CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line Amsterdam by Bill A. Belt South America March 17, 2009

We have traveled on numerous cruise ships with several cruises being on Holland America. This cruise had its positive as well as negative aspects. Unfortunately we were aboard a ship where there was significant illness and the swine flu issues were just surfacing throughout the world. We are not connected with the cruise industry and try to make our reviews as objective as possible. Like you, though, I always find that I have biases and am sometimes way too subjective in my opinions. Like any passengers we have our own likes and dislikes so don't take my review as personal if you were on the same cruise. I would be pleased to answer any questions which my thoughts and comments may provoke.

ABOUT THE SHIP and Holland America You may have read or been told that Holland America has "5 star ships with 5 star service." There was a time in years past when we thought that Holland America and the service provided aboard its ships was "five star." We met numerous passengers aboard this cruise who were repeat customers for Holland America just as we are. We never talked with one person who thought the service aboard the ship was outstanding and all agreed that service had deteriorated. The ship is now 9 years old and beginning to show the wear and tear for those nine years. This does not mean the ship isn't good, you just have to be willing to accept the age and wear of cruising for nine years. It is our understanding that the ship will be in dry dock for some painting, hull and engine work and minor renovations for about 11 days at the end of this cruise.

The service in many areas of the ship is just plain not there. There is no way the service is even close to "five star." For example we had an upgraded cabin on the Veranda Deck. Our cabin was cleaned at sporadic times from early in the morning to late at night. There just was not enough staff available to clean the cabins in the morning hours. Our laundry was to be in by 9:00AM , however it was picked up much later some days, which means not two day service, but three day service. We called at 7:00PM to have our room service dishes removed from the cabin. The employee never showed up, thus around 8:30PM our cabin steward removed the dishes at the night time turn down. Your bathroom towels were picked up at the two room cleanings, however sometimes there were two towels and sometimes three towels. Service was never consistent. Just remember the staff does not have to maintain a high level of service as you are going to have to pay them their tips regardless of the level of service.

Around the pool area a lot of guests decided to eat. Getting a bar drink or soft drink quickly just did not happen. There were only two boys working the entire pool area. Thus I went to the bar to get a couple of cokes with our hamburgers. The one employee at the bar made no offer to get us service, instead providing me two glasses to take back to the table. Kind of like bagging your own groceries and carrying them out at the local supermarket. And some will tell me that is "five star" service? Get lost!

EMBARKATION We arrived at the port in Rio de Janerio with only a receipt from our travel agent and the internet version of the boarding pass. Calls to Holland America as well as follow-ups by our travel agent failed to produce even one slip of paper from Holland America. In an earlier e-mail a Holland America staff person wrote that due to our discount cruise ticket we would not be entitled to all the services provided cruise passengers. We believe this is a very bad policy on the part of Holland America. Since we have family working in the airline industry we do take advantage of discounted cruise tickets. We feel sorry for those few cruise customers that pay full or close to full brochure prices for their cruises. Since we had not so much as a baggage tag we were forced to seek out someone on the dock that would get us a Holland America tag. We paid $20 (US) for four tags. We offered $2.50 per tag however was told by the dock worker it would be $5.00 per tag. Then we wondered if we would actually ever see our bags.

The embarkation process went rather smoothly except for the confiscation of our passports. We asked why and was told "that's just the way it is." Thus we gave up our passports, vaccination records and Brazilian visa for the next 38 days. I did not think it was a good deal at the time and as I write this I have found not only was it not a great idea, we have paid the price in some areas for not having our passport in our possession. I will discuss this a little later on under the "passport section."

The remainder of the embarkation went rather smoothly. We were handed two cabin keys and a map showing the layout of the ship. The usual stop by the photographer at the end of the gangplank, the taking of your ID for the boarding card and the usual non-descriptive welcome by the crew. We could not go to our cabin until 1:30PM thus with all the others we headed for the Lido Deck. Got to get every bit of food one can.

SHIP'S PASSENGERS I have written about this on other cruise trips and have received numerous comments from other cruise passengers. This ship has approximately 1300 passengers. The ship is not full and about 700 departed in Valparaiso, however we also picked up several passengers at that stop. I do not know how many passengers we will be boarding at that port. We have seen four children aboard this ship. The average age of the passengers is well over 70 and I may be conservative on this age as it may even be higher. If you are a young person and you desire to travel on this Holland America ship (or many of the other Holland America ships) you must have patience and understanding as you will be traveling with the grandmother and perhaps great grandmother. When getting a slice of bacon they want just the right slice so don't think the process will be quick. One day there were approximately ten different flavors of ice cream. The lady in front of me took at least three or four minutes to make up her mind -- it was that difficult. I thought when the self service food selection was eliminated and the stewards started serving all the passengers things would be different. I was wrong as the service has gone down hill. Now that same woman can't make up her mind what vegetables she wants in her salad nor how much. I waited over 6 minutes for a bowl of soup today when the woman couldn't decide whether she wanted 2 radishes or three in her salad and the crowning point was the kind of dressing. There were four available and this really sent her into a loop and the line grew longer and longer. If you are young you may possibly dominate all the sports activities aboard, thus winning just about every ping pong, shuffleboard and basketball shooting match.

You will also meet some of the very rude as well as some of the most courteous passengers in the world. While waiting for a tour there will be those that will stand waiting for a tour sticker and will run over you to get to the gangplank and then probably run you over again to get to the tour bus. It' like the blond that believes the front of the airplane gets to the destination first. We witnessed more than once seniors actually walking up the back of the shoes for the person in front of them. Often times they displayed an attitude of "get out of my way".We thought the rudest of all actions were the old women who took their shoes off in the Queen's Lounge during the entertainment and put their bare feet on the back of the seat in front of them. We saw unhappy passengers more than once ask them to remove their feet from the back of the seat. This happened night after night in the Queen's Lounge.

Some passengers are madly in love with formal nights. Before they leave home they fully think about such nights aboard ship with Humphrey Bogart or Maureen O'Hara, thus laying their clothes carefully out so they will have interesting and different formal wear on each formal night. Sorry to share something with you. Such formal nights are becoming a distant part of the past on Holland America. We started checking the number of guest dressed in formal wear on formal nights and even we were shocked as the percentage of men dressing in actual formal attire which was below 10%. There were men who were dressed in dark suits with a tuxedo shirt and bow tie, thus we have to give them some credit for upholding the tradition. The majority of the rest were dressed in anything from sport coats and pants to downright tacky pants and a golfing shirt and tennis shoes.

The females as a group were dressed much better and tended to dress more toward the formal attire for the evening, however even then there were more exceptions. Nice cocktail dress were occasionally seen as was dark pant suits. Even then many females wore nothing less than street clothes, not even "Sunday Go To Meeting Clothes". When we discussed this at our dinner table the main observation was that this is a sign of the times, people don't like to have to carry a lot of formal clothes and people are going to do their own thing regardless of the ship's guidelines. Some of the more senior females apparently struggled as they attempted to put a size 6 cocktail dress on a size 10 body. Not only a sight to behold but rather disgusting to say the least.

OUR CABIN We normally purchase an outside room however this trip, because it was 38 days long, we opted for an upgrade to the Veranda Deck. Our cabin was very good. Roomy and a perfect deck on the starboard side since we were traveling south on the east side of South America. We used the veranda more this trip than ever before. The room was large. There was a mini-bar, flat screen TV, DVD player with free DVDs from the library and king size bed. The bathroom was shower only. There was plenty of closet space. The hot water in the bathroom was usually only warm however we learned that if you take a shower late or early there would be plenty of hot water. Seems like the hot water was used up by others on the deck rather quickly. We resorted to night showers and found there was more hot water available although regulating the hot and cold was sometimes an issue.

The cabin needed cleaning even after being cleaned. Upon check in we found used towels on the veranda, lint on the couch, stains on the sheets and the carpet not completely vacuumed. We decided to live with the shortcomings in hopes that the second day would produce improved cleaning. Throughout the cruise the cleaning was sporadic. Some days good and some days not so good. The service was also sporadic. We did not mark the sheets however if the sheets were changed during the 38 day cruise we did not know about it. At dinner one evening the couple told us their sheets had not been changed in at least the first 28 days. On our next cruise we plan to mark and identify the sheets so we can keep up with changes. The morning cleaning sometimes took place in mid afternoon and the evening cleanings was sometimes around 8:00PM.Asking for ice or fresh fruit refills was typically met with frustration as it could take sometime before your request was honored. There were days when the service was fine. It consistency was what was missing. We did see improvements toward the end of the 38 days. Guess it was getting close to "tip" time thus the improvements.

They will try to get you to use your dirty sheets and dirty towels over and over again with the premise that Holland America is "green" and a good steward of the environment. Don't fall for it, it's "greed" in it's worst form. These are cruise line "moneymaking" events, nothing else. Bottom line was that we really enjoyed our Veranda Deck cabin and would strongly recommend that if you take this ship go for at least a Veranda cabin.

SWIMMING POOLS & HOT TUBS We used to use these areas but have stayed away from them in recent years. On the Lido deck there is a pool and two hot tubs. If this is your thing, then go for it. We opted not to use them for health reasons. On the Lido deck there is also the Sea View Pool.

THE CROW'S NEST A great area to rest and read a book and just take in the cruise from one of the highest levels on the ship. Was usually very cool from a temperature standpoint. Also a quite areas until a lot of drinkers converge then the area becomes quite loud and reading and conversation becomes impossible.

WAJANG THEATER & THE CULINARY ARTS CENTER We saw several movies in this venue. Many were movies appearing on the big screen just a few weeks back. Usually the theater was almost full. There was free popcorn for approximately 50 passengers which means the popcorn is limited. The culinary programs we found to be rather dull so we quit going. The master of ceremony was unable to keep the audience's attention. And the program was always disjointed with the camera person not always following the chef.

SPORTS DECK & ACTIVITIES Not that much from an activity stand point and the young man directing the programs appeared to always wanting to be someplace else than with a bunch of seniors. I just quit going. Wasn't worth the time and frustration.

LIDO DECK This is the dining area where you will eat most all meals. We had good meals and not so good meals here. Some passengers seem to relate hugh quantities of food with "good food". Sorry but we would rather have quality over quantity. We joined a couple the first day on board and they were amazed at the "great free food" in the Lido. Frankly the food tasted like it had been poured from a size 10 (those really giant ones) can, heated and served to the masses. One person remarked the soup was just like the soup out of a Campbell's Soup can. We tended to agree. At other times you could actually find some rather decent food. We always kept in mind that this was not a gourmet restaurant and neither was it the local fast food joint.

Ice cream is available on the Lido deck and the ice cream along with assorted toppings is all free. I note this because of the prices being charged by some cruise lines for ice cream. When the cruise first started there was up to approximately 10 flavors of hard and soft ice cream available. With only six days left as I write this the number is now down to three flavors with some toppings formally available no longer available.

Unless you want to pay for soft drinks, beer or mixed drinks your choices on the Lido deck is limited to hot or cold tea and water for lunch. There is an assortment of teas available. At breakfast there is an assortment of fruit juices and milk. I would normally not write this detailed account about specific foods, however due to the ever diminishing amounts and types of food on this particular cruise I have decided to make note. Perhaps your cruise, even if on the same itinerary, will not be faced with such limitations.

PINNACLE GRILL This is the "pay for food" restaurant. Some passengers actually don't mind paying the $20 extra charge to eat here. We did on one of our last cruises and found the food and service to be rather good. We just don't like having to pay extra to eat lunch or dinner. If you don't mind the extra charge then "go for it". Just remember that if the two of you eat every available dinner in this restaurant, that would be thirty eight times or $1520.00 for your cruise and that's assuming you don't leave a tip. Eating lunch on days they were open for lunch will run the tab even higher. Seems a little pricey to me. Perhaps one or two times on a 38 days cruise?

OPEN SEATING & FIXED DINING We always ask for first dining and are always turned down and offered "anytime dining". Very frankly, the open seating dining to us is a pain. You can make reservations and generally get a table close to your requested dining time. Forget to make reservations and just walk in and you may of may not get a table. There does not seem to be a lot of advice I can give you on when is the best time to go to anytime dining. It's appears to be just the luck of the draw. You have to make reservations each day. Probably best to call in as early as possible for your reservation. When going into the dining room (Deck 4) for open seating, notice the number of the table is on the little metal tent cards sitting on the table. Pick out a couple of tables you really like and the next time you call in for reservations ask for one of those tables you have noticed a number on. You might just be lucky and get the table of your choice. You can also make reservations in the middle elevator corridor on Lido deck some of the cruise days.

Don't expect the traditional outstanding table wait service anymore on Holland America. The days of your welcome to dinner by your name from the same waiter is going by the way side. If you are in opening seating you may or may not have the same waiter each evening. Thus you will not find a waiter that is dedicated to giving you great service as he (we never saw a female waitress) will get the same tip at the end of the cruise whether you like the service of not. I know----the brochure says you can make adjustments in the automatic tips charge, however have you ever tried this? It will be an experience that you will always remember. Don't say you have not been forewarned.

CASINO This is certainly an entertainment avenue for some of the guest. Some passengers even spend a lot of time telling about what they have won or are going to win .Won't happen folks----the casino is there to take your money and take it they will. Whatever you wish to lose is the amount of playing you should do. If you and some of those traveling with you like to play a little poker, have your own game and leave the "house casino" out of the picture. For example to play Texas Holdum Poker against other passengers, the "house" takes approximately 10% of every pot. You figure the math. Eventually if you play enough hands the house will own everything. When traveling as a tourist in a foreign country, you are a "marked" person the minute you enter the casinos on land. You will not win---trust me. A lot of cruising time we spent in Chilean waters at which time the casino operations had to close in accordance with local law. The tables were never full and if you wanted to gamble you could always find many open spaces. The staff always appeared friendly.

GIFT SHOPS Gift shops on board a Holland America ship look more like garage sales and going out of business stores than real duty free shops. Just look around the next time you are in one and see if you don't agree. The selection is not good, the merchandise is sparse and the prices are not all that great. Many time you can actually do better at a duty free store in the airport before you leave home."Gold by he inch"---give me a break! There is about as much gold in some of those chains as you will find in a copper penny. Since this was the last cruise to South America for the season, the stores begin to mark a lot of the merchandise down at greatly reduced prices. T-shirts were priced at 4 for $20 and the passengers flocked in to buy. A few days later there was a great price reduction as the shirts were being sold for $5 each. The same women were fighting over the very same t-shirts and exclaiming "just $5". I really did feel like I was at a garage sale!!One reason for these price reductions is that this was the last South American cruise for the season and this was a repositioning cruise.

As we approached Cape Horn the store clerk advised me maps were begin reduced 75%. I could not pass up the bargain and purchased 2 of each. That was actually a great buy as I paid about $3.75 for each map and when she told me the supply was limited I was convinced that I had to buy. On a tour a street vendor approached me to buy a map. I thought I had seen the map he was selling before and once I opened it and saw where it was printed it twas the same identical map. The street vendor price was $2 per map. On day 31 of there was there was a hugh sale of merchandise. There were literally hundreds of the same maps that earlier had been in short supply. The price, the same 75% off I had paid many day prior.

Three weeks into the sailing the gift shop offered a cheap promotional watch in a case along with another item or two, such as a billfold, key chain, pen or calculator. The "original price" were close to $100 , however for a short duration there was a sale of those gift sets for just $19.99. Passengers looked and looked however few purchased. On day 31 we received a notice in our cabin that watch gift sets would go on sale for just a short two hour period for $19.99. Now this is the exact price we had days before. However at this sale dozens of passengers flocked to the doors. Don't know if she was serious or not but one of the clerks said there were 75 people waiting for the sale when they starting selling for the two hour period 10AM to Noon. A number of passengers purchased 4 sets and some had as many as 8 sets in their hands when they went to the check out.

Like to read and need a paperback? Buy one at home before you leave as you will pay dearly for a copy purchased in the gift shop. Same for any other items you may need. I paid $3.99 for some mints that cost $1.25 at home. TIP—remember there is a free paperback exchange program in the library. You take a book and you leave a book---all free. We many times find some of the latest bestsellers on the shelves.

INTERNET I have complained about the internet service aboard ships for years. On this cruise the hook up was much better than service we have received in the past. The cost is still ridiculous. Paying 40 to 75 cents a minute is equal to $24.00 to $45.00 per hour or more than $575.00 to $1080.00 per day or $17000.00 to $32400.00 per month. Sure does make the service back home seem like a bargain! Couple the price with the slow service and sometimes difficulty in hooking up to the internet and you will find actual per minute cost to be much greater than the per minute cost quoted. Just to check fro an e-mail that would normally take less than a minute back home will more than likely take from 3 to 5 minutes. One may ask why bother? OK—so we are junkies and just can't seem to get away from it all. I'll probably do it again on my next cruise.

At several ports I found Internet cafes that had great Internet service. The rate was always $1 (US) per hour or fraction of an hour. The speed was outstanding. Some keyboards were a little worn and some of the keys were in the wrong place, however I got used to it. TIP---use your own notebook or netbook, type your e-mails before connecting to the ship's internet, then copy and paste. You will save a ton on minutes on your internet account. Also if you want to send pictures you will have to use your own laptop. The ship's internet room does office printing at 25 cents per page thus printing your boarding pass is a possibility.

On this ship there were digital classes that were offered several times a day and the bast part-----you won't believe----it was free. First time on any cruise we have run into this. Take you digital camera to class and you will learn something new---unless you are an expert and know everything there is to know about computers and digital cameras. We found the room always full for every class, so get there early. Seating was limited to around 20 participants.

SHIP'S SHORE TOURS I wish I had an easy answer for this subject however I don't. We booked several shore tours through Holland America's Internet site after they did not send me a package of material showing available tours. Downloading and printing the entire tour package will take quite some time and don't forget, it's at your expense. We talked with passengers about some of the tours and found many who purchased the Holland America tours, others who swore they would never buy a ship's tour and those who just waited until they arrived at the next port.

We will provide just a few examples so you can make up your own mind. In Rio de Janerio we purchased tours from the hotel tour desk and frankly paid way too much. A couple in line with us at check in, went to the Internet and purchased Gray Line tours before leaving home. They got a much better price and told us the selection was much better.

In Buenos Aires we purchased from Holland America a 3 ½ hour city tour for $59. We learned that night that passengers at our table had gone to the tour desk at the Marriott Hotel in downtown where they and another couple purchased a 4 hour city tour for $60 for the four of them. They had a nice air conditioned car and a driver that spoke fluent English. The next day we purchased a 3 ½ hour tour through Holland America entitled In Evita's Footsteps. The cost $54 per person. We noticed that some of the tour appeared to overlap the highlights tour the day before. We spoke to the tour person who advised me we should have read the brochure more carefully. When I told her I never received a brochure from Holland America, her reply was that you should have downloaded the brochure. We learned that evening at dinner that a four hour tour was available from a downtown tour location for less than $20 per person.

In Montevideo we opted for a trip to see a UNESCO site, Colonial del Sacramento. The cost was $185 per person. The tour was 30 minutes late getting started and it was a little over two hours to the site. The tour actually lasted about 1 ½ hours and then we were fed lunch. The ride back was another 2 ½ hours. The visit to the old town was good however the cost was way out of line. We could have gotten a taxi driver to have taken us to the site for substantially less money and had we located another couple desiring the same trip and a large taxi the cost would have been even lower. There were many taxis available at the port just a few feet from the gangplank.

There were tours on this cruise that cost more than $4000.00 per person. Seems a little expensive to us but if that's your thing---go for it.

At the port in Huatulco we opted for a catamaran & coach trip that lasted about 4 hours with a cost of $64 per person. On the catamaran drinks were provided for free as well as fresh fruit. The entire tour was excellent at what we felt was a very fair price.

Bottom line -- you can do much better on your own than through the ship's tour office. I think we have finally learned our lesson. No more expensive ship sponsored tours and pushy staff that could care less about the passengers. One last thought----would it be possible for that tour desk supervisor to quit saying "etc" "etc" "etc' "etc". If she used that once she used it a thousand times.

Getting one's own tours can at times be an adventure. You may not always know anything about the guide or where the guide may take you. Some up front negotiations and discussions will go a long way in having a great adventure on shore. Also remember it is you who makes the choice, thus if the first guide does not seem to be a perfect fit, look for another. Also you might ask at the dock's tourist information desk what kind of regulations and identification applies in that port to tour operators. Lastly, always check out the internet before arriving. Do lots of research on the destinations, including the tour operators for the area.

DRINK & WINE CARDS You can purchase a drink card for around $20.70 (they add a tip to the purchase). Thus your soft drinks, which you can obtain only at certain bars, cost you approximately $1.00 per drink. This is how they do it. You order two drinks. The waiter opens a single can of Coke and pours it into a glass filled with ice. Presto---you now have two glasses of Coke that cost $2.00 on the card. Guess what----you could have purchased the can of Coke for $1.95 (plus tip) and poured it over a glass of ice yourself. We did not purchase the wine card since the card entitled you to some house brands which the seller of the card stated he did not know. We opted to pay approximately $25.00 for a bottle of wine that we pick up at Sam's for $3.99. Oh well----you are on vacation and Holland America is entitled to a few bucks profit here and there. Did you know you can purchase wine on shore and take it to dinner with you? There will be a corkage charge. Be sure and see what that is before purchasing a lot of on shore wine. The wine steward will hold partial bottles for your dining the following evening.

TIP: The first shore stop you make purchase canned drinks you think you will need for the cruise. This will save you many dollars. There was always ice in our cabin along with an ample number of glasses.

OUR ONBOARD ACCOUNT Our hats off to the front desk. Every charge was accurate to the penny. Thanks for a job well done. We did see passengers having problems thus I asked one if their account was incorrect. It seems they forgot they made some charges in the gift shop.

SHIP'S ONBOARD ENTERTAINMENT I think for the first time in our cruising experience we are beginning to feel sorry for the ship's on board entertainment staff. We no longer even comment on their entertainment. Instead like many other---if it is really bad we just excuse ourselves from the lounge and go find something else to do. We just got to the point it was too painful to set through some of these "productions". We do understand though the ship needs these people to do other jobs aboard the ship and on shore, thus there is some justification for keeping them. We expect those who put together entertainment to eventually reach down to the high school level. Lip syncing instead of singing----give me a break!!!

Individual entertainers brought aboard the ship were rather good. They were professionals who have experience in the entertainment industry and we found those evenings worth while. Such acts included a flutist, comedians and singers. We found KINIKA, Rick Starr, Lee Bayless and Viviana Guzman to all have shows worth attending.

TRAVELING IN SOUTH AMERICA You no doubt have read news article about the high crime and dangers in traveling throughout certain parts of South America. Having spent a career in law enforcement let me first dispute some of those myths as well as give credence to others. I find it difficult to put a lot of faith into those stories of a young writer that has taken her first trip to the "wilds of Rio de Janerio". Traveling to many of these countries requires common sense and a constant alertness. Everyone has common sense, or at least let's assume that is a fact. Then why in the world does one go to Buenos Aires on a day when thousands are demonstrating and wear an American flag imprinted on one's t-shirt or a back pack that is imprinted with the words "Buy American." Save those for the local NASCAR track where you will be safer.

We saw dozens of Americans right off the ship wearing expensive jewelry in every port we visited. We also saw pick pockets and the ten-cent hoodlums close to the dock. They are not hard to spot. Next time just look their way as they are already looking at you, their next probable "mark". So why wear the jewelry? Do you really want to make one of those thugs have a great day?

Look---"know where you have been"----"know where you are" and "know where you are going" You can still be a tourist without giving a signal to everyone that sees you. One of the couples at our table got hit by the old "spray water" "spray mustard" "spray tomato catsup" scam. They quickly realized what was taking place and moved to a safer area away from the scammers with no loss for the day.

Bottom line----don't be afraid to go to South America. We visited a dozen port cites as well several inland cites and found the people delightful and friendly. If you see a neighborhood back home that has tons of graffiti on every building and a dozen non-running junk cars sitting on the street, ask yourself if that's the place you really want to visit at midnight. Probably not----it's the same in South America.

Now there were some incidents on this 38 day cruise however we will wager there were numerous incidents back in your home town as well.

MONEY EXCHANGE I am always asked upon returning home how the money exchange went.

There was a time when you could change your money for the money of the country you were visiting by going to the Purser's desk aboard ship. That is no longer the case on many cruise ships when they visit ports where the US Dollar is readily accepted. I discussed this with a staff member of the Purser's Office and learned that exchanges are still made in European ports but not in South American posts. Before leaving home check the going rate for exchanging money in every country you will be visiting. You will probably not get that rate, however you should get close to that amount. I don't have to tell you that the US Dollar is not all that sought after in many places throughout the world. I found that a little different in many of the countries we visited on this cruise. Many locals were willing to accept US Dollars, though sometimes at discounted rates. A little bargaining and you can probably improve on the exchange rate. Often many changers at banks and exchange offices will generally charge a fee which is sometimes hefty. TIP-----Don't exchange for more than you actuality need or plan on spending. Once back on board the ship—that left over money is yours as souvenir.

On board ship you can get advances against your credit card and in the casino you were allowed $1000 a day against your account/credit card. Please be forewarned that a fee is charged plus you may also have an additional fee against your credit card when you return home. Check this out before leaving home.

PORTS OF CALL A cruise to South America should result in visits to some places you would never think about spending a vacation or even flying into. Ushuaia, Argentina is one of those places you will probably never visit on your own as will be Punta Arenas, Argentine. Two great port cities well worth your visit. Traveling north up the western coast of South America we stopped at Puerto Montt before proceeding to Valparaiso. There we went to Santiago, a very beautiful city, that unfortunately has a serious smog problem. Nevertheless , a visit is well worth one's time. On a cruise ship that docks overnight, you still want have enough time to explore all the lactations you would like to see. Do some research before leaving home plus purchase a couple of good guide books and plot those places that provide you the most interest. Some port cities the cruise docks were right in the industrial container unloading areas and walking from the ship to the terminal was prohibited. This just means that you need to prepare to ride a shuttle bus to and from the ship.

In Arica Chile one had to ride the shuttle however the old downtown area was just a cross the street from the terminal. Lots of construction in downtown where new sidewalks were being constructed. In a short time this will be a delightful little town on the water to visit. The stop at Lima Peru was actually at Callao, Peru sea port. It is a massive industrial area and walking off the ship to town is prohibited. Taxis were plentiful and inexpensive. We made the mistake of taking a shore tour for shopping that was no more than a bus ride to and from the Inca Market area. The area was excellent to visit however we paid $90 for the two of us to travel by bus. The cost of a taxi was $20 each way and we could have traveled at our convenience, not the convenience of the tour company and Holland America. There were plenty of taxis at the pier and we only learned of our mistake upon return to the ship and talking with others who went by taxi.

The Inca market area is really worth a visit even if only for a couple of hours. The area around the market had many nice restaurants and coffee shops. Even Starbucks, McDonald's and some very nice independent local businesses. I would not recommend spending all day or even a great deal of time in the market, just a short visit to get some trinkets for the family and friends back home.

A visit to downtown Lima is certainly worth your time however before booking a tour on a cruise ship talk with some of the local taxi drivers or tour drivers at the dock. You will end up with a much better deal ,plus you get to go where you want at a time when you want, not to mention the many dollars you will save. On a side note US dollars were widely accepted and even change was given in US dollars. Just make certain you have nice new looking bills as old dirty bills will not be accepted. While the actual exchange rate was about $3.30 (soles) per US dollar you generally received $3.00 Just consider the "shortage" as a business cost and move on. Using credit cards at some locations was possible however in almost every instance the restaurant or shop advised there would be a 12% surcharge added to you bill. We opted to pay cash. TIP---don't try to extend you shore time if you have a set cruise ship departure time that must be met. There are often demonstrations in downtown areas that completely stall traffic for quite some time. Get in the middle of that traffic gridlock and you probably won't make your cruise connection.

Huatulco Mexico: What a neat little port! There are tons of new construction so look for this to be a major tourist destination in the years to come. Thousands of hotel rooms are either there now or under construction.

This was our first cruise to South American and we thought the itinerary was outstanding.

Our first stop in the United States was San Diego on April 20, 2009. We were scheduled to dock at 6:30AM with all on board at 4:30PM. It was 9:45AM before we were able to go ashore. According to a staff member there was an inspection this morning that resulted in numerous shortages including personnel. We were prepared for staff shortages as last night at dinner there were several members of the wait staff that were apparently too sick to report to work. On the Lido Deck there was a shortage of silverware and at one time no cloth napkins on either side of the line. Coffee lines were very long and wait time for eggs, pancakes, etc was extra ordinarily long. The entire ship had to be checked in by immigration officials who had boarded the ship and were on deck five. The time to get through immigration was not that long, however somewhere in the process some passengers did not make it to the cleared list and immigration refused to permit passengers to embark until all passengers were accounted for. Some passengers were already complaining that they had missed or were going to miss their flights out of San Diego. The person in front of me advised she was going to have to get a rental car and drive to Los Angeles for a flight as there were no more flights today out of San Diego for her country.

Lines of passengers were everywhere on the ship as was baggage for those who planned to disembark in San Diego. Then a great many of the ship's employees and others not wearing ship clothing appeared wearing white face mask and spraying everything in sight with some type of liquid. Chairs, carpets, walls and anything else in sight was sprayed. Some complained they were getting a headache. I returned to my cabin as the smell was more than I could tolerate. Upon entry into my hallway there were approximately a dozen persons spraying walls,washing doors, handrails and spraying the carpet. The smell was not good. It was approximately 9:45AM that we learned that we could get off the ship. Even then we had to fit into existing lines of passengers that were still embarking with San Diego being their last port. In general this morning has been a total disaster for not only departing passengers but for in transit passengers as well.

It's 5PM and departure was to have taken place. The Captain has announced that Customs has not cleared the ship and he will get back with the passengers. He has also announced that a professional crew was brought aboard to disinfect the ship, but that procedures in place will continue. At dinner the dining room is almost vacant. There are no guest in the large center portion of the dining room. Our waiter comes to our table and advises he has been released from quarantine where he was placed last evening. His cabin mate (our busboy) became ill therefore he was subject to the quarantine procedures and since he showed no ill effects he was permitted to come back to work for the dinner meal. We note many passengers normally eating in our area are not present.

At breakfast and lunch the following day there seems to be a lot of vacant tables where one can sit. Food continues to be "rationed". We asked for Jello and was told it would be five minutes before some could be brought to the area. There just are not enough staff to do the work needed. (See also Ports of Call San Diego).

GETTING BACK ON TIME Unless you are on a ship sold tour, you have a specific time that you must be back at the ship. There were a few passengers that thought this did not apply to them. At one port, four passengers were still not on board when the ship departed. They had to hire a motorboat to get them to the ship. I think the Captain was very accommodating in stopping the ship and letting them on board. Had I been in charge they would still be waiting on the dock. We noticed some passengers coming to the gangplank well after the final time and some thought it funny as they laughed and joked as they boarded.

PASSPORTS, VISA & GOVERNMENT FORMS With the exception of Brazil , a United States citizen needs a current passport only to visit the countries visited by this cruise ship. For Brazil you will need a visa plus you are going to have to have certain immunizations. You will find the necessary work work to visit Brazil is rather expensive. (NOTE—this is a political issue with the United States imposing heavy fees on Brazilians who travel to the United States—with you and I being the victims).We thought we had everything in order for a cruise with minimal 'government red tape". Not the case!!! First our passport was taken by Holland America on the day we boarded the ship. We are well into the cruise and I have yet to lay my eyes on my passport. Just hope the information and data is not being sold all over the world.

In Chile we had to have a government form completed and carried with us when on shore. The same was true in Peru. We were never ask for the form in Chile however the tour bus was searched in Peru and each passenger was asked for his/her written Peruvian form. In addition the countries are quite insistent that no one bring any fruits or vegetables into their country. "Fruit dogs" will search passengers and their bags in several of the ports. We were told the fine is $200 (US) to be paid on the spot if they find fruit in your procession. We met two people aboard ship who had to pay $200 fines. One person was a native of Chile. Fines had to be paid in local currency cash and we were told that no other form of payment would be accepted. One person had to go to the bank to get local money since he did not have $200 in his pocket. Some of the custom officers were very nice while others displayed a dominating negative attitude toward visitors. Guess it's all in a days work!!Would you believe after the dozens of times passengers had been warned about bringing fruit into port, there were two ahead of us that got caught in Cabo with two bananas in their bag. The customs person in this case just confiscated the fruit, warned them and dropped the two bananas into a trash can.

Our passport was returned the day before we docked in Cabo San Lucas. It was impossible to tell if the passport information had been copied or disseminated. The process was orderly and fast. We are now told that all US citizens must appear before immigration officials when we stop at San Diego. We were given two small cards to complete and show to immigration along with our passports.

TIP: Make a photo copy (in color) of your passport, any visas you have and your government issued immunization records. It's a good ideal to make two copies in the event you wrinkle one of the copies. Government officials don't seem to like worn, dirty or wrinkled copies.

LOCKDOWN -- SICKNESS Okay, we have read about this on other cruise ships and now it hits us after 25 days of cruising. We have noticed for the past two evenings the number of passengers eating in the dining room have been less and less. This morning we noticed that well over 90% of the cabins on our deck appeared to have passengers still in their cabins. When we arrived on Lido Deck we found all food service behind plastic wrap with passengers being served by the staff. Even coffee was off limits with a rope around the coffee bar. Early this morning the Captain announced that an illness was aboard ship and that as precautionary measures the passengers needed to wash their hand thoroughly several times a day. He stated it was a 48 hour virus that produced vomiting and diarrhea. While it may no doubt be easy to prove that passengers certainly helped spread the germs, we find it ironic with some measures being taken or not being taken. For example in the casino there are passengers who continue to play the slot machines with no hand wipes or hand sanitizer anywhere in sight. It's different at the stores as each passengers is given a hand wipe as they enter. In the Internet room there are hand wipes at each computer.

The library is shut down with all books being locked behind steel bars. Even the "free exchange pocket book" section is locked for the remainder of the cruise. Workers are busy wiping the hand rails throughout the ship. On the Lido deck we noticed two gallon buckets of dirty water being used to dip cloths that were used to wipe tables. Looks like a great way to spread germs. The rags used to wipe tables were not very clean. Looks to us like the ship would have converted to paper wipes that could be disposed after each table wipe down. There were food particles on the floor and under the tables in the Lido area. Not much cleaning took place after the dinner meal. The cabin steward left two bottles of hand sanitizer in our cabin.

It's rather nice aboard ship today as it is obvious that a great many passengers are behind the closed doors of their cabin. Breakfast was certainly not that busy and the main dining room had plenty of seats for breakfast.

It's been several days since the "lock down" and the Captain has just announced over the public address system that the process will continue. Food now being served in in smaller portions with some food items disappearing entirely. Whole fresh fruit is seldom seen with no bananas in several days. All food is being served and the portions are much smaller. Ice cream used to be a full dip, today it was down to one half a dip. Asked for two donuts at breakfast and was offered one. Of course a passenger can return and ask for a second however many just give up and never return. While the "official position" is that the "GIs continue" it is obvious that a food conservation program is in effect. At dinner last night one medium carrot is enough for four or five plates and there was one piece of asparagus cut into three pieces on the plate. A tomato had been quartered so many times I could not even estimate the number of pieces coming from a whole tomato. The "official position" from Holland America is that the "GIs continue."

TIPPING Not exactly being bored, but nevertheless having some extra time, we decided to conduct some on board research. My research is certainly is not scientific or according to norms and standards of those who are professional in this business.

Should you have to tip at the "for pay" restaurant where there is already a $20 charge for dinner? We talked with several passengers and it was split about 50-50 on whether to tip or not. Thus we don't know the answer.

Should you tip the tour excursion guide? We were on deck 6 and using high powered binoculars we were able to check departing passengers as they left the tour bus directly under our cabin. We checked dozen of buses as they returned. Even so, that was only a small number as there were many dozens of returns that we did not check. In almost every case we found about 50% of the passengers giving a tip to the tour guide and almost no one giving a tip to the bus driver. We could tell the difference between a one dollar bill and a five dollar bill, however could not tell how many $1 bills were in a stack handed to the tour guide. The majority of passengers providing tips were male as the females almost never tipped. One of the reason may have been that for couples it was the male who provided the tip. It appears that tips were generally $2 to $5.

Does a female or male tour guide receive the most tips? We thought this would be an interesting questions as we took several tours and found guides who were outstanding while others appeared to want to see the end of the shift come as quickly as possible. They were both males and females. We noticed on one trip that the male guide did not offer a lot of commentary. We also noticed he failed to get very many tips while a very nice looking female guide who added not only commentary but laughter to the tour seemed to receive a tip from almost every male on the bus including this writer.

TIPPING FOR ONBOARD ROOM SERVICE Passengers we talked with were divided on this subject. Some felt they had paid enough for the cruise and enough in daily tips that extra tips for room service was not warranted. Others felt a dollar or two for room service was appropriate.

ONBOARD SELF-SERVICE LAUNDRY There are self service laundromats on several decks. The space is very small thus very close quarters exist. You definitely will get to know your neighbor. The machines worked well. When we first boarded the ship the laundry room was open 24 hours a day however a little more than half way into the cruise the hours c hanged to 7AM to 11PM. According to a staff member there had been complaints from some of the guest. That does not surprise us as some guest seemed to complain about anything another passenger might be doing. The cost was $2.00 a load for washing with drying being free. Soap was included with the wash. There was also an iron and ironing board in each of those areas. Change is readily available at the Front Desk. The one issue with lots of passengers was that sometimes passenger would open the door on the dryer then close the door without restarting the drying process. Thus one's clothes might just sit there without the dryer being turned on. We also talked with passengers in the self service area that had their clothes removed from either the washer or dryer and left on the counter. Were they upset!!!

On board laundry and dry cleaning is also available. There is a laundry bag in the cabin. Fill it with all you can and the cost is just $20. (laundry only—no dry cleaning). You can reduce the cost per piece if you completely fill the bag. We figured we were getting laundry for just about the same price as at our home. Laundry was returned exactly as it was ordered, starched and shirts on hangers in just two days. Doing your laundry on board ship is a great way to carrying less clothes thus saving expensive extra baggage fees on the airlines.

COFFEE WITH THE CRUISE DIRECTOR This is really very entertaining as the cruise director has a morning coffee with usually the entertainment person that performed the evening before. Thus Coffee With The Cruise Director is not an everyday event. On the day that comedian Lee Bayless was the guest there was standing room only. Coffee and danish are available for those attending in the Explorer's Lounge.

PHOTOS As Maxwell Smart would attest, the "professional photo" trick is well and alive on this ship, however not many passengers fell for the trick. The trick is that the photos aboard this ship, as is the same on many other ships, are nothing more than snapshots made with a digital camera. Photos are made by the dozens and produced the same way. The personnel does nothing to correct what may otherwise have been a decent snapshot. The objective seems to be mass production and as quickly as possible. We noticed at Acapulco that almost no one stopped at the gangplank to pose for a snap shot. When the photographer asked me why we did not want a photo made I advised him that the prices were too high for a snapshot and he readily agreed that prices were high. He did not force the issue.

On formal nights the photographers are set up in several places for what they describe as "professional" photos or portraits". Just not true, as these photos are shot with the same digital cameras with the result being nothing more than snapshots with a fancy name. The prices are very high. TIP---purchase an inexpensive digital camera and take dozens of photos of your own. Upon return home decide which ones you really want and print those using your computer and printer. It's not that difficult and I guarantee you can do it. Did you know that with some inexpensive software you can remove the "flash spot" in the middle of that photo so that it looks great. That's the same kind of "flash spot" the on board photographers will not take the time to remove.

The shop also has a limited selection of digital cameras for sale, however even with a $100 discount the cameras were still substantially more than in state side stores.

TRANSFER TO THE AIRPORT The cruise line offers a transfer to the airport. We were told by the Front Desk that our luggage would be transferred from the ship directly to the airline check in. Well "yes" and "no". There is a list of airlines where this service is available however our, Southwest, does not participate. Be sure and check before purchasing transfers to the airport. Upon arrival at the airport we and other passengers had a surprise as we were all let off at a single stop. Not too bad for us as we only had to walk to the next terminal. For others they were not happy. The cost will be more than a taxi, but probably not that much more. We have used the taxi and have also used the ship's transfer bus. The bus was $28 per person. The taxi fare is around $38 to $44 with the driver always wanting a tip for baggage handling. You do the math.

We arrived at a brand new pier, Pier 91. According to the ship information we were the first ship t arrive and use the new facility. The terminal is a long way from downtown. Don’t count on walking. You will need a taxi. On the first day there was a lot of confusion. Bags taken from the ship were stacked on the4 dock in such a manner it was impossible to obtain your baggage and use the wheels on the bag to move the luggage. The employees had stacked the baggage so close there was no adequate isle between the rows. I would suspect this will eventually be worked out as the terminal gets into full use. For the love of me I cannot understand though why a cruise line would want to use a dock that is miles from downtown Seattle. Really very inconvenient for the passengers.

RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES On the Sunday after Easter an Interdenominational Worship Service was held in the Wajang Theater. Almost every seat was taken, as the service was very well attended. Mass was celebrated on that same date in the Queen's lounge and the day before a Virgil Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater. On Friday evening there was the Sabbath Eve Oneg Shabbat in the Hudson Room.

DAILY NEWSPAPERS Delivered to our cabin each morning was an abbreviated copy of the New York Times Digest. We noticed other cabins had either a copy of the Australian News or Canadian News. There were also copies of the News Digest available on the Lido Deck in the dining area. Also (for free) you can view the New York Times news on the computers in the Internet room. Look for the free Holland America section on the screen. DO NOT log in, otherwise you will find you are using your own costly minutes for what is actually free. Want to browse future Holland America cruises for the next two years? That's also free on that computer.

DAILY PROGRAM Delivered to your cabin each evening was a copy of the Daily Program for the following day. The program contain a time schedule that will show many (not all) the activities for the following days, plus tell you about the theater movie and theater shows for that day. In addition there is a listing of all eating locations and their hours. The dress code for the day along with the weather prediction will be shown at the top of the page. Suggest you check your daily program for the dress code as this may change during the cruise from earlier published dress codes for the day.

LIBRARY The ship has a nice library with several books and several seating areas. The Internet services are also intermingled in with the library. You can usually check out a book at the desk and return a few days later. There is also a paperback section where you can leave a paperback and take a paperback without checking in or out. This area was closed for the most part after the "GI's" breakout. The hardback books were locked behind steel bars and could not be checked out. You could return those that you had previously checked out. Paperback books were locked in a cabinet and could not be returned or checked out. Toward the end of the cruise there was a little relaxation for the paperbacks as you could ask an employee to get you a paperback. You could only point to a book as handling one was out of question. You could return a paperback to the desk by just dropping it on the desk. (No handling by the staff). We were told those books had to be sanitized before being returned to the cabinets.

Magazines and newspapers were removed from the area and were no longer available after the Captain announced there was sickness aboard the ship.

ONBOARD LECTURES On board lectures were available many days. If you attend just go in with an open mind. There will be some curt remarks made about the United States and some of the so called facts repeated by the lectures should be remembered and checked out when you return home.

SHORE FACTS & SHOPPING SEMINARS Always felt like I was close to being at a P.T.Barnum sales convention when attending one of these Seminars, and I use the word "seminar" very loosely.. You will be told about the wonderful "guarantees" if you ship at Holland American approved stores and the risk you might be talking if you go to a store not carrying the Holland American sign. My advice to that you are savvy already so you sort this out and you decide. You do just fine following your own instinct.

TOUR OF THE SHIP You may have thought or even been told that tours of certain parts of the cruise ships no longer take place. Check your daily program for tours that are listed. TIP: If you are a long time cruiser aboard Holland America believe me they want and need you as a customer. Therefore if you would like to tour somewhere on the ship that is not listed in the daily program, put in a written request at the front office. Not all your requests will be honored and in some cases none will be honored, however you never know until you ask.

Kitchen tours are still a possibility and you might even get a tour behind stage with the dancers and singers.

SALON & FITNESS CENTER The ship has a rather nice fitness center. It was all that crowded with the many seniors on board this cruise. My spouse is a regular customer of the salon and while no one fixes hair like the hair dresser back home she found the work to be acceptable and not too pricey. Don't forget these women expect to be tipped and usually in cash, however if you don't happen to have a few bills with you just add it on to your ship's account.

BRIDGE INSTRUCTION I am not a bridge player however a great number of passengers are and this room was always filled with bridge players, morning and afternoon. I am told there are always experts available to make your bridge playing a little more competitive.

BINGO What would a cruise be without bingo? There are always the faithful that will be there waiting for that next number. We did see some sessions close those due to lack of players.

ART AUCTIONS During the 38 days I sat through one auction and that was enough for me. The fact is these so called auctions are not real auction. The bidding is started at a very inflated price and if no bidders closed down within seconds. A bid at the opening price will almost always get you that piece of art. The expertise of the auctioneer and his/her knowledge about the products will usually tell you very quickly if you want to stay of leave.

CRUISE DIRECTOR We think this ship had one of the hardest working, most professional and most congenial cruise directors in the cruise industry. We are a little biased as this is the second cruise in just six months we had had this cruise director. Thanks for your outstanding leadership aboard the ship.

FUTURE CRUISE DESK Why am I writing about such a subject? The reason---I never saw a day when that desk did not have a potential passengers sitting in one of the chairs. This was a very busy desk. Did the passengers purchase cruises? I don’t really know, however you can expect a blitz of information including in cabin delivery of page after page about future cruises. One of the promises made is that your travel agent back home will be in the loop and you will gets the lowest fare offered by your agent. In addition there are some other "freebies" for early booking. Might just be what you are looking for.

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