My 17-year-old daughter and I went on the 10-day Panama Canal cruise aboard the Rotterdam in April. I've been on 14 cruises; three this year, and my experience aboard the Rotterdam is the best since the days of caviar every day aboard the Oceanic (some 30 years ago).The efficient staff goes out of its way for you. For example, personnel remembered our favorite cappuccino drinks (which are FREE, not like on other ships that nickel and dime you to death). They remembered that we enjoy cheese as an appetizer, rather than dessert, and had it waiting for us at the dinner table -- even when we changed tables. They made it a point to learn our names -- and remember them. When my eyeglasses broke on a sea day, the staff got needle and thread and fixed them for me. We sat with the ship's doctor and his family for dinner, and they were gracious, friendly, wonderful people. We had a ball with them.The cabins are tremendous, even at the lower decks. This is because the Rotterdam sails around the world. There's plenty of closet space. Some cabins even have bathtubs! The ship is immaculate.The Panama Canal is breathtaking, and an experience to treasure for a lifetime. The ship's only problem is that the tours are extremely costly, moreso than on other cruise lines. For example, two tours (the Panama train ride and the Costa Rica rainforest cost a total of $500 -- 2 tours; 2 people.) I paid about $150 each for us to visit the Costa Rica rainforest. It isn't worth it and there wasn't much to see. The same is true for the Panama train ride. The highlight is sailing through the canal at 5 a.m. aboard the ship. As is always the case, tours can be purchased independently for a lot less money, and many people did this and were delighted with the extras they received for less than half the price we paid. Yet, one must also be cautious and smart: We are two women, and over the years, I have also heard stories of people being taken for rides elsewhere, and of being robbed and beaten. I heard some of these stories while aboard this ship. I pay the price because when traveling to exotic ports, I feel it's safer, though probably not the best way to see a country.The lunch buffet is so big, we never once bothered to go to the sitdown lunch. It contained everything imaginable -- besides a variety of different hot foods every day, there's a sandwich area where one can get any type of bread and filling one desires, and a pasta station. When it comes to desserts, there are four different cordials to top off ice cream -- or add to the cappuccinos - all free.Holland America is noted for its "older" crowd, yet my 17-year-old agrees it's the best cruise she's ever been on. It's for people who appreciate cruising as a learning and growing experience. I just returned from a Royal Caribbean cruise, which was crowded, where drinks were pushed every second, and where service was barely adequate. After that experience, I've vowed to travel Holland America all the time now. Interestly, I met a woman aboard Royal Caribbean who said the exact same thing.Camille Pepe Sperrazza
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