While every traveler hopes for sunny skies and steady seas, this year's VOV journey had it's share of poor weather challenges. Four missed ports, and plenty of time to use your umbrella did seem to place a damper on some travelers spirits. Many of the travelers were veteran cruisers and several had previously gone on a similar voyage. As a first time Voyage of the Vikings cruiser I offer the following observations.
I can't say enough about the captain. He kept the travelers informed of weather conditions and schedule changes. I felt safety was his primary concern and I much appreciated that policy. He was also friendly and participated in shore visits with the cruisers.
The cabin stewards, dining room staff, and bar staff were exceptionally friendly, efficient and conscientious. The food offered in both the lido and dining room were varied and delicious. The food service staff were also willing to provide, snacks, or soup and coffee on those days when we were cruising through fjords.
The port host/ lecturer was very well informed and always willing to provide information port side, during his office hours, as well as via formal lectures and scenic cruising narratives.
The band in the Ocean Bar provided wonderful pre and post dinner dance music, and the dance hosts were on hand to meet and greet not only solo travelers, but anyone interested in dancing.
Crew members were always willing to assist disabled or elderly persons negotiate, the lido, hallways, gangway and tenders. Travelers that would not have been able to exit and enter the ship, or participate in activities on their own power, were assisted cheerfully by the crew who carried meals, handled walkers and wheel chairs , and pulled or carried travelers on and off the ship.
Issues for improvement:
Although the public rooms are always clean and public restrooms well stocked with supplies, the Crow's Next bar always smelled unpleasantly of cigarette smoke. At times the fumes were strong enough to cause me to feel irritation in my throat and lungs that resulted in coughing. I was diagnosed with bronchitis the day after leaving the trip...the first such diagnosis is over 40 years. On trips that require more "indoor" space due to cold weather perhaps the shipboard smoking privileges should be limited to the rear pool area (outside) on deck ten.
I was very surprised to learn that the Maasdam only had routine television access to FOX News. We were able to watch BBC World or CNN for only a few days during the entire trip, and FOX News was routinely playing on each of the bar television screens. Surprisingly, even when we off the coast of the UK- we were unable to watch the Olympic events. If Holland America provides exclusive access to FOX News, that information should be shared with cruisers prior to booking. I would not have booked this journey had I known that I would not have access to independent news sources.
Thoughts for potential solo VOV travelers:
Solo travelers pay a premium for traveling alone on a cruise ship. One the VOV the premium was nearly double the cost for an individual traveling with a spouse or partner. I traveled on the VOV as a mean of visiting my son in Germany, taking five days out of the middle of the trip for visiting and then rejoining the journey in Dublin. For example this two way VOV transatlantic cost nearly $12,000 while last year I booked two transatlantic journey's to accomplish the same visiting goal for 1,300 (15 days eastward transatlantic-Holland America) and 1,300 ( 7 days westward transatlantic -Cunard). The additional cost for the VOV was not reflected in improved services or more charming ports of call, in fact the convenience of going both ways on the same ship in no way proved to be worth the additional expense.
I booked an interior cabin guarantee on Maasdam's VOV, and like many travelers was hopeful of an upgrade. My cabin #112 on Veranda was an extremely small interior cabin at the front of the ship near crew cabins. Although the cruise line indicates via picture and word, that #112 is the same as other interior cabins, it is not. The room has half the amount of closet space and approx. one third the amount of drawer space that you will find in other cabins. When I first entered the cabin the door struck the bed. I needed to push the door beyond the mattress in order to enter the room. I ask that half the bed be removed to allow for some space, but was told that there was no place to store the additional bedding. There was so little space to move around the sharp bed frame that I ended the trip with multiple black and blue marks and three long gashes on my shins. Unlike the other interior rooms that have a seating area and coffee table, cabin #112 has only a desk chair that cannot be used as there is no room to sit comfortably at the smaller size desk. Additionally, there is no plug on the desk top as in other cabins. You need to crawl beneath the desk to plug and unplug any devices. This cabin should be modified to house one solo traveler. A large or mobility impaired traveler would not be able to function comfortably in this cabin. SInce solo travelers are charged so much money for the VOV why shouldn't they have a comfortable and safe place in which to retire.
Solo travelers face different challenges that those traveling with friends or a spouse. A long journey can be a lonely adventure if you don't take part in group activities. Join the cruise critics group before you embark on such a long cruise. The group will provide a few friendly faces and activities that will help you settle in. Attend the solo traveler events provided by the cruise line and join others before dinner for a dance (no talent necessary). On this cruise four dance hosts were available for those interested in dancing and any single men would also find plenty of available dance and conversation partners.
I was surprised to find that the eastward cruise travelers on the VOV were by my estimate 65-85 years old. It was also the least ethnically diverse cruise I have noticed in my 270+ days at sea. More families with young children participated in the return trip. However, there was some hostility to the participation of children in the public areas and dining room. Angry comments like "Welcome to the Disney cruise!" were not uncommon. I feel diversity is beneficial and was uncomfortable with the sense that Holland America should only cater to elderly white travelers.