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Karen Knowlton

Age: 54

Occupation:Travel Consultant

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Maasdam

Sailing Date: September 22, 2002

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My mother-in-law and I sailed on Maasdam from 22-29 Sept., on her eastern Caribbean itinerary. We found the ship to be clean and comfortable, and we enjoyed the week very much, despite very hot and humid weather. It was Mom’s first cruise ever, and she was glad to have a traveling companion who had some experience. (We also get along really well, which helps a lot!) Although it was my 7th cruise, it was my first on Holland America. We were blessed to be unaffected by three hurricanes (Isidore, Lili and Kyle), and had calm seas for most of the week.

We both enjoyed the ship’s size, not too big and not too small, with lots of open space and never really feeling crowded. Décor is pleasant, with wood walls and furnishings, and the carpets, drapes etc. tending to dark blues and burgundies. The artwork and fresh flowers which Holland America is famous for were in evidence. On Maasdam the art displays tended to be smaller scale than on Veendam, with lots of Delft tea sets, antique navigation equipment, Chinese paintings, etc. The 17th-century cannon, barrel pointing at you as you walk from the atrium toward the casino or the shops, is rather startling at first! The ship as a whole was very clean, and seemed to be in pretty good shape despite her 9 years of service. I didn’t notice any signs of undue wear and tear.

The passenger mix was, as I expected, heavily skewed toward post-retirement ages, but there still were a pretty good number of middle-aged and young couples, a surprising number of single travelers (not sharing cabins) and even a few young families, despite school being open for much of the country. There were 4 or 5 babies in arms on board, a few toddlers, and perhaps 20 or so other children between the ages of 6 and 18. Club HAL was in operation, as I saw the children involved in some outdoor activities on occasion, but I did not find out what opinions were of it. The club rooms (one each for younger and older kids) were small and not very impressive, though they each featured some computers. There was a small video arcade tucked behind some shops, which seemed rather hot and airless the day I peeked in, but it was certainly busy that day! There was a large 200-member church group onboard as well, which may have affected some of the demographics; most of them came with their entire families, and I am certain many were first-time cruisers. I enjoyed watching them have lots of fun, especially on the private island.

I was not sure what to expect as far as food and service, having heard some negative reports recently, but I was not disappointed in either. The food was tasty, with lots of choices both in the dining room and the buffet, and for the most part was prepared well. I will admit I am rather easily pleased in this department! There is one main dining room, the Rotterdam, a nice two-level space at the stern with large windows on both levels. The standard Lido-deck buffet is quite large, with two main lines, a smaller one in between for continental breakfast and salad bar; the ice cream and bread pudding stations are located here as well. At one end of the main pool area on the same deck is a burger-hot dog-taco bar station, and the burger I had there one day was delicious.

There were a few dishes Mom and some others at our table did not care for, but on the whole I would class the food as very good. Those who find unusual, creative or gourmet food preparation important, however, may wish to choose a different cruise line, but those who prefer things that are somewhat familiar, perhaps with a different twist to them, should be satisfied here. The dinner menu was not repeated throughout the week, except for steak, prime rib and salmon, which appeared several times. Out of a total of 8 or 9 daily entrée choices, I don’t see that as a drawback! Desserts really shine. The ice cream bar, with a choice of flavors and self-serve toppings, is open nearly all day at no extra charge, which I loved! And the bread pudding at lunch in the buffet was heaven! Weak spots: unimaginative green salads, and a lack of available juices or lemonade – juice was only available at breakfast, and the only beverage choices the rest of the day and evening at no extra charge were ice tea, coffee and water.

Service I thought was excellent, with only one minor glitch. Our cabin steward, Hartono ("Hart" for short), was warm and friendly and did a great job. Our waiter and assistant waiter, Rizal and Ruslan, were equally pleasant, and performed their duties well too. I like Holland America’s service – friendly with never a feeling of insincerity, but not in-your-face overfriendly either. The stewards always greeted us each time they saw us, Hart calling us by name, and asked how we were. The purser’s office staff were always friendly and helpful, which came in especially handy on the last day of the cruise when our cabin toilet stopped up. Somehow the order made it from the steward to the purser, but the engineers never picked up on it, and after all day (fortunately we were onshore for most of it) and several follow-up calls to the purser, the repairman finally came and fixed it.

Entertainment I would class as fair to good. The cruise director, John Challenger, was funny and kept things moving along; he seemed somewhat low-key compared to his counterparts on other cruise lines I have sailed. I really enjoyed the comedian, Dwayne Cunningham, and was happily amused by the magician, Sam Simon, and the song and dance group (known as the “cast of the Maasdam”), though the quality of the singing was only fair, with a few lead singers off key on more than one occasion. I was a bit lost by the juggler, Barnaby. I loved how the individual entertainers involved members of the audience, some of whom stole the show, and we ended up with some good “in jokes” for the entire passenger list! I did not frequent the late-night lounges (Mom and I are not night owls) so can’t really rate them. Nor did I use the casino, though many of our tablemates did. Not surprisingly, the money balance was tipped in favor of the ship over the course of the week. The movie theater showed 2 recent movies each day, and Mom watched a couple of them. There was the usual complement of activities: trivia contests, bingo, various competitions in basketball, volleyball, and other sports, the Newlywed & Not-so-Newlywed game, scavenger hunts, etc., but those who live for hairy legs contests or Carmen Miranda dress-ups should book with a different cruise line. One aspect of the entertainment which really appealed to Mom and me was that it is clean and family-friendly – nothing R-rated. Much appreciated!

We chose a mini-suite on Verandah deck, and were very pleased with it. There was plenty of room for two people, with lots of storage space (we didn’t even use all of the closet space) and a large bathroom with full tub. The balcony was spacious, being almost as deep as it was wide, and was visually private both to the sides and above. In addition to twin beds (which could be put together if desired), we had 2 nightstands, each with a locking drawer; a large desk with mirror, small table, couch (which contained a pullout bed), chair, and small fridge. The TV showed several on-ship channels, including one that showed alternating movies (2 each day)  Lighting was more than adequate, though we hadn’t even figured out which switches worked which lights by the end of the week!  Taking a quick peek at a few other cabins (inside, outside and full suite) while they were being made up, it seemed that all were relatively spacious compared to some other ships. The suite I looked into had a dining table with at least 4 chairs, in addition to bedroom and living space; it was twice the width of our cabin.

As much has been written about the different ports, I won’t address them in much detail. Our favorite port was Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island. The white-powder sand beach is gorgeous! There are tents and open-air shelters everywhere, housing picnic tables, misting stations, massage stations, and bars, with a large shelter where the onshore BBQ lunch is served. Several large restrooms with changing areas are positioned throughout the grounds, and a few open-air souvenir shops too. Everything is kept very clean, and workers were constantly sweeping sand from the patios and paved walks. (Most paths are sandy, however, and can be a good workout.) Those with mobility problems, however, have no good way to enjoy the island; some wheelchair-bound passengers could not even get there, as the ship anchors offshore and tenders everyone over via lifeboat. A few warnings: there can be problems with biting insects, mostly mosquitoes and sand fleas, so take insect repellent. The usual warning regarding sunscreen/sunblock applies too – the sun is very strong there, and multiplied if you’re in or near the water. And some of the shops have concrete curbs which aren’t clearly marked; Mom nearly fell off one, and another passenger did, needing medical attention as a result. There is plenty to do on Half Moon Cay, from relaxing on a beach chair or a rented floating mat to banana boat rides, snorkeling, kayaking, scuba and parasailing.

We would have enjoyed Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas more if the weather had been better; it was very hot on St. Thomas (in the 90’s – even the locals were complaining!), rainy in San Juan, and hot also in Nassau. The port call there is very short, only ½ day, and in some ways could be better served with more time in one of the other ports, or at sea. However, it was nice to have the break, as there is a day and a half at sea between Nassau and San Juan. We booked a shore excursion through the ship due to the short time there, which visited Ardastra Gardens and some of the historic sites, and enjoyed that quite a bit, though it felt a bit rushed. We enjoyed San Juan, despite the rain (we did have rain gear with us), and I would like to go back and spend more time there. Also enjoyed the ride up the Paradise Point tram on St. Thomas, with a great view, although it was quite hazy. Shopped mostly at Havensight Mall – less crowded, clean, the shops air conditioned, and no hassles from aggressive salespeople. Disadvantages of cruising in the fall: hot weather and the chance of having itineraries changed or having to deal with rough weather due to hurricanes. Advantages: good cruise prices, and less crowded ports – we only had to share each with one other ship, except for Half Moon Cay, which we had to ourselves.

I would recommend Holland America to those who are comfortable with a slightly slower pace and an older passenger mix, who like a few familiar things (foods etc.) as well as a few new experiences, who enjoy clean, family-friendly entertainment but aren’t extremely fussy about the quality of the performers, who are moderately to less active (no rock climbing walls here!), and who enjoy moderately-sized cruise ships. Those who want nonstop physical activity, huge ships, being around a younger crowd, fabulous gourmet food, or very active and busy children’s programs, should consider other cruise lines, at least in the Caribbean.

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