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Bill A. Belt

Age: 68

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: 10

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Rotterdam

Sailing Date: August 15th, 2003

Itinerary: Baltic and North Sea

Embarkation & Debarkation

Traveling to New York on Thursday August 14, 2003, the day before the boarding of the Holland America Rotterdam, to our unbeknown , was to be the start of a unique adventure. The massive eastern United States and Canadian power black out occurred just after we were twenty feet into the terminal at LaGuardia Airport. The terminal was instantly dark and no one seemed to know what was taking place. It wasn’t until after we retrieved our luggage that we learn of the massive power failure.

We boarded the ship at 1:00PM on the following day and found ourselves fortunate that we had no tickets and were ushered to the “pier pick up line”, the shortest line on the pier. We were in out cabin within 15 minutes, thus the usual Holland America check in proficiency.

Out embarkation time of 4:30PM was delayed until 1:00AM in order to allow late arriving passengers time to arrive in New York City. The next day we were surprised to hear several guest complaining about flying this carrier or that carrier as though the power failure was the carrier’s fault. What was also amusing to us was the time some had allowed for travel from home to the ship. Seems to this writer experienced travelers should not expect to leave home at 10:00AM and expect to be able to complete all travel, even in the best of times, yet alone the post 911 era and expect to be on board for a 4:30PM departure. Bottom line, we don’t think the airlines should shoulder the blame for the power failure.

Departing at 1:00AM worked well as the Captain begin swiftly to make up for some of the lost time and announced we would arrive at out first port, St. Johns, Newfoundland, on time. Additional delayed passengers caught up with us in St. Johns, and even with these additional passengers the ship was sailing with less than its capacity.

THE CABIN

Out cabin was on the outside of the Dolphin Deck (that’s the bottom deck), however it was very good. The rooms are well decorated and kept very clean. Expect to see some wear on the Rotterdam which was launched in 1997. Maintenance is always a continuing process and every single item in the room worked well. It’s always nice to have a veranda deck cabin. If you don’t mind spending the extra dollars, go for an upgrade to at least the Veranda Deck and if more dollars are available go for the mini-suites---they are really nice.

Laundry

We always try to travel light and do as much laundry on board as the budget will allow. You have the option of the self-service laundry but expect to pay at least $5.00 per load when you count washing, drying and soap, etc.

An alternative to the laundry is letting the ship’s laundry do the work. Sending laundry in by 9:00AM will get you clean and lightly starched cloths the next afternoon. While the service is not 5 star, it is acceptable. The cost on this cruise was $110 of the unlimited amount for the first half of the cruise or $200 for the entire 33 day cruise. We opted for the 33 day package. Had we paid regular cruise ship prices the total would have been close to $1000. On day 4 a brochure placed under our door offered $12 “stuff all you can in a bag” laundry for the duration of the cruise. We found you could easily stuff, at cruise ship prices, at least $30 worth of laundry in a bag. However, we were stuck with the $200 plan. We probably should have waited and gone with the $12 per bag plan. The clothes returned were wrapped in tissue paper and on hangers. Very nice!!!

Erasmus Library

Excellent, quite, well stocked, friendly service. I was interested in their travel book section and found several up to date travel books. They have a paperback section where you can leave a book and pick up a book without checking out through the desk. Good time to pack a few of those paperbacks you have already read & exchange for something you probably would not buy. Don’t expect too many best sellers in this section. There is a question and answer contest each day in the library, with a token daily prize.

Internet Room

This is always a room that we stake out since the internet has become a prominent part of one’s life. I signed up for the 250 minutes plus 20 free minutes, for $100. My first log in experience was a disaster, took me 21 minutes to send an e-mail. I use SBC Yahoo and seemed like every process was slower than the previous. After entering my name and password it took at least a minute to get a working screen up. Some screens in the area were good while one or two had very poor resolution.

There is a better was to handle this internet process and that is to bring your wireless laptop. You can type your e-mail without being on line, hook up to the internet by wireless and just use your time to send the e-mails. The ship had two wireless areas, one in the computer room and another on deck 5 in the middle of the ship. Both worked very well. The person in charge of the internet room was most helpful to all who needed help.

Queen’s Lounge

This is the show lounge and we found the shows to be a great improvement over some previous cruises. Some of the show people just recently joined the cruise thus they had not had a lot of practice, nevertheless the shows were good. Entertainment was varied from the ship’s own entertainers, to piano players, to a magician to numerous musical instrument players. While we enjoyed the comedians, we noticed some passengers seated close to us did not. A lot of the jokes were about cruise passengers, fat people and old people and guess this upset some. We thought the routines were close to reality and perhaps hit too close to home.

Ship’s Boutiques

Definitely an area that needs to be completely overhauled. Merchandise is limited and what is available is for the most part, “stuff” you probably will pass up as we noticed so many passengers did. The cosmetics section, while limited, had reasonable prices as did the section on watches. TAG Hauer, & Citizen watches we found to be very competitive priced. Costume jewelry for women is just that, costume jewelry. Don’t expect to find great selections on men or women clothing as it does not exist. Looking for a photo or camera shop, forget it as it does not exist. There is a liquor department and very , very, very limited drug and candy section. For a deodorant stick I had to wait until we reached our first port. There is a “sports store” section where you can get t-shirts and hats.

Several “sales” around the different parts of the ships seemed to always be going on. Sometimes looked like a “flea market” or “garage sale” in progress. One on Deck 5 was quite often used and thus took away the seating for passengers in that area; an area that was most suitable for chatting, reading and wireless internet hookup, as it was close to the middle of the ship.

Art Auction

You’ve been to enough of these haven’t you? We know such auctions like a lot in being a true auction. The dealer needs a minimum price, often the price which he is willing to sell. This process is as old as the carnival hawker. We are always confused as to why any art connoisseur would want to “bid” on “art” aboard a cruise ship. Must be a lot of “originals”, as this kind of art has appeared on every cruise ship we have ever been on.

Wajang Theater

A great little theater with two different movies a day with many of the movies being recent in the past few weeks. Seating is excellent and free popcorn. On a long cruise one should certainly take advantage of the movies and in some cases, get there early for a good seat. Also the popcorn tends to go early as non-movie goers seem to drop by for a bag. Church services were also held in the morning in this theater, as was some ship on board demonstrations such as cooking and flower arrangements. Fresh flowers were everywhere on the ship.

Crowe’s Nest

Great place to spend the morning or afternoon as there was always ample seating. Remember our ship was only about 75% of capacity. The ship’s crew held various activities in this area throughout the day, however, we never found this to hinder our viewing or reading time. Some people apparently found this area to be better for sleeping than in their cabins.

Ocean Bar, Ambassador Lounge, Explorer’s Lounge

Great places for your listening and dancing. Ocean bar had traditional dance favorites, the Ambassador Lounge had Peter Grant entertaining with piano, songs and humor, while the Explorer’s Lounger featured the Champagne Strings playing classical melodies.

Beauty Shop & Massage

There are so many spa packages that it takes an entire booklet to explain all the ship has to offer. Prices are in line with what one would expect to pay at most luxury resorts and some services are actually lower that many resort prices.

Great exercise room with lots of equipment in the same area. Get there early as there are a lot of people that work out early in the day. Always empty at night and afternoons not as busy.

Davanta Custom Tailors

Give me a break---I don’t go on cruises to buy custom clothing aboard the ship. While there was a lot to choose from we found the prices were much better elsewhere.

Future Cruises

As with most cruise ships, there are always promotions of future cruise trips. As many reviewing this internet review, the industry has been forced to very aggressively compete for most of its customers and no doubt this will hold true in the future as more new ships are added by the cruise industry, the US economy remains stagnant and the travel industry as a whole continues to struggle. One might want to review internet sites, local cruise agents and major newspaper travel sections that may provide a much better price than the cruise brochure.

Infirmary

I hope you don’t have a need for this particular service on the ship but if you do , as we did, the staff was courteous, helpful and professional. Service cost will be billed to your on board credit card and if you have insurance you should file a claim upon returning home. We found the prices of service and prescriptions to be very reasonable. The place is spotless.

Bingo

Just like those on other cruise lines you’ve been on. Played only once for the $25,000 one card coverall. The payout was approximately $13,000 on a $25,000 game. We never did figure that one out!!!!!

Photo Gallery

The photos you take will be the most memorable on the cruise. There’s always a lot of “snapshots” of cruise passengers. Having been a photographer for several years, including in business for myself, I’ve never been able to figure out where the term “formal portrait” come from. Take a look, the photographer uses a 35mm Nikon, Cannon, etc, just like you and I do to take snapshots. Some of the snapshots are good, while those of us with our chin stretched out like Jay leno, or bright red eyes, just aren’t worth the asking price. If the gallery offered a “package”, say 20 pictures for $100, then I’d probably go for it, otherwise paying $20.95 for a 8 by 10 snapshot seems a little pricey to me.

Ice Cream Parlor

Not Ben & Jerrys, but who cares, it’s ice cream and it’s free. Just read a review where one ship is going to charge $5.00 for a waffle cone. Not from me they won’t. This ice cream parlor is outstanding. Has some of the longest open hours of any ice cream parlor
I’ve seen on any cruise ship. Remember what I wrote, it’s free!!!!!. Usually open 8 hours a day. Can also make your own sundae.

Terrace Grill & Swimming Pool

As with other Holland America ships there is a retractable cover for the large swimming pool and Jacuzzis, plus plenty of lounge chairs, each one, clean and in perfect condition. There is plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs around the pool area. Plus there was Mexican food every day. In addition there is adequate bar service from the many waiters and waitresses. Poolside music is present during the lunch hour.

Front Desk and Purser

Friendliest group of young people you’ll find aboard ship and they will actually help you if you have a question, need service or just want to say hello!!!. Got to give these folks as “Excellent!!!”.

Shore Trip Office

We have always found the wait at these cruise offices to be extraordinary and sometimes not too helpful. This time we went to Holland America Web Site, downloaded the on shore trip brochure and ordered our on-shore trips via the internet. When we arrived in our cabin all our tickets were there and all were correct. This was the easiest ordering of on-shore tour tickets we have ever had. As with many shore trips sold on board a cruise ship, we always expect to pay more than the price of the same shore trip had we purchased it on shore. At one port, the cruise ship price was almost double the on-shore price and the really big difference was the ship’s passengers were put on a large bus while the shore purchased trip (which was almost identical) was on a 7 passenger van. In one port we purchased the same harbor boat cruise for $14.00 while the ship’s price was 4 times as much. We did not get the bus ride to the pier which was included in the ship’s price. Instead we rode a free bus provided by the city from the ship to the harbor.

Ship’s Activities

The passengers on board this Holland America ship, as well as other Holland America ships on which we have sailed, tend to be older more experienced cruise travelers. The number of people in their 70’s and 80’s was quite significant on this cruise and many of them chose activities such as lectures, flower arrangement, reading and just sitting and talking. Several chose to walk on deck 3 which is free from joggers, thus the more senior walkers were found on that deck.

Afternoon tea is worth visiting once in a while. The Java Café always had a variety of coffee drinks, cookies and finger sandwiches. Unless liquor was added the coffees, deserts and sandwiches were at no charge.

Port Debarkation and Embarkation

We add this as a post 911 paragraph since security has in some cases originated only after 911. You need not only your cabin room key but also a picture photo such as your driver’s license in order to get back on the ship in each port that you stop. You do have to go though a metal detector and your carry on bags will be screened. We would advise that you pick re-boarding times other than times the on-shore tour buses are returning as the lines are long and move slowly. It makes absolutely no difference in the time established for final boarding, as a few passengers will always “test” the time by showing up a minute or two before debarkation. At Reykjavik, the “gangplank” time was 4:30PM, however one tour bus arrived at the dock at4:45PM. This is always a good reason to use the ship’s shore excursions rather that independent service since one’s tardiness will be “excused” and the ship will wait for you.

TV

One seldom go on a cruise ship for the sole purpose of watching TV, however on a long cruise it’s always good to be able to watch CNN to see what is happening in other parts of the world. Our TV service was rather sporadic and many times signals were lost. In fact there were several days when in the Iceland and Greenland area that we were without service. On board movies were the same that could be watched in the Wajang Theater.

Sports Activities

The days of “skeet shooting” have passed. Now there is ping pong, shuffleboard and golf putting. The weather would not permit outside activities on every day so many of the sport activities never happened. Perhaps a warmer climate would put these facilities to better use.

Casino

I hope you are not taking a cruise hoping to win a million at the ship’s casino. It won’t happen. I learned long time ago, the casino is a form of entertainment. Entertainment that you have to be willing to pay a price. Establish your price and stick to it and consider the casino as just another form of entertainment. We found for the most part the casino area lacking in customers throughout the entire 33 day trip. Some tables we never saw opened at all and it was no trouble finding a slot machine waiting for a customer. We lost “nothing” at the casino. Stopped by a few times, found the staff not very friendly and decided I could “invest” my money in some better forum.

Passports and Visa

Never have written about this in any of my reviews, however decided this was an appropriate subject at an appropriate time. On this cruise (33 days) New York to New York, we were asked to relinquish, to the ship’s personnel, our passport at the start of the cruise, with the promise it would be returned before St. Petersburg, Russia. In Russia one must have a Visa unless you go ashore as part of a paid tour group which holds a group visa for the group. In a time of rising identity theft we feel most uncomfortable with this process and long ago refused to leave our passports with the local small hotel desk clerk in Europe. While many of today’s passports cannot be quickly copied, even with new color copying equipment, the identity data from your passport can quickly be given to anyone thousands of miles away as you travel on the high seas. One of my credit cards was recently used in London, even though I had never activated the credit card.

I know Visas are another chapter. Check long before you leave for foreign ports and see what the regulations are for those ports/countries you plan to visit. For example, if you plan to be on your own in Russia you need a visa however if travelers with a pre-arranged group , such as a shore excursion from the ship, you do not need to apply for a single visa as this will be covered by part of the ship’s group visa. Visas applications and visa issuance articles appear regularly in many travel publications, as application forms, processing and/or visa prices are constantly changing, always increasing in price. Check with a passport/visa processing office as many small travel agencies just don’t keep up with the changes. Be sure to take copies of your passport with you as well as leaving a copy with someone at home in the event you run into a problem

Food

We put this item among the top subjects that will be discussed as it will no doubt be part of one’s conversation both on and off the ship. There are four main food areas on board the Rotterdam and for the most part it appears to this writer most all the food comes from the same kitchen. The Lido restaurant on Deck 8 is the most common venue used by the majority of guest. Breakfast was available at either 6:00AM or 7:00AM, depending on whether the ship was in port or at sea. With the exception of approximately one hour in the morning (usually 10:30AM to 11:30AM), there was always some type of food available, including afternoon pizza until 5:00PM. The Lido provides alternative dining for dinner from 6:30PM to 8:00PM. We found it to be very good and if one does not want to have to dress up for dinner this is an excellent choice with many entrees cooked to order on many of the evenings. There is also a late night snack available from 11:00PM to 12:00PM. We found service in the Lido to be excellent as staff worked hard to please their guest.

The main dining room, La Fontaine, is two storied with first seating at 6:00PM and second seating at 8:156PM. Many nights there was a theme dinner, with entrees that matched the theme country. We found both the food and service to be very good. The staff for our area had five tables to serve, one with 10, two with 6 and two with 2 guest. This was a total of 26 guest and almost always we found each course being served in a timely manner. Many of the same food items will appear on the menu throughout the 33 day cruise. For example, “Char Fish” and “New York Strip Steak” are but two that come to mind. Our wait staff was not always able to answer questions concerning various food items and “Char Fish” was one that come to mind. After being advised it was a “local” (Denmark) white fish, we come to find out it is part of the salmon family of fish, pink to dark pink in color with an oily taste.

The desserts might very well be the most disappointing of all the food items. Frankly most appeared to come right from the frozen food department at Sam’s Warehouse. The waiter joked each evening about the “homemade” desserts. Some presentations were excellent, however the specific desserts failed to match their presentations. Some toppings tasted as though they came from a can, flambé type desserts were not outstanding, ice cream was certainly not of the highest quality and cookies were always offered as one of the evening’s main desserts. Come on Holland America, we know you can do better than that.

The wine list was adequate, but the reviewer senses that he is paying dearly when he orders wine with a meal. A common brand selling for about $4.00 per bottle on the store shelves was more than $20 for the same identical bottle, however it was chilled and was served at the table so guess that must be fair.

The Terrace Grill is on the aft end of the ship. Good hamburger, cheeseburgers and hotdogs. Special items were available in this area from time to time generally being served around the pool. The grilled salmon was outstanding, as was fresh shrimp and king crab legs.

Then there is the Pinnacle grill which we got excited about as we boarded the ship. However the $20.00 per person, plus tip, turned us off as apparently it did many other passengers. None of the people dining close to us ate there during the 33 day trip. The only time we saw a lot of people dining was on a night when many of the cruise ship officers were there. While the restaurant is beautifully decorated and service from a distance appeared to be excellent, it was thought of having to pay upwards of $60.00 for a meal that turned us all off. The menu looked great with lots of steaks, fish and other entrees. On one ship cruise we paid $10.00 plus tips and didn’t mind it so much. This are needs to be re-visited by Holland America if they really want it to be considered an alternative dining area.

Mariner’s Club

The Queen’s Lounge was hardly large enough to hold all the guest who received pins and medallions, some of whom had more than 700 cruising days aboard a Holland America ship. At 59 nights we felt like real “peons”. It was a great event with the Captain and other officers making the guest really fell like they were appreciated. This is a great PR program for Holland America.

Bored----you should be as I’ve gone on far too long on this review. It was a great 33 days. My wife and I debated about whether we really wanted to take a 33 day cruise as we had never been on one longer then 14 day. Now we are ready for a 60 or even 90 day cruise. In fact we are already looking at another Holland America Cruise for 2004. The ships are small, most passengers are those that have lots of cruise experience, food is good, ship is clean and we just don’t have any negatives about these folks. By the way---out ship got hit by a huge waves which did some damage, caused a few people to get a little ill, but we kind of look on this as an adventure, even with 7 days of rough seas. We would do it again---since I missed taking pictures of those huge waves.

I’m very candid in my remarks and evaluation and would be pleased to answer any e-mail. Just send to texaswillie@sbcglobal.net and if not out on the high seas somewhere I’ll get back to you with my thoughts. DISCLAIMER---There were almost 1000 passengers on this same cruise and not all of us will view the cruise in the same way. These are solely my thoughts. I respect yours if they are different---so write your review. Take care--------Bill

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