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Cruise Ship Review

ms Prinsendam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Prinsendam, Holland America's smallest vessel, is considered its pathfinder. This is the ship to choose if far-away destinations, longer-than-usual itineraries and superb value for money are key factors in selecting a cruise -- especially because Holland America has continued to upgrade and refurbish Prinsendam since acquiring the ship from Seabourn in 2002.

The latest major upgrade was completed in late 2007 and the ship now carries on more Holland America traditions. It's got the line's signature Explorations Cafe by the New York Times, a lovely reading room and library. The Pinnacle Grill, Holland America's alternative restaurant that serves Northwest-inspired cuisine, has a fresh look and new menus. Cabins were refreshed with new carpets. And the ship, which has never been marketed as a family-friendly member of the HAL fleet, now operates the Club HAL kids' program (though there's no dedicated facility and counselors are only onboard during holidays when multi-generational groups are likely to be traveling).

This "Elegant Explorer" sails on longer range, exotic itineraries, including a Grand World Voyage and several Grand Voyages to destinations including Antarctica and the Mediterranean and Black Sea. The ship sails 14- to 73-day itineraries.

Originally named the Royal Viking Sun when it debuted in 1988, and later the Seabourn Sun, the vessel has always been one where passenger comforts rank high with officers and crew. That philosophy has continued with Holland America. The ship's guest relations desk, for example, is visited daily by passengers who just want to say "hi" to staff rather than to voice a complaint.

"As You Wish" dining was introduced on Prinsendam in May 2008, allowing guests to select either traditional pre-set seating or dining on a flexible schedule from 5:15 until 9 p.m. daily.

Ultimately, one of the most delightful aspects of Prinsendam is that it is utterly unique within the HAL fleet -- despite the many features, facilities and amenities consistent with newer, bigger vessels. It's still by and large a ship for more mature travelers who want classic style cruising and contemporary conveniences.

Dining

Prinsendam's main dining room, La Fontaine, is beautiful, with lovely cut glass chandeliers and sconces in the shape of flower blossoms. Wraparound windows offer views of the ever-changing sea and sky.

Dinner was once a set-seating, set-tablemates experience -- but the "As You Wish" program changed things a bit, introducing set and flexible meal times. In other words, one section of La Fontaine is dedicated to traditional guests who've chosen an early or late seating and the other to those who can dine on their own schedule.

Breakfast and lunch are already open seating.

The Lido works well for breakfast, lunch and casual dinners with its outside deck and inside tables, and a cadre of stewards who will carry trays and refill drinks. Breakfast specials might include biscuits and gravy, Dutch style apple pancakes, or a breakfast burrito.

At lunch, individual pizzas, freshly made sandwiches and a choice of cooked-to-order entrees are on tap, as well as the usual steam-tray offerings. Dinner entrees often mirror those in the dining room, and may include fish, veal, steak and chicken. There are vegetarian dishes available at lunch and dinner.

The Terrace Grill does the burger thing nicely, also offering hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and French fries.

For a truly special meal, consider the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America's signature alternative restaurant offering Northwest specialties. That doesn't mean only salmon (though it is special). You'll also find crab and shrimp cakes, halibut, outstanding lamb and steaks, and a really brilliant onion soup. Other specials include a duck breast with pickled Walla Walla onions and Dungeness crab legs. Expect to pay a $15 cover charge for lunch on sea days and $30 for dinner.

Room service is offered 24 hours a day.

Passengers with dietary needs should advise the cruise line at the time of booking. Special food-related events are offered on all cruises and include both Dutch and Indonesian themed dinners and Royal Dutch tea. Other themed meals focus on regional specialties as the ship sails around the world.

Public Rooms

The 424-seat Queen's Lounge, Prinsendam's main theater, features the latest in high-tech lighting and acoustics. Performances include song and dance shows and classical concerts. During the day, the theater serves as a venue for dance lessons and lectures.

Other Holland America stalwarts are represented on Prinsendam, too. We always love the Ocean Bar; on Prinsendam, it's situated in the center of the ship's main public deck and so offers fabulous people-watching at just about any time. The Bar's blue leather banquettes are tucked under windows facing the Promenade, and its brushed chrome banisters are curved like waves upon the sea. The Ocean Bar is also a cozy location for taking in a shipboard seminar or meeting friends for drinks. There's a bandstand and dance floor as well.

The Explorers Lounge, another Holland America tradition, is another impressive space, featuring mahogany-stained wooden walls, old fashioned (the thick kind) Venetian blinds covering the windows, and leather armchairs with seats just long -- and wide -- enough to encourage passengers to tuck in and get lost in a great book or stimulating conversation.

By far, Explorations Cafe is one of the best innovations at sea today. The sprawling room has a lot of comfy chairs in which to read or watch the sea, an extensive library, puzzles, music listening stations and a very sleek and well-equipped Internet cafe, offering laptop computer rentals and access to wireless Internet connections. Explorations Cafe is busiest on sea days, but a hardcore popular spot on all Holland America ships -- and though new to Prinsendam, it didn't take passengers long to discover it on my voyage!

Though on the small side, the casino is laid out well and features table games as well as slots (we were amused to find some 10 cent machines).

The Java Cafe is set right next to the casino. Note: This is not part of Explorations Cafe where coffee bars are located on Holland America ships. Though small and dark, the Java Cafe is pretty and offers not only coffee and tea, but also espresso and cappuccino -- at no extra charge. A tray of sweet delicacies is always at the ready and the coffee always tastes fresh. A big screen television set parlays the room into a kind of sports bar.

The Oak Room's dark wood walls, leather furnishings and (fake) fireplace are reminiscent of the stodgy gentlemen's clubs of yesteryear. Women are cheerfully admitted in this smoker's lounge, however. Other public room highlights include the Erasmus Library and the Half Moon (card and game) area. Holland America's signature Crow's Nest observation lounge is featured topside. A grand piano sets the tone for the evening entertainment here, which is usually low-key and traditional but at times raucous, depending upon the crowd.

The Wajang Theater and Culinary Arts Center does double duty showing recently released films -- with complimentary popcorn -- and offering one of the best cooking programs at sea. You can participate in intimate cooking classes (extra charge) and tasting events (usually involving a surcharge), and attend larger scale presentations by onboard and guest chefs.

Auction art collections are showcased in a lovely, wood-paneled boutique with windows fronting the promenade deck.

Cabins

Nowadays, most cabins are built at a factory and slotted in at the shipyard, resulting in identical accommodations across ships, fleets and even cruise lines. Prinsendam is unique in that its cabins aren't pre-fabricated -- and so some staterooms are irregularly shaped. Prinsendam does boast the usual range of staterooms and suites: inside, outside and verandah categories are represented, all typically a bit smaller than those on the line's newer ships.

The ship has a 38 percent ratio of cabins with balconies, which is a low number these days, but it's important to note that Prinsendam was built a good decade before balconies became a common feature. If you prefer balcony cabins, it's best to book early, as staterooms with verandahs sell out quickly.

Many cabin categories on the Prinsendam feature walk-in closets. And, a good number of even the smallest-sized cabins have generous bathrooms, with full-length tubs, upgraded fixtures and color schemes. Another nice touch: The line offers single cabins, which means passengers traveling solo are not forced to book a double stateroom (and pay the extra surcharge).

Suites, of course, offer additional amenities, including separate sleeping and living areas, curved sofas with large coffee tables, and longer verandahs. The bathrooms in Superior Verandah Suites encompass two areas connected by a door; one side contains a large tub and sink, the other a toilet and sink. This ingenious design certainly eases the "getting ready for dinner" rush. Holland America has built some special garden villa cabins out onto the Promenade's Aft Deck; these "lanai" cabins have semiprivate terraces, surrounded by glass. Passengers who book these cabins have sole use of this particular aft area's amenities, which include tables for al fresco dining and a whirlpool.

On this ship, it really does pay to splurge on more expensive accommodations. Higher priced digs come with use of the Neptune Lounge, which occupies a lovely space, featuring stained glass insets -- not to mention all-day coffee, tea and snack services; newspapers; a private library with books and games; and an excellent selection of Lonely Planet guidebooks. The Neptune Lounge also has its own verandah -- it runs right up to the edge of the bridge.

Entertainment

You won't be bored, day or night, as entertainment truly runs the gamut onboard Prinsendam. You might encounter a performer whistling Schubert's "Ave Maria" or a juggler who also tells jokes, a swing clarinetist or a singer and his ukulele. On our cruise, there was a classical music concert, regional performances by dancers and musicians in ports of call, and talent shows put on by Indonesian and Filipino staff. A roster of assorted musicians, vocalists and ventriloquists round out the program on long cruises.

Shows are generally offered twice nightly and programming is planned for lengthy voyages.

Activities vary during the day, especially when the ship is at sea. You can take a rumba lesson or play bingo. Speakers lecture about politics, sociology, geology, history and the environment, and offer insights on the history and culture of ports of call. There are also classes in digital camera and computer use.

Shore excursion offerings are plentiful, but are mainly geared toward less active travelers.

Fitness and Recreation

The gym is smallish, but offers yoga, Pilates and spinning, and features new exercise and weight-training equipment. The Greenhouse Spa & Salon, a Steiner, Ltd. offering, is extremely attractive. It features a Greco-Roman theme replete with columns and murals and offers all of the traditional spa rituals and beauty salon features. A massage and a facial both left me feeling well pampered.

The wonderful Promenade deck is unobstructed and a quarter-mile in length. Don't miss the chance to participate in Holland America's "Walk for the Cure" program; passengers all walk together in support of breast cancer research on a designated day.

Lap swimming is suitable in the aft deck pool. The main pool area -- outside on the Lido deck -- is the most crowded area on the ship.

Family

As noted, there's a nominal Club HAL program; activities are held in the Stuyvesant Room only when kids are onboard and counselors are available during holiday periods -- but this is not a ship that markets to families with children.

Fellow Passengers

Prinsendam appeals to well-educated, well-traveled passengers. They are inveterate travelers -- primarily from North America and the U.K. -- in their late 50's and older. You won't be dazzled by diamonds on this ship (although I spotted some "beauts"), but you will be awed by the intelligence, curiosity and enthusiasm of your fellow passengers.

Dress Code

Country club casual is the norm, but count on a few formal nights per cruises and as scheduled on longer voyages. Formal can be anything from a dark suit to a white dinner jacket for men and a sequined ball gown to a glitzy silk short over pants for women. Shorts and sleeveless T-shirts are never worn in dining rooms.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--updated by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

--updated by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--updated by Marcia Levin, Cruise Critic contributor.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.

Dining

Prinsendam's main dining room, La Fontaine, is beautiful, with lovely cut glass chandeliers and sconces in the shape of flower blossoms. Wraparound windows offer views of the ever-changing sea and sky.

Dinner was once a set-seating, set-tablemates experience -- but the "As You Wish" program changed things a bit, introducing set and flexible meal times. In other words, one section of La Fontaine is dedicated to traditional guests who've chosen an early or late seating and the other to those who can dine on their own schedule.

Vista also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

Breakfast and lunch are already open seating.

The Lido works well for breakfast, lunch and casual dinners with its outside deck and inside tables, and a cadre of stewards who will carry trays and refill drinks. Breakfast specials might include biscuits and gravy, Dutch style apple pancakes, or a breakfast burrito.

At lunch, individual pizzas, freshly made sandwiches and a choice of cooked-to-order entrees are on tap, as well as the usual steam-tray offerings. Dinner entrees often mirror those in the dining room, and may include fish, veal, steak and chicken. There are vegetarian dishes available at lunch and dinner.

The Terrace Grill does the burger thing nicely, also offering hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and French fries.

For a truly special meal, consider the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America's signature alternative restaurant offering Northwest specialties. That doesn't mean only salmon (though it is special). You'll also find crab and shrimp cakes, halibut, outstanding lamb and steaks, and a really brilliant onion soup. Other specials include a duck breast with pickled Walla Walla onions and Dungeness crab legs. Expect to pay a $15 cover charge for lunch on sea days and $30 for dinner.

Room service is offered 24 hours a day.

Passengers with dietary needs should advise the cruise line at the time of booking. Special food-related events are offered on all cruises and include both Dutch and Indonesian themed dinners and Royal Dutch tea. Other themed meals focus on regional specialties as the ship sails around the world.

Cruise Critic

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