This was our third trip to Mexico with Holland America Line in the last five years... and it was the best.
It featured ports in Baja California unique to HAL: Santa Rosalia and Loreto. Both small towns on the Gulf of California with a rich history.
This was our first trip on the Ryndam and it is a fine ship. Although just recovering from a trip with many passengers and crew being ill, the ship had been throulgy sanitized and there wss no outbreak this trip.
The crew was very friendly.. one server in the Lido Cafe greeted us each breakfast by singing, "Oh What a Beautfiul Morning" Sometimes the passengers joined in!
HAL is noted as being a senior citizens line...(I'm one of them) but on this trip there were more children than on the other HAL trips I had taken.
One thing I could do without. The constant photographs being taken by the ship's photographer d the promotion of sale items aboard from jewelry to watches. You got a flier under your door practically every morning with "Big Discounts Today Only." Yeah!
The ship has a link to a satellite and you canget internet service.. although pricy. I paid $100 for 250 minutes of time, but I was posting images to my web site every day. You can view the results at:
I am 55 years old and have been on 30 cruises on all of the major lines. My wife and I generally take about three cruises a year; this was our fourth to Mexico in the past 14 months. We have done more than 10 Mexican Riviera cruises. The other recent ships were the Star Princess out of Los Angeles and the Statendam and the Mercury (January 9, 2004) out of San Diego. Since we live in San Diego, it's an easy way to take a vacation. Many people on this cruise were from San Diego and booked the last minute, as we did. We all got great prices.
Check-in was very organized and professional. HAL allows passengers to fill in the various forms via the Internet. This really speeds things up. We arrived at the pier around 11:30 a.m. and were on the ship in 10 minutes. Holland America allows passengers to board the ship immediately rather than waiting in a crowded terminal. They asked passengers to wait until 1:30 p.m. to go to their cabins, but we were free to have lunch and tour the ship. Since this wasa twin to the Statendam, we knew our way around.
The ship had a major dry dock two years ago and was in excellent condition. The crew does a nice job of keeping things very clean and orderly. There were a few glitches with elevators and I heard a few complaints about the hard beds and scratchy bath towels. But you hear this on most cruises.
We booked a guarantee and were upgraded to an outside cabin on the main deck, very far aft. HAL is known for larger cabins and this one was good sized. It had room for a full-size sofa, a bathtub and plenty of closet space. The room had no refrigerator and a tiny 13-inch TV. The TV did have inputs for those who want to attach a camera. There was only one 110-volt electrical outlet in the room and the TV was plugged into it. We asked the cabin attendant for an extension cord and he provided one.
There was a safe in each room but I didn't like the way it operated. Usually on a cruise I like to lock my wallet, credit cards, and all valuables in the safe. But to open and close this safe, you had to use a credit card. There was no charge to use the safe, but it read the code on your credit card to work. That meant you had to carry a credit card around or leave it in your cabin. I discovered that my Auto Club card worked too. So I was able to lock all my credit cards and cash and just kept my Auto Club card in a drawer.
There was a considerable amount of vibration when the ship came in to port or shifted into reverse. Others in the middle of the ship did not feel it as much. But if you get an aft cabin, you sure know when you arrive in a port at 7 a.m. There was a little vibration in the restaurant too, but it caused no problems.
We ate most of the meals in the main dining room. First seating was at 6 p.m. and second at 8:15. There is talk that HAL may try a new system where passengers can sign up for one of four dinner times. The food at breakfast and dinner was always excellent. The assortment and quality were first rate. The waiters were great and eager to please. They willingly went back to the kitchen for a second entree or an extra dessert. They serve about six entrees each night. One was a quality beef dish (filet mignon, New York steak, prime rib, etc). Other options are chicken, fish, vegetarian, pasta, and lamb. Soups were very good. The portions were a little smaller than on my last cruise, but no one went away hungry. Desserts were wonderful, with a wide assortment including sugar-free items.
One small problem at dinner -- on previous HAL cruises, you could always get a New York steak, roasted chicken breast, Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail at any dinner, even if it was not on the menu.) Apparently they have stopped this. I asked the headwaiter about this and he confirmed it. But he said if I asked him in advance, they would make something if I wanted it.
The Lido Buffet was typical. Breakfast was fine the one time I ate there. But in my opinion, lunch was just fair. They had a nice salad bar and you could get fresh stir-fry or pasta. But the buffet line items were tasteless. Frankly, most cruise ship buffets are not that good. They had pizza, hamburgers, and very good home made ice cream.
We ate at the Pinnacle Grill one night and as usual had a great meal. Service, the steaks and desserts were as good as any fine steak house. The $20 charge was well worth it. Tips are extra. Bring cash, as they will not allow tips here to be put on the bill. One night they had a special wine tasting dinner. The extra charge was $45.
There are rumors floating around the Internet that HAL is charging extra for certain food. They do not. Not only is cappuccino free at dinner and in the Java Cafe, but ice cream, hot appetizers in the bars, popcorn at the movie theater, iced tea, and lemonade are still free.
The entertainment was quite good. They had two big production shows with a cast of about 12 performers. They also featured a juggler, magician and comedian. Fortunately, they have eliminated the passenger "Talent Show" and added a "Rockin-Rolldies" show where passengers lip-sync to oldies. It's quite good and fun to watch.
The dress code seemed more relaxed than on my recent Mercury cruise. Fewer than half the men wore a tux on the two formal nights. On the informal night, men needed only a jacket. And in a surprise to me, they never banned jeans in the dining room for dinner on casual nights.
The ports were designed for three experiences. Cabo is a big resort town with lots of shopping, bars and tourists. There were three ships in port (The Mercury and Diamond Princess) and it was very crowded. Most people said shops would not "bargain" until very late in the day when the ships were leaving.
Pichilingue (La Paz) is what Cabo was 20 years ago before the big hotels and condos popped up. La Paz was very nice. It is a 25 minute bus ride from the port and they had air conditioned buses to take people into town. Each bus had a local student as a host to answer questions and talk about the area. The town of La Paz was very clean with few beggars and no one tried to force you to buy things. They had a great waterfront with a Carlos ‘n' Charlie's.
Loreto was nothing more than a dusty throwback village with little to see or do. Loreto has a nice little pier for tenders but vacant hotels and shops line the area. It is a 10 minute walk to the tourist area. There is one street full of typical junk shops and a small church.
As usual, the cruise down from San Diego was fairly smooth and uneventful until the captain abruptly stopped the ship to investigate a strange object in the water. It looked like an overturned boat from a distance. They sent a tender to investigate and it was actually a bloated, dead whale. The sudden stop caused a small stir among the passengers and even some crew members.
Heading north on the last day the seas were rougher. The 25 foot swells and our speed of 19 knots really rocked the ship. Many people missed dinner that night. We even arrived 45 minutes late back to San Diego.
Debarkation was smooth but late in starting. The first number to debark was called at 9:10 a.m. Debarkation usually starts around 8:30. Cruise officials now encourage you to relax in your cabin until your number is called. This is far better than waiting in a crowded lounge.
The age of passengers on this cruise was quite a bit younger than the previous two Holland America cruises I have taken. Since it was the start of spring break, there were many families with kids of all ages. Most were very well behaved and the younger ones seemed to like Club HAL.
Tipping as usual was confusing since HAL (for now) has a "no tipping required" policy. Most people tipped as with other cruise lines. Some surely "stiffed" the waiters and stateroom attendants. Talk is that HAL will start charging a $10 a day fee as most other ships now do for tips.
All in all it was a nice cruise. Be sure to check out my photo gallery under "Frank's Ryndam".
E-mail me at Fblack_111@yahoo.com if you have any questions.
This is my 3rd cruise and I decided to give HAL a go since I wanted to avoid the usual mad rush to Florida that most people tend to go to during March Break. It paid off taking the long flight from Montreal to San Diego to get onboard the Ryndam for what would be 7 days of total relaxation.
The early boarding provided by HAL is excellent. With our other 2 cruises that we have sailed on - getting onboard those ships was not as smooth sailing as how HAL has it organised. Maybe because Ryndam is a smaller ship and therefore less passengers this was the reason for how smoothly it went. Also the ship wasn't fully booked - so possibly another reason.
Our outside stateroom that we booked was quite comfortable. We had a bathtub in our washroom which was different - but it was never used. Too busy to take a soak in the tub on our cruise <lol>.
We ate in the dining room at the later seating. I am a diabetic - insulin dependent - so it took a few days to adjust to eating thislate. Not sure if I'd book the late seating - but it meant that you had more time to lay around in sun and be able to find a free deck chair (had problems on sea days trying to find one that wasn't "reserved" - so often ended up at the front of the ship lying on a deck chair pad).
The entertainment on the ship wasn't bad. It kept us entertained until we would go up to the Crows Nest to dance away the rest of the night (and work off our dinner!!). The only bad entertainment was the magician - I am a Canadian - and I root for anyone Canadian - but the magician wasn't the greatest - the fact that he was hoping around on one foot due to a sprained ankle didn't help probably. <lol> The movies that were available onboard were great as well. We only saw a movie once - again - too much to see and do.
The ports of call on the Sea of Cortez cruise weren't what most people probably would like (Loreto and La Paz) - but I enjoyed them since they were not "Americanised" yet. The only port that had become touristy was the last port in Cabo San Lucas - supposably it was only a small fishing town about 5 years ago - you would never know it today. Sad.
While on board we renewed our wedding vows with Captain Jan Smit and a few of his staff while a classical guitarist played in the background. We were hoping more would be renewing their vows along with us - but unfortunately we were the only ones which was abit of a disappointment. I have to admit I wish we had been married onboard a ship right from day one - very relaxed and different. Overall - it was a nice treat to remember our commitment to each other for now and for the future.
Now to the only dismal part of the cruise. The food unfortunately for me I found very salted. After about 3 days onboard I found I was experiencing swollen feet/ankles and could only get my feet into my Berkenstocks without too much pain and it made walking a wee bit uncomfortable for me (lower legs felt like tree stumps if you can imagine that feeling). Being a diabetic I was afraid my kidneys maybe were having problems - and by the 5th day I headed down to the infirmary. There I was told by the nurse that the food that was prepared on ships/restaurants tended to be more salty then what is prepared at home. She looked at my legs and told me that she'd seen worse and that once I got back on land I would be back to normal (which did happen). Since I'd brought some nice strappy shoes with me for dresses - it didn't make me feel too great stompy around in my gladiator like sandals. Next time I go on a cruise I will inquire about a low-salt diet - hopefully it will be better tasting and not too bland. This has never happened in the previous cruises - but it also was noted by the nurse that with the long distance we flew that probably helped towards the swelling.
On a good note - we are not gamblers - we took the plunge in purchasing some Win-A-Cruise Lottery tickets that were being sold. It was for a 7-day cruise for two for any Caribean cruise that HAL offers. Well, we won it! We were pretty shocked. I have to admit becaue of the salt issue - I was actually thinking I was all cruised out - and not wanting to go on one again - but we have gotten sucked in again. We have 18 months from the date we won the cruise to book it (outside of major holiday times). Not a bad deal for $20USD.
Hopefully this gives you a little bit of help in deciding about cruising on the Ryndam. The staff is excellent and I am glad to know that now HAL charging cruisers a tipping charge (the no tipping policy has changed now to $10/day/per person). We did tip a few of the staff - since they did such an excellent job and felt guilty for not tipping others that had done an excellent job as well. At least with this system being in place like other cruise lines do - hopefully all employees will share in the rewards.
BTW, the age of my husband and myself are 42 - incase you are wondering.
Happy cruising to all of you - be it 1st timers - or more experienced ones.
The Sea of Cortez intinerary offered by Holland America is an excellent week long getaway to the unspoiled part of Mexico. Sailing on the Ryndam was shear pleasure; the hospitality level on this ship is one of the highest that I have experienced in over twenty cruises...the crew and the senior officers, including the captain, were very much visable throughout the week.
The ship is not new, but well maintained and clean. The operational aspects of the cruise including the embarkation and debarkation were effortless; we really appreciated the early embarkation that Holland America now provides...we were allowed on board at 11:30 to have lunch and relax before going to our staterooms at 1:30......much better than sitting in a crowded terminal. I also applaud Holland America for taking the high road and not charging for items like ice cream and pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres. All in all this ship will provide an excellent experience at a very fair price!
ABOUT ME In my 20s and traveled with my mother. This was my third cruise.
Flew to Vancouver a day before. Took Alaska Airlines from east coast and was surprised and disappointed that such a long flight doesn't have TVs for in-flight entertainment. Then from Seattle to Vancouver it was only 20 minutes, don't know why you would want to drive this portion? The Vancouver airport had a ridiculously long immigration line, literally 100s of people. We found that taxis and tourists spots in Vancouver accept American dollars. I met a woman who arrived the day of the cruise and her luggage went directly to the ship from the airplane, but she didn't know that and was waiting by the conveyer belt for quite some time. Her roommate, who traveled separately, her luggage arrived long before she did for the same reason and made her believe her roommate was roaming around the ship, yet hadn't arrived.
HOTEL We stayed at the Days Inn Downtown which advertised as being across the street from the cruise dock, but was more like 3 blocks. I called them directly and got a better rate. The hotelis small but we were lucky to get one of the few rooms that faced the loud street, which was a fair size.
The hotel had a free shuttle to their sister property and to Stanley Park nearby. We were dropped off at the pedestrian entrance to the park which made for a 15minute walk to the information booth. The rose garden there was disappointing. The Aquarium was fantastic! Every half hour was a great show with the trainers. There is a shuttle in Stanley Park, but the wait seemed long, and we found if you actually know where you're going you can walk to a lot of the attractions. Unfortunately there are no direction signs or maps in the park as you're walking around. There were gorgeous huge blue hydrangea bushes throughout the park!
The day of our cruise we booked a morning sightseeing tour that drops you off at the cruise ship terminal with your luggage, how convenient! The town was beautiful, it should be called the garden city as every street had flowers on it! I definitely want to go back there. The first stop on the tour was Stanley Park to see the Totem Poles. Totem Poles are not meant to be maintained or kept up, yet these were the most beautiful poles we saw on our entire trip as they are still brightly painted. Go in the afternoon for the best sun.
BOARDING Checking in went pretty swiftly. After going through security, you walk into a small room, given a number and sit down with about 30 people. Then an agent comes around to see if you have all the necessary documents before she gives you permission to get on the very short line to check in. While in the big picture this may be helpful, but as I was fully ready with all documents in hand, I was annoyed that I had to wait for all the people seated before me to search through their bags as the agent told them they were missing something. After you check in, you move to the other side of the room where beverages are served and about 50 people were waiting. People were called to board the ship only by their number. The whole idea behind this system is that you're never standing in a long line. You can not register your credit card when you check in, instead you have to get in a long line with everyone else at the Front Office on the ship.
The ship left port late because there was a security breach at the Seattle airport and a number of passengers connecting from there to Vancouver were delayed. Personally I think if you're flying a long distance to catch a cruise, it's a good idea to consider arriving a day early for insurance. I met a couple who ended up arriving the 3rd day of the cruise (the 2nd day is at sea) and they had to take a water taxi from the airport to the ship and didn't look too happy.
CABIN We had inside cabin 606 on the Main Deck. There was a high step up into the bathroom which was easy to forget coming out. I noticed that the rooms across from us with an Oceanview had bathtubs and the room stewards really scrubbed them clean. Our room had curtains covering the wall which I felt only brought attention to the fact that we didn't have a window. Then there were curtains next to the foot of the bed that were only ornamental, meaning they can not be pulled to separate the beds from the sitting area. I've heard a lot of people say Alaska is the one place where they would pay extra for a balcony. Honestly the only day that matters is the days at sea and I didn't mind going to the outside decks. The sheets on the bed were incredibly hard. I'm not fussy about stuff like that, but I really felt you could use your pillow case as an exfoliation cloth for your face.
ENTERTAINMENT The welcome show had dancers who sang Motown songs and a banjo player. Later on they had a Moulin Rouge and Broadway shows which were good. The magician was amazing, unfortunately he started with a poor quality video of one of his acts and we were all wondering if there was actually going to be a live performer. The seats in the performance lounge look like couches but are actually quite hard.
ACTIVITIES I was excited about the movie theater that showed recent movies such as Chicago and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Obviously this is where all the teens were. They served great complimentary buttery popcorn! The spa offered lots of free fitness classes including one with a resistance band. The fee ones were pilates on a stability ball, kickbocking, and yoga. There had a good amount of fitness machines. On the days at sea they had lots of seminars on beauty and weight loss focused solely on promoting their products and services. Don't get sucked into the weight loss miracle where they wrap your body, which is somewhat painful, and claim you'll lose up to 8 inches for $300. Manicure $25, pedicure $40/40 minutes, tons of different types of massages and facials. Book as soon as you get on board as the first day at sea was sold out. I really enjoyed the onboard Naturalist slide show presentations about the wildlife. Bingo was big as the jackpot was $3000. Complimentary champagne is served at the art auctions.
FOOD I was disappointed at the small breakfast & lunch buffets in the Lido, which had very little for vegetarians. Plus it was incredibly slow as it's only 50% self-serve. Lunch in the dining room wasn't any better. But at dinner the waiter gave me a special Vegetarian menu and allowed me to choice my meals for the week ahead of time! Additionally, there was always a vegetarian option on the main menu, so occasionally I shamelessly had 2 entrees. I really appreciated this since RCL forces vegetarians to have the one dish assigned to them on the menu each day, if meat eaters get a choice of what they want to eat every day, so should I. Additionally I was really excited that they had tofu!
Lunch ends at 2pm, after that the only thing available is tacos, burgers, & salad. The desserts were not that great. There was a huge assortment of tasteless sugarfree desserts and sugarfree vanilla ice cream. If they told me something was tiramisu or cheesecake, it took a lot of imagination to believe them. The chewy cookies in the ice cream parlor were always good!
Our waiter had 4 tables, which was too many. Even though my table was always on time and ready to order, our meals were slowed down by the other tables. We had a 15 minutes wait between courses. If you skip the salad and soup courses, just show up an hour late literally because you can not get your entrée any earlier, apparently the kitchen is not ready yet. If you have late seating and want to eat early, go to the dining room anyway as there is a will call window for tables that remain empty. But the Lido has the same exact entrees served nicely to you. I believe salmon was always on the menu, along with halibut, herring, duck, veal, steak & chicken. The ship had their own salmon bake by the pool, but some people complained it was all bones. (I can't personally comment on this since as a vegetarian I obviously don't eat fish)
DRINKS I was disappointed that the only free beverage was ice tea, not lemonade. But at breakfast they made fantastic freshly squeezed orange juice. If only people would stop bringing their used empty glass and place them back on the tray with filled juice cups. The complimentary Java café had all kinds of coffee available, including unsweetened hot chocolate and chewy cookies. Every day there was high tea in a lounge for half an hour. Waiters come around with trays of appetizers and sweets to eat with your choice of tea. Once during the cruise was Dutch High Tea in the dining room where there was only one choice of tea and a full buffet of appetizers, sweets and my favorite chocolate covered strawberries. On the last day at sea, hot chocolate with your choice of liquor was served on the outside decks for a fee.
PEOPLE There were a few kids aged about 8-12 who could always be found in the pool. The majority of the passengers (maybe 75%) were seniors. My mother said this trip made her feel young as she saw how no one let their age or health stop them from traveling. The atmosphere was different on this ship as everyone said hi to one another as they walked down the hallway. There were a fair number of people who were doing this trip back to back in both directions. A large number of people were including Denali after the cruise.
STAFF The all male service crew was from Indonesia and the Philippines while the officers were from Holland, Canada, Australia, and Britain. They work on 1-year contracts. I was surprised that our cabin attendant had quickly memorized our names, as I know I couldn't memorize 20 Philippino names after one day. When you boarded there was someone there to personally take you to your room. In the Lido someone also carried your filled tray to your table. On formal night the tables had elegant white tablecloths and the chairs were covered too. I found everyone, except the front desk, to be extremely friendly.
SHIP My last cruise was on RCL AOS so this ship felt so much smaller. There are 2 small pools, 2 jacuzzis, and 2 tennis/volleyball/basketball courts covered in a net. The decks were always wet, even if hadn't rained, since they constantly wash the decks. I feel that all the puddles and staircases should have been dried daily. The library was in good shape and had a whole shelf of travel books on Alaska that you could check out and many recent magazines. Free postcards of the ship and stationary were also available there. Getting around the ship wasn't easy since the floors are referred to by name and NOT number, who thought of this? There was lots of outside deck viewing space on several levels. Besides the top deck, finding the outside decks was also tricky because the staircases are hidden and doors will be closed, but not locked. The wind outside was terrible! You really need a hooded jacket and gloves. The onboard shop had Alaskan Christmas ornaments, sweatshirts, salmon, and beautiful amber jewelry from the Baltic. Onshore I bought a red cotton jacket that had native white paintings on it that I guess it resembles a totem pole.
They constantly changed which level we got off the ship, even during the same day. One day the ramp was so steep even I had difficulty! Another day the entrance was on my floor but they blocked my hallway for security so I had to make a long detour to get to my room. We tendered twice and that was a fairly easy procedure as I had shore excursion tickets and the boats went back and forth regularly, even with only 2 passengers. Just before we left port, every day there were at least 2 names the loud speakers would call looking for, as I guess they didn't come back?
PRACTICAL ADVICE One photograph from the ship's photographers of yourself cost $22 because you're forced to buy the "free" leather frame with each picture. Since I put my pictures in an album, I didn't like this. On the formal night the captain took pictures with every single person! They sell 2 cruise videos. One produced onboard for $34 with no commentary but footage of people on board, available at the photo gallery. It highlights a few shore excursions, showed all the kids, and people taking formal pictures with the captain. The other video was made professionally of all the ports with commentary, available at the Shore Excursions desk. I had already bought the 2 Alaska videos available from HAL's website before I left, so I didn't get the latter one.
I was shocked that I was still able to purchase dog sledding in Juneau 2 weeks before the cruise on HAL's website! Once on board I saw that most of the adventure type activities were sold out. For Seward, you could ask to be waitlisted for the dog sled as all they have to do is request another helicopter if they have enough people. Although it is cheaper to book directly with the helicopter company ahead of time. The only parts of whales I saw on this trip were their fins and tales from a distance during early breakfast and early dinner, so I recommend booking a whale excursion.
Unlike RCL which takes your picture when you board, HAL requires you to show your ID when you re-board the ship each day. The safe in your room will only close with your credit card, not the magnetic strip on the back of your HAL card. These are they type of things that I would prefer to leave in my safe. The self-serve laundry room was in frequent use, apparently soap is already in the machine.
The weather was in the 60s with occasional rain, but when it rains it doesn't stop. I wore turtlenecks, jeans, and rain jackets everyday. Most tours had umbrellas on the bus seats. I brought 100 film for the glaciers. I also got great sunset pictures!
Just about every town had a shop with a large stuffed animal in front of it like a bear or moose that everyone took pictures with so keep your eyes peeled (especially in Ketchikan). Throughout Alaska the public trash cans are designed a certain way to keep bears out. Many of the cities we visited said they only got their first traffic light a few years ago.
Before I went I thought Alaska would be one of those destinations I would only do once. But since I missed so much (due to weather and itinerary), I will definitely come back in June, go to Denali, do an itinerary that includes Skagway and College Fjords and more wildlife excursions. I think I'll try Princess for that cruise.
Saturday - At Sea cruising Inside Passage All we saw was the Canadian green mountains on both sides of the ship. The spa/gym was packed. Didn't see any whales.
Sunday - Ketchikan Excursion - Saxman Native Village. You drive through town to Saxman, that's your city tour. It seemed like the whole ship came here. There you watch a movie about the natives, a live performance in the Clan House, and a talk by a carver (who weren't there). The poles are quite old so the paint is disappearing. Saxman is no more than a tiny park with totems going around it. I regret not choosing Totem Bight Park, but was I was afraid that if it rained it would be slippery. From the dock you can walk a few blocks to Creek Street, not to be missed. [The ship docks downtown and there were independent tour operators right there]
Monday - Sitka Excursion - Sitka Highlights & Russian Dancers. We saw the Russian church in town which had an impressive collection of Russian art inside, but no photos were allowed. We were told that there are actually very few descendents of Russians in Sitka, and none of the dancers were Russian. I enjoyed the performance. There were a couple Russian souvenir stores with nesting dolls and Christmas ornaments. Afterwards we went to the Sitka National Forest and saw lots of salmon in extremely shallow water. The visitor center had an interesting movie about the natives and exhibits on totem poles. There was a great view of our ship from there. I would recommend booking 2 excursions here, specifically the Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest. [The ship tenders a few blocks from downtown]
Tuesday - Juneau Excursions - Juneau City Tour & Mendenhall Glacier and Glacier Landing & Dog Sled. We drove through town and the capital building was just a plain brown office building. We went to a Salmon Hatchery which was very interesting. Their only function is to increase the amount of salmon in the water. They do this buy creating a salmon ladder, take the eggs out of the salmon and let them hatch there. When they hatch they release them back into the rivers. Their survival rate I believe will be 80% instead of 5% in the river. Did you know there are 5 kinds of salmon? Next stop was the Mendenhall Glacier. It was so cold there everyone wished they had earmuffs. This day was very crowded as there were 4 ships in port. You can take the public bus to Mendenhall, although it will be a long ride. There was a $10 roundtrip shuttle from the dock.
For the afternoon we booked dog sledding. We were taken to the helicopter dock, given plastic boots to cover our shoes, and were told to leave our camera bags or backpacks under a chair in the waiting room/trailer, a bit unsettling. We were allowed to keep fanny packs. When the helicopters landed, the pilots walked by us and told the staff to tell us that they didn't want to take us up as the clouds were getting lower and it ended up pouring. You can imagine how disappointed we were as we were so close. [The ship tendered to downtown and there were independent tour operators right there]
Wednesday - Haines On my own. I'm disappointed our ship didn't dock in Skagway, as I didn't see much in Haines. The brochure said excursions to Skagway, but the only excursion was the train trip. My mother got up early and took the ferry to Skagway. It's 45minutes each way, $40 and there's a naturalist on-board pointing out the whales and other sea mammals she saw. Skagway is quite a walk from the ferry. And you have to return by 12noon, because all the afternoon ferries are reserved for the people that booked the train excursion.
In Haines you can see the "fort" from the ship as it's only a block or two away. But it only consists of a row of big white house around a grassy square. There were 3 independent operators offering wildlife/photo tours of the Chilkoot Lake. For about 2 hours each was $10, $25, & $40. The $25 was Yeshua Tours which was a smooth talker. He promised 99% chance of bears and that the $10 tour guy wasn't from Alaska. He also promised a comfortable 5 person car, but we had to wait until it got back from driving a blind woman somewhere, but that car never showed and his group left on a school bus. The $10 Eco Orca Tour Company had a more comfortable bus and said there was no chance of bears and don't believe anyone who promised it. I'm not going to tell you who I picked, but I'll tell you what the tour consists of as I'm sure they're all the same as Haines is so small. The bus drives you to the Chilkoot Lake which is picturesque and I saw a couple bald eagles. There were so many people fishing, it would scare any bear away. You spent about 15minutes there then come back to "downtown" where there's basically nothing. Then a drive around the fort and back to the ship. Since then, I've been told that there is a lot of small town politics going on against independent tour operators, which is why they couldn't solicit us, just stood a distance away with a big sign. [The ship docks near the fort and ferry to Skagway]
Thursday - At Sea cruising Hubbard Glacier This was the first day that it rained. Up to this point the ship was extremely stabilized, but once we hit the Pacific Ocean boy what a difference. Everyone was walking from side to side, chairs would move, it was definitely a rough day! They even put out sea sickness bags by the elevators. I took a bonine and had my motion sickness sticker behind my ear. I felt better when I was outside in the fresh air. Viewing time of the glacier was from 7:30am-8:30am. With the rain everyone was on the outside deck that was under the tender boats, but it wasn't hard to find a spot on the railing. Make sure you have your hat and gloves. Dutch Pea soup is later served outside. I took pictures with 2 cameras and neither one came out since the rain made it so dark and foggy. The entire time the naturalist talked about glaciers over the loud speakers. Finding a seat outside was never a problem, since it was so cold and windy.
We received our bill today yet were told that we could not settle it until tomorrow. I couldn't believe they wanted everyone to settle their bill on the day we disembark! There was one disembarkation meeting for everyone in the performance lounge, so there wasn't enough space. Can't they just write it down for us? The tour director made it a funny meeting and encouraged us to fill out our comment forms as that's what gives people promotions.
Friday - Seward Cruise train to Anchorage At 5:30am I receive a phone call from the Front Desk asking me to come settle my bill. I was puzzled by this since I knew I had a large credit from 2 sets of cancelled dog sledding. HAL refuses to credit any credit cards! I had to accept a large check to carry with us for the rest of the trip.
At 7am we board the Alaskan Railroad (RCL took a train earlier than us). You get your seat assignment when you check in, so I requested a seat facing forward. There are 2 seats facing 2 seats sharing a table. But your leg space is limited so PLEASE do not bring those large rolling carry-on bags! There is especially no space for a couple to bring 2 such bags. Remember you're facing another couple so everyone's feet space will be constricted. There's very little space under your seat and obviously nothing above.
Check out the last wagon, since we boarded front to back, the whole last wagon with the bar was empty. Both sides of the train are scenic at different times, but I still stood between the cars for better pictures. But I don't recommend it for everyone since it was crowded, and it was very wobbly and there's nothing to hold on to. The train stops occasionally for photos and you're always warned ahead of time to prepare your camera. We had nice views of glaciers. There was a large bathroom onboard. Water and coffee were $2 and lunch was $12. HAL trains only go straight to the airport. Upon arrival, there are 3 HAL buses waiting to take us downtown where our luggage is waiting for us at the convention center. Alaska Air & American Air passenger luggage is sent straight to the plane from the ship. All other airlines, you still have to go to the convention center to pick it up, then go back to the airport. So again if you're not flying home today on Alaska Air & American Air, you don't need that large rolling carry-on bag for the train.
Downtown Anchorage is filled with souvenirs shops after souvenir shops. The visitor center is this cute log cabin with grass growing on its' roof. On the next block are 2 trolley companies next to each other that give $10 tours of the city. Anchorage has lots of great museums like the not to be missed Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alaska Museum of History & Art, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts which had movies about bears & the aurora borealis, and the Alaska Experience which is an IMAX theater that stimulates an earthquake. From all the street posts hung baskets of Forget-Me-Not, the Alaska national flower. There are gardens everywhere, including gorgeous large dahlias which I didn't think could grow up there.
We stayed at the Caribou Inn, which was a Bed & Breakfast right in downtown with affordable prices. Our room was huge with a full kitchen, private bathroom & cable TV. (Cheaper rooms don't have a bathroom). Breakfast was made to order: eggs, bacon, cereal & toast. They offered a free airport and train shuttle. There's no elevator so be prepared to walk a couple flights of stairs.
Saturday - Kotzebue Booked with Alaskan Airlines a one day trip to Kotzebue, a city above the Arctic Circle. We met people on the plane who did the HAL cruisetour that included Nome & Kotzebue, as this portion was run by Alaskan Airlines. They said they were so exhausted with having to fly to 2 cities in one day, that they don't even remember what they saw.
It was about 50F in Kotzebue which is a small town where the residents are 70% Eskimos (yes that is what they call themselves). In case you're wondering, they only live in Igloos when they go on hunting trips that last several months. They are allowed to hunt seals & other sea mammals since it's for subsistence. They showed us how they use every single part of an animal they catch. In school they learn traditional sewing and their language.
Most people live in small 1 story homes. But they're building huge multi-level homes to attract doctors and nurses. There was only one tree in town. During the summer 9 barges bring all the supplies they need for the rest of the year, such as gas. Gas up there costs $3.99 and a gallon of milk costs $4.09. Planes bring perishable food in the rest of the year but there's a transport cost for that. The majority of the residents work in a mine but they have to commute by plane. So they work 2 weeks then come home for 1 week. Apparently they make a lot of money doing this. There was one school, one hotel, three stores, and 11 churches.
There's not much to see there but I guess I experienced what it's like to live in the Arctic. I saw a performance by some middle school kids of their native dances and an indoor blanket toss. Then there was the tundra walk where we picked wild blueberries & salmonberries. Our guide explained what winter was like when you can't even expose any skin and if you poured a glass of water outside it would freeze immediately. Our guide was very sweet and she told us that she went to Chicago once for a wedding and was terrified of crossing the street and couldn't understand how we could live in such a busy place.
Sunday - Fly Home Checking in at Anchorage airport was so painless. There are these touch screen computers in the terminal which are so easy to use, I promise. You just type in your ticket number (no credit card required), you're asked how many bags you're checking, you okay your seat number, check your miles, and voila your ticket is printed! Then you get in the long & slow baggage check line. The only window with an actual person is the customer service counter. But there are agents standing around to assist you with the computer check-in.
My pictures are posted here:
We (nearly 25 in our group) cruised Alaska's inside passage beginning August 8, 2003. The cruise began in Vancouver and ended in Seward/Anchorage. My comments are primarily from what either my wife or I experienced although some general observations were true for the majority of the people we in our group.
First, we were very disappointed in the ship. This observation was true for nearly everyone in our group and especially for those who had cruised before. We were on Holland America's Ryndam and feel that it is vastly over-rated. The food, other than what we had in their specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle (which normally costs an additional $20 per person), was at best mediocre. For example, the clam chowder we had one evening was more like a weak clam broth and the lobsters served one evening were cooked much too much. Our suite was OK, but nothing special although the cabin steward was excellent. Others had non-smoking rooms that reeked of tobacco smoke even after having the bed spread and curtains replaced. I did not feel that I missed anything by not going to the evening entertainment since those times Idid go, I was not impressed. Our last cruise was on the Norwegian Sun and everything about it was significantly better than the Ryndam. On the other hand, Alaska was magnificent so that is what I will (mostly) write about.
If you are going to take an inside passage and have the opportunity to visit Vancouver - do so! Vancouver and Victoria Island are wonderful places to visit. The Listel Hotel looked to be the best place to stay in Vancouver. Vancouver is very international with many restaurants highlighting virtually any cuisine you might wish to try. Be sure to visit Stanley Park while in Vancouver. It is about a mile walk from the Listel (as well as several of the other hotels located in that area of the city). You could also rent bicycles and have a fairly easy ride to and around the park (which has a bicycle speed limit that we were told was enforced), or take a cab or bus. We took a horse drawn wagon ride in the park which was a good way to see a small portion of the park as well as to get some orientation to that area. Also while in Vancouver we cannot recommend strongly enough taking time to visit Victoria Island and especially Butchart Gardens. We did this on a bus tour (Pacific Coach Lines - on time, friendly staff, and reasonable rates) that allowed two hours at the gardens. Grey Lines also has tours to the Island, but their tour spends 90 minutes at the Gardens. If possible, you would be better off renting a car for the day or making other arrangements given the stunning beauty of Butchart Gardens. You will almost certainly want to be there for longer than any of the bus tours provide. We are ready to return to Vancouver and Victoria Island and look forward to spending several days in the area.
Check-in for the Ryndam was functional but was our first idea that this would not be as good an experience as NCL provided. For example, for our NCL cruise the cruise line provided juice and other non-alcoholic drinks while we were waiting in line to board the ship. Holland did not do so.
The first full day of the cruise was spent at sea. The mountains and shore line were spectacular for the entire trip and this was our first sample. We had an outside cabin with a verandah, but I spent a lot of time on the upper decks. Much of the early going was through fairly narrow channels and past many of the countless islands that dot the region. One important point to note about our trip, which could be very different from going at another time, is that we had great weather for nearly the entire cruise. Juneau is the last port before docking in Seward and it was not until late in the afternoon while we were in Juneau that we had any rain. We packed expecting the entire trip to be overcast and raining, or at least drizzling, and instead we had mostly sunny skies with daytime temperatures around 70. In the early evening and up on deck, it felt cool and was quite windy when the ship was cruising, but otherwise for most of the time it was perfect, until we left Juneau. The last day at sea we ran into a gale which left many passengers and a number of the crew wishing for dry land!
Some recommended excursions for the ports we visited follow.
In Ketchikan, I booked an ocean kayaking trip with Southeast Sea Kayaks (www.ketchikankayaks.com). They have more than one option, and I took the Orca's Cove trip since it left the town and went out a little farther. The kayaking was not strenuous (the day I was there the ocean was like a calm lake; the day before they had six foot swells). We saw three or four humpback whales as well as several eagles. My wife booked the Saxman Village and Lumberjack Show through a tour group in the city. She also had a good time. One couple did the Misty Fjord flight trip which they thought was outstanding.
Sitka was our favorite town overall. I did not book anything in Sitka and do not feel it is necessary if you just want to see the town. The Sitka National Historical Park is an easy walk from where you come ashore. [The cruise ships tender in Sitka - meaning you take a small boat to shore.] The park itself has many totem poles and a stream running through it that, when I was there, was literally overflowing with spawning salmon. I also walked to the Alaska Raptor Center and took a tour of it before going back to town. My wife booked the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest excursion through HAL. She thought this was fantastic. Sitka is considered one of the better places to see wildlife on the cruise (Juneau being another).
HAL is, I believe, the only cruise line that stops in Haines instead of Skagway. The two towns are about 45 minutes apart by ferry or more than 300 miles apart via automobile. The main thing to do in this area is to take the White Pass Scenic Rail which is located in Skagway. If your ship stops in Skagway, this is highly recommended and nearly everyone who went on it thought it was a good excursion. However, if you have been to Durango, Colorado and have taken the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge train you have had much the same experience and have probably had better weather to view the scenery (for less cost as well). My wife felt that there was a lot of waiting around for this trip since the HAL passengers had to take the ferry to and from Skagway to get on the train. I booked a float trip into the Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines before leaving on the cruise. I would not recommend this unless you are going to be there in October (which you will not be if you are on a cruise). It was a nice peaceful trip down the river, but I saw more eagles everywhere else we were than I did in the Eagle Preserve. The scenery in the Haines area was great and this included what we saw on the float trip, but if you want wildlife do something else. One member of our group took a flight over the glaciers which she thought was fantastic. [Seeing things by air seems to be an overall good way to experience the sights of Alaska. Everyone who did a flight trip had a great time.]
Even though Sitka was my personal favorite overall town, it was the stop in Juneau that really made the trip. Several of us booked, through HAL, the Mendenhall Glacier/Whale Watch Tour. Allen Marine Tours does the boat part of this excursion for HAL (they also were the company my wife's Sitka excursion was on) and they are excellent although their boats are larger than many of the other tour boats we saw. This was not necessarily a bad thing since it allowed them to go farther and to carry more crew and passengers than the smaller tourist boats. The tour company guarantees you will see whales on this trip or they will give you $100 in cash when they return. In seven years they have never paid anyone! Mendenhall Glacier was an unbelievable sight and the only bad thing is we did not have enough time to really get away from the tourist information center and get closer to the glacier. Until you see it for yourself, you cannot imagine how large the Mendenhall is. On the whale watch we had the great good fortune to come across a pod (or whatever it is that they call a group of humpback whales traveling together) of six whales. They were "Bubblenet Feeding." This meant that they were basically swimming in a circle and moving their food into the center, diving and then coming to the surface with their mouths open to feed. This was an incredible sight and is something that went on for a long time. We watched them for probably 45 minutes before moving to another spot. When we returned to that area on the way back they were still there. They were also joined for a short time by an additional five or six humpback whales creating a pod of about twelve whales. The two groups split after only a short time, but even the naturalists and ships crew were amazed by this sight. Everyone in our group thought that this one excursion was worth the price of the entire cruise. One time the original group surfaced about 50 yards from our boat. One of the other people from our larger group was on a smaller tour boat in this same area and the whales were so close that he had to back off the zoom of his camera since he could not fit them all into one photograph.
If you want to have dinner off the ship in Juneau, I would strongly recommend The Fish Company. They are (or were when we were there) located on the pier just as you get off the ship. [The Ryndam tendered in Juneau.] Stop and make reservations when you first get into town. Their seafood chowder was excellent as were each of the main dishes that four of us had. We also had a good time at the Red Dog Saloon and if you can get in, it is a fun place to visit. If the weather is perfect, you might want to go up the Roberts Tramway. I would not purchase the tickets for this through the cruise line since the place to buy them is right at the pier. However, the tram ride cost about $20 and if it is overcast and/or rainy, you will not see anything. I heard nothing whatsoever good about the restaurant at the top of the tramway.
When your ship is at the main glacier (either Hubbard or in Glacier Bay) go on deck to view the glacier. The sounds coming off the glacier and the sense of what it is like are much more intense than what you would experience watching it from inside this ship. Your ship will probably have a covered walk so if it is raining you might want to go there to view the glacier - but whatever you do get outside.
HAL was as poor about disembarking as they were with other parts of the cruise. First, they started calling people (by disembarkation number) nearly 45 minutes before the scheduled time meaning that many had no breakfast. I was in the shower when our number was called and we had not gone to have breakfast since we thought there was plenty of time. HAL blamed this on "the buses arriving early." Well the buses work for HAL and will stay until the passengers are off-loaded. It is a three hour bus trip from Seward to Anchorage; HAL did not bother to provide water or anything else to drink on the trip. [However, if you were going from Anchorage to Seward to board the ship, they did have bottled water. I guess that they were more interested in those about to board the ship than they were those who were getting off.]
We were very glad that we had decided to stay the evening in Anchorage rather than head straight to the airport. If you have film that you want to develop before heading back to the lower-48, there is a Kits Camera store in the main mall in downtown Anchorage that did a really nice job with several rolls of film I dropped off for quick processing. [Kits is a part of the Ritz/Cord camera group.] If you have time (at least three hours) we highly recommend visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center. You can catch a free bus at the Anchorage Visitor's Center and also get a coupon there good for 10% off the admission to the Heritage Center. It will take about two hours to see most of the things at the center although you could spend more time there if you wished. Go on one of the guided tours if possible; we walked around part of the center on our own and joined up with a tour mid-way through. The film they show at the Center is also well done. For dining, I would recommend Humpy's on 6th Street for lunch and the Sour Dough Mining Company for dinner and family entertainment. While at the Sour Dough Mining Company be sure to take time to walk across the street to the Alaska Wildberry Products store. You can get a free bus to and from the Sour Dough Mining Company from most, perhaps all, of the major hotels in downtown Anchorage. We went early and did not need reservations, but if you are going after 6:00 or so I would recommend calling ahead. If you don't call to make reservations and they are busy, put your name in and walk across to the Wildberry store while waiting.
Finally, one of the most difficult decisions will be deciding what to pack. We went, as I mentioned, planning on overcast, wet conditions. We did use some of our wet weather items but not until we were nearly done with the cruise. Our feelings about the trip would, undoubtedly, have been much different had the weather been what we were expecting. Day-to-day dress onboard the ship and in the various ports was very casual. Many of the recommendations I had read on this topic suggested taking items you could layer. This seemed to be the best advice on what to pack. We felt Alaska was a really great place to visit but we recognize that we were very lucky in that the weather and creatures we saw combined to give us a super experience. If you go, take lots of film or a large amount of memory for your digital camera - you'll need them!
The choice of cruise lines imho is not very important as it once was. Newer, larger ships do not replace older ships. New ships are very glitzy, with great production shows, more dining choices, large full size discos, casinos that are professionally run, more fitness choices and the list goes on and on. The Ryndam is about ten years old and unable to compete on an even level with the larger ships. They have to do things differently. Attention to detail, exciting bands, luxurious service and wonderful food is what HAL is known for and if any of the above is missing then the cruise experience is diminished. One should just choose Princess or Carnival. The Ryndam is missing that attention to detail that really made me want to come back again and again.
Itinerary: Cabo San Lucas (9 AM - 6 PM The extra hours do make a difference in this beautiful, fun town), Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta are described in many of the reviews and do not need to be repeated. I just want to say that I have done this six times and will do so again inthe future.
Food: B - B+ Just good food, but there is a definite decline from the solid B+ on my other HAL cruises. I do not know if this reduction is company wide or if this is just the Ryndam.
Bands: Rosario Strings is the finest band on the high seas and can compare on the highest level to the best lounge/classical bands that I have ever heard. Wow! I would like to see them again on another cruise. The Crow's Nest band is quite good. The Ocean's Bar band is well.they try hard, but do not get the point and their singing is not up to professional level.
Entertainment: The shows cannot compete with the larger ships. I gave up watching the shows on smaller ships 20 cruises ago. I can't chuckle anymore when the comedians still do the same toilet jokes. Cruise lines that have depend on return cruisers should not allow comedians to do toilet jokes.
Attention to detail: Poor. Give the Captain and Staff bad ratings. Yes, probably the worst on the high seas. The small things are maddening. Go play basketball - no rim. Ocean's Bar - the speakers intermittently go on and off and crack. Lunch napkins are so stained they look used and dirty. Crow's Nest floor is so bad that I heard many ladies complain about their heels getting caught in the grooves on the floor. I saw one gentlemen fall when he got a heel caught. The Java Cafe does not serve coffee or anything else. Anything else? Yes, poor, poor training of officers. The Guest Relations Manager is rude. Front office personnel should be highly empathetic. This was also the first cruise where I had to get my own coffee and refills on the Lido. There is just not enough crew on board. In our section we did not have a second waiter for dinner. It goes on and on. Nothing major, just maddening.
Engineering: We had a power outage for twenty minutes. The boat was immediately stopped without letting people know, like the people in the pool. Imagine the wave action on stopping a 55,000 ton vessel. If you did not sit down immediately or grab onto something then you could have fallen. Does the intercom system not work when there is no power? When the power went on we were then told the power failed. The one other problem is when we were given a bad odor (sewerage?) coming from the ventilation and it was ship wide. The first day we received a ten minute smell. Later we got another one lasting a minute. Grumble, grumble - there were many.
Service: The crew was up to my expectations despite the actions of the officers. There are many fine young people working hard and HAL does have many return crew. I applaud the fine job they did in spite of the poor management. The Service staff of Philippino and Indonesians do a cultural show exchanging places each week. We saw the Philippine show that was wonderful. I would like to see the Indonesian one sometimes. This was the Xmas cruise and the staff of the Ryndam had an evening show of caroling. Very nice.
Casino: The reason that the casino is not used by many of the passengers is that it is not professionally run. The slots are very cold and will not let you play for long, unlike LV. The tables are few and not busy. Carnival has a bonus card system like those in LV. Carnival could use the same system company-wide. Well, let's just say that the casino is not exciting and leave it at that.
Hosts: none. Officers acting as hosts: none. Single women: plenty. Just more stupid stuff.
Now after reading my review you should say that I was disappointed with the cruise. I had a wonderful time. I will not let the ship's staff ruin my vacation! The ports are fun. The Rosario Strings band was awesome. My wife and I love to dance, but when the music and facilities disappoint I find something else. So what about the coffee - we learn to bring our own. HAL is a good line and the Ryndam below average. Will I travel the Ryndam again? Only if the Rosario Strings are playing in a destination that I am considering. Given a choice of cruise lines and ships plying the same routes you can indeed find one now that can come close to your ideal travel vacation. If the Ryndam is being considered by you imho think again.
My wife and I have traveled extensively, including several cruises, but we had never scheduled a visit to Alaska. We decided that we would remedy that situation in 2001. We talked to several of our friends who had taken cruises to Alaska regarding their experiences. We heard nothing but good comments about the Holland America Line. When our travel agent called us with news of a last minute fare sale on the m.s. Ryndam, we jumped at it. We booked the cruise only and made our own arrangements for air and ground transportation.
In order to meet the ship for the southbound cruise, we had to fly into Anchorage and travel by surface to Seward. We decided to depart for Seward, AK a day ahead of time just to avoid any last minute difficulties with air connections. A brief search and a few phone calls to some of the local car rental agencies resulted in locating a car that needed to be dropped off in Seward on the day of our cruise, thus avoiding the $150 one way drop off charge. There are other convenient ways to travel from Anchorage toSeward, including a scheduled minibus and the train. With the exception of a limo, they will all cost in the range of $35 to $55 per person. If you have the time, spend 2 or 3 days before the cruise sightseeing in the area. As we were at the beginning of the 'cruise season', there was no trouble getting a room at one of the downtown hotels in Seward after we arrived.
There is certainly enough to see and do in Seward to keep you occupied for the day while awaiting embarkation for the scheduled 8 PM sailing. The town is not so large that you can't walk the mile or so from the cruise dock to the shopping area. There is also a local tram for those who wish to travel in style. The Alaska Marine Wildlife Center at the end of the main street is well worth a visit. Now, for all of you pancake lovers, you should try to have breakfast or lunch in the Marina Cafe just a block up the main street from the Wildlife Center. Don't let the apple green front of the building stop you; order a stack of the buttermilks with some elk sausage. You won't be sorry.
We were among the first passengers to embark at 2 PM. Picking up our documents, cabin assignment and ship ID cards took but a few minutes. It was then only a matter of walking on board and finding our cabin. We had talked to several past passengers who said that HAL had a rather generous policy of extending complimentary upgrades to nicer cabins upon arrival at the ship. Our travel agent also reinforced this concept. We checked at the Purser's Office to see if this was possible as we knew that the ship was only booked to about 75% capacity. There was a sign on the desk indicating that upgrades to mini-suites and full suites were available. A rather sour clerk informed us that they were available for a rather stiff supplemental price. We decided to stay where we were assigned.
We did have a minor snag when we arrived at our assigned cabin. The door was locked and there was not a cabin steward in sight. Back to the Purser's Office to talk to a different dour clerk who promised that she would send someone right down to open the door. Another 20 minutes passed by with no open door. I finally found a passenger who told me where the house keeping office was located. Problem solved.
The standard (less than mini-suite) cabins on the m.s. Ryndam are all just under 200 sq.-ft and furnished much the same. We had an outside view cabin with the twin beds made up in the single queen bed configuration. There is a sitting area with couch, small table and chair which may be curtained off from the sleeping area. There is ample drawer and closet space. The shelves in the closets may be folded up or down depending on what is being hung in the closet. The bathroom is well designed, roomy and has adequate lighting. The outside cabins have a combination bath-shower. I understand that some, or all, of the inside cabins only have a shower. Other things in the cabin include hair drier, shampoos and body lotion, color TV, desk and a small safe. There is no refrigerator, but the cabin steward keeps both the ice bucket and fruit basket filled throughout the voyage. We were well satisfied with the comfort and cleanliness of our cabin throughout the voyage. As a final note, we were pleased with the lack of noise when underway or from adjacent cabins.
As we embarked long before the majority of the other passengers arrived, we took the opportunity to see what the other classes of cabins looked like. Well, Cabin 001 is pure luxury - a full suite with balcony and everything that you would expect in a 5 star hotel. The regular suites and mini-suites reflected a definite increase in status. However, even though the mini-suites have balconies, we did not feel that we sacrificed too much by not purchasing the supplemental upgrade. Our conclusion is that there doesn't seem to be any 'bad' cabins on the m.s. Ryndam (and her sister ships) - it all depends on your budget and expectations.
The design of the m.s. Ryndam reflects HAL's dedication to passenger comfort and convenience. The decor reflects the taste and elegance of a bygone era, including the display of many fine antiques. From the extensive interior and exterior viewing areas to the wide spacing of the tables in the restaurants, we never felt crowded. There are an adequate number of elevators at both the bow and stern of the ship. The 'Crow's Nest' lounge has a spectacular forward view over the bow of the ship for those that do not wish to stand in the weather - definitely the place to be when entering Glacier Bay. Rather than go on about the several lounges, library, game room, casino, showroom, etc., I suggest that you book a cruise and enjoy.
First things first, the coffee on the m.s. Ryndam is the best that I have ever had on any cruise ship and beats most coffee served by fine shore side restaurants. If you wish to take the coffee experience a bit higher, visit the 'Java Cafe' which serves more exotic coffee drinks and cookies, most of which are included in the price of the cruise.
Food, food and more food! You may take your meals in the formal 'Rotterdam Dining Room' or the 'Lido Restaurant' or at the Pizza/Hamburger/Hot-dog stand by the pool. If you didn't get enough at the meal, you can always top it off with a dish or cone of really tasty ice cream. After the stage show, no problem, just go to the midnight buffet to stoke up before going to the casino or disco 'til the early hours. The midnight Chocolate Buffet is not to be missed. In general, the quality and presentation of the meals is quite good, but not the best that we have had on cruises. They offer an extensive list of wines available for purchase with meals, many of which are quite good value. We did feel that the waiter should ask if you want the many sauces served on the side rather than drenching the main dish. Additionally, it is very difficult to get beef and lamb cooked and served extremely rare.
We requested the late seating in the 'Rotterdam Dining Room' as we did not wish to rush back from the ports of call to change for dinner. It's just as well as the early seating was fully booked. Don't worry if you don't like the location, or other guests sitting at your assigned dinner table. The dining room steward is quite accommodating when you request a change of table.
The staff on the m.s. Ryndam is among the most friendly and efficient of any cruise that we have taken (with the exception of the Purser's office staff), including some of the upscale lines, such as 'Radisson Seven Seas'. Our cabin steward was like a ghost. We never saw him, but the cabin was always clean and in the best order when we returned. We never had any annoying knocks on the door to see if we wanted towels. The dining room staff could not do enough for us to insure our enjoyment. They remembered our preferences, whether it was the removal of the foil from the baked potato, or most of the time, serving the sauce on the side or not at all. The young lady in the 'Java Cafe' learned our coffee preferences on the first day and remembered to offer them on our arrival for the remainder of the voyage. In the middle of our voyage, the ship received their mandatory semi-annual health inspection for all ships that dock in U.S. ports - they receive a score of 99! The gratifying thing was seeing how much pride the crew and staff took in receiving an almost perfect score. I know that tips are not expected by the staff, but we felt that they truly deserved a bit of extra consideration at the end of our voyage.
The entertainment is right up there with the best of 'em. The two level showroom has a professional compliment of audio and lighting systems. The stage shows were both professional and varied in theme. The lounge combos played all types of songs and dance numbers to meet the requests of the guests. The show put on by the staff and crew was quite entertaining with many surprises. We were well satisfied with the entertainment on board and the costumes were exquisite!
The guest lecturers were another matter. The port lectures were devoted to a presentation of optional shore excursions and shopping, shopping and more shopping. The naturalists on board were not very informative and provided very little of interest that could not be read in one of the many brochures. The lecture on whales and sea otters was mainly a promo for supplemental nature excursions from tour companies with whom the naturalists seemed to have some sort of business relationship. Our disappointment in the running commentary offered by the naturalists and park rangers when sailing through Glacier Bay, and other areas of interest could be a result of the poor audio system available on the ship.
We decided not to purchase any of the optional shore excursions. We came on the cruise to see Glaciers, snow capped mountains, spectacular scenery and animals. Most of these were viewed from the ship as we cruised along the coast. When we visited ports, we would normally take a long walk by ourselves, or if available, take the city bus around the area to get an overview. In Sitka, we took a walk on the road next to the fish canneries (left from the cruise ship dock past the old Russian church) to the end of the road where we found a small park which was the nesting place for 30 to 40 bald eagles. We sat there for a couple of hours getting a close up view of what was available at the Raptor Center. We then hiked back to the native Alaskan museum at the University to find that it is closed on Sundays and holidays. In Juneau, we visited the Mendenhall Glacier by taking the #3 (or #4) city bus out to where the driver dropped us off within an easy mile walk to the Glacier ($2.50 p.p. round trip). In general, our impression of Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan was that the areas adjacent to the cruise ship docks were actually adult theme parks. Yes, they had 'historic old buildings', but they were full of trinkets for the tourists to purchase. I guess that things have not changed much since the 'Gold Rush'. In general, each port was mainly an Alaskan themed shopping mall. No complaints from us, we got what we came to see in the way of scenery and animals.
We did not have any significant disappointments. However, they could improve their guest lecturers, audio system and the attitude of Purser's office staff. Additionally, the seating in the Crow's Nest lounge could stand to have higher backs for us taller people to sit comfortably during those long hours in Glacier Bay.
We really enjoyed our Holland America cruise down the coast of Alaska and Canada. We feel that we received a great value that exceeded our expectations. We would most certainly recommend it to others and look forward to taking our next cruise on Holland America.
We are addicted to cruising. This is our 15th cruise in less than four years and we have the Grand princess booked for May 7th. With God's grace, we hope to make many more.
This is a lengthy review. We tried to be as thorough as possible so that the reader would have a very good idea of what it would be like to cruise on the Ryndam. This was our second cruise on the Ryndam in the last year and a half and we came away with a new and heightened respect for the Holland American Line. We now understand more than ever why they have such a loyal following.
An Unexpected Cruise: Our cruise agent called us on March 21st and told us that although he had us booked for a May 7th cruise aboard the Grand Princess, he had to call us about a special he had just received from HAL. It seems they needed to fill some cabins on the Ryndam for an April 1st cruise to the Western Caribbean and they called their top agencies with a very special discounted price. We had sailed onthe Ryndam in October 98, and had a very enjoyable cruise. It didn't take Mary & I very long to decide it was to good an offer to turn down. We have just returned from that cruise and we will share our experience with you.
As we have said in past reviews, we all look at things from a different perspective. When you read this review please remember it is only our opinion and you have to discern for yourself if our tastes are similar to yours. Mary & I will give you an honest, straight forward opinion of what we feel were the highlights and the negatives of our cruise.
Packing for Cruise: It seems our society is becoming more casual each day. We now have the Wall Street financial district and other business areas having what they call, "Casual Fridays." It won't be long before they have, "Casual Thursdays," "Causal Wednesday," and etc. What goes around comes around. It wouldn't surprise us that after the novelty of wearing jeans and polo shirts to board meetings that the powers to be started having "Dress up Friday," "Dress Up Thursday," "Dress Up Wednesday," and etc. Well, we don't have to wait, Mary & I are already there. We enjoy getting dressed up. To us it's one of the nicest features of cruising and it is very appealing to us. When we are home, although we have restaurants that being dressed up is appropriate, it isn't unusual to see someone enter in jeans or cut offs. It might be that this happens because we live in Florida, but I kind of suspect it is happening in many other places. That is one of the reasons we look forward to the formal nights. There is something very elegant about being among a group of people who are all dressed for the occasion. It is not very often, if at all, that they will have a chance wear formal attire at any other time during the year. The ladies look especially attractive in evening gowns and party dresses.
I think Mary might have wished to be born in an earlier era, those days when a women wouldn't think of traveling without a steamer trunk. But Mary isn't far behind those ladies. After our fourth cruise she made me buy the second val pack. We now have his and hers, mostly hers. We even dress up other than formal nights. We don't pay to much attention to the suggested attire of the day. We have enough casual dress when we are home. We enjoy the whole process of getting ready for the evening, it adds a bit of anticipation for what the evening will bring. We hope that the casual trend doesn't become the norm for the cruise lines. If it does, cruising will have lost a lot of its appeal for Mary & I.
Embarkation: We drove to the Fort Lauderdale Port from our home in New Smyrna Beach. The parking garage was directly across from the HAL terminal. We arrived at the terminal at 12:30. Very smooth, efficient check in process. They made a quick check of our cruise documents and told us we would board at 1:30 At 1:25 we boarded and we were escorted to our cabin.
Cabin: We had an outside cabin #643, on the Main deck, deck #5. It was a good sized cabin, with a queen sized bed, full pull out sofa, with adequate closet and drawer space. Mary is a bath person and she loved having a tub. All of HAL's outside cabins have tubs. The shelf space in the bathroom was very limited. On the shelf they had a very nice assortment of creams, lotions and shampoo. It was more than adequate.
There was a basket of fruit on the desk area, which was replenished each day. The Television channels were very limited. CCN, two Movie channels and the rest were various HAL related programs. Our cabin steward Rosman kept the cabin immaculate. He lived up to our judgement of what is a good steward. We rarely saw him but everything that needed to be done was taken care of.
Sail Away Party: We always feel a degree of excitement when we sail through the Ft. Lauderdale inlet. When we retired in 1973, for a short period of time we had a home in Ft. Lauderdale and we did a lot of boating in this area. We used the inlet on almost a daily basis. It brought back a lot of very pleasant memories.
The sail away party was held on the aft pool deck. A steel band supplied the Caribbean rhythms and it wasn't long before everyone was in the party mood. We were very surprised at the age of the guests. They were much younger than the passengers on our last Ryndam cruise. They appeared to be between the age of 35 and 55. It wasn't very long before it became a real party atmosphere with a long conga line strung out and weaving side to side between the two decks. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It got the cruise off to a good start.
Checking Table Arrangements: We make a habit of checking our table arrangements as soon as it is possible and we suggest you do so. If it turns out they aren't what you requested, you have a better chance of getting them changed if you see the Maitre`di as soon as you can. Because of our late booking we weren't confirmed for the late seating. Even though our cruise agent sent a fax to the dining room manager requesting the second seating and a specific table arrangement, he couldn't get it verified. They said they would put us on a waiting list. I told him I wanted to speak to the dining room manager. He gave me the number and told me the dining room manger of the Ryndam was Kristin. When I called she wasn't at her desk but I got a recording telling me to leave voice mail. I took the opportunity to tell her that on our last cruise aboard the Ryndam we had a very bad situation concerning our table and we were very unhappy, but because of the professional and sensitive way the situation was resolved by the Maitre`di Jerry Spies, we had one of our better cruises. In fact, later on in the week, Jerry Spies extended an invitation for us to have dinner with the captain. It is hardly what we expected being the way the cruise started out. We accepted and had a wonderful evening. Mary was the captains dinner partner and he seemed as pleased as she was..
When we returned home I wrote a letter to the personnel director of HAL in their Seattle office, with a copy to Jerry Spies, and told them of the valued employee they had in Jerry Spies and how he helped resolve a very difficult situation and etc. & etc. I received a letter back from Donna Franchimon, the personnel director thanking me for being so thoughtful and for taking the time to write the letter and also stating if she could ever do anything for us to let her know. I told the dining room manager Kristin this story and it evidently meant something to her, because when we checked our table we were greeted by the Maitre`di in charge, Agus, with a big smile. He said he was told to give us preferential treatment and he was happy to tell us we had the second seating as we requested and he arranged to have us seated at the same table that they had moved us to on our first cruise. It was more than we had expected and we were delighted. I guess it is true, what goes around comes around. Through the years, whenever we have an exceptional service rendered or are extended a significant kindness, we make it a habit to write a letter to the department head, with a copy to the employee, complimenting that employee. It goes into their personal file and means a great deal to them. Many times it means more than a tip.
Dining Room: The Ryndam dining room is outstanding and is unique among the dining rooms we have seen on any of our cruises. We were seated at the rail of the balcony overlooking the lower level. The ceiling above the open area is certainly a work of art. It consists of 600 to 700 individual Venetian glass shades that look like inverted petunia blossoms. They are about 18 inches at the opening and are set at four different levels but all placed closely together. Instead of a light bulb in each one, they have a filament that is imbedded in the fluted glass approximately five inches from the base. The lighted ceiling is breath taking and is truly a work of Art. The dining room walls are mostly glass, giving the diner the ability to look out at the ocean when having breakfast and lunch. The openness to the sea gives the dining room a very bright, cheerful, pleasant atmosphere. We were sorry we didn't have breakfast and lunch there more often. Another very appealing feature of the dining room was a large sunken music area on the upper balcony level, where the Rosario String Quartet played during dinner. In most ships dining rooms you can barely hear the music and if you can it is mostly annoying. No so with the Rotterdam dining room. It was a distinct pleasure to be able to listen to The Rosario String Quartet play chamber music as we enjoyed our dinner. A decided plus.
We were finishing our lunch in the main dining room when I noticed the waiters and assistants doing something very unusual with the table settings. I asked Augus what they were doing and he said they started doing this at the beginning of the Millennium. It is now their policy that on the second formal night of the cruise they reset the tables with off white damask table clothes and napkins and then they do something we have never seen done before. They completely covered the chairs with off white coverings, that were form fitting and hung to the floor. It gave a most unusual but very rich appearance. They hung wide bands of black and white material across the ceiling of the open area and completely encased the two large columns in the center of the dining room with gold lamay from floor to ceiling. It created an elegant look that added immeasurably to the formal night atmosphere. It gave you the feeling you were going to experience something very special. And that is just what the evening was. It was, very special.
Food, Main Dining Room: We were very pleased with the food. We noticed a decided improvement since our last cruise. What was especially impressive was the evening we were served Lobster Tails, Mary's favorite. They were of good size and broiled to perfection.. Each evening they gave us a choice of salad and either one was excellent. We found the desserts and pastries to be much better. They had a very good assortment and they were very tasty.
Although the food was much better than we expected the service was even more so. We had a wonderful group of servers, starting with Putraham, our waiter, Indra the assistant waiter, Rocky the wine steward, and finally the assistant Maitre`di Augus. They couldn't do enough for us. They catered to us and pampered us as if we were the only guests in their dining area. I don't think we have ever seen a group of people that were as warm, friendly and sincere as our servers. There is something very appealing about the Indonesian and Filipino people. There is almost a naivete, an innocense about them. Angus, a very handsome young man, was an outstanding assistant Maitre`di. On many ships the Maitre`di comes around to each table each night to say a few words so you will remember to tip him on the last night, Not Augus. Augus poured water, Augus helped serve, Augus helped clean off tables, Augus helped serve dessert, Augus did everything. Mary told him if we were still in the restaurant business, we would steal him away from HAL. I think he was very pleased with Mary's comment. I know we will meet him again and I am sure he will be in an even higher position. He's a very special person. If you sail the Ryndam, say hello to Augus.
The Ocean Bar where they played our kind of music: The Ocean Bar is a delightful lounge where we had cocktails and danced before and after dinner. It is staffed by Mylene, Miraluz, Roderick and Adolpho. Just as I said about the dining room crew, the lounge servers went out of their way to take care of our every need. I can't think of any other ship that serves hot hors d`oeuvres while your waiting for your cocktail order. They do on the Ryndam. They did this every evening. And just before we would leave, Roderick would show us the dining room menu for that night so we could have an advanced look at what they were serving..
In the Ocean Bar, they feature a very accomplished trio that played the kind of music we like to dance to. That good old forties & fifties music. That romantic music of that period that makes you want to hold your spouse just a little closer and just little tighter. I can't think of a nicer way to start an evening than to have a table in a intimate lounge and to be served hors d`oeuvres and cocktails and have an occasional dance as you bide your time before dinner. We saw many of the same people in the lounge each evening and got to spend time with some of them. One couple we met, the Frahms, have cruised 26 times and have traveled extensively. We found we had a lot in common with them and intend to keep in touch through E-Mail.
The piano player and leader of the group, was an exceptional piano player., He had a very small keyboard on top of the piano, with which he could create all the different sounds of an orchestra. He played one of a Jack Jones hit songs, 'Here's That Rainy Day,' that was as good a rendition as we have ever heard. If you like to dance, or if you just like to listen to some good music, spend some time in the Ocean Bar. If you would like to hear something special, ask the group to play, 'Here's That Rainy Day.'
We never went to the Crows Nest, a disco lounge, at the top of the ship. We understand it was very nice but it's not our choice of music. We understand they also served hot and cold hors d`oeuvres.
We really believe that if the younger generation was taught to dance the Fox Trot like we did in the forties and fifties there wouldn't be as much violence. By the time they danced a few numbers holding their sweethearts tightly in their arms, close to them, they would mellow out and become docile. Instead of being angry and wanting to fight, they'll want to make love. (Maybe that's far fetched, but we find the thought amusing.)
Piano Bar: There is also a piano bar on the upper promenade deck. Keith Kerslake keeps things lively by getting the group to sing along with him. We didn't participate but we passed the entrance two or three times a night and he always had a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. If you sail the Ryndam, you will be impressed by the two magnificent huge bouquets of flowers on each side of the entrance. I took pictures of Mary with the floral arrangements as backdrops and they turned out great. This might be the time to tell you that we have never seen as many beautiful floral bouquets as we saw on the Ryndam. There is no way we can describe their beauty. We made it a point of taking pictures in front of each of them.
Explorers Lounge: The Explorers lounge has a very unusual setting. What normally would be a wall facing the deck area, is instead the back of the lounges that have very comfortable seating for two's and four's and sixes. It gives the lounge a very open feeling. On the right hand side is a slightly raised area, again with lounges but with higher backs which gives you the impression you are in a separate room. In this area is a small bandstand that is the home of the Rosario String Quartet. They play there every night and have a very loyal following. High tea is served in this lounge from 3:30 to 4:00. It is white glove service and done very well. They serve tea and an assortment of finger sandwiches, Petits Fours and pastries while the Rosario Quartet serenades you with selections of chamber music. A wonderful place to visit before taking an afternoon siesta. Once during the week they serve Dutch High Tea in the main dining room.
Java Cafe: The Java Cafe is a place that serves Coffee, Cappuccino, Coffee Lotte, and chocolate chip cookies from 9:00 in the morning till 4:00 in the afternoon, ALL FOR FREE. It's right across from the Wajang Theater. The cute little girl that takes care of this venue is Evangeline. She is as sweet and fresh as the morning dew. When Mary & I cruise we usually have two cups of Cappuccino or Coffee Lotte each day, at a cost of $2.50 a cup or $10.00 dollars a day. Because of the recent wave of cruise lines charging extra for many items, it's even more impressive that Hal includes this in their ticket price, ALL FOR FREE!
The Lido Lunch and Alternate Dinning Room: The Lido lunch room is a very attractive site. It has a generally warm feeling about it. The food was very good. For breakfast they made eggs to order. At lunch time they had 4 or 5 hot meat dishes each day and a very good variety of lunch items. They also have a very nice salad bar. There is also an area where they display assorted pastry with an attendant standing by to serve you. Toward the later part of lunch they put the pastries and assorted sandwiches in a cylindrical refrigerated display case that rotates. When you decide what you want you wait till it comes around and when you open the door it stops rotating and you can take out your selection.
If you would like to hear a little piano music while your having lunch, go to the port side of the Lido in the aft section, and you will find Frank Banes at a white baby grand piano. He plays all of the old standards and is very good. It makes for a very pleasant lunch.
Part of the Lido is used for alternate dinning. The tables are tastefully set and they have a limited menu. Its popular for families that have been ashore and don't feel like getting dressed up for dinner and for those who are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Lido Ice Cream Bar: One of the most popular places on the ship is the Lido ice cream bar. You can get four different flavors of ice cream and they change every day. You can also get Yogurt in a waffle cone..After you get your ice cream they have an area that you can get all the fixings to make a sundae, fresh whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry syrup, every kind of nuts, shaved chocolate, sprinkles or just about anything else you can use with ice cream. IT'S ALL FOR FREE A day never went by that we didn't at least make one visit to the ice cream bar, and we have the weight to show for it.
The Pool Area's: The Ryndam has a very nice pool area. The first thing that catches your eye is a bronze sculpture by the steps of the pool featuring five leaping dolphins. It's a very beautiful piece of art. The pool has a five foot area extending from the coping that is flooded with 6-8 inches of water. It's very enjoyable to lay down with your back against bench, surrounding the pool, and have the water slosh back and forth across your body, with the movement of the ship.
There are two Jacuzzi's adjoining the pool. The pool has a sliding glass paneled roof enclosure that can be closed when it rains or partially closed to block out the wind for evening deck parties. At one end of the pool is the Pool bar with a charming seating area with tables & wicker chairs. On the opposite end of the pool is a Frank & Hamburger grill. Adjoining this area is a another cooking station where you can get various kinds of Thai food, in all different forms. Taco's, Burritos, etc. & etc. A chef stands by to assist you in making a choice. There is another very nice pool with abundant lounges on the lower deck at the aft end of the ship. Great views from this area
Another very nice touch by Holland American is that at 11: 0'clock in the morning they serve lemonade to everyone on the open decks and at 3: 0'clock in the afternoon they serve ice tea to everyone on the open decks. ALL FOR FREE.
Entertainment: This is not a strong point with HAL. I think they cater to a clientele that doesn't consider entertainment that important. I think they concentrate on other amenities that are much more appealing to their loyal cruisers. The best that can be said for the production shows is that they were nice. We saw a magic act that was very good. The magician billed himself as The Brazilian Sicilian from Brooklyn. How's that for a handle. His illusions were really good but his dialogue was even better. We were also treated to special show put on by the Show Choir of Carmel Indiana. They were a group of over 100 high school students that have put on shows all over the world. They were fully costumed and had beautiful voices. They were a big hit.
Captains Party: Very nicely done but we think they missed a great opportunity to add additional enjoyment to the occasion. They had the Ryndam show orchestra on stage. They played the great standards and everyone was tapping their feet to the rhythm but no one ever made a announcement inviting the guests onto the stage to dance, which is done on most ships..We all sat in our seats for 50 minutes until the Captain was introduced.
For Holland American loyalists, at the repeaters party the captain announced that HAL is coming out with a new ship (63,00 tons) in May, another of the same class in the fall, 2 ships (84,000 tons ) in 2002, 1 ship (84,000 tons) in 2003 and 1 ship (84,000 Tons) in 2004. I think if we put a fine edge on our bargaining tools we could get some excellent pricing on fall cruising.
Casino: Quite small. Very little action. I think this is another example of Holland American knowing their clientele. They put their money and efforts into the areas they know their guests prefer.
Half Moon Cay: We heard a number of people say if they had their druthers, they wouldn't mind if they staid at Half Moon Cay for the week. It is an absolutely beautiful Caribbean paradise. This pristine beach stretches for some two miles. The sand is soft and white without any of the rock formations you find on many islands and the water sparkled with every hue of green as the sun struck the water.. The Masdam was also at anchor and even with the additional people the beach never looked crowded.
In the late 60's, we had a condo in Puerto Rico and made hydroplane trips to Magens Bay which is reputed to be one of the top ten beaches in the world. We have always loved it there. But after seeing and spending a day at Half Moon Cay, there is no comparison. It's like comparing apples and pears. We never expected it to be as nice as it is.
Grand Cayman: Went to the Beach Hotel resort next to the Hilton on seven mile beach. The beach is really nothing extra but from it's location you can walk down the beach to areas where you can wade and swim with no one within two to three hundred yards of you. It was delightful
Cozumel: Cozumel has become one of our favorite ports because of the store, Los Cinco Soles and the restaurant to the rear of that store, "Pancho's Backyard." Los Cinco Soles is our favorite store of the whole Caribbean. We go through all the shops and then make our purchases there. They have everything conceivable item plus a wonderful women's boutique. At Pancho's Backyard, they have a Marimba band playing for lunch and until 3 o'clock. Shopping at Los Cinco Soles, then having lunch at Pancho, makes for a very nice port stop.
This is the End of Our Novel: We haven't previously kept notes on our previous cruises in preparation for writing a review.. We relied on our memory. But since we have our reviews posted on several web sites, we have received a huge amount of mail, even some from Europe, asking all kids of questions and asking for our suggestions on various aspects of cruising. We have learned that many of the readers rely heavily on reviews for making critical decisions about when and where and with what line they will make their next cruise. We feel a deepened responsibility to review readers and also to the Cruise lines, that the information that we convey is truthful and honest and as thorough and as unbiased as possible. Because of that realization, we kept a small notebook with us at all times during this cruise and jotted down the things we thought would be of interest. The results of which is this review.
Some things are planned well in advance and the anticipation of finally doing what was planned just adds to the excitement. Other times, things are done on relatively short notice and the often turn out better than you thought they would. In our case what we had planned on fell through forcing us to radically change our plans. So we made a quick decision to take a cruise on the Ryndam. It was a good decision.
Why did I choose the Ryndam? I have definite likes and dislikes, as much about cruises as about anything. I find that certain cruise lines do things that I like better than others. Some cruise lines seem to make cruising something special, that forgo a certain appeal to the masses and that offer a bit more refinement. I also know that I like smaller ships better than larger, less passengers better than more, a warm and gracious crew versus impersonal, and a more refined atmosphere rather than one that is rowdy or boisterous. I much prefer a teak promenade to a rock-climbing wall. I also like the feeling of being on a ship at sea,rather than on a floating hotel. These are all personal preferences, but for me, they do make a difference. So far I seem to find more of these things on HAL then other lines I have sailed. This, along with the western itinerary she traveled was my basis for choosing the Ryndam.
The Ryndam is one of four sisters, the others being the Statendam, Maasdam and Veendam. As regards interior layout they are all identical in every way. Sail on one and you will have no trouble negotiating any others of the class. For first timers there are plenty of signs in the elevator lobbies and the ships are not so huge as to get lost. In the HAL way of doing things, many of the public rooms have the same names on all of their ships. There is always an Ocean Bar and there is always a crow's nest. This immediately gives the repeat cruiser a sense of familiarity no matter what ship you sail on in the line.
Our cruise departed on Saturday, February 5, 2000. In order to eliminate the stress of same day travel my wife and I arrived in Florida three days early. This gave us the opportunity to relax, unwind, visit with family and meet some friends whom we had never met before. Friends that we have known for years via cruise chat rooms. First to be met were Kukimoose, Billtravel and Robocop. We had a wonderful dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Coral Gables, thanks Kuki! The next day we met Mama Chubs who was disembarking from the Volendam. After picking up Mama and her hubby at the pier we proceeded to the Marriott Marina Hotel and met with Simari1401. We had a few hours together, had lunch, and then we took Mama to the airport. Our excitement built, as we knew the next day we would be boarding our ship. Finally being able to meet these long time Internet and AOL friends was a highlight of our trip. Hopefully we will all be able to cruise together sometime in the future.
The next day we checked out of our hotel, dropped off our car and checked in at the pier. Arriving very early we had about an hour wait and then we boarded. Looking over our fellow cruisers we observed a fairly typical HAL crowd of seniors. However, mixed amongst them were a surprisingly large number, for HAL at least, of younger couples and some singles. A number of babies, small children, and preteens were also seen, which also surprised us, given the time of year we were traveling. One of the cruisers we met while waiting was a mid 40's fellow named David. He was traveling alone and he said friends and family had convinced him to join them on this cruise and so here he was. He was full of questions about the cruise, the ship and what he would do onboard. We had a pleasant chat and all week, whenever we saw David, he had a smile on his face. I asked him several times how he liked cruising and he said it was great and that he would do it again. Maybe next time he would try a ship with a younger crowd, but I am sure that a new cruise addict has been born!
The Ryndam is now five years old, having entered service in 1994. She is in remarkably good condition for five years and does not show her age. Some wear was noted on the lido deck floor covering which is now wearing thin, and some tables and chairs in various areas that have lost some of their luster and show scratches. But overall, the ship is in great condition. HAL has always made maintenance and upkeep a priority and I was happy to find that this is still true. Virtually no rust is visible anywhere on the hull or exterior fittings. The warm brown teak decking has now changed to a weathered gray color from exposure but the wood itself is in fine condition.
Boarding the ship was hassle free. HAL continues the wonderful tradition of meeting, greeting and escorting passengers to their cabins. Since we were on main deck and immediately down the hall from the entrance we simply walked to our outside cabin, #597. This was an excellent location, amidships on the starboard side. Our room was decorated almost identically to that of our earlier cruise on the Veendam in peach tones and chintz fabrics. It was spotlessly clean and the twin beds had already been converted to a queen. The bathroom was tidy, well arranged and again spotless. The bathroom would benefit from having a toiletries cabinet, as only a shelf is provided and it is unable to accommodate the normal storage needs of two people. An under-sink shelf is also lacking, and this would be another worthwhile addition.
Following our normal post-boarding pattern, we spent a few minutes in the cabin and then headed out to explore the ship. Heading past the boarding area on deck five and up an escalator you arrive in the lowermost area of the three-story atrium. The overwhelming object that is seen is the base and lower part of a large fountain sculpture, totally oversized and dominating considering the size of the atrium itself. On either side are doors that lead to the promenade. Those expecting an atrium like those of other ships will be disappointed. The atrium on this ship is simply a means to connect decks and lacks the people watching and sitting areas of other ships. The atrium is not a destination, such as the Centrums of Royal Caribbean. However, it does provide a central crossroads for access to many of the public areas on Promenade and Upper Promenade decks.
The interior decor on the Ryndam is far different than that of the Veendam, which we found we preferred. As is the case with the other "S" class ships the decor in most of the ship is soft and soothing. Nothing is glaring or shocking to the eyes. The overall affect is pleasing. However some decorating schemes we did not like at all. The main dislike is the Crow's Nest. Done with a theme of ice and glaciers the floor and walls feature crackle glass panels and colors in shades of blues. The crackle glass wall panels have neon behind them. The ceiling features tubes of white glass in varying lengths to simulate icicles. Behind this is neon tubing in various shades. The neon colors changed in a subtle fashion and suggested the aurora borealis. Later in the evening the room is converted from a lounge to a disco and the neon is pulsed in rhythm to the music. The effect can be very disconcerting and several passengers said it made them a bit uneasy. Especially on the one night when some motion could be felt on the ship.
The other decor I did not care for as much was the Ocean Bar. This had to do with the colors of the room, which were cool blues, off-white chairs and gold tones. These made the room not as warm or inviting as on the Veendam. There also was the glare of mini-spot lights used to illuminate the atrium fountain. While not visible from all areas of the room they were noticeable to me, maybe because I wear glasses. The simple addition of more greenery or a solid partition to screen out this glare would eliminate the problem.
The furniture, fixtures and fittings have held up well and most do not show any significant wear. Except for my comments above I thought the color schemes and interior decor themes have held up well and it still seems fresh.
That night we were introduced to our second seating, dining companions. Our group changed as one couple switched to 1st seating. A couple from the Canadian Rockies, Glenda and Brian, who were 1st time cruisers replaced them. As finally configured our table also included Ruth and Lance who were in there late 30's and taking their first cruise. Lance owns a catering business and all week he was very helpful in deciphering the menu selections. Ruth works as a university student affairs administrator. Joann was traveling with her companion Jo. Joann was celebrating her 90th birthday during this cruise. It was humbling to be sitting next to someone who had lived through almost all of the 20th century. Joann told us some very interesting stories and was a veteran cruiser. Everyone at our table made it a point to rotate seats and positions during the week, which helped to make for interesting conversation each night. I was very interested in hearing about how our first time cruisers enjoyed their cruise as the week went on.
The onboard HAL experience is far more subdued than on other ships I have sailed. A variety of deck games, organized and do it yourself, dance classes, craft classes and such are presented along with the ever-present Bingo game. A steel drum band provides music around the pools at varying times during the day, but I continually longed for a reggae band. The steel band, while OK, just doesn't carry a tune like other bands and the hours they played were rather limited. Taped music was played at the Lido pool. While this made for easy conversation and napping, a bit more lively music would have been appreciated. While most passengers seemed to like the laid back atmosphere, some said it was a bit too subdued for them. If you are looking for a wide range and variety of activities this is not the ship to find them on. Our friend David said he would liked to have found some singles his age and he thought his next cruise would be on a ship more suitable to his single status. On the other hand 1st timers Ruth and Lance said that they liked the relaxed and subdued atmosphere. They said that they both lead very busy and hectic lives and the atmosphere was perfect for unwinding and getting back to knowing each other.
There are two main production shows and I attended both. Each was found to be fairly standard cruise fare. The first is a show called Copacabana and is a musical story woven around the Barry Manilow song of the same name. In fact Barry Manilow wrote the show. The costumes were by Bob Mackie and were gorgeous. The storyline is paper-thin and is really an excuse to do some lively singing and dancing. The dancing was good but the lead female singer was not really up to the job. The second show involved a review of songs from the 50's and 60's. An amazing 70 songs, or should I say, parts of songs are presented in a brisk 50 minutes. However, with so many songs being sung in snippets they eventually seemed to blend into each other. I kept longing to hear at least a few songs from beginning to end. A comedy magician act was OK, but nothing special. I also attended the crew show, which alternatives between Philippine and Indonesian. Ours was the Indonesian show. This show packed the house, even though it is presented at 11:15pm. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed the show. It is a marvel that these hard working crewmen can find the time to rehearse and present such a show. They truly seem to enjoy themselves and we passengers warmly received their performance. Bravo! Also on board, but not attended were a juggling act.
For many people the dining experience on board is a highlight of any cruise, everyone becomes a food critic and has there own ideas about what makes for a good meal. Evaluating the dining experience is so subjective that it makes me hesitate. I am not a gourmand and make no pretense of being one. For me the food was more than acceptable in all areas and I was always able to find an appetizer, soup, main course and desert that filled the bill. A low calorie entree and a vegetarian dish were always on the menu. And if nothing else was appealing a grilled chicken breast or a grilled salmon steak was always available. The food is not highly seasoned, which suits me just fine, but left others wishing for a bit more zing. A wide variety is presented at the Lido Buffet, which has it's own menu each day. I felt the dining room meals were superior in quality and presentation to those experienced on the Veendam in 96. We ate all of our breakfasts and lunches while onboard in the Lido buffet or at the Lido poolside. Room service was excellent; our breakfasts were delivered exactly at the time requested. Surprisingly, an omelet could be ordered from room service, but is not to be found at the Lido buffet. My wife commented that the rich red decor of the Veendam dining room was prettier than that on the Ryndam.
Our dining room waiter seemed to be missing in action for much of the meal. He would greet us, present the menus, take our meal order and not be seen again until the meals were served. Often the headwaiter would come over, serve the meals, de-bone the Dover sole or remove the lobster meat from the tail. I often had a hard time getting a refill of iced tea from our busboy. It also took until late in the week before the busboy remembered that my wife and I drank hot tea. I believe that our table created the problem for him by sitting at different spots around the table each night. The wine steward was efficient and promptly delivered our bar orders.
A quick review of the ports of call. Half Moon Cay is HAL's private island. It is the nicest private island I have been too. A full day is spent at this island. Unfortunately it was rather cool and windy when we were there, swimming was impossible. However I was able to enjoy a nice nap, swinging in a hammock right on the beach. I could have stayed there forever. Grand Cayman is a special place for us as we honeymooned there in 1974. We were returning for the third time since our honeymoon and I must admit that the island has lost much of the charm it had for us as honeymooners. The level of construction, the large crowds from the cruise ships and the traffic in the downtown area have turned our little, sleepy, slice of heaven into another overrun island. However, it still has a beautiful strip of sand in Seven Mile Beach, the water is still wondrously clear and clean, and the island is very safe. I don't know if we will return again. Cozumel has changed significantly since our last visit in 1993. In fact much of the area around San Miguel was unrecognizable it has changed so much. This change has been caused by the damage of hurricanes and by the quickening pace of tourism on the island. We enjoyed a great afternoon of swimming, snorkeling and sunning on a Fury Catamaran excursion. After dinner that evening we returned to town for some lively shopping. A sleepy village San Miguel certainly is not! Our last stop was at Key West, and I found it to be both fascinating and very honky tonk. It certainly is unique but overall I thought it was only so, so as a port of call.
Summing up these are my likes:
First and foremost the service. The crew is warm, friendly and they really go out of their way to please you. You are always greeted with a smile and often your name! Visit the same lounge a few times and you will be greeted as an old friend. They will know your name, room number and your favorite drink. Our room steward was as equally competent.
Flowers, flowers everywhere. A HAL trademark, the extensive use of fresh flowers makes everything so colorful. According to the manager responsible, $3,000 to $5,000 is spent each week on fresh flowers and it certainly shows.
The lack of crowds and lines. The ship is spacious and never feels crowded in any area. The ship carries 1266 with 2 to a room and we had 1200 on our sailing. This lack of crowding makes the whole shipboard experience so much nicer.
Ordering shore excursions was totally hassle free. Simply fill out a form, drop it in a box and your tickets are delivered to your room.
Having a heated, fresh water swimming pool to enjoy. On our first two days it was a bit cool but with a heated pool and a magrodome over it, we were still able to enjoy swimming, the hot tubs and lounging.
Half Moon Cay. This is simply the best private island we have been too. It has a gorgeous stretch of white sand, some native shopping, clean rest rooms, a wedding chapel and a real post office! HAL has created a little piece of paradise here. When the palm trees and other plants mature it will be picture perfect.
Tropical Night - While in Cozumel the lido pool area is turned into an outdoor dining area, complete with white linen table clothes and place settings. Balloons, straw mats around columns and other decorations, along with the steel band add a tropical flavor while everyone enjoys a barbecue meal of chicken, baby back ribs, steak, corn and all the fixings to go with it. Well done!
The second formal night. For dinner the Rotterdam dining room is redecorated. All chairs are covered by linen colored covers and matching tablecloths. Other decorations and the lighting used make the dining room seem special and different.
Dutch High Tea - HAL celebrates its' history by presenting formal high tea one afternoon in the Rotterdam dining room. The pastries are exquisite and the setting elegant. Brewed Darjeeling tea is served. A description of the tradition of high tea is presented and a pianist plays in the background.
The outdoor promenade and deck chairs. Missing from many new ships, it is a delight to walk on real teak while at sea. During our return we saw Dolphins riding our wake, while those above on the Lido were totally unaware of this going on. Sometimes the simply things really are better.
The tradition of serving lemonade in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon on all outside decks including the promenade. A thoughtful touch that is really appreciated.
Hot appetizers served to your table in all lounges pre-dinner. They vary each night and are yummy.
My few dislikes: From the day we boarded there was always something in the daily news or in the cabin paperwork about disembarkation. Being reminded that you have to get off when you just arrived is disconcerting. At least they could wait a few days!
The announcements for Bingo. Actually most announcements are kept to a minimum but not Bingo. I know I can't win if I don't play, but please stop reminding me of that fact!
While I didn't find it a problem on the Veendam, I really noticed the lack of a center stair tower this time. A center stair tower was added to the larger Rotterdam/Volendam class.
As mentioned in the report I really felt that the lido live music could be improved upon.
On the last night of our cruise I asked our first time cruisers the following questions.
What are the 5 things that you liked the best about the ship?Ruth and Lance: Health Spa and Gym Services staff in particular their room steward Variety of daily activities available The layout and facilities of the Lido/Pool area The casino Brian and Glenda: Ships decor Dining room experience Room Steward Shore excursions and the ports visited Lido deck and pool area.
What were you most surprised by?
Ruth and Lance said that they were surprised the high level of personal service that they received during the cruise. They said that they had never felt so pampered and well served.
Brain and Glenda said that they were surprised by the high level of luxury onboard the ship.
What needs to be improved most?
Ruth and Lance said that the quality and variety of the entertainment needs improvement.
Glenda and Brian said that they would most like to see the decor in the Crow's Nest changed. Both said that the pulsating neon lights should be eliminated.
Will you take a cruise again?
Ruth and Lance said they would cruise again in a heartbeat. In fact Ruth said she would start planning for their next cruise as soon as they got home and it would definitely be on HAL.
Glenda and Brian said that hey would cruise again someday but they had many other travel experiences to try. When and what cruise line they would cruise with were unknown.