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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
We were looking for a Panama cruise and this fit the bill as far as the ship, type of passenger, itinerary. The ship itself was very nice, the crew were good, the activities good. There was plenty of room on board with places to relax. ... Read More
We were looking for a Panama cruise and this fit the bill as far as the ship, type of passenger, itinerary. The ship itself was very nice, the crew were good, the activities good. There was plenty of room on board with places to relax. The pool and hot tubs were not too crowded. Overall, a wonderful experience with friends. My complaints were as follows 1. The butter put out at breakfast for toast etc was rancid and moldy. The Lido restaurant staff were told about it by multiple passengers including myself, but it was not until almost 10 days after they were told of the problem that it was finally removed and replaced. 2. The snorkel/beach excursion in Huatulco was a fraud. The coral is almost completely dead. It was a sad experience and a total waste of money. We would have been much better off just going to the beach and restaurants in the main part of town. 3. They were trying to sell water as you got off the ship to go on shore excursions which included free bottled water. Maybe spend a little more time showing consideration for the passengers and a little less time trying to sell them stuff! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by ... Read More
Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by SuperShuttle to take me to the World Cruise Center in San Pedro I received a telephone call from SuperShuttle informing me that at they had NO vehicle available to me and that they were cancelling my ride! My next thought was to try to get an Uber ride instead but, not having any experience with Uber, I was not sure how to pursue it. With the minutes fleeing by I went next door to ask Nina who I knew had used Uber for advice. It seems that Uber relies totally on the use of cell phones, which I do not have. Nina immediately found me an Uber ride, arriving within 10 minutes, just enough time to turn off my TV and lock up my house. An Uber arrived very soon and I was off only a few minutes later than my original departure time of 9 am with SuperShuttle, arriving at the World Cruise Center and my ship, Holland America’s ms Amsterdam, at about 10:30 am. Almost no one else was checking in this early and I was checked in with no wait at all by 11 am, going into the waiting room until my group numbered 7 was called to board, which occurred just before noon. Very quick process! I easily found my upgraded room, 2633, on the Main Deck 2 and it was as to be expected - almost. About 2/3 back from bow of the ship, its location is about the best possible. One change I immediately observed on entering was the bathroom that had been substantially upgraded with the old-fashioned tub and shower combination now replaced with a beautiful and large glass-enclosed shower. My room on the ms Zaandam last July on my Alaskan cruise was identical - except for the bathroom. Since my luggage would not be delivered for a while I went to the Dining Room for a casual lunch, and a glass of wine - of course! Then I stopped by the Pinnacle Grill to schedule my two evenings’ dining at this specialty restaurant, pre-purchased beforehand online. Departure time for our voyage was to be at 5 pm and occurred shortly thereafter. With my luggage now having been delivered to my stateroom I proceeded to begin my unpacking, delayed by my 8 pm dinner in the Dining Room where I had requested a table of 4. However, it turned out that I was the only one at this table so the Maitre D’ suggested that I might prefer a smaller table for 2, which I gladly accepted. Unlike other cruise first nights, prime rib was NOT offered! Too bad! Expecting rough seas because of the recent stormy weather in Southern California, I was pleasantly surprised by the absolutely smooth seas and had no difficulty at all falling asleep in my very comfortable double bed on this, my first night aboard the Amsterdam, headed for the Panama Canal. ~~~At Sea, January 8th & 9th~~~ The seas continue to be smooth as glass, much to my surprise but not to my disliking. With all of the stormy weather in Southern California, I had expected rougher seas. So far, so good! Being the first day at sea this was the first of three “gala”, or formal evenings during this cruise, so out came my coat and tie to wear. The day had been very relaxing with little to do except to complete my unpacking so I was ready for my dinner scheduled for 8 pm and it was not disappointing. I do not recall my menu choices but they were very good in any case. Then it was another early to bed; I am not the night owl I once was! On Wednesday, our second day at sea, I spent most of the day in my stateroom after enjoying yet another breakfast delivered to my room, which will be my normal habit, I think. Although yesterday I did go to the dining room for breakfast, it is so easy to just order in. I know I am missing all of the interplay with the rest of the passengers but, after 53 cruises, I quickly grow tired of hearing all about their grandkids, health problems, recent surgeries, etc., etc. Enough! Fortunately the TV in staterooms has my favorite MSNBC channel which I watch most of the time. With the government shutdown I am beginning to become concerned about my return flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles on January 22nd, by way of Charlotte, North Carolina, a major hub for American Airlines. I am hoping that the wait time for TSA Security check is not unreasonably lengthy when I get to the Ft. Lauderdale airport for my 1 pm flight. Also the weather is of concern. We shall see... That’s about it so far; I will have much more to report after tomorrow’s stop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. ~~~Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - January 10th~~~ After another night of calm seas, our arrival in Puerto Vallarta was right on schedule, at 8 am. There was another Holland America ship, the ms Eurodam, also in port. It has been a few years since I was last here and I was amazed at the recent growth: new port facilities, numerous new high-rise buildings stretching all along the shore of Banderas Bay. My choice of tour for the day was “Best of Puerto Vallarta” departing at 9 am. This is a repeat from the last time I was here, and involved a walking tour of old downtown PV including a walk along the Malecon, or bay front, with all of the many bronze statues present there. The street along here is now restricted to a pedestrian one which was a wise change. We then had a short visit to the famous Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral that incidentally was my first there. Then it was back on the bus for the Tequila Factory part of our tour. The drive out of Puerto Vallarta, past the busy International Airport, was farther that I recalled, but soon we arrived at the familiar Hacienda Dona Engracia for our tour of tequila making, followed by tasting - yeah! - followed by a nice buffet lunch - including choice of beverage - beneath a large tent. My choice was a Margarita, of course! New this time was a performance by a talented group of two couples of fiesta dancers, performed on a center stage in the middle of the tent. Their dances were both quite active as well as exquisitely costumed. There was even a very talented ropedancer performing during a costume change for the dancers. All in all, a most excellent addition to this popular tour. Oh, did I mention the unlimited supply of Margaritas? A good time was had by all! Leaving the Tequila Factory, we returned at 2 pm to our ship, the ms Amsterdam, concluding a wonderful visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tomorrow is another day at sea until we reach Huatulco, Mexico, on Saturday, so there probably won’t be too much to report. ~~~At Sea & Huatulco, Mexico - January 11th & 12th~~~ Another day at sea on remarkably smooth waters, I spent most of the day in my stateroom, again enjoying my breakfast delivered by Benny, in exchange for a customary $2 tip: black coffee, cranberry and orange juices, ham and cheddar cheese omelet along with hash brown potatoes and English muffin. I can wear my sweat pants and sweat shirt in the privacy of my room - all very laid-back and relaxing. I forgot to mention my dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant aboard, on the evening of the second day at sea, Wednesday, January 9th. Online I had purchased for $62 two dinners here, each regularly priced at $35. Starting with a shrimp cocktail of three enormous shrimp - easily the size of small lobster tails, my entree was a 10-ounce filet mignon steak, expertly cooked to medium rare and so, so tender! Dessert was a chocolate soufflé that was incredible. Enjoyable, to say the least! My other dinner here will be on our last evening at sea before arriving at Ft. Lauderdale on January 21st. Huatulco is our second port of call in Mexico, which I had visited on a previous Princess cruise years ago. Today my choice of tour was a “beach break” at one of the many new resort hotels now populating this once-small port, the Secrets Resort. After a small coach ride of about 30 minutes, we arrived at the resort’s gate and were temporarily delayed from entering until proper identification was made. An enormous new resort with many levels leading down to the perfect, crescent-shaped Conejos Bay, the open lobby with high ceilings greeted the 12 of us in our group. After a brief explanation of the facilities and what was available to us, we were allowed the use of all of this inclusive resort’s offerings, including restaurants, pools, beach, and bars. My first choice was a trip to the Castaways Restaurant, located at some distance from the lobby and accessed by means of a small shuttle. I was about 5 minutes early for their 12-noon opening but was soon seated at a table in this open-air luxurious establishment. Ordering a Margarita on the rocks I relaxed immediately for a leisurely lunch. The menu was presented on a large billboard placed near my table and my choice was a rib-eye steak following delicious guacamole and salsa dip with chips. The steak was prepared to perfection as medium rare, and was absolutely delectable! A dessert of coffee flavored mousse topped off my “lunch”. A short shuttle ride brought me back to the lobby where I began looking for the pools. An elevator took me down to the lower level where a variety of beautiful pools were located and, unfortunately, the lounges were already fully occupied. So I sought out a nearby beach bar and ordered more Margaritas. After the two I had enjoyed with lunch, I enjoyed two more here! On the way back up to the lobby I stopped for yet another drink at another open-air bar, enjoying the coolness of it all. We were to meet in the lobby at 3:30 pm for our return trip to the ship, so I went back up to the lobby just after 3 pm, not wanting to be late. There I found yet another bar offering me yet another Margarita while waiting. Others in our group began to appear and 3:30 pm came and went with no sign of our coach back to the ship. Finally, around 4 pm, one arrived - not the same one in which we had been brought here. Evidently through some mix-up, our original coach had been cancelled and another replacement made. Never the less, we were delivered back to our ship, almost on schedule. All in all, a very enjoyable - and liquid! - day in Huatulco, Mexico. Tomorrow we are to be docked at Puerto Chiapas, Mexico a first visit for me. ~~~Puerto Chiapas, Mexico - January 13th~~~ Being my first visit to this small port of call, I had chosen a tour to the Argovia Express: Coffee Tasting and Botanical Gardens for the day. Nothing much else exists at this port except for a new elaborate cruise center. So I was dismayed to be informed the evening before that, due to low participation, this tour had been cancelled! Other tours were offered in replacement but none to my liking, so my visit to Puerto Chiapas was aborted; I chose to stay on the ship all day. Thus, my day was spent much the same as a sea day, relaxing in my stateroom. With ports of call for each of the next three days, the loss of this day was not too great. ~~~Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - January 14th~~~ Originally I had booked a tour just to the old city of Antigua but, having my previous coffee tour cancelled, I decided to change to a tour that would also include a visit to a coffee plantation: “Coffee Estate & Antigua”. Leaving the ship around 8:30 am we traveled on a very new coach for 90 minutes to the Filadelfia Coffee Estate on the outskirts of Antigua where we were given an informative tour of different portions of the estate: nursery, drying areas, mills, and packaging. Then we were invited to a lunch at the estate of an expertly prepared strip steak along with guacamole, black beans and rice, followed by a delicious coffee flavored mousse. Of course, a cup of their finest coffee accompanied this substantial meal. I heard NO complaints at all! Then we were given the opportunity of shopping in their small shop; for me, a bag of their coffee! Switching to two smaller vans, now required in the city instead of the large coaches, we then proceeded into the center of Antigua where we were given a somewhat lengthy walking tour, ending at the city square and the large cathedral. My legs are still crying out in pain! Finally, back again on our large comfortable coach, we spent another hour or so returning to the port and our ship at 4:30 pm, a long, enjoyable albeit energetic day. It was so good to return to my comfortable stateroom for a rest before preparing for dinner. ~~~Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua - January 15th~~~ My tour today was first to the ancient ruins of the original capital city of Leon, destroyed by a volcano and seismic activity in 1610, covering it completely, and becoming the “Pompeii of Central America”. Rediscovered in 1967 it is now a World Heritage Site. It involved walking around the several acres observing walls or parts of walls still existing. The destruction was so severe that it was decided to relocate the new city elsewhere. All very interesting if you are into archeology but with all of the walking with not too much to see, my boredom reared its ugly head - in addition to my also sore legs. Returning to the entrance we were treated to an enjoyable and delicious Nicaraguan lunch in a local restaurant, consisting of chicken, steak, rice and beans, along with crispy fried plantains (bananas). A welcome relief from our walk! We then proceeded on for another hour to the modern city of Leon, traveling through very interesting and scenic country, including many volcanoes, most dormant but some still active. Mount Momotombo is the largest volcano and steam clouds could be seen coming from its cone-shaped summit. In the “modern” (really colonial) city of Leon, we were let off our coach near the city square and given a tour of the monumental cathedral there; it is immense! The interior is quite impressive with the many arches, altars and artwork. We were given the opportunity of climbing the 85 steps to the bell tower from which a magnificent view is possible. OR, if not, visiting a nearby restaurant for a cooling beverage; I chose the later! Finally it was back on our comfortable coach for the hour-long drive back to the port and our ship, arriving again about 4:30 pm along with several other buses at the exact same time. Getting back aboard became a lengthy process. Again, it was SO good to be back in my stateroom to rest my weary legs. Tomorrow in Costa Rica there will be MORE walking! ~~~Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica - January 16th~~~ This will be my 5th visit to Costa Rica and it remains one of my favorites. Seeking to try something different as far as excursions, the one entitled “A Walk in the Clouds” caught my attention, and it did live up to my expectations, although my poor legs might disagree. Leaving the ship at 9:30 am our coach departed the port of Calderas, one of the two Pacific ports for Costa Rica, the other being Puerto Arenas, about 20 miles away, and began our slow but gradual climb up into the range of mountains, their tops covered by clouds. Eventually we will have climbed to over 4500 feet above sea level and be right among the “clouds”. The drive was quite pleasant with the vistas right out of a picture book. We drove through several small towns, coffee plantations, and past many luxurious homes. Finally arriving at our destination, the Finis Nature Conservatory, amid a thick cloud cover, our first stop was for the rest rooms. Then after a short orientation talk by our tour guide we were separated into two groups for our trek. The group I was in was assigned a young enthusiastic naturalist student who was excellent in his knowledge of everything we would be observing. Our first stop was a nearby butterfly enclosure into which we entered and saw dozens of the fluttering insects. One in particular was a very large butterfly with bright blue wings, and whose name escapes me. Our guide explained all of phases of a butterfly’s life that I found most interesting. Next we came upon a suspension bridge, one of many that we would be crossing, high above the canyon and definitely a bit scary! We then proceeded to hike down and down along a trail marked with many stair steps, toward the small river below. A thick cable alongside the path aided tremendously in steadying our progress. More suspension bridges were encountered and eventually we reached the creek at the canyon’s bottom. A spectacular waterfall could be seen nearby and it was here that we encountered the other group having traveled in the opposite direction. Then came the hard part: going back UP the other trail, back to our starting point. My legs screaming out to me, my main problem was breathing and exhaustion but with several rest stops, I made it to our stop near the top where many hummingbird feeders were located. Hundreds of these tiny and colorful birds flittered all around, helping themselves to the feeders. Our guide then explained a lot about the different kinds of hummingbirds present, their habits, and aspects of their lives. Then it was only a short distance farther to our starting point where our lunch was waiting in a large open-air building. Lunch consisted of a buffet offering chicken and beef along with salads, rice and black beans. A delicious berry drink completed our hard-fought-for repast. Then it was time to reboard our coach for the trip back down to our ship. In one of the towns through which we had passed, a brief stop was made for shopping at a large store that offered many souvenirs of Costa Rica, including many coffees for which this country is famous. I purchased a bag of Cafe Britt Dark Roast coffee beans for $17; rather expensive I thought. On previous trips to Costa Rica I had toured the Cafe Britt Coffee Plantation in San Jose and had purchased coffee from them there and on their website. I don’t think I paid so much then! Our tour guide decided to take us by way of a different route back to the port and our ship and we passed through many small towns on the way. In each, he pointed out the presence of a Catholic Church, a school, and a soccer field. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates of any country in the world, largely in part to their elimination of a military many years ago, the resulting emphasis then being placed on education. Right on schedule at 4 pm we arrived back at our ship, this time being the only tour getting back. There was an ambulance at the gangway, most probably some passenger had had a medical emergency; I never found out. As always, it was a relief to get back to my stateroom for a rest before dinner at 8 pm. ~~~At Sea & the Panama Canal Transit - January 17th & 18th~~~ Another full day at sea was required for our travel on to the Panama Canal from Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica, and about the only significant activity of the day for me was the “Gala” or Formal Night. As usual I enjoyed my in-stateroom breakfast, delivered by Benny - who gladly accepts my daily $2 tip: ham and cheddar cheese omelet with hash browns, coffee and juices (cranberry and orange). Finally, our Gala Dinner included “Surf & Turf”, fillet mignon and lobster tail, all very good with my steak grilled to medium rare perfection. Dessert was a Peach Crisp, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum-yum! Our approach to the Panama Canal started quite early on Friday morning with our passing beneath the Bridge of Americas occurring around 6:30 am. With the many towers of the very modern Panama City visible in the distance to the right, and the cranes of the port along side our approach in the channel, we reached the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, about 7 am. Passing through this set of two locks took about an hour putting us in the small lake leading to the second lock, the Pedro Miguel Lock, about 8:30 am. The new set of locks recently opened are located to the left and consist of a set of three locks, much larger at 1200 feet long and 150 feet wide, than the original locks at 955 feet long and 106 feet wide. Once past these locks we entered the portion of the Canal called the Culebra Cut where the majority of the construction excavation took place. A relatively new bridge spans the Canal just before this entrance, and is a stunningly beautiful modern structure. Materials removed for this Cut were used to build the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, creating the Gatun Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Western Hemisphere, and supplying the constant source of fresh water used in the locks. At around the middle of the Canal, before entering the Gatun Lake, we passed by the port of Gamboa at about 10:30 am where much of the maintenance equipment for the Canal is located. Then it was on into the large Gatun Lake for the lengthy passage across to the final set of locks, the Gatun Locks, arriving there around noontime. With three locks, the transit of the Gatun Locks took almost 2 hours. The newly opened set of three locks is located to the right side of the original Gatun Locks, and the super structures of the immense cargo ships using it could barely be seen over the trees. While in the midst of our ship being lowered from one lock into the next, we observed huge cargo ships being raised in the adjoining locks, some stacked so tall with containers as to strain one’s imagination! And yet they were able to use the original locks! One last such cargo ship entering the Canal southbound through the Gatun Locks appeared to be a car transporter because of its huge solid side walls and a ramp on its rear. Gigantic! After returning to the sea level of the Caribbean Sea, we further transited a channel into the Sea, passing beneath an almost-completed new bridge across the Canal, a beautiful new modern bridge not unlike the one crossing the Canal just prior to the Culebra Cut. Entering the Caribbean Sea, the port city of Cristobal was just off the right side. Once we took a cruise on the Grand Princess that, being too large to transit the Canal, ported us here; we then took the train across the Isthmus to Panama City. This railroad predates the Canal by many years and only takes an hour or so to make the trip alongside the Panama Canal. Our entrance into the Caribbean saw the end of our smooth seas; that evening was quite bumpy, a indication of rough seas to come. One good finale to the day was the serving of delectable prime rib in the restaurant that evening. My slice of prime rib was one of THE BEST I have ever enjoyed! Tomorrow: Cartagena, Columbia, our last port of call. ~~~Cartagena, Columbia & Day at Sea - January 19th & 20th~~~ After a night of active sea action, our noon arrival in the huge bay of Cartagena was a relief from the bumpy ride from the Panama Canal. The newer part of this ancient city is resplendent with high towers, mostly residential. On the other side of the bay is located the remnants of the old walled city, walled for protection from the pirates of old. Our ship docked at the main pier to the right of this section, next to another ship, the Monarch, one of Pullmantur’s fleet. The tour I selected for our afternoon in Cartagena included first a catamaran ride from near where our ship was docked, requiring a somewhat lengthy walk, around the bay past the towers on the peninsula to the left and the older section to the right, passing the Colombian Navy installation, finally docking alongside a dock near the walled city. Disembarking the catamaran we were immediately besieged by hordes of street sellers, selling everything from jewelry to hats to T-shirts to water, ... Having been here twice before, I was prepared for the constant barrage, just saying “NO!” repeatedly. Crossing a busy street we came alongside a proportion of the old wall, to an opening that we entered and proceeded with our waking tour of this older part of the city, around the very narrow streets and visiting several plazas. One special plaza was dedicated to Simon Bolivar whose statue adorned the center of the square. A cooling breeze largely compromised the reported high temperatures for the afternoon. Otherwise it would have been miserably hot. Much shade was also provided by the buildings being so closely packed together. We passed by a very elaborate building that had been the one time home of Sir Francis Drake, now available as a high rent hotel. Most buildings facing the narrow streets contain central courtyards with trees and fountains. Also observed was the old cathedral although we did not get to enter. Proceeding around several blocks we eventually returned to our original entrance where a tour of an emerald museum was offered. Entering we were presented with a mock-up of an emerald mine and a museum guide told us all about emerald mining. According to him, Columbia is the largest and best source for emeralds in the world. Of course we were eventually lead into their showroom where emerald jewelry could be purchased. I bought nothing! We were then given an hour or so of free time and, when I asked our tour guide for a good place to get a beer, he indicated a stairway leading to a very nice restaurant just above the emerald museum, where I found a table on their balcony overlooking the square below. Excellent location! After two beers I felt hungry so I ordered a shrimp dish that turned out to be absolutely delicious! And a third beer, of course! When the check arrived, the total - in pesos - was 69,000! Putting it on my Alaska Airlines Visa, this huge total amounted to just over $20. Rejoining our tour group at 4:15 pm, we all then proceeded back to where our catamaran was waiting and boarded for the return boat ride back to our ship. Upon arrival we were offered a free shuttle back along the dock to our ship’s location, fortunately! My poor legs were complaining! As always it was good to again be back aboard and in my stateroom. The ms Amsterdam departed Cartagena at 6 pm. Once past the harbor entrance, the sea action began again and continued through out the night. The next day was another sea day, one of two until our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. My day was as usual, having breakfast in my room, and writing some more on my cruise journal. As the last of our “Gala” nights, I again dressed for dinner in coat and tie. It was a surprise that we again were presented with the same menu as for our previous formal night, “Surf & Turf” which I gladly enjoyed once again, beginning with a generous shrimp cocktail. Staying up way past my bedtime, I waited up to observe the lunar eclipse of the “Super Moon” that occurred around 10:30 pm. My location on the ship for viewing was in the Crow’s Nest Lounge on Deck 8. The full moon was directly overhead as I sat near the front of the lounge. Very cool! Tomorrow I am invited to the Captain’s Reception at 12:30 pm for the Mariners Society, Holland America’s loyalty group of repeat customers, to be followed by a special luncheon in the Dining Room at 1 pm. We will no doubt be receiving the traditional Delft tile from HAL. ~~~Last Day at Sea & Return Trip Home - January 21st & 22nd~~~ The seas had calmed down quite a bit during the day and I went to the Main Stage Theater for the Captain’s Mariners Society Reception at 12:30 pm where I encountered a huge crowd; Holland America has a great repeat business. After struggling to receive my free glass of champagne - I didn’t sit in the right seat! - I did enjoy viewing the many awards to several passengers, mostly quite old, for their unbelievable numbers of cruises taken. My 10 cruises and 129 days had already received a Bronze Medallion on a previous HAL cruise, so I was not individually recognized. Following the Reception we all moved to a special area of the Dining Room for our Mariner Society Luncheon, including wine! Luckily I sat at a table with my new friends, Pat & George, from my many visits to the Ocean Bar on Deck 5. My menu choice was a delectable filet mignon, cooked to perfection - medium rare, and so, so tender! The Captain spoke once more and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves a lot. Dessert was a delicious berry cheesecake that was outstanding! All in all, a very nice experience. Then it was the most dreaded time of any cruise - packing up to leave! However, over my 54 previous cruises I have become adept in the accomplishment of this duty so my luggage was almost completely packed by late afternoon, needing only the clothes and dopp kit required for getting ready for my second evening dining at the specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill at 7 pm. I had delivered extra tips to my waiters and wine steward in the dining room the previous evening, so only remaining were my favorite bartenders in the Ocean Bar, and my two room stewards that I would deliver tonight. For a cruise of this length - 15 days - I usually give them each $20; this is in addiction to the automatic tip of $13.50 charged daily to my shipboard account that is distributed to all service staff - they say! I often wonder how much of this substantial amount actually reaches the intended people! As usual I went to the Ocean Bar before dinner where I said my goodbyes to both Suvit and Mervin - both from the Philippines, as well as to Pat & George from Virginia with whom I had become good friends. Then it was off to the Pinnacle Grill for my last meal aboard. My appetizer again was a cocktail of HUGE shrimp - 4 of them, and almost as large as small lobster tails. SO GOOD! And again I chose the 10-ounce filet mignon, grilled to perfection at medium rare, accompanied by side dishes of creamed spinach, mushrooms and grilled asparagus. I ate every bit of it! For dessert I enjoyed a berry Baked Alaska, sufficient size to serve two, but again I finished it off! What a final dinner! Then it was reluctantly back to my stateroom to finish my packing that was done quickly, adding my dinner clothes and dopp kit to my luggage, being careful to leave out clothes to wear in the morning. In addition to my one suitcase I also use a Princess tote bag to carry my iPad, head phones for the airplane, passport, and a SuperShuttle confirmation sheet, along with American Airlines boarding passes which I had earlier printed in the ship’s internet center. All done, I placed my locked and tagged luggage in the hallway for pickup before midnight; mine was out by 10:30 pm. Special tags indicating departure group from the ship had been issued - mine was Yellow 1, and I left right on schedule at 8:30 am for the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and my 1 pm flight to Charlotte, NC, there changing planes for Los Angeles. Of course I missed my usual breakfast room service on the morning of departure, but waiting in my stateroom until my group color was called allowed me to sleep in until around 7:30 am. Departure was through the forward exit door on Deck 2 so it was most convenient for me since my stateroom was 2633, on Deck 2. A special parting touch of this cruise was the lineup of crew members at the exit as we left the ship, all bidding us farewell and thanks for choosing Holland America. I don’t recall anything like this on previous ships. Very nice! After the long walk in the terminal to the baggage collection hall, I found mine quickly and showing my passport to the emigration control agent allowed my exit to the awaiting airport bus located at the entrance. First telling the driver my flight airline - American Airlines, I went aboard and relaxed for the short drive to the airport, very nearby the cruise ship terminals at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. Arrival at the airport was around 9:30 am and, after a short walk from where the bus dispatched us for American Airlines to the terminal, I quickly checked my luggage with an outdoor agent, not having to pay the $25 fee since I have an AAdvantage Visa card. Inside I found NO lines for security check in and rapidly made way through TSA Pre Check with no delay. Then it was off to find my departure gate E5 and then a nearby restaurant to eat breakfast. Luckily there was a Jack Nicklaus restaurant right next to Gate E5 and, after a short wait for a table, I ordered an immense 3-egg omelet loaded with mushrooms, onions and sausage, served with hash browns and wheat toast: and coffee, of course. Since my flight was not until 1 pm with boarding at 12:30 pm, I had a very enjoyable and relaxing breakfast, sitting there watching all the hordes of people now passing by; the terminal had gotten quite crowded since my arrival. With my Main Cabin Extra Seat on American Airlines, I receive early boarding so just on schedule I boarded Flight 1924 for Charlotte and found my assigned bulkhead seat 5C with no delay. Then I got to watch as the plane filled, all passing right by me. After a bit of bumpiness on take off, the rest of the 2-hour Flight was remarkably smooth and our arrival was almost 30 minutes early, which caused some delay in finding an open gate; the one originally assigned was still occupied. Deplaning in this very large and busy terminal of Charlotte, a hub for American Airlines, I located my departure gate for Los Angeles and was dismayed to find it to be Gate B14; our arrival gate had been at Gate C5. So away I went, riding the many moving sidewalks, until finally I reached Gate B14, at the very end of B concourse. Upon arriving I read that boarding would begin in 15 minutes! Very close connection with the gate change. Boarding was actually delayed by our aircraft arriving late and our eventual departure for Los Angeles was not until 4:20 pm. Again I boarded right away and got to my seat 5C right away. The flight was in fact overbooked and the boarding agent was asking for volunteers to take a later flight; I did not do so! An almost 5-hour flight, I enjoyed a Chardonnay wine twice during the flight that was really quite smooth with only few short periods of minor turbulence. Sleep for me occurred in short patches during the flight and I was happy when our final descent into LA began. There was some turbulence as we passed over the Banning Pass moving our plane about, but the landing was smooth. We landed on LAX’s north runway and had to circle the airport, around the new construction area, past Bradley Terminal, until finally reaching our Gate 42B. First stopping at the nearest bathroom, I then proceeded to locate our baggage carousel that turned out to be Number 4. I was lucky to see my luggage come around very soon and, with a struggle to get it off the carousel, I was then off to find SuperShuttle’s dispatcher for my prepaid ride home. I found the dispatcher’s desk vacant and waited for the next SuperShuttle van to come along. With some confusion, the van for John Wayne Airport eventually took me aboard, along with 4 others seeking transfer to Orange County, so I expected it to be another lengthy trip; I was actually the third one delivered, at about 9:15 pm. The end of a long, exhausting day of travel. Struggling to find the right keys to open my front door, finally I was inside and immediately turned on my heater. Everything looked just fine after 15 days of absence, and it was so, so good to slip into my own bed last night. Today, Wednesday, it could not be more beautiful outside and I put the garbage cans out for their regular collection. My luggage full of dirty clothes will just have to wait! I am home! ~Ron Read Less
Sail Date: December 2018
Friends talked us into going on this cruise with them. Before this HAL was their favourite line ... now they've said they'll never cruise with them again. Horrendous doesn't begin to describe this. Constant maintenance ... Read More
Friends talked us into going on this cruise with them. Before this HAL was their favourite line ... now they've said they'll never cruise with them again. Horrendous doesn't begin to describe this. Constant maintenance (grinding rust most days for several hours), they closed the shops down, they closed the pools down, there was virtually no onboard entertainment (with the exception of the nightly show), few activities, and rude staff (not all of them, of course). Our cabin steward, Deny, was awesome - the best thing about the cruise. This ship should have been in dry dock but instead, greedy Holland America put it into service and did the maintenance while passengers were on board. Disgusting. You couldn't hold a conversation in the lounge because of the constant rust grinding going on. The gym was great - could always get onto the equipment. Only one gym instructor for the whole voyage. She worked from 6am-6pm every.single.day. Supposed to be two but this cruise line is so penny pinching. Onboard band was pretty good but they only played about four times. New Year's eve was a 'mentalist' - so bad half the audience walked out. Happy New Year! We've cruised many times but this was our most expensive and worst cruise ever. With the exception of breakfasts (waffles cooked to order with fresh fruit), the food was terrible. Christmas day consisted of boiled vegetables. We had asked for mashed potato but they were so incompetent they forgot to bring it. Merry Christmas! I complained to Holland America and they didn't give a toss. Tough luck ... but thanks for letting us know. NEVER. EVER. AGAIN. Do yourself a favour and go with a professional cruise line, like Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard etc. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
We cruise quite a lot and have been sailing Princess nearly exclusively for the last 6 years or so. We felt we owed it to ourselves to try another line and see whether we should "branch out". Here's a quick good, average ... Read More
We cruise quite a lot and have been sailing Princess nearly exclusively for the last 6 years or so. We felt we owed it to ourselves to try another line and see whether we should "branch out". Here's a quick good, average and ugly rundown. The good (sometimes great): Without question, the singers and dancers who performed many times throughout this voyage were the best we've ever seen. We were disappointed whenever a headliner was featured (the headliners were a mixed bag and on average were just OK) because that meant we wouldn't be seeing these 10 incredible performers. Kudos to HAL for producing incredible shows with minimal sets that really showcased the talent. We also need to give very high marks for the dinner service in the Open Seating MD on 4. From seating to service to food - they get a 10 out of t0. The only issue I have is not with the food or service but with the incessant upset. Some waiters were very pushy and insistent regarding the bottled water, the lobster, the 75 oz steak (OMG), the cappuccino, etc. I don't blame them, and the service was otherwise perfect, but it was sometimes pretty annoying and quite a shame given how great the food was and how hard they otherwise worked to deliver a very upscale experience. The average: On the occasions that we were able to enjoy a casual breakfast or lunch in the Lido (see the ugly for an explanation) we found the choices to be abundant, so many things to choose from but frankly the food just wasn't very good. The salad bar was OK, the dressings were bland and the service was sometimes pretty slow. We liked that food was served by staff and utensils weren't handled by passengers but it was often tedious. The offerings at the Dive In stand poolside was another option that looked better on the menu then in delivery. Again, the food was OK at best often evidenced by the amount of uneaten wasted food left around the pool tables. We tried a few times and were disappointed on each occasion. The band in the Crows Nest gets a nod for showing some enthusiasm and playing a good mix of music to dance to. The tried to keep the small crowd happy and up on their feet. The bad: We are both seniors, retired and pretty seasoned travelers and we found this ship to have a very institutional (assisted living) feel to it. We just returned from a 60 day cruise on Princess where the average age was very high. The vibe on this ship was much older. It's hard to explain but the whole experience seemed more suited to a senior center than a cruise ship despite having a large number of young families and kids away with grandma and grandpa for the holidays. --The reason we couldn't enjoy breakfast or lunch daily was because, despite having a large, two sided buffet, they simply closed the whole thing for long stretches at times when we would have enjoyed a meal or snack. If you danced till 12, relaxed with a book in your room, woke up at 9:30 and took a shower - you missed breakfast - completely closed at 10, reopen for lunch 11:30. If you get off the ship, as we did on a port day and return to the ship at 2:05 - no lunch for you - visit the Dive In or wait a few hours. If you get off the ship at an overnight port and return at 9:05 (yeah just our luck) the DR is closed, both sides of the buffet are closed and will reopen for a short When we lacked other options we waited 20 or 30 minutes until the phone got picked up. You can't have this kind of schedule unless you have an International Cafe type venue. Ridiculous. --The only reason we ever got to go to breakfast was because of the incredibly loud announcement at 9:15 most mornings. Usually you have to open your cabin door to hear what's being said. No here. The speaker was so loud that sleeping through it was impossible. My pleas to lower the volume were spoken to deaf ears (pun intended). Three times on this 17 day voyage the captain chose to have crew drills at 9 AM, blaring 7 short and 1 long blast into the cabin along with instructions to the crew. So loud. We've never been woken up by a crew drill in 100's of days cruising until now, 3 times in 2 weeks. Why? --The Ocean Bar would have been a lovely dance venue in the center of the ship but the trio catered to a very elderly crowd, particularly one couple and played slow fox trots and waltzes almost exclusively. One night we were the only people in the venue before the early show let out. After hearing two songs that were written in the 40's I asked the piano player to play a salsa, no one else is here. He told me that the band didn't have one - What? That was our last night in the Ocean Bar. --For probably half of the trip at least on hot tub was not useable because the temperature was way too high. Reports to the crew didn't solve the problem. Where was the crew regarding chemicals and temperature? On a ship with only one pool and two hot tubs this is a big issue. --Lastly, this old gal needs some service. Our cabin, 1801 had a loose panel that squeaked terribly when we had some seas. I reported it so they shimmed the panel.. It didn't work. I told the staff at Passenger Services that if it's not fixed by the time the world cruise comes about they will have a very unhappy guest. All in all we made our own good time. We were told, over and over again, not to let the problems evident on this ship keep us from trying HAL again. So many passengers we're complaining about the scheduling, the noise, etc but they indicated that it's not common. We may give them a chance if the opportunity arises but we may well stay loyal to Princess for some time. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2018
MS Amsterdam Grand Pacific & Asia Cruise from Sept 30 – Dec 21, 2018 Our background: Couple in our early 70s, well travelled, cruised on 15 different lines including HAL. We pick cruises for their itineraries. This 82 day cruise ... Read More
MS Amsterdam Grand Pacific & Asia Cruise from Sept 30 – Dec 21, 2018 Our background: Couple in our early 70s, well travelled, cruised on 15 different lines including HAL. We pick cruises for their itineraries. This 82 day cruise was the longest we had ever taken and we are pleased to say that it was also one of the best. Fellow passengers: Not surprising on such a long cruise, more than two thirds were 66 and over. Most were avid HAL cruisers and many I spoke to like long cruises on the Amsterdam. Ship: In good shape; frequent cleaning going on inside and maintenance outside. Crew: The hotel staff is definitely the best we have ever encountered. On other ships, it is often just a few members who go out of their way to be helpful. On the MS Amsterdam, the warm and friendly service was consistent. Everyone in the Lido buffet restaurant, the dining room, and the Neptune Lounge went way beyond what we are used to from other ships, including the Hapag Lloyd luxury line. Nothing was too much for our waiters, tea and honey when I had a cold, spicy sambal when I thought an Asian dish needed more pep, crispy dinner rolls, and you name it. Food: I believe the food budget was higher on this cruise than on our previous 14 day b2b cruises on HAL ships. We are picky about authentic taste. We were happy with the European dishes that tasted just like in the Old Country. There was daily sushi and an Asian counter in the Lido, but also all the American favorites. Daytime activities: There were so many to choose from that every passenger could find several to enjoy. I went to water color, arts & crafts, and Tai Chi taught by Master Cathy Chen, but there were many more options. My husband played bridge organized by a bridge instructor. All the presenters were interesting with topics on the regions where we travelled. Port information speakers were excellent. We had wonderful cultural ambassadors in Australia and from Fiji to Hawaii. Courageous passengers learned to dance the hula and to play the ukulele. Conclusion: We are looking into booking another HAL grand cruise. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2016
We have sailed many times on different lines, but we do prefer Holland. Recently, it has been necessary for me to book an accessible cabin for mobility issues. Once again Holland rises over other lines, as they frequently can/will ... Read More
We have sailed many times on different lines, but we do prefer Holland. Recently, it has been necessary for me to book an accessible cabin for mobility issues. Once again Holland rises over other lines, as they frequently can/will accommodate wheelchairs and scooters in tender ports whereas on Princess, for example, I'm shipbound unless we're docked. This last adventure was almost perfect; in fact ship's staff called us twice before the first tender port to make arrangements to help me disembark. I would say our cabin was great but it had a serious flaw for an accessible stateroom. Cabin 6004, a veranda on the Westerdam, is apparently the only accessible cabin with a verandah that will sleep 3, which we need. However there is a massive structural post smack inside the cabin door, making it almost impossible to maneuver once inside the room. The bathroom does offer a roll-in shower but the accessibility stops there, as there is neither a raised toilet or an accessible sink. Bottom line: DO NOT BOOK CABIN 6004 ON HOLLAND AMERICA WESTERDAM if you are actually disabled! On other notes, Westerdam is scheduled for dry dock in April 2017; try to avoid her until then, she needs the refurbishment. The staff, as always on HAL is amazingly gracious. These dedicated people work so hard and yet they are always so lovely. The food has been better on other voyages, but we learned quickly to take our waiter's advice and meals improved immediately. Entertainment was limited, but traveling with a family of 5 adults means we tend to amuse ourselves while on board - there's usually a bar close by! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
Since the moment we stepped on the boat, we were treated like royalty. The stateroom attendants, waitstaff, bartenders and even managers knew us by name. Every step we took we had a welcoming smile, good day mam/sir, and may I assist you. ... Read More
Since the moment we stepped on the boat, we were treated like royalty. The stateroom attendants, waitstaff, bartenders and even managers knew us by name. Every step we took we had a welcoming smile, good day mam/sir, and may I assist you. We could not be more happy. The food was incredible. Lots of options for a variety of eaters (vegan/vegetarian/gluten free/ even low sodium). The staff kept us busy with activities daily. The shows were incredible! Comedian, magician, professional singers, dancers and musicians entertained every night. Again, we were extremely satisfied with the plethora of options on the boat. We had new movies running in the theatre daily and running on the tele in your room the next day. Our stateroom was an inside cabin 2691. We have been on several cruises before, and the size of this room was considerably larger than others. My husband and I agreed that the queen bed was more comfortable than expected too! We had a pull out coach that we never used, but it was nice to sit on and eat room service at the table. We found it difficult to live for 3 weeks without a fridge, but with talking to other passengers found that you can rent a fridge for $2 day. (not advertised) Just ask at main office. We did not have a tub either, but we wouldn't have used it if we did (too small). All port days we did our own thing. We were on a budget, so we did not book any excursions. We walked through the main port and hopped on a local bus. At Hilo, Hawaii there is the best travel company called Hoppa On, Hoppa Off. Well worth the money for what you get. Very friendly and affordable transportation that shows you the island. The rest of is;ands we took city buses for a dollar or 2 each way and had a great time. The snorkeling was the most memorable experience. TAKE YOUR OWN SCUBA MASK! We brought our own and so glad we did. The beaches would rent them for 15-20 dollars, but you can buy your own from walmart for $5-10 and be set the entire time. -Waikiki on Oahu Hawaii is beautiful- check out punchbowl cemetaary and the view. -Pago, Pago- take city bus for $2 and go to $2 dollar beach. Best place in the world! -Vanuatu- hideaway beach and underwater post office is amazing! -Fiji- take a tour to rainforest and waterfalls. Check out their local markets, huts and culture. Stay out of Suva! -New Caledonia- french speaking, so learn how to say "i'm sorry I do not speak french, do you speak english?" The locals will respond easier to that than "english?" You will get laughed at -Sydney- take the bridge walk. It's amazing!   Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2013
We are a married couple in our early 60s, veteran cruisers, and partial to HAL. This was our longest cruise, although we have enjoyed two trans-atlantic cruises. We left Maryland a day ahead and flew to LA. We stayed at the Comfort Inn ... Read More
We are a married couple in our early 60s, veteran cruisers, and partial to HAL. This was our longest cruise, although we have enjoyed two trans-atlantic cruises. We left Maryland a day ahead and flew to LA. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Cockatoo in Hawthorne (review on Trip Advisor). After unpacking a little, we ate dinner at El Pollo Loco and walked to find a grocery store. We finally found a large strip mall and bought Cokes and a few misc. items for the cruise. The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel, walked to the strip mall again for some exercise, and got the shuttle ($34/2, Super Shuttle) to the ship. We boarded the “Volendam” around noon and found our room: Lower Promenade deck (3410). Our ocean view room was more a promenade view, and while no one could see inside our cabin, it was disappointing to have to look past the walkers to see the ocean. We had booked a guarantee, so this is the risk we took, but I would not want this deck again. Furthermore, the lights were always on outside our window. Our room did not have a refrigerator, but we appreciated the lighted magnifying/regular mirror on the desk, the good hair dryer in the drawer (along with the dryer in the bathroom), and the tiled bathtub!! This ship has self-serve laundry with free laundry detergent. The ship printed The New York Times digest daily (plus Canadian and Australian versions); copies were available at the buffet and in the library. However, ask at the front desk, and they will deliver it to your stateroom. For the first 48 hours, we were served our food, a policy we appreciate on HAL. The MDR was not open on embarkation day, but the buffet was an excellent option (free sushi bar). We ate there almost every day, but we would check the MDR’s lunch options before going. We were assigned AnyTime dining and were pleased with the flexibility of eating when we liked and at how large a table. If we wanted to eat with friends, we could make a reservation. On a 21-day cruise, we enjoyed meeting so many different people, as opposed to eating with the same people nightly. The food was superb in the main dining room, and while I never requested the vegetarian menu I had read was available, every night’s menu had several vegetarian options. We were not as impressed with the service; the waiters seemed continually rushed, and we rarely had our water or iced tea glasses refilled without repeated requests. We tried the Caneletto one night ($10 charge); the food was excellent and the service outstanding. Outdoor afternoon food could be had by the pool: assorted Mexican offerings, delicious guacamole, and pizza. At 10:30pm, a themed buffet opened in the Lido. You can check out the menu in the afternoon. Cookies seemed to always be available, but the ice cream is dished up, not self-serve, so it was available only at meal times. Be sure to read the daily program, for an occasional specialty lunch was served on deck. The tropical fruit buffet was spectacular, with many unusual fruits as well as fresh coconuts carved open upon request. The shrimp bbq was also amazing. But we knew some people who missed these, as they were not announced anywhere but in the program. Ship activities were standard – but definitely enjoyable - fare, although one thing I had not seen before was “Good Morning, Volendam,” a live talk show with the cruise director and the culinary director. They bantered and always had a guest on. The ship provided a bridge director, a Protestant minister (who conducted Bible studies each sea day, a very welcomed activity and, again, one we‘d never seen before), a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi (who left in Hawaii). Craft lessons, cooking demos, computer classes (go early to get a computer!!), and Dancing With the Stars at sea offered more opportunities to stay busy. Trivia games were so well-attended, we had to arrive well in advance to secure seats for our group and be near enough to the cruise director to hear the questions. HAL’s libraries are well-known for their excellence. The coffee bar (coffee drinks are priced reasonably; desserts and snacks are free) is right there, so be prepared to be tempted. The gym has the standard equipment and classes. Unfortunately, there is no running track, and signs prohibit jogging on the Promenade deck. We made do with a circuit on the sports deck, although it necessitated about fifty times around to equal a mile! Movies are shown daily in the theater (free popcorn runs out early), and if you miss one, it will be shown on the TV the next day. Hundreds of DVDs are available for in-room use; call the desk to have them delivered, or pick one up yourself (much quicker). The King Neptune ceremony to initiate those who had never crossed the equator was great fun. The lecturers are always good on HAL. We sailed with Destination Expert Ian before, and he had informative lectures on the ports with excellent tips for the do-it-yourselfer (a separate excursion woman had lectures on the ship’s offerings); he is funny, and his travel trivia is not to be missed. The oceanographer and astronomer were especially good; the Iranian refugee not so much. The evening entertainment is, again, standard fare. Some shows were great, even worth going to the second showing; others, so-so. Shows included a classical pianist, a harmonica player who played with an orchestra and was amazing, a ventriloquist with a Jamaican “dummy” (hilarious; best show of the trip), plenty of singing & dancing, two crew shows, a comedian, and Polynesian dancers from shore. Around the ship, various venues offered classical music (oh, I never saw free chocolates in the Explorers Lounge), a piano bar (very popular), and dancing opportunities. We had seven port stops. The first was Hilo. We watched the ship come in, and Hawaiian dancers were on our bow to sing a welcome chant and dance the hula; we received leis as we disembarked – a very nice touch. The federal gov’t was shut down, so our plans to hike in the VNP were scuttled. We had rented a car ($40) beforehand from Budget. A shuttle came right to the pier, and it didn’t take long to get the car. We drove to Punalu'u black sand beach, walked the beach, enjoyed the sea turtles, and ate a lunch we had brought (a small food truck there does serve some food). We drove back to Hilo and continued north to see Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots. We found Onomea Dr. for some stunning views and continued our drive along the coast. Back in town, we cruised along Banyan Dr. and walked through the Queen Lilio. Gardens before turning in the car The next day we docked in Honolulu for a long day (11pm) ashore. We booked a car here, too (Thrifty, $40), and while we found the shuttle quickly, it wasn’t long before we knew we’d made the mistake of getting the car at the airport. We had a long drive and hit terrible traffic. Once on our way, we hiked up Diamond Head ($5/car, hot and humid in mid-October, but we were rewarded with beautiful views) and then began our Oahu Circle driving tour: Hanauma bay ($1 to park, $7.50 to swim); Halona blow hole; hiked to the overlook of the lighthouse at Makapuu Pt (hot, humid, and – really - too long a walk on asphalt for the view); Macadamia Nut Complex (fantastic stop with myriad tasting stations: coffee, plain and flavored macadamia nuts, sauces, etc; outside, we approached a huge bin of macadamia nuts in the shell and could crack as many as we wanted, using their tree stumps and rocks); Kualoa Park (Chinaman’s Hat) where we walked the beach and marveled at the Koolau Mts. on the other side; Sunset Beach; and the Dole Plantation (get the pineapple whip, and stroll through their gardens)before returning the car. The ship had an expansive Hawaiian BBQ on deck, and after that, we went into town to walk around Chinatown and downtown (Iolani Palace and Capitol). It might be easy enough to get the bus to Waikiki, but we were led astray and finally gave up and went back to the ship and watched local Polynesian dancers for the evening show. A few more sea days, and then we arrived in Pago Pago. Again, owing to the federal gov’t shut-down, our plans to hike in the national park were stymied, so we chose instead to hunt for an internet café. We discovered McDonald's no longer offers it even though your device will show a McDonald network; the public library (a good walk to the left of the ship) charges $5 for all day; but one intrepid woman from our ship found the telecommunications building, and they magically turned on public access, and we used it for free at the market place (easy, short walk right from the ship). We returned to the ship to get snorkeling equipment, walked to the local bus depot, and went to Tisa's Barefoot Bar ($2 each, one way bus; $5 each entry; review on Trip Advisor). The water was warm, and the fish were abundant. We snorkeled an hour or so, and it started to storm, nixing plans to see more of the island on the bus or just walk around. It absolutely poured on the bus ride back, and the driver must have taken pity on us and took us right to the ship instead of the depot, and we got drenched getting on board. The storm continued well into the night, with the promenade deck closed and pools emptied. Suva, Fiji, was next. We enjoyed the pretty entrance into harbor, and a local native band played as we arrived. With another couple, we got a local taxi driver to take us to Colo-I-Suva Forest Park for $20 each, with him explaining he would show us some sights on the way and wait two hours for us at the rainforest. After having a local guide explain the map to us and tell us the key turns to take on the trail, we enjoyed a beautiful hike past 8 pools and small water falls. The last pool had a rope swing, and we saw several plunging into the very cold water! We took our time with the hike, spending almost 2 hours returning the way we came, although a shorter exit route is available. Our driver stopped at Raintree Lodge for some reason (hoping we’d buy something?) and then tried to get us to stay with him until 4pm. None of us wanted to. He dropped us at the ship, whereupon he told us we owed him another $40 for the extra hour! The other couple with us, having no more money, stood their ground, but – annoyed - we finally gave the cabbie our remaining $10. We changed, ate lunch, and went back out, finding free wifi right by the ship (outside a café providing internet)! We walked then to Thurston Gardens (don’t expect gardens, per se; this is more like a city park) and back into town for some stores (it was Sunday, so most were closed). A Fiji marching band thoroughly entertained us as the ship prepared to leave. Our plan in Pt. Vila, Vanatua, was to snorkel at Hideaway Island, but getting there proved a test of our patience. With another couple, we tried to get a taxi to Hideaway Island. It is a 5km walk into town, so we were at the mercy of aggressive, loud, and ultimately lying taxi drivers. We finally found a driver to take us, for $5 US each, to the town and insisted he let us off there. We then got a $3US/pp bus (privately owned, red "B" on license plate) to Hideaway Island. It was low tide, so we walked to the small picturesque island and paid 1250 vt (credit card; $15 AU) to use the island. The island has a restaurant, bungalows for longer stays, restrooms, a 650vt hamburger BBQ, coral beach, and beautiful water. We snorkeled and marveled at the number of fish (including a huge school of fish), saw some live coral, and the underwater post office! We laid in the sun for awhile, walked around the island and enjoyed the tidal pools, and took their boat back to shore where we paid $5US to get back to the ship. On ship days, many, many tents line the walkway from the pier, so we wandered through those. Lifou, New Caledonia, was a very welcomed respite from the madhouse we encountered in Pt. Vila. This is a laid-back, relatively unspoiled S. Pacific island. After tendering in, a small singing group met us at the jetty. We probably could have hired a driver at the pier, but no one was hawking their services, and we hadn’t planned on it anyway. We walked to Jinek Bay ($15 each to snorkel) which is stunningly beautiful. We didn’t pay to snorkel, but nothing prevented us from surveying the water and reef without walking the stairs to the entry point. The grounds are pretty, and we stayed in the shade for a while, gaping at the water! From there, we walked the hill to the church. It gets steep, but the views are impressive, and the small church is open. We walked back toward the ship and further on to a larger church and cemetery, spotting grass huts along the way. We walked a good deal further, but there’s really nothing to see, so we walked to the jetty and wandered the small market there. After lunch on the ship, we went back, and I enjoyed Easo Beach (right by the jetty) while my husband snorkeled (look for sea turtles). As with every island we have seen, the water is unbelievably beautiful. Last port stop was Noumea, New Caledonia. Dancers with drums greeted us. We needed an ATM (no US or AU dollars accepted), and one was just a few blocks away. While our plan had been to walk the entire way from the ship to Baie des Citrons and catch the water taxi to Duck Island, we ended up buying (500 cpf) cruise ship hop on-hop off (11 stops) bus tickets, walked to the Morning Market for fruit, and caught the bus to the first bay along our walking path. We walked along the marina in clouds and rain showers to Anse Vata, got (for 1250 cpf, each, r/t) water taxi to Duck Island, fearing we'd not be able to get in the water. But the sun came out! Duck Island is beautiful with walkways, bath houses, covered tables, landscaping, and a restaurant. The water was so cold, but we persevered for the best coral we've ever seen and for quite varied fish. We sunned a bit and walked around the island, watching wind surfers. Water taxi back, ho-ho bus back to ship. After changing clothes, we took the iPad and phone to the internet café right off the ship. Even paying for connectivity, we got none (too many people trying), so we walked around the town a bit, enjoyed the promenade, Chinatown, and Latin Quarter and then saw a McDonald's. A $3.50 Coke later, we quickly contacted family members. We were among the last ones to get on board. Local dancers and drummers were entertaining the ship again, and as we stopped to watch, the girls grabbed three of us to dance with them!! The next day we docked in Sydney, which was the end of the cruise for us. Be sure to get up early to see the entry into Sydney Harbor. It is magical!! We were off the ship by 8:30 (we enjoyed having a last breakfast on board and staying in our room until our number/color were called), breezed through customs, and got a taxi to our hotel. We stayed in the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Kent St., very close to Darling Harbor, Hyde Park, and Chinatown. The taxi fare said $14.50, but we were told $20 – perhaps some extra fee is involved from Circular Quay? Had we not had so much luggage, it would have been easy to catch the train or a bus; the transportation hub is right there. We enjoyed this trip thoroughly, continue to be impressed with HAL, and the days flew by. We spent three days in Sydney and then flew to Melbourne for ten days. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.   Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
We traveled on the Amsterdam on several Grand cruises after we retired. We live in Colorado and both had full time and responsible jobs -it seems FOREVER. So when we retired we decided cruising was "The" way to see our ... Read More
We traveled on the Amsterdam on several Grand cruises after we retired. We live in Colorado and both had full time and responsible jobs -it seems FOREVER. So when we retired we decided cruising was "The" way to see our World". And we began with slower/less LONG flights etc - but to enchanting places. We'd "done" Alaska - the Panama Canal - Islands off Florida north AND south......WHERE was our next cruise but Australia and New Zealand in 2002 on Volendam. We flew into Singapore and decided; "NEVER fly when you can cruise!" after a 27 hour travel day[s]. So here we are in 2013 on a Grand cruise itinerary into Asia. On the Amsterdam. We travel by ourselves because most people say "You WHAT? You cruise for OVERRRRRR two MONTHHHHHS?" However the people who actually DO cruise -OFTEN cruise just like we do and we have made solid friendships on these cruises. And we ALWAYS look forward to them -understanding that EVEN cruising has it's limits and we feel we've been given "A Window of opportunity" to learn about "our" world; after careers and BEFORE death! The Amsterdam is a favorite ship amid other favorites MOST in the Holland America fleet; the ships aren't SO huge you get lost for over 24 hours AND not SO small you can hang your feet in the water as you catch fish! Most are between 1200 and 2000+ passengers; COMFORTABLE. Making it even MORE comfortable AND the main reason we ADORE HAL - the CREW! Some 600 PLUS people -on EACH of the ships - are crew from Indonesia and Philippines -and many know us or remember us from cruise to cruise; we sail WITH friends! There IS no better experience! THIS particular itinerary was a World War II theme - with places LIKE Hawaii [ Pearl Harbor] Guam & Saipan, Manila, Philippines - Guadalcanal - Japan [Kobe] -China [ Shanghai and Hong Kong] ALL places involved in a war that began IN Asia around 1931 and was over in August,1945; Those are the big names and the bigger numbers -but what you also see on this KIND of cruise is the HUGE area "WAR" covered and the mileage in the South Pacific covered. It is AMAZING and to relate THAT way to TODAY'S wars [ or the sabre-rattling] is also amazing. Holland America ships are immaculately clean, the crew ALL smile a lot and are friendly, the dining rooms are magnificent, the public areas inviting, the more private areas delightful, and we keep coming back again to Holland America and specifically THIS ship's longer cruises. One other thing I might remark on was the subtle way the Captain [ Fred Everson] and his crew maintained OUR safety thru the Typhoon[s] in the mid pacific that devistated the Philippines but also threatened Japan's seas below the main Islands; IF anything we were in exceptionally CALM seas but headlines told us that extreme weather was less than a day away -for over a MONTH [ mid SEptember to mid October] And of course there ARE cruisers who think "I paid $$$$ I can do as I please!" well- sorry folks, you can't. There are pick-pockets out there -bad weather patterns - over 6000 people died in the Philippines; there are STILL over 1000 missing/unaccounted for -THINGS happen when you cruise! I can HONESTLY say that in 700 days on Holland American I have NEVER felt "Fearful" ; They take care of us whether we like it or not -Frankly I APPRECIATE That! And so- another wonderful cruise where much was learned -and probably TOO much eaten [ although you may tell your waiter in the diningroom you want smaller portions AND they'll DO that to HELP....me!] The cruise experience for us is NOT the evening's theater productions -we go to bed early - it is the cruise "Experience" and that is what YOU make it for YOURSELF. In this case Dick and I read 12 books [ WWII] in preparation before the cruise -and at least a dozen more as we exchanged ideas/books with friends JUST as excited as we were! And just as I told you - Retirement CAN be a whole NEW world of learning. Just do it on a cruise ship with wonderful experiences -and you'll NEVER forget what learning IS! Anne Salberg, Longmont, Colorado Read Less
Sail Date: September 2012
This type of report is unavoidably subjective. I have read on this and other forums reports about the same cruise by different authors and it is hard to believe that they were actually on the same ship at the same time. The following are ... Read More
This type of report is unavoidably subjective. I have read on this and other forums reports about the same cruise by different authors and it is hard to believe that they were actually on the same ship at the same time. The following are therefore my views only and I'm sure that other passengers from this voyage of the Volendam would disagree with me on just about every point I make. I took this cruise because I had been invited to a wedding in Las Vegas and at the time that the invitation arrived I saw a Holland America newspaper advertisement. Rather than face 14 hours flying home to Sydney from Los Angeles I decided to sail across the Pacific. Embarkation I drove from Manhattan Beach where I'd stayed the previous two nights (at the Seaview Inn on Highland Avenue, which I highly recommend) to Long Beach and this took about 30 minutes. I arrived at the Cruise Terminal at about 10.30am. I dropped off my bags (this took 30 seconds) and then headed off to find the Hertz office in Long Beach to return the car. I considered walking the 3km back to the cruise terminal but there was a vacant taxi right outside Hertz so I took it and was waiting with all the other passengers by 11.15am. We waited until about 12 noon for something to happen; I sat waiting in the shade; about 150 people waited in a tight group right at the door as though cabins were going to be allocated on a first come first served basis. As we entered the building we had our passports and documentation examined, went through security inspection and then got into another line to be photographed and given a room key. I was on the ship by 12.15pm and in my cabin by 12.20pm; welcoming my luggage by 12.30pm and then in the queue for lunch a few minutes after that. It was all a bit anticlimactic; I'd expected long lines and missing bags and to find my cabin already occupied by a family of gypsies, but it all went very smoothly. There were staff on each level to guide passengers to their cabins. The passengers were generally, to put it kindly, of an older (verging on ancient) demographic. This is probably because of the length of the cruise, 21 days from Los Angeles to Sydney and also because there were two period of sea days (4 days LA to Hilo, and 5 days Honolulu to American Samoa) that may not appeal to many younger travellers. I would have been at least 20 years younger than any except twenty of the other passengers and I think that they were all parents with small children. At least I would not have had any problem pushing my way into a lifeboat if we'd done a Titanic. Having said that their age did not prevent them from being generally interesting to talk to and as with any large group of people there were those i felt comfortable with and gravitated towards and those i avoided. At 4.15pm there was life boat drill, and these are taken very seriously since the Costa Concordia fiasco. It was not necessary to take lifejackets to this drill (this was made very clear both in writing and in announcements but this didn't stop a number of passengers turning up like they were about to go over the side). It took about 25 minutes to complete the drill. The Volendam was berthed at Long Beach next to the Queen Mary; the former Cunard transatlantic liner that is now a floating hotel and tourist attraction at Long Beach. I'd always thought that the Queen Mary was a very large ship but it looked smaller than the ship I was standing on. The 5pm departure was delayed for 40 minutes as fuel was still being pumped aboard. When we did start moving it was without fanfare or announcement. Only a blast of the ship's horn to warn a sailing boat of our approach gave people the idea that the voyage had commenced. Cabin I had originally booked a single occupancy ocean view cabin (1946) on deck 1 but was persuaded by the advice of my mother (who at 86 is enthusiastically cruising) to change to a veranda cabin on deck 6. I was in cabin 6194 on the port side of the ship; about two thirds of the way back from the front of the ship. Even with the additional cost, nearly double, I'm very glad I made the change because having a veranda means being able to get a breath of fresh air without having to make yourself presentable enough to leave your cabin to go on deck. The veranda also makes the cabin seem so much bigger with the extra space outside and also with the wall between the interior and the veranda being all glass (with curtains heavy enough to block out the sun if necessary). There was little noise from adjacent cabins or from the corridor outside. My cabin had other cabins above on deck 7 and I never heard a noise from that direction. Below me was the library and internet area and again I never heard a noise from there. There were a few squeaks if the ship was rolling but no vibration from the engines or other distractions. The cabin was spotlessly clean when I arrived and remained so for the whole voyage; any mess was mine alone. The bed was very comfortable with a good reading light and six pillows were provided; 2 firm, 2 medium and 2 soft. Plenty of storage space for everything and enough room under the bed for several suitcases. Take a power board if like me you have several things you want to charge or power at the same time. There is one power point at the desk. The bathroom is a good size and well lit; with a shower over a bath. The hot water was consistent in temperature and the water is soft enough for shampoos and soaps to lather. The cabin was serviced every morning while I was having breakfast; the room steward just seemed to know when I'd gone to eat. On the TV there are: - Usually three movies on three channels showing in a continuous cycle. - Holland America promotional material. - Promotional material for the on board shops. - Port excursion and other information. - Replays of presentations and cooking demonstrations from previous day - Fox News seemed to work no matter where we were. - ESPN, TNT and other channels worked most of the time, this depended on satellite location. - Ship location, speed, heading, weather information channel. There are 100s of DVDs available to borrow; you just have to phone and they will deliver! Food Lunch after embarkation was served at the buffet on the Lido deck (which is deck 8). For the first couple of days at sea the staff serves you at the buffet and shaking hands with all your new friends is discouraged to limit the spread of any nasty bugs that may have come aboard with the passengers. There are disinfectant dispensers all over the ship; especially at the entrance to eating areas. At this first meal the passengers were all eating like it had just been announced that no more food would be served until we got to Sydney in 21 days. The price of the tickets for this voyage means that the passengers should not have recently known hunger but they were attacking the buffet, as far as restrictions permitted, like a starving mob. Food is available almost continuously from 6.30am (continental breakfast) followed at 7am by full buffet breakfast until 10.30am; or an a la carte breakfast in the MDR from 8am to 9.30am. Buffet lunch from 11.30am to 2pm (a la carte from 12 to 2pm); burgers and pizzas available from 11.30 to 5pm; buffet dinner from 5.30pm to 9pm; a la carte 5 course dinner from 5.30pm to 9.30pm. Then a short break until late snacks from 10.30pm to 11.30pm; I haven't been to this yet but the menu looks like another full buffet dinner. For those left a bit peckish between all of the above there is room service available in your cabin at no charge. I noticed that the plates in the Lido are deceptively large and when you're served hot food by the staff or serve yourself salads then what I would consider to be a normal portion of food looks rather lonely in the middle of the plate. The first couple of times I ate at the Lido I felt a bit short-changed in terms of quantity but then realised that I was eating as much and most likely very much more than I normally do. Breakfast Always ate this in the Lido and either sat inside or by the pool. It would be impossible to leave breakfast without being well satisfied. From the fresh squeezed orange juice (I have no idea where they store all the oranges required to do this for 1400 passengers for 21 days, the crew probably sleep on bags of oranges) to the cooked to order eggs and omelettes, breads, waffles, pastries, muffins, sausages, bacon (perfectly crispy every day), cereals and fruits it is the perfect way to start the day. Special mention for the baker on the Volendam; fantastic fresh bread and bread rolls at every meal, plus croissants, muffins (the chocolate ones are the best I have ever had) and wonderful fruit buns for breakfast. Lunch Mostly I ate lunch at the Lido. Lunch in the MDR is very pleasant with large windows on three sides giving a view of the ocean. This is not open for lunch when the ship is in port. Excellent burgers, tacos and pizza were available from Terrace Grill which is next to the midships pool on the Lido deck. Dinner Ate in the MDR on formal nights and service and food was excellent. Room Service Only tried it once and the turkey club sandwich was excellent. Sea Days There were four sea days between Los Angeles and Hilo and five sea days between Honolulu and American Samoa. You're either going to love or hate these days; but if you've booked on this sort of voyage then you should have booked because you'll enjoy them. Being away from outside distractions (apart from TV and internet, which are easy to ignore on the ship) for this many days is a real break from the world you inhabit all the rest of your life. This is a bit what life was like before mobile phones, internet, Facebook, 24 hour news and constant time demands. There are few things more enjoyable, to me at least, after a satisfying late breakfast than lying on a deck chair with a good book and listening to the waves and have the warm tropical air blow over you. Entertainment Internet Connecting is expensive and slower than you will get at home; but it does work most of the time. There were occasional periods of no connection due to satellite / ship positions but over 21 days these periods amounted to less than a day in total. There are Wi-Fi hot spots about the ship but the most reliable place to use your own device is on deck 5 in the Library, where there are also computers to use. During the day there is an internet manager in the Library on deck 5 to help with any internet issues. Library If you forget to pack some books to read then don't worry; the library on the Volendam has several thousand books; all well-arranged and it would be hard for anyone not to be able to find at least a few books that they wanted to read. There are also magazines and each day a news digest of 8 pages (NY Times) or 4 pages for Australia, UK, Canada and Germany is placed here and at several other locations around the ship. Music The on board band, Elise and the HALCats, were fantastic. Elise can really belt out a tune. Having a late lunch by the pool listening to Elise sing was a great way to feel like I was really on holiday. The musicians were also the backing band in the theatre for visiting performers. There was a string quartet, Adagio Strings, playing each evening in the Explorer's Lounge and they played a variety of classical and other music. They are very accomplished and entertaining and very relaxing. In the Ocean Bar each evening a trio, The Neptunes, played for listening and dancing, and again they were very good. The pianist had his music on an iPad and he must have hundreds of songs on it because there wasn't a request that he wasn't able to play. I liked them enough to buy the CD they had for sale. They are on the ship for seven months, playing every night. Michael, a solo guitarist, played in the Piano Bar each evening and at some other locations such as the Lido Pool during the day. Will played the piano, appropriately in the Piano Bar, each evening from 9pm and he has a very wide repertoire and was happy to take requests. The barman at this bar also makes very, very good Margaritas. It is worth spending an evening listening to Michael and Will. On Stage The stage shows in the theatre aren't West End or Broadway in scale and no reasonable person would expect them to be, but they are very entertaining and very well done. The theatre itself has very comfortable seating with good sight lines and acoustics. Shows are at 8pm and 10pm each night; the 10pm is less crowded; for some 8pm shows the audience starts arriving at 7.30pm. Lorna Luft was on one night and the Original Drifters another (they weren't actually the original Drifters but still a fun group and left the audience very happy). The singers and dancers who appeared in various shows were very good and did a lot with a stage of limited size. The hit songs of the 1960s were the theme of a show called the Dinnerbelles (It would take too long to explain the name); three female singers (including Elise from the HALCats), two dancers and a male singer (who changed parts and costume about six times). Rehearsals for some shows are open to passengers and you get to see the whole show plus an insight into how it is put together. Well worth attending. Other Activities Each evening a four page information and activities brochure is delivered to your cabin. Take the time to read it and go through the list of activities. There were a vast number of lectures and activities. The Future Cruise Consultant David gave a few talks and they were worth attending just to hear his stories about the 90 cruises he has been on. He had a wealth of knowledge about upgrades, best cabin locations, best side of ships for different cruises and ports and how to compare different cruises and cabins for value for money. The computer and camera classes were very popular judging from the crowds waiting each day before the doors opened to the classroom at the rear of deck 5. There are cooking classes, some where you watch and some where you cook and then eat. At the first cooking demo I went to there was a woman (American) sitting down the front who constantly interrupted with questions that weren't relevant; I would have happily stabbed her eyes out with a pencil if I'd had one with me. If clocks need to be changed then this is where it is announced. The first time change after leaving Los Angeles about one third of passengers put their clocks back an hour as requested, about one third put them forward an hour and about one third did nothing; the confusion the next morning was a pleasure to witness. Laundry On deck 6 there are 4 washers and 4 dryers; similar arrangements on two other decks. The machines take US quarters; you need $2 for a wash (takes about 35 minutes) and $1 for dryer (takes 40 minutes). Change is available at the Front Office on deck 4 which is open 24 hours a day. Liquid soap for the washers is provided at no charge. Medium heat setting on the dryer is more than hot enough for anything less than drying a circus tent. There are irons and ironing boards also available here. Ports of Call Hilo Hawaii It rains in Hilo on 275 days a year and we arrived in one of those days. I had booked to go on a tour to the summit if Mauna Kea at 13,796 feet. My ticket was waiting for me in my cabin when I boarded. There were two groups of eight booked for this tour and we went in two minibuses operated by Arnott's Tours. My guide was Al and there is nothing he doesn't know about Hilo. After driving through the main business area of the town (which has surprisingly many buildings from the 1940s and 1950s considering that Hilo has had two big tsunamis since 1945) we had a stop to see a waterfall, which looked just like a waterfall, not particularly high or wide or fast flowing. There was a fellow making hats and bowls from palm fronds; I would have bought a hat but didn't, knowing that it was unlikely to get past quarantine inspection back in Sydney. We all clambered back onto the bus and headed to the interior of the island. After about 25 miles we stopped at an altitude of 5000 feet near a very large lava flow dating from an eruption in 1984 from Mauna Loa, the volcano adjacent to Mauna Kea. Al the guide said that this type of lava is known as Ah-Ah lava; as that is what you say if you step on it before it has cooled. We then drove in about 20 minutes up to 9000 feet to a visitor centre/shop where we waited an hour so that we could acclimatize to the altitude and watch some videos on astronomical telescopes (of which there are many on the summit of Mauna Kea). The remaining 8 miles to the summit is half dirt road and half asphalt. The dirt road is very heavily rutted and the worst road I can ever remember driving on. When we got on the bus in Hilo and started our drive I noticed that the bus had many rattles; after being on the dirt portion of the road I know why. The road is left as dirt because in the winter black ice will form on asphalt but not on dirt and because the road is so steep it would be even more dangerous than it is currently is if it were covered with black ice. The road is supposed to be graded on a regular basis; we saw the grader but no driver. We drove above the clouds and all vegetation disappeared; the landscape looked like the photos sent back from the latest mission to Mars. Al the guide told us that he had oxygen to assist people who were having breathing difficulties, hallucinations, heart palpitations and so on. The only cure for altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude quickly and really serious altitude sickness can be fatal. When we got out at the top I felt a bit light headed but a quick self-diagnosis confirmed all vital signs within acceptable limits. The view from the top was breath taking, literally. We were above most of the clouds and could see all the way to the island of Maui, which is about 80km away. We went into the Keck Observatory; or more correctly one of the two building housing matching telescopes. Each telescope has many large hexagonal mirrors and the mirrors are kept in alignment by tiny electric motors that flex the mirror surfaces so that all the hexagons function as if they were one very large mirror. After spending about 30 minutes at the summit, where it is warm in the sun but the wind was freezing, we drove back down to the visitor centre and had sandwiches for lunch. We then drove back to Hilo and the ship. If we hadn't stopped for lunch then from nearly 14,000 feet above sea level to sea level could have been driven in about an hour. It was still raining in Hilo when we got back. I can very highly recommend this tour. I spoke to one of the passengers who had done the helicopter flight to see the active lava flows and she said that was very good and worth doing. Honolulu Hawaii I took myself by public bus to Pearl Harbor. The number 20 bus leaves from about 200 yards from where the ships dock. It is $2.50 flat fare and you must have exact change as none is given. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Pearl Harbor memorial (it does goes into the airport to the terminals, but don't worry it does come back out). The bus turns off the highway into the visitor centre to let passengers off. Tell the driver you want this stop and he will announce it loudly when you arrive. I saw the museum and also I went aboard the battleship Missouri and the submarine Bowfin. On the Missouri make sure you take one of the guided tours as the guides are very knowledgeable. If you go aboard the Bowfin then make sure you are reasonably agile as the doorways (hatchways) between compartments of the submarine are small and have a very high step. From the highway outside the visitor centre I caught bus number 20 back to the business district near where the Volendam was docked. After lunch aboard I then walked off to find a post office. On the way I saw the Iolani Palace, the only royal place in the United States and the nearby statue of King Kamehameha. I also saw many fine public buildings, none of which had been built in the last 50 years. The more recently constructed Federal Courts building looks like it has been designed to withstand an armed attack. I then tried to catch a bus to Waikiki (about 3 miles) but after waiting 20 minutes in the sun and watching packed buses go past I decided to get a taxi. Honolulu seems to have fewer taxis than any other major city I have visited. Or maybe the drivers were all having an afternoon nap. Eventually I got a taxi and went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This is a pink coloured hotel is on the beach at Waikiki; built long before the high rise towers that now surround it. I wandered through the spacious public areas of the hotel to the beach. Without the background of Diamond Head Waikiki would be a rather pathetic beach; some of the hotels don't even have sand in front of them and at its deepest the beach is about 40m from hotel boundary to water. I had a look around the area behind the beach and it looks just like Surfers Paradise in Australia; many of the shops are exactly the same. So I wasn't much impressed by Waikiki. I caught bus number 20 back to the ship. I think it odd that the bus company doesn't provide a map and some timetable information at bus stops frequented by tourists. Doubly odd as they boast on the side of the buses that they are the best bus company in the US (perhaps that is an instructive comment on the average quality of public transport in the US). At least the driver on the bus was very entertaining and announced at one stop that it was the last stop and we'd all have to get off; as angry passengers surged towards the front of the bus he shouted out "just kidding" and put the bus in motion. Pago Pago American Samoa A spectacular harbour; it is surrounded by thick jungle almost down to the water and covering every bit of ground that isn't a road or built on. Coming into this port early in the morning is unforgettable. I didn't take an organised tour. I walked along the main road and saw that there wasn't much except a few ordinary shops and the local market. The Somerset Maugham story Rain is set in Pago Pago in the 1920s. Somerset Maugham visited Pago Pago about that time and was forced to stay on the island for two weeks because of a measles epidemic (which meant that he and others couldn't travel on to other destinations because of the risk of infection during the incubation period). The place he stayed is still standing and is now named in honour of one of the main characters in the story Sadie Thompson, a prostitute. In the story the rain is incessant but this isn't the rainy season otherwise yesterday's visit would have been much less pleasant. On the wharf there were lots of stalls set up just for the day. These were selling clothes and souvenirs but the offerings were somewhat repetitive; if you'd seen a couple of the stalls then you'd seen them all. I hired a taxi to take me over to the north side of the island. As we crossed the ridge from south to north we stopped to take photos of the stunning harbour. Then we drove through a national park to a perfect beach. There and back took about an hour and the pre-agreed cost was $20. The driver was a pleasant fellow but his English and my Samoan were about the same standard so we didn't chat much. After lunch on the ship (there seemingly being nowhere else to eat on land except McDonalds) I took another taxi from the dock and told the driver to go west for an hour and then turn around and come back by a different route. This driver was chatty. He'd taken the day off from his job at Ace Hardware to try to make a bit of extra money from tourists. He even called in to Ace Hardware to drive past the front door and honk the horn at his workmates to show them that he was actually working. Everywhere we drove was lush with a profusion of tropical plants and trees. Gardening seems to be a common pass time; the majority of the gardens were very neat and almost every house was growing bananas and vegetables. The two hour "tour" cost $40; I'm sure I could have bargained this amount down as there were other drivers at the wharf offering $15 per hour; but I wasn't inclined to quibble about $10 and the driver certainly needed the money more than me. Pago Pago was a very pleasant surprise to me. The island is ruggedly mountainous and the harbour is as beautiful a place as you'll ever see. But be warned; during the rainy season from December to March the rainfall is measured in metres. Suva Fiji I didn't do an organised tour here. Beaches, swimming and coral are at least 45 minutes drive from Suva; west to the Coral Coast. The ship was in Suva on a Sunday and there isn't much to do in the city of Suva on a Sunday. At 9am when I went for a walk there were three places of business open and one of them was McDonalds. I last visited Suva in 1973 and the only changes in appearance have been for the worse. There are still some colonial era buildings in the city but most have been replaced by generic multi floor buildings that could have been built anywhere and are not sympathetic to, or suitable for, the climate or the location. I went for another walk later in the day and there were more shops open; but unless you wanted to buy clothes or souvenirs there wasn't much to interest the passengers. Probably the most diverting sight I saw was a group of workers painting road markings on the road along the harbour front. There was no machine being used; they were doing it with paint brushes and tins of paint. This meant that it was very tedious work. Passengers stopped to watch and take photos. Once the workmen realised that they were the centre of attention they became more fastidious with their brush strokes. We had been warned to be careful if we wandered away from the main streets; there have been instances of passengers from ships being robbed. A couple of weeks in a secure environment like the Volendam does slightly dull your senses as far as watching out for unexpected dangers. Port Vila Vanuatu The ship docked about 2.5km from the town centre. As the passengers exited the port gate we were surrounded by taxi drivers and tour guides. It looked like every motorized vehicle in Vila was at the gates looking for someone to take for a ride (both literally and figuratively). The recommended fare for the journey to town, one way, is USD15; which I thought a bit steep for the distance although I could have reduced that amount by sharing. Although in the mob outside the gate I heard the trip being offered for USD5 by the more enterprising or desperate drivers. Also outside the port gate, along both sides of the road to the town for about 400m, there were scores of stalls all selling essentially the same trinkets, clothes and other stuff that the locals hope that heat affected tourists will think it essential to buy. I decided to walk to the town centre as I was a bit sick of walking in a circle on deck 3. The local government obviously doesn't have enough money to properly maintain the roads so they certainly don't have any money to splash out on footpaths; it was a walk and sometimes a scramble around to the town. The shops were a mixture of "duty free" ranging from the air conditioned to the dim and dingy as well as lots of souvenir and clothing shops that are all selling the same stock. There were a few cafes and restaurants but nothing that was particularly appealing. I went into a supermarket. To remind visitors that Vanuatu was formerly jointly administered by the French and the British (an unusual arrangement known as a condominium) there was a large display of tinned meat, advertised with the slogan "tin meat blong Vanuatu" and not too far away a tempting display of French breads and pastries. The most common form of commerce was people sitting under umbrellas or in small booths selling mobile phone credit. I must have walked past ten before I turned around to go back to the ship. This is in addition to every other shop also advertising mobile phone credits. The Vanuatu market was in a large open-sided structure in the main street. Fruit and vegetables were for sale; the most popular items being bananas, coconuts, yams, taro and sweet potato. The vendors looked like they are well-used to having their photos taken tourists who don't buy anything. Surprisingly, a significant proportion of the passengers walking around at these tropical ports are not wearing hats. Unsurprisingly, there are many sunburnt people at the end of each day in port. Easo Lifou Island New Caledonia Lifou Island is part of New Caledonia and about 150km North East of Noumea. Easo is a very small village on the North West coast of Lifou. The ship anchored at 7am about 1km offshore in the bluest water i've ever seen and the passengers went ashore in four of the life boats. I decided to go ashore as soon as possible, which was about 8.15am, because it was very windy and I thought that it might get so windy that they would stop passengers from going ashore. We landed at a jetty on a beach that was about 500m long. It is the only beach on this side of the island as far as I can see; and that's probably about 10km from the top deck of the ship. I walked up to the church on the promontory that we could see clearly from the ship. The path wasn't too steep. The statue on the roof of the church was blown into the sea during a cyclone some years ago and the locals thought it was lost forever. However, scuba divers visiting the island found the statue and using large air lift bags raised the statue to the surface and somehow got it ashore, up the hill and back on to the roof. I then walked to a small bay across the promontory from where I had come ashore (the promontory being only 500m wide at that point). This bay had only a tiny beach that was difficult to get down to but the whole bay was filled with coral sitting in water that was as clear as gin. Steps down on to the beach and into the water are being constructed but are currently roped off with a 'do not enter' sign; this was ignored by all visitors. The locals were offering for sale much the same merchandise that I'd seen for sale at the last three ports, except this all had "greetings from Lifou" on it. There was also food for sale. Being part of New Caledonia and therefore part of France, the food included baguettes and quiche. On my first visit ashore I went for a swim and the water was surprisingly "refreshing"; other passengers said it was cold. The beach was sand but once in the water it was mostly broken coral underfoot. This place is very beautiful and with crystal clear water, a white beach and coral it is what most people would imagine a South Pacific paradise to be. At 5pm the ship lifted its anchor and we started towards Noumea. Thursday Noumea New Caledonia New Caledonia is a department of France, so the residents behave, justifiably, as though they are living in France. Although the local currency is not the Euro; New Caledonia has its own currency; the CFP (central pacific franc; about 100 francs to AUD1.00). The ship docked at the cruise terminal is really just a large shelter and inside there were lots of locals eager to sell tickets for tours. There were not, unlike Pago Pago, Suva and Vila any taxi drivers or other locals touting for business. I went for a walk around the city for a couple of hours and then came back to the ship. I didn't get back on board as I was persuaded to buy a ticket for a one hour tour that was leaving immediately. There were only two other tourists and me in an eight seat mini bus. Philippe the driver had obviously done this tour more times that he can remember and would say "on your right" or "on your left" while himself looking in the opposite direction. We stopped a couple of times to take photos but otherwise just drove around. A more popular option was on the yellow 'train'; a road going set of small wagons pulled by a tractor disguised as a locomotive. This has the advantage that the sides are open and it doesn't go very fast. You can also buy "hop on hop off" tickets for a bus that stops at about 20 places on a route around Noumea. Place des Cocotiers is the park which forms the central square of the city. This is a pleasant space with lots of shade trees and places to sit comfortably out of the sun. On the day I was market stalls had been set up. This is was coincidental with the visit of the Volendam and the goods for sale were intended for locals rather than tourists; eg whole fresh fish and other food. There is a morning market (closes at 11am) about 500m from the dock; turn right out of the terminal and keep walking around the waterfront. Based on less than a day here, I quite like Noumea. Perhaps because it is a place that has other things to do apart from cater to the needs of the passengers on the ship. In the previous three ports of call it seemed like if the ship hadn't been in port then it wouldn't have been worth it for the locals to get out of bed that day. In Noumea the visit of the ship is just another thing that is happening today. Although I certainly stand out as a visitor, because I'm lighter skinned than the native population and not as smartly dressed as the European population, I haven't been subject today to the constant questioning about my requirements regarding clothes that I'd never wear, shops, transport, hair braiding (seriously, the last time I could have been legitimately asked this question was 1974), massages, wooden curios of all sizes and shapes, postcards of places I haven't been to and tours to places I don't want to visit. Disembarkation Given the choice of first, middle or last disembarkation time I choose the middle time; 8-8.30; as I didn't need to go to the airport and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed my last breakfast that someone else is cooking for me. Australian Immigration officials got on the ship in Noumea and spent most of a day processing everyone's arrival documentation. The night before arrival in Sydney a personalised disembarkation envelope was delivered to my cabin with my leaving time, 8.15am, and coloured baggage tags for that time. The ship entered Sydney Harbour at 5.30am, just before sunrise, and sailed slowly down the harbour to berth at Circular Quay, opposite the Opera House and next to the Harbour Bridge, at 6.30am. There was a delay of about 15 minutes leaving the ship due to a hold up with unloading the baggage. During the delay announcements were frequently made so that those departing knew what was going on and could wait somewhere comfortable rather than crowding the gangway. Overall Impression The cruise was a delight, although it took me about a week to slow down and adjust to life on board. Activities were exceptionally well organised by pleasant, intelligent and approachable staff, led by Tamaryn Hurly the Cruise Director. The hotel staff were all fantastic and no sensible request that I heard made was ever left unsatisfied. After reading some less than enthusiastic comments in various cruise reviews about the entertainment on board I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it was and how consistently good it was. I will cruise again and I will cruise with Holland America again. What didn't I like - Being a single passenger leads to minor annoyances. For example, like having first course of a meal in the Lido and going to get second course and coming back to my table to find that the table has been cleared; or worse still, coming back and finding table occupied by someone else. In the Main Dining Room for lunch a couple of times and asked for a table for one; although many two person tables available and not many people in the MDR at that time I was given table right next to serving station; I know someone has to get that table but surely it should be the last resort rather than saved for an annoying single person like me. - There was on a couple of occasions I had difficulty in making myself understood with staff. In hindsight I realise I should have spoken a lot more slowly and certainly their English is infinitely better than my Indonesian or Tagalog. That said, the staff are endlessly obliging and constantly cheerful despite very long hours of work each day and very long periods at sea without any home leave. - The relentless promoting by the shops on board; one TV channel is constant promotional material for opals, emeralds, tanzanite etc. (I know, turn off the TV) - The art auction; a careful reading of the promotional material given out by Park West Gallery shows that most of the material being offered are not unique works of art in the generally accepted use of those words. For example, the word Giclee is used to describe the material of many works; this is a fancy word used for photos printed by an ink jet printer. The works are then hand signed by the artist or "hand embellished" as though this makes the piece an original work of art; I suppose it is original in that no two printed and signed pieces will be exactly the same but the less knowledgeable passenger may think they are getting a one-off piece of art work that has some possibility of increasing in value. Avoid! - The service charge; I paid it simply because I felt that if I didn't then those who made my cruise good for me wouldn't be sufficiently rewarded, especially those who I didn't get to see like the kitchen staff and the guy who made sure the hot water kept working. HAL should just increase the price of tickets by the same amount and stop guilt tripping passengers into paying this charge as though they have a real choice. I separately gave cash tips to those staff who I felt added something extra to my cruise; room stewards (at start and end of cruise); bar staff and the young lady who served the ice cream in the Lido. Read Less
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