I have titled my review - "Surprising - Ryndam" because the entire 7-day experience was just that - Surprising - especially because this was our first Holland America Line cruise.
I must state right up front and I say this with all due respect to senior citizens and elderly travelers, that an "older" age group clearly prevailed on this cruise. It was not uncommon to stand and wait for an elevator with 70ish folks in wheel chairs, requiring walkers, oxygen and not one, but two canes. It was as if my wife and I were visiting an assisted living facility. Quite honestly, at times, it was difficult to see. This one fact would, sadly, prevent us from booking another cruise with HAL.
I counted approximately 10 teenagers that roamed around the ship like a pack of rabid wolves. You would be sitting there quietly at the 10th floor Sea View pool and the "wolf pack" would suddenly arrive doing cannonballs splashing water on everyone and screaming. We never determined who the parents of this "bunch" was but it was a failure of the part of the crew to control these children no matter when we encountered them on the ship.
One night, at our Rotterdam Dining Room reserved table for two, there was a infant seated next to us in a high chair with his "parents" that constantly screamed and threw food, napkins and spoons on the floor. The staff should have asked them politely to leave. I believe they would have, but I remembered the father "bullying" the maitre'd over table choices, and perhaps the staff did not want to "ignite" the man's arrogance any further. Our loss though, as our dinner was ruined that night.
Let me go back to my theme of surprising. After a miserable parking experience near terminal 6 in Tampa, a long wait to get checked in and processed, a better "world" of amazing customer service awaited us. We were directly by friendly staff to a waiting elevator car with an "elevator man" who took us to our floor.
I have not seen an elevator man since I lived in New York City back in the 60's. My wife and I were both shocked and very pleasantly "surprised".
We had been upgraded to cabin 726. The location, right next to the stairs and elevators, in the middle of the ship, was perfect. It had a large window, long couch, comfortable queen sized bed and a bathtub! We were on the 4th floor, which enabled us to look right out the large window and see the water. We do not like the higher floors on any cruise ship.
On the negative side, our ship, the Ryndam, apparently, had just come out of dry dock for some technical upgrades and partial refurbishing. Our room air conditioning was not working properly, but was repaired quickly. Our toilet was later clogged and that too was resolved rapidly. The black soot that blew out of the air conditioning vent on top of the television was a persistent problem that was not resolved. I thought it strange that the room staff didn't even notice the many black specks of dirt when making up the room - they never bothered to
dust it off.
This was the first room we had with no refrigerator. Most times, the cruise lines fill refrigerators up with all kinds of nonsense and there is little room for the water you're now "allowed" bring on board. I always bring on Gatorade and it never all fits in the typical refrigerators. So we didn't miss it. There was also no room for our luggage - they did not fit under the bed or in the closets.
I would recommend - and this was a popular joke during one of the nightly shows - that HAL label the light switches. You don't know what turns what on. This makes no sense. We're reasonably intelligent people, but not knowing how to operate the lights in your room is "uncomfortable" especially when you're tired and trying to turn off the lights to go to bed. At night we always left the bathroom light on.
Speaking of going to bed, my wife likes to fall asleep with the television on. Watching the news or an old episode of "Castle" is what she prefers. The LG television in the room was miserable. The remote did not work from the bed. You have to press the keys extremely hard to adjust the channels as well as the sound. The program selection during the day isn't bad, but at night is terrible. The television set has to be replaced by a newer high definition model with a better remote. We did not care to "rent" (borrow) any of the available CD's HAL provides.
Before I continue let me say that it is no easy task to load 1500+ people on a ship and make them all happy 100% of the time. With many passengers, there is an unfair sense of entitlement that "things" be perfect whether it be the food, service, accommodations, excursions and staff. After 9 cruises, my wife and I do not expect perfection, but we are looking for an environment - an attitude - that we matter and shortcomings can and will be corrected.
We felt that this was most definitely the case with Holland America. The entire crew seemed motivated by both corporate culture and the Captain's apparent management style to do whatever it takes to please the passengers. We felt the officers on Royal Caribbean to be arrogant and unapproachable - Carnival staff at times preferring to be behind closed doors not having to interface with passengers. But Holland America, the Ryndam, was "surprisingly" the complete opposite.
Officers, staff and crew seemed to enjoy interacting with their passengers. Many times, the office doors of many of the managing staff were open. It was not "surprising" to see the staff and crew laughing and having as good a time as the passengers. It was infectious. It was an atmosphere of "ask and you shall receive". All the staff and crew said thank you, or hello, or have a nice day or good morning - no attitude or Royal Caribbean stand-off-ish-ness at any time.
The food was good. Every morning we had full breakfast room service. Only once was the order - coffee - incorrect. We had reservations at the Pinnacle Grill, but cancelled them when we felt the menu selection was not that much different than the offerings in the main dining room. We did tour the kitchen. The dinner service generally was very slow - two hours long. We did ask that service be faster one night since we wanted to attend an 8pm show. That meal took 90 minutes. We felt that the "buffet" in the 11th floor Lido Restaurant was good, but we prefer the "madhouse" buffet offered on Carnival.
Note that the HAL "buffet" is not really a traditional buffet. For the first 48 hours of the cruise HAL, for health reasons, does not want you touching dishes, glasses, or food serving utensils. That is relaxed somewhat after the 48 hours. We found that both acceptable and strange. We prefer to take our changes with the typical buffet style. The HAL "buffet" is more like an old world Southern cafeteria. Remember Morrison's or Piccadilly's? There are sample dishes and you pick out the meal you want and it is served to you while you wait on line. A bit intimidating at first.
Excursions were expensive. The same "trips" - Mayan ruins and other tours we took a year or two ago were all now $25-$75 more expensive - one might say they are now all overpriced. Because of the cost during the 7 day cruise we took only one excursion - the "city tour" in Santo Tomas De Castilla. Key West, Roatan and Costa Maya we did on our own. Roatan was total wash, due to the heavy rains. We purchased no photographs on board - my wife and I took approximately 450+ of our own.
I want to go back to the food service. This cruise had two "formal" nights. Despite my whining and being called a curmudgeon more than twice, my wife and I purchased about $500 of nice clothes especially for the occasion. On one formal night, after we were seated, I turned to my right and saw a table of 4 clothed in what I consider less than dress casual wear. One gentleman had on a loose open collar sweater, leisure pants and sneakers. Why?
"Formal" nights are what the "elderly" set prefers. I'm 57. I don't. It is an "entitlement" whose time has come and gone. End it already. My wife and I do not go on cruises to do "formal" nights. It is uncomfortable and unnecessary. This is not the Queen Mary nor is it 1940. There is no restaurant where we live that requires a tie or a jacket. We could have used the $500 to upgrade our room to a suite or go on more excursions.
While on the subject of dining - having to be seated at a table for 4 with another strange couple for 6 nights is cruel. It is another practice that has to end. We would prefer either sitting by ourselves or with 8 other couples at a large table. The couple we were "paired" up for the entire cruise was a mismatch. "You're stuck with us for the next 7 days" the man said to me. No, my friend, we're not - as we requested other seating arrangements for the rest of the cruise.
The worst ship we're ever been on was the Carnival Dream. It is too big and poorly designed. This ship - the Ryndam - was the best. Other than the light switches I spoke of earlier, this ship makes sense. It is easy to get around, small enough to find and take advantage of everything and large enough that you don't feel confined. The interior is aesthetically pleasing. For those of us that are fed up with Joe Farcus (Carnival) design "concepts" HAL will offer you comfort from the weird and unusual.
The main pool - there are two - has a large glass cover that retracts. The library is "surprisingly" the best we've seen on any cruise. The entertainment, typically very "high school production-like on most cruises, was as good as a production number you would see on ABC's Dancing With The Stars. There was a comedian - a former LA cop - that was hilarious. The CD - cruise director - "surprisingly" an American - Eric - was the best CD we've ever had and should serve as a model for other cruise line CD's.
As I said at the beginning, the parking (avoid using Premier Parking in Tampa) and lines getting on the ship should be more timely and efficient, but getting off the ship was perfect. Room service breakfast was available the morning we arrived in Tampa. During disembarkation there was no wait, no lines and we breezed through customs. Our luggage was waiting for us.
So, the $1000 question - would I sail on HAL and/or the Ryndam. To restate, the major drawback was the age of the passengers. I don't understand why more younger folks 35-60 are not on this cruise. I find nothing more appealing or "party-ish" about HAL v. Carnival or Royal Caribbean. There might be elderly on this cruise, but it is far from an "elderly" cruise. There is much to do all day up to midnight as there was on any other ship or cruise line.
Bottom line and in conclusion, I just can't decide. I (my wife would concur) would give this cruise an "A" but those memories of all those walkers, wheel chairs, canes and oxygen tanks make me pause about sailing on HAL again.