Zuiderdam Cruise Review by Kirsten T
- Sail Date: January 2018
- Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
- Cabin Type: Signature Superior Verandah Suite
Pre-cruise: stayed one night at the Embassy Suites 17th St. using HHonors points. This is our usual pre-cruise hotel; love the nearby shops and restaurants and the ability to walk down to the 17th St bridge to view the harbor. The Embassy has consistently excellent service and is kept very clean; the suite furnishings are getting shop-worn and need replacement. For us the good outweighs the bad, since it's a free night with points, but I probably would choose another property if we couldn't use points. This was a Sunday departure and the hotel was very busy both Saturday and Sunday. We used the port transfer service for $9 each; you can charge it to the room or pay in cash. Took about 45 minutes from the time we checked out to the time we arrived at the terminal, around 11:30 AM.
Embarkation: Zuiderdam was at terminal 21 since Eurodam was at 26. This area of the port is a lot less congested at the moment due to terminals 22/24 and 25 being empty space (eventually to be a new terminal 25.) Dropping the bags and getting through security on the street level went quickly; check-in desks are on the second floor. At 11:30 embarkation hadn't yet started and the main waiting area was almost full; they did have coffee, water and pastries available. Check-in took about 20 minutes; we got a boarding group number and by that time they'd started moving people onboard. We waited only another 10 minutes and were informed on boarding that cabins were already available so we could drop the luggage right away, which made us happy. We went to make a 1st-night reservation at Canaletto and found it was 25% off. Pinnacle would also have been 25% off the first night.
Muster drill: unlike Princess and Celebrity, HAL still has you go outside to your assigned lifeboat station. Although we weren't thrilled initially, mostly because it was 50 degrees in Fort Lauderdale that day, this actually proved to be a much faster, much less painful experience than mustering on Celebrity. You walk without a life jacket directly to the area underneath your assigned boat, have your card scanned, wait for stragglers to be identified by shout outs, listen to 10 minutes of instructions and you're done. Our favorite muster drill, ever.
Cabin: We splurged a bit this year and booked a Signature Suite, cabin 8094. It was port side, forward of the aft elevators, and the veranda was on the angle where the cabins bump out at the aft end of the ship. That gave the cabin a little extra space and gave us both a side and a forward view on the veranda, which was mostly covered except for a small section. Except for one year on Celebrity where the Upgrade Fairy bestowed us with a Royal Suite, this was easily the most comfortable, spacious cabin we've ever booked. It had oodles of space, a huge bathroom compared to what we're used to, more storage space than we could use, and we are basically spoiled for life now. What we didn't love so much: it's underneath the Lido Market (buffet) in an area where they roll service carts around both early AM and late PM; I wasn't bothered by it but hubby was. There is also a crew door directly across the hall from this cabin, and the door slammed as crew came and went. Some of them were pretty good about not letting it slam; others, not so good. And, although we loved the veranda angle on nice weather days, we had a lot of really terrible weather days on this cruise, including very heavy seas. The exposure meant that salt spray and sometimes rain coated most of the veranda. On the crappy days we could be out there, on the piece that faced sideways, but we agreed that having the angle wasn't a plus on a cruise with only 2 or 3 nice sunny Caribbean days. All that said, we did love the extra space, the couch, the comfortable beds, the dual sinks, the whirlpool tub, being able to walk around the bed without turning sideways, the USB ports by the beds, the spacious, lighted closets, the many drawers and shelves, the expansive desk area and also the proximity to the aft stairs and elevators.
Entertainment: My classical musician husband was in heaven with Lincoln Center Stage, featuring 45 minute concerts of real classical music by a very respectable piano quintet. They also played some lighter programs including movie music, Latin-influenced music, and "Bernstein to Buble". The venue is kind of odd, being largely in a heavy traffic pattern near the "anytime" dining room. But we really enjoyed having a high-quality classical music option and the shows were mostly packed. BB King's featured a 5-piece live band with 2 singers, playing mostly Motown and music of the 70's with a few jazz standards and rock tunes. They also played really well and were engaging, interacting with the audience and encouraging dancing. The only drawback here was the volume level; the venue is too small for a live band of that size and we found the sound level painful, so we typically caught a few numbers and split. They usually played three 45 minute shows a night and in a 10 day cruise, after a few shows you pretty much knew the playlist. Billboard Onboard was wildly popular; two pianists/singers did various themed shows with music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, British Invasion, and several "all request" shows. It was standing room only at the later shows every night. Several specialty acts were good - comedian Jimmy Carroll one night ("clean comedy") and an outstanding steel drum band, Island Magic that played everything from the William Tell Overture to music from Cats. They are evidently a fixture on HAL because at a daytime meet-and-greet a number of passengers said they picked the cruise specifically to see Island Magic. Not sure I'd go that far, but we really loved their show. Another night the main stage featured a movie, Victoria and Abdul, and on another there was a nature film with live music accompaniment which we were sorry to miss. Daytime entertainment was scarce; there did not appear to be an “activities staff” and it was a much quieter atmosphere than our previous cruises, which we’re fine with. There were a few fitness activities, spa “seminars” and some bar and alcohol-related demos and tastings, and some shop and shore excursion-sponsored talks. There was also a daily movie shown in the small cinema.
Fitness Center: nice selection of machines, all in good condition. Treadmills, a few ellipticals, several upright and recumbent bikes, a couple of rowing machines all facing forward with a nice view. Usual weight machines, plus a free weight area with benches and a small floor area. There were spinning, Pilates, yoga classes available, some free and some with a fee. There's a water fountain and a cooler of cold towels, along with larger dry gym towels. The only issue was with 15 foot waves, there was too much motion in the fitness center (it's high up in the bow) for me to use the cardio equipment about half the time. But on port days it was fine, and was rarely busy.
Food: a very subjective subject but in general we thought it equaled or exceeded Celebrity's in many ways. Main Dining Room dinner menus weren't extensive, but we were never disappointed with a choice, and we found the soups, salads and desserts especially good. Breads and pastries were also excellent. We had breakfast and lunch at the Lido Market buffet daily and loved the fact that most choices were served in individual plates or containers, eliminating shared utensils and the health concerns around self-service. It did mean juggling a number of smaller plates instead of one large plate, but we liked the concept. We typically ate earlier than most - 7AM and noon - and rarely had trouble finding a table. Loved the orchids, cloth napkins and silverware at each table, and also loved how each section had a regular staff person serving beverages and assisting with anything we needed, including finding seats on sea days. Loved the Cannonball burgers at the Dive In, especially the fact that burgers are cooked to order instead of sitting in a tray. Just like Celebrity, they seemed to have frequent mechanical issues with their soft serve ice cream machines, but also had a different hard ice cream selection available daily (and also bread pudding, served by the ice cream guy.) We did notice that one side of the buffet typically had one flavor and the other side a different flavor, so it pays to walk around. Loved the pre-made sandwiches for a quick grab-and-go lunch. The made to order Oriental Tuna Salad was a treat, as was the fresh sushi rolls, and they made a mean pulled pork sandwich. We tried Canaletto and liked the food, and eating at a "restaurant" carved out of a section of the Lido market wasn't as weird as we expected. Although the menu suggests sharing two small plates and one main per person, the wait staff clearly did NOT expect anyone to order that way and recommended a starter and a main each, and a shared pasta which worked nicely. Food quality was good, not great, and the location seemed to require running the food up from a distant galley - service was really slow. But it was a nice change, and they offered 25% discount the first night of the cruise.
A note about As You Wish dining: everyone wanted to eat between 6 and 7. That's not physically possible, and even with pagers, the second night they actually ran out of pagers and started suggesting eating in the Lido or at a specialty restaurant. Consequently there were a lot of unhappy people. The key to making this work seems to be making a reservation directly with one of the managers, who can look at the computer to see where the openings are and who have more discretion than the people taking phone reservations. We stopped at the desk on our way out the 3rd evening, had a pleasant chat with one of the managers who helped us book the remainder of our dinners at the same table and same time. We had to take an earlier time than we'd hoped, but having a reservation was better (for us) than facing an uncertain wait time every night. Arriving before 5:45 or after 7:45, on this cruise anyway, would not have required a wait. Between those times really required a reservation, for a table for 2. (That's been our experience on Celebrity and Princess as well; we wondered if it would be any different on HAL, and it wasn't.)
Service: Absolutely first-rate. The entire crew was smiling, eager to please and unfailingly polite. We’ve had mostly excellent service on both Celebrity and Princess, but we were blown away by the Zuiderdam crew. Did everyone get everything right? Of course not. But they genuinely cared about getting it right, so even when something went awry, it was immediately corrected with an apology. We absolutely loved the crew, who have now set the bar pretty high for others to match.
Ports: Half Moon Cay was nice; rained in the morning and weather was mostly cloudy after that, but we got a little sun and enjoyed the sugar-soft sand and clear water. Had no trouble finding chairs; there are literally a thousand of them in various locations, both in shade and sun. Aruba, we basically skipped. We arrived in the afternoon and unfortunately got the dock furthest away, which required a shuttle bus to get to the main terminal area. We chose to just stay onboard and enjoy the uncrowded pool. In Curacao we just wandered around the shops a bit; this was the warmest, nicest day of the cruise.The "downtown" area is very safe and walkable, and the pontoon bridge is interesting. The Panama Canal, the main event, did not disappoint. We mostly stayed on our veranda during the first transit, then stayed onboard for the return transit and went to the bow, which they opened for the day, until a thunderstorm chased us inside. There was narration both ways, and plenty of opportunity to see the locks from all vantage points. The Crow's Nest was very popular in the early morning, and they served coffee and Panama Rolls (sort of like cheese danish) all morning. We didn't go ashore in Colon, although there did appear to be some shops and bars in the port area and some people did. Unfortunately we skipped Costa Rica due to 60 mph winds and heavy seas, and we ended up with 3 very rough sea days to wrap up the cruise.
Overall, except for the weather, we had a fantastic cruise. HAL compared very favorably with Celebrity, and in some ways we liked this cruise better than our past few on Equinox. We'll definitely cruise HAL again, and loved the Zuiderdam and its crew.
250,000+ people have entered their email
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
CuracaoIt's easy to walk to shops, bars, restaurants from the ship. The floating bridge is interesting.View All 1,242 Curacao Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Curacao Cruise Port Review
Half Moon CayThe beach is spacious and it's easy to find either a quiet or lively spot. Only a short tender ride to the beach.View All 1,180 Half Moon Cay Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Half Moon Cay Cruise Port Review