For me, there’s always this awesome level of anticipation when traveling on a new cruise line for the first time. While I have a European itinerary booked with Holland America for the fall, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit a couple of Central American countries on the MS Rotterdam out of Tampa in late February 2019. The MS Rotterdam is the second oldest ship in Holland America’s fleet, so I was definitely wary of the accessibility on the ship. Not only was I pleasantly surprised, but I was truly impressed by the ease of navigating around the ship and the overall class and decor. Here is my full wheelchair accessibility review of the Holland America MS Rotterdam.
Boarding and Disembarking
For this sailing, my friend and I boarded the MS Rotterdam in the Port of Tampa on the Florida West Coast. It was a very small terminal, but it’s a small ship, with a passenger capacity of just over 1,400 people. We dropped off our suitcases at the curb, parked in the fenced-in parking lot across the street, then easily walked/rolled over to the terminal for check-in. We did not have to wait long in line, and received our room keys and deck plans very easily and quickly. The gangway wasn’t steep at all and it was a very easy transition onto the ship.
We had four different ports of call, and I was very surprised that none of them were too steep or difficult for me to disembark. We did have some pretty high winds in Costa Maya, and that made the gangway move a little bit. However, it was flat enough that it didn’t cause any trouble for me to roll off the ship. The assistance for wheelchair users were very kind and helpful.
Relatively speaking, I booked this cruise at the last minute, so there was only one accessible stateroom left. This was a porthole stateroom with two twin beds, single-side accessible only. This means that there is not an option to put the twin beds together into one queen bed. That worked out well for me since I was traveling with a friend. In the photo below, you can see how the beds were set up in the room. I had plenty of space to maneuver in the room and there was a ton of storage space, with plenty of drawers and a closet for each of us.
The bathroom had a roll-under sink and a roll-in shower with a wide fold-down bench made of wood, not the plastic straps. The maneuvering space in the bathroom was pretty tight, and I have a small power chair. This is probably a direct result of the age of the ship, or possibly the location of the stateroom at the very front of the ship. The toilet is also positioned at an angle with respect to the wall as opposed to parallel with the grab bar, which may make a transfer awkward for some people. The dispensers for the shower gel and shampoo were also placed too high on the wall. I mentioned this to our cabin steward, and he brought me individual dispensers that I was able to place on the bench while showering.
The MS Rotterdam has fewer dining options than large cruise ships just because of its small size, and the hours are very limited, probably due to its older targeted demographic — seniors. there is only one main dining room, which is absolutely stunning and with pretty good service. However, I would dedicate at least 90 minutes for a meal, and give it two hours with dessert and coffee. The food was pretty good on most nights and not great on a couple of nights. There was plenty of space between the tables and chairs in the main dining room and I had no trouble maneuvering in my power chair.
Another option is the buffet on the Lido deck, where we ate several times just because our schedule didn’t align with our assigned time at the main dining room. Generally speaking, I despise buffets, but the food at this one on the MS Rotterdam was actually quite good. Their servers were also extremely friendly and were very good about bringing us beverages. Surprisingly, the buffet closes for dinner at 8 PM and not one minute later. This will probably not appeal to people who prefer to eat later or enjoy a midnight snack. The tables and chairs in the buffet area are more tightly spaced than the main dining room, but I was always able to find a comfortable place to sit.
There are two other fast food type dining venues on the ship — the Dive In Grill and New York Pizza. My friend and I enjoyed both on several occasions, with the grill offering things like hot dogs and hamburgers, and New York Pizza offering different types of pizzas and salads. The grill is located poolside, and there is a taco bar right in front of it. The pizza place is at the very back of the ship next to the small pool/hot tub. Please be aware that part of the seating in this area is designated for smokers, which may interfere with your meal if cigarette smoke bothers you.
I absolutely loved the beautiful theater on the MS Rotterdam! Because it’s such a small ship, on the lower level, it doesn’t even have individual seats. Rather, you will find long curved banquettes with small separators and little lamps. It felt more like a large lounge than an actual cruise ship theater, which made it more classy and intimate. There is designated accessible seating with individual chairs for companions on either side of the theater on the lower level.
There are some smaller entertainment venues throughout the ship, like the Explorer lounge, where you could hear a string quartet perform several times a day. There is also the Mix Bar, where you could hear Barry from Boston sing and play the piano for a very lively crowd of fans every night. There was always plenty of room at the Explorer lounge, but the Mix Bar gets pretty crowded in the evenings. People are very friendly and are more than happy to move the larger and heavy chairs out of the way if you need a space to park.
There are two pools on deck eight on the MS Rotterdam, one in the center of the ship and a tiny one in the back of the ship. The MS Rotterdam has a very cool retractable roof over the midship pool, and since we only got maybe 10 minutes of rain on one day, it was open for our entire cruise. It’s pretty cool that it turns that part of the deck into a solarium on rainy or colder days. Unfortunately, neither pool has a lift available.
The Spa and Salon
While I did not use the spa services on this ship, I did take a look at the treatment rooms and it is possible to fit a wheelchair inside of them. I also asked and was told that their treatment tables are adjustable in height. I did get my hair washed and blown out at the salon, and there was plenty of space for me to maneuver and enjoy my hair service without having to transfer from my chair.
Ports of Call
On this particular cruise, our ports of call were Key West, Santo Tomás de Castilla in Guatemala, Roatán in Honduras, and Costa Maya in Mexico. With the exception of Key West, which is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act since it is in the United States, I knew the other three ports of call would be very difficult for wheelchair users since accessible transportation and tours are either extremely limited or nonexistent. That being said, I have some flexibility with my power chair and physical abilities that allowed me to really enjoy these ports of call. Please see below for my accessibility reviews of each.
- Key West, Florida
- Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala
- Roatán (Mahogany Bay), Honduras
- Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico
Considering that I have been on slightly newer ships then the MS Rotterdam where I was very disappointed in the upkeep and decor in public spaces, I was stunned at how beautiful and new everything looked all over the ship. I believe its last refurbishment was in 2016, and the attention to detail really shows. The look is contemporary and modern, yet classy. The colors are all jewel-toned with wood accents and plenty of glass. I never felt crowded anywhere, and the transition between spaces was very smooth. There were sliding glass doors between the pool areas and the buffet and hallways, which I loved. The only place I had any difficulty was going out onto the lower deck for the muster drill. Those wooden doors are heavy and the threshold to go outside was ramped but pretty rough. Again, this is due to the age of the ship and they did the best they could. There were plenty of people around to help me with the door, but that was the only time I needed to go out there.
Our ship was not completely sold out, but it was full enough. I never felt crowded anywhere, and my friend and I never had trouble finding a place to sit by the pools for a meal or in the buffet restaurant. The casino was never busy, and easy to roll through. The shops were a little tighter in between display cabinets and shelves, but I didn’t spend much time there. As you can see in the photos, the hallways were very wide and there were plenty of areas to sit quietly and read with tons of space. My friend and I also thoroughly enjoyed the huge library and game room.
Generally speaking, Holland America caters to a much older demographic, and that was very obvious on this MS Rotterdam itinerary. if you are looking for a jam-packed daily ship’s schedule filled with lively activities on board, then this is not the cruise for you. This is easily the most low-key cruise I have ever been on, but it’s also the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a cruise. My friend and I were probably the youngest on the ship by at least 20 or 30 years, and we were totally okay with that. There are no big production shows in the evenings, and performers were either singers, comedians, magicians, or a combination of those three. The most raucous place in the evenings was at the piano bar, but live music performances throughout the day are only scheduled in 45 minute blocks. After 11 PM, the ship is a ghost town. There is also no music played by the pool at all, either live or recorded, and this actually disappointed many of the older passengers as well.
I almost always cruise alone, and I was grateful to have a friend with me for this itinerary. We were able to pass the time during the many gaps in the ship’s schedule by playing backgammon in the library or just having lengthy conversations by the pool after a long leisurely lunch. If I were cruising solo, I probably would’ve spent much of that time working on my laptop or needing to find something to read. This may or may not appeal to you depending on your travel style.
Are you ready to book an accessible cruising adventure on Holland America’s MS Rotterdam? Then contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so we can get started!