My wife and I have traveled extensively, both domestic and international, plus we have enjoyed a number of cruises, so we have a good bit of experience with cruise ships and associated land tours. Most recently we sailed on Holland America's ms Ryndam for a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise in early March, 2013, with family members including our wonderful 11-year-old granddaughter. This was our 9th cruise with HAL, which is our favorite line.
Everything about the ship and the cruise was to our complete satisfaction, the usual first-class operation that Holland America typically provides. The Ryndam is small by today's standards, with space for some 1,250 passengers, which we prefer. It is tastefully appointed and decorated, lots of brass and glass, enough elevators, comfortable lounges, ample lounge chairs at the pool and on the outside decks, the usual casino and bars and shops, and the entertainment was acceptable for the most part.
I simply don't understand the criticisms stated in previous members' reviews -- dining room food disappointing, slow service, Lido food/service terrible, a/c problems, "funereal cruise" (?), etc. We experienced NONE of this.
The food was consistently very good in both the Lido buffet and in the Rembrandt dining room (and the choices were extensive), our young expert in such matters rated the pizza highly, dinner in the Pinnacle was outstanding as usual, and our room service breakfast was good and on time. Plus the service in all of these areas was quite good -- friendly, attentive, professional and prompt.
Our cabin stewards deserve particular kudos for the fine job they did in keeping our stateroom clean and comfortable, the bar servers were all friendly, fun and professional (the Ocean Bar group was especially good), and the Front Desk staff was capable and helpful.
Yes, as one reviewer has pointed out, the Ryndam is getting a bit old, but with one exception we saw no evidence of this (a section of paneling in the Ocean Bar was a bit worn). The ship was clean and 'shipshape' throughout, and everything worked just fine. The bed and bathroom linens were in good condition, as were the linens in the dining rooms; all of the carpeting was in good shape, except the 'day' carpets in the elevators could use a cleaning; everything was polished and well-maintained -- although the windows in the Ocean Bar did need washing and the deck chair pads were faded.
Our family all agreed that this particular Western Caribbean itinerary (there are others) was superior to the Eastern routes, as all those Caribbean islands start to look the same after a while. Key West is what it is ("90 miles from Havana, and an immeasurable distance from sanity"), although the family really enjoyed the butterfly conservatory.
Mahogany Bay, Roatan, was a good stop. The faux village dock complex that Carnival Corp. constructed was what you would expect, full of shops, etc. But consider the RoatanCruiseExcursions.com 'Roatan, Garifuna, Mangrove Tunnel and Iguana Farm Island Tour,' which is a lot of fun, the boat ride through the mangroves is quite an experience, and Norma, our driver/guide, did a good job. (As a side note, we have found that independent land tours are considerably less expensive than those from HAL, with far fewer people, more flexibility and, if you do some research and ask good questions and choose carefully, usually better value for money.)
Puerto Santo Tomos de Castilla, Guatemala, is simply a big container cargo shipping dock with a native crafts pavilion, although the latter was fun to shop and g-daughter had a ball. I suspect that HAL and other lines have their ships stop here just to sell profitable land excursions (and perhaps help improve the poor economy in the area). There were some interesting tours available, e.g., Rio Dulce, Quirigu Ruins, but we didn't venture out.
Costa Maya was the last, best port despite a very long pier and, again, a large man-made dock area with three pavilions full of the usual suspects, e.g., Diamonds International and etc., plus pool, bars and restaurants. We again did an independent tour, 'Chaccoben Mayan Ruins,' with TheNativeChoice.com. The tour was outstanding, particularly since it is a smaller ruins site, representative without being overwhelming. Even the 50-minute or so drive to the site through the local countryside (in a new, comfortable mini-van) was interesting, particularly thanks to Enrique, our fine guide. And I was strongly assured before we booked the tour (in advance, of course) that TNC absolutely guaranteed we would be back to the ship before its early departure at 3 p.m. I was just sorry that we didn't have time to visit Mahahual for a couple of hours.
All-in-all, we feel the ms Ryndam is a fine ship, our stateroom was quite comfortable, the cuisine was very good and the personnel excellent, it was an interesting itinerary, and we enjoyed some first-rate tours. We may just do this one again.