Janet and Ray Zegarski
Number of Cruises: 29
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: May 22nd, 2004
Itinerary: New England
In our cruising experience, this was our twenty-fifth cruise together, with four others taken separately. This was a surprise, last minute (almost) cruise. We had not planned on this type of cruise for this year, especially since all the ports are within fairly reasonable driving distances from our home in New Hampshire. We received a "Special (geographically limited) Offer" from Holland America Lines, via e-mail notification, asking a very good price, and including free transportation to Montreal. After a very short period of discussion, we contacted our capable travel agent, George, and we were ‘booked’ in no time. Due to the short interval prior to sailing date, we were required to make full payment within five days of when we booked. Yes, we could have driven to any, or all, of the port cities, but the allure of another cruise, and not having to pack and unpack and re-pack all week won out. Also, we had sailed on the Maasdam for her Inaugural Voyage in 1993 and we wanted to see how much she may have changed during the interval. This rationale is also known as, "Any excuse to take another cruise".
Some of the details of our impressions are as follows:
Travel to Montreal: As mentioned, HAL’s offer included complimentary transportation from Boston to Montreal. This was provided via tour bus, which left from an area adjacent to Boston’s Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, where this cruise was scheduled to disembark seven days later. The bus was less than full, so there was ample space to spread out, and it was easy to get up and move about the bus; much better than a full airplane. The drive took about six hours, including a snack stop (not complimentary, but no complaint from us). At the Canadian Border, an official came aboard the bus to check everyone’s identification documents; this took approximately 10-15 minutes and we were again on our way. On the trip North, we drove in and out of bands of rain; by the time we reached Montreal, the rain was only a memory, and the sun was shining. Since it was Saturday about noontime, with nice weather, there was a fair amount of foot and vehicular traffic in the port area, causing some congestion. The cruise ship terminal in Montreal is located in the midst of a very active waterfront area, for both tourists and local inhabitants.
Embarkation: Once our bus arrived at the Cruise ship terminal in Montreal, we were dropped off at the door and our luggage was taken directly from the bus to our staterooms aboard the ship. We were directed to the end of a line, extending out from the terminal. From the time we started on line, until we had processed through the embarkation process took only about fifteen minutes. It was then on to the customary "Welcome" photos, and the photos that are encoded on your ship’s ID/key card. These second photos are part of the ship security system for tracking entrance and exiting the ship. Once on board, we were greeted by someone from the hotel staff, and assigned a steward to escort us to our stateroom. This is a remembered nicety from past cruises that is sadly missing on many mainstream cruise lines today. We dropped off our carry-on bags and set out to test our memories of the ship’s layout, and have some lunch. Lunch was provided in the Lido Restaurant on Deck 11, and consisted of HAL’s normal, efficient and tasty buffet. We had noticed that we were assigned to the second of the two Main (Late) Dinner seatings, in the Lower Level of the Dining Room, as we had requested. Once onboard, we decided that this might make for a rushed dinner in order to be on time for the nightly shows, we decided to see about changing our scheduled dinner time. A quick stop to see the Maitre d’ had us placed on the change list; we were told that the change would probably not be effective until the next evening. All of our luggage was delivered to our stateroom prior to the Life Boat Drill.
Ship Particulars: The Maasdam, one of HAL’s Statendam Class of ships, was built at the Fincantieri Shipyards, Monfalcone (Italy) in 1993; she is 720 feet in length and 101feet wide, with a G.R.T. of 55,451 tons, and a Passenger capacity of 1266, carrying a crew of 560. The propulsion is Diesel Electric; there are 2 stabilizers; bow and stern thrusters obviate the need of tugs (in all but most severe conditions); top speed is 21 knots.
Stateroom: We were on A Deck (4) cabin E746 (Outside Double, port side, just forward of midship). This category stateroom is just under 200 square feet in area. The beds were set up in queen sized configuration, as requested, and were quite comfortable. There were three full length closets, each providing the option to place a bar at a height to allow enough length for shirts/blouses, or pants hung over the bar of a suit hanger; they also offered the alternative of four fold down selves. A fourth closet contained the safe (used the magnetic strip of any credit card/driver’s license/library card, etc. to open and lock) on a mid height shelf and three other fixed shelves. There was ample room at the bottom of the closets even for all of Janet’s shoes; the desk/dressing table provided six large sized drawers, and the night stands each contained two smaller sized drawers ( the top drawer was outfitted with a lock). All in all, there was more than enough storage space, even for a couple who always brings more than necessary. There was no difficulty placing the empty suitcases under the bed. The bathroom was more than adequately sized and contained a tub/shower combination equipped with a hand held shower attachment. No problems with amount of hot water and/or pressure, at any time. There were storage shelves in the bathroom near the mirror, above the vanity, large enough to contain all of our toiletries. Air temperature in the cabin was easy to maintain/change, as desired. Wahyu, our cabin steward was most pleasant and willing to please, he had a special knack that the true professionals all seem to have of never being in the way, but always there when needed. He explained the workings of everything in the cabin and told us that he would personally see to having any malfunctions corrected. Everything was maintained to our preferences, and all the mechanical aspects of the cabin appliances functioned as intended. HAL also supplied bathrobes in each stateroom for passengers’ use. There was a slight amoun
t of hallway noise discernible in the cabin, but nothing from adjoining cabins.
Public Areas: This a size of ship that we really enjoy, with a passenger capacity of 1,266 and the only times we saw any real congestion was in Bar Harbor where we needed to tender ashore (when will people learn to follow directions?), and going to the Captain’s Reception. There also was some minor congestion in the area of the on-board shops when the tables are placed in the walkways for the sale promotions. In a sense of fairness, we need to note that we did not spend a lot of time taking notes in all the public areas. In most cases our opinions are based on casual observations while moving about the ship at different times of day/night. One point worth noting here, is that in all the public areas where we did spend any time, we noticed that they were extremely well maintained and kept scrupulously clean.
Infirmary: Fortunately, we did not need to avail ourselves of the services provided in this area. At the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party, two doctors were introduced; through onboard conversations and observations, we learned that there were also three nurses aboard for our cruise. One of the nurses left the ship to accompany a passenger, who had to be evacuated at one of the Pilot Stations, to a hospital. The nurse rejoined the ship at our next port; the passenger was reported to be fine and traveled home after a short stint in the hospital.
Rembrandt Lounge: This is the primary showroom; it has fairly decent sight lines and acoustics. However, it is not set up like a land-based theater with fixed seating in terraced rows. This room has the older type design where there are some fixed in-place settees and some movable chairs, with minimal elevation from front to rear. This can cause some difficulty in transiting across the room. Cruise ship entertainment is not what draws us to cruising, but Ray does enjoy watching the dance routines ( an effort to relive earlier thespian days). The shows that we did attend were fine; nothing outstanding, but enjoyable. This is also the venue for port talks and home to "Bingo!"
Photo Gallery: Typical of most ships, there are rows of racks where photos are displayed, usually within hours of when they are taken. Holland America Line has gone the way of most others in that unwanted photos must be turned in at the Sales Desk to be discarded. This is a nuisance when there are lines of passengers waiting to make purchases. It used to be very convenient to be able to place unwanted photos in "Discard" boxes. As a result, there are probably many passengers who now just leave unwanted photos on the rack, decreasing available viewing space.
Front Office: Many recent reviews we have read, have castigated cruise lines for the unfriendly, and even surly, demeanor of folks working in this area. This was not our experience on this cruise, nor on most others that we have been on. The employees we encountered here were very professional and competent, with one exception (more later). As a matter of personal curiosity, why was the ‘Purser’s Desk’ appellation ever dropped? Is it an effort to make cruise ships even more like hotels?
Wajang Theatre: A staple on most (if not all?) HAL ships (at least on the Statendam Class ships) this is a nice touch that seem appreciated by many passengers. Then again, maybe it is just the fresh hot popcorn (complimentary)! We are not big movie viewers (Sorry Hollywood), but we will occasionally attend a showing on a cruise, usually on a sea day, if it is a film that has piqued our curiosity. Watching the film in a real theatre is preferable to a semi darkened lounge.
Oceaan Shops and Boutiques: Nothing special here; typical shops with sundries, cruise wear, souvenirs, jewelry, booze, etc. Janet likes to wander through; seldom buys. At various times through the cruise they set up tables for "Sale" items. Unfortunately, these are usually set up in high traffic areas. From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense, but from a passenger inconvenience point-of-view, this is an annoyance, in a nit-picking sort of fashion.
Casino: No fancy name, just plain old Casino. Not an area we often spend much time, nor money, in. On the occasions when we did walk through, business did seem brisk and lively. On the Statendam Class ships, it is not necessary for passengers to travel through the casino when traversing the length of the ship from Dining Room to main show lounge. This is helpful, especially for those passengers who are highly sensitive to cigarette smoke.
Card Room, Puzzle Corner, Library: The Puzzle Corner is a small room connecting the Card Room and Library. There are three tables set up with puzzles in various stages of completion. Passengers are free to stop by and work toward completing these, whenever they feel so moved. The Card Room usually had folks in there whenever we passed. The Library had a decent selection of books and some great chairs for snuggling down into to read and/or nap (both observed) in this quiet corner of the ship.
Beauty Salon/Spa: Cannot comment on this area from personal experience. They did seem to offer a large selection of ‘Specials’. Everyday there was a new flyer left under our stateroom door extolling that, or the next, day’s featured ‘Special’.
Gymnasium: Considering the age of the ship, a fairly comprehensive set-up. Never noticed a crowd. Alas, the gym is only open from 8:00AM to 9:00 PM. One will find the typical assortment of treadmills, bikes, stairsteppers, various adjustable machines and free weights. In addition to some free exercise programs (morning walk-a-mile, Ping-Pong tourney, golf putting, aerobics, step class, etc.), there are others (pilates, fitball, yoga) available for a ‘nominal’ fee. Sorry, we did not participate in any of these, and therefore do not know the actual fee.
Crow’s Nest: This is HAL’s signature lounge located at the top of the ship all the way forward. Floor to ceiling windows and comfortable chairs make this an ideal location to observe the route of the ship, without being exposed to the weather. Of course, those of us who enjoy the wind in our face, miss that aspect of the voyage, if we choose to observe from this lovely lounge. This is also a good place to meet for a pre/post dinner cocktail and music. Late night this venue becomes the Disco.
Dolphin Bar: Near the main pool and just outside the Lido Restaurant. Beside the seats at the bar itself, there are a number of tables, with umbrellas, and wicker chairs, located next to the bar. This is a nice location for an afternoon respite and to people watch.
Explorers Lounge: A quiet intimate place during the day, except for the afternoon tea often held here. After dinner, there was a pianist, or a string ensemble playing light classical music each evening. The staff also served some chocolate ‘surprises’ there some evenings.
Piano Bar: Most every evening, one could find a lively crowd here joining in with the talented piano player. This is a very interesting venue. The fabrics draped from the ceiling, over the seating banquettes, in the alcoves gives it a feel reminiscent of the tents in the Arabian desert.
Ocean Bar: This was our favorite ’haunt’. We would usually stop in for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and some quiet music/dancing. After dinner, or show - if we attended, we would stop back for an after dinner drink, or night cap. We became very friendly with two servers from the Philippines early in the cruise and would often see them in various venues, prior to their evening stint in the Ocean Bar. The trio that provided the musical entertainment each evening were quiet good. The location, right off the Atrium, provided easy access to passersby who often stopped in. This was also the venue used most often for the seemingly constant, never-ending Art Auctions.
Dining: As mentioned earlier, when we arrived on board, we decided to change our dining time to the earlier of the two "Main Seatings" in the Rotterdam Dining Room. This was handled very easily; we were seated at a table for six, but all week long there were only four of us at this table. Fortunately, all four of us meshed well with each other and we were often the last to be leaving the Dining Room after lingering over coffee and dessert, and stories of our day or life in the ‘real world’. So much for our strategy of getting out earlier to see the shows. But we were never rushed! We found the food to be of good quality and preparation, and the presentation very good. Holland America still has Wine Stewards in the Dining Room; unfortunately, this is no longer the case on all cruise lines.
Breakfast and lunch in the Dining Room was open seating. At breakfast, the other options are Room service, or the buffet in the Lido Restaurant. On this cruise we did not eat any breakfasts, nor lunches, in the Dining Room. There was no special reason for this, it just worked out that way. We usually have at least a few of each in the Dining Room, since Janet is not a super fan of buffets. The buffets in the Lido were quite extensive, with the offerings well prepared and presented at different stations. There was usually little or no wait involved. Another non Dining Room lunch time option, besides Room Service, or the buffet, is the Terrace Grill (pool side) which served hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, salads, tacos, etc.
Pinnacle Grill: This is the Maasdam’s "fine dining" alternative (fee added) restaurant. We decided to give it a try on the second night of the cruise, since the next night would be the Captain’s reception. We made our reservation right after lunch on embarkation day, no difficulty in getting day and time we desired, also picked the table we wanted. We were promptly seated by the Restaurant Manager, and then waited about ten minutes to receive a menu and welcome from our waitress. She told us that she did not realize that the table where we were seated was her responsibility? There are only about twelve to fifteen smallish tables in this restaurant and four waiters/waitresses. After another ten minute wait, she brought over a cart displaying the various cuts of meat available, and she took our order. The assistant waiter brought out the bread, and the wine steward introduced himself and took our order. The assistant waiter brought out our soup/salads, and the waitress our entrees. Our waitress then disappeared (almost) for the next thirty to forty minutes. I said ‘almost’ because she was seen chatting with another waitress and customer at another table for a while. After finishing our entrees and staring at the near empty plates for some time, the assistant waiter finally cleared the table and took our dessert and coffee orders, and promptly served the coffee and dessert. Our waitress was passing by and we asked if we could have refills of our coffee cups; she replied, "Certainly" and left. After perhaps five to ten minutes, the assistant waiter stopped to ask if we needed anything further. We told him we were waiting for coffee refills, which he immediately served. A short time later he brought us our bill for the "fine dining" and the wine. Ray was not a happy camper by this time, and the Restaurant Manager was "not available" as we were leaving so there was no one to receive our complaint. Ray did stop by the next day to speak to the manager and inform him that the dining experience was very much short of "Fine", despite the food being excellent. The manager apologized and reviewed our reservation and told Ray that he (the manager) would speak to the server, and this should not have happened. This was our first experience with HAL’s Pinnacle Grill Service, and it definitely came up lacking. We will give it another try on our upcoming Oosterdam cruise. Other passengers that we spoke to did not have the same type of experience. Hopefully, this was a one-time aberation.
Entertainment: This is not an aspect of a cruise that will usually determine whether or not we have a great cruise experience. We attended a couple of the headlined shows and they were fine, even if not anything spectacular. Beyond the usual production (song and dance) shows, there were comedians, magician/illusionist, and of course the Indonesian Crew Show ( a HAL tradition, alternating weekly with the Filipino Crew Show). The music in the various lounges/bars was very good., especially in the Ocean Bar.
Overall Ambiance: We have been fans of the overall style of Holland America Line ships for a number of years. We do not get overly wrapped up in the carpet or drapery patterns or the harmony of the color schemes from deck to deck, and other such minutia. The overall feel of HAL has always been viewed by us as neither garish, nor boring, but comfortable and welcoming. For those looking for museum quality artifacts and paintings displayed about the ship, this ship will not be a disappointment. What we again found to be the case is that the entire crew that was unfailingly warm and friendly, whether they be Officers, service staff, or deck hands. Everyone would smile and exchange greetings, even if my assumptions are correct, that they did not always understand what was being said, due to language differences. One outstanding aspect of this cruise was the photography staff (never thought I would ever say that!). They were extremely professional, one might even say magical, since they managed to make us look good on a few occasions. They were at the gangway at each port stop, but were not "in-your-face" to pose. In the dining room, one of them was content to wait while we decided what groupings we might want. This is a far cry from the "smile... good bye" rushing one usually sees. The picture quality showed the care/professionalism. Tendering at the one port, where necessary, was handled well with minimal waiting, and the transfer from ship to tender to pier and return was handled with passenger safety and comfort as the guiding principle, despite the heavy fog as we approached Bar Harbor. Public address announcements were almost kept to an appreciated minimum. Of course, we tend to feel that all beyond a daily position and weather update, except for emergencies, is somewhat too much. While it has been a couple of years since we have last sailed with HAL, it was encouraging to see that there has not been any apparent deterioration in the high level quality of product and service we have experienced in the past. Concerning the exception to the competency of the Front Office staff mentioned earlier, no one that we spoke to in that department seemed to know what HAL’s policy is concerning Cabin Credit being offered for booking future cruises while on board. Since this was less than a ten day cruise, there was no "Future Cruise Consultant" on board. Subsequent to the cruise, we were able to ascertain the policy, and we were informed that while on board a HAL ship, a passenger can call directly to HAL’s Seattle office by merely dialing 7245 from their cabin telephone. Because of our wonderful experience on this cruise and the fond remembrances it revived, of past HAL cruises, we are anxiously anticipating our next Holland America Line cruise.
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