Impressions of a First Time Cruiser
By Donnie Sexton
Up until June of this year, I have staunchly remained a “cruise virgin” all 55 plus years of my life, never having any desire to travel on a huge ship.
The idea of being cooped up with hundreds or thousands of other people for days at sea and gorging myself on endless buffets was not my idea of a good time.
I was offered the opportunity by Holland America to sail with them to Norway on a 7-day Norse Legends Cruise, aboard the Koningsdam, starting and ending in Amsterdam.
Maybe I’m softening up in my mature years, but I said to myself “what the heck girl, give it a try. After all, you’ve never been to Norway.”
Before leaving for the trip, Holland America had sent numerous emails with links to all the details about the cruise. I had scoured the documents and learned about the dress code, availability of ATMs on the ship, restaurant options, how much alcohol you could bring on board (one bottle of wine/person with no corking fee), and how tipping was handled ($13.50/per day added to your room bill).
My hubby, who rarely travels with me, decided to come along. We arrived a day early into Amsterdam and spent the time wandering the streets of this beautiful city with the aroma of weed wafting out of several pot shops.
We were due to set sail on Sunday afternoon. Early Sunday morning we headed to the boat dock to catch a glimpse of our ride, and there she stood, the majestic Koningsdam. Workers were scurrying about loading supplies, a few men were painting the ship’s surface, while others onboard were hosing down the decks. Admittedly, my curiosity was turning into frenzied anticipation about this adventure, so promptly at 10:30 am, we made a beeline to check-in.
From the moment we entered the cruise terminal, the efficiency and helpfulness of the Holland America staff became paramount. Agents were there to check in passengers, dispense the keys, and direct us to the gangplank.
Friendliness in Abundance
An eager staff welcomed us onboard with the friendliest of faces and directed us to our digs. Room 4199 was cozy and efficient. It had a small veranda with two deck chairs, a mini-couch, desk, queen sized bed, a big screen TV, a walk-in shower, and ample storage.
I did something which I never, ever do while traveling. I completely unpacked and put things away in drawers and closets.
Then it was off to explore prior to launch. I was like a kid in the candy store – racing to see everything.
We headed up to the top and walked the Koningsdam, 975 feet, from end to end. We worked our way down to explore some of the 13 decks. Pockets of comfortable seating were scattered around the ship.
We passed by the pools, gym, spa, dance floor, and shopping areas. There was no shortage of options for wetting the whistle, duly noted as we passed by the Lido, Panorama, Sea View, Sun, Ocean, and Explorer’s Bars.
What struck me is that everyone we passed working on the ship greeted us like an old friend, with the biggest of smiles and a welcoming hello. Granted, it was the first day, and it would be expected that the staff was on their best behavior.
The Food Scene
When this grand dame pulled effortlessly away from the docks early evening, we stood on the deck and popped the champagne in celebration of our new adventure. Once out at sea and thoughts turning to dinner, it was time to check out the buffet stations at Lido Market.
Sushi, salads, desserts, comfort food, bread, turkey, pork, pasta, and potatoes…the choices were endless. Rather than serving yourself, all the buffet offerings were behind glass fronts, as an added measure of food safety with servers ready to dish up.
Other options for dining were intriguing. Canaletto was all about Italian, Sel de Mer was a seafood brasserie, and Tamarind was the place for Asian cuisine. There was New York Deli & Pizza, Dive-In for burgers, and Grand Dutch Café.
You could watch the ship chefs prepare meals at the Culinary Arts Center, yet another choice for dining. Keeping the belly full on this trip wouldn’t be an issue.
Cruising Up to Norway
The first and last day of this voyage were “sea” days, getting to/from Norway. Port stops included the villages of Eidfjord, Alesund, Geirangerfjord, and the city of Bergen. Once at a port, the choices were yours – take an excursion, wander on your own, or stay onboard the ship.
You would think once the ship docked there would be a mass exodus of 2,400 guests anxious to hit land. But like all operations on Koningsdam, departures were well orchestrated, based on your choice of activity for the day.
No Room for Boredom
Every night our steward slipped in, tidied up the room and left a “When & Where” pamphlet with all the pertinent info about the following day’s activities, weather, and excursions. There was no room to claim boredom on the Koningsdam.
Between the fitness center and the spa, there was always something in the works – pilates, cycling, complimentary footprint analysis, and a session on secrets to a flatter stomach (which no doubt meant fewer trips to the buffet).
There were complimentary gaming lessons in the casino and Texas Hold’em cash games.
Did I mention trivia games, poolside movies, digital workshops, basketball shootouts, martini sampling and classes on becoming your own winemaker? Most of the offerings were free, although some had a small charge.
Evening entertainment included The World Stage, with dancers, singers and comedian acts comparable to Las Vegas productions. The B.B. King’s All Stars belted out soul music that got the dance floor jiving!
The Lincoln Center Stage was the setting for chamber music. Two pianists held court at Billboard On Board with chart-topping tunes.
A Staff of Smiles
By day four, the friendliness that had been so prolific from the crew on the first day had not faded. Most of the team, numbering 1,000, come from the Philippines and Malaysia. Holland America has a school in the Philippines for training staff.
Employees work on a nine-month contract, with six months onboard, and three months off. I had to ask myself if I could hunker down for six months on a ship and decided this life wasn’t for me.
Throughout the journey, my mind kept thinking about the logistics of running a ship this size, which by all accounts was super-efficient. There were 150 chefs/cooks to keep us fed. We traveled 1,612 miles and used 224,546 gallons of fuel.
Average speed was 15.8 knots. I can’t gauge how fast a knot is, but I do know that even out on the open sea there was only an occasional gentle rocking of the Koningsdam.
I came home understanding the positives of a cruise. There isn’t the hassle of logistics that come with travel (how to get there and get around, dealing with foreign money, determining where to stay and eat). You only have to unpack once for the journey. Connectivity to electronics is limited, paving the way for one to totally unwind and soak up the moments for what they are.
I suspect some countries lend themselves best to cruising, such as Norway. With our voyage, we navigated up some narrow fjords and were able to explore some small Norwegian villages. Seeing the same sights by car, if even possible, would be more challenging and time-consuming.
I noticed several people with disabilities being expertly and respectfully helped during the cruise, especially with the off-shore excursions. Without a doubt, a cruise opens up many possibilities for a wheelchair-bound individual to partake in the joys of travel.
Cruise Virgin No More!
I’m no longer a cruise virgin. I can’t deny that losing that moniker was a very satisfying experience. I had never expected to be so engaged on a sizable cruise ship.
Could I cruise for 2-3 weeks? Definitely not. Seven days was perfect for me. This was long enough to get a sufficient taste of Norway, its people, and its landscapes.
I definitely didn’t come home with a flatter stomach, which I blame on a week of delectable cuisine
Donnie Sexton has moved on from a very long stint as staff photographer and media relations manager for the Montana Office of Tourism. Her path is now focused on feeding her addiction to travel and sharing her journeys in both words and photography. www.donniesexton.com