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CruiseReportHolland America Cruise Line ms Veendam5A cruise review of Holland America Cruise Line ms Veendam in South America
by Bill Belt
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Holland Am.
  ms Veendam
Excellent Veendam Cruise
November 2011
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
As an introduction, we are on our first cruise aboard the Holland America Veendam. We have cruised on several other Holland America (HAL) ships; however, decided a couple of years ago to switch away from Holland America. However, this year we wanted a cruise that would include the holidays and a non-European cruise, thus we opted for the South American cruise and included the return cruise making this a back-to-back adventure. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those solely of the author who is in no way connected with Holland America. We know and respect your views and opinions may be totally different from ours. You had a different cabin, perhaps different waiters, different restaurants, etc., throughout the cruise(s) and thus saw the same cruise from a different perspective.

The ship reflects recent refurbishing throughout. The ship was launched in 1996. We don’t know exactly what the theme was supposed to be so we will call it 1920’s Supper Club Modern. Many areas look as though we have reentered the supper club era of the 1920s. In any event, the ship is being well maintained for the guests. By today’s standards, the Veendam has to fit into the small ship category. After all, there are large and mega ships with over 4000 passengers and small ships with around 750 passengers. With a passenger complement of around 1350 passengers, the Veendam is definitely not considered a large cruise ship by today’s standards. From our view, that is very good as we don’t really care for the rock climbing, the boisterous swimming pool antics and adventurer land aboard a cruise ship. Upon closer inspection, you will notice several broken or cracked glasses and windows throughout the ship. Some of the metal, especially around the outside windows, is pitted and rough indicating it was not recently replaced.

The first cruise left from Rio de Janeiro and, thus, there were more passengers from the United States. On the second leg of the cruise starting in Santiago, there were even less from the United States. The Neptune Club on our deck was only occasionally visited by a person from the United States. We are taking back-to-back cruises on this ship; thus, we have one segment from Rio to Valparaiso followed by a segment from Valparaiso, Chile, to Buenos Aires. Several of the ports will be the same; thus, we have an opportunity to see more at each port. We have previously visited some of these ports just a couple of years ago and this trip will give us an opportunity to see things we missed in the past.

Seating throughout the ship contains both comfortable and uncomfortable seats. Funny, you say, that we would start the review about seating. We were so fascinated that we even took dozens of pictures. Some seating appears to be for “munchkins” as they have extremely high backs with very small seats. In the Showroom At Sea, almost all seats have low backs, thus providing little comfort for a lengthy show. On top of all of this, unless you select a chair to sit in, you will find nothing but bench-style seating, all of which we found uncomfortable. What were they thinking? Dining room seating is much better; however, some chairs have arms while others are open chairs. There seems to be no consistency at any of the tables---just whatever is available at the time. Get to your table a few minutes early and select your own chair even if that means borrowing from another table. In our cabin, we had a leather couch; however, I challenge anyone to try to sit for any length of time when the ship is moving and tossing as you will most certainly be tossed to the deck because of the slickness. The ship, as a whole, is nice and clean and one will get used to décor.

RESERVATIONS - Just a note about making reservations. Not all published cruise prices will be the same; however, most cruise agents can match the lowest price you may locate on another cruise site. Just ask! We waited almost too late to purchase a suite cabin and we had to move to a different cabin at the end of the first cruise as the first cabin we purchased had already been sold. You should try to get the same cabin throughout all your segments as you don’t want to have to move after a few days at sea. We deliberately chose the starboard side on our first segment as that gave us a shore view from our veranda and, on the return segment, we chose the port side so we could again have the shore side view from our veranda. That worked really well. Now a word about location of the cabin. Our first cabin was 035 about midway on the Navigation Deck. The second cabin was 006 which was at the front of the ship. This made a really great difference on the open seas; however, not a concern in the inland passages. The ship’s movement was almost never felt when we were in cabin 035. Don’t be eager to take the first suggestion from your travel agent if you are not pleased with the location on the ship. There are also cruise web sites where you can check available cabin locations on each of the decks.

Changing cabins should be an easy process (in our judgment), however, Holland America apparently does not have a firm policy on this, thus a separate letter has been generated back to corporate. On the next to last day of our first segment, we still had not received anything from the front desk about our move to another cabin. I inquired three times and each time got different information. Finally, on the last evening of the cruise, we received a letter with partial information about the move to cabin 6. We still had no key to our cabin though, thus another visit to the front desk where we were advised to come back the following day. Our new cabin was made available to us around 0930 on the last day of the cruise and we received a new cabin key card upon visit, once again, to the front desk. We had not received any statement of charges for the cruise so we asked and were told we could have an interim copy. We also did not receive a survey questionnaire and were advised we would get that at the end of the second segment. We moved most of our personal belongings with a crew member helping us with a rack of clothes.

BOARDING THE SHIP - We flew to Rio de Janeiro and boarded the ship at the terminal in downtown Rio. It was a total disaster as the terminal is under renovation for the forthcoming Olympics. The main area was completely closed and HAL had all passengers crowded  into spaces just inside the entrance. Once checked in, you had to go to a back room and wait to be called by group number for boarding. I can understand the need for the renovations as the terminal is in bad need of repair. If you arrive during this renovation period, just be patient. Once inside this portion of the terminal space, there is nothing to do other than sit or stand and wait for your boarding number to be called. Listen carefully for that number as there was no PA system. We provided the computer-generated boarding pass at the check-in counter. I could not believe how many ahead of us did not have that pass with them.  Your passport will be confiscated and you will be given a receipt. If you need to update your credit card or change to a different credit card from the one you originally gave HAL, you cannot do it at check-in and will have to proceed to the Purser’s Office once aboard. A word about your passport. Holland America apparently has the feeling that we as guest are not capable or responsible enough to carry our own passports. You will be told that the retention of passports is necessary for Customs officials to quickly check the ship’s roster. In any event, you may find, as we did, a reluctance at some ports to even exchange currencies. In Buenos Aires, we were refused twice because we could not produce the original passport. To complicate the matter, Holland America does not exchange monies aboard ship and even the casino refused our Brazilian money. TIP: make a couple of copies of your passport before you leave home. Do this in color as the black and white copies may not look all that official. We found that by producing a color copy and discussing with a clerk what Holland America had done concerning retention of our passports, the on-shore transactions went smoothly. Our passports were returned two days before the end of the cruise. Once our group number was called, the process went rather quickly; however, there will be those that try to jump the line by not following the called number. The staff sent all we saw to the back of the line and that was the way it should be.

ABOARD  SHIP - You will soon learn that sanitation is of primary concern for HAL as  you will be asked to wash your hands as you enter the ship and there are hand sanitizers located all over the ship. We personally think it is a good idea. You will be asked to stop at the end of the gangplank for a picture to be taken. We just try to accommodate the photographer as he/she is doing their job and we normally have no intention of purchasing that photo. These are just snapshots and, remember, you don’t have to purchase any of them. The Holland America staff, almost without exception, provides a genuine excellent level of service. Everyone greeted us with a warm greeting and their service was impeccable. There were some guests, though, on the second segment of the cruise, that apparently felt they deserved more than friendly service. They displayed an arrogance with DEMANDS. Frankly, I think they need to find another mode of travel. One passenger got very upset with the waiter because there wasn't a certain kind of tea available for him. Give me a break!! Travel on cruise ships has definitely changed for the worse in the past two decades. Some passengers want to dress as “slobs” and expect to sit next to you on formal night while wearing a pair of sandals and a gross t-shirt. On smart casual nights, one can see flip flops, ragged t-shirts and shorts. We even saw one 80-year-old woman wearing what appeared to be gym shorts on smart casual night. These are some of the same passengers that demand their food be served immediately, reject their entrée and send that glass of wine back as they state it is not suitable. They were also the person at the purser’s desk arguing about the $5.95 drink charge which they swear is not theirs. We don’t personally have a problem with this type passenger; however, we do believe they would be better off traveling on a container ship or oil barge in the future.

OUR CABIN - We have been traveling on cruises since 1980; thus, we have been on board a number of different ships. This time, we decided to give up one of our cruises of the year so we could have a suite. Best decision we ever made. We selected cabin 035 on the first segment. However, because we waited too late to decide on this cruise, we had to change to cabin 006 (which was just a stone's throw away from 007) on the second segment. Not a big deal as the staff will move us at the end of the first segment. Cabin 035 was on the starboard side which gave us the shoreline on the travel both south and north. Cabin 006 will give us the same shoreside veranda view on the return trip. Our suite was fabulous. More space than we usually have in a hotel room and a patio that was unbelievable: two lounge chairs and four sit-down chairs, a table and still a lot of room left. We had our beds configured for a king size and the industry still does not have this down. There is that split in the middle that is most uncomfortable. Our living room area was very large with a coffee table, two club chairs and a sectional couch. There was a closet with a large bar with lots of glasses, and  a mini bar filled with drinks. The bathroom was very large with three closets, the most we have ever had on a cruise. There was a dressing area just outside the shower area that was really outstanding. There were mirrors all over the place, along with lots of counter space. The cabin was very tastefully decorated. Carpet was almost new as were the covers on the veranda chairs. Lighting throughout the cabin was excellent. There is small desk working space just opposite the bar. There are more drawers and closets in this cabin than one will have clothes to fill. If you don’t mind gambling a little and waiting until the last minute for your cruise, you may find a suite at a greatly discounted price. If you do, reserve it immediately and make your travel accordingly. Please be aware that some cruise destinations, including embarkations, may require that you have a visa in addition to your passport and, depending on the number of such visas needed for a particular cruise, it may take some time to get those.

NEPTUNE CLUB ROOM - Since we are in a suite, we have access to the club room on the Navigation Deck where we have a full-time concierge. Coffee, water, teas, small desserts and sandwiches are available throughout the day. There is television and internet hook up (don’t get excited—please review my section on the Internet). The concierge staff was excellent and most accommodating. This is just a nice place to relax away from the crowds in some parts of the ship. You can save the long lines at the tour desk by letting the concierge make the tour reservations and obtain your tour tickets. On the first segment of the cruise, we noticed just guests from the suite section; however, on the second segment, we were surprised to see some in the lounge that were not suite guests. At least one of them appeared to have been brought to the lounge by one of the suite guests. It is our opinion that if guest did not pay for this level of cabin, they should not be using the Neptune Lounge. We also witnessed some passengers who kept the concierge busy for lengthy times as they asked trivial questions. One woman insisted that the concierge go over her entire dining room times and options day by day for the entire cruise. By the way, those times and options were clearly listed in the daily bulletin.

In the suite category, you are given several amenities complimentary and one of those is the free laundry and dry cleaning. We sent a bag every day and, many times, the laundry came back to us on the same day we sent it. The service  was excellent. Another perk one has is the breakfast served just for suite guests in the Pinnacle Dining Room. Once again, the service was outstanding. You can also have a continental breakfast in the Neptune Lounge. Anyone contemplating an upgrade to the suite level should check the HAL bulletin to see a list of everything that is offered in the suite class. If you are a frequent HAL guest and have reached the three or four-star level, a combination of those rewards, along with the suite amenities, could weigh heavily upon one’s decision on where to travel and what cruise line to take. We received priority boarding on tender departures and, once the passports were returned, they were available in the Neptune Lounge so we did not have to stand in long lines to get our passports.

ENTERTAINMENT - I inevitably hear some passenger state that they don’t care that much about the cruising and destinations as they come on board for the entertainment. Look friend, I feel sorry for you if your number one objective in cruising is for the entertainment. Some shows are not all that good and if you stayed at home, you could probably find some really good high school productions that would suit your taste. On our next to last night aboard, we had a male and female singer that were very good. The dancers need to work on their portion of the act. I felt so sorry for one entertainer I had to leave the auditorium ten minutes after he started. I was actually praying that some could get through their act without totally screwing it up or forgetting their lines. One magic act had little professionalism in it and the children at the local library club will provide you a better magic/comedy act. All in all, the evening shows were acceptable with some actually being good. Pick your entertainment nights and if the act does not live up to expectations, then just politely leave.

INTERNET - Let me get this “negative” out of the way first. I paid for the 250 minutes internet service as soon as I boarded in Rio and then, being the sucker I am, paid again on the second segment for another 250 minutes. Looks like I would have learned my lesson. I used up my first 150 minutes just trying to log on and was successful a couple of times. I figure my emails are costing me about $20 an email. This is, by far, the worst internet service aboard any ship in the world. Don’t expect any sympathy or assistance from the “clerk” on board as he would just as soon you left him alone. After three days, I swore off the internet and decided I would never again pay Holland America even as much as a dime for their internet service. A walk-though this morning (our 6th day) revealed only one person using the internet in the internet café. In our cabin, the service is even worse. At the concierge desk, there are two computers and wireless; however, it is not good. Yesterday I was ashore in Montevideo and took my iPad with me. Found a Wi-Fi hookup at the California Burrito Company restaurant. It was free. The hookup was amazing. Just as good as my cable service back home. I learned from other passengers that had also enjoyed such success at other internet cafes in the town. We even used Facetime and SKYPE which, by the way, “can't be used” aboard ship. Save money and, most of all, save frustration by waiting until you are docked and then look for an internet café or Wi-Fi spot. We are now two days away from our final destination and the internet has some reliability. We noticed almost all terminals are in use today. We were able to hook up to the internet with only two tries and sending e-mails took less than 20 minutes. What a deal!! Before I receive numerous e-mails, I am aware that the satellite transmission of communications in some parts of the world are rather limited and this may be the case with the South American cruise. However, in all fairness to the customers, HAL should not be selling services it cannot deliver.

CROW'S NEST - On Deck 12 at the front of the ship is the Crow’s Nest, a place that we frequently have gone for quiet time to read. This location is actually large and quiet during non-sea days. More passengers use it on sea days with some talking so loud they disturb others. One corner is for smokers so if you don’t like secondhand smoke, better stay away from that section. The seats are not all that comfortable as they have low backs and small seats. Lots of bench seating is available if that is your thing. Occasionally there is a group or travel club meeting on one side of the area. The bar opens later in the day as there is dancing and music in the evening hours. Lots of fog on our trip thus seeing much from the 12th deck was rather limited. I will not list the name, however, there was a large travel group from one US company and if that is the way they conduct their tours, I will most certainly not be using that company in the future. The “hostess” was actually quite rude. In one waiting area, she insisted on getting her group up front and ahead of others that had been waiting. Please remember, these are not HAL employees but rather independent tour operators.

If you are invited to attend a Captain’s cocktail, you will more than likely find it located in the Crow’s Nest. There will be no “handshaking” from either the Captain or his crew. All for health reasons.

THE CAPTAIN - The Captain came to the Neptune Lounge (where the suites are) on the very first evening and brought key personnel with him. This was excellent and another benefit when purchasing a suite. He returned on a later date and chatted with the passengers. There was a special Indonesian luncheon for the suite guests held at the Pinnacle Restaurant with both the hotel manager and the Captain attending. We had to miss the stop at Port Stanley; however, the Captain explained, more than once, it was a safety issue due to the weather. He was sincere and his explanation was acceptable. He seemed to always be truly concerned about the guests aboard. He left us after the first cruise segment and a new captain came aboard. He was present at the first night reception held in the Neptune Lounge for the suite guests. We had an unusual experience as we had two captains with the first segment captain going on leave at the end of the first segment and a new captain coming aboard.

THE FLORIST - You can purchase from HAL, through a pre-board internet program, flowers for your room. We paid a premium price and the flowers did not look that good the day we boarded. Within three days, they really looked bad as the roses had shriveled up and dropped their petals. We had to toss them on day five. HAL puts a small bouquet in your cabin if you are on the suite deck. They, too, withered to nothing after day four and were taken out of the cabin by the room steward. On our second segment of the cruise, we received a very nice bouquet in our suite. We were never sure who sent them as there was no note. They lasted for several days. In fact, the flowers at our dining room table were changed several times as they did not hold up all that well.

FOOD - There are six main food locations on the ship. The ROTTERDAM is the main dining room located on Decks 7 & 8. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available. You may be assigned (for dinner) early, late or open seating. The LIDO on Deck 11 is cafeteria-type dining open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You will find the cafeteria line to be broken down into various food sections designed to make the lines shorter and service faster. Does not always happen as some passengers just can’t make up their minds on what they wanted. There are the two specialty restaurants: the Pinnacle, where one can get steaks and seafood and the Canaletto Restaurant where Italian food is available. Both of these restaurants require an extra charge. The TERRACE GRILL is located on Deck 11 at the end of the swimming pool. You can get hamburgers, hot dogs and fish and chips for lunch or late afternoon snacks. The SLICE Pizza is located on the aft of Deck 11 and is weather dependent.

We dined all over the ship and we are convinced the quality of the food is the same wherever you go except for the specialty restaurants where you pay an extra fee. If you are being served, you will swear the portions are much smaller than on past cruises and we think you will be correct. They seem to count the exact number of green  beans or asparagus spears and there will be much less than in the past. In the Rotterdam, the asparagus spears were wilted and about the diameter of a pencil. In the Pinnacle, the asparagus spears were three or four times the diameter, were green and crisp and served with an excellent Hollandaise sauce. They were top quality. However, in all fairness, you can ask for more. One evening when crab legs were being served, the waiter told us the crab legs were small and not that many and if we wanted to have that entrée, he could bring more to start with. We accepted the offer and the crab legs were indeed small and there were only two on the original plate.

Food in my judgment, is about what you are going to get back home in a nice restaurant location. It will be served with a little more fanfare, though. At the LIDO, food is similar to any cafeteria back home. You can always order seconds and the wait staff will accommodate your request. This reduction in the quantity is certainly being done by the “pencil pushers” as they try to figure out ways to increase the profit margin.

The suite guest can have breakfast in the Pinnacle Restaurant with no additional charges. Lunch and dinner in the same location comes with an extra charge ($10 & $25). Sometimes a quiet evening is worth the price. Not all the suite guests knew about the “no charge” Pinnacle dining for breakfast.  Ask the concierge what days breakfast is served for suite guests. The dinner meal is actually very good with the steaks being great quality and grilled exactly as you order. The bone-in ribeye that I ordered was excellent and would challenge any steakhouse in Dallas. The food and service was so good, we are going back for a second evening. There are always a few that think the staff in the dining rooms are servants and thus they make unreasonable demands. We saw one male that did not like the selection of teas available and he actually threw a fit. Another passenger ordered eggs Benedict and she did not like the way they were served while just a couple of tables away, the woman insisted the meat was not prepared correctly and thus sent it back.

For those in suites, the Neptune Lounge is open for breakfast snacks such as coffee and Danish, however, not a full breakfast. You can also get snacks and coffees at the Explorations Café. When we first arrived on the ship, there was no self-service of food items. This was relaxed a little after the first 48 hours and you could serve yourself on certain items on the Lido Deck. There were some food items that continued to be served by the wait staff. This no-self-service policy applied to all food areas throughout the ship, including the Neptune Lounge for the suite guests.

You should certainly not go away from the ship hungry and the wait staff that we met tries hard to make your dining experience a good one.

MOVIES - There are several choices depending upon the days. On Deck 11 there is the large outdoor screen which had excellent picture quality; however, the sound system is very poor. A lot of the passengers left the area after only a few minutes due to the poor sound quality. You just flatly could not hear the sound. Once the weather turned cold, no one seemed to attend these movies. Look for the free popcorn. Movies on certain days may be shown in the Showroom At Sea. The screen is small—small—small. Not much more than your large TV screen at home. Sound is acceptable though. No popcorn.  There is the movie theater, the Wijang Theater. The screen is large; however, don’t expect high quality on the screen nor expect high-quality sound. The seats in the center section are comfortable. Popcorn is free and you get about 1/3 of a bag. The number of bags is limited and if you get there at the beginning of the show, don’t expect popcorn as the bags will all be gone. Movies we saw were just DVDs, some of which reflected a lot of use or improper

EXPLORE TECHNOLOGY - This is a series of “classes” that Microsoft and HAL provided free of charge. There is minimal seating, so get there early. I think HAL must go out of their way to obtain the most impersonal people anywhere when it comes to the technology and internet. I would have to give this person a very low rating when it comes to a friendly personality. She has an almost scripted program format, so don’t expect to interrupt her and ask a question. Her voice presentation was without much volume so, if you are sitting close to the back of the room, you may find hearing difficult. One good aspect is that we were told the “lessons” could be downloaded from the internet when you returned home. As a note, this is supported by Microsoft so expect to get a sales presentation pertaining to Microsoft products. You can learn a little about some of the subjects; however, if you are already an advanced user of software and the internet, you may find these presentations rather boring. Some subjects included cameras and photography; however, once again don’t expect in-depth technical assistance.

FOOD PREPARATION & ENTERTAINING - If you have very many sea days, you will most likely be looking for something to occupy your time. Perhaps a culinary workshop or food
preparation would be to your choosing. Some of these classes have a fee associated with it, thus you have to sign up and be registered before going. We just attended the free ones as we are not professional chefs and have no desire to become one. Cake decorating drew about a dozen guests and lasted about 20 minutes. The presentations are made in the Culinary Arts Center (that is the Wajang Theater on Deck 7).

BEVERAGES - There are eight locations throughout the ship where you can obtain beverages with the MIX being in the center of the ship on Deck 8. It’s a sports bar and if the satellite transmission is working, you can pick up a football game from the US. You can purchase a drink card for 50% of the retail cost and alcoholic drink cards are also available for a discount. Check at the Wine Cellar on Deck 7. There is no refund at the end of the cruise. We just paid by the day for whatever we ordered. There is a wine special where you can purchase three bottles of wine for a fixed price. This will actually save you some money if you expect to consume three bottles of wine during your cruise. There is a wine cellar on Deck 7 where a selection can be made. Taking your own non-Holland America wine will incur a corkage fee in the dining room.

EXPLORE OUR WORLD - These presentations cover a wide range of subjects, some of which are interesting and others which will give you an opportunity to sleep for an hour. We noticed guests attending were involved in a lot of activities such as reading the Kindle, crocheting, talking and reading a book. You might want to drop by one of two sessions to see if anything interests you. Don’t expect to earn your PHD from the subjects being discussed. Some classes there are discussions on ports where the ship docks. The speaker/presenter was very good.

CASINO - I am usually negative when it comes to cruise ship casino, but this time I make an exception. This is a very small casino, with one roulette table and no crap table and not all that many slot machines. There are one and two-cent slot machines; however, I never did figure out a way to play only a penny. The staff is friendly, accommodating and patient. I write patient as there were several novice gamblers who did not know the games or rules, but the staff took their time and made the people feel good and want to gamble. They still lost but had a good time in doing so. There are Texas Hold’em Tournaments, Slot and Blackjack Tournaments. Texas Hold’em tournaments had buy-ins on the first segment which was $30; however, it went to $60 on the second segment. The slot tournament had a grand prize of $500. The casino is closed while in Chilean waters and at all ports. Video cameras are not allowed but still pictures are permitted in the casino.

THE SIGNATURE SHOPS - Sales of merchandise seems to pop up just about anywhere. Could not believe all the people pushing to get those t-shirts at poolside (2 for $25). Most of the “stuff” in the stores one just does not need. The watches and jewelry can be purchased stateside or on the internet at about the same prices or lower. Perfume available on this ship was rather limited and when my wife asked the prices, it was  more than stateside sales prices. The store close to the MIX Lounge was clean and very well lighted. There is a liquor store on the same deck that carries a few drug items and snacks. If you think you will want snacks or drug items, bring them with you. The cost aboard is way out of
line. There are several “sales days” aboard, some around the pool or on the deck where the shops are located. Just what you needed: more “stuff” to put into that suitcase and take home for the next garage sale.

PHOTO GALLERY - The ship offered all the photos taken of you aboard the cruise for a one-time price of $299.00. Throughout the cruise, we never saw very many passengers making purchases at the photo shop; however, on the last day at sea of the first segment, we witnessed several making package as well as individual purchases. Many of the photos taken on shore and in the dining room were actually not all that great. They were just poorly crafted snapshots and I know you can do much better. Even the formal night photos were out of focus, poorly posed and just enlarged snapshots. We noticed very few guests stopped by the photo locations on formal nights. The ship also has a special section called “Black & White”. We talked with the graduate photographer, a young girl from England, who studied design, etc., and went into the photo portion after graduating. She has limited settings for her work and she tells me that generally the work is done on 8 X10. There is no charge for the sittings; however, she advises there is a limit of 18 clients per cruise. You have to be into this type of photography to enjoy it and many are not all that keen about the rather off-the-wall concept for portraits. You will find, though, some of these type approaches to photography being highly acclaimed, especially in the photo magazine contest.

THE OUTSIDE WALKING TRACK—DECK 6 - This is a walking track with several signs posted that advise “No Jogging Allowed”. In spite of that, you are going to encounter the person who thinks they are still a high-school jock and can run down all those who walk on this deck. This is really a nice area to enjoy and four trips around the deck will give you your daily mile. Walk in the direction indicted by the arrows, not opposite like those “jocks” who apparently could not read.

EXPLORATIONS CAFE - This is place along the port side on Deck 8 just past the casino where you can get a book, coffee drink or use the internet (good luck on the internet). In fact, this is one of the most frequently used areas we noticed on the ship. Large windows let you look out on the port side. You are close to the Rotterdam dining room, thus a good place to meet friends before dinner. On the opposite side of the ship is another good place to meet friends at the Explorer’s Lounge. Coffee is sold at about the same price you would pay at Starbucks. In the Neptune Lounge (suite guests), there is no charge for coffee including cappuccino.

OCEANS BAR - Has some good seating with large windows on the starboard side. Music and entertainment in the evenings. Check the daily bulletin for drink specials (usually the second one for $1) each day.

TIPPING ABOARD SHIP - I have read numerous postings on web sites in which questions have been asked about cruise ship tipping. There is no simple answer in spite of the fact that cruise ship experts, especially those working for the industry, will attempt to give you a “concrete and simple” answer to your question. On board this two segment trip,
Holland America added $11 per day per person on the first segment and $12 per person per day on the second segment. Thus we paid for a 28-day, two-segment trip a total of $640.00. This means we paid $640.00 in tips for this limited number of employees, such as cabin stewards, their assistants, the waiter, his/her assistant and “others”. In addition, we paid 15% in tips for those drinks we purchased. Now, if there was someone that was really outstanding, such as your waiter, to whom you have already committed $96.00 in tips, you may want to give him or her some additional cash. While Holland America used to provide envelopes for this at the end of the cruise, there were no visible envelopes around; however, the front desk would be most happy to provide as many as you desire. Just remember that your waiter, who was serving three tables of six, has already received $864 from the mandatory tips for those past 16 days. On top of all of this, you most likely were not served every meal by that waiter as you may have dined in the Lido or had service in your room.

The point is that the cruise industry really screwed the tipping situation up when they started their “mandatory” program. You now give the same tips whether your service is good, poor or outstanding. On the other hand, there are those passengers that, without the “mandatory tipping,”  would most likely leave the ship without having left any tip. Now there are the “good guys” who will leave that waiter an extra $20, $50 or $100 bill as they leave the table on that last day.

The real answer to that question is to “absorb” the Holland America “tip policy” and give something extra to that person to show what you think about his/her service. If there was nothing really outstanding, then you have already tipped enough. By the way, these employees aboard the cruise ship are not paid great wages and their livelihood likely depends heavily upon your tips. Did you know Holland America makes that same wait staff pay for their internet usage? It is no wonder we see so many staff at the internet cafes on shore where they make telephone calls back home or send e-mails to their families.

SHIP’S CRUISE SURVEY OR EVALUATION - At the end of the cruise expect your service to get about as good as it can get as every crew member is aware that a survey form is about to land in every cabin. However, that was not our case as we did not receive a survey form. When we inquired at the front desk, we were advised that if you are on a back-to-back or multiple cruise segments, you will receive a survey form only at the end of the cruise. We don’t think this is fair to either the staff or the customer. For example, we changed captains, cruise directors and many wait staffers at the end of the first segment. One of these was outstanding when another was just satisfactory. There is no way, unless I write a narrative on each employee, that those reviewing the survey will know who I am evaluating. I will probably not turn in my survey form and send a letter AND the survey form to Corporate instead.

BACK-TO-BACK CRUISES - We have done this in the past and without a problem as we have always stayed in the same cabin for the entire cruise. This time it was a little different as the cabin we reserved on the first segment was not available for the second portion of the cruise. I was assured by a representative at corporate that we would have no problem. Not exactly true. Our first segment cabin was 035 and the second segment cabin was 006. One on the port side and the other on the starboard side. On the last evening of the first segment, we still had no guidance on the move so I went to the front desk and was told I would get a letter later that day. I did receive a letter in a couple of hours and I suspect it was generated as a result of my visit to the front office. I noticed there was no new cabin key, thus back to the front desk. I was informed that a new key could not be issued UNTIL THE actual cruise date which would be the following day. I once again asked about the actual move and was assured that a cabin attendant would assist. I even verified this with the concierge.

We wanted to get off the ship as it was docked at Valparaiso; however, this was not going to be possible as we still had no new cabin at 10AM. Finally, shortly after 10AM, a cabin attendant came to the area where we were waiting and advised the new cabin had been cleaned. We moved our personal belongings with only one load of hang-up clothes being moved by the cabin attendant. It just seemed as though no one knew what to do. We returned to the front desk where we were issued a new cabin key for the new cabin. At 11AM, we asked about leaving the ship and learned that the new boarding passengers would start boarding at 11:45AM. We did not want to get involved in any additional waiting lines so we left the ship, went to the terminal and shortly after that, reboarded so we would not have to wait with new boarding passengers. Holland America did not assist us in  any way and I assumed they thought we could just work “it” out. Well we did, as we returned back to the ship before noontime. So much for touring any of Valparaiso. One certainly needs to work out as many details on such a change before the final day. You can eliminate this problem completely by reserving the same cabin for your entire cruise.

SHOULD I RESERVE MY NEXT CRUISE WHILE ABOARD SHIP? - If you want my short answer, it is “NO”. I know it may be tempting to only have to pay a deposit of $100 for a cruise nearly two years away. You will also be advised that “credit” will go back to your hometown (or wherever) travel agent. It may also be tempting from a standpoint that you may be able to select exactly the cabin you always wanted. Do you have any idea what world conditions will be some 18 months from now? Will those cruise destinations you desire now still be the ones you want to cruise to in 18 months? The economic stability of business and countries throughout the world is such that I just tend to say, let’s wait until a closer time when I actually want to cruise. I look for destinations we want to visit, for great fares and super accommodations aboard the ship. Sometimes it takes a little waiting to get just the right combination. There are new ships being added by the cruise industry every year plus there are new ports being opened up throughout the world. I have come to the point where we are looking for quality service, quality food, quality cabins, etc., without breaking the bank. Rather than four cruises in two years, we are opting for two or three where we can enjoy cruising at our expectations.

Holland America has a 212-page Cruise Atlas 2012-2013. The booklet is very good and was planned well. You can browse through all the Holland America cruises for the two-year period. Finding a copy locally may be difficult so requesting a copy form HAL may be the best way to get a  copy. There were limited copies available on this cruise; however, there was a notice asking that the brochures be returned after reviewing.

EXPLORE WELLBEING & SALON - This is where you can go for a fitness class, acupuncture or, across the hallway for a hair makeover or touch-up on your fingernails. The Greenhouse and Explore Wellbeing will set you back a few dollars regardless of what you desire. While my wife used the hairdresser, I stayed away from all of this section. If it is your thing then go for it!

YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE, BENJAMIN - Some good information with lectures throughout the cruise. Held in the Showroom at Sea.

RELIGIOUS SERVICES - Mass was celebrated in the Wajang Theater at 8AM.

ART AUCTIONS - There were none---hurray!!!

LATE-NIGHT DANCING - Available at several of the lounges throughout the evening

LIBRARY - There is a large library on Deck 8 at the Explorations Café. Books can be checked in and out at the desk. A few paperbacks are available for exchanges. You do not have to check these paperbacks out, just leave one as you take one. You will find a few books in the Neptune Lounge if you are a suite guest.

TOURS - The ship’s staff will offer a presentation on the various tours that are available. This will more than likely take place on the first morning after sailing. You can also go on line after registering and pre-reserve your tours via the internet. We found this easy to do and, on top of that, your tour tickets will be delivered to your stateroom on your first day at sea. If you happen to be staying in a suite, the concierge has the ability to reserve your tour at his/her desk and print your tour tickets immediately.

Under the “ports” section I have discussed some tours. Benjamin, along with another crew person, made presentations on tours each morning. While they never misrepresent the tours, you may find the actual tours a little different than the presentations. For example, the City of Rose and the German Settlement tour was listed as 3 ½ to 4 hours. This was a tender location. We waited on the ship from 8:05 until 8:30 when we boarded the tender. After arriving at shore, we had to wait until a second tender arrived which took us to around 9:15AM. They moved through the city to a stopping point above the city where we stopped for five minutes before proceeding o Puerto Arenas where we arrived at 10:15AM and advised we had approximately 30 minutes to visit the town. We reboarded at 10:50 and proceeded to the town of Fruitillar where we were again given 30 minutes to visit the German Settlement. Leaving at 11:45AM, we arrived back at the dock around 1PM, boarded the tender and were back on the ship at 1:40PM. If you count all the waiting time, then it is possible to get the 3 ½ to 4 hours posted in the tour brochure. Actual time at the two sites: one hour with all the rest being travel and waiting time. If you had done this on your own, you could have seen a lot more and spent additional time at both locations.

LAUNDRY & PRESSING & DRY CLEANING - The laundry and dry cleaning with a suite cabin is complimentary. Otherwise, there is a charge. Before you go cheering about this, a word of caution. Don’t send any really good, especially designer, clothing to be washed or cleaned. After five laundries, your underclothes will no longer be a bright white, but rather a dingy gray. Those shirts you had laundered and starched will look a little dingy after just a few washings and your trousers will not hold a crease even a few hours after wearing. The bottom line is that the free service is a fantastic idea; however, the wear-and-tear on your clothes may end up costing you in the long run. My colorful polo shirts have lost their brightness and now look like Dollar Store shirts. Perhaps I can pass them off as designer polo shirts that were designed with dingy colors and by cutting a couple of holes in the blue jeans, I now have designer bluejeans. As for the under shorts---they did not cost that much so I will toss them upon return home.

PORTS - PUERTO MONTT, CHILE - This is an anchor port with about a 15-minute tender ride to shore. The landing port is a little over one mile from city center. There is very little around the actual port other than some local shops. The walk to town center will take about 30 minutes over concrete walkways and some gravel intersections. We found little to do in the town center other than browse through some of the local shops and stores. Tired of ship food? There is a McDonalds in the middle of town. We would suggest taking one of the ship’s tours so, on our return trip, we decided to take the tour that goes to Puerto Varas and Frutillar, the “city of roses” and the “little black forest”.

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA - This is a neat little town of about 60,000 population and is the most southern city in the world. The day we were there, the weather was spectacular with the temperature around 50 degrees. It is a short walk from the cruise ship to downtown and St. Martin Street where one finds all the shopping, including internet cafes and restaurants. If you want to use the internet, there are several locations on St. Martin Street and, at a very nice hotel, the Wi-Fi is free plus the coffee is rather good, too, and at a reasonable price with no charge for the internet. You will need your own laptop. There are several museums plus the train to the end of the world. People are friendly and the US dollar was accepted everywhere we went and credit cards could be used with your passport. One day we were there, many of the shops were closed all day on Wednesday. By the way---tour guides at the end of the pier will tell you that just about everything you go to see will be “at the end of the world”. According to the ship’s personnel, this is basically true as it is the most southern large city in the world.

As we leave Argentina and return to our cabin, we have a notice from Guest Relations (still puzzled by guest relations title) that, as we head for Chile, we need to complete an entry form for each person.  The form has been partially completed so all we have to do is check a few blocks and sign. No doubt the cruise line feels as though many or some of us don’t have the ability to complete such forms so they do it for us. A letter attached states that we need to have a copy of our passport which the cruise line has previously given us. When you make your last stop in Chile, an Immigration officer, usually aboard ship, will ask you for that form before you leave the ship, so hang onto it.

PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE - This is a neat town with a very clean downtown area. The port, though, for our ship was in the industrial cargo container section and, if you are going to the city center, you should get a taxi ($10 per cabin or ride one of the vans ($3 per person.)  It is too far to walk. There is a very nice port downtown and the days we were there a Seabourn ship was berthed. The area around that port is very clean with lots of new construction including a large casino. You can easily walk to the downtown from this port. There is a small amount of shopping about a mile from the pier. If you are not on a pre-paid tour, there are dozens of taxis available in downtown and for a flat price they will take you most anyplace you desire to visit. We hired a taxi to take us an hour’s drive away to a penguin colony. The price for three hours was $100, which included a return to our ship. In downtown, we found a neat coffee shop, candy store/deli all rolled into one. Decorated in Christmas colors and trim, the place offered free internet (need your own PC or iPad). This was a friendly, very clean stop located just a block off the main square on the main shopping street. At the park square, there are dozens of local vendors selling trinkets as well as locally made crafts. Prices are most reasonable. A very nice tourist bureau office is in the park. You may have taken just those tours offered by the cruise ships or you may be an independent traveler and contract for your own tours. Around the square are lots of taxis and tour operators.

Let’s compare one of the tours offered at this port. The ship tour programs calls this the "Patagonia Experience Otway Sound & Penguin Reserve" -4 hours for $94. You travel to Otway Sound mostly over gravel roads. You will walk to the penguins area and from beginning to end is about 1 ½ miles over dirt, gravel, tundra and wooden walkways. The walk is not difficult; however, the walkways are uneven. Your guide will speak English. There are no stops and you are kept to a rigid time schedule. Most likely, some guest will not be aboard on time to return from the tour. You will wait along with all the others.

Now let’s do the same trip “on your own”. The cost for the driver to and from the ship was $100. You have to pay to enter the park and that is $4 each for you and your traveling companion. At the sound there is a $11 per person entrance charge. Total paid for the trip is $130. No tip to the driver. Total paid for the cruise ship tour is $188 plus $5 guide tip for $193. Savings for independent travel for this trip is $63.00.

How do the trips compare? On the ship’s tour you have English-speaking guide, large bus-type seating and service from ship back to ship with no concerns about being late as the ship will wait. On the independent travel you save $63.00. The driver speaks very little English. You get service from and back to ship. The driver stops for you to take pictures along the way of the jack rabbit, sheep and wild birds. Not going to be the case on the large bus. The seating is car level with small seats; however, there is air-conditioning. Almost to your ship and you spot a souvenir stand so the driver stops. Not the case on the bus. Will the ship wait if your are late returning----NOT in a million years. You
weigh the difference and see which is best for you. Time was not a factor as both the taxi and the bus returned some four hours before departure time.

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - The ships docks right downtown so walking into the city center is easy. Once off the ship, look for the “green walkway”---that being the sidewalk that is painted green and one that will lead you away from the pier and into the city. Although we were there this last time on a  Sunday, there were still some stores open and lots of locals on the streets. Travel a few blocks up the street from the pier and make a left toward the city park area which is a few blocks up a slight incline. There is a church on one corner across from the park, so look for that church steeple so you can track your way. Want to use the internet (must have your own PC)? Well, there is a small California Burrito Company store on your right as you go toward the park. Free and fast internet hookup so you can send everyone an e-mail. It’s free but at least purchase a drink from the friendly operator. He will appreciate your business. The burritos are huge so don’t order more than one. Traveling on toward the park and then past the park, you will leave the old town and enter the newer financial and hotel district. Worth your time to see all the locals busy shooing and hustling from office to office.

If the city center is not your thing, we suggest going to the COLONIA DEL SACRAMENTO which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a 2 ¼ hour drive each way. You can opt for a tour from the ship or hire a driver at the pier. A personal driver will not take quite as long to get to the town. There are tolls along the way so check to see if the driver is willing to pay those tolls. We had lunch at one of the local restaurants in the town. It was a long day with cobblestone streets inside the old city. Walking may be a little difficult but it can be done. Wheelchairs are a little more difficult to navigate. There is also a steam train ride available but we were advised this is primarily a tourist attraction like one might find at a large amusement park.

Just across the street from the ship terminal entrance is a large pavilion filled with shops and many restaurants. Fresh meats are being barbequed and grilled over open pit fires. This is definitely a place to visit and to have lunch or dinner.

FALKLANDS ISLANDS - No doubt our most interesting and adventurous port stop. First, the tenders have to travel quite a way to get to Port Stanley. The water was rough and the winds very strong. We went ashore without any tour reservations and found a local person that took us on a fantastic penguin tour about an hour away from the docks. He had a four-wheel-drive Range Rover that was needed as we crossed private ranch land to reach the nesting and beach area. We were the first to arrive at the area where we spent about 30 minutes observing and photographing at least 200 penguins. We can say this was a fantastic opportunity. As we left, several other four-wheel-drive vehicles arrived and, all in all, at least a dozen by the time we got back to the gravel highway. We were paying $40 each for our trip while some of these other people had paid as much as $259 per person to see the penguins. Oh, they did get a box lunch thrown in. We could not have been more pleased with this experience. It was fantastic and we saved a large bundle of money. Upon return to the docks, we spent the next hour touring the small port town of Port Stanley. By the way, that would have been another tour charge had we purchased on the ship. The time on shore was short; however, by 1:30PM we were ready to return to the ship and we caught the last tender back to the ship before tender service was suspended. Those still on tours and on shore found long lines and long waiting time for their return trip to the ship. We were about two hours later leaving the area due to these long waits caused by large waves and high winds. The ride back consisted of repeated tossings by the waves and getting alongside of the ship became a real challenge for the skipper of the tender as we tried several times before being able to get alongside. Even then, many of us got thoroughly soaked by the splashing waves that hit the tender.

You can walk all over Port Stanley in a short period of time. We don’t think a paid tour for walking is necessary. There is a war memorial that you need to see. Also a large general store right on the waterside street (The West Store), where you can get groceries, a cup of coffee, books and souvenirs, wines, toiletries, plus there is an electrical store where cameras and supplies are available. The place is clean and prices are reasonable. Across the street is the Capstan Gift Shop where some nice gifts can be found. Numerous gift shops are in the downtown area. There are some small coffee and bakery shops that are worthy of your stooping by. Look for them on the side street away from the water. Pass up the “trinkets” shop as many of these souvenirs may not be of such great quality. There are two churches downtown just opposite the water and a restaurant across from the newspaper office. (Christ Church Cathedral , St. Mary’s Catholic Church and The Tabernacle, United Free Church). Close by is the Post Office. The Whalebone Arch is in this part of town as is the 1982 Liberation Memorial. A school is also located downtown. The houses are quaint and most have a brightly painted roof that can be seen from a long distance. The wind blows very hard, so bundle up for your walking tour. We were told that the Falklands get 40% of all their electrical power from wind turbines and that the percentage is increasing on a steady basis.

If you are interested in the history of the Falkland Islands, including the 1982 war with Argentina, may I suggest that you research back at home before you come as books are rather expensive in the Falklands and I have yet to find that really good one about the 1982 war. Most in the bookstores are written from the perspective of a daily journal by one of more of the residents of those days.

You can drop more than $300 per person on ship purchased tours of the Falklands or you can have an equally great time for less than $50 each by becoming your own travel agent. Just get to the dock early as the number of guides is limited. There is a close-by penguin area where one can actually walk (about 1 ½ hours each way) and that is 100% free.

What a fantastic job to have just meeting the 50 or 60 cruise ships per year and providing tour guides around the island! This, in my opinion, would be a great fun job, very limited workdays and a fairly good income. Now one would have to bear the cold and winds which never seem to die down. If you are a cruiser and have never been your own travel agent, there is no better time especially with the internet, to save yourself a bundle of money, get away from the crowds and take some fun and adventurous tours on your own. If you are tired of waiting on that constant straggler missing from the bus after every stop, if you are tired of the pushing and discourtesies at each stop, may I suggest trying a tour on your own. Start several months ahead of your trip and gather up tons of information and don’t forget to check reviews on what has been the experience of others.

CAUTION---There are live mines located in numerous places of the area. They  are marked with signs, so observe those signs and don’t enter the marked-off areas. Our guide says
that mines are still being removed however the process is very costly and progress is slow.




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