Rotterdam Christmas 2018
We left Pennsylvania Sunday morning, Dec. 23 with a 6:05 flight time on Southwest. Arriving at the airport (after being delayed at the car park) at 4:30 with the line to check bags we were a bit concerned. We ... Read More
Rotterdam Christmas 2018
We left Pennsylvania Sunday morning, Dec. 23 with a 6:05 flight time on Southwest. Arriving at the airport (after being delayed at the car park) at 4:30 with the line to check bags we were a bit concerned. We did get the bags checked in about 25 minutes and then headed up to security. The lines were huge but fortunately we all had TSA pre-check and we breezed right through security. We even had time to get a breakfast at McDonald’s right by the gate. Just as we finished breakfast boarding began.
The flight was absolutely fine and on-time. We landed in Tampa at 8:45 and had our luggage by 9:15. A pleasant Uber driver had us at the port at 9:45. We quickly checked our bags and got in line for the terminal to open at 10:00.
It was a cool morning in Tampa (about 50 degrees) so they opened the terminal early to get folks “In out of the cold.” We had a nice conversation while waiting in line for security to open. We were quickly checked in and shown to the 4 & 5 star waiting area. There was nothing special about it, just a smaller more private room, and when boarding began at 11:30 we were the first to board.
We have not been on the Rotterdam before but immediately felt very comfortable. We found Job, a dining room manager, at a desk on deck 4 where we were the first to discuss special dietary needs and a wish for fixed dining. He said they had just received a cancellation that morning and we were able to join a six-top, table 55, right at the aft windows. He also took all of DW’s special diet needs and promised to stop by our table (which he did) to make sure everything was good.
We enjoyed embarkation lunch in the dining room. We showed our DS around the ship and attended the mariner’s welcome back reception before the muster drill. After the muster drill we found our luggage delivered and we unpacked and prepared for dinner. We visited the tour desk and arranged for an ATV adventure in Honduras for our DS.
Dinner was okay, not great, but service was excellent and rather prompt. We attended the EXC guide talk at 7:30 but after that the 2:30 start to the day was taking its toll and we called it a night.
Monday, December 24, 2018 – Christmas Eve in Key West
DS was up early and we found him reading on the Lido. We enjoyed breakfast together in the dining room. After breakfast we went to talk to the EXC guide about Honduras. He told us that there was expected to be several local tour options offered once off the dock in town. At 10:00 a Dutch Shuffleboard tournament was held and I ended up winning with 156 points. We docked a little early and the ship was cleared at 10:50, ahead of our stated 11:00 arrival.
We left Rotterdam to explore Key West. We are docked right at Mallory Square, so that is very convenient. We took photos of the old customs house, Milepost Zero, the southernmost point (but did wait in the block-long line for our own photo), the southernmost beach, and the ‘sand snow-man’ at the beach. We took the free “Duval” bus back towards the ship, stopped at CVS for a few necessities, and then headed back to Rotterdam.
We enjoyed a light lunch in the lido and I had a burger from the Dive-In. The burgers are very good. DS and I enjoyed the pool and hot tub. The pool was too cold for this northerner. I guess that doesn’t bother the young folks on board. We rested up a little bit and loaded the photos onto my computer before getting ready for the evening. We made it to happy hour in the Ocean Bar.
Dinner was a special Christmas Eve menu and it was good. There was a little delay with DW’s special order. We went to a special “Sheridan’s” tasting at the shops and the Piano bar at the mix started at 8:00 so we enjoyed that. We caught part of the 9:00 show, a comedian, and returned to the Piano bar until 10:45.
The special crew Christmas Eve service was wonderful. That went to 11:50 and a late night Christmas Eve buffet was available in the lido. Several Dutch specialties such as Ollie Bollen and Dutch Apple Pie were available.
Tuesday, December 25 – Christmas Day at Sea
We tried to sleep in but even so were in the dining room for breakfast by 8:30, partly helped by an hour time change to Central time. At 10:00 we attended the “Santa comes to Rotterdam” festivities in the main showroom. That was a lot of fun, especially the video that was put together of Santa exploring the ship before he appeared in the rear of the showroom.
We had made reservations for lunch in the Pinnacle. Service was challenged likely due to a combination of the venue being popular and one of the chefs being ill. Lunch ended up being quite nice but it took them bringing my meal twice. The Pinnacle manager ended up comping our meal.
We were really tired after staying up last night but attempts to nap failed. The pool and hot tub were enjoyed for a while. We enjoyed happy hour in the Ocean Bar and the drinks were perfect. The special Christmas Dinner menu included roast Turkey as well as a variety of surf & turf. Christmas Ham was also an option. We attended the show, ____ Jukebox. The performers were very good although most of the songs were not know to us. After the show we were just too tired and called it a night.
Wednesday, December 26 – Trujillo (Banana Coast) Honduras
We enjoyed a dining room breakfast before heading out to this largely unknown port. DS has an “ATV adventure” booked through the ship and we tendered over at the same time. After he checked in for his excursion we headed out to explore. A short walk past the port gates found us at a series of restaurants lining the beach. One of these looked clean, had a sign saying “English spoken,” along with other signs “$5 chair rental; $3 ice cold beer” and others. A friendly person waived us in and after looking the place over we decided to stay here.
$10 for two beach loungers and an umbrella is a good deal nearly anywhere. We enjoyed a drink each, a couple of swims, watched other cruisers brave the “Banana boat,” and had a very nice 2 ½ hours. A total investment of $22 including a generous tip was well spent. We talked with our waitress who told us Rotterdam was only the second ship to call here this year, and only two or three more ships were scheduled to call. She said the town would love to become a regular cruise stop as they had a lot to offer and port calls create employment. Their biggest local concern is the lack of employment for young people.
After leaving the beach we headed to town to walk around a bit. We ran into Abrie, the travel guide who was on his way back to the tender pier. We saw several stands selling local crafts on the main square, a large Christmas tree, a manger scene, and lots of locals out enjoying the day. We headed back to the tender pier and were back on board Rotterdam at 1:30.
I enjoyed a Dive Inn burger (excellent on Rotterdam) and cooled off in the pool a little. We went to the Ocean Bar happy hour and the Mai-Tai’s were not made well this day. Way too strong and attempts to make them better failed. Went to dinner and all was well. The show was a Magician and he was very good. The piano bar is ‘off’ tonight so we called it a night after the show.
Thursday, December 27, 2018 – Santo Thomas de Castilla, Guatemala.
It is said that sometimes “You can’t do it over again.” That was certainly true here in Santo Thomas. We were here in 2009 and had a wonderful day visiting the Las Escobas River and waterfalls, swimming under the falls, and then enjoying the afternoon at the Green Bay resort. In fact, I have two photos of this in my office at work, some nine years after the visit, as the memories were so fond.
I found out before the cruise that the Green Bay resort had gone under, but the waterfalls were still there. So we arranged taxi service for $25/pp round trip, and paid $14 entrance fee to the national park for each of us at the entrance. They have certainly improved the entrance area with nature displays and our trail guide was very pleasant.
The experience was such a letdown however. Since our 2009 visit, they have now built two additional pipelines taking water out of the river from above the falls for the local towns. Okay, but this leaves just a trickle of water going down the river. We did swim at the lower falls and it was refreshing, but this was nowhere near the 2009 experience. At the upper falls we didn’t even go into the pool. We walked back down to the entrance and headed back to the port.
On the way back to the port we had a brief tour of the town of Santo Thomas de Castilla. We were happy to be back to the port shortly thereafter. We did peruse some of the vendors at the port market and bought some ladies sandals, men’s belts, and a gift item. Back on the Rotterdam we enjoyed lunch and some pool time.
Some of the tour providers did put on a little farewell presentation on the pier; however it was nothing like the all-out sendoff we remember from nine years ago. Dinner was enjoyable and after dinner we walked around a while before calling it a night.
Friday, December 28 – Costa Maya, Mexico – NOT!
Rotterdam was scheduled to dock at Costa Maya at 8:00. At 7:15 we could see we were just offshore with two large ships settling into port. Going out onto deck 3 the wind was strong enough to ‘blow you over!’ We went to the dining room for breakfast and right about 8:00 we closely approached the dock. The Allure of the Seas was at the outer dock and yikes that is some huge ship! We heard the engines and thrusters straining and quite suddenly they stopped and we were slowly drifting away from the dock. I said “I guess we are not going to Costa Maya” and 15 minutes later the captain came on and made the announcement that due to the gale-force winds and Rotterdam being assigned the inner dock there was no way to safely make port.
We finished breakfast and headed to the lido where we grabbed a table near the pool. We enjoyed some pool time in the “Wave pool” and then attended an 11:00 “Coffee chat” with the magician entertainer. That was a lot of fun but the assigned Explorers Lounge was overflowing and a larger venue would have been better.
We checked the menu for a dining room lunch and opted to head to the lido instead. That was a great call as slow roasted turkey was featured in the carving station! We were very tired and all three of us ended up taking an afternoon nap. We went to the Crow’s Nest happy hour, and then enjoyed our second gala dinner. The evening show was the jukebox and it was okay.
After the show we enjoyed the piano bar until he took his break at 10:00 and called it a night.
Saturday, December 29 – At sea, gulf of Mexico
Breakfast in the dining room began our day. At 9:30 was “Ask the captain” and the captain began with a slideshow of the attempted docking in Costa Maya. It was very clear from the slide show that there was no chance to safely dock, but the weather report was extremely wrong as the winds were double what had been forecast. The captain also did a virtual tour of the bridge and engine room, and then answered questions from the floor.
At 10:30 was the mariner’s reception in the Explorer’s lounge. This was nice with about 10 folks receiving their copper medallion. We opted to pass on the Mariner’s lunch after looking over the menu. We enjoyed lunch poolside and a surprise lunch time happy hour was enjoyed with lunch. No “Wave pool” today as the ocean is flat and there is no wind. In fact, Tampa port has a fog problem and despite a very early arrival at the pilot station, we dropped anchor there.
We packed most of our luggage late in the afternoon. We should have at least kept bathing attire for the carry – off bag but failed to think ahead enough.
Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grille and we enjoyed that very much. After dinner I wondered around a little before calling it a night.
Sunday, December 30 – Disembarkation? Eventually!
We woke to find we were still anchored at the Tampa bay pilot station. Fog had closed the port. Yes, there was certainly fog. But why close the port? In the spring of 2017 we cruised New England and Canada and every port was fogged in each morning, and much thicker fog that what we witnessed here in Tampa. We made every port on that cruise early, despite the fog.
In any case, we had a dining room breakfast. We watched a movie, Crazy Rich Asians, in the showroom. We had lunch in the dining room. We started to watch a second movie, the latest Mission Impossible in the showroom but then the captain said we had been cleared to begin our approach and we would soon pass two outbound cruise ships and sail under the sunshine skyway bridge, so we went up to the observation deck to take photos.
We certainly have never passed so close to other cruise ships moving at speed as we witnessed here! The channel is not very wide so they passed less than 200 meters portside of Rotterdam. It was fun as all the passengers were waving at each other. We led in a parade of three cruise ships and eventually docked at 6:00 PM. Despite being in the first color group to be called it was 7:30 before we were clear to disembark. They did feed us dinner in the lido, and the prime rib was excellent! After dinner we waited in the showroom where an NFL game was on the big screen.
We had very little wait at customs and caught a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car. We are spending a couple of days in Florida before flying home New Year’s day morning, so this is the end of the cruise log.
While we’ve done lots of Holland America cruises, this was our first on Rotterdam. I really like the ship. The décor is classic, the size is convenient, and the service generally superior. We had no “Bad meals.” Some meals were really great. In fact, Job and Wayan in the dining room went above and beyond in taking care of DW’s special dietary needs.
For our adult son, this was his first HAL experience. After about two days he said “I feel like I went back in time.” I asked why? He said you just don’t ever get this kind of service anywhere. His room steward remembered all our names after the first introduction! He had a really great time.
There were a few issues that were never really addressed. One was the temperature in our cabin, #3431. A few times it did go down but then it would go back up again. In any case, the thermostat had little (if any) effect. Our son’s cabin (#2588) was always comfortable. Likely due to the holiday crowding with many 3rd and 4th berths occupied, there were a few times it just seemed to take a little longer to get service. On the other hand, some of the bar staff really went out of their way to take care of us.
I thought the captain really went out of his way to explain why our port call in Costa Maya needed to be aborted. I also think it’s a real shame that the Tampa port closes due to what seemed like not very bad fog. I can assure all the readers that we will have to think very long and hard before booking another cruise from Tampa. For us, this was a minor inconvenience until the 90 minutes from docking until our priority luggage tag color was called (which was just far too long). We were not flying that day, but usually we do fly immediately home!
Overall I give this 7 night Christmas cruise on Rotterdam 3.5 stars out of five. I hope to cruise again on the elegant Rotterdam. Read Less