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Stewart Cohen

Age: 45

Occupation:legal assistant

Number of Cruises: 15

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Maasdam

Sailing Date: October 27, 2002

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This was my first Holland America cruise. After 14 cruises I finally found one that was very affordable and it was on a ship in their fleet that has special meaning to me. I was on a flight to Florida and back with people taking her maiden voyage, many moons ago, who raved about the ship. I hadn’t booked with HAL before because the prices were higher, the deposits larger and the final payment due earlier than the other cruise lines in the same category. Since then cruise ships have changed quite a bit and perhaps because of Maasdam’s age it is not considered one of HAL’s top ships and the rates have dropped even below Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. So the question is, can Maasdam compete with the newer generation of cruise ships? I found many features that make the ship appealing and the smaller size of the ship (but by no means tiny) makes it easier to get around. For example, the forward elevators were a stone’s throw for my cabin, so I could be at the pool in under a minute. Maasdam cannot compete with the variety of entertainment, activities and features of these newer ships and unfortunately the ship did not always live up to Holland Americas reputation when it comes to service. But in terms of enjoyment this happened to be one of my best cruises.

I arrived in Florida a day ahead to visit family. I arrived at Port Everglades at around 1 pm. We had to stop at a security check point on the way into the port, which caused a slight delay. At the cruise ship terminal there was a short line outside. This was a result of the security/x-ray station being the first stop before boarding. Next stop was for your boarding number. Then you checked in and got your cabin key card and your id card. It would become necessary to have 3 cards with you at all times since you needed another magnetic strip card to operate the cabin safe. You do not establish your on-board account when you check in, requiring another line at the purser’s desk once you are on the ship. I was told by the check-in that they had just started boarding passengers and I would have about a 45 minute wait until I boarded. I actually boarded around 2:40 pm. I still don’t understand how Princess can board a huge ship in less time than it takes for Holland-America to board passengers on a ship ½ the size of the Grand Princess. One reason may be that as you enter the ship a staff member escorts you to the cabin. On Princess, staff members are strategically located throughout the ship to point you in the right direction. I prefer the Princess way because it frees up enough staff to permit a dining room lunch on embarkation day instead of just a buffet. The last thing I want to do after all those lines at the airport and ship terminal is have to line up again for my lunch.

I was escorted to my cabin #323 which is located on the Lower Promenade Deck, as I mentioned, near the forward elevators. I liked the location since I had the next best thing to a private verandah, a public verandah. All I had to do was step out of my cabin and make a couple of left or right turns and I was in a deck chair. Very convenient. The cabin looked as though it had new carpeting. It was spacious and included a tub in the bathroom. The only major problem I found is the towels. Whereas the towels at the pool and the hand towels in the public toilets were swan’s-down-soft, the suite of towels in the bathroom were like sandpaper. My beds were not together and I could not find my cabin steward. So, I called the front desk and asked them how to contact him. They said they would contact him and it he took care of this very quickly. My steward turned out to be a terrific worker and he was very accommodating (I already wrote HAL in Seattle to let them know in the head office). After checking my dining room assignment, which was in an envelope on the bureau and also a notice advising my pre-booked shore excursion had been cancelled, I proceeded to the Lido Café for lunch. The selection didn’t look too exciting and the lines were long (there are 2 lines, one on each side of the ship), I checked out the separate salad bar, which would prove to be a convenient, nutritious and excellent alternative. This wasn’t a boring salad but, but offered a lot of choices to make your own salad. In addition, there was a soup tureen and 1 entrée (some of which were the best offerings on the cruise, most notably grilled lemon chicken and salmon with green curry sauce). I would have to give the Lido Buffet pretty high marks, for the most part. There were some inconveniences, but there was a lot of variety. In addition to the hot and cold typical offerings, there was also a stir-fry section (chef used way to much oil). One objection was that instead of an omelet station in the morning, the omelets were made on the griddle, like in a diner, which made them too greasy. There was also an ice cream bar that was more extensive than any I’ve seen on the other cruise lines I’ve sailed. This was opened in the afternoon and also at night. I did my best to avoid this, but temptation got the better of me by the final days of the cruise. I sampled the coconut sherbet and mango sorbet. Both were excellent. It seemed that flavors changed each time the bar re-opened. The Lido Buffet also offered casual dining in the evening. Since I was at second seating (8:15 pm) there were times I would visit the casual dining for a salad or something to bridge the gap til dinner time. The casual dinner, however, is not a carbon copy of the formal dining room meals. Don’t’ expect prime rib, lobster tails or rack of lamb there. Lastly, there was some sort of late night buffet which started at 11:15 pm for about an hour. Each night had a different theme but it was also good if you wanted some fruit or cheese. The one selection at the Lido Buffet that blew me away were the chilled snow crab legs and claws. This was truly something I haven’t had on a cruise before and I took horrible advantage of its availability.

I returned to my cabin to find my luggage delivered inside which was a nice touch. Many times you find your bags outside in the corridor. It does make for a tidier looking ship.

The mandatory lifeboat and safety drill before sailing was truly a pain in the neck. Holland America’s procedure is totally inconveniencing compared to other lines. Everyone is supposed to have his lifejacket on, even though the instructions on how to properly secure it come later. Everyone’s attendance is taken. However, instead of the tender station staff member check off names as people arrive, they wait until everyone first gets to the station. A lot of time and standing around could be avoided if the staff member asked people their names as they arrived and then review the list for anyone who didn’t already “check in.” How Princess manages to efficiently run the drill in the comfort of lounges shows that it’s not necessary to put everyone through this uncomfortable ordeal in 80°+ heat and 100% humidity. One confusing issue is that the life jackets had the word FRONT printed on both sides. In a real emergency this could be a problem!

Instead of attending the sail away party at the aft swimming pool I opted to head to the deck above the Crow’s Nest Lounge in the forward section. It was a lovely departure and we received a nice send-off from the apartment buildings at the Point of Americas, which is by the channel where Pt. Everglades meets the sea. This is where the cruise officially begins for me.

Later that evening I went to my assigned table at the Rotterdam Dining Room, second seating. The dining room looked, although on closer inspection, the seats did show their age by the stains on the upholstery and paint chipped off the wood. What really surprised me, after reading and hearing so much about Holland America’s superb service, was the disappointing service by the waiter and assistant waiter. They did not introduce themselves. Nor did they make any kind of gesture about making sure everything would be to our liking. Service was slow and many times I simply couldn’t find either member of our wait team to correct something. In addition, I always had to request water. It was never routinely refilled. Our head waiter was not really much better in the service department. He made an appearance on the first night. Two of us told him the salmon entrée was much too salty. He suggested we order something else and took care of that. But that would be the last appearance at the table, other than to tell me that there would be a $3.50 charge if I requested something not on that evening’s menu. So forget about impeccable service in the dining room. But I had a very interesting bunch of table mates so the dinners were still enjoyable. As a matter of fact, the main reason for my enjoyment of this cruise was because of the people I met.

As for after dinner entertainment; there wasn’t much of quality. The shows in the Rembrandt Lounge were not of the caliber I’m used to on Princess and Carnival which are my favorite lines when it comes to entertainment. I walked out on the juggler named Edge’s show. He’s a pretty good juggler but his banter with the audience got on my nerves. Too much jabbering. I also attended the first of the two production shows, but the female lead singer was so off key it became painful. In addition, 2 drunks in the back of the lounge were talking very loudly, so I didn’t see the point of remaining. On my way out, I noticed that someone else went to complain about them. Another problem is that the seating in the Rembrandt Lounge is the worst. The floor is not raked, so the heads of the people in front of you are in the way. To make matters worse, instead of theatre seats, the seating alternates with low sofas and higher club chairs. So if you are on a sofa the people in front of you in the club chairs are really blocking your view. Upstairs is a different story, but not better. You need to view the show through the glass panels underneath the railing in the first row. So perhaps it’s fitting that the worst entertainment is offered up in the worst show lounge.

The music in the other lounges was a better choice. The best was the British rock band called JET SET (2 female singers and 3 male musicians) who appeared nightly in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Trouble was they finished before midnight to allow for a lousy d.j. to take over. This was especially true on Halloween night when the place was jumping with a costume party. The minute JET SET finished up and the d.j. started, half the place emptied. I did enjoy the steel drum band at the pool.

I did visit the casino on several occasions where I tried out the video poker machines. I did okay following the basic strategy system. The machines are not full payout and it got too boring after a while to play for a long time. The slot machines were tight but of course some people did win. Speaking of winning, I was told that the winner of the free cruise at Bingo was on the ship as a free cruise from a Bingo jackpot on a prior cruise. Talk about being luck! I only played the final game when the jackpot goes. This was because the friends I made wanted to play it too. Oh well, they only got me for $20. Good thing I’m not addicted to Bingo. It gets costlier than the slots.

On board activities weren’t the best either, but the gym was very good and I used it on several occasions to warm up my bones before doing the mile walk on the promenade deck. There was even a refrigerator with cold towels. The swimming pools (2 - one mid-ship on Lido Deck; one aft on Navigator deck) had fresh water which I prefer. So I found myself, for the first time on any cruise, using the pools quite often. There are 2 Jacuzzi’s by the Lido pools and they were terrific. Fortunately, I didn’t see anyone eating or drinking in them, which is a disgusting activity I’ve seen on other ships. I never had a problem finding a lounge chair. Between the 2 pools there seemed to be enough to accommodate the passengers. However, there was very little shaded area near the pools with lounges. Most of the shaded area was taken up by tables and chairs. I really think they could make do with a few less tables and to make room for some lounges.

Since the itinerary (Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island, Ocho Rios & Half Moon Cay) included places I’ve been to before, I spent more time on the ship than in port. Didn’t get off the ship in Cozumel. The dock we used would mean a very long walk in broiling sunlight, so I decided to stay on board. Had a great time by the Lido Pool, which was practically empty until around 1 pm. In Grand Cayman Island I took a tender at around 11 am (got my tender ticket at the Rembrandt Lounge and it was for the next group, so this wasn’t band). Georgetown, Grand Cayman was very, very crowded due to the number of megaships in port. I went snorkeling right in town at a few spots and saw lots of fish. Best part was it was completely free. Didn’t need a taxi and you could walk right into the water down some steps by some dive shops. There were even fresh water showers. Some of the larger ships had long lines to board the tenders back, but Maasdam had no waiting at all. In Ocho Rios I just got off the ship to buy coffee and returned in an hour. Second day at sea was spent by the aft pool. Half Moon Cay was a delight and again, I went snorkeling for free. I landed up spending about 4 hours in the water. This beach is beautiful. The sand is soft and the place never felt too crowded. I took a tender at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t even need a number. Unfortunately, a storm blew in around 1:30 pm, so whoever came late got drenched. I was ready to return to the ship by then (left the sun block in my cabin after applying it in the a.m.), so fortunately I got back at the right time. Someone mentioned to me that it’s no accident that Half Moon Cay was saved for the last stop, since it makes such a spectacular last impression. The only improvement could be the barbecue (I know, again with the food). I’ve come to the conclusion that the cruise lines (not just HAL) save a bundle by doing this barbecue and shutting down the formal dining room on the ship that day. Burgers, hot dogs and barbecue chicken really don’t take a big bite out of their budget (no crab claws here!). But the fresh fruit was appreciated. I am looking forward to re-visiting Half Moon Cay when I sail on the Zuiderdam in February. In addition to the beach, there are other parts of the island to explore as there are nature trails, some shops and they even run a shuttle from the plaza closest to the tender pier and the barbecue pavilion. I also understand that a walk along the beach to the further end from the tender pier affords some beautiful views of the beach.

One area where HAL’s reputation was apparent is the display of fresh flowers throughout the ship. The arrangements are masterpieces and it really pained me to see them get dumped on the last night, to make way for fresh ones for the next sailing.

Disembarkation was a very easy procedure. The do have you up rather early but in the long run, it paid off because I was off the ship by 8:45 a.m. You are assigned a disembarkation number. But the numbers were called very quickly. I had purchased a transfer to the Ft. Lauderdale airport for $12. Try to avoid doing this as a cab ride is only $10. and the cab will let you off by your airline check-in. The bus furnished by HAL lets you off between the terminal buildings and you need to either carry your bags a ways or else pay a redcap to do this for you. HAL should make the transfer as economical, if not less money than the taxi ride. The fact that you also had to carry your bags to your check-in made it even more of an insult. I’ve leaned my lesson and will cab it in the future.

So what you have here is a pretty good time on a pretty good ship. HAL never includes the number 10 on its passenger rating sheets because it feels there’s always room for improvement. Apparently there is room for improvement on Maasdam, but you can still have an enjoyable cruise.

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