We are veteran cruisers from South Carolina, with 18 cruises on Princess and 1 cruise on NCL. This was our 1st cruise on Holland America. This holiday itinerary was roundtrip from Tampa with 4 ports: Key West, Roatan, Santo Tomas de Castilla (Guatemala) and Costa Maya.
We drove to the port, and spent the day before the cruise in Tampa. We spent the afternoon in historic Ybor City a few blocks north of the port. There were hand-rolled cigar shops, pubs and restaurants. We ate at James Joyce Irish Pub. The food was very good, with generous portions. There were many beers on tap to choose from. We stayed at the Quality Inn near Ybor City. It was very clean and well-maintained, and a secure hotel.
Tampa was a wonderful embarkation port. We drove up to the curb, dropped off the luggage with the porter, and parked in the surface lot right in front of the ship. Embarkation went very quickly, starting at 11:30 AM. We were on the ship at 11:45 and our cabin was ready. We sailed under the Skyway bridge, which was lit up after dark.
We had a window cabin on the lower promenade deck. We had a good view from our cabin. With the reflective glass, no one could see into our cabin, except after dark with the light on. The cabin was spacious, with lots of closet and drawer space. There was also a wide love seat. The bathroom had a tub-type shower, and was the biggest bathroom we have had on a cruiseship. There was a CD/DVD player, and American and European electrical outlets. Our room stewards, Bowo and Yanto, took good care of us.
We have read many negative reviews about the Rotterdam Restaurant (main dining room). We found these reviews to be accurate regarding the slow service, especially at dinner. The food was always excellent, so no complaints there. We had 1st seating, with a table for 4. For the first 2 nights of the cruise, dinner took 1 hour 45 minutes. Also, the waiters were inattentive. They walked by the table without looking to see if we needed anything. We couldn't even make eye-contact with them. Even speaking with the head waiter didn't help. He was very defensive, and didn't seem to understand that the service was unacceptable. This situation suddenly changed for the better after we left a comment card at the front desk describing the long dinners and poor service. The dining room captain, Martin, visited our table and assured us that our comments had been heard, and that service would be much better. Service was instantly better, much more attentive, and dinner took about 1 hour 15 minutes, which was fine for us. While service improved dramatically for us, we continued to see dissatisfaction and slow service for several other tables in the dining room. Because we spoke up, things improved for us. But we feel that service should have been better from the start, not requiring us to go to the trouble of writing a letter.
Breakfast in the dining room was excellent, with lots of choices. Afternoon tea was also a wonderful experience. We especially enjoyed the Indonesian Tea toward the end of the cruise. The Royal Dutch Tea and everyday tea time were also very good. The Lido had a great selection for breakfast and lunch. We were served by the staff behind the counter. Especially noteworthy were the Filipino lunch selections one day, as well as the Eggs Benedict station at breakfast, and the fresh-squeezed orange juice. We had a friendly wine steward, Roy, at dinner.
We attended one art auction. We were astounded at the prices of the art. Most of the items auctioned were original pieces with opening bids in the mid-$1000's. If other cruisers like this, that's fine with us. We just can't see spending so much on art. Princess has also moved in this direction. Gone are the days of limited-edition prints for a few hundred dollars, including framing. We have several such pieces that we still enjoy after more than 10 years.
Wijang Culinary Arts Theater
This was an excellent feature of the cruise. Included were lobster salad, creme brulee, haute chocolate, among other dishes. The towel-animal demonstration was especially memorable.
The production shows were professionally done. The singers sang very well, and the dancers were excellent. We didn't see any lip-syncing to recordings. We also enjoyed the violinist in the Explorer's lounge, the piano man Ric in the Mix bar and the Neptune band in the Ocean bar.
The bar staff was very attentive. We especially liked the Boddington's on tap, the Manhattans and White Russian. However, the bar staff didn't know how to make a Grasshopper, Whiskey Sour or Blue Hawaiian.
The ship was in excellent condition overall. Areas that looked out-of-date were the atrium, main dining room and pools. There was lots of room on this ship, with only 1250 passengers. It was nice to be on a smaller ship again. We really like this about Holland America. While other cruise lines are building ever-bigger ships, HAL has ships with 2000 passengers or less. The wide, wrap-around lower promenade deck is great for walking. Also accessible from the lower promenade are stairways to 3 forward observation decks, including a very large deck on the bow of the ship. These were great for sailaways.
There were several Christmas activities on this holiday itinerary. The cruise left port on Sunday, Dec. 23. On Christmas Eve, there was a Christmas display unveiling in the evening in the atrium. Hot chocolate and cookies were served while we sang carols. On Christmas morning at 9:00, we sang carols in the main showroom, and Santa made an appearance. Presents were given to the younger kids. There were quite a few families on board.
All in all a great getaway for the holiday. The Ryndam is a beautiful ship with many amenities and activities. For veteran Princess cruisers, we were very pleased, and plan to take another cruise on Holland America in the Caribbean or Europe.