We greatly enjoyed the 2013 HAL Grand World Voyage (115 days) on the ms Amsterdam. It's a little sad getting back to the real world after the adventure, the glamour, and the pampering over the past four months. However, we do have some fabulous memories. In case it might be useful for anyone else, the following is a wrap-up of what this incredible journey was like for us.
When we started the World Voyage, our hunch was that 115 days might drag on forever, but it didn't -- the time actually flew by. We felt very comfortable with the daily schedule and began to think of the ship as our home that was being magically transported to places around the world about which we had always dreamed. Many other destinations that we thought we would never visit in our lifetimes turned out to be equally intriguing and exciting as well. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The ms Amsterdam is an excellent sized ship for a world cruise. It's big enough to contain everything a person could possibly need in a home-away-from-home: several excellent dining venues, lounges, theatres, classes, deck chairs, etc. Although it's classed as a medium-sized ship, the Amsterdam had many of the advantages of a small ship: we recognized most of the passengers and staff (and knew many of them by name), and it wasn't a long walk from one end of the ship to the other. Our stateroom (Verandah Suite) never felt confining; there was enough room for everything we brought with us.
The ship's staff and crew always reacted positively to passengers' comments or requests. We frequently observed them going out-of-their way to ask if guests needed assistance. Especially striking was the positive, helpful attitude of the "Front Desk" (Guest Relations) staff on this Grand World Voyage. Without exception, they were always friendly, always cheerful, and always willing to help. We have never encountered anything like this on other cruises. Bravo!
The Cruise Director, Bruce, seemed to be especially attuned to the special needs of guests on a long journey such as this one. We understand that Bruce has been with Holland America since 1992 and has served on 18 Grand World Voyages -- nine of them as Cruise Director. We can't say enough about Bruce; he is undoubtedly one of a kind and a real asset to Holland America Line.
We packed almost exactly the right things to bring on the cruise, due to our reading of numerous message boards on the Internet, including CruiseCritic.com. Pre-cruise assistance from Holland America was almost non-existent. Perhaps they believe that pre-planning should be simply personal preference, even for people who do not cruise often. For this itinerary, both us brought too many cold-weather clothes (e.g., sweaters and jackets were not needed).
The weather was beautiful almost the entire four months -- remarkably good luck!
- We never had seriously rough seas -- a few days of gale force winds, but nothing serious. That's really amazing for spending this much time on the open ocean.
- Temperatures were moderate to warm the entire time, with the exception of early in the cruise along the west coast of Peru until we left the cold Humboldt Current. There were also cool rainy days in Cape Town and Richards Bay, South Africa. However, it needs to be said that these "cool" periods meant temperatures were in the low 60s.
- During the early part of the cruise we missed two tender ports -- Easter Island and Rarotonga -- due to windy conditions and moderate swells. However, as we went along, local people in many ports told us that we must have brought good weather with us, because "the day before you arrived it was terrible weather."
- In Asia and Africa, we had a few days with brief rain spells that didn't spoil our enjoyment in visiting these locales, including Nha Trang, Sydney (Day 2), Albany, and Cape Town (Day 2). The rain for our mini-safari from Richards Bay was uncomfortable and limited wild-animal viewing, but we liked the experience nonetheless.
- Captain Mercer always kept us updated on meteorological conditions and any future weather or sea problems that we should anticipate.
Things We Liked
No decisions, no work, no worries for four solid months
Free time for us to do as little or as much as we wanted to do
We went places we never thought we would ever see (e.g., Tasmania, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Devil's Island)
The two weeks we spent visiting New Zealand & Australia (actually 3 weeks, if sea days are included) were absolutely great. These two countries made a very favorable impression on us -- wonderful ports and wonderful people; we left reluctantly, wishing we could stay longer.
Touring some of the most renowned cities of the world (e.g., Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Cape Town) with free time built into the schedule was exciting and enjoyable.
The desert experience in Namibia of riding in 4x4 vehicles on the very tall sand dunes was a thrilling adventure beyond our expectations.
Professional entertainment in the Queen's Lounge almost every night aboard ship for four solid months was enjoyable. There were at least 60 different acts; some were hits and some were misses -- that's understandable. We did hear complaints from veteran world-cruise travelers that there were no "big-name" entertainers this year as they had seen in the past. Nonetheless, we went to the shows almost every night. That's something most people can't do at home.
The 6-person Amsterdam Orchestra was superb. The orchestra remained intact (no changes in membership) for the entire four-month journey. Their challenge was to accompany each of the visiting professional singers and solo artists nearly every night, with a different style and tempo. They were always the perfect complement to the guest performers. As we understand it, the orchestra members receive their music the day of the performance and then do one rehearsal. We don't know how they managed this so well.
Outstanding meal programs -- a wide variety of selections, superb preparation, wonderfully presented and served. Preparing 5,000 excellent meals per day for passengers, crew members and officers for four solid months in locations all over the world must be a huge challenge. Holland America delivered supremely well. The main dining room and Lido buffet offered consistently excellent food served by correspondingly excellent staff.
We were very lucky to be assigned to a table at dinner in the main dining room with two other couples with whom we were compatible and whose company we enjoyed for the entire voyage. Other passengers were not so lucky.
Pinnacle Grill is an excellent specialty restaurant on the Amsterdam. The atmosphere, staff, and food quality were always superb. Much of this can be attributed to the managers -- Kim & Tina -- who are first-class professionals.
The ship has a particularly good library, including two librarians on-duty for the full cruise, as well as a book club, and a book exchange.
There were many special benefits (perks) for cruising on a Holland America Line Grand World Voyage that we greatly appreciated. These included the following:
- Pickup and delivery of luggage from our homes by FedEx one week before departure was a brilliant and prized benefit for Grand World Voyage guests. At the end of the voyage, our luggage arrived at our home by FedEx one day after cruise disembarkation.
- Complimentary shuttle busses available at every port where it was needed
- "Good Morning Amsterdam" TV show taped before a live audience every sea day
- Special gifts for all World Voyage passengers on many formal nights
- Ship-board activities, including photo contests, HAL Chorale, book discussion groups, exploration speakers, sit & knit group, and many qualified instructors on varied topics such as dancing, tai chi, watercolor, arts & crafts, bridge, etc. We heard someone say, "If you're bored on a HAL world cruise, then you're a boring person."
- Special events in the Pinnacle Grill -- Captain's Dinner, Murder Mystery Shows, Le Cirque
- Special educational emphasis on regions where we were traveling was especially well done. We clearly felt a cultural immersion at many ports, and we thought it greatly enhanced our experiences. These included Travel Guide Barbara's presentations, selected local menus in the dining rooms, country-oriented pool deck parties, as well as folkloric shows or local performing groups brought onboard the ship for entertainment.
- Several-day visit by Holland America's CEO indicated to us the importance the cruise line places on the Grand World Voyage and on its guests.
- Very big, labor-intensive (for the crew) special party in Bali, arranged to coincide with the HAL CEO's visit, was just amazing.
- Two highly talented dedicated florists were onboard for the entire cruise, and they created beautiful, artistic fresh flower arrangements all over the ship which were refreshed frequently -- wow, they were great!
- On this long voyage, crew members seemed to enjoy getting to know the passengers, including their drink and food preferences.
- Medical and dental department on board for the entire cruise. One of us had an abscessed tooth and might have had to leave the ship if the dentist and his equipment had not been available. We were aware of other passengers that were treated by the medical staff for broken limbs and other ailments.
Travel Guide Barbara has been a staff member on 15 world cruises and has worked for Holland America for more than 20 years. She presented a 45-minute lecture in the Queen's Lounge several days before every one of the port calls on this cruise. The insights she passed along were always pertinent, useful, and based on her experience. She never pushed shopping at particular stores, rental car companies, etc.
The Digital Workshop (sponsored by Microsoft) was very well done. "Techspert Tom" was an unusually good asset for the cruise. He is one of the best personal computer teachers we have ever encountered -- relaxed, patient, knowledgeable, and always current on new technology. His classes were informative, and he even tailored some of the material for the world-cruise experience. We congratulate Holland America and Microsoft for developing this relationship.
Areas for Improvement
For passengers, use of the Internet was expensive, and reliability was spotty during long stretches. We were very happy that some access was provided, especially for this lengthy cruise when it was essential for many of us to stay in touch with family or to communicate in the event of an emergency. We were frustrated with the limited bandwidth onboard ship. We understand why reliability is so bad when we are in the middle of the ocean or in less-developed parts of the world. However, that doesn't mean that we were happy with the situation.
Holland America was very late in sending detailed information to passengers in sufficient time before the cruise. Even though most of us made reservations more than a year in advance, they waited until the last minute to give us the details we needed for advance planning. As an example, we would have preferred knowing the themes for the 19 formal nights at least 3-4 months in advance, for shopping purposes, but that didn't happen. We talked to passengers who never received advance information, and many others who received theirs only days before their departure from home.
We didn't understand the need for 19 formal nights on this voyage. That's too many, for myriad reasons. Perhaps we could understand having one formal event per week. The Grand World Voyage was 16 weeks long, so 16 formal nights should have been the absolute maximum number.
We paid a lot of extra money for a stateroom with a verandah we couldn't use, because guests in the adjoining stateroom used their verandah for cigarette and cigar smoking many times during each day.
Spending a day on Easter Island was one of our reasons for booking this particular Grand World Voyage. Getting so close, but not being able to go ashore due to choppy seas, was a big disappointment. That much being said, we believe Captain Mercer made the right decision to curtail tendering passengers to the island; we don't fault him in any way. We were just frustrated that the opportunity eluded us.
We found this hard to believe, but apparently fellow passengers could not be trusted. Early in the voyage we put refrigerator magnets, from the ports we visited, on the outside door frame of our stateroom. Our Bora Bora magnet disappeared after a few days (obviously stolen), so we removed the magnets off our door. Down the hall, another room was doing the same thing, and despite their magnets also being stolen, they continued displaying them. After about 2½ months, five of their magnets had been stolen. They put a sign on their door asking that the magnets be returned; but, of course, they weren't. By the end of the voyage, eight magnets had been stolen from their door frame. Unbelievable!
Holland America's 2013 Grand World Voyage was everything we had hoped for, and more. We had wonderful experiences that will remain with us forever.