I really enjoy cruises as one of three main types of holiday that my partner and I take.
To us, a cruise is a great way to 'sample' countries and destinations and to be made to feel special.
We have taken a number of cruises and with various cruise lines. We'd not cruised with Holland America Lines (HAL) before - but had sailed with other brands that are part of the Carnival holding group.
We live in London and took the National Express coach down to Dover. We arrived about an hour before final embarkation and that worked well, no queues, straight on to the ship and to our cabin.
We had a Large Oceanview stateroom on Deck 4 quite spacious with plenty of storage space and first time ever for us a small bathtub with a shower over it (previously only had showers in our cabin). It was supplied with Elemis products: shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in dispensers mounted by the shower / bath and rather nice lemony soap. Surprisingly, no fridge / minibar.
Ryandam is a smaller ship, taking around 1300 passengers. We enjoy the smaller ships and the fact that HAL give you a choice of fixed or open dining (without demanding prepaid gratuities if you want open dining) was another plus. The Ryandam has a retractable roof over the Lido / pool area Ive not come across this before. It was excellent, allowing sun when the weather was good but still meaning the deck space could be fully utilised if the weather was cold, rainy or too windy for comfort when the roof was then closed.
For a ship that is 19 years old it was well maintained with very regular deep cleans and carpet shampooing.
The ship was well laid out with bars split up so that music from one would not impinge on activities in another location.
On Deck 8 Ryandam has HALs Explorations Cafe, a lovely reading room and well stocked library with travel guides relevant to the voyage kept behind the librarians desk so everybody had access to them this seemed a good idea.
There was plenty of variety of food and presentation was good, both in the Lido caf and the Rotterdam main dining room. However, we encountered a number of issues that might indicate poor management in the food and beverage (F & B) department:
Asked three times (of three different staff) for a further juice at breakfast that never arrived. It seemed that once the server with that particular item had gone past your table it was difficult to get them back
The server for one breakfast was having a really bad day mixed up and missed lots of orders, then bought three lots of one omelette and managed to give two raw eggs to a guest who asked for soft boiled eggs! (fortunately she cut the eggs open over a bowl)
Salad dressings at the salad bar in the Lido caf were often unlabelled so you had to guess what it was I highlighted this to one of the F & B managers and it was still unresolved days later.
Insufficient staff at the Lido caf:
Salad bar was not monitored well and often ran out of items
Needed more staff on cooked to order sections like omelettes and waffles
Tables not cleared and wiped promptly and crumbs swept onto the floor instead of into a cloth
One day we were eating dinner in the Lido caf and maintenance ripped up the floor covering on both entrances to the tables instead of directing passengers to tables on the other side of the venue and then starting work when their side was clear of guests.
The cruise director (Kieron Buffery) and his team provided a wide selection of entertainment. I enjoyed some of the culinary arts presentations, we saw some recent films in the onboard cinema. We also attended some of the Techspert sessions in the Digital Workshop these were informative.
Ive already mentioned about service in the F & B area. Generally service was good our stewards kept our stateroom clean and as we always put out the Make up my cabin sign this was generally done by the time we returned from breakfast.
However my personal experience with guest services / front office was that they were unhelpful and rather than wanting to resolve issues it seemed all about being curt and blocking reasonable enquiries.
The Ryandam production shows were great and we enjoyed most of the other shows naturally not every show will appeal to all passengers.
Our ports were Stavanger, Flam, Geiranger, Tromso, Honnigsvag, Hammerfest, Trondheim, Molde and Bergen. The captain was very considerate. Fog meant we had to take the long route round to Tromso and arrived three hours late. He arranged to leave two hours later than scheduled to still have a decent amount of time in port. Sailing into Honningsvag, he took us close to the North Cape and even swung the ship through 360 degrees to ensure all outside cabins got a great view. In Trondheim, he also arranged a two hour extension as the next port was not that far to travel.
We did not take any ships excursions and thought they were rather expensive. The port specialist Sabine was very helpful and generally managed to have local maps to hand out at the gangway a great help if you wanted to do your own thing in port.
Disembarkation went smoothly and although we were all off the ship by 9.15am you could still enjoy a full, leisurely breakfast in the main dining room.
In summary, we really enjoyed our first HAL cruise with just a few irritations (and were already booked on Prinsendam for later in the year). It will be interesting to see how that compares, as it is an even smaller ship. As Norway is such an expensive country, this type of cruise has got to be the best way to experience Norway.