Baltic Sea -The Rotterdam - May 30 - June 11, 2007
Overall, this was another wonderful cruise on the Rotterdam (I sailed on this ship in January 2006 on a South America/Antarctica cruise). This was my third cruise, but I still feel like a neophyte compared to the many people I met on board who have sailed 50, 100, etc. days on various cruises. I was travelling "solo" and I have no qualms about travelling alone. However, it was nice to meet many wonderful people (a number of whom are Cruise Critic members).
The Rotterdam was a wonderful, medium-sized ship. My outside stateroom (Category E) was on the Dolphin Deck, room 1871. It was midship and on the lowest deck. The room was quite large (197 sq. ft.) with a very comfortable bed with lovely linens, etc. There was plenty of closet and storage space and even if there had been two people in the cabin, there would have been lots of closet space. The bathroom was a decent size (with a bathtub that was designed for short people; so I only took showers) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There was a small sofa with end tables in the room and a desk and chair and a flat screen tv with DVD player. And a very large window. All in all, it was a very comfortable room. There was a small laundry area one deck above with coin operated washers and dryers and irons/ironing boards. They were generally quite busy.
The public rooms on the ship were beautiful. There was lots of artwork about and many vases of fresh flower arrangements. At the top of the ship is the Crow's Nest Lounge which was very nice. During the daytime it was set up for passengers to be able to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling windows. The Crow's Nest was busy in the late evening with dancing, etc. It has a fairly large dance floor. Below the Crow's Nest was the Gym and Spa. The gym had lots of equipment and it was never overly busy. My favorite time to go was first thing in the morning and normally there would be about a dozen or so people working out. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on "formal night" days). Also on this level was the pool and surrounding deck. There were lots of deck chairs and tables/chairs surrounding the pool. The roof retracts in good weather which was really nice. Aft of the pool deck was the Lido restaurant. It was surprisingly large with identical serving stations on each side of the ship. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. Outside the Lido restaurant at the very back of the ship was another small outdoor pool and an area with deck chairs, tables/chairs, etc. I found this area to be lovely in the early evening, as long as the weather was good. It was somewhat sheltered from the wind, and never busy.
On the Upper Promenade Deck is where you will find the upper level of the Queen's Lounge, the shops, the Casino, the Library/Internet area, a couple of bars/lounges, and the upper level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. The Casino was a decent size and always busy. Unfortunately they allow smoking in the Casino, so I only went in there on the one non-smoking night. There was a large Sports Bar just outside the Casino with a big screen tv, etc. Next to the Casino there was a large Internet area with at least a dozen computers. It was always busy and I found the best time to go online was after dinner in the evening. Internet service was spotty and very, very expensive. The Internet area was part of the Library which was my favorite room on the ship. Nothing better than curling up on a big ol' sofa with a good book when there is nothing else on the agenda. Across from the Library was the Explorer's Lounge. This was a very comfortable area with a string quartet playing in the evenings. During the daytime there were contests taking place in the Lounge. Next to the Explorer's Lounge was the Ocean Bar which was the spot for pre-dinner drinks, and after dinner dancing, etc. On the Promenade Deck was the main floor of the Queen's Lounge, the photo shop, the Art Gallery, the movie theatre, the Pinnacle Grill, and the main level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The Queen's Lounge (were the evening shows took place) was very comfortable, but tended to be quite cool. As long as I had a sweater with me, it was fine. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine. The movie theatre (which is also the area used for cooking demonstrations) was very comfortable, as well. The Fontaine Dining Room was beautiful, well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 8 on the upper level (5:45 pm; early seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc. I never ate in the Pinnacle Grill, but everyone I spoke with who ate there really enjoyed themselves. I gather the food and service were exceptional. The front office, shore excursions office, etc., were also found on the Promenade Deck. The Lower Promenade Deck had the outdoor walking area. It was always nice to get outside for a walk. There were always lots of people out on deck during the daytime and early evening.
The infirmary was on the Dolphin deck and was very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency.
Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there were lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship was great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with lots of room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
Typical of Holland America, the majority of passengers were older. I believe the average age was about 60-65. Most of the passengers were from the United States, with a good number from Canada, and the rest from Asia, Australia, etc. The ship was full, with about 1,300 passengers on board. Overall, I found the people on board to be friendly and kind.
CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT:
I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional (with the exception of the Maitre 'D in the Dining Room). My cabin steward was attentive and kept my cabin spotless. The front office and shore excursion staff were always very helpful. The dining room staff seemed a bit inexperienced (although our waiter and assistant waiter consistently did their best). The cruise director and her staff were fun and energetic. I thought the food on board the ship was excellent. Every evening I got to try new things, or have items I haven't thought to cook in years. The presentation was good and the food was always hot when it arrived at the table. The food in the Lido was also very good. I ate about half my breakfasts in the Lido and some of my lunches, and a couple of dinners (when returning late to the ship after a shore excursion).
I only went to a few of the evening shows, so I can't really comment too much on the entertainment. Certainly the shows were geared to an older audience and so I was not all that interested in most of them. However, many of the people I spoke with on the cruise loved the shows. The same goes for the musicians playing in the bars/lounges throughout the ship. There was a string quartet in the Explorer's Lounge that played in the evening and you could hear it in the Library, so that was nice. The singers and dancers in the cast were the best I've seen on a cruise ship. The two cast shows I went to were very well done.
PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION:
This cruise left from Harwich, UK. I flew into London a couple of days beforehand. I flew with British Airways (for the first time) and the flight, although long, was reasonably pleasant and uneventful. I used the Tube (subway) to travel from Heathrow International Airport to my hotel, which was located in the Bloomsbury district of London. Travel by subway took about an hour and my stop (Russell Square) was on the same line, so no need to switch trains at any time. Typical of most Tube stations, there were some stairs, but with only one piece of luggage to manage, it wasn't too bad. The hotel I stayed in was called The Bonnington (92 Southampton Row) and was about 1 block from the British Museum. I booked the hotel through British Airways and so only had to pay about £65 per night (including full breakfast each day). For London, that was a great deal! The hotel was very nice and, although old, has been extensively refurbished over the past couple of years. In order to meet the ship in Harwich, I took the train from Liverpool Street Station to Harwich International. The cost was £23 per person. The train left at 12:05 pm and the trip took 1 hour and 15 minutes. The port was right alongside the train station in Harwich, so it was very convenient. Embarkation from getting off the train, dropping off my luggage, checking in, boarding and going to my cabin took 7 minutes. Very impressive!
PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS:
For this cruise I decided to do most of my touring on my own and not booking shore excursions through Holland America. The exceptions were Berlin, St. Petersburg and Finland.
This is an easy port to do on your own. Right at the dock was a tourist information desk where I was able to buy an Oslo Pass (covered public transportation and entrance to most museums). It was about a 10 minute walk into the city center from the ship. Along the way was a currency exchange and, next door, a 7-Eleven where you can buy individual bus tickets (if you don’t have an Oslo Pass). Highlights of the day included the Vigeland statues at Frogner Park, and the museums at Bygdoy (Viking Ship Museum, Kon Tiki Museum, Fram Museum).
Again, this is an easy port to do on your own. It is about a five minute walk to the city center and another five minutes to the main tourist information office beside the train station. From there it was a 10 minute walk to Den Gamle By (Old Town). This was a must see attraction. I spent about two hours wandering about all the buildings. It was a Saturday when we were there, so the downtown shopping area was very busy with locals.
I chose to do a HAL excursion to Berlin from this port. The train left at 7 am and there were about 750 passengers on board. The train was comfortable, with six people in each compartment. The train is not air conditioned, but the windows open, if needed. The trip was a little less than three hours through beautiful countryside. Berlin was amazing; interesting sights at every turn. We had a full day of touring, including a boat trip along the Spree River. Lunch at a local brewery/restaurant was very good. We did not return to the ship until 10 pm, so it was a very long day.
This city was a real treat. I teamed up with some people I met on the ship and we did the Rick Steeves walking tour. It was a about a 10 minute walk to the Old Town and we spent about 2 hours wandering about taking in all the sights. There are lots of shops throughout the Old Town and the shopping was good. The prices seemed very reasonable and the quality of the items was good.
St. Petersburg, Russia
This city was a highlight of the trip. I teamed up with six other people I met on the Cruise Critic Roll Call, and we did a two-day tour with Alla Tours. We had an excellent guide and driver and had a full two days of touring. Highlights included Catherine’s Palace, Peterhof, Yusupov’s Palace, the main Synagogue, Peter & Paul Fortress, The Hermitage, Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a trip to a local food market, and an adventurous trip on the subway. Using a private tour company, as opposed to HAL, certainly was the way to go.
At this point in the trip I was a bit tired of cities, and so opted for the HAL excursion to Lapland and the Arctic Circle. It was a wonderful excursion. We left the ship at 6 am and flew to Rovaniemi (about a one hour flight). We donned rubber boots and life jackets and traveled up a lovely river in small wooden canoe-like boats for about 30 minutes. Part way up we met another boat and were handed glasses of champagne to toast our crossing of the Arctic Circle. We then traveled a bit longer to a reindeer farm. After being greeting in a fun ceremony, we had time to mingle with the reindeer and feed and pet them. We then sat down for a great lunch of reindeer stew. After lunch we were treated to a short folk music/dancing show. From the farm we traveled by bus to Santa Claus’ village. The Finn’s claim he’s the real deal, but we all know the real Santa is Canadian and lives at the North Pole. This fellow was a cousin of some sort. We had our picture taken with Santa and then had about an hour or so to wander about and do some shopping. We flew back to Helsinki, saw a bit of the city from the bus and then boarded the ship about 30 minutes before sailing away. Stockholm, Sweden
This is another city that is easy to tour on your own. The public transportation system is efficient and easy to use. I spent most of the day in the Gamla Stan (Old Town). There was lots to see just wandering around the streets and alley ways. I went to two very good museums, (1) the Nobel Museum, and (2) the Armory Museum at the Royal Palace. This is definitely a city I’d love to return to some day and spend more time touring about. The sail away from Stockholm was so beautiful. We sailed past some incredible scenery that lasted for hours.
The sailing into Copenhagen was similar to the sail away from Stockholm…incredible scenery. I had traveled to Copenhagen in the past and, therefore, chose to fly home straight away.
The ship was cleared for passengers to leave around 7:30 am. Originally I had planned to get a taxi to the nearest train station and make my way to the airport. Part way through the cruise I decided I didn’t want to schlep my bags and so paid the $41 for a HAL bus transfer from the ship to the airport. Best move of the trip. The line-up for a taxi appeared to be one hour long, with a few hundred people waiting! The HAL bus left at 9:30 am and it took about 20 minutes to the airport through the city. My suitcase was waiting for me as I got off the bus. The airport is large, and there was quite a long line at the British Airways desk and also to go through the security checkpoint.
I truly had the most wonderful vacation on board the Rotterdam. However, because the itinerary was so port intensive, I didn’t have as much of a cruise ship experience as I would like. Most sailing was done at night between ports of call. We only had three sea days, and the Baltic Sea was like glass. Sometimes I felt like I was at a hotel/resort, as opposed to on a cruise ship. But I’m not complaining…I’d do the trip again in a heart beat!