This was a 24 night cruise - Roundtrip down the Amazon River to Manaus with return to Ft. Lauderdale.
Ports of call were: St. Lucia, Devils Island, French Guiana; Amazon River ports: Macapa, Boca da Valeria, Manaus, Parintins, Alter da Chao, Santarem; after exiting the Amazon ports were Barbados and Aruba.
Let me preface this review by stating that I loved this cruise. It was an exceptional experience to witness life on the Amazon River and visit the ports of call. I hadn't done any recent research on the Amazon River (shame on me) so proceeded with the impression that I would experience jungle views from the ship and see lots of jungle wildlife during the cruise. Much land along the banks of the Amazon River has been deforested. There are urban areas surrounding many of the ports of call. The urban area of Manaus is home to close to 3 million people. To experience what I had anticipated, one would need to travel inland. That stated continue I will continue with review of cruise.
I traveled solo and met some folks I'd love to travel with again.
The Prisendam was touted as the "best" of the Holland America ships. This is not true. The Prisendam is starting to show her age and members of the staff were not all veterans -- some were spanking new employees of Holland America. The cabins are spacious. I had an ocean view category E which included a walk-in closet and a bath tub. Furniture throughout the ship could use new upholstery. . There were issues with air conditioning during this cruise. Some cabins had no air conditioning for the first 11 days, and because the ship was pretty much sold out passengers without air conditioning were offered fans (which from complaints I heard just didn't relieve the heat of the cabin). My cabin had some strange water leak from behind the toilet -- it was fixed twice before it stopped leaking. (Later during the cruise the carpeting outside of the bathroom door was always wet. I reported this to my cabin steward and for the remainder of the cruise I put a towel from the pool on it. The room steward removed it daily and I replaced dry towels daily.) The limited Spa offers sauna and steam baths without the purchase of a spa pass, and there is a gym with exercise equipment. It's an old ship and is showing its' age.
Embarkation: Was extremely slow. Verification of Yellow Fever vaccinations and Brazilian visas slowed the process to a crawl. Apparently, some passengers were clueless that these were requirements.
Classes were offered of Word 7, related photo microsoft software and using all the features on cameras. Classes were well attended and had great content!
Lectures on ports were offered. Some misinformation and helpful information was provided during these lectures. There were also a few lectures on topics unrelated to the cruise itinerary. They were ok.
Culinary classes were offered and were well attended.
Sea days tours of the ship were provided and well attended.
Please be advised that "Anytime Dining" on this ship requires a reservation. This caused major unpleasant issues for a number of hungry passengers during the first week of the cruise. The maitre de was rude (I am being kind; I assume he was new and will be replaced after the dry-docking of the ship.)
The first two days of the cruise "Code Red" was implemented as a preventive measure to avoid the spread of illnesses during the cruise. The Lido buffet isn't really spacious enough to accommodate roped off sections of the space generally used for traversing the buffet sections. This was an acceptable inconvenience. Who wants to be quarantined during a cruise?
Because the ship cannot filter the muddy water of the Amazon, there were some water restrictions during the cruise. The self serve laundries were closed for about a week, the ships laundry was closed for a few days and there was a day or two when the Lido buffet used paper napkins. The hot tubs were emptied and not refilled for this portion of the cruise (Brazilian law prohibits the emptying of water from the ship). The salt water pool was also emptied and not refilled until departing the Amazon River.
Temperatures were in the mid 80's for the duration of the cruise and the humidity was high. There were insects attracted to the lights from the ship at night, but during the day insect annoyance was non-existent. (This included eco tours out of Manaus.) Most passengers had prescriptions for Malarone as did I, but I personally never saw one mosquito. The night before entering the Amazon River, I laid out all my clothes by the back pool and drenched them with some super insect repellent that unfortunately, lasts through 5 washings! Totally unnecessary for this cruise.
There were a couple of great excursions arranged through the CC roll call; one for St. Lucia and the second for Manaus. [Please read the roll call for detailed information; http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1235455].
Ports of call:
St. Lucia: Took an excellent excursion arranged by a member of CC. Highlights: Traveled by van and boat. Food and beverages were provided during this excursion, with a blue beverage van appearing at most of the scheduled stops. Swam beneath the Pitons, viewed the old volcano, sulphur springs, banana plantation, and a meditation garden.
Devil's Island (Ile Royale) French Guiana: No sharks visible. Required to tender into this port of call, waited for open call to go over. It was definitely worth the tender ride over. One can hike a couple of miles and view indigenous rodents, birds and buildings from the old prison. There is also a small hotel on the property.
Macapa: Port of entry for ships entering the Amazon. The excursion ride into Macapa revealed views similar to most Latin American countries. Macapa is a great sized urban area. I've never seen so many shoe stores in my life!! (Minimum heels were probably 6 inches). Local police are also Brazilian military -- carry side arms and are never alone. Most shocking: Saw a trashed Dunhill package of cigarettes--on the back side has a photo of a foot minus a toe and a couple of black toes and letters stating "Gangrena." It's an effective deterrent to smoking. Definitely got my attention.
Santarem, Brazil: Santarem is the third largest city along the Amazon....I never left the port to visit the city; I boarded a small boat (24 passengers) from the dock! Today was the piranha fishing excursion.......it turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to visit a couple of tributaries, view a number of "meetings of the water," view water crafts that local folks utilize to visit shopping areas, view a couple small ranches, a number of local fishermen, lots of different birds, a funny orange butterfly and what is considered the Amazon jungle.
Boca da Valeria, Brazil: Boca da Valeria, a tiny village of the original native Indians. It appeared to be a poverty stricken area -- it felt like Tijuana, Mexico25 years ago with all the children asking for money. Some adults and children were dressed in costumes, others held odd pet animals that originally came from the jungle...sloths, a couple monkeys, a huge snake, various lizards...if passengers took their photos they wanted $1 payment. They had a small school, church and a one room bar specifically for tourists. The passengers loved it. $2 ice cold beers and water which beat the cruise ship prices.
There were small fishing boats, built like canoes but with 5 horse engines that offered rides up the tributary to the village of Valeria. The ride was fun. I hooked up with another single woman that wanted to go -off we went. We traveled about 2 miles--lots of water birds visible. We didn't pass any housing. When we stopped, the guy waved for us to follow him up a 30 degree incline...it was muggy and warm...the perspiration is just dripping off of us. We get to the top and there is the larger village Valeria. The school looked new and had the red clay roof tile; the main street had street lights...and pretty much every house had a satellite dish out front. There was one pole with all kinds of wires going to and from a solar energy panel. Turns out the solar panel was providing energy for the telephone lines in the community. I was a little surprised....most of the houses had little electric meters out front.
Manaus, Brazil: [Free wifi at port office] Another excellent excursion arranged by a CC member. (Weather was rainy for a large part of the day.) First we traveled to an Indian community housed on Federal Protected land. A prayer ceremonial dance/performance was provided. Costumes (or lack thereof) and odd musical instruments entertained us. Next we visited the Pink Dolphin Research facility (a lengthy small boat ride). We couldn't actually swim with the dolphins, we could stand on an underwater platform and the folk that work there attracted the dolphins near us with food...The water was toasty warm which encouraged most everyone to participate. Sneaky mammals. The dolphins would stay underwater and swim behind you and push your legs to terrorize you, and then pop up to receive their treats. After visiting with the pink dolphins it was about 2 hours (because of heavy rain) to get to the lunch on a floating restaurant. The buffet of local foods provided was excellent and included piranha. . The best part of the excursion for me occurred behind the restaurant. What a delight! We were able to view monkeys in the trees, and caiman (smaller alligators) in the water. Multiple types of birds. This for me was the highlight of the day. (I didn't like the dolphins swimming behind me and pushing at my legs. Day 2 I had planned to meet with a couple of other passengers and walk around Manaus city center. Coming off the ship, I saw the driver of the little boat the previous day; his boat was available to provide tours, so another great day of boating up and down Amazon River tributaries.
Parintins, Brazil: As an excursion offered by the ship, Holland America leased the convention center and had a mini performance of the Boi Bumba Festival performance. God! What a party for the eyes. The costumes were fantastic...most of the lead roles in the performance had huge feathers...two of the costumes must have been 20 feet wide and high...they guys were like harnessed in them.... Then they had 30 foot high snakes coming out the sides of a face that had to be 30 feet high, a fish that had to be longer than my house...after the chorus sang and danced, each opened and the most festively dressed female important character was revealed....came down to floor level and was harnessed into the most outrageously beautiful feathered back costume. This undoubtedly was the best ship excursion offered, both in value and passenger satisfaction.
Alter do Chao, Brazil: Small little port we had to tender into... the small dock was too small to accommodate easy docking of the tender boats e so they had a small vessel docked and the ship tender pulls along side, passengers transfer to the smaller vessel then out to the ramp. It's like a pass through. Very very small town, looked like it may be a vacation area of Santarem, Brazil. We were only there a few hours--enough time to swim in the Rio Tapajos (tributary to Amazon...clearer water--brownish tint but not muddy) and walk 10 minutes into town to see what trinkets were available. Seems like all of the street vendors along the Amazon buy their products from the same company! There was one nice shop, which had art work from a number of Tribes. I believe the name of the shop was Arariba. I could have spent a full day in there just looking.
Bridgetown, Barbados: Went to the Boatyard Beach. Taxi was $10 entrance with chair, umbrella and drink with taxi back to cruise port every 15 minutes $12. Water and weather were perfect! Other passengers raved about the Green Monkey excursion offered by HAL.
Bequia, one of the Grenadines Islands: Tiny little island, from which one can view St. Vincent (7-9 miles north depending on the source of the information.) The ship anchored off of Port Elizabeth. It is a "port" because the ferry runs to St. Vincent multiple times a day. Gorgeous, not actually geared up for tourists or at least not for ships full of passengers. Interesting fact: There are fisher people that hunt whales during our late winter/early spring. It wasn't clear if each boat could be licensed for two a year or the island of Bequia was allowed two per year.
Aruba: Free wifi from the Renaissance Hotel lobby next to the coffee shop. I spent the short time here in the Crystal casino.
The food was good...not as outstanding as past Holland America cruises. Lamb was on the menu every day and defrosted crÃ¨me puffs (similar to those available at Sam's Club or COSTCO stores) were laid out twice daily as dessert options. Pasta and pizza were available on the Lido deck afternoons between meals. One excellent option that Holland America continues to provide is ordering from the dining room menu for room service.
Afternoon tea was provided daily with various themes. An added attraction was the String Band that played daily. They were excellent!
I dined at the Pinnacle Grill one time with some friends I made onboard. It was enjoyable. Service was choppy (new staff), the entrees satisfactory, and the desert fabulous! The experience fell short of past experiences of dining in Holland America ships in the Pinnacle Grill.
It was a very relaxing cruise. Early nights for most passengers.
Internet access through the ship was costly and not worth purchasing. It was better to find free wife at ports or internet cafes.
The best entertainment on the Prinsendam was performed by a group called Rosario Strings, this group consists of three musicians, one played the piano, another played the cello and another played the violin. They played during tea and in the evening in the lounge across from the backdoor of the casino.
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