First of all, Holland America cruises are usually fantastic. We booked this cruise for the itinerary and were not disappointed.
We began in Amsterdam and it was the "Sail In 2010" on our embarkation day - the final of a race? of tall ships. We were taken to a temporary facility as the tall ships were parading around our usual dock. The line to get into the tent went pretty quickly. Once inside we were given a number and told to wait until it was called. After a considerable period of time, I noticed that the numbers being given out were four numbers lower than we had been given. People who had just arrived were being called up to the check-in counter and we just kept waiting. I finally asked the lady with the tickets if I could exchange for a lower number (which she had) and was told no and to wait my turn to check-in and, I might add, she was not very pleasant. Well, we waited for a very long time, a little over two hours. I became very nervous as there were way too many people in a small space for my comfort. Elderly people were standing for too long and seating spaces had been exhausted. I did not feel safe - if a fire had broken out, it would have been disastrous! I wish I had taken pictures...
Our first port was Edinburgh, Scotland and we saw the International Tattoo in the courtyard of the castle in Edinburgh. It poured down rain, but we were prepared. It would have been better to have better weather, but oh well, we can't change that! It was a fantastic performance!
The other stops were the Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, Reykjavik in Iceland, cruising Prins Christian Sound and visiting Qaqortoq in Greenland, St. Anthony and St. John's Newfoundland and Sydney and Halifax in New Brunswick. We disembarked in New York.
My comment about HAL's organizational skills started with embarkation. For most of the ship tours, we met in the theatre. They would call a tour and all the people would line up for the little circular labels we all love and cherish. I can't understand why, if they know how many people are on tours, they couldn't have a better way of calling the groups. Two people to hand out a label to many busloads of passengers just doesn't make sense. It was chaos with a little organization. What would it take to assign tour tickets in advance by the number of people on a bus? I hate the cattle truck feeling!
We took a tour in Iceland that was the worst we have ever had. The guide seemed sick, did not exhibit good personal hygiene and did not have a good command of the language. She would say "on your left" which mostly meant right. She told us about all kinds of beautiful things, then would say, "but you're not going to see that today". When we got to the Blue Lagoon to sight see, she told us we could put our feet in the water. Guess what? We almost got evicted by the security. When we got back into Reykjavik, she let us off in town and told us where we could catch the shuttle - even marked it on our map. Guess what? We would still be there if it wasn't for some helpful passengers who asked in a tourist office and came back for us. Wow! This was my worst tour ever and I almost forgot, I caught her cold four days later. I am still remembering her!
We loved Newfoundland and had an especially fantastic tour guide in St. John's. Then we got caught in the Hurricane Earl path and had to miss both Sydney and Halifax in Nova Scotia. The captain and cruise director were fantastic in that they provided us with TV updates - Hurricane Watch 2010. I have never had so much information and it was wonderful and very educational. HAL provided us with free internet to let all know at home where we were and that we were not in danger. We sailed into a quiet bay off Portland, Maine's coast and hid until it was safe for us to sail into New York. I felt that my safety and that of my fellow passengers was the driving force behind the decisions. What a great job on their parts.
The downside of the ship is that there is not enough seating. The lido restaurant is always crowded. I would grab a place to sit and my husband would get his food, then I would go while he saved my place. We did not eat lunch or dinner together for 18 days. You ask why not use the dining room? The breakfast hour of operation are not long enough and lunch takes way too long. Our dinner table mates ate there and it took almost two hours. My vacation time is too valuable for that! Around the pool they have cabanas which you have to pay for and are used by the spa for treatments. We would have had plenty of room to move around the pool without those darn cabanas! They were on a section of deck 11 too. By the way, they weren't used too much - wasted space in my book.
Well, when we were ready to get off the ship, we took a tour of New York so we wouldn't have to wait at the airport forever. Again HAL needs to rethink their organizational skills. Why do they ask for our debarkation information if they aren't going to use it? Lime Green 1 is called over the loudspeaker. We proceed to terminal, go through customs, get our luggage and run for our bus. We're not elderly and got right on the first bus. There were quite a lot of people lined up for our bus, but it could only hold so many. There were a lot of buses and no organization whatsoever regarding where these people were to go. When our bus was full, they were on their own and people had lined up at the other buses also. You'd think they could offer those prized circular labels to us by what bus we were on. It was up to the driver and tour guide to ask what airport we were departing from. Our tour guide was beyond fantastic and I saw more of New York than I've ever before. We were the last to get dropped off at the airport with a tight departure time, I might add. The guide had our driver move the bus and then came back inside to make sure we had gotten checked in OK and wished us a safe trip home. Wow, I was shocked. We've been to New York many times and not had such a great experience.
I need to mention that we had fantastic speakers for this cruise. There was a gentleman from Iceland, his wife and son who gave us the most wonderful talks about Iceland, Greenland, volcanoes. He shared his pictures and I'm not exaggerating, he was the most interesting lecturer I have ever experienced. He also gave commentary wherever we sailed.
Our port travel guide was also fantastic. He gave us tons of information regarding our ports - not the usual "guaranteed stores", but real information. He was obviously an experienced travel guide and had lots of pictures he had taken in every port. He was funny, knowledgeable and very well versed. I really appreciated his information and knowledge.
HAL also has a computer lab/education program at sea. I took a course in computer safety and it was fantastic. I maintain both Macs and PCs at my business and received tons of information that was both personally and professionally useful. It is a great program and kudos to HAL for this service.
On the whole, we loved the itinerary and are very thankful Hurricane Earl passed us by even though we missed two ports. It was a wonderful experience. I just wish HAL would work on their organizational skills!