A little quick background: I am always looking for a last-minute solo sailing in between the ones planned with family or friends. When I couldn’t work out making one of the last Alaska sailings of the season I turned to the Canada-to-Florida repositioning cruises (only one flight does make it easier). Was expecting to sail later in October but when the price of the inside guarantee on Maasdam from Montreal on October 5 was enhanced to include ''"free upgrade to oceanview” I was hooked''"eight days before sailing! A family commitment on the 4th left me no choice but to find a flight to Montreal the morning of sailing; yes, I knew that I was breaking the unwritten cardinal rule to fly in at least one day early''"but as I already broke the alleged rule to book early for best cabin selection, and the worst case scenario would have me meeting the ship in Quebec City the next morning, so what? My day thus began on a 5:45 AM flight from FLL to YUL with a change in (where else) ATL. And did I mention that First Class was the only fare available? But here’s a secret: if you add in the cost of checking your bags, pre-selecting your seats ($25 per flight leg for a ''"comfort seat” in coach''"really, Delta?), the serving of something slightly more edible than the ''"food for sale” plus unlimited libations, the price difference on most domestic flights is actually quite reasonable. So now reporting from onboard:
Stateroom: My ''"included upgrade” found me in a Category DD on Lower Promenade deck, a partially obstructed oceanview nestled among the Lanai cabins opening to the outside promenade. Since this was hardly a tropical cruise, those outside doors and the adjoining reserved loungers got virtually no use. As the Maasdam is an ''"older” ship with mostly inside or oceanview cabins, the lanais and balconies are at a premium''"one I don’t consider worth jockeying (or paying) for. Another tip: booking a Category DD or HH adjoining cabin will net you an impromptu sitting area if you don’t plan to use the door to the adjoining cabin''"a sofa is placed across it! Like most cabins on the 90s-era Maasdam, mine included a full bathtub rather than a tiny shower stall and lacked a refrigerator. But my ice bucket was refilled twice daily''"and the shower head inside the tub was the much sought-after handheld type. The tub contained dispensers of liquid body wash, shampoo and conditioner, though there was still bar soap provided at the sink.
Dining: After having dinner at the poolside BBQ on embarkation day and trying my luck with open seating dining the second night, the following morning I requested to be moved to the 8 PM seating. An hour later there was a voicemail on my cabin telephone advising me that it had been done. Smartest move I made on this cruise: having every-night servers who quickly learn your preferences, as well as a wonderful group of new tablemates, is the only way to dine. Menus are hardly what one would call adventurous, but all courses were attractively presented and just the right portion size. All of the dining room staff''"our waiter, assistant waiter, wine steward, head waiter, and the dining room manager who stopped by nearly every night''"set exactly the right tone of service for whatever we needed each night. So while you really can’t call a restaurant that serves 1200 dinners in two sittings each night ''"fine dining” I would say that dinner every night on the Maasdam proved to be perfectly ''"just fine” for me.
The Lido seriously shows its age through its vintage 90s cafeteria layout. But it functions as individual stations rather than one snaking lineup, and handles the crowds at peak breakfast time very well. I had breakfast in the dining room three times, but for the first time I can remember I ended up preferring the Lido. Could be due to the first morning I tried the dining room I was seated at a table for eight which included three ladies seeming bent on topping each other in a most-complicated-breakfast-order-of-all-time contest. (Seriously, one of these ladies spent more time haranguing the waiter over whether the French toast is sprinkled with cinnamon vs. cinnamon sugar than it took for me to have an omelet cooked to order in the Lido the next day).
Activities and Entertainment: As this was a 13 night cruise that opened with eight port days in a row, I really did not pay much attention to the daytime activities. Most of my free time was spent relaxing in the spa thermal suite, which I purchased a full cruise pass for. It was almost always deserted (most days I received no higher than locker #4) so I wonder how many of the designated spa cabins were occupied, or if the occupants actually knew about the included perks. Anyway I was more than content to be steaming or soaking in solitude rather than watch cooking classes or port lectures. In the evening I enjoyed the jazz combo in Ocean Bar and the classical duo in Explorers. The ''"HAL Cats” house band was very deft at alternately serving as the show band, dance band and party band. But even the best musicians can’t be in two places at once, so the nights that they were required to play the Showroom there was no live music in the Crow’s Nest. The troupe of 4 male singers, 2 female singers and 2 female dancers were typical of those found onboard. But even the best of Broadway and the West End could not have overcome the painfully unfunny jokes and the trite song selection and bland arrangements of the production shows. And while I know it is difficult to arrange the guest entertainers for an open-jaw repositioning cruise, the two comedians who joined us the second week should be bottled and marketed as cures for insomnia.
Ports and Excursions: I’ll get right to the point here. All of you who will only sail the newest and largest ships need to get over how ''"old” and ''"small” the Maasdam and much of the rest of the HAL fleet is and book one of their cruises pronto. Out-of-the-way, less crowded ports; smooth as silk tender operations; no Disney World-style queues to snake through for security before reboarding. I did take ship excursions in four of the nine ports, but in almost every stop the ships docked at or tendered to the center of town with plenty of sites within walking distance. The one disadvantage to my chronic last-minute travels is that with a little more time I could have planned even more to see on my own at each port. Fall Canada/New England cruises have the reputation of being a bit pricey and more than a bit crowded in port. I consider this Maasdam cruise to have been a great value: perfect size ship, great mix of unfamiliar and popular ports''"the only real crowd was at Bar Harbor where we stopped on Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. (Oh yeah, the Emerald Princess was also there that day).
But the reason I am absolutely sure I will sail HAL again very soon is the wonderful atmosphere fostered by the crew''"and I mean all the crew, from the officers down to the cleaners and maintenance. Always a friendly greeting, continuously offering to help without ever seeming patronizing''"and from the second encounter and onward with you, they remember your name and your preferences. And even a sworn cynic like me noticed how all that genuine good will imbued my fellow passengers as well. They weren’t the ''"luxury” crowd, the ''"active” crowd or the ''"party” crowd''"nor were they the ''"nursing home” crowd that is the unfair portrait of a typical HAL cruise''"just lots of nice people who were all happy to be onboard. And I can’t wait to be back with them.