ms Rotterdam 33 Day Hawaii / French Polynesia Cruise 1-04-10 to 2-06-10 "Our Search for Nelly Forbush"
SHIP STATS: 59,885GT, 25 Ft. Draft, 780 Ft. Length, 106 Ft. Beam (Width), 12/97 Launch Date, Max. Speed: 25 Knots, 1265 Passengers, 589 Crew, Distance Covered: 9,634 NM, Fuel Consumption: Approx. 70 Gal / NM (31,680 Gal / Day), Potable Water Production: 185,000 Gal / Day.
SHIP STAFF: Master: Sybe de Boer, Hotel Manager: Robert Versteeg, Dining Rm. Manager: Kiki Basuki, Beverage Manager: Hans Becker, Chief Housekeeper: Ajoy Alex: Executive Chef: Thomas Schumann, Cruise Director: Joseph Pokorski.
PERSONAL "STAFF": Ms. Judy, DW of 38+ years, & Biera, DD of 27 years.
PERSONAL "DOSSIERS": both my wife and I will turn the big 'six-O' this year and are full time professionals (engaged in medical & science pursuits), both have New Jersey origins (our current residence is in northern Arizona) and are military veterans ('69-'73). We consider ourselves fun loving, non-demanding and pragmatic. Cruising is one of our favorite diversions.
PRE-EMBARKATION TRAVEL / PORT ACCOMODATIONS: We enjoyed spending three days in San Diego prior to embarkation. Travel time from our home to the port is approximately six-seven hours so why fly? We stayed at a wonderful B&B (Holiday House) atop Point Loma for three nights. During the days we sailed the harbor & did a 4 hour whale watch aboard a small sailboat with another couple, visited the old Point Loma lighthouse & Cabrillo National Monument, visited the Midway museum, took the ferry over to Coronado Island for lunch and had a great Mexican dinner with some great CC folks in Old Town the night prior to embarkation. Our wonderful hostess, Glory, of the B&B was kind enough to drop us off at the terminal, kept the van for a small fee for 33 days, and picked us up when the ship came back on 2/6/10.
EMBARKATION DAY: Our 'chauffer', Glory, dropped us of at the cruise ship terminal @ 1215 (unfortunately Glory had a 1:30 dental appointment so we needed to arrive at the terminal "early"). We had hopes of avoiding the early crowds but our hopes were dashed as we came upon the undulating lines of eager cruisers moving along at a snail's pace. Regardless, with high spirits and anticipation of things to come, we were by the Lido pool, margarita in-hand by 1345. The cabins & staterooms were ready by 1400 or so.
LET'S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Yes, as prior reviews have reflected (in no uncertain terms from some quarters) that some passengers did have some major problems (e.g. plumbing, ventilation, other) with some of their accommodations post dry-dock / retrofitting. I can not minimize the problems nor can I minimize the disappointment and stress experienced by these passengers. I'm empathetic with their views but I do believe the cruise line, in this case HAL, will deal with everyone on an individual basis regarding adequate compensation for the problems encountered. For purposes of full disclosure my wife and I had an outside cabin, mid-ships, on the Dolphin Deck. Our air conditioning did not work adequately throughout the entire time spent in the cabin. The lowest ambient room temperature would be in the 74-75 degree range and often would be in the 81-81 degree range in the late afternoons when we were near the equator. We were provided a portable fan and many, many visits by the engineering staff. We required a new seal on our 'porthole' window due to a high pitched, vibrating sound in which we temporarily remedied by using ear plugs at night (for 5 days until we reached Hilo for window removal and replacement). We experienced scalding hot water coming through our cold water pipes for two days apparently due to rust accumulation in the fixtures and also experienced difficulties with the toilets vacuum system or more then one occasion. We did not experience broken water lines but we did meet and chat with some folks that did. We actually started our own support group (only kidding). We were finally moved to a verandah cabin that became available on the 25th day of the cruise where the AC and plumbing worked just fine for the last eight days of the cruise. We are currently dealing with Seattle regarding other compensatory remedies. With that said, let me just say we had a GREAT CRUISE! We enjoyed the Rotterdam's staff, the itinerary, the excursions we reserved and the folks we chose to be around (grumps need not apply) while cruising and touring. My only advise would be for anyone planning a cruise is to schedule the cruise at least 3-4 months (minimally) after a ship goes through any scheduled dry-dock. Further, I would recommend that a half a dozen senior members of the cruise line staff travel incognito following any major retrofitting and have them give up their cabins when problems develop with any of the passenger cabins. Otherwise, it is what it was. Now on with the review!
CRUISE & SHP COMMENTS / OBSERVATIONS
ACTIVITIES (DAILY): There appeared to be a diversity of activities available during the sea days which included, but not limited to, aerobics & fitness classes, stair climbs& walks, Sudoku puzzles, daily quizzes and various trivia games (team, cheese, food, wine, etc.) , bridge lessons, art lectures, "Snowball Jackpot" bingos, ports of call lectures, the "Explorations" speaker series lectures, free cooking demos & pay-as-you-go hands on cooking classes, MIX-ology classes & wine tastings, religious services, spa seminars, various interviews with the entertainers and staff, meetings with the "Star Lady", Donna, at night to view the stars and the most recently released movies available in the Wajang theatre with popcorn (and the following day on the cabin "boob tube" without popcorn ). Somewhere, sometime, someone mentioned to me (probably one of the last sea days prior to debarking) that boredom had set in for 'them'. I can certainly understand their sentiments (maybe) but a voyage with 18 sea days must be considered by anyone contemplating (and prior to booking) such a cruise. For us, we enjoy the sea days, the minimal scheduling that includes sleeping in till 0800, a Lido or MDR breakfast, two hours of Explorer series's lectures, and then parking myself in a lounger with a good trashy novel (the gals go to the spa or cooking classes or napkin folding or something.) After exhaustion sets in I need to return to the cabin for a late afternoon "getting to know you" with my better half followed by a room service cheese & fruit platters while a CD or DVD plays in the background. Following a nap we simply wash up and get ready for our next 'Act' (i.e., Cocktails, dancing and dinner).
CABIN(S): (Deck #1, Dolphin Deck, outside, mid-ships, port side X 25 Days, Deck #6, Verandah Deck, aft, starboard side X 8 Days): I've already mentioned some of the problems we encountered with our initial cabin so I'm not going to beat that beast again. I will say that in so far as the housekeeping department the cabins were adequately cleaned and sanitized to meet our needs. The two young men that were our cabin stewards were excellent and were assigned thirty-one cabins on our deck. As mentioned, we were moved to a 'pregnant outside' cabin, aka a verandah cabin, for the final portion of the cruise. My only 'issue' (and nothing really one can remedy) with the verandah was the noise of slamming doors that exit out to the 'porch'. I actually prefer the relative quite of the lower decks in comparison and probably will not be booking a standard verandah any time soon. Perhaps the suites have less door noise associated with them. I also might add that I noticed that the neighboring aft cabin kept their door propped open during our first night on the Verandah Deck. I loudly mentioned the following day that those that kept their doors open at night were part of the AC problem. It seems like cruise lines could put some sort of beeper on if verandah doors are kept open more then two or three minutes but I don't know. I know the AC problems could be diminished if others thought, well, about others. I do prefer the configuration of the verandahs (bed against the interior bulkhead) versus the typical outsides (bed against the side / underneath the porthole/window). We really like the Prisendam which has a similar configuration and, of course, for the full size bathtubs available on all decks versus the Marine/ RV bathtubs found on most cruise ships on the lower decks such as the Rotterdam.
CANALATTO: We did try the new alternate dinner venue available on the Lido Deck one night. Since both my wife & I were raised in New Jersey and have visited Italy we are not unfamiliar with great Italian food. Unfortunately, I think the new Canalatto on the Rotterdam is going through some initial 'growing pains' regarding the food and preparation thereof. Canned marinara sauce and limp pasta does not make great Italian food IMO. I also ordered "inexpensive" Chianti for dinner and the wine steward showed up with a $50 bottle that wasn't even a basket-bottle wine. Needless to say a less expensive Cabernet selection was selected. "South Philly" or "Tuscany" Italian it ain't. But I believe with a little more effort it certainly could be.
CAPTAIN'S TABLE DINNER: We were invited to have dinner with Captain de Boer, and Amanda, the ship's Party Planner, on our second night in Bora Bora (formal night). We attended the wonderful cocktail reception @1945 in the Explorer's Lounge with two other couples, the Captain and Amanda. We all made our way to the DR by 2015 and were served a wonderful meal with paired wines. A great time was had by one and all. Captain de Boer is an interesting individual and tolerated our queries and concerns in a professional manner.
CASINO: My DW made several donations to the one-armed bandits during the course of the cruise. I did not notice much in the way of drifting cigarette smoke for the infrequent times that I walked through the casino. I can't report if they had non-smoking nights or not since it was not a concern of mine.
CRUISE DIRECTOR: Mr. Joseph Pokorski was the CD on this cruise. He did a fabulous job, along with his staff, with all the daily activities, introductions for the shows & lectures and other various "master of ceremonies" duties too numerous to enumerate. He was accommodating, bright and polite. He is a solid staffing "asset" for HAL.
CRUISE CRITIC ASSEMBLAGES: The first sea day (Day 1) of the cruise, I attended the CC "Meet and Greet" in the Crow's Nest @1000. The ship provided champagne, Mimosas, coffee, juices, and some cookies. Hans Becker, the Beverage Manager, joined the group for a few minutes and answered any questions that folks had. Donna Giesler, the "star lady", also joined the group briefly to tell everyone about her upcoming Explorations Speaker's lectures. On the last sea day we had another great get together with the ship again providing beverages, etc. Hans Becker again attended the meeting along with the Chief Engineer, Willem Zuidema, the Purser, Jan-Volkert Leeuwenberg and one of the Guest Relations staff members to answer questions. A number of the CC members were also continuing on for another 30 days for the Inca Empire cruise that would follow. Overall, the group was a very amiable group of seasoned cruisers.
DAILY SCHEDULE: I like the appearance of the new daily schedule, i.e., fresh & clean. Items that I miss or could be improved: No current currency exchange rate (this cruise only the NZ dollar & Polynesian Franc were involved) or weather forecast for the day. No longer is there a 'blurb' of sorts (a couple of sentences) that would describe the current on board feature movie. I didn't really notice much in the way of "Notes from the Navigator" that prior schedules featured nor common phrases of the country being visited. I did notice that the "Drink of the Day" is no longer featured. There appeared to be plenty of space to manipulate fonts and also, perhaps, tell folks about additional services available, e.g. laundry by the bag pricing, phone cards, etc. that might generate more income for the good HAL folks.
DEMOGRAPHICS: A typical 'seasoned' HAL crowd. Most folks we encountered were cordial and, in some cases, quite pleasant. And naturally, some "sour pusses" and "whiners" were allowed to board. The cruise crowd included the typical cross section of grumps and noise bags, the contentious, the pretentious and a sprinkling of pseudo-snobs but the overall mix was predominately a pleasant and passionate gaggle of experienced cruisers.
DRESS CODE: It appeared most folks abided by the dress code rules for evening wear. There was an exception or two of course but nothing really to get your skivvies in a wad about. There were #9 formal nights scheduled on this cruise (probably a couple too many for most folks) and everyone looked great IMO. The sassy casual nights were certainly entertaining to view everyone's interpretation of cruise wear especially when the ladies wore their flower headdress's, lei's and muumuu's purchased ashore.
DUTY FREE STORE & GIFT SHOPS: : In the duty-free it seemed to me there was slightly less in the way of selection of liquors and, for the smoker's, it looked like Marboros & Newports were about it. There may have been other selections but I didn't see them. For disclosure purposes, I quit smoking in April but did have a puff or two of smoke while visiting the Crow's Nest on various occasions. The gift shops were clean, neat and over-priced as usual. BTW, many of the items stocked would go on sale around the Lido pool on sea days so if a T-shirt or something is on your 'radar' I'd wait until they go on sale.
EMBARKATION: As mentioned, I usually try to arrive after 1230 at the cruise ship terminals to avoid the early bird crowd. For some reason things were delayed & it took over an hour to be processed. Now I'm not complaining mind you (stuff happens) but I'm only mentioning this to say that the new Mariner program that has the expedited service for suite folks and four stars also were backed up and took as long as the other good folks including myself in steerage.
ENTERTAINMENT (SHOW ROOM AT SEA): Now this is my only major bugaboo being the old crank that I am. From what I gathered from the staff, the live show times hence forth will be @ 1900 & 2100 only. We enjoy late seating dinner after a cocktail (or two) & dance @1900 prior to dinner. So the new & improved show times do not work for us. Needless to say we boycotted the shows and can not comment on the quality of the shows. However, I did hear lots of positive comments from folks that did attend. 'Good' for HAL for improving the quality of the shows and 'shame' on HAL for changing the show times. It was also noted that there were no Indonesian or Filipino crew shows on this sailing.
CROW'S NEST: DJ JASON / HAL CATS; EXPLORER'S LOUNGE: ADAGIO STRINGS; LIDO POOLSIDE @ NOON: ALTERNATING BOB MULLINS, HAL CATS; MIX: BOB MULLINS (GUITAR); OCEAN BAR: THE NEPTUNES .
'ROTATING' / VISITING ENTERTAINERS
VIVIANA GUZMAN, FLUTEST; JOE VESPAZIANI, HUMOR FOR YOUR HEAD; LYNNE ROTHROCK & RON DeWITTE, JAZZ & BLUES; COUNT DIMAS, PIANIST JOHN EKIN, COMEDIAN; DAVE LEVESQUE, COMEDY & VIOLIN (& A COUPLE OF LECTURES); REBECCA LOVE, VOCALIST; SIDESHOW BERT, COMEDY, IMPROV; DARREN WILLIAMS; MIKE ROBINSON, COMEDIAN; DEN & BOBBIE WEST, MULTI INSTRUMENTAL; KUBA (VIBES) WITH REBECCA LOWE (VOCALIST); SARAH CHANDLER, SAXOPHONE; JIMMY CARROLL, COMEDIAN; TOMMY BOND, PIANIST PETER FISHER, VIOLINIST; SCOTTY McLEAN, COMEDIAN
SHOWROOM AT SEA OFFERINGS (CAST)
OPENNING NIGHT; LOVE, BROADWAY; IT TAKES TWO; DINNER BELLES OH WHAT A NIGHT (A TRIBUTE TO FRANKIE VALLI & THE 4 SEASONS); SONGBOOK; AMORE
EXPLORER'S CAFÉ: The Cafe has plenty of shelving packed with a variety of novels and reference materials and has well lit reading areas and several island computer stations are available. I do not use internet services when on vacation so I can not address the quality and costs of the service. Depending on the itinerary and the tours I've lined up I have used internet cafe in some ports in the past for tour confirmations and infrequent cancellations by the operator. However, on this cruise I did not need to use any internet services while ashore so I can not address the costs for such service in the HA/FP regions.
EXPLORER'S SERIES LECTURES: This is one of the highlights of HAL cruises we always look forward to. Donna Giesler, the "Star Lady" gave some wonderful astronomy lectures throughout the cruise. She also formed a "stargazing club" in the Explorer's Lounge that met sometimes in the afternoons on sea days and met with folks at night to point out various constellations and stars that were visible in the night sky. Her husband, Dan Ostler, also gave excellent lectures on a variety of topics (History, Oceanography, Navigation, etc). Professor Michael Bickerman also gave well organized and thoughtful lectures dealing primarily with Geology (Volcano's, reef and atoll formations, etc.). All of the lectures were informative, well organized and well presented. Thank go out once again to Donna, Dan & Michael for your great lectures & company.
FLOWERS & FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS: Maybe it's just me but it seemed that the ship's flower and floral arrangement budgets have been trimmed since our last cruise. To be sure, the orchids on the Lido tables looked great as usual. However, the table flowers in the main dining room were a tad limp on occasion with change-outs occurring every 3-4 days apparently. Also, the public areas seemed to have less floral arrangements in my judgment. No biggie really but considering we were in tropical ports with flowers in abundance you'd think the ship would be in a state of 'floral profusion'.
FOOD, DINING ROOM: Food being a subjective item as it is wouldn't really be critiqued by me other then to say that some nights were better then other nights when it came to taste, presentation and food temperature at serving (obsession number one = cold soups and salads need to be served cold, hot items need to be served hot). The menus were unique and varied for each day of the day cruise. Some of the menu items were repeated on an individual basis every now and then but the daily menus were unique among themselves in so far as variety of offerings. Overall Thomas Schumann, the Executive Chef, did a great job. We would get to know him a little better when we attended the Dinner with the Chef event in the Wajang kitchen one night. The steaks were cooked as ordered and the fish dishes were not overcooked (obsession number two) and both items described were accompanied with the appropriate sauces (obsession number three). Needless to say, you'll never go hungry aboard a cruise ship. In regard to service I will say that our table service was outstanding (Abdul & Putu) along with the wine service provided by Rodel, our wine steward and Sameer, the cellar master. Robert, one of the assistant dining room managers was always cordial and accommodating as was Kiki, the Dining Room Manager.
FRONT DESK / GUEST RELATIONS: These folks seemed to be busy with passengers each time I strolled by to get to a lecture or something. They really did 'yeoman's' work on this cruise with the various problems that came to light as time progressed. The good folks behind the counter were attentive and patient with each passenger concern that I observed. Their demeanors were quite the opposite of the rude behavior some of the 'guests' exhibited. Boorish, loud and childish behaviors never get anyone anywhere. I'm more a 'spoonful of sugar' sort and was quite satisfied with the guest relations staff and their remedies to our problems. Understandably some things were just out of the quick fix realm.
LAUNDRY: As usual we utilized the bag laundry and unlimited pressing services. Turn around time was always less then 24 hours for just regular service. DW used some liquid soap for "sink washing" her unmentionables. I used the pressing services almost daily to "touch up" formal wear and slacks worn the previous evening. The charge for the 'blue bags' is twenty clams / bag these days. Another couple of cruises and we should be eligible for freebie laundry services when we break the 200 day Mariner thingy.
LIDO BUFFET / DINING: Since we dined in the La Fontaine DR every night we used the Lido for breakfasts and lunches only. The selections were varied and tasty. The outside deli & terrace grill had wonderful burgers, kielbasa and Italian sausages, roll-ups and daily specials. The Retreat also has fresh pizza 'bar' available daily.
LIDO TRAY 'ISSUE', THE: A Lido tray is now considered a historical item of the past. I recalled reading on the CC boards that this was some sort of major issue that required endless commenting. Well, all I can say is that I found it to be a non-issue. I believe HAL made a good decision to remove them for a number of reasons which I will not explore in this review. One might ask what to do with all the trays aboard the ships? Answer: Put a HAL label on them and sell them in the gift shop for boogey boards and charge an 'arm and a leg'.
LIFE BOAT DRILL / MUSTER: Well organized and completed in approximately 30 minutes or less sans life vests these days. This was a first for me. Another tradition (an important one me thinks) has gone down the proverbial tubes.
MAPS, PORT Maps, Port: At least on this sailing they no longer had the colored (you know the one with the yellow background) port maps but one's that were plain paper Xeroxed (black & white). I don't know if the print shop ran out of colored ink or that this will be how it will remain as a cost cutting measure.
MARINER LUNCH: Since 'we' had quite a few Mariners on-board (can you say, practically the whole ship?) there were several brunch seating days / times during the six sea days prior to debarking. The Mariner Lunch menu included an appetizer (seafood cocktail or Caesar salad with some grilled chicken breast), an entrEe (salmon fillet, grilled sirloin steak, or a cheddar quiche) and a dessert (a mango and banana strudel with strawberry compote) plus lots of complimentary champagne and wine. It was quite a nice function. HAL tiles were passed out at the door upon exiting the dining room.
MIX BAR: Mix Bar(s), The: I like it / them. The aft portion is the new piano bar area with martinis and champagnes featured and the forward portion is the new beer bar with a big screen behind it with ESPN &FNC that also features interactive touch screen tables for games and such.
PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES: I found the photography staff to be polite and unobtrusive. We did not pose nor purchase any photographs on formal nights. I believe the cost for an 8 X 10 was twenty clams ($19.99 actually) with the 'deal' available that if you buy three you get one free.
PINNACLE GRILL: We enjoyed one dinner and one lunch in the PG plus a "Diner with the Chef" in the Wajang that was staffed by the good PG folks. As usual the food and service was outstanding. I can't remember at this point what we ate but whatever it was it was good. (A mind is a terrible thing to lose)
RETREAT, THE: I've always thought the aft pool area was underutilized from a business point of view but as a passenger I loved it. With that said, I kind of like the new area particularly the big screen that played DVD concerts (Billy Joel, Tina Turner, etc.) at 2000 &2200 on some nights. The wading pool with hot tubs is okay (I'd prefer the old pool but it is what it is). I guess my only beef would be that there seems to be too many lounge chairs around. It was difficult to navigate around the chairs or even get into one since they were so close together. The wading pool is larger then the old pool and I guess they just used the same number of loungers. I think this and other items will be remedied as time passes and folks will also enjoy the Retreat area.
ROOM SERVICE: We tend to "vegetate" by mid-afternoon on sea days in our cabin. I generally order two cheese platters and two salmon platters to munch on while sipping wine and viewing a DVD of some sort (I had brought along three dozen favorites in a small clamshell case). On port call days with early tours scheduled, we'd go for the 'door card' breakfast. The items were always hot and delivered on a timely basis. No problems were noted throughout the cruise, and, in fact, the coffee always seemed better than the coffee served at the Lido buffet in the mornings. Great job room service staff!
SERVICE, BEVERAGE: & FOOD: Overall, outstanding as usual (including the housekeeping service). This is truly the backbone and reason for so many Mariner's and 'repeaters' on HAL. It was indeed like 'returning home'. I really can't express how important the comment cards are to the staff. As per our habit, we wrote cards (available at the front desk) practically on a daily basis letting them know how pleased we were with one individual or another. The individuals in question receive these comments daily from their supervisors and you can tell by their smiles and thank you comments that they appreciate the praise probably more so then any sort of extra tip.
SMOKING AREAS: This is just a heads up for those that indulge in a legal substance. Areas available to smoke include your cabin & balcony, outside decks, Crow's Nest bar area, starboard side of the Retreat area & the Casino (I didn't notice if they had a smoke-free night or not).
SPA / SALON: As usual, DW signed up on embarkation day for a coiffure and some manicure sessions during the cruise. She also got wrapped up in some mud & seaweed goop and was placed in some sort of voodoo contraption (it looked like an old 'iron lung' machine) for "detoxifying" the body. She was told that she should not consume adult beverages for at least 24 hours following the 'treatment'. Well that certainly wouldn't work out so it was surely squandered money. In any event, "she who must be obeyed" was quite satisfied with the salon service folks.
TENDER TICKETS: Tender tickets: This was new for me having them delivered to the room versus going up to the Queen's Lounge (now called the Showtime Theatre or something). We did pretty much independent tours so after a pleasant chat with the guest service folks I was told to just show up at the first tender & tell them I needed to get ashore. No problem really. For a couple of larger tours that we had through the CC group a good man named Jim made sure that we all got together in the Queen's Lounge and was escorted down to the first tender by one of the shore excursion folks. Otherwise, I prefer the older system (show up at the Queen's Lounge and pick up a ticket) to the new system that seemed to cause confusion for both passengers and staff members. Perhaps it'll all shake out in time.
TRIVIA, TEAM & OTHERS: Although I do not play trivia very often (and did not do so this cruise) I did notice that the trivia games have expanded. There is not only team trivia but cheese trivia, food trivia, wine trivia, etc. Damn dollars are history but they are still giving out key chains and such.
TV SERVICE: The good news is that at least on this sailing the cartoon channel was replaced with the Fox News Channel (no comments please, I like Fox). The bad news (well not really) was that the satellite reception whether at sea or in a port such as San Diego wasn't very good. Several of the channels had no reception whatsoever. For some reason ESPN always came in quite clear regardless of the ships location but everything else was iffy. Go figure.
WAJANG THEATRE / CULINARY ARTS CENTER: My wife attended several cooking demonstrations (several freebies and one that she paid a fee for) and enjoyed them all. She really enjoyed the Guest Chef, Aaron Isaacson, and the other staff members providing instruction. As mentioned, we attended the Dinner with Chef Event with three other couples ($79/pp less the Mariner discount) that included wine pairings attended to by Sameer, the Cellar Master, which was wonderful.
WEATHER: It couldn't be more perfect. The seas were described as moderate to slight during most of the voyage. We had a couple of days during the cruise of "rough seas" (7.5-12' waves) during the trip but otherwise the seas were fairly calm. The temperatures ranged from the mid 70's to mid 80's with an expected increase in humidity as we approached the equator.
WINDOWS 7 DIGITAL WORKSHOPS: I attended a couple of the workshop lectures. I was interested to see the new and improved Windows 7 operating system (my computers currently are XP er's). I don't see myself running out and getting new systems for three computers anytime soon after playing around with Windows 7 but it was good to see what will be pre-installed on the next new 'beast' purchase. I also was able to get on the web as part of another class and I must say the computer speed hasn't changed much from 2002 (the last time I used a HAL onboard computer) and can only be described as slower then a snail giving birth. CRUISE ITINERARY (33 DAYS)
DAY 0: EMBARKATION (SD);DAYS 1-4 : AT SEA;DAY 5 : HILO, HA;DAY 6 : LAHAINA, HA; DAY 7: KAUAI, HA;DAY 8 : HONOLULU,HA;DAY 9 : KONA,HA;DAY 10: AT SEA;DAY 11: CROSS INT'L DATELINE; DAY 12 : FANNING ISLAND, KIRABATI; DAY 13 : CHRISTMAS ISLAND CRUISING ONLY; DAY 14 : CROSSING THE EQUATOR;DAY 15: CROSS INT'L DATELINE; DAY 16: RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS; DAY 17: AT SEA; DAY 18: RAIATEA, FP; DAY 19 & 20: BORA BORA,FP: DAY 21 : PAPEETE,FP; DAY 22 : MOOREA,FP; DAY 23: RANGIROA,FP;DAY 24: AT SEA;DAY 25 : NUKU HIVA,FP; DAYS 26-33: SEA DAYS PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS
GENERAL COMMENTS: I will be has brief as possible since there were #13 scheduled ports of call on this particular itinerary. I will provide some comments / observations as to the ports visited, oddities and excursions that we took. In depth descriptions of the ports are certainly available on various internet sites and lots of great tour information can be found on the CC Roll Call boards, Ports of Call boards and utilizing the search engine that CC provides along with Bing & Google searches. Tours in some of the larger ports are certainly available dockside as are the HAL excursion tours either pre-booked on the HAL internet site or aboard the ship. We personally prefer to arrange our own tours whenever possible. We enjoy small groups (or just ourselves for that matter) versus the "chest sticker / big bus" style tours. I will also provide an overall rating of the port stop, i.e., attractions / cleanliness / 'facilities availability' (rated A to F and quite subjective). However, my 'overall ratings', DOES NOT reflect some of the excellent excursions we enjoyed at the ports of call themselves.
HILO, HAWAII (1000-1900): We'd been to Hilo a couple of times previously and had done the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) stuff but our daughter who traveled with us on this cruise had not. So I arranged a private all day tour with Ricky's Island Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org) that include two other great CC couples for a total of #7 folks. His van holds #15 but I wanted a smaller tour and didn't want to be crammed in a van. The price was $60 pp for the full day that did not include lunch. The tour was great. If you'd never been to Hilo I'd certainly recommend the tour. We covered quite a bit of the island and Ricky was quite cordial & knowledgeable. He's very good with his emails & was right at the terminal upon arrival & got us back with no problems. Port Rating: A
LAHAINA, HAWAII (0800-1700): We did a Gemini Charter Sail, snacks, suds & snorkel tour (1100-1500) that I had booked on the internet (geminicharters.com/). I believe with taxes, etc. it worked out to be around $318 for the three of us. It was a great trip with plenty of whales & porpoises jumping around while going to the snorkel area with the island of Kahoolawe nearby. I'd recommend a hydro skin or wet skin top for those that might get chilled easily (like me) since the water temperature is a tad lower around Maui during the winter months. We picked up the city bus that runs on the half hour behind the movie theatre to Whaler's Village ($1 pp each way) where the Gemini folks were set up. There's also a freebie shuttle available but we didn't use it. Port Rating: A-
NAWILIWILI, KAUAI (0800-1700): We were picked up by friends and just went down to Poipu for a beach lunch (Subway sandwiches, wine & beer), swim and some serious visiting. We've been to Kauai several times to visit our good friends so we've pretty much seen all the sites worth seeing which include the Botanical Gardens, the Fern Grotto, Hanalei bridge, various falls, the Napoli coast line, the Spouting Horn, the north shore Wet caves, Waimea Canyon, etc. When we headed back to Nawiliwili @1500 we stopped by the CVS store (near the tender port area but not quite walk able if your caring a bunch of stuff) on the way back to the ship to pick up some more wine (we only had brought 3 cases aboard in San Diego). Port Rating: B+ HONOLULU, HAWAII (0800-2300): We've been to Honolulu several times so I booked a food tour (Hole in the Wall tour) with Chef Matthew (hawaiifoodtours.com) over the internet ($99/pp) and had a fabulous time. If you're any kind of foodie I would certainly recommend this tour (and have yourself a very light breakfast!). The descriptions of the various stops are on his web site. He limits the tour to #12 folks (very nice air conditioned van) and Chef Matthew, a southern California transplant and Keira, his soon to be wife and native Hawaiian lead the tour. Matthew talks about the food while Keira talks about the cultures and such that create Hawaii's fusion food. The tour scheduled for 1000-1400 actually turned out to be five hours. I'd highly recommend his tour if so interested as an alternate to other tours. Following the tour Matthew dropped us off at the local Ross store where I got some stuff for the Fanning Island kids and my DW &DD "had" to get another bathing suit. Then down to the beach for some serious Mai Tai time. At sunset we walked over to the Halekulani for cocktails and sunset hula dancing by the former Miss Hawaii at the "House Without a Key" cafe. Then we just took a cab back to the ship around seven-ish for clean up, dinner and the live Polynesian show around the Lido pool. Port Rating: A
KONA, HAWAII (1000-1700): I had booked a tour with the Zodiac folks (captainzodiac.com) for a 4 hours fast boat & snorkel in Cook's Monument / Bay area. I was able to book the three of us last year for $255 but I guess HAL now has a contract with them so you'd have to go through the excursion office to book this tour. It's a fabulous tour BTW. We had a great time and the snorkeling was superior to that of Maui. It's a shame that future sailings down the road (the 14 day Circle cruises and the 30 day HA/FP cruises) are no longer scheduled to visit Kona. Port Rating: B+
FANNING ISLAND, KIRABATI (0800-1700): Since our CC group was donating stuff for the school and infirmary (I brought them a world globe, balloons & 3 dozen paisr of Groucho glasses while other brought school supplies and such) we were on the first tender by pre-arrangement. It was an overcast rainy sort of day so tendering was difficult for some folks. In so far as the island goes the only "tour" is what I call impromptu "Le Truck" by an entrepreneur named Christmas (yes, it's a English speaking fellow named Christmas). He provided a 45 minute drive down the one and only road on the island with him in the back with us and the driver driving slowly down the washed out road. He charged $10pp for the "tour" (a little pickup truck with lateral bench seats that holds about 8 folks with a covered top). Otherwise we walked around the village by the tender port where vendors were set up. We also had a swim by the small beach there. BTW, the crafts available are far less expensive then other Polynesian ports but limited in designs. I got some great shell necklaces and such for $1-$2. Be sure to take plenty of singles with you if you intend on buying some stuff. And, the tour guide, Christmas does take five's and tens readily. Port Rating: C-
RAROTONGA, COOK ISLANDS (0800-1700): Unfortunately it was determined that the swells were too high to tender in on the particular day we were there. Drat! Personally I thought the swells were equal to or less then those encountered on the Fanning tender. I guess some folks got banged up on the Fanning tenders so the captain decided to do the scenic cruising thing instead to avoid andy further injuries. We did have a four hour sail, suds and snorkel lined up with Captain Alberto from paradise sailing (paradise-sailing.co.ck) for $45 pp that I looked forward to but so it goes... Port Rating: N/A
RAIATEA, FRENCH POLYNESIA (0800-1700): We did a full day tour with Bruno Fabre (email@example.com) that was limited to #12 good folks. The tour cost $140 pp and included coral 'garden' snorkeling, buffet lunch, snorkeling in a small make-shift lagoonarium, tours of a pearl farm (yes, they take credit cards ladies & 'germs' and a vanilla farm, and plenty of motoring around. Bruno was personable enough and the pricing was much better (and the tour much more inclusive) then what the ship was offering. It started to rain heavily by 1430 so following the pearl farm tour (ended about 1515) we headed back to the dock area in pouring rain. It doesn't get any better then that for us folks that enjoys 'getting wet' whenever possible. Port Rating: B+
BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA #2 DAYS (0800-1700 THE FOLLOWING DAY): DAY #1: . Bora Bora: Day #1, we had a fabulous time with Patrick Tairua and his two other boat guides, Mareto and Aea. I had lined up #36 CC folks for the tour that filled Patrick's three boats & I believe everyone had a wonderful time. There was plenty of snorkeling, ray feeding and shark "petting" for everyone. In fact, I believe it was our top rated tour. I'd certainly recommend the ¾ day lunch tour. Patrick was kind enough to extend the tour an additional hour by pre-arrangement at no additional cost so it pretty much took up the entire day. The cost was $110 pp and well worth it IMO. The motu lunch included a couple of different fish, pork and lobster and a variety of local vegetable and fruits. Each boat cooler contained plenty of bottled water, sodas, beer, a bottle each of red and white wine and a magnum of champagne. We were dropped off at the Bloody Mary dock while others aboard continued on to the tender dock area. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed during the afternoon (it was a Sunday, only opened for dinner) but I was able to just walk in and take plenty of great pictures without the crowds. We then just caught the island shuttle back to the tender port.
Day#2, we booked Patrick's ½ day A.M. 4X4 tour with two other great couples and had a wonderful time. It's a bumpy tour at times but one but well worth it for the views. We were dropped off at Matira Beach (right by Patrick's house) for a snorkel and swim followed by a short hike up to Bloody Mary's. In fact, Patrick picked us up along the roadway for another farewell 'hug' and dropped us off in front Bloody Mary's. Patrick is a very nice and very well-organized business man. He's good with his emails and speaks fluent English. His tours are not to be missed if visiting the island paradise of Bora Bora. Port Rating: A+
PAPEETE, FRENCH POLYNESIA (0800- 0500 THE FOLLOWING DAY): I had booked a full day 4X4 tour via the internet with four other wonderful CC folks with Arnaud Luccioni (firstname.lastname@example.org) to explore the interior of the island. Wow! It was a great tour (a photographers dream really) with plenty of waterfalls and lush tropical rain forest to view. The cost was $255 for the three of us that included a "picnic" lunch by one of the nearby streams. For the adventurous sort I would certainly recommend this tour. Port Rating: B+
MOOREA, FRENCH POLYNESIA (0800-1700): I had booked a private cab with Carl Emery with another great CC couple (email@example.com) for an island tour and a beach stop for a swim and snorkel. The cost was approx. $60/pp to share the cab for the day plus lunch (approx. $20/couple). I think one could really tour the entire island and see most of the sites in a ½ day. However with the lunch at the Tiki Village (we had a wonderful private Polynesian show that Carl had arranged and lunch was fairly inexpensive really) and some swim and snorkel time off a private beach it did indeed make for a full day. Carl is a "Kiwi" who was born in Moorea and has dual citizenship. He's quite the character and knows Tahiti and Moorea quite well. Tendering was bit on the slow side in the A.M. so the tour actually ran from 0900- 1600. Port Rating: B-
RANGIORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA (0800-1700): I had booked a full day Bleu Lagoon tour with Ugo Angely (firstname.lastname@example.org) with nine other wonderful CC folks for a total of 12 adventurous souls. . Unfortunately the day was overcast for the better part of the day but we had a wonderful time regardless. The snorkeling was great as was the motu lunch and, of course, the company. Ugo actually showed up at the end of the tour to collect the fees ($105/pp). He was in a small outboard boat and I guess has taken some folks up to the Pink Sands beach for a private tour guided by himself. I would recommend this tour with Ugo's outfit. Port Rating: C- NUKU HIVA, FRENCH POLYNESIA (0800-1700): I had been in contact with Jocelyne (email@example.com) since January 2009 for an all day tour @approx. $100/pp without lunch. I had scheduled a "private" tour with her for the three of us and two other CC couples. I learned in the spring that she had added another car with some other CC folks. Upon arrival at the tender port I learned that the 'private tour' had expanded to four 4X4's total and #24 good folks (so much for our plan to avoid the crowds). In any event the tour was fine. In retrospect I would certainly avoid ordering food at the' lunch stop' and just order a beer or some wine from the bar as a refreshment. The whole food ordering and preparation took much too long and was logistically chaotic. I believe our guide Jocelyne Henna was quite knowledgeable regarding all the island's beauty but do not believe she was able to handle the larger crowd that made up the tour. Folks were crammed into the vehicles pretty well and I believe for the most part the other drivers did not or spoke limited English. If I were to visit the island again (a gorgeous island BTW) I would probably get on the first tender and hire someone dockside for an island tour since there appeared to be cars available. One of the folks on the ship who had been there twice before simply rented a car and got around quite well (we saw them at the food stop). Port Rating: C
I will jot down some odd and ends that may be of interest to those contemplating a similar cruise down French Polynesia way.
1. Bring plenty of water and sun block. Our good CC friend Ted turned us on to some 100% sun block that Nivea puts out. We only had the 50% stuff. Also, to be sure, have a big floppy sun hat and shades.
2. Deet insect repellant: A must-have if your prone to insect bites. I personally like the 100% Deet in the small, non-aerosol containers sold at Wal-Mart. My DW prefers the Deet impregnated wipes that contains 54% Deet. Any variety seems to work well. We really only found bugs to be a problem on Fanning Island, on the inner island tour in Tahiti and for a brief time on Nuku Hiva.
3. For the independent tours (Arnaud, Papeete; Ugo, Rangiora) we brought along our own beer and wine since the cost of alcoholic beverages in FP is so expensive (up to $24 USD for a six-pack of beer for example). We had brought along #3 cases of wine total for the three of us for 'cabin juice' and occasional DR use and got another few bottles in Kauai. If you're a beer drinker I would recommend utilizing the shipboard happy hours to gather beers for your shore excursions if you plan to do any beaching it or other picnicking. The beers aboard at two for one Happy Hour (4-5) are much cheaper in comparison to local prices as mentioned. On the Ugo tour everyone brought various beers and wine for the motu barbeque. Needless to say, it was a very 'happy' crowd sailing back to the tender port and nearby snorkeling location. Likewise, on the Arnaud tour we brought along a bottle of bubbly, some beers and our good tour mates brought along a bottle each of white and red wine.
4. Franc exchange rates were all over the map. I needed to go in the bank in Moorea and the rate was 82 francs to the dollar. The Tiki Village restaurant in Moorea was exchanging the US dollar for 85 francs. A wonderful couple who we befriended during the cruise had rented a vehicle and needed to gas up but were only given 70 francs to the dollar rate. So go figure. We used US dollars for tour payments (except for one operator) for the most part. Any souvenirs and such were readily paid for in dollars. My DW did purchase some black pearls in Tahiti and she used our Amex card and the exchange rate was fairly reasonable (82 francs to the dollar with no transaction fee).
THE END (Finally!): Well enough is enough. The 33 day cruise aboard the Rotterdam was an adventure in many ways. Yes, there were problems with our accommodations but the staffing aboard was outstanding as were the wonderful folks we cruised and toured with. Needless to say I think all of us were quite thankful to the 'powers that be' to have our health and wherewithal to enjoy this cruise. Lasting memories were born on this cruise as were new friendships. Would I recommend this cruise to someone or repeat the identical itinerary someday? I certainly would without exception.
Bon Voyage & Good Health! Bob