Kiel Canal and Baltic Treasures
Holland America and the Prinsendam scored another slam-dunk with their cruise from Amsterdam round trip to the Baltic on August 7th. The cruise really showed that small cruise ships still have an advantage over the huge ships that seem to be flooding the market these days. My wife and I arrived in Amsterdam at 9:30am on embarkation day and were having lunch aboard ship before noon. There was a short line at the terminal, however, it moved quickly compared with the 3500 person cruise ship we sailed transatlantic on in May.
When we arrived at our cabin we were pleasantly surprised to find a new bathroom with a six-foot tub. This was a first in all my years of cruising. I had cruised on Holland America a number of times and expected a small tub but this was spacious. I don't know if I can ever go back to a shower that is hardly big enough to turn around in.
After taking a tour of the ship, since this was our first time on the Prinsendam, and attending the lifeboat drill we prepared to meet our tablemates for the cruise. My wife and I both prefer assigned seating and had chosen the late seating because of the many tours that we had scheduled. We had chosen this particular cruise because we wanted to see Berlin and Gdansk in particular as well as the others ports of call that we had visited on a previous Baltic cruise. Our tablemates were delightful and the food was delicious as was expected. Unlike some other cruise lines Holland America has an alternate menu every night and I took advantage of the sirloin steak offering most of the time.
The food was consistently good during the entire 14-day cruise. My weakness for their bread pudding for lunch and the ice cream bar being open most of the day saw me leaving the ship six pounds heavier than when I got on. With the food and company being so good in the main dining room, I cannot justify the added expense of eating in the "extra charge" dining rooms. This is from a guy who cruises about four times a year and has had lunch at McDonalds in just about every port of call we have visited. This cruise we had lunch at McDonalds in Berlin, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. They also have clean restrooms and they are free.
The entertainment on the ship was outstanding. The band and production cast was smaller than on the large cruise ships. However, what they lacked in size they more than made up for in talent. The singers could dance and the dancers could sing. I especially like a young man from Frankfurt, Germany named Dirk Schilling. He could do it all and with such energy that you got tired just watching him. He took me back to the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. The rest of the guest entertainers were good but the only one that stood out the group was Count Dima who was billed as a pianist but he had the audience laughing like mad when he did his Dracula bit. You would have to see it to believe it.
Holland America has to have the friendliest staff of any cruise line on the seven seas. I don't know if it's in the selection or the training but they were all great without an exception. We had two ship's officers that joined our table for dining during the cruise and provided wine for the entire table. The only other time that this happened to us was on The Norwegian Dream shortly after 9/11 when half of the passengers chose to skip the cruise from Istanbul to Rome. It was a nice touch.
The cabin attendant and wait staff were there when you wanted them and not there when you didn't need them. I heard no complaints about the ship's staff the entire two weeks of the cruise.
Weather was the one sour note on the cruise and the Captain and crew could not control it. We had very few days that it did not rain. We had rough seas one night but not rough enough to stop the production staff from putting on a great show. And bad winds forced the Captain from docking at Ronne, Denmark although he did his best. We went on to Copenhagen, which gave us an overnight there. Holland America might do an overnight in Copenhagen on future cruises. We went off the ship for a stroll and met a lot of passengers going out on the town for the evening.
One thing that could be improved on future Baltic cruises could be coordinating the port stops with other cruise lines. We had eight ports of call not counting Amsterdam. There was a minimum of three cruise ships in port on any given day and I counted six in Copenhagen when we were there. The Crown Princess and the Rotterdam seemed to be on the exact same schedule as we were. This made for a lot of tourists at every port of call. Most cities were prepared for and did a fair job of controlling the crowds with one big exception. St Petersburg, Russia could only be described as chaos. I was told that some passengers waited hours to see the Hermitage. My wife and I took an early tour of Catherine's Palace and only had a moderate crowd for the first hours. However, the crowd grew quickly and it became shoulder to shoulder before we boarded the bus back to the ship.
The following afternoon we took the tour "Murder on the Moika River" which started with an hour ride on the river followed by a tour of the Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered. The entrance to the palace was a double door but only one side was opened and had to accommodate people entering as well as leaving the palace. Many of our group got separated and so much time was spent keeping the group together that the tour had to be cut short to get back to the ship on time. Still by the end of the tour only my wife and I were still with the guide. The rest made their way back to the bus on their own. However, no one was left behind.
There was never a lack of things to do when at sea or in port if you choose not to go on tour. Bingo is always available with a multitude of games, puzzles, and books to read. There is always a quiet place somewhere on board if you want some solitude. Movies, dancing and good music was just about always available. My wife and I liked "Crossover" which played in Ocean bar each evening before dinner. They played our kind of music and from the crowd usually on the dance floor; they played their kind of music also.
In the future when I feel the urge to cruise, the Prinsendam will be the first ship I look for to see if is going my way.