Holland America Line Prinsendam by Mike Newburger Eastern Mediterranean October 28, 2009
Our itineray started in Athens, and went to Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Albania. This was a continuation of a cruise that included Rome and other destinations.
The ship is the smallest in the HAL fleet, but the size was perfect for our itineray. Only 750 guests were on board, and after travelling on larger ships, I felt that the size and capacity fit our needs. There were, because of the length and timeof year, virtually no kids on this cruise, Our cabin was quite spacious, and we loved the walk in closet, which was fully used by my wife and I (mostly her!!).
We had A/C prblems for the first 4 days of the cruise, but we weren't alone--a whole section on our deck suffered similar problems, and by the time we got to Israel,the sauna like effect in our room had been solved.
With regards to service, we've been on 6 other HAL cruises, so we knew what to expect. our cabin steward was just OK, in that he couldn't figure out whe to do our turn downssince wwe liked to eat early for dinner. We lucked out in finding a great dining room team, but when we requested them on the 3rd night, somehow we got another team who had to start from sqare one to fin out about our likes and dislikes.
The evening's activities were varied, and we took advantage of some of them. We had two-2 day stops in Egypt and Israel, and would recommend them highly, even though they were expensive. The shore excursions were very thorough, except for the 1/2 day in Albania, which is not set up for tourists by any means.
The staff on the Lido cafeteria deck was very helpful, and we ate many meals there. The food quality was B+/A- and breakfast room service was prompt and very good. The captain kept us up to date wiht current weather and destination information, and was accessable during the cocktail party. Oursocial director did an outstanding job getting groups organized and off the ship in a timely manor as well as hosting evening events.
I now have crossed off my bucket list things like seeing the Pyrmids, going to Bethlehem, and and taking a cruise on the Nile. It was a trip of a lifetime, and even 2 months later, I'm still organizing my pictures on the computer. I think the staff on and off the ship does an outstanding job of making their guests feel like family, and that is a bar set very high.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Les Galloway Southern Caribbean December 19, 2008
My brother and I had decided to take a cruise over the holidays. We had both cruised before and decided to try an upscale line for a little quieter and pampered experience. This may have been one of the worst experiences of our lives.
The food was sub-par and the service was deplorable. A virus was running amok on the ship and we were both severely ill for two days.
The biggest problem seems to be a communications issue with the staff. When we would make a request in the dining room, the wait staff would smile and say yes sir and then never return. Requests went ignored mostly because I don't think we were understood.
I feel badly for my brother as it was my idea to choose Holland America. I made a very expensive and severe error.
Most of my friends cruise and not one has cruised on Holland America. The experience was so bad I'll make it a point to apprise all I know of my own experience. This was a horrible cruise.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Bermuda Cruiser Eastern Caribbean December 19, 2008
Having enjoyed several Spring cruises with Holland America previously, my wife and I were interested to see how a Christmas cruise would differ. It was also to be our first cruise aboard the Line's smallest ship.
The Prinsendam underwent a major refit during 2008 which, judging from some earlier reviews, was badly needed. The result is a distinguished-looking vessel that harkens back to the fine old days of sea travel. Some may find the look dated, but we prefer it to the plasticky feel of the modern mega-ships.
The crew were very proud of their vessel, and seemed very pleased to be working on it. With one exception (see my comment in the Message Boards) nothing was too much trouble.
There were many additional touches to make this cruise even better for Christmas and New Year's Eve and we would gladly sail again this time next year.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by TyinPS Black Sea October 16, 2008
I have cruised 32 years. First one on Holland Amnerica. Worse cruise ever.
The muster was incomplete. We got excuses. There was a sounding at 2AM on the second night out and no crew appeared. A loud message said there was an electrical fire and to stay in our cabins. Stories varied the next day.
After claiming all desserts were fresh, executive chef and bakery chef finally admitted they were frozen commercial products and served stale, cold and dry.
At embarkation we noticed kitchen and other staff coughing and sneezing. One quarter of earlier port arrivals had the same symptoms. Some were on this ship months. Many spent a day in bed.
I got it 2 days in and discovered when I got home that I had contracted a highly transmittable viral bronchitis.
There was no welcome aboard; just a one hour hard sell by the cruise director's wife pushing future cruises.
Culinary class partly pre-empted for the same reason.
Entertainment was vaudeville-like. Comedian told gay jokes as did the very defensive cruise director.
If you are on this ship months you will be pampered. Catersto those in mid 40s. Best advice is to stay away from this one.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Jim Thornton Baltic Sea June 3, 2008
The MS Prinsendam is one of Holland America's smaller ships that carries 793 passengers and a crew of 443. It was built in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun for the Royal Viking Line and in less than two years later it was sold to the Seabourn Cruise Line and renamed as the Seabourn Sun. Another two years later, it was sold again to the Holland America Line.
CABIN -- Balcony Our daughter's and our cabins were side-by-side. We had the cabin with a shower (no bath) and only one bedside nightstand, while our daughter had a bath and two bedside nightstands. Both cabins were the same size and had queen size beds, etc.
The cabin's bathrooms were nice and new while the non-bathroom areas showed signs of wear. Cabin attendant was also good.
Poor cabin TV service -- 19 channels but three out of the seven English language channels were out-of-service due to a "satellite problem" that never got fixed.
The on-shore HAL personnel placed my wife's photo both on her and my shipboard ID cards which also serves as thecabin key. The ship's personnel always scan the card to verify that the photo on the card matches the returning passenger from a tour. I was able to get a new ID with the proper photo from the ship's front desk.
FOOD Food was fair and service was slow. This was the poorest of all the eight HAL ships that we've been on.
ENTERTAINMENT The evening entertainment was poor -- it appeared to be at a high school level of experience. Always had wonderful evening entertainment on HAL ships before.
There were no daytime movies in the ship theater on the three Day-At-Sea days.
CROW'S NEST The Crow's Nest always smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. The same in the other shipboard bars. Never had this problem on any other HAL ship.
TOURS The ship cancelled one of the Ystad tours that we previously paid for due to too many requests for the tour. Actually, they moved the afternoon tours to the morning to add more tours in the afternoon. We had to manually swap our morning and afternoon tours ourselves. And later, we had to identify to the HAL tour management that they doubled-charged us.
Some of the sites to be seen on the land tours were skipped due to HAL tour management permitting handicapped passengers (in wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) on these HAL rated "Strenuous Activity" tours.
The overall quality of the tours were not as good as on the same cruise that we took on the Norwegian Dream eight years earlier.
The onboard tour personnel always place a small tour sticker on your clothing for identification on the tour. One sticker left its glue-like material on my jacket and both the ship's personnel and we were unable to remove it.
HEALTH Most of the passengers caught a cough and cold on the cruise and we never saw the HAL personnel ever sanitize the numerous stairway hand rails on the ship as we have seen on all other HAL ships we have been on.
OVERALL OPINION As a longtime Holland America passenger, I could not recommend this ship. This was our ninth Holland America Cruise and our 18th cruise in Asia, Europe, and North, Central, and South America.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Savvy Senior Western Europe June 16, 2005
My husband and I are experienced cruisers with travels on Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, NCL, RCCL, and several now defunct cruise lines. In the past five years we have cruised annually with Holland America enjoying their style of service and longer cruises.
PRINSENDAM is the smallest of the HAL ships, having been built by Royal Viking in 1988, and sailed for Seabourne before joining HAL. The ship has been nicely refurbished and did not show her age. At 38,000 tons and 793 passengers, but the usual ship facilities, it was a comfortable voyage.
INTINERARY This was a 14 day Western Europe cruise, beginning in Citivecchia (Rome), visiting Elba, Corsica, Spanish Morocco, Cadiz, Lisbon, Porto, La Coruna, Bilbao, La Rochelle, Guernsey, Dover, dis-embarking in Amsterdam.
CABIN Booked on an outside guarantee, we were assigned cabin 219 on the Lower Promenade Deck. The cabin was smaller than on Statendam class ships, but well organized with a walk-in closet, queen bed, TV, bar and refrigerator in a stacked cabinet opposite a couch by the large square window. The ship has been upgraded with new linens and towels, morepillows etc. The bath was shower only but conveniently arranged.
FOOD Holland America prides itself on the quantity, quality and variety of food offered. This ship was no exception. The main dining room was somewhat noisy (possible due to the number of families and small groups on the ship). The adjacent smaller room seemed much quieter (ask for a low table number). All HAL ships offer a small (extra cost) dining room with Pacific Northwest theme. The Lido casual dining on a top deck offers cafeteria service breakfast & lunch with extended hours for Continental breakfast & Luncheon salad bar. They have cooked to order eggs & omelets, plus specialty areas at lunch. The poolside snack bar offers hamburgers, hotdogs, soup etc all afternoon. The ice cream bar was a popular stop. From 6 pm to 7:30 pm half the Lido becomes an informal restaurant with some items off the main dining room menu plus other choices. Room service includes a special diet for persons with mal-de-mer (not needed on this sailing --- positively the smoothest cruise of my memory).
ENTERTAINMENT There was a wide variety , trying to meet every taste. A troupe of eight singers/dancers entertained three nights. Other nights there were musical, comedy and other entertainments in the main lounge. A regular event on Holland America ships, both the Indonesian (cabin & dining room staff) and Filipino (bar & front office staff) crew did shows with typical music and dancing from their home countries. The versatile group in the Ocean Bar and talented pianist in the Crows Nest provided evening music. A string group played after dinner in another lounge. There were recent movies playing 4 times daily in the movie theater (with popcorn) and more showing all day on the cabin TV. On sea days there were cooking demonstrations, and lectures on Mediterranean history. In addition to the usual bridge & games, the ship has a well stocked library. The Internet Cafe is open 24 hours, has several package payment plans, and space for your own laptop if wi-fi equipped. The one difficulty this sailing was the large number of children (due to several family groups on board). There is a children's program but with limited space. However the children I talked with said they found the activities interesting.
SERVICE Holland America prides itself on the level of service on their ships. This voyage was no exception. An almost invisible cabin steward kept our stateroom immaculate. The dining room staff were equally attentive to detail. A daily service charge is now added to cabin bils, but this change does not seem to have affected the service levels.
SHORE EXCURSIONS There were excursions (all marked as to level of activity) offered in all ports except Spanish Morocco. In most ports the ship was docked, and if any distance from the city center the local tourist board provided free bus transportation. In some ports like Cadiz, there was an expensive option of car or van with driver for the day to do individual sightseeing. Dover was the jumping off place for both group and individual trips to London plus other southeast English visits. Shore excursion prices seemed high, but perhaps the current Euro value contributed.
EVALUATION This was an interesting and different chance for us as fairly experienced Europe travelers to see the off the beaten track coastal cities of Europe. The ship, in spite of age, is up to Holland America standards in every way. Because we had such a wide variety of travelers (all over Europe, Canada, Australia were included) one met interesting people everywhere. I would recommend Prinsendam in Europe highly.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Victoria Short New England October 12, 2003
Just returned from the Fall Foliage trip on the Prinsendam, continued on to Fort Lauderdale.
I must say that, even though this was our first cruise, we were traveling with my parents, who have cruised often in the past. Most of their trips have been on HAL ships, although they have taken a few other cruise lines also. So this review combines not only the 'first timer's' view, but the input of my parents.
First off, neither my husband nor myself nor our 9 year old son can wait to get back on another cruise ship. So yes, it was an incredible experience.
The ship was lovely. There were a few spots that weren't perfect, but certainly less than in some of the supposed five star hotels I've stayed in. My parents were in a Deluxe Verandah Suite on the sports deck (004), my husband and I were in a Superior Verandah Suite (026 on the Verandah deck) and our son and a family friend were in a Oustide Stateroom on the Lower Promenade deck (212), so we had a rangeof rooms to look at. Obviously, my parents' cabin was bigger than the others, but even the 'basic' room my son was in was quite spacious, with a sofa, two twin beds, a walk in closet, mini-fridge and a good window. I should note that their cabin only had a shower, no tub. Both of the other cabins had tubs/showers along with DVD players. My parents cabin had a Bose CD player also.
The public areas of the ship were delightfully decorated, very subdued and elegant. While we were on ship, they were busy in every port replacing glass in many of the windows. I was quite taken with the intaglios of the ships on deck 7, those were amazing.
Food was very good. I'm not a gourmet, but my husband and our family friend are, and they were always content at dinner, and often times raving about how good the food was. I was less impressed with the poolside grill, but the lunches in the Lido were good, as was breakfast. My husband wants to have coffee delivered to his room every morning now...
I mentioned that we took our son along. He was the only child on the ship, and we came prepared to have no Club Hal program at all, however, they DID run the program in the evenings for him, as well as the few sea days we had. It wasn't a all day program, but it provided a nice break in the day for all of us, and certainly was WAY more than we were expecting. Jo, the assisant cruise director who also doubled as the Club Hal director, was excellent. And all of the crew quickly adopted Chris as their own, it was like being around a celebrity for 17 days.
The ports were good. We really enjoyed the Canadian calls, even with having weather issues and being unable to make Charlottetown (the day we were to call there, there were gale force winds, and it was unsafe to dock). We also enjoyed Bar Harbor ME and Portland ME, but were very unimpressed with Martha's Vinyard. The rest of the calls were so-so, but that may have been because the ship was mostly repositioning.
The shore excursions we did take were good, especially the Soldier for a Day at the Citadel in Halifax. THat one was WELLL worth the money if you are interested in history
The service was excellent, from all the staff. My only problem was convining the stewards in the Lido that I could carry my own tray! Our waiter Geddy and his assistant Bobby were attentive and outgoing, our maitre'd Mac was excellent and both our wine stewards - George and Jess - amuising and wonderful.
My own cabin steward - Kas - was like magic, we'd leave and be back and the room would turn spotless. And somehow he found time to fold my dirty laundry as well as clean everything. If anything, my mother's steward - Hillman - was more impressive, which is scary. Our son's steward was still good, but not quite to that standard. Still excellent, but compared to the others he suffered a bit.
My husband loved the spa, and averaged a massage every other day (ouch to the bank account). We aren't big show folks, so we never went to one. I think our son saw more, as some of the Club Hal activities involved appropriate shows (marionettes, magicians and one of the production numbers). For what's it worth, he liked them.
I could go on and on about the things we liked, but it was definitely a wonderful experience. I loved the small ship, but both of my parents seem to prefer a slightly bigger ship, and we shall probably sail on one of the 1200 to 1400 capacity ships next time.
A few nit picky things - our cabin door needed some work ... the only way to get it shut from the hall was to slam it shut. I was not that impressed with the service from the shore excursions staff when they were ashore - they were fine on the ship, but seemed to be a bit burned out when they reached shore. As I mentioned before, I wasn't impressed with Martha's Vinyard, and I question it's inclusion in the ports as it was basically closed up in October, and was a wasted shore call in my mind. I mentioned that the ship hit heavy weather and missed Charlottetown, and that disappointed a few passengers, but that wasn't an issue for me. The weather WAS bad, however, and we pitched quite a bit and had two nights that were quite rocky. However, that's what you risk going to the North Atlantic in October.
All in all, i must rate the ship a 9. It probably isn't for everyone, but if you like to relax and aren't big late night folks, but want elegant and small, without being on a luxury yacht, this would be your ship.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Bruce Baldwin New Zealand December 6, 2002
This is by far the most charming and intimate Holland America ship we have seen. The Prisendam reminds me of the grand old days of cruising. by today's standards, she is a small ship with a capacity of only 794 passengers. The ship's gross tonnage is only 38,000 as compared with many newer ships of 80,000+ tons. The Prisendam was built in 1988 and operated until earlier this year as the Royal Viking Sun and then the Seabourn Sun. Holland America bought the ship from Seabourn in 2001 and refurbished it to the typical HAL decor. Fortunately, HAL did not remove many of the finest features of the ship. I classify the current decor as understated elegance.
Most of the cabins are outside. Many have balconies. There are some spacious suites. The outside cabins are relatively large with a walk-in closet, lots of drawer space, a mini-fridge, and actually, a large bathroom with oversize tub. Some of the outside cabins have only a shower so if a bathtub is important, select your cabin carefully from the deck plans. Hair dryers, akeyless safe, TV/VCR with remote control, telephones with voice mail, lots of mirrors, and a well-stocked mini-bar round out the cabin amenities.
We were amazed to find that there were only about 360 passengers on this cruise. In fact most of the past several months have seen the ship just over half full. I am sure that as soon as word gets out about the elegance of the ship, the friendliness of the crew, the intimacy of the lounges, and the opportunity to recognize many of one's fellow passengers after just a few days, the popularity of the Prisendam will greatly increase. One of the reasons for the small passenger loads is the distance one must travel from the U.S. to get to Australia, New Zealand, or other parts of Asia where the ship has been cruising. HAL has changed the summer itinerary to do 14 day Alaska tours out of San Francisco.
We were pleasantly surprised that in spite of the small number of passengers, the menus remained varied with lots of selections and continued excellent quality and presentation. Brian, the Food and Beverage Manager, did a super job of assuring that all of the fruits and vegetables were high quality and fresh. Most of the meats and seafood was shipped from the U.S. but the numerous lamb dishes during the cruise came from New Zealand.
The ship retained two seatings for supper in the La Fontaine Dining Room in spite of the small number of passengers. The Odyssey Restaurant managed by Stephene was a pleasant evening alternative to the La Fontaine Dining Room. Reservations are required for the Odyssey and the dress is always at least semi-formal. We ate there three times. The menu is somewhat limited but it changed mid-cruise and the food preparation and presentation are superb. There is no additional charge for dining in the Odyssey.
The Lido also offers a casual dining venue, especially for supper. We enjoyed the vast variety of foods offered in the Lido at breakfast and lunch. We had supper there once. Eating there was quicker and one could nibble on a variety of cold and hot dishes. One unique feature of this Lido at breakfast was that all orders for eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc. were prepared on the grills right in front of you as you waited; always fresh and hot. Lots of juices were always available including fresh squeezed orange juice every morning. Late night snacks [formerly the midnight buffet] were also offered in the Lido.
The Prisendam retains many of the traditional rooms of other HAL ships. There is a well stocked library. An ample supply of local papers is provided every port day. The Java Cafe continues to offer free Cappuccino, Latte, Espresso, chocolate, coffees, and sweets during the day and evening hours.
The spa, beauty shop, and gym offer ample, modern facilities for a ship of this size. All of the gym equipment is state of the art. A trainer is available to lead classes and provide personal training services. Saunas, facials, and all those other body 'enriching' services are pleasantly provided by the Steiner personnel.
Music, cocktails, and great atmosphere in the Ocean Bar and Explorers Lounge have similar decor, elegance, and entertainment offered on the other HAL ships. A piano player provides music in the Crows Nest afternoons and evenings.
Smoking has been restricted to cabins, outside decks, the casino, and in the elegant Oak Room. The Oak Room is a small lounge right next to the Java Cafe where cigars are offered and one can order cognacs, etc.
The Queens Lounge is the main entertainment venue. Sight lines are excellent and the acoustics have been well organized for enjoyable listening. Additionally there is the typical HAL Wajang Theater for showing films, conducting religious services, meetings, etc.
Unique to this ship there is a well appointed Golf shop with resident pro and a video simulated course where one can play to their heart's content. The pro shop offers golf paraphernalia with the HAL logos. The trainer was completely booked many days.
Children facilities and Club HAL are extremely limited on the Prisendam. The ship wasn't really designed to accommodate children. Few children is an added benefit to many HAL frequent cruisers.
The teak Lower Promenade deck goes the circumference of the ship. Four laps equals a mile. HAL has terminated the Passport to Fitness program but the Gym still offers numerous classes, most of them still free. The wood deck chairs still line the Lower Promenade deck and hot chocolate or cool lemonade are offered every afternoon depending on the weather.
Boutiques, Pools, Hot Tubs, the Internet Cafe, and the Photo Gallery round out the public areas of the Prisendam except for lots of neat nooks and crannies where one can curl up and read, relax, snooze, or just watch the world go by.
The cast of 7 was enthusiastic and relatively competent. They were rather new as a team. They rehearsed daily for their 4 cast shows, and the performances definitely improved as the cruise progressed. Other entertainment included an illusionist, an excellent singer/comedian husband/wife duo, a ventriloquist whose dummy did much better than he did, he was really bad; a flute soloist, Bettine, from Bulgaria and now living in the U.S. has performed in over70 countries. Her performances are frequently played for animals. She claims that the animals respond to her flute music and showed videos to verify the effect on the animals. She was a most interesting entertainer. We also enjoyed an Irish comedian, a guitarist, and finally a well-known and fabulous Australian male vocalist. The entertainment was super, especially considering the small ship.
The Captain, the Hotel Manager, and Department Heads were frequently about the ship checking to see that their areas of responsibility were up to their high standards. Always there were people cleaning, polishing, painting, etc. to keep the ship in tip-top shape. The crew and staff seemed competent, friendly, and efficient. A tightly run ship is said to be a happy ship and the Prisendam is a happy ship.
Captain Halle Gundersen has commanded this ship since she was built in 1988. The Captain oversaw the construction of the ship and has been her Master except for vacations ever since. The Hotel Manager, Fekko Ebbens, has been with Holland America since 1965. Fekko oversaw the conversion of this ship from the Seabourn Sun to the Prisendam and has been aboard continuously. Fekko hopes to make this 'his ship' until his retirement from HAL. He does a fine job.
The passengers on this cruise were some of the most friendly we have experienced. We became acquainted with many of them; we 'hung out' with quite a few of them. Most were from the U.S. but we also met some Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis [New Zealanders]. One of the Aussies, Charles, and I were frequently 'messing' with the staff and/or passengers. Two brothers, Roger and Curt, also participated in numerous incidents. All of us were egged on by numerous of our newfound acquaintances. We all had great fun.
Would we sail again on the Prisendam? You bet! We are looking forward to the publication of the HAL 2004 itineraries. We already have bookings on the July 30, 2003 Rotterdam 16 day Transatlantic cruise and November, 2003 Statendam 16 day tour of the Hawaiian Islands. We are sure to return to the Prisendam in 2004. The Prisendam is scheduled to do the world cruise in 2004. Maybe we will go on one of the segments. The Prisendam is truly a classy and classic cruise ship.
AUCKLAND - the departure point This is an absolutely beautiful city with a super blend of old and new. Old is only a relative term. When we toured Eastern Europe a few months ago, 'old' meant somewhere around 400 years or older. Here in New Zealand 'old' means about 100 years or more. Now, in early December, summer is about to arrive. Flowers and trees are blooming everywhere. New Zealand's population is about 3 ½ million; almost 1/3 of them live in the Auckland area. We spent only 3 days here before boarding the Prisendam for our 16-day cruise.
THE NEW ZEALAND PORTS This cruise took us to 9 additional New Zealand ports: Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, and Picton. These are in the North Island of the country. A small channel and bay separate the North Island from the South Island. We cruised through this channel and crossed to the South island where we visited Nelson, Christchruch, Dunedin, and then Milford Sound. After these ports we headed to Tasmania and Australia. There were only 4 sea days during the cruise. We used most of these to listen to a few port lectures, relax and reflect on all of the great experiences of each port, visit with fellow shipmates, and do a bit of laundry in the free washers and dryers aboard.
We absolutely enjoyed each and every New Zealand port. Officials at every port went out of their way to make us feel welcome. In some ports we docked a distance from the town center. In every case the city fathers provided frequent and free shuttles to the center of the towns. We did not do any of the ship's shore excursions. Instead, we prefer to mosey about independently. In some of the ports we found a great deal riding the "On Again Off Again" buses whereby for the cost of a day ticket [about $5 U.S. or less] we could alight at any of the many stops and reboard on a subsequent trip. We rented a taxi with shipmates at one port and had a great day seeing unusual off- the-beaten-track sights.
Shore excursions are great for people who are not comfortable with the uncertainties of independent arrangements. We like a little more adventure and flexibility. We also usually stop at an Internet cafe [lots of inexpensive ones in each of the ports] to check on business and personal news from home. I also occasionally used the Internet Cafe on board to check on business.
The citizens [they call themselves 'Kiwis'] of each and every New Zealand port were extremely pleasant, friendly, helpful, laid-back, and willing to share some of their knowledge about the area with us. One of our guides invited us to her historic home for a 'cuppa' tea and a 'looksee.' Then we were off to see the sights.
High hills and or mountains surrounded all of the New Zealand ports. Most homes are built on hillsides. Most homes require lots of steps to get from the nearest street to their home. Many lots do not have much land but in the little space, the residents take great pride in small gardens with brilliantly colored flowers. They line their steps with lots of colorful shrubs and plants.
Each of the New Zealand ports offered interesting and varied features. All of the ports offered lots of scenery, history, friendly people, modern amenities, and a relaxed atmosphere. One could enjoy spending lots of time at any of the ports. One of the shore excursions was an overnight land trip from Dunedin to Queenstown near Millford Sound. We stopped in Milford Sound the next day so the tender could fetch the people who had enjoyed the night on the overland tour [$375. U.S. per person].
While we were near Milford Sound we saw sea lions, dolphins, albatrosses, flying fish, some big waves and swells, a few itsy-bitsy penguins, fog, some magnificent waterfalls, some deep fjords, and the tall, mile-high Mitre Peak. Then we headed through the Tasman Sea to Beauty Point, Tasmania.
TASMANIA AND MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA The Tasman Sea is known to be usually rough with big swells, high waves, and lots of wind. As we transited the sea, however, it was glassy calm with only a slight breeze. One of the most magnificent sights occurred toward dusk. We were sitting on the promenade deck when it seemed like a submarine was surfacing nearby. Instead, it was a whale blowing. Soon we were in the midst of a huge pod of whales. We could see them frequently blowing all around the ship. The captain slowed and turned in a big arc. We saw several of the majestic mammals when they breached, coming almost entirely out of the water.
The Prisendam docked at Beauty Point, Tasmania. There is absolutely nothing worth seeing at Beauty Point. Instead, this is the closest the ship can get to Launceston, a major gateway to the natural beauty of the area. We took the bus from the pier to town [a 45-minute ride] and then arranged with a taxi to see Mole Creek Nature Reserve. This private wildlife refuge is a great place to see the Tasmanian Devils in their natural habitat. The Reserve also houses Koala Bears, free-roaming kangaroos that can be fed and petted, and a host of other animals and birds. Walking among the kangaroos and wallabies was one of the highlights of the day.
We enjoyed riding the chair lift at Cataract Gorge and visiting tame peacocks; this was a colorful stop. Then we checked out an old gold mine, Batman Bridge, Grindelwald Swiss Village, and then passed through Beauty Point on the way back to the pier. The weather was perfect for enjoying a day in the Tasmanian countryside.
Melbourne was the final port before our disembarkation in Sydney. This is the second largest Australian city after Sydney. There is so much to see and do here that we didn't even scratch the surface during our short one-day stay. We found the river walkway and park right in the middle of the city a delightful place to watch the 'Aussies' as they enjoyed a sunny, warm day.
We enjoyed all of the ports and hope to return to some of them soon.
December, 2002 The Prisendam - a Post Script
The flight from Sydney to Dallas via Los Angles was most unusual for us. I normally request seats near the back of the plane because those tend to fill last and lots of times we can move to empty sections to stretch out. This flight from Sydney to Los Angles was 13 ½ hours so we really hoped for some extra space. This giant Quantas 747 had 75 rows and we were seated in row 73. Normally the back rows are the first to board the main cabin but this time rows 70 back were the last allowed to board.
It turned out that a 'medical emergency' was being boarded through the back door so we had to wait for the procedure to be complete. When we got to our seats we noted that we were seated in a virtual intensive care room. We were in the middle section and on our left [the 2 seat across section by the windows] a gurney had been placed over 3 rows of seats. At the back of the plane there is a little space between the windows and the seat. That was used for access to the patient as well as access from the aisle. That access took another row. Poles had been erected around the gurney to offer some privacy to the patient.
Then there was the medical staff; a doctor and two registered nurses. All of the life support and monitoring equipment were loaded on the floor and under the seats. The overhead bins were also used. One of the nurses sat beside me. The patient was in her mid seventies and suffering from kidney failure. The machinery required constant monitoring because large monitors and loud alarms were not allowed on board. At least one of the medical team was constantly watching the dials and gauges and frequently administering meds of one sort or another.
It turned out that the patient had been a passenger on our cruise. She became sick and was disembarked in Tasmania 3 days earlier. No facilities in Tasmania were equipped to handle her medical problems so she awaited a private medivac plane to transport her to Melbourne. Once admitted to the hospital there, doctors conferred with her U.S. doctors and with the insurance company. It was decided that she should be transferred back to her hometown in New York. No direct flights were available from Melbourne to the U.S. so she was flown to Sydney to await a direct flight with available space for her and all the gear. The proximity to the holidays complicated the problem.
This poor soul had been in 6 ambulances, 4 hospitals, and 3 airplanes so far. Fortunately the flight from Sydney to Los Angles was continuing on to New York so she didn't have to be moved again. Her husband of many years, a distinguished looking man, was holding up remarkably well. He seemed alert, calm, and pleasant with the medical staff. I would have been a basket case.
Fortunately the couple had paid for the trip insurance when they booked the cruise. The nurse and I speculated that the total cost of the medical services from Tasmania to New York would exceed $60,000 U.S. As we left the plane, we wished the husband well and told him that he would be included in our prayers.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Doug Hembroff Australia November 20, 2002
So you have an idea about my past experience cruising I have sailed 20 times besides this cruise on Princess, Celebrity, Holland American, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Itineraries so far include the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti and Norway. My favorite line so far is Princess, the food on Celebrity and the entertainment on Princess but all of the different lines have something to recommend them in my experience.
One part of the world I had always wanted to visit was both Australia and New Zealand but had never been able to take the time off to really justify such a destination. When the company I worked for closed and I was out of a job I figured I would use the opportunity to take my "dream" vacation. I signed up for the 16 day cruise on the HAL Prinsendam sailing from Sydney, Australia on 11/20/02 and ending in Auckland, New Zealand on 12/6/02. To really do it right I added a week in Sydney prior, and a week in Auckland after the cruise. The following are some of my thoughtson the experience.
I flew to Sydney on United Airlines on Tues. Nov 12 departing at 10:50pm and arrived in Sydney on Thurs. morning Nov 14 at about 8:30am. The long flight was not nearly as bad an experience as I had feared, but 14 ½ hours is still a very long trip. As I live in the SF Bay area, when I boarded the plane it was my normal bedtime and I slept most of the way. It never seemed like I was sleeping but whenever I looked at my watch it was a couple of hours later. Most of the flight was in the dark and only as we approached Sydney did the sun come up and it felt like a normal morning after a long sleep. Luckily I felt no effects of jet lag at all and had no problem beginning my explorations.
To reach my hotel in the city I used the excellent Airport Express bus system to be dropped off directly in front of my hotel, the Russell Hotel in the historic Rocks district. The Russell was recommended very highly by a local Internet friend Glenn and by my sister who had previously stayed there. I have to agree with them both and this was a fantastic relatively inexpensive place to stay in probably the best location in Sydney. The Russell is right at the foot of Circular Quay and the ferry terminal, almost across the street from the Passenger Ship terminal and in sight of both the Opera house and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The Russell is listed as a "small hotel" and could be almost called a large B & B. Staff was very friendly, and all the guests I encountered also enjoyed the atmosphere of a smaller hotel. I highly recommend you check into the Russell if you are visiting Sydney. Their website is: www.therussell.com.au
After getting settled in I met my Internet friend Glenn for the first time and he gave me a quick orientation tour around the Opera house and the Rocks district pointing out sights and making restaurant recommendations. After a bite to eat Glenn headed back to the office and I was on my own. The first thing I did was give myself a quick tour of the city by heading down George Street to the Sydney town and head for the observation level. Once on top I had a breathtaking view of the entire Sydney area. Also located here is the main shopping area along Pitt Street. Next stop was down to the Darling harbor area and finally back to my hotel. Over the course of the next week I would do this walk numerous times, from the ferry terminal down to Darling harbor is about a 20-25 minute walk, or a short ride by ferry. (just make sure you get on the right one, I took a short unexpected harbor tour when I got on the wrong one)!
Over the next few days I saw many of the sights Sydney had to offer. As the next day it was raining (and badly needed in the area) I decided to visit the Maritime Museum. This was very nice, and I did the full tour through both an Australian submarine and destroyer docked at the pier. After going through the sub I was sure glad that I would be sailing above the water rather than below it! When I woke up the next morning and the sun was shining I decided it would be a great day to take the ferry over to the beachside town of Manly. Ferries ran pretty frequently and I boarded one of the first ones over that day. After a 35-45 minute ride through the harbor we arrived in Manly. As it was a Saturday morning there were lots of families out enjoying the day wandering around and relaxing on the beach. During a short walk along the shore I noticed a large crowd on the beach and went over to investigate. Turns out it was a Charity event, and two person teams were to paddle in small inflatable rafts over to a nearby cove. All the participants were in some sort of costume with pirates, superman, a ballerina and one team in tuxedos in evidence. It sure was hilarious to watch them battle the surf right of the beach and then paddle across the water. Watching all the fun made for an enjoyable day.
The next day, Sunday, I headed across the harbor to Taronga Zoo. Be sure and purchase the combination ferry / admission ticket to save some money. Again because of the gorgeous weekend weather it was filled with many families and groups of kids out enjoying their time together. This a very nice zoo, it is built down a hillside and you take a cable car up to the top and sort of walk down the hill looking at the exhibits before ending up at the bottom and the ferry. This has fantastic views across the harbor looking back at Sydney and is nice place to spend at least a couple of hours. In the afternoon I headed down to the Darling Harbor area, which is a great meeting place. This area has lots of museums, the aquarium an IMAX theater and numerous restaurants, cafes and stores. It reminded me lot of the Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square area of San Francisco.
On Monday I explored more of the Rocks area and walked up o the top of the pylon of the Sydney harbor bridge. This is not the bridge climb where you go right to the top of the bridge but climb up inside the pylon for a nice view for about $5 instead of $150. That evening I again met Glenn and he drove me up to the Bond beach area where he had grown up. After showing me his old schools and home we had dinner a nice seaside pub and steakhouse.
Having a hotel in the Rocks district was very nice. This area had lots of restaurants and shops, and was only a very short walk to either the Opera House or the bridge. On the weekends the main street was closed to traffic and a craft market set up. Because of the holiday season there was also live music on Friday night. This was really nice to walk around and enjoy, and fantastic being just down the street from my hotel.
On Tues. I finally left the Sydney area and took a tour into the Blue Mountains. This was booked through the hotel and was with Dal Myles Tours. (wwwdalmylestours.com) An all day tour, this had a little bit of everything from a ferry ride, a stop at a wildlife park, and lots of scenic views, to a nice lunch. All in all a nice end to my Sydney visit.
I can't say enough about my visit to Sydney. This is a very friendly city with lots to see and do. The views of the harbor are stunning, especially at night. My hotel was in a perfect location to explore from, and close to the ferries and Opera house. If you can, make an effort to spend more than a day or two before any cruise.
I awoke on Wed 11/20 to see the HAL Prinsendam docked almost across the street from my hotel. The time had come to leave Sydney and start the cruise portion of my adventure The Prinsendam is smaller cruise ship at 38,000 tons, 673 feet long and a capacity of 794 passengers. As she was docked very close to the Russell it was easy to head over later that morning. The terminal is very small and embarkation was done differently than on any other cruise I've been on.
At the pier we went thru security and were directed directly onto the Prinsendam. Here we were all gathered into the main show lounge, the Queens Lounge. As we entered we were handed numbers and were then called in small groups to head to the pursers desk where the actual check-in took place. Because of the small passenger load this was a fairly easy straightforward procedure. It turns out that we only had about 550 passengers aboard for our cruise, I was told that previous segments had only between 250-350 aboard! This procedure worked out well but could have used a bit more announcements as to what was going on.
My cabin was a standard outside on the lowest deck (Dolphin) starboard and forward G409. Overall I found it to be a very nice cabin, one of the larger ones I've had on any cruise. This was the first time I've had a walk-in closet, it had lots of hanging space, a number of shelves and the safe. I actually put a small chair from the main cabin in here that I hadn't planned to use and the closet was still very roomy. The bathroom was immediately behind this and was also quite large. Again one of the largest showers I've ever had. From emails with others who had sailed on the Prinsendam it seems my bathroom had been remodeled with new tile, cabinets and fixtures just before my cruise and looked brand new. Very nice.
The rest of the cabin had twin beds, which I had made into a double, a small sofa, desk and a credenza housing the TV in the corner. Because of my forward location and the curve of the hull there was a small maybe 2' wide raised platform shelf between the room and the portholes in the ship side. This actually made the room seem larger and made a nice place to store my camera bag and misc. stuff. Overall decor was done with dark wood, which I liked a lot.
Cabin was pretty quiet, I only heard an unlatched door banging against a bulkhead one night in heavy seas. Otherwise I never heard any noise from the nearby cabins or the hallway.
Generally I thought that the ship was larger than I was expecting. I had sailed on the small Island Princess back in 1998 and was expecting something along that line but was pleasantly surprised. The ship was in very nice shape and I saw no signs that she was as old as she was. The only area under repair was the top forward deck where the carpeting was in the process of being removed for replacement. All interior areas were very nice, although much smaller than the bigger ships. I really liked the several open stern decks, as these were almost always deserted.
Finally we sailed from Sydney, but in a rain squall which made visibility very poor. Because of this the excitement of leaving the gorgeous Sydney harbor was not nearly what I had hoped. With the weather we had some heavy seas that day that carried on during the next sea day on the way to Melbourne. At least the sea day gave me time to get settled into my new home for the next couple of weeks.
The next morning under a blue sky we docked in Melbourne. The city center is located a short distance from the pier and there is a small rail line with trolley cars to take you into the city at minimal cost. As I had no real plans I just wandered around the city and along the riverfront. On the way back to the ship I went thru the Maritime Museum and the Exhibition Center complex, and visited the casino across the street. After another trolley ride I was back at the Prinsendam for a sail away at dinnertime.
Beauty Point, Tasmania
The next morning we docked in Beauty Point on the West coast of Tasmania. There is not much at the pier area and Holland America provided a free shuttle bus into the town of Launceston nearly 45 minutes away. Very nice HAL! The drive was thru gorgeous rolling green hills and along the inlet. This area was beautiful, one of the nicest on the entire cruise. Once in town I took a walk over to Cataract Gorge, about 1 1/2 miles from the town center. I had a nice time wandering around the gorge and associated gardens and was amused when the ship tours were rushed thru the same area in only a few minutes. And my tour was free! After this I headed back to the main downtown area where there were lots of locals out enjoying a beautiful Sat afternoon doing pre-Christmas shopping. Decorations were up and the main department store had lines to view their window displays. This was a very nice little town, and if the rest of Tasmania is as pretty I would not mind going back for a longer visit.
Sea days, Milford Sound
Next up was a couple of sea days heading over to New Zealand. The first day was OK but as we got closer to NZ it started to cloud up and the seas got a little rougher. The Prinsendam rode fairly well considering her size but you sure could tell she was moving around. On the second day HAL had us go thru NZ customs in one of the lounges, a very good idea that saved us having to do this before going ashore in our first port of call.
The next morning we arrived into Milford Sound to overcast skies and a light drizzle. This was a very impressive area with numerous waterfalls and it must be stunning in the sunshine. As it was it is still pretty spectacular even in the rain, very similar to areas I've visited in Alaska and Norway. As we sailed away later that morning we met some really bad weather. Winds picked up into the 60-70 knot range and the seas built higher. Boy was the ship moving around for a while :) Later that afternoon the Captain detoured into a sheltered passage to give a smoother ride but that was only a short relief.
Port Chalmers (Dunedin)
On the strong recommendation of several friends I booked a tour on the Taieri Gorge Railway. After a short ride from the ship to the station we boarded the train for our tour. The train was nicely restored and the guides were very helpful pointing out sights and talking about the local history. The scenery was spectacular as we rode thru the canyons and over many viaducts. After a couple hour ride we reached the end of the line and were then loaded onto buses for the trip back to Dunedin. Before being returned to the ship the driver gave us a nice tour throughout the city. One place that looked gorgeous was the main Railway station, sure wish I could have stopped to walk thru it.
Another day, another train ride. Today I took the Tranz Alpine Express train tour, a full day excursion. This was a modern train compared to yesterdays in Dundein and after an hour or so ride we entered the mountains. As we climbed thru the alpine scenery to Arthurs Pass I spent most of the time on the outside platform between cars taking photos. At the pass we were then transferred to buses and driven to a large tent set up in a field in an alpine valley and the scenery was beautiful. Lunch was a very good buffet and the timing was perfect as 5 minutes after we boarded the buses for the trip back to the ship it started raining. After a couple hour ride thru the spectacular NZ countryside we reached Christchurch for a quick tour thru the city. Part of the fun today was trying to pick out the areas that parts of the Lord of the Rings had been filmed in. I can sure see why New Zealand was picked for the location of this film.
After two full days of tours I decided to take a break and just walk around town. Picton is a pretty small town with only a few streets, and I ended up hiking up a trail along a ridge across from the ship to a nice viewpoint in a park. Very nice view back to the ship and down the Queen Charlotte Sound, all in all a nice relaxing afternoon.
This was a very nice town, it has some of the best weather in NZ and is a popular local destination. HAL again offered a free shuttle into town, a nice touch. As it was a Saturday there was a big craft / flea market in one of the downtown squares that was fun to wander about. Lots of people were about enjoying the day out at all the sidewalk cafes. I had a nice stop at the local Holden car dealership checking out the cars and picking up brochures for friends back home.
As this was a Sunday I figured it would be a good time for another tour. After hearing from other passengers about their quad bike tour the previous day I signed up for the Farm Adventure by Quad bike. This turned out to be great and one of the better tours on all my cruises. We were taken to the starting point on a farm about 1/2 hour from the ship. After a comprehensive 30 minute training/safety lesson on the quads we were off thru the countryside. Riding along dirt trails along the ridge tops and thru gorgeous green hills filled with sheep was fantastic. Eventually we made our way right down to the beach for a shore side snack. After this our time was up and we had to head back. This was a fantastic couple of hours and everyone really enjoyed the tour. Rider/drivers ranged from about 20-70 years old and the one older woman did a great job. She had a huge smile on her face to have done this herself. I was very impressed by the whole operation and the guides and highly recommend them. They are All Track adventures and their website is www.alltrack.co.nz
After this tour I spent some time in the city itself. Main highlight was the Wellington cable car with great views of the city and harbor area. The ship was docked right downtown and it sure was nice to be able to walk right off the ship and be in town.
This town is famous for its Art Deco buildings but I didn't find it anything special. It was a nice town and had a nice downtown shopping street. I wandered out to the edge of town and again found several car dealerships to visit. Very interesting to compare the cars available here versus those at home in the USA.
Tour time again, I booked the full day Fascinating Rotorua tour. This one had a little bit of everything. After leaving Tauranga, itself a holiday resort destination for the locals, we headed to Rotora. First stop was at the Agrodome for a sheep shearing demonstration and display of the many types of sheep. After this was a buffet lunch and a Maori dance show. Following this was a tour thru the thermal reserve called Te Whakarewarewa. This area had mud pots, hot pools and geysers along with a Maori art display. Finally after a long day we headed back to the ship. This whole area has a huge amount of tourists and there was lots to see and do.
Interesting to note that while we were sailing away I noticed a lot of activity on a pier about 1/2 mile behind us. There was a lot of flashing lights, and then a fire truck started shooting water onto a freighter. It was shortly joined by a fireboat and for the 10-15 minutes they were in view continued pumping water onto this ship. The next day I asked one of the shore excursion people about it and they called the bridge to inquire about it. Turns out it was just a harbor fire drill but it sure looked real to me!
Bay of Islands
Finally our last port of call, as the cruise is coming to an end. This was our only tender port and it was handled well with little waiting. Of course with only 500+ passengers how long could the lines be? The tenders dropped us off in the very little town of Russell, the smallest of all those we visited. This really only had one street and there was not much activity even with the passengers from the ship in town.. I boarded the local ferry for a short 15 minute ride across the bay to the town of Paiha as it was a bigger town. Once ashore I walked along the waters edge heading towards a shipwreck museum only to find it was undergoing restoration. Oh well, it was a nice walk. Back in town I had lunch and shopped for some final souvenirs. This was a nice little town along with Russell, and a nice end to the cruise
The next morning we were in Auckland for the end of the cruise. This ended up be one of the most disorganized disembarking I've experienced. I can't really blame HAL so much as the local port facilities as we got off the ship fairly quickly. The problem then was the lack of sufficient luggage carts. After waiting almost 1/2 hour after finding the luggage I finally left the pier by taxi for my post cruise hotel. Again not really HAL's fault but they should have been aware of the problem, I can't imagine the chaos when a larger ship arrives.
Misc. Cruise thoughts
Because its such a personal preference I won't go into many details on the food as everybody likes something different, let's just say I didn't go hungry. I ate about 1/2 the dinners in the main dining room and the other 1/2 in the evening alternative Lido option. I was happy with service and food in both places and have no real complaints. The Lido was very under used and few people seemed to take advantage of this option. It was open from 6:30pm - 8:00pm every night and when I would go in around 7:00pm I was usually # 7 or # 8 to be seated. Granted our cruise was pretty empty but this is sad that so few took advantage of this excellent option.
One thing that I did love was the ice cream / cookie bar that was open twice daily. After about the second day aboard I was nicknamed the "cookie monster" as every time I passed by I had to grab a couple! The chef for these sure had the right recipes, they were very good. The free ice cream is a very popular feature on HAL and I ate more than my fair share.
The entertainment was not to my taste, and this was also the case on my previous HAL cruises. They were well received by most other passengers but just not my style. I did like the fact that even on such a small ship there was a separate movie theater but this was also frequently empty. I doubt I attended a showing with more than a dozen people, and once was the only person watching the movie. Because of the low passenger count other activities were also frequently canceled because of poor attendance. I sat thru several port/shore excursion talks where there were less than 10 people in the lounge. On another day I saw bingo being canceled because there were not enough players, and the newlywed game at its start had 4 couples on stage and 4 couples in the audience!
Overall I really liked the Prinsendam, I think I prefer the smaller size ships. It sure makes getting around easy and going from one location to another very quick. There was lots of exterior viewing areas, and a full walk around promenade deck. The tiered stern decks were a nice place to be sheltered from the weather but still open to the air. I also think the crew on the smaller ships seem to be friendlier, probably because they can become more familiar with the small number of guests. I would sail on her again, and think she would be a great ship for Alaska where the small size gets you more "up close and personal" to the scenery
Post Cruise Auckland
After the cruise ended I spent another week in Auckland, the main goal being to experience the semi finals of the Louis Vitton Cup portion of the Americas Cup action. My hotel was the New President Hotel, chosen for a central location and fairly inexpensive price. While nothing fancy it was a decent room for the price and only a 5-10 minute walk down to the Americas Cup village.
For the first couple of days I went sightseeing around Auckland. While certainly not nearly as nice as Sydney it did have some nice attractions. My hotel was only about 1 block from the Sky Tower/Casino and it offered a great view of the city and bay. Sure was interesting to watch them doing a bungee type jump off the top! The Auckland Museum was a great stop and has three floors filled with interesting exhibits. Well worth a stop here. On day I took the city bus up to Kelly Tarltons Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World and while this was OK I wish that I had gone to the Sydney Aquarium instead. The Maritime Museum located in the Americas Cup Village was a great stop, and it sure is fun to walk around looking at all the huge yachts in for the Cup action. All of the different Americas Cup syndicates had their bases along here and it was interesting to check out their operations and shops. This is a great gathering place to watch the yachts as they left in the morning and later when they returned after the races.
I did go out on the water twice to watch the racing. The first day I went out with Fullers, one of the large ferry companies offering this option. We went out on a large modern ferry and had a great location right on the starting line for the racing. Very exciting to watch the Americas Cup yachts sail among the spectator fleet in the pre race sequence. Actually seeing and hearing, them in person is really something. Just how quickly they can change sails and turn has to be seen to be believed. As the start of the race approached the winds built to over the upper limit and that days' racing was canceled so we headed back in with the rest of the fleet. I was a little disappointed, but had seen a lot of action anyway and already had another outing planned.
Two days later I was out again, but on a different vessel. This time I was on the Soren Larsen, a 145 foot square rigged Brigantine. While we were never actually under sail this was a fantastic experience and a great day on the water. You can take an actual cruise on this ship and participate in sailing the vessel as it is active year round, the schedule was adjusted to be in Auckland for the Americas Cup action. Actually several of the crew had sailed as passenger and loved it some much they are now part of the full time live aboard crew! This was an all day adventure as we sailed about 9:00 am and did not return to the pier until about 6:00 pm. Lunch and several snacks were served throughout the day and I had a blast. I was given a hard time by most of the locals as I was the only American aboard and the US boats both lost that day but it was all in good fun. Check out the website at www.sorenlarsen.co.nz for lots of information on the history of this ship and some great photos of her under sail. She has been featured in a lot of TV and movies and is actually the only square rigged ship to round Cape Horn under sail in almost the last 100 years.
This was the last day of my month long adventure "Down Under" and I was sorry to head back home. It had been a great 30 days, with the week in Sydney being a major highlight. I will get back here someday and spent much more time in both Sydney and New Zealand.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Count Florida New York to Amsterdam June 3, 2002
Holland American MV Prinsendam - Other Destination - see details in review Dates: June 3, 2002 from New York to Southampton 6/13/02, Copenhagen 6/26/02, and Amsterdam 710/02 Review by Count Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org) INAUGURAL VOYAGES OF HOLLAND-AMERICAN'S PRINSENDAM Many passengers on the first few voyages of Holland-American Line's Prinsendam believed (some had read ) that it was a new ship. Most, however, seemed aware it was the former Royal Viking (later Seabourn) Sun, supposedly comprehensively overhauled and refurbished. Both views were mistaken, or perhaps, mislead. It's well-advertised 2002 overhaul was neither comprehensive or complete when on June 3, 2002, the ship sailed from New York bound for Southampton via Halifax, Cobh and Plymouth. Holland-American had taken the Sun and attempted to transform it into their "Elegant Explorer". It might be an explorer, but it's not very elegant.
The Sun was one of the world's most luxurious ships 10-12 years ago. Today, even after overhaul, it is a tired, somewhat worn-down dowager of a ship with new engines and refurbished public spaces. The loyal Holland-American crew tried to cope with its numerous problems andlimitations, but nothing could overcome the hyped up expectations that resulted in a full ship on the inaugural crossing and the third leg through the Baltic on 6/26. My wife and I endured a standard cabin on Main (6) deck for the first three cruises of the Prinsendam: Transatlantic, European Highlights, and Baltic Summer, June 3rd to July 10th. There is limited storage space in this type of cabin, just four small drawers and a narrow tower of shelves in the closet, mainly to hold the safe.
The condition of some cabins was appalling. A couple at our table, with several hundred days cruising on Holland-American and the medallions to show for it, were almost flooded out of their penthouse suite. The woman had an expensive designer handbag ruined, and the carpet was damp and musty-smelling for much of the rest of the crossing. While she was finally compensated (a credit to her on-board account), they told us the ship was nothing like the usual Holland-American cruise experience. This theme was repeated numerous times by others, including one honest ship's officer and many crew members. Perhaps the Prinsendam is the exception.
When we boarded this supposedly "completely refurbished" ship, our cabin was shabby - worn carpet, chipped furniture, and two dilapidated-looking single beds rather than the queen configuration requested. Worse yet, there was hair all over the very small (barely adequate) bath, and nail clippings on the rug in the cabin. My wife just despises hair and personal filth! It took our room steward a couple of days to get us ice, almost a week to find us a bath mat, and the cabin was always stuffy no matter what was done to the thermostat.
While service in the dining room was quite good, in the Lido it was marginal, and on occasion we heard crew complaining that the Lido's kitchen and buffet facilities were not able to handle the number of passengers on board. At peak times, you had to hunt or wait to find a place to sit. More than one crew member told us the cooks in the Lido were furious over the wretched situation. Initially, room service was just awful. We had breakfast in our cabin most mornings. Every morning for the first six or seven days something was wrong. No bread or rolls one morning. No butter another. Then they brought an empty coffee pot! Often, the cream we ordered came as low-fat milk. After a while, things improved, but the service was never up to the standards we are used to, not nearly. Overall, the quality and variety of the food was pretty good on the crossing, but seemed to deteriorate thereafter, possibly because the menu repeated each segment. Perhaps the best testament to the food is I actually lost weight on this extended cruise! Unbelievable; but there is a first time for everything.
The alternate restaurant, the Odyssey, was good, but the menu was limited and remained static for the entire 37 days of all three cruises. And it made the Prinsendam a two-class ship: passengers in suites could eat breakfast and lunch in the Odyssey, while the rest of us were allowed in only for dinner, and then if and only if there was room after suite passengers had been accommodated. After a month-long round-the-world cruise experience in Grill class on Cunard's QE2, we would not knowingly have booked again on a ship with class distinctions. One table-mate enjoying a suite (not the ones with the flood) often mentioned how relaxed the Odyssey was at breakfast or lunch, rubbing in the contrast with the long lines and scarce seating in the Lido. Tipped off by our astute travel agent, we managed to eat dinner in the Odyssey twice, once on each of the first two legs. We didn't even try to make reservations the third cruise; there was nothing else on Odyssey's menu we wanted to try.
Perhaps the most annoying part was the constant "nickel and dimeing" and over-charging we faced throughout the trip. The tours seemed expensive, compared to what we've paid on other cruise lines as recently as April-May of this year. The quality of these high-priced tours, particularly the food and busses or trains, left much to be desired. On board, a coke or a small bottle of water, even with a meal, cost $1.95. A liter bottle of water in your cabin was $2.00 some times, $2.50 others. They charged $5. for a single shot of Doubonet. I've been drinking Doubonet before dinner for more than thirty years, off and on, but have never once seen it poured using a shot glass before! A liter bottle of Doubonet cost us just over $8. in a small (taxed) grocery store in Ireland. We stocked up on beer, tonic and snacks in Halifax, then picked up some reasonably priced gin in the ship's store. That, and a couple of timely wine purchases ashore took care of our basic needs.
Shipboard computer access to the Internet was 75¢ a minute! When you read the small print, it turned out that rate was for any use of a computer! Not just when you are accessing the internet. Any use. They didn't even have Word or Excel installed! "Use WordPad", the attendant said! Simply outrageous! We were able to access the Internet in most ports at usually reasonable cost, not more than a dollar or two per hour. The ultimate fleecing came when they started charging $5.00 per person each way for the port shuttle on the third (Baltic) leg of our cruise. In one port, better public transport for the same trip was five Swedish Krone, about .55 cents US! We learned to ride local trams and busses, and walked a lot. A healthier alternative.
Holland-American offers a number of "deals", so many pieces of laundry, a number of bottles of wine, etc., for one price. I signed up for 100 minutes of "internet time" on one of these deals, only to learn the real facts when I read the fine print (see above). Our gripe is that multi-segment guests couldn't carry over unused allocations to subsequent segments; everything was based on each individual cruise segment. We personally discussed this with the ship's hotel director. He made it very clear that each cruise stood on its own, no matter how long you stayed on board, no discussion. They had to balance their records and accounts! The bean-counters win again!
A lot of critical things on board were broken, and no one seemed able to fix them. The sprinkler system leaked. We never saw the four elevators working all at the same time. Often two or even three would be out of service. And four elevators is not nearly enough for a ship with nearly 800 passengers, many of whom are elderly and unable to manage the stairs. Only the forward elevators went to four deck and the tenders. When the plight of a wheelchair-bound guest unable to get to the tenders because both forward elevators were out of service was reported to a front desk Guest Services staffer, she said, "Thank you, sir, We'll take care of that right away" then promptly went back to counting stamps! You could hear the poor woman crying in the Atrium from a floor away - she had apparently been abandoned or trapped there. Even after a complaint to the hotel director, including the staffers' name with the time and full particulars, nothing changed at the front desk; it remained unresponsive and defensive. They couldn't even get a guest's name right; not even after three tries!
Our cabin was on Main (6) Deck next to the gangway, amidships on the port side. We had complained and asked to be assigned another cabin weeks before embarkation, to no avail. The gang-plank squealed like it was corroded or worse. Everywhere we docked with the port side to the pier, we were awakened (often quite early) to the sound of doors banging, motors running, and the gang-plank bumping and screeching. My wife never found the clothes washers all working at the same time, so there was often a long wait. On the crossing, there was no place in the laundry to sit while waiting, and one of the two irons was broken.
Leaving Copenhagen June 26th after a late sailing, we were awakened just before 2 AM by a loud screeching noise; it sounded just awful. Turned out to be the pilot boat, scraping its tire-bumpers along the hull as it nudged alongside to pick up the pilot, and lasted ± five minutes. Another night the smoke detector in our cabin went off around 3 AM. Never did find out why, but it sure was loud. It also went off occasionally when you took a shower. When we complained, we were told they were "sensitive" for our protection. Hard to believe.
I don't want to give the impression that everything was awful; it wasn't. The itinerary was well planned and quite interesting. We had a complete if quick look at a part of the world we hadn't seen before, guided by a truly outstanding port lecturer. The overwhelming majority of the crew tried to make the trip comfortable and enjoyable. The casino used the more reasonable American blackjack rules, and the team there was friendly and helpful. Many of the problems were perhaps beyond anyone on board's ability to fix, given the schedule. The ship clearly needed more time in rehab; many tasks just weren't finished when she left Charleston for her New York "inaugural". The crew also needed more time to become familiar with the ship and work out its kinks. Holland-American should have been more candid, in both its literature and touting, that the Prinsendam was a rehabilitated, 14 year old ship. When you pay a premium, you expect a superior product. They did not deliver!
What we did manage to get out of all this was an interesting overview of western and northern Europe. The initial attraction for us was a comprehensive tour where you moved into one room (cabin) and it moved with you. Our "tour" left from New York, called at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and included two ports each in Ireland, England, France, Spain, Norway and Denmark, three in Sweden, with single port calls in Northern Ireland, Finland, Russia (overnight), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Germany. After transiting the Kiel Canal, it finally ended 37 days later in Amsterdam, Netherlands. We didn't enjoy every port; in fact, we would have passed by some for more time in others. Two ports per country seemed about right. Applying that to Sweden, by-passing either Visby or Kalmar would have allowed an overnight in Stockholm; a single day there is not nearly enough. Having both Ireland port calls on its south coast (Cobh and Waterford) was a waste. Substituting Dublin for Waterford (normally a tender port) would have been a lot better. We left Oslo too early to see that city properly; early morning flights of departing passengers from Copenhagen apparently forced that decision. Too bad.
Although port calls in each of the Baltic states seemed an attractive feature of the itinerary, they proved to be a repetitive disappointment, particularly right after the splendors of St. Petersburg. Two days in St. Petersburg was not enough either, even though the Russian visa "squeeze" limited us to the overly expensive ship's tours. Other lines spend three days (two nights) in St. Petersburg, and have more and better tour offerings. This city was the site of one of the most heroic siege defenses in all history: 900 days during World War II. Some lines offer tours highlighting this epic struggle, but none was available from Holland-American, unfortunately.
Based on our experience, the tours available seemed highly overpriced. From Belfast, the ship's full day tour to the Giant Causeway with lunch was $122 per person. Four of us went on the pier and rented a taxi with driver for about five hours, got a two-part tour of Belfast on the way out and in, plus the Giant Causeway for $120. A nice two-course lunch with drinks at the Bushmills Inn, the same place the tour ate, cost my wife and I $45. with tip. We had time for shopping in downtown Belfast where the taxi dropped us at the end of our tour. We saw more in less time at less than half the cost, even viewing some fallout from "the troubles": bricks in the street and nasty signs. The only glitch was the return shuttle bus was not where the ship's tour office said it would be. I spotted and flagged it down at a traffic light, but others weren't so lucky. The tour office on board was good at selling tours, but hard to find open. The saving grace was Frank, the port lecturer, a truly amazing man. What a font of knowledge! His advice was invariably accurate, unbiased, comprehensive and witty. Bravo!
Overall, there were a number of good tours, including the one to Kinsale from Cobh, the hastily arranged tour to Stonehenge and Salisbury from Southampton, the tour of Bilbao and its new museum, and the Hermitage at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. After taking a wine country tour from Bordeaux, we were skeptical of the price vs. value, and especially careful about booking . On the Bordeaux tour, the bus was uncomfortable, the guide poor, and the winery awful. We were given a single glass of a white wine which I suspect didn't sell very well.
The worst tour rip-off was the 13½ hour tour to Berlin from Warnemunde at $298 per person. The train was old and shabby, much like parts of the ship. The "snacks" provided were awful. They didn't even have coffee on the train, which left at 7:30 AM. Our guide in Berlin was an archetypical German, straight by the book. He seemed inexperienced, and stood faced back into the bus instead of sitting facing forward, paying attention to where we were, and commenting on what we were actually seeing. Consequently, his talk was often out of sync with what we were passing, but he rigidly stuck to his script, even when passengers asked what he was talking about. He gave us long break at the Brandenburg Gate, which you couldn't even see as it was being repaired, shrouded in a huge ad! This caused us to fall behind schedule, so he by-passed the Reichstag, one of the more interesting sights, to insure we were on time for lunch! No German is late! Ever! It is Verboten!
After lunch we had a break in a shopping district, but it was Sunday. Stores aren't open in Germany on Sunday. We could window shop. It was just a little too far away from a lively, interesting looking flea market we had passed to get there and back, independently during the break. Why not take our break there? Absolutely not! Why, someone might enjoy themselves and forget the time! The final indignity occurred when they took us back out to East Berlin to catch the train to Warnemunde. Wait! First, we had to pick up the passengers who took the longer Berlin tour ending in Potsdam, far to the west. So for an hour and a half we rode around Berlin, through what seemed an endless train yard, to the Potsdam station. Only then could we begin the 2½ hour trek back to the ship at Warnemunde! The "snack" on the way back (which the hotel director personally told me would be "substantial"), was a stale bagel with less than a smear of cheese and wilted lettuce, with juice, a piece of candy and fruit. An unpleasant end to a long, disappointing day in a very interesting city. The good news was they kept the Lido open so we could get a bite to eat when we finally got back on board.
The tours in St. Petersburg were quite good, particularly the Hermitage. This is a truly magnificent building, full of impressive art and artifacts, many with interesting stories. The quirk was that our guide, usually quite thorough, basically refused to guide us through the modern (20th century) galleries at the back of the building. She told us we could walk through them and meet her at the far end in 20 minutes or so. Then she disappeared. Later I asked her why, but got no real answer. I suspect she felt the modern pieces aren't real art. Next day, the tour of Imperial St. Petersburg with hydrofoil (boat) ride on the Neva River to Petrohof was interesting but a little too long. The bus driver nearly flew on the way back; I guess they were afraid we'd miss the boat.
Earlier, the tour of Bilbao and its new Frank Gerry-designed titanium sheeted Guggenheim Museum was fascinating. Bilbao is a really intriguing urban setting with many squares surrounded by four and five story buildings. At street level are shops and other retail businesses. On the floor just above are professional offices, above that are apartments. Just the mix that makes for a lively, livable city! The spectacular museum seems to have acted as a catalyst to bring Bilbao to life. In this new museum are many interesting pieces. We've visited the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Massachusetts MOMA in North Adams in the past two years. Both are spectacular spaces, without much to show in them yet. Bilbao's Guggenheim doesn't have this shortcoming. I'd like to go back and see more of Bilbao. Another highlight was the day-long transit of the Kiel Canal, which separates Denmark and the Jutland peninsula from the bulk of Germany. All in all, a nice day.
This extended tour confirmed our strategy of getting away from the crowd, going off on our own, or with another couple, and exploring. We did that a lot; basically we saw Scandinavia that way. The cities, museums, and historical sites, the castles and fortresses. But mainly the people. We ate and drank in street cafes and watched them go by. We rode the trams and walked the shopping streets, looking for bargains, and even did some bargaining ourselves. We saw lots of nice, attractive people. Many spoke English. Never a problem in Scandinavia, and even in France we got by without a hassle. We found tours sold on the ship were often available ashore for as little as half the on-board cost. Better, we found compatible English-speaking taxi drivers, and listening to what they thought was the best use of our time. If we liked what we heard, we hired them to show it to us. That worked well. The only glitch was in Amsterdam, where the highly touted Floriade, a once-in-ten-year flower show, turned out to be over-rated and over-priced, not worth even a side trip. The canal tour there, even though recorded sequentially in five languages, was interesting, and the walk back from Central Station to our hotel on the Prinsengracht near the Anne Frank House, a must see itself, was even better.
We found the Anne Frank House open evenings, allowing us to avoid the long lines seen earlier in the day. Touring the house where eight people hid from the Nazis for more than two years, experiencing the feel and size of the spaces where they lived, ate, slept, etc., is a moving, truly unsettling experience. The excerpts from this young girl's diary in the exhibits were particularly effective in conveying the essence of the experience. It forces you to wonder how a civilized people could allow such things to happen, let alone actually do them. Hitler and his henchmen didn't personally carry out these atrocities, the German people and their cohorts in, for example, Norway, Holland and Eastern Europe did. The place stopped us cold, it was just simply frightening.
After this emotional stop, we had dinner at "Moeders", a nearby Dutch restaurant where we shared a huge sampler-type meal with beer, wonderfully served by three charming, over-worked but cheerful women. This was our last night away, and a good finale to our overly long trip. We were really happy to be home the next night!
We've traveled widely, and had earlier cruised with Cunard twice, Celebrity once, and Radisson three times. We've never been as dissatisfied or disillusioned as we are after this trip. Travel is just getting to be too much of a hassle to be enjoyable. Not only was the cruise disappointing, but the five star "preferred hotel" I selected in Amsterdam and the business class flight home were both at best second-rate, if that. We were awakened by bright sunlight leaking around the drapes in the Pulitzer Hotel before 6 AM both mornings, even after we asked to have them fixed. Many of the towels in this so-called "luxury" hotel were threadbare. On the 9½ hour Martinair business class flight to Orlando, we were stuffed into very tight seats with limited legroom and atrocious food. Orlando international arrivals is a debilitating, two-stage, delay-prone trial, even if you're rested and fit, which I wasn't and am not.
I do lots of research, both on-line (Internet), by talking to people: fellow cruisers and travel agents, and by reading everything I can get my hands on. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I sure was fooled this time. So we're re-thinking our future travel and cruise plans. Right now, our planned 30+ day trans-Pacific cruise to Australia this fall or next winter is on hold, indefinitely. Perhaps a summer place in the Adirondacks is a better use of our discretionary dollars, vs. the frequent traveling we've been spending them on.
In our opinion, the June 3 - July 12 inaugural voyages of Holland American's Prinsendam from New York to Southampton, then around western Europe to Copenhagen, and finally through the Baltic and on to Amsterdam, was nearer an ordeal than the wonderful vacation we had planned and anticipated. My wife's been known to be tartly critical before, but this time her terse opinion is right on the mark: a bummer!