Monday, July 23, 2018

First Time Ocean Liner Cruisers

This is a map showing our cruise - Land of the Midnight Sun - with our stops
On our balcony in Amsterdam before departing.
This was our first ever cruise on a "big" boat. To be honest we had no interest in booking one until our very good friends Walt & Honoree invited us to join them on Holland America's Konigsdam Norwegian Fjords Cruise June 10 to the 24th. We hadn't seen them for too long and this seemed like a great itinerary - Land of the Midnight Sun and gorgeous scenery. The cruise exceeded our expectations.
The first surprise was how tasteful and manageable it all was. We expected a gaudier "Las Vegas" look. It is the newest ship for this company and was pristine and elegant (mostly). There was a nasty smell of tobacco in the Casino but we managed to avoid it as much as possible (it was necessary to occasionally speed walk through it on the way to something else). And the food was uniformly excellent, especially in the Main Dining Room (MDR). We chose the fixed time at 5:30 PM and were very pleased (I know it's early but the only other time was so late). The couple that joined us at the table were lots of fun and great company. And we liked getting to know our waiters and wine steward - excellent all. Scott and I ate at two of the specialty restaurants: Tamarind and Sal de Mer. The former would probably have been excellent but we had the rijsttafel and it was disappointing compared to others we've had.  The service and decor were excellent however. 
Sal de Mer was wonderful. The food, service, decor were all outstanding. The six of us from our table at the MDR came and we all felt it was worth the additional charges. They even coordinated with our Wine Steward to provide our reserved wines. The Lido market provided plenty of good choices at every meal. We generally had lunch there, although we enjoyed the burgers at the Dive In and the sandwiches at the New York Deli. Breakfast was fine, although we enjoyed it more in the MDR when we had time. 
The entertainment was also better than expected on the whole. Exceptions were the other acts in the Main Stage - with the possible exception of the pianist (we were mixed on that). The dancers and singers that performed the 5 big shows were wonderful. Our favorite performers were the Lincoln Center quintet - fantastic! The particular musicians on our cruise broke all records for attendance. The dueling pianists and B.B. King Blue's Club were also fun once in a while as were the BBC Earth videos (one in the Main Stage with live music). We also enjoyed the demonstrations in the America's Test Kitchen by Erin (and the TV hosts). 
Our main critique was the relentless plugs for products. "Demonstrations" were usually sales pitches. And these made up too much of the day's activities. Interesting "non profit" events were often scheduled opposite each other. And although there was a very nice gym with plenty of equipment, they CHARGED for yoga or cycling sessions! Alcohol pricing is often mentioned as a problem but we found the prices comparable to a good city restaurant. And we often were able to go to a "wine tasting" or "martini tasting" and save money. The later was really fun! 
The excursions were always very expensive and generally unnecessary. We four went on the Stappen Island Bird Watching Trip in Honnigsvag and felt it was worth while. Scott, Walt and Honoree did the 8 hour Pulpit Rock Hike out of Stavanger and it was great. Otherwise we organized our own trips or used local tour companies. We spent much less money and saw more! In Haugesund for example we saw everything from two excursions (would have cost almost $300 each) using the public bus!
So in summary, the best thing about the cruise was being with Walt & Honoree. Would we take another cruise? Nothing in the distant future - but I could imagine us crossing the Pacific Ocean as an alternative to sitting in a cramped plane to Australia/New Zealand (at least one way). And we'd be happy to go with Holland America if we did. But as long as we're spending half the year cruising on our own Scott Free, we've no need of any other ship.
PS - We took WOW airline round trip to Amsterdam and will never do that again.
We took the offered tour of the kitchen but it was pretty
empty and there was little cooking to be seen. We did meet
and talk to the Head Chef, which was interesting.



Erin gave fun demonstrations of 3 dishes, all coordinated
with a video from America's Test Kitchen. They were
standing room only!

There was a Captain's reception which we attended with free wine/beer and a chance to meet the charming Captain Werner Timmers. He was a big hit on the "Meet the Crew" presentation. That's him between Scott and I. 

This is my only shot of our room - I've included a stock one
further down in the blog post as it's much clearer. We thought
the room was very comfortable and attractive - lots of storage.
We were in a Salon Veranda room - 1052. 

This is my shot of the pool area - better stock one below.
Our room was just inside the door on the second floor
above this location - great spot!

You can get a feeling of the size here.

Our room was on the 10th floor near the bow.

We had breakfast in our room several times with Walt &
Honoree to watch the scenery. Other times we had
champagne (brought with us) and appetizers before
dinner.

The complimentary robes were very nice. We ordered coffee
as a wake up every morning and it was excellent.

Our favorite place to view the fjords was up on the top
deck. That's the 7 Sisters falls (only 4 were there for us).

The weather wasn't conducive to sun bathing. And the roof
only opened a few times over the pool during our trip.

Easy on and off the tenders for us. They were used only twice
during our cruise.

That's our lovely ship on the left.

The crew managed the traffic brilliantly for the ports 


The crew were mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines
(where I spent 2 years in the Peace Corps) and they were
 really nice and professional. Here's our bartender for
the "Martini Tasting".

The Duck foie gras with Lingonberry sauce at Sal de Mer

And my Lobster Thermador" 

You still need to polish some brass on the ship!


Walt and Honoree with our favorite waitress at the Lido.

Stock photo of the pool. Our room was just inside the door on the second floor on the left. We were the second room
inside and we never had any noise in the evenings even though they showed movies here in the evenings. And we went to bed early by cruising standards. 

The Tamarind Restaurant

Walt & Honoree, Craig & Lisa and Scott & Heather at
Sal de Mer


The World Stage Theater

A stock photo of our room

The gym. Walt and Honoree taught us Tai Chi and we often
used the machines.

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