Husband and I were thrilled to be coming back to HAL after a seven-year absence. This was my 16th cruise, hub's 13th, and 4th/3rd on HAL, respectively. We chose this itinerary because it had four of our favorite ports, all of which we can do on our own without having to utilize shore excursions – and because Holland America was offering a great deal on the sailing.
The Ryndam had been fully refurbished since we sailed it last (2001) and, apparently, is well overdue for another drydock. While overall the ship is beautiful and a perfect size, it was hard not to notice the wear and tear that has accumulated (worn brass fittings and torn up leather coverings in the elevators; stains on the rugs and pool backsplash tiles; etc.). Maybe it’s because they are CONSTANTLY wiping surfaces down to keep communicable illnesses at bay.
We were also surprised by how significantly older our fellow passengers seemed. We usually sail during ‘shoulder’ or ‘off’ seasons because of our work schedules. This being ‘high season’ and on the very edge of the beginning of school breaks, we did not think that we might be one of the youngest on the ship (including the six kids under the age of 18 we saw). We learned later that we were the second (short) leg of a 21 day 'collectors cruise,' which might have explained things. Ironically, it didn’t necessarily make for a significantly politer corpus of passengers: it was not unusual to have people block hallways with group conversations or just plunk down at your table at the lido deck without so much as a by your leave.
We were in cabin 821 – aft interior, deck A. Well-appointed room, but some serious issues, including a visibly (and olfactory) mildewed shower curtain; stained fabrics; and shower temperature controls that were anything BUT consistent at any time. Noise from the deck below was noticeable at points. Cabin stewards were, for the most part, efficient and attentive, though not overly friendly; we appreciated having a small fruit basket in the cabin, as my husband rarely makes breakfast. We asked for towel animals and were treated to: a crab made out of two hand towels; a stingray made out of a hand towel and a washcloth; and finally, on the third night, a dog and, the fourth, a monkey. After three straight sailings on Carnival, we were somewhat underwhelmed.
Cusine, as usual, was excellent, but the dining room menu seemed noticeably ‘pared down’ from previous HAL sailings. To wit: a good half of one side of the menu was devoted to whatever “Culinary Council” chef was being featured that evening, along with two dishes that were then repeated on the other side of the menu. My husband, having unusual food allergies, sometimes struggled to find something he wanted to eat that they could tweak for him. Having said that, the dining room staff went out of their way to ensure that he DID have something he liked every evening, and we greatly appreciated their attention.
One thing that really took us by surprise was the lack of wifi across the ship – for the most part, you could only gain a steady signal in public rooms, and even THAT was not a given with Android phones. It became a real nuisance at points, as my husband was having to contact work because of inclement weather hampering things back home, and had to traipse upstairs time and time again to get a good signal . . . when there WAS a signal, that is. Of course, there were no power sources available in public areas, which further complicated things.
We, as a rule, don’t do shows or alternative dining venues, so we can’t comment on them, nor the “Dancing with the Stars” offerings – if you aren’t part of a couple, it’s difficult to get the opportunity to learn any of the dances. While I like the new layout that has most of the shops on board mixed in with the bars and public areas, we were quite underwhelmed with the selection we saw within them. Many of the daytime activities focused on sedentary pursuits -- cooking demonstrations, trivia, etc. We were very disappointed to learn that the weekly crew talent show is now only offered on longer cruises. There was one movie shown thrice daily in the theater – which, we discovered, was also shown in the cabin tv network that day or the day after. The other TV offerings were anemic – three faux news channels, BBC, two ESPN channels, three movie channels, and a half-dozen ship-based ones. It was a struggle to get any kind of real news outside of the NY Times digest available in the library (unless one went on the slow and pricey internet, of course).
By far, though, the thing that really disappointed us was a noted lack of detail when it came to important things like muster drill and sail away times. Our muster drill was a mess – the crew didn’t take things in hand to make sure people were lining up neatly and properly, and room numbers couldn’t be understood during roll call. Even the voiceover instructions from the cruise director was noticeably lacking in purpose and efficacy. Maybe they feel as if they don’t have to be as forceful and straightforward with passengers as they do with a more ‘main-line’ choice like Carnival, but it would have been helpful to impress upon those who felt as if they didn’t have to pay attention to instructions because they’d sailed HAL for as many days as they were years old.
Similarly, at the beginning of the trip, it was not unusual to see THREE different times in terms of when you were to be back on board after visiting a port of call. At first, the daily cabin notice deemed “all on board” as the time the boat was SAILING – which, of course, meant that you actually had to be on board a half-hour earlier. THEN, you’d get to the gangplank and see an ‘all on board’ time that was a THIRD different time altogether. I’m surprised we didn’t leave anyone on shore (that I know of). It seemed that as we went through the week they managed to clear that up a little better, but it didn’t make much sense as to why they couldn’t get it together sooner – our cruise director had been on this ship for weeks, if his shore excursion talk was any indication.
We were also told that the ship would not be resetting clocks when we were in the Central time zone, because of Daylight Savings Time later in the week (which the ship did at 2 am on SATURDAY, perhaps to avoid more confusion during disembarkation day). Given that half the clocks on the ship weren’t set with the proper time at all, I suppose it wouldn’t have made any difference. We did notice that towards the end of the week they had managed to sync most of them up. Still, it made for lots of confusion.
Disembarkation was similarly lacking in important details. For example: is there a time we need to be out of the cabins? We had late embarkation and thought we'd be able to leave the cabin closer to luggage arrival announcement time . . . so imagine our surprise when cabin staff stopped by twice to get minibar counts and soiled bedding/towels. Usually cruise lines make it pretty clear when they want you out of the cabins. HAL, not so much.
Overall, we feel that any day on a boat is better than one on terra firma. However, given how HAL positions itself as a much more ‘upscale’ experience – which, we feel, came up wanting this past week -- we probably won’t go out of our way to sail on them again unless the right itinerary and price comes along.