This cruise was my third on the Maasdam and my fifth on Holland America Line with my family. As a two-star Mariner's Society member, Cruise Critic member and cruise veteran with ten (including this one) under my belt, I was hardly a stranger to the world of cruising. After an eleven-day voyage to the Caribbean, including some more unusual ports like St. Croix and St. Vincent, I was as highly impressed with the Maasdam, just as I had always been. It is a truly excellent ship in every way, and I would urge just about anyone to try it.
We stayed, as usual, in an inside stateroom on A-Deck. While a window would have been nice, an inside cabin was not a problem for us, as we spend very little time in our stateroom. Although the inside staterooms on the Westerdam were larger, this was a pretty good size, except for the bathroom, which was really tiny and ugly, with caulking that was starting to wear thin. I once took a shower and somehow flooded the entire bathroom, which took forever to drain. The walls are all tiny beige tiles, and the floor was also beige tiles with a few colored tiles in ugly pastel colors. There is almost no storage in the bathroom (no cupboards), the shower was minuscule, and the hair dryer looked like some kind of 1980s vacuum cleaner with only one setting, so low and cold it was almost useless unless you wanted to spend an hour drying your hair. However, as I write this the Maasdam is headed into a two-week dry dock and all the bathrooms will be replaced.
Outside of the bathroom, as I said the cabin was very nice. The far wall had a curtain over it and was lit, given the impression of having a window. The decor was pretty simple and classy with mostly white walls and linens and light wood, and dark green and red accents. The storage space (six dresser drawers, four smaller drawers by the bed, two closets for hanging clothes and one closet with shelves and a safe) was plenty enough for three people on an eleven-day Caribbean cruise. It might be a bit tight on a 35- to 45-day cruise, though. My sister slept on a sofa bed that stayed converted the whole cruise, so if you have three people in the cabin you can't actually use the sofa to sit on. There was a chair, though, and a small coffee table.
Our cabin was located near the stern and got a lot of vibration. This was only a problem when the ship was docking, when the vibration got very loud and strong. It woke me up once, and I'm a pretty heavy sleeper, and my mom a couple of times. If you're already awake when the vibration gets heavy, you won't be able to miss it. We also had an occasional noise problem (we would hear a knocking sound from the ceiling at night, but we were able to fall asleep anyway). The beds were amazingly comfortable, with soft fluffy duvets and comfy mattresses, sheets and pillows.
The Maasdam's public rooms were all beautiful. The atrium had a gorgeous green glass sculpture that stretched from the floor of deck 6 to the ceiling of deck 8. The atrium was spectacular, but it wasn't centrally located and didn't really serve the usual function of centerpiece of the ship. On deck 6, almost nothing went on there other than the fact that there were a few officers' offices. An escalator connected the atrium with deck 5, but it was almost never used, and one officer said it would be removed during dry dock as it was just an "escalator to nowhere". I did use it a few times when I had to run up to deck 6 or 7 from deck 4, as it was more interesting than taking the stairs.
All the evening headline shows took place in the Rembrandt Lounge, the main showlounge, which was a very grand and beautiful space. The walls had a lovely dark exotic print and the ceiling and trim was covered in beautiful Dutch tiles. It also had a lot of seating that was arranged more like a regular lounge with sofas and chairs, along with long, low couches, especially in the balcony. I thought the lounge was lovely, but unfortunately it will also be completely changed during dry dock.
One of the other major public rooms, especially for activities, was the Crow's Nest. This is a HAL signature, a big lounge with panoramic views over the ship's bow. Decor-wise, this was one of the nicest rooms on the ship. It had a very light, airy feel, with lots of little seating arrangements. You could accommodate groups of almost any size. There were two oval-shaped areas, one in orange and one in pink, that are perfect for a small reception and could even be enclosed with sheer curtains. At night, the area served as the ship's nightclub.
Next to the atrium on deck 8 was the Ocean Bar. The decor here is very simple and the artwork is kind of mismatched, but it was still a very pleasant place to sit, especially before dinner. There was a lot of blue in this room, and a band called the Neptunes played. There was a dance floor, too, but hardly anyone danced, at least before dinner. I think the area was more lively later at night.
For after dinner, the best place was the Explorer's Lounge. Before dinner it's not much, although it's very quiet and peaceful, with no bar. After dinner, waiters come to take orders, a wonderful string quartet called Adagio plays, and pieces of chocolate are served. It's one of the most pleasant and charming experiences one can have on a ship. My family went there nearly every evening before the show.
Another quiet place was the Piano Bar. I almost don't want to discuss it here, because it will be completely removed when the ship enters dry dock. But oh, it was great. The walls and ceiling were black with tiny pricks of light that looked like stars, and they were all draped with wall hangings that overlapped each other. The whole room felt like a tent at midnight and was so lovely and cozy. During the day and before dinner there was no actual piano player and no drinks service, but in the evening they had sing-alongs and request nights, which my mom sometimes went to. I genuinely wish that they weren't going to replace this beautiful room.
My favorite place to be in the daytime was the Explorations Cafe, another HAL signature that was especially nice on this ship. I definitely prefer it where it was, on a lower deck, than to where it is next to the Crow's Nest on newer ships. The Cafe is like a Barnes & Noble bookstore, basically: comfy leather seating, books everywhere, music listening stations, and best of all, an amazing specialty coffee bar. It is so relaxing to sit, look at the ocean, do a Sudoku or read a book and sip a yummy soy cappucino. You can't miss it.
Down on deck 7, there was one somewhat major design flaw. The galley was right in the middle of the deck, completely separating the forward showlounge, Culinary Arts Center, and meeting spaces from the dining room. So if you had dinner on deck 7 and wanted to walk to the show, you'd have to go up to deck 8, walk across the deck, and then walk down the forward staircase to get to the lower level of the Rembrandt lounge. I don't see why they really have to have it this way; even a little passageway on one side would make a huge difference.
On deck 6, the Lower Promenade Deck, is the wraparound teak promenade deck. It was a very pleasant place to be, especially on sea days. There are real teak chairs with thick cushions to sit on. Try the staircases all the way forward behind the glass doors. Sometimes, at least one of them will take you to the very bow of the ship, where there's a huge expanse of teak to stand on. It's great for when the ship is leaving a port, although the difficulty of accessing it will probably make you think you're not allowed there. I swear you are. Also try taking the two staircases down from the Seaview Pool on deck 10. There's a tiny little deck area where hardly anyone goes, with plenty of wicker lounge chairs and a great view of the ship's wake.
Deck 11 is a pretty standard Lido Deck: spa at the front, pool in the middle, buffet restaurant in the back. This deck is always crowded on sea days, but you can usually get an empty chair and maybe even a hot tub to yourself. I really like the Lido Bar, which looks a bit like a sidewalk cafe. The fitness center is pretty nice. Bring headphones if you're going on the treadmills, which have their own personal TVs. The Sports Deck is one deck up and has the Crow's Nest, sports facilities, including a basketball court, tennis court, and jogging track, and kids' facilities. There's a sky deck, deck 14, which is very windy but almost empty of people.
Dining on the Maasdam is always great. The main restaurant is called the Rotterdam Dining Room and spans two decks. It is so grand with sweeping staircases, lots of red, and crystal flowers on the ceiling. There are also windows all around with great views. Every bite of food we ate was absolutely delicious, but we did have a problem with being assigned open seating when we wanted fixed. If open seating was designed to give passengers more choices, why are so many forced to have open seating when they'd rather have fixed? With open seating, you don't get to know one set of people or one waiter, and it seems to take longer than fixed seating. As I said before, though, all the food was wonderful, including the vegetarian menu. And we usually ended up eating at about the same time (5:30 was about the latest we could eat and still make the early show) and at the same table, anyway, so it all worked out. Breakfast is also really good in the dining room, and I wish we'd eaten there more. They now even have Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausage on the menu, and it was delicious!
The Lido Restaurant is always great for breakfast and lunch. There are different stations, although at breakfast the "Hot Breakfast", "Entrees", and "Express" stations are pretty much the same, and two separate but identical lines, so there are hardly any crowds at all. At lunch time on sea days, though, it can be pretty tricky to find a table by the window. The food here was also really tasty, though they mostly seemed to have the same old desserts all the time, and hardly any sherbet.
The Canaletto was a great free alternative for dinner. It was quieter and more intimate than the Main Dining Room and the Italian food was really delicious, with breadsticks to be dipped in olive oil and delicious antipasti and pasta. There is no reason not to try it at least one night. They seem to have the comfiest chairs in any restaurant on the whole ship. You can sit there if you're eating at the Lido for breakfast or lunch, too.
But the very best restaurant on the Maasdam has to be the Pinnacle Grill. We ate there for dinner for the first time on this cruise, and it is just spectacular. We had lunch there once but it just can't compare. The meal starts with an amuse bousche of seaweed salad before appetizers, soups and salads. They prepare the Caesar salad tableside, and that's just the beginning. For my entree, I ordered a vegetable skewer, and just after we finished our appetizers an enormous metal tower appeared next to our table. Beneath it was a huge skewer with tofu and roasted vegetables, which the waitress then set aflame. It was brilliant. Be sure to take a camera. And the whole meal was filled with little touches, like a sugar cookie butterfly my sister got with her dessert, and truffles at the end. I even liked my mushrooms, and I normally can't stand them. It was by far the best meal I've ever had on a cruise, maybe the best, period, in my whole life. DO NOT MISS A CHANCE TO EAT HERE. I know it's pricey, but it's worth it. Skip a shore excursion or a spa treatment, whatever you need to do to come up with the money. You won't regret it.
And whatever you do, you must stay up late for the midnight chocolate buffet. Even if you can't eat a single bite, just look at it and take ten thousand pictures. Get the strawberries dipped in dark chocolate or just ask for a hunk of chocolate off the top of a cake. The marzipan is to die for, and you'll see a million little touches, like the tiny bread pigs.
Everyone knows about the Royal Dutch Tea, but even better, for me, is the Indonesian Tea & Coffee Service. I got coffee, which you make yourself in a French Press. It was perhaps the best coffee I ever had in my life. I had a cup of both types, Sumatra and Celebes, but Sumatra was better. And I love all the little Indonesian desserts, like rice cakes and coconut balls.
Activities were great, fun but pretty basic. They had lots of cooking classes and wine tastings and things, but I didn't go to any of them. Evening entertainment included three big song-and-dance shows, "Club Nevada", "Gold", and "World Beat". Club Nevada is a waste of time for anyone under 60, and the costumes were not nearly as good as you'd think. Actually, I was so bored I wanted to leave. Gold is based on songs that have won Tonys, Grammys and Oscars and was pretty good, worth your time. But if you can only catch one show, make it World Beat, for the costumes, which were designed by Bob Mackie and are amazing, especially the white ones at the end. In general, the singing and dancing was very good, if not the choice of songs. For every fun, amazing dance number you got to see, you'd have to endure a slow one where one or two singers basically wanders around singing something boring like "My Way" (you'll hear that song a lot on the ship).
This year, we finally made it to the Indonesian Crew Show, which is definitely worth seeing. You'll get to see some really cool Indonesian dances and hear the music of this really cool instrument. You don't want to miss that; it's just as good as the song-and-dance shows. I didn't see any of the musical soloists, but I thought the comedian, Max Dolcelli, was absolutely hilarious, perhaps the funniest cruise ship comedian I've ever seen. The magic show was pretty good, too.
HAL is famous for its service, which is one of its strongest points. Holland America has, in my opinion, the best service of any cruise line. The staff will always remember your name after one introduction, whether it's the waiter at your favorite bar or the cruise director.
If there is only one weak area, it's the facilities for teenagers. Oh, it's not the staff's fault--Elizabeth and Teleya were wonderful, and as there were only four teenagers, you get plenty of attention. There are also plenty of Wiis to use and TVs to watch--you won't have to fight to get a turn on the Wii. But there was no separate teen center like on almost all other HAL ships, so we only got to use Club HAL at the times of day no one else wanted--between 11 and 1, again between 4 and 6, and in the evening between 9 and 12. And teens weren't allowed to participate in adult activities like craft classes or the gym without an adult.
Altogether, I had an amazing cruise experience I would recommend to anyone. Take the Maasdam; for the ridiculously low prices, it provides a cruise I will never forget.