Embarkation: HAL could have done a better job. A mass of people crowding into the terminal. Plenty of HAL reps, but in the wrong places. we marched along with a group only to find they were going somewhere else! Result: we had inadvertently jumped a chaotic line, with no way to turn back. Once we got to the document lift stations, HAL agents were outstanding. Better use of the staff on hand and better delineation of the lines would have eliminated this minor frustration.
We had an inside cabin on Deck 1. No surprises. No disappointments. we are economy class travelers. This was our fifth cruise, the fourth with HAL. the ship appeared to be in fine order, clean and well maintained. I don't recall a single encounter with a staff / crew member that was anything but pleasant.
We had a card in our cabin: "A gift from HAL and our TA." With trembling hands I opened it. It was 5% to 20% off the most outrageously priced things on board. I shook the envelope out but I didn't find anything else. I didn't expect a gift. I don't expect a gift. ( This wasn't a gift. ) We have advised our TA to disassociate herself from this tackiness if she can.
I recognize that we are swimming upstream on this next point. I deeply regret the erosion of traditional dining. Meeting and getting to know four or six other people, sharing a table, learning from them has been one of the pleasures of cruising. Early on we asked for "traditional" dining. Our documents came and we had "open". our TA fixed that. We got to the ship and found we were "traditional" but had a table for two. We fixed that before the first dinner. I think this was the Rotterdam's first cruise with open seating and things seemed jumbled. At a minimum, I hope the option of traditional dining survives.
Maybe it is just our plebeian taste, but the food in the dining room was excellent, as was the service. The beef was particularly good, the garlic mashed potatoes excellent. The soups were outstanding, the filet and lobster wonderful. Ordinarily we don't eat like this 12 nights in a row, but we did not become jaded with either the food or the service. ( Hats off to you Ekar and Rian). The portions were close to being right, a little too large if anything. I hate to see waste.
The Lido was fine. I never did figure out how to get a soft boiled egg right, but that has to be tricky. There was abundance and variety and taste. It's a cafeteria / buffet, for goodness sake.
The spa ( and I really mean "gym" since we didn't partake of the mud treatments and related ) was fine. The machines were quality and in good shape and the space adequate. It puzzles me that spinning "classes" are offered at $11 for 45 minutes. In the gym every day for five cruises I've only seen spinning classes happen twice. ( It's not difficult to replicate that workout on available, free machines. ) To have spinning classes as a free service, or to at least have the spinning bikes available for use ( instead of being locked up )would be a marketing advantage for some line. I realize this is a profit center...but. The facilities were very good and we spent several hours a day there
There was an area where HAL fell down. When we came back through the Dardanelles in day light...an area of great historic and topographical interest...the on board lecturer gave a wooden and inaccurate commentary. In fact, she read it ( and not well ). Best we could tell, she actually read it "backwards", as though we were traversing from the opposite direction. This put everything off by more than 20 miles and made no sense. A knowledgeable commentary here was sorely missed.
We only used the ship's excursion to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, as did more than 800 other people! The logistics were challenging and HAL handled them unbelievably well. Varna, Bulgaria, and Constanta, Romania were pretty grim, but they served as poignant reminders of what the Eastern bloc countries had gone through. Odessa, by contrast, was a jewel.
If you think about it, shipboard entertainment is really a variety show. By definition ( "variety" )means not everyone will be pleased. Susan Wood - Cruise Director Extraordinaire - did a very good job with the lineup. "Black Tie" was a highly talented group. The comedians were clean and enjoyable. Yakov Roy and Barnaby unusual and entertaining. We have no interest in production numbers so we always skip those. Susan doesn't have a Carnegie Hall budget. The entertainment was fine.
So, a conclusion. The Rotterdam is a fine lady. I appreciate older women. The staff was superb. Interesting ports and several sea days added up to an excellent cruise. A really positive development was less smoking on the ship. Last time, half the Lido pool area ( one side ) was smoking. Not this time. Hurrah!
Is there anyone that doesn't know that the HAL demographic is a little older? And also more sedate and polite?
One last point: There is an "o" missing in the Scrabble box, and my wife blamed several of her losses on that fact.
A wonderful cruise and HAL remains our cruise line of choice.
B.L. 5/ 08