November 20, 2005
I recently returned from 16 days on board the Rotterdam sailing from Rio around Cape Horn. With the exception of the QM2, it has been some time since I sailed on a ship with preset dining times and 1200 passengers and I must admit that I was concerned about cruising on such a large ship. While I have spent almost 500 nights at sea, I had not sailed on Holland America Line in over 20 years. I am happy to report that overall, the cruise was delightful and that Holland America continues to offer an excellent product in the premium market.
The ship is elegantly decorated and extremely spacious: you never felt like you were traveling with over 1200 people. The service was quite good. By day two, cabin stewards, dining room waiters and barmen were calling you by name. The staggered seating times in the dining room made for smooth service and the food was uniformly good, rarely exceptional. Cabins in all price categories are spacious and well designed with plenty of closet and storage space.
The Rotterdam’s 16 days itinerary starts in Rio and gives you two additional sea days at the beginning of the cruise compared with most itineraries that begin in Buenos Aires and sail for 14 days. The sea days were much appreciated after the long overnight flight to South America. I spoke with a few passengers who did not book a pre cruise stay in Rio and they all regretted not having time to catch up with themselves before sailing. The itinerary included an overnight call in Buenos Aires, a favorite city of mine and a call in the Falklands. There was plenty of scenic cruising in Patagonia and the Chilean fjords. We were quite fortunate with our weather and had a great day as we circumnavigated Cape Horn and then headed into Ushuaia.
The lecture program was excellent with two speakers covering a variety of topics relating to our itinerary. A port lecturer also presented the highlights of each port of call. All lectures were replayed on the in cabin televisions. The wide variety of solo entertainers and specialty acts were among the best I have experienced at sea in both quality and variety.
There were a few negative points. As good as the solo entertainers were, the “Cast of the SS Rotterdam” which performed the production shows in the main lounge was, by far, the worst troupe I have ever seen at sea. The men could not dance in step with each other and the females had no carisma at all. The “stars” were lackluster, not shining. Their opening show, called Hats Off, was on a par with the worst high school show you have ever seen: cheap sets, cheap costumes and no talent. The production values did improve with later shows, but the cast added nothing. There appeared to be lots of lip syncing in every show.
I also found the front desk to be less than helpful. On three occasions I was given totally incorrect information, about local conversion rates, event times and disembarkation procedures. The conversion rate fiasco cost me money. Fortunately in both other cases I checked further and avoided serious problems. Other passengers related similar experiences.
Considering the value of the dollar in the countries visited, I found the shore excursions somewhat overpriced. A final excursion/transfer from Valpariaiso to Santiago was two hours shorter than promised and did not deliver what was advertised. While I am not sure that it was all HAL’s fault, the disembarkation in Valparaiso was very long and appeared quite disorganized. It was the first call of the season so maybe that will improve over time.
While this is not necessarily a negative, I was surprised by the high percentage of non North American passengers. I would say that about 30% of the passengers were European with a large number of Germans. There were also Australians, Latinos and a small group of Japanese. The biggest negative to this is the increased smoke in lounges and around the pool areas. Also, surprisingly, many of the Europeans did not appear to speak English and this cuts down on opportunities for socializing with fellow passengers.
All in all I had a teriffic cruise. Great ports, unusually good weather, good food and friendly service, plus some great table mates, all added up to a memorable and enjoyable cruise.