This was a "Bucket List" cruise for us! My husband and I are 65 and Four Star Mariners with Holland America. I did a lot of reading about the Amazon, history and geography, prior to our departure and knew what to expect. I couldn't find many Amazon Reviews on CC, so my report is lengthy and hopefully helpful to future Amazon cruisers!
We used a Stay, Park and Fly Package with Spring Hill Suites in Las Vegas, leaving our car in their garage for 26 days. We took one suitcase and one carryon each. In Fort Lauderdale we stayed at Spring Hill Suites in Dania Beach. The Hotel Shuttle pick up at the Fort Lauderdale Airport was prompt and our room was very nice. This property has received some less than perfect reviews, but we had no complaints. We were given an upgraded room. After breakfast (included) embarkation day a complimentary large bus transported us to the cruise terminal.
We took some Brazilian Reals with us, but it wasn't necessary. The Front Desk had local currency. At each port, the ship provided us with a currency converter card. US Dollars were accepted everywhere.
The Prinsendam was coming out of a 2 week dry dock, was very delayed in arriving at the cruise pier, and was not ready for this cruise. We arrived at 11:30, and were finally on board at 3:45 P.M. Passengers were not provided with much information as to the delay as we sat in the terminal eating HAL provided granola bars and drinking bottled water. Agents collected passports with Brazil Visas and Yellow Fever documentation in an attempt to speed up check in. A number of passengers had neither. If the Cruise Line says you need these for this cruise, then you need to do it! Those who didn't were allowed to board, then got the Vaccinations/Visas at the Holland America price. On board finally, we dropped our carryons in the stateroom, had a late lunch (Code Red serving for the first 2 days...no self service for meals) and made dinner reservations for open seating. It was a rocky start to our long planned cruise! We took an upsell from a Cat. E to a Cat. A midship verandah and were delighted with our choice! Ran and Agus were our hard working, attentive stewards. # 153 was quiet and spacious, with a walk in closet and a bath tub. My suitcase would not fit under the bed, but did fit in the closet. Storage space was ample. The verandah had 2 chairs, an ottoman and a small table. There was only one electrical outlet. A hair drier and lighted makeup mirror were provided. The bed was very comfortable, but the furnishings showed a lot of wear. The sliding glass door to the verandah was difficult to open and close, so steward Ran put in a call to maintenance, and 2 workmen arrived, took out the doors, replaced and lubricated the new track...we were impressed! We were entitled to free laundry/pressing and appreciated this perk. There is no charge for the self service laundry facilities on the Prinsendam. Cigarette smoke seemed nonexistent on this cruise. With 528 guests and 468 crew, the ship never felt crowded.
The Prinsendam experienced many unfortunate electrical and plumbing problems that should have been resolved in dry dock. Forward deck 5 and 6 sections did not have air conditioning. Fans were not an adequate solution. Toilets overflowed, leaked or wouldn't flush. The first day, there was no hot water. The ship got a very late departure from Fort Lauderdale, and our time in St. Lucia was shortened. The ship had to take on all the fresh water we would need for the Amazon. At our 2 Cruise Critic Meet and Greets the Hotel Manager and Captain discussed the problems and listened to affected passengers. They admitted that the ship was not ready to sail, but it was what they were given. Our stateroom was comfortable, but the temperature fluctuated. We were fortunate not to experience the problems that made other passengers miserable to the end. No reason was given for the fact that our first Amazon port, Macapa, was dropped, and Bonaire was changed to Aruba. This was very annoying for us, but not much we could do about it. The back deck of the Lido was enclosed to create a Canaletto Restaurant and provide more Lido dining space. Much of the dry dock work was below deck to the propellers. The Prinsendam did keep up her speed the entire cruise with no vibration that I could feel. At the end of the cruise, everyone received a letter of apology, offering 15% of the base price of the cruise fare as a future cruise credit, to be booked by Dec. 31, 2013.
We chose open seating, table for 2, #115, and kept it the entire cruise. Our stewards were Bambang and Dimas. Bambang frequently had Tender Duty and always welcomed us back on board by name...he was very personable! Most of the time they got us out of the dining room in less than 1 Â½ hours. Overall the cuisine was excellent, with a lot of variety. There was always a fixed menu if you didn't care for the evening's selection. We used room service for breakfast and the Lido for lunch. There were several international buffets for lunch in the dining room: American, Mexican, Asian, Indian and Indonesian, all great. The special teas times were elegant: Royal Dutch, Indonesian and Cupcake. We dined in the Pinnacle Grill one night, and it was outstanding. We didn't use the Canaletto this cruise. All the staff on the ship were fantastic, and made our cruise a pleasure.
The Decor of the ship was tasteful, with plenty of venues for quiet moments. The floral arrangements added grace, along with an abundance of artwork. The shops are small, and there was a selection of sundries for comfort. Religious services (Catholic and Non-Denominational) were provided each day. There were the usual offerings of trivia, enrichment, bingo and workshops to fill the 10 sea days. The library was well stocked, and the librarian, Beth, conducted a book club, which I took part in. Internet service was the usual "slow." I didn't attend all the shows, but the ones I did were very professional and varied, displaying some incredible talent. I participated in HAL's "On Deck for the Cure" 5K walk. There were 2 pools, which did stay open while on the Amazon River. Laundry services were curtailed while on the River, as the ship cannot recirculate the river water. We were asked to conserve water during this time.
Ports: We took only Cruise Line Excursions. Except for the Amazon and Devil's Island, we had previously been to all the other ports.
St. Lucia: Nature's Wonders. A nice drive through town on the way to Lushan Country Life, a recreation of the island in a former time. The gardens were lush and the guide informative.
Devil's Island French Guiana: We were given a map of the main island for a self guided tour. The island could be seen in two hours and was very interesting. I saw more wildlife on this island than I was expecting! It was a hot, sunny day and two hours was about enough time to become soaked with sweat.
Santarem: Maica Lake and Piranha Fishing. Great vistas on the river. The "lake" was a side arm of the river. We saw lots of birds. My husband caught 2 small river catfish, but no one snagged a piranha. We saw pink dolphins on the way back to Santarem. It was a fun, relaxing excursion. There was a dockside market in Santarem.
Boca Da Valeria: Visit to native village to interact with locals. I considered this stop a highlight of the Amazon experience. The children had their exotic "pets," and posed for pictures for dollars. A fisherman displayed his catch from the river...huge catfish and assorted odd looking river creatures. The school gratefully accepts school supplies, or cash donations. The children were beautiful (we were told by shore excursion NOT to give candy to them) and the locals eager to show their stilt homes and crafts. It was hot, humid and sunny, but worth getting off the ship to experience.
Manaus: Day 1 Meeting of the Waters: a Jungle Cruise. 7 Hours. Unfortunately, the water level was very low resulting in Lake January being land locked. A waterway cruise to see floating houses was a poor substitute for a "jungle cruise." The motors on the 10 passenger boats stalled, leaving some tense moments drifting on the river. We had buffet lunch of local fish at a floating restaurant and time for souvenir shopping before reboarding our boat. Our guide showed us a large black piranha that was just caught off the pier. Fearsome! We visited a river village, saw more river dolphins and observed the Meeting of the Waters.
Day 2: Manaus and the Teatro Amazonas Opera House. Great tour with excellent guide. The air conditioned tour bus was very comfortable. Highlights were the amazing Fish Market (all the fish were from the Amazon River) and the magnificent opera house. Hint: the opera house had a nice gift shop with indigenous made crafts. Go before entering the opera house, as we were not given time on the way out.
Parintins: Morning Parintins Highlights tour of the city in tiny cramped busses. Our guide barely spoke English and it was a hellish experience trapped in the hot bus while he tried to explain things. He did his best. Positive note: We visited the warehouse where the costumes for the Boi Bumba Show and Carnival in Rio are made and stored. P.M.: the Boi Bumba Show. An incredible, high energy presentation of song, dance, feathers and skin. We, along with the 300 guests, were blown away by this fantastic show! Well worth the $99 ticket price, this can only be purchased through shore excursion on board. After visiting the craft vendors by the air conditioned convention center, we waited by the door and were rewarded with front row seats. There were a number of front row seats reserved for the handicapped, but beyond that the seat selection was good. A "drink" of strong alcohol was offered as you entered the venue. The "bull," the center of the folk tale, kissed me during the show! This show is a must!
Alter Do Chao: We were to visit St. Lucia Arboretum, 50 miles south of the Amazon River, for a walk. Unfortunately I became suddenly very ill the morning of the tour, and we had to cancel. Medical was called and I was quarantined for 32 hours. I think I had food poisoning from something I ate on the ship. 10 other passengers also became ill within hours with the same symptoms. I was impressed with the care and concern I received from the Medical, Front Desk, Housekeeping and Room Service Staff. My husband did go ashore and took pictures of this lovely Tapajos River resort with clear water and white sand beaches. I was released from quarantine in time to see the clever "King Neptune Ceremony" in honor of crossing the equator. Because we contacted the Medical Department our shore excursions were refunded in full.
Barbados: Five Star Catamaran and Turtle Encounter...another fantastic tour, great crew, delicious buffet on board, snorkeling, beach stops and our own very curious sea turtle.
Aruba: Time for last minute shopping and lunch at Iguana Joe's Restaurant...always a great way to end our cruise!
Disembarkation was on time and smooth. We took a taxi to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, and stayed overnight at Spring Hill Suites in Las Vegas before driving back to California.
In conclusion, in spite of itinerary changes, this was an amazing journey on a legendary river. The weather was hot (but pleasant while sailing) and the ship provided us with handouts about protecting our health, drinking lots of water and using the hand sanitizer we were given. We never encountered rain, though we came prepared. We made liberal use of sunscreen and insect repellant. We were cautioned to leave jewelry on the ship, especially in Manaus. Binoculars are a must. Oil tankers and cargo ships shared the river with tiny fishing boats...what contrast! Aside from the stops we made, the shores and islands in the river were uninhabited. The vegetation was lush, with jungle and open land. We didn't see land being burned along the river, but did see smoke from fires in the distance. The Prinsendam was a great way to see the Amazon, the verandah was a plus, and we would definitely cruise with her in the future.