A pleasant South American voyage on the Amsterdam recently drew us back to Holland America. This time we boarded the Rotterdam in Valparaiso, Chile for a 47-day trip across 3 continents South America, Africa and Europe. Places that were new to us like Tripoli, Libya and Santorini, Greece were included in their route. The ship later bypassed Tripoli and Morocco as unsafe ports. She sailed instead to Gibraltar and Messina, Italy.
Rotterdam like the Amsterdam has managed to preserve the traditional privileges that are no longer free of charge on other cruise lines. Hot chocolate, fruit juices and ice cream at the Lido, espresso and cappuccino in the dining room and the daily newspaper in the cabin.
We admire the way Rotterdam handled arrival and departure. As soon as we cleared customs at the Santiago, Chile airport we found our luggage already loaded on a cart. A waiting van (where my wife and I were the only passengers) then took us to our hotel for a pre-cruise stay.
We left the ship in Piraeus, Greece. They provided us with breakfast at the dining or the Lido prior to leaving the ship. We could also use our cabins while waiting to disembark. We found our luggage and carts waiting for us at the Athens airport. They escorted us to the counters to check in for our flight home. Rotterdam has certainly generated a lot of goodwill for Holland America by taking care of her guests.
After a chaotic transfer experience with the Queen Mary 2 and the Star Princess, we truly applaud the smooth and efficient way Rotterdam handled the transition of their guests. .
From the ship, Gibraltar loomed through the mist as a huge rock jutting out from the sea. 260 tailless Barbary apes and 27000 human beings inhabit the 2.8 square mile Island. Gibraltar depends on tourism, financial services and offshore banking for its income.
Our visit to Gibraltar turned out to be a marvelous surprise. Karen a very proficient and articulate tourist guide proudly showed us her island. She took us to meet the apes by cable car. The monkeys live in a high point in the island and are the only wild Barbary apes in Europe today. We also had a clear view of Africa and Spain from the cable car station. A 100-ton cannon built in the 1800's is a tourist attraction.
The port of Kusadasi, Turkey has greatly improved since we visited it several years ago. The new shopping areas are easily accessible to vessels docking there. Modernized highways to outlying areas made the trip quicker. The local tour guide to Ephesus knew his subject and was very proficient.
Big crowds clog St.Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Italian policemen guarding the doors keep security tight hindering its visitors. One must pass through metal detectors, their property scanned by x-ray machines for entry to the Holy See. Shopkeepers in Rome now charge $ 1.00 for the use of their restrooms.
The Rotterdam is about 60,000 tons, carries 1260 passengers and 600 crewmembers. The passengers are chiefly Americans, Canadians, New Zealander, Australians, some Europeans and South Americans. Most of them were seniors, largely repeaters sailing on trip segments. The European portion of the cruise attracted a few of the younger set.
The crew and hotel employees are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines; some are from Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and a few from Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.
The ship's library is quite spacious and snug with at least 3500 English and foreign language books. DVDs are also available. Guests enjoy the comfortable leather overstuffed easy chairs, Eames style lounges, ottomans and chaises. The library gets busy during sea days.
Laura, an amiable and invaluable library manager, keeps the place open daily from 8 am to 10:30 PM. Internet (75c/minute) is available 24/7. Internet manager Jacque is an alert and adept computer guru who is ever present to aid guests struggling with their keyboard. A coffee bar is open during library hours.
An ipod available at the library directs guests to various works of art aboard the ship. A full size replica of several Chinese terra cotta soldiers and their animals stand notably between the library and the explorers lounge. A trio performs live classical music at the explorers lounge.
A large interactive flat screen monitor displays a world map showing the ship's location at all times during the voyage. It also shows weather reports and world time. Another large plasma screen shows sports events received by satellite.
The dinner menu at the Le Fontaine suggests venison, pheasant, escargot, osso bucco, and on occasion lobster. The usual salmon, steak and vegetarian food are always available. Cappuccino and espresso coffee are complimentary. They also offer daily breakfast specials. Eggs Benedict are a regular menu item.
The Le Fontaine dining room seats about 800 guests for breakfast or for dinner. It is seldom open for lunch. The dining room is located on two decks. Glass windows ring the dining room, giving the diners a great view of the ocean and wonderful sunsets. The linen covered dining table settings are flawless.
Full blooming Phalaenopsis orchids decorate each table at the Lido restaurant. Fresh flowers prevail through out the ship, a Dutch heritage observed by Holland America vessels. The Lido is a buffet type eatery that serves hot and cold entrees. There is an Asian stir-fry, an Italian pasta section, a sandwich and a salad bar. Various flavors of ice cream served in bowls or large cones are available free till midnight daily.
A hot dog/hamburger and pizza stand services the pool area. A counter with Mexican, Indian or Indonesian food are also on hand. There is an occasional barbecue. Salmon, steak, Midwestern, Thai, Indian, sushi and prawns are among the order of the day. Coffee, chocolate and tea at the Lido are available 24/7. Continental breakfast opens at 7 AM and full breakfast at 7:30 AM and an hour earlier during port days.
The Pinnacle grill, a dining venue option specializes in grilled steaks and seafood. Grilled Black cod served on a cedar shake is excellent. Cream Brulee superbly glazed served in varied colors is a delightful treat.
The dining room wait staff hail from Indonesia. They are very cordial and sincere. They welcome you with their traditional hospitality. They are very efficient yet unhurried, always ready to serve you. Dining room manager Tri also from Indonesia and his assistant Roderick from the Netherlands address their staff as " gentlemen " that aptly describes them.
Filipino chefs turn out the gourmet cuisine, exquisite dishes and delicate pastries that grace the dinner tables. The Filipino employees serve as sommeliers, beverage staff, stagehands, deckhands and musicians. The front office manned by a Filipino staff is always open for business. Guest relations manager Gary encourages his personnel to provide fast, efficient, and courteous service. They prepare immigration paperwork, fill out certificates, and furnish foreign currency. The front office provides excellent service with the least effort on the part of the travelers. Customer lines are quickly dissipated.
The Wayang theatre plays first run movies and free popcorn is included. There is also a daily Catholic Mass, an interfaith ceremony and Jewish services held there. Upbeat and active entertainers perform production shows at the Queen's lounge. Michelle is the ship's cruise director. She is very congenial and unpretentious. Her main efforts are for the ship to be super friendly. Her energetic and friendly staff is quite adept in interacting with the travelers and at planning the daily activities for the passengers. The tour desk is totally confused and overwhelmed by guests leaving on tours. There is always a long queue and crowds form on public areas due to a long wait.
Our cabin located at mid ship was very stable and quiet. It was close to the elevators and had a good view of the ocean. It was at least 194 square feet, with ample closet space and a shower over a tub. A new flat screen TV and a DVD player certainly gave the room a welcome facelift. It also had 115 VAC outlets and a hair dyer. Fresh fruit and bathrobes were available on request. Olih, our cheerful room steward from Indonesia, kept our room squeaky-clean. We would find the room made up when we returned from breakfast. Room service was very prompt.