On the whole, our 28 days aboard the Statendam were enjoyable. However, those considering cruising on this ship, particularly those with respiratory problems, should be alerted to the recurring problem, especially in cabins located near the bow, of periodic venting of noxious marine fuel vapor / fumes into passenger cabins via the air conditioning system.
We also found the service in the Rotterdam Dining Room to be impossibly slow before the food is served, then hurried and unpleasant thereafter. Dining in the Lido Restaurant, while not as "elegant," is a much better experience, with highly professional and friendly service. Food choice, quality, and menu variety in the Statendam's Lido are not up to the high standard set on the larger HAL ships, but dining there is still good.
Our review starts with an overall assessment for the first day for this 30 day round trip cruise aboard the Holland America Statendam -- San Diego to San Diego.
San Diego Harbor Embarkation was in San Diego which has a good pier for cruise ships and the best part is the pier is in downtown, not far from the airport or city attractions. We stayed at the Marriott Gaslamp Hotel which is a short cab ride from the pier. Expect to pay around $12 for a short trip in the downtown area.
At the pier was a Carnival ship and the Statendam. Our cab was permitted to cross security and pull along the ship terminal. Unloading was a snap as many porters were present. Holland America never mailed us baggage tags thus we had to ask a porter and then take the time to complete filling them out. When I offered $10 for the two baggage tags and the porter service, I was rudely told I would have to pay $20.
Inside the building we went through security and got in line to get our cabin assignment. The lines moved veryquickly. There is a separate line for handicapped and the wait was even shorter. Suggest if you are handicapped, look for that line. Once documents are given to you, the walk to the ship is short. There is an elevator for the handicapped. You may wonder why I am often mentioning the handicapped. There were many handicapped aboard this ship including many in wheelchairs.
We were in our cabin within minutes. This was a very quick embarkation. It could not have gone easier.
Dining Let's start with the one subject that is most often heard in a conversation aboard a ship. Eating! We were greeted with a new dining concept aboard the Statendam, called "As You Wish Dining." The Main Statendam Dining Room as many will recall who have sailed on this ship earlier, is two decks. The top deck (Deck 8) is reserved for early and late fixed dining time seating. The bottom dining room (Deck 7) is for "As You Wish Dining." You can make a reservation the day of dining for seating at various times. Unfortunately we never found open times available other the 5:30PM and 8:00PM. Perhaps you can have better luck. You can also "walk in" and ask for seating, however from the long lines we saw and the unhappy passengers who were turned away while we were dining at 5:30, it is difficult to see how this is going to work to everyone's satisfaction. We were told it was better to ask for late seating as late times were plentiful. For "walk in" dining you will be seated at the next vacant seat, thus you may sit at a table for 2, 4, 6 or 8. After a few days it appeared this system begin to break down as many people including ourselves sat at a specific table. We noticed many people doing this and less and less dining reservations were noted in cabin mailboxes.
The Rotterdam Dining Room: It's day number four and I need to update the "As You Wish Dining" process. A call for reservations this morning was not successful. I was told that all reservations were taken except for 8PM. I checked with a fellow passenger and she was told the same, nothing available until 8PM. It may be a coincidence, on being told there was no reservations available and then seconds later getting a call from the front desk wanting to know if there were any problems and was there anything the front desk could help with. I declined any help and decided we will try the "walk in" approach this evening. If that doesn't work we will head for the Lido Deck dining area.
You also have the option of eating at the Lido, which has just been renovated with a new serving area and new seating. It is very nice. You may not be able to serve yourself as almost all the food is behind glass window dividers and you ask the server for the item. Perhaps some of this separation was brought about due to health concerns. Now the passengers cannot get directly to the food. No more touching food with your fingers, coughing or sneezing over the food. The serving area is broken down into theme type foods (Asia, beef, Italian, fish, etc.) This makes it rather easy to go directly to the items you desire. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in this manner. Remember the times you have had to wait for a passenger who could not decide what slice of bacon they wanted and the line backed up and backed up? Now they get the next two pieces of bacon. If that is not your thing then you may not like this expedited serving process. We also noticed that portions offered are smaller. In fact everything that is served seems to be in smaller portions. Juice glass, coffee cups, etc are all smaller than we found in the past.
The Pinnacle Grill: The Pinnacle Grill is open for both lunch and dinner. There is an additional charge of $10 for lunch and dinner $20. We never saw many passengers dining in this restaurant. The food at dinner is steak and seafood. It is excellent. Lunch includes a hamburger -- remember you are paying $10 to $20 extra per person to dine in this restaurant. Several passengers we found out had been given complimentary seating from their travel agents.
Terrace Grill:If you like hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza or tacos, the Terrace Grill is on the same deck as the Lido Restaurant. Service is slow as each item is cooked after you order. We tried this snack bar several times and the slow service never changed. Your burger is not cooked until you place your order and cooking will take several minutes. The process never seemed rushed so expect ordering to take several minutes. If you drink cokes, then a drink card is available for $25 for 20 cokes. HOWEVER we learned that the card does have limits. For example my wife asked for a diet Sprite. Sorry but diet drinks are not available from the auto dispenser, only in cans and guess what? Cans are not included with the card. We went to three bars one afternoon before we found a bartender willing to let us have two glasses of Diet Sprite poured from a can. There is no refill and the drinks show up in a small glass. You can also purchase from the bar cans of drinks. There is also a coffee card available for $20 for 10 coffees. Look at the prices as you will probably be better off purchasing individual coffees as you desire rather than buying the coffee card. In fact the bartender told us we might rather purchase individually than purchase the card. There is free coffee in the Lido Restaurant. Specialty coffees are available at several places on the ship at an additional cost.
Ice Cream and Desert Bar -- Lido Deck: Contrary to other ships we have recently sailed, this ship has an ice cream bar where you can get soft serve and hard frozen ice cream until 5:00 PM without charge. You can make your own sundaes, get the ice cream in a dish or in a waffle cone. Several toppings were also available.
Cabin Location This is a small ship, thus cabin location does matter. We've had cabins, on other Statendam cruises, in several places throughout the ship. Trust me -- don't get too close to the front and aft ends of the ship as you will feel the ship's motion all night long and even more so if you are in rough seas. Some travel agents assist you and you decide which cabin suits you best. If you have a long cruise don't settle for anything less than what you want.
Photo Shop We continue to believe the cost of snapshots on cruise ships is way too much and this ship we found no different. The quality of the snapshots left a lot to be desired. Purchase your own quality digital camera and either print them off your computer or have a quality shop print them when you return home. The quality will be much better, plus you can have all the photos you want to print. TIP: Notice where the ship photographers go with their equipment, both on the ship and off the ship. Then take photos of your traveling companions at those locations, just like being at Disneyworld where there are many signs that read "photo spot." You will be dollars ahead. Photos sold as portraits aboard ships are just snapshots made with a medium price digital camera. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Prices on photo supplies are high aboard cruise chips, so make your purchases at a discount store before you leave home.
Sports Activities There is a basketball court on the top deck and ping pong on deck 11. Traveling on the Holland America Statendam will usually provide you ample opportunity to play. There is also golf putting, golf chipping, shuffleboard, basketball and volleyball aboard the ship. You can earn "Dam Dollars" if you win and later exchange those dollars for prizes.
Ping Pong is located on Deck 11.
There's a neat Hideaway on Deck 12.
Who Are My Fellow Passengers? Traveling on the Holland America Statendam is certainly a far cry from traveling on a Carnival or Princess cruise ship. There were a large number of handicapped passengers and a great number that are social security age. We only saw one grade school child on board and two small 1 year old children. We would strongly urge young passengers, honeymooners, and families with children to consider a cruise other than this one. While the destinations are great, you should expect to sit at a table with seniors rather than people who are younger. Do you really know what to expect for table talk? You'll hear about the stock market, global travels, social security, Medicare, grandchildren and politics. Unless my observations are all wrong 90-95% of the passengers would easily fall in the 70-85 year old range.
Want a Great View? The Crow's Nest is great for relaxing and seeing the world go by. The days we visited it was obvious a lot of smokers had "camped out" in the area. We found the smell of smoke too much to stay a long time plus on many days they kept the area very cool. Wear a sweater just in case you go there on one of those days. There was free coffee, tea and cookies on some days. There are many bars throughout he ship, however we never found any of them very busy. Each morning the cruise director has a coffee chat with an entertainer. We found the chats interesting and informative. Some of the entertainers also participate in lectures aboard the ship. Time and locations vary.
Art Auctions As with most cruise ships there is an art auction. If you want to buy a print or painting wouldn't you really be better off going to the local art dealer and discussing such a purchase? It's difficult to believe quality art work, in such scarce quantities, could be found aboard a cruise ship a thousand miles out in the sea. Think about it.
Future Cruise Purchase We are always amazed to see large numbers of passengers talking with an onboard Holland America future cruise person. There is the offer of $100 ship board credit or a room upgrade if you just put a down payment today for that cruise next year. The cruise industry is like so many other businesses in this day and time. There are good buys and even great buys to be made on future cruises. Are they aboard a cruise ship? You be your own judge. We get so many e-mails advertising discounted cruises that we have always been hesitant to purchase a cruise while at sea.
Internet Access OK, I am an internet junkie and this is most often the way I stay in touch with family and friends. The service aboard this ship was equivalent to the old dial up service that I ditched 10 years ago. There was one big difference as the cost was $100 for 250 minutes. I could even live with that however just getting onto the internet sometimes took a full 10 minutes with each minute costing 40 cents. I updated this review on day four. The internet is said to be working so I head for the internet area. After 15 minutes I finally log onto the ship's system, however it will not let me go to the internet. I ask the attendant for assistance and she told me I didn't know my name and the password needed to log onto the internet and that I should call my provider (sbcglobal) when I get to Hawaii. This is strange since I have been using this service and have maintained my "login name" and "password" for many years. I ask the person next to me if he has been able to log in and he advises that he is on the ship's hookup but can't get to his bank account to pay a bill. Almost thirty minutes have passed and I started to try to reach various providers and sites. Finally by going to Google and them to SBCGlobal I am able to at least get to my provider's web site. A few minutes later I am on my site and I get into my e-mail. The fellow next to me is still trying. One thing I noticed, once you log onto the ship's system you will find various Holland America links. DON'T GO THERE AS IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET OUT WITHOUT LOGGING OFF. That will mean having to go back and try the process all over again thus wasting many, many minutes. I figured sending a simple e-mail was costing me many dollars each time. I have experienced far faster connection time aboard the Princess line. The person on duty was friendly and helpful, and it was not her fault.
Library and Internet Rooms I plan to rethink my internet experiences aboard cruise ships. I will no longer sign up for the ship's internet service unless the ship is reasonably close to land. No more open sea "lack of internet service" for me. The quality of the service is poor even in the best of times. You have a far better chance of getting a reasonably good quality hookup when docked. Another tip -- take a minute to meet the person in charge of the ship's service. If she/he does not appear proficient or willing to help you, then pass up the high internet fees and wait until you are on shore. Thus far I have been unable to use my own laptop on this cruise as I hook up one minute while being disconnected the very next minute. Asking for help on this cruise was certainly not even close to the excellent service we received on a recent Princess cruise.
I have been unable to use my laptop in my cabin. I asked some other passengers if they can get on the internet in their cabin and neither have they. I was able to use my iPhone even in the cabin to connect to AT&T and download my emails. The phone worked great in all ports in Hawaii.
Retail Stores If you can find poorer retail stores in the cruise industry please send me an e-mail as the stores on the Holland America Statendam have some of the poorest quality merchandise we have ever seen. In addition some stores had very little merchandise. One store advertised everything in the store at a $10 price. We thought we were at the local dollar store. My wife had always purchased perfume aboard cruise ships, but not this one. The selection and quality was extremely poor. Holland America needs to address this immediately.
Van Gough Lounge This is the entertainment area for the onboard singers and dancers as well as other invited entertainment. It is worth a visit to the area during the day time just to view this very nice theater area reminiscent of eras gone by. Looks a lot like the movie theater I attended in the 1940s. Seating is comfortable and the theater is small, compared to the big mega ships. The entertainment is one star level therefore don't expect much and therefore you won't be disappointed. Movies are sometimes shown on a small screen. Sound is not the best. Limited amounts of popcorn may be available for free on days movies are shown. Movies were also shown in the Wajang Theater.
Casino One of the smallest casinos we have ever seen on a ship. One roulette wheel, five or 6 tables for various card games, one craps table and one table for poker. There are a limited number of older slot machines. The staff is far more friendly than we have experienced on recent cruises. This is certainly not a place where you go to win money. It is just entertainment. Don't worry, they will take your money just as quickly on the older slots as the newer electronic machines. One of the best gambling bargains is the Texas Holdem Poker Tournament. Buy in for $30 and the winner of the tournament gets $200 with the runner up getting $50. A great hour of fun and play and not too expensive. On our ship the first time players seemed always to beat out those who thought they were pros. Be patient with the players and dealers as this is not a professional tournament.
Sports Activities On most days there is some type of competitive sport activity taking place. Shoot basketball and golf putting are two such activities where you can win cruise dollars that, if you accumulate enough, you can win a prize. Kind of like going to the fair or carnival.
Shore Excursions As with many other items you may purchase, you may find shore excursion prices beyond your budget. Shore excursions can cost you far more than the price of the cruise, therefore I suggest you be very selective. Costs range from $59 to $599 for such excursions. If you are not the adventurous type, don't like to go off on your own and don't much like driving in an unfamiliar area, then the ship's shore excursions may be your only choice if you want to get off the ship and see the sights, so let me suggest some alternatives. In Kauai there is a helicopter ride of 1-1/2 hours that sells for $265. By doing a little research on the internet we found an equivalent helicopter tour priced at $350.40 for two passengers, thus we saved almost $180.00. We were fortunate in that our son is a pilot and he had flown on the helicopter we booked, thus we got a great recommendation. The price of the ship's helicopter could have been purchased for around $200 on shore on the identical helicopter, thus there was a mark up of approximately $65 per passenger for the ship's tour.
In Hilo the ship's tour office has a variety of tours costing $51 to $219 per person. Find another couple and rent a car for around $50 and head for some of the same tourist spots at a fraction of the cost from the tour office. By splitting the cost of the rental car and gas, you can see the exact same sights on your own time and save a bundle. All it takes a little internet research and a few reservations before you arrive.
One couple at our dining table made reservations with a tour company that will meet them at the dock and take them to the same places as the ship offers with the really big difference being the price, which was less than 50% off the ship cruise prices, plus don't forget the freedom that goes with such a tour -- stop when you want to and stop where you want to.
Tenders Like many passengers we are not always excited when we have to "tender in" at a port. The tenders on this ship ran quite well when it came to passenger pickups, transportation and drop offs.
Car Rental Tips We rented cars at Hilo, Kailua, Lahaina & Honolulu. Check and double check that you understand where the cars are located and how you will get there. For example we were told by Alamo Rental that we could walk to their office in Honolulu. Upon arrival we found the office to be about 6 miles away or a $30 taxi ride. Most rental car companies will pick you up at the dock at no additional charge. Make certain that you know what the closing hour is for that location and if you can turn a car in after closing hours. In Honolulu the Hertz office was close to the cruise terminal, however they did not permit car turn ins after 4PM. Parking in Honolulu was $30 to $50 for overnight. Plan your traveling route well before you arrive at the port. We found that even though we were at Honolulu for two days, a one day rental was plenty as the traffic was a nightmare. Also determine the kind of vehicle you really need. Unless you are going "four wheeling" don't opt for a Jeep Wrangler on the islands. These are not the most comfortable vehicles to drive or ride in (I own one and thus I write from experience) and they will cost an arm and a leg at most locations. Going down the highway in Hawaii in a convertible is a picture of fun. Maybe and maybe not, as we hit rain quite often, thus time after time we lowered the top only to have to raise it an hour later. Otherwise the convertible was quite fun. Leave all your "stuff" in the cruise ship cabin as it will be exposed for the easy heist at your next unattended stop. Do you really need that extra insurance for collision and theft? You need to review the terms of your credit card AND your personal insurance policy and then make your own decision. Many articles and guide books stated that car reservations should be made before leaving home. While that is a good suggestion, we found prices to be the same or in some cases lower at the location than prices quoted before leaving home.
Library A very good at sea library offers many books and DVDs (cost $3 to rent) that can be viewed in your cabin. All need to be checked out at the desk and returned by the due date. There is a section for paperback exchanges which is free. Just leave the book that you have read for another passenger and pick up a paperback of your choice. Some of these books were in French with most being in English.
Spa and Salon Located on deck 11 there is a very nice Spa and Hair Salon. Depending on what part of the country you live in, expect to pay highly inflated prices.
Wajang Theater The movie theater has been renovated and is now a theater with movies being shown several times a day. It also serves as the location for the Culinary Arts Center where cooking and food demonstrations are given. Seating is in comfortable theater chairs. Popcorn is available for free at the movies. Get there early if you want free popcorn as it goes fast and there was never enough for the entire crowd.
Queens Room and Explorations Cafe Lots of internet locations in this area and several good areas to relax and read a book.
Explorers Lounge A great place to relax and watch the world go by, have a drink and read a book. Comfortable seating throughout the room.
Ocean Bar One of the places we found to be the busiest aboard ship. Good seating where passengers can have a drink and chat with friends.
Half Moon Room and Hudson Room These rooms are next to one another on the Promenade deck. They were being used by private groups much of the time and were also used by some of the ship's lecturers.
Pool Areas Located on the Lido Deck is the Lido Pool which can be covered by a sliding glass dome when weather is adverse outside. The area is very nice and there are new lounges, chairs and tables throughout the area. Plenty of towels are available for those who want to take a swim or get into one of the hot tubs. Just one deck below is a small outdoor pool. We did not find many passengers using that pool as the weather was windy and cool. There are a couple of ping pong tables located close to the indoor pool.
Deck 6 This deck offers a walking area completely around the ship and there are plenty of lounge chairs along the way. On the days "at sea" this area was heavily used by the passengers.
Bars and Lounges If you are one of those that don't mind expensive drinks aboard ship, then head for one of the six lounges or bars on this ship. There are four on deck 8, one on 11 and one on 12. We never once found a bar or lounge full and could always find a seat. Service is sometimes slow as there were few attendants during some hours.
Ports I will not try to list all the ports. The reason we found most passengers taking this cruise is for the unusual ports in the South Pacific, the cost of which to go to individually by air would be astronomical. We found that a few hours at each port only whets one's appetite for future visits.
Raiatea, French Polynesia: A most interesting port with modern port facilities. Rent a car and take a tour of the island. It can be covered in about an hour, thus a four hour car rental would be sufficient. There is a Eurocar Rental office not far from town and we found a representative at the docks offering a ride to the office. Roads are decent and not a lot of traffic. You can stop often and take in the sights. Check your travel book for those places the author feels are a "must to see." There are vanilla plantations on the island. Take a tour. Rentals will be about $100 for four hours.
Bora Bora: Here we rented a car at the city docks (Avis). Takes about two hours to circle the island. Suggest you take a slow leisurely trip and use the four hours you are paying for the rental car. About $100 for 4 hours. There is only one road around the island and it is a good road for most of the way. Don't hesitate on a car rental as there is little traffic and driving is easy. Bloody Mary's is located on the southwest side of the island. It is a great tourist destination.
Moorea: "Le Truck" is the common form of transportation in Moorea. We suggest you pick up a rental car and travel at your own pace.
Papeete, Tahiti: The central market is located downtown. You can walk to a lot of the downtown sites. Traffic is as bad as bad can be. We were discouraged from renting a car here.
Traveling on a cruise to the South Pacific can be an adventure of a lifetime. Island stops were too short as we would have liked to have stayed longer at some of those islands that are not on the regular tourist beat. The opinions and observations expressed in this review are those of this traveler and we recognize that with 1200 passengers on the same trip there will be different opinions and observations, and we respect that. We are in no way connected with the cruise line industry. I would be pleased to try to answer any questions anyone may have concerning this review. Just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Would we travel again on this same ship? Yeah, we would. Would we want to take this same destination cruise? Yes, we would.
Have a great cruise no matter where you travel!
This review presents my impressions of this 35 day voyage comprised of a five day coastal cruise from Vancouver to San Diego, and then a 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific voyage onboard Holland America's ms Statendam M
I'm also going to write this review "freeform." I'll use headings so you can easily skip to the parts that may be important to you.
Embarkation Embarkation was a snap! I had just gotten off a Carnival cruise the day before and flown from LAX to Vancouver. I spent one night pre-cruise at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Because of the advantage of that one night stay, I was refreshed and relaxed on embarkation day for this sailing. My only regret was not having more time to see Vancouver, because I found it to be a lovely city with lots to see and do there.
I have long been a proponent of taking one's time to embark a ship. There's no reason, in my opinion, to be the first one on the ship, especially for a long cruise. So, on embarkation morning I took my time and enjoyed the amenities of the Pan Pacific Hotel until the last possiblemoment. At about 11:15, I called down to the bell captain's desk and had him come up and pick up my huge suitcase for delivery to the ship. This is a nice "bennie" to staying at the Pan Pacific. The cruise ship terminal is actually attached to the hotel, and one need only walk down to the lobby, switch over to the parking garage elevator, and head down to the cruise ship level for check-in.
After giving my heavy luggage to the bell captain, I made my way downstairs to the lobby at a little after noon. Within minutes, I was in the check-in line and through security. The entire process took no more than 15 minutes, and I was walking onto the ship, room card in hand. No muss. No fuss.
As a sidenote, another nice thing about staying at the Pan Pacific is that I didn't even have to step outside in order to get to the cruise terminal. Every step of the way was indoors. This is important when it's raining cats and dogs, and the weather is chilly. I didn't even realize how cold it was until I walked through the enclosed walkway to get onto the ship. I only had a light windbreaker jacket on, and really appreciated that I was indoors the entire time of this embarkation. I also found out that it was raining for the first time as I walked onto the ship. True, I had a nice panoramic window in my room at the Pan Pacific, but for some reason, I just didn't realize from that high up that it was raining out (I was on the 20th floor ... the smoking floor of that hotel).
Cabin Of course, rooms were not quite ready when I embarked, so I was directed to the Lido. Since I wasn't really hungry I just grabbed a cup of java and plopped down at a table. Got my first chance to strike up a conversation with strangers ... something I love to do on cruises, and met a nice "senior" couple who were very excited about this cruise. They told me it was to be their longest one yet. We talked a bit about the ports we would be visiting and I shared with them my little knowledge of Hawaii, since they had never been there.
As soon as the announcement came on that cabins were ready, I went to check out my home for the next 35 days. After my experience on Carnival, I was hoping this cabin would be a bit more roomy, which it was.
I had an unobstructed outside cabin on the Main Deck (cabin 641). This was a nice upgrade that I had received from the inside cabin I had booked. The bed was made up as a double (per my request) and everything was in order. All of the things I had ordered -- a bottle of wine, as well as cocktail cards, shore excursion reservations, etc., were all there. My cabin steward, Mohammed, stopped by to introduce himself and see if there was anything he could do for me. When I asked for an ashtray, he brought me a brand new one, still in the box. It is the kind they normally put on balconies, completely enclosed with a push handle in the center to "flush" your butts inside.
Fortunately, luggage arrived shortly thereafter, allowing me to get the unpleasant unpacking chore out of the way before lifeboat drill. To me, a cruise doesn't really start until those two items are complete.
The cabin had plenty of storage space. I couldn't possibly fill it all, and I doubt even a couple could have. There were three large closet sections, not to mention six full drawers in the desk/bureau, and two nightstands with two drawers each that you could lock with a key. The only thing that surprised me was that the safe in the room was apparently one of the older ones that has a separate card to lock it, rather than being of the combination lock type. This meant that you had to carry a second card around with you if you wanted to be sure the items in the safe were secure. I've never seen these types of safes on HAL ships before; they must be an older variety.
The cabin itself was in a great location, rather close to the aft elevators. Normally this could be a problem on a ship with an active nightlife. I would imagine you could get a lot of noise -- people getting on and off elevators and tramping by your cabin, laughing and talking. But not on this sailing. We didn't have the "party hardy" type passenger makeup.
The only problem I noted during the whole 35 day sailing with my cabin was that at night it would often creak and groan with the motion of the waves. I guess this was because I had a window (I normally have inside cabins), so the noise was probably a bit more noticeable. But, hey -- ships move -- they float on the water -- and this creaking and groaning is just the ship expanding and contracting with the movement.
The other problem, not so much with the cabin as with the cabin location, was that for the first five days or so of the cruise there was a terrible "sewage" type smell, predominantly in the aft part of the ship. I initially thought this was probably some sort of cooking odor wafting down from the galley, but later I heard that the problem was a broken sewage pipe they were working on fixing. Another story I got was that the smell was "normal" -- the result of a couple of chemicals that are mixed for waste disposal purposes. But since the problem went away after a few days, I tend to think the broken sewage pipe explanation was the correct one.
Dining If anyone goes hungry on this ship, it's their own fault. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry here.
I had the "dreaded" As You Wish Dining on this sailing, and even though I wasn't happy about the prospect, I made up my mind to go into it without prejudgments. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, it was kind of nice because it gave me some real flexibility in deciding when I wanted to eat.
I guess I should say, for the record, that eating is not a big deal for me. As long as the food is edible, I'm happy. I'm the type of person who likes to eat when they are hungry, not necessarily at pre-determined times, so I'm surprised I was dreading this format of dining since it would seem ready-made for me.
Lido Restaurant: I took all of my breakfasts and lunches, and many of my dinners here. On past cruises, the Lido wasn't a good option for dinner because the hours were so limited, but now they have them from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Dinner service in the Lido is a cut above the other meals. You go through a serving line, picking up your appetizer and salad. A server will get your soup and take your entree order, including sides. When you get to the end of the line, a smiling steward will take your tray and deliver it to your table, picking up your coffee along the way. He can even help you put together your salad if you wish.
For dinner service, all the tables have white tablecloths and candles on them. There is limited tableside service, and a steward will pour your water and even get your coffee if you so desire. A bar steward also makes the rounds for those people who would like a drink with dinner.
I enjoyed breakfast in the Lido immensely as well. You can get omelets to order, as well as eggs. Each day there are different items, but pretty much they are the same -- standard breakfast fare. I really can't comment too much on the breakfast food, as I am pretty much a creature of habit. I like my cold cereal or oatmeal with fruit, perhaps some white toast or a bagel, and lots of java. But I didn't hear too many people complaining about the quality of the breakfast offerings, so I assume probably everything was acceptable.
Lunch I can't really comment on at all. I rarely eat lunch and can only recall a couple of times going to the Lido for a salad to hold me over until dinner.
Each night there would also be a late night buffet in the Lido -- at around 11:00 p.m. Each night was a different "theme" -- Italian, Mexican, Indonesian, All American, etc. I only went up for two of these on nights where perhaps I had skipped dinner because I got "busy" in my cabin writing, and on both occasions the offerings were plentiful and the food decent.
I guess I should say right now that I heard a lot of people saying that the food on HAL has "slipped." I honestly wouldn't know if that's true or not. I found everything I ate to be fine. But, like I said, food is not a high priority item with me, so perhaps I'm much easier to please than most. Also, I heard people say that the portions have gotten smaller. This comment I have to outright laugh about. If the portion is small, just ask for two. What's the problem? I am only too happy to get smaller portions. I don't like the idea of wasting food. If I am still hungry, I'll just ask for a second helping. No big deal.
Main Dining Room:I was on the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room, since I was assigned to As You Wish Dining. I was dreading this format of dining mainly because although I had good friends with me on this cruise, the bottom line is that I'm a single and I don't like the idea of being put in the position of having to dine alone while I am on vacation. I figured with As You Wish that could easily happen, especially if my friends were not going to the main dining room that night; perhaps having dinner in their cabin. Well, I needn't have worried.
I got my first chance to dine solo on the third night of the cruise. My friends were not scheduled to board the Statendam until we got to San Francisco, so I was on my own for the first three days of the cruise. On the first night, I was busy doing other things and never went to the dining room. In fact, I decided to skip dinner altogether and just go up to the Lido for the late night buffet. The second night was a formal night, so I went to the Lido. On the third night, however, I decided to give the main dining room a shot and just walked in. I was seated at a table for six with two other couples. This was nice because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with some of my fellow cruisers. The only problem I noted, however, was that service seemed slow. This did not appear to be the fault of the servers in this case, but rather some sort of back-up in the kitchen. There would be breaks in the service -- like after all pre-entrees and before the main entree -- where we would be left to sit twiddling our thumbs before the main courses came out of the kitchen. This problem was not isolated to the As You Wish Dining either. It was also evident in traditional. When my friends, Trisha and Virgil, got onboard in San Francisco, Trisha and I decided to dine in the dining room. Trisha had a spot in early traditional. Since her husband doesn't like going to the main dining room at all, she suggested I take his place. We were at a table for ten, I believe, and the service was incredibly slow. After two separate nights of this, she dumped her slots in traditional dining and we both went back to As You Wish.
Another problem we encountered with As You Wish Dining is that you could not get a table for two without a reservation. If you just walked in, you would be seated at a large table with others. Now, I have no problem with this. In fact, I like it. But the problem we experienced was that when we would sit at a table with others, we had to all be on the same course of the meal. For example, on this particular night, Trisha and I were seated at a table for six. A couple was already there when we arrived. They had not received menus yet. When we sat down, the four of us got menus and we ordered. We were served our soups and appetizers when another couple joined us. We did not get our entrees until that couple had finished with their soup, salad and appetizers. Then we were all served our entrees. This meant that the meal took close to two hours for us, and probably a bit longer for the first couple who I don't know how long were sitting there without menus until we arrived.
Trisha and I asked one of the servers how we could get a table for two in the future. He told us that all of the tables for two were reserved for the rest of the cruise. This went directly against what we had been told in the past -- that a table for two could be reserved by calling the reservations line in the morning; and that you could not reserve it for the entire cruise -- just for that day. Trisha spoke to the guest relations manager about the problem the next day, and we had the immediate attention of the dining room manager by that night. He told us that the person who gave us the information that all of the tables for two were booked for the entire cruise was dead wrong, and he would speak to him about it. He told us that he had a "reservations list" for those tables and we would be added to it. He said that he was working diligently to try and please everyone and he would certainly do the same for us. In fact, after this little chat that evening in the Lido, we never had a problem reserving a table for two again. The only catch was that you had to eat early. Those tables needed to be turned over for maximum use since so many people wanted them. In fact, this dining room manager, Kristian, was very, very forthcoming with me. He told me that As You Wish Dining was presenting a lot of challenges for him on long cruises such as ours since most people don't care for it. The type of passengers on this type of lengthy voyage prefer traditional dining, and there is no way the entire passenger complement can have it. While he can use parts of the lower level dining room for traditional service, there are only certain parts he can use, and as a result there are gonna be some passengers "stuck" in As You Wish who don't want to be. He told me that his "Wish" was that HAL would drop As You Wish on the longer sailings.
I found the food choices to be adequate, though not as plentiful as in the past. The food was tasty and I was usually able to find something on the menu I could enjoy. The evidence of cutbacks was there, though, in that there didn't seem to be as much choice or variety as I seem to recall from before, though I could always find something to enjoy. I heard reports that the desserts weren't that great -- at least not as good as they were in the past -- but I honestly can't comment on that because my standard dessert of choice has always been sorbet in the dining room and sherbert in the Lido. I am alergic to chocolate, and since most desserts are chocolate-based, I rarely sampled any others.
Pinnacle Grill: I love this place. We ate at the Pinnacle four times for dinner and once for lunch. Three of the dinners and the lunch we ate in the main room, right as you walk in. As the meal would progress, it would get rather hot. By the end of the meal, poor Trish was ready to pull her clothes off. Virgil too complained of being warm, though I was fine -- probably because of some medication I take that seems to make me cold all of the time.
I found the food to be absolutely delicious as Pinnacle steaks always are. I had the petite fillet at dinner and even though it was supposedly "petite," I couldn't finish it. I order my steaks medium rare and in all cases it was cooked to perfection. For the one lunch we enjoyed there, I had a small luncheon steak which was also very good. I stuck with sorbet for dessert and often would have a double scoop.
Service was attentive, especially for the one Pinnacle dinner where we were the guests of the hotel manager, Theo Haanen, and his wife Helen. The Culinary Manager and his wife, Maggie, joined us as well. This time we sat in the back room and had almost the undivided attention of five people, including the Pinnacle Grill Manager. If we would take a sip of water, almost instantly the water glasses were topped off. As soon as we could take our first cut of meat, the Pinnacle Manager was there to make sure it was cooked to our liking. We couldn't even ask for anything, because before we could verbalize the request, it had been anticipated and the needed item provided. Talk about service! But the thing was that the service was great for all of the meals -- just exceptionally so for this one. Dining at the Pinnacle is one of the highlights of any HAL cruise for me. But then, I'm a meat and potatoes girl at heart anyway. I could well imagine someone who is not a beef eater not particularly enjoying the dining experience there. That's probably why the menu is being expanded to include other items, such as Lobster, as well. On the Statendam, that new menu was set to go into place with the cruise after ours -- so I can't really comment on it.
Room Service: For some reason, I just didn't use room service on this cruise. Some of them I do, and some I don't. Depends on my routine on the particular cruise. On this one, I just preferred to go to the Lido if I just wanted a quick bite. I was doing a lot of writing in my cabin this trip and really didn't have the room to eat comfortably there. I had my computer and notes and everything else all spread out on the desk and didn't feel like moving everything to make room for a room service tray. So I can't comment on the room service on the Statendam, other to say that my friends used it, as well as others I talked to around the ship, and I didn't hear any of them complaining about it.
Pool Grill: Like I said, I rarely eat lunch. However, once or twice I did grab some pizza or a hot dog at the Pool Grill and it was fine. Lots of choice for condiments, reasonably quick service, decent food. For a quick bite, it's fine. Wouldn't want to eat their fare every meal, though. What can I say? It's a typical pool grill -- burgers, fries, pizza, tacos, hot dogs, etc.
Entertainment and Activities There was a show every night, including four cast production shows. They were typical cruise ship fare. If you're expecting Broadway, you're gonna be disappointed. You'll never get that on a cruise ship, at least not a mass market or even premium one. There were other entertainers provided on other nights, such as musicians, comediennes, magicians, etc., and the ones I saw were reasonably good. I have to say, though, that I don't go to even half the shows presented onboard. It's just not my thing.
Special entertainment was brought onboard a couple of times -- a Hula show and a Polynesian one. The "hula babies" were absolutely adorable and I took picture after picture of them. There was also an Indonesian and Filopino Crew Show presented, but sadly I missed them. 11:30 at night is just a bit too late for me to be fighting for a seat in the Queens Lounge to watch a show. I caught portions of it on the in-cabin tv the next day.
There was music in all the lounges, though our favorite was Darlene and the HALCats. We just liked their brand of music, especially the rock and roll they would do at the various sailaway parties. They also did other type of music at other venues, such as at the various Balls held in the Crow's Nest, which allowed Darlene to showcase the other styles of music she is capable of singing.
There were a full slate of activities on this cruise -- trivia, morning "coffee chats" with the entertainers, Explorations Speakers Series, Dam Dollar events, etc. If you like these sorts of things, that's great. Other than the occasional lecture or coffee chat, I didn't partake of many of them. I much prefer curling up with a good book (actually my Kindle) or writing. Those are the things that keep me busy on a leisurely day at sea. Those are the things I most enjoy. But others seemed to keep quite busy and I met people onboard who loved the Dam Dollar events and participated in just about every one of them.
Since this was such a long cruise, four "social hosts" were brought onboard for dancing and whatnot. They used to be called "gentleman hosts," but HAL changed their title to social host and the job description now involves a lot more than dancing. They are also expected to host singles tables for lunch every sea day, as well as be good conversationalists as well. They would also occasionally be on shore excursions as escorts as well.
There was also a priest and a minister on this cruise, and I would note services being held each day. Normally I go to these, but on this cruise I didn't attend nondenominational services very regularly, just due to my particular schedule and "style" on this cruise. The few services I did attend, though, were very well attended and I have a feeling that crowd were "regulars" who had gotten very friendly and comfortable with each other, just as it should be in a congregation. There were also Jewish services held on Fridays, so I can only assume a Rabbi was onboard as well.
An interesting thing I noted was that HAL kept switching around the times for the shows. If there was a special event going on that night, they might change the show times from the normal 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 and 9:00. This meant that all late seating diners had to go to the 7:00 p.m. show and the early seating folks went to the 9:00. What it actually translated to was more people eating in the Lido that night and the first show being packed. They would have to add folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. Then I would imagine the 9:00 p.m. show having the theater with empty seats all over the place.
We also had several special events on this cruise -- a Black and White Ball, a Sailors Ball and a Farewell Ball. These events took place up in the Crow's Nest at around 10:00 p.m. I went to a couple of them, but didn't stay more than an hour. Balls are just not my sort of thing.
We also had a Crossing the Equator Ceremony which was fun. The only problem was that probably the whole ship was out on the aft deck for this event and it was packed. You couldn't really take too many good pictures for the crowd. Also, HAL received a way too small supply of "Crossing the Equator" teeshirts. It became a free for all to get one and at one point I thought a fistfight was gonna break out when one passenger claimed that another had ripped the tee-shirt that she was going to buy out of her hand.
We also had the Chocolate Extravaganza up on the Lido Deck one night. They opened the buffet up for 15 minutes strictly for picture taking, before letting people dig in. I went up for that purpose since I can't eat chocolate. However, I was very disappointed not to see chocolate covered strawberries as a part of that. They had always been there in the past -- at least they were on my last cruise in 2007. But I guess budget cuts nixed them? Everything else looked pretty good, though, and the offerings were quite elaborate.
The only real criticism I have about the activities and entertainment was with the amount of announcements that were made over the loudspeakers. The cruise director, Mike, seemed big on announcements and there were a lot more of them on this cruise than I have ever heard on a HAL ship. I can understand announcements for major events, like the Crossing the Equator Ceremony, or if there's been a schedule change, or whatever. But normally there is no need for them. We get daily programs delivered to our staterooms every night. People can read. As long as the venues and times are correct in the daily program, then there should be no reason for an announcement "reminding" people that Bingo is starting in 15 minutes, or that there's an art auction taking place in the Ocean Bar at 3:00. Yet we got a lot of announcements of this type, and frankly, they became annoying after awhile.
But other than the slew of announcements, the cruise director seemed to be adequate, though not as visible around the ship as I've seen some. He was personable and friendly whenever I did talk to him.
Ship The Statendam is one of the older ships in HAL's fleet, but you wouldn't know it by her appearance. The ship seemed in fine shape, though many of the public areas were often cold. We would sometimes like to meet up in the morning in the Crow's Nest, but had to stop doing that because it was just way too cold in there. It was actually like an icebox up there some mornings.
I was very impressed with how clean this ship is kept. I would always observe crew members polishing and cleaning in the public areas. They were even removing windows and either cleaning or replacing them in some areas of the ship on port days.
The public areas, including the lounges and bars, were all elegant with little evidence of wear and tear in the carpets or furnishings -- at least that I could see.
Messy tables were always bussed promptly. This was a sore point with me from the Carnival Paradise cruise I took just before this one. I remember several times sitting out on the Paradise's Lido and observing tables laden with dirty dishes sitting there sometimes for an hour or more before being cleaned up. I remember thinking, I hope it's not this way on the Statendam -- and it wasn't. One would no sooner get up, their dirty dishes would be cleared. Ashtrays in the bars, too, would promptly be emptied long before they became full. The Statendam was just a clean ship, and that's a tribute to her wonderful crew.
Internet I would normally not include this heading in a review, but am prompted to because of the comments made in another review of this cruise. I thank God I didn't have the bad luck with the internet that the other reviewer did -- or I'd have been sunk. I blogged almost daily on this cruise and I found internet speeds to be more than adequate. At least I had no problems and I was working from my own personal laptop in my cabin on an almost daily basis. In fact, I remember being very impressed by the internet speed on the Statendam, especially since I was still steaming about my one Carnival Paradise encounter with the internet. To check one email box and print out one email, it took me well over 30 minutes. I had purchased a small 30 minute package, figuring it would be more than adequate for my relatively minor needs. Imagine my disgust when I got a notice upon logoff that I had gone over those 30 minutes, by almost another 15, just to do this little bit of work. Thankfully, when I got to the Statendam and logged onto the internet for the first time a day or so into the sailing, I found the internet to be brisk and was able to accomplish in about 5 minutes what it had taken me almost 45 to do on the Carnival Paradise. In fact, the next morning I happened to be having a smoke on the aft deck when I saw someone wearing an Maritime Telecommunications Network teeshirt. Figuring he was with the company, I took the time to go over to him and tell him of my pleasure with the internet service on the Statendam. I also told him of my displeasure with Carnival's. He was appreciative of my comments, said he would look into the Carnival problems, and told me that they were constantly making improvements to the system.
I have to go on record as saying that I never experienced a problem with the Statendam's internet service -- either in terms of speed or connectivity -- except for a few days when it was completely down, presumably due to heavy fog. Also, true, it did get a bit slow on the last full day of the cruise, when presumably loads of people were trying to get onto their airlines' website to print their boarding passes for their next day's flights home.
I also have to comment on the competence of the internet manager, Jackie. She knows her stuff. I had some major issues initially with getting wireless access. She diagnosed the problem as being an outdated wireless card and loaned me one of hers for the sailing. Then, once I was successful in getting on the internet, I had a problem sending email. I know my profiles were correct because I had sent and received email on the same computer at the Pan Pacific Hotel the night before the cruise. Jackie quickly diagnosed the problem as a server authentication box not being checked on my email profiles. Apparently, on the ship that box needs to be checked, while at the Pan Pacific it did not. Once she got those problems resolved, I never experienced another for the rest of the cruise.
So, I'm really sorry to hear about the other reviewer's internet problems, because my experience was entirely different.
Service Attentive is the best way I can describe this. In a bar, all you have to do is make eye contact and you'll have your favorite drink. In the Lido, there was always a smiling face to greet you in the morning, often with a song. There was always someone offering to carry your tray to your table. At dinner, service was attentive in the dining room. While there may have been backlogs (such as between appetizers and the entree), I honestly believe those were more the fault of the kitchen staff than anyone else. It seemed the servers were anxious to please and would do just about anything for you.
The single thing that really sticks out in my mind from this cruise is the night I was waiting at a table in the Lido to talk with Kristian, the dining room manager. The assistant had gone to page him and then came back to me to tell me he would be right up. As he did, I was starting to get up to go and get a cup of java. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I was just heading over to get a cup of coffee. "No, no," he told me "you don't get your own coffee, you're on vacation." He then asked me how I liked my coffee and summoned a server to get it. It's just things like that that makes sailing HAL special. While the service on Carnival was certainly adequate, it was nothing like that. There were many other such incidents as well.
My cabin steward too was very good and very friendly. Any morning he would see me walking by, he stopped me with a cherry hello and told me to have a wonderful day. We also shared a couple of short conversations which let me know about his life a bit. He told me about his wife and son at home in Indonesia, and even showed me a picture of them. He said he misses them and hopes one day to make enough money to open a business there and be able to stay at home with his family. It is clear he's a hard worker, because he quickly learned my habits and knew that I tended to go to dinner early. He also knew that I liked to write in the cabin some evenings and didn't like to be disturbed when I was doing so. So he made sure to be observant for when I left the cabin for dinner. Then he would get right in there, cleaning it up to have it ready for my return.
One day towards the end of the cruise, I tossed a pair of water shoes into the trash. They were too big and I had no intentions of bringing them back home with me. The cabin steward made sure to ask me about them before discarding them -- just to make sure I really wanted them thrown out.
I also got a nice collection of towel animals. I apologized to the cabin steward at one point, because I was "butchering" his creations. He would put them on the bed, and then when I would move them over to the couch, often they would fall apart. I asked him to make me a couple of hanging monkeys that I wouldn't have to disturb. He made me one and it remained there for the rest of the cruise, later to be joined by an elaborate dog. I put cigarettes in both of their mouths and declared them smokers! My cabin steward was tickled and even asked if we needed another ashtray.
Bars and Lounges Perhaps drink revenue was off this cruise, but about midway through it HAL started something new -- Happy Hours. During Happy Hour you could get two cocktails for the price of one. But, there was a small catch. First, you couldn't use a "Signature Cocktail Card" to purchase your cocktail. You had to pay full price. Also, both cocktails had to be identical. Some people had a problem with this, but it worked fine for me. For $7.32 I got two tropical cable cars. I don't think that's too bad of a deal, so I got to the point that I pretty much went to Happy Hour in the Ocean Bar everyday.
Happy Hour would generally be from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Ocean Bar and then from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the Crow's Nest. Later on, they added a Non-Smoking Happy Hour, I believe from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Piano Bar. I generally restricted myself to the Ocean Bar's Happy Hour, and I will say if the purpose was to stimulate bar receipts, the strategy was working. The Ocean Bar would be packed from 4:00 to 5:00, only to empty out again after 5:00. Of course, it would get crowded again later on in the evening as people returned from dinner.
We also noted that different bars made the same drinks differently. For example, a tropical cable car served out by the pool was not the same as one purchased at the Ocean Bar. Also, the Crow's Nest's version of the same drink would be different from that of the Ocean Bar. But since all versions were good, this inconsistency didn't bother me at all.
There was generally dancing every evening in the Ocean Bar, as well as the other watering holes around the ship, and the social hosts would divide their time between all the venues, often splitting off so to cover them all.
Unlike on land, you don't have to drink alcohol to enjoy your time spent in the bars and lounges. We had a whole group in the Ocean Bar called the "breakfast club" that met up just to read or talk, and maybe drink a soda or a glass of water. If a server was on duty, he'd be more than happy just to get you a glass with ice water or even just ice if you brought your own brand of soda from your cabin.
Fellow Passengers This cruise was rather unusual in the fact that it was actually two cruises combined into one. When we boarded in Vancouver we had some people onboard who were still on from the last Alaska cruise of the season, and who were only doing the five-day coastal, but not continuing onto Hawaii. We had others who had boarded in Vancouver and were only staying on until either San Francisco or San Diego. Then we had the last group -- people like me who boarded in Vancouver for the coastal and the 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific.
During the first five days of the cruise, there was a younger passenger complement onboard. There were some families with some kids. But when we hit San Francisco, we lost some of them and took more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers on. When we got to San Diego, we lost still more and got more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers. When we left San Diego in route to Hawaii, our passenger complement was a bit older, with many using canes and walkers, and some even in wheelchairs or power chairs. But that doesn't mean they were dead. They were looking to have a good time too and most of the people I talked to were downright fun regardless of their age.
As for children, once we left on the Hawaii/South Pacific leg of our trip, we had one "tween" who was traveling with his parents, and two toddlers. One of the toddlers was the son of the onboard doctor, and he was very carefully supervised by his parents, and no trouble at all. The other toddler was a passenger's little girl. It was with this little girl -- or more accurately her parents -- that we had issues. The parents took the child into all venues of the ship, including the Ocean Bar and even sometimes the casino. They also would not supervise her too closely, letting her run free. She was on the dance floor in the Ocean Bar and climbing onto chairs. Only after she had "played" for a while might mommy or daddy come and get her. This could be very annoying. One night she saw the power chair of a woman who always sat at the bar and decided she'd like to climb in it. She spent a good five minutes climbing into that chair while mommy and daddy were busy talking with friends. The woman who owned it had her back toward her and also didn't notice her at first. In fact, the woman at the bar actually noticed the child, by that point sitting comfortably in the power chair, long before mom did -- and that's a disgrace.
The child was also creating a hazard on the dance floor since people could easily trip over her. When dad was chastised about this by Trisha, who almost tripped over the child and told him that the child should only be on the dance floor if she was in his arms, he didn't seem too concerned and the child was subsequently seen again on the dance floor unsupervised.
When dad was also told by Trisha that his child shouldn't be in the casino, he basically told her that he and the child could be anywhere on the ship that they wish. I have no problem with this, as long as the child is being closely supervised. Unfortunately, she was not. When Trisha talked to dad in the casino, it was because the little darling was bothering her while she was trying to play the slots.
I was a bit disappointed that staff didn't say anything to mom or dad, either in the Ocean Bar or in the casino, but apparently they declined to do so. It may be due to some sort of a HAL policy regarding welcoming children, but I think when one is clearly in areas where they shouldn't be, something should be said. I wonder how HAL would have felt if a passenger tripped over that child while she was cavorting on the dance floor and broken a hip?
Ports I won't cover too much about the ports in this review because we all have our favorite ways of spending port time, and mine don't necessarily jive with everyone else's.
I'll just give a quick rundown of each port and what I did. Most of the shore excursions that I took were HAL excursions. I realize I pay more when I book excursions through the cruise line, but I travel solo and just feel more comfortable letting HAL make all the arrangements, and assume responsibility for my getting back to the ship on time. I also don't like venturing out on my own.
Victoria, B.C.: Did a self-guided tour of Butchart Gardens. Loved it. We also had a short city tour by bus before arriving at the Gardens and on the way back home. On this excursion, we were late getting back to the ship due to traffic and I was glad I was on a HAL excursion. There was a bike race going on, plus the Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds were in town, so traffic was a mess. The captain wound up holding the ship in port for an extra hour or so anyway so that passengers could watch the air show from the outside decks. Awesome stuff, aerial aerobatics -- especially when done in formation!
San Francisco: Didn't do anything in this port. I waited for my friends, Trisha and Virgil, to board so that we could have a reunion. We hadn't seen each other since January of 2006, so the reunion was sweet.
San Diego: A group of us wandered over to Anthony's for some of their awesome seafood offerings. I had a bowl of their famous New England Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl. Delicious!
Hilo: Went to Akaka Falls. Lots of steps, but took it slow. We also visited the Tsusami Museum as well. Nice day.
Kona: Found a new "thrill" -- helicopter flightseeing. Awesome flight lasting over two hours. Went all over the island, including back to Hilo. Viewed lava flows and steam from the volcano. Also saw amazing waterfalls that make Akaka Falls look like child's play. This was a great flight with Blue Hawaii Helicopters with a very informative and funloving pilot. Would do this again in a heartbeat despite the steep price tag of over $500.
Maui: Didn't do much here. There were no shore excursions that appealed to me, so I didn't book any. Virgil, Trisha and I just walked through Lahiana poking in and out of the shops. We then had lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise. After Virgil and Trisha went back to the ship (they were going back out for dinner later), I continued my walking along Front Street snapping off dozens of photographs of the waterfront before I too went back to the ship.
Honolulu (Overnight): On the first day I took a Military Base VIP Tour. This was kind of neat in that we had a WWII docent in the van with us. First we went to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Then we visited several military based that had played a large role in the events of that era. All along the way, we were regaled with stories about what went on in that time, including lots of little known background information and personality profiles of the key players. We also had lunch on one of the bases at the officer's mess. This place is only open to military officers and retired military officers and their families. Since our docent was ex-military, we were able to get in.
After a full day on this military VIP tour, we arrived back at the ship. I then decided to venture back out to see if I could find Dog the Bounty Hunter's place of business. Who knows? Maybe he'll be there. No such luck. I got to his bail bonds place at around 5:30, after a considerable walk. It was closed. His "Dog House" tee-shirt and souvenir shop was right around the corner, but that too had closed at 5:00. I couldn't believe it. A store closing at 5:00 p.m.?
Our second day in Honolulu I took a "Little Circle Island" tour. I had taken the full Circle Island Tour on my last trip to Hawaii, so I figured this would be a good one for this time around. We were scheduled to be in Honolulu until 5:00 p.m., so with this tour, I still should have plenty of time to venture back to the "Dog's Place" before sailaway time.
During our Little Circle Island Tour we viewed several areas on the island, including Hanoma Bay and the Blow Hole, as well as several areas of the city, including Chinatown. I enjoyed the tour more for the bus ride and the scenary we were enjoying. At the end of the tour, I asked our driver if I could get off near "The Dog's Place" so that I wouldn't have to walk that long way both back and forth. He kindly obliged me.
I went to "The Dog House" and met one of the sons, Travis. He was very friendly and gladly posed for some pictures with me. He showed me a remote control helicopter that he was building that was going to be used in the filming of the next season of the show. He even let me take a photo of that. It's small but can hold a lightweight camera that will take some aerial shots for the show. I bought a bunch of teeshirts and also posed with a lifesized cardboard cutout of "The Dog" himself. I know this all may sound stupid, but I love that show and I love "The Dog."
I did a bit of shopping on the walk back to the ship, and got back onboard about an hour before sailaway. I had a great time in Honolulu and was glad that we had two days to spend there. One seems hardly enough.
Kauai: I was supposed to take this new tour here, a Movie Experience Tour. With this tour you supposedly travel in a luxury van with video screens inside. As bits and pieces of different movies play on the screens, you are driven to the location where that particular movie was filmed. It seemed like a neat tour, but apparently only myself and one other person signed up for it, so HAL cancelled it. Instead, since I had enjoyed my helicopter tour in Kona so much, I decided to do another, shorter one of them. This one only costs a little over $200 -- not much more than I had already shelled out for the movie tour.
I went with Island Helicopters and we had a blast. This pilot was a bit more "extreme" than the other one and when we flew into the dormant volcano, he got us right up close to the walls. It was awesome! I remember thinking, "there's a wall pretty close here -- lord, I hope this pilot knows what he's doing!" The flight was much shorter than the first one -- only about an hour, as opposed to two, but it was probably the better of the two flights because of the semi-extreme nature of the ride.
When the helicopter tour was over, and we were back at the ship, I met up with Trisha and Virgil for a Walmart run. We both needed some stuff and since we would soon be at sea for five days heading to the South Pacific, now seemed the best time to get it. Besides, there's a McDonald's inside the Walmart here, and we were all hungering for a Big Mac.
After doing some shopping and enjoying some lunch, we walked around a bit and were soon back onboard the Statendam.
Raiatea, F.P.: Took a comfortable bus tour at this port. I had made the mistake last time I was here of taking an "open air" bus tour and never again! The buses used for that tour were the same ones used to transport the kids to school each day. The seats were hard wooden bench seats and the bus had no speaker system. Our guide had given very little commentary and what little he did have to say, we couldn't hear. The bus was hot with only the windows open for ventilation and my back was killing me by the end of the tour from sitting on those seats. So, this time around, I specifically looked for something that said "confortable air conditioned bus transportation." This tour fit the bill. It was called Raiatea Highlights and it gave us a good overview of the island. The island is not that big, so a half day tour will pretty much cover the highlights quite well. The only thing I didn't care for with this tour was that our tour guide, while very nice, also worked for a pearl farm during the week. She oh, so very helpfully, offered to hand out brochures for her employer when someone admired the pearl jewelry she was wearing. "Just say you met Summer," she told everyone, "and you'll get a discount." She also told everyone that her employer had a store right at the area where the ship docked. I'd be willing to bet that if someone walked in there and said they met Autumn, they'd still get the same discount.
But, the tour was a good one, and the tour guide, Summer, very knowledgable and helpful, so I let the hawking of her employer's pearls go.
Bora Bora: We had two days here as well. Water sports are the order of the day in these islands and I did a Shark and Ray Feeding one day, and the Looganarium the other. Both of these tours were wonderful, and I got lots and lots of underwater photographs. Now I just have to figure out where to get them developed since apparently most photo shops no longer develop film.
Without a doubt, Bora Bora (along with Moorea) is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Papeete, Tahiti: Papeete is a city just like any other large city. To really see the area, you have to get out of the city, such as on a snorkeling type tour. The tour I took here, however, involved a deep water and a shallow water snorkel. The deep water one was difficult because there was a pretty strong current and I was not wearing flippers so had no way to counteract it. I was not the only person having problems. The poor guide ended up jumping in to retrieve several of us who were floating out to sea.
After our snorkel, since we were remaining in Papeete until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, we went to the Grand Marsch or Market. Here they sell all manner of stuff, from souvenirs to food, and everything in between. Beware, though, the prices in French Polynesia and Tahiti are very, very expensive. I bought very little once I left Hawaii.
Moorea: This is probably the most beautiful of the South Pacific islands. This was also the only island where I did two shore excursions. First I did a photography tour. This tour had several stops that were particularly photogenic and a professional photographer acted as our guide with the idea that he would give us tips and pointers to help us take great photographs. He earned his money within the first five minutes at the first stop. He found that my camera settings were wrong. The ISO was way too high and that's why a lot of my photos thus far were appearing washed out. Too much light was getting to the lens. After setting it to the lowest setting, all photos I took from that point on came out much nicer. I only wish I hadn't discovered this problem until near the end of the cruise. But I guess that just means I'll have to do this cruise again at some point in order to retake all the fouled up photos!
The other problem I had with this tour was its rating. It was rated as two men walking, but with the second photo stop, I could see that rating was far understated. We did a "nature hike" in order to get to the Belvadere Lookout, our second photo stop. Since only one person stayed behind, and I was assured the hike wasn't too strenuous, I decided to go along. What a major mistake! It wasn't until I was too far into it that I realize there was no way I could do this with my "compromised" legs. I had suffered a serious injury to both of my legs in 1999, and strenuous hikes are just not something I can easily do any longer. The guide had to really help me along to get me through it, and I was so sorry I put him, not to mention my fellow passengers through that. That hike involved walking on an uneven path, strewn with tree branches and roots. I really think that the tour should have been labeled as strenuous, or at least a notation should have been provided that there is one photo stop that involves a strenuous hike. But the guide gave me the help I needed to get through it, and my fellow passengers were understanding about my difficulties.
The rest of the photo tour went without incident and I did get a lot of great photos as a result. Some of the flowers were breathtakingly beautiful in every imaginable color. We stopped at an orchard farm where they were harvesting some of the flowers, and taking photos of some of them that were sitting in the back of a farm truck was a joy. We also photographed a pineapple plantation and some other assorted nature, and we learned some tricks to take neatly laid out photos. Overall, the strenuous hike aside, this was one of the best tours I took on this cruise, and I would do it again were I to find myself in Moorea at some point in the future. I just would have more sense than to attempt to trek to Belevedere Lookout the next time.
The second tour I took was a much more relaxing one. It was a ride on a 42-foot catamaran for snorkeling and sailing. When we got out to sea, the crew unfurled the sails and we let the wind be our propulsion. It was awesome sitting there under the sails. Some people sat in nets at the top of the craft, while others enjoyed the view from the deck. There was also an inside salon where people could go if they wanted to get out of the sun. Our captain was an experienced sailor who knew just how to ride the waves to give us an exciting, though not overly rocky ride. After sailing for a while, we dropped anchor for snorkeling. Again, however, the current was a bit rough, though on this boat they did provide fins in addition to snorkels and masks.
After everyone was back on the boat from their snorkel, we enjoyed mai tais and other alcoholic beverages as our crew gave us a tour of the area. It was a great way to cap off a wonderful day in Moorea, and the end of our stay in French Polynesia.
Nuku Hiva: Nuku Hiva to me represents one of the few places in the South Pacific where modern tourism hasn't affected the locals' way of life. The island is part of the Marquesas chain and there are only about 1600 people living on Nuku Hiva. Most of them are locals. The island is so out of the way that Holland America doesn't even offer a shore excursion program there. They don't visit it enough on their sailings to make such a program a worthwhile undertaking.
The last time I was here, I didn't even get off the ship. There really is nothing to do here if you don't take a tour, and finding a local guide could be difficult, especially if suite passengers took advantage of their priority tendering and grabbed up what few tour guides were available. There really isn't much you can see or do within walking distance of the pier, and without a vehicle of some sort, you're not getting very far up the mountain. So, this time around someone in our group organized a group tour with an operator by the name of Claude. We set out in a convoy of comfortable four-wheel drive vehicles for a tour that pretty much covered the whole island. We went all the way up the mountain (the whole island is comprised of this mountain, which is actually volcanic in nature). We saw various communities seemingly untouched by modern civilization. People just had their horses grazing at the side of the road. Clearly there's no crime or vandalism here. We saw amazing species of plants and wild chickens and roosters. When the ship anchors out in the harbor, you can look way up at the highest point of the mountain peak and see an antenna perched there. We actually drove right up to where this antenna was, and saw that it was actually a complex of antennas and satellite dishes providing communications to the whole island.
We also stopped for lunch at what was pretty much the only restaurant on the island, and we were served a variety of cooked seafood and refreshing fruits. Sparkling water was provided as well. At the end of the meal we were asked if we wanted coffee. Most of us accepted. That cup of coffee was one of the most delicious I have ever had. It was laced with cocoa and had a distinctly chocolate flavor. But this coffee proved to be the only "issue" I (and many of my fellow passengers on the tour) had with this tour. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, we were informed that there was an additional $3.00 charge for the coffee. It was not included in the meal. Well, that's a rotten trick -- to offer us coffee, but not tell us there was an additional charge for it. Personally, I think Claude should have stepped up to the plate and worked this out with the restaurant. Either they eliminate the charge or he picks it up. It really wasn't fair to ask us to pay for it, especially after we had each paid $130 for the tour. Some people didn't even have money on them since they only brought enough along to pay Claude's charges.
In the end, we worked out the coffee debacle by some people covering others' tabs until we got back to the ship, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when charges of this type -- regardless of how seemingly little they may be -- are not explained ahead of time. When bar items were offered at the beginning of the meal, it was kind of obvious there would be an extra charge for them, and those that partook were more than willing to pay those charges. But no one would automatically assume that coffee incurred an extra charge as well. This was the one and only thing that slightly marred the tour for me.
After lunch we drove some more along the mountain, eventually winding up at sea level and at a beautiful marae. Stone carvings here faced the sea, where at other stops they faced the community where the natives lived. There were almost an unlimited choice of photo ops on this tour -- from beautiful flowers of all colors -- to the most detailed stone carvings of all sizes and shapes.
By the time we arrived back at the cruise ship pier, we had little time left to do any shopping. There are a variety of craftspeople who come out to the pier when there is to be a cruise ship in so that they can sell their wares. There are also a few small shops offering various items for sale, mainly crafts or souvenir type items. I barely had enough time to buy a tee-shirt before it was time to get on the last tender going back to the ship. It had been a wonderful day on Nuku Hiva and I only hope I find myself on a cruise again one day that stops there. I would gladly take this exact same tour again. I would just make sure to ask about extra charges for the coffee.
Special Events We had a Mariner Awards Ceremony and Brunch on this cruise. They had to break it up over three days since just about everyone onboard was a Mariner, and many were receiving either pins or medallions. The medallions were awarded one day, with the pins spread over the next two. There was then a special brunch held in the dining room. The brunch had a very small selection of entrees -- nothing that anyone choosing to dine in the dining room that day couldn't have probably gotten -- but it was still a nice affair and I was glad to be invited to it. I got my 100 day medalion on this trip, while Trish and Virgil were awarded their 300 day medalions.
I was also honored to be invited to the Captain's VIP Party on this sailing. I don't always get invited to this since I stay in rather run-of-the-mill accommodations, making it a toss up cruise to cruise as to whether I'll be on the invite list, but on this cruise I was. It was great getting to meet and mingle with the officers and learn a little about their jobs. The free cocktails and superior appetizers make it a great event too!
Trisha, Virgil and I were also gifted with an invitation for a private bridge tour -- something I've asked for several times before, but had not yet gotten. Captain Jack was gracious enough to extend an invitation to visit the bridge and we were only too happy to finally get a chance to get up there. We took tons of photos and even had a chance to pose at the wheel of the ship (while it was on auto-pilot, of course).
As noted elsewhere in this report, we were also invited to a special Pinnacle Grill Dinner by Theo Haanen and his wife, Helen, as well as the Culinary Manager, Frank, and his wife Maggie. It was while at this dinner that I learned that Helen was writing a book and had a whole cast of "cuddly characters" in her cabin that were the subject of the book. Later in the cruise I was treated to the opportunity to read the first chapter of her book, and I found it amazing. It's a tale that will captivate the hearts of children of all ages, and I have no doubt she will one day be a noted children's author with a huge fan base.
The evening of our dinner started off with cocktails in the Ocean Bar, followed by dinner in the Pinnacle. Everything about the dinner was absolutely perfect, and afterwards we adjourned to the Crow's Nest for after dinner drinks and the "Sailor's Ball." It was a magical and wonderful night and an invitation I really appreciated receiving.
Disembarkation All good things must come to an end, and this cruise was no exception. I was sorry to see it end, but real life was beckoning. Disembarkation was slightly delayed by Customs processes. People who were not residents of the U.S. had to present themselves in one of the lounges to Customs officials, and I guess this process took longer than usual. However, it was only about 45 minutes later than originally projected that they started calling for the self-assist passengers to disembark, followed by the first group of regular passengers. I was in the second group, Orange 1, and was off the ship next. By about 9:30 I was in a cab and headed to the airport, not wanting to wait for the Holland America shuttle at that point, despite having paid for it. I just wanted to make my flight and the relatively small price I would have to pay for a cab to ensure that was well worth it in my opinion. I made my 11:31 a.m. flight with time to spare.
Conclusion I am somewhat biased in that I love this particular itinerary. I am also biased in that I love Holland America and the product they provide. Yes, I have sailed other cruise lines and enjoyed those cruises as well, but there is just something about a Holland America cruise that makes me feel like I am coming home when I board one of their ships. I guess it's a combination of things -- the nice, well-appointed ships, the mix of fellow passengers usually found on them, the high level of service -- all those things combine to make a Holland America cruise special for me. Now, I should also say that I generally stay away from the large HAL ships, and I also now stay away from the short cruises. So I am getting a different sort of environment when I sail and not the same one that someone, say, who does a seven-day Caribbean sailing on a Vista class ship would have.
But I am fortunate in that I know what it takes to please me, and I know that when I book this type of cruise, on the size of ship that I like, and with the cruise line that I am most comfortable with, I will have a great experience and one that I will want to repeat again and again.
If you like the same things that I do, then you might want to consider this itinerary in your future plans. It's a wonderful length, with an almost perfect mix of sea days and ports. It's also a cruise that will provide for the time to get to know your fellow passengers and the crew, with enough time to let you really relax and enjoy your vacation. Since the ports are "clustered" into groups, with clumps of sea days in between, it allows you the time to relax and wind down after spending five or six days in port running around and seeing the sights. It also allows for a full six sea days at the end while you head back to San Diego for disembarkation -- ensuring that you will be well rested before heading home and back to your "normal" daily life.
The only word of caution I can give you about this sailing is don't attempt it if you don't enjoy sea days, because you will be miserable. There are something like 18 sea days on this cruise, far more than probably any other cruise of its length.
Wherever you may choose to sail on your next cruise, and on whatever cruise line's ship, I wish you blue skies and a following sea.
Although Holland America advertises that Internet access is available on board (albeit at the rather expensive rate of $100 / 250 minutes), in reality its Internet access is severely restricted.
Many significant websites are blocked - such as Skype, Vonage and a host of other related sites. Also, while it is possible to retrieve and send email (so long as you are not using a "restricted" site), it is not possible to open attachments such as pdfs and mp3s.
HAL does not have a business center of any kind, as is found in nearly every hotel, to compose letters or to send or receive faxes. Of course, they do not tell you this prior to boarding the ship.
While the Alaska cruise was enjoyable -- good food, excellent service -- HAL's failure to keep up with 21st century business needs to transmit and receive information, should make you inquire beyond the simple corporate statement that "internet service is available on board" when in fact it is severely restricted.
I am a first time cruiser from Australia. I had never been to NZ and decided it was about time I got off my backside and had a look. We boarded the Statendam in the evening after a delay. Not the best start but we were shown around Sydney and well looked after by the ship.
The first day of our fortnight trip was at sea. It was very calm and great food and entertainment was on board. The staff seemed very helpful and it was a great start to our holiday.
We arrived in Melbourne and my wife and I had a look around a city we were quite familiar with. My wife was born here and we enjoyed showing a couple from the ship around the city.
Day four and we arrived at Burnie in Tasmania. I'd always longed to visit this little piece of Australia. We took a guided walk and learnt about the various species of plants and wildlife that lived in the area. I probably learnt 100+ things from our guide Jody that I never knew of my own country. The funniest thing happened when returningto the ship -- a young man cycling down the road decided to get the attention of a pretty girl hanging her washing out. He must of whistled at her thinking he was going to fly past and she would hardly notice, instead he lost control of his bike and ploughed into a bush much to the girl's amusement. It proved to be quite a bonding momment for our small group!
The crossing of the Tasman was remarkably calm. I was surprised because I had heard of how rough it can be. We were experiencing fine weather. We arrived on the Fiordland coast and visited Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sound -- absolutely beautiful. The mountains rose from the water as steep as you could imagine. There were great scares in the vegetation from tree avalanches that would of peeled off like bananna skins. It was supposed to be a rain forest but we were basking in sunshine -- what a treat.
We arrived in Dunedin, Port Chalmers, a beautiful port of call where we had booked a city and wildlife shore excursion with Back to Nature tours. Our guide was an enthusastic chap whom bonded with our small group immediatley. I had pre-booked this tour through a recommendation I had received on a message board. You will find that booking direct with local buisneses saves you lots of $$. We went to the steepest street and took a tour around this beautiful city rich in architecture, some of which was a cross between Victorian and Australian! The wildlife here is amazing -- the Royal Albatross and yellow eyed Penguins are wonderful to view. We were sad to say goodbye to Dunedin and our guide who really made our day.
My wife became ill for the next two days, she had severe stomach pains as did a couple of other people on the ship?? I think she ate something a bit off. Anyway she was fine by the time we got to Wellington. What a wonderful place. I recommend just walking around this wonderful city, there is so much to see and do.
The weather was fine, still no hint of rain. The weather made the comedian's dire performance easy to handle. We just left after we realized he wasn't going to make us laugh.
Tauranga is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. The drive along the coastline to the marae we visited was juast magical. The maori performance at Paparoa was equally satisfying and highly recommended.
All in all a fantastic cruise from start to finish, can't wait to get onboard a ship again in the future.
I just completed an Alaskan cruise-tour on Holland America's Statendam. In one word: fantastic! From the time our plane finally (after 23 hours of travel) landed in Fairbanks, HAL provided exceptional service. Our luggage was identified and delivered to our hotel, and we were free to begin enjoying our destination. The accommodations at each hotel in Fairbanks, Denali, Juneau and Seward were all good. The organization, planning and tour guide were extraordinary.
Every land excursion I experienced was excellent. From the fixed-wing flight to see McKinley to the dog team visit, people were entertaining, funny and genuine. I told my guide that it was like being in Disneyland, except that everything was authentic! The bus, train and plane activities were very well planned, and delivered what was promised. One thing you must remember about Alaska is that there are at least two souvenir shops for every citizen of the state. Take lots of photographs and video. It really helps you to remember everything you see.
The Ship The transfer to the ship was quick and easy. Luggage arrived in the cabin before I did. Service! Service! Service! The entire crew was positive, open, responsiveand competent. Most exceptional was the Front Desk staff, who handled every question and request with speed and courtesy. Dining in the beautiful dining room with good friends was wonderful. The entire restaurant staff and the food were excellent. The presentation, the quality and the variety were very pleasing.
I did not go to the Pinnacle Grill because I found that I did not need an alternative restaurant to enjoy excellent dining. Every food venue was clean, well staffed and quick to respond to special requests. One member of our group was gluten intolerant and every meal was specifically prepared to meet his needs. The Lido deck served many good things at mealtimes.
Ports The port excursions were wonderful! All of the included land tours and port tours were excellent. My added excursions met every expectation. I am not a fish eater, but I loved the salmon bakes! The smoked salmon was great. The whale tour, The Best of Juneau, was hosted by a wonderful naturalist who pointed out everything we needed to know, to recognize and enjoy the sites we saw -- including three pods of whales. One pod was almost kissing the ship!
The Saxman Native Village dance presentation and totem poles were amazing to experience. I even danced with the performers! The lumberjack show was entertaining. By the way, we started to believe that all restrooms were located through souvenir shops. The combined Ultimate White Pass and Yukon Railroad Experience was truly enhanced by the personable and knowledgeable bus and train guides. Visiting a rain forest and a desert on the same voyage amazed me.
The food at Icy Strait Point and the Best of Juneau salmon bake was cold but good. Try to purchase the land food package, if available for your cruise. It will save you lots of money.
Coming Home We paid the extra $15 to have our luggage sent directly to our final destination. I recommend this service very highly. We returned just as airport security was very high, and doing this saved us a great deal of time and stress. We also flew out of Vancouver, and the Canadian and U.S. Customs and security brought us directly from the secure ship to a secure location at the airport. This greatly facilitated our journey through security.
I recommend the Statendam to any and all people who wish to sail in comfort, with excellent entertainment, great food and an amazing service-oriented and friendly staff. Bon voyage!
In the Wake of Captain Cook
On a balmy, summer Australian day, weather that continued throughout our 14-day Australia, and mostly New Zealand sea cruise, we boarded Holland America's 1,200 passenger luxury liner, Statendam, at the picturesque port of Sydney, encompassing the skyscraping city and the outer suburbs. Impressive were the commanding, single span Sydney Harbor Bridge and expressionistic, white-shells-on-end, landmark Opera House nearby; it was in February, almost the other side of the world from then chilly California.
The collective lifesaving drill beginning our two-week cruise was sort of comical, with our life jackets all askew and the ship's crew mispronouncing most of the names of people lined up in three rows encircling the vessel. Once the gangway was raised, we began our tour of the immense ship, which continuing over the next three days as we inspected the two swimming pools, the fitness center and salon, the shopping areas, the gaming casino, the library, the spa, the night club, the computer center, the motion picture theater, the several cafes and food service areas, and the Van Gough Lounge where most of the entertainment and educational sessions took place.
That night at our 8:30 p.m.dinner sitting, one of three time choices, we met our four delightful table partners, one couple former Hollywood musical entertainers, the others, two charming sisters. Throughout the voyage, these four experienced cruise travelers shared fascinating stories of their previous ocean trips and the daily sights they enjoyed in whatever port we had visited.
Our first stop, Melbourne, set the pattern we were to follow for most of our seaborne tour. The ship docks around six a.m., breakfast is served, the gangway is lowered around 8:30, and buses or public transportation carry you to the town's center, where I regularly found an Internet café to "stay in touch." Passengers had a wide choice of tour opportunities: using the HAL travel staff in arranging for bus tours to botanical gardens, prominent architectural structures, sheep shearing or bird sanctuaries, or whatever the local geography or habitat promoted. Others of us arranged our own city tours through local information centers, and walked, or cabbed wherever we desired. We took the on-and-off local city bus tour in Melbourne and, through the bus driver's narration, got a pretty good idea of the various sports facilities, including the Rod Laver Tennis Stadium where the Australian Open Tennis Championship had recently taken place, the government establishments, the busy downtown area, and what made the attractive city tick.
The following four days were spent at sea on the way to New Zealand, with a one-day stop at Burnie, a small Tasmanian city on the southwest side of the island. The mayor had arranged the only bus tour available: a visit to a small paper mill, a cheese factory, a stop at a flower farm, and another at a small woodcarving establishment. The largest and most popular restaurant in the village was McDonald's.
During the next two days at sea, many books were read, card games played, sunshine enjoyed, new acquaintances made at mealtime, emails exchanged, ship facilities inspected, and, in the evening, cocktails consumed. The brightest features of each day were the dinners; menus included specialties with the fresh local products with six choices of appetizers, seven delicious and varied main courses, and ten desserts to die for. During the days, pleasant diversions were the educational lectures. The exploration lectures about genetics, space, and other life in the universe by Dr. Jim Logan of NASA were outstanding. Lieutenant Colonel Owen O'Brien, Australian Army Reserve, gave three informative presentations of an Australian perspective of the Second World War. This was a fascinating program since many of the ship's passengers had served in the military during that period, representing mostly allied forces, with a few who had been on the other side. Many partook of the afternoon Bingo games, art exhibits, culinary arts sessions, and preparation lectures for each forthcoming port we were to visit. Our seven channels of television included news, sports, and movie stations, videos of the port preparation presentations, weather and sailing conditions, and a front porthole view of where the Standendam was headed.
One of the highlights of the entire trip was when Captain Peter Bos, a Hollander, made a six a.m. announcement that we were in the middle of Milford Sound, New Zealand. It was dark when we arrived on the people-filled bow. The soft moist air suggested there was fog around us. As it began to lighten, high slopping dark mountains appeared all around us, a glacier in the distance. On the port side, a lively, 500-foot waterfall was streaming into the water and almost into the ship. The cloud that had enveloped us slowly disappeared and the serenity and beauty of the moment has been, to this day, unforgettable. I still don't know how Captain Bos navigated his monstrous ship into such a small bay. Thus, began our New Zealand scenic cruise in and out of bays or inlets, reminding one of the coastal topography of Scandinavian countries. In fact, the 10-mile Milford Sound is in the Fjordland National Park. Approaching every New Zealand port provided a new terrain, some with trees and beaches, many without. Some had craggy mountain shapes; some reminded you of California's seaside cliffs. We even entered a bay that British Captain James Cook, one of the early explorers of New Zealand tabbed Doubtful Sound because he didn't believe a bay was approachable there for his now famous ship, HMS Endeavour.
Our first port-of-call was Dunedin, home of New Zealand's first university, founded as a Scottish Presbyterian settlement in 1848. The current architecture clearly reflects its heritage, as does the city center with its distinctive statue of poet Bobbie Burns. There are magnificent Victorian homes to be toured; domestic whiskey is distilled in town. There is a Cadbury candy factory for touring and sampling, and the city features the country's only kilt maker. Of Dunedin's 120,000 residents, the majority are students and faculty of the University of Otago. There are also bagpipe bands and sheep farms. The city is a pleasant place to stroll, the ivy-covered buildings somewhat young, and the lawns and gardens tenderly modeled after those at Glasgow University.
The following day was Lyttleton, a quaint coastal town first seen by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642. Tasman had named his discovery Nieuw Zeeland, but after hostile, native Maoris had devoured members of his crew, he rapidly left the islands. Now, there are attractive, busy streets along the waterfront, the Lyttelton Museum, with a fine collection of antique navigation telescopes, sextons and the like, as well as the highly-regarded Antarctic exhibit which follows Scott's and Schackleton's early polar expeditions to Antarctica.
Christchurch, reminiscent of Oxford, England, was only a short sea hop away. As the South Island's largest city, it was established by British upper classes migrating to the New World. In its compact center, Cathedral Square, stands its namesake Anglican Church surrounded by a large commercial zone. Similarly, with English roots, the Avon River, upon which you can punt, threads its way into Hagley Park, with its English-style Botanical Garden, an observatory, and English Tea House. The hilly peninsula was formed by two gigantic volcanic eruptions long ago. Named after an Oxford College, this 308,200-citizen city highlights numerous statues honoring prominent New Zealanders.
The next city on our agenda was Picton, the arrival town of ferries coming from the North Island. Yachts bob everywhere in its scenic harbor, which was visited and reported upon by both Tasman and Cook. The picturesque village is quite small and an easy town walk. The gardens of London Quay are lovely, and the Picton Museum, which contains Maori pre-colonial artifacts, pioneer antiques, and a collection of old whaling relics, is intriguing. The works of local artists are displayed at various galleries around town and the main city park, Titohanga Natural Reserve, affords a pleasant nature walk.
Wellington and Napier, our first North Island destinations, proceeded a full day of cruising the Mercury and Alderman Islands. New Zealand's capital, Wellington, has a population of 328,000. The city curves gracefully around its beautiful, sheltered harbor, with houses seeming to flow from the hills to the sea, narrow streets and Edwardian buildings contrasting with modern high rises. Old-fashioned cable cars link the districts; one takes passengers on an ascent to a 1,980 foot Kelburn summit where the view is magnificent. Large, in comparison to other New Zealand cities, Wellington boasts many art galleries, museums, and government buildings. The Cable Street Museum with its old cars and the City of Wellington Museum showcase the capital's early development and its significant relationship with the sea. The National War Memorial is a poignant tribute to the 16,000 New Zealand soldiers who perished in WWI and the 11,000 who followed them in WWII.
Additionally, The National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tonarewa has one of the best collections of a native culture in the world. It traces the evolution of the Maori culture from its origins, displays the Pacific migration routes, and showcases The Land and People Gallery, exhibiting local colonial history of the first half of the 19th century, and the second floor showcases impressive collections of international and New Zealand art.
Wellington's Houses of Parliament, consisting of three large buildings, reflect the period in which they were built. The "Beehive," the present and unusual ministerial building is an impressive modern architectural work. The Parliament House is of a traditional Edwardian design, and the earliest government center, now the General Assembly Library, represents Gothic design. Wellington is also known as a "café city," with coffee shops and bistros everywhere you turn. Its selection of international choices of food, clothing, and gift items is endless. Napier, the next city, represents an important manufacturing and fishing center, an export point for wool, processed meat, and dairy products.
The old natural harbor and city were destroyed by a 1931 earthquake, measuring 7.9 Richter, resulting in the expansion of new ground brought up from the harbor and the decision to rebuild in Art Deco and Spanish mission styled architecture with earthquake-proof construction standards. Napier's art gallery and museums are worthy introductions to the area, and it has a small Marineland with seals, penguins, and sea otters, among other species. Along its three-mile promenade are a miniature golf course, a roller-skating rink, public baths, and the Kiwi House, the residence of native birds and indigenous fauna.
The following seaport was Tauranga, a Maori word aptly meaning "sheltered harbor." A modest, single, long, main street houses all the necessary business and tourist spots, with one-story shops suiting most visitors' eating and shopping tastes. New Zealand's oldest library is on the Strand, near an original Maori handcrafted, dugout display. Outside the small city is the Tauranga Historic Village, an open-air museum where crafts and early 19th century life are demonstrated.
Our final destination and departure point from our seagoing hotel was Auckland where we bade farewell to our many new friends and shipmates. Here, debarking passengers headed for the airport or to local hotels depending on their personal itineraries. We chose to spend two days there in two different bed and breakfast establishments, both of which were conveniently located for public bus transportation, comfortable, and served splendorous Kiwi breakfasts. It was also helpful to have our hosts as local tour guides, which made our stay quite eventful in sightseeing and museum hopping. Auckland's harbor, full of boats of all sizes and shapes, is magnificent in its beauty and the movement of sails at every hour of the day.
The Davenport Ferry trip is part of the public transportation system and a special travel treat to an interesting colonial-style suburb. The Auckland Museum has an incredible collection of Maori and South Pacific artifacts and the New Zealand National Maritime Museum highlights the country's ocean dependency. Additionally, there is One Tree Hill, the site of an ancient Maori fort, the Waterfront Promenade, and Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, a fascinating aquarium. To horticulture admirers, Winter Garden possesses over 10,000 species, and Parnell Rose Garden has impressive flower displays to match its commanding views of the city and harbor.
From Auckland, we flew to Sidney for another week in that part of this "wonderful world." But that's another story. We unilaterally recommend touring New Zealand by ship. Each port entry and departure was different, the people were overwhelmingly friendly, most dressing casually, and each day was a special new adventure. Thanks Captain Cook for mapping it out for us so very long ago.
I am married, in my mid-forties with a teenage son. This was my 35th cruise in the past ten years, my third on HAL, and my second on the Zuiderdam. I hesitated taking my son on HAL, but lucked out when we found out that there were over 300 kids on the ship that week.
I always take the same room on HAL - a Deluxe Veranda Suite off the back of the ship with an enormous balcony. I enjoy the amenities that come with that category, especially the use of the Neptune lounge. The cruise was enjoyable, but the Zuiderdam is showing a lot of wear and tear. I cruised her when she was less than 2 months old, and I was surprised to see how beat up she was less than 3 years later. Elevators did not work, gym equipment was broken, carpet needed to be replaced, etc. I was told that she was going into drydock in January, and not a minute too soon.
The cruise itself was enjoyable, but die-hard HAL fans did not like that many kids running around the ship. We cruised through a tropicalstorm and missed the port of Key West, but were kept well-informed by the staff regarding what was going on. I thought the staff was wonderful, as usual, but felt the food was not up to par. Many menu items arrived cold during dinner, and had to be returned. Room service ran out of items a few days before the cruise ended, and never replaced them.
I would cruise HAL again, but would stick to a newer ship, or one that had recently been renovated. I would not hesitate to bring children on during their summer or winter breaks - they really enjoyed it!
We have now had a week to digest our wonderful cruise. I would like to share some impressions of our time in San Diego and our week away from reality on the ms Statendam.
We arrived in San Diego just before sunset on Thursday October 23. Our flights across the country had been flawless. We met our friends from Minneapolis, who had arrived before us. We stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Beach.
The hotel is well known as a playground for the rich and famous. We enjoyed our stay there, but it is safe to say that we all agreed that the hotel is past its prime. It is very expensive, but we found the hotel to be ordinary and noisy. We were able to enjoy the Zoo on Friday and the Wild Animal Park on Saturday.
Sunday we awoke to a disaster. Looking out across the beach early in the morning we saw smoke across the horizon. I left early to return our rental car. I was appalled to find the car covered in ash. As I drove across the Coronado Bay Bridge the scope ofthe disaster was evident. The smoke over the city was a fierce back, looking like a terrible storm was about to erupt. To the east was another plume coming off the backside of a distant mountain. By the time I reached the rental car return ash was falling like snow. I found a cab and returned to the hotel to meet my wife and our friends. We watched TV in horror. The fire had closed the highways we had driven just the day before to visit the Wild Animal Park. The images of the fire ravaging the countryside and neighborhoods were unforgettable. It was incomprehensible, less than 24 hours before there had been no fires at all.
We left the hotel around noon. By that time the smoke had reached the ground in an acrid cloud. The odor and taste of the smoke will always be seared in my memory. It was impossible to avoid breathing the miserable smoke.
We arrived at the pier without any problem. There was little traffic as people were being asked to stay off the roads.
Check in was a breeze. A porter took our bags in seconds. There were no lines. We had pre registered on the Internet, but it really did not matter. San Diego is the easiest check in of any of our cruises.
We found our way on board. We were not escorted to our cabin as on previous Holland American cruises. We were led, with several other couples, to the Lido. No one noticed that we were in a suite, so we made our way down to our cabin on our own.
Our suite was ready. We stayed in suite 020, directly across from the new Neptune Lounge. Our cabin attendant Ansari introduced himself and told us he would bring our bags shortly. We settled in, found our friends, and went up to the Lido for lunch.
The scene outside was surreal. The pier in San Diego is directly across from downtown. By the time we finished lunch the smoke obscured most of downtown. It was so dark streetlights were on and cars had their headlights on. We returned to our cabin and stood on the veranda. The view was across the harbor to the airport. We could just see the airport, and to my amazement flights were coming and going. I watched one jet on final for landing, and to my astonishment it went around, disappearing into the smoke. Later we saw a second flight do the same thing. It was scary to watch, and I could not imagine how people must have felt who were on those flights. Most people are pretty nervous these days while flying, and can you imagine smelling smoke then your pilot taking you around for a second try?
It was not comfortable to stay outside for long. The air inside was fine, so visits to the veranda were brief. By the time the Life Boat Drill was scheduled the ash had changed from white to black. Touching anything exposed to the smoke left my hands black with soot. It was obvious that the crew had some tough days ahead cleaning up the mess.
The Life Boat Drill was uneventful. Our Captain Peter J. Van Maurik announced that we would leave an hour late to accommodate late flights. Later we were told that over 40 people missed the ship due to flight problems. I did not envy them, and we were especially glad we had arrived a few days early.
We met our friends and headed to dinner. We had reserved the first seating and were seated at table 20. Table 20 is located on the upper level of the Rotterdam restaurant along the windows. We laughed when we realized it was the same table we had been assigned to on the Veendam last January. Our waiter Rahmat met us and soon his assistant Wibowo and the Head Steward Bram introduced themselves. We also met our sommelier for the week, Romeo.
It is safe to say that we were immediately impressed with the food. After a few meals we all agreed that the food was more flavorful than we enjoyed on the Veendam last January. The dining room selections were varied and flavorful. The service was typical Holland America, uniformly superb!
Not long after we finished dinner we ventured outside. To our great relief the smoke was gone. The crew went to work immediately to clean up the mess. It took them two days. Every outdoor surface had to be cleaned, including all the verandas. They did a great job!
We explored the Neptune Lounge and met our concierge, Monet. Monet is a beautiful young woman, and proved to be a great help to us throughout the cruise. The lounge is nicely done in dark wood, and was always supplied with goodies including a continental breakfast. We enjoyed spending time in the lounge relaxing and chatting.
It was now time to pick a bar. We walked around and settled on the Ocean Bar. A young lady was singing and Jhomar welcomed us. He proved to be a classically wonderful Holland America waiter, immediately learning our names and remembering our favorite drinks. Just how do they do that, anyway? We ending up spending each evening there, and it was always great fun.
Monday was a sea day. We had a one-hour later time change. We attended a party for the suite guests in the Neptune, and met the hotel manager Frits Gehner, Guest Relations Manager Paula De Man and the Cruise Director Jack Jones. Otherwise we did absolutely nothing. Isn't that wonderful?
I did check out the Internet Café, and signed up for the wireless service. The manager Paul helped me setup my notebook computer. The speed was considerably improved from my experience on Veendam. It was much better using my own computer, as managing my e-mail is much easier than going directly to the mail server as I have to do from the terminals. The price was unchanged from the Veendam; I paid $100 for 250 minutes. Bring your own wireless card, they charge $10.00 a day or $50.00 a week to rent one. The service was erratic as wireless so often is. It was only available on the 7th deck near the Internet Café. I became a bit of a celebrity because of my cool little Lifebook notebook computer. Many people were amazed at the small size and weight. Interestingly the wireless and terminal accounts are not interchangeable. If you have a wireless account you cannot use it on the terminals.
Monday evening we reserved a table at the new Pinnacle restaurant. It was a formal night. We arrived promptly at 7:00 PM. Monet had made the reservation for us. The restaurant was perhaps ½ full. The meal and service were absolutely divine! The steaks were simply superb, on a par with steaks served at fine steak houses like Morton's or Ruth Cris. The service was incredibly attentive, even better than the excellent service in the Rotterdam. We did note the menu was fixed for the entire cruise. If you sail on the Statendam and want a treat be sure to enjoy dinner in the Pinnacle!
Tuesday was another sea day. Again we had a one-hour later time change. The captain sailed us along the Baja California coast. Our cabin is on the port side, and we enjoyed a fantastic view as we headed south. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. We saw a structure on the beach, and the Captain told us it was a movie set. We decided to have room service on the veranda, and our friends joined us for lunch. We passed by Cabo San Lucas, and some jet skis came out to ride in our wake. All of a sudden one of the guys leaned over and dropped his bathing suit. He was, well you know! We laughed and wondered just how much the guy had to drink. I suspect the captain was no so amused. We soon passed out of the sight of land as we headed southeast. It was a good time for a nap, and the breeze on the veranda and the comfortable chaise lounge made it a nap to remember.
We returned to the Rotterdam Tuesday evening. We enjoyed another fine meal. We did notice that the dining room in our area was quite warm. It was a minor problem that bothered us through the cruise.
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta on time Wednesday morning. We looked out from our veranda and had to laugh. Directly across from the cruise ship pier is a Wal Mart and Sam's Club. No joke! So much for an exotic port, but it did make for a good photo op. The day was perfect, sunny and warm.
Our shore excursion for the day was the Sierra Madre Expedition. The tour operator met us at the pier. We were soon whisked away on a bus to their headquarters building. We were encouraged to buy bug repellent and to use the bathroom. We were separated into two groups of two, and boarded our vehicle for the rest of the tour. It was unique, to say the least! It was a 4-wheel drive truck, with a modified bed that includes two long benches with seat belts and a canopy top. Our guide sat at the end, warned us about our crazy driver, and off we went.
The seat belts were essential. The trucks were built for off roading, and the ride was tough even on pavement. Everyone was in a great mood and we headed towards the mountains, bouncing along as we went.
Our first stop was at a Mexican village. Our tour guide was from Holland and his English was excellent. We explained about life in Mexico and gave us a tour of a church. The poverty was everywhere. Almost no buildings were finished. We were taken to a taco stand, where the source of the meat was only from the head of a cow. Needless to say everyone passed! We were again encouraged to use the bathroom, and then we headed into the forest.
The ride was a blast! We went off roading along a riverbed. The truck was amazingly agile, and we roared up and down the riverbank. The poor folks in the front got wet as we raced along the riverbed. We stopped and everyone laughed about the ride we just enjoyed, or endured, depending upon your point of view!
We next took a beautiful hour-long walk through the subtropical forest. Our guide explained the plants, birds and insects we found along the way. The bug repellent proved invaluable, as there were loads of ticks. We saw woodpeckers, parrots, termites, butterflies and huge spiders. The shade was welcome and the forest quite beautiful.
We headed back out to civilization. We stopped at a second village, and were given a tour of the garden maintained by one of the families. We were all famished by this time, so we all enjoyed the tacos and local fruit served by the family.
Our final stop was at San Francisco beach. We arrived late at about 3:00 PM. Lunch was prepared for us, but we ate little as we knew dinner was at 6:00. We were warned by the guide not to buy any jewelry from the "vendors" waiting for us, as the silver was not real. We were regularly approached, but they did go away when we said no. Eventually 2 police officers arrived, and most of the "vendors" disappeared. Their fake silver is apparently well known.
Our ride back to the ship took an hour, I think. Our guide had a bottle of tequila and other spirits. He had us play a question and answer game, where the winner got a shot of tequila. We had a blast, and we all had a buzz by the time we reached the ship. We might have been upset that we were two hours late, but I doubt anyone cared!
Dinner was pleasant that evening as we regaled our friends with stories of our fun excursion. We departed about 9:00 PM and left to the cheers of people on the Carnival Pride, which was docked next to us.
Thursday morning we docked in Mazatlan. Again the weather was perfect. We had a one-hour forward time change. The view was quite different than Puerto Vallarta. The dock is part of an industrial port. There were countless small cars and trucks lined up in the port. We learned later they were imports by Hyundai.
We left on our excursion around 9:30. Our friends joined us on the Stone Island tour. We took a cab ride to the dock where our catamaran awaited us. We then were given a tour of the harbor, including the point of land at the entrance of the harbor. We had a perfect view of the Statendam and the Pride, which was docked next to us. Stone Island was across the harbor from the ships. We docked the catamaran and were escorted to what our guide called "Mexican limousines". They were carts with benches towed by tractors! Our ride to the beach was through a village. There were many horses and countless coconut palms. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant, which would be our home for the day. We grabbed a table close to the beautiful beach. It had a palm frond roof that gave us protection from the sun. Once again we had been warned about the "vendors." They soon arrived in droves, selling everything from hammocks to carvings to tattoos to hair braiding to carvings and tee shirts. They were an annoyance, but never harassed us when we said no.
Our friends went horseback riding while we went on a horse drawn sleigh. The island's economy is tourism and coconuts. The poverty was much the same as we saw the day before.
The beach was lovely and safe for swimming. We enjoyed an open bar and a delicious lunch cooked by local people. The service was excellent. Our guide Dorita spent some time with us and told us about her family. The conversation was personal and real and was a highlight of the trip. Later a piñata was broken by some of the children, who enjoyed the candy. We were a little bored by mid afternoon, and were ready to return to the ship.
There was a shopping bizarre at the terminal. We looked around before returning to the ship. Most interestingly were the prescription drugs being sold by "pharmacies". I was amazed at how brazen they were!
Dinner that evening was in the Rotterdam. To our astonishment, as we were leaving after dinner, the Maitre D called us over and invited us to dinner the next evening with the Chief Officer. We were flabbergasted, as we had received the same invitation on the Veendam. The odds of this two cruises in a row are unbelievable!
Friday we arrived in Cabo San Lucas. For a pleasant change there was no time change. The weather was again magnificent. We had not seen a cloud in 3 days! Cabo is a tender port, and we set anchor south of the Pride.
Our excursion in Cabo was Half-Day Sport Fishing Adventure. The tender ride was uneventful once we got on. Swells made it difficult to board. We docked near a US Coast Guard Cutter and were escorted to our fishing boat. We headed to sea past the famous arch at the entry of the harbor.
They say a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work. That was our solace, as we caught no fish. We did see one magnificent marlin make a classic jump. The views were beautiful as we trolled along with many other fishing boats. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes.
The tender ride back was hot and rough. They had a great deal of difficulty getting everyone off in the swells. I fell as I got off the tender, but no harm was done. I don't like tendering, and this experience did nothing to make me like it any better.
Dinner at the Chief Officer's table was a pleasure. Chief Officer Robert-Jan Kan met us before dinner and escorted us to the table. The couples were split up, and we enjoyed a wide-ranging and most interesting conversation. The special menu was outstanding. The entrée choices were filet minion or lobster tail. Excellent wine was served and the food was terrific. Chief Officer Kan told us about his career and his future assignment, and answered many questions about the vessel. Don't you dare call the Statendam a ship. It's a vessel!
Saturday was sea day. Our time changed again by one hour forward. The day started uneventful.
About 10:00 AM the Captain announced that there was a serious engine problem. A turbocharger on one of the generators that drive the engines had malfunctioned. There was no danger, but we would arrive in San Diego about 6 hours late. Many of had blank looks as we realized we would miss our flights. Monet offered us free use of the satellite phones, but all the circuits were busy. What were we to do?
Our friends went to the Internet café. Incredibly their secretary was on line, and using instant messenger we were able to convey our problem to her. She was able to reach their travel agent at home, and she contacted the airlines and got us new flights. She also made us hotel reservations. It was incredible, all done without a telephone! It was pure luck she was on line. Needless to say this good fortune saved us a great deal of heartburn!
The front desk handled the many people affected with their usual grace. I was amazed to see so many people with a big problem, yet I never heard a voice in anger. We later learned many of the staff was affected as well. They had plans to meet friends and family on shore, and now they had to deal with an almost instant turn around.
Saturday night we enjoyed our last meal in the Rotterdam. It is always a little sad to goodbye to the wonderful dining room staff.
Sunday arrived with another one-hour time change. Considering that the time had changed from daylight savings to standard time the day we departed we had experienced 5 time changes in 7 days!
We enjoyed one benefit from the engine problem. The sail into San Diego was in daylight and the view was incredible. The smoke was gone, replaced by cold air and a clear sky. I took lots of photos as I savored the view.
Disembarkation was slow. One incredibly inconsiderate non-American couple did not report to customs. We waited about an hour listening to repeated announcements for them. They must have eventually found them. Once we were let off all went well.
I would like to add a few comments about our experience on the Statendam.
We did not attend any of the entertainment. We enjoyed our evenings with our friends.
If you reserve a suite and are sensitive to noise avoid the cabins near the Neptune. There was lots of socializing outside the lounge in the morning, which awoke us almost every day. It wasn't a big deal for us, but might be for others.
The air conditioning on the ship is poorly balanced. The public areas varied from hot to cold. We kept our cabin set at the warmest setting while our friend next door kept theirs at full cold. I don't know it was so irregular, but it was annoying at times.
We are not fans of Holland America's "Tipping not required" policy, but during the disembarkation talk you are informed, "tipping is the international gesture of thanks". It would be far easier and fairer to the staff to adopt a clear tipping policy. The dining room was half empty the last night, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know why. We've been on another cruise line with a clear policy, and the service was also excellent. The staff pays the bill for this outmoded policy, not the passengers. I have no doubt that the service would not suffer if the policy were changed. Holland America does a superb job in selecting and training their staff, and that is far more important to ensure good service than are tips. The staff would only work harder if they were assured consistent tips.
These were minor flaws in an otherwise excellent experience. The ship was spotlessly clean and the service exceptional. The itinerary was excellent. I highly recommend the ms Statendam!
I have to preface this review by saying I've never really had a bad time on my 15 previous cruises even though many times things have been far from perfect. The cruise experience to me has always been more than the sum of its parts. Cruising has a rhythm, and texture. It's about stepping outside of your normal life. It's about slowing down time, savoring the moment and creating memories. The ability to overlook problems and shortcomings while a useful coping tool in life, may not impart information to readers trying to decide if a certain ship is right for them. Therefore, prior to boarding I decided I would write a bare-knuckle review. Yes, the gloves were going to come off, and I'm not talking about the latex gloves the food servers wear in the buffet lines!
Pre-Stay: San Diego, CA. The Holiday Inn at the Bay. Across the street from the Cruise Ship Terminal the location could not have been more convenient. The rooms although on the small side (especially the bathroom), are clean and comfortable. The only negative comment I have were the tacky plastic wall edge protectors held onwith peeling duck tape in the entrance hall. I can only surmise their purpose was to protect the decidedly not upscale wallpaper from being ripped by guest's bags. My room was next to the elevator and mere inches from the ice machine so everything I need was within easy crawling distance. The restaurants on the property include a British Pub/Restaurant knockoff and the venerable Ruth Chris Steak House. I will definitely stay here again, for the express purpose of arriving a day early not to miss the ship.
Embarkation: I awoke to find the sky eerily dark. Ash was falling from the sky as the wildfires around San Diego raged. The Airport was closed off and on, and it was definitely not a good day for outside breathing. It reminded me of when Mt. St. Helens erupted. We arrived at the Ship at 12:00pm, (coughing and wheezing) and were onboard by 12:15pm. My first attempt to "rough up" Holland America Line (HAL) were thwarted by a flawless check-in. The Pier Staff was efficient, professional and pleasant. They requested that we use the public rooms of the ship until 1:00pm as they were still cleaning some of the cabins, a very reasonable request. As we walked the open decks black soot was falling everywhere. I heard people complain about that, and I had to wonder didn't they realize that the soot was someone's home? Because of the airport closures the ship was delayed one hour in departing.
The Cabin: #100 Outside cabin located forward on the Verandah Deck. This is my first non-balcony cabin in several cruises and I was prepared to pick it apart. Alas, it was generous in size, had a full sofa, tub, was spotlessly clean and had tons of closet and drawer storage space. Curse you HAL for not giving me a chance to use clever insults other than the color of the bedspread wasn't to my liking! The cabin attendant was stealthy and figured out our routine the first day, no complaints here.
The Ship: The Statendam was launched in 1993, and was the first of fours identical sisters (Massdam, Ryndam, Veendam). I've sailed the Veendam before so I knew what to expect, other than few interior-decorating differences. At 55,400 tons by today's size standards she is a "compact." It doesn't have a rock-climbing wall, skating rink, 10-story atrium, glass elevators, hermetically sealed disco, or water slide. What she does have is vast open decks, comfortable lounges, and classy inviting interiors. Having read a few comments of late that the she was showing her age I decided to judge for myself and let the insults fly. As we toured the ship from the top (Sky) deck to the lowest public deck (Lower Promenade) the list of defects grew. I found a shocking total of 4! The most obvious of which was the carpet on the Upper Promenade that leads past the Lounges (Ocean Bar, Piano Bar and Explorers Lounge) to the Rotterdam Dinning Room, is a bit faded and worn in spots. Also I discovered the scourge of every ship, rust, by the aft pool on the Navigation Deck, above the Ping-Pong table, where an exterior metal speaker attaches to the ceiling. There it was, a quarter inch diameter patch! Of course since I'm 6'5" and live my life at ceiling level so I was probably the only person that could see it. I'm sure Leona Hemsley could have found a few more things wrong (being in prison sharpens ones perceptions I've heard), but I was forced to concede that another literary opportunity was lost. The ship is lovingly cared for, and in great shape.
We were sharing the ports with the behemoth Carnivore (I mean Carnival) Pride. At 88,000 plus tons and carrying a 1,000 more guests then we were, she had a lot of flash and dash, not to mention balconies everywhere. While I stared at the water slide somewhat enviously, I also noticed how little open deck space she had. One of the Prides passengers mentioned how tight the lounge chairs were placed, that was if a person could even find one. Such was not the case on the Statendam.
The Food: The Statendam doesn't have 10 or 15 alternate eating venues, or open seating for dinner. It has a "traditional" two seating dinner (6pm and 8:15pm) with assigned tables. There is a large buffet type restaurant, The Lido, located on of all places the Lido deck (go figure), along with a smaller pool side food area on the same deck. There is one alternate reservation only establishment, The Pinnacle for an extra charge of $20 per person. Although the dining room serves breakfast and lunch via open seating, we opted to eat those meals at The Lido. Nor did we eat at The Pinnacle, although the comments from those that did were extremely positive.
The Lido: Two long buffets lines were set up on both sides of the ship. Even in peak dining times, tables were always available, either in the restaurant or outside by the retractable domed pool. There is also a salad bar and two specialty stations for omelets for breakfast or stir-fry for lunch. While I prefer the configuration of multiple buffet stations on the newer ships, the "one long line" configuration gets the job done well unless you get behind the "buffet as art" (they use the tongs like they're painting a masterpiece, one tiny tomato at a time) or "I just can't decide" sort of person. Bus People are available to assist those who need help carrying their trays to the table, which is very considerate for the elderly or those with mobility issues. The quality and variety of the food exceeded my expectations. If I was forced to find fault it was that the lettuce in the salad bar was always wet (we know what Leona Hemsley would do with that) and the condiments were limited (no shredded cheese or bacon bits).
Rotterdam Dining Room: A two story, beautifully decorated room. With assigned seating, conversation nightmares can and do happen. I always go to the first dinner with a combination of anticipation and dread, hoping for the best (sparkling conversation) but prepared for the worst (asking to be moved after dinner). There were 5 of us at a table for 6 and the cruising fates smiled on us. We were also fortunate enough to have a "hosted table" by the same exceedingly charming ship Officer for both formal nights. This gives you an insight into the life the crew leads, not to mention free wine.
HAL is not known for gourmet cuisine, and I prepared myself accordingly. When I was on the Veendam several years ago the food was decidedly ordinary. On this cruise every night I would leave the table trying to figure out how they fed us so well, for how little we paid. The food was great! The portions aren't huge but with 5 courses who needs a 12oz steak? A word of advice, choose carefully, the more exotic the dish the greater the risk that it isn't conducive to mass preparation. You're safe with the steaks, chicken, pork chops, lobster and fish generally. The paella tasted like dry fried rice with chucks of sausage and seafood. Fortunately on that one, we had asked the Waiter for a sample and he brought us an entrée that the entire table shared. Which brings me to the service. Our Waiter and Assistant Waiter were attentive yet unobtrusive. My two most recent cruises on Celebrity and Norwegian the Waiters were trying to double as entertainers. Here they just focused on service. Personally, I prefer that.
Entertainment: Here HAL misses the mark, sometimes in a big way. Evening entertainment consists of three things on a ship, headliners, lounge acts, and shows/reviews. There is no such thing as a "Vegas caliber show" on any cruise ship and to be honest I usually avoid most of the headliners and shows/reviews while aboard. The headliners are usually on their way up (if you're lucky) or on the way down (usually the case) the slippery slope of third tier entertainment mediocrity. The shows/reviews usually have an energetic cast of young singers and dancers in not so dazzling costumes doing their best with 10-year-old choreography that would work even if the ship were in the process of capsizing. Normally, I keep to the lounges after dinner, however this time I did go to most of the shows.
Shows/reviews: I had to admire the singer/dancers not so much for their talent or stage presence but for their sheer physical endurance. The singing and dancing numbers were staged at a death defying frenzied pace. Because they use canned (recorded) music even though some wear microphone headpieces you're never sure if it's all lip-synced. When we asked the Cruise Director he said, yes they were singing but additional voices were pre-recorded. Therein lies the problem. When you have two singers wearing headpieces and you're hearing about 20 voices, what conclusion is there other than it's all pre-recorded? Better just to have the dancers dance than pretend they're all singing. Those "kids" have talent, but the choreography, costumes and staging never gave them a chance to present or showcase it.
Headliners: An illusionist, comic and Elton John impersonator (or is that impressionist?) performed during the week. I walked out on the comic (standard observational cruise ship humor---cabin size, food, vacuum toilet system, etc) right before he used his best material to rip apart the Cruise Director. Oh well. The Elton John impressionist, looked like Elton, in a limited range could sound like Elton but he sure has heck couldn't play the piano like Elton. Still he was very funny, and it was an enjoyable show. I didn't see the illusionist, but those that did enjoyed the show.
Lounge Acts: For me the best entertainment on the ship is conversation, usually in one of the lounges. The Statendam has four distinct venues, Ocean Bar, Explorer's Lounge, Piano Bar and The Crows Nest. Of these for live music the only standout act was Blue Fondue in the Ocean Bar. On the decidedly negative side, the D.J. at the Crow's Nest never really read the crowd well and picked songs that kept the audience in their seats with the exception of "oldies night" on the first formal night, and the Halloween party, which was the second formal night.
Activities: If a person can be bored on a ship, they need to go on anti-depressants. HAL offered a variety of daily activities, from bingo to pool games. The Cruise Staff performed their functions without being psychotically peppy.
The Ports: Puerto Vallerta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas: The ship offers a variety of tours none of which we took. As a general rule, you can find a much better deal on shore, but booking through the ship offers convenience, certainty and priority disembarkation. In Puerto Vallarta we headed to the beach in the old section of town. In Mazatlan we did a bit of shopping in the "Golden Zone". At Cabo due to the exceptionally slow tendering (from 7:30am to 12pm before they went to open tenders due to heavy swells) and short stay we didn't get off the ship. If you are interested in the available activities and beaches in the ports you should do your research prior to leaving either by buying one of the Mexico guides or doing research on the Internet. The Port Guides given on the ship really only offer information on the few shops that pay royalties to HAL.
The final leg, Little Ship of Horrors: At 10am on Saturday the Captain announced that due to a leaky turbo charger in one of the generators our speed was reduced and we would be arriving as late as 1:00pm on Sunday (our scheduled time was 8:00am). Long lines formed at the front desk and the ship to shore phone lines were jammed as people scrambled to re-book flights and notify their families. As the Cruise Director said, there are worse things in life then having your cruise vacation extended by half a day. I was surprised and impressed that most of the guests remained as composed as they did. Much of that credit goes to the calm and concerted effort of the Front Office staff. We were informed that the calls to re-book flights would be free of charge. I'm going to take their word for that because due to the delay in closing the accounts we never did receive a final shipboard account statement. I guess I find out when I get my credit card statement. It took me about two hours to get an outside line and arrange the flight changes and I also had to pay a "deviation fee" of $50 to book on a later flight.
We were able to sleep in, and did not have to vacate our room until 11:00am, which was a very pleasant experience. We arrived in San Diego at 11:30am, however clearing customs took longer than anticipated when a foreign couple took their sweet time (despite repeated requests) in meeting with custom officials. General disembarkation began at approximately 1:00pm and we were off the ship by 1:30pm. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the passengers who were just beginning their trips. While we had breezed onboard at 12:00am they would have to wait for several more hours. The waiting room that for us was empty was now packed. There was also the uncertainty that the repairs could even be accomplished. If they could not, the itinerary would have to be modified.
Tipping Not Required Policy: The tipping not required policy punishes the staff members who rely on tips (room attendants, bar serves, waiters/assistant waiters). I heard some guest say that they thought tips were not permitted, others thought it was already included. It's time for HAL to be up front with the guests and at least publish suggested guidelines. I'd also like to see HAL include a 15% gratitude for bar service, or add a tip section to each bar slip. Hunting down the various beverage servers the last night of the cruise is frustrating and time consuming.
And In The End: Why did I take a HAL cruise? Part of it is to take a ship that is a ship, not floating mega Club Med resort. They are classy, spacious and vastly comfortable. Part of it was for the great value, but mostly it is about service. Here HAL shines, and the service is second to none in the premium cruise category. It is seemingly effortless, genuine, gracious and remarkably consistent. The Front Office staff, so often a source of frustration on other lines, handled guest requests, complaints and general ranting with professionalism, patience and respect. The Officers don't breeze past you as if you don't exist while they make their rounds. The bar servers are exceptional; they'll remember your name and your drink preference after your first order. Throughout the ship the staff always seemed to anticipate your needs. For as much as HAL advertises it's high level of service, it is remarkable that they deliver even more. The Statendam far exceeded my expectations and on a scale of 0 (the ship sinks with all hands) to 10 (the perfect cruise and you win the bingo jackpot while onboard) I'd rate the cruise an 8+.