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Holland America Line: Rotterdam

Fodorite Reviews

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Feb 3, 2013

Rotterdam-Canary Islands

What would you do if your cruise line lost your bag between their transit bus from the airport to the ship? If it`s Holland America, get used to disposable underwear, borrowed shorts and a complimentary overnight kit. If you`re missing medicine, know that it`s your responsibility to keep it on your person. To be safe, with Holland America, you may want to keep your bags with you on the bus and move them to your stateroom yourself. That will

at least assure that you have clothes for the voyage. But Holland America will get the lost bag to you right? Well, no. They said that they couldn`t find a courier to deliver the bag. I asked about one of their employees flying it down, someone flying up and back, having the airline fly the bag.......nothing was possible. Besides, Holland America employees had holidays and weren`t available. I wondered why my holidays were so less important. Once it was clear that Holland America wouldn`t deliver my bag to Casablanca, I asked guest relations to please give me a list of round trip flights and costs from Casablanca to Amsterdam. I know that travel sites list over 100 opportunities and that it takes two to three minutes to get the information. I was told that wasn`t possible; all travel information must come from the Seattle office. Six hours later I was informed that there was a flight to Amsterdam. But, I said, I was looking for a round trip and costs. The next morning, now 18 hours after my request, I was told that there was a round trip with a two hour layover in Amsterdam which would return to Casablanca a couple of hours before the ship departed. They only had one way cost data, however. Given my blood pressure readings and a glaucoma concern, I thought that I might fly up and back...it looked like it would cost me about $600. But wait, Holland America said that most of my layover would be consumed by my trip to and from Rotterdam where the bag was left by their staff. I suspect that the cab ride would cost another $300 or so, but it might be at the expense of making the flight. So, to me, what was a pressing health issue was to them not important enough to deliver the bag to the airport. I decided not to go on what looked like a long shot. My wife requested that the medical office write prescriptions for the missing medicines so that we could look for them in Casablanca. I waited by my phone at the prescribed time. I never heard back. Sometime after leaving Casablanca I asked (again) to speak to the guest relations manager. It still wasn`t possible, but her assistant was available. That turned out to be fortunate. She listened and understood the alternatives and an employee flew the bag to Madeira.....something that was impossible for the previous five days. As a final stroke, we asked our "new friend" to see if she could get us a flight change from the Canary Islands to Madrid to better match our post cruise itinerary. She dutifully contacted the Seattle office and told us that the four of us could fly for $2700. Because of our difficulty in getting information from the service desk, we had arranged internet access. We found the same flights for about $1400. Even after our experience, why did we feel more like profit centers than customers? But, it is what Enron would have done. We`ve been on 10-12 cruises and know what to expect and what constitutes customer care. Holland America has lots of employees who smile, are friendly, and can serve meals and clean rooms. But, when it comes to problem solving, they either dropped the ball or chose the low cost approach.....it`s hard to know which. I would bet that an 8th grade class, if presented with a few basic facts such as 182 flight options on a given day or a 28 hour drive or 106 scheduled airlines, 21 freight operators, and 150 logistic service providers, could suggest 5-6 ways to get a bag from Amsterdam to Casablanca in 4 days. On the other hand, if asked how to prevent me from getting my medicine, I wouldn`t be surprised if they would say.......tell him it can`t be done; nothing is possible. Then if he wants to fly and get his own bag, don`t deliver it to the airport. Finally, if he wants a prescription, don`t give it to him. When I sent a "trip report" to my travel agent and Holland America, HA responded that they had tried and couldn`t find a courier; basically nothing was possible. Because I seemed less than satisfied with how the situation was handled, they offerred a $600 credit on the next cruise. For comparative purposes, that`s 5 per cent of our vacation cost; 2/3 of what it would have cost to retrieve the bag myself; and less than half of the "surcharge" on tickets from the Canary Islands to Madrid. If you are elderly, have a medical issue or are concerned about a special problem, you should think twice about Holland America. My stateroom had a perk of "preferential baggage handling." Think of what could happen to you if you don`t have that. OK trip except for customer service issues i raised.

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Jan 7, 2012

Hawaii

A disappointment..... Being a former travel agent, Holland America always had a very reputable name. Something happened! The Christmas/New Years cruise on the Rotterdam was predominantly Holland America previous passengers. Every single one we spoke with (many) said they would not sail on Holland America again. It is not the Holland America they had come to know. 31 cabins per cabin steward, 22 passengers per waiter, much below par entertainment.

6 ounce glasses in the Lido buffet, no trays to carry food to the table. We had to ask for three days to just get a bar of hand soap for our bathroom. Pillows smelled foul, In the beginning of the cruise, it was almost impossible to find the cabin steward. Near the end when they wanted good marks on the survey, they showed up. Christmas decorations looked like they came from a grandmother's basement and flowers throughout the ship were wilting when we boarded and never replaced. They did do a GREAT job for New Years Eve. It was festive and a lot of fun - I have to give them a big kudo for that. Unfortunately, it was our first cruise on Holland America - and our last. We'll go back to Celebrity. Overall, the food was tasty and had a nice presentation. Abundant storage, comfortable beds. Room was serviced timely. Very dirty exterior windows all two weeks. Run-of-the-mill standard activities. Showroom musical group was very very bad. The singers were always off key, they did not blend together. A far cry from entertainment we're used to. No more beautiful outfits, no more showgirls, just boring and out of their element. Pianist Stryker in the MIX lounge was dynamic. He should be in Las Vegas. Holland America should be very happy to have him. If you ever do go on a Holland America cruise, do not miss seeing him every night. We always do our own shore excursions. We find cruise excursions overcrowded and overpriced for seasoned travellers.

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Sep 20, 2010

Alaska - inside passage

Alaska was great, cruise ship Rotterdam is old and pretty dated even after the so called upgrades. This is a smoking ship - you can smoke anywhere except dining areas. I did not know this, wish I had. Entertainment was average or less, cruise director was less than average, food was good - portions very small. Pinnicle dining is recommended, it was very good, of course a $20.00 pp charge to go with it. Beer (5.75), which is a bit pricey. Have to hit

a happy hour from 4-5pm to afford a drink. The first two days the staff served food and drinks from the bars, said this is something they always do. Wow it made lines VERY long and when they dip it, it is less than a 6oz serving. They eventually open up the drinks, but pretty much still dip food for you. Takes a while to eat. The service was great, food service guys were very good, room stewards were also very good. FYI BEFORE you book.. Cruise cost is just half the cost to do this. After doing a few excursions, drinks some, gamble some and tips. You will spend another 2k or more. Food was good, nothing bad - Just not great. Pinnicle grill food was best on the ship. Serving portions we very very small in formal dining room. Stateroom was large and nice. One of the highlights of the ship. We were on the veranda deck with a balcony, which I suggest for Alaska. Great views. Activities on board we average at best. A good 60's, 70's and 80's show. Comedy was really good with Jeff Burkhart. Other stuff was geared for seniors. Trivia, bingo, name that tune, lame cruise shows. Did enjoy the web/picture classes. Cruise director anthony choice was too over the top "happy". Everything was "the best show" "the best trivia game". Just fake to sum it up. VERY FEW times did they have a band or any music at the pools. We had one band that was on the sail away and was good, never saw them again. You would walk through at 9pm and it was a ghost town. Really enjoyed the excursions. Did the Whale watch in two stops, float plane with Michelle was very good. Enjoyed the park rangers coming on board and talking about the glaciers. Nice to have someone "real" on the ship and not so overboeard. Alaska was wonderful! A must see place. I basically felt the ship was just a tool to get me there to see Alaska, which was the highlight. If you go to see Alaska and just want average cruise food and entertainment - Holland America is perfect I guess. My biggest disappointment - the ship caters to smokers! You can smoke most everywhere on the ship. When you would go to the crows nest for a show or event - it was full of smoke. Casino - full of smoke, rooms smelled like smoke, halls smelled like smoke. If you are a smoker - have at it, if not then I would stay away. It was a huge turn off to the four of us and many others as we chatted on the ship.

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Aug 7, 2010

Alaska Inside Passage

Our party had 8 people. My parents (mid 60s), my wife and I (late thirties), 14 year old girl (cousin), 12 year old boy (cousin), 10 year old girl (our daughter) and 7 year old girl. Parents and the two older cousins both have been on at least one cruise. None of our family have ever cruised. Highlights: Food on board and Alaska. Loved seeing all the glaciers, awesome! Lowlights: Minor motion sickness by a few folks in our party, expensive

shore excursions, Children's program (see comments below) Would we do a cruise again? Maybe. Did we have a good time? Absolutely. We choose to have a fixed seating each evening at 5:45 PM. The food was absolutely fantastic. We loved the smaller portions. The service was good to excellent, better than the average restaurant but at times a bit slow. For the most part, we ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck at the buffet. Again, the food quality was excellent. Due to health concerns, the coffee/water/team beverage bars were not self service the first few days. This made the lines very long. Getting your food and finding a place to sit was a bit slower than I would have preferred but it was not unacceptable. The lines for each food station was a bit confusing. As a result, people would unknowingly cut in line. I don't recall any bad food the entire time on the ship. Our waiter in the evening was good but difficult for me to understand. It was a combination of his accent and being soft spoken. Not a big deal but a little frustrating at times. We had the cheapest rooms you could get on the boat without having to work! We requested no upgrades as we wanted our rooms next to each other. Needless to say, they were inside with no windows. We were on deck 2. My parents told us that there is no need to get a nicer room because you are never in your room. There is certainly truth to that statement. However, when your room is the size of a closet, you certainly don't want to spend any time in your room. Overall, I didn't mind the small room. I would have liked a window. Beyond the size of the room, the actual quality was on par with a 4 star hotel (i.e. Sheraton, Hilton). Our room was always well taken care of by the attendant. Our girls loved seeing the towel animal every night. In fact, we went to the towel animal demonstration and bought the book. Evening Entertainment - singing/dancing shows were ok. My parents loved them. The theatre is nice. Comedian - Good. Somewhat family friendly (surprisingly). Crew night entertainment - Some people liked it, I thought it was boring to terrible. Musicians - There was a string quartet (played during dinner and a few other times on the ship) and top 40 band (frequently by the pool plus in some of the shows). They were surprisingly good. My wife and I are both musicians, so we can be picky. Movies - Selection of shows was ok. The screen size was too small. Library/Coffee Shop - We enjoyed hanging out. Looking out the window. Drinking coffee. Playing board games. Nicer than I expected. Ping Pong - There are two ping pong tables on the Lido deck by the pool. We spent at least an hour per day playing ping pong. The adults love to sit at the tables and look out the window at the beautiful views (whales, mountains, ocean, etc). The kids enjoyed playing ping pong and meeting so other kids on the ship. Ping pong pools can be checked out for $2 at the front desk (major pain being on a different floor). We ended up buying some while in port. The paddles were well used and many of them broken. Children's Program (HAL) - Terrible. The only truly unfriendly staff on the ship. We stopped by for a visit during the open house. The workers were primarily from the US. The acted like they didn't want to be there and were generally unfriendly. None of the kids in our party wanted to return. Our kids came back a few days later to try out the game room. Most of the video game machines were broke (wii, PS3, xbox) and nobody would help with getting them to work. MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT. We never intended on dropping our kids off at HAL, so this didn't impact our trip or plans at all. However, if this part of your plans, beware. Pools - There are two pools on the ship. The aft pool is uncovered/outside. It has a bunch of lounge chairs permanently in the water. There is a big screen outside plus a bar. Perfect for the Caribbean but a complete waste for Alaska. Absolutely no one used this pool the entire week. It was in the 50s and low 60s F most of the trip. The forward pool had a retractable roof. Our kids used it nearly every day. It was perfect temperature. The salt water pool was great for my daughters sensitive skin. There were two hot tubs next to the pool. The seas were rough enough on a few occasions that the water was splashing on the deck. Holland did a good job of managing the retractable roof. Opening it when it was warm/sunny and closing it during rain or cool weather. Float Plan to Glaciers (Juneau) - Beautiful trip. $200 per person. No regrets Dog Sled Camp (Juneau) - Kids liked it but it was expensive for what you got. Gold Panning/Salmon Bake - Best value of the week. Food was okay but not as good as the ship. The setting was beautiful. Tons of Bald Eagles. Waterfall and creek at the Salmon bake. Carriage Ride (Victoria) - We didn't schedule this via Holland. Good value. Enjoyed it very much. 4x4/Canoe Trip - overpriced. Driving around old logging roads was not all that exciting. None of the excursions were geared toward hardcore outdoor people. Most of them were rather touristy. Don't be afraid to explore the ports on your own. Overall, we enjoyed our trip. Personally, I was dizzy about 1/3 of the trip. After starting to get sea sick, I used the prescription patch. It certainly helped but they blurred my vision and made me a little dizzy. I am not sure cruising is my favorite type of vacation. If you want to get a quick overview of Alaska, this is a good way to do it. If you want to explore Alaska, this will be frustrating. Even though I have been to all 50 states in the US, there are a many places I still have not visited. My international travel experience has been limited to the UK, Mediterranean and Israel. All said, there are a lot of places I want to visit that don't require a cruise ship. Would I cruise again? Yes. Is it my preferred method of travel? No. Would I go on Holland American? Maybe. Misc. thoughts: Contrary to what friends told us, Holland America was not all old people. I was surprised at the multi generational groups we met. I liked the fact that the ship was not like a giant nightclub. I didn't run into any drunks.

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Jun 16, 2010

Alaska-Inside Passage

This was our first cruise. We had a relaxing time. Alaska is beautiful-cruise is the best way to enjoy the beauty of Alaska. We had great time in the cruise. Our staterooms were good. Rotterdam crew was very friendly and helpful. However, food was horrible. Entertainment was mediocre. HAL is still stuck with old habits and mentality. The ship is old and not "modern". If you are an Indian family looking for vegetarian food, we strongly recommend

NOT sailing with any of the holland america cruises. HAL and Rotterdam food is HORRIBLE. They had us fill out big forms soon after booking. This form let us choose from a host of Indian Veggie Food choices. We promptly sent the form to them in advance. However, it was a different story after we boarded the ship. Main dining room claimed that they never received our form. They tried to provide us some sort of Indian food for dinner from Day 2 but it was not good at all. We were told that there is only one Indian Chef and he is busy making soups. There was one more big Indian family in the ship as well. They also had the same pathetic experience. Even worse-They have no idea what "Vegetarian" food means. In the Lido deck, they told us French Fries were vegetarian. However, upon further enquiry, we found that the fries were cooked in lard or beef fat. Most of their seemingly veggie soups are made from Chicken or beef broth. We pretty much ate bread-butter-jam, green salad, fruit salad for our lunch and dinner. Breakfast was the only thing that was manageable. We loved the deal-paid $1,100 per person (two of us) for a verandah suite. We had picked category BC but chose "guaranteed" option. We were assigned a spa suite (BQ)- same sized stateroom (292 sq ft) but with certain additional perks like vitamin water, sparkling water, bathrobes, and i-Pod docking station (was very helpful to charge our i-phone). Our stateroom was good and provided us with enough space to store our luggage and relax. Balcony was small but still provided enough space for two people to sit. Ship: Rotterdam is a mid-sized ship. It is pretty old. Even after the "signature of excellence" enhancements, it is still just okay. Amenities: Greenhouse spa/fitness center was very good. We spent a lot of time in the Exploration cafe, sipping nice cappuccino and playing scrabble or reading books from the library. Mix (bar) and other shops were mediocre. Internet (wi-fi) is available for a price. We paid $100 for 270 minutes- you don't really need that much internet time. 100 minutes for $55 was a better deal. Public bathrooms on Deck 8 (lido deck) NEVER worked. Activities: Most of the activities are geared towards older (60+) crowd. We loved the comedy show by comedian Jeff. Other than that we didn't care for any other activity. Crow's nest (hangout place on Deck 9) does not have any Bollywood songs. That shows that HAL is not upto speed with the modern multi-lingual culture and society. Itinerary and Ports of Call: We were OK with the itinerary and ports of calls. Alaska is beautiful. Most of the state is untouched and nature at its best. Our ship went pretty close to Hubbard Glacier-this was the highlight of our trip-saw few chunks of ice fall into the ocean. Juneau is overrated. Ketchikan and Sitka are really good port of calls. Victoria, BC was another good port to visit. Crowd: We could hardly find folks in our age group (29-35). This cruise ship caters to older crowd. Their food and activities are designed for aged population. Disembarkation: This wasn't smooth for us. We had signed-up for luggage direct service with HAL by paying $19 per person. This service was supposed to take our bags and check-in our bags with Southwest airlines all the way directly to our destination. We filled all the paperwork on Day 2 of the cruise. On Day 4 when I went to enquire, front desk had lost my paperwork and had to resubmit. On Day 6 (previous night before disembarkation), I went to front desk to submit feedback forms and noticed that one of the co-passengers had already got luggage tags for her bags (it read AAAA, CCCC etc.). I got baffled and asked the front desk why I haven't got mine yet. They told me at that point that they canceled my request!! They had already charged me for the service too!! When I confronted them, they took out the charge but still had no explanation on why luggage direct didn't go through. This completely upset our plans in Seattle on Day 7. We had to goto Airport with our luggage and store it over there until evening. Special Note for Visa holders: Visa Requirements: Do not rely upon HAL to provide you any guidance. They have no idea on how to handle visa holders. Even worse- they have never heard about EAD and AP. They just know- Green Card and nothing else. After booking, they will send you cryptic e-mails that state that your immigration status is unknown- that is because their website and database is not designed to properly handle visa/EAD/AP holders. You will need a Canadian visa to board the ship. Even if you don't get down from the ship in Victoria or Vancouver, you will still need a Canadian visa since the ship traverses through Canadian waters. HAL front office kept our passports upon embarkation on Day 1. They held it with them until we came back to ship from Victoria on Day 6. They take care of immigration paperwork with Canadian officials upon arrival at VIctoria. You just need your ship ID card and driver's license to go out in Victoria and come back to the ship. Front office will not explain this to you- most of them don't know this procedure.

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Jan 17, 2010

Eastern Mediterranean

This cruise came about after many years of planning my "ideal" trip and this itinerary fit beautifully. The ship, the staff and the ports of call did not disappoint. There were a few small glitches which were taken care of professionally and equitably. The food was great! I chose to eat most meals in the Lido, as I've done a lot of formal dining and enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere and faster (if you chose) dining experience. Also, most

days there were fairly long tours, so by dinner time I was happy to relax in the more informal atmosphere. The few times I did go to the dining room, I found the service to be a bit slow and the food wasn't any better than what was in the Lido. Also, some of the staff in Lido got to know what I would like to have and would be preparing it for me while I was in the short line. The room stewards popped in to introduce themselves shortly after embarkation. They were very personable and eager to help in any way. The room was kept spotlessly clean daily yet somehow this was done when I wasn't in the cabin. The stateroom itself was quite spacious and very quiet. The mattress on the bed deserves a special mention-incredibly comfortable! There was a wide variety of on-board activities, many of which I missed because I chose to spend a lot of time on excursions. However, I did take in a few cooking classes, some yoga classes, several first-rate movies, the odd afternoon tea, a tour of the kitchen and enjoyed the library often. Talking to others, I heard how they had really enjoyed many of the other activities. There was a glitch with the internet one night and I was charged for time I didn't use. However, I mentioned this to the Internet Supervisor and I was given a credit for that time. Can't get better than that! The informal talks given by the captain and first officers were most enjoyable-you almost felt like you were on a first name basis with them all! The excursions were wonderful! The system for moving people on and off the ship is stream-lined and comfortable. The buses were modern and very comfortable. Our guides were all well-informed, some were more personable than others but that is to be expected. However, I wasn't disappointed with any of the tours and what we were able to see. The shore excursion staff bent over backwards to make sure that all went well; They must have had some long, trying days yet were always available and ready to help with a big smile. My only complaint is that we saw so much, I need to do it again to take it all in! Seriously, after having planned to see this part of the world for so long, I was prepared to be disappointed along the way, but it just didn't happen. All in all it was a wonderful experience. The ship was clean (there was always crew busy cleaning different areas), the crew were all cheerful and ready to help. All travel ashore was done safely and speedily to remarkably interesting destinations. This cruise was more than just a vacation-it was an adventure of expanding horizons, with the bonus of my own bed at the end of each full day!

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May 22, 2009

Transatlantic

This was the best cruise of the 38 we have taken over the last ten years. This was a leg of the Holland America 2009 World Cruise and they did it right. We could find no way to improve any aspect of the cruise. The food was delicious with a lot of variety. Whether it was the Lido buffet, the snack bar on the pool deck or the dining room, the selection, temperature and service was outstanding. We had stateroom 3388, an oceanview stateroom on

the Lower Promenade deck. It was just steps away from the life boat station, stairs and elevator and near to the center of the ship to minimize the sway and pitch. It was far enough away from the engines that there was no engine noise. It was the ideal spot for us. There were son many on-board activities so that every passinger could find something to do any time of the day. There were good movies every afternoon. Good music and stageshows plus all the other activities such as bingo, port lectures, trivia etc., were available. We took excursions when they were of interest to us and the rest of the time we did our sightseeing on an independent basis. Cruise from Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale It started out with a price I could not turn down. It was an outside cabin on the lower promenade deck on a 22-day cruise from Capt Town, South Africa to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for less than $60 a day per person. Florida was still relatively cool and dry. That means that the daytime high is below 90 degrees and the humidity is around 80 per cent. I usually wait until the first of June before leaving Florida for most of the summer. That is why we had the time available for this "last minute" cruise. Looking for more justification, I perused the ports of call. There were nine ports of call that would be new. In fact, the only place that I had been before was Fort Lauderdale. To be perfectly truthful, however, the only place that was really on my "to do" was Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the rest I had never even heard of. Another motivation was that my last cruise four months ago on the Holland America, Veendam had been less than sterling. Don't get me wrong! It was a very good cruise but just a little to "Carnivalized" for my liking. I wanted to see if the Rotterdam was still in the tradition of the Holland America I had come to adore. With all those sea days scheduled, I thought my wife and I needed another couple for cards etc. so I asked my brother and his wife to join us. They jumped at the chance so the decision was made to join the Rotterdam in Cape Town for the 22-day cruise to Fort Lauderdale, a leg of the Holland America 2009 World cruise. We decided to schedule the flight to Cape Town a few days early to see some of the South African sights before embarking upon the cruise. There was so much that we wanted to do that the few days turned into five. We stayed at the Clarendon in Bantry Bay and the guesthouse was fabulous. The people were great. The breakfasts and tea times were not to be missed and the view from the guest rooms was to die for. The five days were jammed packed with day trips to the wine country, Robben's Island, the Cape of Good Hope, table rock mountain, the Victoria and Alfred shopping malls and a one day photo safari to the Aquila animal preserve. We were so exhausted that by the time we boarded the Rotterdam, we were looking forward to that first sea day. Embarkation was a dream. Since the cruise was part of a World Cruise, there were only about 300 people embarking in Cape Town. Twenty minutes after we got to the dock we were in our cabin unpacking our hand luggage before hitting the buffet line on the Lido deck. There, we had the preview of the quality and variety of great food we were going to receive for the entire voyage. This was our 38th cruise and by far we had the best dining experience ever as far as variety, quality and service is concerned. In fact, my advice to HAL is "you got it right, don't change it." We quickly got into our routine. We had early seating for dinner so we would go to the show lounge after dinner that was about one hour before the show started. This usually assured us of a good seat down front. My wife, Velma, would read and I would work my Sudoku while waiting for the show to begin. The first evening the routine went off like clockwork. The next morning I got to the Lido deck for coffee at my usual six o'clock and went out to the pool deck to work Sudoku and people watch. My wife joined me at about seven o'clock and Dick and Mary (brother and sister-in-law) joined us about half passed seven. We met a few people that had been on the cruise since the beginning. This was day 93 of their cruise. Needless-to-say, we had a lot of questions about such a long cruise. On sea days, after breakfast Velma would do her water aerobics and I would lounge around and before you knew it, it was time for lunch. On days that we were in port we would take shore tours or go ashore on our own in the morning getting back in time to get a snack and rest before dinner. On sea days the afternoons were spent taking in the many activities on board or playing cards with Dick and Mary. One of our favorites activities was the afternoon movie. For the most part the movies were good considering the number of movies needed for such a long cruise and the differing tastes people had. There was so much to do that I could not see how anyone could not find something to his or her liking. It was the third day on board that the routine was interrupted. When we got to the show lounge at our usual time "our seats" were taken. There were only two people in the theater and they chose to sit in our usual place. No problem, we just sat a row back. The next night when we arrived at our usual time we found four people in the theater and the other two were sitting where we sat the night before. No problem, we found seats in the same spot but on the other side of the theater. Evidently, these seats were not worth the effort for those world cruisers who embarked before we did to get to the lounge early enough to get them. From then on we watched the seating drama that took place each evening. Some times it was even more fun than Sudoku. We soon found out that there was a difference between the "newbies" and the veteran world cruisers. Many of them had over ninety days to form their cliques. However, most of the passengers accepted us and some even liked the new blood on board. We had our favorite cabin on Holland America. It was 3388 near the center of the lower promenade deck and just ten steps from the lifeboat station and about the same distance to the elevators and staircase. This minimized our walking and swaying and I thought that we would get enough exercise walking from the dining room to the theater anyway. The music on board was outstanding. From 4:30pm until dinner, the Station Band played dance music in the Ocean Bar while the Peacefulls played in the Crow's Nest. They were both very good. However, we had to choose since they played at the same time before dinner. We finally settled on the Station Band simply because they were closer to our cabin and the dining room. However, we did get to listen to the Peacefulls during lunch on the Lido deck. After the show it was up to the Explorer's Lounge to listen to the Rosario Strings. The group were outstanding musicians and could play just about any song you requested. Here again we had to choose between the Rosario Strings and the piano bar and the strings won out. Our ports of call in Namibia were Luderitz and Walvis Bay. They were quiet laid back towns and we enjoyed just walking around the towns for a few hours and getting back on the ship to enjoy the on-board activities. Many of the passengers took tours and had nothing by good reports but we preferred our favorite pastime, relaxing in the lounge chairs on deck or the easy chairs in the library when the weather got warm. After Namibia, we island hopped all the way to Fort Lauderdale. St Helena was noted for the place where Napoleon spent the last six years of his life in exile. We also found it to be the home of Jacob's ladder, 699 stair steps from the town to the top of the nearby mountain. I climbed the first five steps, took some pictures and called it quits. We walked up the main street to the post office for some stamps, rested awhile in chairs on the porch of the local hotel and chatted with some locals before retracing our steps back to the dock to tender back to the ship. It was hard to believe that people lived on such a small island 1200 miles from the nearest land but they seemed to enjoy it. Two days later we anchored off the coast of Ascension island. The sea was a little rough so we decided not to try getting on the tenders for the ride to shore. Their main claim to fame was their postage stamps and the fact that they were once a down range tracking station for NASA in the 1960's. On-board activities were going strong. "Yes Man" was showing at the theater and it was Dutch night in the dining room. We all donned our Dutch hats and had a ball. It was the birthday of Queen Juliana, the mother of the current Queen Beatrix and is called "Koninginnedag." After four sea days we arrived at Devil's Island. We had not been able to visit Devil's Island last year on a repositioning cruise to Rome because of high seas so we were looking forward to this visit. After all we had paid dearly for those yellow fever shots last years and wanted to get use out of those shot records that nobody even asked about or looked at. The island was a pleasant surprise. It was beautiful with lots of flowers, greenery and animals the likes of which I had never seen. No matter what they call them, they still looked like giant rats. After about an hour of walking around the island it was back to the ship and on to Trinidad. There was a light rain in Trinidad, the only bad weather we encountered the entire cruise. We took a tour of the city, the botanical gardens and took in a show at the local playhouse. The city of port of Spain was much larger than I had expected and had the usual traffic jams of all large cities we had visited all over the world. The government was renovating much of the city but the going was slow and the money scarce. When the older buildings are restored and the new convention center is complete, it would be nice to go back and visit the city again. Barbados was the next island we visited and it was like most Caribbean islands but showed more affluence. We enjoyed a walk through Bridgetown where we bought some souvenirs before taking a taxi back to the dock. Our final island stop was in St. Barts and it was a surprise. It is the most affluent island that we had visited in the Caribbean. The harbor was full of million dollar yachts and the town was full of up-scale shops. St Barts is a collectivity of France and the currency is the Euro. When we walked around the harbor, I stopped to read the menu at an outdoor restaurant and a hamburger with fries went for 18 Euros or about $25. It was time to return to the ship where dining was good and free. Two days later we disembarked in Ft Lauderdale in time for my brother and sister-in-law to make a 10:00 am flight to Atlanta. It was tight but he made it. Disembarkation was quick without any problems. I love those small ships. In addition to comfortable cabins and common areas, outstanding service, exceptional food and great music, the entertainment was as good as we have seen, especially on a long cruise. From production shows that were fabulous to Folkloric shows that were both entertaining and educational the shows covered just about every aspect of the entertainment spectrum. There was something for everyone and I liked it all. Steel drums and flaming limbo dancers, singing and dancing with costumes by Mackie backed by a band that could play anything was a joy to behold. There was a ventriloquist, violinist, mind reader, pianist, classical guitar player and male and female comedians, male and female vocalists and several singing groups. Chita Rivera showed that she could still sing and dance on the stage of a swaying cruise ship in high-heeled shoes at an age approaching that of the Holland America passengers. It was hard to believe that it had been 50 years since I had seen "West Side Story." However, my favorite show was the singing group, The Unexpected Boys. They were four exceptionally talented young men with energy to spare that put on two great shows plus a cameo appearance that brought down the house even though we had heard the songs before. They could do it all. Whether it was songs from Les Miserable or solos from Jekyll and Hyde, barbershop or modern, they did it with a flare. If you want to cruise, I suggest you start with the best, Holland America, and the best of Holland America is their world cruises. If you are like me and are not ready for a 100+ days on a cruise select a leg of the world cruise you like and go for it. You will not be disappointed.

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Mar 20, 2008

Canada/New England

To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary my wife, Becky, and I decided to treat ourselves to something special, so we booked the Canada/New England, Montreal to Boston cruise with Holland America on the Rotterdam. We arranged our own airfare into Montreal a day early but stayed at one of the recommended hotels by the Holland Line, the Delta Montreal. The accommodations were 4 star and the hotel was conveniently located downtown within

walking distance ( 4-5 blocks) of many attractions. We took a Gray Line city tour and enjoyed it, but afterwards wished we had taken the double decker bus tour because it was such a beautiful day. If you like history and architecture you might consider either. We walked around the city and had a delightful snack and a glass of wine at one of the many sidewalk cafes and found the waiters very friendly. They spoke both French and English. The Underground City is touted as a major attraction but it is really nothing more than a huge shopping mall under the city. For us, if you’ve seen one shopping mall, you’ve seen them all. Our cruise began on June 4th. We took a taxi from the hotel to the dock. It was a bit of a hassle since the driver spoke very little English. I would suggest that before you accept a taxi, you make sure you can communicate with the driver. We made it to the dock just fine and other than waiting in a line for about 45 minutes to check in, there were no problems. We found our stateroom on the Veranda Deck and did a bit of unpacking before the mandatory lifeboat drill. Here’s a tip: unless you want to stand in a huddled mass for about 30 minutes or more, don’t rush down to the lifeboat station. Hang back a few minutes, allow everyone to get there ahead of you, then you get to stand in the front of the crowd and only for a few minutes as they finish roll call. The Rotterdam is a beautiful ship and is now considered medium sized by today’s standards, so it was easy to find our way around on the ship. After we familiarized ourselves with the ship’s layout, we found our table in the main dining room. It was a table by the windows at the aft of the ship with a lovely view, but was often very warm because of the sun and adjusting the curtains was a frequent hassle during our early seating. Most of the entire crew is Indonesian on the Rotterdam and are very attentive and friendly. However, our dining stewards were either shy or hadn’t quite mastered enough English to personalize their service. The meals more than made up for this deficit. Every meal was a delight, with a wide variety of entrees to choose from. I almost always chose seafood if it was offered and was never disappointed. Other than the La Fontaine dining room, two other dining options are offered on the Rotterdam. Meals can be taken on the Lido Deck dining or for those who want a very special treat, reservations can be made at the Pinnacle Grill. The Pinnacle Grill is nothing less than an on board 5 star restaurant. The atmosphere is elegant, the service was superb and the food was divine. There is a $20 per person charge to dine there but trust me, if you enjoy fine dining, it was well worth the additional charge. If you eat there, be sure to ask for Ing. He was our waiter and greatly added to a truly wonderful dining experience. The entertainment was varied in the Queens Lounge. The ship’s crew variety song and dance shows were very good as were most of the featured performers. The Wang theater offered a current selection of movies and the theater was usually full for each evening show. The lounge performers were good for the most part but there is something just not quite right when rock and roll is sang with an Indonesian accent. We found the piano bar more to our mood and taste. The ports of call were the main reason we chose this cruise, wanting to see something different. The first port of call was Quebec City. We booked to excursions, one for each of the days in port. One excursion would have been enough. We took the St.Lawrence Grand Tour with Lunch. It was 7 & ½ hours, we had a wonderful tour guide, a native of Quebec named Marie. She made the 7+ hours fun and informative even though lunch was a bit bland. The second day we took the Secrets of Quebec tour, which showed much the same things as the previous tour and the guide was not as charming. Charlottetown, P.E.I. was next and it was on a Sunday. Most of the shops were closed so check your itinerary before you decide what to do in this port. There was little to see or do here but it was beautiful day and we had a nice walk. St.Pierre et Miquelon offered even less. Neither my wife or myself left the ship as it was very long walk into town or a tender ride. Those that did venture ashore had little to say about their visit. St. Johns, Newfoundland had a great deal to offer, beautiful ocean vistas, historic sites and unfortunately for us lousy weather. We took the Old St. John’s & Cape Spear tour and basically looked at fog for 4 hours. The guide did his best to make the day interesting but the weather just plain sucked. Luck of the draw, I hope you have nice weather. We were told the day before people saw whales and icebergs. Oh well. Halifax, Nova Scotia offered good shopping close to the ship and much better weather. We took the High Tides and Fine Wines tour. The tides were at the lowest point and the wine was less than fine. However it was a very lovely winery and the lunch was very good as was the tour guide. He shared lots of local history which we always find interesting. Bar Harbor, Main, gee but it’s great to be back home. They should offer two days here and drop one of the other ports. Loads of shops and bars and local sights. We took the Arcadia National Park & Rustic Lobster Bake Tour. The lobster bake was great but nothing you couldn't find in town at a better price. The tour of Arcadia National Park was beautiful, but would have been a better experience with a rented car (by this time I had been on a bus too long). Again our guide was great and added a lot of local color commentary but I’ve been on my last bus tour. All in all on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being perfect, I rate this cruise an 8. The ship was great in every aspect but the ports of call were not as spectacular as I’d hoped for. If you have any questions my e-mail is [email protected] . Bob Etchason

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Sep 14, 2006

Western Mediterranean

My wife and my in-laws went on the this cruise from the 14th to the 28th. 10 stops including the starting and finishing locations as well as Paris, Rome, Turkey and Barcelona. Overall the cruise was great - specifically the cruise ship was in excellent condition, the staff was very friendly and helpful especially the dining room staff. The food was good - good taste, good variety, sizable portions. The port stops were excellent which

was the main reason we took this cruise. Mostly good things to say...Overall I would give the whole trip and the cruise ship experience a 9 out of 10. The negative points I have our on some of Holland America's pricing. The excursions are quite over-priced compared to doing it yourself (just go ashore and take the local tours or get 4 people and rent a taxi). I can only assume that is because it is profit margins on top of profit margins...everybody wants their slice. The drinks are not terribly priced but also not great pricing either...you could run up a large bill quite quickly....however, the biggest rip-off was the internet facilities...not so much do to their per minute price which was high but you are on open water in the middle of the sea so... (50 cents a minute if you get a package, 75 cents pay as you go) but I believe that they specifically setup the computers to get the most money out of you...for example, you can't open up multiple browsers, you can't use the computer to write your email offline, and they give you free access to the NY Times website but I swear they lower the bandwidth if you go to that site because it takes 4 times as long to open the page...so basically you give up..also you can't get any specific info on say stocks via the NY Times website. However, the charge that I couldn't believe was the "cruise email" account that they try to get you to use where they charge you $3.95 for each email you send! It is basically Yahoo mail which is free...I feel sorry for the people who are less inclined to the web who got suckered into that...Basically I highly recommended bringing a laptop if you have one because they do have wireless internet (same prices) and you can do all the things I mentioned above to save you money (work offline, download multiple pages and read offline etc.) I had a laptop so I was lucky... So overall 9 out of 10 as the cruise was great..only negatives are the pricing, specifically the internet - just be aware of that... Have fun!  

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Jan 11, 2006

South American Explorer

South America and Antarctica –The Rotterdam – January 11 – 31, 2006 Following the example of some of the other reviews I’ve read (which were excellent), I’ve divided my review into my thoughts about the Ship and the Ports/Shore Excursions I went on. First, let me state that this was my first cruise. I have been wanting to do this trip for many years and finally the stars aligned and I was able to have the “trip of a

lifetime” (so far)! I had a wonderful vacation and it was worth every penny I spent. I had no idea what a cruise would be like, if I would get seasick, if I would be bored or lonely, etc. I researched the cruise and the ship ahead of time by reading reviews on the Internet…. but I was certainly a bit naïve about the whole experience before I boarded the plane for Chile. I booked this vacation through my travel agent (BCAA) and they put together a package that included air, hotel in Santiago, transfer from Santiago to the ship, and the cruise. The price was right and I ended up traveling with 14 other people from the Province who  also booked through BCAA. I have no qualms about traveling alone, but it was nice to have some company on the flight down and to have people to “show me the ropes” once we were on board the ship. THE SHIP: The Rotterdam was a wonderful ship. I suppose it would be considered medium in size, however, to me it seemed huge. My outside stateroom was on the Dolphin Deck, room 1872. It was mid-ship and on the lowest deck. I chose this location because I was not sure if I would be seasick or not. It turns out that my body loves the rough seas. The room was much larger than what I was expecting with a very comfortable bed (two twin beds pushed together) with lovely linens, etc. There was more closet and storage space than in my home and even if there had been two people in the room, there would have been lots of closet space. The bathroom was a decent size (with a bathtub that was designed for short people; so I only took showers) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There were lots of handrails in the bathroom…which came in handy when the seas were in the 18 foot range. There was a small sofa with end tables in the room and a desk and chair and a flat screen TV with DVD player. And a very large window (I was expecting a little round porthole) . All in all, it was a very comfortable room. The only disappointment with the room was the fact that it was very noisy. Once we were in heavy seas and the stabilizers were working overtime, the noise was very loud. Even with earplugs I only managed about 4 hours of sleep in the first two days of sailing. As well, there was a loose block and tackle unit of some sort hanging in the area beneath the room that swayed with the ship and hit the hull every few seconds. It was like trying to sleep inside of a huge church bell (the joke at dinner was that I was channeling Quasimodo!). After our first port of call, the block and tackle unit was secured so that sound ended, but the other noise from the ship continued whenever we had rough seas. For my next cruise I’m going to make sure that my stateroom is not anywhere near the engines or stabilizers, if at all possible. There was a small laundry area on each deck with washers and dryers and irons/ironing boards. They were always very busy. My understanding is that Holland America is in the process of eliminating self-service laundry on their ships. I don’t know how much longer the laundry rooms will exist. The public rooms on the ship were beautiful. There was lots of artwork about and many vases of fresh flower arrangements. At the top of the ship is the Crow’s Nest Lounge which was very nice. During the daytime it was set up for passengers to be able to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling windows. While in Antarctica (and in other places like the Darwin Channel, Beagle Channel, etc.), the commentary from the guest lecturer was piped into the Lounge so that those who chose not to be outside on deck could hear all the important information while still getting a great view. The Crow’s Nest was busy in the late evening with dancing, etc. It has a fairly large dance floor. Below the Crow’s Nest was the Gym and Spa. The gym had lots of equipment and it was never overly busy. My favorite time to go was first thing in the morning and normally there would be about a dozen or so people working out. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on “formal night” days). Also on this level is the pool and surrounding deck. The pool is not large and when the seas got really rough, it had to be closed for safety reasons. There are lots of deck chairs and tables/chairs surrounding the pool. The roof retracts in good weather (while in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro), which was really nice. Aft of the pool deck is the Lido restaurant. It is surprisingly large with identical serving stations on each side of the ship. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. Outside the Lido restaurant at the very back of the ship is another small outdoor pool and an area with deck chairs, tables/chairs, etc. I found this area to be lovely in the early evening, as long as the weather was good. It was somewhat sheltered from the wind, and never busy. On the Upper Promenade Deck is where you will find the upper level of the Queen’s Lounge, the shops, the Casino, the Library/Internet area, a couple of bars/lounges, and the upper level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. The Casino was a decent size and always busy. Unfortunately they allow smoking in the Casino, so I rarely went in there. The few times I played the slots, I lost everything. However, some of my dinner table mates won hundreds of dollars on those machines! There is a large Sports Bar just outside the Casino with a big screen TV, etc. Next to the Casino there was a large Internet area with at least a dozen computers. It was always busy and I found the best time to go online was after dinner in the evening. Internet service was spotty, at best, and very, very expensive. The only reason I bought a 100 minute package was because I had a ship-board credit which covered the cost. The Internet area is part of the Library which was my favorite room on the ship. Nothing better than curling up on a big ol’ sofa with a good book when there is nothing else on the agenda. Across from the Library is the Explorer’s Lounge. This is a very comfortable area with a string quartet playing in the evenings. During the daytime there were contests taking place in the Lounge, as well as Q&A sessions with some of the nightly performers. Next to the Explorer’s Lounge is the Ocean Bar which was the spot for pre-dinner drinks, and after dinner dancing, etc. On the Promenade Deck is the main floor of the Queen’s Lounge, the photo shop, the Art Gallery, the movie theatre, the Pinnacle Grill, and the main level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The Queen’s Lounge (were the daily lectures and evening shows took place) was very comfortable, but tended to be quite cool. As long as I had a sweater with me, it was fine. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine. The movie theatre (which is also the area used for cooking demonstrations) was very comfortable, as well. The Fontaine Dining Room was beautiful, well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 8 on the bottom level (6:15 pm; early seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc. I never ate in the Pinnacle Grill, but I had a tour of the kitchen with the chef and checked-out the room and it was wonderful. Everyone I spoke with who ate there really enjoyed themselves. I gather the food and service were exceptional. The front office, shore excursions office, etc., are also found on the Promenade Deck. The Lower Promenade Deck has the outdoor walking area. It was always nice to get outside for a walk, even in the worst weather. There were always lots of people out on deck during the daytime and early evening. You can access the bow of the ship from this deck (when opened)…. it was the best outdoor area to be on when viewing the sights in Antarctica. The area was closed in rough seas, for very good reason. The infirmary is on the Dolphin deck and is very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency. Because we had an ongoing problem with the Norwalk virus during the trip, the infirmary was always busy. Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there are lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship is great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with lots of room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc. THE PASSENGERS: Typical of Holland America, the majority of passengers were retired seniors. I was one of the youngest people on board (and I’m 53!). I assume that because it was a longer cruise in January, and also very expensive, that the only people who have the time and money for that type of cruise are older, retired persons. About one-third of the passengers were from the United States, about one-third from Canada, and the final third from Switzerland and Germany, with a few people from the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand thrown in for good measure. I think there was about 1,100 passengers on board. Overall, I found the people on board to be friendly and kind. However, there were a number of very miserable, whiney, complaining, cranky types on board, as well. I suppose there are people like them on every cruise… but it really was disappointing to have to deal with people like that on a day to day basis. Honestly, the crew were saints to put up with some of the stuff I saw happening. In the past I have worked in the service/tourism industry, and I never, ever had to endure what the crew of the ship had to endure. CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT: I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional. My cabin steward was amazing. The front office staff were always very helpful. The dining room staff seemed a bit inexperienced (our waiter and assistant waiter), but overall my dining experience was great. The bar/lounge staff were very good. The cruise director and his staff were fun and energetic. We had some wonderful guest lecturers on board who provided us with tons of information, especially when in Antarctica. They certainly exceeded my expectations. And even the medical staff were wonderful to deal with (unfortunately). I thought the food on board the ship was excellent. Every evening I got to try new things, or have items I haven’t thought to cook in years. The presentation was good and the food was always hot when it arrived at the table. The food in the Lido was also very good. I enjoyed all the variety of foods… a much larger selection than what I was expecting. I ate about half my breakfasts in the Lido and all my lunches, and a couple of dinners (when returning late to the ship after a shore excursion). I only went to a few of the evening shows, so I can’t really comment too much on the entertainment. Certainly the shows were geared to an older audience and so I was not all that interested in most of them. However, many of the people I spoke with on the cruise loved the shows. The same goes for the musicians playing in the bars/lounges throughout the ship. Their music was stuff my parents listened to in the 40s and 50s. Fine for the older folks, but not so great for me. There was a string quartet in the Explorer’s Lounge that played classical music in the evening and you could hear it in the Library, so that was nice. I often wonder what I’ll do when I’m 75 and wanting to go dancing… will the band in the lounge be playing the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, etc.???? PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS: I booked all my shore excursions through Holland America. Because I was traveling by myself (and because I’d never been on a cruise before), this seemed like the most efficient way of going about things. If you are traveling in a group of 4-6 people, I’m sure that you could rent a van/driver and see many of the same things I did at a much lower cost. Santiago, Chile My air travel and hotel in Santiago was booked through my travel agent, not Holland America. As mentioned above, there were 14 of us in the group. The flight to Santiago is long and, like most everyone else on the trip, I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. When you first arrive in the airport in Santiago you have to pay an entry fee to Chile. This is done before you go through customs and immigration. The line-up for paying the fee is to your left when you come down the escalator in the arrivals area. It took about 20 minutes to get through the line (there were two planes arriving at the same time). The line for customs took about another 10 minutes. I noticed that there were a number of Holland America staff in the baggage area assisting passengers and showing them where to catch their bus to the hotel. Our small group was met just outside the baggage area, which was a madhouse! There were hundreds of people meeting and greeting along with the bus drivers and taxi cab owners, etc. We were staying at the same hotel as most of the passengers on Holland America. The hotel was the Sheraton San Cristobal which is located just over the river from the main part of the city. It was a very nice hotel and I had a wonderful large room in the tower portion. There were a couple of very good restaurants in the hotel. Our small group was treated to a 3 hour bus tour of the city which was great. Santiago is a real mix of very old and very new buildings. It is clean and seemed to be safe. The next morning we boarded the bus for the trip to Valparaiso. My understanding is that the people who booked through Holland America traveled straight from Santiago to Valparaiso by bus, leaving around 10 am. Our group left a bit earlier and we took our time traveling through the various valleys between mountain ranges between the city and the coast. We stopped at a winery for a tour and a wine tasting, which was great fun. We also did a short tour of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso before arriving at the dock. Embarkation went very quickly and efficiently (approximately 5 minutes). Puerto Montt, Chile “Petrohué Falls & Chilean Countryside”: This excursion took most of the day. The scenery was spectacular and the lunch that was part of the excursion was very, very good. I’m sure that you could arrange for a car and driver to take you to the same places that the excursion went to. The weather in that area is generally not so good with cloud, rain, etc. We lucked-out with clear, sunny skies. If it had been raining, then that long day in the bus would have been miserable! At this port you have to take a tender from the ship to shore. Just a note about Puerto Montt. There is a very good market for hand made goods, crafts, etc. just outside the entrance to the port. There were lots of stores and the prices were very good. I made the mistake of not buying enough (thinking that I would hit the markets in Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, etc.). Well, I never saw another craft market until Buenos Aires! So, if you are interested in buying souvenirs, don’t make the mistake that I did. It is only a 5 minute walk from the market back to the port… so it is very convenient. Punta Arenas, Chile “Scenic Patagonia”: This was a good excursion by bus through the Pampas to the Otway Penguin Reserve. I went in the afternoon and so I was able to watch the penguins coming home after a day of fishing and then feeding their chicks who were waiting in the nests. It was great! Again, I’m sure that you could hire a local car and driver to take you to the same places. There were many taxis waiting at the entrance to the port (5 minute walk from the ship). I noticed that many of the passengers were taking the taxis into the city (too far to walk to) and were arriving at the penguin colony in cars when we arrived by bus. Ushuaia, Argentina “National Park & Beagle Channel”: I took this excursion and many of the people I met took the “Penguins & Beagle Channel” excursion (which was quite similar). Though you travel through Beagle Channel as you arrive in Ushuaia, by taking the catamaran trip I was able to get really close to the wildlife… which interested me. Other people took the train trip to the National Park, etc. …. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves regardless which excursion they chose. I don’t know of anyone who hired a local car/driver. There was not a lot of time to wander around the city, however, it is only a 5-10 minute walk back to the ship. Falkland Islands You don’t need to do a shore excursion here. After taking a tender to the dock, you can walk into town and see pretty much everything. As well, you can hire a local taxi to take you to the penguin colony, the beach, etc. for a very reasonable price. Buenos Aires, Argentina “Buenos Aires Highlights”: This was a very good bus tour around the city. We stopped for half an hour to tour around Recoleta Cemetery, which was fantastic. As well, we stopped for a while at the Plaza de Mayo. It was the last day of the “Mothers March”… very moving experience. We stopped for a while in the La Boca area (home of the tango). I felt that we really got to see a lot of the city and I really enjoyed the tour. I did that excursion in the morning so that I could take in a “Tango Show Without Dinner” which was also very good. I met some people who did the plane trip to Iguazu Falls. I’m sure the scenery was incredible, but I was not prepared to pay $800. Many people chose to avoid the city and do the day long excursion to a ranch out in the countryside. They had a blast, but 5 hours on a bus was pretty long, to say the least. I wish we had had two days in Buenos Aires; there was so much to see. I expect you would be able to arrange a car/driver for a city tour, etc., although I didn’t meet anyone who did that. Montevideo, Uruguay “Highlights of Montevideo”: This was an o.k. tour of the city. There is not much to see, and so I was pretty disappointed. It was a real letdown after BA. I know people who did the “A Taste of Montevideo and The Wine Trail” tour and really enjoyed it. I wish I had done that one. Again, I’m sure you could hire a car/driver to take you around Montevideo. It’s not that large and you can see everything in a couple of hours. There is a taxi stand about 30 seconds from the dock. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil “Sugar Loaf & Corcovado”: This was an all-day tour which took us to the airport at the end. I did this excursion on the last day after we disembarked (around 9 am) and we arrived at the airport at 7 pm. The tour was excellent and we saw lots of Rio (and felt reasonably safe with a guard (presumably armed) on board the bus for the entire day). Unfortunately, the weather was pretty lousy, so the views from Corcovado and Sugar Loaf were not so good. In fact, we were in the clouds while on Sugar Loaf and so saw nothing but white! Rio is very, very unsafe. I was not able to travel around on my own and so the first day we were there I met up with two other people and we took the free shuttle bus, provided by H. Stern Jewelers, that took us to their headquarters in Ipanema. The factory tour was very interesting and the showroom of jewelry was incredible. We were then able to spend 4 hours walking the beach and touring the neighborhood and the lagoon behind Ipanema. It’s a beautiful area and reasonably safe. We were then able to catch the H. Stern shuttle bus back to the ship. As for private car/driver arrangements, I’m sure they can be made, but I didn’t talk to anyone who did that. You will need to be very careful with who you hire, etc. I can’t stress enough how unsafe Rio is for tourists. Just a note about Rio. We arrived at the harbour between midnight and 2 am. It was one of the highlights of the trip (other than Antarctica) to stand outside and gradually watch the city come into view at night. We were able to see the beaches, Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, etc. It was really quite magical!!! Disembarkation went quite smoothly and quickly. My luggage went directly to the airport and was there for me to pick-up when I arrived at the airport at 7 pm. The International Airport in Rio is a bit of a joke. It is quite small, run down, with very few chairs for sitting, etc. The bathrooms were filthy and there was no air conditioning. After checking in I went upstairs to the second level where there were some shops, a small food court and a reasonable restaurant. Many of the people from the cruise went directly from check-in through security to the gate, and then were stuck there in the heat for 5-6 hours with nowhere to eat, sit down, etc. FINAL COMMENT: I truly had the most wonderful cruise vacation on board the Rotterdam. The scenery in Antarctica is beyond words. If you have an opportunity to do the South America cruise, then pay the extra and include Antarctica in your trip. You won’t be disappointed. As for South America, it was wonderful. If I had the time and money, I’d do this same trip again in a heartbeat!!!  

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Nov 20, 2005

South American Explorer

This was our fourth Holland America cruise, and the longest and most exotic yet. We booked our trip in May, 2005 through a concierge service offered by our financial advisor. They were able to secure a verandah suite for us and also found us round trip business class airfares at very reasonable prices. I hate to imagine what we would have felt like squeezed into small coach seats on a trip that long. (I'm 6ft 6in tall and a size extra

large.) Arrival in Rio was painless. We took a "Radio Taxi" from the Airport to the Hotel. The trip was pre-paid to the dispatcher avoiding any potential hassles with the driver. The driver turned out to be a very talkative and pleasant guy. He spoke virtually no English and my Portugese isn't much better but we both knew Spanish so we had a nice "guided tour" on the way to the hotel. I translated for my wife and everyone was happy. The pre-cruise hotel is the Sheraton Rio. It is a nice property right on the beach front in Leblon. The beach is "semi-private". The only drawback to the location is that the hotel is pretty much isolated, leaving you no dining/shopping alternatives within walking distance. This was the main assembly point for the cruise and both the hotel and Holland America staff were very courteous and helpful. The rooms were large, spacious and spotless. Two of the elevators were out of service for our entitre stay, leaving only four working which caused some problems and long waits. The dining room staff must have been overwhelmed that first night because the service was really slow. I actually fell asleep sitting up at the table sometime after waiting over 15 minutes for my check. Things got back on track after that and we ate all our meals in there or at the poolside restaurant the rest of the stay and had no further problems. We signed up for a city tour in Rio through Grey Line (they had a desk next to HAL's). Nice tour that included a ride up the Sugar Loaf in the cable cars. The weather turned nasty while we were on the way up and we got up front and personal with a thunderstorm that actually shut down the aerial cars for a while. Our guide was great and really knew the city well. He even serenaded us with a nice rendition of the "Girl from Ipenema". Embarkation day was warm, humid and mostly cloudy. Luggage pickup was smooth and we got another "city tour" on the way to the dock. This tour went a different route than either our ride in from the airport or the Grey Line route and between the three we got to see most every section of Rio worth seeing. I really liked the city and would love to go back some day. The check-in and boarding process was the smoothest and best run we have seen in our four HAL cruises. It is a really good operation. Even more impressive was that the ship had just arrived that morning from Lisbon and Africa and they had most of us aboard in time for lunch. All luggage was in our cabin by 3:00PM. The Verandah Suite was fabulous. Our cabin was just slightly larger than some of the others in its class as it was a "3 person room" located on the starboard side, aft, right around the corner from the rear elevator bank. Great location. The suites have alot more storage than the outside cabins and we used virtually all of it. Our balcony, though a bit small, was a real nice plus and we spent some time on it almost every day. Our cabin steward, "Mui", was on the last trip of his contract and looking forward to going home after almost a year away. He was a true "prince among men" and easily our best cabin steward ever. (He ended up volunteering to stay aboard for one more cruise due to one of his fellow stewards being given emergency leave at the end of our trip.) Mui went out of his way to find ways to help us and we became good friends. We looked forward to his nightly "towel animals" each night when we returned to our suite. Our travel agent/concierge service had arranged for some wonderful gifts we found in our cabin when we arrived. There were two complimentary HAL heavy terrycloth robes, a dinner for two at the Pinnacle Grill and four very nice bottles of wine. Another gift "from you travel agent" showed up a few days later but I am drawing a blank as to what it was. The Rotterdam had been through the HAL upgrade/renovation program since we were last aboard in 2002. We liked all of the changes and the ship continues to be our favorite. It is just the right size and the layout is easy to learn and remember. It did extremely well in the one day of rough seas and high winds we encoutered. The food on this trip gets an A+++, even for HAL. It was far and away the best we had ever had. The executive chef was a real master and his menus and recipes were unbelievable. I had one complaint early in the trib about Blue Marlin being the fish entree one evening. I took my complaint to the head chef when I saw him in the Lido the next afternoon. I explained to him how marlin are becoming a dangerously exploited sport fish that needs to be released when caught, not put on the dinner table. He listened politely and assured me that he had been unaware of the situation and would avoid purchasing it in the future. He sounded sincere and I believe he will keep his word. Our two dining room stewards were first class. Our dining room steward, Irman from West Java, was on the final cruise of his contract and looking forward to his trip home very much. His assistant, Gede from Bali, was quite senior as assistants go and ready for promotion to dining room steward status. We all gave him high marks on our comment cards and hope he will get his well deserved promotion soon. We were seated at a nice 6 seat table on the lower deck, just out from the corner, next to the rear picture window. We had great views every night. Our dining companions were a couple from California and another from Arizona - all of us retired. I enjoyed them very much. Our experiences with the stewards seemed to be quite typical of the entire ship. I never heard a single complaint from any of the other passengers. Our itinerary took us first to Montevideo, Uruguay. We opted for a combination city tour and visit to a world famous winery out at the edge of the city. The winery part of the tour was very interesting and included wine tasting, lunch and a tango show. We felt we made a good choice of tours here. We were in Buenos Aires two days and one night (Thanksgiving back in the US). "BA" is a big, cosmopolitan, hectic city that we both liked. We did a comprehensive city tour, a dinner/tango-show evening excusion and then another wine tasting tour on the second day. All three were excellent choices. The Tango Show was worthy of some additional verbage. There are quite a few of these venues in the city but we sensed that this one was different. It was housed in a very old theater that had been visited by visiting European royalty to take in the show. In addition to the dancers there was an outstanding vocalist and a real good group of Argentine musicians that played traditonal music on some rather extraordinary instruments (including a guitar made out of an armadillo.) This was another city we would like to return to. Our next stop was a nice surprise. We didn't expect to see much of interest at the Falkland Islands but they were really lovely. We did the standard tour of the Stanley area and it made a lot of nice stops. Our guide, a gal from Scotland, had a lovely lilt in her voice and gave the place an even nicer feel. Stanly was very picturesque and all the people we met were very friendly. It was sunny but a bit chilly weather wise. The first of our "scenic cruising" events was next with a turn "around the horn". Cape Horn had one of its few nice days weather wise and we got some nice pictures of literally the end of the world. My camcorder had gone "kaput" earlier in the trip so unfortunately I didn't get some of the video footage I would have liked to have shot. I'm hoping the ship's stock footage on the cruise video will fill in the gaps. The weather continued good as we sailed into Ushuaia, Argentina the next day. Too bad we were only there a half day. We went to see the Penguins and weren't able to see the city and the surrounding area. This turned out to be the best of the three places to see the Penguins (as well as sea lions and a varity of sea birds). The catamaran was able to ease its bow onto the beach where the penguins were congregated and it didn't seem to bother them in the least. My wife especially enjoyed getting that close to penguins in the wild. This was probably my favorite shore excursion of the whole trip. The Catamaran was brand new, clean, fast and the crew delightful. Next up was Punta Arenas - a place I had been twice before aboard a "ship with a big gun on the front of it". It was nice to see the changes in the city over a course of 30 something years. A highlight was revisiting the statue of Magellan and rubbing the "Indian's toe" again (which local legends say will cause you to return one day to Punta Arenas. It worked for me the first two times.) The only disappontment here was that the Maritime Museum was closed for renovations and I wasn't able to see the exhibit about Shackleton's Rescue. We took a private car/tour with our own guide and driver. They were excellent and we asked the guide to have lunch with us at a restaurant that was supposed to be the best in town (it certainly was that in our opinion). We chose the private tour option as we wanted to see alot of things not on the normal tour routes and it worked out superb. On our way back to the dock the wind came up suddenly and what had been a gentle breeze turned into a raging gale. Folks going ashore on afternoon tours got buffeted pretty badly. During the night after leaving Punta Arenas the weather worsened as we entered the open Pacific. Seas were running 14-18 feet in the 50 plus knot gale. The ship was doing a little rolling and pitching. As we are both long time boaters it didn't bother us at all but an awful lot of our fellow passengers had a bout with "mal de' mer". No problem getting a good seat at the Lido restaurant that morning. The weather gradually subsided over the next 24 hours and it was pleasant by the time we entered the Chilean fjords on our way toward the glaciers and Puerto Montt. Puerto Montt, along with Puerto Varras and Fruitillar are a very pretty section in the near south region of Chile. The area has a definite German flavor to it and was one of the most colorful and picturesque of the trip. We again lucked out with a really good guide in contrast with some of our shipmates that voiced their displeasure with theirs. Some showers rolled in from time to time but it was mostly sunny and still just a little cool. We actually had four season in one day with warm sunshine, cold cloudy weather, rain and finally sleet. Our last day at sea was spent packing, listening to the disembarkation process lecture and saying alot of "goodbyes". We arrived in Valparaiso the final morning and ran into the only part of the entire trip that wasn't "first class". For whatever reason the disembarkation process got a very late start and we weren't off the ship until after 11:15. Once ashore it was a madhouse with no one giving directions or telling us what to do next. We were herded onto a bus, driven to some nondescript building and told to get out. Then the real confusion started as to what each group needed to do about their luggage and transportation. I finally found someone who knew what the procedure was and got her to explain what we needed to do. We were finally able to find the bus for "Green-5" that would do tours of Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and end up at the Sheraton in Santiago. The tours were nice but alot of us were getting hungry and uncomfortable with "mother-nature" before we finally pulled in to our lunch/rest stop at 2:15PM. We staged a minor mutiny and insisted that we be allowed 45 minutes for the stop and the guide relented from his original 25 minute plan. Lunch was good and we were on the final leg to Santiago. I had been in Santiago once before and was amazed at how much it has grown. It is as modern now as many North American or Western European cities. The Chileanos are a warm, friendly people and I continue to rate this county as one of my favorites. Would love to return again. The Sheraton in Santiago was a very poor choice, unfortunately. There were a long list of bad reports from the restaurants, the baggage handling, the front desk, the facilities, etc. I had a poor experience in the restaurant where I was served the wrong meal and the waiter argued with me about it. My problems were nothing compared to most of the diners around me. It was so bad it was one of only 3 or 4 times in my life I refused to tip a waiter. My wife compiled a 2 or 3 page list of complaints that she intends to forward to both HAL and Sheraton hoping that they will work to correct the problems. On the plus side there were nice fashion shows both evenings around the pool. The pretty Chileanas in their high fashions and beach wear made me forget some of my "issues" with the hotel. It is another location quite isolated from alternative dining/entertainment/shopping choices that kind of locks you in unless you want to venture off in a taxi. We opted for a private van to the airport which proved to be a good idea, given the amount of luggage we had. Our driver was prompt, courteous and the van quite new and clean. Airport check-in was smooth once the Delta reps made it to their stations (they were delayed slightly by some unexplained circumstance). We were extended Crown-Room privileges during the almost three hour wait for boarding which was a welcome event. The elevator to the Crown Room was out when we got there but an airport supervisor offered to help us get our luggage down the stairs. The lift was fixed by the time we left for the gate. The trip home was uneventful. We arrived Atlanta on time were able to switch flights to one of the single class 737-800s that left in 90 minutes instead of waiting the six hours for our 757 with first class seats. Some observations and relections... The Cruise Director - Bruce Allen Scudder was the best I've ever run into. He was personable as you would expect but always business like in a very positive manner. His staff, led by Senior Assistant Billy Rogers, were the best we had encuntered in all of our trips. We interracted quite a bit with them at various events and got to know them all quite well. They were a fabulous group that made the trip more enjoyable. The nightly entertainment in the Queen's Lounge was unfortunately below HALs normal high standards. The one wonderful exception was Heather, the lead female vocalist in the Cast of the Rotterdam. She had one of the best voices I have ever heard aboard ship or ashore. The rest of the Cast was just not up to what we have come to expect from HAL's entertainment. Ditto on most of the other acts. The Casino was the best run one we have ever visited. Casino Manager Beata and Slots Manager Dinu really knew how to make their guests feel welcome. Dinu remembered me from a previos HAL cruise and treated me like his long lost Romanian uncle. All of the dealers and even the cashiers were friendly, outgoing, helpful - a far cry from some of our previous cruises. We were both quite lucky this trip despite very active play. I actually won a fair amount thanks to some luck with the slots, black jack and the roulette wheel. My wife won first place in the first Slot Machine tournament and I was a finalist in the second one. We both like bingo and played most of the games. Again the luck of the Irish was with us and we won a total of 5 games, each with nice cash prizes. They also had a raffle one day for a "goody bag" with close to $2,000 worth of ship's services and merchandise. You guessed it - we won that, too. Now if we only could have won the "win a cruise" raffle as well... We claimed the Guinness Book of Records entry for the most T-shirts won on a cruise at 15. Billy, the Sr. ACD confirmed it was the most he'd ever heard of. We were truly lucky to have not one but two outstanding guest lecturers. Dr Jay Wolff is a noted lecturer on South American history and his morning talks were always SRO. Dr. Bernard Stonehouse, a Brit who has spent more time at the poles than the UK, lectured on Southern Hemisphere wildlife and Antarctic history and geography. He and I became well acquainted after I told him of my Antarctic experiences and we discovered that we knew some of the same oceanographers and polar scientists. Both of these men were brilliant. They provided guest commentary during our scenic cruising events such as going "round the horn" and our glacier passings. They were both immensely popular. Everyone in the ship's complement was highly visible and approachable. I had several extended discussions with the Chief Officer about our route through the straits and the fjords, curious how many I had seen before and which were going to be new. He was a real pleasure to interact with. The same was true for so many other members of the ships company that I just can't name. The Shore Excursions staff, Port Lecturere, Future Cruise Consultant, Spa and Salon personnel - all were just great. There was something on this cruise that you could feel in the air. It was a happy ship with a happy crew and staff. As you might expect that translates into happy passengers. We are already looking forward to our next HAL trip but I doubt that it will be able to top this one.   

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Feb 14, 2005

Panama Canal

My husband and I just returned from a ten day trip on the Rotterdam to the Panama Canal. We have sailed on the Veendam to the western Caribbean, the Statendam to Alaska and back, and the Zuiderdam to the eastern Caribbean. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Rotterdam. The staff is friendly and helpful, the dining room service excellent, and the food was wonderful. The ship was filled with fresh flowers, beautiful art, and

appeared to be in excellent condition. We were surprised to learn it is due to go into dry dock in three weeks. The average age of the cruisers on this trip was about 70, with a sprinkling of younger people with young children. Since school was in session, there were very few children aboard. The Panama Canal, the highlight of the trip, was a true marvel of engineering and a wonderful guide explained what was happening as we went through a series of locks into Gatun Lake. There were many vantage points from which to see the ship enter the locks, and even though it was raining on the return trip, the view from the Crow’s Nest was perfect. Several of the shows aboard were very good. Among them was the comedian whose name I can’t recall, George Sullivan a singer with tons of energy, and the Mickey Finn show. The female banjo player from the Mickey Finn show was very accomplished and it was enjoyable to watch her play. We loved the Rotterdam and look forward to sailing her again.    

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Jul 27, 2004

Western Europe and Western Mediterranean

This was our second cruise on Holland America. We chose it because of the great itinerary and the fact that we did enjoy our cruise on the Statendam to Hawaii in the spring of 2003. The ship's CDC rating was good (We always check the rating of a ship we are considering. Is it an integral part of our decision making.) We also read various reviews of the ship on various cruise sites, always taking into account the age, the number of cruises,

the class of cabin and the kinds of comments from the reviewer before giving it any weight (It can be positive or negative, but if we notice a comment, for example, about the fact that the staff wasn't wearing white gloves, we will instantly discount anything written in the review). The number of positive and negative reviews will also influence our decision. Although, this can be a little tricky, because not everyone will post a review and not every review site can be read. However, if we can't find a good review of a ship and the sampling is good, then we will certainly think twice about it. Finally, the price was right. The cruise began in Copenhagen. (24th of July, 2004). We had purchased the HAL's transfer, flight and hotel package. The flight was on Air France from Montreal to Paris then onward to Copenhagen. (We live in Montreal) The flight was great and the service, on Economy class, was excellent. We met a HAL rep at the Copenhagen airport who took care of our luggage as we proceeded to be transferred to our The Scandic Hotel in downtown Copenhagen. We have already visited Copenhagen a few years ago and had stayed at the Hilton located at the Copenhagen Airport, but this hotel was excellent and located a few blocks away from Tivoli gardens. (The downtown location of the Scandic made it more convenient than the airport location, although the rail system to get to downtown from the airport is clean, efficient and relatively cheap.) We are not picky people, but we do have certain standards, especially my wife, and we were quite satisfied with the accommodations. (Note: We visited the Karen Blixen museum and it was well-worth it if you saw and enjoyed the movie Out of Africa or know of the literary work under her real name, Isak Deniesen. You can visit the museum's web site for the directions. It was quite easy to get there via the train and a short, local bus ride. (You can use the same ticket you purchased for the bus. The people at the information desk at the train station were also quite helpful.). Embarkation: We had an early check-out and was given a city tour before boarding the ship. (No walking was required. Not that we mind any walking, but the comment might be of use to you.) While we had already seen much of the sights of the tour, it was still a good way to have another glimpse of this fine city. The embarkation process went smoothly with no major delays. The completion of the electronic information form sped this up at the check in. (It avoids someone at the desk having to write the information up while you are standing there.) Our room on the Rotterdam was on the third level, overlooking the wrap-around, walking deck. No fear- You can see outside, but no one can see inside your cabin. It was centrally located had more space than the outside staterooms we had on our previous cruises. (Celebrity--Mercury and Millennium--- and the Statendam. It was also had more space than the outside room on the Crown Princess, but that one has been sold.). Storage space was above average. (We had four suitcases and two take-on luggage) There was only a steward for our room. (That was also the case of the Statendam. On Celebrity, there was a main steward and his help.) However, we found our cabin service superior to what we had received so far on all five, previous cruises. This might be the luck of the draw, but we can only comment on what we experienced. (By the way, all our comments are from personal experience. We will avoid any third party stories, because personal ones are hard enough for you to digest.) Having already cruised on HAL, we were familiar with the different rooms. (The Java Bar with it's free Lattes and the Wajang Theater with it's popcorn and first-rate movies being personal favorites of mine. My wife, who has edited this review, also enjoyed the suger-free cookies offered at the Java bar.) All the rooms, including the Lido and the Explorer lounge (with its afternoon high-tea), not to mention the Crow's Nest with its great views were all clean and well managed by the staff. Again, my wife-- the editor-- who is much more critical than I can be, without being picky, was quite satisfied with the overall ship. The ship has around 1300 guests with 600 crew, so it's somewhere between the smaller ships and the new, mega liners that have twice as many of the same things and more walking. Although we don't mind the larger ships, for us, this was a nice size ship. Throw in the wrapped-around deck and you have it made. (Note: Bigger is not always better. Some people that we talked to seemed to be impressed by the size of a ship. That is definitely not our case.) By the way, it has always amazed us that no matter what size of ship, there are always "private" places onboard to be found at most times. Oslo, Norway: We had already visited this fine city, so we had forgone the HAL tours to go on our own. We suggest HAL tours for first-timers, unless you are well prepared to maximize your visit. Otherwise, we might just do a sight in proximity of the ship and call it a day. We visited Vigeland Park, within Frogner park, that functions as a sculpture park and a public park. The life size sculptures found there (about 190 sculptures) are a sight to behold. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and the locals were soaking up the sun--- a blessing in this part of the world--- and it just made the whole experience for enjoyable. (Being on your own, you can easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the view.) Dover, England: Never having been to London we decided upon the walking tour offered by HAL. We walked around BIG BEN, Trafalgar Square and Covent Gardens. We had some free time to have lunch and shop before taking a short bus ride to Kensington Palace where we visited the palace and the grounds. Lady Di's dresses are on display. We also checked out where Princess Margaret's lived. The ride to London from Dover was around 1:30 (This was during morning rush hour.) All in all, a fine way to introduce you to the city. (Although you only pass by Buckingham palace among other famous sites. The tour's description and amount of walking required were accurate on this occasion. (Not the case for all the tours, notably in Rome.) The tour delivered what we had bargained for: You can't ask for more than that. Le Havre, France: We opted to visit Le Havre in the morning on our own and do a transfer to Honfleur in the afternoon. (Transfer: A coach bus drops you off at designated area and lets you roam around for 3 hours or so. There is a guide on board that provide some commentary along the way. The coach took the more scenic route to Honfleur on the way there and the more direct, and less interesting route on the way back to the ship. While getting there chewed 30 minutes from our time in Honfleur, it was, we believe, worth the interesting comments along the way.) Le Havre is a quite little town with a nice museum approx. 30 minutes from the ship or a 8 Euros cab ride. (The museum at the time of our visit had works from Monet and Boudin.) It is a 8 Euros taxi ride from the ship. Being a francophone from Quebec, we did have a change to talk to some of the locals. It made the visit that much more interesting. As far as Honfleur is concerned, it is a little gem. Lots of stores and some nice museum. We could have easily spent the day and more. (Note: While we have never been to Paris, we had decided to opt out of taking any tours involving Paris, because it involved a 3 hour bus ride each way. It is a lot money just to have a photo op of the Eiffel Tower or to ride down the Seine in a bateau-mouche under a blazing sun.) We were quite satisfied with this day in Le Havre/Honfleur. Vigo, Spain: This is a city where a lot of uphill walking is required. The old town near the pier offers a lot of shops and restaurants. I walked up to the top of the hill overlooking the city and got some great photos. It is the main park of the city. (My wife, the editor, decided to go back to ship after some touring of the old city.) No HAL tours attracted us, although with hindsight, a tour in the morning would have maximized our visit. (And it should be strongly advised if you don't like to walk uphill. and still have a taste of the city and its surroundings.) To be honest. while we like Spain, we would not have cried if this stop would have been omitted. (And another port added in its place.) Lisbon, Portugal: Very hot day in Lisbon. Did not book a tour simply to cut costs. The ride was a free, one-way shuttle into the center of town where you hop on tour buses. The double-decker, you can get off and get back on at anytime for 15 Euros per person was our chosen means to visit the City. Because of the heat we only got off once and that was along the waterfront, at the famous monument of the Explorers and a 14th century castle. We took a taxi back to the ship. Next time we will opt for a HAL tour. Barcelona, Spain: We have been there before and adore this city, so our comments might be a little bias. Then again, all the comments we got from our acquaintances on board ship were positive. We took a double-decker tour bus for part of the day, (15 Euros, but better planned than the one in Lisbon) and then wandered around town, stopping at a restaurant we had discovered during our previous stay for a bite of lunch. It was quite enjoyable. Beware: because of added security, the road leading back to the ship can be quite jammed. If you are on your own, make sure that you give yourself at least one hour to get to the ship. The walk to the ship is about 45 minutes from the Columbus Statue. There is a shuttle from the pier to the Columbus Statue, at the foot of Las Rambla. (The main pedestrian street that leads you up to the major square of the city where most of the tours busses are located.) The cost of the shuttle: 2,50 Euros, each, return. One sour point: There weren't any HAL reps around at the pier for those of us who had decided to go it alone. It would have been nice to have someone there to tell where the shuttle was parked etc. Not even a sign... Bottom line: We would there again in an heartbeat. Monte-Carlo, Monaco: The playground of the rich and famous is indeed that. We had opted to go it alone, planning to visit the Oceanic museum and the church where Princess Grace is buried. A lot of walking is involved to get up there and taxis are scarce and costly. The information booth wasn't much help to us and while we were told, and had read, that there was a way to get up to the Castle (and the church and the museum) that included elevators, we had still taken the road that led to the center of the city and, more importantly, the longer and much steeper on foot, way up to the hill. So much for being prepared to not fall into that trap of marching into the city....:-) Bottom line: It was worth a visit just for the Aquarium part of the Oceanic museum. A must. (Note: The tours on HAL did not stop and let you visit that museum.) My wife, the editor, would also have mentioned that visiting the church where Princess Grace was buried was also a must.) Rome: We had booked the In the Footsteps of Rome tour, a ten-hour tour that included the roughly three hours bus ride, there and back. (We visited Rome on a Sunday, so traffic wasn't as bad as it could have been. However, most of the shops in the city were closed.) This was a "lot of walking" tour and it was scheduled to be a hot day, so my wife, the editor, opted out at the last minute, because she does not traditionally "perform well" under those conditions. (I had written something else, but my wife- the editor- did some editing.) She did a find a tour with less walking involved and decided to give it a go, not wanting to miss her chance to see Rome. However, while the information on the amount of walking involved was not, in her view and in the view of many on her tour, accurate. We checked the description of other tours with the same pictogram (Three men pictogram equals a lot of walking. Two men equals less than three and one man means minimal walking involved) and while her tour contained a two-man pictogram other tours with two-man pictograms contained the term "minor walking". We believe that there should have been a clearer indication that the alternative tour chosen by my wife containing this two-man pictogram actually included "some walking" to distinguish it from the other two-man pictograms that contained the term "minor walking". Otherwise, the tours with the minor walking comment should have been lumped with the one-man pictograms. We did write a complaint to HAL on this. We were a little disappointed when the "we have no control because the tours are done by vendors" was provided to us at the tour desk onboard ship. Give us a break HAL, YOU are responsible for those tours as if YOU conducted them. We would think that someone at HAL actually went on those tours and evaluated the walking time, taking into account how their customers base might find the walking time. My wife- the editor- also had an awful experience with the guide who seemed as tough as nails, but in my case, our guide was one of the best I have ever had. The sights were fantastic and a must to see again and again.   Bottom lines: My tour went as expected and was enjoyed from start to finish. (A nice snooze on the way back.) My wife- the editor- experience was less than enjoyable and a waste of hard-earned cash. Lesson learned: Beware of men pictograms bearing false messages. :-) Dubrovnik, Croatia: Took the half-day walking tour of the old, walled city and went on our own in the afternoon, walking from tower to tower on the city's walls. It's a minimum one hour walk around for a couple of Euros. Lots of walking and going up steps, but well-worth it for the photo op. My wife- the editor- that by now you might have guessed is not a great walker did not join me when I walked on the wall. Surprising little city. An interesting and gorgeous stop. Better than expected. A ton of shops that are a little more pricier, we were told, than in years gone by. The half-day walking tour's description was accurate. We also drove to the top of the hill overlooking the city for a brief photo op. This stop was by tender. (As was the Monaco stop.) Although using tenders is a little more time consuming, there is something about watching your ship anchored in the middle of the harbor. Disembarkation: We docked in Athens along side the Westerdam and joined QM2, among other cruise ships that are being used as floating hotels during the Olympics. It was neat to see our ship back in while fireworks lit the skies. The disembarkation went smoothly for us, even though because of the time of flight and heighten security due to the Olympics, we had to disembark at 5:30 am. The 9 hour flight home to Montreal gave us ample time to sleep. This and that: For the first time we did not attend any of the production shows offered, except for the crew two shows. After a few cruises, you realize the sameness of it all. We did not even attend the other shows. There were choices to be made and we made them. We were the late supper crowd, and we preferred going to the movies instead or wind down (Imagine "winding down" on a cruise???) in the Crow's nest dancing. The staff on the whole was fine. Very obliging. The HAL's crowd was a healthy mix of people mainly in their 30's, 40's, 50's and plus. It was a younger crowd that on our last cruise on HAL to Hawaii, although we befriended a couple in their 70's that would put to shame some youngsters. The food was better than expected. (Better than on the Statendam, last year and just as good as the food on our two Celebrity cruises) A good variety. Finally, as usual, part of the fun for us (and the apprehension to some extend) is to meet people that will make up our table for supper. (We always take a table for 8). So far we have been lucky that the people we have met have been great. For the most part, we do not invade each other space during the day, but then share our daily experiences while having supper. On this cruise, we were quite fortunate to have met three diverse couples, one of them being a mother (who can tap dance!) and her daughter (who is from the school of shopping until you drop.) The stories shared were interesting to say the least and added to the overall satisfaction of this cruise. The bottom of all bottom lines: My wife-the editor-has now put this cruise on the top of her list of all time best cruises and I've got it a close second. It was worth every penny. (Even though a percentage of it still needs to be paid. :-))  

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Apr 24, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

This was my first cruise ever. My 11 year old son, my father and my mother went together. This was a 11 day-10 night cruise of the Eastern Caribbean. I was concerned that I would get seasick or not enjoy myself. I was wrong. I had a fabulous time and so did my son. I've seen postings listed on the Rotterdam and that it is a geriatric cruise. Well, it's partially true. There were about 80% retired folks on board. Two newlywed couples

and the rest were folks my age and older. I was happy with that ratio. I didn't feel like I was in a meat market of singles, drunks and partiers. Most of the elderly folks I met were very pleasant and had a youthful outlook. It took a bit getting used to however, if you're looking for an elegant cruise with a relaxing atmosphere - the Rotterdam is the ship to sail. I would totally recommend it and would sail it again over the other more youthful chains. I didn't have to worry about feeling fat in my bathing suit nor dodging advances. It was my best vacation ever. And my son also had a great time and didn't mind that he was one of only 20 kids.

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Aug 15, 2003

Baltic and North Sea

Embarkation & Debarkation Traveling to New York on Thursday August 14, 2003, the day before the boarding of the Holland America Rotterdam, to our unbeknown , was to be the start of a unique adventure. The massive eastern United States and Canadian power black out occurred just after we were twenty feet into the terminal at LaGuardia Airport.

The terminal was instantly dark and no one seemed to know what was taking place. It wasn’t until after we retrieved our luggage that we learn of the massive power failure. We boarded the ship at 1:00PM on the following day and found ourselves fortunate that we had no tickets and were ushered to the “pier pick up line”, the shortest line on the pier. We were in out cabin within 15 minutes, thus the usual Holland America check in proficiency. Out embarkation time of 4:30PM was delayed until 1:00AM in order to allow late arriving passengers time to arrive in New York City. The next day we were surprised to hear several guest complaining about flying this carrier or that carrier as though the power failure was the carrier’s fault. What was also amusing to us was the time some had allowed for travel from home to the ship. Seems to this writer experienced travelers should not expect to leave home at 10:00AM and expect to be able to complete all travel, even in the best of times, yet alone the post 911 era and expect to be on board for a 4:30PM departure. Bottom line, we don’t think the airlines should shoulder the blame for the power failure. Departing at 1:00AM worked well as the Captain begin swiftly to make up for some of the lost time and announced we would arrive at out first port, St. Johns, Newfoundland, on time. Additional delayed passengers caught up with us in St. Johns, and even with these additional passengers the ship was sailing with less than its capacity. THE CABIN Out cabin was on the outside of the Dolphin Deck (that’s the bottom deck), however it was very good. The rooms are well decorated and kept very clean. Expect to see some wear on the Rotterdam which was launched in 1997. Maintenance is always a continuing process and every single item in the room worked well. It’s always nice to have a veranda deck cabin. If you don’t mind spending the extra dollars, go for an upgrade to at least the Veranda Deck and if more dollars are available go for the mini-suites---they are really nice. Laundry We always try to travel light and do as much laundry on board as the budget will allow. You have the option of the self-service laundry but expect to pay at least $5.00 per load when you count washing, drying and soap, etc. An alternative to the laundry is letting the ship’s laundry do the work. Sending laundry in by 9:00AM will get you clean and lightly starched cloths the next afternoon. While the service is not 5 star, it is acceptable. The cost on this cruise was $110 of the unlimited amount for the first half of the cruise or $200 for the entire 33 day cruise. We opted for the 33 day package. Had we paid regular cruise ship prices the total would have been close to $1000. On day 4 a brochure placed under our door offered $12 “stuff all you can in a bag” laundry for the duration of the cruise. We found you could easily stuff, at cruise ship prices, at least $30 worth of laundry in a bag. However, we were stuck with the $200 plan. We probably should have waited and gone with the $12 per bag plan. The clothes returned were wrapped in tissue paper and on hangers. Very nice!!! Erasmus Library Excellent, quite, well stocked, friendly service. I was interested in their travel book section and found several up to date travel books. They have a paperback section where you can leave a book and pick up a book without checking out through the desk. Good time to pack a few of those paperbacks you have already read & exchange for something you probably would not buy. Don’t expect too many best sellers in this section. There is a question and answer contest each day in the library, with a token daily prize. Internet Room This is always a room that we stake out since the internet has become a prominent part of one’s life. I signed up for the 250 minutes plus 20 free minutes, for $100. My first log in experience was a disaster, took me 21 minutes to send an e-mail. I use SBC Yahoo and seemed like every process was slower than the previous. After entering my name and password it took at least a minute to get a working screen up. Some screens in the area were good while one or two had very poor resolution. There is a better was to handle this internet process and that is to bring your wireless laptop. You can type your e-mail without being on line, hook up to the internet by wireless and just use your time to send the e-mails. The ship had two wireless areas, one in the computer room and another on deck 5 in the middle of the ship. Both worked very well. The person in charge of the internet room was most helpful to all who needed help. Queen’s Lounge This is the show lounge and we found the shows to be a great improvement over some previous cruises. Some of the show people just recently joined the cruise thus they had not had a lot of practice, nevertheless the shows were good. Entertainment was varied from the ship’s own entertainers, to piano players, to a magician to numerous musical instrument players. While we enjoyed the comedians, we noticed some passengers seated close to us did not. A lot of the jokes were about cruise passengers, fat people and old people and guess this upset some. We thought the routines were close to reality and perhaps hit too close to home. Ship’s Boutiques Definitely an area that needs to be completely overhauled. Merchandise is limited and what is available is for the most part, “stuff” you probably will pass up as we noticed so many passengers did. The cosmetics section, while limited, had reasonable prices as did the section on watches. TAG Hauer, & Citizen watches we found to be very competitive priced. Costume jewelry for women is just that, costume jewelry. Don’t expect to find great selections on men or women clothing as it does not exist. Looking for a photo or camera shop, forget it as it does not exist. There is a liquor department and very , very, very limited drug and candy section. For a deodorant stick I had to wait until we reached our first port. There is a “sports store” section where you can get t-shirts and hats. Several “sales” around the different parts of the ships seemed to always be going on. Sometimes looked like a “flea market” or “garage sale” in progress. One on Deck 5 was quite often used and thus took away the seating for passengers in that area; an area that was most suitable for chatting, reading and wireless internet hookup, as it was close to the middle of the ship. Art Auction You’ve been to enough of these haven’t you? We know such auctions like a lot in being a true auction. The dealer needs a minimum price, often the price which he is willing to sell. This process is as old as the carnival hawker. We are always confused as to why any art connoisseur would want to “bid” on “art” aboard a cruise ship. Must be a lot of “originals”, as this kind of art has appeared on every cruise ship we have ever been on. Wajang Theater A great little theater with two different movies a day with many of the movies being recent in the past few weeks. Seating is excellent and free popcorn. On a long cruise one should certainly take advantage of the movies and in some cases, get there early for a good seat. Also the popcorn tends to go early as non-movie goers seem to drop by for a bag. Church services were also held in the morning in this theater, as was some ship on board demonstrations such as cooking and flower arrangements. Fresh flowers were everywhere on the ship. Crowe’s Nest Great place to spend the morning or afternoon as there was always ample seating. Remember our ship was only about 75% of capacity. The ship’s crew held various activities in this area throughout the day, however, we never found this to hinder our viewing or reading time. Some people apparently found this area to be better for sleeping than in their cabins. Ocean Bar, Ambassador Lounge, Explorer’s Lounge Great places for your listening and dancing. Ocean bar had traditional dance favorites, the Ambassador Lounge had Peter Grant entertaining with piano, songs and humor, while the Explorer’s Lounger featured the Champagne Strings playing classical melodies. Beauty Shop & Massage There are so many spa packages that it takes an entire booklet to explain all the ship has to offer. Prices are in line with what one would expect to pay at most luxury resorts and some services are actually lower that many resort prices. Great exercise room with lots of equipment in the same area. Get there early as there are a lot of people that work out early in the day. Always empty at night and afternoons not as busy. Davanta Custom Tailors Give me a break---I don’t go on cruises to buy custom clothing aboard the ship. While there was a lot to choose from we found the prices were much better elsewhere. Future Cruises As with most cruise ships, there are always promotions of future cruise trips. As many reviewing this internet review, the industry has been forced to very aggressively compete for most of its customers and no doubt this will hold true in the future as more new ships are added by the cruise industry, the US economy remains stagnant and the travel industry as a whole continues to struggle. One might want to review internet sites, local cruise agents and major newspaper travel sections that may provide a much better price than the cruise brochure. Infirmary I hope you don’t have a need for this particular service on the ship but if you do , as we did, the staff was courteous, helpful and professional. Service cost will be billed to your on board credit card and if you have insurance you should file a claim upon returning home. We found the prices of service and prescriptions to be very reasonable. The place is spotless. Bingo Just like those on other cruise lines you’ve been on. Played only once for the $25,000 one card coverall. The payout was approximately $13,000 on a $25,000 game. We never did figure that one out!!!!! Photo Gallery The photos you take will be the most memorable on the cruise. There’s always a lot of “snapshots” of cruise passengers. Having been a photographer for several years, including in business for myself, I’ve never been able to figure out where the term “formal portrait” come from. Take a look, the photographer uses a 35mm Nikon, Cannon, etc, just like you and I do to take snapshots. Some of the snapshots are good, while those of us with our chin stretched out like Jay leno, or bright red eyes, just aren’t worth the asking price. If the gallery offered a “package”, say 20 pictures for $100, then I’d probably go for it, otherwise paying $20.95 for a 8 by 10 snapshot seems a little pricey to me. Ice Cream Parlor Not Ben & Jerrys, but who cares, it’s ice cream and it’s free. Just read a review where one ship is going to charge $5.00 for a waffle cone. Not from me they won’t. This ice cream parlor is outstanding. Has some of the longest open hours of any ice cream parlor I’ve seen on any cruise ship. Remember what I wrote, it’s free!!!!!. Usually open 8 hours a day. Can also make your own sundae. Terrace Grill & Swimming Pool As with other Holland America ships there is a retractable cover for the large swimming pool and Jacuzzis, plus plenty of lounge chairs, each one, clean and in perfect condition. There is plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs around the pool area. Plus there was Mexican food every day. In addition there is adequate bar service from the many waiters and waitresses. Poolside music is present during the lunch hour. Front Desk and Purser Friendliest group of young people you’ll find aboard ship and they will actually help you if you have a question, need service or just want to say hello!!!. Got to give these folks as “Excellent!!!”. Shore Trip Office We have always found the wait at these cruise offices to be extraordinary and sometimes not too helpful. This time we went to Holland America Web Site, downloaded the on shore trip brochure and ordered our on-shore trips via the internet. When we arrived in our cabin all our tickets were there and all were correct. This was the easiest ordering of on-shore tour tickets we have ever had. As with many shore trips sold on board a cruise ship, we always expect to pay more than the price of the same shore trip had we purchased it on shore. At one port, the cruise ship price was almost double the on-shore price and the really big difference was the ship’s passengers were put on a large bus while the shore purchased trip (which was almost identical) was on a 7 passenger van. In one port we purchased the same harbor boat cruise for $14.00 while the ship’s price was 4 times as much. We did not get the bus ride to the pier which was included in the ship’s price. Instead we rode a free bus provided by the city from the ship to the harbor. Ship’s Activities The passengers on board this Holland America ship, as well as other Holland America ships on which we have sailed, tend to be older more experienced cruise travelers. The number of people in their 70’s and 80’s was quite significant on this cruise and many of them chose activities such as lectures, flower arrangement, reading and just sitting and talking. Several chose to walk on deck 3 which is free from joggers, thus the more senior walkers were found on that deck. Afternoon tea is worth visiting once in a while. The Java Café always had a variety of coffee drinks, cookies and finger sandwiches. Unless liquor was added the coffees, deserts and sandwiches were at no charge. Port Debarkation and Embarkation We add this as a post 911 paragraph since security has in some cases originated only after 911. You need not only your cabin room key but also a picture photo such as your driver’s license in order to get back on the ship in each port that you stop. You do have to go though a metal detector and your carry on bags will be screened. We would advise that you pick re-boarding times other than times the on-shore tour buses are returning as the lines are long and move slowly. It makes absolutely no difference in the time established for final boarding, as a few passengers will always “test” the time by showing up a minute or two before debarkation. At Reykjavik, the “gangplank” time was 4:30PM, however one tour bus arrived at the dock at4:45PM. This is always a good reason to use the ship’s shore excursions rather that independent service since one’s tardiness will be “excused” and the ship will wait for you. TV One seldom go on a cruise ship for the sole purpose of watching TV, however on a long cruise it’s always good to be able to watch CNN to see what is happening in other parts of the world. Our TV service was rather sporadic and many times signals were lost. In fact there were several days when in the Iceland and Greenland area that we were without service. On board movies were the same that could be watched in the Wajang Theater. Sports Activities The days of “skeet shooting” have passed. Now there is ping pong, shuffleboard and golf putting. The weather would not permit outside activities on every day so many of the sport activities never happened. Perhaps a warmer climate would put these facilities to better use. Casino I hope you are not taking a cruise hoping to win a million at the ship’s casino. It won’t happen. I learned long time ago, the casino is a form of entertainment. Entertainment that you have to be willing to pay a price. Establish your price and stick to it and consider the casino as just another form of entertainment. We found for the most part the casino area lacking in customers throughout the entire 33 day trip. Some tables we never saw opened at all and it was no trouble finding a slot machine waiting for a customer. We lost “nothing” at the casino. Stopped by a few times, found the staff not very friendly and decided I could “invest” my money in some better forum. Passports and Visa Never have written about this in any of my reviews, however decided this was an appropriate subject at an appropriate time. On this cruise (33 days) New York to New York, we were asked to relinquish, to the ship’s personnel, our passport at the start of the cruise, with the promise it would be returned before St. Petersburg, Russia. In Russia one must have a Visa unless you go ashore as part of a paid tour group which holds a group visa for the group. In a time of rising identity theft we feel most uncomfortable with this process and long ago refused to leave our passports with the local small hotel desk clerk in Europe. While many of today’s passports cannot be quickly copied, even with new color copying equipment, the identity data from your passport can quickly be given to anyone thousands of miles away as you travel on the high seas. One of my credit cards was recently used in London, even though I had never activated the credit card. I know Visas are another chapter. Check long before you leave for foreign ports and see what the regulations are for those ports/countries you plan to visit. For example, if you plan to be on your own in Russia you need a visa however if travelers with a pre-arranged group , such as a shore excursion from the ship, you do not need to apply for a single visa as this will be covered by part of the ship’s group visa. Visas applications and visa issuance articles appear regularly in many travel publications, as application forms, processing and/or visa prices are constantly changing, always increasing in price. Check with a passport/visa processing office as many small travel agencies just don’t keep up with the changes. Be sure to take copies of your passport with you as well as leaving a copy with someone at home in the event you run into a problem Food We put this item among the top subjects that will be discussed as it will no doubt be part of one’s conversation both on and off the ship. There are four main food areas on board the Rotterdam and for the most part it appears to this writer most all the food comes from the same kitchen. The Lido restaurant on Deck 8 is the most common venue used by the majority of guest. Breakfast was available at either 6:00AM or 7:00AM, depending on whether the ship was in port or at sea. With the exception of approximately one hour in the morning (usually 10:30AM to 11:30AM), there was always some type of food available, including afternoon pizza until 5:00PM. The Lido provides alternative dining for dinner from 6:30PM to 8:00PM. We found it to be very good and if one does not want to have to dress up for dinner this is an excellent choice with many entrees cooked to order on many of the evenings. There is also a late night snack available from 11:00PM to 12:00PM. We found service in the Lido to be excellent as staff worked hard to please their guest. The main dining room, La Fontaine, is two storied with first seating at 6:00PM and second seating at 8:156PM. Many nights there was a theme dinner, with entrees that matched the theme country. We found both the food and service to be very good. The staff for our area had five tables to serve, one with 10, two with 6 and two with 2 guest. This was a total of 26 guest and almost always we found each course being served in a timely manner. Many of the same food items will appear on the menu throughout the 33 day cruise. For example, “Char Fish” and “New York Strip Steak” are but two that come to mind. Our wait staff was not always able to answer questions concerning various food items and “Char Fish” was one that come to mind. After being advised it was a “local” (Denmark) white fish, we come to find out it is part of the salmon family of fish, pink to dark pink in color with an oily taste. The desserts might very well be the most disappointing of all the food items. Frankly most appeared to come right from the frozen food department at Sam’s Warehouse. The waiter joked each evening about the “homemade” desserts. Some presentations were excellent, however the specific desserts failed to match their presentations. Some toppings tasted as though they came from a can, flambé type desserts were not outstanding, ice cream was certainly not of the highest quality and cookies were always offered as one of the evening’s main desserts. Come on Holland America, we know you can do better than that. The wine list was adequate, but the reviewer senses that he is paying dearly when he orders wine with a meal. A common brand selling for about $4.00 per bottle on the store shelves was more than $20 for the same identical bottle, however it was chilled and was served at the table so guess that must be fair. The Terrace Grill is on the aft end of the ship. Good hamburger, cheeseburgers and hotdogs. Special items were available in this area from time to time generally being served around the pool. The grilled salmon was outstanding, as was fresh shrimp and king crab legs. Then there is the Pinnacle grill which we got excited about as we boarded the ship. However the $20.00 per person, plus tip, turned us off as apparently it did many other passengers. None of the people dining close to us ate there during the 33 day trip. The only time we saw a lot of people dining was on a night when many of the cruise ship officers were there. While the restaurant is beautifully decorated and service from a distance appeared to be excellent, it was thought of having to pay upwards of $60.00 for a meal that turned us all off. The menu looked great with lots of steaks, fish and other entrees. On one ship cruise we paid $10.00 plus tips and didn’t mind it so much. This are needs to be re-visited by Holland America if they really want it to be considered an alternative dining area. Mariner’s Club The Queen’s Lounge was hardly large enough to hold all the guest who received pins and medallions, some of whom had more than 700 cruising days aboard a Holland America ship. At 59 nights we felt like real “peons”. It was a great event with the Captain and other officers making the guest really fell like they were appreciated. This is a great PR program for Holland America. Bored----you should be as I’ve gone on far too long on this review. It was a great 33 days. My wife and I debated about whether we really wanted to take a 33 day cruise as we had never been on one longer then 14 day. Now we are ready for a 60 or even 90 day cruise. In fact we are already looking at another Holland America Cruise for 2004. The ships are small, most passengers are those that have lots of cruise experience, food is good, ship is clean and we just don’t have any negatives about these folks. By the way---out ship got hit by a huge waves which did some damage, caused a few people to get a little ill, but we kind of look on this as an adventure, even with 7 days of rough seas. We would do it again---since I missed taking pictures of those huge waves. I’m very candid in my remarks and evaluation and would be pleased to answer any e-mail. Just send to [email protected] and if not out on the high seas somewhere I’ll get back to you with my thoughts. DISCLAIMER---There were almost 1000 passengers on this same cruise and not all of us will view the cruise in the same way. These are solely my thoughts. I respect yours if they are different---so write your review. Take care--------Bill

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Aug 23, 2002

Transatlantic Harwich to New York

The service and personnel on this ship was great. However, the complaint I have is the casino. The blackjack games are unfair since the deck of cards is constantly being shuffled and cards are being dealt directly from the automatic shuffler. The casino never got much action and made for a lot of boring downtime for folks looking for some entertainment on this geriatric cruise.

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May 24, 2002

New England/Canada

The ROTTERDAM VI (she was parked next to the QE2) is a beautiful vessel, more like a liner than a cruise ship. The elegant interior decor was resplendent with flowers, magnificent works of art, and museum quality artifacts everywhere. The 3-story high clock in the atrium is stunning. I had a partial Oceanview cabin category D on Lower Promenade Deck. Some of these cabins have full or partial obstructions so look at the brochure. These Oceanview

windows have a heavy mirror glaze on the outside so during the day it is impossible for "deck-walkers" to see in to your cabin, but at night pull the curtains in case you have a peeking Tom! The cabins are very comfortable; 2 twins that convert to a queen-size, lots of pillows, sofa and writing desk, shower with tub, wall safe for your valuables, TV, hair dryer, phone, wall mounted thermostat control (important for the changing weather of New England). Being below the Galley did not present a problem as I never heard any noises from above, nor from outside on the teak walking deck that wraps around the ship (no jogging is allowed). A balcony would have been a bit much as we were in a port of call every day and I never would have had the chance to enjoy it. The ship has a wonderfully stocked library, card room, and Internet computer room (75 cents per minute). The Main Show room has comfortable single and double seating chairs, instead of large long rows of bench seating some of the other new mega-ships. The Crows Nest lounge atop the ship has wonderful 270 degree views of the ocean and is also divided into cozy areas with its own bar. There is a game arcade for the kids, a wonderful Java Cafe with fresh coffee, cappuccinos, espresso, and fresh cookies. There are quite a few other small lounge areas scattered along the Upper Promenade Deck with intimate cozy dance floors. The casino did not appear to be paying out according to several reports from fellow passengers. For this cruise I decided to do something totally different, and that was to eat every meal, breakfast, lunch AND dinner, in the Lido Restaurant. I never ate in the main dining room (La Fontaine) or the reservations-only (but free of charge) Odyssey Restaurant, although I heard the food and service in both were superb. Call me crazy, but I have done the "lobster" and the "baked Alaska" to death, dressed up in tuxedos until I am blue in the face, and wanted to be able to eat my meals in 25 minutes, not 2 hours. At dinner it also affords more tables for 2, a quite candle light dinner with the soft crooning sounds of Frank Sinatra or the string quartets of Mozart in the background instead of the loud jumble of voices from 750+ passengers. For dinner in the Lido Restaurant the soup and salad, shrimp cocktails (I always took 2 of them), cheeses, fruit bowls, etc are set on a buffet line, but the 4 or 5 main entrees were always cooked fresh to order. You selected from basically the same menu that is in the Main dining room but in a much more casual and quiet atmosphere (still no shorts or swimwear allowed at dinner). After placing your order, pick a table and they will bring your main course to you when it is cooked. The buffet breakfast and lunches were great; Breakfast consists of eggs or omelets to order, French toast, Danishes and doughnuts, bacon, sausages, and ham, fresh cheeses, cereals, of all kinds, breads, and juices. LOTS of fresh fruit. Lunches were hamburgers, hot dogs, and tacos by the pool....inside, hot soups (always delicious), chicken, fish, and more substantial array of food items and desserts. Always a large selection. As the itinerary was quite busy and I was up every morning at sunrise, I also did not see any of the main shows, although most of the passengers gave them rave reviews. I never stayed up too late, but I did catch several of the movies playing in the theater (delicious fresh popcorn!). Ports of call (and what I did in each) included Newport, RI (Cliff Walk and Mansions), Boston (Freedom Trail Walking Tour and USS Constitution), Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park Best of Both Worlds), Halifax, NS (Peggy's Cove Lighthouse and the Titanic Connection), Sydney, NC (Fortress of Louisbourg), Charlottetown, PEI (independent walking tour), Saguenay Fjord, Quebec City (independent walking tour) and ending in Montreal. I highly recommend booking shore excursions ON-LINE well ahead of time (2-3 months) as the most popular ones WILL sell out. Most of these cities are very easily walked, but in Boston shuttle buses were run from Quincy Hall to the pier (2 1/2 miles). The ship moored along a pier in all ports but Newport and Bar Harbor were we anchored out and ran tenders in to port (15-20 minute tender ride). The weather ranged from the 40's to the 70's, light to thick dense fog, drizzle and some rain, and brilliant sunshine...and sometimes all in the SAME day. Be prepared and pack in layers. There were 2 formal nights, 1 semi-formal, and 6 casual for this 9-night cruise. Yours may vary but it should be about the same. Disembarkation in Montreal was quick and painless. We moored at 7:30am, cleared customs at 9am. Disembarkation started at 9:20, I was off the ship by 10:30am. The night before they gave you color coded tags for your luggage that matched your post-cruise travel plans, and a debarkation "number". Once cleared they call out numbers every 10 minutes. We had filled out a Customs form on the ship and you give it to the Canadians upon leaving the boat. The bus ride from the pier in downtown Montreal to Dorval took 35 minutes on a traffic-free Sunday morning. Once at the airport your luggage gets off before you are allowed to, then you claim your luggage (make sure it is YOURS, someone took mine and did not even notice). Here is where the fun ends. You get in line to "check-in" at the airport. Filled out another Customs form here, then they tag your luggage for departure. Then you and all your luggage go to another line to pay the 15$CAD departure tax. Then to another line to verify you have paid and to tear the tax ticket and see your Passport (again). The next line is US/Canadian Customs (after this point is were you finally dump off your "checked luggage") and the next line is the metal detector. It took nearly 90 minutes to go through this fiasco. But that is security in this day and age... If you have any questions please email me at [email protected]

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Nov 30, -0001

New England

Sailing Date: October 12th, 2002 Once again Holland America Meets and Exceeds Expectations. We spent 2 nights in New York and 2 nights in Montreal before this cruise. Taking Amtrak from New York to Montreal Amtrak offer a baggage check in service making things a lot easier. The trip takes 8 hours and follows the Hudson river for many hours. A very relaxing way to start a vacation. Arriving in Montreal the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth

Hotel is located directly above the rail station with direct access from the station. There are over 300 shops and 60 restaurants located under ground in a 5 block area around the station and hotel. We noticed that there were foods from Asia/India/France/Italy and many other ethnic selections. Most meals were priced from $5-$7. The only ones with lines were Burger King and Subway! The Canadian Dollar currently has a low value which offers great pricing for U.S visitors. After a city tour we found that we had missed an hourly shuttle to the Montreal Casino. One of the shuttle bus drivers for the tour company delivered us to the Casino free of charge. Montreal is a fascinating City Rotterdam VI, Although the ship has a capacity of 1,300 our sailing carried 1,000. Boarding took a total of 15 minutes. There was plenty of space on the ship. We noticed that we very rarely met any people in the elevators! Because of the time of year the sailing and the length of the cruise the passengers were in the senior range with many wheelchairs and walkers. There were a total of 6 children on the sailing. I spoke to the few couples under 60 on the ship about the experience. They all said they enjoyed Holland America for the excellent service/ food quality and ambiance. They were not concerned about the passenger ages. The cleanliness of the ship down to the fresh flowers and cotton towels in the public bathrooms is the hallmark of Holland America's vessels . Attentive, white-gloved smiling service by the Indonesian and Filipino staffs who once each week provide their own talent show on stage in the showroom is something we have never experienced on other cruise lines. Dining Options The two-level La Fontaine Dining Room occupies the aft end of the ship, with magnificent views through the rear-facing floor-to-ceiling windows. Sweeping staircases make for dramatic entrances on formal nights. The room is accented in cool colors with a bold ceiling of Venetian glass. There are many tables for two, along with the typical larger tables, and there is ample spacing for both passengers and wait staff to move about. The quality of the cuisine aboard Rotterdam was a pleasant surprise. Far from the stereotypical bland comfort food often attributed to Holland America, many recipes included contemporary cutting-edge fusions of disparate international cuisines, unusual saucings and even palate-roasting spicy options. Seafoods were standouts, and meats were invariably cooked to the exact requested degree of doneness. Each evening featured a plain offering from the grill as well as a vegetarian entree and a low-cal lighter menu. The top of the ship's food service is the Odyssey Restaurant, a reservations-only Italian alternate eatery which serves an impressive menu of pastas and other Italian fare, which, though unchanging, is augmented nightly by specials. Ship's "informal" attire is required, and it is recommended that reservations be made no later than the first few days of the cruise, as the Odyssey tends to book up solid, especially during the regular seating times. The highlight of the meal was a desert sampler for those of us who want everything. Breakfast or early morning coffee/juices and pastries can be delivered to your cabin. The Lido Restaurant serves up buffet breakfasts and lunches. For breakfast the buffet offers an omelet station, one change we noticed was thet there are no trays of bacon and sausage anymore on the breakfast buffet. Now you are served. The buffet transforms at lunchtime to a mini-deli, serving up a variety of custom-made sandwiches, including panini, wraps and stuffed pitas. This station also offered Indian/Pasta and Chinese specialities. Stewards are available to help with trays, and espresso and cappuccino are available from a self-serve machine at no charge. Outside, near the pool, there is a hamburger/hot dog grill and self-serve taco bar. The Lido also serves a bistro dinner for those who do not wish to dress on non-casual nights. We ordered from Room service and were pleasantly surprised by the speed of service and the quality of the food. The Public Rooms The three-deck atrium is central to life aboard Rotterdam. Like all recent Holland America newbuilds, Rotterdam's atrium houses a towering sculpture, in this case a whimsical clock tower, bedecked with sculptures of mermaids, dolphins and snakes, as well as fourteen different clocks telling time in various places around the world as well as representing the astrological and astronomical heavens. Our favorite place for port departures was the Crow's Nest at the top of the ship. Beautiful views, Live music and hors d'oerves. Movie Theatre One tradition which has been retained is the Wajang Theater and its foyer. Guests can take in recently released movies here, while enjoying freshly popped corn. The foyer also features an espresso/cappuccino bar, which serves its beverages gratis, along with delicious freshly baked cookies. Self-service laundries are available: $2 for wash, $1 for dryer and complimentary detergent. Cabins Our outside cabin was located on the Dolphin deck with a picture window. Remote control television with CNN several movies each day and channels for Shore Excursions. Standard cabins, which measure a comfortable 185 (inside) to 196 (outside) square feet, feature a separate sitting/makeup area, with large mirror and leather couch. Storage space is exceptionally generous, with greater than average numbers of closets, drawers and shelves. Other amenities include a safe, hairdryer & toiletries. The rooms are well lit offering atop-the-headboard lighting that makes it comfortable to read in bed. Suite passengers on Rotterdam give enthusiastic thumbs up to yet another innovation, the private Neptune Lounge on Navigation Deck (Deck 7), the level which houses all the suites. The concierge is present all day to serve suite passengers' requests, everything from maintenance and repair to booking shore excursions to facilitating transfers. Coffee, tea and juices are available during open hours, as are pastries in the morning, snacks at midday and hors d'oeuvre in the late afternoon. Entertainment Rotterdam's showroom is the two-story Queen's Lounge. Sightlines are good, with only a handful of pillars placed far back. As usual the production shows were O.K. and the mix of Comedian/Magician/Musician on the other nights were high class acts. Seating is comfortable with fixed banquettes in the balcony, and alternating rows of banquettes and chairs with tables on the main floor. The casino features the usual mix of blackjack, Caribbean Stud and Draw, roulette, dice and slots. A poker table is also available for games of seven card stud when interest warrants. Spa & Exercising Ocean Spa on the Lido Deck is a large room with space for aerobics, a multitude of exercise machines and free weights. A juice bar rounds out the room. The Lower Promenade Deck, Deck 3, is the walking deck where 3 1/2 laps equal one mile. Spa facilities offer ordinary beauty parlor services and massages. There are two pools (one with a retractable ceiling). Enrichment lectures, bingo and trivia games, horse racing, dance lessons, Ping-Pong, poker and table tennis tourneys are scheduled daily. An Internet Cafe, set between the Library and Card Room, offers 24-hour Internet access. Sports facilities include shuffleboard, putting, basketball and paddle tennis courts Dress Codes Typically there are formal nights on the second and second to last night of the cruise, with an additional formal night for each week over one week of cruise duration. Typical cruise dress rules apply, with more men than on many cruises opting for tuxedos. Women tend to get quite dressy, even on informal nights. On casual nights shirts with collars are required for the men; jeans, shorts or athletic shoes are verboten. Tipping Holland America has a "tipping not required" policy, When guests ask the staff what they should give they are told "There is no requirement so there is no recommended amount. If you feel someone has offered outstanding service feel free to show your appreciation." Our cabin steward Nehru had been with Holland America since 1971 and did an excellent job. Many guests do tip. Internet Access There is an Internet Cafe on board the rates are 75 cents or you can buy 100 minutes for $55 Ports & Shore Excursions Holland America offered over 100 different shore excursion from $25 to $150 per person Quebec City, Quebec Holland America gives you two full days to explore this noble walled city with a French accent. Stroll Old Quebec's maze of cobbled streets, happening upon quaint sidewalk cafes, boutiques and antique shops; tour to Montmorency Falls, higher than Niagara. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island A provincial capital with a distinctly English feel. We took a walking tour. Red double-decker buses motor along streets lined with gingerbread-trimmed Victorian houses; There is a wonderful high tech presentation showing how Charlottetown hosted the conference of confederation in 1864 which led to the Canadian confederation. Sydney, Nova Scotia So green and Gaelic is Cape Breton Island that Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell called it home for the last 37 years of his life. See why as you follow the scenic 184-mile-long Cabot Trail. Or tour to the Fortress of Louisbourg, meticulously restored to its 1744 mint condition. Many Halifax, Nova Scotia A real Scottish feel here with bagpipes welcoming the ship Ocean scenery at its best: granite boulders pounded by crashing surf, lighthouses standing sentinel on rocky ledges, a delectable lobster lunch caught fresh from the waters off Peggy's Cove. We took a walking tour including Halifax, the the Citadel, Maritime Museum and the waterfront. Bar Harbor, Maine Once the summer-society rival of Newport, today Bar Harbor is rich in the legacy of the 19th century millionaires, We took the Acadia National Park tour including Cadillac Mountain, most of the land was donated by the Rockefeller family. Boston, Massachusetts We took a tour including Boston, the Constitution and Salem which has the city emblem of a witch on a broomstick . Being there a couple of weeks before Halloween was strange. This was a 7.5 hour tour including lunch and was very enjoyable. Newport, Rhode Island We took a city tour and visited Marblehouse one the lavish excesses of Newport's "gilded age" Built at a cost of $20 million in 1898. one the summer cottages of the Vanderbilts, Astors and Morgans; There are now 5 of these amazing houses that have been preserved and are open for visitors. Personal Opinion This was a wonderful experience especially the fall colors. With only one sea day and many different very interesting ports. The weather was great with only one rainy day. Temperatures were in the 50-60 range with many days with the pool and Jacuzzi in use. The ports were much more than just shopping stops as on many Caribbean cruises. As always Holland America did an excellent job.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

Cruise Line: Holland America VI Sailing Date: November 20th, 2002 I chose this cruise because it was going to ports I'd never visited. The Rotterdam was a very nice, clean and elegant ship typical of Italian construction. The food was excellent and consistent in both the dining room and cafeteria. There was also an Italian Restaurant (reservation only) which was quite good too. I thought the entertainment was excellent with a very

talented group of performers and guest stars. This particular itinerary I called the "Cruise of the Living Dead". The average passenger age was around 75. Because this was a 10 day itinerary I think younger people either couldn't afford or get the time off so it was mostly retirees aboard. This has some advantages such as the gym, sun decks and excursions are not too crowded and the Rotterdam was a ghost ship after around 10 PM. Very quiet for sleeping. There are disadvantages though dodging walkers and wheel chairs and the cafeteria is somewhat of a phlegm fest at breakfast with all the wheezing geezers. This was not the ship for bikini watching! We were supposed to go to Cartegena Columbia but that was cancelled for security reasons. I guess it is still open season on Americans in that country. I didn't think I would be impressed with the Panama Canal....and I wasn't. Like sailing through a shipyard. I enjoyed the Dutch Antilles though. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was poor and depressed. We did the rain forest excursion which was little more that a walk down a dirt road. We did see Monkeys, Toucans, Sloths and leaf cutter ants. My wife was happy. She wanted to see monkeys in the rainforest. The knowledgeable tour guide was the only plus in my opinion. We also took the Catamaran snorkel excursion in Aruba. This was fun but the snorkeling was mediocre as is usually the case any where they take the tourists. I didn't hear much about other excursions except the Panama Canal yacht club tour was a bust. $40 and nothing to do. Our stateroom developed some minor problems that were corrected immediately and Holland America offered us a $150 rebate for the inconvenience. Very impressive. Holland America has a "no tipping required" policy but the service was quite good and I don't mind tipping for this. All things considered I was very happy with this cruise although I wish there were a few more younger people on board. We didn't have much in common with the rest of the passengers.

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Nov 30, -0001

Grand Capitals of Europe

Departure Date May 19, 1999 Antwerp, Harwich My spouse and I sailed Holland America’s Rotterdam VI on a twelve day ‘Grand Capitals of Europe’ tour. We have only been on one previous cruise and had originally planned to take a land tour of Europe, but after contemplating packing and unpacking and checking in and out of hotels every couple of days, as well as spending half the trip confined to bus or train seats, we decided to take

our hotel with us. We ultimately chose this cruise for its itinerary that included ten ports in twelve days. We embarked at Roma Civitavecchia and disembarked at Harwich, England. The Rotterdam VI, hereinafter known as RVI, is a marvelous vessel accentuated by changing color schemes and decor. Its lines are the antithesis of the classic ocean liner. It looks exactly like what it is: a floating hotel, comfortable, spacious and well appointed with numerous public lounges. Additionally, there is a well stocked library, a puzzle room large enough for meetings and bridge tournaments, a comfortable movie theater, and possibly the best large show room afloat. The main dining room is on two levels and decorated with lots of glass and brass. The overall decor of the ship, with its abundance of primary colors and bright shiny brass, is somewhat extravagant for some tastes. A previous reviewer described the RVI as a Las Vegas hotel. A not inaccurate description; however, I like Las Vegas hotels. The RVI is exceptionally well maintained. Spit and polish abounds throughout. Of the ten passenger decks, five are devoted to public areas. The lower three decks are cabins, some inside, the majority outside. The outside cabins are 196 sg ft and include a bathtub/shower. The inside cabins are identical, but slightly smaller, 186 sg ft, and have a shower only. The rooms are comfortable and include two beds, a leather sofa, small coffee table, a make up table and two large closets with plenty of drawer and shelf space. There is sufficient under bed space for luggage storage. The bath rooms are large by ship standards, with adequate shelf space and a medicine cabinet. If you require more detail, HAL has cabin and suite photos posted at their web site. The sixth level is the mini suite verandah deck and the seventh contains the suites and four penthouses. The suite deck has a lounge and concierge for the exclusive use of suite passengers. There are self service launderettes on all the cabin and mini suite decks. I should note that we selected an outside cabin on deck three with a partially obstructed view, thereby realizing an effective six level upgrade. Most of the public areas are on the 4th and 5th decks, including the main and alternative dining rooms. The main dining room is the La Fontaine, the Odyssey being the alternative. The Odyssey has an upscale Italian menu, as well as excellent quality and service. It is, however, small, and the Maitre D’ allowed only one reservation per couple during the voyage. The 8th deck contains the Lido Buffet and a pool side grill. Our choice for breakfast and dinner was the La Fontaine, but we preferred the Lido for lunch. The Lido has an excellent buffet with an a variety of entrees and appetizers as well as a large salad bar and an ice cream bar. Midnight buffets are in the Lido from 11:15pm to 12:15am, great for a late snack and a dish of ice cream. The La Fontaine menu was exceptional and the food nearly always top quality. Service was excellent with three servers per table, all very attentive and thoughtful. There was little or no delay between courses. Seatings are at 6:00 and 8:15. We selected first seating and did not experience any rush to arrive on time, even following shore excursions. We were occasionally up to a half hour late, but were seated and served with the usual cheer and efficiency. There were three formal, three informal and six casual nights. Most of the men wore tuxes on formal night, not only for dinner but throughout the evening. Informal night saw an overwhelming majority of jackets and ties and a few sport jackets. Slacks and sport shirts predominated on casual nights, but if someone attempted to be too casual, they were not welcome. We witnessed a family turned away for attempting to wear shorts to dinner. On formal nights, the distaff side dressed appropriately in formal pants and dresses, but not to the ball gown level. The main swimming pool area takes up the center portion of the 8th, Lido, deck, and has a sliding glass roof for inclement weather. There is a second outdoor pool one deck below off the fantail of the Navigation deck. Forward on the Lido deck is a large, well equipped, gymnasium and spa, including steam and sauna rooms with a beauty salon and massage parlor. Entertainment continues throughout the day, whether in or out of port. There are continuing deck and game activities varied enough to match any interests. The main show room, the Queen’s Lounge, has two shows every night. The ship’s company consists of ten dancers/singers who put on three different variety shows. Other nights featured an assortment of musical performances and the usual collection of comics, ventriloquists and magicians, mostly a cut above in quality. Of course, there is a casino as well as a video arcade and two lounge bands for early and late night dancing. The bands are of excellent quality. We especially enjoyed the Ocean Bar trio who specialized in swing with some Latin, waltz and slow dance. The Wajang Theater shows first run films throughout the afternoon and evening, and there are first run films on the ship’s TV network, as well. Both suite mini suite passengers have access to a video library. Bingo games are usually twice a day, and there are the ever present art auctions. A number of people enjoy the auctions, and consider their art purchases a bargain. There are so many activities, both passive and active, that if you are bored on this ship, you are either a hermit or a grouch. The swimming pool is a great place for relaxation. The deck area is large, with abundant and comfortable padded lounge chairs. There are two Jacuzzis that have dozens of jets. These are marvelous therapy. There is also a small kiddy pool that was left dry this voyage. The main pool is filled with fresh, not sea, water and is heated so it is comfortable on chilly days. There is a pool side grill as well as a bar. The bar stewards do not intrude on bather's privacy, fetching drinks only when asked. Service on the RVI is mixed. The dining and cabin stewards are dedicated to providing quality service in a cheerful and sincere manner. The service in the Odyssey is truly professional, up to three star Michelin level. Stewards in public areas such as lounges and casino, however, are more uneven in their service. This became somewhat understandable, though, once I realized that a majority of passengers fail to tip for drink service. Older people seem to often be tighter with their money than the young or middle aged. The great majority of our fellow passengers were, shall I say, geriatrically challenged. Both my spouse and I are well into our sixties, but we felt like youngsters in this crowd. It should be noted that due to the mature age of the passengers, nearly all events were subdued, often even sedate. The demeanor in all areas, especially the dining room, was definitely reserved. If you require a gay, festive, party atmosphere, then a twelve day European voyage on the RVI is not the right cruise for you. The quiet, conservative environment, however, was often welcome after a full day shore excursion. We often returned quite tired, and were probably not up to a party atmosphere, anyway. So, given the context of our schedule, the constrained tone was probably more appropriate than a swinging singles Carnival cruise atmosphere. What I do not understand is the distant and indifferent, attitude of the middle management staff on the RVI. These people are in dire need of intensive customer relations training. Invariably, when confronted with a problem or questions regarding ship’s policies, they become defensive, even rude and insulting, in an effort to turn the problem back on to the customer. Given the excellent treatment we received from the ship’s crew and the stewards, I am confounded by the behavior of the people in management positions. They have not learned to simply smile, apologize and ask what can be done to make things right. Instead, they seem compelled to go on the attack. I quickly learned to ignore these management misfits in order that they not ruin my cruise. They did, however, leave an indelibly bad taste in my mouth aimed towards Holland America. HAL’s passengers deserve better treatment. As previously mentioned, we selected this cruise for its itinerary, and were not disappointed. The RVI stopped at ten different ports, including the Cote D’Azur, the Costa Del Sol, Casablanca, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Vigo, Le Havre, Rotterdam and Antwerp. HAL offered a variety of ship sponsored shore excursions at each port. A number of people went on their own, but since this was our first real visit through Europe, we went with the ship’s tours. We were fortunate in not experiencing any equipment problems. A few groups suffered bus break downs, and other equipment failures. In the main, though, the busses were well maintained, comfortable and all had air conditioning and elevated seating. Our tour guides ranged from good to outstanding. As far as I could tell, all were university educated, and most had extensive additional training as tour guides. They were all very expert in their regions. The two highlights of our shore excursions were both in Spain, and included The Alhambra and Santiago de la Compostela. The Alhambra, adjacent to Granada, is a Muslim-Hispano complex of palaces, buildings and gardens dating to the 14th century. The beauty of the detailed mosaics and architecture is spectacular, especially the marvelous Court of the Lions. Santiago is, of course, the Cathedral of St. James, and is located near the port of Vigo. For centuries pilgrims have walked across the breadth of Europe to visit the burial place of St. James. His remains rest in a silver sepulcher located in the cathedral’s lower burial chamber. The cathedral is the quintessential example of gothic architecture. The effect of the interior sculptures, paintings and carvings was so overwhelming that I experienced near sensory overload. This is a site that deserves more time to explore and understand. There is an excellent five star hotel, The Parador, adjacent to the cathedral. Any return visit to Europe would include booking a couple of days there to better appreciate this amazing cathedral and its surroundings. We did select tours so as not to overexert ourselves. We chose four full day tours interspersed with five half day tours at the remaining ports. Some of the shore excursions were pricey, but Europe is expensive, and taking the ship’s tours ensures that the ship will not sail without you. Tour selection is offered in advance. A shore excursion brochure and application form are included with the documents which we received approximately a month prior to sailing. However, a number of people apparently wait until the last moment. There was a long, slow moving line at the shore excursion desk the first couple of days. Some of the tours had filled up, but HAL managed to secure additional guides and transportation, so I think nearly all were accommodated. I would, however, definitely urge booking in advance. There is a modest ten percent cancellation fee if you later change your mind. I did switch a tour on board, and was not charged a fee for doing so. On the subject of fees, be sure to use credit cards for purchases while touring. The ship’s fee for currency exchange is usurious, in excess of ten percent. I only changed enough currency, $20 or $30, ashore for coffee and very minor purchases. Between Lisbon and Vigo I exchanged some remaining Portugese Escudos into Spanish Pesetas. The currency exchange office on the ship ran it through US dollars, so the fee exceeded twenty percent. I should mention that the ship does not have an ATM, nor do they cash personal checks. An ATM is often the best way to obtain cash, but they are difficult to access in port while touring with groups, so if you don’t use credit cards, bring plenty of cash or travelers' checks along. There is a cashless society on board ship. You may roll a credit card at the beginning of the cruise and thus effect an express checkout, or you can pay up at the end of the cruise. The front office will accept personal checks to settle final bills. We booked fly-cruise with HAL, including hotel accommodations in both Rome and London. You may be able to realize a lesser air fare booking yourself, but you would have to pay additional for land transfers, which would probably result in a near wash of the total cost. By booking with HAL, we ensured they would take care of any problems that arose, such as misrouted luggage and late schedules. The peace of mind this offered was well worth any additional cost. HAL’s land service was outstanding. We were met at the airport and escorted to the hotel where HAL Agents remained on duty throughout our stay, assisting with tours and any other needs. The transfer from the hotel to the ship included a city tour of Rome, as well as a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The transfer from the port at Harwich to the hotel included a city tour of London, as well. Despite a few minor annoyances, we were totally delighted with our cruise, and given the right circumstance, would sail with HAL again. The RVI is a wonderful vessel, comfortable, easy to negotiate and offers an abundance of luxuriant facilities.

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Nov 30, -0001

Transatlantic

Having sailed on Holland America (Ryndam) several years ago, we were looking forward to the same level of service, food, and general atmosphere of a Holland American cruise. Unfortunately, we were disappointed in some regards. The food was good....not gourmet, but certainly varied, well prepared and well served. The service in the dining room was terrible. On one night we waited almost half an hour before we were presented with menus. We elected

to use "anytime dining" option, but found that was not a good idea. Several people we met on the cruise told us that they got much better service using the defined dining hours, either early or late. Our stateroom was adequate, but again, the service was terrible. We didn't know who our cabin attendants were until well into the cruise, because we never saw them. We are used to having the cabin serviced when we are at breakfast, but on several occasions, the cabin was unmade at 1 PM. Considering the type of trip this was, with seven days crossing the Atlantic, we expected more activities than were provided. Trivia was played only once a day. There were few craft activities offered. Also, the lecturers (there were two) were singularly boring. We tried both of them several times, and could hardly stay awake. We did not take any of the ship's excursions. We were six friends traveling together and elected to arrange for our own sightseeing in the various ports. In all of our trips prior to this one, we never saw a need to adjust the tipping schedule that the ship suggested. On this trip, we were so disappointed in the level of service on the ship that we halved the suggested tip, and took care of the few attendants who deserved to be tipped on our own.

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Nov 30, -0001

Ft Lauderdale, San Juan, Aruba, Columbia,

I was the Protestant Chaplain on board, but was not paid, which is just fine.  It is a courtesy service provided by the cruise line to those of its passengers who are interested, and my services were donated.  However, a good number of people came to daily devotional services and expressed gratitude for having this service provided Holland-America.  I say all this to make clear that I was, in a way, adjunct staff and might be accused of

prejudice.  Not so -- this is an honest report -- my wife and I LOVED the cruise, the ship, the ambiance, the care, the food, and especially the wonderful crew.

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Nov 30, -0001

Ft Lauderdale to Los Angeles

Synopsis of Rotterdam Grand World Cruise January 6th 2000 to April 11th 2000, Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles The Rotterdam VI unlike the previous V is certainly not an attractive looking ship. From the pier it looks huge and ungainly, the dark blue hull does little to improve it. The interior is rather different. The colors are muted and the artwork is quite varied depicting various cultures around the world. There is a bar on the top

deck called "The Crow’s Nest". It has fantastic views forward and to the sides. It is a large room that is divided into three sections with a bar in the center. There are three dance floors and a Filipino band. Hors d’oeuvres are served before dinner. The Upper Promenade deck has five lounges all with some type of entertainment, bands and piano or Sports TV. There is also a fair sized casino with the usual gambling. There are two swimming pools. One is on the Lido deck and has a sliding roof. The second pool is one deck down at the aft end and is not covered. There is a bar at both pools. The Lido restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. It is buffet style. There would appear to be a refrigeration problem here as several times we got food that had spoiled. The selection is well varied. There is also a hot dog and hamburger bar and another bar that varies from Mexican to Chinese. One can eat in the dining area or out by the pool. One objection to this deck is that the ships loudspeaker is deafening and they cannot reduce the volume. The Captain gives his announcements and then the Cruise Director tells what is happening that day. It seems interminable. Many passengers seemed to find it annoying judging from the number who covered their ears. Speaking of noise - the Rotterdam is a noisy ship. There is always something playing. Deck games with loud speakers. Loud bands on the Lido deck, bands in the dining room, player pianos. There are very few places where one can enjoy quiet except the library. The library is rather good. A nice selection of books, all types and they always bring aboard the local English language newspapers and news magazines that become available at each port. The La Fontaine dining room is a two level and very beautiful room. The food is varied and several fish dishes are always available as well as a vegetarian entree. We did find the dishes to be overly "creative" and with too much spice for our taste. Of course many people like that. However they will cheerfully bring you any special orders you wish. Our friends Elmer and Lynn Cox from the Cruise News Group ordered Kosher chicken one night at the suggestion of their waiter. I laughed at this as I am Jewish and always thought Kosher foods terrible. It turned out to be the best dish of the trip., Light and moist. We ordered it several times. A word of caution, if you get a dish that is undercooked don’t send it back. Order something else. If you send it back they will put the entire dish in the microwave and destroy it. The alternative dining room "The Odyssey" is good and provides a change of pace. It is larger than most alternative dining rooms. The passengers on the suite deck are served in their own dining room called the King’s room. Judging from the very good meal we had at the Captains dinner in the Queens Room for full cruise passengers it is a different kitchen. Interestingly the bread in the La Fontaine (main) dining room was poor. The bread in the Odyssey (alternative dining room) was quite good. The Odyssey dining room was quite different than most ships in that they changed their menu styles every two weeks. On this long cruise, Italian, Dutch, Asian, Indian etc. The ship also had many theme nights with the food menu and the staffs dress reflecting the theme. For example the American theme had the staff dressed like Uncle Sam and of course roast turkey was on the menu. For a relatively new ship there were quite a few things that went wrong. The most serious was a bearing in the propulsion system. This caused the ship to be late in arriving at two ports. Hong Kong unfortunately being one of them. Elevators were often out of service. The mens room on the Lido deck was closed for repairs for several weeks. Some cabins had problems with their air conditioning including one couple who room was soaked by condensation. They did however repair that one in 24 hours and gave them the use of another cabin in the interim. They also got a bottle of wine. There were others who had air conditioning problems that took much longer to resolve. About the elevators there were three sets of four elevators spaced about one third of the way along the length of the ship. This gave very fast service. Captain Dijik was very safety conscious. There were lifeboat drills every two weeks plus special drills for boarding passengers. He had numerous crew drills including a "Man overboard" drill complete with lowering lifeboats. This is very good as simulation is never like the real thing. During the course of the trip we were showered with gifts such as books and trinkets. The best gift were two pairs of very fine binoculars. These were put to good use in the Antarctic region. The amenities on the ship are very good. The cabins are adequate, as is the closet and drawer space. We found the verandah to be a wonderful plus. The beds are comfortable and the cabins are serviced twice a day. There seem to be enough crew people so that passengers were pampered by excellent service. Our cabin was a verandah cabin and had a refrigerator, TV and VCR. The ship ran both old and new movies as well as documentaries about the areas we were visiting. The refrigerator was stocked with items we did not want. I finally had them empty it out. The attendants who serviced the refrigerator would knock and immediately come in without waiting for an answer! We had twin beds that were put together to make a queen size. The beds and bedding were quite comfortable. We had a sofa, a chair and stool at the vanity table. The bathroom was quite nice with a tub/shower/whirlpool. It had a medicine cabinet which was very handy in some of the rough seas we encountered. Both 220 and 110 electricity with appropriate outlets was available. There was a vacuum cleaner type of hair dryer in the bathroom. The closet door had a full-length mirror. An item much appreciated by women and often neglected by ship designers. There were four sets of washing machines and dryers on the ship. Dolphin and Main deck had four washers and dryers. Lower Promenade and Verandah had three. They charged $2.00 for the wash and $1.00 for the dryer. The laundry and dry cleaning service was one of the worst we have ever encountered. They washed an expensive jacket my wife had sent in for dry cleaning and ruined it. I had to send tuxedo shirts back twice because they were ironed so badly. The usual English company operated the beauty salon with apprentice stylists. Next to the Salon was the gymnasium. It is one of the best I have seen on any ship. It was completely equipped with very good and complete range of exercise machines, free weights and benches. The only thing missing were slant boards. There were ten or twelve treadmills, Stairmasters and stationary bicycles. The large aerobic area was separated from the exercise area. Many ships spread this through the whole gym. It had a juice bar, ladies room and a mens room. Towels are furnished and the floor is carpeted with mats available. The treadmills and bicycles face out to a nice sea view. They also have TV usually with CNN. The service staff was a mixture of Filipino and Indonesian young people. I cannot give them enough praise. They are helpful, cheerful and willing. A word here about the HAL "Tipping not required" policy. This is not a problem with your cabin steward and waiters as they can be tipped at regular intervals on a long trip like this. The problem is with the bar staff. We solved this by taking a good supply of one and two-dollar bills and tipping for the service received. It would really be more convenient if one could simply add the tip to the bill like a restaurant does. I detest the policy on most ships of automatically adding the tip to the bill. There is however something to be said for tipping in cash from the staff’s point of view. This way it is not reported to their governments. Considering the venal governments of their countries it gives them the opportunity to evade taxes like their ruling class. The entertainment was the usual cruise mixture of shows and lecturers some good some very good and some very poor. The Antarctic portion of the trip was of course the highlight. The lecturers on this leg were outstanding. The shore excursions were about what you would expect with over 700 people. For the most part they were handled well and efficiently. Some were pretty bad and others very good. The shore excursion lectures were generally accurate but a little on the rosy and optimistic side The biggest problem and annoyance was the disembarking at the various ports. At some ports because the ship was big it had to dock quite distance from the center. An example was Viet Nam. The ship docked at Vung Tau which is a two and one half hour taxi ride from Saigon. Even the town of Vung Tau was an hour and one half hour taxi ride from the pier and there were no taxis. We took a tour to Vung Tau and it was not worth the bumpy ride in buses with only 10 inches of legroom. The disembarkation process at port stops was very slow sometimes taking several hours. The reason was they had only one gangplank for over 1000 calendar impaired passengers. Many of them were quite handicapped and it delayed the entire process. When we had to make a tender landing this was multiplied by the problem of boarding the bobbing shore boat. I have vowed that I will never again take a large ship. I can only imagine what these new monster ships will be like.(shudder) The stop at Nagasaki was quite irritating because of the history pamphlet put out by the ship. I quote "To most of the world Nagasaki is known as the place where the most despicable event in human history occurred. The Atomic Bomb fell on an unsuspecting population in the ancient community just after 11:00 AM on the morning of August 9th 1945." This was written by an American! His name is Jeff Rappaport in San Francisco. I feel this was quite inappropriate for Holland America to publicize this outrageous remark. There were a number of history errors made by the company that furnished these brochures. At the museum in Nagasaki there is no mention of December 7th 1941. There is the slogan, ‘August 9th 1945 a day we will never forget." The disembarkation on Los Angeles was a mass of confusion. All those passengers with tons of luggage all wanting to catch their flights home. The ship’s staff did pitch in but they were overwhelmed by the crowds. Something to keep in mind. The ship reports to US Customs everything you buy on board and also the value of all gifts given you. US Customs did however delete the gifts from the total declared. Customs and Immigration officers came on board at Honolulu and pre-cleared everyone prior to disembarkation in Los Angeles. This was a great help as it alleviated up the difficulties with the large crowds and baggage. Did we enjoy the trip? Yes very much. Would I do it again? No. Would I take the Rotterdam VI again? No. Horace Turell

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