We traveled on the Zuiderdam Western Caribbean on August 27-Sept 3rd 2005. I have been on 9 other cruises before this and I have to say that we really enjoyed it. As far as the food, I really felt it was pretty good in the dining rooms. The buffets were pretty good, lots of choices. Room Service was exceptional. We did not try the specialty restaurant, but from what I heard it was good. A tip, on HAL if you want to try the speciality restaurant and save a little money make your reservation for the 1st night of the cruise, only $10.00/pp instead of the normal $20.00/pp.
Dining Room...the food was great...the only thing they lacked was an extensive dessert menu, but they were really pretty good. We could not have asked for a better waiter or asst waiter. There were 4 of us and we were seated with a couple in their mid 30's and the wife's parents so we had great companions during diner. We only missed dining in the dining room one night because we had "Main Seating" which on HAL is the 8:00 seating, and there was a Caribbean party on the Lido deck aft that night and we wanted to go to it, it started around 9:00 pm, so we did buffet that night.
The ship is really beautiful, and with having sailed on Celebrity, NCL, and Carnival in the past, we were not sure what to expect, but we were defintely pleasantly surprised. We had an inside cabin (the first for us) and it was quite roomy and you did not feel closed in. Cabin Steward was great..so all in all I feel like for a first cruise you will have a great time.
Don't know what time you have diner seating, but most of the one-time shows, such as newly wed and not so newly wed game are usually around 7:30 or 8:00 pm so we missed those, but the shows in the theatre are twice a night, so you will have an opportunity to see them.
You will have a great time....tip....if you want to get some sun and enjoy a swimming pool that is not crowded, go to the Lido Deck Aft pool, it was never very crowded...lots of space to sit and Chris the bartender at the bar was great...tell him Carol says hi. Also that pool is for Adults only during the hours of 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm daily so there will not be many children splashing around on you..also there are 2 hot tubs out there.
On the first sea day at the main pool on the Lido deck they have the Massage Therapists out there doing massages for $1.00/min...so you can get a great massage for around $10.00.
Also, as a first time cruiser, dont run to the gift shop and buy your souvineer T-shirts on the first day, wait until the last sea day...they will be set up around the pool for 1/2 price on select shirts.
If you have any more questions....fire away....I will try to answer them for you.