Sunday, April 7, 2019

Holland American Lines - MS Rotterdam - April 7, 2019

Holland America Lines
MS Rotterdam  April 7, 2019

Just The Facts
Ship:  MS Rotterdam
Sailing:  April 7, 2019 from Tampa Bay, Florida
Captain: Bas van Dreumel, from Perth, Australia
Cruise Director: Rhys Williams from Cape Town South Africa
Ports: Tampa, FL - Key West, FL - Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala  -  Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras - Costa Maya, Mexico - Tampa, FL

This is my 1st time on the MS Rotterdam, my 3rd Holland American Lines cruise, and my 142nd cruise overall.  I am sailing as a solo.

Day One—Sunday—April 7 — Embarkation
Sailing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
I am in Florida visiting the DD (dear daughter) in Spring Hill, FL, so taking the opportunity to sail this cruise while the DW visits the DD and the new GD (grand-daughter) for bonding time.  All three dropped me off at 1:00 pm as I wanted to arrive after the rush of guests who try to board early.  The timing could not have been better.  There was just a short 2-3 minute wait at security then no wait at all at the check in counter.  It was like being a VIP on other cruise lines.  I proceeded direct to boarding and was in my cabin by 1:18 pm…unbelievable.  I was hungry so went up to deck 8 and the Lido buffet...I had the Pork Loin from the carving station with mashed potatoes, some wonderful creamed spinach, and mixed vegetables.  It was all very good.  HAL is know for their Bread Pudding so that’s what I had for dessert.  Servers bring the drinks to your table, a service I really appreciate.  Silver is at the table very similar to NCL but a bit more formal.  I found the Taco Bar near the pool area and a custom grill, The Dive, as well.  You can order customized Hamburgers and custom Nathan's Hot Dogs.  You order with attendant and he gives you beeper…when he beeps you you go back and pick up you item.  I could not  eat a burger at this time, but I did order a coney just to test the system.  It works very well and my coney was on a poppy seed bun with mustard, sauerkraut and bacon.  Excellent.  When I returned to my cabin about 2:30 my bag that I had just checked at the curb was inside the cabin. Wow.  My first impressions of the MS Rotterdam are very good.  Boat drill was at 3:00 pm and fortunately it’s on my deck.  I had my card ‘dinged’ and we had about a 15-20 minute safety instruction.  So easy to walk back to cabin as it was at embarkation, just one deck above the gangway.  I have an Oceanview cabin on lower promenade with a nice outdoor wooden deck that goes completely around the ship.  A nice and roomy cabin especially for a solo.  I purchased the premium (streaming) internet package ($139) as I want to watch both NCAA championship games this week.  I’m also in middle of binge watching the seven seasons of The Closer so I can get a couple of those in as well.  I watched us sail away from Terminal Six about 4:15 pm, it’s great having a deck just outside my window, I’m next to the doorways so it’s really like a huge balcony for me.  I finished cabin set up then about 6:30 I went up to Sky deck to watch us sail under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  Very cool, I was told 21 foot clearance, it was interesting, but Golden Gate Bridge is my favorite so far.  I have 8:00 pm dinner in the MDR (main dining room) and assigned a six top table, four ladies and one empty tonight.  I ordered the Salade Niçoise (an entree as a starter) and the Beef Short Rib Stroganoff entree.  For dessert a small slice of Key Lime Pie and Crème Brûlée.  All good.  After dinner I retired to the cabin. It was a very easy and nice embarkation day on the MS Rotterdam.  Baylor women won their National Championship game tonight too.

Day Two—Monday—April 8—Key West Florida
Custom eggs this morning
Smooth seas overnight although it wasn’t a completely restful night, but I watched an episode of The Closer until I could fall asleep again.  I was up and around about 8:30, but too late to go to the MDR that closes at 9:00 am so I went to the Lido Buffet and had a very nice eggs to order breakfast.  They load your plate for you so just say more bacon please until you get what you want.  My 3 fried eggs sunny side up were perfect and the hash browns and bacon were also very good.  I could see us approaching Key West as I ate so we were ahead of our 11:00 am scheduled arrival time.  The weather is beautiful today with blue skies and scattered clouds.  We are docked at the Naval Station and have shuttles into town, not the best choice, but it’s what we have. I went off about noon and the shuttle dropped us at Mallory Square.  The Carnival Freedom is docked here today and there are a LOT of people in Key West today both cruisers and tourists.  I walked by the familiar sites and ended up at the First Flight Bar and Restaurant or what used to be Kelly’s Caribbean Bar located in the old Pan American Airways building. It was very busy with live music and I sat at the familiar airplane wing bar and had two craft beers.  On my KW walk about I found a place selling everything for $5 so I got some sunglasses and a hat.  With the humid heat, so many people in town, and since I have seen all the KW sites and most of the bars, I took a shuttle back to the ship about 3:00 pm.  I went straight up to Lido and the Grill where I ordered two Nathan hot dogs and fixed two tacos from the Taco Bar while I waited…a large late lunch as it turned out.  I really enjoyed my cooling shower and nap once I returned to the cabin.  I went to the MDR this evening as I noticed that they had Prime Rib on the menu and it was very good too.  They have a Comedian as the entertainment tonight in the theater, but I returned to the cabin in order to watch the NCAA National Championship basketball game.  It was a fun day in Key West and on the MS Rotterdam.
Day Three—Tuesday—April 9—at Sea
Very smooth seas overnight and I slept very well…until 10:30 am in fact.  Fortunately we turn back our clocks one hour so I was able to go to the Lido in time for breakfast.  I had a western omelette from the omelette station plus extras.  It looks like another perfect beautiful day for us.  I really like the HAL app Navigator.  You can use it both on your iPhone and online on your laptop.  The app has the schedule of the day, ship maps, cruise information and even the daily menus for the MDR.  A very helpful application and no you do not have to purchase an internet package to use it.  I’m having a nice cabin day streaming TV, but I went up to the Lido Marketplace for lunch, a nice Turkey on the carving station.  I had a nice walkabout around the ship and guests are really enjoying the pool and outer decks today.  More relaxation on deck three most of the afternoon.  Tonight is the Captain's Gala Dinner, and the food was very good in the MDR.  I ordered the Orange Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Escargots Bourgignon, the entree of Cracked Pepper Tenderloin with sauteed greens, carmelized pineapple, & green beans, and Black Forest Cake for dessert.  A very enjoyable dinner.  Our table service has been excellent as well No more than one hour for complete dinner service.  Music throughout the ship tonight, as most nights with three primary groups who rotate among the lounges.  It was a very relaxing day on the MS Rotterdam.

Day Four—Wednesday—April 19—Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala
San Felipe Fortress Guatemala
Calm seas overnight and I slept very well.  I set an alarm since I had an early excursion, but since we set the time back again I was up in time.  I really have never been on a cruise that change the time twice in the Caribbean…very unusual.  I went up to the Lido Marketplace for a custom breakfast as we were docking this morning in the industrial port of Santo Tomas de Castilla.  I had an 8:15 meet time for my excursion:  San Felipe Fortress & Scenic Drive so debarked soon after 8:00 am.  We were on the bus and on our way by 8:30 for the 1.5+ hour drive to our destination.  The industrial area around the ports are really nothing to admire but once in the countryside it was interesting.  We saw Rubber trees, Mangos, Banana trees, Pineapples, and more.  We went through some mountains until we reached the Rio Dulce river valley and soon afterward the San Felipe Fortress.  The Fortress built in 1644 is a Spanish colonial fort at the entrance to Lake Izabal. Lake Izabal is connected with the Caribbean Sea via the Dulce River and El Golfete lake…a very strategic location.  It is now located in a park area and today seemed busy with local school groups.  It’s a smaller fortress but many unique towers or bastions and fully restored.  I enjoyed it.  I had time for two Gallo beers before the bus began its return.  Once back at the port I went through the nice large facility built for area Guatemalan crafts, stage, tours, wifi, and more.  I was able to get a Guatemalan belt I’ve been wanting for 15 years, but could never find one in 'barn' size before today.  I had to go to the source and now pleased to have one.  Once back on the Rotterdam I went to Lido for a burger and coney… both very good.  Then it was to the cabin for rest, relaxation and a nap.  I was going to skip dinner in the MDR as I usually do on a long excursion day, but with the nap and reviewing the menu I decided to go.  Tonight I ordered the Calypso Shrimp Cocktail, Spaghetti All'amatriciana (my pasta as starter), and Chef Rudy’s Classical Wiener Schnitzel “Wienna Style” entree.  All was very good, best Wiener Schnitzel since I was in Wien last year.  I had a nice look around the beautiful and very large Library area on deck five.  Lot’s of Games, three jigsaw puzzle tables, reading areas, lots of books, and more.  It was a great day in Guatemala and on the MS Rotterdam.

Day Five—Thursday—April 11—Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras
MS Rotterdam from lagoon bridge
Fair seas overnight and I slept very well.  About 8:00 am as we were docking at Mahogany Bay  I went up one deck for my first breakfast in the MDR. I usually prefer an MDR breakfast when sailing and it didn’t disappoint.  I ordered a unique Fruit plate (mango, banana, apple, cottage cheese) and classic Eggs Benedict with side of bacon and hash browns.  It was very good.  I soon noticed that we were the ONLY ship docked so changed my plans to go over to the beach a.s.a.p.  Usually there are two large Carnival ships and the beach gets very crowded, but with just our small ship it was like a private beach break.  I was able to get a lounger in the shade of palm trees…hard to do.  The water was great and I later splurged the $ I saved by not having to rent an umbrella on a nice large Pina Colada.  A nice beach outing although I did get too much sun on my face while in the water.  I returned to the ship about 2:00 and had a burger and coney from the Dive Inn Grill.  I spent the rest of the day with cabin time relaxing and watching some online video.  We sailed away a bit early as everyone was on board and I noticed that the large old shipwreck that was in the middle of the bay has been moved west and towards the shore…that will make it safer for the ships on a windy day.  I went to dinner at 8:00 pm as usual.  Tonight I ordered the Rustic Home-Made Lasagna (my pasta as starter) and Chef Rudy’s Classic Yankee Beef Pot Roast entree.  Very good with excellent service as usual.  For dessert I had the Mango Creme Horn and a Blueberry Sundae.  They have an evening Happy-hour as well as the afternoon one in the Crow’s Nest, second drink is $2.  My face was rather red from the sun so I retired after dinner.  It was a Fun day at the beach today.

Day Six—Friday—April 12—Costa Maya, Mexico

My deck 3 with Mahahual lighthouse in background
Smooth seas over night and I slept very well.  The waves are really pounding us as we are docked on the outer pier.  We were probably lucky to get docked this morning and I'm worried about getting away.  We are the only ship here today.  I went up to the Lido about 9:30 for a nice custom breakfast.  I’ve never had a wait, they have several stations set up and the chefs are filling several orders at a time, similar to short order cooks at a diner.  You do get hot fresh eggs this way.  After breakfast I walked around deck three and watched the waves smash into the pier, I hope we will be able to push away later today.  I’m not getting off and I'm going to have a ship day today, I was just here a few weeks ago.  I had not had lunch in the Lido Marketplace until today, I was amazed at the food choices for a port day.  They had a sushi bar set up it the international food area and two meats in the carving stations, I went with the Fat Back or Pork Belly selection with Mashed potatoes.  Then I took some Bread Pudding for dessert back to the cabin.  I discovered that my new Verizon unlimited plan includes Mexico and although we are as far south as one can go in Mexico and in a remote area I was able to call the DW and check on things.  Nice to have.  I watched streaming videos most of the afternoon then went outside on the deck to watch us attempt a sail away.  As I suspected this morning we couldn’t get off the pier, the winds were too high.  Soon the Captain made an announcement that the wind gusts were up to 30 knots and they would attempt to leave again at sundown.  About 7:00 pm we again tried to get away from the pier and on the second attempt we made it off…it was touch and go but we began our return to Tampa.  It was the second Gala Dinner tonight.  I ordered: Roasted Beets and Orange Segments, Ricotta and Spinach Tortelloni (my pasta), and the Surf and Turf entree.  The Lobster was OK, but the Tenderloin was tasty.  For dessert I had the Passion Fruit Cheesecake.  We turned our clocks forward for the second night so we will be on Tampa time tomorrow morning.  A great day in Costa Maya and on the MS Rotterdam.

Day Seven—Saturday—April 13—at Sea
Mariner's Club Luncheon & Captain
Rolling high seas initially overnight but much smoother by morning and I slept well. I went up to Lido about 10:00 am for a lighter breakfast then took a walk about to enjoy the perfect weather this morning. Stopped by the Crow’s Nest to watch us still fighting a bit of headwind.  I was invited to the Mariner’s Luncheon today at 1:00 pm.  The Captain and Officers attended and they had a nice menu, I ordered:  Spiced Chicken & Okra Gumbo, Braised Beef Brisket with Plantains, Mashed Yucca, Root Vegetables and Coconut Pie for dessert.  We had a Champagne toast and brief remarks by the Captain.  The rest of the afternoon was cabin time and videos.  I did finish my binge watching of LAPD crime based The Closer, seven seasons, 109 episodes over two weeks.  I really enjoyed it.  I laughed, I cried, I was on edge…binge-watching is the 21st century version of a good book and perfect for this cruise.  I went to the final dinner in the MDR and it was agin very good.  I ordered: Spinach Salad, Fusilli Primavera, and the Sauteed Pork Chop entree.  After dinner I went to the cabin to pack my luggage. It was easily done then I placed them outside the cabin for the midnight pick up.  A nice final day on the MS Rotterdam.

Debarkation—Sunday—April 14—Tampa Florida
Smooth seas overnight and we were docked on time despite leaving Costa Maya late.  I went up to the MDR for a very nice breakfast at 7:00 am then returned to the cabin to pack backpack.  DW & Friends are picking me up at 10:00 so I just chilled until my color was called.  Debark is very smooth on this ship, not that many use self-debark, most wait for luggage color process.  Very easy debark and pick up in Tampa and especially this smaller ship.

MS Rotterdam is the lead cruise ship of the Rotterdam class (R class) in the Holland America Line. Built in Italy in 1997, she is the sixth Holland America vessel to bear the name. She is named for SS Rotterdam of 1959, and also named after the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands. Rotterdam carries an art collection onboard worth over US$2 million and features fine art and antiques.
Tonnage    61,849        Speed      25 knots  (29mph)
Length       780            Beam       106
Capacity    1404          Crew        600

I have cabin 3397 an ocean-view cabin mid-aft on deck three on port side.   Also close to elevators, stairway, and outer doors to promenade deck. The room is a standard+ size interior with: key pad safe, hair dryer, makeup mirror, small couch, full chair at vanity/desk, small bath with shower, TV, and good lighting. Very well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure was only average, I wish I brought my personal cabin fan for circulation.  Very pleased with location although some door slamming of outer doors on final windy day.

I found the food to be very good, well above average for most cruise lines. Service always above average to exceptional.  Plenty of room for tables in both MDR and Lido…you are not hitting or bumping into adjoining chairs or tables. 

I really enjoyed this slower paced relaxing cruise.  Yes guests are older.  I didn’t attend any shows although there were not many offered.  I also never purchased a cocktail on the ship…I think that may be a first.  Overall the crew & staff were very good.  My cabin steward Nopi from Indonesia was very adequate as I always had ice and clean cabin. My MDR waiters were also great.  It was a great cruise.

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