We flew KLM from Vancouver, Canada to Amsterdam on Sept. 4th. for a Sept. 7th. sailing out of Rotterdam. This was the second time in two years we flew KLM to Amsterdam and found them to be outstanding. Very friendly and are constantly serving you something from the time you leave until your arrival. We stayed at the NH Amsterdam Center Hotel and used Priceline to arrive at a $125 per night stay for a four star accommodation. Amsterdam was wonderful, and we compared it to Venice but found it easier to navigate as there are streets everywhere. Our Hotel was in the Museum district and we walked to all the tourist attractions including Central Station where we took an evening dinner cruise through the canals. There is a hop on hop off canal boat with several different lines that you can use all day for a reasonable price.
Our tours were for the most part were private tours with as few as four people to a maximum of eight people. This we organized through the Cruise Critic Forum and found it to be a very valuable tool. Private tours are the way to go providing you share the cost with one or more couples. You see much more as you move in small groups and are not waiting for thirty odd people to get off the bus and arrive back in good time. We met one such couple that stayed at the same Hotel as us and shared seven tours with them including a private transfer by mini van to Rotterdam for embarkation. Having read some horror stories about embarkation in Rotterdam, we were expecting the worst but found that the process was quite quick and fairly painless. We were on the boat in about twenty minutes from our arrival time.
We purchased only four shore tour from the ship, the rest as mentioned earlier were private tours. Two tours were just fine, Guernsey in the Channel Islands and Brest France would be a B+. Cartegena Spain was at best a C+ and the failing grade came in Iskenderun Turkey. I think we must have been the first Cruise ship to ever use this port, and I am hoping for the rest of you cruisers out there, the last. Our tour was to the Mosaic Museum which was a good hour plus drive. We started late but were assured that additional time would be tacked on to the tour. This did not happen. The commentary that was to be provided by our guide did not take place as the microphone was not operating. Upon arrival we were told that we would have twenty five minutes to tour the museum before we needed to be back on the bus. Now if you were female and needed the washroom after an hour plus bus ride you may have had ten minutes for your museum tour. We were then taken to a vista for a photo opportunity of the area that turned out to be a disgusting broken down view point with garbage everywhere. No one on that tour was pleased and the tour escort from the ship reported to the ship that there would be many complaints. The only compensation from Holland America was a 20% discount on the tour.
The rest of our shore tours were terrific and of the private variety. Anyone worried about a private tour not getting back to the boat in time for departure has very little to fear. Private tour companies have their reputation to consider and as such would do every thing in their power to make sure you arrived back in time for your sailing.
The ship was the Westerdam which is a sister ship to the Noordam that we were on last year for a twenty day cruise out of Rome. We found the ship to be in very good repair and had no complaints about her condition. We chose to take most of our evening meals in the Vista Dining Room and had no complaints about the quality of the food or the variety. There was always several different options including New York strip steak as a mainstay. We chose the Canellero restaurant a few time as well as the Pinnacle Grill on occasion. All were very pleasant. We found that the wait staff in all areas were exceptional and the length of time to order and receive meals was very satisfactory.
The entertainment on the ship was OK! The singers and dancers in the Vista lounge were good, some of the other entertainment from the Vista Lounge could have been better. We were a back to back cruise so the entertainment was duplicated in many instances. The piano bar was terrific. Nathan Tembay not only could play, but he had a voice to match. He was an eleven on a scale of one to ten.
Disembarkation was excellent. They sure have got this system right. All in all we had a terrific cruise and would certainly cruise HAL again, in fact we are currently looking at a Baltic cruise with HAL. The only real negative was the internet. Give this a miss and use something on shore for your communication network.