This was our second cruise on HAL, and my ninth overall. Our previous sailing on HAL was aboard the Zuiderdam, a much larger ship sailing to the Eastern Caribbean. We booked this cruise largely for its unique Mediterranean itinerary, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that while the Rotterdam was older (1997) and smaller (59,000 tons), it was in excellent shape and a lot more to our liking. The ship was recently dry-docked and received the Signature of Excellence upgrades. We were told more than $25 million was spent refreshing the ship and cabins.
I did a lot of research on embarkation in Venice, as I had read many complicated stories about it. We flew in a few days before, and found it relatively easy to get to the terminal. From Piazzale Roma, free shuttles were available to the cruise ship terminal. When we walked over to the luggage hangar to drop our bags, the dispatcher told us we should leave a tip for the porters, which we did. I don't know if that mattered, but when we got to our cabin, all four bags were there! After luggage drop-off,we walked to the terminal for registration. The line to the counter was fairly short, and if you had completed the immigration form online, you went to a counter immediately. They gave us a number and we sat in the waiting area for an hour and a half before it was called. But after that, everything was quick: They took our picture for the ID card, collected our passports, took the usual souvenir picture and that was it. A shuttle took us to the ship. Once on board, we were in our cabin within five minutes.
After settling into our cabin and a quick lunch at the Lido, we found a spot on Sports Deck for the sail-away. You MUST be out to see Venice as the ship sets sail around the island and out the lagoon. It is incredible. Barbara, the port lecturer, narrated the passage on the PA. To sail past Piazza San Marco is a view you do not want to miss. After a while, we went down to the Lido and found a table by the windows where we looked at the scenery until 7 p.m. The lagoon, the islands, small fishing boats -- everything about this sail-away was fascinating!
We booked a guaranteed F category cabin, and about 10 days before the cruise, we were assigned a category E cabin on Dolphin deck 1, cabin 1831. We weren't thrilled about being on the bottom deck, but it turned out to be a great cabin in a great location -- close to the forward elevators and one flight of stairs from the gangway! The cabin was very spacious. All cabins have the Signature of Excellence upgrades, including a flat-screen TV, DVD player (great to view your pictures once you had them transferred onto a CD), new Egyptian cotton linens and plush towels, and new Euro-top mattress. The new beds are wonderful -- extra thick with a wonderful padding. Terry robes were already in the room as well as a basket of fresh fruits that was replenished daily. There are plenty of closets: three closets for hangers, two with shelves, a desk with three drawers plus two night tables with two locking drawers! The room has a safe but no refrigerator. The cabin was very comfortable and we loved everything about it.
Our cabin steward Hermanto introduced himself as soon as we returned from a quick tour of the ship and lunch at the Lido. He was very friendly and always helpful when we needed anything. Also we really enjoyed the towel animals - I know some people find them silly, but I was anxious to get back to the cabin every night just to see who would be greeting us. I have to admit I kept the elephant for a few days. It was just too cute!
I had booked the Pinnacle Grill for the first night. What a treat that was! Our team of waiters was very friendly and extremely professional. After they showed us the various cuts of meat, we opted for the Petite Filet Mignon. First, we received a plate of amuse-bouches, a Chef's special, presented on three porcelain spoons: a vegetable sushi, a salmon tartare with caviar, and a walnut cheese. It was exquisite. Our appetizers followed: clam chowder and crab cakes - delicious. Our filet mignon was cooked to perfection and was very flavorful, which is not always the case. It was served with a delicious béarnaise sauce along with grilled mushrooms, asparagus and scalloped potatoes. Everything was extremely tasty. We didn't have room for dessert, but we had heard so much about the chocolate volcano cake that we had to have it. And we didn't regret it! It was exquisite.
We loved the Rotterdam! Our only other HAL cruise was on the Zuiderdam last August; while we enjoyed that cruise and our aft cabin, we fell in love with the Rotterdam. Due to its smaller size, the ship is much more manageable. The décor is classy, with lots of lounges and public spaces. The new Exploration Café is awesome -- filled with great books, new releases, best sellers, travel books, atlases etc., the latest magazines and several Internet stations. It was a great place to sit and relax while browsing a great book. I love the memorabilia about HAL history, and the artwork representing the various Rotterdam ships. The ship felt like new thanks to the renovations.
The public restrooms were always spotless and never ran out of hand towels. There were fresh flowers on every table in every lounge, bar, restroom counter, and restaurant. There was an orchid on every table of the Lido, inside and around the pool area as well! The shops were larger than the one on the Zuiderdam, with an extensive collection of jewelry. The show lounge was accessible from Deck 4 and 5, and you had a great view no matter where you sat. The cinema was also very comfortable, and we heard it was also use for culinary demonstrations with a fully equipped kitchen behind the screen. We didn't attend any of the classes but heard it was very interesting.
Laundry facilities were available on Deck 3 and 4. We had no problem using them on sea days ($2 for washer, $1 for dryer - soap included). The atrium is on three levels and the big astronomical clock is a beauty. The Rotterdam is truly a classy ship and we would love to cruise her again.
La Fontaine Dining Room
Dinner: We requested and received a table for the Upper Main seating at 8 p.m., a perfect time for this port-intensive cruise. I don't know how people can make it to the earlier seating. We had requested a table for six but were given a table for two. That was a bit disappointing as we enjoy meeting new people and sharing our experiences. However, we did not request a change as we liked the location of our table, and were still able to fraternize with people in the tables close to ours. Our table, number 78, was around the mezzanine and we really enjoyed that as we could see the musicians during formal nights, and we could also see the set-up of the lower level and the entrance of all the guests.
Our waiter Henri and his assistant Sapto were very friendly, funny and extremely courteous and attentive. They remembered everything after the first night. They offered above average service: They de-boned our fish, arranged lobster tails etc., and we saw that not all waiters did that. The food was very good. There was a good variety every night; the food was creative, well prepared, tasty and flavorful, all signs of a good chef. The food was far superior to that on the Zuiderdam last August. The only area that was less than stellar was dessert; they weren't extraordinary but fine on average. However, there was a flambé every night in the dining room and every one we had was very good. I have to say that the lobster tails were exceptionally good -- Maine lobster as opposed to langouste; I had never had them so tender and sweet on any ship. I can only give two thumbs up for the dining room food. We had Dutch night, and two formal nights (our documents stated three formal nights).
Breakfast: We had breakfast in the dining room once. The service was good, and the eggs Benedict fair. They had a really good yogurt parfait!
We never made it to the dining room for lunch.
Lido Buffet and Grill
The Lido buffet was also very good. With 1,200 guests onboard, we never had to queue for the buffet. The breakfast fare was excellent: Smoked salmon was available most days, along with a build-your-own omelet station, pancakes, waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs and meats, etc. They had a fabulous Swiss Muesli made of oat, yogurt, honey and fruit that was to die for. Fresh fruits, baked goods, cold and hot cereals -- you couldn't ask for anything more. Moreover, the food was always hot.
Lunch was varied and always good. As per the tradition, they had the wonderful bread pudding every day for lunch! I just love that pudding doused in warm crème anglaise. Sometimes we opted for the Lido grill where they had hamburgers and hotdogs, pizza and a taco bar.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a full menu for room service, not only through the day but for breakfast as well. You could order pretty much anything you wanted hot or cold for breakfast. It was delivered on time, hot and fresh -- perfect for those early excursion days.
The main reason for choosing this cruise: From Venice we had a day at sea, then stopped in Messina where we visited Taormina. The next day took us to Civitavecchia, where we took a day excursion to the Etruscan villages of Tarquinia and Tuscania. At the next port of Livorno, we opted to see Pisa and Lucca. The next day was spent in Monte Carlo, then on to Ajaccio, Corsica, the home town of Napoleon and his family. Our next stop, Cagliari, Sardinia was a wonderful surprise. We had little expectation but discovered a beautiful island with warm people. The last port of call was Dubrovnik, Croatia, and I would certainly say they had saved the best for last. We loved it!
Overall, this was a perfect combination of a great and unusual itinerary, especially for those who have traveled a bit; and a great ship. The service, food and amenities on board Rotterdam are some of the best we've seen in the recent years, and we must command Captain Jan Smit for keeping his crew and staff focused on what is important!
European Tapestry on the Rotterdam.
This was our second cruise on Holland America. We chose it because of the great itinerary and the fact that we did enjoy our cruise on the Statendam to Hawaii in the spring of 2003. The ship's CDC rating was good (We always check the rating of a ship we are considering. Is it an integral part of our decision making.) We also read various reviews of the ship on various cruise sites, always taking into account the age, the number of cruises, the class of cabin and the kinds of comments from the reviewer before giving it any weight (It can be positive or negative, but if we notice a comment, for example, about the fact that the staff wasn't wearing white gloves, we will instantly discount anything written in the review). The number of positive and negative reviews will also influence our decision. Although, this can be a little tricky, because not everyone will post a review and not every review site can be read. However, if we can't find a good review of a ship and the sampling is good, then we willcertainly think twice about it. Finally, the price was right.
The cruise began in Copenhagen. (24th of July, 2004). We had purchased the HAL's transfer, flight and hotel package. The flight was on Air France from Montreal to Paris then onward to Copenhagen. (We live in Montreal) The flight was great and the service, on Economy class, was excellent. We met a HAL rep at the Copenhagen airport who took care of our luggage as we proceeded to be transferred to our The Scandic Hotel in downtown Copenhagen. We have already visited Copenhagen a few years ago and had stayed at the Hilton located at the Copenhagen Airport, but this hotel was excellent and located a few blocks away from Tivoli gardens. (The downtown location of the Scandic made it more convenient than the airport location, although the rail system to get to downtown from the airport is clean, efficient and relatively cheap.) We are not picky people, but we do have certain standards, especially my wife, and we were quite satisfied with the accommodations. (Note: We visited the Karen Blixen museum and it was well-worth it if you saw and enjoyed the movie Out of Africa or know of the literary work under her real name, Isak Deniesen. You can visit the museum's web site for the directions. It was quite easy to get there via the train and a short, local bus ride. (You can use the same ticket you purchased for the bus. The people at the information desk at the train station were also quite helpful.).
Embarkation: We had an early check-out and was given a city tour before boarding the ship. (No walking was required. Not that we mind any walking, but the comment might be of use to you.) While we had already seen much of the sights of the tour, it was still a good way to have another glimpse of this fine city. The embarkation process went smoothly with no major delays. The completion of the electronic information form sped this up at the check in. (It avoids someone at the desk having to write the information up while you are standing there.)
Our room on the Rotterdam was on the third level, overlooking the wrap-around, walking deck. No fear- You can see outside, but no one can see inside your cabin. It was centrally located had more space than the outside staterooms we had on our previous cruises. (Celebrity--Mercury and Millennium--- and the Statendam. It was also had more space than the outside room on the Crown Princess, but that one has been sold.). Storage space was above average. (We had four suitcases and two take-on luggage)
There was only a steward for our room. (That was also the case of the Statendam. On Celebrity, there was a main steward and his help.) However, we found our cabin service superior to what we had received so far on all five, previous cruises. This might be the luck of the draw, but we can only comment on what we experienced. (By the way, all our comments are from personal experience. We will avoid any third party stories, because personal ones are hard enough for you to digest.)
Having already cruised on HAL, we were familiar with the different rooms. (The Java Bar with it's free Lattes and the Wajang Theater with it's popcorn and first-rate movies being personal favorites of mine. My wife, who has edited this review, also enjoyed the suger-free cookies offered at the Java bar.) All the rooms, including the Lido and the Explorer lounge (with its afternoon high-tea), not to mention the Crow's Nest with its great views were all clean and well managed by the staff. Again, my wife-- the editor-- who is much more critical than I can be, without being picky, was quite satisfied with the overall ship.
The ship has around 1300 guests with 600 crew, so it's somewhere between the smaller ships and the new, mega liners that have twice as many of the same things and more walking. Although we don't mind the larger ships, for us, this was a nice size ship. Throw in the wrapped-around deck and you have it made. (Note: Bigger is not always better. Some people that we talked to seemed to be impressed by the size of a ship. That is definitely not our case.)
By the way, it has always amazed us that no matter what size of ship, there are always "private" places onboard to be found at most times.
Oslo, Norway: We had already visited this fine city, so we had forgone the HAL tours to go on our own. We suggest HAL tours for first-timers, unless you are well prepared to maximize your visit. Otherwise, we might just do a sight in proximity of the ship and call it a day.
We visited Vigeland Park, within Frogner park, that functions as a sculpture park and a public park. The life size sculptures found there (about 190 sculptures) are a sight to behold. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and the locals were soaking up the sun--- a blessing in this part of the world--- and it just made the whole experience for enjoyable. (Being on your own, you can easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the view.)
Dover, England: Never having been to London we decided upon the walking tour offered by HAL. We walked around BIG BEN, Trafalgar Square and Covent Gardens. We had some free time to have lunch and shop before taking a short bus ride to Kensington Palace where we visited the palace and the grounds. Lady Di's dresses are on display. We also checked out where Princess Margaret's lived. The ride to London from Dover was around 1:30 (This was during morning rush hour.) All in all, a fine way to introduce you to the city. (Although you only pass by Buckingham palace among other famous sites. The tour's description and amount of walking required were accurate on this occasion. (Not the case for all the tours, notably in Rome.) The tour delivered what we had bargained for: You can't ask for more than that.
Le Havre, France: We opted to visit Le Havre in the morning on our own and do a transfer to Honfleur in the afternoon. (Transfer: A coach bus drops you off at designated area and lets you roam around for 3 hours or so. There is a guide on board that provide some commentary along the way. The coach took the more scenic route to Honfleur on the way there and the more direct, and less interesting route on the way back to the ship. While getting there chewed 30 minutes from our time in Honfleur, it was, we believe, worth the interesting comments along the way.)
Le Havre is a quite little town with a nice museum approx. 30 minutes from the ship or a 8 Euros cab ride. (The museum at the time of our visit had works from Monet and Boudin.) It is a 8 Euros taxi ride from the ship. Being a francophone from Quebec, we did have a change to talk to some of the locals. It made the visit that much more interesting. As far as Honfleur is concerned, it is a little gem. Lots of stores and some nice museum. We could have easily spent the day and more. (Note: While we have never been to Paris, we had decided to opt out of taking any tours involving Paris, because it involved a 3 hour bus ride each way. It is a lot money just to have a photo op of the Eiffel Tower or to ride down the Seine in a bateau-mouche under a blazing sun.) We were quite satisfied with this day in Le Havre/Honfleur.
Vigo, Spain: This is a city where a lot of uphill walking is required. The old town near the pier offers a lot of shops and restaurants. I walked up to the top of the hill overlooking the city and got some great photos. It is the main park of the city. (My wife, the editor, decided to go back to ship after some touring of the old city.) No HAL tours attracted us, although with hindsight, a tour in the morning would have maximized our visit. (And it should be strongly advised if you don't like to walk uphill. and still have a taste of the city and its surroundings.) To be honest. while we like Spain, we would not have cried if this stop would have been omitted. (And another port added in its place.)
Lisbon, Portugal: Very hot day in Lisbon. Did not book a tour simply to cut costs. The ride was a free, one-way shuttle into the center of town where you hop on tour buses. The double-decker, you can get off and get back on at anytime for 15 Euros per person was our chosen means to visit the City. Because of the heat we only got off once and that was along the waterfront, at the famous monument of the Explorers and a 14th century castle. We took a taxi back to the ship. Next time we will opt for a HAL tour.
Barcelona, Spain: We have been there before and adore this city, so our comments might be a little bias. Then again, all the comments we got from our acquaintances on board ship were positive. We took a double-decker tour bus for part of the day, (15 Euros, but better planned than the one in Lisbon) and then wandered around town, stopping at a restaurant we had discovered during our previous stay for a bite of lunch. It was quite enjoyable. Beware: because of added security, the road leading back to the ship can be quite jammed. If you are on your own, make sure that you give yourself at least one hour to get to the ship. The walk to the ship is about 45 minutes from the Columbus Statue. There is a shuttle from the pier to the Columbus Statue, at the foot of Las Rambla. (The main pedestrian street that leads you up to the major square of the city where most of the tours busses are located.) The cost of the shuttle: 2,50 Euros, each, return. One sour point: There weren't any HAL reps around at the pier for those of us who had decided to go it alone. It would have been nice to have someone there to tell where the shuttle was parked etc. Not even a sign... Bottom line: We would there again in an heartbeat.
Monte-Carlo, Monaco: The playground of the rich and famous is indeed that. We had opted to go it alone, planning to visit the Oceanic museum and the church where Princess Grace is buried.
A lot of walking is involved to get up there and taxis are scares and costly. The information booth wasn't much help to us and while we were told, and had read, that there was a way to get up to the Castle (and the church and the museum) that included elevators, we had still taken the road that led to the center of the city and, more importantly, the longer and much steeper on foot, way up to the hill. So much for being prepared to not fall into that trap of marching into the city....:-)
Bottom line: It was worth a visit just for the Aquarium part of the Oceanic museum. A must. (Note: The tours on HAL did not stop and let you visit that museum.) My wife, the editor, would also have mentioned that visiting the church where Princess Grace was buried was also a must.)
Rome: We had booked the In the Footsteps of Rome tour, a ten-hour tour that included the roughly three hours bus ride, there and back. (We visited Rome on a Sunday, so traffic wasn't as bad as it could have been. However, most of the shops in the city were closed.) This was a "lot of walking" tour and it was scheduled to be a hot day, so my wife, the editor, opted out at the last minute, because she does not traditionally "perform well" under those conditions. (I had written something else, but my wife- the editor- did some editing.) She did a find a tour with less walking involved and decided to give it a go, not wanting to miss her chance to see Rome. However, while the information on the amount of walking involved was not, in her view and in the view of many on her tour, accurate. We checked the description of other tours with the same pictogram (Three men pictogram equals a lot of walking. Two men equals less than three and one man means minimal walking involved) and while her tour contained a two-man pictogram other tours with two-man pictograms contained the term "minor walking". We believe that there should have been a clearer indication that the alternative tour chosen by my wife containing this two-man pictogram actually included "some walking" to distinguish it from the other two-man pictograms that contained the term "minor walking". Otherwise, the tours with the minor walking comment should have been lumped with the one-man pictograms.
We did write a complaint to HAL on this. We were a little disappointed when the "we have no control because the tours are done by vendors" was provided to us at the tour desk onboard ship.
Give us a break HAL, YOU are responsible for those tours as if YOU conducted them. We would think that someone at HAL actually went on those tours and evaluated the walking time, taking into account how their customers base might find the walking time. My wife- the editor- also had an awful experience with the guide who seemed as tough as nails, but in my case, our guide was one of the best I have ever had. The sights were fantastic and a must to see again and again.
Bottom lines: My tour went as expected and was enjoyed from start to finish. (A nice snooze on the way back.) My wife- the editor- experience was less than enjoyable and a waste of hard-earned cash.
Lesson learned: Beware of men pictograms bearing false messages. :-)
Dubrovnik, Croatia: Took the half-day walking tour of the old, walled city and went on our own in the afternoon, walking from tower to tower on the city's walls. It's a minimum one hour walk around for a couple of Euros. Lots of walking and going up steps, but well-worth it for the photo op. My wife- the editor- that by now you might have guessed is not a great walker did not join me when I walked on the wall. Surprising little city. An interesting and gorgeous stop. Better than expected. A ton of shops that are a little more pricier, we were told, than in years gone by. The half-day walking tour's description was accurate. We also drove to the top of the hill overlooking the city for a brief photo op. This stop was by tender. (As was the Monaco stop.) Although using tenders is a little more time consuming, there is something about watching your ship anchored in the middle of the harbor.
Disembarkation: We docked in Athens along side the Westerdam and joined QM2, among other cruise ships that are being used as floating hotels during the Olympics. It was neat to see our ship back in while fireworks lit the skies. The disembarkation went smoothly for us, even though because of the time of flight and heighten security due to the Olympics, we had to disembark at 5:30 am. The 9 hour flight home to Montreal gave us ample time to sleep.
This and that: For the first time we did not attend any of the production shows offered, except for the crew two shows. After a few cruises, you realize the sameness of it all. We did not even attend the other shows. There were choices to be made and we made them.
We were the late supper crowd, and we preferred going to the movies instead or wind down (Imagine "winding down" on a cruise???) in the Crow's nest dancing.
The staff on the whole was fine. Very obliging.
The HAL's crowd was a healthy mix of people mainly in their 30's, 40's, 50's and plus. It was a younger crowd that on our last cruise on HAL to Hawaii, although we befriended a couple in their 70's that would put to shame some youngsters.
The food was better than expected. (Better than on the Statendam, last year and just as good as the food on our two Celebrity cruises) A good variety.
Finally, as usual, part of the fun for us (and the apprehension to some extend) is to meet people that will make up our table for supper. (We always take a table for 8). So far we have been lucky that the people we have met have been great. For the most part, we do not invade each other space during the day, but then share our daily experiences while having supper. On this cruise, we were quite fortunate to have met three diverse couples, one of them being a mother (who can tap dance!) and her daughter (who is from the school of shopping until you drop.) The stories shared were interesting to say the least and added to the overall satisfaction of this cruise.
The bottom of all bottom lines: My wife-the editor-has now put this cruise on the top of her list of all time best cruises and I've got it a close second. It was worth every penny. (Even though a percentage of it still needs to be paid. :-))
Have just returned from 30 day S. Pacific cruise staying in a Lanai stateroom. Guests contemplating booking this type of cabin should be aware that the motors to raise and lower the tender boats are located directly above SOME of these rooms. On our cruise, tenders were used in 8 out of 12 stops. Imagine the noise at 7:00 am when boats were lowered. The other problem is that these tenders require ongoing maintenance. When that occurs, you are 'evicted' from your reserved lanai deckchair. Just a word of warning to check the tender (not lifeboat) boat locations prior to booking.
1. Emergency (and non-emergency) phone numbers did not work on or about 6 September 2007 and on or about 12 September, or were printed incorrectly in HAL literature and prevented us from reaching HAL in Seattle or the MS Rotterdam:
(a). When we needed help with American Airlines late arrival and British Airlines baggage transfers, which HAL literature prominently promised to provide in just such a case as we faced: American Airlines arriving in London 1.5 hours late that caused us to miss the booked (and only available) connection.
(b). When we tried to notify ship of above.
(c). When TravelGuard doctor tried to phone back 12 Sept. after Rotterdam's medical department declined to involve in a medical emergency. (TravelGuard has documented this to us in writing.)
2. When we reached an emergency number late that day (6 September):
(a). It proved to be an Answering Service.
(b). "HAL won't provide help with luggage."
(c). "HAL won't provide help with airline connections."
3. When we reached a live HAL representative (Dianne) on 7 Sept., she said "Computers were out system-wide yesterday."
(a). She at least notified Rotterdam about our having to meet them in Istanbul. Bythen, apparently, our original cabin, 3314, had been assigned to someone else because we were placed eventually in 3328.
(b). However, nobody on board Rotterdam knew of that alleged computer failure (which is now the world's #1 excuse for bad service)! In fact, the Rotterdam's reservation person reported having used that system on the day it was reported to us to be "out."
4. Without divine or HAL intervention, we could not reach Athens before the Rotterdam sailed.
5. Therefore, we missed 2 days of sailing, eating, sleeping, vacationing, etc.
6. 8 Sept. 2007: Rotterdam Guest Relations Supervisor (GRS) assured us we should go on the planned day trip for which we had prepaid to Istanbul on Day 3 and she'd stay on top of the luggage problem; also that we did not have to shop Istanbul for new clothes and other belongings; she guaranteed our luggage would be on board by the time we returned. Period. No chance of a slip-up, no need for us to switch to a "Plan B."
(a). Luggage was delivered to 4 other passengers;
(b). Our luggage was not delivered, and the GRS was unaware of that fact until we called her attention to it! i.e. She had not stayed on top of the problem as promised.
(c). When GRS delivered the above bad news, I broke down with uncontrollable crying so severe that GRS volunteered to come to our cabin to assist. Others among the senior passenger representatives also were aware of this.
7. I was without clothing for approximately one week;
(a). Rotterdam shops had almost nothing suitable; We found:
i. 1 pair of men's shorts;
ii. 1 ill-fitting dress;
iii. 2 T-shirts (with HAL logos!);
iv. 1 long skirt unsuited to the above and Judi's one jacket top that she'd carried aboard.
v. The above cost us $172.30.
(b). Rotterdam's rep suggested solution: Express Laundry (in by 9, back by 5) which would have left Judi naked most of the day, and in violation of deportment regulations!;
(c). The situation was, at best, Humiliating!
i. I danced barefooted since my only shoes -- sneakers -- were utterly unsuited to dancing;
ii. I faced attending high holiday Rosh Hashanah services without proper clothes.
iii. I missed the Captain's cocktails out of embarrassment (as per note to Captain Smit);
(d). Emotionally distressing!
i. I consumed my maximum doses of pain killer for my spine condition during this stressful period and beyond;
ii. Rotterdam staff witnessed me breaking down into uncontrollable crying (when they reported they had not dealt properly to insure that my luggage made the ship on the day they promised) tried to offer me some of their own wardrobe, but none were nearly the right size!
iii. When lost luggage at long last arrived 12 Sept., my extra supply of essential, prescribed pain killer medication was missing from it;
iv. The Rotterdam's medical department was unable or unwilling to assist with obtaining a new supply of her prescribed pain killer when we first asked them; later they relented (after the TravelGuard insurance doctors were unable to reach us because of HAL's bad electronic service or improperly printed numbers), but charged for their assistance ($25).
8. Franklynn was without vital items for 7 days and subjected to extreme stress.
(a). He and Judi were unable to cohabit due to the lost luggage;
(b). He could not recharge his cameras' or back-up storage system's batteries without the missing luggage;
(c). He could not wear his contact lenses;
(d). He was obliged to become fulltime care-giver, because of my fragile condition brought on by the lost luggage, instead of vacationer;
(e). He required medical attention upon return to the USA because of the stress;
9. We found HAL literature and web site distressingly misleading and unprofessional;
(a). We say this as professional writers with 50-year backgrounds (each):
i. Newspaper columnists in 50+ newspapers reaching 2-million+ readers from 1983 until 1995 (when we dropped it to focus on a newsletter that has paid for our "retirement");
ii. Authors of 22 trade and professional books;
iii. Designers and copyrighters of sales literature for Epic Systems (largest vendor of medical software), Deloitte Touche, Orion Systems.
iv. Freelancers of 1,000+ articles (often with photos) on science, business, consumer protection and travel that won 7 awards from American Business Press, National Press Club (2 consecutive years), Nat'l. Conf. of Christians and Jews, Best Home-Schooling Book of 2007, Oberhausen Grand Prix for documentary film on Vietnam War, etc.
(b). Example: At the web site where this trip was purchased, the "fine print disclaimer" is in 5 point type (at its largest), which is well below FTC guidelines; in fact, I discovered the disclaimer only yesterday while studying documents for possible use beyond our present claim.
10. We found Shore Excursions generally very disappointing and literature about them misleading.
(a). Example: Istanbul "HAL OK'd rug store" sold us a genuine Turkish carpet—later found to be probably made in China!
(b). Example: Pyramids trip of 3 hours on a bus with a guide who had degrees in everything (just ask her) told us less than we learned from another group's guide who did accompany his charges to the Pyramids, unlike our guide. She also spent 5 minutes hawking a gift shop where we'd stop. And the beggars of baksheesh, including uniformed police, were outrageously aggressive, the worst we'd encountered in any country. The camel drivers were not far behind. This should have been discussed in H.A.L. literature with advice (since our guide left us at once to wander on our own): don't make eye contact and don't speak and the hucksters may go away.
If you can't trust the people to whom you entrust your life when flying or sailing, who can you trust? One of our most-planned trips ever proved you can't trust anybody! For us, that now includes American Airlines, British Airways, their sometime baggage handler Havas, hoary Holland America Line and their fairly new owner Carnival Lines. Even the Wisconsin travel insurer fell apart when we needed them.
Savoring our new retirement, we immediately booked what sounded like a wham-bang cruise on Holland America Line's MS Rotterdam. We'd never felt the cruise muse, but this one went from Athens through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Istanbul and Black Sea ports in Bulgaria, at Odessa and Sebastopol, past romantic-novel Russian dachas on Black Sea beaches and back out to Rhodes and the Pyramids of Egypt. Who could resist?
The cruise was to start in Athens, so we let American Airlines schedule our flight from Madison, Wisconsin, in plenty of time to catch the ship. They routed us to London's Heathrow airport, where (two hours later) their "One World" partner British Airways would take us to Athens. Rank innocents, we pre-booked and pre-paid for everything, from tripinsurance to Holland America's port-of-call sightseeing jaunts, so we wouldn't have a vacation worry. For the next few months, we sat back and anticipated the fun.
Departure date arrived, with blue skies forecast for during the whole flight. We checked through to Athens our two suitcases (small for Frank's clothes, large for Judi's and our non-carryon sundries) and the plane left on time. Our connection at O'Hare was ready to leave on time, but that's when Hell began its rise. American Airlines had boxed in our plane with two others. Our pilot couldn't pull away to take off until they did. It took half an hour to move them. Having lost our place in the O'Hare take-off queue, we now had to wait 45 minutes in line.
Ah, you say, pilots can pick up time over the Atlantic. Ours made up precisely 5 minutes.
Just before we landed, a steward announced, "Please remain seated unless you have a tight connection. Those with tight connections, please go to the Flight Transfer Desk." That meant us, since we now had 70 minutes to take-off for Athens. It must have also meant most others on the huge 777, because they all tried to shove their way out of the plane and to the designated desk. "We must make our flight to get on our cruise!" we implored the steward. "Don't worry, a flight leaves for Athens every hour," she assured us.
There's a reason London's Heathrow was voted the second worst airport in the world. Reaching the flight transfer desk took 10 minutes, shoving and being shoved all the way. There we learned (1) our next flight left from another terminal, reachable only by bus, (2) we'd have to go through Security again at the next terminal, and (3) nobody at AA or British Airways cared whether we missed our flight and therefore our cruise.
We got to the line for the bus and saw it was 3 buses long, they left every 5 minutes, and the ride was 10 minutes. In desperation, still hoping to make the plane, we played Ugly American and crashed the line. Miraculously, we arrived with a full 30 minutes before take-off.
Did you know that airlines, not governments, set up and bankroll the Security line configurations at major airports? To the left, at Terminal 1, was the 2-person line for first-class and business ticket-holders, guarded by a burly fellow who doesn't care how many flights you miss. To the right was the wheelchair line. Between was a huge snake of what seemed like 500 hyperanxious steerage passengers, kept in their place by a series of stanchions and straps. Seizing on a break in the strapping, we crashed that line too. We were through Security with 10 minutes to flight time. But we didn't know what gate the flight left from. We looked for a flight board -– and saw another Flight Connections desk, which was shared by BA and AA. We went to BA to find out and were told, "You missed your flight."
But what about the next one? Sorry, she said, none until the next day. "But our AA attendant said there's an Athens flight every hour."
Who do you trust?Okay, so we weren't fated to board our ship in Athens. We'd see the Bosporus and the Dardanelles on the ship's way back out of the Black Sea. "Reroute us to Istanbul, our next port of call."
Partner or not, British Airways couldn't change our ticket since AA had set it up. "You'll have to get in line at the AA desk next door." We stood in that line.
AA cheerfully agreed to reroute us to Istanbul. "But our luggage -- can we have it rerouted, too?" Sure, she said and scurried over to the BA desk. Lo and behold, five minutes after the BA desk told us our flight had already left, this woman worked a miracle. She said she'd retrieved both suitcases from the "already left" flight to Athens.
Who do you trust?
Thinking nothing else could go wrong, we cell-phoned "sorry, please cancel" to the Athens driver we'd reserved to take us to the ship. Then we reached out to Holland America Line, having carefully copied in all four phone numbers they'd provided online and in all their literature for passengers needing help with airline screw-ups, lost luggage, missed flights and other emergencies: an 800 number, a non-800, a "24-hour emergency line" and a direct number to phone the ship Rotterdam.
We phoned then. We phoned later. We phoned on arrival in Istanbul and several times more. We got no answer except once. That time, a baritone identified himself as a Seattle answering service and told us that Holland America doesn't help with luggage, schedules, late planes or any of those kinds of problems, period. "Go away," was the message we heard.
Who do you trust?
In Istanbul, despite our qualms, the little suitcase actually did arrive on our plane. Unsurprisingly, the large one did not. BA's lost-suitcase agency here, called Havas, was busy and seemed efficient. We filled out forms, showed luggage tags, and suggested that the bag had most likely flown to Athens. We were assured, repeatedly, that it would be rerouted and delivered right to our hotel next day, as soon as it arrived in Istanbul.
Athens to Istanbul takes the ship Rotterdam two days, so we had next day free. Our hotelier said they'd surely accept our new luggage, so we went sight-seeing. Back at the hotel, our suitcase hadn't arrived. We phoned Havas. "Sorry, it is coming on the midnight flight. We will deliver it to your hotel." No, we said, we'd be boarding the ship early the next morning -- though it wasn't leaving port until 6 PM. "Oh, then we'll deliver it to the ship." We took her name, phone extension, and everything else we could think to ask, so we could follow up.
We also tried Holland America's phones again -- and this time we did reach a live HAL representative -- in Seattle. "Where was everybody?" we asked. Sorry, she said, but their entire computer system (including the phones) had been down world-wide the previous day or so, otherwise we'd have received their help.
"Our computer was down." Heard that one before? Funny, but when we did finally climb on board the ship, the Chief of Reservations said that nobody there had any computer troubles in the past few days.
Who do you trust?
Next morning we boarded the Rotterdam, where HAL's official Passenger Services representative greeted us. We had prepaid for a 9-to-5 sightseeing trip in Istanbul -- should we go or wait for our luggage, we asked, anxious to make sure it arrived. Do go on the trip, she assured us, she'd make sure it arrived. We needn't phone Havas again or take the precaution of shopping in Istanbul for new duds. (Remember, all Judi's clothes were in that suitcase.) She took down all the details about the suitcase, and we felt a weight lifted.
Back on board at 5:30, we rushed to our stateroom so Judi could change from the ratty clothes and sneakers she'd flown in and worn three days. No dice -- no lost luggage greeted us. We phoned the passenger services desk. "What luggage?" they asked. We asked for the Passenger Services rep. Oops, (obviously having forgotten all about it), "Let me check." So much for her morning promises. She phoned back to report (as if to soothe!) that four other passengers' lost luggage had been delivered that day. "Wasn't yours?" Looking out our porthole, we saw water moving. The ship was leaving Istanbul! "What should we do?" we asked, Judi finally having broken down into sobs. She had three solutions:
One, she's spoken with Istanbul's Harbor Master and he'd get the suitcase from the airport, keep it until we came back out of the Black Sea, and bring it out to the Rotterdam himself when he came to guide us back through the Dardanelles five days later.
Two, meanwhile we could avail ourselves of the ship's costly Express Laundry service, in by 9 back by 5. Sure, we could just imagine Judi wandering the Rotterdam decks au natural while the one outfit she wore was washed.
And three, we could try the ship's two clothing shops up next to the casino, one for sportsware, the other for finery. She'd put through a $50 credit toward our purchase.
The finery shop's stock consisted of costume jewelry, formal wear, and furs. In the sports shop, we did find a $42 top that fit. (DAM Ships, it said across the pocket. We found the logo very fitting indeed!) We found a $48 pair of men's shorts, size 38, that were just a bit large. And we found a $68 skin-tight dress that ended above the knees. (Judi wore it once and ran for her jacket to cover up! She'll never again scoff at those sight-seeing matrons in teeny bopper dresses. Maybe their luggage got lost, too!)
Sorry, no underwear or shoes either place, not even sandals.
Five days later, that was us hanging over the Rotterdam's side watching for the Harbor Master. The suitcase arrived, along with 5 chocolates and a sorry note from HAL. Elated, Judi threatened to change clothes thrice a day to wear everything she'd packed.
One item was missing from the suitcase: Judi's reserve bottle of prescription painkillers. But she'd carried-on enough to get her through the cruise, so there was no real problem. We thought.
We phoned the on-board medical office and explained our predicament. Sorry, an assistant said, they had none of that medication on board. "Okay, just write us a prescription and I'm sure an Athens pharmacy will fill it." Sorry, they couldn't do that either.
We remembered that we had bought Traveler's Insurance from TravelGuard. It covered just such emergencies. We phoned them and their doctor promised to phone us back within the hour with the name of an English-speaking Athens physician who'd write us a prescription. We gave him the name of our ship, its direct phone number, our stateroom number, etc.
Who do you trust?
We waited two hours in the stateroom. No call. We checked our messages later. No call ever came from them. Happily, an Athens pharmacy refilled our prescription with no hassles. And TravelGuard refunded our entire premium when, after we were home, we phoned to complain, "Why didn't you phone us?"
They had tried, just not hard enough when the ship's number still didn't work (remember, the one we'd tried to phone two weeks before when their computer was allegedly out?).
Is trust obsolete?
Franklynn Peterson and Judi K-Turkel are Madison, WI authors and journalists who've traveled extensively to 49 states and two dozen foreign countries, written 22 books and won 7 journalism awards.
We had a terrible cruise on the Rotterdam. We endured banging noises in our cabins which got worse at night making restful sleep an impossiblity. There was such a strong smell of rotten garbage in the cabins and even up in the lounges that we felt nauseated. They seemed to have problems with temperature control in cabins and lounges - we saw people with blankets wrapped around them sitting in lounges and we couldn't adjust the temperature in our cabins. You could turn the dial, but it didn't make any difference in the cabin temperature.
There were problems with the telephone message system and the wake-up call system. The toilets stopped working at one point. The carpeting and the windows were filthy. The crew and officers were sullen and often seriously impolite, to the extent that we even had doors slammed in our faces on two occasions. Food service in the dining room was very slow. On the night when the Baked Alaska was served, which is usually quite a production on cruise ships, some waiters were serving the Baked Alaska long before the parade of waiters began. Our Baked Alaska wassitting so long that the ice cream was mostly melted and we were served tiny servings to make the dessert stretch to serve everyone at the tables our waiter served.
There was no enforcement of no-smoking regulations. We saw a high ranking officer standing talking to a man who was smoking at the opposite end of the deck from the smoking area and no request was made for the man to put out his cigarette. Some foods were stale and near the end of the cruise, the ship ran out of some foods. There were unruly young children (not teenagers) whose parents obviously were not told to keep the children under control or even to make sure that they were not left wandering alone on the ship.
Preferential treatment was given to one group of passengers, which created a negative environment on the ship. It was like sailing on a run-down, poorly maintained old garbage scow. We spoke with several passengers who, like us, have sailed on other Holland America ships and they commented that this ship doesn't live up to the reputation of HAL ships.
To add insult to injury, when we wrote to the President of the cruise line to outline our concerns about the cruise, we received a letter stating that they were “thrilled” to hear about our cruise experience. I would have been appalled if I were responsible for this cruise line, but as a past passenger I'm insulted by the response of this cruise line to our concerns.
We just completed a cruise around South America on the Hollond "Rotterdam". The trip was great but we were dissappointed in the ship. It was in great need of updating and just a plain cleaning up. On deck one day there was such an odor you could hardly stand it. We never did play bingo since the prices have gone up so much since we started cruising.
Our service in the dining was the slowest we have ever had, we were always the last ones to be served and half of the time they could not get our orders. When we came into Rio our cruise director said the entry into was the most beautiful sight and to be up at 6am to see our entry. Well guess what, we were docked at 3am and missed the entry completely. The food was also the worst we have had on a cruise ship, we would order our entrees by elimination trying to find a good selection. We had such high hopes for this cruise for we had heard Holland America was great but this cruise did not confirm this.
We just returned from a 10-day cruise on Holland America's Rotterdam. This was our ninth cruise so we are by no means experts, but we are able to make general comparisons based on our personal experiences. Prior cruises have been on the Carnival Inspiration (Southern Caribbean), HAL's Veendam (Western Caribbean, Alaska Inside Passage), Sea Princess (Western Caribbean), RCI's Radiance of the Seas (Pacific Coast), Celebrity Millennium (Eastern Caribbean), Sun Princess (Mexican Riviera) and RCI's Enchantment of the Seas (Eastern Caribbean). We hadn't cruised with HAL in several years, so we were anxious to try again now that we had a better perspective on other lines.
As usual, we flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early and spent the night at the Marriott Marina on 17th Street near the port. We booked through Priceline and got a great rate of $79. I had called the hotel directly to request a room with a view of the port and they put us on the ninth floor with a great view. We booked the cruise through our travel agent but booked our own air. We've stayed at the local Embassy Suites, Renaissance and AmeriSuites, and Iwould rate the Marriott as best for its location if nothing else. We had enough time that evening to catch the Water Taxi and ride up the inland waterway to look at houses and visit the Las Olas area. The taxi is $5 per person and the pass is good all day. We had a nice dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. It was so nice waking up the next morning and seeing our ship in the port. I enjoy this day before the cruise as much as any day of the cruise itself.
Friday morning, we took the free hotel shuttle over to the port terminal. We got there about 11:30 a.m. After we left our bags with the porters, the entire check-in process took 20-30 minutes and we were on the ship with very little waiting. (It certainly helps if you pre-register on HAL's website.) They would not let us drop our carry-on in our cabin, so be careful how much you try to bring on the ship – you'll have to keep it with you until about 2 p.m., when they finally let us into our cabins. I always enjoy getting as many pictures of the ship as possible before the crowds arrive. We start at the top deck and work our way down, getting familiar with where things are. Once we hit the Lido, we stopped to eat.
All the HAL ships have a similar layout, but the Rotterdam is a bit larger than the Veendam. It is HAL's flagship and is in good shape with only some signs of wear and tear. The interior was very clean and there was an ongoing effort by ship's staff to keep things polished. We noticed crew members constantly wiping down handrails and doorknobs to prevent the spread of bacteria. They also give you antiseptic hand wipes each time you come back on the ship from shore. The exterior shows some age and there are some places that could use a new coat of paint, but overall, this ship is in great shape.
The public areas, including lounges, Time Square (Atrium), Queen's Lounge, Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge, are in great shape. There are several shops but nothing extraordinary (watch for price reductions towards the end of the cruise). We found some fairly reasonable prices for jewelry on-board. The Rotterdam has a great card room and the library is staffed by the entertainers and dancers during the cruise. The Internet works well but is overpriced at 75 cents a minute. (Your best option here is to hit the Internet cafes in port.)
The casino is small and can get smoky and crowded. Slots seemed really tight; we saw few winners on this cruise. We're not big gamers but people seemed to be having a good time. One advantage HAL has over other ships is the outside Promenade, which is on the Lower Promenade Deck. The deck goes all the way around the ship and the lounge chairs are padded. We also enjoyed the Navigation Pool in the back of the ship with its comfortable deck chairs. We never saw any difficulty in getting deck space out back, and HAL provides unlimited pool towels on deck and on the Promenade. They issue beach towels at the gangway when you leave the ship but I don't see how they keep track of who takes one and who brings one back.
We booked an Inside Cabin Guarantee and were given #2665 on the Main Deck. We got a great price but we saw a special on outside cabins, so we called our travel agent and he got us upgraded to an outside cabin for our original price. We ended up in #2565, also on the Main Deck and in a great location. HAL has the best cabins on the seas -- much larger than we've had on Celebrity, Carnival, Princess or RCI. We've stayed in a mini-suite, balcony cabin, and outside cabins, but we prefer an inside cabin for cost and convenience. We actually sleep better in an inside cabin and since we spend so little time in there, we probably will keep booking them. We're booked on the HAL Zaandam for Alaska this summer and have booked an inside cabin. If we're upgraded to outside we will view it as a pleasant but unnecessary surprise.
The cabin safes on the Rotterdam require a key that you must then keep with you or hide in the room. We prefer the numeric keypad safes on Princess. There is one electrical outlet in the room and one in the bathroom. There is a hairdryer in the bathroom, as well as soap, shampoo and hand lotion. There's excellent storage space, in fact the best we've seen. I understand the Rotterdam has more storage because it is used for world cruises. Our cabin steward was friendly and did a good job, but did not seem as outgoing as other stewards we've had. We didn't see any towel animals on this cruise, but we survived regardless. One nice feature about these cabins is they had the best showers at sea: all the hot water you want and excellent pressure. The bad news is that halfway through our cruise they replaced the shower heads with new "water-saving" shower heads that cut the pressure and water in half.
The on-board entertainment was excellent. The lead singer was the best we've seen on any ship. Overall the singers were excellent and the dancers were very good. The featured singers sang live, but there is an obvious "sweetener" track so it appears that the dancers are lip-synching. Our cruise director was Tom Lee, who did a good job. He had just joined the ship, having been on the Prisendam. His support staff was also good.
On Day 1 we had a comedian, David Reid, and a short presentation by the cast. The comedian was only okay. Day 2 the entertainer was a pianist, Jon Darsk. He was very good. On Day 3 the ship's cast presented Showstoppers, a salute to Broadway musicals. Day 4 featured a deck party and fireworks as we departed Curacao. On Day 5 we saw magician Russ Stevens, who did a good job. Day 6, the ship's cast presented "Personality," a salute to great entertainers. Day 7 was Professor Watson, a comedy violinist. This guy is a talented musician and in my opinion should lose the comedy routine and present himself as a gifted musician. Day 8 featured Carla Capps, a talented singer who gave a great show. Day 9 was the final presentation by the cast, "Undersea Follies." If you like shows with energy, this is it. And Day 10 was Super Bowl Sunday, so the whole show was the game, presented in the Queen's Lounge along with plenty of food and snacks. HAL did a great job making this part of the cruise. On day 10 they had a "meet the cast" activity where passengers were able to meet the cast and ask questions.
There were also two different movies shown each day in the Wajang Theatre throughout the cruise.
We ate all our breakfasts and lunches in the Lido or at the grill by the Lido pool, so I can't tell you about breakfast and lunch in the dining room. We enjoyed the Lido and found the food to be varied and tasteful. At breakfast you can expect the normal cereals, fruit, eggs cooked to order, pancakes, waffles and French toast. They also have an omelet bar, which was hardly ever busy. On most ships this is the biggest line. At lunch they offer heavy buffet meals but also a pasta bar, deli bar, pizza and curry bar. Around the back of the Lido restaurant is a salad bar. And don't forget the ice cream station, which is open much of the afternoon and early evening. HAL really shines with its desserts in the Lido. And you will always find their famed Bread Pudding. Decent burgers, hotdogs and Mexican fare are available out by the pool grill.
For dinner, we were scheduled for main seating and asked for a large table. As luck would have it, we were seated with eight very friendly people. It's always a roll of the dice, but we have always been lucky and we quickly warmed to our dinner group. One couple was from Toronto, another from Wisconsin and the third from New Hampshire. They were great! Food in the dining room was good to excellent. It didn't measure up to the food we've had on Princess or Celebrity, but it was good nonetheless. Our table service was excellent, but the waiter and assistant waiter were not as engaging as others we have had. I don't think either of them bothered to learn our names. This was different from any other experience we had on HAL or any other cruise line, but we heard the same thing from others on the cruise. By contrast, many bar stewards and helpers on the ship seemed to have an incredible manner of remembering names. In fact, we remembered one of the headwaiters from our last Veendam cruise and he claimed to remember us. The food was plentiful, warm and presented well. We did not eat in the alternative restaurant, the Odyssey, but we heard many good things about it. The head chef of the Odyssey did a cooking presentation and that was certainly interesting.
After using the spa facilities on Radiance of the Seas and Celebrity Millennium, these facilities looked a little small but they were sufficient for the number of passengers. I never saw this area crowded and there were always available treadmills and weight machines. Treatment rooms were nice but very small and I was disappointed with the massage. There is a sauna and steam room in the men's changing room and the area was never crowded. The steam rooms are great on HAL and I enjoyed this area almost every day. They have lockers, towels and showers in the changing area.
We're probably not the best to offer opinions on ports because we tend to avoid the ship excursions and do things on our own, but here's my take:
Half Moon Cay. We booked the parasailing on-line and everything went well. This is easily the best of the private islands. We spent the day on the beach and enjoyed this day as much as any other. It would have been nice to stop here for another day on our return trip. One improvement at Half Moon Cay is the addition of private cabanas. They're air-conditioned and have their own showers. They're small but looked nice. There were plenty of beach chairs and the weather was perfect. The Oosterdam was also there, but it wasn't too crowded. Still, it would be nice to be there with only one ship.
Curacao. I was surprised at how large the island is. Willemstad was a great place for taking photos, as it is so colorful. It's also perfect for just walking around to shop. It is a short walk across the pedestrian bridge to town from the pier and the people are very friendly. There is a great "floating market" on the north side of town. It is really a food market, but worth the visit nonetheless. Upon leaving Curacao at 10 p.m. there were fireworks, which was a nice touch.
Aruba. We spent most of the day at the beach. We bought a day pass at Allegro Aruba for $45 per person. It's a $10 taxi ride from the pier and the beach is very nice. You don't need a reservation, just walk up to the front desk and they will take care of everything. The day pass includes all drinks, meals, towels and use of a "courtesy room" to change and shower. The food was typical cruise ship fare and we thought the experience was worth the money. I love the beach, but don't want to spend the entire day in the sun. They have shade umbrellas and lounge chairs. It is located on Palm Beach between the Radisson and the Hyatt.
Panama Canal. We entered the canal about 7 a.m., so you will want to get up early to watch the approach. Once you reach Gatun Lake, those who booked excursions are let off the ship by tender and the Rotterdam returns to Colon, Panama. There's not much to do in the area where the ship docks. You only have about two hours, but there is a small mall built to handle cruise passengers. I was amazed at how much of the stuff was made in China. There was little authentic Panamanian stuff.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. I had read several negative reports about this port stop, but it was one of our favorites. Limon has not developed into a typical commercial cruise port. There are no new shopping malls; it's just a quiet fishing and shipping town. It is an easy walk from the pier through the tourist market and on into town. It reminds me of what Cozumel was like 20 years ago before all the development. In the town's public park, you might see sloths in the trees. There are plenty of stores, but not many high-end tourist traps. We booked the Tortuguero Canal excursion and were fortunate to be in the first group early that morning. With cooler temperatures, it is likely that you will see more wildlife. We saw sloths, monkeys, crocodiles and many exotic birds. The facilities are excellent and the tour company did a first-rate job. The excursion ends with a stop at a refreshment stand for free soft drinks and fruit and then a bus ride back through a large banana plantation. I would recommend this trip to anyone.
Disembarkation was a breeze, easily the best we've seen. HAL lets you wait in your cabin until your number or letter is called. We walked right out of our cabin and off the ship with no lines and no delays. There we caught a cab for the ride to the airport. From the time the taxi dropped us off, it was less than 15 minutes, and we had checked our bags and received our boarding passes from the curbside skycap.
This was a great trip, and our visit to any of these islands except Half Moon Cay. I'm glad we tried this itinerary, but I'm not sure I will visit any of these places again. The water in the southern part of the Caribbean apparently loses the beautiful blue of St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and is more of a cloudy emerald green. It is pretty, but I would definitely choose the beaches of St. Maarten over those in Aruba. This is more of an adventure itinerary than a beach itinerary.
1. HAL provides an excellent product that can hold its own with any of the other cruise lines -- great cabins, excellent service and good eating. 2. Many have commented on the age of HAL passengers and I would guess that at least 90 percent of those on our cruise were in their late 60s and up. We are in our 40s and love to cruise with this older generation. We find them gracious, engaging and excellent conversationalists. I would never hesitate to cruise HAL. 3. We love the size of these smaller ships with plenty of room but fewer passengers. We got to know more people and there were never any lines. We could always find a seat in the Lido and a deck chair at the Navigation Pool. 4. The Promenade Decks on HAL ships are the best place in the world to read a good book and catch a quick nap. I could spend every day out there. 5. The HAL steam room: What a life!
1. HAL ships are a bit more formal than many other cruise lines. On formal night we saw some tuxedos, but most men wore dark suits. Semi-formal night is also a "jacket required" night and I don't recall anyone not abiding by the dress code in the dining room. Moreover, passengers tend to hold to the dress code in other areas of the ship after dinner, including the entertainment lounge and casino. Hardly anyone changes clothes after dinner. I'm more of a casual wear kind of guy and while I will observe a cruise line's dress code, I am more comfortable with the Princess or RCI standard. 2. Spa prices are way too high and I was disappointed by the friendliness and service by the staff in this area. 3. There are limited eating options on this ship – i.e., there are times during the day when there is no place to get something to eat. For example, the Lido closes from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., so if you come in late from an excursion and don't want to clean up for the dining room, your only choice is room service. I love the fact that on Princess and RCI, I can find pizza or a late night dessert at almost any time of the day. 4. There are no outdoor whirlpool tubs other than those in the covered Lido Pool area. We love the outdoor whirlpools up on deck in the cool air for sunrise.
And finally, some updated comparisons based on our experience: HAL provides a great cruise, but RCI and Princess may be more in line with my casual vacation lifestyle. Princess and Celebrity provide better dining, but the service on HAL and RCI is much better. Entertainment on HAL was equal to or better than anything we've seen on RCI, Princess or Celebrity. In my opinion the friendliest people cruise HAL, Princess and RCI. Based on our experiences, I would still rate these lines: 1) HAL 2) Princess 3) RCI 4) Celebrity and 5) Carnival. Now we're looking forward to our Alaska Inside Passage cruise in June on the Zaandam.
We are experienced cruisers and were somewhat wary when we booked the Rotterdam for 12 New England Cruise because of comments we had heard regarding average age of passengers (70's versus we being 40's) and recent cut backs by Holland America to bring things more into line with "Carnival Corps" way of doing things. However, we had nothing to worry about, yes it was an older crowd but there were enough other age groups (excepting Kids - yeah)with whom we could inter-mingle (Please I am not anti 70 year olds - I just like a variety and we got it). We have been on 49 ships and the Rotterdam rates as our favorite ship and overall this cruise ranks number 3.
The difference was the service and friendliness of the staff - we never hit a sour note - excellent, excellent, excellent. The food was above average and the Lido by far was the best on any ship in recent experience. Cruising the Rotterdam reminded me of cruising before the advent of the mega ships. We loved the itineray, although they could drop Sydney Nova Scotia and nobody would notice. The decorof the ship made it feel very clubby and the Cruise Staff - Rick, Codey, James, Jennifer, and Nick were the best we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The cruise was a nice change from the standard program. Kudos to HAL for doing such a great job - we will sail again.... soon