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Mick Bettesworth

Age: 51 to 60

Occupation:Operations Manager

Number of Cruises: 3 to 5

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Maasdam

Sailing Date: November 26, 2000

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

As Europeans we were slightly concerned that our tastes might not coincide with the American market but these fears proved groundless. Holland America offer a very refined product which appeals to Americans and Europeans alike, quality and good taste are international.

EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION.

Essentially embarkation was achieved with the minimum of fuss. We were bussed from Pier 66 Hotel straight to the embarkation hall the luggage having been collected at the hotel. Upon checking in at the terminal, where you were issued with universal identity card and cabin keys, there was a 20 minute wait before being called to embark. We went aboard and were immediately shown to our cabin 154 on the Verandah deck by a smiling Indonesian steward. Our room steward arrived within 2 minutes to introduce himself and our baggage turned up about 1 hour later. In the meantime we went to the lido for lunch and explored the ship.

The ‘ship’ side of disembarkation proved to be equally well organised although the time taken for non US citizens to clear immigration is a bore. Upon being called to disembark, we found our luggage immediately available in the hall, there were plenty of porters. However once we cleared the baggage hall, chaos reigned. The bus taking us to Miami airport was virtually full and loading the baggage was a problem as the AA hold was already full, eventually 2 of our bags went in the United hold and 2 in the US air. The caused me considerable worry as we have had luggage go astray before and it’s a difficult task to get it back particularly if you are overseas. To add to the disorganisation 10 people proved to be on the wrong bus and had to disembark and relocate their bags. In the end we departed 1houe 15 minutes late for Miami. We had plenty of time but others were getting very concerned. Be warned….

THE GOOD POINTS

Overall we were hugely impressed with HAL and the Maasdam in particular. The ship was immaculately maintained and the displays of fresh flowers were outstanding. The crew keep the ship in tip top condition and were vacuuming, washing and polishing the whole time. Our cabin steward was not usually visible - we hardly ever saw him, but he kept the cabin spotless and well serviced. Every time we left the cabin, the fresh fruit was replenished as were fresh towels etc.

Food.

The Rotterdam dining room was excellent, - we struck lucky with our steward Budi. He was exceptionally attentive without being obseqious. The wine waiter also was excellent and knowledgeable and recommended a couple of wines which were new to me but which were most drinkable and didn’t break the bank. We asked for and got a table for 2 in the smoking part of the restaurant (the two tier room is quite stunning) in the second sitting. My wife smokes, although I don’t, but I found that there was no overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke. The quality of the food was excellent, and we were surprised at how ‘nouvelle cuisine’ the food was> Portions were not over large and one did not rise from the table with an uncomfortable overfed feeling. The choice of main dishes and desserts was wide, and one night included some outstanding lamb. Every dish we ordered was well presented and tasted good.  We ate dinner every night in the Rotterdam Restaurant together with breakfast on one morning and one lunch. Other breakfasts we took in our cabin. This is an area in which HAL need to tighten up.The cabin breakfasts were mediocre hotel standard and were poorly cooked and presented. For lunch we usually went to the lido buffet. I was slightly disappointed in this venue. There was a wide variety of food but I thought quite a lot of dishes were bland and tasteless. The fresh grilled hamburgers and tacos together with stir fries at the pool side grill were excellent., as was the complementary ice cream bar, with vanilla ice cream made with real vanilla pods, as well as several low fat alternatives. We did not eat at the lido in the evening, nor did we attend the late night buffets as we were simply not hungry.

On deck

The weather on our cruise was disappointing and we did not have one entirely sunny day. Apparently the Caribbean in November is unpredictable, however as the temperature was in the 80s it was quite comfortable to lie by the pool under cloudy skies. Because of the weather the cover over the main pool was closed most of the time. This tends to trap the smells from the lunch time grills. This is an area where quite a few of the activities such as horse racing and ice carving take place and it can be very noisy. Deck service was efficient although a few more smiles might have been nice. However there were plenty of fresh towels. The aft pool area, and indeed the whole ship never felt crowded and on the occasions that the steel band played there they kept the volume to an acceptable level (unlike the Carnival ship along side us in Cozumel which could be heard 2 miles away!).

Cabin

We heeded the advice of  our travel agent and previous reviewers in this column and paid extra for a cabin with a Verandah. In my opinion it was worth every penny. We spent a lot of time in the cabin and on the balcony and one occasion slept with the door open to the sounds of the ocean. The balcony added a new dimension, we would not cruise again without one. The cabin was spacious and spotlessly clean although the wall paper was beginning to fray a bit around the joints. There was a mini bar and TV with a VCR machine (tapes could be borrowed from the front office although the selection was poor). The bathroom had a jacuzzi bath which was fun, and an excellent shower. HAL provided good quality shampoo and body lotion.

THE NOT SO GOOD.

Upon arrival at Miami airport after a 10 hour flight from London, the Holland America line representative Mr de Sousa could not have been more unhelpful. We had to find him  and he was far more interested in a private conversation he was having on his mobile (it sounded like his girl friend).

He made no attempt to help with luggage other than rudely telling us that trollies were not allowed to be taken outside the terminal building and that the car was 250 meters away. He made no attempt to help us find a porter and we felt that we were an irritation to him. NOT an impressive start.

Shore excursions .

I felt that these were very overpriced. We only went on two, a flight from Cozumel to Chichen Itza and on an Island Drive in Grand Cayman. The Chichen Itza tour is stunning but they simply do not allow enough time to see the site. There was considerable confusion over time and as a result we had only 20 minutes after the guided tour to revisit points of interest. Unfortunately we confused the time and kept every body waiting. For an excursion costing approx $280 each, I felt rushed and hurried. If the excursion does not fit the time the ship is in port it should not be offered.

The Grand Cayman Island Drive was also disappointing. There were 3 other large cruise ships in port  that day and the shore excursion arrangements were chaotic. High temperatures and high humidity made it uncomfortable and there was a half hour of queueing before we were ushered on to a ‘school bus’ – uncomfortable cramped seats and high windows. I was not able to sit down properly and no one checked to see if everyone was ok before starting off. Luckily we were able to transfer to another vehicle at the first stop but there was a conveyor line mentality. Whilst I realise that this is not HAL’s fault as they do not run the excursions, it left a sour taste.

Show lounge entertainment.

We had read that the entertainment on HAL was a weak point. I certainly agree with this criticsm. During the course of this cruise there were 2 ‘shows’, an illusionist and a tired comedian. Quite frankly the standard was poor, and let the high standards achieved elsewhere down. The 2 production shows consisted of 4 boys, of whom only 2 could hold a tune, and 5 girls, the leader of whom consistantly sang ‘off key’. They part danced, part sang  and part mimed to a click track and orchestra.

There was virtually no production, no scenery and the standard generally was what one might expect in a mediocre city night club – one of the dancers even fell over one night…. and the ship was steady!

Come on Holland America ! Get your act together here. Click tracks were outmoded 5 years ago and the ship and its passengers deserve something a bit fresher and more innovative!

Tipping.

I  do not like the tipping policy. Either tips are expected or they are not! Very confusing.

CONCLUSION

The quality of the cruise far outweighed the niggles and I would not hesitate to book with Holland America again, in fact we will not look at any other line. Maasdam is a beautiful well kept ship. True, the average age aboard was definitely towards the higher end of the spectrum but Holland America deliver a package that makes passengers feel special.  This was a wonderful holiday aboard a truly comfortable ship.

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