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Henry Kaczmarek

Age: 49

Occupation:Customer Service Rep.

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Maasdam

Sailing Date: November 20th, 2005

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I had been waiting to go on a cruise since we first got married in 1979, and used to watch 1st run episodes of The Love Boat on TV. Finally we decided we didn’t want to wait anymore and scheduled a 10 day Caribbean Cruise for our 25th Anniversary.

It’s important to do your homework to get all you want from a cruise. We wanted the Caribbean because of the weather, and we had been stationed in the islands (both in the Navy) right after we got married.

Once having decided on a destination, we looked at the lines and ships to cruise on. We picked Holland America for several reasons, important for a good experience, especially the 1st time. Being in our mid-late 40’s and wanted to have time alone without our kids; we didn’t want a line that heavily caters to families with children. Neither are we into big crowds, so we were looking for a smaller ship. And we wanted more of the 60’s and 70’s experience than a 21st Century offering like many of the lines do.

We picked the Maasdam because it left out of Norfolk, which is only 6 hours from where we live (no airfare), and we lived in the Norfolk/VA. Beach area for 8 years before my wife retired from the Navy in 1997.

Picking a port where you can drive, and leave your car safe, can make a big difference in how much you want to spend on a cabin, and how much money you will have to spend on your cruise.

We booked our cruise directly through Holland America, and ended up dealing with 2 cruise specialists, one doing about 80% of the work. And I had lots of questions to ask, which I sent by E mail and on the phone. HAL has great personnel, and if you aren’t familiar with your local travel agents, HAL can do the job for you quite efficiently. We even got a nice cabin upgrade just because we told the line it was our 25th anniversary.

Pre Cruise Arrival— I had heard and seen personally too many incidents in airports where Cruise Passengers are screwed over in airports trying to make same day flights to the port. I don’t work in the Hotel industry, but if you want a nice leisurely start to your cruise, plan to come in the day/night before the cruise leaves and spend the night before in a hotel at your port city. We own a timeshare at VA. Beach and we reserved a night there. Leaving home at noon, arriving at the hotel at 6, we had time for a quiet dinner and got to bed early, nice to have the sounds of the ocean coming through the crack in the balcony window (remember, it’s November!). We got up Sat AM, had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel eatery, and then put our suitcases in the back of the truck for the 10 mile ride to the Cruise Parking areas.

Having been an employee of the City of Norfolk for 6 years (deputy sheriff 1990-1995), I know how the Norfolk City Government can make a mess of just about anything. However, after checking with some of my old neighbors and reading the cruise port sections of the city website, I was very pleasantly surprised how well the city has things organized.

Although the cruise parking lots are immediately adjacent to one of the nastier public housing projects, the lots are freshly resurfaced, very well fenced off and lighted, and securely patrolled. (arrived in the lot at 10:45AM) At $10.00 a day I found the parking a great value, and kept me from having to ask one of my old neighbors to drive us to and from the port area. We had our bags offloaded by a porter at our parking spot, (a former inmate of the city jail who remembered me) and I had to force him to take a 5.00 tip. The Norfolk Parking Enforcement folks, who don’t have the best reputation locally, were outstanding. They took our travelers checks for the 100.00 parking fee, and had extra baggage tags available for us if we needed them. We then proceeded to the shuttle buses for the short trip to the embarkation area.

At the time we cruised (11/04) the onshore embarkation facility was a large heated tent, but it served the purpose very well. Security screeners are active (on part time) and retired law enforcement working for the security company, and one of my former colleagues searched me at the checkpoint.

Having saved a bunch of trouble by submitting our Immigration paperwork online at HAL’s website, we passed through check in (obligatory ship’s pictures) and crossed the brow before 11:30, and headed to the Lido to eat, have a drink or two, and wait for the call that the staterooms were ready.

Cabin---We had an outside cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck. As we didn’t select our cabin, I will advise you of the only negative of our entire experience.

First, avoid the Lower Promenade Deck if possible for an outside cabin. Passengers can see directly into your room if the drapes are open, the lifeboats make a racket in wind or rough seas, and our cabin was right next to the companionway doors to the deck. The doors make a lot of noise in windy weather, and early morning walkers and joggers WILL bother you.

Our other problem was with the toilet in our cabin being broken for several hours one day, and most of the public area toilets were broken as well. Once the engineering department fixed that problem, there were no other incidents of that kind for the remainder of the cruise.

Our cabin steward Iwan was outstanding. He knew us by name by the end of the first night on board, and he had 30 cabins to care for. He spent some of his spare time that first night finding a wayward bag of ours that the tag had come off. (Always have an ID tag INSIDE your bags)

Dining----I found the food on the Maasdam to be excellent, good portions, tasty and didn’t get anything to eat that I disliked. Our Dining room waiter Artana (Art) and his assistant June were outstanding in every way. The Lido also had good food, well cooked, served with smiles, and the table attendants were also friendly and courteous. We didn’t eat in the Pinnacle Grill, I couldn’t see paying extra when all the food is free, but I am considering trying on our next cruise.

The Bar Staff is all Filipino, and the servers also learn your name very quickly. The few words of Tagalog that I know from being in their islands for a short time brought big smiles and what I think was extra special attention, though there was always a bar attendant around regardless of where you are on the ship.

Other Staff- the Ship’s office was good, courteous, and didn’t make any mistakes on my bill. The Cruise Director handled his staff well, and though most of them were pretty young, they worked well with the mostly older crowd. Ships stores were well stocked and personnel attentive and friendly. Overall the Captain had a great crew.

Port Calls. Half Moon Cay was a great day; we stayed on the beach for about 5 hours. Antigua had not changed much in the 23 years since I had been there last; we took a nice tour of the Island, and had a nice shopping experience. Ditto with St. Thomas, nothing much changed, but had a nice day of shopping. St.Maarten was the only stop we had not visited previously, and though the business area was under much repair to street and sidewalks, we found the beach nice, the water taxis great, and the shopping was good as well. The stop in our former home of San Juan, PR was a bit of a disappointment, only that the ship only stopped there for about 6 hours. At sea days had activities if you wanted them, but we preferred to sit on the deck, relax and read while getting some sun and salt air.

Disembarkation—Very Smooth. We were called to leave the ship at 8:50 am, and had cleared customs, had our bags claimed, took the bus back to the parking area, and was clear of the Tidewater area and back on US 58 headed home by 9:30.

It was a wonderful 1st cruise experience, and we are going on the Westerdam this November for a week to some of the Western Caribbean Islands with HAL.

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