Recently returned from a 30 day (back to back) cruise on MS Rotterdam. Overall it was a good cruise - most of the ports were spectacular and interesting.
We did all our arrangements through HAL. Flight from ATL was OK and HAL representative was there in Amsterdam and we got on their bus to Rotterdam. I made sure all our luggage was on the bus and we got to the port in Rotterdam in good order. We were then told to go ahead and go into the terminal. Check in was very slow and were finally (after 2 hours) allowed on board.
We got on board and did a quick check of the ship. The ship is a bit older than most that we have been on, but generally looked clean and well appointed. I did notice that windows were not consistently cleaned.
We had a deluxe veranda suite which was very nice and had an added special concierge and lounge area that was a wonderful touch.
The ship sailed on time and we noticed that only 2 of our 5 bags were delivered to our cabin. This began a long saga for us to get our bags. The short version is that they found our bags the next day had been left in Rotterdam. It was too late to overnight to the next port in Copenhagen. We found out there were strikes in Oslo, so they wanted to delay delivering bags until the 3rd port. Well we got to the 3rd port and found out that they had sent the bags to Oslo anyway!!! At that point they had no idea when or if we would get them. Anyway, bags finally arrived on day 9!! The people on the ship did as much as they could for us, but there is very (!!!) limited availability on board for clothing - especially for women.
I have to say that we were blessed with some very good weather for almost all the Norwegian ports and it was passable for Scotland. Also good for the Baltic ports.
Norwegian ports (Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, Skjolden, Alesund and Gieranger) were spectacular. I got many picture postcard pictures - they are beautiful and quaint ports.
Scotland was interesting. We had been there on earlier cruises, so we tried some different excursions - interesting, but not spectacular; although we did enjoy the ports.
Baltic ports (Kiel, Warnemunde (Rostock), Tallin, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm) were larger ports with some really fun excursions. We saw castles in Kiel, a concentration camp (very sobering) and Berlin from Warnemunde. Tallin has a wonderfully preserved old town. Not enough can be said about St. Petersburg - we took a private tour (don't be afraid to do this. It was well done, cheaper and much less crowded than ship's tour) - beautiful city and 2 days is still not enough to see all of it. We had been to Helsinki and Stockholm before, so they were down days for us - it is hard to do excursions in every port!
Back to talking about the ship. We had the worst outbreak of GI that we have ever encountered in 30 years of cruising! There were over 400 cases in the 1st 2 weeks of the cruise. The ship goes into sort of a lockdown in these situations. Everything was 'super sanitized' again and again, but to no avail. The cases continued to grow. There was a lot of arguing about what was causing it. Even the passengers were fighting. There was a large European contingent on the cruise - the southern Europeans blaming the northern Europeans and then everyone blaming everyone else. We did not get it ourselves. It is pretty well controlled if you follow the recommended 'washing hands' procedures. We did notice on 2 occasions where people had gotten infected, they did not stay in the recommended 24 to 48 hour isolation. The ship's personnel were worked absolutely ragged trying to control the outbreak, but with minimal success.
During the outbreak, many of the ship's services were shut down - hot tubs, pools. Dining was effected in that passengers were not allowed to touch anything; it had to be served to you. You could not even touch items in the gift shops - they had to handle them for you! I understand the logic behind this, but it did diminish the enjoyment of the cruise.
We were on a back to back cruise, so when we got back to Rotterdam and were turning around for the 2nd 2 weeks, they made us get off (they were nice enough to offer us a free excursion as enticement) while they REALLY super sanitized the entire ship. So, although there were only a few cases of the outbreak on this leg, they were still antsy and did not open most of the ship's services until the last 5 days of the cruise.
Added excitement was a fire on our first sea day of the 2nd leg of the cruise. I must say that it was handled well. With all the negligence of the Costa incident still fresh, the captain and crew handled it very well. From beginning to end, the captain kept us duly informed of what was happening and how it was handled. As it turned out, it was actually a minor fire, but these things have a way of getting out of control quickly. Again, the ship's people handled it very well and it did not effect any passengers or passenger services.
Technical services on Rotterdam were not good. Internet, which is traditionally slow (and in my opinion, a license to steal) were slow and for a good deal of the time, not working. We are also used to ships that have much more availability of services on in room TV - can't see your bill or order services like excursions or in room dining from TV.
Dining was OK. Food was good, but service was only passable. Specialty restaurant, Pinnacle, was outstanding with equally rated service. Food in lido and pool grill was good - even though it had to be handed to you. Room service was very good, although, with the demand from all the GI passengers, was sometimes slow.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise, but the experiences will not be forgotten. This was our 2nd HAL cruise. I would not highly recommend this ship, although our draw was the ports - and there were not disappointed. As I said the ship was a bit old and in need of some real refurbishment. Not saying HAL is a bad buy, but I would recommend one of their more modern ships.