On November 10, 2008 we left aboard the Holland America Statendam from Fort Lauderdale, Florida for 26-day cruise to Lima, Peru and return.
The Statendam is an older ship. We cruised on it to Hawaii over New Year's 1999-2000. Accordingly, the ship is beginning to show its age. Our cabin was spacious and comfortable, but we heard many complaints about cabins being too cold (one couple said that their cabin was 59 degrees for the entire trip). Also at times there was the distinct smell of sewage in various parts of the ship. The Statendam seems due for refurbishing soon.
The cabin steward was very attentive; however, cabins are now cleaned only once per day, despite the fact that the hotel charge has increased from $10/person/day last year to $11/person/day. We chose open seating in the Rotterdam Dining Room for dinner, but sat at the same table (for two) every evening except for the very first night, when we sat at a table for six. The next evening we were able to get our table for two, and requested it for the remainder of the trip. However, the maitre'd said "other people would like a table for two, you know? So we can only reserve it for two evenings." Some people who sat behind us that evening, also at a table for two, had an ethnic last name and demanded their table every evening also. Since their request was granted, so was ours! Our waiter was wonderful, very attentive and friendly. In fact, the entire staff and crew was quite friendly for the entire voyage (with one exception, below).
On most evenings a show was held in the Van Gogh Lounge. There were four musical production numbers, and the overall costuming costs were said to be $250,000! The costumes were magnificent. We also enjoyed the shows a great deal, although the final one wasn't quite as good as the others. On other evenings the performers were singers, musicians, comedians, magicians, or just a movie was shown. We attended a few of these, and they didn't seem as entertaining as the production shows.
Every evening a pre-dinner dance was held in the Ocean Bar from 4-5 p.m., and the dance continued from 7-11 p.m. A trio called The Neptunes played, and they were comprised of a pianist, an upright bassist, and a drummer. The music was very danceable, and the dance floor was not crowded, at least not on the pre-dinner dances which we attended every day. Another group, The HALcats, played in the Crow's Nest and on deck some afternoons, although their music wasn't as danceable. They were sort of a raggae band, with a keyboard, steel drum, guitar, drum, and vocalist who didn't play an instrument. These performers seemed also to be members of the ship's orchestra.
This may not have been the most auspicious time to take a cruise because the stock market has taken a dramatic downturn recently, and most of the passengers seemed to be senior citizens who are retirees. They had seen the values of their investments decline precipitously, and didn't seem to be very cheerful or in the mood to spend much money. Accordingly, some of the wait staff in bars and ship stores seemed to have become frustrated. One evening we requested a glass of water in the Ocean Bar, as we usually did because we became thirsty from dancing. This was after dinner, and having just left the dining room we didn't want anything else to drink. However, our waitperson admonished us that we should order bottled water or wine or a cocktail or a beer rather than free water. That night we turned in a complaint about this individual, and he didn't do this again. The day following this incident in the Ocean Bar Holland America delivered a complimentary bottle of Merlot to our cabin in apology for the waitperson's actions. On another occasion we were in one of the shops trying to purchase something, and a young man was lounging lazily against a cart used for hauling merchandise. We stood around for at least five minutes, wondering where the clerk was, and it tuned out that the young man lounging against the cart was the clerk. He should have been able to see that we wanted to make a purchase, but seemed to be deliberately unresponsive. We did not complain about this, however.
We last took a cruise on Holland America at the end of 2007 when we found the quality of the food, especially, to be lower than before. Now the line has cheapened its meals down even more than a year ago. Most nights the dinner menu contained four appetizers, three soups, one salad, and about five entree choices, one of them vegetarian. Many entrees were comprised of tuna, chicken, turkey, or pork. Many dishes involved pasta or rice. Often the vegetables in an entree were described to appear exotic, but turned out to be pedestrian.
However, on the Statendam there is now happy hour at each of three venues: Ocean Bar, Piano Bar, and Crow's Nest, at different times of the evening. All wines and cocktails are 2-for-1. Many passengers seemed to have taken advantage of these lower prices, as the bars offering them were full at these times. On the last afternoon of the cruise a deck party was held, and consequently there was no happy hour at the Ocean Bar. Many of those who came to happy hour there regularly were unhappy about this. It is true that it was planned by management, and the daily program omitted its usual happy hour announcement for the Ocean Bar on that day.
Dining options now include not only fixed seating but also open seating, PLUS casual dinner dining every night on the Lido deck. This means that many passengers brought no dress clothes at all. Part of the fun of a cruise for us lies in elegance, especially on formal nights (of which there were six). However, one saw few formal clothes on formal nights, and on "smart casual" nights most people dressed shabbily. They looked as though they should be working in their gardens or shopping at WalMart. If one wants this atmosphere one would save money by cruising on some budget line such as Norwegian.
We ate a small breakfast every day at the buffet on the Lido deck, and an abbreviated lunch at the same place. We always took dinner in the dining room, even when a dinner barbecue was held on deck. On the evening of our 33rd wedding anniversary we ate at the Pinnacle Grill (which specializes in steaks and dinner costs $20/person). We had a great window table from which we viewed a fantastic sunset and birds flying, sometimes in formation, over the water. Also, the service at the Pinnacle was excellent and they surprised us with an anniversary cake and two large parfait glasses of vanilla ice cream.
This cruise was our 55th, and with the 26 days it made over 100 days of cruising aboard a Holland America ship. Early in the cruise we went to a brunch one day for returning passengers, and expected to receive a bronze medallion for having cruised over 100 days with Holland America, but we didn't receive one. Late in the cruise there was another brunch for returning passengers, but we hadn't much liked the food at the first brunch so we did not attend this one. Of course, had we been there we would have been awarded our medallions! These were delivered to our cabin later that day, however.
Our first port of call was Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island. We did not go ashore for the barbecue because we had been to them many times before and preferred the food on the ship.
Next we stopped at Grand Turk, where we had never been. The island is British, and souvenirs and other items are expensive. Nevertheless, there is a pierside shopping area and we enjoyed browsing the shops.
After a day at sea we stopped at Santa Marta, Colombia. Here we wandered from the pier to the downtown area, where there were some souvenir venders who were very aggressive in their sales approaches. We bought a charm of Colombia for a charm bracelet and some other small souvenirs.
The next day we stopped at San Blas Islands, and were tendered ashore. Here we bought some mola embroidery work from the native Kuna Indians. We had been to these islands before more than once; however, for fist-time visitors, they are very unique and fascinating.
The following day we traversed the Panama Canal, which we had done several times before, and the next day we stopped in Amador, Panama. We also had been there, but revisited the pierside shops that sold souvenirs and other goods. They skyline of Panama City is visible in the distance, although a taxi to the city costs $45/hour/person, so we have never gone there.
After a day at sea we stopped at Manta, Ecuador. Here we took our most interesting paid excursion of the entire cruise (it was called "Manta and Montecristi"). We were bussed to a factory where Panama hats were made, to a factory where "ivory nuts" were processed to make buttons, jewelry, and small statues, to a factory where burlap bags were made, and finally to a museum depicting the history of local cultures. These factories were very primitive, with workers using hand looms and making most items by hand. Manta is a fishing port of 200,000 inhabitants, and its population is not generally wealthy. As in our other stops in Ecuador and Peru, we found that many were housed in what appeared to be sheds with corrugated tin roofs held down by big rocks. Nevertheless, we bought several items, and these were a real bargain.
After another day at sea we stopped at Salaverry, Peru. Here we took a tour, "El Brujo, Mysteries of the Mochican Culture". Here we took a bus through a very poor and cluttered city called Trujillo, then down a very bumpy highway for almost two hours to end up at some pyramids built by primitives that once inhabited the area. After spending about an hour there, and taking a narrated tour of the pyramid, we were bussed back over the same road to the ship. Travel time to and from the pyramid was over three times the amount of time spent at the pyramid, which we did not think was a good trade-off.
The next day we arrived at Callao, Peru, the port city for Lima (population between 8 and 9 million). That afternoon we took a complimentary bus sponsored by H. Stern jewelers to an area of Lima known as Miraflores. This is supposed to be one of the nicest shopping and dining areas of the city, and we did enjoy the trip. Security was very heavy because the APEC conference, attended by President Bush, was being held in Lima that day. The city seemed quite clean, with green-suited people everywhere sweeping streets. There were armed personnel throughout Miraflores, although we paid little attention to them and they to us. We did buy a Peru charm, and a word of caution is in order. The price of the charm was quoted in dollars, but when we paid with Visa the amount was written in soles, the local currency. We did not know the exchange rate, but were promised it was equivalent to the price quoted to us in dollars. However, it seems to have been quite high, and this may be typical. One should take enough cash in U.S. currency to pay for any such purchases or risk the possibility of paying 20-50% more because of discrepancies between the quoted exchange rate and the actual one.
The next day we remained in Callao, but could not leave the pierside area because heavy security did not even allow shuttle busses to go into or from the area. The next day we left late in the afternoon, so we did not leave the ship that day either. Spending three days in port was boring, and this was compounded by the fact that the port is very industrial and noisy. The smog was so heavy that we could not even go outside on the Promenade Deck to exercise. It is interesting to note that we saw more seagulls here than we have seen anywhere else in the world, and there was no discernable odor of anything to draw them.
Temperatures in Ecuador and Peru were very mild. Overnight lows were in the low 60s with daytime highs around 70 degrees, even though this area is very near the equator. Temperatures are kept down by cold ocean currents that being in Antarctica and move northward beside Chili, Peru, and Ecuador. Sea temperatures were in the 60s, even near the equator! Supposedly these are typical conditions year-round.
We spent the day after we left Callao at sea, and the next day we stopped in Guyaquil, Ecuador. The political regime had changed there only about a week before, and a new constitution had been adopted. Accordingly, local officials were new and did not know how to handle an arriving cruise ship. Ours was the only ship in the port. We were to have docked at 8 a.m., with passenger disembarkation beginning by 9 a.m. However, local officials demanded that every passenger be screened and issued a local document for disembarkation. This took at least an hour. Then local officials demanded that additional paperwork be completed by the ship's officers. Finally we were allowed off the ship, but very much later than scheduled. This city has about 3 million inhabitants, and we went on a tour ("Guayaquil City and Historical Park") that took us through the city to a park downtown that is known as Iguana Park because it is inhabited by hundreds of iguanas, many of them as long as 4 feet. We enjoyed these sights. Then we went to a very large park where many indigenous animals can be seen, as well as local botanical specimens. There also is an area where Guyaquil of the late 19th century is recreated, with people dressed in costumes of the era. This entire excursion was a walking tour, and we were glad to stop for refreshments in a cafe in which the decor supposedly was typical of the era. Unfortunately the prices were not, and for some reason a Coca Cola that was listed on the menu as costing one dollar in fact cost closer to two dollars. Supposedly Ecuador is on the dollar system, but although dollars were accepted change was given in Ecuadorian coins. We suppose we could give these to folks back home as trinket gifts!
The next day we stopped again at Manta, Ecuador. This time we took a complimentary shuttle to an open plaza market near downtown. Here we bought scarves, belts, and other items at amazingly low prices. We very much enjoyed Manta for a second time.
After a day at sea we went through the Panama Canal again. The following day we stopped at Puerto Limon, Cost Rica. We had been there before, and aside from some pierside stalls there is not much of interest in town for tourists.
The following day we stopped at the island of San Andres, Colombia, which is 380 miles from mainland Colombia. The nearest mainland is Nicaragua, and it is quite a distance (our tour book said 150 miles, but a local tour guide said 82 miles). Here it was raining for the first time at any of our stops. We did take the "San Andres Island Tour" that went to a blowhole, a cave, a downtown mall, etc. The island is only about 8 miles by 2 miles, but is inhabited by between 100,000 and 110,000 citizens. The rain made the tour less enjoyable, and in fact some tourists complained so much that everyone who took the tour was refunded half the price. Incidentally, excursions are expensive these days. It is difficult to find a tour as short as 3 hours in length for much less than about $80/person. Part of the reason could be high gasoline costs, but in Ecuador and Peru we found gasoline to be less expensive (about $1.50/gallon for regular unleaded, or $1.00/gallon for diesel) than back in the U.S. Prices are as high as $4/gallon on remote islands such as San Andres where everything must be shipped in from lengthy distances.
After a day at sea we were to have docked at Georgetown, Grand Cayman. However, winds were high and seas were rough (for the first time on the voyage), so tenders could not go ashore. Instead we set out for Key West, where we arrived the next evening rather than the morning following that as scheduled. Passengers were allowed to go ashore that evening, but it took a long time for everyone to go through customs, as was necessary because this was our port of entry back into the U.S.
So we waited until the next day to go into Key West, where we have been many times. We always enjoy wandering through the souvenir shops, etc., however.
The next morning we arrived back in Fort Lauderdale, where we disembarked.
We took this cruise specifically to visit Ecuador and Peru. The countries of Ecuador and Peru look even more impoverished than the poorest islands in the Caribbean. And there is trash and litter everywhere, roadsides, parks, etc. We definitely would rather take more than one shorter cruise for the same money. Peru and Ecuador just aren't that exotic; to us they look like they should be in the Middle East somewhere. However, we did not take the 3-day train tour to Machu Picchu for $3000 per person, and perhaps seeing that would have changed our opinion. It certainly would have adversely affected our finances!