This cruise was roundtrip out of Ft. Lauderdale from March 11 to April 30, 2009. We rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, a drive of about four and a half hours from our house. We dropped the car off at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport since there is no longer a special Hertz location at the cruise port. We spent the night before the cruise at Candlewood Suites, located at 1120 W. State Road 84 in Ft. Lauderdale. We had no complaints about this hotel, and it is very conveniently located a short and easy drive from the port. On previous trips we have also stayed at a Holiday Inn that is right next to the Candlewood Suites, and that was also fine. There aren't many places to eat within walking distance of these hotels, but that was not a problem for us.
The Prinsendam is a small ship built around 1988 and holds about 750 passengers. On this cruise there were only about 650 passengers. One of the neatest things about the Prinsendam is the Captain, Captain Gunderson. He's been the captain of the Prinsendam for as long as the ship has been part of Holland America, so he really knows the ship, knows what he's doing, and is also pretty darn adorable. His wife and young daughter were on board for part of this cruise. One time the Captain and his family went on a shore excursion that we were also going on. They waited until almost all the passengers had already gotten on the bus and then they got on the bus, which required them to split up since there were not three open seats close to each other. I really appreciated the fact that he didn't pull rank and get three seats reserved for himself and his family. The captain's daughter was very well behaved, and in fact we hardly ever saw her except once in awhile in the afternoon when she got ice cream in the Lido.
Our room was an inside room on deck M right near the center of gravity of the ship. We always try to get a room on a lower deck and in the center part of the ship to minimize movement and seasickness. This worked very well for us on this cruise, as we felt very little "rocking and rolling", even when crossing the Atlantic both ways. In the interest of full-disclosure, I do have to tell you that the inside rooms on the Prinsendam are quite small. There are two half-queen beds (they call them twins but they are really the size of half a queen), and these beds are arranged at 90 degree angles to each other along two walls of the room. They were originally made up with the pillow end of both beds next to each other, but we had that changed so our feet would be next to each other. Otherwise we would have been hitting each other in the face with our pillows all night. There is only a small amount of floor space in the room, with no table and in fact no space for a table. There is a small chair positioned in this little bit of floor space, and on the occasions when we got room service we had to use this chair as a table. People say you don't spend much time in your room anyway, which is what we always say too, but the truth is we did spend quite a bit of time in our room. In spite of the small size, we didn't mind it all that much and would stay there again since this room was significantly less expensive than an outside room. The bathroom, by the way, was very nice and had a big tub and a clothes line, both of which I used a lot. There was also a big walk-in closet with lots of hangers, shelves and drawers, and a safe. The room also included a small refrigerator, television, DVD player (although you have to pay to use the ship's DVDs), hairdryer, and a chest of drawers with three nice-size drawers, and additional storage space under one of the beds. This type of room is not for everyone, but I like to tell myself it's better than camping, and I smile all the time when I remember how much less I'm paying than everyone else on the ship.
The activities on the ship did not interest us too much for the most part. Trivia seemed to be very popular with a number of people, and some of these people took it way to seriously in my opinion, even getting into fights over it. There were lectures which we tried and didn't find very interesting. The port lectures were particularly disappointing because we were expecting to be given a lot of information on all the interesting ports we were visiting, as we had on previous cruises, but the information provided was not particularly interesting or useful. Other activities included dance lessons (very popular), water color lessons (which I now regret not doing), crafts, and funny sports competitions where passengers received what Holland America calls "dam dollars" just for participating and extra dam dollars for winning. We did participate in this long enough to get two nice thick sweatshirts, which came in very, very, very handy later in the cruise when it was really, really, really cold.
There is an excellent library on the Prinsendam which includes a paperback exchange, many travel books, and lots of other books. This was great for us since we spent most of our spare time reading. The library also has computers with internet access, as well as three of those fantastic leather stressless lounge chairs, which were dreamy the few times were able to get them. There is also a movie theater, and we saw a few recent movies as well as a cooking demonstration in there. Of course there are shops, mostly selling jewelry.
The crew on the Prinsendam is excellent and extremely friendly. How they put up with some of the passengers is beyond me, since unfortunately some of the passengers were very demanding and rude to the crew as well as rude and inconsiderate to other passengers. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth to witness a passenger chewing out a crew member for clearing dishes off his table, which is his job; or when you see a female passenger take three cups-full of liqueur from the ice cream bar to drink, resulting in there being no liqueur ice cream toppings for the other passengers; or when you get to the bus for a shore excursion and find that each member of certain families have taken a window seat for themselves forcing other couples to split up; or when a male and a female passenger come almost to blows because one of them is trying to save a seat in the showroom. I'm sure it was just a small minority of the passengers who behaved this way, and in spite of these people the crew was unfailingly cheerful, pleasant and efficient.
The best thing about this cruise, in addition to the adorable Captain, and the main reason for going on this cruise, is the great ports it visits. After stopping at St. Barts and St. Lucia in the Caribbean, we went to the Canary Islands; Gibraltar; Cartagena, Spain; Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Monte Carlo; Livorno, Italy; Citavecchia, Italy; Naples, Italy; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Varna, Bulgaria; Sevastopol, Ukraine; Kusadasi, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Valetta, Malta; Cadiz, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Hamilton, Bermuda; and New York City.
Where else can you find a cruise that goes to so many interesting, diverse places in so little time, and in such a comfortable, convenient way. All the ports were well-worth visiting. We did Holland America shore excursions is almost all of the ports. While they are indeed expensive, they are very well done and you learn a lot about the place your visiting, plus you know the ship won't leave without you if your shore excursion gets back late, which is not true if you go off on your own.
My favorite shore excursion was the one to Arles and Les Baux out of Marseilles. Both Arles and Les Baux are beautiful, interesting towns, and the lunch we had at the Olive Mill restaurant in between these two towns was fantastic.
Another shore excursion I have to comment on was the one we took in Rome called "Vatican Sacred Scenes." This shore excursion is obscenely expensive (I'm embarrassed to say how expensive), but we splurged on it because we thought it was a once in a lifetime chance to visit the Pope's private residence and see the bronze gate; Bernini staircase; royal room where the Pope meets heads of state; Paolini chapel, where the Pope prays; the balcony from which the Pope blesses the crowds; another balcony with a view of the nave of St. Peters; and the Papal Treasures. We didn't see ANY of these things. It was just before Easter, and the tour operator used that as an excuse, but our guide indicated that he could not take people to those places anymore because of security. We still had a nice tour through the Vatican, but it was not worth the ridiculous amount of money we paid. We wrote to Holland America about this after the cruise and they responded in what we consider a very fair way by giving us a future cruise credit for the difference in price between this shore excursion and what we would have paid for the regular tour of the Vatican, which is really what we got. My advice to anyone thinking about booking the Vatican Sacred Scenes tour is that you verify with the shore excursion staff exactly what you will and will not be seeing before you pay for the excursion.
The main dining room on the Prinsendam has two seatings. We were lucky enough to get the early seating at 5:30, which was great because the late seating was around 8:30, which is really too late for us to eat dinner (some days we were asleep not long after that when we had a long shore excursion). There were seven formal nights, several informal, and the rest casual. They strictly enforced the jacket requirement for men on formal nights, but women could get away with wearing almost anything, including pants. Some of the men wore tuxedos on formal nights, but there were just as many if not more men in suits. The women dressed nicely on formal nights but not nearly as dressy as women used to dress on cruises, which in my opinion is a good thing. I have a "ball gown" which I wore on a cruise years ago and it would have been totally out of place on this cruise and probably on most cruises today. Again, that's a good thing in my opinion. The Lido restaurant was also open for dinner, which was a nice alternative on days we got back late from our shore excursion.
The entertainment on the Prinsendam was not as good as I expected. One of the dancers said that Holland America has cut the number of dancers and singers back from ten to seven, so there was one male dancer and one couple less than they used to have in their production shows. This is unfortunate, because as hard as the remaining seven dancers and singers tried, it's hard to put on a show that deserves to be called a production show with only seven people. In addition to the "production shows", there were also singers, comedians, magicians, a juggler, dancers, and musicians to entertain us throughout the cruise. My favorite was the magician, and I hate to say it, but we skipped quite a few of the other shows.
If I have a complaint about this cruise (other than the Vatican Sacred Scenes shore excursion mentioned above) it would be that they still allow smoking on Holland American ships in the bars and anywhere outside. This is a shame because it only took one person smoking to pollute the air in the Crow's Nest and Ocean Bar and drive some of us non-smokers out. This needs to change, and the fact that at the end of the cruise we were given a survey about the smoking issue indicates that Holland American is at least aware of it and is thinking about it.
Disembarkation from the Prinsendam was pretty smooth, although it was slightly delayed for some reason. We were still able to get off in time to get to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in the Hertz shuttle, which was sitting there waiting for us, and pick up our rental car at 10:00 for our drive home. We only took two carryon-size suitcases each on this cruise (we washed clothes in our bathtub), and Holland America gave every passenger a nice zip-up tote bag, which we used to tote the many, many, many gifts Holland America gave us throughout the cruise, including two really nice fleece jackets, the two sweatshirts we bought with our dam dollars, two big sourvnir plates, two tiles, two clocks, two umbrellas, two neat pens with lights in them, and who knows what else.
In summary, I would recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to see a lot of very interesting places in the Mediterranean and Black Sea in a very low-stress way. I would say, though, that you should be aware of how long a 50-day cruise is (50 days in a long time) and how many sea days there are (a lot), and be prepared to relax and go with the flow. I would also strongly recommend that you bring very warm layers and be prepared for temperatures that are much colder than you expect, as well as for rain. March and April are probably the shoulder season in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and we were uncomfortably cold (to put it mildly) in some of the ports because we simply did not dress warmly enough. Think layers, warm layers, lots of warm layers. We would do this cruise again and probably will some day, but we'll definitely bring warmer clothes.