Massdasm Jan 9-24, 2009 Eastern Caribbean was wonderful. Sorry to read the prior bad review because we were on the exact same trip and found we liked Holland America so much we booked another trip this June while onboard. We had recently cruised the luxury line Crystal Symphony so we had a good comparison of the two companies and will always be choosing Holland America from now on.
We did not need or want the "extra" features Crystal offered and were happy to get twice the cruise for half the price and not pay for all the Crystal extras we did not care about. You can only eat so much food so having great food three times a day over times actually becomes a negative, not a positive. Once the novelty of the choices is over, one does seem to stick to their favorites anyway so finding favorites on HAL was pretty much the same as finding favorites on Crystal.
Yes, there was the problems with embarkation on this particular cruise and the service due to heightened sanitation needs after a recent outbreak of sickness. Seemed like everyone understood and took it in stride and put up with the necessary inconveniences and extra work the staff had to undertake. These things happen to all ships and I appreciate HAL taking this seriously and after a few days, all was back to normal with no further incident. Everyone was offered the opportunity to rebook or get a refund if they did not want to take this cruise at this time under these conditions so one assumed those who stayed, knew what they were getting into.
If you want special services, glitzy entertainment and fawning extras, then HAL is not the line for you. And it did seem one would take chances with the any-time dining arrangement HAL is now offering, if you just dropped in without prior reservations. We opted out of anytime-dining the first night and enjoyed our fixed late sitting and would pick that again because of exactly the difficulties in planning when the any-time dining alternative is chosen. The dinners were lovely and the food was very nice, beautifully presented and this is comparing it to Crystal who is known for their dining.
HAL delivered just as adequately for dinners. Not every meal was perfect in all courses, but most were from start to finish. Actually, the only not great meal was their final farewell dinner with the bad baked Alaska and a little too much "show", but it seemed appreciated by the long-time HAL cruisers and the staff seemed into it. The formal nights were lovely and there was a range of dress choices, but most did it just right with wonderful formality. The dining room really sparkles at night and made every dinner so special that we had no desire to go to the extra price dining room. HAL offers rented tuxes for the men which is helpful with both needs and packing restrictions now. Many still dressed nicely for "smart casual" and over all each night felt special. We had a table for two and loved it.
Breakfasts were very good as well and room service was speedy and efficient with nice menu choices. Lunches were the dining low point, as they were pretty standard but one did not go hungry and to me it was actually a benefit not to have three fabulous meals a day, and most lunches we were touring in port anyway so one could certainly dine adequately at the Lido buffet with many choices of salads, sandwiches, hot entrees, and a variety of hot snacks at the pool. The french fries were delicious, very fresh potato flavored, which one often fails to see in french fries. Lunch in the dining room was wonderful and this was the far better choice over the Lido buffet if you had the time and were dressed for it, in my opinion.
The highlight were the baked breads and breakfast treats - Crystal had perfectly awful breads and baked goods and claimed they could not produce any better in the confines of a ship's kitchen. They need to take a lesson from HAL. Absolutely perfect croissants - better than even France these days. Crisp crunch, rich, chewy and flavorful. Really perfect. And the breads at meals were crusty and delicious as well. My weakness are good breads and HAL delivered. Speaks well of their long European traditions.
The HAL Maasdam itinerary for this part of the world (Eastern Caribbean) was the best and most varied out there. Shore excursions were excellent for the price, which also was a lot less than Crystal. They were informative, well-led and remarkably varied as to levels of activity. The highlight was the rubber tubing water tour in Dominica. About a hundred of us went down thrilling, but safe rapids and it looked like all levels of physical abilities were able to handle this adventure, which surprised me, but everyone had a lot of fun while seeing the stunning rain forest scenery of this island.
We are in our late 60's and we thought the group was a lot older, so I would guess the average ages were 75-80, and a lot of long-time HAL cruisers and snow birds enjoying a trip in the sun. We could see people with all degrees of physical limitations and just the plain frailty of aging still out enjoying themselves and this was good to see at our ages where we are enjoying this type of travel more and more. Younger people most likely would not be happy on this ship unless they, like us, travel for the itinerary and the value for the dollar. Maasdam has it all, in this regard.
Yes, the entertainment was a bit weak, enthusiastic but weak, but this is way down on my needs so it was fine for what it was. Again, Crystal has a lot more glitz, but that is not why I travel. If one wants Las Vegas shows, best to spend the money in Las Vegas than expect a well-priced cruise to offer this as well. The programs were varied and there was something for anyone who wants more than just the port visits themselves.
The library reading room was spacious and lovely and there was plenty of deck space with lounges that were quiet and away from the pool area noise -that was a least favorite area for me and there was no reason to spend time there because there were so many other nice deck areas, as well as a 360 degree quarter-mile promenade walking deck for exercise. The Crows Nest had fabulous floor to ceiling window views on the top level and the dining room also had floor to ceiling windows and a dramatic two-tier dining room that added to the romance of the setting.
There were multiple bars and private meeting spaces, each with a different theme and different mood of music to satisfy any taste. The cruise staff was friendly and competent. I found all the staff to be extremely gracious and welcoming. They are low-key and professional and were just as friendly at the end of the trip as the beginning, which is not always the case once tips are distributed. There is an set HAL per day tipping charge which is different than other cruises where one tips individually. You can adjust this down or up if you want, but there was never a feeling to do more and that it was appreciated by all, not just the few crew members one gets to know. The front desk and excursion people were extremely helpful and accommodating.
We had a verandah room and I highly recommend them which is also the one nice benefit going "down" to HAL instead of paying twice as much on a luxury cruise to get only an ordinary room. The deck had a chaise lounge and a chair and table for one dining tray and was covered so it could be used during all weather. There were cozy lap rugs allowing one to stay outside well after the weather turned cool and enjoy just cruising and watching the ocean and occasional islands go by, as well as spotting the many other cruise ships that fill the Caribbean this time of the year. There was plenty of closet space and more storage drawers than we could fill.
The bathroom storage is limited so we took the advice to bring an over the door shoe pocket hanger which we hung in the bathroom to store extra supplies and it worked fine. Plenty of hot water, rather low water pressure in the shower but a good reminder not to waste it on a ship. Salon hair dryer included in the room and we brought a 3 prong grounded outlet with an extension cord to take care of all our plugins in the single socket at the spacious, mirrored desk space. Our room also had a long sofa and chair.
There was no problem with either the A/C controls or any "smells" as claimed in other reports. The beds were luxuriously comfortable and each night there was a very clever and endearing towel "animal" and chocolates left by the efficient stewards. There are self-service laundromats for cost so bring quarters as it was $3 for wash and $1 for drying. There is a line in the bathtub and we were able to dry things on the verandah out of sight so we did all our laundry needs in our room.
We did like Dominica and Half Moon Cay the best and recommend taking the ferry to small, low key Nevis from St Kitts for its friendly people and sense of history. The excursion to Christensted from Fredericksted, St Croix was excellent and should not be missed. There is national park fort there and the town is really a lovely restoration of its danish historical buildings and arcades and is wonderfully walkable, though not for wheelchairs.
The Maasdam is an older ship and this shows. The decor is dated, but in a nice retro elegant way. But again, this is not a big concern of mine when choosing a cruise. It has some wonderful displays of Delft ware and historic paintings from its long Dutch tradition on the high seas as ship decor. The rather garish patterned carpets were the only low point in the overall decor and took away from being the totally elegant ship it should be.
We loved the Maasdam and we liked HAL very much. And now we can hardly wait until our next HAL trip, this time on the Rotterdam, another smaller HAL ship (about 1000 plus passengers). There was never a crowded feeling after the first days hang-ups due to the sanitation restrictions. Sorry about the prior report from someone who had a really bad time. You could tell almost all the other passengers did not share these same feelings because it was over all a very happy, content looking group of people, older yes, but these appeared to be very savvy travellers who know a good deal when they see it and HAL Maasdam exceeded our expectations.