The Maasdam was the only cruise ship in Port Everglades May 2 and was indeed the only ship in port at every port on our 15 day cruise. Such is the advantage of doing a cruise on Holland's reposition from the Caribbean to Canada. The ports were also great: Charleston, Newport, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Saguenay, Quebec, Montreal. You can't do these on a regular cruise. The Maasdam with only 1200 guests is "mid size", but compared to most of the newer ships is even small. She is still a jewel! The service, the lack of lines, the ability to walk into the main dining room without waiting for a table, crew remembering your name and what you like, all of these are why the Maasdam still shines. The ship looks good; new elevators, new coffee servers and Canaletto chairs, new cafe pool side (Dive In) since last drydock. Dining room is excellent. Lido is very good. Enjoy this ship as I'm sure Holland will be loosing her soon as the newer/mega ships arrive.
We just left this wonderful ship today and all was wonderful. Best staff ever! Food was great and we loved every moment.
This was our tenth Holland America Line (HAL) cruise out of the 23 cruises we have taken since 1995. Each of the HAL cruises has been on a different ship, except that we've been on two cruises on the Westerdam. Our cabin on the Maasdam was a verandah suite (Category B) on the Verandah Deck, the deck 9, mid-ship. We sailed on a 16-day eastern United States (US) and Canada cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to three other ports in the US, and to eight Canadian ports ending at Montreal, Canada. We had done a similar cruise in 1997 on the Norwegian Dreamward from New York City to Montreal. Plus, on this cruise, there was three days at sea when going between the four US ports. Plus, we stayed one night before the cruise at the HAL approved Western Fort Lauderdale Hotel.
FLIGHTS - We selected Delta Airlines for our seven-hour flights from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale with a change of aircraft in Atlanta and a return nine-hour flight from Montreal to Los Angeles with a change aircraft again in Atlanta.
SHIP - The Maasdam is one of the midsized ships of HAL. It has 10 decks with two groups of four inside elevators, located near the bow and the stern of the ship. The ship has 972 cabins for 1,258 passengers and a very friendly crew of 580.
CABIN - Our cabin was smaller (8 x 26 feet) than on our previous 2004 Westerdam cabin when we sailed the western Mediterranean. Our cabin had a thermostat that didn't seem to work as the cabin was always cool, and a comfortable king-size bed with six pillows with room to place our suitcases under the bed. There were two nightstands, a safe, two bathrobes, one chair, one large desk with extra drawers, four closets, and a bathroom with a toilet, bath and shower, and single sink. The cabin had only a single 110-volt electrical outlet at the desk location. HAL previously provided a special luggage tags containing our cabin number and our luggage arrived in our cabins before we did on the first day aboard the ship.
VERANDAH - The verandah (6 x 8 feet) had one chair and one long chair for resting the entire body. Plus, the end of the cabin towards the verandah was two large glass windows and a large glass door, which was nice.
IN-CABIN TV AND SOUND SYSTEM - A color TV with about 18 channels including CNN and Fox news, several movie channels, and views of the ship's bow. But frequently the news and other live local channels were interrupted for a while whenever the ship was moving. There was a DVD player with a choice of DVDs available the ship's library for a slight fee. And none of the public announcements were heard in the cabin.
DINING ROOMS The main one is the Rotterdam (decks 7 and 8), and the others are the Pinnacle Grill (deck 8), and Lido (deck 11). In the Rotterdam dining room, at our assigned table for eight, the overall and service food was good. The Pinnacle Grill is only available by making a reservation. Service was very good and the food was much better than the main dinning room. There is a $20 per person surcharge. And we enjoyed the Lido for breakfast and lunch to avoid the large lines waiting to enter the Rotterdam; plus the Lido served breakfast earlier than the Rotterdam. In addition, there were three formal nights during the cruise.
BARS - There is about four or more bars and we always enjoy the Crow's Nest, especially when leaving a port before dinner, as the room overlooks the ship's bow and the direction in which the ship is sailing. There are several major problems with the popular Crow's Nest - very often you will find all of the chairs and tables being used by non-drinking passengers either reading books or even just sleeping; a question and answer game being played there at happy hour when your second drink only costs one dollar; and a large smoking area; again this completely fills up the bar. And one more minor problem, the ceiling lights are left on during the daylight hours and they are reflected on the windows, which appear in your photographs. HAL should correct these problems.
TIPS - There's an automatic assessment of $11 per day per guest and 15% is added to all drinks.
CHECK-IN - Initial check-in is slower than usual. However, each time you board the ship during the cruise, your cabin card is scanned and your photograph is displayed to the ship's security personnel. And when returning to the ship in Canada, you needed to carry a second form of ID with your photograph (like your driver's license). Also, every time you re-board the ship, all carry-on items (purses, bags, etc.) will be scanned.
TOURS - There are 14 ports and here is the most interesting thing in each port. Some of the interesting sites are: where the US Civil War began, a small island where ten or more different sea birds live, a goat cheese farm, a glass blowing company, fresh lobster fishing, historical Canadian sites, etc.
ON SHIP ILLNESS - It was reported that one or two passengers got sick aboard the ship and the ship really increased the keeping the ship clean and there was no other sickness aboard.
OVERALL OPINION - We were the first cruise of the year to these ports in the end of April and the beginning of May; thus we experienced cold weather and infrequent light rain showers on some days.
We just returned from an Eastern and Southern Caribbean cruise on Maasdam. My husband and I are both in our 60's. We are active and in good health. My parents who are in their 80's traveled with us.
We stayed at the Sleep Inn and Suites at Ft. Lauderdale airport the night before the cruise. It was fine, nothing fancy but clean and the staff was very helpful. Breakfast was included. We used their free shuttle from the airport and to the pier. We had dinner at Pancho's Backyard across the street. The food was very good. A grocery store is in the same shopping center and a Walgreens is next door. A Chinese and an Italian restaurant are within walking distance.
Embarkation and disembarkation went very smoothly and quickly. Many passengers stayed on the ship for the previous or following cruise so I don't think all 1250 passengers were checking in on the same day.
We had a Lanai room and we enjoyed being able to go out on the deck. I think the kitchen or storage is above the lanai rooms. It wasn't noisy, but every once in a while weheard some strange sounds. Storage in the room was fine. The bathroom had a tub, which meant the shower area was large which was nice, but it was really deep which made it hard to get in and out. The bed and bedding were very comfortable. We didn't see our stewards for the first few days of the cruise, but they did a good job and responded promptly to my request for an additional towel. We did have days where our room wasn't made up until after lunch even though we were out of the room all morning. I know that sounds petty, but it bothered us.
The ship is small. The main passenger areas are very compact. We decided that the small ship was not a good fit for us. It was really limited in a lot of ways: less going on, fewer music venues and less variety on the Lido buffet. They have tried to convert the Lido into islands, but it is still a long old style buffet with dividers inserted for the different types of food.
The food seemed bland and not very interesting. Service in the dining room was great. We had anytime dining and ended up requesting the same waiter for all of our meals. He was great! We were disappointed with anytime dining. We were not allowed to make a reservation between 6 and 7. If you wanted to eat then, you had to take your chances on a walk up and they indicated that the line could be really long. We didn't try it and settled for an early reservation. We did not try the Pinnacle.
The singers in the show room were great. They were much more experienced than the usual cruise ship singers. There were only two dancers who were also very good. We enjoyed the dancing lessons they gave. With the small ship and small cast they did not do the standard Broadway or movie music reviews, but the shows they did were very good. The HALCats orchestra and lead singer were very good. The jazz/dance band was good. We like to dance and we were able to every night. The pianist and string quartet were also good.
I don't think we will go on HAL again unless it is a really outstanding itinerary. It's not that anything was really bad; it just didn't seem to be as good as Royal Caribbean or Celebrity. The average age of the cruisers was older, too, 70 ish.
We really enjoyed all the ports that we visited. The islands each have very different cultures reminiscent of the European countries that settled each. It almost seemed like a quick trip to Europe in the architecture. HAL's shore excursions seem to be mostly half day bus tours. There were a few more active ones. As always some were good and others were mediocre.
We left from Fort Lauderdale. We visited Half Moon Cay which was fine for beach lovers. The snorkeling from shore in the beach area was terrible. We took the nature walk which was fun. The guide gave us lots of information on the Bahamas, plants, animals, and her home island of Eluthera. Our tour went to some ruins of old farms, another beach, and the sting ray area.
Our first tour was of St. John's from St. Thomas. The contrast between the two islands is amazing. St. Thomas is very commercial and St. John is relatively untouched since it is mostly National Park. We saw beautiful beaches and ruins of some old sugar plantations.
St. Bart's is a very expensive resort island. They do not allow big hotels, so everything is very high end. We walked around the historical sights in the town of Gustavia. The yachts in the harbor were amazing. The Wall House Museum gave a good history of the island. We had lunch at the Wall House Restaurant. The island is French, but most of the tourist trade speaks English. My attempts at French were pretty much a failure.
Martinique is also a French island and English is not widely spoken, even in the tourist shops in Fort de France. I was a little more successful with my French here. I even had a shop owner who complimented me on trying to speak French. We had a tour of the island including a church, a botanical garden, and St. Pierre which was destroyed when Mt. Pele erupted in 1902. The town has since rebuilt and has a nice little museum. The ruins of the theatre were interesting. The island is very lush and beautiful.
We next stopped in very British Barbados. We did a tour of the island with a photographer with an emphasis on natural rather than historical places. He was really interesting and provided lots of information about the island and its culture. Again, we saw lots of beautiful beaches and tropical foliage. The economy here seems to be thriving. After we returned to the ship we walked into Bridgetown for lunch and some exploring.
Grenada was a real contrast to Barbados. They have suffered a couple of hurricanes recently and have not recovered from the damage. Grenada is known for spices and most of the nutmeg trees were destroyed. The new ones are just now beginning to bear fruit. They also had a revolution (we saw where the US Marines landed) which really damaged their economy. We did a tour which was beautiful, but frustrating because everything was so crowded. We stopped at an old spice plantation, Grand Etang Reserve, Annandale Falls, and Fort Frederick. The island is hilly and green.
Bonaire was a lot of fun. The island is not highly developed. Kralendijk is very small and since we were there on Sunday mostly closed. We had a really good bus tour of the island. We saw flamingoes and some cultural and historical sites. After lunch we went to the Plaza Resort and I snorkeled from the shore. I am an inexperienced snorkeler and had a great time. I saw lots of fish since the reef is right next to the shore and in a marine park. Getting into the water was a little tough since it was so rocky, but the snorkeling was great. Bonaire is not a lush tropical island; it is hot and dry but very interesting.
Curacao and Aruba are both very similar to Bonaire but more developed. They are both big diving and snorkeling sites and very dry. On both islands we walked around the towns and did not do island tours. Willemstad, Curacao is very pretty. The island has a Dutch background as do Bonaire and Aruba. The buildings look like they are from a Dutch town and are painted beautiful colors. The floating market was really interesting. Vendors from South America bring produce on their boats and set up shop on the pier. We visited a good museum on slavery, Kura Hulanda.
Oranjestad, Aruba is not quite as picturesque as Willemstad, but still interesting. We visited the National Archaeological Museum of Aruba which was wonderful. It is very well laid out and informative and only a few blocks from the port. Fort Zoutman was open so we were able to see the inside. We ate lunch at a Cuban restaurant; Cuba's Cookin', which was great.
Last trip we will ever book with Holland America
I'm a glass Â½ full type of person, caused from fighting CLL ( Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) for the last 22 yrs. We travel to distress and relax and feel cheated when you spend $5,000 plus $700 in tips on a vacation from hell. To start, I must say the first 11 days went ok. It was after that, which HAL let us down.
We've been back from this cruise for 2 weeks now and I'm still sick. Thanks Hal for making so many people sick.
From the 23 of Dec. to the 2 of Jan the ship was under a code red. The crew I talked too had never heard of a code red on any ship they had been on. This was from senior crew members not general staff. The virus on the Maasdam came with them from Europe and stayed for the 3 weeks we were on board. I lost the last week and my wife lost 3 days. 250 guests were sick at the height of this outbreak and that's 20%. Thanks HAL, no apology or compensation for notfixing a huge problem that was clearly your fault & your responsibility.
When we booked this trip in June, we did so because of the itinerary and the islands we had not visited previously. Plus the reviews on this ship and HAL were very good. We went on Carnival for the first time in Sept for 2 week and that cruise rated an 8/10. The Maasdam cruise rates a 3/10.
The price changed several times before final payment of which we received the discounts. 12 days after final payment the price dropped $1000.00. My travel agent did her best to fix this issue and it cost us a $600 penalty to get the $1000.00 reduction. I was also promise an upgrade by HAL customer service for this inconvenience. This never happened and the cabin we did get was the noisiest cabin we've ever been in. My travel agent called HAL and had the CSR reprimanded, for lying to us. So first cruise with HAL, last cruise with HAL, very much like root canal work.
If my friends weren't booked for the first 11 days I would have cancelled this trip in Sept. after the $1000.00 price drop fiasco and eaten the $600.00 penalty to avoid your cruise line.
Got on at about 12:30 pm they started calling numbers, ours was called about 13:30 and after a few minutes we were on board. Our cabin was an interior on the Main Deck 4. The cabin was very large and roomy - lots of storage space. Our cabin stewards, Ali & Johan were very good and attentive. We had open dining, which worked great for us, 7:30 every night. The times we ate in the main dining room, the service was very good and the food was just okay, not great. We ate in the Pinnacle dining room for my friend's 50th birthday which was good but not great both in services and food. The seas were kind of rough for several days and it was difficult to walk & lots of motion. Many people were sea sick the first few days and this could have added to the guests sick with the gastro virus. It's small in size compared to other ships we have sailed on and most of the passengers were older. We were always able to find a place to sit around one of the pools. We did our own tours on all islands, which worked out great. Our biggest complaints were, the lack of info on the outbreak earlier, so I could get the meds I needed, the women's washrooms out of order on decks 12,11 & 10 for the entire first 10 days. A lot of people complained about the nonexistent air conditioning in their cabins. The nonuse of hand sanitizer by a lot of guests until enforced, after all of us were ill. We travel 10 weeks of the year and have been on 8 other cruises of 14 days or longer, when we cruise again we will select a larger ship and we'll never ever give HAL cruise lines another dime of our money, ever!!! Overall, this was our worst vacation experience so far.
First a disclaimer... be forewarned... I'm a glass half full kind of guy.
I sailed on the first Canada/New England cruise after a recent refurbishment and she looked great. This was my 12th cruise... 4 with Hal, 2 on the M-Dam.
On my sailing the ship was unable to get into port (Montreal) so the company pulled off a wondrous task of overcoming the muddle. My hat is off to the near flawless handling of a potential catastrophe.
Food: I found the food to be wonderful ... as always. One will see cruise reviews where the rater will claim that the food was not very good. That's nonsense! I've been on 12 cruises and the food on cruise ships is always simply wonderful. One can eat dinner once in the main ding room, then turn around and stuff their faces again in the Lido buffet. In the Rotterdam dining room and Lido buffet, I found the Maasdam's service to be friendly & attentive.
Service: The personnel on the ship attended to all my needs in an expedient manner and with a sense of pleasant enthusiasm. The crew all seemed to take joy inspeaking to me and at times learning my name.
Shows On this ship there appears to be a new emphasis on showcasing singers as opposed to dancers in the production shows. The first production show was a Broadway tribute and the second was called "Roadhouse" ... .which as the name might suggest was rocking/country. The performers are very talented!
On other nights, we were treated to a stand-up comedian who managed the task of being funny and tasteful at the same time. No F-bombs... thankfully! There was also a ventriloquist and a classical guitarist, both being entertaining. Fellow guest they tended to be on the older side and thus less active than on other ships. The Crow's Nest disco was mostly empty in the evening. On Karaoke, I and a few others seemed to do most of the "singing". The Maasdam is by no means a "party ship". That said I enjoyed my fellow guest.
Activities: Perhaps it was due to budget cuts, but I felt they needed more to keep us occupied, especially during our one sea day. There were some trivia games conducted.
Ports Montreal was the embarkation port. That is a lovely city and one must walk into the Vieux Montreal and see the Notre Dame Cathedral and cobblestone streets. I had lunch along the riverfront.
I took HAL's hotel, the Hyatt Regency downtown was quit pleased with the service. I do not recommend the hotel's over-priced restaurant. If possible one can get cheaper foods in the mall food court next door.Quebec City is a medieval jewel which looks more like a European river city than anything in North America. I did not one, but two walking tours of the old town, one culminating in high tea at the Chateau and the other a ghost tour. Charlottetown Prince Edward Island... Like most, I took the Anne of Green Gables tour. This is a lovely island. Sydney Nova Scotia... My tour took me to Louisbourg Fortress which is a re-created town of the early 18'Th century. Even though my visit was out of season , re-enacters were present by prior arrangement by me being on a ship sponsored tour. Halifax... I did the Highland Experience at the Citadel. Where I was part of a tour group of three partnered with a costumed guide. I got to play Highland soldier. Bar Harbor... I was part of the ship's Best of Both Worlds tour which visited Acadia National Park and a Lobster museum. Boston... I took the bus tour of historic Boston which ended at the airport. We visited some historic sites of significance such the outside of the USS Constitution and the Boston Library. Historic Boston is worth the time to see.
All things considered, the Maasadam to Canada/New England is a worthy cruise for those of us who are tired of beaches and t-shirt shops as ports of call. It is the ideal cruise of those who value history, culture, and nature over tourist traps.
We flew to Boston from our home, Kansas City, and embarked on the Holland America Maasdam, with 13 of our family members for our 50th wedding anniversary. We have been planning this cruise for several years and as grandpa and I were paying for it, we wanted it to be very special.
Two specific things we asked for were cabins with balconies that could be opened up continuously between the five cabins, and a table in the dining room to fit children/grandchildren and one great-grandchild. No problem, we were told by our travel agent, who said he had confirmed everything with the ship personnel. Unfortunately the partitions to the balonies were bolted down and could not be removed and we were scheduled for the 5:15 open seating dining! This was a disappointment -- BIG TIME!
The ship personnel were able to give us a designated seating time at two tables for 5:15 -- not the 5:45 that we had requested -- but we made it work. A little too early for us to all get to dinner, but we worked it out.
However, the partitions were a big thing as I hadlooked forward so much to having that time with all of my children and grandchildren on the deck together. As it was, we couldn't even see one another unless we leaned way over on the deck -- of course we were all together during the week at various places and we had a lovely time, but this was one of the special things I had looked forward to during our time together.
The itinerary was wonderful as we traveled to the North-East up through parts of Canada and the weather was great.
Don't know if I would recommend Holland America because I feel they lied to my travel agent who adamantly said they told him the deck partitions could be opened. Oh well, it was still a wonderful trip and after 50 years my husband and I continue to love to travel and spend time with our children!
Of twenty-two cruises, this was my fourth on the Maasdam, and I must say the 'old girl' looks just fine. Embarkation in Ft. Lauderale was a breeze, and although the Lido lunch was crowded as expected, it wasn't long before the cabins were ready -- mine no. 753 on A deck, outside, midships.
The cabin was spotless, and continued to be so throughout the cruise thanks to my wonderful and caring steward. Once, he became concerned about my accidentally injuring myself on St. Martin -- I take blood thinners -- and he took it upon himself to bring me Bandaids, etc. He was really a jewel.
The shower had its problems -- low pressure and a strange black residue erupting into the toilet and out of the floor drain after showering. My steward cleaned it up immediately. I chose, however, to shower in the men's locker room; great shower, lots of water. But that was my choice.
No odor from the residue was apparent.
Dining was just wonderful. I was placed at a large table, and the folks there were absolutely delightful; and the food was excellent. I love both lamb and seafoodespecially, and our great waiter knew in advance to bring me double lamb chops and double fish -- on one plate, not two. The wine stewardess was both helpful and personable. They both, along with the asst. waiter, made dinner time a treat. The chef's special dinner was a thing to behold! So much better than the old Dutch hat and cap routine.
The 'Hal Cat' band was only so-so, but it got better when a sound tech came onboard and adjusted things. But, then again, they provide deck entertainment; they are not there to put on a show.
I can't speak for the evening shows in the main lounge as I am an early-to-bed guy.
As for the ports of call, I've been to all of them several times, so there was less pressure to buy into lots of tours. The rum tour on St. Lucia was a hoot -- factory and then tasting. The tasting amounted to about 20 bottles -- open -- and they left you alone for about 45 minutes. Well, that bunch of staid folks turned into a party. We sang and laughed all the way back to the dock.
Only problems were on Dominica and Guadeloupe. On Dominica, I did not take a tour, having been on two before. The harrassment by locals on the pier was so intense, I just returned to the ship. On Guadeloupe, it was worse. A couple were mugged at gunpoint and others were followed and threatened by thugs. HAL is not sailing to Guadeloupe again because of this; guests were warned by authorities not to go beyond the barricades, which enclosed a few kiosks and a duty free shop. All of this said, it is a part of visiting different ports; just know where to go and where not to.
Other ports were wonderful, especially Tortola and fabulous Cane Garden Bay Beach!
Otherwise, a nice ship, friendly folks, great food, superb service and personal care make for, to me, what is a wonderful cruise. I'm on the Maasdam again in May for a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Montreal. That ship is becoming my home away from home.
My trip on the Maasdam didn't turn out so well.
The only good ports (St. Marteen and the private island) were cancelled due to inclement weather. They were turned into simply sea days.
We booked this cruise through Cruise Direct, which turned out to be an even bigger mistake.
We were promised two free nights in a hotel, which turned out to be only good for Sunday through Wednesday at something called a "Toured Stay." Do you think they try to sell you vacations?
I'm going on my 14th cruise and I guarantee that I will never book with Cruise Direct again.
When I complained, their answer was "then don't go."
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.