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:Alaska, Central America, Transpacific, West Coast, Erope
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Eastern Seaboard, South America
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:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
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:Caribbean Eastern, Eastern Seaboard, Hawaii, Mexico, South America
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: Overall Service. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
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.
This was the “South America Passage.”
First, the up-side.
Holland America Line (HAL) delivered on its itinerary. We embarked in Valparaiso, Chile. We disembarked two weeks later in Buenos Aires having sailed around the Horn. There were two ports along the way where we were supposed to stop, but didn’t. The Captain probably made the right decisions in the interest of safety. One was weather-related. The other due to a forest fire and a lot of smoke.
The food was great, plentiful, and available just about every minute of the day.
The cabin was clean and everything worked well. The boat is getting a little old, but it is well maintained. Our cabin steward was excellent. He was incredibly cooperative, conscientious, and attentive.
Now, for the downside.
HAL maximizes its revenue by selling use of limited boat space to vendors who make good use of a captive audience. There’s a wrist watch shop, a jewelry store, people bugging you all day long to buy photos of yourself, a place that sells clothing, and a smoky casino. Pardon me, but if I want to buy a watch, some earrings, or a sweatshirt, then I’ll do it onland before I leave for the trip. And I won’t pay an inflated price. We would like for HAL to use all that vendor space for something more productive - like a place to sit and look out the window at the fantastic scenery. The most amazing hustle of all is the Park West Gallery art “auction,” complete with the “auctioneer’s” confederates circling behind you, telling you when to raise your card. It was offensive.
HAL seems to be a generation behind in the areas of on-board entertainment, restaurant décor, and mid-ship sculpture. The comedy and dance presentations could compete for the Lawrence Welk audience. The fancy restaurants looked like 19th century brothels, complete with servers sporting costumes and a level of fake formality calculated to encourage heavy drinking. A hideous, organ-shaped sculpture consumes the middle of the ship, unavoidable on decks three through five. HAL would make more friends if it traded the artificial opulence for brighter, more contemporary furnishings and service.
In short HAL, as an independent company, was a first-class cruise line for the first nine decades of the last century. Carnival bought it in 1989, and has now fully effected the culture shift. Today HAL is a reflection of the lowest common denominator.
Boarding the ship went smoothly. Our luggage arrived one hour after we boarded.
Our stateroom was small but our bathroom had a bath tub. The stateroom carpet was well worn, it needed to be replaced. We had a balcony but I couldn't us it at my leisure. The guy next to us was a smoker. Every time he went out to his balcony, I went back to my cabin. You could argue the wind blows the smoke away but not always. I paid for a balcony I should be able to use it without breathing someone's cigarette smoke. I did enjoy the balcony some of the time.
The meals served in the dining areas were excellent. I did have a problem with the long lines in the buffet style areas. The beverage line moved slowly. People were taking three glasses, filling them with ice and then filling them with soda, juice, etc. The glasses were very small so three glasses equaled one good serving. Spoons were kept at the food counter not in the rolled up napkins. So when you sat down with your cereal, you had to get up again, toget a spoon. Then, you had to wait in another line for coffee. Servers were not pouring coffee or juice. They were extremely busy clearing tables. There should have been more servers for the amount of passengers on-board.
Grand Turk was fun. We went up in a helicopter and flew around for 15 minutes. It's a beautiful island. The stage shows were geared to a younger crowd but I enjoyed half of them. The actors,dancers and singers were very talented.
I did enjoy the cruise but I won't take Holland America (Eurodam) again. It's was too crowded. I would be happier with a smaller ship with less people on-board.
If you're booked on the Ryndam and are in Cabin 348--CANCEL! I'd also strongly urge anyone booked in cabins 346 and 350 to cancel. Though it doesn't appear on HAL's deck plans, there is a large storage closet directly above cabin 348. It's used by the art auction people who don't work for HAL, so they ignore anything the Ryndam's staff tells them. My experience: the first night out, starting about 12:30 A.M. (after midnight), I was awakened by an extremely LOUD THUD. Then I heard the shuffling of feet. On HAL's deck plans, a wine tasting area is supposedly over cabin 348 so I thought that it being the first night, cases of wine were literally being dumped in that area and that it would be a one time deal. The work continued for almost an hour. The next morning starting at 5:30 A.M., the same loud THUDS started again. To make a long story short, I went to the Front Desk and one of the people there said that she'd look into the matter and get back to me. She did--and explained that those noises would continue throughoutthe cruise. She asked if I wanted to move to another cabin (the ship wasn't sold out) which I did. The cabin I was moved to had a very tricky thermostat--sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.
I've sailed on HAL five times before this, so I was expecting a much nicer cruise experience. But, HAL is "transferring" the Ryndam to P&O cruises in November, so nothing much beyond vacuuming and dusting is being done. And this ship is desperately in need to a total renovation. That won't occur, at least not until after P&O takes over--if then.
I ate in the main dining room every night and though the food was tasty, the selections were extremely limited. Also, HAL has significantly cut back on the number of waiters and their assistants resulting in S-L-O-W service.
On the plus side, the entertainers in the bars and in the main show room were mostly enjoyable. The jazz trio--The Neptunes--that plays in the Ocean Bar is excellent. The cruise staff was very friendly and always had the time for a quick chat.
Based on my experience on the Ryndam, I canceled a three week cruise on the Oosterdam this coming November. It's too bad that HAL has let the Ryndam physically to become so outdated.
For the same money, you can find similar itineraries on other cruise lines. I no longer consider HAL to be an "upscale" cruise line.
When we disembarked in Singapore I was ready to write a really nice review.
The Food - I didn't take the cruise to eat, and basically the food was good, we had open seating so we were put on the lower lever, and the first night was a zoo, but we believe that was due to the safety training at the lifeboat stations, so everything ran behind. Like other reviewers said...anything extra be prepared to pull out that card because it will cost you...we enjoyed eating at the Italian restaurant because of the small plates offered, and we enjoyed the pinnacle grill, it would have been better had they offered different daily menus.
I enjoyed the spa, but I hate the sale pitch at the end, all I want was the spa treatments and not the products. Can't offer any insight on the shows, we didn't attended any.
All of the staff we encountered was always nice and courteous (see end). Being on deck 7 we had access to the Neptune Lounge, and John C was a great Concierge and always so friendly and helpful.
The excursions - Halong Bay we did hedeluxe where lunch was included and it was fun. The islands were beautiful, the guy friendly and attempted to tell jokes, if you go on shore be prepared for girls on motor bikes to pull over and want to sell you pearls...which we bought for the grand girls (better than a t-shirt). Just go back and forth on $. We had private drivers in the other Vietnam locations because we're not big bus people and this was a return trip for my husband so it was special. THe one tour we did that wasn't from the ship was a country side and cooking class http://www.vietnamprivatetour.com great great tour, and it was less than other tour cost, plus it was so much fun,
Big bus tour in Cambodia, just be prepared it's a 3rd world country, there are little children smiling and saying money but they are clueless to what they are asking for. Unlike our brats that cry because they don't have, or they need...they looked fine happy and dirty because they don't know what they don't have. If you don't want to see this, then don't go...if you want to educate yourself and want to make a difference someday, then go! We did go to the pepper plantation which was interesting. also big bus to Thailand, and pretty much it was what we expected.
Departing in Singapore, easy.....But then my nightmare. My fault I know it, but when getting ready I got distracted and then the call came for us to depart. I left my ring, necklace and bracelet on the table. As soon as I cleared customs I realized it. Ran back thru security had to have an escort back on board, in tears ran in to the suite and in less than 30 minutes time - they were gone! GONE, I was sobbing, tore the room apart went and got John, told him the 2 guys that came in the room to clean balcony as we left, about the guy that was in the room when I ran back in (he came to get breakfast tray). My 2 days in Singapore was miserable, my ring which I just got for Christmas, my priceless necklace that my deacsed dad had given me back in the 70's gone. They did a 2 week investigation and were sorry to inform me it had not be found. So no matter how nice, helpful or whatever - it doesn't matter. I would have gone on another Holland vessel, but never again.
Zaandam Cape Horn Eastbound Nov.-Dec. 2014
I LOVED this cruise. The Chilean coast is like Alaska on steroids, and the ports of call are easy to enjoy on one’s own.
This is one of my favorites of the several dozen cruises I have taken in recent years. It is an itinerary that I had been postponing because I do not enjoy rough seas, but I finally tried it and am glad I did. The weather was kind and the scenery was great.
HAL (Holland America) did a fine job on almost every aspect of the cruise. I have elite status on some other cruise lines and enjoy those perks (free drinks, free internet, free photos), but I did just fine with HAL’s mature, relatively sedate ambience.
For 14 days we cruised from Santiago (Valparaiso port), Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the intervening days evenly split between ports of call and scenic cruising. My cruise did not include the Antarctic, which is available on the Zaandam’s 19 day itinerary during the austral summer.
The Zaandam was not full, and this enabled me to book a good price relatively late and to upgrade (for an additionalreasonable price) to a mid-ship outside cabin on deck 2 for smooth sailing. I chose a port-side (toward the mainland) cabin to get the most from the views, but spent most of the scenic cruising outdoors rather than in my cabin.
Bring warm clothes, including a winter hat, gloves, good quality rain gear, and dress in layers. Also bring your favorite motion-sickness medication. I needed no pills or patches at any time even though I am a weak sailor, but you may want them for yourself if the weather turns rough. We had only a mild pitch and roll on a few days. Much of the itinerary is in protected channels.
The ship itself is about 15 years old with traditional décor, but it is very well maintained. Public lounges on decks 4 and 5 have been nicely modernized; and a culinary demonstration center, computer classroom, and internet lounge have been added since my last cruise on this ship a decade ago. Because of the great scenery, I especially enjoyed the wrap-around promenade on deck 3, the public balcony on deck 6, and access to the bow on deck 4 during scenic cruising.
The HAL crew was absolutely top notch in every area and in every respect. The front desk was the best ever, the dining room staff was as good as (sometimes better than) on Silversea, the cruise director and her activity staff made sea days a pleasure, and the entertainment was thoroughly enjoyable. My cabin stewards were new to their job but were pros from day one.
HAL trains their crew very well, both on the hotel side and the navigation side. I have been impressed by their emergency drills on previous cruises, including crew life raft inflation and entry exercises. HAL’s attention to safety was especially important to me in this challenging part of the ocean with possible storms and several tender ports.
HAL made a special effort to employ Latin entertainers, and they (and their American colleagues) did a fantastic job. I have become a bandoneon and tango addict, and now listen to that music daily. I especially liked the ship’s lounge musicians, including the classical duo, because they were all pitch-perfect and not over-amplified.
Dining exceeded my expectations. I have enjoyed the surcharged Pinnacle restaurant on previous cruises but enjoyed the main dining room so much that I did not use the Pinnacle on this cruise. I had breakfasts in the Lido buffet (a nice variety), lunch at the poolside grill, and dinner in the main dining room. The grill, with its great fries and garnished burgers, was a guilty pleasure; and the main dining menu always offered something that I really like. The prime rib, filet mignon, and lamb were especially good, and the appetizers and desserts always offered something attractive and enjoyable.
There were three formal nights and most men wore suits or tuxedos. I brought a rain suit rather than a business suit, but the maitre d’ helped me out with a complimentary loaner jacket when needed.
On sea days the Zaandam offered more than enough activities, some were silly fun but most were educational or enriching. I appreciated that the spa stretch and abs classes, the computer/digital photo classes, and the culinary classes were all complimentary. Many cruise lines now surcharge for these.
HAL has a no-nonsense approach to alcohol, and the amount of alcohol one can bring aboard is limited to two bottles per cabin at embarkation only. Most cruise lines now seem to push alcohol sales in their promotions. Alcohol and casinos subsidize cruises for the rest of us, so I have no problem with either. HAL on the other hand seems to rely more on their land tours for their extra income.
The passengers on this cruise were a mix of nationalities -- about 50% English-speaking, 25% Spanish-speaking, and 20% German-speaking. This made for a nice social mix, although it limited entertainment and enrichment options for non-English speakers.
There is a shipboard port and scenic cruise commentator who provides useful information in English every day, but I wish our itinerary also had a naturalist. The 19 day Antarctic itinerary may include one.
I used the Lonely Planet Chile and Argentina guides for my port days and for my pre- and post-cruise apartment (airbnb.com) stays in Valparaiso and Buenos Aires. Using public transportation, I was able to enjoy every port on my own for about 10 USD pp per day. Local buses and minibuses are modern and cheap, and they go to many of the same places as the organized tours.
Again, the weather was very kind to us on this cruise, although brisk winds were sometimes a challenge for the tender crews. Because of the tender ports, this is definitely not an ideal cruise for the mobility impaired, although the crew were very kind and helpful to those who were.
All in all, I highly recommend this cruise, especially for those who are adventuresome and have done the standard Alaskan and Caribbean cruises before.
SCL Santiago airport transport ON YOUR OWN
SCL airport in Santiago Chile has a large modern terminal with international at one end (near door 6) and domestic at the other (near door 1).
Santander Bank has an office and ATM on the mezzanine level towards door 6 and several ATMS on the departure (upper) level near door 1 just outside domestic security screening. Fees are higher than most (about 7 USD regardless of amount). Local currency is necessary for public transport and is useful in later ports.
Today’s (Dec. 15, 2014) rate is 618 Chilean pesos per USD. Use oanda dot com or similar to check currency rates for Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina just before your departure. The Chilean peso has devalued about 2% in just the last month, and the Argentine peso is even more volatile.
During the daytime there is a large “Centropuerto” bus leaving from outside door 5 at SCL to central Santiago (or to the Pajaritos metro station for a transfer to the Valparaiso buses). Based on recommendations, I chose to spend a few extra days in Valparaiso prior to the cruise and did not visit Santiago (both are nice).
The Centropuerto buses leave every half hour and cost only 1500 CP (about 2.50 USD) for the 20 minute ride to Pajaritos, and probably a little more to central Santiago. The first bus leaves around 6am. I would take private transport if arriving at night (or wait till daylight inside the SCL terminal, where many others do near door 5).
From the Pajaritos bus stop, walk around the bus station to the back side, where Tur and Pullman bus companies (both good) offer buses to Valparaiso every 15 minutes for 2700 CP (about 4.50 USD) for the two hour ride through absolutely beautiful countryside. I chose Tur, which offered the next bus departure (a double decker with awesome vineyard and mountain views).
Long distance buses arrive at the Rodovario bus station in Valparaiso, on the east side of town about a 1 km south of the Muelle Baron cruise embarkation point. Local buses in Valparaiso are cheap and frequent, so one can stay almost anywhere or simply taxi to the cruise terminal.
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar ON YOUR OWN
For three days prior to the cruise I rented a beautiful 19th floor apartment in the Placeres area with fantastic coastal views from Valparaiso to Vina del Mar. It was a bit out of the way (in quiet and safe area residential) but had good local bus connections to both city centers (less than 1 USD per ride). I found it through airbnb.
Valparaiso is an old port town, a bit ragged but fun. It is built on many hills above the flat port area, with historic funiculars still traveling up and down each hill. The colorful old town has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.
The best way to enjoy the old town area of Valparaiso is via a “Tours4tips” walking tour which leaves each morning and afternoon from Plaza Sotomayor. See their website for details. Without them I would have had a hard time finding my way around the hills, although the flat El Plan area is easy to manage on one’s own by bus or historic electric tram (about 400 CP = 65 US cents per ride). Many old buildings are abandoned, especially since recent earthquakes, but many decaying areas have been enlivened by large colorful murals. I found the city delightful. By chance there was a good classical concert and a folk dance convention while I was there.
Just 20 minutes up the coast by local bus is the new and upscale Vina del Mar, where many rich Santiago residents have summer homes. I spent an enjoyable day in Vina. My recommended sights would be a long walk on the coastal boardwalk (the beaches are beautiful but the water is cold and dangerous), the central Vergara Park, and the north central Museum Fonck with Easter Island artifacts (Rapa Nui is a Chilean possession). These are about 1 km apart, so I simply walked.
I also spent an entire day just enjoying my “penthouse” apartment (cheaper than a hotel) sipping some excellent Chilean wine from the balcony. In good weather the coastal views are breathtaking.
Puerto Montt and the Lakes District ON YOUR OWN
Puerto Montt is not attractive, but there is easy and cheap access to beautiful lakes and towns nearby.
The ship tenders to the port district. The terminal has free wi-fi, best early or late when not crowded.
To the left (west) as one exits is the Angelmo tourist street with many tourist souvenir stalls and a fish market at the far end.
To the right (east) the large modern bus terminal is about 10 minutes walk along the shoreline. Frequent minibuses to the nice towns of Puerto Varas and Frutillar leave from the central bays every few minutes and cost about 800 CP (about 1.50 USD) for the 30 minute ride to Puerto Varas, on the shore of Lake Llanquihue. Some of the minibuses drive toward the port before turning off to the north, so you may be able to catch one as you walk to the bus terminal (destinations in the window).
From a bus stop (ask the driver which one) in Puerto Varas one can continue on another minibus (leaves every 30 minutes, duration 60 minutes, 2500 CP , about 4 USD) along the south shore (views on the left) to Petrohue and the lake in the National Park. There is no park entry fee unless you stop along the way to view surcharged Petrohue Falls and then catch the next minibus onward to the lake, (fares are then split 2,000 plus 500 CP).
At Petrohue I took an hour to walk along the lake shore. The views of snow-capped volcano Mt. Osorno were spectacular, especially with the pampas grass and blooming yellow bushes (Scotch Broom) in the foreground. There are boat tours to the islands in the lake, but these are overpriced and there is not enough time for the full round trip.
One also has a view of Mt. Osorno from Puerto Varas town, but it is in the far distance. The town is geared to tourists and has nice roses in early summer, good tourist info, and nice shops.
There are supermarkets across from the PM bus terminal and near the PV bus stop.
After returning to Puerto Montt I walked through the Angelmo tourist area before tendering back to the ship. A fantastic day for about 10 USD.
Puerto Chacabuco ON YOUR OWN
PC was an intermittently drizzly day on our cruise. There is almost nothing in the town, but the local tourism board greets the ship with maps and info.
Nearby is the larger town of Aisen (minibuses to there are about 500 Cp or 1 USD), and from Aisen there are large modern buses along the Rio Simpson valley to Coyhaique town (Ali or Suray bus lines; departures almost every 30 minutes, check schedule and reserve return trip once in Coyhaique with either bus line; 2,000 CP each way, about 3.50 USD; or 1,000 plus 1,000 CP if one stops midway at the waterfalls on the highway, Cataractas Virgen). Buses stop only at designated paradas along the highway.
The bus trip is through a beautiful river valley (river and valley views on your right eastbound) and over some small mountain passes. Much of it is park land, but there are essentially no hiking trails (the trail near the waterfall is steep and slippery, and the nature walk at the nearby ranger station is of little interest).
Coyhaique is on the main Chilean highway and serves as a supply station for adventure travelers in the area. It is relatively prosperous and has a good supermarket and megastore about 5 blocks from the bus station (Ali and Suray bus stations are around the corner from each other in both towns).
The beautiful bus ride is the only cheap option in the area, but enjoyable. The local private nature reserve (Parque Aiken) was outrageously expensive a few years ago ($60 per person per day) and may be worse now.
I found no wi-fi at the dock, but there was free wi-fi (slow) in the central Plaza in Coyhaique. Many restaurants in town also have (better) wi-fi.
Punta Arenas ON YOUR OWN
Tenders leave early to accommodate air tours to the interior, and one can report directly to the tender if one leaves early enough (they should announce this the evening before). Check the ship tour schedule for times.
The town is absolutely dead in the early morning (most of South America starts late) and it is pleasant to walk in good weather. There are maps at the port to help you find the old cemetery (free and interesting)and the mirador overlooking the town. The central square has some fine old mansions, but these are museums now and do not open till later in the day.
Most passengers take a tour to a penguin colony:
Otway Sound is reached overland. At the dock private share taxis and shuttles charge about 35 USD pp for the round trip, plus the entry fee. Otway features only Magellanic penguins, which breed in burrows during summer (November to March). Tourist traffic has decreased the numbers here, but friends who visited liked it.
Magdalena Island has a larger colony (and additional species, I believe) but requires a longer trip by boat, which can be rough. Neither Otway or Magdalena can compare with the penguin colonies in the Falklands, but sometimes (one in three) the ship has to skip the Falklands due to bad weather.
I chose to avoid the crowds at these penguin colonies and after walking around the town booked a 1030 am bus and walking tour of Fuerte Bulnes, the historic settlement reconstructed at the southern-most tip of the SA mainland. This is enjoyable in good weather because the drive and the views from the point are beautiful. The best tour leaves from the park office just 2 blocks from the tender dock (from Av. Independencia turn right up Av. 21 Mayo and look for the yellow park headquarters building). The tour lasts 4-5 hours and costs 20,000 CP for the bus and the entry fee combined, about 33 USD (credit cards accepted -- I paid part with my last pesos and charged the rest). They have great free maps of the coast and Cape Horn as a bonus.
The same office offers an earlier tour at 900 am that includes the town, but one can see those sights on your own and save 10,000 CP if you like to walk instead. Their website is phipa.cl (Parque Historia Patagonia)for photos and more info. They are a quality outfit, and I found them only by chance.
Winds were so strong in the afternoon that the ship cancelled tenders for several hours. Always be aware that your plans may be changed by the weather.
Ushuaia ON YOUR OWN
On the eastbound itinerary one has only an afternoon and evening in Ushuaia, not enough time to do any hiking in nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park.
There is a tourist info office at the end of the pier. Nearby is a taxi stand (prices are posted but ask for the meter if you prefer). About 100 yards beyond the taxi stand (left when facing the mountains) is the bus station, which has white “Buses Regular” going to the TdF NPark for 200 AP round trip (about 23 USD official rate, 16 USD blue market rate, dollars accepted if you are not “from the cruise ship“) plus 140 AP for the park entry (pesos only). Unfortunately their return times are 5pm and 7pm, which does not allow enough time to see much or hike since all aboard is 730pm eastbound.
Instead, I shared a taxi to the bottom of the ski lift above town (about 75 AP per full taxi by the meter) and then walked the wide and easy trail toward La Martial glacier. At the base of the snow fields is a spur trail to a panorama (mirador) with fantastic views over the town and the channel. I did not venture onto the larger snowfields with just jogging shoes and no way to arrest a snow slide.
This was a somewhat steep but easy and very enjoyable trail shared by many young locals. One can usually find a taxi waiting at the bottom of the lift, or simply ask a local to drop you off on their way back into town, as I did.
Ushuaia is where the Antarctic adventure cruise ships are stationed. A half dozen were docked near to us. With the exception of the Norwegian Fram, most were tiny in comparison with the Zaandam. I cannot imagine doing in a crossing in rough seas in ships as small as those, all of which are very very expensive. Maybe sometime in the future.
Port Stanley, Falklands/Malvinas ON YOUR OWN
About one in three cruises cannot anchor here due to bad weather. We had what our captain called the calmest weather he has ever had here. It was absolutely gorgeous -- sunny, warm, and clear. The tender ride is long -- 20 to 30 minutes depending how bad the weather is.
Most passengers opt for a (rather expensive) tour by 4x4 to one of the outlying penguin colonies. Many book in advance, but there were tours available at the last minute ashore for those on the early tenders. On shore the tours cost about 160-180 USD for outlying large penguin colonies that feature a variety of species including the king penguin, the same colonies visited by the ship tours.
Being a budget traveler, I opted to visit the smaller Magellanic penguins at Gypsy Bay, which is hiking distance from the pier. Alternately, starting at about 10am there are shuttle buses to Gypsy Bay leaving from the left side of the pier (facing town) for 20 USD round trip.
The tourist info at the pier has maps of the area. I got ashore too early for the shuttles, so I walked (leftward facing town) along the coast sidewalk to the end of town, then along the road and coastline path to a small bridge over to the peninsula. The peninsula itself has the local airport (not visible from the walk) and some nice birdlife and grassy dunes. The total hike was about 2 hours to the Gypsy Bay penguin colony.
Gypsy Bay Reserve has only Magellanic penguins. On previous cruise visits they hid in their burrows, but by the time we arrived in early December they were out and about, some walking within a few feet of our feet as they climbed between beach and burrow. The beach is off limits to visitors, but the views of the sea and coastline from the bluff are absolutely spectacular. I was so mesmerized that I spent 2 hours here walking back and forth along the bluff.
Gypsy Bay is where the ship crew visits penguins -- they were as excited as we since this was the first time this season that the penguins were highly visible. I took the shuttle back to the pier, walked around town for a while, and tendered back to the ship. Apparently there is no free wi-fi in the town. One can buy a wi-fi pass for about 5 GBP.
Montevideo, Uruguay ON YOUR OWN
Fortunately Uruguay is included in the Lonely Planet Argentina guide, and it is an easy city to enjoy on one’s own. US dollars are readily accepted, so it is not necessary to change money, but be aware of current exchange rates.
Conveniently the ship docks next to the old town in the city center. On cruise days there is a heavy police presence, so one feels safe, but beware f pickpockets here and in Buenos Aires.
Fortunately on the eastbound itinerary one docks here on Saturday when there are several flea/souvenir markets in the old plazas along the pedestrianized streets. Tourist information on the dock has maps of the old town.
As one exits the pier to the right across the main boulevard is an old indoor market (Mercado del Puerto) which has been converted to steakhouse restaurants and cafes.
There are quite a few small museums in town (Carnaval, Pre-Columbian art, Decorative art, etc.) but most do not open until the afternoon and some are closed on week-ends.
Active visitors can rent a bike (ask at tourist information for addresses, some are near the pier, some near the waterfront, most do not open till mid-morning) and ride along the beautiful shoreline (La Rambla) to the greener (parks and money) eastern suburbs along the coast. Bike shops listed by the TI include Orange Bike, LV Bicicletas, Biking Uruguay, Movete, and Bike Tour Uruguay. There are fine beaches, but the Rio de la Plata is murky for swimming. Beware of sunburn!
I also enjoyed a “free” 2-3 hour walking tour here (tips expected at the end, the student guides are thrilled by 5-10 USD pp) that meets in the large Plaza Independencia at 11am weekdays and 2pm Saturdays.
Beautiful Punta del Este to the east and historic Colonia del Sacramento to the west are too far away for an independent day trip from the port.
Buenos Aires ON YOUR OWN
I have mixed feelings about Buenos Aires, but most Argentines do too. It can be a challenging but rewarding city to visit.
The last time I was there I had such problems with the airport taxi mafia that I vowed never to return. This trip was my first time back in almost 40 years. The city and I have finally reached a détente.
The ship docks in the container port in the NE corner of the city, about a kilometer from the main train (Retiro) and long distance bus stations. A free shuttle takes passengers between the ship and the passenger terminal. A helpful tourist info booth with city maps is inside the terminal, as is an ATM (but most prefer to get a much better exchange blue market rate, see below). Free wi-fi is available at the café inside the terminal if you get the password.
The Manuel Tienda Leon airport shuttle bus office is conveniently located across the plaza from the Retiro train station. I spent a few extra days in BA in an apartment booked through airbnb. Since my apartment was close to the Basilica Santo Domingo (corner of Belgrano and Defensa), I took the minibusezeiza.com service to the airport at the end of my stay, for 33 AP (less than 3 USD at the blue market rate) per person and per bag. It is a messenger service that charges the same rate for people as parcels, every half hour from 8am to 6pm only.
There is a BA hop on-hop off bus tour that covers most of the city and (I believe) deviates to the port area when a ship is in, but I preferred to use public transport, which is extensive and very cheap. Buses cover most of the city but require an RFID type card (Sube card) which is available in convenience stores for 35 AP (about 3 USD) and can be loaded with value at metro stations. The metro (Subte) accepts the Sube card or cash (5 AP, less than 50 US cents per ride).
There are several city bus stops just outside the port passenger terminal. We arrived early Sunday morning (eastbound) and had no local currency. The driver of bus #33 would not accept our cash and instead took us several kilometers to the famous San Telmo Sunday flea market for free, even making a special stop for us. From there we walked up the markets along Av. Defensa to city center at Plaza de Mayo.
As a city Buenos Aires can be brutal, but individual Portenos like our bus driver are often very kind and helpful, just beware of pickpockets and dark streets.
There are several free (for tips) walking tour companies. I chose BA Free Tours because they operate on Sundays and in the rain (we had two torrential rains in BA, more than the rest of the cruise put together).
The morning walking tour of the beautiful Recoleta district starts at Teatro Colon and ends at the famous Recoleta cemetery near the best art museums, Bellas Artes (free) and MALBA (20 to 40 AP).
The afternoon walking tour of the central (business and government) district begins at the National Congress and ends at the Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo. As in other cities, a 5 to 10 USD pp tip is greatly appreciated by the young guides. Tours are in English or Spanish, depending on departure time.
I filled my extra days in BA using the Lonely Planet guide. There are many museums, parks, and tourist sights, most of which are open later than those in the US. Be aware that the colorfully painted houses in La Boca are just a short block long (a Caminito) and very touristy, with a rough surrounding nationhood. Locals feel that the sight is greatly over-rated.
With enough time (at least three days) one can fly to Iguassu for the famous waterfalls at a fraction of the ship tour price. Round trip air from the downtown airport is 196 USD on LAN, which is reportedly more reliable than Aerolineas Argentinas for these flights. Hotels and guesthouses at the falls are available for less than 100 USD per night. A public bus runs between the town and the falls. The Argentine side of the falls is recommended -- the Brazilian side involves visa hassles.
Finally, the Argentine Peso is (as I write this) officially pegged at 8.6 per USD for ATMs and credit cards and bank exchanges, but one can obtain 13-14 AP per USD on the street (the “blue market“).
During business hours money changers line the Av. Florida pedestrian shopping street south of the Recoleta train station, about 2 km from the cruise port (unfortunately they may not be there Sunday morning when the ship docks eastbound).
Just be aware that fake bills are in circulation, even from some bank ATMs. Each bill should have a watermark and any metallic print should be integral to the bill. I changed money with my apartment landlord, getting 12 AP per USD.
Most merchants should offer close to the blue market rate when one buys something with US cash, and even international businesses insist on getting at least 13 AP per USD when doing business in Argentina, and the government accepts this. Check the internet for the latest official and blue market exchange rates.
On this trip I found BA interesting and exhausting. BA and I have come to terms after all these years although I still refuse to take a taxi there. If you do, a metered radio taxi from a large company with the phone number on the taxi door is recommended.
Our experience on the Maasdam was less then positive. My partner and I cruise a lot and this was our first and last time sailing with Holland America.
The experience started off on a negative note with lunch at the buffet. Lines were confusing people did not know where to line up, the plates that were handed to us with our food were so hot they burned your hands, the staff did not listen to you and just tossed whatever they thought you said on your plate.
Next came the muster drill. This lasted more than 40 minutes. Most of which was spent standing packed together waiting for other passengers and the long drawn out instructions presented over the P.A. system.
Our first dinner was spent in opening seating because due to the ship not giving us early seating as requested. This was corrected on the second night and our server Andrei was excellent and the menu in the main Rotterdam restaurant was excellent. Beyond that food in the other venue options was mediocre.
Entertainment on the ship for us was mixed. The Broadway night was great as was the comedian and theElton John impersonator.
Due to an unfortunate event on a dive excursion and my assistance in saving a gentleman’s life the Captain provided us with a dinner for two at the Pinnacle restaurant. We thought it a nice gesture and unexpected. We made our reservations for the last night. The dinner turned out to be a two and a half hour drawn out mess. It took forever for the wait staff to get us menus, take our orders and serve our food sometimes with as much as 40 minutes in between courses after 2.5 hours we finally decided to leave without having dessert.
Our cabin was 363 on the lower Promenade. The room was worn with paint chipping from the door wells and old carpeting. The ship defiantly needs to be restored.
If you are taking children expect to entertain them. There were not many activities for young people.
Music at the pool was by a one man pan drum that reminded me of a high school band member.
So if you don’t mind a ship full of older passengers with a mean age of 60, mediocre service and poor entertainment options the Maasdam is your ship. But first you might want to check out some of the other cruise line options before you commit. Just because the cruise is a good price is not a tradeoff for spending seven days unhappy with your decision.
My husband and I were on the Transatlantic cruise last April on the Nieuw Amsterdam. When we left the ship in Barcelona after a wonderful cruise, my husband forgot to pack his binoculars. After discovering this oversight upon arriving home, I wrote HAL to ask about locating them. First I received a letter saying they had not been located. Later I received a phone call saying they had and as soon as the ship returned to Florida I would be contacted regarding the return of the binoculars. I heard nothing more about it and had given them up for gone when the Fed-Ex truck pulled up in front of our house and delivered the forgotten binoculars!! I can't say enough about the service of the Holland America Cruise Line. Always excellent service and beautiful ships. We'll be back on in the spring.
We sailed from Vancouver down to San Diego and then on to Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. The food was top notch, but the specialty restaurants was similar to the dining room. Our stateroom was fine, and the ship was well cared for... the staff was constantly cleaning and working.
The evening entertainment was definitely one of the high points of the cruise and was very professional. My only complaint was the daytime activities, or rather, the lack of daytime activities... NO enrichment speakers or crafts, just bingo and selling stuff. The poor activity director tried to give some talk that were "not very good," to be kind. Her talks were more like a school report of "What I did during the summer." If Holland thinks they are saving money by using the crew as "enrichment speakers," they are missing the boat and loosing rating stars.
On the second day of sailing, we observed heavy smell of mold and mildew. Reported it to front desk as I am highly allergic. Nothing done. Reported it third day. Nothing done. Reported it fourth night as I was now having to use my emergency inhaler. Nothing done. Fifth morning, went to ship doctor at 8 am. Put on prednisone, antibiotics and 2 inhalers. In bed all day missing 2 excursions and the best dinner. With 2 nights left they then offered a different room but I did not have the energy to pack and move everything. Extremely dissapointed!
Our first cruise (my husbands retirement present) we were so excited. When we first arrived everything was just great after all Holland America belongs to one of the largest if not THE largest cruise lines in the world Carnival Cruise Line.
It didn't take long for the shine to wear off our cruise, the stench coming from the toilet was unbearable, each time the toilet was flushed the odor filled the bathroom area.
A lady who was in the cabin a few doors down from us was so angry about something, I'm not sure what it was, blew a tantrum and changed rooms from the 6th. floor to another floor, oh yes we paid for and were in the upper veranda ss rooms.
And then it happened, we had to step on and kill a COCKROACH yes a COCKROACH and believe me it was a big one. How would you feel if you opened your upper veranda ss suite room door and were confronted by a cockroach. After killing it we took a picture of it and brought the photo to the front desk. She actually came up to the 6thfloor, confirmed it was a cockroach and picked it up and took it away, she said she would have our room scanned and cleaned for any other roachs that may be lurking in the dark.
Then the nightmare began, the front desk manager a young lady by the name of Nancy just about came out and said we had brought the COCHROACH aboard the ship. She did everything in her power to pooh pooh the incident away.
Then she said she wasn't going to offer us anything for our troubles because she didn't want to insult us, and if we wanted to take this incident any further we should talk to their head office, and that is that.
That was our first cruise experience, we won't be taking our chances with any of the Carnival Cruise Line companies again.