Holland America Rotterdam Review

Great ports; new clean ship with good service and food

Review for Norwegian Fjords Cruise on Holland America Rotterdam
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Donna S Maryland
10+ Cruises • Age 50s

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Sail Date: Jul 2023

Overall, our muti-generational family of 6 enjoyed our 14 day Norway cruise from Amsterdam. The Rotterdam ship is new and has lots of nice decor and is laid out well. We used just about every area at some point (except the casino, kids clubs, and game room) and thought they were all great spaces. There was a good variety of activities each night and during the five sea days. There is an indoor and outdoor pool/hot tub area - the outdoor area being 18+. The sports areas were well equipped and always clean (shuffleboard, basketball, pickleball, and soccer). We loved that the tables at the outside pool deck had overhead heaters for the chillier times. There was even a running track (separate from the promenade deck for walking) and outdoor exercise equipment. We had the Have It All promotion, which included the drink package, surf wi-fi, one dinner each at Pinnacle Grill & Tamerind, and $200 credit toward ship excursions. Not being big alcohol drinkers, we were pleased that smoothies, milkshakes, and specialty coffees were included in the drink package. The wi-fi was decent, though it did continually drop as you moved around the ship and then you had to reconnect - this seemed to be worse for the Andriod users than for iPhone users in our group. The surf wifi was only applicable for two simultaneous devices per cabin, so we did have to coordinate usage between people and devices. While we did love the concept of the Navigator app (which works for all passengers, regardless of your wifi package status), the constant disconnecting was annoying. Suggestions for app improvement 1) a way to set up a group chat and 2) ability for all cabin occupants to see the cabin statement (only passenger #1 can see this).

Two ports on our cruise (Bergen and Stavenger) had pier locations that were quite a long walk from the city centers. Our Stavenger port actually got changed to Sandes, which was in an industrial area away from Sandes city center and then required a train to get to Stavenger. There was a shuttle offered from Pier to Sandes, for $15 per person extra, which seemed ridiculous as HAL should have provided free shuttles into town in our opinion, especially considering the average age of the passengers on this cruise.

No maps for the ports were offered by HAL. They seem to assume that everyone has access to online maps or is just taking a HAL shore excursion. We attended all of the port talks and viewed the port videos available on the stateroom TV, and while there was some interesting information, it would have been beneficial to have more practical, logistical information about how to get around (or into) the towns.

Cabin Review

Port Reviews

Eidfjord

In the morning, we got off the ship and walked around town, including a walk up to a great overlook where we had great views of the town and fjord (you can also take the trolltrain to this viewpoint, if you prefer not to walk, but we loved walking through the streets of town). The, in the afternoon, we did the 3 hour Go Fjords Voringfoss and Hardanger Nature Center Tour: Booked this independent tour online about 6 weeks in advance as a port day excursion on our cruise. The bus came on time and was easy to find just beside the tourist information center by the Pier in Eidfjord. While this was supposed to be an electric bus, we were told that bus was having issues, so a gas bus was substituted. The bus was comfortable and clean. The driver was very nice. Note that there is not a typical tour guide on the bus, just the driver. He plays a pre-recorded audio tape during the drive which provides some general information about the town and surroundings that you pass through. The audio on our tour was only in English. The tour was exactly to the itinerary, with two stops. First stop was the Hardanger Nature Center. Entrance fee was included with the tour and we had 1.5 hours to browse the nice exhibits at our own pace and watch the film. There is a gift shop, bathrooms, and cafe...which has a grass roof complete with goats. The museum exhibits are nicely done displays in English and Norwegian, with some interactive displays. The museum is not large, we felt we had an appropriate amount of time there. The movie is very nice, so be sure to catch that. Second stop was the Fossli Hotel and Voringfoss waterfall, where we had 50 minutes. Unfortunately, there was lots of fog/clouds there so we could barely see the actual waterfall, but could hear it roaring. We had enough time to walk over the new steel bridge, but there are lots of steps which could be a bit challenging for some. There are also observation platforms closer to the hotel with fewer steps. We had just enough time for a quick visit to the separate gift shop, but did not go into the actual hotel. Scenery along the drive was nice. Overall, a good way to get out of Eidford for 3 hours to see these two places, and much cheaper than the same shore excursion through the ship.

Skjolden

Adventure Tours Electric Bike Rental: We independently reserved four electric bikes about 3 months in advance for our port day in Skjolden. Good thing we did pre-book, as we heard them tell others who walked up that all of their bikes (electric and not) were reserved for the day. In addition to bike rentals, the company also does kayak rentals as well as guided bike, kayak, and RIB tours and are located midway between town and the ship pier along the water. We received helmets and bike lights and were helped with seat height adjustments by the very nice staff. Note that there were no baskets or water bottle holders on the bikes, but each of them had a small platform over the rear wheel with bungee cords that could hold some items...otherwise bring a backpack to wear. We were fortunate to have a beautiful partly sunny day. We biked the Romantic Road along the fjord, which was an amazing experience. The motor road that you bike on is narrow with little to no shoulder, but there was not a lot of vehicle traffic and if a wider truck passed us, we either slowed down a lot or just stopped for them to safely pass. Going through the three tunnels was a great experience, but note that there are no lights in the tunnels, only the bike lights and those weren't incredibly big or bright - we road slowly with our lights pointed down in order to see the white line on the edge of the road. The road itself has a few nice rolling hills, which offers some amazing scenery along farm land, houses, creeks, and the fjord. Two of our group did the full round trip 60km to the Urnes Stave Church and the other two did round trip 40km to just past the Fiergvoss waterfall, including doing the hike up to the waterfall. Because we were limited by the ship port time, there was not time to do both the church and the waterfall hike. There is a nice Cafe at the road by the waterfall for refreshments with public toilets also there by the car park for the waterfall, which is 16km from Skjolden. This was our first time using e-bikes, and we were worried about running out of battery, based on the instructions from the shop that if we stayed in the lowest level (Eco), we would have enough battery to make it to the church and back. But, only using Eco made some of the hills pretty difficult for us non-bikers. We only tried the other levels (tour, sport, and turbo) on our return, which made the hills MUCH easier and would have saved us some time and maybe we could have explored even more. All of our batteries were still at over 50% charged when we returned them.

Honnigsvag

RIB King Crab Safari (HAL cruise excursion): We booked this as a 3.5 hour shore excursion with our Holland America cruise ship well in advance of our sailing. Luckily, we had partly sunny weather for a smooth and beautiful excursion. We were met by two representatives from Destination 71 Degrees North at the pier, where we walked to their nearby office. At the office, we were given waterproof, thermal jumpsuits for the ride. Note that these can be very warm on a warm day, and you can leave layers at the office on a nice day. Also note that bags/purses are discouraged on the boats, but can also be left at the office. There are pockets in the jumpsuits to accommodate a few small items. We all wore shoes that could get wet, but on this calm day, there was no splashing. Once our suits were on, we had to walk to the center dock in town for the boats, which was a decent walk made a bit more complicated by the bulky suits. Once there, we boarded the RIB which requires stepping over the rubber sides and then mounting a seat which is a high saddle style seat that is a little awkward to sling your leg over, but once seated is really comfortable and sturdy. The day of our tour, one of their boats was out of commission, so our group was split up into two groups of 12 and taken around the bay separately. This added some waiting time to the tour, as the one boat was continually going back and forth. The ride itself was quite fun, but not too long. We reached a picturesque fishing village where there was a restaurant. Our guide took a king crab from a tank and let us each hold it for pictures, as desired. Then, she shared information about the crabs, the crabbing industry, the local community, and the Honningsvag area. She answered all our questions, then demonstrated how the crabs are killed and cut up. After this, we were escorted into the restaurant and provided a table with water, bread, and a huge delicious tray of King Crab (it is served cold with lemon wedges, as is the traditional Norwegian way). Our group of six were not quite able to finish, as the portion was very generous. There are restrooms at the restaurant and beautiful views. We did have to wait quite a while for the boat to return for us, but we enjoyed the beautiful day and our guide spoke to us about her family's history. On the way back to town, we stopped at a crab pot, which she pulled up to show us, but there were no crabs in it yet. Once back to the harbor, we repeated the walk back to the office to return our suits and gather our belongings. Overall, we enjoyed the fun of the RIB ride, the delicious lunch, and all of the interesting information on this tour.

Andalsnes

Romsdalseggen Intro Wall with Norway Mountaineering: My 17 year old son and I independently reserved a Noon guided intro wall via ferrata two months in advance of our port day on a cruise. The Norsk Tindesenter (Mountaineering Center) is right at the pier in town, in a beautifully designed building. We checked in and were given our climbing harness and helmet. Note that gloves are required (I had purchased some belaying gloves on Amazon to bring with me), but they also have gloves there that you can buy and keep. Shoes with a good hiking tread are essential, but they also have hiking boots there that you can rent. There were five guests in our group and our guide was Jorund. Bring a backpack with water and to store extra layers of clothes suitable for the weather. We were fortunate to have a partly sunny day and were actually hot during the climb, but at the top of the mountain, it was cooler, so we were glad for the additional layer. You can have a cell phone or camera, but it needs to be in a zippered pocket - otherwise, you will drop it. Might also be good to have a strap on it for when you are at places where you can get it out for use. Even though this is called the intro wall and does say that it is for beginners, this is not easy. I am 56 and in decent shape, but this was very challenging for me. Some good upper body strength and leg strength & flexibility is required. If you are scared of heights, this is not for you. There is a combination of metal rungs, boards, small metal footholds, rock edges, and belay rings that you will be using as both hand and foot holds. My biggest struggle was that I am only 5'1" and not the most flexible of my life and there were at least 3 places where I really had a hard time as the metal assistants were just too far apart for me to reach. I did lose my foothold at one of these and I did fall, but the safety harness and equipment worked exactly as it is supposed to, allowing me to only fall a few feet and I was easily able to reach back on to the metal trail. I had a couple of small cuts and bruises, but was able to keep going to finish. Jorund was amazing, very encouraging and supportive to everyone in our group. He told us stories about being a guide and his life in Norway and was all around a great guide that made all of us feel comfortable. He did use a rope to assist me in two of the difficult places for me. My son had no difficulties and loved his experience. The scenery from everywhere along the climb was amazing and there were plenty of places to safely take pictures. The guided part of the climb takes you a little bit more than halfway up the mountain where there is then a short hike to then reach the main hiking trail that goes from town to the top gondola station. You have a choice of walking back down with the guide to the mountaineering center (45 minutes), or you can elect to continue on your own up the trail. Note that you must take your helmet and harness with you to turn back into the mountaineering center. My son and I did elect to continue up the trail, where we went to the Rampestreken Viewpoint on the way up and then to the to the gondola station (took us an hour total), had a snack from the Cafe there, then took the gondola back down to town. This was a steep hike with lots of steps, and we were already tired from the climbing, but we were still happy we did the extra hike up. The gondola station in town is next door to the Mountaineering Center. Overall, this was a great experience, and I am proud of myself for trying it and completing it (with a little assistance, thanks to Jorund). Just make sure you are fully aware of what this entails before signing up.

Sandnes

Pulpit Rock Hike: I reserved a guided trip as a cruise excursion about 3 months prior to the cruise, and am glad that I did because it did sell out. There were 3 buses from our Holland America ship. This is an all day excursion and yes, there are private tours to get there (such as with Go Fjords), but since this was such a long tour, I wanted the extra security of 1) being able to get off the ship on time and 2) the tour returning to the ship on time. I was also the only member of my family doing this hike and liked the thought of being with other passengers from my cruise. The bus ride there takes about an hour (each way) and the scenery through town and country is interesting. The guide related some great information about the area along the way. We also got to go through the longest traffic tunnel in the world (14km). A box lunch was provided – a delicious turkey sandwich, apple, brownie and a bottle of water. This can be a difficult hike depending on your athletic abilities and comfort levels and anyone considering doing this should research the trail to make sure that they are comfortable with the challenge (there are several great videos on YouTube). Good hiking shoes are a must as the majority of the trail is on large rocks. I did not use hiking poles, but there were several folks on the trail that did use them. There were also many more dogs than I expected, several of which did not seem to be enjoying their experience. There are a few sections that are over wooden bridges or wooden walkways and also there are sections that are dirt and tree roots. There is a significant elevation change, though there are ups and downs as well as some, thankfully, flat sections that serve as a nice break from the more strenuous sections. The terrain is very uneven. This is an incredibly popular trail, and there are some narrow sections where only one way traffic can pass...have some patience. Though total round trip distance is only 4.7 miles, don't underestimate the added challenge of the elevation gain plus the uneven terrain. As a rule of thumb, allow yourself 2 hours to reach the top. The return may take just as long getting back because while it is more downhill, the descent is hard on the knees and you will most likely be slowed down by other hikers in the more narrow sections. Unfortunately, the day of my hike was rainy with a couple of short periods of hard rain, but also a little sun and a lot of light rain. With good tread on my shoes, the wet rocks were not too slippery, but I did witness several people slipping. The non-rock parts were very muddy and there were several run off streams crossing over or flowing along the trail. At the summit, I could not see the Fjord below, as there was very thick cloud cover. But, I still enjoyed the challenge of the hike, seeing the beautiful surroundings along the trail, and seeing the plateau itself. And, once my shoes soaked through, it was even fun (and freeing) to cross the creeks. There are toilets, a cafe, a visitors center, and gift shops at the trail head, by the parking lot. There are no other facilities once you start the trail and signs everywhere pleading to leave no trash or any other solid waste on the trail.

Lerwick (Shetland Islands)

Did an amazing independent, private tour with Scenic Shetlands, which was arranged months in advance over email. After initially missing them at the pier (customs and tendering took longer than we expected to get off the ship), we were whisked away in a very nice, roomy, clean van that was plenty big enough for the 6 of us (plus guide and driver). They listened to what we wanted to see and made sure we got to everything. We went south to see the lighthouse and the very cool puffins. We also had a great lunch (price not included) at a local restaurant. We went to great a croft museum, then went to Skalloway to see the castle, shetland ponies, and museum. And, we even stopped by the driver's own croft to feed some lambs and see the greenhouses. We saw a lot of great scenery along the way, watched a plane land at the airport, learned about the island and the residents, and had lots of laughs. Our family really enjoyed this island and the tour.

Trondheim

We elected not to take any excursions or tours at this port, but instead just got off the ship and walked around town. We had a great lunch at an asian/sushi restaurant at the town square, visited several antique & second hand shops, and picked up some souvenirs. We toured the cathedral and visited the old town area. Very walkable town.

Amsterdam

We spent 2 days pre-embarkation in Amsterdam. Flew into Amsterdam airport and took the express train to Centraal Station. Stayed conveniently near Centraal Station at Inntel Hotels (great location and good value for Amsterdam). We visited the Anne Frank House, the Rembrandt House & Museum, and took a great breakfast canal boat tour with Captain Dave's (he even took us to see our ship, which had just came into port). Walked all over the city center and also took a metro train to tour the Johan Cruijff Arena. We enjoyed dinners at Days Stone Grill and Sapore Italian. Took a taxi from hotel to port, very easy.

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