We stayed in Amsterdam for 3 days visiting sights such as the Rijkmuseum, Anne Frank Huis, Van Gogh Museum and the infamous De Wallen Red Light District which was pretty near to our hotel. We took a tour to the Zaanse Schanes Windmills, Marken and Volendam which was a great way to leave the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam and visit the country which was a very interesting experience and we even got some really delicious Dutch cheese for souvenirs!
On the day of the cruise, we travelled by train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam which roughly takes about an hour and a half and arrived at the port by 11am which was really crowded with passengers by the time we got there. However, despite the crowd, embarkation was a breeze and were on the ship 30 minutes after we arrived the at port.
Our first impression of the MS Rotterdam was that it was very similar to the MS Volendam which felt really spacious despite the ship having a full capacity of guests. Its decor had many Asian-Inspired pieces including the famous Terra Cotta Warriors from Xi'An, China and Samurai Armor from Japan, there were also a large scale model in the dining room of Rotterdam V which was the predecessor to today's MS Rotterdam, these pieces created an elegant yet subtle decor which we really appreciated during the cruise.
When we arrived at our stateroom, it had two bottles of champagne with gift cards addressed to other people, our stateroom also had beds made for 2 when there were 3 of us traveling, and we also could not find our wine/soda cards which we ordered online 2 weeks prior to the cruise. I called up the front office which said that they would send the wine/soda cards in awhile and that we could keep the 2 bottles of champagne, however even after the lifeboat drill which was close to 3 hours after I called up the front office the beverage cards still had not arrived yet but the beds were already made by our friendly room stewards. After visiting the front office personally, the hotel manager had everything sorted out quickly and everything was finally in order shortly after we left Rotterdam. This was the only inconvenience we faced during the cruise and according to the hotel manager, it was caused by a mis-match in the passenger manifests and many other guests faced the same problems on embarkation day.
Our stateroom was an "L" Category Inside Stateroom on deck 2 and despite its size of a little over 180 square feet it was pretty spacious, and the beds were on the most comfortable we've ever slept on (great for an this port intensive cruise). There was ample wardrobe and storage space and enough space for 3 medium-sized suitcases, the in-room flat-screen television had all the major channels such as CNN and ESPN together with channels showing the ship's culinary arts center demos, crew talent shows and travel guides by the onboard travel guide Spencer Brown.
We were booked in the reserved late dining room seating and were pleased to find that our table for the duration of our cruise was by the window. The food onboard the cruise was pretty good, however certain dishes were exceptional such as the Lobster Thermidor, Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice) and the Chocolate Avalanche Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream which was one of the best moist and warm chocolate cakes we've ever had and coupled with ice cream we felt that we were in heaven for a little while. We also dined at the Pinnacle Grill once during the cruise ($20 surcharge) and despite the restaurant not having any windows facing the outside it was very cozy and intimate. The 10oz. Filet Mingnon was excellent however their appetizers and deserts were their weak points. The Lido Buffet was a great place for breakfast and lunch, especially after a short day exploring certain ports.
We found the service to be the highlight of the cruise, our dining room stewards were very friendly and as we reside in Singapore which is really close to Indonesia, we had plenty to talk about and it led to many interesting conversations which we had with them, and since we had the same dining room stewards for the duration of the cruise they knew exactly what hot beverages we wanted and our wine steward had my Sprite ready even before we arrived the dining room for the evening! Our cruise director Patty was also very professional and sincere and Captain Peter Harris had the best sense of humor I had ever seen a ship captain have. Overall the crew onboard the ship were friendly, genuine and were there when we needed them.
The entertainment on this cruise was pretty good with a mix of singers, comedians, magicians and a very talented Japanese pianist. We had one flamenco dance performance when we docked overnight in Barcelona and this was the only time the theater was packed during the cruise. There were also many good movies that were shown in the Wajang Theater that we watched before having dinner that evening. We also went to listen to resident pianist Stryker whom we enjoyed the sing-along and trivia session with on several nights. We also participated in the kitchen tour since we missed on the one during our cruise on the Volendam, and boy, it sure was crowded! But the tour gave an insight into how they prepared our meals every single day and it's definitely not an easy task.
Since this cruise visited 14 ports, I will just give you a brief look into what we did in each port.
Le Havre, France - We took a train to Rouen which is just a little over an hour and a half, we visited the famed Rouen Cathedral and the Church of Joan of Arc. This little town is very manageable and since we were visiting Paris at the end of our trip, it seemed like a better place to visit for a short time.
Lisbon, Portugal - An amazing city which had a very "old-world" feel, we really enjoyed the joy ride on tram 28 around the city, it really fascinating yet scary that we were traveling just a couple of inches from people's homes. We visited Belem which had a beautiful monastery and cathedral and the monument commemorating the discovery of the new world.
Portimao, Portugal - There was nothing much to see or do in this beach town, so we just relaxed at a restaurant by the beach savoring the fresh sardines before heading back to the ship
Cadiz, Spain - Initially we wanted to travel to Seville, however when we arrived at the port we discovered what a charming little city this was and decided to stay. We walked around the old town and by the coastline and people-watched near the cathedral which we did not go into as there was such a steep admission charge just to see a really dark and barren cathedral.
Málaga, Spain - We visited the Alcazaba which although was not as grand as the Alhambra of Granada, it was beautiful in its own way, and Gibralfaro Castle which was a really long and steep climb to get there, but the views were really worth it as we had a panoramic view of the city and our ship. We visited the cathedral as well which was huge and had different sub-chapels each one dedicated to different saints, the museum was really small but it had different artifacts used by the cathedral throughout its long history.
Almeria, Spain - We went to another Alcazaba perched on top of the hill in the city itself, the fort had the same moorish influence as the other forts in Andalusia, however, this fort was heavily restored and in our opinion has lost much of the history and richness it had many years ago.
Barcelona, Spain - We were looking forward to this port as we've heard so much about it but we never had the chance to visit it, we were also glad that it was an overnight stop so we had much more time to visit this beautiful city. During our stop we visited the highlights such as the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and the Las Ramblas. We also had the chance to sample some local tapas and enjoy some of the street life in the evening.
Monte Carlo, Monaco - We went to the famed Casino and was not impressed by the structure but more of the sports cars zipping around the entrance and we even spotted some royalty from the Middle East which really made it seem that we were standing in the midst of a James Bond flick. Apart from the casino, the view from the royal palace was amazing where we could see pretty much all of Monaco together with France and Italy bordering her.
Rome, Italy - We have been to Rome before but we wanted to revisit some of the sights we just fell in love with during our last visit such as the Vatican where we spent most of our time there and the Trevi Fountain where it was real fun throwing those coins into it! We strolled along the streets of Rome savoring some pizza and gelato and it sure brought back memories of our last visit!
Katakolon, Greece - Since we arrived the port by tender (therefore missing the train to Olympia) and did not purchasing a shore excursion. Since there were 3 ships at the port and it was a really small town, we just spent our time strolling around town, visiting a small Church, shopping for some souvenirs and having some baclava before we headed back to the ship.
Santorini, Greece - This was another port which we were looking forward to visit. We went to Oia by a really crowded bus but the journey was well worth it, we walked along the cliffs of Oia peeking into people's homes and the view of the deep blue mediterrenean sea with the white structures was simply breathtaking. However, I would not recommend anyone to use the path which the donkey's us at Fira to get to the town from the base of the hill, the queue for the cable car went by really quickly and at least there was no smell of donkey poo!
Kusadasi, Turkey - This was the only Turkish stop for the cruise and because it was the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's Home we took a shore excursion. Our guide was really good and it was a real pity that we spent such a short time in Ephesus, but we had a really good (But not so Turkish) lunch at a beach resort and our first time attending a Turkish carpet demonstration.
Disembarkation in Piraeus was really smooth despite the port having a dock worker strike that was going on, Holland America had an external port agent to handle the disembarkation and it was a great way to end the cruise by not worrying of our bags and other personal belongings. However, the taxi ride was an absolute rip-off as the indicated price at the port stated that it would be approximately 13 Euros to get to the city, but the eventual price we paid was close to 30 Euros more that twice the amount indicated. Thus I would recommend anyone traveling by taxi from Piraeus to the city or airport to agree on the price before setting off on the journey.
In conclusion, this cruise exceeded what we expected and the ports of call made the cruise even more enjoyable. The service was the strongest point in our opinion while the food and activities still have room for improvement. However the overall experience was wonderful and we look forward returning to a Holland America Line cruise in the near future.