Arriving in a rainy Montreal on October 6th after two uneventful flights on Delta, I was ready for my trip to begin. Traffic from the airport to my hotel, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, was very slow, taking nearly an hour to reach the hotel. Check-in was swift and the details of my reservation were accurate. My 10th floor room had a wonderful city view, overlooking the Cathedral. Dinner that night was at The Keg, which was directly across the street from the hotel. October 7th was also rainy, so a half-day city tour was an appropriate activity along with exploring Montreal's underground mall. Dinner that night was at The Beaver Club within the hotel, a 5 star dining experience whose cuisine and service lived up to its reputation. October 8th dawned cold and windy with occasional showers that discouraged my plans for visiting Old Montreal and the Old Port area. I did more exploring of the underground mall, began reading my book, and looked for a restaurant for dinner. Settling on Les 3 Braissurers, a brew pub type of establishment, proved wise. I enjoyed very good food and freshly brewed beer along with good service.
The hotel was being used by HAL as their pre-cruise hotel. Finding out what time the first bus of guests were being shuttled to the pier, I left for the pier 15 minutes before that time. Getting to the pier proved to be an adventure. Even though the doorman told the taxi driver in French where he was to go, the driver had no clue as to where the Maasdam was docked. He missed the first turn to the Old Port and when we did arrive at the port area, we were downriver from the pier. Having studied a map of Montreal, I knew where to go and directed him to the pier. Arriving at the pier at 11:15 A.M., the baggage was quickly taken by the porters and the few guests already there were directed to a waiting area until check in began. That started within 5 minutes of my arrival. Being a 4 Star Mariner, I was directed to the check-in area for the Deluxe Verandah Suites, was quickly processed, handed an invitation to the Mariner Embarkation Lunch, and directed to a seating area to await boarding. Boarding began at 11:30 A.M., so from taxi to ship, my embarkation took only 15 minutes!
The Embarkation Lunch did not begin until Noon. Since this was my first time aboard the Maasdam, I walked through the public areas of the ship, becoming acquainted with the ship and waited in the Explorers Lounge until it was time to enter the dining room. Lunch was delicious with gracious, unhurried service. What a wonderful way to begin a cruise!
I found the Maasdam to be in very good condition: clean, a pleasing decor, easy to navigate with really the only crowds being that first day when many were trying to use the elevators to get to their staterooms and in the Lido at prime meal times. The crew were, as one expects on HAL, happy, pleasant, efficient; in short, excellent! My cabin stewards, Dayat and Made, did a better job than one of my cabin stewards on the 2008 World Cruise. And, enough positive things cannot be said about Aji and Iwan in the Dining Room and my wine steward, Nelson! They had time to talk, joke around, and provide excellent service to my table mates and me. At the Ocean Bar, bartenders Benji and Nick as well as the stewards always made me feel welcome and were interesting men with whom to chat when they had a chance. (And, Nick and Benji made good drinks, too!)
Saguenay, Baie Comeau, and Gaspe do not receive many cruise ship calls. Thus, they remain unspoiled, giving a very natural view of this area of Canada. The residents of Saguenay gave the Maasdam quite a warm welcome at their new pier facility. The Best of Saguenay by Land and Sea Tour took us down the fjord by boat, stopping at the statue of Notre Dame du Saguenay where the traditional "Ava Maria" was played with a return to the port by bus that allowed a view of the inland area of the region. The Best Of Baie-Comeau Tour was highlighted with a visit to the forest interpretation center Village Forestier d'Antan. At Gaspe, a nice drive along the coast to Perce for a trip out to Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island was most pleasant. But, windy and cold. There were several times during this cruise when I wished I had brought my parka along. A hat and winter jacket, even with layering, was not quite enough for me.
In Quebec, I took a short tour of the old and new city with the intention in the afternoon of returning to the Chateau Frontenac for a tour of that building. The cold, windy conditions discouraged that plan and instead I visited the Naval Reserve Museum of Quebec which was located close to where we docked.
In Charlottetown, I was interested in learning more about Canadian history and spent time at Confederation Hall and Provence House. Had to stop for lunch and enjoy some of those great P.E.I. mussels!
In Sydney, I booked the Area Historical Drive which was OK, not great. In St. John, I opted for the city highlights tour over the Hop On/Hop Off bus. Bar Harbor saw me visiting Acadia National Park, enjoying the views from Cadillac Mountain.
At Halifax, I spent the morning at the Pier 21 Museum, learning about Canadian Immigration history. The ship was docked right at that spot so it was easy to get there. It was a very interesting morning followed by an afternoon tour that covered Halifax's connection with the Titanic. Visiting Fairlawn Cemetery was a sobering experience. Those poor souls lost their lives so that today's cruise guests now travel more safely. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was a stop on the tour and deserves a repeat visit if I am again in Halifax.
Cuisine aboard the ship was very good to excellent. A new breakfast menu has been introduced with several different breakfast options, i.e. Dutch Breakfast, Japanese Breakfast. It was nice to see many new items on the dinner menu, i.e. a fish entree of a Unicorn fish, and everything that I ordered was well prepared and presented. I enjoyed two dinners in the Pinnacle Grill and both food and service were excellent. I also decided to try Dinner with the Chef, a limited dinner for 10 guests that was scheduled to take place in the Culinary Arts Center. We were to be seated around the counter/cooking area of the Center with very nice formal place settings, including name cards. That night, however, the Maasdam experienced a Nor'easter and Executive Chef Joachim Barelmann decided it would be wise to move the dinner into the main dining room at a specially prepared table for us. While we did not get to see the Chef prepare some of the items on the menu, each menu item was described as it was presented to us by either the Chef or one of the Assistant Dining Room Managers. A different wine was served with each course and the Cellar Master would discuss that particular wine and why it was selected. This was an excellent dining experience and well worth the $79 cost. (But, because of the change of venue for the dinner, the Chef said we would not be billed for the dinner! And, we were not!)
Showtime was at 7:00 or 9:00 P.M. Since I was a 2nd Seating guest, this interfered with my normal 7:00 Happy Hour. I learned to adjust. I started Happy Hour sometime after 6:00 and then took a second drink into the showroom. I found that I did not mind having an early show. It allowed me to try other entertainment venues after dinner rather than attending a show after dinner. It is my impression that this early show was better attended than it probably would have been if it had been at 10:00.
The Cast shows were well done and what individual entertainers I saw were good to OK. (I think it is hard to beat the entertainment found on a Carnival ship.) I was satisfied. Particularly on the three sea days between Bar Harbor and Fort Lauderdale, there were many events from which to choose. The Cruise Director did a good job and was visible.
There were many Mariners aboard this cruise, with the Explorers Lounge full for the reception before the Brunch for the 300 day and above guests. The Brunch was well done, with Captain Draper speaking for a short time and with J.T. Watters, the Cruise Director, also talking and thanking us for sailing with HAL again. The wine glasses were kept full; the tiles were distributed during the Brunch.
My stateroom was a typical HAL outside double, comfortable and well maintained by the stewards. I did note that both in the stateroom as well as in a few of the public areas that some of the soft furnishings are "tired" and in need of refreshing. Linens appeared to be in good condition, although the bathrobes in my cabin were more off-white than white.
The new Beverage Cards were being used on the ship and I found them to be easy to use and I liked receiving a discount. They cannot be used for Happy Hour drinks since those drinks, like the Beverage Card, are discounted. I did not think about trying to use the Card to buy an individual bottle of wine. I did buy a Wine Package and received the Mariner Status discount.
At the usual Disembarkation Talk and Crew Farewell, J. T. made a funny: He thanked his children's club staff members for doing such a good job. "We never saw the kids." Reason: there were none.
I chose to try Luggage Direct for my disembarkation. It is worth the $19!! Being able to disembark with one's carry on and plane boarding pass, pass by the luggage claim area, go through Customs/Immigration quickly, get on the transfer bus, and at the airport go directly through security to your gate was wonderful! The only downside was those of us using this service were among the first ones off the ship. The luggage arrived at my home airport when I did, as promised.
This cruise was a treat for so many reasons: the warm, friendly crew, meeting some very pleasant and well traveled people, the autumn scenery, service and cuisine that was as good as, and at times exceeded, what I have experienced on my previous 16 HAL cruises, one stormy night with 18 foot waves, and three out-of-the-way ports that were a true delight to visit. Another real treat was being able to sail again with two friends with whom I first sailed in 2002 and finding a couple of crew members who remembered me from past cruises. It was a great trip!