The next morning we got up and went to the airport and boarded the Planet Air plane. They served breakfast during the two and one half hour flight. We arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, and got on a bus for the two and one half hour trip to the ship. The bus was not very comfortable. The seats were too close together so there was no room for my knees.
It was a very long and tiring two days of travel for us. We were lucky we were not delayed by weather as many of the other passengers were. We spent a lot of time in the "hurry up and wait" mode. I do not know how HAL could have done better as they had so many passengers to deal with. We were glad we did the difficult portion of the traveling before the cruise as we had the cruise to look forward to. We knew we could recover on board.
The ship was a welcome sight. She is beautiful and classy. The port, Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, is nothing but a dock and a warehouse. It remindedme of the port in Seward, Alaska.
When our luggage arrived in our stateroom we noticed that two of the padlocks were missing. When we opened up the suitcases we knew someone had gone through them. They had opened up a carton of cigarettes and taken two packs. They put a big greasy hand print on one of my white tops. I haven't been able to get it out yet. We had brought eight little boxes of chocolate for Christmas gifts. They unwrapped one of them and left it.
Although this was an annoyance I was glad we heeded the warning to carry your medicine and your jewelry with you. At least one lady was not as lucky. She was filling out a claim form at the front office for jewelry that was stolen.
We left about two hours later than scheduled as we had to wait for some passengers who were late. We picked up more passengers over the next two days. Many passengers had been delayed by winter storms. On day two, while we were cruising Golfo Dulce, a tender went to shore to pick up 19 passengers. We were wondering how they got out to where the ship could pick them up. Costa Rica does not have a lot of highways or public transportation that would get them to us.
The first day of the cruise we were in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Several tours were offered but each one required a one and one half hour bus ride to get to the place that is featured. After the long bus ride the day before, I was glad I did not take one of these tours.
We were in Cabin 6173 on the Verandah Deck. The cabin was the same as on the Ryndam except the panel under the railing on the verandah is made of Plexiglas. You can see out while sitting in your chair. There is more space between the rail and the divider so you can more easily talk to the people next to you when you are both hanging over the rail. You can take out the back half of the barrier that is between the cabins. This would be great if you have a friend in the next cabin and want to talk or go between cabins without going out into the hall.
The elevators on the ship have lots of mirrors. The first few days I would step back so the person in the elevator could get out. Then I realized that I was just seeing a reflection of myself in the mirrors. Once I got confident and walked right in I would run into someone coming out. Thank goodness they were not crowded very often.
Others have written reviews about the look of the ship so I will not go into that. If you do not take a tour of the ship you want to stop by each of the pieces of art and read the plaque. That will give you some idea of its importance. Also, be sure to look for the little bear playing with the stick in the area of the Lido pool.
We got up early to see the Panama Canal. They were serving "Panama rolls," coffee, and juice on the outside decks. They opened up the "crew only" area on the Promenade Deck. There was plenty of room for everyone to see the Canal. The Canal was as impressive as I thought it would be.
There were lots of families on board. The children dominated the pools and the Jacuzzis. There were 168 children during this Christmas cruise and only 8 children the week before. Overall the children were well behaved. Santa came Christmas morning. He did not seem to like children, but the children liked the presents he brought for them.
The Christmas dinner was good. I had the biggest lobster tail I have seen on any ship. My husband had the turkey dinner. He was disappointed as it did not taste like the traditional turkey, dressing, and gravy we get at home. We had dinner at the Odyssey Restaurant one night. We thought the food was better in the dining room. I had seen pictures of intimate tables for two nestled into a nook in the restaurant. The nook ended up being windows onto the inside hall. If you get one of those tables you also get everyone going by the restaurant stopping and checking out what you are eating.
There were very few lines. If there was a line, as in the Lido during meals, they moved fast. They have the food arranged so you can enter the line at several places depending on what you want to eat.
Our last stop was the private island, Half Moon Cay. It was beautiful. The water was too cold for us wimps from Tucson, but many people were swimming. We went on the Glass Bottom Boat tour and enjoyed it. They have some permanent buildings on the island such as a church, a bar, stores for souvenirs, Ben and Jerry Ice Cream, and a few others.
The only problem was that the Volendam was there the same time we were. The island is perfect for one ship but was very crowded with two. We went to get some lunch and the line was so long, we didn't even try to get anything. All the chairs on the beach were occupied. I feel that HAL should re-think having two ships there at the same time.
Overall, it was a wonderful cruise. I would highly recommend the itinerary and the ship.
My wife and I completed a cruise on Holland America's MS Amsterdam on 06/13/2009 and were very disappointed. The inattention by the crew/staff to the needs of the passengers was apalling.
We had previously cruised on the MS Westerdam, which was virtually ideal, so we opted to repeat the cruise because it was so enjoyable the first time. (Big Mistake.)
Upon embarkation in Seattle, we were told to watch a safety video on the T.V. Unfortuneately, there was no remote control to turn on the T.V. It took FOUR HOURS and numerous phone calls to get a replacement. Same scenario to get a ballpoint pen to fill out the complimentary postcards. Finally, we had a high intensity florescent ceiling light that became defective and cycled on and off at a frequency of once per second. There were three other lights on the same switch, so if you turned the switch off to correct the problem, you were sitting in the dark. It took THREE DAYS and innumerable phone calls before the light was finally replaced.
The food was good, but not great. The Asian food was excellent, (not surprising, given the makeup ofthe crew). The Italian food was bland to the point of being inedible. The steaks were well prepared, but were of an inferior cut, certainly not Choice or Grade A.
Overall, I would say we were quite disappointed in the cruise and in the crew/staff's tendency to ignore/minimize legitimate complaints with virtually no attempt at problem resolution. We will think long and hard before we cruise with HAL again.
I regret to report that Holland America continues to become less and less worthy of its high ratings. Except for the crew, which is outstanding, and the decor which is good, and the laundry service for the deluxe veranda suites, a host of little things were irritating.
The food, although plated well, is bland and meats are sometimes tough and not as warm as they should be.
Individual ship maps don't even note that there is a library or computer facility onboard, nor do the maps at each bank of elevators.
Saving money has resulted in 13 watt flourescent tubes in what are supposed to be cabin reading lights.
The TV in our suite wasn't connected and had only a single controller instead of the two needed for the TV and DVD.
The mini bar was only fully stocked two days; the other five days there were only a few items.
The telephone had no displayed way to contact housekeeping or the front desk.
Throughout the cruise the ship had a periodically annoying vibration (worse midships). The seas were very calm so the vibration wasn't weather-related.
We loved our Pacific Rim cruise on the Amsterdam. We saw wonderful things, but we had so much fun on board that we wanted to tell others about it.
The cruise director, Bruce Scudder is an amazingly creative and talented person and a super director. The entertainment was very good every night. We liked comedian Elliot Maxx the best. We had more fun singing in the piano bar with Steve Lynch than we have ever had on a cruise. He was terrific when pulling people together for sing-a-longs or Name that Tune. He is a major talent not to be overlooked on the next cruise.
Trivia was well run and it was such a competitive, entertaining and learning experience. We really got to know our teams and we met wonderful people.
The Amsterdam is clean, the food is excellent, and the service is outstanding. It is my ship of choice from now on.
This is VERY LONG so grab a cocktail turn off your cell phones and relax and enjoy.
We just returned Nov.9th from 10 days aboard the Holland America Cruise Line"Amsterdam".
This review will go into different details of our trip from the ship to the tours.
First because there are few reviews about the Amsterdam I will start on the ship first.
And if you care to go on reading about the rest of our "Most Excellent Adventure" please do so.
What can I say. The MS Amsterdam is an outstanding ship with a great crew.
A ship is only as good as it's captain and that being said everybody did an outstanding job.
You could really tell that EVERYBODY on the ship really loves working on the Amsterdam.
Everywhere you go they are smiling and saying hello to you, as you past them and really seem to be enjoying there work.
There where 1,380 guest aboard with a crew of 590
Fuel consumption 120 tons/day (32,000 gallons)
Fresh water used on the ship 160,000 gallons a day. Ship has it's own desaltation plant on board.
Other water used that is not fresh like for the toilets(Potable water) 370,000 gallons a day.
Captain Dirk van den Berg was very visible through out the ship and very friendly.
Jill Tasker the Cruise director was outstanding very friendly (those brits and there since of humor ) she did make the cruise fun. She was always around and easy to talk to.
I also talked to the Executive chef Peter Kolfer as well as the Guest Relations Manager Grace Zerna Culinary Manager Martin Groenendijk as well as other officers and staff and you could tell that they ALL enjoyed working on this fabulous ship.
The rooms: We where on deck 3 lower promenade rooms 3315 obstructed view and 3357 inside.
Both rooms where outstanding. With 3315 we really did not care about the obstructed view because all we wanted in the room was the extra day light so that my mother could see better. Yes if you looked outside of the window and looked to your right you could see the water. But it was no big deal for us and we did save some money by going with this room.
The Amsterdam had completed the "Signature Of Excellence" upgrades and all I can say is WOW.
The Euro-Top beds where great. I never slept better. I really wanted to take the bed home. We also loved the extra-fluffy large towels that they supply in the bathrooms. (RCL and Princess could take a lesson from this). The rooms had plenty of storage for all our gear and the daily fresh fruit in the rooms was very nice. Just because I got up early every morning to walk around the promenade deck and having a fresh apple while doing this and waiting for the rest of the gang to get up for breakfast was a nice treat. (3 and 1/2 times around the ship equals 1 mile.) Also late at night when I got the munchies it was nice to have some fresh fruit in the room. (Although having room service bring fresh cookies and milk was also a nice treat late at night)
Our room steward was great keeping our ice bucket full. In fact ever time we left the room it seems that he was in there straighten things up. He was a very hard worker and a very nice person to talk to. Always with a smile and a hello.
Dinning room: The "La Fontaine Dining Room" Was very beautiful. Upper and lower level. We had the 6:15 lower level dinner time at table 168 a table for 8 people. Near the stair case in the middle of the dinning room. To me a great location to do some people watching. Our waiter team could not have been better. They remember our names by the second day and knew what we like to drink with dinner and after dinner. Our head waiter also knew that Mom has a hard time reading the menu so was always there to help her with the nightly specials.
As for the food- Ok I know that this is a very subjective thing. So I'm not going there. All I will say is that I REALLY enjoyed everything that I had and I did not have one complaint about anything when it comes to food. The presentation of every dish was great and the food was very appealing . Lets just say I did not go hungry in fact I gained 5 ponds on this cruise. The good news is that I have already lost 2 ponds of this in one week.
The "Lido Restaurant" on deck 8. Typical food but all very good. Loved the sandwich station and of course in the morning the fresh omelets that they would make. Also we all know about the fresh squeeze orange juice they have there every morning. Could not live with out my daily 3 glasses of the fresh OJ.
I do have to say that breakfast got to be the same old thing. But I'm not much of a breakfast eater so no big deal. At least lunch was always good and something new everyday.
We did try to have lunch in the "La Fontaine Dining Room" as much as possible because we wanted
The experience, being waited on and sitting at a new table and meeting new people. Plus hey, we are on holiday. Its nice to have someone waiting and serving you the food. The menu was always good and something new to try.
The "Terrace Grill" Lido poolside. Great hamburgers and hot dogs. The pizza left a little to desire. The sauce on the pizza was just to bland. They also had a great taco bar. Again as I said before we never went hungry.
The "Pinnacle Grill" Lets see what can I say? How about WOW. It was a gift from our TA(Thanks Grace at CSI in Seattle) and my nephew and myself went there one night.
The service was OUTSTANDING as well as the food. Our wine Stewart knew his wines and turned us on to a very nice bottle of wine. It was so good that we had to have another bottle of it. Needles to say we where not feeling any pain that night. The Pinnacle is ruined like a 4 star restaurant and we where will taken care of.
I had also made reservations through ship services in September at the $20.00 rate before the rate went up to $30.00. We did think about going back there again and using my other reservation but we where enjoying our dinner mates at our table that we decided not to go back. And we did get a ship credit of $40.00.. Would I go back to the Pinnacle? Yes in a hart beat but I would have to think about spending $30.00 per-person. I fond the food in the main dining room at dinner was just as good. So for $30.00 it would have to be a very special occasion.
The "Fitness Center" Small but very nice well kept up, clean and plenty of excurse machines to use. I never had to wait to use any of the equipment. The staff was also very friendly and nice to talk to.
As for the bars: "Crow's Nest" great location for going up there in the day time to read and have a cocktail while at sea. At night there was always something going on and a fun place to go. Bartenders would remember your name. In fact it seems like the bartenders remember my name to whatever bar we went to.
And NO I don't have a drinking problem. I'm a lite weight when it comes to drinking. They just seem to remember you after the first time and don't forget you. (I wonder if the crew has photos of us in the crew area with our names on it that was taken when we board the ship on the first day. How can they remember so many people?)
The "Explorations Café " Good coffee drinks for a charge. Is where you will find the library. This was a great location to relax and read. A very well stock library. As well as you could rent DVD for your room $3.00 a day. They had over 100 DVD's to chose from.
"Lido Bar" by the pool, good service.
"Sports Bar" by the casino spend lots of time there. They did have ESPN and Sunday and Monday Night Football. The bartenders there where really friendly and fun to talk too.
The "Rembrandt Lounge" with the nightly piano singer of LAREE. She had a great voice and knew her songs. Great place to hang out after dinner or the shows..
Also on board was the "Explorations Speaker Series" Done by Mike Millwood. He had 3 lectures through Out the cruise and if you missed it you could see it on your stateroom T.V. that evening or next day.
He talked to us about the building of the Panama Canal and Columbus first voyage to the Caribbean. Mike is an outstanding speaker and should NOT BE MISSED. We had a chance to meet him and His lovely wife through out the cruise and they are both a wealth of information.
Next is ship board "Activities". Lets just say if you can't find something to do on this ship you are not trying. On sea days there was Bridge games going on and that made mom very happy. There was a good turn out of about 30 people every time there was a bridge game.
There where movies to be seen in the theater. Ping Pong, Shuffleboard, morning walk a Thon, bingo, spa seminar, the dreaded Art Auction, afternoon tea, shopping, dance classes, daily trivia, wine tasting classes, and of course you can leave your daily donations in the casino. As well as just sitting by the pool and chilling out and reading a good book. So if you say you can't find anything to do on a cruise ship then its your own fault. It seems to me that the days really went too fast for me to enjoy it all. I could have easily spend another 10 days on the ship.
So in a nut shell the Amsterdam crew and staff made this a very enjoyable cruise. They where very hardworking, pleasant, friendly and helpful. And I would sail her again in a hart beat.
Now I will get into the day by day stuff. So if you don't want to read on, this is a good time to leave us.
The cast of carters. Mom 86 years young, Richard her friend 84 years young and a good story teller. My nephew Jake 24 years old this was a graduation present from collage and myself John 53 years old.
I was glad that Jake was coming on this trip. Just trying to handle Mom and Richard is a hand full by myself, with Jake it make the trip a lot more easer and enjoyable. I did warn Jake that the average age on this cruise would be in the mid-60 range and this was true. But he still had a great time spending time with his grandmother and just relaxing and catching up with his sleep. He was a great roommate. We had the inside room.
Monday, October 30th
So to begin with we left Denver on the day of the cruise. Usually I like to leave the day before but Jake wanted to go with his dad to the Bronco game that Sunday. He lives 6 hours away from Denver and does not get much of a chance to see them play anymore living so far away. Plus my brother and sister in-law where in town for the weekend , so A Monday flight to Ft. Lauderdale was to be done. This made me nervous with the kind of weather we get in Colorado in November but it turned out to be a very nice day. (Denver temp was 40F. When we got to FLL it was 80F.) We boarded our Frontier Airlines flight at 7AM and the flight left on time at 7:35AM non-stop getting into FLL at 1PM, 15 min ahead of schedule. All our bags arrive. Got a cab for the 4 of us for $15.00 with tip and where at the dock by 1:35PM and on the ship at 2PM. Having our first of many meals at 2:30PM.
Lifeboat drill was at 4:15 and over by 4:30. We sailed away on time at 5PM.
On board the ship was the usually sail away party's going on and people getting settle in for there 10 day adventure. Dinner for us was at 6:15PM in the lower level of the Fontaine Dining Room and we where seated with 2 other great couples making it a table of 8..We all enjoyed each other company and it made for a great 10 days. After dinner we walked around the ship getting our bearings and went to the Queen's Lounge for the welcome aboard show. It was ok. Nothing special. As you all know the first night in the show lounge is more of what's going to happen for the rest of the week. Show was over by 9:30PM so a quick stop to make my donation in the casino and off to bed. It has been a very long day.
Tuesday, October 31st
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. This is Holland America private island. We arrived there at 7:15AM but we did not take the tender until about 10AM. We all slept in this morning and had a light breakfast. What can I say about the island. It's beautiful white sand beach the temp was 82F with a nice breeze and crystal clear waters. The water temp was around 80F. I had pre-reserved 2 clam shells for shade on the beach and I'm glad we did. Otherwise we would have been much too hot just sitting out in the sun. Richard was asleep as soon as he got settle in his clam shell mom and Jake joined me in the water. We did get Richard into the water. At first he did not want to go in, but once we got him in the water we could NOT get him out. He really enjoyed himself on the island. At 12:30 we made our way to the BBQ they had and we found the food to be very good. They had fresh fish, burgers, hotdogs, chicken, and ribs as well as a nice selection of salads and killer cookies for desert. We where one of the last to take the tender back to the ship at 3ish. Did not realize how sun burned I got until I got back to the ship. I usually wear a shirt when I'm in the water. This time I did not and I paid for it for the rest of the cruise. All well live and learn.
A quick note about the staff working on the island. I found them very rude and not helpful at all.
I'm NOT talking about the ship staff that came ashore to help with lunch. I'm talking about the staff that comes over from the near by island where they live. They act like they own the island and had no time for us. Too busy talking with there friends there radios playing very loud . They could use a class in guest service‘s. Kept giving us the run around about where to go to get our clam shells set up. They just seemed that they could care less if we where there or not. To them it was just another day at a low paying job.
That day was Halloween and some of the guest did dress up that night for dinner in costumes. But the dinning room staff where all dress up for Halloween all looking great. I think they enjoyed putting on make-up and looking like zombies and the such. They also did a great job with the decorations at the entrance of the dinning room with smoke blowing and a grave with a crew member in it. At least I think it was a crew member. Could have been that stowaway passenger we heard about and what they did to him. :-)
Tonight's show in the Queen's Lounge was "Pampas Devils Gauchos" Traditional songs and dances of Argentina. We did not attend but heard the show was good. In stead we went to see the movie "The Break Up" with Jennifer Aniston. Movie was ok. Best thing about HAL movies is the free popcorn that they give you before the show. That's right we are still eating. Hay its been at least 2 hours since dinner. After the show a quick stop at the casino to make another donation then Jake and I headed Rembrandt lounge to hear Laree play the piano and sing. We also went up to the Crow's Nest to check out the Halloween costume party. Some very unusual costume to say the least. All had fun up there that night.
Wednesday November 1st.
A great day at sea. Temp was around 85F. Boy where did that day go too. It sure went fast.
Left Jake to sleep till about 11AM. Took Mom and Richard to Breakfast at 8:30AM.
Mom then went to a bridge lecture at 10AM, Richard roamed around the ship and I did a kitchen tour at 10:30. I really enjoyed the kitchen tour. Its amazing what and how they get things done in the kitchen serving over 4,000 meals a day.
That afternoon Jake joined us for lunch in the Lido Restaurant. Like I said before it was good but we then decided that from now on we would do lunch at the La Fontaine Dining Room on sea days from now on.
That afternoon Mom had a hot bridge game to go to. Jake went to the pool to read and relax and I really don't remember what I did. Most likely I fond a place to read and sleep. Just like Richard..
By the time mom was done playing bridge it was time to get ready for Formal night. We all looked our very best. Boy can we clean up good if we want to. Went to the Captain's welcome reception and then to dinner.
A great meal was enjoyed by all of us at the table.
After dinner it was show time with the Talented singers and dancers of the Amsterdam cast. It was good. We also went to see the movie "Click" with Adam Sandler. This was the second time I saw it and was not as good as the first time. At least Richard got in a good nap before going to bed. Again we did the usual things of hitting a lounge or two before going to bed. I do have to say we where in bed most nights by midnight.
Of course Mom and Richard where in Bed by 10PM most nights.
Thursday November 2nd
Oranjestad, Aruba. We did not get there till about 11AM. I let Jake sleep in till about 11AM and he met us for lunch in the dinning room at 12.15PM. That morning Mom had another hot bridge game at 10AM. After dropping off mom I went to the gym to work out and Richard found a nice place to read and take his morning nap.
Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt and gets less rain then virtually any other popular island in the Caribbean. The island is 20 miles long and 6 miles wide. The temp is a constant mid 80s with a breeze all the time making it not too bad.
At about 1:30PM we got off the ship. I found a taxi driver that would take all 4 of us around this very small island for a 3 hour tour. We saw the outdoor market place, Saw the Santa Cruz and Frenchman's Pass--A historic battlefield. The gold mill ruins and the famous divi divi trees shaped by the trade winds. We also headed to Casibari Rocks and the quaint village of Noord. Our driver William Gomes was very good had a brand new taxi with good air and told us a lot about the history of the island. Just ask for taxi number 217 or you can e-mail him at [email protected] .
I found Aruba an ok place to visit but I prefer Curacao if I plan on spending any time on these islands.
That night Jake and I where going to have dinner in town. Ship was going to leave at 11PM. After hitting a few bars and finding nothing to our liking and the town pretty much closed up for the night, we headed back to the ship for dinner. That night they where doing a Poolside BBQ and it turned out to be fun and boy where those ribs to die for. They also had fish, chicken, stake. And a whole lot more to gorge on. And yes we did gorge ourselves. They also did a Ice Carving Demonstration at the pool during dinner.
After dinner you could go to the Latin Fiesta Deck party at the back pool or, That night there was no show in the Queen's lounge. Instead they had a movie "Looking for Kitty" not a bad movie. They where also showing "Find Me Guilty" a Vin Diesel in the other movie theater. By the time the movie was over at 10:30, I made my way up to the Crow's nest for the Broadway Trivia and then made my nightly donation. Also that night was the Indonesian Crew Show. Something you should not miss. They put on a very good show. If you miss it because it starts at 11PM you can always see it the next day in your in room TV.
Friday November 3rd
Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. This island was claimed in 1499 by Spanish explorers. More then any other islands in the Antilles, Curacao is reminiscent of Holland. You'll notice it at once in the local architecture. Willemstad was established in 1643 and the porches shutters, and pastel colors accommodate the warm Caribbean climate, but overall style is distinctly Dutch. As you sail into port you can almost reach out and touch the colorful buildings.
The ship arrived at 7AM. We had a nice breakfast at 7:45AM. Jake had room service, Uncle John made the delivery and we where off the ship by 9:00AM. The temp was about 88F that day very humid with a light breeze.
I had made arrangements with Mingo at "Blue Angle Tours". through the net to take us on a tour of his island. This was a 5 hour tour and some of the sites we saw where the "Synagogue" one of the oldest Synagogue's in the Caribbean with a sand floor. We also toured the Kura-Hulanda museum. This is where slaves from Africa where brought to before they reach America. (It was the Ellis Island of that time for slaves) I found this museum very interesting and could have spend another hour or two there but Mom and Richard where getting tired as this was our last stop of our tour. Although the ship was dock only a 10 min. walk away from this museum. Also no stop at Curacao is complete without a stop at the Curacao Liqueur factory. Made with the peals of oranges.
Our tour guide Mingo was great. Not only did he show us the island he went out of his way to make us feel at home. He was a wealth of information and was able to answer all our questions. Told us about the school system and there health care system.
He showed us the rich and the poor side of this beautiful island. Made a stop at a beautiful beach where the water was so clean and clear I could have spend a few days there. And of course to a top of a mountain area for another great view of this beautiful island.
We also saw the floating market and had a very nice tour of the downtown area.
I will be back to this island to do some diving and I will use his service again when I return. He is a great person And I highly recommend his service, if you do plan on seeing this island. He is much cheaper then a ship tour and you will get the personal attention that I know you will like.
You can contact him at his web site. www.blueangeltours.com
After our tour with Mingo Jake and I went back into town to look around and have a drink or two at the local bars.
Back on the ship by 4PM Jake went to the gym I just relax and read my book before dinner.. That night they had face up blackjack. We did not go to the show that night but heard it was very good.
That night Mom and Richard where able to stay awake for the "Dutch Chocolate Dessert Extravaganza" by the pool. At 10:30PM. All I can say is wow. They put up one heck of a show with all the great desserts. I really loved the deep dish Dutch apple pie.
With a full stomach and a sugar rush we all headed to bed. After a super day in Curacao.
Saturday, November 4th
Day at sea: Met Mom and Richard for breakfast at 8:30AM Jake slept in till about 11ish.
After breakfast we went to see the "Explorations speaker" Mike Millwood speak about the "Trans Ocean Canal Project" An excellent series put on by Mr. Millwood. Mom and I really enjoyed it. Richard got his morning nap in during the lecture. We met Jake in the dinning room for an excellent lunch. After lunch I had entered myself, Richard and Jake into the Slot Tournament. Richard did good and place but was knock out of the finals but he did have a fun time. Mom had another hot bridge game that afternoon and Jake and I went to the gym while Richard set out on deck reading and sleeping. And meeting new friends.
That night Jake and I had dinner in the "Pinnacle Grill" as I said at the begging of this review this was a super meal and we where feeling NO PAIN when we left after our 2 ½ hour meal. We both had a hard time sleeping that night, too much food and wine.
Sunday November 5th
The Panama Canal: I was up by 6:00AM so that I could watch us go through the first set of locks. What a beautiful sunrise it was, watching the sun come up over the jungle and the canal. This was truly a special time to be up on deck.
They where also serving juice and coffee and rolls on deck for all of us early risers. (That's right more food) I called Mom and Richard to get them up, but by the time they got to my viewing location we had already started going through the first set of locks. (7AM) We final got through the 3rd set of locks at 8:00AM and it was time to get some breakfast before we started our tour. At 9:45AM we boarded a tender in Gatun Lake to start our tour of the Canal.
This tour is called "The Canal Experience to Colon" It was a 7 hour tour. And both Mom and Richard did a good job by making it through the tour. Richard was able to get his afternoon nap in on the bus ride back to the ship. On This tour we experience the full wonder of the Panama Canal. We first had a 40 min drive through the Isthmus to Gamboa, where our tour boat was waiting for us to take us through the rest of the locks. We crossed the continental Divide. Enter the Pedro Miguel Locks, which lower our tour boat 28 feet on its way to the Pacific. We then sailed across the Maraflores Lake to the Maraflores Locks, which lower us another 56 feet, matching the level of the Pacific Ocean. At around that time it started to rain and I mean rain. A typical jungle thunder storm that lasted for about 15min and cooled everything down. Temp was around 85F with a light breeze. We did get a little wet but no big deal by the time we got off the boat we where dried.
About the boat we where on. It was a small tour boat that was cover with a tarp, that holds about 250 people. I say there was about 150 on board. They did have drinks on board and told us to drink lots of water. Lunch was supplied by the ship and was just a sandwich, that's ok with us we could skip a big meal for a change. Also there was a little room on this boat for people that fond it too hot to sit outside that was air condition. Richard spend most of his time in there. Jake and myself did not find the weather too humid and enjoyed watching the boat going through all the locks.
It was a very nice day. Our tour ended at the port of Balboa in Panama City. Boy, the water at this port was dirty and polluted . You would think that the Panama authorities would spend some money cleaning up this port. After all they do charge a lot for ships to go through the canal. I was told it cost our ship $120,000 just to go through the first 3 lock before it turned around and went back to wait for us in Colon, Panama. After getting off in Balboa our bus was waiting for us for the 90 minute ride back to the ship. It was a nice drive but the country side we notice near small towns was very trashy. It seems like people just throw there trash anywhere along the road they want. Again you would think that the Panama government would do a better job in keeping there country clean. Yes I know it's a third world country. But again with the money they are making on the canal you would just think they could clean things up a little. Or maybe the locals just don't care.
We where back in Colon, Panama around 4ish. And where drop off right by the ship. There was a Shopping area with local things to buy. Nothing really caught my eye. But, Yes I did have to buy a $5.00 t-shit with the Panama Canal on it. Just another shirt I don't need but had to buy. Ship left port at 7PM.
Another nice dinner was enjoyed by all of us in the dinning room that night with our table mate.
After dinner we went to see the Show. It was very good the person doing this show was name "Kirby" and he was an excellent stand-up comic. Doing amazing sound-effect routines and impressions, along with his hilarious humor and musical bits. Everybody on the ship really enjoyed his show and want him to do another show sometime on the rest of the cruise. He did on the final night. Just as good as the first night with new routine.
This was an early night for us as we where up very early that morning and needed to get up early the next day, we all where in bed before 11PM. Jake and I rented a DVD and where asleep before the movie ended.
Monday November 6th.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica: To start off with I can really say that, Costa Rica is a beautiful place to visit and I cant wait to go back to spend more time there seeing more of this country and doing some diving.
As I was watching the sun come up over the mountain of Costa Rica I was really impress on how green the mountains looked. Yes I know I was looking at a jungle on the mountains but you got to remember I live in Colorado and our mountains DO NOT look like anything like what I was looking at.
I got everybody up by 7AM so that we could meet our tour by 8:30AM. Again I brought breakfast to Jake in the room. He just does not like getting up early.
This was going to be another long day for Richard and Mom but only about 6 hours.
I had made arrangements through , Oscar Brown Tours http://www.oscarbrowntours.com/ It started to rain as we started our tour but it was not too bad and it seemed to stop every time we got out of the van, with the exception of our stop at the banana plantation where it came down in buckets. Hey what do you expect when you are in the Jungle. Anyway at the banana plantation it was no big deal as we where covered by a building while watching the worker cut the banana plant and sort them, wash them and pack them for shipping all over the world. I found this a very interesting stop. From there we stop at a small home along the road where Oscar showed us different types of plants and coffee beans plants, as well as a sloth and some other type of critters. After that it was on to our tour of the "Tortuguero Canal". This tour on a small boat took us through the rain forest, (yes it was raining) where we saw the native wildlife, including, alligators, monkeys and more sloth's and a variety of different types of birds and plants..
Oscar dropped us off at hotel Bary where our boat through the canal and our guide HARLIN was waiting.
This was a one hour trip and HARLIN really made this trip for us. He knew his wildlife and the local plants. He fond the plant that they make Channel #5 out of. All we did is rub a few leafs from this plant on our hands and our hands smelled nice all day. We kept sniffing our fingers through out the tour.
HARLIN was an excellent guide and if you do book through Oscar Brown make sure that he gets you HARLIN for your tour through the Tortuguero Canal.
In fact I wish Harlin was our guide through the whole day. He really know his stuff and told us a lot of interesting things about Costa Rica that Oscar did not tell us.
I'm glad we did go through Oscar Brown Tours because it was much cheaper then the ship and we where a small group of 6. But Oscar needs to learn more about Costa Rica and the history and be more outgoing and telling us things with out us having to ask. He was more of a driver then a guide. Oscar you have a good new business that you are starting but you need to tell your guest more information and be more outgoing, telling us about life in Costa Rica and how you and the people live in Costa Rica.
Anyway back to our tour. After our Canal tour Oscar dropped Jake and myself off at "Brisas de la Jungal"
www.junglebreeze.com for our canopy zip line tour. Mom and Richard got some more of a tour of the area while we went zip lining.
WOW what a great time. If you want an adrenaline rush then this is the tour for you! Glide through the treetops with this exhilarating adventure: 12 cables and 13 platforms stretched across the length of the rain forest. The longest cable is 270m long and you will experience heights up to 60FT. Here you can enjoy the gripping thrill of the wind in your face as you soar through the rain forest witnessing some of the most spectacular views. Even though it was lightly raining while we where doing our zip-line we never really did get that wet. I guest the heat and humidly help kept us dried. Our two guides Jamie and I forgot the other person name where very professional and safety came first over everything else. What a great afternoon we had zip-lining over the rain forest in the jungle. Jake had a great time talking with Jamie as she was just starting collage. She is taking tourism classes to be a tour guide in her beautiful country.
Oscar was waiting for us with Mom and Richard as we finish our zip line and after saying are good by's to our zip line guides and give them a very nice tip it was off to the ship. Mom and Richard where tired now so we did not do any more stops. After saying good by to Oscar. Mom and Richard headed back to the ship. Jake and I headed into town to look around and to by some coffee. The town of Puerto Limon is not much to see but right at the dock they do have booths set up to sell you anything you might want and I did find the prices better there then in town so we did all our buying by the dock. But if you do get a chance to go into town go for it. We did feel safe and it's something you should see.
That night on board the ship was the "Master Chef's Dinner" in the dinning room. It is like a Broadway show with your dinner. (Dinner and a show) I guess this is replacing HAL Dutch Night. It was very entreating but the menu was set that night and the food was just ok. don't get me wrong it was good but I wish we had more to select from. After dinner went to the show and saw "Petrina", www.petrinasworld.com she is a very gifted person and very big in U.K. After that it was another stop for my nightly donation and off to bed.
Tuesday and Wednesday November 7th and 8th
Two days at sea as we head home. The seas where very nice and we did not hit any bad weather. Yes we did hit a few rain showers but no big deal.
Time to rest up after the past few days. I really do not remember what we did. As the days went by very fast. I do know there was plenty of things to do and we where kept busy with whatever activities we did. All I know was I was exhausted at the end of each day. Really got into those sea days. As well as Mom, Richard, and Jake.
On Wednesday our last day at sea we spend the late afternoon packing and saying good by to all our new fond friends.
Thursday November 9th.
Back in Ft. Lauderdale. Ship Docked at 6AM. And people where starting to get off by 8AM.
We where in NO hurry as our flight did not leave until 2PM. So Mom, Richard and myself went up for our final meal around 7:45AM. Jake slept in and had room service bring him something around 8AM.
We where out of our rooms by 9AM and went up on deck to relax until we where called off the ship.
At 10AM then made the announcement that anybody left on the ship must leave now. So as we where kicking and screaming as they made us leave the ship we headed down the gang way. Cleared customs in 5min. And yes we where the last one's off. Our bags where waiting with a porter who thought he might have to put them in storage as they where the last bags and nobody else was getting off. He had us and our bags in a taxi with-in 10 min after we where off the ship and we where at the airport at 10:30AM. We could not check our bags in until Frontier Airlines counter open at 11:30AM. But someone came to work early and we where able to check-in at 11AM. And then out to the gate for our 2 PM flight. The 3 hours went fast and before we knew it. It was time to get on board. Flight home left 20 min. late taking off but we made up time in the air and got home at 4PM 20 min. earlier.
All in all we all had a super time
Mom, was a real trooper and would do anything and seemed to be really enjoying herself. She ate very well on this trip. And it was good to see her eat and put on a few more ponds.
Richard ,who did not really want to go on a cruise also seem to enjoyed himself, I feel he did have a good time when he was not napping , and also was a good eater on this trip. Both Mom and Richard don't eat much any more but they sure did eat very well on this trip. It made me feel good to see them both eating for a change.
Jake ,what can I say. He is just like his Mother (Debbie) could not pass up a bathroom if given the chance. In fact the plumber on the ship and Jake got to be very good friends in our stateroom. I'm glad Jake joined us. It made the trip easy for me and I also enjoyed his company. He made a great roommate and we had a super time being with each other. I look forward too traveling with Jake again.
I myself love too cruise and can't wait to go on another cruise a.s.a.p. . "The Thrill of The Seas is the Important thing. And I will Continue too enjoy All the cruising that I can do for a very long time."
Well congratulations you made it through the whole review. I hope that you enjoyed our "Most Excellent Adventure".
We have traveled on numerous cruise ships with several cruises being on Holland America. This cruise had its positive as well as negative aspects. Unfortunately we were aboard a ship where there was significant illness and the swine flu issues were just surfacing throughout the world. We are not connected with the cruise industry and try to make our reviews as objective as possible. Like you, though, I always find that I have biases and am sometimes way too subjective in my opinions. Like any passengers we have our own likes and dislikes so don't take my review as personal if you were on the same cruise. I would be pleased to answer any questions which my thoughts and comments may provoke.
ABOUT THE SHIP and Holland America You may have read or been told that Holland America has "5 star ships with 5 star service." There was a time in years past when we thought that Holland America and the service provided aboard its ships was "five star." We met numerous passengers aboard this cruise who were repeat customers for Holland America just as we are. We never talked withone person who thought the service aboard the ship was outstanding and all agreed that service had deteriorated. The ship is now 9 years old and beginning to show the wear and tear for those nine years. This does not mean the ship isn't good, you just have to be willing to accept the age and wear of cruising for nine years. It is our understanding that the ship will be in dry dock for some painting, hull and engine work and minor renovations for about 11 days at the end of this cruise.
The service in many areas of the ship is just plain not there. There is no way the service is even close to "five star." For example we had an upgraded cabin on the Veranda Deck. Our cabin was cleaned at sporadic times from early in the morning to late at night. There just was not enough staff available to clean the cabins in the morning hours. Our laundry was to be in by 9:00AM , however it was picked up much later some days, which means not two day service, but three day service. We called at 7:00PM to have our room service dishes removed from the cabin. The employee never showed up, thus around 8:30PM our cabin steward removed the dishes at the night time turn down. Your bathroom towels were picked up at the two room cleanings, however sometimes there were two towels and sometimes three towels. Service was never consistent. Just remember the staff does not have to maintain a high level of service as you are going to have to pay them their tips regardless of the level of service.
Around the pool area a lot of guests decided to eat. Getting a bar drink or soft drink quickly just did not happen. There were only two boys working the entire pool area. Thus I went to the bar to get a couple of cokes with our hamburgers. The one employee at the bar made no offer to get us service, instead providing me two glasses to take back to the table. Kind of like bagging your own groceries and carrying them out at the local supermarket. And some will tell me that is "five star" service? Get lost!
EMBARKATION We arrived at the port in Rio de Janerio with only a receipt from our travel agent and the internet version of the boarding pass. Calls to Holland America as well as follow-ups by our travel agent failed to produce even one slip of paper from Holland America. In an earlier e-mail a Holland America staff person wrote that due to our discount cruise ticket we would not be entitled to all the services provided cruise passengers. We believe this is a very bad policy on the part of Holland America. Since we have family working in the airline industry we do take advantage of discounted cruise tickets. We feel sorry for those few cruise customers that pay full or close to full brochure prices for their cruises. Since we had not so much as a baggage tag we were forced to seek out someone on the dock that would get us a Holland America tag. We paid $20 (US) for four tags. We offered $2.50 per tag however was told by the dock worker it would be $5.00 per tag. Then we wondered if we would actually ever see our bags.
The embarkation process went rather smoothly except for the confiscation of our passports. We asked why and was told "that's just the way it is." Thus we gave up our passports, vaccination records and Brazilian visa for the next 38 days. I did not think it was a good deal at the time and as I write this I have found not only was it not a great idea, we have paid the price in some areas for not having our passport in our possession. I will discuss this a little later on under the "passport section."
The remainder of the embarkation went rather smoothly. We were handed two cabin keys and a map showing the layout of the ship. The usual stop by the photographer at the end of the gangplank, the taking of your ID for the boarding card and the usual non-descriptive welcome by the crew. We could not go to our cabin until 1:30PM thus with all the others we headed for the Lido Deck. Got to get every bit of food one can.
SHIP'S PASSENGERS I have written about this on other cruise trips and have received numerous comments from other cruise passengers. This ship has approximately 1300 passengers. The ship is not full and about 700 departed in Valparaiso, however we also picked up several passengers at that stop. I do not know how many passengers we will be boarding at that port. We have seen four children aboard this ship. The average age of the passengers is well over 70 and I may be conservative on this age as it may even be higher. If you are a young person and you desire to travel on this Holland America ship (or many of the other Holland America ships) you must have patience and understanding as you will be traveling with the grandmother and perhaps great grandmother. When getting a slice of bacon they want just the right slice so don't think the process will be quick. One day there were approximately ten different flavors of ice cream. The lady in front of me took at least three or four minutes to make up her mind -- it was that difficult. I thought when the self service food selection was eliminated and the stewards started serving all the passengers things would be different. I was wrong as the service has gone down hill. Now that same woman can't make up her mind what vegetables she wants in her salad nor how much. I waited over 6 minutes for a bowl of soup today when the woman couldn't decide whether she wanted 2 radishes or three in her salad and the crowning point was the kind of dressing. There were four available and this really sent her into a loop and the line grew longer and longer. If you are young you may possibly dominate all the sports activities aboard, thus winning just about every ping pong, shuffleboard and basketball shooting match.
You will also meet some of the very rude as well as some of the most courteous passengers in the world. While waiting for a tour there will be those that will stand waiting for a tour sticker and will run over you to get to the gangplank and then probably run you over again to get to the tour bus. It' like the blond that believes the front of the airplane gets to the destination first. We witnessed more than once seniors actually walking up the back of the shoes for the person in front of them. Often times they displayed an attitude of "get out of my way".We thought the rudest of all actions were the old women who took their shoes off in the Queen's Lounge during the entertainment and put their bare feet on the back of the seat in front of them. We saw unhappy passengers more than once ask them to remove their feet from the back of the seat. This happened night after night in the Queen's Lounge.
Some passengers are madly in love with formal nights. Before they leave home they fully think about such nights aboard ship with Humphrey Bogart or Maureen O'Hara, thus laying their clothes carefully out so they will have interesting and different formal wear on each formal night. Sorry to share something with you. Such formal nights are becoming a distant part of the past on Holland America. We started checking the number of guest dressed in formal wear on formal nights and even we were shocked as the percentage of men dressing in actual formal attire which was below 10%. There were men who were dressed in dark suits with a tuxedo shirt and bow tie, thus we have to give them some credit for upholding the tradition. The majority of the rest were dressed in anything from sport coats and pants to downright tacky pants and a golfing shirt and tennis shoes.
The females as a group were dressed much better and tended to dress more toward the formal attire for the evening, however even then there were more exceptions. Nice cocktail dress were occasionally seen as was dark pant suits. Even then many females wore nothing less than street clothes, not even "Sunday Go To Meeting Clothes". When we discussed this at our dinner table the main observation was that this is a sign of the times, people don't like to have to carry a lot of formal clothes and people are going to do their own thing regardless of the ship's guidelines. Some of the more senior females apparently struggled as they attempted to put a size 6 cocktail dress on a size 10 body. Not only a sight to behold but rather disgusting to say the least.
OUR CABIN We normally purchase an outside room however this trip, because it was 38 days long, we opted for an upgrade to the Veranda Deck. Our cabin was very good. Roomy and a perfect deck on the starboard side since we were traveling south on the east side of South America. We used the veranda more this trip than ever before. The room was large. There was a mini-bar, flat screen TV, DVD player with free DVDs from the library and king size bed. The bathroom was shower only. There was plenty of closet space. The hot water in the bathroom was usually only warm however we learned that if you take a shower late or early there would be plenty of hot water. Seems like the hot water was used up by others on the deck rather quickly. We resorted to night showers and found there was more hot water available although regulating the hot and cold was sometimes an issue.
The cabin needed cleaning even after being cleaned. Upon check in we found used towels on the veranda, lint on the couch, stains on the sheets and the carpet not completely vacuumed. We decided to live with the shortcomings in hopes that the second day would produce improved cleaning. Throughout the cruise the cleaning was sporadic. Some days good and some days not so good. The service was also sporadic. We did not mark the sheets however if the sheets were changed during the 38 day cruise we did not know about it. At dinner one evening the couple told us their sheets had not been changed in at least the first 28 days. On our next cruise we plan to mark and identify the sheets so we can keep up with changes. The morning cleaning sometimes took place in mid afternoon and the evening cleanings was sometimes around 8:00PM.Asking for ice or fresh fruit refills was typically met with frustration as it could take sometime before your request was honored. There were days when the service was fine. It consistency was what was missing. We did see improvements toward the end of the 38 days. Guess it was getting close to "tip" time thus the improvements.
They will try to get you to use your dirty sheets and dirty towels over and over again with the premise that Holland America is "green" and a good steward of the environment. Don't fall for it, it's "greed" in it's worst form. These are cruise line "moneymaking" events, nothing else. Bottom line was that we really enjoyed our Veranda Deck cabin and would strongly recommend that if you take this ship go for at least a Veranda cabin.
SWIMMING POOLS & HOT TUBS We used to use these areas but have stayed away from them in recent years. On the Lido deck there is a pool and two hot tubs. If this is your thing, then go for it. We opted not to use them for health reasons. On the Lido deck there is also the Sea View Pool.
THE CROW'S NEST A great area to rest and read a book and just take in the cruise from one of the highest levels on the ship. Was usually very cool from a temperature standpoint. Also a quite areas until a lot of drinkers converge then the area becomes quite loud and reading and conversation becomes impossible.
WAJANG THEATER & THE CULINARY ARTS CENTER We saw several movies in this venue. Many were movies appearing on the big screen just a few weeks back. Usually the theater was almost full. There was free popcorn for approximately 50 passengers which means the popcorn is limited. The culinary programs we found to be rather dull so we quit going. The master of ceremony was unable to keep the audience's attention. And the program was always disjointed with the camera person not always following the chef.
SPORTS DECK & ACTIVITIES Not that much from an activity stand point and the young man directing the programs appeared to always wanting to be someplace else than with a bunch of seniors. I just quit going. Wasn't worth the time and frustration.
LIDO DECK This is the dining area where you will eat most all meals. We had good meals and not so good meals here. Some passengers seem to relate hugh quantities of food with "good food". Sorry but we would rather have quality over quantity. We joined a couple the first day on board and they were amazed at the "great free food" in the Lido. Frankly the food tasted like it had been poured from a size 10 (those really giant ones) can, heated and served to the masses. One person remarked the soup was just like the soup out of a Campbell's Soup can. We tended to agree. At other times you could actually find some rather decent food. We always kept in mind that this was not a gourmet restaurant and neither was it the local fast food joint.
Ice cream is available on the Lido deck and the ice cream along with assorted toppings is all free. I note this because of the prices being charged by some cruise lines for ice cream. When the cruise first started there was up to approximately 10 flavors of hard and soft ice cream available. With only six days left as I write this the number is now down to three flavors with some toppings formally available no longer available.
Unless you want to pay for soft drinks, beer or mixed drinks your choices on the Lido deck is limited to hot or cold tea and water for lunch. There is an assortment of teas available. At breakfast there is an assortment of fruit juices and milk. I would normally not write this detailed account about specific foods, however due to the ever diminishing amounts and types of food on this particular cruise I have decided to make note. Perhaps your cruise, even if on the same itinerary, will not be faced with such limitations.
PINNACLE GRILL This is the "pay for food" restaurant. Some passengers actually don't mind paying the $20 extra charge to eat here. We did on one of our last cruises and found the food and service to be rather good. We just don't like having to pay extra to eat lunch or dinner. If you don't mind the extra charge then "go for it". Just remember that if the two of you eat every available dinner in this restaurant, that would be thirty eight times or $1520.00 for your cruise and that's assuming you don't leave a tip. Eating lunch on days they were open for lunch will run the tab even higher. Seems a little pricey to me. Perhaps one or two times on a 38 days cruise?
OPEN SEATING & FIXED DINING We always ask for first dining and are always turned down and offered "anytime dining". Very frankly, the open seating dining to us is a pain. You can make reservations and generally get a table close to your requested dining time. Forget to make reservations and just walk in and you may of may not get a table. There does not seem to be a lot of advice I can give you on when is the best time to go to anytime dining. It's appears to be just the luck of the draw. You have to make reservations each day. Probably best to call in as early as possible for your reservation. When going into the dining room (Deck 4) for open seating, notice the number of the table is on the little metal tent cards sitting on the table. Pick out a couple of tables you really like and the next time you call in for reservations ask for one of those tables you have noticed a number on. You might just be lucky and get the table of your choice. You can also make reservations in the middle elevator corridor on Lido deck some of the cruise days.
Don't expect the traditional outstanding table wait service anymore on Holland America. The days of your welcome to dinner by your name from the same waiter is going by the way side. If you are in opening seating you may or may not have the same waiter each evening. Thus you will not find a waiter that is dedicated to giving you great service as he (we never saw a female waitress) will get the same tip at the end of the cruise whether you like the service of not. I know----the brochure says you can make adjustments in the automatic tips charge, however have you ever tried this? It will be an experience that you will always remember. Don't say you have not been forewarned.
CASINO This is certainly an entertainment avenue for some of the guest. Some passengers even spend a lot of time telling about what they have won or are going to win .Won't happen folks----the casino is there to take your money and take it they will. Whatever you wish to lose is the amount of playing you should do. If you and some of those traveling with you like to play a little poker, have your own game and leave the "house casino" out of the picture. For example to play Texas Holdum Poker against other passengers, the "house" takes approximately 10% of every pot. You figure the math. Eventually if you play enough hands the house will own everything. When traveling as a tourist in a foreign country, you are a "marked" person the minute you enter the casinos on land. You will not win---trust me. A lot of cruising time we spent in Chilean waters at which time the casino operations had to close in accordance with local law. The tables were never full and if you wanted to gamble you could always find many open spaces. The staff always appeared friendly.
GIFT SHOPS Gift shops on board a Holland America ship look more like garage sales and going out of business stores than real duty free shops. Just look around the next time you are in one and see if you don't agree. The selection is not good, the merchandise is sparse and the prices are not all that great. Many time you can actually do better at a duty free store in the airport before you leave home."Gold by he inch"---give me a break! There is about as much gold in some of those chains as you will find in a copper penny. Since this was the last cruise to South America for the season, the stores begin to mark a lot of the merchandise down at greatly reduced prices. T-shirts were priced at 4 for $20 and the passengers flocked in to buy. A few days later there was a great price reduction as the shirts were being sold for $5 each. The same women were fighting over the very same t-shirts and exclaiming "just $5". I really did feel like I was at a garage sale!!One reason for these price reductions is that this was the last South American cruise for the season and this was a repositioning cruise.
As we approached Cape Horn the store clerk advised me maps were begin reduced 75%. I could not pass up the bargain and purchased 2 of each. That was actually a great buy as I paid about $3.75 for each map and when she told me the supply was limited I was convinced that I had to buy. On a tour a street vendor approached me to buy a map. I thought I had seen the map he was selling before and once I opened it and saw where it was printed it twas the same identical map. The street vendor price was $2 per map. On day 31 of there was there was a hugh sale of merchandise. There were literally hundreds of the same maps that earlier had been in short supply. The price, the same 75% off I had paid many day prior.
Three weeks into the sailing the gift shop offered a cheap promotional watch in a case along with another item or two, such as a billfold, key chain, pen or calculator. The "original price" were close to $100 , however for a short duration there was a sale of those gift sets for just $19.99. Passengers looked and looked however few purchased. On day 31 we received a notice in our cabin that watch gift sets would go on sale for just a short two hour period for $19.99. Now this is the exact price we had days before. However at this sale dozens of passengers flocked to the doors. Don't know if she was serious or not but one of the clerks said there were 75 people waiting for the sale when they starting selling for the two hour period 10AM to Noon. A number of passengers purchased 4 sets and some had as many as 8 sets in their hands when they went to the check out.
Like to read and need a paperback? Buy one at home before you leave as you will pay dearly for a copy purchased in the gift shop. Same for any other items you may need. I paid $3.99 for some mints that cost $1.25 at home. TIP—remember there is a free paperback exchange program in the library. You take a book and you leave a book---all free. We many times find some of the latest bestsellers on the shelves.
INTERNET I have complained about the internet service aboard ships for years. On this cruise the hook up was much better than service we have received in the past. The cost is still ridiculous. Paying 40 to 75 cents a minute is equal to $24.00 to $45.00 per hour or more than $575.00 to $1080.00 per day or $17000.00 to $32400.00 per month. Sure does make the service back home seem like a bargain! Couple the price with the slow service and sometimes difficulty in hooking up to the internet and you will find actual per minute cost to be much greater than the per minute cost quoted. Just to check fro an e-mail that would normally take less than a minute back home will more than likely take from 3 to 5 minutes. One may ask why bother? OK—so we are junkies and just can't seem to get away from it all. I'll probably do it again on my next cruise.
At several ports I found Internet cafes that had great Internet service. The rate was always $1 (US) per hour or fraction of an hour. The speed was outstanding. Some keyboards were a little worn and some of the keys were in the wrong place, however I got used to it. TIP---use your own notebook or netbook, type your e-mails before connecting to the ship's internet, then copy and paste. You will save a ton on minutes on your internet account. Also if you want to send pictures you will have to use your own laptop. The ship's internet room does office printing at 25 cents per page thus printing your boarding pass is a possibility.
On this ship there were digital classes that were offered several times a day and the bast part-----you won't believe----it was free. First time on any cruise we have run into this. Take you digital camera to class and you will learn something new---unless you are an expert and know everything there is to know about computers and digital cameras. We found the room always full for every class, so get there early. Seating was limited to around 20 participants.
SHIP'S SHORE TOURS I wish I had an easy answer for this subject however I don't. We booked several shore tours through Holland America's Internet site after they did not send me a package of material showing available tours. Downloading and printing the entire tour package will take quite some time and don't forget, it's at your expense. We talked with passengers about some of the tours and found many who purchased the Holland America tours, others who swore they would never buy a ship's tour and those who just waited until they arrived at the next port.
We will provide just a few examples so you can make up your own mind. In Rio de Janerio we purchased tours from the hotel tour desk and frankly paid way too much. A couple in line with us at check in, went to the Internet and purchased Gray Line tours before leaving home. They got a much better price and told us the selection was much better.
In Buenos Aires we purchased from Holland America a 3 ½ hour city tour for $59. We learned that night that passengers at our table had gone to the tour desk at the Marriott Hotel in downtown where they and another couple purchased a 4 hour city tour for $60 for the four of them. They had a nice air conditioned car and a driver that spoke fluent English. The next day we purchased a 3 ½ hour tour through Holland America entitled In Evita's Footsteps. The cost $54 per person. We noticed that some of the tour appeared to overlap the highlights tour the day before. We spoke to the tour person who advised me we should have read the brochure more carefully. When I told her I never received a brochure from Holland America, her reply was that you should have downloaded the brochure. We learned that evening at dinner that a four hour tour was available from a downtown tour location for less than $20 per person.
In Montevideo we opted for a trip to see a UNESCO site, Colonial del Sacramento. The cost was $185 per person. The tour was 30 minutes late getting started and it was a little over two hours to the site. The tour actually lasted about 1 ½ hours and then we were fed lunch. The ride back was another 2 ½ hours. The visit to the old town was good however the cost was way out of line. We could have gotten a taxi driver to have taken us to the site for substantially less money and had we located another couple desiring the same trip and a large taxi the cost would have been even lower. There were many taxis available at the port just a few feet from the gangplank.
There were tours on this cruise that cost more than $4000.00 per person. Seems a little expensive to us but if that's your thing---go for it.
At the port in Huatulco we opted for a catamaran & coach trip that lasted about 4 hours with a cost of $64 per person. On the catamaran drinks were provided for free as well as fresh fruit. The entire tour was excellent at what we felt was a very fair price.
Bottom line -- you can do much better on your own than through the ship's tour office. I think we have finally learned our lesson. No more expensive ship sponsored tours and pushy staff that could care less about the passengers. One last thought----would it be possible for that tour desk supervisor to quit saying "etc" "etc" "etc' "etc". If she used that once she used it a thousand times.
Getting one's own tours can at times be an adventure. You may not always know anything about the guide or where the guide may take you. Some up front negotiations and discussions will go a long way in having a great adventure on shore. Also remember it is you who makes the choice, thus if the first guide does not seem to be a perfect fit, look for another. Also you might ask at the dock's tourist information desk what kind of regulations and identification applies in that port to tour operators. Lastly, always check out the internet before arriving. Do lots of research on the destinations, including the tour operators for the area.
DRINK & WINE CARDS You can purchase a drink card for around $20.70 (they add a tip to the purchase). Thus your soft drinks, which you can obtain only at certain bars, cost you approximately $1.00 per drink. This is how they do it. You order two drinks. The waiter opens a single can of Coke and pours it into a glass filled with ice. Presto---you now have two glasses of Coke that cost $2.00 on the card. Guess what----you could have purchased the can of Coke for $1.95 (plus tip) and poured it over a glass of ice yourself. We did not purchase the wine card since the card entitled you to some house brands which the seller of the card stated he did not know. We opted to pay approximately $25.00 for a bottle of wine that we pick up at Sam's for $3.99. Oh well----you are on vacation and Holland America is entitled to a few bucks profit here and there. Did you know you can purchase wine on shore and take it to dinner with you? There will be a corkage charge. Be sure and see what that is before purchasing a lot of on shore wine. The wine steward will hold partial bottles for your dining the following evening.
TIP: The first shore stop you make purchase canned drinks you think you will need for the cruise. This will save you many dollars. There was always ice in our cabin along with an ample number of glasses.
OUR ONBOARD ACCOUNT Our hats off to the front desk. Every charge was accurate to the penny. Thanks for a job well done. We did see passengers having problems thus I asked one if their account was incorrect. It seems they forgot they made some charges in the gift shop.
SHIP'S ONBOARD ENTERTAINMENT I think for the first time in our cruising experience we are beginning to feel sorry for the ship's on board entertainment staff. We no longer even comment on their entertainment. Instead like many other---if it is really bad we just excuse ourselves from the lounge and go find something else to do. We just got to the point it was too painful to set through some of these "productions". We do understand though the ship needs these people to do other jobs aboard the ship and on shore, thus there is some justification for keeping them. We expect those who put together entertainment to eventually reach down to the high school level. Lip syncing instead of singing----give me a break!!!
Individual entertainers brought aboard the ship were rather good. They were professionals who have experience in the entertainment industry and we found those evenings worth while. Such acts included a flutist, comedians and singers. We found KINIKA, Rick Starr, Lee Bayless and Viviana Guzman to all have shows worth attending.
TRAVELING IN SOUTH AMERICA You no doubt have read news article about the high crime and dangers in traveling throughout certain parts of South America. Having spent a career in law enforcement let me first dispute some of those myths as well as give credence to others. I find it difficult to put a lot of faith into those stories of a young writer that has taken her first trip to the "wilds of Rio de Janerio". Traveling to many of these countries requires common sense and a constant alertness. Everyone has common sense, or at least let's assume that is a fact. Then why in the world does one go to Buenos Aires on a day when thousands are demonstrating and wear an American flag imprinted on one's t-shirt or a back pack that is imprinted with the words "Buy American." Save those for the local NASCAR track where you will be safer.
We saw dozens of Americans right off the ship wearing expensive jewelry in every port we visited. We also saw pick pockets and the ten-cent hoodlums close to the dock. They are not hard to spot. Next time just look their way as they are already looking at you, their next probable "mark". So why wear the jewelry? Do you really want to make one of those thugs have a great day?
Look---"know where you have been"----"know where you are" and "know where you are going" You can still be a tourist without giving a signal to everyone that sees you. One of the couples at our table got hit by the old "spray water" "spray mustard" "spray tomato catsup" scam. They quickly realized what was taking place and moved to a safer area away from the scammers with no loss for the day.
Bottom line----don't be afraid to go to South America. We visited a dozen port cites as well several inland cites and found the people delightful and friendly. If you see a neighborhood back home that has tons of graffiti on every building and a dozen non-running junk cars sitting on the street, ask yourself if that's the place you really want to visit at midnight. Probably not----it's the same in South America.
Now there were some incidents on this 38 day cruise however we will wager there were numerous incidents back in your home town as well.
MONEY EXCHANGE I am always asked upon returning home how the money exchange went.
There was a time when you could change your money for the money of the country you were visiting by going to the Purser's desk aboard ship. That is no longer the case on many cruise ships when they visit ports where the US Dollar is readily accepted. I discussed this with a staff member of the Purser's Office and learned that exchanges are still made in European ports but not in South American posts. Before leaving home check the going rate for exchanging money in every country you will be visiting. You will probably not get that rate, however you should get close to that amount. I don't have to tell you that the US Dollar is not all that sought after in many places throughout the world. I found that a little different in many of the countries we visited on this cruise. Many locals were willing to accept US Dollars, though sometimes at discounted rates. A little bargaining and you can probably improve on the exchange rate. Often many changers at banks and exchange offices will generally charge a fee which is sometimes hefty. TIP-----Don't exchange for more than you actuality need or plan on spending. Once back on board the ship—that left over money is yours as souvenir.
On board ship you can get advances against your credit card and in the casino you were allowed $1000 a day against your account/credit card. Please be forewarned that a fee is charged plus you may also have an additional fee against your credit card when you return home. Check this out before leaving home.
PORTS OF CALL A cruise to South America should result in visits to some places you would never think about spending a vacation or even flying into. Ushuaia, Argentina is one of those places you will probably never visit on your own as will be Punta Arenas, Argentine. Two great port cities well worth your visit. Traveling north up the western coast of South America we stopped at Puerto Montt before proceeding to Valparaiso. There we went to Santiago, a very beautiful city, that unfortunately has a serious smog problem. Nevertheless , a visit is well worth one's time. On a cruise ship that docks overnight, you still want have enough time to explore all the lactations you would like to see. Do some research before leaving home plus purchase a couple of good guide books and plot those places that provide you the most interest. Some port cities the cruise docks were right in the industrial container unloading areas and walking from the ship to the terminal was prohibited. This just means that you need to prepare to ride a shuttle bus to and from the ship.
In Arica Chile one had to ride the shuttle however the old downtown area was just a cross the street from the terminal. Lots of construction in downtown where new sidewalks were being constructed. In a short time this will be a delightful little town on the water to visit. The stop at Lima Peru was actually at Callao, Peru sea port. It is a massive industrial area and walking off the ship to town is prohibited. Taxis were plentiful and inexpensive. We made the mistake of taking a shore tour for shopping that was no more than a bus ride to and from the Inca Market area. The area was excellent to visit however we paid $90 for the two of us to travel by bus. The cost of a taxi was $20 each way and we could have traveled at our convenience, not the convenience of the tour company and Holland America. There were plenty of taxis at the pier and we only learned of our mistake upon return to the ship and talking with others who went by taxi.
The Inca market area is really worth a visit even if only for a couple of hours. The area around the market had many nice restaurants and coffee shops. Even Starbucks, McDonald's and some very nice independent local businesses. I would not recommend spending all day or even a great deal of time in the market, just a short visit to get some trinkets for the family and friends back home.
A visit to downtown Lima is certainly worth your time however before booking a tour on a cruise ship talk with some of the local taxi drivers or tour drivers at the dock. You will end up with a much better deal ,plus you get to go where you want at a time when you want, not to mention the many dollars you will save. On a side note US dollars were widely accepted and even change was given in US dollars. Just make certain you have nice new looking bills as old dirty bills will not be accepted. While the actual exchange rate was about $3.30 (soles) per US dollar you generally received $3.00 Just consider the "shortage" as a business cost and move on. Using credit cards at some locations was possible however in almost every instance the restaurant or shop advised there would be a 12% surcharge added to you bill. We opted to pay cash. TIP---don't try to extend you shore time if you have a set cruise ship departure time that must be met. There are often demonstrations in downtown areas that completely stall traffic for quite some time. Get in the middle of that traffic gridlock and you probably won't make your cruise connection.
Huatulco Mexico: What a neat little port! There are tons of new construction so look for this to be a major tourist destination in the years to come. Thousands of hotel rooms are either there now or under construction.
This was our first cruise to South American and we thought the itinerary was outstanding.
Our first stop in the United States was San Diego on April 20, 2009. We were scheduled to dock at 6:30AM with all on board at 4:30PM. It was 9:45AM before we were able to go ashore. According to a staff member there was an inspection this morning that resulted in numerous shortages including personnel. We were prepared for staff shortages as last night at dinner there were several members of the wait staff that were apparently too sick to report to work. On the Lido Deck there was a shortage of silverware and at one time no cloth napkins on either side of the line. Coffee lines were very long and wait time for eggs, pancakes, etc was extra ordinarily long. The entire ship had to be checked in by immigration officials who had boarded the ship and were on deck five. The time to get through immigration was not that long, however somewhere in the process some passengers did not make it to the cleared list and immigration refused to permit passengers to embark until all passengers were accounted for. Some passengers were already complaining that they had missed or were going to miss their flights out of San Diego. The person in front of me advised she was going to have to get a rental car and drive to Los Angeles for a flight as there were no more flights today out of San Diego for her country.
Lines of passengers were everywhere on the ship as was baggage for those who planned to disembark in San Diego. Then a great many of the ship's employees and others not wearing ship clothing appeared wearing white face mask and spraying everything in sight with some type of liquid. Chairs, carpets, walls and anything else in sight was sprayed. Some complained they were getting a headache. I returned to my cabin as the smell was more than I could tolerate. Upon entry into my hallway there were approximately a dozen persons spraying walls,washing doors, handrails and spraying the carpet. The smell was not good. It was approximately 9:45AM that we learned that we could get off the ship. Even then we had to fit into existing lines of passengers that were still embarking with San Diego being their last port. In general this morning has been a total disaster for not only departing passengers but for in transit passengers as well.
It's 5PM and departure was to have taken place. The Captain has announced that Customs has not cleared the ship and he will get back with the passengers. He has also announced that a professional crew was brought aboard to disinfect the ship, but that procedures in place will continue. At dinner the dining room is almost vacant. There are no guest in the large center portion of the dining room. Our waiter comes to our table and advises he has been released from quarantine where he was placed last evening. His cabin mate (our busboy) became ill therefore he was subject to the quarantine procedures and since he showed no ill effects he was permitted to come back to work for the dinner meal. We note many passengers normally eating in our area are not present.
At breakfast and lunch the following day there seems to be a lot of vacant tables where one can sit. Food continues to be "rationed". We asked for Jello and was told it would be five minutes before some could be brought to the area. There just are not enough staff to do the work needed. (See also Ports of Call San Diego).
GETTING BACK ON TIME Unless you are on a ship sold tour, you have a specific time that you must be back at the ship. There were a few passengers that thought this did not apply to them. At one port, four passengers were still not on board when the ship departed. They had to hire a motorboat to get them to the ship. I think the Captain was very accommodating in stopping the ship and letting them on board. Had I been in charge they would still be waiting on the dock. We noticed some passengers coming to the gangplank well after the final time and some thought it funny as they laughed and joked as they boarded.
PASSPORTS, VISA & GOVERNMENT FORMS With the exception of Brazil , a United States citizen needs a current passport only to visit the countries visited by this cruise ship. For Brazil you will need a visa plus you are going to have to have certain immunizations. You will find the necessary work work to visit Brazil is rather expensive. (NOTE—this is a political issue with the United States imposing heavy fees on Brazilians who travel to the United States—with you and I being the victims).We thought we had everything in order for a cruise with minimal 'government red tape". Not the case!!! First our passport was taken by Holland America on the day we boarded the ship. We are well into the cruise and I have yet to lay my eyes on my passport. Just hope the information and data is not being sold all over the world.
In Chile we had to have a government form completed and carried with us when on shore. The same was true in Peru. We were never ask for the form in Chile however the tour bus was searched in Peru and each passenger was asked for his/her written Peruvian form. In addition the countries are quite insistent that no one bring any fruits or vegetables into their country. "Fruit dogs" will search passengers and their bags in several of the ports. We were told the fine is $200 (US) to be paid on the spot if they find fruit in your procession. We met two people aboard ship who had to pay $200 fines. One person was a native of Chile. Fines had to be paid in local currency cash and we were told that no other form of payment would be accepted. One person had to go to the bank to get local money since he did not have $200 in his pocket. Some of the custom officers were very nice while others displayed a dominating negative attitude toward visitors. Guess it's all in a days work!!Would you believe after the dozens of times passengers had been warned about bringing fruit into port, there were two ahead of us that got caught in Cabo with two bananas in their bag. The customs person in this case just confiscated the fruit, warned them and dropped the two bananas into a trash can.
Our passport was returned the day before we docked in Cabo San Lucas. It was impossible to tell if the passport information had been copied or disseminated. The process was orderly and fast. We are now told that all US citizens must appear before immigration officials when we stop at San Diego. We were given two small cards to complete and show to immigration along with our passports.
TIP: Make a photo copy (in color) of your passport, any visas you have and your government issued immunization records. It's a good ideal to make two copies in the event you wrinkle one of the copies. Government officials don't seem to like worn, dirty or wrinkled copies.
LOCKDOWN -- SICKNESS Okay, we have read about this on other cruise ships and now it hits us after 25 days of cruising. We have noticed for the past two evenings the number of passengers eating in the dining room have been less and less. This morning we noticed that well over 90% of the cabins on our deck appeared to have passengers still in their cabins. When we arrived on Lido Deck we found all food service behind plastic wrap with passengers being served by the staff. Even coffee was off limits with a rope around the coffee bar. Early this morning the Captain announced that an illness was aboard ship and that as precautionary measures the passengers needed to wash their hand thoroughly several times a day. He stated it was a 48 hour virus that produced vomiting and diarrhea. While it may no doubt be easy to prove that passengers certainly helped spread the germs, we find it ironic with some measures being taken or not being taken. For example in the casino there are passengers who continue to play the slot machines with no hand wipes or hand sanitizer anywhere in sight. It's different at the stores as each passengers is given a hand wipe as they enter. In the Internet room there are hand wipes at each computer.
The library is shut down with all books being locked behind steel bars. Even the "free exchange pocket book" section is locked for the remainder of the cruise. Workers are busy wiping the hand rails throughout the ship. On the Lido deck we noticed two gallon buckets of dirty water being used to dip cloths that were used to wipe tables. Looks like a great way to spread germs. The rags used to wipe tables were not very clean. Looks to us like the ship would have converted to paper wipes that could be disposed after each table wipe down. There were food particles on the floor and under the tables in the Lido area. Not much cleaning took place after the dinner meal. The cabin steward left two bottles of hand sanitizer in our cabin.
It's rather nice aboard ship today as it is obvious that a great many passengers are behind the closed doors of their cabin. Breakfast was certainly not that busy and the main dining room had plenty of seats for breakfast.
It's been several days since the "lock down" and the Captain has just announced over the public address system that the process will continue. Food now being served in in smaller portions with some food items disappearing entirely. Whole fresh fruit is seldom seen with no bananas in several days. All food is being served and the portions are much smaller. Ice cream used to be a full dip, today it was down to one half a dip. Asked for two donuts at breakfast and was offered one. Of course a passenger can return and ask for a second however many just give up and never return. While the "official position" is that the "GIs continue" it is obvious that a food conservation program is in effect. At dinner last night one medium carrot is enough for four or five plates and there was one piece of asparagus cut into three pieces on the plate. A tomato had been quartered so many times I could not even estimate the number of pieces coming from a whole tomato. The "official position" from Holland America is that the "GIs continue."
TIPPING Not exactly being bored, but nevertheless having some extra time, we decided to conduct some on board research. My research is certainly is not scientific or according to norms and standards of those who are professional in this business.
Should you have to tip at the "for pay" restaurant where there is already a $20 charge for dinner? We talked with several passengers and it was split about 50-50 on whether to tip or not. Thus we don't know the answer.
Should you tip the tour excursion guide? We were on deck 6 and using high powered binoculars we were able to check departing passengers as they left the tour bus directly under our cabin. We checked dozen of buses as they returned. Even so, that was only a small number as there were many dozens of returns that we did not check. In almost every case we found about 50% of the passengers giving a tip to the tour guide and almost no one giving a tip to the bus driver. We could tell the difference between a one dollar bill and a five dollar bill, however could not tell how many $1 bills were in a stack handed to the tour guide. The majority of passengers providing tips were male as the females almost never tipped. One of the reason may have been that for couples it was the male who provided the tip. It appears that tips were generally $2 to $5.
Does a female or male tour guide receive the most tips? We thought this would be an interesting questions as we took several tours and found guides who were outstanding while others appeared to want to see the end of the shift come as quickly as possible. They were both males and females. We noticed on one trip that the male guide did not offer a lot of commentary. We also noticed he failed to get very many tips while a very nice looking female guide who added not only commentary but laughter to the tour seemed to receive a tip from almost every male on the bus including this writer.
TIPPING FOR ONBOARD ROOM SERVICE Passengers we talked with were divided on this subject. Some felt they had paid enough for the cruise and enough in daily tips that extra tips for room service was not warranted. Others felt a dollar or two for room service was appropriate.
ONBOARD SELF-SERVICE LAUNDRY There are self service laundromats on several decks. The space is very small thus very close quarters exist. You definitely will get to know your neighbor. The machines worked well. When we first boarded the ship the laundry room was open 24 hours a day however a little more than half way into the cruise the hours c hanged to 7AM to 11PM. According to a staff member there had been complaints from some of the guest. That does not surprise us as some guest seemed to complain about anything another passenger might be doing. The cost was $2.00 a load for washing with drying being free. Soap was included with the wash. There was also an iron and ironing board in each of those areas. Change is readily available at the Front Desk. The one issue with lots of passengers was that sometimes passenger would open the door on the dryer then close the door without restarting the drying process. Thus one's clothes might just sit there without the dryer being turned on. We also talked with passengers in the self service area that had their clothes removed from either the washer or dryer and left on the counter. Were they upset!!!
On board laundry and dry cleaning is also available. There is a laundry bag in the cabin. Fill it with all you can and the cost is just $20. (laundry only—no dry cleaning). You can reduce the cost per piece if you completely fill the bag. We figured we were getting laundry for just about the same price as at our home. Laundry was returned exactly as it was ordered, starched and shirts on hangers in just two days. Doing your laundry on board ship is a great way to carrying less clothes thus saving expensive extra baggage fees on the airlines.
COFFEE WITH THE CRUISE DIRECTOR This is really very entertaining as the cruise director has a morning coffee with usually the entertainment person that performed the evening before. Thus Coffee With The Cruise Director is not an everyday event. On the day that comedian Lee Bayless was the guest there was standing room only. Coffee and danish are available for those attending in the Explorer's Lounge.
PHOTOS As Maxwell Smart would attest, the "professional photo" trick is well and alive on this ship, however not many passengers fell for the trick. The trick is that the photos aboard this ship, as is the same on many other ships, are nothing more than snapshots made with a digital camera. Photos are made by the dozens and produced the same way. The personnel does nothing to correct what may otherwise have been a decent snapshot. The objective seems to be mass production and as quickly as possible. We noticed at Acapulco that almost no one stopped at the gangplank to pose for a snap shot. When the photographer asked me why we did not want a photo made I advised him that the prices were too high for a snapshot and he readily agreed that prices were high. He did not force the issue.
On formal nights the photographers are set up in several places for what they describe as "professional" photos or portraits". Just not true, as these photos are shot with the same digital cameras with the result being nothing more than snapshots with a fancy name. The prices are very high. TIP---purchase an inexpensive digital camera and take dozens of photos of your own. Upon return home decide which ones you really want and print those using your computer and printer. It's not that difficult and I guarantee you can do it. Did you know that with some inexpensive software you can remove the "flash spot" in the middle of that photo so that it looks great. That's the same kind of "flash spot" the on board photographers will not take the time to remove.
The shop also has a limited selection of digital cameras for sale, however even with a $100 discount the cameras were still substantially more than in state side stores.
TRANSFER TO THE AIRPORT The cruise line offers a transfer to the airport. We were told by the Front Desk that our luggage would be transferred from the ship directly to the airline check in. Well "yes" and "no". There is a list of airlines where this service is available however our, Southwest, does not participate. Be sure and check before purchasing transfers to the airport. Upon arrival at the airport we and other passengers had a surprise as we were all let off at a single stop. Not too bad for us as we only had to walk to the next terminal. For others they were not happy. The cost will be more than a taxi, but probably not that much more. We have used the taxi and have also used the ship's transfer bus. The bus was $28 per person. The taxi fare is around $38 to $44 with the driver always wanting a tip for baggage handling. You do the math.
We arrived at a brand new pier, Pier 91. According to the ship information we were the first ship t arrive and use the new facility. The terminal is a long way from downtown. Don’t count on walking. You will need a taxi. On the first day there was a lot of confusion. Bags taken from the ship were stacked on the4 dock in such a manner it was impossible to obtain your baggage and use the wheels on the bag to move the luggage. The employees had stacked the baggage so close there was no adequate isle between the rows. I would suspect this will eventually be worked out as the terminal gets into full use. For the love of me I cannot understand though why a cruise line would want to use a dock that is miles from downtown Seattle. Really very inconvenient for the passengers.
RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES On the Sunday after Easter an Interdenominational Worship Service was held in the Wajang Theater. Almost every seat was taken, as the service was very well attended. Mass was celebrated on that same date in the Queen's lounge and the day before a Virgil Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater. On Friday evening there was the Sabbath Eve Oneg Shabbat in the Hudson Room.
DAILY NEWSPAPERS Delivered to our cabin each morning was an abbreviated copy of the New York Times Digest. We noticed other cabins had either a copy of the Australian News or Canadian News. There were also copies of the News Digest available on the Lido Deck in the dining area. Also (for free) you can view the New York Times news on the computers in the Internet room. Look for the free Holland America section on the screen. DO NOT log in, otherwise you will find you are using your own costly minutes for what is actually free. Want to browse future Holland America cruises for the next two years? That's also free on that computer.
DAILY PROGRAM Delivered to your cabin each evening was a copy of the Daily Program for the following day. The program contain a time schedule that will show many (not all) the activities for the following days, plus tell you about the theater movie and theater shows for that day. In addition there is a listing of all eating locations and their hours. The dress code for the day along with the weather prediction will be shown at the top of the page. Suggest you check your daily program for the dress code as this may change during the cruise from earlier published dress codes for the day.
LIBRARY The ship has a nice library with several books and several seating areas. The Internet services are also intermingled in with the library. You can usually check out a book at the desk and return a few days later. There is also a paperback section where you can leave a paperback and take a paperback without checking in or out. This area was closed for the most part after the "GI's" breakout. The hardback books were locked behind steel bars and could not be checked out. You could return those that you had previously checked out. Paperback books were locked in a cabinet and could not be returned or checked out. Toward the end of the cruise there was a little relaxation for the paperbacks as you could ask an employee to get you a paperback. You could only point to a book as handling one was out of question. You could return a paperback to the desk by just dropping it on the desk. (No handling by the staff). We were told those books had to be sanitized before being returned to the cabinets.
Magazines and newspapers were removed from the area and were no longer available after the Captain announced there was sickness aboard the ship.
ONBOARD LECTURES On board lectures were available many days. If you attend just go in with an open mind. There will be some curt remarks made about the United States and some of the so called facts repeated by the lectures should be remembered and checked out when you return home.
SHORE FACTS & SHOPPING SEMINARS Always felt like I was close to being at a P.T.Barnum sales convention when attending one of these Seminars, and I use the word "seminar" very loosely.. You will be told about the wonderful "guarantees" if you ship at Holland American approved stores and the risk you might be talking if you go to a store not carrying the Holland American sign. My advice to that you are savvy already so you sort this out and you decide. You do just fine following your own instinct.
TOUR OF THE SHIP You may have thought or even been told that tours of certain parts of the cruise ships no longer take place. Check your daily program for tours that are listed. TIP: If you are a long time cruiser aboard Holland America believe me they want and need you as a customer. Therefore if you would like to tour somewhere on the ship that is not listed in the daily program, put in a written request at the front office. Not all your requests will be honored and in some cases none will be honored, however you never know until you ask.
Kitchen tours are still a possibility and you might even get a tour behind stage with the dancers and singers.
SALON & FITNESS CENTER The ship has a rather nice fitness center. It was all that crowded with the many seniors on board this cruise. My spouse is a regular customer of the salon and while no one fixes hair like the hair dresser back home she found the work to be acceptable and not too pricey. Don't forget these women expect to be tipped and usually in cash, however if you don't happen to have a few bills with you just add it on to your ship's account.
BRIDGE INSTRUCTION I am not a bridge player however a great number of passengers are and this room was always filled with bridge players, morning and afternoon. I am told there are always experts available to make your bridge playing a little more competitive.
BINGO What would a cruise be without bingo? There are always the faithful that will be there waiting for that next number. We did see some sessions close those due to lack of players.
ART AUCTIONS During the 38 days I sat through one auction and that was enough for me. The fact is these so called auctions are not real auction. The bidding is started at a very inflated price and if no bidders closed down within seconds. A bid at the opening price will almost always get you that piece of art. The expertise of the auctioneer and his/her knowledge about the products will usually tell you very quickly if you want to stay of leave.
CRUISE DIRECTOR We think this ship had one of the hardest working, most professional and most congenial cruise directors in the cruise industry. We are a little biased as this is the second cruise in just six months we had had this cruise director. Thanks for your outstanding leadership aboard the ship.
FUTURE CRUISE DESK Why am I writing about such a subject? The reason---I never saw a day when that desk did not have a potential passengers sitting in one of the chairs. This was a very busy desk. Did the passengers purchase cruises? I don’t really know, however you can expect a blitz of information including in cabin delivery of page after page about future cruises. One of the promises made is that your travel agent back home will be in the loop and you will gets the lowest fare offered by your agent. In addition there are some other "freebies" for early booking. Might just be what you are looking for.
This was our forth cruise with Holland America, and usually we have a pretty good time on board. This cruise was a 12 day Deep Southern caribean cruise. One thing we learned is that you always listen to your travel agent. She told us the longer the cruise the older the people, and she was right. Not that their was anything wrong with that, but we noticed that maybe the crew did not realize that there needs to be more attention to ship hygiene with older people,espcially in public washrooms. The floors needed to be cleaned more often, the smell was really offensive.
We did notice that there were less staff to help clean up and serve. We always have breakfast out side on deck and trays with dirty old dishes were lying around on tables. Sometimes we had to have our meal with dirty dishes piled up beside us. On our other cruises we never encountered this. Lack of staff or lazy staff who just don't care, we don't know.
We realize there is always on going maintenance on ships, but when things are being painted and alot of chippingis going on ,the area should be tapped off so that paint chips and debris don't fall on passengers and that we don't have to trudge through this debris if we are not wearing shoes on deck.
What we really hated, being non smokers, was that to get from the dining room to the theatre you have to go through a disgusting cloud of smoke. This is because the casino is on, the way right in the middle of the ship. The ships sports bar where smokers congregate, just happens to be by the shops, so we had to walk through another cloud of smoke. Why not much ventilation if any, We don't know.
Food quality has taken a nose dive on this ship. We had a vegetarian sitting at our table and she had to order off the same short menu for 12 days, not alot of choice, she was very dissapointed. The desserts were no better than a buffet dinner at cheap restaurant, they used to be really decedant. The dinner presentation was great, but it hid the lack in taste and quality that we were used to and expected on all our previous cruises.
Why the lack of attention by staff and to meals,we don't know. We do know that Holland America has lost a good customer until the level of service and quality returns to that which we have become accustomed to.
This was our first HAL cruise, well not really, but the first was so many years ago it seemed like our first. I little background: we are in our late 60s, have cruised all but one of the mass marketed lines and are pretty much mid America types. I am a part time travel agent and DH is semi retired, does tax preparations during the season and writes a column for our local newspaper from time to time. We have traveled throughout the world, but certainly others have traveled more than us. With us on this cruise were old friends from California.
I do want to first mention, HAL is probably the class of the mass marketed lines, in fact I know it is.
The food was the best we have tasted after 20 plus cruises, especially the lunch buffet. If I had to find fault it would be with the Pinnicle Grill, HALs specialty dining room. The price has now been increased to $30 per person. We got reserved it when the price was $20. Although the food was better than the main dining room, the service was questionable thusI wouldn't pay $30.00 for the experience of eating there. Choices at both the buffet and the main dining room were quite varied with everything tasing fresh. The breakfast service in the main dining room could have been a little friendlier and more attentive, but we survived. What was lacking in the dining room was made up for in the buffet. The servers and cooks were super friendly, the staff always wanted to assist you with your trays and the overall atmosphere was outstanding. Of course on any cruise, especially a 10 day one, your will have a few dishes you wish they would just leave in the kitchen. This was the case here, the crab legs sould have been thrown overboard, the escargot was just so so and the eggs benedict were a little on the flat side. Every piece of beef we sampled was as good as eating at Ruth Chris' or almost, I would say the same about the fish dishes. Some feel HAL goes to light on the spices, I am considered a blue ribbon cook, love gourmet sauses and make most everything from scratch and I would disagree. The spices were not over powering but certainly were being used. A feature we learned to love was room service. Instead of the usually almost non existant room service menu, HAL will provide almost anything. Although we don't depend on room service too often it was great for breakfast on port days and the cheese platters plus salmon platter added to our evening cocktail hour. We had chosen early seating at 5:45pm I would not do that again. Next time we will opt for 6:15.
Our cabin was quite the largest we have had when booking a standard outside cabin. There was plenty of sitting room so we could have people in for cocktails prior to dinner, the beds were the best ever, the bathroom well designed although we didn't have a tub like many of the HAL cabins and our cabin steward was very attentive. He noticed right away, from the wine we had brought on board what we liked and made certain wine glasses were always available for us. We had also ordered a bar set up and as expected it was in place upon arrival. No, we are not alcoholics. LOL Putu, our cabin steward always kept things in perfect order, was pleasant and friendly, plus made the best towel animals we had seen. An extra tip came his way at the end of the 10 days as you can imagine.
We are pretty port intensive cruisers so found this particular cruise perfect for us. The only negative was the weather and rough seas. There were guests falling out of bed and sustaining serious injuries plus others getting teeth knocked out and many just plain sea sick like the gal we were traveling with. Although we did stop at HMC many of us didn't get to go ashore as soon after the tenders started taking passengers over it was decided it was too rough, so the excursions for the day were cancelled and the tenders returned those who were already on the island. From there we suffered through a couple more rough sea days until we reached Aruba and Curacao. Both islands are among our favorites. Even though the weather was overcast and rainy both stops we managed to go ashore in Aruba and took a great tour in Curacao. What we decided not to do was snorkel. Oh well, another time.
From Curacao we cruised to the Panama Canal. What a wonderful experience that was and one we will not soon forget. Having a lecturer on board to give us history helped a lot. He was very knowledgable and quite entertaining. Not only did he explain the building of the canal, he did one last lecture on Columbus's first trip to America.
One more day and it was tour time again, now we were in Costa Rica. I was a bit surprised how dirty downtown Limon was but after we got out into the country side everything changed. We chose a private tour with several others from the ship. Our tour guide, Oscar Brown was born on the island so you can imagine how well informed he was. Not only was he well informed he had a very good sense of humor. That night at dinner we were comparing tours with others at our table. We certainly got a better deal than any of them. Of course no port experience is complete without a little bit of shopping.
Aruba and Curacao offered wonderful linens, delft blue pottery, Curacoa liquer and some very nice polo/T-shirts. What we got was better quality than on some islands. Do check around as the prices vary greatly.
In Panama there was just a small shopping mall directly after debarking the ship. It had the usual souvernior shops, a duty free liquor store with some good deals on both booze and cigarettes and there was a straw market just past the mall with some interesting hand crafted merchandise. Of course most was not hand crafted. DH got a panama hat (his pride and joy right now) Costa Rica and coffee are one and the same. We managed to stock up on the coffee. Actually we ordered it directly from the ship and it was shipped free. The company wasn't connected with the ship in anyway. There was a nice straw type market just off the ship with wonderful wood products plus other native made items and the usual junk we all can't resist.
Our 2 day return trip was a little rough, but we all made it back in one piece. Although we felt HAL lacked on board activities they do have an outstanding library complete with daily newspapers and a wonderful book exchange program. You can exchange a book you have brought from home for one they have in a special section. Sometimes they aren't newest or best, but you can always find something you like. The best part, if you don't finish it before the cruise ends you can take it home. We consider this a win, win situration.
In finalizing this review, let me say, we obviously loved our cruise, but there were a few things lacking; activities, sometimes the service and relaxed friendly crew we have become accustom to on some other lines. We would cruise HAL again, but it isn't our first choice. For some I think it is the best line out there, we are probably a bit to laid back for the formalities.Nita
This was my 12th cruise with Holland America. First time on the Amsterdam, from Ottawa, Canada.
Embarkation in Fort Lauderdale was long, but not onerous, given that 1,380 passengers had to leave and roughly the same number had to come onto the ship. It is the same tired port terminal where you hurry up and wait. Elderly people should not have to stand in lines for that long, and there is a very stupid new questionnaire form about intestinal illness and lung disease asked on the spot. Who is really going to pay attention to this---No one. An interesting minor change to previous immigration procedures for the Bahamas: The immigration form is no longer included in the HAL ticket folder, but is handed to all passengers during or after boarding the ship. Disembarkation after the cruise was smooth except for the pre-arranged limo-ride which never materialized, but since we were leaving the next day, this did not matter.
We docked first in Half-Moon Cay, Bahamas, Holland America's private island, found on most maps as Little San Salvador, which is near where Columbus arrived in the New World. Many people left the ship, ontenders for there are things to do on this island mostly involving water, such as snorkeling or scuba diving, snuba, para-sailing and some sea-do and boating activities. Bring both sun screen, and, something less obvious, bring insect repellent! This was followed by a wonderful day asea.
The next stops were at Oranjestad (Aruba) and the day following, Willemstad (Curaçao), both in the Netherlands Antilles. We went on a tour of Aruba for about three hours, which showed the contrasts of a very fast developing city, the isolation of the countryside and the desert area (which covers most of the island). The cacti are very interesting and come in several varieties, among which are those which look like the bearskin "busbies" worn by British and Canadian ceremonial military guards; on most Caribbean islands these succulents are government-protected as endangered species, but I did not see any signs. Aruba is formed of a mixture of volcanic rock, limestone and coral, resulting in some very strange land formations, such as the recently collapsed Natural Bridge (a limestone formation by the sea beyond the village of Noord). There was an aloe factory towards the end of the tour where various products were available. The tour was worth it. There is little crime on these self-governing Dutch dependencies, and one feels quite safe wandering about in the port area and beyond, and there is no vendor harassment.
Of special interest in Willemstad are the Queen Emma Floating Bridge near the main port area, which is equipped with an engine on one end which the Bridge Master uses to drag it out of the way to allow ships to pass through to a dockyard, the ‘floating market’, and port facilities for Dutch naval vessels. The Queen Juliana Bridge is a long suspension bridge over 50 metres high overlooking the port area built in 1974, which, if one walks to the middle of it, gives a fantastic view of the whole port area including any ships at the new Cruise Terminal. Taxis are cheap to ride up to one side of the high bridge (U$ 7.00), though the fare needs to be negotiated beforehand; the way to the port afterwards is downhill making this is an easy trip. The Koninklijke Marine (Royal [Netherlands] Navy) presents itself between noon and one p.m. to "show the flag" in whichever port they are in: The van Amstel III (F-831) is a ship of the Karel Doorman class of frigates and is named after a river in Holland (not the beer); it arrived flying all of her colours, its crew giving the full naval salute. The shopping area is large but not excessively so, it is level and easily navigated on foot. Shopping for clothing is very inexpensive relative to such places as the British Virgin Islands or Barbados, and the Caribbean motif shirts are spectacular. There is a floating market where ships from Venezuela arrive daily and sell agricultural produce and fish to the locals (and apparently on occasion to cruise-ship cooks). There many reasonably priced places to eat and drink close to the floating bridge and the floating market and by the old fort. There are jewellery stores to be found on both islands, with the customary cruise ship guarantees (check the shopping guide provided by the ship). Fort Amsterdam in Willemstad was built in 1635 and also gives a good view of the port area. The city also has the earliest synagogue in the Western hemisphere whose facilities are spartan and the floor is of sand (by choice); the building was quite hot when I visited it, and they are doing some renovations both to it and to an adjoining museum. One can tour the factory which makes the orange liqueur named after the island –good samples are available even outside the factory; it is amazing what the liqueur can be mixed with! The façade of the port area of both islands has pastel multi-coloured buildings for which Holland is famous. Aruba, Buenaire and Curaçao have a very multicultural component since workers were brought in from many other Caribbean islands (and elsewhere) to work in developing the downtown areas and the ports on all three islands, and for the oil industry in Aruba and Curaçao.
After a day asea, we arrived at the Panama Canal, for a partial transit, through the 3 Gatun locks to the lake of its same name, and back out into the Caribbean Sea. It cost the ship over $110,000 to do the part-way trip into Lake Gatun and return. It is possible to do a tour by boat or kayak, as well as by land, and there is an aerial tram ride offered as well. Before arriving at the locks, the ship took on pilots and a narrator who explained the history of the construction of the canal over the ship’s speakers (on the all of the outside decks only). As a nice touch, the normally closed bow deck was opened around 06:30, and on this and the other outside decks, rolls (Panama rolls of course!) coffee and juice was available; I went on the Verandah Deck’s open area (deck 6, forward)... We were also fortunate in having a lecturer on the cruise who spoke (on 3 occasions) about the Canal and the history of Panama. Before the first lock, on the starboard (right) side, one passes the "French Cut" which was De Lesseps' failed effort at making a sea-level canal from Atlantic to Pacific. The locks need to raise the ship 85 feet. The three of us took a shore excursion which entailed tendering to a wharf not far from the Gatun Dam, at the Gatun Yacht Club(!) where we boarded a restored old a train which took us through the countryside towards the Pacific, to the North from the Caribbean Sea, which is difficult to visualize. The only drawback with this tour was that there was also another cruise-ship involved, meaning a certain amount of waiting around after the train ride; we got on a bus which led us to the causeway where the Pacific entrance of the Canal is situated. On the jetty I put a finger in the (very) polluted water of the Pacific Ocean simply to announce that I had been there (using lots of Purell wash afterwards!!), Finally after sorting out the other cruise ship, the train came back to take us close to the Atlantic side, somewhere near Gamboa, where we boarded another bus and were taken back to the ship which was now docked in Colón, having exited the Canal (Colón is situated just outside of the Canal Area itself. The train tour was very worth it. You get an idea of the immense amount of work that was needed to create the Canal; we came quite close, but not quite close enough, to the Gaillard (Calubra) cut, and to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores sets of locks leading to the Pacific. To have seats in the dome car for the train, you should book this trip a long time before actually getting on board the cruise (this can be done online or through your travel agent). The scenery is amazing, because like neighbouring Costa Rica, the area is largely jungle and rain forest. The bus tour at the Pacific end around the city of Balboa was less worthwhile with too much politics coming from the local guide. The port of Colón was built on a swamp; cruise lines use it only as a jumping off point for expeditions and there is a "restricted" port shopping area, which is not very good, but which does have inexpensive shops where there are local handicrafts and souvenir products available—just in case you forgot. Most of the city itself is a slum and there are numerous travel advisories telling people not to go outside of the port area –and I do not recommend doing this either. This city began as Aspinwall in the mid 1800s, but in recent years has been in serious decline; it has always had a less than savory reputation since even its earliest days.
Limón (Puerto Limón), Costa Rica was a refreshing change from Colón. Although much of the tourism in Costa Rica is focussed on the Pacific coast with resorts and eco-tourism, things are now beginning on the Caribbean side. There is an aerial tram tour offered, through the canopy of the rain forest, also a narrow-gauge railway tour and a small-boat excursion along the Tortuguero canals. Much of the country is rain forest, and one can see exotic colourful birds, parrots, king-fishers, hawks, kites, and also monkeys, sloths, large iguanas, etc. along the highway outside the port bordering on a national park. Sea birds are also on view by the coast, and include especially white egrets and pelicans. There is also the plant used to create the Chanel No. 5 perfume, and another plant which looks like a very hairy red leechee, which the native population has used to dye clothing (beware, the plant and its liquid are very red and easily gets on fingers, colthing, etc. everywhere). The port is very busy, being used as the Atlantic terminus of the "Dry Canal", the overland highway used by trucks carrying containers from ships to or from the Pacific side at 4 hours rather than the 8 to 10 it takes to transit the Panama Canal. The market just outside of the port is very well maintained, they are aware of the linguistic disabilities of (mostly English-speaking) cruise passengers (the merchants help each other out with translating), it is a quite safe area. There are so many attractive things to buy, from walking canes (made like pool cues so they can be dismantled for packing in ones’ luggage) to complex wooden puzzle-boxes, both of which make ideal gifts.
After 2 days asea, it was, unfortunately, back to Fort Lauderdale.The Ship
The Amsterdam is approx. 61,000grt, and 750 feet long, it is the non-identical twin of the Rotterdam (the first flag-ship of the fleet) and constitutes the second flagship of the fleet. It deserves this title. It is very similar in size to HAL’s identical twins, the Zandaam and Volendam which are a little longer and slightly heavier. When the ship was launched, some reviews described the décor as being gaudy, but I do not find this; the lounge/theatre, forward is actually plainer and more conservative than those in the Vista class ships. The Fontaine Dining Room is also tastefully decorated.
I was in a cabin by myself, very forward, starboard (right) side, cabin 3305, on the Lower Promenade ("walkies") deck (deck 3), not too far from the fwd staircase (there are three staircases and three sets of elevators on the ship ---not counting a set of stairs between at least three decks aft descending from the pool--- since it is a smaller ship than the Vista Class vessels). The couple I travel with were a little further back, closer to the forward staircase, port (left) side, cabin 6114, on the Verandah Deck (deck 6). Even though all of us were very forward, the seas were so calm for the entire cruise that there was almost no motion at all from the sea. Holland America cabins and verandahs tend to be more spacious than those on other cruise ships, and the verandah comfortably fit all three of us, including a comfortable and long reclining chair and a table; the sides of the verandahs are of solid construction, so there is a minimum of danger from damage from lit cigarettes thrown overboard from the verandahs above. Looking across at other cruise ships, one can see that HAL really does give you more verandah space.
The Lido, the casual dining area of many cruise ships, was alright but suffers from occasional overcrowding at peak times, like on other HAL ships. The omelette station at breakfast includes an assortment of fruit, juices and bacon or sausage; at lunch, there were 'food stations' for Italian (pasta etc.), custom sandwiches, wok (stir-fry), traditional ‘North American’, and even sushi was available at one place- all of which meant fewer multiple-line-ups, however, given the number of people on the ship, at breakfast and lunch, on sea days in particular, you still have to send someone to guard seats in the Lido. The couple I was travelling with ordered room service for breakfast on a couple of the sea days and found that the food arrived as ordered and on time. They consider this a good option to escape breakfast in the Lido. We also all had breakfast in the Fontaine dining room a few times where there was an interesting daily short list of 3 or 4 specials in addition to the set menu.
The Fontaine Dining room was the standard, on two levels. Three of us were at a table for 4, at the late seating, (table 154). Service was above average, the occasional lateness in the dining room being something going on in the kitchen rather than with the waiting staff. Holland America has a new permanent location for a ‘wine desk’ on each of their ships, having now restored the former practice of being able to pre-order wines for dinner the same day, as a feature of the Wine Navigator Program from 1993 to 2005 --now, just as in the past, you can pre-order your wine from the package you have bought, instead of having to chase after a wine steward to order it at the meal itself, which was real a nuissance in January 2006 on the Westerdam. The evening menus are posted in the bars and at the wine desk around noon. The wine stewards in the dining room are still taking soft drink orders (and serving them) which continues to be a waste of their time. With a crew of about 647, there are approximately 100 dining room stewards and 100 staff in the kitchens!
The Pinnacle restaurant was very good, impeccable service. The layout is different, being more 'open' but in a cosy setting, although there is no view to the outside. The 3 of us went twice, once for dinner and once for lunch. There is a surcharge for going to this restaurant (U$30 per person for dinner and U$15.00 for lunch at present).
The spa is, and has always been, far too aggressive in peddling their products; I travelled with a married couple; she is used to spending a lot of money on the spa facilities when on a cruise and found the staff saying that her professional (i.e. medical) dermatologist did not know what he was talking about!, Her husband arrived on the ship with hair too long for the salt air and was given a fixed price for a haircut agreeing to a price over the phone, which the manager of the spa promptly increased after the fact by over a third, saying it was ‘styling’ rather than ‘haircutting’. This behaviour underlines the negative reputation that many spas and salons have on all cruise ships with their pushiness, their overcharging, and their flogging of products containing ingredients which are no longer recommended by many dermatologists. Cruise lines should reduce this part of the ship considerably and, should do what has been done to my great joy in the past with overly aggressive photographers on staff, namely, there should be some serious reining in.
The pools, one uncovered, outside, aft, and the other by the Lido with its moveable roof, were very clean and very well maintained, with water samples taken daily. The hot-tubs by the Lido were all working and were also well maintained. The Lower Promenade "walkies" deck does not extend right to the bow area, as is the case with almost all modern ships but the sight lines are clean, as on earlier HAL ships, and there is less obstruction on that deck than on their larger Vista class ships.
The cabins are roomy, all of the televisions have been replaced with better quality flat-screen ones and there are DVD players in each cabin; the ship’s channels have features that one might have not been able to attend, such as the ship’s own cooking demos, lectures about the ports of call (useful), the disembarkation talk (important to listen to or to attend), lectures by the occasional official guest on a theme (i.e. the Panama Canal); there was even an old documentary on the Canal with clips from the 20’s to the 80’s, and for those who missed it, the very entertaining Filipino Crew Show. The channel indicating the ship’s current position and the last report from the Bridge was not working for most of the cruise(!), There are washing machines on the ship, but for $12 you can use the single laundry bag option in the advertised laundry packages; I would rather not be doing laundry on a vacation anyway! The room stewards (a different one for each of the two cabins) were both extremely high end HAL and the friends with whom I was travelling, who have now done 25 cruises, mentioned that he was the best ever! There were no plumbing problems which have occasionally affected other ships of the fleet.
The library and several nearby rooms have been remodelled to provide for a larger internet centre and the space has been opened up, making a much more user-friendly area. The space appeared to be very well-used during most of the day, with many using computers, the new listening stations for music, or enjoying a latté from the adjacent coffee bar in the comfortable setting. Both books and DVDs were available for loan from the library; on many days when going up to get the daily quizz, there was a full-sized or very slightly reduced copy of the front section of either the Herald Tribune or the New York times. The library area is also equipped with new reading lights at very a long table which make it easier for those people who have limited vision. Other HAL ships have had or are undergoing similar restructuring.
The three of us attended two wine tastings, presided over by a good but rather pompous head wine steward. Why both of these were scheduled at the same time as the Panama Canal lecturer, I do not know, since the same people would be inclined to go to both; the wine tastings suffered from a lack of attendance. The first one was free and took place in the Fontaine Dining room; the second had a fee attached and was conducted in the Pinnacle Grill where a champagne bottle was decapitated with a large cooking knife, without damage or glass particles showering the attendees or the wine. There were also (free) cooking shows in the Wajang Theatre and Culinary Arts Centre where a variety of things from the ship's menu are prepared and where passengers on a very limited basis can enrol (for a very reasonable U$29.00 per class fee) in a cooking course. At the demonstrations a couple of TV cameras are used in this process, including one giving overhead shots which are projected onto large screens. For either the wine tasting or the culinary demonstrations, plan on eating less lunch if it is in the morning; for the for-fee cooking classes, plan on eating no lunch!
The way the ship is structured, it more closely resembles the "S" Class ships (Statendam, etc.) and the slightly larger identical twins mentioned above, the Volendam and Zaandam, rather than the Vista Class ships (Zuiderdam, etc.); this meant that the Ocean Bar had a sufficiently large dance floor and served also as a very convenient meeting place (on the larger HAL ships, this bar is neglected and is much smaller as well as not being particularly convenient as a meeting place). As with all of the HAL ships except for the Vista Class, one of the levels has no access to the rest of the ship from the dining room, being blocked by the kitchen (this is why there are large emergency exits there equipped with abnormally wide stairways). We went to the Crows’ Nest bar atop the ship, forward, once, but on realizing that we preferred the band in the Ocean Bar we remained there for the pre-dinner (late sitting) for the rest of the cruise.
For the first time in 12 cruises, I attended the Filipino Crew Show, which should not be missed, it features vaudeville and some intricate dancing, Filipino-style, with some surprising touches at the end. We attended at least one of the shows put on by the entertainers, mostly dance numbers, which were good.
The HAL website is not very useful, instead of being latest edition of whatever engine runs it, it should be on an earlier edition of their engine, with an option to go to a later form of the engine for other aspects of the website, so that everyone can at least see the brochures. I continue to depend on hard copy brochures since I either can not find or can not print the on-line versions.
Cruise history: 1st-1998-Noordam, launched 1984 (retired Nov. 2004) ; 2nd -1999-Statendam, launched 1993; 3rd -2000-Zaandam, launched 2000 ; 4th -2001-Statendam (q.v.); 5th/6th -2002 Ryndam, launched 1994 (same ship); 7th-2003 Zuiderdam, launched 2002 (+8th) -8th-2003 Veendam, launched 1996; 9th-2004 Volendam, launched 1999; 10th/11th-2006 Westerdam, launched 2004 (back-to-back, same ship); 12th -2006 Amsterdam, launched 2000.
We recently completed a cruise of the orient on the M.S. Amsterdam. The cruise was excellent and the staff could not have been better. I would highly recommend this ship to anyone who wants a first class cruise experience. There is , however, a major caviat that anyone booking on this ship should be aware of: several cabins are located in very noisy places and even though Holland America knows which cabins are noisy they won't tell you. If you find yourself in one of these cabins you will be stuck particularly if the ship is near capacity.
On this 62 day cruise my wife and I decided to travel first class for the first time. We upgraded to a deluxe veranda suite. We shortly realized that this cabin, located under the rear Lido Deck, had a severe noise problem. We reported this to our concierge and eventually met with the manager of guest relations to dicuss it. She professed to be surprised and said she would see what could be done to solve the problem. She also mentioned that we could count on receiveing some modest compensation since the deckwe were on was sold out and we couldn't be moved. Basically, what was going on was we had paid for a first class cabin but we weren't going to get one and there was nothing we could do about it.
At the end of the cruise the manager of guest relations advised us that they had investigated our complaint and were unable to fix it. In recognition of the difficulty, they offered us compensation in an amount of about 1.2% of our fare. Big deal!
As far as we're concerned, there's little doubt that Holland America knows this cabin and those around it are noisy, but instead of fixing it or advising there customers of it, they choose to play games and offer a paltry sum of money in hopes that the prolem will go away. Since they have your money, there's really not much you can do about it.
The moral of this story is be careful when you book on this ship or any other. Study the ships diagrams in the brochure and make sure your not under or over an active area. If you don't, you might get stuck in a situation that takes all the fun out of your cruise and nobody but you will care. The fact that you shelled out big bucks for a luxury cabin won't matter in the least.