There is a cruise vacation out there designed for sedentary people - the Zuiderdam to the Panama Canal. If you want to go, you should know that most of the good times will be experienced from a chair. No games on the private island, no ... Read More
There is a cruise vacation out there designed for sedentary people - the Zuiderdam to the Panama Canal. If you want to go, you should know that most of the good times will be experienced from a chair. No games on the private island, no band around the pool, little dancing, not even many slot machine players. Hardly anybody out after 9 pm, even though the late shows in the theater don't start until 10pm. And while the very good BB King Rhythm and Blues band was going strong until late just about every night, their audiences were small.
My wife and I took this cruise because of the Panama Canal. We considered a trans-canal trip. But at the time I booked, their prices were going up. So we decided to jump in three months earlier than I have ever booked a cruise.
I joke that the ship required me to show my grey hair before letting me onboard. But there were only five children on the ship. And one lady who said that her dark hair came out of a bottle. Everybody else - shades of gray.
One of the strange things was the folks with walkers who step out in front of people in crowded hallways. There were lots of walkers on the ship. But not all their drivers were so rude. I don't see carelessness like this in the midwest, even with able bodied folks who want to walk quickly. Avoiding running over them on the ship kept me on my toes.
I was expecting great food. It was not to be. Breakfast was fine. Other than that, the food in the main dining rooms was poor to middling. Toughest prime rib I've ever tried to cut. My waiter tried to give food advice, and I should have listened to him. The buffet restaurant was horrible, except for the Asian station which had some tasty Thai dishes. For some strange reason the whole buffet area was crowded at every meal.
Speaking of pools. They are deserted on this ship. The mid-ship pool has a roof that was generally closed, and which made the area feel like a sauna (as if the tropics needs more heat and humidity). The rear pool was nice for relaxing, except for the clouds of cigar and cigarette smoke that waft across the waters from the smoking section.
Our room steward did a good job cleaning up. But after opening the room door several days while we were dressing for dinner, he really should have learned to check the time. The waiters were okay. The assistant waiter was my favorite employee, but unfortunately his main job was to carry food from the kitchen to the wait station. Zuiderdam, if you are reading this, you need to promote Jaja.
I don't go out to bars very often, but the bars on the ship were a lot of fun (though of course, sitting down fun.) Happy hour, one at 4:00 and another at 9 pm, had a buy one get one for $2. There was a wine tasting with an inexpensive glass of wine at 5:00. The hors d'ouevres were always interesting. The customers at the bars were the friendliest people on the ship. Yuliya the lady from the deck 1 bar and also the disco person, always had a story about hors d'ouevres; and she was one of the most genuinely happy and friendly people on the ship.
Most of the entertainment in the main theater was uninspired. The ship dancers were a big exception - they were really good. And the highly entertaining steel drum band Island Magic played some excellent classical music (and other unexpected genres.) On the other hand, there were some acrobat/dancers who looked like they should have been on Ed Sullivan in 1965 (I see Topo Gigio every time I think about them.) The poorest evening consisted of some old movie. There was a comedian and a magician. The first night was an introduction to entertainment. And there must have been one other night that was even more forgettable.
The ship had several other venues. The already mentioned talented BB King band put on a great show almost every night. There was also a piano/string quintet that was quite good. I really enjoyed the cooking demonstrations; they were full of information. Didn't see any of the Oprah shows, and cannot even imagine what they were about. There was a dueling piano show in the casino. And the casino itself was smoke-free, small, and uncrowded.
I've got to tell you about the process of going through the Caribbean locks in the canal. Previously, we had been told to be at the front viewing room at 5 am. Then the schedule was changed to 6. I was there, ready to go, coffee and Panama roll in hand. And the windows were so dirty and foggy that they were hard to see through. But a narrator from off the ship came on to describe what we should have been seeing. His first revelation - the ocean is at sea level. It got no better from there. I went to an outside viewing area at the front of the ship, which was already full of passengers. I waited at the side for about an hour, until ship security ran off a bunch of us. Finally went back to my cabin and sat comfortably on the balcony, while the ship just sat in the lower canal. When the ship started moving, I checked out the view again from deck 3. There was nothing much to see; you had to be standing at the very front of deck 4 to even see the lock doors. I could see nothing other than the lock walls slowly sinking. The Zuiderdam cleared the locks about 10:00.
We took a really unusual excursion on the canal. The best thing was that we could actually see the workings of the locks. The boat was running late because we kept having to wait for a container ship to catch up and join us in the locks. In the second to last lock, one of the gates opened and we got through, but had to wait for the container ship to get through. After about an hour, the stuck gate opened. The ferry was two hours late by this time, and the passengers got an outstanding sunset cruise in the Pacific Ocean.
The private island had a great beach, but it was disappointing that the ship didn't even put up a volleyball net. Went to an Aruba beach that was pretty dirty, but we made up for that experience by having a great seafood dinner at a restaurant near the cruise port. No other excursions. We had a great time walking around Curacao. In Cartagena the heat was so oppresive and taxi drivers so irritating that we refused to leave the port; but that was okay because a small zoo with birds, monkeys and an anteater at the end of the dock was fascinating (I let a parrot climb on my arm, where he proceeded to dismantle my watch). At Puerto Limon, the ship people tried to scare us into not walking around town - we did so anyway, and it was interesting and safe though rather decrepit; we found a vendor selling fresh made empanadas, a park with a sloth high in a tree, a pretty beach, and the best straw-market of the cruise.
I wasn't going to rate the exercise facilities. Then I remembered all those walks around the ship on the third deck. It was great. Never windy. Lots of people out walking. There is a running track on the tenth deck, but it is too short to enjoy anything except the act of running.
Embarkation was weird. I had gotten an upgrade a couple of days before the cruise was due to leave. The staff on shore didn't seem to know about it, and wanted to give me the old room. Still, got it straightened out and we boarded the ship in plenty of time. Debarkation was great - we were off the ship maybe ten minutes after what had been predicted. Customs didn't even ask what we were carrying.
Other non-cruise stuff. Before the cruise, we stayed at the Ramada Inn Airport - Cruiseport; it is a very clean, classic Florida motel from the 1960s, with impeccable shuttles running from the airport and to the cruise port. After the cruise, we rented a car from Enterprise, who seem no longer to claim that "we'll pick you up", at least not at Port Everglades. Drove down to Homestead to the world's best tropical fruit stand - Richard Is Here. Stayed in the downtown Ramada Inn in Fort Lauderdale, which was every bit as funky Florida as the first one. But like a reminder that nothing is perfect, we ended up enduring four hours on the torture devices that American Airline calls seats.
The ports were by far the best part of the cruise. Although having cruised in the Caribbean many times, each of these ports was new to me. I would go back to any of them. Considering that I have paid less for a seven day cruise than what the taxes cost on the Panama Canal cruise, I probably won't cruise through the canal again. And if HAL wants me to go on another of their cruises, they will have to convince me that they have improved their food a whole lot. Read Less