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Stephen Johnson

Age: 56 to 65


Number of Cruises: 2nd Cruise

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Rotterdam

Sailing Date: May 19, 1999

Itinerary: Grand Capitals of Europe

Departure Date May 19, 1999
Antwerp, Harwich

My spouse and I sailed Holland America’s Rotterdam VI on a twelve day ‘Grand Capitals of Europe’ tour. We have only been on one previous cruise and had originally planned to take a land tour of Europe, but after contemplating packing and unpacking and checking in and out of hotels every couple of days, as well as spending half the trip confined to bus or train seats, we decided to take our hotel with us. We ultimately chose this cruise for its itinerary that included ten ports in twelve days. We embarked at Roma Civitavecchia and disembarked at Harwich, England.

The Rotterdam VI, hereinafter known as RVI, is a marvelous vessel accentuated by changing color schemes and decor. Its lines are the antithesis of the classic ocean liner. It looks exactly like what it is: a floating hotel, comfortable, spacious and well appointed with numerous public lounges. Additionally, there is a well stocked library, a puzzle room large enough for meetings and bridge tournaments, a comfortable movie theater, and possibly the best large show room afloat. The main dining room is on two levels and decorated with lots of glass and brass. The overall decor of the ship, with its abundance of primary colors and bright shiny brass, is somewhat extravagant for some tastes. A previous reviewer described the RVI as a Las Vegas hotel. A not inaccurate description; however, I like Las Vegas hotels.

The RVI is exceptionally well maintained. Spit and polish abounds throughout. Of the ten passenger decks, five are devoted to public areas. The lower three decks are cabins, some inside, the majority outside. The outside cabins are 196 sg ft and include a bathtub/shower. The inside cabins are identical, but slightly smaller, 186 sg ft, and have a shower only. The rooms are comfortable and include two beds, a leather sofa, small coffee table, a make up table and two large closets with plenty of drawer and shelf space. There is sufficient under bed space for luggage storage. The bath rooms are large by ship standards, with adequate shelf space and a medicine cabinet. If you require more detail, HAL has cabin and suite photos posted at their web site. The sixth level is the mini suite verandah deck and the seventh contains the suites and four penthouses. The suite deck has a lounge and concierge for the exclusive use of suite passengers. There are self service launderettes on all the cabin and mini suite decks. I should note that we selected an outside cabin on deck three with a partially obstructed view, thereby realizing an effective six level upgrade.

Most of the public areas are on the 4th and 5th decks, including the main and alternative dining rooms. The main dining room is the La Fontaine, the Odyssey being the alternative. The Odyssey has an upscale Italian menu, as well as excellent quality and service. It is, however, small, and the Maitre D’ allowed only one reservation per couple during the voyage. The 8th deck contains the Lido Buffet and a pool side grill. Our choice for breakfast and dinner was the La Fontaine, but we preferred the Lido for lunch. The Lido has an excellent buffet with an a variety of entrees and appetizers as well as a large salad bar and an ice cream bar. Midnight buffets are in the Lido from 11:15pm to 12:15am, great for a late snack and a dish of ice cream. The La Fontaine menu was exceptional and the food nearly always top quality. Service was excellent with three servers per table, all very attentive and thoughtful. There was little or no delay between courses. Seatings are at 6:00 and 8:15. We selected first seating and did not experience any rush to arrive on time, even following shore excursions. We were occasionally up to a half hour late, but were seated and served with the usual cheer and efficiency. There were three formal, three informal and six casual nights. Most of the men wore tuxes on formal night, not only for dinner but throughout the evening. Informal night saw an overwhelming majority of jackets and ties and a few sport jackets. Slacks and sport shirts predominated on casual nights, but if someone attempted to be too casual, they were not welcome. We witnessed a family turned away for attempting to wear shorts to dinner. On formal nights, the distaff side dressed appropriately in formal pants and dresses, but not to the ball gown level.

The main swimming pool area takes up the center portion of the 8th, Lido, deck, and has a sliding glass roof for inclement weather. There is a second outdoor pool one deck below off the fantail of the Navigation deck. Forward on the Lido deck is a large, well equipped, gymnasium and spa, including steam and sauna rooms with a beauty salon and massage parlor.

Entertainment continues throughout the day, whether in or out of port. There are continuing deck and game activities varied enough to match any interests. The main show room, the Queen’s Lounge, has two shows every night. The ship’s company consists of ten dancers/singers who put on three different variety shows. Other nights featured an assortment of musical performances and the usual collection of comics, ventriloquists and magicians, mostly a cut above in quality. Of course, there is a casino as well as a video arcade and two lounge bands for early and late night dancing. The bands are of excellent quality. We especially enjoyed the Ocean Bar trio who specialized in swing with some Latin, waltz and slow dance. The Wajang Theater shows first run films throughout the afternoon and evening, and there are first run films on the ship’s TV network, as well. Both suite mini suite passengers have access to a video library. Bingo games are usually twice a day, and there are the ever present art auctions. A number of people enjoy the auctions, and consider their art purchases a bargain. There are so many activities, both passive and active, that if you are bored on this ship, you are either a hermit or a grouch.

The swimming pool is a great place for relaxation. The deck area is large, with abundant and comfortable padded lounge chairs. There are two Jacuzzis that have dozens of jets. These are marvelous therapy. There is also a small kiddy pool that was left dry this voyage. The main pool is filled with fresh, not sea, water and is heated so it is comfortable on chilly days. There is a pool side grill as well as a bar. The bar stewards do not intrude on bather's privacy, fetching drinks only when asked.

Service on the RVI is mixed. The dining and cabin stewards are dedicated to providing quality service in a cheerful and sincere manner. The service in the Odyssey is truly professional, up to three star Michelin level. Stewards in public areas such as lounges and casino, however, are more uneven in their service. This became somewhat understandable, though, once I realized that a majority of passengers fail to tip for drink service. Older people seem to often be tighter with their money than the young or middle aged. The great majority of our fellow passengers were, shall I say, geriatrically challenged. Both my spouse and I are well into our sixties, but we felt like youngsters in this crowd. It should be noted that due to the mature age of the passengers, nearly all events were subdued, often even sedate. The demeanor in all areas, especially the dining room, was definitely reserved. If you require a gay, festive, party atmosphere, then a twelve day European voyage on the RVI is not the right cruise for you. The quiet, conservative environment, however, was often welcome after a full day shore excursion. We often returned quite tired, and were probably not up to a party atmosphere, anyway. So, given the context of our schedule, the constrained tone was probably more appropriate than a swinging singles Carnival cruise atmosphere.

What I do not understand is the distant and indifferent, attitude of the middle management staff on the RVI. These people are in dire need of intensive customer relations training. Invariably, when confronted with a problem or questions regarding ship’s policies, they become defensive, even rude and insulting, in an effort to turn the problem back on to the customer. Given the excellent treatment we received from the ship’s crew and the stewards, I am confounded by the behavior of the people in management positions. They have not learned to simply smile, apologize and ask what can be done to make things right. Instead, they seem compelled to go on the attack. I quickly learned to ignore these management misfits in order that they not ruin my cruise. They did, however, leave an indelibly bad taste in my mouth aimed towards Holland America. HAL’s passengers deserve better treatment.

As previously mentioned, we selected this cruise for its itinerary, and were not disappointed. The RVI stopped at ten different ports, including the Cote D’Azur, the Costa Del Sol, Casablanca, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Vigo, Le Havre, Rotterdam and Antwerp. HAL offered a variety of ship sponsored shore excursions at each port. A number of people went on their own, but since this was our first real visit through Europe, we went with the ship’s tours. We were fortunate in not experiencing any equipment problems. A few groups suffered bus break downs, and other equipment failures. In the main, though, the busses were well maintained, comfortable and all had air conditioning and elevated seating. Our tour guides ranged from good to outstanding. As far as I could tell, all were university educated, and most had extensive additional training as tour guides. They were all very expert in their regions. The two highlights of our shore excursions were both in Spain, and included The Alhambra and Santiago de la Compostela. The Alhambra, adjacent to Granada, is a Muslim-Hispano complex of palaces, buildings and gardens dating to the 14th century. The beauty of the detailed mosaics and architecture is spectacular, especially the marvelous Court of the Lions. Santiago is, of course, the Cathedral of St. James, and is located near the port of Vigo. For centuries pilgrims have walked across the breadth of Europe to visit the burial place of St. James. His remains rest in a silver sepulcher located in the cathedral’s lower burial chamber. The cathedral is the quintessential example of gothic architecture. The effect of the interior sculptures, paintings and carvings was so overwhelming that I experienced near sensory overload. This is a site that deserves more time to explore and understand. There is an excellent five star hotel, The Parador, adjacent to the cathedral. Any return visit to Europe would include booking a couple of days there to better appreciate this amazing cathedral and its surroundings.

We did select tours so as not to overexert ourselves. We chose four full day tours interspersed with five half day tours at the remaining ports. Some of the shore excursions were pricey, but Europe is expensive, and taking the ship’s tours ensures that the ship will not sail without you. Tour selection is offered in advance. A shore excursion brochure and application form are included with the documents which we received approximately a month prior to sailing. However, a number of people apparently wait until the last moment. There was a long, slow moving line at the shore excursion desk the first couple of days. Some of the tours had filled up, but HAL managed to secure additional guides and transportation, so I think nearly all were accommodated. I would, however, definitely urge booking in advance. There is a modest ten percent cancellation fee if you later change your mind. I did switch a tour on board, and was not charged a fee for doing so. On the subject of fees, be sure to use credit cards for purchases while touring. The ship’s fee for currency exchange is usurious, in excess of ten percent. I only changed enough currency, $20 or $30, ashore for coffee and very minor purchases. Between Lisbon and Vigo I exchanged some remaining Portugese Escudos into Spanish Pesetas. The currency exchange office on the ship ran it through US dollars, so the fee exceeded twenty percent. I should mention that the ship does not have an ATM, nor do they cash personal checks. An ATM is often the best way to obtain cash, but they are difficult to access in port while touring with groups, so if you don’t use credit cards, bring plenty of cash or travelers' checks along. There is a cashless society on board ship. You may roll a credit card at the beginning of the cruise and thus effect an express checkout, or you can pay up at the end of the cruise. The front office will accept personal checks to settle final bills.

We booked fly-cruise with HAL, including hotel accommodations in both Rome and London. You may be able to realize a lesser air fare booking yourself, but you would have to pay additional for land transfers, which would probably result in a near wash of the total cost. By booking with HAL, we ensured they would take care of any problems that arose, such as misrouted luggage and late schedules. The peace of mind this offered was well worth any additional cost. HAL’s land service was outstanding. We were met at the airport and escorted to the hotel where HAL Agents remained on duty throughout our stay, assisting with tours and any other needs. The transfer from the hotel to the ship included a city tour of Rome, as well as a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The transfer from the port at Harwich to the hotel included a city tour of London, as well.

Despite a few minor annoyances, we were totally delighted with our cruise, and given the right circumstance, would sail with HAL again. The RVI is a wonderful vessel, comfortable, easy to negotiate and offers an abundance of luxuriant facilities.

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