This was our 10th cruise on Holland America with a total of 142 days on their ships. We are of the "mature" cruising type, and have preferred this cruise line.
This is the 3rd time we have stayed at the Comfort Inn Airport - Old Town when this is our embarkation port, and as always, have gotten the best of service. They have a complementary shuttle from the airport, and to the cruise terminal, and will also take you to such places as the zoo, Seaworld, etc. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and the complimentary breakfast is good...the usual muffins, bagels, hardboiled eggs, fresh make waffles, cereal, fruit, etc. I have just called them direct to get rates, and have found that they have beaten or been equal to the discount on-line rates.
This was our first time on the Rotterdam, and after reading some previous reviews after the retro-fit, were apprehensive. However, we found no problems other than that our room "squeaked". Sounded like walls were rubbing together. We know that all rooms make noise, but this was worse than usual. It was not a problem that we felt we needed to complain about though.
We did talk to one lady that complained about her room under the new "Retreat" area. They would start moving chairs to spray off the deck at 5am, and the moving of chairs would continue until no one was on the deck at night, making it impossible to even take a nap. She complained a lot, I guess, but didn't feel like she got results. Also some of the rooms under the new "wading pool" still leaked, causing problems for those people. I would stay away from the Navigation (deck 7) stern rooms from what they said. Glad we book the "cheap sleeps" and were on deck 6 (Veranda) inside room just back of the front stairway. Quiet and nice.
There were 3 ships in port the day we left, and the shuttle driver could not get us "inside" the port area, and let us out on the street as close as he could get. There were men there with carts to take our luggage that we assumed were Holland America employees, but turned out to be independent, and could not take our luggage in the port area. So for a very small tip, they took our luggage maybe 20 yards. One guy got one of the pedal car operators and thought he would take him all the way into the port, but still wanted to charge the guy $20 for taking him maybe a block. Seems like a good idea to have Holland employees "directing traffic".
When we got into the check-in process, it went as usual. There was a long queue, but went quickly. After we got checked in, we had to wait longer than usual to get onto the ship because of the cleaning process caused by the GIS. We had planned on being able to get on the ship, be able to get into our room around 1 pm like usual, and then we were going to drop off our carry-on, and then get off the ship and walk over to the "Midway" air-craft carrier for a tour til we needed to be back to the ship around 4 pm Since we were delayed in being able to get on, we asked if there was a place that we could store our carry-on, and was told no. Then after more than an hour, we were taken into another "holding" area, where there was a sign indicating that carry-on could be stowed. By then it was late enough that we decided not to. Would be nice for everyone to be informed!
Although many had complained about the cruise prior to ours, we found that this cruise was almost as expected from previous cruises with Holland America.
Captain Rik Krombeen and his crew were marvelous. They kept us well informed, and although we entered the ship under a "Code Red" (no self-service due to GIS), it was lifted after 48 hours, and he continued to urge anyone that was sick to stay in their stateroom, and from what I understand from someone I spoke to that had been sick, they provided whatever room service and medical assistance they needed, and a crew cleaned their staterooms thoroughly daily. This was far different from other cruises that I've taken with GIS...they had not been able to contain it as Captain Krombeen did.
The room steward, and waiters, wine stewards and Lido staff were excellent, and most friendly. Once they asked you your name, they remembered it, which is always such a delight.
We had the late assigned dining, which we prefer, and we had a table for 8 with only 7 of us at the table, so on 5 of the 7 formal nights, we had the privilege of having a crew person at our table. The IT officer, the 3rd Engineer and Jim, one of the dance hosts joined us on different nights. They were all a delight, and we enjoyed getting ask those "things you always wanted to know..." questions.
The captain and senior crew were "out and about", and the captain and first officer almost always had lunch in the "retreat" area, enjoying the great outdoors, and always approachable. The Captain's daily information briefing always contained the usual navigational and weather information, but he then added some fact that was always most interesting and informative. He had a great sense of humor, and made his "talks" fun.
The cruise director, Eric Dowis was the best we have encountered!!! What a great wit he has, and although some of his jokes you knew had been used before, he made it fresh just by his delivery. But his humor also showed where jokes were about circumstances that had occurred that day. He even made the disembarkation talk memorable with his "dance through the ages".
The joking between the officers at a Q and A showed a genuine friendship and respect of each other...a joy to see.
They made crossing the Equator ceremony for the polywogs (1st time crossers)most enjoyable and entertaining! A fun day at sea!
The "Stars of the Showroom" (cast) were the worst we have encountered in the 10 cruises we have taken. With only a couple of exceptions, they were not that vocally talented, and most were very aloof when you saw them around the ship. Certainly not very approachable or likeable.
The entertainment brought onto the ship was the best overall we have experienced on a cruise. The only exception was Marty Brill, a comedian who, I'm sorry to say, is just past his prime. We could only sit through 2 jokes before we couldn't stand it any longer (we weren't the only ones). The rest were varied in their entertainment and most accomplished in their talent. We were glad that most of the entertainment was independent, since we didn't enjoy the cast shows.
The movies both in the theater and in the "retreat" were mostly good, and it was fun to sit outside when we could and see the movie on the giant screen at "the retreat". They were even able to get the NCAA finals that you could watch on TV or in the retreat or in the showroom.
The "Adagio Strings" that played in the Explorer lounge, and "The Neptunes" in the Ocean Bar were all very talented, and approachable. We enjoyed listening to them.
There were the usual activities: galley tour, dance lessons, napkins folding, towel animal classes, cooking demonstrations that were fun. They had 4 explorations speakers. We only found 2 of them interesting.
Amanda, the party planner was fun and we enjoyed a lot of her activities
Dan Ostler gave talks on the about WWII and the Pacific, as well as information on how the islands formed, and how the Islands affected the war, and the use of the "flat tops" (aircraft carriers) in the war. Most interesting. His wife Donna Giesler, aka "The star lady" gave talks on the sky and constellations, and when we got to the South Pacific we went "star gazing" to view the "Southern Cross" constellation.
Charlie Urbanowicz, an anthropologist, put us to sleep at the 1st two lectures we attended, so we didn't go back. His talks on discovery of the islands jumped around to the point of making no sense. We did not attend Donna Urbanowicz's talk on the plants of the islands.
They have a new Digital Workshop that was led by John Roberts, and "the lovely Kathleen", that were most fun and helpful, using Microsoft "Windows Live" programs, they taught how to make digital picture downloading, organizing and editing very easy. Very basic and great especially for those that know little about it. Took the fear out of it for a lot of folks. At the end of the cruise because we had so many days at sea, we had a "photo scavenger hunt" which was really fun, and they put together slide presentations and awarded prizes for the best photos...was great and filled a day with fun and laughter! (and exercise)
Port and Shore Excursions:
We visited 14 ports on this cruise.
CJ, the port expert, was not!!!!!! We only took 1 excursion from the ship on a glass bottom boat in Bora Bora, and we were less than pleased. We have had good experience with being able to take pictures on such excursions before, but our compartment had water in it which made for difficulty getting pictures, and just didn't work well. We did see some interesting creatures, however, and enjoyed that part of the experience.
We took an independent "Circle the Island" tour with Dino in his air-conditioned Hyundai van with 1 other couple Didn't get his business name, but he's an independent, tall and handsome, and a great tour guide. $35 per person. Worth it!
We took an independent whale watching tour in Lahaina, Hawai'I, and it was fabulous. Hawai'i Ocean Rafting at Slip 8, was great. $38 each for about 2.5 hours of whale watching. We really got up-close-and-personal with whales, they put a hydrophone into the water and we were able to listen to the whale sounds as they occurred. Sean and Bridget were the greatest. They are very knowledgeable and interesting. We were in an inflatable "zodiac" style boat for 16. Everyone on the tour loved it!
The ports were interesting, and the experience of crossing the equator, going to 2 Atolls, and seeing those beautiful islands, will long be remembered, but we have to admit that most of the islands, although each had their uniqueness, were mostly the same. When you've seen 1 waterfall, pineapple plantations, coconut farms, breadfruit trees, banana trees, you've seen them all!
Our favorite ports were Mo'orea, French Polynesia; Nuku Hiva, Marquesus; and Tabuaeran, Fanning Islands.
Again we were 1 of 3 ships in port, and we were across the parking lot from the Midway. Because we were behind a building, the taxi and airport shuttle drivers could not see that there were 1200 people waiting for transportation. Not organized, and orderly, but we found a shuttle driver that got us to the airport for $16.
Overall we had a great time on this cruise. We were pleasantly surprised by the ship and experience considering the criticism from previous cruisers. It was a very positive experience for us!