We are back home after our five-night Bahamas cruise on Rotterdam, the newest ship in the Holland America Line (HAL) fleet. This voyage was a press trip courtesy of Holland America Line and All Things Cruise. Out of 100 points, how did our voyage score? What were the high and low points? Read on!
Overall score out of 100 points: 94 points.
- Boarding and disembarking procedures. HAL has taken advantage of technology. A great deal of the check in procedure is done online before days before you arrive at the ship. Showing test COVID test results and getting your ID photo taken are the only times you slow down. Your stateroom keycards are waiting at your cabin. Score: 10/10.
- Safety. Where do I start? Every passenger must be vaccinated and show proof of a negative COVID (PCR) test before boarding. The crew is continually tested, 50% each week. Masks are required everywhere except on deck, in your stateroom or when putting food into your mouth! As you approach the Lido Market buffet you encounter sinks. Everyone is asked to wash their hands. Hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere. HAL supplies fabric marks in your cabin. If you forgot your mask in a public area, just ask for another at ant bar. Score: 10/10.
- Ship design and layout. Rotterdam is a new ship. Everything is brand new. Their Pinnacle class ships have entertainment forward and dining aft. The elevators feature carpets with the day of the week! The Lido Pool and its moveable glass roof is huge! There are plenty of hot tubs. Deck 12 includes The Retreat, a private area where you can rent a tented cabana for the day, have lunch delivered or relax in another hot tub. Score: 10/10.
- Our stateroom. We had a standard balcony cabin with a veranda. I’m guessing they are about 240 square feet. The cabin size is likely similar to other ships on different lines. Cabins are mostly like identical Lego blocks. The bathroom was the big surprise – It features a glass walled walk in shower like you have at home or see on home design TV programs. The veranda featured adjustable chairs with footstools underneath. A table too. Score: 10/10.
- Shopping. Rotterdam has a large jewelry store along with the shops selling perfume and liquor. I assume there was a gift shop too. They deserve credit for something quite creative – a luxury goods resale shop. You can find items from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and other brands, professionally displayed and in perfect condition. Score: 8/10.
- Food. Rotterdam has a main dining room serving breakfast and dinner daily and lunch on sea days only. The menu is smaller than you would find on other lines and includes a section with premium dishes that come with upcharges. Other dining fits into two categories. Let’s call them casual and specialty. Casual includes the large Lido Market, Dive In burger bar and New York pizza. There are others. Breakfast and other meals can be served in your cabin if you order from the room service menu. Specialty restaurants come with a surcharge, but it’s an incredible elegant dining experience. There are four in the categories of steakhouse, Italian, Asian and French seafood bistro. The specialty restaurants have additional upcharges for super premium items like caviar. Score: 8/10.
- Drinks. These are reasonably priced. The wine list has plenty of bottles priced near the $40 mark. Mixed drinks are about $10. Did I mention the Happy Hour in the Billboard Onboard Lounge? 50% off starting at 4:00 PM. In keeping with the technology theme, drink menus are accessed using your phone via a QR code. It’s unclear if the servers know the price of a specific cocktail if you ask. Billing is done electronically to your cabin statement, although you can ask for a paper receipt when you order drinks. The statement shows a line item, but not details on what you ordered. An 18% service charge is added to drink orders. There’s a Whisky Bar too. Score: 8/10.
- Entertainment. There are more venues than you can imagine! They each have their own unique character. Billboard Onboard is a piano bar. The clue for the Rolling Stone Rock Room is in the name. Lincoln Center Stage generally features classical entertainment. The jewel in the crown is the World Stage, located towards the bow. The walls surrounding the circular stage are huge LED screens! The show that got my attention was The Origin Story, telling how Holland America Line developed over 150 years. My urge to play team trivia was met at least twice a day! Score: 10/10.
- Ports. Bimini was a last-minute swap for Nassau. Rougher seas cancelled water-based shore excursions like deep sea fishing or the eco conch tour. The highlight was Half Moon Cay, the private island owned by HAL since 1996. You tender in, but HAL has several ferries that make this easy. I think there were four in action at any moment. It has beach houses and cabanas you can rent for your group of friends. There’s horseback riding. We took the island tour and got the big picture. We also saw the stingrays in a protected lagoon. You can swim with them! There’s a BBQ area doing burgers and other grilled foods. The nearby Lobster Shack carries an additional charge. You are never too far from a bar serving cold beer and cocktails. Score: 10/10. (Let’s just forget Bimini in the score.)
- Staff attitude. There should be score higher than 10! As each person boards, a line of crew members cheers each guest and waves flags! You can hear the enthusiasm in the voice of every crew member you encounter. Our cabin steward team was eager to help. Score: 10/10.
Overall score out of 100 points: 94 points.
Seven Unexpected High Points of the Trip:
- Navigator App. It’s downloaded to your phone. You can view the daily program and check off activities of interest. It builds your personal itinerary and prompts you when something is about to start!
- Private cabanas. This was so great! You are in an uncrowded area of the ship. Lunch orders are taken and served. It was unbelievably relaxing. I will book it far in advance on our next cruise.
- Private island. There are many reasons to like it, but here’s a timely one: If you are worried about COVID, you are ashore with ship full of vaccinated passengers who rested negative. Everyone else you encounter is a HAL employee.
- The art collection. HAL invested in a significant collection of great art from around the world. It’s contemporary. You discover something new in every public space. There’s a wow factor.
- Our bathroom. I loved the shower. Enough said.
- Luxury goods resale shop. I’ve never seen this at sea before. It’s a fresh shopping concept, compared to what you expect to find on a cruise ship.
- The photo shop. I didn’t see this. I only heard about it. There are no more walls of photos taken at different events. You sit down at a screen. Somehow, it uses facial recognition technology to find all the photos including you. If it’s true, it’s amazing.
- Virtual lifeboat drill. You remember what they were like. Not anymore. You board the ship and after settling in, show up at your muster station to get your keycard scanned. You return to your cabin and watch the safety video on TV. The stateroom TV won’t allow you to access channels until you’ve watched the safety video!
Five areas for possible change:
- Length. The trip was too short. Five nights wasn’t enough time to fully appreciate everything the ship has to offer. Take a longer trip.
- QR codes. HAL has both a Baby Boomer clientele that are comfortable with paper menus and the next generation who are more at ease accessing data via their Smartphone. Both passenger segments need to access data through their preferred channel.
- Library. The library on board is a good start. I understand a library on board was a request from Five-Star Mariners, when surveyed.
- Ports. Consider other ports to visit. Nassau would be preferable to Bimini. There’s more to do.
- Internet and TV. The selection of on demand movies was excellent. A wider range of live TV channels would be welcome. I realize TV reception and internet connectivity may be issues beyond the control of HAL (e.g., weather related).
Here’s the bottom line: Would we return for another voyage? Absolutely! We had a great time!