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by Doug Eads
VINTAGE ELEGANCE ALIVE!
It was a mild fall blue-sky afternoon as Captain Halle Gundersen stood atop the control deck guiding Holland America’s ms Prinsendam, an elegant explorer, down the Tagus River away from Lisbon, Portugal toward the vast Atlantic waters.
“I knew from childhood that I wanted a life at sea.” says the sophisticated Nordic ship captain with pride. The personable captain was readily seen about the ship mingling with passengers, and always opened his P.A. announcements with a down-home “Good day, it’s me again!” or simply “Hi… it’s me!” and this would add a warmth and friendship to the demeanor of our days ahead at sea.
As I stood on a forward ship deck with a warm fresh breeze in my face, I was again facing new discoveries to lands I had never before visited… how wonderful! Holland America’s ms Prinsendam glided with sophistication under the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge, one of the longest on earth, and to our port side was Holland America’s sister-company ship, Cunard’s QE 2 also departing Lisbon this was a spell-binding moment in life’s adventures.
My emotions raced, and I imagined what thoughts may have gone through the minds of early Portuguese explorers, like João Fernandes, as they plied waters to unknown worlds for the first time … I too felt that mysterious sense of impending exploits … this would simply be the wonder of a lifetime!
Our Itinerary: Focusing just on the itinerary would not be completely reader appropriate in telling you about this classic ship, ms Prinsendam, for as an elegant explorer she does just that… she moves onward exploring. In fact on January 13th she will begin her 113 day around-the-world adventure from Ft. Lauderdale. But don’t be completely bewildered by this concept, as you may be able to book merely segments of this grand exploration.
Our elegant explorer itinerary sailed from Lisbon, Portugal continuing 3000 miles for 13 nights to Athens, Greece. We arrived a day early to Lisbon, which is imperative in today’s changed air markets, and we used this time to
recover from jet lag and explore this enchanting city. From Lisbon we went to the U.K. member Gibraltar which is quite close to Africa. We took in Gibraltar’s heights, and those feisty Barbary apes.
Mahon of the Spanish Minorca islands came next, then Italy’s Sardinia, followed by Civitavecchia the port in Italy used for access to romantic Rome, and the Vatican State. We docked two days and explored Rome and the Vatican extensively. The next day we ventured on our own via train to Tarquinia, Italy to see the ancient Etruscan burial ruins that pre-date Rome by hundreds of years … they were quite exquisite and well preserved a grand adventure was unfolding!
From Civitavecchia we had a day at sea to photo the Stromboli volcano spewing steam and debris down along its populated coastal areas, and then on through the Straights of Messina, that narrow gap between Italy’s mainland and Sicily … remember Homer’s Odyssey where perhaps the sirens enticed passing sailors?
Next the lovely Greek islands like Santorini and Kefalonia plus stops for the original Olympia where the games began in 776 B.C., and even for the 2004 games the flame was still lit here for its journey round the world to light the current modern games where ever the location. This year as you know the flame returned to Athens, Greece.
A highlight of this ancient wondrous voyage was our day in Turkey. We made port at the city of Kusadasi. This city is your gateway to the ruins of Ephesus, even more amazing than the Rome’s ancient Forum. Here you will walk the marble streets of Alexander, Caesar, Cleopatra, the Apostle Paul and St. John. Nearby you will visit the last known home of Mary, mother of Jesus, and the burial spot of St. John who was beckoned by Jesus to care for Mary an inspiring day was in store for visitors.
The port of Kusadasi is home to several ancient boulevards hosting Turkish-style bazaars where everything can be bought; from hand-woven rugs, to fine jewelry to knock-off purses and watches. Bring your cash, your haggling nerves of steel, and just relax and have fun nothing in your life will have prepared you for a Turkish market we loved it!
No matter how much you bargain… you won’t win. The Turks pride themselves on being masters of the ‘deal’ and it is just part of the culture. To not bargain is almost no fun at all for them and an insult to the game that is afoot and less fun for you. But, they will win … it is only a matter of degrees for you! It is no matter though, the deal-making is recreational and prices are very low. Until the government revalues the Turkish dollar every shopper can be a millionaire. For about $6.00 you can be worth 10 Million Turkish Liras. Imagine how many currency notes it would take to buy a home or a car!
Though we had cruised in the Mediterranean twice before, this itinerary was quite new for us, and it was one of our most memorable life experiences. The ports and shore trips were well orchestrated by Holland America to near perfection, safety, and organization. I always recommend using a ship’s shore excursions in short-stay situations, and where efficiency is paramount like our first ever trip to Rome.
For seasoned travelers exploring on one’s own is the true vacation delight just don’t miss your ship! Our final stop would be Athens… one of the hand full a large cities I would readily revisit. Athens offers culture, history, the magnificent Acropolis and a sense of welcome.
ms Prinsendam: The elegant explorer ms Prinsendam is 38,000 tons and carries a comfortable and intimate number 793 passengers. She is 673 feet long and has a complete promenade deck around the ship for romantic moonlit strolls, or exercise walks. She was actually built in 1988 for the former Royal Viking Line as the Royal Viking Sun. In 1999 the luxury line Seabourn bought her, and she became the Seabourn Sun, serving with Seabourn until 2002, when sister company Holland America acquired the vessel and re-fitted her as the ms Prinsendam.
Many of the elegant qualities known for Seabourn excellence remain and embellish the ship, such as fine woodwork, marble flooring, and a world class spa. The Queen’s room provides a main gathering place and entertainment forum for the specialized entertainers such as singers, pianists, magicians and comedians and the faithful cast/crew of the Prinsendam for Broadway-style performances.
The cruise industry is so varied in today’s market that I want to be exact and confident that readers understand this wonderful class of ship, and especially the Prinsendam herself. She is a vintage ship with classic style and lines that is fully worthy of her full and upcoming world exploration. Her deep stable draft-to-size-ratio gives her qualities of sea-worthiness that is not always found in all modern designed ships.
We had one day that faced a stunning gale-force nine wind storm (55 to 72 mph), but the ship braced admirably and even inexperienced passengers faired pretty well. Such conditions were unexpected, and it was comforting to be aboard ms Prinsendam in such adverse conditions.
Prinsendam is different than the mega-ships prowling the seas of today’s market. She has no spiral pool slides, or dancing costumed bears for kids, and she sports no rock-wall, or ice rink. She does show her style and offers all the amenities of classic cruising shows, fine meals, a movie theater, two pools of modest size, whirlpool, spa, well-equipped work-out area, and a staff that caters to its clientele. I attribute this graciousness and dedication to service to Holland America’s cruising standards, and personally to the ship’s hotel manager Mr. Jan Kuipers.
“I feel my goal is to try and offer a level of service to our clients on Prinsendam that approaches that of the world’s finest five star hotels.” says Kuipers with pride. Our 13 night cruise verified this striving for excellence. In fact, when issues arose on the vintage elegant explorer with our cabin, we were met by letters of apology and a promise for quick and required services.
Moving and vastly complex wonders like the ships of today will have random issues arise, and it is reflective of a company’s standards when those issues are met with a commitment to quality control plus solutions.
The Prinsendam is now finishing a long awaited project to replace and update the water lines throughout the ship, and once completed will give the elegant ship greater client comfort and a more issue-free service. This project is likely finished as of this writing and was completed as a moving work-in-progress.
Ship Summary: The Prinsendam has all the traditional regulars of the HAL fleet Crow's Nest, Explorer's Lounge, Java Cafe, Ocean Bar, Wajang Theater, Half Moon Room, the Queen's Lounge showroom, La Fontaine Dining Room and a wrap-round promenade deck as mentioned as well as The Pinnacle Grill (the specialty restaurant), a newer well equipped Internet Center, an Art Gallery, Roman style spa, fitness center and a popular Golf Club and Pro Shop complete with golf practice simulator, and yes … shops!
Quite impressive to noise control is a feature of the vintage ship I immediately fell in love with: Every two spacious well-appointed cabins have their own recessed hallway that kept cabins away from hall-chatter when people were out late forgetting that others sometimes sleep. This feature alone was a stellar feature for us.
Dining: This is our fourth Holland America cruise each one on a different ship. We are always pleased with dining, but this cruise seemed extraordinary. Whether it was the actual preparation, or the delight of our new friends and dining companions or both, we enjoyed and looked forward to evening dining in the lavish La Fontaine main dining room.
One evening we reserved a window table for two in The Pinnacle Grill. This is a worthwhile ‘extra-fee’ experience. The elegance, from fine Bvlgari china to impeccable and personable world-class service, made this a memorable evening. The menu varies, but each delicacy we tasted seemed quite special, and the romantic setting was ideal.
For lunch we opted to forgo the more formal La Fontaine and we really enjoyed the cafeteria-style Lido dining. If eye-appeal is buy-appeal we were completely satisfied with the Lido. In fact one evening we were late from a shore trip and just popped into the casual Lido for a nice evening meal. For breakfast we also preferred the casual easy-in-out Lido.
Adjoining the Lido is a hot dog, burger pool-side grill, and pizza was available as was ice cream, wonderful favored and of course badly needed ice cream, glorious toppings, and homemade cookies calling to us “take me… take me!” of course.
Closing thoughts: As the extended cruise came to a close I found myself again standing forward on the elegant Prinsendam admiring her classic styling on the last breezy afternoon day. Sparkles of adventure and history were dancing in my head with thoughts of explorers, classical Greek statues and buildings, the Roman
Coliseum , Vatican City, Homer’s Odyssey, Socrates, the Greek Isles, the spirited Turkish Bazaars and so much more … how wonderfully exciting this had been … yet so graciously exquisite.
The next cruise after ours, Prinsendam ventured into the Black Sea, and her journeys and explorations continue onward. And, whenever I again see the profile of a classic ship chasing new horizons on distant seas, I will fondly remember Holland America’s Prinsendam and wish I were chasing new venues aboard this classic vessel.
Some people vacation on the sea, some even love and admire the mystery and unknowns of the sea, but like the thousands before me the sea is a taunting and seductive mistress beckoning me to join her again in passionately intimate adventures yet to be discovered just one more horizon beyond and beyond yet again.