My wife and I have taken many Holland America cruises, and HAL is still #1 in our minds. However, the Maasdam is showing signs of age that I will describe later. Below is a recap of our cruise experience.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at Port Everglades at 11:00. It took less than 5 minutes for us to be checked in. HAL was very efficient with the check-in process. We then sat in the holding area and waited for embarkation which took place at 12:00 noon. After we got on to the ship, we proceeded to the Rotterdam dining room where HAL hosts a Mariners lunch. This eliminates the hassle of going to the Lido restaurant for the buffet.
STATEROOM: We did something we haven't done in over 20 years. We booked an interior cabin. We were looking at the "lanai suite" but decided the up charge of $300 per person was not worth it. The lanai suite is the same size as the interior cabin, and the fact that there are two reserved lounges was not enough of a reason for us to upgrade. The other downside to the lanai suite is the fact that at night, in order for people not to see into your stateroom, you must keep the curtains closed. Otherwise the light inside the cabin is enough for people on deck to see in.
Our cabin (705) was a pleasant surprise. It was 182 square feet, large enough for two people. It had 3 closets to hang clothes in and 10 drawers for storage. Again, for the limited amount of time we spent in the cabin, this was good enough. The cabin stewards could not have been better, attending to your every request with a smile on their face.
CONS: THE TOWELS ARE YELLOW AND NEED TO BE REPLACED OR BLEACHED.
LIDO: Great buffet for breakfast and lunch, unless you're a vegetarian. For breakfast, there are eggs of many kinds, salmon, meats, cheeses and baked goods. For lunch, there are salads and stations that have Italian and Asian foods as well as sandwiches and hot entrees, something for every taste
CONS: If you're a vegetarian, you may have a bit of a problem finding enough veggies to satisfy you.
ROTTERDAM DINING ROOM: Available for lunch on most days and dinner every night. For some reason, there always seems to be problems on the first night. The restaurant opened 15 minutes late and the service is unusually slow. The food is comparable to a 5 star restaurant, perfectly prepared and presented (except for the steaks or prime rib). One thing that has remained constant over the years is the quality of the food. Some menu notables were the escargot and Beef Wellington. Each night, there are at least 4 choices in each category (appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert). Although there has been a 30% reduction in the staff, the service is still impeccable.
CONS: It seems as though HAL cannot prepare a steak as ordered. I asked for medium N.Y. strips and Prime Rib and got well done. So, I started ordering medium rare and got something resembling medium, but still too well done. Also, on two nights, the table linens were soiled and on one formal night, the chair covers were soiled as well.
SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS (PINNACLE GRILL AND CANALETTO): We did not eat at any of these restaurants. The surcharge for the Pinnacle is between $25 and $59 per person, depending on the night and the Canaletto is $10 per person.
CROW'S NEST BAR: Great place to go for happy hour and watch the sea go by and possibly see a pod of dolphins.
ENTERTAINMENT: Each night there are 2 shows in the Rembrandt Lounge with standard production numbers. However, there were two singers (Joshua and Candace) that were by far, the best singers HAL has ever had on a ship. On other nights there were two violinists (Lazlo and Claudia), a juggler, pianist, solo guitarist, a mentalist and a Dancing with the Stars show. All quite good, but show featuring Joshua and Candace was the best.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We do not book any shore excursions through HAL as they are much too costly; in some cases 2-3 times as high. We typically book with a local at the pier. One example was at St. Kitts. HAL had a 2 hour tour for $40 per person. I found a wonderful woman, Beulah, from Welcome Tours. (www.tourstkittsandvevis.com). Here the same tour is $20 per person for a 3 hour island tour. An optional stop at the beach can be added for an additional $10 per person.
PORTS OF CALL: We took this cruise because it stopped at four islands we have never been to: St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Martinique and St. Croix. All beautiful in their own right, but there isn't much of a difference from one island to the next. By far, the best port is still Half Moon Cay with a white powder beach and pristine water. One word of advice, get a clamshell for $16. The sun is intense and there is little available shade.
MAASDAM: The ship is 20 years old and is beginning to show signs of wear. Here are some things that come to mind:
Ø Piece of molding missing by the couch in our cabin.
Ø Shattered window in the Rotterdam Dining Room
Ø Separated carpeting in the Crow's Nest lounge
Ø On two days, there were problems with the water in the dining room
Ø One night, we had a problem with the propeller shaft and had to shut down the engines to reset the system.
Ø One afternoon, the fire alarm went off. It turned out to be a false alarm in the engine compartment.
CLOSING: Although there are some cons, we will continue to sail HAL as in our opinion, it's still the best line at that price point.