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Holland America Line: Amsterdam

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Jun 8, 2015

Alaska

I have been on six cruises, and this by far one of the best. From the embarkation, to the ship, food, shows , staff, everything was spectular. You could tell everyone that worked on the ship was happy. Even departing the ship, which I hated doing, was an excellent experience. As you can tell I cannot say enough god things abut this cruise! Five star plus food. The cabin was excellent. I loved the entertainment, it was truly great.

We didn't do any shore excursions. SIX star plus trip. Alaska was beautiful.

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Jul 24, 2013

Alaska

This was a 3 day cruise from Vancouver to Skagway and 12 day land tour thru Alaska. Everything was okay except for the train trip from Denali to Anchorage. It was on the McKinley Explorer train and Hollands individual cars where the problem arose. The air conditioning didn't work from the time we got on the train till 5 hours later when Holland finally decided to reuse us by disembarking off the train to waiting buses to take us the rest of the

way to Anchorage. The conditions on the train were unbearable; 100% temperatures, high humidity and the sun beaming thru the skycar. It was like being locked in a hot house with full sun and no place escape from the conditions. I complained to Holland and requested a refund for the day but they ignored my request and blamed it on the weather! They refused to take any responsibility for the air conditioning being broken or why they boarded us, knowing the conditions and took 5 hours to rescue us after the crew and travel guides finally convinced them the this was an emergency. My Wife and I were on the verge of heat stroke along with the other passengers and crew members. Holland doesn't care about the passengers or crew only with the maximizing their income. I highly discourage you from using Holland!

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By Nora_CR

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Jan 7, 2013

Caribbean

This was a bad cruise! Cabin 1804 and 3388 noisy and uncomfortable. Entertainment very bad and no guest lectures. Staff great and food OK. It was good but could have been a little more creative. First room 1804 was handicapped (not what we asked for) dark (two portholes recessed) and noisy (pod thrusters and anchor). After 4 days moved to 3388 which was noisy as it is under the galley and I think directly under the dishwasher. Another

couple could not stand the noise in 3388 so they moved. Noise from 5:00am to 11:30pm....one night we called the front desk at 12:30am as there was still loud noises and banging. Very Poor...no guest lectures etc. 3rd and last sailing on Holland America. Much prefer Celebrity. Staff on ship was great and food was nice but the entertainment was very bad and no perks like on Celebrity.

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Dec 14, 2012

Mediterranean

This was our first cruise, and it was wonderful. We are a senior couple, but the ship was a mix of people of all ages. We enjoyed the company of several other couples. Our cabin (we had a veranda) was very nice. The food was excellent! The crew was very friendly and helpful. The ship itself was beautiful. I recommend this ship with no reservations. The food was excellent. We ate mostly in the dining room, where the service was very

good, The menu was great and different each evening. There were always several items to choose from for each meal, ranging from healthy to indulgent. People told us the food would great, and it was. The main dining room was at the stern of the ship, and on several occasions we had a table with a view of the water as the ship was underway; just beautiful! We also liked having the option of eating alone or with a group of two three other couples. If we were in a hurry or just wanted a snack, we would go to the cafeteria which was also very good, and the lines were not long at all. I just wish they had a greater selection of different ice cream flavors to choice from. Our room was clean, and nicely appointed, nicer than most motels. The balcony was great. We had several lovely evenings sitting out there at dusk as the ship sailed to our next destination. It was just so quiet and peaceful. You could barely tell the ship was moving. Every day we returned from our adventures to find our room spotlessly clean and a new towel creation placed on our bed by our stewards. We didn't participate much in directed activities aboard the ship. We would take walks around the outside promenade deck. The library was small but adequate. The two pools on board were nice but pretty crowded. The shows were fair, not quite Broadway quality. We never used the casino. I took a guided tour of the ships galley, and enjoyed it. There were a few lounges where you could sit, have a drink, and enjoy the entertainment. We only took one excursion, and it was just fair. We preferred to just take the transport offered (at an extra cost of course) to our destination, and go our own way from there. We really got a lot of good advice from Rick Steve's book on Mediterranean cruises. I would really recommend that for anyone planning a Mediterranean cruise. Our trip was a beautiful and romantic adventure for a couple of retired teachers. We would get off the ship early each morning, get to our destination, explore as much as we could in the time allowed, get back to the ship, crash for a short time , recover, shower, and go to dinner, and then just enjoy the evening aboard the ship. All the things we were concerned about before the trip just didn't happen, or just didn't turn out to matter. The weather was hot, but we dressed appropriately, and it was fine. We ran into a few language problems when off the ship, but they worked out OK. Yes, we would have liked to have had more time to spend at some of the ports, but we'll just save those for another trip. The cruise just left us wanting to go back and do it all over again, just a little better prepared next time.

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Dec 14, 2012

Mediterranean

This was our first cruise, and it was wonderful. We are a senior couple, but the ship was a mix of people of all ages. We enjoyed the company of several other couples. Our cabin (we had a veranda) was very nice. The food was excellent! The crew was very friendly and helpful. The ship itself was beautiful. I recommend this ship with no reservations. The food was excellent. We ate mostly in the dining room, where the service was very

good, The menu was great and different each evening. There were always several items to choose from for each meal, ranging from healthy to indulgent. People told us the food would great, and it was. The main dining room was at the stern of the ship, and on several occasions we had a table with a view of the water as the ship was underway; just beautiful! We also liked having the option of eating alone or with a group of two three other couples. If we were in a hurry or just wanted a snack, we would go to the cafeteria which was also very good, and the lines were not long at all. I just wish they had a greater selection of different ice cream flavors to choice from. Our room was clean, and nicely appointed, nicer than most motels. The balcony was great. We had several lovely evenings sitting out there at dusk as the ship sailed to our next destination. It was just so quiet and peaceful. You could barely tell the ship was moving. Every day we returned from our adventures to find our room spotlessly clean and a new towel creation placed on our bed by our stewards. We didn't participate much in directed activities aboard the ship. We would take walks around the outside promenade deck. The library was small but adequate. The two pools on board were nice but pretty crowded. The shows were fair, not quite Broadway quality. We never used the casino. I took a guided tour of the ships galley, and enjoyed it. There were a few lounges where you could sit, have a drink, and enjoy the entertainment. We only took one excursion, and it was just fair. We preferred to just take the transport offered (at an extra cost of course) to our destination, and go our own way from there. We really got a lot of good advice from Rick Steve's book on Mediterranean cruises. I would really recommend that for anyone planning a Mediterranean cruise. Our trip was a beautiful and romantic adventure for a couple of retired teachers. We would get off the ship early each morning, get to our destination, explore as much as we could in the time allowed, get back to the ship, crash for a short time , recover, shower, and go to dinner, and then just enjoy the evening aboard the ship. All the things we were concerned about before the trip just didn't happen, or just didn't turn out to matter. The weather was hot, but we dressed appropriately, and it was fine. We ran into a few language problems when off the ship, but they worked out OK. Yes, we would have liked to have had more time to spend at some of the ports, but we'll just save those for another trip. The cruise just left us wanting to go back and do it all over again, just a little better prepared next time.

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Oct 10, 2012

Around the world

I booked an around the world cruise through Vacations to Go as my retirement gift after 27 years of military service. I boarded the Amsterdam in Florida on Jan 6 and returned to Florida on Apr 28, 2012. My overall experience at the ports were awesome; however, my experience on the ship for most of the cruise was less than desirable. Needless to say, due to lack of customer service, my family nor I will ever cruise Holland American Line again.

Note: The daily service charge of $13.50 is not mandatory even though they tell you it is. After two weeks, I learned from my table mate that all I had to do was go to the front desk and ask for the form to opt out and then I could bless those that I wanted to bless personally such as the room stewards and servers. The food was plentiful and in all varieties. I loved the buffet on the 8th deck as the hours varied and you didn't have to dress up unlike the nightly dinners. I initially was at the 8 pm seating and many times our food was cold or dried out. I liked the fact that depending on our location, the chef would serve food that was authentic to the area. The best part was having a huge selection in case you were very hungry or if you just wanted to eat light. We had many choices even fast food was served from poolside. Tons of ice cream, cookies, every kind of dessert along with diet and low sugar items. There were restaurants were you could pay to have private dinners or the Italian restaurant which was free and a change from the regular meals in case you wanted a romantic dinner. After three weeks of complaining that my toilet was backing up and then it would not flush, I was finally moved to another room. This was the beginning of my nightmares. I was given (left over) rooms because as the clerk said, all the good rooms had been taken. Rooms were dusty, carpet dirty, cracked sink, moldy shower curtains, and noisy. On the 3rd deck, the maintenance crew clean the deck at 4 am by spraying your window and the side of the ship with a high pressured water hose. What kind of vacation causes you to jump up every morning due to the chattering,singing, and noise? I moved four times and slept in over seven rooms living out of my suitcase. After discussing my concerns with the hotel manager, I later find out he is husband to the front desk supervisor. I was humiliated, accused of wanting an upgrade, and told I was lying. I was given three pairs of ear plugs as my neighbor had a nasal problem which she said the coughing even kept her awake. My conjoining door was even taped up with ugly black masking tape and I was told no one else complained about the coughing neighbor. I really loved playing ping pong, working out daily, sitting in the sauna and the hot tub. I engaged in learning to play bridge as well as water color painting. I experienced the steam room and hot rocks just for fun. I also played some of the daily competitive games for bucks to cash in for prizes, but ended up giving my bucks to my friend as it takes a lot of them to win a decent prize. They also had basketball and tennis. I did not engage in gambling nor the club or bars/drinking. I attended a few of the cultural shows in the evening, but I was too young to enjoy most of the musicians. I did not purchase excursions from the ship. I would go and listen to the presentation that was given about the countries on the ship before we arrived at the port. I liked this because it highlighted things to do and see while in the port. It also addressed transportation options to a certain extent. They usually only tell you which ones they recommend and have used before. I liked using the tuk tuks (3 wheel vehicle) when possible or the hop on hop off bus if we had limited time in a port. I would also get books from the library on board the ship on each country and do my homework regarding public transportation, things that are recommended to see and do, etc based on my interests. This was great as I was able to find 2-day train/bus tickets in Barcelona for a low price. I would get off the ship and find an excursion booking place and get my tickets for 1/3 of the price of what it cost on the ship. Also, keep your hop on hop off ticket as you will get a discount in the next country if you choose to use them. We docked at a few ports that were 2 hours away and HAL did not have any transportation set up so we stayed on the ship all day just waiting to leave. One in Vietnam and there was nothing close by except a few vendors who set up near the dock. We were able to get onto Easter Island, Rapa Nui, which was usually bypassed due to weather I'm told. You must go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reefs in Australia. It was awesome! I had fun in all the ports; but Barcelona was the most beautiful and there were tons of things to do. This was my first cruise; however, It was not my first time out of the country. I have been to Germany, France, Japan, Hawaii, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Africa, and Italy before. I enjoyed seeing how other people live in other countries. I did not want to only see the nice side of the city so I ventured out to see some of the unbelievable areas. I took over 5,000 photos and truly enjoyed the adventure. The people were very nice and helpful. One guy loaned me his coat because the weather changed and I did not have time to go back and get my coat before the tour left to see the penguins. It was a memorable experience which I will never forget!

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Jul 21, 2009

I Can Do It at Sea

The service, food and accomodations were excellent! I felt like we were eating at a 5 star restaurant every day. It was beautiful and delicious. I was happy that the portions were small (like most fine dining), so I never felt stuffed and enjoyed savoring every bite. They even made a simple chicken breast juicy and delicious. The stateroom was surprisingly roomy enough for four people. We stayed in the 197 square foot room. My two sons and husband

are all over 6' tall and no one complained once. The window was a must! The best part about the room was the exceptional service provided. The staff greated us with genuine, happy smiles every day and night. They attended to our room quickly and beautifully. I wonder if they ever get a break...I hope so. It was the same two guys every day and night. We were on a chartered lecture cruise and were blessed with workshops with Wayne Dyer, Carolyn Myss, Sonya Choquette, Gregg Braden, Iyanla Vanzant, John Holland, Brian Weiss, Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson. However, my teenage sons were bored some of the time (and did not attend the workshops). They said that the video game room only had "demos" and didn't spend much time there. My husband and I enjoyed playing cards at one of the lounges and looked out the window at all of the beauty. We went to the Crow's Nest one night when they had a band playing. We were disappointed by the crowd. It was mostly older and somewhat eccentric folks there. But, we had some fun, as did they (it seemed). In Juneau, you must take the Mt. Robert's Tram! The views were spectacular and there were fantastic trails, if you like to hike. My son had to have a meal in Alaska, so we ate at the restaurant at the top. The food was good, but the ship is better. I would suggest eating as many meals onboard as you can. In Sitka, a wonderful jewelry artist at a shop there, told us to go to the Totem Park and walk the trails. It was gorgeous. We picked wild berries (the park attendant told us we could) and ate them. They looked like yellow and orange raspberrys, but we were told they are called salmon berries. The trails had totem poles and a beautiful rain forest feel. I didn't care for Ketchikan, but my boys thoroughly enjoyed the salmon fishing excursion. They said it was the highlight of the trip (I should have joined them). I walked around town and looked in the shops. It was just a herd of people looking at the same touristy souvenirs at every shop. There was nothing unique. It was the same thing in every store and it mostly looked like mass manufactured junk to me. Victoria is beautiful and I would suggest walking to town (a bit over 1 mile) instead of taking a taxi. It was nice to see the houses, inns and community as we walked. It was also nice to stretch our legs and get some exercise. Overall, this was on of my most favorite vacations. The boys bonded more than they fought. I think the fact that all of the technology was not operational at sea really helped. I would suggest not paying for the internet for the week and just relax. You can check your Blackberry and phones when the ship docks at the ports. The scenery was spectacular and you can watch whales in certain areas. For me, a 5 day cruise would have been ideal. I was getting tired of living on a boat by the 5th day.

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Jul 14, 2009

Alaska

First time on Holland America and to Alaska. The weather and ports were wonderful. Sitka and the Glacier was the best part of the entire trip. The staterooms were as big as they were on the Disney ship which was a plus. There is not a lot to do on board. Ship activities were more towards the older crowd. We loved the Happy Hour in the Crow's Nest. We spent many evenings watching beautiful mountains go by. The service was great, but didn't see the

crew very much. The general crowd was older, retired age to parents with children. Went with my husband alone and we were far and few, but still enjoyed the trip. With a port almost every day, we didn't spend that much time on the ship to care about the other passengers. Service was great, and ship was in great condition. The food was fine. I read many reviews that said breakfast was the same thing everyday. I guess that was true except there were 50 choices. I just had a different item each morning. We mainly ate on the buffet or by the pool grill so I can't speak about the restaurant much expect dinner. The buffet food had a lot of variety and was good. The grill was grill food. Hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, pizza, fries, etc. Can't go to wrong there. We have had better cruise restaurant food, but it was fine. I wasn't cooking so it was good to me. A lot of seafood choices. Probably the problem for me as I don't eat seafood. My husband thought the seafood was great, especially the salmon and crab legs. Ordered room service just once and that was a cheese plate to nibble on as we were dressing for the formal night. Took about 45mins so order early and the waiter expects a tip. The menu was good enough if you did not get to eat the other 6 times that day and they do offer a limited 24 hour room service menu. My favorite restaurant was the Italian restaurant that doesn't cost. It is by the buffet on the Lindo deck and you can only see it at dinner time. Otherwise it is buffet dining tables. The food was good and loved the pasta choices. Our tateroom was wonderful. We booked our cruise 8 days before it sailed as we got a great last minute rate. The only cabins left were the large inside rooms. Never had an inside cabin as I am very claustrophobic. Thought at that price I would sleep in a deck chair if needed. When we arrived to our stateroom I was glad to see curtains with a light behind so it looked like a window. I just did not look behind the curtain the entire time and was fine. Those that stated to wait and get a balcony must not like other people. We got up early went on deck until it was time to dress for dinner. Then went back on deck until it was time to go to bed. The storage was great, except do not take a very large suitcase as the suitcases are to go under the bed and one was to large to do that so we stored it in the life jacket closet. Probably not the best idea for an emergency. There is a small safe in your room for valuables. The bathroom as a medicine cabinet and a shelf under the sink. We had a small couch, foot rest, desk and chair, bed and small table and still had room to walk around. Forgot the his/her closets, the best part. Onboard activities were almost useless. They have a nice library, yawn. Lots of bars, yeah! Played trivia and met some great people. Played "Name that Tune" and met great people. Watched the outside world go by, best part. Saw lots of sea creatures with help of others on deck. They could really get some help from the other cruise lines on activities. We were getting bored on the sea days. We took the Bike/Brew excursion in Juneau. It was great. We needed the exercise after sitting on an airplane then ship the last couple of days. Rode 9.5 miles, mostly flat with about 3 stops to a beautiful glacier. We were able to walk around for about an hour, then they took us to the Alaskan Brewery for a tour. It was a very small brewery but it is all the beer you can drink in about 40mins. The different beers were great to try and we can't get Alaskan beer so it was something different. Enjoyed this very much. My husband took the zip-line excursion in Ketchikan while I shopped. He stated it was well worth the money. If you are afraid of heights this would not be for you. The shopping was good in Ketchikan and I stayed busy and didn't mind shopping alone. The ship docks in front of the stores. I do not think you need an excursion in Sitka. We did not get one and could walk to many. We walked to the Totem Pole Forest and it was very nice. Then from there (ask a ranger) we walked to the raptor rehabilitation center. It is $12.00 each but knowing that they are saving those beautiful birds with the money was well worth it. You can see Bald Eagles, Hawks and a falcon close up. The staff was very helpful explaining the birds. Then we walked back to town and enjoyed the shops. Victoria, didn't care for. We got off the ship and took the 6.50 r/t ride on the shuttle bus. Was worth the cost as the walk would have been long and not much to see. The bus takes you right by the Empress Hotel which is beautiful. Then we walked around and went back to the docks. Walked out to the lighthouse which was better then downtown. We enjoyed the trip very much. The weather was beautiful which didn't hurt to make an excellent trip. Met many great couples on the ship and loved sitting outside talking to everyone. Make sure you eat and drink where you can see the sites. Alaska is a beautiful state. Well worth the money and would like to take my teenage kids next time. Everyone needs to see Alaska and this was a great way to do it. Next time we may try the Princess ship as we were parked next to it in Victoria and it looked more for younger passengers. Which may mean more small children. I did like that their were not that many small children.

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May 16, 2009

RT Seattle-Alaska

Holland America is, unfortunately, becoming less and less attractive. The staff remains HALs strong suit with friendly and attentive personnel. The Deluxe Veranda suite is spacious and clean. Little things were wrong and quite irritating. The TV was disconnected and when plugged in it could only be turned on or off and the volume only adjusted...no mute and no way to go to a specific channel. It turns out that there should have been another control

in the room. The telephone had absolutely no instructions as to how to contact housekeeping or the front desk. The mini bar was only stocked the first two days. Why no other days is unknown. A petty irritation is the charging of a 15% service charge for anything from mini bar. Why, when you had to open the bottle yourself? The room deck plan and the ones by the elevators had no mention of a library. There was one that was rather unfriendly and burdensome to check out books and DVDs. The library and very expensive computer room was in the "Exploration Cafe." The food was very bland with little or no seasoning. I rather doubt sailing with HAL again. In the Main Dining room, the food was very bland and, although well plated, not too good. A New York strip was virtually inedible because of toughness. Some entrees were barely warm. Sushi from the buffet line was absolutely terrible with gummy and slimy rice. The poolside hamburger bar was good with hamburgers warm and fresh from the grill. Spacious and well appointed. We were in a Deluxe Veranda Suite. Beds were good and the veranda was spacous (although on an Alaska cruise it wasn't too useful). Shortcomings are noted above. We didn't participate in the ships onboard activities. All on shore activities are very expensive.

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May 16, 2009

RT Seattle-Alaska

Holland America is, unfortunately, becoming less and less attractive. The staff remains HALs strong suit with friendly and attentive personnel. The Deluxe Veranda suite is spacious and clean. Little things were wrong and quite irritating. The TV was disconnected and when plugged in it could only be turned on or off and the volume only adjusted...no mute and no way to go to a specific channel. It turns out that there should have been another control

in the room. The telephone had absolutely no instructions as to how to contact housekeeping or the front desk. The mini bar was only stocked the first two days. Why no other days is unknown. A petty irritation is the charging of a 15% service charge for anything from mini bar. Why, when you had to open the bottle yourself? The room deck plan and the ones by the elevators had no mention of a library. There was one that was rather unfriendly and burdensome to check out books and DVDs. The library and very expensive computer room was in the "Exploration Cafe." The food was very bland with little or no seasoning. I rather doubt sailing with HAL again. In the Main Dining room, the food was very bland and, although well plated, not too good. A New York strip was virtually inedible because of toughness. Some entrees were barely warm. Sushi from the buffet line was absolutely terrible with gummy and slimy rice. The poolside hamburger bar was good with hamburgers warm and fresh from the grill. Spacious and well appointed. We were in a Deluxe Veranda Suite. Beds were good and the veranda was spacous (although on an Alaska cruise it wasn't too useful). Shortcomings are noted above. We didn't participate in the ships onboard activities. All on shore activities are very expensive.

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Jun 6, 2007

Alaska

Holland America was my choice for a retirement gift to myself. I had never been to Alaska and this seemed the perfect way to travel and enjoy the scenery. Holland America does a tremendous job of organizing the pre-cruise package and I chose to arrive a day early and spend the evening in Seattle. Everything was arranged and I was able to check into my hotel without any problems at all even though I'd arrived well before check-in time.

Transportation between the hotel and terminal was quick but despite the fact that I completed the on-line check and was assured that I would be directed to a special quick line for the final boarding procedures, I was sent into the general line which was quite long. There were many agents, however, and the line kept moving steadily. Once on board the ship, my carry-on bag was taken and I was escorted to my inside cabin on the Navigation deck. The cabin was good-sized and there was ample closet space--in fact, I only used one of the closets! The cabin was pleasantly furnished with sofa, chair and the usual bedroom furnishings.    My cabin steward arrived within a few minutes with my luggage and I was able to unpack and explore the ship. Though a mid-sized ship, it is easy to find one's way around and there are several elevators throughout for convenience of handicapped passengers. The ship had several areas of almost personal deck space to enjoy the scenery. The food: I found the food to be of excellent quality and presentation. All the meals ordered in the Main Dining Room were served hot and looked/tasted fantastic. The Lido Deck provides a buffet service and the food is put on plates by the serving staff. In addition there are several hand sanitation stations throughout the ship and a squirt is offered when entering the dining room. I enjoyed breakfast and lunch in the Lido and took my evening meals in the dining room. Entertainment: There are shows presented nightly in the Queen's Lounge. The resident cast present a high energy show most nights and a special treat was the crew member show which featured cabin stewards, food service staff, office staff and others. This wonderful crew received a standing ovation at the finale. The crew works very long hours and are mostly Indonesian. I found the crew to be very friendly, always smiling and invariably polite.   Activities: I did not visit the casino at all. There was the usual bingo games (didn't go there either) and some very good cooking demonstrations throughout the cruise. The cruise line folk do tend to push jewelry purchases and shore excursion talks leaned toward shops in ports that dealt with gold, silver and gems. There is a nice small art gallery (art is prevalent throughout the ship) but they also try to sell or auction artwork as well. On the lure of free champagne, I attended one art auction. I found the prices to be quite high (as did other passengers) and I didn't get the free champagne either. I'm not sure how much original artwork got sold during that particular auction. Also a pleasant experience: I was never pressured to purchase drinks though there were wait staff members continually carrying trays of them. Ports of call: the ports of Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan were all interesting and varied. Each had its own unique flavor, color and population. The weather helped as well! Unusual for Alaska, we encountered sunshine and "warmer" temps. I did not get off the ship in Victoria as the walking distance to the town was over a mile away. The ship docks here in the evening hours as well and leaves around midnight.   I felt Holland America did an exemplary job of organizing my trip. All the details were handled and I was able to embark with complete confidence that I was going to enjoy my trip to Alaska. I definitely plan to sail with Holland America again!        

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May 13, 2007

Vancouver Repositioning

We booked this three-night cruise as it seemed a great way to link our flight from Australia to a cruise to Alaska. This was the final stage of a Panama Canal cruise for the Amsterdam, and was sold as a Pacific Coastal repositioning cruise. This is a great way to get from A to B if you have the time – it sure beats flying! Given that you get transportation, accommodations and meals all included, they’re outstanding value for money. We

managed to get a balcony cabin at a very small premium over an outside cabin, and were very happy we did so. Our Qantas flight from Sydney arrived on time, and I had pre-booked a “Super Shuttle” from LAX to San Pedro over the net. It all went very smoothly, and we were pier side at San Pedro in no time. Checking occurred quickly as we’d also completed our registration online. We had the usual friendly greeting from the Holland-America checking staff, so our third HAL experience started well. Boarding commenced around 45 minutes later, and we were directed to the Lido restaurant as our cabin was still being cleaned. I found out later that approximately 400 passengers had disembarked in LA, with a similar number joining the ship for the three nights to Vancouver. We’d previously cruised on Holland-America’s Volendam, which is of a very similar size and layout to the Amsterdam, so we felt right at home. There was the usual friendly greeting from every crewmember we came across – this pattern was repeated throughout the cruise. We were permitted into our cabin by 1pm, with our luggage arriving by 1.30. We retired for a quick nap at that point, as it had been a VERY long time since leaving home in Australia. The three day cruise was the perfect jetlag antidote. With a very comfortable and quiet cabin, attentive and friendly service, great food and smooth seas, how could anyone go wrong? It was very evident that the Amsterdam is a happy ship, with a great rapport between the crew members. Our cabin steward was unobtrusive and efficient, and the cabin itself had much to recommend it. Flat-screen TV with DVD player, a very comfortable bed, plenty of wardrobe and cupboard space, writing desk with chair, and a two-seat couch. Bathrobes and our own monogrammed stationery were unexpected touches. The bathroom had a shower/bath with spa, though we didn’t use the spa feature during the voyage. A flickering light bulb was promptly repaired without our having to ask for it to be done. The balcony was a feature we enjoyed very much – the views as we left San Pedro at 6pm were spectacular, as were the views in Vancouver on arrival. It was also nice to be able to step out onto the balcony for some fresh air at any time. The food on board was very good. Lots of fresh fruit and salads, plenty of seafood, always an excellent variety to suit all tastes. We had breakfast and lunch in the Lido each day, with dinner in the main dining room. I can’t recall us being disappointed in any item we ate. One noticeable change since our last HAL cruise was the absence of a wine steward in the main dining room. Drinks waiters now circulate amongst the tables. While there was nothing at all wrong with the service, that little touch of class was missed. Overall the level of service was good. More demanding travelers than ourselves may have wanted more attention, but we were happy. I get the feeling that, like so many companies, HAL is reducing staff numbers in order to cut costs (read: in order to maximize profits). There didn’t seem quite the same number of service staff on board, notable especially in the bar areas. Once again, if you didn’t mind waiting a couple of minutes, this wasn’t a problem. Generally speaking we’re pretty self-sufficient travelers, so it’s a rare occasion when we need to speak to the front office. The last time this happened was on our first and only cruise with NCL, and the experience was less than inspiring. I’m happy to report that my two brief questions to the front office staff on Amsterdam were answered promptly, cheerfully, and most of all accurately. Disembarkation in Vancouver seemed to go very smoothly. As we had our own arrangements, we were among the last of the passengers off the ship, and we cleared customs quickly. One final point: the Amsterdam was sailing that afternoon to Seattle, which was also our destination. The one-night voyage was being sold as a “party cruise” – we’d tried to book on that cruise in order to stay on board to Seattle, where we then planned to spend a night prior to joining HAL’s Oosterdam to Alaska. However, because of the “Jones Act” (which I have to confess I’d never heard of), we were unable to do this, and had to travel from Vancouver to Seattle by coach. Every cloud really does have a silver lining, as we wound up spending two nights in Seattle rather than one, and had a blast!      

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Oct 16, 2006

Caribbean

This was a 13-day “Panama Sunfarer” cruise. It left New York Oct. 17 and ended in Fort Lauderdale on the 30th. In between, it stopped at Fort Lauderdale, Half Moon Cay, Curacao, Aruba, Cristobal (Panama) and Puerto Limon (Costa Rica). Embarkation We found out that the majority of passengers were embarking only in Ft. Lauderdale. This meant that there weren’t that many people to board from New York. It also meant that the ship

would be less than half filled for the two full days it would take to reach Florida. As you would expect, that made embarkation a breeze. We were greeted by friendly Port staff who cheerfully helped us deal with the bureaucracy and pass the time until boarding. A porter even volunteered to verify our cabin number when he received the manifest. To our delight, he came back and told us that he had found the information. We made our way onto the ship a little after 11 and ran into a minor glitch. We had been told that the rooms would be available only at 1 in the afternoon and that we should make ourselves comfortable in the Lido buffet. Unfortunately, it quickly proved too small for the crush of new arrivals. Compounding the problem, at first there was only one salad bar available to feed all those hungry mouths. It proved impossible to get any food or even a place to sit. This gave me some concern as I knew the ship was only half-full. As it turned out, this was one of the few times during the trip that we had any sense of feeling crowded. We were then told that we were free to walk around the ship as long as we stayed away from our rooms. This allowed us to get a little breathing room and to become familiar with the layout. By 1 o’clock, we were able to drop our hand luggage in the cabin and within a couple of hours our luggage was placed inside our room. The Ship The Amsterdam is a beautiful ship. While one might take exception with some of the décor, it is very well maintained and lavishly decorated. Holding about 1400 passengers, the ship is smaller than many others we had taken. This is reflected in the relatively few areas we had to “learn” during our explorations. Most activities seemed to be on the 5th (casino, library, shops) and 8th (Lido buffet, pool) floors. Cabin We were in an outside room on the 2nd passenger deck, near the stern. It was roomier than a similar cabin on the Veendam had been. There was space to store all our clothes and luggage; helping to keep things tidy. There was even a small sofa so that you could sit two people quite comfortably. While we spent relatively little time in the cabin, the time we did spend was agreeable. The sole complaint was that the flat screen TV showed a very poor image. It’s a measure of the small amount of time spent there that it didn’t bother us enough to complain. The cabin attendant did a wonderful job keeping things neat while remaining unobtrusive. This was representative of all the marvelous service we received from the front line staff. Since we were low in the stern, there was a fair bit of noise and vibration. This only bothered us early in the morning when we were docking. Passengers I would estimate the average age of the passengers at well over 60. I heard someone remark on the “token young people” they saw. There were almost no children under 18 and very few couples under 40 years of age. At 50 and 44 respectively, my wife and I felt quite youthful on ship. This is great if you are looking for a quiet, relaxing time. Party people would be bored stiff. It also means that activities and the general pace of life on board are geared towards senior citizens. Getting around, both on ship and on tours, was often a tediously slow process. So, you get a well-behaved, quieter clientele that makes moving around an occasional test of your patience. We met our share of great people on board as well a small number of not so nice ones. This is all par for the course. Entertainment As I said, the activities were geared towards an older crowd. We saw a couple of very tired comedians, a xylophone player and a young woman who played the oboe. Personally, I was unenthusiastic about all the shows I saw, although many people seemed to be quite pleased. We played trivia and a few other games; more to pass the time than for any other reason. With 6 full days at sea, you needed to be able to entertain yourself. As we enjoy reading and relaxing, we were fine with things as they were. Still, I could see some finding the pace a little too slow. While it doesn’t count as entertainment for me, my wife enjoyed playing blackjack in the casino. Her only complaints were that it was a lot smaller then casinos on other ships and that she often had no company at the tables and chose to wait until other players appeared. She did say that the gaming staff was very good. Ports We had 6 stops, including Fort Lauderdale where the rest of the passengers joined us. There didn’t seem to be anything of interest in the ship’s tours and the boat docked far from any interesting areas of town. We ended up sharing a cab with two other couples and going to the Galleria shopping center to spend a few hours. Next was beautiful Half Moon Cay. This was a very lovely stop. The tender service worked well and we whiled away the time on the beach and in the water. Some sunscreen, a good book and a drink or two made for a very pleasant day. After that came Curacao. I had been looking forward to this but came away disappointed. While I enjoyed the fact that we could walk into town over the pontoon bridge, the capital city struck me as dirty and unappealing. It was odd to find that, here and in Aruba, the clerks at the souvenir shops would follow us at a distance of 3 paces. It must be the norm, but it made us feel like shoplifting suspects. We took a tour with a taxi driver; one who turned out to be less than kindly disposed towards tourists. He seemed bitter and this didn’t make him pleasant company. It made me realize how one’s level of enjoyment often hinges on relatively trivial points. Aruba was better, even though it surprised us to see how arid it was. We tend to think of Caribbean islands as lushly foliated, but Aruba, like Curacao, gets only about 20 inches of rainfall per year. A consequence is that neither island exports very much. This makes living there an expensive proposition. We were told that Aruba’s only export was aloe. We took a ship’s tour that consisted of a pleasant bus trip to see the sights. Our guide was a very engaging fellow and we enjoyed seeing some landmarks. One of the main attractions of the cruise was seeing a bit of the Panama Canal. The ship was to go through the first set of locks, stop in Gatun Lake and then retrace its steps. I have to say that HAL did an excellent job with this. We were informed of the schedule; one that started before 6 in the morning. There were interesting handouts about the canal’s history and a great commentary over the loudspeakers on deck. People were constantly moving abut to gain new vantage points and the decks were crowded, even at the early hour. Only people on ship’s tours were allowed to leave the ship, by tender, at Gatun Lake. The rest of us had to wait until the boat returned through the canal and docked in Cristobal. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I heard a lot of complaints from folks who had paid $150 for the pleasure of kayaking in the rain. For the first time ever, we were warned to show “good common sense” in port, both over the speakers and in the daily bulletin. I don’t remember ever being told not to wear jewelry, flash money, etc. Of course this is always good advice, but being specifically told it for this one stop made us feel a trifle uneasy. As it happened, we never even left the port area. With only about 4 hours at our disposal, we spent it exploring the best marketplace we had ever seen on a cruise. Instead of row after row of the same plastic, made in China souvenirs, we were treated to a great range of native crafts. Indian artisans were selling Tagua nut carvings of animals, wood carvings, paintings and small tapestries. We ended up learning a lot from chatting with the vendors and spending more here than in all the other ports combined. We never had to worry about what the rest of the city held in store. The penultimate stop was Port Limoin in Costa Rica. Here we took a tour that we found on the dock; a 3-hour ride for only $25. Our guide was a sincere and articulate fellow who managed to convey his national pride effectively. The trip took us to a butterfly farm that featured a friendly spider monkey, a banana plantation and a few other spots. The banana plantation was remarkable for the amount of hard, manual labor we saw. Observing the workers handling the bananas in the sorting and packing area was a reminder that life is, as a rule, easier for us North Americans. They were constantly wet and worked in a confined area cleaning and sorting an endless sea of fruit. The guide managed to show us some monkeys and sloths and was quite patient with our questions and curiosity. I was very impressed with his indignation at a fellow we saw carrying a sloth to show to tourists. His attitude was that the animal belonged to all Costa Ricans and that it was wrong of the man to keep it. The port city itself was not too picturesque. It was also the first time we had seen a large number of young children trying to ingratiate themselves with the tourists. They seemed very intent on getting us to the park to see a sloth, but we managed to resist the attraction. Food Neither my wife nor I are keen on long, formal dinners. For this reason, we never once made it to the formal dining room. Instead, we were quite content with eating at the buffet for every meal. This may seem like a shame to some, but we found the food and service quite agreeable and were also able to get in and out at our own pace. The food was simply the best I have ever had on a cruise. It seemed that a great deal of care was taken with the variety of meals and the presentation and service. While we didn’t enjoy everything we ate, I came away very impressed. Most remarkable was the unflagging friendliness and helpfulness of the entire staff. Service was warm, efficient and very skillfully carried out. Most of the food was portioned out for you, rather than served buffet style. I appreciated this a great deal as it keeps things tidier than what one sees in a self-serve setting. While we didn’t require the same level of assistance as did some of the older passengers, it was heartening to see how helpful the staff were in carrying trays and carrying out special requests for the guests. It was also the first time I had seen fresh squeezed orange juice on a cruise. I remember how annoying it was to see the miniscule glasses of juice from concentrate on our last sailing with NCL. The large glasses of juice said a lot about the quality of the entire culinary experience. The not so good Overall, the cruise was so enjoyable that complaining almost makes me feel churlish. However, there was one major sore point. The internet and phone service went out in Fort Lauderdale. It took them 5 days to fix it only for it to fail again in Panama. Now, I realize we live in an imperfect world and I can accept the fact that sometimes things don’t work. Where I saw a problem was with the reaction of HAL to this challenge. Given that people had paid in advance for a service they weren’t receiving, I thought that HAL could have at least apologized for the problem. We had been exchanging e-mails every day with our children and found it very reassuring to be able to keep in touch. Now we had no way to contact them and this caused a bit of stress as we knew our daughter would worry. The situation was made worse by the internet manager and the library’s “assistant cruise director”. The former declined to comment and the latter just giggled and gave out ridiculous and contradictory information on the problem. It was never possible to have a clear answer as to what was the matter and when might it be fixed. Spending a fair bit of time in the library, I grew annoyed at hearing the woman constantly complaining to anyone who would listen about how hard this all was on her. It seemed logical to post a status report that could be updated periodically. Instead, the staff gave out a wide range of uninformative responses. It seemed like they never saw the situation as a problem, except inasmuch as it affected them. To hear “It doesn’t matter because there are internet cafes in port” was annoying. Who wants to have to scout out these places and stand in line to use them when you have bought a $100 plan on board and have limited time in port? I thought the staff was dismissive of all concerns and clueless as to any notions of customer service. To make things worse, the daily bulletins continued to pitch the internet service. It was ironic to see specials and features touted while the service was unavailable. Someone said that the special should read “Internet service - 100% off”! Adding insult to injury, when I asked the internet manager what compensation we would get, he said our money would be refunded. To my surprise, when I went to see him on the last day, he offered only a very partial refund. I was so annoyed that I didn’t bother commenting. Instead I just walked away. Again, their policy on compensation should have been spelled out and the customers should not have had to ask for it. This horrible service was in very marked contrast to the rest of our experience. HAL should really send these people back to the customer service class they so obviously missed during their training. If they don’t think the service is important to passengers, why offer it? Disembarking We appreciated that we were allowed to remain in our rooms until our numbers were called. This was much nicer than being in the theater waiting and waiting. Our turn came quickly enough and getting off, picking up our luggage and clearing immigration was a breeze. We caught a cab to the airport and, since out flight was in the afternoon, never felt any stress over getting there on time. Overall This was a relaxing and low-key cruise. Other than the frustration over the internet situation, I was very impressed with the entire experience. I can’t say enough about the excellent, friendly service we consistently saw. While I wouldn’t necessarily want all my cruises to be so mellow, I can heartily recommend this ship to anyone looking to spend a relaxing time. Comments or questions: akibasimba@hotmail.com    

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Oct 16, 2006

Caribbean

My wife and I have just returned from a 2 week Panama Canal Sun farer cruise with Holland America Line on the MS Amsterdam. We flew out to New York on the 16th October 2006 and were put up by Holland America in the Marriott Hotel right on Times Square. We couldn't have asked for a better start to the holiday as the hotel was extremely comfortable with very opulent rooms and you couldn’t have a better location in New York then Times

Square. Indeed, from our bedroom window on the 36th floor, we not only had great views over Times Square, but the next morning could even see our ship, the MS Amsterdam, in her dock – which was comforting. Check in the next morning at the quayside went fine, even if it was all a bit soulless. There was a slightly sour note when, as soon as we got out of the taxi, a tip was demanded by the shore staff handling the baggage. As we did not want to see our baggage ‘lost’ while we sailed off, we reluctantly paid up. However, once we had checked in and went towards the ship, dodging the line of ship photographers, and we were welcomed at the gangplank by a smiling Argus, who was also to be our ‘door-boy’ in the dining room, all was good with the world. We must say that the MS Amsterdam is a really superb ship. Yes, there were a few ‘niggles’, but overall we were more than happy with the ship. We were particularly impressed with the organization of the facilities and everything was available that we would expect to be available. Someone had obviously gone to a lot of time and effort to ensure that ‘all the bases’ were covered and there was literally nothing that we could think of that we would want to be available on the ship but wasn’t. The standard cabins even had flat screen TVs with DVD players and a recyclable items holder on the bin! There were sometimes minor issues over degree or quality but all the facilities were present and available. We had a standard outside cabin on main deck which was great. Very comfortable, queen size, high, beds and large cabins with plenty of space for all one’s things – I understand that Holland America standard cabins tend to be about 20% to 30% larger than most of the competition. The cabins could be a bit plusher but then it was a standard cabin and really, it was perfectly fine. The light switches by the bed though were poorly designed in that they were placed to be right in the way if you were sitting up in bed so one was frequently accidentally switching the lights on or off. The portholes were large so one had good views though I wish they had put the beds 90 degrees differently rather than having the headboard right up against the porthole which meant you couldn’t see out when lying in bed. There was a fruit-bowl in the room which was always replenished if one ate anything, as was the usual toiletries in the bathroom and indeed an ice bucket which was automatically replenished by our cabin steward twice a day. The toilet paper though was a bit harder than we are used to. The cabins were made up immaculately in the morning and then tied up again in the evening when one was at dinner. A nice touch was that we always had different ‘animal’ figures made out of towels every night, with chocolates where the eyes would be. A very nice, as well as entertaining, touch. There was one main dining room, with 2 levels, on Decks 4 and 5, and 2 sittings which worked fine, even though you couldn’t be more than 15 minutes late for your sitting or they shut the doors! But it was worth being on time as it was a lovely dinning room with great views and comfortable chairs. There was also a buffet restaurant on Deck 8 which was more basic, but perfectly fine and comfortable, and with 2 lines (one port and one starboard) so generally one did not have too long too queue. We had breakfast and lunch mainly at the buffet but not our evening meal, though the choice in the evening seemed to be pretty similar to that in the dining room. All food was ‘free’ apart from the ‘Pinnacle Grill’ where there was a $20 charge per head per meal. We did intend to try the food there but were disappointed that the menu never changed apart from a daily special for each of the 3 courses. As the main menu choice was not great we never bothered with it in the end. There was also for most of the day a Pizza/Burger/Hot Dog/Barbecue type informal eating by the pool which we only tried once and seemed to be of reasonable quality with a wide choice of accompaniments. We heard a couple of people complain that the buffet was not 24 hours but to be perfectly frank, we had difficulty enough coping with the amount of food we had at the main meals let alone wanting even more! They did have the standard midnight buffet from 2230/2300 to midnight with a different theme every night but we never went as we couldn’t have managed yet more food. And I generally have a reputation as a good trencherman so I know my food! Food was generally good quality with good ingredients, especially in the dining room where the presentation was excellent and food relatively freshly cooked. It was only a set menu with plated dishes, but there were enough choices for each course and you could have as many, or as few, of the dishes as you wanted. We certainly never had any difficulty with insufficient choice. Lunch in the restaurant was similar, though a more limited choice, but at breakfast, although there was a wide choice, the menu never changed which is why we mainly ate breakfast, and often lunch, in the buffet. The quality of food in the buffet was not as good as in the dining room, though one would expect that as the food is ‘sitting around’ for longer but you could at least choose different combinations. They still managed though to produce great scrambled eggs every single morning as well as excellent omelet's. Our main criticism of the food was that the sauces tended to be very bland. Not always, but usually, and as, in my view, sauces and taste are by far the most important test of a chef and most enjoyable aspect of the meal that was a bit disappointing. Given that their main market is the elderly I suppose that is not surprising but all the same we wish the chefs had been more adventurous. Some dishes though were great, and they had really good fruit soups, their watermelon gazpacho (and also the roasted garlic soup) in particular was worthy of a top restaurant anywhere in the world. I normally am not a fan of soups but they were so good here we normally tried all the soups on the daily menu. More disappointing was the range of fruits available at breakfast. Now I like melon, particularly cantaloupe, but not every day but that was normally all they had available, 3 types of melon and banana in orange juice. Great the first day but not afterwards. They also had pineapple twice, a berries selection twice, strawberries thrice, mango (unripe) once and that was it. We should have been having those every day and where was the Papaya or the citrus fruits. Come on guys, this was the Caribbean we were sailing in, not Alaska! The patisseries were also not good. They looked great and were well presented but had so much air pumped into the cake and the cream to lighten them that they became virtually tasteless, and it wasn’t helped by the high sugar content. More traditionally baked cakes which were heavier, but tastier, would have been far more welcome. After the first few days we rarely had any of the cakes, maybe just as well! Yet more disappointing was the quality of the Asian food on board. The buffet always had an Asian section and the dining room often had Asian food on the menu but invariably it was extremely poor. It purported to be Indonesian or Singaporean, or Thai or whatever but in reality had virtually nothing to do with Asia at all. My wife is Thai and I was born and brought up in Malaysia, so we know Asian food very well and this wasn’t it! A passing resemblance would be the kindest thing we could say about the Asian food on board. I understand that the head Asian food chef was a Filipina which is all very well but he clearly had no idea what Indonesian, Singaporean or Thai food should taste like. The crew had an Indonesian chef for their meals and we were most jealous of them! Having said all that, overall, the non-Asian food was well presented and perfectly eatable. One of the other most important factors on the cruise was the quality of the service and that was superb. We had no criticisms on that score. Everyone we met was invariably polite and helpful and generally very efficient too. There was the odd slip up but we never met with the arrogance or off-handedness that one sometimes gets. Also the way some of the buffet staff remembered nearly all the passengers’ names after they were told only once was quite phenomenal. The staff/crew were mainly Indonesian or Filipino, whilst the officers were mainly Dutch or British, and the Entertainment staff were mainly British or American. There were also some Aussies on board in the gym and spa staff. The service from the Indonesian and Filipino staff in particular was superb with just that right blend of service and friendliness without going over the top. Indeed, our main waiter, Roy, in the dining room, was one of the best waiters that I have ever come across, and though it is easier to know one’s waiter better when one sees him every day for a fortnight, one can also see the cracks more, and in Roy’s case, there never were any cracks in the service. The general quality of service was undoubtedly a major factor in our enjoyment of the cruise. The entertainment was OK, perfectly reasonable. Not as wide a range or quality as one might get in some of the larger ships but then we are not party animals and mainly just went to the main evening show. Those shows were more geared towards the older age group with most of the songs being from the classic Hollywood movies or the Sinatra generation but there was a wide enough range of acts not to get bored. There were plenty of other things to do on board and in particular we liked the lower promenade deck 3 which had the classic wide teak deck and was great for walking around and enjoying the lovely ocean. Then one could relax into the surprisingly comfortable wooden deck chairs which were solid and strong enough for someone of even my girth and weight! In addition, there were lots of spots around the ship for relaxing and just chilling out. The library was one of the best places (and it was surprisingly well furnished with decent books to read or DVDs to borrow) as well as having a range of computers available - though it was a very popular area and usually difficult to find somewhere to sit. My main criticism of the activities would be that although they did have one good speaker do a series of talks on the Panama Canal and another on US Foreign Policy, I would like to have had more choice available. They did have some Port talks which could have been interesting but it was all a hard sell on the shopping in the ports which was frankly extremely boring, especially as they concentrated on jewelry, watches and stuff you could just as easily get in your home country. The talk we went to had about 3 sentences about the port itself and the rest of the 45 minutes or so were just details about the ‘amazing’ shops! Dullsville! A few of the passengers that we met who were about our age (I am 51 and my wife is 42) complained about the lack of other passengers of our age for them to talk to as the vast majority of the passengers were retired couples. However, that was not a problem for us as we mainly wanted to relax rather than meet with other passengers, and certainly nearly all the passengers that we talked to seemed to be very pleasant people , some very intelligent as well, so we were perfectly happy with that aspect. Indeed, from our point of view, the passenger profile on the ship was an asset as the last thing we would have wanted was to have hordes of people rushing around the ship and making a nuisance of themselves. Shops on board were mainly geared towards luxuries like paintings, jewelry, watches, T-Shirts, that sort of thing and seemed somewhat pricey, but not over the top. You could get some of the basic needs like toiletries or snacks (if you had any space left in your stomach) but the choice was very limited so remember to bring your own. One aspect I did like was that the Front Desk sold stamps in advance for each of the countries we visited and you could post cards/letters on board if you wanted to, up to one hour before the ship departed. General on board prices were on the high side, especially things such as the photos taken by the ship photographers or Internet access, which, unless you bought a package, was 75 cents a minute, very steep! BTW, we wouldn’t recommend the DVD of the voyage which they offer you which was not only expensive, but having bought it, we were very disappointed with the poor production and use of stock shots for half the DVD of film clearly taken on other earlier cruises. I could have done a far better job than the ‘professionals’! The cocktails were usually over $7 each though they were usually large ones so were OK. Soft drinks were also chargeable, though as there was free coffee, tea and (sugar free) iced tea and iced water up in the buffet for 24 hours, that was no problem. The good thing though was that you were never hassled to buy things, although they were often promoted on the tannoy or the newsletters, so if you didn’t want to buy stuff on board and didn’t drink, as we rarely did, you could do the whole cruise with little additional expenditure other than the compulsory tips at the end – though as the service was so good, we didn’t mind that and even gave extra to our favorites. The way the compulsory tips are divided is that 70% go to the dining room staff and the cabin steward and the other 30% to the rest of the crew. The ports of call were OK, some better than the others. The first was at Fort/Port Lauderdale to pick up the other half of the passengers as only 700 or so had got on at New York. We could have gone sightseeing but went shopping instead! Then it was Half Moon Cay, the island in the Bahamas owned by Holland America. One could only do beach type activities and for me it was a very boring stop which we could have done without, though my wife quite enjoyed it. Then it was on to Curacao and Aruba which were fairly clean and colorful. Not much to them but the Pontoon Bridge in Willemstad and the Casino and shopping mall exteriors in Oranjestad were quite fun to see. Then it was on to the Panama Canal, the main point of the trip. We had to get up at 0500 hours in order to see (as far as we could, as it was dark till about 0600) the transition through the Gatun Locks. It was certainly a worthwhile experience, although we were disappointed that the ship didn’t sail around Gatun Lake as promised in the itinerary but just stayed at anchor until it was time to go back down through the locks again before berthing at Cristobal/Colon. The final stop was Port Limon in Costa Rica which was very laid back and had a pleasant feel to it. Apart from one, we did not take any of the organized tours as they seemed very expensive for what you got, though no doubt many people did enjoy them. We did take one tour though in Costa Rica, to go on the Aerial Tram, which was wonderful and we would highly recommend that. It was about a 2 hour drive in an air conditioned coach from Port Limon and we then had about a 90 minute (there and back) trip through the top and middle of the privately owned rain forest terrain. Each gondola takes 6 passengers with a guide in each, sitting behind us. Our guide was certainly extremely knowledgeable about the ecology of the area as well as being very humorous which made for a very entertaining ride. The gondolas are well designed with a solid floor for your feet but otherwise largely open sides, but with thick supports so you never felt at risk. Even the roof had a canvas covering which could be rolled back when there wasn’t any rain, as was the case when we were there. We wished the ride could have been twice as long. You hardly see any animals, even with the early tour and we were on the first coach out, but you do see some birds and some insects as well as lots and lots of trees and plants. Which might seem boring, but was actually quite lovely. In our gondola, we even saw a Toucanette (the smallest of the Toucan family) sitting on a branch only about 3 feet away. Back on the ground we also saw a sloth in the distance but really only visible through binoculars. After the gondola we had a lunch which was a bit boring but perfectly edible. Then it was an hour’s trek through the rain forest with our guide but at a very leisurely pace and on a concrete path, so no problems there. Then back to the ship – an excellent day out indeed. Disembarkation at Port Lauderdale went well on the whole and was efficiently handled. My main criticism was that whatever the time of ones flight, we all had to go onto the same bus to Miami Airport, which meant that we arrived at the airport nearly 8 hours before our flight. As BA didn’t start check in till about 3 hours before the flight we had a long wait at the airport with our luggage. It wasn’t helped that virtually all the facilities in Miami Airport are currently shut down for a major renovation of the airport which no doubt will be great once it is finished but for the time being meant that it was a very boring 8 hours. Mind you, it was good exercise walking for miles and miles through the boarded up corridors of the airport trying, largely in vain, to find something that was open! Despite some small complaints though, we really had a most enjoyable time and we would both have not the slightest hesitation in recommending a cruise on the MS Amsterdam, and I would expect, probably on any other Holland America ship.      

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Oct 6, 2006

Canada - New England

Embarkation in Montreal on HAL Amsterdam. We flew from Newark at 7:15 AM to Montreal and arrived at 9AM. We were shuttled to the pier by Gerry & Associates. We had been told at the airport that the Westerdam was late in arriving in Montreal and so they would be delayed getting on their ship. The main problem was that they put passengers from two different ships on the same bus. We sat on the bus for one hour and fifteen minutes without

any explanation. A HAL rep boarded and announced that anyone embarking the Westerdam (which was two hours late arriving in Montreal) should leave the bus. About sixteen persons embarking on the AMSTERDAM were left on the bus. No one told us why we were still sitting. We did not board the ship until 1PM, leaving us no time to walk around Old Montreal, which is within walking distance of the pier. When I wrote a letter to the Guest Relation Manager on the Amsterdam, she sent us a complimentary bottle of wine and an apology. She told us that she would notify all pertinent personnel of the mishap. I did the same by sending the same letter in our cruise survey “Comments”. We were also disappointed that we did not get early seating, since I am insulin dependent. I will be sure to get a letter from the doctor that I must eat by 6: 30 PM instead of 8: 30 PM. The Maitre’d explained that the early seating was filled in March and we booked the cruise in JULY. HAL should also open up more excursions since people use the Internet to book excursions leaving the people who wait until they board to book out in the cold. Excursions: Quebec: Montmorency Falls and St. Anne de Beaupre Cathedral- beautiful water falls that freeze up in the winter, beautiful fall foliage and the cathedral was very impressive. The chapel below has a replica of the Pieta and many colorful nature mosaics on the walls, a beautiful pipe organ as well. A native Quebois artist fashioned the beautiful copper doors of this cathedral. WE stopped at his family’s art gallery on the way back to the ship. His youngest daughter did a demonstration of the embossing technique used with the copper. Very beautiful art pieces at a quite reasonable price. Saguenay Fiord and National Park: We took another tour of this park and the naturalist was very competent in English and French as well. Learned about ice fishing and how the fiord waters freeze to almost 19” thick. The foliage was beautiful there also. Charlottetown, PEI: Visited the Province House, location of the founding of the commonwealth of Canada in 1865. They had a limited budget for their chambers, so all the furniture and paneling was made from Canadian pine, and faux painted to look like African maple, and there were wooden pillars that looked like marble. The present government still meets in that building in a different room, though. That excursion started me thinking on how I could faux paint in my home to achieve a new look. Sydney , Nova Scotia: They have a lovely docking place for the cruise ships. There is a huge fiddle outside. Very quaint, many churches and there was a lovely craft market – I purchased some birds eye maple, some small stuffed animals and a handmade knitted scarf with matrix yarn to wear with a plain sweater. The tour guide warned us about a storm that was coming through Nova Scotia and by 6Pm that evening , many passengers were quite sick due to the excessive motion of the ship. It was too dark for us to see the waves. We ate a light dinner and went to bed. Halifax, Nova Scotia: We took the excursion to Baddeck to see Alexander Graham Bell’s summerhouse. He was quite an interesting inventor. The foliage was beautiful. Gloucester, Massachusetts: We took the excursion to Rockport. We think it was overpriced since we were told later that there was a free shuttle from the pier to Rockport and the guide did not even point out the red fishing shack that is known as “ Motif #1. I enjoyed Rockport. It was quite “ artsy” but affordable and Jerry enjoyed excellent clam chowder at Ellen’s Harbor side restaurant , next to the Visitor Center Newport, Rhode Island: We visited two Vanderbilt mansions. They are quire impressive for summerhouses. Weather was gorgeous. There was a bit of a wait to enter the “Breakers”. Food was very good in the dining room, The buffet food was quite good for lunch and breakfast. They could use some help with their soups- their idea o mushroom-barley is not what New Yorkers think of . Cabin steward was very helpful and out of sight. Entertainment was okay, and we enjoyed the Filipino crew show the best. The excursions are a little pricey, but what choice do you have if you want to stay with the cruise ship? All in all , I would rate this cruise an “ 8” out of possible “ 10.” Definitely do this again at the same time of year!  

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Sep 3, 2005

Alaska

We recently returned from a 7-day cruise out of Seattle (great city- be sure and spend a day or two here before you leave) to Alaska aboard Holland America's Amsterdam. After months of planning, and a lot of money, we booked a deluxe verandah suite. We had always heard that the inland passage was beautiful, and that to fully appreciate it, you needed to have the verandah. Because we were taking our two children, we splurged and booked

a Deluxe verandah suite...for the extra room, the verandah and just for the extra "spoiling". Unfortunately, the cruise did not measure up to the “dream vacation” we planned on. Although the suite was very nice visually, and extra room a real treat, the noise from the rattling wall and verandah ceiling took away from the peacefulness of the trip. At night, when the ship went above 19 knots, the wall between our bed and the bathtub rattled- enough to keep a light sleeper awake. Some of the metal slats that formed the ceiling on the verandah were rusted, loose and rattled when the ship picked up speed, hit swells, or when it became windy. When those weren’t making noise, we heard clomping of shoes, objects being moved and chopping noises! When we called the concierge, she told us that after checking it out, the noise was coming from the deck above, in the hamburger grill section by the pool. Since it was a public area, there was little they could do !!! My husband then went to see for himself and found it was the work area of the grill. For a company that prides itself on its “signature of excellence”, perhaps better sound proofing is in order to insure that their suite guests have a peaceful, quiet ride? There were many times we couldn’t enjoy the verandah because it was much to noisy- hard to believe when you are paying around $6,000 for a week’s journey. Another big disappointment was Club Hal. Granted we were not cruising during the time school was out and more children were on board, but the hours of operation were sporadic. The morning opening was a 9am, closing from noon – 2pm. At 4pm-5pm, it was “family hour”, and unless a parent was there with the child (no matter the age), they had to leave. It again opened at 8pm-10pm. So, if you wanted to enjoy the spa, or take a quiet walk around the ship after lunch with your spouse, forget it. A show and drinks afterwards??? Forget that too, unless you wanted to pre-arrange expensive babysitting (that is if they had a crew member who was willing to do it). The food was okay, pretty bland most of the time, but always with nice presentation. The Pinnicle grill was delicious, but was an extra $20 per person. Again, after spending the money we did, a one night visit should have been included in our package. The afternoon tea option in our suite was nice, but the same goodies came with it each time, and were the same goodies served everyday in the private suite area’s Neptune lounge. Nothing special. Because of the size of the ship, the ship did roll and jog at times, again making a vibration in the suite in a series of 3- perhaps a mechanical issue. After speaking with a gal on the train home who took another ship (a mega ship), she said they never rolled- it was smooth sailing all the way. So, you have to decide if you want to put up with more people, or a smoother ride. I’ll take more people next time ! To give positives, the scenery was spectacular. We had some great shore excursions- the ride to the Mendenhall Glacier/city tour in Juneau, the duck ride in Ketchikan (and for kids, the Lumberjack show was cornedy, but fun). The raptor center in Sitka was really great- how many times do you get to sit 5 ft. away from a bald eagle? They are doing wonderful things there, its worth your support. Finally, our horse trolley tour of Victoria was fun, although it’s a shame you are only there for 4 hours, in the dark. The service of the crew on our cruise was fantastic. I hope Holland America knows how hard these folks work to make everyone feel special. They went above and beyond to make us comfortable, and were so sweet to our children. Our tips for a great cruise on HAL- watch where your room is located. Check out the actual hours of the children’s area operations, and see if it works for you and your spouse, if it doesn’t, Perhaps a cruise without them would leave you more rested!

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Mar 30, 2005

South America

I have traveled fairly extensively, having cruised on many occasions. This cruise would be my 7th cruise. I have cruised mostly on Princess Cruises; have experienced premium cruise lines like Cunard’s Queen Mary (Queen’s Grill Class) and Silversea’s Silver Cloud. However, this is my first cruise on Holland America and since ms Amsterdam is Holland America’s flagship, I should be expecting the best that Holland America has

to offer. This cruise was selected because it was the only cruise ship offering South American cruises during this period. In fact, it is the last ship to ply these waters for the season. The 33-day cruise embarks from Rio, Brazil and ends in San Diego USA. This cruise have a fair number of days at sea, a hence with plenty of free time on my hands, I decided to write this account. The following is focused mainly be on the ship itself and less about the destinations visited; otherwise this would be rather lengthy. The following account is based on my experience and observations on the cruise. The opinions are personal. Hopefully, this account would reach the good people in Holland America as constructive criticism and other potential passengers considering cruises with Holland America. The Ship I will not go into the statistical details about the ship; this information is readily available on many websites. Generally, the ship is mid-sized, small enough for embarkation to be a breeze. Queues are generally never too long for services. Large enough to have a decent sized theatre and productions. Opinions about the interior design of the ship are subjective. There is a fine line between elegance and tackiness. Amsterdam’s interior design is treading dangerously towards tackiness. Let me illustrate my point with the Queen’s Lounge. The color scheme is as follows: purple, red, gold and silver. There are semi-naked statues finished in silver-leaf, holding up backlit platters lining the walls. Class or crass? You decide. The heart of the ship is a three-storied atrium where the front offices, lounges and shops surround. The atrium itself is not large. In the middle of the lobby is an “Astrolabe”. It’s a rather impressive contraption, with the ability to tell time, constellations, moon phases, etc. This “Astrolabe” completely dominates the already small atrium, rendering it generally useless, negating any opportunities for functions to be held in the atrium. I do however appreciate the fresh flowers arrangements throughout the public areas of the ship. The variety of potted orchids on the Lido buffet adds a pleasant touch to the dining experience. Cabins I stayed in a Balcony suite. It is divided into three sections. First, the entry with closets on one side and the bath in the other. This is typical of most hotel rooms. There is a bathtub with a Jacuzzi. Second, the sleeping area, there are two beds that can be combined to become a double. There are curtains that separate this area from the other. Third, the sitting area, the sofa converts into a single bed for the third passenger in some rooms. There is a large desk with the television on one side. The Balcony has a lounger and a chair. The cabin is comfortable with plenty of storage. There is nothing much to complain about here. Food There are several dining options available on the ship. The main dining room is called the La Fontaine, the only ‘Fontaine’ noted were the two automatic hand sanitizers on two sides of the entrance. It’s a double-decked dining room with a central atrium complete with fake palms. There are two sittings for dinner. A typical dinner consists of 4 choices of appetisers, 3 choices for soups, 2 choices for salads, 7 choices for main course, many choices for deserts. There is always a fruit based item for the appetizers. There is always a cold soup, fruit based as well. The main courses are divided into two parts, items from the entree or grill. There is always ice cream and a flambé item in the desert section. Food quality is generally good, through not up to be standards of premium cruise lines like Silversea but hey, it cost a lot less. The quality and variety of deserts is somewhat lacking. (Princess offers better deserts, for those sweet-toothed cruisers out there). The western dishes prepared are good enough. The problem arises when the chefs attempt to interpret cuisines that they are not familiar with. I take particular offence to the appetizer named “Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style”. We’re from Singapore and imagine the delight when we saw the item on the menu. All of us ordered it only to be gravely disappointed. It neither looks nor tastes like the satay (we spell ‘sate’ as ‘satay’) we know. Even the accompanying condiments are wrong. We would have no issue if the dish were called “Grilled Chicken Sate Amsterdam Style”. Please do not associate Singapore with the culinary imposter. When and if the Amsterdam gets to Singapore, please try the real Singapore Satay and see how wrong it is. My family has registered our comments (and displeasure) over the item in the comment cards midway through the cruise, only to find the item repeated again on the menu. Either the chefs had ignored our comments or thought that those pesky (and occasional) Singaporean have disembarked and that it is safe to bring out the dish again. Chances are, the dish would be repeated again. So, a word of caution to all diners on the Amsterdam, do not believe that you are getting “Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style” when you order the dish. This is not the only Asian dish bastardized by the chefs, the “Thai Prawn Curry” is another story, but I’ll let the Thais take the issue up with the chefs… The Lido Buffet is located on the top for the ship. It offers breakfast from 7.30am to 10.00am, lunch from 11.30am to 2:00pm and dinner from 5.45pm to 7.30pm. My biggest issue with the buffet is that it does not offer continuous service. For example, there is no food from 10.00am to 11.30am. (Gasp! No food on a cruise ship! Its sacrilegious!) There are days where I had to make myself wake up in time for breakfast (OK, I’m a pig) especially during those long sea days. Holland America could easily have extended breakfast service on one of the two buffet lines while preparing the other for lunch, so the two could overlap. It’s simple enough and have been frequently done on other cruise ships and I don’t see why Holland America can’t do it. It gives passengers peace of mind that food is always available. The Lido also has an ice-cream bar as part of the buffet. While the quality of the ice cream is not quite Haagen Daz, it is very well appreciated and exploited, much to the detriment of the waistline. There is premium restaurant is called the Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey. There is a cover charge of $20 per person. Holland America says that the cover charge goes towards the premium ingredients. Personally, I have not eaten there. The feedback I received from fellow passengers that have dined there was that the food is indeed better than that served in the main dining room, but it was not worth the $20 charged. On the occasions where I have walked pass the restaurant; it is semi-deserted most of the time. It seems that the popularity of the restaurant could be improved either by improving the quality of the food or by reducing the cover charge. Entertainment There is always a two identical shows on every night of the cruise, one for the early seating diners and the other for the main seating diners. Throughout the cruise, there are four production shows with a cast of 4 lead singers and 6 dancers. Because for the length of the cruise (33 days), the production shows were repeated for the benefit of guests that has joined us midway. On the other nights, there are other guest performers. There are a wide variety of genres offered. We had performances by pianist, flutists, comedians, singers, dancers, magicians etc. Most of the performances were well executed and a joy to watch. All the performances are backed up by the wonderfully and professionally by the Amsterdam Orchestra. One suggestion to Holland America: The ship was docked overnight in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the optional tours offered was to watch Tango in one of the bars in the city. We were disappointed when we were directed into the venue. It was a small and dingy hall with a tiny stage. The stage lighting was rudimentary. The dancers and the musicians were good though, but the stage could hardly accommodate all of them. Holland America could easily have invited the performers to perform on board at the Queen’s Lounge. The stage, sound and lighting system are far superior to what the bar had to offer. It would also save us the hassle of transfers from the ship to the bar. More passengers instead of only those who signed up for the tour would be able to enjoy the performance. That would also mean that Holland America could not charge us $79 a person for the show without dinner. Those who opted for dinner were charged even more. It boils down to whether the ship could absorb the cost of the bringing the Tango performance onboard, to be open to all guests. Having said that, I would rather pay a nominal amount to watch the show in a ‘state of the art’ stage onboard the ship where the full potential of the entertainers could be better expressed. Overland Tours My family and I have signed up for a 4-day, 3-night overland tour to visit Machu Pichu. The tour was booked through the Internet based on the itinerary from Holland America. The tour was to begin at 1030am in the morning of the first day, arriving in Lima in the afternoon for an overnight stay. That would give us sufficient rest before the next morning’s flight into Cuzco. One day before the departure, we received the itinerary in a briefing. It came as a shock to most of us. The tour only departs at 4pm in the afternoon. We will only arrive into Lima at 10pm, arrive at the hotel at 11.30pm. Breakfast the next morning would be at 3am! That leaves us with 2 and half hours sleep at most for the night. Understandably, a lot of us were unhappy with the arrangement. The tour office offered us the option of canceling the trip with a full refund. But for many of us, that wasn’t much of a choice, because we would not be returning to this region for a long time. (South America is a 30-hour flight away for us). The reason given for the change was the flight schedule. Underlying the dissent was that this tour was exorbitant to begin with. We were each charged $1699 for double occupancy for the ‘standard’ package. The luxury package costs $2199. What Holland America should have done was to verify the flight schedules before publishing them on their brochures and not promise what they cannot deliver. They could also have informed us, days, if not weeks in advance of the change in the itinerary, giving us time to make alternative arrangements. Note of advise to other passengers, don’t bet on all the information on the brochures. On a positive note, the tour guide assigned to us, Kika was efficient, friendly and informative. (We had one more hour of sleep in Lima, arranged through skipping breakfast in the hotel, it was much appreciated). Technology Holland America claims the ship to be “State of the Art”. But there are little things that make me wonder. We all remember the key cards that we are issued at embarkation. This is the first ship that I have been on that does not record an image of the passenger in the ship’s database. As result, we are all required to display a ‘government issued photo ID’ whenever we board the ship. The security at the gangway would then match our faces with the photo ID and the names on key cards. On all the other ships that I have been on, whenever the key cards are swiped, the passenger’s face would appear on the monitor behind the security desk, immediately verifying the identity of the keycard holder. No photo ID required. Yes, it’s a minor inconvenience, but the technology isn’t rocket science either. However, its implications on the ship’s security would be of greater concern. The security personnel would also accept a photocopy of our passport as verification (since the ship is holding our passports). If a passenger were to lose his keycard with a photocopy of his passport, any criminal with access to photocopying machine could easily superimpose his photo onto the original. All the security features inherent in the original passport are voided in the photocopy. The criminal would hence have free access onboard the ship. The ship’s photographers still use film. Considering the number of photos, some wanted, mostly unwanted, taken on and off board, the amount film wasted must be phenomenal. While cost of the digital camera equipment is high, its running cost is minimal. Given the volume of photos taken on board, I’m sure the cost would be covered in no time. Think of all the rolls of film and chemicals needed to develop them. Digital is the environmentally friendly way to go. The above may be viewed as minor, but viewed on the whole, it’s indicative of a company’s willingness to embrace technology for the convenience and security of its customers. Let’s not forget that the Amsterdam is the flagship, I wonder what’s on the other sister ships… Conclusion Would I travel on another Holland America Cruise in the Future? The overall experience is pleasant enough and I did enjoy the trip. However, I find Princess Cruises to be marginally superior to what Holland America. I would have opted for Princess Cruises if given a choice. (The two cruise lines are in the same price category) However, my criteria for selecting cruises is based more on the destinations rather than the cruise line, so if Holland America can come up with interesting itineraries, I might yet return… Hopefully, the above account is construed as constructive criticism by the management in Holland America, including suggestions to improve their product. I hope that the above would be helpful other potential passengers considering cruises with Holland America.

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Jan 29, 2004

South America & Antarctica

Introduction The following is a cruise review of the January/February sailing of Holland America’s ms Amsterdam. It was a 21-night cruise that commenced on Thursday, January 29, 2004 in Valparaiso, Chile and ended in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In addition to Valparaiso and Rio de Janeiro there were 7 other ports of call. I have several purposes in mind for writing this cruise review. First, it will be a record that my wife and I can look back on

to revisit and/or re-live the trip. Second, I will distribute it to family and friends who have inquired about the trip and have expressed a desire to hear more about it. Finally I will submit it for posting on some cruise websites such as www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruisemates.com. These websites have been invaluable in the past in planning this and other cruises. For those unfamiliar, these two websites, as well as some others like them, have ship reviews of virtually every cruise ship afloat; cruise reviews, cruise comments, and shipboard ratings submitted by passengers; and message boards broken down into several categories including cruise line, roll call by specific ship and cruise, geographic area, and specific ports of call. These websites also advertise some pretty good cruise deals. Virtually anyone can access the message boards however generally you must become a member in order to submit messages. Membership is usually free. There is wealth of knowledge that can be obtained from the message boards either from just browsing the boards or by submitting queries. After we had booked this cruise I was able to contact several other couples who were going on the same cruise and I was also able to find out information and book independent shore excursions. We made specific contact with Ron and Jean, a couple from the Boston area and Carlos and Anne, a couple from San Juan, and both couples were frequent companions during the course of the cruise as will be mentioned in the cruise review. Perhaps this cruise review will provoke enough interest among some that they might seek out a similar cruise, or perhaps it might be helpful to someone who books a similar cruise and would like to know a little more information about it before departing, or at the very least it will provide a vicarious experience for those who may never have the opportunity to partake in a similar adventure. Since this review may find a substantial and varied audience I thought it best to establish a few facts up front. Depending on the specific audience, you might be completely aware of some of these facts or in some cases totally unaware. Anyway, here goes. My wife, Marge, and I are in our late fifties and mid sixties respectively and we are both retired. I am retired from the airline industry and yes, I do have flight benefits and we do make quite a bit of use of them. They enable us to fly stand by, which for those unfamiliar can be a unique and challenging way to travel. Our flight costs are quite economical but they are not free despite what most people think. In addition to flight benefits, airline employees and retirees among others, occasionally have access to good deals in many parts of the travel industry, cruises being among them. In many cases these are somewhat last minute deals. This cruise was one of those deals and we booked it a mere three weeks before its departure. At that point the only cabins available were inside cabins or outside cabins with totally obstructed views. I had never heard of an outside cabin with a totally obstructed view but a totally obstructed sounded a lot like the view that you have from an inside cabin and thus we opted for the $400 per person savings by choosing an inside cabin. We had sailed in inside cabins a time or two before and they really aren’t that bad. Virtually all ships have TVs in the cabins and there is always one channel showing the view from the bridge. In some respects this can act much like a porthole or window. I will now give a brief history of our cruise travel that for the most part has been accomplished over the past ten years. This will provide a benchmark of sorts for the commentary that I will be making concerning this cruise. Date Cruise Line Ship Cruise Itinerary July 1994 Royal Cruise Lines Star Odyssey Alaska March 1999 Holland America Maasdam Panama Canal Feb. 2000 Renaissance R2 Spain and Portugal Feb. 2001 Renaissance R7 Greece and Italy July 2002 Holland America Noordam Scandinavia & Russia Feb. 2003 Princess Cruises Regal Princess Australia & New Zealand July 2003 Princess Cruises Royal Princess Britain, Norway, & Iceland In addition we took a 4-day riverboat cruise down the Yangtze River as part of 12-day trip to China in November 2000. And finally there was an 8-day riverboat cruise through Belgium and Holland with Vantage in April 2001. I will now go over a few facts about the ship before getting into the day to day itinerary. The Amsterdam is among the newer ships in the Holland America fleet. It was built in 2000 and has a passenger capacity of 1,380. Along with the Rotterdam, the Amsterdam shares the designation as flagship of the Holland America fleet. For more extensive detail information on the ship itself, I would recommend either of the following two sources, i.e., www.cruisecritic.com or a current edition of The Unofficial Guide to Cruises. The two-level La Fontaine Dining Room is the main dining room and has open seating for breakfast and lunch, and two seatings for dinner, generally at 6:00 P.M. and 8:15 P.M. The Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey is an upscale specialty restaurant serving dinner only. Passengers dine by reservation and there is an additional charge. The Lido Restaurant serves both a continental breakfast and a full buffet breakfast. It also serves a full buffet lunch and a casual dinner in the evening. In addition to the usual buffet serving stations, the Lido Restaurant also has a deli bar, an omelet/stir-fry bar, and an ice cream bar. The Terrace grill out by the pool was also open for most of the afternoon serving hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and pizza. The variety of food offered was excellent. The dinner menu in the main dining room routinely had the following choices: four appetizers, three soups, two salads, six to seven entrees, four deserts, four sugar free desserts, ice cream, and an evening flambé special. We had all of our breakfasts and lunches in the Lido restaurant and all dinners in the main dining room. My wife felt that much of the food was rather bland. I shared that opinion although to a much lesser extent. In any case it did not seem to deter or diminish our total intake. The ice cream bar became one of my favorite haunts. It was generally open from 11:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., 6:00 P. M. to 7:30 P.M., and 11:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M. On sea days I would frequent it at lunch time, again in the late afternoon, and finally late in the evening if we happened to stay up late. The frequency was somewhat altered during port days and depended on the timing of our touring. In most cases the ice cream bar had 7 to 10 rotating flavors of regular ice cream, at least two flavors of yogurt, and at least 10 different toppings. Another feature was fresh baked cookies. About the only complaint that I had, and it is a minor one, was that they should have had the ice cream bar open from 10:00 P.M. until midnight and stolen the extra hour from earlier in the afternoon. One of the big questions we had prior to leaving for the cruise was how and what to pack. Besides the amount of clothing needed for a trip of this length, there was the issue of coping with the extremes in the weather. We would be encountering temperatures from the upper twenties and lower thirties in Antarctica to the lower nineties in places like Rio de Janeiro. In addition we would be experiencing weather conditions everywhere between those extremes. You’ve also got cope with four formal nights and 5 informal nights in the main dining room. Thus packing was a challenge but we somehow managed. They key to dealing with the Antarctic is layering. This advice was gleaned from information supplied by Holland America and also by consulting some of the travel websites. Since there was no landfall in Antarctica, the exposure involved was how long you would be on the exposed decks either taking the pictures or viewing the sights. In our case this involved frequent but relatively brief forays out on deck as much of the passing scenery could be viewed pretty well from the various lounges. Now that I’ve hopefully adequately set the stage, I will proceed into a day by day summary of the entire trip highlighting all of the activities that took place and the sights that we experienced. Monday, January 26 - Tulsa to Santiago, Chile We originally intended to depart from Tulsa around 5:00 P.M. but with a rapidly approaching winter storm predicted to arrive in Tulsa in the mid to late afternoon, we changed our plans and left around noon. With a few extra hours to kill in Dallas, our daughter and grandson picked us up at DFW and we went out to lunch. We returned to DFW a couple of hours before the Santiago flight. We actually turned out to be numbers 1 and 2 on the standby list and we got business class window seats on the opposite sides of the airplane. Tuesday, January 27 – Santiago, Chile The approximate 10-hour flight to Santiago was uneventful. I had been to Santiago a couple of times in the late 90’s and had paid the airport entry fee, however it was only valid until the expiration of my passport, which alas had expired in 2002. I was thus aware that we both had to pay the now $100 entry fee (it was $45 when I had originally paid it). As we approached the immigration area there were a couple of signs indicating the various fees by country however there were a bunch of people clustered around each of the signs so you couldn’t see the arrows at the bottom of the signs pointing to where you paid the fee. The last time that I had paid the fee, it was done right at the immigration check, so I didn’t try to read the signs more closely, and we thus proceeded directly to the immigration line. A few minutes later someone came around explaining that the fee had to be paid before getting on the immigration line. At that point almost all the people in the immigration line had to go back to pay the fee. The line to pay the fee was quite long and it took about 30 minutes to get through it. The only good part was that by the time we paid the fee, the immigration lines were much shorter. If we had initially been able to more clearly see the signs about where to pay the fee, we could have saved about 20 minutes, so a word to the wise, you pay the fee first, before the immigration line. After clearing immigration, we claimed our luggage, which was waiting for us because of the aforementioned delay. Before actually proceeding through customs, we spotted a taxi information booth and prepaid the $24 taxi fee for the trip from the airport to the hotel. We went through customs and showed the taxi receipt and a taxi driver took our luggage and led us to his cab. We then headed to the Providencia Panamerica Hotel in the Providencia district which is a little to the east of downtown Santiago. The cab ride takes you right through downtown Santiago. We had booked the hotel through Travelocity and it was around $65 per night for the two-night stay and it included a very good buffet breakfast. It was a nice hotel although the rooms were a little on the small side. It was in a quiet somewhat residential area. About a block to the south were a main east-west avenue (Avenida Providencia) and the Pedro de Valdivia subway station. About a block to the north was a major 6 lane east-west artery running parallel to the river. In the morning it was totally one way eastbound. In the evening it was totally one-way westbound. During the day it was a two way street with varying lanes in either direction. We weren’t there long enough to figure out how they transitioned through the various traffic patterns. After checking into the hotel we slept for a couple of hours and then later in the afternoon took a walk around the neighborhood. That evening we went to dinner at the Nostrum Mare restaurant, which we had seen on our afternoon walk. It was only about two blocks from the hotel. As the name implies, it was primarily a seafood restaurant and about half the menu was dedicated to Peruvian seafood specialties. We had a nice dinner and then walked back to the hotel. Wednesday, January 28 – Santiago, Chile We had the very good buffet breakfast at the hotel and then inquired about an afternoon tour. We were going to be doing a tour of Santiago the next day as a part of the transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso, so we booked a tour into the mountains for the afternoon. We then walked over to the Sheraton hotel, which was about 8 blocks away on the other side of the river. Jean and Ron were supposed to be checking in sometime before noon so we thought we’d take the opportunity to meet them. We stopped at the desk and found that they hadn’t checked in yet. After about an hour they still hadn’t checked in and we left to take our afternoon tour. It had been agreed that we would meet for dinner that night so we left a message that we’d meet them at the designated restaurant at 8:00 P.M. unless we heard otherwise. We then took our afternoon tour, which was to Maipo Canyon a little south and east of Santiago. It was about a 5-hour private tour in a van with a driver and a guide. The cost was $100. It was a scenic drive up the canyon, which parallels the Maipo River. We made a short stop in the town of San Jose de Maipo and then proceeded up the canyon to where the paved road ends. At that point we were only about 20 miles from the border with Argentina. As we had proceeded up the canyon, the Maipo River was a very brown color, but by the time we reached the end of the paved road the water was totally clear. As we started back down, it was only a couple of hundred yards before the guide pointed out a side stream of brown water that merged with the clear water to turn the river totally brown. The guide explained the brown water came from an area where extensive copper mining was taking place, which resulted in the silt that turned the river brown. I got a couple of interesting pictures where the two streams merged. On the return trip we made the perfunctory stop at a jewelry store, which specialized in lapis lazuli jewelry. They had some nice items but we were not tempted enough to buy. We got back to the hotel a little before 6:00 P.M. If you’re in Santiago sometime with a half a day to kill, this tour would not be a bad way to accomplish that, however I certainly wouldn’t list it among the top three or four things to do. After washing up and dressing for dinner, we walked to the Aqui Esta Coco restaurant where we were to meet Ron & Jean and Carlos & Anne. We were the first to arrive and scanned the menu, which was predominantly seafood. Ron & Jean arrived a few minutes later and were followed shortly by Carlos and Anne. We made our introductions, got a little acquainted and then ordered dinner. The food was excellent and it seemed like everyone raved about something be it an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert. The next day we would be accompanying Ron and Jean on a morning tour of Santiago and the transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso to board the ship. Carlos and Anne were transferring directly to the ship and said that they would try to intercede on our behalf to get us an early seating at dinner as we were confirmed for the late seating and wait listed for the early seating. We said our goodnights and walked back to our hotel. Thursday, January 29 – Santiago, Chile to Valparaiso, Chile We were up early, finished our packing, had a quick buffet breakfast and then checked out. Jean had arranged for the Santiago tour and transfer to the ship. It was a little cheaper than what the ship offered but had the advantage of being a nice sized van with a driver and tour guide for the four of us as opposed to a large bus accommodating a group of 30 to 40. We were picked up around 8:15 and then headed to the Sheraton to pick up Ron and Jean. We then had a nice tour of Santiago including a stop at the top of the Cerro San Cristobal with its great views of the city and also stops at both Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Constitucion. Alongside the Plaza de la Constitucion is the Hotel Carrera. It has been referred to as the grande dame of Santiago hotels and I had stayed there about 5 years ago during a business trip. I commented that I had stayed there and the tour guide suggested we go take a look because the Hotel Carrera was in its last days. It was being taken over by the government to be turned into some kind of ministry. We went in and looked around and virtually all the fixtures were labeled for an auction that was to take place shortly. The Carrera was scheduled to be functioning as a hotel for another day or two only. It was kind of sad to see the demise of the once famous hotel. After the two downtown stops we headed out of town in the direction of the airport and got on the highway to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. It was almost a two-hour ride to Vina del Mar. Sometime after arriving in Vina del Mar we stopped for a scheduled late lunch at a seaside restaurant that was frequented by several other tours. The lunch was not particularly memorable. We passed through Vina del Mar both going to the restaurant and then from the restaurant to the dock in Valparaiso. I always had the impression that Vina del Mar was a pretty upscale resort area but from what we saw passing by in the van I was not very impressed except possibly for one nice condominium complex. By the time we actually headed for the dock, time was getting short. We arrived at the passenger terminal at about 4:00 P.M. and all passengers were supposed to be aboard by 5:00 P.M., thus we got to see nothing of Valparaiso except the dock area. By getting there a little after 4:00, we encountered no lines checking in and quickly boarded the bus for the ship. The check in facility and the ship were over a mile apart. We boarded the ship and were shown the way to our room. It was an inside cabin at the front of deck 1 (the Dolphin Deck). It was a nice size room with a queen size bed, a sitting area, a roomy bathroom (shower only), and plenty of closet and drawer space. When we had checked in at the passenger terminal, amongst the papers we were given was the table assignment for the late dinner seating. Amongst some of the papers that had been delivered to our room was a table assignment for the early dinner seating. It appeared as though the intercession by Carlos and Anne had worked. A couple of pieces of luggage arrived shortly after we got to the room so we started unpacking. We then went to dinner and found that we were at a table with Carlos and Anne. When they had boarded the ship they ran into the maitre d’ who they immediately recognized from an earlier cruise that they had taken. At their request he was able to juggle the seating arrangements and get us the early seating we had preferred. There was a sign outside of the dining room that stated that the early seating was full. I suspect that except for the intercession by Carlos and Anne, it might have been unlikely that we could have gotten switched to the early seating. We appreciated their efforts and certainly enjoyed their company both that night and for the remainder of the cruise. After dinner we returned to the room and quickly unpacked the rest of the luggage that had arrived. We left the empty luggage scattered around the room and headed for the evening show. After returning from the show we discovered that the cabin steward had skillfully stowed all of our empty suitcases under the bed. We then retired after a long day looking forward to our 21-day adventure. Friday, January 30 – Day at sea For the most part the day was spent settling in and getting more acquainted with the ship. One of the idiosyncrasies to get used to was the naming of a couple of the decks, in particular the Lower Promenade Deck (deck 3), the Promenade Deck (deck 4), and the Upper Promenade Deck (deck 5). One would most likely assume that the actual promenade (yes there was a full promenade encircling the ship) would be located on the Promenade Deck. Well, one would be wrong. The promenade is actually located on the Lower Promenade Deck. The Lower Promenade Deck had a very small public area and was otherwise totally taken up with passenger cabins. The Promenade Deck and the Upper Promenade Deck contained the vast majority of the public areas on the ship, including the two-level show lounge at the front of the ship and the two-level Main dining room located at the rear of the ship. The Lido Deck (deck 8) contained the Lido Restaurant 2 swimming pools, 2 whirlpools, the beauty salon, and the Ocean Spa Gym. The Crow’s Nest lounge was located on the Sport’s Deck (deck 9) at the bow of the ship. One feature that took some getting used to was that you could not access the lower dining room entrance by walking from the front of the Promenade deck to the rear. Apparently the galley blocked the way and you could only get to the lower entrance via the stairs or the elevator. The other access to the lower level of the dining room was via a large sweeping staircase from the upper level of the dining room. There was a shore excursion talk in the morning given by Rachel from the shore excursion office. This was mostly a recitation of the shore excursions offered during the entire cruise but some of the commentary and opinions made it worth attending. In the afternoon we got our first introduction to Graham Sunderland who was the port lecturer. His first lecture encompassed our first two upcoming stops, i.e., Puerto Montt and Puerto Chacabuco both in the Chilean lake country. Carlos and Anne had heard Graham on a previous cruise and said he was not to be missed and they were absolutely correct. He was an excellent speaker, with a fabulous sense of humor, and an absolute wealth of knowledge and experience relating to this itinerary. He had advice on sightseeing, shopping, food, and even provided some historical insight. He had comments about the various shore excursions and also covered what was available if you wanted to do things on your own. His talks were worth attending for either for the information provided or for the entertainment value, and the combination of the two made them mandatory. Tonight was the gala dinner and was the first of 4 formal nights. The evening show was “These Three Tenors” and it was one the better shows that we have encountered on a cruise. Saturday, January 31 – Puerto Montt, Chile Cruise ships are able to dock at Puerto Montt but apparently it is dependant on the tide conditions which today were apparently unfavorable and dictated anchoring in the bay and taking tenders into the pier. It was a 20 to 25 minute tender ride and it was pretty rough. The weather was overcast and cool. About midday the clouds cleared and we had sunny skies and it warmed up to around 70. Jean had researched and booked an independent tour in Puerto Montt. She made contact with Jamie Toth at www.worldnextdoorcafe.com. Jamie operates internet cafes in both Puerto Montt and Valparaiso. He put Jean in contact with Dr. Robert Boyce who is a Chicago transplant and is a doctor of holistic medicine and a tour guide on the side. Dr. Boyce had suggested a tour including a brief drive around Puerto Montt, then a drive to Puerto Varas to view Lake Llanquihue, then on to Petrohue Falls and the Mount Orsono volcano. An almost identical tour was being offered by the ship at the cost of $108 per person. Dr. Boyce’s charge was $30 per person and he pointed out that the tour could be changed to fit our interests. The ship’s tour did include lunch while Dr. Boyce’s tour included a lunch stop but the lunch itself wasn’t included in the price. Anne and Carlos liked the sounds of the tour and Jean e-mailed Dr. Boyce and got them included on the tour. This ended out working quite well as Dr. Boyce’s car could accommodate three of us ok but four would have been pretty uncomfortable for the person sitting in the back seat in the middle. Dr. Boyce enlisted his brother-in-law who operates a taxi. We split up, three in Dr. Boyce’s car and three in his brother-in-law’s taxi. We stopped on a hill overlooking the town and the bay and then it was on to Puerto Varas. Dr. Boyce supplied us with plenty of information about the entire Lakes area. We stopped in Puerto Varas and had a nice view of the lake but the volcano was still obscured by the overcast. We then headed for the falls making a few stops at nice viewpoints and to see some of the local flowers and shrubs. By the time we reached Petrohue Falls the overcast had cleared and it quickly warmed up. Petrohue Falls is actually an area where a river courses its way through lava fields and lava tubes which were formed by the 1850 eruption of Mount Orsono. The falls were pretty impressive and just off to the north was a dramatic view of Mt.Orsono which was snow covered. After a stop for a late lunch by the lake we headed back for the ship. We were going to make a stop at the market a few blocks down from the dock but we were running a little late so we headed right for the dock. Apparently all the tour buses were arriving back at the same time and the line for the tenders became endless. There were about a hundred or so people in line when we arrived and shortly there were several hundred people in line behind us. The line went very slowly but we finally made it to the tender and back to the ship. The entertainment tonight was the music and comedy of David Levesque. His violin/comedy performance was somewhat different but very good. He turns out to be quite an interesting guy with a very diverse background. He would later on the cruise give two interesting lectures, one on navigation and another on the liberation of South America. After the show we visited the casino to kill a little time before the 11:00 P.M. late snack. I usually don’t do much gambling on the ship as my favorite is video poker and the pay scales on the video poker machines aren’t very good. I rarely, if ever, play regular slot machines but for some reason I put $10 into a slot machine that I knew nothing about. Within about 5 plays I hit something that took me progressively to two or three more screens where I still knew not what was going on except that I won $80. Fortunately it was just about time for the late snack so I was able to at least temporarily preserve my winnings. Over the course of the rest of the cruise I did play some video poker and managed to give back a little bit more than the $80 that I had won at the slots. Sunday, February 1 – Puerto Chacabuco, Chile In the wee hours the ship progressed up the Aisen Fjord and slightly after daybreak we anchored in a small bay near the head of the fjord. It was a bright sunny morning with virtually no wind. This was another tender port and we were anchored out in the middle of the bay. The water was like a sheet of glass and we were surrounded by several mountains capped with glaciers. It was a beautiful sight. Puerto Chacabuco is the regions busiest and most important port but was only established about ten years ago. The former port about ten miles to the east was Puerto Aisen but that harbor had become unusable due to a couple of natural calamities. Puerto Chacabuco is merely a working port with all of the significant population and facilities still in Puerto Aisen. Any touring options outside of what was offered by the ship were almost nonexistent. We elected to take the Northern Patagonia and Coyhaique City tour offered by the ship. This was a 5 and ½ hour bus tour and cost $79 per person. Certainly over the last couple of years the cost of tours offered by the cruise ships has increased dramatically. It has obviously become an important revenue source for the cruise lines. There are obvious benefits to the tours offered by the ship the main ones being convenience and the assurance that if something goes wrong the ship won’t leave without you. Reasonable cost is not one of the benefits. In this case there were virtually no other options available, so it was a ship’s tour or no tour. Aside from the cost the tour was very good and the tour guide was excellent. The tour took us to through the town of Puerto Aisen and up over the mountains to Coyhaique about 35 miles to the east. Coyhaique was established in 1929 in a river valley. It has a population of about 50,000 and is the main administrative center and the largest town in the region. There was a stop at a spectacular viewpoint before arriving in Coyhaique. The guide then took us on an interesting walking tour of the town. After about a half hour to visit the tourist shops it was back on the bus and back across the mountains. We made one stop at a viewpoint, another at a waterfall and then the last one at a nature preserve. Although a bit pricey it was a nice tour and the weather conditions were excellent with a light breeze and the temperature around 70 degrees. The tour guide did say that it was the best weather that they had experienced thus far during the summer. Upon arrival back at Puerto Chacabuco there was another long and very slow line to board the tender back to the ship. The show that evening was the first of four cast shows for the cruise. This one was entitled “Las Vegas Nights”. It was a poorly constructed and choreographed show that the singers and dancers did the best they could with. Unfortunately the lead female singer was terrible and the lead male singer was only ever so slightly better. Their performances did not improve throughout the cruise. After the show a number of us retired to the sports lounge to watch the Super Bowl, as the ship was able to obtain the satellite signal as they had hoped. Monday, February 2 & Tuesday, February 3 – At sea cruising the Chilean fjords These two days were spent cruising the Chilean fjords as we headed to the southern end of South America. The weather during the two days is best described as unpredictable, anywhere from bright and sunny to overcast and foggy and it would change every couple of hours. The seas were also variable with almost glass like conditions in the channels and fjords to pretty rough conditions as we ventured just off the coast. Although we were supposed to view a glacier or two during these two days, we did not and no explanation was offered. The scenery was very nice with the snow-covered Andes always present in the distance. The scenic highlight occurred on Tuesday as we passed through the narrowest channel that we encountered in the fjords. It was only a couple of hundred yards wide and as we very slowly steamed along, the water was just like glass with a perfect reflection of the surrounding scenery. During the entire two days the scenery was beautiful and there were virtually no signs of human habitation. There were a number of lectures offered during these two days. The first lecture was entitled “Antarctica as a Destination” and the speaker was John Splettstoesser, hereinafter referred to as John S. for obvious reasons. John would be our chief guide and commentator during our Antarctic passage. A more qualified individual would be hard to find. John is a geologist who has more than 40 years experience in the Polar Regions. He has been a lecturer/naturalist on more than 100 cruises to Antarctica and his work in Antarctica, beginning in 1960, has resulted in two geographic features being named for him: a glacier and a mountain. He has authored numerous publications including 5 books on polar subjects and his work has taken him to all three of the South and North Poles: Geographic, Geomagnetic, and Magnetic. His knowledge of Antarctica from every aspect including historical is absolutely encyclopedic. His first talk gave us a flavor of what to expect during our passage. The next lecture delivered on Monday was by Dave Levesque, the entertainer who had performed two nights earlier. His talk was on the “Art and Science of Navigation”. Dave had gained this knowledge as I recall in the Coast Guard Academy and as an officer in the Coast Guard for a number of years. He later left the Coast Guard to pursue other endeavors. It was a very interesting lecture and brought back memories of the navigation class I took in Naval Officer Candidate School in the early 60’s and further brief experience as navigation officer aboard the U.S.S. Interdictor for part of 1962 and all of 1963. The third lecture that day was a port lecture on Punta Arenas, Chile given by the aforementioned Graham Sunderland, hereinafter referred to as Graham. As with all of Graham’s lectures it was both informative and entertaining. That evening’s entertainment was Los Diablos Gauchos, otherwise known as Juan and Eileen Santillan, who had just finished an extended engagement at Ballys Hotel in Las Vegas in the show “Jubilee”. It was an entertaining show with the highlight being Juan performing with the bolos and Juan and Eileen demonstrating the tango. The lectures on Tuesday started with Dave Levesque discussing the “Liberation of South America”. It was an interesting lecture well worth attending. Later that day was “The ms Amsterdam Itinerary and Polar Navigation” delivered by the Ice Pilot, Pat Toomey. Again it would be hard to imagine a more qualified individual. Born in England he started his sea career in the British Merchant Navy in 1949, reaching the rank of Chief Officer before migrating to Canada in 1964. He joined the Canadian Coast Guard and served as navigation officer aboard icebreakers in eastern Canadian waters and in the Canadian Arctic until 1970. From 1970 to 1991 he commanded nine different coast guard icebreakers in the Great lakes, eastern Canada and the Canadian Arctic. He retired from the Canadian Coast Guard in 1991 and is now an ice pilot for Holland America Line and for expedition cruises to the Siberian Arctic, the North Pole, the Canadian Arctic, and all around Antarctica. His talk outlined our proposed passage through Antarctica. He emphasized that this outline was merely Plan A”, and there would likely be changes as the conditions in Antarctic waters are always in a state of flux. He emphasized that we were an ice-avoidance cruise, as the Amsterdam was in no way equipped to challenge the ice. The final talk of the day was a port talk covering Ushuaia, Argentina and Graham delivered up to his usual standards. The entertainment that evening was a reprise of Dave Levesque and My Three Tenors. Both acts were just as good, the second time around. Wednesday, February 4 – Punta Arenas, Chile We pulled into the pier in Punta Arenas early in the morning. A couple of hours earlier we had passed Cape Froward which is the southern tip of the South American continent with all the remaining land to the south and east being islands. The pier was part of a new port area which is about 6 or 7 miles north of the city, so although it was nice not to have to use the tenders, the location was isolated enough that anything you did off the ship required some type of transportation. We elected to take one of the ship’s tours to the penguin colony at Otway. This was a 4-hour tour costing $59 per person. It’s about an hour and a half bus ride each way and you spend about an hour walking the penguin colony. There is a boardwalk trail which actually takes you in amongst the penguins and at points could almost reach out and touch them. It was fascinating traversing the penguin colony grounds although it was quite windy. During the bus ride out we saw a number of guanacos (an animal somewhat like an ostrich) and also saw about 4 or 5 condors. The tour guide said that it was quite unusual to see condors in that particular location. Also as we left the penguin colony we saw a gray fox, which is apparently common to the area. You just as easily could do this tour by cab at a likely significant savings but be forewarned that half of the trip to the penguin colony is on an unpaved road. While this was not particularly comfortable even on the bus, I’d expect the cab ride to be a much more jarring experience. After returning to the ship we had lunch and then after debating for a while decided to forgo the cab ride to visit Punta Arenas itself. A fairly sizeable portable tourist shop had been set up on the pier and we went down and made a few purchases. Here are a few other notes regarding Punta Arenas. There was as second penguin tour offered which was to the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve. We passed on that one because of the duration, cost, and long ferry ride involved. It was an over 7-hour tour costing $99 per person, and involved an almost two-hour ferry ride in each direction. I did not hear from anyone that the Magdalena Island penguin experience was any more rewarding the Otway trip. If you are going to do one of the other more pricey and spectacular tours in this part of the world, Punta Arenas is the place to do it. The only other geographic opportunity would be Ushuaia however virtually all of the large cruise ships dock in Ushuaia for 6 hours at the most. This is because part of the day for Ushuaia is dedicated to cruising past the glaciers in the Beagle Channel. There were two major tours offered by the ship in Punta Arenas i.e., the 7-hour Antarctic Flyover and the 11-hour air/land tour to Torres del Paine National Park. I’m certain that the Antarctic Flyover is spectacular, but since the ship was going to Antarctica anyway and the cost of the flyover was $999 per person, I didn’t give it any consideration. Torres del Paine National Park is reputed to be one of the world’s more spectacular scenic destinations but the 11-hour duration and the $765 per person cost ruled it out. If either of those tours are up your alley, Punta Arenas is again the place to do it because it’s the only port stop that affords you enough time for either one. The show Tuesday night was the second of the cast shows entitled “Personality”. This wasn’t much better than the first cast show. Again the lead singers were terrible. They’d have been better off just plain singing instead of trying to do all kinds of fancy things with their voices of which they were incapable. Better yet they should have let the male and female second leads do the singing in their stead as the second leads were much more talented. Thursday, February 5 – Beagle Channel Glaciers & Ushuaia, Argentina Around 7:30 in the morning we were heading east in the Beagle Channel. Over the course of about a two-hour period we passed a series of beautiful glaciers on the port side. Graham was on the bridge narrating the passage. Several of the glaciers came right down to the channel while a few had receded and appeared to be hanging off the mountains which are designated as the Darwin Mountains and yes, all references you see here to Darwin and the Beagle Channel refer to naturalist Charles Darwin and the voyage of his ship the Beagle. We still had several hours to go before docking in Ushuaia and as we were cruising it was very nice scenery though not quite so dramatic as the glaciers. The weather was mostly overcast and a little cool and breezy. We did dock in Ushuaia on the northern side of the Beagle Channel about 1:00 P.M. We were at the end of a rather long pier but the foot of the pier was virtually in downtown Ushuaia. Ushuaia has been designated as the southernmost city in the world and is also referred to as the city at the end of the world. Puerto Williams in Chile, which lies a little south and east of Ushuaia across the Beagle channel, has a population that only designates it as a town, thus preserving Ushuaia’s claim as the southernmost city. Jean had made contact with a tour guide who we would be using in Buenos Aires and he had suggested that the Beagle Channel wildlife catamaran cruise was worth taking in Ushuaia. He had stated that the cost was $28 per person. The ship offered the same cruise for $59 per person. However as we were entering the harbor of Ushuaia we noted that we were taking the same route that the catamaran’s were taking and seeing the same sights from the ship. Thus we decided to forgo the catamaran cruise and spent a couple of hours walking around town. One block up from the pier was the east-west main street that ran for several blocks. There were several nice shops as well as a number of street vendors. Recalling Graham’s port talk we went about four or five blocks to the east to a tour office and obtained, free of charge, personalized certificates authenticating our visit to the southernmost city in the world. The ship departed Ushuaia around 7:00 P.M. and we shortly passed a lighthouse that is dubbed the lighthouse at the end of the world. This is an effort by Ushuaia to re-enforce its claim to labels as the southernmost city and the city at the end of the world. There are more remote and more southerly lighthouses that could likely make a better claim to the end of the world designation. The entertainment that evening was a British comedian named Mike Goddard who was very good. Friday, February 6 – Rounding Cape Horn and heading to Antarctica We were scheduled to round Cape Horn around 8:00 A.M. A short while before we were to encounter the Cape we spotted a small rocky island off the starboard side. Anticipation mounted for a good view of the Cape. The Cape, nearly 1,400 feet high, is a beautiful sight, perhaps enhanced by the fact that the unique landmark is rarely seen. This last sentence is from tourist literature distributed on the ship and unfortunately it was prophetically true. Shortly after passing the rocky island mentioned above, the fog set in. We cruised around a little bit and got as close to the Cape as legally permitted but it was to no avail and we shortly headed south towards Antarctica without any sighting of the Cape. The weather forecast gave no indication that the fog would lift and we had schedules to meet for the Antarctica passage. Aside from the fog, it would have been a good day to see the cape as the winds were relatively light and the seas were not particularly rough. An hour or two after we headed south for Antarctica, the seas started getting quite rough. One of the tv channels in the cabin had the report from the bridge, which included the weather and seas conditions. It indicated that the seas were rough with 7 to 12 foot swells. On deck the swells looked even higher but the strange thing was that there were no whitecaps. Anyway we were now bouncing our way to Antarctica with great anticipation for our first encounter. Later on Wednesday morning there was a coffee chat in the Explorer’s Lounge with Mike Goddard, the comedian from the night before. This was kind of like an interview conducted by the cruise director who fed Mike questions and then opened up to the floor for questions. Sometimes these so-called coffee chats are quite interesting. In this case it was both interesting and quite funny. It was almost akin to another performance. One story that Mike related was very funny. It was purported to be a true story but whether it was a true or not it is worth relating. He’s apparently a pretty well known comedian in Britain and as such will occasionally get invited to charity functions. He said the one thing that he dreads is encountering other well-known people at these functions but occasionally drawing a blank on their identity. At one such function a woman approached him and he got frantic because he knew her but couldn’t recall who she was. As she rapidly approached all he could recall was that she had a famous sister. She said, “Hi Mike, how are you”. Mike replied, “Very well, and how’s your sister?” She replied, “Oh she’s doing well, she’s still the Queen”. Mike subsequently related another story about an encounter with Princess Margaret, which lent authenticity to the first story. The rest of the day was fairly quiet with the usual shipboard activities taking place. The seas continued quite rough and Carlos and I dined alone that evening, as our wives were both a little under the weather. Our cabin steward had stated later in the day that there were five cabins he hadn’t gotten to because the occupant and/or occupants hadn’t left the room during the course of the day. The entertainer that evening was a piano player/comedian from San Diego who I didn’t find appealing. He wasn’t terrible but he was the only entertainer outside of the lead singers in the cast that I was disappointed in. Ironically he was the only entertainer who came back later in the cruise to give another full show. That would become the only evening entertainment on the cruise that I would miss. Saturday, February 7 – Antarctica, first day As we awoke this morning, the seas had settled down considerably. Initially it was overcast with low visibility. The visibility gradually improved and within easy sight there were plenty icebergs, and then mountains, glaciers, penguins, whales, and numerous sea birds. We proceeded down through Gerlache Strait and then into Neumayer Channel. Just prior to entering Neumayer Channel the Antarctic Penguin Swim took place at the pool on the lido deck. Participants earned a spot in the “Penguin Club”. I chose to witness rather than participate in this activity. In Neumayer Channel the mountains and glaciers on either side seemed almost close enough to reach out and touch. John S. provided plenty of interesting commentary from the bridge keeping us abreast of our progress. The scenery was awesome. As we exited Neumayer Channel we turned west towards Palmer Station at the southern end of Anvers Island. Sometime in the mid afternoon we anchored off of Palmer Station, one of three U.S. scientific stations in Antarctica. The other two larger stations are at the South Pole and McMurdo Sound. Palmer Station currently has 31 scientists and support staff in residence. About a dozen made the trip out to the Amsterdam on zodiacs. The Amsterdam scheduled two presentations to be made by the visitors. In order to divide the attendance evenly, the first presentation was intended for the early dinner seating and the second presentation for the late dinner seating. Unfortunately this proposed breakdown went almost unpublicized and it was not enforced. As a consequence, the Queen’s Lounge was filled to overflowing for the first presentation with even standing room hard to come by. The scientists gave about a 45-minute presentation describing the station itself and the various activities that they were involved in. They then fielded questions from the audience for the next half an hour or so. Virtually all of their scientific activities are funded by grants through the National Science Foundation. I poked my head into the Q&A portion of the second presentation and the Queen’s Lounge was a little over half full. The Amsterdam staff really dropped the ball in properly getting the audience split for the two sessions. In any case this was truly one of the highlights of the Antarctic experience. Neither of the previous two Amsterdam trips in December and January was able to incorporate the stop at Palmer Station. The Amsterdam was so appreciative of their visit that they packed up three cases of Dutch beer as a gift for the scientists and support staff and then asked if there was anything else they would like. They said that they hadn’t had fresh fruits or vegetables in months and that was the thing they craved the most. Needless to say a couple of cases of fresh fruits and vegetables accompanied them on their trip back to the base. The ship was still buzzing for quite awhile after their visit. There would be no live entertainment in the show lounge that evening nor for the next two evenings in the Antarctic. The Amsterdam adopted the following policy in that regard: “Due to Antarctic permit restrictions in Antarctic waters, our activities will be kept to a minimum. This will also allow you the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular sights the Antarctic has to offer.” From this statement one would have assumed that some or all of the following activities would be curtailed, i.e., bingo, the casino, trivia, sales in the boutiques, the art auction, jewelry presentations, the evening musical activities in the various lounges, the late night DJ activities in the Crow’s nest, or the gala Ice Ball in the Crow’s Nest. Actually none of the aforementioned activities was a victim of the activity curtailment. They all continued on as usual. The only things curtailed were the daily lectures and the evening entertainment. The lack of daily lectures was understandable, as effectively in its place, there was commentary from the bridge that augmented the sights that were to be seen as we transited Antarctica. So I guess we honored the Antarctic permit restrictions by being deprived of the evening entertainment. Somehow the Amsterdam’s observance of the Antarctic permit restrictions seemed a bit disingenuous to me. I must interject that on the first evening in the Antarctic they did show a “Gold Premiere Movie” in the Queen’s Lounge. The movie chosen was “Lost in Translation”, a recent movie of some acclaim that had even garnered Bill Murray an Academy Award nomination. Whatever acclaim there was for the movie was not shared by the audience on the Amsterdam, at least at the first showing that evening. By the end of the movie there was far less than half of the audience still in attendance. In addition, as the audience that survived was departing, there appeared to be a lot of bleary eyes indicating a significant amount of sleeping was going on during the movie. I know that I enjoyed several naps myself. We managed to kill an hour or so after the movie and headed up to the lido for an evening ice cream fix and then retired looking forward to more fabulous sights in the Antarctic the next day. Sunday, February 8 – Antarctica, second day The morning started off with a bit of a disappointment although it was not totally unexpected. The previous two cruises of the Amsterdam had ventured down to actually cross the Antarctic Circle on their first night in the Antarctic. Although the actual crossing was in the wee hours and few were awake to witness it, all passengers were greeted the next morning with certificates authenticating their crossing of the Antarctic Circle. When Pat Toomey, the ice pilot, outlined plan A of our passage through Antarctica he said that venturing down to the Antarctic Circle was not in the plan. He stated that it was the result of anticipated problems with ice conditions, sea conditions, time, and fuel expenditure. Unfortunately this part of Plan A was executed as planned. Last summer on a cruise to Norway and Iceland, we had crossed the Arctic Circle and I thought it would be kind of neat to cross the Antarctic Circle a mere 7 months later but I guess that it just wasn’t meant to be. In the morning hours on Sunday we headed south into Lemaire Channel. As we entered the channel it narrowed to less then 1,000 yards wide. It was overcast, windy, and there were scattered snow and rain showers. The visibility wasn’t great but everything was close enough that we could still see reasonably well. The weather conditions kept everyone inside most of the time. The Crow’s Nest lounge was pretty much standing room only the entire morning. As we progressed through the channel we were surrounded by snow covered mountains with numerous glaciers and there were a significant number of icebergs in the water. About three-fourths of the way through the channel a large iceberg blocked the way. The ship had slowed to a crawl, and then virtually came to a stop and then we executed a 180-degree turn. Pat Toomey later related that our failure to totally traverse Lemaire Channel was as much because of the wind as for the iceberg blocking the way. The winds at the time were 55 miles an hour with gusts to 72 miles an hour and the profile of the ship was such that it was acting like a sail making the ship very difficult to maneuver. Watching the ship make the 180-degree turn in the narrow channel under the existing weather conditions was quite impressive. As the afternoon approached we headed back north and the sea was littered with icebergs. We progressed through what is referred to as the Palmer Archipelago with a landmass on the right and a series of islands on the left. The scenery was still compelling although not quite as dramatic as in the morning. It was another rather quiet night as the main evening entertainment was still suspended. The ship was headed for an early sighting of Deception Island the following morning. Monday, February 9 – Antarctica, third day This day didn’t start well but it improved dramatically as it progressed. I had thought that we were supposed to arrive at Deception Island around 8:00 A.M., so that’s about what time I got up on deck. Unfortunately by that time we had departed Deception Island leaving it far behind in our wake. And then I had to put up with all of the comments about how awesome it was. Deception Island is a still active volcano with an opening in the side of its crater that has been breached by the sea. The passage is called Neptune’s Bellows and it is where the ocean pours into an interior lagoon that is actually a flooded caldera. Small ships can and do enter the caldera although a ship the size of the Amsterdam cannot. In any case it is a kind of unique sight in Antarctica. Fortunately Anne and Carlos were up early and had shot some video as we passed Deception Island so we were at least able to see what we had missed. Apparently a weather phenomenon was occurring as we passed Deception Island and some adjacent islands of the South Shetland Island chain. Fog was rolling in from the Northwest so when we were not in the lee of an island, we were socked in with fog. However as the fog hit an island, it was lifted up and we were thus afforded a perfect view of each island as we passed it. That is exactly what had happened as we passed Deception Island. As one of the subsequent islands came into view it looked like a good photo opportunity so I hurried up to the Lido deck and went through the gym to the doorway that led out to a small front deck. I had to lean hard against the door as it was being held closed by the wind. When I finally opened it and got on the deck I tried to take a picture of an upcoming glacier. The wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t steady myself or the camera in order to take the picture. I leaned against the bulkhead in an effort to brace myself but it was to no avail. I don’t know what the actual wind speed was but I would guess at least in the 45 to 50 mile an hour range. I strugg led to open the door to get back inside and a woman was about to try to come outside. When she saw what the wind was like she hastily retreated. I heard something fall to the deck so I let the door go and saw one of my camera batteries rolling around the deck. The wind had actually blown the battery cover off the camera and this is a battery cover that can usually only be removed by depressing a small pin. I quickly picked up the battery and seeing no sign of the battery cover struggled back inside. Now the predicament, the camera would not function without the battery cover. A couple of hours later when the wind had settled down I decided to go back out on the small deck and see if the battery cover might somehow turn up. I was far from optimistic since the battery cover was about the size of a postage stamp and in all likelihood had been blown overboard. At first I didn’t see anything but I did notice that where the wooden deck ended there was about a two-foot section of metal that was painted black. Naturally the battery cover was black so even if it had blown into this area it would be almost impossible to see. In any case I got down on my hands and knees and all of a sudden saw a little glimmer of metal that turned out to be the reverse side of the battery cover where the metal contacts were located. I retrieved the cover but was still uncertain if it had been damaged when the wind had torn it off. I took it down to the cabin, reaffixed it to the camera, and the camera hummed back to life. This was the turning point of the day. By early afternoon the weather conditions had improved and under mostly sunny skies we cruised into one of the bays of King George Island, which is towards the eastern end and also is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. Under relatively calm conditions we passed by the Polish and the Brazilian scientific stations and also observed several glaciers. We departed King George Island and headed for Elephant Island. As we approached Elephant Island, John S. was providing commentary from the bridge. He was explaining about the Shackleton expedition of 1914 and the important role that Elephant Island played in the ultimate outcome of that expedition. For those not familiar with it, the Shackleton story is one of the greatest survival stories in the annals of exploration. There are several books about the journey and there was a recent PBS documentary that recreated the adventure. A quick primer on the Shackleton story can be found in the November 1998 copy of National Geographic magazine. Very briefly, Shackleton departed Plymouth, England in August of 1914 with a crew of 27 aboard the three masted wooden sailing vessel the Endurance. By January 1915 they were about 100 miles from their destination in the Weddell Sea when the ice closed in around her. For the next ten months they drifted with the pack ice, but in late October the grinding ice flows started to crush the ship and they were forced to abandon ship. They had no radio communication and no one in the outside world knew where they were. As a means of subsequently getting to any kind of safety they were able to salvage three lifeboats. They first attempted to march over the ice to Paulet Island nearly 400 miles to the northwest. That effort failed as dragging the loaded boats over the ice was impossible. They drifted with the ice until April when the ice finally started to break up. They then launched the three lifeboats and tried to head for Elephant Island. About a week later they made it to Elephant Island but this was merely a temporary refuge, as Shackleton knew that the outside world would never come to Elephant Island. Shackleton would then fortify the largest lifeboat (the 22 and ½ foot James Caird) and with a crew of five sail 800 miles across some of the most dangerous water on the planet, the south Atlantic, in winter, to the whaling stations of South Georgia Island. They made it to south Georgia Island 15 days later but were forced to land on the uninhabited southwest coast. If they tried for the inhabited northeast coast they risked being blown into oblivion. In fact had they missed this narrow island, the next landfall was Africa, nearly 4,000 miles away. Shackleton and two of the men set out across the mountainous spine of South Georgia Island and arrived at the whaling village on the other side in 36 hours. A ship was sent to rescue the three crew members left on the other side of the island. Three rescue attempts were made to reach the 22 sailors left behind on Elephant Island but were thwarted by pack ice around the island. The fourth attempt was successful and the men were rescued on August 30, 1916. It had been just over two years since they had left Plymouth and through all the long months of their terrible ordeal, Shackleton had lost – not a man. This is an extremely shortened over simplified version of the Shackleton odyssey and is merely related to put into context our experience of viewing Elephant Island. We initially cruised from south to north along the east side of Elephant Island. The scenery was quite dramatic with the sun starting to set over the mountains that ran the length of the island. John S. then pointed out the northeast corner of the island where the Shackleton lifeboats first made landfall. They realized shortly that this area of the island did not provide a safe haven from the elements so they relocated to the north side of the island. We also then cruised around to the north end of the island. As we were passing Elephant Island there were numerous icebergs and we encountered several large groups of whales. As we were approaching the north end of the island we sailed by two icebergs that had small colonies of penguins on them. We then got within a mile or so of shore and saw the monument that had been later constructed where Shackleton’s men had spent over four months waiting to be rescued. We were now about to end our Antarctic adventure. As we departed Elephant Island we passed a mile or two from a rather large iceberg. John S. commented that the same iceberg had been there on the previous two trips. Apparently it was grounded and they had used some instruments on a previous trip to measure it. It was 140 feet high and almost three-quarters of a mile wide. And one must keep in mind that only 10% of an iceberg is visible above the waterline. It was a fitting end to our visit to Antarctica. Words can’t really begin to describe the awesome scenery and in many cases even pictures can’t truly do it justice. For those interested there is a very good article with some excellent pictures in the May/June 1990 issue of National Geographic Traveler. It documents the trip of an expedition ship that traverses a very similar itinerary to what we experienced. The expedition ships have the advantage of using zodiacs to make landfalls. We in fact passed close by a couple of expedition ships in Antarctica. Although we did not actually make a landfall in Antarctica, this in no way diminished the trip. The sighting and passing of Elephant Island during the late afternoon and early evening certainly took the place of the evening’s entertainment that would again be unavailable during our last night in Antarctica. Thursday, February 10 – At sea – headed for the Falkland Islands Shipboard life this day got back to the routine. In the morning there was a Q&A session conducted by Ice Pilot Pat Toomey and Lecturer John Splettstoesser entitled “The route we took and why”. They provide a map that detailed the itinerary that we actually ended up taking while in Antarctic waters. They both deemed the passage to have been a success and both felt that the Palmer Station visit was one of the highlights. It was explained again that although there was Plan A, we likely reverted to Plan C., which didn’t necessarily involve seeing any more or any less, it was just seeing what the conditions dictated. There were two more lectures that afternoon both referencing our next stop, i.e., the Falkland Islands. One was a port lecture by Graham and the other an “Introduction to the Falkland Islands” by John S. The evening entertainment was finally restored and provided by Celeste Francis an excellent singer from England. During the late afternoon and evening the seas again got quite rough. Friday, February 11 – Stanley, Falkland Islands Stanley would be our first landfall since Ushuaia six days earlier. Cruise ships are only successful in stopping at the Falklands about 50% of the time due mainly to wind conditions. Stanley would be our final tender port. We anchored out in the bay shortly after 8:00 A.M. We decided to forgo any tours and just do a walking tour on our own. The Falklands are rather remote islands about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. The human population is about 2,300, while the sheep population is some 600,000. The Amsterdam passengers and crew number around 2,100, so our arrival virtually doubled the population of the islands. As we rode in on the tender a dolphin cavorted in the water just off the bow. After getting off the tender we walked east on Ross Road, one of the main streets that run parallel Stanley Bay. We stopped first at Christ Church Cathedral which was built in 1892. It is a nice church although rather smaller in size than what one envisions for a cathedral. There was quite a bit of impressive stained glass work. It turns out that the status of “Cathedral” is historic and is founded on the fact that the Falkland Islands were the original seat of the bishop of the Falkland Islands, the diocese covering most of South America. In the garden adjacent to the cathedral is an interesting rather large arch constructed from the jawbones of a whale. We then decided to take the about one mile walk along the bay to the Falkland Islands museum. On the walk we passed the town hall, the war memorial, and Government House. In addition, in the bay there were a number of very old decaying shipwrecks. The museum has a large number of displays covering the history of the colony. In addition there is quite a bit of material on the short 1982 war with Argentina. On the way back to the tender pier we visited one small Catholic Church and also stopped in one or two shops on Ross Road. While not registering parti

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Jan 4, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

I have been on three past cruises on HAL and my husband seven, and while this was a good cruise, it was ‘off’ from past experiences with HAL on other ships. We particularly didn't like the ‘nickel & diming’ that occurred that had not been part of past HAL experiences (i.e. wine tasting price was up from $5 to $7.50, but you couldn't apply that fee to a bottle of wine as on past cruises; $.75/min for internet usage which hardly

anyone took advantage of; soliciting of drinks in the Lido Restaurant; etc). Wine prices were excessive and quadruple the price of purchasing the same bottle of wine at home. Pluses included: a nice B cabin with large bathroom (though the balcony was small); Lido food was very good; good service by the staff generally (some cruise staff for activities were a bit testy); embarkation was handled smoothly and we got on the ship by noon; the Sport's Bar was a nice addition; pre-selecting shore excursion on HAL's web site. The ship layout seemed cramped in the public areas, though the casino and Crow's Nest lounge were large. The Vista Lounge had columns that hindered views of the stage. The shows were typical, but the HAL lead singers were too full of themselves which was irrating. The last night of the cruise the entertainment was only the ship’s band. The Queen's Lounge was used for movies, but the chairs in the front were higher than the back lounges so sight lines were difficult. Meals in the main dining room (Vista Dining Room) were fairly ordinary and the portions (particularly vegetables) were small, though the presentation of food was excellent. Food quality seemed to improve during the week. Passengers could also ask for more and it was provided with no problem. Tables were fine as long as you weren't at an oval table that had 6 people and should have had 4. We take issue with charging for "Espresso coffee" in the Windstar Cafe and the new exclusive dining room for an extra $20/person. The onboard activities were good and offered a variety of choices for the passengers. The library had a small selection of books and games and again, there was a charge (though refundable) to check out books. There were no laundry facilities (available on other HAL ships) though you could ‘pay’ to have your clothing laundered and/or ironed. The decor was ‘interesting’ and we adjusted to the ‘wild’ colors by the third day. The Piano Bar was a bit weird for such a venue, in grays and black. All the pianos on the ship were electronic (except the piano never played in the Lido Restaurant), and particularly in the Piano Bar there should be a ‘real’ piano. In discussion with other past HAL passengers, it was felt by everyone we talked with that this ship was a ‘little less’ than they had experienced on other HAL cruises. We hope that HAL will raise the level of this ship to what we have experienced before and certainly hope that they have not regressed backwards on all their ships. We have been so satisfied/loyal in the past to HAL that we have been afraid to switch and not receive the same cruise vacation, but we think that for our next cruise we will try another cruise line.

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May 16, 2003

Alaska

We set sail out of Seattle for Alaska on a beautiful evening on the Amsterdam, a ship from Holland America. This was my first cruise however my companion has taken two others and is monitoring this review. We left one hour late due to holdups on the Canadian border for 4 buses filled with Australians. The Captain kept us informed constantly, it was not a problem whatsoever for any onboard the ship. The embarkation in Seattle was

professional, seamless and smooth. We were served juice and water while waiting for our number to be called to embark. Once onboard we found our bags had arrived before us, the room was spotless and much bigger than I had imagined. We had gone to the Holland America website to view 360 degree videos of everything on the ship beforehand. Our room steward was attentive the entire time and the service from him and all other staff was remarkable. We were not out of the room more than 5 minutes any given time and the room was made up or tidied for us. The two of us had more than enough room for all the clothes that we had packed; actually we had shelves left over. The bathroom was spacious and the small things like great water pressure in the shower was appreciated all week long. My companion and I were able to both be in the bathroom in the morning side by side to get ready for the day without feeling cramped. Same with the room. More than enough room to maneuver and enjoy any and all time spent there. We had food ready for us in the Lido Buffet the moment we embarked on Saturday afternoon. The food both in the Lido and the Formal Dining Room where we took our evening meals each night was superb. The only problem we saw was that the Lido closed at 730 pm each night and there was no place to get food after that time unless you were in the second seating of the Dining Room. The weather was perfect (for Alaska!) and we visited Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria and finally back to Seattle in our week of cruising. I have no need to speak about the individual ports, you can get all that information at various places which would help each of you to decide what you wished to do in your limited time there ( shopping, nature, additional excursions). We didn’t do any of the excursions in any port finding that they were too expensive for our budget, however we did enjoy each port of call by walking and visiting pre determined sites I had researched beforehand. The ship is small compared to some of the Mega Ships we saw in the ports alongside us (Princess lines) but we were never crowded, I have no idea where the other 1200 people were but we seemed to be alone so much of the time on the decks or at the bow. We spent a lot of time in the Crows Nest watching the world go by and the attention for drinks and snacks was incredible each and every day. The attention of the entire service staff was not pushy or subservient, always attentive without hovering. Holland Amercia has a “no tipping required” policy and we never felt like we were being pressured by any of the staff to remember them at the end of the cruise. We heard from other passengers who had traveled other lines that they never felt more relaxed and without pressure from the staff than on this cruise or any cruise on Holland America. We are already looking forward to sailing again and Holland America will be our first choice. The small things that bothered me were the lack of meals after 730 pm (we had overslept one afternoon and didn’t feel like dressing up for the Dining Room), the movies in the theatre were not the latest, the library was closed at 5 pm each night and I felt it should be open till 11 pm for cards and games. If these are the worst things that I can say about the cruise than understand that we had a perfectly wonderful time and would not hesitate to go onto this ship or any ship in the Holland America line in the future.

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May 9, 2003

Alaska

My husband and I, along with my parents, recently returned from a 7-day Alaskan Cruise aboard the MS Amsterdam. This was the third cruise for my husband and I, and the fifth for my parents. Speaking for all of us, while we did enjoy the cruise, it was not our most enjoyable one. The embarkation went surprisingly smooth. My parents wanted to arrive early thinking we would be able to board earlier. That wasn’t the case and we did

have to wait for a couple hours. It was our fault for getting there so early though. Once our numbers were called, we were shown to our cabin. We had a mini-suite on the Verandah deck and the room was the highlight of the cruise. It was spacious (as much as cruise cabins can be) and we had a private balcony towards the back of the ship. We would wake up each morning and open the curtains to see absolutely stunning Alaska scenery. I highly recommend a balcony room. Our room steward met us at our cabin on the first day and I can’t say enough good things about him. Our ice bucket was always full, the room cleaned twice a day, and he even placed our empty luggage under the bed to give us more room (we never thought to do that!) If we left any clothes lying around, he would either fold them and lay them on the bed or hang them on the wall hooks. If we saw him in the hallway, he would greet us by name and would rush to open our door for us if our hands were full from shopping. He was just awesome. While the cabin and our room steward were the nice aspects of the cruise, the rest of the service and the food were the not so great aspects. The previous cruises we had all taken had excellent service. We were used to having our water and tea glass always full, food being served hot, etc. This was not the case on the Amsterdam. Our waiter in the main dining room and his assistant were very likeable and I don’t blame them for the poor service. I could see they were constantly moving and working. Instead I blame the set-up. They had 6 tables in their station. One was a table of 8, the rest were tables of 4. (We sat at a table for 4). The way they work is to take all the orders from all the tables. The entrees (or whatever course you are on) are then all brought up, for all tables in his area, and placed at the waiters’ workstation. He goes through and begins handing out the meals and he usually started with the table of 8. By the time he got to us, our food was almost always cold. His assistant was busy picking up the used dinnerware and too busy to keep our drink glasses filled. The quality of the food was okay but not superb. Of course, the fact that it was usually cold added to the problem. The desserts in the main dining room (La Fontaine) were outstanding however. The buffet food served in the Lido dining room ranged from awful to great. The one exception was the bread pudding, which was truly excellent. We found the service poor in other areas as well. While sitting outside on the deck, the waiters would come by to sell beer and wine, but if you wanted water, soda, coffee or hot cocoa they acted like it was a big imposition. Our ports of call were Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Vancouver. Unfortunately it rained on and off in all the ports, but it wasn’t a cold, uncomfortable rain and it wasn’t constant. We did enjoy all the stops but were disappointed with the very short stay we had in Ketchikan, as we felt very rushed. Also, the stop in Vancouver was 6pm-11pm and we found many stores were closed. The on-board entertainment was nice. The one complaint I would have is that we would have like to play bingo one of the nights, but they scheduled it where it interfered with our dinner seating time. It seems they would have put more thought into that. All in all, it was an enjoyable cruise. The Alaska scenery was spectacular and made the cruise worth it, but if you want total pampering, excellent service and superb food along with the scenery—then I wouldn’t recommend Holland America. Speaking for the four of us, we want it all! Therefore we all agreed we would definitely take another Alaskan cruise, but we would not be taking Holland America in the future.

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Apr 21, 2003

Coastal Repositioning

The Cruise Itinerary: My cruise on the ms Amsterdam was a 3-night Pacific Coastal repositioning cruise. The ship embarked in Los Angeles and sailed up along the California coast to Vancouver, BC, Canada. No stops. Just two sea days in between the start and the finish. Embarkation in LA: This cruise was very very unique. The Amsterdam docked in LA after completing is big World Cruise on a day the LA Port folks aren’t used to having

a ship. They were a little disorganized in the whole process, and we didn’t even begin lining up until 1pm. We were probably onboard by 2pm, but there was no numbers given out, no priority for Mariner members, nothing special. Since it was definitely a “one off” cruise, this embarkation can’t be compared to HAL’s norm. The Atmosphere: This cruise was completely unpromoted by HAL. It was literally not even listed on their website. I live in California and like to hop on the Coastals when I can in the Spring and Fall. For this reason, I did big research to find out which ships were going to be doing Alaska in the Summer, and then dug deep to find out how each and every one was getting to Vancouver or Seattle. HAL embarked 130 new crew members, and tons of Alaska merchandise in LA. Basically, they seemed to want to use this cruise to prepare for the big Alaska season, and that’s why they weren’t promoting it. The gift shop was closed much of the time with boxes piled everywhere. You could see new crew members getting trained and getting tours at various times. My cruise had only 150-160 passengers.. on a ship with a stated capacity of 1300! The ship had a few holdovers from the World Cruise, plus some of us who were cruising just for that one 3-day jaunt. The passengers were probably 50% Canadian, which was fun. When I had requested a brochure, it was difficult to get, but when I did finally get it, I got a Canadian version. Regardless of country, everyone was very friendly on this cruise. The Amsterdam: The main purpose of my cruise was to get away for a couple days, but also have a chance to try out HAL. I had never sailed on her, and thought a 3-day would be a good test run for trying out a new line. The ship is very beautiful and well-maintained. She is 61000 tons, which puts her midsized in my mind. There is one two-story showroom at the front of the ship, and one two-story dining room at the aft. Both are beautifully decorated. In between, on the two main public decks, the lower promenade and the promenade, they have the usual complement of beautiful lounges, a sports bar, casino, gift shops, library, card room, & puzzle corner. Most of the lounges had small dance floors. In the center of the ship they have an Atrium with a large clock that is many stories tall and does many cool things. Off this center clock, you can find the purser’s desk, the shore excursions, and the officer’s offices should you need to talk to the guest relations manager or the hotel manager or something. They also had an electronic world map that you could light up with the current itineraries of all of HAL’s fleet. That was pretty neat. On the high deck forward they had the Crows Nest lounge, which was beautiful, had a large dance floor and was too smoky for me. I’m sure it was smoke on one side, not on the other, but in an enclosed space the smoke didn’t seem to have anywhere to go. The ship had two pools. There is a nice central pool with the famous two bears sculpture. This is under a roof that opens and closes, and has lots of deck space around it. Also, on the aft there is a smaller pool out in the open with a large deck around it. Next to the main pool there was two whirlpools. For the outdoors lovers there was and enclosed tennis court and volleyball court, plus the usual shuffleboard. The spa was big and wonderful, with complimentary sauna and steam room. I didn’t get any treatments, but they seemed to be the exact menu as all other cruise ship Steiner spas. One thing I really loved about the Amsterdam was the wrap-around Promenade. I loved the teak deck chairs and the red plaid blankets you could use if you want to lounge out there in the fresh air with a book. Also, on the last day I found a great quiet and warm place a the extreme aft of the promenade. If you go back there, you will find some deck chairs, a couple tables and a great place to see and hear the wake. Further, there is a little flight of stairs that will take you down one deck. Hidden on the back of the main deck they have a couple more deck chairs and it was very quiet and not windy there. A great place to hang out. The ship overall had lots of wood and glass and brass. Very tastefully decorated. Of course, the bathrooms have actual washcloth “towels” for you to dry your hands on, so some folks make a big deal of that. It was novel, but I don’t mind the paper towels on other lines. ;) The Cabin: I had an interesting situation. I got to see two cabins. I had booked an inside “K” guarantee, and been “upgraded” to a category “I” on the extreme aft of the lower promenade deck. So, when I boarded the cabin I3422 was made up for me. This cabin had a bed, and a couch with a table and a sitting vanity across from it. The bathroom had a counter / vanity and a TUB with a shower. What’s interesting is that the brochure considers this the highest category “inside”, but it was actually a fully-obstructed view outside cabin. I was very concerned about the motion of the ship going northbound along the coast (against the current), so I wanted to be closer to the center. Therefore, I spoke to guest relations and got myself moved back down to the centrally-located Category K inside. The Category K Room 2566 was fine. It has the same amenities as the I, except there was only a shower without a tub. There was only one power jack, at the vanity, in the whole room. The built-in hairdryer in the bathroom lacked power and couldn’t even dry my bangs. Be sure you take your own if you go on this ship. The cabin had a safe, but no refrigerator. The Dining: Because of the lack of passengers on our ship we had a rather unique dining schedule. However, the service and the food would be the same regardless of when you ate, so I think my experience is still representative of HAL overall. I tried room service once, for breakfast on embarkation day. The food arrived early, as most lines seem to do. They didn’t have everything I ordered (no bacon or sausage to go with the eggs), and the omelet was undercooked. I wasn’t impressed. However, I DID get fresh-squeezed OJ as I requested, which made my day. On the other two days I had breakfast in the buffet. (The dining room wasn’t open for breakfast or lunch on our cruise.) I thought the food was OK, but nothing to write home about. The service level is great, but I’d prefer less. How do I explain it…. At the buffet you told someone else what you wanted and they filled your plate for you. This doesn’t give you the chance to decide on your portions or pick out exactly what you want. Also, the beverage servers were very attentive, however, they didn’t ever put the coffee / cream mixture the way I liked it. I would have preferred to do it myself. They have a greeter at the start of the buffet line that greeted you by name every time you went in, THAT was pretty neat. In the afternoons they had a burger/hotdog grill open out by the pool, plus some pre-cooked pizza and fries. Of these, the pizza looked not too appetizing to me, so I skipped it. I ordered a hot dog and a cheeseburger and the cheeseburger wasn’t good. The hot dog and fries were fine. On one day, to celebrate the pacific coast cruise, we had a salmon bake on the pool deck. Now THAT was awesome stuff. They also had crab there, which looked fine but I didn’t want any. To go with the salmon they had some salads and potatoes for you to choose from. Don’t miss it! I didn’t have a complaint about the desserts. As a matter of fact, they were just awesome. The ice cream in the buffet was just absolutely fabulous so I had some both days. They have multiple types of cones you can have, as well as bowls, and many flavors each day. For dinner, we had “open time seating” from 6pm – 7:30pm every night in the dining room. We still had an assigned table and dining partners, but could show up anytime in this window to be seated. Since there was so few of us on the cruise, this satisfied both the folks that were reserved for early and late seating I guess. I thought it was a little strange since not everyone at the table was going to be at the same spot in their dinner at the same time. We used just the upper level of the two-story dining room. Of the three nights, I thought the main course was good two of three nights, and ok on the third night. I didn’t think the veggies were particularly good on any night. The soups and desserts were always good, and the service was fabulous. The waiters didn’t do any singing or dancing for us. I don’t know if that is a HAL thing, or just because of our cruise. They also had tea in the dining room both afternoons. On the first sea day it was “high” tea, and there were lots of little pastries offered with the tea. I attended that and had a great time meeting some new folks. On the second day it was just plain “tea”. The Amsterdam has a fabulous-looking “pay extra” restaurant called the Odyssey that I didn’t use. I’m not sure if it was open on our cruise, but it probably was. I just didn’t notice. I personally don’t see any reason to pay extra for food on a cruise. To me, it should be included in the price. Entertainment: Every evening after dinner at 9pm we had “Showtime” in the show lounge. We had a comedian on the first night, a production show on the second night, and a combo act on the third night. The combo act was a Hispanic guy juggling in the first half and a singer doing a lot of Judy Garland songs in the second half. I wouldn’t consider any of them really great, but for free entertainment it was fine. The balcony was closed for our cruise, so we all had to sit in the lower level. I went to bed right after Showtime all three nights, so I can’t tell you how the lounge DJs were. I know there were various performers on various lounges at various times. The ones that played during the day were fine, but I didn’t hang out and listen to any of them. I mostly heard them as I passed by. Since we had two sea days, midday activities were important. I would give HAL and “A” in this department as there were lots of planned activities. There were multiple bingo sessions, table tennis and golf putting contests, an ice carving demonstration, and some other things. I was more interested in relaxing and reading my book, so I did that most of the time. The library is very nice. For the world cruise there were lots of bridge card games posted (I saw them on embarkation day). I was interested in playing pinochle in the card room one of the days, so I asked the cruise director to put it in the schedule for the second sea day. He said he would, but in the end didn’t, so there was no card games going on. I was disappointed he forgot my request when he printed the daily schedule. Onboard payment & tips: Unlike most lines that have you give a credit card at embarkation, on HAL you had to go to the purser’s desk AFTER embarkation to give them a credit card to charge all your purchases to. If you didn’t, you would be expected to “settle up” with cash or travelers checks with the pursers desk at the end of the cruise. Also, HAL has that terrible “No Tipping Required” policy, which causes their staff to get stiffed on tips a lot. They don’t add a tip to the bar bills like other lines, so you either have to carry tips around with you or remember who served you throughout the cruise to tip them at the end. What a pain. Also, there is no mention of tips to your steward or waiter given. So, unless you know you can go get envelopes at the pursers desk, you would be clueless. I’d hate to be a HAL fist-timer and not have done my homework on the situation on the online cruise message boards first. I made a point to ask my first-time cruising tablemates if they had been explained the procedure by their travel agent. They said they had, but still wanted my input. I’d say if you were in the know, be kind and advise your fellow cruisers if they would like the advice. Disembarkation: The final daily program for us said we should be out of our rooms by 9am, and that they expected disembarkation to begin at 8:30. However, with only 150 of us, we were cleared for disembarkation in Canada around 8am, and they were making the “final call” at 8:20. Since I hadn’t planned on leaving my cabin until after 8:30 I was very stressed and rushing. I didn’t enjoy that experience of feeling like I am being kicked off the ship. We were the only ship disembarking, so it was a breeze. To learn more about a normal day of disembarkation at Canada Place, please read my Star Princess review from June, 2002. To conclude: I thought HAL was a fine line. “Fine” is really all I can say about it though. No huge complaints, but no huge happiness and gushing about it either. No cruise is bad, you know? I think they could have done better as far as PR with me. First, when I wanted to be moved to a more centralized location, they wouldn’t upgrade me for free down the hall from where I was already located, even though the ship was mostly empty. I had to downgrade myself back to my original category a deck down to get back to center. Also, they aren’t good with their record keeping, as they had my sign & sail account hooked onto the I3422 cabin for most of the cruise, so I had to constantly be remembering both cabin numbers. Also, I am used to having a complimentary bathrobe to use on a cruise, and HAL doesn’t offer that to people in the lower level cabins. I specifically requested it, and was refused. I find this amazing from a line that touts itself as so “high class”. I could get a robe by request on Royal Caribbean! I’m sure HAL thinks RCL is “beneath them”, but I beg to differ. I have sailed Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and now HAL. By far, Princess is my favorite. The service is great, and they want to please their customers so they will be repeat passengers. What a concept! For my money, if Princess has a ship side by side with all these others, I would choose it every time. If RCL or HAL had an itinerary I liked and Princess didn’t offer, I would go on them again. As I said, they are just “fine”. Happy sailing!

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Jun 28, 2002

Alaska - Juneau - Sitka - Ketchikan - Victoria

This was our very first cruise. We embarked in Seattle, and found that the boarding process was helped by numerous HAL employees. We dropped off the luggage very quickly with almost no wait, then went through the boarding process. We had to go up one flight and the escalators were the fastest we have ever seen; an elderly gentleman in front of us actually fell on one and tumbled down the moving stairs upside down. The escalator was quickly stopped

by an attendant and he appeared unhurt. We passed through customs in about 15 minutes (one stop scheduled was Victoria B.C.)and after another ten minute wait we boarded the ship. Our cabin was quite spacious even though we had booked a "run of the ship" outside cabin. The bags arrived promptly, but I had to make a couple of calls to locate the formal wear rental that I had ordered. That snag was probably because we were not assigned a cabin number until just a few days before the cruise. We left the cabin to tour the ship, and when we returned to dress for dinner the tux was laid out on the bed for me. The ship was beautiful. It was spotlessly clean, and after we became used to it everything is laid out logically. Our cabin was forward on the main deck, but we found that it was easy to get anywhere on the ship quickly. We had reserved the early seating for dinner, and when we arrived for dinner about 6 PM there were no lines at all and we were quickly seated. The lack of lines, which continued all week, was a plus in my book. We waited in line only twice the whole week: for the high tea one afternoon (which was only for one hour so everyone queued up at the same time, and the chocolate extravaganza one night. We couldn't have had a better table. We had four other companions for dinner, who were delightful people and great fun to be with, and the table was next to the stern windows which were a two story wall of glass with a spectacular view. The dining service was outstanding - as good as we have ever experienced, and that includes dining in top NYC restaurants. The wine steward had preordered wines ready when you arrived at the table, and unfinished bottles were saved for subsequent evenings, and were at the table when you arrived. Wine selections available included commonly available selections, mostly California and Australia, so bring your own if you want a fine vintage or grand cru. The quality of the food was fine but not outstanding. I would compare it to a good hotel dining room. There were sufficient choices to please everyone at our table. Russian caviar was available one evening - it was excellent - and prime rib, lobster tail and rack of lamb were served on various nights - all were excellent. HAL's premium restaurant (The Odyssey) was Italian, and you could go there one evening during the cruise without additional charge. We were very disappointed with that restaurant. The service was extremely slow the night we attended - we waited 15 minutes to order drinks and 45 minutes before the starter arrived. The maitre d’ apologized and offered a split of wine to placate us - and it was a low quality wine with a screw cap! I ordered Osso Buco, which had a mediocre sauce, and it was still firm, not tender. I was very disappointed, because the food in the main dining room was much better; in fact I had better dishes in the Lido (cafeteria style restaurant). The ship sailed from Seattle on Saturday and was scheduled to go to Juneau after a day at sea on the Pacific. Unfortunately, we had 12 foot seas on Sunday and many people were seasick - including me and a number of the staff. The pills given out were of some help, but they did not work completely for me. Our cabin steward couldn’t have been better. When we left for breakfast the room was made up when we returned. After dinner, when we returned to the cabin the covers were turned down. The land tours were OK, but very pricey. We are from New England where you can take a 5 hour whale watch tour for $20 to 25. The same thing when purchased from HAL was $109 each. We found Sitka and Ketchikan to be delightful small towns with lots of opportunity for shopping. In Juneau everyone seemed to head for the Red Dog Saloon, which of course tried to mimic the gold rush days. We did enjoy the Mendenhall glacier tour in this town, and it was more reasonably priced. Our cruise was in late June-early July. We had several days of rain, and the temperature was consistently in the low 50's. If you want sun go to the Caribbean. Finally, we found the disembarking process to be a bit slow - it took over a hour and a half before it was our turn. In summary, HAL has outstanding service, good food and entertainment and a spotlessly clean ship. Would we sail with them again? Definitely yes!

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Apr 29, 2002

Panama Canal

Some brief thoughts about the ports. HAL's Half Moon Cay is a delightful spot. The water is gorgeous and because we were the only ship there that day (and a lot of the older folks didn't want to come out in the sun) there was never a crowded feeling. HAL offers a lot of activities there – at a price, of course – but just lazing in a hammock and taking occasional dips in that incredibly clear blue 78-degree water is priceless. Cartagena

is a rather pretty city but the street merchants are the most overwhelming we have ever encountered. They surround you everywhere you go and never accept defeat. Most coaches would love to have them on their team, but sometimes – even when you're walking in a tour group – there are so many vendors around you that you can't even see the sights. Also Cartagena is very hot! In early May we were the last ship scheduled in for the season. We could see why. On the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, whatever you decide to do in Puerto Quetzal, either stay on the ship or get out of town. This is a commercial port and there is no place near the ship for strolling. We took an excursion up into the mountains to a volcano-edged lake. We were disappointed in that the dirty, smoggy air had us trying to view what we feel sure was some pretty spectacular scenery through a thick blanket of haze. All in all, though, it was an interesting trip enhanced by one of the best tour guides we have ever experienced, a middle-aged man of Mayan extraction with a true passion for his country that was nicely balanced by a wonderful sense of humor. Further up the coast, the port of Santa Cruz Huatulco is Mexico's newest endeavor to create a tourist attraction. The setting is spectacular with nine interconnected bays but development is in its early stages and there just isn't much there yet. Inland is desert – real desert and one of Mexico's poorest areas. You don't want to go there. A water trip around the various bays with views of the aquatic life would seem like the best bet for an excursion here. Acapulco, of course, is the place that started it all on the Mexican West Coast and definitely shows its age. One thing we decided was that we would have to see the cliff divers. We passed on the many ships tours being offered, and took a cab. The diving site was not far away and we arrived about an hour early. There is a long winding staircase down to the best viewing spot. The charge for going down there was $2 and they threw in a certificate for a free soft drink or beer. (On board the ship we'd have made a buck and half profit on that deal!) We really enjoyed the experience including a long chat with a local fellow who had spent fifteen years driving a cab in Brooklyn. There were moments while climbing back up that staircase after the show was over when Bob wondered if he was going to have call for a medevac helicopter. Eventually he made it the top to join the patiently waiting Gaye and vowing for the thousandth time that he would lose that extra twenty-five pounds he's lugging around. This, however, didn't seem to curb his appetite at dinner that night. Our final port to visit was Cabo San Lucas, a fun place that we don't need to say much about. We did opt for something a little different there though: a sea kayak excursion. We joined three other couples and led by our grizzled American guide, we paddled our two-man kayaks out to the arches and back, stopping at a beach along the way to do some snorkeling. It was fun and once again we didn't have to call a medevac for Bob. Amsterdam had several excellent lecturers on board. One filled in the historical details that related to our journey, while a second gave a series of illustrated talks regarding the big-band era. A group of Seattle musicians led by trumpeter Fred Radke played Harry James music almost every day and we got to brush up on the old swing dancing. Bob cuts a mean rug! Even under Carnival ownership, Holland America has retained its special flavor, but we wondered this time if we were beginning to see signs of changes. Or maybe we are just seeing industry-wide changes. Certainly the times they are changing and the philosophy of the cruising world seems to have become "Get 'em on board at any cost and then we'll start plucking 'em!" The average passenger is finding his on-board bill at the end of the cruise greater than he what he paid for the cruise in the first place. "Hey, didn't my travel agent tell me this was an all inclusive price?" It kind of reminds us of the car salesman after we've agreed on a purchase price: "And, sir, would you be wanting a steering wheel to go with that?" You don't have to buy the pictures they take of you, but if you do, they start at $12 and go up. If you go to the Internet café you'll be charged between 50 cents and a dollar per minute. A domestic beer is $3.50, a standard drink $4.50 and they'll fix you a martini for $8. Remember when drinks on cruises and in Las Vegas were a good deal? At the spa, exercise classes have long been free but we were told that the cruise line is working out "exercise packages" that you will be able to buy. And they're real nice to you in the casino. You can charge up to $1000 a day of your gambling debt to your cabin bill. And finally, there is Holland America's strange "tipping is not required" policy. It's a policy that's always puzzled us. They're very proud of this. They talk about it all the time. But, bottom line, they really do expect you to tip. Isn't that a bit hypocritical? So this wasn't the most exciting cruise we've ever taken, but we did decide that in the Amsterdam HAL has come up with another damn fine ship. Will we sail again on Holland America? You bet! We can hardly wait!

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Dec 22, 2001

Panama Canal

Embarkation and Debarkation were both nightmares and handled as poorly as anything I’ve read about, but never experienced. I overnighted in Miami and was informed my bags must be picked up from my room by 6:15 and I must be ready to board the bus by 7AM. The bust didn’t leave until 9AM! The organizer was obviously overwhelmed with irritated people and when I asked about the delay, she stated that everyone had to claim their bag before they

could board and it was holding them up. No one had informed us of this and they hadn’t built the schedule to accommodate this reasonable security process. She just said it had been like this since 9/11! Are they too stupid to revise their process? I won’t go into the rest of the journey to the ship, but suffice it to say even if the cruise were wonderful, I’d never travel on HAL again for their insensitivity to the burden of getting on their ships. In my 20+ cruises I’ve never experienced the difficulty and hassle of this trip. The ship itself is new, spotless and filled with interesting art, spots to sit and roomy well thought out accommodations. While the sleeping/dressing area was standard size and roomy enough to move around without bumping into furniture or walls, the bath was a joy. Because I had only a shower stall there was no awkward bath to step over and the floor space was large enough so you could actually dress in the room if needed. I regretted the lack of a nightlight, a simple but wonderful touch when getting up in the night. The only option is a bright light, annoying and unnecessary. The cabin steward was professional, around when you needed and not intrusive. Room service was slow (45 minute wait) and there was no phone directory or direct dial service for anything but information. Which, when busy, made any service or inquiry frustrating to get. The ship had been ¾ full over the past few weeks (9/11?) and I believe they may have been understaffed for the full ship for this cruise. If you don’t smoke, you may not like the smoking policies. They stick smokers in the front of the dining room so we had to run a gauntlet of pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke to get to our table each night. [The Amsterdam’s dining facilities will become non-smoking areas in May, 2002 – editor’s note] And the layout of the common areas assures you will smell like smoke if you go out in public for long. While the crew was generally friendly, service in the dining area was spotty and they appear understaffed and overworked. There were several signs of stress during the cruise. I cruise for relaxation and high quality food prepared impeccably. I don’t care about the itinerary when cruising the Caribbean as I have all the T-shirts and watches I need. This cruise line is relentless in their pursuit of your shopping dollar. The most obnoxious, loud announcements seemed to incessantly flow from the intercom system. It hurt your ears! So if you’re enjoying a book or a quiet conversation, or even a nap on deck, forget about it. It will be interrupted at some point by “Mr. Bingo or the Gold Chain sale” announcement. Please, if we want to shop, it’s not that hard to find your shops and we read your schedule everyday and know when bingo is. As for the food, it was mediocre at best. While the variety was good, the preparation was uneven. Most of the red meat was overcooked, the fish varied from raw to tough. Meals arrived at my table generally luke warm. And asking for coffee prior to dessert was not honored. They did throw out a pile of large shrimp and king crab legs (partially frozen) the last two days of a 12 day cruise but otherwise there wasn’t anything I’d go to a local restaurant and pay for if it was offered. The lido breakfast had your normal buffet items and special order eggs but pancakes, waffles and breads were insipid. I ordered toast and English muffins on two occasions only to receive warm bread and muffin. Another irritating item was, although they provided pepper mills, the grind was too large and made food inedible. I brought both these small items up to management and received a promise the toast would be toasted in the future. It wasn’t on the 7 days I remained on ship. The pepper mill was attributed to “corporate decision” and nothing could be done! I use the exercise facilities, which have an adequate variety of aerobic and weight training items. The stationary bikes and treadmills do not fact a tv. A simple, but nice feature in most health clubs. But, even if you could see a TV, you couldn’t change channels to what you wanted to watch, even if no one else was in the club! I challenged this, but was told the hotel director had made the decision and it was not to be changed. This attitude seemed to be prevalent throughout the ship. Anything that would make the cruise a bit nicer and not cost them any extra, seemed to be a hassle or against “policy”. I appreciate the fact that its their cruise line and they can set the rules anyway they want. In fact I won’t bother them again. I know there were many people who loved the cruise and I wish them many happy returns to HAL. It may be more suited for those who are happy to vacation at Holiday Inns and eat at Country Kitchen. And that’s not to denigrate Holiday Inns or Country Buffet. But they charge a lot less than this HAL cruise cost and are just as good. If anyone is interested in more info or a recommendation for a truly fine cruise line for similar costs I’d be happy to do so.

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Jul 28, 2001

The Baltic and Russia

  The Amsterdam is new. It has an astrological clock in the Centrum, lots of artwork, and has dark wood like the old cruise liners. It was fully booked with 1379 passengers and over 700 were repeaters. There were passengers of all ages, including about 75 children, and all nationalities, though  Americans made up the majority. My cabin was a large inside with plenty of closet space, a programmable safe and large bathroom.

I preferred the Volendam on which I'd sailed last year as I liked the light woods and floral theme better, but both are lovely ships. They both have Promenade Decks that are great for walking around the ship. That, and the movie theater, are two features I really like on Holland America ships.          The food and entertainment were good. Dining room food and service was very good. The food on the Lido Deck was good, and the grilled hamburgers, stir-fry and pizza were especially good. The Odyssey Dining Room should be tried at least once. It is the alternative restaurant and reservations for dinner are required. The entertainment was typical cruise ship, and there are fairly new movies shown frequently in the movie theater, usually in the afternoon and evening.          The cruise was 12 nights, and included two days at sea, one at the beginning and one at the end. This was not a trip to relax on as we were in port all the other days and there was so much to see and do that it was tiring. Plus that six hours are lost flying over to Europe and another two hours lost going into Russia so that sleep patterns are disrupted and one has a sense of jet lag. I would recommend flying into the departure city a day prior to the cruise to minimize this effect. Our departure port was Copenhagen where we were given a mini-tour of the city on the way to the ship. Airport greeting, transportation to the ship, and check-in all went very well. We had a couple of hours before sailing, so I saw the Little Mermaid which was about a mile walk from where we were docked and also just walked around Copenhagen for an hour or so. I wasn't that impressed with what I saw of Copenhagen, but I'm a minority as most people really seemed to like it. We left Copenhagen at 5 p.m. and had a day at sea the next day. The first port was Tallinn, Estonia where here, as well as Russia, passengers are required to carry their passports with them at all times. We were also warned about pickpockets as they are common in Estonia and the Baltic and are now in the Scandinavian ports as well. The best thing to see in Tallinn is the old town. One could easily do the old town on one's own as the ship has a free shuttle into a hotel in town and the lower old town is a couple of blocks away. The upper old town, which I saw as part of a morning tour, was jammed with tourists off the cruise ships. Prices are low in Estonia which  makes it a good place to buy. American dollars were accepted everywhere except Germany. The next two days were in St. Petersburg, Russia which was the highpoint of the trip for me as well as for many of the other passengers. There is so much to see and do in St. Petersburg that one could easily spend a week or  more there. I signed up for two all-day tours just so that I could see as much as I could. St. Petersburg is the most northern major city in the world and is on the same parallel as Seward, Alaska. We heard that they have about 60 sunny days a year there, and we were lucky to have two of them. The first day I saw Peterhof, the summer home of Peter the Great, one of the most magnificent palaces I've ever seen with 140 gravity fountains and spectacular gardens. After a Russian box lunch, we saw Puskin, the summer palace of Catherine the Great in the afternoon. This is another magnificent palace  full of gold leaf and also full of tourists. On day two, I spent the morning in the Hermitage Museum and the afternoon at St. Peter and Paul Fortress with a bit of a city tour thrown in. Again, we had another Russian box lunch, a duplicate of the one we had the prior day. The Hermitage opens at 10:30 a.m. to the general public, but opens for cruise ships at 9:00 a.m.  We saw a lot of it, but that is walking and looking very fast. One could easily spend a week in the Hermitage, but we saw the highlights. St. Petersburg was much nicer than I expected and the shore excursions were just great. Our next port was Helsinki, Finland where the ship docked about two miles  from the city, but there was a complimentary shuttle bus. Helsinki is very modern with attractive architecture and many parks. Took the city tour in the afternoon which included a stop at the Sibelius monument and the Church in the Rock. All of the Carnival cruise ships are built in Helsinki, and we saw the new Carnival Pride which is under construction. Also shopped at the market near the harbor. It was raining and overcast in Stockholm, Sweden the next day, but the tours I went on were indoors and included the Vasa ship museum (not to be missed) and the city hall where the Nobel Prize banquet is held every year. Stockholm also has a very attractive old city which we saw from the tour bus.           Our next port was also in Sweden, at Kalmar with the only shore excursion offered to the Orefors glass factory. We had to tender in at this port. I opted to tour the royal apartments of the castle (Kalmar Slott) which is a 16th century delight. They don't take U.S. dollars, but they took plastic. It cost about $7 to take the tour which was in English. Since it was Sunday, everything else in town except for McDonald's and a few souvenir shops were closed.          Next was Warnemunde, Germany which was the stop for Berlin tours. I had signed up for the museum tour to Berlin, but discovered that the museums are closed in Berlin on Mondays, so I went to Rostock instead which is a seaport and also a major German tourist area. This was once part of East Germany.  We went by boat from where the ship was docked and were served delicious pastries and coffee. Then we took a walking tour of Rostock which included the cathedral with an astrological clock built in Pland in 1472. After dinner, I walked into Warnemunde that was about a ten-minute walk from the ship through an underground tunnel. This is a German resort area and many German tourists were out eating, drinking beer, walking their dogs, and enjoying the fine weather. We didn't sail until 10 p.m. when the Berlin shore excursions returned to the ship.          We were back in Denmark the next day. This time it was Arhus, their second largest city, where I took another half-day tour with a stop at Den Gamble By which is an outdoor museum of old houses taken from all parts of Denmark. After lunch, I took a 15-minute walk back into town. Lots of the locals were out enjoying the fine weather.          Our last port was Oslo, Norway where we docked next to a castle. I'd seen  most of Norway when I took a 12-night cruise of the Norwegian fjords in 1996, but I had never been to Oslo. Took the tour that went to the Viking Ships Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum and also Vigeland Park, Oslo's biggest tourist attraction, where there are 201 statues done by Gustav Vigeland. The threatened rain held off until afternoon.  The last day of any cruise seems to be filled with the mundane, like listening to the disembarkation talk and packing. We had a little excitement our last day as we had a big storm move in about 6 a.m. Had to hang on to the grab bars in the bathroom and my fruit bowl sailed across the cabin and hit a wall! Went up to the Lido Deck and had some coffee and a roll and the captain announced we had near hurricane force winds with waves of 15-20 feet. They closed all the outside decks for safety reasons. By noon, things were calming down, but the captain still announced that we were in a "near gale."  By evening the seas were calm and there was a beautiful sunset. The ship was making announcements over the loudspeaker at 6:25 a.m. the next day. We were off the ship at 7:50 a.m. and to Gatwick airport by 10:15 a.m. Our baggage arrived an hour later, so we had to stand around in the baggage area waiting. Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip, though comments were made about how exhausting it was. After 12 nights at sea, most people were happy to be going back home.

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May 29, 2001

London to Copenhagen

This was our first cruise out of London. The ship, the MS Amsterdam was only a year old and the itinerary was one that we thought would be exciting and interesting. There were stops at Rotterdam, Le Havre, France; St. Malo, France; Greenock, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Dunmore East, Ireland; Antwerp, Belgium; Oslo, Norway and finally to Copenhagen. The ports were excellent. There were so many variations and destinations for the

shore trips that one would have to go on another cruise to take them all in. The ship was spotless and the service outstanding throughout the entire cruise. This ship is no different than many you may have sailed on since you can expect the usual entertainment, casino, internet service, food, cabin service, lounges and all the rest. What was so great was a new and clean ship and the staff that kept it that way. Can't wait to board another Holland America ship for the same kind of experience. I've kept this review short since we give Holland America Five Stars for this trip. THANKS Getting to the actual departure terminal may be a little challenge since the ship does not actually depart London but rather Harwich, England. Seemed that no train employee including supervisors at the Liverpool Train Station in London knew anything about the direct Liverpool to Harwich train. In all fairness it was the first train of the cruise season. So don't give up just keep asking and someone will given you the needed information at the station. Boarding at Harwich was a breeze, the quickest ever for us to board a ship. Departure at Copenhagen was also a breeze. Very quick and orderly departure with plenty of assistance on the dock. Lastly, I try to answer any e-mails about the cruise---so send me a note.

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Mar 19, 2001

Panama Canal

These were the "mules" that towed us through the locks.  The canal operates twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and there were ships lined up to take their turn in the locks.  Ships are built to a standard called "Panamax," which means the maximum dimensions they can have and still fit through the canal.  I want to tell you, I didn't see much left over for a margin of error on the ships we saw going through.  They JUST fit,

with parts of the upper decks overhanging the edges of the locks.  The whole operation of watching the ships change levels is fascinating.  The Atlantic and Pacific are roughly at the same level (Duh, that's where the phrase sea-level comes from) but they had to slice through a mountain to build the canal.  You can really see where the continental divide is in this narrow little isthmus.  They artificially created a lake using all the rivers which converged near the present canal.  There is also a railroad, but doesn't appear to be much in the way of roads in the jungle.  We are so transfixed by watching this whole process, we wonder if we will go inside at all during the eight hours or so it will take to make the transit.  Luckily, once we hit Gatun Lake the excitement level goes down enough for us to get something to eat.  The lake is still pretty interesting, as there is constant erosion going on where they cut through the mountains, and they have to dredge constantly to keep up with it. You would think the next two sets of locks would just seem like more of the same, but we are in thrall to their power.  This is really the highlight of the trip.  We are almost as entertained by the sight of white pelicans flying in interesting formations the whole time.  I had never seen pelicans behaving in this fashion.  I cannot decide whether to keep me eyes glued to them or what is going on in the locks.   It is illegal to actually swim the canal, but they sucked canal water up into the pool so we can sorta say we swam the canal.  That was a lot of fun to do!  As we start to approach the end of our transit, we pass the former US Southern Command, now being turned into a resort.  I wonder how some of the many veterans onboard felt about seeing that? Next was another high point, the Bridge of the Americas.  This is part of the Panamerican Highway.  Since we have been on parts of it before (even its terminus in Chile), passing under it was a special thrill for me.  I had to stand out and deck until it faded well into the horizon.  I was surprised by how close Panama City was to the Canal.  I always pictured the Canal as being way off in a jungle away from civilization.  We had a celebratory hot tub and looked back on a perfectly lovely and exciting day. We continue to win more stuff.  Good thing we brought along some clothes that are approaching the end of their life.  As we wear these, we set them aside for leaving in the least prosperous place we will visit.  We decide that is likely to be Nicaragua.  We will not be disappointed.  At the alumni Mariner's party one man is awarded his platinum medallion for having traveled 700 days on HAL.  We have a ways to go before we catch up with him.  We earn lots more stamps toward awards for working out.  We go to a type of scavenger hunt.  Hubby allows himself to be dressed as a woman by some women on our team.  He of course is the cutest "girl" and wins the prizes.  Since we are winning more champagne than we care to drink, he trades in his bottle for a HAL mug.  That works so well that we all decide that we have won more mouse pads than we care to mouse, and go to the Cruise Director's office to trade them in for mugs, also.  Phil has slipped and fallen because of his sandals twice now.  Each time the nurse magically appears.  Does she have a video cam that she monitors just hoping for the opportunity to help someone? We pull into San Juan del Sur Nicaragua and switch positions several times looking for a safe anchorage.  We begin to wonder if the choppy seas are going to prevent us from tendering ashore.  We manage, finally, but with the long tour we have signed up for, it leaves no time to walk through the town or look for an Internet Cafe.  However, when we get to shore we realize that the kindliest adjective to use for Nicaragua is "unspoiled." The scars of war and resultant poverty are still pretty fresh here.  There is plenty of natural beauty.  They could have quite a tourist industry if it weren't for the fact that they are just not ready to accept a lot of visitors. Our guide was conscripted into the Sandinistas and gives us an earful of his view of the whole situation.  We go on a tour to see a fascinating volcano.  Earth tremors in recent years make it unsafe to walk completely around the crater and have destroyed part of a walkway up to a cross on a hill overlooking the crater.  There are signs everywhere telling you to stay on the walkway, which is no longer there.  We walk up the sometimes-imaginary 180 steps to take in the view and are suitably impressed.  Phil chooses to stumble another time, but manages to avoid sacrificing himself to the volcano.  The bus takes us to a restaurant for a buffet lunch.  I consider giving my bag of discardable clothing to some children who are begging around the restaurant, but they are very aggressive.  We have fish, chicken, beef, many side dishes and some local beer.  Not bad at all.  And we didn't catch any nasty bugs by eating it.  We went to a market, but convinced ourselves we could do without the merchandise there, especially the stuffed iguanas, frogs, turtles, etc., posed in "amusing" positions.  Yuck.  This was and good opportunity to abandon our bag of clothing next to a trash can.  It attracted attention and was picked up almost immediately and taken into a back room.  We went on to tour the town of Granada and were impressed on how many of the old mansions were being used as art schools.  Due to the lateness in leaving the ship this morning, we arrived back at San Juan del Sur just in time to catch one of the last tenders back to ship.  We ran up to the gym to turn in the stamps we have won for working out for some tee shirts and a water bottle.  We run back to the cabin to shower and get ready for dinner.  We are dancing in the Ocean Bar when I get a craving for hot chocolate, which they do not serve in there.  Hubby goes down the passageway to the Explorer's Lounge, where we have been enjoying chocolate treats each night.  A waitress there carries my hot chocolate down to the Ocean Bar and serves it to me there.  No wonder this is my favorite cruise line! We go back to the stateroom and pack after a full day.  With all the clothes we have abandoned, shouldn't these suitcases be less full? After breakfast we all gather for disembarkation.  Since Joan and Phil and Ruth and Jerry are staying on for a few days in Costa Rica, we say our good-byes.  I celebrate getting through my very last tender embarkation and debarkation without breaking my ankle.  We take a 2-hour trip/tour to the San Jose airport.  They let us know there will be about a three-hour delay due to a plane malfunction.  After that time is well past, they ask us to move to another gate.  Then we know we are really in for it when they wheel in sandwiches and sodas for everyone.  Bad sign!  We of course eat everything that is offered, but we are in no danger of starvation after our last ten day eating marathon.  At about 2:30 there is an announcement that the flight will be delayed until 5:00 p.m.  A plane is enroute from Miami.  It will be turned around immediately and carry us back to Miami.  We will arrive about 9:00 in Miami.  Fat chance.  We just have to be patient and wait.  We will eventually get home, but don't know what day it will be.  At about 3:30 they have us change gates again.  Although it is not a big airport, a plane full of waiting people quickly gather their carry-ons and trod en masse to the other end and down some stairs.  At the promised time we ACTUALLY GET ON THE PLANE.  The pilot is ready to go, but there is other air traffic, which prevents us from pushing back from the gate for awhile.  We finally get moving and take off for Miami, which is supposedly only 2 hours and 12 minutes away.  Fat chance.  There are thunderstorms, which keep us circling for awhile.  Then the Captain announces that we are low on fuel and must divert to Nassau to get some more.  We land at Nassau but cannot get off because we haven't gone through immigration there.  Although no one got off, we have to watch the safety video again.  The pilot shows his sense of humor when he says we will be flying at 10 feet for 30 minutes to Miami.  We land at Miami after a very turbulent flight.  It is the middle of the night, and hardly anyone is there to check us through customs and immigration.  Then we wait in another very long line to get new flights, since the ones on which we were originally booked are long gone.  However, the computers are down for the night so we are told that we will have to get into another long line at 4:30 in the morning when the computers come back on to get seat assignments and all.  We stay awake until then and use the food vouchers in the only open snack bar.  After 45 more minutes in line when the computers come on, we are finally really booked on a 7:00 am flight to Washington DC.  Oh Joy!  Oh Rapture!  We arrive home about 12 hours after our original ETA.  Glad we hadn't asked anyone to pick us up at the airport!  Boy, does our own little house look good! If you want to look at all sorts of pictures from this trip, go to: http://community.webshots.com/user/priscillahopkins

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Nov 30, -0001

One Night Pre-Inaugural

and busboy were very good and made sure our food was delivered hot.  I did not indulge in any dessert, but had a real good cup of coffee. Paula had the flour free chocolate cake which she said was very rich and delicious. After dinner we returned to the Queen's Lounge for the 9pm show which was a nice mix of music from different broadway shows.  The dancers/singers put on a good show. After the show we toured the ship

and visited all of lounges which were all set up so the seating was spread out enough that one group would not be talking over other group to hear each other. This was a great idea and I applaud Holland America for this. The internet cafe is a nice way to check your email while at sea and adjacent to that is the Java Bar where you can relax and have a cup of coffee, tea ar maybe a nice cappuccino. The Ocean Spa Gym looks like it has all of the latest exercise equipment available.  Outside the gym is a massage spa and a beauty salon.  We didn't get a chance to go inside. The Lido Pool is real nice with the sliding dome cover over it.  Along with the pool is a small wading pool and 2 whirlpools.  On the aft of the Lido deck is the outside Seaview Pool which is also good sized. There are 2 more restaurants which is the Lido restaurant where the buffets are heal and is the largest of the 2 and the Odyssey Restaurant which is the optional small dining room.  Also if you just want a hot dog or a burger there is the Terrace grill in the Lido Deck. The casino was not opened, but was good sized and had just about all you would want in a casino. There is a small video arcade which has quite a few machines. There are ample stores in the boutique and shopping arcade areas. After our tour of the ship we called it a night around 12:30am. The next morning we had our breakfast in our room and the service was great and even the toast was still very warm.  We finished right before they called for 9am disembarkation. As there was no need for customs the disembarkation process was real quick and we only had to wait 5 minutes for the shuttle to return us to the parking lot. The staff was very impressive in all area of the ship.  Everyone had a nice smile and seemed to be sincere. I cannot say enough about this ship except I am sure you will have few if any complaints when you sail this ship.

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska

Cruise Line: Holland America Line  Sailing Date: August 31st, 2002 I have put off writing this trip report for as long as I can. It is not that I don’t enjoy writing. It is not that I didn’t enjoy my trip. I just find it difficult to do justice to the amazing time I and my family had on the “Beautiful and elegant” as the Cruise Director liked to say MS Amsterdam. I wrote this report as a thought flow. Much of what I wrote

is out of chronological order. I tried to focus on the aspects of the cruise that stood out for me or that were discussed on message boards. This was a vacation that was a long time coming. Last Thanksgiving my wife and I (31, 30) were told by my parents, Howard and Marcia (late 50’s), that they were taking us and my sister Lauren (26) and her fiancé Brian (27) on the August 31 sailing of the Amsterdam to Alaska. My wife, Kaddin, and I had been on one cruise previously on the Grand Princess and had an awful time. We swore we would never cruise again. So, when I heard we were being taken on a cruise, my emotions were mixed. On one hand it was a cruise which I had decided was my least favorite type of vacation. On the other hand, it was a free vacation with my family to a beautiful location I had never been to. I made up my mind. I would look forward to it, by-gum! Here is a little relevant background on my parents and their connection with HAL. They live in the greater Boston area and my father has a dental practice in New Hampshire. My father belongs to a program called Seadent. This is a charity where volunteer dentists work on HAL ships primarily for the benefit of the Indonesian crew who may not have had access to good dental care in the past. This is a program that only HAL participates in though other cruise lines have been approached. The fact that HAL donates space for the clinic and a cabin for the dentist speaks volumes about how they care for their staff. The dentist also is there for passenger emergencies. The volunteer dentist is allowed to take a companion and is provided a cabin and only has to work on sea days. It is really not a bad deal. Originally, the Amsterdam was to sail in Europe (or the Med. I am not sure) this past summer. My father was originally assigned to this cruise. After 9/11 the Amsterdam was rescheduled for Alaska out of Seattle. My father was reassigned to two back-to-back Alaska cruises. My parents were alone on the first sailing and Lauren, Brian, Kaddin, and I (Michael) joined them for their second sailing. Lauren and Brian flew in a couple days ahead of time to spend some time with Kaddin and me in Seattle before we boarded the Amsterdam on Saturday. We did the typical Seattle things, Duck tour, Underground tour, Mariners game at Safeco, etc. and had a great time. On Saturday, August 31st I woke up early, can you blame me? I decided to run down to a bagel shop and pick up some breakfast for everyone. Well, it was only around 8 in the morning and I knew there was a ship in the harbor so-to-speak. As the pier is only 2 miles from my house, I decided to take a little detour and do a quick drive-by of the Amsterdam. I found a metered space to park in and walked up to the pedestrian bridge to get a close-up view of the ship. As I was walking I noticed many of the passengers getting off and heard one of them say that the staff was amazing. All of the disembarking passengers looked happy, if not a little disappointed to be leaving. I was really psyched at this point. I hopped back in the car and brought breakfast back for everyone. We went down to the pier around 11 in two cabs due to the overwhelming amounts of luggage we had. The cab ride was only about 5 minutes and cost about $10. We struggled with the bags until in the terminal building at which point they were taken away from me and taken to the mysterious place where luggage goes before being brought onboard. We went upstairs to check in. There were no lines. Let me repeat that, there were no lines. Not because there were no people, but because HAL was prepared and had a large staff waiting to check the “guests” in. Check in took all of 10 minutes and we had about an hour and a half to kill. We called my parents who were on board and they came off the ship to meet us in the terminal. We spent some time with them walking the area and then came back to the terminal at 1 to get ready to board. The “ship’s dentist” is considered crew so my parents got back on the Amsterdam via the crew entrance. The terminal was pretty packed with people by this time so the four of us found a nice spot on the floor and waited for our number to be called. Once called, we walked right on, smiled for the picture, and were shown to our rooms. Both my wife and I and Lauren and Brian’s room were inside on the aft of the main deck. I had ordered a mini fridge for the room and it was there waiting for us. The room was decent size. Big enough for a one-week cruise, but I would probably opt for an outside with a window if on a longer cruise. The bathroom had a shower and lots of cabinet and counter space. We had a TV mounted up in a corner and tons of closet space. We had a couch which could have pulled out to a bed, a table, and a chair. We actually had the chair taken out to give us a little more room. The second we got to our room Viktor, our cabin steward was there to introduce himself. Viktor was a genuinely nice guy and we considered ourselves fortunate to have him. He was never without a smile and did an excellent job the entire cruise. I truly enjoyed talking with him and kidding around. Half way through the cruise he started calling me “boss.” So I started calling him “boss” as well which became sort of a running joke. He also was the room steward for Lauren and Brian so when ever I went back to the room for something he would tell me who was in and who was out. Viktor was an amazing guy and I hope our paths cross someday again. Before we sailed all six of us went to the Lido buffet for a “light snack.” Compared to the weight of the Amsterdam, it was light. My parents then gave us a tour of the Amsterdam. I particularly enjoyed the pool area mid ships on the Lido. The pool was sufficient in size and was abutted by two large hot tubs. I later found out that one was hot, one was warm, so I guess it was a ‘warm tub.’ There was also the Lido grill. In addition to the burgers, hotdogs, tacos, and pizza served there, I was pleased to see they also served veggie burgers! We then walked up to the Crows Nest. It was a lot larger than I thought it would be. There were some very large comfy chairs with ottomans along the front windows. There was DJ table and a circular dance-floor. From there we walked down to the fitness center. This was impressive. There were plenty of weights and other equipment on one side, oodles of stationary bikes and treadmills, and a large area dedicated to aerobics. The spa is also next to the fitness center though I didn’t take a closer look at it. We walked down the length of the ship past the various bars, meeting rooms, shops, etc. My overall impression was that it was nice to be on a ship that felt like a ship. There was art everywhere you looked and you were never far from a window looking out on the scenery. The large “Astrolabe” clock in the center of the ship is definitely an interesting sight. The Amsterdam truly is beautiful. The sail-away was a lot of fun. We went to the party on the Lido (?) and had a few drinks as we watched sunny Seattle disappear into the distance. I had a couple of the “fruity-drinks” but there must’ve been a whole lot more ‘fruit’ than ‘drink’ in the drink as I felt perfectly ‘normal’ after two of them, and that isn’t like me at all. We were at Table 141, second seating. It was a table for 8 originally, but only the 6 of us were at it. We had requested a table for the six of us second sitting and this was not a problem. In fact, there was a 50-person waiting list for first sitting. The service in the dining room was good overall but not outstanding. The only exception was Alex who was the head waiter for the section we were in, the back on the first floor of the dining room. He was very accommodating and friendly without ever being intrusive. He is very talented and I would expect him to become a Maitre’d on a HAL ship very soon. He is that good. The decor in the La Fontaine dining room was very attractive. The seats were comfortable and the lighting was well thought out. The food was pretty good. Of course we have all had better, but we have all definitely had worse. Overall, I was impressed with the food. Though I stuck to the vegetarian menu, everything looked wonderful and according to my family, it was all quite good. Speaking of the vegetarian menu, here is how it works. You need to ask for it, tell your waiter you want to order from the vegetarian menu. They will bring it for you but you order for the next night. The veggie meals are not made en mass so the chefs need to know ahead of time in order to prepare. There is only one vegetarian menu but there are about 6 or 7 choices for each course so you will not need to get the same thing twice unless you want to. There was no extra charge for ordering from the vegetarian menu. I have no complaints about the veggie menu, everything I ordered was great. Even if you are not a vegetarian you may still want to ask to see it. The deserts were very good and displayed attractively. The only thing I did not really like was the baked Alaska, though it was pretty to look at when being paraded through the dining room. There was also the running of the chocolate moose. Yes, I mean ‘moose!’ This was similar to the baked Alaska parade except it was a chocolate mousse paraded in by a waiter in a moose costume. It was fun. One of the most memorable staff persons of the entire trip was Ary. If you were on the Amsterdam this summer, you will definitely remember Ary. He was sort of the all-purpose dining room guy. He rang the bells at the beginning of the meals, and handed out candies at the end of the meals. He was very warm and funny and truly one of the greatest that HAL has to offer. He had a few token songs that were hysterical. The first is his “happy pills” song. He called the after-dinner mints ‘happy pills’ and sang “Happy pills to you…” (happy trails) when he handed them out. He also had a BMW song he sang at breakfast. The BMW was his “Bread and Muffin Wagon.” Ours was his last cruise on the Amsterdam before he took a vacation and he will be on the Veendam next. You will know him if you are lucky enough to sail with him. The Lido Buffet was pretty good. We had most of our lunches and breakfasts there. It was usually easy to find a table and there was always a great selection. Everyday seemed to have a different theme so there was a lot of variety to choose from. There was an ice-cream bar at the end of the buffet on the starboard side. Coffee and tea was always available. The regular coffee here was not too bad but not the best. There was an espresso machine you could use and that made pretty good coffee. Good coffee was also available in the Java Café. One night Brian and I decided to head to the casino. I do not really gamble but hey, I was on vacation. I had never played Craps before. I do not know how and I was always intimidated by the table, the rules, etc. There was only one woman at the Craps table so I decided to give it a whirl. I told the dealer I had no idea what I was doing. He gave me directions and in five minutes I had turned $40 into $75. Small stake, I know, but I decided that was probably a good time to walk away. I still have no clue how I did that, but I am not complaining! We had a blast doing some of the shipboard activities. My wife and I played the newly wed / not-so-newlywed game. With my parents in the audience a few of the questions were fairly embarrassing but we really had fun. We tied for first place with a couple that had been married upwards of 50 years. I also participated in the passenger lip-sync show. I played a raison. Brian and I spent some time at the ping-pong table brushing up on our skills in case the Olympic team ever comes a-calling. We also spent about an hour on the mini-tennis court up on the top outside deck. I peaked in to the Wajang movie theater though I never actually sat down and watched anything there. The game room and library seemed to be really under utilized. Brian, my mother, and I went to one art auction together. The art they had was interesting and included some original Dali’s and a Picasso, but was heavily stocked with what I hear are the cruise-ship usuals like Kincaid. The auctioneer was, in my opinion, just terrible. He is not employed by HAL but with the art gallery HAL contracts with. I do a lot of public speaking and am by no means an expert but there are certain things which you just don’t do with an audience, and this guy did. To be fair, I only saw him once. Perhaps you were on board and had a different, more positive experience. The six of us spent lots of time in the Ocean Bar before a few dinners. The staff in all of the bars and clubs were friendly and always seemed to be having just as good a time as the guests. The Rosario strings were aboard as were The Lookouts. Both bands were very good. They complemented the ship’s atmosphere well. I never found the bars to be crowded and never noticed anyone looking for a seat. In fact there were very few times that I found anything to be crowded. This was another one of my worries before the cruise. I did not go to too many of the shows aboard. I was not at all impressed with the ‘Amsterdam players.’ Singing and dancing was about average but the shows were actually boring for me. Others felt different. There was a magician on board for one show and it was ok, nothing you haven’t seen before. There was also a singer-impressionist on board for a show. He was actually my favorite because he sang songs you actually recognized and could sort of hum along with. The scenery in Alaska is simply breath taking. You need to see it to believe it. The afternoon we spent at Hubbard Glacier was incredible. First of all, it was a sunny day. In fact, the day was so nice, HAL had a helicopter do a few fly-bys to get some film for a commercial. So, if in the coming year you see the Amsterdam cruising Glacier Bay in a commercial, look for me and my family on the forward promenade deck. The glacier was amazing. We got within a half-mile of it and this seemed very close. The sound it made when calving was truly incredible. It was indeed a bit chilly on deck so of course there was pea soup and hot glauewine being served. We were in the bay for probably a couple hours before we turned around and sailed away. But the most amazing site of the day came later. That night word spread fast around the ship the Northern Lights were out in the night sky. All the lights were turned out on the Sky Deck where people gathered to watch. I was truly hoping we would have an opportunity to see the Auroras and HAL must have pulled some strings because they did deliver. The lights were simply amazing. I hope I get to see them again. We stopped in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria. In Juneau we did the helicopter tour up to a glacier. This was really a lot of fun and the views alone are worth the price of admission. Both my wife Kaddin, and my father are prone to queasiness and not particularly fond of flying in small aircraft but both really enjoyed it. Once on the glacier there were some naturalists who gave us a brief tour. Bring some empty water bottles with you as glacier water is amazingly crisp and clean. Better than anything you could buy. In Ketchikan Kaddin and I got up early to go snorkeling. This was actually enjoyable, though putting on the wet suit was not. We saw lots of starfish, jellyfish, urchins, and other creepy ocean dwellers. It was actually one of the cheaper excursions and worth it. The town was very picturesque and you could practically walk across the streams with out getting wet with all the salmon in them. In Sitka, Brian and I took a walk out to the raptor rehab center where we got close up to a few bald eagles and owls. Kaddin and I had been to Victoria once before and really enjoyed it. The stop in Victoria is only around 3 or 4 hours long and is at night. This really does not give you a chance to truly see this incredible city. Disembarkation was very easy. You got your envelope that included luggage tags and your disembarking number on day 6. You put out your bags, the mysteriously disappear, and you wait for your number to be called. You can go anywhere on the ship to wait for your number. We found our bags in the terminal and we were home twenty minutes later. Overall impressions. This Amsterdam cruise changed my mind on cruising. I think for me cruising is something I would want to again, particularly if I am with a group of people. This adds an extra dimension to it. There was a lot to do but there was also plenty of time to just hang out together which we have not been able to do as a family in quite some time. This was a capacity cruise, but you never would know it. The design of the ship is very smart and crowds really never seemed to build up anywhere. Like many previous cruisers have stated in their trip reports, I often found myself wondering where everybody was. I was not bothered at all by the age group. HAL attract older guests and this was fine with me. My wife and I are not the stay out all night partying type and HAL is not a cruise line that has a stay out all night crowd. We always found something to do, we were never bored. When Lauren, Brian, Kaddin, and I were in an elevator with an older man (70’s) he asked us what we were doing on this floating nursing home?! Having a great time – of course! The ship was perfect. It looks like a ship, it feels like a ship, it is a ship, not a floating resort. The Amsterdam is simply an incredible way to take a vacation. The crew made the trip. They learned your names, they treated you like guests, and they made you feel welcome. Would I do it again? Yes. Like I said at the beginning of this trip report, this cruise changed my mind on cruising. I certainly understand why so many HAL guests are repeat cruisers

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal Cruise

This is our second cruise on HAL .  All pre-cruise information was helpful and well organized. This Panama canal cruise aboard M/S Amsterdam left from Puerto Caldera Costa Rica sailing for Fort Lauderdale on Jan-28-2001. We chose to take the HAL organized flight arrangements from Montreal to Miami on Jan-27 with a HAL paid stopover in Miami at the very nice HOTEL SOFITEL. The next morning we flew to Liberia Costa Rica via MIAMI air charter. 

Baggage handling was excellent and HAL agents at the airport and hotel were available and helpful. Some confusion about the size and quantity of carry on luggage aboard the Miami Air charter was of concern to some people.  We boarded buses in Liberia for about a 3 hour trip to Puerto Caldera. The buses were good quality and the tour host told us a lot of interesting information about Costa Rica. Boarding the ship at 13:30pm was expeditiously handled.  It was lunch time as the bus had not stopped enroute. We thought that “first time cruisers” would not have known that the LIDO buffet was open for lunch. We had a large inside cabin amidships on deck 2.  This cabin was very adequate ,comfortable., lots of storage and a very convenient “free” electronic safe. The bathroom , with just a shower, was a good size with a medicine cabinet and an under counter shelf.  The shower was a good size but suffered from water temperature fluctuations almost continuously. (This also happened on a previous cruise aboard the Ryndam) The ship seemed to suffer from more creaking and shuddering than I expected. We had 18-27 foot seas one day but the pitching and rolling was well controlled. The public areas of the ship are tastefully and in some areas beautifully decorated and elegant with lots of art and antiques that are well integrated into the whole ships feeling.  We understood that the ship was full yet it never seemed in the least bit crowded.  HAL caters to an older crowd so if you are interested in a continuous party environment this is not the place to be.  We saw one 5 year old and 3 babies on the ship. You always get more than enough to eat and by and large the food is of good variety, very high quality well presented.  Dinner in the spectacular  La Fontaine dining room always has at least five choices of appetizers, soups and/or salads, entrees and deserts.  Service in the dinning room can be spotty depending on whether you get a good waiter. Our dinner waiter and wine steward were great, but at lunch time and breakfast service and menu variety and taste were not quite as good. We preferred to eat in the LIDO for breakfast and lunch, they had the same fare as in the dinning room and more. The Amsterdam has a new Italian restaurant called the Odyssey. You must make reservations to eat here.  Everything about the Odyssey is exceptional, the food the décor the service the ambiance.  This was probably the best dinning experience we had ever had anywhere. The nightly shows were also very well done. The Amsterdam cast with their dancing and musical reviews were of very professional caliber.  The acts that were brought in were also quite entertaining and of  good quality.  The other entertaining groups  in the various bars were good and quite danceable but nothing spectacular. We have not been a big fan of the shore excursions, finding them overpriced.  We did take a half day tour to Granada in Nicaragua and were appalled by the garbage strewn everywhere and filthy children begging constantly.  The Panama canal was very interesting . A good series of lectures and Q and A,s was given by an engineer who had worked primarily in the operations of the canal. Since we live on the St Lawrence seaway this was in someway “old hat” to us. Curacao was very colourful , clean and interesting, and we enjoyed the shopping and the markets there. St Johns of course is more shopping. Half Moon Cay is Holland Americas private island and is a beautiful beach with the nicest sand I have seen anywhere. The noon barbeque on the island was great, and the water was lovely.  In summary  a most enjoyable cruise, good value, and high quality with only a few weak points.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean 10 day

Cruise Line: Holland Sailing Date: November 11th, 2002 This was our first cruise on Holland America. We went on the Southern Carribean Wayfarer, a 10 day cruise. This was my first cruise and my wife’s third cruise and also, more importantly our honeymoon. We had heard so many good things about Holland but unfortunately the cruise did not live up to it. I should mention that we were told that the average age is older on a Holland America

cruise. We did not know that this was a sold-out big band cruise, in which the average age seemed close to 80…. There were only a few people under the age of 40, and very few under 60, so we would not recommend this cruise to anyone under 40, or on their honeymoon. We noted that most service issues we are going to discuss may have to do with the audience that the ship was catering to, but some had nothing to do with it. We were on the 4th voyage of the Amsterdam in which the Norwalk Virus was being spread. We were not told of the virus before arriving in Ft Lauderdale, and only when we were in line to board were we told about it. Embarkation: We arrived at the Port around 1pm, and the ticket said we could begin boarding at 3pm. We were told that arriving early should ensure us to be one of the first people on. When we checked in, we were handed a letter that basically gave us a very slight idea of what was going on, that there was a virus onboard and gave us no options or mention of not going. The letter basically said to wash your hands, and be careful, but made no mention of the virus on previous voyages, and that over 400 people had gotten sick. We were given a number (15) and told to wait- there were about 1000 of the 1300 people waiting when we entered the waiting area, we waited until about 4pm until they called our number, we heard others waited until 6pm… most people had to sit due to their age, we stood as there were not enough seats for everyone. We believe the long wait was due to the virus, and them attempting to sanitize the boat. In our opinion we should have certainly been told about the virus prior to the cruise as the ship and cruise line knew about it weeks before and wanted to run this theme cruise to full capacity. We were told others were offered free cruises and upgrades to suites just to switch ships due to this cruise being overbooked. We boarded and went to our room. All luggage was there and we didn’t see our cabin steward until the next day- this was the beginning of the ongoing service issues aboard. We attended dinner in the dining room, most staff was wearing plastic gloves, and the passengers could touch nothing. No handshakes, and our waiter came by to take the order, no welcome or anything nice to say, just asked for the order. The food was not very good, my wife ordered fish and would not order again since it had a fish smell and did not taste good. I ordered the fish also, and did the same the second night hoping it would get better. It was clearly frozen fish and most things served looked like they were part of a TV dinner. We were delightfully surprised on formal nights though, since they seemed to have much better food. I should mention that there were 3 formal nights, 3 informal nights (jacket still required) and 4 casual nights. The food ranged from poor to good (formal nights). The ship overall was in very good condition, very clean, and organized in an easy to find manner. AT SEA (2 DAYS): Our cabin was a minisuite on the center of the verandah deck. We visited some much less expensive cabins on the lower decks to find they were nearly the same size as ours, but we did have a Jacuzzi tub (only large enough for my wife) and we had the verandah, which made it worth it. The hot tubs on the boat were closed the entire time, several people were upset but we assumed they were closed because of the virus. There were signs all over to “wash your hands” and we were not able to touch anything without fear of getting sick. By the second night there was luggage in the hallway and we knew people were going to be sent home when we arrived in the first port. Many people stopped coming to dinner for fear of getting sick. At lunch, in the Lido dining room, we had to be served by the staff (wearing gloves), who gave VERY small portions, we do not eat much and are not large people, but to have to ask 3 or 4 times just to get a regular serving was ridiculous. There were two pools on the upper deck (one is basically enclosed, so it is just a hot sunny area that most of the seniors seemed to stay in. The other pool is on the back and was not very busy as it has full sun. We stayed out there most of the time. Very few drinks (meaning water/iced tea) were ever brought around. They seemed to just be looking for drink orders and when people asked for water, it seemed to be a bother. Both pools closed at 7pm, which we could not understand… as the sun was just setting then. At about 5pm they would clean the deck and move all the chairs away. The first day at sea we were swimming with some other people when this happened- they told us we basically had to move all our stuff (because they wanted to clean the deck early). This was a major inconvenience and seemed to be unheard of on other cruise lines. Basically you could only use the pool until 5pm… people who wanted to watch the sunset, had to just stand on the deck and be inconvienced by the cleaning (which had nothing to do with the virus). Day 3- Curacao We arrived in Curacao on Thursday morning, the 14th. About 20-30 people were going home at that time. I called the front desk only to be told that they know nothing about it and basically tried to cover up the virus. This was done the entire cruise. Curacao was a great port- we swam with dolphins, visited the Oceanariam and toured the city, which was a short walk from the boat. We had a full day there and when we left there were fireworks on the pier. We went to dinner that night, which I am not going to go into detail, just another experience of food that was not so great. I should mention that our family had seen some information on the news about the virus. They had called the ship only to be brushed aside. We later found out through email that they called and the ship never even passed on the information. We confronted the staff at the front desk that said, “we thought they were the press”. The service at the front desk was the worst we had seen. Later that night I attempted to call room service to order food, only to be put on hold for almost 20 minutes, we then fell asleep. Day 4- LaGuarra- Venezuela We arrived and had a full day in Venezuela. As we had heard many stories about the danger level in Caracas we decided to leave the jewelry in the room, and also decided to take a tour. We took the Mt. Avila summit expedition, which involves a one-hour drive to Caracas, and then a cable car lift to Mt Avila and a two-hour hike of the mountain. The guide neglects to mention that this is a VERY strenuous hike, even for two 27 year old people, and wearing long pants should be done also. The path is not maintained at all, and climbing under and over trees on a steep incline is most of the hike. Several of people from the ship came with, including some people who were in there 70’s and 80’s- they had a very difficult time and fell several times. The guide was luckily able and willing to help them for most of the time. I would definitely recommend this for people who are active, as long as you wear the right clothes and expect a rough hike. We arrived back on the ship to get lunch only to find the dining area (Lido) had closed early once again, and there were very options to eat. Day 5- Trinidad Another beautiful day in a good port. We decided to take a taxi for a two-hour city tour- there did not seem to be too much to see there, but there were several interesting tours we could have taken. We should say there were many good tours in each port to take; we just decided to do some on our own. We came back in time for lunch (1:30pm) or so we thought, only to find that both Lido restaurants had again closed early, and the only food could be obtained at the “grill”. The food at the grill was not very good, quality of meat was very low, and this was another disappointment. I again tried room service late that night to find a busy signal and then a continuous hold. I called the front desk before bed (at about midnight) only to not get an answer. Day 6- Martinique This was another beautiful island and we decided to take another tour. We took a calypso cruise around the island and to a beach on the southern portion of the island. It was a place I would come back and visits and the tour was great. The only issue was that we were there on a Sunday, so unfortunately there was no stores opened and many people who were going to spend the day shopping just stayed on the ship. When we returned to the boat around 2pm we again found the restaurants were closed. We just decided to get some ice cream, which was not very good as it was more like ice milk and there was a long line for it as no other food was available. I again tried room service late that night only to be put on hold and was not able to order anything again. Day 7- St Thomas It was another beautiful port, we had an entire day there and decided to take another boat tour of the island and over to St. John. This was by far our favorite day trip. We went to Truck Bay and were on a beautiful beach for a few hours and then went back to St Thomas for the rest of the afternoon to shop. When we returned to the boat we were approached by Inside Edition and CNN to give a statement about the virus. We knew more people were sick but we did not want to be on TV so we decided not to. We returned to the boat and had dinner with a couple friends of ours in the Odyssey restaurant. The food there was much better than the dining room, the only problem was that they only let you eat there once. If we could have, we would have dined there again. Day 8- At Sea Spent the day at the pool, ate at the Lido restaurant as we were finally around during its open hours. The food ranged from poor quality to mediocre and was not worth waiting for. The items, which were OK, were served in such small portions we felt bad just asking for more. Ordered room service that evening as someone answered and it finally came. Day 9- Half Moon Cay – Private Island This was another beautiful island. We tendered to the island, rented rafts and spent the entire day there. Everything was perfect about it. Came back to the ship and encountered the same issues. Day 10- Disembarkation We were told we had to vacate the room by 7am and also heard rumors about the ship not going on its next voyage. We waited until about 9am in the bar and then disembarked. Customs and luggage were done in a flash, and we were off the boat. About every major newspaper, television station, and network were there and wanted photos, video and statements. We just wanted to get home. To summarize… the itinerary, excursions, and ports made the cruise a good one. The ship staff, service, food, and the virus made us chose never to take Holland again, and to our knowledge they are not doing anything about the problems and not trying to rectify the situation. We will cruise again though… Please feel free to email if we can give you any more information or answer any questions.

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