Introduction I have traveled fairly extensively, having cruised on many occasions. This cruise would be my 7th cruise. I have cruised mostly on Princess Cruises; have experienced premium cruise lines like Cunard's Queen Mary (Queen's Grill Class) and Silversea's Silver Cloud.
However, this is my first cruise on Holland America and since ms Amsterdam is Holland America's flagship, I should be expecting the best that Holland America has to offer.
This cruise was selected because it was the only cruise ship offering South American cruises during this period. In fact, it is the last ship to ply these waters for the season. The 33-day cruise embarks from Rio, Brazil and ends in San Diego USA. This cruise have a fair number of days at sea, a hence with plenty of free time on my hands, I decided to write this account. The following is focused mainly be on the ship itself and less about the destinations visited; otherwise this would be rather lengthy.
The following account is based on my experience and observations on the cruise. The opinions are personal.
Hopefully, this account would reach the good people in Holland America as constructive criticismand other potential passengers considering cruises with Holland America.
I will not go into the statistical details about the ship; this information is readily available on many websites. Generally, the ship is mid-sized, small enough for embarkation to be a breeze. Queues are generally never too long for services. Large enough to have a decent sized theatre and productions.
Opinions about the interior design of the ship are subjective. There is a fine line between elegance and tackiness. Amsterdam's interior design is treading dangerously towards tackiness.
Let me illustrate my point with the Queen's Lounge. The color scheme is as follows: purple, red, gold and silver. There are semi-naked statues finished in silver-leaf, holding up backlit platters lining the walls. Class or crass? You decide.
The heart of the ship is a three-storied atrium where the front offices, lounges and shops surround. The atrium itself is not large. In the middle of the lobby is an 'Astrolabe'. It's a rather impressive contraption, with the ability to tell time, constellations, moon phases, etc. This "Astrolabe" completely dominates the already small atrium, rendering it generally useless, negating any opportunities for functions to be held in the atrium.
I do however appreciate the fresh flowers arrangements throughout the public areas of the ship. The variety of potted orchids on the Lido buffet adds a pleasant touch to the dining experience.
I stayed in a Balcony suite. It is divided into three sections. First, the entry with closets on one side and the bath in the other. This is typical of most hotel rooms. There is a bathtub with a Jacuzzi. Second, the sleeping area, there are two beds that can be combined to become a double. There are curtains that separate this area from the other. Third, the sitting area, the sofa converts into a single bed for the third passenger in some rooms. There is a large desk with the television on one side. The Balcony has a lounger and a chair.
The cabin is comfortable with plenty of storage. There is nothing much to complain about here.
There are several dining options available on the ship.
The main dining room is called the La Fontaine, the only 'Fontaine' noted were the two automatic hand sanitizers on two sides of the entrance. It's a double-decked dining room with a central atrium complete with fake palms.
There are two sittings for dinner. A typical dinner consists of 4 choices of appetisers, 3 choices for soups, 2 choices for salads, 7 choices for main course, many choices for deserts.
There is always a fruit based item for the appetizers. There is always a cold soup, fruit based as well. The main courses are divided into two parts, items from the entree or grill. There is always ice cream and a flambé item in the desert section.
Food quality is generally good, through not up to be standards of premium cruise lines like Silversea but hey, it cost a lot less. The quality and variety of deserts is somewhat lacking. (Princess offers better deserts, for those sweet-toothed cruisers out there).
The western dishes prepared are good enough. The problem arises when the chefs attempt to interpret cuisines that they are not familiar with. I take particular offence to the appetizer named "Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style". We're from Singapore and imagine the delight when we saw the item on the menu. All of us ordered it only to be gravely disappointed. It neither looks nor tastes like the satay (we spell 'sate' as 'satay') we know. Even the accompanying condiments are wrong. We would have no issue if the dish were called 'Grilled Chicken Sate Amsterdam Style'. Please do not associate Singapore with the culinary imposter. When and if the Amsterdam gets to Singapore, please try the real Singapore Satay and see how wrong it is.
My family has registered our comments (and displeasure) over the item in the comment cards midway through the cruise, only to find the item repeated again on the menu. Either the chefs had ignored our comments or thought that those pesky (and occasional) Singaporean have disembarked and that it is safe to bring out the dish again. Chances are, the dish would be repeated again. So, a word of caution to all diners on the Amsterdam, do not believe that you are getting 'Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style' when you order the dish.
This is not the only Asian dish bastardized by the chefs, the "Thai Prawn Curry" is another story, but I'll let the Thais take the issue up with the chefs.
The Lido Buffet is located on the top for the ship. It offers breakfast from 7.30am to 10.00am, lunch from 11.30am to 2:00pm and dinner from 5.45pm to 7.30pm. My biggest issue with the buffet is that it does not offer continuous service. For example, there is no food from 10.00am to 11.30am. (Gasp! No food on a cruise ship! Its sacrilegious!) There are days where I had to make myself wake up in time for breakfast (OK, I'm a pig) especially during those long sea days. Holland America could easily have extended breakfast service on one of the two buffet lines while preparing the other for lunch, so the two could overlap. It's simple enough and have been frequently done on other cruise ships and I don't see why Holland America can't do it. It gives passengers peace of mind that food is always available.
The Lido also has an ice-cream bar as part of the buffet. While the quality of the ice cream is not quite Haagen Daz, it is very well appreciated and exploited, much to the detriment of the waistline.
There is premium restaurant is called the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey. There is a cover charge of $20 per person. Holland America says that the cover charge goes towards the premium ingredients. Personally, I have not eaten there. The feedback I received from fellow passengers that have dined there was that the food is indeed better than that served in the main dining room, but it was not worth the $20 charged. On the occasions where I have walked pass the restaurant; it is semi-deserted most of the time. It seems that the popularity of the restaurant could be improved either by improving the quality of the food or by reducing the cover charge.
There is always a two identical shows on every night of the cruise, one for the early seating diners and the other for the main seating diners.
Throughout the cruise, there are four production shows with a cast of 4 lead singers and 6 dancers. Because for the length of the cruise (33 days), the production shows were repeated for the benefit of guests that has joined us midway.
On the other nights, there are other guest performers. There are a wide variety of genres offered. We had performances by pianist, flutists, comedians, singers, dancers, magicians etc. Most of the performances were well executed and a joy to watch.
All the performances are backed up by the wonderfully and professionally by the Amsterdam Orchestra.
One suggestion to Holland America: The ship was docked overnight in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the optional tours offered was to watch Tango in one of the bars in the city. We were disappointed when we were directed into the venue. It was a small and dingy hall with a tiny stage. The stage lighting was rudimentary. The dancers and the musicians were good though, but the stage could hardly accommodate all of them.
Holland America could easily have invited the performers to perform on board at the Queen's Lounge. The stage, sound and lighting system are far superior to what the bar had to offer. It would also save us the hassle of transfers from the ship to the bar. More passengers instead of only those who signed up for the tour would be able to enjoy the performance.
That would also mean that Holland America could not charge us $79 a person for the show without dinner. Those who opted for dinner were charged even more. It boils down to whether the ship could absorb the cost of the bringing the Tango performance onboard, to be open to all guests. Having said that, I would rather pay a nominal amount to watch the show in a 'state of the art' stage onboard the ship where the full potential of the entertainers could be better expressed.
My family and I have signed up for a 4-day, 3-night overland tour to visit Machu Pichu. The tour was booked through the Internet based on the itinerary from Holland America. The tour was to begin at 1030am in the morning of the first day, arriving in Lima in the afternoon for an overnight stay. That would give us sufficient rest before the next morning's flight into Cuzco.
One day before the departure, we received the itinerary in a briefing. It came as a shock to most of us. The tour only departs at 4pm in the afternoon. We will only arrive into Lima at 10pm, arrive at the hotel at 11.30pm. Breakfast the next morning would be at 3am! That leaves us with 2 and half hours sleep at most for the night. Understandably, a lot of us were unhappy with the arrangement. The tour office offered us the option of canceling the trip with a full refund. But for many of us, that wasn't much of a choice, because we would not be returning to this region for a long time. (South America is a 30-hour flight away for us). The reason given for the change was the flight schedule.
Underlying the dissent was that this tour was exorbitant to begin with. We were each charged $1699 for double occupancy for the 'standard' package. The luxury package costs $2199.
What Holland America should have done was to verify the flight schedules before publishing them on their brochures and not promise what they cannot deliver. They could also have informed us, days, if not weeks in advance of the change in the itinerary, giving us time to make alternative arrangements. Note of advise to other passengers, don't bet on all the information on the brochures.
On a positive note, the tour guide assigned to us, Kika was efficient, friendly and informative. (We had one more hour of sleep in Lima, arranged through skipping breakfast in the hotel, it was much appreciated).
Holland America claims the ship to be 'State of the Art'. But there are little things that make me wonder.
We all remember the key cards that we are issued at embarkation. This is the first ship that I have been on that does not record an image of the passenger in the ship's database. As result, we are all required to display a 'government issued photo ID' whenever we board the ship. The security at the gangway would then match our faces with the photo ID and the names on key cards. On all the other ships that I have been on, whenever the key cards are swiped, the passenger's face would appear on the monitor behind the security desk, immediately verifying the identity of the keycard holder. No photo ID required. Yes, it's a minor inconvenience, but the technology isn't rocket science either. However, its implications on the ship's security would be of greater concern.
The security personnel would also accept a photocopy of our passport as verification (since the ship is holding our passports). If a passenger were to lose his keycard with a photocopy of his passport, any criminal with access to photocopying machine could easily superimpose his photo onto the original. All the security features inherent in the original passport are voided in the photocopy. The criminal would hence have free access onboard the ship.
The ship's photographers still use film. Considering the number of photos, some wanted, mostly unwanted, taken on and off board, the amount film wasted must be phenomenal. While cost of the digital camera equipment is high, its running cost is minimal. Given the volume of photos taken on board, I'm sure the cost would be covered in no time. Think of all the rolls of film and chemicals needed to develop them. Digital is the environmentally friendly way to go.
The above may be viewed as minor, but viewed on the whole, it's indicative of a company's willingness to embrace technology for the convenience and security of its customers. Let's not forget that the Amsterdam is the flagship, I wonder what's on the other sister ships.
Would I travel on another Holland America Cruise in the Future?
The overall experience is pleasant enough and I did enjoy the trip. However, I find Princess Cruises to be marginally superior to what Holland America. I would have opted for Princess Cruises if given a choice. (The two cruise lines are in the same price category)
However, my criteria for selecting cruises is based more on the destinations rather than the cruise line, so if Holland America can come up with interesting itineraries, I might yet return.
Hopefully, the above account is construed as constructive criticism by the management in Holland America, including suggestions to improve their product.
I hope that the above would be helpful other potential passengers considering cruises with Holland America.
This cruise started in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and ended in Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile with stops in Montevideo, Buenos Aries, Falkland Islands, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt. Due to severe weather, we missed the Falklands, but made up for this somewhat by sailing to Cape Horn to view the Albatross monument. Overall, the port calls were wonderful and educational.
But, to the ship, now. The crew of the Amsterdam outdid themselves. This was my wife's and my 24th cruise, only our 2nd on HAL, and we had absolutely no complaints - only "kudos"
The food was very good (better than our last two Celebrity cruises), the Lido restaurant (cafeteria) had the best selection ever, a sandwich bar, eggs as you want, omlets, an ice cream bar open all day and night (save for 45 minutes at 5 PM).
The lounges were so very intimate, the musicians excellent, the layout of decks 4 and 5 so well done with lounges, movie theatre, stores (best we have ever seen), library, huge card room, etc.
Entertainment was not up to that on Celebrity, Princess, or Crystal, for example, but we knew that upfront. The showsthat were put on were excellent and honest (not Las Vegas stuff) - the individual talents were great, and the Ship's orchestra was one of the best we've heard.
Last, but certainly not least, was the service! No matter where you were on the ship, or what the activity, the staff was there wanting to help, guide or assist. Cabin steward, waiter and his assistant, bar people, and the "Front Office" (purser) staff were the best.
We rank this cruise on the HAL Amsterdam way up on our list of 24, which is headed by the Crystal Symphony
After cruising with Crystal, we decided to try Holland America on the Amsterdam which was a round trip 21-day affair from San Diego to Panama Canal and back. All in all I gave the cruise a solid B. Now that's not too shabby considering we had we wonderful time.And for what we paid for 21-days on Holland, compares to a 7-10 day cruise with Crystal for the same money.
Mind you, Holland America is NOT Crystal in many ways, but if you want more time away from home, then this cruise line is your best bet. The outstanding crew are mostly Indonesians and Philipinos; the waiters, servers,porters,housekeepers and staff. They all tried their best and give us the best service possible. But,where the service was excellent, the entertainment in the Queens Room was sub-par. Where Crystal spends over a million dollars a production on costomes,props, singers and dancers, Holland offers medicore talent. Our favorite spot on the ship was deck #3, where over 200 deck chairs were available to us daily. That's a big improvement for Holland considering Crystal offers barely a few benches. And being able to enjoy an outdoor snoozeor read a novel, enjoy a Margarita in the fresh air on deck was always very invigarating.Another plus for Holland was they offered color newsletters daily. Easy to read and informative. Overall, the food is excellent.
Breakfast is always delighful as Holland offered fresh squeezed orange joice each day on the Lido deck. We loved their pasta, ice-cream and deli bars also. The complimentary popcorn offered in the movie theater was a treat. Also, on the Promede Deck, there is a large 8'foot x 10'foot electronic computerized wall-map that digitally tells passengers the daily weather, the time, destinations of the cruise, nautical miles traveled, and a computer that offers future cruises and a history board of past ships dating back to the 19th century. Though tipping is optional, you can't resist tipping because the service is superb.I might mention the majority of the 1,300 passengers on this cruise were primarily made up of seniors and only a handful of children. I highly recommend Holland America and we will again book with this cruise line.
The H.A.L. flagshib, "M.S.Amsterdam" is physically a most attractive ship with classic lines, teak decks, large and comfortable rooms,and a well-planned layout.She is not glitzy, but rich and charming instead.
This was our thirteenth and fourteenth cruises respectively, three of which have been with Holland America.In the past year we have sailed the Star Princess, Ocean Princess, Celebrity Zenith, as well has the Radiance of the seas (R.C.C.L.).Thus we have recent experience on other lines, with which to make comparisons.We were attracted to Holland America Line because of their reputation in Alaska, the "classic sailing ship" ambiance, and our fantastic memories from our first Alaska cruise on the Westerdam in 1999.
Our expectations were high but the cruise itself was disappointing in some ways but still excellent in others:
We live near Portland, Oregon. Thus we had a three hour drive to the terminal at pier #30, where lots of parking was available at a reasonable charge of $84 for the week.We had a category "S" suite on the Navigation Deck #7.Embarkation went very smoothly for suite passengers but also seemed to be quite smooth for all passengers.Our cabin was quite large, well designed,andvery comfort-able.The furnishings and linens in the room were of good quality while the colors were inviting, rich, and warm.The deck was a generous 12 feet deep and 21 feet wide.It had two comfortable lounge chairs, a round table, with seating for four. We were obviously impressed by our stateroom. Our cabin steward was excellent and had clearly been well trained. He quietly did his job efficiently with no intrusion.
The concierge service and lounge on our deck was a big plus. They always had answers to our many questions, accompanied by fresh squeezed orange juice, coffees, teas, and snacks.There were videos and magazines available as well as sofas and game tables.It was a most comfortable place to relax from time to time.The best part was that it was only a few steps from our cabin.
Although we chose to do our own touring, the excursions seemed well planned and other cruisers seemed very pleased with the organized tour part of their cruises.The weather was rainy a large part of the time, but that is certainly not the fault of the cruise line.We're from the Northwest and have learned not to allow weather to dampen our spirits.We enjoyed Alaska to its fullest.The highlight was a private tour of Sitka. We have friends who are Tlinkit Native Americans. They gave us their insiders tour of the area followed by a very nice lunch at their home on the bay. We really enjoyed the entire day, especially the museum and cultural center.We had to tender at this port. H.A.L. did an excellent job with this difficult task. There was little crowding or waiting.Now for the negatives...
I am sad to report that the food on this trip was of inferior quality most of the time.Holland America has really cut corners on meal service.At our table, many dishes were returned to the kitchen as unacceptable.Even the special captain's luncheon for "suites only" passengers was cheap and of very poor quality.
As examples of cheapening food services, one day we were planning to invite four friends to our cabin for a glass of wine before dinner. We ordered three cheese and cracker plates from room service.(Thinking three plates with cheeses of different shapes and color could be combined to make one adequate cheese tray as a simple start-er.) We received six incredibly thin and small pieces of white imitation jack cheese and twelve white saltines on an ugly white plate, nothing else.This did not even kind of make an attractive offering for our guests.
Service in the bars was poor and the bar appetizers that H.A.L. is famous for were nearly non-existant. That has never been the case before.Fresh squeezed O.J. is now only available for suites passengers in the concierge lounge and "sometimes" for the "early-risers" breakfast in the Lido.Regular breakfast service is now serving only frozen or canned juices.There is also no cheese available in the taco bar.
Finally, after several sub-standard and sometimes down right lousy meals, we abandoned our dinner table and chose two nights to eat at the Pinnacle Grill at an additional $20 charge per person.(Food there was of high quality and had an excellent presentation.) An additional two nights we ate in port. We ate at the Warf Restaurant in Juneau and had outstanding dungeness crab dinners at a very moderate price.(This was after the obligatory visit to the Red Dog Saloon for libations.) In Victoria, we ate at Matisse Restaurant and had one of the finest meals of our lives.I would highly recommend this charming small French restaurant to anyone visiting Victoria.
We were thus able to work around the terrible food quality offered by the ship's food service. We did, however, leave the cruise feeling cheated. Generous and quality food, well presented, is what most people expect on a cruise. Cutting corners here will stop repeat cruisers and loyal customers in their tracks. I personally have highly recommended H.A.L. to friends in the past. I will stop doing so in the future. In fact I am booked on the Veendam in November and am considering the cancellation of this cruise.The only reason we may keep our reservations is that we already purchased our airfare and we do like the unusual itinerary with three "new-to-us" ports-of-call.
This empty feeling we are left with is sad to both of us because We were such great Holland America fans.Not anymore!
Alaska was to be the fourth of our cruise destinations on our cruise check list. We had originally booked an Inside Passage Cruise but Holland American changed the cruise to an Alaskan Explorer Cruise sometime after we booked in November 2001. The itinerary was basically the same except for more time spent out in the Pacific Ocean rather that the Inside Passage. Regardless, we were ready for an Alaskan adventure when August finally arrived. Another reason we wanted this cruise was for the port of departure, Seattle, Washington, which is roughly a 4-½ hour drive from our home.
We arrived in Seattle on Saturday, August 10th, by 11 am and had some time to explore the piers on the waterfront. At 12:30 pm we parked our vehicle in the parking facility directly across from the HAL cruise ship terminal. They even supply a walkway over the roadway. Our luggage was carted away, we went up to the embarkation area, checked in, were given a number an told to wait until our number was called at which time we would be allowed onboard the Amsterdam. We waited approximately 1 hour and boarded theship at 2 pm.
We had an outside cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck (located nearer the bow of the ship), which was clean and nicely decorated in tan, gold, orange and brown with dark blue carpeting. Not the colors I would decorate a new ship with but they didn't ask me J. Exploring the ship was interesting as it was not too glitzy, not too drab, not too elegant, but just about right for all tastes. It felt like it could be home for a week. The main areas we tend to use are the dining room (very pretty with 2 floors), the showroom (you can see well from all seats), the casino (just enough different slot machines and tables), and the buffet restaurant (basically the same on all ships). All of these areas and the others we visited occasionally suited us just fine.
Our travel agent had booked us with the Virtuoso Voyager Club so we were treated to some extras, which turned out to be a great deal. We had a wonderful cocktail party in the Crow's Nest Lounge and enjoyed appetizers and drinks while waiting for departure. During the rest of the week we also were treated to another cocktail party, a 5 hour excursion in Ketchikan which included a jet boat trip and visit to Salmon Falls Resort, a replica of the MS Amsterdam enclosed in an acrylic case, a Blue Delft plate, made in Holland, with the dates and ports painted on (Amsterdam painted in the center), a $100 shipboard credit and a free 8x10 photo. Be sure to ask your travel agent if they are affiliated with Virtuoso so you can get some of these perks in future cruising.
I am not one to write much about all of the ship amenities or comment too much on the cuisine. Holland America does a nice job in all areas and I would recommend cruising with them any time. The ship was wonderful and had all of the same things the other lines I have traveled with. They did have an Ice Cream Bar, which we visited several times. They use ice milk not real ice cream but it was cold and sweet so I won't complain too much. Also, the Coffee Bar was nice too. Cappuccinos and Lattes were good. The food in the dining room was average. My only real complaint would be that some things were not served hot enough. The selections in each course seemed limited compared to my recollection of Princess and RCCL. The food was fine and tasty. The desserts were mediocre. The dining room experience should make your mouth water weeks after the cruise is over. Sorry HAL. I can usually gain a few pounds on a cruise but I actually lost 2 pounds this time.
Now on to the cruise itself:
Day One - At Sea Our first day was spent making our way from Seattle's Puget Sound to Chatham Strait. We did catch a glimpse of two Orcas whales late in the day on Sunday. Other than that it was ocean with a few views of mountains and islands in the far distance. Later in the evening the winds came up and the waves got bigger (5 feet plus) and I retired early with a queasy stomach.
Day Two - Juneau, Alaska We docked in Juneau at 9:30 am and were off the ship at 10 am for our excursion. We had booked the Mendenhall Glacier, Wildlife and Whale Watching Quest. They loaded us on the bus and took us on a brief city tour (15 minutes) and off to Auk Bay where our tour boats waited for us. Our tour took us up Lynn Canal. We saw bald eagles, sea lions and lots of whales. About 2 hours into the 3-hour trip the rain started but we were all so thrilled at the humpback whales all over the place we didn't mind. When the winds picked up and the waters got choppy we headed back in. They loaded us on the bus again and we headed to a foggy, wet peek at Mendenhall Glacier. The US Ranger Station was without power as the winds had knocked down a tree and took out the power all around the island. On the way back to the ship we found out that the 2 ships parked in Auk Bay when we came by on the way to the glacier were unable to go up to Skagway due to the high winds. Those folks had spent the day sitting on their ships in Auk Bay. Back in Juneau we met with friends for several hours. They have lived in Juneau for the past 20 years. It was good to hear all about the area from the locals. The ship left port at 10 pm heading north to Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier.
Day Three - Hubbard Glacier The storm had really set in by late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. The swells were up to 10 feet and both of us were seasick big time L all night. Remember we were at the bow. The Pacific Ocean can be a real beast. My husband, who has pretty good sea legs, was down for the count too. We finally were able to get some rest when the ship entered Yakutat Bay about 10 am. The ship reached Hubbard Glacier about 1 pm. The fog was still thick and the face of the glacier was just visible. The captain was able to get the ship within four tenths of a mile from the glacial face. This is closer than any reviews I have read. I think that since it was so rainy and foggy he felt sorry for us and pulled in as close as he dare get. We watched and listened to the glacier for about 2 hours. There was no calving but the moans and groans and cracking was awesome sounding. We headed out of Disenchantment Bay at 3 pm on our way to Sitka. Husband and I made our way to the infirmary for Sea-Calm, which worked perfect the rest of the cruise. Here is a bit of another story pertaining to Hubbard Glacier I thought review readers might like to hear about. Hubbard Glacier had advanced in the past few months closing Russell Fiord to a trickle of a stream into Disenchantment Bay. It was now called Russell Lake. The waters had risen to over 60 feet above sea level causing concern amongst the geologists and scientist watching the area. In the early morning hours of August 14th the rain waters and lake waters burst the sediment dam pushed by the glacier into Gilbert Point. On August 15th photos taken of the area showed a 300-foot wide opening between the glacier and Gilbert Point. The waters of Russell Lake had gone from 61 feet above sea level to 16 feet above sea level and Russell Lake was now Russell Fiord again. Our ship had been right at the face of the glacier very close to the sediment dam at Gilbert Point in the early afternoon of August 13th. I, for one, am very thankful the dam did not burst while we were parked at the glacier. I shudder to think of what could have happened. The Good Lord was watching over the MS Amsterdam and her passengers on August 13th, 2002. If this has peeked your interest there is a wonderful web site regarding the whole incident at www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass. The pictures are worth the look.
Day Four - Sitka, Alaska A beautiful, sunny day greeted us in Sitka. After a day and a half of rain we were ready for sunshine. The ship anchored in Sitka Sound and we were tendered in. Sitka is a beautiful, little city on Baranof Island. We walked about the city enjoying the shops and sights. Totem Square, Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center, St. Michael's Cathedral, Sitka Lutheran Church, and Isabel Miller Museum at Harrigan Centennial Hall were amongst our day in Sitka. We also had the chance to watch the New Archangel Russian Dancers perform. We tendered back to the ship at 4pm and the ship set sail at 6 pm. Making our way out of Sitka Sound was spectacular with the mountains rising out of the waters on a glorious, warm, sunny evening. We intend to make Sitka a point of return some day.
Day Five - Ketchikan As if the weather could get better, well it did for our day in Ketchikan. We sailed through Clarence Strait to arrive at Ketchikan at 7 am. Our Salmon Falls Jet Boat Excursion, compliments of Virtuoso Voyagers Club was set for 11 am so we went shopping for a couple of hours in the morning. After buying canned sockeye salmon, Ulu knives, a couple of pieces of tanzanite jewelry and the souvenir mugs (I was told no more tee shirts J). We loaded on a bus for Salmon Falls Resort, which is 20 miles north of Ketchikan on Behm Canal. We loaded onto jet boats for a 3-hour trip up the canal up to the north end of Revillagigedo Island and back to the lodge for drinks and snacks. Since the ship was sailing at 3 pm they had us back at 2:30 just in time for last boarding. Leaving Ketchikan through Revillagigedo Channel was breath taking in the afternoon sunshine. The blue of the waters and the green of the mountains were awesome. A roll of pictures later we were into Dixson Entrance and sailed to Hecate Strait.
Day Six - At Sea and Victoria, British Columbia >From Hecate Strait we sailed the Inside Passage through Queen Charlotte Sound then proceeded into the Pacific Ocean to Victoria BC. The marine fog was thick as we traveled along the western side of Vancouver Island. We arrived in Victoria at 7 pm where the fog had dissipated and the evening sun was still shining. We were bussed from the cruise ship docks into downtown Victoria. Our 3 hours stop was far too short but since I had just been there in April for 5 days I was not nearly as disappointed as many of my fellow passengers. Victoria is a lovely port and a full day still would not have been enough time to see the sights this city has to offer. We walked through the Empress Hotel, shopped downtown as the shops near the harbor stay open late for the cruise ships. It was a lovely evening in Victoria. The ship sailed at 11 pm for disembarkation in Seattle at 7 am the next day.
Day Seven - Seattle, Washington Arriving in Seattle at 7 am we ate our last breakfast in the Lido Restaurant and then waited for our number to be called to disembark. Since we did not have a plane to catch we were near the tail end of the passengers to get off the ship at 9:30 am. Customs was a breeze. Our luggage was waiting for us. I waited on the curb while my husband got the vehicle and we were on the road heading home at 10:30 am. I was impressed with disembarkation. It was just like clock work.
So this completes my review of the Holland America Alaska Explorer Cruise. If I were to give the overall experience a rating it would have to be an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest). I can't fault HAL for the weather, which did take away from the glacier experiences. Both glaciers were fogged in. And of course 10-foot waves are a bit more than my tummy can handle but then again the Pacific Ocean is not known for it's calm waters J. I really did want an Inside Passage Cruise so I will have to try it again just to make sure I get to do just that. The food has come to play a less important part since this is my 4th cruise but HAL could make the dining experience just a bit more creative and extravagant. Alaska is a sight to see and every cruiser should experience it at least once. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are questions or more information I can supply for you. Thank you for the opportunity of allowing me to share my Alaskan Cruise with you.
Debbi Reeves - Oregon
After a fast and early check in, we boarded the ms Amsterdam in Rio de Janeiro for a voyage rounding Cape Horn to San Diego, California.
We were ushered to the Lido buffet, as our cabins were still being prepared. Beautiful live orchids in full bloom adorning each table welcomed incoming passengers. Holland America spends at least two million dollars providing their ships with live plants and fresh flower arrangements to keep up with Dutch tradition. The Lido holds 386 guests for casual dining.
The Lido offered a varied selection of hot and cold food. There were sandwich bars, stir-fry/omelet stations and an all day ice cream counter. A capuccino/expresso machine sits along coffee dispensers together with packets of herb/regular tea and cocoa powder. Freshly squeezed orange juice was also available.
Bejay an amiable maitre'd from India mentioned that ice cream, hot chocolate and capuccino/expresso were on the house. Rey, a chef from the Philippines reminded us not to miss the outdoor barbecue and Mongolian cookout held during the trip.
The La Fontaine dining room seats 838 diners on two decks. Impeccable silver settings and china grace linen covered tables. High glass windows and aflower-adorned ceiling evoke a bright and cheery ambiance. The wait staff was friendly, courteous and polite reflecting the hospitality of Indonesia where most of them come from. Filipino chefs prepared the food, pastries and baked goods. They worked magic with the cuisine turning them into five star gourmet meals. The Odyssey is an alternative restaurant that provides grilled cuisine and personalized service that is worthy of mention.
A clock tower located at deck 3 dominates the ship's atrium. It is connected to the ship's time system and a built in carillon chimes every hour. It serves as a centerpiece and a focal point for guests trying to find their way.
The 157 seat Wajang Theatre showed first run movies (free popcorn included). It also served as a chapel for religious services. The Java Bar was a favorite traveler hangout. Its capuccino/expresso machines were quite busy from 7:30am to 10pm. An Internet cafe (75cents/minute) had a waiting list specially during sea days.
The personnel mostly from the Philippines at the purser's office were helpful and very efficient. They filled up landing cards and immigration forms and delivered the documents to guest's cabins for signatures.
A highly energetic cast performed Las Vegas type shows canned in Los Angeles at the 557 seat two level Queen's Lounge. Experts also held talks there on Inca, Mayan history, aerospace and diverse topics.
Our 192-sq. ft. cabin had a large window and a good view of the ocean. It had a shower over a tub, ample closet space, a safe, a small TV and 115 volts ac. It lacked an icebox and audio/video inputs for a VCR. Moelyadi our cabin steward from Indonesia kept the stateroom very neat and well stocked with towels and fruit.
The ship returned to port as soon as we left Rio de Janeiro to leave a critically ill passenger. An outbreak of Norovirus occurred that week we left Brazil and flared-up again the week before we reached San Diego. The Captain ordered that food be handled by employees only. Long lines formed at the Lido due to the need of more servers. It took the ship at least two weeks to alleviate the Norovirus situation.
We missed Iguazu Falls and the Falklands on an earlier trip and made it this time. We got rained out in Iguazu Falls but it was a worthy sight to behold. We encountered rough seas approaching the Falklands. Stanley their only town was cold and windy. A city tour took about two hours. They showed us uncleared mine fields from the 1982 British/Argentine conflict that are now a tourist attraction.
The Amsterdam is a friendly, comfortable ship and very easy to know. Most of the passengers were much-traveled repeaters, who graciously shared their cruise experiences with us. Some had at least 100 cruises to their name and visited equally the same number or more countries. We met several people that were on previous voyages with us and we were equally elated to have sailed with them again.
It has taken me nearly a month after our cruise to write this, but the holidays took precedence. We sailed the Amsterdam on Dec. 1-17 from Rio de Janiero to Valpariso. One of the things that made the trip special was it's length, 17 days gives you many opportunities to make onboard friendships with other pax and the staff as well. Overall, I would give the Amsterdam an A for the entire trip! Despite the fact many received greatly reduced fares, I did not notice anything that would suggest that the staff was doing anything to cut costs on the trip. The ship had been booked for this cruise since the middle of the summer, and a group of us through Cruise Critic had been exchanging posts and information in anticipation for the cruise.
We arrived the day of embarkation into Rio to find a pervasive warm rain falling. The views were obscured by the rain and generally foggy conditions it caused. Embarkation was clearly the worst part of the entire trip. For this, HAL gets an F! We arrived at a dark reception building that contained only a few working fluorescentbulbs and were told that prior to embarkation we had to fill out immigration questionnaires for Argentina or Chile. We all tried to fill the forms out, but due to the non-existent lighting in the terminal and the color of the print on the paper it made it impossible! People were angry and upset, and I worried that the process might be indicative of our time to come.
This was a Honeymoon cruise for my husband and I and we were fortunate to be able to book a Suite (7006). This was a first for us, and the extra room and perks were wonderful!!! Our room steward Pete was the best we have had too. He always had a smile and immediately introduced himself having already memorized our names upon embarkation. As soon as he met us he went down for our bags, and we were unpacked fully into our new Suite well before dinner.
The Suite itself is so spacious as well as the drawer space on the Amsterdam. The bath in the suite was a full length albeit narrow jacuzzi bathtub. I found that with the cooler weather we experienced with this itinerary I used it faithfully! The balcony was my favorite part as is often the case with me. Up until now, I have always stayed in a veranda mini-suite and this balcony was 2X+ anything we'd ever experienced! We ate breakfast out there many mornings, and one afternoon enjoyed a full afternoon tea, silver tea service out on the Veranda!
We choose the early seating and were put as requested at a table of 8. Our table mates were 3 couples, one from California, one from Long Island, NY and one in Maryland. One thing was apparent through out the cruise, most of our fellow cruisers were very well traveled. We found that we enjoyed hearing of their experiences and recommendations and each and every dinner was a lovely experience. On a longer itinerary, I think your table mates can really enhance the experience.
We enjoyed breakfast and lunch in the Main Dining Room many times during sea days and in the Queen's Dining Room once (where Suite Passengers were invited to eat). All of our meals were warm and as requested, and we enjoyed meeting other cruisers during meals. That is except for the couple we were to be seated with at breakfast in the Main Dining Room by a window at a table for 6. She started screaming that they didn't want to sit with anyone at the meal!! I assured her, we had no desire to sit there either and shook it off as there is always one in a crowd.
I could go on and on about the itinerary on this cruise. I will keep my comments succinct though, as most are reading this to hear about the ship. Our favorites I think were Colonia (a UNESCO World Heritage site outside of Montevideo), Buenos Aires ( so European!), Falklands ( the penguins at Bluff cove were the best) and Ushuaia ( the Tierra del Fuego is surreal in it's beauty!). It was all spectacular, but those places in retrospect stick out in my mind!
This was a 17 day cruise, yet I didn't see one menu that repeated throughout the cruise! The nice thing about a longer cruise is that you get to meet more passengers, especially with the amount of sea days we had. We didn't attend many of the evening performances, but the ones we did attend were quite good as they were local troupes that came aboard to entertain with their traditional dances. We also enjoyed the various lecturers on board.
We did expect to see more sea life than we did. We saw one whale next to the ship one lunch and some wonderful seabirds, but Alaska seems to have much more sea life than we experienced in SA.
Harry, the bar manager, and Veronica, the concierge, assisted me in putting together a Cruise website get together on board. They even printed and delivered invitations to the Cabins of the 34+ cruisers who had been sharing posts in preparation for the cruise. We had a lunchtime reception in the Crows Nest where HAL served hot appetizers and the ate in the bottom part of the main dining room that was reserved for just our group. All of this was done willingly and gratis by the HAL staff. The friendships we made out of that group will not be forgotten!
I would highly recommend the Amsterdam and her crew. She is, bar none, the nicest Ship I have had the privilege in cruising on. Thanks to them, my husband and I have wonderful and treasured memories of a very special honeymoon adventure!
Our 4th HAL cruise. Overall very good as usual. Food was good in Odyssey but not worth $15.extra that they now are charging on the new ships. Main beef about this ship was the uncomfortable chairs in the lounges.
The barrel chairs throughout left a lot to be desired in comfort. The only decent ones were in the Crows nest lounge.
The cruise was of New England and Canada and commenced on September 27th 2001 from Boston. It was originally scheduled to start from New York but due to the September 11th disaster New York was closed to Cruise vessels.
We were flown to New York on the 26th and put up at the New York Sheraton for one night and bussed up to Boston the next morning. As far as we are aware there were only six Brits on this cruise.
Embarkation in Boston was very swift and smooth and we were soon in our cabin. This time we had booked a mini suite which we found very nice and comfortable with lots of stowage space. We also had a veranda, an added bonus.
Our cabin steward was quiet and unobtrusive but efficient and helpful and he looked after us very well.
Our first port of call was Gloucester which was only 24 miles from Boston and as we left at 7pm and arrived early next morning we were amused to note that the average speed on the passage was 1.5 knots.
The Amsterdam was then only just about one yearold and is a very fine ship in the typical style it seems of Holland America Line with lots of fine paintings, models and antiques in the public areas. Once again we found her very well run and very clean and tidy
The food whilst good was not we thought quite as good as on the Westerdam. Once again we only ate in the main dining room in the evenings, taking breakfast and lunch in the Lido Restaurant.
The staff were really excellent, helpful, cheerful and friendly and ready for a joke. Carrying my wife's tray and serving her coffee and clearing the tray from the tables with a smile.
Our waiter and the Wine waiter in the main dining room were great fun as was the supervisor for our area.
The Cruise director was an English girl from Newcastle on Tyne named Susan Wood and the social hostess was a Dutch girl named Appolonia. They were both very charming and full of fun.
The ship's entertainers were really very talented and put on shows that a lot of the American passengers rated as good as many Las Vegas shows. There were also several artistes who visited the ship from port to port for the shows who were very good.
Apart from Gloucester we visited Portland, Maine; Bar Harbour; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Sydney Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Quebec (for two days) and finally Montreal where we disembarked.
All were interesting. Portland, Bar Harbour and Charlottetown were very attractive and Quebec is very impressive.
The excursions we went on were good but not really fantastic but we tended to pick the half day trips so maybe the all day trips were better.
The ports where we anchored off and went ashore by tender were well organised and helped by the Amsterdam having fast catamaran type tenders which double as lifeboats.
The cabins on the Amsterdam were very quiet compared to the Westerdam. The ship is well equipped with smooth silent lifts and there are plenty of quiet spots to sit and relax around the ship. Once again we found the staff really excellent.
We found it interesting that there were a great number of passengers who had cruised with Holland America previously, some ten or more times.
Our only minor criticism is the slow, tedious disembarkation process but as we were almost the last called off perhaps we were unlucky.
The Ship: The Amsterdam is the newest Holland America Lines (HAL) ship and is the twin sister to the Rotterdam V. This was her 12th voyage. Everything was new and bright. We selected a cabin with a private balcony located on the Verandah Deck (deck 6) and it was one deck down to the main dining room and the show lounge and two up to the buffet room (the Lido restaurant) and outdoors pool. Our favorite bar was the Crow's Nest with its hot hors d'oeures and panorama view looking out over the bow of the ship. One evening, we select the alternative dining room of La Fontaine with its Italian cuisine it was nice and quiet with good service. As usual the cabin steward did a fine job as he was rarely seen and always kept the cabin clean with fresh towels and plenty of ice. The dining room personnel were, also, very attentive. The lounge shows were OK as we had seen better on other HAL cruises.
The Ports: Fort Lauderdale HAL flew us on Delta a day early as we live on the west coast. The flightwas from Los Angeles to Miami and then to Fort Lauderdale. Takeoff from Miami was delayed due to mechanical problems; we thought that we would have to spend the night in Miami but they were able to resolve the problem in a couple of hours. The HAL hotel was nice but dinner the first evening as on us; however, the hotel provided a full breakfast the following morning. We had previously learned that passengers were offered a non-complementary airboat ride in the Everglades, in the morning, before the ship would sail. The hotel-located HAL rep wasn't interest in arranging this ride. Thank heavens that the hotel staff was more interested in customer service and arranged the interesting ride. The airboat bus dropped us off that the ship and our luggage was waiting for us in our cabin. The boarding of the ship was very slow and HAL did not have its express check-in service for its repeat passengers.
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas This is HAL's private island and we selected the nature walk that was mildly interesting and ocean kayaking. The two-person Caribbean kayaks are flat and totally different than the Alaska ones. The beaches were nice and it was nice to see a Caribbean island without a McDonald's sign. Travel to and from the ship was by boat.
U.S. Virgin Islands We docked at St. Thomas and took a small boat over to St. John's to go snubing this is the same as scubing except the air tank is located floating above you on a small raft and you are attached to the tank by your own 20-foot air hose. It was wonderful to see all the colorful fish, touch the sea creatures, etc.
Netherlands Antilles We docked at Willemstad, a most colorful town with all of its buildings and houses painted different colors. We took submerged boat ride similar to a glass-bottom boat except you look out the side windows to see the fish. You and the windows are about seven-foot under water.
Panama Canal Arrived early morning and the trip takes all day. This was a repeat as we had gone through the Canal about five years ago with HAL on the New Amsterdam a much smaller ship. When we approached the last locks (the one nearest the Pacific Ocean), the wind began blowing from the south and the stern of the ship begin to move towards the shore before the lock. At this time, the ship is under the command of a local canal pilot, who apparently maneuvered the ship away from the shore and the large rocks. The ship's starboard propeller hit the rock and was so damaged that it was unusable. We left the Canal with only one propeller.
Costa Rica - Due to this damage, the ship bypassed Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, a natural bay noted for its flora and fauna, and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We initially stopped at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to determine the extent of damaged to the propeller. This port is a cargo ship port and has no tourist facilities. Later that night, the ship moved to Puerto Caldera and HAL provided a nice all-day tour of a coffee plantation located in San Jose. The cruise ended here. We flew home on United with a stop at Guatemala City where we were not permitted to leave the aircraft.
Overall: We enjoyed the cruise and would sail again with HAL. Interesting in 1995, when we went through the Canal before, our ship, also, skipped the Golfo Dulce, because of a delay in canal due to removing a sick passenger and our entrance into the Canal being delayed by a large cargo ship. Another significant different between the two Canal cruises was the first cruise had an onboard speaker who provided four interesting talks regarding the Canal and the countries of Central America on the days when we were at sea.