Excellent, Just Short of Perfect: Amsterdam Cruise Review by ew2103
Overall Member Rating
Excellent, Just Short of Perfect
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
The Amsterdam is a beautiful ship, with marvelous artwork throughout.
Pluses of the ship experience: Immaculate cleanliness throughout, the artwork, easy to find things. The ship is well-designed so that families with young children and older people such as myself can both enjoy the cruise and "not get in each others' way" either physically or psychologically. Cabin spacious, well-appointed, and expertly and courteously serviced daily. Water in shower almost instantly hot -- no waste of water!
Meals excellent, perfectly cooked (I ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido, dinners in the upper promenade deck. Superb variety of selections (appetizer, soup or salad, main course, dessert) for dinner. Lovely light fluffy omelets cooked to order for breakfast while you watch.
Unexpectedly (not More advertised in advance) this cruise had a bridge instructor/director who, on all sea days, gave a lecture at 10am and ran a duplicate tournament at 1:30pm. He was Armand Grassi. My previous and first cruise was with Audrey Grant in this role. Armand is her equal in expertise, and surpasses her in patience and clarity of explanations.
A Ukrainian duo "Adagio" (pianist and violinist) played lovely classical music almost every evening, a highlight leading up to my 8pm dinner seating.
One sea day Eddy deGroot (male) gave a fascinating tour of the lovely flower arrangements he makes for the ship, providing insight into his artistic themes and talents.
Lovely music and dancing, showcasing Indonesian culture, on a sea day near the end of the cruise.
Excellent shops, wide variety, lovely Faberge eggs (I can't afford one, but I enjoyed admiring them).
Library quiet, extensive selection, Internet available (not too terribly expensive if package deal chosen).
Daily news leaflets available (US, Canada, UK, Spanish, German, Dutch).
Cruising through Panama Canal fascinating and expertly narrated -- narration was informative and interesting without ever being "overmuch" TMI [too much information].
Minuses of the ship experience:
Evening dining (our table was in exact center aft of upper promenade deck) area too hot.
Incompetent cruise shopping information person Chris Langley. He gave talks, in the theater, on where to shop at each port. These talks were too much "rah-rah" (like high-school cheerleading) and too little information. Very seriously, he never warned people about Cuban cigars (he touted their availability in Cartegena) vis-a-vis the United States. What if an Australian or European buys some, and then disembarks in San Diego or Seattle, or disembarks in Vancouver and then flies home via a US transfer? Prison! He promised to answer my question about post office in Cartagena and never answered it. The day before Costa Rica, he told me a museum would be open; after a long hot walk I found it closed. On Holland America's site (they requested review) he is the specific and only reason I gave the overall rating 6 instead of 7 (highest).
Occasional service flaws (slow and/or interchanged entrees) at dinner.
I flew into Fort Lauderdale the morning of the cruise and was very favorably impressed with the courtesy and efficiency of the SIX Holland America employees, stationed in baggage claim and responsible for helping passengers transfer to the ship. Embarkation smooth, comfortable, and well-organized. US Customs inefficiency and discourtesy combined to make disembarkation (I disembarked in San Diego; some passengers went on to Vancouver or Seattle) a slow, exasperating mess (Holland American NOT to blame for that!).
After the tour, I stayed one night before flying home to the Midwest. I stayed in the San Diego Airport Hilton: superb hotel, immaculately clean and quiet, excellent restaurant, superb service throughout. Less
Cabin review: 6156
Spacious, well-appointed, expertly serviced daily, lovely view from verandah.
Port and Shore Excursions
San Jose del Cabo
The tender ride to the pier provides lovely views of the harbor and shore town even before the tour starts. The bus drives to a famous restaurant which is a high lookout point over the harbor -- breathtaking views! Then on to the interior town and a pleasant walk around the shaded commons; I enjoyed looking inside the Jesuit mission church. There are museums just steps away -- all closed for Sunday, unfortunately. Then the bus took us back to the glass factory, where I watched the two skilled craftsmen make first a man smoking a pipe, then an elephant. Amusingly, he asked (while holding the elephant, just out of the blazing furnace, in long tongs) "Does anyone want to pet the elephant?" I said yes, 10 days from now. There's beautiful glassware for sale, and NO pressure to buy. Then back to the bus for a stop at a restaurant for a brief drink. OOPS! There's a church near the restaurant, and it being Sunday, the driver literally could NOT park the bus. So we skipped that stop (the least important one, to me) and went back to the pier and the tender. This tour would surely have earned at least 5 if not on Sunday.
Horse Carriage Tour
You ride in a large bus (with interesting sights and commentary) to a street where many horse-drawn carriages await. Each carriage, which has 2 benches, holds 4 comfortably or 6 uncomfortably. Try to sit facing forward, as I did. The guide rides in one carriage, so you are given an earphone to hear what he or she says. Herewith the major problem -- cutoff of sound occurred frequently; I heard about every 3rd or 4th word the guide said -- very frustrating! The sights in Old Town are splendid; you appreciate how the narrow, frequently angled streets would frustrate an invading army (why the Old Town was built so). I really enjoyed the quaint buildings, many with balconies aflame with colorful flowers. You move slowly enough to get a good view but just fast enough that the 800,801 street vendors can't hassle you much. The carriages have canopies, but they were not raised. Still, since the streets are so narrow, we weren't in direct sun much. On return, you visit the former city dungeons, now souvenir shops. Our guide recommended two, which did have good values. One contained a unisex bathroom accommodating ONE person at a time -- STAMPEDE! Then the bus goes back to the pier, stopping at the Fort of San Felipe de Barajas for photographs (but we did not enter the fort. I would rate this tour a 5, not a 3, if only the earphones worked.
First tour, Eco-Lagoon Cruise. You'll tender ashore and then ride 5 minutes (in what amounts to a "truck-alias-little-bus") to the glass-bottomed boat (and reverse at tour end). The guide (highly knowledgeable) carefully defined "lagoon" as "a body of water with exactly ONE connection to the ocean" (interesting contrast with Wikipedia and such). Fascinating and colorful marine plants, highly varied, are easily visible on the shallow lagoon floor. We got occasional glimpses of small fish too. Don't forget to look ashore also, to admire the mangroves and other trees. After this tour, you'll have much more appreciation for how mangroves protect areas struck by powerful hurricanes from devastating erosion. If you take this tour, I recommend also taking the "Glass-Bottom Boat" tour (schedules make that possible), providing strong insight into the differences between two very different marine ecological environments only several miles apart.
Second tour: Glass-Bottom Boat. From the shore point (you've tendered ashore), it's a short walk to the boat, which has 24 glass windows, 12 port and 12 starboard. I had no problem getting a bench seat to look straight down through the windows as the boat passed slowly over a fascinating variety of corals; their color contrasts were lovely. Later, the crew invites you topside; lively fish come to the surface when the crew tosses enticing food tidbits to them. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. If you take this tour, I recommend also taking the "Eco-Lagoon Cruise" tour (schedules make that possible), providing strong insight into the differences between two very different marine ecological environments only several miles apart.
Each of these tours lasted just over an hour.
This is the only tour listed for those disembarking the ship here (versus Vancouver or Seattle), as I was. (Other tours return to the ship.) You get 8-second glimpses of what are surely interesting sites through the bus window (I felt lucky when a traffic light turned red so the bus driver had to stop and I could get a 20-second look). Then we marched (I said "marched," not "walked") around Balboa Park. The tour guide must have been a drill sergeant in a previous incarnation: "All right, you've gawked at that sight 2 minutes now! Attention! About face! Forward MARCH! Hup, two, three, four, hup, two....." We were marched to shops selling junkier things, at higher prices, than the shops in the Spanish-speaking countries. In the Old Town, I managed to sneak into the lovely church versus the greasy-spoon restaurant so heartily recommended. Then to the airport; the bus driver was very courteous and accommodating to drop me off at the nearby Hilton, where I stayed over until my flight home the following morning. Recommendation: Make the tour of the famous zoo (we never even saw it!) accessible to disembarking passengers as well as passengers who will return to the ship.
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