We are a retired couple in our mid 70's. We both enjoy cruising as our cruise record shows. This was our 72nd cruise in the last 15 years. I have had replacements on both of my knees, so I do not get about like I once did. We selected this cruise because it did not require a long plane flight to Europe like our cruise last fall.
THE CRUISE START This was a 56-day cruise, starting and ending in Ft Lauderdale, Fl. It was called the Mediterranean & North Africa cruise and is considered by Holland America a "Grand" cruise. There are many additional advantages to a Grand cruise. It is in the same category as a world cruise. Additional benefits are provided at no additional cost if the cruise is booked well before the cruise start date. These included $1,000 shipboard credit, prepaid gratuities, complimentary first class air, unlimited luggage delivery before and after the cruise, limousine transfers, four bottles of liquor and a pre-cruise hotel stay. After a mid-morning boarding for the flight from Los Angeles, we arrived in Ft Lauderdale in the early evening. Flying in first class makes a flight almost acceptable in these days of extra security. As out luggage had been shipped a week ago, we did not have the job of collecting all that luggage after the flight. Holland American representatives met us and very shortly took the seven couples out to pick up our stretch limousines. Each couple was transferred to a hotel in a limo.
Our hotel, Hollywood Beach Marriott, was right on the beach and was everything that you could desire. A Note on the luggage transfer program: The company contacts you well before the cruise to determine how many pieces you will have shipped. Then about a week before the cruise a truck came to pick-up our tagged luggage. I was somewhat concerned, as the driver did not have any paperwork to show that he had picked up our luggage, but they would not have known to come to our house if not sent by the company. So, I just thought that someone would enjoy our clothes if we did not receive them on the ship. On the morning of the embarkation, we had a leisurely breakfast and walked out to the beach for a while. It was at this time that the Holland America representative confirmed that we had been upgraded from our veranda cabin to a mini-suite. I had guessed that we had received an upgrade, as two days before leaving home I found our cabin open for purchase on the H/A web site.
We were scheduled to leave before 11:00am for the port. However the emigration personnel did not clear the ship until late morning. We had a long line of limousines waiting to take us to the port. We did not leave the hotel until after 1:00pm, and to get as many to the port as fast as possible, they loaded three couples into each limo. Then to make matters worse, the port was on elevated security, therefore, a long line of vehicles to be searched at the port entrance. We reached the terminal building only to find out that the check-in computers were not working. The boarding task was over two hours long. One of the worst embarkations that we have had, not a very good beginning to an excellent cruise.
We were shown to our cabin, #024 on the port side, which was ready at this late time in the afternoon. I told the cabin steward (Daniel) that two of our bags would be sent to our old cabin number, but one we were able to change the tag before leaving the hotel. The first bag did not arrive until just before dinner and the last one after 9:00pm. We did not go to the show, as we wanted to make sure that we received our luggage. Unpacking went very fast as we had just completed a 46-day cruise on this ship three months ago and were in a mini-suite. My wife knew just where to place all items. I had to talk to the wine steward about our liquor, as it did not arrive. He said that it was not delivered to our old cabin, as it had no one in it. After two days, we got everything straightened out. The mini-suite cabins are very generous in size. They have a two-room bathroom with doors into each room and a door between the rooms. However, there is only one medicine cabinet located in the room with the toilet. But, there is a hand sink in each room. The walk-in closet was small, but had room enough for 56 days worth of clothes. However it did not have any drawers, just shelves. It also had over 55 new wood cloths hangers with 20 containing pants clips. The TV was a 20-inch flat screen and a DVD player was also included. A change from the last fall cruise, there was no charge for movie DVD's. A good size safe with push button controls was provided. A small refrigerator was stocked with drinks, but you paid for soft drinks and water. These should be free for this class of cabin. A fruit basket was provided and restocked each day. Robes and two umbrellas were in the closet. The verandah was large (14.5 ft by 6.3 ft). but only contained two wicker chairs and a drink table. The chairs had seen much better days. The wicker was unwinding on the legs and the seats were broken out. Flower arrangements were provided three times during the cruise. There was a very nice built-in cabinet with large top surface that I used for my laptop computer to work on my pictures. It was right next to the window to the verandah, so had good lighting. It is a very nice cabin with good wood finishing, however the wood is showing its age, especially on the refrigerator door. This should be all corrected in the month long dry-dock in November.
SHIP CONDITION This ship is kept in excellent condition, considering that it was built in 1988. The teak decks were replaced a few years ago and are kept in excellent condition. A little known fact is that Captain Halle Gundersen was assigned by Royal Viking to oversee the design and construction of this ship. He continued as the Captain of the ship for a period of half year every year from then to the present throughout the ownership changes from Royal Viking to Cunard, then Seabourn and now Holland America. He hopes to retire while still Captain of the Prinsendam. Captain Gundersen is a very laid-back commander. When making his daily position and weather reports, he does not state "this is the captain speaking" but opens his announcement with "its just me again". While the ship operated as the Royal Viking Sun, it was consistently rated as the number one cruise ship by Douglas Ward. Since then the small ships of Silverseas and Seabourn as well as the luxury ships of Crystal and Regent Seven Seas have overtaken it. However, 20 years later as the Prinsendam, it is rated as the thirteenth best ship out of the more than 200 cruise ships currently sailing. Holland America has done a very good job of maintaining the ship and updating to current passenger desires. The fleet-wide "Signature of Excellence" cabin upgrades of thick mattress, high thread count sheets and large soft towels make sleeping a dream. Other ship changes were also great improvements, however one change made on all other Holland America ships was not made on the Prinsendam. The Java Cafe was retained, therefore the cappuccino and espresso is still at no charge. In addition, Holland America still provides ice cream in the afternoon and evening at no charge, not like Princess. Current movies presented several times each day in the Wajang Theater are a nice additional entertainment.
PORTS OF CALL This cruise had 30 port calls in 56 days. This is too many to describe in total, so will just cover those of major interest. Over all there were 3 ports in the Caribbean, 4 in the Atlantic Ocean, 4 in Africa and the majority in the Mediterranean. One nice fact on this cruise, we had only two ports where the tenders were required. In past years, we often walked the ports at our own pace. However, with my knee replacements, I do not walk as much now. If we know the port, we often take a taxi, but if the country is not safe, we stay in a group. However, the ship tours are often not as interesting as we desire, and they often put too many on each bus. But, our travel company is now providing port tours at a reduced price with better bus arrangements and up to a third of the seats not occupied. Our cruise host was excellent, however, she had 130 passengers booked on this cruise. Therefore, she had her hands full hosting the port tours. We went on ten tours with her, and they were all excellent. We only booked eight ship tours and the remainder of the ports we either stayed on the ship or just walked the town on our own. One advantage of a Grand cruise, the ship provided transfer buses to downtown in many of the ports. I will not mention the Caribbean ports as other cruisers have covered many of these ports.
Arrecife, Canary Island was a very interesting stop in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship did not provide this tour, but we had a tour provided by our cruise agent. It was a bus ride out to the Timanjaya National Park with a stop at the La Geria wine growing area. The "Lunar Route" ride through the National Park was outstanding. This is an area where several volcanoes exploded and left the island uninhabitable for several years. We transferred from our tourist bus into National Park buses for the over one hour tour of the craters, lava fields and ashes left from the 18th century eruption. The unique cultivation of the grape growing area was very interesting. There is such a high wind on the island that the grapes must be planted in deep holes to provide shelter from the winds. If you are ever on this island and the ship does not provide a tour, I would recommend that you arrange a private trip out to this area. For Banjul, Gambia and Dakar, Senegal in Africa we stayed on the ship. We had just been to these ports and many more in Africa on our 46-day cruise last fall. I will mention, that it seems that many cruisers will just not consider recommendations about care to be taken while in a port. The ship made strong recommendations that passengers not wear any jewelry or walk in groups of less that four while in these ports. People were injured when a necklace was ripped off their neck. We went ashore in many ports in Africa last fall without any problems. In fact, we always dress down for any port trip; this means no jewelry, simple clothing and no camera around the neck. If you try to blend in with the local people, you will most likely not have any problems.
Funchal, Madeira is always one of our desired port stops. The countryside is just outstanding and you should always take the basket sledge down to Livramento. This is something that you will not find at any other port stop. In Cadiz, Spain I was under the weather, so my wife took a very interesting tour provided by the ship. It went out to the Royal Andalusia School of Equestrian Art for horses. They gave a demonstration of the training given the horses which she said was outstanding. Barcelona, Spain has a new cruise terminal that is excellent. They also added a new high bridge that ships can pass under which leads directly into town. Our cruise agent gave us a free tour to the Chocolate Museum. This was not outstanding, but it is somewhat unbelievable the degree of representations made totally out of chocolate. Of course, seeing various buildings by Gaudi is always key when in Barcelona. Monte Carlo, Monaco was an outstanding stop. This because our ship was small enough to just fit into the city harbor. It took the Captain over a half hour to back our ship into the dock alongside a personal yacht. We have been here before but always had to stop at a port down the coast. We did not take a tour here as we had seen the sights before. But it was nice to walk off the ship directly in town and walk the local streets.
In Livorno, Italy our cruise agent had a tour to the Leaning Tower of Pisa & Livorno's Canals. We had been to the Leaning Tower before, however, due to the large number of tours now, the tour bus parking lot is a long walk from the site and there are now about five times the number of venders. However, the boat ride through the canals of Livorno was quite interesting. We were in Civitavecchia on Easter Sunday. As it was Easter and the fact that we have spent many days in Rome, We took a tour to the Italian countryside. One stop was at the Popes summer palace, which involved very steep walking from the bus stop.
Dubrovnik, Croatia was the start of the second segment of the cruise. Here we were in port with the Holland America "Amsterdam" which was on the world cruise. A big celebration was held on both ships with special speeches and parties. In Kerkira, Greece we went to the Achilleion Palace and Mon Repo Palace, These were interesting but not outstanding. Katakolon, Greece was much more interesting. We went to Olympia to the site of the first Olympic games. This was very interesting but involved a lot of walking. We were in Santorini, Greece nine days after the Greek cruise ship sank with the death of two passengers. We took a ship tour here, which was not outstanding. The only very interesting sight was the typical rounded architecture of local homes and the white and blue paint used everywhere. Also, we had the new Princess ship in port on her maiden voyage with, it seemed like, about 3,000 Oriental passengers on board. This is a very mountainous island with limited methods to leave and return to the tender port. It also involves a lot of walking to reach your selected method down to the tender port. We left early to try to beat the hordes.
In Kusadasi, Turkey we of course went to Ephesus. We had been there before, but it is always a great sight. To our regret, our tour did not include the new terrace house section, which had opened after our last visit. Piraeus, Greece lead us to the Corinth Canal to see this very unused canal these days. Heraklion, Greece and Valletta, Malta were also ports we had visited before. Ceuta, Spanish Morocco was a big surprise. I expected a dirty Morocco city, but found a very clean and interesting town. We did a good amount of shopping in the very good, and cheap, stores in this town. Ponta Delgada, Azores was a pleasant surprise. The countryside is outstanding, however, it was somewhat diminished for us due to cloudy weather with some rain. Hamilton, Bermuda is always a pleasure. To dock directly downtown and to walk this clean and interesting town is a joy. We did not take a tour as we have done that before. The stop at New York was uneventful, as we have sailed out of there many times.
DINING Dining in the evening in the LaFontaine Dining Room is still the traditional two seating, fixed seating arrangement. There are two sections to the room. The main room is at the stern of the ship with a smaller room on the starboard side and mid-ship. The room is very formal in design and is reasonably quiet unless you have a loud table next to you. I had requested a table for four, but found we were at a table for eight. The first evening there was just one other couple at the table. I thought that the others were tired and were not coming to dinner. After three nights with just the four of us at the table, I realized that we did have a table for four; it was just a large table! The ship was only 80 percent full on this cruise, so the dining room was not full. I am a vegetarian, so I always ask to talk to the headwaiter for our section. I ask to see the menu for the next day, and if not interested in the selection, I request something different. I asked our headwaiter for a copy of the vegetarian menu. He said that they did not have such a menu. I said that was funny, as just three months before on this ship they had one. All of our ships have always had one on our previous 26 cruises on Holland America. Two nights later he presented a folder with the full menus for the first 28 days of the cruise. This became awkward to review when I desired something different, so I just started to ask for items that I liked. After three weeks, he asked if I had anything special that I liked. I said yes, however Holland America never prepared it correctly. I told him that I liked eggplant, but well breaded thin slices and quick fried, not baked as always prepared on the ship. It turned out that he prepared eggplant this way at home. So, he went to the chef and showed him how to prepare eggplant. We had platter of excellent eggplant for everyone at the table many times during the cruise. If there is something that you would like on this ship, just ask for it. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido Restaurant. The selection was always good and items were prepared when requested, not held on a steam table or under a heat lamp. In fact, at breakfast the person making toast to order always watched the door at the other end of the Lido and would have my toasted bagel ready by the time I picked up my breakfast food. Needles to say, several crewmembers received extra tips on this cruise. We did not eat at the "Pinnacle Grill at the Odyssey" on this cruise except for the lunch hosted by the Captain. The food is always excellent and the service even better, but the current price of $30 is excessive in my view. The majority of nights the restaurant was not even half full.
ENTERTAINMENT The Queen’s Lounge is the location for the evening entertainment. There were 35 different entertainers during this cruise. All but one was excellent. During the first segment we did not have even one juggler, comedian or magician. The vocalists and instrumentalists were much better than on most Holland America cruises. The production shows were excellent. While we were in Dubrovnik, we exchanged production cast members with the Amsterdam. So we had new production shows during the second cruise segment. The orchestra leader was the best that I have seen on any ship. Even the entertainers commented that the rehearsals took only half the time required on other ships. We were happy to find that Peter Daems was still on the ship as the cruise director. He is within the top four best cruise directors that we have had on cruise ships. He is from Holland and has been a cruise director for ten years. After this cruise he was leaving the ship to go home to prepare for his wedding to an American woman in June. He may not come back as a cruise director.
DISEMBARKATION A representative from the company shipping our luggage home joined the ship five days before the end of the cruise. This allowed plenty of time to meet with him to verify the shipping arrangements. We always travel light on a cruise. We joined the cruise with three suitcases. But, we left the ship with five pieces of luggage. This was caused by Holland America, not our excessive purchasing of gifts. As this was a Grand cruise, we found new gifts from the ship on our bed every few days. These included a cruise journal, letter writing kit, a large pictorial guide book on Greece, a large dish for each cruise segment, special decorative coffee mugs, special commemorative tiles and the usual ship tiles. Of course, these were given to each passenger, so there were two of everything all in protective shipping packaging. We were beginning to run out of shelf space to store everything in the cabin. There was no way that it would fit into our suitcases. Holland America was aware of this, so they provided each passenger with a roll-away suitcase. These were almost filled when we left the ship. They were very nice pieces with many zipper compartments. However, they were too long to qualify as a carry-on for plane travel. We were docked in Ft Lauderdale early Monday morning at 4:30am. There was only one other cruise ship in the port. We were the second group called for disembarkation. We quickly located our luggage, obtained a porter and went out to the truck receiving the luggage. The porter made sure that the luggage was loaded into the truck and we walked a short distance to the fleet of stretch limos. A quick ride to the airport and check-in to first class. All this in less that half an hour, the fastest we have ever gotten off a ship and to the airport. Then a four-hour wait for out flight, as I never schedule a morning flight on disembarkation day. It was real nice to not have luggage to carry and check-in at the airport. We arrived home and my wife had a nice break as she did not have suitcases of dirty laundry to wash as soon as we were home. One week later the luggage was delivered to our door without any damage to suitcases or contents.
SUMMARY A Grand cruise on Holland America is the way to go if you can spend that amount of time. Or you can take a segment of a Grand cruise; you will not receive all of the extras, but have the improved entertainment and ship board activities. However even a segment will be between 20 and 35 days long. Also consider having your luggage shipped ahead of the cruise. If the cruise starts and ends in the US, it will cost about $100 for 100 pounds but is well worth it. We were so impressed with this cruise that we booked a 65 day Grand cruise for the fall of 2008 to circle the Pacific Ocean. Again this cruise does not require a long plane flight, as it leaves from Seattle Wa. And returns to San Diego, Ca.