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 ... Read More
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! Read Less