With its traditional heritage and older demographic, you might expect a cruise on Holland America's Zuiderdam to be a placid affair. Wrong. Thanks to interesting enrichment partnerships and outstanding entertainment choices, we found ourselves going from morning to night.
What kept us so busy? A morning mindfulness session developed by editors at "O, The Oprah Magazine." Cooking demonstrations with "America's Test Kitchen." BBC Earth movies. Afternoon classical music concerts at the Lincoln Center Stage. Singing along to the dueling pianos at Billboard Onboard. Watching the passengers get down in the B.B. King's Blues Club. Add in trivia sessions, wine tastings, mainstage shows and (if you're a PC fan) a full schedule of Microsoft Digital Workshop classes, and we barely had time to eat.
Zuiderdam received the full line-up of HAL features in a late 2017 refurbishment; the ship itself dates back to 2002. There are still some places where the vessel shows its age -- the polar bear in the pool area needs to go (while Zuiderdam sails Alaska, it also does Panama Canal and European itineraries), as does the strange throne-like bench in the aft pool -- but overall, the refresh brought some life to an older ship. We were particularly cheered by the USB ports near the bed in the cabins, although we still feel the rooms lacked storage.
On a previous Zuiderdam cruise, we gave the ship excellent marks for logistics. For example, our time on the ship was part of an Alaskan cruise tour, and passengers both embarked and disembarked in Skagway. Zuiderdam staff had the process down to a science; our room was ready when we boarded the ship and luggage arrived promptly. We found similar attention to detail on a subsequent partial Panama Canal transit; despite an array of tours and a tricky time-sensitive tendering operation, the cruise ship staff had their act together to make the operation run smoothly, with competent and efficient service that we found throughout the ship. And, it's that consistency that makes a cruise on Zuiderdam a fail-safe proposition.
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Holland America has a reputation for attracting a more mature crowd, although this can vary depending on the destination. On a late August Alaska cruise, the bulk of the 2,022 passengers were ages 51 to 74; there were 174 children under the age of 17. During longer cruises through the Panama Canal and Caribbean, the number of children drops to less than a dozen or even zero; on our Panama Canal cruise, the only young children onboard were crew kids who were visiting families. The number of passengers who are repeat HAL customers also increases on these trips; 65 percent were repeat passengers on our Panama Canal cruise.
HAL draws a fair number of international passengers, though North Americans always dominate. Other nationalities might include Australians, Chinese, British and Dutch, among others.
Zuiderdam is a fairly casual ship, particularly during the day when most people wear T-shirts and shorts. Most evenings, the dress code is smart casual in all dining venues, with men wearing casual shirts and women wearing pants and sweaters. Gala nights are held twice on a seven-night cruise; we saw only a handful of gowns and tuxedos, with most passengers opting for cocktail dresses (women) and a sport coat (men). Even during longer voyages, we found passengers eschewing more formal attire in favor of being more comfortable.
Mostly misses, very few hits. Would never do Panama again.