Ryndam Dec 4-11, 2011
THE GOOD: Ryndam has been refurbished; very clean ship. Great crew-friendly and efficient for the most part. Embarkation and debarkation very easy. Good entertainment.
Salmon was great. HAL has the best wine policy--at embarkation, you can bring as much wine on board as you like; no booze, but all the wine you can drink.
THE BAD: Toughest beef I have ever had anywhere; cooked correctly but almost impossible to chew. No trays in the Lido meant a separate trip for everything you wanted. I suppose they save money by not having to wash trays, but it was a major pain to make so many trips.
THE UGLY: We both got sick; don't know if it was food poisoning or a virus, but it was not fun.
Now for more details: We booked the cruise through cruisecompete.com--by far the best method I have found to get competitive rates on cruises. HAL generally attracts an older group of people, and this cruise was no exception. Our guess is that the average age was 60-65. Very few kids on board--we probably saw less than 10, which was fine with us since that was one of the reasons we chose this particular date and ship. The youth director told us that there would be over 100 kids on board the following week, and over 150 Christmas week so we definitely chose the correct week.
We had a "spa" cabin on Verandah deck port forward. The extra for the spa cabin was not worth it. What you get are very nice towels (almost like bath sheets), an Ipod docking station (which we did not use), and a small fountain (which was broken). We put the docking station and the fountain in the bottom of the closet because they took up so much room on the desktop. We also put the overpriced sodas in the closet; be sure to tell your cabin attendant you are doing this so he won't think you drank them.
We chose "anytime" dining as we have done on the past 4 or 5 cruises; you can eat anytime between 5:15 and 9 pm. They now allow you to reserve a specific table, but you have to give the a specific time. Since we are early diners anyway, that worked out well for us.
Sunday, Dec. 4:
Since we live in Tampa, we took a taxi to pier 6 at Tampa about11 am; it was cheaper to take a taxi both ways than pay $15/day to park at the pier. Check in was a snap; HAL had lots of check-in agents so checking in was a breeze. Each agent has a computer-wired digital camera, so they take your picture for your ship's card when you check in. This sure beats having to get in another line to do this. Great job HAL! We had to wait until 11:30 to board, and then went directly on board and to our cabin. The was the first cruise we have been on in the last several years where our cabin was available when we boarded. We dropped our carry-on luggage in the cabin and then went to the Mariner's luncheon in the dining room. A nice touch but it was sooooooo slow. The salad and shrimp cocktail were served quickly, but then we had to wait another 30 minutes to get the salmon entree. In retrospect, we would have been much better off eating in the Lido.
After lunch we just toured the ship and got our walk on the Promenade deck--it is 1/4 mile around, so easy to know how far you have walked. The lifeboat drill was at 4 pm; they no longer make you get your life jackets and then go to your muster station; you just go to your muster station. We know how to put on life jackets, but a lot of folks do not. Can't believe the Coast Guard allows this, but they evidently do.
Since most cabins do not have refrigerators, we had ordered one through our travel agent for a cost of $2/day. Most new ships have the frig but older ones like the Ryndam do not.
The frig was not in our cabin when we arrived, so I told the front desk about the problem, and they said they would correct it. Two hours later--still no frig. So another trip to the front desk with no action. After complaining 4 times, we finally got the frig after dinner about 7:30 pm. Very bad service on HAL's part. HAL should have put refrigerators in the cabins when they refurbished the ship.
We chose to eat dinner at the going-away party by the inside pool; big mistake; they cooked the steaks right there and they were cooked correctly but tougher than a dog's rawhide bone. The grilled salmon was very good, however.
Next we went to the liquor tasting by the shops--a funny guy was pouring the liquor in thimble sized cups, so we did get to taste a variety of booze. The booze on board was only a little cheaper than the prices in Tampa, so we opted not to buy any. We did buy a $50 beverage card; HAL's sign said that you pay $50 for a $50 card, but when I got the receipt, I was charged $45 for a $50 card (this is the way it was last year on the Westerdam). Suppose they had not changed it in their computer system.
We listened to music at the Ocean Bar before we went to the show in the main lounge; great entertainment all week in the main showroom and the lounges. Caren and the HALcats did a great job. They also have a classical group who were great.
Monday, Dec 5:
We had breakfast and lunch in the Lido; good selection of food, but no trays. We arrived in Key West about 1 pm, and immediately got off and walked 100 yards or so to the Conch Train. We had bought the tickets online for $23.40 each (since we are seniors); this is a much better price than HAL charges ($39 each). This tour took 1.5 hours and was very good. We highly recommend it if you have never been to Key West before.
After the tour, we just hit a couple of the famous bars on Duval street.
We did not get to see the famous sunsets at Key West because it was cloudy on the horizon. The show in the Showtime lounge was great.
Tuesday, Dec 6.
This was our first full day at sea; lots to do onboard. I went to the art auction for a brief time; mostly overpriced art, and they were tight with the champagne--you were lucky if you got one glass. You can do much better buying art online from a gallery or from Ebay.
A lady named Shirley had arranged a "meet & greet" Cruise Critic gathering Tue morning. About 35 people attended. HAL furnished cookies, tea, and coffee, and the cruise director met with us for 10 minutes or so. It turns out he tries to read what we have to say on cruisecritic.com, especially about the Ryndam. Well, Glenn, hope you read this one!! And great job Shirley; thanks for arranging this.
HAL and Microsoft have teamed up to put on a lot of computer seminars, and the ones I attended were very well done, and informative. I have been using computers for 30 years, and I still learn a lot of new stuff. Wish I could have attended more, but there is always more to do on a cruise ship than you have time because of conflicting things.
Wed, Dec 7
We arrived in Falmouth, Jamaica about 11 am. Since we not in any hurry, we had lunch in the Lido and got off the ship about12:30pm. The pier at Falmouth is new, and only can handle 2 ships. They have built a bunch of shops on the pier--mostly high priced ones that give kick-backs to the ship. They do have one "duty-free" store that sells liquor, but the prices were higher than the ships on the items I compared.
Walk about 100 yards or so, and you go through a gate that leads into the town. We did that, but would not do it again because the merchants hassle you to come into their stand. Guess you can't blame them, but I do not like the hassle. We stayed about 10 minutes and then walked back to the ship. HAL does offer tours, but we had been to Jamaica many times before, so opted not to tour.
Dinner Wed night in the dining room; they had NY strip steak, which we both love, but it was a disaster. It was cooked medium rare, like we requested, but it was so tough that we could not eat it. Ordered salmon then and it was good, but slightly overcooked (which was unusual).
We attended the Julie Barr comedy show in the Showroom; she was great. Following the main show, Caren and the Halcats had a sing-a-long; a few passengers sang, and for the most part were very good.
Thur, Dec 8:
The harbor at Georgetown, Grand Cayman is so shallow that all ships have to anchor, and you are taken ashore by one of the lifeboats. Although we waited an hour or so before we tried to go ashore, the process still took forever. Their procedure is to go to the Ocean Bar, and get a tender ticket, and when they call your number, you may go down to deck 3 and get on a tender. This was a very slow process; we had to wait over 30 minutes after we got our tickets. The seas were fairly rough (2 foot or so), and it was difficult for a lot of people to get on the tender. I felt sorry for the people on walkers, but they managed.
We did not take any tours since we have done all that before; just walked into some of the shops then went back to the ship.
That afternoon we attended the afternoon tea in the dining room, which was OK, but nearly as good as the one on the Westerdam last year.
This was the second of the two formal nights. They had surf and turf (filet and lobster); once again the filet was cooked correctly but tough to cut and chew. That was the last time I ordered steak; HAL must have bought some really tough meat. This was in total contrast to the steaks that we got on the Veendam several years ago--that would melt in your mouth.
Fri, Dec 9:
The captain had a difficult time getting into the port of Cozumel because of the high seas and wind. He made one attempt and decided it was too rough to dock, so we turned around and headed back to sea. A short time later the winds and seas calmed down, so he turned around and docked about an hour late, which was no problem for us.
We docked at Carnival's dock about 2 miles from town. They have built a lot of high priced shops on the pier leading to the dock. We walked past these and went into the little shopping area and went into some of the shops. The last time were in Cozumel, we took a taxi to town, but we did not want the hassle of doing this again. Silver jewelry used to be a deal in Mexico, but no longer.
Sat, Dec 10
At sea day; not great weather with some rain, and high winds, but the ship was fairly smooth. Did a little gambling and played in a blackjack tourny, but did not win; did make the final table and got a free hat (not exactly free, since it cost $20 to enter the tourny!!) Dinner was good in the dining room; the waiters put on a little show.
We went to the debarkation talk by the cruise director; he tried to be funny, but left out some critical information about customs---like how much alcohol and cigarettes you could bring back to the US without paying duty. Also he did not tell you which deck you disembark from (was deck 5); he said everything you needed to know was in the handout--turned out there was no mention of the deck or the alcohol allowance in the handout.
Sun, Dec 11
Home at last; the ship docked about 6:45 am. Debarkation was the easiest we have ever done. We opted to carry our luggage off the ship and since we have spinner wheeled luggage, that was pretty easy. We went down to deck 5 about 7: 20. We were about 15th in line to get off, and they opened the door at 7:40 am, and we were in a taxi before 8 am.
The captain and the cruise director did a great job in keeping the guests informed about what was happening. The Crows Nest offers the best view forward and to the sides, and is a nice lounge. Unfortunately a lot of the reclining lounge chairs are broken--you either sit up or way back, but the adjustment mechanism was broken on all the ones I tried.
Ship photographers are everywhere, but if you say no thanks, they move on.
We only had room service one evening, and it was very good. We had a pretty good room steward, but he had a hard time remembering to fill up the ice bucket. After I found out where the ice machine was, I got my own. He also never made us a towel animal--guess he did not know how.
In the Lido restaurant, the crew dishes out everything for the first 48 hours. They claim this helps prevent spreading of disease, and it probably does. After 48 hours, you can dish out your own salads, desserts, etc, but they still serve the hot food. They have a huge selection of sweets and breads, and a good selection for breakfast.
Fortunately we experienced very few smokers on board--a few in the casino and a few aft of the Lido restaurant on the open deck. We saw no smokers in any of the lounges; we did not see any ashtrays either, which is a good sign.
Most ships have a Captain's party before one of the formal nights, and they give you free booze and snacks; not so on the Ryndam (nor on the Westerdam we went on last year). They have a special luncheon for past guests (Mariners) and they give you a glass of champagne--big deal. Besides you had to dress up at lunch and not wear shorts, so we decided that was too much of a pain, so we opted not to go.
Would we go on the Ryndam again---probably not--primarily because it is such a small ship, and only goes to the western Caribbean (to which we have been many times before). However, if you like small ships, then this is the ship for you. Probably had the friendliest staff we have seen since we went on the Veendam 6 years ago.