Summary: We found the Koningsdam a very happy ship with crew who are engaging and working very hard with and for you to make your cruise enjoyable. We do like the ship and size and overall do not feel that it is too big and ‘feel’ the ... Read More
Summary: We found the Koningsdam a very happy ship with crew who are engaging and working very hard with and for you to make your cruise enjoyable. We do like the ship and size and overall do not feel that it is too big and ‘feel’ the crowds, except embarkation/disembarkation and on peak times in the Lido (as discussed many times previously by other reviews). We felt high numbers of tourists also at several touristic destinations and this had also an influence on our own visiting experience. For example by trying to place orders on busy side walk cafés or simply just to walk around (more details per destination).
May I add that we remain surprised that cruise passengers felt the urge to cut into lines during peak times and during disembarkation. When the gangway entrance was roped off so that a proper line was formed, passengers trying to cut lines and even dare to jump over the rope in order to save waiting time. Front office staff had to step in to sort out and even needed to police persons and shout at them to behave properly.
This review is focused on not so common review topics and hope this way to add other information other topics than usually reviewed:
Route/Voyage: this route of 12 days is offered less often as the sailing is set from Rome to Amsterdam along European ports which are frequented less often with stops in Barcelona, Valencia, Cartagena, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon, Vigo, Cherbourg and Zeebrugge. As only 2 sea days were included, we decided that in some ports we would not travel far away and to stay within the town of the port. We do not purchase ship’s excursions, simply because we want to experience the visiting destinations as much as possible. Sometimes we included some shopping but please remember that most Mediterranean family shops will close for lunch somewhere between 13.00 – 16.00 hours, unless they only focus on tourists. Department stores as El Corte Inglés will remain open during the entire day.
Passengers: there was a great mix of nationalities and I believe the mix due was extra diverse due its unique route. Along passengers from North America, who were being still in the majority, a large group of Australian (400 persons), Asian and European passengers were cruising along, which makes the atmosphere on board vibrant & alive.
Instead of putting your luggage away yourself at the dock, we asked help from the porter service, which prevented us to joining a queue and save some time. We are 3 star mariner and received a check in and boarding number 2. As we arrived at the terminal 11.15 hours, we actually could check in right away and waited 15 mts to board. The terminal in Civitavecchia is a makeshift terminal/tent and there is no bridge to the ship. Because it rained and there is no cover walking on to the ship, umbrellas were provided to walk over to the ship.
Food & Beverage/Dining: Tamarind is always really very nice and still our favourite, its location is on deck 10 aft with pool and wake views and such gracious service: surprisingly never too busy, while you are treated very royally and the ship’s best food is served?! Is the US$ 25 surcharge an obstacle or is Pan Asian cuisine more unknown than the Pinnacle Grill with a similar surcharge? MDR service and food was excellent, many waiters/waitresses showed a funny & kind personality inter-acting with the guests! At the Lido the staff tries so hard to cope with the high demand on peak times but due to its design, it is very challenging to provide excellent service. On top of that the Lido dining chairs weigh so much, you hardly can slide a chair in/out underneath of the table, which makes it clumsy for buffet style restaurant, where need to go quickly in/out of a table many times during your meal. For breakfast we returned to the same buffet corner where the same culinary staff was cooking. They remembered our preferences and had them ready when we would walk up. Our ‘secret’ and more quiet lunch place became the NY Deli & Pizza (deck 10), where there was hardly any wait for sandwiches, pizza’s or even salads, all freshly made within minutes. I sneaked in the Dive In to collect some French fries to eat along (it is a vacation after all!). When I went for an ice-cream, I happily paid extra at Gelato (US$ 2.00 for 3 scoops) but there was no sugar free ice-cream available. So I decided to try the normal icecream at the Lido on another day. Lido offered no-sugar-added ice-cream for free. Dutch Grand Café: a nice solution for little snacks or coffee in a pleasant setting. Along the snacks offered also some typical Dutch delicacies. Coffee is differently made here (much stronger) and to our taste, the coffee on Explorations Café was the best, as the milk is foamed by steamer by hand versus any other heated milk coming out of any machine.
Our sommelier recommend the “Wine Maker’s Dinner” served in the Culinary Arts Centre at US$ 89 p.p. (incl. no extra 15% service charge): it is a 7 course dinner with matching (Chateau Ste. Michelle) wines ánd upon arrival an additional alcoholic based aperitive. Two remarks only: too much alcohol offered, (yes I know it supposed to be wine-pairing, but how much can you take even on a vacation?) and why are all Chateau Ste. Michelle wines require blending to make/become a drinkable wine?
Last but not least two special treats: on the second Sea Day a delightful & complete afternoon tea was served with live music in the Queen’s Lounge, waiters decked out in white dinner jackets with white gloves and re-appeared in the late evening with little chocolate treats on deck 2 in the Music Walk area (so much better than these chocolate fountains). And because it was Mother’s Day on disembarkation, all women received a little chocolate treat to take home at the exit.
Bars & Lounges: visited Ocean Bar and Crow’s Nest mostly for drinks, tried also Panorama Bar (no atmosphere). Staff was great & friendly, remembered favourite drink orders and offered little hors d’oeuvres. If you order a tomato juice than the bar will charge you differently (juice US$ 3.00) than when ask them to add tobacco and angostura bitter (cocktail virgin mary US$ 9.00, which is the same price incl. wodka). However the mocktails are only priced around US$ 5.00.
Behind the scenes ship’s talk and/or walk: Captain Darin Bowland and Hotel Director Charles Verwaal presented at the second Sea Day a talk in the theatre more background about the ship & staff. These two gentlemen were great speakers and shared very interested details but also entertained us in a gracious and sometimes funny way. Both Captain & Hotel Director left the ship in Amsterdam: Captain Bowland will dedicate his time now only on the Nieuw Statendam, as he has the experience with delivering the Koningsdam.
The singers & dancers also held with Cruise Director Ben Yates in the same day a talk about the shows in the morning, held also at the theatre and provided inside information how shows are put together and offered a behind the scenes back stage.
Spa: although the massage treatment I was provided for in a very professional way, the bill ended up with an amount of US$ 200 (incl. service charge): this is really excessive! The Spa refuses to accept treatment less than 70 minutes and focus on hard-selling treatment for 70 or preferably 90 minutes only! During the entire cruise at the Lido pool is a Spa promotion booth located and there always were at least 3 Spa attendants present trying to push Spa services (no wonder?!).
Sailing with open forward deck 5: on some sailings towards the destination and its arrival in port, forward deck 5 was opened (with a jacuzzi) and provided excellent views. Also staff was present to sell some beverages and offered a mimosa (US$ 3.00) during lunch time.
IT and WiFi: The Navigator app works and WiFi work well around the ship until one evening IT problems arose where the entire ship did not function with IT related services. The entire crew had to adjust from working with PCs (reception) or tablet typing orders (restaurants & bars) to traditional paper & pen. In fact the captain delayed the ship’s departure for a few hours as IT needed to work properly in the outlets and on the bridge before we could leave port properly. WiFi worked again and on the last day before embarkation a similar IT problem occurred and the Navigotor app became unavailable along with the bill printer services in the main lobby. Staff could access the bills fortunately via their own system.
Entertainment: each ‘entertainer’ works very hard to play live and perform: whether it was classical music, piano music, band related, or singing/dancing, it was always well presented by energetic talented people. The number ship’s shows on our 12 days journey existed of a total of 6 ship’s productions (incl. the first show which introduces the passengers to all different entertainment during the voyage). These shows are supported by pre-recorded music and/or a live band plays and of course the Planet Earth II show with all musicians playing live during the special created film. On 5 other nights guest stars presented themselves on stage with comedy, music or illusion. Personally we enjoy best the ship’s shows as these are more vibrant but that is a personal preference. The theatre seating capacity does not reflect the need & interest of the passengers: some shows are offered 3 times and others 2 times where one time the theatre is overflowing and passengers are sent way as there no seats left and other times the theatre has many empty seats. Personally we think it has to do not only with the interest but also if there are early excursions planned the next morning? During some shows (dancing) the full stage is used and for other shows the extra round piece of stage is taken away and extra seats are placed instead. The led wall enhances the performances especially the ship’s shows make full use of it. We were not impressed with the British Cruise Director Ben Yates, he needed to read out special messages or share information/update messages from a piece of paper while addressing the passengers seated in the theatre prior/post a performance in the theatre. Also many times he would express his mood and say many times “Good Stuff”. Personally I believe that such comments can be shared in a pub surrounded with your local mates in Great Britain, but it do not reflect the grandeur the elegant Koningsdam ship.
Disembarkation: it was not a pretty sight where too many passengers trying to walk off and it seemed nearly all at once. Not all passengers are as well behaved as explained before. Nevertheless it was a nice cruise.
Ports of call:
We arrange our own transport and hardly use ship’s excursions as besides the financial advantage, it provides a fun way of learning more and engaging with the locals. As a European citizen I have access to data on my mobile phone and although I looked up many public transport possibilities in advance, via the infamous google search engine I can look up in most destination the current timing of local transport and how I can walk the rest of the journey on foot.
Barcelona: we bought entrée tickets with a confirmed slot time to the Picasso Museum and unfortunately the museum closed that day due to a strike. We took the port shuttle from the ship’s D terminal (€ 5 p.p.) to the World Trade Centre. Inside the terminal these tickets were sold by an independent company and were using brand new busses. From WTC it is walking distance to Ramblas and other attractions. We took bus D20 with a stop around the corner and leaving every 15 minutes and 6 stops to Pla de Palau and then another walk into the Gothic district. We stayed & enjoyed in the Gothic district and eventually walked back all the way to WTC (via Ramblas). Ramblas (and the city in general) is getting very overcrowded, if you walk the smaller side streets, you will see more of the true city. Barcelona overall is overcrowded with tourists and local people are also getting fetup with tourism and it can show.
Valencia: transport from the port is also selling here tickets for an independent shuttle from the port to city centre (€ 10 p.p.) but as the price of local taxis is not too high and the distance is reasonable, you can also skip the long queue (buying tickets from one window) and pay about € 9,00 one way, it is no brainer! Valencia is the inventor of the paella and many local restaurants gladly serve you individual portions and you are obliged to order one large pan for the entire table. The terminal could not handle well the volume of passengers either. Oceania Riviera was docked too and when all passengers were returning, it was too much and long lines appeared quickly.
Cartagena: we docked as the only ship and walked into town and all is walkable. Koningsdam was the only ship and immediately the experience becomes a different. There is a Roman theatre opposite the port, which you can see a little from the steps opposite the port (for free), or walk into the museum (for a fee). The town hall is a beautiful building and provides tours during the day incl. Saturday. Great local shops with excellent bargains (clothes) and offer that when a large cruise ship is town, most shops will remain open. Everywhere are dotted around little restaurants and outside terraces. There is a tourist bus service which drives around from the street across the port to some of the highlights around the town and next to this bus stop is also a train (pulled by a car) offering a route focused more in the city centre. The tour of the bus a bigger/longer and also stops 2X where you are able to get off to have look. The second stop takes you to a lovely little beach. Make sure of the frequency of the next service! As our day stop was on May 5, a Fiesta was held and the twon was buzzing due to little street festivals (music along with food & drink stalls) and the locals were all dressed up in stunning dresses and suites. You really had the feeling that the locals welcomed the passengers and looking back, this became the best port experience from this cruise as it was real and unique.
Gibraltar: we took the local bus #3 to the cable car. The bus stop is walking distance from the port, passing the statue with passengers & luggage. Bus #10 also goes there. Bus fare can be bought in Euros or Pounds inside the bus and it a day ticket costs very little. Outside the terminal plenty of taxis offer a service to drive you up/down and there is also a tour agent selling the transfer in minivans including entrance to the cable car. We pre-booked cable car tickets online so we had a quicker access to the top and have priority of other clients with no pre-booking and the local bus was quick & easy. Cable car service will be upgraded in 2020 and services improved. Now persons with mobility challenges need to walk now certain steps/staircases before entering or exiting the actual cable car. Once arrived on the top within 6 minutes, views are great. Stay inside the little restaurant (glass building) if you decide to eat or drink, otherwise the monkeys will jump at you and take it away in a flash. We saw two persons being attacked and it was not funny. The bus stop to return back is across the parking lot and walk underneath the little bridge/tunnel. Duty free shops in the terminal were great value and compared to other airport or ships duty free prices about 25% lower! If you like to walk, walk to town and cable car: it is about 25 minutes’ walk and expect some height difference during your walk.
Cadiz: free port shuttle will take you off the official port area and brought us to the gate and mini terminal. As QM2 was also present with Seaborn Quest along with Windstar and Seadream I, Cadiz was overflowing with passengers along with other regular tourists, visitors and locals. The normally narrow streets & squares were overflown and we did not enjoy this. We escaped the mass to walk the seafront where is more space and enjoyed the stunning views of the skyline (looks like Havanna in Cuba and therefore a James Bond film was shot here instead). Also a visit to the impressive cathedral was great and for € 6 an audio tour was provided. Upon return the little mini terminal had to cope with the security check of large number of passengers.
Lisbon: we docked at the newest facility: Jardim do Tabaco and is located in the northern part of the city, and it’s the closest to the city centre. Walking distance is 20 minutes. As Lisbon is a large town and built over different hills (stunning views) along the lovely embankment parks and monumental buildings, we opted to rent a little car. There are also e-bikes or tuktuk services available or the large double decker busses Hopon/off. As the city centre has many narrow streets, the large busses are not able to go there. So we choose the car service, this provided us a way to see more in the short amount of time and as GPS is part of the rental service, you will receive an education along your ride! I tried to contact 3 different companies and only one called Lisbon Eco Tours provided the best possible service and were extremely customer focused & professional. They offer to rent a Renault Twizy and it is a fun car and completely electric, runs up to 80 km p/hr and takes easily two adults up the hill. We had plenty of stops and alternated our tour where we needed to change it. As there is a lot of traffic, you just need to follow other traffic and it is actually not intimidating at all. Expect to become an attraction yourself as many people will take a photo. After the 4 hour tour with stops, we had lunch at a local restaurant (taken there by our request by the owners of the company) and ordered the typical local food & wine. I would do this any time again whenever I will return to Lisbon. Also Lisbon is spread out with lots of public space (parks & squares), we did not feel squeezed into the city, although the city attracted many visitors. Locals are really open, friendly and welcoming.
Vigo: we registered for a tour of the town by a local operator called tours4cruises.com: € 17 per person for a 1,5 tour with stops at the beach, a lovely museum / stately home and on the highest viewing point. As this tour has a personal guide, the quality of the information is excellent and plenty of time to ask for questions. If you reserve in advance pay one euro via PayPal, they will keep your seat(s) in your bus reserved, which is a very nice gesture as many people again are trying to block seats while entering the bus. The port also faces a shopping mall (half empty) but connects via a walking bridge to a higher floor to the old city centre. As this town is extremely hilly, you can literally zoom up the escalators and cross the street via the man-made bridge. Town is pretty and due to its northern location it is a little greener. The beach along the Atlantic is pretty and there is an island not far away which won the award of best European beach. Certainly a town to revisit again.
Cherbourg: this town is a sleeping with a port for ferries to the UK. As we decided not to travel away and made reservations with a local restaurant listed in the Gault Millau Guide: Le Vauban. A restaurant run by a married couple and it was a delight! Special 3 course lunch, half a bottle of Chablis, coffees & chocolates and an aperitive with little snacks for € 70 per person. We dined happily along the locals in a full restaurant. The port offers a bus shuttle to take passengers to a nearby shopping mall (again not fully used) and from there you can cross a little river via bridge and walk into town or take an other little train around the place. We walked to the city centre within 15 minutes. Some very typical French shops offering local fruit & veg, wines, cheese, breads, ready to take away for a little picnic.
Zeebrugge: as Zeebrugge has not much to offer we looked at various options. A local tram (#10) passes the gates of the port enroute to the seaside town of Knokke in less than 40 minutes. Than of course the famous town of Brugge is there and can be reached by train or port shuttle. The train can be reached by the port shuttle (free) to the station and is the least expensive option for around €7 per person return ticket and train journey is 20 minutes. We choose the cruise-express.be for €20 per person. The shuttle picks you up outside the port gates and runs every half hour. Train & cruise express bus stop close to each other as the train station and bus parking are nearly next to each other. Everyone is required to walk into the city via a beautiful park.
As Brugge is a historic city with hardly any access by car or bus, expect to walk a longer distance to reach the town. Than the old streets are cobbled stoned and very hard to walk on and nearly impossible tp push children’s prams, wheelchairs or walkers. The town was extremely busy and on top of its regular visitors, it was a Bank Holiday weekend and a couple of ships were in port: Costa, Brittania (P&O) and us. Besides little boat tours on the local canals, the roads are used to allow visitors to walk on but are shared with bikers, horse & carriage, few taxis and small hop on/off busses. Than through it woven in are large groups led with guides, who try to remain together as much as possible. We are able bodies persons and we just gave it all up. We sat down for a drink when we found a spot (by luck) and decided to return and leave the stunning town the thousands of others. We will be back when it is less busy. Read Less