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: Teens. Seniors. Families.
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.
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.
We loved our Pacific Rim cruise on the Amsterdam. We saw wonderful things, but we had so much fun on board that we wanted to tell others about it.
The cruise director, Bruce Scudder is an amazingly creative and talented person and a super director. The entertainment was very good every night. We liked comedian Elliot Maxx the best. We had more fun singing in the piano bar with Steve Lynch than we have ever had on a cruise. He was terrific when pulling people together for sing-a-longs or Name that Tune. He is a major talent not to be overlooked on the next cruise.
Trivia was well run and it was such a competitive, entertaining and learning experience. We really got to know our teams and we met wonderful people.
The Amsterdam is clean, the food is excellent, and the service is outstanding. It is my ship of choice from now on.
Our very first cruise and because of reputation, we decided to do a seven day inside passage cruise to Alaska.
Without any hesitation, we can say that it was the best vacation of our lives. The room (verandah), the food, the entertainment, the staff, everything was absolutely perfect.
Every single crew member was totally devoted to making sure that our vacation was perfect and their attitude was absolutely outstanding.
We understand that these cruise lines have been doing this for a long time and should be well organized......but experiencing it first hand was such a treat.
Thank you Holland America -- you gave us the vacation of a lifetime and we really appreciate it.
Don't know if we can afford to do it again next year, but we are sure going to try.
We know that there are bigger, newer ships doing this cruise, but if you are looking to be totally pampered, the Holland America Ryndam inside passage cruise is for you!
3 Sept. 2008 to 10 Sept. 2008
Roundtrip cruise Vancouver -- Alaska via inside passage.
We had been looking forward to an Alaska cruise, this year on the Ryndam. We had a good time on a Mexican Riviera cruise on the Vista Class Oosterdam last year, and we chose the older, smaller (but refurbished in 2004) Ryndam.
We have cruised Alaska seven times in the past six years on the Zaandam, Summit, Mercury, Sapphire Princess, Coral Princess and the Island Princess. We live in North Vancouver BC, across the water from the Canada Place cruise terminal, where we can watch the various cruise ships sailing in and out of the harbour, beginning in late April. This whets our appetite to cruise Alaska once more!
We prefer to take our Alaska cruise in May, which some of the time has put us as the first ship to arrive in various Alaskan Ports. May also brings a warmer Alaska.
In February of this year we cruised to Antarctica on the Azamara Journey for 18 days, which ate a large amount of our yearly cruise budget. We decided to wait until the end of the Alaskaseason in September when prices drop fifty to sixty per cent. The trade-off is that it will be a colder Alaska in September, and we will bring our parkas, which we never have to do in May.
After four months of watching Alaska-bound ships coming and going, we were very happy to board the Ryndam. The other huge plus for us was not having to fly in either direction on this round trip cruise.
The round trip Vancouver cruise doesn't go as far north as the seven-day one-way cruises that end in Seward or Whittier. You still see a lot of Alaska, including Glacier Bay, on the round trip inside passage cruises.
Vancouver The Alaska cruise gives cruisers an opportunity to check out one of the world's most beautiful cities. The Seabus and Sky Train stations share a waterfront building next to the Canada Place cruise terminal. The Seabus is a scenic 12-minute ride across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.
The Sky Train crosses the city of Vancouver and gives you a chance to see the city above the traffic. There is excellent bus service, and a one day transit pass will allow you to use all three and save some money.
Boarding Boarding was very easy. We arrived 2 hours after boarding time began, and there were no lines anywhere. We had pre-registered our credit card and immigration info using the internet and printed our boarding pass. It took about five minutes to clear immigration, complete the check-in process, and board the ship.
Cruise Value The good news was that the price was right for this window cabin. We have been cruising in balcony cabins almost exclusively and wanted to see if we could enjoy our cruise as much without the balcony. We did save a considerable amount versus the price of a balcony cabin and we had a good time, but the fact is we are going to cruise in the future only in balcony cabins. The reason for this is that we miss the fresh air, and the expansive feeling of large glass doors opening on to the world.
Wine, Coffee & Soda Cards HAL offers discounted cards for wine, coffee, soda and cocktails. We opted for the wine card, which is $36.00 for ten glasses of house wine; the soda/soft drink card, which costs $18.00 for twenty drinks of bar soda and is good in the dining room too; and the designer coffee card at $26.00, which gives you 10 designer coffee drinks in grande size with an extra shot included if you wish it, as well as shots of flavored syrup if you desire. There are no free specialty coffees in the Rotterdam dining room any more.
These cards are an excellent value based on the prices of single orders of house wine, coffee or soda. There is a 15% tip added to the basic cost of each of these cards.
Sailaway from Vancouver It was a balmy, sun-warmed afternoon as we backed out of our berth at Canada Place and turned toward Lion's Gate Bridge. We headed across Burrard Inlet toward the harbor entrance, giving us a stunning view of downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park and the tree-covered North Shore.
We slipped under the bridge and headed for the inside passage. We sailed at 5PM, and an hour later we were having our dinner in the dining room. As we dined we felt the ship begin to make a slow turn away from the direction of the inside passage. Captain Smit made an announcement that we were returning to Canada Place; two passengers needed to go to a hospital immediately.
Cruise ships usually do not sail under Lion's Gate Bridge into Vancouver in the afternoon; the beauty of the bridge and the city in the warm afternoon sun was remarkable in a bittersweet sort of a way. We're keeping our hopes up for the two would-be cruisers.
Cabin This Ryndam outside cabin was poorly laid out. The head of the bed was directly under the window, making it impossible to stand anywhere near the window or sit near it without getting up on the bed and sitting crosslegged. There was a monster couch eating up the rest of the cabin space, and we felt very cramped. It turns out that this cabin was a triple, and the big couch was a sofa bed.
We spoke to guest relations, and they arranged for the bed to be moved to where we wished it and for the sofa that ate up cabin space to disappear, to be replaced by an extra chair and another small table.
These changes made the cabin much more comfortable for us. Many thanks to Guest Relations Supervisor Caroline, the Assistant Housekeeper, the Cabin Inspector and Oman our cabin steward for making this happen on the first evening, while we were dining. Oman was one of the best stewards we have ever had. He quickly sensed our daily routine, and the cabin was always done when we returned to it. A gold star for Oman.
The lighting in this cabin wasn't upgraded either when they refurbished the Ryndam in 2004. It was hard to read even if you sat directly under the overhead lights. The bedside lighting was a neon tube light that was hard-mounted and not adjustable in any way. We spoke to management and requested a floor or desk lamp for reading, but they were unable to provide one. We will bring a booklight or a small folding reading lamp next time we travel on a fifteen year old ship.
We will be travelling on smaller ships (which are older ships) more often because we are turned off by the "cruise ship as a theme park" feeling that we get on the megaships of three or four thousand passengers. We are glad the cruise lines are attracting many new families to cruising with these megaships but for us smaller is better.
There was another opportunity for comfort and privacy ignored in the refurbishing: at the point where the bed ends and the sitting area begins, the opposing walls of the cabin are dressed with curtain "legs" that extend into the room just about 18". If these legs were full-fledged curtains that could be drawn all the way across the cabin, then one member of the party could sleep while others could sit up and read or watch TV.
The other negative for us was the location of the TV. The TV was a nice LG hi-def flat screen which was hard-mounted on the shelf that previously held a boxy older model TV. The overhang on the shelf should have been cut to match the size of the flatscreen when the Ryndam was refurbished, because when you are in bed the shelf extends out and blocks the TV's remote sensor. When in bed you are well below the shelf and have to sit up as high as you can and crane your neck to see the screen. You also have to raise the remote as high as possible into the air to clear the shelf overhang and connect to the remote sensor. The inputs on the flat screen were not accessible, because the TV's position could not be altered; we couldn't use our Nintendo Wii (a preferred exercise for us) and couldn't adjust the angle of the TV toward the bed or the chairs. On HAL's Oosterdam, which we cruised last year, the flat screen TV was on a simple and inexpensive swing arm which made it easy to watch TV from anywhere in the room. The modern cruiser wants access to the inputs on these flat screens for viewing video footage or playing a video game.
Announcements While resting in one's cabin it is nice not to be subjected without consent to the announcements of the captain and the cruise director (the anouncements are uniformly too loud; only the elevator's programmed announcements of the various decks were at a comfortable level -- and still clearly audible). But what would have been even nicer is to have the choice! The announcements were not played on any of the ship's channels that we were able to find.
The announcements made in the casino were easy on the ears. Casino staff who called cruisers to various games spoke in a more conversational manner, properly relying on the microphone to project their voices rather than summoning up excitement in order to reach their audience.
Elevators It may not be customary to mention the elevators in a review, but the elevators on the Ryndam had another attractive quality besides the moderate volume of the announcements inside the car: each day the carpet was changed, always naming the day of the week. It sure is nice to be taken care of so thoroughly that you do not even have to remember what day it is when you step in the elevator. The announcements in the elevators of megaships we've sailed on are ear splittingly loud.
Bathroom The bathroom was the best part of the cabin, nicely modernized with a newer, spacious, one piece sink/countertop and a one-handled faucet of good design. There was also a metal shelf over the sink with a high enough lip to keep your grooming items from falling off. The newer shower/tub was deeper than we've ever seen on a ship, with a grab bar to hold when climbing in or out. There was a high quality shower wand with an adjustable head and a hose, so you could remove it from its base and spray your whole body.
Life Boat Drill Very organized and well run. Crew members took attendance, called the names of the missing, and sent other crew members to get them. We were carefully placed, with women and children lined up in front of the men. Crew members checked everyone's life jacket to make sure they were worn properly. This was the most organized and careful drill we have seen. We appreciate the Ryndam's approach to safety at sea. The one negative was the volume of the announcement portion of the drill. The captain's voice boomed over the high-volume outdoor loudspeaker system -- very shrill.
Hand Sanitizer It's available everywhere on the Ryndam, not just near the dining areas. You have it available boarding and leaving the ship, near the theaters, outside the dining venues, the cocktail lounges, the gym and the spa. We've been carrying hand sanitizer for years, and it's good to see it everywhere on this ship. The hand sanitizer dispensers are automatic too. Just place your hand under the sensor and a predetermined amount drops into your hand.
Rotterdam Dining Room HAL has altered their usual dining room color scheme in this refurbished version -- greens, blues and gold with just a hint of HAL's old signature orange dining room theme. Very pleasant.
The dinners, under the direction of Chef Andreas Bruenett, are of high quality and very imaginative in this dining room. The meals are beautifully presented here, and the service is friendly and organized. We heartily thank our waiter Suharyanto and his assistant Adhi. We also extend our thanks to Asst. Dining Room Managers Arinto and Marijn. This room excels in the service area.
The Beef Wellington was delicious -- a quality cut of filet mignon with a delicious pastry crust that was still crisp surrounding the layer of pate wrapped around the filet.
Other food highlights were an eggplant parmesan in the form of a cannelloni. There were wafer-thin slices of the eggplant wrapped around the ricotta cheese filling, with a simple pomodoro sauce. The soups were innovative and uniformly good; the Cobb salad with slices of grilled chicken breast was good. We could go on and on. Suffice it to say that the food in the Rotterdam dining room on this ship is at a high level, comparable to the Azamara line, which has much higher cruise fares. The only negative was the breakfast in this dining room. The omelets and egg dishes were much better in the Lido buffet, where you can walk right up and have an omelet or eggs cooked to order by the omelet chef.
Coffee This was very weak and devoid of coffee taste and smell. The Rotterdam dining room, the Lido buffet, and room service had uniformly mediocre coffee. The only good coffee was the coffee we had to pay for at the Explorations cafe or Pinnacle Grill. The last time we sailed on Royal Caribbean, the coffee was "Seattle's Best" brand, available everywhere for free all over the ship.
High Tea This was served most days with live music and a groaning board of pastries and finger sandwiches.
Lido Restaurant (Buffet) This was well laid out. You may choose a station and not have to stand in a long slow line that snakes past all the food offerings. There is a carving station, various entrees, omelets, pastas, deli and salad bar. The ice cream is free on the Ryndam all afternoon, unlike ships which are now charging for ice cream.
There are trays to use, and tables are always cleared and cleaned quickly by the buffet staff. In the evening the buffet is open for table service for those who don't wish to dress a bit for dinner.
The Terrace Grill This is located in the pool area and serves burgers, hot dogs, nachos, brats, pizza and tacos from 1130AM until 6PM. Nicely grilled snack food.
Late Night Snacks There is a themed (French, Mexican, Asian, etc.) light meal available in the Lido from 11PM to midnight replacing the midnight buffets of yore.
Explorations Cafe This is combined with the library. Not a cafe at all, just designer coffee drinks for sale here along with complementary pastry and snacks. The baked goods on the Ryndam were to put it gently, substandard. Not very "cruisey."
Library The large spacious rooms of the library surround the Explorations Cafe. The library is organized like a proper library, and has a knowledgeable library staff. There was a varied, quality selection of fiction and non fiction -- the best we have seen on a cruise ship. The room had plenty of comfy chairs and chaises facing big windows. DVD's were available to rent for a $3.00 charge.
Deck 8 The library, casino, Explorer's Lounge, casino bar, Ocean Bar, piano bar, shops and Explorations Cafe were all located on deck 8. The upper level of the Rotterdam dining room was aft, and the upper level of the Vermeer Lounge showroom was all the way forward. The delicious Pinnacle Grill was also on this deck.
It was easy to access these venues, and the pedestrian traffic flow was excellent. This deck was our home away from our cabin.
Cruising the Inside Passage There is always something to see on sea days. We sail close to land and there are seals and all kinds of birds (including eagles) along the way. We also saw some Orcas popping out of the water. Nature is everywhere on these Alaska cruises.
Juneau Juneau is the state capitol of Alaska, the only state capitol in North America you can't drive to. It's an island. Everything comes in by plane or ship as in Hawaii.
We docked right downtown, and we relaxed in our cabin while those passengers on the ship's excursions debarked first. A half an hour later there were no lines, and we strolled off the ship onto a large wooden deck.
One side of the dock area had a long row of booths, selling every kind of excursion at prices well under those offered by the cruise lines. We walked across the platform to the crosswalk, where a uniformed crossing guard held traffic for the arriving passengers.
Shopping in Alaska was fun, because there were many items on sale -- this being the end of the tourist season.
We walked 3 blocks to 113 Seward Street, the home of Rainy Day Books. We always go there when we dock in Juneau. We were informed they were going to change their name to Rainy Retreat Books soon, because the owner of the name requested they no longer use it. They have a wonderful selection of books well beyond the limitations of a chain book store, and their selection of used titles is very good.
Skagway We sailed up the Lynn canal and docked. There is a shuttle bus making regular stops in town, which is about a mile from the dock. Three dollars round trip and you can get off at any stop in town and then get on again at any stop for the trip back to the dock. The town resembles the Western Street on a movie studio lot -- lots of old false front buildings. The White Pass and Yukon train pulls right up next to the dock and picks up passengers for the scenic trip. You can also rent a car and follow the route of the train, stopping to take pictures when you wish.
The White Pass and Yukon train station has magnificent vistas with the ships berthed in the background.
Alternative Restaurant -- Pinnacle Grill The Maitre d' Matej sat us at a window table, and we relaxed with beverages and drank in the scenic beauty. We opened with corn bruschetta, replacing the traditional tomato, topped with a couple of jumbo prawns. We enjoyed five cheese-onion soup and a green salad for mid courses and finished with a blue cheese encrusted "Silver Steak". The dessert was a crisp gaufrette on a bed of sliced strawberries, topped with rasberry sorbet. Designer cappucino (included) completed this dinner, which cost $20.00 per person. This was a far superior Pinnacle Grill to the one we tried on the Oosterdam. We enjoyed a couple of tasty lunches ($10.00 per person) at the Pinnacle Grill, also.
Glacier Bay The ship picked up the Park Rangers at Bartlett Cove, and at 10AM we were sailing Glacier Bay. The Rangers gave talks, and we marveled at the beauty of this place. It was a perfectly clear day, and we could see everything -- there was no hanging fog. The scenic highlight of this Alaska cruise.
Ketchikan The next morning we docked in Ketchikan. We headed over to the nearby Salmon Plaza to use the Internet cafe. We were docked literally downtown, and it was an easy walk everywhere to all kinds of shopping. There were plenty of last minute excursions for sale in town.
Inside Passage Back to Vancouver We headed south back to Vancouver, enjoying the scenery of the forests and islands of British Columbia along the way. We'll be docking in Vancouver tomorrow.
Tipping There is a $10.00 per person charge added to your hotel bill. This money does not cover the level of service available on the Ryndam. We bring a hundred US one dollar bills and as we go along we reward those who serve us well. We add a dollar to the built-in 15% tip when we have soft drinks, and we give a couple of dollars to the room service waiters when they bring us a snack. This is a hard-working crew who made our voyage a pleasure. We also happily augmented the suggested tips for our cabin steward and our dining room staff and assistant maitre d'. We had a nice cruise on the Ryndam and we will be sailing HAL again.
Piano Bar There is some kind of metal-themed decor on the walls which plays hell with listening to the amplified piano and vocalist. The intimacy of a piano bar setting is destroyed by the poor acoustics.
Casino One of the best layouts we've seen on a cruise ship. Wider aisles and the occasional free drink. The slots are tight, but there are table games with better odds. The dealers and the floor men are knowledgeable and courteous.
Entertainment A "Hits of Broadway" revue with the costumes of award winning designer Bob Mackie; the silly songs of comedian Elliott Max, the classical piano wizardry of Garin Bader and a Motown musical salute were offered in the Vermeer Lounge Showroom/Movie Theatre.
There were recent movies such as "Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" showing most days in the theatre.
The Ocean Bar and the Crow's Nest were places for live music and dancing at various times. The Crow's Nest, at the top of the ship, was a great place to relax and listen to the piano, but at 8PM, the piano player finishes and they crank up the volume to an earsplitting level with the DJ, Jason. We spoke to a knowledgeable staffer who confided to us that they were under orders to raise the volume based on the time of day.
Hotel Manager and Staff The customer relations staff is courteous and attentive. The Hotel Manager David Wood is out and about daily checking different areas of the ship. We like seeing the management process happening. This is a well run hotel with a propeller, kept very clean, not just picked up by Chief Housekeeper Soeparno and staff. Some ships at the end of the long Alaska cruise season are not kept clean enough but the Ryndam sparkled.
Cruise Director and Staff There were all kinds of staffed events from Bingo to the Not So Newlywed Game, etc., which were listed in the ship's paper, The Daily Program. Cruise Director Travis La Marche seems a bit too high energy and loud (especially on the Public Address System) to suit our taste on this Holland America cruise.
The Ryndam's newspaper The Daily Program was well laid out with the entertainment, food, music and shows listed and organized in an orderly manner, making it easy for the cruiser to plan for day and evening.
Tired Crew We feel badly for the non-sailing crew. We know they are making good money compared to the salaries available where they live in the world, but their fatigue is obvious, especially at the end of the long Alaska cruising season. The service and the attitude of this Ryndam crew is exemplary.
We would gladly make our bed one day on a seven-day cruise and even get our meals in the buffet, if the main dining room could be closed for the day, but we sense that's not going to happen. We hope someday they can figure out a way to give them at least one day off a MONTH. One would think that schedules could be arranged for that. The navigation/sailing crew doesn't have this problem, because they are protected by regulation.
Summing Up We had a wonderful time on the Ryndam, a lovely voyage through the inside passage to the Glaciers and towns of Alaska.
The food on the Ryndam is very good, comparable to Celebrity's Azamara line, which is a lot more expensive than Holland America. The service is excellent, and the ship is easy to get around because of its size. Holland America is maintaining a standard that's hard to beat at this price range.
We're heading back to Princess in keeping with our theme of "cruise value" in these harsh economic times. We found a very well-priced cruise in a balcony cabin on the Coral Princess for Dec. 9th, 2008. We'll depart from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and take a 14-day cruise through the Panama Canal, ending in Los Angeles on the 23rd of December.
Prior to embarkation: We were picked up by an unusually looooooong limo about 5:15 a.m. for our hour-long trip to the airport. We had made our own flight arrangements, so we had control over departure and layover times. Despite a light rain, our flight and the connecting flight in Atlanta took off on time. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at about 11:30, checked that our luggage went to the ship instead of the carousel, and jumped in a cab. Ten minutes later we were at the pier and had our first glimpse of the Maasdam.
Embarkation: We were in line about two minutes, got our boarding number (15) and went inside the terminal. While we waited we had a chance to talk to some other passengers and share some of our secrets. Steiner had a table set up with literature on their services, and we had time to talk to the reps and arrange appointments. Our number was called about 1:15 and we were escorted to our cabin, where we found half of our luggage had already been delivered. We grabbed the excursion list and headed to the Lido with our friendsfor the Embarkation Luncheon.
Cabin: Our outside deluxe cabin, category D-581, on the Main deck, amidships, was large and very comfortable. We had the two twin beds set up as a queen with a small nightstand on either side and window over the beds, and the sleeping area was set aside by a decorative curtain. The sofa, chair and adjustable coffee table made a nice sitting area, and the mirror, dressing table, closets and drawers were very generous. Although there was plenty of closet space, we stored the luggage under the beds. The bathroom was large enough for two :-) but we were very disappointed in the storage space. There was no cabinet or shelf under the sink; only one narrow shelf under the mirror which was not enough for the stuff two people need in the bathroom. The bathtub was also a shower with a shower wand that was adjustable in height to accommodate children or ladies who don't want to get their hair wet. Air conditioning was fully adjustable and we could hear nothing from the hall or adjacent cabins.
Ship facilities: The ship is very clean and well-maintained. All public rooms are easily accessible, and beautifully decorated with fine art and fresh flowers. The Lower Promenade offers a wraparound deck for you purists ;-)
Pools: Both pools were spacious and easy to access. The Lido pool and jacuzzis, having tables under roof, was more a place for lounging, eating and visiting, whereas the aft pool (Nav deck) was more for hard-core sunworshippers like me. The only games I saw were at the aft pool.
Spa: Steiner of London maintains the ultimate ocean spa for facial and body therapy. They offer hair and nail rituals, facials, massages, seaweed heat packs, shiatsu, reflexology, reiki healing, aromatherapy, full body exfoliating and my new favorite... Ionithermie anti-cellulite treatment. Fitness rituals include personal training sessions, body composition analysis and Yoga. Enjoy a view of the ocean at the fitness center (no charge for exercise machines, steam and sauna).
Movies: The Wajang Theater (popcorn and Cappuccino available next door at the Java Cafe) showed "Pay it Forward", "Lucky Numbers", "Meet the Parents", "The Sixth Day" and "Space Cowboys". Funny odor in there, though.
Dining Room : The Rotterdam Dining Room is a spacious and attractive bi-level room, offering a variety of seating arrangements. A variety of menus was available; the food was very good, and the main seating service in the non-smoking section was excellent.
Buffet: Lido Restaurant served meals cafeteria-style, which is not as elegant as your classic buffets, but the variety and quality of the food makes up for it. The line was broken up a bit into different sections for the traditional meal and the specialty entrees and desserts. There is so much food on the buffet, you'll certainly find something you like. Since they no longer provide a menu for this buffet, I walked ahead and peeked at the food (they even had prime ribs one day, which was excellent for a buffet item) before I started loading up.
Room Service: We didn't use it this time for either a meal or a snack. We always use the doorknob card you fill out at night that will get you coffee, juices, fruit, yogurt, pastries, eggs, meats or cereals any time from 6:30 to 10:30 the following morning. That gives you time to make yourself presentable for the "real" breakfast in the dining room or Lido.
Rembrandt Lounge Showroom: Seating is more than adequate, with a good view for everyone, even in the balcony. Here there are a few obstructed views, but nothing bad. Overall, the entertainment was quite varied and professional.
Shops: New on this ship was the Ten-Dollar Store, offering a variety of jewelry, writing instruments, sunglasses, watches and pashminas. There was also one for clothing and souvenirs, one for jewelry and perfumes/cosmetics and a duty-free shop offering liquor (they even had a tasting table). Daily specials such as rings, watches, gold and silver by the inch and leather goods were listed in the Daily Program. All were adequately stocked and offered good values.
Casino: This one is rather small by comparison to others on ships this size, but it was never crowded. The only crap table was not only uncrowded (they usually are) but one night it was even closed for lack of interest.
Excursions: In your cabin you will find a Planning/Order Form indicating the details of the available excursions. Warning 1: Some of these have very limited space and sell out very fast and are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is a trip you absolutely must take, sign up now! You can order it right away by filling out this form and placing it in the drop box at the excursion desk. Warning 2: If you want to go with someone in another cabin, put the request for all tickets on one cabin's order. We split our order and only two of us got to do the Swimming with the Dolphins :-( You can take another form to be filled out later for other requests. A Shore Excursion video played continuously on the stateroom TV regarding available port activities. There were about 40 shore excursions on the list (not including the beach toys available at Half Moon Cay)... plenty from which to choose. American currency is welcome everywhere. Take small bills and change.
Nassau: This was a short stop from 7 a.m. to noon, and nine excursions were offered. We did stop at the straw market where even Jim bought a few things! I have the photo to prove it!
San Juan: This was the longest stop of the cruise, from 9 a.m. to Midnight. There were ten excursions offered, but we chose to visit El Morro on our own. This is a short cab ride from the dock, meandering through Old San Juan to the other side of the island. This is a gorgeous old fort with many levels offering breathtaking views. I was impressed with the series of aerial maps showing the development of the island over the last few hundred years.
St. John/St. Thomas: We stopped here from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is plenty of time to do one or two of the twenty excursions that were offered. We chose the helicopter tour (put the order on one ticket this time). We were in the air for about 20 minutes and had the absolute best views of some of the most beautiful beaches as well as areas that have yet to be rebuilt due to hurricane damage. We also went to the top of the Paradise Point Tramway ($12 each) which also afforded great views of the ships in the harbor and downtown Charlotte Amalie. You can stop and relax with a refreshing snack and watch the tropical bird show. We had been there before, but needed to buy a mate for our Wild Man (who turned out to be a Wild Woman, but that's another story...). Sure enough, in the same store, on the same shelf, was a whole family of Wild Ones.
Half Moon Cay: We tendered to this pristine island about 8 a.m. and stayed until they dragged me out of the ocean (kicking and screaming) at 3 p.m. Although there is a gift shop and small straw market , they're only a convenience. Don't expect what you saw in Nassau. Here you can enjoy a frozen tropical drink at one of the bars, have some refreshing ice cream or have your hair braided. The tram will take you up to the Island Picnic, which is served from 11:30 to 1:30 and is simple but delicious. On the beach, you can enjoy snorkeling, SCUBA, parasailing, banana boat rides, catamarans, sailboats, windsurfing, aqua cycles, glass bottom boat, golf chipping or kayaking. We simply rented floating mattresses and floated for a couple of hours. Paradise. Great tan. If you'd rather sit on the beach, lounge chairs are available and you can sip a cool one served by a beach steward. On the sports courts, you'll find shuffleboard and volleyball, and closer to the beach there are tents set up for private beachside massages. As you wander this little island there are misting stations you can step into for a refreshing shower.
Ship Activities: Each day we received a Daily Program listing all planned activities, meals, movies, etc. This is most helpful when there is so much to do! The Times Fax (from the pages of The New York Times) and CNN brought us up to date on the real world. Production shows, bingo (although pricey), horse racing, volleyball, ping-pong, water games, newlywed game, ice sculpting demos, golf or ping-pong tournaments, dance lessons, gambling, dancing, even daily AA meetings are available to fill your time.
Staff: We were fortunate to have Susan Wood as our Cruise Director. Susan began her career at sea as a dance instructor (which might explain her energy level). She now has the distinction of being the first female Cruise Director in the HAL fleet. She is energetic and very outgoing; knowledgeable, organized, personable and accessible. It seems she was everywhere (except on debarkation day, when I really needed a photo for this review). Susan will be moving to the m.s. Amsterdam in September, 2001.
Toto, our cabin steward, was very good. He brought us breakfast each morning, filled the ice bucket and kept our cabin neat and clean all day.
Hasan, our Rotterdam Dining Room waiter, and Agung, his assistant, were attentive and handled our special requests cheerfully. This is the first time a Dining Room Supervisor (Yusuf) was so attentive. His funny jokes made our dining experience special. Didiet, our wine steward was prompt and his suggestions most helpful.
Passengers: Average age looked to be about 45-50. If there were any children aboard, they were invisible.
Motion: We were lucky to have calm seas all week. The stabilizers made the entire trip smooth and comfortable. The slightly perceptible motion was just enough to rock you to sleep at night.
Disembarkation: Non-U.S. Citizens were required to report to Immigration very early, but we were able to have coffee and pastries in our cabin, then go to the lounge to check in at the airline. Delta and U.S. Air have representatives onboard to check your passports (all travelers in your group must be present) and issue you bar-coded luggage tags in a sealed envelope. We were in this line over an hour, and it was very frustrating. They should have had more airline reps for this to work smoothly. We were off the ship at about 9:00, found our luggage in the "warehouse" (the colored tag system moves passengers in shifts to avoid crowding), had a redcap cart them to the Delta truck where the bar-coded tags were attached to our bags, got in a cab and were at the airport in record time; two hours ahead of flight time. Note: when you debark and find your luggage, you can transfer most of your overnight stuff to your luggage so you won't have to carry so much.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you this was the best cruise ever. We will be HAL cruisers for many more years to come.
I traveled with 8 family members last week to Alaska, including 2 grandchildren under age 5. We had an absolutely unforgettable week!
The crew was exceptional.
The "Name That Tune" competition at the piano bar was great fun (we won free drinks 3 nights in a row for the best "team name.")
The ports and excursions were wonderful; be sure to ride the Kawasaki Mules in Skagway.
My only disappointment was the food. There was quantity, but not quality. Even the cookies weren't as good as the Pillsbury slice off variety from your dairy case! We loved the ice cream every day.
Our king size bed was so wonderful I'm going to order one for my home (they tell you how to purchase their special "mariner's bed.")
There was something for everbody on this cruise; a quiet spot to read or a swimming pool for kid's fun.
I would also add the crowd was a bit "dowdy." The information on dress code provided by Holland America gave a description of "Smart Casual" and to some folks, that obviously meant a baseball T-shirt and jeans.
Holland America Line Zaandam by GARY TYLER Alaska June 8, 2008
The destination was great. The ports were great.
The ship had no pulse at all. The average age of the people had to have been 75 to 80. I'm 56 and I felt like a kid compared to these people!
The ship reflected the average age of the people sailing. It was so low key onboard that it was boring.
The crew had no pulse. The cabin steward was DOA and the dining staff couldn't care less.
I will never take another Holland America cruise again. I'm sticking with Princess!
Holland America Line Prinsendam by Jim Thornton Baltic Sea June 3, 2008
The MS Prinsendam is one of Holland America's smaller ships that carries 793 passengers and a crew of 443. It was built in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun for the Royal Viking Line and in less than two years later it was sold to the Seabourn Cruise Line and renamed as the Seabourn Sun. Another two years later, it was sold again to the Holland America Line.
CABIN -- Balcony Our daughter's and our cabins were side-by-side. We had the cabin with a shower (no bath) and only one bedside nightstand, while our daughter had a bath and two bedside nightstands. Both cabins were the same size and had queen size beds, etc.
The cabin's bathrooms were nice and new while the non-bathroom areas showed signs of wear. Cabin attendant was also good.
Poor cabin TV service -- 19 channels but three out of the seven English language channels were out-of-service due to a "satellite problem" that never got fixed.
The on-shore HAL personnel placed my wife's photo both on her and my shipboard ID cards which also serves as thecabin key. The ship's personnel always scan the card to verify that the photo on the card matches the returning passenger from a tour. I was able to get a new ID with the proper photo from the ship's front desk.
FOOD Food was fair and service was slow. This was the poorest of all the eight HAL ships that we've been on.
ENTERTAINMENT The evening entertainment was poor -- it appeared to be at a high school level of experience. Always had wonderful evening entertainment on HAL ships before.
There were no daytime movies in the ship theater on the three Day-At-Sea days.
CROW'S NEST The Crow's Nest always smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. The same in the other shipboard bars. Never had this problem on any other HAL ship.
TOURS The ship cancelled one of the Ystad tours that we previously paid for due to too many requests for the tour. Actually, they moved the afternoon tours to the morning to add more tours in the afternoon. We had to manually swap our morning and afternoon tours ourselves. And later, we had to identify to the HAL tour management that they doubled-charged us.
Some of the sites to be seen on the land tours were skipped due to HAL tour management permitting handicapped passengers (in wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) on these HAL rated "Strenuous Activity" tours.
The overall quality of the tours were not as good as on the same cruise that we took on the Norwegian Dream eight years earlier.
The onboard tour personnel always place a small tour sticker on your clothing for identification on the tour. One sticker left its glue-like material on my jacket and both the ship's personnel and we were unable to remove it.
HEALTH Most of the passengers caught a cough and cold on the cruise and we never saw the HAL personnel ever sanitize the numerous stairway hand rails on the ship as we have seen on all other HAL ships we have been on.
OVERALL OPINION As a longtime Holland America passenger, I could not recommend this ship. This was our ninth Holland America Cruise and our 18th cruise in Asia, Europe, and North, Central, and South America.
My husband and I just returned from a twenty-day cruise aboard the Noordam (May 28-June 18, 2008). The cruise itinerary included a 10-day loop in both the Western and Eastern Mediterranean. This was our seventh cruise and the first aboard Holland America. Our most recent cruise was January 2008 aboard Carnival Conquest, and we looked forward to a quieter and more elegant journey on the Noordam. Overall we had a pleasant trip, although we did not feel that the experience was a significant improvement over previous journeys on other cruise lines. I am in my late fifties and my husband is sixty-two, so we concluded that HAL would be a great choice. However, we do not plan to travel aboard a large HAL ship in the future.
We stayed in a superior veranda suite (8073). Spacious and well organized, we were very comfortable in the room and on the balcony. If the side chairs near the sofa are moved slightly, there is plenty of walking space and easy access to the balcony. The only change I noticed from previous cabins was the ceiling appeared lower on this ship. The décor in thecabin was pleasant, with warm colors and attractive artwork. This was is sharp contrast to the busy carpet and mismatched art in the hallways. Our floor had a very busy modern blue carpet, Polynesian wall panels in shiny blues and purple and floral wall art framed in bright red matting. The overall hallway décor was neither calming or attractive. My husband and I traveled with one large bag each and found that there was plenty of room under the bed for luggage storage. If you plan to travel with several large pieces of luggage you may find the closet space inadequate. The closets have adjustable shelves than will accommodate long and short hanging garments as well as folded items. Additional storage is located in bedside drawers, end tables and desks. We purchased the pricey suite amenities package ($636.00) because we wanted to have clothing washed and pressed each day (no self-laundry facilities on board and you may not iron in the stateroom). We didn't realize that we could purchase laundry facilities separately. The suite amenities package did include a variety of extras that we could have done without such as bar set-up, coffee cards, canapés etc. No one fully explained the amenities included; we asked the booking agent at HAL on two occasions prior to leaving. We were unsure of all the options available to us until we asked the staff at the front desk on day 11 of our trip.
Issues and Areas in Need of Improvement Food quality aboard the ship was unexceptional at best. The only exceptions were the pastries served in the dining room and the lido café. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill three nights (additional fee). If you plan to do this, avoid any of the menu items beyond grilled meats as we were very disappointed with the seafood entrees. Be sure and ask the wine steward about prices for wine at the Pinnacle Grill. The most modest bottle was in the 50 dollar range and the prices varied dramatically from wine served in the main dining room.
Food service was often slow in the Vista dining room. (A 2.5 hour dining window was not uncommon and on one occasion we were awaiting dessert at the 3 hour mark). The second ten days of the cruise the ship appeared more crowded. We were told this might have been due to cabins that contained three or four travelers (more kids). Reservations were then encouraged in the open seating portion of the dining room, although this didn't eliminate waiting or being asked to return to the dining room at a later time. We enjoyed dining with a variety of travelers, however conversation was awkward at a table for ten. Tables for six seemed to provide the most comfortable dining environment. Some large cruise ships provide a variety of dining locations (with the same menu). This seems to eliminate waiting and the unfortunate crowding that occurred in the narrow hallway outside the Vista dining room.
Casual dining was provided on the Lido deck (9). There are food service stations and the lines could be quite lengthy. We noticed lines at occasional breakfasts and lunches that exceeded 30 persons for omelets, waffles, and sandwiches -- perhaps individual menu items should be minimized in order to more efficiently feed the larger number of passengers. Passenger bottlenecks also occurred at the juice, drinks (water, tea) and the pasta lines. The Lido café seems to have been designed for self-service, however the current process has staff members impeding the effectiveness of the layout. We concluded that this was less an issue with poor service than a confusion regarding the small ship service model and the systems required for larger numbers of travelers.
Port Visits and Excursions The security staff was always professional and efficient. The port lecturer (Ian) was helpful during his office hours in the library/internet area and anytime we debarked from a visit. There were two additional lecturers on the cruise. The first ten days the lecturer provided scholarly talks on the history of the Mediterranean. I attended a very enjoyable lecture on piracy. The second portion of the trip was less inspiring. The talk I attended was very simplistic (female lecturer), with a power point presentation full of spelling and grammar errors. I wondered how these folks were selected by HAL. Apparently no one reviewed this presentation.
The shore excursions were efficient and reasonably priced. We enjoyed the journeys to Ephesus, Pompeii, Olympia and the interiors of Santorini and Sicily. If you do not have difficulty with mobility, most of the other sites were easy to negotiate on foot or with a taxi/bus.
Our Suggestions: Do not miss the old town of Dubrovnik and take the walk around the city wall. Take the bus in Malta and visit the Mdina and Rabat, and visit the Souk and the American WWII Cemetery in Tunis.
Onboard Facilities The layout of this ship did not seem to be designed to accommodate nearly 2000 passengers. The Crows Nest was one of the few areas on the ship that provided a comfortable amount of space. It has wonderful recliners with an ocean view and helpful bar service staff. We enjoyed the early shows and thought the Noordam singers exceptionally good. A number of events were scheduled in the culinary arts center. This facility is not large enough for ship-wide events. The lectures and shows scheduled often felt crowded by the overflow seating.
The very tiny atrium area that would comfortably seat only twenty was seldom used. Passengers appeared to avoid the area, possibly due to the garish reflective wall tiles (with blinking lights embedded) and the awkward glass stairway that was often closed. As a consequence, passengers tended to congregate in the library and Explorations café. The library was extensive and the staff very helpful. The coffee bar in the café was understaffed and very busy. We each had a (approx. $30) coffee card good for ten drinks. The wait for service was so long that we only used half that number. It might be wiser to purchase coffee individually.
On deck you will find a variety of areas to relax on lounge chairs. Only in the pool area are the deck chairs crowded together. The aft pool was designated for adults, but the "adults only" rule was seldom followed. Several people did ask for reminders about children splashing and using inflatable toys, but the issue continued. In addition, although there were two small (4 person) hot tubs in the adult pool area, only one was functioning and open during our trip.
Unlike other ships, the steam room required an additional twenty-dollar a day charge per person. We did not take advantage of this, although using the steam room is something we enjoy. We were not interested in paying an additional charges on top of the suite package of 636 dollars. There was a small (three person) dry sauna available to all travelers, however it was often full.
We anticipated a gracious voyage on HAL based upon cruise line reviews and the relative cost difference. Had the service been commensurate with the basic and additional costs, we would have been pleased. Unfortunately, the food, service and amenities did not warrant the additional spending. We did enjoy the ports of call and plan to cruise in the Mediterranean again, but we will look to an alternative cruise line for our next trip.
Eastern Seaboard, out of Fort Lauderdale to Montréal Canada, early May, 2008.
This was my 15th Holland America cruise I imagine the weather in the fall is quite similar to that in May.
The Maasdam was built 1993 and is one of four in the Statendam class. It can accommodate roughly 1,266 passengers after refitting, and weighs about 55,451 tons. The Atrium consists of a very tasteful 3-story sculpture of cube-shaped glass, designed by Luciano Vistosi. The cabin I was in was 725 Starboard, forward, on the Main deck (A).; the couple I was with were on the Verandah deck (without a verandah!) in cabin 100, Port, as far forward as you can go. The Maasdam has, along with the other S Class ships, been refitted with new bedding, etc. The former Erasmus Library has been annexed to one of the rooms beside it, and another room which was used for the internet, to form a newer and better internet centre and library.
We flew down a day early, from Ottawa, Canada, to Detroit and then Fort Lauderdale, which was uneventful, and did not use the hotel to ship packages, taking a cabfrom Pier 66. Embarkation was the smoothest of all the cruises that I have been on, and only took 25 minutes. Part of this is that if you complete all of the on-line forms ahead of time (bringing printed duplicates to discard later in case of computer failure, etc.), there is no paperwork to fill out at embarkation except a short health questionnaire.
After a day at sea, the first port was Charleston, South Carolina, where we saw some of the old mansions on the Kingdom by the Sea tour. New London, Connecticut after another sea day, was where we took the Essex Steam Train tour, followed the next day by Cliff Walk & the Breakers tour in Newport, Rhode Island, which was slightly altered owing to weather. After a sea day, amid interesting North Atlantic seas, we hit Barr Harbor, Maine, and over the next three days, the ports of Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown Prince Edward Island. In each of these ports we went to eat lobster, for the last time on the Dalvey-by-the-Sea tour where it is served cold (which allows it to be snapped out of the shell easier), and where the guide showed everyone (spectacularly) how to properly break up a lobster to eat by hand, and, nearby a lobster fisherman explained his trade. After another day at sea, we passed the Saguenay Fjord in the St. Lawrence but were too late to enter it to see much of anything, and docked at Quebec where we wandered around the walled city; the next day we docked at Montréal. In Quebec preparations are under way for the 400th anniversary of Quebec.
This was a repositioning cruise, the first of the season. There are to be future ones in June, but from Boston to Montréal and vice-versa, before the Maasdam sails to Europe in July. Other versions of this cruise may take place in August out of Boston and HAL's latest ship, the Eurodam will be making trips to Quebec City from New York; the Maasdam will make one trip from Montréal to Ft. Lauderdale in the fall.
The couple I was with did not take a verandah because of the time of year. There were many passengers not suitably dressed for May in the North Atlantic. Cruising at this time of year is a little strange, since we are used to warmer Caribbean destinations. I went swimming from Fort Lauderdale until just after Charleston, when the outside temperature was too cool to use the outside aft lido pool. Except at Newport, the skies were clear, but temperatures started to drop, the coldest being in Sydney where it was about 4C I used long underwear twice on this cruise. There were some rough seas as well, for even though we were in the lee of the Gulf of Maine or the South Shore of Nova Scotia for part of the time, winds got to force 9+ on the Beaufort Scale; there were a lot of people sea-sick.
There was a new dinner arrangement on the Maasdam. There was the traditional late-seating arrangement on the upper level of the Rotterdam dining room, but on the lower level, there was a form of free-style seating for which you had to make some type of reservations (I never did figure it out, neither did some of the passengers used to completely free-style dining on some cruise lines). We chose the more traditional setting. Parts of the Lido are also open for dinner. Service was good, but there seem to be issues of timeliness which are not of the waiters' making. For example, when the staff is called off to do the Baked Alaska parade or the Chef's dinner which also involves staff doing other activities, there's a back-up. Our wine steward knew what she was doing and was quite helpful. The Maasdam, like all of the "Statendam" class ships, lacks access to the lower dining room from along the Promenade Deck (owing to the kitchen filling up the entire deck), which can be a minor inconvenience.
The Pinnacle restaurant is a later addition to all of the Statendam class of ships, being constructed by removing several of the public rooms and building it in. The Pinnacle is available for lunch as well as dinner, and the sirloin is as good as the Alberta A beef which used to be served on all the HAL ships. People with verandahs can eat breakfast free in the Pinnacle and there are some other perks relating to the restaurant.
The pools were well maintained. The Lido indoor pool (with the sliding roof) is chlorinated, while the aft outdoor pool has a slight salt content and less chlorine (which I prefer). This is new. The pools are not as warm as they used to be, but that is because of not wanting to help spread disease. The inside pool had to be completely drained for part of the cruise, as the seas were so rough.
In HAL's more recent ships, the Ocean bar is less of a focal point of the ship, but that is not the case with the four S class ones. Unfortunately the art auctioneers take up too much space when running the auctions. Many found the Crow's Nest awkward during rough seas because it so very high up.
There were two wine tastings -- one free which did take place -- and one which had a cost, but which had to be cancelled because of a lack of attendees.
Past Cruises: 1st-(Old) Noordam, 1998 (retired Nov. 2004); 2nd-Statendam, 1999; 3rd-Zaandam, 2000; 4th-Statendam, 2001; 5th/6th-Ryndam, 2002; 7th-Zuiderdam, 2003+ 8th-Veendam, 2003; 9th Volendam, 2004; 10th/11th-Westerdam, 2006-01; 12th-Amsterdam, 2006-11; 13th/14th-Zuiderdam, 2007; 15th Maasdam, 2008-05.