After many years of meeting other HAL cruisers and reading their reviews on Cruise Critic, we had consistently heard that the Prinsendam was their all-time favorite ship. The reviews were almost unanimous. What is it that makes the Prinsendam so desirable? We decided to take the plunge and book a cruise on the Prinsendam to find out for ourselves.
Now we get it. The ship is much smaller than the other HAL ships. It is more intimate, easier to get around, and overall, we found the ship itself friendlier. Also, since there are less than 800 passengers and over 400 crew members, the passenger-to-crew ratio is much less than the other ships. The design of the Prinsendam is slightly different from other ships but mostly the same - it has the same excellent Crow's Nest, wraparound teak deck, warm and friendly library, and many other features. Good ship! Now for the review of our cruise:
We arrived in Amsterdam three days early to do some sightseeing. All went well and we had good fun exploring this unique city. On the day of our cruise, we arrived at the dock at 11:30 AM. We sat in the waiting area and waited for our group number to be called. Surprisingly, it took 1 hour, 15 minutes to be called. Once called, we sailed through the check-in promptly and were on board in about 20 minutes - at 1:05 PM (13:05 for our European friends). We dropped off our hand-carry luggage to our room, headed to the Lido and had an excellent lunch, then toured the ship. Our luggage did not arrive until 3:30 PM (15:30 hours), so this was later than we are used to.
At 4:15 PM we had our lifeboat drill and it went amazingly well. This is the first time on a HAL ship that we were asked to leave our life vests in the cabin. We finished the drill promptly and headed to the Crow's Nest for our informal Cruise Critic Sail Away party that went very well indeed. It was nice to start meeting our fellow cruisers from the Roll Call. Many of us had selected Anytime Dining so we agreed to meet in the Crow's Nest every day at 4:30 for Happy Hour and then go have dinner together. This worked VERY well! I highly recommend this!
Food on the Prinsendam was mostly very good and sometimes excellent. I was not happy with the hamburgers and pizza but was amazed how quickly and efficiently the staff cooked omelets and eggs to order in the Lido line. They are amazing!
Our group went to the Dining room between 6 and 6:30 PM each evening. We NEVER had to wait. We were seated immediately! The Anytime Dining room was located at the stern of the Lower Promenade Deck (#7) with lighter, less formal decor than the assigned seating dining room and glass on three sides. We didn't miss much scenery while dining--what a view!
Disembarking at the ports we visited was a snap, hardly any waiting at all.
There just never seemed to be crowds except for one meal but that was a special event.
When we went to the showroom for the evening entertainment, there were ALWAYS seats available, even after the show had started - incredible but true! The shows were very good, good singers, dancers, instrumentalists and comedians. We enjoyed the shows.
Since this was a 15 night cruise on the Prinsendam, the average age was quite mature, as was to be expected. There were very few children on this cruise. Our fellow passengers tended to be very experienced cruisers and the crew members were also very experienced. Because of this combination, things just went very smoothly - both the passengers and crew knew what was expected of them.
We really enjoyed our cabin. Fearing rough seas on the North Sea, we booked an Ocean View Cabin down on the Dolphin Deck. As it turned out, we had only one rough day on our 15 night trip and sure enough, it was the last day on the North Sea. We would have enjoyed any cabin on this cruise. Our room was very spacious and had the walk-in closet. We like the sofa next to the window and the dresser and TV set on that end of the cabin. When we unpacked we found that our large suitcases would not fit under the bed. At our sail away party, a fellow cruiser told us to lift up the bed and slide the suitcases underneath. This proved to be excellent advice. We had ample room in the closet and can see why this ship does well on World Cruises.
We enjoyed all our ports and will talk about them separately. Of special note, this cruise went through the Kiel Canal and that is a special treat. It must be unusual for cruise ships to pass through this canal, as all along the route, people showed up waving flags and greeting us. They knew we were coming. We were told it is quite a sight for the locals to look up and see a cruise ship in the distance. It appears to them like it must be on wheels crossing inland, so they run to investigate. The trip was a lot of fun, passing under the bridges. The ship had to fold down its communications mast to make it under some of the bridges. While in the canal, a 20+ member German Brass Band boarded our ship and we had a beer fest on the Lido Deck in the afternoon. The ship served sausages, roast pigs, pretzels and other German food as the band played all afternoon. This did cause a line at the food servers but was the only real backup we saw the entire cruise.
All the crew members were very professional on this ship. As noted above, there are more crew per passenger on this ship than on other HAL ships. We found our room stewards did an excellent job, much quicker than on other ships. We understand that most ships have doubled the workload on the cabin stewards. This does not seem to be true on the Prinsendam - they do not appear to be spread quite as thin.
We had two unusual events that last night of the cruise - sailing back to Amsterdam. We awoke at 11:30 PM (23:30 hours) to the Captain's voice on the loudspeaker. He told us the Netherlands Navy was conducting a drill - practicing landing a sailor from a helicopter onto the deck of the Prinsendam and that we were obliged to cooperate with them. Fellow passengers on the other side of the ship told us the sound of the helicopter was so loud that it drowned out the Captain's voice.
The other unusual event is that to get to Amsterdam, the ship needs to pass through the North Sea Locks west of Amsterdam. While doing do, there must have been an oil refinery or other industrial facility nearby that was burning something. The smell of this burning material crept into our cabin and was a bit un-nerving. Passengers do NOT like to smell something burning on a ship! This happened at 4:15 AM (04:15 hours). Otherwise the cruise went smoothly.
We were very fortunate to have dry weather for most of the cruise. All of our ports were dry until Rostock. We had an unexpected heavy shower in Warnemunde and Copenhagen, but the showers were short in duration. It rained hard most of the day in Oslo. Tallin and St. Petersburg were very warm and humid. It got up to 90 degrees in St. Petersburg the first day, but cooled off on the second afternoon. We never felt cold, except when underway.
Disembarking went very smoothly. We were allowed to wait in our cabins or any public area until we disembarked. This was a big plus, since we disembarked at 9:30 AM and had a 3:00 PM flight. HAL now allows passengers to take their own luggage off if they are able to do so and this group of people were allowed to disembark the ship at 7:30 AM (07:30 hrs) so they probably would have been able to make it to an 11 AM flight from Shiphol airport, but I cannot guarantee this. All groups were called 15 minutes earlier than what was posted on the instruction letter. This went very smoothly.
HAL was offering a transfer to Shiphol Airport for $39 per person. This seemed high to us because we took a taxi from Shiphol to downtown Amsterdam for about 40 Euros earlier. However, the taxi driver told us his company was not allowed to take fares from the Cruise Terminal. So, we decided to take a taxi and expected it to cost us 50 Euros. Boy were we wrong! The driver picked us up and instead of driving through downtown Amsterdam to the Airport, he took the highway that ran AROUND Amsterdam and the trip cost us 80 Euros! That is $100 US !! So, I wished we had taken the HAL transfer!
Overall, this was an excellent cruise on an excellent ship. I would consider this a cruise that appealed to experienced cruisers and that is the feeling we picked up on right away. The Cruise Director Linda and the Captain are both excellent and we enjoyed every minute of our trip - glad we took it!