Canada New England Transition Cruise Holland America Line MS Maasdam April 26-May 12, 2012 Ft Lauderdale to Montreal https://picasaweb.google.com/singinman1
This is a fairly long cruise of 3,122 miles with 10 ports of call. Maasdam averaged 14.2 kts per day. We spent 15 nights on board. According to the official cruise log, we had no rain for the entire cruise. As far as I know, this is the only error in the cruise log. Average temperature south of Newport, RI was 73F. From Newport on the temperature averaged 51F.
With two entirely different temperature zones for the cruise, packing was interesting. Our goal was to get by with standard luggage charges of $25 per person for air travel. We made our goal because we opted for unlimited laundry from the ship's laundry service for $98 for the entire cruise. This was a major plus for the cruise for several reasons. First, we could limit the total amount of clothing to about four days worth. With mix and match outfits, we did not repeat a total look very often. Two, we are on vacation. Why should Judy have to spend significant time washing clothes. Third, we had Noro on board so the passenger accessible laundry rooms were closed for a significant portion of the cruise. Forth, Judy was feeling miserable for six days of the cruise and would not have been able wash cloths.
Sidebar. My wife had a reaction to a new medication while on the ship. This was not a fault of the ship or HAL. It just was. It was not Noro. We shared a coke on several occasions and I never got sick. For the first time ever on a cruise, I did not catch a cold. She suffered with it from the sea day after Charleston until Sydney. She took the pill for the last time the morning we were in Sydney. She did not take it that night. 12 hours after the morning pill she started feeling normal. Our conclusion was that the ships vibration and general motion exacerbated the slight problems with the pill she had before the cruise. Lesson learned, do not make major changes in medications before going on a cruise.
The rest of this report will be divided into two sections- shipboard life and ports of call.
Aboard the Ship
The Maasdam is small (1,232 passengers, 719'x111', 55,819 tons), but well laid out. Anyone familiar with any of HAL's smaller ships will find all the usual public rooms in all the usual places. My major objection to the ship is that the Casino is not closed off and the odor of cigarettes drifts far. Other than that, the ship is beautiful and shows the effects of a major redo last year.
Our ocean view cabin was more than adequate for our needs. We had a few drawers and storage niches that we did not use. The bathroom was well designed and bigger than we expected it to be. The beds are wonderful. We had ours configured as a king bed. The hard edges of the mattresses formed a ridge which made spooning difficult. We did have a problem with grit on the TV shelf and the dresser top closest to the HVAC vent. We also found our room to be overheated when we first came on board. The overheated room became a problem of a too cold room once we left port. We reported both problems to the front desk. A filter change took care of the grit, and an adjustment and the discovery of the blanket stash helped with the temperature problem.
Our cabin steward went above and beyond normal duty during my wife's down time to keep us in fresh towels and such. He got a cash tip at the end of the cruise. We had no hitches on our laundry service. We sent laundry in every other day and usually got it back the next day. Once or twice we got it back the second day. That is one reason for packing an extra outfit or two. One dress shirt came back with wrinkles pressed in, but that was after the last formal night. One important note, bring a powerstrip with you or borrow one from the ship. There is only on usable power plug in the cabin. We cruisers do like our electric gadgets, and they need chargers (camera, cell phone and e-book chargers Plus the laptop). If you borrow one, be sure to get a copy of the return document when you turn it in.
Dining was interesting. We ate traditional first seating at a table for four by the window. Our table mates were good people and good conversationalists. Service was excellent and when my wife did not feel like eating, out waiter, the head waiter and nearly everyone else tried to figure out something she could eat. Two nights I wound up eating alone. The second night, I was invited to eat with the folks at the next table. The wait staff accommodated like the pros they are.
This was our fourth HAL cruise. The food was more varied and perhaps a little higher in quality than previous cruises. However, there was one clunker entree on the dinner menu. The Philipino short ribs were dry and tough. My wife and I both sent that one back as inedible. The replacement entrees were very good. We ate in the Lido more than we thought we would and thought the food was quite good. We remember prime rib, beef short ribs, Cuban sandwiches (Lido) as being exceptionally good. Breakfast was good in the dinning room and the Lido. We tried a corn chowder in the Lido that was terrible.
Noro. As usual, the ship was taking anti-noro measures during the first 48 hours to prevent spread of any noro brought on board by passengers. Despite all preventive measures, we did have noro. The captain went to full preventive measures. It is a nuisance to have to ask a waiter for salt, pepper and sweetener, but it is better than getting sick. I take a hostile view of passengers who insist on grabbing things from the Lido buffet for themselves when they know they are not supposed to. They are willing to risk their own heath and the health of everyone on board for a momentary convenience. Personally, I think these folks should be escorted off the ship at the next port of call.
The front desk team on this cruise was the best I have ever dealt with. Nothing threw them. Every problem was dealt with immediately to the satisfaction of all parties.
The cruise director's staff was small but good. Bingo, trivia and all the other activities were well run. Our Cruise Critic trivia team was only moderately successful, but we had a lot of fun.
Beverage cards. I like the HAL system. You pay $25 for a $50 card (soda card). For this you get a canned drink and a glass of ice or two glasses of ice. You do not have to debate the ethics of sharing a coke with a friend. If you want to stretch the card out for the whole cruise, you can get the happy hour deal in the Crow's Nest-buy one coke at the regular price and a second for a dollar. They only take the cruise card for happy hour deals. Since trivia was in the Crow's Nest every afternoon, this was a good deal. Now the coke card does not come out even so when the balance get's down to 60 cents, give the good folks your soda card and your cruise card. They will zero out the soda card and put the balance on your cruise card.
The entertainment was spotty. The string quartet was good. The band was first rate. The guitar player was decent. Dr Boogie at the piano bar was great the night he sang nothing but Irish ballads and drinking songs, but not good at all in other musical genre's.
The resident singer/dancer team was off and on. The singers were hyped as top quality with Broadway resumes. In their Broadway Revue, they were flat 20% of the time. I told the cruise director that the show sounded like the B team at dress rehearsal. In their original production, they were very good. The comedian was good. The ventriloquist was fantastic. The classical pianist was excellent. The saxophonist was good. The xylophonist could have stayed home. The husband/wife Celtic duo was really good.
Photo contest. This was a first for us. Bring any image in camera to the photo desk and enter in photo contest. One entry per category. Just for entering you get a "free" print of your image. What they do not tell you up front is that there is an entry fee of $5 per image. While we were smoking this over, we found out that Mariners can get a free print of the ship. We got two.
Ports of Call
Newport News-26 April
OK. So, Newport News, VA is not a port of call, but it is our starting point. This cruise we got to fly out of our own little airport. Still it was an early wake up for us, because we did not get the memo that the flight would be late leaving. The important thing here is that we checked in on line the night before, paid our luggage fee and got everything straight. At first, I did not print out our receipt for our luggage payment. We had to unpack the laptop in the morning to print it out. It was a good thing we did, because the airline computer record did not show the payment. Without the receipt we would have to pay again. We had good flights (connecting through Charlotte, NC) to Ft Lauderdale.
Ft Lauderdale-26 April
We stayed at a Comfort Inn by the airport and cruise pier. It was a super convenient choice which obviously caters to cruisers with free shuttle service to and from airport and pier. The free breakfast was so-so, but was adequate considering the next stop was our ship. We were told on Thursday that the earliest shuttle to the pier would be at 12:30PM so we signed up for that.
We got up fairly early so we could eat free. It was a good move. We found out that we could get a shuttle at 10:45AM. This made my wife very happy. She likes to avoid the Lido on the first day and eat lunch in the dining room-no rush and no fuss.
Check in and boarding was as easy and relaxed as it could be. We did not wait too long for our boarding number to be called. When we got to the station to verify our cruise ticket, we did not even have to have a picture taken. The agent just used the pictures from our last cruise. To top off a good boarding experience, our cabin was ready as soon as we got on board. We dumped the carry on stuff and went to eat and have fun.
Charleston, SC-29 April
Charleston was warm, 77F, and beautiful. We had pre-booked the Magnolia Garden tour as our main adventure for the day. It turned out to be a good choice. Our guide was easy to listen too and knowledgeable about local history, sites and culture. She was not quite as factual when talking about the rest of colonial America outside of SC. We did a photo walk through downtown on a previous cruise stop in Charleston and wanted to do something different. The magnolia gardens are beautiful and ooze deep south atmosphere with Spanish moss hanging from every tree, especially the live oaks and cypress.
The tour also included a tram ride through the Audubon Swamp. Here the focus was on alligators and other swamp critters. We saw and photographed gators, turtles, snakes and birds. If you are a serious photographer, and take this tram ride, find a seat on the left side of the tram about mid-way between the back and the front. This will maximize your photo ops. Of course, critters are notional and on your day there may be more ot them on the right side instead of the left. I was using a 70-300mm lens on a C sensor camera. It was a good choice for the outing.
After the outing, we went back on board, ate lunch, put our cameras away and hit the bricks again for some shopping. We took dozens of pictures of this area on our last trip and we needed to reduce weight just to do the walking we wanted to do. The one must stop on our agenda was at the Market Street Candy Store. The pralines there are world class and they are best fresh and warm.
Newport, RI-1 May
What the Cruise Log called partly cloudy, I called rain. We had no excursions booked so we stayed on board. Our original plan had been to take the trolley ride on the 10 mile drive and see the scenery. On our previous trip, we took the Rose Island excursion through the ship. It was a fun trip. We got a tour of the harbor featuring a seaside view of the cottages, a roll call of the yachts in the harbor with narration on who owned them and how much they cost, and the island. This small dot of land has a lighthouse and keeper's cottage and a bird sanctuary. How much you can see depends on the season. It might be fun during nesting season. It is the only tour I've ever heard of which features a lecture on the proper use of the toilet.
Bar Harbor, ME-3 May
We had booked the Nature Cruise offered by the Bar Harbor Whale Watching Co. Judy was still not feeling well, but she went. This was an inexpensive tour ($26 each) and worth the money. The boat was nice, the crew was efficient and the naturalist/historian knew his stuff. The tour left from the same dock used by the ship's tenders which was convenient. A bagpiper in full regalia played for us at the dock. On the way to see what birds and other critters were availing themselves of the overcast day, we passed most of Bar Harbor's rich men's cottages. The highlights of the tour were the harbor seals, cormorants, eagles and other birds.
Halifax, NS-4 May
We booked the Shutterbug tour through the ship for this stop. We had a nice big bus almost full. We visited the garden which was nice with lots of stuff in bloom, the Historic Properties area which featured nice restrooms and a few photo ops, Peggy's cove which is always photogenic even in the heavy overcast, the cemetery where 100+ Titanic victims are interred and the Citadel. The Citadel was closed so photo ops were limited. We did have a panoramic view of the city. This was an OK tour, but I will not do it again. On the ride through town, I saw a store featuring sex toys for sale, trade or rent. That kind of turned us off.
Sydney, NS-5 May
It was pouring "partly cloudy" in Sydney. Judy was still not feeling well so she stayed on board. I got off briefly to take a picture of the big fiddle outside the cruise terminal.
Charlottetown, PI-6 May
Judy had stopped taking her bad medication the night before so she was feeling much better. This day was the highlight of the trip for both of us. Friends from a previous cruise met us at the end of the pier and took us on a tour of the island. It was cold but not wet. We started with the public and government buildings downtown hearing the story of the town and province as we went. Next we covered the whole island. We ate lunch (our treat) at a small pub. Our time is Charlottetown ended too soon and we had to say good-bye to some really nice folks.
We had a cool but beautiful day in Gaspe. Judy was back to normal. We had no plans. Excursions were late developing and we had no reports on any of them. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the city was running a hop on hop off bus service with three stops: the shopping district, the Catholic Cathedral, and the museum. Cost for the bus was $5. We skipped the shopping stop and got off at the Cathedral of Christ the King. The ladies of the church were serving cookies and the organist was playing the organ and telling the history of the church and the organ. We enjoyed this stop immensely. The Museum is in an attractive modern building built on a bluff overlooking the harbor. Gaspe is beautiful.
Sept-Iles, QE-8 May
The Little port that did. SI is not blessed with quaint historic architecture or a beautiful natural setting, but they tried through friendship and enthusiasm to prove to us that they belonged on the cruise circuit. They had good wi-fi in the terminal. All the ports did, but some had more band width than others. The "partly cloudy" was in active mode. The hyped excursion was the tour of the aluminum plant. The fair warning on the tour was that pregnant women should stay away. Pace maker people should stay away. ANYTHING running on batteries or resembling a computer (watches, cameras, etc) should be left on ship. Still these folks tried. When we sailed away, the fire boat was firing all water canons and dancing in our wake. The canons were rotating clockwise. The boat was spining counter-clockwise (or vice-versa). We all got the point that these good people were giving us everything they had to help us have a good time.
Saguenay, QE-9 May
The little port that did it better. Saguenay is beautiful. The scenery, while sailing up the fiord, is similar to a lot of Alaskan scenery. The town sits in the middle of all this beauty. We were on deck with cameras running hot as we approached the town. Again, we had no plans for the day. Fog and low lying clouds was the theme of the day. As we approached the dock we saw a bunch of folks all dressed up on the dock waiting for us. As we got off, these folks in costumes associated with the towns past were putting on a show for us. We have the pictures to prove it. In the morning, we walked about town a little while. They had a few locals selling crafts up by the church and the church was open and we were encouraged to take pictures. We did take pictures. After that we walked back to the ship to warm up and eat. In the afternoon we went out to the buses and went to the show for $74 each. Anyone familiar with "Unto These Hills" or any of the outdoor play/pageants in the Southern USA would see similarities with "Fabullous." It is part broadway, part church Christmas pageant and part unique. It is all inside. The theater seats thousands. The stage was big enough to have 100+ people and six horses on stage at once while the town was burning or flooding at the whim of the script. Technical effects were first rate. The dialogue was lip-synced. It was a hoot. It was dead serious. It was awesome. It was enthusiastic. It was huge. It was 400 years packed into two hours. It was worth $74 including door to door transportation.
Quebec City-10-11 May
The cruise director told us that a poll of HAL cruisers named Quebec as the favorite port of call for all HAL ports world wide. The first day was cold and wet. The "partly cloudy was coming down hard. The cruise terminal was much improved over what it was in 2006. Since we had planned just to walk the old city to make up for the rainout of our cruise in '06, we just stayed on board the first day and, like a lot of other passengers, dreamed of a dryer tomorrow.
Tomorrow did come and it was dryer although the morning was heavily overcast. Still, we hit the ground running. We took the $1.00 bus to the top of the cliffs and walked around the area surrounding the Frontenac a bit, then we rode the funicular to the bottom and walked old town area. This little area is quaint, pretty and interesting. We took a bunch of pictures, ate a good eclair and found a souvenir pin for Judy. When we got tired, we went back to the ship. We had met our main objective for the day. If we had more energy, we would have gone to the Citadel somehow, but we did not. After lunch on board, the sun came out and we took lots of pictures from the upper decks. It was the best place in town from which to take the iconic shot of the Frontenac. And Quebec is a great place to end a cruise.
I know the Pinnacle Grill is not a port. It is a part of the ship, but it cost extra to eat there and the manager works hard to make the place and the time spent there a special event. And for us it deserves a special place in this review.
We had reservations to go with a large gang from cruise critics, but Judy's med attack sabotaged that plan. When she got better and we tried to reschedule, we were told they were booked solid. Now we were faced with not being able to use our gift from our travel agent. The grill manager has assured us we were first on the waiting list, and he did call us at one point to say that we could have the last seating of the cruise at 8:30 on the 11th. We took it. On the 11th, we went town at 5:45 to see if we could get in early. We could and did. So here we were on the last day for the last meal at the best dining venue on the ship.
We were seated at a window table and had a good view of the St Lawrence River and the sunset. Our bonus surprise appetizer was a mushroom ravioli. We are not big fans of mushrooms, but these were good. My appetizer of choice was the Dungeness crab cakes. Two little cakes not much bigger than golf balls were superb. I can remember every dungeness crab cake I have ever eaten. These were not only the best crab cakes I have ever eaten. These were the best things I have ever eaten in my entire life. The filet was a nice afterthought.
Disimbarcation from the ship was as smooth as any we have done on all our cruises. The HAL transfer bus to the Air Port was a good ride. Things at the airport went smoothly. US Customs was no problem, but the agent we had was obviously in a foul mood and looking for an excuse. We answered her questions with "Yes, Maam" or "No Maam." Flights home through Philadelphia were good. We han plenty of leg room.
The Maasdam is a good ship with a superb crew. The itinerary was not the typical Canada-New England 7 or 10 day big port itinerary. Was it the perfect cruise? No. Was it a great cruise? No. Take out Judy's med reaction and the rain and it would have been a great cruise. Raise the temperature 5 degrees from Newport north and it would have been a great cruise maybe even a perfect cruise. Experienced cruisers know that the weather on any cruise is a crap shoot. You book a cruise months in advance and neither you nor the cruise line knows what the weather will be. As cruisers, our job is to be prepared for the cold and wet on a cruise like this and make the best of what we get.
So to all cruisers everywhere. This cruise is worth a chance. It was a good cruise for us and almost a great one.
And to my little Cockney girlfriend who lives in the voice box of the aft elevator, "Au Revoir."