was glad that I had purchased my air and transfer arrangements from HAL. I felt comfortable in the thought that they would take care of me in this event.
Docking place is excellent. The town has high end shops and hotels, similar to St. Thomas. Not much of interest at the port.
This is a tender port a ways from Panama City. There is no complimentary shuttle provided. There are some nice souvenir shops at the pier.
There were three stops; all were excellent. The Minka Market was a fresh food market that was astounding for its size and beauty. The guide knew her foods and was able to talk about what we were seeing. At a very high end restaurant, we had a demonstration by a chef and then were served an excellent lunch with pisco sours. After we went to a traditional Peruvian 'pub' for sandwiches and more pisco sours.View All undefined undefined Reviews
This is just a fairly good place to get on a ship.