This is by far the most charming and intimate Holland America ship we have seen. The Prisendam reminds me of the grand old days of cruising. By today’s standards, she is a small ship with a capacity of only 794 passengers. The ship’s gross tonnage is only 38,000 as compared with many newer ships of 80,000+ tons. The Prisendam was built in 1988 and operated until earlier this year as the Royal Viking Sun and then the Seabourn Sun. Holland America bought the ship from Seabourn in 2001 and refurbished it to the typical HAL décor. Fortunately, HAL did not remove many of the finest features of the ship. I classify the current décor as understated elegance. Most of the cabins are outside. Many have balconies. There are some spacious suites. The outside cabins are relatively large with a walk-in closet, lots of drawer space, a mini-fridge, and actually, a large bathroom with oversize tub. Some of the outside cabins have only a shower so if a bathtub is important, select your cabin carefully from the deck plans. Hair dryers, a keyless safe, TV/VCR with remote control, telephones with voice mail, lots of mirrors, and a well-stocked mini-bar round out the cabin amenities. We were amazed to find that there were only about 360 passengers on this cruise. In fact most of the past several months have seen the ship just over half full. I am sure that as soon as word gets out about the elegance of the ship, the friendliness of the crew, the intimacy of the lounges, and the opportunity to recognize many of one’s fellow passengers after just a few days, the popularity of the Prisendam will greatly increase.
One of the reasons for the small passenger loads is the distance one must travel from the U.S. to get to Australia, New Zealand, or other parts of Asia where the ship has been cruising. HAL has changed the summer itinerary to do 14 day Alaska tours out of San Francisco. We were pleasantly surprised that in spite of the small number of passengers, the menus remained varied with lots of selections and continued excellent quality and presentation. Brian, the Food and Beverage Manager, did a super job of assuring that all of the fruits and vegetables were high quality and fresh. Most of the meats and seafood was shipped from the U.S. but the numerous lamb dishes during the cruise came from New Zealand.
The ship retained two seatings for supper in the La Fontaine Dining Room in spite of the small number of passengers. The Odyssey Restaurant managed by Stephene was a pleasant evening alternative to the La Fontaine Dining Room. Reservations are required for the Odyssey and the dress is always at least semi-formal. We ate there three times. The menu is somewhat limited but it changed mid-cruise and the food preparation and presentation are superb. There is no additional charge for dining in the Odyssey. The Lido also offers a casual dining venue, especially for supper. We enjoyed the vast variety of foods offered in the Lido at breakfast and lunch. We had supper there once. Eating there was quicker and one could nibble on a variety of cold and hot dishes. One unique feature of this Lido at breakfast was that all orders for eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc. were prepared on the grills right in front of you as you waited; always fresh and hot. Lots of juices were always available including fresh squeezed orange juice every morning. Late night snacks [formerly the midnight buffet] were also offered in the Lido.
The Prisendam retains many of the traditional rooms of other HAL ships. There is a well stocked library. An ample supply of local papers is provided every port day. The Java Café continues to offer free Cappuccino, Latte, Espresso, chocolate, coffees, and sweets during the day and evening hours. The spa, beauty shop, and gym offer ample, modern facilities for a ship of this size. All of the gym equipment is state of the art. A trainer is available to lead classes and provide personal training services. Saunas, facials, and all those other body ‘enriching’ services are pleasantly provided by the Steiner personnel. Music, cocktails, and great atmosphere in the Ocean Bar and Explorers Lounge have similar décor, elegance, and entertainment offered on the other HAL ships. A piano player provides music in the Crows Nest afternoons and evenings. Smoking has been restricted to cabins, outside decks, the casino, and in the elegant Oak Room. The Oak Room is a small lounge right next to the Java Café where cigars are offered and one can order cognacs, etc.
The Queens Lounge is the main entertainment venue. Sight lines are excellent and the acoustics have been well organized for enjoyable listening. Additionally there is the typical HAL Wajang Theater for showing films, conducting religious services, meetings, etc. Unique to this ship there is a well appointed Golf shop with resident pro and a video simulated course where one can play to their heart’s content. The pro shop offers golf paraphernalia with the HAL logos. The trainer was completely booked many days.
Children facilities and Club HAL are extremely limited on the Prisendam. The ship wasn’t really designed to accommodate children. Few children is an added benefit to many HAL frequent cruisers.
The teak Lower Promenade deck goes the circumference of the ship. Four laps equals a mile. HAL has terminated the Passport to Fitness program but the Gym still offers numerous classes, most of them still free. The wood deck chairs still line the Lower Promenade deck and hot chocolate or cool lemonade are offered every afternoon depending on the weather. Boutiques, Pools, Hot Tubs, the Internet Café, and the Photo Gallery round out the public areas of the Prisendam except for lots of neat nooks and crannies where one can curl up and read, relax, snooze, or just watch the world go by.
The cast of 7 was enthusiastic and relatively competent. They were rather new as a team. They rehearsed daily for their 4 cast shows, and the performances definitely improved as the cruise progressed. Other entertainment included an illusionist, an excellent singer/comedian husband/wife duo, a ventriloquist whose dummy did much better than he did, he was really bad; a flute soloist, Bettine, from Bulgaria and now living in the U.S. has performed in over 70 countries. Her performances are frequently played for animals. She claims that the animals respond to her flute music and showed videos to verify the effect on the animals. She was a most interesting entertainer. We also enjoyed an Irish comedian, a guitarist, and finally a well-known and fabulous Australian male vocalist. The entertainment was super, especially considering the small ship.
The Captain, the Hotel Manager, and Department Heads were frequently about the ship checking to see that their areas of responsibility were up to their high standards. Always there were people cleaning, polishing, painting, etc. to keep the ship in tip-top shape. The crew and staff seemed competent, friendly, and efficient. A tightly run ship is said to be a happy ship and the Prisendam is a happy ship. Captain Halle Gundersen has commanded this ship since she was built in 1988. The Captain oversaw the construction of the ship and has been her Master except for vacations ever since. The Hotel Manager, Fekko Ebbens, has been with Holland America since 1965. Fekko oversaw the conversion of this ship from the Seabourn Sun to the Prisendam and has been aboard continuously. Fekko hopes to make this ‘his ship’ until his retirement from HAL. He does a fine job.
The passengers on this cruise were some of the most friendly we have experienced. We became acquainted with many of them; we ‘hung out’ with quite a few of them. Most were from the U.S. but we also met some Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis [New Zealanders]. One of the Aussies, Charles, and I were frequently ‘messing’ with the staff and/or passengers. Two brothers, Roger and Curt, also participated in numerous incidents. All of us were egged on by numerous of our newfound acquaintances. We all had great fun.
Would we sail again on the Prisendam? You bet! We are looking forward to the publication of the HAL 2004 itineraries. We already have bookings on the July 30, 2003 Rotterdam 16 day Transatlantic cruise and November, 2003 Statendam 16 day tour of the Hawaiian Islands. We are sure to return to the Prisendam in 2004. The Prisendam is scheduled to do the world cruise in 2004. Maybe we will go on one of the segments. The Prisendam is truly a classy and classic cruise ship.
AUCKLAND – the departure point. This is an absolutely beautiful city with a super blend of old and new. Old is only a relative term. When we toured Eastern Europe a few months ago, ‘old’ meant somewhere around 400 years or older. Here in New Zealand ‘old’ means about 100 years or more. Now, in early December, summer is about to arrive. Flowers and trees are blooming everywhere. New Zealand’s population is about 3 ½ million; almost 1/3 of them live in the Auckland area. We spent only 3 days here before boarding the Prisendam for our 16-day cruise.
THE NEW ZEALAND PORTS
This cruise took us to 9 additional New Zealand ports: Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, and Picton. These are in the North Island of the country. A small channel and bay separate the North Island from the South Island. We cruised through this channel and crossed to the South island where we visited Nelson, Christchruch, Dunedin, and then Milford Sound. After these ports we headed to Tasmania and Australia.
There were only 4 sea days during the cruise. We used most of these to listen to a few port lectures, relax and reflect on all of the great experiences of each port, visit with fellow shipmates, and do a bit of laundry in the free washers and dryers aboard. We absolutely enjoyed each and every New Zealand port. Officials at every port went out of their way to make us feel welcome. In some ports we docked a distance from the town center. In every case the city fathers provided frequent and free shuttles to the center of the towns.
We did not do any of the ship’s shore excursions. Instead, we prefer to mosey about independently. In some of the ports we found a great deal riding the “On Again Off Again” buses whereby for the cost of a day ticket [about $5 U.S. or less] we could alight at any of the many stops and reboard on a subsequent trip. We rented a taxi with shipmates at one port and had a great day seeing unusual off-the-beaten-track sights. Shore excursions are great for people who are not comfortable with the uncertainties of independent arrangements. We like a little more adventure and flexibility. We also usually stop at an Internet café [lots of inexpensive ones in each of the ports] to check on business and personal news from home. I also occasionally used the Internet Café on board to check on business.
The citizens [they call themselves ‘Kiwis’] of each and every New Zealand port were extremely pleasant, friendly, helpful, laid-back, and willing to share some of their knowledge about the area with us. One of our guides invited us to her historic home for a ‘cuppa’ tea and a ‘looksee.’ Then we were off to see the sights. High hills and or mountains surrounded all of the New Zealand ports. Most homes are built on hillsides. Most homes require lots of steps to get from the nearest street to their home. Many lots do not have much land but in the little space, the residents take great pride in small gardens with brilliantly colored flowers. They line their steps with lots of colorful shrubs and plants. Each of the New Zealand ports offered interesting and varied features. All of the ports offered lots of scenery, history, friendly people, modern amenities, and a relaxed atmosphere. One could enjoy spending lots of time at any of the ports.
One of the shore excursions was an overnight land trip from Dunedin to Queenstown near Millford Sound. We stopped in Milford Sound the next day so the tender could fetch the people who had enjoyed the night on the overland tour [$375. U.S. per person]. While we were near Milford Sound we saw sea lions, dolphins, albatrosses, flying fish, some big waves and swells, a few itsy-bitsy penguins, fog, some magnificent waterfalls, some deep fjords, and the tall, mile-high Mitre Peak. Then we headed through the Tasman Sea to Beauty Point, Tasmania.
TASMANIA AND MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA
The Tasman Sea is known to be usually rough with big swells, high waves, and lots of wind. As we transited the sea, however, it was glassy calm with only a slight breeze. One of the most magnificent sights occurred toward dusk. We were sitting on the promenade deck when it seemed like a submarine was surfacing nearby. Instead, it was a whale blowing. Soon we were in the midst of a huge pod of whales. We could see them frequently blowing all around the ship. The captain slowed and turned in a big arc. We saw several of the majestic mammals when they breached, coming almost entirely out of the water.
The Prisendam docked at Beauty Point, Tasmania. There is absolutely nothing worth seeing at Beauty Point. Instead, this is the closest the ship can get to Launceston, a major gateway to the natural beauty of the area. We took the bus from the pier to town [a 45-minute ride] and then arranged with a taxi to see Mole Creek Nature Reserve. This private wildlife refuge is a great place to see the Tasmanian Devils in their natural habitat. The Reserve also houses Koala Bears, free-roaming kangaroos that can be fed and petted, and a host of other animals and birds. Walking among the kangaroos and wallabies was one of the highlights of the day. We enjoyed riding the chair lift at Cataract Gorge and visiting tame peacocks; this was a colorful stop. Then we checked out an old gold mine, Batman Bridge, Grindelwald Swiss Village, and then passed through Beauty Point on the way back to the pier. The weather was perfect for enjoying a day in the Tasmanian countryside.
Melbourne was the final port before our disembarkation in Sydney. This is the second largest Australian city after Sydney. There is so much to see and do here that we didn’t even scratch the surface during our short one-day stay. We found the river walkway and park right in the middle of the city a delightful place to watch the ‘Aussies’ as they enjoyed a sunny, warm day. We enjoyed all of the ports and hope to return to some of them soon.
The Prisendam – a Post Script
The flight from Sydney to Dallas via Los Angles was most unusual for us. I normally request seats near the back of the plane because those tend to fill last and lots of times we can move to empty sections to stretch out. This flight from Sydney to Los Angles was 13 ½ hours so we really hoped for some extra space. This giant Quantas 747 had 75 rows and we were seated in row 73. Normally the back rows are the first to board the main cabin but this time rows 70 back were the last allowed to board. It turned out that a ‘medical emergency’ was being boarded through the back door so we had to wait for the procedure to be complete. When we got to our seats we noted that we were seated in a virtual intensive care room. We were in the middle section and on our left [the 2 seat across section by the windows] a gurney had been placed over 3 rows of seats. At the back of the plane there is a little space between the windows and the seat. That was used for access to the patient as well as access from the aisle. That access took another row. Poles had been erected around the gurney to offer some privacy to the patient. Then there was the medical staff; a doctor and two registered nurses. All of the life support and monitoring equipment were loaded on the floor and under the seats. The overhead bins were also used. One of the nurses sat beside me. The patient was in her mid seventies and suffering from kidney failure. The machinery required constant monitoring because large monitors and loud alarms were not allowed on board. At least one of the medical team was constantly watching the dials and gauges and frequently administering meds of one sort or another.
It turned out that the patient had been a passenger on our cruise. She became sick and was disembarked in Tasmania 3 days earlier. No facilities in Tasmania were equipped to handle her medical problems so she awaited a private medivac plane to transport her to Melbourne. Once admitted to the hospital there, doctors conferred with her U.S. doctors and with the insurance company. It was decided that she should be transferred back to her hometown in New York. No direct flights were available from Melbourne to the U.S. so she was flown to Sydney to await a direct flight with available space for her and all the gear. The proximity to the holidays complicated the problem. This poor soul had been in 6 ambulances, 4 hospitals, and 3 airplanes so far. Fortunately the flight from Sydney to Los Angles was continuing on to New York so she didn’t have to be moved again. Her husband of many years, a distinguished looking man, was holding up remarkably well. He seemed alert, calm, and pleasant with the medical staff. I would have been a basket case. Fortunately the couple had paid for the trip insurance when they booked the cruise. The nurse and I speculated that the total cost of the medical services from Tasmania to New York would exceed $60,000 U.S. As we left the plane, we wished the husband well and told him that he would be included in our prayers. Questions???