Year Started: 1873
Ships in Fleet: 15
Summary: A high quality upper mainstream cruise line with smaller ships and value prices. A cruise line for people who want to step up from mainstream at great value prices.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Value for Money. Teens. Seniors.
Regions:Africa, Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Scandinavia, The Orient
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, The Orient, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Central America, Hawaii, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Families. Overall Service.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Foodies.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Central America, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Transpacific, West Coast, Erope
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Eastern Seaboard, South America
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Eastern Seaboard, Hawaii, Mexico, South America
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
This ship touts itself as a five star ship. But I would give it a one star and consider it comparable to Motel 6.
The rooms are tiny! The rooms are filthy!
Within five minutes of boarding and looking at my room, I asked to have my money back. There are no consumer protections! They just flatly said no way -- you cannot have your money back.
Also beware of the casino. They will let you have $1000 a day credit per person in your room. And you will lose. So watch out for that snake pit!
By the way, we had a verandah room. The verandah, or tiny little outside deck, is way nicer than the room.
The rooms are about the size of a large walk in closet -- very tiny.
Also watch out for the constant sales pitches. They have whole channels on television devoted to selling you stuff on the ship. The shore excursions are dynamite, but my advice is for the price you pay just to get on the boat, fly to a city, and pay for your excursions, staying in a nice hotel room. You notonly get a way nicer place to lay your head, but you can pay for way more excursions also. You can easily spend several thousand dollars on shore excursions off the ship, and they are expensive!
Also watch out for illness. Way easy to get sick on this ship.
Holland America devotes a whole channel on the stateroom tv to selling you jewelry.
They have seminars on the ship just to sell you stuff.
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.
This was our fifth cruise with HAL, so we had no surprises that we experienced. Our itinerary was Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curaco, Panama (not going through the canal, but in and out of the Atlantic side) and Costa Rica. It was a 10 day cruise.
Check in was easy, and pleasant. We were able to have lunch on board, and since our cabins were not ready yet, we walked around the ship to get oriented to it.
Our cabin was facing the stern, which initially sounded pretty "blah," but it was very comfortable and gave us a new perspective of where we were! We only had to walk down two flights of stairs to the dining room which was convenient.
The ship holds about 1,900 passengers, and is very comfortable. We had an older crowd on board, since it was a longer cruise, and we opted to eat upstairs on the Lido Deck at the buffet, since the food was basically the same as the main restaurant downstairs, and the dress upstairs was more casual.
In terms of destinations, we had been to the Half Moon Cay before, and took advantageof the beach and did a waaverunner tour, which was fun. We had been to Aruba and Curaco before, and elected not to take any tours there, but walked around town and did some minor shopping. The prices in Aruba on watches were very attractive, and I ended up with a Tag costing about 42% less then in the US. The store was Little Switzerland which we've shopped in many times before (not on the "recommended" list that the cruise line talks about).
We had a lecturer on board who lived in Panama, and talked about the history of the Canal, which was a real educaation. We arrived in Panama around 5:30 AM and everyone was up on deck for the arrival. There's very tasty Panama rolls for breakfast that were served, along with hot chocolate, which hit the spot. To see the GE tugs pull ships through the locks is certainly amazing. We had about three feet of clearence on both sides of the locks, but it all went very smoothly, and it was just fascinating to watch it from our stateroom.
Costa Rica was tropical. We opted to take an off-road trip, which was a lot of fun. We rode in a huge GMC van that held 50 or so passengers, and the trip was fascinating. The driver and host did a great job, and answered any and all questions that were thrown at them. The scenery was beautiful, and even though we were in a rain forest, it didn't rain during our trip. We had a stop half-way through the trip, and it was very enjoyable for everyone.
We love cruising for many reasons, and met some very nice friends from Canada who played Trivia with us. The service is still very good, and the entire trip was "low key" in that nightlife was pretty minimal, but certainly adequate. The staff is there to serve and please the customers, and I feel that once agin they've achieved their goal.
My favorite vacation is a cruise. Sometimes I take a grandchild, sometimes alone or with a friend. This time I brought my daughter. I have taken over 40 cruises; some on very old beat up tubs and some on deluxe luxury liners. I have always had a good time although sometimes it took an effort to ignore poor service or other problems. I think that the attitude of the cruiser is the primary determinant of the success of the cruise.
Pros: Nicely appointed cabin with large veranda. Generally friendly and efficient service throughout the ship. Long stays in most ports. Room service breakfast was on time and arrived hot every day.
Cons: Pool closed at 7:00 and hot tubs were only warm, closing at 10:00 PM. There was no craps table in the casino and very smoky air the night I was in there. The Daily Program was not in chronological order and quite difficult to see what is happening at the present time. There was an unpleasant odor in some areas of the ship.
Details My daughter and I took a pleasant Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage from our hometown in California.The Holland America transfer by bus to Seward left soon after our plane arrived. It took about three hours to reach the ship. The ride was through beautiful scenery with a driver who gave running commentary about what we were seeing and facts about Alaska.
We were on the ship about 6:00 PM. It was announced that the normal 8:00 PM dinner would be served at 8:30 after the emergency drill. Since it had been 16 hours since breakfast and we had eaten very little while traveling, we opted to pay the $20 premium to eat NOW in the Pinnacle Grill. The dinner was nice with very attentive service. It might have been worth the extra cost for big steak eaters; but we did not find the food to be enough better than the regular dining room fare to warrant the extra charge. We did; however, appreciate the quieter atmosphere and excellent service.
Cabin By the time we finished dinner our luggage was in the cabin. It was the second voyage after dry-dock, and all soft furnishings and carpets were new. I did not like the color scheme in our B category veranda suite, but it was clean and well appointed. My daughter, Anne, thought the bold colors were fine. There was plenty of closet and drawer space in the main cabin, but the two little glass shelves in the bathroom were barely adequate for two. A pleasant surprise was the deep whirlpool tub/shower combination. For seating there was a full length black sofa and a small arm chair plus the vanity stool. The table was adjustable for cocktail or dining height. The good sized veranda had a lounge with pads, two chairs, and a small table for drinks. It had teak flooring and was very private. We used it a lot since the weather was brisk and clear the whole week. We had the cabin attendant remove the expensive items from the mini-bar and used it for the extra juice we ordered each morning. The lighting was good and the beds very comfortable. The walls were very thin so that we could hear too much from the next cabin.
Since Anne normally works nights she is a day sleeper. We seldom left the cabin before noon. The steward was very good at working around our schedule; the cabin was usually made up by the time we came back.
Dining Overall the food was good, but usually not excellent. The room service menu for breakfast included a variety of meats and egg dishes plus the usual cold items including cereals and breads. The orange juice tasted fresh squeezed. It was delivered cheerfully, on time, and was always hot. The room service menu for the rest of the day, especially after 10 PM, was very limited.
We ate only one meal in the Lido restaurant as there were no trays to carry the food, relatively poor selection, and a long line.
Meals in the dining room were adequate, but of variable quality, with ample variety in the choices. The company at our assigned 8:00 PM table was very pleasant. The servers were stretched much too thin. Our waiter served five tables with 24 guests. That is too many to do a good job with formal dinner service, but he really tried. Anne likes her coffee with her meal, but it was always served after dessert even though she asked for it earlier. We found the soups and starters to be the best part of the meal. Desserts were quite ordinary.
The grill in the pool area had plenty of tasty snack type foods available during the day: Hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, nachos, etc. Unfortunately none of these items were available after 6:00 PM. The pizza in the pizza shop was fairly good.
Most ships hold a cocktail party for their repeat cruisers. The Veendam had a very nice lunch for us.
The Ship The ship was generally clean and attractive. I did not like the mix of carpet colors, but they were clean, mostly new. Several elevators were out of service at all times. Luckily the ship was not full or it would have been even more of an inconvenience. Sometimes only one elevator out of a bank of four was operating.
The lounges were nicely decorated with extensive artwork and fresh flowers. The Explorer lounge was my favorite place. It included many comfortable chairs, the well stocked library, the computers, a coffee bar, the jigsaw puzzle table, a DVD collection, games for checking out, and friendly staff. Anne spent her late evening hours in the Crows Nest where there was dancing and karaoke. Unfortunately there was often a bad, sewage type, odor in parts of the ship at various times. It was especially noticeable in the Crows Nest and on the lower decks. On most cruises my favorite activity is the trivia games. Although the Veendam's version of the game had a nice mix of trivia questions, the attitude of the cruise director, Jimmy, made playing unpleasant for a few of us.
The self service laundry was convenient and clean. It cost $2 to wash a standard load and $1 to dry it.
During dry-dock the craps table was removed from the casino. It was replaced with a poker table. This was a major disappointment for me as playing craps is one of my favorite evening cruise activities. The water in the swimming pool was a bit too cold the first day and the hot tubs were definitely not hot any day.
Entertainment There was a good selection of activities available throughout the day, although many of them had an extra charge. The Daily Program was not easy to follow as it was not presented chronologically, but by type of activity. This would have been great as an addition to the usual method of presentation by time, but was not good for quickly seeing what is going on now or arranging your day in the morning before leaving the cabin. The shows in the evening were average. We most enjoyed the "Encore" show with excellent singing and the Indonesian show put on by the waiters and stewards.
The movie theater was comfortable, and popcorn was served during the afternoon showing that I attended.
The Itinerary Alaska was beautiful and the towns had plenty to see. We did not take any of the ship excursions, but did our own thing in each town. We especially enjoyed Creek Street in Ketchikan and the State Museum in Juneau. The scenery and glaciers were marvelous in Glacier Bay. In Haines it was about a half mile walk into the small downtown area. Some very young entrepreneurs were selling hot chocolate and playing the violin for coins in front of a well stocked shop with local art and souvenirs. We did most of our shopping during the trip at that shop. The postcards that I mailed from Haines got to my family and friends the day before I got home.
Debarkation Our waiter did not leave a room service menu the night before so we did not know it was available. It is. When we came back from the dining room breakfast the beds had been made up for the next guests and the towels removed from the bathroom although we had been told that we could remain in the comfort of the cabin until our group was called to leave. We had left our hand luggage in the cabin so the steward would know we had not left. I know they have short turnaround time, but I would have appreciated the full use of the cabin until my time to leave the ship. On the positive side, we had a ship to airport transfer; therefore, once we put our luggage into the hall the night before, we did not have to bother with it again until we picked it up at the airport.
Overall it was a very nice cruise, and we had a good time. On my next cruise to Alaska I will choose a ship with a craps table in the casino just because I like to play.
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.
Cruised across the Atlantic on the MS Oosterdam and it was outstanding. The food, service, amenities, entertainment were all outstanding. We have cruised on other Holland American ships and they are all outstanding. We highly recommend this cruise line to anyone who seeks good service and food.
This was a first time cruise for my wife and I starting off from Ft. Lauderdale for a 10 day cruise. Stops included Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, St. Thomas USVI, Dominica, Curacao, and Aruba.
Dominica was the port that we liked the most. We took the Rain Forest Tram tour, and it was a really fun time and the tour guides were very friendly and made sure everybody had a good time. All of the stops were great with clear blue waters. Snorkeling was very good at Half Moon Cay and Aruba.
When we first pulled up in the Ramada Inn bus, the lines for embarkation looked long and disorganized. But as soon as we were handed over to the staff of Holland America, things changed very quickly. There were many red jacketed people there to help and point us in the right direction. Within 20 minutes we were welcomed onboard the ship. The entertainment had already started with a band playing and a crew wanting to serve.
At 1:30 pm the announcement came that cabins were ready, so we made our way to our cabin on the UpperPromenade deck. The cabin was larger than expected with the balcony on this deck being about 2 feet wider than on the others to help cover the open deck below, but it is a great benefit for those on deck 4. The cabin was just as described, which is not always the case for rooms. The bed had a pillow top mattress and top quality bedding.
Dining on the Noordam has many options. We ate in the Lido dining room most of the time. The food is the exact same menu as in the Vista dining room, but you are able to see the dishes before ordering. We did dine in the Vista a couple of times, but preferred the Lido.
The staff were so friendly and helpful. The Pinnacle Grill was as nice as any five-star restaurant on land.
The entertainment was very good. The cast of the ms Noordam, which is a 14 member cast of singers and dancers, were really good. Many of the HAL ships do not get very good reviews, but that is not the case with this cast on the Noordam. With featured male and female singers, along with a male and female lead singer, dancers backed them up with 4 each of male and female dancers, they perform some very good shows. The guest performers were also of top quality. As for music, Caren and the HALcats were everywhere from poolside to lounges, and they sounded good no matter where they played. Dave the piano man put on a fun show every night. There was some type of music or show every night for everybody's taste, from a string quartet to piano players, to disco.
One of my favorite things to do each day was that the Exploration Café personnel would give a 30 minute talk about each stop, or a history of the area in general. Some of the talks included Rum Runners, The Real Pirates of the Caribbean, and Under the Keel. These were very informative and interesting even to those not that interested in history.
Holland America's silent disembarkation works very well. You are given a time slot and they leave it up to you to be there. No calling out of group numbers or colors every few minutes; just a smooth fast-moving line all the way to the airport bus.
This was our 6th cruise, our first with HAL. We chose this trip because of the itinerary and length of cruise. We flew in from Canada with friends and arrived early enough to make the 11:30 am boarding. We were all held back until about 1pm and were given literature on illness on the previous cruise. We were given the option to change our cruise to another date at check in. We were also reminded to wash our hands often, and to use the Purell stations throughout the ship. This caused us some anxiety, of course. We work and dont have the flexibility to change our plans, so that wasn't an option. So we forged ahead. In retrospect, we now appreciate the heads up.
We boarded and were sent to the Lido until our cabins were ready. By then we had a wonderful lunch, a couple of mohitos, and were ready to holiday.
We ate in the dining room "As You Wish" dining a couple of times. We found the key was to arrive early and we easily got a table for 4. We enjoyed our dinners there, and also optedfor dinner in the Lido, which suited us well. We had two lunches in the Pinnacle -- one alone, and one with our friends, and they won (in the Marriage Game) a Pinnacle dinner as well. Each time the service and food were exceptional.
We loved the entertainment each night. We didn't spend much time in the casino as we found it smokey, so we used our gambling money for spa services instead.
We had VF verandah cabins on 5 and had no obstructions from life boats. In fact, we had great seats in the shade for our trip though the Panama Canal. We used our verandahs a lot. I like to have my coffee out there, and I also like to spend some alone time in the afternoons there.
We went to afternoon tea once and thoroughly enjoyed that. Met some great people. We got pics taken each formal night, as a couple, and then with our friends. By the end of the cruise we had lots of choices to pick from and split a package (buy 3 and get one free) with our friends. So we each came home with the best couple shot and the best group shot. Good strategy.
We loved the food and the choices at each meal. We took in as many activities as our time and energy allowed. We enjoyed Richard's seminars. Some of us did a wine tasting which was fun. We met many Canadians and some even from our home town.
We loved our beds, the linens and the Elemis bath products in our cabins. The service was the best we have had. We never felt crowded or rushed and had fun.
A couple of us used the internet to keep in touch with family situations at home. We felt it was a little slower and a little more expensive than what we have used on other lines. So we used it prudently.
It was a great vacation with a great cruise line, on a wonderful ship, and with the best service we have had so far. Yes, we would recommend it and would sail with HAL again.
I will try to describe different aspects of the cruise in categories. This was our 19th cruise. Most have been to the Caribbean, with sailing once before to Hawaii, and doing a partial panama canal trip. We have been on Royal Caribbean 13 times, Princess once, NCL once, Carnival three times, and HAL twice now. DH is 52 and I am 49. I hope you enjoy my review.
We flew into San Diego 2 days early to enjoy some warmer weather, being from NE Ohio. It was chilly and rained some. We walked around downtown area and the gaslamp district. Walked over to the port and saw Celetrity Mercury, and HAL Oosterdam. We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown location next to the I5 freeway. I had gotten this on Priceline for the 2 night stay for $155.00 total. The location was fine, and the king room was nice. They had a free shuttle from the airport and again to the port. We left for the port about noon.
Once we arrived at the San Diego port, it was very easy. Gave our luggage to a porter, then went to checkin. There was a small line. It moved very efficiently. We were on the ship by 12:30, but couldn't go to our cabins until 1:00. We had booked an inside guarantee, and been upgraded to an oceanview, category E. Our cabin was located on deck 4, starboard side, right in the middle. The room had plenty of storage, 2 sets of drawers in the dresser area, and the closet was very adequate (4 doors). The safe is located in the closet, and you must use a card swipe. We brought an old gas card. We went for lunch in the Lido. After lunch, we went back to the room, and our luggage had arrived, so we unpacked, and went to the sailaway party in the Crows Nest.
Weather The first 2 days were chilly outside, but clear. The seas were relativly smooth. By day 3, it was nice and warm and we spent time soaking up the sunshine. Once we arrived in Hawaii, the weather was in the 70's and beautiful. I was concerned about the weather this time of year with it being the rainy season for both Hawaii and Tahiti, but we had very good weather. On our last sea day before the French Polynesian Islands, it was cloudy, some rain and no sunshine. Our first day in Raiatea, it started out raining for about an hour, then cleared up. We had a little rain in the upper mountain area in Tahiti. Upon our arrival in Nuku Hiva, it again greeted us with rain for about an hour, then cleared up. Our first 4 sea days on the return trip to San Diego were sunshine in the mornings, cloudy in the afternoons. By sea day 5 and 6, it was again chilly and somewhat cloudy, so no more sunshine.
Ports of Call In Hawaii, this was our 2nd visit there, so we didn't do too much. In Hilo, we rented a car, and drove to Akaka falls, then to Walmart to pick up incidentals for the cruise. Kona, we used the free trolley to go down to the Kahuluu beach area and see all the turtles. In Lahaina, we did a 2 hr whale watch through Pacific Whale Foundation. We didn't book this until we arrived, as we were concerned about the weather. We saw lots of whales. Very interesting tour. Price was very reasonable, we paid $68. for the 2 of us. On Oahu, we just took the bus down to Waikiki beach and spent time at the beach and did some shopping. I would recommend renting a car, and driving to the North Shore, very beautiful there. In Kauai, we rented a car, and drove to Waimea Canyon, and over to the Fern Grotto, took the boat ride, then stopped to see some of the waterfalls.
Our favorite island was Bora Bora. On our first day, we did the tour with Patrick. The 5 hour snorkeling and motu picnic. His outrigger canoes are all decorated and he plays his ukelele and sings along the way. The food was very good. We ended up having 24 people go all together. One of our CC had gotten in touch with him, and made the reservations, and we had 30 from our rollcall signed up before we left, and added 4 more from the ship. Some of us in his boat had been talking about going to Bloody Mary's when we got back, so he just dropped us off at their dock, rather than back in town, so we didn't have to pay for the taxi ride. On our 2nd day, we used Patrick again for his 4X4 tour. He is very knowledgable about his island, and very personable. We went to 3 different lookout areas to overlook the lagoons, and they were beautiful.
On Raiatea, we did the tour with Bruno. Bruno required a $20. pp deposit ahead of time, and he can take 12 persons. He had actually booked 14 persons from our ship but everyone fit in the boat without a problem. He has broken English. His tour goes around Tahaa, with a drift snorkeling (if you are not experienced snorkelers and GOOD swimmers, I would skip this part, or you will get all cut up from the coral, happened to lots of the passengers on our cruise), then tour a vanilla farm, pearl farm and have a motu picnic lunch. The day was very nice.
On Moorea, we rented a car and drove the island. We stopped at the Intercontinental Hotel for a while, and they have very good shopping at their little table inside their reception area if you would like some trinkets of black pearls. They had some that were only $6.00, the best price I saw on the island, and I didn't get any and was mad I didn't. Then we went over to the Soffitel hotel and had a couple drinks there. Walked the beach. Also took a tour of their over water bungolows.
On the island of Tahiti, we booked a 4X4 tour with Patrick Coridier: We did the full day, and it was way too long. Patrick is very knowledgable, but was a little too much like a professor and his information sessions seemed more like a lecture, with questions at the end. The island of Tahiti wasn't what I had imagined it would be, very commercialized, heavy traffic, dirty city, lots of people. We didn't see many pretty beaches. If I would go back, I would rent a car, and just drive on our own here.
For Nuku Hiva, the ship doesn't offer any type of tours. We usually don't book with the ship. I had gotten info from 2 different tours: firstname.lastname@example.org the tour we had done. It was a 7 hr. tour in AC SUV's. There were 30 people total, and we had 8 vehicles, locals driving, and only 3 of them spoke English. We would get out at various places for overlooks and pictures, and the English guides would tell us about the island. We stopped at 2 archeological sites, a beach area, and had lunch on the other side of the island, very good. It was a very good day to see the island and how laid back they are. The other tour guide is Jocelyn: email@example.com We didn't use her, but she has several tours available, some only a 1/2 day. If you don't book anything before you get there, take the first tender over, and there will be a couple tours available, and a couple cars to rent. Not much, so you must be first ones there to get something.
Shopping The best shopping in Hawaii is the International Marketplace. I purchased a hawaiian dress, a beach coverup, and a 24" surfboard with a hawaiian painting on. Everything is very reasonable here. For the French Polynesian islands, everything is very expensive. There are little shops in Viatape, Bora Bora that are very reasonable, lots of little places at the boat dock in Moorea (they will bargain there), but things are very expensive. Not sure what you would be looking for.
The Cruise As for the cruise itself, we took too many clothes. Too many for chilly weather. On Formal nights, there were lots of tuxedos, and many gowns. We had 6 formal nights. They have the self service laundromat. The cost is $2. wash, $1. dry. The dryers took forever. There were many older passengers, (avg. age was 75). DH is 52, and I am 49, but there were others in our age range. The ship offered "Happy Hour" each day from 4:30 to 5:30, 2 for 1 house brand drinks. We also spent most of our afternoons here meeting many new friends.
The ship will have entertainers from the local islands come on and do shows. They were VERY GOOD. Be sure NOT TO MISS them. The "children of Raiatea" performed and it was so good watching the little children dance. The show in Tahiti was also excellent. The entertainment on the ship was also very good. The exception was the singer from the HAL band, Jenny. She wasn't very good. There was music for a couple sailaway parties from Hawaii (Kauai, our last stop, and Moorea, our last island).
The ship offered lectures by a stargazer and a couple others about the islands but we didn't have time to go to them. We enjoyed many sea days lounging by the pool. On port days, we spent most of the time on shore.
The ship photographers were not very good. We have so many photos from previous cruises, we didn't get that many taken. The price was very high, $14.95 per sheet. I took over 1,000 photos myself and will choose from those.
The food was quite good. We had open seating for dinner. Most nights, we went between 6:30 and 7:00, and never had a wait. We did sit with other passengers. Several times, we would meet our new friends at the dining room, and go in together and be seated at the same table. The one place HAL is lacking is their desserts. They look very good, but are missing the great taste. For breakfast, we ate in the Lido. Lunch was either in the Lido or the Terrace Grill. They had very tasty burgers, and great nacho chips. We did go to the Pinnacle Grille for lunch (I won this from the Blue Ball dance from HAL) The food was just ok, as our steaks were dry (DH ordered med. rare, and mine med). We didn't complain, as we weren't paying anyway. HAL did have a chocolate extravaganza towards the end of the cruise. It was really nice to look at, but we only got a couple choco. covered strawberries. That was enough. There was a large variety to choose from, and we never tired of the food, as we tried not to overindulge since we had so many days to try many different types of food.
We did do a couple behind the scenes tours. There was a kitchen galley tour, not very long though. Behind the scenes of the stage for the production show where we saw the dressing rooms in the back of the stage area. We also took a tour of the storage area on deck 3. We saw the freezers, coolers and storage for the dry foods. They have a coffin room that will hold 4 bodies, but we didn't get to see it.
There was a medical emergency the evening we left Moorea. Someone had heart problems, so about 10:00PM, the ship headed back to Tahiti to drop off the person, and we were on our way again just after midnight. Not sure who they were or what the outcome was. There were a few passengers that got off in Tahiti for medical reasons. We had heard several had pneamonia, and with the long trip at sea back, the ship doctor felt their health was not well enough for all the sea dsys.
We did not get the College Bowl games, so DH was not happy about missing Ohio State play on our fist sea day. We did however get to watch the Superbowl. It was live, but we were not able to see the commercials, and that is what I like to watch. They had a Superbowl party for the afternoon, with wings, hamburgers, hotdogs, and sides. It was very nice, and they used a big screen in the Vermeer Lounge for this.
Overall, this has been our best cruise to date. We met many new friends, and had a very relaxing cruise. We would like to see HAL reverse the itinerary, and go to the French Polynesian Islands first, then to Hawaii. We would definitely consider this cruise again. I don't think I can go on just a 7 night cruise anymore. Yes, I am now very spoiled by this cruise!
Friday, January 2 Picked up at 7:00am for 9:30 flight to Ft. Lauderdale. It was snowing and 30 degrees. Arrived 12:30 in 80 degree weather. Stayed at a Marriott, which takes its customers to their ships for free.
Saturday, January 3 Arrived at the ship, Holland America's USS Noordam, about two years old. Dark Blue hull with white superstructure. One of the first on board, we went immediately to the spa to make various appointments. I'm not a spa person, so I passed. Arrived at rooms about 2:30. Before the market crash, I, as usual, was feeling flush, so I got a suite for us and an outside balcony for the kids. The suite was at least twice the size of a normal stateroom, came with a private lounge for suite holders, a Captain's welcoming cocktail party, free laundry service, and other meaningless BS. But I loved the size of the room. Ship left the dock shortly after 5:00pm. The dining room has two fixed hour dinner seatings and a dining when you want to seating. We took the second. The room was three floors, with fixed dining on the first andthird. The third floor was crowned by murano glass-like flowers that were actually made of some kind of plastic, but looked authentic. Attended the captain's cocktail party. Melanie wore a Maori hook necklace (looks kind of like a reverse "s") on a rope around her neck. I had been trying to identify the captain's accent and asked him where he was from. I guessed Australia, but he was from New Zealand and immediately noticed Mel's necklace. That got them off talking, and Mel identified herself as a rugby player and a New Zealand All Blacks fan. The two bonded immediately!
Sunday & Monday, January 4 & 5 Two days at sea. The first evening was a formal night, Phil and I in tuxes. We ran into our biggest controversy of the cruise, the fact that one had to be 21 to drink. Of course Phil had expected to be able to drink once we entered international waters, but that wasn't the case. That night, our table service was very good, and we had a lot of fun kibitzing with the crew. They suggested we come back the next night, so I went to the private concierge for suite holders who reserved the same table for the rest of the cruise. It became the only place where Phil could get a drink with no hassle. As an aside, their dessert menu always had a "shooter" of the day. So, of course, most nights, Dad and the kids enjoyed an after dinner zowie!
Tuesday, January 6 Arrived in St. Thomas, USVI. Holland America and other premium cruise lines use the new Crown Bay dock, leaving the old one to Carnival and its ilk, much to the consternation of the souvenir sellers at the old one. We were picked up by a very nice older driver, who took us to Coki Beach, a snorkeling venue, and an aquarium. On the way, we learned that there were a total of nine cruise ships there, adding some 20,000 visitors to the island. The beach was a sea of humanity, but the water was 78 degrees. Snorkeling was OK, including the sighting of an octopus, but the crowds made it impossible to relax. On the return, we HAD to stop at McDonalds so that Phil could get his fix.
Wednesday, January 7 Dominica, with the accent on the "ni." The kids did a zip line adventure, while mom and dad tubed down a river. We had guides, but I still went ass over applecart through one of the rapids. Upon return, we all went to the local hotel for some local beer, Kuhbuli. When I went into the bar to order, I noticed that the TV, instead of carrying CNN, was carrying Al Jazeera. The island is mostly rain forest. No beaches, little snorkeling and no resorts -- probably the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.
Thursday, January 8 Granada, with long second "a." I was immediately corrected by our guide in pronouncing the island. I assumed ahh. Anyway, Melanie and I had our own excursion, a climb to see the seven sisters, a series of waterfalls in the highlands of the island. It was quite a workout. The guide/driver talked about a 72 year old man who had recently made the hike; I waited until I had actually made it before telling him my age. Mud steps were carved into the sides of the hills, mostly going up. If you saw Lord of the Rings, I felt like Frodo, climbing the Mountain of Doom. I stopped several times to catch my breath and rest, but we made it to the first two waterfalls -- a great view, lovely pools, etc. Mel swam in one of them, freezing her ass off. It was there that we learned the other falls were accessible only to those who were willing to ascend on all fours and return the same way, who were dressed properly to resist the cutting of the saw grass, or who were willing to dive from pool to pool back down to where we were now standing. I took a pass, as did Melanie. We then had to return, and it seemed as if I were still going uphill instead of down. But, at the end of the hike, Melanie was quite proud of my being able to do it with her, and I got TWO bottles of the local beer, Carib.
Friday, January 9 Martinique -- well, of course, our favorite island. But no excursion. Not enough time. Besides I had to track down my favorite Martiniquan rums!!! and Mel had to have a typical Parisian lunch of bread and cheese.
Saturday, January 10 St Maarten/St.Marten, half French, half Dutch. Docked on the Dutch side. I had arranged for a car and driver for half a day. We were met by a young man, with no personality, who knew little about the island, except for where the tax building, police stations, and school buildings were. He also turned out to be a Muslim, as he reminded us too often that he didn't drink. Anyway, we ended up on the French side for a quick lunch, and returned to the Dutch side for some shopping. Not me! Phil and I found a local bar and had a couple of beers. The interesting thing about this island is that from it you can ferry to Anguilla, British, and to St. Barts, French.
Sunday, January 11 At Sea. Finished reading my second book and started the one that I held for last, Jon LeCarre's new one. Last Formal night of three. By this time, Phil had become one of the finalists on the Ship's karaoke competition, had developed a reputation for being a wild and out of control, though charming, dancer, and hung out with the only two or three females that were his age. Also by this time, Melanie had made friends with the young spa ladies, and they partied into the night the last few evenings.
Monday, January 12 Holland America, like many cruise lines, has its own private island, this one called Half Moon Cay, but it's a part of a larger, empty island in the Bahamas. They have a beautiful beach, a place for kids, and some shelter from the sun, a barbeque, and some water toys. There are also "cabins" available that come with a butler, so that you don't have to go to the barbeque house and mingle with the commoners. Interestingly enough, even though they are all open ended, they also have an air conditioning unit. Phil managed to befriend the only girls whose parents rented one. There are only 15 or so spread around the beach. I opted for renting a sunfish sailboat, and setting off for parts unknown. Of course, since it's only 10 ft. long, I could see all of the unknown parts. In the course of turning a sailboat, one has two options: turn with the wind in front of you, or behind you -- the safer being the first of the two. As I turned into the wind and came about, I forgot to let go of the line attached to the sail. A gust of wind turned the boat over, so for the second time in a week, I got dunked. I was taught how to right the ship, so to speak, though I was quite unsuccessful in doing so. Anyway, I determined to get back on the horse, and sailed around the bay for another 15 or 20 minutes before calling it a day. Left with a sunburn and a bruised ego.
Tuesday, January 13 Ft. Lauderdale. Saw both the Queen Mary and the Queen Victoria docked ahead of us, as well as the ship known as The World, a condominium ship that takes its owners literally all over the world. We exited the ship, and took our last excursion to an Everglades venue for an airboat ride to find alligators. Unfortunately, there was no sun, so the buggers were hiding. Though, we were fortunate enough to see 2 before a second airboat came roaring by.