This was a great cruise! It had been 3 years since our last HAL cruise. It was our first trip through the Panama Canal and we were quite happy with the itinerary---San Diego to Fort Lauderdale. It was a "just right" length of cruise for us (although trading 82 degree weather for 28 degree weather at home was almost enough for us to head back!
The Statendam is a beautiful old ship. Love the teak walking decks but there are many areas where the ship is looking very tired. Carpets are worn and stained, especially the "day" carpets in the elevators are quite dingy and do not give a welcoming look. There are lots of areas where the wood molding is dented and banged up. But everywhere workers are painting and cleaning and touching up daily--there is always someone making the ship shine and sparkle!
The beauty of the Statendam is in its small size (which is why we like this smaller class of ship). It was so easy to feel comfortable in a short time and learn the layout. (Okay I was still getting lost a week later… and there are some places where you CAN'T get THERE from HERE… Deck 7…Aft…) It is amazing how many nooks and crannies there are and how many places you can find to sit and read or stare out at sea or listen to music or sip a drink….
Unfortunately there were strange "smells" throughout the ship. Sometimes noticed in the stateroom hallways on different decks, sometimes in the elevators, sometimes on or near the Lido, the Showroom, the Atrium…just about anywhere! I talked to many other passengers who noticed these recurring odors--sometimes smelling like garbage, sometimes like sewage. Perhaps it was in the ventilation system?? There never seemed to be a fresh, clean smell anywhere. Wish they would take a hint from Disney and pump in pleasant smells like chocolate chip cookies, vanilla, lemon or cotton candy----would certain hide a multitude of problems. We always pack a small container of lemon spray (non-aerosol) that we use in our room for a freshener. Our room was fine---wish I could have said the same around the ship.
On or about Day 13 there was a huge "leak" on Deck 8… between the Exploration Cafe and the Rotterdam dining room. Buckets were placed on the floor and water was literally pouring from the ceiling. Not sure where the water came from. There had been quite a bit of rocking of the ship the day/night before and the Lido pool was sloshing about but doubt that it would have leaked down 3 floors. When I got off the elevator on Deck 9 there were workman in stocking feet and vacuums in the hallways.
We had a Large Outside StateRoom. The room was more than adequate in size. Always amazes me how the can utilize every bit of space. Plenty of room for all our "stuff". I would have preferred a balcony or Lanai (not available on the Statendam) but on the smaller ships there are fewer available and the balcony suites were pretty pricey. (Our price choices at time of booking were about $2500 for an Oceanview, $5000 for a Vista Suite and $8000 for a Neptune Suite.) Due to seasickness my TA advised "low and mid-ship" so she suggested Deck A. Never again. I really hated Deck A. Oftentimes you could hear noises below and there were odors in the hallway on this deck. It felt like "steerage" on the Titanic!! The towels and linens were sub-standard--Sheets and pillowcases were dingy not white, towels-old and discolored and scratchy and several washcloths had small holes! I really should have taken the "holey" one to the main desk.
The A/C in our room was okay. We were on the starboard side and needed to pull the curtains most afternoons so the room wouldn't heat up. Would have liked it cooler but glad it worked. Didn't hear anyone complain of NO A/C but the ship never seemed overly cool except the first 2 days when leaving San Diego. No problems with our toilets---others were not so lucky. 4 rooms on our deck were closed and people were moved from their rooms due to flooded toilets. Large fans were placed in the hallways to dry the areas.
The water in our sink and shower was always adequately HOT but you could never get cold or cool water at the sink. Brushing teeth in warm to hot water was not good! And don't even think about drinking the sink water---ugh! We brought glasses of water with ice down from the Lido after breakfast and lunch to fill our travel mugs.
I do have a complaint for whomever designed the drawer "handles"---WHY would you put the grooves on the bottom?? In order to open the lower drawers you have to reach all the way down to floor level under the drawer to open it---would make much more sense to put the groove on top!!
HAL's 48hr plan of "no-touchy-the-food" is probably the most sensible for keeping us germ-free. At least it seems that way. Except that everyone complains at first, then they get used to it and get spoiled and by the 3rd day expect the staff to wait on them and hand them everything including water and tea bags!
You certainly have no excuse for going hungry on any cruise!! I especially love breakfast and lunch buffets. Being able to pick and choose exactly what I want is my idea of food-heaven! I especially love the sandwich station where you can have a wrap or panini made-your-way. Yum!! My favorite? ham-swiss-cucumber-touchofmustard-toasted with chips!
We ate our dinners in the Main Dining Room, early seating. Had requested a table for 6 but got a table for 4. Although disappointed not to have a larger table, we were seated with a nice couple from Canada. We did attend all 4 formal nights--noticed that attendance seemed to dwindle for each one except for the Farewell Dinner ("Surf & Turf"). Compared to our previous cruises on HAL, we noticed fewer tuxedos and gowns and heard that people in the the Lido were dressing "pretty sloppy". Our waiter and his assistant seemed overwhelmed with too many tables and service was often slow. Our scheduled time was 5:45 and the first 2 nights our dinner wasn't served until after 7 p.m. We asked our server if we could be served earlier and he suggested we come in at 5:30 when the Rotterdam DiningRoom opened and that helped.
Can't say that any of our meals were outstanding. Sometimes it was hard to make a choice because nothing sounded that great! Best choices were the appetizers and salads--usually they were quite good. All 4 of us did enjoy the beef fillets and fish choices. One night we did find it quite amusing when we could not figure out what kind of fish was being served. The menu stated it was a "fresh-water" fish but we did not recognize the name. Our waiter assured us it was from the "Pacific Ocean"!! We were all disappointed in the MDR desserts. Usually I take pictures of the fancy desserts and they are delicious as well. Most were just plain and bland. Much better desserts at lunchtime in the Lido!! Never did hear anyone raving about the food on this cruise.
I did find a new favorite drink on this cruise---"Cucumber Smash"---yum!
When we initially booked our cruise the Explore4 promotion was part of our cost. Our TA was able to reduce the price of our cruise by $500 each by dropping this promotion. We felt that this was a better deal for us. Our table mates had this "free" deal with their cruise. They were not completely happy with it as they could only get one white wine with their dinner in the MDR, no red wines were available for under the $7 limit.
Captain: Sybe de Boer
Hotel Director: Bart Groeneveld
Master Chef: Rudi Sodamin
Cruise Director: Armen Petrossian
Location Guide and Port Talk: Lance
Shore Excursion Manager: Jenn
Port Shopping: Nikki
Karen & The HalCats Lido Poolside, Crow's Nest
SoloGuitaristBill -- Lido Poolside , Mix
The Neptunes Ocean Bar
Adagio--violin and piano duo sisters in the Explorer's Lounge
ShowHost Jeremy (everywhere!)
Piano Bar Entertainer- Robyn , Mix
The Captain gave a brief informative talk over the loudspeakers daily usually detailing the ships course and any weather conditions and changes. We got a chance to see him at the first full night's presentation of the staff and crew and then again at the Mariner's Lunch. Two lunches were held and the captain spoke briefly.
Armen, the Cruise Director was pleasant, competent and unobtrusive!! Nice to have a CD that was not so full of himself and so loud and in your face as others we have experienced!
Hubby spent many hours with the "techspert" as he explored the Windows8 workshop offerings and found her extremely helpful.
We spent afternoons and evenings enjoying various onboard entertainment---special favorite among those listed was Robyn at the Piano Bar on Deck 8. She lost her voice early in the cruise and ended up torturing us nightly with games of "guess that song, songwriter, composer" for hours! We were very glad when her lovely voice returned and we could listen and sing along with her!
I must say this is one of the nicest groups of folks we have ever traveled with! There were mostly Canadians and Americans aboard although we met some others from England, the Netherlands, Germany and other nations. People were polite and friendly and with the exception of a few males who pushed their way out of an elevator, I never encountered a more pleasant group! Even when folks were hungry in line at the Lido or waiting in the stairways to leave for excursions! Delightful! There were few scooters on board this cruise (maybe 5 or 6) and a few folks with walkers. Everyone went out of their way to accommodate them as well.
We flew to San Diego a few days early to visit relatives and also toured the city. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Islands Palms Hotel & Marina. They have a free shuttle from the airport, we rented a car from the hotel and later took their free shuttle to the cruise terminal. Very convenient. No parking fees and we were able to drive wherever we needed around the city. We had joined the Best Western Member club and were upgraded to a Marina view room---very lovely. We also went on the "Hop-on-Hop-off" tour of the city to see the sights.
Easy, Peasy!! We left the hotel by free shuttle at 11:30 am and were settled in our room shortly after noon! The ride to the terminal was about 10 minutes. Lots of construction going on around the cruise port in downtown San Diego. We handed out luggage over to the porters. Walked into the terminal, maybe a dozen people ahead of us, thru the usual checkpoints, then the desk, got our keys, were given a number, sat in chairs for less than 5 minutes and bingo! Called to board. Longest line was the winding one up to the ship and before we knew it we were boarded and in our room!
Day 1,2---at SEA
Day 3 PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
Our first port stop was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We decided to just do the walking tour along the waterfront and not take an organized tour. It was suggested that we get pesos immediately even though dollars would be accepted (and we would probably be ripped off by locals with the exchange rate). Being the first stop it was of course confusing and overwhelming! The big central building where the ATM's and exchange centers were located was closed. After wandering around in a big circle we came back through security, listened to the Mariachi band again and found Lance, the "information guy" and went to Plan B…WALMART!! We walked several blocks and crossed several streets to the Walmart to exchange dollars to pesos (and later sadly discovered we should have exchanged even more as we found things we would have loved to purchase at a local craft mart). We caught the bus (cost about 60cents per person) and rode to beachfront area and walked along The Malecon with it's many shops, interesting sculptures and decorative pavement. Being Saturday there was a wonderful local craft mart with beautiful handmade items and food items (made locally NOT by the the "indigenous people of China"--Lance's favorite expression!) Really wish we had brought more pesos! We had to wait until noon to eat lunch (they served breakfast until twelve and in 2 places when we asked wouldn't change the menus!) We had run into our evening table mates and joined them for lunch. The guys chose wisely and had burgers and nachos. Us gals got brave and had fish burritos. "Fish" is an eclectic term meaning "anything" found in the ocean. We were able to eat the recognizable shrimp---tentacles, eyes and other squiggly things stayed on the plate! The inside of the burrito was brown--I'm sure it was bean sauce but is sure looked like mud. Left lunch hungry!!
We walked along the beachfront and found the bead store where Huichol Art was displayed. Exquisite! Bought a small beaded flower bracelet.
We caught the bus back to the ship. The bus ride is not for the faint of heart. Roads are bumpy, don't think busses have shocks and I'm not sure that drivers care one way or another! The bus soon got very crowded---standing room only, even when there was no room to stand! but we did notice that young people did give up their seats for the elderly. :) Very glad to see the cruise ship and exit the bus!
Day 4--at SEA
Day 5 --HUATULCO, MEXICO
We chose a ship tour BirdWatching in Huatulco. I enjoyed it, hubby not so much. Verrrry hot. Our guide, Matteo was probably the best thing about the tour. He was extremely knowledgable about the birds in the area. He had a high-powered telescope and he was able to locate and show us the birds which enabled us to see hummingbirds, owls, a woodpecker building a nest. Not sure why people go on birdwatching tours that aren't interested in birds (except for husbands who go to please their wives :) One gal continuously wondered off ahead, talked on her phone and managed to frighten off some of the wildlife before the group got there. Note to self: birdwatching is best done early in the morning with a small group, not by committee (and yes I KNEW that…) I had hoped to go snorkeling on this cruise but due to a hurting shoulder could not so was limited with excursions at this port. Not sure what else we would have done that day.
HAL TOUR "Antigua On Your Own"
We debated about taking this ships tour as it meant a 90 minute bus ride to and from the town of Antigua and then about 3 hours "on your own" to explore the town of Antigua. After attending the port talk by Lance we felt it was better than staying on the ship and then after speaking to him directly he said "It's definitely worth it!" Apparently it was popular because they ended up having TEN busses go to Antigua! The ship docked a little early and we went out right away (one of the few advantage of being downstairs in "steerage") We caught Bus 2 and ended up with "Hugo"--an excellent bus guide--he spoke well (we heard from some in other busses that they could hardly understand their guide) and told us interesting stories, keeping our attention so well that the 90 minutes sped by. He pointed out the "chicken" busses, which are American school busses that have been modified and highly decorated and used for transportation. They are called "Chicken busses" because they are crammed with people not unlike trucks loaded with animals and livestock and also sometimes Central Americans transports live animals on the busses with their families!!
Hugo made 2 excellent recommendations: 1) Hire a private guide to walk/drive you around Antigua for about $10 2) Try the Pepian Pollo!! We did both !! Right off the bus are restrooms and a bunch of guides and taxis. We were approached by "Roberto"---Mr.Personalty-Plus+ He walked us around the small town (you could do it on your own but much more fun to have commentary!) First you tour the Jade Factory (we made it quick since we were not buying jade although there is a beautiful red coral and green jade necklace there that is still calling my name….) There were 6 in our group (all from different HAL busses). We stopped for lunch and ordered the Pepian Pollo! Marvelous! It's a chicken and vegetable stew that comes in a thick sauce and was served in an earthen bowl. DELICIOUS!!
We continued our walk around the town with Roberto entertaining us with his vibrant personality. There are many cobblestones and uneven sidewalks so if you do take this walking tour wear good sneakers, not sandals! The last part of the tour was by small mini-van over very bumpy cobblestones! A visit back at the jade factory and one last longing look at the lovely red and green necklace…
Day 7 NICARAGUA
We booked a private tour with "Julio" on the recommendation of fellow cruise critic travelers and reviews on Trip Advisor. His backstory was fascinating and really what made his tour special.To find Julio at the dock we walked across lot beyond where Holland America busses were parked to Gate 3 in the back. He had a very nice clean air-conditioned Toyota van . There were 12 in our group with Julio, himself as guide. He is the owner of the company and may not be continuing to do tours personally. He spent some time talking about political history as he lived it as he was imprisoned as a youth by the Sandinistas. Many suffered under their reign in Nicaragua . This remains a poor country because of the wars and dictatorships of its history. We traveled about an hour to Leon on heavily trafficked roads. The tour itself was not as fascinating as Julio as the town does not have a lot to offer... Some churches ( the museum we were supposed to visit was closed) we visited a market and saw live iguanas being sold and slaughtered -- ugh! We walked the narrow streets and later visited a beautiful hacienda. On the ride home we were able to stop for a photo of one of the 5 active volcanoes that tower over the city. I would recommend this tour BECAUSE of Julio not necessarily because of anything else.
Day 8 COSTA RICA
We booked "Odyssey Tours" on the recommendation of fellow cruise critics and Trip Advisor reviews. We met Odyssey tours van right at the dock where all the other busses were located. We rode in a very comfortable air conditioned van with free water/soda/beer. Our guide, Exon, a young an exuberant 23 who looked about 15!! He was knowledgeable, personable and funny. He told us all about Costa Rica's history, topography and general information as we drove out to see the white- faced monkeys. The van was pulled over to the side of the road and he got out to call the monkeys. He even used a can a beer to entice them. They came out of the woods...ugly little critters who bared their teeth!!
We stopped at a fruit market, some bought smoothies, candy bars, fruit, before we crossed a bridge on foot to view crocodiles. We then drove to a villa where Exon pointed out in detail many different trees, birds, flowers even insects native to Costa Rica. We saw several black iguanas (which are rather green...). While there we were served fresh fruit and ice tea. (all the while several of us are thinking about the ships warning…"Don't eat any fruit you haven't peeled and/or washed yourselves…" We stopped for an included lunch of fish, plantains and beans. Exon promised to find us some Scarlet Macaws and soon the van pulled by the side of the road and were were able to watch a flock of them in the trees above. Gorgeous birds! We continued to a "white sand beach" (apparently not the usual there). Apparently there are a lot of non-swimmable beaches due to crocodiles. A quick stop for shopping (coffee, vanilla, souvenirs) and our tour with Exon was over. Excellent---highly recommended!
Day 9 at Sea
Day 10 CRUISING THRU THE PANAMA CANAL
Woke up early and was on the bow, deck 7 at 5:30...dark!!! There were only about 20 other early risers at the bow at this hour!! Could barely see the lights of other ships as they waited to enter the Panama Canal. Ships need appointments and cannot enter before appointed times. Some wait in hopes that they can take the appointment time of a ship that does not show up or is late and not have to pay the reservation fees.
At about 6:00 hubby joined me and by 6:30 we moved up to deck 8 which had a much better view. As the sun came up the staff began to bring out "Panama buns" along with coffee and tea. Yum! I think they are filled with an orange cream (although some said it was an apricot, pineapple blend?) Whatever it was--- Delish!
With daylight brought the tugboats, sightings of other ships waiting to enter the canal, the shoreline of Panama itself. Passed under the "Bridge of the Americas" and headed towards the first lock. The sight of the arrow let us know we would be passing into the west lock. A rowboat with two men brought the lines to the ship to be brought fastened to the "mules" that would run along tracks along the edge of the lock to keep the ship straight so it would not scrape along the edges. First lock Mira Flores...triple locks. Decks were crowded as this was the "first" and most interesting. Lasted from about 8 am to 9.
Verrrry hot on front outer deck!! Came inside to cool off and wandered about ship for different "views". Definitely worthwhile seeing the locks from different levels and decks for and aft about the ship. Able to see the "mules" close-up on the sides on deck 6 and views of the other ships waiting to enter the docks are better from deck 6. But deck 8 is clearly outstanding for overall photos!!
We were traveling northbound on the Panama Canal so the first lock was at the Miraflores locks, The boat was raised in two steps to enter Miraflores Lake. A transition from salt water in the Pacific Ocean to fresh water in the locks chambers and lake take place here. Rather amazing that these old gates have stood up for 100 years. At the Pedro Miguel locks the ship is raised in one step. At this point the ship was sailing in Gatun lake above sea level and entered Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. This portion of the waterway was carved through rock and shale and it is on the edge of the Continental Divide. Gaillard Cut opens up into Gatun Lake where the Chagres River flows into the waterway near the town of Gamboa.The Chagres River has the distinction of being the only river in the world that flows into two oceans and it is the main source of fresh water which guarantees the operation of the waterway.
The islands in Gatun Lake are actually the tops of hills and mountains that were not flooded. Gatun Lake was once the largest man-made lake in the world. The locks at Gatun lower the ship to sea level in three steps.
We were out of the locks by about 4 pm and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Rough seas greeted us later in the evening! Lots of rocking of the ship…walking straight becomes a real effort! Thankfully "Bonine" continuous to keep the "queasies" at bay.
Day 11 Cartegena, Colombia
In Cartegena we booked a private tour with Marelvy Pena---there were about 10 in our group. I would suggest if you book with an online tour group to confirm exactly WHERE you are to meet them as there was a bit of confusion . We were in an air-conditioned van and quite comfortable. We visited LaPopa-- a large convent/monastery that was used as a fortress during civil wars. It has been restored since 1964 by the Augustinians and is visited by locals and visitors as a religious site. Views from the summit overlook the walled city below and offers panoramic views of the surrounding areas. We drove the to Fortress of San Felipe and thru the neighborhoods of the city. We took a walking tour of the Old City with its many plazas and cloistered areas. The colorful souvenir hats, displays of jewelry, unusual doorknockers made for some interesting photos. A very enjoyable tour of this city!
Upon our return we passed thru a small wildlife area and giftshop (this area can be overlooked by those taking only ship tours as it is a short walk from where those busses park. There were many macaws, parrots, flamingoes, monkeys, toucans, even a bright red squirrel that were tame enough to feed and photograph.
Day12,13 at Sea
Day 14 Half Moon Cay This may have been my favorite day---just because it was beautiful and warm and delightful and peaceful with white sand and blue/green water. Or maybe just because it was the LAST day! LOL Catching the large tender to shore was easy and we found our pre-purchased clamshell with 2 beach chairs to rest in. We had decided this was to be a lazy day spent swimming and lazing on the beach. The water seemed cool at first but soon was very comfortable---could have stayed there forever. And of course we got our photo under the sign "I WISH I COULD STAY HERE FOREVER"!
Lunch was the island bar-b-que. I found the chicken delicious with a fruit salad and brownies for desert! The covered picnic tables were cool to sit under. Roosters, chickens with little chicks wandered about. We left on the next to last tender… sure is hard to leave this beautiful island (especially for those of us traveling home to cold snowy states!)
Day 15 Disembarkation-- Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale Bags packed and out by midnight. Oh, how I hate to leave the ship! But since our flight wasn't until 3:30 there was no rush. Had a slow breakfast in the Lido---you could tell the waitstaff was eager for us to eat and go---they had to get ready for the next crowd!! Our time of departure was 9:00-9:15 --- we left our stateroom about 8:30 (the room stewards were as eager to clean for the cruisers as well). Sat in the Atrium on Deck6 and waited and waited. Armen, the Cruise Director announced about 9:15 that things were "going really slow at Immigrations"---apparently they had only 2 custom officials working---one for US residents, the other for non-residents. So rather than have us all backed up in lines, they delayed the calling of color/number. We were finally called about 10:00. By then the rows of suitcases were much shorter and it was easy to find ours. Stood in line about an hour as we slowly crept up to the Immigration desk. Last chance to chat with fellow cruisers. Several people noted that there never seemed to be that many people on board (as in these lines) and how come we didn't seem to be recognizing anybody!! Immigration took seconds, walked out to the shuttle busses and were boarded for the airport. We had decided not to book a tour in Fort Lauderdale---at that point we were "toured-out"! We arrived at the airport shortly after 11 am. Good thing we hadn't booked that 9:55 flight!!
Long wait in the airport but reading/snacking passed the time and finally we boarded and came home to COLD New Jersey!!
At SEA Days---
Most mornings I was up early and walking Deck 6---6:30 before the crowd of walkers and heat of the day. Nice to see the sunrise, too. Did not go out the morning that the ship was rocking and rolling!! I spent some of the most relaxing "sea days" on this cruise. Lots of time to explore the ship, read, write in my journal, people watch, meet/chat with other passengers, attend port talks with Lance, even managed to attend afternoon tea on the final day. Even SHOPPING (every day there was a new table of 'goodies' to attract you outside the jewelry store, clothing store, Lido deck---hubby soon learned to enter/exit the Lido opposite the pool end to avoid the "shopping"!)
There always seemed to be a chair or spot to settle into. Unlike on other cruises I didn't seem to notice as many "chair hogs" and there didn't seem to be great difficulty in finding a spot to sit and read, catch some sun or just relax.
Bob Mackie's Broadway --- good not great
Glenn Hirsch-- NY comedian--- excellent!
Garin Bader-- International Pianist-- excellent!
Alfreda Gerald-- singer-- excellent!
Street Singin'--- just the guys of the ships troupe-- good
Jim Curry--- John Denver sing-a-like--- very good
Garin Bader & Alfreda Gerald-- repeat performers---very good
Sing That Song---Game Show with passengers (waste of time except that the hose David Green is funny)
Stardust Lounge---ships troupe---very good
Jacqueline Roche-- violinist---excellent
Neal Austin---comedien/magician (not terribly funny, many walked out)
Jeff Bradley---comedy,stunts and illusion---fair
Encore---tenor and soprano singers--Excellent!
Dancing with Stars Finale--did not attend
Not getting more pesos at the first stop at Puerto Vallarta. We had gotten about $50 for the first day thinking that it would cover lunch and small souvenirs. Although we had a credit card with us the items at the craft mart (open on Saturday) needed cash.
Not picking up a few beaded animals in Guatamala (street vendors -- available as low as 3 for $10, beautifully made and would have made nice gifts, tree ornaments
Not attending more afternoon Teas.
Not having any afternoon ice cream (can't believe I didn't!)
THINGS I'M GLAD I DID---
Finally attended an afternoon Tea (last day)
Ate Panama bun(s) (who's counting???)
Booked some private tours--very happy with our choices.
Swam at HalfMoonCay (went into the water, again and again!)
Tried a "Cucumber Smash" ( more than once! :)
Brought an insulated cup (purchased at Walmart) with attached hard straw. Filled it with water and ice daily from the Lido and added Mio flavoring. Great for using onboard the ship when lounging or reading.