Vincent & Mary Finelli
Number of Cruises: 27
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: May 26th, 2002
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Often while cruising, we enjoy asking our fellow passengers which is their favorite cruise line, and frequently the response is Holland America Line (HAL) for its terrific service and cuisine. Since we had never sailed with HAL, we felt obliged to plan a cruise on one of its ships. This was our 27th cruise and it was an excellent one. Lower Promenade Deck 6 forward has the bronze plaque from Monfalcone, Genoa, Italy stating that the M S Maasdam is the #5882nd ship built by the prolific and venerable Fincantieri Shipbuilders. She is lovely, reminiscent of the liners of yesteryear with a wrap around outside promenade and her interior motif is in homage to the historical Dutch East and West India companies, which made so many noted journeys around the world trading during the 17th through the 19th centuries.
The Maasdam was launched in 1993: her length is 720 feet; width is 101 feet, with a draft of 24 feet 6 inches; gross tonnage is 55,451 and her maximum speed is 21 knots. Guest capacity is 1,266 with a crew of 560. She is the second of her class, and her sister ships are the Statendam launched in 1992, followed by the Ryndam in 1994 and the Veendam in 1996: THE FIVE STAR FLEET! The first ships to have three deck atriums, which of course may now seem small compared to the nine and ten deck atriums of newer ships. Her Captain Dirk van den Berg (Holland) ably sailed us 1,908 nautical miles of pure relaxation and pleasure.
HAL boards in Ft. Lauderdale at 3 pm. There were crowds waiting, but we were met at baggage drop off by a steward who skillfully pushed Vincent's wheelchair and had us in our cabin in about ten minutes. Security clearance was simple, but credit card registry is done on board later during the week. Unlike newer systems, where one card is cabin key, credit card and boarding pass, on the Maasdam you will also need a personal ID for reboarding at each port. This system is soon to be changed according to Hotel Director Dirk Verhey van Wijk (Holland), who runs a beautifully maintained ship. We met with Mr. van Wijk, who proved to be a nexus to information. Soon, at the next dry docking, an updated one card system will be installed.
The HAL ships are standardized in outward appearance, with navy blue hulls and white upper decks and all have an oval disk on their funnel depicting a navy blue hull sporting a sailing vessel with all sails blowing in the wind --- very nautical as are the interiors. Blue colors and sailing memorabilia are much in evidence everywhere.
The Maasdam has nine passenger decks, two sets of four elevators, forward and aft. The main galley is centrally located on Deck 7. This design impedes the access to the atrium from the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room. To remedy the inconvenience of the traffic flow on Deck 7 from the dining room to the Rembrandt Lounge forward or the Atrium midship, it is necessary to take an elevator or climb the stairs to Deck 8 and proceed forward to the other set of elevators or stairs. All of her interior public areas are essentially on Decks 7 and 8. They are extensively decorated with the famous fresh flowers of Holland which include the exotics such as ginger, delphinium, antherium and birds of paradise, as well as carnations, roses, etc. The heady scent of flowers is in the air at every corner.
A Deck (4), Main Deck (5), and the Lower Promenade Deck (6) are all cabins.
Promenade Deck (7) forward holds the Rembrandt Lounge/Theatre's lower level with its sofa seating and moveable barrel chairs and a series of delft blue and white tiled tables. The Dutch tiles are repeated on the ceiling and around the stage area quite nicely. The stage curtain is a composition of 18th century sailing ships, neatly lined in rows and sparkling as they sail on a midnight blue sea.
Midship is the photo gallery and then the three deck high Atrium, with its equally tall sea blue crystal sculpture by Italian artist Luciano Vistosi. Look for the model of the 18th century ship, the "Brick da Commerce" of the Dutch India Company. Nearby are the Front Office and Guest Relations managed by the very competent Jason DeLeo. He is a whiz at solving passengers' problems and very personable.
Here is also the Java Cafe with its complimentary excellent teas and coffees and freshly made cookies (try the almond ones, they melt in the mouth.). Across the corridor is the Wajang Theatre with four daily showings of the latest films and free popcorn. Toward aft is located Club HAL, the "Kid's Zone", then the galley and all the way aft the Rotterdam Dining Room with its surround windows.
Upper Promenade Deck (8) forward has the Rembrandt Balcony, where the sofa style seating needs improvement, since the only row with a clear view of the stage is the first one and then there is still the rail to contend with. The level of each tier needs to be raised at least another 10 inches to allow for a clear view of the stage.
Midship are the boutiques and shops with the usual fare. . . . some cruise line company must break ranks and start to offer alternatives to the standardized items aboard every line. Many more sales could be made if there were new and varied items introduced. Frequent cruisers all complained that there is nothing new: Inch of Gold and overpriced baby and children items are boring and too costly for many to take serious. However, the ship's logo items were the best value.
The Casino, Casino Bar and Piano Bar are also midship on this deck, and in the connecting corridor, there is a fantastic oak carving of a monkey atop a dolphin where both animals have savage expressions. It is truly unique and original, but like most of the art and artifacts aboard no artist is cited only the period when created. It's a pity.
Toward aft on the port side is the Card Room with its gorgeous Japanese vases and the Library with the internet area. A corridor abeam the ship holds many interesting works: a wooden horse mounted on sled runners, a huge world globe, oriental paintings on silk, and the famous Canton china brought back as ballast for centuries by merchant ships. On starboard side is the Explorers lounge where Captain van den Berg held his cocktail party. Hot canapés are served here every evening, as well as in the Crow's Nest.
All the way aft is the Balcony of the Rotterdam Dining Room where we had table #52 with an excellent view of the Morning Glory Blue crystal chandelier, no doubt the forerunner of those floral chandeliers seen aboard the Carnival Pride and other newer liners. This dining room was awash in red and blue colors from the decor to the uniforms of the stewards.
Verandah Deck (9) is almost all balconied suites (Cat. B) with a few inside (Cat. I) and ocean view (Cat. C) cabins.
Navigation Deck (10) has suites (Cat. PS, S and A) with a few inside (Cat. I) cabins, in addition to the second swimming pool aft and the bridge forward. We were invited to the only Penthouse Verandah Suite on the ship, #001, by Joe and Estrella, our new acquaintances. This is a spacious three room suite and balcony (more than 1,100 sq. ft.), with Roman marble whirlpool bath and shower and many other luxuries. Needless to say, they took most of their meals in their suite. Why leave?
Forward is the bridge, the ship's core. We had a wonderful explanation of daily charting by ship's Navigator Chris Guthrie (Scotland); he pointed out the wisdom and necessity to manually chart courses; even though this ship's computerized systems are state of the art. He spoke of his daily use of compass and sextant to back up automatic systems. HAL has a great "Ambassador" in Mr.Guthrie; he was patient and informative.
Lido Deck (11) is where the open air action occurs. Forward is the Observation Deck and the Ocean Spa, Gym, and Beauty Parlor. Midship is the Terrace Grill (informal BBQ), the Lido Deck, two jacuzzi hot tubs (extremely hot) and a lap pool (nicely cool). Here is also a copper sculpture of a dolphin family and the Dolphin Bar, all under a sliding dome cover. Aft is the Lido Restaurant (buffet) which was quite good (more later).
Sports Deck (12) forward is the Crow's Nest with its curved windows to the sea, and live band every evening. Very nice. Aft are the practice tennis & basketball courts and the Club HAL Wave Runner.
SERVICE AND FOOD
Many have told us the service aboard HAL is A-One -- and it is! Holland America runs its own training school in Jakarta, Indonesia, where all dining room staff are recruited. Many stewards stay with HAL upwards of twenty years. Hotel Director van Wijk explained the "No Tipping " policy is due to the crew's union contract by which substantial wages and benefits keep them motivated. However, tipping for special efforts is graciously received. The stateroom stewards are all from the Philippines and truly believe it is a pleasure to serve the passengers.
Passengers are welcomed aboard by stewards in red & blue uniforms with pillbox hats; dinner is announced by a steward walking throughout the ship with chimes as was done on liners of yesteryear. Nice touch, HAL, in keeping this tradition!
Food was on par with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Lines with several excellent offerings: Daily on the Lido there was hot bread pudding, which rivaled any soufflé, with an accompanying hot vanilla sauce. Pizza was also made onboard with fresh dough, lightly topped with a variety of condiments and cooked to perfection -- crispy and delicious!
Appetizers were light in general and varied: Fresh fruit, pate`, fish (gravlax, prawns, herring, crab legs, caviar, etc.). Soups were interesting, both hot and cold, many spicy; the French onion was the best. Salads were just the right size, not overpowering: excellent choices are Caesar's, Greek, and Westlandse Sla. Holland night was made festive by white peaked hats for the ladies and black caps for the men. Nice touch!
Entrees were quite good and aptly prepared under the Executive Chef Michael Mahn, who is to be complimented for the over 6,000 meals beautifully served daily. We take away fond memories of his Risotto con Funghi, braised and roasted beef and chicken, perfectly prepared steaks, prime rib and lobster tails. However, his gnocchi served on a bed of spinach and pine nuts were so light they almost floated off the plate!
Desserts ranged from sugarless and light to decadent double chocolate layer cakes and some nice fruited ones. We had a wonderful week of food and service at table #52 by Steward Wawan, Asst. Steward Sulaiman, Wine Steward Roy Manangkil and Dining Room Supervisor Tri.
There is 24-hour room service onboard, serving full American breakfasts in the cabins, even on the day of disembarkation. Hot canapés were served in all the bars and ice cream, toppings and cookies were available on the Lido Deck. All in all, no one could go hungry here!
Mini Suite B 191 Verandah Deck (9) was bright and clean with new carpeting. Entering on the left there is the bathroom with commode, Jacuzzi tub, safety rails all around, single sink and one long shelf for sundries, many new towels and amenities. Next is the king size bed flanked by two night stands, with blue and green comforter patterned to evoke thoughts of the South Sea Islands. There is a sofa/bed, a coffee table and hassock, mini refrigerator and an end table. When entering on the right are four wardrobes (two with hangers and two with shelves), a personal safe, a TV/VCR console and a vanity/desk with mirror and chair. The far wall is glassed; there is the door to the private balcony with a chair, table and a chaise lounge. Our steward Subair kept it all in order unobtrusively and brought ice and a fresh bowl of fruit daily.
Cruise Director Dave Shermet runs a tight ship with a full schedule of the usual fare on board: Bingo, Games, Exercises, ping pong, shuffleboard, tennis, volleyball, basketball and don't forget Quoits (this is just ring toss). Showtime at the Rembrandt Lounge was the usual mix of singing and dancing. Two special shows were excellent: Greg Frewin, billed as the #1 Magician in the world, was deft at slight of hand; Don Sherman's ship humor was very entertaining.
Many venues had music and gatherings, yet there were plenty of quiet places with fantastic views to just sit and relax, or read and do crossword puzzles.
PORTS OF CALL
The HAL Western Caribbean
itinerary includes the following ports of call:
COZUMEL, MEXICO -- Tuesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 1:30 pm
GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN -- Wednesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 4 pm.
OCHOS RIOS, JAMAICA -- Thursday -- Arrival 7 am. Departure 4:30 pm.
HALF MOON CAY, BAHAMAS -- Saturday -- Arrival 7:30 am. Departure 3 pm.
We are not describing these ports, nor the relative shore excursions, since we have visited them many time and reported on them in other reviews. However, this was our first time on Half Moon Cay, HAL private resort on San Salvador Island. Unfortunately, we did not tender ashore, since it was a rainy day. We have heard though that the best activities to do on this island are water sports, including snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, etc. and land activities such as nature walks, golf chipping and the BBQ picnic.
After a very early breakfast in the dining room, we had a long wait for immigration check. The line for US citizens began at 6:45 am, stretched throughout Deck 8 from the Rembrandt Lounge to the Rotterdam Dining Room then to the Card Room. It lasted longer than one hour and a half just for a passport check. Then we waited until 9:30 for debarkation.
1. The seating in the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge needs to have each level raised, so that those seated in the tiers behind the first one would have a better view of the stage. Many spectators were grumbling that they could not see the magician's tricks.
2. Since Grand Cayman Island is so good for underwater experiences, maybe HAL could make available to cruisers an excursion with the new SEAmobile Submarine Tours, recently featured in National Geographic Magazine. It explores the coral reefs off the 7 Mile Beach in a bubble like underwater mobile with a pilot for only $125 per hour.
3. After the tragic events of 9/11, the new requirement for US citizens' passport inspection by Immigration, is creating unnecessary long lines of passengers at the times of arrival in US ports. To reduce the waiting times in these lines, we suggest to schedule the passport inspection at set times according to category, cabin or deck numbers; e.g., Cat. A at 7:00, Cat. B at 7:15, etc. A similar procedure has already been adopted by some cruise lines.
This was our first cruise with HAL and it was a good one. We plan to have many more cruises with this and other lines, perhaps on the new ships, Prinsendam and Zuiderdam. For now we have already booked a Hawaii cruise on the Norwegian Star for July, a return cruise on the Golden Princess for November and a cruise on the new RCI Navigator of the Seas in January 2003.