The Rotterdam is quite appropriately the flagship of Holland America Line; it is beautifully appointed and seems to have been assigned an outstanding captain. The cabins are spacious and the appointments are excellent, including a bath tub in our rather low-category cabin. Despite some rough seas (15-18 ft swells in the Drake Passage), the ship was remarkably stable and she maneuvered wonderfully in the sometimes very tight channels around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Holland America handled the air reservations and the air to ship, and ship to airport transfers professionally and with minimal trouble for the traveller. In addition, we were surprised that we got quite good seats on both flights. (The overnight schedule on Delta from and to Atlanta, to Rio and from Santiago, is a bummer on a heavily loaded 767 that is not particularly comfortable, but there is nothing Holland America can do about that.) We had no pre or post stayovers, so no hotels were involved in our trip.
This is an incredible itinerary. My wife and I are not real fond of big cities when we travel, so the Rio, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago aspects of the itinerary were not so special for us, but seemed to be real hits with virtually all of our shipmates. They were also the only "hot/warm" spots on the itinerary, the rest of the time we were cruising or docked in rather cold (35-45degrees F) climes. There are just no words to describe the beauty and spectacular scenery of Antarctica, so i won't try. Holland America, however, did its best to make sure that the passengers could take full advantage of being in the last wilderness. The Antarctic Experience Team on board gave excellent lectures on the flora, fauna, sights, sounds and likely scenery of the Antarctic. From an expert on albatrosses, whales and penguins, to a geologist who had spent most of his career in the Antarctic studying the formations and its history, to an "ice pilot" with decades of experience guiding ships through the dangerous ice, the team was amazing, and approachable to boot. (One side note: In our opinion, the itinerary needs to be seen from east to west as we did on this cruise, hitting Elephant Island first was amazing, but would likely have been anti-climactic if it had come last as the west to east itinerary would do. The cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula was simply amazing. And when weather threatened to obscure the experience, the captain, aided by the "ice pilot" avoided the bad weather and found another location of amazing beauty and significance.)
The non- big city ports of call were excellent as well. Just a couple of suggestions, don't do the little train in Ushuaia (sp?), it is nice but takes too long and leaves no time for the very nice little city. Second, if you are only going to do one penguin experience , do the Otway Bay at Punta Arenas where you literally walk among the penguins and see them doing everything from scampering across the grasses to swimming in the Bay, but beware if you have the early morning trip, it will be cold (at least 10 degree colder and at least 10 mph more wind than downtown). Don't miss Punta Arenas the town, the square is very nice and the handicrafts are worth visiting. At Puerto Montt, go to the lakeside cities (Puerto Arias and Fruittlar) then go to the local fish market area for a late lunch on the most amazing seafood.
In Santiago, the Casablanca Valley wine tour, pre departure, is well worth the extra cost.
My wife and I were extremely well pleased by all of the service personnel on board. Our dining stewards, not to mention our outstanding table mates, were attentive, knowledgeable and courteous. The Lido Restaurant was better, for its type of food, than we have experienced on any other cruise. Not to mention the great hamburgers and hot dogs from the Grill. (On a 20 day cruise, you just have to have a hamburger from time to time.) I particularly enjoyed the Culinary Center, both the demonstrations that are free and the classes that are very reasonably priced. (The Pinnacle Chef on this Cruise, Shawn from Halifax, was perfect for the instructor role in the Culinary Arts Center.)
The stateroom was more than adequate, even for a 20 day cruise. The cabin attendant was unobtrusive, but always available when needed, and did a lovely job on the folded towel animals that seem to have become standard on cruise lines.
Just a couple of quibbles. The Spa was, as is normal, excessively overpriced and staffed by people who one is not sure have the qualifications to do what they are doing, including the rather snooty manager. Only the sauna is available free, steam requires buying the "suite" for a daily rate of $20. The fitness center was well appointed and nicely located, but always quite crowded. (In fact, it was the only part of the ship that ever seemed crowded. The Rotterdam handles its complement of passengers with seeming ease.)
The entertainment was at best entertaining. Nothing extraordinary, but entertaining. Enough said.
Overall, we would recommend this itinerary to anyone looking for a true adventure. We were lucky with the weather, including the rough but manageable crossing of Drake Passage. It can be a lot worse, so be aware. We are fond of Holland America, and find particularly that the Indonesia and Philippine service crew are easier to working with than the eastern european crews on many of the other lines.