Finishing the Trip – Lima to San Diego – February 15 to March 4 , 2019
Why this cruise?
We had sailed from San Diego to Callao/Lima 5 years ago on the “old” Statendam and wanted to do the return trip. This time we would be on Volendam, and there were fewer port stops and more sea days, but we were looking for a relaxing experience which we found. Holland America is not our most favorite cruise line; but deserves a 4 star rating for its efforts and wide ranging itinerary selections.
We flew American Airlines to LAX, and then boarded a LATAM Airlines plane. This company was formed by a merger of a Chilean airline and a Brazilian airline, and they bought some Boeing 987 Dreamliners, one of which we flew. It was a very nice plane with excellent service, although I can never sleep on planes, even when stretched out in Business class as on this flight.
We arrived on Saturday, and stayed at a hotel in Lima that night since we could not board the ship until Sunday. We also contacted our tour guide from our prior trip – Monica of Monica Tours Peru, for tours on Saturday and Monday. We booked transportation from the airport to our hotel on line before we left and would highly recommend the company – email@example.com. The cost was $18.00 with a senior discount, although I paid the driver $20.00. We stayed at the BTH Hotel which we found on both Trip Advisor and Trivago. It was very reasonable, and a fairly nice place with an extremely helpful desk staff that spoke excellent English. The restaurant was quite nice, with a decent dinner and excellent breakfast. The breakfast was included in the $108.00 hotel price!
Getting on board can be a problem in Lima/Callao. One must have a pass to get on the dock. The cruise lines pick up passengers who have purchased air through them at the airport and drive them to the ship. All others must go to a hotel site to catch a cruise bus. We were able to get hold of taxidatum and they picked us up at the BTH hotel on Sunday and drove us to the Marriot Hotel in Miraflores for $15.00where we caught the shuttle bus to the ship. Boarding was actually on board the ship since there were few of us, so we made it to our stateroom and unpacked quickly. We stayed on board the rest of the day, and met Monica for another tour of Lima on Monday before we did our own little muster drill and sailed away that afternoon
Our ship was constructed in 1999 and had been refurbished a few years ago. Its normal passenger complement is 1400 in a 60,000 gross tonnage craft which makes for a decent space ratio of 42.85 cubic feet per passenger. The public spaces have lots of seating and tend to have dark wood with old fashioned prints and decorative pieces. There are three elevator/stair banks which allow very decent passenger flow. It is easy to get around and the only crowds are in the theater for shows. There are two pools, one midships and the other aft – both on the Lido deck. The library is part of the computer room, but was never crowded. There is a separate Digital Workshop room.
We had a standard verandah cabin on Deck 6. Volendam shows its age in its offering of cabins. Only the upper two stateroom decks, 6 and 7 have verandahs. Decks 3, 4 and 5 staterooms have only windows. Our layout had a fair amount of room with a full length leather couch opposite a nice desk with 6 full drawers. The closets were opposite the bath which had a tub/ shower. The lighting was good, and we managed to get the temperature to a decent level. The verandah had a lounge chair as well as a side chair. We were only a few steps from the mid ships elevators, two decks below the Lido deck, and two above the main dining room and theater.
The production shows, with four singers and six dancers were not bad, although quite loud as is common. There was one other musician playing a variety of instruments, with a comic patter. There were three comedians, which we skipped. There was a trio of lady singers who were not bad. The classical music was provided by a violinist with a piano accompanist. They played 4 sets on most nights, but did not play at all on a few nights. We gave the whole entertainment panoply a 5 out of 10 rating.
On Board Information Presentations.
These were fairly extensive and well done. There was a Digital Workshop host – Frank – who did from one to four presentations every day and was quite knowledgeable. There were regular talks about the places we would visit. The ship has a large demonstration kitchen with a presentation cook doing at least one cooking show each morning and afternoon. In addition there were the usual bridge and mah jong games, along with arts and crafts, and the Wajang Theater showed movies three three times a day. All told, there was plenty to do on board.
Holland America does a pretty good job with food, although it does not come close to Crystal or Oceania. The main dining room is on Decks 4 and 5, with 4 being for open seating and 5 for set seating. Service for dinner starts at 5:15 and is busy immediately sine the evening shows start at 8:00 and people start arriving at the theater at 7:00. In addition to the dining room, there is the Pinnacle Room with a charge of $50.00 per person. We ate there one night as the guest of our travel agent, and it was quite good. We also were guests at Canaletto, which is an Italian Restaurant set up each night at a section of the Lido buffet. For $15.00 extra per person it was quite good. The Lido buffet itself has good selections and keeps the food hot, but the service is somewhat short handed, both on the serving line and in the restaurant portion. Getting coffee in the morning was often a struggle. There was only one soup for lunch, but sushi was always available. The pastries were quite fine. My wife is a vegetarian and was almost always able to obtain a decent selection. I would rate the food experience at 8.5 out of 10, below the 9.4 and 9.5 of Oceania and Crystal; and in the same range as Princess and Celebrity.
Holland America does not cater much to children, and there were only 3 on board. The overwhelming number of us were in the Medicare set, and mostly American and Canadian, with a few Germans. The clothing style was very casual, with only a slight improvement on the “formal” nights. This seems to be the way cruising is headed these days. Many had extensive cruising experience, and we had lots of pleasant conversations.
As always, the crew was friendly and generally helpful. Most of the dining room and buffet staff, and all of the cabin workers were Indonesian, a practice this line has followed dating back to when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies. They are uniformly friendly and smiling. The Captain, a German, was often seen about the ship. Holland America has a long sea faring history, and knows how to sail a ship quite well, thank you.
Ports of Call.
The first stop was 130 miles south of Callao at a place called General San Martin. It is only a pier and the town of Paracas is about 10 miles away. The area is the most barren desert we have ever seen. It probably could be called the Peruvian extension of Chile’s Atacama Desert, just about the driest place on earth. But, here was an excellent tour available to the off shore Ballestas Islands. I had found this tour on line and we paid $15.75 apiece. The ship’s tour cost $164.95 per person! That was a nice savings of $300.00 indeed. The tour was in an open boat holding about 40 people. There were several such boats and ours did not have any cruise passengers because we boarded through the company (Paracas Explorer – firstname.lastname@example.org) that sold us the tickets. The Ballestas Islands contain a variety of birds such as boobies, cormorants, pelicans and penguins as well as seals and dolphins. The birds provide a huge amount of guano, which is carefully guarded until it is removed and sold at a high price. The birds are evidently undisturbed by the removal process. On the way out we saw a huge carving on the side of a hill in the style of the ancient Nazca tribe. The boat trip took about two + hours and was well worth it, especially at $30.00 for both of us.
All the rest of our tour were HAL tours. A very nice guide book showing all the tours was provided, and there was a wide selection in most ports. After three sea, days we arrived at Punta Arenas, Costa Rica where we took a ships bus tour and enjoyed a local dance show and later a stop at a souvenir shop. Costa Rica is a very nice country with a stable democratic government, no army and one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
We did not get off the ship in Nicaragua, the next stop. The following day we toured the city of Antigua in Guatemala. This city is a UNESCO World Heritage site which means a real effort has been made at preservation. The first stop was the Jade Museum, where the presenter was a lady from Yorkshire. The individuals who discovered the jade were from Texas and the wife was present in the museum and store. The collection was quite beautiful. We also drove around town with a guide who was quite frank about the poor state of affairs in her country due to corruption and a concentration of wealth in 20 families. The literacy rate here is one of the worst in the world. But the cost of living is quite low.
After two sea days we arrived at Manzanillo, Mexico, which is a pleasant town, where we did a typical tour which was hardly memorable. The next day was spent in Puerto Vallarta, where we have spent some time in the past. The tour was fairly short and again, not exciting, but pleasant. After two sea days we arrived in San Diego. Disembarkation went smoothly.
We took this cruise for two reasons. The first was to finish the Inca Empire cruise which we had started five years ago. The second attraction was the number of sea days, and the way they were spaced. We find these days most relaxing. I was able to enjoy exercising in the pools, do a lot of reading, staring at the ocean, and of course, eat. So, while this was not our most exciting trip, it provided just what we wanted, 15 days at ease.