Background:My cruise line of choice is Crystal, this is my second voyage on the Prinsendam and I was very pleased to be back on her. The ship is not for everybody, does have some foibles, but offers an opportunity for a fabulous experience.
Ship info: The Prinsendam was built in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun. When Royal Viking ceased operations she temporarily sailed for another luxury line as the Seabourn Sun. In 2002 she was rebranded for Holland America as the Prinsendam. Holland America has added some cabins and made other changes and the Prinsendam can no longer be classified as a luxury ship, but offers an experience I don't think can be matched on any other mainstream ship.
Staterooms: Most of the cabins have nearly their original configuration from the Royal Viking days. The ones that remain from the original ship (Most of the cabins added by Holland America are on deck 8 aft and may not comply with my description) are pretty spacious and almost all have walk-in closets, a generous table/desk, and love seat. The cabins roughly alternate between having a full bath and just a shower. Most cabin doors are set back about 8-feet from the corridor, with the bath and closet between the entrence and the corridor and the living area on the other side of the door. The setback of the door helps minimize any noise from the door.
Dining: The LaFontaine Dining is aft on the Lower Promenade Deck with a small section on the starboard side just forward of the aft stairs. Part of the large dining room is allocated to open seating and the rest of the big room and the small forward section are used for the 5:30 and 8PM assigned seatings. The wait staff is friendly and helpful, but possibly a little overworked. Service is generally excellent and the menus are varied. The dining room is open daily for breakfast, and sea days and some port days for lunch.
The Lido Cafe is on deck 11. In the latest drydock the aft portion of the Lido deck was enclosed giving an aft seating area with stunning views for breakfast and lunch. While the service is buffet style most food is cooked to order slowing down service somewhat but all food is served fresh and hot and prepared taking account any preferences. An island on the starboard side was self service (after the first 48 hours) for things like fruit, breads, and milk.
The extra-cost Pinnacle Grill on Deck 7 specializes in steak but serves several other entrees as well for lunch and dinner. I had lunch there and greatly enjoyed it. When the Aft Lido deck was covered in the last drydock a part of the new space became the Canaletto Italian restaurant in the evening. The food, service, and location were all superb.
Activities and entertainment: Activities are geared to a mature demographic and a wide variety are offered. Enrichment activites tend to be a HAL weakness althouth this cruise was better than most with 3 speakers on Secuirty, Globilazation, and the arts. The port guide could also have been considered part of the enrichment. Lisa's port talks were always informative and interesting. She showed some bias toward HAL shore excursions but her factual information was on the spot and she maintained desk hours for personal guidance, as well as being on the pier at ports.
There were other varied activities during the day including cooking demonstrations, movies, trivia sports activities and the like. A program highlight was “On Deck for A Cause”, a walk to support cancer services, and always a lot of fun.
In the evening there are several venues featuring several varieties of musical entertainment, and a daily presentation in the Showroom at Sea. The excellent Prinsendam Singers and Dancers presented 6 shows. Our cast consisted of 5 singers and 2 dancers. The male and female dance couple on the Prinsendam interacted with each other and the rest of the cast in ways that would be impossible with the female duo on the R and S class ships. The cast was very impressive as the singers could really have been better described as singer-dancers. Other headline entertainers were brought on board for most remaining nights of the cruise. There were a couple of nights with late activities in ports where there were just movies in both the Showroom and the Wajang Theater. Other evening venues included the Crows Nest with a piano entertainer, the Explorer's Lounge with a classical piano-violin duo, and the Ocean Bar with dance music.
Children: The Prinsendam and it's long exotic voyages attract few children. There are no childrens' facilities as such and there were no children on the voyage. We still had a youth counselor on board who got involved in other activities and expected 30 or so youth on the cruise after ours. There were a few youth on my 2011 Prinsendam cruise and they met in some of the little used meeting rooms and appeared to enjoy themselves. This year's youth counselor Whitney was very personable and enerjetic and appeared well prepared to take on her coming charges.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was smooth and easy, although a little later than predicted. We were allowed to stay in our cabins or in the public lounges until the time to depart came.
Summary: While this ship can no longer be classified as a luxury ship, it is far from an ordinary ship as well. I look for 3 things in a cruise:
1. Itinerary: In the coming year the Prinsendam will visit an incredible 150 distinct ports of call. It can and does go to places seldom or never visited by other cruise ships and will visit pretty much the same areas most years but seldom if ever is a cruise a repeat of a previous cruise.
2. Service: Service on the Prinsendam is gracious, personable, and efficient. It is the best I've seen on any mainstream ship.
3.Facilities: the Prinsendam has well sized, well equipped and very pleasant staterooms. There are generous public spaces and ample open deck space around the ship. There are a few areas where the age of the ship may result in a bit of temporary discomfort but the benefits of the ship far outweigh any idiosyncracies of the ship. She commands a higher price than other Holland America ships but offers an amazing experience that makes her a wonderful value. One thing to keep in mind for this cruise is that the Amazon is very close to the Equator and it does require a certain tolerance for hot weather.
Tortola: An interesting island with a small quaint village, excellent water activities, and stunning mountain views.
St. Barts: A small island with great views and a lovely harbor.
St. Lucia: Great water activities and very interesting geology. A nice town but awkwardly placed relative to the cruise terminal.
Devils Island: No tours at the former penal colony but the island is small and easy to walk around.
Macapa: The first of our Amazon stops the highlights were the equator marker and the fortress guarding the Amazon River.
Santarem and Alter do Chao: 2 Towns close together. When we docked in Santarem I took a tour to a national forest and saw rubber trees and got a good look at a rain forest. It was less dense and has better visibility than I imagined. I toured Santarem from Alter and the University town did not find a lot of great interest there. Alter itself was a charming small resort village.
Boca da Valeria: This native village was a highlight of the cruise. We saw a small school, church, and everybody's transportation was by water. There were lots of friendly children with exotic pets and many of us took river canoe rides back into the tributaries.
Manaus: A large, busy seaport founded on the rubber industry, a rather primitive but busy city. The Opera House is amazing, and there are great forays further up the river.
Parintins: A small island community famous for it's annual Boi Bumba festival. While the festival is in June a smaller version is presented when cruise ships visit. I did not go but those who did raved about it.
Barbados: A large island with great beaches, interesting caves, and a fair sized city, but a return to the beaten path.
Port Elizabeth: One of the smaller islands of St. Vincent and Grenadines a lovely island with a very interesting turtle sanctuary.
Curacao: A little bit of Holland in the Caribbean. The caves were interesting but not terribly different from other caves.
Aruba: Our final (and on the beaten path) port, lots of choices from diving to great beaches to a picturesque lighthouse and great viewpoints.