Overnight you have fallen from one of the top cruise lines to the bottom.
Who cares about the million dollar program of upgrading bed sheets and building a cooking demo unit when the major areas of interest to passengers, food and social programs have been seriously downgraded?
While the new library is a knockout with comfortable chairs, individual stereo music units, a huge selection of the latest books and games, and an internet café, it is placed next to the casino where the sound of the slot machines is sure to disturb.
While there were a few high spots, in general the dishes in the dining room were mediocre. Most of the dishes were served lukewarm and in most of the cases they were misrepresented or bastardized versions of what they claimed to be. This was in contrast to HAL’s sister cruise line the so-called "budget" Carnival line which gets everything right the first time.
While ingredients were reduced in quality, it is my belief that execution was equally at fault. Mediocre production in the kitchen. Is a stronger executive chef needed?
The desserts are disgraceful. They are of the quality of a cheap allyou can eat buffet on land. Just a mixture of endless variations of sponge cake, and imitation mousse and toppings. In fact much of the baked goods seem to be wholly or partially outsourced. There was little variety.
The Lido was a scandal. Messy, dirty, empty dishes, and undermanned. The so-called Chocolate Grand Buffet(?) on the next-to-last night was so unpopular that people were deserting the area as quickly as they could glance at the offerings.
By the way, a written complaint to the guest services manager went unanswered.
Very few activities. A very small social staff .Very few announcements on the PA system and the " improved"(?) daily activities program was hard to follow. Thus we missed the cooking demonstrations. Perhaps they repeated the demos on stateroom TV but we never received a TV guide to what was playing on TV. We also never received the schedule of in-cabin TV movies so missed many good first run films.
For reasons I will never understand the captain decided to view the lovely fjords of the Saguenay River from 6-8 AM. Surely the schedule could have been advanced to a more reasonable hour like 8-10 AM.
Most passengers went to the Lido Buffet to view the fjords. Even though breakfast was ready at 6.30 AM, the staff refused to begin service until the scheduled opening of 7.30 AM . We could only stare at the food for 1-1/2 hours.
While there were some good things such as the library, entertainment, friendly staff and cabin size, as a veteran of 40+ cruises, HAL sinks to the bottom of my list.
Poor value. Never again with HAL.
This is the third time we have sailed on the MAASDAM in the past 4 years. She is still a well cared for ship and will undergo renovation in the spring of 2006. We sailed the second half of the 35 day transatlantic roundtrip from Boston. We boarded at Rotterdam for the return trip to Boston. The unique itinerary was the primary factor in selecting this cruise. The countries visited included France, England, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.
The Indonesian and Philippine crew get high marks for friendly professional service for the entire 18 days. The crew's ability to consistently provide high quality service is remarkable and a testament to Holland Americas commitment to service aboard its vessels.
The food was consistently good with some interesting and exceptional entrees and desserts. I especially enjoyed the Indonesian dishes and looked forward to them throughout the voyage.
The passengers were mostly older so be prepared for walkers and wheelchairs.
The entertainment was typical with musical reviews, lectures and individual performers.
France: The port of Le Havre is about a 2 ½ hours bus ride to Paris. We took the excursion that took you to Paris for a sightseeingtrip around the city along with lunch at a café. The experience was perfect for us and is recommended. We got to see the city in comfort with several stops for photos and the lunch. We were back at the ship in plenty of time and well relaxed. If you would like to see the city and worry about the limited time this would be the excursion to consider.
England: Plymouth is a large town and you can walk shop and see the sites. A continuous shuttle to town center and back was available at the pier as well as taxis.
Ireland: Cobh is a small town within an easy walk from the pier. The ship provided a number of excursions into the countryside, but we chose to walk the town, visit a flea market and take the local bus (1 Euro person) as it ran its 45 minute route ending up in the center of town. This is an inexpensive way to soak up local color and see the surrounding community.
Dublin is a large city and fun to walk around. We took the city tour then spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and walking around.
Faroe Islands: Torshavn is a small town with limited stores and things to see, but fun to walk. There are local taxis for hire and one small van that a group could hire. There are a few historic sites that you can visit and the taxi could be a cheaper way to go for a few people. Negotiate a price for the ride. We paid 45 dollars (plus tip) for the hour's ride for 5 of us, which is what the excursion was charging person.
Iceland: Akureyri and Isafjord are small towns with interesting vistas. We took the excursion to see the countryside at Akureyri and enjoyed the trip. Our guide provided a lot of information about life in Iceland. Isafjord sits in a beautiful fjord with limited stores etc. Take sweaters and warm clothing for Iceland and Greenland. The temperature was in the 40's for several days and people were buying sweaters and jackets.
Greenland: Prince Christian Sound was absolutely beautiful. We sailed all day through the sound on our way to Qaqortoq. Qaqortog is small with a tourist information center near the pier along with local people selling items of interest to the tourists.
Newfoundland: St. Anthony is small and there is nothing to see or do here. We were there on a beautiful sunny day but just walked around a bit. Cornerbrook is a larger town within a 15-20 minute walk from the ship. There are some fun stores and interesting scenery.
This was an enjoyable cruise with interesting scenery and ports of call that are seldom visited. I understand that the MAASDAM will repeat this itinerary in the summer of 2006.
My husband and I had a beautiful suite...with the exception of the foul sewer odor that was pumping into our air vents everyday. We paid $6000 for the week (2 adults 2 children) and had to spend all of our time out of the cabin. Holland America moved us one night, but never offered any compensation.
We are trying to have them compensate us now but they are not very helpful. We do not recommend this cruise. We have had more luck on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.
I'm a 40ish male software developer, and I was traveling solo. I had been on two prior cruises, both with Carnival. My Maasdam cruise sailed from Norfolk.
I got in a long line outside Norfolk's Nauticus terminal at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. The line moved quickly and I was on the Lido deck by 12:15. I met Charlie and Lola in line and had drinks with them on the Lido. Nice couple. Next I met a fun bunch of ladies (Pat, Linda and Momma) while waiting for my cabin. They turned out to be seated at the same table as me for dinner. The Lido pool area had plenty of tables and chairs in both the smoking and non-smoking areas. The area was very clean and attractive. It was announced at 1:00 p.m. that the cabins were ready.
I went to my 'C' category cabin at 1:30 p.m. There are only six of these 'C' cabins on the verandah deck -- a well kept secret, as they are the same price as the Cs on the lower decks. They are very quiet, because forward of them is a 'staff only'area. When you look at a picture of the Maasdam, they are the row of six windows right before where the verandahs start. Luggage was in the process of being delivered by my excellent cabin steward Suyradi (Eddie). Eddie worked remarkably hard the entire voyage and always greeted me warmly by name. It was a nice cabin, very clean, with great beds and relaxing colors of yellow and blue-green. I had a full-size couch, which was very nice for napping. The flowers, champagne, soda card and excursion tickets I had pre-ordered were all there. The outside of my (expensive) window was caked with salt. I realize they can't be cleaned every cruise, but this one hadn't been cleaned in a long a while. That, however, was the only flaw I found.
Captain van der Loo can frequently be heard referring to "the beautiful and elegant Maasdam." That is not an overstatement: She really is. The Maasdam is just the right size -- it never felt crowded. I couldn't find any signs of wear in her finishes. The ship is filled with art and antiques, and there are fresh flowers everywhere, as well as REAL towels in the public restrooms (use once, then into the dirty bin. I almost had to use paper once, but just as I needed a towel, the bin was refilled). The ship lived up to HAL's 'spotless ships' reputation. The décor is a treat for the eyes. I spent all 10 days exploring and I'm sure I didn't see everything.
Rotterdam Dining Room: I had the best tablemates at dinner. I dined with Pat, Linda, Momma, Joe, Kay, Dave, Eric/Neal, JoAnn and Vicki at a round table for 10 (table 134). Everyone hit it off. Kudos to maitre d' Tri for his instincts. We were usually the last table to leave the late main seating because we were having so much fun. We were attended to by (an overworked) Lucman as our waiter and Dody as his assistant. Our headwaiter was Komang. All did a very fine job. I thought the food was quite tasty -- a good variety prepared well and presently nicely. My favorite was the rack of lamb and quail combo. In the 10 nights, only one item was sent back by anyone at the table. That says it all. I had very good eggs benedict there a couple times for breakfast. The menu is the same every morning. Lunches were long and lazy, enjoyed with other new acquaintances. There was a nice variety in the lunch menus.
Pinnacle Grille: Manager Mark and his team of Peter H. and Oscar provided a stellar nexus of service, food and ambiance. I had the tasting menu – six courses, and a different wine with each course. The charge was $49.99. The restaurant has beautiful Bulgari china and Ridel crystal. Special Westerhoff silver and Italian linens completed the setting. The staff and chefs are allowed time for individual service and preparation. The expertly prepared food featured northwest ingredients, and the thoughtful wine pairings were from the same region. As a smoker, I appreciated being allowed to repair to the Explorers Lounge for a cigarette between courses. Peter H. trained in Eastern Europe as a waiter and it shows. He didn't miss a trick (before getting into computers I had worked in fine dining for 12 years). I'd highly recommend this experience.
Lido Dining: I usually only had breakfast from the Lido. The food was good with a wide selection that was the same every day, including a very nice fruit selection. I lunched in the Lido a couple of times when the menu was better than the one in the Rotterdam. There was a wide selection that varied every day, and a good salad bar. I was impressed with the live orchids on the tables. There was usually a staff member present at the iced tea and coffee area to pour your beverage. There were lots of sumptuous dessert selections (which I avoided) including an excellent bread pudding (I had just a taste).
I ordered room service every morning for coffee, and once for a full breakfast. As I am a sound sleeper, I wrote 'please call when you are on the way' at the top of my order. I was awakened each morning by 'Good morning Mr. Scott, we are on the way with your tray'. If that's not living, I don't know what is. Needless to say they received generous tips.
Cesar and Dan (Oceans Bar) and Marife (Explorers Lounge & Lido pool) are the best. I'm still amazed how they learn your name so quickly, and are constantly in a good mood. They are professionals who are an asset to HAL.
I had three experiences with the front desk. One was exceptionally good, one not so good and one very bad. On the first formal night, I called around 11:30 a.m. to see if there was somewhere on the ship I could purchase a boutonnière. I was told ‘no.' At 2:30 p.m., I went to my cabin for a siesta and a boutonnière had magically appeared (I later found out those were for suite passengers, but an exception was made for me.) That was the exceptionally good service. For the not-so-good, see 'plumbing' below. Very bad: JoAnn gave me a very hard time when I needed a hotel room due to the ship's late arrival back in Norfolk and my subsequent flight change (I never saw her smile the whole cruise; she sat behind her desk scowling at the computer and guests). Captain van der Loos' gracious letter of apology clearly stated anyone needing a room would get one. I was able to show her my new boarding pass, and I completed an updated disembarkation/immigration form, but American was having difficulty getting an email to the ship.
Two of my dinner companions were driving home and received the hotel vouchers without question. Why it was such a problem for me I do not know. JoAnn insisted I had to pay for it myself and then get reimbursed. I already had to pay the $100 airline change fee and submit it for reimbursement. I didn't think I should have to finance all of HAL's expenses for the breakdown. I eventually lied and claimed I had no money (I had plenty) for a hotel, in order for her to produce the letter to the Marriott.
Half Moon Cay was nice, although I enjoyed tendering (first time) more than the island. We had rough seas, which made tendering an adventure in itself. I did not partake of the BBQ. Captain van der Loo had a rough day as we were not able to anchor, and he had to keep the Maasdam in position using the thrusters.
In St. Thomas I did a little shopping (no purchases this time) and then the Kon Tiki party-boat excursion. They are exactly what they bill themselves to be: a party boat with very strong rum punch (self-served and unlimited.) and excellent steel drum music. There was dancing, line dancing and a limbo contest. No one was forced to participate. We cruised around the bay gawking at the mega-yachts, then stopped for an hour at Honeymoon Beach. We floated over a coral formation and they opened the glass bottom of the boat. We were treated to nice views of fish while they were being fed. I'd highly recommend this tour. A good time was had by all (perhaps too good by some).
Antigua made me appreciate how good we Americans have it. On my last visit I had taken a guided tour around the island. This time I was waitlisted to get on the helicopter tour to Montserrat, as they were contracted to another cruise line. I was not successful. I walked up to a large basilica that could be seen from the ship. The level of poverty saddened me. There was raw sewage in the gutters. I witnessed several people urinating in public. There were few sidewalks and dangerous traffic. The basilica was interesting (started in 1803 and completed in 1815, and currently under renovation). There was an intriguing cemetery adjacent, but it was filled with homeless people and I thought it was best to give them their space.
St. Maarten was the opposite of Antigua -- very clean and friendly. I took the (non-HAL) Lord Sheffield sailing tour. We sailed to the northern tip of the island, to Los Hermosa Resort, on a 73-foot, twin-mast sailing ship for an hour of swimming and snorkeling. Captain Rob and his crew were excellent. Beers and punch were plentiful and refilled constantly. Delicious ribs were cooked onboard. I'd highly recommend their tour. There were eight ships in port and it looked like a parking lot. The Maasdam was the most beautiful ship of all in port that day. We tendered far out in the bay next to the Christina O.
I had been to San Juan before so all I did in the limited time available was visit Puerto Rico Drugs and Marshall's to get a tie for the second (surprise) informal night. Hint: Take a cab up and walk down. There's pretty architecture reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans, only painted up in pastels.
Bingo boy Troy, as he bills himself, needs to clean up his act. His genitalia jokes are very tacky and un-HAL. I don't know where they found him but he should be thrown back.
I only saw a couple of the shows. The Vegas-style shows utilize lip-synching, which is not to my liking. Mark Newsome (I think that was his name) was funny and entertaining. We had a female vocalist (the name escapes me) who performed a nice variety of songs and is most likely the only Filipino-Irish yodeler on the planet. I thoroughly enjoyed the Champagne Strings in the Explorers Lounge every night after dinner. The Indonesian crew show was the best.
There was one plumbing mishap I was aware of. The first night at around 11 p.m., I stopped back at my cabin and found a note saying the water would be off the next day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. As I wanted to stay up late and sleep in, I called the front desk to see if there was an alternate spot that I could have my shower in the morning. I was told no. I later found out from my tablemates I could have used the spa showers. I appreciate that the ship does require maintenance, but they could at least be truthful about alternate shower locations. I consider myself lucky, though, compared to some of the other plumbing horror stories.
It was quite warm in the Rotterdam Dining Room (we kept out menus and used them as fans) on the nights we were in the Caribbean. It was more tolerable when we were farther north. My cabin was OK only because I brought a fan. I heard one little old lady, scantily clad in short-shorts and a sleeveless tee, complaining it was freezing (put something on, dear).
We had mild seas with gentle rocking until the last night, when we encountered 30-foot seas and gale force winds. This created lots of wild pitching, lots of crashing and booming. I was airborne more than once while trying to pack. Glasses, ice bucket and toiletries where tossed to the floor during the night. I enjoy rough seas, but felt sorry for the ones who don't.
We lost an engine on the way to San Juan. Captain van der Loo kept us as well informed as could be expected. He was genuinely apologetic for the trouble. He hosted a ship-wide open bar for two hours to say 'sorry'. It was no problem for me, as it extended my cruise by 10 hours and added a sense of adventure. It has been talked about a lot in other threads so I'll stop here.
As I was staying overnight in Norfolk, I was in the final group, #32. We were called about 7:15 p.m. and disembarked without incident. I have never cleared customs so quickly. They weren't checking anyone, just collecting the slips as quickly as possible. The shuttle bus to the Marriott was waiting and we were whisked away. Check-in at the Marriott was a breeze, thanks to Ashley and Rob. I had dinner at Jillian's with Kay and Joe from our table -- good wings, onion rings and a pitcher of beer along with very dry burgers.
Will I ever sail HAL again? Possibly. There were so many good things about this cruise. Things happen, and it's not the problem itself, but how the problem is handled that is important to me. JoAnn (keep in mind she is an officer) handled the hotel issue very poorly. I will have to think about sailing again with a company that would leave me stranded after a mechanical breakdown.
This was our third, and worst, cruise with HAL. In order to open the casino and on-board shops early (according to HAL) the ship left Antigua five hours before the originally scheduled departure time, meaning that my wife and I could not take the ferry to Montserrat for the day - which was the main reason for booking this particular cruise.
We have noticed that HAL is becoming more "Carnivalised" - more interested in selling you drinks and land tours than leaving you alone to enjoy your cruise and do what you want. We won't be sailing with HAL again.
This was a combination Christmas/New Year sailing that was not part of the regular schedule departing from Norfolk, Virginia. It was very overpriced, almost three times a normal priced cruise, even those at Christmas. Because of this, we expected some very special decorations, food etc. but saw none. The food was not as good as I was expecting with all the good choices coming on one night. The coffee was terrible at dinner but was better on the rest of the ship. We were unable to find late night coffee or much of anything else. We were expecting great service but did not receive it. Our waiter did not appear to understand English (the same problem we had with many of the other staff), had no personality and could not get our group's orders to the table at one time. On two occasions, two people received dinner when the rest of the group was finishing their dinners. This made us late for any entertainment as we had to wait for them to finish. Several couples in our group decided to eat from the buffet or room service rather than deal withthis waiter. This prompted complaints on my part and finally we were assigned a new waiter who was better and more to our liking. Room service had only cheese and crackers as munchies. We are used to having drinks and snacks while dressing for dinner.
Our cabin was very small. We had an oceanview but the window was so cloudy that we has trouble seeing out of it. We wanted a balcony but they were not in our price range. There was no refrigerator and the TV was very dark. The beds were lumpy and uncomfortable. Cleanliness was sporadic. We were late departing as many of these cruises are. We were told it was weather related but we found out later that there had been engine trouble on the previous cruise which made them late and some cruises had engine trouble with lateness after ours. We could not go to the private island because we were running late. We were given a $100 credit for this. It was very upsetting because the some of the activities were only found on this one stop. The stores onboard had a very limited selection and the members of the group bought very little. The Purser's desk and Shore Excursion desk personnel were incapable of helping with any problems we had. They had an uncaring attitude. Again, I didn't think they understood English very well The entertainment was not up to standards of any cruise line and we left without seening the end of most shows. Two of our group were smokers and they were never notified where the smoking areas were. It was always not where they were at the time. The one good point I have to make was about the children's program. We had a six year old with us and he was always excitied about the activities. They were only scheduled for certain times, not all day and evening. I felt that because this was a cruise that was not on the regular schedule that the staff was brought in from other cruises and did not know hou to work together. Many of them told us this as an apology for the problems we had. This is an older ship that was long past due for a refurbishing. All of the upholstered furniture and carpeting was stained and getting shabby. I understand that there was a four day "wet dock" after we returned to pretty it up. If so, we should have seen a reduction in price. I have sailed many other cruise lines but this was the first Holland America ship. I was really looking forward to top notch service, food, entertainment etc. (for which HAL is known) but I was very dissapointed.
I have two comments.
First of all, HAL has changed its tipping policy to automatically adding them to your bill. I had cruised with them twice before and in my opinion, the service has suffered greatly because of this. No longer do the waiters or stewards have to be friendly to "earn" their tips. I overheard many other passengers mentioning the same topic.
And lastly, our return was delayed almost 10 hours causing many to miss their connecting flights. They said that they made two attempts to fix the cause of the delay, an engine that broke down. However I later found that this ship has had engine problems for many weeks before my cruise and in reading I see that it is still having the same problem and late return months later. Is profit so important to HAL that they continue to limp along and inconvenience cruisers instead of taking the time to permantly repair the engine???
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside.an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. This was our 17th cruise and second on HAL.
The ship is probably not the right one for the trip. They need a faster ship to cover the transit time, on time. The first four sailing from Norfolk have returned 4, 3, 5, and 2.5 hours later respectively than the scheduled 8am arrival. The long sail from St Thomas, the last port, to Norfolk, at 19.5 knots just cannot be done in time if any little ripple in the seas or wind occurs, and it usually does. As a result the ship does not leave until, typically 7 or 8pm when departure is scheduled for 5pm. In fact, no one can get aboard until, typically, 3pm, and many several hours later. Knowing the variability of arrival, we monitored it via a local webcam at http://www.wvec.com/cams/norfolk.html. It did not arrive until 1pm on Feb 21.
There were shuttle busesfrom a parking area available, or porters at the curb for those arriving by car. The terminal, at Norfolk's maritime museum, Nauticus, adjacent to the battleship Wisconsin, does a good job of handling inbound and outbound passengers despite the fact that it is not really a cruise ship terminal. Once we entered Nauticus our cabin assignment was checked and we were assigned a boarding number. We arrived at 3:15pm and received number 34. We were then given free admission to the museum, and HAL had sodas available. It was very interesting touring the museum and the battleship and made the time pass quickly. Perhaps not so for those who had arrived at the pier at noon. At 5, (4 hours after arrival), the suite passengers and the first boarding numbers were called for embarkation processing. It only took about two hours for them to board all the passengers, a remarkable feat. No credit card was necessary at check-in, as they provided a form and simply asked that we present it at the purser's office within 24 hours with the credit card information. I had been informed by phone that my cabin guarantee was an upgrade from Cat H to Cat E cabin 728. In fact, we found out at check-in that our cabin was 782, and the bags had the wrong cabin on them. We were very happy to find that in the 3 ½ hours between the time we dropped them off and the time we got to our cabin, they had corrected the bag tags and all luggage was in the cabin. Nicely done! The lifeboat drill was delayed until 10:15am on the first day at sea due to the later boarding.
The cabin was on A deck, the lowest passenger deck, exactly amidships on the port side, and overlooked the pier. At 182 sq ft, it was ample, with convertible twin beds, a room desk/dressing table, with 8 large drawers, a sofa bed, adjustable height coffee table...perfect for room service.and a hassock. There were four closets, and the bath had a full tub. The only amenities were shampoo and lotion, other than soap. The TV carries no local TV in any port other than CNN, but does have nearly first run movies running on two channels, TNT movies, and some series like ER. There are the usual port information and cruise video channels, and the ship channel that alternated between maps of the voyage, weather, and ship's information and deck plans. Room service is available 24/7, but with a limited menu at night.
I had preordered, by phone call to HAL customer service in Seattle, a liter of Beefeater's which came with an obligatory 3 cans of tonic water. It was not there on arrival, but was delivered the next morning and there were very willing to exchange the tonic for some soft drinks my wife preferred. We also packed a case of wine in a wine shipping box, and checked it in with baggage. It arrived fine. Those attempting to carry hard liquor on board had it confiscated at the pier. Most had gotten the word of this recent change in HAL policy. All liquor purchased in the onboard shop and in all ports was gathered at the gangway and stored till the last afternoon when it was delivered to the cabin. We asked the cabin steward to keep one bottle of champagne iced and to provide a second bucked ice daily. He not only quickly accommodated us, but also provided two champagne glasses.
Since we had requested second sitting, fortunately since we didn't get aboard till a little after 7pm, I checked the diagram outside the dining room on deck 8 and found that our table was for two, as requested, table 139. I can say, without hesitation, that this probably the best dining team we have ever had. The headwaiter was present constantly, the waiter was very efficient, and the assistant waiter outdid them all. If we wanted to try a second entrée, they brought just the meat or fish without the side dishes. On lobster night, we requested two tails and the plates arrived with two tails on them, and the waiter later walked around offering more from a platter.
Every night among the dessert choices was a flambé, which included bananas foster, crepe suzette, pear flambé, baked Alaska with cherries jubilee on top, and so on. Entrees included such items as halibut, grilled prawns, rack of lamb, filet mignon twice, crab legs, chateaubriand, orange roughy, lamb chops, Dutch recipes on Dutch night, lobster tails, cod, salmon, and prime rib. On the night we left St. Maarten, they also held a BBQ at the Lido Pool with steaks and king salmon from 6-8pm and offered happy hour prices on select beer and shots.
Breakfast in the Lido includes the usual mix of fruits, cereals and cafeteria hot table, but also includes eggs to order and an omelet station. Staff were eager to assist with trays and help with beverages. In a few days we noticed some even called us by name. Lunch in the Lido has standard cafeteria fare, but included such items as a stir-fry station on several days, pizza, and a sandwich station for made to order sandwiches. By the Lido Pool is a station open from 11-5pm offering hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken breast, and a hot table with tacos, burritos and fajita fixings. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room is only on the upper level, on deck 8. The dining room offers eggs benedict every day I was happy to discover. Casual dinner is also available in the Lido. As you may surmise from this summary, we were very pleased with the food on the Maasdam, with one exception.
On "Dutch Night" we opted for a reservation in the Pinnacle Grill, the featured specialty restaurant, with a $20 per person surcharge ($10 on sailing day). We had a reservation for 8:30pm and arrived a few minutes early. Forty minutes after we were seated they finally took our order. By then the wine steward, who had held the wine tasting the first day at sea, had opened the wine I had brought to dinner and helped himself to a large glass without asking instead of the tasting cup. Butter arrived 20 minutes after the bread. While water from a pitcher was adequate in the regular dining room, the Pinnacle poured bottled water, at extra charge, without asking. An hour and 20 minutes later, still only on the second course, I tried to order another bottle of wine. They were out of 15 wines. I went back to the cabin and brought another of my own. The presentation was fine and the food was good, but no better than the dining room food. There were huge time gaps between courses, and they tried to explain it away that every order was prepared from scratch to order and takes time. The restaurant was less than half full by that time and that excuse doesn't fly. Gracefully, they said they wouldn't charge the corkage fee for my wine because of the slow service.
We enjoy dancing before dinner and after shows. The Ocean Bar on Deck 8 each evening had a trio playing traditional dance music, and before dinner hot appetizers were brought to each table. The Crows Nest on Deck 11 had a solo musician who played danceable music until about midnight, when the DJ took over, playing until ?? It was not very crowded at any hour. Show entertainment was a weakest link. The singers, dancers, costumes, and production were far inferior to almost every other ship we have sailed. Fortunately there were only three production shows in 10 days. Other nights offered singers (Gail Nelson with Broadway experience, and Bill Burns a very talented impressionist and singer), comedians and variety artists, and an Indonesian crew talent show. Every evening there were two shows, one after each dinner seating, except on the last night both shows were before dinner.
I was happy to find that HAL was not aggressive in pushing the daily tropical drinks. They were more visible on a few days, but nothing like we have experienced on other lines. The deck waiters circulated with iced tea or lemonade daily in the afternoon, and high tea is available.
Dress code was as follows: Day 1 Casual Day 2 At Sea, First Formal night, and it was widely observed Day 3 After Half Moon Cay, Casual Day 4 At Sea, Second Formal night Day 5 San Juan, Casual Day 6 St Maartin, Casual Day 7 Antigua, Casual Day 8 St Thomas, Informal (coat and tie/cocktail dress) Day 9 At Sea, 3rd Formal Night Day 10 At Sea, Casual
The photographers were available for portraits on formal nights and there were essentially no lines, amazingly. On the first formal night, the Captain's Welcome Aboard Dinner, they had a receiving line leading into the pre-dinner reception, and there were two portrait stations everyone passed through, and one snapshot with the Captain. They did offer a free cruise video if you purchased four 8x10 pictures during the cruise, and we took advantage of it, as we could see from the video which was run each day on TV that we were also in some of the shots. The video was a $34 value.
Port Days: Half Moon Cay. We arrived about 1 hour later than scheduled due to the late departure from Norfolk. The first tenders left at 1245. At 1:45 we went down for tender tickets. At 3pm we got on a tender. We returned on the last tender at 5:30. The process was so slow that the Rotterdam lent several tenders to help shuttle passengers. A strictly personal observation was that a more elderly passenger make up made for slower movement into and out of tenders. As usual we enjoyed the beach and snorkeling (I bring my own gear), and there were many more fish where the floats met the breakwater than I had ever seen there. The water is so clear you can see fish in thigh-deep water without a mask. They even nipped at my wife's knees, so I suspect they have been fed there.
The sea day between these two ports was Fat Tuesday, and the dinner show was Party Gras. Advertised as a Mardi Gras from Bangkok to Calgary to Brazil, it turned out to be their standard show. However, at 11pm in the Crow's Nest they held a costume Mardi Gras Party with Hurricanes at happy hour prices. Having chanced they would have some celebration we brought masks about 20 sets of beads and two umbrellas. My wife Karen won the "Miss Mardi Gras" for original costume: Her formal beads, feathered mask, and an open parasol. She won a bottle of champagne, and I received a silver 8x10 picture frame just for participating. Lots of fun, with dancing snacks afterward. Best crowd of the cruise in the disco.
San Juan. We arrived at 7:30am on Ash Wednesday, and US Immigration held mandatory immigration checks beginning at 7:30. Lines moved quickly. The ship was cleared about 9:30am. We went back to bed for nap and left the ship at 11:40. We took the free trolley bus from the stop across the street from the pier. We rode past El Morro, which we had visited on other trips and rode into Old San Juan to a stop near the old Cathedral. We were in time for noon Mass and distribution of ashes. We then walked to Hard Rock Café, only to find it closed for street construction. We found there was now a Senor Frog's in San Juan, behind the Windham Hotel a block from the pier, and we walked there to enjoy lunch, stand on a few chairs, and have the usual raucous time there. We walked from there to the Dept of Information building on the waterfront and partook of the free Puerto Rican rum drinks, and then walked back to the ship. Underway at 6pm.
St Maarten/Martin. We arrived in one of our favorite ports at 7am and the ship was cleared at 8am. We went ashore at 9pm, rented a car at the end of the pier with no reservation, a Toyota Camry with a/c for $45 all day. Due back by 5:45pm. We drove past the airport to see Maho Beach where the planes pass very low overhead, past Simpson Beach and a very resorty area, and found Cupacoy Beach. The beach is down a stairway along sandstone cliffs, with sandy beach. It is, however, clothing optional despite being on the Dutch side, just short of the boundary from the French side. Water was affected by wind, but the snorkeling was good. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and drinks available from a vender at the top of the cliff. We left in time for lunch and drove into Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin. As we have been here on Sundays before, when everything was closed, we were looking forward to lunch in a French sidewalk café and some shopping. We parked in the free public lot, and ate at La Vie en Rose, complete with french bread and wine. However, French St. Martin is using the Euro, which is currently $1.25US to 1 Euro, and things are expensive. They don't make much effort to cater to tourist trade. There is a flea market across the street and we purchased T-shirts for the kids there. Then on to Grand Case beach, where I had previously seen many large starfish last year. The beach is deserted and sandy, but without facilities except in the waterfront restaurants. Unfortunately, only one starfish this time. Then we drove on to Orient Beach and spent an hour there before heading back at 5pm to Philipsburg. We returned the car at 5:40pm and asked them to shuttle us back into town, which they did. Shops were on the verge of closing, despite the fact that Maasdam and the Radisson ship were in port till 11pm. Some folks went back out to casino's after dinner. We did catch the Guavaberry Emporium in time, and on the main shopping street purchases our liquor for several dollars per bottle below the prices aboard Maasdam in the duty free shop. Cigarettes were also $1 per carton cheaper there. Fortunately for me our favorite jewelry shops were closed.
Antigua. Arrived at 7am. We had purchased tickets to the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Excursion and reported to the Rembrandt Lounge at 8:40. We left at 9am, and walked a short distance to the Tamiami Catamaran, which made about a 30 minute run to Paradise Reef in deep water. Water entry was from the boat into deep water, so this is an excursion for experience snorkelers. There reef coral and the fish were impressive. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we reboarded and set sail for Runaway Beach where they anchored in 10 feet of water and some chose to swim to the beach. My wife does snorkel but the bar was opened and never-ending strong and tasty rum punch was available, as well as soft drinks and other liquors. After about 30 minutes we left and returned to the pier at 1230pm. There is a duty free mall at the end of the pier in St John's. While me wife napped I did succumb to the lure of a nice ruby, which they mounted as a pendant on gold chain at a jewelry shop for my wife's birthday present. We sailed at 6pm.
St Thomas. Arrived at 7am, berthed at the pier at Havensight, and Immigration checks again at 7:30am. We were permitted to leave the ship as soon as we individually had been cleared. We were on the pier at 8:20 and on the way in a taxi, $16 for two, to Red Hook. We caught the 9am ferry, $3 per person each way, to Cruz Bay on St John's. The ride takes only 13 minutes. We took a taxi, $4 per person, from the pier to Trunk Bay, National Park ($4 per person admittance), arriving about 9:35. No crowds yet. There is in underwater snorkeling trail marked leading to an island where there was plenty of coral and plenty of fish. I really enjoyed it. The park also has lockers, showers, restrooms, and concessions, including equipment rental. We caught a taxi at 11:30 back to Cruz Bay and took the noon ferry back to St Thomas. We arrived back at the Havensight mall a little after 12:30 and had plenty of time to shop before returning to the ship by 2pm. The ship sails at 3pm for the long trip home. Two ladies, arriving late, after lines were cast off, reportedly were fined about $3,000. There was a sailaway party on deck, the only one of the cruise. The cruise director didn't think the passengers would be interested. We would have been. It was in the 80's and HOT. In fact, we had no rain the entire cruise in any port.
By the next morning a weather front 1,000 miles wide had intervened along our route while East of Cuba. By mid day 12-15 foot waves, with some swells to 25 feet and 32 knots of wind from the north caused the ship to plow along, banging head on into the waves. The water in the pools was leaping out and the pools were closed. It was still in the 70's and partly sunny. The Mariners Society repeaters reception was held at noon in the Rembrandt Lounge in the bow of the ship, and it was all people could do to walk up to receive recognition and a photo. Many of the people recognized for many cruises on HAL were elderly and having a rough time moving around. It was a relaxed day, however, and great movies were running in the theatre and on TV, such as Seabicuit, Under the Tuscan Sun, and others. I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, too. Dancing that evening was a bit tricky due to the motion of the ocean.
By the morning of the last day at sea, the weather had calmed, the water was like glass as we passed the Carolinas, and weather was still in the upper 60's and partly sunny. By the last day the ship was out of wines, bagels, lemons and limes. Luggage did not have to be out until 1am. We celebrated my wife's birthday at dinner.
We were scheduled to arrive at 8am, but the captain had announced the day before that we'd be in about 10:30, which was right on target. This allowed a leisurely wakeup call, and breakfast at 9am. Weather was 60 and cloudy with a forecast of increasing wind. At 1045 the first customs call was made. We were permitted to remain in our cabins until debarkation. The first debarkation group was not called until noon, and we were called about 2:40pm, in the last group because we lived locally and were driving. While no lunch had been planned, without announcement they opened the Lido about 1pm and dredged up prime rib and salads, much to me excitement!
All in all, a great trip, outstanding food, wonderfully friendly and helpful staff, a low key cruise director who was as genuine in person as he was when he was "on", and we are booked for the next one, an 11 day Maasdam in December. There is talk that they may consider replacing Maasdam with a faster ship by then. I hope they don't shorten the St. Thomas stop, as it is just long enough to do anything meaningful.