13 Los Angeles Holland America Amsterdam Cruise Reviews

Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by ... Read More
Panama Canal Cruise 2019 January 7th – 22nd ~~~Departure from Los Angeles, January 7th~~~ Having planned this cruise for many months I was dismayed - to put it mildly - when about an hour before my scheduled pickup time by SuperShuttle to take me to the World Cruise Center in San Pedro I received a telephone call from SuperShuttle informing me that at they had NO vehicle available to me and that they were cancelling my ride! My next thought was to try to get an Uber ride instead but, not having any experience with Uber, I was not sure how to pursue it. With the minutes fleeing by I went next door to ask Nina who I knew had used Uber for advice. It seems that Uber relies totally on the use of cell phones, which I do not have. Nina immediately found me an Uber ride, arriving within 10 minutes, just enough time to turn off my TV and lock up my house. An Uber arrived very soon and I was off only a few minutes later than my original departure time of 9 am with SuperShuttle, arriving at the World Cruise Center and my ship, Holland America’s ms Amsterdam, at about 10:30 am. Almost no one else was checking in this early and I was checked in with no wait at all by 11 am, going into the waiting room until my group numbered 7 was called to board, which occurred just before noon. Very quick process! I easily found my upgraded room, 2633, on the Main Deck 2 and it was as to be expected - almost. About 2/3 back from bow of the ship, its location is about the best possible. One change I immediately observed on entering was the bathroom that had been substantially upgraded with the old-fashioned tub and shower combination now replaced with a beautiful and large glass-enclosed shower. My room on the ms Zaandam last July on my Alaskan cruise was identical - except for the bathroom. Since my luggage would not be delivered for a while I went to the Dining Room for a casual lunch, and a glass of wine - of course! Then I stopped by the Pinnacle Grill to schedule my two evenings’ dining at this specialty restaurant, pre-purchased beforehand online. Departure time for our voyage was to be at 5 pm and occurred shortly thereafter. With my luggage now having been delivered to my stateroom I proceeded to begin my unpacking, delayed by my 8 pm dinner in the Dining Room where I had requested a table of 4. However, it turned out that I was the only one at this table so the Maitre D’ suggested that I might prefer a smaller table for 2, which I gladly accepted. Unlike other cruise first nights, prime rib was NOT offered! Too bad! Expecting rough seas because of the recent stormy weather in Southern California, I was pleasantly surprised by the absolutely smooth seas and had no difficulty at all falling asleep in my very comfortable double bed on this, my first night aboard the Amsterdam, headed for the Panama Canal. ~~~At Sea, January 8th & 9th~~~ The seas continue to be smooth as glass, much to my surprise but not to my disliking. With all of the stormy weather in Southern California, I had expected rougher seas. So far, so good! Being the first day at sea this was the first of three “gala”, or formal evenings during this cruise, so out came my coat and tie to wear. The day had been very relaxing with little to do except to complete my unpacking so I was ready for my dinner scheduled for 8 pm and it was not disappointing. I do not recall my menu choices but they were very good in any case. Then it was another early to bed; I am not the night owl I once was! On Wednesday, our second day at sea, I spent most of the day in my stateroom after enjoying yet another breakfast delivered to my room, which will be my normal habit, I think. Although yesterday I did go to the dining room for breakfast, it is so easy to just order in. I know I am missing all of the interplay with the rest of the passengers but, after 53 cruises, I quickly grow tired of hearing all about their grandkids, health problems, recent surgeries, etc., etc. Enough! Fortunately the TV in staterooms has my favorite MSNBC channel which I watch most of the time. With the government shutdown I am beginning to become concerned about my return flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles on January 22nd, by way of Charlotte, North Carolina, a major hub for American Airlines. I am hoping that the wait time for TSA Security check is not unreasonably lengthy when I get to the Ft. Lauderdale airport for my 1 pm flight. Also the weather is of concern. We shall see... That’s about it so far; I will have much more to report after tomorrow’s stop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. ~~~Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - January 10th~~~ After another night of calm seas, our arrival in Puerto Vallarta was right on schedule, at 8 am. There was another Holland America ship, the ms Eurodam, also in port. It has been a few years since I was last here and I was amazed at the recent growth: new port facilities, numerous new high-rise buildings stretching all along the shore of Banderas Bay. My choice of tour for the day was “Best of Puerto Vallarta” departing at 9 am. This is a repeat from the last time I was here, and involved a walking tour of old downtown PV including a walk along the Malecon, or bay front, with all of the many bronze statues present there. The street along here is now restricted to a pedestrian one which was a wise change. We then had a short visit to the famous Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral that incidentally was my first there. Then it was back on the bus for the Tequila Factory part of our tour. The drive out of Puerto Vallarta, past the busy International Airport, was farther that I recalled, but soon we arrived at the familiar Hacienda Dona Engracia for our tour of tequila making, followed by tasting - yeah! - followed by a nice buffet lunch - including choice of beverage - beneath a large tent. My choice was a Margarita, of course! New this time was a performance by a talented group of two couples of fiesta dancers, performed on a center stage in the middle of the tent. Their dances were both quite active as well as exquisitely costumed. There was even a very talented ropedancer performing during a costume change for the dancers. All in all, a most excellent addition to this popular tour. Oh, did I mention the unlimited supply of Margaritas? A good time was had by all! Leaving the Tequila Factory, we returned at 2 pm to our ship, the ms Amsterdam, concluding a wonderful visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tomorrow is another day at sea until we reach Huatulco, Mexico, on Saturday, so there probably won’t be too much to report. ~~~At Sea & Huatulco, Mexico - January 11th & 12th~~~ Another day at sea on remarkably smooth waters, I spent most of the day in my stateroom, again enjoying my breakfast delivered by Benny, in exchange for a customary $2 tip: black coffee, cranberry and orange juices, ham and cheddar cheese omelet along with hash brown potatoes and English muffin. I can wear my sweat pants and sweat shirt in the privacy of my room - all very laid-back and relaxing. I forgot to mention my dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant aboard, on the evening of the second day at sea, Wednesday, January 9th. Online I had purchased for $62 two dinners here, each regularly priced at $35. Starting with a shrimp cocktail of three enormous shrimp - easily the size of small lobster tails, my entree was a 10-ounce filet mignon steak, expertly cooked to medium rare and so, so tender! Dessert was a chocolate soufflé that was incredible. Enjoyable, to say the least! My other dinner here will be on our last evening at sea before arriving at Ft. Lauderdale on January 21st. Huatulco is our second port of call in Mexico, which I had visited on a previous Princess cruise years ago. Today my choice of tour was a “beach break” at one of the many new resort hotels now populating this once-small port, the Secrets Resort. After a small coach ride of about 30 minutes, we arrived at the resort’s gate and were temporarily delayed from entering until proper identification was made. An enormous new resort with many levels leading down to the perfect, crescent-shaped Conejos Bay, the open lobby with high ceilings greeted the 12 of us in our group. After a brief explanation of the facilities and what was available to us, we were allowed the use of all of this inclusive resort’s offerings, including restaurants, pools, beach, and bars. My first choice was a trip to the Castaways Restaurant, located at some distance from the lobby and accessed by means of a small shuttle. I was about 5 minutes early for their 12-noon opening but was soon seated at a table in this open-air luxurious establishment. Ordering a Margarita on the rocks I relaxed immediately for a leisurely lunch. The menu was presented on a large billboard placed near my table and my choice was a rib-eye steak following delicious guacamole and salsa dip with chips. The steak was prepared to perfection as medium rare, and was absolutely delectable! A dessert of coffee flavored mousse topped off my “lunch”. A short shuttle ride brought me back to the lobby where I began looking for the pools. An elevator took me down to the lower level where a variety of beautiful pools were located and, unfortunately, the lounges were already fully occupied. So I sought out a nearby beach bar and ordered more Margaritas. After the two I had enjoyed with lunch, I enjoyed two more here! On the way back up to the lobby I stopped for yet another drink at another open-air bar, enjoying the coolness of it all. We were to meet in the lobby at 3:30 pm for our return trip to the ship, so I went back up to the lobby just after 3 pm, not wanting to be late. There I found yet another bar offering me yet another Margarita while waiting. Others in our group began to appear and 3:30 pm came and went with no sign of our coach back to the ship. Finally, around 4 pm, one arrived - not the same one in which we had been brought here. Evidently through some mix-up, our original coach had been cancelled and another replacement made. Never the less, we were delivered back to our ship, almost on schedule. All in all, a very enjoyable - and liquid! - day in Huatulco, Mexico. Tomorrow we are to be docked at Puerto Chiapas, Mexico a first visit for me. ~~~Puerto Chiapas, Mexico - January 13th~~~ Being my first visit to this small port of call, I had chosen a tour to the Argovia Express: Coffee Tasting and Botanical Gardens for the day. Nothing much else exists at this port except for a new elaborate cruise center. So I was dismayed to be informed the evening before that, due to low participation, this tour had been cancelled! Other tours were offered in replacement but none to my liking, so my visit to Puerto Chiapas was aborted; I chose to stay on the ship all day. Thus, my day was spent much the same as a sea day, relaxing in my stateroom. With ports of call for each of the next three days, the loss of this day was not too great. ~~~Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala - January 14th~~~ Originally I had booked a tour just to the old city of Antigua but, having my previous coffee tour cancelled, I decided to change to a tour that would also include a visit to a coffee plantation: “Coffee Estate & Antigua”. Leaving the ship around 8:30 am we traveled on a very new coach for 90 minutes to the Filadelfia Coffee Estate on the outskirts of Antigua where we were given an informative tour of different portions of the estate: nursery, drying areas, mills, and packaging. Then we were invited to a lunch at the estate of an expertly prepared strip steak along with guacamole, black beans and rice, followed by a delicious coffee flavored mousse. Of course, a cup of their finest coffee accompanied this substantial meal. I heard NO complaints at all! Then we were given the opportunity of shopping in their small shop; for me, a bag of their coffee! Switching to two smaller vans, now required in the city instead of the large coaches, we then proceeded into the center of Antigua where we were given a somewhat lengthy walking tour, ending at the city square and the large cathedral. My legs are still crying out in pain! Finally, back again on our large comfortable coach, we spent another hour or so returning to the port and our ship at 4:30 pm, a long, enjoyable albeit energetic day. It was so good to return to my comfortable stateroom for a rest before preparing for dinner. ~~~Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua - January 15th~~~ My tour today was first to the ancient ruins of the original capital city of Leon, destroyed by a volcano and seismic activity in 1610, covering it completely, and becoming the “Pompeii of Central America”. Rediscovered in 1967 it is now a World Heritage Site. It involved walking around the several acres observing walls or parts of walls still existing. The destruction was so severe that it was decided to relocate the new city elsewhere. All very interesting if you are into archeology but with all of the walking with not too much to see, my boredom reared its ugly head - in addition to my also sore legs. Returning to the entrance we were treated to an enjoyable and delicious Nicaraguan lunch in a local restaurant, consisting of chicken, steak, rice and beans, along with crispy fried plantains (bananas). A welcome relief from our walk! We then proceeded on for another hour to the modern city of Leon, traveling through very interesting and scenic country, including many volcanoes, most dormant but some still active. Mount Momotombo is the largest volcano and steam clouds could be seen coming from its cone-shaped summit. In the “modern” (really colonial) city of Leon, we were let off our coach near the city square and given a tour of the monumental cathedral there; it is immense! The interior is quite impressive with the many arches, altars and artwork. We were given the opportunity of climbing the 85 steps to the bell tower from which a magnificent view is possible. OR, if not, visiting a nearby restaurant for a cooling beverage; I chose the later! Finally it was back on our comfortable coach for the hour-long drive back to the port and our ship, arriving again about 4:30 pm along with several other buses at the exact same time. Getting back aboard became a lengthy process. Again, it was SO good to be back in my stateroom to rest my weary legs. Tomorrow in Costa Rica there will be MORE walking! ~~~Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica - January 16th~~~ This will be my 5th visit to Costa Rica and it remains one of my favorites. Seeking to try something different as far as excursions, the one entitled “A Walk in the Clouds” caught my attention, and it did live up to my expectations, although my poor legs might disagree. Leaving the ship at 9:30 am our coach departed the port of Calderas, one of the two Pacific ports for Costa Rica, the other being Puerto Arenas, about 20 miles away, and began our slow but gradual climb up into the range of mountains, their tops covered by clouds. Eventually we will have climbed to over 4500 feet above sea level and be right among the “clouds”. The drive was quite pleasant with the vistas right out of a picture book. We drove through several small towns, coffee plantations, and past many luxurious homes. Finally arriving at our destination, the Finis Nature Conservatory, amid a thick cloud cover, our first stop was for the rest rooms. Then after a short orientation talk by our tour guide we were separated into two groups for our trek. The group I was in was assigned a young enthusiastic naturalist student who was excellent in his knowledge of everything we would be observing. Our first stop was a nearby butterfly enclosure into which we entered and saw dozens of the fluttering insects. One in particular was a very large butterfly with bright blue wings, and whose name escapes me. Our guide explained all of phases of a butterfly’s life that I found most interesting. Next we came upon a suspension bridge, one of many that we would be crossing, high above the canyon and definitely a bit scary! We then proceeded to hike down and down along a trail marked with many stair steps, toward the small river below. A thick cable alongside the path aided tremendously in steadying our progress. More suspension bridges were encountered and eventually we reached the creek at the canyon’s bottom. A spectacular waterfall could be seen nearby and it was here that we encountered the other group having traveled in the opposite direction. Then came the hard part: going back UP the other trail, back to our starting point. My legs screaming out to me, my main problem was breathing and exhaustion but with several rest stops, I made it to our stop near the top where many hummingbird feeders were located. Hundreds of these tiny and colorful birds flittered all around, helping themselves to the feeders. Our guide then explained a lot about the different kinds of hummingbirds present, their habits, and aspects of their lives. Then it was only a short distance farther to our starting point where our lunch was waiting in a large open-air building. Lunch consisted of a buffet offering chicken and beef along with salads, rice and black beans. A delicious berry drink completed our hard-fought-for repast. Then it was time to reboard our coach for the trip back down to our ship. In one of the towns through which we had passed, a brief stop was made for shopping at a large store that offered many souvenirs of Costa Rica, including many coffees for which this country is famous. I purchased a bag of Cafe Britt Dark Roast coffee beans for $17; rather expensive I thought. On previous trips to Costa Rica I had toured the Cafe Britt Coffee Plantation in San Jose and had purchased coffee from them there and on their website. I don’t think I paid so much then! Our tour guide decided to take us by way of a different route back to the port and our ship and we passed through many small towns on the way. In each, he pointed out the presence of a Catholic Church, a school, and a soccer field. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates of any country in the world, largely in part to their elimination of a military many years ago, the resulting emphasis then being placed on education. Right on schedule at 4 pm we arrived back at our ship, this time being the only tour getting back. There was an ambulance at the gangway, most probably some passenger had had a medical emergency; I never found out. As always, it was a relief to get back to my stateroom for a rest before dinner at 8 pm. ~~~At Sea & the Panama Canal Transit - January 17th & 18th~~~ Another full day at sea was required for our travel on to the Panama Canal from Puerto Calderas, Costa Rica, and about the only significant activity of the day for me was the “Gala” or Formal Night. As usual I enjoyed my in-stateroom breakfast, delivered by Benny - who gladly accepts my daily $2 tip: ham and cheddar cheese omelet with hash browns, coffee and juices (cranberry and orange). Finally, our Gala Dinner included “Surf & Turf”, fillet mignon and lobster tail, all very good with my steak grilled to medium rare perfection. Dessert was a Peach Crisp, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum-yum! Our approach to the Panama Canal started quite early on Friday morning with our passing beneath the Bridge of Americas occurring around 6:30 am. With the many towers of the very modern Panama City visible in the distance to the right, and the cranes of the port along side our approach in the channel, we reached the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, about 7 am. Passing through this set of two locks took about an hour putting us in the small lake leading to the second lock, the Pedro Miguel Lock, about 8:30 am. The new set of locks recently opened are located to the left and consist of a set of three locks, much larger at 1200 feet long and 150 feet wide, than the original locks at 955 feet long and 106 feet wide. Once past these locks we entered the portion of the Canal called the Culebra Cut where the majority of the construction excavation took place. A relatively new bridge spans the Canal just before this entrance, and is a stunningly beautiful modern structure. Materials removed for this Cut were used to build the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, creating the Gatun Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Western Hemisphere, and supplying the constant source of fresh water used in the locks. At around the middle of the Canal, before entering the Gatun Lake, we passed by the port of Gamboa at about 10:30 am where much of the maintenance equipment for the Canal is located. Then it was on into the large Gatun Lake for the lengthy passage across to the final set of locks, the Gatun Locks, arriving there around noontime. With three locks, the transit of the Gatun Locks took almost 2 hours. The newly opened set of three locks is located to the right side of the original Gatun Locks, and the super structures of the immense cargo ships using it could barely be seen over the trees. While in the midst of our ship being lowered from one lock into the next, we observed huge cargo ships being raised in the adjoining locks, some stacked so tall with containers as to strain one’s imagination! And yet they were able to use the original locks! One last such cargo ship entering the Canal southbound through the Gatun Locks appeared to be a car transporter because of its huge solid side walls and a ramp on its rear. Gigantic! After returning to the sea level of the Caribbean Sea, we further transited a channel into the Sea, passing beneath an almost-completed new bridge across the Canal, a beautiful new modern bridge not unlike the one crossing the Canal just prior to the Culebra Cut. Entering the Caribbean Sea, the port city of Cristobal was just off the right side. Once we took a cruise on the Grand Princess that, being too large to transit the Canal, ported us here; we then took the train across the Isthmus to Panama City. This railroad predates the Canal by many years and only takes an hour or so to make the trip alongside the Panama Canal. Our entrance into the Caribbean saw the end of our smooth seas; that evening was quite bumpy, a indication of rough seas to come. One good finale to the day was the serving of delectable prime rib in the restaurant that evening. My slice of prime rib was one of THE BEST I have ever enjoyed! Tomorrow: Cartagena, Columbia, our last port of call. ~~~Cartagena, Columbia & Day at Sea - January 19th & 20th~~~ After a night of active sea action, our noon arrival in the huge bay of Cartagena was a relief from the bumpy ride from the Panama Canal. The newer part of this ancient city is resplendent with high towers, mostly residential. On the other side of the bay is located the remnants of the old walled city, walled for protection from the pirates of old. Our ship docked at the main pier to the right of this section, next to another ship, the Monarch, one of Pullmantur’s fleet. The tour I selected for our afternoon in Cartagena included first a catamaran ride from near where our ship was docked, requiring a somewhat lengthy walk, around the bay past the towers on the peninsula to the left and the older section to the right, passing the Colombian Navy installation, finally docking alongside a dock near the walled city. Disembarking the catamaran we were immediately besieged by hordes of street sellers, selling everything from jewelry to hats to T-shirts to water, ... Having been here twice before, I was prepared for the constant barrage, just saying “NO!” repeatedly. Crossing a busy street we came alongside a proportion of the old wall, to an opening that we entered and proceeded with our waking tour of this older part of the city, around the very narrow streets and visiting several plazas. One special plaza was dedicated to Simon Bolivar whose statue adorned the center of the square. A cooling breeze largely compromised the reported high temperatures for the afternoon. Otherwise it would have been miserably hot. Much shade was also provided by the buildings being so closely packed together. We passed by a very elaborate building that had been the one time home of Sir Francis Drake, now available as a high rent hotel. Most buildings facing the narrow streets contain central courtyards with trees and fountains. Also observed was the old cathedral although we did not get to enter. Proceeding around several blocks we eventually returned to our original entrance where a tour of an emerald museum was offered. Entering we were presented with a mock-up of an emerald mine and a museum guide told us all about emerald mining. According to him, Columbia is the largest and best source for emeralds in the world. Of course we were eventually lead into their showroom where emerald jewelry could be purchased. I bought nothing! We were then given an hour or so of free time and, when I asked our tour guide for a good place to get a beer, he indicated a stairway leading to a very nice restaurant just above the emerald museum, where I found a table on their balcony overlooking the square below. Excellent location! After two beers I felt hungry so I ordered a shrimp dish that turned out to be absolutely delicious! And a third beer, of course! When the check arrived, the total - in pesos - was 69,000! Putting it on my Alaska Airlines Visa, this huge total amounted to just over $20. Rejoining our tour group at 4:15 pm, we all then proceeded back to where our catamaran was waiting and boarded for the return boat ride back to our ship. Upon arrival we were offered a free shuttle back along the dock to our ship’s location, fortunately! My poor legs were complaining! As always it was good to again be back aboard and in my stateroom. The ms Amsterdam departed Cartagena at 6 pm. Once past the harbor entrance, the sea action began again and continued through out the night. The next day was another sea day, one of two until our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. My day was as usual, having breakfast in my room, and writing some more on my cruise journal. As the last of our “Gala” nights, I again dressed for dinner in coat and tie. It was a surprise that we again were presented with the same menu as for our previous formal night, “Surf & Turf” which I gladly enjoyed once again, beginning with a generous shrimp cocktail. Staying up way past my bedtime, I waited up to observe the lunar eclipse of the “Super Moon” that occurred around 10:30 pm. My location on the ship for viewing was in the Crow’s Nest Lounge on Deck 8. The full moon was directly overhead as I sat near the front of the lounge. Very cool! Tomorrow I am invited to the Captain’s Reception at 12:30 pm for the Mariners Society, Holland America’s loyalty group of repeat customers, to be followed by a special luncheon in the Dining Room at 1 pm. We will no doubt be receiving the traditional Delft tile from HAL. ~~~Last Day at Sea & Return Trip Home - January 21st & 22nd~~~ The seas had calmed down quite a bit during the day and I went to the Main Stage Theater for the Captain’s Mariners Society Reception at 12:30 pm where I encountered a huge crowd; Holland America has a great repeat business. After struggling to receive my free glass of champagne - I didn’t sit in the right seat! - I did enjoy viewing the many awards to several passengers, mostly quite old, for their unbelievable numbers of cruises taken. My 10 cruises and 129 days had already received a Bronze Medallion on a previous HAL cruise, so I was not individually recognized. Following the Reception we all moved to a special area of the Dining Room for our Mariner Society Luncheon, including wine! Luckily I sat at a table with my new friends, Pat & George, from my many visits to the Ocean Bar on Deck 5. My menu choice was a delectable filet mignon, cooked to perfection - medium rare, and so, so tender! The Captain spoke once more and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves a lot. Dessert was a delicious berry cheesecake that was outstanding! All in all, a very nice experience. Then it was the most dreaded time of any cruise - packing up to leave! However, over my 54 previous cruises I have become adept in the accomplishment of this duty so my luggage was almost completely packed by late afternoon, needing only the clothes and dopp kit required for getting ready for my second evening dining at the specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill at 7 pm. I had delivered extra tips to my waiters and wine steward in the dining room the previous evening, so only remaining were my favorite bartenders in the Ocean Bar, and my two room stewards that I would deliver tonight. For a cruise of this length - 15 days - I usually give them each $20; this is in addiction to the automatic tip of $13.50 charged daily to my shipboard account that is distributed to all service staff - they say! I often wonder how much of this substantial amount actually reaches the intended people! As usual I went to the Ocean Bar before dinner where I said my goodbyes to both Suvit and Mervin - both from the Philippines, as well as to Pat & George from Virginia with whom I had become good friends. Then it was off to the Pinnacle Grill for my last meal aboard. My appetizer again was a cocktail of HUGE shrimp - 4 of them, and almost as large as small lobster tails. SO GOOD! And again I chose the 10-ounce filet mignon, grilled to perfection at medium rare, accompanied by side dishes of creamed spinach, mushrooms and grilled asparagus. I ate every bit of it! For dessert I enjoyed a berry Baked Alaska, sufficient size to serve two, but again I finished it off! What a final dinner! Then it was reluctantly back to my stateroom to finish my packing that was done quickly, adding my dinner clothes and dopp kit to my luggage, being careful to leave out clothes to wear in the morning. In addition to my one suitcase I also use a Princess tote bag to carry my iPad, head phones for the airplane, passport, and a SuperShuttle confirmation sheet, along with American Airlines boarding passes which I had earlier printed in the ship’s internet center. All done, I placed my locked and tagged luggage in the hallway for pickup before midnight; mine was out by 10:30 pm. Special tags indicating departure group from the ship had been issued - mine was Yellow 1, and I left right on schedule at 8:30 am for the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and my 1 pm flight to Charlotte, NC, there changing planes for Los Angeles. Of course I missed my usual breakfast room service on the morning of departure, but waiting in my stateroom until my group color was called allowed me to sleep in until around 7:30 am. Departure was through the forward exit door on Deck 2 so it was most convenient for me since my stateroom was 2633, on Deck 2. A special parting touch of this cruise was the lineup of crew members at the exit as we left the ship, all bidding us farewell and thanks for choosing Holland America. I don’t recall anything like this on previous ships. Very nice! After the long walk in the terminal to the baggage collection hall, I found mine quickly and showing my passport to the emigration control agent allowed my exit to the awaiting airport bus located at the entrance. First telling the driver my flight airline - American Airlines, I went aboard and relaxed for the short drive to the airport, very nearby the cruise ship terminals at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. Arrival at the airport was around 9:30 am and, after a short walk from where the bus dispatched us for American Airlines to the terminal, I quickly checked my luggage with an outdoor agent, not having to pay the $25 fee since I have an AAdvantage Visa card. Inside I found NO lines for security check in and rapidly made way through TSA Pre Check with no delay. Then it was off to find my departure gate E5 and then a nearby restaurant to eat breakfast. Luckily there was a Jack Nicklaus restaurant right next to Gate E5 and, after a short wait for a table, I ordered an immense 3-egg omelet loaded with mushrooms, onions and sausage, served with hash browns and wheat toast: and coffee, of course. Since my flight was not until 1 pm with boarding at 12:30 pm, I had a very enjoyable and relaxing breakfast, sitting there watching all the hordes of people now passing by; the terminal had gotten quite crowded since my arrival. With my Main Cabin Extra Seat on American Airlines, I receive early boarding so just on schedule I boarded Flight 1924 for Charlotte and found my assigned bulkhead seat 5C with no delay. Then I got to watch as the plane filled, all passing right by me. After a bit of bumpiness on take off, the rest of the 2-hour Flight was remarkably smooth and our arrival was almost 30 minutes early, which caused some delay in finding an open gate; the one originally assigned was still occupied. Deplaning in this very large and busy terminal of Charlotte, a hub for American Airlines, I located my departure gate for Los Angeles and was dismayed to find it to be Gate B14; our arrival gate had been at Gate C5. So away I went, riding the many moving sidewalks, until finally I reached Gate B14, at the very end of B concourse. Upon arriving I read that boarding would begin in 15 minutes! Very close connection with the gate change. Boarding was actually delayed by our aircraft arriving late and our eventual departure for Los Angeles was not until 4:20 pm. Again I boarded right away and got to my seat 5C right away. The flight was in fact overbooked and the boarding agent was asking for volunteers to take a later flight; I did not do so! An almost 5-hour flight, I enjoyed a Chardonnay wine twice during the flight that was really quite smooth with only few short periods of minor turbulence. Sleep for me occurred in short patches during the flight and I was happy when our final descent into LA began. There was some turbulence as we passed over the Banning Pass moving our plane about, but the landing was smooth. We landed on LAX’s north runway and had to circle the airport, around the new construction area, past Bradley Terminal, until finally reaching our Gate 42B. First stopping at the nearest bathroom, I then proceeded to locate our baggage carousel that turned out to be Number 4. I was lucky to see my luggage come around very soon and, with a struggle to get it off the carousel, I was then off to find SuperShuttle’s dispatcher for my prepaid ride home. I found the dispatcher’s desk vacant and waited for the next SuperShuttle van to come along. With some confusion, the van for John Wayne Airport eventually took me aboard, along with 4 others seeking transfer to Orange County, so I expected it to be another lengthy trip; I was actually the third one delivered, at about 9:15 pm. The end of a long, exhausting day of travel. Struggling to find the right keys to open my front door, finally I was inside and immediately turned on my heater. Everything looked just fine after 15 days of absence, and it was so, so good to slip into my own bed last night. Today, Wednesday, it could not be more beautiful outside and I put the garbage cans out for their regular collection. My luggage full of dirty clothes will just have to wait! I am home! ~Ron Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
We were looking for a Panama cruise and this fit the bill as far as the ship, type of passenger, itinerary. The ship itself was very nice, the crew were good, the activities good. There was plenty of room on board with places to relax. ... Read More
We were looking for a Panama cruise and this fit the bill as far as the ship, type of passenger, itinerary. The ship itself was very nice, the crew were good, the activities good. There was plenty of room on board with places to relax. The pool and hot tubs were not too crowded. Overall, a wonderful experience with friends. My complaints were as follows 1. The butter put out at breakfast for toast etc was rancid and moldy. The Lido restaurant staff were told about it by multiple passengers including myself, but it was not until almost 10 days after they were told of the problem that it was finally removed and replaced. 2. The snorkel/beach excursion in Huatulco was a fraud. The coral is almost completely dead. It was a sad experience and a total waste of money. We would have been much better off just going to the beach and restaurants in the main part of town. 3. They were trying to sell water as you got off the ship to go on shore excursions which included free bottled water. Maybe spend a little more time showing consideration for the passengers and a little less time trying to sell them stuff! Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
We cruise quite a lot and have been sailing Princess nearly exclusively for the last 6 years or so. We felt we owed it to ourselves to try another line and see whether we should "branch out". Here's a quick good, average ... Read More
We cruise quite a lot and have been sailing Princess nearly exclusively for the last 6 years or so. We felt we owed it to ourselves to try another line and see whether we should "branch out". Here's a quick good, average and ugly rundown. The good (sometimes great): Without question, the singers and dancers who performed many times throughout this voyage were the best we've ever seen. We were disappointed whenever a headliner was featured (the headliners were a mixed bag and on average were just OK) because that meant we wouldn't be seeing these 10 incredible performers. Kudos to HAL for producing incredible shows with minimal sets that really showcased the talent. We also need to give very high marks for the dinner service in the Open Seating MD on 4. From seating to service to food - they get a 10 out of t0. The only issue I have is not with the food or service but with the incessant upset. Some waiters were very pushy and insistent regarding the bottled water, the lobster, the 75 oz steak (OMG), the cappuccino, etc. I don't blame them, and the service was otherwise perfect, but it was sometimes pretty annoying and quite a shame given how great the food was and how hard they otherwise worked to deliver a very upscale experience. The average: On the occasions that we were able to enjoy a casual breakfast or lunch in the Lido (see the ugly for an explanation) we found the choices to be abundant, so many things to choose from but frankly the food just wasn't very good. The salad bar was OK, the dressings were bland and the service was sometimes pretty slow. We liked that food was served by staff and utensils weren't handled by passengers but it was often tedious. The offerings at the Dive In stand poolside was another option that looked better on the menu then in delivery. Again, the food was OK at best often evidenced by the amount of uneaten wasted food left around the pool tables. We tried a few times and were disappointed on each occasion. The band in the Crows Nest gets a nod for showing some enthusiasm and playing a good mix of music to dance to. The tried to keep the small crowd happy and up on their feet. The bad: We are both seniors, retired and pretty seasoned travelers and we found this ship to have a very institutional (assisted living) feel to it. We just returned from a 60 day cruise on Princess where the average age was very high. The vibe on this ship was much older. It's hard to explain but the whole experience seemed more suited to a senior center than a cruise ship despite having a large number of young families and kids away with grandma and grandpa for the holidays. --The reason we couldn't enjoy breakfast or lunch daily was because, despite having a large, two sided buffet, they simply closed the whole thing for long stretches at times when we would have enjoyed a meal or snack. If you danced till 12, relaxed with a book in your room, woke up at 9:30 and took a shower - you missed breakfast - completely closed at 10, reopen for lunch 11:30. If you get off the ship, as we did on a port day and return to the ship at 2:05 - no lunch for you - visit the Dive In or wait a few hours. If you get off the ship at an overnight port and return at 9:05 (yeah just our luck) the DR is closed, both sides of the buffet are closed and will reopen for a short When we lacked other options we waited 20 or 30 minutes until the phone got picked up. You can't have this kind of schedule unless you have an International Cafe type venue. Ridiculous. --The only reason we ever got to go to breakfast was because of the incredibly loud announcement at 9:15 most mornings. Usually you have to open your cabin door to hear what's being said. No here. The speaker was so loud that sleeping through it was impossible. My pleas to lower the volume were spoken to deaf ears (pun intended). Three times on this 17 day voyage the captain chose to have crew drills at 9 AM, blaring 7 short and 1 long blast into the cabin along with instructions to the crew. So loud. We've never been woken up by a crew drill in 100's of days cruising until now, 3 times in 2 weeks. Why? --The Ocean Bar would have been a lovely dance venue in the center of the ship but the trio catered to a very elderly crowd, particularly one couple and played slow fox trots and waltzes almost exclusively. One night we were the only people in the venue before the early show let out. After hearing two songs that were written in the 40's I asked the piano player to play a salsa, no one else is here. He told me that the band didn't have one - What? That was our last night in the Ocean Bar. --For probably half of the trip at least on hot tub was not useable because the temperature was way too high. Reports to the crew didn't solve the problem. Where was the crew regarding chemicals and temperature? On a ship with only one pool and two hot tubs this is a big issue. --Lastly, this old gal needs some service. Our cabin, 1801 had a loose panel that squeaked terribly when we had some seas. I reported it so they shimmed the panel.. It didn't work. I told the staff at Passenger Services that if it's not fixed by the time the world cruise comes about they will have a very unhappy guest. All in all we made our own good time. We were told, over and over again, not to let the problems evident on this ship keep us from trying HAL again. So many passengers we're complaining about the scheduling, the noise, etc but they indicated that it's not common. We may give them a chance if the opportunity arises but we may well stay loyal to Princess for some time. Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
Friends talked us into going on this cruise with them. Before this HAL was their favourite line ... now they've said they'll never cruise with them again. Horrendous doesn't begin to describe this. Constant maintenance ... Read More
Friends talked us into going on this cruise with them. Before this HAL was their favourite line ... now they've said they'll never cruise with them again. Horrendous doesn't begin to describe this. Constant maintenance (grinding rust most days for several hours), they closed the shops down, they closed the pools down, there was virtually no onboard entertainment (with the exception of the nightly show), few activities, and rude staff (not all of them, of course). Our cabin steward, Deny, was awesome - the best thing about the cruise. This ship should have been in dry dock but instead, greedy Holland America put it into service and did the maintenance while passengers were on board. Disgusting. You couldn't hold a conversation in the lounge because of the constant rust grinding going on. The gym was great - could always get onto the equipment. Only one gym instructor for the whole voyage. She worked from 6am-6pm every.single.day. Supposed to be two but this cruise line is so penny pinching. Onboard band was pretty good but they only played about four times. New Year's eve was a 'mentalist' - so bad half the audience walked out. Happy New Year! We've cruised many times but this was our most expensive and worst cruise ever. With the exception of breakfasts (waffles cooked to order with fresh fruit), the food was terrible. Christmas day consisted of boiled vegetables. We had asked for mashed potato but they were so incompetent they forgot to bring it. Merry Christmas! I complained to Holland America and they didn't give a toss. Tough luck ... but thanks for letting us know. NEVER. EVER. AGAIN. Do yourself a favour and go with a professional cruise line, like Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard etc. Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
MS Amsterdam Grand Pacific & Asia Cruise from Sept 30 – Dec 21, 2018 Our background: Couple in our early 70s, well travelled, cruised on 15 different lines including HAL. We pick cruises for their itineraries. This 82 day cruise ... Read More
MS Amsterdam Grand Pacific & Asia Cruise from Sept 30 – Dec 21, 2018 Our background: Couple in our early 70s, well travelled, cruised on 15 different lines including HAL. We pick cruises for their itineraries. This 82 day cruise was the longest we had ever taken and we are pleased to say that it was also one of the best. Fellow passengers: Not surprising on such a long cruise, more than two thirds were 66 and over. Most were avid HAL cruisers and many I spoke to like long cruises on the Amsterdam. Ship: In good shape; frequent cleaning going on inside and maintenance outside. Crew: The hotel staff is definitely the best we have ever encountered. On other ships, it is often just a few members who go out of their way to be helpful. On the MS Amsterdam, the warm and friendly service was consistent. Everyone in the Lido buffet restaurant, the dining room, and the Neptune Lounge went way beyond what we are used to from other ships, including the Hapag Lloyd luxury line. Nothing was too much for our waiters, tea and honey when I had a cold, spicy sambal when I thought an Asian dish needed more pep, crispy dinner rolls, and you name it. Food: I believe the food budget was higher on this cruise than on our previous 14 day b2b cruises on HAL ships. We are picky about authentic taste. We were happy with the European dishes that tasted just like in the Old Country. There was daily sushi and an Asian counter in the Lido, but also all the American favorites. Daytime activities: There were so many to choose from that every passenger could find several to enjoy. I went to water color, arts & crafts, and Tai Chi taught by Master Cathy Chen, but there were many more options. My husband played bridge organized by a bridge instructor. All the presenters were interesting with topics on the regions where we travelled. Port information speakers were excellent. We had wonderful cultural ambassadors in Australia and from Fiji to Hawaii. Courageous passengers learned to dance the hula and to play the ukulele. Conclusion: We are looking into booking another HAL grand cruise. Read Less
Sail Date September 2018
We traveled on the Amsterdam on several Grand cruises after we retired. We live in Colorado and both had full time and responsible jobs -it seems FOREVER. So when we retired we decided cruising was "The" way to see our ... Read More
We traveled on the Amsterdam on several Grand cruises after we retired. We live in Colorado and both had full time and responsible jobs -it seems FOREVER. So when we retired we decided cruising was "The" way to see our World". And we began with slower/less LONG flights etc - but to enchanting places. We'd "done" Alaska - the Panama Canal - Islands off Florida north AND south......WHERE was our next cruise but Australia and New Zealand in 2002 on Volendam. We flew into Singapore and decided; "NEVER fly when you can cruise!" after a 27 hour travel day[s]. So here we are in 2013 on a Grand cruise itinerary into Asia. On the Amsterdam. We travel by ourselves because most people say "You WHAT? You cruise for OVERRRRRR two MONTHHHHHS?" However the people who actually DO cruise -OFTEN cruise just like we do and we have made solid friendships on these cruises. And we ALWAYS look forward to them -understanding that EVEN cruising has it's limits and we feel we've been given "A Window of opportunity" to learn about "our" world; after careers and BEFORE death! The Amsterdam is a favorite ship amid other favorites MOST in the Holland America fleet; the ships aren't SO huge you get lost for over 24 hours AND not SO small you can hang your feet in the water as you catch fish! Most are between 1200 and 2000+ passengers; COMFORTABLE. Making it even MORE comfortable AND the main reason we ADORE HAL - the CREW! Some 600 PLUS people -on EACH of the ships - are crew from Indonesia and Philippines -and many know us or remember us from cruise to cruise; we sail WITH friends! There IS no better experience! THIS particular itinerary was a World War II theme - with places LIKE Hawaii [ Pearl Harbor] Guam & Saipan, Manila, Philippines - Guadalcanal - Japan [Kobe] -China [ Shanghai and Hong Kong] ALL places involved in a war that began IN Asia around 1931 and was over in August,1945; Those are the big names and the bigger numbers -but what you also see on this KIND of cruise is the HUGE area "WAR" covered and the mileage in the South Pacific covered. It is AMAZING and to relate THAT way to TODAY'S wars [ or the sabre-rattling] is also amazing. Holland America ships are immaculately clean, the crew ALL smile a lot and are friendly, the dining rooms are magnificent, the public areas inviting, the more private areas delightful, and we keep coming back again to Holland America and specifically THIS ship's longer cruises. One other thing I might remark on was the subtle way the Captain [ Fred Everson] and his crew maintained OUR safety thru the Typhoon[s] in the mid pacific that devistated the Philippines but also threatened Japan's seas below the main Islands; IF anything we were in exceptionally CALM seas but headlines told us that extreme weather was less than a day away -for over a MONTH [ mid SEptember to mid October] And of course there ARE cruisers who think "I paid $$$$ I can do as I please!" well- sorry folks, you can't. There are pick-pockets out there -bad weather patterns - over 6000 people died in the Philippines; there are STILL over 1000 missing/unaccounted for -THINGS happen when you cruise! I can HONESTLY say that in 700 days on Holland American I have NEVER felt "Fearful" ; They take care of us whether we like it or not -Frankly I APPRECIATE That! And so- another wonderful cruise where much was learned -and probably TOO much eaten [ although you may tell your waiter in the diningroom you want smaller portions AND they'll DO that to HELP....me!] The cruise experience for us is NOT the evening's theater productions -we go to bed early - it is the cruise "Experience" and that is what YOU make it for YOURSELF. In this case Dick and I read 12 books [ WWII] in preparation before the cruise -and at least a dozen more as we exchanged ideas/books with friends JUST as excited as we were! And just as I told you - Retirement CAN be a whole NEW world of learning. Just do it on a cruise ship with wonderful experiences -and you'll NEVER forget what learning IS! Anne Salberg, Longmont, Colorado Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
The Ship was nice, well appointed, good shows, excellent library, balcony room had a slightly larger balcony which was nice. Te service was excellent and presentation good. Food quality was poor at at best, both in the main dining room ... Read More
The Ship was nice, well appointed, good shows, excellent library, balcony room had a slightly larger balcony which was nice. Te service was excellent and presentation good. Food quality was poor at at best, both in the main dining room and the buffet area. At dinner, I had steak 6 of 15 nights, and every time is was served well done, not medium rare as requested. I sent it back 3 nights, one night twice. Beef quality was poor. Food was sometimes not hot. Wine was outrageously expensive for quality and the wine pour was a "short pour" - much less than a typical restaurant. One of the higher quality wines (per the wine list) was Columbia Crest Merlot, which sells for $9-11 per bottle at Sam's or most grocery stores. The cost for 2 short pour glasses for dinner was $17.83. Drinks in the lounges were also short, many of the single malt scotch's on the drink list were not available Two of 5 port stops were cargo ports, isolated 10 miles from nowhere with no ability to walk around. You had to take one of their somewhat expensive tours, but then they had a captive audience so why not charge more. Everything on the ship was as expected for a 4 star line, why skimp so much on the meals and drinks. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
We chose the Amsterdam 15 day Panama Cruise from, Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, for two reasons -- we love the Amsterdam and always enjoy the Panama Canal -- this trip being our second full transit. We flew into LAX the day before ... Read More
We chose the Amsterdam 15 day Panama Cruise from, Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, for two reasons -- we love the Amsterdam and always enjoy the Panama Canal -- this trip being our second full transit. We flew into LAX the day before and settled in to the Long Beach Hilton. We met friends for dinner on the Queen Mary Hotel where the next day, the Amsterdam would be docked next door to her.. Embarkation at the Long Beach Terminal was far smoother than a previous time on a Carnival ship. We arrived shortly after 11AM and were in our cabin within half an hour, the only bottleneck being the photographer's area which we slunk around. At Long Beach there is quite a long walk to the ship. We had a Deluxe Suite on the port side. Our cabin stewards were the same two we had had on our Alaskan voyage the previous June, Our stateroom was perfect at all times. Our stewards knew us and our peculiarities. Our luggage arrived the earliest it has ever arrived so we were totally unpacked prior to the Safety drill. Unfortunately, there was no Mariner's Welcome Lunch due to a crew change of close to 50%; perfectly understandable as the voyage before was the Asia Pacific Grand Voyage. We had a very nice lunch in the Lido with a very lovely lady from England. The Amsterdam is the flagship of HAL and was immaculate throughout. The crew was constantly maintaining all areas in their usual outstanding fashion. We had early dining at 5:45PM and had the same table we had the previous June. Our dining stewards were excellent. It was a pleasant surprise that the Dining Managers opened the Dining Room earlier than the stated time which made the flow of incoming diners easier. The food was presented nicely and seemed to have some different tastes since our previous cruise. This is a good thing. The only negatives are the deceasing number of shrimp in the shrimp cocktails and the new recipe for escargots which is not the traditional butter and garlic with toast points. Daytime activities were more than plentiful. The Cruise Director Patti, who admits she is a substitute Cruise Director, was very pleasant and friendly. The travel guide was experienced and presented a number of very interesting talks, which were very well attended , about the ports of call and their history. Party planner April led a number of culinary and other presentations. I particularly enjoying hearing from the onboard florist about how he goes about procuring the materials and making such gorgeous arrangements throughout the ship. We were fortunately to have the florist who does the Grand Voyages. We seldom go to the evening shows so cannot comment on that. We always enjoy the Adagio Strings and wish they would play longer than the one half hour at dinner. We did a number of shore excursions and all were very good. Regarding the ports, the only negative for us, and we knew this ahead of time, is that the ship docks a at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica and not Puntarenas where we have docked in the past. Puerto Caldera is an industrial port with nothing near by so if you are unable to get an excursion or are willing to try local transportation, there is nothing to do there except for a few crafts shops on the pier. At Puntarenas, there is a little town to visit. The Panama Canal was awesome as it has been before. All and all, a very nice relaxing trip, aboard a beautiful ship with excellent crew and service. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
My husband and I are infrequent cruisers. The Canal was on his bucket list, and we needed to make our own holiday plans this year. The dates of this cruise really filled the bill, and the price was most attractive. We own a second ... Read More
My husband and I are infrequent cruisers. The Canal was on his bucket list, and we needed to make our own holiday plans this year. The dates of this cruise really filled the bill, and the price was most attractive. We own a second home in Los Angeles, so cannot speak to air travel or hotel accommodations getting to the Long Beach Port. The embarkation was the worst in my limited experience. The Amsterdam had been in drydock for a short week in San Francisco. Somehow, it was late in arriving in Long Beach; all the attendant staff trainings, etc. scheduled for the early AM of the departure day were set back, playing havoc with the schedule. Those of us checking in were forced to a LONG wait in a cold room with inadequate seating - port staff finally brought in folding chairs. I am aware that stuff happens; however, no announcement was ever made, either in the port or on the ship, explaining the significant delay. I heard many stories and scuttlebutt, from a small hole (leak) in the ship to awaiting connecting flights to dealing with union loading issues at the port. We were all left in the dark. There was no "sailaway" as scheduled; the emergency drill was held in the port. We finally disembarked without fanfare around 9 or 10 PM. It was announced the next day that the shore excursions for the first port (Cabo San Lucas on day 3) were cancelled. This was to accommodate our late arrival in Cabo (afternoon rather than the scheduled 7 AM) and to allow the ship to make up the lost time and get back on the schedule. It all seemed a little furtive - clear and frequent communication would have been nice. We actually boarded the ship on a covered catwalk during a blinding sideways rainstorm. The staff member on the port side would not allow us to wait a few minutes until the rain let up. We were SOAKED from the knees down and had to visit the laundry room to use the clothes dryers immediately. Not the most auspicious beginning to our cruise. SHIP: The Amsterdam is a lovely older ship with beautiful dark woods and an impressive art collection. It had obviously been recarpeted in public areas during the drydock (carpet was still "pilling") and was in tiptop shape (except for rooms cited below). There always seemed to be ample spaciousness, even in the buffets and during the canal passage. I am not a fan of the new,huge ships and thought it was lovely and classy. There did seem to be some issues with public restrooms and the percentage of stalls being out of order - this may have to do with the age of the ship. The OofO signs would be up for days. Ditto the washing machines. I think 20% were defunct before we sailed and that it is just not a priority to HAL. But on a 2-week cruise, this can become an issue. Other than that, no complaints about the physical ship. STATEROOM: We booked with an out of town agent and had (unbeknownst to me) a guaranteed cabin that landed us on deck 1. Initially, I was unhappy. However, we experienced a good deal of roughness during our sea days, and the lower level was actually a blessing. There was more than adequate storage, and a generous window open to views all the time (wouldn't have been the case on Deck 3). The bed was quite comfortable. I was glad I had brought my own magnifying mirror for the bathroom. While there is one in the cabin, it is on the desk and the lighting there is inadequate. Lighting in bath is great. We had no issues with shower water temperature (many others did) or with room temperature. We were always comfortable. Our toilet did back up twice due to mis-use by some neighbors - an inconvenience that was handled well once and clumsily once. We appreciated the in-room robes and the bath products. DINING: Let me just preface this by saying that my husband and I are avid cooks and foodies. I did realize that I should not compare the food on this cruise to the one I took on Azamara - a little like comparing apples and oranges. However, in addition to the embarkation, this would be my one complaint about this cruise. Specifically, the Dining Room (La Fontaine), its service and food. We heard so many complaints about this that it got to be a litany. Apparently, there were a lot of staff changes prior to this cruise. I do not fault the staff - they were incredibly ill-trained. Example: our first breakfast was in the dining room. It was about one-quarter full - there were many, many waitstaff all around (in santa hats, I might add.) I ordered eggs, toast, coffee and a fruit plate. My husband had bacon, eggs, hash browns, OJ and coffee. We never got the fruit plate. My scrambled eggs were from a carton and had a very funky texture (this was the case in the Lido Buffet as well. I saw them being defrosted and cooked. I never ordered scrambled eggs again). The food took forever to come. The coffee had been in the metal serving pots a long time and was not hot. We could NOT get the attention of any of the servers. They were always "looking away." We finally got up, went over and asked whether they could start over with some hot coffee. They did, but we had to stand on our heads to get it. On Christmas Eve, a tablemate's prime rib arrived looking like shoe leather - he had ordered rare, and coudn't get anyone's attention, either. He finally SHOUTED and got their (and everyone else') attention. These were not isolated incidents, indicative of the food and service issues throughout. There seemed to be kitchen issues, as well. One night, the appetizer was a smoked salmon on fingerling potatoes with a couple other components. Four of our tablemates ordered it - it arrived with a piece of smoked salmon and a sprig of parsely. Period. They brought it to the server's attention and they expressed surprise and returned to have them re-plated. We were very late (8:30) diners on New Year's Eve; the entree was steak and lobster newburg. They must have run out of lobster at that point. I had the beef, a lobster shell full of newburg sauce with mushrooms but no lobster. They served baked alaska on the last evening and just let it sit in the dining room between services. I suppose it was frozen and firm for the 5 PM diners. SO, major quality control and training and supervision issues. I will say that it seemed to improve some over the course of the two-week cruise. HAL maintains an early seating, a late seating and anytime-dining. They don't seem to have it organized to combine these, yet. It just seems to be more than they can handle. We did the anytime-dining. It was possible to make a reservation, but they always kept some tables open, too. The sommelier service was very good. We brought our own wine (corkage is $18) and it was always well-handled. Table servers don't know how to do anything but a "bar pour", but we kept an eye on them and requested smaller "pours". The food in the Lido Buffet was excellent, as good and varied as any I have had. There seemed to be adequate seating, even at breakfast. We had dinner in there one evening. They had servers (rather than self service) the first two days of the cruise for sanitation reasons. I really appreciated this, even though it slows things down. We went once to afternoon tea (delightful) and had lunch one time out on the deck (burgers, pizza, taco bar, etc.). There are two specialty restaurants on the Amsterdam. One is Canaletto, Italian style dining for which there is no exta charge. It is adjacent to the Lido Buffet. It was good, but not great. There didn't seem to be much garlic or seasoning in the dishes. The meals were hot (an improvement over the dining room) and the service was prompt. We brought a bottle of our own wine. They neither charged us corkage nor poured it. Whatever. I would have been unhappy with the food had I paid a surcharge for it. As it was, it was a change of pace. The second specialty place is the Pinnacle Grill. I believe the surcharge was $20 each. It was very good, many steak and meat choices and a tremendous variety of salad, side, and desserts. I had a perfectly done veal chop and creamed spinach. Nice wine list, with a Northwest emphasis. The excellent service staff could teach the Dining Room folks a lesson. We attempted to return a second night but they were full up. IMHO, worth the surcharge for a special occasion night. ACTIVITIES: This cruise was heavy on sea days, so we participated in some of the activities (as well as doing nothing at all on a deck chair). There are the standard trivia and other contests, in addition to interesting "classes" (I participated in an art tour and cooking demos,) workout activities, tech classes, bridge, etc. I listened to the Port info lectures on TV in the stateroom. All of the above is pretty standard cruise fare, with the cooking demos being a nice addition; I only attended the freebies, however. HAL did a marvelous job with special holiday activities. From a carol sing-a-long to special treats to holiday entertainments in the Queen's Lounge to decorations to interdenominational services to a visit from Santa Himself, it was all superb. The New Year's Eve party and celebrations were spectacular and we enjoyed them immensely. KIDS: There were about 60 kids onboard, mostly with extended families having a holiday together. I cannot speak to the activities provided for them, though I was aware that there were some of those. I didn't appreciate having middle-school-age kids in the Crow's Nest Bar at 10:30 PM caterwauling in a karaoke contest. We went up there for a nightcap more than once and left due to this. Seems like it should be adults only after some time or other or maybe restrict them to a couple of Family Nights. That is, if they want the rest of us to buy alcohol. SERVICE: Besides the aforementioned dining room service, we found the rest of the service to be quite good to excellent. Our cabin steward was thorough but unobtrusive. The buffet staff was excellent, also the bar staff. They did not get in your face for drink orders as we experienced on Royal Caribbean. The drinks guy in the nightclub seemed a little overwhelmed and could have used an assistant. In general, we were happy with the service. ENTERTAINMENT: Pretty standard fare, but most enjoyable. There was the requisite in-house singer-dancer group who performed 4 or 5 times. The staging and costumes were magnificent. The singers were OK, and seemed to be lip-synching. We attended the early shows before late dinner. The room (Queen's Lounge) is a beautiful space. I thought the sightlines and audio and seating availability were very fine. I cannot speak to the late show. We heard only 3 of the guest performers. The sailaway/Crow's Nest band was OK, pretty much par for the course. The band in the Ocean Bar nightly, the Station Band, were superb. They had an endless repertoire and were quite skilled in figuring out what was appealing to the crowd at any given moment. We also enjoyed the piano bar player, (Debby Bacon) and the string quartet, who played during dining from the balcony and after dinner - rumor had it that they were USC music students. Fight on. They were a really nice touch. PORTS AND EXCURSIONS: Our ports were Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala), Puerto Caldera (Costa Rica) and Cartagena (Colombia, and of course the Panama Canal passage. Adequate info was dispensed via lecture (and TV) about the ports. We only scheduled one ship's excursion, and that was "Antigua on Your Own" - a bus trip of an hour from the port into the old city and back. It was reasonably priced. I would not have set this up alone, for security reasons. Cabo was pretty boring as it was cut short (see above). All excursions were cancelled, it was Christmas Eve, it was too early in the year for whale watching, and we only had a 2-3 hours there. We just walked around. IMHO, there is not much there anyway except Americans, golf and tacky tourist shops. Scuba Diving would be great but was not an option due to cancellations. In Acapulco, we set up our own tour with Rudy's (found online) with another couple He did an excellent job for a very fair price. We enjoyed Costa Rica and Guatelmala very much. However, the ship docks at a very isolated port in each case. In order to go anywhere or do anything, one needs to have a private or ship's excursion set up. Old town Antigua is interesting but its street merchants and general populace regard tourists as walking dollar signs and are very "in your face" at a level I had only experienced in Tunisia previously. Be prepared. Costa Rica is beautiful and has much to offer. We did a private tour with 9 other people with Okey Dokey Tours that did not provide all that was promised for the price. We did some fun things, but "Charlie" was quite the fast talking con man. Be advised. Cartagena was a surprise, and my favorite of the lot. Cabbies congregate at the port and negotiate to guide you for the day. This is a great deal and a safe deal as well. The city has much to see and guides save you much time, wandering, and backtracking. Really an amazing place. The passage through the Panama canal was handled beautifully by HAL. We did not get off the ship here. The port provides an all-day "Narrator-Guide" who provides a steady commentary from the bridge that is most welcome and helpful. The Ship provided on-deck coffee and rolls in the early AM, and iced tea during the humidity of the day. It was beyond interesting and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. DISEMBARKATION: Unlike our embarkation, this was a breeze, and handled efficiently and in record time. Plenty of instruction was given, everything went as planned, we were off the ship with no shoving or waiting, found our bags, and went through customs just like that! We had scheduled a tour of the Everglades with our Travel Agent's group, who got us to the For Lauderdale airport afterwards without a hitch. SUMMARY: This was a wonderful way to spend the holidays. There were enough sea days to relax and rest up between ports, the ship was beautiful and of a nice size, we met such nice, interesting people, and the weather was fine. The food was not as good as Azamara's, but I realized the difference in price and that this was a good value for the price. If they can get their dining room staff trained and their quality control issues in the dining room kitchen addressed, they will have a quality product. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
The route for this cruise is excellent, the support staff (cabin attendants, restaurant staff, etc) first class, but several events were seriously disappointing and HAL should do something about it: The embarcation at Los Angeles was a ... Read More
The route for this cruise is excellent, the support staff (cabin attendants, restaurant staff, etc) first class, but several events were seriously disappointing and HAL should do something about it: The embarcation at Los Angeles was a total mess - people having to line outside for hours in the pouring rain, no chairs inside - had to stand for over an hour in a cold barn before being "processed" Sommelier's dinner at the Pinnacle - extra charge of $69 per person - rushed pace, uninteresting wines, ignorant sommelier, so so food Too many extra charges with no logical explanation: attend a cookery demonstration and pay $29 for the privilege Captain Everson has no social skills - even boorish and while he invited selected travelers to his reception he and his crew stuck together and did not socialise - even refused to shake hands. The excursions are reviewed below. Pauline, the advisor on shore excursions gave the impression of being clueless To find a sun chair on one of the decks requires people to get up at dawn and grab a place - it was almost like on a package holiday in a cheap spanish resort. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
Another truly wonderful Captain. Again he set the tone for the ship. The best staff on the high sea are on HAL. Super friendly and attentive and professional to a fault. Lovely ship's decor and Xmas decor. Beautiful fresh flowers ... Read More
Another truly wonderful Captain. Again he set the tone for the ship. The best staff on the high sea are on HAL. Super friendly and attentive and professional to a fault. Lovely ship's decor and Xmas decor. Beautiful fresh flowers everywhere. Wonderful entertainment throughout the ship from the lounges to the main theater. The best food in the main dining room so much so that the extra pay Pinnacle didn't seem any better. A nice place for a more intimate dinner but not better food. The lido was excellent as well. The food was more freshly prepared less buffet like. Always excellent, hot and fresh. Very well maintained area and well staffed. Love the covered pool. They use the cover to control wind, temp, rain. Very well done. There are not faults to be found with this line. We were on Code Red for the first 4-5 days and it was so well handled. The embarkation was a bit slow due to the cleaning of the ship. But from the moment on board, you, the guest were treated to top notch service everywhere. A true 10+ cruise line. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Let me begin by saying that we had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat. Since we are California residents, we drove to the pier in Long Beach. But, since we were flying back from Fort Lauderdale, we wanted to actually fly ... Read More
Let me begin by saying that we had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat. Since we are California residents, we drove to the pier in Long Beach. But, since we were flying back from Fort Lauderdale, we wanted to actually fly back to our town in central California instead of Long Beach. So, we rented a car one way from Avis. The hitch was that the only option was a premium car and there were four of us and a lot of luggage. We managed to cram all of it in the car, but it was a cramped five hour drive to the pier. Once we got there we could see the dock but could not find the entrance which is wedged between two larger roads and unmarked. Husband dropped us off at the pier and he returned the car to Avis in Long Beach (about a mile and a half away). He easliy caught a taxi and met up with us at the termina. The worst part of the trip was actually at the Long Beach Pier. What a dud! Not even a place to get a cup of coffee. The porters were nice, but the rest of the staff was bossy and not at all worthy of HAL. Once we got into the port building we were told to wait in a room and that embarkation was going to be delayed an hour. Since we were early, that meant two hours in this holding cell on uncomfortable chairs with a temperature around 50 degrees. It was so cold that I started to get the chills near the end. It would have been nice to have some hot water and tea bags and maybe a little sympathy from the staff. The reason for our detention was a CODE RED on the boat. This was due to intestinal flue. We were given the option of rebooking for another time, but after all we had gone through to get here (months of preparation and no Christmas decorations at home), we decided to risk it. Fortunately, no one in our party got sick. We did use a lot of hand sanitizer though! The worst part of code red on the boat was the temperature the boat was kept at. My daughter and I froze for most of the trip in most of the public areas. Pretty sad since we were going to warmer climates to get away from winter chill at home. We have cruised before and don't ever remember it being uncomfortable inside the ship. The boat was code red for the first week, which meant the buffet lines were manned by staff and even coffee was poured for you. This we liked. I have always disliked buffet lines where everyone touches the utensils or even the food. The Lido and pool area definitely were less tidy after the code red was lifted. Some folks complained because the spas were shut down during the first week, but we don't sit in chlorinated water so this was not an issue for us. If we had to pick out one compliment to give the cruise, it would have to go to the staff. Even though they were working overtime to keep things going, they always smiled and never missed a beat. Our room stewards were fantastic. Our dining staff was great also. About the dining, we were in open seating which was fine except that we never got to sit on the top floor of The Fontaine where the Rosario strings played. We ended up finding a table by a window that was a bit warmer than some and booked it for the entire trip at 8 pm. We liked this option and got to know the sommelier and wait staff because we were always there at the same time. The boat was decked out for Christmas and the food was fantastic, but New Years was the best. Christmas morning saw the arrival of Santa Claus and lots of special treats. New Year's dinner came complete with party hats and the party afterward was fun for those who like to dance and drink champagne. There were four formal nights and we made it to three of them. Most folks were dressed well and seemed to really enjoy being able to dine in class. We saw only one small child on the ship. There was a gaggle of teenagers that caused a bit of annoyance, but for the most part we just avoided the part of the pool area where they liked to run about. Our room was on the Dolphin Deck. We had adjoining ocean view rooms. There were no rooms across from us. We like the bottom level because there is usually less noise from the passengers. We had no real problems with the rooms and fortunately they each had their own thermostats! We do recommend the middle of the ship for getting away from the engine noise. The Amsterdam is in need of repair on the inside, but it is due to go into dry dock at the end of the world cruise it is on now. So any future cruiser would not see it the way we did. Even so, it was not too bad. The beds were great, but the showers cut in and out with the hot water and the windows were really badly scratched. We find there are always little annoyances when we travel and we just consider it part of the "charm" of being somewhere else. We ended our trip in Fort Lauderdale. Since our flight left at 4 pm, we chose to leave the boat late and there was no crowd or delay in finding our bags. We did not choose to have the ship transfer our luggage or arrange to take us to the airport. A porter helped us get our bags into a taxi and it took about 15 minutes to get to the airport. It was no muss no fuss. We were not crazy about the Fort Lauderdale airport, but that is not HAL's fault! Huatalco is not listed in the drop down box, but it was our second stop. Our experience here was an excellent example of how out of touch the shore excursion desk was throughout our trip. I mean do these people ever get off the boat and go to these places they are selling to us poor unsuspecting vacationers? Husband and Son had wanted to Scuba here but they waited too long to book the one private PADI certified diver shop that was near the boat. So they decided to go snorkeling at La Entrega. This was on the advice of the shore excursion folks. They also told us it would be fine to catch a local cab to get there (which it was). We made arrangements with our driver, Javier, to come back and pick us up in two hours. He was great and it cost us 30.00 total (we gave him a big tip). Daughter and I tagged along to sit on the beach. This was one overly crowded dirty beach. The snorkeling was OK, but the guys would not recommend you go out of your way to be there. We did have some mighty cold beer dripping with salt and lime that almost made the trip worthwhile. Since we like to see each stop, we are glad we went, but would not do it again if were returned to this port. It would be better just to relax on the boat. Just as an aside, we had thought about booking the sailing excursion since Daughter loves to sail, but the wind was not good and it would not have worked out this particular trip. Puerto Chiapas was our third stop. It is a brand new port that came complete with dancers and local shopping right at the pier. There wasn't a lot to see there so we hopped a bus for the local town of Tapachula. This is the worst place we have ever been. It was filthy with trash and sewage every where. It was wall to wall people and loud boom boxes around every corner. We could not wait to get back on the shuttle and get out of there. Wait we did though for almost an hour for our bus to return and it was very hot and humid. Stay in port or on the boat. Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala was next and what a great day this was. We toured the Filadelfia Coffee Estate. It was a long drive, but the bus was comfortable and guide very nice and easy to understand. The Volcanos are amazing. The coffee plantation is at 5000 feet. It was very interesting to see how they grow and process the coffee. It was great fun to sit under the trees and have home grown coffee and home made biscotti. After we purchased our coffee beans, we headed into Antigua for a little shopping and to a really nice Mexican hotel/restaurant for lunch (all part of the tour). We had the only real Mexican or Central American food on the entire trip. It was tasty and comfortable. The Jade Museum was fun also. This and cruising through the canal were the highlights of the trip. Fuerte Amador, Panama was next. Unfortunately, we were only here at night and made the mistake of taking the Colonial Panama by Night tour. This was a waste of 300.00. The bus had tinted windows, we could not understand the guide and, when we did get out, everything was closed. Oh and it was DARK. We should have put this together, but didn't. Maybe the guys at the shore excursion desk could have been a little more helpful?? The one interesting thing on the tour was in the financial district where they had miles of Christmas decorations. Lots of people were out walking among the decorations as Christmas music blared from speakers all along the way. It is always interesting to see how different people celebrate the holidays. The next morning was the cruise through the Panaman Canal. I was up before dawn and out on the deck to watch the ship cruise under (just barely) the Bridge of the Americas and stayed there until we finished going through the first lock. It is an amazing journey and one I am glad we took. That afternoon we sat on the promenade deck and watched in amazement as the ship went through the canal. The crew served us sandwiches and lemonade as we lounged. It was a wonderful day and the reason we took this cruise to start with. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Review of our Holland America Cruise on the Amsterdam from Dec. 2 to Dec. 23, 2009: I will use a 1 to 6 star rating system to match the ratings generally used in the industry. Typically, 5 stars are assigned to premium cruise lines and 6 ... Read More
Review of our Holland America Cruise on the Amsterdam from Dec. 2 to Dec. 23, 2009: I will use a 1 to 6 star rating system to match the ratings generally used in the industry. Typically, 5 stars are assigned to premium cruise lines and 6 stars are reserved for the luxury cruise lines. Food in the Main Dining Room (5 stars for the food, not the service); Executive Chef (Andreas Bruennet). Ingredients were excellent. Cooking: generally excellent. Fish dishes were superb; meats were generally tender. Sauces were varied and flavorful. Chef Bruennet was clearly very much on top of quality control in his kitchen. Service in the Main Dining Room (3 stars). Quality of service was highly varied. Some waiters were quite friendly and attentive, whereas others were extremely slow and almost appeared to be serving us grudgingly. The primarily elderly passengers of HAL prefer to dine very early, starting at 5 PM. So, the lower floor of the main dining room, reserved for "As You Wish" diners, tended to be only 1/3 full by 8:30 PM. For diners such as ourselves who attended the 7 PM show and began dining at 8 PM, the dining atmosphere in the main dining room left much to be desired. Waiters were busy clearing tables and preparing to close up -- not a very hospitable atmosphere for the diners who were left behind. This "efficient," though ungracious behavior of waiters was also evident during lunch hours and gave the appearance that they simply could not wait to get out of there. At lunch, waiters would commence cleaning and clearing up the dining room around 1:15 PM and appeared not to care about diners who wanted to converse and enjoy a leisurely lunch. I think these attitudes of the wait staff are emblematic of HAL service culture that I would describe as first and foremost efficient and economical and only secondarily guest oriented. Food, Buffet (2 stars): This was substantially inferior to the food in the main dining room. I would rate it as bordering on the inedible. I am not a fan of buffet fare, anyway, and skipped the main dishes and focused on salads. Salad ingredients were good; dressings were passable. Holland America needs to spend more money on ingredients and preparation of their buffet dishes, because they use port days as an excuse to close down the main dining room and the Pinnacle Grill for lunch, thus, leaving passengers very little choice of places for lunch. Once again, I would attribute the latter dining room/Pinnacle Grill closing policies of HAL on port days to their service culture that emphasizes efficiency and economy (including minimizing expenses), while sacrificing gracious and generous guest service. Specialty Restaurant -- the Pinnacle Grill (4 stars): Pinnacle Chef Shawn McKerness prided himself on his excessive uses of butter, cream, and oils. He made this clear at one of his cooking demonstrations. Additionally, he claims he can taste differences among salts and consistently and grotesquely over-salted his foods. I was amazed to find a chef in this day and age to be so woefully obtuse regarding health considerations in cooking. For example, my carrot/ginger soup was 2/3 cream; my mushroom soup was 3/4 cream. My steaks were so over-salted I could not eat them. In essence Chef McKerness has taken the very fine, standardized recipes of the Pinnacle Grill (that we have enjoyed repeatedly on various HAL ships) and wrecked them. HAL needs to really get on top of this situation. Times are changing and the well-informed segments of the public require high quality cuisine without undue reliance on oils, butter, cream or salts. Fellow Passengers (3 stars): I'd rate the socioeconomic standing of passengers as middle-class to upper-middle-class and somewhat lower than those we have encountered on Oceania, Azamara, or even Celebrity. Passengers on HAL tend to be elderly and probably have a mean (and median) age in excess of 70. From a practical standpoint, this means progress through the hallways or various travel lanes or waiting lines can be excruciatingly slow. However, we did meet quite a range and diversity of fellow passengers and tended to enjoy our interactions with them. The less healthy composition of elderly passengers may have contributed to an epidemic of GI virus on board the ship. During the last week of the cruise we were witness to, and unwilling recepients of, draconian measures by crew and staff who were trying to control this virus epidemic on board. Entertainment (5 stars): The resident orchestra and the Rotterdam Singers and Dancers were outstanding. Lounge performers were of average quality (3.5 stars). Dance music supplied at the Oceans Bar was almost depressing in tempo and selections. Excursions (3 stars): Pricy. One can easily do much better independently. Plus, in line with the HAL business- and money-oriented ethic, given a choice of ports, HAL will select the less attractive one within a radius of 20 miles to save on port charges and, quite possibly, to induce passengers to use their excursions to get out of these remote and inhospitable ports. My Complaints: The closing of the main dining room and Pinnacle Grill for lunch on all port days is a very serious limitation. This is getting to be a trend with cruise lines (I suppose as part of their cost-saving efforts) and is a real negative for us. If you don't go ashore on a port day or choose to go off in the afternoon, there is little to do anyway on the ship and the buffet leaves much to be desired. When you write your comment cards, please be sure to request that at least a small portion of the main dining room be kept open for lunch on port days. Cruise lines do respond when passengers consistently state their preferences. If passengers begin demanding (via their comment cards), more options for food at lunch time, or more varied activities throughout the cruise, some of those demands will eventually be met. Overall (4 stars), I think HAL is a good, but not a very good, cruise line. We now have cruised four times with HAL on four different ships. To use an alternative rating system, I'd give our first cruise with HAL on the Ryndam to Mexico a C+, our second cruise on the Zaandam to Hawaii a C, our third cruise on the Volendam an A (the high rating being largely due to an unusually warm and communicative captain and the itinerary on the Seattle to Auckland trip), and our fourth cruise on the Amsterdam a C+. Value (4.5 stars): Value is the overall rating in the preceding paragraph divided by cost. I think HAL provides above average value. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Amsterdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.0 4.1
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 4.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 4.0 4.0
Family 3.0 4.0
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.1
Enrichment 4.0 3.9
Service 4.0 4.5
Value For Money 4.0 4.2
Rates 4.0 4.2

Find an Amsterdam Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click