Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: April 24th, 2003
This was my very first cruise. Actually, it was a girls’ cruise; my best friend and I went together, leaving our husbands and children at home. If we had known about all the activities occurring on board on sail day, we would have gotten there earlier so we could have taken advantage of them. As it was, we arrived about 3:00 at the pier, and after filling out forms (including one concerning recent exposure to the SARS virus) and getting our boarding passes, we were allowed to board. There was no steward to show us to our room, but we found it and proceeded to unpack. Never having been on a cruise ship before, we weren’t prepared for how narrow the rooms were. Still, we had more than enough room for everything we needed for all 12 days – and we packed heavy.
Accommodations: I had heard stories about how the Holland America ships aren’t as good as they used to be. I can’t imagine that they could be much better. Everything was spotless, gleaming, polished and well-maintained. We explored the ship thoroughly and never found anything that wasn’t close to perfect. We were cautioned to bring air freshener with us because the bathrooms frequently had sewer odors; we found that problem only in the heavily-used public bathrooms near the dining room.
We were glad we booked the verandah suite; we spent a LOT of time out on the verandah – reading during the afternoon, watching the sunrise, the sunset, the way the ship cleaved through the ocean in the dead of night, and the dolphins racing us in the Sea of Cortez. The one problem we had with our room was on the verandah. As we leaned over the rail, we got rust stains on our clothing – they never came out.
Dining: We were seated at a table for 8 and our dining companions were responsible for much of our enjoyment of the trip. The food was quite good in the dining room with a wide variety of choices; we always found something to like on the menu. One night I couldn’t make up my mind between two entrees, so the waiter brought me both. There were other times when I couldn’t make up my mind and he would advise me which was the better choice. Most of us didn’t care for the “Mambo Number 5” dessert – a watermelon-flavored frozen thing, but we were fortunate to be celebrating a birthday that night so had the very excellent chocolate cake. We had lunch in the dining room one day, and both ordered the very famous bread pudding for dessert. It was served in individual ramekins accompanied by custard sauce. If we had known the size of each serving we would have shared!
We had room service one morning for breakfast. The food was served promptly and was hot when we got it. All other breakfasts and most of our lunches were taken at the Lido Buffet. Although unimaginative, the food there was plentiful, well-cooked, and tasty. We also enjoyed having ice cream there most afternoons. I guess they used to make all their own, but now only make the vanilla – all the other flavors are brought on board. In addition to their traditional bread pudding, they occasionally also serve a chocolate version – try it if you can.
We tried only one of the late night buffets – the Chocolate Extravaganza. I don’t think I have ever seen so many desserts in one place. It was truly mind-boggling. After seeing and smelling so many heavenly chocolate things, we were overwhelmed and only had two small items each.
I must mention the Pinnacle Grill here. We booked a table one evening after meeting Chef Stefan, who promised us a wonderful experience. The food was among the best we have ever eaten (lamb chops for me and filet for Valerie). Our waiter was attentive but not intrusive. Dessert was incomparable (I had a chocolate soufflé-type dessert with Grand Marner whipped cream) and the meal was well worth the $20 each. We recommended it to our tablemates who then had to try it as well. We will definitely do that again.
Shipboard Activities: There were so many, it was hard to choose. We both spent a lot of time (and money!) in the spa, being pampered in ways we would never do at home. We spent time out by the pool, participated in the ongoing trivia contest and the daily quiz. Valerie played bingo and sang and danced in the “Rocking Rolldies” show. We learned line dancing, toured the kitchens (twice) and spent some time and money in the casino. We met lots of interesting people and had a lot of fun. We attended daily mass several times and also went to the protestant services because we made friends with the minister and his wife. We went to “Prom Night” and “50’s and 60’s Night” in the Crows’ Nest Bar.
Public Rooms: The thing that most impressed us was the fact that even fully booked the ship never felt or appeared crowded. HAL puts cozy and intimate seating areas throughout their ship. Only on the final morning when we all had to be in the public areas was it apparent how many people were on the ship – but there was ample room for everyone. I was so impressed with the art, especially the Asian furniture and porcelain ware. The Crows’ Nest became our favorite hangout and we gathered there with our tablemates every evening before dinner for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Frequently, we returned there later for music and dancing.
Staff and crew: These people were so friendly and outgoing. There was one waiter at the Lido, Sunny, who knew everyone’s name by the third day. It was wonderful to be greeted by name every morning at breakfast. He was such a pleasant person; make sure you look him up when you are on the Ryndam. Our room steward was quiet and unobtrusive. One night we got no turn-down service and one day he came to make up our room when Valerie was getting in the shower after being at the pool. We asked him to come back in half an hour and he said that he was getting off in 20 minutes, but we could call housekeeping and they would send someone to make up our room. We told him that we could make our own beds as long as we got clean towels by the end of the day. The cruise director and his staff went out of their way to ensure that everyone had a great time. The waiters in the Crows’ Nest (Willy, Edsel, Sheila and Marvelous Marvin) remember your name, room number, and your favorite drink. They provided us with menus each evening so we knew what we were having for dinner.
Ports: The shore excursions were fairly disappointing overall. They cancelled our catamaran excursion in Cabo San Lucas and our Shotover Jet Boat in Acapulco. We went snorkeling in Zihuatanejo and Loreto, and on bus tours in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Of all the ports, we liked Acapulco the least and the small towns – Zihuatanejo, La Paz and Loreto – the most.
All in all, this was the most enjoyable vacation either Valerie or I had ever had (at least as an adult). Expensive, yes, but not prohibitively so. As a matter of fact, we had so much fun and talked about it so much that we have already scheduled another cruise for next year – the 2nd Annual Girlfriends Cruise – and have invited all our female friends and relatives to go with us.