It is probably important for you to know my family and I are seasoned cruisers. Over the past 16 years we've sailed a total of 27 times on Celebrity, Holland America, Cunard, Princes, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, and MSC.
This was our 5th cruise with HAL, our first on the Maasdam. We picked this cruise largely because of the itinerary and the price. That was a wise move, as the ship fell short of what we've come to expect from a cruise line experience. And probably for good reason, the Maasdam is 20 years old which is long past the age of most cruise ships.
The Maasdam lacks the selection of public areas, lounges, and restaurant options of the bigger, more modern ships. Basically, the bulk of the public areas are relegated to about two decks. Still, the public rooms are nicely done and well maintained. We were surprised, and pleased, that a ship this small had a specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle. Outside of that, most all of the lounges, theater, and dining room are scaled down in size and selection.
The state rooms, while dated, are comfortable and on par with most modern rooms. The biggest differences are the fans that run continuously in the bathrooms, the lack Wi-Fi, and no refrigerators. You know a ship is old if the bathrooms have bathtubs! Another telltale sign of the Maasdam's age were the creaking cabins, which reminded us of the Queen Elizabeth II the last time we sailed on her before she was junked.
The strength of the ship is its small size that can allow it to do itineraries not possible for larger ones. The only significant weaknesses we noticed were the Internet and wine service.
The embarkation on the Maasdam seemed almost perfect. Even though we are not Elite status on HAL, the embarkation was superior to our last cruise on Celebrity, where we do have Elite status! What took two hours from start to finish on Celebrity took less than 20 minutes on HAL. It was quick and efficient and a completely good experience. The only problem was they lost all the Canadian immigration forms we filled out and a friendly front desk person woke us up at 6 am one morning to have us come down and fill them all out again!
The ship is in great shape for as old as it is. All of the elevators worked for the entire cruise, which is a challenge even the newest ships. The public areas were well maintained and the decor was contemporary and pleasant. There were a lot of places to sit and read a book, or write a cruise review, while enjoying a cup of espresso or a drink.
Since it is an older ship, it does have some functional issues in the floor plan. It is just not as convenient to get around as the larger ships. While there were only two banks of elevators, it didn't seem as if we waited any longer than on larger ships and in some ways maybe even less. Like many older ships you had to negotiate around mid-ship interruptions on Deck 7 requiring you to climb a level of stairs and then descend back down to continue.
If food is your thing, like it is mine, then you won't be in culinary heaven on the Maasdam, but neither will you be in hell. You can choose fromanytime seating or the traditional early or late seating. Or, just skip the main dining room altogether and spend your evenings in the Pinnacle restaurant as we typically do.
For starters, I would strongly suggest you avoid the Lido restaurant at all costs during the first two days of your cruise on the Maasdam. This ship has a strange policy of not allowing self-serve in the Lido for the first two days. This means very long, slow moving lines to get anything, including coffee. It took me 10 minutes in line to get a cup of coffee, and another 20 minutes standing in lines to get oatmeal and a bagel. If you need to get off the ship quickly to catch a tour, do yourself a big favor and order room service. Otherwise, enjoy your meal by being served at the main restaurant and skip the long lines in the Lido.
In the main dining room the food quality was average for an upper end cruise line. They had as many hits as misses. The wait staff was pleasant. The wine stewards were attentive. However, if you have a bottle of wine you would like to decant prior to a meal you probably should search out the head sommelier as 100% of the wait staff we encountered had no clue of what decanting meant. Many times we found our unopened bottle awaiting us on our table.
The specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle has a most reasonable $25 additional charge when compared to Celebritys $40. While The Pinnacle didnt have that Michelin star feel weve come to expect on Celebrity and Cunard, their food was still a cut above what was available in the main dining room. While the entrees and desserts were consistently good, the appetizers were relatively unexciting. The crab cakes were especially dreary. I would suggest sticking with the Caesar Salad, the shrimp, or the lobster bisque.
The wait staff was very efficient, however there isnt a team serving you but just one person. Our sommelier, while wonderfully sweet, was surprisingly unknowledgeable for this class of restaurant as she was totally thrown by our request to decant an older red. Fortunately, she did grab the head cellar master who attended to our needs.
One ubiquitous experience we missed that you find on most other upscale cruise lines is a Chefs dinner. But it would be a nice event for the Massdam to add to their repertoire.
We are wine collectors and one of the highlights of vacation is bringing our wine onboard to enjoy with dinner. On our last sailing with Celebrity, they confiscated the wine that we brought on board to enjoy in their restaurants. We were pleased that HAL did not take our wine and we happily paid their $18 corkage fee for each of our 8 bottles. Bringing you own wine has a number of bonuss when you consider the average mark up on a bottle of wine is 3.5xs to 4xs retail. Its painful to pay $55 for a bottle of wine we buy at Sams for $16. And, we really prefer drinking wine that weve cellared for years on special occasions, like cruises.
Being foodies, we also tend to eat in the specialty restaurants, which cost $50 a night for the two of us, which is less that Celebritys $80 charge. However, as I mentioned before, you do get what you pay for in this regard. Still, the lower fees encouraged us to pay the nightly corkage fee(s). We specifically booked HAL on this cruise because of their more favorable corkage fees and attitude toward wine lovers.
As Ive written, the wine stewards on board the Maasdam were seriously lacking in knowledge about wine. We did enjoy the head wine master, Sam. He was passionate and very knowledgeable about wine, but he was it for wine knowledge.
While the Maasdam had a few wine events, notably the premium wine tasting was a reasonable value and well done, other cruise lines, namely Princess, have had passionate and knowledgeable sommeliers and wine events that weve remembered and talked about for years after our cruise.
Our stateroom was on Deck 5. It was a relatively normal stateroom experience. A couple notable nuances are that the staterooms dont have a refrigerator. We didnt realize how much we took a refrigerator for granted. This undoubtedly was due to the age of the ship, which is why we also had bathtubs! They also have just two plug-ins, which are just not enough with all the electronics we travel with. Fortunately our cabin steward, Budi, brought us an extension cord with multiple plug-ins that saved the day! The reading lights are those annoying strips that hardly poke over the pillows, leaving you to read in the dark. The creaking whenever we hit even moderate seas told us that the Maasdam probably is about ready to be retired. Our cabin steward did a great job keeping us in fresh towels and our stateroom clean.
Fitness and Spa
I was pleasantly surprised with the adequacy of the fitness area, which had a reasonable amount of cardio machines for its size. Ive been on much larger ships that were equal to the Maasdams fitness center. I never waited for a machine.
They also have a good set of barbells and a reasonable variety of weight machines. They appear to keep their equipment in excellent repair as there was never a cardio machine or television out of working order during the entire cruise. This was a first in my memory!
The mens locker room and saunas were functional and the dry sauna was good. The temperature was just fine
We thought the entertainment was average to below average. The shows were not highly innovative and featured the normal array of comedians, singers, instrumentalists, and magicians. The troupe performances, while they had a lot of individual effort, lacked synergy and choreography. The sets were boring and lacking in innovation. The reliance on sound tracks was also disappointing from the experience of seeing a live orchestra which is more common on larger ships. The theater is similar to most modern ships, which has two levels and spacious seating.
The onboard entertainment found in the lounges was hit and miss, with some being painfully bad and others being quite good.
I run a small business and being connected to my staff is imperative, even on vacation. I depend on having a functioning Internet while on board any ship. The Internet on the ship was barely adequate as it was down a reasonable amount of the time. I would guess I got access once out of every 5 attempts to logon. I purchased the 250 minute, $100 package and was sorry I did. Of course, when I did finally get logged on the download speeds were painfully slow, as advertised.
The manager of the Internet lounge was fairly unhelpful and certainly unknowledgeable. When I asked him if the ship had a repeater on board so my smartphone could access data, he assured me there was none. Well, surprise! I discovered that indeed Verizon did have a repeater on board so my smartphone worked perfectly. Do yourself a favor and forgo the expensive, time consuming, and inefficient Internet package. Instead use your smartphone and hotspot or just download when you are in port.
The shopping experience is on par with most every other cruise line, boring! There is nothing exceptional to highlight here.
Ports of Call, Port Talks and Shore Excursions
The port talks on the Maasdam were given in the evening due to the fact we were in port all but one day of our cruise. They gave excellent advice as to what to look and look-out for and how to negotiate when in port. As seasoned travelers, we appreciate cruise lines that push their shore excursions by starving you for general information on port stops.
We contacted several tour companies that were highly rated by www.TripAdvisor.com prior to getting on board. Another great place to book private tours prior to departure is by looking underTours and on the chat boards on www.CruiseCritic.com. Weve never been disappointed following the advice of previous travelers and typically save 25 to 75% off the shis prices. We ended up doing extremely well by booking local tours ahead of time at about 1/3 the cost of the ships prices.
Bar Harbor is an easy port to negotiate as the dock is almost in the city center. The real downside to this port was that we had to tender, and the tender process was painfully slow on the Maasdam. We booked a lobster cruise with the Bar Harbor Whale Watching Co, on the town pier, which they cancelled. We were puzzled as we saw several other companies taking guests out on the same tour. Unfortunately, it was too late for us to rebook with another company. We did have a wonderful lunch at the Side Street Cafe that featured local brews and fresh lobster rolls.
Halifax was also an easy port to negotiate. The ship docked in the middle of town and the Atlantic Maritime Museum was just a 10 minute stroll from the ship right on the water. The museum is well worth seeing for its Titanic artifacts. Afterward we grabbed a wonderful lunch at The Old Triangle Ale House just a block away. The service was outstanding and the food just about as good. We highly recommend you give the a visit.
Sydney is a pretty sleepy stop, so we recommend you book a tour or rent a car and head out to Alexander Graham Bells summer home in Baddeck. The museum is worth a visit and the scenery going to and from is beautiful. We hired a driver and a van from Tartan Tours for $425. We were surprised that she charged us sales tax on top of that amount of around 15%, however upon rechecking out email that was correct. It was just unusual, especially since they insisted on cash. If we were doing it over again we would have rented a van and driven ourselves and saved a bunch!
Charlottetown, PEI, was a great stop for us. We rented a car for $60 from Thrifty and drove up to North Rustico where we were to go kayaking. The only problem was it was a bit windy that day, so we instead decided to fly kites on a large beach we had all to ourselves. After that we stopped at a lobster restaurant about a mile away and had oysters and lobster. We drove along the coast in making our way back to the ship and were able to leave the car in the gravel parking lot a couple blocks walk from the ship.
Quebec City, what isnt to like about this stop! The ship docked right off the lower town, so we skipped eating breakfast on board and took a right going out of the terminal and a quick left onto St. Paul and ate at a local diner. We enjoyed a big bowl of cafe au lait, croissants, and crepes. For the rest of the day we wandered the streets of the old city enjoying the sights and sounds.