Year Started: 1873
Ships in Fleet: 15
Summary: A high quality upper mainstream cruise line with smaller ships and value prices. A cruise line for people who want to step up from mainstream at great value prices.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Transpacific, West Coast, Erope
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Eastern Seaboard, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Eastern Seaboard, South America
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Value for Money. Teens. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Africa, Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Scandinavia, The Orient
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Eastern Seaboard, Hawaii, Mexico, South America
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Oceania, The Orient, West Coast
Good for: Seniors. Overall Service. Teens.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Central America, Hawaii, West Coast
Good for: Overall Service. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Central America, Hawaii, Mexico, South America, West Coast
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Foodies.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern, Caribbean Western, Central America, West Coast
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Of twenty-two cruises, this was my fourth on the Maasdam, and I must say the 'old girl' looks just fine. Embarkation in Ft. Lauderale was a breeze, and although the Lido lunch was crowded as expected, it wasn't long before the cabins were ready -- mine no. 753 on A deck, outside, midships.
The cabin was spotless, and continued to be so throughout the cruise thanks to my wonderful and caring steward. Once, he became concerned about my accidentally injuring myself on St. Martin -- I take blood thinners -- and he took it upon himself to bring me Bandaids, etc. He was really a jewel.
The shower had its problems -- low pressure and a strange black residue erupting into the toilet and out of the floor drain after showering. My steward cleaned it up immediately. I chose, however, to shower in the men's locker room; great shower, lots of water. But that was my choice.
No odor from the residue was apparent.
Dining was just wonderful. I was placed at a large table, and the folks there were absolutely delightful; and the food was excellent. I love both lamb and seafoodespecially, and our great waiter knew in advance to bring me double lamb chops and double fish -- on one plate, not two. The wine stewardess was both helpful and personable. They both, along with the asst. waiter, made dinner time a treat. The chef's special dinner was a thing to behold! So much better than the old Dutch hat and cap routine.
The 'Hal Cat' band was only so-so, but it got better when a sound tech came onboard and adjusted things. But, then again, they provide deck entertainment; they are not there to put on a show.
I can't speak for the evening shows in the main lounge as I am an early-to-bed guy.
As for the ports of call, I've been to all of them several times, so there was less pressure to buy into lots of tours. The rum tour on St. Lucia was a hoot -- factory and then tasting. The tasting amounted to about 20 bottles -- open -- and they left you alone for about 45 minutes. Well, that bunch of staid folks turned into a party. We sang and laughed all the way back to the dock.
Only problems were on Dominica and Guadeloupe. On Dominica, I did not take a tour, having been on two before. The harrassment by locals on the pier was so intense, I just returned to the ship. On Guadeloupe, it was worse. A couple were mugged at gunpoint and others were followed and threatened by thugs. HAL is not sailing to Guadeloupe again because of this; guests were warned by authorities not to go beyond the barricades, which enclosed a few kiosks and a duty free shop. All of this said, it is a part of visiting different ports; just know where to go and where not to.
Other ports were wonderful, especially Tortola and fabulous Cane Garden Bay Beach!
Otherwise, a nice ship, friendly folks, great food, superb service and personal care make for, to me, what is a wonderful cruise. I'm on the Maasdam again in May for a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Montreal. That ship is becoming my home away from home.
About Us Jim (66) and I (61) have taken 24 cruises, mostly on HAL. We cruise with HAL largely because of the excellent service, but also to enjoy their generously appointed cabins. We love lazy sea days and usually sleep late and close the casino at night.
Overview This was our tenth cruise on our favorite ship; our first 10-day and our first Panama Canal. We hadn't been on a cruise since March, and this one was well-deserved. As the ship itself is our destination, we won't have any comments about shore excursions.
Service Service, as always, was exemplary. Captain van den Berg found us the calmest waters and even docked ahead of schedule a time or two.
Hotel Manager Mark Pells runs a fine hotel, and all services ran smoothly. Mr. Pells graciously attended our Meet 'n' Greet, which was held in a private section on the port side of the Crow's Nest. It was originally set up with a table for cookies and coffee, but Beverage Manager Mr. Daniela pulled it all out and they served champagne, Mimosas, Bloody Marys and juice, and walked around with trays of pastries, all courtesyof Mr. Pells. He filled us in on the itinerary and answered a few questions, then introduced the Panama Tour Guide Richard Ditrich, and Cruise Director Jesse. He is probably the most accessible Hotel Manager we've ever met, and it is clear that he is well respected by his dedicated and professional crew.
Most notable staff/crew:Captain Dirk van den Berg Hotel Manager Mark Pells Cruise Director Jesse "Yessie" Higley Concierges Kate and Bong DR Manager Mr. Sanjay Nariani DR Supervisor Arpad Plavecz DR Supervisor Mr. Leo
We found a few nice surprises! The physical changes to the ship are beautiful. At first I balked at the demise of our beautiful Oak Room, but once I experienced the Explorations Cafe, it grew on me. This combination library/internet center/coffee bar is beautifully designed to flow easily into what's left of the Crow's Nest. Every time I visited, it seemed to be better utilized than the old locations were. There is a sliding wooden panel which is pulled close to separate it from the Crow's Nest when in use for private functions. The old Internet Center is now a screening room; the old library is now Mirebella, an upscale gem boutique; the Windstar Cafe is now the new Pinnacle Lounge, a beautiful bar and comfortable seating area attended by the amiable Mark the Shark.
Embarkation I think HAL has the very best embarkation procedure of all. There are very short waits for check-in, and we were aboard in about 15 minutes.
Cabin We were upgraded from SS8099 to SA7061, a Deluxe Suite directly across from the Concierges in the Neptune Lounge. This is the best location we have ever had, and we did not hear any noise from the Lounge entrance at all. This suite was outstanding! Huge (510 total square feet), comfortable room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs. Plenty for two. The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. A generous variety of Elemis products was provided, and refilled daily as needed. There was also an umbrella, laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and 2 fluffy cotton robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table with 3 drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror (1X/5X), 3 closets with mirrored doors and a safe (3 more closets are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with flat screen TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player, binoculars, data port, 2 telephones with voice mail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger. Our cabin steward Muc served us well, working around our odd sleeping habits and provided plenty of ice and towels on request.
We found the usual bottle of champagne from Captain van den Berg and Hotel Manager Mark Pells, a packet from the Concierges with a list of the services they provide, our custom-printed letterhead, post cards & pen. We have stayed in this Cat suite many times, so were not surprised by the clean, well-kept and recently upgraded condition. The only change since our last cruise was the flat screen TV. Everything else seemed 'like home.'
Dining As You Wish Dining is here to stay. Although there is overwhelming support for Traditional (fixed) seating, HAL is holding on tightly to this more flexible dining plan. AYWD allows you to appear at the Vista Dining Room at any time and be seated either alone or with other passengers. I personally do not care to repeat the same cruise talk with new tablemates every night. I like having my iced tea or pretend wine waiting for me when I'm seated, refills without asking, or having my plate removed without waiting for everyone else to finish the course.
On the first night, when there is only one Showroom show, seating in AYWD is difficult to coordinate, so the wait may be longer than other nights. After that, the wait should be no more than a few minutes.
Don't misunderstand -- we had excellent service by all dining room attendants, but, except for the Supervisors, they were different every night. If you 'click' with a waiter at the beginning, you can make a standing reservation at his table for a certain time every night. We tried to ask for Hunky Dory's table, but he was so popular he was completely booked.
Ship's Facilities I have reviewed this ship many times before, so I will not write about everything.
Internet Café: I have no idea how I managed to use up 100 minutes of internet in 3 days. I frequently have many windows open, and even though I logged out of one, the others may have stayed connected. What I need is a (complimentary) unlimited plan.
Staff The Officers, Staff and Crew on this ship offer the highest level of service we have ever seen. They are professional, yet personable, and easily accessible.
Excursions This is my stock advice. I print it with every review. If you haven't already booked online, when you arrive at your cabin you will find a Shore Excursions brochure listing the various activities available shoreside. You may fill out the order form at your leisure and deposit it in the Express Drop Box at the Shore Excursions Desk. Please keep in mind that the most popular trips sell out very fast. If you are traveling with friends and want to go together, put all the tickets on one room card. One time we ordered separately and one couple got the tickets and one couple didn't.
Other Stuff Paul Tanner's show was SRO, and we were lucky to be able to stand up against the wall in the balcony. What a great singer!
At the Mariners' Award Ceremony we received our copper medallions. There were also some silvers and a platinum award. Cocktails and elaborate hors d'oeuvres were served, after which we proceeded to the Vista Dining Room for a lovely luncheon. There are so many Mariners now that the luncheon is divided into two separate seatings on different days.
The Panama Canal The Hotel Manager opened the bow and served Panama Rolls (yum) and offered Mimosas, Champagne and juices. Even though it was drizzling, we enjoyed Richard's history lesson over the PA while we entered the locks. Instead of Colon, we stopped on the dock at Cristobal, which seemed to go on forever. There were many booths with local handicrafts and a great band playing American hits in the local steel drum fashion. The half-naked native Panamanians kind of surprised me, but I guess it's part of the culture.
Thanksgiving Day was by far our BEST sea day ever! We spent a lazy morning getting ready for the sumptuous feast in the Pinnacle hosted by Hotel Manager Mark Pells. He served a lovely Champagne Luncheon with a special dessert -- ice cream in a crunchy shell, fresh strawberries and blueberries topped with strawberry sauce. Devine!
Our friends wanted to have dinner in the Lido, which was not nearly as special as the dining room. The food was the same as in the dining room, but although the service was faster, it was too casual for me. I missed the linen tablecloths, and the room just didn't 'feel' special. I spent the next hour tracking down my favorites to give them their 'above and beyond' tips, and take the last few photos of my vacation family.
Debarkation We had Pink/1 tags, and should have been first off after the wheelchair pax, but at 8:15 we went down to get in line. There were hundreds of people there, but the elevator left us at the head of the line, so we stayed there.
Someone came through and asked everybody ELSE to step aside so they could proceed, and it looked like the Red Sea parting. I think we got off at about 9:00 and found a porter right away who went all the way to the far corner to find our bags, and had us through Customs in about 5 minutes.
Once outside, they told us about the taxi strike, and a very aggressive East Indian van driver offered us a ride for $11 each, so we jumped in. At the airport, he left our bags at the curb, but not at the end of the curbside checkin line that already had 50+ people in it. We got another porter to take the bags inside, and the line there was even longer. I told him my flight was at 10:05, so he took the luggage to the head of the line for luggage tags and found the biggest one was 4 pounds overweight, so he had to charge me for that, and another charge for the 5th bag. I gave him $35 and he sent them through.
He then took us to the front of the Security line (jumping about 100 people) and we had to run to the gate. I paid for priority boarding, so we got right on the half-boarded plane, picked very good seats (first come, first served on Southwest) and departed on time. Whew! If it hadn't been for this wonderful porter, we never would have made that flight.
After we got to Jacksonville, we were so tired we checked back into the hotel and slept for 3 hours. Once on the road, the construction backed us up for about 1-1/2 hours, but we finally got home at about 8:00. We left the puppy at Doggy Sleepover Camp for one more night and made an admirable attempt at unpacking and laundry, but honestly we (I) took 2 days to finish.
Regarding the debarkation, it's annoying when SO many things go wrong. I'm just grateful it happened at the end of the cruise instead of the beginning. Since it was too late to mention this fiasco on our comment cards, I emailed this info to Mark, hoping they can make some adjustments to make certain the early fliers GET OFF EARLY!
Final Thoughts HAL's ms Zuiderdam, whenever she's in the Caribbean, is our ship of choice. We enjoy seeing our 'family' and spending time in her beautiful public areas and generous private accommodations. The passenger mix is right for us -- no uncontrolled children, no trouble finding a chaise at the pool, no pressure to drink all day. It's harder to sail the Zuiderdam now that she's not in the Caribbean in the summer, but we can be patient. One day we may even bite the bullet and actually try an Alaskan cruise.
See you around someday, maybe, on some "dam" ship!
My wife and I are recently retired, in our 60's, and have cruised 21 times. We are not in the travel business and are not cruise experts, so I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in this review.
Extensive photos of the Noordam and of some of the ports on our cruise are available on the internet by clicking here: here. Click on the index photo for thumbnails of all the Noordam photos, then click on the slideshow option or click on individual thumbnails to enlarge them. There are far too many photos to include in this review, but they will give you an idea of what to expect on this beautiful ship.
I shall begin this review with some general observations about the Noordam, then some details of our particular cruise experience, and then conclude with our suggestions for independent sightseeing at each of the ports we visited. I will highlight some topics in ALL CAPS so that you can skip to any areas of particular interest.
THE SHIP This cruise, our third in 2008, was a 10 day Southern Caribbean itinerary in November on HAL's Noordam, the newest of HAL'sfour Vista class ships named after the points of the compass. This was one of the most enjoyable cruises we have experienced so far on any cruise line, and it was certainly the best value, in part due to a last minute cabin upgrade.
We have enjoyed the ambience on previous HAL cruise ships. On the Noordam everything seemed even better, from the décor to the entertainment options to the dining. The service remains topnotch. More about all that later.
At 82,000 tons and a full complement of 1,918 guests, the Noordam is an ideal size for us -- small enough to avoid the hassles of some mega-ships, but large enough to offer a variety of activities and venues, especially on days at sea. As a premium cruise line, HAL offers more of the larger verandah suites (three mid-ship decks worth) than mainstream cruise lines, so the ship seems less crowded (has a higher space ratio) than most.
The Noordam's DECOR is more elegant and subdued than on the Zuiderdam, the first of the Vista class ships. The Noordam's public areas and staterooms should please cruisers wanting a refined and upscale, but still informal, experience. Again, visit the photo link given above to understand what I am talking about.
One special aspect of HAL cruises is their fresh flower arrangements in public areas. These can be quite impressive. On this cruise we learned that a sub-contractor had two full-time staff creating and replenishing these arrangements every day. Even the dining tables in the Lido Buffet had orchids. Again, see the photo link above for examples.
Innovations on the Noordam include an expansion of the LIBRARY and INTERNET center into a beautiful lounge area (Explorations Café) with comfortable leather chairs and an excellent collection of current books and magazines. Here one can also get loaner Ipods for a self-guided tour of the ship's surprisingly extensive ART COLLECTION, which ranges from classical to whimsical. Some of the art is even mounted on the ceilings, and we would have missed it were it not for this tour.
Unfortunately the INTERNET SERVICE is as slow (satellite dependent) and unjustifiably expensive (75 US cents per minute, with some concessions when purchasing bulk usage) as on most other cruise lines. Some cruise lines have offered free internet access to their repeat cruisers (five or more cruises), but not HAL. We always have been able to find fast and reasonable (less than 10 US cents per minute) internet service in each of the Caribbean ports. Usually these are near the cruise piers, and locals are happy to direct you to them.
Unfortunately several of the computerized MUSIC LISTENING STATIONS in this area were non-functional, and most of the remainder had poor headsets with only one earphone, so one hears one's favorites (the music menu is enormous) in one ear and ambient noise in the other ear, which makes no sense. Other cruise lines have opted out of this service, perhaps because it is difficult to maintain. The one operable dual headset I found was top quality and was a joy to use. The music listening chairs are so comfortable (the famous Eames chair) that library book readers sometimes fill them.
Near the Explorations Café are meeting rooms for private groups and for informal Q&A SESSIONS WITH THE SHIP'S OFFICERS. We had never attended any of these before (the concept was new to us), but we found them very informative and entertaining. In one session the hotel manager answered questions from the audience. In one response he informed us that cabin stewards work in pairs for health reasons -- one does the "clean jobs" and the other does the potentially "dirty" ones, so that there is no cross-contamination. In general, the HYGIENE AND SAFETY STANDARDS (gels, hand wash signage, waiter service at buffet lines, etc.) on this cruise were the best we have seen on any cruise line.
At another Q&A session the Noordam's chief ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICER showed us a video and then answered questions about how regulations are met to keep the ship and the surrounding seas clean. With crew members, this ship is a city of about 3,000 people, and the environmental and waste management issues are impressive. We never realized, for example, that with a faltering world-wide economy recycling has become almost impossible because no one is willing to accept the recyclables for processing -- their market value is now too low to make it worthwhile economically.
We highly recommend attending these OFFICERS Q&A SESSIONS. We found them the best part of the educational and enrichment programs onboard. There is also a professional lecturer onboard, but we attended only one of her lectures, on Caribbean marine life.
Also new on the Noordam is the CULINARY ARTS CENTER, a small stage venue with a kitchen and closed circuit TV. During demonstrations the TV cameraman is a whiz at displaying close-ups of the chef's working area. The only negative, to our taste, was the use of non-culinary "sidekicks" to ask silly questions and otherwise interrupt the chef's instructions. The chefs are as talented as any on broadcast TV, and should be left alone to present their recipes and techniques.
This area is also called the QUEENS LOUNGE and is used as a small stage venue for such activities as movies, lectures, and talent shows. The KARAOKE contests which took place here (the finals were in the large Vista theater) were absolutely a scream. We highly recommend seeing one or more of these friendly contests, especially the finals.
Also on Deck 3 are the shopping center and photo gallery. SHOPPING is a major activity for many cruisers, and they seemed to enjoy the various sales available onboard during this cruise. In contrast, we are definitely not shoppers. My wife and I travel with one carry-on and no checked baggage wherever we go in the world, even on cruises like this. Yes, it can be done quite easily since three outfits (one formal, two casual), plus shorts, swim wear, and snorkel gear are all we need.
Airline and other connections are so unreliable nowadays that this habit has come to our rescue many times. During the last year alone we have had seven missed connections, canceled flights, or involuntary re-routes out of a total of nine vacations. Having our airline carry-ons with us at all times has been a lifesaver.
In any case, HAL supports shopping addicts (Emptor, ergo sum?) by providing a SHOPPING CONSULTANT, shopping lectures, and excellent maps for each port of call on this cruise. Fortunately, the maps also include good background information and sightseeing suggestions for non-shoppers.
The PHOTO GALLERY is near the main dining room and provides an entertaining stop when one goes to dinner. As on most cruise ships, the photo prices are quite high, so we have rarely taken advantage of this service. Relatively few passengers on our cruise seemed interested in formal sittings. Watching formal night photo sessions, however, can be good entertainment, especially when one views the results the next day.
The CROW'S NEST observation lounge is located on the top deck forward, and provides a nice retreat with forward facing recliners and huge windows to watch the scenery as one approaches ports. This area is also used for various meetings and activities, including the daily TEAM TRIVIA challenge. This is a low-key contest where everyone wins a prize ("Dam dollars" which can be traded for small prizes at the end of the cruise) just for showing up. When done with good humor, as on HAL, this activity can be great fun and is a nice way to meet new friends (we joined a new team each session that we attended).
Just below the Crow's nest is the GYM AND SPA facility. Unfortunately, as on most cruise ships, 10% of the people (those who pay for spa services) get 90% of the space. The other 90% of the people are crowded into the 10% of the space where free exercise equipment is available. This equipment is very popular, even among older cruisers.
The major problem we have with almost all shipboard gyms is the noise. The exercise classes, with their over-amped music, are held in the gym area. Since gym rats who want music have their own tunes (Ipods, Walkmen, and the gym's personal TVs), the booming music during classes and throughout the day is intrusive -- as bad as second hand smoke. Only ear plugs and early work-outs (0600) provide reasonable quiet in these gyms. HAL is better than most in this regard, but could be even better.
In spite of the noise, the SPA STAFF are friendly, and cruisers seemed to appreciate their services. In addition to the usual spa and salon services, there is a daily charge for the hydrotherapy pool. The sauna is free and is conveniently located near the swimming pool.
There are two freshwater SWIMMING POOLS with adjacent HOT TUBS, one mid-ship with a retractable roof, and the other aft. Both are better for soaking than for lap swims, but both are enjoyable. Mid-mornings are especially nice since there is no music or entertainment poolside, which makes this a great time for quiet relaxing.
Unfortunately HAL cruisers, like most others, can be POOL PIGS. They "reserve" pool chairs by placing open towels and personal debris on them, then wander off for an hour or two of other activities before returning to use the chairs. One morning when I was up early I saw this behavior even before the overnight safety nets had been removed from the pools. Another time I saw only one occupied chair in a front row of fifteen chairs that all had used towels or personal debris. The pool was empty at the time. The HAL pool staff are too polite to correct this situation, but should be trained to do so.
One feature of HAL ships enjoyed by all active cruisers is their full wrap-around promenade decks. These are especially appreciated by those with inside cabins. Traditional wooden deck chairs are available on this promenade, and they were well-used on our cruise. For those who enjoy walking this circuit, HAL went one step further by sponsoring a 5K "Walk for the Cure". For a $15 donation passengers received a cancer awareness T-shirt and wristband. The remaining (tax-deductible) proceeds went to support cancer research.
In addition to the options listed above, ENTERTAINMENT comes in many varieties to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. The main (Vista) show lounge has good acoustics and sightlines, and HAL fortunately does not over-amplify its shows. The shows are loud, but not painfully so. Unfortunately, HAL amplifies some shows, like the piano recitals, which should not be.
The SINGERS AND DANCERS on our cruise did a fine job. We usually do not enjoy Broadway style production numbers, so we are not the best critics, but we were impressed with the young talent and the high production values (costumes, technical support, etc.) that we saw here. A Q&A session with the cast was available one afternoon, and it proved to be fun and informative.
We did not catch the lounge acts on our cruise and did not hear any comments, good or bad, about them.
There is a small but very good DANCE BAND that plays every evening in the Ocean Bar adjacent to the atrium. This provides music to several decks, but leaves little space for a dance floor, which is in the smoking area next to the bar. We enjoyed an occasional dance here anyway, usually before dinner. Once they removed some furniture obstructing the dance floor, the dance floor was rarely crowded.
There are two good pianists who play in the piano lounge (nostalgic classics and name-those-tunes, I believe), the Ocean Bar (dancing), and the Crow's Nest (relaxing). In addition, there was a classically trained pianist from Las Vegas who gave two concerts incorporating popular classics (Chopin) with works he composed himself.
Near the main dining room in the Explorers' Lounge was a talented string quartet (from Hungary I believe) which played light classics in a near marathon all evening (I admire their stamina). This provided the wonderful option to listen to fine music while waiting for dinner companions or enjoying an after dinner drink.
For late night revelers, the Crow's Nest provided dance options, as did the Northern Lights night club. As I mentioned earlier, the Noordam is large enough to offer entertainment options for almost every taste.
OUR CRUISE We booked a STANDARD VERANDAH (balcony) cabin several months in advance, for the bargain rate of $110 US per person, per day (pppd) including port charges, taxes, and shipboard credits. Only HAL's $11 pppd charge for tips was extra.
This represents an exceptional value, perhaps because November is relatively low season for Caribbean cruises, especially in the current economic downturn. We met quite a few Britons and Canadians on this cruise who said that they were glad they booked before the recent drop in their currencies (against the dollar, which is the cruise line currency), and would not have booked the cruise after the devaluation.
An unexpected bonus came shortly before our cruise -- two upgrade offers that our Pavlus Travel agent received from HAL. First, for an additional $500 pp, we could upgrade to a category SA, SB, or SC DELUXE VERANDAH SUITE. These cabins are twice as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 500 square feet of space including the verandah. We did not need that much space and declined this offer.
A few days later we were offered an upgrade to a category SS, SY, or SZ SUPERIOR VERANDAH SUITE for an additional $98 pp. These are one and a half times as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 400 square feet of space. They include double sinks, double showers, and a whirlpool bath tub. They also include a comfortable sitting area with a couch and two chairs inside, and both dining and lounging areas outside on the verandah. Of course, we accepted this offer in a heartbeat.
This cabin proved to be one of the nicest we have ever had -- about as large as the suites we have experienced on small luxury ships, but at a third of the price. Our suite on the Noordam was so enjoyable that we spent much of our time just enjoying our unexpected private luxury.
Because AIRLINES can be unreliable, especially in winter, we booked our own flights, flew to Ft. Lauderdale a day in advance, rented a car for local sightseeing, and spent a night in a motel.
We stayed at a modest but nicely renovated motel, America's Best Inn, just off Highway 1 halfway between the FLL airport and cruise port. The rooms are small (about the size of a standard cruise cabin) but efficient, with a refrigerator, microwave, iron, coffee maker, and LCD TV. Each room has one queen bed, and baths have showers rather than tubs. A continental breakfast is included in the rate. At $55 per night plus tax for two, we found this a great bargain. The immediate area does not have walking access to shops or restaurants, but even with taxi rides this is a far cheaper pre-cruise option than most hotels in the area. To get an idea whether this option fits your style, check the internet for reviews and further information.
While in Ft. Lauderdale, we avoided the main beach (parking $10 according to the signs) and visited two very nice state parks instead. Hugh Taylor Birch SP is north of town on the beach and near the Galleria Mall. John U. Lloyd SP is south of town directly across from Port Everglades, with a huge beach and excellent views across the waterway of the Noordam. For children the south end of this park also offers great views of incoming and departing FLL jets.
In years past we have enjoyed the all day water taxi service in Ft. Lauderdale, which offers great views of the city, elegant homes, and large yachts. This time we had only two half-days, so we skipped this option.
EMBARKATION was a breeze. We dropped off our rental car near the cruise port rather than the airport (check with your rental company if they offer this option), and then we took their free (plus tip) shuttle to the ship.
TAXIS can be a problem between the airport and cruise port. If you arrive at or leave from the cruise port by taxi, make sure that your driver uses the most direct route between FLL and the cruise port -- usually the west entrance on 24th St., just off Highway 1.
Some taxi drivers will take a roundabout route or use the north entrance (off 17th St.) to pad their fares. For example, when we disembarked this cruise, our taxi driver pretended not to know the direct route back to the airport and tried several times to turn north, even though there were huge signs to the airport all along 24th St. He also "forgot" that we had bags in his trunk, even though he picked us up at the cruise ship. (Having learned our lesson in Buenos Aires, one of us always remains inside the cab until the bags are unloaded from a cab's trunk). Our direct route taxi fare for two without excess baggage between FLL and the cruise port was $11.30 plus tip (we did not short the driver in spite of his disingenuous behavior).
When we arrived at the cruise port, we had to wait only a few minutes until a CHECK-IN agent was available to imprint our credit cards and give us our key cards. We had pre-printed our boarding passes on HAL's web site, as had most passengers. There was an express line for category SC suites and above. Our SY suite did not qualify, but the regular lines moved so quickly that it made no difference.
An embarkation LUNCH was available at the Lido buffet, and hand baggage could be checked until 1:30 pm, when the cabins were ready for occupancy. This is a pleasant contrast with some small luxury ships, which charge an extra $150 per person for early boarding and lunch on embarkation day.
Our cabin has been described above. It was located mid-ship on the port side, which turned out to be the "port" side at most stops on this cruise. It gave us pleasant views over the islands and harbors while we were docked, and added drama to the arrivals and departures.
This itinerary featured four (of ten) days at sea, which we thoroughly enjoyed. My wife is a late sleeper and enjoys room service breakfast on the verandah. I am an early riser, so I took advantage of the quiet time at the gym, had a light breakfast at the Lido buffet, then joined her for a second breakfast when she woke up.
We usually ate in the Vista (main) dining room at lunch and dinner. Because we enjoy the OPEN SEATING on small luxury ships, we opted for this new option on the Noordam. On previous HAL cruises we have always enjoyed our fixed seating tablemates, but this gave us a chance to meet new people and hear new stories every day. There was never a wait for the open seating option at lunch, and at dinner the line was short and moved quickly. Those who want a specific dining time or a particular table size can make reservations, but we never bothered to do this.
The FINE DINING in the Vista dining room was the highlight of our cruise. The imaginative menus, the artistic presentations, and the generally excellent preparation of quality ingredients was the best we had ever had on a premium or mainstream cruise, and it often was equal to what we have experienced on luxury cruises. In our opinion, the Noordam is second to none in fine dining.
We were a bit worried at first, because the sesame encrusted snapper on the first night was tough and over-cooked, and the rack of lamb on the second night was not available rare. After that, however, the fish were cooked to perfection and the meats were rare when we wanted them to be.
The appetizers were often so tempting that sometimes we chose two and skipped the soup or salad course. The soups were inventive, usually two hot and savory and one chilled and sweet. The salads featured a nice variety of fresh and tender greens, with no iceberg lettuce or other fillers. If one did not find a main course one wanted, the off-menu salmon or strip steak were always good alternatives. Vegetarian options were always available, but we did not try them.
The desserts, as usual, were delightful, and were served in portions small enough that sampling more than one never left one feeling guilty.
The Vista dining room did such a fine job, in fact, that we never sampled the Pinnacle Grill, the ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANT (surcharged $10 pp at lunch when open, $20 pp at dinner). We have enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill on other HAL ships. On this cruise we thought we might request rare rack of lamb at the Pinnacle since it was not available at the Vista, but only lamb chops were available and no substitutions were allowed. This is the one advantage of luxury ships -- the smaller kitchens allow greater flexibility.
The LIDO BUFFET was a pleasure each time we sampled it, usually at breakfast or when the Vista dining room was closed. We generally skipped the main buffet lines, which other passengers said were good, and chose made-to-order items from the smaller specialty stations such as waffles, omelets, pasta, Asian stir-fry, deli sandwiches, or salad bars. One impressive aspect of the Lido buffet is that most foods are served by stewards, and all self-service silverware is refreshed frequently, minimizing the health risks of shared utensils. In addition to this, we always use the hand gels or washrooms between buffet line and table when cruising.
Although we did not try it on this cruise, several friends recommended the dinner service at the Lido. The tables are covered in linen and meals are served by stewards, as in the main dining room. We have found this a nice quiet option on other ships. On the Noordam the two deck Vista dining room has a relatively small atrium, so it was never too noisy to converse -- we never felt the need to find a quieter dinner venue.
DINING SERVICE, even with our open seating option, was always smooth, efficient, and very professional. Fixed seating has some advantages if one has particular drink or other preferences, but having a different waiter and assistant waiter each night was a pleasure for us -- they all were well trained and responsive to our requests.
CABIN SERVICE was also top notch. Our cabin stewards were rarely visible, but somehow they always managed to clean and refresh the cabin and bathroom whenever we were gone. They provided additional entertainment each evening by folding towels into amusing animal shapes, which were waiting on our bed with chocolates after dinner each night.
ROOM SERVICE also did a good job. One can order from the regular restaurant menu at dinner time (we did not). Hot foods are never as hot when delivered as when served in a dining room, but we enjoyed our room service breakfasts.
CONCIERGE SERVICE was available by phone in our suite category, and is available in person in the Neptune lounge on deck seven for higher category suites. The phone concierge always responded promptly and answered my few questions well.
As mentioned above, HAL has now instituted an AUTOMATIC TIPPING policy, in which $11 pppd is charged to one's shipboard account. Of this, I was told that 35% goes to cabin stewards, 35% to dining stewards, and the remaining 30% to the workers "behind the scenes" who add to one's cruise enjoyment. Any amounts given directly to crew members are supposed to be turned into these pools. I was also told, however, that amounts above the automatic charges could be kept by individual crew members.
We usually tip more than the standard amount, so we added $5 pppd in the form of direct cash to the room stewards and our maitre d', and a supplement to the charges on our shipboard account for the open seating dining stewards.
DISEMBARKATION was also a breeze. HAL has instituted new policies allowing those with little baggage, which they can carry off the ship themselves, to receive priority disembarkation. The ship was cleared a little before 0800, and priority disembarkation occurred about 30 minutes after this.
Airline schedules to our regional airport have been pruned back so much that we had only one option for our homebound flight, and it departed in the afternoon. Those passengers, like us, in no rush are allowed to remain in their cabins until last call, which occurs between 0930 and 1000.
Instead of constant announcements, disembarking passengers are simply given a 15 minute time window in which they are to report to the gangway and leave the ship. These new policies make for a wonderfully smooth and quiet disembarkation process.
IN SUMMARY, this was one of the best quality, most enjoyable, and most reasonably priced cruises we have ever had the pleasure of taking. We definitely will put HAL at the top of our list when we plan our next cruise. Unfortunately, the January 2009 HAL cruise that we just tried to reserve on our return home is already sold out!
PORTS OF CALL Our cruise called at Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. We almost always prefer to explore ports of call independently rather than book excursions in advance. Most ports offer nice alternatives to the ship sponsored tours, and most Caribbean ports offer good and inexpensive public transportation.
That being said, this was the first cruise where we had less than optimal luck ashore. We were glad we had a suite as a fallback option.
In ARUBA we simply walk across the street from the cruise port to the local bus station. Buses leave every 15 minute and travel northbound along the west coast to the hotel district (the Marriott is the main destination). A few buses each hour continue farther to Malmok, which is a convenient area for offshore snorkeling. There are a few pocket sized beaches with shade umbrellas nearby.
From the Malmok bus terminus one can walk 10 minutes farther north along the coast to Arashi Beach, which is one of the nicest on the island for frolicking in the water. We have even met several Marriott guests who drive to Arashi, preferring it to the hotel beaches along the way. Hurricane Omar in 2008 has taken a good deal of sand away, but Arashi still has more than enough left. A new parking lot is being built there, which means this beach may become more crowded in the future.
When returning to the ship it is worthwhile walking the ten minutes back to the Malmok bus stop. There is Arashi bus service, but it is unpredictable. We think some drivers running behind schedule do not go to the Arashi end of their route. The cost of a perfect beach day? About $2.50 US round trip on the public bus.
Before boarding the ship, stop at the internet shop one block south of the cruise port entrance. It is about 10 cents US per minute for rapid and reliable connections. The storefront is visible, and locals can also direct you.
On our cruise it rained until early afternoon, so our beach stay was limited to two hours.
In CURACAO the main attraction is the quaint and colorful waterfront. This is a photographer's dream (again, see the photo link given at the beginning of this review). If one gets off the ship soon after docking, one can walk through the old fort, cross the floating bridge (retractable), and watch the floating market before it becomes crowded.
Unfortunately, Curacao beaches are not readily accessible by public bus. Friends on our cruise took a taxi to Thiel Bay (about $30) and said the snorkeling there was good, with sea snakes and other unusual sights. One local recommended a small beach called Sonesta, which is a shorter taxi ride from town.
We opted for a bus ride to the far end of the island (West Point route or Lagun and Knip Bay route). Either route costs about $3 US and takes an hour each way. We were told that beaches are available within walking distance of the ends of these routes, but one has to leave town early (0900 for West Point or 0830 for Knip Bay) to have beach time before returning, since buses leave only once every two or three hours.
The bus yard is just a few blocks from the cruise port (due west of the floating bridge). There is a booth for bus tickets, which accepts US cash and gives change in local currency (bring singles). Because we had spent most of our morning in town, we opted to stay on the bus at mid-day and just sightsee, to make certain we made it back to the boat in time. Our driver was great fun -- she had the most elegant manicure we have ever seen, but she drove the huge bus like a Formula One.
In DOMINICA we usually take the minibus to the southern end of the island at Scotts Head. This costs about $2 US and takes about 30 minutes. Minibuses leave every 15 minutes or so (when full) from an area about two blocks inland from the cruise port.
Scotts Head offers very nice offshore snorkeling, with clear water and a good drop-off. The snorkel point is a short walk beyond the minibus stop, in the bay at the base of the hill. After snorkeling, a walk on the trail to the top of the hill gives beautiful views back to the ship in the far distance.
Unfortunately, this was the first time we were on Dominica on a Sunday, and everything, including buses, was shut down. Some taxi drivers were willing to take us to Scotts Head and wait there for us, but they wanted from $60 to $150 for this service, and since we had done this often enough before, we were not willing to pay so much. We enjoyed our suite instead.
In ST. THOMAS we docked at the Crown Point yacht harbor rather than the usual Havensight pier and mall area. This made us very happy because it is walking distance to our favorite USVI option -- the 1030 ferry from Tickles restaurant to Water Island. A short walk on Water Island brings one to the usually quiet and serene Honeymoon Beach. The ferry costs $10 US pp round trip -- less than a roundtrip taxi ride almost anywhere else on the island.
Unfortunately, this beach has recently been discovered by local tour companies. What used to be an empty stretch of sand as long as a football field now has one or two tour groups visiting each day. It is still beautiful, but no longer offers a great advantage over popular Magens Bay.
For those interested in shopping, taxis have set prices and cost only a dollar or two more than they would from Havensight into town or to beaches.
On HALF MOON CAY, HAL's private island, a new larger tender service moves hundreds of people at a time between the ship and the private beach. The downside is that if one is traveling against the flow (early or late) one has to wait as the entire group passes through security. This means that some transfers can take more than 30 minutes, so plan accordingly.
The beach is one of the nicest in the Caribbean, with unbelievably fine white sand and good tree shade. It is not necessary to rent a cabana or shade shell, which are at the crowded near end of the beach anyway.
A (free) beach barbecue and various (surcharged) activities including horseback riding are available here. Snorkeling is not very good off shore because this beach is largely sandy with no coral, so plan on just enjoying the sun and surf while here. A short walk along the shoreline will take you away from the crowds.
Because I was worried about sand and security, I did not take my camera ashore except on Curacao (our first time there) and Half Moon Cay. Again, photos are available at http://www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk.
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008
We are a married couple, 30 years old. My mother also cruised with us and she is 67. We have cruised on Holland America, Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
This cruise was the 15 day Circle Hawaii cruise that sailed roundtrip to the islands from San Diego, CA. We visited Hilo, Lahaina, 2 days in Honolulu and Kona.
Embarkation We arrived at the pier around noon. There were lots of people there already but check in was easy and we only had to wait in line a few minutes. When we boarded the ship the staterooms were not ready so we headed to Lido for a bite to eat.
Stateroom Our Stateroom was an outside cabin on Deck 1 -- Dolphin Deck, Midship Category E. The cabin was very nice with plenty of storage for all three of us. The third bed is a sofa which makes into a bed. My mother said it was not very comfortable. Our bed was two twins pushed together and was comfortable. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo. The service form the cabin stewards wasexcellent.
Sea Days and Things to do on the Ship There were 10 sea days on this 15 day cruise. Most of the passengers on this cruise were 65 years or older. We only saw a few young people and 2 small children. The ship was very peaceful and quiet. No drunk people and no kids running around. We like cruising with the older people so we fit in great.
However, due to the average age of the passengers there were not many activities geared toward the younger crowd. Every day there would be cooking demonstrations, trivia, live music, bingo and sports events. We took part in the sports events to collect the Dam Dollars to redeem at the end of the cruise for souvenirs.
There were also dance lessons, coffee chats, travel talks, and various other events during the sea days. The library had many books, magazines, games and puzzles for people to use. Most sea days the library was packed with people reading or playing games. DVDs were also available to check out for $3 each. Every cabin has a TV and DVD player.
Big screen movies would play in the culinary theatre at night. The selection of movies was very good. But the theatre is not set up very well with the position of the chairs and the screen. It helped very much that there were 2 large screen TVs on each side of the big screen to see the movie as well. These were much clearer and provided for an unobstructed view of the movie. They also provided popcorn and sold drinks. I wish they would have played the movies during the sea days as well. But usually that lounge was used for cooking demonstrations during the sea days. They also played these movies on the cabin TVs the next day.
There was also a travel guide aboard the ship to tell us all about Hawaii. He was very knowledgeable and fun to listen to. He would give talks during the day and they would be shown on the cabin TVs as well.
The Casino is very small but all of the staff was very friendly. They had the usual table games and the limit was low at $5. Every sea day they would hold 2 sessions of Texas Hold'em Poker. The slot machines were very tight and did not pay anything.
The shops were your average souvenir and jewelry stores you find on cruise ships.
Entertainment The cruise director on the ship was Lizabeth and she was a very nice lady. She fit the older crowd but was not very entertaining. The production shows with the singers and dancers were great shows. However, the singing was awful and the shows were missing the live music that Carnival always has.
The other entertainers included singers, comedians, ventriloquists, and jugglers. All of these shows were fantastic.
The live music around the ship was very nice as well.
There were also 2 crew shows -- one Indonesian and one Filipino. Both were excellent shows!
Food The food on the ship was very good. I would not say it was outstanding but it was very good. Every night in the dining room there would be one dish of either chicken, beef, fish, pasta and vegetable. These were accompanied by appetizers, soup, salad and of course dessert. The service in the dining room was excellent.
The lido buffet was good as well serving almost the same thing for dinner each night as was served in the dining room.
Lunch offered a variety of items as well as a deli, salad bar, Mexican bar and hamburger/hot dog/pizza station by the pool. Dessert and ice cream was offered as well.
Late night snacks were also provided on lido deck starting around 11pm.
Drinks On this cruise you could purchase a drink card for soda, wine or cocktails. Each card has its own price and offers a certain amount of drinks. Your card is punched every time you have a drink. The price you pay initially includes the tips and taxes. My husband purchased the wine card for $67 + tax and tip. This provided 20 glasses of house wines which he could use anywhere on the ship.
The best deal was the happy hours in the Ocean Bar. Almost every day from 4pm-5pm they would offer half price drinks in the Ocean Bar. This was a great deal and better than purchasing any of the drink cards.
Gym/Spa We did not purchase any spa services but took a tour of the area. It was very nice and the gym was quite busy on sea days. They offered specials throughout the cruise.
Photographs The photographs were very expensive. We only purchased our embarkation photo along with a photo of the ship in a Folio album. This cost $53. There were only a few photographers on the ship and they did not hound you to take photos like on other cruise lines. They didn't follow you around or make you take photos. They would usually ask first if you wanted a photo. This was a great feature.
Hawaiian Ports We did not take any of the HAL shore excursions as they were very expensive. With 3 people we found it cheaper and better to rent a car in each port. We explored the islands and saw the sights we chose and did it all on our own time schedule. I think this is a great way to see the islands. We calculated that the cost of the car plus gas averaged $24 per person per day. This is a great way to see many places at your own pace and for a low cost.
We were supposed to sail past the Volcano on the big island once we departed Hawaii on the last port day. The captain switched the schedule so that we would sail past the Volcano after the first port day in Hilo. He did this because we would be sailing past at an earlier time so more people would be awake to view this. Unfortunately, it was raining and we could not see the volcano very well. We did see the glowing red lava but it was very far away and hard to see through the fog/rain.
I believe each person can make the best or worst of their port days so I won't go into detail about each stop. I will say that we really enjoyed Hawaii and there is a lot to see and do. Make the best of your time there!
Disembarkation Originally we were going to have a silent debarkation. This means you are given your designated time to leave the ship and you go at this time. However, it was changed and they did make announcements for when we could leave the ship. We got off the ship early and with no problems. However, there were a lot of people trying to get off the ship and it seems like they needed more time between each color being called. The elevators were slow as were there were people walking off the ship with their luggage. More time for each group of people to leave the ship would have been better.
Conclusion This was a wonderful cruise with excellent service. The food was very good and the entertainment was great. We really enjoyed the long cruise experience. It provided for relaxing sea days and plenty of time to enjoy all areas of the ship.
Expect an older crowd with the average age of the guests being 65 years and older. Most of the passengers have been to Hawaii before and cruise mainly for the experience.
We did not encounter any long lines, party atmospheres or kids running loose. It was a very quiet and peaceful cruise. We had a great time and would take this cruise again!
Holland America Line Zaandam by sailorsquirrel Hawaii November 7, 2008 by DougMacP Alaska August 7, 2009
This is my 23rd cruise, (crossings not included) and my 4th on HAL. I've done a variety of cruise lines from Carnival to Crystal, the most recent being a Panama Canal trip on the Celebrity Mercury in January.
Embarkation: The commute to the ship was a grueling 7-minute drive from my home. I could have made it in 6 minutes, but there was a red light. I arrived at Pier 91 at 1:15pm, and I kid you not was onboard by 1:30pm. The longest and slowest line I encounter was for the welcome aboard picture, which I by-passed.
The Crowd: It is summer, school is out and it was a diverse crowd. Seniors, toddlers, teenagers, large family groups, everything and everyone were represented. Any thought that the Lido (covered) pool was adult only was abandoned immediately. The place reverberated with the screams and laughter of children. It was so chilly in the aft pool area that they had to go somewhere, and I'm not that much of a curmudgeon that I would deny them their fun.If you want a less kid (verses kid-less) cruise book before the end of May or in September when school is in session.
Stateroom, Public Rooms, Condition in General: The Zaandam is not a new ship. Are there loose carpet seams here and there and a bit of wear and tear? Yes. Is it tired and dirty? No way. The ship has great flow, attractive public areas, fantastic art and is extremely comfortable with cushy and inviting furniture throughout. Of special note, the mattress in my cabin wasn't a thin piece of foam over a plastic platform (like the Mercury for example) it was a real, honest to goodness thick mattress. My stateroom was functional and clean and kept that way by my stealthy room attendants.
Food: My expectations were in check due to a lot of comments about the decline in the quality of HAL's food from the Boards. I'm a foodie and to be honest can be critical of sub-par food and service. With all that said, I thought the food was good to excellent throughout the cruise. I tend to lean more towards beef and chicken so take that into account. The portions aren't huge in the dining room, but with 5 courses they shouldn't be. If that is a concern just order an additional entrée and the waiters will gladly comply. The service in the dining room was professional and appropriate. The food in the Lido was equally a pleasant surprise.
Entertainment: More "ugh" than "awe". Quality entertainment at night on the Zaandam was not so easy to find.
The Showroom: I've learned never to expect much from the Production Shows on a cruise. The ships don't pay enough to get top tier talent, the stage isn't big enough, and the production values (props, costumes and special effects) are about squeezing one more season out of what is already paid for then investing in anything new or fresh. HAL exceed my expectations, but probably not the way they intended. The Production Shows were so tired, cheesy, poorly danced and sung I had to wonder if I was missing something. Was this a parody of a production show? The Headliners, a musician billed as a young Kenny G (is that a compliment?) and magician/comic did provide some good moments and was worth checking out. A most welcomed surprise.
Lounge Acts: The Zaandam has beautiful Lounges but less than half the Lounge bands were competent and entertaining. Additionally, kudos to the D.J. in the Crows-Nest who always seemed to find the right songs to get people out of their seats and on to the dance floor. From there it falls off the face of the earth. A venue I love, the Piano Bar was a wasteland every night when it should be packed because of a guy that doesn't play very well, sings worse and appears to not to like people very much. At the bottom of the entertainment heap was a very good band, with lead singer so vocally challenged she dragged them to the bottom faster than one of the Zaandam's huge anchors. I really had to wonder if anyone in the corporate offices of HAL even bothers listening to the audition tapes. The other alternative is that they are trying to drive people into the Casino by having such limited quality entertainment at night.
Stuff to Do: While the daily program aren't as packed as the most of the recent cruises I've been on, the activities were well paced and interesting. The culinary demonstrations, lectures and computer classes blend well with the regular cruise ship fare of trivia, pool games and bingo. There is no reason to be bored if you want to get involved. A major plus was the Cruise Director Michael who was seemingly everywhere at once, with boundless energy delivered in an engaging and believable manner. The Captain joked at a function that Michael was the best Cruise Director in a 250 mile radius. Personally, I thought he was one of the best I've seen in 23 cruises.
Things I should have believed: No matter how hot it is in your part of the country or even in Seattle, be prepared and dress appropriately for chilly weather and rain, fog or drizzle. Remember even if it is 65 degrees (F) with the speed of the ship underway the wind chill on deck is substantial. Don't think I ever was not wearing fleece of some sort.
Ports: Personally the trip for me was about seeing Glacier Bay, and it did not disappoint. Imagine if the Teton's or Rockies had an Ocean at 10,000 feet and you were right next to them? It was magnificent. A Ranger from the US National Parks Service who appears not only to have a degree in geology but also drama narrated the trip. Despite his over to top moments of poetry, native flute interludes and asking us to spiritually become one with the Glacier, he kept us well informed of the history and conditions in the area.
I was reluctant to pre book excursions due to fluctuating weather conditions in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. A floatplane trip in the fog would not be my idea of fun. As for wild life watching, we saw so many Whales and Eagles from the ship that after a few days it became commonplace. I just got off the ship and wandered around without paying attention to the ships shopping guides, as they only include stores that pay huge kickbacks to the cruise line. If I had to do it over I would do the salmon bake in Juneau, which drew rave reviews.
What HAL does best in one word: Service. From the Officers to the people who clear the tables HAL gets it right. Here are a few adjectives I jotted down during the cruise: Friendly, familiar yet respectful, impeccable, smiling, seamless and gracious.
And in the end: A solid performance, more hits than misses and a comfortable platform to enjoy the sights of Alaska.
If you don't believe that I am not a "Chronic Complainer", please read my Cruise Critic Review of Explorer of the Seas, May '08. If you are already booked for the Eurodam, you may want to avoid reading the following review, as it was an unpleasant experience.
This is our experience during Holland Eurodam's Inaugural Season. The first of their "Signature Class Ships," the Eurodam is nice, however it photographs much nicer than it looks in person.
Background My partner and I are in our early 40s and were traveling with our friends who are a married couple, also in their 40s. Eurodam was my and my partner's 6th voyage (2nd Holland) and our traveling companions' 26th voyage (3rd Holland). We all sailed the Westerdam a few years ago and loved it so much that we were really looking forward to another Holland America cruise.
Embarkation We flew in from NJ the day before sailing and stayed with friends in the Orlando area that night. We then drove from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale in a Hertz vehicle. Upon returning the car in Lauderdale at 10:00AM, we were whisked to Port Liberty by a Hertzstaff member to the Holland America Eurodam. We were able to drop our luggage off and check-in (with no lines) at the port immediately following. We were of the first group to board at approximately 11:30AM. Upon boarding there was a concierge available to secure dinner reservations, which we immediately did. Although we had traditional 8:00 seating, we wanted to secure reservations for Tamarind, Canaletto and Pinnacle. We were able to reserve exactly what we wanted by making our reservations upon boarding.
Lido Restaurant Our next stop was the Lido Restaurant for a buffet lunch. The Lido is TIGHT! There is barely enough room for one to walk through the room empty-handed, let alone with a tray of food! This was a poorly designed room with arm-chairs at the tables which were very cumbersome as well. The room is beautifully decorated, but THE CREW was the absolute WORST we've EVER ENCOUNTERED on ANY SHIP EVER!! There was never enough silverware in the Lido and when asking a crew member for anything on this ship, it was like pulling teeth. We would practically have to beg for everything (including silverware). The kitchen staff worked feverishly to serve quickly, but the Lido attendants all walked around aimlessly as though they had nothing to do but talk among themselves and ignore the passengers. Many officers roamed around on cell phones, ignoring passengers as well. The crew members were mainly around to pour coffee and drinks (at the machines), basically getting in everyone's way. It would have been much easier if everyone had just poured their own drinks. Speaking of drinks, about halfway through this cruise, they must have run out of half & half and were pawning milk (and even skim milk) off on us in containers marked "cream". I know this isn't the end of the world, but for a die-hard coffee w/cream lover, it was unacceptable. Just label it milk! After we had finished our first meal in the Lido, we were approached by the Food and Beverage Manager, Herman, who asked us (however diplomatically) to please leave our table so that others could find a place to eat. He suggested we wait in the Ocean Bar until our rooms were ready. We instead roamed the ship. On the plus side, the food at the Lido was great. We did not have a bad meal on this ship.
After being asked to leave the Lido I had stopped to use the restroom. Not realizing it was labeled a Handicapped restroom, I was told by another officer that I should not use that facility, but should use the men's room on the other side. Nothing like making a passenger feel welcome during "Hour One".
Purser's Desk Staff One word for them -- RUDE. Okay two -- RUDE & CLUELESS. After leaving the Lido (and the correct men's room) I decided to try to secure a Retreat Cabana. I had read about them and thought it might be a nice way to spend a pool day. Our friends had just returned from the Purser's Desk where they had inquired and were told to reserve the cabana on the Lido Deck. I asked an attendant on the Lido Deck and she escorted me to the Spa. The staff there told me that reservations for cabanas are made at the Purser's Desk. So I picked up a house phone and called the Purser's Desk. I was then informed that I had to come down to the desk to reserve the cabana. Off I went to the desk. At least I was able to work off lunch!
Cabanas The cabanas cost $45 for a port day. After reserving the retreat cabana, I went up to take a look at them. The one we reserved, Mirabella, was only large enough to accommodate two lounge chairs. I really didn't care for the whole set up, so, back to the Purser's Desk to cancel. I was told that the transaction was in fact canceled, only to discover on Day 6 that it had not been and that they wouldn't be able to straighten the charge out until the next day. Thankfully I checked and they did. My observations of the Purser's Desk were that there was never a visible person in a position of authority (nor did we ever see one on the entire ship), and the Purser's staff appeared rude and indifferent. They were surely not welcoming at all. The night before disembarkation, our friends witnessed several passengers pleading with purser's desk crew to straighten out situations with their luggage being sent to incorrect airports. We don't know the outcome of their experiences.
Stateroom Cabins were ready at exactly 1:30PM. We were in Cabin #8097 and our friends in #8095. They were "V" Category, which is of the highest balcony categories onboard. The rooms were the most beautifully designed we've ever seen. They were spacious with three closets and plenty of storage. The balconies were large with two chairs, a small table and an ottoman. We arrived to gifts from our Travel Agent, Marianne from Travel Emporium, which included delicious chocolate covered strawberries and a voucher for a complimentary formal night dining room photo. The bathroom included a shower-tub and storage shelves and large bath sheets. The beds were comfortable. There was a flat-panel TV with a DVD player.
I met our stateroom attendant (Widi) for a very brief moment. I introduced myself and gave a him a short list of items we wanted. A bathrobe, feather pillows and ice. He returned later with two bathrobes, one feather pillow and ice. I handed him back one robe and asked him for another feather pillow. He gave me a disappointed look that I had asked for a second feather pillow and we never did receive it during the cruise. Luggage arrived by 4PM and Muster Drill immediately followed. No one in our drill could understand a word that was said during the drill, as the crew member conducting it had a very heavy accent. I could've gotten over the fact that so far we felt unwelcome on this ship until on Day One we had returned from dinner at around 10:00PM and (are you ready for this? Are you sitting down?) NO TURN-DOWN SERVICE!! I know it might sound petty to some, but COME ON!! Our traveling companions had never, ever experienced this on any of their 25 previous voyages! They had no clean towels in their room at this point and when we inquired at the Purser's desk about the lack of turn-down that evening the reply was (are you sitting down?) "we'll let your cabin attendant know to provide turn-down service nightly for you!" And "what exactly is it that you need?" I told the woman I'd like another feather pillow. She said she would have one sent. As I stated earlier, she never did. After that we were afraid to throw another used towel on the floor, for fear it may never be picked up and replaced! However, we did receive nightly turn-down service thereafter. Whew!
Sailaway What? We went to the Sailaway Party on the Lido Deck for Pina Coladas (which didn't include any garnish). That's right -- looked like a milkshake. Still tasted good. Bartenders on the Lido -- rushed and unfriendly!! No Cruise Director or Staff out on deck for this party. Just the Hal Cats (band) there to sing a few tunes. The views were beautiful. The tunes weren't.
Rembrandt Dining Room We had requested a table for four and found that there were few (if any) in the VERY cramped Rembrandt. One word to describe the feeling in the dining room -- SARDINES!! We were piled upon one another at several tables for 10. Our servers were rushed and again, not the friendliest of crew. The food however was excellent. Portions small (our server actually laughed when he had to serve me my tiny portion of crab leg appetizer. And he said "sorry" a lot. We enjoyed the company of two couples from Australia during dinners. Hello to Pat, Brian, Jennie and Daryl if you're reading this! Overall the Rembrandt Dining Room was not a pretty room and was much too small to accommodate the amount of seated passengers or servers during meals.
Production Shows Holland America didn't skimp here. Best sets and costumes on any ships. Shows were good. We liked the first one, better than the second. The cast did a great Michael Jackson Thriller number! We really enjoyed the actor who performed Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves more than the leading lady. She was more talented and should be cast in the lead. There was also a comedian (from Home Improvement) on Day One who was funny.
Captain's Reception What? 15 minutes before the show, the captain said a quick hello and goodbye. Champagne was served.
Ports I won't go on and on, but they were the saving grace of this ship! St. Thomas, San Juan, Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay were all WONDERFUL!!
Northern Lights Disco The nightclub had a nice atmosphere, but didn't flow well. DJ Jazzy was terrific and took requests. Service was very good here. It would have been more crowded if smoking were allowed, as everyone (including a large gay group) was in the Casino Sports Bar outside of the nightclub puffing away with their cocktails. I must say the passengers on this cruise all jelled beautifully. Straight, gay and everything in between -- all got along famously.
Lido Party Oh, there's the Cruise Director. Saw very little of him or his staff during the cruise. Oh, and this also must have doubled as our "Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza", because Holland America cheaped out on that too. They did have chocolate fountains during the Lido Party. We danced and had much fun!!
Halloween Bash Halloween was much fun on the Lido Deck. We dressed as Mainstream Vampires from HBO's TrueBlood. There was a parade of costumed passengers, great food and dancing with the Hal Cats. The Lido was decorated beautifully. I had hung a paper skeleton on my stateroom door which was torn off by someone after Day Two. You know who you are and should be ashamed of yourself!
Tamarind Complimentary for lunch. The most beautiful restaurant on the ship. We had lunch there. Set menu of dim sum. Good service, great food!
Pinnacle Just okay and I wouldn't recommend spending the $20pp cover for this one. My partner actually liked his steak in the Rembrandt better than the one served here.
Canaletto Complimentary for dinner. Service by Marius was the absolute best on the ship. He was quick, efficient and really knew his job. Although he was not overly friendly, he was the best server we encountered on Eurodam. Food was excellent!
Past Guest Party NONE!!! Not for anyone with less than 25 days sailed with Holland anyway! We received Delft tiles and a thank you note from the captain, but as "Mariners" we didn't rate a reception! Sorry Holland, but that in and of itself made up my mind never to sail with you again!! You should have seen the beautiful reception Royal Caribbean provides ALL of their past guests. Complete with cocktails, appetizers and mingling with the ship's officers. Big disappointment! Big disgrace!
Disembarkation We had express disembarkation which allowed us to walk off of the ship with luggage in hand. We were never told which deck to disembark from and when calling the purser's desk shortly before disembarking, one of our friends was told that they DIDN'T KNOW where the gangway was and that there would be an announcement. We discovered that the gangway was on deck 3. The announcement never did indicate where to disembark. After finding the deck ourselves, we were off the ship by 7:30AM.
Holland America's Eurodam has been sailing for months now. It's about time someone is held accountable for the crew's actions (or lack of). Someone must be held accountable for untidy conditions in areas of the ship. At 7:30 one morning as I was strolling the Promenade Deck, there were tons of dirty glasses (obviously from the previous night) littering the deck, and dirty cups and plates at various times on the tables of the Lido Deck. Does no one see this? Someone from corporate had better pose as a passenger on this ship before this crew sinks it!!
I really could go on and on, but I'm tired of hearing myself talk (and type). As I've said, I'm not a chronic complainer. As our traveling companions said, we're not looking for service which is above and beyond (although that would have been nice). We're just looking for basic needs (like clean towels in our room or a fork and knife at lunch). And we didn't receive even basic service on the Eurodam.
Someone is asleep at the helm.
Feel free to contact me with any questions.
Holland America Line Prinsendam by TyinPS Black Sea October 16, 2008
I have cruised 32 years. First one on Holland Amnerica. Worse cruise ever.
The muster was incomplete. We got excuses. There was a sounding at 2AM on the second night out and no crew appeared. A loud message said there was an electrical fire and to stay in our cabins. Stories varied the next day.
After claiming all desserts were fresh, executive chef and bakery chef finally admitted they were frozen commercial products and served stale, cold and dry.
At embarkation we noticed kitchen and other staff coughing and sneezing. One quarter of earlier port arrivals had the same symptoms. Some were on this ship months. Many spent a day in bed.
I got it 2 days in and discovered when I got home that I had contracted a highly transmittable viral bronchitis.
There was no welcome aboard; just a one hour hard sell by the cruise director's wife pushing future cruises.
Culinary class partly pre-empted for the same reason.
Entertainment was vaudeville-like. Comedian told gay jokes as did the very defensive cruise director.
If you are on this ship months you will be pampered. Catersto those in mid 40s. Best advice is to stay away from this one.
My trip on the Maasdam didn't turn out so well.
The only good ports (St. Marteen and the private island) were cancelled due to inclement weather. They were turned into simply sea days.
We booked this cruise through Cruise Direct, which turned out to be an even bigger mistake.
We were promised two free nights in a hotel, which turned out to be only good for Sunday through Wednesday at something called a "Toured Stay." Do you think they try to sell you vacations?
I'm going on my 14th cruise and I guarantee that I will never book with Cruise Direct again.
When I complained, their answer was "then don't go."
Our review starts with an overall assessment for the first day for this 30 day round trip cruise aboard the Holland America Statendam -- San Diego to San Diego.
San Diego Harbor Embarkation was in San Diego which has a good pier for cruise ships and the best part is the pier is in downtown, not far from the airport or city attractions. We stayed at the Marriott Gaslamp Hotel which is a short cab ride from the pier. Expect to pay around $12 for a short trip in the downtown area.
At the pier was a Carnival ship and the Statendam. Our cab was permitted to cross security and pull along the ship terminal. Unloading was a snap as many porters were present. Holland America never mailed us baggage tags thus we had to ask a porter and then take the time to complete filling them out. When I offered $10 for the two baggage tags and the porter service, I was rudely told I would have to pay $20.
Inside the building we went through security and got in line to get our cabin assignment. The lines moved veryquickly. There is a separate line for handicapped and the wait was even shorter. Suggest if you are handicapped, look for that line. Once documents are given to you, the walk to the ship is short. There is an elevator for the handicapped. You may wonder why I am often mentioning the handicapped. There were many handicapped aboard this ship including many in wheelchairs.
We were in our cabin within minutes. This was a very quick embarkation. It could not have gone easier.
Dining Let's start with the one subject that is most often heard in a conversation aboard a ship. Eating! We were greeted with a new dining concept aboard the Statendam, called "As You Wish Dining." The Main Statendam Dining Room as many will recall who have sailed on this ship earlier, is two decks. The top deck (Deck 8) is reserved for early and late fixed dining time seating. The bottom dining room (Deck 7) is for "As You Wish Dining." You can make a reservation the day of dining for seating at various times. Unfortunately we never found open times available other the 5:30PM and 8:00PM. Perhaps you can have better luck. You can also "walk in" and ask for seating, however from the long lines we saw and the unhappy passengers who were turned away while we were dining at 5:30, it is difficult to see how this is going to work to everyone's satisfaction. We were told it was better to ask for late seating as late times were plentiful. For "walk in" dining you will be seated at the next vacant seat, thus you may sit at a table for 2, 4, 6 or 8. After a few days it appeared this system begin to break down as many people including ourselves sat at a specific table. We noticed many people doing this and less and less dining reservations were noted in cabin mailboxes.
The Rotterdam Dining Room: It's day number four and I need to update the "As You Wish Dining" process. A call for reservations this morning was not successful. I was told that all reservations were taken except for 8PM. I checked with a fellow passenger and she was told the same, nothing available until 8PM. It may be a coincidence, on being told there was no reservations available and then seconds later getting a call from the front desk wanting to know if there were any problems and was there anything the front desk could help with. I declined any help and decided we will try the "walk in" approach this evening. If that doesn't work we will head for the Lido Deck dining area.
You also have the option of eating at the Lido, which has just been renovated with a new serving area and new seating. It is very nice. You may not be able to serve yourself as almost all the food is behind glass window dividers and you ask the server for the item. Perhaps some of this separation was brought about due to health concerns. Now the passengers cannot get directly to the food. No more touching food with your fingers, coughing or sneezing over the food. The serving area is broken down into theme type foods (Asia, beef, Italian, fish, etc.) This makes it rather easy to go directly to the items you desire. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in this manner. Remember the times you have had to wait for a passenger who could not decide what slice of bacon they wanted and the line backed up and backed up? Now they get the next two pieces of bacon. If that is not your thing then you may not like this expedited serving process. We also noticed that portions offered are smaller. In fact everything that is served seems to be in smaller portions. Juice glass, coffee cups, etc are all smaller than we found in the past.
The Pinnacle Grill: The Pinnacle Grill is open for both lunch and dinner. There is an additional charge of $10 for lunch and dinner $20. We never saw many passengers dining in this restaurant. The food at dinner is steak and seafood. It is excellent. Lunch includes a hamburger -- remember you are paying $10 to $20 extra per person to dine in this restaurant. Several passengers we found out had been given complimentary seating from their travel agents.
Terrace Grill:If you like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza or tacos, the Terrace Grill is on the same deck as the Lido Restaurant. Service is slow as each item is cooked after you order. We tried this snack bar several times and the slow service never changed. Your burger is not cooked until you place your order and cooking will take several minutes. The process never seemed rushed so expect ordering to take several minutes. If you drink cokes, then a drink card is available for $25 for 20 cokes. HOWEVER we learned that the card does have limits. For example my wife asked for a diet Sprite. Sorry but diet drinks are not available from the auto dispenser, only in cans and guess what? Cans are not included with the card. We went to three bars one afternoon before we found a bartender willing to let us have two glasses of Diet Sprite poured from a can. There is no refill and the drinks show up in a small glass. You can also purchase from the bar cans of drinks. There is also a coffee card available for $20 for 10 coffees. Look at the prices as you will probably be better off purchasing individual coffees as you desire rather than buying the coffee card. In fact the bartender told us we might rather purchase individually than purchase the card. There is free coffee in the Lido Restaurant. Specialty coffees are available at several places on the ship at an additional cost.
Ice Cream and Desert Bar -- Lido Deck: Contrary to other ships we have recently sailed, this ship has an ice cream bar where you can get soft serve and hard frozen ice cream until 5:00 PM without charge. You can make your own sundaes, get the ice cream in a dish or in a waffle cone. Several toppings were also available.
Cabin Location This is a small ship, thus cabin location does matter. We've had cabins, on other Statendam cruises, in several places throughout the ship. Trust me -- don't get too close to the front and aft ends of the ship as you will feel the ship's motion all night long and even more so if you are in rough seas. Some travel agents assist you and you decide which cabin suits you best. If you have a long cruise don't settle for anything less than what you want.
Photo Shop We continue to believe the cost of snapshots on cruise ships is way too much and this ship we found no different. The quality of the snapshots left a lot to be desired. Purchase your own quality digital camera and either print them off your computer or have a quality shop print them when you return home. The quality will be much better, plus you can have all the photos you want to print. TIP: Notice where the ship photographers go with their equipment, both on the ship and off the ship. Then take photos of your traveling companions at those locations, just like being at Disneyworld where there are many signs that read "photo spot." You will be dollars ahead. Photos sold as portraits aboard ships are just snapshots made with a medium price digital camera. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Prices on photo supplies are high aboard cruise chips, so make your purchases at a discount store before you leave home.
Sports Activities There is a basketball court on the top deck and ping pong on deck 11. Traveling on the Holland America Statendam will usually provide you ample opportunity to play. There is also golf putting, golf chipping, shuffleboard, basketball and volleyball aboard the ship. You can earn "Dam Dollars" if you win and later exchange those dollars for prizes.
Ping Pong is located on Deck 11.
There's a neat Hideaway on Deck 12.
Who Are My Fellow Passengers? Traveling on the Holland America Statendam is certainly a far cry from traveling on a Carnival or Princess cruise ship. There were a large number of handicapped passengers and a great number that are social security age. We only saw one grade school child on board and two small 1 year old children. We would strongly urge young passengers, honeymooners, and families with children to consider a cruise other than this one. While the destinations are great, you should expect to sit at a table with seniors rather than people who are younger. Do you really know what to expect for table talk? You'll hear about the stock market, global travels, social security, Medicare, grandchildren and politics. Unless my observations are all wrong 90-95% of the passengers would easily fall in the 70-85 year old range.
Want a Great View? The Crow's Nest is great for relaxing and seeing the world go by. The days we visited it was obvious a lot of smokers had "camped out" in the area. We found the smell of smoke too much to stay a long time plus on many days they kept the area very cool. Wear a sweater just in case you go there on one of those days. There was free coffee, tea and cookies on some days. There are many bars throughout he ship, however we never found any of them very busy. Each morning the cruise director has a coffee chat with an entertainer. We found the chats interesting and informative. Some of the entertainers also participate in lectures aboard the ship. Time and locations vary.
Art Auctions As with most cruise ships there is an art auction. If you want to buy a print or painting wouldn't you really be better off going to the local art dealer and discussing such a purchase? It's difficult to believe quality art work, in such scarce quantities, could be found aboard a cruise ship a thousand miles out in the sea. Think about it.
Future Cruise Purchase We are always amazed to see large numbers of passengers talking with an onboard Holland America future cruise person. There is the offer of $100 ship board credit or a room upgrade if you just put a down payment today for that cruise next year. The cruise industry is like so many other businesses in this day and time. There are good buys and even great buys to be made on future cruises. Are they aboard a cruise ship? You be your own judge. We get so many e-mails advertising discounted cruises that we have always been hesitant to purchase a cruise while at sea.
Internet Access OK, I am an internet junkie and this is most often the way I stay in touch with family and friends. The service aboard this ship was equivalent to the old dial up service that I ditched 10 years ago. There was one big difference as the cost was $100 for 250 minutes. I could even live with that however just getting onto the internet sometimes took a full 10 minutes with each minute costing 40 cents. I updated this review on day four. The internet is said to be working so I head for the internet area. After 15 minutes I finally log onto the ship's system, however it will not let me go to the internet. I ask the attendant for assistance and she told me I didn't know my name and the password needed to log onto the internet and that I should call my provider (sbcglobal) when I get to Hawaii. This is strange since I have been using this service and have maintained my "login name" and "password" for many years. I ask the person next to me if he has been able to log in and he advises that he is on the ship's hookup but can't get to his bank account to pay a bill. Almost thirty minutes have passed and I started to try to reach various providers and sites. Finally by going to Google and them to SBCGlobal I am able to at least get to my provider's web site. A few minutes later I am on my site and I get into my e-mail. The fellow next to me is still trying. One thing I noticed, once you log onto the ship's system you will find various Holland America links. DON'T GO THERE AS IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET OUT WITHOUT LOGGING OFF. That will mean having to go back and try the process all over again thus wasting many, many minutes. I figured sending a simple e-mail was costing me many dollars each time. I have experienced far faster connection time aboard the Princess line. The person on duty was friendly and helpful, and it was not her fault.
Library and Internet Rooms I plan to rethink my internet experiences aboard cruise ships. I will no longer sign up for the ship's internet service unless the ship is reasonably close to land. No more open sea "lack of internet service" for me. The quality of the service is poor even in the best of times. You have a far better chance of getting a reasonably good quality hookup when docked. Another tip -- take a minute to meet the person in charge of the ship's service. If she/he does not appear proficient or willing to help you, then pass up the high internet fees and wait until you are on shore. Thus far I have been unable to use my own laptop on this cruise as I hook up one minute while being disconnected the very next minute. Asking for help on this cruise was certainly not even close to the excellent service we received on a recent Princess cruise.
I have been unable to use my laptop in my cabin. I asked some other passengers if they can get on the internet in their cabin and neither have they. I was able to use my iPhone even in the cabin to connect to AT&T and download my emails. The phone worked great in all ports in Hawaii.
Retail Stores If you can find poorer retail stores in the cruise industry please send me an e-mail as the stores on the Holland America Statendam have some of the poorest quality merchandise we have ever seen. In addition some stores had very little merchandise. One store advertised everything in the store at a $10 price. We thought we were at the local dollar store. My wife had always purchased perfume aboard cruise ships, but not this one. The selection and quality was extremely poor. Holland America needs to address this immediately.
Van Gough Lounge This is the entertainment area for the onboard singers and dancers as well as other invited entertainment. It is worth a visit to the area during the day time just to view this very nice theater area reminiscent of eras gone by. Looks a lot like the movie theater I attended in the 1940s. Seating is comfortable and the theater is small, compared to the big mega ships. The entertainment is one star level therefore don't expect much and therefore you won't be disappointed. Movies are sometimes shown on a small screen. Sound is not the best. Limited amounts of popcorn may be available for free on days movies are shown. Movies were also shown in the Wajang Theater.
Casino One of the smallest casinos we have ever seen on a ship. One roulette wheel, five or 6 tables for various card games, one craps table and one table for poker. There are a limited number of older slot machines. The staff is far more friendly than we have experienced on recent cruises. This is certainly not a place where you go to win money. It is just entertainment. Don't worry, they will take your money just as quickly on the older slots as the newer electronic machines. One of the best gambling bargains is the Texas Holdem Poker Tournament. Buy in for $30 and the winner of the tournament gets $200 with the runner up getting $50. A great hour of fun and play and not too expensive. On our ship the first time players seemed always to beat out those who thought they were pros. Be patient with the players and dealers as this is not a professional tournament.
Sports Activities On most days there is some type of competitive sport activity taking place. Shoot basketball and golf putting are two such activities where you can win cruise dollars that, if you accumulate enough, you can win a prize. Kind of like going to the fair or carnival.
Shore Excursions As with many other items you may purchase, you may find shore excursion prices beyond your budget. Shore excursions can cost you far more than the price of the cruise, therefore I suggest you be very selective. Costs range from $59 to $599 for such excursions. If you are not the adventurous type, don't like to go off on your own and don't much like driving in an unfamiliar area, then the ship's shore excursions may be your only choice if you want to get off the ship and see the sights, so let me suggest some alternatives. In Kauai there is a helicopter ride of 1-1/2 hours that sells for $265. By doing a little research on the internet we found an equivalent helicopter tour priced at $350.40 for two passengers, thus we saved almost $180.00. We were fortunate in that our son is a pilot and he had flown on the helicopter we booked, thus we got a great recommendation. The price of the ship's helicopter could have been purchased for around $200 on shore on the identical helicopter, thus there was a mark up of approximately $65 per passenger for the ship's tour.
In Hilo the ship's tour office has a variety of tours costing $51 to $219 per person. Find another couple and rent a car for around $50 and head for some of the same tourist spots at a fraction of the cost from the tour office. By splitting the cost of the rental car and gas, you can see the exact same sights on your own time and save a bundle. All it takes a little internet research and a few reservations before you arrive.
One couple at our dining table made reservations with a tour company that will meet them at the dock and take them to the same places as the ship offers with the really big difference being the price, which was less than 50% off the ship cruise prices, plus don't forget the freedom that goes with such a tour -- stop when you want to and stop where you want to.
Tenders Like many passengers we are not always excited when we have to "tender in" at a port. The tenders on this ship ran quite well when it came to passenger pickups, transportation and drop offs.
Car Rental Tips We rented cars at Hilo, Kailua, Lahaina & Honolulu. Check and double check that you understand where the cars are located and how you will get there. For example we were told by Alamo Rental that we could walk to their office in Honolulu. Upon arrival we found the office to be about 6 miles away or a $30 taxi ride. Most rental car companies will pick you up at the dock at no additional charge. Make certain that you know what the closing hour is for that location and if you can turn a car in after closing hours. In Honolulu the Hertz office was close to the cruise terminal, however they did not permit car turn ins after 4PM. Parking in Honolulu was $30 to $50 for overnight. Plan your traveling route well before you arrive at the port. We found that even though we were at Honolulu for two days, a one day rental was plenty as the traffic was a nightmare. Also determine the kind of vehicle you really need. Unless you are going "four wheeling" don't opt for a Jeep Wrangler on the islands. These are not the most comfortable vehicles to drive or ride in (I own one and thus I write from experience) and they will cost an arm and a leg at most locations. Going down the highway in Hawaii in a convertible is a picture of fun. Maybe and maybe not, as we hit rain quite often, thus time after time we lowered the top only to have to raise it an hour later. Otherwise the convertible was quite fun. Leave all your "stuff" in the cruise ship cabin as it will be exposed for the easy heist at your next unattended stop. Do you really need that extra insurance for collision and theft? You need to review the terms of your credit card AND your personal insurance policy and then make your own decision. Many articles and guide books stated that car reservations should be made before leaving home. While that is a good suggestion, we found prices to be the same or in some cases lower at the location than prices quoted before leaving home.
Library A very good at sea library offers many books and DVDs (cost $3 to rent) that can be viewed in your cabin. All need to be checked out at the desk and returned by the due date. There is a section for paperback exchanges which is free. Just leave the book that you have read for another passenger and pick up a paperback of your choice. Some of these books were in French with most being in English.
Spa and Salon Located on deck 11 there is a very nice Spa and Hair Salon. Depending on what part of the country you live in, expect to pay highly inflated prices.
Wajang Theater The movie theater has been renovated and is now a theater with movies being shown several times a day. It also serves as the location for the Culinary Arts Center where cooking and food demonstrations are given. Seating is in comfortable theater chairs. Popcorn is available for free at the movies. Get there early if you want free popcorn as it goes fast and there was never enough for the entire crowd.
Queens Room and Explorations Cafe Lots of internet locations in this area and several good areas to relax and read a book.
Explorers Lounge A great place to relax and watch the world go by, have a drink and read a book. Comfortable seating throughout the room.
Ocean Bar One of the places we found to be the busiest aboard ship. Good seating where passengers can have a drink and chat with friends.
Half Moon Room and Hudson Room These rooms are next to one another on the Promenade deck. They were being used by private groups much of the time and were also used by some of the ship's lecturers.
Pool Areas Located on the Lido Deck is the Lido Pool which can be covered by a sliding glass dome when weather is adverse outside. The area is very nice and there are new lounges, chairs and tables throughout the area. Plenty of towels are available for those who want to take a swim or get into one of the hot tubs. Just one deck below is a small outdoor pool. We did not find many passengers using that pool as the weather was windy and cool. There are a couple of ping pong tables located close to the indoor pool.
Deck 6 This deck offers a walking area completely around the ship and there are plenty of lounge chairs along the way. On the days "at sea" this area was heavily used by the passengers.
Bars and Lounges If you are one of those that don't mind expensive drinks aboard ship, then head for one of the six lounges or bars on this ship. There are four on deck 8, one on 11 and one on 12. We never once found a bar or lounge full and could always find a seat. Service is sometimes slow as there were few attendants during some hours.
Ports I will not try to list all the ports. The reason we found most passengers taking this cruise is for the unusual ports in the South Pacific, the cost of which to go to individually by air would be astronomical. We found that a few hours at each port only whets one's appetite for future visits.
Raiatea, French Polynesia: A most interesting port with modern port facilities. Rent a car and take a tour of the island. It can be covered in about an hour, thus a four hour car rental would be sufficient. There is a Eurocar Rental office not far from town and we found a representative at the docks offering a ride to the office. Roads are decent and not a lot of traffic. You can stop often and take in the sights. Check your travel book for those places the author feels are a "must to see." There are vanilla plantations on the island. Take a tour. Rentals will be about $100 for four hours.
Bora Bora: Here we rented a car at the city docks (Avis). Takes about two hours to circle the island. Suggest you take a slow leisurely trip and use the four hours you are paying for the rental car. About $100 for 4 hours. There is only one road around the island and it is a good road for most of the way. Don't hesitate on a car rental as there is little traffic and driving is easy. Bloody Mary's is located on the southwest side of the island. It is a great tourist destination.
Moorea: "Le Truck" is the common form of transportation in Moorea. We suggest you pick up a rental car and travel at your own pace.
Papeete, Tahiti: The central market is located downtown. You can walk to a lot of the downtown sites. Traffic is as bad as bad can be. We were discouraged from renting a car here.
Traveling on a cruise to the South Pacific can be an adventure of a lifetime. Island stops were too short as we would have liked to have stayed longer at some of those islands that are not on the regular tourist beat. The opinions and observations expressed in this review are those of this traveler and we recognize that with 1200 passengers on the same trip there will be different opinions and observations, and we respect that. We are in no way connected with the cruise line industry. I would be pleased to try to answer any questions anyone may have concerning this review. Just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Would we travel again on this same ship? Yeah, we would. Would we want to take this same destination cruise? Yes, we would.
Have a great cruise no matter where you travel!
This review presents my impressions of this 35 day voyage comprised of a five day coastal cruise from Vancouver to San Diego, and then a 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific voyage onboard Holland America's ms Statendam M
I'm also going to write this review "freeform." I'll use headings so you can easily skip to the parts that may be important to you.
Embarkation Embarkation was a snap! I had just gotten off a Carnival cruise the day before and flown from LAX to Vancouver. I spent one night pre-cruise at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Because of the advantage of that one night stay, I was refreshed and relaxed on embarkation day for this sailing. My only regret was not having more time to see Vancouver, because I found it to be a lovely city with lots to see and do there.
I have long been a proponent of taking one's time to embark a ship. There's no reason, in my opinion, to be the first one on the ship, especially for a long cruise. So, on embarkation morning I took my time and enjoyed the amenities of the Pan Pacific Hotel until the last possiblemoment. At about 11:15, I called down to the bell captain's desk and had him come up and pick up my huge suitcase for delivery to the ship. This is a nice "bennie" to staying at the Pan Pacific. The cruise ship terminal is actually attached to the hotel, and one need only walk down to the lobby, switch over to the parking garage elevator, and head down to the cruise ship level for check-in.
After giving my heavy luggage to the bell captain, I made my way downstairs to the lobby at a little after noon. Within minutes, I was in the check-in line and through security. The entire process took no more than 15 minutes, and I was walking onto the ship, room card in hand. No muss. No fuss.
As a sidenote, another nice thing about staying at the Pan Pacific is that I didn't even have to step outside in order to get to the cruise terminal. Every step of the way was indoors. This is important when it's raining cats and dogs, and the weather is chilly. I didn't even realize how cold it was until I walked through the enclosed walkway to get onto the ship. I only had a light windbreaker jacket on, and really appreciated that I was indoors the entire time of this embarkation. I also found out that it was raining for the first time as I walked onto the ship. True, I had a nice panoramic window in my room at the Pan Pacific, but for some reason, I just didn't realize from that high up that it was raining out (I was on the 20th floor ... the smoking floor of that hotel).
Cabin Of course, rooms were not quite ready when I embarked, so I was directed to the Lido. Since I wasn't really hungry I just grabbed a cup of java and plopped down at a table. Got my first chance to strike up a conversation with strangers ... something I love to do on cruises, and met a nice "senior" couple who were very excited about this cruise. They told me it was to be their longest one yet. We talked a bit about the ports we would be visiting and I shared with them my little knowledge of Hawaii, since they had never been there.
As soon as the announcement came on that cabins were ready, I went to check out my home for the next 35 days. After my experience on Carnival, I was hoping this cabin would be a bit more roomy, which it was.
I had an unobstructed outside cabin on the Main Deck (cabin 641). This was a nice upgrade that I had received from the inside cabin I had booked. The bed was made up as a double (per my request) and everything was in order. All of the things I had ordered -- a bottle of wine, as well as cocktail cards, shore excursion reservations, etc., were all there. My cabin steward, Mohammed, stopped by to introduce himself and see if there was anything he could do for me. When I asked for an ashtray, he brought me a brand new one, still in the box. It is the kind they normally put on balconies, completely enclosed with a push handle in the center to "flush" your butts inside.
Fortunately, luggage arrived shortly thereafter, allowing me to get the unpleasant unpacking chore out of the way before lifeboat drill. To me, a cruise doesn't really start until those two items are complete.
The cabin had plenty of storage space. I couldn't possibly fill it all, and I doubt even a couple could have. There were three large closet sections, not to mention six full drawers in the desk/bureau, and two nightstands with two drawers each that you could lock with a key. The only thing that surprised me was that the safe in the room was apparently one of the older ones that has a separate card to lock it, rather than being of the combination lock type. This meant that you had to carry a second card around with you if you wanted to be sure the items in the safe were secure. I've never seen these types of safes on HAL ships before; they must be an older variety.
The cabin itself was in a great location, rather close to the aft elevators. Normally this could be a problem on a ship with an active nightlife. I would imagine you could get a lot of noise -- people getting on and off elevators and tramping by your cabin, laughing and talking. But not on this sailing. We didn't have the "party hardy" type passenger makeup.
The only problem I noted during the whole 35 day sailing with my cabin was that at night it would often creak and groan with the motion of the waves. I guess this was because I had a window (I normally have inside cabins), so the noise was probably a bit more noticeable. But, hey -- ships move -- they float on the water -- and this creaking and groaning is just the ship expanding and contracting with the movement.
The other problem, not so much with the cabin as with the cabin location, was that for the first five days or so of the cruise there was a terrible "sewage" type smell, predominantly in the aft part of the ship. I initially thought this was probably some sort of cooking odor wafting down from the galley, but later I heard that the problem was a broken sewage pipe they were working on fixing. Another story I got was that the smell was "normal" -- the result of a couple of chemicals that are mixed for waste disposal purposes. But since the problem went away after a few days, I tend to think the broken sewage pipe explanation was the correct one.
Dining If anyone goes hungry on this ship, it's their own fault. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry here.
I had the "dreaded" As You Wish Dining on this sailing, and even though I wasn't happy about the prospect, I made up my mind to go into it without prejudgments. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, it was kind of nice because it gave me some real flexibility in deciding when I wanted to eat.
I guess I should say, for the record, that eating is not a big deal for me. As long as the food is edible, I'm happy. I'm the type of person who likes to eat when they are hungry, not necessarily at pre-determined times, so I'm surprised I was dreading this format of dining since it would seem ready-made for me.
Lido Restaurant: I took all of my breakfasts and lunches, and many of my dinners here. On past cruises, the Lido wasn't a good option for dinner because the hours were so limited, but now they have them from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Dinner service in the Lido is a cut above the other meals. You go through a serving line, picking up your appetizer and salad. A server will get your soup and take your entree order, including sides. When you get to the end of the line, a smiling steward will take your tray and deliver it to your table, picking up your coffee along the way. He can even help you put together your salad if you wish.
For dinner service, all the tables have white tablecloths and candles on them. There is limited tableside service, and a steward will pour your water and even get your coffee if you so desire. A bar steward also makes the rounds for those people who would like a drink with dinner.
I enjoyed breakfast in the Lido immensely as well. You can get omelets to order, as well as eggs. Each day there are different items, but pretty much they are the same -- standard breakfast fare. I really can't comment too much on the breakfast food, as I am pretty much a creature of habit. I like my cold cereal or oatmeal with fruit, perhaps some white toast or a bagel, and lots of java. But I didn't hear too many people complaining about the quality of the breakfast offerings, so I assume probably everything was acceptable.
Lunch I can't really comment on at all. I rarely eat lunch and can only recall a couple of times going to the Lido for a salad to hold me over until dinner.
Each night there would also be a late night buffet in the Lido -- at around 11:00 p.m. Each night was a different "theme" -- Italian, Mexican, Indonesian, All American, etc. I only went up for two of these on nights where perhaps I had skipped dinner because I got "busy" in my cabin writing, and on both occasions the offerings were plentiful and the food decent.
I guess I should say right now that I heard a lot of people saying that the food on HAL has "slipped." I honestly wouldn't know if that's true or not. I found everything I ate to be fine. But, like I said, food is not a high priority item with me, so perhaps I'm much easier to please than most. Also, I heard people say that the portions have gotten smaller. This comment I have to outright laugh about. If the portion is small, just ask for two. What's the problem? I am only too happy to get smaller portions. I don't like the idea of wasting food. If I am still hungry, I'll just ask for a second helping. No big deal.
Main Dining Room:I was on the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room, since I was assigned to As You Wish Dining. I was dreading this format of dining mainly because although I had good friends with me on this cruise, the bottom line is that I'm a single and I don't like the idea of being put in the position of having to dine alone while I am on vacation. I figured with As You Wish that could easily happen, especially if my friends were not going to the main dining room that night; perhaps having dinner in their cabin. Well, I needn't have worried.
I got my first chance to dine solo on the third night of the cruise. My friends were not scheduled to board the Statendam until we got to San Francisco, so I was on my own for the first three days of the cruise. On the first night, I was busy doing other things and never went to the dining room. In fact, I decided to skip dinner altogether and just go up to the Lido for the late night buffet. The second night was a formal night, so I went to the Lido. On the third night, however, I decided to give the main dining room a shot and just walked in. I was seated at a table for six with two other couples. This was nice because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with some of my fellow cruisers. The only problem I noted, however, was that service seemed slow. This did not appear to be the fault of the servers in this case, but rather some sort of back-up in the kitchen. There would be breaks in the service -- like after all pre-entrees and before the main entree -- where we would be left to sit twiddling our thumbs before the main courses came out of the kitchen. This problem was not isolated to the As You Wish Dining either. It was also evident in traditional. When my friends, Trisha and Virgil, got onboard in San Francisco, Trisha and I decided to dine in the dining room. Trisha had a spot in early traditional. Since her husband doesn't like going to the main dining room at all, she suggested I take his place. We were at a table for ten, I believe, and the service was incredibly slow. After two separate nights of this, she dumped her slots in traditional dining and we both went back to As You Wish.
Another problem we encountered with As You Wish Dining is that you could not get a table for two without a reservation. If you just walked in, you would be seated at a large table with others. Now, I have no problem with this. In fact, I like it. But the problem we experienced was that when we would sit at a table with others, we had to all be on the same course of the meal. For example, on this particular night, Trisha and I were seated at a table for six. A couple was already there when we arrived. They had not received menus yet. When we sat down, the four of us got menus and we ordered. We were served our soups and appetizers when another couple joined us. We did not get our entrees until that couple had finished with their soup, salad and appetizers. Then we were all served our entrees. This meant that the meal took close to two hours for us, and probably a bit longer for the first couple who I don't know how long were sitting there without menus until we arrived.
Trisha and I asked one of the servers how we could get a table for two in the future. He told us that all of the tables for two were reserved for the rest of the cruise. This went directly against what we had been told in the past -- that a table for two could be reserved by calling the reservations line in the morning; and that you could not reserve it for the entire cruise -- just for that day. Trisha spoke to the guest relations manager about the problem the next day, and we had the immediate attention of the dining room manager by that night. He told us that the person who gave us the information that all of the tables for two were booked for the entire cruise was dead wrong, and he would speak to him about it. He told us that he had a "reservations list" for those tables and we would be added to it. He said that he was working diligently to try and please everyone and he would certainly do the same for us. In fact, after this little chat that evening in the Lido, we never had a problem reserving a table for two again. The only catch was that you had to eat early. Those tables needed to be turned over for maximum use since so many people wanted them. In fact, this dining room manager, Kristian, was very, very forthcoming with me. He told me that As You Wish Dining was presenting a lot of challenges for him on long cruises such as ours since most people don't care for it. The type of passengers on this type of lengthy voyage prefer traditional dining, and there is no way the entire passenger complement can have it. While he can use parts of the lower level dining room for traditional service, there are only certain parts he can use, and as a result there are gonna be some passengers "stuck" in As You Wish who don't want to be. He told me that his "Wish" was that HAL would drop As You Wish on the longer sailings.
I found the food choices to be adequate, though not as plentiful as in the past. The food was tasty and I was usually able to find something on the menu I could enjoy. The evidence of cutbacks was there, though, in that there didn't seem to be as much choice or variety as I seem to recall from before, though I could always find something to enjoy. I heard reports that the desserts weren't that great -- at least not as good as they were in the past -- but I honestly can't comment on that because my standard dessert of choice has always been sorbet in the dining room and sherbert in the Lido. I am alergic to chocolate, and since most desserts are chocolate-based, I rarely sampled any others.
Pinnacle Grill: I love this place. We ate at the Pinnacle four times for dinner and once for lunch. Three of the dinners and the lunch we ate in the main room, right as you walk in. As the meal would progress, it would get rather hot. By the end of the meal, poor Trish was ready to pull her clothes off. Virgil too complained of being warm, though I was fine -- probably because of some medication I take that seems to make me cold all of the time.
I found the food to be absolutely delicious as Pinnacle steaks always are. I had the petite fillet at dinner and even though it was supposedly "petite," I couldn't finish it. I order my steaks medium rare and in all cases it was cooked to perfection. For the one lunch we enjoyed there, I had a small luncheon steak which was also very good. I stuck with sorbet for dessert and often would have a double scoop.
Service was attentive, especially for the one Pinnacle dinner where we were the guests of the hotel manager, Theo Haanen, and his wife Helen. The Culinary Manager and his wife, Maggie, joined us as well. This time we sat in the back room and had almost the undivided attention of five people, including the Pinnacle Grill Manager. If we would take a sip of water, almost instantly the water glasses were topped off. As soon as we could take our first cut of meat, the Pinnacle Manager was there to make sure it was cooked to our liking. We couldn't even ask for anything, because before we could verbalize the request, it had been anticipated and the needed item provided. Talk about service! But the thing was that the service was great for all of the meals -- just exceptionally so for this one. Dining at the Pinnacle is one of the highlights of any HAL cruise for me. But then, I'm a meat and potatoes girl at heart anyway. I could well imagine someone who is not a beef eater not particularly enjoying the dining experience there. That's probably why the menu is being expanded to include other items, such as Lobster, as well. On the Statendam, that new menu was set to go into place with the cruise after ours -- so I can't really comment on it.
Room Service: For some reason, I just didn't use room service on this cruise. Some of them I do, and some I don't. Depends on my routine on the particular cruise. On this one, I just preferred to go to the Lido if I just wanted a quick bite. I was doing a lot of writing in my cabin this trip and really didn't have the room to eat comfortably there. I had my computer and notes and everything else all spread out on the desk and didn't feel like moving everything to make room for a room service tray. So I can't comment on the room service on the Statendam, other to say that my friends used it, as well as others I talked to around the ship, and I didn't hear any of them complaining about it.
Pool Grill: Like I said, I rarely eat lunch. However, once or twice I did grab some pizza or a hot dog at the Pool Grill and it was fine. Lots of choice for condiments, reasonably quick service, decent food. For a quick bite, it's fine. Wouldn't want to eat their fare every meal, though. What can I say? It's a typical pool grill -- burgers, fries, pizza, tacos, hot dogs, etc.
Entertainment and Activities There was a show every night, including four cast production shows. They were typical cruise ship fare. If you're expecting Broadway, you're gonna be disappointed. You'll never get that on a cruise ship, at least not a mass market or even premium one. There were other entertainers provided on other nights, such as musicians, comediennes, magicians, etc., and the ones I saw were reasonably good. I have to say, though, that I don't go to even half the shows presented onboard. It's just not my thing.
Special entertainment was brought onboard a couple of times -- a Hula show and a Polynesian one. The "hula babies" were absolutely adorable and I took picture after picture of them. There was also an Indonesian and Filopino Crew Show presented, but sadly I missed them. 11:30 at night is just a bit too late for me to be fighting for a seat in the Queens Lounge to watch a show. I caught portions of it on the in-cabin tv the next day.
There was music in all the lounges, though our favorite was Darlene and the HALCats. We just liked their brand of music, especially the rock and roll they would do at the various sailaway parties. They also did other type of music at other venues, such as at the various Balls held in the Crow's Nest, which allowed Darlene to showcase the other styles of music she is capable of singing.
There were a full slate of activities on this cruise -- trivia, morning "coffee chats" with the entertainers, Explorations Speakers Series, Dam Dollar events, etc. If you like these sorts of things, that's great. Other than the occasional lecture or coffee chat, I didn't partake of many of them. I much prefer curling up with a good book (actually my Kindle) or writing. Those are the things that keep me busy on a leisurely day at sea. Those are the things I most enjoy. But others seemed to keep quite busy and I met people onboard who loved the Dam Dollar events and participated in just about every one of them.
Since this was such a long cruise, four "social hosts" were brought onboard for dancing and whatnot. They used to be called "gentleman hosts," but HAL changed their title to social host and the job description now involves a lot more than dancing. They are also expected to host singles tables for lunch every sea day, as well as be good conversationalists as well. They would also occasionally be on shore excursions as escorts as well.
There was also a priest and a minister on this cruise, and I would note services being held each day. Normally I go to these, but on this cruise I didn't attend nondenominational services very regularly, just due to my particular schedule and "style" on this cruise. The few services I did attend, though, were very well attended and I have a feeling that crowd were "regulars" who had gotten very friendly and comfortable with each other, just as it should be in a congregation. There were also Jewish services held on Fridays, so I can only assume a Rabbi was onboard as well.
An interesting thing I noted was that HAL kept switching around the times for the shows. If there was a special event going on that night, they might change the show times from the normal 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 and 9:00. This meant that all late seating diners had to go to the 7:00 p.m. show and the early seating folks went to the 9:00. What it actually translated to was more people eating in the Lido that night and the first show being packed. They would have to add folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. Then I would imagine the 9:00 p.m. show having the theater with empty seats all over the place.
We also had several special events on this cruise -- a Black and White Ball, a Sailors Ball and a Farewell Ball. These events took place up in the Crow's Nest at around 10:00 p.m. I went to a couple of them, but didn't stay more than an hour. Balls are just not my sort of thing.
We also had a Crossing the Equator Ceremony which was fun. The only problem was that probably the whole ship was out on the aft deck for this event and it was packed. You couldn't really take too many good pictures for the crowd. Also, HAL received a way too small supply of "Crossing the Equator" teeshirts. It became a free for all to get one and at one point I thought a fistfight was gonna break out when one passenger claimed that another had ripped the tee-shirt that she was going to buy out of her hand.
We also had the Chocolate Extravaganza up on the Lido Deck one night. They opened the buffet up for 15 minutes strictly for picture taking, before letting people dig in. I went up for that purpose since I can't eat chocolate. However, I was very disappointed not to see chocolate covered strawberries as a part of that. They had always been there in the past -- at least they were on my last cruise in 2007. But I guess budget cuts nixed them? Everything else looked pretty good, though, and the offerings were quite elaborate.
The only real criticism I have about the activities and entertainment was with the amount of announcements that were made over the loudspeakers. The cruise director, Mike, seemed big on announcements and there were a lot more of them on this cruise than I have ever heard on a HAL ship. I can understand announcements for major events, like the Crossing the Equator Ceremony, or if there's been a schedule change, or whatever. But normally there is no need for them. We get daily programs delivered to our staterooms every night. People can read. As long as the venues and times are correct in the daily program, then there should be no reason for an announcement "reminding" people that Bingo is starting in 15 minutes, or that there's an art auction taking place in the Ocean Bar at 3:00. Yet we got a lot of announcements of this type, and frankly, they became annoying after awhile.
But other than the slew of announcements, the cruise director seemed to be adequate, though not as visible around the ship as I've seen some. He was personable and friendly whenever I did talk to him.
Ship The Statendam is one of the older ships in HAL's fleet, but you wouldn't know it by her appearance. The ship seemed in fine shape, though many of the public areas were often cold. We would sometimes like to meet up in the morning in the Crow's Nest, but had to stop doing that because it was just way too cold in there. It was actually like an icebox up there some mornings.
I was very impressed with how clean this ship is kept. I would always observe crew members polishing and cleaning in the public areas. They were even removing windows and either cleaning or replacing them in some areas of the ship on port days.
The public areas, including the lounges and bars, were all elegant with little evidence of wear and tear in the carpets or furnishings -- at least that I could see.
Messy tables were always bussed promptly. This was a sore point with me from the Carnival Paradise cruise I took just before this one. I remember several times sitting out on the Paradise's Lido and observing tables laden with dirty dishes sitting there sometimes for an hour or more before being cleaned up. I remember thinking, I hope it's not this way on the Statendam -- and it wasn't. One would no sooner get up, their dirty dishes would be cleared. Ashtrays in the bars, too, would promptly be emptied long before they became full. The Statendam was just a clean ship, and that's a tribute to her wonderful crew.
Internet I would normally not include this heading in a review, but am prompted to because of the comments made in another review of this cruise. I thank God I didn't have the bad luck with the internet that the other reviewer did -- or I'd have been sunk. I blogged almost daily on this cruise and I found internet speeds to be more than adequate. At least I had no problems and I was working from my own personal laptop in my cabin on an almost daily basis. In fact, I remember being very impressed by the internet speed on the Statendam, especially since I was still steaming about my one Carnival Paradise encounter with the internet. To check one email box and print out one email, it took me well over 30 minutes. I had purchased a small 30 minute package, figuring it would be more than adequate for my relatively minor needs. Imagine my disgust when I got a notice upon logoff that I had gone over those 30 minutes, by almost another 15, just to do this little bit of work. Thankfully, when I got to the Statendam and logged onto the internet for the first time a day or so into the sailing, I found the internet to be brisk and was able to accomplish in about 5 minutes what it had taken me almost 45 to do on the Carnival Paradise. In fact, the next morning I happened to be having a smoke on the aft deck when I saw someone wearing an Maritime Telecommunications Network teeshirt. Figuring he was with the company, I took the time to go over to him and tell him of my pleasure with the internet service on the Statendam. I also told him of my displeasure with Carnival's. He was appreciative of my comments, said he would look into the Carnival problems, and told me that they were constantly making improvements to the system.
I have to go on record as saying that I never experienced a problem with the Statendam's internet service -- either in terms of speed or connectivity -- except for a few days when it was completely down, presumably due to heavy fog. Also, true, it did get a bit slow on the last full day of the cruise, when presumably loads of people were trying to get onto their airlines' website to print their boarding passes for their next day's flights home.
I also have to comment on the competence of the internet manager, Jackie. She knows her stuff. I had some major issues initially with getting wireless access. She diagnosed the problem as being an outdated wireless card and loaned me one of hers for the sailing. Then, once I was successful in getting on the internet, I had a problem sending email. I know my profiles were correct because I had sent and received email on the same computer at the Pan Pacific Hotel the night before the cruise. Jackie quickly diagnosed the problem as a server authentication box not being checked on my email profiles. Apparently, on the ship that box needs to be checked, while at the Pan Pacific it did not. Once she got those problems resolved, I never experienced another for the rest of the cruise.
So, I'm really sorry to hear about the other reviewer's internet problems, because my experience was entirely different.
Service Attentive is the best way I can describe this. In a bar, all you have to do is make eye contact and you'll have your favorite drink. In the Lido, there was always a smiling face to greet you in the morning, often with a song. There was always someone offering to carry your tray to your table. At dinner, service was attentive in the dining room. While there may have been backlogs (such as between appetizers and the entree), I honestly believe those were more the fault of the kitchen staff than anyone else. It seemed the servers were anxious to please and would do just about anything for you.
The single thing that really sticks out in my mind from this cruise is the night I was waiting at a table in the Lido to talk with Kristian, the dining room manager. The assistant had gone to page him and then came back to me to tell me he would be right up. As he did, I was starting to get up to go and get a cup of java. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I was just heading over to get a cup of coffee. "No, no," he told me "you don't get your own coffee, you're on vacation." He then asked me how I liked my coffee and summoned a server to get it. It's just things like that that makes sailing HAL special. While the service on Carnival was certainly adequate, it was nothing like that. There were many other such incidents as well.
My cabin steward too was very good and very friendly. Any morning he would see me walking by, he stopped me with a cherry hello and told me to have a wonderful day. We also shared a couple of short conversations which let me know about his life a bit. He told me about his wife and son at home in Indonesia, and even showed me a picture of them. He said he misses them and hopes one day to make enough money to open a business there and be able to stay at home with his family. It is clear he's a hard worker, because he quickly learned my habits and knew that I tended to go to dinner early. He also knew that I liked to write in the cabin some evenings and didn't like to be disturbed when I was doing so. So he made sure to be observant for when I left the cabin for dinner. Then he would get right in there, cleaning it up to have it ready for my return.
One day towards the end of the cruise, I tossed a pair of water shoes into the trash. They were too big and I had no intentions of bringing them back home with me. The cabin steward made sure to ask me about them before discarding them -- just to make sure I really wanted them thrown out.
I also got a nice collection of towel animals. I apologized to the cabin steward at one point, because I was "butchering" his creations. He would put them on the bed, and then when I would move them over to the couch, often they would fall apart. I asked him to make me a couple of hanging monkeys that I wouldn't have to disturb. He made me one and it remained there for the rest of the cruise, later to be joined by an elaborate dog. I put cigarettes in both of their mouths and declared them smokers! My cabin steward was tickled and even asked if we needed another ashtray.
Bars and Lounges Perhaps drink revenue was off this cruise, but about midway through it HAL started something new -- Happy Hours. During Happy Hour you could get two cocktails for the price of one. But, there was a small catch. First, you couldn't use a "Signature Cocktail Card" to purchase your cocktail. You had to pay full price. Also, both cocktails had to be identical. Some people had a problem with this, but it worked fine for me. For $7.32 I got two tropical cable cars. I don't think that's too bad of a deal, so I got to the point that I pretty much went to Happy Hour in the Ocean Bar everyday.
Happy Hour would generally be from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Ocean Bar and then from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the Crow's Nest. Later on, they added a Non-Smoking Happy Hour, I believe from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Piano Bar. I generally restricted myself to the Ocean Bar's Happy Hour, and I will say if the purpose was to stimulate bar receipts, the strategy was working. The Ocean Bar would be packed from 4:00 to 5:00, only to empty out again after 5:00. Of course, it would get crowded again later on in the evening as people returned from dinner.
We also noted that different bars made the same drinks differently. For example, a tropical cable car served out by the pool was not the same as one purchased at the Ocean Bar. Also, the Crow's Nest's version of the same drink would be different from that of the Ocean Bar. But since all versions were good, this inconsistency didn't bother me at all.
There was generally dancing every evening in the Ocean Bar, as well as the other watering holes around the ship, and the social hosts would divide their time between all the venues, often splitting off so to cover them all.
Unlike on land, you don't have to drink alcohol to enjoy your time spent in the bars and lounges. We had a whole group in the Ocean Bar called the "breakfast club" that met up just to read or talk, and maybe drink a soda or a glass of water. If a server was on duty, he'd be more than happy just to get you a glass with ice water or even just ice if you brought your own brand of soda from your cabin.
Fellow Passengers This cruise was rather unusual in the fact that it was actually two cruises combined into one. When we boarded in Vancouver we had some people onboard who were still on from the last Alaska cruise of the season, and who were only doing the five-day coastal, but not continuing onto Hawaii. We had others who had boarded in Vancouver and were only staying on until either San Francisco or San Diego. Then we had the last group -- people like me who boarded in Vancouver for the coastal and the 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific.
During the first five days of the cruise, there was a younger passenger complement onboard. There were some families with some kids. But when we hit San Francisco, we lost some of them and took more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers on. When we got to San Diego, we lost still more and got more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers. When we left San Diego in route to Hawaii, our passenger complement was a bit older, with many using canes and walkers, and some even in wheelchairs or power chairs. But that doesn't mean they were dead. They were looking to have a good time too and most of the people I talked to were downright fun regardless of their age.
As for children, once we left on the Hawaii/South Pacific leg of our trip, we had one "tween" who was traveling with his parents, and two toddlers. One of the toddlers was the son of the onboard doctor, and he was very carefully supervised by his parents, and no trouble at all. The other toddler was a passenger's little girl. It was with this little girl -- or more accurately her parents -- that we had issues. The parents took the child into all venues of the ship, including the Ocean Bar and even sometimes the casino. They also would not supervise her too closely, letting her run free. She was on the dance floor in the Ocean Bar and climbing onto chairs. Only after she had "played" for a while might mommy or daddy come and get her. This could be very annoying. One night she saw the power chair of a woman who always sat at the bar and decided she'd like to climb in it. She spent a good five minutes climbing into that chair while mommy and daddy were busy talking with friends. The woman who owned it had her back toward her and also didn't notice her at first. In fact, the woman at the bar actually noticed the child, by that point sitting comfortably in the power chair, long before mom did -- and that's a disgrace.
The child was also creating a hazard on the dance floor since people could easily trip over her. When dad was chastised about this by Trisha, who almost tripped over the child and told him that the child should only be on the dance floor if she was in his arms, he didn't seem too concerned and the child was subsequently seen again on the dance floor unsupervised.
When dad was also told by Trisha that his child shouldn't be in the casino, he basically told her that he and the child could be anywhere on the ship that they wish. I have no problem with this, as long as the child is being closely supervised. Unfortunately, she was not. When Trisha talked to dad in the casino, it was because the little darling was bothering her while she was trying to play the slots.
I was a bit disappointed that staff didn't say anything to mom or dad, either in the Ocean Bar or in the casino, but apparently they declined to do so. It may be due to some sort of a HAL policy regarding welcoming children, but I think when one is clearly in areas where they shouldn't be, something should be said. I wonder how HAL would have felt if a passenger tripped over that child while she was cavorting on the dance floor and broken a hip?
Ports I won't cover too much about the ports in this review because we all have our favorite ways of spending port time, and mine don't necessarily jive with everyone else's.
I'll just give a quick rundown of each port and what I did. Most of the shore excursions that I took were HAL excursions. I realize I pay more when I book excursions through the cruise line, but I travel solo and just feel more comfortable letting HAL make all the arrangements, and assume responsibility for my getting back to the ship on time. I also don't like venturing out on my own.
Victoria, B.C.: Did a self-guided tour of Butchart Gardens. Loved it. We also had a short city tour by bus before arriving at the Gardens and on the way back home. On this excursion, we were late getting back to the ship due to traffic and I was glad I was on a HAL excursion. There was a bike race going on, plus the Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds were in town, so traffic was a mess. The captain wound up holding the ship in port for an extra hour or so anyway so that passengers could watch the air show from the outside decks. Awesome stuff, aerial aerobatics -- especially when done in formation!
San Francisco: Didn't do anything in this port. I waited for my friends, Trisha and Virgil, to board so that we could have a reunion. We hadn't seen each other since January of 2006, so the reunion was sweet.
San Diego: A group of us wandered over to Anthony's for some of their awesome seafood offerings. I had a bowl of their famous New England Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl. Delicious!
Hilo: Went to Akaka Falls. Lots of steps, but took it slow. We also visited the Tsusami Museum as well. Nice day.
Kona: Found a new "thrill" -- helicopter flightseeing. Awesome flight lasting over two hours. Went all over the island, including back to Hilo. Viewed lava flows and steam from the volcano. Also saw amazing waterfalls that make Akaka Falls look like child's play. This was a great flight with Blue Hawaii Helicopters with a very informative and funloving pilot. Would do this again in a heartbeat despite the steep price tag of over $500.
Maui: Didn't do much here. There were no shore excursions that appealed to me, so I didn't book any. Virgil, Trisha and I just walked through Lahiana poking in and out of the shops. We then had lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise. After Virgil and Trisha went back to the ship (they were going back out for dinner later), I continued my walking along Front Street snapping off dozens of photographs of the waterfront before I too went back to the ship.
Honolulu (Overnight): On the first day I took a Military Base VIP Tour. This was kind of neat in that we had a WWII docent in the van with us. First we went to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Then we visited several military based that had played a large role in the events of that era. All along the way, we were regaled with stories about what went on in that time, including lots of little known background information and personality profiles of the key players. We also had lunch on one of the bases at the officer's mess. This place is only open to military officers and retired military officers and their families. Since our docent was ex-military, we were able to get in.
After a full day on this military VIP tour, we arrived back at the ship. I then decided to venture back out to see if I could find Dog the Bounty Hunter's place of business. Who knows? Maybe he'll be there. No such luck. I got to his bail bonds place at around 5:30, after a considerable walk. It was closed. His "Dog House" tee-shirt and souvenir shop was right around the corner, but that too had closed at 5:00. I couldn't believe it. A store closing at 5:00 p.m.?
Our second day in Honolulu I took a "Little Circle Island" tour. I had taken the full Circle Island Tour on my last trip to Hawaii, so I figured this would be a good one for this time around. We were scheduled to be in Honolulu until 5:00 p.m., so with this tour, I still should have plenty of time to venture back to the "Dog's Place" before sailaway time.
During our Little Circle Island Tour we viewed several areas on the island, including Hanoma Bay and the Blow Hole, as well as several areas of the city, including Chinatown. I enjoyed the tour more for the bus ride and the scenary we were enjoying. At the end of the tour, I asked our driver if I could get off near "The Dog's Place" so that I wouldn't have to walk that long way both back and forth. He kindly obliged me.
I went to "The Dog House" and met one of the sons, Travis. He was very friendly and gladly posed for some pictures with me. He showed me a remote control helicopter that he was building that was going to be used in the filming of the next season of the show. He even let me take a photo of that. It's small but can hold a lightweight camera that will take some aerial shots for the show. I bought a bunch of teeshirts and also posed with a lifesized cardboard cutout of "The Dog" himself. I know this all may sound stupid, but I love that show and I love "The Dog."
I did a bit of shopping on the walk back to the ship, and got back onboard about an hour before sailaway. I had a great time in Honolulu and was glad that we had two days to spend there. One seems hardly enough.
Kauai: I was supposed to take this new tour here, a Movie Experience Tour. With this tour you supposedly travel in a luxury van with video screens inside. As bits and pieces of different movies play on the screens, you are driven to the location where that particular movie was filmed. It seemed like a neat tour, but apparently only myself and one other person signed up for it, so HAL cancelled it. Instead, since I had enjoyed my helicopter tour in Kona so much, I decided to do another, shorter one of them. This one only costs a little over $200 -- not much more than I had already shelled out for the movie tour.
I went with Island Helicopters and we had a blast. This pilot was a bit more "extreme" than the other one and when we flew into the dormant volcano, he got us right up close to the walls. It was awesome! I remember thinking, "there's a wall pretty close here -- lord, I hope this pilot knows what he's doing!" The flight was much shorter than the first one -- only about an hour, as opposed to two, but it was probably the better of the two flights because of the semi-extreme nature of the ride.
When the helicopter tour was over, and we were back at the ship, I met up with Trisha and Virgil for a Walmart run. We both needed some stuff and since we would soon be at sea for five days heading to the South Pacific, now seemed the best time to get it. Besides, there's a McDonald's inside the Walmart here, and we were all hungering for a Big Mac.
After doing some shopping and enjoying some lunch, we walked around a bit and were soon back onboard the Statendam.
Raiatea, F.P.: Took a comfortable bus tour at this port. I had made the mistake last time I was here of taking an "open air" bus tour and never again! The buses used for that tour were the same ones used to transport the kids to school each day. The seats were hard wooden bench seats and the bus had no speaker system. Our guide had given very little commentary and what little he did have to say, we couldn't hear. The bus was hot with only the windows open for ventilation and my back was killing me by the end of the tour from sitting on those seats. So, this time around, I specifically looked for something that said "confortable air conditioned bus transportation." This tour fit the bill. It was called Raiatea Highlights and it gave us a good overview of the island. The island is not that big, so a half day tour will pretty much cover the highlights quite well. The only thing I didn't care for with this tour was that our tour guide, while very nice, also worked for a pearl farm during the week. She oh, so very helpfully, offered to hand out brochures for her employer when someone admired the pearl jewelry she was wearing. "Just say you met Summer," she told everyone, "and you'll get a discount." She also told everyone that her employer had a store right at the area where the ship docked. I'd be willing to bet that if someone walked in there and said they met Autumn, they'd still get the same discount.
But, the tour was a good one, and the tour guide, Summer, very knowledgable and helpful, so I let the hawking of her employer's pearls go.
Bora Bora: We had two days here as well. Water sports are the order of the day in these islands and I did a Shark and Ray Feeding one day, and the Looganarium the other. Both of these tours were wonderful, and I got lots and lots of underwater photographs. Now I just have to figure out where to get them developed since apparently most photo shops no longer develop film.
Without a doubt, Bora Bora (along with Moorea) is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Papeete, Tahiti: Papeete is a city just like any other large city. To really see the area, you have to get out of the city, such as on a snorkeling type tour. The tour I took here, however, involved a deep water and a shallow water snorkel. The deep water one was difficult because there was a pretty strong current and I was not wearing flippers so had no way to counteract it. I was not the only person having problems. The poor guide ended up jumping in to retrieve several of us who were floating out to sea.
After our snorkel, since we were remaining in Papeete until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, we went to the Grand Marsch or Market. Here they sell all manner of stuff, from souvenirs to food, and everything in between. Beware, though, the prices in French Polynesia and Tahiti are very, very expensive. I bought very little once I left Hawaii.
Moorea: This is probably the most beautiful of the South Pacific islands. This was also the only island where I did two shore excursions. First I did a photography tour. This tour had several stops that were particularly photogenic and a professional photographer acted as our guide with the idea that he would give us tips and pointers to help us take great photographs. He earned his money within the first five minutes at the first stop. He found that my camera settings were wrong. The ISO was way too high and that's why a lot of my photos thus far were appearing washed out. Too much light was getting to the lens. After setting it to the lowest setting, all photos I took from that point on came out much nicer. I only wish I hadn't discovered this problem until near the end of the cruise. But I guess that just means I'll have to do this cruise again at some point in order to retake all the fouled up photos!
The other problem I had with this tour was its rating. It was rated as two men walking, but with the second photo stop, I could see that rating was far understated. We did a "nature hike" in order to get to the Belvadere Lookout, our second photo stop. Since only one person stayed behind, and I was assured the hike wasn't too strenuous, I decided to go along. What a major mistake! It wasn't until I was too far into it that I realize there was no way I could do this with my "compromised" legs. I had suffered a serious injury to both of my legs in 1999, and strenuous hikes are just not something I can easily do any longer. The guide had to really help me along to get me through it, and I was so sorry I put him, not to mention my fellow passengers through that. That hike involved walking on an uneven path, strewn with tree branches and roots. I really think that the tour should have been labeled as strenuous, or at least a notation should have been provided that there is one photo stop that involves a strenuous hike. But the guide gave me the help I needed to get through it, and my fellow passengers were understanding about my difficulties.
The rest of the photo tour went without incident and I did get a lot of great photos as a result. Some of the flowers were breathtakingly beautiful in every imaginable color. We stopped at an orchard farm where they were harvesting some of the flowers, and taking photos of some of them that were sitting in the back of a farm truck was a joy. We also photographed a pineapple plantation and some other assorted nature, and we learned some tricks to take neatly laid out photos. Overall, the strenuous hike aside, this was one of the best tours I took on this cruise, and I would do it again were I to find myself in Moorea at some point in the future. I just would have more sense than to attempt to trek to Belevedere Lookout the next time.
The second tour I took was a much more relaxing one. It was a ride on a 42-foot catamaran for snorkeling and sailing. When we got out to sea, the crew unfurled the sails and we let the wind be our propulsion. It was awesome sitting there under the sails. Some people sat in nets at the top of the craft, while others enjoyed the view from the deck. There was also an inside salon where people could go if they wanted to get out of the sun. Our captain was an experienced sailor who knew just how to ride the waves to give us an exciting, though not overly rocky ride. After sailing for a while, we dropped anchor for snorkeling. Again, however, the current was a bit rough, though on this boat they did provide fins in addition to snorkels and masks.
After everyone was back on the boat from their snorkel, we enjoyed mai tais and other alcoholic beverages as our crew gave us a tour of the area. It was a great way to cap off a wonderful day in Moorea, and the end of our stay in French Polynesia.
Nuku Hiva: Nuku Hiva to me represents one of the few places in the South Pacific where modern tourism hasn't affected the locals' way of life. The island is part of the Marquesas chain and there are only about 1600 people living on Nuku Hiva. Most of them are locals. The island is so out of the way that Holland America doesn't even offer a shore excursion program there. They don't visit it enough on their sailings to make such a program a worthwhile undertaking.
The last time I was here, I didn't even get off the ship. There really is nothing to do here if you don't take a tour, and finding a local guide could be difficult, especially if suite passengers took advantage of their priority tendering and grabbed up what few tour guides were available. There really isn't much you can see or do within walking distance of the pier, and without a vehicle of some sort, you're not getting very far up the mountain. So, this time around someone in our group organized a group tour with an operator by the name of Claude. We set out in a convoy of comfortable four-wheel drive vehicles for a tour that pretty much covered the whole island. We went all the way up the mountain (the whole island is comprised of this mountain, which is actually volcanic in nature). We saw various communities seemingly untouched by modern civilization. People just had their horses grazing at the side of the road. Clearly there's no crime or vandalism here. We saw amazing species of plants and wild chickens and roosters. When the ship anchors out in the harbor, you can look way up at the highest point of the mountain peak and see an antenna perched there. We actually drove right up to where this antenna was, and saw that it was actually a complex of antennas and satellite dishes providing communications to the whole island.
We also stopped for lunch at what was pretty much the only restaurant on the island, and we were served a variety of cooked seafood and refreshing fruits. Sparkling water was provided as well. At the end of the meal we were asked if we wanted coffee. Most of us accepted. That cup of coffee was one of the most delicious I have ever had. It was laced with cocoa and had a distinctly chocolate flavor. But this coffee proved to be the only "issue" I (and many of my fellow passengers on the tour) had with this tour. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, we were informed that there was an additional $3.00 charge for the coffee. It was not included in the meal. Well, that's a rotten trick -- to offer us coffee, but not tell us there was an additional charge for it. Personally, I think Claude should have stepped up to the plate and worked this out with the restaurant. Either they eliminate the charge or he picks it up. It really wasn't fair to ask us to pay for it, especially after we had each paid $130 for the tour. Some people didn't even have money on them since they only brought enough along to pay Claude's charges.
In the end, we worked out the coffee debacle by some people covering others' tabs until we got back to the ship, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when charges of this type -- regardless of how seemingly little they may be -- are not explained ahead of time. When bar items were offered at the beginning of the meal, it was kind of obvious there would be an extra charge for them, and those that partook were more than willing to pay those charges. But no one would automatically assume that coffee incurred an extra charge as well. This was the one and only thing that slightly marred the tour for me.
After lunch we drove some more along the mountain, eventually winding up at sea level and at a beautiful marae. Stone carvings here faced the sea, where at other stops they faced the community where the natives lived. There were almost an unlimited choice of photo ops on this tour -- from beautiful flowers of all colors -- to the most detailed stone carvings of all sizes and shapes.
By the time we arrived back at the cruise ship pier, we had little time left to do any shopping. There are a variety of craftspeople who come out to the pier when there is to be a cruise ship in so that they can sell their wares. There are also a few small shops offering various items for sale, mainly crafts or souvenir type items. I barely had enough time to buy a tee-shirt before it was time to get on the last tender going back to the ship. It had been a wonderful day on Nuku Hiva and I only hope I find myself on a cruise again one day that stops there. I would gladly take this exact same tour again. I would just make sure to ask about extra charges for the coffee.
Special Events We had a Mariner Awards Ceremony and Brunch on this cruise. They had to break it up over three days since just about everyone onboard was a Mariner, and many were receiving either pins or medallions. The medallions were awarded one day, with the pins spread over the next two. There was then a special brunch held in the dining room. The brunch had a very small selection of entrees -- nothing that anyone choosing to dine in the dining room that day couldn't have probably gotten -- but it was still a nice affair and I was glad to be invited to it. I got my 100 day medalion on this trip, while Trish and Virgil were awarded their 300 day medalions.
I was also honored to be invited to the Captain's VIP Party on this sailing. I don't always get invited to this since I stay in rather run-of-the-mill accommodations, making it a toss up cruise to cruise as to whether I'll be on the invite list, but on this cruise I was. It was great getting to meet and mingle with the officers and learn a little about their jobs. The free cocktails and superior appetizers make it a great event too!
Trisha, Virgil and I were also gifted with an invitation for a private bridge tour -- something I've asked for several times before, but had not yet gotten. Captain Jack was gracious enough to extend an invitation to visit the bridge and we were only too happy to finally get a chance to get up there. We took tons of photos and even had a chance to pose at the wheel of the ship (while it was on auto-pilot, of course).
As noted elsewhere in this report, we were also invited to a special Pinnacle Grill Dinner by Theo Haanen and his wife, Helen, as well as the Culinary Manager, Frank, and his wife Maggie. It was while at this dinner that I learned that Helen was writing a book and had a whole cast of "cuddly characters" in her cabin that were the subject of the book. Later in the cruise I was treated to the opportunity to read the first chapter of her book, and I found it amazing. It's a tale that will captivate the hearts of children of all ages, and I have no doubt she will one day be a noted children's author with a huge fan base.
The evening of our dinner started off with cocktails in the Ocean Bar, followed by dinner in the Pinnacle. Everything about the dinner was absolutely perfect, and afterwards we adjourned to the Crow's Nest for after dinner drinks and the "Sailor's Ball." It was a magical and wonderful night and an invitation I really appreciated receiving.
Disembarkation All good things must come to an end, and this cruise was no exception. I was sorry to see it end, but real life was beckoning. Disembarkation was slightly delayed by Customs processes. People who were not residents of the U.S. had to present themselves in one of the lounges to Customs officials, and I guess this process took longer than usual. However, it was only about 45 minutes later than originally projected that they started calling for the self-assist passengers to disembark, followed by the first group of regular passengers. I was in the second group, Orange 1, and was off the ship next. By about 9:30 I was in a cab and headed to the airport, not wanting to wait for the Holland America shuttle at that point, despite having paid for it. I just wanted to make my flight and the relatively small price I would have to pay for a cab to ensure that was well worth it in my opinion. I made my 11:31 a.m. flight with time to spare.
Conclusion I am somewhat biased in that I love this particular itinerary. I am also biased in that I love Holland America and the product they provide. Yes, I have sailed other cruise lines and enjoyed those cruises as well, but there is just something about a Holland America cruise that makes me feel like I am coming home when I board one of their ships. I guess it's a combination of things -- the nice, well-appointed ships, the mix of fellow passengers usually found on them, the high level of service -- all those things combine to make a Holland America cruise special for me. Now, I should also say that I generally stay away from the large HAL ships, and I also now stay away from the short cruises. So I am getting a different sort of environment when I sail and not the same one that someone, say, who does a seven-day Caribbean sailing on a Vista class ship would have.
But I am fortunate in that I know what it takes to please me, and I know that when I book this type of cruise, on the size of ship that I like, and with the cruise line that I am most comfortable with, I will have a great experience and one that I will want to repeat again and again.
If you like the same things that I do, then you might want to consider this itinerary in your future plans. It's a wonderful length, with an almost perfect mix of sea days and ports. It's also a cruise that will provide for the time to get to know your fellow passengers and the crew, with enough time to let you really relax and enjoy your vacation. Since the ports are "clustered" into groups, with clumps of sea days in between, it allows you the time to relax and wind down after spending five or six days in port running around and seeing the sights. It also allows for a full six sea days at the end while you head back to San Diego for disembarkation -- ensuring that you will be well rested before heading home and back to your "normal" daily life.
The only word of caution I can give you about this sailing is don't attempt it if you don't enjoy sea days, because you will be miserable. There are something like 18 sea days on this cruise, far more than probably any other cruise of its length.
Wherever you may choose to sail on your next cruise, and on whatever cruise line's ship, I wish you blue skies and a following sea.