Sailing on Holland America’s Rotterdam
If you’re thinking about booking a cruise on Holland America, here’s my ship review for Holland America’s Rotterdam. We sailed on the Rotterdam from Tampa, Florida over Thanksgiving week, with Captain Bas Van Dreumel as the ship’s sailing master.
History of the ship Rotterdam
The current Rotterdam was built in Italy in 1997, as a transatlantic ship. She is the 6th ship to be named Rotterdam, after the city in which Holland America was founded. This current Rotterdam was refurbished in late 2017. It is decorated with a multi-million-dollar art and antique collection. At the time of this review (late November, 2018) the ship was well maintained. We had an issue with the temperature control in our balcony cabin, which was on Navigation (deck 7), cabin 7046. Maintenance staff came at least twice to work on it, and it did get better but the temperature was difficult to control. Guest services checked on us several times during the “fix-it” process.
The Rotterdam is a mid-sized ship, holding 1404 guests at capacity and 584 crew. Like many experienced cruise travelers, we prefer the mid-size and smaller ships as they can get into ports that the larger mega-sized ships cannot access. The Rotterdam, at 780 feet in length, is not difficult to walk. We found the elevators between decks to work quickly. There is signage at every bank of elevators (there are 3 elevator banks on the ship), and signage in the passageways, too. (Hallways on a ship are called passageways.)
Captain van Dreumel stated in a meeting with guests on this cruise that the Rotterdam is his favorite of Holland America’s fleet. He enjoys how it handles and pointed out that it is the fastest of HAL’s ships, able to reach a top speed of 28 knots.
The Rotterdam’s Facilities
The Rotterdam has a large, two-level main theater which offers entertainment, usually twice each night. There are numerous on-board activities in addition to the theater, and a beautiful guest services area.
- Explorations Central (booking shore excursions)
- O, The Oprah Magazine (Book Club and Reading Room)
- America’s Test Kitchen (live demonstrations throughout the cruise)
- Microsoft Digital Workshop (digital workshops)
- BBC Earth Experiences
- Club Hal for children
Entertainment on this cruise
Entertainment on this November, 2018 Western Caribbean cruise included:
- Pianist Gabor
- The Ocean Trio
- Piano Bar live music
- Mike Siegel (stand-up comedian)
- Nick Diffatte (magician)
- Planet Earth II in concert (BBC earth footage set to a live orchestra)
- Postmodern Jukebox At The Rendezvous
Movies were offered daily, and for this cruise included:
- Ant Man and the Wasp
- Basmati Blues
- Mission Impossible: Fall Out
- Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Along with entertainment, the Rotterdam offers several shopping areas for items both inexpensive and costly. There’s also a large, very pretty Greenhouse Spa and Salon.
The Rotterdam offers many other activities every day (you’ll receive a daily calendar in your cabin). Here’s the list of all your options.
- Morning stretch
- Game room
- Team Trivia
- Classes on health and wellness
- Party bridge
- Pickle ball
- Afternoon tea
- Ping pong
- AA meetings
- Martini Sampling
- Evening Stretch
Embarking on the Rotterdam from the Port of Tampa
Embarkation from the Port of Tampa is easier and quicker than from larger ports, with the worst of it being the traffic at the curb for drop off and pickup. The check-in line inside the terminal moves fairly quickly. If you show up with your passenger credentials in order, you’ll soon be on the escalator up to the ship. Check your arrival time and the ending time for check-in. Usually passengers must be on board 2 hours before sailing.
As with most ships, you’ll have a key card which is also your identification card. Some people wear their card around the neck on a lanyard to keep it handy. You’ll use it to pay for drinks at the bar, soda, and anything else you buy on board. No cash is used on board. You’ll also have to have it, along with a picture ID, to get off and on the ship at each port.
It is International Maritime Law that every ship has a Mandatory Emergency Passenger Muster Drill before the ship drops its lines and leaves port. The Rotterdam held its drill one hour before we sailed from Tampa. This drill is mandatory for all new passengers sailing on the ship. If you do not participate you will not be allowed to sail. Your key card is scanned at your assigned muster site to prove your participation.
Dining on the Rotterdam
As on most cruise ships, you won’t need to worry about going hungry. There are many dining options on the Rotterdam, including:
- Room service 24 hours (in-room dining)
- Dining Room
- Lido Deck Market (buffet dining)
- New York Pizza
- Dive-in (food available by the pool)
- Coffee drinks
There are two specialty restaurants (there is an up-charge to dine at these).
- Pinnacle Grill
Additionally, on one night only there was a French seafood brasserie pop-up restaurant, which took over the Pinnacle Grill, Rudi’s Sel de Mer.
We ate at all three specialty restaurants. You could also have lunch (for a lesser up-charge) at the Pinnacle Grill. We rated the food at each specialty restaurant as a 4 out of 5, we enjoyed all of them and would go back again.
TIP: If you want to try the specialty restaurants book them before you ever get on board. Don’t spend time booking once on board. You’ll have a wider range of days and times available. We usually do specialty restaurants on days at sea, since we are not racing back from a shore excursion.
TIP: If you don’t want to bring dressy clothing for the Gala Nights (there were 2 gala nights on this week-long cruise) then book yourself at the specialty restaurants those nights.
TIP: Use room service to order your breakfast if you’re hurrying to meet an early shore excursion. Alternately, if you want to sleep late and not worry about missing breakfast, use room service. There is no extra charge for room service unless you choose to order from the “upsell” menu instead of the regular room service menu. Each time we used room service, our food arrived within 5 minutes of the time we requested.
Besides dining areas, there are also lounges on the Rotterdam. You’ll find regular options for non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks along with premium brands that cost more than the call brands. You’ll also, at the first of the cruise, be offered an upsell to beverage packages by the lounge wait staff. Be aware that other than coffee, tea, or glasses of water beverages come with a cost attached. In the Lido Buffet you can also choose lemonade poured from pitchers at no additional cost.
TIP: If you choose to purchase a beverage package for soda, be aware that you will not be delivered soda in cans (which is what you get when you order by the drink). You instead will be given soda from the ships’s fountain system. If you are a Coke purist you might want to stick to the canned beverages and pay by the each.
- Coffee Drinks at Explorations Cafe
- Lido Bar (by the pool)
- Sea View Bar, Deck 8 (by the pool)
- Ocean Bar, Deck 5
- Crow’s Nest, Deck 9
- MIX, Deck 5
Review of Holland America’s Rotterdam food and food service
We’ve cruised on Holland America (HAL) 3 times. At the time of our first cruise (to Alaska some years ago) HAL was not owned by Carnival, which purchased it and Princess Cruise Lines in 1989. There’s definitely been a “dumbing down” of the food choices and presentation on HAL in recent years, which was commented on by veteran HAL cruisers often to me during this cruise. We see it, as well.
- There are fewer choices on the room service menu
- The main dining room breakfast menu portions are smaller than in the past
- There are fewer wait staff, which meant long delays in getting through the evening meal in the dining room (these folks literally run from table to table, but they need more help).
- The dining room is now closed at lunch most days, forcing you to use room service or the Lido buffet
- If you want a hamburger, you’ve got to go outside to the pool deck, they are no longer available on the Lido Deck buffet
- The buffet has limited some of the open hours, or partially closes (one side) during part of the day
- Because the main dining room is often closed at lunch time, there is a shortage of tables in the Lido buffet
The worst experience on this cruise was Thanksgiving dinner. While the wait staff worked very hard, there were long waits for the food. We were told that we were waiting for “more turkey” after a while. If you asked for a change to the standard dinner choices it was lost in communication. During the entire cruise I felt like there were communication and food timing issues between the kitchen and the wait staff. We all felt that the wait staff needed more help in the main dining room. The issue is in the kitchen, not with the wait staff. The wait staff is delightful, eager to please, and worked hard.
Overall, there is plenty of food and most of it tastes great. But you can see the changes to save budget. Tea service in the main dining room is now limited to 45 minutes rather than an hour, with the tea time goodies standard fare on a tier tea tray rather than you picking and choosing from a central tray. One evening I ordered as my main dish a shrimp dish, which came with exactly 4 mid-sized shrimp atop a bed of rice. Everyone at the table laughed at the small portion, which looked more like an appetizer than a main dish. It was delicious, but small.
The dining room tables had absolutely no Thanksgiving Day table decor – even a one-dollar small pumpkin. No ice sculptures, which are a thing of the past, it seems. The floral decor at the dining room entrance was not different from Thanksgiving. The sole decor was 4 or 5 large plain pumpkins placed at the entrance behind the maître d’s station.
This, to me, doesn’t lend itself to Thanksgiving Day spirit. If there had been a big Thanksgiving decor at the entrance, HAL could have made family T-Day pictures using the decor. Not a photographer was in evidence, even though some families were dressed up and I heard them saying they wish a picture could have been made at the dining room entrance. HAL left money on the table there, and didn’t really do much to make Thanksgiving memorable.
Itinerary (7 nights) Western Caribbean/Central America
This Rotterdam cruise was round trip Tampa to Tampa. Here’s the day by day itinerary.
Tampa to Key West, Florida (overnight)
Port: Key West
Day at sea
Port: Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras
Honduras to Guatemala (overnight)
Port: Santa Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala
Guatemala to Mexico (overnight)
Port: Costa Maya, Mexico
Day at sea
Port for disembarkation: Tampa
Shore Excursions from the Rotterdam for the Western Caribbean
Shore excursions are available at all ports, including Tampa before and after cruise. You can also book transfers from the ship to the airport, or at the beginning of the cruise from the Tampa airport to the ship, if you need this.
TIP: Pre-book as much as you can before you ever board the ship. This includes spa treatments if you plan to indulge (the sea days get booked up quickly), hair dresser appointments (usually this is part of the spa). Book also your specialty restaurants and shore excursions. Get your travel agent (that would be me) to help you plan out your activities ahead of time. Once you are on board, you’re set. You can always request a change if something comes up that you’d rather do.
Key West, Florida, United States
Shore excursions offered by Holland America include the Hop-on/Hop-Off Conch Train, bike, helicopter, see a butterfly conservatory and aquarium, do a pub crawl, walk part of the island, sail and snorkel from a catamaran, go do a dolphin watch and snorkel trip, do a nature kayak tour, or take a paddleboard adventure while you are in Key West.
Tip: Skip the Hop-on/Hop-Off Conch Train in Key West, which is offered as a shore excursion. You can really only get on or off about 3 places. It’s better to walk off the ship and get a ticket for the Old Town Trolley hop-on/hop-off.
Mahogany Bay (Roatan, Honduras)
Shore excursions include beach time, island highlights, sightseeing over to French Key (frequented by locals), west side of the island exploration which includes a botanical garden and the butterfly garden. You can also do a semi-submarine ride to see the reef (part of the second-largest reef in the world), go snorkeling at a shipwreck, go kayaking, have a dolphin encounter, go deep sea fishing, scuba dive, go on a catamaran ride and snorkeling trip, hike to the Ocelot Mountains, or go zip-lining.
Tip: I recommend a private tour of the entire island if you are not looking for beach time, available through a company called ShoreTrips, which I can arrange for you ahead of time. I have personally used ShoreTrips many times and highly recommend them.
Santa Tomas, Guatemala
Shore excursions include the chance to visit several different Mayan ruins. Tikal (longer trip), Quirigua, the San Felipe Fortress (not a Mayan ruin), a Garfunkel village, visit the two main towns in the area, take a trolley ride of the area, do a bay cruise, go beaching at several beaches, go kayaking, go to the San Gil Hill Natural Reserve. (Note that the San Felipe Fortress is a Guatemalan National Park.)
Tip: There’s a covered shopping area right on the pier at Santa Tomas, go to the end nearest where your ship is docked, and you’ll see a little stand where they will stamp your passport with a Guatemalan stamp and give you a few free brightly colored woven Guatemalan bracelets. Otherwise, you won’t get a stamp in your passport.
Costa Maya, Mexico
You can take a shore excursion to visit several Mayan ruins, including Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Chocchoben. You can also visit a blue lagoon, do a beach trip which includes snorkeling, take a catamaran ride, do a glass bottom boat to see coral and fish, do a biking and clear water kayak trip, dive, do a dolphin encounter, or take an ATV through the jungle and to a beach. Other choices include a Segway trip to a beach, a ride in a Jaguar truck after which you do biking and swim in a cenote, or go to a themed adventure park.
Tampa, Florida, United States
The shore excursion offered by HAL here is a riding tour of historic Tampa (including airport transfer if you need it).
The Rotterdam Voyage Log for This Cruise
7 Day Western Caribbean, November 18, 2018 to November 25, 2018
Captain: Bas van Dreumel
Cruise Director: Rebekah Law
Officers and crew: 584
Length: 780 feet
Width: 105.8 feet
Tonnage: 61,849 GT
Nationalities of crew: 39
Water recycled: 925,000 gallons
Average speed: 16.4 knots
Miles traveled: 1939 Nautical Miles
Fuel Used: 134,500 gallons
Eggs consumed: 18,900
Tampa to Key West = 310 nautical miles, 17.8 knots
Key West to Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras = 615 nautical miles, 16.4 knots
Mahogany Bay, Roatan to Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala = 154 nautical miles, 11.7 knots
Santa Tomas de Castilla to Costa Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico = 224 nautical miles, 18.1 knots
Costa Maya to Tampa = 636 nautical miles, 18 knots
Last Notes for Ship Review for the Rotterdam
The ship Rotterdam is the captain’s favorite ship. It was built for transatlantic travel, so it cuts through the waves “like butter.” It is the fastest ship in HAL’s fleet and can go 28 knots but rarely does. The long hull (transatlantic hull) makes for a smoother ride in higher seas. This would be a great ship to do a repositioning transatlantic crossing.
TIP: Many ships built for Caribbean travel are more square-shaped ships, designed for being open to the warmer weather, and usually quieter Caribbean seas. These “square” ships will not cut through heavy waves as well as a ship like the Rotterdam, which has a longer hull and was built for transatlantic sailing. If you decide to do a transatlantic crossing one day, pay attention to the build of the ship as you’ll be in rougher seas.
For me, the bottom line for the ship Rotterdam is that it’s a comfortable ship, not too big, graceful, and very pretty in the interior and architectural features. The staff is pleasant and eager to help, although communication among the various departments is sometimes slow or inaccurate. We’d definitely sail on the Rotterdam again. We hate seeing the “dumbing down” of Holland America as a cruise line. Holland has announced that it will begin building bigger ships, which I feel is a direct result of it now being owned by Carnival. At the same time, HAL announces that it has a commitment to the mid-size ships that most Holland customers know and love. Time will tell how that will work out for HAL in the coming years.
TIP: Are you planning to cruise on Holland or another cruise line in the coming 18 months? Cruise lines are running close to capacity on many itineraries, so booking well ahead is key for getting the cabin location you want. Please contact me at email@example.com for expert help selecting your next cruise.