My two sisters and I had a wonderful time on this cruise which was our fifth, and the third on HAL. We don't take part in a lot of the planned ship's activities during the day, even though HAL excels at providing those that appeal to the varied likes of their guests. We like to sleep later on sea days and just rest and relax. It is in the evenings that we get out, and it was the entertainment that made this cruise so special. We enjoyed all of it and found that the musicians and performers on this cruise were exceptionally talented. The greatest fun we had on the ship was listening to and taking part in STRYKER'S shows in The Mix. I'll talk more about that later.
We do our own travel arrangements and traveled from Texas to California in two connecting deluxe bedrooms in the Amtrak sleeper car. Our cousin met us at the station in Ontario, CA on April 8th, and we spent a week in Anaheim visiting with her family, going to Disneyland, etc.
On April 14th, she drove us to San Diego where all four of us stayed at the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott. It was built in 1928 and was a bank.. If you ask, they will give you a sheet that tells the history of the building and you can take a self-guided tour of the lobby and the basement. A stay in this hotel is worth arriving a day early for your cruise.
Embarkation: We wanted to be at the port by 11:00 a.m. so we could sign in early without having to wait in any lines. I had done all of the forms online, so we knew that checking in wouldn't take long. As we drove up to the port, we were stopped by port security personnel who told us that embarkation was going to be delayed and we should come back around 2:30 p.m. We drove around for awhile, but since we had been there several times before, there was not a lot we wanted to see. About noon, we went back to the port and were allowed to enter. Our luggage was taken away, we said goodbye to our cousin, and went inside to check in. Thank goodness we returned long before we had been told to, and we never learned the reason for the misinformation we were given.
There was a very short line for security and for checking in. Since we always get a deluxe verandah suite (DVS) when we cruise with HAL, our check in desk was the first one after going through security. We boarded the ship and were able to go immediately to our stateroom. That is a new feature since we sailed with HAL last April. We were able to leave our carry-on bags in the stateroom and went right to the Rotterdam Dining Room for the Mariner's Luncheon. There were already a lot of people there, so they must not have been turned away earlier!
As stated before, our stateroom was a DVS. There are three of us, so we love the roominess of this type of accommodation. We also like all of the perks that come with this first class suite.
My two sisters (in their early 80's) get to sleep in the beds which we had set up as twin beds. I (67) learned on our cruise to Alaska on the Volendam in 2007 that the pull out sofa bed is very uncomfortable. I only slept on it one night during that cruise, and then I came up with a great idea that I've used ever since. I ask the cabin attendents to remove the back cushions on the sofa (which is nice and long in a deluxe suite). Then I have them get two duvets and fold them in half. This makes a nice soft "mattress" for my bed. After that I have them put the sheets and blanket on. (After the first night on this cruise, one of our cabin attendants figured out how to put the sheets on my makeshift bed so that they did not come undone at the corners!) After the bed is made, I make sure that both of the attendants know that they are not to unmake it everyday. That's my bed, and I want access to it at any time of night or day!! That's what our cruises are all about—rest and relaxation! It was always made up like a real bed and turned down at night.
This cabin type also has a large dressing room with three nice closets that have doors which are full length mirrors, lots of storage space, and a dressing table and stool. There is enough floor space so that all three of us could be in there at one time. The dressing table has a small lavatory which is a nice extra! One negative comment about the closet doors--on this ship they are sliding doors, where on the Volendam and the Zaandam they were doors that you could just open and shut. These were hard to maneuver, and on a night when the sea was rather rough, they slid back and forth making banging noises. I closed them and then took the vanity stool and lodged it against one of them. That stopped all of them from sliding and banging. Another DVS guest told us that theirs had banged around all night disturbing their sleep.
The only negative to this type accommodation is that it is directly below the lido deck. Our stateroom was right in the middle of the ship, so we were below the port side of the pool. Starting in the morning, (if we were awake) we could hear guests moving the chairs around above us. (We went up there, pulled a couple of chairs around, and sure enough it was the same sound!) It wasn't bad enough to make us ever want a smaller cabin on a lower deck. :<)
All DVS guests have access to the Neptune Lounge, and it was right across the hall from our cabin. I went there every morning and got rolls, cereal, pastries, milk, coffee, orange juice, etc., and took it to our room where we could enjoy eating in peace and quiet. Several mornings we also ordered scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon from room service to go with our NL food items. Room service was always delivered promptly at the time requested and the food was hot.
Many people talk about the Statendam being an older ship with problems. We didn't experience any of the problems and thoroughly enjoyed the ship.
We had As You Wish Dining on this cruise, and the concierge in the Neptune Lounge made our reservations for us whenever we wanted to eat in the dining room. We like AYWD, because sometimes we like to eat dinner in the Lido. Occasionally we like to have pizza or a hamburger at the Lido Grill earlier in the afternoon. We also enjoy being with different people at dinner on the evenings that we do go to the Rotterdam Dining Room.
The service was a little slow at the beginning of the cruise. It remained slow in the main dining room. This could be because of the AYWD. The waiters don't wait on the same people every evening, so they don't get to know their likes and dislikes. My sister had to ask repeatedly for coffee to be served with her meal, as they normally offer it with dessert. She finally just gave up and didn't have coffee with dinner. It's easier to get a soft drink, because the server from the bar is at your table almost immediately after you sit down!! I had to keep asking for iced tea, but I persevered and got it most evenings! They serve it in such small glasses, and it is so hard to get a refill that it is almost not worth it.
We had a wonderful, delicious dinner in the Pinnacle Grill on one of the two Le Cirque evenings. There is a extra surcharge per guest for this dinner, but it was more than worth it.
Port & Shore Excursions are the lowest thing on my list. We had three ports of call in Mexico, and we stayed on the ship for all three of them!! We were in one of these same Mexican ports in 2008 on a Disney cruise and didn't feel that we wanted that experience again. We also live very near Mexico in Texas, so the Hispanic culture is part of our lives and not a novelty like it might be to other people.
We didn't book a tour in Puerto Quetzel, Guatemala, but we did go ashore to the marketplace. We bought some of their handmade Christmas decorations and enjoyed the people who were selling. They were aggressive, but not "in your face." They knew how to take "no" for an answer. However, it was SOOOO HOT and HUMID that we just couldn't stay for long. My older sister (83) found the only air-conditioned building which was a museum, so we did spend some time in there. We are very pleased with our purchases made there. We had been told by other cruisers to be sure and dicker with the sellers, and I did try to do that a little bit, but, my heart just wasn't in it. We own a Christmas store, and we know what handmade items are worth, so we thought that their prices were more than reasonable. (The items we bought were for our personal collection, not to sell.)
At Fuerte Amador, Panama, our excursion was at night, so it was cool. We had a very comfortable a/c'd bus that took our group to a beautiful hotel in Panama City. There, in a large meeting room on the top floor, we were entertained by Panamanian performers who depicted the history of Panama through dance. We were also served a glass of fruit punch and some Panamanian finger foods that were very good. Those who wanted alcoholic drinks could purchase them. The thing we enjoyed most about this excursion was getting to see a lot of Panama City. Contrary to what all of the excursion descriptions say about this one, you can see through the windows of the bus even though they are darkened because of heat and bright sunlight when they're used during the day.
After transiting the Panama Canal on April 25th, our next port of call was Cartegena, Columbia. We did a City Highlights tour and enjoyed it very much. The only negative was that we were given 15-20 minutes to shop in a quaint shopping area in the "old town." We were very rushed, and barely had enough time to buy a couple of Nativity scenes in one of the stores and take a few pictures. We would like to have visited some of the other shops, but we were rushed back to the bus by our tour guide. At the end of the tour, we were taken to a shopping area in the "new town" and there we were given more than double the time to shop in stores that sold emeralds and other jewelry! Was it any coincidence that the tour company had offices in that area? There were a few venders who had tables on the sidewalk, so we bought some souvenirs from them.
Of course, the highlight of the entire cruise was transiting the Panama Canal. That was an awesome experience. I spent the time we were in the locks outside on a front deck taking pictures and videos and spent the rest of the time with my sisters who viewed it from a wonderful vantage point on the port side of the Lido restaurant for a while and then from our stateroom veranda.
For us, the entertainment was the very best part of the ms. Statendam's onboard activities. The band, the production show performers, the special entertainers they bring aboard to perform in the showroom, The Adagio Strings (four young women from Hungary) and STRYKER, the very talented pianist/singer in the piano bar, were all very professional and the best we've experienced on any cruise ship. (I have to say that Disney entertainment is fantastic, but it is Disney and shouldn't be compared with other cruise lines.)
STRYKER, a young man who has an extraordinary piano and singing talent (he doesn't read music and plays only by ear!), also has an extraordinary way of involving the guests in his nightly shows. His shows in the piano bar every night were standing room only. The new "Mix" which is a combination of the piano bar and the sports bar was filled to capacity with more people standing in the walkways between the bars and the shops. My sisters and I do not drink any type of alcoholic beverages and have never in our lives frequented bars. However, we spent every evening of this cruise in the Piano Bar enjoying Stryker's brand of entertainment.
On Sunday afternoons, STRYKER does a Gospel Hour, and those were even better attended than the nightly shows. One Sunday (Easter Sunday), they brought in folding chairs, but it was still standing room only! There had to be at least 250 people in the two bars that are designed to hold about 80 people max!
This cruise offered all of us guests the unique opportunity of celebrating Easter on board. The Sunday before, STRYKER announced that he had presented an idea to his "bosses" that they have a Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday morning. They agreed, and this really turned out to be the highlight of our time aboard the ship. The participants in the service were all ship's personnel except for a guest who is a pastor and the three of us. STRYKER heard us singing in three part harmony during one of his "sing alongs" and asked us if we would sing for the sunrise service. That was a great thrill to share the stage with STRYKER, the band, the Adagio Strings, and three of the production show singers. We sing a acappella (no accompaniment), but everyone else used the piano, the band, and the strings. To illustrate what professionals they all are, there was never a complete rehearsal, the band never had an opportunity to rehearse with anyone, and yet every musical presentation during the service was perfect. We were amazed! STRYKER planned and organized the whole service. He asked Sam, the maitre'd in the Pinnacle Grill, to say the Lord's Prayer in ancient Aramaic. That was awesome!
The service was originally planned to be held outside on a deck at the back of the ship, but the weather forecast called for unfavorable conditions (some wind), so it was held in the showroom with all of the curtains open on both sides of the theater. The service started at 6:00 a.m., and as it progressed, the guests seated in the theater were able to see the sunrise and the lighting up of the skies. And how many guests attended this service? Well, much to the amazement of the ship's officers (who I think were a little skeptical) over 400 people (1/3 of the entire passenger list) were there bright and early to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
STRYKER organizes a talent show, too. He doesn't just ask people to sign up and limit it to a certain number. No, no! It's much more exciting than that! He has several rounds of competition which produced eight finalists and then a final talent show on the last day at sea. The winners are chosen by the audience. My sisters and I won the first round and went on to tie another guest for first place in the final show. That was kind of exciting, too, and is something we will never forget. I guess it's as close as we'll get to "American Idol!"
I can't leave this section about the entertainment without mentioning one more person, and that is Lawrence. Lawrence was one of the waiter's in the bar, but he added so much fun to the music in the Mix. He sang on several occasions during STRYKER'S shows and was quite good. We may hear someday that he is an entertainer on one of the ships instead of a bar waiter.
Disembarkation at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, FL was a breeze. As DVS guests, we didn't have to have our luggage in the hall until 6:00 a.m. on the day of disembarkation. That happened to be April 29th, the day of the royal wedding in England. We set our alarms for 4:00 a.m., the time that T.V. coverage was to begin. We dressed and did our final packing as we watched the events being broadcast from England. We were able to watch the entire wedding and the events preceding and following it right there in our stateroom. We didn't have to disembark until after the second and final kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace!!
We had quite a bit of luggage which included a HAL rolling duffel bag purchased on board and packed full of souvenirs. When we disembarked, we were able to get a porter who loaded all of our luggage on a cart. He got our luggage, walked through the line to customs with us, and then took us to the curbside where we were met by a chauffer with a towncar that I had engaged online weeks in advance.. We were driven to Walt Disney World's Yacht Club Resort where we began a new phase of our vacation—twelve days having fun at The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
We had a wonderful time during our entire vacation and loved this cruise.