This was the longest cruise I have taken. It was called a "Collectors Cruise" by Holland America, because it really consisted of two cruises packaged together - a 7 day Western Caribbean Cruise and a 14 day Southern Caribbean. There are some disadvantages to doing a cruise this way, which I will highlight below.
I was somewhat concerned before sailing on this cruise about the age of the vessel - it was launched in 1994. It has had a couple of significant make-overs during its life to date. I need not have been concerned. The Ryndam is in excellent condition overall. In fact, it is in far better shape, at least on the passenger decks, than much newer vessels I have sailed on. The hull was gleaming and everywhere on the ship it looked very fresh. The carpet in the hallway outside our cabin may have been a little past its prime, but they replaced the entire length on port days, during the cruise. The ship does not have central elevators and stairs, just fore and aft, but because the ship is fairly small, it is not a serious problem.
The ship was under the command of veteran Capt. Mark Rowden. This soft spoken gentleman was seldom seen but was very pleasant. Cruise Director Eric Dowis is also a 17 year veteran of HAL. He seemed at times bored with the job to me, but could be very funny when he wanted to be. His disembarkation talk is not to be missed.
We ate most of our meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We had table 55 for dinner, early sitting. It is in an excellent location. These older HAL ships seem to have more tables for two than the newer, larger ships. Our Dining Room Steward and Assistant Steward, who changed after the first week, much to our disappointment, worked tremendously hard and had little time for chatting with passengers. This is partially make up by the Dining Room section Supervisor, who visited our table each night and was genuinely concerned that everything was to our satisfaction. On weeks 2 and 3, his name was Chozen, and he was fabulous, even taking the time to perform some magic tricks at each table. Overall, we were very happy with the food and service. The menu for the first few nights of week 2 did duplicate the menus of the previous week, but there was always something new to try. Taste and temperature of the food were both excellent.We were generally in and out in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. We ate some breakfasts in the Dining Room as well, and the Full English Breakfast was especially enjoyable. Service was faster at breakfast than we have experienced on other ships. Lunches were divided between the Dining Room and the Lido. Lido food was generally better than is usually the case on most ships, but it was very congested at popular meal times.
The one exception to our satisfaction with the food and service was our Anniversary Dinner, for which we went to the Pinnacle Grill. They were having "An Evening at Le Cirque" that evening (happens once a cruise) and the price goes from $25 to $39 per person for this one night. It was a major disappointment. Service was indifferent and the menu very limited. My wife's entree was very poor. By contrast, on another night we went to the "Caneletto", an Italian themed specialty restaurant, carved out of a portion of the Lido in the evenings, and the service and food there were great. Only $10 too!
The entertainment on Holland America has improved dramatically in recent years. Especially the Production shows with the singers and dancers. We had a very talented group of these folks onboard and they did a "world premiere" of a new show called "DROOM".It was one of the finest pieces of singing and choreography I have seen anywhere, on land or at sea. One of the two female singers, Kelly (married to the Cruise Director), is incredibly talented, and one night did her own solo show. Fantastic. Most of the guest entertainers were very good, especially Mike Robinson, a ventriloquist, who turned out to be from my hometown. The first week, the three piece group called the Neptunes were great to listen to, and so was the piano man James. But they left and their replacements on weeks 2 and 3 were a disappointment.
We had a couple of major disappointments with Shore Excursions, which were refunded without hassle by the Shorex staff. Others were excellent, especially the World Heritage Site tour from Castries to Soufrierre, St. Lucia. One problem with this ship is getting off of it for a shore excursion. It is extremely congested and slow in disembarking. Particularly when using a tender, it is a very tedious procedure.
I mentioned some disadvantages of the packaged cruise concept. One I have already mentioned - the changing of some crew at the end of week one. Others are that the ship has not fully integrated this concept in all of their operations. Most of the production shows were repeated on weeks 2 and 3, so some nights we had nothing to go see. The Cruise Log, given at the end of the cruise, does not even acknowledge you were on board for the first week.
But overall, this was one of the best cruises we have ever been on. The weather was fantastic, except for a very cold Tampa, which really didn't count. We really liked the size of the ship, the food and the very friendly crew. I would have no hesitation sailing on another of the "S" class HAL ships. Same goes for the slightly larger and newer "R" class.
Disembarkation went well until we were off the ship and then it turned to chaos outside the terminal. It always amazes me how cruise lines treat dismembarking passengers. Yes, their formal responsibility ends once you exit the ship, but what you encounter on the dock is part of the overall cruise experience and they should take more care to see that it goes well.