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Holland America Line ZuiderdamZuiderdam Cruise Review
Holland America Line
Panama Canal
March 29, 2009

by Doug F.W.

This was the second cruise on the Zuiderdam for my wife and me. The first was a 7-day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean in 2005. This was a 10-day cruise to Panama
and the first time we've deviated from the usual 7-day itinerary.

Embarkation: Smooth and easy. Never a bad experience leaving from Ft. Lauderdale.

Room: Balcony on port side, great view. We smoke on vacation so it's always a balcony for us because we don't smoke in the room, ever. We also try to be as courteous to our neighbors as possible. The room was always clean but the room steward had an attitude from the start. He wasn't rude, he just didn't seem like he wanted to be on the ship. Personally, I couldn't care less about his attitude as long as the room was clean but my wife didn't like him. He still got the full tip because the room was always clean. Room service menu and food is still the best at sea among the standard lines. RCI is second.

Ship: Always clean and always being cleaned. Not too many wide open spaces but that doesn't bother me. It's a cruise ship. Some are more wide open than others. It is tastefully decorated and easy to get around. The longest I waited for an elevator was maybe one minute.

Weather: Sunny every day. We were lucky.

Crew: Attentive and friendly. Some more so than others but excellent crew overall.

Food: Above average banquet food. We know this, it's a fact, so we accept it and have fun. I find it amusing how people review standard cruise line food and can't believe each meal is not on par with Crystal or Regent or the finest restaurants in Paris and New York.

You get what you pay for, as far as the food goes, on a standard cruise line ship. (Crystal or Regent cruise: $10,000+ for two, HAL/Norwegian/RCI cruise: $3000 w/balcony for two... yes, there is a difference in the food, get over it). HAL has improved their sushi in the Lido since our last HAL cruise on the Westerdam over a year ago. Lines were a little long at times, during lunch, but if one is not too picky, it's easy to get something good all the time. We ate dinner in the dining room about 4 times and it was always good... sometimes great. We had open seating and never had a problem getting a table. Never ate in the Pinnacle because we didn't want to get hammered about buying a $200 bottle of wine to go with an above average steak. I can go to The Palm or Ruth's Chris when I get home and know that the expensive wine I'm drinking has not been shaking on a rack in a ship for 6 mos.

Shows: We don't do them on cruise ships. Seen plenty in Vegas and if you've seen shows in Vegas, well... knock yourself out if you still want to see cruise ship shows.

Casino: Every night. Smoked my brains out, drank my fill, and had a ball. After this ten day cruise, I was down $200. Not bad. I was actually up until I got greedy and played the dollar slots too much the last two days. This was the first cruise I've been on where I won at Black Jack every night I played. I didn't get rich, but I left the table ahead every time... and when I play, I play for at least an hour. Never played craps or any of the weirdo card games. The casino staff is friendly, fun and helpful... most of them anyway.

Ports: Were there other ports besides going through the Panama Canal? When my wife and I sail the Caribbean, it's the beach for us. Half Moon Cay was good except that the Westerdam was there at the same time. Double the crowd. This was a first for us as we've been there twice before with HAL and each time, we were the only ship. Oh well, it was still fun and relaxing. It's also the best cruise line-owned island in the Caribbean for relaxing in the sun. Don't know what the food is like on Half Moon Cay because we always eat a big breakfast, take the tender to the beach, relax in and around our clamshell, drink a few beverages and then head back to the ship mid-afternoon. Why? The food on Half Moon Cay is HAL food... so it's the same as the ship and you don't have to walk a mile down the beach to get it... and wait in a long line.

We didn't do any shore excursions (again, we do the beach and/or shopping, if there's time), but Costa Rica was fantastic. My wife speaks fluent Spanish and we took a cab to a local beach about 20 miles away. The driver stayed with us all day to make sure we got back to the ship on time. We bought him lunch and had a great time with him. There was an outdoor Caribbean cafe nearby and we had an excellent, relaxing lunch. He also took us to a reputable convenience store in the local village to get bottled water, beer, and an ice chest for the day since there is no concession service at this beach, it is still pristine. Total fare including his lunch was about $100. NOBODY from our ship was at this beach (wish I could remember the name of it) and it was something out of a tropical fantasy movie. My wife and I like to stay away from the herd, as much as possible, when on shore in the Caribbean and Costa Rica was no exception. Note: our cab driver was inside the compound where you get off the ship, these guys are specially licensed to accommodate cruise passengers. Our driver told us (and showed us) the difference between a licensed cab and those that are not. Thanks to my wife and her language skills, we were able to find out why it's only safe to use the cabs inside the cruise compound in Costa Rica. Take my word for it. We gave the driver the ice chest and what was left of the beer along with the fare and tip. Great day!

There was not enough time in the other ports to do much of anything except shop. Going through the Gatun Locks in the Panama Canal on the Zuiderdam was everything we expected and more. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you have to do it to really appreciate it. Everything was on schedule as planned. Great job by the captain and crew.

Value: Good overall. My only complaint is that HAL has gone WAY up on beer prices, at least on this cruise. A domestic (US) beer was $5.00 on this cruise. If you get a bucket of beer, which is 5 beers, it's ONLY $19.85... what a deal, NOT! We were on the Westerdam in January 2008 and beer was about $3.60. I hope HAL decided to rip us off only on the Zuiderdam for this 10-day cruise. I know the cruise lines need to make a profit but five bucks for a Coors Light is insane.

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