We were cruise rookies and we completely enjoyed our maiden voyage. We are mid-40 and mid-50 professionals with two kids 9 and 12. We were told all sorts of things good and bad about what to expect and fortunately the good things won by a mile. Frankly, we have always been anti-cruise as we have been anti-all inclusive as we really like freedom and flexibility, so this was a bit of a leap of travel faith for us...
That said, we had a great time. The level of service was exceptional, better than most hotels -- at time, better than some five-star ones like St. Regis or Four Seasons we have visited. I say this with some expertise as my family owns a chain hotel and we pride ourselves on good service. We travel enough at enough different levels to know bad from good and good from exceptional. The service on the Ryndam is exceptional.
The staff was wonderful all over the ship. The food on the Lido deck and in the Rotterdam dining room was always quite good. The Pinnacle was wonderful, but the service was a little out of whack and we never figured out what was going on, but our meals were all spectacular. I was surprised the beef was so good...not sure why, guess I was thinking more about Caribbean ports where we tend to stick to fish and chicken, but every beef dish I had on the Ryndam was very good -- whether it was pizza or Lobster Thermidor. I'm no buffet expert, but breakfast was top notch and everything my kids ate all day long looked good and I sampled enough to confirm the appealing visuals.
The ship, while not new, is clean, charming and well-suited to the task as far as I could tell. Rooms were comfortable, clean and made up promptly. Room service was on time and the food was good. I have read of noise complaints on Deck 4, but we didn't notice it beyond normal hotel noise. The kids were never bored and the ship very comfortably accommodated a full house. There were always plenty of people around, but it never seemed crowded and we never really waited for anything including getting on and off the ship. Overall, the logistics and organization is pretty amazing.
This cruise had a bunch of kids on it, which was great for us and our kids. In fact, there were quite a few "three generation" guests and that was fun seeing grandparents, parents and children enjoying the holiday. I was told the holiday crowd is more age diverse.
We visited Key West, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We organized our own excursions on shore whether it was visiting the Hemmingway House and the six-toed cats in Key West (Hey, we have kids so we had to do something educational before bar-hopping on Duval Street!) to renting taxis and going to beach clubs in Jamaica (Doctor's Cave) and Cozumel (Palancar Beach Club) to chasing bonefish in Grand Cayman (http://www.fish-bones.com/about.html) while the wives and kids zipped around visiting stingrays and what not (http://www.ebankswatersports.com/). We had fun everywhere we went. We have both been to Jamaica and while we weren't in a hurry to go back our van driver Devin, our waitress Jenn, some good jerk chicken and pork, mixed with some cold Red Stripe and Heineken made for a very pleasant short stay.
One tip for first timers that really paid off for us: We went with another couple who are two of our closest friends. They also have two children the same age as ours and the kids are really big buddies as well. However, the icing on the cake was that our friends are veterans of several cruises and cruise lines (including Holland America) so they knew all the ropes and educated us. That was a great luxury and it, no doubt, made our trip even more special and, in many ways, effortless. So, while all the staff in more than happy to answer any inquiry, most of our questions were answered before we were out of our lounger...
All in all, hats off to HAL and all the crew of the Ryndam. And, thanks R & K for all the inside info and travel tips.