Just came back from sailing on the Rotterdam, 10 cruise to Panama Canal, 2/22 to 3/3/04. To describe this cruise in one line: the perfect cruise, paradise at sea! This is our 9th cruise, after being a Celebrity Cruises x 4 never expected to like any other cruise line better until now, HAL has earned my business with quality service near perfection. We were in Cabin 3429 which is Cat D, Aft Lower Promenade, wheelchair accessible cabin, (I travel with my mother (70s), who must have a walk-in shower and shower chair/bench to sit while in the shower due to severe arthritis and heart disease). Also traveled with my friend who is a Cerebral Palsy adult woman, totally wheelchair bound, and her parents (60s), they were in Cat C, #6104, excellent cabin, very spacious, accommodates 3 adults comfortably. The ship is beautiful, the art work is magnificent, you find paintings, sculptures, etc. everywhere you look, even the ceilings and floors have art work. Don't miss the ceiling at the Tropic Bar or the inlay floor at the Explorer's Lounge. The Queens Lounge is beautiful, comfortable chairs and high back half moon sofas, the only drawback is that the theater feels like an icebox, so make sure to bring a sweater/jacket/shawl. The Sports Bar has a nice large TV, watched some of the Oscars there and had a lot of fun. The Atrium is very elegant, the Atrium Clock Tower is awesome, I loved Atlas holding the World on top. You will find beautiful fresh flower arrangements everywhere, and I mean everywhere, the entire cruise! We took one afternoon after lunch (to sort of walk off the calories) and walked the entire ship, sort of a "treasure hunt", and it was well worth it because we found such beautiful art work we felt we had spent the afternoon at a museum! A very important detail: HAL has on board a Catholic priest on all ships, therefore, Catholic Mass is celebrated daily for passengers during the day and for staff during the night. Also has Nondenominational services several times during the cruise. This sailing included Ash Wednesday and both Catholic and Nondenominational services were given including imposition of ashes. This is the first time I travel on any line that offers daily mass, for me, this was the icing on the cake of the perfect cruise being able to rest, have fun, feed my body and most definitely, feed my spirit with daily prayer. Thank you HAL! Found the best music at the Explorer's Lounge and the Ocean Bar, only went to Crows Nest on Latin Music Night but it was a bit disappointing. The shows were good and the Rotterdam Cast is actually very good, choreography is very alive and well done considering the limited space, of course, is not Broadway or Vegas, but is very good for cruise line shows, the best I've seen; the last formal evening show called "Underseas Follies" was really good, beautiful stage design and costumes, and the music delightful. We skipped the shows on first and last evenings, chose to unpack and pack instead without being rushed. Other evenings shows included pianist Tommy Bond (magnificent!), juggler Bob Cates and magician Russ Stevens (didn't go to the shows, I don't like these type of shows but my friends said they were very good), singer Jeff Harnar was magnificent too, great voice! Don't miss the Indonesian Crew Show, it is really beautiful, and you can tell how hard they have worked and how much they enjoy it, something not to miss, I loved it! The Tropical Deck Party while in Curacao was a lot of fun and the fireworks leaving Curacao were wonderful, have never had so much fun leaving a port at night as we did in Curacao except for leaving San Juan at midnight with Celebrity's Caribbean Pool Party (they are tied for first place in my book). The onboard shops are average for a cruise ship, nothing spectacular, limited selection of perfumes, none of the good quality ones, such as Boucheron or 24K by Jivago. The Shore Excursions we chose were low activity due to my mother's health but I feel they were good and had a great time: in Curacao we did the Williamstead Trolley which is fair in quality and found it expensive for only one hour of tour (they say 1-3/4 but is not true), afterwards did some good shopping: good leather bags, beautiful cotton embroidered women's clothing, good priced perfumes and jewelry (must know your prices in the US beforehand, be smart shopper). In Aruba we took the Aruba Town and Country Tour which was very nice, visited Eagle Beach (gorgeous), Lighthouse, Aloe Farm and Plant, Casibari Rocks, and of course Natural Bridge which is very beautiful, nice gift shop at this last stop. The shopping in Aruba is also very good but a bit more expensive. For T-shirts the best prices were in Costa Rica (they sell them for $5 at the pier market). The Panama Canal was an unforgettable experience, we were lucky to go into the Canal at sunrise and leave during sunset, you can just picture the scenery! We took the Gatun Landing, too expensive, some people chose to swim in the Lake but I thought it looked a bit too cloudy for my safety, and chose just to browse at the crafts and watch the entertainment which was fair but interesting; they had a group of Panamanian teens dressed with their typical Panamanian costumes and dance folkloric dances which were quite beautiful, also included a couple of dances by the Cuna Indians and a couple of dances by the Embera Indians (I feel this last group bring their teen girls topless just for show and money, because I found that the older women were not topless, so the line that this is their way of life did not convinced me, also I speak Spanish and was able to talk to them and found that this is not how they "dress" typically except at home). The crafts they bring are beautiful and some very good quality, not expensive at all. In Costa Rica we took the Limon Sightseeing and truly enjoyed, our driver Miguel was terrific, he would get off the bus with his machete and bring us different fruits, flowers, leaves, etc for us to hold, smell, and taste, if desired. We were able to hold water apples, the banana flower with tiny banana buds inside, cocoa fruit with cocoa butter and beans inside (they taste good), and a fruit that looks like strawberry with pine needles but the needles have a spice similar to paprika to flavor and color food, also saw the Ylang-Ylang flower and able to enjoy its fragrance. Our tour guide, Zelma, was great and informative on Costa Rica's lifestyle, economy, history, etc. They took us to the Dole Plantation (had a souvenir shop, expensive except for good flavored liquor such as Macademia Liquor: to die for!) and also stopped at a resort called Colon Beach Resort which was a beautiful place, with hammocks, typical Costa Rican music and food, and some upscale souvenirs, nice handmade macrame bags and good quality khaki and cotton clothing. However, the best souvenir shopping is right at the pier market, they have the best prices, T-shirts for $5, leather hand-painted bookmarks for $1 and beautiful lacquered wood hand-painted magnets for $1-2, beautiful leather bags with engraving for $20-35 but you better bargain because they will give you a much higher price and you can bring them down as much as $20, (all these prices are USD). The private island of Half Moon Cay is absolutely gorgeous, I have never seen a more beautiful private island (have been to Princess Cay, Coco Cay, and Labadee), the beach is out of this world and this is coming from a Cuban born American who remembers as a child going to Varadero in Cuba: the beach at HMC is exactly the same: white, fine powdery sand (like confectioner’s sugar), and perfect warm, crystal clear turquoise water, we had the best time here; HAL has beautiful facilities, walkways are concrete tiles, therefore, allowing for steady walking and wheelchairs, restrooms are clean and well stocked of supplies, plenty of beach lounge chairs (there were two ships at HMC: Rotterdam and Maasdam) and plenty of chairs for everyone, we did not go for water sports, I just love to swim and enjoy the clear waters but I heard that snorkeling was perfect, we did take walks around the island and it is beautiful; the shops are nothing to write home about unless you want your hair braided or want some Bahamian straw items; the food at HMC: terrific BBQ, the ribs were really good, lots of fruits and ice cold beverages, service the best as always. The food on the Rotterdam is excellent, beautiful presentation, did not find anything I did not like, the service in the La Fontaine Restaurant was very good, both waiter (Budy) and his assistant (Gusty) remembered our names and preferences immediately, never had to remind them again of anything, always attentive to our needs; the Lido staff is great, always ready to help my mother with her tray (she uses a cane), the food was well prepared and the variety at Lunch was good, we even went to the Lido one night (chose to be outside while crossing the Panama Canal at night and missed dinner at the restaurant)and dinner at the Lido was just as good as the restaurant; we also went to the Pinnacle Grill at Odyssey on the first evening (it was half price) and it was the best dining experience I've had in a long time, excellent gourmet five course dining with magnificent service and good wine selection, had the famous Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano which is to die for. On Dutch Night we wore the Dutch hats, that was different, felt a bit silly at first, but then joined the crowd and even had my picture taken, the food was awesome, had Dutch Pea Soup and Dover Sole which were great, and dessert was the most beautiful and delicious Hard Chocolate Tulip (sort of like a chocolate cup shaped as a tulip) filled with Belgian Chocolate Mousse, do I need to say more? Every night the menu was very good, with many dishes to choose from, sometimes it was hard to make a decision, I enjoyed them all, had some kind of prawns, shrimp, lobster or crab legs every night whether as appetizer or main course; on the last formal night we had caviar as appetizer (first time I have caviar on a cruise without having to pay extra). The Lido Breakfast and Lunch choices were good. The cleanliness of this ship considering its age is very good, yes the ship needs some painting on the outside but otherwise is holding up beautifully. The restrooms are very clean, I was impressed to find real cotton towels in the restrooms, I must admit I’ve never seen this before anywhere! We found that the restroom next to the Queens Lounge on Deck 5 has very large windows with beautiful ocean views while you are sitting down doing your hair and makeup, awesome! Photographic services needs a bit of improvement but this is a personal opinion, I am tall and some of the photographers are about 5 ft tall, therefore, most of my photos don't look good from a lower view and always had the flash reflected on my glasses, tried without glasses but they were not much better either, next time I will look for the taller photographers! The Filipino and Indonesian staff is great, always with smile, they remember your name all the time, even the staff from the Front Office, I was truly impressed. The Wajang Theater is very comfortable, watched a couple of movies, and enjoyed the "free" popcorn. The Java Cafe is great, being able to have my espressos and cappuccinos anytime, without extra cost, was definitely a plus on this cruise, I hope HAL never changes this because it is definitely a quality service we all enjoyed. I must be fair in my review, therefore, I will now give you my opinion on the only drawback of the entire cruise for us which is something that HAL needs to work on: disabled services; the cabins are spacious, the restrooms comfortable, safety bars are well placed and can be reached easily but services to the wheelchair bound person is not that good; for example: there are quite a few viewing decks which are not accessible by electric wheelchairs due to a high door frame on the floor of about 3 inches such as those found on the doors to the viewing decks on Aft Deck 8 and Aft Deck 6; also the front of the ship viewing deck on Aft Deck 3 can only be reached through several stairs, therefore, not even accessible if you have limited mobility like my mother who must avoid stairs; some the doorways have a large metal bar which can cause anyone to either trip over it or an electric wheelchair or scooter to loose balance; HAL says they have a lift on the Rotterdam but when we ask to have my friend lifted to the tender at HMC they said it must be “requested 24 hrs in advance” which is totally senseless since we got on board on Sunday afternoon and reached HMC on Monday morning! Then at Panama Canal we didn’t even try because since we didn’t know if the lift would be appropriate for her electric wheelchair, why pay $39 excursion in advance required to get off the ship in the Canal? As to the process of using tenders HAL can learn from Royal Caribbean: RCI has these large tenders in both Coco Cay and Labadee where no lift is required since the tender is like a small ferry-boat where you do not need to use stairs since there is a ramp to get on and off the tender, we have used it at both RCI private islands easily and safely with my friend’s wheelchair, and in both places she had the opportunity to enjoy a day at the beach, even go swimming with our help and a large lifesaver. I will be writing to HAL to recommend that they contact RCI regarding these tenders because considering the average age of the HAL pax and the numerous scooters, wheelchairs, and walkers I saw on the Rotterdam, the larger tenders are much safer for everyone. The days at sea were very relaxing or very active, depending on your choice, a lot of different activities were offered as active as exercises and dancing classes and as relaxing as Bingo, it was fun to watch a group playing golf at the pool; the pools and whirlpools are very clean and easily accessible if you are able to walk and can manage 4-6 smalls steps, lots of lounge chairs by the pool and at several sun decks, having a covered pool proved to be very handy on a couple of days at sea which were extremely windy, even the pools had “waves”. The wrap-around deck on Lower Promenade Deck 3 is wonderful, great place to walk off the calories, and great teak cushioned lounge chairs perfect for that afternoon nap or reading (my mother napped and I read); walking around this deck on the Rotterdam x 3.5 is equal one mile, we did two miles in the morning and two miles in the afternoon which does not take long and is relaxed cool walking with the ocean breeze, we enjoyed immensely and it helped to burn off some of the desserts calories! Besides the tender issue, every thing else was just perfect. I hope I didn't forget to include anything, but I can most definitely summarize this trip as my best cruise thus far, and will be returning to HAL again and again, and most definitely will be back on the Rotterdam again, what a true class ship, a lady at sea!