Number of Cruises: 60
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: March 10th, 2005
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean/Norfolk
Last year we took the Maasdam on the 11 day Southern Caribbean Cruise from Norfolk. The ship was late arriving in Norfolk, and as a result, we waited hours to board, while the ship was cleaned and readied for the next cruise. This year, everything was orderly, and ready, and after checking in, showing our proof of US citizenship and travel documents three times, we boarded. There is nothing else on earth like the smell, the sense of feeling, as one steps off the gangway and onto a ship, to be greeted by a smiling crew member, and escorted to your stateroom. I reviewed the elegant public rooms and general decor of the Maasdam last year, March 2nd cruise, and will not repeat decor reviews here. Please let it be known, the ship is as elegant, regal and beautiful as last year.
Our steward came by and introduced himself, referring to us by our sir names. We rechecked our Welcome Aboard packet, took our dining room assignment, and set off to the Rotterdam Dining Room to check out our table assignment. We had a table for two, next to our table from last year, and all seemed to be in order.
We went back to our stateroom, and the baggage had arrived. Unpacked most of the hanging items, then, went off to the Lido for lunch. In the 70's and 80's, passengers boarded and waited HOURS for anything to eat, which was the first nights dinner, after life boat drill and sailing away had begun. Thankfully, contemporary cruise lines now offer lunch or some meal long before dinner. Here is a run down of the Lido, which varied at lunch time each day, and consisted of these selections: two or three soups, tomatoes or avocado stuffed with shrimp or crab, large salad bar, rolls, breads, pasta bar, or Thai stir fry, cold cuts and cheeses, sandwich deli bar, entrees of veal, turkey, lamb, fish, beef, a carving station, assorted vegetable and potato side dishes, fresh fruit, juices, cold picnic salads....I could go on, and then desserts and the ice cream parlor. Sugar free pastries are still offered, as well as a special brad pudding each day. This grand buffet is offered each day, with daily specials. A full formal lunch is offered in the Rotterdam Dining Room, as well as three kinds of pizza (which was quite good), burgers and hot dogs and a taco bar.
After lunch we strolled around the ship, taking in the Maasdams beauty, and noting the excellent condition of the ship. We learned that the ship had a four day "wet docking" in Norfolk, and acres of carpeting was replaced, new curtains and draperies were installed and a lot of reupholstering was done. The ship was gleaming, and fresh. The floral arrangements seemed larger and more prominent than I remembered.
Last year, new ice buckets were the first sign of the new $225million refit.
During the dry dock, all staterooms and suites received new telephones, pillow top mattresses, European bed linens, Egyptian towels (almost bath sheets), plush robes, hair dryers, toiletries...new TV's are next, flat screen. The Pinnacle Grill was added last year as well, and new public spaces will add a culinary school at sea, a gutted and refitted Crows Nest, and totally revamped Ocean Spa, and a new Library Internet Cafe. The Ryndam, and Zaandam, have had the total refit completed.
Our stateroom was nice, same as last years, not at all unlike most new ships staterooms, except for the wonderful mattress and towels. Room service is generous, and ordering liquor packages are now available for in-cabin consumption. Hard spirits, beer and wine packages are available through room service, each offering a savings, and include 15% gratuity - check the black binder on the desk in you cabin.
Had boat drill, and prepared for dinner. So far, been on the ship for 5 hours, and have not heard one complaint.
We enjoyed a brief breakfast in the stateroom, usually coffee, pastry or toast, once an omelet, always on time, presented nicely. Also, we took in the Lido breakfast, and a few times, formal breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I must note that the Eggs Bennedict in the dining room were better than last year, and real maple syrup is served in the dining room, where table syrup is served in the Lido at breakfast. Omelets made by Ernesto, at the Lido for breakfast, are outstanding.
Finished unpacking, and readied for dinner, which was casual. We always anticipate the arrival into the dining room on a Holland America ship. There is a sophistication, an air of the grand, and the escorting to the table that first night, with anticipation of great meals to come. Once seated, our steward, Dewi (Dewison), and Mat, his assistant, made us feel right at home, and Roberto had the wine we preordered, waiting at the table. I ordered a Manhattan, and from that night forward, he had our preordered bottle of wine, and the Manhattan waiting at the table. Our table Captain, Andre, was caring, and saw to our satisfaction. Highlights from this first dinner were: steamed mussels, Smoked Salmon Tartare with avocado, breast of pheasant, roast pork loin, and Chicken Cordon Bleu. We often had the cheese plate and dessert each evening. Also, each evening there is a flambéed dessert prepared in the dining room. Always available in addition to each dinner menu, are, a Caesar salad, grilled salmon, seared chicken breast and sirloin steak. Additionally, for passengers that wish to dine other than in the dressy dining room, the Lido offers supper.
Live music is important on a cruise, and there are some fine offerings on the Maasdam. Nevada, in the Ocean Bar, The Champagne Strings, provides soft classics, Explorers Lounge, a pianist at the Piano Bar, Sea Breese, at the pool and at night in the Crows Nest, and the Maasdam Band, also called the Maasdam Orchestra, 6 fine musicians, that sound wonderful They perform for the ships singers cabaret performers, and for the Maasdam Cast, also called the Cast of the Maasdam. Also, Ronin, the DJ, actually takes requests!
The Maasdam Cast, nine very talented performers, sing and dance their hearts out, to standing ovations, during the cruise. Sure, every "ship" does Broadway, the 60's a so forth, yet, it is the enthusiasm, costumes and the LIVE band that separates these kids from others. No click-track, no lip-syncing - just live performing.
Two years in a row Half Moon Cay was canceled due to weather conditions. We got there this year. Here are my findings: get a number, number is called, proceed to tender ashore-beach is lovely, 1200 plus passengers from Maasdam, 1800 plus from Westerdam on the beach - take tram to BBQ hut - wait in long long line (moves fast)-handed plastic utensils, SMALL paper plate - move to salads, slaw, potato, with mayo and slime on handles of serving spoons YUCK - plastic serving spoon floating in three bean salad DOUBLE YUCK - salad greens blowing off small paper plate - move along to burger-small, dry, on a stale oversized bun - get hotdog, hard, in a saw -dusty roll, look at ribs, not appetizing - get watered down iced tea in tiny plastic cup. Needless to say, I skipped the salads, ate the dog, and was handed ONE cookie for dessert. The shops were far less than billed on board. Water sports, excursions and horseback riding are the main attractions here. If I step foot ashore again, it will be after lunch on the ship. I should have gone riding.
I should note that as with where the bands and musicians play so it is likely that bar stewards and waiters from cruise to cruise are also subject to change. We had a wonderful bar steward last year, Cesar. This year he is a bar tender, and we found him in the Crows Nest. He is a charming fellow, and we made friends with two other great bar tenders, Dan and Arnello, also in the Crows Nest.
Captains Gala Dinner lived up to expectations. Pate Foie Gras, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Lobster Bisque, nice salads (although I found the blue cheese dressing to be god-awful), Alaskan King Crab Legs, cracked open and full of crab meat, lamb and filet mignon, served with a perfect béarnaise sauce - oh yum. Desserts were wonderful, crepes Georgette, and a fabulous watermelon cake, which was sherberts more like a bombe, formed to resemble a slice of watermelon.
Other dinner highlights during the cruise consisted of duck, New England lobster tails, clams, oysters Rockefeller, Thai chicken sates, Indonesian specialties, pastas, veal, venison and the menus kept getting better! I enjoyed the best Beef Wellington that I have had in years during this cruise, and the roast beef was outstanding as was the prime rib. Soups were also wonderful. But that blue cheese dressing....
Now, for the Pinnacle Grill - last year, the grill was excellent, although it was not different or unique enough to make us want to go back, since the Rotterdam Dining Room was so good (AND still is). So, Sterling Silver Beef is offered, cooked at 1600's F and it as fine as you would order in THE most expensive steak houses. The whole meal is perfection in itself. Too much? Not at $20.00, per, including tip. A real treat. Our waiter was a fine young Hungarian (wait staff in the Pinnacle is European) Why? I do not know.
St. Thomas -well, I think we've been here around 40 times, so, I don't get that excited. We docked with Carnival Destiny, a huge white WALL of a hulk, and Golden Princess, another white hulk - in fact, the Maasdam looked like the eraser at the end of a huge pencil!
I am not putting these ships down for their size. It is nice that there is such a great diversity in which to choose for a cruise. I enjoyed several cruises on Grand Princess. If size matters, I prefer the personal attention found on the Maasdam, a nice medium size ship. Back to St. Thomas...
So, poked around, shopped, poked some more, and had lunch at The Green House, opposite the harbor. $30.00 for two, place was clean, food not too exciting.
Took in the Indonesian Show, always a treat.
Once Antigua was a sleepy place, always the one ship in. We docked with P&O's Oceana (former Ocean Princess), Serenade of the Seas (another incredible bulk), and AidaVita, a German line, formed by P&O, now owned by Carnival, now run by Costa, for a German clientele. The Aida Ships have painted hulls, with fat red lips and bulging eyes, looking more like huge tadpoles.
We had a great production number by the Maasdam Cast, also known as the Cast of the Maasdam. Again, talent abounded. Another great showman, Ian Finkel, xylaphonist. It is nice that cruise lines in the Carnival family of ships can change acts in port, and do often, however, it deprives the passenger of repeat performances during the cruise, as happened with Ian, and others.
St. Maarten, one of my favorites, was severely damaged two years ago, and many of the shops, hotels, the town beach were in ruin. Things have been very much built up - in fact, Phillipsburg has never looked better. Again, we were in with the Carnival Legend, Explorer of the Seas, and Caribbean Princess, all docked, with Christina Onasis yacht in the bay. The beach, once small and nondescript, is now broad, long and white, with a wide tiled boulevard which rings the sand. Two water taxi stands welcome visitors from the new pier, quite distant from the twon., Unlimited trips on the taxi cost $3.00US..New shops, old spruced up shops, hotels, restaurants all make for a great day ashore. Of course, there are beaches, and the French side of the island to visit. We found a little French place to have lunch, Le Petite Cafe, on Old Street, 3/4 down, on the right. It was clean, pleasant and very French. English is spoken, US funds accepted. Lunch was 2 crepes, stuffed with chicken, boursin and walnuts, wrapped up, a small green salad with oil and vinegar, two iced teas (from France) for $18.00US..filling, good and fun. If you walk back to the water taxi, listen up for $1.00 beers - yes, a buck a beer, or soda. Sit at a table, or under a palm tree and enjoy.
The repeaters party was nice. We applauded several passengers, enjoying over 300 days with HAL. Now, for the BEST NEWS: the Captain announced that HAL will build FOUR MORE SHIPS! Larger than Maasdam, or Statendam Class, and SMALL than Vista Class, or smaller than Zuiderdam and Westerdam. Designs are being drafted now, and construction will begin next year.
Well, I wanted to keep you posted on the COMPLAINTS I heard from other passengers. Let me say, that, I met people that drove to Norfolk from Omtatio, Minnesota, all over New England - and those that flew in from all over - and those that took HAL buses from DC, Baltimore and Delaware. I did not hear one complaint during the entire cruise. The 2006 season from Norfolk has been announced, 10 and 11 days. I can not wait!