This is our first cruise on Holland America. We were drawn to it because several friends on the Viking world cruise were HAL veterans, and they preferred HAL at the end of the Viking cruise. Other friends had little good to say about HAL, so we decided we really ought to check it out for ourselves. The ship is brand new and this is the first cruise with paying passengers. As might be expected, this means there was a learning curve for the crew.
The ship’s name is Rotterdam. It is the seventh ship with that name. They were all named after the hometown of the parent company. It is a pinnacle class ship holding just under 2700 passengers. Due to a number of COVID related issues, there are only 900 passengers (which matches the 905 member crew), so there are never any waits and the venues are normally pretty empty. The entertainers and crew all talk about not working for 20 months and how happy they are to be sailing again. I think all the passengers feel the same.
COVID procedures are followed and enforced on the ship. Everyone is fully vaccinated and tested negative prior to the cruise. Everyone was tested again after five days, but no results are known. We must wear masks when moving around inside the ship. Masks can be taken off while eating and drinking. There are many signs that say “Sip and Mask”, but I have seen no one do that. People tend to social distance where practical; but if it is not practical, no one seems to worry about it. In the main show where social distancing is easy, about half leave there mask on and half take it off. HAL provided each cabin with four branded masks, and they are the most comfortable mask I have worn. All in all, we feel very safe!
On a transatlantic crossing you expect a lot of sea days. We were scheduled to have eight; and since we had to skip two ports due to high winds, we actually had ten sea days. This means the day and evening entertainment are critical. The evening stage entertainment was a highlight. We had a contemporary dance troup, a Jersey Tenors group, a classical pianist/humorist who was outstanding (check out pianistwiththehair.com), a saxophonist who was also outstanding, two comedians, and a soprano. The second deck has a music walk with several venues featuring diverse music. Our favorites are the chamber music quartet, a jazz group, and the B. B. King group performing classic rock. In addition there is a piano duo and a hard rock group. We had dinner with the saxophonist one night and he said the performing groups were franchise groups where the franchiser has a number of similar groups to offer to the cruise ships.
The ship is clean and attractive; but, interestingly, they are busy painting parts of the exterior decks. I guess the salt air requires continuing maintenance from day one. The food is good, but we feel it lacks variety. It should also be noted that they charge $8.50 for a shrimp cocktail in the main dining room and that there is no free lobster on the ship. The biggest disappointment for me is that there are no lecturers on the ship. That has always been a big part of my sea days. They do have a duplicate bridge and mahjong game, but each has at most three tables.
While COVID created a lot of obstacles to overcome, we really enjoyed being out in the world again.