We were happy to see that we could do a two-week "arc" of a Holland America "Grand Voyage" aboard their smallest ship, the Prinsendam. We spent 3 full days on our own in our embarkation city, Istanbul, before meeting an already-travelling group in the Port. We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel in the old city and were pleased with our selection. We were glad we were on our own: those who booked with HAL were made to be there very early in the cold and drafty Port bldg. on a cold and rainy day. We cabbed it from our hotel and cut 2 hours off the wait. Once the process began, it was smooth (after all, there weren't that many of us.) We had gleaned beforehand that the sailing was not filled to capacity - I believe it was as much as 100 - 200 passengers shy of capacity. Thus, we were upgraded to a Veranda Suite at no extra charge. We enjoyed the room immensely. We encountered none of the issues I had been reading about: failed AC, odors, plumbing issues, elevator issues. No issues with our room. The Prinsendam is not a sparkly, sexy ship; no rock-climbing wall, no spectacular atrium, not the art collection that you see on other HAL ships. However, at around 600 passengers (including fewer than 6 children), it was worth the tradeoff to us. We don't cruise for the ship activities per se, and our 2 weeks included only two sea days. We wondered whether it would be difficult to join an already-established voyage, but encountered no problems in that regard. In fact, HAL (or fate) had us join a table of 8 with only one couple on for the entire voyage. The other 6 of us got on in Istanbul and off in Rome. Because of the small population, "anytime dining" was not an option (we usually do this.) Our group was magically matched, similar in age and activity level. Our wonderful table group was one of the pleasures of the trip. Other than that, other passengers were quite warm and welcoming. This loyaLpassenger group includes many who have been sailing on the Prinsendam since it was owned by another cruise line. As a group they are quite well-travelled, older, and seemingly affluent, but in a quiet non-flashy way. Company-wise, it was a most pleasant experience.
We were in Veranda Suite 216 (it wasn't really a suite, don't know why it has that name). It was similar to the other 2 cabins we have had on HAL, except for the veranda, which we enjoyed even though not all the weather was fabulous. Comfortable bed, quiet, with more than adequate storage. I do wish there was storage in the bathroom on both walls. I have sailed enough with HAL that I know to bring clothespins for hand laundry, and my own makeup mirror. Our only problem was, when the ship slowed down coming into port, that the valance (exterior) over the sliding door on the veranda rattled fiercely. One time it crashed off - could have been dangerous had someone been out there. They crew attached it in a timely manner but it still rattled at every port.
We were very pleased with the food, including the lido buffet, high tea, breakfast (3X) in the dining room, the regular dining room dinners, a special Greek dinner in the Lido, and 2 room service breakfasts. We have no complaints about the food, and we are quite picky. We chose not to dine in either the Pinnacle Grill (have done so many times before) or Cannaletto's (have been disappointed there in the past.) One of the reasons we sail on HAL is that we can bring our own wine and pay corkage ($18). We are avid wine collectors and drinkers and enjoy this feature. We were able to buy wine in every port to enjoy at our meals and the sommelier (Roy) was quite charming about the whole thing.
We do a little Trivia, my spouse plays poker, and we do a little working out and walking. We attended a few of the shows. We heard a comedian who was quite good and a comedienne/singer who we enjoyed. I get very weary of the song-and-dance troupes, but that is just a personal bias. I don't think they were any worse than any other. I cannot speak to cooking classes, spa or lectures. We listened to some port information lectures from our room. We also never did dancing to live music that was offered - we were too tuckered after all our port visits. We did listen to piano bar music, particularly the music trivia. There were two "sail aways" that we enjoyed: a rainy one in the Crows Nest from Istanbul and a sunny deck one from Venice that was festive and fun. We also attended a Mariner Society event that was nicely done. My husband used the internet cafÃ© (service) some, but as little as possible as it is horribly slow and very expensive. Some day some cruise line will offer this for free and they will have more passengers than they can handle!
Service & Disembarkation
Service was great from all the "little people": Cabin attendants, food service folks, etc. No complaints. However, when we needed some help with those in management positions, we were disappointed. This had to do mostly with our disembarkation. Again, quite a small number of people were leaving in Rome, and most were either going to the airport or to HAL post-stays in the city. We had booked HAL transportation to downtown Rome, where we had booked our own hotel. I believe we paid $100 apiece for the transport. Getting our questions answered about the when and where of our dropoff was like pulling teeth. Calls back to us were promised and never made. They were going to drop us off at someone else' hotel (really? for $200?) but our driver (of a 7 person van) kindly drove us to our hotel, for which we tipped him another 20E. It would have been so difficult to find a cab in that part of Rome schlepping all that luggage had he dropped us at another place. We stayed at the Londra & Cargill Hotel in Rome, and were very happy with our choice, in fact highly recommend it.
My only other complaint was the way the disembarkation information session was handled, specifically the guest survey info. The cruise director (who was a little too "Hollywood" for me and, I think, for the crowd) made it very clear that it is a "black mark" of some kind for a crew member to be rated any less than a "10" or "excellent". He went on and on about it, to the point that we just didn't fill the forms out at all, as we felt so badgered about the "expected" or "right" way to fill them out. Just because I don't have a specific issue with someone does not translate into "excellent" service. I think this type of presentation needs to be re-thought.
We did not participate in any HAL shore excursions. Our table mates had done many before we got on, and complained about passengers on excursions who did not meet the mobility demands of some excursions, negatively impacting the entire group. (One of the reasons we do Viator excursions). I am sure HAL is reluctant to take on some of their older and more infirm passengers, but some of these folks should not be on some of these excursions.
Our ports were : Istanbul (2 days), Athens, Dubrovnik, Kotor (Montenegro), Korcula, Venice (2 days), Taormina (Sicily), Sorrento, Naples, and Rome.
Three were tender ports, and that process was handled most efficiently. The second Croatian port was Korcula and we could have done without it. It is kind of a Dubrovnik wannabe, and a waste of time IMHO. We were supposed to have 2 days in Sorrento, but our captain made a judgment call to spend one day in Naples and then one day in Sorrento due to the several other large cruise ships all hitting port at once. As it was, we had Sorrento pretty much to ourselves. We appreciated that, and had a chance to see the famous archeological museum in Naples (and we had been to Sorrento before.) My only other port complaint is that although it LOOKED LIKE we had 2 days in Athens, we got to Piraeus at 4 PM (too late to do much unless you want to take public transportation into Athens at night). We sailed at 4 PM the next day, which left a lot less time than we thought to sight-see in Athens. Big disappointment. Could have done with Naples or certainly Korcula to spend another day in Athens........We enjoyed all other ports and were happy to have 2 days in Venice. With the advent of superlarge cruise ships, Venice is a zoo, and a second day gave us a chance to get off the beaten path in the city and away from the humongous crowds.
So for this pair of active, 60-ish cruisers, this was an almost entirely happy, positive experience. If more of our bucket-list cities are on Prinsendam's schedule, we look forward to sailing on her again.