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Cruise Ship Review
Holland America Line

Rotterdam VI

World Cruise Segment

by John Blinn

Rotterdam VI 1998 World Cruise Segment from Cape Town

Rotterdam VI

This year Therese and I couldn't do the entire World Cruise but great fun on the all-too-short Rotterdam VI December 15th sailing (just after the ship made her maiden crossing to Fort Lauderdale and just after the press and travel agents had their first looks) intrigued me/us. So I signed up to sail from Cape Town with a pre-cruise safari and Therese joined the ship in Rio. Here are some of my impressions.

Getting there

Seems a strange highlight but my two overnight flights (thirteen hours Austin-Frankfurt and twelve hours Frankfurt to Johannesburg) were pleasantly punctuated with a day room at the (and it really is) wonderful Sheraton at the wonderful Frankfurt airport (and it is that too as the busiest airport in Europe PLUS a train station PLUS a full shopping mall PLUS etc., etc.). A quick shower, one hour nap, then a tour of the city, a little food and on my way.

Zimbabwe and South Africa

First, yes the animals really are still there. What you see is a matter of luck and the skill of your guide but I saw probably 50-60 elephants, several types of antelope, monkeys, baboons, warthogs and hippos. Just like Dr. Livingstone, I cruised down the Zambesi River at sundown but with a little more comfort.

Didn't know it when I booked but my pre-cruise safari was the same week as President Clinton's visit to Africa. His trip and all the press turned the original pre-cruise itinerary upside-down but it was still great fun. I leap-frogged ahead/behind him and as a result got to see lots of preparations (shiny green helicopters with "The United States of America" on the side guarded by VERY serious Marines, my hotel in Johannesburg was the White House Press Headquarters, and I was probably one hundred yards away when Air Force One when President Bill landed and taxied up for the official welcome to Johannesburg). Saw Cape Town and Robben Island (from a distance) the day after Presidents Clinton and Mandela visited the latter's former cell.

People everywhere were extremely gracious, but when my Johannesburg guide (a British ex-pat twenty five years in Johannesburg) took me downtown at 9am on Sunday morning, and assault vehicles were on every street corner with 12-15 soldiers in full body armor with machine guns at the ready, and then answered my question about crime since 1994 with "Well, it's not really any worse for me, personally, just a mugging, and break-ins to my car and flat," said both matter-of-fact and not cheerlessly, I decided a longer stay was not in my plans.

The Southern Crossing (Cape Town to Buenos Aires)

Well, on the plus side, not as bad as last year (the Northern crossing--Portugal to NYC), but six days of 30-50 foot seas and gale force winds really do take a little out of you.

South America

Buenos Aires was even more than I expected. Unbelievable early twentieth century architecture (classic and art-deco), very daring modern architecture, and probably as much style in the people of that one city than in all of the rest of the world combined. It's Milan as the Milanese wish it were. And, yes, I did get to see the balcony from which Madonna--I mean Evita--made all those speeches. I loved it--all of it!!!!

 

Montevideo has a bit of a complex. It has a better port than Buenos Aires and it's never declared war on England, but why then is it second or third to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janiero? Perhaps the answer is lack of style or vision.

All the highlights of my visit to Rio occurred in the first few hours. First, we sailed at noon into what most agree is the most beautiful harbor in the world--past Sugarloaf, the fantasy beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, saw the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the peak of Corcovado--and then I saw Therese waiting on the pier in a bright red jacket! (She'd been waiting since her plane landed at 8:30am!) Only 3 weeks since she put me on the plane but great to be together again (and now I had someone to do those Latin dances with!). Maybe (but only maybe) the only thing that would have added to Rio was getting tickets like a friend did to the Rolling Stones Bridges to Babylon concert in Rio and, as she was with several very tall engineers from the ship AND the venue was open-seating, they got as close as the barricades would permit (and yes, she said, Keith really does have a LOT of wrinkles BUT HE IS SO COOL!!!!! Her words, not mine but I sure agree).

Then up the coast to ... well, the best description is another friend's: "cities none of us have ever heard of but all of which are larger than Miami!" Why is it all we hear of Brazil are the problems with the rainforest when it's become the fourth largest economy in the world?!?!

And then Trinidad

Maybe it's more Caribbean than South American, but with its large Indian population it's hard to capsule it at all. There we saw exquisite beaches, ate deep-fried shark on pita bread (with mango, tamarind and garlic sauces) and floated through the mangrove swamps to see Scarlet Ibis. Wow!!

As for the ship, the Rotterdam VI is certainly a worthy successor to the Rotterdam V we were on last year. The furnishings are magnificent, it rides pretty well and with less draft than its predecessor and can go places the latter never could. On the trip around the world this year eight people didn't make their full itinerary but what a way to go. As a friend says, "You only live once but if you do it right, once is enough".

Line

John Blinn is a musician and lives in Austin, Texas. John and his partner, Therese Ruffing, are regular cruisers, love to take Holland America Line's World Cruises, and love talking about cruising. They can be reached for questions or comment at: 74357.1053@compuserve.com.


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