About Us Jim (66) and I (61) have taken 24 cruises, mostly on
HAL. We cruise with HAL largely because of the excellent service,
but also to enjoy their generously appointed cabins. We love lazy
sea days and usually sleep late and close the casino at night.
Overview This was our tenth cruise on our favorite ship; our
first 10-day and our first Panama Canal. We hadn't been on a cruise
since March, and this one was well-deserved. As the ship itself is
our destination, we won't have any comments about shore
Service Service, as always, was exemplary. Captain van den Berg
found us the calmest waters and even docked ahead of schedule a
time or two.
Hotel Manager Mark Pells runs a fine hotel, and all services ran
smoothly. Mr. Pells graciously attended our Meet 'n' Greet, which
was held in a private section on the port side of the Crow's Nest.
It was originally set up with a table for cookies and coffee, but
Beverage Manager Mr. Daniela pulled it all out and they served
champagne, Mimosas, Bloody Marys and juice, and walked around with
trays of pastries, all courtesy
of Mr. Pells. He filled us in on the itinerary and answered a few
questions, then introduced the Panama Tour Guide Richard Ditrich,
and Cruise Director Jesse. He is probably the most accessible Hotel
Manager we've ever met, and it is clear that he is well respected
by his dedicated and professional crew.
Most notable staff/crew:
Captain Dirk van den Berg Hotel Manager Mark Pells Cruise Director
Jesse "Yessie" Higley Concierges Kate and Bong DR Manager Mr.
Sanjay Nariani DR Supervisor Arpad Plavecz DR Supervisor Mr. Leo
We found a few nice surprises! The physical changes to the ship
are beautiful. At first I balked at the demise of our beautiful Oak
Room, but once I experienced the Explorations Cafe, it grew on me.
This combination library/internet center/coffee bar is beautifully
designed to flow easily into what's left of the Crow's Nest. Every
time I visited, it seemed to be better utilized than the old
locations were. There is a sliding wooden panel which is pulled
close to separate it from the Crow's Nest when in use for private
functions. The old Internet Center is now a screening room; the old
library is now Mirebella, an upscale gem boutique; the Windstar
Cafe is now the new Pinnacle Lounge, a beautiful bar and
comfortable seating area attended by the amiable Mark the
Embarkation I think HAL has the very best embarkation procedure
of all. There are very short waits for check-in, and we were aboard
in about 15 minutes.
Cabin We were upgraded from SS8099 to SA7061, a Deluxe Suite
directly across from the Concierges in the Neptune Lounge. This is
the best location we have ever had, and we did not hear any noise
from the Lounge entrance at all. This suite was outstanding! Huge
(510 total square feet), comfortable room, spacious veranda with
two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small
chairs. Plenty for two. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, separate
shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and
storage shelf below. A generous variety of Elemis products was
provided, and refilled daily as needed. There was also an umbrella,
laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and 2 fluffy cotton
robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table
with 3 drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror
(1X/5X), 3 closets with mirrored doors and a safe (3 more closets
are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large
couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with flat
screen TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player,
binoculars, data port, 2 telephones with voice mail and wake-up
service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look
much larger. Our cabin steward Muc served us well, working around
our odd sleeping habits and provided plenty of ice and towels on
We found the usual bottle of champagne from Captain van den Berg
and Hotel Manager Mark Pells, a packet from the Concierges with a
list of the services they provide, our custom-printed letterhead,
post cards & pen. We have stayed in this Cat suite many times,
so were not surprised by the clean, well-kept and recently upgraded
condition. The only change since our last cruise was the flat
screen TV. Everything else seemed 'like home.'
Dining As You Wish Dining is here to stay. Although there is
overwhelming support for Traditional (fixed) seating, HAL is
holding on tightly to this more flexible dining plan. AYWD allows
you to appear at the Vista Dining Room at any time and be seated
either alone or with other passengers. I personally do not care to
repeat the same cruise talk with new tablemates every night. I like
having my iced tea or pretend wine waiting for me when I'm seated,
refills without asking, or having my plate removed without waiting
for everyone else to finish the course.
On the first night, when there is only one Showroom show,
seating in AYWD is difficult to coordinate, so the wait may be
longer than other nights. After that, the wait should be no more
than a few minutes.
Don't misunderstand -- we had excellent service by all dining
room attendants, but, except for the Supervisors, they were
different every night. If you 'click' with a waiter at the
beginning, you can make a standing reservation at his table for a
certain time every night. We tried to ask for Hunky Dory's table,
but he was so popular he was completely booked.
Ship's Facilities I have reviewed this ship many times before,
so I will not write about everything.
Internet Café: I have no idea how I managed to use up 100
minutes of internet in 3 days. I frequently have many windows open,
and even though I logged out of one, the others may have stayed
connected. What I need is a (complimentary) unlimited plan.
Staff The Officers, Staff and Crew on this ship offer the
highest level of service we have ever seen. They are professional,
yet personable, and easily accessible.
Excursions This is my stock advice. I print it with every
review. If you haven't already booked online, when you arrive at
your cabin you will find a Shore Excursions brochure listing the
various activities available shoreside. You may fill out the order
form at your leisure and deposit it in the Express Drop Box at the
Shore Excursions Desk. Please keep in mind that the most popular
trips sell out very fast. If you are traveling with friends and
want to go together, put all the tickets on one room card. One time
we ordered separately and one couple got the tickets and one couple
Other Stuff Paul Tanner's show was SRO, and we were lucky to be
able to stand up against the wall in the balcony. What a great
At the Mariners' Award Ceremony we received our copper
medallions. There were also some silvers and a platinum award.
Cocktails and elaborate hors d'oeuvres were served, after which we
proceeded to the Vista Dining Room for a lovely luncheon. There are
so many Mariners now that the luncheon is divided into two separate
seatings on different days.
The Panama Canal The Hotel Manager opened the bow and served
Panama Rolls (yum) and offered Mimosas, Champagne and juices. Even
though it was drizzling, we enjoyed Richard's history lesson over
the PA while we entered the locks. Instead of Colon, we stopped on
the dock at Cristobal, which seemed to go on forever. There were
many booths with local handicrafts and a great band playing
American hits in the local steel drum fashion. The half-naked
native Panamanians kind of surprised me, but I guess it's part of
Thanksgiving Day was by far our BEST sea day ever! We spent a
lazy morning getting ready for the sumptuous feast in the Pinnacle
hosted by Hotel Manager Mark Pells. He served a lovely Champagne
Luncheon with a special dessert -- ice cream in a crunchy shell,
fresh strawberries and blueberries topped with strawberry sauce.
Our friends wanted to have dinner in the Lido, which was not
nearly as special as the dining room. The food was the same as in
the dining room, but although the service was faster, it was too
casual for me. I missed the linen tablecloths, and the room just
didn't 'feel' special. I spent the next hour tracking down my
favorites to give them their 'above and beyond' tips, and take the
last few photos of my vacation family.
Debarkation We had Pink/1 tags, and should have been first off
after the wheelchair pax, but at 8:15 we went down to get in line.
There were hundreds of people there, but the elevator left us at
the head of the line, so we stayed there.
Someone came through and asked everybody ELSE to step aside so
they could proceed, and it looked like the Red Sea parting. I think
we got off at about 9:00 and found a porter right away who went all
the way to the far corner to find our bags, and had us through
Customs in about 5 minutes.
Once outside, they told us about the taxi strike, and a very
aggressive East Indian van driver offered us a ride for $11 each,
so we jumped in. At the airport, he left our bags at the curb, but
not at the end of the curbside checkin line that already had 50+
people in it. We got another porter to take the bags inside, and
the line there was even longer. I told him my flight was at 10:05,
so he took the luggage to the head of the line for luggage tags and
found the biggest one was 4 pounds overweight, so he had to charge
me for that, and another charge for the 5th bag. I gave him $35 and
he sent them through.
He then took us to the front of the Security line (jumping about
100 people) and we had to run to the gate. I paid for priority
boarding, so we got right on the half-boarded plane, picked very
good seats (first come, first served on Southwest) and departed on
time. Whew! If it hadn't been for this wonderful porter, we never
would have made that flight.
After we got to Jacksonville, we were so tired we checked back
into the hotel and slept for 3 hours. Once on the road, the
construction backed us up for about 1-1/2 hours, but we finally got
home at about 8:00. We left the puppy at Doggy Sleepover Camp for
one more night and made an admirable attempt at unpacking and
laundry, but honestly we (I) took 2 days to finish.
Regarding the debarkation, it's annoying when SO many things go
wrong. I'm just grateful it happened at the end of the cruise
instead of the beginning. Since it was too late to mention this
fiasco on our comment cards, I emailed this info to Mark, hoping
they can make some adjustments to make certain the early fliers GET
Final Thoughts HAL's ms Zuiderdam, whenever she's in the
Caribbean, is our ship of choice. We enjoy seeing our 'family' and
spending time in her beautiful public areas and generous private
accommodations. The passenger mix is right for us -- no
uncontrolled children, no trouble finding a chaise at the pool, no
pressure to drink all day. It's harder to sail the Zuiderdam now
that she's not in the Caribbean in the summer, but we can be
patient. One day we may even bite the bullet and actually try an
See you around someday, maybe, on some "dam" ship!