May 21st was my 70th birthday and we had booked a category A on the Voyager from FLL to Iceland. We found out on Cruise Critic that the Voyager had snagged a pod on a fishing net so our cruise was cancelled. I actually found on April 1st but knew that it was not an April Fool's joke.
The alternative cruise that first caught my eye was the Rotterdam out of NYC on 5/16. I called HAL and booked a deluxe verandah suite for thousands less that a category A on the Voyager. We still would have gladly sailed on the Voyager because we had been on the Mariner during a 2002 trans-Atlantic and were looking forward to the Cordon Bleu cooking class.
This was our 22nd cruise and seventh on HAL. The Rotterdam was the perfect size. We had 1260 passengers and the ship never felt crowded. There were some signs of wear and tear, and the ship is scheduled to go into drydock later in 2009, but we still enjoyed the experience. Service was not the best we have ever had. Quite honestly, the HAL policy of pooling gratuities has hurt the morale of some of the crew, but not all. We tend to find our favorite bars and our favorite bartenders. On this cruise, it was the Ocean bar. I don't much care for Celebrities' staterooms, but I love their bars and bartenders, especially the Martini Bar. Celebrity gives you the option to add a tip on each check and a dollar or two goes a long way with the bartenders.
We were on deck seven forward so we occasionally heard the shuffling of chairs on the deck above. Not a big deal at all. Breakfast in the Pinnacle was a real treat but in and of itself, not worth the extra money. Having said that, the deluxe verandah suites on most HAL ships are the best value. We booked a suite guarantee on the Zuiderdam during the holiday season the even the superior verandah suites are huge by comparison. In a nutshell, we loved our cabin.
The dining experience was very good. We are not fans of 'as you wish dining' so we had a table for two upstairs on the railing. The food in the main dining room was excellent. The meal on the last night was better than anything on Crystal or Regent. We ate at the Pinnacle three times. The food was very good, although I would like to see some variety in the menu from day to day, but the service was not the best, especially the wine steward.
As for the ports, the Normandy experience was something every American should do once. I was amazed at the number of French school children touring the area. We were the first trans-Atlantic ocean liner to visit Liverpool in 40 years. Linda and I were actually interviewed by a local radio station.
Very nice cruise on a very nice ship. And the captain lives just a few hours from me in South Carolina. FYI - we booked a holiday cruise on the Zuiderdam while on the Rotterdam. We are definitely HAL fans.