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31 Holland America Line Rio de Janeiro Cruise Reviews

Having read fellow travellers reviews, I wanted to provide our opinion following our South America trip recently. Ship The Zaandam ship is on the small side by today’s standards (1400 passengers) but that does mean you do get to ... Read More
Having read fellow travellers reviews, I wanted to provide our opinion following our South America trip recently. Ship The Zaandam ship is on the small side by today’s standards (1400 passengers) but that does mean you do get to know the staff and fellow cruisers. The ship was well maintained, clean and comfortable. We opted for an outside cabin, mid ships, on the main deck due to the sailing around Cape Horn. We had good weather on the day itself but were glad of our cabin position as the sea still had considerable sized waves and motion. Even with good weather there was still quite a lot of movement so I would recommend thinking about your cabin position for this route. The cabin was comfortable with plenty of storage space even for 16 nights. The bathroom in our cabin had been updated and include a walk in shower which is much better than the small baths that used to be in the bathrooms. One very small niggle in the cabin is that the light switches are in the middle of the headboard and so every time you lean back to relax and read on the bed you end up turning the lights on/off. In our experience HAL are not “party ships” and so there are no real themed parties and most nights see guests in bed by 10.30pm. This suited us as we were able to wake early for some lovely scenery and sunrises. We would have liked more information on our surroundings, wildlife and history. As the ship is small the cruise director doubled as the travel director and he did provide some commentary on the scenic cruising but it would have been good to have had an expert lecturer on board. Dining We ate breakfast in the dining room on sea days ( it opens a bit too late on port days for us as we like to be out and about early) The menu does not vary year to year, but the quality is still excellent and the staff are more than happy to make a few tweaks if you want to mix and match some options. For lunch we used the salad bar and Asian bar in the Lido which were both superb. There were mandarin segments, nuts, seeds, dried cherries etc...on the salad bar which you don’t often see on other cruise lines. The Asian bar had a varied choice each day. Even if you are not generally a fan, I would suggest you try it. The ice cream was also consistently excellent as was the fresh fruit counter. Dinner for us was in the dining room, late seating. The food and service were great and the cellar master really helped us make some great choices from even the cheapest wine package. We thought the dining room evening food was some of the best we’ve ever experienced and a chef was round most nights to check we we happy, asking for what dishes we’d enjoyed and what we might like to see again. We had a table for 2 and my only real moan of the trip was that our table was near the entrance .There were a large group of guests with a travel company on our sailing who always arrived late (some nights up to 45 minutes) and they were chaperoned in by their tour guides as they arrived. This meant the waiters were trying to work as these guests arriving which created a bottleneck right next to our table and it was impossible to relax. We had a word with the Maitre D and on night 4 we were moved to another table. Once moved we really enjoyed our evenings in there. We were asked most Breakfast, lunch and dinner times if we wanted to try the Specialty Dining. One lunch time we were asked 3 times by three different waiters. The cruise director also started some of his announcements with an advert for it and it did get rather tiresome. I am sure it is lovely but we were more than happy with the dining room food and could not see the benefit of paying to eat elsewhere. It is also the most expensive speciailty dining we have seen, especially when the pound is weak against the dollar. Tours Apart from an independent tour in Rio we used the Shore Excursions for the whole cruise. I prefer to know they are then responsible for getting us back to the ship/next port etc.. We were specifically warned about a recent spike in tourism petty crime and to dress down, no jewellery etc...We found being in a group felt much safer and allowed my husband to take his large camera as opposed to being concerned about having it stolen and leaving it behind. In Rio, There were police cars at the entrance to our hotel so we were pleased we had an independent tour organised there. We’d booked the whole holiday with Holland America and the Sheraton was the only hotel we were offered. It has a lovely beach but also has a large slum area quite near so we were encouraged not to venture out on our own, especially at night. We had flown in one day earlier and booked a day trip with Viator which took in all the main highlights with a BBQ lunch. Once onboard, In Santos we just used the free shuttle into the town to a mall ( we didn’t fancy any of the trips there) you could then taxi around from there if you wanted to. I found it the most low key of all the stops. A tour may of helped that day as the Port is very industrial and you cannot really walk into the town. In Buenos Airies the highlights tour was terrific. We visited the cemetery where Eva Perone is buried and it is a quite beautiful cemetery which was very unexpected. In Montevideo we did the highlights tour which again was great, And from Montevideo onwards we felt much safer. If you are interested in penguins or real off-roading, I would recommend the trip to Volunteer point in the Falklands. It’s a long day. 30 minute tender, 1 hour on good road, 1.5 hours “off road” but the penguin colony is such a privilege to see. It’s the largest outside of Antarctic and watching the King Penguins enjoying the sea and beach was amazing. You can get quite close to them ( 6 meters is allowed) but they will then approach you as they are very curious. We saw Kings, Gentoos and Mangellec with lots of birds too. it was one of the highlights of the whole trip for us. In Ushuaia we visited the National Park, good wether prevailed and the scenery was lovely. Later that day we cruised Glacier Alley with the cruise ship and the scenery is spectacular. It outdid Norway, Alaska and New Zealand for us. The weather makes such a difference on this tour, we were lucky but the staff told us that the previous sailing had poor visibility in Ushuaia and a tough sailing around the Horn, which is not unusual and sick bags are provided in the cabins. In Punto Arenas we did a chairlift ride and a trek which was a pleasant morning and again sunshine helped. In Puerto Montt we visited the cascades, Orsono Volcano (but no view due to cloud cover) and Puerto Varas. The volcano did become partly visible late afternoon which we could see from the ship. It’s 90 mins to the cascades and Puerto Varas is a small town. It got us off the ship but I’m not sure I’d choose this tour if I had my time over. All towns in Chile are experiencing evening riots and so lots of shop windows are boarded over which gives a rather depressing look to the towns at the moment. Staff The waiters got to know us, remembered our names and our nightly drinks/fruit juice preference orders at breakfast which was impressive. The crew show was funny too. The ships photographers seem intent on getting a picture with other cruisers in the background/gangways etc...I suggested that a spot with a nicer backdrop might help encourage a few more guests to have a picture but he told me their job was hard enough getting people to stop for a picture. Usual high pressure sales culture in the Spa. I always avoid these now but had to get a nail repaired during the trip. Some eye cream was put on without me asking as a “complimentary treatment” which of course leads to them telling you how much difference it makes ( it didn’t) and despite me saying “no“ to a foot spray, I was given one and charged for it so I had to get the bill amended before I left. I’ve provided feedback many times, but this sales technique must work as it’s never changed. Shows All the shows were enjoyable that we saw ( we missed out a couple) My experience is that HAL don’t spend the same amount on their shows as other cruise companies but the quality of food is better so it depends what your own preference is. There was a classical group, a jazz type quartet and a pianist. Due to our dining times, we just watched the late show each evening. Gym Reasonable amount of equipment but the free classes were heaving. I only did one and found it too cramped so I decided to walk on deck instead. Overall for us a great cruise. Undoubtedly the weather played a massive part in our enjoyment. We enjoyed the Zandaam and would definitely cruise on this ship again. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
Cruise selected based on the itinerary. We had 2 issues that we escalated to guest services and were made to feel they did not care at all. Our cabin was hot and after technician checked and temperature was 22.9 Celcius,. i was told by ... Read More
Cruise selected based on the itinerary. We had 2 issues that we escalated to guest services and were made to feel they did not care at all. Our cabin was hot and after technician checked and temperature was 22.9 Celcius,. i was told by Guest Services, they could do nothing andthere were no other cabins to move. it was a blatant lie, I know this because due to flooding of several cabins later in the cruise people were relocated. After 4 nights of no sleep due to the heat I went back to Guest Services requesting a fan. We were provided with a fan, put it on and went to bed, at 12:45 that night the fan shorted and filled the cabin with smoke. Luckily I'm a light sleeper and woke up. The fire alarm nor sprinkler alerted us. I called Guest Services to report this and they showed no concern. We reported this in writing to the Hotel Director and recieved no acknowledgement of our issue. Our second issue relates to what is published in the Quench Beverage Package and what is actually available on board. basically there is a misrepresentation of the product. This issue was supposedly escalated to the HAL Coorpration. It took over 10 days and many follow ups by us with Guest Services and F&B department and we failed to get the package purchased and advertised online. Guest Services continually blocked any escalation of these 2 issues. Based on this experience, lack of activities and enthusiasm from cruise director and his offsider running activities, lots of food but either often cold, if eating in the dining room, or dry and overcooked in the Lido. We will never cruise with HAL again. In discussion with many other passengers, we are not alone with our opinion. We have done over 20 cruises, this was our 3rd cruise in 8 weeks, 1 with Royal Carribbean and the other with Princess, both cruise companies offered outstanding customer service, activities, food and fun. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
My wife and I are recently retired and have long wanted to cruise an "around the horn" itinerary. This Holland America cruise fit the bill the perfectly. Overall, an outstanding cruise, a decent value and a great itinerary. ... Read More
My wife and I are recently retired and have long wanted to cruise an "around the horn" itinerary. This Holland America cruise fit the bill the perfectly. Overall, an outstanding cruise, a decent value and a great itinerary. We departed from Rio de Janeiro. Our flight departed the east coast for Miami on Halloween. Many of the airport and airline employees were in costume and having a good time. We ended up,with a business class upgrade for the overnight flight from Miami to Rio. Since we have been to Rio before, we didn't do anything touristy other than stroll on Copacabana Beach. I paid for our Airbnb for the night of the 31st so we could check in immediately upon arrival the morning of the first. HAL emailed us the day before embarkation to warn us that check in was going to involve two security checks and to expect delays. Because of this, we left early for the pier. Our uber driver was completely unfamiliar with the cruise port but found it without too much difficulty. Other than confusion about where to drop our bags and where to line up for check in, things went relatively smoothly. There was almost no signage but following the heard and gentle inquiries had us on board in about 30 minutes. We were very pleased with the ship almost as soon as we boarded. Our cabin was ready for immediate occupancy and our bags all arrived shortly after lunch. We were expecting a small ship having recently cruised Carnival Horizon but the ship seemed plenty large with plenty of amenities. The public areas were all very tidy and clean and outside on the decks, conscientious maintenance was evident everywhere. We found the flow of the ship very easy to get around. As always, we selected an interior cabin for economy and for the dark cave sleeping experience. We were on the second deck so we felt almost no roll and the pitching was quite sleep inducing. The cabin could serve four passengers with two beds, a drop down bunk and a sofa bed. The beds were made up as twins, apparently our request for one bed was not received but this was fixed while we were at lunch. There was an astonishing amount of closet space for two people. The tile in the bathroom looked like a 1960s motel room but otherwise, we found the cabin spacious, comfortable and appropriately updated. Dining was very good to excellent. We tried the main dining room for breakfast once and the service was so slow, we never returned. The buffet on the Lido deck, however, had outstanding breakfast options so we went there every subsequent day. The omelette station rarely had more than three people in line, the eggs Benedict were fresher and better than the dining room and the waffles were hot and freshly made. It could get crowded around 9 am so we often ate outside by the pool. We never did try the dining room for lunch instead using the buffet every day. The salads were excellent and days we wanted to try sandwiches, soups, pasta or other offerings, everything was good except the pizza. The Dive In burgers could be a bit of a hot mess but good and the dogs were also nice. The fries were always hot and crispy. We enjoyed open seating dinners in the main dining room. The food was hit or miss but the service was usually good and we had a wonderful group of dining companions almost every night. A few nights, we did not feel up to a long dinner and ate at the buffet. We had some unbelievably tender and flavorful steaks at the buffet one evening. A friend had treated us to a dinner at the Pinnacle Grill and it was outstanding. The steaks were superb and the service perfect. There were three formal nights but we only attended one. My wife felt unwell the night of the first one and the second one was during our scenic cruising of the glacier channel. Because it was light so late and we enjoying the spectacular scenery, I think many people opted to skip that formal night and hit a buffet for late dinner. The entertainment was also hit or miss. The singers/dancers are, I'm sure, very talented and hardworking but the show was poor. I think the performers were saddled with repetitive choreography and uninspired music selection. On the other hand, it was great to see a real live band performing. A guest juggler was just so so and a guest flautist was unusual but extremely talented and a good show. The highlight of the entertainment was a spectacular combo of BBC cinematography with live music. High definition films of polar regions and animals were accompanied by the live band playing the original score. We caught a few of the other acts in the bars and lounges and all were very talented. The enrichment opportunities were one of the ship highlights for us. Guest speakers addressed topics of maritime history, ship construction, glaciers, environmental concerns and applied oceanography. The port lectures were outstanding also; real and practical information about the ports without a word about shopping. The ask the captain presentation was very informative and well done. Our absolute favorite offering was the America's Test Kitchen. Once or twice on sea days, the presenter, Allison, would demonstrate two to three recipes along with advice on kitchen techniques, cookware and gadgets. The set was completely professional, the production engineer was very slick and the entire program was perfectly executed and utterly enjoyable. We found service to be very good throughout. Our cabin steward, Edward, was fantastic. The servers in the buffet were very personable even when trying to keep up with clearing tables at busy times. The bar staffs were all excellent. No complaints about service. My wife and I treated ourselves to the Thermasuite package. For the two of us, it was $349 for the entire 16 day cruise. It gave us unlimited use of the Thermasuite in the spa area. Most of the time, we were only two there. Sometimes, there was another couple there. Only once was there more than four people. I thoroughly enjoyed the steamrooms and hot tub and we both enjoyed the heated loungers. The ports on this cruise were all great. In Punte del Este, we just did a short walkabout the port. We saw a few sights and enjoyed the sea lions but were back on board in time for a late breakfast. Buenos Aires was a first time visit for both of us and we walked several miles and thoroughly enjoyed the city. We had a scheduled tour in Montevideo which showed us the highlights but left plenty of time for lunch and exploring on our own. Our arrival to the Falkland Islands coincided with Armistice Day and we were privileged to be able to attend a church service and a military parade and memorial ceremony. In Ushuaia, we had a prearranged tour to the Tierra del Fuego National Park which was outstanding. Our third And final prearranged tour was in Punta Arenas and it was a bit disappointing. There is absolutely nothing at the port so you need to take a shuttle into town if you don't have anything set up. Our tour went to a scenic overlook, spent way too much time at a mediocre museum, then had a very brief stop in the downtown plaza. For Puerto Montt, I went ahead and paid for a cruise line tour of Petrohue Cataracts and Puerto Varas. We were very happy with this tour. At the end of the cruise, I purchased a cruise line tour/airport transfer. The tour to two wineries, lunch, a bus tour of Santiago and a shopping stop with airport drop off was very expensive at $200 per person but it was extremely well executed. In addition to the ports, the scenic cruising days were just a spectacular. We went around Cape Horn, the Straits of Magellan, the Beagle Channel, the Sarmiento Channel and the Chilean Fjords. We were privileged to see glaciers, fjords and even an iceberg. For us, this was the highlight of the cruise. As far as complaints, there were a few. During the scenic cruising, commentary was provided in the Crow's Nest, outside decks and on the cabin TV. The Crow's Nest got uncomfortably crowded and even then, the sound system was terrible and the commentary was inaudible. I think the commentary should be broadcast in all common areas so regardless of where you choose to observe the beauty, you can hear the details. Also, the ship seemed to be very poorly provisioned. We purchased an eight bottle wine program. By the fourth night, it seemed they never had anything on our wine list. To their credit, a substitute bottle was provided and usually a higher level wine but it seems silly to create a wine list, sell a program, and then be told almost every night, that your choice of wine is not available. Also, by about day three, there was no draft beer. By the end of the cruise, only a fraction of advertised bottled beers were available. I found alcohol prices extremely high. Overall, a great experience. We were reluctant to disembark and would have gladly sailed back to Buenos Aires. If you are interested in Patagonia and seeing some great scenery and exciting cities, this is a highly recommended cruise. Read Less
Sail Date November 2018
The Zaandam is our new favourite ship. Its smaller size means fewer decks and less crowding. Our cabin on deck 6 was one deck above the fixed-time dining room and most public areas, and just two decks below the lido. It is practical to use ... Read More
The Zaandam is our new favourite ship. Its smaller size means fewer decks and less crowding. Our cabin on deck 6 was one deck above the fixed-time dining room and most public areas, and just two decks below the lido. It is practical to use the stairs rather than the elevators. Less crowding meant that we did not have to show up at least half an hour early to sit together for performances in the theatre. Our cabin was bright and thoughtfully laid out, our balcony was deeper and more usable than the non-suite balconies on HAL’s larger ships, the ship is in excellent cosmetic condition, and the crew are cordially efficient. One curious point is that the magnetic bulldog clips we’ve used on other ships to hold papers to the cabin walls would not stick in this one. This was our first experience of HAL’s EXC program and we like it. Lectures by the two guest speakers on sea-days were deservedly well attended. The port talks were informative, useful and a welcome change from the past pitches for ship’s tours. The EXC host went out of his way to be helpful and to offer advice for independent travel. The Zaandam’s port tendering (three ports) went as smoothly and efficiently as one could expect. Entertainment was the best we’ve experienced in some time. HAL has a reputation here on Cruise Critic for cost-cutting, and nowhere has that been more obvious in past cruises than in the quality of the entertainment. The classical group Adagio, for example, used to be a quartet. Then it became a trio and, more recently, just two indifferent players. The Adagio duo on this cruise included possibly the best violinist I’ve heard at sea, better than he should have been but unfortunately at the end of his contract. I hope he’s re-engaged. And the rest of the performers, singers and dancers were a definite step up from those on the Westerdam last year and the Eurodam the year before. The food quality and presentation were at least as good as we’ve come to expect, especially at the evening meal in the dining room. Evening meals in the Pinnacle and Canaletto were excellent. Lunch in the Pinnacle remains one of cruising’s best bargains. I’m still unhappy that HAL does not buy more provisions locally and give its chefs more rein with the menus. Why should the two Chilean wines I most wanted to order off the wine list both be out of stock for the duration of a 16 day cruise that included three Chilean ports? Why can we not see the most common regional dishes on the evening menu? Bar service was typically good but a bit slow. The prices continue to inch up, with most drinks now being between $7 and $10. It wasn’t difficult to find a server except, oddly, in the Explorers Lounge, where drinks service during Adagio’s evening performances was either missing or very scarce. Because there’s no bar in the Explorer’s Lounge, the drinks, and the servers on this cruise, come from the Mix bar one room away. That, however, is the only instance where the on-board service was less than we expected. The Zaandam’s guest-facing crew were great. The captain took us much closer to a glacier than I thought he would, and made a small route change so that we could view a large iceberg. We enjoyed this cruise and look forward to coming back for more. Read Less
Sail Date November 2018
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. Ports were fantastic and weather was great. Smooth seas at their best. The ship is a different story. Dining room service was extremely slow. One night we waited over 1 1/2 hours ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. Ports were fantastic and weather was great. Smooth seas at their best. The ship is a different story. Dining room service was extremely slow. One night we waited over 1 1/2 hours before being served and the excuse was "The kitchen is backed up" Hard to believe at 5:30 PM--open seating. Two meals at the Pinnacle Grill were fantastic. The Cellar Master Package, Double was clearly worth the price. However, there was confusion concerning the number of meals that could have had clearer wording on the vouchers. The company made it right and credited the second meal. Cabin was filthy and the bathroom had mold, a cracked sink and a broken shower head. Cabin steward was personable but not very effective. Guest entertainers were extremely good but the ship's entertainers were terrible. All in all the cruise was worth the expense but the ship needs repair. Read Less
Sail Date November 2017
We chose this cruise specifically for the itinerary and what a wonderful itinerary it was helped by settled weather conditions for most of the passage. I had however reservations about the ship being a little dated and reserved ie the ... Read More
We chose this cruise specifically for the itinerary and what a wonderful itinerary it was helped by settled weather conditions for most of the passage. I had however reservations about the ship being a little dated and reserved ie the entertainment onboard was quite possibly the poorest we had ever been unfortunate enough to be subjected to. There was also unacceptable delays in the main dining room which ultimately led us to dine in the lido. Embarkation was poor with elderly guests having to queue for long periods of time, although this can't be helped perhaps cool hand/face towels and iced water? I was also quite disappointed to witness 'engineering' staff in contaminated overalls using the lido as a passageway whilst guests were eating. And as for the price of the ships excursions, by far the most expensive I have witnessed on any of the many trips I have completed. Read Less
Sail Date November 2017
Chose this cruise for the itinerary, not the line or the ship. After reading some negative reviews, we didn't have really high hopes, but the ship turned out to be pretty nice even with a few hiccups. We are a couple in our ... Read More
Chose this cruise for the itinerary, not the line or the ship. After reading some negative reviews, we didn't have really high hopes, but the ship turned out to be pretty nice even with a few hiccups. We are a couple in our 60's and have cruised 26 times before on most of the major lines, this was the third time with Holland America. We brought our 11 year old granddaughter with us, and while there were only about six kids total onboard, the youth director Lisa did a fine job of allieviating their boredom. The ports were fascinating, unlike anything we had ever seen, but on sea days we found very little to do. Most folks played bridge, napped in the solarium, or read. Very few activities. Overall, it was a trip of a lifetime! We had smooth seas, not at all like what we expected. A word to the wise: if you're sailing out of Rio, you must have a Brazilian visa, which we quite expensive (over $1000.00 for the three of us) and it took about 3 months and many phone calls to get. The visas showed up 4 days before we left home, and it was a big hassle. Glad we got to see Rio, but we will not ever be going back to Brazil! Read Less
Sail Date November 2017
First, let me sail that we had a wonderful time. Brazil and the Amazon was amazing. The ports were great. As always the crew was also terrific. We were just shocked by the myriad problems the ship itself had. There were numerous leaks, not ... Read More
First, let me sail that we had a wonderful time. Brazil and the Amazon was amazing. The ports were great. As always the crew was also terrific. We were just shocked by the myriad problems the ship itself had. There were numerous leaks, not from the rain, but from within the ship. We often saw large fans set up and buckets to catch water. Several guests had to be moved because of the water in their cabins. Secondly, we heard from numerous people and in the open forums with the crew about the lack of adequate air conditioning. Cabins, especially on the upper decks, were given fans to cool off their rooms. Although we always had some AC, our cabin was never really cool. I also had difficulty getting y special diet in the Main Dining room. One night, I was given food that made me ill. I hope that if this ship is going to continue to sail that it can be brought up to HAL's usual standards. Now we're scheduled for another cruise on the Maasdam in 2017, and we are seriously reconsidering. Read Less
Sail Date February 2016
South America/Antarctica - December 15- Jan. 9 on HAL’s Zaandam I just got back today from a fabulous cruise on the Zaandam. This truly was the trip of a lifetime. I got same great pictures of Antarctica. We avoided the deep freeze back ... Read More
South America/Antarctica - December 15- Jan. 9 on HAL’s Zaandam I just got back today from a fabulous cruise on the Zaandam. This truly was the trip of a lifetime. I got same great pictures of Antarctica. We avoided the deep freeze back at home and had almost 24 hours of daylight. We experienced some other cultures that we may never had experienced. We had wonderful tablemates and enjoyed dinner with them immensely. Our family consists of me, Cathy, semi-retired age 50, ds18, dd15, ds8. Everyone loved the cruise. DS8 cried on the last night and has been constantly bugging me for the past several days about when our next cruise is. He is also convinced that I should get a job on a cruise ship so that he can sail with me. We booked the cruise about 4 months in advance. We had sailed on the Nieuw Amsterdam in July, 2012 for a 24 night Med cruise, so we were well prepared for the 21 night South America cruise. Originally, I was going to post this as a semi-live report, but the Zaandam’s internet was not up to the task. My apologies for the length of the review. Our ship’s itinerary Dec. 18-19 Rio de Janeiro Dec. 22-23 Buenos Aires Dec. 24 Montevideo Dec. 27 Stanley, Falkland Islands Dec. 28-Jan. 1 Cruising Antarctica Jan. 2 Ushuaia Jan. 3 Punta Arenas Jan. 6 Puerto Montt Jan. 8 Valparaiso (end of cruise) Pre- cruise Toronto to Iguassu Falls Our cruise left from Rio de Janeiro. We flew in 2 days ahead for a visit at Iguassu Falls. The journey was scheduled to last 21 hours from Toronto. Our flight from Toronto to Washington, DC was on time, but our flight from DC to Sao Paulo was delayed 2.5 hours which took up most of our connection time. Although the United flight attendants said that there would be a gate agent to help us with the connections, there wasn’t anyone in the jetway or gate area except for several people who looked like they were on break. At Sao Paulo, we had to go through immigration, collect our luggage,and recheck the luggage for a domestic flight to IGU. This was very quick, but we still missed our connecting flight with TAM. TAM had no clue what to do about our missed connection and said to talk to United. There was no one at the United desk, and I was told there wouldn’t be for another 4.5 hours. Uggh. We had already been travelling for almost 24 hours. My next strategy was to try to find the local number for United online. Good news - GRU has free internet. Bad news- it is abysmally slow, so I was doubtful that I would be able to connect. After 20 minutes of trying, I was able to connect to the airport’s wifi, bring up the United website and find the local phone number for the airline. Luckily, the local phone number had a selection for English and I was connected to a United agent who spoke English. She told me we were booked on a flight that left in 1.5 hours with GOL. Great! But it would have been better if the there had been someone at the airport to tell me this. Other people who flew out of Toronto on my flight, didn’t get their connection to Rio until midnight. Another lady I met from Vancouver, had her first flight from Toronto cancelled due to a snowstorm, then missed her connection in Sao Paulo. She was 2 days late getting into Rio. Luckily, she had planned for 4 days in Rio. Pre-cruise Iguassu Falls In Iguassu Falls, we stayed at Iguassu Resort. This was convenient to the airport and the National Park. The resort had a lovely main pool area, with live music that played in the evenings. The restaurants onsite were very expensive - 52 reals ($26 US) for the buffet. And no, the buffet was not all that great - it looked like a $10 buffet. We opted for the Asian restaurant and left hungry. I also left with with tummy trouble that lasted until I broke down and took the levaquin that my travel medicine doctor had prescribed, 5 days later. When we got back to the room, we discovered that the room service menu was significantly cheaper and ordered from there from then on. The National Park was very nice, very well run. Our taxi dropped us off and there was someone there to direct us to the cashier. After the cashier, we got on a very nice double decker bus that took us to the beginning of the main trail. This trail starts right in front of Hotel das Cataratas, the only hotel in the park. Since there were four of us, we would have needed 2 rooms at this hotel, instead of one at Iguassu Resort. If there had been two of us, I would definitely have stayed at Hotel das Cataratas which would have given us the opportunity to visit the falls whenever we liked. The main trail was 1.5 km long, along a boardwalk. There are quite a few stairs on this walk, it’s not handicapped friendly. It took us about 1.5 hours to do the entire walk at a slow pace. Boarding Our flight to Rio was uneventful. The IGU airport is very new and nice. It is also very small which was a good thing. We did not have any trouble speaking English - or my attempts at Portuguese in Foz do Iguacu. The taxi booths at Rio are right next to the baggage claim, and in case you miss those, there is one about 50 feet directly in front of the doors from baggage claim. They take reals or dollars or credit cards. They gave me a quote in USD that was better than the exchange rate my bank gave me, but because I had quite a few reals left over, I used those. Once we passed the booths, my son, who was 10 feet ahead of me, was approached by a gypsy cab person, but he quickly backed off when he saw my chit for the taxi. The English/Portuguese started to break down when we reached the actual taxi stand and in the taxi itself. The name for the cruiseport is Praca Maua. My first attempt at pronouncing this was bad. Correct pronounciation is prahssah mao-ah. Even then, the cab driver wanted to discuss exactly where we wanted to be left off. He finally used hand signals and we agreed that I was getting on a ship there. Baggage dropoff was very quick - too quick. They had taken two of our 5 bags before they understood that, yes, I did have the luggage tags on me, even though they weren’t attached. So, two bags got whisked away without luggage tags. Don’t worry, they said, they’ll use the name tags on the luggage, except they never actually verified that there were name tags on the luggage. I am a little paranoid about this as on my very first cruise (on a different cruise line) my one and only piece of luggage was given to ship’s personnel at the transfer to the ship and was not seen again for 7 days. I had taken pictures at the Rio airport of each piece of luggage, so I wasn’t tooo concerned. We entered the terminal. There are sundry shops in the terminal, so it would be a good place to pick up things you had forgotten to pack. They have us a number (14), the health questionnaire and asked us to sit. Two minutes later, they told us to get in line. The lines were not well marked, and we almost boarded a different ship. We finally joined the looong line for checkin. After a few minutes, I started musing about how I wished we had priority checkin. Our line hadn’t moved at all. Wait! We did have priority checkin! We were in a suite! Out of that line, and into another line, which was even less well signed. Here, there were agents who were twiddling their thumbs. The agent took our passports, and said we’d get them at the end of the cruise. They also took or checked our Argentinian reciprocity fee receipts. Pictures taken, we headed for the ship. The stateroom - Originally, I had booked an oceanview for the 4 of us. None of the balcony staterooms on the ship sleep 4. So, it was an oceanview or a suite for 3 1/2 times the price. Ummm, I’ll take the oceanview. Two weeks prior to the cruise, I was emailed with an upsell and I took it. This is our first time in a suite on any of our cruises. We are in cabin 7022 which is directly across the hall from the Neptune Lounge. Although the food selection at breakfast is not large in the lounge, it had some of my favourite foods including smoked salmon and bagels, fruit, pastries, tea, coffee, cappucino. Unfortunately the cabin was under the Lido, and I could never quite figure out why, but every morning, starting around 5 am, there was something being dragged or pushed above our cabin. It sounded like we were underneath a bowling alley. One of the very first nights, something was not secured and every time the ship rolled, something above us would roll, rumble, rumble, rumble and then BAAANG! when it reached a wall. As I said, just like a bowling alley. The ship - Zaandam came out of drydock about 6 weeks ago. The carpeting throughout the ship has been changed. The air conditioning works well as does the plumbing. In our suite, the upholstery on the chairs and sofa as well as the curtains all look new. Towards the end of the cruise, I noticed that some of the chair upholstery had detached from the rest of the chair. The bathtub, tiling, and counters in the bathroom look old. Everything is very clean. About halfway through the cruise, one of my dd’s friends balcony cabins was flooded. On our first day in Antarctica, the potable water was shut down for a few minutes because of a flood in the Lido restaurant. Our tablemates got a picture of the flooding - a water main had broken and there was a waterfall coming out of the ceiling through a light fixture. On one of the last sea days, the dreaded 7 short blasts followed by a long one sounded at 7:20 am. An electrical fire in a light fixture on deck 1 was detected just a few cabins down from our originally booked cabin. At 7:32 am, the captain announced the light fixture had been removed and ordered emergency response teams to stand down. Demographics. Most of the passengers are in their 50’s and 60’s. I have met more teachers - mostly retired- on this cruise. This includes the 4 other people at our dining table, people on our shore excursion and others. That’s fine with me - I’m a teacher too. Club HAL and the Loft At the beginning of the cruise, there were about 30 kids, including 20 teenagers. About 5 more teenagers and 4 more 8-12 year olds got on Buenos Aires. DD15 easily found 2 other 15 year old girls to pal around with. DS8 is happy to have a few other kids, a couple of counsellors and a Wii and an Xbox in the kids club. Like other ships he has been on, he wants to be there every minute that the kids club is open. Club HAL on the Zaandam is not particularly handicapped friendly. The aft elevator does not go up to deck 9 where Club HAL is. You either have to walk up the stairs outside the Lido on deck 8 or take different elevators, go outside, and skirt through the tennis or basketball court on the sports deck. Food One of the things I liked best about our first cruise on HAL, in 2012, on the Nieuw Amsterdam, was the food, especially the desserts. While the Zaandam has the same menu, the food was not quite the same. The descriptions on the menu often did not match what was served. For example, the lettuce wraps were not wrapped in lettuce. My favourite on Nieuw Amsterdam had been the fruit crisps. On Zaandam, they consisted of mostly crisp and hardly any fruit. The worst example was the Black Forest cake. It had neither chocolate nor cherries, nor was very cake like. It was a white gelatinous mousse. The fruit pies were equally bad - very very little fruit and lots of starch or gelatin to hold the jelly like filling together. On Christmas Day, my stomach was feeling bad, but Maine lobster was on the menu - can’t miss that. Well, I should have. It was “lobster thermidor”, which was a grey paste with a couple of miniscule pieces of lobster served in a lobster shell. Gross. There was a dessert extravaganza on one of the last sea days. None of the cakes were labelled. The chefs served DS8 two pieces of desserts. After he ate 80% of one of them, I tried it - it was dripping with rum! December 19 - 4x4 to Tijuca Forest Tijuca is pronounced tee-zhooo-ca. The 4x4’s were old army-style trucks which we boarded at the port. Ten of us sat in the back on 2 benches. I think the truck had a top speed of 40 mph. Unfortunately, we were on a highway with a 50 mph limit. This was not exactly the fresh air excursion we signed up for. It took 75 minutes to get to the forest. There were 2 stops within the forest for about 20 minutes each. We saw some beautiful waterfalls. There was a short walk through the forest. There were police stationed at the stops within the forest as there has been muggings of tourists recently. There was an additional stop on a beach where we watched the hang gliders land.We did drive past Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. In total, we spent 3 hours crammed in the 4x4. I’d give this shore excursion a 3/5. December 22 Buenos Aires - Shore Excursion - Markets of Buenos Aires We were in Buenos Aires for 2 nights. Some passengers got on and some got off. There was no noticeable difference in the numbers on the ship. Temperature was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Our shore excursion was Markets of Buenos Aires. This is a 4 hour excursion. The markets were flea markets. No thanks. The last stop was at Ricoleta cemetary which was much more interesting. DS18 wished we could have stayed longer, but given the temperature, it was way too hot for me. I would give this one a 2/5. December 24 - Montevideo We got off the ship, but did not do a shore excursion. None of the ship’s offerings appealed to us. There are shops across the street from the port, but many were closed because it was Christmas Eve. Montevideo has a tradition of spraying people with champagne or other liquids on Christams Eve. They also set off firecrackers in the streets. We attempted to go further into the shopping area, but some firecrackers were set off that prevented this. I saw one passenger that had been hit by liquid. The souvenirs were overpriced in the two shops we saw. December 27 - Stanley, Falklands Islands We prebooked a trip to Volunteer Point with Estancia Excursions. HAL let us know that we were going to the Falklands 5 days prior to sailing, although it was always on the itinerary as “weather permitting”. They opened up Falklands shore excursions at the same time. Volunteer Point was $349 pp and sold out before the second day of the cruise. The tenders started leaving around 7:45 am, but there was no announcement. We just decided to head down to see if we could get off, and we got on about the 4th tender. The ride was about 20 minutes. Estancia Excursions appeared to be the only private vendor at the dock. They were swamped by people trying to book last minute. They took out probably 12-16 4x4s. The trip out was an adventure in itself. Volunteer Point was excellent and would be well worth the price of admission on the ship’s excursion. The drive to Volunteer Point was incredible. The first 50 minutes or so were on paved and then gravel road. The last 70 minutes were on peat. At Volunteer Point, there were both King penguins and Magellan penguins. The King penguins were very handsome birds and outshone the Magellans. The scenery was great as well. I rate this excursion as a 5/5. December 28 Sea Day This was the day I wished I were home. The seas were quite bad - about 20 feet. I was terribly seasick. I took ginger plus meclizine which put me to sleep, but still left my stomach feeling awful. December 29-31 Antarctica Fabulous otherworldly scenery. This was the whole point of the cruise for me. There were 3 Antarctic experts on board and they did lectures on sea days throughout the cruise, which were fabulous. We were supposed to have workers from Palmer station come on board to give a talk as well, but the weather was not agreeable to boarding them. January 1 Drake Passage More heavy seas, but not as bad as the crossing to the south. We circumnavigated Hornus Island which is the island containing Cape Horn. It is part of Chile. I saw a Chilean naval vessel close by to starboard as we started our circumnavigation. The horn saluted them as they dropped off. IMO, it appears that HAL has solved the problem of how to get from Argentina to the Falklands and back to Argentina - they inserted Uruguay before the Falklands, and then got the Chilean government to admit them to Chile when they circumnavigated Hornus Island - before going to Ushuaia. Jan. 2 Ushuaia Drive to Tierra del Fuego national park It was rainy and cold in Ushuaia. There were about 8 large buses that did this excursion. You can do it yourself - if you are confident in your Spanish as the taxi drivers did not speak any English.The best scenery was right at the dock. After Antarctica, the scenery on the shore excursion was nothing great. Rating 3/5. Jan. 3 Punta Arenas Off the Beaten Track shore excursion Three of us went on this shore excursion. It involved a short bus ride to the ferry and a 2 hour ferry ride each way to Magdalena Island. A snack and lunch pack was provided with 2 sandwiches, chocolate bar, cereal bar, large bottle of water and a large juice pak. Magdalena Island was covered with Magellan penguins. We were told there were 200,000 penguins. Even on the ferry you were extremely close to the penguins. We had seen the Magellan penguins at Volunteer Point though. So, while I got some great pictures, having been to the Falklands, it would have been better to save the money. This shore excursion was also sold out. Rating 4/5. Jan. 5 Puerto Montt - Private excursion with GV Tours I have struggled with what to write about this one. This was a tender port. Nineteen people (including 3 of my family) had signed up for the excursion on our roll call. Three people did not show. This got us off to a bad start because with that large of a group, the pricing for the shore excursion was a fixed amount, not a per person rate. So, all of a sudden, I’m on the hook for the fare for 3 more people. Luckily Veronica found one person at the pier and put her on our bus. I still had to hit up everyone else for $10 more. Secondly, although I asked the Neptune concierge for early tender tickets, they kept putting me off and finally left a message at 9 pm the night before that they couldn’t do it. Most of my group showed up early and left to get tender tickets, 10 minutes after tickets were announced. I took them an hour and a half to get to shore. Even though I left half an hour after them (waiting for the no-shows), because I had priority tendering which meant I didn’t need tickets, I was waiting on the pier for at least half an hour. So, it was 9:30 by the time we all arrived and got going on the tour. Thirdly, we almost missed the ship as we arrived at the pier 10 minutes after the final tender time. I really didn’t want to write that last part, but I don’t feel that it would be fair to my fellow cruise critic members to leave that out. Luckily, some of the ship’s excursions were late and the final tender didn’t actually occur until about 90 minutes later. Lesson learned - if I ever feel that I want to organize a group shore excursion again, it would have to save me at least 50% above the ship’s shore excursion. I would also ask for payment in advance before the sailing. Ratings: 5/5 for lunch, tour guide’s commentary, the bus and Petrohue rapids. Timeliness back to the port, tendering experience, failure of participants to show up and concierge helpfulness were epic fails.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
My husband and I are in our 60s….typical HAL cruisers on our 19th cruise, but WOW, this 21 day holiday cruise broke the sedate HAL mold, with an exciting international mix of passengers from young to old! We enjoyed this vibrant group. ... Read More
My husband and I are in our 60s….typical HAL cruisers on our 19th cruise, but WOW, this 21 day holiday cruise broke the sedate HAL mold, with an exciting international mix of passengers from young to old! We enjoyed this vibrant group. We flew to Rio de Janeiro and back from Santiago on Delta with the expected winter weather delays, always tense, so make sure you have plenty of time before connecting to your international flight. We had sailed twice previously on the Zaandam, and she came out of the latest dry dock looking like a new lady! She was immaculate throughout. There were noticeable improvements around the ship in many venues, much more open and flowing, with new upholstery, carpeting and drapes. Beautiful flower arrangements and holiday decorations graced the ship. The crew appeared very upbeat and proud to be serving on the Zaandam. With the usual compliment of activities listed each day in a nicely designed daily program, one could do as much or as little as you wished. There were many quiet places to escape from the lively Lido crowd. A great addition was and Antarctic Exploration Team, who gave talks on sea days, covering everything you ever wanted to know about Antarctica, and maybe some things you never thought about! These talks continued after we left Antarctica, too. We prebooked all our shore excursions through the ship, and were very happy with our choices. I want to add that bringing local currency was not necessary, and vendors everywhere kept their calculators busy converting pesos to dollars. The front office had local currency if necessary. Excursions: Rio: Corcovado& Rio Highlights. It was rainy/ foggy so the legendary beaches were deserted and Christ the Redeemer drifted eerily in and out of the mist. The train ride up was fascinating. Good overview. Buenos Aires: two day Showcase of Buenos Aires. We had a great guide who didn't mince words about political opinions and life in her city. We saw it all from the Recoleta Cemetery to the Tango Show. It was hot and sunny. Lunch was on our own with a variety of dining choices, and I was amazed to see tour members head for TGIFriday's! This was the time to break out the credit card and enjoy Argentine cuisine. Montevideo: Montevideo and the Wine Trail. Time at the city square, then out of town along the condo studded coast to the Bouza Winery for tasting and a sumptuous lunch. Most enjoyable! The Falkland Islands: North Pond Penguin Colony. A longer tour in 4X4s across the island to see penguins on a white sand beach, and then a huge Gentoo colony on the top of the hill….thousands of penguins and chicks literally standing wing to wing. Got a history lesson with this tour, too! Ushuaia: Drive to Tierra del Fuego National Park. In spite of rainy day, the park held its own quiet beauty. Punta Arenas: Off the Beaten Track: Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve. A must! A long (but comfortable) ferry ride for the E-Ticket experience of a lifetime! Thousands of inquisitive penguins and chicks just feet away, looking at you, walking in front of you, posing for you! Fantastic! Puerto Montt: Petrohue Falls, lake cruise and Chilean countryside. Off and on rain, but relaxing. Beautiful countryside, great lunch, shopping and the volcano made a spectacular appearance for us. Valparaiso: Coastal cities and Chilean valley traditions with airport transfer. Perfect way to end the cruise. We loved the horse ranch demonstration, Pisco Sours and delicious lunch. We had an excellent guide. We were dropped off at the airport at 5 PM. The main event on this cruise was our time in Antarctica. We were blessed with two stunning, sunny days. The vistas were surreal and ethereal as the ship glided silently across water as smooth as glass! The abundant shades of blue took your breath away. Wildlife was everywhere. It was "another world" experience we will never forget! There is always much talk on roll calls about proper clothing. Temperatures were around 30 degrees and quite tolerable. We are from the desert in southern California and just layered our clothes, topped off with jackets spayed with a water repellant. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, too! I wore non thermal tights under slacks with nylon gym pants over that to break the wind. Most important gear were hats to cover ears, a scarf and gloves. The shop on the ship sold jackets, scarves hats and gloves. We were very comfortable. Hot chocolate, gluhwein and pea soup were served during scenic cruising. Our Vista cabin 6110 was spacious and very comfortable, and looked completely new, including the built in furniture, carpet drapes and bedding. We had plenty of storage. It was located over the showroom and you could hear noise, but we didn't consider it a problem. It was a short walk to the outside deck at the bow of the ship, which we used frequently. Our steward, Asep, took good care of us, making sure we had everything we needed. He amazed us with his towel animals! The water was hot and the toilet flushed…life was good in 6110! We requested a table for 2 at 5:30 open seating. We had #114, which was perfect, not close to other tables, yet offered a great view from the back windows. Apri and Ary were our personable, competent stewards. Ary impressed us with his magic tricks! Dinner offerings were overall good and consistent. Iggy was the As You Wish Dining Host and circulated the dining room making sure all was well. There was always an alternative menu. The Coho Salmon was very good. A favorite are always the chilled soups. On the last night there was an International Dinner, which offered lots of choices. We used room service for breakfast most mornings, and did dine in the Pinnacle Grill one night. Dinner and the service were excellent. On sea days there was always an international buffet on the Lido poolside featuring cuisine of different country each time. The Chilean and Peruvian meal was the best! There were several teas as well. Entertainment was varied. I had seen both shows before, and this show cast did not seem to have the charisma of past shows. The onboard enrichment lectures were informative. I appreciated the onboard Catholic Priest and daily Mass. Non denominational services were also available. Disembarkation went smoothly. Passengers were bused to the main terminal. Because we were on a HAL tour, our luggage was sent directly to the airport. Internet on the ship was the usual slow and frustrating. We were not able to check in for our flight the evening before (network overload), but did so the morning of disembarkation on our ipad with a different network. At the airport you must insert your passport in the machine to print out your boarding pass. The airline counters don't open until a few hours before departure, so we waited in line for 1 ½ hours. The Santiago Airport was chaotic, with no place to sit except in restaurants, which were filled to capacity. We surrendered our Chilean Landing Card (which was inserted in the passport when we entered Chilean waters) at passport control and went through security. At the airline gate we were given a table number and an agent looked through our bags once more before we boarded the plane. This was a near perfect cruise with a fantastic itinerary that I would heartily recommend, and we would love to repeat in the future.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
This is our 5th HAL cruise and as always a great experience. You sometimes wonder what kind of travelers cruise the world because some of the reviews from past seasons spoke of untrained staff, tired looking ship, poor food etc. This was ... Read More
This is our 5th HAL cruise and as always a great experience. You sometimes wonder what kind of travelers cruise the world because some of the reviews from past seasons spoke of untrained staff, tired looking ship, poor food etc. This was NOT our experience. Staff was GREAT, helpful and polite even with difficult demanding passengers. The ship had been in dry dock in October so I will not comment on how it looked prior to that but in December 2013, the ship was looking clean and very well maintained. Hardly any visible rust spots on the exterior. EMBARKATION: Easy and hassle free. We were using our French passports so did not require visas. Luggage delivered promptly. MEALS: Food always excellent on HAL although I will say that on previous cruises on different HAL ships it was probably better. At times, especially at breakfast in the MDR food was often "lukewarm" rather than "hot". Food quality was however very good. Soups both hot and cold always EXCELLENT. Meat cooked to my requested doneness. Pinnacle Grill excellent as was the Caneletto except for our first evening there where my pasta was overcooked. STATEROOM: Large, roomy and tons of storage. This is a real "plus" that HAL offers. Room clean and in good condition. Bed super comfortable. Bathroom clean and working well but in need of upgrading. Patio furniture also looking tired. ENTERTAINMENT: We seldom go to shows every night and HAL is not the specialist in large Broadway like productions. I prefer the invited guest entertainers more than the HAL troupe but that is personal to me. Piano Bar player was very, very good and funny. Also the violin player in the Explorer's lounge was exquisite. We listened to her every single evening. STAFF: Many thanks to our terrific stateroom attendants: Made and Joe Neptune lounge concierge: Shirley Pinnacle Grill staff: Made and Elvira MDR: Tatang, Francisco Shore excursion specialist: Patrick Our Captain who kept us safe, informed and was very present throughout the cruise and did not hesitate to wake everyone at 7 am when a fire alarm sounded. Everything turned out OK but its nice knowing that HAL officers take safety seriously. This is why we keep cruising with them. Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
We are both seasoned cruisers and have been to many shores. Our bucket list included sailing the Amazon and the Maasdam fit the list. Although older and smaller than a lot of newer ships, the size was perfect for this venue. We love the ... Read More
We are both seasoned cruisers and have been to many shores. Our bucket list included sailing the Amazon and the Maasdam fit the list. Although older and smaller than a lot of newer ships, the size was perfect for this venue. We love the Indonesian crew and an air of calmness greeted us as we came aboard in Rio. The ship had already sailed about 23 days from Ft. Lauderdale so we joined a group already bonded. However, we were made to feel welcome and made new friends easily. Being part of the group was easy and all of us were made to feel that the adventure was still happening. Our Cruise Director, Linda, was wonderful and was every where all of the time. Daniel, our activities director, also did an outstanding job, and pinch hit for the person who wasn't allowed on the ship by Brazilian authorities who was to give us the fauna and flora of the Amazon. Indeed, the antics of the Brazilian "authorities" over the length of the tour was mind boggling and made one wonder if Brazil would or could be ready for the Olympics! Activities We did the usual shipboard activities and enjoyed the small outdoor pool on the 10th deck as the weather was hot or hotter! We made friends at the Crows Nest every evening and enjoyed the attention of Richard and coworkers. We are not much show people as we enjoyed a late dinner, but the show were well attended. Service Our service was very good. It is evident that HAL is cutting back on number of service people, especially in Rotterdam dining room for breakfast and lunch, but our dinner experience was outstanding due to our wonderful waiter, Paul, and his team. Our room stewards Gede and Made were terrific and made sure we had our ice bucket full. Having said that, the Indonesian crew was wonderful and tried their best to keep up the high standards. Our captain, James Russell-Dunford, gave us up to date information and in his dry British humor kept us apprised of the latest "Brazilian authorities" updates. The IT department was very adequate and the director had the patience of Job dealing with us non-techies in our camera and IT problems. Us ladies had a good time with the staff in the jewelry department wtih the raffles and presentations. The stores on board had a rather dismal display of very uninspiring $10 items - we were a captive audience and much could be done to spark up this area. Ports We had good port presentations and lots of TLC in making decisions on which tour to take. Daniel warned us not to have high expectations in a nice way. Really, you need to take a tour in an area where the language is a problem and there is more than a chance you will get lost or visited by a pickpocket! Indeed, we were warned constantly not to wear any jewelry while on land and be on our guard. We did have a few guests who were relieved of their cameras! We usually try to eat a few meals wherever we are but this time we decided to stick to the ship's excellent cuisine. We always took water with us and were very careful about drinking anything with ice cubes on land. The only tour that did not live up to billing was the Buzios visit - the town did not open up for lunch until later - was a beautiful spot but didn't click with us. The tours in Santarem and Barbados and Dominica were excellent and we learned much about local culture, history as well as what we were viewing. There were not children on board so no children's activities. However, we had a little red headed angel on board who celebrated his first birthday with us. His Mommy was a ship's officer on duty and Daddy watched him like a hawk. Little Thomas had about 1000 grandparents,and learned to walk over a few days. He participated in the Crew goodbye and brought us to tears as he walked out on the stage! Room Unfortunately, since we had only the guarantee of a room in our class, we ended up practically opposite the laundry room. Since the laundry room on another floor was closed we had non stop activity from 0700 to 2300 daily! No one seemed to notice the sign that said Quiet and no congregating on hallway! Disembarkation Really one of the worst experiences we have had in leaving a ship was our lot this time in Flt. Lauderdale. We have been through process untold times here and never had this experience. I think we were in a "sequester" operation and were not even allowed off the ship until 10:15 only to be collected and told to sit in a room for anther 30 min, then into a giant line. Thank goodness we were US citizens - it went much faster. Foreigners were in a huge line. There were only 4 stations open for the customs people. People with an early flight were sure to be late! Summary This was a real adventure! Aside from the Caribbean islands, our focus was Brazil, and the mighty Amazon. Learning about Brazil, it's culture and history was fascinating and really what we came for. We did cruise in luxury and our ship was a welcome respite to all of the heat and humidity we experienced. Our little band of passengers bonded well and we all felt that we had indeed had a better understanding of this part of the world at the end of our cruise.Ports Armacao dos Buzios - this was a lovely almost Mediterranean island near Rio. Many cariocas from Rio come here. No good tours here. Go later in the morning to catch lunch on the shore Salvador da Bahia - settled by slaves and a very black population. But lots of colonial architecture remains and good photo ops including the ladies with big white skirts. There is an upper and lower city. Take a walking tour - not too strenuous. The lower city has a good craft market. Fortaleza A great place for shopping and feeling much safer than some of the other ports. You can walk to most of the shopping areas- a lot of handcrafts are very well made and the vendors are not in your face. Central Market is nice for browsing nice things. Santarem First stop on the Amazon. We took a very good tour which took in the market place, dock, rubber trees, short rain forest walk, manioc lore, and Alter Do Chao. We had a very good guide and learned all things about the area. Very good trip. Boca da Valeria This is a cruise ship only stop. These indigenous people live in the area, and dress up for the ships passengers. The kids are cute but know how to beg. The tender deposits you on a dicey platform depending on the weather - how wet or dry. It is total photo op! Parintins Small town on the way out of the Amazon. They do a Carnaval type show for the cruise passengers - quite a production with the costumes and color. The town has good shopping on the dock and a cool beer can be had on a cool veranda. No tour here. Alter do Chao Really a calm quiet little town. We tendered in and actually got to swim in a beautiful tributary to the Amazon - beautiful clear water and a white sandy beach. Another cool beer opportunity here and very restful. Bridgetown, Barbados Very civilized, claean, and people actually speaking that you can understand. Had a good tour and ended up at the Sunbury Plantation where we were treated to rum punch and fish cakes! kkWe were happy campers when we came back. After the stress of Brazil it felt like we out of prison.Nice shopping and people. Roseau, Dominica Very Lush, volcanic isle with soaring mountains, waterfalls, and pools. We had a nice guide and hiked to 2 waterfalls and the kEmerald Pool. A good hike, but worth while because of the view. Waterfront row is safe - restaurants, bars, vendors and plice presence. Easy to get around. Philipsburg, St. Maarten Very civilized. Dock area completely redone and everything you need it there. No tour here - we just walked off ship and took a water taxi over to the main part of town. Ther is a lovely beach there, restaurnats, bars, shopping. Very well policed andyou can spend a long time there and on the dock, which has alot of the same shops there. Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
This was a cruise that opened up a totally different world to me and that is what really made it special... from the over the top production of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro to the basic life of the Amazon. Holland America had a great ... Read More
This was a cruise that opened up a totally different world to me and that is what really made it special... from the over the top production of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro to the basic life of the Amazon. Holland America had a great itinerary. Going to the Sambadrome was an experience of a lifetime - although expensive, it was worth every cent! Then traveling the Amazon was on a totally different track with the focus on basic living. The variety of the ports made it very interesting. Food was a step better than on previous Holland America cruises. Life on board was good, but there could have been more and more varied activities. Only real criticism was the shore excursion director. He did not seem to be on top of the tour guides and when this was pointed out, his people skills seemed lacking. Several of us guests had issues with him. He also did not promote the Brazilian way of life... I tired of his remark to "lower your expectations" for Brazil. BUT, an exuberant travel guide and Brazil itself more than made up for him. Embarkation was long- moved slowly through the ship to the showroom for our papers-they need to work on doing this better... did not use port facilities that were available. Disembarkation was a disaster. Almost 3 hours to get through customs - There were few agents to start with and on top of that, the number of wheelchairs that were all ushered to the front of the line was unbelievable.... Saw so many people who had never had showed any mobility issues in wheelchairs - guess they had learned to work the system. Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
We had a very enjoyable cruise on the Veendam for three weeks over Christmas and New Year from Rio to Santiago including three days along the Antarctic Peninsula. The itinerary was superb and we were very fortunate that neither the weather ... Read More
We had a very enjoyable cruise on the Veendam for three weeks over Christmas and New Year from Rio to Santiago including three days along the Antarctic Peninsula. The itinerary was superb and we were very fortunate that neither the weather nor politics prevented us from reaching any of the destinations en route. We went from +35 degrees at start and finish in Rio and Santiago down to days of 0 degrees or below in Antarctic. In many ways this was a trip of a lifetime at a very reasonable cost. There are many great memories, such as watching penguins jumping off icebergs, seeing the highlights of Rio from the sea, the endless stunning vistas of the Chilean fiords ... but perhaps the pick has to be counting down to midnight on New Year's Eve in the showroom -- with the curtains open and still full daylight outside -- and a snow-capped, mountainous Antarctic island drifting past outside the window just as the clock struck. I have commented below on many aspects of the ship and cruise, mainly for UK readers as it was our first chance to compare the US-based Holland America line (HAL) with the more British--style operators Fred Olsen and P&O which we had travelled on before. ACCOMMODATION: We were in an outside view cabin (no balcony) on Deck 5 towards the bow. The most impressive feature was its size, certainly larger than equivalent cabins we have had on Fred Olsen or P&O. The storage space was quite adequate and we had a two-seater sofa, single armchair and dressing table in between the bed and bathroom. This provided a useful living space in the daytime. The double bed itself was very large and the most comfortable of any we have had on a cruise. The shower and wash basin were fine and the room was cleaned up twice a day by our friendly cabin steward. FOOD AND DINING For the first time on a cruise we opted for the "open dining" and are very pleased we chose this option. We chose it partly because the two fixed eating times seemed too early (5.30pm) or too late (8.00pm) and also to see how changing company each evening would turn out. We found that we never needed to wait more than a minute or two to be seated. There was always the choice of having a table for two or sharing, which we mostly opted for. This led to many very interesting conversations with fellow travellers of many nationalities. The main dining area with service is called the Rotterdam and extends over two decks at the stern of the ship. It is a good sizeable space which never seemed overrun and with a fair variety of table sizes e.g. for 2,4,6,8, 10 even 12. As we got increasingly disillusioned with the self-service Lido on Deck 11, we avoided that unless we were in a hurry, and ended up often taking all three meals each day in the Rotterdam. The quality of the Rotterdam food was high overall. We thought the steaks and other meats and fish were very good and the soups in particular were very tasty. There was a very good variety of breakfasts on the waiter-service menu. There was also considerable flexibility in one's choices. There was no difficulty, for example, in having two appetisers if one wanted instead, say , of one appetiser and one starter. Iced water was provided profusely (to suit US tastes) and coffees refilled regularly except at dinner. The quality of this coffee was not that good however and you needed to pay about 2 dollars to get a "speciality" coffee at the Explorations Cafe on Deck 8 for better quality. Tea was always of the "stick a teabag in a cup of hot water" variety. My wife complained that the only decent cuppa (British-style) she had on the trip was one in a cafe , perhaps unsurprisingly, on the Falkland Islands! The only downside of the Rotterdam MDR was that service could be pretty slow on occasion. The other main eating area for all meals was the self-service Lido up on Deck 11. The food was OK, no more, and the general ambiance quite frenetic. There are two main serving areas on each side of the deck , but they don't replicate each other exactly so you need to wander round a lot to find what you are looking for. Thus one is constantly weaving in and out to avoid others and it was sometimes difficult to find a free table at busy times. They have done away with trays (to cut food consumption in the view of some of the passengers), but this means more trips with individual plates for people to get all the bits and pieces they want , causing yet more congestion. In the end we decided that given the choice with the calm, waiter-service arrangement in the Rotterdam even for breakfast and lunch, it was a no-brainer, so we rarely frequented the Lido after the first few days. Further along the Lido deck by the pool there is also a burger bar with salads. We had a burger a couple of times and it was pretty good. Finally there is room service and we took this for breakfast on a few occasions when we needed an early start. The food came efficiently and on time. Fine Dining There were two options for this on the Veendam both of which require pre-booking and come at extra cost. We tried each one once. The Pinnacles Grill is the top notch one at an extra cover charge of 25$ per head. There is both a qualitative and quantitative difference from the usual fare in the Rotterdam. Service is very attentive. Our experience was very pleasant and it is fine for a special occasion, but it is in our view quite a lot extra, so once was enough. The other dining possibility is the Canaletto which is an area quite well "fenced off" from the rest of the self-service Lido and with a fixed menu of Italian choices. Again this was fine (at 10$ per head) for a one-off bit of variety, but not so different in quality from the main dining room to justify repeated visits. FACILITIES AND ACTIVITIES There were plenty of activities going on during the sea days. There were lots of quizzes at different times of day which we took part in. One good feature is the IT and IT-related sessions and support offered. My wife was very pleased with the digital camera sessions she went to. There were also exercise classes and we followed the tai chi sessions. The spa and fitness training area was fine and just about large enough for the amount of use it got and had most of the usual appliances, though I missed having a rowing machine. Unfortunately the sauna could not be accessed for free as on some other ships and was only available as part of a 130$ package across the cruise, or 20$ a day. Ouch! One very positive feature to keep you fit and get some fresh air is the nice, open and wide walk-around deck -- 4 laps = 1 mile. The swimming pool and jacuzzi areas on Deck 11 were fine and usually not too crowded. The "Explorations Cafe Area" was about the best we have come across so far. It had a nice flowing layout including a good library with easy lending system and was well equipped with games. I play a lot of chess and found some good fellow players. There were good quality boards and even a chess clock, to my surprise. The general ambiance of the ship's main public decks is very pleasant. There are many quite decent artworks dotted around. There is a section on Deck 8 of three interlocking bars called the Mix. One held the (very good) nightly piano bar session. One was a bit more sporty, but to be honest we didn't use them much. Despite my comments elsewhere on the prices, one notable feature was that in Mix , as in the main showroom, we didn't feel nearly as pressurised to keep buying drinks as on other ships. It was easy to get the hang of the ship's layout and find one's way around. There were plenty of lifts/elevators. They even changed the mats in the lifts every day with each having the day of the week written on them, so you knew if it was Monday, Tuesday etc.! Another very useful feature is that there are plenty of launderettes on the main cabin decks. To use them you need to feed the washing machines and driers with quarters which can be bought at the main Front Office. It was 2$ for one cycle of washing + 1$ for drying. The Crow's Nest on Deck 12 is very good for observation on three sides. Deck 8 also had a relatively large casino area. This was of little interest to us, but it was the one inside venue which allowed smoking. This was accentuated while we were in Antarctic waters as there was a total smoking ban on outside decks. Unfortunately the main way through to the very pleasant Explorations Area was right through the very smoky and smelly casino. FELLOW PASSENGERS There was a very international mix, probably because of the itinerary. The main element was from North America. An unscientific guess based on the people we met each time we ate would suggest about 60% USA, 15% Canada, then a fair number of Australians, New Zealanders, then specific groups of Germans, Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, Spanish-speaking Latin Americans and a small sprinkling of individually-travelling Europeans e.g. Dutch, Germans, Brits, Swedes etc. While the majority of passengers were probably of retirement age, it was certainly much less "geriatric" in composition than our experience with Fred Olsen and P&O and there was a fair number of passengers in their 30s, 40s and 50s. There was a small number of children. This composition may have been a reflection of the fact that the cruise overlapped with Xmas holidays for several countries. Many passengers were extremely well-travelled and it seemed to us that there were few first-time cruisers. We don't believe the ship was completely full so there were about 1250-1300 passengers in total. It rarely felt crowded with that number on board. ENTERTAINMENT: This is not really a major consideration for us on a cruise, but we did see a number of shows. The quality was a bit hit and miss. Some of the resident singers were actually very good and it was surprising and a bit disappointing that we didn't see more of them. Otherwise it was mainly variously talented individuals singing, playing instruments, a comedian, a magician -- the usual fare. The main showroom is on two levels and isn't actually that big. It goes back a long way from the stage and we found, that contrary to other cruise ships we had been on, there was less of a feeling of commitment to the show/performer(s) by the audience, so there was a lot of rather annoying coming and going during performances. The piano bar man was very good. We didn't really listen much to the classical quartet or guitar man who were usually on in various venues most evenings. Others had mixed opinions as to how good they were. PROVISION OF INFORMATION/ LECTURES: This was a long cruise in terms of distance covered -- over 6000 nautical miles in the three weeks -and a lot of it was across waters with a terrible reputation for storms. We were kept well up to date with sea conditions, routes and plans by the excellent captain, Peter Bos. We were fortunate to get over Drake's Passage to and from Antarctica with only medium size swells and no Force 12 gales as occur regularly in these parts. We had to change course a few times off the Antarctic Peninsula to avoid pack-ice and we were always kept up to date as to why this or that manoeuvre was necessary. We watched with bated breath as the captain squeezed us between icebergs more than once. The captain somehow also managed the feat -- I'm not quite sure how -- of getting us to the Falkland Islands when we were scheduled to go to Puerto Madryn in Argentina instead, and then , wonder of wonders in the present political climate, of getting us back into Argentina again at Ushuaia. There was an excellent programme of lectures on the history of Antarctic Exploration (led by the superb David Wilson, a great nephew of one of those who died with Captain Scott returning from the South Pole in 1912) and also on the all the wildlife of the area. Later there were interesting talks on Darwin and his expeditions as we cruised by Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel etc. A section of the Crow's Nest on the top deck was filled with charts and books about Antarctica. A group of researchers from a US Antarctic station came on board one morning for a question and answer session. All in all, we felt that HAL did an excellent job in preparing us for and immersing us in the Antarctic experience. World news was provided every day very impressively in a variety of A5 folded sheets. The basic paper was a compilation based on the New York Times, but we were very pleasantly surprised also to see a daily Britain Today, Australia Today, Canada Today as well as papers in Spanish, German and Dutch. Quite a feat! There was also a daily "Explorer" newspaper listing all the events and times of activities on board, also offered in other languages. PORTS AND TOURS: The itinerary was just right for the three weeks and the ports of call sufficiently varied: Rio -- Buenos Aires- Montevideo-Port Stanley-cruising Antarctica -Ushuaia-Punta Arenas- Puerto Montt -- Valparaiso. We generally find that all ship tours on cruises are rather overpriced. HAL's were even more so than P&O and Fred Olsen in this regard. We did take a couple of ships tours though. I went on one in the Falklands to see the sites related to the war, while my wife went to see a penguin colony. We also went on one from Ushuaia into Tierra del Fuego. To be fair, these were all pleasant and well organised. But mainly we did our own thing or joined with others we had contacted before the cruise through the CruiseCritic noticeboard and had some excellent trips putting together our own groups. COSTS: We booked our cruise quite late in the day so were able to get what we thought was a very good deal, though it appears that even better deals were available quoted in dollars to customers in the US. In this sense the basic price is very competitive with other cruise lines. We did however arrange our flights and transfers ourselves as the price offered by HAL for the full package was several hundreds of pounds more. Day to day costs on board are certainly higher than P&O or Fred Olsen. The daily tip is 11.50$ per head -- over £7 -- as against £4 on the others, and while basic drink prices are not that much above those of the British-style competitors, the practice of adding on 15% for service on every drink does make a difference. Wine prices were very steep. The very cheapest bottle offered at dinner was around 30$ (+ 15% of course). Most were substantially more, though, to be fair, carafes of passable wine were available at 12$. One way round this is to buy your own bottles at the ports en route as there is no prevention of passengers bringing on their own supplies. However, if you want to drink your own bottle at dinner you have to pay an 18$ corkage charge. Drinking in your cabin is OK. So we, and friends we made on board, ended up supping Chilean and Argentinian wines we had bought onshore at get-togethers in our cabins. Prices in the shops on board were on the contrary not too bad. Most days there was some offer or other available. The internet is available but the cost is very high. We managed to find a number of places either free or very cheap in the various ports to check and send some emails, but given that we were at sea for long periods we gave in and bought a package of 100 minutes for 55$ on board. To be fair, this did work well and with not too much delay despite our remote location. There were a number of activities at cost during the cruise such as beer tastings , wine tastings and culinary demos/ participation -- all from about 15-30$. Fair enough I would say. OVERALL We were impressed by HAL. They catered well for their international mix of passengers. Food was good and the lecture programme and information provision was very good indeed. The crew were fine and did their best, if not quite as wonderful as on Fred Olsen. We would certainly travel on a HAL ship again with no hesitation. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
The cruise from Rio to Santiago began with a sour note as HAL arranged the overnight accommodation in Rio, at a grossly inflated price and in a tired hotel. The airport to hotel transfer was good. The hotel to ship transfer was chaos - all ... Read More
The cruise from Rio to Santiago began with a sour note as HAL arranged the overnight accommodation in Rio, at a grossly inflated price and in a tired hotel. The airport to hotel transfer was good. The hotel to ship transfer was chaos - all buses arrived at same time and we were standing in a hot marquee for an hour to embark. There was no attempt to relieve the frustrations. The only greeting was for the Safety Drill, which does not meet any offshore facility I have worked on - so more frustration. One would have thought that the recent events on cruise liners would have sharpened their efforts to calm people and do a thorough drill. Our cabin was tidy, a bit dusty, but AC was not working. It was hot. After a few complaints we got a fan and then the AC came good for the last half of the cruise. There was no room introduction and info in room was very scant - being a dumb Aussie I rang 911 for information and realised I was on the emergency line! Bar list and prices not there. They have a general help line which was ok if you were prepared to wait a while. Our shower tap had no temperature control and the plug was easily jammed so we had to keep looking for the cabin boys for the first few days. The first day at sea was ok but we missed our slot for Buenos Aires so we were several hours late into that port. We had a medical emergency through the night and removed someone as we passed Montevideo, but we were given no detail so the rumour mill started. No information breeds suspicion. After the fiasco at Rio one would think they could learn how to disembark but they tried to stuff 500+ passengers off the ship simultaneously at Buenos Aires. We had to miss that half day in BA. Every port was almost the same, even the last day there was confusion as to who should get off when and go to what bus. Passengers quickly came to the conclusion the HAL were slow learners. The internet was very slow and at 75c/min, damn expensive. Just to clear and compose a few emails cost over $10! My agent had tried to arrange through HAL a refund (several hundred $'s) to me for an overcharge before our sailing but I could not confirm it. I asked the front desk to confirm and it took me several attempts and some acrimonious words to use their email facilities to confirm. Very distasteful! Food was pretty good but service was slow in dining room. It was hard to accept that we were in the cheapest wine producing areas in the world and still had to pay ridiculous prices. They had wine packages but even these were overpriced. In the buffet, the fast brekkie section was hopelessly slow and after waiting 5+ mins for 2 eggs, you could only compliment that with cold bacon/ham, beans and toast. It was a joke to watch 4 supervisors watching this performance and then doing nothing about the problems. Not once did we see a supervisor chat to customers about the quality and temperature of the food. Quality ok, temperature very cold. The pool area was excellent and has a cover, so can be enjoyed even on inclement days. It was nice to be able to take food from the buffet or grill to the poolside, but it was disgusting to have patrons light up cigarettes on the adjacent table. We had to move several times. There were no clear rules with respect to what areas were designated smoking and to add insult to injury we saw people smoking on deck 6 while the ship was refuelling. We had some rough weather and the captain and crew handled that very professionally, though I think the dining services should have been modified for safety reasons. We hade Force 12 gales and swells and it was by luck more than good management that people were not injures by flying trays etc. We had spent the bulk of the first half of the journey at sea with no landscape, but the second half was through the Chilean fjords. There was a meagre attempt to clean the windows in one port but the dining room windows were not cleaned for the entire trip so the once-in-a-lifetime-views were very blurred. The rough seas found every creak in the ship. There appeared to be a false wall between 171/173 and it creaked something awful and this did not help with seasickness panic. In moderate seas the wall would make a knocking sound, exactly like someone trying to enter the room. When we ignored it, it was someone at the door who then barged in. This happened at least 3 times. Hand sanitisers were plentiful but not really pushed by the attendants, in spite of the sickening cruise director who finished all his messages with a whining 'wash your hands, wash your hands". Obviously some patrons came on board with a flu as nearly half the ship was suffering, me especially, by day 6. No hygiene was emphasised for air borne germs. As usual, excursions were overpriced and long days. We were looking forward to a coastal cities tour before being dropped at the airport before coming home. The tour was a quick look at Valparaiso, which is pretty ugly, and then Vin del Mar before being taken into the hinterland to a very lame rodeo. This was gross misrepresentation and fraud, but what could we do on the way out? Not a fan of HAL. Neat ship, but poorly run. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
We are not what i call seasoned cruisers but we know what we like, we have been on 7 cruises, 4 with Royal Caribbean, 1 with NCL, and now 2 with Holland America. Firstly, embarkation in Rio was very chaotic, with the previous ... Read More
We are not what i call seasoned cruisers but we know what we like, we have been on 7 cruises, 4 with Royal Caribbean, 1 with NCL, and now 2 with Holland America. Firstly, embarkation in Rio was very chaotic, with the previous cruisers coming off of the ship all sitting on the steps where the taxis drop you off. The previous cruisers refused to budge, so we had to overhead our 50lb suitcases up the stairs we no clear direction of where to go once we got there, no HA staff or porters in sight, after aimlessly walking for about 5 to 10 minutes we found some porters. When we got inside the cruise terminal (with no air conditioning)we lined up to finish the process, we had a very inexperienced girl check us in, where they take our passport and your Brazilian landing card (don't chuck those it'll cost you $200). They keep your passport for the duration of the cruise, which we were kinda nervous about but was no problem. You can't serve yourself food for the first 48hrs which caused some long line-ups, but not too bad, food was standard cruise-fare, not as much selection as RCI or NCL but tasty enough. Dining staff were very good, they remembered our names after just one service. We never ate at the Pinnacle. Coffee was atrocious, but you could buy the tasty stuff at a kiosk downstairs. Now the entertainment was a double edged sword. The guitar player at Mix was excellent, as was the piano bar guy. The nightly shows were good but there was no real variety, out of 16 nights there was just 1 night that wasn't a musical of some kind. So while the shows were good they got tedious. there was the usual Broadway type musicals, there was Pianist who played twice that wasn't really our thing, neither was Fabio Zini the guitarist, Andy Bunger was good he showed so much enthusiasm playing his 7 or 8 different instruments. Ezker Emperanza was a magician in our only not musical night, he was cheesy but a welcome respite from the constant musicals. They showed Evita in the theatre on one of the Buenos Aires nights, that was massacred by a blown speaker in the culinary institute, unbearable to sit through 2 hours of scratching. Carlos Mendoza the Entertainment director was OK but sickeningly over-enthusiastic, that made everything he said sound ungenuine. The ship was stood up quite well, nothing looking too worn, the staff do an excellent job of keeping it up, the layout was a little frustrating on the 7th floor with the dining room being cut-off from the rest of the floor having to go down or up to get to it. We had excellent weather for every port except the Falkland Islands which had to be skipped due to unfavorable conditions. We had the opportunity to book a penguin tour in Punta Arenas though which turned out to be marvelous. The Cape Horn was cold but was very cool to be at the end of the world, the ship gives you little certificates to say you made it there. The Amalie Glacier was pretty but if you had ever seen the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, this one is tiny. Overall it was an ok experience, if you bring a book and can entertain yourself, unless you love musicals :) Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we ... Read More
As an introduction we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland American ships however decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However this year we wanted a cruise that would include the holidays and a non-European cruise thus we opted for the South American cruise and included the return cruise making this a back to back adventure. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those solely of the author who is in no way connected with Holland America. We know and respect your views and opinions which may be totally different from ours. You had a different cabin, perhaps different waiters, different restaurants, etc. throughout the cruise(s) and thus saw the same cruise from a different perspective. The ship reflects recent refurbishing throughout. The ship was launched in 1996. We don't know exactly what the theme was supposed to be thus we will call it 1920's Supper Club Modern. Many areas look as though we have reentered the supper club era of the 1920s.In any event the ship is being well maintained for the guest. By today's standards the Veendam has to fit into the small ship category, after all there are large and mega ships with over 4000 passengers and small ships with around 750 passengers. With a passenger compliment of around 1350 passengers the Veendam is definitely not considered a large cruise ship by today's standards. From our view that is very good as we don't really care for the rock climbing, the boisterous swimming pool antics and adventurer land aboard a cruise ship. Upon closer inspection you will notice several broken or cracked glasses and windows throughout the ship. Some of the metal especially around the outside windows is pitted and rough indicating it was not recently replaced. The first cruise left from Rio de Janerio and thus there were more passengers from the United States. On the second leg of the cruise starting in Santiago, there were even less from the United States. The Neptune Club on our deck was only occasionally visited by a person from the United States. We are taking back to back cruises on this ship thus we have one segment from Rio to Valparaiso followed by a segment from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires. Several of the ports will be the same thus we have an opportunity to see more at each port. We have previously visited some of these ports, just a couple of years ago, and this trip will give us an opportunity to see things we missed in the past. Seating throughout the ship contains both comfortable and uncomfortable seats. Funny you say that we would start the review about seating. We were so fascinated that we even took dozens of pictures. Some seating appears to be for "munchkins" as they have extremely high back with very small seats. In the Showroom At Sea almost all seats have low backs, thus providing little comfort for a lengthy show. On top of all of this, unless you select a chair to sit in you will find nothing but bench h style seating, all of which we found uncomfortable. What were they thinking? Dining room seating is much better however some chairs have arms while other are open chairs. There seems to be no consistency at any of the tables---just whatever is available at the time. Get to your table a few minutes early and select your own chair even if that means borrowing from another table. In our cabin we had a leather couch however I challenge anyone to try to sit for any length of time when the ship is moving and tossing as you will most certainly be tossed to the deck because of the slickness. The ship as a whole is nice and clean and one will get used to décor. RESERVATIONS Just a note about making reservations. Not all published cruise prices will be the same, however most cruise agents can match the lowest price you may locate on another cruise site. Just ask! We waited almost too late to purchase a suite cabin and we had to move to a different cabin at the end of the first cruise as the first cabin we purchased had already been sold. You should try to get the same cabin throughout all your segments as you don't want to have to move after a few days at sea. We deliberately chose the starboard side on our first segment as that gave us a shore view from our veranda and on the returned segment we chose the port side so we could again have the shore side view from our verandah. That worked really well. Now a word about location of the cabin. Our first cabin was 035 about midway on the Navigation Deck. The second cabin was 006 which was at the front of the ship. This made a really great difference on the open seas however not a concern in the inland passages. The ship's movement was almost never felt when we were in cabin 035. Don't be eager to take the first suggestion from your travel agent if you are not pleased with the location on the ship. There are also cruise web sites where you can check available cabin locations on each of the decks. Changing cabins should be an easy process (in our judgment), however Holland America apparently does not have a firm policy on this thus a separate letter has been generated back to corporate. On the next to last day of our first segment we still had not received anything from the front desk about our move to another cabin. I inquired three times and each time got different information. Finely on the last evening of the cruise we received a letter with partial information about the move to cabin 6. We still had no key to our cabin though thus another visit to the front desk where we advised to come back the following day. Our new cabin was made available to us around 0930 on the last day of the cruise and we received a new cabin key card upon visit once again to the front desk. We had not received any statement of charges for the cruise so we asked and was told we could have an interim copy. We also did not receive a survey questionnaire and were advised we would get that at the end of the second segment. We moved most of our personal belongings with a crew member helping us with a rack of clothes. BOARDING THE SHIP----We flew to Rio de Janerio and boarded the ship at the terminal in downtown Rio. It was a total disaster as the terminal is under renovation for the forthcoming Olympics. The main area was completely closed and HA had all passengers' crowded into spaces just inside the entrance. Once checked in, you had to go to a backroom and wait to be called by group number for boarding. I can understand the need for the renovations as the terminal is in bad need of repair. If you arrive during this renovation period, just be patient. Once inside this portion of the terminal space there is nothing to do other than sit or stand and wait for your boarding number to be called. Listen carefully for that number as there was no PA system. We provided the computer generated boarding pass at the check in counter. I could not believe how many ahead of us did not have that pass with them Your passport will be confiscated and you will be given a receipt. If you need to update your credit card or change to a different credit card from the one you originally gave HA, you cannot do it at check in and will have to proceed to the Purser's Office once aboard. A word about your passport. Holland America apparently has the feeling that we as guest are not capable or responsible enough to carry our own passports. You will be told that the retention of passports is necessary for customer officials to quickly check the ship's roster. In any event you may find, as we did, a reluctance at some ports to even exchange currencies. In Buenos Aires we were refused twice because we could not produce the original passport. To complicate the matter, Holland America does not exchange monies aboard ship and even the casino refused our Brazilian money. TIP--make a couple copies of your passport before you leave home. Do this in color as the black and white copies may not look all that official. We found that by producing a color copy and discussing with a clerk what Holland American had done concerning retention of our passports, the on shore transactions went smoothly. Our passports were returned two days before the end of the cruise. Once our group number was called the process went rather quickly however there will be those that try to jump the line by not following the called number. The staff sent all we saw to the back of the line and that was the way it should be. ABOARD SHIP----You will soon learn that sanitation is of primary concern for HA as you will be asked to wash your hands as you enter the ship and there are hand sanitizers located all over the ship. We personally think it is a good ideal. You will be asked to stop at the end of the gangplank for a picture to be taken. We just try to accommodate the photographer as he/she is doing their job and we normally have no intention of purchasing that photo. These are just snapshots and remember you don't have to purchase any of them. The Holland American staff, almost without exception, provides a genuine excellent level of service. Everyone greeted us with a warm greeting and their service was impeccable. There were some guest though on the second segment of the cruise that apparently felt they deserved more that friendly service. They displayed an arrogance with DEMANDS. Frankly I think they need to find another mode of travel. One passenger got very upset with the waiter because there wasn't a certain kind of tea available for him. Give me a break!! Travel on cruise ships has definitely changed for the worse in the past two decades. Some passengers want to dress as "slobs" and expect to sit next to you on formal night while wearing a pair of sandals and a gross t-shirt. On smart casual nights one can see flip flops, ragged t-shirts and shorts. We even saw one 80 year old woman wearing what appeared to be gym shorts on smart casual night. These are some of the same passengers that demand their food be served immediately, reject their entrée and send that glass of wine back as they state it is not suitable. They was also the person at the purser's desk arguing about the $5.95 drink charge which they swear is not theirs. We don't personally have a problem with these type passengers however we do believe they would be better off traveling on a container ship or oil barge in the future. OUR CABIN----We have been traveling on cruises since 1980 thus we have been on board a number of different ships. This time we decided to give up one of our cruises of the year so we could have a suite. Best decision we ever made. We selected cabin 035 on the first segment. However because we waited too late to decide on this cruise we had to change to cabin 006 (which was just a stone's throw away from 007) on the second segment. Not a big deal as the staff will move us at the end of the first segment. Cabin 035 was on the starboard side which gave us the shoreline on the travel both south and north. Cabin 006 will give us the same shore side verandah view on the return trip back. Our suite was fabulous. More space than we usually have in a hotel room and a patio that was unbelievable. Two lounge chairs and four sit down chairs, a table and still a lot of room left. We had our beds configured for a king size and the industry still does not have this down. There is that split in the middle that is most uncomfortable. Our living room area was very large with a coffee table, two club chairs and a sectional couch. There was a closet with a large bar with lots of glasses, and a mini bar filled with drinks. The bathroom was very large with three closets, the most we have ever had on a cruise. There was a dressing area just outside the shower area that was really outstanding. Mirrors all over the place along with lots of counter space. The cabin was very tastefully decorated. Carpet almost new as were the covers on the verandah chairs. Lighting throughout the cabin was excellent. There is small desk working space juts opposite the bar. There are more drawers and closets in this cabin than one will have clothes to fill. If don't mind gambling a little and waiting until the last minute for your cruise, you may find a suite at a greatly discounted price. If you do, reserve it immediately and make your travel accordingly. Please be aware that some cruise destination, including embarkations, may require that you have a visa in addition to your passport and depending on the number of such visas needed for a particular cruise, it may take some time to get those. NEPTUNE CLUB ROOM----Since we are in a suite we have access to the club room on the Navigation Deck where we have a full time concierge. Coffee, water, teas, small desserts and sandwiches throughout the day. Television and internet hook up (don't get excited--please review my section on the Internet). The concierge staff was excellent and most accommodating. This is just a nice place to relax away from the crowds in some parts of the ship. You can save the long lines at the tour desk by letting the concierge make the tour reservations and obtain your tour tickets. On the first segment of the cruise we noticed just guest from the suite section, however on the second segment we were surprised to see some in the lounge that were not suite guest. At least one of them appeared to have been brought to the lounge by one of the suite guest. It is our opinion that if guest did not pay for this level of cabins they should not be using the Neptune Lounge. We also witnessed some passengers who kept the concierge busy for lengthy times as they asked trivial questions. One woman insisted that the concierge go over her entire dining room times and options day by day for the entire cruise. By the way those times and options were clearly listed in the daily bulletin. In the suite category you are given several amenities complimentary and one of those is the free laundry and dry cleaning. We sent a bag everyday and many times the laundry came back to us on the same day we sent it. The service was excellent. Another perk one has with the breakfast served just for suite guest in the Pinnacle Dining Room. Once again the service was outstanding. You can also have a continental breakfast in the Neptune Lounge. Anyone contemplating an upgrade to the suite level should check the HA bulletin to see a list of everything that is offered in the suite class. If you are a frequent HA guest and have reached the three or four star level, a combination of those rewards along with the suite amenities could weigh heavily upon one's decision on where to travel and what cruise line to take. We received priority boarding on tender departures and once the passports were returned they were available in the Neptune Lounge thus we did not have to stand in long lines to get our passports. ENTERTAINMENT-----I inevitably hear some passenger state that they don't care that much about the cruising and destinations, as they come on board for the entertainment. Look friend, I feel sorry for you if your number one objective in cruising is for the entertainment. Some shows are not all that good and if you stayed at home you could probably find some really good high school productions that would suit your taste. On our next to last night aboard we had a male and female singer that were very good. The dancers need to work on their portion of the act. I felt so sorry for one entertainer I had to leave the auditorium 10 minutes after he started. I was actually praying that some could get though their act without totally screwing it up or forgetting their lines. One magic act had little professionalism in it and the children at the local library club will provide you a better magic/comedy act. All in all the evening shows were acceptable with some actually being good. Pick your entertainment nights and if the act does not live up to expectations then just politely leave. INTERNET---Let me get this "negative" out of the way first. I paid for the 250 minutes internet service as soon as I boarded in Rio and then being the sucker I am paid again on the second segment for another 250 minutes. Looks like I would have learned my lesson. I used up my first 150 minutes just trying to log on and was successful a couple of times. I figure my emails are costing me about $20 an email. This is by far the worst internet service aboard any ship in the world. Don't expect any sympathy or assistance from the "clerk" on board as he would just as soon you left him alone. After three days I swore off the internet and decided I would never again pay Holland America even as much as dime for their internet service. A walk though this morning (our 6th day) revealed only one person using the internet in the internet café. In our cabin the service is even worse. At the concierge desk there are two computers and wireless however it is not good. Yesterday I was ashore in Montevideo and took my iPad with me. Found a Wi-Fi hookup at the California Burrito Company restaurant. It was free. The hook up was amazing. Just as good as my cable service back home. I learned from other passengers that had also enjoyed such success at other internet cafes in the town. We even used Facetime and SKYPE, which by the way is "can't be used" aboard ship. Save money and most of all save frustration by waiting until you are docked and then look for an internet café or Wi-Fi spot. We are now two days away from our final destination and the internet has some reliability. We noticed almost all terminals are in use today. We were able to hook up to the internet with only two tries and sending e-mails took less than 20 minutes. What a deal!! Before I receive numerous e-mails. I am aware that the satellite transmission of communications in some parts of the world are rather limited and this may be the case with the South American cruise. However, in all fairness to the customers, HA should not be selling services it cannot deliver. CROWS NEST------On deck 12 at the front of the ship is the Crown's Nest, a place that we frequently have gone for quite time to read. This location is actually large and quite during non-sea days. More passengers use on sea days with some talking so loud they disturb others. One corner is for smokers so if you don't like second hand smoke better stay away from that section. The seats are not all that comfortable as they as low backs and small seats. Lots of bench seating if that is your thing. Occasionally there is a group or travel club meeting on one side to the area. The bar opens later in the day as there is dancing and music in the evening hours. Lots of fog on our trip thus seeing much from the 12th deck was rather limited. I will not list the name, however there was a large travel group from one US company and if that is the way they conduct their tours I will most certainly not be using that company in the future. The "hostess" was actually quite rude. In one waiting area she insisted on getting her group up front and ahead of others that had been waiting. Please remember these are not HA employees but rather independent tour operators. If you are invited to attend a Captain's cocktail, you will more than likely find it located in the Crowe's Nest. There will be no "hand shaking" from either the Captain or his crew. All for health reasons. THE CAPTAIN-----The Captain came to the Neptune Lounge (where the suites are) on the very first evening and brought key personnel with him. This was excellent and another benefit when purchasing a suite. He returned on a later date and chatted with the passengers. There was a special Indonesian luncheon for the suite guest held at the Pinnacle Restaurant with both the hotel manager and the Captain attending. We had to miss the stop at Port Stanley, however the Captain explained more than once it was a safety issue due to the weather. He was sincere and his explanation was acceptable. He seemed to always be truly concerned about the guest aboard. He left us after the first cruise segment and a new captain came aboard. He was present at the first night reception held in the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. We had an unusual experience as we had two Captain's with the first segment Captain going on leave at the end of the first segment and a new Captain coming aboard. THE FLORIST--You can purchase from HA, through a pre-board internet program, flowers for your room. We paid a premium price and the flowers did not look that good the day we boarded. Within three days they really looked bad as the roses had swiveled up and dropped their petals. We had to toss them on day 5. HA puts a small bouquet in your cabin if you are on the suite deck. They too withered to nothing after day 4 and were taken out of the cabin by the room steward. On our second segment of the cruise we received a very nice bouquet in our suite. We were never sure who sent them as there was no note. They lasted for several days. In fact the flowers at our dining room table were changed several times as they did not hold up all that well. FOOD---There are six main food locations on the ship. The ROTTERDAM is the main dining room located on decks 7 & 8. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available. You may be assigned (for dinner) early, late or open seating. The LIDO is the deck 11 cafeteria type dining open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You will find the cafeteria line to be broken down into various food sections designed to make the lines shorter and service faster. Does not always happen as some passengers just can't make up their minds on what they wanted. There are the two specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle, where one can get steaks and sea food and the Canaletto Restaurant where Italian food is available. Both of two restaurants require an extra charge. The TERRACE GRILL is located on deck 11 at the end of the swimming pool. You can get hamburgers, hot dogs and fish and chips for lunch or late afternoon snacks. The SLICE Pizza is located on the aft of deck 11 and is weather dependant. We dined all over the ship and we are convinced the quality of the food is the same wherever you go except for the specialty restaurants where you pay an extra fee. If you are being served you will swear the portions are much smaller than on past cruises and we think you will be correct. They seem to count the exact number of green beans or asparagus spears and they will be much less than in the past. In the Rotterdam the asparagus spears were wilted and about the diameter of a pencil. In the Pinnacle the asparagus spears were three or four times the diameter, were green and crisp and served with an excellent hollandaise sauce. They were top quality. However in all fairness, you can ask for more. One evening when crab legs were being served the waiter told us the crab legs were small and not that many and if we wanted to have that entrée he could bring more to start with. We accepted the offer and the crab legs were indeed small and there were only two on the original plate. Food in my judgment, is about what you are going to get back home in a nice restaurant location. It will be served with a little more fanfare though. At the LIDO food is similar to any cafeteria back home. You can always order seconds and the wait staff will accommodate your request.. This reduction in the quantity is certainly being done by the "pencil pushers" as they try to figure out ways to increase the profit margin. The suite guest can have breakfast in the Pinnacle Restaurant with no additional charges. Lunch and Dinner in the same location comes with an extra charge ($10 & $25). Sometimes a quiet evening is worth the price. Not all the suite guest knew about the "no charge" Pinnacle dining for breakfast. Ask the concierge what days breakfast is served for suite guest.. The dinner meal is actually very good with the steaks being great quality and grilled exactly as you order. The bone in rib eye that I ordered was excellent and would challenge any steakhouse in Dallas. The food and service was so good, we are going back for a second evening. There are always a few that think they the staff in the dining rooms are servants and thus they make unreasonable demands. We saw one male that did not like the selection of teas available and he actually threw a fit. Another passenger ordered eggs Benedict and she did not like the way they were served while just a couple of tables away the woman insisted the meat was not prepared correctly and thus sent it back. For those in suites the Neptune Lounge is open for breakfast snacks such as coffee and Danish, however not a full breakfast. You can also get snacks and coffees at the Explorations Cafe. When we first arrived on the ship, there was no self service of food items. This was relaxed a little after the first 48 hours and you could serve yourself on certain items on the Lido Deck. There were some food items that continued to be served by the wait staff. This no self service policy applied to all food areas throughout the ship, including the Neptune Lounge for the suite guest. You should certainly not go away from the ship hungry and the wait staff that we met tries hard to make your dining experience a good one. MOVIES---There are several choices depending upon the days. On deck 11 there is the large outdoor screen which had excellent picture quality and however the sound system is very poor. A lot of the passengers left the area after only a few minutes due to the poor sound quality. You just flatly could not hear the sound. Once the weather turned cold no one seemed to attend these movies. Look for the free popcorn. Movies on certain days may be shown in the Showroom At Sea. The screen is small--small--small. Not much more than your large TV screen at home. Sound is acceptable though. No popcorn. There is the movie theater on deck , the Wijang Theater. The screen is large however don't expect high quality on the screen nor expect high quality sound. The seats in the center section are comfortable. Popcorn is free and you get about 1/3 of a bag. The number of bags is limited and if you get there at the beginning of the show don't expect pop corn as the bags will all be gone. Movies we saw were just DVDs, some of which reflected a lot or use or improper mishandling. EXPLORE TECHNOLOGY----This is a series of "classes" that Microsoft and HA provided free of charge. There is minimal seating, so get thee early. I think HA must go out of their was to obtain the most impersonal people anywhere when it comes to the technology and internet. I would have to give this person a very low rating when it comes to a friendly personality. She has an almost scripted program format , so don't expect to interrupt her and ask a question. Her voice presentation was without much volume thus if you are sitting close to the back of the room you may find hearing difficult. One good aspect is that we were told the "lessons" could be downloaded from the internet when you returned home. As a note, this is supported by Microsoft so expect to get a sales presentation pertaining to Microsoft products. You can learn a little about some of the subjects however if you are already an advanced used of software and the internet you may find these presentations rather boring. Some subjects included cameras and photography however once again don't expect in-depth technical assistance. FOOD PREPERATION & ENTERTAINING---If you have very many sea days you will most likely be looking for something to occupy your time. Perhaps a culinary workshop or food preparation would be to your choosing. Some of these classes have a fee associated with it, thus you have to sign up and be preregistered before going. We just attended the free ones as we are not professional chefs and have no desire to become one. Cake decorating drew about a dozen guest and lasted about 20 minutes. The presentations are made in the Culinary Arts Center (that is the Wajang Theater on Deck 7) BEVERAGES----There are eight locations throughout the ship where you can obtain beverages with the MIX being in the center of the ship on Deck 8. It's a sports bar thus if the satellite transmission is working you can pick up a football game from the US. You can purchase a drink card for 50% of the retail cost and alcoholic drink cards are also available for a discount. Check at the Wine Cellar on deck 7.There is no refund at the end of the cruise. We just paid by the day for whatever we ordered. There is a wine special where you can purchase three bottles of wine for a fixed price. This will actually save you some money if you expect to consume three bottles of wine during your cruise. There is a wine cellar on Deck 7 where a selection can be made. Taking your own non-Holland America wine will incur a corkage fee in the dining room. EXPLORE OUR WORLD----These presentations cover a wide range of subjects, some of which are interesting and other which will give you an opportunity to sleep for an hour. We noticed guest attending were involved in a lot of activities, such as reading the Kindle, crocheting, talking and reading a book. You might want to drop by one of two sessions to see if anything interests you. Don't expect to earn your PHD from the subjects being discussed. Some classes there are discussions on ports where the ship docks. The speaker/presenter was very good. CASINO-----I am usually negative when it comes to cruise ship casino, however this time I make an exception. This is a very small casino, with one roulette table and no crap table. Not all that many slot machines. There are one and two cent slot machines, however I never did figure out a way to play only a penny. The staff is friendly, accommodating and patient. I write patient as there were several novice gamblers that did not know the games or rules, however the staff took their time and made the people feel good and want to gamble. They still lost, however had a good time in doing so. There are Texas Hold'em Tournaments, Slot and Blackjack Tournaments. Texas Hold'em tournaments had buy ins on the first segment which was $30 however it went to $60 on the second segment. The slot tournament had a grand price of $500. The casino is closed while in Chilean waters and at all ports. Video cameras are not allowed however still pictures are permitted in the casino. THE SIGNATURE SHOPS----Sales of merchandise seems to pop up just about anywhere. Could not believe all the people pushing to get those t-shirts at pool side (2 for $25).Most of the "stuff" in the stores one just does not need. The watches and jewelry can be purchased stateside or on the internet at about the same prices or lower. Perfume available on this ship was rather limited and when my wife asked the prices it was more than state side sales prices. The store close to the MIX Lounger was clean and very well lighted. There is a liquor store on the same deck that carries a few drug items and snacks. If you think you will want snacks or drug items, bring them with you. The cost aboard is way out of line. There are several "sales days" aboard, some around the pool or on the deck where the shops are located. Just what you needed more "stuff" to put into that suitcase and take home for the next garage sale. PHOTO GALLERY------The ship offered all the photos taken of you aboard the cruise for a one time price of $299.00. Throughout the cruise we never saw very many passengers making purchases at the photo shop, however on the last day at sea of the first segment, we witnessed several making package as well as individual purchases. Many of the photos taken on shore and in the dining room were actually not all that great. They were just poorly concrafted snap shots and I know you can do much better. Even the formal night photos were out of focus, poorly posed and just enlarged snap shots. We noticed very few guest stopped by the photo locations on formal nights. The ship also has a special section called "Black & White". We talked with the graduate photographer, a young girl from England, who studied design, etc. and went into the photo portion after graduating. She has limited settings for her work and she tells me that generally the work is done on 8 X 10. There is no charge for the settings, however she advises there is a limit of 18 clients per cruise. You have to be into this type of photography to enjoy it and many are not all that keen about the rather off the wall concept for portraits. You will find though some of these type approaches to photography being highly acclaimed especially in the photo magazine contest. THE OUTSIDE WALKING TRACK--DECK 6---This is a walking track with several signs posted that advise "No Jogging Allowed"---In spite of that, you are going to encounter the person who thinks they are still a high school jock and can run down all those who walk on this deck. This is really a nice area to enjoy and four trips around the deck will give you your daily mile. Walk in the direction indicted by the arrows, not opposite like those "jocks" who apparently could not read. TOURS The ship's staff will offer a presentation on the various tours that are available. This will more than likely take place on the first morning after sailing. You can also go on line after registering and pre reserve your tours via the internet. We found this easy to do and on top of that your tour tickets will be delivered to your stateroom on your first day at sea. If you happen to be staying in a suite the concierge has the ability to reserve your tour at his/her desk and print your tour tickets immediately. Under the "ports" section I have discussed some tours. Benjamin along with another crew person made presentations on tours each morning. While they never misrepresent the tours, you may find the actual tours a little different than the presentations. For example the City of Rose and the German settlement tour was listed as 3 ½ to 4 hours. This was a tender location. We waited on the ship from 8:05 until 8:30 when we boarded the tender. After arriving at shore we had to wait until a second tender arrived which took us to around 9:15AM. The moved through the city to a stopping point above the city where we stopped for 5 minutes before proceeding o Puerto Arenas where we arrived at 10:15AM and advised we had approximately 30 minutes to visit the town. We reboaded at 10:50 and proceeded to the town of Fruitillar where we were again given 30 minutes to visit the German Settlement. Leaving at 11:45AM we arrived back at the dock around 1PM, boarded the tender and was back on the ship at 1:40PM. If you count all the waiting time then it is possible to get 3 ½ to 4 hours posted in the tour brochure. Actual time at the two site---one hour with all the rest being travel and waiting time. If you had done this on your own you could have seen a lot more and spent additional time at both locations. LAUNDRY & PRESSING & DRY CLEANING The laundry and dry cleaning with a suite cabin is complimentary. Otherwise there is a charge. Before you go cheering about this a word of caution. Don't send any really good, especially designer, clothing to be washed or cleaned. After 5 laundries your under clothes will no longer be a bright white, but rather a dingy gray. Those shirts you had laundered and starched will look a little dingy after just a few washings and your trousers will not hold a crease even a few hours after wearing. The bottom line is that the free service is a fantastic idea however the wear and tear on your clothes may end up costing you in the long run. My colorful polo shirts have lost their brightness and now look like dollar store shirts. Perhaps I can pass them off as designer polo shirts that were designed with dingy colors and by cutting a couple of holes in the blue jeans I now have designer blue jeans. As for the under shorts---they did not cost that much so I will toss them upon return home. PUERTO MONTT, CHILE This is an anchor port with about a 15 minute tender ride to shore. The landing port is a little over one mile from city center. There is very little around the actual port other than some local shops. The walk to town center will take about 30 minutes over concrete walkways and some gravel intersections. We found little to do in the town center other than browse through some of the local shops and stores. Tired of ship food---there is a McDonalds in the middle of town. We would suggest taking one of the ship's tours thus on our return trip we decided to take the tour that goes to Puerto Varas and Frutillar, the "city of roses" and the "little black forest". USHUAIA, ARGENTINA----- This is a neat little town of about 60000 population and is the most southern city in the world. The day we were there the weather was spectacular with the temperature around 50 degrees. A short walk from the cruise ship to downtown and St. Martin Street where one finds all the shopping, including internet cafes and restaurants. If you want to use the internet there are several locations on St. MARTIN'S Street and at a very nice hotel the Wi-Fi is free plus the coffee is rather good too and at a reasonable price with no charge for the internet. You will though need your own laptop. There are several museums plus the train to the end of the world. People are friendly and the US Dollar was accepted everywhere we went and credit cards could be used with your passport. One day we were there many of the shops were closed all day on Wednesday. By the way---tour guides at the end of the pier will tell you that just about everything you go to see will be "at the end of the world". According to the ship's personnel this is basically true as it is the mostly southern large city in the world. As we leave Argentine and return to our cabin we have a notice from Guest relations (still puzzled by guest relations title) that as we head for Chile we need to complete an entry form for each person. The form has been partially completed thus all we have to do is check a few blocks and sign. No doubt the cruise line feels as though many or some of us don't have the ability to complete such forms so they do it for us. A letter attached states that we need to have a copy of our passport which the cruise line has previously given us. When you make your last stop in Chile an immigration office usually aboard ship will ask you for that form before you leave the ship, so hang onto it. PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE-----This is a neat town with a very clean downtown area. The port though for our ship was in the industrial cargo container section and if you are going to the city center you should get a taxi ($10 per cabin or ride one of the vans ($3 per person) as going to town. It is too far to walk. There is a very nice port downtown and the days we were there a Seaborn ship was berthed. The area around that port is very clean with lots of new construction including a large casino. You can easily walk to the downtown from this port. There is some small amount of shopping about a mile from the pier. If you are not on a pre-paid tour there are dozens of taxis available in downtown and for a flat price they will take you most anyplace you desire to visit. We hired a taxi to take us an hour's drive away to a penguin colony. The price for three hours was $100 which included a return to our ship. In downtown we found a neat coffee shop, candy store/deli all rolled into one. Decorated in Christmas colors and trim, the place offered free internet (need your own PC or iPad). This was a friendly very clean stop located just a block off the main square on the main shopping street. At the park square there are dozens of local vendors selling trinkets as well as locally made crafts. Prices are most reasonable. A very nice tourist bureau office is in the park. You may have taken just those tours offered by the cruise ships or you may be an independent traveled and contract for your own tours. Around the square are lots of taxis and tour operators.Let's compare one of the tours offered at this port. The ship tour programs calls this the Patagonia Experience Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve -4 hours for $94.You travel to Otway Sound mostly over gravel roads. You will walk to the penguins area and from beginning to end is about 1 ½ miles over dirt, gravel, tundra and wooden walkways. The walk is not difficult however the walkways re uneven. Your guide will speak English. There are no stops and you are kept to a rigid time schedule. Most likely some guest will not be aboard on time to return from the tour. You will wait along with all the others. Let's look at the same trip "on your own". The cost for the driver to and from the ship was $100. You have to pay to enter the park and that is $4 each for you and your traveling companion. At the sound there is a $11 per person entrance charge. Total paid for the trip is $130. No tip to the driver. Total paid for the cruise ship tour is $188 plus $5 guide tip for $193. Savings for independent travel for this trip is $63.00 How do the trips compare? On the ship's tour you have English speaking guide, large bus type seating and service from ship back to ship with no corners about being late as the ship will wait. On the independent travel you save $63.00. The driver speaks very little English. You get service from and back to ship. The driver stops for you to take pictures along the way of the jack rabbit, sheep and wild birds. Not going to be the case on the large bus. The seating is car level with small seats however there is air-condition. Almost to your ship and you spot a souvenir stand so the driver stops. Not the case on the bus. Will the ship wait if your are late returning----NOT in a million years. You weigh the difference and see which is best for you. Time was not a factor as both the taxi and the bus returned some 4 hours before departure time.. MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY-----The ships docks right downtown thus walking into the city center is easy. Once off the ship, look for the "green walk way"---that being the sidewalk that is painted green and one that will lead you away from the pier and into the city. Although we were there this last time on a Sunday there were still some stores open and lots of locals on the streets. Travel a few blocks up the street from the pier and make a left toward the city park area which is a few blocks up a slight incline. There is a church on one corner across from the park so look for that church steeple so you can track your way. Want to use the internet (must have your own PC)---well there is a small California Burrito Company store on your right as you go toward the park. Free and fast internet hookup so you can send everyone an e-mail. It's free however at least purchase a drink from the friendly operator. He will appreciate your business. The burritos are hugh so don't order more than one. Traveling on toward the park and then past the park, you will leave the old town and enter the newer financial and hotel district. Worth your time to see all the locals busy shooing and hustling from office to office. If the city center is not your thing, we suggest going to the COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a 2 ' hour drive each way. You can opt for a tour from the ship or hire a driver at the pier. A personal driver will not take quite as long to get to the town. There are tolls along the way thus check to see if the driver is willing to pay those tolls. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants in the town. It was a long day with cobblestone streets inside the old city. Walking may be a little difficult however it can be done. Wheelchairs are a little more difficult to navigate. There is also a steam train ride available however we were advised this is primarily a tourist attraction like one might find at a large amusement park. Just across the street from the ship terminal entrance is a large pavilion filled with shops and many restaurants. Fresh meats are being bar b q'ed and grill over open pit fires. This is definitely a place to visit and to have lunch or dinner. FALKLANDS ISLANDS No doubt our most interesting and adventurous port stop. First the tenders have to travel quite a way to get to Port Stanley. The water was rough and the winds very strong. We went ashore without any tour reservations and found a local person that took us on a fantastic penguin tour about an hour away from the docks. He had a 4 wheel drive Range Rover that was needed as we crossed private ranch land to reach the nesting and beach area. We were the first to arrive at the area where we spent about 30 minutes observing and photographing at least 200 penguins. We can say this was a fantastic opportunity. As we left several other 4 wheel drive vehicles arrived and all in all at least a dozen by the time we got back to the gravel highway. We were paying $40 each for our trip will some of these other people had paid as much as $259 per person to see the penguins. Oh they did get a box lunch thrown in. We could not have been more pleased with this experience. It was fantastic and we saved a large bundle of money. Upon return to the docks we spent the next hour touring the small port town of Port Stanley. By the way that would have been another tour charge had we purchased on the ship. The time on shore was short, however by 1:30PM we were ready to return to the ship and we caught the last tender back to the ship before tender service was suspended. Those still on tours and on shore found long lines and long waiting time for their return trip to the ship. We were about two hours later leaving the area due to these long waits caused by large waves and high winds. The ride back consisted of repeated tossing's by the waves and getting along side of the ship became a real challenge for the skipper of the tender as we tried several times before being able to get along side. Even then many of us got thourghly soaked by the splashing waves that hit the tender. You can walk all over Port Stanley in a short period of time. We don't think a paid tour for walking is necessary. There is a war memorial that you need to see. Also a large general store right on the waterside street(The West Store), where you can get groceries, a cup of coffee, books and souvenirs, wines, toiletries plus there is an electrical store where cameras and supplies are available.. The place is clean and prices are reasonable. Across the street is the Capstan Gift Shop where some nice gifts c an be found. Numerous gift shops are in the downtown area. There are some small coffee and bakery shops that are worthy of your stooping by. Look for them on the side street away from the water. Pass up the "trinkets" shop as many of these souvenirs may not be of such great quality. There are two churches downtown just opposite the water and a restaurant across from the newspaper office. (Christ Church Cathedral , St. Mary's Catholic Church and The Tabernacle, United Free Church).Close by is the Post Office. The Whalebone Arch is in this part of town as is the 1982 Liberation Memorial. A school is also located downtown. The houses are quaint and most have a brightly painted roof that can be seen from a long distance. The wind blows very hard so bundle up for your walking tour. We were told that the Falklands get 40% of all their electrical power from wind turbines and that the percentage is increasing on a steady basis. If you are interested in the history of the Falkland Islands, including the 1982 war with Argentina, may I suggest that you research back at home before you come as books are rather expensive in the Falklands and I have yet to find that really good one about the 1982 war. Most in the bookstores are written from the perspective of a daily journal by one of more of the residents of those days. You can drop more than $300 per person on ship purchased tours for the Falklands or you can have an equally great time for less than $50 each by becoming your own travel agent. Just get to the dock early as the number of guides is limited. There is a close by penguin area where one can actually walk (about 1 ½ hours each way) and that is 100% free. What a fantastic job to have just meeting the 50 or 60 cruise ships per year and providing tour guides around the island! This in my opinion would be a great fun job, very limited workdays and a fairly good income. Now one would have to bear the cold and winds which never seem to die down. If you are a cruiser and have never been your own travel agent, there is no better time especially with the internet, to save yourself a bundle of money, get away from the crowds and take some fun and adventurous tours on your own. If you are tired of waiting on that constant straggler missing from the bus after every stop, if you are tired of the pushing and discourtesies at each stop, may I suggest trying a tour on your own. Start several months ahead of your trip and gather up tons of information and don't forget to check reviews on what has been the experience of others. CAUTION---There are live mines located in numerous places of the area. They are marked with signs, thus observe those signs and don't enter the marked off areas. Our guide says that mines are still being removed however the process is very costly and progress is slow. EXPLORATIONS CAF'---This is place along the port side on deck 8--just past the casino where you can get a book, coffee drink or use the internet (good luck on the internet). In fact this is one of the most frequently used areas we noticed on the ship. Large windows let you look out on the port side. You are close to the Rotterdam Dining room, thus a good place to meet friends before dinner. On the opposite side of the ship is another good place to meet friends at the Explorer's Lounge. Coffee is sold at about the same price you would pay at Starbucks. In the Neptune Lounge (suite guest) there is no charge for coffee including cappuccino. OCEANS BAR---Has some good seating with large windows on the starboard side. Music and entertainment in the evenings. Check the daily bulletin for drinks specials (usually the second one for $1) each day. TIPPING ABOARD SHIP I have read numerous posting on web sites in which questions have been ask about cruise ship tipping. There is no simple answer in spite of the fact that cruise ship experts , especially those working for the industry, will attempt to give you a "concrete and simple" answer to your question. On board this two segment trip Holland America added $11 per day per couple on the first segment and $12 per person per day on the second segment. total charges. Thus we paid for a 28 day , two segment trip $640.00. This means we paid $640.00 in tips for this limited number of employees, such as cabin stewards, their assistants, the waiter, his/her assistant and "others". In addition we paid 15% in tips for those drinks we purchased. Now if there was someone that was really outstanding, such as your waiter, to whom you have already committed $96.00 in tips, you may want to give him or her some additional cash. While Holland America used to provide envelopes for this at the end of the cruise, there were no visible envelopes around, however the front desk would be most happy to provide as many as you desire. Just remember that your waiter who was serving three tables of six has already received $864 from the mandatory tips for those past 16 days. On top of all of this you most likely were not served every meal by that waiter as you may have dined in the Lido or had service in your room. The point is that the cruise industry really screwed the tipping situation up when they started their "mandatory" program. You now give the same tips whether your service is good, poor or outstanding. On the other hand there are those passengers that without the "mandatory tipping" would most likely leave the ship without having left any tip. Now there are the "good guys" who will leave that waiter an extra $20, $50 or $100 bill as they leave the table on that last day. The real answer to that question is to "absorb" the Holland America "tip policy" and give something extra to that person what you think about his/her service. If there was nothing really outstanding then you have already tipped enough. By the way, these employees aboard the cruise ship are not paid great wages and their livelihood likely depends heavily upon your tips. Did you know Holland America makes that same wait staff pay for their inte3net usage? It is no wonder we see so many staff at the internet cafes on show where they make telephone calls back home or send e-mails to their families. SHIP'S CRUISE SURVEY OR EVALUATION At the end of the cruise expect your service to get about as good as it can get as every crew member is aware that a survey form is about to land in every cabin. However that was not our case as we did not receive a survey form. When we inquired at the front desk we were advised that if you are on a back to back or multiple cruise segments you will receive a survey from only at the end of the cruise. We don't think this is fare to either the staff or the customer. For example we changed Captains, Cruise Directors and many wait staffers at the end of the first segment. One of these was outstanding when another was just satisfactory. There is no way, unless I write a narrative on each employee, that those reviewing the survey will know who I am evaluating. I will probably not turn in my survey form and send a letter AND the survey form to Corporate instead. BACK TO BACK CRUISES----We have done this in the past and without a problem as we have always stayed in the same cabin for the entire cruise. This time it was a little different as the cabin we reserved on the first segment was not available for the second portion of the cruise. I was assured by a representative at corporate that we would have no problem. Not exactly true. Our first segment cabin was 035 and the second segment cabin was 006. One of the port side and the other on the starboard side. On the last evening of the first segment we still had no guidance on the move so I went to the front desk and was told I would get a letter later that day. I did receive a letter in a couple of hours and I suspect it was generated as a result of my visit to the front office. I noticed there was no new cabin key thus back o the front desk. I was informed that a new key could not be issued UNTIL THE actual cruise date which would be the following day. I once again asked about the actual move and was assured that a cabin attendant would assist. I even verified this with the concierge. We wanted to get off the ship as it was docked at Valparaiso however this was not going to be possible as we still had no new cabin at 10AM. Finally shortly after 10AM a cabin attendant came to the area where we were waiting and advised the new cabin had been cleaned. We moved out personal belongings with only one load of hang up clothes being moved by the cabin attendant. It just seemed as though no one knew what to do. We returned to the front desk where we were issued a new cabin key for the new cabin. At 11AM we ask a about leaving the ship and learned that the new boarding passengers would start boarding at 11:45AM. We did not want to get involved in any additional waiting lines thus we left the ship, went to the terminal and shortly after that reboarded so we would not have to wait with new boarding passengers. Holland American did not assist us in any way and I to assume they thought we could just work "it" out. Well we did, as we retuned back to the ship before noon time. So much for touring any of Valparaiso. One certainly needs to work out as many details on such a change before the final day. You can eliminate this problem completely by reserving the same cabin for your entire cruise. SHOULD I RESERVE MY NEXT CRUISE WHILE ABOARD SHIP? If you want my short answer it is "NO". I know it may be tempting to only have to pay a deposit of $100 for a cruise nearly two years away. You will also be advised that "credit" will go back to your home town (or wherever) travel agent. It may also be tempting from a standpoint that you may be able to select exactly the cabin you always wanted. Do you have any idea what world conditions will be some 18 months from now? Will those cruise destinations you desire now still be the ones you want to cruise to in 18 months? The economic stability of business and countries throughout the worlds are such that I just tend to say, let's wait until a closer time when I actually want to cruise. I look for destinations we want to visit, fro great fares and super accommodations aboard the ship. Sometimes it takes a little waiting to get just the right combination. There are new ships being added by the cruise industry every year plus there are new ports being opened up throughout the world. I have come to the point where we are looking for quality service, quality food, quality cabins, etc without breaking the bank. Rather than four cruises in two years we are opting for two or three where we can enjoy cruising at our expectations. Holland America has a 212 page Cruise Atlas 2012-2013. The booklet is very good and was planned well. You can browse through all the Holland American cruises for the two year period. Fining a copy locally may be difficult thus requesting a copy form HA may be the best way to get a copy. There were limited copies available on this cruise however there was a notice asking that the brochures be returned after reviewing. EXPLORE WELLBEING & Salon This is where you can go for a fitness class, acupuncture or across the hallway for a hair makeover or touch up on your fingernails. The Greenhouse and Explore Wellbeing will set you back a few dollars regardless of what you desire. While my wife used the hair dresser I stayed away from all of this section. If it is your thing --then go for it! YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE BENJAMIN Some good information with lectures throughout the cruise. Held in the Showroom at Sea. RELIGIOUS SERVICES Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater at 8AM ART AUCTIONS There were none---hurray!!! LATE NIGHT DANCING Available at several of the lounges throughout the evening LIBRARY There is a large library on deck 8 at the Explorations Cafe. Books can be checked in and out at the desk. A few paper backs are available for exchanges. You do not have to check these paperbacks out, just leave one as you take one. You will find a few books in the Neptune Lounge if you are a suite guest. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
We are a retired hotel-business couple (my husband is in a wheelchair) and like to take cruises of 4 weeks or longer. This time we choose the Veendam because of the destination. S.America and Amazonas region. Our experience on this trip ... Read More
We are a retired hotel-business couple (my husband is in a wheelchair) and like to take cruises of 4 weeks or longer. This time we choose the Veendam because of the destination. S.America and Amazonas region. Our experience on this trip was mildly put extremely disappointing. Upon arrival to board there was nobody to help with the luggage - I waited for 30 min. until finally our luggage was picked up by our Taxi. After checking in we were left alone to find our cabin, with me pushing the wheelchair and carrying hand luggage! From our 4 Elevators only two worked for the whole duration - and for about 1/2 day all of them were out of order! Super for wheelchair passengers! At peak elevator times we sometimes had to wait for 15 minutes to get on one of the working elevators. A/C was not working properly - either too warm or too cold, it took some days until it halfway worked. When we ordered a Minibar (none were provided in our cabin) we waited 3 days. after complaining we waited another 2 days and finally received a phone call if we wanted a Minibar. At that time I was fed up and declined! One evening I was not feeling well and decided to eat in my cabin. I ordered a DVD movie at 7,30pm - it was delivered at 10,15pm - after I was already sleeping! Trying to reach the front office by phone took a lot of patience, sometimes 15 minutes or longer. I shudder to think what would happen in an Emergency. When my husbands wheelchair lost some air in the tire it was picked up by engineering and returned 2 days later with 6 holes in the innertube and the comment "they refuse to do anymore repairs ". We had to use a Ship Wheelchair (which they normally charge for) and were without a wheelchair for the last 4 weeks in Florida. The lock for our cabin door broke. Apparently it could not be repaired, but nobody informed us and we were left waiting in front of the Cabin twice for 1/2 hour (at 6pm and again at 10pm) and than were told that we would have to come get someone or call from somewhere ?? every time we wanted to got to our cabin. Next we were offered a room change for ONE day!. Finally the next day we could move to another stateroom - for this problem we were given a $ 50,- on board credit!! Nothing was offered for our damaged wheelchair so far. Before we left on this trip I sent en email to HAL for some information - I never received a response and finally had to call. Now when we came home I found that our credit card charge was more than the bill I received. Again I sent an email to customer relations - so far no answer. There was absolutely no information from the Bridge about special sights we passed - which would have been very much appreciated in the interesting Amazonas, the Islands we passed by in the Caribbean or even the outside temperature on the Ships Chanel on TV. Food and service in the dining room and stateroom was very good. But all the other aggravation unfortunately overshadows in the end the positive impressions. Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
This was our ninth cruise, but the first with Holland America.  We had originally booked with Royal Caribbean, but later changed to Holland when we discovered that we could also visit Rio and the Falklands.  Holland gave us the cruise of ... Read More
This was our ninth cruise, but the first with Holland America.  We had originally booked with Royal Caribbean, but later changed to Holland when we discovered that we could also visit Rio and the Falklands.  Holland gave us the cruise of a lifetime.   We were unable to get decent tickets to Rio a couple of days early, so arrived in Rio at 6 am the day of departure.  Because of that, we'd made arrangements with therealrio.com after researching on Cruise Critic, and were met at the airport by Clode.  He spent the next eight hours giving us a grand tour of Rio and everything we wanted to see.  We were dropped off at the port by 3 pm and were onboard by 3:30.   Our travel agent had arranged a Lower Promenade outside cabin, as we love to walk each morning, and our stateroom was well laid-out and easily accessible to the promenade deck on either side of the ship.  Throughout the cruise, Holland America staff seemed to be happier and more helpful than some other cruise lines.  There was more complaining from fellow cruisers than we've ever heard before, but we found the Amsterdam staff more than helpful with the room problem we had.  The Amsterdam had more lounges and private areas to hang out than any other ship we've been on, and throughout our 16 night cruise, we tried them all.  They offered a Happy Hour in two of the lounges prior to dinnertime, which we've never seen on a ship before.  With the Happy Hour, the wine card for dinners, and the wine we brought onboard for our cabin, we were quite content.   We spent most of our days in the Crow's Nest on the top deck enjoying the view and were rewarded one morning by passing through the largest school of dolphins we've ever seen.  The hundreds of them literally turned and started racing the ship as we passed through.   The naturalist onboard gave twice daily talks and he was most informative.  If we were unable to get into the theater, which became the case as the cruise progressed, then we could watch his talk on television while getting ready the next morning.  The evening shows were standard fair with nothing outstanding besides the harpist who performed one evening.  The string performers in one of the lounges and the band in the Ocean Bar were much more entertaining, and we found ourselves in either of these most every night.  The food as good as any cruise, and if there was any problem with our meal, it was quickly corrected by our table staff.  We never ate in the buffet other than an afternoon ice cream, but utilized the dining room for each meal.  Twice we had hamburgers from the grill near the pool and enjoyed them, but not the wait in line to get them.   We did not arrange any excursions through the ship, and only had two planned prior to leaving, one of which was arranged by another member on the Roll Call for our ship.  Here are our impressions of the ports of call:   Buenos Aires - This is a HUGE city.  We had previously arranged a Gaucho Tour in the Pampas with Defrantur.com.  It was our responsibility to meet the tour at a particular hotel, and we chose to walk rather than take a taxi.  The port area, and the city as a whole, does not have very adequate sidewalks, so the walking was rough with the unevenness and holes.  The Gaucho Tour was enjoyable and well worth the price.  The food and drink were plentiful and empanadas delicious.  When we were dropped off back in BA afterwards, we walked through the pedestrian walkway and purchased several souvenirs along with some wine for the ship.   We walked back prior to dark for dinner but were so tired, we never made it out again as planned for a tango show.  The next morning, we took advantage of the free shuttle offered by a jewelry store into town.  Then we walked all around, saw the capital building, library, several parks, and the Recoleta Cemetery where we located Eva Paron's crypt.  From there, we took a cab for $12 to the LaBoca area and enjoyed an afternoon watching tango dancing in the streets and wandering the shops before taking another cab ($10) back to the ship.   Montevideo - This is the port where another CC member had prearranged a wine tour for $30 each.  We met onshore and located the van driver, and were transported an hour out of town to an absolutely beautiful winery, Vina Varela Zarranz.  The nine of us had a private tour of the 100 year old buildings and winery and walked the vineyards before sitting down to a tasting of wines accompanied by delicious cheeses and meats.  Since we all purchased wines for the cruise, we dropped our bottles off in our stateroom immediately upon return to the port before walking around Montevideo and the nearby courtyard.  Montevideo is definitely a place where you would want to get out of the city to enjoy the surrounding beautiful beaches or countryside.   Stanley, Falkland Islands - Pulled in to the island as we were walking and watched them prepare the tenders for this port.  We've read where quite a high percentage of ships don't make it into Stanley due to the weather, but we had perfect weather, although windy.  It was not recommended to walk to the cove with the penguins due to the wind and lack of sidewalks there, so we caught a local shuttle for $20 each on shore.  It took us past an old warship from the 1982 Argentina war and dropped us off at Gypsy Cove.  Here we walked the shoreline among some unique topography and watched several groups of the remaining magellentic penguins.  As it was late in the season, there weren't hundreds of them, but enough for our enjoyment.  We caught the shuttle back into Stanley and then walked the length of the town until we ran out of road where we discovered the Stanley Arms Pub and enjoyed conversation with a couple of the locals.  After we walked back into town, we tried each of the other pubs in town, but the Stanley ended up our favorite because it was not touristy; in fact, the bartender said tourists never make it out that far.   Cape Horn - As we neared the Horn, the weather became more and more spotty changing between sun and torrential rain within minutes of one another.  The captain announced we would not be "rounding the horn" due to the wind conditions, but would remain on the leeward side of the Horn for viewing prior to heading away.  The Horn was actually larger than expected, and with the occasional bits of sunshine, we were able to take pictures of the lighthouse and buildings there before the seas became rough and we had to leave.  The seas remained extremely rough the entire evening.   Ushuaia - We both agree that this was probably our favorite port of the cruise.  We got up early and left the ship as the sun was rising above the surrounding mountains.  It was fun watching the city change as the sun lit up the area.  We walked to the prison to tour and then discovered a sign to the ski lift, near the glacier.  So we started walking the opposite direction from the prison along the backside of the city.  The signs were far between, but we discovered a lovely statue of Mother Mary on top a small hill before exiting the city and starting the upward climb.  We chanced upon a sign along the road outside of town marking a trail through the woods and decided to try it.  This was by far the best part of our trip.  We walked on mossy turf back and forth alongside a stream of glacier water.  There were a lot of spots to overlook the city or the stream and the trail was well marked and quite enjoyable.  We popped out of the trail back onto the road with a sign saying the chairlift was 500 feet ahead.  We arrived at the chairlift area, but chose to walk up the steep ski trails to the bottom of Martial Glacier.  The scenery and view were outstanding.  The walk down was much easier and we found a local store on the main street to purchase some beer and sausage before heading back to the ship.     Beagle Channel - We pulled out of Ushuaia prior to dinner and as we were in our stateroom getting ready, the captain made such a drastic turn our just-poured wine glasses went sliding off the desk into the wall and onto the floor.  At dinner, we learned that all the prepared shrimp cocktails had done the same thing, so this was not a move normally made.  As we neared the first of the five glaciers, we positioned ourselves outside with a glass of wine and camera ready.  Traveling in this direction, all the glaciers were on the starboard side and we thoroughly enjoyed some of the most beautiful glaciers we've ever seen.  And the sunset in the channel was spectacular.   Punta Arenas:  This is a port that probably could be eliminated.  Holland chooses to not utilize the port in town and docks outside of Punta Arenas.  We were discouraged by several people on dock that town was too far to walk, but we ignored them and walked anyway.  It was a nice walk into town and we were accompanied by several stray dogs who decided to follow us.  This town was filled with stray dogs, more than the usual amount in a South American city.  We found the local cemetery where strange trees lining the walkway were the highlight of the port.  We found the town square with the usual vendors hawking their wares around the statue, and walked to the overlook where all the tour buses were parked with their customers for a photo opt.  Asked around and located a nice restaurant where we had empanadas and beer before shopping in their local grocery for wine.  A nice walk along the shore line back to the ship.   Strait of Magellan - This was a nice day reminiscent of the Alaskan inside passage.  The captain pulled as close as able to the glacier where we spent over an hour taking photos as he turned the ship 360 degrees for all sides of the ship to see.  We spent hours watching the water to spot whales, floating penguins, dolphins, flying fish, and albatross.   Puerto Montt - We tendered into port here and located a local guide where we joined other people for a tour of the lake area; a seven hour tour cost $35 each.  We saw Volcano Osorno, Petrihue Rapids, Emerald Lake, Lago Todos Los Santas, llamas and alpacas and ate lunch at one of the nearby German towns located on Lake Llanquihue.  After arriving back in Puerto Montt, we shopped the vendors located near the port before walking into town and enjoying the views of the volcanoes and ship from the harbor park.   Valparaiso/Santiago - Here we thought we'd made a big mistake by not prearranging transport to the airport prior to leaving the U.S.  We honestly thought we'd meet up with other couples in our same situation and have negotiation power to arrange something in the port of Valparaiso.  We found ourselves standing by the tour counter, which had preset prices but required a minimum of four people.  Everyone coming up had already prearranged transport, so we spoke with the car rental people who wanted $160 to rent for the day.  Even the taxis outside would not negotiate anything less than $200 just to drive us to Santiago airport.  Talking with the Information desk, they recommended we walk to the nearby bus terminal (four blocks away) and take the local bus to Santiago for $6 each.  So after everyone else on the cruise had left the terminal, we gathered up our luggage and headed across the cobblestone lot to the port gate around the corner.  Imagine our surprise when we were mobbed outside the gate by taxi drivers and tour guides alike that are not allowed into the port.  Since the time indicated we were probably the last out, we said what we wanted to see and our price.  Immediately a nice young lady took our offer.  We were led to an air-conditioned minibus where we were the only passengers with our own private guide and driver.  She took us throughout Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and Santiago.  They even recommended a nice place alongside the coast in Vina del Mar for lunch.  We were shown everything there was to see in all three cities before being dropped off at the Santiago airport.  We would highly recommend Valerie with transmercury.cl tours, which can and SHOULD be prearranged. 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Sail Date March 2009
My wife and I decided to take a 4-day Pre-Cruise to the Iguazu Falls before cruising to South America and Antarctica on January 4, 2009 through Holland America. It was an uneventful flight to Rio de Janeiro. HAL put us up at the Rio ... Read More
My wife and I decided to take a 4-day Pre-Cruise to the Iguazu Falls before cruising to South America and Antarctica on January 4, 2009 through Holland America. It was an uneventful flight to Rio de Janeiro. HAL put us up at the Rio Intercontinental Hotel for an overnight stay. The day of our arrival happened on December 31, 2008. The hotel was busy getting ready for the New Years Eve celebrations. On the bus ride from the airport we were offered tickets to purchase for the hotel's celebrations or for an evening tour of the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas. I do not recall anyone buying any. We were all too tired (some traveling over 20 hours to get here) and now we needed some rest. We were awakened at midnight by massive fireworks going off across the street from our hotel. After breakfast, 38 of us met with our two tour escorts for the excursion to the Iguazu Falls. Arriving at Foz de Iguazu, we boarded our bus and headed to the Brazilian side of the Falls and did a leisurely walking tour. We got a panoramic view of many of the 275 plus cascading falls. It was awesome and very refreshing. We were told that it would rain anytime now. The locals were predicting rain for the last few days. Our walk was perfect and the weather held out - sunny and dry - which meant the volume of water over the falls would be smaller. We boarded our bus at the end of the Brazilian trail and were taken to Hotel Cataratas, located in the National Park on the Brazilian side of the Fall, for the next two nights. The hotel was built in 1935 and is now being renovated. The rooms were very rustic but efficient. We stayed for the hotel's buffet dinner, which was excellent. Next morning, after eating a large breakfast, we headed to the Argentine side of the Falls. After a 35 minute ride to the park entrance, we boarded a Narrow Gauge train that took us to the Catwalks that led to the dramatic "Devil's Gorge". From here our senses were stretched. The roar of the falls made me realize this was nature at work and I was in awe. The heavy mist got us very wet and we knew we were very close to the Gorge. The Catwalks also took us to many smaller falls which in itself were spectacular. The excursion was truly awesome. That evening we signed up for an "Iguazu By Night Three Country Dinner Show" at the Rafael Restaurant. The specialty at this buffet was their barbecued meats. The food was great and the show was a variety of singing and dancing from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay - a very nice ending to a spectacular two-day Iguazu Falls Excursion. That evening it did rain. In the morning, my wife and I got up very early before breakfast and went to hike the same trail we did on our first day. The water run-off was much heavier from the overnight rain and the roar of the water was louder. It also created alot more misting, covering many of the falls. Definitely not good for picture taking. Our afternoon flight back to Rio was delayed for two hours. Our escorts knew we were going to miss dinner so they made arrangements at our Hotel Intercontinental for a complimentary late buffet dinner. Early the next morning, we put out our large check-in luggages for pickup to be delivered to the Amsterdam. We headed off on a half-day tour of Rio before boarding our ship. The tour included the world famous beaches, downtown, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Flamingo Park, financial districts, St. Sebastian Cathedral, Lapa Arches, National Library, Fine Arts Museum, and the Sambadrome, site of Rio's famous Carnival parades. In a far distance, Christ the Redeemer Statue was shrouded in fog. By noon we arrived at Rio's Cruise Terminal. Check-in was a breeze taking no more than 15 minutes. Our stateroom was not ready so we headed up to the Lido Buffet. Lunch was good - great variety of pasta, salads, meats, vegetables, sandwiches, pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs. The Lido was very clean and the staff was "Johnny-on-the-Spot" helpful and very polite. This made Lido dining very pleasant. After lunch we headed to our stateroom on the Main Deck, forward, port-side. Our stateroom showed no wear or tear. It was dust-free and immaculate. We got to meet Abdul, our stateroom attendant and his sidekick assistant, Din. They were very friendly and helpful and spoke English well. My preference was to have only a sheet on my side of the bed and my wife likes her sheet with blanket combination. They made the change right away and it was like that throughout the cruise. Abdul left my blanket in the closet thinking I may need it while cruising the Antarctic Seas. We always had a full bucket of ice and extra bath towels as well as the handmade towel animals every night. Can't get better service than that. We had early dining in the open-seating La Fontaine Dining Room. The quality and variety of food were good and so was the presentation. Dining staff was only okay. I felt our waiter and his assistant were sometimes distracted. I like to start my dinner with ice tea. Some days it was already on the table when I arrived and other days it came midway through my dinner. One evening I ordered soup; it never came. Our dinner usually took two hours. Some evening we would skip dessert in order to catch the early show. We would then get our dessert during the 11 o'clock late buffet in the Lido. The production stage shows were very good. Performers sang and danced with a lot of energy and passion. The ship's travel guide, Chris Fisher, is very informative and has all the answers you would need. At first I was bored by his monotone voice, but I got use to it because of all the pertinent information he was giving. He did a great job. The Exploration Speaker Series was also a perfect way of getting us ready for the three days of cruising the Antarctic Seas. First speaker was Robert Hofman, a Marine Mammal Scientist. Second speaker was John Splettstoesser, an Antarctica Geologist and finally Captain Patrick Toomey, who was an Ice Pilot for the Canadian Coast Guard. The three speakers spent many years in the Antarctic and gave a total of ll lectures covering their own specialty. John Splettstoesser has two mountain ranges named after him. One is located in the Ellsworth Mountains and the other at the Victoria Mountains. Each time the lectures were given, the Queen's Lounge was packed with attendees. Cruising the Antarctic: Day 1 - Cruising the South Coast of Elephant Island. Into the Antarctic Sound, high winds prevented the stopping at Esperanza Argentine Station. Passed m/v Corinthian II. At 1700 hours, while circumnavigating Paulet Island,the Amsterdam encountered "Katabatic Winds" gusting to 80 knots. We were told later by Capt. Toomey that the ship listed 12 degree. That was exciting! Passed Rosamel Island and reentered the Antarctic Sound from the Weddell Sea and headed west to Bransfield Straits to overnight to Dallmann Bay. Day 2 - Entered Dallmann Bay from the north and passed Cuverville Island. m/v Corinthian II was anchored there. We transited southbound to Errera Channel. Cruising Andvort Bay, we passed m/v Akademik Shokalskiy southbound. Southbound in Neumayer Channel. m/v Andre entered Port Lockroy as m/v National Geographic Endeavor came out. Eastbound in Bismarck Straits, then northbound in Gerlache Straits. m/v Akademik Shokalskiy headed westbound. In Paradise Harbor, m/v Marco Polo at Chilean Station Gonzalez Videla. We cruised to Almirante Brown Station Argentine. Dallmann Bay northbound while m/v National Geographic Endeavor also northbound. Amsterdam overnight cruising off west coast of Anvers Island. Day 3 - 0830 at U.S. Palmer Station to embark 14 scientists and staff. Headed southbound to Lemaire Channel. The Palmer crew gave a slide show briefing in the Queen's Lounge. To accommodate Amsterdam's large number of cruisers, they gave two briefings. Afterwards they lunched in the Lido and answered more questions from the passengers. Petermann Island was the farthest south we went (80.4 nm from the Antarctic Circle and 1,460 nm from the South Pole). We headed northbound to Cape Horn. This ended the three days cruising the Antarctica. I have been on 15 cruises. This Antarctic Itinerary was the BEST AND MOST INTERESTING, SPECTACULAR, AND SATISFYING one. The bonus was having the U.S. Palmer Station personnel coming onboard to brief us on their mission. Outstanding event. Kudos to HAL for serving hot soup on the outside decks during those three freezing days. Luckily, the weather was perfect. Another highlight was the port call to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. We signed up with HAL to do the Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery. What a KICK! There were 8 passengers to a van and we were taken for a 45 minutes ride and transferred to a 4-wheel Drive Land Rover and rode another 25 minutes to get to the Gentoo Rookery. Dead center of this Gentoo Rookery were 6 Male King Penguins. I could distinctly see one of the Kings holding his egg on top of his feet with his tummy covering it. What a sight! Another HAL excursion was at Punta Arenas Patagonia Experience and Otway Bay. Here we saw the Magellanic penguins: five to six of them playing follow-the-leader, babies waiting to be fed and others jumping into the surf and swimming off. Awesome sight, not to be missed. Other ports-of-call on this cruise were Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) and Puerto Montt. Each city had its own highlights, which were enjoyable. Final destination was Valparaiso, Chile. Our flight home was scheduled at 2200 hours. That left us with over 14 hours before our flight time. We booked with HAL for an 8 hour Santiago City Tour. Our luggage was put out the evening before and we were to claim them later at the airport. The bus ride from Valparaiso to Santiago took 1 and 1/2 hour. We stopped at a jewelry store, rode a funicular, had a delicious salmon lunch and went to a Dominican Craft Village for some final shopping. Around 1630 we headed to the Santiago Airport. Arriving outside of the airport check-in building, we saw hundreds of our luggage sorted on carts and lined up for us to claim. We wheeled them inside to the Delta Airline check-in line and waited two hours for the counters to open. Kudos again to HAL for having our luggage ready. This made it a very smooth transition for the end of a wonderful cruise holiday. Our flights home were uneventful. I need to mention that on the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls, there were 12 of us who already knew each other through CruiseCritic.com on the South America "Roll Call" Board for the Amsterdam. Shark410 (Sharon) made arrangements with the Seattle Office for a Cruise Critic's "Meet & Greet" get-together at the Crow's Nest on January 10, a sea day. The ship provided coffee, tea and two kinds of cookies. 30 people attended this Meet and Greet. Attending from the ship were Hotel Manager Hans Dernson, Cruse Director Michelle Worthley, Chief Housekeeper Ali Mushochib, Environment Officer Ronald Bloeme, and Crew Purser Julie Brnsey. Thanks to the above for attending and making this an outstanding Meet & Greet. This was so successful Sharon scheduled another Meet & Greet, this time in the Sports/Piano Bar. Of the 30 attendees, 15 were interested in joining CruiseCritic.com. Thanks to Beverage Manager Guido Kollmann for making this happen. One last event to mention. The original group of 38 that did the Pre-Cruise Iguazu Falls also wanted a get-together. Sheri V. from the group asked and set up a HAL ms Amsterdam Iguazu Falls Reunion". Guido and Michelle hosted this event at the Sports/Piano Bar on January 13, 1600 hours and served hot hors d'oeuvres. Definitely a "Class Act" from the Amsterdam, and thanks to its officers and crew. In a nut shell, the Holland America Line January 4, 2009 South American Explorer and Antarctic Experience 20 Days Cruise was a wonderful and a "Great Valued" package. This cruise had it all - itinerary, food, entertainment, speaker series, ports-of-call, service and professionalism. It is "5 STAR+". Gimer. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
We booked travel through HAL because of concerns that weather might interfere with travel plans. Flew from Seattle to Wash. DC then on to Rio. When arrived in Rio we were taken to a hotel to wait while the ship was sanitized because of a ... Read More
We booked travel through HAL because of concerns that weather might interfere with travel plans. Flew from Seattle to Wash. DC then on to Rio. When arrived in Rio we were taken to a hotel to wait while the ship was sanitized because of a g/i outbreak on the previous cruise. HAL handled things very well - food and drinks were provided, then an orderly procedure was done to transfer people to the ship. On-board - loved our cabin - what a wonderful way to see Antarctica from your own verandah! Our cabin steward Tri was attentive and efficient! Ports: our favorites -- Montevideo where we walked the old town on a beautiful day, enjoyed the architecture, outdoor market and Mercado del Puerto which now holds restaurants and shops. Puerto Madryn - booked the ship's tour to Peninsula Valdes to see the sea lion colony. Another beautiful day and great experience seeing all those babies! Pt. Stanley - ship's tour of Volunteer Point. What an adventure - 4by4's across the peat bogs to the point where hundreds of King, Gentoo and Magellenic penguins nest. Great picture taking weather for all the penguin pics! Ushuaia - Walked to the Prison Museum, but it didn't open until 10Am and English tour was not until 11:30 so went back to town to check out souvenirs and take pics of beautiful gardens because ship was leaving at 1:00. Punta Arenas - Took Magdalena Island tour. Seas were very choppy and was concerned about the 1 hour ferry ride to the island, but it was very smooth. Penguins were a great sight with their babies in different stages of molting. Touring of Antarctica, icebergs, penguin colonies, and all were spectacular!! We even were treated to snow as we cruised Antarctic waters. It was fun to see crew members throwing snowballs and building snowmen on deck! We had great views of the Chilean glaciers as we traveled Beagle Channel and the Magellan straits. Dining: table for 8 at first assigned dining. Wonderful table mates and great service. Good variety of items to choose from. Lido - we usually ate breakfast and dinner here. Sandwich bar was a favorite. Lines moved quickly and service was good. Even when self-service had to be stopped because of g/i outbreak, things moved smoothly and orderly. Thanks to all the crew members who stepped in to serve at the Lido during this time! Entertainment: We loved the cast of singers! Probably the best we have heard on any HAL cruise! Enjoyed most of the other performers as well. The ice pilot and other lecturers were very interesting. They gave wonderful information about what we would see and where we would go! Enjoyed hearing about the work done at Palmer Station. Extra note: My DH contracted the norovirus about mid-cruise. Thanks to the nurse on-board who made sure he was comfortable and had all he needed during his 2 day quarantine. Also room service and the cleaning team took good care of his needs. Disembarkation: we were late arriving to Valparaiso, and with custom check we were unable to disembark until about 11:00. Once procedure started it went well - very orderly at the gangplank! We had booked an airport transfer and wine tour because our flight was not scheduled until 10PM. The tour was enjoyable with a great lunch and folk dancing entertainment. All in all a wonderful cruise - one we would love to do again! Can't wait for our next HAL cruise! Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
My sweetie came home one day and suggested a cruise to Antarctica. I had never cruised before. But Antarctica as a destination: Shackleton and "March of the Penguins" suddenly came to mind. How could I object? The weather was ... Read More
My sweetie came home one day and suggested a cruise to Antarctica. I had never cruised before. But Antarctica as a destination: Shackleton and "March of the Penguins" suddenly came to mind. How could I object? The weather was particularly bad at the time in most of the Northern United States. Flights were delayed and luggage was lost. Taking into account pre boarding and waiting between flights, our commute to Rio took 25 hours. Upon arrival on the Amsterdam, all I could think was that I needed a bed. Desperately. If you've never cruised before, the size of the room will take you by surprise. This is where I'd spend the next three weeks! in retrospect, the room was not that bad and I became quite comfortable in it. Rio in the rain and yours truly somewhat jet lagged. Skipped Rio on the first day, got acquainted with the ship. Good thing to remember, divide your clothes between suitcases. A gentleman we met packed his and hers suitcases; his didn't quite make it to Rio, so the poor chap was wearing t-shirts until his luggage met him in Buenos Aires, on the next port. Two sea days to Buenos Aires. Breakfast in the LaFontaine, followed by 2 hours with my book. There was a lecture at 10 am. I was getting comfortable in my home away from home. Not knowing what to expect, I opted for open seating dinning. I now prefer fixed, but all that is a matter of preference. A cruise will allow one to do as much or as little as one desires. Some people love everything, others find fault with everything. It is not unusual to read contradictory reviews from the same cruise. I was unprepared for Buenos Aires, but was impressed with their Fine Arts Museum. I felt quite at home in Montevideo and was sad to leave the city. Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands was a tender destination. This is a different world. Imagine a rock in the middle of nowhere, where 18 years ago a war was waged between the UK and Argentina. The place looks British. Cars drive on the wrong side of the road, British currency is used, there are red telephone booths. Best way to describe it: Victoria, BC meets Newfoundland. Several options to see penguins. Two days later, we lost satellite transmission and woke up by Shackleton's famous Elephant Island. No TV. From here onward, everything in sight was picture worthy. Only 100 people at the time can disembark on the continent. Due to the size of our ship, no landings were made. Only much smaller and much more expensive Exploration ships have that privilege. They are usually not as smug when they have to cross the Drake Passage. Antarctica has some strict conservation rules. Everything entering must exit, nothing is to remain. No cigarette butts thrown overboard, no littering of any kind. The Amsterdam ensured shift rotation on Palmer Station. New and old members were exchanged on the ship, and we were privileged to a lecture on the Queen's Lounge. Best way to describe Antarctica: powerful, bold, beautiful and desolate. Even with 1300 other passengers on board the experience is not lessened. Crossing the Drake to reach Ushuaia, we rounded Cape Horn on a rainy day. It was windy and grey, but the passage was mild. It isn't always the case. After Ushuaia, we explored the beautiful Chilean Fjords, some Glaciers. All impressive in their own right, but everything pales after Antarctica and this beautiful country is no exception. I skipped Punta Arenas. This destination is mostly used as a launching pad to other destinations, i.e. excursions. By Puerto Montt, Antarctica was but a sweet memory captured in 2 rolls of Fuji NPS 160. Valparaiso was the end of the line. We took an excursion to Concha y Toro winery which included an incredible lunch and the biggest barbecue any of us have ever seen. A visit to the top of Santiago, the artists district and a 19th century church, followed by a drive to the airport. Highly recommended. The Amsterdam is 780 feet long. Not a big ship by modern standards, but bigger than anything else we encountered. I had filet mignon in the Pinnacle Grill with a Pommard. Well worth the extra $20 per person. All my meals in the dinning room were outstanding. Several times not fancying the day's menu, I'd opt for a New York steak. There are three extra menu options in case the day's menu doesn't speak to you. There was a different movie every day. We enjoyed the comedians and the piano trio at dinner. The room was comfortable. I slept with the curtains open and spent most of my time in the room gazing out the window. It was the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. New to cruising? Pick your destination, do your research, put your feet up and enjoy the ride. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
After reading some prior reviews we were worried what was waiting for us at the Rio de Janeiro port. We were glad to finally be on the Rotterdam and see what was going to be home for the next 28 days. A wonderful surprise, both ship and ... Read More
After reading some prior reviews we were worried what was waiting for us at the Rio de Janeiro port. We were glad to finally be on the Rotterdam and see what was going to be home for the next 28 days. A wonderful surprise, both ship and room had traditional design which was beautiful (not worn in any area). We found all the public spaces elegant and cabin was first class. Begin with the best bed, why was it better than the new Noordam, it was a treat to get into each evening. The leather sofa was very comfy and the cabin was spacious. The cabin steward, Rudy, was excellent, he became a wonderful friend after 28 days, knowing our routine and keeping our stateroom in tip-top shape, always had the ice bucket filled for my husband. The fresh flowers throughout the public areas were lovely and appreciated when at sea for so many days. The bed linens were luxury, as well as the bathroom towels, soaps, shampoo, lotions. The food was very good the first 16 days of the cruise and the next 12 were not the same quality but perhaps being on the ship you get tired of the same kitchen and there were some repeats. The Pinnacle Grill was very good steak, limited menu choices but staff was very professional and made the evening a delightful surprise. The lido was very good for breakfast, and when we learned how to find the lighter dishes we were very happy to have lunch as well. I took a cooking class and had a fun afternoon, unlike any prior cooking classes I have attended. The Cruise Director was good, she had pax attending many different events that covered all age groups, this was a change from prior Hal travel which tended to be more senior pax. We had great music on the lido deck pool side and pax were having good party with crew and band (BBQ Night). Jeff Warren was a real treat, what a great entertainer in the piano bar, sorry he had to leave in Lisbon but he was overdue for a break from the ship. His replacement was not to our taste and we missed Jeff alot. The best bar waiter, Jax, made us feel like we were in our own country club, he remembered our names, and drink choice. We moved to the Ocean Bar to hear the band and Jax was moved as well, so we enjoyed the music played after and before dinner. We had two parties for the CruiseCritic members which was attended by the Captain and his staff, in the Crows Nest, and they gave us some wonderful info on the future of Hal and answered many of our questions. The Captain was very kind to us sharing his history of becoming a cruise ship captain. Some pax had some issues with Port Director, which the Captain stated he would address and as the cruise continued we did see a change regarding ports of call info. The port trips ranged from okay to outstanding. The port trip to horse breeding farm in Cadiz was outstanding and would recommend to any pax interested in horses but only offered on Saturday. We had a problem with one port call not good for wheelchair pax and was refunded the cost. During the entire cruise the Captain keep his pax informed about what was coming and made everyone aware of the special places we were passing. You begin to realize the excellent performance of the staff/crew is due to the great Captain that commands the Rotterdam. We have read articles that state the quality of a ship starts with the head officer, Captain Rik Krombeen should be praised for the wonderful ship and crew he commands. He made us aware of his pride in being on the Rotterdam and his crew continues to convey this message, "The Rotterdam allows us to serve you better". Thanks for a great cruise that will be forever in our memory. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
The Rotterdam is quite appropriately the flagship of Holland America Line; it is beautifully appointed and seems to have been assigned an outstanding captain. The cabins are spacious and the appointments are excellent, including a bath tub ... Read More
The Rotterdam is quite appropriately the flagship of Holland America Line; it is beautifully appointed and seems to have been assigned an outstanding captain. The cabins are spacious and the appointments are excellent, including a bath tub in our rather low-category cabin. Despite some rough seas (15-18 ft swells in the Drake Passage), the ship was remarkably stable and she maneuvered wonderfully in the sometimes very tight channels around the Antarctic Peninsula. Holland America handled the air reservations and the air to ship, and ship to airport transfers professionally and with minimal trouble for the traveller. In addition, we were surprised that we got quite good seats on both flights. (The overnight schedule on Delta from and to Atlanta, to Rio and from Santiago, is a bummer on a heavily loaded 767 that is not particularly comfortable, but there is nothing Holland America can do about that.) We had no pre or post stayovers, so no hotels were involved in our trip. This is an incredible itinerary. My wife and I are not real fond of big cities when we travel, so the Rio, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago aspects of the itinerary were not so special for us, but seemed to be real hits with virtually all of our shipmates. They were also the only "hot/warm" spots on the itinerary, the rest of the time we were cruising or docked in rather cold (35-45degrees F) climes. There are just no words to describe the beauty and spectacular scenery of Antarctica, so i won't try. Holland America, however, did its best to make sure that the passengers could take full advantage of being in the last wilderness. The Antarctic Experience Team on board gave excellent lectures on the flora, fauna, sights, sounds and likely scenery of the Antarctic. From an expert on albatrosses, whales and penguins, to a geologist who had spent most of his career in the Antarctic studying the formations and its history, to an "ice pilot" with decades of experience guiding ships through the dangerous ice, the team was amazing, and approachable to boot. (One side note: In our opinion, the itinerary needs to be seen from east to west as we did on this cruise, hitting Elephant Island first was amazing, but would likely have been anti-climactic if it had come last as the west to east itinerary would do. The cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula was simply amazing. And when weather threatened to obscure the experience, the captain, aided by the "ice pilot" avoided the bad weather and found another location of amazing beauty and significance.) The non- big city ports of call were excellent as well. Just a couple of suggestions, don't do the little train in Ushuaia (sp?), it is nice but takes too long and leaves no time for the very nice little city. Second, if you are only going to do one penguin experience , do the Otway Bay at Punta Arenas where you literally walk among the penguins and see them doing everything from scampering across the grasses to swimming in the Bay, but beware if you have the early morning trip, it will be cold (at least 10 degree colder and at least 10 mph more wind than downtown). Don't miss Punta Arenas the town, the square is very nice and the handicrafts are worth visiting. At Puerto Montt, go to the lakeside cities (Puerto Arias and Fruittlar) then go to the local fish market area for a late lunch on the most amazing seafood. In Santiago, the Casablanca Valley wine tour, pre departure, is well worth the extra cost. My wife and I were extremely well pleased by all of the service personnel on board. Our dining stewards, not to mention our outstanding table mates, were attentive, knowledgeable and courteous. The Lido Restaurant was better, for its type of food, than we have experienced on any other cruise. Not to mention the great hamburgers and hot dogs from the Grill. (On a 20 day cruise, you just have to have a hamburger from time to time.) I particularly enjoyed the Culinary Center, both the demonstrations that are free and the classes that are very reasonably priced. (The Pinnacle Chef on this Cruise, Shawn from Halifax, was perfect for the instructor role in the Culinary Arts Center.) The stateroom was more than adequate, even for a 20 day cruise. The cabin attendant was unobtrusive, but always available when needed, and did a lovely job on the folded towel animals that seem to have become standard on cruise lines. Just a couple of quibbles. The Spa was, as is normal, excessively overpriced and staffed by people who one is not sure have the qualifications to do what they are doing, including the rather snooty manager. Only the sauna is available free, steam requires buying the "suite" for a daily rate of $20. The fitness center was well appointed and nicely located, but always quite crowded. (In fact, it was the only part of the ship that ever seemed crowded. The Rotterdam handles its complement of passengers with seeming ease.) The entertainment was at best entertaining. Nothing extraordinary, but entertaining. Enough said. Overall, we would recommend this itinerary to anyone looking for a true adventure. We were lucky with the weather, including the rough but manageable crossing of Drake Passage. It can be a lot worse, so be aware. We are fond of Holland America, and find particularly that the Indonesia and Philippine service crew are easier to working with than the eastern european crews on many of the other lines. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
CABIN: The cabins on the Rotterdam are a little larger than on a lot of other cruise lines. However, we endured banging noises in our cabins which got worse at night making restful sleep an impossibility. There was such a strong smell of ... Read More
CABIN: The cabins on the Rotterdam are a little larger than on a lot of other cruise lines. However, we endured banging noises in our cabins which got worse at night making restful sleep an impossibility. There was such a strong smell of rotten garbage in the cabins and even up in the lounges that we felt nauseated. They seemed to have problems with temperature control in cabins and lounges - we saw people with blankets wrapped around them sitting in lounges and we couldn't't adjust the temperature in our cabins. You could turn the dial, but it didn't make any difference in the cabin temperature. There were problems with the telephone message system and the wake-up call system. The toilets stopped working at one point (not just in our cabins). The carpeting and the windows were filthy. SERVICE: The crew and officers were sullen and often seriously impolite, to the extent that we even had doors slammed in our faces on two occasions. There was no enforcement of no-smoking regulations. We saw a high ranking officer standing talking to a man who was smoking at the opposite end of the deck from the smoking area and no request was made for the man to put out his cigarette. FOOD: Overall, the food was okay. Some foods were stale and near the end of the cruise, the ship ran out of some foods. Food service in the dining room was very slow. On the night when the Baked Alaska was served, which is usually quite a production on cruise ships, some waiters were serving the Baked Alaska long before the parade of waiters began. Our Baked Alaska was sitting so long that the ice cream was mostly melted and we were served tiny servings to make the dessert stretch to serve everyone at the tables our waiter served. Preferential treatment was given to one group of passengers, which unfortunately created a negative environment on the ship. PUBLIC ROOMS: Public rooms were kept very cold. It wasn't enjoyable to sit and read in the public rooms because of the cold and because of children running wild and kicking balls around. These unruly young children's parents were obviously not asked to keep the children under control or even to make sure that they were not left wandering alone on the ship. They ran up and down the hallways late at night and no one on the ship seemed able to do anything about it. COMPANY RESPONSE TO CONCERNS: On board the ship, the manager of customer services never bothered to return calls. To add insult to injury, when we wrote to the President of the cruise line to outline our concerns about the cruise, we received a letter stating that they were "thrilled" to hear about our cruise experience. I would have been appalled if I were responsible for this cruise line, but as a past passenger I'm insulted by the response of this cruise line to our concerns. SHORE EXCURSIONS: The shore excursions were excellent, with the exception of one port. The problems in that port were dealt with promptly and to the satisfaction of the passengers. I think that the shore excursions were priced on the high side in most ports. Compared to other ships we've been on, it was a little chaotic when passengers were sent out from the ship for the excursions. SUMMARY: Unfortunately, this was a terrible cruise for us. The Rotterdam was the worst cruise ship I've ever been on and the cruise line apparently condones the kind of experience we had on board this ship. Read Less
Sail Date December 2006
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