We enjoyed the trip tremendously and we would be perfectly happy to do it again.
My review will sound more negative than I mean it to be. The cruise was mostly terrific with relatively minor issues that did not affect our experience very much.
Holland America moved the embarkation pier from a cruise terminal close to downtown to a container port 8 miles north. They set up a marquee in the middle of the commercial pier with giant cranes and mountains of containers all around. It was a bit disconcerting. The process seemed a little show compared to my last embarkation with Royal Caribbean but, to be fair, the passport and visa check was more complex.
We found that our luggage had made it to our cabin before us so we were able to unpack before departure which is always nice.
Our cabin was a grand sounding Vista Suite which is H/A's term for a balcony cabin. It should not to be confused with a real suite which they call a Neptune Suite.
The cabin was a good size with a queen sized bed, a couch, an adjustable height table, a chair and a built-in dresser/wall-unit.
The balcony that was a little longer than I've had before as there was room for a lounge chair as well as a regular chair and a small table. Not bad at all.
While the cabin was well laid out with plenty of storage, the decor is starting to look a bit tired. The couch had a tear on the seat which had been poorly repaired, the veneer on the dresser was broken, the adjustable height table did not adjust any more and the commode and bathtub had water stains.
This brings up the silliest feature of the cabin. They put a whirlpool tub in the bathroom but it's so small that it's completely useless as a whirlpool or a tub. It is very short and narrow and can't really take enough water to cover the jets. Fortunately it wasn't a complete waste of space as it made a great laundry tub.
They seem to maintain the public rooms better than the cabins. There were no major signs of wear and tear and we could see the cleaning staff scrubbing away keeping it all shiny, even at ungodly hours.
The food in the Rotterdam main dining room went from mediocre to pretty good.
It started poorly with the first dish of the first night when I had a seafood cocktail that was tasteless and rubbery. I thought, oops here we go. But while there were things I didn't like over the next two weeks, most dishes were perfectly acceptable and some were pretty good.
On the bad side, they often offered cold soups as a gourmet vegetarian entree. Their description on the menu was much more interesting than what they actually served. I gave up after the third night.
On the good side, their lamb, beef, surf and turf and fish dishes were simple but good.
Their desserts were also pretty good.
We only ate dinner in the Lido cafeteria once. Boring.
Lunches were available in the dining room, inside at the Lido and poolside.
Poolside had a grill and a hot table with things like pizza and salads.
They also set up an Asian buffet with different countries being represented every day. The quality was uneven. There were several tasty selections like the Indian curries but some of the others were less than great. I would suggest avoiding the Chinese dumplings.
The dessert extravaganza buffet near the end of the trip was lots of fun and very popular. I had no idea how many desserts could fit on one single plate.
We did not try the Pinnacle Grill, their extra-charge dining room. The one time I tried to get a reservation, they had a computer malfunction and asked me to call back. I never got around to it. I kind of feel that they should have been the ones to call me back and not the other way around.
The entertainment was the weakest part of the cruise. Since there are only 1,400 passengers, it's not surprising that we didn't get Broadway at sea or an ice review show but what we did get was pretty poor. Comedians that weren't funny. Mediocre musical acts and a chorus line of 2 girls that no one had actually bothered to choreograph.
There were some good points. The ship's band was sharp and they did a great job backing everything from the ship singers doing show tunes to a soloist doing opera. They were very good. The Ocean's Lounge jazz trio were also very good. They were tight and worked well together. I particularly liked the bassist. One of the ship's show singers, Ebony, was also very good with great stage presence and a good pop singer voice.
But on the whole, the evening shows were mostly disappointing.
The ports we visited were amazing. It was an incredible itinerary.
We were in downtown Shanghai with Pudong right across from us and the Bund in walking distance.
From Taijing, we made it to Beijing and the Great Wall.
Dalian gave us a taste of Manchuria.
Busan was absolutely fascinating.
Nagasaki was walking distance to Glover Gardens and a short tram ride to the Bomb museum.
With the exception of Beijing where we were around 100 miles from the city, it was easy to get around on our own and we did not try any of the ship excursions.
The disembarkation process was the easiest we ever experienced. We took expedited departure and were off the ship by 7:45 and through to Kyoto by train before 9:30 am.
Altogether a great success but there were a few things that really bugged us:
Our number one peeve was the quality of the coffee. The standard coffee served in the dining room and the cafeteria was sour and weak and it had a chemical taste to it. The only drinkable coffee on the ship was in the Explorations Cafe and they charged extra for it. Curse you H/A.
The first time we ordered a glass of Merlot at the bar we were charged around $10.00. The next day the charge was $6.00. When we asked, we were told that the $6.00 wine was the house Merlot. We could not find it in the drinks menu anywhere but from then on, we were house Merlot drinkers.
There's something a little dishonest about hiding a less expensive selection to force the client to blow the extra dollars.
In the Rotterdam dining room, a cavalcade of staff - waiters, team leaders, asst. head-waiters and head waiters would come by to ask how we were enjoying our meal but keeping my water glass filled seemed to be beyond them all.
In Busan, the international cruise terminal is quite far from the downtown area. There was no shuttle bus, the city buses were jammed by 1,400 H/A passengers trying to travel to the same place at the same time and there was no taxi stand. There were stories that some taxis finally appeared but they were asking for $40 US for a $6.00 metered fare. Holland America really could have organized something a little better.
None of these points were serious enough to spoil our trip. This was a great trip and I would be happy to cruise with H/A again.