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Bob Caswell

Age: 73

Occupation:Retired Civil Engineer

Number of Cruises: 25

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Maasdam

Sailing Date: December 7th, 2005

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

I returned from an Eastern Caribbean big band cruise on Holland America’s Maasdam the week before Christmas. Here are a few of my impressions, some similar to those of previous reviewer, others a bit different:

Ship: This was my third cruise on Maasdam, and she still looks as fresh and well maintained as she did in 1998. She did have a couple of mechanical problems, which slowed us for a few hours; hopefully these will be corrected during her scheduled 2006 dry docking. I think that here has been a major improvement in HAL’s food and the English capabilities of Indonesian staff also seem to be improving. Good cruise staff and thankfully the number of PA announcements is limited, although still not as good as Crystal’s “no announcements” policy.

On the negative side, Maasdam is not suited to big band cruises because of very limited dance floor areas. Actually, I found the Prinsendam much more suitable for the big band theme. Cruise staff told us that the Crows Nest will be completely re-done during the dry docking, hopefully with a better dance floor.

The other negative point about which I have regularly commented to HAL is the deterioration of the dress standard among a growing minority of passengers. HAL has already relaxed the men’s dress standard so that “formal” means any jacket and tie, and a tie not required for informal nights, but there appears to be no effort to enforce even these relaxed standards. There were even a few men in slacks and sport shirts at the formal officers’ ball! Perhaps I am a snob, but I object to finding myself seated next to somebody dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt in the show room, bars, or casino at 9 or 10 p.m. on a formal night. Also, a few men wearing ball caps indoors, all day, throughout the ship, including breakfast and lunch time in both the dining room and Lido. Did their mothers not teach them any manners? It’s a pretty sad commentary on manners when tour guides have to routinely remind men to remove hats before entering churches.

Itinerary and Ports: this was a round trip out of Norfolk. Advantages of this are that (1) Norfolk is easier for us from the northeast to reach, (2) it avoids the chaos and extortionist longshoremen of Ft. Lauderdale, and (3) if you arrive early due to plane schedules, it is easy to kill a couple of hours visiting the adjacent Nauticus Museum and battleship Wisconsin. The museum even has luggage lockers to store your hand baggage. Norfolk will be an even better port when the new cruise terminal is complete.

On the negative side, sailing from Norfolk to the Caribbean adds sea time. I enjoy sea days – I’m not an island hopper, but it did reduce our stay in San Juan to 1/2 day to permit the normal early-morning arrival back in Norfolk. The Atlantic can also be pretty rough, and it was until we reached the calmer Caribbean. Perhaps they shouldn’t attempt to hold the welcome reception the second night – my dining room seating was only about half full, and quite a few members of the Sammy Kaye Orchestra were also under the weather.

Half Moon Cay (HAL’s private island). As this was my third visit and I am not a beach person, decided to spend a relaxing day onboard the ship.

St. Thomas: great for dedicated shoppers, otherwise a typical Caribbean tourist trap. I regularly disembark here only to replenish my liquor supply. It used to be the cheapest liquor in the Caribbean, but I hear that St. Maarten is now cheaper.

St. John’s, Antigua: deja vue walking around the town. Easy to imagine myself back in West Africa where I worked for many years. Same broken sidewalks and combined odors of cooking and raw sewage running down the gutters. My next cruise is scheduled to call here; I’ll probably remain onboard.

St. Maarten: a pleasant combined bus and boat tour of both the Dutch and French sides of the island. I’d like to spend some more time here.

San Juan, PR: excellent 3-hours+ walking tour of old San Juan. Walking is still the best way to see a city. Pleasantly surprised by the clean, well maintained old city, forts and churches and, in particular, our very knowledgable local guide. Be aware, however, that you need to be in decent shape for 3 hours of walking up and down hills with temperatures in the mid to high 80s. Definitely would like to spend more than 1/2 day here on a future cruise.

Entertainment: production shows standard high-end cruise ship fare, well done by a very enthusiastic cast of young singers and dancers. Interesting backstage tour and Q&A session with lead singer. Also, on HAL entertainers normally work in the library, so there’s plenty of opportunity to chat with them if you are interested in show business.

Sammy Kaye Orchestra: as mentioned earlier, band was hit hard by sea sickness the first couple of days but got better as the cruise went on. Roger Thorpe, the band leader, is interesting to talk to, although some thought his stories went on too long between numbers during the nightly 3-hour sets in the Crows Nest. I find it a little annoying that Roger sings (sort of) the title at the start of each number, but this may be a holdover from the old Sammy Kaye Orchestra. This is a personal opinion, but I didn’t find the music quality up to that of both Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands I experienced on past big band cruises. Interesting note: the band’s excellent girl singer, Karina Calabro, was the on-stage singer in the opera scene in the film Pretty Woman. Too bad they don’t give her more solos – much of the time she was just singing harmony with the “Kaydets.”

All-in-all, a pleasant cruise with mainly nice fellow passengers and some good entertainment. Assistant cruise directors Kaelie and Jenn particularly pleasant and willing to dance with old guys like me! HAL may not be quite up to Crystal’s level, but it is getting closer.

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