My wife and I boarded the Amsterdam for a 53 night Pacific cruise in Seattle, but little did we know that the first 5 days to San Diego was a “repositioning“ cruise, where instead of the $140 a night each that we were paying , others were paying $50 a night (they bragged it was cheaper than car hire!). We had arrived at Pier 91 at 12.10 pm and were on board by 1 pm. We had prebooked inside room 2600 on Main Deck and it was in a good central location, very adequate for our needs with excellent storage space. By the current map, it was also close to the laundry but when we boarded we found the laundry was no longer on Deck 2 but on Decks 3 and 6. There was only one powerpoint in the cabin so we hired a 6 plug powerboard from the front office for $25 (refundable at the end of the cruise). There is only an ice bucket but no fridge in the cabin however you can hire one, which does not fit into an existing cupboard so takes up a lot of floorspace. The TV movies were a good variety for the whole of the cruise but unfortunately the TV channels were stuck, again for the whole cruise, reporting on two people named Donald and Hillary.
On the first day they offered a laundry & pressing package of $318 for the whole cruise (about $6/day) and a Greenhouse spa and salon package for the whole cruise for $149/couple instead of $149/each/week. So we took both. These were only offered once so you need to read all your information carefully to take advantage of such offers. We also bought the Navigators Wine packages – we had reviewed the wines before we left home and there was no significant difference in quality between the Navigators and Admirals packages. It appeared to be an effort for the crew to get a bottle of wine from the Navigators pack if you weren’t in the main restaurant or were outside main restaurant hours, as that appeared to be where all the wines were stored. We also had a $100 drinks voucher, which was very handy for the daily happy hour (second drink for $1).
The cruise was primarily American passengers, then Canadian, German, some UK, 6 Aussies, a few French, a Swiss couple and a Dutch couple. One American lady told us she felt uncomfortable because she wasn’t used to cruising with so many foreigners! Another abused the McDonalds staff in Lautoka Fiji because they wouldn’t accept American dollars - hey, try paying at a McDonalds in the USA with Fiji dollars and see their reaction!
Tendering worked well most of the time with tender tickets collectable from 7.30 am. However the number of tickets you could collect was unlimited, which meant that if you collected say 20 “Tender 1” tickets on the first day for the 2 people in your cabin, you didn’t have to wake up early to line up again on subsequent days. HAL worked this out about half way through the cruise when there were not sufficient “1” tickets to fill a tender boat, so started issuing them from “20” (well done HAL!). The tender crews were great – a difficult job having to contend with the seas and putting up with ignorant idiots dangerously standing up before the tender docked.
Meals were very good, with the meats cooked the best on any ship we have experienced. On the whole, the evening menu in the Lido and the dining room were the same, with the added advantage in the Lido of being able to see what you were getting before choosing and also being able to have “a bit of this and a bit of that”. Most of the horde ate at 5.30 pm so by 7.30 pm in the Lido there was very little waiting in line and no having to book or waiting for a table in the main dining room.
One of the most annoying issues was sailing around the top of the Big Island to get to Hilo and then sailing back around the top of the Big Island to get from Hilo to Kona, thereby eliminating any chance of seeing lava flowing into the sea. To add insult to injury, the 8 pm announcement to tell us we were heading north not south said that the Noordam, which had been in Honolulu at the same time as us, did the southern route and saw the lava! Obviously their captain thought about his passengers more than ours did.
The ship’s singers and dancers were the best we had seen on any cruise ship and we never missed one of their shows. Great costumes and quick changes. Other headliners like pianist Van Ahn Nguyen, Annie Francis and the Unexpected Boys were brilliant. The local dancers from Suva, Bora Bora and Papeete were also unmissable. The Indonesian and Philippino crew shows were a hoot. In the bars, pianist and singer Paul C McD was our favourite.
We only missed one port – Alofi Niue –due to rough seas at the dock. Apparently this is a common occurrence and the best way to see the island is to fly in.
One night we got a phone call apologising for the inconvenience of the wet floor from a leak next door. We didn’t know about it and couldn’t feel it but the next day received an apology letter signed by all front office staff and a complimentary dinner at Canelettos. The front office staff were brilliant –especially Jill the trainee. My only real issue with the ship was reporting, on one of those “how are we doing?” forms, 10 lights out on the rear Lido Deck (making it difficult to eat your evening meal out there) and no lights on the Deck 9 walking area, which was dangerous at night. Nothing was done about this at all for the entire cruise. The overhead string lights were only put on once in the 53 days – in Bora Bora to impress the ‘Wind Spirit’.
The Remembrance Day/ Veterans’ Day ceremony was a credit to the Cruise Director Gene Young – a moving acknowledgment of service and sacrifice. Gene was a very amicable and competent Cruise Director – we’d definitely sail with him again.
Disembarkation was delayed because two selfish (non US) passengers would not present themselves to US Customs & Immigration on time, and hence the ship could not be cleared for one and a half hours whilst they tried to find them. I am sure people missed connections and tours because of their disregard for other guests and their blatant stupidity.
In regard to the lesser known ports we visited:
Fanning Island: this is a poor community but well worth the visit. The current through the passage was so strong one of the tenders broke down and had to be rescued. We wanted to see the Cable Station on the western island but they did not have sufficient fuel for the runabout to get us there. Indeed, the ship donated fuel to keep the school bus running until the next supply ship. Locally made souvenirs –for example shark’s tooth daggers and shell bowls - were good value and well made. A lovely, happy people.
Raiatea: we were fortunate to be there for one of the 4 days of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a outrigger races, and with front row seats from the decks of the ship. These annual races are held late October-early November.
Rangiroa: the main activities are the magnificent coral gardens (local tours on the dock $50 for 1 hour) and the pearl farm.
Fakarava: famous for its black pearls, with bargains at the dock. There is good snorkeling to the left and right of the dock, within level walking distance.
Nuka Hiva: We tendered to the dock just as the fisherman were cutting up their catch, including a 70 lb (could have been kg –it was huge anyway!) Groper! Famous for its wooden carvings. The cathedral is well worth the walk along the waterfront.
Good central location. Suitcases fitted under the bed. Plenty of storage space. Bathroom was small but adequate. The bed was comfortable and, being inside, the cabin was very dark at night which always gave us a good night's sleep. Air conditioning worked well and was adjustable. No fridge but the ice bucket was filled daily. Only one (US style) powerpoint but for a refundable deposit of $25 they supplied a 6 plug powerboard.