Background Information: Traveling with a family, DH and two DD's 17 and 19 on the Ryndam, July 7-21 Scandinavia and Russia
Travel To Port of Embarkation: Our trip began with an absolutely disastrous flight on Delta. We always plan to arrive well before the ship sails, so we left on Tuesday afternoon (to arrive Wednesday morning) for our Saturday cruise. It actually took over 24 hours to fly from Michigan to London. We picked up a rental car from Hertz at Heathrow, and drove to Ashford. We pre-purchased online Eurostar tickets and Hop-on, Hop-off L'Open tour tickets in Paris for Thursday, thinking we would have plenty of time. We made it with only four hours to sleep before our tour. Yawn. Half asleep but enjoyed the HOHO tour very much. Actually finished Paris a tiny bit early and enjoyed shopping before heading back to catch the train back to Ashford. The drive from Ashford to Dover on Saturday was very easy and quick. We dropped off our luggage and adult children at the terminal, and then drove to Hertz to drop off the car. If you are renting a car, I encourage you to use Google Earth to visually locate the office. You cannot cut through the commercial port, you must walk over the bridge, which has a nice sidewalk, to the terminal. There is quite a bit of traffic, and the exhaust fumes are a little annoying.
Hotel Info: The Holiday Inn North in Ashford is tucked away in the country with an easy 15 minute drive to the Ashford Eurostar Terminal. We found the Holiday Inn staff as well as the on-site Restaurant to be excellent -- a perfect fit for our family. We stayed three days and wished we had more time with them. It was located perfectly for a side trip to Canterbury on Friday as well.
Ship Info: First impressions of the Ryndam: She is in need of some repairs -- even the crew is exasperated with the delays in fixing the most basic items. We went to the Crows Nest for sail-away. Those nice leather recliners in the photos on the website? At least four were broken -- they are stuck in the "recline" position -- so it is impossible to look out the windows!! We went to dinner (As you Wish) at table 122 around 8:00 pm. As the sun began to set, we asked the steward to please lower the blinds -- the sun was bothering us. The Dining Steward said that the blind had been broken for a MONTH. At the bottom of the Dining Room windows, the sill was warped and water damaged. We tried table 123 on the other side, same thing -- one blind was not functional. We were also discouraged from ordering Cappuccino, since of the machines in the kitchen were BROKEN. Really? Washers and Dryers had issues throughout the cruise, and sometimes handles on the washers had to be jiggled to work properly.
Our Stateroom: 725 F Category Forward "A" Deck. Some unpleasant smells, including some faint smoky smells, do emanate from "B" Deck which is where some of the crew are housed, and where the gangplank is frequently used. The open stairwell entrance is located on the way to the elevators, so you cannot avoid walking by the opening. These faint smells cannot be detected in the cabin itself. Some deck plans showed a laundry room near our room -- that is NOT true. We liked the location -- no one uses that hallway except forward residents -- so we seldom heard talking in the hallway. Our cabin air conditioning was malfunctioning the first day, and was fixed on the third day. We also had a plumbing issue -- the water would not shut off in the tub. Again, maintenance fixed it within two days; however, they scratched the tub and left some crumb-type debris in the tub. We usually select a FF cabin in the aft -- which is close to the Dining Room. Our forward cabin was nice after shows or after a long walking day in port, we were back in our cabin in record time. I prefer forward cabins now.
Staff/Service: Cruise Director Anthony is fine -- sometimes a little stiff -- and didn't seem to spend a whole lot of time getting to know the guests. Past cruise directors that we've had have been a bit warmer, less in a hurry. Announcements were succinct and easy to understand. Trivia was always fun. Spencer the Travel Guy was limited with information, especially for independent travelers. He is easy to talk with -- but sometimes I felt that "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" were staples in his answers, particularly regarding local transportation. His knowledge of HAL excursions was outstanding. Techspert Mollie was excellent. Captain brought his family on board -- they were all very "real" and pleasant. Cabin Stewards were terrific.
Event Manager/Food and Beverage/Meet and Greet -- great turnout, the captain turned up for an appearance, and overall we were handled very well. Someone in the events department (not the manager) asked me if I had a list of cabin numbers because "she wanted to know who was there," and seemed rather incensed that I did not have it -- they wanted to know who the Ccers were. We had a wonderful turnout (over 60 people). With so many people on the roll call, I was never interested in collecting detailed information -- and things worked out just fine.
Dining Room, Dining Stewards: As you Wish Dining again -- our favorite. We started with Nass (great fun) but requested Tono and Randy later. We had befriended Randy on a previous cruise, and were delighted to see him again. The Dining Room did a very nice job -- (other than the slow cappuccino, mentioned above.) The Lido was fine for quick snack meals for us, and we would preview the sample entrees that were being served in both the Rotterdam and the Lido for dinner. The Canaletto was fine -- almost boring, and lacked a no-sugar added dessert option. DD's do like the cotton candy! I had heard another cruiser complain about the lack of lobster in the Rotterdam DR -- it was only served once in 14 days. She swore never to take HAL again over it. Hamburgers in the Terrace Grill were fabulous. Hot dogs not so much...pizza and taco bar were just OK.
Ports: Dover: other than returning the rental car, and picking another one up at the end of the cruise, we did not spend time here.
Two at-sea days at the end were nice -- the first day we did laundry, and the second we packed. A little trivia, and I attended the TechSpert lecture on The Cloud. Very informative. Nice and relaxing.
Children's programs: Our 17 year old did not participate in Loft Activities as often as on previous cruises, although she did meet quite a few people around her age. Our 19 year old did not participate in the Gen Next activities - she preferred to stay out of structured programs. Both DD's enjoyed playing ping pong and "hanging out" with their new friends.
Activities and Entertainment: The Broadway Show theme shows were OK - typically cheesy standard fare. British Comedian was good, Flutist Clare Langen was excellent, Ballroom Rush was excellent, We missed the female comic but heard mixed reviews. LOVED the Neptunes - professional all the way.
Disembarkation: Easy again, no issues whatsoever. Walked to Hertz, picked up another SUV and drove to Rye and then Hastings for an overnight at the Best Western. We went to Battle Abbey as well as Scotney Castle, then to Heathrow for our flight home.
Summary: HAL truly needs to focus on fixing the problems on this ship - after sailing on the Amsterdam and the Nieuw Amsterdam, our impressions of the Ryndam itself were not great. We did; however, like this itinerary for family travel and felt that the pricing was quite reasonable. Service and Food were excellent and overall we enjoyed the cruise immensely.