9 Holland America Zaandam Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

My first cruise!...And the first question asked by almost every other passenger we visited with was “How do you like cruising so far?” My honest answer each time was “What’s not to love?” ...Start every day with coffee delivered ... Read More
My first cruise!...And the first question asked by almost every other passenger we visited with was “How do you like cruising so far?” My honest answer each time was “What’s not to love?” ...Start every day with coffee delivered to your room; go up a couple of decks to find a huge selection of breakfast items; return to your room to find your bed made; check your newsletter for what you’d like to do today; stay onboard or disembark depending on where you are but at lunchtime onboard there is always a ton of food choices; enjoy a lecture or movie, go in the pool, spa, etc.; dinner is another huge selection of food options and venues, too; and after some entertainment and maybe a cocktail in one of the many lounges you return to your room to find a turned down bed with a mint on your pillow! “What’s not to love!?” Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
We've always wanted to do the Panama transit and Curacao has been on our bucket list for a very long time. Overall, the cruise was pretty good. The crew were amazing!!! The ship is a little smaller so we got to know a lot of our ... Read More
We've always wanted to do the Panama transit and Curacao has been on our bucket list for a very long time. Overall, the cruise was pretty good. The crew were amazing!!! The ship is a little smaller so we got to know a lot of our fellow passengers and it was easy to get around. We really enjoyed the Lido for the late night snacks opportunities. The food is always amazing on HAL but this cruise had WAY too much kale/Swiss chard. Every single meal had this greenery. Blecght! We realize the ship had just come out of dry dock so there were some issues, but the worst of it was the plumbing. Pipes were rupturing and MANY toilets were overflowing or plugged. We were lucky and only had one "plugged" moment towards the end of our trip. Our friends had to move cabins 3 times due to overflowing toilets, leaving sewage on their cabin floors. Another woman, with mobility issues, was told to use the toilets near the library as her cabin toilet wasn't working. Great idea except the toilets near the library were NOT working and overflowing water constantly. Overall we had a great time but the plumbing issues all over the ship were problematic. The entertainment in the theatre was terrible - lackluster, amateurish, repetitive. The crew shows were absolutely fantastic! The dancers and singers were horrible. We walked out of all shows. We really were hoping that we'd see more crew shows as they were truly great. Very talented!! Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
Spouse wanted to transit Panama Canal and this cruise was the right time, ports and price. However we found out Zaandam was coming out of dry dock for this cruise from Cruise Critic, not HAL. It was not ready. Our cabin reeked of ... Read More
Spouse wanted to transit Panama Canal and this cruise was the right time, ports and price. However we found out Zaandam was coming out of dry dock for this cruise from Cruise Critic, not HAL. It was not ready. Our cabin reeked of construction adhesive for the while 23 days as the bathroom had been completely remodelled (looked great, smelled horrible but love the new shower which replaced the tub). The ventilation was hanging and the floor was covered with lumps of adhesive. A fine coating of dust covered the flat surfaces in the room, especially in the closets. Our toilet had issues of flushing fine and then overfilling, once flowing into the bathroom and flooding into the cabin. This seemed to be an issue in port. We became paranoid and would count to 5 once the flush took place to insure the overflow situation did not happen again so we could call immediately, although our phone did not always work. The service in the main dining room was at best uneven. We spent many evenings at a table for 6 at anytime dining waiting for the main course to be served. It did not appear to have enough staff in the dining room. Waiters seemed to have 6-8 tables to work on by themselves with no staff to assist. Food was uneven. My lobster on the first gala night was undercooked but rather than wait another half hour for a new one and delay my dining partners, I said it wasn’t cooked. The Lido Market food was also just okay. The fresh items, such as salads and Asian food, were fresh and flavourful as were the cooked veggies, but the other offerings were hit and miss. Trying to figure out hiw to get served was frustrating as lines were often confusing and non existent, if the server liked you or knew you, they would serve you, otherwise you could get told to go back to the end of what appeared to be an arbitrary line. At least a few times I had to go back to the meat line when all I wanted were sides. With no signage, it was confusing. The cruise director, who was moving to a new ship after this cruise was rarely present at the events we attended other than the beginning of the nightly shows. It wasn’t like many activities were ongoing during the day aside from an evening trivia which was emceed by the assistant cruise director as were most of the sports events. Cruise director seemed to loosen up toward the end of the cruise. The activities such as America’s test kitchen or nightly shows were okay, but once we reached San Diego started repeating for the last 6 days of the cruise. We had expected better. The singers and dancers were good but we had expected to see them more often. The galley tour and backstage tours were nice additions as we the coffee talks with members of the crew. The port talks were informative to a point but outside the venue, the person seemed somewhat disinterested in talking. No pool games aside from ‘swimming in the Panama Canal’. Celebrating Kings day was a disorganised mess at tea when many more people than expected showed up. I evnturally left. Shore excursions were as always overpriced with more time spent on the bus than at the activity. The where when which told the daily activities often had errors as did the online Navigator version for use on a cell phone. This free service allowed texting with others on the ship as well as access to the bill and NY Times for free. A nice try, but inaccuracies meant I often missed the start of activities. I really liked Curacao, (where we booked an independent tuk-tuk tour), Hualtuco (with a beach right off the ship and great snorkelling nearby), and Manzanilla, (with a great fresh produce/meat market within walking distance) best. We skipped Nicaragua due to political unrest which was fine. We did SAN Diego, SAN Francisco and Vancouver on our own and had a great time. The docks in these cities were close to local transportation. The gym was great with what appeared to be new equipment, except for mats. Pilates, yoga and cycling classes at $12 each were available but not for my pocketbook. Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
This was our first cruise on HAL. I had pretty high expectations and was not disappointed. Embarkation was late starting due to Coast Guard not having cleared the ship. We learned it was just returning from dry dock and required Coast ... Read More
This was our first cruise on HAL. I had pretty high expectations and was not disappointed. Embarkation was late starting due to Coast Guard not having cleared the ship. We learned it was just returning from dry dock and required Coast Guard inspection. There was not too much of a delay and embarkation went smoothly. Dry dock refurbishment updated the ship with brand new carpets, upholstery, decking, beds, and decor features. It was beautiful. First thing we noticed were fresh flower bouquets everywhere and orchids on all the tables. There was an air of elegance throughout. There were a few glitches and some took a couple of days to get fixed, but the crew was "on it" and even some of the dry dock crew remained on board to complete the last details. The plumbing in our room did not work - toilet or shower. Sink worked with low water pressure. A talk to maintenence officer in the hallway got the water on almost immediately. Water pressure in sink resolved after two days, but not a real problem. Air conditioning was sporatic for a couple of days, but not unbearable and it, too, got fixed. At least in our room and public rooms. Nice touches were apparent throughout the cruise. The food in the MDR and Lido exceeded expectations. The service really stood out as superb. The crew seemed happy and eager to please. The itinerary was just what we wanted, second time through the canal with visits for four new ports for us: Cartegena Colombia, Corinto Nicaragua, Puerto Quetzal Guatemala, and Puerto Chiapas MX. Read Less
Sail Date April 2015
The rating of this ship is generous according to reviews. Service was awful to non existing. Out of 14 nights in dining room my husband only had one night where his iced tea or water was refilled. Gone are the days where customers ... Read More
The rating of this ship is generous according to reviews. Service was awful to non existing. Out of 14 nights in dining room my husband only had one night where his iced tea or water was refilled. Gone are the days where customers mattered. Asked for condiments when I ordered dinner so I would have them. Never came with dinner either. Again, ignored and didn't give a damn for their customers. Worse cruise I have been on. As a seasoned cruiser we know the difference. Every thing is a cost center and they don't work too well. Pinnacle specialty dinning was no different. Nothing special there!!! Lamb chops were too fatty to consume and Steak was way over cooked after ordering Rare came well done with no pink at all. Got two horrible meals with no reimbursements and they didn't even care if we ever came back. Should have offered a try again to "win" us over and satisfy their customer but did not bother! Still charged the $29.00 up charge. Went away hungry and dissatisfied. Not good if you want to keep clients coming back. One review is one thing, but every evening was the same. Food not prepared as ordered and server never did call backs or cared if we were satisfied. Many meals were delivered and thrown in front of us. I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly would not serve rotten fruit in an appetizer. I would not serve what I would not eat!!!! Waiter never bothered to even look at what he was serving and had many meals messed up between different people at the same table. This was a Wow moment for us. And we won't ever do that one again. Read Less
Sail Date April 2015
We sailed on the Zaandam in 2008, and the ship is showing its age. cushions in the show lounge are worn and uncomfortable. We picked this cruise for its value and length, plus we only had to fly one way. We were never bored, and the 18 ... Read More
We sailed on the Zaandam in 2008, and the ship is showing its age. cushions in the show lounge are worn and uncomfortable. We picked this cruise for its value and length, plus we only had to fly one way. We were never bored, and the 18 days did not feel too long. The staff were great, and the length of the cruise let us get to know them by name. This is not a party cruise, by the time we got to San Diego the crows nest music and dance bar was empty most nights. I'm not a buffet fan and was disappointed every time we ate there pre cooked food that's never hot enough. We would usually get salad from the buffet and then go to the grill by the pool, good bbq fare including salmon fillets. The dining room food was excellent, we chose open dining, and often the two of us at alone, our choice. Hal did a good job accommodating my wife who is gluten intolerant, even though we didn't give them notice. Ports- Astoria was interesting, could walk the town easy enough, lots of volunteers to help you. San Diego was close to town also, lots to do if you chose. Cabo San Lucas was tender only, so time on shore was limited. Hualtulco had a beach right on the end of the pier, all the other piers were in industrial areas. The most disappointing port was Puerto Ciapas, a half hour shuttle (not free either) from town. The further south we got the more humid it was. Costa Rica and Columbia were great, lots of history We are disappointed to learn about Hal's change in alcohol policy in 2014, can only bring one bottle of wine on a embarkation only, members of my family cruised with Hal because previously we could bring on as much wine or champagne as we could carry in each port. At least they have multiple happy hours, one drink is $6, the 2nd is $1. The movie theater on board good, but the seats were worn. The entertainment in the show lounge was mostly great. The canal transit was well done, narrative given over the loudspeakers to give info . Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
This was our fifth cruise with HAL (and ninth overall) and also the longest we’ve ever taken with any cruise line. Our first time however on the ‘Zaandam’ which is a little smaller with fewer decks than some ships we’ve been on. ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise with HAL (and ninth overall) and also the longest we’ve ever taken with any cruise line. Our first time however on the ‘Zaandam’ which is a little smaller with fewer decks than some ships we’ve been on. Because of the time of the year and the length of the cruise, we in our fifties were among the youngest passengers there! First time that’s happened in a while. We stayed in a ‘vista suite’ on the port side verandah deck which had both lots of storage room and a nice balcony. We were concerned a little about the large number of ‘sea days’ (nine in all), made necessary by the long distance travelled between Vancouver, bc and Fort Lauderdale, FL. We needn’t have been, for HAL had all kinds of activities arranged. Not just veiled efforts to sell you things such as art or jewellery either (though they had those!), but lectures and presentations on history, art, computers, and culinary activities. That’s in addition to the usual poolside stuff. Some interesting destinations on this trip too, including a number places we’d never been. I have to single out the stop in costa rica (Puerto calderon). Though the port itself was uninspiring, our excursion to the rain forest and aerial tramway was among the best we’ve done. Goes without saying I guess that the panama canal is an engineering marvel and a sight to see. It's coming up on its centennial just as they are nearing completion of new locks able to handle larger ships. I do recommend to all travellers that they do the panama canal from a west coast port to an east coast one; that way the canal is toward the end and serves as a fitting climax to the cruise. You do take a small chance this time of year for storms and it is the rainy season but neither of these affected our cruise in the least. Just lucky I guess. Service and food was up to the usual HAL standard, but in particular the dining room staff were noteworthy for their friendly and professional attitudes. Entertainment also was very good, with comics, magicians, jugglers and singers rather than the usual tired revues you often see with lip synching and pre recorded music. I have to say that the ship’s band (the “HALcats”) were among the busiest group on board; we saw them everywhere. Worth noting that the Zaandam went into drydock immediately following the cruise for some upgrades to both cabins and public areas. From what was described to us, these changes will only improve what this ship has to offer. Nothing about this cruise changed our view that HAL is a superior cruise company and we will certainly use them again.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
We have talked about doing a Panama Canal cruise for a long time, wo we looked forward with great anticipation to our 17-day east to west transit aboard Holland America's Zaandam. I was just a little concerned about spending such a ... Read More
We have talked about doing a Panama Canal cruise for a long time, wo we looked forward with great anticipation to our 17-day east to west transit aboard Holland America's Zaandam. I was just a little concerned about spending such a long time on one ship, but as it turns out, there is evidently no end to the amount of pampering I can put up with. Packing for such a long trip was tricky, however. This was our fourth cruise and the third with Holland America, having sailed on the Maasdam and Statendam before. We immediately felt very much at home on the Zaandam as it is a lot like the others we had been on. We like the smaller yet less crowded feel of that class of HAL ships. Embarkation was complicated by some kind of computer malfunction, but passengers and staff alike remained cheerful. We were among the first passengers to board, so things may have gotten a little testy later on. Our room was not quite ready. Only one robe was available, and we suspect it was one left from the previous passenger. The famous little bowl of fruit was not there. We later found out from our room steward that there had been a changeover, and he was very apologetic for the lapses. One major disappointment was finding that we had been assigned "Lower Main Seating" in the dining room at 8:30. We immediately went to speak to the Maitre D' and literally had to "take a number". When our turn came, he graciously assured us he would "do everything he could" to respect our request--the same thing he told dozens of other people. We booked five months in advance, and had just assumed we would get what we wanted! We've always eaten at an earlier seating before. Later we actually talked to several people who were at the earlier seating and had not requested it. Many people never eat in the dining room, and it seems wrong to have empty tables sitting there when there were so many who much preferred eating earlier. It was kind of amusing to hear everyone standing around grumbling about the late hour each evening right before the doors opened at 8:30. As it happens, there were a few advantages to eating later--including having a nice long afternoon to enjoy an ice cream cone by the pool and still having plenty of time to get dressed for dinner. And we were lucky to have very pleasant dinner companions. So we ended up eating in the dining room almost every night. Since the complete transit of the Canal is not one of the more routine itineraries, I won't try to give a day-by-day critique, or even port-by-port. I will just say that every port was interesting and beautiful in its own way. And the day spent going through the Canal itself was fascinating from dawn to dusk. A list of the "high points" would have to include the day at beautiful Half Moon Cay, HAL's "Private Island" in the Bahamas. The beach is just unbelievably clean and white and the water is that luminous turquoise color of the Caribbean. There were bright flowers everywhere, and a barbecue lunch was efficiently served in a pavilion just back a ways from the beach. We did our own thing in Puerto Rico and found much to see and do within short walking distance of the ship's dock. One of my favorite moments was standing on the deck as we sailed away from Puerto Rico at midnight, gliding past the lights of "Old Town" and the ancient El Morro fort. Another memorable "sail away" was spent in the Crow's Nest Bar at sunset as the ship did a 380 degree turn leaving the harbor at Puntarenus, Costa Rica. A member of the Crow's Nest Band played soft "New Agey" music as we watched the panorama of shore and rocky islands go slowly past until we were turned to sail directly into the sunset. We also often enjoyed having predinner drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the Explorer's Lounge listening to live strings and piano. To me, it's those "little moments" that make a cruise such a wonderful vacation. I have read some critical comments about the shows on Holland America, but I have to say that we enjoyed each of all 17 evenings. The line-up included three "full-out" singing and dancing shows featuring a very talented group. Then the official on-board orchestra provided live back-up for a variety of other musicians as well as comedians, magicians and other performers. The "Mondriaan Lounge" theater is, to me, the most beautiful of the three HAL ships we've been on. Almost every seat has a good view of the stage. Another small "advantage" of late seating in the dining room is that the lounge was almost never crowded for our shows. We were a little disappointed with the piano bar on the Zaandam. The way it was laid out was kind of like a wide spot in the promenade--very open. And the pianist didn't seem to get much participation from the people around him, but rather was more of a "performer". I've been in piano bars on other ships that had more of a cozy, intimate feel where people could interact and sing along. The food was almost always very good, with plenty of choices for each meal. My husband was a little critical of the lack of variety at the Asian station at the Lido for lunch. Service at the Lido Buffet was courteous and efficient, and lines didn't get too long. However, sometimes the people just ahead of us seemed awfully slow. But that's just the way buffet goes, I guess. All in all, it was a wonderful cruise. Holland America is known for the little touches like fresh flowers everywhere. The wait staff is outstandingly pleasant and friendly, and everything is kept sparkling clean. We hope to sail with HAL again, soon, and wouldn't mind a bit if it was on the Zaandam. Read Less
Sail Date April 2006
This was our first cruise on Holland America after 6 cruises on Princess. We were looking to take a roundtrip cruise to the panama canal area in April and had initially planned to take Princess for this itinerary. Our vacation schedule ... Read More
This was our first cruise on Holland America after 6 cruises on Princess. We were looking to take a roundtrip cruise to the panama canal area in April and had initially planned to take Princess for this itinerary. Our vacation schedule changed, however, and the Zaandam was the only ship sailing this route during the one week in March we could all go (5 adults). Travel to Embarkation Port: We live in Florida and 2 of us had planned to rent a car and drop it off at Hertz's location near the Port (as we had done on many prior cruises). By the time we arrived, we discovered that all the rental car return lots have been relocated to the airport. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a crowded shuttle bus that stopped at the Star Princess and Celebrity's Infinity before finally arriving at Zaandam. Next time, we'll just pay to park our own car near the port. Stateroom: We had 2 separate minisuites on Verandah deck (deck 6). The ship is kept impeccably clean. Staterooms were in excellent condition. Small LCD televisions and DVD players, very comfy beds. Free shoe-shine service. Stocked refrigerator and mini-bar (not free!). Nice robes. Ample closet and drawer space for 2 people. It was a little tighter for the 3 of us in the other cabin; small sofa bed (doesn't pull out; small twin mattress only.) Ship Info: Very elderly passenger clientele. Our age range was 40 - 80 in our party but most passengers were clearly in their 70s-80s. Maybe 10 kids on the entire ship. Public rooms were in excellent shape. Beautiful promenade deck. Excellent library, the best we've seen at sea. Ugly organ in the atrium -- a real eyesore. It sounds like a calliope at a carnival; really laughable. The only criticisms: typical "luck of the draw" stench of cigarette and cigar smoke on your balcony if your unlucky enough to have smokers in the next door cabin. Also, a strange unpleasant smell amidships that we were never able to quite place... It's been noted before with regard to the Zaandam. It would come and go during the course of the cruise -- ?sewage ?clogged drain? Who knows. The gym was outstanding. Spa services are very overpriced (200 dollars for a 50 minute couples massage seems outrageous). Dining: Outstanding service. We ate in the main dining room and had one dinner at Pinnacle Grill. Genuinely friendly, helpful waiters. On Princess, you have a very overworked waiter and assistant waiter (who refills beverages when he/she has a chance.) On Holland America, the head water actually WORKS and helps out the wait staff. We saw our headwaiter at all 3 meals in the buffet/Lido Cafe actually and he got to know our family very well; very kind gentleman. So each table really has 3 waiters; water glasses and ice tea refilled without asking; fresh bread brought out whenever your basket runs low; prompt orders and food brought out quickly. Coffee actually arrives with the dessert! Very good food. Some dinners were truly outstanding. The Lido cafe also had very attentive waiters who would carry trays to tables, refill drinks, just chat with you. The buffet had more limited choices than we recall from Horizon Court on Princess, but there was still more than enough food to choose from. Also free ice cream, free pizza, excellent outdoor barbecue burgers, fries, etc. by the main pool. We had breakfast one morning in the dining room and it was excellent. We really ate well. Pinnacle Grill was outstanding; steaks were delicious. Service: Overall outstanding. We gave extra tips to our room steward, head waiter and main table waiter. Even on the last morning when disembarkation was underway staff were patient, helpful, smiling, joking with guests. Minor problems with the cabins were dealt with patiently and promptly. They really want you to be very satisfied and happy. The staff is anxious to please. Excursions: Half Moon Cay is a beautiful island. Great barbecue lunch. Aruba and Curacao are poor stop-overs in my opinion. We took the Canal tour in Costa Rica which was enjoyable. The panama canal crossing was the highlight of the trip, but the ship only passes through the first set of Gatun Locks on this particular cruise -- it then sits inexplicably for 2 hours in Gatun Lake during which time only passengers who booked Holland America excursions can leave the ship. We really think the excursions in the canal zone are a poor value. The ship then returns through the Gatun Locks (again a fascinating experience) and docks in Colon which is truly a wretched port stop. We had planned to hire a taxi to go to the Gatun Locks visitor center and spend an hour or so watching ships at street level go through the locks; we were warned not to do so by the ship's staff citing safety concerns. We were told specifically not to leave the Colon shopping area. Once we got there we understood why; it looks deserted and very creepy around the Colon port stop. We think cruise ships are likely obligated to stop in Colon for political reasons (offer local merchants the chance to sell to the passengers for example.) We understand that there is much poverty in this part of the world and we were ready to buy small souvenirs without hesitation. But it seemed to us that a much better alternative to Colon would be a 24-hour or 36-hour transit of the entire canal with a stop in Balboa/Panama City -- where there are things to see of historic significance; the ship would return to the Caribbean via the Gatun Locks and still stop in Costa Rica then return to Florida. Disembarkation: A breeze. We used the porters at Port Everglades, boarded a shuttle back to the airport and picked up the rental car for home. It took 30 minutes from the time we left the ship to the time we were leaving the airport in our rental care. Summary: PROS: Great staff attitude; very clean ship; great food. CONS: Chronic nasty smell amidships on the Zaandam; poor port stops in Aruba, Curacao, and Colon. Read Less
Sail Date March 2006
Zaandam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 3.9
Entertainment 3.5 3.6
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.7
Family 3.5 3.7
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 3.5 3.7
Service 4.0 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 4.0

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