Holland America Line Maasdam by Bob Eastern Caribbean November 16, 2003
I sometimes wonder if real people actually submit reviews of their cruise. My wife and I have sailed often on Holland America ships (more than 20 times) and have yet to be disappointed...perhaps we are not so critical of small details, perhaps we are more understanding of cruising.
All of Holland America's ships are great...each has a different theme, but all are elegant. Even the old Westerdam, which had an entire mid-section added to the ship was clean, well cared for, and a delight to be on.
The Maasdam is no exception. The ship was recently updated and was spotless. Every crew member seemed genuinely interested in seeing that the passengers enjoyed their cruise. In only a day or two, crew members in every service area (dining room, lounges, bars, cabins) knew your name and your preferences.
Dinners in the Rotterdam Dining Room were, without exception, great....the service was great, the food was well prepared and presented, and the wait staff was friendly. My wife and I have sailed often enough to skip the entertainment in the show room and, instead, relax in theExplorer Lounge, where a trio (from Romania) played show tunes, requests, and popular music. What a relaxing way to end an evening. The young ladies who served drinks and chocolates during the music were teriffic.....they were personable, friendly, and knew our names after one night....they even knew what we would order for drinks.
The only showroom visit we usually make is the Crew Show....where the wait-staff or the bar-staff provide a wonderful show featuring dances and songs from their homeland. This show, one night only, is not to be missed...not only is it thoroughly enjoyable, it's fun to see your waiter or bar attendant in the show.
In our opinion, no cruise line offers a better value, elegance, and service than Holland America.
Everyone who travels needs to understand that sometimes things happen....maybe a steak not done the way you like it, maybe someone forgot something you requested, or something went wrong with the facilities......it happens and can't be prevented...just enjoy the trip!
PS: Holland America's private island is probably the best of all cruise lines...the facilities are clean, beautiful, and the BBQ can't be beat.
Holland America Line Maasdam by Julian & Sheila Davies Eastern Caribbean September 8, 2002
Review: GOOD THINGS about this cruise- just about everything!!
I'm more into music than food, so if you need culinary details please read a different review.
BAD THINGS about this cruise (let's get this over and done with)-
1. While the ship was in port on September 11 at San Juan, I stood on the sports deck at about 9 p.m. and looked down at the gangway at the people coming back to the on board. With one gangway for both passengers and crew, manned by two officers, I noticed a marked difference between the security procedures used for passengers and those used for crew. Each passenger was required to show his ship I.D. card and a separate picture I.D., such as a driver's license or a passport. The officers made a big show of physically taking the I.D. cards and checking the picture against the passenger's face. By contrast, crew members walked fast up to the gangway holding out their I.D.s, often in groups of two or three and were casually waved on the by crewmember and officer on duty.
Atthe time I thought this system seemed a little casual, but later, thinking about it, I became quite angry. Unless there's a separate system onboard for all the crewmembers to be processed, which I doubt, there's no way that the officers on duty would know every other crewmember's face, with more than 500 crew on board and some of them leaving or starting out every week. This didn't look like a true security operation. When gun-wielding maniacs attack companies in the United States, the damage is done not by customers (passengers) but by disgruntled employees (crew). We think this is one of the few areas where Holland America needs improvement.
2. Port Everglades Embarkation- the process was easy, but it's not a good idea for the clerk to pretend seriously that our names were not registered for cabin 738 and to make up another couple's names as being in there. We laughed it off, but with all the screw-ups that can and do happen it was no time for practical jokes and another couple might have been very nervous or deeply offended. He's probably still doing this for each cruise, thinking how cute he is.
3. Port Everglades Disembarkation. Very slick at getting us briskly off the ship, but they wouldn't let anybody sit in the air-conditioned hall and we all had to stand outside with the fumes and the noise from buses and cabs and the shouting of deputies directing traffic. Quite a lot of elderly passengers were outside with not as much as a bench to sit on. Not providing seats in the air-conditioned hall for people waiting for connections or rides means Holland America leaves a very bad last impression after the crew busted their humps to give us a great vacation.
OVERALL We had cruised once before on Celebrity's Century in 2000 and had a terrific time. We were tempted to take that cruise again but decided on the Maasdam for purposes of comparison. Our conclusion- we would happily go on either line again- they're both class acts with much in common but with a few interesting differences. While we felt the food was a little better on Celebrity, we prefer the traditional decoration of the Maasdam and the smaller size of the ship. Everybody on the Century did a superb job, but we got the impression that the Maasdam crew enjoyed their lives on board more. Several of the Indonesian waiters and bar staff quickly learned our names and service was prompt and accurate. Shore excursion and front desk personnel did just fine and we were impressed that on the final morning the Captain himself was in the hallway helping to direct passengers.
FOOD Food was plentiful and tasty, with one or two slight disappointments. The lobster on the last formal night was not the same quality as the Beef Wellington, but the Baked Alaska was great. We enjoyed the wide choice in the Lido buffet with fresh fruit for every breakfast and lunch. I particularly enjoyed having a lot of smoked salmon for breakfast, and the French Toast was outstanding.
Our waiters in the Rotterdam dining room worked swiftly and precisely and never messed up an order. As far as the "tipping not required" policy we actually tipped as much as we would have on another line and a little more for the bar staff and Henke.
Henke is one of Holland America's best ambassadors. He's probably about 21 years old, he stands at the beginning of the buffet line handing out trays and silverware, "glued to the floor" as he says. But he talks to every passenger and makes them feel welcome and comfortable, and by the first day he had a lot of names memorized. On the last day he said he would be going home for a break soon. I asked him what he would do at home. He responded, "Sleep like a polar bear".
ENTERTAINMENT John Challenger, the Cruise Director, was capable, experienced and very funny. He could do his own stand-up comedy show.
Edge the juggler combined excellent juggling and humor. We met him briefly and he was very friendly.
Dwayne Cunningham, the comedian, had us crying with laughter more than once. And you can take your children to his show; in fact he likes to talk with the kids in the audience.
Greg Frewin, the magician, is one of the best in the world. He gave us a spectacular show with doves and parrots and sawing the girl in two one evening and the next afternoon a smaller show with some clever card tricks. Extremely professional. One very small suggestion, Greg. You could use a little better material in dealing with hecklers than just saying "This is my show, Sir. I'll make the jokes." You need to embarrass them more than that.
The Maasdam Cast are hard working boy and girl dancers and singers. We skipped one show, but the second show, "Party Gras" featured amazing costumes. Their girl singer, I think her name was Christa, was a real pleasure to listen to. The three male dancers were in three sizes- muscle builder, medium and skinny. The choreographer did a good job of keeping medium in the middle so you wouldn't see muscles next to thin. The girl dancers were all visions of beauty.
The piano bar. We spent five nights there singing along with the very capable Ted Connors, who knows a million songs, how to keep the party going and also features each singer and runs a "name that tune" contest.
The Rockin' Rolldies Show. A passenger talent show for which the passengers don't actually need any talent. Famous hits are played such as "Splish Splash", "Where The Boys Are" and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", and passengers dress up in costumes and lip-sync while funny antics occur around them. As I watched I became aware that a lot of the people on stage were the staff of the ship and also the Maasdam dancers. Having seen some really lame talent shows in the past I can understand why the cruise lines have kicked it up a notch. It must be pretty much the same show every week, with different passengers in the same costumes. The Diana Ross take-off was so funny the entire audience was in tears of laughter, but it featured two of the ship's staff and one passenger who, again, basically didn't need much talent- he just had to look good in a sequined sheath dress and a feather boa. by the way, FYI, there is no band for the shows in the Rembrandt Theater, just recorded music. When we cruised on the Celebrity Century a seven-piece band played along with recorded music for the shows. I love good live music, but for shows, with today's sound systems, I think you may as well just have recorded music. The band doesn't really have much reason to be there.
We did have a passenger talent show with Open Mic night, when Ted Connors once again ably accompanied passengers as they sang in a more formal setting, with a bigger audience than in the piano bar.
The Indonesian crew show. Wonderful. Very sincere. A real band on stage. Varied, with a lot of fun and some spectacular ethnic costumes and music. Don't miss it.
We also enjoyed the Newly Wed/ Not So Newly Wed Game, the Match Game and the Liar's Club, held conveniently before the main shows.
by the way, the Rembrandt Showroom has the look of an elegantly decorated living room. Instead of rows of seats, the lower deck has chairs and couches scattered around. On the Century, the waiters asked every passenger for their drink order, but on the Maasdam they stand around so you can get a drink if you want one, but you don't feel pressured to run up your bar bill.
THE BANDS "Pantastic." Caribbean sounding steel drums, bass and drums, mercifully free of vocals. Perfect for poolside music.
"The Moonlighters." Swing and standards. Piano, bass and drums with the bass player singing well. Immaculate mainstream jazz piano. People dancing, chatting after dinner or just listening. Very nice.
"Champagne strings." I heard they were from Hungary. Violin, piano and a bass player who would pick up a clarinet and play American hits with a gypsy flair and a huge vibrato. The violinist was a real pleasure. The piano player was young and played very well but he had an angular style and I got the impression he would have been happier playing bebop.
"The Station Band." Didn't hear much of them as they were at the Crow's Nest while we were at the piano bar. What I did hear was some good, very high singing from their guitarist. Kind of like Smokey Robinson only more in tune.
Nassau: The Dolphin Encounter. Pricey, but worth it. Well organized. A really refreshing boat ride to the Blue Lagoon. Fabulous visit with Stormy the bottle-nosed dolphin. The encounter begins with a brief, entertaining yet very informative talk covering all the dolphin basics. Each visitor gets to kiss, hug, dance with, stroke, feed and even feel the teeth of the dolphin. There is no way you cannot enjoy this morning and it's a great way to use the few hours the ship stops at Nassau.
Puerto Rico: An interesting 45 minute bus ride through San Juan and out into the foothills of the rain forest, with a good narration in English from the driver. Then a two-hour horse ride, including an optional swim in a river. There were about 35 riders and 4 or 5 safety conscious guides. My horse, Bambino, had two speeds; crawl or flat-out-gallop-and-try-to-throw-me-off. My wife's horse had one speed; crawl. It was hot but a really different experience for us Florida flatland dwellers.
St. Thomas: No excursion, but we took the ski lift to the top of the hill and enjoyed the fabulous view over the islands, the Maasdam and the Norway, which was anchored out. We saw a funny bird show up there and did a little souvenir shopping.
Half Moon Cay. Lazed on the beach, enjoyed hamburgers, walked through the superfine sand and swam in the fantastically blue water among the little tiny fishes. What a place! Pretty close to Paradise.
SEPTEMBER 11 The added security for September 11 in Puerto Rico involved every passenger reporting to customs with their passport open at the picture. Naturally some passengers failed to follow the repeated announcements or deliberately ignored them, and we were all late getting off the ship. With all respect for the victims of the terrorist attack we felt we wanted to be away from the media coverage that day, and horse riding in the hills seemed like a good way to do it. By chance, a single lady from New Jersey was assigned to our dining table on the ship. She had been on many cruises with her sister. Last year, her sister died in one of the WTC towers when it was attacked, so our dinner companion decided to take this cruise by herself. She also went riding with us on September 11 and while we didn't talk about it, we couldn't help wondering what feelings she must have been experiencing as we all trudged through the foothills on our horses.
THINGS I LIKE TO DO ON A CRUISE Roam around and find every public room and every deck. On the Maasdam you can go right to the bow of the ship where the ship's bell hangs. Careful, though, if you do that everyone can see you on the ship channel in their cabins.
Talk to strangers. It's so much easier to strike up conversations when everyone's relaxed and friendly. The Maasdam passengers mostly seemed very pleasant and the word "civilized" kept coming into my head.
Go up to the sports deck at night when at sea. Careful you don't get blown overboard. The one night my wife and I ventured up there it was almost completely dark, and the stars were clearer than we ever see them at home. I swear I could see the Milky Way as a thick belt of stars and it gave us a real perspective on how tiny our planet is.
As I said, we lived in the piano bar. The final night was Ted's night off and I played instead, leading the group in renditions of such hits as "New York, New York" "Killing me Softly" and my own favorite, "Help me Make It Through the Night". This meant we didn't get back to the cabin until 12.45 and the suitcases had to be packed and out in the hallway by 2 AM. Somehow Sheila got it taken care of and we awoke at 7 the next morning to cruel, hard reality.
I heard people complaining to each other once or twice during the week. Here are a few examples: -The ice cream bar had no hot fudge for an ice cream sundae. -The cabin attendant didn't leave towel animals on the bed. -Holland America did not supply constant background music everywhere.
CABIN ATTENDANT His name is Erwan. He introduced himself the first day and then stayed out of our way, but he always seemed to be in the area the few times we needed something and his English was very good. The cabin was cleaned immaculately twice a day. He well deserved the decent tip we gave him.
The Maasdam is not a brand new ship and there were small cracks in our bathroom sink and chips in the cabin counter, but it wasn't a big deal to us. You're only there a week, not a lifetime. Holland America has refurbished the public rooms and they all look perfectly beautiful. The dark woods and the Dutch tiles and the fresh flowers are fantastic. The sound systems are state of the art. The Yamaha grand pianos are perfectly in tune. This is a cruise line that quietly plays Beethoven during your breakfast at the buffet! I mean how could it get any classier?
FINALLY, IN CONCLUSION, LAST THOUGHTS As usual, I've run on longer than I intended. A cruise like this only lasts a week, but it enriches your life for much longer than that. You can be stressed out with stacks of work and think back to wading into the azure water on Half Moon Cay. You can be the seventh car in line at the drive up window of McDonald's and reach out in your mind to the Texas BarBQ on the Lido deck with scrummy ribs, sausage and potato salad. You can be watching a rerun of "Love Boat" and recall looking up at the starry night from Sports Deck with your honey.
I have a theory that many times the people who have complaints about a cruise already have plenty of everything and have easy access to luxury. Those of us who can rarely afford service at this level, who do our own yard work, fix our own dinners and wash our own cars, probably appreciate a cruise more.
Over the years, cruising has become a very competitive business. The major conglomerates have outdone each other in trying to provide the best experience in accommodation, food, entertainment and excursions, while prices have remained affordable. For the most part, any line not offering a first rate experience has gone bankrupt, as have some who did offer it (for instance, Renaissance Cruises). by doing the same things week after week for years, adding to the activities and refining them, the cruise lines can now offer an incredible product. We the public are the lucky winners in this. We were very happy with the Maasdam and very impressed by Holland America.
Often while cruising, we enjoy asking our fellow passengers which is their favorite cruise line, and frequently the response is Holland America Line (HAL) for its terrific service and cuisine. Since we had never sailed with HAL, we felt obliged to plan a cruise on one of its ships. This was our 27th cruise and it was an excellent one. Lower Promenade Deck 6 forward has the bronze plaque from Monfalcone, Genoa, Italy stating that the M S Maasdam is the #5882nd ship built by the prolific and venerable Fincantieri Shipbuilders. She is lovely, reminiscent of the liners of yesteryear with a wrap around outside promenade and her interior motif is in homage to the historical Dutch East and West India companies, which made so many noted journeys around the world trading during the 17th through the 19th centuries.
The Maasdam was launched in 1993: her length is 720 feet; width is 101 feet, with a draft of 24 feet 6 inches; gross tonnage is 55,451 and her maximum speed is 21 knots. Guest capacity is 1,266 with a crew of 560. She is the second of her class, and her sister shipsare the Statendam launched in 1992, followed by the Ryndam in 1994 and the Veendam in 1996: THE FIVE STAR FLEET! The first ships to have three deck atriums, which of course may now seem small compared to the nine and ten deck atriums of newer ships. Her Captain Dirk van den Berg (Holland) ably sailed us 1,908 nautical miles of pure relaxation and pleasure.
EMBARKATION HAL boards in Ft. Lauderdale at 3 pm. There were crowds waiting, but we were met at baggage drop off by a steward who skillfully pushed Vincent's wheelchair and had us in our cabin in about ten minutes. Security clearance was simple, but credit card registry is done on board later during the week. Unlike newer systems, where one card is cabin key, credit card and boarding pass, on the Maasdam you will also need a personal ID for reboarding at each port. This system is soon to be changed according to Hotel Director Dirk Verhey van Wijk (Holland), who runs a beautifully maintained ship. We met with Mr. van Wijk, who proved to be a nexus to information. Soon, at the next dry docking, an updated one card system will be installed.
PUBLIC AREAS The HAL ships are standardized in outward appearance, with navy blue hulls and white upper decks and all have an oval disk on their funnel depicting a navy blue hull sporting a sailing vessel with all sails blowing in the wind --- very nautical as are the interiors. Blue colors and sailing memorabilia are much in evidence everywhere.
The Maasdam has nine passenger decks, two sets of four elevators, forward and aft. The main galley is centrally located on Deck 7. This design impedes the access to the atrium from the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room. To remedy the inconvenience of the traffic flow on Deck 7 from the dining room to the Rembrandt Lounge forward or the Atrium midship, it is necessary to take an elevator or climb the stairs to Deck 8 and proceed forward to the other set of elevators or stairs. All of her interior public areas are essentially on Decks 7 and 8. They are extensively decorated with the famous fresh flowers of Holland which include the exotics such as ginger, delphinium, antherium and birds of paradise, as well as carnations, roses, etc. The heady scent of flowers is in the air at every corner.
A Deck (4), Main Deck (5), and the Lower Promenade Deck (6) are all cabins.
Promenade Deck (7) forward holds the Rembrandt Lounge/Theatre's lower level with its sofa seating and moveable barrel chairs and a series of delft blue and white tiled tables. The Dutch tiles are repeated on the ceiling and around the stage area quite nicely. The stage curtain is a composition of 18th century sailing ships, neatly lined in rows and sparkling as they sail on a midnight blue sea.
Midship is the photo gallery and then the three deck high Atrium, with its equally tall sea blue crystal sculpture by Italian artist Luciano Vistosi. Look for the model of the 18th century ship, the "Brick da Commerce" of the Dutch India Company. Nearby are the Front Office and Guest Relations managed by the very competent Jason DeLeo. He is a whiz at solving passengers' problems and very personable.
Here is also the Java Cafe with its complimentary excellent teas and coffees and freshly made cookies (try the almond ones, they melt in the mouth.). Across the corridor is the Wajang Theatre with four daily showings of the latest films and free popcorn. Toward aft is located Club HAL, the "Kid's Zone", then the galley and all the way aft the Rotterdam Dining Room with its surround windows.
Upper Promenade Deck (8) forward has the Rembrandt Balcony, where the sofa style seating needs improvement, since the only row with a clear view of the stage is the first one and then there is still the rail to contend with. The level of each tier needs to be raised at least another 10 inches to allow for a clear view of the stage.
Midship are the boutiques and shops with the usual fare. . . . some cruise line company must break ranks and start to offer alternatives to the standardized items aboard every line. Many more sales could be made if there were new and varied items introduced. Frequent cruisers all complained that there is nothing new: Inch of Gold and overpriced baby and children items are boring and too costly for many to take serious. However, the ship's logo items were the best value.
The Casino, Casino Bar and Piano Bar are also midship on this deck, and in the connecting corridor, there is a fantastic oak carving of a monkey atop a dolphin where both animals have savage expressions. It is truly unique and original, but like most of the art and artifacts aboard no artist is cited only the period when created. It's a pity.
Toward aft on the port side is the Card Room with its gorgeous Japanese vases and the Library with the internet area. A corridor abeam the ship holds many interesting works: a wooden horse mounted on sled runners, a huge world globe, oriental paintings on silk, and the famous Canton china brought back as ballast for centuries by merchant ships. On starboard side is the Explorers lounge where Captain van den Berg held his cocktail party. Hot canapés are served here every evening, as well as in the Crow's Nest.
All the way aft is the Balcony of the Rotterdam Dining Room where we had table #52 with an excellent view of the Morning Glory Blue crystal chandelier, no doubt the forerunner of those floral chandeliers seen aboard the Carnival Pride and other newer liners. This dining room was awash in red and blue colors from the decor to the uniforms of the stewards.
Verandah Deck (9) is almost all balconied suites (Cat. B) with a few inside (Cat. I) and ocean view (Cat. C) cabins.
Navigation Deck (10) has suites (Cat. PS, S and A) with a few inside (Cat. I) cabins, in addition to the second swimming pool aft and the bridge forward. We were invited to the only Penthouse Verandah Suite on the ship, #001, by Joe and Estrella, our new acquaintances. This is a spacious three room suite and balcony (more than 1,100 sq. ft.), with Roman marble whirlpool bath and shower and many other luxuries. Needless to say, they took most of their meals in their suite. Why leave?
Forward is the bridge, the ship's core. We had a wonderful explanation of daily charting by ship's Navigator Chris Guthrie (Scotland) ; he pointed out the wisdom and necessity to manually chart courses; even though this ship's computerized systems are state of the art. He spoke of his daily use of compass and sextant to back up automatic systems. HAL has a great "Ambassador" in Mr.Guthrie; he was patient and informative.
Lido Deck (11) is where the open air action occurs. Forward is the Observation Deck and the Ocean Spa, Gym, and Beauty Parlor. Midship is the Terrace Grill (informal BBQ), the Lido Deck, two jacuzzi hot tubs (extremely hot) and a lap pool (nicely cool). Here is also a copper sculpture of a dolphin family and the Dolphin Bar, all under a sliding dome cover. Aft is the Lido Restaurant (buffet) which was quite good (more later).
Sports Deck (12) forward is the Crow's Nest with its curved windows to the sea, and live band every evening. Very nice. Aft are the practice tennis & basketball courts and the Club HAL Wave Runner.
SERVICE AND FOOD Many have told us the service aboard HAL is A-One -- and it is! Holland America runs its own training school in Jakarta, Indonesia, where all dining room staff are recruited. Many stewards stay with HAL upwards of twenty years. Hotel Director van Wijk explained the "No Tipping " policy is due to the crew's union contract by which substantial wages and benefits keep them motivated. However, tipping for special efforts is graciously received. The stateroom stewards are all from the Philippines and truly believe it is a pleasure to serve the passengers.
Passengers are welcomed aboard by stewards in red & blue uniforms with pillbox hats; dinner is announced by a steward walking throughout the ship with chimes as was done on liners of yesteryear. Nice touch, HAL, in keeping this tradition!
Food was on par with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Lines with several excellent offerings: Daily on the Lido there was hot bread pudding, which rivaled any soufflé, with an accompanying hot vanilla sauce. Pizza was also made onboard with fresh dough, lightly topped with a variety of condiments and cooked to perfection -- crispy and delicious!
Appetizers were light in general and varied: Fresh fruit, pate`, fish (gravlax, prawns, herring, crab legs, caviar, etc.). Soups were interesting, both hot and cold, many spicy; the French onion was the best. Salads were just the right size, not overpowering: excellent choices are Caesar's, Greek, and Westlandse Sla. Holland night was made festive by white peaked hats for the ladies and black caps for the men. Nice touch!
Entrees were quite good and aptly prepared under the Executive Chef Michael Mahn, who is to be complimented for the over 6,000 meals beautifully served daily. We take away fond memories of his Risotto con Funghi, braised and roasted beef and chicken, perfectly prepared steaks, prime rib and lobster tails. However, his gnocchi served on a bed of spinach and pine nuts were so light they almost floated off the plate!
Desserts ranged from sugarless and light to decadent double chocolate layer cakes and some nice fruited ones. We had a wonderful week of food and service at table #52 by Steward Wawan, Asst. Steward Sulaiman, Wine Steward Roy Manangkil and Dining Room Supervisor Tri.
There is 24-hour room service onboard, serving full American breakfasts in the cabins, even on the day of disembarkation. Hot canapés were served in all the bars and ice cream, toppings and cookies were available on the Lido Deck. All in all, no one could go hungry here!
CABIN Mini Suite B 191 Verandah Deck (9) was bright and clean with new carpeting. Entering on the left there is the bathroom with commode, Jacuzzi tub, safety rails all around, single sink and one long shelf for sundries, many new towels and amenities. Next is the king size bed flanked by two night stands, with blue and green comforter patterned to evoke thoughts of the South Sea Islands. There is a sofa/bed, a coffee table and hassock, mini refrigerator and an end table. When entering on the right are four wardrobes (two with hangers and two with shelves), a personal safe, a TV/VCR console and a vanity/desk with mirror and chair. The far wall is glassed; there is the door to the private balcony with a chair, table and a chaise lounge. Our steward Subair kept it all in order unobtrusively and brought ice and a fresh bowl of fruit daily.
Cruise Director Dave Shermet runs a tight ship with a full schedule of the usual fare on board: Bingo, Games, Exercises, ping pong, shuffleboard, tennis, volleyball, basketball and don't forget Quoits (this is just ring toss). Showtime at the Rembrandt Lounge was the usual mix of singing and dancing. Two special shows were excellent: Greg Frewin, billed as the #1 Magician in the world, was deft at slight of hand; Don Sherman's ship humor was very entertaining.
Many venues had music and gatherings, yet there were plenty of quiet places with fantastic views to just sit and relax, or read and do crossword puzzles.
PORTS OF CALL The HAL Western Caribbean itinerary includes the following ports of call: COZUMEL, MEXICO -- Tuesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 1:30 pm GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN -- Wednesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 4 pm. OCHOS RIOS, JAMAICA -- Thursday -- Arrival 7 am. Departure 4:30 pm. HALF MOON CAY, BAHAMAS -- Saturday -- Arrival 7:30 am. Departure 3 pm.
We are not describing these ports, nor the relative shore excursions, since we have visited them many time and reported on them in other reviews. However, this was our first time on Half Moon Cay, HAL private resort on San Salvador Island. Unfortunately, we did not tender ashore, since it was a rainy day. We have heard though that the best activities to do on this island are water sports, including snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, etc. and land activities such as nature walks, golf chipping and the BBQ picnic.
DEBARKATION After a very early breakfast in the dining room, we had a long wait for immigration check. The line for US citizens began at 6:45 am, stretched throughout Deck 8 from the Rembrandt Lounge to the Rotterdam Dining Room then to the Card Room. It lasted longer than one hour and a half just for a passport check. Then we waited until 9:30 for debarkation.
SUGGESTIONS 1. The seating in the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge needs to have each level raised, so that those seated in the tiers behind the first one would have a better view of the stage. Many spectators were grumbling that they could not see the magician's tricks.
2. Since Grand Cayman Island is so good for underwater experiences, maybe HAL could make available to cruisers an excursion with the new SEAmobile Submarine Tours, recently featured in National Geographic Magazine. It explores the coral reefs off the 7 Mile Beach in a bubble like underwater mobile with a pilot for only $125 per hour.
3. After the tragic events of 9/11, the new requirement for US citizens' passport inspection by Immigration, is creating unnecessary long lines of passengers at the times of arrival in US ports. To reduce the waiting times in these lines, we suggest to schedule the passport inspection at set times according to category, cabin or deck numbers; e.g., Cat. A at 7:00, Cat. B at 7:15, etc. A similar procedure has already been adopted by some cruise lines.
This was our first cruise with HAL and it was a good one. We plan to have many more cruises with this and other lines, perhaps on the new ships, Prinsendam and Zuiderdam. For now we have already booked a Hawaii cruise on the Norwegian Star for July, a return cruise on the Golden Princess for November and a cruise on the new RCI Navigator of the Seas in January 2003.
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside.an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. This was our 17th cruise and second on HAL.
The ship is probably not the right one for the trip. They need a faster ship to cover the transit time, on time. The first four sailing from Norfolk have returned 4, 3, 5, and 2.5 hours later respectively than the scheduled 8am arrival. The long sail from St Thomas, the last port, to Norfolk, at 19.5 knots just cannot be done in time if any little ripple in the seas or wind occurs, and it usually does. As a result the ship does not leave until, typically 7 or 8pm when departure is scheduled for 5pm. In fact, no one can get aboard until, typically, 3pm, and many several hours later. Knowing the variability of arrival, we monitored it via a local webcam at http://www.wvec.com/cams/norfolk.html. It did not arrive until 1pm on Feb 21.
There were shuttle busesfrom a parking area available, or porters at the curb for those arriving by car. The terminal, at Norfolk's maritime museum, Nauticus, adjacent to the battleship Wisconsin, does a good job of handling inbound and outbound passengers despite the fact that it is not really a cruise ship terminal. Once we entered Nauticus our cabin assignment was checked and we were assigned a boarding number. We arrived at 3:15pm and received number 34. We were then given free admission to the museum, and HAL had sodas available. It was very interesting touring the museum and the battleship and made the time pass quickly. Perhaps not so for those who had arrived at the pier at noon. At 5, (4 hours after arrival), the suite passengers and the first boarding numbers were called for embarkation processing. It only took about two hours for them to board all the passengers, a remarkable feat. No credit card was necessary at check-in, as they provided a form and simply asked that we present it at the purser's office within 24 hours with the credit card information. I had been informed by phone that my cabin guarantee was an upgrade from Cat H to Cat E cabin 728. In fact, we found out at check-in that our cabin was 782, and the bags had the wrong cabin on them. We were very happy to find that in the 3 ½ hours between the time we dropped them off and the time we got to our cabin, they had corrected the bag tags and all luggage was in the cabin. Nicely done! The lifeboat drill was delayed until 10:15am on the first day at sea due to the later boarding.
The cabin was on A deck, the lowest passenger deck, exactly amidships on the port side, and overlooked the pier. At 182 sq ft, it was ample, with convertible twin beds, a room desk/dressing table, with 8 large drawers, a sofa bed, adjustable height coffee table...perfect for room service.and a hassock. There were four closets, and the bath had a full tub. The only amenities were shampoo and lotion, other than soap. The TV carries no local TV in any port other than CNN, but does have nearly first run movies running on two channels, TNT movies, and some series like ER. There are the usual port information and cruise video channels, and the ship channel that alternated between maps of the voyage, weather, and ship's information and deck plans. Room service is available 24/7, but with a limited menu at night.
I had preordered, by phone call to HAL customer service in Seattle, a liter of Beefeater's which came with an obligatory 3 cans of tonic water. It was not there on arrival, but was delivered the next morning and there were very willing to exchange the tonic for some soft drinks my wife preferred. We also packed a case of wine in a wine shipping box, and checked it in with baggage. It arrived fine. Those attempting to carry hard liquor on board had it confiscated at the pier. Most had gotten the word of this recent change in HAL policy. All liquor purchased in the onboard shop and in all ports was gathered at the gangway and stored till the last afternoon when it was delivered to the cabin. We asked the cabin steward to keep one bottle of champagne iced and to provide a second bucked ice daily. He not only quickly accommodated us, but also provided two champagne glasses.
Since we had requested second sitting, fortunately since we didn't get aboard till a little after 7pm, I checked the diagram outside the dining room on deck 8 and found that our table was for two, as requested, table 139. I can say, without hesitation, that this probably the best dining team we have ever had. The headwaiter was present constantly, the waiter was very efficient, and the assistant waiter outdid them all. If we wanted to try a second entrée, they brought just the meat or fish without the side dishes. On lobster night, we requested two tails and the plates arrived with two tails on them, and the waiter later walked around offering more from a platter.
Every night among the dessert choices was a flambé, which included bananas foster, crepe suzette, pear flambé, baked Alaska with cherries jubilee on top, and so on. Entrees included such items as halibut, grilled prawns, rack of lamb, filet mignon twice, crab legs, chateaubriand, orange roughy, lamb chops, Dutch recipes on Dutch night, lobster tails, cod, salmon, and prime rib. On the night we left St. Maarten, they also held a BBQ at the Lido Pool with steaks and king salmon from 6-8pm and offered happy hour prices on select beer and shots.
Breakfast in the Lido includes the usual mix of fruits, cereals and cafeteria hot table, but also includes eggs to order and an omelet station. Staff were eager to assist with trays and help with beverages. In a few days we noticed some even called us by name. Lunch in the Lido has standard cafeteria fare, but included such items as a stir-fry station on several days, pizza, and a sandwich station for made to order sandwiches. By the Lido Pool is a station open from 11-5pm offering hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken breast, and a hot table with tacos, burritos and fajita fixings. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room is only on the upper level, on deck 8. The dining room offers eggs benedict every day I was happy to discover. Casual dinner is also available in the Lido. As you may surmise from this summary, we were very pleased with the food on the Maasdam, with one exception.
On "Dutch Night" we opted for a reservation in the Pinnacle Grill, the featured specialty restaurant, with a $20 per person surcharge ($10 on sailing day). We had a reservation for 8:30pm and arrived a few minutes early. Forty minutes after we were seated they finally took our order. By then the wine steward, who had held the wine tasting the first day at sea, had opened the wine I had brought to dinner and helped himself to a large glass without asking instead of the tasting cup. Butter arrived 20 minutes after the bread. While water from a pitcher was adequate in the regular dining room, the Pinnacle poured bottled water, at extra charge, without asking. An hour and 20 minutes later, still only on the second course, I tried to order another bottle of wine. They were out of 15 wines. I went back to the cabin and brought another of my own. The presentation was fine and the food was good, but no better than the dining room food. There were huge time gaps between courses, and they tried to explain it away that every order was prepared from scratch to order and takes time. The restaurant was less than half full by that time and that excuse doesn't fly. Gracefully, they said they wouldn't charge the corkage fee for my wine because of the slow service.
We enjoy dancing before dinner and after shows. The Ocean Bar on Deck 8 each evening had a trio playing traditional dance music, and before dinner hot appetizers were brought to each table. The Crows Nest on Deck 11 had a solo musician who played danceable music until about midnight, when the DJ took over, playing until ?? It was not very crowded at any hour. Show entertainment was a weakest link. The singers, dancers, costumes, and production were far inferior to almost every other ship we have sailed. Fortunately there were only three production shows in 10 days. Other nights offered singers (Gail Nelson with Broadway experience, and Bill Burns a very talented impressionist and singer), comedians and variety artists, and an Indonesian crew talent show. Every evening there were two shows, one after each dinner seating, except on the last night both shows were before dinner.
I was happy to find that HAL was not aggressive in pushing the daily tropical drinks. They were more visible on a few days, but nothing like we have experienced on other lines. The deck waiters circulated with iced tea or lemonade daily in the afternoon, and high tea is available.
Dress code was as follows: Day 1 Casual Day 2 At Sea, First Formal night, and it was widely observed Day 3 After Half Moon Cay, Casual Day 4 At Sea, Second Formal night Day 5 San Juan, Casual Day 6 St Maartin, Casual Day 7 Antigua, Casual Day 8 St Thomas, Informal (coat and tie/cocktail dress) Day 9 At Sea, 3rd Formal Night Day 10 At Sea, Casual
The photographers were available for portraits on formal nights and there were essentially no lines, amazingly. On the first formal night, the Captain's Welcome Aboard Dinner, they had a receiving line leading into the pre-dinner reception, and there were two portrait stations everyone passed through, and one snapshot with the Captain. They did offer a free cruise video if you purchased four 8x10 pictures during the cruise, and we took advantage of it, as we could see from the video which was run each day on TV that we were also in some of the shots. The video was a $34 value.
Port Days: Half Moon Cay. We arrived about 1 hour later than scheduled due to the late departure from Norfolk. The first tenders left at 1245. At 1:45 we went down for tender tickets. At 3pm we got on a tender. We returned on the last tender at 5:30. The process was so slow that the Rotterdam lent several tenders to help shuttle passengers. A strictly personal observation was that a more elderly passenger make up made for slower movement into and out of tenders. As usual we enjoyed the beach and snorkeling (I bring my own gear), and there were many more fish where the floats met the breakwater than I had ever seen there. The water is so clear you can see fish in thigh-deep water without a mask. They even nipped at my wife's knees, so I suspect they have been fed there.
The sea day between these two ports was Fat Tuesday, and the dinner show was Party Gras. Advertised as a Mardi Gras from Bangkok to Calgary to Brazil, it turned out to be their standard show. However, at 11pm in the Crow's Nest they held a costume Mardi Gras Party with Hurricanes at happy hour prices. Having chanced they would have some celebration we brought masks about 20 sets of beads and two umbrellas. My wife Karen won the "Miss Mardi Gras" for original costume: Her formal beads, feathered mask, and an open parasol. She won a bottle of champagne, and I received a silver 8x10 picture frame just for participating. Lots of fun, with dancing snacks afterward. Best crowd of the cruise in the disco.
San Juan. We arrived at 7:30am on Ash Wednesday, and US Immigration held mandatory immigration checks beginning at 7:30. Lines moved quickly. The ship was cleared about 9:30am. We went back to bed for nap and left the ship at 11:40. We took the free trolley bus from the stop across the street from the pier. We rode past El Morro, which we had visited on other trips and rode into Old San Juan to a stop near the old Cathedral. We were in time for noon Mass and distribution of ashes. We then walked to Hard Rock Café, only to find it closed for street construction. We found there was now a Senor Frog's in San Juan, behind the Windham Hotel a block from the pier, and we walked there to enjoy lunch, stand on a few chairs, and have the usual raucous time there. We walked from there to the Dept of Information building on the waterfront and partook of the free Puerto Rican rum drinks, and then walked back to the ship. Underway at 6pm.
St Maarten/Martin. We arrived in one of our favorite ports at 7am and the ship was cleared at 8am. We went ashore at 9pm, rented a car at the end of the pier with no reservation, a Toyota Camry with a/c for $45 all day. Due back by 5:45pm. We drove past the airport to see Maho Beach where the planes pass very low overhead, past Simpson Beach and a very resorty area, and found Cupacoy Beach. The beach is down a stairway along sandstone cliffs, with sandy beach. It is, however, clothing optional despite being on the Dutch side, just short of the boundary from the French side. Water was affected by wind, but the snorkeling was good. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and drinks available from a vender at the top of the cliff. We left in time for lunch and drove into Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin. As we have been here on Sundays before, when everything was closed, we were looking forward to lunch in a French sidewalk café and some shopping. We parked in the free public lot, and ate at La Vie en Rose, complete with french bread and wine. However, French St. Martin is using the Euro, which is currently $1.25US to 1 Euro, and things are expensive. They don't make much effort to cater to tourist trade. There is a flea market across the street and we purchased T-shirts for the kids there. Then on to Grand Case beach, where I had previously seen many large starfish last year. The beach is deserted and sandy, but without facilities except in the waterfront restaurants. Unfortunately, only one starfish this time. Then we drove on to Orient Beach and spent an hour there before heading back at 5pm to Philipsburg. We returned the car at 5:40pm and asked them to shuttle us back into town, which they did. Shops were on the verge of closing, despite the fact that Maasdam and the Radisson ship were in port till 11pm. Some folks went back out to casino's after dinner. We did catch the Guavaberry Emporium in time, and on the main shopping street purchases our liquor for several dollars per bottle below the prices aboard Maasdam in the duty free shop. Cigarettes were also $1 per carton cheaper there. Fortunately for me our favorite jewelry shops were closed.
Antigua. Arrived at 7am. We had purchased tickets to the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Excursion and reported to the Rembrandt Lounge at 8:40. We left at 9am, and walked a short distance to the Tamiami Catamaran, which made about a 30 minute run to Paradise Reef in deep water. Water entry was from the boat into deep water, so this is an excursion for experience snorkelers. There reef coral and the fish were impressive. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we reboarded and set sail for Runaway Beach where they anchored in 10 feet of water and some chose to swim to the beach. My wife does snorkel but the bar was opened and never-ending strong and tasty rum punch was available, as well as soft drinks and other liquors. After about 30 minutes we left and returned to the pier at 1230pm. There is a duty free mall at the end of the pier in St John's. While me wife napped I did succumb to the lure of a nice ruby, which they mounted as a pendant on gold chain at a jewelry shop for my wife's birthday present. We sailed at 6pm.
St Thomas. Arrived at 7am, berthed at the pier at Havensight, and Immigration checks again at 7:30am. We were permitted to leave the ship as soon as we individually had been cleared. We were on the pier at 8:20 and on the way in a taxi, $16 for two, to Red Hook. We caught the 9am ferry, $3 per person each way, to Cruz Bay on St John's. The ride takes only 13 minutes. We took a taxi, $4 per person, from the pier to Trunk Bay, National Park ($4 per person admittance), arriving about 9:35. No crowds yet. There is in underwater snorkeling trail marked leading to an island where there was plenty of coral and plenty of fish. I really enjoyed it. The park also has lockers, showers, restrooms, and concessions, including equipment rental. We caught a taxi at 11:30 back to Cruz Bay and took the noon ferry back to St Thomas. We arrived back at the Havensight mall a little after 12:30 and had plenty of time to shop before returning to the ship by 2pm. The ship sails at 3pm for the long trip home. Two ladies, arriving late, after lines were cast off, reportedly were fined about $3,000. There was a sailaway party on deck, the only one of the cruise. The cruise director didn't think the passengers would be interested. We would have been. It was in the 80's and HOT. In fact, we had no rain the entire cruise in any port.
By the next morning a weather front 1,000 miles wide had intervened along our route while East of Cuba. By mid day 12-15 foot waves, with some swells to 25 feet and 32 knots of wind from the north caused the ship to plow along, banging head on into the waves. The water in the pools was leaping out and the pools were closed. It was still in the 70's and partly sunny. The Mariners Society repeaters reception was held at noon in the Rembrandt Lounge in the bow of the ship, and it was all people could do to walk up to receive recognition and a photo. Many of the people recognized for many cruises on HAL were elderly and having a rough time moving around. It was a relaxed day, however, and great movies were running in the theatre and on TV, such as Seabicuit, Under the Tuscan Sun, and others. I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, too. Dancing that evening was a bit tricky due to the motion of the ocean.
By the morning of the last day at sea, the weather had calmed, the water was like glass as we passed the Carolinas, and weather was still in the upper 60's and partly sunny. By the last day the ship was out of wines, bagels, lemons and limes. Luggage did not have to be out until 1am. We celebrated my wife's birthday at dinner.
We were scheduled to arrive at 8am, but the captain had announced the day before that we'd be in about 10:30, which was right on target. This allowed a leisurely wakeup call, and breakfast at 9am. Weather was 60 and cloudy with a forecast of increasing wind. At 1045 the first customs call was made. We were permitted to remain in our cabins until debarkation. The first debarkation group was not called until noon, and we were called about 2:40pm, in the last group because we lived locally and were driving. While no lunch had been planned, without announcement they opened the Lido about 1pm and dredged up prime rib and salads, much to me excitement!
All in all, a great trip, outstanding food, wonderfully friendly and helpful staff, a low key cruise director who was as genuine in person as he was when he was "on", and we are booked for the next one, an 11 day Maasdam in December. There is talk that they may consider replacing Maasdam with a faster ship by then. I hope they don't shorten the St. Thomas stop, as it is just long enough to do anything meaningful.
Holland America Line Maasdam by Janet Southern Caribbean February 10, 2004
After taking 15 cruises on RCCL ships, my husband and I sailed last year for 2 weeks on HAL's Noordam. While the ship was an older vessel, the food and services were the best we had ever experienced. So when we learned that HAL would be sailing from Norfolk, VA (only an hour's drive from our home) we immediately booked a cruise on the Maasdam. We were looking forward to a newer ship with more amenities to compliment the extraordinary service we expected to receive, based on our past experience.
HAL's slogan is "Exceeding expectations." Sadly, this cruise didn't come close to meeting, let alone exceeding our expectations. Because there is no passenger terminal in Norfolk, we expected the embarkation process to be problematic. When the ship was 3 hours late arriving at the port, it put the process into chaos. For 4 hours, 1300 plus passengers milled around in Natuicus, a pier side museum-type attraction from which the cruise departed, trying to find a place to sit while waiting to board.
Once on board, it appeared that there was some typeof plumbing problem with the vessel, as the stairwells and corridors had a very unpleasant odor throughout the cruise. Our cabin (standard outside) was roomy and clean.
The food was good (no better, no worse than any other ship), but the dining room service was average at best. We had a table for 6 and at every dinner meal courses were served "scatter shot." Five of us would get our appetizer and we'd wait for the last person to receive his. Same with the soup, salad and entree courses. This happened every night! Once our entree was served, we never saw the waiters again - nobody came back to check if the meals were to our liking or if we needed anything refilled. The wine steward was not much better.
Breakfast in the main dining room was impossible. While the waiters took our order immediately, we waited and waited and waited some more only to receive cold food. While we do not like buffet service we resorted to the Lido dining room for breakfast because at least they prepared eggs to order and they were hot when served. We tried the dining room three times during the cruise and finally gave up on it.
The itinerary appeared to be far to ambitious for a sailing from Norfolk. Times were too tight and did not allow for the potential for bad weather slowing the vessel down. When we arrived back in home port 5 hours late because of a storm, the disembarkation process became a nightmare due to all the people waiting to get on the ship. Luggage was scattered everywhere and we had to search for our suitcases.
I feel that HAL needs to re-examine the itinerary from Norfolk to allow sufficient time to get in and out of port on time. Beyond this, there needs to be some serious looking into the service problems. I don't know if it was a "kitchen" problem or a wait staff problem, but something definitely needs to be addressed.
Based on our experience, I would not recommend this ship or port of departure at this time. Perhaps after a few months the kinks will be worked out, but it doesn't do us any good now. We were very disappointed, and may not opt for HAL in the future.
Holland America Line Maasdam by Stan Jakubowski Eastern Caribbean January 31, 2004
My wife and I decided we needed a mid-winter break. We also did not want any of the hassles associated these days with airports so we selected a cruise out of Norfolk, VA on the Maasdam. We live in Virginia and there was only a three hour drive to the ship. In addition to not needing air, we had never been on HAL before, but the lines reputation was first class and we were looking forwand to the trip.
Overall, we did not have a good time. It was like being nibbled to death. Details follow, but in summary, the food was great, both in variety, preparation and quality. The service was OK, but not great. Our room was filthy. There were a constant flow of mechanical problems. And the in-room safe agrivated me for the entire trip.
Unfortunately, due to bad weather the ship was five hours late in arriving in Norfolk. We had planned on a late breakfast, the drive to the ship, checking in and then a meal in the buffet around 3. Due to the late arrival,they only began boarding passengers around 6PM. Almost 1,200 passengers waited in the Norfolk terminal for up to six hours. I can support the decision not to risk the ship or passengers because of the weather, but there was a shortage of information about what the plans were and it would have been very nice to have had some coffee, tea and even cookies provided to the passengers waiting for boarding.
We finally got to our stateroom at around 7PM. The ship was to have sailed by 5 PM. The temperature in the room was over 90. Even with the balcony door open the room was still too hot. It took over two days to get this problem corrected and even during the remainder of the trip, the only time the room was at an acceptable temperature was as it passed from either too hot to too cold or from too cold to too hot.
The cleanliness of the room was unacceptable. We had the room steward clean it and it improved, but, for example, you could see a layer of dirt and dust under the TV that indicated it had been several months, if not years since the room was thoroughly cleaned. We told the steward to take the bedspread out of the room as it was just a disgrace. The Sky lounge on the top deck at the front of the ship had not only lights missing from the ceiling fixtures, but there were several covers also missing which made it easy to tell that the lights were gone. The ship had the appearance of a tired operation where not too many people cared.
We had early sitting with four friends and they did accomodate us in the dining room, but our friends never made it that first night as they got aboard even later than we did.
My wife and I both enjoyed the food during the entire cruise. In our opinion it was better than that served on the Celebrity lines (both the Infinity and Galaxy). It took the waiter and his assistant almost four days to learn our preferences and several days they forgot that my wife likes a cup of coffee as soon as she sits down for dinner. One of the things my wife has always enjoyed on cruises is a special Lipton camomile tea which cannot be purchased in a supermarket. It may have gotten too special, as for this and the last cruise we where on, it was unavailable.
The item that drove me the craziest during the cruise was the in-room safe. There was no indication in any of the literature that it would only work with a credit card or other card with a magnetic strip. It would not work with the key card for the room. About the only think I wanted to lock in the safe was my credit card and I had to carry it with me the entire trip just so I could open and close the safe. Since you didn't need the card unless you were in port, this made no sense at all. Every other safe I have seen either had a key pad operation or used the room key in some manner. Every time I used the safe I was reminded of how it annoyed me.
In addition to problems with the temperature, the remote controls for the TV and VCR would not work. It was about three days before they got replaced and the replacements would not work which meant another couple of days before they finally got something to us which functioned. The toilet did not function for some hours on at least two days and there were several hours one day with no water in the bathrooms.
My wife and I have been to the Caribbean several times and as far as we are concerned if you have seen one port you have seen them all. We go for the sun and the chance to get away from our routines. One of the things we enjoy is trivia. On this cruise the staff informed everyone that while there would be trivia contests while the ship was in port, there would not be any prizes awarded. In addition, the trivia prizes that were awareded for these games were among the cheapest, most unwelcome things I have ever seen. There were HAL mousepads, luggage tags, CD holders, etc. I don't expect to get a new Mercedes or a free cruise for winning a trivia contest, but I also don't want to be given what is plainly junk. An additional problem with the trivia contests were the questions and answers. One example, the question was what kind of weather event produces clear high temp days in the summer and clear cold days in the winter. Over 80 percent of the passengers were American and they gave as the answer a high pressure system. All wrong - the only acceptable answer to the staff member (an Australian) was anti-cyclonic. There were many other answers to simple questions like that.
We had many converstations with other passengers who had several HAL cruises under their belts. The consensus was that HAL is headed downhill. Some attributed this to the purchase of HAL by Carnival, other to the general over supply in the market. I don't know which is right, but my wife and I will look in other directions for our next cruise.
Holland America Line Maasdam by E. J. (Ted) Legg Alaska August 30, 2003
We booked a 14-day Klondike Wilderness Cruise Tour with Holland America for August 2003. This comprised of a 10-day land tour from Anchorage to Skagway and a 4-day sea cruise down the Inside Passage from Skagway to Vancouver.
We arrived in Anchorage; were met by Holland America personnel; and then, along with many other Holland America fellow travelers, waited for over an hour and a half as our Holland America bus had an accident and a replacement bus was found.
As some passengers were dropped off at the Anchorage Marriot and Anchorage Hilton hotels, they were met by Holland America personnel in red jackets who looked after their bags and who escorted them inside the hotel. This however did not occur when we got to the Anchorage Westmark. At this hotel, we were simply dropped off at the side door and left to lug our own bags through a labyrinth of hallways to the Front Lobby. Our querying of the Hotel Front Desk got us the response that all the Westmark staff are Holland America staff whereas the same isnot true of the other two hotels - hence the need for Holland America personnel to be at those other two hotels. This response however still did not answer our questions of why we were not met at the bus; why we had to lug our own bags; why we had to find our own way to the Front Desk; and why we were (unintentionally) made to feel as second-class travelers to those staying at the Marriot or the Hilton.
When we were booking our excursions, we noted that we were to be picked up at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage instead of the Westmark Hotel where we were staying. We changed this before we left Ottawa. On arriving at the Anchorage Airport, we once again asked that our 'Portage-Glacier-pickup-at-the-Westmark-Hotel' be double-checked - only this time to learn that Anchorage Gray Line now had my wife and I going to Seward rather than to the Portage Glacier. A third check from the Westmark Front Desk finally confirmed that we were indeed to be picked up at the Westmark Hotel. The Portage Glacier Tour was very good.
We thoroughly enjoyed the train trip to Denali and then onwards to Fairbanks. The new Holland America train coaches were excellent. The scenery was lovely and the train staff very efficient and friendly. Indeed, ALL Holland America staff, whether at the hotels, on the trains, buses and/or on the boats/ships, were most friendly and helpful. Scott Larson (Tour Director from Fairbanks onwards) and our bus drivers John and Ryan are to be specifically commended. They did a superb job.
Our stay at Denali (Mount McKinley Chalet) was great. It however was marred by the rudeness of one of the staff (Ryan). My wife and I had stopped him in the lobby to ask a question only to be cut off in mid sentence with his following retort (and I quote) "Don't talk to me. I am not on the clock." after which he turned and walked away. We were quite taken aback at being treated this way and it was at this point that we decided to record our trip and to write to you. The Cabin Nite Dinner and the Tundra Wilderness Tour were very nice - although (especially for the older travellers (Holland America's clientele)) getting up at 4:00AM was not our idea of a holiday. Could not the start times be programmed to be a little bit later on these cruisetours? The box lunch on the Tundra Wilderness Tour was terrible and most unpalatable.
We can only describe the Westmark Inn at Fairbanks as a dump. One of our American fellow travellers described it as a 'dump within a slum'. The food was mediocre and, in this day and age, not having access to the Internet is inexcusable. We were glad to leave there. The visits to the No.8 Gold Dredge and to the Alaska Pipeline were interesting.
After the experience at Fairbanks, we were all dreading what we would find at Tok. How wrong we were. On our arrival at Tok, the General Manager (David Merrill) came on the bus; welcomed us to his hotel; introduced his Bell Captain; and said that we were his guests for the night and if there was anything we wanted just to let him know. The accommodations were great; the Mexican food superb; and the Tok Westmark had access to the Internet. What a delight. We ask that David Merrill and his staff be recognised for their excellent service and for going along way in removing our bad Fairbanks' memories.
The scenery along the way to Chicken and Eagle, Alaska was very lovely and the visits to both these locations were very interesting. The boat ride on the Yukon Queen II was also most memorable.
Dawson City was also a pleasurable experience. The hotel accommodations were very good. It however had rained just before we arrived there and crossing over from the Main Building to our sleeping accommodations in ½" of mud was not a fun experience - especially for the older, more frail folk. While we realise that this was Dawson in the good old days, surely some way could have been found to get the hotel guests from one building to another as mud-free as possible while still maintaining the frontier look and feel of the old Dawson City. Could not have, for example, fresh gravel been spread just before we had arrived?
While the accommodation at the Whitehorse Westmark Hotel was just OK, the hotel restaurant service was abysmal. My wife and I waited for over 25 minutes before even getting a breakfast menu - and the restaurant was not even full. The food was so-so. We took the City Tour and the boat ride on the mv Schwatka up the Miles canyon. We enjoyed that.
The White Pass and Yukon train ride to Skagway was SPECTACULAR. We are really glad that we had that experience. Skagway was interesting but our long anticipated glacier helicopter flight was cancelled due to low clouds and bad weather. We then boarded the ms Maasdam.
We think that the ms Maasdam was our greatest disappointment. It looked tired; some carpets were torn up; the escalators did not work; and the food, while plentiful, was, in our view, mediocre and certainly was not presented in a gourmet style. Worse of all however was that the ship smelled of sewage and garbage for the whole trip. We first noticed this foul smell while we were still docked at Skagway and both my wife and I expressed the thought that the ship must be near the town's sewage outflow. Unfortunately, this awful smell stayed with us for the full four days while at sea. This smell permeated the ship and was most prevalent on the starboard side. Walking on deck was most unpleasant and sitting in the Shows was horrible. Our complaints were acknowledged by the Cruise Director and described to us as the toilet and food wastes being made into a slurry; mixed with chemicals and then vented. (PS: Others were complaining as well. In fact, some of our American fellow travellers, who had cruised with Holland America a number of times before, were mumbling about suing and expressing great chagrin over the condition and smell of this ship.) Promises that the complaints would be brought to the Ship's Engineer did not stop the problem. This sewage smell combined with the added smell of fresh paint made for a most unpleasant experience. My Internet account had time and charges from a previous passenger debited to my account and the Internet broke down after the second day at sea. The weather at Glacier Bay was dull; the glaciers did not calved off at all; we sailed into a gale force storm; and the inside passage was shrouded in fog for most of the time we were in it.
On the good side, our ship's cabin was great; the beds were very comfortable; the ship's staff was, as mentioned above, most friendly and helpful; we got Ketchikan on a sunny day; and we thoroughly enjoyed the Totem Bight Park and Horse-drawn City tours in Ketchikan. We however were very glad to get to Vancouver. We were exhausted and very upset at what we had experienced. Our whole trip cost us in excess of $10,000.00 Cdn and we would be very loathe to try such an exercise again. The shame of it was that we had heard such great things about Holland American from friends and colleagues who had cruised with you before. It's too bad that our first experience with Holland America turned out to be so bad.
PS: When I asked the person who I thought was in charge of the ms Maasdam's Front Desk for your specific mailing address, he told me (and I quote) "No-one writes to him directly. Here's the mailing address to our Customer Relations Department". I have to say that that was the crowning remark.
PPS: We did hear from Holland America - although not directly from the Board Chairman and CEO. The response letter was fully of excuses and platitudes. A very disappointing response. We will not be cruising with Holland America ever again.
Holland America Line Maasdam by Ernie Roller June 5, 2003 Alaska
Cabin: 328 (Outside Category C)
Pictures site: http://public.fotki.com/eroller/maasdam_6-5-2003/
Rather then write a traditional review of this latest cruise, I thought I would do something a little different and categorize the different aspects of the vacation into pros (+) and cons (-). These are usually the items most avid cruisers are interested in anyway. I've also included a link for pictures taken at the top of this review.
Before we get started, a little cruising history about myself. I'm 36, partnered, and live in Atlanta Georgia. I consider myself fairly experienced regarding cruises, having some 50+ sailings under my belt. I've sailed all the major lines (Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, NCL, Cunard), and some not so major (Silversea, Premier, Sitmar, Home Lines, Royal Viking Line, Dolphin, Chandris, etc). As you can probably tell, I love ships and being at sea. It has been about 10 years since I've sailed on Holland America, so this was somewhat of a reunion for me. I was interested in the changes that have evolved over the years, and as you can imagine I encountered many, although happily manyHAL traditions still exist.
Celebrity Cruises is probably my favorite line, and continues to be so even after experiencing HAL again. This is not to say that one is better then the other, but just a personal preference of my own regarding the style, décor, ambiance, procedures, etc. onboard Celebrity. Unfortunately, I did not find MAASDAM to be as clean as she could be (I guess HAL is no longer the "spotless fleet"?), whereas Celebrity ships sparkled in comparison. I did find the dining room service and food to be excellent, probably a notch above Celebrity. The fact that so many crew and staff remembered your name after one encounter is truly remarkable, and does make one feel very special on HAL. If I were to make an analogy of Holland America and Celebrity to car companies, I would place HAL with Cadillac and Celebrity with Lexus. Both are luxurious, but the Lexus has a few more bells, whistles, and style, while the Cadillac is American, comfortable, and familiar. Both are good products, just different. Why compare Celebrity and Holland America in the first place? A couple reasons come to mind. The Celebrity INFINITY was my last cruise just a couple months ago, so it is fresh in my mind. Also, Holland America and Celebrity have two different parent companies and are in direct competition with each other, argue ably as the last two remaining large premium cruise lines.
Most of the details regarding the cruise went rather well with only a few glitches. Embarkation and especially disembarkation were probably the best I've ever experienced with the exception of Silversea. I was able to make a 10:20am return flight home with no problems, and even had time to spare. Of two unfortunate items, the first was a dirty cabin upon arrival. There were old magazines under the couch cushions, left over cookies and vitamins in the nightstand drawer, and lots of dust everywhere. Happily the problems were rectified and service improved considerably for the remainder of the cruise. This lack of detail seemed evident in other areas onboard MAASDAM as well. Chipping paint, steel grates that were rusting apart, carpet stains, scratched elevators, etc. While MAASDAM was very comfortable, she did not feel very clean, and maybe a little tender loving care or better yet, a dry-dock is in order. The second unsettling item was that I never received a cruise questionnaire survey on the last day. The Cruise Director made a point of how important it was to fill these out, coaching all guests each step of the way. When I enquired at the Front Office, I was told it would be delivered later in the day. Later in the day I enquired again, and was told the surveys were all distributed and no more were available. I find this rather appalling as it gives the impression that HAL does not care. I was told to write my comments on a piece of paper and drop it off. Unacceptable. I'm not sure who is responsible for the comments form, but I was curious if it was the cabin steward that he may have purposely omitted the distribution of my form due to our earlier problems? Just a passing thought. In any case, it's hard to believe HAL did not have extras on hand.
A word about my fellow passengers. A nice and polite group, if not rather sedate. Very white middle class America "plain Jane's" if you will. I'm not saying this in a negative way, just stating a fact. Diversity was certainly lacking on this sailing. There was very little dressing up, even less then a short Carnival cruise I took last year. I wore a tux and I would estimate that only 2% of the gentleman wore tuxes. I don't know if this is typical of Holland America, or maybe just because it was Alaska, or possibly just a one-off occurrence? There was very little nightlife to speak of, and this is what I remember most of my last HAL cruise and one of the reasons I have not sailed with them in some time. I'm not looking for a Carnival atmosphere every night, but a little activity after 11pm is appreciated.
One last thing before the pros and cons. Alaska! Wow, what a gorgeous place! We had incredible weather in all our ports, and in fact many locals called each day a "top 10" and kept reminding us how lucky we were. It was so warm during some days that passengers were sunbathing. My partner and I only took one tour, and that was a rail and bike journey in Skagway. I can't say enough about this incredible experience, which included a 2 hour train ride on the scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad ( www.wpyr.com ) to Fraser B.C., then a fleet of 24 speed mountain bikes awaited us as we rode the 26 mile journey back to downtown Skagway. The view was breathtaking as was the weather. There were about 12 of us all together, and as I was riding through those snow-capped mountains all I could think about was the Sound of Music! Yes, "Climb Every Mountain" was buzzing in my head and I felt like one of the von Trapp children following Maria through Austrian countryside. :) What an amazing experience!
Ok, now to the meat and potatoes of the review...
THE SHIP Pros (+) + incredible outdoor deck space + nice layout + very smooth ride, little vibration + wonderful public access to the bow area + great windows everywhere, perfect for Alaska + covered pool for colder days + Ocean Bar and the Piano Bar were my two favorite areas
Cons (-) - décor is somewhat outdated and tired - no music in the gym - no elliptical exercise machines in the gym - too many revenue and non-revenue producing announcements - the Captain was very nice, but in every announcement he would say "the beautiful and elegant MAASDAM" as if he was trying to convince you of this fact - exterior needs painting, too much bleeding of paint and rust, plus decaying steel - the ship was not very clean and could use better maintenance - no future cruise desk or brochures onboard
The Cabin Pros (+) + wonderful 3-channel radio that was NOT part of the TV + great full sized tub + nice logo towels, something you don't see much of anymore + great location + news of the world delivered everyday + heating and air conditioning worked extremely well + great water pressure + comfortable beds + paper, pen, postcards in cabin.. very nice touch + bathroom was fully tiled
Cons (-) - old magazines were found under the sofa cushions - old cookies and vitamins were found in the nightstand drawer - décor a little outdated - cheap plastic ice bucket - dusty cabin upon arrival - bed cover and blankets need replacing - no clock in cabin - telephone wake-up call system was in disrepair during our cruise - no robes - no "ship personalities interviews" TV channel like other ships have
Food and Service Pros (+) + excellent quality food + excellent variety + great presentation + wonderful free ice cream + talented string quartet in the dining room each evening + white cloth covered tables and chairs on formal night looked great! + most of the bar staff were wonderful, remembering names and drinks
Cons (-) - bar service could be slow at times, as some staff seemed preoccupied - some staff were indifferent - happens on every ship
Activities and Shows Pros (+) + very nice Internet Café and Library + $40 for 120 minutes on the Internet + special crew show was great fun
Cons (-) - shows were only average and on a smaller scale then other ships - other entertainers were ok, nothing special - most bands appealed to an older crowd - very little poolside music (probably just in Alaska) - not enough daytime activities
Ports Pros (+) + all fantastic + rail and bike tour in Skagway was incredible + amazing weather - sunny and 70's everyday
Cons (-) - tendering was required in Ketchikan, but it was a very efficient operation
Miscellaneous Pros (+) + escorted to cabin during embarkation (Celebrity also gives champagne) + roving chimes by the doorman indicating dinner is being served + our bags arrived in the cabin before we did + great MAASDAM tile given to Mariners members + nice HAL tote to each passenger (Celebrity also does this) + funny Dutch hats still given out on Dutch night in the dining room + very good embarkation and excellent disembarkation
Cons (-) - very few tuxes and dresses worn on formal night - formal night did not seem very formal with some people in t-shirts and jeans - the famous HAL elevator fold down interior chairs are history
Ships Spotted (for the ship lovers out there) EUROPA CARNIVAL SPIRIT CRYSTAL HARMONY SPIRIT OF OCEANUS SEVEN SEAS MARINER PRINSENDAM STATENDAM NORWEGIAN WIND MERCURY RADIANCE OF THE SEAS
In closing, it was a relaxing cruise. A bit more sedate then I would prefer, but I blame that more on Alaska cruising then Holland America itself. Would I cruise on Holland America again? Absolutely! They probably would not be my first choice but none the less offer a respectable and sound product.
Holland America Line Maasdam by John Parsons Eastern Caribbean April 20, 2003
little about ourselves?..we are married in our mid-50?s?.this our 5th cruise. Previously, we have cruised with the recently defunct tub Regal Empress, Celebrity Mercury, Princess Grand , and the Norwegian Sun. We are not party hardy types, and a good cruise for us is good food, a nice show and some low-impact shore excursions. Since this was Easter week and we didn?t want to be inundated with kids on the mega-liners at the advice of AAA and my brother we decided to book on Holland America. The Maasdam met our date requirement.
Embarkation/Debarkation This was handled very well by Holland. Numbers were passed out and no lines to stand in waiting forever. I saw no real beefed up security in the post 9/11 era. Unless you were carrying an Uzi or 20 kilos of drugs in your luggage I doubt anyone would have known. Overall, an ?A? in this area.
Built in 1992, I won?t bore you with the stats. The ship was well cared for with lots of wood and fine carpets. Large flower arrangements at every turn andsupposedly a 2 million dollar art and antique collection. It was well-laid out and easy to navigate your way around. Although full, seldom seemed crowded, elevators uncrowded and easily accessable. On the 6th level, (lower promenade) there was a wonderful ¼ mile covered deck that could be navigated without any stairs. This seemed to be a favorite with all passenger types. Lining this deck were classic wooded chairs with cushions. Unfortunately, the cushions were removed in early evening.
We were in an outside stateroom(c-371) on the promenade deck and the room was well-cared for and comfortable with ample storage. When we arrived I turned on the small 13? TV and it didn?t come on prompting a call to the desk. About a full minute later it did come on and I realized it was a tube type of television. I guess it was part of the 2 million dollar antique collection. Our room had a safe, no fridge, and a good lighting system.
The Rotterdam dining room was the only formal dining available on this ship, which was alright with us. We are not in favor of paying extra for restaurants on a cruise. There was also a lido buffet, and several smaller burger, taco, pizza and stir fry stations. We ate lunch twice in the lido and once for breakfast?.it was good, not spectacular. The pizza had good crust and nice cheese flavor?.a close second to the Mercury. Other mornings we used the room service to deliver a full breakfast?.a nice idea not followed on every ship we have been on?..it was generally correct and always delivered hot. I give Holland an ?A? in the room service category. It was offered on a 24 hour basis, with a limited menu after 10pm. Apple pie and chocolate cake always available. The dining room was very nice with lots of windows and a good atmosphere. Service was superb!! We requested and received a table for two?.it?s not that we are anti-social, but some nights we don?t feel like being ?on?. Our table was in the second row from the windows(#146) and we were very pleased with the location and our waiter(Arika). Overall, I say the food was very good, not excellent. The appetizers were especially delicious, as were the breads. Most entrees lacked spice, flavor but what can you expect when you are serving 1200. My best meal was swordfish. My wife enjoyed the Tortellini. The beef was generally tough and average tasting. Not up to the general quality of our local Outback. Desserts were very good on the whole. I especially enjoyed the apple-raisin-nut pie, key lime pie, and a hazelnut cake which was the star of the dessert week. On Monday or Tuesday, they had the waiters dance out with some kind of chiffon pie that everyone had to eat. It was awful, worse than the Jell-O box mixes in the store. Two bites and I saved the calories for room service apple pie later. Friday night was the traditional lobster tails?.as many frozen 6 months lobster tails as you could tolerate?.and of course that Baked Alaska parade(which I can live without). I could go on and on?..overall food was a ?B?
You must realize you are not going to get the same quality entertainment on a small ship you will on the mega liners. With that said, the entertainment was still our biggest disappointment. The Maasdam singers and dancers were wonderful and put on fine shows on Monday and Friday nights with Friday?s PartyGra being really enjoyable. They do a great job with the budget they have. The showroom is beautiful with bad sightlines. Get there early and get seats up front if you want to see the shows. The rest of the week?s entertainment was a joke. Edge the juggler was on part of Sunday night and then a whole night by himself?..we walked out on him, I am sure it has happened before. Tuesday night they wheeled in a screen and showed a James Bond movie?.please!!! The topper was a man and his duck?.a Vaudeville act, a ventriloquist, who according to the hype had been a big star on radio(and I don?t mean public radio). We couldn?t bring ourselves to attend, although a 90 year-old man in a wheelchair did tell me he was very funny. Worth mentioning is the movie theatre. It is a true movie theatre that shows two films per day. Better than any ship we have been on to date. Popcorn was free and available 15 minutes before the feature. I have long legs and enjoyed the horizontal fire aisle seat with 6 feet of leg room. All chairs were very comfortable, on a par with the best movie theatres. Outside of the theatre was a free espresso and cappuccino bar?a great feature also.
First stop was Half Moon Cay?.a nice private island. Since we live in Florida we are not beach impressed, but this place was nice. This couple from Iowa thought they were on Fantasy Island?.I supposed it is to a view of a corn field. The food cookout was good?we had baby back ribs?not the best we have had?but good.
A bus trip in Puerto Rico saw some old forts and did some shopping in the old city. This is a very enjoyable place. Historical tour in St. Thomas, very nice island, very interesting, very beautiful. Good picture opportunities. We had been here before and had already done the St. John?s snorkel thing. Nassau brought the biggest shore excursion rip off I have experienced. A $59 per person historical harbor tour and admission to the Atlantis casino and aquarium tour. You can take the same harbor ride for $3 per person each way, or a cab for $4 per person each way. The aquarium tour was not worth it and is priced separately at $25 according to the guide. Anyway you look at it don?t waste your money. Atlantis was unusual, but you can do the whole thing for under $15 per couple if you want.
A fun time as all of our cruises have been. Service both by our room stewart and our waiter were superb. The crew was friendly and helpful. This is definitely a strength on this ship. Hal has some silly no tipping rule?.we tipped above normal for above normal service. These people need and they do deserve the money. On the ?casual dining? cruises we have had some really poor dining service. This is a key-down cruise, bring a few good books and relax. Early to bed early to rise is the rule here.
Holland America Line Maasdam by Stargazerm31 Western Caribbean October 20, 2002
This is my tenth cruise and Pam's eleventh and our first on HAL. We have sailed the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, Summit 02, and NCL Star 02.
In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look in shops. I rarely use the casino, and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don't confuse or compare it to 5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night.
Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. This is My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases, and with that said, here is my humble opinion of the HAL Maasdam.
Preface We booked this cruise in March of this year. We have always wanted to try HAL and see how it compares to Celebrity and Princess. We were also looking for a good price and one that sailed this week in October. This left us with the Maasdam. I have mainly read good reviews on the Maasdam. The only main issue that I hear is the central air in the rooms leaves a little to be desired. Another good point is that we have done the western Caribbean six times (now to be our seventh) and this allows us to really relax because there is no rush to see Grand Cayman, Cozumel, or Ocho Rios. We really love the sea days so we were looking forward to a relaxing trip.
Ft. Lauderdale I used Priceline to get a room for the Saturday night stay. I like staying in the 17th Street area that is close to the pier and the airport. I also like this part of town because you really don't need a rental car if you don't want to. There is plenty of shopping and restaurants within easy walking distance from most of the hotels.
We ended up at the Embassy Suite on 17th Street. This was the first time that we have stayed at this property.
We have stayed at the Amerisuites and Marriott Marina in this area. I would have to say the Marriott and the Embassy are the best. I know that there are many Amerisuites fans there and it is a fine place, but given a choice I would pay $10 to $20 more for the night stay at the Embassy over the Amerisuites.
Once we arrived, it is a 15 to 20 minute walk up 17th street to the bridge. This is great exercise plus you can see the ships that are in port. This is the third straight year we have cruised from FLL during this week. I have never seen so few ships in port on Saturday. There were only two cruise ships (Century and another ship). That was it. FLL was not crowded at all.
After that, we walked back to the Embassy dropped off some stuff and then went back down 17th St to have dinner at Bravo. It is in the same plaza as the Bimini Boatyard Restaurant with the Renaissance Hotel. We had heard great things on Bravo from DiveTex.
It was well worth it. Mainly pasta type dishes with one fish special. Prices range from $10 to $25 a plate and most come with soup or salad. The salad was fresh and they bring it in a bowl and you dish it out on your plates. We had the garlic bread and it IS garlicky! Pam had the wheat pasta with marinara. Pam rated it as okay. I had the Pollo Siciliano which is breaded chicken breast that is then baked with egg plant, cheese, and tomato sauce with spaghetti with red sauce on the side. It was excellent, but I could only eat half. Had ice tea and it was fresh and brewed and was excellent.
We then went down to the Eckerd drug store and got our bottled water and then went and bought a bottle of wine to take on board and went back to the Embassy. We had an 11:15 appointment to be taken to the piers by the Embassy. Embassy has shuttles that go every 30 minutes starting at 11:15 and you sign up for your time when you check in. I know that we probably couldn't board until 1 or 1:30, but I would rather wait around the pier check-in area than the hotel. Checkout at the Embassy is noon.
Embarkation: (A) We are always anxious to start our cruise so we like to board as soon as the cruise line will allow us. I like Celebrity in that they will normally let you board at 11 AM even if the rooms aren't ready. You can drop your carry-ons in your room and then go to the public deck until they are ready at noon or 12:30 PM.
HAL is not like that. From all the feedback I received, boarding doesn't normally begin until 1PM to 1:30 PM. This seems tight with a 5 PM departure.
We left the Embassy at 11:15. We were there by 11:30 AM. There were quite a few people there and they had not opened the doors for check in yet. We dropped our checked bags with the porters waiting to take them. About that time they asked us to form a line. We were about 30th in line.
The line to get in by noon was long and looked like it went to Georgia. Even at 1:00 PM, it looked like the line was pretty long.
They opened the doors at noon on the dot. You enter the embarkation area and weave through a line that has one x-ray machine and metal detector. This is a waste of time. They then check your docs and passport and direct you to a check in area. They then give you your boarding number. We were in group 4.
They take your docs and enter passport information give you a room key and your card used for charges and leaving/entering the ship. They do not do your credit card then, but ask that you go to the front desk in the first couple of days to set up the credit card you want to charge.
You then proceed to the waiting area to board. There is an upstairs and downstairs. We went up stairs where there are comfortable seats. It is air conditioned and nice. You board the ship from the upstairs. The only thing that is missing is they don't have water, tea, or punch like Celebrity does. Boarding was to begin at 1:30 PM, and it actual began at 1:25. Pam and I were on by 1:45 and in our room.
I never felt crowded or rushed by the other pax like I was waiting to board on Princess and on some of the Celebrity cruises. The crowd appears to be a good mix of young 20s and 30s, middle-age 40s and 50s and older passengers and all have been very friendly and willing to strike up conversations.
The Ship(A) The ship is 9+ years old. It made her debut in 1993. She is 55,451 gross tons. This is small compared to the new ships that are coming in at close to twice the weight. She is 720 feet long and 101 feet at the beam. At double occupancy, the maximum number of paxs is 1,266. HAL claims there are 10 pax decks, but I really don't count the Sky Deck.
The main public decks are the Promenade and Upper Promenade, Lido and Sports Decks. You board on Main deck and from the minute we boarded, I found that I loved the ship. I have been on ships ranging in size from 47,000 tons to 110,000 tons and while the new ships are stylish and new, I think I like this ship in both size and style compared to the new ones.
I think the problem I see with many people not being happy is they don't rate it for the time period it was built in. An example, the atrium is grand on the Maasdam. Many will disagree when comparing it to the ships built since the late 1990s. What I think you should do is rate it on the time period. This ship was built right when they were moving from a single floor reception area like is on the Celebrity Zenith and Horizon. Comparing this atrium to those ships welcome area, it IS grand. You can't compare two different time periods and I don't try.
The other thing of sure beauty is all the teak wood that was used on her. You just don't see that much used any more especially on the Promenade deck. There were plenty of lounge chairs that are made of wood. Don't worry when you board the staff will put pads on them and they are more comfortable than they look on embarkation day. The other teak area that was great is the back pool and deck area and the fore observation deck.
The most important area (IMHO LOL) is the Rotterdam Dining Room. By modern standards, it may not be as elegant, but in 1993 compared to the Zenith, it was outstanding. It is a two level dining room on the aft of the ship. There is a stairwell that goes down from deck 8 to the lower area on deck 7. You can also enter both levels from the main elevator area. I found the dining room to be very elegant and tasteful. I also liked the fact that the tables aren't crammed together like on the newer ships (Millennium and Summit). There are a lot of tables for two, four, and six, and there are several for eight located on both levels. The captains table is not located in the main dining area but in side areas of the upper deck called the King's room and the Queen's room.
We were very fortunate in that we were at table 122 on the main floor (deck 7 Promenade Deck). It was all the way aft and was a table of 6 but there were only four of us. We were right by the windows and had a great sunset view when heading east. The ship does not vibrate like the Century class ships and it was a wonderful spot to have dinner.
:From deck 7 (Promenade deck), you have to go up or down the back stairwells or elevators to enter on deck 7. The other options are to enter on deck 8 and go down the stairs inside the Rotterdam. You have to do this because the galley separates the dining room from the public areas on deck 7. Deck 7 is rarely used. The main items there are the Rotterdam dining room and the lower level of the Rembrandt Lounge (fore). The photo gallery is there along with the Front Office and Shore Excursions. The Wajang Theater is there as well and it usually shows a couple of movies with popcorn each day.
Deck 8 (Upper Promenade) is the main public, inside deck. This deck has the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge, boutiques, Ocean bar, Casino, Casino Bar, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Card Room, Library, Internet Café and the upper level of the Rotterdam Dining room.
One thing I really like about this ship is that the casino is on one side and doesn't span the entire width port to starboard. This means if you are going aft to fore (or vice versa), you do not have to go through the casino. There are five shops total that have the standard perfume, liquor, jewelry, ship named items and specialty items. Nothing special.
The casino was small by new ship standards, but I never saw it full. You have the normal donation machines to HAL (slots), several black jack tables, Caribbean stud poker, one roulette wheel and one craps table.
On the other side of the casino (port side) there is a sitting area between the casino and the shops. There are several chairs with tables with the Casino Bar there. They have two large TVs that show ESPN.
The Ocean Bar is a nice bar on the starboard side just before you enter the Rembrandt Balcony. It was busy before first seating for dinner and between first and second seating. The band that played there, The Station Band, were excellent.
On the aft is the Explorer's Lounge. Funny part is we wanted to go have a drink there pre dinner at 5:30 and it didn't open till 7:30. Celebrity and the Martini and Champaign bar have this down. You can get drinks there before either meal. We ended up back at the Ocean Bar by the Rembrandt Lounge.
The Piano bar is tucked away mid-ship on deck 8. It is a nice cozy bar that is dimly lit with a piano (imagine that) and a bar with stools that ring it. There are two areas that have tables and chairs close by that allow for small groups or more quiet conversation. It is a very nice area. It is reserved for suite passengers on disembarkation morning.
Deck 7 and 8 are anchored by the Rembrandt Lounge to the fore and the Rotterdam Dining Room aft. The Rembrandt Lounge is very beautiful. The walls and stairwells have a very elegant wall paper and the stairs going from the main level to the balcony have solid wood rails with brass spacers and they spiral up to the balcony. The chairs on the main level are comfortable as where the bench type seats in the balcony. The main issue that I see with the main floor is that it is considered a lounge and not a theater. This would be correct based on the layout. It reminded me of the Zenith. The stage is about 3 feet above the floor level so you are always looking up. The whole main area is flat. I did not find it conducive to seeing the shows or the acts. The balcony does have a gradual angle but not enough to aid the view. If you are not in the first row, then you will find yourself looking around peoples shoulders and heads to try and see. Not good site lines in the lounge.
The Rotterdam is very beautiful. As stated earlier, the tables are not packed together and there are many great views. Both upstairs and downstairs tables set right up against the back window offering wonderful views. The chairs are not as elegant as modern ships, but they are very comfortable and conductive to an excellent dining experience.
The center of the lower level is slightly raised compared to the rest of the lower level tables. The top is open to the upper level over the raised portion of the lower level. The raised area holds most of the larger tables that can seat eight. Some are round and a few are rectangular. The ceiling on the second level that is over the opening to the lower is covered with dozens of tulip shaped glass lights.
On the upper level facing aft as you enter is the orchestra pit for the players. Off to either side is a stair way that circles down to the main level. There is a large multi layered flower holder in the middle where the stairs coming down end that is filled with plants. There are large chandeliers throughout the dinning area giving it a classy feel.
On the aft of deck 10, the Navigation deck is the aft pool. This is where most of the sail away parties and music is held. There are dozens of lounge chairs for the sun worshipper and there are tables to sit and eat or just watch from. Shade can be found there, but it is normally in the sun.
Deck 11, the Lido deck is the main deck for out door activity. The Lido Restaurant is on the aft. There are plenty of tables inside. You can go out back and eat outside with an overlook view of the pool on deck 10. Mid-ship is the Dolphin bar, the Lido Pool, and the Terrace Grill. The Dolphin bar is nice and is where cigar smokers go from 6 PM to mid-night for cigars under the stars.
A retractable roof that is opened up over the Lido Pool to allow sun and a breeze into the area covers the mid portion of the Lido deck. There are two hot tubes on the fore side and the dome covers them. The grill is a hole in the wall and they have a very nice taco bar out front of the grill window. There are plenty of lounge chairs and tables. It is a busy place on sea days, but there is plenty of room on days you are in port. This area would be a great place for Alaska or New England.
The main area on deck 12, the Sports deck is the Crow's Nest Lounge. It is located fore ship and offers a wonderful view during the day and is where Rockin Ronnie plays songs after dinner and into the wee hours. This is another great viewing area for scenic views like Alaska or New England when you may want to stay warm.
The ship uses a lot of solid wood in its trim. Something you do not see much of on the new ships anymore due to costs. This gives the Maasdam a more elegant and luxurious feel than the newer ships. The stairwell handrails are all made of this solid, dark wood and they are well cared for.
Another area that I really like is how they have the elevators offset from the stairwells. In most ships, when you come down or go up the stairs, you end up fighting through those waiting for the elevators and it creates a big traffic jam. On the Maasdam, there is a room where two sets of elevators on each side face each other. This allows guests to wait without impacting the stairs. Due to the size of the Maasdam, there are only two sets of elevators (fore and aft) containing 4 elevators at each location. This was more than adequate in accommodating the needs of the guests.
Rooms: (A) We take the view most of the time that we would rather save the money and cruise more often. Because of that thought process, we booked a Guaranteed N back in March. We received our actual room assignment the Monday before sailing.
We were very surprised and happy with our assignment. We were upgraded to a cat F that is an outside room. We were in room F729 on A Deck. We were in the fore of the ship on starboard side. We were right by the front stair well and elevators. There was some noise, but we always take and use our ear plugs so it was never bothersome.
The room is well laid out. There is plenty of closet space and drawers and it easily held two people with room to spare. It is easily the published 197 square feet.
The beds were up against the window and pushed together. There is a stand on each side of the bed with two drawers. The desk area has 6 wide drawers and a space for the chair to slide under. The mirror is large in front of the desk but there is only one 115v and one 220v outlet so bring your extension cord. The closet space has four doors. The first has a life preserver and the safe and some shelves for storing things. The second door is a full length, hanging closet for those items that are long such as suites, gowns, slacks, etc. The final two doors have hanging rod for half height items such as shirts and slacks that are folded over a hanger. There is storage space below it to stow other items.
The room also contained a nice, but firm two seat couch which folds out to a bed for a third person in the room if needed. There is also a table stand that can be adjusted in height and a sitting stool.
The cabin walls were a light, whitish-beige color that were plain but bright. The carpet was dark but in very good condition. The beds were firm, but that suited Pam and I just fine. I have read many posts complaining about the room temperature and the in ability to keep the room cool enough. In fact, we froze on the first night. We found that the room maintained a 70 F to 73 F temp throughout the cruise.
The bathroom was the only place that was showing its age. The walls were made of small 2" square tile that were a pinkish-mauve color. The outside rooms come with the combination tub-shower. This is the first time that we have ever had one. Personally, I would rather just have the shower, but there was nothing wrong with the tub. It is just strange having to step up that high to get in the shower.
Another common posting problem I had read about was the plumbing. We did not encounter any in room plumbing issues. The biggest issue was the toilet might wait one to three minutes to flush, but it always did. The water was shutoff in our part of the ship on Saturday while we were at Half Moon Cay from 9 AM to 1:30 PM for repair work, but this had little effect on us.
The Staff: (A) Being our first cruise, I was expecting service similar to Celebrity. However there were some posts that did not like HAL service on the Maasdam stating that they "would give you what they wanted to give you on the Lido Deck buffet" or "they were unfriendly".
:From the minute Pam and I boarded, I found the staff on the Maasdam to be attentive and very friendly. The crew is mainly Philippine in nationality, or in that region so there were a few times where I would have to point to what I wanted or slow down when speaking but I never had a problem. They never pushed what they wanted at the Lido buffet and I always found them smiling and happy.
I have no idea who our room steward was. There was no name stand in the room and we had been there one full day before we even knew who they were. They did what they was suppose to do. They keep our room in good, clean working order. They were not as proficient as other room stewards we have had. We take a collapsible cooler for our water and we ask them to keep it filled with ice. They did this about every other day. Pam asked for a robe, but the steward did not get it or tell us why he didn't. Pam found that only suite guests get robes. Finally, Pam always asks for extra towels every day. We got them the first day, but never again. Did this ruin our vacation? Hardly, but this is what separates superior service from good service.
Our dinning room Waiter was Siswanto and his assistant was August. They did an outstanding job of keeping the courses coming in a timely manner. They were always greeting us with a smile and they remembered what we had ordered. Al and Mona were are table mates and Al ordered tomato juice the first night. It was always there waiting on him each night there after. Our wine steward was Petrus and he did an excellent job as well. Unlike Celebrity where my wine glass would get empty and sometimes be empty for 10 to 15 minutes. Petrus always keep our glass full. In fact, Pam's glass was never more than half empty and mine was never empty before Petrus refilled it.
At lunch in the dining room and at the Dutch tea, they were attentive and on top of it. They were probably the best overall staff that I have had on a cruise. They were friendly and efficient. That is all I ask for in the staff. I would rate them an A..
THE TIPPING POLICY. HAL's tipping policy is not only confusing, it is down right stupid. Pam and I tipped as we would on Celebrity or Princess.
The food: (B+ to A-) Food is always subjective depending on each individuals taste. So take my review with that in mind. I think Celebrity food is the best at sea so I was anxious to compare HAL's offerings to that of Celebrity's.
When you board at 1:30 AM, the Maasdam has the grill and taco bar working mid-Lido deck and the Lido Buffet. The buffet was excellent. In fact, it is the first one on any cruise that I can say was very good. There is a fresh selection of fruits, pasta/potato/tuna type salads, breads and cheeses, along with hot food selections which include pizza and French fries. They also have a couple cold salad stands to build your own salad.
In the Rotterdam Dining room, the beef dishes were very good and had good flavor. The lamb dishes also turned out very well. The few pasta dishes were very good and Pam had a couple of vegetarian dishes that were excellent as well. Fish dishes were very good, but did not show much creativity since most were just pan fried.
The appetizers were usually very good to excellent and you would have three or four choices. There was always two hot soups and on some nights they would have a chilled soup. Most nights, HAL offered a house salad and would offer a second type salad. The main course would have four or five offers and an additional two or three from the grill. The last course is desert. There would always be three to five deserts plus they would offer two to four ice cream flavors as well.
HAL offers pizza up on the Lido Restaurant and it was as good a Celebrity. Only issue is that HAL would offer two types each day. Some toppings I like others I didn't. I really prefer just a plain cheese pizza and you could not get that every day there..
The other item they have and excel at is the ice cream parlor on the Lido Deck in the Restaurant. They offer four or five flavors plus toppings or you can have it in a waffle cone.
HAL offers a pastry area where they have about a dozen offerings ranging from cakes and pies to pastries and jell-o thingies in the Lido Restaurant.
The Lido Restaurant has a good offering every breakfast and lunch. I loved their French toast. There were always a large number of fresh fruits and hot food items. The pastries are very good, but not as good as Celebrity.
To answer the question of dress code for each night, HAL had 4 - casual nights, 1 - informal (sport coat) and 2 - formal nights. First night is always casual, 2nd is Formal, 3rd was Informal, 4th and 5th were casual, 6th formal, and last night is always casual.
In summary, please take this with the salt mentioned earlier in the review. This reflects MY personal preferences and likes. Celebrity is still the best food at sea. HAL is a solid second and is better than Princess IMHO (I think Pam disagrees). HAL's fish preparations could be improved and their deserts are good but don't measure up to the quality on Celebrity. Is there any room for real complaints on HAL? No, not as far as I can see. I hurt myself every morning, noon, and night and never walked away hungry. If you do walk away hungry then it is your own fault. They offer a wide selection of food on their dinner menu, and you can always find something at the Lido Restaurant that fits the bill. Throw in the great waiting staff HAL has and it is a solid winner.
Entertainment (B) We decided to do the show on the first night. The Rembrandt Theater is not large and the sight lines in the balcony are not good if you are not in the front row. The shows normally start at 8:30 PM for the first seating diners, and at 10:15 PM for the late seating.
The singers and dancers were okay doing the opening number on "rock the boat" and how great the Maasdam is. The comedic juggler, Edge, was outstanding. It is amazing how many times you can see jugglers and find them funny. They don't do the same stuff and the crowd participation was unlike any I had seen before. It was a laugh a second.
We heard from our table mates that the singers and dancers show on the second night (Upon the Roof - songs of the 50s and 60s) was very good although we did not go. The third night featured a magician and we did not go to that one either, but we did see him on the last night and he was excellent then.
On Wednesday night we went and saw the comedian, Don Sherman. He was outstanding and he had everyone laughing. Again, I am amazed at the crowd participation on this cruise. It added a tremendous amount of energy to his show and to Edge's show on the first and last night.
Friday night we went to see the singers and dancers do a number act (Party Gras). They are good dancers, but not a one of them has seen the light of day. They are so white they glow in the dark on stage. The singers are average to good. It was enjoyable and they do put all their energy into the show and you can see they enjoy what they are doing. Before the show, Pam and I went to the Newlywed-Not So Newlywed show and that is always a hoot, and this one did not disappoint.
Saturday night, HAL wraps up with the magician and Edge. It is a great show and not to be missed.
Disembarkation (A) Because we had a very late flight (after 4 PM), we received two packets. They had different numbers (11 and 17). Since we were getting a rental car to poke around Sawgrass Mall, we left with the group number 11.
You are asked to be out of your room by 8 AM. Breakfast is only served till 8 AM in both the Lido and Rotterdam dining rooms. The Maasdam arrived at about 6:30 AM. Disembarkation began at 9:50 AM. The disembarkation ticket number means nothing because the don't go down in order. They started with tickets A and 1 then went to 5 and 6 then D and 2. They did 8, 9 and 12 before our number 11. Then they did 11 and 14. Go figure.
The process was smooth and there was no rushing or shoving. You exit on deck 4 (Main deck) and go down the gangway. Their in the upstairs waiting area they had four lines for passport check. You then go downstairs and before entering the baggage area you give customs your declaration form. Our bags were right where they were suppose to be in the color coded area. We were out front by 10:30 AM. Taxi's were plentiful and there were buses waiting on those with transfers. Because our flight wasn't until 3:30 PM we booked with Avis. Use and another group ended up calling 5 times trying to get them there. They kept saying 10 minutes then blamed it on airport construction. They finally got there about 11 AM. I am preferred so we were dropped off at the car and we had our car by 11:15 AM.
Ports of Call
COZUMEL, MEXICO: The Maasdam arrives in Cozumel after a day at sea around 6:30 AM. The ship sets its time back to CDS time. Shops open at between 8 and 9 AM. You depart at 2 PM. This does not give you much time to do a tour and then shop without being totally rushed. Since Pam and I have been there a half dozen times or so we waited till about 10 AM and headed out to get a few things. The ship docks at Puerto Maya pier that is by the International pier. It is a three mile taxi ride to downtown. They are really building up this pier and there will be a new shopping plaza in the next two to six months that will hold about 50 stores by my guess once it is done. At this time, it is a total mess and zoo. Taxi's were very abundant and waiting so we walked right out and up to taxi and we were on our way. It is $6 to town. It was in the upper 80s and clear and hot! We were back by 12:30 after shopping and a drink. Taxi's back are plentiful and easy to find as well. There were 6 ships total in Cozumel t
GRAND CAYMAN: This was very disappointing. I say this for those that were wanting to do things. Like Cozumel, Pam and I have been here a half dozen times or so thus we didn't have anything planned. The Maasdam arrives at 8:30 AM. They handout tender tickets in the Rembrandt Lounge on deck 7, but they don't publish it well. They did announce it at around 7:45 AM. We wanted to let those go that needed to so we moseyed on down at about 10 AM to get our ticket. We were number 24 and they had just called 2! They wanted every one to stay in the lounge but we thought no way. It was going to be at least an hour so we got our books and went to the Promenade deck and read. It was 11:20 AM before they called us and we weren't on Grand Cayman until 11:40 AM. This was ridicules since we had to be back on board by 4:30 PM. For us it didn't matter because we were back by 1 PM, but there were a lot of upset people. There were only 4 ships in that day and we were the last ship there and only the Grand Princess
OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA: You dock in Ochie at about 8:15 AM and you have to be on board by 5:30 PM. We walked to the end of the pier and took pictures of the ship, but spent the day by the Lido pool. It was great. There were very few people to contend with on the ship. Better than a sea day if you ask me. The day was hot sunny and perfect. Jamaica is beautiful but they are just too pushy and there is nothing that I want to see again. We were the only ship in port that day. I only think it can handle one ship at a time.
HALF-MOON CAYS, BAHAMAS: This is the best private island I have been to. That really doesn't mean much because I only have Princess Cay to compare to. We arrived at 7 AM and dropped anchor. We got our tender ticket at 7:45 AM and we were in group 2. We then proceeded to have breakfast at the Lido Restaurant. By the time we got back to our room, they were sending us ashore. We were on the first boat and on shore by 8:25 AM or there about.
The beach is long and there are a lot of chairs on the beach. Finding one is not a problem. They have about a dozen covered areas that cover two lounge chairs on the beach. Pam and I snagged one because Pam is so fair skinned. There are a few umbrellas and some shade from trees in the morning, but during the afternoon there is little to no shade.
The sand is the finest sand I have ever seen and it is very, very soft and white. The swimming area is very shallow (knee to chest deep to about 60 feet out), and the water was very warm and refreshing. We spent about an hour to hour and a half total in the water.
After staking our claim to chairs, we took about a 45 minute walk along the beach to close to the end on the west side. I cannot say how great a walking and swimming beach this is. There are several restrooms and the picnic eating area is very large with plenty of tables. There is one shop and several stalls with local knickknacks. They have several bars that sell drinks and soda and they have a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream stand. I assume that it is a pay stand and not free, but I didn't ask.
All in all, this was a very nice place and I am glad we stopped. It was well worth the time.
In conclusion on the ports of call, IMHO HAL needs to eliminate one. You don't get enough time in Grand Cayman or Cozumel. HAL would be better served getting rid of one or the other and spending more time in the other. Better yet get rid of Ocho Rios and space out Grand Cayman and Cozumel with a sea day. Half Moon Cay is a beautiful place. It is a keeper. I know you can't please everyone, but if I owned my own cruise line, I'd do it that way.
Conclusion I really enjoyed HAL. I did not find it to be an "Old Person" line. There was a diverse group of paxs on board and everyone was friendly. The crew and staff were excellent and would always smile at you and many would talk to you. This is one of my top three ships (Galaxy and Summit being the other two.) I love the layout, ship size, and number of passengers.
The only big issue I have is that they do not mark one side of the ship for smoking and one for non-smoking. Celebrity has this right. By splitting the ship it gives a place for smokers to go and not be harassed and a place for the non-smokers to go.
I still think Celebrity is better overall, but if you do like Celebrity or Princess, then you will like HAL. It is a top notch product and is deserving of the Premium Line label.