Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: January 11, 2006
Itinerary: South American Explorer
South America and Antarctica –The Rotterdam – January 11 – 31, 2006
Following the example of some of the other reviews I’ve read (which were excellent), I’ve divided my review into my thoughts about the Ship and the Ports/Shore Excursions I went on.
First, let me state that this was my first cruise. I have been wanting to do this trip for many years and finally the stars aligned and I was able to have the “trip of a lifetime” (so far)! I had a wonderful vacation and it was worth every penny I spent. I had no idea what a cruise would be like, if I would get seasick, if I would be bored or lonely, etc. I researched the cruise and the ship ahead of time by reading reviews on the Internet…. but I was certainly a bit naïve about the whole experience before I boarded the plane for Chile. I booked this vacation through my travel agent (BCAA) and they put together a package that included air, hotel in Santiago, transfer from Santiago to the ship, and the cruise. The price was right and I ended up traveling with 14 other people from the Province who also booked through BCAA. I have no qualms about traveling alone, but it was nice to have some company on the flight down and to have people to “show me the ropes” once we were on board the ship.
The Rotterdam was a wonderful ship. I suppose it would be considered medium in size, however, to me it seemed huge. My outside stateroom was on the Dolphin Deck, room 1872. It was mid-ship and on the lowest deck. I chose this location because I was not sure if I would be seasick or not. It turns out that my body loves the rough seas. The room was much larger than what I was expecting with a very comfortable bed (two twin beds pushed together) with lovely linens, etc. There was more closet and storage space than in my home and even if there had been two people in the room, there would have been lots of closet space. The bathroom was a decent size (with a bathtub that was designed for short people; so I only took showers) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There were lots of handrails in the bathroom…which came in handy when the seas were in the 18 foot range. There was a small sofa with end tables in the room and a desk and chair and a flat screen TV with DVD player. And a very large window (I was expecting a little round porthole) . All in all, it was a very comfortable room. The only disappointment with the room was the fact that it was very noisy. Once we were in heavy seas and the stabilizers were working overtime, the noise was very loud. Even with earplugs I only managed about 4 hours of sleep in the first two days of sailing. As well, there was a loose block and tackle unit of some sort hanging in the area beneath the room that swayed with the ship and hit the hull every few seconds. It was like trying to sleep inside of a huge church bell (the joke at dinner was that I was channeling Quasimodo!). After our first port of call, the block and tackle unit was secured so that sound ended, but the other noise from the ship continued whenever we had rough seas. For my next cruise I’m going to make sure that my stateroom is not anywhere near the engines or stabilizers, if at all possible.
There was a small laundry area on each
deck with washers and dryers and irons/ironing boards. They were always very
busy. My understanding is that Holland America is in the process of eliminating
self-service laundry on their ships. I don’t know how much longer the laundry
rooms will exist.
The public rooms on the ship were beautiful. There was lots of artwork about and many vases of fresh flower arrangements. At the top of the ship is the Crow’s Nest Lounge which was very nice. During the daytime it was set up for passengers to be able to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling windows. While in Antarctica (and in other places like the Darwin Channel, Beagle Channel, etc.), the commentary from the guest lecturer was piped into the Lounge so that those who chose not to be outside on deck could hear all the important information while still getting a great view. The Crow’s Nest was busy in the late evening with dancing, etc. It has a fairly large dance floor. Below the Crow’s Nest was the Gym and Spa. The gym had lots of equipment and it was never overly busy. My favorite time to go was first thing in the morning and normally there would be about a dozen or so people working out. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on “formal night” days). Also on this level is the pool and surrounding deck. The pool is not large and when the seas got really rough, it had to be closed for safety reasons. There are lots of deck chairs and tables/chairs surrounding the pool. The roof retracts in good weather (while in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro), which was really nice. Aft of the pool deck is the Lido restaurant. It is surprisingly large with identical serving stations on each side of the ship. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. Outside the Lido restaurant at the very back of the ship is another small outdoor pool and an area with deck chairs, tables/chairs, etc. I found this area to be lovely in the early evening, as long as the weather was good. It was somewhat sheltered from the wind, and never busy.
On the Upper Promenade Deck is where you will find the upper level of the Queen’s Lounge, the shops, the Casino, the Library/Internet area, a couple of bars/lounges, and the upper level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. The Casino was a decent size and always busy. Unfortunately they allow smoking in the Casino, so I rarely went in there. The few times I played the slots, I lost everything. However, some of my dinner table mates won hundreds of dollars on those machines! There is a large Sports Bar just outside the Casino with a big screen TV, etc. Next to the Casino there was a large Internet area with at least a dozen computers. It was always busy and I found the best time to go online was after dinner in the evening. Internet service was spotty, at best, and very, very expensive. The only reason I bought a 100 minute package was because I had a ship-board credit which covered the cost. The Internet area is part of the Library which was my favorite room on the ship. Nothing better than curling up on a big ol’ sofa with a good book when there is nothing else on the agenda. Across from the Library is the Explorer’s Lounge. This is a very comfortable area with a string quartet playing in the evenings. During the daytime there were contests taking place in the Lounge, as well as Q&A sessions with some of the nightly performers. Next to the Explorer’s Lounge is the Ocean Bar which was the spot for pre-dinner drinks, and after dinner dancing, etc. On the Promenade Deck is the main floor of the Queen’s Lounge, the photo shop, the Art Gallery, the movie theatre, the Pinnacle Grill, and the main level of the La Fontaine Dining Room. The Queen’s Lounge (were the daily lectures and evening shows took place) was very comfortable, but tended to be quite cool. As long as I had a sweater with me, it was fine. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine. The movie theatre (which is also the area used for cooking demonstrations) was very comfortable, as well. The Fontaine Dining Room was beautiful, well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 8 on the bottom level (6:15 pm; early seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc. I never ate in the Pinnacle Grill, but I had a tour of the kitchen with the chef and checked-out the room and it was wonderful. Everyone I spoke with who ate there really enjoyed themselves. I gather the food and service were exceptional. The front office, shore excursions office, etc., are also found on the Promenade Deck. The Lower Promenade Deck has the outdoor walking area. It was always nice to get outside for a walk, even in the worst weather. There were always lots of people out on deck during the daytime and early evening. You can access the bow of the ship from this deck (when opened)…. it was the best outdoor area to be on when viewing the sights in Antarctica. The area was closed in rough seas, for very good reason.
The infirmary is on the Dolphin deck and is very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency. Because we had an ongoing problem with the Norwalk virus during the trip, the infirmary was always busy.
Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there are lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship is great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with lots of room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
Typical of Holland America, the majority of passengers were retired seniors. I was one of the youngest people on board (and I’m 53!). I assume that because it was a longer cruise in January, and also very expensive, that the only people who have the time and money for that type of cruise are older, retired persons. About one-third of the passengers were from the United States, about one-third from Canada, and the final third from Switzerland and Germany, with a few people from the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand thrown in for good measure. I think there was about 1,100 passengers on board. Overall, I found the people on board to be friendly and kind. However, there were a number of very miserable, whiney, complaining, cranky types on board, as well. I suppose there are people like them on every cruise… but it really was disappointing to have to deal with people like that on a day to day basis. Honestly, the crew were saints to put up with some of the stuff I saw happening. In the past I have worked in the service/tourism industry, and I never, ever had to endure what the crew of the ship had to endure.
CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT:
I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional. My cabin steward was amazing. The front office staff were always very helpful. The dining room staff seemed a bit inexperienced (our waiter and assistant waiter), but overall my dining experience was great. The bar/lounge staff were very good. The cruise director and his staff were fun and energetic. We had some wonderful guest lecturers on board who provided us with tons of information, especially when in Antarctica. They certainly exceeded my expectations. And even the medical staff were wonderful to deal with (unfortunately).
I thought the food on board the ship was excellent. Every evening I got to try new things, or have items I haven’t thought to cook in years. The presentation was good and the food was always hot when it arrived at the table. The food in the Lido was also very good. I enjoyed all the variety of foods… a much larger selection than what I was expecting. I ate about half my breakfasts in the Lido and all my lunches, and a couple of dinners (when returning late to the ship after a shore excursion).
I only went to a few of the evening shows, so I can’t really comment too much on the entertainment. Certainly the shows were geared to an older audience and so I was not all that interested in most of them. However, many of the people I spoke with on the cruise loved the shows. The same goes for the musicians playing in the bars/lounges throughout the ship. Their music was stuff my parents listened to in the 40s and 50s. Fine for the older folks, but not so great for me. There was a string quartet in the Explorer’s Lounge that played classical music in the evening and you could hear it in the Library, so that was nice. I often wonder what I’ll do when I’m 75 and wanting to go dancing… will the band in the lounge be playing the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, etc.????
PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS:
I booked all my shore excursions through Holland America. Because I was traveling by myself (and because I’d never been on a cruise before), this seemed like the most efficient way of going about things. If you are traveling in a group of 4-6 people, I’m sure that you could rent a van/driver and see many of the same things I did at a much lower cost.
My air travel and hotel in Santiago was booked through my travel agent, not Holland America. As mentioned above, there were 14 of us in the group. The flight to Santiago is long and, like most everyone else on the trip, I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. When you first arrive in the airport in Santiago you have to pay an entry fee to Chile. This is done before you go through customs and immigration. The line-up for paying the fee is to your left when you come down the escalator in the arrivals area. It took about 20 minutes to get through the line (there were two planes arriving at the same time). The line for customs took about another 10 minutes. I noticed that there were a number of Holland America staff in the baggage area assisting passengers and showing them where to catch their bus to the hotel. Our small group was met just outside the baggage area, which was a madhouse! There were hundreds of people meeting and greeting along with the bus drivers and taxi cab owners, etc. We were staying at the same hotel as most of the passengers on Holland America. The hotel was the Sheraton San Cristobal which is located just over the river from the main part of the city. It was a very nice hotel and I had a wonderful large room in the tower portion. There were a couple of very good restaurants in the hotel. Our small group was treated to a 3 hour bus tour of the city which was great. Santiago is a real mix of very old and very new buildings. It is clean and seemed to be safe. The next morning we boarded the bus for the trip to Valparaiso. My understanding is that the people who booked through Holland America traveled straight from Santiago to Valparaiso by bus, leaving around 10 am. Our group left a bit earlier and we took our time traveling through the various valleys between mountain ranges between the city and the coast. We stopped at a winery for a tour and a wine tasting, which was great fun. We also did a short tour of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso before arriving at the dock. Embarkation
went very quickly and efficiently (approximately 5 minutes).
Puerto Montt, Chile
“Petrohué Falls & Chilean Countryside”: This excursion took most of the day. The scenery was spectacular and the lunch that was part of the excursion was very, very good. I’m sure that you could arrange for a car and driver to take you to the same places that the excursion went to. The weather in that area is generally not so good with cloud, rain, etc. We lucked-out with clear, sunny skies. If it had been raining, then that long day in the bus would have been miserable! At this port you have to take a tender from the ship to shore.
Just a note about Puerto Montt. There is a very good market for hand made goods, crafts, etc. just outside the entrance to the port. There were lots of stores and the prices were very good. I made the mistake of not buying enough (thinking that I would hit the markets in Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, etc.). Well, I never saw another craft market until Buenos Aires! So, if you are interested in buying souvenirs, don’t make the mistake that I did. It is only a 5 minute walk from the market back to the port… so it is very convenient.
Punta Arenas, Chile
“Scenic Patagonia”: This was a good excursion by bus through the Pampas to the Otway Penguin Reserve. I went in the afternoon and so I was able to watch the penguins coming home after a day of fishing and then feeding their chicks who were waiting in the nests. It was great! Again, I’m sure that you could hire a local car and driver to take you to the same places. There were many taxis waiting at the entrance to the port (5 minute walk from the ship). I noticed that many of the passengers were taking the taxis into the city (too far to walk to) and were arriving at the penguin colony in cars when we arrived by bus.
“National Park & Beagle Channel”: I took this excursion and many of the people I met took the “Penguins & Beagle Channel” excursion (which was quite similar). Though you travel through Beagle Channel as you arrive in Ushuaia, by taking the catamaran trip I was able to get really close to the wildlife… which interested me. Other people took the train trip to the National Park, etc. …. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves regardless which excursion they chose. I don’t know of anyone who hired a local car/driver. There was not a lot of time to wander around the city, however, it is only a 5-10 minute walk back to the ship.
You don’t need to do a shore excursion here. After taking a tender to the dock, you can walk into town and see pretty much everything. As well, you can hire a local taxi to take you to the penguin colony, the beach, etc. for a very reasonable price.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Buenos Aires Highlights”: This was a very good bus tour around the city. We stopped for half an hour to tour around Recoleta Cemetery, which was fantastic. As well, we stopped for a while at the Plaza de Mayo. It was the last day of the “Mothers March”… very moving experience. We stopped for a while in the La Boca area (home of the tango). I felt that we really got to see a lot of the city and I really enjoyed the tour. I did that excursion in the morning so that I could take in a “Tango Show Without Dinner” which was also very good. I met some people who did the plane trip to Iguazu Falls. I’m sure the scenery was incredible, but I was not prepared to pay $800. Many people chose to avoid the city and do the day long excursion to a ranch out in the countryside. They had a blast, but 5 hours on a bus was pretty long, to say the least. I wish we had had two days in Buenos Aires; there was so much to see. I expect you would be able to arrange a car/driver for a city tour, etc., although I didn’t meet anyone who did that.
“Highlights of Montevideo”: This was an o.k. tour of the city. There is not much to see, and so I was pretty disappointed. It was a real letdown after BA. I know people who did the “A Taste of Montevideo and The Wine Trail” tour and really enjoyed it. I wish I had done that one. Again, I’m sure you could hire a car/driver to take you around Montevideo. It’s not that large and you can see everything in a couple of hours. There is a taxi stand about 30 seconds from the dock.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“Sugar Loaf & Corcovado”: This was an all-day tour which took us to the airport at the end. I did this excursion on the last day after we disembarked (around 9 am) and we arrived at the airport at 7 pm. The tour was excellent and we saw lots of Rio (and felt reasonably safe with a guard (presumably armed) on board the bus for the entire day). Unfortunately, the weather was pretty lousy, so the views from Corcovado and Sugar Loaf were not so good. In fact, we were in the clouds while on Sugar Loaf and so saw nothing but white! Rio is very, very unsafe. I was not able to travel around on my own and so the first day we were there I met up with two other people and we took the free shuttle bus, provided by H. Stern Jewelers, that took us to their headquarters in Ipanema. The factory tour was very interesting and the showroom of jewelry was incredible. We were then able to spend 4 hours walking the beach and touring the neighborhood and the lagoon behind Ipanema. It’s a beautiful area and reasonably safe. We were then able to catch the H. Stern shuttle bus back to the ship. As for private car/driver arrangements, I’m sure they can be made, but I didn’t talk to anyone who did that. You will need to be very careful with who you hire, etc. I can’t stress enough how unsafe Rio is for tourists.
Just a note about Rio. We arrived at the harbour between midnight and 2 am. It was one of the highlights of the trip (other than Antarctica) to stand outside and gradually watch the city come into view at night. We were able to see the beaches, Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, etc. It was really quite magical!!!
Disembarkation went quite smoothly and quickly. My luggage went directly to the airport and was there for me to pick-up when I arrived at the airport at 7 pm. The International Airport in Rio is a bit of a joke. It is quite small, run down, with very few chairs for sitting, etc. The bathrooms were filthy and there was no air conditioning. After checking in I went upstairs to the second level where there were some shops, a small food court and a reasonable restaurant. Many of the people from the cruise went directly from check-in through security to the gate, and then were stuck there in the heat for 5-6 hours with nowhere to eat, sit down, etc.
I truly had the most wonderful cruise vacation on board the Rotterdam. The scenery in Antarctica is beyond words. If you have an opportunity to do the South America cruise, then pay the extra and include Antarctica in your trip. You won’t be disappointed. As for South America, it was wonderful. If I had the time and money, I’d do this same trip again in a heartbeat!!!