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23 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2015
This was our second World Cruise on HAL Amsterdam, but not our last. Our favorite cruise line is Crystal, but HAL is a better deal. 80% of the quality for 60% of the price. So when we can save up enough shekels we go on Crystal, when we ... Read More
This was our second World Cruise on HAL Amsterdam, but not our last. Our favorite cruise line is Crystal, but HAL is a better deal. 80% of the quality for 60% of the price. So when we can save up enough shekels we go on Crystal, when we get to antsy to wait, HAL here we come. Back to this cruise. Wonderful ship, great food, friendly people, fantastic itinerary. Our main activities on board include eating, playing bridge, reading, evening shows, and just generally relaxing. The food in both the main dining room and the Lido buffet is very good. Not always perfect, but the friendly and helpful serving staff will do everything humanly possible to satisfy us. Great variety. The staff is excellent, with a particular shout-out to Presty. Cooked to order breakfast items are the best on any ship we've been on. Bridge lessons and afternoon play were first rate with Karen and Dave. And almost all of the players are friendly, and tolerant of differing skill levels. There were no cut-throat players on this cruise. One of the best libraries at sea. We only brought one book for the flight down and another for the return, got the other 4 dozen books we read from the library. There's live music scattered all over the ship, and the evening shows are generally very good to excellent. We were unable to attend most of the lectures, as they conflicted with bridge classes in the morning. Shore excursions on HAL are a disappointment. The quality and selection is on par with other ships, but the prices seem to be outrageous. With the exception of Indonesia, where local traffic mandates a police escort if you want to get back to the ship on time, we hired a taxi, booked a local excursion in port, rented a car, or rode off on our own bicycles. And at most it cost us 1/2 of what the ShoreEx cost, for the same quality. Yes, we took our bikes with us. Great fun! Previously we've kept them in the cabin, but this time the wonderful Hotel Manager Henk volunteered a place to store them. With the exception of Sydney they're not much use in the big cities, but on the islands they can't be beat. One other person that deserves special mention is Cristal, the Guest Services Manager. No matter what the issue, she would step up and solve it, with a smile. Henk and Cristal are the best in their respective jobs of any cruise we've ever been on. One of the most memorable ports was in the Azores. I don't know if it's like this year around or just the day we were there, but it was the most verdant land we've ever seen. Car rental for $30/day right in the port made it even better. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: February 2013
We arrived at the terminal around 1:30 and was greeted with a check in line that snaked all over. For a ship with only 1150 people, taking 2 1/2 hours to check in is pretty bad. The line was just as long when we did get checked in as it ... Read More
We arrived at the terminal around 1:30 and was greeted with a check in line that snaked all over. For a ship with only 1150 people, taking 2 1/2 hours to check in is pretty bad. The line was just as long when we did get checked in as it was when we started. Felt the ship was fairly dirty when we got there and it took about a week for it to really look better. By the time we left 49 days later, it was looking really good. Experienced some of the same problems the lady from the previous cruise wrote about. Our commode over flowed several times, but they responded quickly each time. The ship was the coldest we have ever sailed on and there were MANY people sick with colds, etc. I swear you could almost see your breath in some of the spaces. Cabins in our area lost partial power several times but maintenance was right there. The food and service in both the dining room and the Lido deck were very good. The only complaint was that there were times when it seemed the dirty dishes would never be picked up, especially in the outdoor areas. Due to the length of the cruise, we may have had special entertainers, but all were very good. I couldn't have afforded to pay to see them on the outside. All of the staff were very friendly and the customer service people, ie. Future cruise, computer help,excursions, etc, kept longer hours than usual. We had several tender ports and in general, they went pretty smooth. Over all a pretty good cruise. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2013
An interesting cruise for less than US$100 per night for 34 nights (obstructed view cabin). Ft. Lauderdale-Panama Canal-Limon (Puerto Rico)-Guajaquil (Ecuador) - Lima (Peru) - Easter Island (Chile) - Pitcairn (British) - Papeete (Tahiti) - ... Read More
An interesting cruise for less than US$100 per night for 34 nights (obstructed view cabin). Ft. Lauderdale-Panama Canal-Limon (Puerto Rico)-Guajaquil (Ecuador) - Lima (Peru) - Easter Island (Chile) - Pitcairn (British) - Papeete (Tahiti) - Auckland (N.Z.) - Burnie (Tasmania) - Sydney (Australia). Taxi from Fort Lauderdale airport to ship is US$20. The only problem is the free shuttle dumps you at a different terminal to yours. A clean ship built for 700 pax. max. and because of the low number of passengers on board a friendly atmosphere develops and one gets to know the different nationalities and passengers meet on the same tables in the restaurants and get to know one another. The itinerary mentions equator and dateline crossings, which hides the fact of many days at sea and which are not really destinations but at least the King Neptune party breaks up the days at sea. Pitcairn was not a destination but was truthfully advertised as a cruise past and islanders came on board to sell honey, souvenirs and stamps and one could meet relatives of the mutineer Fletcher Christian. But what nearly led to mutiny amongst the passengers was the disaster of not getting off the ship at the mysterious Easter Islands. This led to far too many days at sea between Lima and Papeete (Tahiti). One must assume many bookings on this Pacific Princess world cruise were due to the magic that Easter Island evokes. But it is a fact that only one in four ships can berth due to swell (Source: National Geographic) and had that fact been made available in the Princess literature, then passengers would have been more understanding of the possibility of disappointment. A suggestion would be to nominate an alternative, like Bora Bora to break the many sea days. Those of us craning our necks to see the Moais (stone statues) of Easter Island at the railings on deck 9 also missed the commentary from the bridge, which apparently pointed out the locations and names of the various platforms (Ahus). As compensation the ship steamed around the island. There must have been communication problems with the outside speakers close to the railings. And to add salt to the wounds we all missed out on the Tapati Rapa Nui festival, which lasts for 14 days on the island at the beginning of February when we were there. If one does not mind non-working air-conditioning and older busses, then independent travel can make the excursion costs drop by half compared to what Princess charges and shuttle busses from Princess from the ship sometimes drop passengers off nowhere near tourist bureaus, where further excursions can be booked. The entertainment on Pacific Princess was commendable, the library well-stocked, the staff courteous and helpful, cooking and dancing classes, trivia challenges, films, lectures by experts, like the talk about the Concorde by a retired Concorde pilot Captain Les Evans filled the sea days. Every interest is catered for and Christian and Jewish mass is conducted. The food was simply overwhelming in its variety, especially during Sunday brunch at sea. Prepared by internationally well-known chefs the food included all known sea foods plus escargot, pheasant, etc. and international themes ensured every nationality did not have to miss out on their favourite foods. The patisserie section with its specialities like Sacher Torte and Linzer Torte was just too tempting. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2013
There is so much to say about a cruise of this length, being on the same ship, the positives like the itinerary, the food, the entertainment or the negatives - the wait in line at the embarkation process, missing some ports, excursions, ... Read More
There is so much to say about a cruise of this length, being on the same ship, the positives like the itinerary, the food, the entertainment or the negatives - the wait in line at the embarkation process, missing some ports, excursions, many delays and the integrity of some parts of the ship -- so a rather long review! My Grand Adventure begins: Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale embarkation was a mess, unlike any other we have experienced. The Captain was apologetic and tended to blame everyone but the ship. The port authorities relegated this ship to one of the least desirable piers and the delay was so bad, everybody was complaining for days after sailing. No shade, no creature comforts like water or towels until guests had been standing for 2 hours in the sun. Cabin: C103 forward, Starboard side one from the bow: This cruise was booked out some 2 years before sailing and this cabin was one of the last choices at the time for all three sectors. I couldn't find too much information about this cabin anywhere even on Cruise Critic. So I will give a thorough description for future reference. Size: Normal interior size no bonus space. Layout: Same as all other balcony cabins, lacks decent wardrobe space for extended cruising, cupboard space half that of other ships we have been on. Brought my own plastic hangers to double up. Good sized mini fridge with soda and water to buy. Cramped writing desk, as both chairs were located in that area. Balcony: Larger than Baja or Aloha, room to move around with footrests, reclining seats and one of the best features on this deck. Overlooks the mini suites below but C103 had no neighbours above only crew quarters - more on that later. The usual rubber matting has been removed on all balconies leaving the water to slosh around when wet. The bridge is above, indirectly adjacent cutting out some sunlight and direct forward views but otherwise OK. The wind whistled and blew more this far forward on some days. Bathroom: A bit more space in the shower than other ships to alleviate the risk of falling out through the shower curtain to pick something up! Bought my own cheap plastic baskets to use underneath the vanity. This space is difficult to use, as the bottom shelf is too far back to reach down in comfort - a bad design fault. Had a few loud gurgling noises in the shower drain but it wasn't everyday. LCD TV: this is much better viewing than the old box type. It took quite a few days to get Scan on the screen to see where we were etc. A few random days of dodgy satellite reception both in calm or rough conditions which also affected BBC, FOX etc Internet: Depending on your onboard status and if you can afford it, there is useable Internet in the cabin with your own device. Routers are along the corridor but even that was useless and appalling on some days throughout the 49 days. People were sitting in the corridor just to see if logging on was better. There were lots of Elite and Platinum passengers and with each having a truck load of free time, some days were congested for Satellite use. Too bad if you had value added or had a prepaid plan -- very agonising! Noise: Gripe one - Most annoying neighbours ever-on one side -- thumping around, slamming drawers all throughout the voyage. Should have politely asked them to be more considerate but didn't have the courage! Gripe two -- Didn't find out until three quarters through the voyage that even though no passengers above, there are crew quarters. Spoke to Pursers desk, they couldn't find the solution. Went up one deck to see for ourselves and yes, two crew cabins, and one directly over us. Early morning, midnight thumping and dropping things suddenly got a lot better once we told the Purser's Desk about our sleuthing work. Gripe three: C103 is one cabin from the bow and we knew that we would get some noise or rolling motion in swells. What we hadn't expected was the shudders heard and felt starting at the feet up through the legs during a cross swell - a huge bang each time. Positives: quiet corridor area except for the whistling noise from the adjacent crew door (plus some paint smells). In the fire drill we were sent down that way to the Theatre. The laundry is about 12 cabins away, stairs half dozen or so and easier then making the long trek from the middle of the ship. The Grand only has stairs at either end of the ship -- no middle stairs only elevators. Loved the extra space on the balcony. Conclusion: If you are desperate for an Itinerary and this cabin is the only one left -- go for it. If you have a choice and want a bit of levity, more stability or a quieter cabin -- pick something else. True, you can't choose your neighbours but a cabin you can -- for us, never again on this ship. Shows, Entertainment, Food: Food: Apart from one meal in Da Vinci (nothing special) we dined entirely at Horizon Court and the incredible International Cafe. We did not tire of the self-serve effort and to be honest; the food was the best quality with so many choices of hot and cold items. One of the good features of this ship is the ability to have a Panini, soup, sweet dessert or decent espresso 24/7 or a good little continental breakfast in the morning at the Cafe! The only problem was, it's so popular there is not enough table and chairs! Entertainment/Shows: Did not go to one show with the Showtime dancers etc. Saw a violinist, and a Brazilian troupe in the theatre and the rest we watched in the Atrium and the bars. Thought the Tango duo were great (on the ship until last) and a Tango Quartet (best entertainment for us) and one or two excellent piano players. Bingo was run well, the Casino should have more non- smoking days (seemed to have them on Formal nights only. Topside deck parties seemed to be about the crew dancing all over the pool area rather than getting the passengers involved. Nearing the colder areas, it was not possible to have many open deck activities anyway. Itinerary, Ports, Tours, Ship, Crew, Delays: Itinerary: One word -- fabulous - except for the last leg in the final week of the cruise. Not enough ports, too many sea days. Tours: With the exception of one tour being below standard due to a late arrival in Port (reimbursed - small percentage) and another major tour dropped because of possible airport delays, we found the tours to be of a high standard - Coquimbo and Lima stood out the most for us. Be sure to book early online once available, you can cancel most with no charge and you can save some angst and wait time at the tour desk. There was a never-ending line and waitlist for 99% of tours on offer. Ports: Two huge disappointments - not unusual - missed the Falklands (Malvinas) due to tender conditions as well as Nicaragua. Otherwise the selected ports were great. Even got into Buenos Aires and Ushuaia without too many hassles due politics (that we heard about). Exception - once our tour to Quito was cancelled for airport reasons, Manta was a 14 hr wasted day with little to do. We were there to wait for passengers on tours to Machu Picchu or the Galapagos. Ship: It's an older ship, refurbished in the Atrium area, not in the cabins except LCD TV, the ship design is for some, a bit of pain with no stairs in the middle, the integrity of the pool area was awful at times. Many leaks from somewhere meant sloshing through soaked carpets inside Aloha deck on Starboard and many other leaks around the interior corridors. The smell was what you would expect wet carpet to be even though there were fans blowing it dry. Many times we had to walk gingerly across the pool deck to get to Horizon Court. No wonder the Grand was used for a cruise of this length! Crew: For the most part all crew were polite, courteous and helpful in some tougher situations. Had a change of cabin steward during the cruise and the difference was significant. Purser's desk exceptional but it's the Showtime dancers & singers, casino and some concession staff that were the most inconsiderate. On trips ashore that needed a shuttle off the pier, these folk ignored some passengers with infirmities and did not give up their seat. They were also first off the shuttle with little regard and treated their employment as their own personal vacation. Call me old fashioned but courtesy and kindness is valid anywhere. The most well mannered staff along with the hospitality guys were the 'below decks crew' that are never seen from day to day. Delays: Late out of many ports for one reason or another with some like Fort Lauderdale and Buenos Aires quite significantly delayed. All care, no responsibility by the Bridge but some did affect the quality time in the next port. Finally: Thanks for staying the course with this review. It was a long cruise with a lot to comment on. Hope it helps in some way next time you cruise the Grand. There are some negatives but overall this was an exceptional cruise both in length and itinerary. Happy Cruising! Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2013
We greatly enjoyed the 2013 HAL Grand World Voyage (115 days) on the ms Amsterdam. It's a little sad getting back to the real world after the adventure, the glamour, and the pampering over the past four months. However, we do have ... Read More
We greatly enjoyed the 2013 HAL Grand World Voyage (115 days) on the ms Amsterdam. It's a little sad getting back to the real world after the adventure, the glamour, and the pampering over the past four months. However, we do have some fabulous memories. In case it might be useful for anyone else, the following is a wrap-up of what this incredible journey was like for us. When we started the World Voyage, our hunch was that 115 days might drag on forever, but it didn't -- the time actually flew by. We felt very comfortable with the daily schedule and began to think of the ship as our home that was being magically transported to places around the world about which we had always dreamed. Many other destinations that we thought we would never visit in our lifetimes turned out to be equally intriguing and exciting as well. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. General Impressions The ms Amsterdam is an excellent sized ship for a world cruise. It's big enough to contain everything a person could possibly need in a home-away-from-home: several excellent dining venues, lounges, theatres, classes, deck chairs, etc. Although it's classed as a medium-sized ship, the Amsterdam had many of the advantages of a small ship: we recognized most of the passengers and staff (and knew many of them by name), and it wasn't a long walk from one end of the ship to the other. Our stateroom (Verandah Suite) never felt confining; there was enough room for everything we brought with us. The ship's staff and crew always reacted positively to passengers' comments or requests. We frequently observed them going out-of-their way to ask if guests needed assistance. Especially striking was the positive, helpful attitude of the "Front Desk" (Guest Relations) staff on this Grand World Voyage. Without exception, they were always friendly, always cheerful, and always willing to help. We have never encountered anything like this on other cruises. Bravo! The Cruise Director, Bruce, seemed to be especially attuned to the special needs of guests on a long journey such as this one. We understand that Bruce has been with Holland America since 1992 and has served on 18 Grand World Voyages -- nine of them as Cruise Director. We can't say enough about Bruce; he is undoubtedly one of a kind and a real asset to Holland America Line. We packed almost exactly the right things to bring on the cruise, due to our reading of numerous message boards on the Internet, including CruiseCritic.com. Pre-cruise assistance from Holland America was almost non-existent. Perhaps they believe that pre-planning should be simply personal preference, even for people who do not cruise often. For this itinerary, both us brought too many cold-weather clothes (e.g., sweaters and jackets were not needed). The weather was beautiful almost the entire four months -- remarkably good luck! - We never had seriously rough seas -- a few days of gale force winds, but nothing serious. That's really amazing for spending this much time on the open ocean. - Temperatures were moderate to warm the entire time, with the exception of early in the cruise along the west coast of Peru until we left the cold Humboldt Current. There were also cool rainy days in Cape Town and Richards Bay, South Africa. However, it needs to be said that these "cool" periods meant temperatures were in the low 60s. - During the early part of the cruise we missed two tender ports -- Easter Island and Rarotonga -- due to windy conditions and moderate swells. However, as we went along, local people in many ports told us that we must have brought good weather with us, because "the day before you arrived it was terrible weather." - In Asia and Africa, we had a few days with brief rain spells that didn't spoil our enjoyment in visiting these locales, including Nha Trang, Sydney (Day 2), Albany, and Cape Town (Day 2). The rain for our mini-safari from Richards Bay was uncomfortable and limited wild-animal viewing, but we liked the experience nonetheless. - Captain Mercer always kept us updated on meteorological conditions and any future weather or sea problems that we should anticipate. Things We Liked No decisions, no work, no worries for four solid months Free time for us to do as little or as much as we wanted to do We went places we never thought we would ever see (e.g., Tasmania, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Devil's Island) The two weeks we spent visiting New Zealand & Australia (actually 3 weeks, if sea days are included) were absolutely great. These two countries made a very favorable impression on us -- wonderful ports and wonderful people; we left reluctantly, wishing we could stay longer. Touring some of the most renowned cities of the world (e.g., Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Cape Town) with free time built into the schedule was exciting and enjoyable. The desert experience in Namibia of riding in 4x4 vehicles on the very tall sand dunes was a thrilling adventure beyond our expectations. Professional entertainment in the Queen's Lounge almost every night aboard ship for four solid months was enjoyable. There were at least 60 different acts; some were hits and some were misses -- that's understandable. We did hear complaints from veteran world-cruise travelers that there were no "big-name" entertainers this year as they had seen in the past. Nonetheless, we went to the shows almost every night. That's something most people can't do at home. The 6-person Amsterdam Orchestra was superb. The orchestra remained intact (no changes in membership) for the entire four-month journey. Their challenge was to accompany each of the visiting professional singers and solo artists nearly every night, with a different style and tempo. They were always the perfect complement to the guest performers. As we understand it, the orchestra members receive their music the day of the performance and then do one rehearsal. We don't know how they managed this so well. Outstanding meal programs -- a wide variety of selections, superb preparation, wonderfully presented and served. Preparing 5,000 excellent meals per day for passengers, crew members and officers for four solid months in locations all over the world must be a huge challenge. Holland America delivered supremely well. The main dining room and Lido buffet offered consistently excellent food served by correspondingly excellent staff. We were very lucky to be assigned to a table at dinner in the main dining room with two other couples with whom we were compatible and whose company we enjoyed for the entire voyage. Other passengers were not so lucky. Pinnacle Grill is an excellent specialty restaurant on the Amsterdam. The atmosphere, staff, and food quality were always superb. Much of this can be attributed to the managers -- Kim & Tina -- who are first-class professionals. The ship has a particularly good library, including two librarians on-duty for the full cruise, as well as a book club, and a book exchange. There were many special benefits (perks) for cruising on a Holland America Line Grand World Voyage that we greatly appreciated. These included the following: - Pickup and delivery of luggage from our homes by FedEx one week before departure was a brilliant and prized benefit for Grand World Voyage guests. At the end of the voyage, our luggage arrived at our home by FedEx one day after cruise disembarkation. - Complimentary shuttle busses available at every port where it was needed - "Good Morning Amsterdam" TV show taped before a live audience every sea day - Special gifts for all World Voyage passengers on many formal nights - Ship-board activities, including photo contests, HAL Chorale, book discussion groups, exploration speakers, sit & knit group, and many qualified instructors on varied topics such as dancing, tai chi, watercolor, arts & crafts, bridge, etc. We heard someone say, "If you're bored on a HAL world cruise, then you're a boring person." - Special events in the Pinnacle Grill -- Captain's Dinner, Murder Mystery Shows, Le Cirque - Special educational emphasis on regions where we were traveling was especially well done. We clearly felt a cultural immersion at many ports, and we thought it greatly enhanced our experiences. These included Travel Guide Barbara's presentations, selected local menus in the dining rooms, country-oriented pool deck parties, as well as folkloric shows or local performing groups brought onboard the ship for entertainment. - Several-day visit by Holland America's CEO indicated to us the importance the cruise line places on the Grand World Voyage and on its guests. - Very big, labor-intensive (for the crew) special party in Bali, arranged to coincide with the HAL CEO's visit, was just amazing. - Two highly talented dedicated florists were onboard for the entire cruise, and they created beautiful, artistic fresh flower arrangements all over the ship which were refreshed frequently -- wow, they were great! - On this long voyage, crew members seemed to enjoy getting to know the passengers, including their drink and food preferences. - Medical and dental department on board for the entire cruise. One of us had an abscessed tooth and might have had to leave the ship if the dentist and his equipment had not been available. We were aware of other passengers that were treated by the medical staff for broken limbs and other ailments. Travel Guide Barbara has been a staff member on 15 world cruises and has worked for Holland America for more than 20 years. She presented a 45-minute lecture in the Queen's Lounge several days before every one of the port calls on this cruise. The insights she passed along were always pertinent, useful, and based on her experience. She never pushed shopping at particular stores, rental car companies, etc. The Digital Workshop (sponsored by Microsoft) was very well done. "Techspert Tom" was an unusually good asset for the cruise. He is one of the best personal computer teachers we have ever encountered -- relaxed, patient, knowledgeable, and always current on new technology. His classes were informative, and he even tailored some of the material for the world-cruise experience. We congratulate Holland America and Microsoft for developing this relationship. Areas for Improvement For passengers, use of the Internet was expensive, and reliability was spotty during long stretches. We were very happy that some access was provided, especially for this lengthy cruise when it was essential for many of us to stay in touch with family or to communicate in the event of an emergency. We were frustrated with the limited bandwidth onboard ship. We understand why reliability is so bad when we are in the middle of the ocean or in less-developed parts of the world. However, that doesn't mean that we were happy with the situation. Holland America was very late in sending detailed information to passengers in sufficient time before the cruise. Even though most of us made reservations more than a year in advance, they waited until the last minute to give us the details we needed for advance planning. As an example, we would have preferred knowing the themes for the 19 formal nights at least 3-4 months in advance, for shopping purposes, but that didn't happen. We talked to passengers who never received advance information, and many others who received theirs only days before their departure from home. We didn't understand the need for 19 formal nights on this voyage. That's too many, for myriad reasons. Perhaps we could understand having one formal event per week. The Grand World Voyage was 16 weeks long, so 16 formal nights should have been the absolute maximum number. We paid a lot of extra money for a stateroom with a verandah we couldn't use, because guests in the adjoining stateroom used their verandah for cigarette and cigar smoking many times during each day. Spending a day on Easter Island was one of our reasons for booking this particular Grand World Voyage. Getting so close, but not being able to go ashore due to choppy seas, was a big disappointment. That much being said, we believe Captain Mercer made the right decision to curtail tendering passengers to the island; we don't fault him in any way. We were just frustrated that the opportunity eluded us. We found this hard to believe, but apparently fellow passengers could not be trusted. Early in the voyage we put refrigerator magnets, from the ports we visited, on the outside door frame of our stateroom. Our Bora Bora magnet disappeared after a few days (obviously stolen), so we removed the magnets off our door. Down the hall, another room was doing the same thing, and despite their magnets also being stolen, they continued displaying them. After about 2½ months, five of their magnets had been stolen. They put a sign on their door asking that the magnets be returned; but, of course, they weren't. By the end of the voyage, eight magnets had been stolen from their door frame. Unbelievable! Summary Holland America's 2013 Grand World Voyage was everything we had hoped for, and more. We had wonderful experiences that will remain with us forever. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2012
This was our first world cruise, and certainly not our last. We are using the words "charmed" and "amazing" to describe our experience. Everything about it was wonderful. Princess treated us like royalty and added so ... Read More
This was our first world cruise, and certainly not our last. We are using the words "charmed" and "amazing" to describe our experience. Everything about it was wonderful. Princess treated us like royalty and added so many special touches to our experience. They celebrated every holiday and occasion with decorations, special foods, and much fanfare. After a long shore excursion, we were greeted on the pier by the chef, maitre d', and others with a hearty "welcome home" and a promise that they held dinner for us. The food was perfect; not so rich that you couldn't stand it after a week and never boring. The variety was amazing and always included local specialties. We were so lucky with our weather. Ports were fascinating and we mixed ship tours with cruise critic tours and solo adventures. We even had a world choir for which we practiced on sea days and performed for passengers one evening (2 shows)each segment. Entertainment was varied and very good. We packed perfectly and would share our experience with anyone. We also brought items that made our daily living more pleasurable and comfortable; a calendar for the wall, a world map which we hung and traced our course, and organizers for the bathroom door. We bought a closet extender in San Diego and it will be a permanent item to take on long cruises. This trip could not have been better! Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
This was our third cruise on the Emerald, first being Venice/Greek Isles, second voyage. Nothing is like it was on the first cruise anymore. Princess continues to be the only line that does not take contagious/infectious control ... Read More
This was our third cruise on the Emerald, first being Venice/Greek Isles, second voyage. Nothing is like it was on the first cruise anymore. Princess continues to be the only line that does not take contagious/infectious control seriously, thus the blast of Norovirus on the ship. Granted, the staff worked diligently attempting to serve at the Horizon, but there is, on any day, such lack of control, food arrangement, and direction in Horizon, it is utter chaos. Anger and frustration on the part of passengers did not help.This is the only line we cruise that does not have someone at every door insisting on hand cleaner prior to entering any common areas. FOOD: The food was so poor, we stuck to mostly fruit, salad bar vegetables; grain bread and butter, wherever it was hidden. It appeared more people opted for Anytime dining, and lines were staggeringly long waiting to get inside. Service was very slow, and no one ever came back to ask if your meal was OK. Thus, we ate at the Horizon, among dirty plates and no service for even water.Getting past the poor selections, tough meats, uncooked fish, and service, the biggest problem - and one most anyone over 55 hopes not to experience - was the inedible varieties of foods overwhelmed with salt. Everything had far too much salt in it to taste like anything but salt.CROWDS: The ship sleeps more than 3000 people; but there just is not enough room in the common areas, the lounges, nor in the theatre when everyone is out and about. To see a show, you needed to be in a seat an hour prior.Since the ship is so large, you can only get into cargo ports - away from the towns. Shuttles were provided, at a cost each way. Again, we often have shuttles on other lines, but they are provided as a "service" for free.BEDS: We knew the beds were not great from the first cruise, and made phone arrangements prior to cruising. Sadly, one bed tilted toward the floor; the other sank so deeply in the middle we asked for pillows (6) to fill the gap and sleep on. Minimal response from the ship. Our cabin steward was phenominal in assisting and continually apologizing for the situation. SMOKE: Hallways were reaking from smoke coming out of cabins. Why they don't designate one side of the ship for smoking makes one wonder. It is not possible to eliminate the odor of smoke by washing down a cabin "when needed".We were part of 290 CC's, with four M&G with invitations sent to the Captain, etc. We never saw the captain or co-captain; they (unlike other lines for CC) never served appetizers or drinks. Very disappointing as it was obvious we were part of the "masses" and not important as cruisers.PORTS: The TransAtlantic and ports were the best. The Baltic ports were crunched into short port times, and inability to see as much as desired. St. Petersburg was a delight. Can't say enough about our private tours booked through members of CC, and all the organizing that went into the M&G. The one tour we did with Shore Excursions was simply OK; as usual, huge busloads and wasted time getting on and off for a "photo op".This 27 day was chosen for the itinerary, not the ship. Those of us who enjoy much longer cruises, and know it is possible to have much more for your money than what we experienced will look elsewhere. For us, three times and we're out. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
Crown Princess Is Better Than Queen Mary! We departed Ft. Lauderdale on May 1, 2010 on Crown Princess for a 53-day cruise to ten countries arriving Southampton, UK on June 23rd. We boarded the Queen Mary 2 on June 25th for a 6-day crossing ... Read More
Crown Princess Is Better Than Queen Mary! We departed Ft. Lauderdale on May 1, 2010 on Crown Princess for a 53-day cruise to ten countries arriving Southampton, UK on June 23rd. We boarded the Queen Mary 2 on June 25th for a 6-day crossing to New York. Crown Princess is an excellent ship with great food, service, and entertainment. Our expectations were high that the Queen Mary 2 would be even better. We discovered Crown Princess is better than QM2!! Food: QM2 food was poor to fair. The maitre D confirmed one entree was an "inedible rubber fish". Also, Venison had no flavor nor texture. Side dishes were strange, e. g. guacamole filled twice-baked potato with re-fried beans. Food was rarely served at the right temperature - entrees were often cool; ice cream arrived half-melted. The QM2 menu was very small making it difficult to find something I wanted. Buffets served "cafeteria quality food" with extremely limited choices. I tried a cookie and almost broke my teeth. Food was consistently great/excellent on the Crown Princess. The menu was very large. Food was served at the right temperature and it had great flavor and texture. Compared to QM2's puny buffets, Crown Princess has huge buffets with lots of choices of freshly-prepared, delicious food! Princess also has well-stocked areas such as the International Cafe with lite fare meals, great snacks, deserts, and an excellent choice of flavored coffees. If you like frozen coffee, Princess serves about six flavors vs. one flavor on QM2. Likewise, there are four types of cookies, freshly baked throughout the day, on Princess vs. one type of cookie (baked weekly?) on Queen Mary. The QM2 buffet has "fake ice cream" from a machine. Princess has "real ice cream" and for $ 1.50 you can buy three scoops of delicious gelato. A passenger explained, "Of course food is better on Princess, but that's an unfair comparison. Princess has Italian chefs. They're passionate about food and world-renowned as the best. The priority on Princess is food taste/quality. Chefs offer freshly cooked food when passengers want it. Guess where the chefs are from on Queen Mary? They're Indians. Who ever heard of a world famous Indian chef? On QM2, the priority is cooking schedule. All food is prepared at once and much of it is frozen and reheated with a sauce poured on top. That's why entrees don't have natural juices, just toppings." At the cooking demonstration, the head Indian chef fried a steak and asked his assistant to taste it. The assistant answered, "I don't eat meat." OMG! The chefs don't taste food as a quality control measure. That's why my venison was tasteless with no texture. Food Service: Princess food service combines great service and having fun. Waiters are friendly and outgoing. They proudly announce which county they're from, engage passengers, and we become friends sharing stories and laughing together. Waiters are extremely attentive and personally committed to anticipate and immediately respond to passenger needs at the table. Queen Mary waiters are formal and reserved, limiting their conversation to "good afternoon". Waiters are not involved nor aware of passenger needs at the table. We had to ask, multiple times, for more water, coffee, bread, etc. Food would arrive and waiters didn't know who had ordered it - lots of mistakes and confusion. Queen Mary only had a few waiters (I think three) at the pub lunch. They couldn't keep up with orders nor bus tables. Princess has the number of waiters needed for quick, efficient service and busing of tables for pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. Public Area Appearance, Cleanliness, Design, & Layout: Princess is beautiful. Queen Mary is both beautiful and elegant. Both ships have attractive, clean public areas. QM2 even has an automatic wash system to clean dining room windows at sea. Really slick! Design and layout of public areas on Crown Princess are excellent - thoughtful, practical, and good for mobility-challenged passengers. Facilities are organized logically and centralized at the Piazza with entertainment, the computer center, future cruise booking, lite fare food, a bar, a great coffee shop, wine tasting, deserts, etc. Public spaces are open with lots of seating so it never seems crowded even with 3200 passengers. Designers of the Queen Mary failed interior design school. Public area design ranges from impractical to just plain stupid. There is no central hub with access to everything. Facilities are scattered all over the ship. You would think this helter-skelter layout would reduce crowding, but the Queen Mary public areas feel crowded with no place to sit even though it has 700 fewer passengers than the Crown Princess. Bad layout on QM2 is further complicated by different ceiling heights. To achieve a "luxurious feel", designers used 20-foot high ceilings (two-decks) in some areas which connect to two 10-foot ceilings/decks. When you exit the main elevator, you see two sets of stairs. One goes up/down 20-feet, the other goes ten feet. Queen Mary has manually controlled, tiny wheelchair elevators to go a single-story. They're the width of a wheelchair and deep enough for the chair and a person to push it. I pushed a wheelchair into the elevator. We went up one-story and discovered the manual door was at the other end. I couldn't reach over the person in the chair and couldn't walk beside her to reach the door. A passenger saw our predicament and opened the door. Another problem ramp-type floor to adjust from a 2-story deck to the adjacent single-story decks. I found it difficult to push a wheelchair up the carpeted ramp. Queen Mary poses a problem for all passengers trying to find their way around the ship and a special problem for mobility-challenged. Design of the Crown Princess is better because it is simple and intuitive to find your way around the ship and it's handicap-friendly. Queen Mary has two theaters; both pose problems. The Royal theater has twelve pillars about a foot and a half in diameter that block the view to the stage. Passengers see empty seats from the aisle, walk past seated passengers to the empty seats to discover they can't see anything. Then, they get up, walk past seated passengers again to the aisle. One man started to shout to passengers entering the Royal theater, "You can't see anything from these seats, that's why they're empty". By comparison, Princess has an excellent theater design with no pillars and good viewing from all seats. Acoustics are also better in the Crown Princess theater. The second theater on Queen Mary is Illusions. It's also the planetarium. A dome in the ceiling is lowered about 10 feet over 150 red color seats. The seats recline by pushing a button, but many are broken so you have to standup, push it back and jump on it quickly to keep it in the reclined position. All lights are turned off so you can watch a 23-minute video projected on the dome. There are only two, 23-minute computer generated videos using NASA images. The video is slightly blurry. If you like this kind of video, tune your TV to the History channel. They have much better and clearer videos with more information and cover more subjects. QM2 "hypes" this as the "only planetarium at sea". Other cruise companies are smarter about how they spend money. "Movies under the stars" on Crown Princess is a much better offering that QM2's planetarium. Embarkation on Queen Mary 2 in Southampton UK vs. Crown Princess in Ft. Lauderdale: Embarkation on Crown Princess ship was efficient and fast. We arrived at 2:00 PM at QM2 to avoid the early boarding crowds while comfortably in time for the 4:30 PM deadline. The terminal was very crowded and lines were NOT moving. I asked a Cunard employee how long she thought it would take for me to get onto the ship. She said, "Princess Anne was here today and that delayed everything." I said "Ma'am, Princess Anne is not in this terminal, I'm just trying to get past the six couples in front of me to the check-in lady." She said the problem is that passengers don't have all their documents ready for check-in. I said, "Ma'am, I've timed the process. It takes 15-20 seconds for a passenger to hand documents to the check-in lady and she takes 9 minutes and 45 seconds to complete the check-in. I think there's something wrong with your systems or procedures. It's not like Cunard didn't know my wife and I were coming to board this ship today." After check-in, I was told I had to wait until number 15 was called and that I should sit down in the terminal which was dirty, hot, crowded and had no air conditioning. The reason was "the gangway is full". I said, "Ma,am I can see the gangway all the way to the top at the ship entrance and there are only a couple of people on it. Why can't I just walk up the gangway to the air conditioned ship?" She said the gangway is not designed to handle a lot of people. I said, "Ma,am there are only a dozen or so people on that gangway. Princess ships load 3200 passengers and I've seen continuous lines of people on the gangway." She said, "You're in the UK now and this is the way we do it." I sat down and waited till number 15 was called. There was NO line on the gangway nor at the entrance to the ship. Later, passengers told me the delay in boarding was to give photographers more time to photograph passengers. That's amazing; Princess photographers quickly take photos so as not to inconvenience passengers. Summary - Why Crown Princess Is a Better Cruise Experience than Queen Mary 2: For Princess, it's all about the passengers. Their ships are beautiful and well-designed with all the creature comforts, services, entertainment, etc. I may want. The entertainment, food, and services are truly exceptional. Our cruise experience on Crown Princess was excellent because their culture of employee commitment involves everyone in a relentless effort to improve customer satisfaction. For Cunard, it's all about their "regal", $ 800 million ship. They don't realize the interior ship design/layout is impractical because they're pre-occupied with hull design, powerful engines, and ability of QM2 to crash through huge waves at very high speed so all passengers can throw up in a storm. Fortunately, we didn't encounter a storm. Cunard believes passengers are privileged to travel on the Queen Mary and the ship is exempt from critique. They assume I don't know what great food and service are. Rather than involve employees in a continuous improvement program, Cunard allows employees to distance themselves from customer satisfaction creating an employee culture of excuses explaining away and diminishing passenger problems rather than improving service to fix them. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
This was our fifth cruise on Holland America, and the longest to date that we have taken. Our previous cruises were a seven day Alaska cruise on the Volendam, a ten day Caribbean cruise on the Maasdam, and 14 day Panama Canal cruise on the ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise on Holland America, and the longest to date that we have taken. Our previous cruises were a seven day Alaska cruise on the Volendam, a ten day Caribbean cruise on the Maasdam, and 14 day Panama Canal cruise on the Volendam, and the 35 day Voyage of the Vikings again on the Maasdam.We are both in our 60's, retired, and very active. We are both avid photographers and take a lot of pictures when vacationing. For example, on this cruise we took over 8000 pictures between the two of us. For this trip we took Amtrak from Washington DC down to Fort Lauderdale, arriving on March 8. We stayed at the La Quinta Inn and was quite pleased with the hotel. Very clean and the front desk staff were very friendly. There is places to eat close by, but it does take about 15-20 minutes to walk there, so a car is nice to have but not absolutely necessary.We had rented a car for our stay, and on March 9 took off and went to Butterfly World. We have been there before, and will probably go back there anytime that we are in the Ft. Lauderdale area. It's a wonderful way to spend part of your day, with hundreds of butterflies flying around. They also have an area with various types of birds flying around. They include many species of hummingbirds, and many other very colorful birds. You can easily spend 3-4 hours there. After that we went to the Flamingo Gardens. The Flamingo Gardens is a non-profit organization that takes in birds that have been injured and can no longer fly or take care of themselves. There are many species there including bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, owls, and many others. There is also an area where you can actually walk among cranes of all kinds, ducks, pelicans, etc. About two hours is all you really need for it as it is rather small.March 10 we went on an all day trip to the Everglades, with the folks from Eco Safari. They picked us up at the Flamingo Gardens, and drove across the state  to Naples. Along the way we made many stops to see aligators, cranes, hawks, osprey, manatees, etc. Once in Naples, we had a airboat ride, a pontoon boat ride, and a short nature hike. The guide we had was terrific and the day was well worth the price paid.EMBARKATIONWe turned in our car at noon, and was taken to the pier via the rental cars shuttle. Arriving around 12:30 we walked into the terminal and were greeting by Captain Gundersen. That was a first for us. Check in was a snap with no waiting.We had no longer got to the Lido when they announced that the rooms were ready, so we immediately turned around and went to our cabin to drop off our carry on luggage. We were assigned to D334 on Deck 2, the Main Deck. Not bad for an OV guarantee, and we were very pleased. The walk-in closets on Prinsendam are fabulous. It's too bad that when HAL refits their ships or build new ones, they don't put them in all cabins. CABINOur cabin was just outside the atrium, on the starboard side of the ship. Of decent size, perhaps just a bit smaller than what we have had before, but that wasn't an issue. The couch and chair that were in the room should be replaced. They were very uncomfortable because the stuffing was simply old and worn out. Another issue is the placement of the TV. It's in the corner by the window, but very high up. If you sit on the couch you must crane your head up to see it, which becomes very uncomfortable very quickly. Other than that we really didn't have any problem with the room.FIRST ISSUEI had rented a tux from Cruiselineformal for the cruise, and had splurged and upgraded to their better quality tux, and ordered two vests with ties, etc. It wasn't in our room when we got there, but I didn't think too much about that at the time, assuming that our room steward simply hadn't had the time to get it yet.We wandered the ship until dinner, where we met our tablemates for the cruise. After returning to our room my tux still wasn't there. Our room steward wasn't around so I went to the front desk and spoke with Candice, who we became quite close with during the cruise. I explained the situation, and showed her a copy of my order. Well, the bottom line was the tux I ordered and paid $170 for was no where to be found and they offered me a regular tux from their onboard stock. I told them that I would not accept it unless I was completely reimbursed for my original order. I was told that all they could do was either reimburse me the difference between the two (about $50) and give me a regular tux, or cancel my order and reimburse the whole amount but I would not have a tux for formal nights. I decided that we would simply not participate in formal nights and took the full reimbursment. SECOND ISSUEThe first night at sea, my wife got up around 2am and went into the bathroom, to find water on the floor. We quickly discovered that the stool had back flooded and was spilling water over the edge. We called the front desk and someone came down immediately, flushed it and went away after cleaning up the water from the floor. The second night the same thing happened again. It was obvious to me (from my extensive Navy career) the the valve that allows water to enter the bowl had a slow leak and needed replacing. However this seemed to be beyond the maintenance folks knowledge until I explained very carefully what was happening. Finally that afternoon one of the maintenance officers came, looked at it, and a couple of minutes later someone came in, replaced the valve and all was well with the world.ACTIVITIESThere is a lot more of them on a Grand cruise. Besides the usual trivia, bingo, etc., there were Ti Chi lessons, water coloring lessons, kniting classes, and many other activities. There were also the usual dam dollar events which we participated in. That was a great way to meet a lot of people and really get to know them.THE SHIPThe Prinendam is small, holding only slightly over 700 passengers, and for this voyage there were only 637 onboard. It doesn't take long to cover the whole ship. The public areas were very nice, but if you really looked she is showing her age in places. There are only two "shops", one selling the jewelry etc., and the other selling HAL products, some over priced snacks, and booze that will be held until the last day of the cruise. Really nothing special.The theater was very small, but the chairs were the most uncomfortable chairs I have ever sat in. We went to two movies during the cruise and simply couldn't handle any more. After that we waited and saw the movie the next day on the TV if we wanted to see it. The best place on the ship in our opinion was the outside covered section of the Lido. If it's not too breezy, it's wonderful to sit outside while eating your meal. Speaking of the Lido, the starboard side had a coffee pot that was broke our entire cruise, while the other one poured extremely slowly. We found out from some folks that had taken the previous cruise and they said the pot was broken when they went aboard. It seems to me that in that amount of time they could have ordered a new one and replaced it, but that's just my opinion.THE CREWOur room steward was adequate, but nothing to write home to mother about. On several occasions we had to ask for a new floor mat for the bathroom as it was picked up in the morning but never replaced, two other times we called him to come back and finish cleaning because the stool and glasses had not been cleaned. It was simply little irratating things but not enough to ruin our vacation.The front desk folks were fabulous. Always there with a smile, and always willing to go beyond to ensure your every needs were met. We became very close to Chris and Candice and both were the picture perfect HAL employee.The main dining room staff were also great. Our table server Januar was the best we have ever had. Absolutely super. The Lido staff on the other hand seemed to be new perhaps? Their overall comprehension of English seemed to be lacking, and sometimes trying to get someone to take our tray away (YES, THE PRINSENDAM STILL HAS TRAYS IN THE LIDO!!), was impossible. I don't like putting my tray on another table but on occasion I had to.PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONSWhat can I say about the ports. All were everything we thought they would be. Yes we did have a couple of days of rain, but when it did it wasn't that hard a rain and didn't spoil the shore time. We did not take any of the ships excursions, but booked our own with two other couples for most of the ports, or went off on our own.SUMMARYThe Prinsendam is a small ship, and there will be a bit more movement than you might have experienced on other ships. She is old, but has aged well. Some of the furniture is beyond the point of being usable and should be replaced. Overall the crew was top notch with a few exceptions. I have heard rumors that next year will be the last year for the Grand Med and Black Sea Voyage, so if you want to go you better book now. After that it will be there but as segments not a Grand Cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2009
This cruise was roundtrip out of  Ft. Lauderdale from March 11 to April 30, 2009.  We rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, a drive of about four and a half hours from our house.  We dropped the car off at the Ft. ... Read More
This cruise was roundtrip out of  Ft. Lauderdale from March 11 to April 30, 2009.  We rented a car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, a drive of about four and a half hours from our house.  We dropped the car off at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport since there is no longer a special Hertz location at the cruise port.  We spent the night before the cruise at Candlewood Suites, located at 1120 W. State Road 84 in Ft. Lauderdale.  We had no complaints about this hotel, and it is very conveniently located a short and easy drive from the port.  On previous trips we have also stayed at a Holiday Inn that is right next to the Candlewood Suites, and that was also fine.  There aren't many places to eat within walking distance of these hotels, but that was not a problem for us.The Prinsendam is a small ship built around 1988 and holds about 750 passengers.  On this cruise there were only about 650 passengers.  One of the neatest things about the Prinsendam is the Captain, Captain Gunderson.  He's been the captain of the Prinsendam for as long as the ship has been part of Holland America, so he really knows the ship, knows what he's doing, and is also pretty darn adorable.  His wife and young daughter were on board for part of this cruise.  One time the Captain and his family went on a shore excursion that we were also going on.  They waited until almost all the passengers had already gotten on the bus and then they got on the bus, which required them to split up since there were not three open seats close to each other.  I really appreciated the fact that he didn't pull rank and get three seats reserved for himself and his family.  The captain's daughter was very well behaved, and in fact we hardly ever saw her except once in awhile in the afternoon when she got ice cream in the Lido.Our room was an inside room on deck M right near the center of gravity of the ship.  We always try to get a room on a lower deck and in the center part of the ship to minimize movement and seasickness.  This worked very well for us on this cruise, as we felt very little "rocking and rolling", even when crossing the Atlantic both ways.  In the interest of full-disclosure, I do have to tell you that the inside rooms on the Prinsendam are quite small.  There are two half-queen beds (they call them twins but they are really the size of half a queen), and these beds are arranged at 90 degree angles to each other along two walls of the room.  They were originally made up with the pillow end of both beds next to each other, but we had that changed so our feet would be next to each other.  Otherwise we would have been hitting each other in the face with our pillows all night.  There is only a small amount of floor space in the room, with no table and in fact no space for a table.  There is a small chair positioned in this little bit of floor space, and on the occasions when we got room service we had to use this chair as a table.  People say you don't spend much time in your room anyway, which is what we always say too, but the truth is we did spend quite a bit of time in our room.  In spite of the small size, we didn't mind it all that much and would stay there again since this room was significantly less expensive than an outside room.  The bathroom, by the way, was very nice and had a big tub and a clothes line, both of which I used a lot.  There was also a big walk-in closet with lots of hangers, shelves and drawers, and a safe.  The room also included a small refrigerator, television, DVD player (although you have to pay to use the ship's DVDs), hairdryer, and a chest of drawers with three nice-size drawers, and additional storage space under one of the beds.  This type of room is not for everyone, but I like to tell myself it's better than camping, and I smile all the time when I remember how much less I'm paying than everyone else on the ship.The activities on the ship did not interest us too much for the most part.  Trivia seemed to be very popular with a number of people, and some of these people took it way to seriously in my opinion, even getting into fights over it.  There were lectures which we tried and didn't find very interesting.  The port lectures were particularly disappointing  because we were expecting to be given a lot of information on all the interesting ports we were visiting, as we had on previous cruises, but the information provided was not particularly interesting or useful.  Other activities included dance lessons (very popular), water color lessons (which I now regret not doing), crafts, and funny sports competitions where passengers received what Holland America calls "dam dollars" just for participating and extra dam dollars for winning.  We did participate in this long enough to get two nice thick sweatshirts, which came in very, very, very handy later in the cruise when it was really, really, really cold.There is an excellent library on the Prinsendam which includes a paperback exchange, many travel books, and lots of other books.  This was great for us since we spent most of our spare time reading.  The library also has computers with internet access, as well as three of those fantastic leather stressless lounge chairs, which were dreamy the few times were able to get them.  There is also a movie theater, and we saw a few recent movies as well as a cooking demonstration in there.  Of course there are shops, mostly selling jewelry.The crew on the Prinsendam is excellent and extremely friendly.  How they put up with some of the passengers is beyond me, since unfortunately some of the passengers were very demanding and rude to the crew as well as rude and inconsiderate to other passengers.  It leaves a bad taste in your mouth to witness a passenger chewing out a crew member for clearing dishes off his table, which is his job; or when you see a female passenger take three cups-full of liqueur from the ice cream bar to drink, resulting in there being no liqueur ice cream toppings for the other passengers; or when you get to the bus for a shore excursion and find that each member of certain families have taken a window seat for themselves forcing other couples to split up; or when a male and a female passenger come almost to blows because one of them is trying to save a seat in the showroom.  I'm sure it was just a small minority of the passengers who behaved this way, and in spite of these people the crew was unfailingly cheerful, pleasant and efficient.The best thing about this cruise, in addition to the adorable Captain, and the main reason for going on this cruise, is the great ports it visits. After stopping at St. Barts and St. Lucia in the Caribbean, we went to the Canary Islands; Gibraltar; Cartagena, Spain; Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Monte Carlo; Livorno, Italy; Citavecchia, Italy; Naples, Italy; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; Varna, Bulgaria; Sevastopol, Ukraine; Kusadasi, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Valetta, Malta; Cadiz, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Hamilton, Bermuda; and New York City.Where else can you find a cruise that goes to so many interesting, diverse places in so little time, and in such a comfortable, convenient way.  All the ports were well-worth visiting.  We did Holland America shore excursions is almost all of the ports.  While they are indeed expensive, they are very well done and you learn a lot about the place your visiting, plus you know the ship won't leave without you if your shore excursion gets back late, which is not true if you go off on your own.My favorite shore excursion was the one to Arles and Les Baux out of Marseilles.  Both Arles and Les Baux are beautiful, interesting towns, and the lunch we had at the Olive Mill restaurant in between these two towns was fantastic.  Another shore excursion I have to comment on was the one we took in Rome called "Vatican Sacred Scenes."  This shore excursion is obscenely expensive (I'm embarrassed to say how expensive), but we splurged on it because we thought it was a once in a lifetime chance to visit the Pope's private residence and see the bronze gate; Bernini staircase; royal room where the Pope meets heads of state; Paolini chapel, where the Pope prays; the balcony from which the Pope blesses the crowds; another balcony with a view of the nave of St. Peters; and the Papal Treasures.  We didn't see ANY of these things.  It was just before Easter, and the tour operator used that as an excuse, but our guide indicated that he could not take people to those places anymore because of security.  We still had a nice tour through the Vatican, but it was not worth the ridiculous amount of money we paid.  We wrote to Holland America about this after the cruise and they responded in what we consider a very fair way by giving us a future cruise credit for the difference in price between this shore excursion and what we would have paid for the regular tour of the Vatican, which is really what we got.  My advice to anyone thinking about booking the Vatican Sacred Scenes tour is that you verify with the shore excursion staff exactly what you will and will not be seeing before you pay for the excursion.The main dining room on the Prinsendam has two seatings.  We were lucky enough to get the early seating at 5:30, which was great because the late seating was around 8:30, which is really too late for us to eat dinner (some days we were asleep not long after that when we had a long shore excursion).  There were seven formal nights, several informal, and the rest casual.  They strictly enforced the jacket requirement for men on formal nights, but women could get away with wearing almost anything, including pants.  Some of the men wore tuxedos on formal nights, but there were just as many if not more men in suits.  The women dressed nicely on formal nights but not nearly as dressy as women used to dress on cruises, which in my opinion is a good thing.  I have a "ball gown" which I wore on a cruise years ago and it would have been totally out of place on this cruise and probably on most cruises today.  Again, that's a good thing in my opinion.  The Lido restaurant was also open for dinner, which was a nice alternative on days we got back late from our shore excursion.The entertainment on the Prinsendam was not as good as I expected.  One of the dancers said that Holland America has cut the number of dancers and singers back from ten to seven, so there was one male dancer and one couple less than they used to have in their production shows.  This is unfortunate, because as hard as the remaining seven dancers and singers tried, it's hard to put on a show that deserves to be called a production show with only seven people.  In addition to the "production shows", there were also singers, comedians, magicians, a juggler, dancers, and musicians to entertain us throughout the cruise.  My favorite was the magician, and I hate to say it, but we skipped quite a few of the other shows.If I have a complaint about this cruise (other than the Vatican Sacred Scenes shore excursion mentioned above) it would be that they still allow smoking on Holland American ships in the bars and anywhere outside.  This is a shame because it only took one person smoking to pollute the air in the Crow's Nest and Ocean Bar and drive some of us non-smokers out.  This needs to change, and the fact that at the end of the cruise we were given a survey about the smoking issue indicates that Holland American is at least aware of it and is thinking about it.Disembarkation from the Prinsendam was pretty smooth, although it was slightly delayed for some reason.  We were still able to get off in time to get to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in the Hertz shuttle, which was sitting there waiting for us, and pick up our rental car at 10:00 for our drive home.  We only took two carryon-size suitcases each on this cruise (we washed clothes in our bathtub), and Holland America gave every passenger a nice zip-up tote bag, which we used to tote the many, many, many gifts Holland America gave us throughout the cruise, including two really nice fleece jackets, the two sweatshirts we bought with our dam dollars, two big sourvnir plates, two tiles, two clocks, two umbrellas, two neat pens with lights in them, and who knows what else.In summary, I would recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to see a lot of very interesting places in the Mediterranean and Black Sea in a very low-stress way.  I would say, though, that you should be aware of how long a 50-day cruise is (50 days in a long time) and how many sea days there are (a lot), and be prepared to relax and go with the flow.  I would also strongly recommend that you bring very warm layers and be prepared for temperatures that are much colder than you expect, as well as for rain.  March and April are probably the shoulder season in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and we were uncomfortably cold (to put it mildly) in some of the ports because we simply did not dress warmly enough.  Think layers, warm layers, lots of warm layers. We would do this cruise again and probably will some day, but we'll definitely bring warmer clothes. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
We joined Queen Mary 2 at Fort Lauderdale having crossed the Atlantic from Southampton on Queen Victoria. Some two hundred passengers had chosen this method of joining Queen Mary 2. The transfer between ships was handled efficiently by ... Read More
We joined Queen Mary 2 at Fort Lauderdale having crossed the Atlantic from Southampton on Queen Victoria. Some two hundred passengers had chosen this method of joining Queen Mary 2. The transfer between ships was handled efficiently by both ships. (The only hiccup was a delay due to a high number of German passengers trying to disembark Queen Victoria by ignoring the transfer muster instructions given them, this despite those instructions having been translated into their native language.) The two Queens were berthed on either side of a wide jetty and each had their own embarkation hall. We had had fun at breakfast in the QV's Queens Grill watching our next stateroom on QM2 being cleaned and the balcony washed. There was a wait for check-in to open, our transfer having run so smoothly, however refreshments were provided by Cunard staff. Check in for our group was uneventful despite Cunard having to undertake additional visa checks. The introduction of the ESTA Visa for non US citizens plus Brazilian Visa checks for US citizens: who are currently undergoing a tit for tat visa programme, similar to ours with India. We had again been upgraded from Princess to Queens Grill. A smiley greeting awaited us as we embarked and although we were well capable of finding our stateroom, assistance was on hand had we needed it. We were impressed by our welcome from both our new Butler and his assistant. Our speedy arrival at our suite, within minutes of check-in opening, saw the butler dispatching his assistant to expedite our luggage. My first priority was to checkout my dining table arrangements. I need not have worried. Our Maitre d' on Queen Victoria had emailed his opposite number on QM2 with my preferences and that is exactly what I got. A nicely positioned table for six at the rear of the Queens Grill. The only other priority was to register for an internet package. Cunard generally offer an additional 20 minutes bonus to their timed internet packages if you register on day one. Bingo! between us that was 40 minutes gained. With four back to back Atlantic crossings on QM2 to our credit, this was to be our first 'cruise' with her and we were excited at the prospect of 43 days onboard and to see what differences would exist between a QM2 'Voyage' and a 'Cruise'. Sailaway was delayed by just over an hour so we bided the time cracking a bottle of Cunard's Champagne on our balcony and waving farewell to the Queen Victoria who got away smack on time. Lots of sirens and high spirits abounded as we bid farewell to her. The itinerary for this cruise was what particularly attracted us to it and we were not disappointed. First stop was Grenada. Idyllic, tropical and hot. QM2 was at anchor and the tender service was just fine. We just took a water taxi to Grande Anse beach, rented a couple of sunbeds, and did what we do best. Other visits included Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, rounding Cape Horn and a transit of the Magellan Strait, Santiago from Valparaiso and Lima from Callao, Acapulco and to complete the first leg, Los Angeles. The second leg took us across the pacific to Hawaii, Pago Pago, Auckland and Sydney. Without exception every destination was a great visit. We took Cunard tours at Rio, Santiago and Lima. Without exception these were excellent tours, well guided and reasonable value for money, particularly when considering the meals and wines that were included. One particular gem that I became aware of was that wherever meals are included in a tour Cunard send a team, including one of the executive chefs and a Maitre d', to carry out a health and safety inspection of the premises. Queen Mary 2 is a big ship and it is physically impossible for her to berth at many of the ports premium terminals. Wherever this was not possible commercial facilities were used and free shuttle bus services provided. At Acapulco a tender service was provided which again was pretty efficient. Entertainment onboard was variable when compared with that provided trans Atlantic. A new production team of singers and dancers joined at Fort Lauderdale. They were all talented but, for whatever reason, managed only four full shows and four repeats over our 43 days onboard. The remainder of the 'Headline' entertainment was a variety of musicians, singers, comedians and magicians. Some were particularly good, others mediocre. Whatever ones personal choice for entertainment, there was certainly variety. Including our trip on Queen Victoria I could have seen 4 different violinists. However, the two I did watch were quite outstanding in their field. Other venues around the ship provided further variety: piano, classical strings, jazz and of course the Ballroom and G32 nightclub for dancing. Certainly I would say that the concentration of high quality entertainment is provided transatlantic. The Cunard 'Insights' programme, normally of such a high quality on Atlantic crossings, was definitely dumbed-down during the first two legs. With the notable exception of two speakers, Colonel Hellberg and Captain Haymen, who were both outstanding, the remainder hovered between pretty poor and abysmal. One American female author(!) read entirely from a script and followed that with her finger while a Sherlock Holmes expert again read his entire presentation from hand held A4 paper notes. The Royal correspondent of a down market British tabloid completely broke the world record for the use of 'uuming' and 'aarings' The internet facility onboard proved both popular and busy. There is an abundance of work stations, speeds are variable but very interestingly they became very fast around the equator areas. Timed packages were available which reduced the overall cost. Generally, the quieter the period the faster the connection speed. Wifi is available throughout the ship for those preferring their own laptops. It was great to see Cunard providing full electronic versions of British and international newspapers. These were freely available to read most days around 9.00am , both in the ships library and in the Grills Concierge lounge. Requests that they not be removed were generally adhered to though I did on one occasion spot a woman tearing out a page to spirit away: not exactly a white star passenger. Launderette facilities onboard are reasonable and sufficient if used with common sense. Three commercial washers, three dryers and two ironing boards on each deck. Detergent is provided complimentary. Alas common sense does not always prevail and logjams were experienced when people did not adhere to the simple instructions written in three languages, or when downright stupidity and ill consideration were practiced. On the 28 day first leg of this voyage Cunard instigated four 'special deal' laundry offers of forty items for $30 dollars. Not to be sneezed at when compared to the cost of even the cheapest staterooms. There were 18 Formal, 7 Semi-formal and 18 Elegant Casual nights and dress standards were in the main well adhered to. The usual 'oddball dress rebels' occasionally appeared around the ship in their 'variations': guaranteeing to lower the tone of otherwise glamorous evenings. Fortunately most confined themselves to the Kings Court eateries in the evenings. . I just guess these people want to tell their friends they've been on the QM2 but in reality they could never admit that they have 'lived' her experience. The Kings Court buffet food areas often attract criticism on this site. It is actually ergonomically well laid out, well signposted for the various food options, and should not be difficult to understand. Though never actually eating there I often passed through the area during the day and it certainly appeared to be a popular eating venue. During the evenings the different areas are very tastefully divided and decorated with a series of sliding partitions to form separate dining options. We dined at the Lotus Oriental style restaurant and The Piazza Italian section on two occasions and on both occasions the setting, food quality and service were very good. The Boardwalk Cafe on 12 Deck proved an interesting find. Easily accessible from the upper decks, Grills Sun Deck on Deck 11, and the covered pool area. As the weather improved al fresco tables and a bar increased its popularity. Queens Grill food and service were maintained to their usual high standards and nothing was too much trouble for the friendly and professional staff. The table d'hôte menu was similar to that in the Britannia Restaurant with the option of choosing alternative dishes from the Grills a la carte menu. I have on many occasions voiced my opinion regarding the poor positioning of the Grills Restaurants on QM2. With the onset of the sunnier climes my views remain extant. Due to the length of this cruise we did, on a number of occasions, take a break from dining in the Grills and arranged through the Maitre d' to join a similar size table in the Britannia Restaurant for second sitting Dinner. We met some lovely fun people, were made most welcome and enjoyed excellent food and fine service. Queen Mary 2 does not suffer from a shortage of either deck space or sunbeds. Her more traditional stepped stern areas offer an abundance of space, as well as the upper decks and Promenade Deck. Vacant beds remained available throughout the sunniest days at sea. We found the majority of staff onboard both courteous and efficient. They certainly react well to a smiling face and friendly greeting. . Cunard caters for a truly international clientele and has in recent times, certainly the past 14 years, recruited its staff likewise: it has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever recruited primarily from the Indian or Oriental countries. That is its style. On this most recent cruise, at a table for six that I shared in the Queens Grill, we had the following nationalities; Maitre d': Italian, Head Waiters: French and Turkish, Sommelier:Indian, Table waiters: Chillian, Romanian and Macedonian. Two other waiters that I recognized from previous Grill restaurants were Indian and Filipino. Our Stateroom Butler was an immaculate Indian and the cabin steward again a Filipino. Just along the corridor could often be heard the delightful Liverpudlian tones of a female butler. Hardly a hotbed of Eastern European cheap labor recently claimed on these pages. During the first leg of 28 days, and out of some 29 nationalities, British passengers were the biggest single nationality but did not form the majority of passengers. The second leg saw our numbers barely reaching third place, considerably behind both Australians, taking first spot by a high margin, and Americans. In summary the Queen Mary 2 is a magnificent ship. She is well suited to these longer legged world cruise itineraries where her sheer speed can dwarf distances. Otherwise this was a tale of two legs. We found the conviviality, so prominent on Atlantic crossings, somewhat tempered on the first leg. This changed dramatically between Los Angeles and Sydney when the Australians arrived in force. They were there to have a good time and boy did they know how to enjoy themselves. All venues came alive and the atmosphere certainly became more convivial and lively. We did miss the quality and personality of Ray Rouse, Entertainment Director on all previous voyages. The Gentlemen Hosts, all of North American origin, were not the best we had seen. No matter what though, if one activity or venue does not suit your taste, there is always an abundance of quality alternatives on QM2: as long as you have the will to enjoy yourselves. .....and finally. I noted on our final day, one particular nice touch by Cunard. During the early morning arrival to Sydney, restaurant staff were on hand on a number of open decks with trolleys serving a variety of hot drinks, Danish pastries and croissants and rolls. Thank you Cunard. We had a lovely time. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2008
Background This was our sixth cruise and our third with Holland America. It was our first experience with one of the longer "Grand Voyages." We are both 60, but in good physical shape and consider ourselves open-minded and ... Read More
Background This was our sixth cruise and our third with Holland America. It was our first experience with one of the longer "Grand Voyages." We are both 60, but in good physical shape and consider ourselves open-minded and willing to try just about anything once. At 68 days, this cruise was three times as long as anything we'd done before. Within the "cruising community," that makes us relative "neophytes" but we are more eclectic in our travels and don't concentrate solely on cruising. But even though we consider ourselves "well-traveled," we were awed by the travel experience of most of our fellow passengers on Prinsendam. Many had logged 20 or 30 cruises and a surprising number had done HAL's Grand World Cruise more than once. (Clearly they have a bigger travel budget than we do!) We were pleasantly surprised to find that, rather than making them more critical and more likely to find fault with things, the vast majority of our fellow passengers had learned that everything can't be perfect all the time and sometimes you just need to exercise a bit of patience and understanding. We were pleasantly surprised at how few smokers there were. I'd estimate there were fewer than 10 total, out of a group of about 700! Getting There & Back One of the big advantages of the "Grand Voyages" is the round-trip format. No long international flights! We had a routine flight from SEA to FLL and back. The check-in procedure was quick and painless. The was some kind of "communication problem" between HAL, our travel agent, and us which kept us from being able to ship bags in advance. This may have been a blessing in disguise as we met quite a few people whose bags didn't catch up with them until we got to Lima! On the way home, we did use the service and it worked perfectly. Yes, they collected our passports, which made us a bit nervous until we figured out the reason. We hadn't realized that the Customs people actually came aboard and stamped every single passport. And we were halfway through the cruise before we found out that, once the officials were finished with them, we could "check out" our passports and take them ashore with us. In some countries, money exchanges required the passport (not a copy) in order change even minimal amounts of money. The Ship We liked the smaller size of Prinsendam. Don't think that having 700 passengers versus 1500 or 2000 on larger ships is going to make the ship's common areas less crowded because, of course, those common areas are proportionally smaller as well. But we never found this to be a big problem. There were times when the Lido restaurant or the gym were quite full, but you simply learned when those "crunch times" occurred and avoided them. We really noticed the smaller size was when the ship arrived in the various ports. In those places where we didn't book shore excursions, we found that everyone dispersed quickly and we often wandered the town for hours without seeing any of our fellow passengers. It did seem that Prinsendam is showing her age just a bit, despite her 2007 refit. Examples include stains on the carpet here and there, elevators that broke down a lot, and the closet in our stateroom that had come apart and been sort of "jury-rigged" back together. But none of those sort of things in any way caused us discomfort or difficulty. The only thing that did cause some grief was a temperamental air conditioning system that quit working a couple of times. But the maintenance people responded with reasonable promptness and got it fixed. HAL even gave us an extra $200 shipboard credit by way of apology. Certainly we couldn't complain about that! Dining I'm always amused by reviews in which the writers complain endlessly about how horrible the food was. Apparently these people employ their own gourmet chefs and formal wait staff at home and consider anything else to be beneath them. We saw a few of them on the ship, including one lady at a nearby table who routinely sent her entire dinner back because it wasn't prepared to her standards. She even sent her coffee back! Give me a break! We found the food, both in the main dining room and in the Lido, to be, at worst, "good" and, at best, "excellent." There are always going to be situations where you don't like what you ordered. But it's not the chef's fault that you don't like squash! We did get a bit tired of the formal dinners, even though they reduced the number from the publicized 19 down 12. On a week-long cruise, you don't mind dressing up once or twice. When you have to do it a dozen or more times, it gets old. It's the 21st century. How much longer do we have to pretend we're all the Astors and Guggenheims sailing on Titanic during the Gilded Age? (Look what happened to them!) I'm quite surprised at the number of reviewers who say they really enjoy dressing for dinner and that formal nights are their favorite times. I suspect these are women. I talked to very few men who thought stuffing themselves into a tux or a wool suit and strangling themselves with a tie in tropical heat and humidity was the best way to enjoy dinner. And in most cases, the menu wasn't any different just because the dress code said "formal," including one night where spaghetti was on the menu. Getting into a tux to eat spaghetti? A lot of our fellow passengers seemed to agree with us. Dining room attendance dropped off noticeably on formal nights toward the end of the cruise and the Lido became more crowded. We are VERY pleased to see that HAL has finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern age and is now offering the "As You Wish" dining option. We don't begrudge the folks their "dress up dinners,' if that's their thing, but we dislike having it forced on us. Service Service was up to the standards we've come to expect from HAL. The crew was invariably friendly, courteous, and helpful. Naturally, the length of the cruise meant that we got to know many of them and they us. Though we tried to keep our onboard bill down by not ordering too many bar drinks, the bartender in the Crow's Nest quickly learned not only our names, but what our favorite drinks were. By the end of the second week, half the servers in the Lido knew us by name. Stateroom We booked an outside cabin without a balcony (Category FF). We'd had this category on our Panama Canal cruise and found it more than adequate for our needs at that time. On shorter cruises, we never felt a balcony was worth the added expense. The least expensive balcony cabin on this Grand Voyage would have cost us an additional $20,000 and we just could not justify that expense. But oh, do we wish we could have! Our cabin was comfortable and large enough for our needs, but... The most annoying problem (don't laugh) was that the salt spray on the window made it difficult to see out much of the time! It certainly wasn't worth another $20K to have clean windows, but being able to open a slider and get some fresh air would have been really nice. Fitness Facilities The gym was a minor problem at times. As a devout runner, I was a member of a very small minority on this cruise. The ¼ mile Promenade Deck was off limits to runners, ostensibly because of the staterooms located directly below. The "running track' was located on the exposed top deck and, in my opinion, virtually useless. Besides being a scant 1/10 mile per lap, there were bocci ball courts, putting greens, etc. that had to be negotiated—perfect for tripping or turning an ankle. And, of course, there was always the potential for coming around a blind corner and encountering an oblivious octogenarian tottering along right in front of you. That left the treadmills in the gym, of which there were only five. At certain times, it was difficult to get on a machine because the walkers had them tied up. Yes, I know they had just as much right to use them as I did, but sometimes it got frustrating. After all, THEY could go out and walk the Promenade Deck in nice weather. I had no choice but to use the treadmills. But as I said, a minor problem overall, usually solved by getting up a few minutes earlier. HAL "Gifts" An established tradition on HAL's longer cruises is "gifts," which appear in your stateroom at random times. On this Grand Voyage, some of these were pretty big items, including parkas, suitcases, binoculars, Delft dishes, etc. This became a source of controversy as everything tended to be in the "official cruise color" which was lavender. Lavender parkas? Great for the ladies and gay men. Not so exciting for us straight guys! Also, we had brought parkas and binoculars with us and getting additional ones just meant more stuff to pack home. Same goes for the suitcases. With some airlines now allowing only ONE checked bag, another suitcase was more of a hindrance than a help. It seemed somehow "unkind" to complain, but a lot of us would rather have the price of the cruise reduced and forego the gifts. Entertainment HAL offered an eclectic mix of acts, ranging from classical pianists to jugglers. On a cruise of this length there's bound to be a range of quality but there were only a couple of shows that we thought were "duds." Sure there were some we enjoyed more than others, but that's just a question of personal taste. Some of the acts we didn't particularly care for received raves from others and vice-versa. The ship's orchestra was a phenomenally talented group. We talked the cruise director into setting up a couple of shows that just featured them. All were established professionals in their own right, and we were amazed to discover that they'd never played together before this cruise. Overall, we thought the entertainment was excellent. Shore Excursions In reading reviews on this site, I've noticed that people tend to skimp on information related to their shore excursions. This is always the biggest gamble on any cruise and I'd like to devote a little extra space to it. One significant complaint we had right off the top was the on-board video descriptions of the shore excursions. On other ships, these have included video of the actual excursion. On Prinsendam, all we got was one still image with narration--the voice of the shore excursion director reading the written descriptions straight out of the printed brochure. To make matters worse, she was a poor reader, routinely stumbling over words and mispronouncing the Spanish names. It was painful! But we've become pretty adept at "reading between the lines" of the descriptions and, for the most part, picked some pretty good trips. So here we'll present a short description of our impressions of the various ports and our critiques of the shore excursions we chose. It's pretty long because this was, after all, a 68-day itinerary. For the shore excursions, I've included a "star rating," with 1 being "Don't Waste Your Money" and 5 indicating "Outstanding," along with the length of the excursion, and the cost. Georgetown, Cayman Islands We found Georgetown less than impressive. We'd seen it in '03 and it hadn't changed much. Lots of the typical "cruise-ship-backed jewelry stores" and the usual souvenir shops. We spent a couple of hours ashore and went back to the ship to go swimming. No doubt the rest of the island(s) are beautiful but I suspect that if you want to visit the Caymans, you should go there for a week, not a six-hour stop on a cruise ship. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica "San Jose Town and Country" (*** , 9 ½ hours, $89 pp) This was a nine-hour bus trip to the national capital. A lot of folks wouldn't want to deal with the long bus ride, but we sort of enjoy just watching the countryside go by and seeing how folks live in other countries. In San Jose, we visited the Teatro Nacional and the National Museum. Both were interesting, but we didn't have enough time at either. We also had a quick stop at an area of artisan shops where we could buy locally-made handicrafts. We were literally the last ones back aboard ship. They were pulling in the gangway behind us. Panama City, Panama The Panama Railway - Domed Car (*** ½ , 3 ¼ hrs., $199 pp) After transiting the Canal, the ship spent the night anchored off Port Amidor, giving us the chance to go back and see the Canal from the shore side perspective and some of the country. We opted for the more expensive dome car seats, which we felt were worth the $70 pp extra cost. The train ride was about an hour long, taking us back along the Canal to Colon, where we visited the Gatun Locks. Seeing the locking operation from the shore side was entertaining and interesting.. The trip ended with a 90-minute bus trip back to the ship. Overall, we felt we got our money's worth. Manta, Ecuador No shore excursion. We just wandered the streets and a couple of local mercados. Typical of many such stops, free shuttle buses were provided to take us from the port area to the middle of town. This early in the trip, the mercados were fascinating and seemed to offer more local handicrafts. Later, most notably in Brazil, we got a bit tired of them and they seemed to be filled with a bewildering and incomprehensible mass of "stuff." More on that later. Guayaquil, Ecuador No shore excursion. A longer bus ride into town—half an hour or so. The ride gives you a good chance to see the outlying areas, which are decidedly "third-world" looking compared to the more prosperous downtown. Guayaquil is located quite some distance up the Guayas River and the riverfront is attractive and interesting. There were surprisingly few people down there. Most everyone seemed to be crammed into a huge indoor mercado where most stalls appeared to be selling cheap Chinese-made knockoffs of popular American brands of clothing and shoes. Salaverry/Trujillo, Peru We arrived here in thick fog which, we understand, is fairly common along this section of coast because of the proximity of the cold Humboldt Current offshore. Salaverry is the port for Trujillo. The dock area was surrounded by miles of flat sand. From certain vantage points on the ship, it looked like we were stranded in the middle of a desert! Some local vendors set up kiosks right on the dock, but we found them expensive and not particularly interested in bargaining. Again, free shuttles were provided to transport us into Trujillo. Trujillo has an attractive central plaza and we found the locals to be friendly and more than happy to talk to the turistas. Few spoke much English and I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but everyone was patient and seemed to enjoy the challenge of communicating. Callao/Lima, Peru "Lima Highlights" ( ***, 3 ½ hrs., $47 pp) Some might argue with my "three-star" rating above, but part of what I'm rating is "bang for the buck." This was a short and comparatively inexpensive tour and I felt the content was reasonable considering the low cost. It was accurately described as being primarily a bus tour. The main stop was at the Plaza Mejor, the city's central square. There, we toured the huge cathedral designed by Pizarro and in which Pizarro is entombed, and had a chance to watch the changing of the guard at the government palace. We also visited an old monastery. There was nothing particularly dramatic or spectacular, but it didn't cost much, either. Callao was the end of the first phase of the cruise so the ship stayed overnight. A few people got off; a few got on. The second day, we visited the upscale beachfront suburb of Miraflores. While this cruise didn't push jewelry like others we've been on, the H. Stern Company was much in evidence from this point on. They routinely provided shuttle service from the ship to their stores and, to be fair, we must note that there was no pressure whatever to buy anything from them. It was the "Stern Shuttle" that took us to Miraflores. This is a nice area which, we are sure, is NOT typical of Peru in general. We saw all the "usual" American establishments, e.g. TGIFridays, McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, etc. It reminded us a bit of the ocean front south of the Cliff House in San Francisco. A word here about the Machu Picchu trips. We chose not to do this, based mainly on the cost, but talked to several others who did take them. When all was said and done, we were glad we didn't do this one. The first problem was the transportation system. One of our dining tablemates booked the multi-day trip, which departed from Manta and rejoined the ship in Callao. He reported his flight was some four hours late at one point, with no explanation as to why. He had paid for "deluxe" train accommodations later in the trip and the delays ultimately resulted in his being placed in "standard" seats. I never heard whether or not he got any refund. But the biggest problem seemed to be the weather. Most everyone reported that, having spent big bucks and enduring a long, difficult trip to get there, they arrived at Machu Picchu to find it completely enveloped in clouds, making it virtually impossible to see the sights they went there to see! Bottom line: these trips are a crapshoot. You might have a great time and clear skies or you may see little or nothing. It's a lot of money to spend to see clouds. Northern Chile We didn't do any shore excursions at Arica, Coquimbo, or Valparaiso. We found it immediately obvious that Chile is much more prosperous than either Peru or Ecuador. Arica has several streets closed off as pedestrian malls. They were clean and well patrolled by the Policia Turistica. Again, the people were extremely friendly. We stopped into a little restaurant/bar for a beer and found they didn't accept US dollars. But one of the patrons gave us directions to a nearby money exchange and, when we returned for our beer, he and the lady behind the counter welcomed us back and wanted to talk about where we were from, how we got there, etc. When we finished our beers, the gentleman walked down the street with us to introduce us to his wife, who was operating a cart on the street selling various herbal medications. (We had to chuckle over the fact that SHE was out working while he was sitting around drinking beer with the tourists!) Coquimbo has a wonderful seafood market and an equally fascinating produce market across the street, all within easy walking distance of the ship. Valparaiso is the country's largest port and the gateway to Santiago. The shore excursion to Santiago would have wiped out the entire day so we made the choice to stay in Valparaiso for the day. They have a very modern rapid transit train that runs past the port and on into the city itself. Like many such systems, it makes perfect sense to the locals, but is virtually incomprehensible to strangers. Then add the complication of a foreign language. Fortunately, one of our fellow passengers, far more fluent in Spanish than I, helped us buy tickets to get us to an area called Vina del Mar and back. But in a scene reminiscent of "Charlie and the MTA," we arrived back at the port to find that our fare card wouldn't let us OUT of the terminal! We ended up paying more money to get through the "exit" turnstile. Puerto Montt, Chile "Petrohue Falls, Lake Cruise and Chilean Countryside" (****, 8 hrs., $148 pp) The trip began with a hour's bus ride to Lago de Todo Los Santos, where we took a short cruise on one of those big power catamarans. The cruise itself wasn't all that wonderful—it just went out around an island and back, but the scenery was spectacular. (There was another, similar excursion titled "Osorno Volcano & Petrohue Rapids" that appears to be identical but omits the cruise. At $126 pp, it might be a better value.) Next we visited Petrohue Falls. We weren't there at the right time of year to see the falls at their best, but it was still quite beautiful. We stopped for lunch at a German-influenced restaurant on the shore of another lake. They were obviously accustomed to dealing with busloads of tourists because the service was very quick and efficient and the food was excellent. Finally, we stopped at the little resort town of Puerto Varas. Again, the stop wasn't long enough, but hey, you can't do everything on one trip. We both agreed that Puerto Montt and "Lake Country" would be worth a return trip someday. Puerto Chacabuco, Chile Puerto Chacabuco won't appear on most maps. It's just a tiny village in the midst of the spectacular fjords. A larger town, Puerto Aysen, was about an hour's drive away. The taxis at the port dock wanted $40 each way so we opted to skip that. Walking around Puerto Chacabuco (which has a nice hotel and not much else) we noted a bus which ran to Puerto Aysen and cost about $2. We were tempted but, not knowing anything about the schedule, were nervous about getting stranded and having to fork out the $40 taxi fare to get back. As it turned out, the bus seemed to run every half-hour or so. The waters between Puerto Chacabuco and Punta Arenas are a mind-boggling stretch of glaciers and fjords. It is reminiscent of Alaska but somehow more rugged and spectacular. Punta Arenas, Chile "Patagonian Experience - Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve" (****, 4 hrs. $79 pp) This was another example of a not-too-expensive shore excursion that, we felt, delivered pretty good value. The bus ride through the pampas was interesting and the penguin rookery lived up to the descriptions. These were Magellanic Penguins, one of the smallest species. They nest in burrows, sometimes quite far from the water. Humans were confined to wooden boardwalks and, at the beach, to a sort of "viewing blind." While you couldn't get pictures of yourself surrounded by hundreds of penguins, you could get close enough to get some good shots. The trip left us enough time to visit the city itself. It was a Sunday so most of the shops were closed. Apparently the arrival of several hundred tourists on a cruise ship wasn't sufficient incentive to violate the Sabbath in the interests of making money, but there were a few open and a number of craft stalls set up in the central plaza. We talked to folks who did the "Antarctica Flyover." This was too pricey for us at $1755 per person, but those that forked out the bucks said it was spectacular. Everyone got a window seat on the chartered 737 and they got down to a low enough altitude that you could really see a lot. Ushuaia, Argentina Ushuaia is a fun place. It reminded us of a bit of Juneau and of ski resort towns we've visited with the added feature of a marine waterfront. It was blowing 50-60 knots which, we gathered, is pretty common. It was also surprisingly dry and dusty. Despite the area's reputation for foul weather, they apparently don't get a lot of precipitation, at least in the summer. One of the more interesting examples of bureaucracy in action took place after we left Ushuaia. Ushuaia is in Argentina, Cape Horn is back in Chile. We were required to stop at Puerto Williams, Chile, and anchor while the Chilean authorities cleared the ship BACK into Chile and the Chilean pilots came aboard. This despite the fact that we were only sailing past Cape Horn, not going ashore. We have little doubt that the most important thing that occurred during this stop was the payment of some type of fee. Next morning, it came out that the pilots had decided it was too rough out at The Horn for them to transfer back into their small boat for the trip back to Puerto Williams. As a result, we had no pilots aboard and were therefore required to maintain a minimum of three miles distance from Cape Horn itself. I don't imagine that HAL received any refund of whatever fees they paid! The weather was pretty bad and the wind was screaming so few people ventured on deck anyway. Antarctica Once we left The Horn, we had incredibly benign weather for the trip across Drake Passage and, indeed, our entire time in Antarctica. Two of our three days there featured clear skies and sunshine. Oh, yes, it was cold. Temperatures were in the low- to mid-thirties plus wind chill, but that didn't stop anyone from being out on deck. The tiny bit of Antarctica we saw was beyond description. Our only regret is that we couldn't go ashore. There is a treaty that prohibits ships above a certain size from landing passengers. We'd love to go back on one of the myriad of smaller ships that are allowed to take people ashore. South Georgia Island. South Georgia is important historically. It was a major center for the South Atlantic whaling industry and figured prominently in the legendary voyage of Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton himself is buried there. Access ashore is strictly controlled and we were only allowed ashore in tightly monitored groups. It sounds restrictive, but really wasn't. We saw everything we wanted to see. There was one rather irritating disappointment at South Georgia. We landed at Grytviken, leaving there about 4:00 p.m. and cruising past some of the other bays and abandoned whaling stations. Dinner came along and we dutifully reported to our assigned seat at the assigned time. It was then that we realized that the commentary that was being broadcast through the ship's common areas was NOT being piped into the main dining room. (Can't interrupt people's dinner with something as trivial as information about what's going by outside!) It was only when I saw lots of people running around outside with cameras that it dawned on me that we were approaching Stromness, the station that was an integral part of the Shackleton story. I left dinner to run back and get a coat and a camera and, by the time I got out on deck, I'd missed much of the commentary about the place. The Falkland Islands "Falkland Battlefields" ( ** ½, 4 hrs, $89 pp) We were one of the few ships that made it to the Falklands during the summer of 2008. The anchorage, such as it is, is wide-open and exposed and the wind blows unceasingly. But we did get there, thanks to the superb seamanship of Prinsendam's captain and crew. The Falklands are a pretty stark and desolate place. We had booked the shore excursion to the Volunteer Point penguin rookery to see King Penguins (8 hrs. $349 pp), but we were delayed in anchoring due to the wind conditions and the trip was cancelled because there wouldn't have been enough time to get there and back. We substituted the "Falklands Battlefields" tour. I had studied the history of the 1982 war prior to leaving home and choosing between the battlefields tour and the penguins had been a real dilemma. In some ways, it was a relief to have the choice made for me. This tour wasn't nearly as comprehensive as I would have hoped, but it wasn't terribly expensive, either. I would have liked to have seen the area where the British forces landed, near San Carlos, but we couldn't do that for the good and simple reason that there are no roads that go there! The tour we did take consisted of a trip out to Fitzroy, to the inlet where two anchored British supply ships were bombed by the Argentines, then a retracing of the route the British commandos took from there as they attacked the Argentine forces in the "mountains" south of Stanley. Buenos Aires, Argentina "Iguazu Falls" (* ½ , 12 hrs, $989 pp) Our biggest (i.e. most expensive) shore excursion was the trip to Iguazu Falls. It also proved to be one of the biggest flops. There was some unexplained delay in getting the ship cleared by Argentine customs, resulting in our being something over an hour late leaving the ship. It was clear that, from that point on, the main objective was to make up that time and we knew right away that they were going to do it by cutting our time at the Falls. It's a 90-minute flight from BA to Iguazu. Far from being out in the wilds, Iguazu is now a huge tourist attraction. It has its own airport and several large luxury hotels. There are no private cars allowed in the park itself. You are transported to the various points of interest on a narrow-gauge railway. And you won't be alone. There were literally thousands of others hiking across the metal catwalks to the "Devil's Throat" and, once there, jostling for position to get a picture of themselves and the Falls. There are commercial photographers there, too, who kept telling the rest of us to move so we weren't in their shots. Very annoying. Lunch was included and it was pure chaos. The restaurant was poorly organized for dealing with large crowds. The "salad bar," such as it was, was ROUND. Wherever you tried to get to it, people complained that you were "crowding in." But there was no way to form a line and take turns. Like I said, chaotic and stressful. After lunch, we were told we'd have "about an hour" to see the upper part of the falls, which was within walking distance. But after walking through the first section of the trail, which took maybe 15 minutes, we were directed back to the bus! Had to make up time, remember! They carted us back to the airport, where we sat cooling our heels for over an hour! Time that could have been spent seeing the rest of the falls. All in all, we didn't feel this one gave a very good return for the amount of money it cost. "Buenos Aires Highlights" (***, 3 ½ hrs, $53 pp) Buenos Aires was an overnight stop so we were able to do this basic city tour the second day. This was a good, general tour of the city which included the Ricoleta Cemetery (mausoleum of Eva Peron) and "La Boca," the older part of the city. It did not stop at the Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace, but we had time to walk back there later in the afternoon. Montevideo, Uruguay Easy walk to the center of this interesting city. Many of the buildings seemed somewhat run down, but the businesses in them were thriving. We heard a rumor that tax rates were based on the exterior of the buildings, which would provide little or no incentive for maintaining the facades. Rio De Janeiro Brazil Corcovado & Rio City Tour (*** ½, 4 hrs, $72 pp) Rio is huge, sprawling all over the place, and we had no decent map. It was confusing trying to figure out exactly where the ship was relative to downtown, Corcovado, and the famous beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema. This tour took us by bus to the base of the funicular railway that ascends Corcovado. Visibility at the top was poor, which we understand is not unusual. The tour description accurately indicated the possibility of long lines and crowds. Overall, about what we expected and a reasonable value. The H. Stern people provided transportation to their store in Lincoln Town Cars and we used them to get out to Ipanema on our second day. Nice area with lots of people and lots of shops and restaurants. Salvador and Recife, Brazil No shore excursions. In Salvador, the shuttle from the port took us to the Pelourhino district—a zillion little shops and restaurants. We walked back to the ship since it was downhill, using the Lacerda Elevator to do most of the descent. Recife is an attractive city, known as the "Venice of South America" because of the many waterways and bridges. We might have gotten a better look at it via one of the few shore excursions, but we had to draw the financial line somewhere. Fortaleza, Brazil "Cumbuco Beach & Buggy Ride" (***, 5 ½ hrs, $79 pp) By this point, we were burned out on wandering the streets through the shops which seemed to sell mostly flip-flops and kids' backpacks festooned with Disney characters. We decided to try something completely different. The dune buggy ride was much less thrilling than we expected. I think someone told the operators that they had a bunch of decrepit old farts from a Holland America ship coming and to "keep it tame." Consequently, we got the "A Ticket" ride rather than the high-speed "E Ticket" version. That was disappointing in that almost everyone who did this excursion was younger (by HAL standards) and in good physical shape. We'd hoped for a thrill ride and, instead, got a relatively mild trip. Belem, Brazil "Amazon River System Adventure by Riverboat" (****, 5 ½ hours, $73 pp) We started with a bus ride of about 45 minutes. The bus's air-conditioning didn't work so it was pretty hot and sticky. But, to the credit of our fellow passengers, no one complained. While we were off on our boat trip, the tour company got another bus so the trip back was fine. The riverboat trip was fun, taking us to a small tributary of the Rio Guana where we took a short walk ashore. Some of the locals demonstrated native techniques for climbing trees and showed us some of the native flora and fauna (the latter in the form of a satisfyingly large and horrible-looking, though harmless, spider). Santarem, Brazil No shore excursions. A relatively small river community that was easy to explore in a relatively short time. More shops selling flip-flops and backpacks. Boca da Valeria, Brazil I have to editorialize (pontificate?) a little on this stop. Billed as a "sleepy village in the Amazon Basin," we thought it was little more than a pageant for the benefit of tourists. As such, we found it somewhat disturbing. There were a few stalls set up to sell handicrafts, but mostly it was like a sort of "Halloween in reverse." Instead of going out after treats, the treats came to them. As we got off the tenders, the kids were lined up with their hands out, waiting to be handed money (preferably) or whatever else the fabulously rich American tourists had brought ashore for them. We took some t-shirts ashore, hoping to trade them for something. No way. They fully expected us to GIVE them the t-shirts, but the idea of giving us anything in return was clearly foreign to them. They even pointed to the clothes we were wearing and indicated that we should give them those! Kids dressed in "native costumes" lined the path, with parents standing by to collect the expected payment if you took a picture. The kids all spoke exactly ONE English word: "dollar." It was also obvious that people came from miles around to get in on the "booty" whenever a cruise ship stopped. We left feeling that we'd done more harm than good—reinforcing their belief that (a) all Americans are fabulously wealthy and (b) all you had to do was hold out your hand and someone would give you something. Quite the incentive to go do some actual work, huh? Manaus, Brazil "Alligator Spotting and Piranha Fishing: A Night in the Amazon Overland Adventure." (***** + , 2 days/1 night, $399 ppdo) Far and away the best of all our shore excursions, this one is not to be missed if you have a bit of an adventurous spirit. The destination is the Amazon Village Resort on the Rio Negro, a three-hour boat trip from Manaus. The description warns that there's no hot water or air-conditioning and limited electricity. This was enough to keep the whiners away and the people who did this excursion were a great group that was ready to try anything and everything. Lunch was ready when we arrived and was the antithesis of "primitive." Food was excellent and plentiful and featured lots of locally-caught fish as well as beef and pork. The piranha-fishing expedition included a stop at the home of one of the resort's neighbors who eked out a living raising manioc root for tapioca. We got to see and hold a small boa, a sloth, and a strange, prehistoric-looking turtle. It poured down rain but no one cared or complained. Piranha are NOT easy to catch. Amid many jokes about "just stick your finger in the water" we only caught a total of four. They tend to "nibble" at the bait (raw meat) rather than just glom onto it. After dinner we went back out on the river in search of alligators (more accurately, "spectacled cayman"). We kidded the guides that they had pet caymans stashed at known spots but, regardless, they DID find a small one. And cruising along the still waters of the river in the pitch darkness was great fun. The lack of air-conditioning made for a long, hot night but we knew it going in so, again, no one complained. They shut off the battery-powered lights about 11 p.m. and it was DARK. Half an hour later, I tried the "hand in front of the face test" and literally could NOT see it! Next morning we did a jungle walk. They offered two versions, one easy and one more difficult since, even in our gung-ho group, some were less capable of dealing with uneven trails than others. Once again, a very interesting and educational experience with a guide who had grown up in the area and was a wealth of information about native plants and how the indigenous peoples used them. Parantins. Brazil The big hype at Parantins was the "Boi Bumba" show. Everyone said it was a "not to be missed" spectacle. We gathered it was a sort of "Carnivale" in a small arena, from which you can deduce that we did NOT attend. Why not? What they didn't mention in all the hype was the cost. How about $101 US per person? Lots of people went anyway. Personally, it would have had to include Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johaansen, Jessicas Biel and Alba, and Gillian Anderson all performing stark naked before I'd spend that much money on an unknown show...and maybe not even then. We didn't hear anyone raving about how great it was afterward, either. Perhaps someone who actually attended can post a review? Devil's Island, French Guiana Trying to figure out just why we stopped here, we concluded that the answer was simply, "Because we could." First of all, you don't go to Devil's Island, you go to its neighbor, Isle Royale. No big deal, just a technical detail. It's interesting and historic so I guess as long as we were in the neighborhood, it made some sense to stop and see it. Be warned: there's a gift shop there that will make the high prices aboard ship seem like absolute bargains. Example: a simple post card cost SIX U.S. DOLLARS! Barbados "Barbados Turtle Encounter (****, 3 hours/ $59 pp) We went our separate ways here. My wife did this one. She had a great time and felt it was a good value. In addition to swimming with the sea turtles, they had the opportunity to ride various inflatable water toys towed behind a Boston Whaler or some similar fast boat. "Barbados Yacht Racing Challenge." (* , 2 ¾ hours, $99 pp) The description said, "Go head to head with a full match race to the end. Join experienced crew and be involved as much or as little as you like." I have cruised and raced sailboats most of my life and was looking forward to a "full head-to-head match race." The boats were as advertised: 80-foot maxi boats, veterans of the Whitbread 'Round the World race. The "race" was something else. It was only a race in the sense that there were two boats sailing in relatively close proximity. Yes, it was a nice ride on a big powerful boat, but the "heart pounding, exciting match race," was a joke. As for being involved "as much" as we wanted, four of us were allowed to man the big coffee-grinder winches and mostly we just stood around hoping that we'd get a chance to actually crank them. The rest of the paid guests were simply used as "human ballast." The skipper's instructions for tacking consisted of telling them how to move from one side of the boat to the other. We were never asked how much sailing and/or racing experience we had. They seemed to assume that we didn't know the pointy end from the blunt end. No one but the skipper was ever allowed to touch the helm and the paid crew did all the trimming of sails. And there was precious little of that as the "course" consisted of a beam reach out and back. We had to tack exactly twice to get to the turning mark and then gybed around it. Other than that, we just sat there while the skipper steered the boat, saying nothing and generally giving the impression that he was incredibly bored with the whole enterprise. The "other boat" was "crewed" by guests from a local hotel. They started behind us and to leeward and anyone who knows sailing would know that, from that point on, we should have dominated the "race." Instead, they sailed right through our lee and ended up "winning" by over a minute. The skipper and crew couldn't have cared less. Overall, this was the most disappointing of our shore excursions and pretty much a waste of a hundred bucks. Mayaguez, Puerto Rico No shore excursions. A few kiosks on the dock which offered little of interest. Getting to town required a taxi and since we were, technically, back in the US of A, they were expensive. Half Moon Cay HAL's private island, which we'd visited before. Nice spot to just relax on the beach, but the weather was cool and showery so the most important event of the day was lunch. Conclusion Overall, this Grand Voyage was an incredible adventure. We like traveling to places that not everyone else has been to and this cruise certainly delivered that. Given the 68-day duration, friends ask if we were "glad to get home." We reply that we weren't so much "glad" as just "ready." We'd had a great time, it was over, and it was just "time to go home." Would we do it again? No, we've already done it. We don't need to do it again. But we would like to go back and revisit Patagonia, Antarctica, and Buenos Aires. Would we recommend it to others? Absolutely and unequivocally. Would we do a similar cruise? Yes, and we've already put a deposit down on the 2010 Grand Asia & Pacific Voyage. By then, we'll be ready for another cruise. Meantime, we have other types of travel in mind. Read Less

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