We have just returned from a 13-day Canada & New England cruise on the Maasdam, sailing from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale. The cruise terminal in Montreal defies description: old, dilapidated, shabby, and woefully inadequate. As veteran HAL cruisers, we were surprised that HAL did little to assist passengers who had to wait for upwards of an hour in biting icy winds and rain outdoors before being allowed into the drafty and cold building where a few weak overhead heaters barely added any comfort to the boarding area.
Our first impression of the ship herself was that she had been beautifully refurbished--for the most part, that is: oddly, the elevators and some of the furniture appeared to have been left in a rickety state. Our inside cabin was large and reasonably comfortable and the bed was quite good also, though the cabin's temperature seemed strangely unresponsive to changes in the thermostat. In fact, there were significant temperature variations in different areas of the ship, some were overly warm and others outright cool. The showerhead in our bathroom leaked and the bar on which it rested was loose when we arrived. We reported it, and the plumbers came promptly and fixed both problems efficiently. Although we had requested a queen bed configuration, the beds were set up as twins. Again, the cabin attendant corrected the oversight quickly.
The entertainment on board was quite good as well, and the resident cast of singers was perhaps the best we have heard in our more than two dozen previous cruises. Two of them, Alberto Sanchez and Kristin Knudsen, had glorious voices that delighted the audiences, especially in their show entitled Encore. The Adagio String Quartet (four talented young Ukrainian musicians) played every evening to capacity crowds in the Explorers Lounge (where HAL puts out delicious chocolate snacks for those attending).
Unfortunately, our original favorable impressions did not last long and we eventually came to regret booking the cruise. Not only was the food quality below par for a major cruise line, but the menu choices became repetitive in less than a week--something we have never seen on a cruise. Several of the dishes appeared on the menu three times over the 13 days of our cruise. If you like carrots and string beans, you'll be happy to learn that you'll see them accompanying your main course just about every night of the cruise. The Lido buffet is staffed by friendly smiling waiters who are eager to help passengers carry their food to the table. However, the servers behind the counter, more often than not, have no idea of what you are saying to them. When I asked for parmesan cheese, my server said "ah, yes, parmesan" with a huge smile and poured another ladleful of sauce on my pasta. One morning, I asked for a sausage patty and the server at the counter repeated "sausage patty?" pointing to just about every food in the serving area until she got to the sausage patties and I nodded affirmatively to her. The scene at the buffet reminded me of the "My name is Peggy" commercials for the Discover card. The Rotterdam dining room was not much better and special requests were regularly ignored or forgotten. My water glass was never refilled unless I asked. When I ordered eggs with bacon on the side, the bacon arrived 20 minutes after the eggs and, another time, my wife's soup arrived 10 minutes after her main course. The food invariably seemed to have been prepared hours before and just kept warm until it was served or simply warmed up. Forget anything described as "crispy" as it will surely be soggy instead. Crispy corn fritters were so rubbery they would have surely bounced like a tennis ball. One night, my steak arrived perfectly rare as I had ordered it, but two nights later, it arrived cooked to death, beyond very well done. The Lido buffet's apple pie's filling consisted of a gelatinous and rubbery mass that may have contained apple juice thickened with lots of cornstarch but certainly had not a single morsel of apple in it. Most desserts were equally gelatinous, and the alleged tiramisu bore no resemblance to the real thing as it quivered on the plate like a hunk of Jello. Custards were in fact thick puddings made with copious amounts of cornstarch. Even the creme brulee turned out to be vanilla pudding with caramelized sugar on top. On occasion, we tried the Canaletto Italian restaurant (at no upcharge) and found the food and the service much better than in the Rotterdam.
It was with the tender service that HAL showed its utter disdain for guests who had not paid for an excursion. We had to wait over a half hour for tender service to shore in Gaspe, but that paled in comparison with our experience in Bar Harbor. We were among the first to clear customs and immigration (Bar Harbor was our first port of entry into the US). We then went to pick up our tender tickets and were told to just wait. That wait turned into more than an hour and a half as two tenders were both used for the people who had paid for excursions. The third tender needed repair (as per the cruise director) and, for some unfathomable reason, the Maasdam captain did not think of using one of the dozen or so other tenders that were sitting idle on the ship. The ship was cleared at about 8 AM, but the first tender for guests who had not booked excursions started only at about 9:30 AM. We then had a wait of 35 minutes or so between tenders as one single tender ferried passengers who had not booked tours. When I complained to the cruise director, Bruce Scudder, he added insult to injury with his curt reply that people who had booked HAL tours had "paid for the privilege of going ashore first," implying that the rest of us (cast as the unprivileged) had to wait as the one tender went back and forth to shore. He had no answer as to why the Maasdam couldn't run more tenders like other cruise ships.
You would think that HAL would make a special effort to please its Mariner Club members, wouldn't you? The reception for Mariners was scheduled for 11 AM in the Rotterdam dining room on deck 7. When we arrived, we were literally unable even to step out of the elevator as hundreds of fellow Mariner members stood, pressed like sardines, in the narrow passageways by the elevators just outside the dining room whose doors were firmly locked. Holland America had in fact created a deliberate fire hazard by forcing its "valued" Mariner members, many of them elderly handicapped passengers with walkers and canes, to stand compressed in a minuscule area blocking elevators and staircases. Though everyone was visibly uncomfortable, Holland America staff members watched them with cavalier disregard for their discomfort from behind the locked doors of the Rotterdam dining room. Unable to get off on deck 7, we were forced to take the elevator up to deck 8 where the situation was not much better, with people standing in the staircase and the corridors waiting for the doors to open--this on a ship rocked by severely choppy seas. Hardly the stuff that makes guests feel welcome!
We started our cruise on the Maasdam as high two-star Mariners planning top book a 35-day South American cruise on the Veendam while onboard. We disembarked two weeks later vowing never again to sail on Holland America.