The views and opinions expressed in any review are shaped by the experiences of the person writing them. So, with that in mind, my wife and I had previously cruised on all of the mainstream cruise lines, except Holland America, plus some specialty ships. This 7-day Western Caribbean cruise was chosen on a whim as it was sailing from Tampa and we were planning a visit with family in Ocala, Florida. Having never sailed with HAL, we decided to give it a try. We are both in our 60s, physically active, retired and enjoy travel, good food and wine. We have absolutely no interest in the shipboard casino and don't particularly like shipboard broadway-type shows, preferring other shipboard shows, such as the comedian acts, etc.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
Since we were visiting with family in Ocala, Florida, we drove from North Carolina to Ocala and stayed with family for a few days prior to the cruise on the Ryndam. We drove to pier 6 at the port of Tampa, arriving around 10am. We drove up to the terminal and dropped our bags off with a porter and then swung around and parked with the port's on-site, $15-per day parking. We parked right by the fence gate, about 75 feet from the terminal door. Later, on the ship, a couple told me that they parked across the street for half that amount. Nonetheless, the port's parking sure was convenient. Since we were early and boarding would not commence until about 11:30, we took a seat in the terminal for about an hour, having first registered with the gate agent and received our cruise card and boarding number.
Boarding was by number and was efficiently handled. A bridal party preceded all numbers because there was to be a pre-departure wedding in the crows-nest lounge. It was fun watching the bridal party and minister board.
After dropping our carry-on bags in the cabin, A757, we went to the poolside grill for a hamburger. Since we boarded early and most passengers were yet to arrive at the port, there was nobody else at the grill. I suspect that everyone else was at the buffet. While the Indonesian cook prepared out burgers, we chatted. While we were chatting, the 2nd Executive Chef, who was Indian, came into the grill's kitchen area to inspect and we started chatting with him as well. My wife asked if there would be any Indian meals available during the cruise. He replied no, but then said "I would be happy to prepare an Indian meal for you if you give me a day's notice." We said that we would like that and agreed to get in touch.
After lunch and some ship exploration we returned to our cabin just as our bags arrived. We originally booked an obstructed view guarantee but one-week before the sail date we were assigned a nice unobstructed view cabin on deck 4, A757. It was quite roomy, with a king size bed arrangement, side tables, sofa, table, desk and chair, bathtub, flat-screen LCD television and DVD-player. There was no refrigerator, which was our only disappointment. Instead of the wall mounted, anemic hair dryer, there was a 1,000 Watt hand-held hair dryer in the drawer. The only Euro-style plug that it could be used in was at the desk. The closet and drawer space far exceed our needs with about half of it going unused. We stored our bags under the bed.
With a passenger capacity of 1,266, the Ryndam is what we consider a perfect size. It has all of the amenities that we desire without so passengers as to overburden the amenities. The ship is well laid out with many, many nooks and crannies where you can enjoy privacy. It has a large swimming pool on the Lido deck that has a glass and steel cover sectioned dome that slides open and closed depending on the weather. We felt that this was a very nice feature. There are two hot tubs by this pool. There is another, smaller pool on the fantail. We took a spa tour and it has all of the normal amenities; sauna, etc., but we only used their gym for semi-daily workouts.
The Ryndam has a real movie theater that doubles as the Culinary Theater. We used this facility four times -- twice for Culinary Theater events, once for a future cruise talk and once to watch a movie (with popcorn). I hate to see other lines eliminating movie theaters, which Celebrity is doing with their Solsticizing efforts, expecting passengers to watch DVDs in their cabins, and Princess has done, to a degree, by showing movies on an outdoor pool screen, exposed to the elements. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed two Culinary Theater events which was much like being in a Food Channel audience. There events were well done and I applaud Holland America for providing this venue.
One thing that continually amazed us was the ship's many antiques. Everywhere you look there are antiques from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. Most of the antiques are behind glass but sturdy ones, like the 1700s one-ponder bronze cannon in front of the Customer Service Desk, is open for inquisitive hands.
We like the fact that HAL still publishes a daily mini-newspaper. Princess has eliminated their newspaper and Celebrity, as of two years ago, doesn't print enough copies nor do the reliably print every day (it may even be eliminated by now).
The library is the largest that I have ever seen on a cruise ship.
In addition to the two-tier Main Dining Room, there are two extra restaurants -- the Pinnacle Grill (extra charge) and the Canaletto Italian (no charge). There are also the buffet and poolside grill. We utilized all of venues.
The Main Dining Room (MDR) consistently surprised us. We were used to receiving each meal a couple of good courses along with mediocre or poor courses. This was our first cruise in many, many years where we enjoyed every course of every meal. Our meats and fish was never over cooked and the meals were delicious and attractive. One real treat was our Indian meal in the MDR. Remember the offer for a specially prepared Indian meal that I mentioned earlier, well he came through. The 2nd Executive Chef came to our table at the Canaletto Restaurant to discuss what he would prepare for us the next evening. Boy did he deliver! We had delicious chicken tandoori, pork curry, raita, papadam, naan and more. We couldn't help ourselves and were soon stuffed. We ate five dinners in the MDR, one in Canaletto and one in the Pinnacle Grill. We thoroughly enjoyed both the MDR and Canaletto. We didn't think that the Pinnacle Grill was worth the extra charge, which has been the case, in our opinion, of all of the extra charge restaurants on all cruise lines. We always try one extra charge restaurant on each cruise but have not yet found one that was worth the extra charge when compared with the MDR. We were wait-listed for early assigned dining but ended with Anytime Dining. We used reservations for every meal with Anytime Dining but were only able to get our preferred time on one occasion. We feel that Anytime Dining doesn't work very well on any cruise line where they try to simultaneously accommodate both fixed seating and Anytime Dining, and HAL is no exception. They need to pick one or the other and stop trying to do both. Renaissance Cruise lines had only Anytime Dining and it worked well. It is trying to do both that creates problems. Nonetheless, by reserving tables in advance it worked sufficiently well on this cruise only resulting in our eating earlier or later than desired.
The buffet's food was, in our opinion better than that of recent Princess or Celebrity cruises. The buffet's orange juice is fresh squeezed in front of you. They have a machine with oranges in a hopper that squeezes the juice into a pitcher. The coffee is brewed in large machines from finely ground beans. A bit strong, but not quite as strong as Starbucks.
Service was comparable to that of any other cruise line and cruise, except that my wife and I felt that the staffing was reduced from what we recall from other cruises. There were simply fewer servers and busboys in the restaurants buffet and bars. Everything ran fairly well but we noticed the absence of servers coming around to offer more coffee and clear or carry plates. There was enough staff to get the essentials done but not enough for the extra service that we are used to from previous cruises.
As I said previously, don't particularly like shipboard broadway-type shows, but those that we attended were on par with what we have experienced on previous cruises on other cruise lines. There were additional, non-broadway shows that we liked, but, truthfully, we are never that enamored by any show on any cruise line. Enough said.
Port & Shore Excursions:
We did a mixture of ship's excursions and "our own thing". The ship's excursions that we did utilize were enjoyable and also expensive. These are the same outside excursions contracted by all cruise lines so they are the same no matter what ship you are on. What has changed over the years is how much more expensive they have become. We visited Cozumel (no excursion), Belize (Mayan Temple excursion), Roatan (port canceled due to high winds), Costa maya (Catamaran & Snorkeling excursion).
A piece of cake. We selected early self-disembarkation and at 7:45AM we were rolling our bags (one each) off of the ship. By 8AM we were in our car headed home.
Holland America's culinary focus has made a believer of me. I also like all of the little, but right touches -- real brewed coffee in every venue, newspaper, fresh fruit in cabin without asking, plush bathrobes, real hairdryer, etc., etc. We also like the mid-sized ships. We WILL cruise with HAL again! Soon!