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Fred Groth

Age: 60

Occupation:retired

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Statendam

Sailing Date: December 10, 2002

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: December 10th, 2002

1. General Comments: A great cruise, and my wife and I will gladly cruise again with Holland-America (HAL). This was our third cruise with HAL. The main reason for choosing this trip was to visit the various Mexican ports for possible future trips.

We booked a category B mini-suite with private verandah. Early reservations also got us a table for two at the second seating. We chose the cruise-fly package offered, and we further chose the one day stopover in San Diego before the day of the ship’s departure.

As this was right after the various virus incidents on cruise ships, we were given a sheet of paper at embarkation listing all the things that would not be done, including: no self-service at the buffets, no magazines or pocket books in the library, paper hand towels in the public bathrooms, no salt/pepper shakers on tables, etc, etc. Around the 5th or 6th day, the medical staff determined that we had no virus problem on this cruise, and everything returned to ‘normal.’

The cruise had three sea days - excellent for writing Christmas cards.

I don’t know if it is specific to any one type of ship, but there seem to be problems in maintaining an even temperature on board. At some times a room - or public area - can feel quite cold, and other times a room or area can be rather warm. It struck me as the same problems in a city office building. Taking a light sweater along would not go amiss.

2. Travel to San Diego and Embarking: Our flights to San Diego were uneventful and on time. We were met at the airport by a HAL representative and were shuttled to the nearby Sheraton. The Sheraton was very comfortable and was well-equipped to deal with cruise passengers. When I tried to tip the hotel bell boys, I was informed that ‘HAL took care of that.’ What was left of the day was free. Bags were collected in the morning and we had a general tour hitting the San Diego highlights for a couple hours before returning to the pier. San Diego can only handle one cruise ship at a time; check-in was a breeze, and there were no lines.

3. The Statendam: The ship was very attractive, and our cabin was comfortable for the two of us. There was plenty room for putting away clothes and suitcases. Suitcases fit under bed, nicely out of the way. There was even good shelf space in the bathroom. The cabin had a small safe in the closet, and a small refrigerator. The TV is set up for VCR (large ship library), and besides movies, also receives CNN. ESPN and other sports stations are received at the bar by the casino. We also received a daily 8 page NY Times Fax newspaper. The ship has an internet cafe arrangement where you can log on to your favorite ISP and check your e-mail or whatever. Cost was 75 cents a minute with a one-time registration fee. The crew and staff were tops. Officers were Dutch, cabin and dining room stewards were Indonesian, and bar personnel were Filipino. Deck crew was also Indonesian. I think at least one of the kiosk salesmen was Russian. On our cruise we were around 1,100 passengers. This cruise fit more the reputation of HAL of being for older folks. Our previous Christmas cruises had many more families with children - probably a function of school holidays.

4. Meals: We join other travellers who say that HAL food is excellent. We each gained about three pounds on this cruise. Breakfast and lunch are open seating in the dining room or cafeteria style in the Lido restaurant. The Lido was quite popular for these two meals, probably because one could pick and choose more easily. We did not try the ‘alternative’ Pinnacle restaurant, and it appeared to be moderately busy. There is a surcharge of $15 per person when eating in this ‘fancier’ restaurant. Dinner is the only meal with specified sittings in the dining room. The wine list is respectable; one can now order 4, 5, or 6 bottles at a time and obtain a further discount instead of just ordering one bottle at a time. Food portions are of respectable size, and if you don’t try to eat all the courses everyday, you should not do bad weight-wise. The kitchen is quite prepared to handle special dietary requests. The Lido Deck at poolside also runs a hamburger/pizza line for those who can’t survive from lunch to dinner.

5. Dressing for Meals: For this ten day trip it was three formal, two informal, and five casual meals. The ladies on board were all dressed well for the formal evening meals. Over 90 percent of the men were in tuxedos or suits; some who did not want to dress up just did not appear for these meals. Considering how the ladies dress up for these meals, I suggest more men who served in the military obtain miniatures of the medals they were awarded and attach them to their tuxes. It’s permissable to do so, and the medals do add some color to our basic black tuxedos.

6. Shore Excursions: HAL sent a booklet listing all their shore tours with details and prices, so you have a good idea what you want to do before ever arriving at the ship. You can now make your shore excursion reservations on-line. The billing goes direct on your credit card and not on your shipboard account. This on-line service was a welcome improvement in making reservations. There were some glitches when I made them, and it took me over an hour to make four reservations. I hope I complained enough to Seattle that they have corrected the technical problems on that site. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don’t need the ship’s tour office. HAL’s tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship’s staff, you have support when there is a problem.

As for the stops on this cruise, we were only unimpressed with the first one, Cabo San Lucas. It is a dusty, new, town, under construction, trying to cope with its reputation as a tourist attraction. Maybe some year in the future it will settle down to be like Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, but in the meantime, been there, done that. A sign of the times was the Mexican Navy patrol boat that stayed around the three cruise ships in port. The boat chased away a couple private boats that may have gotten too close to our ship.

The other stops (including Acapulco, of course) were equally pleasant and would be well-worth a future, longer, visit. Sightseeing, hotels, restaurants, beaches, were all attractive. I cannot speak for the people who were on the cruise for fishing, snorkeling, or the like, as to which places they preferred.

The only ship crowding was at Cabo, where the Ryndam and Star Princess were also anchored. They left earlier than us, so the crowds were not bad. We only met the Star Princess again in Puerto Vallarta, and there was some crowding. The harbor is very narrow and it was interesting to watch the behemoth Star maneuver around us when she left. I saw that our captain was also watching intently.

The last two days of the trip were in rather rough seas. While the ship’s stabilizers can control the rolling from side to side, there is no control on the rocking forward and back. We had sunny weather, but the sea was impacted by the various Pacific storms hitting California. More than a few passengers were missing from meals on these days.

7. Shipboard entertainment: The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: sports, cards, bridge, bingo (for serious players!), etc, etc. The evening shows were pleasant and worth seeing, even if all of them were not of Las Vegas caliber. Something clicked on this cruise and the Statendam dancers and singers were outstanding. They had good material to work with, and they were good dancers and had good voices. The casino was of good size and the payoffs did not seem to be much worse than Las Vegas. Duty-free liquor on board was reasonable as there is no duty-free liquor in these Mexican ports. Kahlua and tequila may have been cheaper on shore, but not the scotch. To us there was another new policy: You could buy a bottle of liquor and consume it in your room... after paying a 20 percent service charge. Otherwise, you order your liquor and pick it up the day before disembarking. You’ll have plenty of pictures taken of yourselves by the ship’s photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir. The library is well-stocked; there are plenty of nooks around for quiet reading. Those into the disco scene will enjoy the Crow’s Nest on the 12th deck which runs into the ‘wee hours.’

8. Tipping: Tipping is truly not required on HAL ships, but after reading the various views on the subject on the Net we made our own decisions: We tipped the cabin steward and the dining room steward. The ‘area’ maitre d’ and the assistant dining room steward received about half of what we gave the dining room steward. The wine steward received a rounded off 10-15% of the total wine bill. The bar waiters and waitresses received ca 10-15% of the bar bill. We handed out tips the last night on board as you really don’t see these people when disembarking. We would also say that the tips were received with a true ‘thank you.’ There was no hanging around looking for something.

9. Settling of Accounts:
During your cruise anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos) is punched into a computer; you sign one copy of the ticket and you receive a copy. The day before the end of the cruise you receive a preliminary statement of your account. This gives you time to clear up any problems. At the beginning of the cruise you give the ship’s front office an imprint of your credit card. In the morning before disembarking you receive a final statement. Very painless. The only cash you need on board is for the casino and for some of their ‘gambling games’ like bingo. You will also need cash for any tips you want to disburse.

10. Disembarking: One reviewer described this procedure as hurry-up and wait . Very true. Your bags have to be out by 1AM, breakfast is early, and you had to be out of your cabin by 8. Your bags are color coded by the type and time of your onward transportation. Disembarking started around 8:30. Around 8:45 we were called to disembark, found our bags in the color coded area in the terminal, had our bags carried to the bus and were on our way to the airport. We were checked in and through airport security by 9:45 (for a 12:30 flight). Again, being the only cruise ship in port eased any potential traffic or crowd problems. The weather, however, was uncooperative, and it poured all morning.

11. Conclusion: The cruise was nearly flawless. HAL’s experience shows. HAL has a ‘frequent flier’ program; over 700 passengers were repeat HAL cruisers. The record holders on this cruise was a couple with around 640 days on HAL. We’ll be back. If anyone has questions, send me an e-mail at LTC519@aol.com.

Fred Groth
San Antonio, TX

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