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Holland America Line Rotterdam Cruise Review
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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Rotterdam VI
Holland America Line
Mediterranean Medley ~ October 24, 2001

by Bruce Baldwin

Our cruise aboard the Holland America Rotterdam VI began October 24th, 2001. Our flights from Dallas to Barcelona were uneventful. We were surprised at the fairly loose security in London and in Venice when we transferred planes. We were also surprised at the significant number of travelers in the airports and aboard the airplanes overseas.

We flew to Barcelona to arrive the afternoon before the Rotterdam departed. That way if our luggage got lost, it might have time to catch up to us before the ship departed. Also it gave us time to rest up after almost 20 hours traveling from departure to arrival. We've previously seen lots of the sights of Barcelona, a charming city, and our luggage arrived with us so we had a restful evening at the hotel.

The boarding process went smoothly on the afternoon of departure. This was our first cruise aboard the Rotterdam VI, our 9th cruise with Holland America. Upon boarding the ship, it felt like returning to a friend's home. There was lots that seemed familiar about the ship and some aspects that were new. The Rotterdam VI is a beautiful ship, a slight bit larger and newer than the Statendam class ships we have sailed on. The Rotterdam VI
deck plans are similar to the other HAL ships.

There is an alternative dining room, the Odyssey Restaurant on Deck 4. This is a classical looking room that serves Italian Cuisine. The Odyssey is only open for supper with reservations required. We dined there twice and found the food equal to the best of gourmet restaurants anywhere, the service was just adequate, and the atmosphere was tasteful. The Odyssey is quietly elegant. There is no additional charge for dining in the Odyssey but a separate gratuity is suggested.

The main dining room, The La Fontaine Dining Room, is similar to the two-level restaurants on the other HAL ships with one exception. The dining room is larger and more spacious than on the Statendam ships. Space between tables is ample to avoid bumping into others when moving about the room. With the ship being only 2/3 full, the service was excellent and the menu variety was great. Food quality definitely exceeds that of the other main-line ships.

We noted specialty sections for stir fry/Chinese/deli/sate or other alternate selections in the Lido.  The specialties were different each day. The Rotterdam VI retains the ice cream bar in the Lido with a great variety of premium ice creams and toppings. Food choices and quality in the Lido compare very favorably with the competition. The variety and quality of fresh fruits was superb. The Lido was open evenings as well as for breakfast and lunch. If one wanted a quick meal after a long day ashore, he could opt for the Lido in the evening.

The cabins on the Rotterdam VI are almost identical to those on the Statendam class ships. There is lots of storage space and the usual amenities. The only TV channel offered was CNN. Additionally one could watch reruns of the shore excursion talks, the port lectures, the view from the bridge, and a couple of recent movies each day. We would have liked some additional TV coverage such as ESPN, BBC, MSNBC, etc.

The Internet Café on the Rotterdam is more expensive than some lines. The fee is $4 to sign up. Then one pays $.75/minute for usage PLUS $3.95 for each email sent using their server [Hotmail, etc. emails just paid the usage charge]. Internet surfing is fairly fast and reliable if not too many people are using the system at the same time. The stiff prices kept at least three of the 6 terminals available most times. We used the shore-based Internet Cafes near the ports to keep up with our email and favorite web sites. The cost there averaged about $5 U.S. per hour.

This itinerary offered both a Port Lecturer and an Enrichment Lecturer. Frank Buckingham, a well-traveled Brit, did an excellent job as Port Lecturer. He offered history, culture, interesting activities, and lots of practical tips about each of the ports. Many times Port Lecturers are nothing more than shills for the stores in the ports of call. Not so with Frank; right up front he told the audience that he would point shoppers in the right direction but shopping tips were limited to specialties of the area.

I found the Enrichment Lecturer, James Reid, rather staid and boring. His credentials are impressive but his content, and especially his delivery of "2001 Europe: Permanence & Change" encouraged sleep among the dwindling audiences of his presentations.

The cast put on 4 production shows and the other evening entertainment was the usual shipboard fare: dual pianists two nights, a comedian, an illusionist, a magician, and the traditional Philippine crew show. The production shows were well done. The cast had been together for almost 5 months. Attendance at the second shows was dismal almost all evenings even though the passenger mix seemed younger than we've seen in the past. Attendance on the shore excursions was substantial. There were only 170 passengers who did not go on tours the day we were at the gateway to Rome. A recent movie was shown each afternoon and evening in the theater. The Crow's Nest was well attended many evenings, especially at the Halloween Officers' Ball.

The passenger capacity of the Rotterdam VI is 1316. This cruise had 915 passengers aboard. Several of the passengers said the only reason they were on the cruise was because they didn't want to forfeit their payment. Most of the passengers were North American. I don't know why HAL didn't offer super last minute prices to Europeans just to help fill the empty cabins without hurting their U.S. market.

Fresh flower arrangements continue to be a hallmark of HAL cruises. The substantial arrangements in the public areas were changed 3 times during the cruise. HAL maintains a full-time florist on board the ship and has over $5,000 of fresh flowers delivered to the ship, wherever it may be, weekly.

We had two reasons for booking this cruise last winter. First, we wanted to visit the ports offered on this itinerary. Second, we wanted to compare the Rotterdam VI with the other Dam ships on which we had cruised. The Rotterdam VI is quietly elegant. It is a comfortable ship with lots of neat places to congregate or enjoy one's solitude. The staff seems to gel; all were friendly and seemed happy to be aboard.

We arrived in Venice on the morning of our 11th day aboard. We spent the day and night there and disembarked on the very early morning of the 12th day. There are almost no direct flights from Venice to anywhere in the U.S. so even most people on the HAL air program had to transfer somewhere along the way before crossing the ocean for home. Most flights from Venice with same day connections to the U.S. left at around 7 a.m. This meant that we had to leave the ship by about 4:30 a.m. to arrive at the airport in time for check-in. This was a bit of an inconvenience but the cruise had been so enjoyable that most everyone overlooked the early hour; in fact some had partied the night away figuring there would be lots of time to sleep on the return flights.

This itinerary was very port intensive. Some of the passengers stated they felt 'information overload' in trying to absorb all the history and culture of the Med in such a short time. The weather was absolutely wonderful during this cruise except for the last sea day; it wasn't too hot and the sun wasn't too intense. I think, however, these ports would be extremely hot and sticky during the summer months.

The Rotterdam VI is a beautiful ship with an excellent staff. We look forward to cruising on her again in the not too distant future.

The ports of call.

Our first port of call for this 12-day cruise after leaving Barcelona and enjoying a sea day was Monaco. We had previously visited Monaco by land so we spent the day wandering the streets and marveling at the wealth exhibited at almost every turn. Monte Carlo is the little part [like a subdivision] of Monaco that houses the Grand Casino and Hotel de Paris. We noted that an "inexpensive" unfurnished one bedroom apartment in a modern high-rise in Monaco goes for about $425,000 U.S. This price gets you about 400 square feet with only one bath and a combination living/kitchen area on a lower level with basically no view. At least the property taxes are not too steep.

Most of the permanent residents and merchants of Monaco are very unfriendly. They have a very aloof attitude toward tourists. The shops and restaurants are overpriced; traffic is really congested; and there are no beaches. The Alps rise up right from the shore. The city is literally built on the side of the mountains. One nice feature of the central area is that public escalators and elevators are available for getting to the many levels of streets and buildings.

The climate of Monaco is great almost all year; the scenery is spectacular; it is a great place for a short visit, but not a place we choose to return except when passing through to the neat seaside resorts, towns, and villages north and south of there.

Our next port was Civitavecchia, Italy. This is the gateway to Rome and most of the passengers took the 11- hour tour to Rome. We have stayed in Rome previously so we decided to stay in Civitavecchia for the day. It was Saturday and the town square was filled with farmers and gardeners selling their produce, flowers, and wares. There were also lots of other street vendors and people from the countryside and nearby villages to check out the 'bargains.' The day was beautiful and sunny, the people friendly and laid back, and the architecture interesting. Many of the buildings dated from the 19th century or before and one could tell that they were built for utility rather than as grand edifices.

Sunday morning we docked in Napoli [Naples]. The cruise ship pier is right in the heart of town. We wanted to see Pompeii so we engaged an English speaking taxi driver to take us to the ruins, wait for us, and then return us to the pier via some of the sights of Naples. The cost was about half of the tour price and our driver added a lot of color and local flavor to the day. Another advantage of touring Pompeii independently was that we chose the amount of time we wanted to stay there and when finished, we didn't have to wait for anyone else.

The ruins at Pompeii are absolutely spectacular! We saw most of the Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize but none of them compared to the splendor of Pompeii. We spent about 4 hours walking through just a part of the ancient and magnificent city. You may recall that the city was buried about 2,000 years ago when the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, erupted and buried the site and all of its inhabitants with molten lava and ash. Restoration and preservation still continues. Today structures sure are not built or decorated like they were back then.

After Pompeii we enjoyed some of the highlights of the center of Naples. We enjoyed the sights and people of Naples more than the sights or folk of Rome. Naples is more spacious than Rome and the historical structures seem cleaner and better maintained. Tourism is a major contributor to Naples' and the surrounding area's economy; the residents recognize this, and are friendlier than the Romans.

The Rotterdam departed Naples just at sunset and the city glowed brightly
and with a rosy hue. The JP Quintet played sailaway music on the lower Promenade Deck as we left the Bay of Naples behind and then passed by the Isle of Capri. It had been a marvelous day with sunshine and a light breeze. Naples is surely memorable and we plan to return for a longer visit.

Early the next morning we cruised by the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli Volcano before arriving at Valletta, Malta about 10:30. This was our first visit to the Republic of Malta, comprised of 5 islands, Malta being the most prominent one of them. Valletta is the capital city of the Republic and traces its origins way back to 7000BC. It sits above the cliffs that are just inside the grand natural harbor. Malta was a strategic location in the middle of the Med during olden times as well as during both World Wars. Now the major source of income for the island is tourism.

English is the native language so getting around was easy. We spent most of the day visiting the ancient city of Valletta. Most of the structures in Old Town date back to the 1600s or before and are built of limestone, the native rock of the islands. The interiors of many of the buildings are brightly decorated with murals, tiles, and other adornments. We found the people friendly, the city clean and safe, the sights interesting. There wasn't enough of interest, though, to put Malta on the list of places we would like to see again.

Our next day was a long awaited and relaxing sea day followed by our visit to Kusadasi, Turkey. We saw an American aircraft carrier nearby when we were in the middle of the Med. Our Captain mentioned that he had been warned to remain a significant distance from the ship as they were launching helicopters. The day was sunny but windy. We saw the carrier come about to put its bow into the wind. It was interesting and reassuring to know our Navy was nearby.

We docked in Kusadasi just after dawn. The Coasta Atlantica was at the next pier. Just after we tied up, the Coasta Tropicale arrived. Then two small European cruise ships arrived. The main part of Kusadasi begins right at the end of the pier. We thought the shops would be overrun with tourists from all the ships but surprisingly, the shops just went on and on and on! Turkey is famous for its rugs, leather, jewelry and junk. The tourist shopping area reminded us of Cozumel but built on a steep hill. Town was clean, the people were friendly and English was understood by many of the vendors. European tourism is the main economic engine of this area. There are lots of small hotels and inns that Europeans favor.

The ship offered tours to Ephesus a religious and trading center dating back 3,000 years. Ephesus was a port way back then but over the centuries, river silt was deposited layer by layer and sludge finally blocked the river. The ship also offered a tour to Pamukkale, a unique health spa. Spring water with high amounts of calcium bubbles up and has created an eerie string of hive-like white pools that look like cottony clouds clinging to the mountainside.

The next day, also sunny, pleasant, and breezy, we docked in Piraeus,
Greece. This is Greece's largest port and the gateway to Athens. One can get to Athens by limo, taxi, or train in about 45 minutes from here. Athens is so crammed full of points of interest that it is impossible to do the area justice when only in port for 9 hours. Instead, we stayed in the port and visited the few historical areas of this port city dating back to 500 BC. We will enjoy Athens on a separate land excursion in the future. The city of Piraeus is full of commercial offices to support the vast shipping operations of the port. We didn't find much of interest here.

We docked in Katakolon, Greece the next morning just after dawn and a beautiful sunrise. This pleasant small village used to be a major port but most shipping has now shifted to more northerly ports. We strolled the quiet streets, checked out a couple of the shops and enjoyed a glass of local wine and delicious Greek salad at a little outdoors café. This port serves as the gateway to the ancient ruins of Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games in 776 BC. The ship offered tours to Olympia but we were all ruined out for this cruise. The people of this charming little port town were really friendly and seemed sincerely interested in our enjoying our stay there.

Our final sea day was a stark contrast from other sea days. During the night a storm kicked up and by morning the temperature had dropped, the winds had picked up to 'violent storm' with speeds of 50-60 mph and seas of 20-25 feet. The outside decks were closed off. By late afternoon the seas and wind had calmed down but the temperature continued to drop as the cold front moved in. By nightfall the seas were again calm.

We arrived in Venice just after sunrise and our route to the island was the same as that of the ancient traders. The ship docked at the west end of the island. Frank, the port lecturer, mentioned that the ideal way to travel around Venice was by waterbus. There is no vehicular traffic on the island. Other than walking, the options are waterbus, water taxi, or gondola. The water taxi cost begins at $80 and a gondola ride will cost a minimum of $100. The cost of a day pass that offers unlimited on/off travels is about $9 and the 'buses' run frequently. There are several routes and a free map is available at the ticket kiosk.

We spent the entire day and early evening jumping on and off the waterbuses. It was a real hoot. We started near the cruise ship and went basically around the perimeter of the west and north sides Venice. Then we transferred to a bus that went past the public cemetery and on the neighboring islands of Murano and Teracello. Murano has lots of glass
factories and Teracello has an interesting monastery and museum as well as some small vineyards.

We visited the Piazza San Marco with the Doges Palace and many other memorable sites. We listenedd to a small combo play Italian melodies as we enjoyed a cup of cappuccino and watched the throngs of people pass by. We fed some crumbs to one of the flocks of pigeon and then jumped on another bus and went through the Grand Canal. We passed boats and boats and boats: waterbuses, cargo boats, private boats, water taxis, and of course, gondolas. The old buildings were fascinating. We could see how some buildings had begun to settle as their wooden foundations rotted. We decided that we want to return again to the city and spend lots of time enjoying the sights.

This was the last day of a memorable journey. All of the ports were enjoyable and interesting. We found Pompeii, Venice, Katakolon, and Kusadasi the most charming ports. Piraeus was the least interesting, especially since we didn't want to do Athens in just a few hours. This itinerary would not be nearly as pleasant in the heat of summer but it sure was pleasant during October.

Copyright © 2001 Bruce Baldwin

Photo--Courtesy of Holland America Line

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