It is safe to say that this cruise did not live up to expectations. We have cruised 40 times and taken several voyages with HAL, so we consider ourselves to be experienced cruisers. We are two adults and a 9 year old daughter. We took this cruise for the holiday at sea experience and because it was a convenient drive from our house. We did not take this trip for the ports, as we have been to Mexico many times before. We cruised to Hawaii last Christmas on the Golden Princess and hoped to have a similar fun experience on the Rotterdam this time. We booked a verandah suite on Deck 6, the last cabin at the back on the starboard side, which we were told was the last remaining triple occupancy cabin on the ship. We booked direct with HAL Reservations.
We got off to a very bad start when we arrived in San Diego and checked in only to find we no longer had an assigned cabin, despite having checked in online and printed baggage tags out successfully. It took a while before anyone could tell us anything and the best they could do was that there was something wrong with our cabin, they didn't know what and we would find out when we got on the ship. Getting on the ship without an assigned cabin is not easy. Our cruise cards set off siren alerts at the security check on the ship and we had to be escorted to the front desk area where we sat for half an hour with absolutely no idea what was going on. Finally, someone emerged to tell us that our cabin had apparently been "flooded" by rain during the stormy arrival in San Diego that morning. Somehow enough rain had come under the 6 foot deep covered balcony and managed to penetrate four feet inside the cabin door, soaking the floor. Quite how this could happen is beyond me. We were escorted to the cabin where we found a large fan roaring away drying the floor out, which was still very damp. The HAL girl insisted the cabin was in rentable condition.
It was quite obvious from the uneven floor by the balcony door and the pitted, rusted threshold that this cabin has been "flooded" on many previous occasions and probably will be again in the future. It is hard to believe a rainstorm could do this and even harder to believe that ours was the only cabin affected. Clearly, this cabin has water issues. There was also a large crack in the side window panel glass and wallpaper that has been improperly applied in large areas by the cabin door.
However, more important to us was the fact that there was no sofa in the cabin and a gaping big space along the wall where one should have been, which was filled with two upright chairs and an adjustable table. I asked the HAL girl where exactly the third person in this triple occupancy cabin was supposed to sleep, as there were only two beds. All eyes went to the ceiling in search of the pop down bed that did not exist. We were in a double occupancy cabin and there were three of us on a sold out ship... At this point discussion turned to moving cabins, but of course, as was confirmed as we headed out to sea, none were available and we were well and truly stuck. The solution was that HAL delivered a rollaway bed to our cabin for our daughter to sleep on and we had two upright chairs to sit in during the day. The first night the rollaway bed sunk in the middle and had only a thin sheet on top of the cold, plastic mattress. Not a good way for anyone to have to sleep. We insisted that the bed be made up comfortably with a mattress pad cover the following night and was propped up so it did not sag in the middle, and asked that it be removed from the cabin during the day so we had space to move. The balcony came in very handy for furniture storage.
It was later confirmed by HAL that we had indeed booked a triple cabin and the error was theirs. Before the end of the cruise we received a substantial shipboard credit as compensation for the cabin situation, in addition to an apology letter and plates of gourmet cookies etc during the cruise.
So not a good start at all and not enhanced by the first two days of not being able to serve ourselves in the Lido for hygiene reasons. We could not even help ourselves to tea and coffee without assistance and it was just infuriating. I was just fed up and wishing we hadn't come at this point. I regained my sense of balance and humour a couple of days into the cruise and we got on with it as best we could.
Other than the previously mentioned cabin issues we found our verandah cabin to be quiet and comfortable, well appointed with ample storage space and a newly remodeled bathroom. Had it been waterproof, in good repair and containing a sofa bed like every other verandah suite on the ship, we would have been even happier.
We felt the service overall was excellent and the food was extremely good, both in the MDR and the Lido buffet. We had no complaints about the food at all. Our dinner table was fine, our waiters were wonderful, the food was well presented, tasty and always hot and fresh. We ate at the Pinnacle twice and thought the food was perfect both times, although the service was great the first time and very slow the second.
We found the entertainment to be lacking in many areas. There just isn't enough going on, or enough variety. We were very disappointed overall in the offerings. We love to play Trivia and had a great team of dedicated players who begged for more Trivia during the days. The CD was Steve James, brand new to the ship and to HAL on this cruise, and he only had a certain amount of Trivia questions downloaded and that was that. The Explorations Lounge became an important part of our lives and we did a lot of jigzaw puzzles to pass the time. We warmed up to the CD as the cruise progressed but felt the entertainment left a lot to be desired. Not nearly enough enrichment on board, no dance hosts, no lectures. The computer classes were of no use to us as we do not use PC's.
We liked the gym very much and felt it was a good size and very well equipped with a good range of cardio equipment. We also appreciated the fact that it was lightly used and took advantage of that.
The biggest disappointment to us were the holiday festivities, or lack of them. The ship was tastefully decorated but the holiday aspect overall was very muted. The tree lighting ceremony on the first evening involved a lonely looking fake tree in a corner of the pool deck, a handful of staff singers, the CD, a bit of hot chocolate and a few gingerbread cookies. It was between the two dinner sittings and about 20 passengers showed up to watch a child flip the switch and light up the tree. Incredibly lame. The design of the ship means there is no central gathering space, so this sad looking tree by the pool was the start of the festivities. Christmas movies were shown, all black and white extremely old films that would have little appeal for anyone under 50. There were 140 children and their families on board but the whole focus was on the older passengers and what HAL assumed they wanted, not on providing anything for families of all ages to enjoy.
The Christmas Eve carol service was performed in Indonesian and Filipino by the crew and took place at 11PM at night. I asked the CD if we could do anything earlier that families might be able to participate in, as most passengers would be in bed by that time, but no, Club HAL handled the kids and their needs, so there was nothing else planned. We did not bother staying up. Club HAL had nothing Christmas related planned at all for the kids until Christmas morning, when Santa made his appearance. Santa was very patient and did a great job with the kids and it was a nice effort. It was all over by Noon and there was nothing else after that to celebrate, not even a religious service on Christmas morning.
We did have a lovely Christmas meal in the dining room, the most festive place on the ship. Waiters wore Christmas hats, but there were no table crackers, no Christmas music from the orchestra, no yule log parade... It was a most un-Christmas like Christmas... Given that many people went on the cruise in order to celebrate the holidays at sea and paid a premium to be on the ship for this sailing, we felt very let down and disappointed. New Year's Eve was a lot more fun with a poolside party and midnight countdown and when we woke up on New Year's Day the ship had been completely stripped of all holiday decorations and it was as if Christmas had never happened. I think HAL were relieved it was over and they didn't have to pretend anymore.
We thought the ship was in good condition and as updated as it was possible for it to be, but it seems a lot older than its 13 years and part of that is down to its outdated design, as well as its subdued daytime atmosphere and lack of activities. The average age of passengers was lower than normal because of the holidays but there was still a lot of extremely old and frail people on board and a significant number of walkers, wheelchairs and motor scooters, many utilised by middle aged passengers while active seniors had no need of them. Traveling with much older passengers doesn't bother me at all and we had many wonderful interactions with seniors, but overall it is hard to feel you're not in a floating rest home and many people have all but given up on life. HAL responds in kind and treats them as if they have...
Our daughter spent little time in Club HAL this cruise, as she is now beginning to lose interest in kids club activities. We thought the Club HAL staff worked hard and did a good job with the kids from what we saw. We thought the kids on the ship were well behaved and low key, although I'm sure others will say otherwise. I have defended HAL as a great choice for families on the CC boards for a long time and we have had some marvelous experiences on HAL ships in previous years. Our best cruises were on ships with personable, highly visible captains such as John Scott on the Noordam and Mark Rowden on the Ryndam. The Rotterdam captain, Robert-Jan Kan was practically invisible and except for a brief appearance at the Mariners Brunch, we never once saw him anywhere on the ship. Maybe that is why the Rotterdam seems so utterly rudder-less and anaemic.
Overall this ended up being a good cruise, but definitely not a great one. We did not sense that Signature of Excellence in any way. We blame the management, not the hard working and wonderful crew who did such a lovely job and made a difference. They deserve better and so do the passengers. It was a lacklustre experience on a ship that struggled to display any enthusiasm or holiday spirit. We will sail with HAL again at some point but are going to take a break for now. I will find it hard to recommend this ship to families and we would definitely not take a holiday cruise with HAL again on this or any other ship in the fleet.