We just returned from our third lengthy cruise on the Prinsendam. We have sailed on her about 100 days in the last three years. There was a time when we would say that the Prinsendam was our favorite ship but now we are saying that we won't be back anytime soon. I guess you can get too much of a good thing. The Prinsendam is a small ship; and because of its size, she is able to get into many ports that the larger ships cannot visit. As a result the itineraries can be very interesting. She looks more like a ship than a floating hotel. There is a certain charm about the Prinsendam that is undeniable.
When we arrived in Civitavecchia, Italy, we were excited about having just spent two and half weeks in London, Paris and Rome and were genuinely excited about a leisurely sail back to the new world on the "elegant explorer". Things didn't exactly work out that way. Upon arrival we were informed that embarkation had been delayed for several hours because the ship had an outbreak of Norovirus and a special cleaning was being completed. Everyone waited pier side in a huge room with about twice as many people as there were chairs. There were lots of elderly people who were unable to sit. Several hours later we were allowed on to the ship and were informed that the ship would be sailing "under code red conditions".
We had endured a norovius outbreak once before. The situation on the Prinsendam was very different than our previous experience. The norovirus outbreak had started on the previous cruise and had been going on for ten days when we got on the ship. We anticipated that it would end quickly. We were wrong. The ship stayed on "noro lockdown" for the first two weeks of the cruise. When we got on the ship, every hard surface on the ship including mirrors, windows, hand rails, art work, and walls had been sprayed with this cloudy disinfectant which was designed to kill the virus. The spray made the ship look dirty and smeared and was sticky. The crew kept spraying every day in the public areas of the ship, but the virus continued to spread. About half way through the code red, the Captain came on the sound system that you can here in every part of the ship and gave us a stern lecture about reporting illness and staying clean. He was obviously angry. Apparently passengers were sick and attempting to hide their illness from the crew. Also passengers were becoming hostile about the mandatory Purell squirts that happened every place you went on the ship. The whole situation was creepy and remained unresolved for another week after the Captain's lecture. I got so tired of touching disinfectant-sprayed sticky surfaces I couldn't stand it.
The code red enforcement brought to light many of the short comings of the Prinsedam. Several years ago, Carnival added new rooms and significantly altered the layout of the ship. With the addition of the new rooms no changes were made in the Lido. Under normal situations it is crowded and has an awkward layout. Under code red it was maddening! We were not allowed to touch ANYTHING. A crew member had to get buffet food and put it on your plate for you. There were velvet ropes on stanchions keeping the passengers away from everything in the Lido. Like all cruise ships the Prinsendam is operating with less and less staff on each successive cruise. There simply were not enough crew to take of the Lido. They recruited the Spa staff to serve buffet items. You could not pick up your own beverages in the Lido. So if you wanted tea or coffee, the attendant had to put your beverage in your cup, ask if you wanted cream or milk, lemon etc. It took forever. One or two staff members were dispensing beverages for the lido. Because of the velvet ropes there was insufficient room to navigate through the Lido. Rude and impatient passengers made the situation even worse. We were not allowed to sit at a table which had been previously used until it had been bused and then separately sanitized by a different person. On wet or windy days, after you finally got your food and beverage, there would be no place to sit because there aren't enough indoor seats. Our goal was to avoid the Lido whenever possible and eat in the Main Dining Room. Life was better there. But again you couldn't touch anything. They would bring a hot beverage, but there was no cream or sugar on the table. The beverages would get cold before you could drink them. The staff tried very hard, but again there simply are not enough staff to handle code red conditions.
The bottom line is that cruise just wasn't a lot of fun. We booked this cruise because of the opportunity to do three very special ports. We didn't go to any of the three. We were looking forward to spending a day in Cinque Terre in Italy. Unfortunately a serious rain storm had caused an evacuation of two of the cities in Cinque Terre and the shore excursion was cancelled. Certainly this was not the fault of HAL. We were unable to visit San Tropez because of the first tropical depression that developed in Med since the 1990's. Certainly this was not the fault of HAL. And lastly the cruise had been booked with Seville as a port. The future cruise sales consultant had made a huge deal about how the Prinsendam was going to sail up Guadalquivir River to Seville. A few months back the Seville port was changed on the HAL website to Cadiz. I requested an explanation from HAL customer service several times, and they would only say it was an operational decision and refused to offer any explanation. I certainly will blame HAL for this problem. The port situation is part of the Prinsendam paradox. The little ship that can go special places often cannot visit ports because of weather. The big ships in major parts rarely have a problem. In our most previous cruise on the Prinsendam we missed Naples and Sardenia because of weather.
So the cruise was disappointment after disappointment with some real fun things along the way. I have decided to make two lists. One list of the great things about the Prinsendam and the other the problems. Take it for what it is worth.
Really nice staterooms with super bathrooms and walk in closets
Fabulous crew who worked super hard despite all the problems
A teak promenade deck that you can walk all the around
Lectures might be quite good ... see below
Pinnacle Grill -- lunch was a great bargain and wonderful every time
Ports -- many were great ... see below
Most of the entertainers were quite good
Air Conditioning -- there were severe problems with the air conditioning in many of the public rooms. No explanation was ever offered but the ship was very hot. Fans suddenly appeared in the public rooms. Our room was too warm only one day and the rest of the cruise it was marginally acceptable. WHY DOES HAL CONTINUE TO HAVE AC PROBLEMS ON THE OLDER SHIPS????????
Smells -- ewwwwwwwww. It was disgusting. Outside on the Promenade Deck every time I walked around it you could smell sewage. Disgusting! We were on deck four forward and the last half of the cruise we kept getting strong chemical smells. They were always in the hall way and frequently in the room. The lack of good AC exasperated the smell problem.
Library, games, puzzles were all locked up during the two weeks of code red.
Shabbiness -- the whole ship is old and tired, it's time for a major refit
Demographics -- we are mid 60's and were probably in the youngest 10% on the ship. We would prefer to sail on a ship that has a broader range of ages and opinions.
Broken Equipment -- 3 elliptical trainers and one was broken the whole trip. one of the hot tubs would not work the whole trip. There are four elevators one was broken a dozen times during the trip.
HEAD COLDS -- every time we sail on HAL we get a miserable cold along with the majority of the passengers. We have never had this problem on other ships and cannot explain it. But it makes the cruise way, way less fun.
Cast Show Entertainment -- the same shows have been running on this ship for at least 3 years, enough is enough. HAL is light years away from what the competition is doing. This cast was uninspired and was performing at the level of a high school production. The shows were very poorly attended.
Entertainment sound levels were so loud that I actually had to put my fingers in my ears. The sound guy had it so loud that every loud sound would distort. This appeared to me to be just plain laziness on the part of management. Management was never in the theatre during the shows so they didn't know what was going on. This was inexcusable.
CONCLUSION: So there it is. I think it is time for us to move on. We have sailed a lot on Cunard and Celebrity the last couple years and we find it more to our liking. We have not been on any of the newest HAL ships. Someday we will be back and give them a try. But I think it will be a while before that happens. I wouldn't discourage anyone from sailing on the the Prinsendam but I question its value for the premium prices that charges.